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The meaning of protecting you with my life

Chapter Text

Wei Wuxian had always known what his role in the Yunmeng Jiang clan and sect was. He was supposed to protect them with his very life which he owed to Uncle Jiang for rescuing him off the streets. It was that simple, they saved his life and he owned it to his family and to the sect which had so graciously taken him in.

He only needed to be told once to understand what his standing was, but Madame Yu made sure he would not forget, reminding him often enough. He had been training hard to be able to accomplish his duties when necessary. But he would have never imagined that he should do so in this way.

He was already laying on the hard ground, in the remnants of a low table and another strike of Zidian had just rained on his already aching back. He did not mind the pain, just as Wang Lingjiao had said, this was his punishment for being too arrogant and forgetting his place because of wanting to help Lan Zhan. Jiang Cheng had even warned him, multiple times at that. So it came as no surprise that
Wen Chao’s woman came to request his punishment.

Even when she said that his right hand should been the right price to pay, he was alright with that as well, his life belonged to the Yunmeng Jiang sect and if this much can right his mistakes, then so be it. He would still be able to practice swordsmanship and protect everyone. Madame Yu would at least make it less painful than if he had been dragged directly in front of Wen Chao. Or at least he hoped so with how angry she was at him for endangering the Yunmeng Jiang sect in the first place.

He stretched his right hand and spread his fingers wide on the floor, preparing for the inevitable.

“Close the door, I do not want anyone to see the blood!” Madame Yu ordered and Wei Wuxian closed his eyes at the same time. He did not need to see either.

He opened them again when instead of the pain he was expecting, only the conversation between Madame Yu and Wang Lingjiao continued and he was helped up by Jiang Cheng. His back was hurting but it was not so bad, he knew worse. Still, he would barely be able to stand up at this point. He would be useless to protect the family now and he despised himself for his weakness.

He grabbed at his robes, clutching them tight as he uselessly laid down in Jiang Cheng’s lap and watched the events take place in front of him. He could not believe his eyes and ears, was it only because Wang Lingjiao had wanted to make Lotus Pier a supervisory office that Madame Yu had stricken her down? She must have surely realized what consequences her acts would have, his severed hand would not be then enough to appease the Qishan Wen sect. She should have just let him be taken to Qishan at this point.

A fight erupted and Wei Wuxian watched with wide eyes how Madame Yu and her maids had singlehandedly taken care of all the Wen soldiers in the room. Perhaps he had been worrying over nothing? No, Wen Chao would not let it slide just like this, there would definitely be consequences for the Yunmeng Jiang sect’s resistance.

Just as he thought about it, Wen Zhuliu came inside the room through the window and protected Wang Lingjiao. Wei Wuxian had already heard about Wen Zhuliu’s abilities, he supposed the whole cultivation world did by now. His right hand was feared far and wide. He could make one’s golden core melt in a matter of seconds, upon touching one’s chest. They were in big trouble now; this man was far more dangerous than a whole army of Wen soldiers on his own.

Wei Wuxian watched in horror how Madame Yu and Wen Zhuliu engaged in a well-balanced fight, they were both equally skilled and it was clear that there would need to be something to distract them for one of them to gain an advantage. Perhaps not everything was lost yet.

Suddenly, the distraction was there. Wang Lingjiao run out of the throne room, evidently about to send out a signal for reinforcements. Wei Wuxian cursed internally, he was in no good condition right now and he knew he would be too late if he tried to stop her himself.

“Jiang Cheng! Stop her!” he yelled at his brother, the only option they had left. Madame Yu could possibly take care of Wen Zhuliu on her own, even though Uncle Jiang was not in Lotus Pier right now, but a bunch of Qishan Wen sect soldiers was another matter entirely, they were not prepared for an attack, there would be casualties.

Wei Wuxian did not know who he should be helping first. Madame Yu seemed like she was starting to be overwhelmed by Wen Zhuliu. Jiang Cheng would probably not have a hard time dealing with Wang Lingjiao on his own. In the end, Wei Wuxian opted to stay in the throne room and jump into the fight if needed.

He saw how Madame Yu was trying to avoid one of Wen Zhuliu’s attacks and she could not see that he was getting too close to her, ready to strike her right in the middle of her chest.

“Watch out! Madame Yu!” he tried to warn her.

His shout had an effect alright, but not the one he intended for it to have. He quickly scrambled to his feet, although swaying dangerously and having to steady himself by leaning on the wall. His head was spinning dangerously and the movement pulled at the wounds on his back, he however could not care less about his own discomfort. Not when the family he was supposed to protect was in danger.

He saw how Wen Zhuliu turned around and was about to attack Jiang Cheng. His mind went completely blank and the only thought which stayed in it was to protect his brother. He let go of the wall and threw himself directly at Jiang Cheng. He pushed him out of the way, happy that he would not be harmed.

The next second, all his senses were overcome with pain. He had never felt anything like this, it was as if all his meridians were suddenly on fire which was cursing unrestrained throughout his body until it found his golden core. The next part was actually much better, it was just a fraction of a second of flaring, searing pain and then there was nothing. Where his golden core had once been, there was now only emptiness.

Wei Wuxian was shaken. He only barely realized he had just lost his golden core and he was already flying backwards into the courtyard and landed on something else than the hard pavement. Actually, on someone; and that someone being Wang Lingjiao who started screaming at the top of her lungs.

He quickly shook his head to get rid of any unnecessary feelings, he could worry about losing his golden core later, now he had to prevent her from sending off the signal flare. With a little difficulty because his body was still hurting all over, he turned around and managed to snatch the flare from Wang Lingjiao’s hand. He then broke it in two to make it unusable.

“Wen Zhuliu, save me!” cried out the despicable woman under him.

The next thing Wei Wuxian knew was that he was once again flying through the air and crashing back first into a wooden door.

Chapter Text

Yu Ziyuan watched how Wei Wuxian had been all but thrown away by Wen Zhuliu and how the man took Wang Lingjiao into her arms and flew off. She was still kneeling next to Jiang Cheng, making sure that he was alright after the Core Meting Hand had attacked him. It seemed like his spiritual energy was only a bit disturbed because of how distressed he was but his golden core was intact. She gave out a relieved sight. At least Wen Zhuliu had known to not hurt the children.

Although the signal flare did not go off, Wen Zhuliu and Wang Lingjiao escaping was the same as if it had. They have surely not come alone, there must have been more Qishan Wen soldiers nearby. She had to get Jiang Cheng to safety first, then she could start thinking about evacuation and fighting.

She grabbed her son under his hand and hauled him to his feet. He swayed dangerously, probably due to the shock of the last few minutes. She did not blame him, even with the best training, he would have never been prepared for something like this. She drew him into an embrace and stayed like that for a couple of seconds to show him that she cared. She knew she did not do that often but now was perhaps the last time she would have an opportunity.

When she felt Jiang Cheng relaxing in her embrace, she pulled him away from her and looked at him seriously, trying to remember every last detail of his face. It could be that she was seeing him also for the last time, if there indeed were more Wen soldiers around, she would have to fight, without Jiang Fengmian by her side. And she was not sure just for how long she would be able to stall to let her child escape.

She thanked all the gods that Jiang Yanli had left a few days prior with her father, at least it was one less thing to worry about.

She gave Jiang Cheng one last look and then turned her head all around, looking for that troublemaker of Wei Wuxian. It was all his fault for attracting unwanted attention to the Yunmeng Jiang sect. But what was done was done, they would only have to fight now, there was no other way out of it at this point.

She finally spotted the boy at the other end of the courtyard, laying down on the ground in the middle of remnants of a broken door. For a second, she actually felt pity for him. However, it only lasted a fleeting moment before she took hold of herself again. Wei Wuxian was not her son, he was the protector of her children, that was the only reason she was tolerating him anywhere near her family. Although she had to admit he did his job, saving Jiang Cheng before.

She jumped up, pulling her still shaken son with her, and landed just a step away from Wei Wuxian. The stuffy feeling in her chest was back but she showed it away for practical reasons, she could not start feeling emotional now; and she had held back during the whipping so the boy would still be able to protect Jiang Cheng if needed. It surely was needed now, she had to get them to a boat and send them away on their own while she would buy time for them to escape. 

She could already hear a commotion outside of the main gates, the Wens were here. She grabbed the boy who seemed barely conscious by his arm and she quickly headed towards the piers. She found a steady boat, big enough for several people, and showed both boys inside it.

Just to reassure herself, she once again checked Jiang Cheng’s pulse, it was fine, he was unharmed. She had almost stopped breathing when she saw how Wen Zhuliu had touched him but it looked like his golden core was intact. Thankfully.

“Mother, what should we do now?” asked Jiang Cheng as if the answer was not the most obvious thing in the world.

“Cannot you see,” reprimanded him Yu Ziyuan, “they came prepared, we have to fight. You have to go first.” She did not promise she would follow them because she was not sure she would be able to keep it.

“But what about Shijie and Uncle Jiang…” interrupted her Wei Wuxian.

She was angry now, could he not see that she had not been talking with him. How dare he interrupt perhaps the last conversation with her son?

“Shut up!” she yelled at him, anger swelling in her guts. “It is all your fault!”

Immediately, she felt horrible, she did not mean to say it aloud. She could see how Wei Wuxian’s expression fell and he grew quiet at once, looking all guilty and remorseful. She should not have said it, she knew herself that it was not in fact his fault, at least not entirely, he was probably only an accelerator of the events which would have come to pass sooner or later. The war which this attack was only a degustation of had been approaching for a long time already.

It was too late to apologize, the damage was done and she could hear the ruckus of a battle approaching. She turned back to Jiang Cheng and took Zidian from her finger, caressing her long-time companion with nostalgia. She put the ring on her son’s finger and looked at him with pride in her eyes.

“Mother, why are you giving me Zidian?” her son asked with confusion.

“It is yours now, it had accepted you as its master,” she explained.

Jiang Cheng’s face was blank for a moment and then he seemed to have realized the implications: “Are you not coming with us?” There were tears glistering in his eyes now.

Yu Ziyuan did not reply, she could not, it hurt too much to let her child go like this. But she had to be strong, she knew he would be safer this way. She would stall for time, hopefully long enough for the boys to get away, and perhaps even long enough for Jiang Fengmian to come back to her. She was now regretting starting the completely pointless argument with him, especially when it drove him away from Lotus Pier at such a crucial time.

She put her regret away for later, if there would even be any later and she looked at her son again. Although there was really no time to lose, she could not refrain from scoping him into her arms again and hugging him tightly. She was holding her tears back only for the sake of Jiang Cheng, she did not want him to see her cry and start despairing.

Suddenly, she saw how Wei Wuxian looked at her with envy in his eyes, did he perhaps also want to receive her affection? After all he had done? Be it not for him, they could have faced the war prepared, the Wens would not have come this early, they could have come later. Or they could have even targeted another sect altogether. They would never know now. All because of Wei Wuxian.

She let go of Jiang Cheng and turned towards the other boy who was still staring at her with a blank expression but his eyes spoke volumes. Yu Ziyuan had almost let her anger take over again but she managed to restrain herself. The boy had already been aware of his fault, she could see it in his eyes, and there was also something more urgent she needed to say before sending the boat off.

She grabbed the front of Wei Wuxian’s robes and shook his slightly to gain his full attention. “Listen up, Wei Ying,” she started, using the name she only ever deployed when she wanted him to remember her words really well, “protect Jiang Cheng! With your own life. Got it?”

The boy only continued staring at her, not replying to her urging. She wanted him to agree, she wanted him to be aware of his mission. She shook him again: “Do you understand?”

Only now did Wei Wuxian nod his head slowly while biting his lower lip and answered in an almost inaudible voice: “Yes, Madame Yu.”

Chapter Text

Jiang Cheng could not believe what was happening ever since Wang Lingjiao had marched into Lotus Pier and demanded Wei Wuxian being punished. He had been so anguished when his mother had picked up the Zidian and actually started whipping his brother, he had never seen her like that. Sure, ever since his brother came into their lives, she had not liked him too much, but using Zidian on him? That was going overboard. At least she refused to cut his arm when Wen Chao’s woman demanded it.

Then again, as she had said, it had been his fault in the first place that the Wens had come into their home. Had he not played a hero and tried to save the Second Master of the Gusu Lan sect, nothing would have happened. He just had to attract unwanted attention of the most powerful cultivation sect, and not in a good way.

Even now, when his mother was, very unusually and out of character for her, hugging him while he was sitting in a small boat, he could hear cries and shouts in the distance, getting closer by the second. No, he did not want to leave without his mother! He wanted his whole family to be together. Why was she sending them away? If they stood side by side, the would surely be able to defeat the invaders in no time; and father was already on his way back too. They just had to be able to stall for a little and everything would be fine.

He could fight, his brother could fight, there was no doubt in his mind that if the two of them stood back to back with his mother, they would be invincible. But no, apparently he was still no good. The weight of Zidian on his finger, although only a small metal ring, was enormous, he felt like he had just been entrusted the whole future of the Yunmeng Jiang sect and he knew he was not ready for that. Why was his mother sending them away and telling his brother to protect him?

He could protect himself just fine! He did not need a baby sitter. All the more that his mother did not ask him to protect Wei Wuxian in turn. It was making his heart hurt even more to remember that he had always been the more talented out of the two of them, be it cultivation or anything else. Was he so inferior to him that his own mother was thinking that he could not protect his brother in turn? It really hurt, very much so.

He could fell tears stinging in his eyes as his mother was looking at him with a strange mix of emotions he had never seen her display so openly. He could tell she genuinely loved him and cared about him, something he had never quite doubted but was unsure of on the best of days. There was however also fear hidden in her eyes and he could not help himself to start panicking all over again. If even his strong mother was afraid of the Wen soldiers’ invasion, this must have been serious. She should not send them away but let them help instead! They could make a difference.

He almost let his tears fall when she stepped out of the boat, not minding him grabbing her finger and begging: “Mother, do not go! We can fight together. Or you can come with us. We will go to father and then we come back all together to protect Lotus Pier!”

No, it was not working, she turned a deaf ear to his pleas and jumped back onto the pier. For a second, he thought that she would just walk off without as much as turning back. She was standing there completely still, her back straight and her head held high. Luckily, she at least answered his call: “Mother!”

She turned around and her previous emotional and open face was gone, all that was left was her usual scowling expression and harsh words. Jiang Cheng tried to reach out for her again, to get out of the boat and join the fight, to stand by his mother’s side. He could not understand why Wei Wuxian was just simply sitting on the boat’s bottom, not even trying to help him persuade his mother. What a coward!

Suddenly, Jiang Cheng felt something stopping him and dragging him back to sit down. It took a second for him to realize he was now being tied up by Zidian which turned into the whip on its own and had just completely immobilized him. He would have been still able to get up and go after his mother if he had not been tied to the limp and silent Wei Wuxian. His brother was just sitting there, back to back with him and doing absolutely nothing.

Jiang Cheng was angry at him. He knew that if they just tried, they would be able to shake Zidian off, although it had encircled them quite firmly, it was not hurting them, there was still enough space for breathing and moving his hands. However, he could not do it alone. It was as if all life had left his brother and he had become only a puppet. Did he not care at all what would happen to his mother and to Lotus Pier? Why was he not resisting to be send away from the battle?

Jiang Cheng looked up at his mother again, one tear finally overflowing from his eye when she explained: “Zidian will let you go once you will be in a safe place. If you encounter any enemy along the way, it will protect you.”

Jiang Cheng tried to concentrate his will and order Zidian to let him go. His mother had said he was now its master so the spiritual weapon should obey him, right? Nothing happened and Jiang Cheng realized at that moment that even though he was Zidian’s master now, it was still more loyal to his mother. His heart fell when he understood that he would indeed not be able to get it off until it had accomplished its mission and took them somewhere safe as his mother had called it. But where could be a safer place than his home, with his parents by his side?

“Mother!” he called after her again, still hoping she would change her mind. He begged and reasoned again: “Mother, father is not back yet. We should join with him and fight together…”

His mother interrupted him, suddenly looking angry again: “And what if he does not return! I am fine without him!”

As if that had been the last drop, his mother suddenly kicked the boat hard to push it into the river’s current. The impact made Wei Wuxian fall and he dragged Jiang Cheng with him. Now he could no longer even see his mother anymore! What was his brother doing all this time? Was he too shocked? Or was he too afraid of Wang Lingjiao’s threat that Wen Chao wanted his arm? No surely not, he had never been afraid of anything and anyone, except for dogs.

He struggled to sit up again, dragging Wei Wuxian’s body up with him. He started calling for his mother again, becoming more and more scared by the second when she attached a talisman to the boat and it started going down the stream.

He tried his best to lean forward to be able to still see her, but the boat’s sides were starting to obscure his view. His brother was only a dead weight on his back, preventing him from properly moving around. He had never hated Wei Wuxian, not truly, however, in this moment when he was apparently trying his best to just be a burden, he thought he might. He was not sure what his brother’s problem was, he was not even calling out to his mother to not leave them, he was just very silent and still.

Chapter Text

Wei Wuxian was sitting completely still on the bottom of the boat. He could feel Jiang Cheng struggling against his aching back but he could not find it in himself to care. Even if all the skin fell away due to this, he would be fine. He felt terrible for being the cause of Lotus Pier being now attacked, of driving the Jiang family apart and of Jiang Cheng’s desperate calls after his mother.

In truth, he would have preferred Jiang Cheng to blame him as well, perhaps it would alleviate his desperation and anger and he would also be able to concentrate on something else than his own guilt. Those few strikes of Zidian were not enough of a punishment, he knew it. Because of him, the whole Lotus Pier, the whole Yunmeng Jiang sect, was in danger. So many innocent lives at stake just because of him. He should have never gotten the idea of getting close to the Second Jade of Gusu and provoked Wen Chao!

The part of Zidian on his chest was pulsating with energy and he could feel it slightly burning him, as if even the Purple lightning whip knew he was to blame for all of this and was showing him its anger. He would have liked to cover his ears so he would not be able to hear Jiang Cheng’s desperation any more but he knew better than that. This was his punishment as well, he had to endure. He felt tears in his eyes, however he did not let them fall, he had no right to.

Madame Yu had asked him to protect Jiang Cheng with his life. Although he had not needed this reminder as he had known fully well what his mission was, he took it to heart. He had already failed once; he could not afford to act recklessly anymore lest Jiang Cheng could be in danger. He had to get him to safety first, Madame Yu made that clear, and then protect him. Even if it should cost him his life, his brother was the sect heir and he was only a dispensable son of a servant, of course it was clear whose life was more important.

So he did not struggle against the bindings, he knew they were there so Jiang Cheng would not recklessly try to go back to Lotus Pier. He did not call for Madame Yu to let them fight by her side anymore, he understood why she wanted her son to be far away from any danger. After all, the sect was not only the buildings in Lotus Pier, it was first and foremost the people. And without a leader, the Yunmeng Jiang sect would fall to ruins for sure.

He let himself be dragged around by the struggling Jiang Cheng and was biting back painful screams and groans. He was waiting for his brother to tire himself out to be able to reason with him. Jiang Cheng had to understand why his mother had send him away, he did not want him to blame his family for anything. He was the only guilty one. He always had been.

When they had departed from the pier, he had caught a glimpse of Madame Yu’s broken expression. The ever unbreakable, strong and fierce woman had been crying! Because of him and his foul mouth. He had felt his heart breaking even more knowing that he had caused pain not only to Jiang Cheng but to Madame Yu as well. And probably to Shijie and Uncle Jiang too, once they would learn about this situation.

If he had not had a mission, he would have perhaps considered just giving up. He however had to protect at least Jiang Cheng when he had failed the rest of the family. He swore then and there to the very heavens that he would give up his life protecting him, to his last breath.

Only then did he realize that he would probably die trying sooner rather than later. He remembered the cold emptiness where his golden core had once shined brightly. He put a hand onto his chest in a desperate attempt to fell something, anything, a single spark of spiritual energy flowing through his meridians. There was nothing left there, his golden core and all the spiritual energy it retained were truly gone.

He shuddered, trying to come to terms with his new circumstances. He was basically useless now, without his cultivation or his sword, he had only little means to protect anyone. Nevertheless, he would do his best, no matter the price.

If he would manage to shield Jiang Cheng, his life would be all worth it, he owed it to Madame Yu and Uncle Jiang for taking him in and providing for him all these years. He owed it to the Yunmeng Jiang sect for allowing him to train and develop a golden core in the first place. Even if it was now gone, his skills were not, although most probably clumsy without being able to use any spiritual energy.

No, he could not let himself become depressed or despair, his brother depended on him right now, he needed him. And so Wei Wuxian once again showed any self-pity he had been feeling to the very back of his mind. He took a deep breath to steady himself and to not let any pain be heard in his voice and he tried to reason with his distressed and struggling brother who was still trying to free himself from Zidian binding them together:

“Jiang Cheng, listen to me. Calm down, struggling would do us no good. We need to preserve our forces.” When it did nothing to calm his brother, he tried another approach: “Madame Yu facing Wen Zhuliu was an equal battle, nothing is decided yet. She will be fine.” He did not quite believe his own words but he needed Jiang Cheng to stop struggling before he would hurt himself.

“How can I calm down!” retorted his brother in a broken voice. Wei Wuxian could hear him crying and his heart was breaking still, his guilt almost overcoming him. But he did not let it, he needed to be strong, he could blame himself all he wanted later, once they were out of danger.

Jiang Cheng continued, his voice gaining on urgency and despair: “Even if mother managed to beat Wen Zhuliu, there was a whole army coming. I heard them! She cannot take on all the soldiers by herself. Wen Chao had sent a whole army to besiege our family because of you!”

It hurt deep inside and Wei Wuxian had to take a deep breath to remain calm himself. It would not do any good to either of them if he broke down or started panicking. After Jiang Cheng shouted his blame at him, he felt quiet again, safe for huffing and struggling against Zidian.

Wei Wuxian looked around in desperation, there must have been something what he could do for his brother at the moment. It was clear that Jiang Cheng was hurting and he wanted to help him overcome it. If shouting at him and blaming him would have been enough, he would gladly be the target of his rage, but it seemed like right now, it would not be enough.

They were in the middle of the river, there was nothing is sight except for water and deep forest surrounding it. They were lost who knew where, still moving away from Lotus Pier which was the only good thing in all this mess, the father away from the battle they would go, the safer Jiang Cheng would be.

Suddenly, Wei Wuxian spotted another boat in the distance. He could not believe his eyes. He though he recognized Shijie and Uncle Jiang standing on the deck. He did not want to alert Jiang Cheng just yet, in case it was not the rest of his family getting closer to them, he did not want to awaken a false hope in him. However, after only a few seconds as both boats continued to get closer one to another, he confirmed his hopes and he called out to his brother.

“Jiang Cheng, look! It is Uncle Jiang and Shijie!”

Chapter Text

Jiang Yanli was standing next to her father on the deck of a small boat which they used to go to the to a nearby town in. She had seen the hair pin which her father picked up for her mother instead of her broken one and she was sure that she would like it. Now only if she would also say it aloud; her father and mother had not had enough communication between them which often caused misunderstandings and arguments. Sadly, those often affected Jiang Cheng or Wei Wuxian.

She knew her parents loved each other, if only they could learn how to express it, everyone would have been much happier. When she had been younger, she tried to talk to her parents but she had only been told that she had been too young to understand. Now, she did not try anymore to come to them this openly, instead, she was supporting them from afar. Just like for this trip when she offered to accompany her father because she knew he had been upset.

The trip lasted a week and gradually, her father was becoming happier and he was even looking forwards to giving the hair pin to her mother. Jiang Yanli could not be sure if it was because of something she had said while trying to persuade him or if he just forgot the previous argument with her mother and was about to give her another chance, again. In the end, it did not matter, she was just happy about it.

Suddenly, she thought she heard familiar voices from quite far away. She shook her head slightly, what would her brothers do this far up stream when they usually went swimming and picking lotus seeds downstream?

But then there was another shout, even more urgent then the previous one and Jiang Yanli was sure that it belonged to Wei Wuxian. It could be that they could not wait and decided to come meet her and her father on their way back. However, the voices were not excited or welcoming, they seemed full of urgency and distressed. Had something perhaps happened in Lotus Pier while they had been gone?

She started worrying at once; looking around to see where the voices were coming from. Far and wide there was nothing aside for a small boat steadily making its was upstream, slowly advancing against the current. When she looked closer, she saw that no one was steering it. What was happening? Why was the boat sailing on its own?

The voices of her brothers became even louder and seemingly more desperate. She looked at her father and alerted him: “Father, I thing A-Cheng and A-Xian are on that boat.”

It looked like her father had already heard the voices as well because he swiftly turned around and ordered for their boat to approach the other quickly. It took another several minutes for the boats to finally meet, all the while, Jiang Cheng and Wei Wuxian were calling for them and if Jiang Yanli did not know any better, she would have believed that they had been crying from how hoarse their voices seemed.

When the boats finally locked to each other, she quickly jumped over the small railing and kneeled beside her brothers. Her worry spiked even more when she saw they were sitting on the boat’s bottom, both looking somewhat battered, their eyes red and tied back to back with Zidian. Jiang Cheng had a few dried patches on his cheeks and she could tell he had indeed been crying. Wei Wuxian on the other hand had dried blood on his chin and was clutching the front of his robes as if he was in pain.

The boys looked very distressed and Jiang Yanli could not wait to learn what had happened. Because something must had happened at Lotus Pier or her mother would not have tied her brothers with her spiritual weapon and sent them away.

Her father must have reached a similar conclusion because he was way ahead of her, already asking with worry in his tone: “A-Cheng, A-Ying, what happened? Why are you bound with Zidian?”

When neither of them seemed about to reply, Jiang Yanli asked, trying her best to keep her voice from breaking: “Where is mother? Why did she tie you like this?”

Finally, Jiang Cheng pleaded, visibly relieved they had been found but close to tears nevertheless: “Father, let us go, please, take Zidian away.”

Jiang Yanli was not sure that her father would be able to do that, she had never seen him wield the Purple lightning whip and she was afraid that because of his tense relationship with his wife, he would not be recognized as its master.

Once again, her father was of the same mind: “It is Zidian, it needs to recognize me as its master, I am not sure I can do anything for you. I am afraid it would not let me…”

Despite his words, he reached out his hand and did not even get to finish his sentence when Zidian was already moving, regaining its ring form and settling itself on the Yunmeng Jiang sect leader’s finger. No one seemed more surprised by the spiritual weapon’s behaviour than her father himself, it seemed.

And Jiang Yanli had to ask herself whether it was because he had never tried to wield Zidian or because he had tried and failed in the past. Nevertheless, it was a clear sign that her mother loved her father deeply and was trusting him enough to let him handle her spiritual weapon, after all, for her, it was like a sword for another cultivator, something only she and a handful of other people she permitted to could even touch. She hoped that her father would understand this as well and treat it as a precious love confession from her mother’s part.

Once free, her brothers quickly got up, interrupting her thoughts and attracting her father’s attention away from staring at Zidian in utter disbelief.

“Sister, Father, the Wens barged into our home. They came prepared. Mother is fighting them as we speak. We need to hurry back and help her. She was fighting the Core Melting Hand, if he manages to touch her only once, she would lose her golden core! Let us go back and join her!” Jiang Cheng all but begged.

It surprised her that Wei Wuxian did not say a word and was only nodding to his brother’s words. He must have been shaken, just like her. She knew the reputation of Wen Zhuliu and she was now fearing for her mother’s life. She looked urgently at her father and joined her voice to Jiang Cheng’s: “Father, let us go back. Quickly.”

However, her father only looked at all of them in turn and then pushed her towards her brothers. Jiang Yanli was baffled, she did not understand why her father would do that. They were going back together to help her mother, right?

Apparently no since the next second, Zidian turned into the Purple lightning whip again and wrapped itself around all their chests. The three of them were now tied together, unable to move. Jiang Yanli quickly shook away her shock and begged her father to let them go, just as did her youngest brother.

Surprisingly, she registered in the corner of her mind which had not been completely overtaken by worry, Wei Wuxian did not say a word. For a split second, she wondered why that was, but she let it go soon enough, there were more urgent matters to care about now.

She begged desperately, she did not want their family to separate. Who knew if they would even see each other alive ever again. But her father seemed adamant as he told them to not come back to Lotus Pier and to go to Meishan instead.

Chapter Text

Jiang Fengmian had never been one to openly express his emotions. It was even more clear when it came to his family and how much he loved them, all four of them. Instead, he preferred subtler ways of showing affection, which, sad to say, his wife more often than not did not pick up on even more often resulting in fights between them. He was still not completely sure even at this point if Yu Ziyuan loved him or not.

That was all the reason why when Zidian reacted to him, he was so stunned. He would have never thought that his wife would allow him to wield her spiritual weapon. He had always been afraid that she would not so he had never asked nor tried. Now however, it was clear to him that his wife in fact loved him, just as much as he loved her. It made something in him melt in happiness as he caressed the ring. He would have outright kissed it if the children were not there to see it.

Right, the children. Why would his wife tie them up and send them away? And in such a distressed state too. What had happened in Lotus Pier?

He had learned soon enough and his blood froze. It had been clear for some time already that a war with the Qishan Wen sect was inevitable, they had become more and more demanding and tyrannical in their ways over the last years, but he was still shocked that it had come right now. He had hoped that the fragile and pretended peace would last for a little bit longer, until the children would be old enough so he would not have to fear for them this much.

If it was true and the Wen soldiers were just now attacking Lotus Pier, his wife’s intentions in sending the children away had become evident at once. Children were the world’s future, if they fall, who would lead the next generations? They had to survive and be protected at all costs!

He took Jiang Yanli’s hand and shoved her gently towards her brothers, not minding the children’s pleading for him to stop. He would not heed to them, not this time, not when the Core Melting Hand was storming Lotus Pier. The children had just started their paths in cultivation, he could not allow them to be hurt in any way, even more so when it came to losing their golden cores this young, it would traumatize and incapacitate them for life.

He stretched out his hand and let Zidian tie them up together once more. They all started pleading even more urgently now and it was almost breaking his heart to see them this distressed, no child should ever go through something like this. But it was too late now, he could not help them any more than this, he had to hurry back to save his wife and to protect his home. It did not matter at all if Lotus Pier would be destroyed, he was a sect leader and he had to protect his sect, and the Yunmeng Jiang sect was not a place, it was the people. He had to go back and get as many disciples and town’s people as he could to safety.

So he hardened his heart against their pleas, and looked at them with a serious expression. They had to understand that he was not sending them away because he thought they could not help in the fight, but because he was worried about them and had to protect them at all costs.

“Listen to me,” he started, his voice devoid of all emotions lest he would break down and scare the children even more, “do not come back. Follow this direction, do not turn back, do not go to Lotus Pier. Once it will be safe to land, head to Meishan to meet your grandmother. I will go back for my wife.”

Just as he had expected, all three of them now started protesting, he could see tears in their eyes. His heart was now truly breaking. No, he would not listen to them, they had to be safe, they could not come back to Lotus Pier with him, it was too dangerous.

“You must stay safe and sound,” he muttered under his breath, more for himself then to reassure the children.

He could not bear their desperate begging anymore so he turned around, ready to leave and head back to Lotus Pier, every second counted now. However, from the corner of his eye, he caught something glistering on Jiang Cheng’s cheek, his youngest child was crying. He took a steadying breath and tried to ignore it and leave the children to save themselves.

“Uncle Jiang,” it was Wei Wuxian’s voice now. Jiang Fengmian had never heard him this broken, not even when he had picked him up from the streets. The child had always had a bright smile, no matter the circumstances, always but now. Jiang Fengmian could hear that the boy was crying, for the first time since he knew him. “If something happens to you, we will not be safe and sound either.”

Jiang Fengmian’s already hurting heart came to known new levels of sadness. He knew that Wei Wuxian had always put himself in a role of a protector of their family. Since very young, even before he had been able to pick up a sword, he always proclaimed that he would protect his siblings. It had been very sweet of him, but sometimes, Jiang Fengmian could not shake off the feeling that the boy felt insecure and unsure of his place in the family.

Wei Wuxian even tried to mediate some arguments between him and his wife when he came upon them, always effectively attracting Yu Ziyuan’s attention to himself. He had never stopped to try and mend their broken and dysfunctional family. Now it looked like he was once again attempting to keep them together. It was tugging at Jiang Fengmian’s heartstrings, although he would not let himself be swayed.

All his determination vanished as if by magic when he heard a quiet sob, this time it was Jiang Yanli. He swiftly turned back, he had to at least say goodbye to them, to let them know at least once that he truly loved them and cared for them. Perhaps he would never again have this opportunity. He hoped that the children already knew that, but he could not be sure, he should have been clearer in showing his affection and love towards them from the very beginning. It was too late to regret now.

He turned around at once and saw all three children crying. His heart broke for real right at that moment.

He went back to them, realizing he really needed to let them know he was not abandoning them, he was trying to protect them so they could grow strong and be able to fight their own battles when the time came.

He went first to his youngest who seemed the most broken-hearted. He only hesitated for a second, not used to showing his love this openly. Then he cupped his cheek and wiped away the tears streaming down from his red eyes.

“You fool,” he said, all emotional, “do not cry. I did not say I will not come back.”

It did nothing to calm Jiang Cheng at all, tears continued to come out of his eyes and if anything, he started sobbing even more desperately. Jiang Fengmian knew he had years to make up for, years of affection to be expressed and many, many talks to have with his children. He wanted to see them grow up, to become stronger and stronger until they would not need his protection anymore. It was too late to regret it now, if he would not hurry, Lotus Pier could fall.

He then turned to Jiang Yanli, doing the same as with her brother. She was also crying, although not as hard as Jiang Cheng. Jiang Fengmian could only hope that since she was older and more mature, she understood better than her younger siblings. It was however still heart-breaking to see her cry like this. He looked at her with fondness in his eyes, something he only rarely did and saw her expression calm down slightly, she understood.

Both his children were so distressed right now, and there was no more time to lose, he had to go back to Lotus Pier and do his best to save his wife and the Yunmeng Jiang sect. He was not sure he would come back as he had just promised to Jiang Cheng. He had to leave, now. But not before assuring himself that the children will be safe.

He went to Wei Wuxian. The boy, although broken just like his siblings, seemed a little bit more composed. Jiang Fengmian though that it was because he had once again assumed his role of the protector of his children and did not want to cause them even more distress. He was also not openly sobbing like the others, even though tears were staining his face all the same.

Jiang Fengmian put a hand on his shoulder and squeezed lightly. He wanted to encourage him, to reassure him that he was grateful that he would protect the others. He was the strongest between them and he had the biggest chance to accomplish this and keep his children safe. “A-Ying, you must watch out for A-Cheng and A-Li.”

Then, he felt like even Wei Wuxian’s protection may not be enough. If a war had truly started, the children had to stay together, at all times. It could not be only Wei Wuxian taking care of them, but they had to watch each other’s backs. He felt his emotions finally getting the better of him, he was close to tears himself, not knowing if he would see his children ever again.

They had to stay together. Always. He did not even realize he said the last part of his thoughts aloud. He turned around swiftly, hiding his emotions as always and ordered the disciples on his boat to head to Lotus Pier.

Chapter Text

Yu Ziyuan was watching the boat she had just sent away disappear in the distance and she finally let her tears fall. She did not know if she would ever see the children again. Her precious little boys, so full of youth which had just been stripped away from them because the war was coming, there was no denying it now.

She pitied them, they would have to grow up fast to face the coming storm. Even the notorious troublemaker she had never really forged a close relationship with, would he still be able to be as reckless and untamed as he had been until now? Would he still be able to smile if he would survive the war? She hoped for the best but feared the worst.

If, yes, that was fitting. No one could now be sure of their life, they could all be dead in a matter of minutes. She could hear the disciples screaming in the distance and noises of a battle coming closer. She really needed to get a hold of herself. In the absence of Jiang Fengmian, the sect leader, she was the one who needed to lead the sect. She could not stay here and worry about what would become of the children. They would be safe, she had to believe that.

Wiping with one hand at her tears, she swiftly turned around, her robes flapping around her as she run back towards the centre of Lotus Pier. Although she had expected to see a battle, the sight still froze her for a second. There were so many Qishan Wen sect soldiers in the main courtyard. It almost seemed like the whole place had turned red; only occasional speck of purple could be seen as the Yunmeng Jiang sect disciples were finding themselves completely overwhelmed. Blood had already stained the stone floor.

Since Yu Ziyuan had given Zidian to Jiang Cheng and her spiritual sword was back in her rooms, she reached out for the closest weapon she could find and threw herself into the chaos of the battle. She was like a goddess of war, striking down everyone in her wake and steadily progressing towards the sect hall where she intended to make a stand until all the disciple joined her. It would be a fitting place to have her life ended there, thinking about all the moments she had spent there with her husband and her children.

While she was fighting, she did not stop calling for all the remaining Yunmeng Jiang sect disciples to come with her. Her voice was carrying loud and clear, if only a little breathless. All the still alive disciples came to her and there were so few of them! The Yunmeng Jiang sect was truly falling. She wondered if it would have been different should her husband be here with her. But then again, she was happy he was not, at least someone would survive and be able to resurrect the sect.

She and her thinning entourage made it to the entrance of the sect hall and Yu Ziyuan ordered them: “Go! Use the emergency exits and warn everyone. Try to get as any people as possible to evacuate. I will hold the Wens here for the time being.”

The disciples were looking at her in utter horror but the urgency in her voice made them finally move as she shouted in the same way she had done countless times during trainings: “Go! Now!”

And then she was alone, facing a sea of red. Her vision was blurry from her earlier tears and from all the effort she had just deployed. It took her a while to understand that the Wen soldiers around her stopped attacking and one figure came forward, bowing to her in respect. It was Wen Zhuliu.

She was getting ready to confront him, no matter if she was already exhausted and barely keeping herself on her feet. She would protect her sect, she had to give the disciples as much time as she could so they could evacuate.

Suddenly, the main gate which had been for some reason closed until then flew open. Yu Ziyuan almost fell down in relief. Her husband and a few other disciples were standing in the door, overlooking the situation with stern looks. Her heart was overflowing with happiness even in this kind of situation that she was able to see her beloved for one last time. At the same time however, she wanted to weep and beg him to run away, the battle seemed already lost and her life all but forfeit, just as his now.

She watched as Jiang Fengmian’s features become harder and he raised his sword higher, ready to join the battle, calling for her: “My Lady!”

She could see emotions in his eyes, something she was not really used to and it took her by surprise. She smiled and her gesture was returned. For a split second, she felt like the world around her stopped existing, it was just her and her husband, looking longingly at each other as never before.

She wanted to tell him so many things, to let him know that despite her harsh words and attitude, she loved him and he was the only one for her. She wanted to apologize for all the times she started pointless arguments and chased him away from her. She wanted to tell him that all those times she shouted angrily to his face that he loved Cangse Sanren more than her, she did not really mean it, she had just been hurt by all the rumours flying around.

She realized that she should have said all that sooner, they would probably both die in a matter of minutes. She had lost so many opportunities she wanted to cry. But no matter, she at least had this one second when their eyes were still in direct contact, as if they could see into each other’s souls. She had to say at least the most important part before she would not be able to anymore.

She moved her lips, her voice locked away because those words were meant only for Jiang Fengmian and no one else: “I love you.” Her husband’s eyes went incredibly wide and then his lips moved in the same fashion, his face adorned with a gentle smile.

Their perfect moment, first since their marriage, got interrupted when all hell broke loose around them. The Wen sect soldiers started attacking again and she had her hands full fighting the Core Melting Hand. She lost sight of her husband and could only pray for him to be save, no matter how unlikely it was given their current situation.

She did not know how long it lasted, after a while all she could think about was how the sword she had picked up was getting heavier and heavier, until she found it hard to raise it again. Fatigue was dulling her senses and she knew she had been injured in several places, although she did not have time to worry about that, not right now when she still could fight.

Suddenly, pain erupted in her back and she fell forward. She tried to turn around but there was someone holding her down. The sword fell onto the ground, far away from her reach. The world around her stilled, there was no more fighting to be heard, only deathly silence reigned above Lotus Pier.

She noticed a speck of purple on the ground next to her. She managed to focus her eyes and saw that it was in fact her husband. He was covered in blood and his eyes were half closed. There was a Wen sect soldier holding a foot on his back. Even so, Jiang Fengmian reached out his hand, torturously slowly, as if he was already dying and wanted this to be his last feat on this earth.

Yu Ziyuan did the same and their fingers interlaced. She had never felt this happy in all her life. She stopped struggling and let her tears fall freely, squeezing her husband’s hand softly. Then everything became black and her consciousness left her.

Chapter Text

After her father left the boat, Jiang Yanli and her brothers were still calling after him, more and more desperately. She did not want them to be left alone, they may never see their parents again in this life time. She was not sure if she preferred her father took them to Lotus Pier to fight, she was a weak cultivator and would only get in the way, or if she instead wished for her father to remain here with them.

Both desires were battling inside of her and she could feel tears staining her cheeks. Either way, the situation was not good. If father allowed them to go back to Lotus Pier, they could potentially all lose their lives. But if he headed there on his own, they would not know what happened to him or their mother, they would be left in the dark. But at least she would not have to worry about her brothers getting hurt.

Oh. Suddenly, she understood. Did her father not say that they had to remain safe and sound? Exactly! If she, Jiang Cheng and Wei Wuxian were to stay in this boat, far from any fighting, there were high chances that they would survive the attract on Lotus Pier unscathed. That must have been why her father was so adamant on leaving them there. He wanted to protect them.

When he was telling her not to cry, although it was hard to manage, she stopped. She knew that this must be hurting him just as it did hurt her and she did not want to make it even harder for him.

She would have begged him to stay with them, to save himself as well but she understood where he was coming from. He was a sect leader, he had responsibility to protect the Yunmeng Jiang sect. All the more that her mother had stayed behind, she knew her father loved her and felt strongly about her, he had to save her. Just like she cared about her younger brothers and felt that she also had to protect them, to the best of her abilities. Where her father was strong and could fight, she could at least offer comfort.

Even though she understood all that, she could not help but to call after her father as his boat was going around theirs and slowly disappearing in the distance. She did not want her father to go after all. She did not know if they would be able to see each other ever again, their farewells were so short!

Despite her best efforts, she started crying again inconsolably. She could hear her brothers doing the same. In this moment of pain, she found that her mind was hazy from the immense grief she was feeling. She could tell that it was the same for Jiang Cheng and Wei Wuxian. Worrying about her younger brothers was something she did on daily basis and so she could not help herself but to wonder if they also understood why they were just being left alone in the middle of nowhere or if they thought they were being abandoned and not loved. If they also understood that it was out of love and concern and not because their parents deemed them inadequate or weak.

She knew both her brothers were strong, always had been. And it was not just physical strength either, their spirits were shining brightly too. She wriggled a bit in Zidian’s bindings and she managed to free her hands enough to be able to reach to her sides and grab Jiang Cheng’s and Wei Wuxian’s hands. She squeezed them lightly to let them know she was there, that she cared, that she was offering comfort.

She would have liked to reassure them with her voice as well, but she was not sure it would work all that well right now. She was still crying and she knew that if she tried to speak, her voice would shake and probably break. It would not do any good to her brothers to start worry about her as well. So for now, she could only hold their hands as they all cried bitterly, still looking to where her father’s boat had disappeared to.

She could feel their hands trembling, hers were too, they were all too raw right now to be able to think clearly. Wei Wuxian’s were slightly colder than Jiang Cheng’s. However, she did not put any weight to this discovery, he must have also been shaken greatly, it must have been due to shock. And perhaps also grief as well, for him, it was the second time he could lose a family.

She could not even start to imagine how devastated he must be feeling at the moment, how lost and frightened. She still remembered clearly how he used to cry in her lap when her father had first brought him home. He was so afraid that if he would not behave himself, he would be once again kicked on the street and lose the family he had just gained. It always made tears gather in her eyes when she was trying to sooth him and coax him into sleep.

She started taking deep breaths to calm herself. She was the big sister, she had to take care of both her brothers. She squeezed their hands tighter and was happy when they responded, although it was weak and delayed, it still let her catch herself a little bit. She knew she was not alone. And the knowledge that her parents were also not alone and had each other right now was also soothing. They could do this, they had to.

Suddenly, she felt the grip of Zidian on her chest disappear and when she looked down, she could see that it was retracting back to Jiang Cheng and settling itself on his finger. They were free. That must have meant they were out of danger. She gave out a long sigh.

She gently touched her brothers’ shoulders, calling them in relief: “A-Xian, A-Cheng.”

Only after seeing Wei Wuxian’s face and the blood on his chin did she remember that he must have been injured. However, before she could ask if he was alright, Jiang Cheng started already turning around in mad parody of a dance. She unglued her worried eyes from Wei Wuxian and looked at her younger sibling.  Was he alright? Or did he perhaps lose his mind from all the stress and grief? He had always been the one to feel things the deepest despite his angry pretence. It could not be that he was injured as well, right?

She tried to grad his shoulder again to make him stop moving around. It took her a few tries until she finally succeeded and made him turn around and face her. His face was a mask of grief and tears were still flowing freely from his eyes. He was mumbling something.

“What is it, A-Cheng?” asked Jiang Yanli gently.

It took a few torturous second for her brother to focus his eyes on her and to reply, whispering brokenly: “Sister… we have to go back. Wen Zhuliu… We have to help protect the sect. We have to help our parents…”

She felt tears well in her eyes again. Her younger brother seemed so fragile, so lost at the moment, it was painful to watch.

“Oh, A-Cheng,” she whispered in turn and then scoped her brother into a tight embrace. He was stiff for a second but then he buried his face into her robes and she could feel them getting wet from his tears.

Chapter Text

Wei Wuxian watched as Jiang Cheng basically broke down and Jiang Yanli kneeling next to him and hugging him, trying to sooth the desperate sobs which were hurting Wei Wuxian’s very soul. It was truly heart-breaking to watch his siblings in this distressed state. Even if Madame Yu and Uncle Jiang had not told him to, he would have protected them until his last breath on his own free will.

Their words were just a reminder. His chest tightened thinking that those could have very well been their last words to him. If he thought about it in this light, they were their last wishes, and he would make his utmost best to fulfil them.

While his siblings were still crying on the boat’s bottom, he looked around, hoping to find something he could use to row the boat further up the stream of the river, farther away from Lotus Pier and the danger represented by the Qishan Wen soldiers. They had to hurry, a search for them would surely be declared as soon as the battle would be over, he had to get his siblings to safety before that.

Tears were still blurring his vision but he stubbornly blinked them away, he had to time to grief, nor did he had the right to it when all of this mess was his fault to begin with. He could blame himself all he wanted once Jiang Cheng and Shijie would be out of harm’s ways.

He could see no oars nor paddles anywhere. But there was a wooden bench encircling the whole inside of the boat. He quickly scrunched down, ignoring how his swift motion pulled at the wounds on his back, another reminder that he had to be quick, he would not be able to last for too long. With an unexpected effort compared to before having his golden core crushed, he managed to break off a part of the bench.

He looked back at his siblings, still hugging each other and not paying any attention to him. He would have liked to somehow ease their pain but how could he when he was the one who had caused it?  So he only blinked some more tears away, kneeled on the back of the boat and started paddling, helping the talisman Madame Yu had attached to the boat to fight the current.

It was slow but finally, he could feel like he was succeeding in leading the boat where he wanted it to go. His satisfaction was however short-lived as the next second, someone grabbed his shoulder with force and made him turn around, the makeshift paddle tumbled to the bottom of the boat.

Jiang Cheng now shifted to get a better grip of him, getting hold of the front of his robes and started shaking him angrily. His eyes were all red and bloodshot from all the crying he had just done, but his tears had now stopped, only leaving wet traces in the dirt covering his cheeks. His hair was dishevelled and somehow, he looked a lot younger now, his emotions on clear display.

Wei Wuxian let himself be shaken, he did not resist, hoping that his brother would exhaust himself. He knew that he stood no chance against him in a fight right now. Jiang Cheng was moving his mouth even though no words came out of it.

The angry flood started only after several seconds: “Wei Wuxian! What do you think you are doing? Do you realize that Lotus Pier is the other way?”

The shaking finally stopped as his brother was breathing heavily, waiting for his reaction. He swallowed the lump in his throat and tried to explain as calmly and gently as he could manage under the circumstances: “Jiang Cheng, we cannot go back, it is too dangerous. Madame Yu and Uncle Jiang asked me to take care of you, I need to get you to safety.”

His brother only seemed to have heard his first words, his face now contorted with hurt and disbelief. “You… You are just a coward! You want safe your own skin instead of going back to fight and defend Lotus Pier? Do you not remember who had rescued you as a child and gave you a place to call home?” He was shouting more and more angrily while once again shaking Wei Wuxian by the front of his robes.

Then he stopped abruptly and let go. Wei Wuxian did not expect it and almost fell down without his brother’s support. Although the pain caused by the words was far greater than his physical one, his body was still starting to fail him. He had to gather all his will to push all the ache and exhaustion away and stand straight, looking directly at Jiang Cheng.

His brother was now looking even more lost and devastated than before and it caused Wei Wuxian to hate himself more fiercely every second for causing him this much pain.

Jiang Cheng’s shoulders sagged and he continued throwing hateful words at him, and it hurt more than being whipped with Zidian had had. He sounded very bitter and regretful, nodding his head slightly as he was talking: “Mother was right, you really are ungrateful; and a coward at that! I am ashamed to call you my brother. Go! Just go save your own skin! I can go back to Lotus Pier alone; I will save my parents. I am better than you. I am not like you at all… Just go away…”

Wei Wuxian lowered his head, fighting his tears. He deserved every last word of Jiang Cheng’s outburst. It was all true in a way, he could not deny it. Every single one of them felt like a dagger was being stabbed into his heart, over and over again, and he knew he deserved it. He had failed the family which took care of him, he had caused them harm and brought danger to their doorsteps. Would he even be allowed to continue calling them his family after this?

From the corner of his eye, he saw Jiang Yanli taking hold of Jiang Cheng’s elbow, trying to gain his attention: “A-Cheng! Stop this!”

Jiang Cheng snapped at her and shook her hand away. “Why should I! Is it not all true? We should be heading back to help protect the Yunmeng Jiang sect, to help our parents. But he,” he pointed an accusative finger at Wei Wuxian, “is just trying to run away.”

Wei Wuxian had had enough. He certainly did not mind being the target of his brother’s rage but Jiang Yanli did not deserve such harsh words. He lifted his head and looked directly into the other’s eyes.

He could tell that Jiang Cheng would not hear anything he would try to say and would probably try to turn around as soon as he would have the opportunity. They had wasted enough time already, they had to get moving before the Qishan Wen soldier, or anyone else they had send to look for them, found them. They had to find a shelter to be able to calm down and think about what they should do next.

“I am sorry, Jiang Cheng,” he whispered and hit the back of his brother’s neck, efficiently knocking him out.

He gently caught him before he could fall down and Jiang Yanli helped him to more or less comfortably lay him down on the boat’s bottom. His Shijie was looking at him with a curious eye, he could not quite decrypt what she was thinking at the moment.

“A-Xian,” she started gently, probably to tell him that he should not listen to Jiang Cheng, that their brother was too distressed to really know what he was saying.

He did not need her pity at the moment, he did not deserve any kind words. He felt like if he did receive even a little, he would have just broken down himself. And he could not afford that, he had a mission to accomplish.

So he only waived his hand dismissively and whispered as an apology: “We cannot go back. I have promised to keep you safe. And I will.”

He waited for a moment for his sister’s reaction. He had expected many things but not a determined nod of her head and permission: “I know, A-Xian. We cannot go back; it is too dangerous.”

Bless his Shijie for always knowing what he needed to hear! He felt new strength in his body and nodded with determination himself. Then he went to pick up his makeshift paddle and continued to push the boat towards any safe destination.

Chapter Text

Jiang Yanli watched her two brothers in turn, one laying in her lap, knocked out, and the other rowing the boat against the current. She felt like crying again but all her tears had long dried. She also had to stay strong for the younger ones.

She had been horrified by Jiang Cheng’s behaviour earlier, he should not have been this harsh with Wei Wuxian. She could understand that he had been distressed and wanted to go back to fight side by side with their parents, it did however not justify his behaviour. What Wei Wuxian had said made sense; their parents wanted them to be safe, they could not go back. He had always been the strongest one amongst them so it made sense that he wanted to protect them. She hoped that he would not take Jiang Cheng’s words too seriously, they both long knew that their brother tended to be careless with them at times.

She started running her fingers through her younger brother’s hair in an attempt to sooth both herself and him. She hoped he would not wake up too soon and would not cause another scene. It would probably be better if he stayed unconscious until they had found a safe place and could recuperate. They would have to rest first before going to Meishan, it was quite far, they needed to be strong for the journey. If their parents survived, they would surely come meet them there.

It started raining all of the sudden. The rain drops were falling all around them and the temperature dropped as well. It was kind of fitting for their situation, even the sky was crying with them. She continued to watch how Wei Wuxian tirelessly rowed the boat. She could not see his face so she could not be sure, but she thought that he was also crying, hiding his own grief away from her, drowning it in the rain. She did not want to intrude so she looked away and was now observing Jiang Cheng instead.

The forest around the river started thinning out. It was a good sign; they were getting closer to some other settlements. And where there were people, there were also inns to hide in and warm food to put in their stomachs. It would do them much good. And surely the word had not yet spread around that the Wen soldiers were looking for them, it would be fine, they could take a little break.

When she spotted a pier in the distance, she gently laid her brother’s head down and stood up, swaying a bit because her head felt lightheaded from all the crying and her legs had fallen asleep. She caught herself quickly and went to Wei Wuxian. Her brother’s head was lowered, facing the water and in the reflection, she could see how tired yet determined his expression was.

She gently tapped his shoulder and when he looked up, he had a small smile on his lips. She could tell it was not a genuine one as it did not quite reach his eyes but she decided to not say anything. If he was trying to reassure her and lift up her spirit, she could only gratefully accept.

“Shijie,” he whispered and his voice betrayed just how tired he was. It was hoarse, he must have truly been crying. She decided to not mention this fact either.

She smiled back and pointed towards the small pier which was now a lot closer: “A-Xian, there. I remember that there was a small town there. I saw it when we passed by here with father earlier. We can take a rest there. Surely the news would not have yet reached there.”

Her brother looked at her a second, apparently trying to decide if it was safe enough. Then he nodded and started rowing the boat again.

They reached the pier soon enough. Just as Jiang Yanli had remembered, there was a small town there. She had thought they would have to search for an inn for a while but she had been mistaken, she could see a sign of one even from where she was still standing inside the boat. She gave out a sigh of relief, they will be able to rest there.

She could feel a headache building up and she did not want anything more than some hot tea. She was cold, her clothes wet from the rain despite the boat having a roof above it. She was sure that her brothers were not feeling any better. They must be looking really unpresentable right now, but it should not be a problem in a town this small.

Just as she had feared, when Wei Wuxian was standing up, he staggered and she had to steady him so he would not fall overboard. They both then did their best to take the still unconscious Jiang Cheng out of the boat. Jiang Yanli helped to get him on Wei Wuxian’s back and was steadying him in place on their way to the small inn.

The older of her brothers was walking with heave steps shrouded in exhaustion, breathing labouredly. She would have loved to help him some more but she knew she was too weak to be able to carry her younger brother. And no one was outside in this kind of heavy rain. So she could only offer silent support and open the door of the inn for him.

With the money she luckily had on her from her trip with her father, she managed to get them a room or the second floor. The innkeeper watched them with a bit of suspicion but she quickly explained that her brother had gotten drunk and they needed a shelter from the rain. It seemed to work and the man did not ask any other questions.

She watched with worried eyes how Wei Wuxian struggled up the stairs and then into the appointed room. There, he laid Jiang Cheng on one of the beds and all but fell down next to it. Jiang Yanli exclaimed in horror: “A-Xian!”

Wei Wuxian looked up at her, smiling, and explained: “Shijie, I am fine, just a little tired.”

Then he managed to scramble upwards and went to the table in the middle of the room, pointing towards the second bed: “Let us rest for a bit, Shijie. I will go buy some food later.”

Jiang Yanli felt her own tiredness get the best of her, her headache had gotten worse as well. She did not argue with her brother. She let the now a bit worryingly empty money pouch set on the table beside her brother’s elbow and went to lay in the other bed, only discarding her soaked outer robe. Her eyes closed as soon as her head hit the pillow.

Chapter Text

Wei Wuxian all but crumbled down onto one of the seats around the low table in the middle of the room. He felt completely exhausted, as if his body could not hold on anymore and was betraying him. Everything hurt and the wet clothes were sticking uncomfortably to his ice cold skin. He had never felt like this before. Or perhaps he had, when he had still been living in the streets, then again, he could hardly remember that time clearly. This must have been how normal people felt when they were tired. He blinked slowly, trying to get used to his new circumstances.

He was glad that they had managed to get away after all and the Wens were not pursuing them just yet. With his siblings safely tugged in their beds, he could probably get some rest as well. His eyes were closing despite his best efforts. He glanced at his siblings again, reassuring himself further that they were both asleep. Only then he let his eyelids finally fall.

He woke up with a shiver. He did not know how much time had passed so he quickly blinked himself to full awareness. He immediately looked towards the beds and gave out a big sigh of relief, both Jiang Yanli and Jiang Cheng were still asleep.

Good. He had been afraid for a moment that they were gone. His sleep had been haunted by nightmares of him failing to protect them and finding himself all alone in the world once again. He had seen bodies of Madame Yu, Uncle Jiang and his siblings littered around Lotus Pier, all bloodied and broken. It took him a while to shake the image away. He knew now that those were just bad dreams, and he would do his best for them to not become reality.

He felt like he had not slept at all, he was still exhausted and his body was reminding him of what had happened.

With a restrained groan, he stood up and went to check on Jiang Cheng. His brother was laying still in the same position he had put him down before he had fallen asleep. That was good, apparently it would still take him a while to wake up. Wei Wuxian was not sure if he was ready to face his wrath once again, no matter how much he deserved it. He was terrified that Jiang Cheng would insist on going back to Lotus Pier and he would be too weak to stop him.

He shook his head to get rid of the thought. It would not help him to worry about it before he even knew how Jiang Cheng would be acting upon waking up.

He went to check on Jiang Yanli next and was immediately alarmed when he saw her whole face covered in sweat. She looked like she was in pain, there was a small wrinkle between her eyebrows. He gently reached out his hand and put it on her forehead. He was hoping he was mistaken. Unfortunately, his worries had been spot on, Jiang Yanli was burning with fever.

It must have been because she had been drenched in the rain earlier and did not change her robes before going to bed. The stress of what had happened had probably also played a role, she had always been susceptible to fevers.

Wei Wuxian berated himself internally, he should have noticed earlier and request some clean robes for them to wear when they had been speaking to the inn keeper. Nothing to do now however, he would just have to correct this mistake of his. Luckily, this one was easier to deal with than his other ones.

He tugged his sister inside the bed better, covering her whole body with the thick blanket. Then he went back to the table and picked up the money pouch, checking its contents. There was not much after paying for the room but it would have to be enough. He had to go buy food and some fever medicine for his sister, there should be enough for some simple clean robes as well, or at least he hoped so.

He hesitated for a moment before going to the door. He looked at his sleeping siblings again. He hated to leave them here like this, all alone and defenceless. For a second, he mused if he should not wake Jiang Cheng up and tell him to guard Jiang Yanli. But he quickly opted against this option, he was still not ready for his brother’s reaction once he would find out that Wei Wuxian had knocked him out and the battle of Lotus Pier had probably been long over, whatever the result had been.

The news would surely travel quickly, but not just yet. Not in this small town so far away from Lotus Pier. He hoped that if the Wen soldiers had won, they would only start looking for them later, that they still have enough time to get away. Uncle Jiang had told him to take his siblings to Meishan, and that was what he would do. At least for now. If Madame Yu and Uncle Jiang were fine, that would be the first place where they would start looking for them.

And if they would not be able to look for them because Lotus Pier had fallen, then he would surely learn the news on their way to Meishan and could take his siblings somewhere else, somewhere safer. He would not be able to protect them against the whole Qishan Wen sect who would be searching for them, they needed to find refuge, preferably under protection of one of the great sects.

He would have without a doubt opted first for the Gusu Lan sect, but that one was virtually non-existent at this point, with Cloud Recesses burned down and the disciples scattered all around, seeking refuge themselves. For a second he wondered what had happened to Lan Zhan but he quickly buried the thought deep down, he had enough to worry about.

The next one in line would be the Lanling Jin sect, they were powerful and Jin Zixuan had been Jiang Yanli’s fiancé, surely at least Madame Jin would welcome them with open arms. But Lanling was too far away, they would be spotted before making it there.

So the only option left would be Qinghe. Wei Wuxian was not a big fan of the Qinghe Nie sect, with their military discipline and anger issues of their sect leader. For now however, it was their best shot. He was sure that it would turn out alright, not everyone in Qinghe had such a fiery temper as Nie Mingjue. Nie Huisang was certainly only one of the examples.

Wei Wuxian knew that he was perhaps worrying too much and they would just learn that Madame Yu and Uncle Jiang were fine, waiting for them in Meishan, but it never hurt to be prepared. After he had heard what had happened to Cloud Recesses, he was afraid that Lotus Pier was just next in line for the same fate. It was all his fault.

No, he could not start blaming himself again and lose precious time. They were on the run and they had to be quick. He had to be quick. Food, medicine and a set of dry robes for Jiang Yanli came first, he could worry about himself once his siblings would be safe.

Without any more hesitation, he turned his back to the room and opened the door. He would try to be as fast as possible, hopefully coming back before any of them woke up.

“I will be back,” he whispered well aware that none of his siblings could hear him.

Once he was outside, he went to first hide the boat in the nearby bushes so it would be harder for potential pursuers to spot them and then went about the empty town, looking for anyone who would be willing to sell him the things which his siblings so dearly needed right now.

Chapter Text

When Jiang Cheng woke up, he felt like he was laying in a bed. For several seconds, he believed that what he had just seen was just a terrible nightmare and he felt a wave of relief wash over him. Yes, it had been too terrible to be true for sure. It would not happen that the Qishan Wen sect would attack Lotus Pier and that his parents were fighting them on their own while his brother had cowardly run away.

The relief was short lived however. The next moment, as his senses were slowly coming to him, he realized that he was certainly not in his own bed. It smelled different, the air as well, there was no lotus flower aroma around, nor any sound of gentle waves breaking on the piers. This was not his home. This was not Lotus Pier.

He immediately shot up and started looking all around the unfamiliar room he was in. From the layout, he could tell that he was most probably in an inn. He became alerted at once, awaiting an attack at any moment. This time, it did not take him too long to notice that there was someone else in the room with him.

He found the so thought intruder quickly and gave out a sigh of relief, his muscles finally relaxing again. It was no enemy at all, it was just his sister, peacefully sleeping in the second bed, aside for her, there was no one else in the room.

Everything came back to Jiang Cheng, crashing on him as a heavy weight. The last thing he remembered was arguing with Wei Wuxian still on the boat. From the looks of it and from the headache which was stubbornly torturing him, he had been knocked out. Then they must have landed at some point and took refuge in this inn.

Since he could not see his brother anywhere, he immediately assumed that that coward had really run off, trying to save his own skin.

Jiang Cheng took a deep breath, trying to stay calm and think reasonably for a while. It made some kind of twisted sense than Wei Wuxian had left them. He had been whipped by their mother as a punishment for causing all of this mess, and he was probably fearing that the Wens would continue to come after him, they still did not get his arm they had requested. If it had been him, then perhaps he would have done the same?

A red hot anger clouded his mind once again, just like that time in the boat. No! Never. Even if he had found himself in the same situation, he would not have abandoned his family. He would have gone back and fought. He knew that if they all came together, they would be more than capable of driving the Wens away and prevailing in protecting their own and their home.

A glimmer of hope sprouted in his chest. Although he did not know how long he had been unconscious, perhaps it was still not too late to go back and join his forces with his parents. Perhaps there was still time to correct everything that Wei Wuxian had broken. Jiang Cheng sighed internally, it was just like always, his brother did not think about his actions and he was left to deal with his mess and the cleaning up.

Testing how his body was faring, he slowly got up and went to his sister’s bed. He looked at her and observed her for a while. A fleeting thought passed in his mind, he wanted to wake her up and bring her with him, back to their home, to reunite their family once again. But he immediately brushed it away, he could not do that, Jiang Yanli was not a fighter, she would be too terrified of the battle and she would also be in danger. No, better leave her here and come back for her once Lotus Pier had been reclaimed.

He smiled a bit to himself and leaned forward to gently kiss her forehead in a silent goodbye. Not a farewell, they would see each other soon, he would make sure of it. It was something he had never done before but enjoyed immensely when his sister had done it, thinking he was long asleep. It was sweet and it was love, although it had only been Jiang Yanli to give out kisses in the dead of the night, not his parents.

He quietly left the inn’s room and went down the stairs. His head was still killing him but he could feel his golden core already taking care of that. He did not encounter anyone on his way out and he was glad, that meant that no one was after them just yet, he must not have slept all that long, there was still hope.

He hurried outside of the door and then looked around, trying to pinpoint in which direction he should head next, which way would lead him home. When he took the first step outside, his food landed in a small puddle of water. The ground was all wet as if it had been raining heavily just now. His heart sagged a bit, he did not remember any rain, he must have been unconscious for longer than he had initially thought.

He took a deep breath to abate his rising panic. It did not have to mean anything. It could have just been a really strong but short storm. There could still be time to fix everything. He looked around again, more frantically this time.

He immediately saw a small pier not too far from where he was standing. However, there were no boats anywhere in sight. It would have been so much easier to just sail a boat downstream back to Lotus Pier, it would have been so much faster too. But there were no boats so he would just have to run all the way back. He still did not know where exactly he was and how far they had gotten from their home, he would however not hesitate, he would run as long as it would be needed.

He went closer to the river and then started running alongside it, in the direction where Lotus Pier must be. At first, he was sprinting, wanting to get back as soon as possible, but he gradually slowed down and settle at a slower, but more steady pace. If he was to tire himself before the battle, what use would he be to help his parents protect Lotus Pier and the Yunmeng Jiang sect?

He had no sword on him, his own was still held in Qishan after the indoctrination. It mattered little however, he could feel a comforting weight of Zidian on his finger. He reached down and caressed the cold metal of the ring, his mother’s spiritual weapon. He had never held it before, never used a whip in his life, however, he was confident that he would quickly get the hang of it. He had to, for his parents, for Lotus Pier, for the Yunmeng Jiang sect.

Chapter Text

The fight was already long over when Wen Chao with Wang Lingjiao hanging on his elbow made their entrance onto the main courtyard of Lotus Pier. He was walking as if everything there belonged to him, as if the true masters of this place were already dead.

They were not however. Jiang Fengmian was suspended between two guards who were forcing him to remain on his knees. His sword had been long taken from him and the sheer amount of injuries he had sustained while valiantly defending his home and his wife was making him unable to put up a fight anymore.

He glanced to the side. Yu Ziyuan had found herself in a similar predicament but at least she was alright, as much as she could be given the circumstances, that was. Jiang Fengmian was watching her with love in his eyes. Just earlier today, she had said she loved him for the first time ever and he had thought he would die satisfied with that. Now, when he actually found himself still alive, he was surprised that he wanted more, more of those sweet moments in the future.

His wife was struggling a bit between the guards and it warmed his heart that apparently she had not been injured too badly. Her hair and robes were in a complete disarray, her headpiece was hanging limply on the side of her head and she was covered in blood, but Jiang Fengmian had never found her more beautiful. There was a stray strand of hair dancing in front of her face and he wanted dearly to tug it behind her ear to see her face better.

His longing thoughts were interrupted by Wen Chao coming closer with a mocking smirk. He recognized Wen Zhuliu at his side and it made him shiver a bit. He did not fear the brat, but the Core Melting Hand, that was another story entirely. He wondered what would happen to them now that they had been captured. He supposed that since they had not been killed until now, they were to remain alive and probably taken prisoners. He could however not be sure.

He would not give Wen Chao the satisfaction of seeing his fear so he willed his face to remain stoic as one other Wen soldier yanked at his hair, obliging him to lift up his head and look at the second heir of the Qishan Wen sect and his woman. Or perhaps more like his concubine from the way she was sticking to him by her whole body, her too revealing clothes not letting anything to imagination. He felt sick to see her walking in his home as if it belonged to her.

He still kept his expression completely neutral and stared at Wen Chao, waiting for him to say or do what he came for. He was looking at them with open disrespect, all smug about it.

He looked around as if searching for something and then asked, no one in particular and everyone at the same time: “Where are the others? Where is Wei Wuxian?”

Jiang Fengmian’s heart lightened in relief. They did not capture the children; they have managed to escape! No matter what happened to him and his wife, the children would be safe and would be able to rebuilt the sect from scratch if needed. After all, he had not seen too many disciples’ corpses on his way here and he had assumed that most of them managed to evacuate. Even if Wen Chao killed both of them now, the Yunmeng Jiang sect would survive under the children’s leadership.

One soldier came to Wen Chao and whispered something into the second heir’s ear. Jiang Fengmian observed with satisfaction how Wen Chao’s face became displeased, something must have happened and he liked it because the previous smirk was nowhere to be seen, it was good knowing that not everything had apparently happened to the brat’s satisfaction.

“What!?” he shouted the next moment, his voice angry and a lot higher than a man’s voice should be, he must have been beside himself with fury. “What do you mean they escaped? Go after them, immediately! I want that brat Wei Wuxian brought to me alive, I do not care about the lives of the other two.”

When the unfortunate soldier did not retreat fast enough, Wen Chao kicked him down. “What are you still doing here! Go, now!” The soldier scrambled away on his knees, bowing nonstop.

Jiang Fengmian’s breath was caught in his chest. Although they had not captured the children yet, they surely would in the near future. A whole battalion of soldiers had just left upon hearing their master’s command. There were so many of them, he was afraid the children would not be able to escape for long.

The only thing which reassured him at least the tiniest bit was that the children were smart. Surely once they hear that Lotus Pier had fallen, they would change their destination and not go to Meishan. If they would, they would be found sooner rather than later, it was no secret that the children’s grandmother resided there and in case of any danger, they would have gone to her first.

Jiang Fengmian would have liked to somehow lead the Wens off the children’s tracks but Wen Chao did not ask him for any directions. If he had, Jiang Fengmian could have lied and told him the children went somewhere downstream, perhaps to some great sect, perhaps he would have then stopped looking for them altogether. However, Wen Chao did not ask, and it would be suspicious if Jiang Fengmian was to say anything, seemingly voluntarily revealing his children’s location.

It was too bad really, now he could only pray that the children would be smart enough to escape. And strong enough to defend themselves if the Qishan Wen soldiers had discovered them. He knew that Wei Wuxian was able to take care of himself but he somewhat doubted the same applied to his two other children. Jiang Cheng had never been as good as his brother and Jiang Yanli’s cultivation was weak. They needed protection from their brother.

A kick to his chest surprised him and he could not hold back a short groan. He looked up at Wen Chao again, quickly schooling his expression so he would not see him in pain or distress. All it did was to anger Wen Chao even more, not that he had been actually aiming for that, but well. The soldier who was still holding his hair yanked at it again.

“You pathetic fool,” laughed Wen Chao like crazy, “do you know that I could kill you with just one command? Both of you. There would be no Yunmeng Jiang sect after that. You have lost everything; do you hear me? Everything. But…” Wen Chao’s smirk became even more insufferable now: “I think you can still be useful. I want to get my hands on that brat Wei Wuxian, he had humiliated me and he needs to pay for that. As I know him, he would not hesitate to come rescue you once he knows you are held prisoners. He will come to Qishan willingly, no need for me to chase him all around. And perhaps he would take with him also the other two. Would not that be the perfect family reunion?”

Wen Chao’s laughter was cold and merciless and it felt like a sword through Jiang Fengmian’s guts. Cold sweat covered his back and chills were running incessantly up and down his spine. He was now actually thinking that it would be better if Wen Chao just killed both him and his wife. What the brat had said seemed unfortunately true. Once Wei Wuxian would learn about them being captured alive, he would probably try to save them.

Jiang Fengmian could only pray for his adoptive son’s sound mind, that he would recognize the trap and would not walk right into it, much less drag his siblings together with him.

“Take them away!” was Wen Chao’s next order and he could barely feel being forced onto his feet and led away through his worries. One glance at his wife and he could tell that she was feeling the same dread when it came to their children’s future.

Chapter Text

Wei Wuxian climbed the steps on his way back to the inn’s room where his siblings were waiting for him. He had managed to get the fever medicine for Jiang Yanli, enough so it would last them for a few days and some pancakes for them to eat. After that, he had asked the inn keeper for some clean robes but unfortunately got only enough money for one set. He was actually a little bit disappointed he could have not negotiated better terms; he was just too tired to really get a feel for it at the moment. No matter, his sister needed them the most, he and Jiang Cheng could just stay in their own and wait until they were dried.

Despite his dep bone exhaustion and thundering headache, he put up a reassuring smile on his lips for the case that any of his siblings were already awake. He opened the door quietly to not wake them up if they were still sleeping and completely froze in place, trying to find it in himself to actually start breathing again.

He immediately knew that something was wrong, but it took him nearly two seconds to realize that the bed where Jiang Cheng had been laying in before he had left was now empty. His eyes frantically scanned the whole room, to no avail, his brother was not there. There was only one person inside, Jiang Yanli, still sleeping in the second bed.

He quickly threw the things he had brought onto the table, happy that he had been given a bag to carry them so they would not get scattered all around. Then he run to his sister’s bed and gently shook her shoulder to wake her up. She could be the only one who could dissolve his horrible premonition of where Jiang Cheng might be right now.

She woke up after a while, visibly disoriented and probably still delirious with fever. He silently apologized to her, it was clear she needed more rest but he just had to know if Jiang Cheng had told her where he was going.

She blinked at him and finally her eyes focused. “A-Xian?” she asked in a voice hoarse from both crying and the fever.

Wei Wuxian took her hand into his own and asked quickly: “Shijie, Jiang Cheng is not here. Did he tell you where he was going?” He needed answers, and quickly. He was dreading what his brother’s disappearance could mean.

Jiang Yanli just looked at him with a very confused face and he immediately understood that she knew nothing. “A-Cheng is missing?” she asked him with a lot of effort.

Wei Wuxian’s heart fell down into a bottomless pit, his thoughts spiralling back to the oh so angry Jiang Cheng who he had knocked out in the boat. He had hoped that his brother would have enough common sense to not go back to Lotus Pier on his own, not now when they still did not know how the battle ended and who was now the master of the town. Perhaps he should have known better, he knew his brother’s temper and his fierce love for his family which he had always been hiding behind a scowling face and thoughtless words.

“Shijie, I will go look for him,” he informed her. He did not even want to think about the possibility that none of them would come back but he still had to prepare his sister for that outcome: “If we do not come back two days from now, please try to get to Meishan, you will

be safe there. There is some food on the table, and medicine for your fever, the room is also paid. So please just rest and be safe, I beg you.”

He knew he was probably not making any sense with his pathetic voice and all the begging, he could not help it, he felt tears gathering in his eyes all over again. He had just lost one sibling – well not technically since Jiang Cheng was probably still safe and sound somewhere out there, just not wanting anything to do with him – he did not want to even imagine losing also the other. His sister must remain safe while he would search for Jiang Cheng. He had no power to protect her when he would leave so he needed her to lay low and hopefully stay unnoticed until he returned with their brother.

He did not wait for Jiang Yanli to try and keep him from going after his impulsive brother. He stood up quickly and gently pulled his hand from her weak grip. He tried to smile at her reassuringly, he however did not think he truly succeeded this time. His thoughts were in too much turmoil; he could barely concentrate on anything else but to go search for Jiang Cheng.

“I will find him, I promise.”

To himself he added that he would find his brother, dead or alive, or he would die trying. His words sounded even to him as a farewell. It was even harder to ignore his sister desperately calling out his name as he was already running down the stairs and onto the street.

He wanted to believe so much that his brother had not decided to go back to Lotus Pier, but he knew better than to harbour hope. He would not be able to take it if it would be betrayed later on. He had to find Jiang Cheng immediately in order to be able to protect him.

He run at the highest speed his aching and tired body could manage. First he went to check if the boat was still where he had hidden it. If Jiang Cheng took it, Wei Wuxian would not be able to catch up to him in time. Luckily, it was still there. So his brother must have gone on foot. That was good, there was still a chance for him find him before he reached Lotus Pier.

He chose to follow the river, fully convinced that Jiang had done the same since the woods around were quite deep and he would not want to get lost in an unfamiliar territory. His body was not really cooperating with him, he felt like he was being dragged down by it and he was fighting an already lost battle. He however refused to give up. He did not count how many times he had fallen down, he only willed himself to get up at every turn and continue running.

Everything was still damp from the rain and his robes had quickly become all wet again. He shivered from the cold he was not used to. At this point, without his golden core to keep him warm, he could only hope that he would not end up with a fever like his sister. He would be completely useless to protect anyone then.

The whole forest was shrouded in a thick fog; he could barely see a few steps in front of him. It would be hard to track anyone under these condition but he just looked all that harder, he knew Jiang Cheng must be somewhere out there.

Soon, he reached some kind of a wide field surrounded by the woods. And his heart almost burst with relief when he noticed a silhouette running on the other side. Of course, he could

not be sure that it was his brother, he had to only make sure before the person would disappear in the foggy forest again.

He redoubled his efforts, willing his already exhausted body to obey him. Once he came closer, still desperately trying to catch up, he called: “Jiang Cheng!”

It could have been just a trick of the fog, it seemed like the person in front of him was now running slower. He was so close now that he could see the distinctive purple robes, it was his brother after all. He felt as relieved as never before.

He closed the last few steps between them and reached out his hands, grabbing Jiang Cheng by his shoulders and making him stop in place. It worked and his brother finally tuner to face him.

Wei Wuxian felt as if a red hot dagger was just driven into his stomach. He had never seen Jiang Cheng this angry before, all the more that he knew all of it was currently directed at him. He shrugged and his hands fell down from the other’s shoulders, settling like strangers next to his sides. His head fell forward in a desperate attempt to apologize for everything he had done wrong as he could decrypt an ocean of grief and pain hidden behind the angry mask. 

Chapter Text

„Jiang Cheng!”

The sect heir of the Yunmeng Jiang sect immediately recognized the voice calling him from a distance. Why was Wei Wuxian here? Had he not already left to selfishly safe him own skin and hide from Wen Chao’s wrath who knew where? Why did he come back all of the sudden? Had his previous outburst made his brother realize where his place should be?

Jiang Cheng was confused and he did not even realize he had slowed in his run and that his brother had caught up to him before he had been stopped by a hand around his shoulders. A red hot anger immediately flared in him. Why was Wei Wuxian stopping him? They should both run as fast as they could to Lotus Pier, to save his parents. And yet, his brother was hindering him in his way for some reason.

He swiftly turned around, determined to lose another second with Wei Wuxian and to depart again immediately.

He was taken aback when he saw his brother let go of him but only to lower his head as if in defeat. What was he doing now? Was he finally regretting ever angering Wen Chao and painting a target on the back of the whole Yunmeng Jiang sect? Well it was too late now! He did not want to hear any apologies, he only wanted to be in Lotus Pier already, by his parents’ side, helping them clear up the mess that Wei Wuxian had caused this time.

He stilled. Why should he even be surprised at this point? It had always been like this, his brother causing trouble and him having to deal with them. But this time was different; it was not a harmless prank, there were lives at stake here. Lives of his parents and of all the Yunmeng Jiang sect disciples!

In the corner of his mind, one that he was not ready to acknowledge at the moment, he knew that it was not all only Wei Wuxian’s fault. His brother did not bring soldiers to attack his home. No, it was Wen Chao and the Qishan Wen sect. But he needed someone to blame for all of this right now, and the Qishan Wen sect or her second heir were too out of reach currently. Wei Wuxian was not.

As his brother was just standing there, without any intent to follow him to Lotus Pier apparently, Jiang Cheng felt tears well up in his eyes again. He was overwhelmed, he had so much to do and he felt so alone. His chest hurt so badly that it was hard to breathe.

Suddenly, he could not bear it anymore, he needed an outlet for the emotions which were crushing him, and there was one just in front of him.

He grabbed the front of Wei Wuxian’s robes and started shaking him violently, just as he had done on the boat while screaming his pain out: “Wei Wuxian! It is all your fault! Why did you save those guys? Are you happy now? They are safe but my family is not, my sect is not! You just had to play a hero, did you not? Now my parents may already be dead and you stand here as if nothing happened… You ruined my family again…”

He let go of his brother’s robes and his voice trailed out into silence. He sobbed, only once but even he could hear how broken the sound was. Yes, his parents may already be dead and he was standing here, arguing with his stupid brother and losing precious time.

He abruptly turned around and started running at top speed again. It was harder this time since the tears he had been holding in had finally spilled onto his cheeks, making his vision blurry.

He did not even take five steps and Wei Wuxian was at his side again, stopping him once more. Jiang Cheng felt his vision turn red this time, completely overtaken by anger. He lost all common sense and he was barely aware of what he was doing or what Wei Wuxian was saying: “Jiang Cheng, you cannot go back. It is too dangerous. Madame Yu and Uncle Jiang asked me to take good care of you. You must not go back!”

Jiang Cheng had had enough. Here was Wei Wuxian again, keeping him from going to his parents’ side. Before he realized what he was doing, he raised his hand and slapped his brother in order to rid himself of his grip. He put all his anger and frustration into the blow so he was not surprised to see his brother fall down.

Wei Wuxian looked at him with incredibly wide eyes calling his name again: “Jiang Cheng…”

He had had enough of his brother begging and telling him he should not do this or do that, not when all of this situation had been caused by him in the first place. He lost his senses completely this time, the last thing he remembered was throwing himself at Wei Wuxian and barking: “Shut up!”

When he came back to his senses, he was panting heavily. It took him a while to realize that he was sitting on top of his brother, his hands on his neck, apparently choking him. Jiang Cheng felt something snapping inside of him, as if all his stretched out being and common sense came back to him at once. He immediately let go and watched his hands in utter shock.

He had not meant to attack his brother, not like this, not now and not ever. His mind was completely blank now, he could not even think straight at the moment. His brother was gasping for breath underneath him, his face deathly pale and his eyes half closed.

Oh so slowly Jiang Cheng shifted his weight and all but fell to the side. He continued staring at his hands, still in a complete shock. It started raining and he was glad that it would hide the hot tears he could feel streaming down his cheeks.

He did not even glance at Wei Wuxian when he heard a surprising but unmistakeable sound of silent sobbing. It must have been his brother. Jiang Cheng felt so drained that he could not find it in himself to care anymore. Logically, he should apologize, he should help the other up and check if he was alright, he should continue running towards Lotus Pier to save his parents. However, he had no energy to do either. He could only lay on his back, crying his eyes out and bawling like a small child.

He did not know how long he had stayed there like that, ignoring the cruel world around him. At some point, it had stopped raining, which was fine, he had no more tears to shed, no more pain to hide.

He was disturbed from his lethargy by a hoarse voice he barely recognized as his brother’s: “Jiang Cheng… You cannot go back. Shijie is waiting for you. She is sick, she needs you…”

The words took a while to sink in, it was hard for him to care about anything right now. Finally, he understood, his sister needed him, more than his parents did, he had to go back to her. He had spent so much time already; the battle of Lotus Pier must have been long decided. After all, when he had started running, it had almost been dark and now the sun was high up in the skies, it must have already been at least a day from the first attack.

When he slowly lifted his head with unparalleled effort, he saw that his brother was extending his hand towards him in a clear offer of help. After a second, the other reached for him and tugged at his hand to help him stand up. Although Jiang Cheng had no energy for anything, he did not take hold of the offered hand, he only limply let his own slide away from it.

He could clearly see bruises on Wei Wuxian’s cheek and on his neck where he had hurt him, he did not want to touch him again in fear that his anger would once again take the best of him. No, it was better if he ignored his brother for a bit and calmed down first.

Chapter Text

Wei Wuxian woke up in an even worse condition than before. After Jiang Cheng had clearly taken his anger out on him and calmed down, they both must have fallen asleep at some point, it was morning now. Wei Wuxian sat up with difficulty. His throat was hurting even more than his back and he knew it was not only because it was a worse injury, it was hurting deep down too.

He shook his head slightly to get himself rid of all the unwanted emotions. He had deserved a punishment and had gotten it, that was all that this was, nothing more. Jiang Cheng surely could not have started to hate him, not really. And even if he did, it would not matter in the end, he could still protect him.

He slowly got up, holding back a painful groan and stood unmoving until his head stopped spinning. He was drenched again and he could already feel that he started developing a fever. He had to get somewhere warm so he could prevent it from becoming worse, he would only become a burden for his siblings and that was the last thing he needed.

He looked down at Jiang Cheng and his heart started hurting all over again, it seemed like his brother was doing even worse than yesterday. All the anger which had been sustaining him and kept him running was now gone, all that left was a husk of a broken boy. His brother was slowly rubbing Zidian on his finger, his eyes were unfocused, looking into a distance, probably thinking about what could have happened to Lotus Pier.

Wei Wuxian almost wanted to start crying again, he had failed Jiang Cheng so much in just a few last days, he did not deserve to stand by his side anymore. He did not, but he still had to. He had to protect both him and his sister who was still waiting in the inn, probably beside herself with worry by now.

He stepped closer to his brother and offered a hand to help him stand up. When Jiang Cheng did not take it, he reached down and grabbed him. He was horrified when his brother would not take his hand and instead was looking at him with empty eyes, letting his hand limply slip from his grip. Wei Wuxian’s heart broke and he let go of the hand reluctantly. He knew what this meant, Jiang Cheng did not want to have anything in common with him anymore.

He took a deep breath and shook his head again even though it blurred his vision and his whole world started to swim under his feet. He had to get a hold of himself, he had to remain strong. Even if his siblings hated him now, he could not abandon them, he promised to protect them and he would do just that. If Jiang Cheng would not accept his help and would not come back to the town with him, he would just have to remind him of his sister.

His throat felt like someone had made him swallow shattered glass when he finally found his voice again: “Jiang Cheng, do not forget that Shijie is still waiting for us to come back.”

For a scary few seconds, nothing happened and Wei Wuxian was already convinced that Jiang Cheng chose not to listen to him altogether. Then, Finally, his brother stood up with visible effort and without sparing him even a glance, he started walking back to the town. A weight was lifted from Wei Wuxian’s shoulders; he had not been sure if he would be able to carry his brother if the other would have been too shaken to walk on his own.

They walked several steps apart, Jiang Cheng in the front and Wei Wuxian in the back. He was glad at the moment that his brother did not seem to care about him, he did not want him to see him this weak and unsteady on his feet. He had a hard time even walking, how was he about to protect his siblings? He was silently cursing his uncooperative body and willing it to obey him for a while longer. Once he would get Jiang Cheng and Jiang Yanli to safety, he would be able to rest.

No, that was not quite right, he would first have to also learn what had become of Lotus Pier and if there was anyone else he should be saving. He hoped there was, he did not want to think about Madame Yu and Uncle Jiang not being in the land of the living anymore. It hurt too much to lose his family a second time. He would not mourn them until it was confirmed that they were really dead and he had failed them.

His chest was constricting painfully, not unlike when his golden core had been melted, but his time, it was a different kind of pain. He reached up his hand and put it over his heart. As if that could do anything, he knew that very well, but still it was better than to become a crying mess which could not do anything.

He was already walking on sheer willpower when they finally reached the small town. He thanked all the gods that they had made it safe and sound, now his sister could stop worrying and get some good, healing sleep. He was sure that she had been waiting for them this whole time and her fever must have gotten even worse, just another one of his crimes, they just kept adding up.

He fought to raise his head and look at the first houses, he knew he would already be able to see the inn from this place. He could not remember to which side of the building the windows of their room led but he hoped that to this one so Jiang Yanli could be able to see them coming back earlier.

Suddenly, he spotted movement on the street ahead of them and his eyes were immediately drawn towards it. The robes of the people standing there, their backs to them, were red. The same red as the Qishan Wen sect. And they were carrying swords. He would have loved to believe that this was just a coincidence and some merchants with their guards were just coming through the town, but he could not fool himself. They were Wen sect soldiers, probably looking for them.

His mind started running a few miles a second, a bit sluggish but he was too tired to manage anything more. Luckily, the soldiers had their backs turned to them still and it did not look like they had noticed them just yet.

Jiang Cheng was walking a few steps ahead of him and he had probably not seen them either. His head was lowered and he was looking at his feet, just putting one in front of the other, not caring about the world around him. Wei Wuxian had to warn him somehow. He could not speak; it could alert their pursuers. So what should he do so his brother would not just walk into the danger without as much as noticing it?

He willed his body to move faster and he quickly caught up to him. He was having trouble to breathe both from fear and because of the strain. He had tried to be as quiet as possible, however, he had probably made some noise after all. He watched in horror as one of the soldiers started turning around.

It was too late now to try and hide or run away. They could not fight, not while being this exhausted and without their swords. They would just be captured both. No, he had to safe his brother at all cost!

He gave no warning as he pushed Jiang Cheng into a pile of garbage and other things laying in an entrance of a back alley just to his right side. He was glad that his brother did not make a sound as he fell head first into it.

He could not check on him nor warn him in any other way because the Wen sect soldier had finished turning around and finally spotted him. He only gave a last short glance towards Jiang Cheng, hoping that no one saw him pushing his brother away and he turned on his heel, running away from the soldiers in a desperate attempt to lead them away. If someone had to be captured, better be him than his siblings.

Chapter Text

Jiang Yanli knew she should be resting so she would be strong enough to immediately get out of the bed and be ready to leave as soon as her brothers returned. She however could not find it in herself to do so, only falling into a fitful sleep here and there, waking up quickly each time. She spent most of her awake time staring at the door. Every small noise made her heart start racing, hoping that Wei Wuxian had found Jiang Cheng and they were both now coming back for her.

Unfortunately, she had been disappointed every single time, there was still no sign of her brothers even though it was already noon of the second day. She was almost ready to give up and just go to sleep, surely they would wake her up once they were back. Still, hope was such a treacherous little thing, hard to completely extinguish.

So when she heard the stairs creaking, she immediately shot up and looked towards the door again. Unlike before, the steps were now getting closer and then stopped right in front of the room. The visitor seemed to have been hesitating until the door finally opened and she saw a tired looking and dishevelled Jiang Cheng coming in. He closed the door behind himself.

He was alone and Jiang Yanli had to wonder where Wei Wuxian had run off to now. She was however not all that afraid for him, he was probably getting some more supplies for their travels.

“A-Cheng!” she called out happily and Jiang Cheng approached the bed with heavy footsteps, falling down to his knees next to it. Jiang Yanli was getting nervous now, she had not expected this kind of behaviour. Then again, her youngest brother was probably still shaken and needed support.

She smiled at him and took one of his hands into hers, tracing small circles into his palm. She could feel how tense his muscles were and she wanted to know why that was.

“A-Cheng, what happened?” she asked gently, only the tiniest undertone of worry making it into her voice.

“Sister,” Jiang Cheng said brokenly, “I am sorry.”

Jiang Yanli smiled a bit more now, thinking that her brother was apologizing for his angry outburst inside the boat earlier and then his little running away stunt: “Silly boy, you do not have to apologize.”

Jiang Cheng shook his head violently and looked her into the eyes for the first time since stepping into the room. Jiang Yanli was immediately taken aback. There was so much pain in her younger brother’s eyes that she just wanted to hug him and never let go. She actually leaned forward to do just that, her fever completely forgotten when her sibling needed her, but her brother was not done talking.

“Sister, I was foolish. I blamed Wei Wuxian even though it was not his fault, at least not entirely, and now he is gone.”

Jiang Yanli was alarmed at once. It was nothing new for her brother to regret his often rash words, especially when said in anger to Wei Wuxian. It was what he had said after that that made her fear resurface.

“Gone? What happened, A-Cheng?” she quickly prompted.

“I…” Jiang Cheng choked back a sob, “When we were coming back to the town, I was distracted and did not notice a patrol of Wen sect soldiers. Wei Wuxian did. He shoved me into an abandoned alley before they noticed me and then run off. I searched for him for almost two hours but I could not find him anywhere. Those Wen dogs had disappeared as well. Sister, I am afraid they had captured him…”

Jiang Yanli’s chest was now so tight that she could barely breathe. She could imagine Wei Wuxian doing that, she knew that when choosing between his own and someone else’s happiness and needs, he would always choose the latter. She loved him for that, but at the same time, it had always scared her a bit and she had been afraid it would one day end up in his own doom. Had that day come today?

No, surely not! Wei Wuxian was strong, he could take care of a handful of soldiers, even without his sword. It would be fine; he must have just lured them away from the town. Probably into the deep forest around where he would be able to ambush them. He was probably having fun toying with them right now. Any minute, he would come back to the room, his usual smile on his lips, looking as if nothing happened and they would, just like usual just forgive him for making them worry. Yes, that must have been it, she was not ready to admit any other possibility.

She patted Jiang Cheng’s head lightly and tried to reassure him: “A-Xian would be just fine. He is strong. I am sure he will come back for us in a while and we could all go to Meishan together.”

If anything, it made her brother only sob harder, clutching her hand that it was almost painful now: “Sister, I… I had said some really mean things to him. I had even hit him…”

Well, this was nothing out of the ordinary either. “A-Cheng, it will be fine. I will help you to apologize as soon as he comes back, alright?”

“But, Sister,” Jiang Cheng tried to go against her and she could see that this was bothering him more than any previous fight with his brother he had ever had. “What I said… I should not have done that. I knew it even at that time but I was too angry… I blamed him that he had ruined our family. I know it must have hurt him…”

“Oh, A-Cheng…” Jiang Yanli sighed and scoped her brother into her arms at once. She could see that he greatly regretted his words. She also knew that Wei Wuxian would have truly been hurt by such an accusation, she had seen enough of times the same scenario, only with her mother in her brother’s place, and it always left the then small boy dejected for days.

“I will be fine; A-Xian will forgive you.” She knew that for a fact, Wei Wuxian always did. “Let us just wait for him to return and then we can handle everything, hm?”

She tried to sound cheerful but she could not not notice a feeling of dread starting in her guts and slowly spreading. Although she wanted to believe very much that Wei Wuxian would be just fine and would come find them soon, there was also another possibility for his and the soldiers’ absence. One, that Jiang Yanli did not want to think about at first but which she had to consider more and more seriously as hours passed.

In the evening, Jiang Cheng brought her some pancakes which he found in the small bag Wei Wuxian had left on the table. She only managed to take a few bites, her brother seemed to do the same. Then he made her take medicine against her fever and she fell asleep.

It was already way into the evening and there was still no sign of Wei Wuxian anywhere. As her eyes were closing against her will, her hope was slowly disappearing from her heart.

Chapter Text

Wei Wuxian had been captured no long after successfully shoving Jiang Cheng out of harm’s ways. Not that he had actually thought he could run away and outsmart the Wen sect soldiers, not with his body and mind in this condition and each step seemingly taking all of his will to accomplish. No, he did not even try all that hard, he knew that once the guards would have him, he would be able to rile them up so they would not continue searching the small town for his siblings and would immediately take him to Wen Chao.

Which is exactly what happened. His mind was hazy now and he could not even remember how he had managed to convince the soldiers to basically abandon the rest of their mission, or at least the two thirds which concerned Jiang Cheng and Jiang Yanli. But somehow he did it and now he was being held in place by two of the soldiers, forcefully kneeling in front of the second heir to the Qishan Wen sect and his disgusting woman.

He tried to struggle against the hands holding him down and to wriggle out of their hold, but only half-heartedly, they were supporting him in a more or less upright position when he was fairly sure he would not have been able to keep himself steady right now. His mind was at peace, he knew that this was the end for him, Wen Chao would surely not let him go. He could only hope that they would kill him quickly.

Which, by all expectations, would probably not be the case. Wen Chao was sitting on the lotus throne when Jiang Fengmian used to sit during sect gatherings and he was looking down on Wei Wuxian. Wang Lingjiao was shamelessly sitting in his lap, her dress pulled away from her legs and letting Wen Chao grope her all around. It was making Wei Wuxian sick to his stomach to remember how Lotus Pier had looked before the Wens attacked and how depraved and dirtied it was now.

Truth to be told, the only thing which was keeping him from screaming loudly and losing the rest of his mind were the memories he had shared with his family here over the years. He would not let the Wens soil these as well. He could not really hear what Wen Chao, or anyone else for that matter, was saying. He was looking all around, trying to recall the peaceful and innocent events which took place before everything went downhill because of him.

He looked into one corner and remembered how he had hidden there during his first days in Lotus Pier and Jiang Yanli came to find him to bring him back into his and Jiang Cheng’s room. He glanced behind the lotus throne and almost chuckled remembering how they had scrunched there with Jiang Cheng to eavesdrop on an official meeting once before being gently scolded by Uncle Jiang. Right on the spot where he was made to kneel, he had already been kneeling once, when Uncle Jiang had given him his spiritual sword. A small pang of regret which he immediately discarded told him that he would never be able to wield Suibian again even if they somehow managed to get it back from the Wens’ hands and he survived what was coming to him. Which he would probably not.

Wen Chao now got up from the lotus throne and went down the few stairs which separated him from his restrained target. Wei Wuxian got hauled up by the soldiers holding him. He did not like how they had to support almost all of his weight. He wanted to stand against Wen Chao, to oppose him on his own feet with head held high. In his condition, he could however not even do that much. He was not far from screaming out in frustration.

He at least managed to lift his head and look at Wen Chao with all the fury he had in him, if looks could kill, the second heir of the Qishan Wen sect would have long been a cold corpse on the ground.

It seemed like his resistance did not faze the intended target in the slightest. Wen Chao only sneered at him and mockingly reminded him of his current predicament: “Wei Ying, such a brave face! Let us see how long you can keep up the act.” He gestured towards another soldier in the room and had something passed into this hand. “I heard from Jiaojiao that you had not yet been punished accordingly for humiliating me. Let us see if I can make you scream more than that useless woman Yu Ziyuan.”

Wei Wuxian had only a heartbeat’s time to brace himself before he was turned around and the whip fell upon his back and took his breath away. He was actually kind of proud of himself that despite the wounds from Zidian which had only just stopped bleeding and now were being opened once again, he had been able to keep his mouth shut. He was biting his lower lip so hard that he could taste blood. No, he would not give Wen Chao the satisfaction to her him scream.

He hardly registered that the whipping had stopped, and only because Wen Chao had once again barred his vision with his ugly face. He was still trying to catch his breath when the second heir of the Qishan Wen sect gestured to the soldiers to let him go. He tumbled unceremoniously onto the ground, too exhausted and disoriented to be really able to catch himself before his head hit the hard wood. Stars appeared in front of his eyes and he hoped that he would just pass out.

However, his luck must have not been with him today – when it had ever been these past two days? – and he remained conscious when the Wen soldiers started beating and kicking him. All he could do was roll into a ball and protect his head and stomach while keeping himself from crying out.

He was once again hauled up to his feet and after shaking his spinning head slightly, his vision cleared enough to see that Wang Lingjiao had now joined Wen Chao and was looking down on him as well. Normally, he would have laughed at her antiques, how she was gluing herself to Wen Chao’s arm, shameless and disgusting. He could however not find it in himself, he only gave out a small mocking snort.

Wang Lingjiao looked at him with disdain in her eyes and tugged at Wen Chao’s sleeve: “Young Master Wen, you have promised me his hand before.”

“No, no, no,” shook Wen Chao his head, “it would be too messy and he would die too son. I still want to have my fun with him.”

A dreadful feeling was born in Wei Wuxian’s gut and he could feel the cold which he had managed to somehow forget until now invade his meridians again. Cold sweat covered his whole body. He had been hoping for a quick and clear death but it was apparently not what Wen Chao had in store for him. He shuddered a bit but made sure not to show any sign of his horror on his face.

Wang Lingjiao looked like she wanted to throw a tantrum for a second. Then she came closer to him with a smirk on her face. She reached out and opened the front of his robes, revealing the barely healed burn mark which she had herself planted there in the Cave of the Tortoise of Slaughter. She took out her branding iron.

For a split second, Wei Wuxian thought that she would place another hideous mark on his skin. His fear had proven correct as she held the branding iron to the previous scar and burnt another brand on top of it. It almost hurt more than the first time, almost. Wei Wuxian was actually proud of himself for still keeping quiet even through this.

When Wang Lingjiao took away the red hot iron, he gave out a short sigh of relief and his body finally relaxed a bit. His breath was coming out in short gasps and he felt fairly lightheaded at that point, barely hearing the woman’s next words: “Still nothing to say? I thought you have been such a brave brat before. Obnoxious. Now you belong to the Qishan Wen sect, you have a brand like a true slave. And you can do nothing about it.”

He knew she was mocking him and all his being wanted to retort, to say something which would make her and Wen Chao angry but his consciousness was finally leaving him. He heard Wen Chao saying something about taking him away and locking him up but he could not be sure anymore. As the Wen sect soldiers started dragging him away, his body finally betrayed him and he fell down into a welcoming darkness.

Chapter Text

When Jiang Cheng woke up and looked around the room, he immediately understood that his hopes were for naught. Wei Wuxian had not come back during the night. If he was fine, he would have surely not left them in the dark. This could only mean that he was not fine, probably captured by the Wen sect soldiers. Jiang Cheng could not even know if his brother was still alive, he did not dare to guess either, if he was brought before Wen Chao, it could be that the second heir of the Qishan Wen sect would want to finish the job.

His heart was heavy with sorrow and guilt. He knew that he should not have run away, he had been such a child to believe that his mother and father alone could have stood up to the whole army of Wen sect soldiers, and Wen Zhuliu as well. Because of his foolish hope, his brother was now missing, probably already dead. If he stayed in the room, then Wei Wuxian would not have to go after him.

Jiang Cheng was frowning hard, his thoughts spiralling in way he had never experienced before. He knew he was right but he did not like it, he would also not admit it if anyone asked. Well, aside for Jiang Yanli perhaps.

He remembered that his sister had had a fever and immediately stood up to go check on her. She was still very much asleep. When he touched her forehead, it seemed like the fever had at least went down a bit during the night. Small good news was still good news. They would have to move somewhere safer than this inn, it was even more pressing that Wen soldiers had already come to this small town in the middle of nowhere.

And they were bound to come back to look for them. Wen Chao would surely assume that after finding Wei Wuxian here, his siblings would not be far. They did not have much time, he supposed.

With this knowledge clear, Jiang Cheng gently shook his sister’s shoulders to get her to wake up. It took a while but finally, her eyes opened and she blinked at him, confusion very visible on her face.

Then she shot up and he had to catch her before she would fall out of the bed. She must have remembered what had happened because, much like Jiang Cheng a few minutes earlier, she was looking all around the room in search of their brother.

Jiang Cheng did not have the heart to disappoint her himself but it had to be done: “Sister, Wei Wuxian had not returned.”

She gasped for air and held his hands tighter. It must have been quite a shock; and Jiang Cheng did not blame her one bit, it was a shock to him too that his strong and quick witted brother would be captured this easily. And then a realization hit him full force. Wei Wuxian had been whipped with Zidian just before their departure from Lotus Pier. His brother had been injured and he just let him chase him all around and then sacrifice himself when the situation called for fighting. He must have been in a bad shape even before encountering the Wen soldiers.

Jiang Cheng gave out a small relieved sigh. He knew that it was not right of him to seek comfort and to alleviate his own guilt at a time like this but now he felt like he was not so much responsible for his brother’s capture. It was his mother all along; no, it was actually Wang Lingjiao and Wen Chao who were at fault for Wei Wuxian’s temporary weakness which probably costed him his life.

Even if his own guilt was now literally non-existent again, the truth stayed still the same. His brother had not come back and was most probably dead.

Jiang Cheng felt his heart hurting, first his parents and now his brother, all he had left in this world was Jiang Yanli. He hugged her tightly so abruptly that she gave out a surprised yelp. But she did not protest and only circled her arms around him in turn.

They stayed like that for a while, until Jiang Cheng could not feel tears coming out of his eyes anymore and he could awkwardly let go of his sister. Jiang Yanli understood and weakened her hold, she did however not retract her hands fully. They were a comforting presence on his forearms and he was glad for that, it helped him stay anchored to the present and think clearly.

He had to protect his sister. It was now clear that Lotus Pier had fallen and they could not go back. But where should they go at a time like this? Danger lurked everywhere and they would hardly be able to move around with Jiang Yanli’s fever and the fact that Jiang Cheng’s sword was still in Nightless City after the indoctrination. Who could they count on in this time of need? Who would help them despite them being refugees with nothing to offer in return, only desperately begging for protection?

He was at a complete loss when he whispered: “Sister, what should we do now? Where should we go?”

Jiang Yanli smiled at him reassuringly, certainly not in any lesser turmoil then he himself but still trying her best to calm him down: “A-Cheng, everything will be fine. I believe that A-Xian will be able to pull through somehow. We can now only hope that he had managed to escape and is now on his way back to us. Before he had left, he told me that we should go to Meishan next. Let us do that, if he can, he will join us there.”

Jiang Cheng looked at his sister with resurrected hope in his heart. Yes, it was certainly possible that he had been too negative and was burying Wei Wuxian all too soon. His brother was strong, and smart, he could surely take care of a handful of Wen sect soldiers, even if he had been injured. He would not believe his brother was dead until he would see his body with his own eyes, he decided.

With his heart a lot lighter now and a clear plan of the next few days in place, Jiang Cheng was finally able to relax some. He had not been aware of how tightly he had been clenching his fists into his robes before be let go and felt a dull ache as blood was returning into his palms and fingers.

“Let us go to Meishan,” he nodded to his sister and she smiled at him sweetly as only she could. “Take you medicine and rest for a while longer. I will go search for the boat we have used to come here. We can continue on the river and then walk the rest of the way. Hopefully we will not encounter any more Wen sect patrols on our way.”

“Yes, that is a good plan. I think we better leave as quickly as possible. I believe the search for us will start here, we should not wait for the night to fall.” Jiang Yanli agreed, then she added: “I am sure that A-Xian had hidden the boat somewhere nearby and not let it go entirely, we were supposed to go to Meishan in the first place…”

Her voice railed into silence but it was enough for Jiang Cheng to remember their father telling them to go to their grandmother. Perhaps if their parents were by some miracle alright – he was not about to lose hope again until he saw their dead bodies as well – they would come meet them there. And if they were not, they could hide for a few days and rest before deciding where to go next.

Jiang Cheng helped his sister take her medicine and tugged her back to bed. He had to smile a bit, this was the exact opposite of what she had been doing all his life, now it was the time he protected his sister.

He went out of the inn, covering his face just in case any other Wen sect soldiers were still around. He was able to find the boat fairly quickly, it was sufficient to think like Wei Wuxian for a minute.

Before noon came, they were already ways from the small town, heading towards Meishan.

Chapter Text

Wei Wuxian woke up slowly, his whole body still ached and he was weak from the fever which he had developed after the first night in a cold room he had been left in. They had chained him but it had not been necessary, he could barely move, not even talking about escaping. Wen Chao and Wang Lingjiao came from time to time and watched the guards beat him.

He did not know how much time had passed, he was going in and out of consciousness at what seemed like irregular intervals. And he found out after a while that he did not even care anymore. His world had become pain, hunger and thirst. If they killed him now, he would actually thank them. But no, they made sure to not go too far, and sometimes he even found his wounds dressed and bandaged and some water for him to drink in a bowl. It looked like he was not permitted to leave this world just yet.

He also did not know if Wen Chao had been aware that he had no golden core anymore. He certainly did not tell Wen Zhuliu to melt it and he also did not hold back on the beatings. So perhaps he did not know that Wei Wuxian was just a normal, fragile man right now.

Finally, there was a change of routine and he was actually glad for it. It had long become too dull for him to even try and count the days or the times he had woken up.

He was dragged to the sect hall again; they were still in Lotus Pier it seemed. His heart ached at all the changes around him; the place was hardly recognisable. Blood had not been cleaned and it had soaked deep into the wood of the piers and bridges, at least bodies were no longer scattered everywhere. The red was omnipresent, with blood red curtains hanging from about every corner, especially in the sect hall. Wei Wuxian wanted to weep seeing what had become of his former home. What he had caused.

He was shoved onto his knees in front of Wen Chao who had once again made himself at home in Uncle Jiang’s lotus throne. He could not keep himself upright even if it was to save his life so he was actually grateful that the guards who had dragged him in did not let go of his arms, efficiently supporting him.

He hoped that Wen Chao would not see his weakness and would think that he was only being disrespectful and disobedient, but his hopes were to naught: “Look at you, not so high and mighty anymore, are we? Had you learned your place? I hope so, unless you want something even more painful happen to you.” Wen Chao sneered and groped Wang Lingjiao’s body shamelessly spread in his lap.

“What should we do with you now?” he asked to no one in particular. Even if he had asked Wei Wuxian himself, he would not have received any response. “Should we kill you? No, that would be too easy of an end for a nuisance like you. You have hindered my plans more than once, you should be punished, sure, but not by the mercy of death. I want to see you tremble beneath my feet like a servant you are…”

Wen Chao looked at him pensively, as if he was only now deciding how best to torture and break him. However, Wei Wuxian could tell from a maniacal glint in his eyes that he had decided a long time ago and this was just a way to torture him with waiting for his sentence. He did not care either way, he would die sooner or later. But he would certainly not make it easier for them to see him crumble.

He gathered the last of his strength and lifted his head to look at the second heir of the Qishan Wen sect, a mocking half smile on his lips. This was all he could manage at the moment, but the feeling of satisfaction he got when Wen Chao’s face became angry was all worth it. For a good measure, he spat onto the ground.

His voice was raspy form disuse when he painfully slowly and quietly added fuel to the fire: “Just do your best, Wen Chao. I hope I will die as resentful as possible. I will then come to haunt the Qishan Wen clan to eternity.”

His desperate threat seemed to have only made Wen Chao laugh all that harder. “I see you still need some convincing. But do not worry, I am sure we I will be able to break you in no time. I know it would be as much fun as breaking the Purple Spider. When I will be finished with her, she will be begging to be allowed to crawl at my feet and kiss my boots while serving me. And that pathetic excuse of a sect leader as well. They will make a good pair of slaves.”

Wei Wuxian’s heart skipped a beat. Maybe it was just empty hope but Wen Chao’s words suggested that Madame Yu and Uncle Jiang may have still been alive. If they indeed were, he could still try to save them. He did not know how and if he would even have an opportunity but he hoped he would be able to manage somehow. He had to protect the family which took him in and cared for him for years. He had to right his wrongs and let Jiang Cheng and Jiang Yanli meet their parents again. Then the Yunmeng Jiang sect would be able to rise from the ashes in its past glory.

Wen Chao continued, unaware or uncaring about the fact that Wei Wuxian was in utmost turmoil at the moment: “Perhaps I should put you in their cell? I am sure Yu Ziyuan would be happy to see you. Perhaps she would even gladly help in breaking you down. No, better save that pleasure for myself and Jiaojiao.”

Wei Wuxian was not listening to him anymore. This was all the confirmation he needed. Madame Yu, and hopefully also Uncle Jiang, were still alive and he had to somehow let his siblings know. He had to escape, he decided immediately. He could only help the Jiang family as a free man.

But what could he do? He was so weak he could not even stand on his own and he had no golden core, he could not measure up to the Wen guards and Wen Zhuliu who was Wen Chao’s ever present shadow. No, he could not let himself be deterred, he could find a way; he would for sure.

He could feel that they were now dragging him somewhere again and he hoped that he would be put back into his cell so he would be able to think of some kind of a plan to escape. Unfortunately, and actually not all that surprisingly given his rotten luck, they did not head towards his makeshift prison. Instead, he was dragged to the main courtyard. Wen Chao, Wang Lingjiao and Wen Zhuliu were walking in front of him. He wondered what was happening.

He found out soon enough when the guards and the three higher ranked Wens took out their swords and mounted them. He was suspended between two soldiers, his knees spread and supported on two swords. The guards who were holding him took it upon themselves to step in his robes to not let him fall if he was to start struggling. Of course he would not do that, that would be such a stupid idea, without his golden core, he would never survive the fall. Then again, perhaps they were afraid he would try to jump regardless, trying to end his own life, that was entirely possible.

They headed out with Wen Zhuliu leading the small group. Despite the dire situation, Wei Wuxian could not help himself feeling nostalgic at the sensation of being high up in the air and having the wind gently caress his face and play with his robes. He had always loved flying and this would probably be the last time he would be able to experience it.

He did not know how long he let himself daydream and escape the reality. Perhaps he had even dozed off at some point because when he came back to his senses, he realized that they were now flying above some mountains, and actually quite close to them.

A sudden thought hit him, he could actually be able to survive a fall from this height. It was possible that if he landed safely, he could roll himself into a ball and go down the mountain a bit to limit the consequences of the impact. It was a dumb idea, of course he knew that, there was only a small chance he would survive and be able to get up after it. He could end up with broken bones and then there would be nothing easier for the Wens but to land and retrieve him. However, there was still a slim chance that he would be able to hide somewhere and actually escape.

Under the circumstances, he decided that a small chance was still a chance and he went for it. There was no time to lose, he had to act before they would once again be too far from the ground.

He struggled a bit in the hold of his captors and since they apparently had not expected him to do so, he freed himself easily. And then he was falling. Above him, he could hear Wen Chao’s angry scream. He closed his eyes and prayed for a safe landing.

Chapter Text

Yu Ziyuan woke up slowly, for a while, she was disoriented and could not remember where she was. Only until she realized that someone was holding her in their arms, running fingers through her hair. She immediately relaxed into the motion. She knew it was her husband trying to sooth her and offering comfort if she wanted to accept it.

They were in this cell for who knew how long already. There were no windows and it was hard to count days – or weeks or months? – when everything they could go by were the irregular meals which were being thrown into the cell. They have both long abandoned any pride and were happily eating off the ground, they were too hungry and inedia could only sustain them for so long. Their clothes were now nothing more than rags, hardly able to cover their battered bodies.

Sometimes, one of them, or both at the same time, would be taken out and either brought before Wen Ruohan for questioning or for the simple pleasure of being shown off as prisoners in chains, or to another cell where they would be questioned with more painful methods. Despite everything, they would never reveal their children’s whereabouts, if they were even known to them at this point, or any war intelligence. The last thing they wanted to do was give the Qishan Wen sect any advantage in the war which had now truly erupted.

Despite the dire circumstances they had found themselves in, they had been allowed a little happiness to sustain them. Luckily, they were kept together in a small cell and they have never been this close in their lives. They took into comforting each other and after long years of living in a separate quarters, they finally started to sleep side by side again.

They were only just surviving and they knew it, but there was nothing they could do. They were never told about happenings in the world outside of their prison cell. It was mortifying to be left in the dark about how the war was progressing, and more importantly, if their children were save. Had they managed to run away and hide? Had they joined the war efforts? Were they alive at this point?

No, Yu Ziyuan could not let herself succumb to despair. She had to remain hopeful, that was all she had left, Jiang Fengmian and the fleeting hope that Wei Wuxian had been able to protect her children and take them somewhere safe.

Suddenly, the door flew open. Yu Ziyuan could hardly suppress a shiver, this was too soon, she had just woken up after one of her questioning sessions. She was not prepared for another one, or for Jiang Fengmian to be dragged away from her for that matter, she need his comfort right now. Especially because she had once again started thinking about the children and she could feel her eyes becoming teary and her very soul hurting.

She could feel Jiang Fengmian’s body stiffen and he gasped for air a little. She could not help her curiosity and looked up. Instead of only guards, Wen Chao was now standing in their cell. She was staring at him completely dumbfounded. This was the first time anyone from the Qishan Wen clan had come personally to meet them in their prison, they only ever had them dragged outside of the cell; they had mocked them all too many times for not being able to stand the stench in the small room. Well, it was all their fault in the end since they did not let her or her husband to clean themselves and there was only a bucket in one corner as a bathroom.

Wen Chao apparently did not count with this fact and he was now making a disgusted face. It somehow satisfied Yu Ziyuan a bit to see him in this little discomfort. She drew herself closer to her husband and waited to see what other horrors had their captors prepared for them.

Instead of dragging them out from the cell or torturing them on the spot, Wen Chao sneered and looked at them with a cruel spark in his eyes: “No need to get up, just stay down as true slaves should.”

They did not react, they were already used to insults and it did little to them. The next words however cut them deep. It is said that words could be more powerful than swords and more painful than even the harshest torture, and they were now proven correct.

“I came here in the goodness of my heart to inform you about the fate of your children. I know you had been anxious to know what had become of them. So Let me tell you; we had captured that pest Wei Wuxian and he is now dead. As for the other two, we know where they are and we are going to fetch them now. Will it not be a touching reunion if we let you all meet in your cell before executing them? I am positive they would love to see how low their parents had fallen before dying. Would you like to watch or would you prefer I send someone to tell you after it will be done?”

Wen Chao did not really wait for any reply from their side, it was clear he just came to toy with them and to cruelly laugh about their misfortune. And laugh he did as he left the frozen couple alone and went away.

Yu Ziyuan was trembling all over. She could not stop herself from crying now that it was just her and her husband in their cell again. It was too much for her to process, it hurt beyond belief. Jiang Fengmian, although surely shaken himself had scoped her closer to himself and rocked her back and forth to console her in her grief. It helped, but only a little.

It had been better when she had not known what had become of her children. Then, she could have at least entertained the smallest of hopes that they were all safe and sound, now, even this hope had been taken away from her. She felt completely empty, and even emptier still as her tears refused to stop and were taking with them even the last parts of her soul.

Jiang Fengmian was whispering something to her and it took such a long while to will herself to actually hear what he was saying: “…Ziyuan, it is fine. He came only to torture us. Perhaps the children are still safe somewhere out there.” It would have been a lot more reassuring if her husband’s voice would not be trembling as it had and if she could not feel his tears on her shoulder.

She hiccupped and wailed like a small child, she did no longer care to be seen as weak by her husband, this whole ordeal had helped them to open up to each other. She could feel guilt gnawing at her gut, if the children had really been captured and Wei Wuxian was now dead, it was all her fault.

“No, you do not understand, Fengmian. It was me. I had whipped A-Ying with Zidian before the attack on Lotus Pier, he was injured! And then he had shielded A-Cheng from Wen Zhuliu, and I did not even make sure he was alright before ordering him to protect A-Cheng and A-Li with his life. I am sure that foolish boy had done just that, I had repeated this line to him so many times before, I knew he had taken it as his personal mission to protect the children. I should have been a mother to him but instead, I had always treated his as a servant. He must have despised me…

I should have never said that it was all his fault; it was not, the Wens would have come either way. But I had been just so angry… Fengmian, he is dead now and it is all my fault! I had always been so harsh on him; he will never get to know that I actually came to care for him as another son… And now even A-Cheng and A-Li… I cannot take it anymore…”

She now broke down completely. She did no longer care that this was exactly what Wen Chao had been aiming for. She did not care if he was watching from the outside of the cell and was thriving in her despair. She was hurting, terribly so, and she was not sure she would be able to go on if Wen Chao’s threats were indeed true and they were already capturing Jiang Cheng and Jiang Yanli.

Chapter Text

Jiang Yanli got better quickly after they had arrived at her grandmother’s house. They still had yet to hear a word about Wei Wuxian and their hearts were also grieving for their parents. Although she herself had told Jiang Cheng that he should not despair before the deaths of their family members would be confirmed, she found it hard to follow her own words.

Their grandmother had welcomed them with open arms and hid them, immediately sending servants to go learn what had happened in Lotus Pier. The news of the attack had not yet reached this far.

She also started preparing her household for the war, stocking on provisions and training all the capable young men and women, and basically everyone who could hold a sword or another weapon. She told them on the third day of their stay, once Jiang Yanli’s fever had finally fully subsided that she was sorry she could not offer more protection, that they should go to one of the great sects, especially if Wen Chao was personally after them.

Begrudgingly, Jiang Cheng agreed. He was more than eager to join the allied forces which were now being gathered in Unclean Realm, that was no issue, but he did not want to take Jiang Yanli with him. He argued that it was too dangerous and too far a travel for her recently healed and still weakened body.

At last, she managed to convince him: “A-Cheng, it is true that the travel will be hard, but I am sure that I can manage. And we can take a cart with us, we do not need to go by foot, nor on horseback. As grandmother said, we will be safer in Qinghe, under protection of Nie Mingjue. Were you not friends with his younger brother during your studies at Cloud Recesses? You told me he was also no fighter, perhaps we could keep each other company. And I am sure I will be safer and calmer by your side than here, not knowing what is happening and only waiting for news about someone’s death.”

The last argument seemed to have worked and they have departed from Meishan the very next day. There was no splendid farewells or procession to come with them, they had to be careful to not attract too much attention. So in the end, Jiang Yanli was hidden inside a merchant’s cart and Jiang Cheng was riding a horse next to it, seemingly hired as a guard for the merchant who had been sworn and paid for secrecy.

It took them almost a week to arrive to Unclear Realm. The travels were uneventful but slow since they had to pretend to be merchants and actually participate in markets in each town they passed. Then again, it was not a bad thing. Jiang Yanli used this time to listen to gossip and she learned what had happened in Lotus Pier and that her former home had now been overtaken by the Qishan Wen sect and transformed into their supervisory office. She did not prod too much to learn what had become of her parents, she did not want to arise any suspicions and she also did not want to let go of the hope that they were still alive just yet.

It was Jiang Cheng who bore the travels worse. He was becoming more and more grumpy each day, saying that they were just waiting time. It took all her patience to calm him down and keep him from just jumping onto his horse and going ahead of her. She was afraid the Wen patrols they now encountered quite regularly would spot him and she would lose perhaps the last member of her family. She would not be able to bear that pain.

Finally, they arrived to their destination. The now extremely impatient Jiang Cheng went immediately to meet Nie Mingjue and Lan Xichen, the two leaders behind the allied forces which were by now known to every one under the nickname of Sunshot campaign. From the name only, it was clear what was their objective.

She slowly got out of the cart and stretched her legs, looking around for any familiar faces. Suddenly, a boy, perhaps a year older than her brother came up to her. He was wearing the Qinghe Nie sect robes, rich ones at that, and a fan. She immediately knew who he was even before he bowed to her politely and introduced himself: “Maiden Jiang, it is a pleasure to meet you. Please follow me inside, you should not linger outside too long. I hear you had had a rough time these past weeks. There are rooms prepared for you and your brother. You should first get a good rest.”

“Thank you, Young Master Nie,” she started but the second heir of the Qinghe Nie sect had waved his hand dismissively.

“Nie Huisang would be just fine.”

“Then you should call me Jiang Yanli as well. I insist.”

“It would be my pleasure, Jiang Yanli.” Nie Huisang smiled at her and then covered his face with his fan once again. “Please follow me. Although Unclean Realm is safe, we should not talk out in the open.”

Jiang Yanli was a bit surprised, she could not tell what Nie Huisang wanted to talk to her about but she obediently followed him through the long hallways of Unclean Realm. They stopped in front of one of the many massive wooden doors and Nie Huisang opened it and gestured for her to go inside first. She bowed to him and obliged. He entered after her, closing the door quietly.

Jiang Yanli was getting a more and more distinct impression that the Nie Huisang she had heard about from Jiang Cheng and Wei Wuxian was not the same person standing in front of her right now. He was hiding his face completely behind his fan, appearing nervous on the outside, but she could tell that there was hidden intelligence in his eyes. He was looking at her with something resembling concern.

She sat down at a low table in the middle of the room and gestured to Nie Huisang to sit opposite to her, she wanted to hear what he had to say before going to rest. She prompted him to start talking.

“I heard about what had happened in Lotus Pier and I have been since observing the current situation, Brother Wei had quite grown on me during out time in Cloud Recesses and also at the Wen indoctrination. And, the Yunmeng Jiang sect is one of the great sects, we need everyone we can find to win this war.”

Jiang Yanli still could not understand what he wanted to tell her. However, she was happy that he was talking about the Yunmeng Jiang sect as if it was still existing and also used such a familiar way to talk about her brother. She sat still, waiting for Nie Huisang to continue.

“After Lotus Pier had fallen, many disciples who had survived had found refuge here. Let me tell you the truth: it would be beneficial to all if the Yunmeng Jiang sect could be revived, with Brother Jiang as the sect leader and you supporting him and taming his anger and temperament. We need skilful warriors in this war, but it would be contra productive to have hot-headed young sect leaders not listening to orders and ignoring all common sense.”

Now everything was clear. Nie Huisang came to talk to her first because he supposed she had a great influence over her brother. When he was not completely incorrect to assume that, she was curious where he had learned this particular piece of information. It really seemed like there were two Nie Huisangs, one who appeared to be a weakling who needed his brother’s protection and another one who was a schemer behind the scenes.

Jiang Yanli smiled conspiratorially. She did not mind giving a helping hand from the shadows, and Nie Huisang had not asked anything else from her than what she herself would have done regardless.

“I understand, I think I can help in this regard,” she confirmed and Nie Huisang’s eyes sparkled from behind his fan. He started getting up but stopped at her next question.

“Do you know what had happened to my parents and A-Xian? Are they still alive?”

Nie Huisang shook his head slightly, regret evident in his features: “Unfortunately, I do not have any proven information. All that I know for now is that bodies of Jiang Fengmian and Yu Ziyuan are not anywhere on display in Lotus Pier. If I learn anything new, I will of course inform you as quickly as I can.”

Jiang Yanli nodded, appreciating the sentiment. Although the information did nothing to ease her fears, her parents’ bodies could have long been burned to ashes for all she knew, it was still reassuring that Nie Huisang would continue to look into this matter as well.

“Thank you, Nie Huisang.”

The second heir to the Qinghe Nie sect nodded his head again and left the room. Only now did all Jiang Yanli’s exhaustion come back to her and she yawned, hiding it behind her sleeve. It was time for her to rest, there would be much to do from tomorrow onwards.

Chapter Text

Time passed strangely for Wei Wuxian ever since he had jumped off the Wen sect soldiers’ swords and landed in this god forgotten place. Immediately after landing, he tried to run away and hide somewhere only to find out that no was following him. He was only confused for less than a minute, a minute it took resentful energy to attack him. He only then understood that he had jumped right into the Burial Mounds, the most dangerous place there was and also the most feared one throughout the cultivation world.

If he could have taken his decision back at that time, he would have begged the Wens to rescue him from this hell. Unfortunately, it was not possible anymore, no one who entered the Burial Mounds had ever come out, it was common knowledge. He was about to become just one of its victims.

He would however not go down without a fight, he had a promise to keep. He had to get back to his siblings and protect them. He had to tell them that their parents were apparently still alive and then go save them. It was all nice and good to have a plan for the long-term future but he first would have to get out of this hell hole, preferably as sane and unscathed as possible.

He laughed madly at the realization that once again, Madame Yu would have punished him for thinking he could obey the Yunmeng Jiang sect motto better than his brother. If getting out of the Burial Mounds was considered impossible, that was still what he had to do, there was no doubt in his mind. Both Madame Yu and Uncle Jiang were counting on him to protect their children and he had already failed them when he had been captured. He could only hope that they would remain safe until he got out of here. It would not please Madame Yu if he died here instead of protecting her children.

And so he resisted the resentful energy invading his body and burning like ice in his now empty meridians. He did not know how long everything lasted, he was just fighting for survival, becoming feral himself and doing some things he better forgot the second he finished. It was all about his primary instincts at that point.

Over time, he somehow managed to get used to the place and it was not only about survival anymore. He had found out how to more or less defend himself from the resentment and how to minimize the impacts it had on his body and mind; he had never come to fully restrain it but he was slowly getting there even though the voices in his head were still screaming loudly.

Some time later still, he had started observing the resentful energy and experimenting with it, much like he had done with the spiritual energy when he still could. He had found out that with great effort on his part, the resentment could actually be bend to his will and used just as spiritual energy. Resentful energy was energy, spiritual energy was energy as well, they could be used for both good and bad depending on the person wielding them.

He remembered with a small pang of nostalgia that it had once been his innocent young self to say just this to Lan Qiren. Oh how mad had the teacher been at him at that time. But it was all worth it because he had received one of the few expressions from Lan Zhan. Yes, it was exactly the time when he had learned how the Second Jade’s surprised face looked like. What he would have given at this moment for a simple glance from Lan Zhan?

He was lonely and everything hurt. Time passed strangely here in the Burial Mounds and he could not tell how long he was already here. Each time he remembered his siblings who he had abandoned to their devices in that small town, his chest hurt as if he had been stabbed with a dagger right through his heart. He had to go back, he had to protect them.

It was only these thoughts which were holding him together. He felt like if he stopped concentrating for only a second, the resentful energy would overcome him and he would not be able to ever get out of here.

So he relentlessly continued to practice cultivating the resentment and making it obey him. Once he understood that he could use a medium, just as the Gusu Lan sect was using for their musical cultivation, he would be able to wield it safer and easier. He remembered Lan Zhan’s guqin and his careful fingers on it, its enchanting and gentle melodies; no, he would not be able to get one here. What else could he use?

One time during his search for food, he came upon a patch of dried, jet black bamboo. Immediately, he had just the perfect idea. He could craft a flute for himself. This simple instrument would surely be easy to make and he would hopefully be able to learn how to play it by himself. He had often saw people play in the markets so he knew how a flute should sound and how one held it. He needed several tries to get the construction right. It took him however a lot longer than he would have liked to be able to learn how one had to blow air into it and how he should move his fingers to play melodies. The next step was to understand what exactly he should play so he would be able to channel resentful energy without much effort.

Without any delay, he quickly made his way to the barrier and this time, when he tried to get through it while playing on the flute and making the resentment obey him, he was able to do it. There was no pain and no backslash, he was simply free.

The sun was hurting his eyes and the air outside of the Burial Mounds was now suffocating him with how fresh and free of resentful energy it was, but he would have never given up this feeling for anything in the world. No, that was no quite true. If he knew it would make his siblings safe, he would have returned back to the Burial Mounds without a second thought.

However, this was not the case. He still did not know how long he had been trapped in the Burial Mounds, or in Lotus Pier for that matter, and he also had to find out where his siblings were and how he would be able to protect them again. He had a lot of work ahead of him, he could not let himself be deterred by the fact that every time he used the resentful energy, his body was screaming for him to stop and if left him completely drained. Neither could he be bothered by his insecurities if his sibling would still want to even stay around him.

And Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan would probably outright hate him now if he had not been hating him enough before. He had become a demonic cultivator, someone the Gusu Lan sect would never approve of, they would probably only want to punish him. No matter, he should not be thinking about Lan Zhan anyway, it was his siblings who needed him at this moment.

He was actually strangely happy he had fallen into the Burial Mounds. He was now feeling stronger than ever, surely strong enough to protect the Jiang family, with his life if it came to it. And he knew, it the farthest corner of his mind that it would come to it eventually, his body would not be able to take the strain from the resentful energy for unlimited time. But it would be fine, he knew he could last until the whole Jiang family would be reunited again, he had to.

Chapter Text

After joining the Sunshot campaign’s war efforts as the new sect leader of the Yunmeng Jiang sect, Jiang Cheng had fully thrown himself into fighting. It helped him to keep himself occupied so he would not have to think too much about the rest of his family; he only had Jiang Yanli by his side, the fate of the remaining members still stayed a mystery to him.

He obeyed Nie Mingjue’s orders to the letter and went where he had been sent, but he never stopped looking for any signs or rumours about his parents or Wei Wuxian. And if he sometimes volunteered himself to be sent closer to Lotus Pier, no one ever mentioned that.

Strangely enough, he found himself often on the same battlefronts as Lan Wangji. It seemed like the Second Jade had changed. Not that Jiang Cheng had known him all that well before the war but it seemed like he had mellowed down and became even stricter at the same time. It was unnerving for him to try and decrypt what exactly the change meant but from what he could tell, Lan Wangji and him had for some reason the same goal: to find Wei Wuxian, alive or dead.

Sometimes, Lan Wangji came to him to ask if he had any news or if there was any progress in his search and following to that, Jiang Cheng would go seek him out whenever the Second Jade had come back from an assignment to see if he had learned something about his brother. Jiang Cheng would not say they had become close, far from that actually as the Second Jade remained as inaccessible and cold towards him as ever, but they had at least one thing in common and he was glad that someone else also cared about his brother in this way.

It seemed like Wei Wuxian had wormed his way into Lan Wangji’s heart as Jiang Yanli had called it. Jiang Cheng could not really tell himself, it did not look to him like the Second Jade of Gusu could be interested in his shameless and nuisance of a brother in a romantic way. Then again, he trusted his sister’s intuition for these things and always indulged Lan Wangji when it came to sharing intel.

One day, when he had just returned to the Unclean Realm, Nie Huisang came to him as soon as he had passed through the gate. His friend was visibly distressed and perhaps even somehow excited, he could not stop flapping his fan as he all but run across the courtyard and was already tugging Jiang Cheng to come with him.

They headed towards Jiang Yanli’s rooms and Jiang Cheng was getting anxious now. Had something happened to his sister while he had been away? If it did, he would never be able to forgive himself. He could not bear it anymore and he stopped on the spot, making Nie Huisang who had been until now dragging him by his arm to look at him with surprise.

Even if Jiang Cheng did not want his voice to sound this harsh, he barked at Nie Huisang, his patience all but gone: “Brother Nie, what is it? Why are you dragging me like this? I still have to report to your brother.”

Nie Huisang looked at him with now hardly hidden excitement: “Brother Jiang, believe me, you will be glad to hear the news. But not here, we need to get to your sister’s room first.” Jiang Cheng still did not move, he only raised one eyebrow to show that he was waiting for a more detailed explanation. Nie Huisang sighed audibly and then he whispered with his fan covering his mouth: “It concerns Brother Wei.”

At once, it was Jiang Cheng who was dragging Nie Huisang to Jiang Yanli’s room and entering without even knocking. Luckily, his sister, although surprised, only smiled at the two of them and did not comment their abrupt and rude barging in in any way.

Jiang Cheng could not wait even until they all sat down and were served some tea as would be appropriate for a conversation. He only turned to Nie Huisang, finally releasing his wrist and asked with barely hidden anxiety: “So, what is it about my brother?”

He did not want to start hoping, not now, not after more than three months after Wei Wuxian had disappeared. But he could not help himself. Nie Huisang did not look like he was about to tell them that they had found his brother’s dead body, he looked too excited and cheerful for that. But he did not look like he was about to share some happy news either. His face was a mixture of sorrow, excitement and apology, his lips pursed together as much as could be seen around the fan still covering his face, and Jiang Cheng already dreaded the news.

At last, Nie Huisang let his fan fall to his side and looked at both of them – Jiang Yanli had joined them and was now standing next to Jiang Cheng, holding his hand in silent support, her own hand cold and trembling slightly – and informed them in a grave voice: “Brother Jiang, Jiang Yanli, I have finally found out what had happened to Brother Wei. He had apparently been captured as you had feared, not long after leaving the small town you had been hiding in after escaping Lotus Pier. He was brought back there and stayed imprisoned for a week. Then he had been dragged out by Wen Chao, they probably wanted to take him to Nightless City but that I do not know for sure. And…” Nie Huisang’s breath hitched a bit and he had to swallow to be able to continue: “He had tried to escape and ended up falling into the Burial Mounds.”

There was a long silence when Jiang Cheng and Jiang Yanli were trying to process all the information. Then, Jiang Yanli’s free hand, the one which was not currently crushing her brother’s, flew up to her mouth as she gasped for air and tears spilled from her eyes. Jiang Cheng’s reaction, although less violent was no weaker. He could have sworn that his heart stopped beating altogether and his chest was so tight he was sure that he would not be able to actually take a breath even if he tried.

Nie Huisang was looking at both of them with sadness in his eyes: “Brother Jiang, Jiang Yanli, I am sorry I do not have better news…” Another silence, this time a shorter one when Nie Huisang’s head turned solely to Jiang Cheng and he said, his tone still apologetic: “I have already explained everything to my brother. You have a week to go investigate in Yiling or anywhere else you see fit. I cannot promise you anything more… Sorry…”

Jiang Cheng’s blood was now boiling and despite thinking he would not be able to breathe ever again, he was now angrily fuming while panting heavily.

How could his brother had been so stupid to throw himself willingly into the Burial Mounds? They had heard stories about that place ever since being small children, he could not have thought he would be safe there, could he? But then again, it was Wei Wuxian they were talking about, perhaps this was just a part of some crazy plan of his. Jiang Cheng could not even tell if he was mad at his brother or at Wen Chao who had captured, and surely tortured him, making him take this decision in the first place.

It was Jiang Yanli who calmed herself first and addressed Nie Huisang who was just standing awkwardly with his back against the door, apparently not knowing how he should face their violent reactions: “Nie Huisang, thank you for the news. I am glad we now know where to start looking for our brother. I am sure A-Cheng would like to go there immediately. And perhaps take Lan Wangji with him. We could use all the help there is.”

Jiang Cheng did not even wait for his sister to finish and he was already pushing past Nie Huisang and back into the hallway. He had to find Lan Wangji quickly so they could go to Yiling and look for Wei Wuxian. He refused to give up hope, he knew his brother, he would have surely not jumped to the Burial Mounds without any plan to get back out.

Chapter Text

Wei Wuxian just made it out of the Burial Mounds and he was exhausted. All his previous determination was still there, but his body had finally given out on him despite his best efforts. He had wanted to head directly to Meishan so he could start searching for his siblings there, hoping that they had made it at least that far. Perhaps they were still with their grandmother even now, unaware that their parents were alive and held prisoners in the dungeons of Nightless City.

Wei Wuxian’s mood suddenly dropped when he remembered that he did not know how long he had spent trapped in the Burial Mounds. It could have very well been that Uncle Jiang and Madame Yu were not alive anymore. His heart was pierced by guilt again; he should have been faster. He was always too late and he hated it. No, when he found his siblings, he should not tell them anything and first check if Uncle Jiang and Madame Yu were indeed still alive, he would hate to give them false hope, it would ruin them.

His eyes were closing despite himself and his whole body was becoming unbearably heavy, he wanted to sleep for a week before doing anything. Yet, he knew he could not do that, not until he made sure he kept his promise; perhaps it had been Uncle Jiang’s and Madame Yu’s dying wish for all he knew.

He gathered himself and headed towards the town he could see in the distance, surely he could get food and shelter for the night there, and he could gather information about how long he had been missing and how the war had progressed thus far, for he was sure that burning of Cloud Recesses and the attack on Lotus Pier were just the beginning. He dreaded already what he would learn.

When he stepped onto the busy street, he faltered slightly, not used to the busy atmosphere and the crowd after such a long period of loneliness and isolation. His head started hurting even more. He had to get out of the street again, as soon as possible, he should probably find a less lively area. But first, he still had to ask some questions and understand what had happened in his absence and how long it took.

He gritted his teeth and started inquiring the stall tenders around. They seemed happy enough to share their gossip and he had learned about the war which had erupted and about the allied forces who came together to combat the Qishan Wen sect and its leader. He could not ask directly about Jiang Yanli and Jiang Cheng, he was sure the merchants this far away would not know them but he was beyond glad to learn that the Yunmeng Jiang sect was once again one of the powerhouses. That must have meant that at least one of his siblings was alright.

Before he could learn more, he felt he had had enough at last. He really needed some rest and then he would continue. He turned around and wanted to get out of the town when suddenly, he froze in place as he thought he heard a familiar voice call out his name. He stood there, convinced that if Jiang Cheng was really calling him and it was not just an illusion of his tired mind, his brother would surely not give up until he was heard.

“Wei Wuxian!”

There it was again and Wei Wuxian could hardly keep his tears back as he turned around and his eyes immediately spotted the purple clad figure. He stood in place, still dumbfounded about the fact that his brother was here, safe and sound and so very much alive. He was even wearing the Yunmeng Jiang sect robes so the Wens must have not been after him anymore. Surely Jiang Cheng would not be so stupid to paint a target on his own back, that was Wei Wuxian’s speciality.

Before he could do anything, he felt his brother to scope him in a bone crashing hug right in the middle of the busy street where they were still standing. He did not react at first, still too out of it and surprised but after a second, he returned it with all the vigour his body could muster. He did not want Jiang Cheng to start suspecting anything about his missing golden core.

And he did not have to even pretend to be happy with the hug, he truly was. It meant that his brother was possibly not mad at him anymore after their last interaction who knew how long ago.

He was not left in the darkness for long as Jiang Cheng started to scold him almost immediately, although his voice was far from truly angry: “Wei Wuxian, you idiot! You have disappeared for more than three months! We were looking everywhere for you. Do you know how worried sister was? You…”

His brother’s tirade got interrupted by a subtle noise of someone clearing their throat. Only then did Wei Wuxian realize that Jiang Cheng had not come to find him alone. He had to blink a few times to assure himself that his eyes were not deceiving him.

In his always perfectly pristine robes, Lan Zhan was standing a few steps away from the both of them, at the edge of a small circle of free space which had formed around him and his brother. They were attracting too much attention which could not have been good.

“We should continue elsewhere,” Lan Zhan added when Jiang Cheng turned around to look at him, clearly angry about being interrupted.

However, his brother only nodded and took Wei Wuxian by his wrist and dragged him to the nearest inn. He paid for a room, never letting go of Wei Wuxian’s hand and then they were already in a private room. He let go of Wei Wuxian’s wrist and the said man knew that he would have bruises there later, not that it bothered him in the slightest. He was overjoyed to see his brother and Lan Zhan.

He had almost forgotten what Jiang Cheng had asked before being interrupted. But his brother of course dutifully reminded him of the topic: “So where were you these last three months? We have heard rumours that you fell into the Burial Mounds but that surely cannot be right, no one had ever gotten out of that place alive.”

The doubt and curiosity in Jiang Cheng’s gaze hurt a bit and Wei Wuxian immediately understood that even if he told the truth, which he had no intention of doing anyway, his brother would not have believed him. But all was good, he did not want to burden him.

Fearing a long conversation, he carefully sat down on a table, still very much conscious of the fact that he could faint at any moment. He looked up at the duo of cultivators in front of him, fully aware that since Jiang Cheng had said they had been looking for him, he must have included Lan Zhan in that equation as well.

He felt somewhat warry. Lan Zhan was still looking at him with worry in his eyes but Wei Wuxian knew it would not last long, only until he would realize that Wei Wuxian was now a demonic cultivator, even though his ways were a little bit different than Wen Ruohan’s. It was still demonic cultivation all the same and he knew that someone from the Gusu Lan sect would never accept it.

That did not matter anymore however, he could no longer spend his time with Lan Zhan, he had a more important mission. He had to protect his brother at all times, he would have to make sure he would not let him out of his sight ever again. He would have no time to try and mend any kind of friendship with Lan Zhan, it would take too much time which he did not have. His heart was breaking for some reason, but he knew it had to be done.

“Aya, Jiang Cheng, you know that is impossible yourself. I have just found an abandoned cave and inside were cultivation manuals. Do you believe me?” he asked playfully, doing his very best to conceal the origin of his new cultivation.

Jiang Cheng only snorted, of course he did not believe him. But it was find, he did not look like he was going to ask other questions.

Then Wei Wuxian’s gaze shifted towards Lan Zhan and he saw that this particular cultivator was not buying his story at all.  The Second Jade of the Gusu Lan sect was looking at him with suspicion and a strange urgency in his eyes. Wei Wuxian did not quite like it, it had been better when Lan Zhan had been ignoring him before the indoctrination.

“Wei Ying, what about the flute?” Lan Zhan asked, staring intently at Wei Wuxian’s spiritual tool for demonic cultivation.

Wei Wuxian stood up at once, hiding the flute behind his back, out of sight. He had to dispel those suspicions, the soon the better.

“Lan Zhan,” he started but then he stopped himself. It would not do to continue to be this familiar with the Second Jade, it would hurt too much to be reminded of the friendship he could no longer have every time he would have to talk to or about the other. Better set up polite boundaries to protect his heart.

“No, I should probably call you Hanguang-Jun now. And about the flute,” he put the instrument in front of him again and twirled it between his fingers a bit, “I just happen to have picked it up.”

Seeing the hurt expression in Lan Zhan’s eyes pained Wei Wuxian deep inside, to the very marrow of his bones. But this was for the best. He had other priorities at the moment and he could not let himself be distracted. He had his mission cut out for him.

Chapter Text

Jiang Cheng could not quite understand what was happening between Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji. The air suddenly seemed to have frozen between them as they were staring at each other with something akin to a mixture of anger, determination and pain in their eyes. As always when he assisted to a meeting between those two, he could not understand them. Why was Wei Wuxian always so insistent on getting on Lan Wangji’s last nerve?

Even back in Cloud Recesses, he used to follow the Second Jade everywhere and bug him every opportunity he got. Needless to say, Lan Wangji did not quite enjoy the attention his chaotic and bothersome brother was showing him. But then, after the indoctrination when he had rescued them from the cave of the Tortoise of Slaughter, something between them have changed, or at least he had thought it had with Lan Wangji looking with him for his idiot brother this insistently. But now, what was happening now?

There seemed to have apparently been a misunderstanding between those two. Or their roles had reversed or something. For this time, it was Lan Wangji who seemed ready to mend their relationship and Wei Wuxian who was acting cold towards him. It was confusing Jiang Cheng greatly.

But then, he just let it go, they would come around when they would want to. His brother had all right to act a bit strangely after being missing for three long months. Although his previous explanation had left Jiang Cheng quite furious, he did not press on the issue. He was sure that Wei Wuxian would tell him later, probably once their sister was there with them so he would not have to repeat everything.

The staring contest between Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji seemed to have finished when the Second Jade demanded urgently: “Come back to Gusu with me.”

Now Jiang Cheng was even more confused. Lan Wangji must have known that they could not leave the battlefront until they prevailed or dropped dead, every hand counted right now. Surely he was not suggesting he wanted to leave and take Wei Wuxian with him?

Jiang Cheng shook off his surprise when Wei Wuxian returned a bit mockingly: “Gusu? The place with more than 3000 rules? No, no, no. I prefer Yunmeng.”

The declaration should not have made Jiang Cheng as happy as it in reality did. Of course he had never doubted his brother would come back with him and they would finally be able to become the Twin Prides of Yunmeng as they had promised; he was now a sect leader and he needed Wei Wuxian to become his right hand man. Clearly that was why his brother was refusing Lan Wangji.

It looked like the Second Jade was about to protest and argue with them so Jiang Cheng stepped in: “Second Young Master Lan, you heard my brother. We are going back to the camp and he will join the Yunmeng Jiang sect troops. There is no place for negotiations. Now please leave, I want to have a private talk with my brother.”

For the longest moment, it did not look like Lan Wangji would heed to his request. He only continued staring at Wei Wuxian, completely ignoring Jiang Cheng, completely disregarding the fact that he was currently his brother’s sect leader and so had a much higher status than the Second Jade who was only a sect heir.

However, when Wei Wuxian lifted his chin a bit and straightened his back, a clear sign that he had already made up his mind; Lan Wangji sighed loudly and turned around. His back was tense but he heeded in the end. He walked out of the room and closed the door with perhaps a bit more force than it was strictly required for the task. His facial expression had not betrayed anything but if this was not a clear show of anger, Jiang Cheng did not know what was.

He turned towards his brother and a small prick of guilt made itself known in his guts. Wei Wuxian was watching the door with a sad expression even after the Second Jade’s steps could not be heard anymore. His brother’s eyes had something that he could only name as longing in them. But that was impossible, he had just said that he wanted to come with Jiang Cheng to Yunmeng.

Suddenly, the moment was over and Wei Wuxian turned towards him again, his usual grin on his lips: “So Jiang Cheng, you said you have been looking for me all this time? Were you worried? I guess you do care about me.” Then he went back to the table and sat down again.

In those three months, Jiang Cheng had almost forgotten how infuriating and embarrassing his brother’s teasing could be. “Shut up, who cares! Sister was worried and told me to go look for you, that is all.”

Wei Wuxian started laughing but for some reason, it sounded strange, strained and not as bright as before. Jiang Cheng shook his head slightly to get the impression that something was very wrong with Wei Wuxian out of his head. His brother was strong and as long as he was alive, Jiang Cheng knew he would pull through just about anything.

Now that he got him back, he had to do what he had planned all this while, he had to apologize for shouting at him the day he had been taken prisoner. He knew fully well he should not have said those words and he wanted to make that clear in case his brother was so dumb to actually take them to heart.

“Wei Wuxian,” he started again, this time in a lot more serious tone, “you know… Before the Wens had captured you… I should not have said those words. I did not mean them, you know that, right?”

For a second, Wei Wuxian froze and was looking at him with a completely blank expression. So he either did not remember what Jiang Cheng had told him at that time or he had not taken it to heart. Jiang Cheng was glad; he did not want things to stay tense or weird between them.

He was waiting for any kind of reply but he only got a completely unrelated question: “So, Jiang Cheng, I hear that you have single-handedly resurrected the whole Yunmeng Jiang sect. Congratulation. I am sure Uncle Jiang would be proud of you.”

Jiang Cheng took the peace offering when it was there and started to tell his brother about everything that happened after he had been captured by the Qishan Wen sect soldiers and Wen Chao.

During his speech, he had all but forgotten that Wei Wuxian had ever been absent from his side in the first place. They clicked together as if nothing had ever happened which made Jiang Cheng happy. He knew they would have to fight in the war tomorrow, but for today, there was no rush. His brother was back and there was much catching up they had to do.

Chapter Text

Jiang Yanli was just tending to an injured Gusu Lan sect disciple and preparing him for transport. They were leaving Unclean Realm today and setting up another camp, closer to Nightless City. The Sunshot campaign was making progress so they needed to have their headquarters closer to the actual battlefields.

They were only taking those ready to fight or lightly injured with them. If it was solely on Jiang Yanli, she would not have made the wounded travel at all but she understood that they needed all hands for the upcoming war, they could not let themselves fall. The consequences would be tragic and Wen Ruohan would probably just execute everyone who had opposed him. The cultivation world would have no other chance to defeat this tyrant of a demonic cultivator ever again. No one would dare.

They were leaving in a matter of hours and she had her things already prepared. As a medic, she was about to also make her way to the new headquarters to help, there were bound to be even more injured people in the upcoming weeks.

She was a little bit nervous because she did not hear any news of Jiang Cheng. Was her brother able to find Wei Wuxian? Or were the rumours Nie Huisang had gathered just that? Rumours without any solid ground behind them? She did not want to start hoping again, it would hurt too much to have her hopes that her other brother was alive even after more than three months to be crushed. But she could not very well help herself. Those were the first leads they got since Wei Wuxian’s capture and she took it as good sign.

She finished bandaging her patient’s hand and moved to the next one. There was still a lot of work to do before the infirmary could be moved. She should stop worrying about her brothers who would come back in a few days, be it both or just one of them, directly to the new camp. Or at least that was the plan. However, she already dreaded the possibility, no matter how small it was, that even Jiang Cheng would not return anymore and she would be left all alone in this world.

Suddenly, she was startled by a gong sounding in alarm. It could only mean one thing; Unclean Realm was beings attacked. And now of all times, when most of the fighting capable disciples were already on their way to the new camp and it would take them a while to come back and defend the town and the civilians.

Apparently, the rest of the medics had similar worries as they quickly gathered in the central building and barricaded themselves inside with the wounded. They could only wait now.

Just as so many times ever since the war had erupted, Jiang Yanli felt completely helpless. She wanted to help somehow but her low cultivation would not do anything in a fight, she would only be a burden. So she could only wait every time, and it was taking all her courage and determination to not panic.

They heard noises outside, swords clashing against each other and a lot of shouting. She could not tell which side was winning but she feared that it was not the allied forces who would be victorious in this particular battle.

There was another loud bang and then the door to the main medical building shattered and a Nie sect disciple flew through it, back first. Jiang Yanli had no time to go check on him because the room was already filling with Wen sect soldiers. There were too many of them and neither she nor the other medics or wounded could have done anything to stand up to them. It was completely hopeless.

One of the soldiers, with an impressive build and somewhat higher quality robes then the others stormed inside the room and looked around at the group of scared medics. He must have been some higher ranking officer for all the other Wen sect soldiers made way for him.

Seeing the scene in the medical ward, he only gave them an indifferent look and ordered: “Kill them all.”

Jiang Yanli could not let that happen. She had become friends with most of the medics over the last few months, they had families and most of them were young woman. She could not let them be killed just like that.

Before she really thought things through, she already straightened her back and took a step forward, facing the imposing man in front of her. She did her best to not shudder when the man’s eyes focused on her and she saw a dangerous glint inside them. Apparently he was not pleased that someone was trying to stand up to him.

“Young master,” stated Jiang Yanli, doing her best so her voice would not tremble and would sound convincing enough for the man to believe her, “we are only medics and injured people here. It would not do you any good to kill us. We are not related to the fighting, most of us here are civilians…”

She did not really know what she wanted to say, what she could say to convince the man to not kill all of them without mercy. But she would try, even if it would cost her her life, if she could save just one soul, it would would be worth it.

“Maiden Jiang!” one of the other medics shouted. She probably wanted to say more but she was struck with a sword of one of the soldiers before she could take another breath. Jiang Yanli now started trembling for real. It seemed like she would not do anything but to get all of them killed faster with her futile attempt at reasoning with the captain, or whoever the man she had been talking to was.

Another soldier now came up to the man and whispered something into his ear. Jiang Yanli, although she stood quite close, could not really hear the words. The man nodded slowly and looked at her intently, shivers run through her spine, there was something dangerous and frightening in his eyes.

The man waved his hand to dismiss the soldier who bowed low and stepped away while addressing the man: “Young Master Wen.”

Jiang Yandi’s heart fell. The man was apparently Wen Xu, the heir of the Qishan Wen sect, the first born son of Wen Ruohan himself. She had heard enough about him to know that any further negations or reasoning would do nothing, the man was merciless and as cold as ice. He would never let anyone associated with the Sunshot campaign live.

“You must be one of the siblings my brother had been searching for all this time. He has some unfinished business with you…” Wen Xu said somewhat pensively, an unpleasant smirk on his lips.

Jiang Yanli now shivered even more, she could not believe that Wen Chao was still looking for her and her brothers even months after the attack on Lotus Pier. Had his grudge really been that deep? Or was he just so petty that he just did not want to let them go?

Wen Xu’s next order froze her to the spot and she could barely breathe anymore: “Kill them all! And take Maiden Jiang with us. I am sure my younger brother will appreciate the gift.”

When rough hands took hold of her arms, Jiang Yanli tried to struggle but she knew fully well that she would not be able to get away. She was dragged outside of the medical ward and tied with a rope. Then, someone hit the back of her head and she fell unconscious.

Chapter Text

Jiang Fengmian was sitting on the hard ground of his cell, his wife’s head resting on his shoulder and one of his hands behind her back. They were imprisoned here for so long already that they had lost all sense of time. They were now only surviving from one moment to another, eternally grateful that they had at least each other to keep them company.

Ever since Wen Chao came to inform them about the death of Wei Wuxian and the imminent capture of Jiang Cheng and Jiang Yanli, they had been left in the dark. No one ever came to their cell anymore and their meals were only delivered through a small opening in the door. They did not even know if their other children were still alive or not, if Wen Chao mad managed to capture them as he had threatened or if he had failed for some reason and that was why he never came back to boast to them about it.

It was mortifying to be left in the dark this completely. Jiang Fengmian was slowly starting to lose touch with reality. His sense of time was already greatly distorted and now he was worrying what was happening in the world outside of his prison cell. His imagination supplied the worst scenarios and he had no one to tell him that they were not true. His wife shared his worries and their mutual reassuring could only do so much. Their sanity was only hanging on a thin threat and it was getting harder and harder to keep themselves in the reality.

The soldiers had apparently understood that they would get no intel from questioning them and they also stopped coming. It was quiet most of the time and it was weighing on Jiang Fengmian’s mind. They tried to distract themselves by talking to each other. It worked fine in the beginning when they had just made up but by now, they had no more topics to talk about and more and more often they just sat beside each other, offering silent comfort.

Jiang Fengmian was not sure how long they would still be able to survive like this. He could tell that his wife was taking all of this harder than him and he was afraid for her. Yu Ziyuan had always been an independent woman who did not like to be restrained in any way, be it that someone was talking against her or that she could only share a tiny cell with him and not go out to fight when her children could be struggling for their lives.

Suddenly, Jiang Fengmian heard footsteps outside of the cell. It was a welcomed distraction. For a while, he was considering if it was just an illusion supplied by his imagination or if someone was about to deliver them another meal. By now, his stomach was not even rumbling, he knew he was hungry but he could just not care anymore. He was afraid he was slowly dying together with his wife.

When they did not know if their children were still alive and well, they still had at least a fleeting hope. But as days – or months? – passed, their hope slowly disappeared. If their children were dead already, they had nothing to live for. It would perhaps be better to die and leave this wretched world which took everything away from them behind. Perhaps they would be able to meet each other in one of their next lives.

The fact that the door to his cell had opened surprised Jiang Fengmian to no end. He could not believe that they had not been forgotten completely and that someone, whoever that was, was coming to meet them again. The light of a torch was hurting his eyes after all the time spent in a nearly complete darkness. He could not tell who had come and he waited for the person to speak to know.

He was a bit disappointed when he could not tell by the voice. But then his sluggish mind finally understood the words and he was shocked speechless: “Stop struggling and get inside! We do not have the whole day to lose with you. Although if you insist, we could go for a few rounds if you know what I am talking about.” Loud laughter erupted outside of the cell and Jiang Fengmian’s ears were hurting after all the time spent in silence or with only occasional whispers.

They were getting a new cellmate it would seem. That was something to look forward to, they would at least have someone to tell them what was happening outside and if he or she had heard anything about their children or the Yunmeng Jiang sect.

There was a loud thud as someone was thrown inside and then the door was closed once again. However, before the light of the torch fully disappeared, Jiang Fengmian caught a glimpse of the new prisoner. His heart almost stopped beating, he knew he must have been hallucinating right now but he could not help himself.

Tears filled his eyes and he just had to ask the newcomer who they were, he had to confirm that Jiang Yanli could not be in the cell with them before he would get his hopes up. He did not think he would be able to survive the disappointment later. Although he would be beyond happy to see his daughter again, he did not want her to be in this kind of place.

Before he mustered his courage and found his voice, Yu Ziyuan had already stirred against his shoulder and then sat up straight. Her voice was just as disbelieving as Jiang Fengmian was feeling when she all but whispered: “A-Li?”

So she must have also seen the prisoner’s face and thought that the resemblance was too great to ignore. At least he knew he was not hallucinating as many times before. He was holding his breath, waiting for the other person to speak.

“Mother? Father?”

It really was Jiang Yanli’s voice, there could be no mistake. Jiang Fengmian’s heart now started beating like crazy and tears were streaming from his eyes when he launched himself forward and hugged his daughter and wife tightly. He could not calm himself even when Jiang Yanli started stroking his hair and muttering reassurances under her breath. He could hear clearly in her voice that she was crying as well, she must have also thought they were dead.

“Mother, Father, it is good to see you. We have thought you were already dead. But we did not want to give up hope until we confirmed it with our own eyes. Your bodies were not in Lotus Pier when we have reclaimed it so we still hoped…”

Jiang Yanli’s voice was now stopped by a hiccup and Jiang Fengmian finally gathered himself enough to unglue from the hug and take his daughter’s face into his hands. He wanted to make sure it was really her, that she was here, save and sound and more importantly alive.

Then the weight of her words sank in and he stuttered out: “We?”

“Yes, Father. A-Cheng is fine and he is doing his best to be a good sect leader, he would be overjoyed to find out you are still alive.”

Now it was Yu Ziyuan who spoke, her voice raspy and hoarse from long disuse and so much crying: “And what about A-Ying? Wen Chao came and told us he was…”

Jiang Fengmian understood why his wife was not able to finish her sentence. She still felt guilty about how she had treated the boy for years, they both were. They talked about him a lot during their imprisonment and agreed that if they ever saw him again, they would apologize to him and beg him for forgiveness, they have both wronged and hurt him, he had not deserved that.

Jiang Yanli’s voice was a bit sadder when she replied this time: “We have learned that he was perhaps alive, A-Cheng is searching for him as we speak.”

Well, that was probably all they would get. They still did not know if Wei Wuxian was alive or not for sure, but these were still the best news in a while. Jiang Fengmian could not help himself and his tears were back again. Now they would also be able to learn about the war and everything else they needed to catch up on.

Chapter Text

Jiang Cheng had been greatly annoyed when Wei Wuxian insisted on going back to Qinghe on horseback. Although Jiang Cheng had given his brother his sword last evening before they rented a room in the inn and went to rest, Wei Wuxian was saying now that he had used too much spiritual energy getting out of the Burial Mounds and he did not want to risk flying on a sword just yet. Jiang Cheng had even grumpily proposed he would take him on his own weapon, but the other only laughed it off. It was getting on Jiang Cheng’s nerves.

But in the end, he agreed after Lan Wangji, who had still not left even after receiving a cold shoulder from Wei Wuxian last night, had also joined his brother’s camp. He said that it would be safer to travel by land, flying could attract too much attention of the Wen sect soldiers. There was some logic behind that argument as the Wens started to be more active over the last few days and the whole area was now crawling with them.

He did not like this at all, their travels were so slow it was almost painful. He wanted to be back in the camp already to tell Jiang Yanli that he had found Wei Wuxian safe and sound. His sister must have been worried sick when they were both gone from her side. And the sooner the better.

They headed directly to the new camp site as Nie Mingjue had told them before their departure for Yiling that the move would be done by then. It took two days to go there and Jiang Cheng hated every second of it. But there was no way around it so he just swallowed all his anger deep down and focused on hurrying his horse to a higher speed.

At last, the camp was in front of them and he could let out his breath, he would be able to see Jiang Yanli again soon. He stormed the camp like a wild fire, not checking if the other two were following him.

It was small in size, actually a lot smaller than it should have been which worried Jiang Cheng a little bit. It seemed like the few tents which were there could not have housed all the cultivators and personnel Nie Mingjue had wanted to move here. Had they perhaps been late on the schedule?

He looked all around, trying to spot the medical tent, he knew his sister would most probably be there. And if not, someone would know where to find her. Lately, Jiang Yanli took it upon herself to help in the infirmary she had told him it was the only way she could participate in this war. That was not true at all but Jiang Cheng did not oppose her decision, he knew she wanted something to busy herself with while he was out there, searching for Wei Wuxian. And she would actually be safer here, with all the most powerful cultivators from the allied forces close to her.

Before he reached the medical tent, he was stopped by a bothered looking Nie Huisang. He wanted to go around the Qinghe Nie sect heir but he did not succeed as Nie Huisang took hold of his sleeve and would not let go even when Jiang Cheng tried to snatch it back. There was something really weird about the way the other was behaving. Jiang Cheng grew uneasy.

He turned around and looked at Wei Wuxian who was now standing behind him and lifted one of his eyebrows in a questioning motion. He only got a shrug of shoulders back, it was clear that his brother had no idea about what could Nie Huisang want with them either. He looked back at the Qinghe Nie disciple and all but growled, very displeased to be held back from seeing his sister: “What is the meaning of this, Brother Nie?”

Nie Huisang flinched a bit at his tone but did not let go. He looked apologetic all of a sudden and Jiang Cheng liked that expression even less.

“Brother Jiang, Brother Wei, it is good you are back. Please come with me, brother and Lan Xichen want to speak with you immediately.”

Jiang Cheng scowled; there was definitely something going on at the moment with how urgently Nie Huisang wanted them to come. Still, it could surely wait until he and Wei Wuxian would get to see Jiang Yanli, it would not take long.

He looked Nie Huisang in the eyes and tried to reason with him: “Brother Nie, could this wait a bit? We need to first go see my sister.”

The Qinghe Nie disciple seemed to have become smaller all of a sudden when he all but whispered, his voice quivering a bit and definitely very careful: “It is about Jiang Yanli that they want to speak to you about.”

Before Jiang Cheng could even process the information, Wei Wuxian was already at his side, clutching at Nie Huisang’s robes. He was visibly alarmed and just as worried as Jiang Cheng: “Has something happened to Shijie?”

Only then did it finally hit Jiang Cheng. Of course something must have happened, probably during the moving of the allied forces’ headquarters. There were too few tents and too few people around. When the camp should have been bursting with energy, it was very quiet and nearly no one was in sight. And now that Nie Huisang would not let them see Jiang Yanli, something was just terribly wrong.

“Where is she?”

Now it was Jiang Cheng who was holding Nie Huisang in place, clutching the other’s wrist in his hand so tight it must have been painful.

The Qinghe Nie sect heir looked down and would not meet Jiang Cheng’s eyes when he replied: “She is missing.”

Jiang Cheng suddenly found it hard to breathe. His chest was getting tighter and tighter by the second. His sister was missing? Was she not supposed to be together with the other medics? What nonsense was Nie Huisang spouting? There must have been some kind of mistake, Jiang Yanli could not be missing. She must be safe and the Qinghe Nie sect heir is just playing an extremely distasteful joke on them.

Wei Wuxian seemed just as disbelieving as Jiang Cheng because he opened and closed his mouth a few times before finally asking with a blank stare: “What?”

Nie Huisang looked at them again and his eyes were full of pity now: “Brother Jiang, Brother Wei, I am sorry. Brother and Lan Xichen wanted to tell you in a calmer manner but… Shortly after Brother Jiang and Brother Lan left, there was an attack on Unclean Realm. Since most of the forces and resources had already been moved to the new camp, leaving only a handful of disciples and the medical ward to follow, there was nearly no one who could defend the stronghold. 

According to a few survivors, Wen Xu came leading a large number of soldiers and breached the gates. There was not much fighting, the disciples were quickly overpowered and the Wens started pillaging the city. After a while, they made it into the medical ward and confronted the medics. Your sister stood up to them and Wen Xu had taken her a prisoner. I am pretty sure that if he had wanted to have her dead, he would have killed her right there and then. She is probably alright.”

Jiang Cheng was so stunned he found it hard to think straight after Nie Huisang’s explanation. He felt as if someone had just snatched the very ground from under his feet and he was now not sure how he should continue standing when there was nothing to lean on. He was completely empty, only waiting for everything to sink in so he would feel at least something again.

Chapter Text

Wei Wuxian was at a complete loss for several seconds. It took him quite a while to actually understand what he was feeling, why he was having so much trouble breathing and why his chest was in so much pain. He watched as Jiang Cheng was shaking his head in utter disbelief and he thought he may had been doing the same thing. He was not sure though, he felt too shocked at the moment.

And then it finally downed on him. Jiang Yanli had been captured and took away by Wen Xu.

How could he have let that happen? Was he not supposed to protect his siblings, protect the whole Yunmeng Jiang clan? He had already failed before and Uncle Jiang and Madame Yu were either dead or held prisoners in Nightless City. And now even his sister was gone, probably met with the same fate. He had failed once again. He could not even keep his promise and accomplish his role of a guardian properly.

It was all his fault, this time as well. He should have never played a hero in the village they had been hiding in after escaping Lotus Pier, he should have been stronger and fended off the Wen soldiers. He should have come back to Jiang Cheng and Jiang Yanli’s side and be there for them. They should have gone to Meishan together and then join the Sunshot campaign while resurrecting the Yunmeng Jiang sect, he should have been there for his siblings.

Then again, getting caught had been unavoidable at that time. Still, he should have done more to escape Lotus Pier and Wen Chao’s clutches. He should not have been this foolish and should not have thrown himself to Burial Mounds, he had jumped there basically willingly. If he was just a little bit more patient and thought things through, he would not have lost three months just like that.

He should have mastered the demonic cultivation faster; he should have never been away from his siblings’ side for the whole three months. If he tried harder, he would have surely been able to escape the Burial Mounds in a shorter amount of time and could have helped defend Unclean Realm. He knew the Yunmeng Jiang sect motto ‘To attempt the impossible’ and yet he could not do even that much, getting himself stuck in that god damned place for so long instead of protecting his siblings just as he had been supposed to do.

If only he had not said that he wanted to go back to the camp by horseback, they could have still arrived in time to fend off Wen Xu and safe Jiang Yanli. And he had refused for such a selfish reason too, just because he had not wanted Jiang Cheng to find out how weak he was right now because he had been afraid that his brother would no longer want to stay by his side if he could not protect him and be his right hand man anymore.

If he had at least not refused Lan Zhan’s offer to fly on his sword, they could have still arrived sooner. He just stubbornly refused to come near the Second Jade for it would hurt too much to know that he could no longer stand as his equal and that the other hated him for his use of demonic cultivation. So what if Lan Zhan hated him, so what if he would feel bothered by Wei Wuxian clinging to him for the flight and despise him even more, it would have been all worth it if it would have saved Jiang Yanli from imprisonment.

And Wei Wuxian could only hope at this point that she had been captured and taken to Nightless City. Nie Huisang had not said that he knew where she was so he must have had no idea either. It was not even certain that his sister was still alive. And all because of him. Why was he always causing only trouble? Madame Yu had been right all along, he should have probably not come with Uncle Jiang and stayed on the streets, then he would not cause his adoptive family so much pain and grief.

He had been foolish and reckless this whole time. He should have known better, he should have listened to Madame Yu and Master Qiren more seriously. If he had not caused trouble, the Yunmeng Jiang sect would have still been fine, Madame Yu and Uncle Jiang would have still been with them, Shijie would have still be welcoming them with a smile. Jiang Cheng would not be in so much pain right now. He had ruined everything. It was all his own fault.

He looked at his brother, feeling completely broken inside and whispered apologetically, “Jiang Cheng, I…”

He wanted to apologize so much for his failure to the Jiang family, and there was only one member left. He knew he was just trying to ease his own conscience but he still had to do it, he felt like his chest would burst open from all the pain stuffed inside of it otherwise. And hopefully he would also attract Jiang Cheng’s ire on himself, he did not want the other to blame himself for all of this for he knew that Jiang Cheng would do that sooner or later anyway now that he was the new Yunmeng Jiang sect leader.

His brother turned around sharply, apparently finally regaining his senses after hearing the news. He glared at him and Wei Wuxian had to do his best to not cower under his fierce stare full of blame. At that moment, Jiang Cheng felt like a complete stranger to Wei Wuxian, and it hurt.

What hurt however even more was the fact that when his brother spoke, his voice was broken, almost devoid of any and all emotions and extremely tired and aggrieved. Jiang Cheng never spoke in that way; Wei Wuxian would have been able to take on all his brother’s anger and blame, but not this emptiness he could feel creeping inside of the other.

“Wei Wuxian, just shut up, I want to be alone right now.”

The young Yunmeng Jiang sect leader turned away from him and started heading towards a cluster of tents. His steps were slow and tired, as if he was exhausted to his bones. He was staggering a bit and it almost looked like he could not stand on his own feet anymore. Wei Wuxian wanted to cry seeing how broken his brother was because of him.

He could not stand it; he did not even know what he wanted to tell the other when he run after him and called: “Jiang Cheng!”

His brother stopped and turned around again, very slowly this time. Wei Wuxian took a step back for he had never seen so much pain on someone’s face before.

Jiang Cheng took a deep breath as if he was about to finally start yelling at him and let his pain out. Surely he would feel better after unleashing his emotions onto Wei Wuxian.

However, nothing like that happened. Instead of an outburst, he only half-heartedly whispered: “Wei Wuxian, if only you…”

Jiang Cheng’s voice trailed into nothingness but Wei Wuxian understood perfectly well what his brother had wanted to say. He had been blaming himself already for all those times he could have taken a better decision, for all those times he should have been stronger, but now, after his brother could not even enumerate all those occasions, he felt guilt completely crushing him.

He could not bear looking in his brother’s dead eyes anymore so he was kind of grateful when Jiang Cheng just turned his back to him and left without uttering another word.

Wei Wuxian did not pay any attention to Nie Huisang and Lan Zhan calling him back and he was just running away like the coward he truly was. He wanted to hide somewhere far away from the world but he knew he would never be able to hide from the guilt, from all the pain he had caused, from his mission.

He stopped when he was all alone and no one was in sight anymore. Then he scrunched to the ground, holding his hands around his torso in a desperate attempt to hold himself together. He could not tell if he was crying or not but he definitely felt like filling a whole sea with his tears. He let himself succumb to his pain.

Only for a while though. He could not just run away, he still had to protect the only remaining member of the family which graciously and selflessly took him in and which he had just ruined. He still had to protect Jiang Cheng.

He willed his aching body to stand up and he headed back to the camp, his mind focused solely on his mission, he did not have time to think about anything else at the moment. He had to push through, he could not collapse just yet.

Chapter Text

Jiang Cheng felt still completely drained the next morning. He had cried his heart out during the night and now it was as if he had nothing left. He had cried for the better part of the night and now he was completely empty. He was at a loss about what to do next, how to continue living without another member of his family.

Last evening, he had felt like he need to blame someone for his own and his family’s unfortunate fate, but he knew better then to choose Wei Wuxian for that already. Not after how he himself had behaved after the fall of Lotus Pier; he knew perfectly well that his brother was not at fault for all his family’s misfortunes.

No, Cloud Recesses had been burned and Unclean Realm attacked without any provocation; the Wens would have come for Lotus Pier sooner or later. It was the Qishan Wen sect who had wanted to take over the cultivation world, Wen Ruohan must have been planning this for years. Wei Wuxian had nothing to do with that, Jiang Cheng knew that now. So he would not blame his brother. However, that did not mean that he was ready to face him just yet, he felt like he could still snap at any moment. His emotions were too raw and he felt too vulnerable to let anything show.

When he exited his tent to go report to Nie Mingjue, he had found the said brother waiting for him in front of it.

Wei Wuxian looked terrible with his deep black bruises under his eyes and his slumped shoulders. He was apparently tired, as if he had not slept a wink during the night either. It seemed like his reckless and mischievous brother was nowhere to be found anymore. Jiang Cheng wondered for a split second what had changed.

It looked like Wei Wuxian had finally become a responsible adult and had grown up. Had he finally realized that he could not stay a carefree teenager forever? Or was it because he had been captured by Wen Chao’s soldiers and spend three months in the Burial Mounds? No, he did not know that for sure yet, it was not like Wei Wuxian had told him anything at all. Or maybe because he was now about to join in on the fighting and become part of the allied forces?

Jiang Cheng could not tell; but then again, he did not care too much either. He himself had changed as well, all the cultivators of their generation had. The Sunshot campaign and the war had not left them any other choice. They could not remain children for any longer, they had their sects and the whole cultivation world to protect.

He quickly stopped the train of his thoughts, not wanting to seep too deep into it. He should just focus on the task at hand.

Without saying as much as a greeting to his brother – he was still not sure he would be able to face him with a calm expression but he did not want to chase him away, for now, he was all the family he had left – he headed towards Nie Mingjue’s tent. It had now become the main headquarters of the Sunshot campaign. His brother followed him silently, with his head lowered a bit. It was so unexpected and weird that it still worried Jiang Cheng slightly.

But no matter, he had already decided that he would put some distance between himself and his brother, at least for the time being. It would be safer that way, they both needed some time to come to terms with their own emotions. And his brother had surely many things to process as well, he had been lost to the world for three months after all, he probably needed some time to adjust.

When he was stepping inside Nie Mingjue’s tent, he noticed that Wei Wuxian was not carrying his sword. He was taken aback. Why would his brother not take his spiritual weapon with him now that it had been retrieved? That was simply too rude of a behaviour for any cultivator, especially in presence of a sect leader they were just going to visit.

For a second, Jiang Cheng was already considering to talk to Wei Wuxian again even though he had decided against it just moments ago. But he could tell that if he opened his mouth, all his words would just spill out of it, all the blame he was so desperately trying to not put on his brother’s back, all his sorrow from losing his family, all his complaints about having to resurrect and lead the new Yunmeng Jiang sect all on his own because his brother had once again decided that he would do the impossible without him.

There was too much, too much hurt inside of him. He did not want to show to anyone that he was this weak, he was a sect leader now, he could not go around showing weaknesses to everyone. Not even to Wei Wuxian who was supposed to be his right hand man. So instead, he just scowled at his brother’s hand which was clenching the strange black flute, letting him know that he did not entirely agree with the change of weapon. Sure, musical cultivation was fine and everything, but it was just not the same, and even those who cultivated it carried swords as well. It was common curtesy.

Once again, he stopped thinking about this matter and had to focus on the present when Lan Xichen’s voice came from inside the tent: “Sect Leader Jiang, it is good to see you are back. I heard you have found Young Master Wei safe and sound.”

Jiang Cheng went into the tent and the rustling of fabric behind his back confirmed that Wei Wuxian did the same. But he did not come to stand at his side as always, he stopped a step behind him, bowing to Lan Xichen, Nie Mingjue and Nie Huisang. Lan Wangji, Jin Zixuan and Jin Zixun were also present, it looked like they had arrived just in time for a strategy meeting.

Jiang Cheng bowed his head to show his respect and quickly went to take his place around the table with a map of Nightless City and its surroundings. It seemed like today’s topic would be, once again, their plan to finally put a halt to the Qishan Wen sect rule over the cultivation world. He could feel his brother coming with him, still standing behind him. It bugged Jiang Cheng to no end, Wei Wuxian had never before behaved this deferentially, it was like they were not brothers anymore but a sect leader and his subordinate.

Why would Wei Wuxian suddenly start taking his position seriously? By all means, Jiang Cheng had expected nothing to change between them but it was clear that his brother saw things differently now. And perhaps it would be for the better, even though it would hurt Jiang Cheng to see him like that. At least the other sects would stop gossiping and criticising everything. It could only be a good thing.

Suddenly, Jiang Cheng’s head jerked up and he looked at his brother who was now talking. He had not been paying attention to the meeting but now, he could not ignore what was being said anymore, it was too shocking.

“…have a way to deal with Wen Ruohan. I have come to understand how to wield resentful energy, I believe that I can be of help in the upcoming battle.”

What? How could that be? Why was Jiang Cheng hearing about this important piece of information only now? How had Wei Wuxian come to become a demonic cultivator without ever uttering a word about it? Should he had not said that the first thing when he and Lan Wangji had come to meet him in Yiling? Should he had not informed his brother about this? Should he had not told his sect leader about controlling resentful energy and becoming like Wen Ruohan? How would he now look to the others when he was just as surprised and shocked by the information as them?

This really was the last drop. He felt like he was truly losing his brother now and he could not take it anymore. He was furious that he had come to learn it in this way. Had Wei Wuxian stopped believing him so he would not tell him? And why was he now looking at everyone else in the tent but at Jiang Cheng? It really was too much. His anger flared bright red and Zidian on his finger was sizzling menacingly, he had a distinct urge to hurt someone.

Jiang Cheng shook his head slightly to try and recollect himself. He felt betrayed, by the last member of his family no less. How could Wei Wuxian just put him aside like that? How could he abandon him after everything his family had done for him? No, this really was too much. Jiang Cheng turned on his heel without a word and stormed out of the tent.

Chapter Text

Wei Wuxian was at the end of his rope. He had revealed being a demonic cultivator to the other sect leaders and had proclaimed that he could deal with Wen Ruohan’s puppets. He was positive he could, this was not the issue, he just needed a little more time to get himself more familiar with controlling the resentful energy and he would be good to go.

The more pressing problem was that his brother was now outright ignoring him. Or at least it seemed to be the case after Jiang Cheng had stormed out of that one strategy meeting and never spoke a word to him in a week. Wei Wuxian knew he should have informed him about his new method of cultivation before that but he had had no chance, he had not seen his brother after they had come back to the camp that night and before that, he had just been too much of a coward to come to light with the truth.

He was still afraid that Jiang Cheng would not want him to stay at his side anymore if he learned that Wei Wuxian was useless now, only having the demonic cultivation that all the other sects were so wary about to help him protect his brother. He had, he could not even count for how many times already, put Jiang Cheng in a bad position. The Yunmeng Jiang sect was still weak right now and he had caused it to be in an even worse position than before.

Perhaps he should have never come back in the first place. It seemed like Jiang Cheng was doing perfectly fine without him causing trouble left and right. He would have surely been able to lead the Yunmeng Jiang sect without Wei Wuxian by his side, it was not like he could become his right hand man anymore. Not after everything that happened, not with him being a demonic cultivator.

But he still had a promise to keep, he had to protect his brother with his life. So he really had no other choice but to stay by Jiang Cheng’s side and try to be as non-visible and non-offending as possible. He could tell that his brother was hurt and that was why he was giving him a cold shoulder but unless he would be explicitly sent away, he would do his best to stay close to Jiang Cheng at all times.

And so he threw himself into the war in an attempt to forget his guilt and to have at least the faintest chance of rescuing Jiang Yanli and her parents, if they were still alive that was. He had to come to terms with his new cultivation and learn how to handle it better. He could not be a walking corpse after each use, he had to come up with a way how to not succumb to exhaustion and pain after every single time he called upon resentment. He had to become stronger lest he would not be able to keep pace with his brother who was now a sect leader and an incredibly proficient fighter.

He had already asked Nie Huisang if he could investigate the whereabouts of the rest of the Yunmeng Jiang clan. However, up to this point, even the Qinghe Nie sect heir could not confirm if Jiang Yanli, Uncle Jiang and Madame Yu were still alive or not. Wei Wuxian could only hope that they were held prisoners in Nightless City still, although that hope was dying a little bit with each day he had not been able to advance towards Wen Ruohan’s palace.

He had to do more but his now weak body was betraying him on every step of the way. Every day, he returned to his tent dead tired and immediately collapsed where he stood. He could however not sleep well, with nightmares of his failures and of his time in the Burial Mounds flooding his dreams, he could barely get two or three hours of decent sleep before he would be dispatched to another battlefield. His very bones were hurting as resentful energy was raging in his meridians, making itself at home where his golden core had been once.

At least his cultivation was steadily growing and he was getting better at controlling the resentful energy. Still, he was nowhere near being able to take control of Wen Ruohan’s puppets just yet. He had to try harder, he was telling himself every single day, they had no time to lose. He had no time to lose. He had to become strong enough to face Wen Ruohan and his army so they could siege Nightless City and finally know if there was even anyone to safe there.

Lan Zhan was not helping either, it seemed like he had made it his mission to annoy Wei Wuxian every time they met. The Second Jade was nonstop warning him about the dangers of demonic cultivation and telling him that he should abandon it, that it could harm his body and mind.

Truth to be told, Wei Wuxian did not need any reminders, he knew perfectly well that his body would only be able to take so much, especially without a golden core to help him heal and strengthen it. He fell apart a little bit more every single day. But he was sure he would be able to keep going as long as it was necessary, who cared if he would die of exhaustion in the end if he would be able to save those he had sworn to protect. As for his heart and temperament, well, he did not want to think about it. He would hold as long as it was needed, he had to.

He was stuck to Jiang Cheng’s side, never leaving him alone for too long. It was both to assure himself that he would not fail in protecting him again and to avoid Lan Zhan’s meddling. It seemed like the Second Jade only ever came to talk to him when he was alone. So it was killing two flies with one stone. 

He felt himself slowly fading away and becoming scarce. His body was not cooperating with him more often than not, he had already gotten used to all the pains it was in, he pulled through with sheer will power. It terrified him to his core, not because he often felt like dying but because he would not be able to protect Jiang Cheng anymore if he succumbed to his pain. He was sure if he stopped for even a second, all this would come crushing down onto him and suffocate him.

So he kept going, not even taking any time to rest. It was better that way, when he kept himself busy, he could pretend that he was doing everything he could and at least alleviate the immense guilt weighing down his every step the tiniest bit. All the while however, he knew fully well, deep down where he could not ignore that fact, that it was not enough to make up for everything he had ruined. It would never be.

Still, he did his best to hide this from everyone, especially Jiang Cheng, he did not want them to worry unnecessarily about him. His brother had a whole sect to lead and a war to win, it would just distract and annoy him to see that Wei Wuxian was once again up to no good. And Lan Zhan, he should really not have to be concerned about someone like him.

Chapter Text

Jiang Cheng was increasingly getting more and more tired. The war was not progressing well for the allied forces and he had to, more than ever, lead the Yunmeng Jiang sect with iron will. He could only grief his family when he was alone in his tent, deep in the night when no one would hear him or see his tears stricken face.

Wei Wuxian had become even more distant, he now only ever lurked in Jiang Cheng’s shadow, his features and eyes eerily haggard, it was as if he was slowly disappearing. They started talking to each other some time back, but it was not as it used to be. Wei Wuxian had closed his heart and only offered assistance in fighting and silent support during meetings.

Despite his boisterous and confident words on the first day he had joined the allied forces, every time he was asked if he was ready to confront Wen Ruohan he only shook his head. If Jiang Cheng did not know any better, he would have even said that his brother looked ashamed of this fact. But that was not right, when had Wei Wuxian ever felt shame?

Jiang Cheng knew he would come up with a solution, he always did. Yes, his brother had always been able to follow the Yunmeng Jiang sect’s motto better than him. He however hoped that the other would hurry, they had no time to lose now that Wen Ruohan was pushing them back on every front. They desperately needed a trump card.

It was a sunny day, one that they had no battle scheduled on and they were resting. Well, more like Jiang Cheng was resting, sitting on grass next to his tent with a bottle of wine in his hands, and Wei Wuxian standing as still as a statue just a few steps away from him. Jiang Cheng had long given up on having his brother join him, they had truly become a sect leader and a subordinate. He mourned the loss of his brother but if this was how Wei Wuxian wanted things to be, then he would not argue with him over this, not anymore anyway. He was tired of dealing with the other and he had decided to just let things take their own course.

He watched as Nie Huisang run towards him, face hidden behind his fan. He slowly got up, already expecting to receive news that his day of rest was cancelled and that he should go fight somewhere on Nie Mingjue’s orders.

“Brother Wei! Brother Jiang!” was Nie Huisang calling for them from already far away as he spotted them. His voice was urgency itself, Jiang Cheng had not heard him this distraught ever since the faithful day he had told him that Jiang Yanli had been taken away; and probably dead by now since there had been no news about her since then. She was clearly not being used as a hostage; they would have already received some demands from the Qishan Wen sect.

“What is it, Brother Nie?” he asked tiredly. He did not have to pretend to be happy about being send off to fight again.

“I have big news! Come; let us discuss them in your tent!”

This was something new. Apparently it was not about a new battle after all. What could the Qinghe Nie sect heir want with them? And why was he sounding so overjoyed and worried at the same time? Jiang Cheng did not ask any more questions and quickly entered the tent, sitting down at the table opposite to Nie Huisang. Wei Wuxian came in as well and for the first time in a long while he joined Jiang Cheng at the table, taking the seat next to him.

They both looked at Nie Huisang with raised eyebrows and a clear question in their eyes. Luckily, the Qinghe Nie sect heir did not lose time with pleasantries and he immediately told them: “I have just received news from one of my informants in Nightless City. Your parents and your sister are alive! They had been held prisoners all this time. I did not get any more information about how they had been treated but I wanted to tell you right away.”

The silence after Nie Huisang’s words was absolute. Neither Jiang Cheng, nor Wei Wuxian it would seem, were in any condition to answer yet, they were still processing the news. Jiang Cheng was torn between blindly believing that his family was still somewhere out there, safe and sound and waiting for him to come rescue them at last and being afraid that it could just be some cruel joke or misinformation that he should not believe lest he wanted his heart to break into a million pieces upon learning the truth.

Wei Wuxian must have been in a similar train of thoughts because when he finally managed to speak, he asked, his voice hopeful yet trembling with fear: “Is that true? Are Shijie, Uncle Jiang and Madame Yu really still there?” He was now clutching Nie Huisang’s hand as if he was daring him to tell any lies or as if it was the only thing keeping him from jumping to his feet and storming off, most probably in the direction of Nightless City.

Nie Huisang nodded, his expression serene: “Yes, my informant is trustworthy. I fully believe that they are alive. The only thing I do not understand is why we have learned this only now, it had been more than a month from when Jiang Yanli had been taken and even longer since the fall of Lotus Pier… It almost seems like an elaborate plan or a trap to me…”

Jiang Cheng did not care at all if this was a trap or anything, the only important thing to him right now was that his family he had thought dead was alive and waiting for him to save them. He shot up to his feet and turned towards the exit, glad for the fact that Zidian was on his finger and that his sword had always been in his reach. He was fully intending to just jump on it and fly to Nightless City at the highest speed.

In a buried part of his mind, he could hear a small rational voice telling him that this was not a good idea. He had no plan and he would be alone against all of the Qishan Wen sect soldiers, trying to sneak in Wen Ruohan’s stronghold right under his nose. He would surely be captured in the matter of seconds if he tried this. But he could not care less about being reasonable, not when his family had been held captive for months now and he did not even know about it. He did not want them to be in that awful place for even one more minute.

He was stopped, quite predictably too, by a hand on his forearm. He yanked it away and continued pushing through towards the door. He heard some shouting but he could not care less for the words, he had to go, right now.

He only stopped again when his way was barred by Wei Wuxian’s whole body. His brother was trying to push him back, shouting something quite urgently into his face. He did his best to free himself but Wei Wuxian did not ease his hold. They started fighting.

After a while, Jiang Cheng found himself on his back with his brother sitting atop of him and holding him down. They were both panting heavily and Jiang Cheng could see that he had apparently gotten in some good punches because his brother’s right eye was already swelling and his lip was torn open. He struggled some more but then he saw something which made him finally start listening to Wei Wuxian’s words. His brother was crying. Although there was only a single tear running down his cheek, it was somehow more distressing than if he had been wailing loudly.

“Jiang Cheng, please, be reasonable… I cannot lose you too. I have promised to protect you and your family. I will do everything to help them, to get them out of Wen Ruohan’s clutches, but not like this. If we go to Nightless City unprepared, we will just get ourselves captured and we will not help anyone. Please, A-Cheng… Let us think of a plan, I promise it will not take long. We will save them.”

All the fight suddenly disappeared from Jiang Cheng and tears started streaming down his cheeks as well. He knew Wei Wuxian was right. This was not how they should approach the rescue. They had to be prepared or they would not be able to help anyone. Getting captured would only worsen the situation and give Wen Ruohan even more hostages.

Finally, it all downed on him. He had been such a fool, thinking only about himself. It took him seeing his brother cry for the first time ever to realize that Wei Wuxian was in the same situation as him and also must have been hurting in the same way. He was also a member of his family and he had lost it, for a second time in his life no less. He now only had one brother, and he did not want to lose him either.

Jiang Cheng lifted one hand and it hurt to see Wei Wuxian slightly flinch as if he had thought that he would hit him – then again, Jiang Cheng could not blame him, he had already raised his hand against him multiple times at this point. He covered his own face and whispered with a hoarse voice, fully agreeing with his brother now: “Alright, I get it. Let us think of a good plan. They were left alive until now; I am sure Wen Ruohan would not kill them tomorrow.”

It was not certain at all, he could not predict what the Qishan Wen sect leader would do. But he was not going into this unprepared and full of emotions, see where it had gotten him last time he had done something this foolish, running by himself into the forest, resulting in Wei Wuxian going after him and getting captured in his place.

Chapter Text

Although Wei Wuxian had managed to stop Jiang Cheng from running off to safe the rest of his family, it still did nothing in the end. Not even a week later, the Qishan Wen sect soldiers managed to still capture him. It was during a fierce fighting near Nightless City when they were advancing their positions before the final battle scheduled next week. Wei Wuxian had gotten separated from his brother and when he turned around, he could only see him being carried off by a bunch of soldiers on their swords.

He had never felt that helpless in his life. It had happened right in front of him and he could do literally nothing to stop them, not without his golden core and without being able to mount a sword and pursue them. Now the whole Yunmeng Jiang clan had been captured, he had failed in his mission. So thoroughly too that under other circumstances it would have actually been hilarious.

On the same day, he came to find Nie Huisang and told him his plan. He was not at all sure that it would actually work but the risk was worth it if it would save Jiang Cheng, Jiang Yanli, Uncle Jiang and Madame Yu. He had promised to protect them with his life and he would do just that if necessary. He had decided to go through with this and there was no stopping him. Still, getting some help could only be to his benefit.

If Nie Huisang was surprised that he had come to find him and had requested to speak to him in private, he did not show anything and only followed him without a word. Once they were back in Wei Wuxian’s tent, they sat down at the table, opposite to each other. Nie Huisang put his fan onto the wood and waited, ready to listen to whatever his friend wanted to tell him.

Without any ado, Wei Wuxian revealed his plan to rescue the Jiang family and to hopefully defeat Wen Ruohan at the same time: “Brother Nie, I have to help them. They have even taken Jiang Cheng now; I cannot stand idly by anymore. I have to do something. They have saved my life when I had been a child, now it is my turn to save them.

I have found a way to arrange everything, I would only like to request a small assistance from the allied forces for the rescue. If I will be successful in discovering a way to take control of Wen Ruohan’s puppets, I may even be able to stop them during the final siege. You know I had been looking for a way to impede the Yin iron for a while now but I think I need to be closer in order to understand the way he is controlling it better. You may not believe me but the resentful energy I use and the Yin iron are not the same so I need to get a closer look.

I will give myself up to Wen Ruohan and promise him my assistance and knowledge of demonic cultivation in exchange for releasing the Yunmeng Jiang clan. I am pretty sure he had already heard of me and he is probably mad. But he will for sure not let go of the opportunity to get a better understanding of demonic cultivation from someone who have come back from hell itself. It will be too good to pass on for him. I am pretty confident in this.

I will just need you to arrange for the Jiang family to be taken away from Nightless City. I do not trust Wen Ruohan will let them get away so easily. I will convince him to take them out of the dungeons and his palace but that is all I can do, probably. I am afraid that once they would be out of my sight, he would try to capture them again, if for nothing more than to keep them as reassurance that I would not go against him. Please, I need your help rescuing them. After they will be out of harm’s ways, I will be able to focus on finding a way to defeat Wen Ruohan.

Once he lets me near the Yin iron, I will be able to finally examine its powers first hand and understand the way Wen Ruohan is controlling it. When your brother will lead the siege on Nightless City, I will be ready to do my very best to snatch that control away from him and stop as many puppets as I will be able to. Hopefully it will be enough to finally shift the scales of fortune onto our side and defeat that monster.

It may look like I have changed sides but I assure you, I would rather die than let the Yin iron corrupt me as it had done to Wen Ruohan. Please believe me in this one. I want this war to end already and for everyone to return to their peaceful lives. I do not want children joining the battles and dying, I have seen too much of that already. Everything will be decided in a week’s time. For the better or for the worse.”

Wei Wuxian had not looked at Nie Huisang once during his explanation, he was too afraid that the Qinghe Nie sect heir would say that it was a foolish plan and that it would not work, that he would not help him in this almost suicide mission of his. But his friend greatly surprised him when he did not argue with him. The silence was getting longer and Wei Wuxian finally gathered enough courage to look up and he was met with the Qinghe Nie heir’s pensive eyes.

“You have already decided, did you not?” asked Nie Huisang. It must have been clear to him that his friend would not back down with this because he did not even wait for any kind of confirmation and he was already nodding his head pensively: “Alright, I will do my best to convince my brother to agree to the plan. When are you going?”

“Tonight.”

The response seemed to have not surprised Nie Huisang either. There was only another nod of his head and he was already getting up, opening his fan once again.

“Then I wish you the best of luck. I promise that we will be ready tomorrow morning.”

Then Nie Huisang headed out of the tent. He however still turned around in the entrance and looked back at Wei Wuxian once again, worried expression on his face: “Be careful.” And then he was gone.

Wei Wuxian did not lose any time and he got up as well, gathering his things. He would go to Nightless City immediately, hoping that he would be able to actually carry out this reckless and risky plan. Even though he had tried to sound like he had everything under control when he had been talking to Nie Huisang, nothing could have been farther from reality, he was not sure of anything, he was only hoping that it would work. And right now, he had nothing more than that hope to keep him moving forward.

Chapter Text

Jiang Cheng opened his eyes in a complete darkness. Or at least it seemed like that at first, he had been confused if he had actually opened them at all. But then, he slowly started adjusting and realized that he was indeed conscious even though he probably should go right back to sleep. His head was killing him and he had a hard time remembering what had happened.

It took a while before everything came back. He knew that he had been fighting Wen Ruohan’s puppets and soldiers. There had been so many of them and he had been getting more and more tired. He had lost Wei Wuxian from view too so he had been left on his own. The only thing which followed had been a sharp pain in the back of his head and darkness.

Seeing that he was not outside right now, he must have been either brought back to the camp or he must have been captured. The first option, however pleasant, would have been highly unlikely because if that had been the case, he would not be laying on a cold stony ground right now. He must have been captured then.

He tried to get up and see where exactly he was, if there was any way he could escape. He only made it into sitting position when he faltered. His head started spinning on top of all the headache and it was a terrible combination, his stomach felt like it could not hold onto his last meal anymore. He started taking deep breaths.

He only noticed that someone’s hands were now supporting him, wrapped safely and gently around his shoulders, after quite a while. It could not have been the Wen sect soldiers so he did not panic. Before he could turn his head to see who was behind him, a face appeared in front of him, then a second one. Both deathly pale but still perfectly recognisable.

His mother and sister were sitting in front of him, looking at him with worry in their eyes. He could not find his words but it did not seem necessary at the moment as they were both already hugging him and wetting his robes with their tears. He had no reason to hold back his own. He did not have to look back to know that it was his father holding him from behind. He had found his family again and even though they were all captured in a hands of a maniacal demonic cultivator controlled by the Yin iron, he could not remember a time in his life when he had been happier.

“A-Cheng,” whispered Jiang Yanli into his ear, “I am happy you are alright. We have been worried about you.”

Jiang Cheng gulped down the mass of feelings blocking his wind pipes and he finally found his voice: “Sister… Mother, Father… I have thought you were all dead. I am so happy to see you.”

He would have liked to check if they were fine but now was hardly a moment for that. They seemed not too injured if they could move around. And even if they were not alright, he could not do anything about that given the situation. So he only basked in their reunion, fully content to have his family back. Well, everyone except for his brother who was the only one not captured.

Or Jiang Cheng at least hoped that was the case. Since he had been apparently thrown into the same cell as his other family members, it would be a sane presumption to expect Wei Wuxian being there with them if he had also been taken prisoner. However, Jiang Cheng still could not shake off a bad feeling. It was Wei Wuxian he was thinking about, the one who had angered Wen Chao himself. It could have been possible that he would have been taken somewhere else.

With a sudden urge, Jiang Cheng pushed his sister and mother a bit away and looked into their eyes – or as close to that as he could manage in the darkness of their prison cell. “What about Wei Wuxian, had they captured him too? We have gotten separated on the battlefield. I am worried that Wen Chao still holds a grudge against him. Had you heard anything about him?”

Jiang Yanli gently took his hand into her own, hope blossoming on her face: “So you have found him, A-Cheng? Is he alright? Where had he been all those months?”

Jiang Cheng blinked. There was a bit too many questions at once and he could not think about an answer before he knew if Wei Wuxian was safe or captured and possibly tortured by Wen Chao.

His mother was the one to speak next, her voice unusually gentle and devoid of its usual bite: “A-Cheng, it is fine. I am sure A-Ying is alright. He was not brought here so he had probably not been captured.”

Jiang Cheng felt reassured a bit. It was not hundred percent sure that his brother was still free somewhere out there but it was at least good to hear that he had not been brought here and then taken away before Jiang Cheng had woken up. He calmed even more and relaxed against his father’s chest.

And then he froze again. He just realized what his mother had said, or more like what she had just called Wei Wuxian. He had never heard her address him in such an endearing way, it almost felt like something had changed in those short months they had not seen each other. ‘A-Ying’ she had said, almost as if he was also one of her children and not a son of a servant how she used to call him. It was incomparably more familiar of a term than referring to him with his courtesy name.

Then another surprising statement left his mother’s mouth and Jiang Cheng felt like perhaps the woman in front of him was not his mother at all. She was too different from the fierce persona of the Purple Spider that he had known before the fall of Lotus Pier.

“I hope A-Ying will not try to save us on his own. I know I made him swear it, and knowing him he took it to heart, but he will be captured too if he tries. It is too dangerous. He should stay away from Nightless City and Wen Ruohan. He was already hurt enough in this war; he should not suffer any more for our sake.”

Since when had his mother started caring about Wei Wuxian? She only ever had been cold to him, more like bearing with him living in their home than accepting him as Jiang Cheng’s and Jiang Yanli’s brother really. Where did this come from?

A million questions were now flying through Jiang Cheng’s mind, it was clear that he and his parents had a lot of things to catch up on and to explain to each other.

He wondered how his parents and sister would react to the news that Wei Wuxian had spent three long months in the Burial Mounds and was now practicing demonic cultivation. What would they say when he would explain to them that his brother had changed because of that experience and that they were now hardly talking to each other?

But they had to know, Wei Wuxian was still part of their family. Even if they would possibly never see him again, it was only fair that they knew how he was doing. If not his parents, then Jiang Yanli was clearly dying to know all the news.

Jiang Cheng pulled himself away from his father’s arms to be able to look at all three of his other family members when he would be speaking. He thought he was imagining things when he noticed a quickly hidden sorrowful expressing on his father’s face, as if he did not want to let go of him. But that was impossible, his father had never been one for physical affection, Jiang Cheng could hardly recall a handful of times his father had as much as ruffled his hair, not even talking about hugging. Yes, he must have been mistaken because of the dim light in the cell.

He did not overthink things anymore, he took a deep breath and started talking about Wei Wuxian’s recent experiences and behaviour.

Chapter Text

“Since Wei Wuxian had been captured by Wen Chao, we have never heard any news about him until just a few days before the attack on Unclean Realm. That was when Nie Huisang came and told us he had heard rumours about Wei Wuxian having fallen into the Burial Mounds, or how he put it, actually throwing himself inside. So me and Lan Wangji went to look for him.

At first, we could not find him as we were wandering around the place, we could not even come close to the barrier with how thick it was with the resentful energy. And then, just like that, we have bumped into Wei Wuxian in Yiling. He was wandering the street market as if nothing has ever happened, as if he had not been lost for three whole months. But he looked somewhat different at that time, jumpier and very closed off.

We went to talk in an inn and can you believe that? He had argued with Lan Wangji – I have never seen him like that before, in Cloud Recesses, he always used to run around the Second Jade as a puppy wanting to get petted – and completely ignored him saying that he would come back to Yunmeng with me. And of course he would, why would Lan Wangji even ask him to go to Cloud Recesses with him? And in the middle of the war too…

Wei Wuxian have changed, somehow it was him and at the same time not. He seemed really on his guard for some reason, and he had this peculiar black flute with him. I had already known that he would not have his sword, he had been captured before Suibian had been retrieved, but still… And I did not even know at that time that he turned to cultivation of resentful energy instead of continuing the path of the sword. He was wary of everything and he did not really talk all that much, I still did not confirm until today if he had really been in the Burial Mounds or somewhere else entirely those three months.

Anyway, Wei Wuxian came back with us to the camp and then we have learned that Sister had been captured by Wen Xu. I wanted to go rescue you, but he held me back. And he was right, if I stormed off there and then, I would have been captured even earlier and perhaps I would have never met you again.

He stayed by my side this whole time. And let me tell you, his demonic cultivation is something else. When you stand just next to him while he is controlling the resentful energy and his army of fierce corpses, it is as if all air is chilly and all the hair on your body is standing up. Do not get me wrong, I am definitely not scared of my brother, but somehow, I feel like he has become distant… Still, he pushed onwards, insisting on being on every battlefield. Be it not for his help, the allied forces would have never advanced this much. They are now practically in front of the gates of Nightless City.

But I am worried about him too, he often looks tired and refuses to talk about it. Well, actually about everything that happened to him. I cannot remember the last time I saw him smile earnestly… I really do not know what to think anymore these past few days…

And then, right in the middle of the most difficult battle, we somehow got separated for a minute. I was surrounded by Wen Ruohan’s puppets and a horde of Qishan Wen sect soldiers and completely overpowered. I have lost my sword and the last thing I remember was someone hitting me on the back of my head. Afterwards, I have woken up here.”

Jiang Yanli was listening to her brother’s explanation of the last events she had missed and her body was becoming colder and colder with every single word. It was really heart-breaking to hear how Wei Wuxian had changed, how both of them had. She had known fully well that they would be broken by her disappearance but this was too much. Even if Jiang Cheng had not said it in many words, she could tell that he and Wei Wuxian had been desperately looking for her, probably disregarding their own health and well-being in order to reach Nightless City as soon as possible.

Although the light in the cell was very dim, she still saw how exhausted and devastated Jiang Cheng had been when he had been brought in. The bone deep tiredness which had etched itself into his every feature could only be explained by overexerting himself and by feeling extreme grief. He must have surely assumed they had all been long dead and he would at best retrieve their mutilated bodies. She had also been shocked when she had met her parents who were still alive even after all this time. She could tell the captivity had changed them as well, none of them was the same person who they knew before the attack on Lotus Pier.

And she was sure that the same could be said for Wei Wuxian as well. Even before being captured, her brother had already been acting differently. As always, he was taking all the blame onto himself and put himself in the role of her and her brother’s guardian and protector, but something just did not feel the same as before. As if the whole world came crushing down onto his very shoulders.

Before meeting her parents again, she had disregarded this fact and assumed that Wei Wuxian had just been shaken by the attack on Lotus Pier, his new home, and by losing half of his second family. Now however, she was suspecting that there had been something more to Wei Wuxian’s obsession with protecting them. It was most probably as her mother had said, he had taken her words to his heard, following them to the letter.

It was very sad when she realized this, if this really was the case, then Wei Wuxian must have truly felt like he had been expendable. Could it be that he had even believed that he had been taken into the Yunmeng Jiang sect and into their family so he would be their life-long servant and protector? Jiang Yanli wanted so much to tell herself that this was nonsense, that Wei Wuxian knew fully well he had been their brother all along and had nothing to pay back to her family, but she simply could not. Deep down, she knew it was the truth. Perhaps not the whole one but at least a part of it for sure.

She flinched a bit when the dead silence was interrupted by her mother asking in a shaking voice: “So, all this time, you believed we were dead? How did A-Ying take the news? I know he never liked me very much but I am afraid that he would have still blamed himself. And of course he would when I was the one to put all the blame on him first…”

Yu Ziyuan sounded so broken and sorry that Jiang Yanli searched for her hand and took it into her own. She had been here long enough to understand that her mother had finally seen what she had done to Wei Wuxian, what her words and shouting had done. And she also knew that Yu Ziyuan was now greatly regretting it. Whatever happened during the long imprisonment had made her act more like a mother.

Jiang Yanli could now only hope that her mother would be able to apologize to Wei Wuxian eventually, that was, if they would ever meet again. Their fate was more than uncertain and Wei Wuxian’s as well it would seem with the war still going on and him surely trying to rescue them all on his own right now. She wanted so much to go to him and tell him to not risk himself, to take better care of himself and to not forget that he was also an important member of their family. Wei Wuxian was no servant of theirs, he was her and Jiang Cheng’s brother, and if he was to get hurt, or even killed, their family would never be whole again.

She wanted to believe that he knew all of this, but she just could not. It was not in his nature, not when he always tried to take everything upon himself and always put everyone else’s well-being before his own. She feared for his life now for she knew he would do something reckless and try to get Jiang Cheng – and in extension all of them since he probably did not know they were even alive in the first place – out of here.

All she could do now was pray that someone would stop him before he would destroy himself for their sake, both in the literal and figurative sense of the word.

Chapter Text

After leaving the war camp, Wei Wuxian headed immediately towards the gates of Nightless City. Since he could not fly, it took him more than an hour to reach them. He had had enough time to both think about his next steps and worry if his brother, or anyone else from the Yunmeng Jiang clan, was still alive. He did, not even want to imagine what would he do should he learn that no member of the Jiang family was alive, and all because of him and how weak he was.

He had boasted to Nie Huisang about having a plan, but in reality, he still had nothing even already standing right in front of the gates of their enemy’s stronghold. He wondered if he should try to sneak in and look for the Jiangs in cover. However, he was not sure he would be able to manage that even after mobilizing all his powers and all the resentful energy in Nightless City. The whole place was just drowning in it; it was almost as bad as the Burial Mounds.

He really did not want to get anywhere near it. Not when he was this tired and this close to the edge. He could feel that his control was hanging on a really thin threat, one wrong move and the resentful energy would slip from him, completely overcoming him. He would rather die than let that happen, he would become a puppet for the resentment’s will and he was afraid that Wen Ruohan would see this as a perfect opportunity to crush the allied forces once and for all. No, he could not let that happen!

Still, he had to get inside, preferably without wasting any energy. He would need all of his strength when he would be negotiating with the Qishan Wen sect leader. He would need all he had and perhaps even more to convince him that he wanted to change sides and study the Yin iron, if he would be even allowed to come near it. He would then need all his willpower to combat the resentment and take the control away from Wen Ruohan. He was not sure he would actually be strong enough, it all seemed impossible.

Wei Wuxian shook his head. It would do nothing to feel dejected and overwhelmed now. He had to focus on the mission at hand. First and foremost, he had to save any member of the Jiang family who was still alive, only then should he start thinking about defeating Wen Ruohan. Though he knew fully well that even if he succeeded in convincing the demonic cultivator to let his prisoners go, the Jiangs could very well be captured right away or killed on the battlefield if he did not stop the Qishan Wen sect forever.

He took a deep breath, steeling himself for what he had to do. He was very much aware that even if he would be able to actually beat Wen Ruohan and take control of the Yin iron, he would still have to destroy the relic, he could not let it fall into someone else’s hands, it was too dangerous. If he would not die before that, that would be his last feat on the Earth. He knew very well that to destroy it, he would have to use all he had and there would be nothing left of him afterwards, not even a body to bury.

Another deep breath later, he gathered his courage and all the willpower he could muster. He put his hands into the air, far away from his flute and called out to the closed gate: “Wen Ruohan! I am here to join you. Let me inside!”

The gate opened almost immediately and there stood Wen Chao with a handful of Qishan Wen sect soldiers and a whole army of puppets. So Wen Ruohan already knew he was there and also that he could still not control the puppets created by him. Then again, it was probably good for his plan. He wanted Wen Ruohan to believe his sincerity in changing sides. It would not hurt for him to show some respect, even if he felt revolved only thinking about it.

Very slowly, he joined his hands in front of his body and bowed low, addressing Wen Chao: “Wei Wuxian, former demonic cultivator of the Allied forces, greets the Second Young Master of the Qishan Wen sect. I have come to request an audition with the Qishan Wen sect leader. I wish to change camps and stand on the winning side when this fight is over. I have an offer for him that I am sure he would find very appealing.”

Wen Chao scoffed and was looking at him with suspicion poorly hidden behind an appearance of amusement. He gestured towards his men and puppets and suddenly, Wei Wuxian found himself facing a sea of weapons and indifferent faces. No one here would hesitate to kill him, and Wen Chao the least of all of them.

Wei Wuxian had a hard time to not shudder. It could not end here, he had to see Wen Ruohan! He kept bowing, completely unmoving.

After what seemed like an eternity, he heard a different voice. He did not know the man who came up to the front of the army and was now standing next to Wen Chao. However, since the two of them looked really similar, he assumed that it must have been Wen Xu, the heir of the Qishan Wen sect.

His voice was like a thunder when he ordered several of his men: “Go take away his flute and restrain him. Father wanted to meet him for a long time already, he was curious about his demonic cultivation and also if he owns another piece of the Yin iron.”

Then he spoke directly to Wei Wuxian while he was being disarmed and had his hands painfully tied behind his back: “Wei Wuxian, I have already heard about you. I warn you, if you try to do anything, any tricks or using the resentful energy, we will kill you on the spot, just as the rest of your family that we are currently hosting in our dungeons. So think very carefully about your every move.”

One of the soldiers was just pushing a piece of dirty cloth into Wei Wuxian’s mouth to serve as a makeshift gag so it was not too hard for him to hide his surprise and relief. What Wen Xu had just said must have meant that at least one member of the Jiang family was still alive. Although he hoped that all of them were there for him to rescue, one was still better than none at all.

Wen Chao’s next words however froze all blood in Wei Wuxian’s veins: “Brother, we cannot trust him! He is a known trickster and he had already escaped me several times. He had even made it out of the Burial Mounds! We cannot let him anywhere near father!”

Wen Xu now looked pensive for a minute and Wei Wuxian was already starting to think that he and his whole plan were doomed. However, Wen Ruohan must have really wanted to meet him because the heir of the Qishan Wen sect mused: “It is true that we cannot trust him just yet. We should first test him before letting him speak to father. And I know just the perfect test.” The cruel smile on his lips did not leave Wei Wuxian any doubts about if he would or not like the trial they were about to put him through.

He did not struggle whatsoever when he was led to the central palace’s dungeons. He also did not resist when they stopped in front of one door, similar to hundreds of them all around. He was trying to keep up an indifferent look all the while being scared to death. He was not sure he would come out of this alive and actually would see Wen Ruohan in the end.

Wen Chao smirked and finally seemed to agree with his brother: “I see, this is perfect, I did not think of this.” Then he turned towards Wei Wuxian, the smile becoming even more cruel and despite himself, Wei Wuxian shuddered. “You can show us your determination and loyalty by staying in this cell. Someone will watch you for the whole night. We will come to take you see our father in the morning. If you succeed at the trial that is. It is quite easy really, you just cannot use any tricks or resentful energy while you are inside, that is the only requirement. If you break this rule, you know what will happen.”

Wei Wuxian did not need that to be spelled out for him again. He nodded because he was still gagged and could not speak.

Then, everything went fast. The door to the cell was opened and his restrains including the gag were taken off. Wen Chao shoved him unceremoniously into the cell and the door slummed closed right behind him. He landed painfully on all four, frantically trying to look around. But it was too dark in there, he could not see anything. He could however fell that he was not alone.

Even without his cultivation or the use of resentful energy, he could still hear breathing which echoed in the small cell. Someone, or something, was there with him. Before he could scramble to his feet or start wondering who was there with him, he already heard a low growling. His whole body froze in terror, he knew this sound only too well, it was the animal which he did not want to meet ever again.

He gave out a small whimper, now he could only pray that he would actually survive until next morning. Even telling himself that he had to survive for Jiang Cheng, Jiang Yanli, Uncle Jiang and Madame Yu did not do much at this point. His primary instincts were stronger than his mission to protect the Yunmeng Jiang clan. His fear was simply too great, it was just him and that creature, all alone.

Chapter Text

Yu Ziyuan had not received an answer to her questions and she was now getting impatient, she had to know how Wei Wuxian was taking all of this. She had long realized that her words had been taken too seriously by the young child which Wei Wuxian had been in the past and were controlling his heart until this day. From what she had heard from Jiang Yanli ever since she was thrown into their cell and from Jiang Cheng just now, it was clear that Wei Wuxian took it upon himself to protect them after the fall of Lotus Pier.

It still weighed heavily on her mind what she had said to him before she had send him and Jiang Cheng away. At that time, the only thing on her mind had been the need to protect her children by any means necessary. She had only realized much later that Wei Wuxian was not a tool, he was also one of her children and he needed protection as well.

She should have never said that he had to protect Jiang Cheng, and by extension also Jiang Yanli, with his life. From what she had heard and what she knew about the boy’s character, he must have done just that, thrown himself in the line of fire, not minding any harm to himself, protecting her children. He had even let himself be captured in their stead while knowing that Wen Chao wanted to kill him!

And what was it about him picking up demonic cultivation? Was that perhaps also done in order to protect her children better? It was too pitiful. She now regretted all those times she had been mean to the child and disregarded his value, only using him as her pawn, all too happy with having her children protected.

Why was it only now, after being told the boy had presumably died that she realized just how heavy of a burden she made him carry all those years? He was not even of age yet! And even if he had been, it would still not excuse her treatment of him. He must have felt so alone in what had been supposed to be his home, his family. She had seen it clearly the whole time but never cared. She should have, now it was too late to atone and apologize when she did not even know if she would see Wei Wuxian ever again. 

Perhaps it would be better if she did not, at least that would mean that the boy could live without her influence, free, somewhere out there even though they would all be dead. No, that was not right and she knew it; the boy would never be free if they died, he would blame himself for their demise. He was long gone too far into the direction she had sent him in.

Frantic, she asked again: “A-Cheng, did A-Ying blame himself for our deaths?”

Jiang Cheng looked taken aback for a second but still replied, a confused expression on his face: “I do not know, he never mentioned anything to me. As I said, we had hardly ever talked since the attack on Lotus Pier.”

This was all the confirmation Yu Ziyuan needed. And it was not just her and her husband’s disappearance too, Wei Wuxian must have felt responsible for the fall of the whole Yunmeng Jiang sect, how could he not have when she herself had blamed that on him? He must have thought that those were her last words to him too. She supposed that it was just the last drop when Jiang Yanli and then Jiang Cheng had been taken away from him too. She thought that it could have been the last straws keeping him from drowning.

Jiang Fengmian must have guessed some of her thoughts because he spoke next, and his words cut like knifes into Yu Ziyuan’s very soul: “With all of us here, surely presumed dead by the whole cultivation world, A-Ying must be feeling so alone now…”

There was a glint of hope in Jiang Yanli’s eyes when she asked, urgently: “A-Cheng, what about Second Young Master Lan? A-Xian had been on good terms with him, surely at least he has him at his side?”

Jiang Cheng’s expression fell even more when he shook his head: “I am afraid that is not the case anymore. Ever since being found after those three months of being missing, he acted cold even towards Lan Wangji. I do not believe that the Second Jade would be able to get through to him now. Not after everything.”

“I see,” whispered Jiang Yanli and her eyes filled with tears.

Yu Ziyuan pulled her into her arms and started stroking her hair in an attempt at soothing her, all the while feeling the same heart-breaking pain in her own chest. It was just as she had feared, the boy was thinking that he was left all alone in the world.

She could only hope that it would not break him. She feared that faced with his feelings of guilt and the duty she had pushed onto him; he would try to save Jiang Cheng from Nightless City. He would surely not give up hope so easily and would assume that storming the Qishan Wen sect headquarters with that goal in mind would be better than doing nothing at all. She feared for his life.

Jiang Fengmian gently took her into his own arms and started rocking her. He could tell that she was on a brink of an emotional outburst again. She wondered where all her strength had disappeared to; she used to be the fearsome and fearless Purple Spider, strict with everyone including herself, her emotions always perfectly regulated and she knew what she should and had to do at all times. Now however, there was nothing left in her. She felt thoroughly broken inside, only worrying about her family, the rest of the world be damned. And Wei Wuxian was one of her family members.

She tilted her head backwards to look at her husband, not even trying to hide all the desperation she was feeling at the moment. She whispered, her voice breaking several times before she was able to finish: “Fengmian, what should we do? Will A-Ying be alright? I hope that he does not do something reckless as always.”

Her husband looked at her with sadness in his eyes and kissed her forehead lightly: “Ziyuan, I fear we do not have any means of knowing. We can only pray now.”

Chapter Text

Wei Wuxian had been fighting for his life the whole night, he did not even know how long had already passed. The only thing that was important right now was to keep fending off the fangs and keeping his most vulnerable areas protected. Even without Wen Chao telling him he could not use resentful energy, he would not have been able to because his mind could not concentrate on anything else but the pack of wild dogs which was in the cell with him.

If someone was to ask him what was worse, if spending one night in Nightless City dungeons with dogs or the three months in the Burial Mounds with resentful energy and fierce corpses, he would have not been able to give a clear reply. Not that he himself had much time to think about this, he was just fighting for his life and the thought crossed his mind all of a sudden.

He was so deep in his panic that he did not even notice the door opening until there were human hands grabbing him. He started fighting those as well, too confused and out of it to actually be able to tell the difference. He had no scruples by now and he was kicking and biting everything which came into his reach, he could not tell if he was still screaming and sobbing or not. He only calmed down a little bit after being tied up again and receiving several hard slaps.

By the time he recognized his surroundings, he was already being all but dragged through unfamiliar hallways, suspended helplessly between two guards. He was sure that if they were about to let go of him, he would have just landed on the floor, motionless and exhausted, like a puppet with its strings severed.

He could not tell where he was being taken and at this point, he did not even care all that much, the most important was that he was not in the cell with those horrible creatures anymore. He was doubting that he would be able to negotiate with Wen Ruohan if he was taken to him right now.

He was too exhausted after his sleepless night full of fighting for his life and all-encompassing panic. His body which had been aching even before coming into Nightless City was now beyond useless, he could not even remember if he had ever been alright anymore. Everything hurt and he felt lightheaded, he must have lost a lot of blood because of all the bites and wounds he had just received. His head was pounding and his throat was as dry as a desert.

His eyes were closing on their own and he had little will to keep them open and his mind functioning properly. If Wen Chao and Wen Xu had wanted to break his will with this trial, they had almost succeeded, there was little fight left in him. He would do anything they asked just to be allowed to rest and not be thrown back into that cell.

He only realized that he must have drifted into unconsciousness when he jolted awake with a thundering voice he did not know. He was thrown on the hard ground. It took all of his willpower to lift his head and look at the figure who was speaking. Although he had never seen him before, he immediately knew that the person in front of him, or more like above him since he was sitting on a throne on an imposing podium, must have been Wen Ruohan himself. Wen Chao and Wen Xu were standing on each side of the throne.

It was his audience with the Qishan Wen sect leader he had so dearly wanted. It was only the first part of his plan and he was already having trouble going through with it, he berated himself silently. With unparalleled effort, more than he ever remembered needing for basically anything, he managed to somehow make it onto his knees, in a pitiful excuse of a respectful pose. It was all he could muster right now.

He also finally registered what Wen Ruohan was saying: “… I know about you, you are the demonic cultivator who was fighting against me, raising his own army of fierce corpses. I wanted to meet you for a long time. I hear that you have come to join me?”

Yes, this was the moment Wei Wuxian had been waiting for, the time to negotiate with the Qishan Wen sect leader. Only if he was in a better condition. But no matter, his head was now a little bit clearer and he remembered his true goal, he had to safe those of the Yunmeng Jiang clan who still remained alive, most probably being held captive in the dungeons. Wei Wuxian only hoped that their cells were more comfortable and welcoming than his had been.

He licked his chapped lips to encourage himself, this was the moment he could not fail or everything would be damned. He gulped and winced slightly at the pain it arose in his throat and he started talking, each word feeling like the last he would be able to ever say, still, he persevered.

“Qishan Wen sect leader, Your Excellency, as you say, I have indeed come to join you. I have a proposition for you if you would allow, an exchange trade as to speak.” He did not wait for Wen Ruohan to give him permission to continue, he wanted to hook him even more and he had no time to spare unless he wanted the other to get impatient.

“I came directly from the Burial Mounds, the place which is called The Land of the Dead. I have learned demonic cultivation there. I do not need a Yin iron to raise and control fierce corpses. My version of the demonic cultivation has also less of an effect on me than using the Yin iron does, it is less taxing and definitely less harmful. If Your Excellency would allow me, I could teach him a few tricks to better control the Yin iron and the resentful energy.”

Only when he was finished did Wei Wuxian dare to look up at Wen Ruohan again and assess the impact his words had. And he was overjoyed to see that he had visibly picked the other’s interest. The Qishan Wen sect leader was now looking at him with curiosity in his eyes, a hungry and greedy expression on his face.

“And what would you want in exchange?”

Now was the time, the moment that Wei Wuxian had been waiting for. It was now or never.

“In exchange, I wish to study the Yin iron in order to be able to learn even more about demonic cultivation and to help you even more. And…”

His voice broke a bit and he was not able to finish his second demand. Until now, Wen Ruohan looked like he had no problems with his deal, but what about when he would ask for the Yunmeng Jiang clan prisoner, or prisoners, to be released? What would the man do then?

“That sounds reasonable. What else would you want?” Wen Ruohan apparently picked on his hesitation but luckily, he seemed to still be in quite a good mood.

Wei Wuxian swallowed once, send a silent prayer to whoever was listening and continued, making sure his voice would not break anymore: “And I ask you to release all the Yunmeng Jiang sect prisoners you are keeping.”

If anything, Wen Ruohan now looked intrigued: “Why?”

It was Wen Chao and Wen Xu who were staring at him with suspicion clear in their eyes, however, they did not say a word. Apparently they too were scared of interrupting their father or going against him.

Wei Wuxian chose his explanation very carefully: “I owe them a life debt. This way, I will be able to pay them back and cut the last ties to the cultivation world. I want to immerse myself entirely in the demonic cultivation with you as my master.”

Wen Ruohan seemed pleased by his words and an impossibly heavy weight had just been lifted from Wei Wuxian’s shoulders. He had not expected the negotiations to go this well. Not even the Qishan Wen sect leader’s next words could dim his happiness.

“Alright. If you want to leave the cultivation world behind, you have to get rid of your golden core as well. Are you willing to go that far? If you do, I assure you I will take you as my apprentice and treat you as one of my sons.”

Wei Wuxian almost started laughing, this was such an easy request to fulfil. After all, there was no golden core inside of him to be melted anymore. It could have just been another trial to see where his loyalty laid but it was so much easier than the first one that Wei Wuxian wanted to cry out of sheer relief.

“Yes, Your Excellency,” he replied solemnly.

“Good,” Wen Ruohan nodded his head with satisfaction and then turned towards the guards, “bring here the prisoners.”

Chapter Text

Jiang Fengmian opened his eyes when he heard unexpected noise outside of his prison cell. He had no idea whatsoever about how long he had been asleep as his consciousness slowly returned to him and he remembered what had happened yesterday. Or was it really yesterday? He could not tell, the only thing he was sure of was that it had been before he and nearly all his family had cried themselves to sleep.

He quickly sat up, suddenly overcome by fear that everything had just been another delirious dream of his and not reality. Then again, would it not be better if his children were not held captive together with him and his wife? Still, he had never felt such a strong relief in his live as when he had seen Jiang Cheng and Jiang Yanli joining them in their imprisonment.

His eyes were long used to the dimness of the cell so he immediately stopped that there were indeed three figures sleeping entangled on the ground. If he had been standing, his knees would have given out under him from the sheer relief. He had not dreamt all of this up, his family was finally reunited! Well, most of it, the only one missing was Wei Wuxian.

After what he had learned from his children and his wife, Jiang Fengmian was not even sure anymore if the boy considered them as his family or as someone who he had a life debt to repay to. It certainly seemed possible that Wei Wuxian thought of himself as a servant of the Yunmeng Jiang clan; after all, his wife had been treating him like that the whole time he had been living in Lotus Pier and Jiang Fengmian had never really stopped her. 

Not that he did not try, but after a while, he realized that any mention of the boy in front of his wife would devolve into a fight between them. And more often than not, those fights were won by Yu Ziyuan when Jiang Fengmian simply had had enough and left the battle. He had thought that he could make it up to Wei Wuxian by showing him more affection, however, that too had been a loss for him because it only pained Jiang Cheng to see that his father favoured someone else than him.

Any accusation that Wei Wuxian was his biological son that he doted on could not have been farther from the truth, he would never want to pretend taking Wei Changze’s rightful place in the boy’s heart. He never wanted to become his father. Nevertheless, he and Wei Changze were still sworn brothers and it was only right that he considered himself Wei Wuxian’s uncle. Still, he had failed even in that aspect it would seem.

He had never stopped his wife from belittling and scolding the boy, he had never stepped between them and tried to tackle the issue of Wei Wuxian feeling like a servant more than like a brother to Jiang Cheng. He had never tried to correct the erroneous beliefs; he had only ever encouraged them really.

He projected himself and Wei Changze in place of Wei Wuxian and Jiang Cheng, and he liked the idea that they would be the same in the future: a sect leader and his subordinate. It worked well enough in the past with his own sworn brother so he had thought it would be beneficial to both boys as well. That was why he had not discouraged Wei Wuxian saying that he wanted to protect the Yunmeng Jiang clan, that it was his duty. He only ever praised the boy for this plan and his dedication.

He did not know when exactly he started to realize that this had been a grave mistake. Was it only when he had been captured and learned that Wei Wuxian had indeed given up his life while protecting his other children? He would have liked to believe that it had been sooner, even before he had been captured, before the attack on Lotus Pier had taken almost his whole family away from him. But he could not lie to himself, not when the parting words to his adoptive son had been to protect the others. Even though his words were not as harsh as his wife’s, the meaning was still the same, at least to Wei Wuxian’s ears.

Once again, he was overtaken by regret; he could not remember any time he had actually said to his children, all three of them, that he truly loved them. Without any conditions or strings attached. Just free of charge parental love. Of course, he felt that but he had never voiced it for them. He knew now how uneasy it had made them and how much they needed to hear those words, to know the love he had for them, during the time they had thought he and his wife had been dead.

Had he ever actually spoken to his children openly before? Not a lecture or giving directions, but simply talking to them like a father should? Helping them to open up and voice their worries and troubles? No, unfortunately that had not been his cup of tea and he knew it only too well. He preferred letting the children figure everything out for themselves. Which, in a long run, made them unable to talk about their problems altogether, hiding them deep in their mind, letting them fester until they could not be overlooked anymore, and then still pretending like everything was alright.

Had it perhaps been this attitude of his which had pushed Wei Wuxian into who he was now? Completely disregarding himself and just blindly following the distorted belief that Jiang Fengmian and Yu Ziyuan had installed in him even since being a small child? Had all his carefree attitude and happy-go-lucky personality been just a cover to hide all his pain? Jiang Fengmian did not need Wei Wuxian to answer that question for him, he knew fully well that it was true. And he was also sure that it was not all the extent of it either.

He had truly failed in his position of both father and uncle to all three of his children.

Realizing all of this was just a first step though, now he had to correct his behaviour. Although that was easier said than done seeing the situation they had found themselves in.

He had no more possibility to show how sincere in his feelings he was because the door flew open, waking the other three inhabitants of the cell instantly. A bunch of Qishan Wen sect’s soldiers came inside and headed towards each of them. Jiang Fengmian had no more strength to struggle, not after long months of captivity, the same could have been said about his wife. Jiang Yanli was apparently so stunned she let herself be manhandled towards the door easily enough. Only Jiang Cheng tried to put up a fight but he was quickly pacified by several slaps to his face.

They were led, half walking and half carried, through the hallways of Nightless City, up and up until they could once again see the light of the sun coming in through the windows. Jiang Fengmian felt blinded and was blinking away tears from his eyes. It had been such a long time since he had seen anything else but his cell and felt a breeze on his face.

He could however not enjoy the moment; he was afraid that it could mean only one thing: they were led to the palace to be finally executed. He was at peace with himself, he knew for a long time how all of this would end. He was however sorry for his children, they did not deserve such fate, they still had all their lives in front of them.

With his heart breaking in his chest, he whispered, hoping that his words would reach the ears they had been intended for: “A-Cheng, A-Li, I love you.”

He regretted not being able to say them earlier, now, he did not even know if his children actually heard them. It was too late for anything; this was the end. The door to the Nightless City throne room opened in front of them, Wen Ruohan was waiting.

Chapter Text

Jiang Yanli had already guessed where they were going when she heard her father whispering that he loved her and Jiang Cheng. It was a heartfelt farewell from his part. She could not see him or any other member of her family right now because she was being dragged first, in front of any of them. And right now, when it was time for them to face their fate, she did not want anything more than to be able to look them in the face for one last time and say her own farewell.

The hallways around them were slowly starting to look more representative and decorated, they were not in the dungeons anymore. She realized that her suspicion had been spot on when they shortly stopped in front of an imposing gate, waiting for it to open. Behind it was a large throne room, nothing like the sect hall at Lotus Pier. It was three times as big and also three times as high. And on the farther most side of it, there was a throne and a man sitting in it.

She did not recognize him but it was easy to guess who he was. It must have been Wen Ruohan, the Qishan Wen sect leader. Wen Chao and Wen Xu were standing each by one side of the throne, one looking angry and the other indifferent. There were also a lot of guards inside the room.

That was however not what attracted Jiang Yanli’s attention. No, her eyes were immediately drawn to another figure clad in black and red robes which was kneeling in front of the throne. She knew the man, although she hoped that she would not see him ever again in this life time for it was clear that the moment of their execution was upon them. She was forced onto her knees in the middle of the room.

In comparison to Wen Ruohan and his sons, even all the guards in the room, Wei Wuxian looked for some reason really small. Perhaps it had been because of his kneeling position or because of the distance between the two siblings but Jiang Yanli wanted to cry all of a sudden.

As she and the rest of the Yunmeng Jiang clan had been dragged further into the room and the heavy gate closed behind them with a very definitive sound, she could not tear her eyes from her brother.

Wei Wuxian turned around, slowly and she could now see him more clearly. She immediately felt shock and worry overcome her. Her brother looked terrible. He was as pale as a ghost, his features tense and sharp. His shoulders were sagged and it felt like they were weighed down by extreme exhaustion. His robes were torn in several places, making them look more like rags than real clothes at this point, and she could tell that there was blood on them, fresh one from the looks of it. What did the Wens do to him? Jiang Yanli thought that it was a miracle he was even alive at this point.

She was afraid that Wen Chao had finally managed to capture her brother and torture him as he had in mind ever since the attack on Lotus Pier. Was Wei Wuxian about to be executed together with them? She had hoped that at least one of her brothers would be able to survive this but apparently luck had not been on their side. The only comfort was that they could see each other for one last time.

Despite everything, as soon as Wei Wuxian recognized them, he immediately tried to smile and it was so painful to look at that Jiang Yanli could not hold her tears back anymore. She watched as her brother stood up slowly, his every motion clearly screaming out about his exhaustion and pain but he was still smiling faintly, trying not to worry them.

His eyes however, were far from that. Jiang Yanli could not tell exactly what Wei Wuxian was feeling at that moment, it was too complex to understand just from one look. But she could definitely take a wild guess which she knew was not far from the truth. Wei Wuxian must have been both overexcited and happy to see them and horrified by their appearance, and perhaps also by the fact that all four of them were alive. There was also a very poorly hidden guilt in both his eyes and his smile.

Only at that point, Jiang Yanli realized that Wei Wuxian was not tied up like them, there were no restrains to be seen. The fact would make her relax if it would not be for Wen Ruohan speaking and completely chasing all the warmth from her body away: “Wei Wuxian, here they are, as I promised. Now it is time for you to heed your end of the bargain.”

The smile immediately fell off Wei Wuxian’s lips and was replaced by a grimace full of grief and pain for a swift second. And then it was gone and all that was left was indifference when he turned to face Wen Ruohan.

“Your Excellency, before I fully join you, I wish to speak with them first if you would allow me. I want to clearly tell them what I think about their family and the whole cultivation world.” Wei Wuxian’s words were so cold that Jiang Yanli shuddered just hearing them.

She had never seen Wei Wuxian behave like this and she knew she did not like it in the slightest. There was something about her brother that was making her extremely scared; and she could not tell if it was because she was scared for him or because of him which only intensified her unease. Was this what Jiang Cheng had been referring to when he had said that Wei Wuxian was not the same person anymore?

Wen Ruohan was watching her brother with a curious look for a while before slowly nodding his head: “As you wish. But be quick about it, we do not have a whole day for this.”

“Yes, Your Excellency,” nodded Wei Wuxian this time and then he turned towards Jiang Yanli and the rest of the Yunmeng Jiang clan.

Jiang Yanli almost wanted to take a step back, tears still running down her cheeks when she saw Wei Wuxian walking towards them, staggering ever so slightly in the process. As he was coming closer, she could see even better all his injuries and exhaustion, he looked more like a walking corpse than her brother.

Suddenly, she remembered that Jiang Cheng told them Wei Wuxian had started using demonic cultivation. Could he had been overcome by the resentment and that was why he had changed? Or could it be that he had simply had enough of the cultivation world and their family and he genuinely wanted to join Wen Ruohan?

She looked into his eyes and that was the last drop, she could not tell his intentions at all. Her brother’s pupils were completely devoid of any emotion, they looked like dead. She staggered again and closed her own eyes. She was terrified to her very core and at the same time, she felt sorry for her brother who had clearly been broken and betrayed by both her family and the entire cultivation world.

And then, the brief moment was over and the Wei Wuxian she knew and loved was back. He had regained a spring to his walk, his eyes smiling at her, just as his lips were. And she could not even believe what she had seen a fraction of a second earlier had been true. Yes, she must have been imagining things. Wei Wuxian surely had a plan up his sleeve to get them all to safety.

Chapter Text

Jiang Cheng was kneeling being forcefully held down by a Qishan Wen sect soldiers and he was watching his brother come closer. Wei Wuxian had a smile on his lips but it was clearer than ever that it was not how he was feeling at the moment. He was beaten terribly, Jiang Cheng could still see fresh blood coming out of some of the wounds and he could not believe that his brother was actually still standing, much less walking. But leave it to Wei Wuxian to always not only attempt but also accomplish the impossible.

If his brother was here, not tied and being held prisoner, Jiang Cheng knew that he had a plan to rescue them. Hopefully not one of his stupid and dangerous plans, but one which would actually work without a hitch this time. It must, his family’s lives depended on it.

He saw Wen Chao coming down from the small podium and walking behind Wei Wuxian, as if keeping guard. It seemed like despite not being tied or in shackles, Wen Ruohan did not fully trust his brother. Jiang Cheng did not know if it was good or bad for Wei Wuxian’s rescue plan.

Wei Wuxian all but fell to his knees in front of them and looked at them with his eyes full of regret and perhaps also guilt. Jiang Cheng had been adamant on apologising to his brother as soon as he would see him again for everything, and especially for all the blame he had put onto his shoulders when the other did nothing wrong, but right now, his voice was locked away. He could not do anything else but to stare at his brother, his eyes hopeful, convinced that whatever Wei Wuxian was about to do would save them.

His parents had been in captivity for far too long already and their captors had not been quite welcoming. Only in the daylight could Jiang Cheng see that his parents had lost a lot of their weight and that their whole appearance was extremely unkept and dirty, surely they had not been treated well. Even Jiang Yanli, although she had been here for a little more than a week was already looking tired and her robes were in rags. He knew he himself was probably looking the most presentable right now.

It was however of no importance, it was far more comforting that they had finally been reunited, all alive if not well. All five of them.

There was a long silence when they were all just staring at each other, happy to see that their whole family was once again whole. It was Jiang Fengmian who spoke first, his voice stuttering and horrified: “A-Ying, what happened to you?”

And as always, Wei Wuxian only smiled at the other and replied: “Uncle Jiang, it is nothing. I am glad you are alive.” Then his head turned towards Yu Ziyuan and Jiang Yanli: “Madame Yu, Shijie, it is good to see you.” He did not tell Jiang Cheng that he was glad to see him as well but it did not matter too much, they had been together just the day before so he was not really mad.

He could see that Wei Wuxian had unshed tears in his eyes and from the way his own were stinging, he could tell that he was no better. It was a beautiful and heart touching moment.

Until it had been ruined by Wen Chao: “Yeah, yeah, yeah… A touching reunion indeed. Wei Wuxian, do what you have to and do not stall. Or do you want to perhaps make me doubt your intentions? Your cellmates are waiting for you if I see even the faintest attempts at defying my father.”

Wei Wuxian’s whole figure shuddered and for a brief moment, his eyes glanced towards Wen Chao, full of raw terror. If only those few words could shake his strong brother like this, Jiang Cheng wondered who those cellmates were. Even though, seeing his brother’s reaction and looking now more closely at his wounds peaking from the ragged robes, he could take a good guess. Suddenly, his hate for the second heir of the Qishan Wen sect burned like never before.

He knew only too well of Wei Wuxian’s fear of dogs and how it always made him cower on the ground or behind the closest person, screaming in panic and begging anyone to get rid of the creature who was not even threatening him. Had Wen Chao really locked Wei Wuxian in a tiny cell with a dog? And not a nice and friendly one either from the extend of the injuries. Jiang Cheng wanted so much to just throw the guards off and murder Wen Chao on the spot.

He did however hold himself back when he saw Wei Wuxian shake his head ever so slightly, looking him directly into his eyes.

It was only then that Jiang Cheng realized what a colossal stupidity such a behaviour would be. They were alone in the very heart of the Qishan Wen sect, surrounded by soldiers and some of the most powerful cultivators there were. If he made only one wrong move, they would all be dead before he would even get to touch Wen Chao’s robes.

He took a deep breath and willed himself to calm down, although he continued staring at the offending second heir of the Qishan Wen sect, silently promising a gruesome revenge for his brother’s pain. As soon as they would get out, he would start planning how best to torture Wen Chao and perhaps also Wen Xu, for taking Yanli prisoner in Unclean Realm.

Through all his red hot anger, he had almost missed his brother’s next words: “I am joining Wen Ruohan and the Qishan Wen sect, there is no place for me in the cultivation world anymore. Demonic cultivators will always be shunned away, and once the Qishan Wen sect wins this war, I would be able to roam freely again. You will be released and that will be a symbolic gesture of me leaving the cultivation world behind.”

Jiang Cheng could not believe his brother’s words. He had hoped that perhaps Wei Wuxian had for once come up with a solid plan, but no, here he was, saying that he would basically exchange himself for them. And what was it about helping Wen Ruohan win this war? He must have surely been joking!

Promising something like this and then running away with them would just stir Wen Ruohan’s ire against all the other cultivation sects. Would they even be able to win the war afterwards? Until now, the Qishan Wen sect did play with them like a cat with a mouse, not taking the allied forces and the Sunshot campaign too seriously. But should Wen Ruohan have a personal vendetta to carry out against one of the major sects? The tables could turn in a blink of an eye.

Chapter Text

Yu Ziyuan’s breath was caught in her throat hearing Wei Wuxian speaking. She had already feared the worst when she had seen him kneeling in front of Wen Ruohan but this, this was going way beyond anything she would have imagined.

The thought of Wei Wuxian actually wanting to join the Qishan Wen sect had never even crossed her mind. Not when she could see the boy’s eyes looking at all of them in a way Wei Wuxian was just doing. There was so much in his eyes that Yu Ziyuan was not able to decrypt every single emotion but few of them were more visible than others.

First and furthermost was fondness for his siblings and Jiang Fengmian; she had been surprised when the emotion did not disappear when the boy looked her way but it was probably just her wishful thinking, surely Wei Wuxian could not feel anything resembling love for her, not after everything she had done to him. There was also sadness and remorse in his gaze, probably because he was thinking they could have believed his words. And the worst of all, there was so much guilt when the boy looked her way for one last time. She felt like it was physically crashing her, making her unable to breathe.

She knew fully well from where that guilt had originated. She herself had blamed Wei Wuxian for so many things over the years and most importantly, she had blamed him right before basically throwing him away with one last mission: to give up his life protecting her children. It could have also been guilt caused by Wei Wuxian thinking he had failed what he had surely thought had been her last wish, or order, to him. After all, if it had been before the fall of Lotus Pier, she would have scolded him and yelled at him for not succeeding in protecting Jiang Yanli and Jiang Cheng since they both ended up captured and in the hands of Wen Ruohan.

He could not have known that she had had her fair share of realizations and remorse during her time of imprisonment. She was way beyond trying to blame him for anything at all. They had talked long hours with her husband and she came to know that her insecurities about him loving Cangse Sanren could not have been farther from the truth. Moreover, even if there had been something between Jiang Fengmian and Wei Wuxian’s mother, it would have nothing to do with the boy himself, after all, one could not choose their parents.

Unfortunately, Wei Wuxian did not have the slightest idea about her change of attitude towards him. How could he when the last thing she had told him was to give up his life for her biological children and she had not spoken even a single word since she saw him again? She wanted to tell him so many things; she wanted to apologize for not treating him like her son from the very beginning, beg him for forgiveness for all her harsh treatment and hurtful words, and most of all, she wanted to tell him that he did not need to sacrifice his life for them.

For that was exactly what he was about to do. He was willingly putting himself in Wen Ruohan’s hands, giving him another hostage than the rest of her family. Should the boy refuse to cooperate with the demonic cultivator, he would surely be killed in an exemplary fashion. On the other hand, if he started to go against the rest of the cultivation world, he would be killed as soon as the war would be over. From what she had heard from Jiang Cheng, she did not doubt that the victory of the allied forces was inevitable.

She had never meant her words, she did not want Wei Wuxian to die protecting them, not really. Or perhaps, if she had to be truthful to herself, she had meant them at the time she had said them. But only for that one thing each time; so when she had told the boy to protect Jiang Cheng with his life before kicking the boat away from the pier, she had only wanted to say that he should take care of his brother and get him to a safe place, nothing more.

However, she knew that the boy had taken it in another way entirely. And she was the one to be blamed for that in the first place. If she had not been so harsh to him all the time, raising him more like a servant to the Yunmeng Jiang clan than like her son, would Wei Wuxian be a different person today? She had been responsible for shaping him young and formable mind into what it was today; someone who would put his own life on the line for the lives of her and her family.

She finally found her voice and asked brokenly, not making too much sense even to herself: “A-Ying, what will happen now…”

She could not even finish her sentence before feeling her eyes fill with tears and she was already busy blinking them away. While she had no problems crying in front of her family now, she did not want the whole Qishan Wen sect to see her this emotional and broken.

She could only hope that the boy had understood her question. She had not been asking what would happen to her and the rest of the family, he had after all already explained that they would be released. No, she wanted to know what would happen to him. She knew he was intelligent and quite ingenuous, for all she knew, he had a plan to save himself as well.

He flinched a little hearing her speak to him, and also perhaps because she had used un unfamiliar name when addressing him. But only unfamiliar for him, she had come to refer to him like that during the time of her imprisonment and she would not change it now. Despite everything, it seemed like the boy did not catch the meaning behind her question at all.

He looked at her with as much deference as he would show her when she had been scolding him or blaming him for something he had not done. He gave her a smile which was more painful than anything Yu Ziyuan had ever seen. Then came the falling hammer: “Madame Yu, please do not worry, all of you will be just fine.”

No, that was definitely not what she had wanted to hear. That was not what she had implied. Why could Wei Wuxian not see that she had changed? That she now cared for him as her son and was genuinely concerned about his well-being and safety just as she was about Jiang Cheng’s and Jiang Yanli’s.

Her heart felt like it was breaking in her chest. Of course Wei Wuxian would not change his opinion of her just like that, from one moment to another, only because of one of her sentences that she could not even finish.

So she tried again, more desperately this time. She could now feel her tears finally slipping out of her eyes and making their way down her cheeks. She could not care less who would see her crying, she only wanted to show Wei Wuxian how sincere she was. She wanted to apologize to him for making him believe that his life only had worth if it served to protect her family and her.

“But what about you?”

The urgency and her tears must have done the trick at last. Wei Wuxian’s expression softened as he replied: “Do not worry, everything will be just fine. This is the way things should be.”

And that was it; Yu Ziyuan now could not stop crying openly. She knew that with his last words, Wei Wuxian just told her that he would not be alright at all. But also that he did not care in the slightest.

Oh, how much she had failed her child, how much she had distorted his beliefs and made him treat his own life this casually, as if it had no value at all. And she knew that with the situation being like this, she would never get to correct all of her mistakes. She would never again get to show the boy how much she loved him, how much all of them did.

Chapter Text

Wei Wuxian’s heart was breaking in his chest when Madame Yu had asked what would happen to them now. He had though the previous explanation would have been enough but apparently not, then again it was their lives they were talking about, and he had promised to protect them. It was perfectly reasonable that she wanted to make sure he would fulfil his mission without a fail.

However, he did not dare to say too much, Wen Chao was still standing just behind him and he could not let him hear anything that would lead him to suspect him even more. While Wen Ruohan seemed to have believed him without a problem, the second heir of the Qishan Wen sect was still holding a grudge against him and was apparently looking out for any slip from his part to be able to kill him or something even worse, like keep him prisoner in the cell he had spent the night in.

Before Wei Wuxian could start remembering all the horrors of that single night which had in truth been on par with his time in the Burial Mounds, if not even worse, Madame Yu was speaking again: “But what about you?”

Breath was stuck in Wei Wuxian’s chest. Did he mishear the question? Why would Madame Yu be asking that? She had made it clear in the past that he should protect the Yunmeng Jiang clan with his life, it really did not matter what would happen to him. Or did she perhaps still need more reassurance that her whole family would indeed be set free?

“Madame Yu, please do not worry, all of you will be just fine.” He reassured her whispering even more low key now. They really had no time for this, he had to get all of them out before Wen Chao or Wen Ruohan would lose their patience.

For a second, he was stunned by Madame Yu’s expression when he looked up. For a fleeting moment, he had thought that he had seen fondness and worry in her eyes. But that was impossible, why would she care for him? She never did and he knew perfectly well why. For the better part of his life, he had been inconveniencing the Yunmeng Jiang sect and causing trouble for the sect and the family which so graciously took him in. Madame Yu had all right to resent him, he understood all too well, even if the realization sometimes hurt. He still was grateful to her for allowing him to live in Lotus Pier, to play with her children and to have been able to become a cultivator.

Then again, he let himself dream for a split second. It would feel so great if she actually acknowledged him and cared for him enough to have asked the question in earnest, genuinely worried about his safety. Yes, he would think of it like this, no matter how untrue it was. He would never see them again after this and he could use all the comfort he could get or imagine in order to be able to gather his courage and forces and go through with his plan. He still had to stop Wen Ruohan’s puppets so the allied forces could storm Nightless City safely, and also destroy the Yin iron. No one could blame him for wanting the last moments with the family which had raised him to be happy ones.

So he allowed himself to believe that Madame Yu, and the rest of the family, truly cared for him, even though Madame Yu’s expression was back to scowling with pain in her eyes. He did not like to see the strong woman looking like this, he had to make this quick. They all had been held captive for way too long.

Wen Chao also seemed to be of the same mind, because he all but growled from behind him: “Wei Wuxian…”

Wei Wuxian knew instantly that it was time to end this before Wen Ruohan would change his mind. Despite wanting to say so much more to his family, to thank them for taking care of him and for loving him in their own way, he had run out of time now.

He would never get to tell Jiang Yanli that he loved her, that she was the kindest sister in the whole world and that her soup was simply the best dish there was. Jiang Cheng would never get to know that Wei Wuxian had not been avoiding him as of late because he did not want to be brothers anymore, that he had never wanted anything more than to become Jiang Cheng’s right hand man in the future, that he knew all the scowling was just for show and that Jiang Cheng actually liked him. He would never get to show how grateful he was to Uncle Jiang for finding him in Yiling that faithful day and for offering more than Wei Wuxian would ever be able to repay, not even with his own life, he would never get to explain to him that although he had been overjoyed with all the love he had received, Jiang Cheng and Jiang Yanli deserved some more than him and that Uncle Jiang should show them more often just how much he loved them. He would never get to express his gratitude to Madame Yu for she had been the one who was the most exigent with his training, it had been because of her that Wei Wuxian had been able to make it this far and could now help rescue all of them and hopefully be strong enough to make a difference in this war.

He felt tears welling up in his eyes but he refused to let them fall, he needed to finish this in a way that Wen Ruohan would believe that he had indeed said goodbye to the cultivation world and was now joining his side. And he had to make it quickly lest he would not have another opportunity to say anything ever again to them.

If he had to say farewell to the only family he knew – he did not really remember his parents or the family life he had once lived with them – he wanted it to be sweet and reassuring, as painless as possible. He did not want them to mourn him, it was for the best if they could forget him quickly and move forward. But he did not have that luxury, he could not say the words he wanted.

Instead, all he could think of as a farewell was: “Uncle Jiang, Madame Yu, Jiang Cheng, Shijie, thank you for taking care of me all these years and letting me become a cultivator. I will however no longer walk this path. I want to sever our ties here and now. I will never see you again.”

He hoped that in the future, they would be able to understand these words were his heartfelt farewell to them and would be able to find at least some comfort in that thought if they even remembered him in a good way and not just as an intruder on their family’s happiness and a troublemaker.

Surely Jiang Cheng and Jiang Yanli would one day be able to forget him as well, he knew it would take them a while but he also knew that it would not take too long. They would have other things to worry about than a dead demonic cultivator who had once lived as their brother.

Wei Wuxian blinked one last time and swiftly stood up, not even feeling his body protesting the movement for once since he was in too much pain already; and he found out at that moment that emotional hurt was far worse than any physical injury. He dared to take one last quick look at his family who was staring at him with wide open and shocked eyes. He tried to take in every detail and he silently pleaded them for forgiveness, it was more than clear that he had just hurt them, even Madame Yu from the looks of it.

He could not stand looking at their pained expressions anymore, he would not be able to go through with this if any one of them would start pleading or crying now. He swiftly turned around and took big steps to go once again kneel in front of Wen Ruohan’s throne. Now it was time for the Qishan Wen sect leader to keep his promise.

He felt completely hollow inside, the loss would probably only let itself be known later. He was doing his best to school his expression and to keep the tears from falling down from his eyes, he really could not show anything in front of Wen Ruohan. To him, he had to be the cruel demonic cultivator who had decided to change sides.

Chapter Text

Jiang Fengmian was watching as Wei Wuxian was walking away from him after what sounded to him like final farewells, it was clear that his adoptive son was expecting to die here. After all, he had said he would never see them again. It was breaking Jiang Fengmian’s heart. What had he done, or perhaps not done, so this all let to this kind of situation?

His wife had told him during their captivity about all those times she would repeat to the boy that he needed to protect their family at all costs. Truth to be told, he had been shocked; he did not know about most of those times. It had been only at that point that he had understood how deep the belief must have etched itself into Wei Wuxian’s mind. But it was one thing realizing this while knowing that the person in question was alright, or even when they had been lied to about the boy’s death, and another thing entirely when seeing with his own eyes what it was making his son do.

He could not believe that Wei Wuxian would really sacrifice himself just to save them. It was too sad, too shocking, too wrong. Things should have never become like this. He should have done more to make sure that Wei Wuxian would not feel like this, that he would not think that he needed to repay a debt to them for rescuing him off the streets, that he would value his life more.

Jiang Fengmian thought back to the day he had found the child for the first time. He had been already searching for him for a long time, almost abandoning all hope at that point in time. He had learned about the death of his sworn brother and his wife some months ago, but since then, he had understood that they had actually died years before that, only the news never reached him. But their child had stayed alive, although it had not been too possible that he still had been until that day. How could a young child survive by itself in this harsh world?

But despite everything, one day, just by a complete coincidence, he had been night hunting near the town of Yiling and on his way back, he had heard loud barking and a child’s cries. He had hurried to help and had been shocked to find Wei Wuxian there, being attacked by a pack of wild dogs.

Even though he had never seen the child before, he had immediately recognized him. There had been no mistake that the boy was Wei Changze’s and Cangse Sanren’s son. He resembled them too much to not be. And he had then confirmed it when asking the child’s name.

He had been overjoyed to have finally found him. Although his wife had been telling him to stop searching for the longest time, he had never done so. He had had a feeling that if he had given out, he would have never been able to apologize enough to his late sworn brother. And right there and then, he had actually been holding the child in his arms. It had been at that exact moment that he had promised to himself that he would protect him and raise him alongside his children.

Understandably enough, his wife had not been too happy about his intention and made her displeasure known. But not in front of the child so he had thought she just would have to get used to him. He had believed everything would just play out in the end. He had even promised Wei Wuxian that Lotus Pier would be his new home and the Yunmeng Jiang clan his new family!

He should have really been more attentive to what the boy had heard behind those worlds; together with Yu Ziyuan’s subtle displeasure and pressure, he had come to think that he had a life debt to repay.

How could Jiang Fengmian not notice this until now? How could he had let it happen? He had done absolutely nothing to stop it from happening, he had only turned a blind eye, hoping that his wife and the boy would one day come to understand each other. He really should have intervened much sooner. It was all too late now, the damage had been done and they could never go back and do things over.

He regretted greatly not being there for Wei Wuxian earlier. All he could do now was watching the boy’s back getting farther and farther away from them as he was marching to meet his end. For Jiang Fengmian was sure that Wen Ruohan could surely not have believed a word out of the boy’s mouth. It was only too obvious that Wei Wuxian had been bluffing and that he only wanted to save them.

He could not bear it seeing the boy leave just like that. Turning his back on them, not out of any resentment but because he cared too much about them. But still, it hurt. Jiang Fengmian wanted to call after him and have him turn around. He wanted to tell him all the words he had not had the chance to say now. If they were about to die, at least Wei Wuxian would not think it was just his duty to give his life in exchange for theirs just like that, at least he would know that they loved him too.

Then, he noticed the Qishan Wen sect leader’s expression and his mouth literally fell open in surprise. It looked like Wen Ruohan was actually pleased and there was no suspicion in his eyes. Could it be that he really believed that Wei Wuxian wanted to join him out of his own free will? Only someone who did not know the boy could think like that. Then again, Jiang Fengmian mused, Wen Ruohan could not have known his son too well.

Could this actually work? Could they all get out of here just like that? Would the Qishan Wen sect leader keep his word and let them go if Wei Wuxian would join him? Jiang Fengmian knew the boy would never actually do that, he was loyal to a fault. But perhaps if he would be able to put up a good play of pretence and convince Wen Ruohan that he was indeed joining his side, could this plan work?

When Wei Wuxian kneeled in front the Qishan Wen sect leader’s throne and Wen Ruohan still looked pleased, Jiang Fengmian’s hope grew. Surely once he and the rest of the family would be out of the harm’s ways, Wei Wuxian would have free hands to act. He was strong and smart, there were high chances that he would be able to escape once Wen Ruohan would stop paying attention to him, he certainly must have had a plan for his own escape as well.

Jiang Fengmian chose to ignore a small voice inside his head which was telling him that he was just fooling himself. The boy had clearly said that this was the last time they would see each other, so there should be no mistake that he was saying his final farewells.

Still, it was stronger than the Yunmeng Jiang sect leader. He did not want to despair; it was much easier to hope, especially after all that time spent in a tiny and dirty prison cell, not knowing if he would ever get to see the light of the day. And if Wei Wuxian did not have a plan of his own, they would just come back and rescue him after getting away. Nothing was lost as long as all of them were alive.

And then, his hope was cruelly and painfully crushed with Wen Ruohan smirking while looking him directly into his eyes and ordering: “Take them away!”

Chapter Text

Wei Wuxian had known fully well that he could not trust Wen Ruohan’s promise even before the said man ordered his family to be taken back to the dungeons. His plan had so many shortcomings, and this possibility was one of them.

He tried to reason with the Qishan Wen sect leader, to convince him to keep his promise: “Your Excellency. You have promised to let the Yunmeng Jiang clan prisoners go. Please, I do not want to see their faces ever again, and that can only be accomplished if they are kicked out of Nightless City.”

Wen Ruohan was now standing in front of his throne, looking at him with an amused expression: “Of course, I have promised to let them go. But I have never said when I will do so. While I am happy that you have decided to join me, you cannot really expect me to believe you just like that, you will first have to prove your loyalty to me. Then, I will let you do as you see fit with those broken slaves. You can even kill them if you want to, I will give them to you. For now however, until I am sure that you have joined my cause, they will remain here, in the dungeons.”

Wei Wuxian was cursing his head for working so slowly at the moment. He should have really thought about this earlier. Of course Wen Ruohan would not let the Jiangs go before he would let his golden core be melted! Which would not really be the problem here if he was not afraid that Wen Zhuliu would tell him that he had no golden core anymore and the whole deal would be off the table. Stupid him and his stupid, reckless and half-baked plan!

But he could not go back on his word now, all of his hard work would go to naught and his family would not be set free. He could only hope that the Core Melting Hand would keep quiet, or perhaps even better, that he would not remember destroying his golden core already in the past. Still, this hope seemed foolish, he would for sure know that there was nothing in Wei Wuxian’s chest to be melted anymore and would inform Wen Ruohan immediately. Either way, the plan was going south really quickly.

Wei Wuxian did his best to not let any of his doubts show, he had thought only for a second so Wen Ruohan was satisfied with his almost immediate response. He was a little proud of himself that he managed to keep his voice from shaking.

“Of course, Your Excellency, I remember the terms. I am prepared to show my loyalty immediately.”

Now he was actually hoping that the Qishan Wen sect would just laugh his suggestion away and order the Jiangs to be brought back to their cell, he really did not want them to see this. But he also knew that he could not allow that, this was his only chance at rescuing them. And if his plan would fail, he could still try to get them out by brute force, blasting everyone in the room away with resentment and somehow getting the Yunmeng Jiang clan members through the door. It would not matter what would happen to him afterwards, he knew they would be safe because Nie Huisang had his part of the plan already prepared. Or at least he hoped so.

It only downed on him at that exact moment just how fooling and full of holes his plan actually was. Had he really been so foolish and betted the lives of his family on it? It was true that he had been blinded by his guilt and the urgency to go save them, but still, he should have stopped for a while and considered all the risks thoroughly. Now, it was too late to regret, he would just have to play with the cards he had deal himself.

He had looked at Wen Ruohan, his eyes and posture radiating all the confidence he was not feeling. Hopefully, the Qishan Wen sect leader would believe him and let Wen Zhuliu try to melt his golden core.

For once, something went exactly as he had expected – or more like feared? – and Wen Ruohan gestured to the Core Melting Hand. Wen Zhuliu did not move and Wei Wuxian realized that he was the one who was supposed to willingly walk towards him, those were the terms after all.

He wondered whether he would feel differently if he still had his golden core. Would he have hesitated at this point? Or would he have backed down and tried to save himself and his family in another way? Would he have even become a demonic cultivator in the first place? He really did not know. It did not matter, he did not regret saving Jiang Cheng during the battle of Lotus Pier, that one thing was sure. And the rest did not matter either because it had been all inevitable. He felt resigned more than anything.

He glanced at his family one more time, pierced by guilt for making them this shocked and scared for him, at least some of them anyway. He did not dare to turn his head fully so he could only get a view from the corner of one of his eyes. But it was fine, he did not want to see them devastated, this was his burden to bear and they had nothing to do with it. Which however did not change the fact that he still did not want them to see.

He had started ignoring his body’s desperate calls for rest some minutes ago, he had shoved all the pain deep down to deal with later. So while walking towards Wen Zhuliu, he did not stagger once. When he was standing in front of the fearsome cultivator, he only shuddered internally, he did not want to give the Wens the satisfaction of seeing him scared.

Wen Zhuliu bowed to him slightly which surprised Wei Wuxian greatly. He was confused as to why the Core Melting Hand would show him any respect at this point but he did not question it. He kept his hands steady by his sides when he bowed back and steeled himself for what would come: “I am ready.”

Wen Zhuliu nodded and approached his hand towards where Wei Wuxian’s golden core would have been if he still had one. He could not help himself and he closed his eyes in anticipation. He was wondering when exactly would the Core Melting Hand inform everyone that he had nothing to do with Wei Wuxian anymore. Would it be before or after he would touch him? And would his touch hurt like the previous time? Wei Wuxian had no way of knowing.

Unfortunately for him, he learned soon enough. Wen Zhuliu touched his stomach and pain shot through his now long dried and empty meridians. Just like the first time, the Core Melting Hand’s spiritual energy was raging through his system before it found the core of his body, empty. It was right then that the pain stopped, so abruptly that Wei Wuxian staggered.

He could have been screaming or crying until that point, he did not know. He hoped he did not, he did not want to worry his siblings even more. They should not remember him like this, he would prefer to stay cheerful and happy in their memories, never like this, this empty husk of a person he had once been.

And then there it was, the dreaded sentence: “Your Excellency, he has no golden core anymore. There is nothing for me to melt.”

Chapter Text

“Your Excellency, he has no golden core anymore. There is nothing for me to melt.”

Yu Ziyuan was watching the scene taking place before her and she was shocked speechless. She could not believe that Wei Wuxian would willingly walk to Wen Zhuliu to have his golden core melted. For a cultivator, not even talking about one as strong as Wei Wuxian, losing their golden core was like losing part of their being, literally losing their future and life purpose.

She had heard, and also seen it on several occasions, about cultivator who had been attacked by the Core Melting Hand and had become completely useless and lifeless. Not only did they had to give up on cultivation altogether since they could no longer use the spiritual energy, they could also not use a sword anymore, be it because their bodies had become fragile and too weak to wield it or because they could not stand to be reminded of what they had lost. She had even witnessed a few cases when the cultivators gave up on life completely, either retiring into seclusion or having to be supported by their families and friends even for everyday activities or taking their own lives.

She could not even start to imagine how losing a golden core one had been cultivating their whole life would feel. It was not only the thought of losing one’s achievement but also the realization they would never again be able to strive for the top. After their golden core was melted, they would become normal people, mediocre, susceptible to injuries and illnesses and with a much shorter lifespan than proper cultivators, even the ones with very weak golden cores.

She was pretty much sure that she would not be able to bear it. She felt slightly ashamed but she had to admit to herself that she would probably hesitate even if it was to safe her husband or her own children; a golden core was basically a lifeline for a cultivator. One, that Wei Wuxian was just now willingly giving away in order to save her and her family.

Tears spilled out of her eyes. It was just as she had feared; the boy had taken her words way too seriously and was now giving up his own life to protect them. Well, certainly his life as a cultivator, but probably also his life in the literal meaning of the word. She doubted that Wen Ruohan would let him live just like that. Even if he had promised to join his side which Yu Ziyuan still had a hard time to believe.

It had truly been her fault all this time, she had been too harsh on him, too demanding. Pressing the boy when it was not even needed and making him believe this strongly that his life was completely unimportant if it was not used for protecting and saving the family which had taken him in. How many times had she told him that he had a life debt to repay to them? Too many times, she could not even count them.

She should have never said those words to a child who could barely understand them. She had broken Wei Wuxian even before Wen Zhuliu had touched him; and with her own hand no less!

And then it hit her. The Core Melting Hand had said that there was no golden core for him to melt. Surely if he had done his job properly, he would have used other words to inform Wen Ruohan about the success of his mission. Also, Wei Wuxian had been too calm and too unaffected by Wen Zhuliu’s touch. She had heard more than once that having one’s golden core melted was a pure agony.

What could that mean? She was strangely distressed, there was something just outside of her reach, like a word she was searching for and which she knew was just on the tip of her tongue, yet she could not really remember it. She tried to calm herself at least for a second so she could try to understand what was bugging her so much.

The pieces of the puzzle were coming together only slowly, as if her mind was refusing to paste the whole picture together. Wen Zhuliu said that there was no golden core for him to melt when he touched Wei Wuxian. The boy was not acting as if his whole world had just crumbled or as if he was in a lot of pain. Wen Zhuliu was looking pensively at Wei Wuxian standing in front of him. Wei Wuxian has started suddenly using demonic cultivation. There really was something weird in all of this.

Suddenly, everything became clear.

Wen Ruohan seemed just as surprised as Yu Ziyuan and he asked the question she herself could not bear to even think about: “He has no golden core? Had you melted it before?”

Wen Zhuliu’s face finally cleared, realization clear in his eyes: “Yes. It was him who had thrown himself at me during the battle of Lotus Pier.”

Yu Ziyuan stopped breathing and she was not sure she would ever be able to start again. It all came back to her. How she watched Wei Wuxian pushing Jiang Cheng out of the way in the throne room back in Lotus Pier, it almost seemed like a lifetime ago to her. How the boy had been hit by Wen Zhuliu and flew out into the courtyard. How she had only paid attention to Jiang Cheng and never so much as checked Wei Wuxian’s condition.

She already knew she should have done so, she had known that the boy had been injured, if not by Wen Zhuliu, then by herself only minutes before that when she had whipped him with her spiritual weapon. She had actually overlooked all that and her last words to the wounded and shaken boy who had just lost his golden core had been to basically die while protecting her children. And died he would have because he had no means to actually protect them, not while being injured and in pain, only a weak child as any other, not a strong cultivator anymore.

Yet, here he was. After beating all the odds, not letting himself succumb to despair and achieving the impossible as a true member of the Yunmeng Jiang clan. She should have been proud of him, scared for his life in this situation, she should be wailing and begging Wen Ruohan to let her child go. However, all that she could feel anymore was guilt. Only soul crashing, endless guilt that she would never be able to express. It was all her fault, she had made the boy suffer the most, even more than Wen Ruohan himself or the war.

She wanted to kneel in front of him and apologize to him until her voice would go hoarse and disappear and her knees would give out under her, until he would forgive her. Yet she knew this was no longer possible, they would all most probably die here. Moreover, she did not actually feel like she had any right to even apologize and beg for forgiveness, her sins were too numerous and too grave to ever be forgiven.

Like in a dream, her vision distorted by her tears, she observed how Wen Ruohan stood up, his face red with anger. “What is the meaning of this, Wei Wuxian?” he thundered, making her whole being shake in fear.

“Your Excellency,” the boy tried to save the situation despite how hopeless it seemed, “please let me show my loyalty to you in any other way. I still want to join your side and the Qishan Wen sect.”

Wei Wuxian turned his back towards the room and faced the Qishan Wen sect leader, seemingly without any fear. It was making sense too, there was nothing he could do to save the situation if he started panicking. Yu Ziyuan was now hoping that Wen Ruohan would just accept his offer and make him a member of the Qishan Wen sect, at least that way, the boy would probably survive all of this.

She did not care about her own life anymore; she would gladly give it up in exchange for Wei Wuxian’s. That would only be right after all the sacrifices the boy had made because of the words she had not stopped putting in his head all the time he had lived in Lotus Pier. She had failed him on so many occasions that she did not deserve even one look from him ever again. She closed her eyes and did nothing to stop her tears anymore.

Chapter Text

Jiang Cheng was watching his brother’s back slowly getting further and further away from him. If his hand were not tied and he was not being held down by the guards, he would have immediately run after Wei Wuxian and stop him. He did not really know what he would have done after that, if he would scold his brother for leaving him despite promising to always stay by his side, if he would try to stop him, if he would beg for him to not go.

He must have heard wrong, there was no way that Wei Wuxian was really wanting to join Wen Ruohan. There must have been some kind of a mistake, it just could not be; demonic cultivator or not, his brother could not just leave like that. He had not even said a proper goodbye! And he had even lost his golden core? And without Jiang Cheng noticing anything at all? No, he shook his head, he did not want to think about this right now, not before confirming that Wen Zhuliu had been mistaken and it was all just part of Wei Wuxian’s plan. It must have been just some kind of a trick.

Yes, this all certainly must have been just a part of the rescue plan, he would not accept any other option. Any second now, Wei Wuxian would look back and give them his usual wink and a silly smile and some kind of a signal to run. Yes, that must have been it.

However, nothing like that happened and Wei Wuxian was already kneeling at the feet of the Qishan Wen sect leader’s throne again. The only one who had turned back to them was Wen Chao. The second heir to the Qishan Wen sect was watching them with a triumphant expression full of disdain and mockery. Luckily, he did not say a word about their predicament and only went to join his father’s side.

Jiang Cheng was still very much in shock, his mouth completely sealed although thousands of words wanted to make it out. The rest of his family did not seem to be better off, even his mother who normally could not stand Wei Wuxian was now silently sobbing just like the rest of them.

What hurt the most was not the realization that his brother really wanted to join Wen Ruohan as it would seem, but the simple fact that he had not even turned back to look at them one last time. As if the ties they had had all those years meant nothing now. He so dearly wanted to see his brother’s expression right at this moment, to confirm whether Wei Wuxian actually did not feel anything. He would have been able to accept any emotion coming from him, anything but this utter indifference and abandonment.

Once Wei Wuxian was kneeling in front of Wen Ruohan, the Qishan Wen sect leader smiled a bit, apparently all content with the course of action this reunion had taken. His voice thundered and cut through Jiang Cheng like a freshly sharpened sword: “Take them away!”

This really was the end, though Jiang Cheng when all of his family except for Wei Wuxian had been hauled onto their feet and dragged away. Not in the direction of the main gate which led outside however, instead, they were being half carried half dragged back to where they had entered the room from just minutes ago. They were being taken back to the dungeons.

Jiang Cheng started trashing against the hold of the Wen sect soldier who had been assigned to him. He was very confused and angry now. He could not tell if Wei Wuxian had lied when he said that everything would be alright and they would be freed or if Wen Ruohan had changed his mind and was not letting them go after all, breaking his promise to Wei Wuxian.

Did it even matter at this point? Jiang Cheng knew that even if he managed to somehow shake off his own guard, he would not be able to free the rest of the family and take them away with him. Not without any weapon, his sword and Zidian had been taken from him when he had been captured. Although he was positive that he himself still had some forces left, that could not have been said for his parents, they had been held captive in horrible conditions for far too long. They could not help in a fight, and neither could Jiang Yanli. And regarding Wei Wuxian, Jiang Cheng was unsure if his brother would come to their rescue at this point.

It was a hopeless and pointless struggle; he knew that very well but he still had to try. They would probably not get another opportunity to run away ever again.

From very far away, he could hear his brother talking to Wen Ruohan but he could not tell the words apart, they were too far away from him and his brother was speaking in a quiet, deterred voice. Suddenly, Wen Ruohan started to laugh maniacally. Jiang Cheng continued his trashing around but glanced in his direction minutely.

The Qishan Wen sect leader was now standing in front of his throne, looming menacingly above the room, glaring at Wei Wuxian angrily. Jiang Cheng could not understand anything anymore; he did not know what kind of plan his brother had had but surely it could not have been such a half-baked one. Wei Wuxian was now also standing, looking in his direction with shock and pain written all over his face. It was at that exact moment that Jiang Cheng understood that his brother’s plan had gone south and that they were now completely screwed.

He started trashing even more now, a last desperate attempt at freeing himself with his own forces. He froze again in the next second for suddenly, he, his family and their guards had been surrounded by a thick wall of resentment. He could not see the room anymore, but that must have also meant that no one from the outside could see him either.

This was his chance! He redoubled, no tripled, his effort and saw how his parents also started fighting, even Jiang Yanli was doing her best.

Three heartbeats later, they were free and the guards were laying on the ground. He did not know how they had managed this feat; they had clearly been at a disadvantage just a second ago. However, he did not have time to wonder about anything, they had to run. He helped Jiang Yanli to stand properly and steadied her on her feet, half supporting her and half carrying her. He looked at his parents and saw that he apparently did not need to worry about them, they were already standing, leaning on each other heavily but with fight in their eyes.

They did not have any time for a long conversation or for designing a plan, they would simply have to run straight for the main gate, hoping that they would actually be able to escape. Jiang Cheng looked into his parents’ eyes and saw that they understood the situation as well, determination was very much visible in their every haggard and tired feature. They nodded at each other, encouraging themselves and silently saying goodbye. This was a foolish and reckless plan but it was all they had left.

Then, the wall formed by resentful energy disappeared and all hell broke loose.

Chapter Text

“Take them away!” Wen Ruohan ordered again, more impatiently, and the guards who were until then doing their best to hold the trashing prisoners in place started dragging them away in the direction of the dungeons.

Despite his exhaustion and his whole body being in so much pain he did not want to move ever again, Wei Wuxian shot to his feet immediately. He looked at the Qishan Wen sect leader and he understood that this must have been his intention from the very beginning, he had never intended to let his family leave this place. Now, he would use them as hostages to keep him by his side whether he wanted it or not, it was a kind of an ingenuous safety measure on his part. One that Wei Wuxian should have seen coming.

He saw red, his anger completely overtook him and he could feel how the resentful energy of this place started reacting to his emotions. It felt different than the resentment in the Burial Mounds, it was denser, more violent and fiercer if that was even possible. And it was so much harder to control and command! It must have been caused by the influence of the Yin iron.

No matter, Wei Wuxian pushed on, he still had to save the Jiangs by any means possible. And that he would do; he called upon the resentment and made it form a separate space around the Yunmeng Jiang clan members. He had seen how Jiang Cheng had been trying to free himself and he was glad, perhaps they could still win this fight and he can help his family to escape, never mind the consequences.

He knew they would be safe once they would make it past the main gate of the Nightless City palace. If his plan, or at least one part of it, was still working, Nie Huisang and the allied forces should already be waiting outside, high in the air on their swords, ready to dart down immediately and take the Jiangs away. All Wei Wuxian had to do now was to get the Yunmeng Jiang clan members outside of the room, everything would be fine from there. He trusted Nie Huisang’s abilities, he would save his family where Wei Wuxian had failed to do so.

He focused some more, mobilizing all his last strength and every speck of his will that he could find. He fought the resentment every step of the way, making it obey him and start attacking the guards surrounding Jiang Cheng and the others. He would have liked to wreak havoc to the whole Nightless City, to the whole palace, or at the very least to the room they were in, but he simply could not. His body was once again betraying his will and he fell to his knees.

Every breath felt like it would be his last with how much effort it took to even get air into his lungs, yet, he persevered. He fought his eyes to stay open and his consciousness to not drift away from him, he could not permit himself to fail now. He could tell that the Jiang family members were fighting as well and it gave him hope. He just had to push on for one more second. Then everything would be over.

At last, he was really not able to keep going on, both because his exhausted body and mind simply refused to cooperate with him no matter how much he willed them to and because Wen Ruohan came down from his little podium and was now holding him in the air, his hand grabbing his throat and interrupting Wei Wuxian’s last attempts at getting some oxygen into his lungs.

He could not care less about what was happening to him. His eyes were turned in the direction of the quickly dissipating wall of resentful energy. If he could, he would have given out a big sigh of relief when he saw that the Yunmeng Jiang clan was alright, a little more battered than before but standing on their feet, leaning onto each other and looking all around.

Jiang Cheng looked his way and Wei Wuxian saw horror and helplessness in his eyes. He tried to smile, not at all sure that he had managed it. He pushed the last of the air from his lungs in a desperate half shout, half whisper: “Run!”

He started crying for real when his brother did not argue with him and did not try to do anything else but what he had just been told to do. Jiang Cheng only nodded his head once and his lips were forming the words that Wei Wuxian did not know he wanted to hear desperately until they were out in the open: “I will come back for you.”

Despite the dire situation, Wei Wuxian felt suddenly relaxed and happy. It warmed his chest to have the confirmation that while he would die for his family, Jiang Cheng also wanted to protect him in turn. He knew that it would not be possible as he would probably die in next moments. Still, it did nothing to dim the realization and his gratitude.

Wei Wuxian nodded back, trying to prompt his brother to finally start running away for real and Jiang Cheng did. He held Jiang Yanli closer to himself and helped his father to support his mother, dragging them away from the middle of the room, in the direction of the main gate leading outside. It could not have been called running at all, they were just stumbling around, limping as fast as they could, their backs more and more distant for Wei Wuxian.

The whole room was stunned and luckily, no one aside for one soldier tried to stop the fugitives. Wei Wuxian felt his vision getting blurry and black specks started appearing in the corners, yet he still saw that one man. With an almost lazy movement of his wrist, he commanded the resentful energy to hit him in the chest and effectively pushed him away from his brother’s path. The man flew into the air and crashed down a few meters away.

Wei Wuxian felt satisfied watching his family finally making it to the main gate. Jiang Cheng let go of his mother long enough for him to open it and then they were all outside.

At that exact moment, seeing his family safely exit the room, Wei Wuxian finally gave in to his exhaustion and to the lack of oxygen, he closed his eyes, his consciousness fading. The last thing he heard, or perhaps he had just imagined it but he hoped it had been real, were sounds of wind as someone flew on their swords very quickly and a few unintelligible shouts. Then he knew nothing more.

Chapter Text

Jiang Fengmian did not know what to feel as he was watching everything happen in front of his very eyes and he could do nothing to stop Wei Wuxian from sacrificing his life. For them, for it was clear what would happen to him now that he had disobeyed and angered Wen Ruohan. As he was being dragged away by Jiang Cheng, he could do nothing more than to stare back into the throne room, both his head and heart completely empty of any all emotions.

He still could not tear his gaze away as rough hands grabbed him and he was lifted in the air. He did not struggle for purchase, only hanging lifelessly when he could no longer see into the room. He had not even had time to say goodbye or thank you or sorry to the child he had taken at his own and who he had failed so much.

He should have been a father to him, or an uncle at the very least, the only father figure the young child could actually remember, yet all he had done was not stop his wife’s hateful words from festering inside of Wei Wuxian’s heart, under the child’s skin, until it let to this exact moment. He had done literally nothing, only trying superficially by shoving attention and giving praise he knew Wei Wuxian could not accept because he felt like it was driving the rest of the family on edge. Yes, he only worsened the situation each time, that was undeniable.

He was thrown out of his thoughts by a stern voice shouting right into his ear. It took him a second to look up and see who was holding him in the air, supporting all his weight in his hands since Jiang Fengmian’s legs were hanging loosely and not standing on the sword under them. He blinked a few times to get the tears out of his eyes and could finally see clearly.

It was Nie Mingjue who was holding him, shouting at him to grab onto him and to stand properly. Only now did Jiang Fengmian realize that they were flying away from Nightless City at a great speed. He scrambled up and positioned himself safely onto the sword, making the Qinghe Nie sect leader’s job of carrying him easier.

Once he was steady, he looked around, searching for the rest of his family, or more precisely, the rest he knew should be with him. He did not expect to see Wei Wuxian, the boy had doomed himself while saving them and they did not even try to get him back. What kind of family were they? And did they even have a right to call themselves like that after they had basically coerced the boy into giving his life away for their sake, not even talking about his golden core?

He could still not forget the slight smile that Wei Wuxian gave them before he walked willingly towards Wen Zhuliu to have his golden core melted right before their eyes. It was even worse that he had already lost it long before that. Or the look of peace and happiness as his throat was being held in Wen Ruohan’s iron grip when they were running to safety, without him. Surely there could have been another way for all of them to get out of this? He really did not know.

He himself was so weak that even standing proved to be a challenge and he was grateful for Nie Mingjue’s hand around his torso. He would have been useless, just a burden really, if he had tried to do anything in the Nightless City palace’s throne room. If he had tried to get back to Wei Wuxian, he would have only endangered the rest of his family, that much he was sure of. Still, the boy did not deserve to be left behind just like that.

Was this perhaps what he had been referring to when he had said he would never see them again? At that time, Jiang Fengmian just assumed that it was part of the plan to convince Wen Ruohan about his sincerity, but now, he thought that it may have been a farewell. Wei Wuxian must have known that he would not come out of this alive. And this realization hurt more than he could have imagined, he deserved that pain, and so much more for abandoning him just like that.

His eyes were purposelessly scanning the blue sky which knew nothing about the horrors that had just happened. It was a clear day, so inappropriate for such a tragedy, even the weather was mocking him and his weakness.

Not too far away, he could see the rest of the members of his family, being carried on swords just like he himself was.

The closest one was Lan Xichen who was gently holding Yu Ziyuan in his arms, He was having a very troubled expression on his face as he was holding Jiang Fengmian’s wife securely with one hand and running his other one up and down her back soothingly. It was clear why Yu Ziyuan needed help calming down; she was still wailing silently, her whole face wet with tears and she was staring off into distance, apparently not registering anything happening around her. She looked so small, so distressed, so broken. Jiang Fengmian wanted to be the one holding her at that moment.

A little farther away flew Jin Zixuan, his expensive golden robes flapping in the wind. He was supporting a faint looking Jiang Yanli whose face was also wet with tears. Jiang Fengmian’s chest clenched at seeing his daughter in such a state. Her usual gentle face was distorted in grief and blame; she was probably mourning Wei Wuxian already or at least being worried sick for his life. Jin Zixuan was saying something into her ear but Jiang Fengmian could not hear the words, although he knew that her former fiancé was probably trying to offer comfort.

The last of the small procession was Lan Wangji holding a trashing Jiang Cheng with all his might. They were both swaying dangerously on the sword as they wrestled, or more like Jiang Cheng was trying to be released and Lan Wangji doing his best to not drop his passenger. Jiang Fengmian could tell that his son, who had been held prisoner for a far shorted period of time than the rest of them, dearly wanted to go back and rescue his brother.

But that would have been a terrible idea, they would need a whole army to storm the Nightless City Palace, not just the eight of them from which almost half would be useless in a fight. It would only get them killed in the process, rendering all Wei Wuxian’s effort and his sacrifice meaningless. They would come back, of course they would, but they would have to be better prepared than this. If they would not be able to save Wei Wuxian anymore, they would at least take revenge for him. The rescue worked only because of the element of surprise after all and there were already pursuers on their tracks, he was sure of that.

He saw how Jiang Cheng trashed with even bigger vigour, shouting something into Lan Wangji’s face, who returned the words in turn. Jiang Fengmian did not have to hear the exact words used, he knew what the dispute was about. He was however surprised that the Second Jade’s expression looked torn and that he had glanced back towards the direction of Nightless City more than once. Could it be that he was of the same mind and also wanted to go back and save Wei Wuxian?

Perhaps it was not so surprising after all, he clearly remembered what Jiang Cheng told them in the prison cell about Lan Wangji trying to get closer to Wei Wuxian. He had mentioned him wanting to take the boy back to Cloud Recesses with him for punishment but it did not look like that to him, it seemed more like the Second Jade was genuinely cornered.

Jiang Cheng punched the Second Jade’s chest with one hand and he all but retired into himself, his shoulders shaking and both his hands clenched into his robes, on his stomach. Just where his golden core was. Suddenly, Jiang Fengmian had a distinct impression that he had just told Lan Wangji about what had happened with Wei Wuxian’s golden core.

The Second Jade looked over his shoulder one last time and when he turned back, Jiang Fengmian could have sworn he had seen tears in his eyes. That was, if he did not know how good all the Gusu Lan sect disciples, and especially this particular one, were at hiding and controlling their emotions.

He faltered a bit on the sword and Nie Mingjue’s hold on him tightened as he leaned closer and shouted into his ear: “Hold on for a little bit longer, we are almost there!”

Jiang Fengmian did not know where exactly they were supposed to be. Wherever it would be, it would not feel right, not when his family would most probably never be whole again. Not when his son in all but name was just facing the biggest danger in his life and he was running away from that. He felt like a true coward, powerless and completely empty except for soul crushing sadness and guilt.

Chapter Text

Jiang Cheng had been fighting with Lan Wangji ever since he had felt hands lift him off the ground in front of the entrance to the Nightless City palace. He could have been insulting the Second Jade or begging him in tears, he had no idea, the only thing which his mind could focus on was Wei Wuxian who had just been left behind, seemingly without a second thought. He had been determined to escort his parents and his sister out of the danger and then storm the Qishan Wen sect hall with all he had, with all the fury which had accumulated inside of him during the months following the fall of Lotus Pier.

He had not had any sound plan, just a strong desire to leave Nightless City with his whole family, that meant including Wei Wuxian. He would have just stolen a sword from one of the guards, and had had assumed that his brother would do the same, and they would have all escaped together. They would fight and they would win, they were from the Yunmeng Jiang sect! So what if this was an utter nonsense and impossible to achieve, they would just do it.

Then, once they would all be safe, he would pull his brother to the side and yell at him to his heart’s content for coming up with such a stupid plan for their rescue. Leave it to Wei Wuxian to always make the stupidest decision and to never think about the consequences. He could have planned at least ten other rescue options, but no, he just had to come up with the most dangerous one. Not only had he gotten himself caught as well, but it actually seemed like he had handed himself on a silver plate no less!

Why must he always be such a self-sacrificing idiot? He should have never even thought about exchanging his own life for theirs, but here they were. After hearing his mother’s confession last night, he had little doubt from where exactly character this trait of his brother came from. How could have his mother been so cruel and ask him to sacrifice himself for them? And not just once!

That was what infuriated him even more. What if Wei Wuxian did not really want to give up his live for them but he had thought he had this duty? That he just had to protect them with everything he got, even if he would destroy himself in the process? Was his debt to the Yunmeng Jiang clan so great in his eyes? Was there even any to begin with? Who in their sound mind would ask a child to repay them for being taken in and cared for?

Jiang Cheng did not even want to think about what would happen to his brother now that he had went against Wen Ruohan and let them escape. But he could not do it, the horrors of what could be happening in the Nightless City throne room just kept coming back, his imagination supplying him with endless possibilities. Surely the Qishan Wen sect leader would not take it lightly. Would he kill Wei Wuxian on the spot? Was his brother even alive at this point?

Jiang Cheng’s fist connected with a hard chest and he started mercilessly pounding into it, squirming around and trying to free himself from Lan Wangji’s hold. They had to go back right now! There was no time to lose, not when Wei Wuxian had already been tired and injured when he had last seen him, he would not be able to put up a fight and escape on his own even if that had had been his intention.

Suddenly, Jiang Cheng stilled completely. A terrible realization just downed on him and threatened to swallow him whole. His brother had not intended to come back when he entered Nightless City.

No, of course he was not inclined to believe that he had actually came to Wen Ruohan to change sides, that would be utter nonsense. Especially when he had been asked to let his golden core be destroyed. He would no longer be able to cultivate like that unless it was the demonic cultivation.

It was not really the thought that Wei Wuxian had been ready to give up his cultivation, and his life, for his family in itself which horrified him. It was the realization that his brother had been already missing his golden core even before storming into Nightless City.

It would all make a twisted sense. Wen Zhuliu had said that there was no golden core for him to melt anymore after all and ha had been so shocked he had only come back to his senses after a long while. At that time, Jiang Chen had believed that he had just finished his awful deed, but right now, he was convinced that it was just a simple statement. Wei Wuxian had not had any golden core for him to melt. It must have happened way earlier.

Even before Wei Wuxian had been thrown into the Burial Mounds. For if that had not been the case, he would not have picked up the demonic cultivation. Jiang Cheng clearly remembered that his brother, despite always musing about how resentful energy could be used in cultivation, had always said it was too risky and that there was no way anyone would be able to properly control it. He had expressed so many doubts that Jiang Cheng just knew he would not have attempted it if it had not been his very last resort.

That only left one option however; he must have lost his golden core and cultivation of resentful energy really had been his last chance to ever cultivate again. And to protect his family and help in the war.

Though, when did it happen? Why did Jiang Cheng not notice until now? There were so many clues for him to pick up on. Wei Wuxian had seemed weaker and more tired all the time, he refused to carry his sword and Jiang Cheng had never seen him using spiritual energy, not even while activating his talismans. He had always avoided going to the infirmary but he had been even more adamant to not set foot anywhere near it during the Sunshot campaign. It would take no genius to deduce that something had been wrong.

Of course, Jiang Cheng had noticed changes in his brother’s behaviour but he would not have guessed even in his wildest nightmares that it was because he had been missing his golden core.

Had he lost it during his time in the Burial Mounds? Had it perhaps been so damaged by the resentful energy that it had just dissipated on its own? No that was not possible, Jiang Cheng had never heard about such a thing before. So, another possibility would be that Wen Zhuliu had melted it when Wei Wuxian had been captured after they had fled Lotus Pier. No, that was impossible as well; the Core Melting Hand would not have even attempted to melt his brother’s golden core again and he would not have looked so surprised upon touching him.

In the back of Jiang Cheng’s mind, there was an insistent thought that he had pushed away for a long time already. But now, it resurfaced and he immediately knew that it was at that moment that Wei Wuxian had lost his golden core, protecting Jiang Cheng of all people. Yes, it must have been when he had pushed him out of Wen Zhuliu’s way back in Lotus Pier.

Thinking back, it really must have been that moment, it seemed like a lifetime ago. Jiang Cheng wanted to weep, to hide form the whole world, to go back to Nightless City and kowtow to Wei Wuxian and apologize to him for not noticing and for making him suffer this much.

In the grief and anger he had felt after the fall of Lotus Pier, he had not been focusing on anything else but on going back. But now that he was revisiting his memories with a clear head, he could tell that he had been very rough with his already coreless and injured – Wei Wuxian had been whipped with Zidian just hours before that! How were his wounds now? Had they had a chance to heal properly? – brother. He had pushed him around, made him care for both him and his sister and he had even beaten him and blamed him for being too much of a coward to go back and fight.

He should have known that Wei Wuxian was anything but a coward! It was because any fight would have been pointless at that point, they would not have been able to stand up to the Wens, not with just an exhausted and grieving sect heir and a coreless and injured head disciple, both still inexperienced in the matter of wars and real life fighting. It must have hurt his brother deeply to be reminded about his sudden weakness and loss. Jiang Cheng had been such a fool!

The Yunmeng Jiang sect heir could feel his chest getting tighter and tighter with guilt. He now understood how his parents must have been feeling. He did not care one bit about propriety nor how it would be embarrassing for him later, he just buried his face in Lan Wangji’s robes and wailed like a small child.

Chapter Text

Wei Wuxian woke up. The simple fact that he did had actually surprised him. After what he had pulled off – commanding resentful energy in the heart of the Qishan Wen sect territory, right in front of Wen Ruohan of all people and letting his family escape – he had been sure that the Qishan Wen sect leader would just kill him on the spot. Aching all over and with his head killing him but he was definitely still alive.

There was something insistently probing at the edges of his consciousness. It was much the same feeling as he had gotten during the first days in the Burial Mounds. The resentful energy wanted to rule him, to control him, to make him a puppet and never let go. Luckily, he knew how to defend himself by now and it was just a matter of deep concentration to keep it at bay. It did not go away but at least it had become tolerable. Still, something felt off, the resentment felt different than usual, more vicious and insistent, as if it was more evil if that was even possible.

And then he remembered what had happened right before he had lost consciousness. Wen Ruohan dragged him into another room, adjacent to the throne room and threw him unceremoniously on the ground. He was then engulfed by a cloud of resentful energy which tried to overpower him. He must have lost consciousness at some point.

It took an unparalleled effort to open his eyes even the tiniest bit, his eyelids felt like they were made of steel. But he managed this feat and carefully looked around.

The first thing he saw was that the was not only laying on the solid ground, but that he was in an iron cage. He did not know how big or small it was, it would cost him too much strength to examine it thoroughly, he could and should probably do that later.

The second thing he saw was a kind of altar just a short distance from him. Someone, most probably Wen Ruohan himself, was standing between him and the glowing and pulsating red light surrounding it. He was moving his hands in exaggerated gestures, it looked like he was summoning something. Wei Wuxian could not see what was there in front of the Qishan Wen sect leader but he could pretty much guess. From the way the resentful energy was swarming around the place, it must have been the Yin iron.

When the resentment headed towards him, he finally realized why he had had such a hard time resisting the pressure in his head. It was not the same resentment he knew; it was not a natural one. The Yin iron itself seemed to radiate evil, and judging by several corpses which were littering the ground, blood still lazily oozing out of them, it must have just been even more strengthened. Wen Ruohan was really a demonic cultivator in the worst sense of the word.

Wei Wuxian could not help himself and he gave out a horrified scream. It was one thing seeing mountains of corpses in the Burial Mounds, an ancient battlefield where they had been expected and only carried injuries from the battles. But it was something else entirely to see the impaled and apparently tortured bodies here. He was not surprised anymore that the resentment felt so different;  it was different, its very source was pure evil, not even talking about the man manipulating it.

Wen Ruohan must have heard he was awake because he turned around in a swirl of blood red robes and came down from the altar. Wei Wuxian’s eyes were immediately drawn toward the simple, unassuming object lazily flying above it. Despite the situation, he felt amused. He had not expected the feared Yin iron to be what looked like just a regular piece of iron, only shaped into three quarters of a disk. So the Qishan Wen sect leader did not have one piece of it, but three, no wonder he was so powerful and thought he could overtake the whole cultivation world.

Wen Ruohan was suddenly standing in front of him, blocking the view of the altar. Wei Wuxian shook his head, he immediately felt better and the pressure of the resentful energy became smaller. He could finally fully concentrate on the man who was glaring at him with something between displeasure and regret in his eyes.

“Wei Wuxian, Wei Wuxian,” he started and his voice thundered painfully inside Wei Wuxian’s head. “I thought we have reached an understanding. I was even prepared to welcome you as a son into my family. I admire very much your powers and your prowess in manipulating the resentful energy, with a little more practice, you could perhaps even become just as good as me. I thought you could inherit my powers and stand side by side with my two other sons. No one would have been able to stand against you.

But you have chosen to betray my trust. And I do not like that. Now, I will just have to make you obey by force. But do not worry, you will not suffer too much; once you surrender yourself to the will of the Yin iron, you will become an obedient puppet and you will follow only my orders. It will be a shame to not have you come to my side willingly, but it is too late now, you have already shown your true colours.

That is regrettable but I can work with that. I promise I will make it as painless and fast as possible out of respect for the determination you have shown me in letting the Yunmeng Jiang clan escape. That had really been an impressive plan, you have almost fooled me. Luckily, Wen Chao had warned me just in time that you could have other plans than to peacefully join us. You are loyal to a fault, I like it, soon, your loyalty would be mine and mine alone.”

Wen Ruohan smiled and it send shivers down Wei Wuxian’s spine. He had been ecstatic when he had heard that his family had apparently escaped. At least one part of his plan had worked, even if not quite like he had imagined it. It did not matter in the end; the most important thing was that the Yunmeng Jiang clan he had been supposed to protect was alright now. He could work with that, he had accomplished his primary mission so even if he would lose his life in the battle with the resentment controlled by Wen Ruohan, everything would be worth it.

Still, he would not just give up like that, he could not. Even if his family was now not in the clutches of the Qishan Wen sect leader anymore, it could change only too quickly. If he would lose to Wen Ruohan and become his puppet like the man wanted, he would surely be used against the allied forces, just an expendable chess piece in this game; but one that the people fighting in the Sunshot campaign knew and could possibly hesitate to injure.

At least Nie Huisang and probably a handful of other people would believe that he had not turned sides and would try to approach him. It could only end in a disaster. No one would be able to help him and the allied forces would discover the truth only too late.

No, he could not let himself succumb to the power of the Yin iron. He had to destroy it, just as he had planned. His new prison cell was so close to it that he would probably be able to study it to his heart’s content. Only if the resentment around here was not clouding his judgement and weighing on his mind.

Wen Ruohan gestured with his hand and the altar’s glow intensified, just as did the pressure of the resentful energy in Wei Wuxian’s head. The Qishan Wen sect leader did not say another word and left the room, it was now only Wei Wuxian and the Yin iron. The transformation process apparently already started, Wen Ruohan did not want his cooperation anymore, he wanted to break him.

Wei Wuxian curled into a ball on the ground when another wave of resentment attacked him, it was clear that Wen Ruohan did not have to be present and that the Yin iron could be controlled even from afar. Which was a valuable information, if only Wei Wuxian could focus enough on studying and coming up with a plan to control the Yin iron and destroy it.

He could not however, he found it hard to concentrate on anything at all, aside for desperately keeping the resentful energy from fully controlling him. It was taking all his non-existent and exhausted strength to go on. He was not sure how long he would be able to resist.

He curled even tighter, closed his eyes and covered his ears and tried to do the same as in the Burial Mounds, to just expel the resentful energy from both his body and mind. He hoped it would still work even now; he had been in a bad condition in the past and still managed to do it, but today, he was completely exhausted, body and soul, and he did not know if he would be able to tame the resentment and make it obey his will again. It seemed completely insane to even try. It was impossible.

Chapter Text

Jiang Yanli was not crying anymore when Jin Zixuan directed his sword down and landed. She was not crying when he helped her dismount it and was still keeping her close to his chest even though it was extremely inappropriate because they were not even engaged anymore. But she did not mind, she was actually grateful to the support he was so subtly providing. She was not sure she would have been able to stand on her own right now.

Her tears had dried a long time ago and there were none left to mourn her brother who she believed was either dead already or imprisoned in the place of her and the rest of her family. She could no longer ask any questions, her throat was feeling too dry to let even one word escape. She had been pleading with Jin Zixuan to go back, begging him to just turn around and somehow save her brother. But to no avail, even she knew that they would not be able to rescue him, their numbers were too low for that.

Once she had calmed down a little bit, she asked what the entire plan was. She needed to understand why Jin Zixuan did not seem all too worried and the others would also not let the distressed members of her family convince them to turn around or to speed up so they could gather more allies and try to storm the Nightless City palace at once. She had to understand.

And Jin Zixuan obliged her and explained: “Maiden Jiang, this is all going according to plan. We were told to take you away as soon as you exited the palace gates. We were explicitly told that Wei Wuxian would not be with you, that is why there is only four of us. Nie Huisang had said that he would be staying behind and would be working from the inside for us. I have my doubts, but I did not question anything seeing that Wei Wuxian had gone ahead and there was no helping it but going along with the plan. So please, Lady Jiang, do not worry, I believe everything will be fine in the end.”

That was what her former fiancé had said. But he had not had the slightest idea about the situation in the Nightless City throne room. He had not seen how Wei Wuxian went against the Qishan Wen sect, all on his own, to let them escape. He had not known that her brother had no golden core anymore so he could not have defended himself when Wen Ruohan had been holding him up in the air. He had not seen his legs helplessly dangling from his body, he had not seen how exhausted he had been, so tired that his hands had not even tried to pry away the arm which had been choking him and holding him up. He had not been stabbed right into his heart by her brother’s last smile and the content look because they managed to escape, although without him. 

No, he had no idea and that was probably why he could say that everything was going according to the plan. She knew better; nothing was alright, not anymore. Wei Wuxian had sacrificed himself for their freedom and they had left him to his own devices, facing a certain death. That was it, nothing more, nothing less. Just the raw and unquestionable truth.

Everything was like in a fog now. She saw people running around them, healers coming into sight with blankets and medical supplies, ready to take care of them. Someone was standing at her side, taking her wrist into their hands and checking her pulse and the flow of her spiritual energy. The same was now being done to the rest of her devastated family. For devastated they all were, even Jiang Cheng was not fighting anymore and was just sitting on the ground, looking down, with his shoulders sagged in defeat.

She almost started to laugh maniacally – she could not cry anymore, she had no more tears left and she also knew that it would not bring her any much desired relief. But she held herself back. Jin Zixuan was still at her side, holding her and grounding her. She was glad for that, it was warm and soothing.

She was only regretting that Lan Wangji could not do the same for her brother. She knew they had not been on the best terms as of late, at least according to Jiang Cheng, but she could have seen how much they both cared about each other. She saw it in Lan Wangji’s eyes while he had been desperately searching for the missing Wei Wuxian after the other had disappeared for three months. She could tell from how her brother would not stop speaking about the second young master of the Gusu Lan sect after returning from the lectures in Cloud Recesses.

Only, neither of them had said a word to the other. Now, perhaps it was too late for them, her brother could very well be already dead.

Her knees finally gave out under her and only Jin Zixuan’s hands around her waist were still holding her standing. The Lanling Jin sect heir realized that he was now supporting all her weight and gently lowered her down on a bed – how had they gotten inside the medical tent again? – and called for a healer to check on her. She did not struggle nor refused, but she did not cooperate either when a young medic was asking her questions.

She could not stop thinking about her brother and how she could not see him ever again. She had not even gotten the chance to say proper farewells to him! With a heart crushing sadness, she realized that the last time she had spoken to him had actually been back in the small town after they had fled Lotus Pier and before she and Jiang Cheng went to Meishan. It hurt to know that it had been almost half a year from that day and she would probably never be able talk to him again, to hold him in her arms to sooth him, to cook soup for him to make him feel better.

She could not bear the pain anymore and she blanked out for some time. She just felt too raw and too vulnerable at the moment, and oh so empty inside!

She came back to her senses when there were hands insistently but gently shaking her shoulders and calling her name. She lifted her head and it took a great effort to focus on Jin Zixuan’s worried face in front of her.

Once she did, she could tell that his lips were moving, he was telling her something. Another immeasurable effort later, she could also understand his words.

“Maiden Jiang, please… Your brother is fine, he is alive. A message just came from inside Nightless City, saying that he had been captured. That means he is still very much alive!”

Jiang Yanli’s heart made a summersault and she jumped to her feet. She wanted to believe those words so much, yet she feared Jin Zixuan had said them just to sooth her. Once she would be of a sane mind again, he would just tell her that there was no such message and that they still did not know what had happened to Wei Wuxian.

However, in the middle of the tent, there was Nie Huisang, standing tall, his cheeks flushed, and holding a piece of paper in his hand. He was already crowded by the rest of her family who were asking him questions. Jiang Yanli did not care about what they wanted to know. The only important thing was that her brother was indeed still alive, Nie Huisang would never lie to them, not in this. After all, he had come to tell her and her brother that they parents were still alive and it had been true as well.

The whole room tilted to one side and blurred. It took a second for Jiang Yanli to realize she was falling down and losing consciousness. Strong hands caught her before she could hit the ground and then all she remembered was being laid down on a clean smelling sheets.

Someone was holding her hand. She felt someone touching her forehead as well. The hand felt very cool and comfortable. Was she perhaps running one of her fevers again?

Chapter Text

Wei Wuxian opened his eyes with much difficulty when he felt someone was touching his shoulder. For a few seconds, just before his eyes focused, he thought it had been Jiang Yanli waking him up because he had once again overslept and was running late for the young disciples’ training. The touch was gentle and careful; it could not have been anyone else.

However, when his sight became clear again, all he could see were red robes and an unfamiliar face. He immediately remembered where he was and what had happened. He did not know how long he had been out of it, fighting the resentful energy which had been trying to take control over him. But he knew he had won that fight, at least for now. Not that he could not feel the resentment gnawing at his defences, but his head was clear.

He flinched away from the unfamiliar touch, alarmed and finally fully conscious. The movement reminded him even stronger about everything as it was tugging at his wounds. His heart was heavy, although his very soul was content that he had saved his family, they were surely already back in the Sunshot campaign’s main camp, being taken care of and safe.

His eyes strayed towards his next mission, the Yin iron which was still lazily floating in the air above the altar. It was undisturbed by anything, too dangerous to be left alone yet too powerful to be destroyed by normal means.

Wei Wuxian chuckled a bit, just a broken sound without any actual laughter behind it. Yes, destroying it seemed utterly impossible. And doing the impossible was Wei Wuxian’s forte after all, he could do it; he had to. Now it was just the matter of finding a way.

He could not tell how long he had been there already. Was it perhaps too late to help the allied forces in the final siege of Nightless City? No, it could not be, they could not all be dead. They just could not, he refused to believe anything else but that all his friends and family were still alive and well. If he succumbed to despair now, he knew he would never again be able to pick himself up.

He had to get on with his mission immediately, now, when he still had some strength left to resist the will of the Yin iron and enough courage to actually carry on.

“Young Master Wei, are you alright?”

Wei Wuxian flinched again and his eyes darted towards the person who was in the room with him. He had all but forgotten about them until this moment. They had red Qishan Wen sect robes, so they must have been an enemy. Yet, why had their touch felt so gentle and soothing? Surely no Qishan Wen sect soldier would be so careful when waking him up. Was it perhaps a servant? Hope bloomed in Wei Wuxian’s guts, was he perhaps getting some food at last? He could not recall the last he had anything to fill his empty stomach.

The realization about the identity of the other only came a second later when he finally focused fully on the person’s face. It was actually Wen Ning! The timid Qishan Wen sect disciple who Wei Wuxian had only seen a couple of times, namely during his short studies in Cloud Recesses and then at the indoctrination held in Nightless City. What was he doing here? No, that was not right, this was his sect’s territory, him being here made sense.

What was surprising Wei Wuxian more was the reason he was here, in this place where the Yin iron could very easily overwhelm him and turn him into either a mindless puppet or outright a resentful creature. Why was he risking so much? Or had he been ordered to come here by Wen Ruohan? Anger flared in Wei Wuxian’s mind at the thought.

It was however quickly quenched by Wen Ning’s stuttered whispering: “Young Master Wei, please do not worry, it is just me. I came to tell you that your family made it back to the camp just fine. I have informed them that you are alive as well.”

The Qishan Wen sect disciple reached out his hand and there was something hidden in his palm, it was a small steamed meat bun. He pushed it inside the cage and hid in under a piece of Wei Wuxian’s robes. Then he shook his arm a bit and a small bottle appeared by sliding out from his sleeve. Wei Wuxian recognized it, he had already received a similar one when Wen Ning came to save him in the dungeons during the indoctrination. If he was not mistaken, there was medicine inside.

“I can only help you like this now. I am sorry, I know it is not much, I will bring more later. I am not supposed to come here so I will have to go back now. Please hold on for just a little longer. There is a siege planned in just two days. I will help you escape then.”

Before Wei Wuxian could even thank him or ask from where he had had those pieces of information, Wen Ning was already back on his feet and quickly walking towards the door. He sneaked out, closing the door behind himself without a sound and Wei Wuxian was alone once again.

Although the visit had been short, it had helped him immensely. He was no longer despairing; he knew his family was fine and he had not missed the timing for the final siege, he could still make everything work. There was still hope.

He looked around with a little difficulty, his body was still refusing to obey him properly even after all that time he had spent unconscious. When he determined that there was actually no one in the room with him, he rolled to the side and exposed his two priceless treasures. It only took him three bites to finish the steamed bun. It was one of the best meals he had ever had.

He took several pills from the bottle Wen Ning had given him. He knew that the spirit fortifying medicine would not have much effect on him since he did not have a golden core anymore, but he still hoped that it would help at least a little bit, if only in making his mind sharper so he would be able to resist the resentful energy better.

He started taking deep breaths, preparing to finally study the Yin iron and hopefully come up with a solution how to help the allied forces and destroy it. While he was gathering his courage, he was thinking.

Could Wen Ning be the spy Nie Huisang had told them about? He had said he had a man inside and that was why he was getting insider intel. It had saved them more than once. But Wei Wuxian had a hard time imagining the timid, stuttering and gentle Qishan Wen sect disciple being a sly spy. Then again, it was the most unexpected ones who often came up as a surprise.

He had to smile, it was good knowing that he had at least one ally in Nightless City. If Wen Ning would come back, he would even be able to give him a message for Nie Huisang. He had to let him know that he was working on destroying the Yin iron but that he would probably not make it before the siege.

No! He could not do that, he realized the next second. The siege could not be postponed just because of his inability and uselessness. It would cost too much to the allied forces to prolong the fighting, so many lives would be lost and perhaps it would give Wen Ruohan more time to prepare and they could lose in the end. No, there was only one way, he had to prevail.

He was still one of the Yunmeng Jiang sect, and the motto he had always abided by was to attempt the impossible. And that was just what he had to do. He opened his eyes and fixed the Yin iron still floating in the air without any visible sustenance. He focused on the resentful energy surrounding him, getting to know it better, studying it and trying to get to its source.

He was determined and hoped that his determination would be enough to make him succeed in his task before it would be too late.

Chapter Text

Jiang Cheng was sitting on the bed in his tent and taking care of his sword, sharpening it and cleaning. His sword did not need it, not anymore since he had been at it for several hours already, but the familiar steps and motions were helping him to calm down. It was the evening of the sixth day since he and his family had come back from Nightless City, since they had abandoned Wei Wuxian to deal with Wen Ruohan and his puppets on his own.

Ever since then, his parents were stuck in the infirmary, usually just sleeping and recovering. And when they were not, Jiang Yanli was there with them, keeping them from going off on their own and storming the Nightless City palace to save his brother.

He would have done the same thing long ago be it not for Nie Huisang’s insistence that things would just be even harder for Wei Wuxian if Jiang Cheng would be captured and used as a hostage against him. Another message came from inside of Nightless City just yesterday, informing them that Wei Wuxian was still fine, albeit held a prisoner, and that he was working on finding a way to seize control of the Yin iron so the Sunshot campaign could safely proceed with the siege.

Jiang Cheng had been outraged when he had heard that his brother was once again playing a hero, endangering his own life in the process. Had he not had enough already? He must have been at the edge of exhaustion; without a golden core, the demonic cultivation must have been taking a toll on him in its own, not even talking about taking control of the most powerful and resentful relic of all times. And after everything he had already been through during these last few months, Jiang Cheng was extremely worried for him.

However, Nie Huisang had assured him that there was no other way they would actually be able to march onto Nightless City, not if they did not want to suffer serious losses. And Jiang Cheng had to begrudgingly agree with this statement.

Ever since Wei Wuxian had been captured and Wen Ruohan started to try to break him with the powers of the Yin iron, there had been a substantial decrease in the numbers of resentful puppets who were joining the battles as the allied forces approached Nightless City. There could have been only one explanation; Wei Wuxian must have been doing his part of the job in distracting the Qishan Wen sect leader enough to stop caring about the battles outside of his palace.

But at what price? Jiang Cheng would have given everything he had and even more to know what exactly was happening behind the walls of the Nightless City palace. The messages Nie Huisang relayed to him were not specific enough to put him at ease. While it was at least good to know his brother was still alive, the letters never mentioned his condition. Jiang Cheng was afraid that once they would find him, they would perhaps not even be able to save him anymore.

He knew Wei Wuxian, that idiot never cared about his own well-being so it could be that he was already dying but just refused to do so before he would defeat Wen Ruohan. From what his brother’s plan, explained by Nie Huisang in details again and again, entailed, it seemed like Wei Wuxian was fully committed to help during the final battle from the inside and face the Qishan Wen sect leader on his own.

Not that it was such a bad plan, Jiang Cheng would have actually liked it if it would not mean most probably losing his brother. He had seen the state Wei Wuxian had been in even before being taken prisoner and he somewhat doubted that he had been treated any better since. Even if his brother had been in perfect condition, the task would have been a hard one indeed, but in this case, it was pure suicide.

And still, Wei Wuxian had been smiling when he had been left behind. That smile and the fond expression in his eyes were still haunting Jiang Cheng. He had known that his brother would do basically anything for his family, but not like this. He did not want him to sacrifice himself for them, and for the whole cultivation world who was shunning him out because of picking up demonic cultivation.

What did they know? Wei Wuxian had no other choice; he had protected Jiang Cheng and lost his golden core, so he was left with no other option but to take hold of what he was left with. The visit to the Burial Mounds, for Jiang Cheng now fully believed that he had been there during the three months he had been missing even though Wei Wuxian himself did not actually admit it, surely did not help in choosing another path.

And now, the allied forces were counting on Wei Wuxian to win them the war. At the same time however, rumours had started about his brother joining Wen Ruohan and working with him behind the scenes all this while. It was ridiculous! How could they believe that just because Wei Wuxian was using a similar – not the same, mind you! – form of cultivation as the Qishan Wen sect leader, it meant that they were cooperating and plotting against the rest of the cultivation world? It was just out of Jiang Cheng’s understanding.

Every time he heard such rumours, he would make sure that the person spreading them would not talk about that topic ever again, Zidian reacting to his red hot anger was usually the only argument needed. He knew that Nie Huisang and Lan Wangji were also working against the rumours spreading but it was a lost battle. Just a handful of them could not stop all people from the allied forces, especially those scared of demonic cultivation in general, from gossiping behind their backs.

Jiang Cheng had already decided and confirmed with his parents and sister that when they would get Wei Wuxian back, for there was no other option that Jiang Cheng would accept but getting his brother back, they would immediately go home to Lotus Pier and hide him there. They would protect him this time, not the other way around. They were in his debt.

That would however be easier said than done. They still did not know if Wei Wuxian and all of them would survive the upcoming battle. Their forces were meagre after long months of war, many lives had been lost and most of the injured soldiers could not go to battle anymore. Their numbers were very small. On the contrary Wen Ruohan’s army was just as imposing as ever; he had not suffered too many loses since he could resurrect the dead the allied forces had not burned to ashes and so he could constantly renew his forces. Moreover, once the Qishan Wen sect soldiers had been turned to puppets, they could not be killed or injured easily, it was really an uphill battle against them.

Seeing this, their own soldiers and cultivators were fearing Wei Wuxian even more, reasoning that he could start doing the same whenever he wanted, they feared becoming puppets themselves. That was utter nonsense but it was hard to explain to them when they did not even know his brother before he had turned to demonic cultivation. It did not help in the slightest that Wei Wuxian had been cold and even cruel at times during the Sunshot campaign, now it was hard to convince anyone that that was not his true character.

That was exactly the reason why Jiang Cheng had to take his brother back to Lotus Pier the first thing after he would be rescued. There could very well be another war lurking in front of them, one that would evolve around Wei Wuxian and his use of demonic cultivation. They had to protect him.

It was getting late and Jiang Cheng finally put his sword down. He really should go to sleep eve if his mind was in too much of a turmoil to rest properly, his body needed it. There was a battle to win tomorrow and it would not do if he was sleeping during the fight. He put the candles out and laid down on his bed, looking at the ceiling of his tent and willing his mind to calm down and drift to sleep.

Chapter Text

Wei Wuxian’s mind was in a haze, he could not tell how long he had been trying to understand the powers of the Yin iron and to take control of it. He knew he was slowly running out of time, Wen Ning had confirmed as much for him when he snuck in to visit him with some more food, water and medicine two more times.

The final siege should have been happening any hour now; he had lost count but Wen Ning had said it was supposed to be tomorrow during his last visit which meant today since Wei Wuxian had fallen asleep once since. And he still could not find any way how to overpower Wen Ruohan and secure a clear victory for the allied forces, not even starting to talk about destroying the Yin iron itself. Once more, despair was growing in his chest.

However, he could not and would not give up. Wen Ning had reminded him that there were still people out there who were counting on him to finish what he had promised to do. There were Jiang Cheng, Jiang Yanli, Uncle Jiang and Madame Yu who he had to protect and help them to get a bright future without a war in it. There were all the people participating in the Sunshot campaign who could lose their lives if he failed, even though they probably did not even know about him or his self-imposed mission. There was the Dafan Wen clan to which Wen Ning belonged and who Wei Wuxian internally promised to protect when Wen Ning had been so kind to him. The Dafan Wen sect disciple had saved his life, now it was Wei Wuxian’s turn to return the favour; he had already told Wen Ning to find Uncle Jiang, Nie Mingjue and Lan Xichen after the battle and request that his clan would be not treated the same way as other Qishan Wen sect prisoners.

And then there was Lan Zhan. Wei Wuxian felt bad for ignoring him all this while and pushing him away. Even though Lan Zhan did not agree with his methods and the use of demonic cultivation, if it could save his life, Wei Wuxian would choose this path all over again. He did not know why but thinking of Lan Zhan was helping him keep his mind sane even through all of Wen Ruohan’s attempts at breaking him.

Wei Wuxian had remembered the song Lan Zhan had sung to him in the cave of the Tortoise of Slaughter and he started humming it himself. It was not the first time he was doing it, he had found out that it was calming him and helping him keep going. It was gentle and soothing and he wondered what it was used for when spiritual energy would be infused into it. Perhaps it was some kind of a healing song, at least he believed that because it had that effect on him.

With the song finished, he felt a bit stronger more encouraged for another attempt at controlling the Yin iron. His eyes found those powerful pieces of metal and he concentrated on them. He knew he was close; he could already feel it deep in his guts. It was just the matter of time before he would breach the last defences and understand the resentment the Yin iron had been emanating. Once he would succeed at that, he would be able to find a way how to control it while not losing his own mind.

His concentration waivered when the door to the room opened slightly and Wen Ning came inside. He quickly and quietly closed it behind himself and run towards Wei Wuxian’s prison cage. By now, Wei Wuxian could tell that it was small, barely large enough for him to curl into a ball and high enough so he would be able to sit, if he had any energy left for that, that was. It also had a massive lock on the door. He did not want to think about it but the image of a feral dog being kept in one of those was insistently coming up in relation to his prison. If it was not scaring him out of his mind, the parallel would have been hilarious.

At least it was close enough to the Yin iron, although it was a double edged sword. While he could study it and see it all the time, Wen Ruohan made sure that Wei Wuxian would be under constant attack by the resentful energy, probably hoping to break his will sooner. When that would happen, he would truly become a dog, one that the Qishan Wen sect leader would have full control over.

Wen Ning scrunched on the ground next to the cage, his face red and gasping for breath, he must have been running. His eyes were the image of urgency and Wei Wuxian became immediately alerted, something must have happened or been happening right now.

He did not have to prompt Wen Ning into talking as the Dafan Wen sect disciple was already relaying his message, the nervousness making him stutter even more than usual: “Young Master Wei, it is time. The allied forces are approaching the city; they are already almost at the gates. Please hold on just a little longer, help is coming!”

Wei Wuxian gave out a sigh of relief he had not known he had been holding inside in anticipation of bad news. Although it was bad news still! The final siege was upon them and he had not yet gotten to the core of controlling the Yin iron. He really was out of time now.

He had no energy to spare to reply to Wen Ning or discuss his plan with him, he could only nod and he continued concentrating on his task. After all, Wen Ning had told him himself, with regret and apology dripping off of his every word, that Wen Ruohan was holding onto the keys of the cage himself and that the Dafan Wen sect disciple could do nothing to open the door on his own. Wei Wuxian could not be saved but the same could not have been said about all the rest of the people currently fighting against the Qishan Wen sect leader.

His determination tripled when images of his family, his friends and of Lan Zhan flooded his head. It was soothing to see them like this, smiling, not bothered about matters of war, happy. Yes, Wei Wuxian knew what he was fighting for and he would not fail. He would not allow himself to fail.

He dove deeper into the raging resentful energy of the Yin iron and was fighting his way towards its source. He was out of time and this was his last chance. Now was the time, now or never.

Chapter Text

Jiang Cheng was standing in front of the gates of Nightless City and he was just itching to finally do something. The Qishan Wen sect soldiers had barricaded themselves inside the city and the allied forces were now having a hard time to break down the gate and to lead the final siege. It was today that this long war would be decided.

He glanced sideways at Lan Wangji. Good, the Second Jade seemed just as eager to already be inside and go search for Wei Wuxian, that was, if a tight grip on his sword and his rigid posture had anything to tell about this matter. Jiang Cheng found out during this last week that he actually had much in common with Lan Wangji. Not that he would ever be such a sticker for rules or knew how to reign in his emotions as effectively, but they apparently cared very much about Wei Wuxian, if for different reasons.

When Jiang Cheng could not understand the fixation and stubbornness that the Second Jade seemed to throw his way whenever Wei Wuxian had been as much as mentioned, Jiang Yanli pulled him away and explained in simple words. After that conversation, nothing was the same for Jiang Cheng anymore. He still had a hard time coming to terms with the realization that Lan Wangji and Wei Wuxian liked each other. What more, they were apparently already smitten and too deep, there was no turning back. Jiang Cheng was wondering if they would get married at this point after the war would be over.

So now at the very least, he understood that both he and Lan Wangji wanted to save Wei Wuxian just as strongly. Even if their interests and kind of love they had for his brother were different, their goal was in end the same. And Jiang Cheng was actually grateful that he had someone so dedicated by his side.

The plan that Nie Huisang had presented them just this morning was simple enough. As soon as the allied forced would breach the front gate and flood the city, he and Lan Wangji were supposed to enter and then go to a little known brothel where Nie Huisang’s insider contact would already be waiting for them.

Jiang Cheng could still not believe that it was in reality Wen Ning who had been sending them daily updates on Wei Wuxian’s condition all this time. He had only seen the disciple a couple of times and Wen Ning did not strike him as a particularly brave, or a strong cultivator for that matter. Then again, he mused, the same could be said for Nie Huisang and he was basically the master mind behind the whole Sunshot campaign. Appearances and first impressions could be misleading, could they not?

So now, here they were, waiting for the plan to finally start. Jiang Cheng was extremely worried, he was afraid that once Wen Ruohan would see their forces, he could use Wei Wuxian as a hostage to stop their advances. Just a week ago, he would have believed that his strong and smart brother would have been able to protect himself and the allied forces would be able to ignore all the threats, but not anymore.

At this moment, when Jiang Cheng knew that Wei Wuxian had no golden core and was apparently exhausted if the letters from Wen Ning were not exaggerating – and Jiang Cheng believed every word, he knew fully well how reckless his brother could be and how unforgiving living it captivity was – Wei Wuxian could be standing at death’s door. And he was still trying to accomplish the rest of his stupid heroic plan to stop Wen Ruohan.

No one, and all the less Jiang Cheng himself, had asked him to sacrifice himself in his attempts at controlling the Yin iron. It had been a suicide mission from the very beginning and yet, Wei Wuxian had still decided to undertake it.

Jiang Cheng had suddenly a very strong urge to drive his fist against the nearest wall, or into a nose of a Qishan Wen sect soldiers, if there were any around – there were not, they were all hiding inside the walls of Nightless City like cowards. Instead, he only balled his fingers into fists and clenched them really tight. If he had known about this part of Wei Wuxian’s plan, he would have never abandoned him in the Nightless City palace with just a very unconvincing promise to come back for him.

He was coming now, but it could very well already be too late, the last letter they have received from Wen Ning had come over a day ago!

As if Lan Wangji could sense his inner turmoil, he said with conviction: “Wei Ying is strong.”

Correction, Jiang Cheng thought, Wei Wuxian had been strong. That was, before he had had to save Jiang Cheng and lose his golden core in the process. The Yunmeng Jiang sect heir supposed that there was still his brother’s demonic cultivation but in the face of the Yin iron, he somehow doubted that it would be of much use. He was going against Wen Ruohan himself!

He sighed, half prepared to throw the fight before the argument really started but still retorted: “Did you forget? He has no golden core anymore. It does not matter how strong he had been before; he is just a normal human right now. And he is facing off with the Qishan Wen sect leader himself! This cannot not end in a disaster. We are talking about my brother after all.”

Lan Wangji looked at him exasperated but there was steel in his eyes. “Wei Ying is strong,” he repeated as if that was the ultimate explanation to everything.

Jiang Cheng looked at Lan Wangji properly this time, anger rising inside of him. Did the Second Jade not understand the situation? Or was he so smitten by Wei Wuxian that he had idolized him and was now under some mistaken impression that his brother was unbeatable?

The angry scolding which had been just on the tip of his tongue died out when Jiang Cheng noticed that Lan Wangji’s shoulders were unnaturally stiff, even for someone from the Gusu Lan sect and that there were small cringes around his eyes, his jaw clenched so tight it must have been painful. He was worried. So perhaps his previous statement had been meant not only to remind Jiang Cheng but mainly to reassure himself. He must have been just as mortified to not have been already inside the walls of Nightless City, looking for his friend.

It made Jiang Cheng reconsider; there were also other types of strength aside for cultivation of spiritual energy, or resentful energy for that matter. If anything, Wei Wuxian was the most stubborn and hearty person that Jiang Cheng had ever known. If anyone could keep his head high despite every adversity, it would be him. He would push through anything at all to get to his goal; sometimes, it actually scared Jiang Cheng quite a bit. But right now, he thought that maybe it was a good thing and that at the very least, his brother was too stubborn to let himself become Wen Ruohan’s puppet.

“I guess so,” Jiang Cheng agreed a bit reluctantly.

Before any of them could say anything more, the allied forces had finally breached the defences and started storming inside the city. The moment of truth was upon them.

Chapter Text

Jiang Yanli had waived goodbye to Jiang Cheng and Lan Wangji and wished them good luck. As always, that was all she could do. She was not strong enough to be of any help in a fight so she had known all too well she would have to stay in the camp, looking after the injured and her parents. What she did not expect however, was that she would get her own battle to fight.

And battle it was indeed because of course her parents did not agree to be left behind themselves. It was what everyone except for them understood. The long months of captivity were not kind on them and they were in no condition to even be walking around, much less fighting a fierce battle. Although their physical injuries were not too serious and were already taken care of properly, mostly healed by now. It was another matter entirely when it came to their overall condition.

They had been starved for the better part of their imprisonment and the diet, when provided, had not been ideal. Jiang Yanli knew it from personal experience. She had only spend a comparatively shorter time in the Nightless City dungeons, yet she could already feel how tired she was all the time, and how weak too. Even with her parents’ strong golden cores, it would take them weeks to be fit and strong again. Jiang Yanli supposed that they would hardly even be able to lift their swords now.

Despite everything, they had been persistently asking to be let out of the medical tent and to join the final siege against the Qishan Wen sect. Jiang Yanli knew fully well why without being given the reason explicitly. It was not out of pride or feeling of duty for the Sunshot campaign and the Yunmeng Jiang sect. Perhaps It would have been before the fall of Lotus Pier. No anymore, this time, it was out of genuine concern and worries for Wei Wuxian. Not only Jiang Cheng and Lan Wangji, her parents also wanted to take part in the rescue.

It took almost two hours and a healer’s and Nie Huisang’s help to convince them that they could not go, they would endanger themselves as well as the mission if they insisted to come along. The mission was simple at first glance but it was in fact extremely dangerous and even the smallest mistake could end it in a disaster.

Jiang Cheng and Lan Wangji would have to penetrate all the way into the very heart of the Nightless City palace, to the room where Wen Ruohan was keeping the Yin iron, and now also the older of her brothers. They would have to free Wei Wuxian and take him away in secret, having the whole Qishan Wen sect distracted by the battle.

Or that was what it should have been like. However, they all knew that Wen Ruohan would be inside the room with Wei Wuxian as well. Not only because he was still trying to break her brother and convince him to join his side, but mostly because he would surely be controlling the Yin iron and his puppets.

That was where their second spy in the Nightless City palace came in. Lan Xichen had only told them yesterday that there was such a man. Meng Yao had been sending them intel even longer than Wen Ning. That was from where the First Jade had gotten all the strategic information and also plans for battles. It had saved them more than once. And so the second part of the plan, the distraction as to say, was on Meng Yao’s shoulders. He was supposed to delay Wen Ruohan so Jiang Cheng and Lan Wangji, with Wen Ning as their guide, could rescue Wei Wuxian before the Qishan Wen sect leader would come for the Yin iron.

It was risky but it was all they got. In that equation, everyone was like a piece on a chess board and would have to move exactly according to the plan. If her parents were to go, they would not be able to keep up and the plan would surely fall to ruins; even like this, it was still not certain that everything would go smoothly, there were simply too many variables which could backfire and the rescue mission would devolve into a fight for their lives.

Jiang Yanli had been prepared to knock her parents out with sleeping drugs if they would not agree to stay put, just as she always had to do when her brothers had gone on a night hunt. Except, this was in no way a simple night hunt from which everyone was sure to come back unscathed. In the end, fortunately enough, the arguments seemed to have convinced them and they begrudgingly agreed to wait for Wei Wuxian in the camp. That however did not mean that they decided to do nothing at all; they insisted to help Jiang Yanli with preparing medical supplies and setting up a bed where Wei Wuxian would be treated once he was with them again.

Everything was set already to admit their patient, the only thing that was missing was Wei Wuxian himself. Jiang Fengmian and Yu Ziyuan were now sitting on another bed in the tent, hugging close together as they had come to do during their imprisonment, offering comfort to each other. There was nothing else for them to do but wait.

Jiang Yanli found it hard to stay put so she was constantly going around and checking that they indeed had everything ready. She had seen in what condition her brother had been back in the throne room and she knew that it had not gotten any better since, quite the contrary really. He would need immediate medical attention as soon as he would be brought back to them. She also knew that there would not be any medics around to help, they would all be too busy tending to the wounded after the final battle. It would all just be on her.

But it was fine, she had a long practice by now, she could perhaps even become a healer in the future. And maybe she should; she knew how reckless Wei Wuxian could be and now he would have no golden core to help him heal his injuries anymore, she could become his personal doctor of a sort.

They have talked just yesterday with all of her family about what the future would look like. Jiang Fengmian was not convinced that he could undertake the position of a sect leader anymore after all of this, and Jiang Cheng had been doing such a good job too. Things would change for the Yunmeng Jiang sect. And for Wei Wuxian most of all people.

Her younger brother had informed them about the rumours and had pleaded with them to agree to protect Wei Wuxian once all of this was over, he had been afraid that their brother would be hunted down because of his demonic cultivation. He did not even have to ask them, it went without any questions that Wei Wuxian was now truly a part of their family, and they would always protect and take care of their own. If her brother had felt like he had had a life debt to pay because of being taken in, their whole family now had the same debt to repay him for saving all of them.

Jiang Yanli was glad; after all those years of tense relationships and very inharmonious family life, they would finally be all together, in peace. She knew it was a selfish wish from their part, perhaps Wei Wuxian would not want to have anything in common with them anymore, perhaps he would decide to accept Lan Wangji’s offer and move with him to Cloud Recesses. But there was still hope that he would give them a second chance so they would be able to make it up to him. Regardless of the outcome of his choice, they first and foremost needed to get him back and nurse him to health.

All that was in the future, now she had to concentrate on the present, or more specifically, a much closer future where Wei Wuxian would be brought back to them. She did not want to accept the possibility that he was not coming back. It would be too painful and she could not lose hope, she knew it would break her. She had to believe that everything would be fine and both her brothers, Lan Wangji and Jin Zixuan would come back to her.

Chapter Text

Lan Wangji had been on pins and needles ever since the rescue operation had started and he and Jiang Cheng had sneaked into Nightless City in search for the indicated inn. No, that was not quite right; he had been restless and wanting to have Wei Ying at his side even before that. He could still not forget how the Yunmeng Jiang sect heir trashed in his arms and angrily shouted at him about how they had all decided to just abandon his brother. There was no lie in that statement. He still felt shame when thinking about the first rescue operation.

He had known even before it had started that Wei Ying had been running the greatest risk and that he had decided to put himself in danger willingly for others’ sake. While Lan Wangji admired and liked this trait of Wei Ying’s, he could not help but to worry. And his worries and horror sky rocked when Jiang Cheng had told him about the missing golden core. It had been the first time in years that Lan Wangji had cried.

He now understood fully well why Wei Ying had picked up demonic cultivation and why he had been so cold to him. He had surely wanted to hide the fact that he had no golden core anymore, for whatever reason that was. He must have thought that Lan Wangji wanted to take him back to Cloud Recesses to imprison and punish him there. He must have misunderstood the Second Jade’s intentions. Lan Wangji did not want anything more than to protect him and help him. Though he apparently failed to communicate this clearly enough.

At first, he had wanted to help Wei Ying to let go of demonic cultivation and pick up his sword again, now he knew better. He would never take away the only protection that Wei Ying had. If he could not use his sword anymore, he needed something to help him get by and to use in case of emergencies. Even if that something was resentful energy. The only problem was that it was harming him and Lan Wangji would have to find a way to minimalize its impacts.

At first, when they had found the other in Yiling, he had been outraged that despite Lan Qiren’s best advice, Wei Ying had still turned to demonic cultivation. Lan Wangji knew it was dangerous and he did not want to lose his friend who had suddenly stopped smiling and bugging him as he had been until that point. Well, he said his friend but Wei Ying was much more to him than that.

It took Lan Wangji three months of desperately searching for him to realize that in fact, he started to think of him as his soulmate. Thinking back, he must have realized it even sooner, back when he had tied his forehead ribbon around both their wrists and also in the Cave of the Tortoise of Slaughter, but it had been almost unconscious. He had thought that Wei Ying had just had that influence on people, making them act just as recklessly as he himself did. But now, remembering everything, he had been smitten with the younger boy from the very beginning and his affection had only grown since then.

The realization that he was in fact in love with Wei Ying did not come suddenly, no, it was more of a gradual thing which had fully formed the moment he was flying away from Nightless City, abandoning his husband to his own devices. His heart had broken at that exact moment and it had not been mended until this day. He knew it would only stop hurting when he would have his husband in his arms, finally safe and sound.

He was now glad for the shared forehead ribbon. Even if Wei Ying probably did not know the true meaning, he himself knew it only too well. They had already been promised to each other for a long time, they were husbands, no matter how weird that could sound to others. And Lan Wangji had failed to protect his husband.

After the realization, it had been extremely difficult for him to just stay in the camp, comfortable and safe, while Wei Ying had been fighting their battles for them. He had wanted to storm the Nightless City palace and free his husband at once. Then, he wanted to finally make his true feelings known and confess his love.

He would also have to tell Wei Ying about their marriage. It was making him ashamed that he had not explained it earlier. What if Wei Ying did not want to be in this kind of union with him? What if he would ask Lan Wangji to annul the bond and accept divorce? The Second Jade knew that if Wei Ying would not feel comfortable about the feelings forced on him, Lan Wangji would free him from those shackles even if it would break his own heart all over again. He would never imprison his husband in the same way his father had done to his mother.

The only thing which held him back from joining his husband’s side as a prisoner, for he himself would never been able to rescue him, that much he knew himself, were Nie Huisang’s reassurances and insistence. The spy the Qinghe Nie sect heir had in Nightless City had been sending them messages every day and stating that Wei Ying had still been alive at the moment of their writing and that he wanted to see his mission through. Lan Wangji trusted his husband, he knew that once he had set his mind on something, there was no convincing him to abandon his convictions. And so he just stayed in the camp together with a very grumpy and eager to spring into action Jiang Cheng, waiting for their chance.

It was finally here and Lan Wangji felt like he could not wait even for a second longer. Still, they had to be very careful while sneaking through the hallways and servants’ corridors inside the Nightless City palace following a very nervous looking Wen Ning. They were so close now yet they still had to move slowly in order to avoid being caught. Even though there was a battle raging outside, there were still soldiers and guards in the palace as well.

Lan Wangji had immediately remembered the Qishan Wen sect disciple when he had seen him in the inn. It had been the one which had taken part in the night hunt against the Waterborne Abyss back during the guest lectures in Cloud Recesses. It felt like a lifetime ago when Wei Ying had saved this particular youth. The Second Jade was grateful that it had in fact been someone from the Qishan Wen sect and that the disciple was now on their side, be it because of his life debt or another reason entirely. At least Wei Ying had not been here completely alone.

Finally, they arrived at a closed off door guarded by two soldiers and a swirling cloud of resentful energy. Wen Ning stopped and looked back at Lan Wangji and Jiang Cheng with unsure eyes: “Young Master Lan, Young Master Jiang, we are here. Young Master Wei is being held in the room up ahead. The Yin iron is there as well. I can only help you until here, this is the only entrance, I cannot get you inside. I am sorry. If it was only me…”

Wen Ning looked very apologetic so Lan Wangji hurried to reassure him: “Young Master Wen, thank you. We will take it up from here.”

Wen Ning nodded, still unsure and nervous. Lan Wangji looked at Jiang Cheng and he did not even have to say anything at all.

They both moved at the same time, each taking one guard and neutralizing him. Then, the Yunmeng Jiang sect heir kicked the door open. They were finally here, ready to rescue Wei Ying. Lan Wangji could only hope that they were not too late.

Chapter Text

Wei Wuxian had only vaguely realized that Wen Ning had already left, he hoped that the Dafan Wen disciple went to join his family, to hide and only come out once the battle would be finished. It was only a passing thought but Wei Wuxian wanted to somehow make it up to him for taking care of him this whole week even while he had been running a great personal risk, and not only for himself but for his whole family. Hopefully, once the allied forces would win, Wen Ning and the Dafan Wen clan would be able to ask for help and support from one of the great sects. They had not participated in the war; they should not be blamed for the faults of one of their distant relatives and pursued only because of their shared surname.

Wei Wuxian’s entire being was focused on straining all his remaining forces and willpower on controlling the Yin iron, or more like understanding how he could actually control it. He was close, he knew it but there was just that last push left for him to take control of the relic and not be overwhelmed.

He could tell that the final siege must have already started because suddenly, nearly all the pressure of the resentful energy he had been putting up a fight against ever since being locked in this room withdrew away from him. Until now, he did not even realize just how suffocating it had been, how hard it had been to defend himself and his free will, not until the weight had been lifted and he could breathe freely again. It was so liberating he almost wanted to cry.

He could however not enjoy himself and rest or gather his forces for that matter. Not when he knew that his friends and family needed him. They were all somewhere out there, fighting, he also needed to help. So he only took a deep, steadying breath and continued to battle for the control of the Yin iron.

It was so incredibly easy this time when he did not have to divide his attention between defending himself and attacking at the same time. It took only a short moment and he was finally in.

Not literally of course, he could still not move a muscle and was caged like a wild animal, but he finally understood how the control of the Yin iron worked. It was all about will and manipulating the resentful energy outside of his body; not his own like he had been doing until now. He did not need to take in anymore resentment than he already had, it was all about commanding the overwhelming resentful energy abundant in every corner of Nightless City, there was plenty of it all around and more was being produced due to the battle raging outside.

Wei Wuxian could now feel all the resentment there was, every single wisp of it, every negative emotion of all the people currently living inside the Nightless City walls, and also every single death, both on the sides of the Qishan Wen sect and the allied forces. Every lost life was quickly followed by a flare of resentful energy as the body of the cultivator was raised from the dead and controlled by the Yin iron. There was so much, too much in fact. It was threatening to overwhelm him and never let go.

He felt like he was walking on eggshells, with his sanity on the line. If he made one wrong step, he would become a puppet himself; a living one but without any free will.

Wei Wuxian knew however that he could not let himself be overcome by the Yin iron. No, he had to control it instead. He had to stop this madness; especially the creation of new puppets and then the puppets from fighting. Only then would he be able to concentrate on the next task, destroying the Yin iron for good.

Once he prodded deeper, trying to actually control the Yin iron, he was met with a fierce resistance. He knew that it must have been Wen Ruohan.

As soon as the first surprise went away and Wei Wuxian failed to take advantage of it, his mind too slow and tired from everything that he had been through, the attacking resentful energy was back. Wen Ruohan retaliated with unparalleled strength. Wei Wuxian would never be able to muster so much of it, he was exhausted from everything that had happened to him in the last months and it was now that it was all catching up to him.

He swore internally but did not give way. He would fight to the bitter end, he owed it to his family to not give up. For one, he had to keep them safe to the best of his abilities – they would never be safe as long as the Qishan Wen sect remained in power and the Yin iron would not be destroyed – and he still considered himself as part of the Yunmeng Jiang sect, it would not do if the head disciple was not able to abide by its motto. He had to attempt the impossible. He had to prevail or die trying, there was no other option in his heart.

Images of everyone he had ever known flashed in front of his eyes, giving him courage and lifting his spirits. He knew he was fighting for them and that he was fighting together with them, even though he could not see them right now, they were just beyond the walls of the palace, or perhaps already inside, searching for the Qishan Wen sect leader. The knowledge gave him strength to push on.

He put all his willpower to use and slowly, oh so slowly, he was gaining ground on Wen Ruohan. He thought he could hear him scream in anger and the resentful energy once again lashed out onto him. But it was of no importance anymore, he was standing his ground and still pushing back.

He did not know how long he and Wen Ruohan had been fighting each other, it could have been seconds, minutes or hours in the real world. He really could not tell because in this special space created just by resentful energy, the Yin iron and his and the Qishan Wen sect leader’s wills, time did not flow in the same way. Or at least Wei Wuxian assumed that since he had no way of knowing for sure. And did it even matter in the end? He just had to finish this as soon as possible.  

He could still feel how people were dying and being resurrected as empty puppets controlled by resentment. He could only hope that his effort in not letting them go to the battle anymore was stronger than Wen Ruohan’s commands for them to join his army. It was truly a battle of wills; while his physical body was broken and useless right now, that was not the case for the spirit. And his will seemed to have been stronger than the other’s.

He was not on his own after all. Every time he waivered, there was someone to support him, every time he stumbled, there was someone to help him out.

“A-Xian!” Jiang Yanli was smiling at him with gentle eyes and her arms wide open.

“Wei Wuxian, do not do anything reckless. You are strong, so prove it!” Of course Jiang Cheng’s encouragement would be just as crude as his usual self.

“A-Ying, I am counting on you. Remember, ‘Attempt the impossible’.” Uncle Jiang had always had a way to state the most important. And Wei Wuxian would forever listen to him, so attempting the impossible it would be.

“Protect them with your life!” Madame Yu’s words stung as all previous times but right now, Wei Wuxian was grateful for the reminder. This way, he knew what he was fighting for and that he could not fail under any circumstances. His life was a small price to pay for the lives and futures of the family which saved him previously and gave him a place to call home.

“Brother Wei, if your plan succeeds, we will be able to end the Sunshot campaign with lesser losses than we had anticipated.” Of course, Nie Huisang was right. He had to do his best, there were people who depended on him. There were other families who could lose their loved ones.

And then there was Lan Zhan. The perfect, pristine, righteous and unmovable Second Jade, smiling slightly at him with a worried and soft expression, much like he had done in the Cave of the Tortoise of Slaughter. Wei Wuxian felt like he was running a fever again; his vision was blurry and he could not remember Lan Zhan’s features all too well, he could not focus on them, not when they were barely recognisable. But he knew it was him because the image was humming that peculiar and lovely tune, the one that was surely used for healing and lifting one’s spirit.

Wei Wuxian started humming along and as he was gaining more ground and his determination never wavered again, his voice was becoming steadier. The song was overtaking even the screaming of the resentful energy in his head and he relaxed into it all the while pushing Wen Ruohan back.

Just a little bit more and he would be there. Just a little more and he would snatch the control of the Yin iron from Wen Ruohan’s hands. He was close. He smiled at the blurry figure of the Gusu Lan sect disciple. He knew the end was close.

“Goodbye, Lan Zhan. You will never know that I have come to love you.”

Chapter Text

Jiang Cheng could not wait a second longer when Wen Ning showed him the door behind which he would find his brother. Although the door looked sturdy and was shrouded in resentful energy, he immediately run towards it. The amount of resentment surrounding it was truly worrisome, it was almost as if it was guarded not only by the guards which he and Lan Wangji had already taken out but also by another layer of protection.

He had no time to think of a perfect way to neutralize the resentful energy, he had a feeling that Wei Wuxian needed him right at that exact moment. His brother could not wait for him to think of a better way to get inside. Jiang Cheng did not want to touch the resentment with his hands so he redirected his spiritual energy down, into his feet and kicked the door open with a single swing of his right foot.

One look inside confirmed that he had been correct about Wei Wuxian being in a tight spot. It took him only a fraction of a second to spot the cage Wen Ning had told them Wei Wuxian had been held in and to see that it was empty. His eyes immediately took in the whole room, searching for the familiar black and red robes. He felt his heart being squeezed dry with worry that they were too late already and that Wei Wuxian was no longer in the room or alive for that matter.

Luckily, in the next moment, he saw Wen Ruohan standing next to a weird looking altar, holding someone up by their hair and dragging them even closer to the stones covered dried lava. The altar was glowing, the light pulsating in a rhythm of a heartbeat as splotches of not so dried lava lazily burned all around it. Jiang Cheng did not even need to look closer to know that the Qishan Wen sect leader was holding his brother. Again, just like before when he had cowardly run away and let Wei Wuxian be captured in the stead of the rest of his family.

It took him only a second more to understand the situation fully. There were several corpses on the ground. They were apparently not puppets; they were not moving nor showing any signs of waking up. And when Wen Ruohan turned around, disturbed by the door being kicked down, Jiang Cheng could see unfiltered rage on his face. Could it be that Wei Wuxian had actually succeeded and was now in control of the Yin iron so that the Qishan Wen sect leader could not resurrect any more puppets?

And then Jiang Cheng’s gaze fell upon his brother’s figure and he screamed in rage and horror. The last time he had seen Wei Wuxian, the other had already not been looking too healthy but now, his complexion was completely white, he looked like a corpse really. Only the knowledge that the dead bodies on the ground were still not getting up reassured Jiang Cheng that his brother was still stubbornly clinging to life. For how long however?

Lan Wangji sprang into action a heartbeat earlier than him. They both pointed their swords at the Qishan Wen sect leader and half run half flew towards him. A fleeting thought invaded Jiang Cheng’s mind and he almost laughed, it seemed like the Gusu Lan sect disciples could run after all! It was the first time he saw the Second Jade not move gracefully and with thought-out and calculated movement. He was sure that if he was able to see Lan Wangji’s face right then, it would reflect his own urgency and fear.

Wen Ruohan stopped screaming and looked at them with fury filled eyes. They have successfully averted his attention away from Wei Wuxian although he had never let go of his prisoner and was still clutching Wei Wuxian’s hair in his hand. His other hand now moved almost lazily as he summoned resentful energy and formed a wall in the middle of the room, right between himself and Jiang Cheng and Lan Wangji. It seemed like even though Wei Wuxian had some control over the Yin iron, the Qishan Wen sect leader was still a powerful demonic cultivator even without the full use of the relic.

Jiang Cheng braced himself and continued running towards the wall of resentful energy, hoping to be able to go through it somehow. Perhaps Wei Wuxian would help at the last second despite being unconscious now? It was his rescue after all, he should at least give them a sign if he was still alive, the tension and worry were making Jiang Cheng slower and more maladroit than ever.

Both he and Lan Wangji crashed into the wall and were pushed back violently, flying back first and landing few steps away. Wen Ruohan sneered at them over the resentment and turned away, dragging Wei Wuxian to the altar again, seemingly undisturbed by the attacking pair of cultivators.

And he had in fact no reason to worry because once Jiang Cheng scrambled onto his feet and attacked the resentful energy again, the result was the same and he ended up on his back with the air pushed out of his lungs. He could not get over the wall to his brother. He tried several more times, more and more desperate, but to no avail. Wei Wuxian was right in front of him, yet it felt like he was light years away and unattainable.

Jiang Cheng only made a brief pause in his efforts to see how Lan Wangji was faring. But he quickly looked back to Wen Ruohan because the Second Jade was in no better position than him. And his expression of utter horror and grief froze Jiang Cheng to his bones. It was just like before; they were so close to rescuing Wei Wuxian and yet they were so far at the same time.

He looked around, trying to find anything else he could use to get over the wall of resentful energy or any other way to reach Wen Ruohan before he would do whatever he wanted to do with the still unconscious – no, not dead, Jiang Cheng refused to even think about such possibility, his brother was strong, he would survive this and annoy him to no end in no time – Wei Wuxian who looked like a puppet with its strings cut. Jiang Cheng had never seen him more vulnerable and weak and it was breaking his heart and making his vision become red with fury.

And then it happened. The thing that Jiang Cheng feared the most.

The Qishan Wen sect leader threw Wei Wuxian onto the altar, only narrowly avoiding having him land in the lava. He lifted his hands over the three pieces of metal floating in the air – Jiang Cheng had only now noticed them but he guessed that it must have been the Yin iron – and he started moving them in elaborated patterns. Jiang Cheng did not know what exactly he was trying to do but he feared that he would find out soon, and that he would not like it.

He heard an agonized scream by his side and a white robe flashed by him, throwing himself onto the wall of resentful energy only to be thrown right back. He could tell that Lan Wangji was feeling the same helplessness he himself had been. How could they help Wei Wuxian? They had to think about something quick lest it would be too late once and for all.

Resentment gathered around the Yin iron and then slowly, as if Jiang Cheng was watching it in slow motion, it headed towards his brother. His eyes widened in horror and he knew he was shouting but he could no hear anything at all, only the overwhelming noise of the blood rushing in his ears.

“Wei Wuxian!”

Suddenly, everything stopped. Even the resentful energy seemed to hesitate, not sure what it was supposed to do anymore and then in dispersed into thin air.

It took Jiang Cheng several seconds to notice that Wen Ruohan was no longer standing above the altar but was now laying on the ground, right next to Wei Wuxian. In his place, there was another person, holding a sword from which blood was lazily dripping onto the ground.

The wall of resentful energy fell down and Jiang Cheng did not think about anything else but to go to his brother’s side and check for any signs of life. He run before he even consciously decided to move.

Chapter Text

Lan Wangji felt like he had already lost his mind due to worries and desperate need to check on Wei Ying. The image of his husband laying lifelessly on the ground was too much for him, he had to make sure that Wei Ying was alright, that he was still breathing, that he was alive and he had not come too late.

For the whole week, he held himself back only because Nie Huisang had repeatedly reassured him that his beloved was fine and that he wanted to keep on fighting. However, seeing Wei Ying now, this broken and pale, this still, he was regretting not doing anything earlier. Surely there had been something he could have done.

No matter, he could not change the past, he should live in the present and look forward to the future. Hopefully there was still some with Wei Ying in it. Now that the wall of resentful energy had fallen, he needed to be by his beloved’s side. He literally flew over the remnants of the dissipating resentment, his target in sight and approaching.

Lan Wangji fell onto his knees right beside his unconscious husband and slowly extended his shaking hand to touch him and check if he was breathing. At first, he could not feel anything on his fingers, no air touched them as he was holding them under Wei Ying’s nose. His heart stopped and he pressed his hand closer.

He almost melted in relief and his heart started racing violently when he finally felt the faintest sign of breathing. It was a lot less regular and deep than he would like but it was a definite proof that his husband was still alive, stubbornly clinging to life. He did not even think twice and he was already transferring spiritual energy, pushing everything he had into Wei Ying’s still and cold body.

He cradled the younger boy in his lap and tried to make him as comfortable as possible. He would have liked to pick him up into his arms immediately and head to the camp seeking medical help. But he was afraid that his husband was too weak to be moved right now, it could do him more bad than good. So he concentrated on providing spiritual energy and hopefully making Wei Ying stronger before they would move him.

Jiang Cheng fell onto his knees beside him and was taking everything in, his eyes watching every inch of Wei Ying’s body, probably looking for any life threatening injuries. His expression was so distorted in worry and horror that Lan Wangji would not have recognized him if he did not already know it was him.

It took an eternity before anything else happened. Lan Wangji’s eyes never strayed from Wei Ying’s face as he was looking for any signs of colour returning to his cheeks or the tiniest relaxing of his pained and stiff expression. He did not even look at Jiang Cheng when the other whispered, his voice hardly above a whisper, full of pain, but hopeful.

“Is… Is he alive?”

It took another eternity for Lan Wangji to nod his head in response, he did not trust his voice right now. He felt tears running down from his eyes and he just knew that everything, all his pain and heartbreak, would be heard if he opened his mouth. Even though Jiang Cheng was already like a family to him, Wei Ying was his husband after all, he could still not stand the thought of showing himself this vulnerable and crumbling in front of him.

He just focused on his task of delivering spiritual energy. He had already known that it would be hard with the younger boy having no golden core to keep the power inside of him and circulate it around. But he had not imagined it would feel like this. He hated to have to circulate his spiritual energy through the empty meridians with his own power.

He hated how when he reached, mostly unconsciously, towards the place where there had previously been a bright light and gentle warmth, there was now nothing but empty space calling out for him. He suddenly recalled how he had been giving spiritual energy to Wei Ying in the Cave of the Tortoise of Slaughter and how the other’s golden core had then been singing and responding to him even though Wei Ying had been close to death. Nothing like that was happening now, there was only cold emptiness filled with resentful energy that Lan Wangji had to push through to even be able to do anything at all.

And the worst part was that Wei Ying was still hardly breathing and he was oh so still and cold. It looked like he was already dead or at least approaching the gates of another life at alarming speed. He was slipping from Lan Wangji’s grasp and he did not know what else he could do.

He was silently begging his beloved to come back to him. He had not yet had an opportunity to tell him how he felt about him!

Suddenly, Wei Ying’s eyelids fluttered and then opened the tiniest bit. Lan Wangji could not tell if he was now conscious or if he was imagining it. Still he tried to attract his beloved’s attention in hopes to confirm for good that he was alright, or at least as fine as he could be under the circumstances.

“Wei Ying?” he asked carefully and his heart skipped a beat when the other’s eyes shifted towards him and his lips twitched upwards.

“Lan… Zhan… love.. sing… a song…”

His voice disappeared as if he was too weak to even keep himself conscious for another moment. Then his eyes fell closed again and he became completely still just like before. The phantom smile he had almost managed to put on his lips was nowhere to be seen again and Lan Wangji was mourning the loss.

Lan Wangji was overjoyed when the first thing he heard from his husband’s mouth was his name. Still, Wei Ying’s voice was a breathy, a hardly audible whisper really, and Lan Wangji regretted that he could not hear every single word. At least he understood the most important part, or so he hoped.

It reminded him of the time they had both spent in the Cave of the Tortoise of Slaughter again. At that time, Wei Ying had also been weak and delirious with fever. But Lan Wangji still remembered his request. His beloved had asked him to sing him a song and he had done that. He had hummed and played for him the song he had composed just for him, the only expression of his confused feelings he could have mustered at that point.

Now he knew better. The song was actually his heartfelt confession to his husband. And Wei Ying was asking him to sing it to him again. Of course he would do that, it was the least that he could do if it would help Wei Ying to keep fighting for his life. Just like before.

He leaned down and kissed his beloved’s forehead which was sticky with sweat and dirt; he did not mind at all. Then he cradled the younger boy closer to himself until Wei Ying’s head was safely tugged against his collarbone and his ear was just beside Lan Wangji’s mouth. He started humming the song that his beloved had requested.

Tears were still streaming out of his eyes and he was silently praying for Wei Ying to come back to him. He wanted to do more, so much more but it seemed like this was the only thing he could do right now.

“What are you doing! We need to get him to a healer right away! Giving him spiritual energy will not help without a golden core.”

Lan Wangji was startled from his thoughts by Jiang Cheng’s urgent voice. Despite the Yunmeng Jiang sect heir’s words, he was already holding Wei Ying’s free hand and passing his own spiritual energy, helping Lan Wangji circulate it around.

Then everything happened fast. Lan Wangji cradled Wei Ying tighter into his embrace and stood up, helped by the Yunmeng Jiang sect heir. They both continued to pass their spiritual energy in a desperate hope that it would help at least a little bit. With resolute strides, he headed out of the room, careful not to jostle his husband too much. He never stopped humming the song as tears were falling down from his eyes incessantly, dripping onto Wei Ying’s pale face.

Chapter Text

Wei Wuxian was extremely happy that his vision of Lan Zhan agreed to sing him the song he needed to ground himself. Although he had successfully managed to take control of the Yin iron due to the fact that Wen Ruohan’s consciousness suddenly disappeared and he had had a clear field, he still had one last task to accomplish before he could let go of everything and finally fully succumb to his exhaustion.

It was not as if anyone would miss him after he would close his eyes for good. Even though, it occurred to him suddenly and he would have laughed if he had not been so tired, his eyes had been closed for a long time already, only his consciousness remained awake and even that was questionable at this point. He felt too spread out and too tired to care anymore.

The only ones who could miss him were his family and they did not actually have any reason to. He had accomplished his mission of protecting them. Madame Yu had clearly said that he should give up his life for them and he had long accepted his fate. They would not mourn him too much surely. He had always been only a son of a servant, and the Yunmeng Jiang clan had many other servants to take his place. He did not have to worry about the Jiang family to not be protected. They would certainly get a new head disciple, someone better and stronger than his coreless self, so the juniors would not have any reason to miss him either.

Wei Wuxian’s heart hurt when he wondered whether Lan Zhan would miss him. They had not been friends during the time they had spent together in Cloud Recesses, not really. Wei Wuxian had thought of it that way but it had been only his selfish wish, he knew how annoyed Lan Zhan had been with him, the relationship was purely one sided and he was the one pushing everything onto the Second Jade. And he had been ignoring him and pushing him away during the whole Sunshot campaign too, brushing away his concern as if it was nothing, Lan Zhan must hate him at this point.

But still, he was singing him that special song that he loved so much. Lan Zhan was simply too good. Even though he could not stand him, he was still indulging him now when he knew he was so close to death.

Wei Wuxian was a bit sad that he would leave this world just as he had come to it, with nothing; no one caring and with no one missing him, not really. Then again, it was a good thing, no one would be sad that he would be gone. Perhaps Madame Yu or Lan Qiren would even be happy that he would not be able to cause any trouble anymore.

Wei Wuxian shook his head internally to get rid of such thoughts. It really did not matter anyway, he had other things to worry about than his own life. He had to protect his family and that could only be done if he destroyed the Yin iron just as he had planned.

He used the song to help him gather his last strength – it really must have been some kind of a healing song and it worked so much better when Lan Zhan was singing to him. Perhaps he knew what Wei Wuxian had to do now and wanted to help him in this way? Sweet and good Lan Zhan – it was time. Now that Wen Ruohan was not standing against him, it would be a bit easier, though the Yin iron was putting up a fight of its own and it was sucking away Wei Wuxian’s strength to keep it at bay. He did not want to let it go on a loose without a master, there were high chances that the Yin iron would act on its own, following the Qishan Wen sect leader’s last commands to resurrect puppets.

The power of the relic was overwhelming and Wei Wuxian could understand why it had driven Wen Ruohan insane. It was attacking his consciousness nonstop and he did his best to not be overcome by it for he did not want to end up being controlled by it as the Qishan Wen sect leader had been. It was now clear to him that it had been the will of the Yin iron all this while and not Wen Ruohan who had wagered war and caused so much resentful energy to be released to the world.

It had been the Yin iron all along, it wanted to feed on the misery of people and the demonic cultivator just did its bidding, unconsciously or not.

Wei Wuxian wanted to cry and to laugh at the same time. Everything that happened, all the lost lives, distorted families, all the resentment; it was all just to power up the Yin iron. They should have realized earlier, perhaps then it would have been possible to save everyone by tackling the issue. He was sure that if the three pieces of the Yin iron were not reunited, the effects would not have been this devastating. One piece would not have had enough power to cause so much damage.

He realized at that point that even if he was to give up his life trying, he would not be able to destroy the Yin iron. It was a force of nature; he had once heard a legend about its creation and now he thought that there must have been more truth to it than anyone realized. The Yin iron had been forged from a piece of iron which had been saturated by resentful energy. The relic had only been broken apart by several high ranking cultivators giving up their lives to appease it and then it had been hidden, each piece separately, never to be put together again.

Or at least that was what should have never come to pass. Not that Wen Ruohan heeded the warnings of the past. He still gathered three pieces of the relic and the Yin iron now had a will of its own. He had been such a fool! And Wei Wuxian as well for thinking he could actually destroy something this powerful. The best he could do was to control it as long as the pieces were not put apart again.

How could he do that thought? He felt like he would not live long enough to be able to accomplish this. How could he let others know about what he had found out? He had to warn someone to store the pieces separately and put up wards to protect people from their evil influence.

But how could he do that when he could not even manage to open his eyes much less speak anymore? He was lamenting his weakness. Surely there was something he could do.

The Yin iron itself was not making his job any easier by fighting against his control and trying to suck into it even more resentful energy. Wei Wuxian could now hardly think anymore because the voices in his ears were so loud. It was not unlike what he had lived through in the Burial Mounds, yet it was so different. He was starting to wear out and he felt his consciousness fading.

He tried to focus on the song Lan Zhan was still humming to him. It took him an eternity to gather his thoughts but it worked, his mind cleared a bit and he was able to focus enough to come up with a desperate way to weaken the Yin iron at least a little bit; and also perhaps to let someone know what his intentions were and what they should do so that the relic would be subdued.

With an enormous effort, he put every ounce of his remaining strength into one last attempt. He pushed back against the Yin iron and willed the connection between the pieces to crumble. Then, with the last of his consciousness, he commanded the pieces to separate and fly apart from each other. That was all he could do. There was nothing more left in him, but also nothing more for him to do. He could finally rest.

Chapter Text

Jiang Cheng was holding his brother’s wrist as Wei Wuxian was being carried away in Lan Wangji’s arms. He could not understand why the unapproachable Second Jade did suddenly not mind touching someone, Jiang Cheng clearly remembered that he used to glare at anyone who so much as came too close to him. Yet here he was, hugging Wei Wuxian close to his chest even thought that should have been Jiang Cheng’s duty and privilege.

He was doing his best to not feel offended. It helped that he was still holding his brother’s wrist, continuously passing spiritual energy. He was not sure that it could help when Wei Wuxian had no golden core to accept it but he was not about to give up so easily. Perhaps it would actually help heal his wounds or at least take some of the pain which his brother surely must have been in away.

He could not tell how bad Wei Wuxian’s condition really was. There had been no time to examine him closely so he could only guess. However, he was pretty certain that it had been bad even before he had come to Nightless City to save them; with the war going on and him fighting in nearly every battle, he must have been exhausted at best. Wei Wuxian also never went to the infirmary which now worried Jiang Cheng to no end. They needed to get him to his sister as soon as possible.

Suddenly, three things happened simultaneously that stopped Jiang Cheng and Lan Wangji in place.

There was a very loud sound and a wind blew past them, carrying with it some resentful energy. It came from behind them and Jiang Cheng turned around more on instinct than by his own will. He was ready to fight if there was any danger. He never let go of Wei Wuxian’s wrist however and the flow of his spiritual energy did not falter.

Jiang Cheng watched in awe and fear how resentful energy gathered and swirled around the altar where the Yin iron was. Or had been. Because the three pieces were now levitating as if in slow motion further and further away from it, each in a different direction. It looked very eerie. And then, Jiang Cheng realized that they had in fact been blown and teared away, most probably by Wei Wuxian when they landed on the ground, far away from each other, each in one corner of the room.

He took all of that in in just a fraction of a second and he was already turning around again because there was a voice coming from behind him. It was Lan Xichen who was standing in-between the door, right next to a distressed and scared looking Wen Ning. He was however not looking at Lan Wangji with Wei Wuxian in his arms or at Jiang Cheng. Lan Xichen’s eyes were fixed on the altar, or more precisely on the person who was still standing next to it with a bloodied sword in his hand.

“Meng Yao?” Lan Xichen asked, shocked.

Jiang Cheng had no patience to deal with this, they had to get Wei Wuxian to Jiang Yanli immediately. He wanted to prompt Lan Wangji to start moving again but then he noticed that the wrist he had been holding all this while had no pulse anymore. For a heartbeat, he stilled, his breath held in in order to not miss any trepidation under his fingers. It could not be, it just could not! He must have been mistaken, his brother could not be without a pulse. Wei Wuxian had been just fine a second ago; well, perhaps not fine but definitely alive!

Jiang Cheng shifted his hand a little bit, his fingers frantically searching. But he came out empty handed, there was nothing, not even the smallest flutter. Nothing at all. His eyes darted towards Wei Wuxian’s chest and a wave of dread had completely overcome him. His brother was not breathing either!

No, it could not be! Wei Wuxian could not die, not now when they were so close to finally saving him and getting him to safety!

“Wei Wuxian!” Jiang Cheng roared, his voice more a raw scream than true words. But he continued his scolding in more articulate words, desperate, angry, pleading: “Do not date to die on us! You cannot die, do you hear me?”

He could not say anything more because he choked on a sob and realized that he was wailing just as he started pushing more and more of his spiritual energy into the lifeless body of his brother. He hoped to somehow kick start Wei Wuxian’s heart again or convince him to start breathing by whatever means necessary.

Lan Wangji seemed to have finally realized that there was something wrong and looked down. Jiang Cheng saw horror bloom in his eyes as he presumably noticed that Wei Wuxian was not breathing anymore. An inarticulate sound of pure agony – which could have perhaps been interpreted as ‘Wei Ying!’ if Jiang Cheng had the mind to actually try to understand it – teared itself from his throat and a tears started running down his cheeks; he was crying, the same as Jiang Cheng, only silently.

Then, Jiang Cheng almost let go of his brother’s wrist when he felt an incredibly strong burst of spiritual energy from Lan Wangji which came with another agonized scream. He was transferring all that to Wei Wuxian and Jiang Cheng was actually afraid that the Second Jade had just given away everything he had. He doubled his own efforts, begging Wei Wuxian and praying to all the known and unknown gods there were that his brother’s heart would start beating again and his lungs would gasp for breath.

Something must have worked, either the extra spiritual energy, or his prayers, or his scolding, or his and Lan Wangji’s desperate calls of Wei Wuxian’s name, or anything else really. Either way, Jiang Cheng almost melted with relief as he felt an almost unnoticeable twitch under his fingers. And then, there was a second one, and a third. With impossibly big hope, he looked carefully and saw that his brother’s chest was now raising and falling, more and more steadily with each intake of breath. Wei Wuxian was alive again.

If Lan Wangji had not started walking away, almost running really, Jiang Cheng would have crumbled to the ground where he stood. He could not believe how close he had been to losing his brother, again, for good this time.

Only the strong grip he still had on Wei Wuxian’s wrist and the fact that Lan Wangji was taking his brother away, dragging him behind them at the same time, made Jiang Cheng move forward.

From behind them, he could hear Lan Xichen calling after them but he did not mind it and neither Lan Wangji seemed to have noticed. They were both of the same mind, nothing was more important than taking Wei Wuxian somewhere safe and having a doctor tend to him. Everything else could wait, the war could wait; hell, the whole world could wait for all that Jiang Cheng cared. He only had one brother after all.

Chapter Text

Yu Ziyuan was sitting in her husband’s embrace. She was still trembling as a leaf but her tears had long dried. She was on pins and needles because ever since the battle started, there had been many news about the development on the battlefield but there were none about her children. She had no idea how Jiang Cheng and Wei Wuxian were doing and she felt her anguish rise with each passing second.

Should they not be already back? Had something happened to them? Had the rescue operation been successful or were her children facing a terrible danger, maybe Wen Ruohan himself, while she was sitting here, comfortably huddled in Jiang Fengmian’s arms? The fact that Jiang Yanli was running around in circles, checking that they were prepared continuously while being completely quiet and not even shooting them a single glance, was not making her any calmer.

She felt like her daughter was judging her for causing all of this. And it had truly been her fault, at least the situation regarding Wei Wuxian. She would not go as far as blaming herself for the war as such, that one was entirely on the Qishan Wen sect leader’s shoulders. Nevertheless, I had been her who had groomed Wei Wuxian into the person who he was now, someone who would truly sacrifice his own life in exchange for theirs.

Finally, she could really not bear it anymore and she disentangled herself from her husband’s side and stood up resolutely. Even knowing that she would probably be of no help, she still had to do something. It was her children they were taking about!

Jiang Yanli’s eyes immediately landed on her and Yu Ziyuan was taken aback. Not because they were red from all the crying both of them had done, but she stopped frozen still realizing that her daughter was looking at her with determination in her eyes, and strength she had never seen her express before. It was so unexpected that she actually took half a step back before realizing that she should be the one holding herself together and not put the burden onto Jiang Yanli.

She straightened her spine, something she now barely remembered how to do after more than half a year of captivity and her eyes became clear and hard as steel. Only her heart was still tender and raw, so much unlike the time before the fall of Lotus Pier. It was the best she could muster at the moment and she could only hope that her reputation as the Purple Spider would conceal the rest that her will could not.

She had changed, for the better she thought, and she did not really want to go back, at least not entirely. She had to be strong and relentless, that was true, but that sternness and coldness should not apply to her own family, not anymore. Once she had realized she had feelings inside of her, love for her family and so much more, she just could not treat them the same way she had been all this while.

But it was fine, no one could see into her heart, it was her behaviour that everyone would judge. And she made sure that she appeared as strong and prideful as she had had been before all of this. It was hard and she did not really feel too comfortable in her own skin, however, if it meant that she would convince Jiang Yanli to let her go, it would all be worth it.

She looked Jiang Yanli directly into her eyes and half commanded half begged: “A-Li, I need to go out there, I need to check that everything is going according to the plan. They should have already been here, or send a word. I have to go.”

“Mother,” started Jiang Yanli, not unkindly but still with much more authority than Yu Ziyuan would have expected from her. Where had her sweet and obedient little girl gone? “We have already discussed this, you cannot go outside. You would be of no help to A-Xian in your current condition. Remember, you could not even wield Zidian this morning! And you have tried several times too. Please, just stay here and wait. A-Cheng and A-Xian will surely be back any minute now.”

Her daughter seemed to have changed as well. She was no longer meek of easily influences and ordered around. She seemed to have gone through her own share of hardships which had steeled her much in the same way as Yu Ziyuan. Then again, she mused, it was perhaps the standard for a female cultivator in these times. They could not afford to show weakness unless they wanted the men to underestimate them and not take them seriously when important matters were discussed.

She was proud of her but she still had to get her point across: “A-Li, I need to…”

She never finished her sentence because she had been interrupted by noise at the door. She quickly turned around to see who dared to interrupt such a moment and her eyes filled with tears once again. This time however, she held them back.

The intruder was a very flustered and worried Nie Huisang coming inside and holding the door open so that others behind him could enter as well. There were three people in total, looking very dishevelled, hurried and in an extreme distress. Jiang Cheng came inside first, holding one hand of Wei Wuxian’s who in turn was being held by Lan Wangji. Had it been any other situation, Yu Ziyuan would have reprimanded them for being improper. But not right now.

It was clear that Wei Wuxian needed medical attention, and quickly. She took in his body’s condition in just a single glance and was horrified to see that his chest was barely moving. His robes were non-existent at this point, just torn and dirty rags. Between their pieces, she could see dried blood from the many wounds she had not known her son had sustained. And his face was deathly pale, as if he was already half way gone to the other side.

Without even sparing one thought, she immediately strode towards the new group and reached out for Wei Wuxian. Her hand was trembling and she hesitated for the shortest of moments, unsure if she had any right to touch him after all she had made him go through. That hesitation was short lived through because the next heartbeat, she was already clutching Wei Wuxian’s hand – the one that her other son was not holding onto – in hers and passing spiritual energy.

She only realized at that point that there was probably no use to it as Wei Wuxian had no golden core anymore. However, seeing how Jiang Cheng and Lan Wangji were doing the same thing, it could not have been a bad idea. She gently prodded while circulating her spiritual energy herself and the tears she had been holding back were once again threatening to come out.

She could tell even at the first contact that Wei Wuxian’s condition was dire, life threatening in fact. She redoubled her efforts, cursing herself for ever hurting the boy with Zidian, she could still feel the wounds were not fully healed. And of course they were not; Wei Wuxian had no golden core to take care of them and he had not had any medical help before this either, at least from what Jiang Cheng had told them.

No one in the room moved, too shocked to do anything really. It was only now that Yu Ziyuan registered how exhausted both Jiang Cheng and Lan Wangji were, they must have been keeping Wei Wuxian alive all this time, ever since rescuing him. Both their faces were stained with still damp tears and Yu Ziyuan realized that she could not crumble. They were all just children, and they were looking at her for guidance and reassurance. She had to be the adult here.

It was all it took for Yu Ziyuan to gather herself and to push the tears away from her eyes. She had to be strong for her children, enough with her half broken persona from one hour ago. There would be time for her to crumble and seek her husband’s comfort, but not right now, only after Wei Wuxian would be taken care of and out of danger.

“Second Young Master Lan, please put A-Ying on the bed. A-Li, do not stand there shocked, come, he needs you.”

Chapter Text

Jiang Yanli had already guessed that when Jiang Cheng and Lan Wangji would bring Wei Wuxian back to her, he would be in a dire need of medical attention and that she needed to be ready. However, seeing just how hurt he was, how still he way laying in the Second Jade’s arms, how his chest was barely moving, she was shocked and almost overcome with grief.

At first, she had even thought that her brother had not even been alive anymore and she was short of crumbling and breaking right there and then. It took her mother pointing out that Wei Wuxian was still very much alive and needed her for her to snap out of it and run towards the bed where Lan Wangji was just putting Wei Wuxian down. She immediately noticed the signs of life that she had overlooked in her terror.

She was glad that her younger brother and the Second Jade had been successful in rescuing Wei Wuxian from the Nightless City palace while the main siege on the city was ongoing, but she was still too shaken. They should have tried to get him out of there earlier. They should have just come back right after escaping on that faithful day. They should have never let her brother suffer alone in the Nightless City palace for the whole week. No matter what the boy himself had been relaying to them in the messages they had been getting from Nie Huisang’s spy.

For as soon as she had touched Wei Wuxian’s wrist, the one which her mother was still holding, she understood why Yu Ziyuan had never let go after touching Wei Wuxian. Her brother was now basically being kept alive because of all the spiritual energy that Jiang Cheng, Lan Wangji and her mother were pumping into him.

It was a great mystery to her how spiritual energy could even help him when he had no golden core anymore. Was it perhaps due to his body actually remembering how to work with the spiritual energy despite not being able to retain it on its own anymore? Her curiosity was picked. But she did not care too much to investigate at the moment, there were more important matters to attend to.

She started going through the motions which were by now embedded into her muscles from the long time she had spent helping in the medical wards and tents. Her mind was not really on the task, still too shocked and horrified by Wei Wuxian’s physical state, but her hands knew what to do. She ordered the other three to keep passing their spiritual energy for it was the only thing keeping Wei Wuxian alive at this point. She did her best to treat all the injuries she had found and then took a step back from the bed.

She was met with her family’s and Lan Wangji’s astonished and worried glances. She did her best to not look as worried as she in fact was and tried to smile reassuringly: “That is all I can do right now. The rest is up to him. Just continue to give him spiritual energy, it seems to be working well. Later, we should get an experienced healer have a look at him, just in case.”

She turned around and went to a small table where there was a basin of fresh water prepared for her to wash her hands. She needed a little break; she knew if she continued to look at her brother, to wait anxiously for his every breath, she would just wear herself out and break in the end. She needed to remain strong, for herself, for Wei Wuxian and for the rest of her family as well. For now, they were watching him instead of her so she could take a few free breaths and calm her racing heart.

The blood from her hands was slowly making the water in the basin pink and then red. Jiang Yanli did her best to not remember how it had gotten onto her hands. Still, the images were just too fresh and vivid in her mind. Although Wei Wuxian’s injuries had been all already scabbed over and he had not been bleeding anymore when he had been brought inside the tent, during the treatment, some of the wounds had come open again. Thus, the origin of all the blood on Jiang Yanli’s hands.

She tried to redirect the train of her thoughts lest she would just spiral down the memory line.

She concentrated on the small feeling back in her head which was telling her just how happy she was to see her brother again alive, more or less in one piece. This happiness had been pushed back earlier in the effort to not distract her too much during the treatment and also overshadowed by guilt of not rescuing Wei Wuxian earlier. Now she was trying to pull it back forward in order to sooth her aching soul.

Yes, she was glad that Wei Wuxian was back with them again, that much was undeniably true. However, she was not sure he would stay for long. Not that he would die, of course not, that was not an option, not if she had any say in it as a doctor, but because of all that he had to sacrifice for her family. Jiang Yanli would understand if after waking up, her brother would want to leave her family behind and go live elsewhere, completely forgetting them and starting a new, hopefully better life without them in it. For example, he could choose to go to Cloud Recesses with Lan Wangji.

Jiang Yanli would not begrudge him nor resent him for such a decision. Although it would hurt, Wei Wuxian deserved to be happy even if he himself did not believe that. He should never be imprisoned by her family and treated as he had been ever again. She knew that her parents and Jiang Cheng were now ready to turn a new leaf, however, she was not certain that it would go as they imagined it.

Wei Wuxian had been under too much strain ever since her father had taken him in, she was afraid that if he chose to stay with them, he would just fit back into that pattern despite their best intentions. Perhaps it would actually be healthier for her brother to leave Lotus Pier and start anew, unburdened by restrictions and expectations of her family.

Finally, all the blood had been washed away and Jiang Yanli took one last deep breath to steady herself before turning around and facing the room once again.

Nie Huisang must have left at some point because now, it was just her whole family and Lan Wangji in the tent. They were all huddled around the bed and the still deathly and frighteningly unmoving pale figure on it. She came closer and checked Wei Wuxian’s condition. It was somewhat more stable than before, the spiritual energy of three strong cultivators making wonders for him. She looked around and observed the people around her, her family, finally reunited after so long.

Both Jiang Cheng and Lan Wangji looked about ready to pass out, their reserves of spiritual energy completely depleted by now. Jiang Yanli ushered them towards the two other beds in the tent to rest, promising them to look after Wei Wuxian in their stead. It took a little bit of convincing but in the end, they were soon asleep after being told that she would wake them up when it would be time to change shifts in passing spiritual energy.

Once everything was settled, she finally allowed herself to fall down on the chair beside her brother’s bed and close eyes as well. Just for a little while. She was not sleeping, just resting her eyes a little bit. She would have to check Wei Wuxian’s condition regularly, and she was also waiting for any news about Jin Zixuan, her once-again-fiancé as she had informed her parents even before the battle.

Chapter Text

Jiang Fengmian had just been woken up to take his shift passing Wei Wuxian spiritual energy when a distressed looking Yunmeng Jiang sect disciple run inside the tent. He stopped dead between the door, taking in the whole room before heading towards Jiang Cheng who was still sleeping, completely exhausted after the rescue operation and keeping Wei Wuxian alive.

Before Jiang Fengmian could intervene and stop the disciple from waking his son up, the deed had already been done. Jiang Cheng sat up on the bed, rubbing his eyes and yawning. With his hair down and only in his sleeping inner robes, he looked very young.

It was only at that moment that it had all downed on Jiang Fengmian. There had been a war and it was not their generation who fought in it, not him and his wife, not Jin Guangshan or Lan Qiren. No, it was their children who had to grow up way too quickly while facing such horrors. He felt ashamed that he had not been any help until now, just resting and taking it easy while his son had to pick up the pieces of the ruined Yunmeng Jiang sect and step up as the sect leader.

It was kind of pitiful that the whole generation of their children had suffered and had been forced to assume responsibilities they were way too young to shoulder. Nie Mingjue was a sect leader, and had already been for several years. Lan Xichen was also the new sect leader of the Gusu Lan sect after Lan Qiren had stepped down, grieving his dead brother. Jin Zixuan was leading the Lanling Jin army while Jin Guangshan was being a coward and hiding in Koi Tower. And Jiang Cheng, he too had to take the place of Jiang Fengmian after the fall of Lotus Pier and singlehandedly rebuilt the whole Yunmeng Jiang sect.

Truly, Wen Ruohan and the war had not only cost many lives, but had also taken so much more. Friends and families, and also youthful innocence and free choice. It has also taken away future of Wei Wuxian, without a golden core, he would no longer be able to become a cultivator. That however would never stop Jiang Fengmian from caring for him as for his own son.

Still, he could not help himself but feel regretful, Wei Wuxian had been such a bright and talented boy, and now everything had been stripped away from him. Jiang Fengmian had to wonder if the loss of his golden core had not broken him as it had been the case with many others. Though, after his wife explained to him that Wei Wuxian had not lost his golden core the day of their escape from the Nightless City palace but way earlier, during the fall of Lotus Pier, Jiang Fengmian had to assume that it had not affected the youth in the same way as it had everyone else.

Wei Wuxian had been fighting even without his golden core and he had even learned demonic cultivation! Jiang Fengmian was not too worried about his future, the boy was smart and resourceful enough to figure everything out and make the most out of his new circumstances. What was of far greater concern was the effects demonic cultivation was having on him, at least according to Lan Wangji.

Thought, Jiang Fengmian could not even imagine stripping Wei Wuxian even of this newly found weapon, it would surely feel like losing his golden core, his only defence, all over again. No matter that the whole family would protect him, Jiang Fengmian could understand the helplessness of someone stripped of their only means for fighting. He had lived through much in the Nightless City dungeons after all. He assumed that they would all had to figure this once Wei Wuxian would wake up.

“Sect Leader, we need you!” the Yunmeng Jiang sect disciple whispered urgently, startling Jiang Fengmian out of his musing. “There is a meeting going on between the great sects, it concerns the Yin iron and Senior martial brother’s use of demonic cultivation. You need to go there as well. I am afraid of what would happen to him if no one will speak up for him.”

Jiang Fengmian stood up at the same time as Jiang Cheng who was grunting and cursing under his breath as he was getting into his outer robe.

The disciple looked between them, suddenly unsure who was actually coming with him. And Jiang Fengmian understood his hesitance. He had been away from the post for too long and his son had rebuilt the sect from the ashes, since he could not even remember ever meeting this particular disciple, it could even be that he was a new addition and had never been in the sect while he was the sect leader. Though, from the hesitation and confusion on his face, he could tell that he at least recognized him.

Jiang Cheng seemed to not have noticed anything and was already prepared to go out. Jiang Fengmian would be more than happy to let his son go and grow up some more, without a war going on this time, be it not for the look Jiang Cheng shot in Wei Wuxian’s direction. It was so full of worry and unease, very open and vulnerable, and so incredibly young, unlike anything Jiang Fengmian had ever seen on his son’s face. And he knew that going to the meeting right now was the last thing Jiang Cheng wanted to do.

He was extremely proud of his son for putting the sect before himself and for being ready to sacrifice his personal wish for the good of many. Still, he was here now, healed enough to assume his old responsibilities which he had been secretly running from this whole week. At this moment, he did not want to separate his family again. He went to Jiang Cheng and put a hand on his shoulder, squeezing it lightly.

“A-Cheng, I will go this time, you can stay at your brother’s side. I am proud of you and I am in no way trying to take the position back after all this time, you have done wonders. You have resurrected the whole Yunmeng Jiang sect singlehandedly; you really have followed our sect’s motto. But right now, if your heart is telling you to stay with A-Ying, you can follow it. I will step in this time, only as a temporary deputy. We can discuss this after A-Ying will be feeling better, what do you say?”

Jiang Cheng’s head snapped up to look at him and Jiang Fengmian saw gratitude and excitement in them. “Thank you, father, I would greatly appreciate this.”

Jiang Cheng’s cheeks became a suspicious shade of red, he was blushing and smiling as a small child. And Jiang Fengmian realized that the ‘thank you’ had not been meant as only thanks for his offer but also for the praise he had given. It stung a little because Jiang Fengmian knew that he had not been praising his son’s good work often enough in the past. He should do better in the future, the look in Jiang Cheng’s eyes was all worth it.

Jiang Fengmian patted his son’s shoulder one last time and then he turned to the Yunmeng Jiang sect disciple who was still waiting in the middle of the room, bewildered and apparently not really understanding the situation. He smiled at the youth and gestured for him to lead the way. Still confused, the disciple walked out of the room and Jiang Fengmian followed with one last look back at his family. He would try to deal with this as quickly as possible and come back to them soon.

Chapter Text

After his father left, Jiang Cheng remained standing in the middle of the tent, completely dumbfounded. He had never expected this, not even in his wildest dreams. Not that he had actually had time to think too much about the future when he had stepped up as the new sect leader, at that time, he had though his parents were dead after all. And afterwards, with the war and his brother on his self-appointed suicide mission, he also had no time to worry about how he would have to smooth things up with his father and give him the position back.

He would gladly do so, the burden was sometimes too big for him to bear. However, seeing how his father was still only recovering from long months of captivity, he could not bring himself to breach the topic with him. He had decided to wait until his parents made a full recovery.

And there was also another, smaller and more afraid part of him which was whispering to his ear that his father could turn out to be not happy with how he had managed things and would look at him with that slightly disappointed look of his. He could not believe that he had been apparently very wrong about this part. His father had even praised him!

It should not have felt this good to receive the praise, he should not be this happy and prideful about it. It was not like this was the first time his father had ever praised him. Surely not, it could not be. He must have received his praise and recognition before, they were father and son after all, and Wei Wuxian had been praised frequently for his exploits, surely there had been times when that praise extended to Jiang Cheng as well. It was just that he could not quite remembered when exactly and what had he received it for right now.

As his father said they would have to talk more about this once Wei Wuxian would wake up. But until then, Jiang Cheng would be more than happy to hide in his father’s shadow as he had done all those years, trying to not be seen and asked to be a sect leader anymore. He did not fear the responsibility, truth to be told, he had already gotten quite used to it. It was more the question of being able to stay by his brother’s side now that the other needed him. At last, he would be able to stand by him and protect him as he should have done way earlier. It should not have been Wei Wuxian who had to carry all the burden and protect his family at his own personal expenses, he deserved to be protected in turn, not just abandoned at the earliest convenience.

Jiang Cheng was still standing frozen on the spot when a voice called from outside of the tent, asking to be let in and relay an urgent message. He had a hard time finding his words but in the end, he spoke before his mother could. He remembered Jiang Fengmian’s praise and he was not about to mess up right now. He was still the Yunmeng Jiang Sect leader, or one of them at least.

“Come in!” he scoffed, not happy to have his moment of reminiscence interrupted. And of all things by a self-important looking Lanling Jin sect disciple as he realized when the person stepped inside.

The disciple came in and he first looked all around which made Jiang Cheng very uncomfortable. It reminded him of Nie Huisang who would always assess the room like this so he would have the latest gossip and intel. He had to admit that this was one of the most accurate and easy ways to spy on someone. And right now, he did not like that someone from the Lanling Jin sect was doing this exact information gathering in the tent where his whole family, and more importantly his still unconscious brother, were.

He would not have anything against the Lanling Jin sect in general – hell, he even came to accept Jin Zixuan being engaged to Jiang Yanli once again because she liked him for some reason – but there had been too many rumours being spread by the Lanling Jin sect disciples. That was nothing new, he could overlook that, be it not for the fact that those rumours had Wei Wuxian as their main protagonist. It was those exact rumours which doubted his brother’s loyalty to the allied forces and which painted him as a vile demonic cultivator who would take place of Wen Ruohan now that the Qishan Wen sect leader was dead. At the moment, Jiang Cheng supposed, that the Lanling Jin had decided to make their move.

Finally, the Lanling Jin sect disciple’s eyes landed on him and he bowed down to greet him. It was about time; Jiang Cheng had been getting angry about the man spying on them this shamelessly. He barely acknowledged the greeting and he asked, fruitlessly trying to conceal his anger and impatience. He wanted to know what they were up against now.

“Well, what is it? You said the message was urgent.”

For his credit, the disciple did not outright flinch at Jiang Cheng’s tone but it was a near thing. Despite his apparent unease and surprise – probably because he had found Jiang Cheng here when he had been thinking that he was already meeting with the other sect leader –, he spoke confidently: “Sect leader Jiang, I am happy to see you here. This message is indeed an urgent one. Our sect leader came to learn about Young Master Wei’s precarious condition and he proposes for him to be treated by a specialized doctor which we luckily have in our ranks. I have come with the necessary medical staff to transport him with me right now. We cannot wait any longer for Young Master Wei’s condition may decay at any moment.”

Jiang Cheng’s anger flared bright red and he was doing his best to not let it show. How dare the Lanling Jin sect want to claim his brother? For this was nothing else but a demand to hand Wei Wuxian over to them. So this was it, this was Jin Guangshan’s plan, he wanted Wei Wuxian for himself. After all, Meng Yao must have reported to him how the demonic cultivator had been the one to control the Yin iron.

Now that Jiang Cheng thought about it, it made perfect sense. Both why he had not been invited to the after battle meeting and why he had though he had heard Jin Guangshan’s boisterous voice outside of the tent earlier. The Lanling Jin sect leader must have come just after the final siege had succeeded and from what Jiang Cheng knew about him, he now wanted to get the most of the war spoils for his own sect, which also included Wei Wuxian as it would seem.

Yes, that would be a very Jin Guangshan thing to do, not participating in the Sunshot campaign under the guise of other important sect matters and then wanting to claim the victory for himself. And Jiang Cheng would not stand for that.

When he had just taken over as the Yunmeng Jiang sect leader, he had been too inexperienced and needed help. At that time, a Lanling Jin sect messenger also came to find him and shamelessly proposed that the Lanling Jin sect would gladly help with the Yunmeng Jiang sect’s affairs, that they could even merge both sects for increased safety. At that point, Jiang Cheng had managed to politely decline. It had been too obvious an attempt as seizing more power. And here they were, with another round it would seem.

From the corner of his eyes, he saw his mother getting up from the seat next to Wei Wuxian where she had been giving his brother spiritual energy. He could tell that she had seen through this feeble attempt and that she was just as angry as him. Jiang Yanli was now standing at her side, her hands on her mother’s forearm, calming her down and holding her back from probably assaulting the Lanling Jin sect disciple. He took a deep breath, willing Zidian to not react to his raging emotions lest he wanted to cause an inter-sect incident this soon after the war had ended.

It was his sister who spoke first, her voice perfectly polite yet with a hidden sharp edge: “Young Master, thank you for relaying the message. Please convey our gratitude to your sect leader and let him know that the Yunmeng Jiang sect is perfectly capable of taking care of their own disciples. My brother,” she had put accent on the last word, “will stay in the care of his own family.”

The Lanling Jin sect disciple looked like he had just bitten into the sourest lemon there was but bowed to them nevertheless. “I will make sure to relay the message. I wish your brother a safe recovery under your care.” Then he stormed out of the tent, not even closing the door behind himself properly.

Jiang Cheng took another deep breath. He was proud of his sister for speaking up for their brother this wisely but he could not help himself but to worry at the same time. The Lanling Jin sect disciple’s last words sounded suspiciously close to a threat.

Chapter Text

“It is finally finished, we have won, the evil Wen dogs were put to jail.”

“But there are too many of them, it is not a sustainable solution, we need to figure something out.”

“It was Jin Guangyao who had won the war, he had killed Wen Ruohan, he should decide.”

“No! It was not his victory, he just waited in the shadows until he could seize his opportunity, he is such a snake… It was the Qinghe Nie clan who led the war and fought the bravest in the battles, it should be up to them to decide.”

“But even Sect Leader Nie had never seen it coming, how the puppets stopped mid movement and never came back to life. What happened there?”

“Nonsense, it must have been just a coincidence. I heard that the puppets fell just as the Yin iron had been collected by Young Master Jin – did you hear that as soon as he had killed Wen Ruohan, Jin Guangshan had accepted him as his son and even bestowed a new name upon him?”

“Yes, yes… But what about the Yin iron? It is too powerful to be held by anyone; and apparently, it cannot be destroyed either. Whoever gets the hold of it could become the next Wen Ruohan.”

“Well, that is certainly worrisome, but I am sure that the great sects will take care of this. We should not stick our nose into their business, our sects are too small. Even though having the Yin iron in our possession could reverse the balance, I do not know about you, but I am not ready to oppose one of them right now. Better leave things to them, as always.”

“Yeah, you are right. They should sort it out. Perhaps they would agree to have one piece each, then the power balance would still stay the same and we would not have to fear another tyrant ascending to power.”

“Hmm, good thinking. But there are only three pieces of the Yin iron and four great sects… How would they do it?”

“True, a fight is bound to happen one way or another, we should move closer to the door, just in case anyone loses their temper…”

Jiang Fengmian had just made it to the tent where the meeting would be held. It was already full of minor sect leaders, some of them he recognized, some not. They did not seem to have noticed him and that was probably why they had no reservation while discussing between themselves. The sect leaders of the other three great sects had yet to make their entrance.

Jiang Fengmian sighed a little bit in relief when he realized that it had not yet started. He would not mind too much, the Yunmeng Jiang sect did not need any spoils of war, much less from the Qishan Wen sect, they could just make do with what they had, they had just finished rebuilding after all. They would be fine as long as the family and the sect were strong. However, it worried him greatly that if he did not take part in this, he could very well find himself in an uncomfortable position. He knew about the rumours circulating about Wei Wuxian and he was afraid that someone might bring him up during this meeting.

Finally, after another several minutes, Lan Xichen, Nie Mingjue and Jin Guangshan came inside followed by another small and unassuming figure clad in the Lanling Jin sect colours. The atmosphere immediately became tenser when the people inside the tent went silent in the middle of their conversation and all heads turned towards the newcomers.

Jiang Fengmian frowned a bit, something was not right here. It was true that the war had changed them all but still, he could barely recognize the others. Nie Mingjue was frowning so fiercely that some of the smaller sects’ leaders took a step back, horror and fear mixed in their eyes. It was clear that something had greatly displeased the Qinghe Nie sect leader. Lan Xichen’s expression, although controlled, was cracking as well, and there was grief and exhaustion etched into his features. He looked suddenly a lot older than his actual age.

And then there was Jin Guangshan. Since Jiang Fengmian did not get to really take part in the war, he had not seen it himself, but he had heard enough to know that the Lanling Jin sect leader had only came to join the Sunshot campaign after the final siege had already been won. During the whole war, there had only been Jin Zixuan as his deputy; and even that was a questionable credit to the Lanling Jin sect leader since his son had to beg him to be allowed to come and in the end, he had only been given a handful of disciples to accompany him.

It seemed like Jin Guangshan had only been waiting this whole time, observing the war so he would be able to join the winning side and get the most out of it. There was a self-confident and almost bored smirk on his lips and his eyes were shining madly in satisfaction. Jiang Fengmian could not see Jin Zixuan anywhere, so he concluded that the Lanling Jin sect heir had been left out from the matter of dividing the spoils of the war. And Jiang Fengmian had a pretty good idea about whether this was accidental or a deliberate decision.

The four figures had made it to the front of the tent, walking through a small corridor which had opened up for them with everyone else letting them pass. They stood there for a minute, overlooking the crowd before Nie Mingjue finally spoke:

“Thank you for gathering here on such a short notice. The war is finally finished and we all took bigger or smaller part in the victory.” Jiang Fengmian saw Nie Mingjue’s eyes dart in the direction of Jin Guangshan when he said the last part but the Qinghe Nie sect leader quickly recovered and faced the gathered sect leaders once again. “We called you here to announce the division of the treasures found in the former Qishan Wen sect’s treasure rooms and in the Nightless City palace. I believe you will all be satisfied with the decision.” He pointed towards the Lanling Jin sect disciple who stood between him and Jin Guangshan.

“Meng…” he started but frowned even more and quickly corrected himself, spitting the new name of the person as if it was poisonous, “Jin Guangyao, if you please.”

“Of course, Sect Leader Nie, it would be my pleasure. The Yao clan will be given 1000 gold nuggets as well as…”

Jiang Fengmian stopped listening at that point, his head was in too much of a turmoil to be properly able to understand the words. It was only now, with Nie Mingjue’s slip of a tongue that he recognized the man standing next to him. It was Meng Yao, his former advisor and a bastard son of Jin Guangshan – well, not anymore it seemed because he had just been accepted to the family if the change of name and the conversation he had overheard earlier had anything to say about that –, the man who had killed Wen Ruohan. The world really was small.

Jiang Fengmian’s attention turned back to Jin Guangyao when he heard the words ‘Yin iron’. And sure enough, the man had gone through all the sects and their share of spoils, now it was time for the grand finale that everyone had been waiting for.

“We have agreed that the Yin iron is too dangerous to be kept by just anyone. The pieces will be separated and given to the great sects for safekeeping, we cannot chance anyone getting hold of them in the future. The Lanling Jin sect, the Gusu Lan sect and the Qinghe Nie sect will get a piece each. As for the Yunmeng Jiang sect, Wei Wuxian will stay under their supervision as he is the only one who can control the Yin iron.”

Jiang Fengmian felt all the eyes in the room on himself and he had a hard time to not squirm under their weight. While it was good that Wei Wuxian would get to stay with them – and should he not? He was part of their family and the Yunmeng Jiang sect after all – he was angry and just a little bit scared that it had been only discussed between the three other sect leaders and no one actually asked him or Jiang Cheng, or anyone else for that matter, about their opinion. This could be bad.

Before he could even finish that last thought, it was already proving to be bad as there was of course a condition: “Young Master Wei will be allowed to remain part of the Yunmeng Jiang sect. His behaviour will however be closely monitored and if he will ever show signs of succumbing to his demonic cultivation and wanting to control the Yin iron or perhaps becoming the next Wen Ruohan, he will be swiftly dealt with.”

Jin Guangyao smiled sweetly and it was so fake that Jiang Fengmian had a strong urge to throw up. Lan Xichen squirmed a bit and looked at the new son of Jin Guangshan but he remained quiet.

It was Nie Mingjue who closed the meeting: “As for the remaining Wen sect people, the Qinghe Nie sect will take in all the Dafan Wen clan, one of their disciples had been helping in providing intel to us and they are a medical branch, they did not participate in the war. The rest of the Qishan Wen sect soldiers and disciples including Wen Chao and Wen Xu will be imprisoned under the Lanling Jin sect’s supervision.

That is all, we will see you at the banquet.”

Chapter Text

When Jiang Fengmian came back to the tent, everyone inside was long awake – aside for Wei Wuxian who was still unconscious, just having Lan Wangji passing him spiritual energy – and waiting for him. Ever since the Lanling Jin sect disciple delivered the message and Jiang Cheng had send him away, Yu Ziyuan had been on pins and needles. It was clear that this was not the end of it.

Even though she had not participated in the war as such and had not had much time to assess the situation and the feelings of the allied forces in relation to Wei Wuxian, she already understood that her son was a valuable asset. Most probably one that Jin Guangshan and the Lanling Jin sect wanted to seize for themselves. Not that they would let them of course, but it was infuriating that they had even tried.

Her head snapped up to look at her husband. Jiang Fengmian’s face was pale and collected but she could see the fury in his eyes. Something must have happened and Yu Ziyuan had no doubts that it was connected to the Lanling Jin sect trying to take Wei Wuxian away from them.

Before she could ask what had happened, Jiang Cheng was ahead of her, already running towards his father and all but blurting out worriedly: “Father, we need to do something. A Lanling Jin sect disciple came and wanted to take Wei Wuxian to their own doctor, saying that we are not good enough for him. I am afraid they want him for themselves. They had been too aggressive in the last few hours. I have even overheard that Jin Guangshan wanted to take up the position of the Chief cultivator when I went to fetch food! They are definitely planning something; we need to protect Wei Wuxian.”

Jiang Fengmian put one hand on his son’s shoulder and replied. However, not by something Yu Ziyuan wanted to hear.

“A-Cheng, please slow down. It will be fine. They have only tried it. In the meeting I just went to, Jin Guangyao publically declared that A-Ying will stay with us. They will surely not try anything after such statement. But…” Her husband hesitated for a second and Yu Ziyuan had a distinct feeling that she would not like his next words. “They want to keep the power balance between the greet sects by having the other three taking hold of a piece of Yin iron each. I am worried that if any of them would want to tip the power balance in their favour, they would come for A-Ying, he is apparently the only one who can control the Yin iron.

They want to keep an eye on him, all three of them. After the meeting, I went to talk to them, to reason with them to change the decision since no one from the Yunmeng Jiang sect had been there while it had been made. But they would not listen to me, they even threatened to make A-Ying go to seclusion under their watch if we do not comply with their wishes. They want to send someone from their sects to Lotus Pier to keep an eye on A-Ying at all times.

I tried my best but in the end, I do not see any other solution but to let them come. The Yunmeng Jiang clan is still too weak from the massacre of Lotus Pier to be able to stand against all three of the great sects. And we cannot have A-Ying to be pulled into this fight. He has had enough trouble because of us. We should probably not even tell him anything about all of this. Once the tension after the war will lessen a bit, we can try to appeal to the other sects again.”

Yu Ziyuan saw how Jiang Yanli and Jiang Cheng paled and she could tell that all colour disappeared from her own cheeks as well. She did not know if she was more afraid or furious at the moment. She hated how the other sects were trying to manipulate them and she hated even more that they could not do anything about it, not if they did not want to start another war with Wei Wuxian as its middle piece. She was so scared that they would try to take him away at the smallest of chances even though they were now showing them good grace.

Thousands of possible solutions were running through her head but none seemed possible or would ameliorate their position. She was sure that Jian Fengmian had already gone through the same process before even going to see Nie Mingjue, Lan Xichen and Jin Guangshan; and if he was coming back with these kind of news, she believed that it was the only option available.

Still, it did nothing to reassure her, on the contrary. She was terrified for Wei Wuxian. They just got him back and they were about to lose him again? They still had to prove to him that they were now a true family, all of them, they could not let him be taken prisoner by some other sect! What would they do to him? How would they treat him? Even if it was the righteous Gusu Lan sect, she was not certain that they would be too kind while having a demonic cultivator in their midst. No, Wei Wuxian had to stay in the Yunmeng Jiang sect.

As if her worries materialized, it was at that exact moment that the sect leaders of the other great sects came inside the tent. Jin Zixuan was trailing behind his father like a lost puppy, his eyes glued to the floor. Beside him walked another young man, a Qinghe Nie disciple judging by her robes, apparently also very nervous and bothered.

Jin Guangshan had the audacity to look pleased; at least Nie Mingjue and Lan Xichen were slightly sorry about the whole situation when the Gusu Lan sect leader explained which apologetic voice, avoiding eye contact with anyone and greeting the Yunmeng Jiang clan and Lan Wangji with a bow.

“We are sorry for our intrusion, we will not take long. We came to discuss the topic of Young Master Wei’s… company for the foreseeable future. I believe Sect Leader Jiang had already informed you about the arrangement.”

No one spoke and Lan Xichen looked even more uncomfortable, coughing slightly to clear his throat. He could surely feel the eyes of the Yunmeng Jiang clan members’ on him but to his credit, he really seemed apologetic. Yu Ziyuan could guess from his reaction that he had not agreed to the arrangement, at least not at first. He had probably found himself in a tight spot, after all, Cloud Recesses had burned down not long ago and the Gusu Lan sect was not as strong as they had been, they could not oppose the Lanling Jin sect any more that the Yunmeng Jiang sect could.

Even if they were to join forces, Yu Ziyuan was not sure they would have succeeded. Both sects had suffered losses during the Sunshot campaign, while the Lanling Jin sect had only sent a couple of disciples, keeping their main forces in Koi Tower. Had they planed all of this in advance? It was very much possible.

Yu Ziyuan looked back at Lan Xichen when he had found his voice again and continued, sounding even more apologetic still: “From the Lanling Jin sect, there will be Jin Zixuan. We have come to know that he wished to court Maiden Jiang so it would be convenient for them to be closer. For the Qinghe Nie sect, there is this young lady here, Nie Qing, formerly Wen Qing, chosen personally by Nie Huisang. She could help with Young Master Wei’s healing; she is a very competent doctor. And for the Gusu Lan sect, I wish to present Lan Wangji, my own brother and the sect heir. It would hopefully be very instructional for him to spend some time away from Gusu and learn more about other sects’ cultures.”

Yu Ziyuan’s eyes were now only small slits as she way eyeing Lan Xichen and the two other sect leaders with suspicion. The choice of the so called supervisors, even if Lan Xichen had called them company, was more than surprising. It almost looked like Jin Guangshan had no say in their choosing. They were not all that bad, she had expected some strict disciples who would spy on Wei Wuxian every single second of his days, but it was not so bad. It was actually way better than she could have hoped.

Suddenly, she was not all that enraged anymore, at least Wei Wuxian would have Lan Wangji by side and Jiang Yanli Jin Zixuan. And the former Qishan Wen sect disciple? Yu Ziyuan had already heard about her, she truly was an excellent doctor, her reputation preceded her. This seemed more like their win than that of Jin Guangshan really. She could live with this, at least for the time being, she would be glad to welcome all three into her home without reservations.

Chapter Text

Lan Wangji was sitting by Wei Ying’s side, continuously passing spiritual energy as he was looking at the scene playing in front of him, not understanding anything anymore. He saw all the people who were now crowded inside the tent, all four of the great sect leaders present, yet he felt like he was all alone suddenly. He wanted to object, he wanted to say something, to defend his husband, to reassure everyone that Wei Ying would surely never go against them, that he would never step up as another Wen Ruohan. But he could not do anything.

He was too shaken and too tired, his mind was not working quite as he would like it to, he was exhausted both body and soul. He was just an intruder here, someone unrelated to this matter yet at the same time, he was just being thrown right into it. He did not feel good in his own skin as the sect leaders continued to negotiate the terms of the surveillance Wei Ying would be under from now on. Lan Wangji could not even begin to imagine how his husband would feel when he would finally wake up and find himself basically under house arrest.

It was not right to cage the free spirit like that. Lan Wangji knew that Wei Ying valued freedom and they were just casually stripping him of it. And the worst was that his family did not even object to such treatment. The Second Jade wanted to just scope his husband up and run away with him to hide him in Cloud Recesses just as he had wanted from the second they had been standing face to face and he had learned that the other had picked up demonic cultivation. He wanted his husband safe and happy.

However, this was apparently not to come, at least not in the near future; and perhaps never, as long as Wei Ying would be able to use demonic cultivation, the cultivation world would fear him and respect him at the same time. When he had won the war for them, he was a hero, but if he would ever go against them, he would become public enemy.

How could the Yunmeng Jiang sect let that happen to one of them? Had Wei Ying not been the head disciple, the adopted son of Jiang Fengmian and Yu Ziyuan? How could his parents stand there and just nod their head when the terms had been stated? He really could not understand anything at all. He shook his head slightly and took a deep breath to gather himself.

He flinched when a hand touched his shoulder. He had not even noticed that the discussion had been over and that Lan Xichen was now standing next to him and looking at him with eyes filled with worry.

“Wangji, please come with me.” He asked as if it was the easiest thing in the world.

Lan Wangji looked at the still form of his unconscious husband and was about to shake his head in refusal. Wei Ying needed him now, he could not just stand up and disappear.

Jiang Cheng came towards him and promised: “Go talk with your brother, I will keep Wei Wuxian safe until you return.”

It only occurred to Lan Wangji then that he had actually been appointed as one of Wei Ying’s so called supervisors and that he would have to stay by his husband’s side now. It was not a duty to him at all, it was everything he could have wished for in reality. Lan Xichen probably only wanted to tell him his goodbyes. Lan Wangji nodded in gratitude and stood up, following his brother out of the tent.

When they came inside Lan Xichen’s tent, the First Jade gestured for Lan Wangji to sit down and then he joined him. Silence reigned between them and Lan Wangji could see his brother’s hands restlessly playing with the hem of his sleeves and he knew the other would have loved to start tea preparation, which however was not possible since they were still in the war camp, even though the war had already been won.

After what seemed like an eternity, Lan Xichen finally found his words: “Wangji, I know you must be angry right now. I swear I did not want it to end like this. And I have also never wanted to use you like a pawn in this inter-sect politics’ game. However, it had been inevitable. Please understand… Both the Gusu Lan sect and the Yunmeng Jiang sect do not have sufficient resources to oppose Lanling Jin sect right now. And Nie Mingjue believes Jin Guangyao’s version of the story and distrusts Young Master Wei because of his use of demonic cultivation…

I do not quite know what had happened in the Nightless City palace, I had been fighting outside when the puppets stopped moving. When I came inside, you were already taking Young Master Wei away and all that was left was Jin Guangyao with a bloodied sword and the Qishan Wen sect leader by his feet. He had told us that Young Master Wei had weakened and distracted Wen Ruohan and that was why he had been able to kill him. I do not doubt his words.

It is what came afterwards that worries me. Jin Guangshan had taken the first opportunity to accept Jin Guangyao as his son and started immediately warning about Young Master Wei’s demonic cultivation. Nie Mingjue stood with them on this one. Wangji, please believe me when I say that I truly had tried my best. But there had been only little I could do.

I could have only prevented the Lanling Jin sect from claiming all three pieces of the Yin iron and Young Master Wei on top of that by suggesting to share the burden between all four great sects. It was only because of Nie Huisang’s insistence that Wen Ning had been his man on the inside that the Dafan Wen clan had been taken in by the Qinghe Nie sect, all the other Wens would be under Lanling Jin sect’s supervision. Jin Guangshan had even already proclaimed himself the next Chief cultivator and it would take more than us three other great sects to beat him by force, we have been too weakened by the war. And we do not even have any reason with which we could sway Nie Mingjue to our side…

Wangji, I know you have come to care a great deal about Young Master Wei. That is why I have suggested you be one of the people who should keep him safe from Jin Guangshan’s plans. I do not believe him to honour the agreement. I am afraid that he would want to act against it sooner or later. That is why I am now sending you to Lotus Pier to try and prevent Young Master Wei being used by the Lanling Jin sect.

Somehow… I have a feeling that if worst came to pass, we could be facing another Wen Ruohan; not Young Master Wei but Jin Guangshan. I only hope I am mistaken.”

Lan Xichen finished his speech, his head lowered as if he was ashamed. But Lan Wangji could not understand why his brother was not feeling proud of his exploits, it had surely been no small matter to manoeuvre Jin Guangshan and Nie Mingjue into this agreement. Now, he could understand why the Yunmeng Jiang sect leader had not opposed the terms set out for them. There was no other option to keep Wei Ying safe but to comply.

Lan Wangji’s lack of a quick response was apparently making Lan Xichen nervous because he lifted his head and was observing his younger brother with worried eyes.

“Wangji, are you angry with me for putting young Master Wei and you in such an undesirable position?”

This time, Lan Wangji was faster to give his reply. He shook his head vehemently: “Brother, I understand. I will take care of Wei Ying.”

Lan Xichen finally smiled, a small tired upturning of his lips, but it was still better than his previous worried frown: “Thank you, Wangji. I hope everything will go well. I hope to see you as soon as this matter is settled; until then, please remain by Young Master Wei’s side.”

After the explanation, Lan Wangji was more than happy to oblige with his brother’s pleas. He nodded again, stood up and bowed to Lan Xichen, to his sect leader. Without further ado, he headed towards the door, impatient to be by his husband’ side already.

He did not turn around anymore when Lan Xichen called after him, his voice even more worried than ever: “Be careful, Wangji.”

Another nod of his head and he was already outside, hurrying toward the Yunmeng Jiang sect tent.

Chapter Text

The very next morning, Jiang Yanli was standing beside a carriage which would take her, her mother and Wei Wuxian back to Lotus Pier. Despite the fact that her brother was barely out of immediate danger and did not need to have spiritual energy passed being passed to him continually in order to keep him alive anymore, she would still not advise for him to travel, not for another few days, or weeks if it was up to her.

Wen Qing, who Jiang Yanli had heard much about had also checked up on him and praised her for her efforts. Nevertheless, when the question of travelling came up, she did not say anything, only scowled and remained silent, her dissatisfaction clear in her eyes.

However, there was no helping it. With the situation being as it was and the threat of assassins or Lanling Jin sect coming for Wei Wuxian, they had to get him somewhere safer. Not just in an airy tent where defence would be extremely difficult but behind the walls of his home where the resurrected Yunmeng Jiang sect would take care of him and protect him.

It seemed like the atmosphere regarding Wei Wuxian had changed from one second to another in the camp. Jiang Yanli did not really notice anything too out of place, but she could just sense it. Perhaps It was the way everyone was looking at her or the fact that people stopped whispering when she was passing by them. It could have also been because there were suddenly a lot of strange people gathering around their tent and asking to see Wei Wuxian. It was definitely not safe here.

Jiang Cheng and Jiang Fengmian would stay in the camp and continue to monitor the situation and try to smooth any conflicts and answer any question. They could not afford to have suspicion laid on them for running away. No, they were definitely not running away, Jiang Yanli would have stood between Wei Wuxian and anyone who wished to hurt him without a second thought, however, her brother needed rest and it could not with good conscience be called calm here right now.

Once Wei Wuxian was inside the carriage, laid as comfortably as it was possible under the circumstances, Jiang Yanli and Wen Qing got inside together with him. Lan Wangji, Yu Ziyuan and Jin Zixuan would be riding on horses together with a small battalion of Yunmeng Jiang sect disciples to provide protection on the road. Jiang Yanli hoped that everything would be fine and they would soon be back in Lotus Pier.

Jiang Cheng and Jiang Fengmian came to wish them safe travels and she knew they would need it. Who knew if there were already assassins or people who wanted to kidnap Wei Wuxian for their own benefit already on their tracks. Anyone could be under suspicion at the moments and Jiang Yanli could not help herself to scowl whenever someone approached too much. It would be a hard journey, at least in the department of vigilance if nothing else.

They departed without an incident before morning sun came up onto the horizon, not unnoticed but at least unbothered. At the time when the people in the camp would be getting up, they were already some distance away.

Luckily, because of whatever deity or grace, nothing happened for the first part of the journey and Jiang Yanli started to slowly relax. After a while, she had even authorised Lan Wangji to travel in the carriage for a while to be able to pass some more spiritual energy to Wei Wuxian. Needless to say that the Second Jade was more than happy to oblige.

She could tell that there definitely was something between Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji. She already knew that her brother had been smitten with the Second Jade even before this all had started, and now she could see that the esteemed Hanguang-Jun apparently felt the same when it came to Wei Wuxian. Jiang Yanli suspected that they had not yet had time to talk about their mutual feelings and show them in any other way, it would be hardly improbable that they had had such worries during the time of war and with everything that had happened this last week.

She hoped that once Wei Wuxian would wake up, he would be happy that Lan Wangji would be staying in Lotus Pier for a while. Despite being appointed as his so called supervisor, she was sure that the Second Jade would never do anything to hurt her brother, he would protect him. And they needed all hands right now just for that purpose. Not even talking about the fact that Lotus Pier and the Yunmeng Jiang sect were still being rebuilt and that her brother would need a lot of support and care until he would fully recover. Without a golden core, the process would most probably not be a quick one despite all Wen Qing’s expertise and her best efforts.

She had talked with Wen Qing a lot during the travel since they rode in the same carriage, keeping an eye on Wei Wuxian’s condition at all times. Jiang Yanli had been a little bit surprised when the Dafan Wen clan doctor asked her to be called Wen Qing instead of Nie Qing. But she quickly realized that should she be in her place, Jiang Yanli would have wanted to conserve the name of her family as well. At least in the eyes of those closest to her. It was not like the Dafan Wen clan doctor had anything to be ashamed about. After all, it had been her brother and Wen Qing’s medicines which had kept Wei Wuxian alive during the days of his captivity in the Nightless City palace.

Her brother was in good hands. Although nothing hinted on the state of the mind which Wei Wuxian would experience once waking up, she was confident that they would be able to deal with that as well. She had heard from Jiang Cheng about what had happened in the Nightless City palace and how close they had been to losing their bother.

She knew that Wei Wuxian had successfully controlled the Yin iron, but the most important question was if there were any after effects for him because of that. She feared that the evil relic could have influenced him in same way. She shook her head resolutely, she should not be thinking about this right now, not when she could not confirm anything anyway. They would just have to wait for her brother to wake up to find out.

Even if there would be something wrong with Wei Wuxian’s state of mind, she was confident that they would be able to deal with it. They were a family after all, and family was supposed to provide support and love for each other. Now that even her parents seemed to have come around and realized how they have wronged her brother, she knew that they were all in this together.

They would do their best to help Wei Wuxian recover by any means possible and to live in peace from now on, without any burdens of expectations. That was the least he deserved after putting his life on the line to save all of them.

Chapter Text

Jiang Fengmian and Jiang Cheng stayed behind in the war camp to provide an alibi for the impromptu departure of the rest of their family and most of the Yunmeng Jiang sect disciples. Yu Ziyuan had insisted that they could not lose any second so they did not even wait for the banquet and sneaked out of the camp even before it started.

Just as Jiang Fengmian had feared, the absence of his wife and his two children, as well as Jin Zixuan and Lan Wangji had not gone about unnoticed.

When he and Jiang Cheng stepped inside the former Nightless City palace, now a banquet hall, everyone looked their way as they were greeted by the sect leaders of the other two great sects and Jin Guangyao. Jin Guangshan had apparently not thought of greeting the guests as his duty and he was already sitting at his seat with a cup of liquor in his hand. He only spared them a glance really and his eyes quickly strayed back towards two servant girls which were at his back and call, one holding more liquor and the other a towel.

Lan Xichen gave Jiang Fengmian a knowing nod of his head, he understood why the rest of the Yunmeng Jiang sect would not be attending. Nie Mingjue seemed like he wanted to ask something but he was holding himself back, frowning slightly. Jiang Fengmian could have sworn that he knew something as well but was apparently still curious. As for Jin Guangyao, he did not take any pleasantries, his smile was way too wide and way too welcoming. It was very fake as far as Jiang Fengmian was concerned.

“Sect leader Jiang…” Jin Guangyao started and looked between Jiang Cheng and Jiang Fengmian.

There was a second of awkward silence and after that, Jiang Fengmian took it upon himself to clarify the situation: “Jiang Cheng here is the Yunmeng Jiang sect leader. I have decided to step down from the post, it would be good to leave things to the younger generation now that the war has ended. I have merely been appointed by my son to take his place while he had been indisposed. Now all sect matters should be addressed to him.”

Jin Guangyao seemed taken aback for a split second before he regained his balance and smiled sweetly at Jiang Cheng, bowing deeply to him.

“Sect leader Jiang, I welcome you to this banquet. We are grateful that you have agreed to join.” The man looked somewhat theatrically around, as if searching for something or someone. “Would it be alright if I asked where Young Master Wei is? We have all been looking forward to meeting the war hero in person.”

Oh. So this was all about Wei Wuxian after all. Jiang Fengmian felt anger mixed with dread fill his insides. He was fearing for his son’s life now that he was unconscious, utterly unable to protect or defend himself. He could only hope that his wife would take good care of the boy and that they were already far enough to be able to escape any people of ill intentions that anyone could potentially send after them once it would come to be known that Wei Wuxian was in reality not in the camp anymore.

He was thinking about some good excuse which would give them more time to arrive safely to Lotus Pier. He was silently berating himself for not coming up with an explanation in advance, now nothing was coming to his mind and he knew that if they would not be convincing enough, it could cost them dearly.

Apparently, he did not have to worry, he realized when he glanced to the side at Jiang Cheng. His son’s back was straight and his expression determined. He looked nothing like the child that Jiang Fengmian had left alone on a boat when he hurried to find his wife while Lotus Pier had been burning. He had become stronger in this last half a year; he was a true sect leader now. Jiang Fengmian could not have been more proud of him.

“Young Master Jin,” Jiang Cheng made sure to highlight the difference in status between him and Jin Guangyao, “my brother is still resting. We are here to represent our sect during the banquet. Please kindly show us to our seats.”

Jin Guangyao’s eyes became cloudy for a heartbeat and if Jiang Fengmian had not been paying attention to him, he would have missed it. But once again, he quickly schooled his expression into a subservient smile and bow and he showed them into the room with one hand.

“Sect Leader Jiang, I understand. I wish Wei Wuxian a full recovery. This way, your seats are on the right side.”

Jiang Cheng nodded and without another word he went around Jin Guangyao to the seats the other had indicated. Jiang Fengmian and the rest of the Yunmeng Jiang sect disciples who stayed behind in the war camp followed after him.

The banquet was really more of a farce than anything, a grand way for the Lanling Jin sect to show off their new status as the leading sect of the cultivation world. Now that Jin Guangshan had named himself the Chief cultivator, he apparently wanted everyone to know that the Lanling Jin sect was above all of them. The show was making Jiang Fengmian uneasy, it reminded him too much of Wen Ruohan and the Qishan Wen sect – of course now during the war when the demonic cultivator had been oppressing the other sects for a long time already, but of the days of their youths when Wen Ruohan had just gotten the position of the Chief cultivator with his own achievements.

Although this banquet should have been one to celebrate the end of the war, only little was said about the victory itself during the opening speeches. Both Jin Guangshan and Jin Guangyao only briefly mentioned there had been a war in the first place and then they quickly steered their words to flatter the Lanling Jin sect’s exploits and the fact that Jin Guangshan was now the Chief cultivator.

Jiang Fengmian did not know if anyone else had noticed the irony of the Lanling Jin sect’s boasting about its power right after one powerful man had been just taken down. He glanced around to judge how the banquet hall reacted to the Lanling Jin sect leader’s words and was a bit reassured when he saw that at least Jiang Cheng, Lan Xichen, and the Nie siblings were not buying any of it and were scowling at the gold clad Chief cultivator.

Suddenly, Jiang Fengmian’s attention was drawn back to Jin Guangshan who had stopped talking and was now looking to Jin Guangyao with helpless expression. The younger man spoke next and Jiang Fengmian quickly understood what the debate had been all about.

“It is true that Young Master Jin Zixuan cannot attend this gathering as he is indisposed right now. He had sustained injuries in the battle which required treatment. I am sure he will be able to join shortly.”

Jiang Fengmian could see how Jin Guangyao quickly glanced towards one side of the room where the Lanling Jin sect disciples had been seated and nodded almost unnoticeably. Once again, if he was not paying attention to these details, he would have completely overlooked this subtle gesture. All the more that Jin Guangyao was still bowing and he could only see from an awkward angle.  There was something very suspicious about this new son of Jin Guangshan, Jiang Fengmian was sure of it. Even more so that after the gesture one of the Lanling Jin sect disciples stood up and discreetly disappeared from the banquet hall.

Chapter Text

Jiang Cheng had had enough of the Lanling Jin sect’s boasting. They had not even done that much during the war, and what they had done, it had been only Jin Zixuan’s doing, not Jin Guangshan’s. So the Lanling Jin sect leader had nothing to boat about in the first place. It was making Jiang Cheng very angry. Although, he supposed, it was still better than having the topic of his brother come up.

And just as he had feared, once again, the topic was getting dangerously close to his brother: “… my sons had distinguished themselves during the final battle. Jin Zixuan had fought bravely and helped to achieve the victory we are now celebrating and Jin Guangyao rescued Wei Wuxian and secured the Yin iron so it would not be used against us. So…”

Jiang Cheng had no patience anymore. He did not want to risk any of the present cultivators starting to think about his brother in one sentence together with the Yin iron. That would be a very dangerous combination. The rumours which had been circulating throughout the camp during the war and after it were too vivid in everyone’s minds. It could turn the whole cultivation world against his brother. And Jiang Cheng could not have that.

So he swiftly intervened. He got up from his seat and bowed to Jin Guangshan, making sure to not grit his teeth too much: “Sect Leader Jin, you were talking about both of your sons. But I could not not notice that one of them is missing from your side…”

He left the end of the sentence trail into nothingness, suggesting that it was a question. Which in fact it was not as he knew perfectly well where Jin Zixuan was at the moment. He just wanted to interrupt the speech and let the present cultivators wonder why the Lanling Jin sect heir was not here with them, celebrating the end of the war just as the rest of them.

It seemed to have worked because a wave of murmurs echoed in the banquet hall after his words and Jiang Cheng had to hide a smirk of satisfaction which threatened to appear on his lips.

It was Jin Guangyao who spoke, his voice as sweet as ever, it was making Jiang Cheng nauseous. “It is true that Young Master Jin cannot attend this gathering as he is indisposed right now. He had sustained injuries in the battle which required treatment. I am sure he will be able to join shortly.”

Jiang Cheng saw how Jin Guangyao made a nod in the direction of the Lanling Jin sect disciples and how one of them slipped out of the banquet hall. He became alarmed at once; this was not good. If someone would search for the Lanling Jin sect heir, they would quickly realize that he was nowhere to be found. And it would surely not take long for them to put two and two together and understand that the rest of the Yunmeng Jiang sect forces including Wei Wuxian were not here anymore.

Jiang Cheng had to do something. Preferably something which would shock anyone so much that they would not be thinking about Wei Wuxian anymore.

He gestured to the Yunmeng Jiang sect disciples behind his back to follow the Lanling Jin sect disciple and stop him from finding out about the missing demonic cultivator. He could only hope that one of them would understand and would do their best to save the situation. He could however not check anything if he did not want to be found out, he could only carry on as if nothing happened.

He was thinking hard about what he could do to shock everyone. And he had found just the thing! It was not even all that hard really, just very unconventional.

 “You can search for Jin Zixuan all you want; you will not find him in his tent. My sister and him had decided that their engagement should be renewed and they have declared their feelings quite clearly to each other, so he had moved closer to the Yunmeng Jiang sect tents. My parents had already agreed. I know it is not quite customary, but I would like to ask Sect Leader Jin for his blessing as well. It was quite sudden so I assume that Sect Leader Jin had not yet heard the news…”

The whole hall fell into a shocked silence and all the eyes had turned to Jin Guangshan in anticipation of his response. Jiang Cheng knew that it was an incredulous plan he had come up with but he really had not had much of a choice. Not only had he caught everyone’s attention but he had also managed to steer their thoughts away from Wei Wuxian, Jin Zixuan’s engagement with Jiang Yanli was a much more interesting topic after all. It would mean an alliance between two great sects and increase in power sharing between them as well.

Jin Guangshan was looking very displeased although he was trying to hide this. It was clear that he was not very favourable to the idea. And Jiang Cheng could understand, he was the Chief cultivator now, he had no need for alliance with someone as weak as the Yunmeng Jiang sect. He probably wanted to use his son in securing allies from another, more influential party.

However, if he was to decline now, it would not look good, not after Jiang Cheng’s declaration that Jin Zixuan and Jiang Yanli has already made their feelings towards each other known. Who would want to split two young love birds? That would be just cruel.

Jin Guangshan must have realized this as well because he was now clenching his jaw tightly, almost to the point where Jiang Cheng would fear for his teeth.

It was Jin Guangyao who spoke though: “Sect Leader Jiang, those words are a little misplaced here I would say. And neither Young Master Jin nor Maiden Jiang are here to testify…”

He did not have any time to continue as Jiang Cheng interrupted him: “Of course, Young Master Jin. That is why I wanted to present an official engagement agreement. And you can of course check with Jin Zixuan about his feelings at your convenience.”

Jin Guangyao bowed, his sour expression quickly hidden. After several seconds of silence, the banquet hall erupted in cheers and everyone wanted to drink to the new union to be.

Jiang Cheng accorded himself a small smile which he hid in his cup. They have won, at least for now. It was even killing two flies with one stone: no one would now talk about Wei Wuxian anymore with their focus shifted towards a marriage to be prepared and at the same time, he had just secured the future for his sister and Jin Zixuan.

He was delighted when he caught his father’s small nod in his direction. Jiang Fengmian’s eyes were full of pride and Jiang Cheng’s chest was melting from the inside. Still, he wanted all of this farce to be over already so he and his father would be able to also leave for Lotus Pier as soon as possible. He wanted to check how his brother was faring.

Chapter Text

Lan Wangji was sitting at his husband’s side inside the moving carriage. The journey to Lotus Pier had been uneventful thus far and he was happy to receive Jiang Yanli’s invitation to come inside.

He was grateful to his brother for providing protecting during their travel. Not that Lan Xichen had mentioned anything to him but he could have sworn that he had caught glimpses of white robes here and there, sometimes in the dead of a forest, high above in the sky or mingled into the crowd in the towns they had passed by. They never came to view too obviously but it was clear that someone was keeping a protective hand over them because Lan Wangji had assumed they should have encountered some troubles already. It had been inevitable with how angry Jin Guangshan seemed when he could not have got Wei Ying for himself.

They never stayed in towns though, they deemed it too dangerous to stop moving in such populated areas where possible dangers coming from people could lurk on every step of the way. They had enough provisions to last them for the whole journey and they were still very much used to sleeping outside from the just ended war. There was no problem even for the ladies since Jiang Yanli and Wen Qing never left Wei Ying’s side and were sleeping inside the carriage with him. Everyone knew that there was no possibly of indecency with Wei Ying being still unconscious.

Despite the journey going smoothly, Lan Wangji could not stop worrying about his husband. He had already known that Wei Ying would most probably not wake up this soon, not with everything that had happened to him, but it was still far from reassuring. His husband’s face looked as pale as ever and there were no signs at all of any colour returning to it even when Lan Wangji was doing his best to pass and circulate his own spiritual energy. Was this all he could do when Wei Ying had no golden core anymore?

He had not asked how or when exactly that happened. He did not need to know and it would have also been very rude to inquire behind Wei Ying’s back. If his husband would want to tell him one day, he would gladly listen, but he would not try to discover anything on his own. It was not important why or how it happened, the sole fact that his Wei Ying was now so fragile and in need of protection was enough to know for him. He had to do his best.

He would also have to be patient. He had heard stories about how traumatized cultivators were when they had lost their golden cores. Even he had been beside himself and feeling not right in his skin when his spiritual energy had been temporarily sealed. And it was not even comparable to the emptiness he could feel inside Wei Ying every time he had tried to feel for his spiritual energy and golden core, unconsciously seeking the warmth which he would never again find.

It was possible that Wei Ying would wake up disoriented and perturbed. Perhaps he had not even known until now that his golden core was not there anymore? Since he had used resentful energy for a long time now, perhaps he had not had any need for reaching for spiritual energy at all.

It was a hope that Lan Wangji could not stop but he knew very well that it was a very improbable one too. It was more likely that Wei Ying knew about his missing golden core but had been too busy winning the war for them so he had not had time to process this fact. He would probably only start getting used to the situation upon waking up. And Lan Wangji would be there for him during that time, he would make sure of it.

Lan Wangji was disturbed out of his thoughts by Jiang Yanli’s gentle voice: “Second Young Master Lan, I think this is enough. You need to conserve your energy for the travel.” The implication of that statement, although not said aloud was clear; he needed to have enough spiritual energy to be able to fight in case of an attack, however unlikely that was at this point.

Reluctantly, he let go of Wei Ying’s wrist and looked down at the other’s unconscious form. It was a little relief that his husband looked this peaceful in his sleep, hopefully he had no nightmares and he was not feeling any pain in the dreamland. Lan Wangji would not be able to bear the knowledge that he could not do anything for Wei Ying if the other would be suffering right now.

Jiang Yanli reached towards her brother from the other side and caressed his hair gently. “He looks like he is only sleeping, does he not? He does not look like he had been dying just a few days ago. I wish I could do more for him…”

Her voice disappeared and Lan Wangji could have sworn that he had heard a suppressed sob which had made it impossible for her to continue. He was not sure the question had been meant for him or if it had been just a rhetorical one, an internal sigh said aloud. Still, he thought that Jiang Yanli could use some kind words of reassurance. He was not one to be too fluid with his words, but he was trying his best.

“Maiden Jiang takes good care of her brother. Wei Ying knows he is loved.”

Jiang Yanli’s head shot up and she looked positively bewildered. But then, she seemed to have gotten over her surprise when she subbed at her eyes discreetly with the hem of her robes and smiled at Lan Wangji.

“Thank you, Second Young Master Lan, I hope that is true.” After a second of apparent internal deliberation she added: “You know, I am not sure A-Xian is convinced he is loved. For the longest time now, he had always put other’s well-being above his own, sacrificing his own happiness in the process. I hope that he would understand that he could be selfish too sometimes. But perhaps with you here, he would finally be able to relax a bit. I can tell that he has come to think of you as a good friend.”

That was not what Lan Wangji wanted to hear, he wanted to be more to Wei Ying than just a friend, but he would take things slowly. After all, he had never let the other know about his affection which he had only truly realized during the time Wei Ying had been missing for three months.

“Mn,” he hummed in agreement.

Then, he realized that since Jiang Yanli was now basically part of his family – he really needed to make that known, but only after he would confirm with Wei Ying that the other was returning his feelings, otherwise, he would just not mention this anymore –, even though she did not know it just yet, they should let go of formalities between them. And even if they ended up not being a family in the end because his husband would choose to annul the marriage he had had no idea about, that would be fine too. Jiang Yanli has become someone Lan Wangji respected.

“Lan Wangji,” he proposed resolutely and was happy when Jiang Yanli seemed to have understood his proposition.

She smiled gently and bowed a little to him, giving him the option to call her by her name in return. “Lan Wangji it is then. You can call me Jiang Yanli from now on. Let us take care of A-Xian to the best of our abilities together.”

Chapter Text

Yu Ziyuan could breathe freely again when their small group finally reached the gates of the newly rebuilt Lotus Pier and they were safely inside, being greeted by disciples who stayed behind to protect it. She had been extremely nervous this whole time, although she did not let anything show, she knew that the other sects, and especially the Lanling Jin sect, would most likely not let them leave with Wei Wuxian just like that.

However, during their travels, nothing happened and the route had been quite uneventful actually. For that, it was not all that true, she had to admit. She had caught the occasional glance of Gusu Lan sect’s white robes and there had also been signs of battles here and there where their carriage was passing. But no one ever made it so far that the Yunmeng Jiang sect group would actually had to defend themselves. She knew better than to think Lan Xichen had sent his disciples to protect them, he was more likely keeping an eyes on his own brother. Nevertheless, the subtle assistance was much appreciated.

As they were approaching Lotus Pier and the first houses of the town surrounding the Yunmeng Jiang sect compound came into view, Yu Ziyuan shielded her eyes from the sun and watched her home for a long while. She could barely recognize it, it had changed so much from the day she had seen it the last time, from the day everything came to ruins and the war had started.

She had of course heard that it had been burned down by the Qishan Wen sect soldiers led by Wen Chao after they decided to leave, but she had not expected so many changes. After all, Jiang Cheng and Jiang Yanli repeatedly assured her that they had rebuilt the place to be the same as in the past.

Well, perhaps they were saying the truth. The buildings actually looked the same, the layout too. And the houses and halls were in the same spots as previously. She was a bit too far away still to see every detail or to judge if the small bridges connecting between the buildings were also in the same places but she guessed that was the case. But still, something just felt different.

Was it because the buildings were now a lighter shade when sun was shining upon them? Was it because the material used had yet to settle to its previous colour? And perhaps the rooftops were also looking kind of different due to the newly employed tiles. And were signs of the Yunmeng Jiang sect of the same size? She could not pinpoint all the small differences but she could definitely say that this was not her old home, not exactly.

Although it still was. Because it was not the buildings which counted, she realized when they finally made it into the town and then the Yunmeng Jiang sect compound. It was not the buildings which were home to her, it was the people. And she could tell that those stayed largely the same, she was glad for that. Although there were also some new faces, she could still recognize almost half of them.

That could only mean that she and Jiang Fengmian had succeeded at least a little bit in defending their home and giving the disciples and town’s people time to evacuate during the Qishan Wen sect attack. And then the people came back to help with the rebuilding, or at least a part of them. Even if things would be different from now on, some of them would still stay the same. That was a very soothing thought.

Yu Ziyuan cut the greetings short, they had things to do, they could celebrate their return later. Now, they had to take care of Wei Wuxian. Her son did not need spiritual energy to be passed to him continuously anymore but she was not convinced he was out of the danger just yet. Wen Qing was only vague when reassuring them and Yu Ziyuan learned that it was not in her nature to give hope when nothing was proven yet. It hurt to not know if Wei Wuxian would or would not be fine but at the same time, it was kind that the Dafan Wen sect doctor refused to lie to them.

She had to marvel at the young generation nowadays. She did not know if she herself would have had this integration and determination if she had ever faced a war in her younger days, when she had just come to be wed with Jiang Fengmian as a naïve and way too young girl all those years ago. Of course, she had been strong in her own way back then, but she had to admit that it was nothing compared to what her children and their peers had demonstrated during the Sunshot campaign and after it.

She had always tried to lead them towards strength and resistance against anything, that was why she had employed perhaps a bit harsher methods than strictly necessary. However, she had only been looking out for them, she wanted them to be prepared to face the world.

And in the end, they had proven just that. They had managed everything to the best of their abilities, and Yu Ziyuan had to admit that it was way beyond what she would have ever imagined. They had all more than proven themselves. It took a war and half a year of life lost in captivity for her to realize that she had in fact been too strict with her children. She had never showed them love, only sternness and discipline.

As she was watching Jiang Yanli take charge of everything and ordering the disciples to help move Wei Wuxian to his room, Yu Ziyuan was regretting how much she had missed. Not only during the war but way before that. She had missed her children’s childhood. It was in fact her who had stripped it away from them, always demanding too much and scowling and scolding whenever she found them having fun or lazing around.

And the worst of all, she had broken Wei Wuxian. Well, perhaps that was not the correct word but the meaning left nothing to wonder about. She had moulded the young mind into believing that he had to serve the Yunmeng Jiang sect and that otherwise, he would have no place in Lotus Pier. She had broken his spirit in the worst way. And now, she was wondering if she even would have a chance for redemption. And, more importantly, if she even deserved another chance.

Chapter Text

Lan Wangji was sitting by Wei Ying’s side and looking at his pale and skinny face. There was not much they could do at this point. His husband was in his own room – at least according to Jiang Yanli this was the room which used to be his before Lotus Pier burned into ashes and had been rebuilt – yet he was still so unnaturally quiet and unmoving. So much unlike the Wei Ying which Lan Wangji fell in love with during the days back in Cloud Recesses. Somehow, it seemed like a lifetime ago even though it had just been a little over half a year.

They were in Lotus Pier for two days already and there had yet to be any change. Although he had been warned by Wen Qing that Wei Ying’s recovery would take a while, it was still nearly unbearable. There was almost nothing he could do to help his husband and it was truly mortifying. 

He could only assist Jiang Yanli as she patiently tried to pass some soup past Wei Ying’s chapped lips, even getting him drink a little bit of water had always been a task for several minutes if not more. Sometimes, Lan Wangji would be left alone to continue. Even though most of the food and water ended up anywhere else but down Wei Ying’s throat, he knew he could never give up. His husband would not survive without being fed in this way. 

Lan Wangji still found that he had to resist tears when he remembered that Wei Ying was now just a normal man. He did not have his golden core any more, yet he had still managed to be one of the most powerful cultivators there was. He had even defeated Wen Ruohan all on his own and had been able to control the Yin iron. That was something no other would have even close to accomplishing. 

Any reassurance Lan Wangji felt at these thoughts were however short-lived each time when he recalled what high price Wei Ying had to pay. It had been Wen Qing who had examined him thoroughly upon their arrival to Lotus Pier and pronounced a diagnosis. Lan Wangji could remember it word for word even after two days:

“Wei Wuxian’s condition is very worrying and precarious. While his physical injuries are of little concern and had already been taken care of, I am more worried about his mental state and the fact that his body is plagued with resentful energy. I had been taking care of Wen Ruohan and I had seen several signs like these during that time. It had however never got this bad, it is most probably because…”

Wen Qing had hesitated at that point and it took Jiang Yanli whispering that they all knew that Wei Ying had been missing his golden core for her to continue with no small amount of condolences and understanding:

“Wei Wuxian does not have a golden core which would have helped with the purification of the resentful energy. That is why it affects him more than it had Wen Ruohan, I am sure of it. I cannot see any other way for him to recover more quickly but by getting rid at least of part of the resentful energy coursing through his meridians and gathering where his golden core had once been. If we do not find any way to help him, I am afraid that he would perhaps never wake up again.”

As hundred times before, Lan Wangji lifted his hand and touched Wei Ying’s ice cold hand. Although he knew it would be of little help since they had tried earlier and there had been not much effect to it, he passed and circulated his spiritual energy within the other. He now knew better than to reach toward where he would have sensed a golden core just half a year ago. He did not like the feeling of that cold and hungry resentment occupying it. It always felt like the resentful energy had been devouring all the spiritual energy they had been trying to give Wei Ying. 

Lan Wangji had barely slept for these past two days. He was thinking what he could do more. He was grateful that he had been allowed to spend all his time by Wei Ying’s side but it was hard at the same time. He could just sit there, doing nothing and watch how his husband was fighting for his life. 

Suddenly, an idea came to his tired mind and he was surprised he had not thought about it earlier. He had only his exhaustion and worries for Wei Ying which were fully occupying his mind to blame. He just remembered how his husband had asked him to sing to him whenever he had felt the worst. He had actually done it twice already: in the Cave of the Tortoise of Slaughter and in the Nightless City palace. Both were in times of his direst need for comfort and support. Was now not also such a time?

Frantic to try out his theory, Lan Wangji let go of Wei Ying’s hand, immediately regretting losing the contact, and got out his guqin. He laid it onto his lap and immediately started playing the song he had composed for his husband, the song in which he was confessing his love for the other. He made sure to infuse all the spiritual energy he could into the music, he hoped that in this way he would be able to convey his true feelings which he had not gotten to tell the other while he had still been in his grasp. 

He was so lost in his efforts that he at first did not even notice that anyone had entered the room. It took Wen Qing to say his name for him to stop playing and look at her, a bit startled. He had known that the guards outside of the room would not have let anyone dangerous pass but it was still concerning that his mind had not been enough in the present moment for him to realize anyone was in the room with them. What if an assassin had come inside and Lan Wangji would fail to notice him? That was a truly terrifying thought. 

To help himself out of the morose thoughts, Lan Wangji focused on Wen Qing instead. The Dafan Wen clan doctor was just checking on Wei Ying’s vitals as she had been doing several times a day. Truth to be told, Lan Wangji had already stopped hoping for her to give him any positive news anytime soon. After all, it had been her who had said that they should not expect any miracles; it would actually be one if Wei Ying would wake up at all. 

However, right now, Wen Qing’s expression was disbelieving and she grabbed Wei Ying’s wrist with her other hand as well. Something must have happened. 

Lan Wangji was impatient to hear what was going on. He quickly stood up from his chair and took that half step which had been separating him from his husband. Now he was hovering above him, not knowing what he should do, how he should help. He was fearing the worst but Wen Qing did not look like she wanted to deliver any horrible news. That, at least, reassured Lan Wangji the tiniest bit. 

Wen Qing turned to him, that look of disbelief still clear on her face: “Young Master Lan, I think you have just found something which could help Wei Wuxian recover.”

Lan Wangji’s eyebrows flew sky high as Wen Qing gestured for him to check for himself. He took his husband’s wrist gently and checked for his pulse and the amount of resentful energy coursing through his meridians. His eyes went wide when he realized that Wei Ying’s pulse was now just the tiniest bit more pronounced and the resentful energy seemed to have settled down somewhat. He could have been imagining it but Wei Ying’s hand seemed warmer than before and his chest was rising and falling with more ease. 

Lan Wangji’s heart started beating faster and an impossible hope was growing in his guts. Could it be that his husband has finally reached the turning point and was starting to get better? 

Wen Qing looked at him and her expression was now pensive. “I have heard about the Gusu Lan sect’s musical cultivation but I have never thought it was this powerful. You have been playing some sort of healing music for him, have you not? I think it was helping, if only a little bit. Do you perhaps also know a song which could help him to get rid of the resentful energy?”

Lan Wangji was frozen and at first, he could not answer. Then, the tentative hope finally grew tangible and he felt like his heart wanted to jump out of his chest with the sheer happiness he was feeling. They had finally found a way to help Wei Ying! And it was the song he had given to the other which had made it possible too. 

He nodded to let Wen Qing know that there indeed was a song which could lower the levels of resentful energy of a place or of an object and eventually purify them. 

He was not sure he wanted to go that far, after all, Wei Ying would still need some resentment inside of him if he wanted to continue using demonic cultivation. Lan Wangji understood the basics of how it worked and now that he knew that it was the only way for his husband to defend himself, he could not bear to take it fully away. But he would at least help him to get rid of the excess which was harming Wei Ying.  

Chapter Text

Jiang Cheng was sitting in the Yunmeng Jiang sect tent all by himself. He was exhausted and his head was hurting from all what he had to do these last two days. He wanted to go home already and check on his brother, to make sure that Wei Wuxian was not in a life-threatening situation anymore. There had been only one message coming from Lotus Pier and it had been already a whole day old. So much could have changed in that short time frame, and who else would know better than Jiang Cheng who had lived through the fall of Lotus Pier and then a whole war. 

He had had already enough of intrigues and navigating the raging waters of sect leadership. He could not stand Jin Guangshan but he still had to try and buy his mother and sister enough time to get Wei Wuxian to safety before any assassin or a hired kidnapper would come after them. He knew for sure that the Lanling Jin sect leader and Jin Guangyao did not believe his excuses about Wei Wuxian being still unwell, Jiang Yanli and Yu Ziyuan taking care of him and all the appointed supervisors keeping an eye on them and that all being the reason that no one ever came out of the Yunmeng Jiang sect tent anymore.

However, this ruse that he and his father had thought of was still somewhat useful, at least he hoped it had been until now. Jin Guangshan was still publically declaring his concern over Wei Wuxian and never asked for the demonic cultivator to be handed over to the care of the Lanling Jin sect anymore. At least he had given up snatching Wei Wuxian away in plain sight.

That only left the hidden attempts which concerned Jiang Cheng way more. He could however not do anything about them as he did not even know where his family was right now. Jiang Cheng could only hope that he still needed his brother alive and would not come after his life now that he could not have his cooperation for himself anymore; he hoped that Jian Guangshan had not come to a decision that Wei Wuxian was better dead so he would not be a threat to him anymore. However, he could not be sure and there was no way for him to confirm this right now.

He sighed and rubbed his temples with his fingers. It had been another long and hard day of his learning to navigate the waters between Nie Mingjue, Lan Xichen and Jin Guangshan and his new son. All he wanted to do right now was to go to sleep and wake up only several days later. With all the worrying he had done these past few days, it had been a wonder that he had even gotten any rest at all, even if it had been just a few measly hours.

Just as he was about to get up and prepare for bed, he felt more than heard that there was someone walking just outside of the tent. It would not be anything too unusual, there were still many cultivators in the war camp as they refused to live inside Nightless City. What alerted him was the fact that the steps were way quieter than they should be for someone who would just be passing by. It seemed more like the person outside had been trying to sneak around unnoticed.

Well, too bad for them. Jiang Cheng was way more proficient in walking silently, he now used this skill, grabbed his sword and approached the door of the tent. The person was now apparently standing just on the other side of it. It was extremely suspicious.

Jiang Cheng did not wait for them to come inside, just in case it was someone who wanted to check who was in the tent and discover that Wei Wuxian was nowhere to be found. Or even worse, what if it was finally an assassin? Jiang Cheng reached his hand outside like an attacking snake, grabbed his prey over their mouth and dragged them inside, the blade of his sword at their throat.

The person stayed perfectly quiet and did not try to free themselves. Jiang Cheng had a little difficulty to look down at them when he was clutching them close to his chest but he managed it in the end.

He let go of them immediately. It was Nie Huisang who was wearing a dark green cloak. Jiang Cheng’s heart was slowly starting to calm down as he scowled at the unwelcomed guest. What was Nie Huisang doing here?

“Brother Jiang,” he whispered urgently and Jiang Cheng understood at once that he was afraid of being heard but despite that came to talk to him. What he wanted to say must have been very important then.

Jiang Cheng activated a silencing talisman which he had put up in order to convince everyone that his brother needed to rest in peace. Nie Huisang immediately relaxed and shook off the hood of his cloak. He looked tired and somehow almost twice his age. The last couple of days seemed to have taken a great toll on him for some reason. However, Jiang Cheng did not doubt that he was looking much the same. They were in this together.

“Brother Nie, he greeted back and invited the Qinghe Nie sect heir to sit down at the table with a gesture of his hand. Nie Huisang did not hesitate and all but fell down on the sitting cushion.

“Brother Jiang,” started Nie Huisang again and looked all around. “Where is your father? I wanted to talk to both of you about this. I may have come up with a way to finally get to Jin Guangshan and Jin Guangyao. But I will need your help, I believe you will be interested as it may also help Brother Wei to be cleared of all those rumours. I know who had been spreading them this whole time and I think we can finally catch them in the act.”

Jiang Cheng watched his friend with a mix of curiosity and awe. Sure, it had been Nie Huisang who had helped to get Wei Wuxian out of the war camp relatively unnoticed and it had also been him who had orchestrated the whole division of power after the Sunshot campaign had been finished. Still, Jiang Cheng had a hard time believing that Nie Huisang who had used to be a timid and somewhat weak individual during their studies in Cloud Recesses had turned out to be a shameless schemer and a puppet master.

After all, Jiang Cheng would have never believed him capable of going to such great lengths just to uncover Jiang Guangshan’s plans.

The Qinghe Nie sect heir had come to him right after the choice of supervisors had been announced to them and had told him everything about his plot. He had already suspected that Jin Guangshan had not been playing a clear game all this time and only wanted power. On that, they both agreed.

What Jing Cheng had not quite seen had been the fact why he would have wanted that. It had however long become clear now, the Lanling Jin sect leader wanted to control the whole cultivation world all on his own. That had been the reason he had not joined the battles and why he had offered Jin Guangyao – Meng Yao at that time – to accept him as his son if he helped him with his plot.  

Luckily, Nie Huisang had seen right through him and had acted in time, a true puppet master in the shadows. He had managed to convince Nie Mingjue to play with this for now, to look like he believed Jin Guangyao’s lies about Wei Wuxian being dangerous. This way, Jin Guangshan would not feel threatened until it would be too late.

He had also spoken with Lan Xichen, there however, the results were mixed. It had been nearly impossible to sway the Gusu Lan sect leader’s opinion of the man since Jin Guangyao had been the one who had helped him to hide on his running away after Cloud Recesses had been burnt. Now at least, Lan Xichen had accepted to be vigilant around the other and provide escort to Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji on their travels back to Lotus Pier.

Nie Huisang had really outdone himself in playing right into Jin Guangshan’s cards and making him feel in control of everything when the opposite was the truth. The Qinghe Nie sect disciple had been playing with him like a cat with a mouse this whole time. And it seemed like now was the time to finally strike.

All the exhaustion had left Jiang Cheng at once. He was ready for action. Anything would be better than attending banquets and discussions over what course the cultivation world should take from now on which were only a guise of Lanling Jin sect trying to control everything.

“Father should be here shortly,” he informed the other with a somewhat devilish grin.

Chapter Text

Jiang Fengmian was coming back to the Yunmeng Jiang sect tent after having met with Lan Xichen and Nie Mingjue in secret. He felt like they were still at war, only the enemy and the means of fight had changed. It was not Wen Ruohan anymore who wanted to dominate the cultivation world by force, now it was Jin Guangshan who wanted to coerce them into gratefully walking right into his clutches.

It was true that the three great sects had been exhausted by the war, their resources scarce and they had suffered many losses. That was however no reason for them to bow obediently to a new tyrant and oppressor; for Jiang Fengmian believed that it was exactly what Jin Guangshan would become in his quest for always more power and glamour for his own sent. From the very few conversations they had together since the end of the war, Jiang Fengmian quickly understood that the Lanling Jin sect leader only wanted to expand his power and did not care about common people at all.

That was why he wholeheartedly welcomed Lan Xichen’s and Nie Mingjue’s proposition to stand up to him. Only, they could not do so openly, even with the strength of all their three sects combined, they would have never been strong enough to face the Lanling Jin sect on their own. And the minor sects were for now neutral, fearing another conflict where they did not know which side to join. They would need a great reason to side with either party. While the Yunmeng Jiang, the Qinghe Nie and the Gusu Lan sect had not given them any as of yet, neither did Jin Guangshan luckily. In his arrogance, the Lanling Jin sect leader did not care about the support of the minor sects, taking it for granted instead.

This was the only time they would be able to unite once again and take out another great powerful man who was threatening to lead the cultivation world into disarray.

At first, Jiang Fengmian had been enraged that the Yunmeng Jiang sect had been left out of the negotiations after the final siege of the Nightless City palace but by now, he understood that it had been necessary. There had been too many eyes on them because of Wei Wuxian and his demonic cultivation that Lan Xichen and Nie Mingjue would not have been able to explain their plan to him in secret. They had done it after the division of spoils and Wei Wuxian’s supervisors had been announced. And he had agreed with their plan immediately.

All the more because Jin Guangshan had wanted to seize all three pieces of the Yin iron and Wei Wuxian to boost his own power. Luckily, Lan Xichen had been able to make him agree to decide otherwise. At least for now, things could change at any given minute.

Jiang Fengmian was extremely grateful to Lan Xichen for successfully convincing Jin Guangshan that it was a good idea to appoint Jin Zixuan as one of the supervisors. It helped that the Lanling Jin sect heir had been fearing his son taking over his position just as he had done with his own father and also having to face public opinion. Due to the fact that Jiang Cheng had publically announced the reestablishment of the engagement between Jin Zixuan and Jiang Yanli, there were many who would think it too cruel to separate the two lovebirds. In this aspect, everything was looking good.

They had to be careful thought and that was why they had left the youngsters out of it for now. Not that Lan Xichen or Nie Mingjue were much older but at least they had been in the position of sect leaders for a while and were accustomed enough to the sect politics’ games. Not so much Jiang Cheng who was too hot-headed to be able to patiently wait for the right time or Nie Huisang. The Qinghe Nie sect heir had demonstrated some hidden talents and competence but still, he was not strong enough to be helping in the upcoming conflict. Not that Nie Mingjue would let his little brother join into something this dangerous either.

The three of them were prepared, now it was just the matter of getting the support of a sufficient number of minor sects so they would be able to proceed with their plan. They wanted this to be as peaceful as possible, there had been enough lives lost in the war, there should not be any more victims, much less innocent ones. Yet, they would still have to fight, that much was clear even now.

He was not doing it only for the peace in the cultivation world, though that was of course one of the reasons as well. But certainly not the main one. He knew that Wei Wuxian would not be fully safe until the threat of the Lanling Jin sect leader and the way too ambitious Jin Guangyao would be taken care of.

There was not much time left though, Wei Wuxian could already be facing a grave danger for all Jiang Fengmian knew. Some of the Gusu Lan sect disciples which Lan Xichen had sent to provide protection during Lan Wangji’s travels to Lotus Pier had already come back and informed them that there had indeed already been attempts at Wei Wuxian’s freedom and life. It was very concerning but not something they would be able to do anything about right now. He could only hope that his wife would be able to protect their children.

Jiang Fengmian made it back to the Yunmeng Jiang sect tent and when he opened the door, he quickly closed it behind himself, hiding a worried expression behind a small smile. As soon as he stepped inside, he noticed that there was someone else beside his son whom he had been expecting to be there. He wondered what Nie Huisang wanted this late at night and in secret too if his dark cloak and serious expression had anything to say about that.

Jiang Fengmian however picked himself up quickly enough and he greeted: “Good evening, A-Cheng, Young Master Nie. To what do we own the pleasure?”

It was Jiang Cheng who spoke, his expression serious and slightly tense: “Father, we need to talk.”

Chapter Text

Jiang Cheng was observing as his father came to join him and Nie Huisang at the table. It was clear to him that Jiang Fengmian had been surprised by the Qinghe Nie disciple’s presence in the tent, but his father was doing a job hiding his emotions. The only one which stayed visible on his face was a polite curiosity, perhaps mixed with some amusement as well. Jiang Cheng did not know what to make of it.

However, as his father sat down, Nie Huisang did not wait for anything anymore and he started explaining right off the bat, shocking Jiang Cheng in places: “Brother Jiang, Former Sect Leader Jiang, I came to you today to tell you how we could proceed with the plan my brother and Sect Leader Lan came up with. Before you will ask, yes, I knew about their plan of overthrowing Jin Guangshan from the very beginning. It was me who had convinced my brother to appoint Wen Qing, one of the best doctors and someone who would not yield to the Lanling Jin sect’s propositions or threats, as one of Brother Wei’s supervisors.

It cannot be helped that Brother Wei needs to be watched right now. It is even essential to the plan. The whole cultivation world needs to know that it is not Brother Wei who is dangerous and plotting to take over Wen Ruohan’s position.

Former Sect Leader Jiang, although Sect Leader Lan’s plan is solid enough, you are lacking in power to execute it. You need more support from minor sects so Jin Guangshan would think twice about going against you and starting another war. His sect on their own could stand up to the rest of the cultivation world; it had been very smart from his part to not participate in the Sunshot campaign and only to watch form the side-lines. Now the Lanling Jin sect still stands strong while the other three great sects had suffered substantial loses.

I suspect he had even planned all of this from the very beginning. After all, it had been him who had repeatedly tried to convince everyone that they should listen to Wen Ruohan and not oppose the Qishan Wen sect. I think he had had ties with them, perhaps some kind of agreement even, way before the war had started. However, I have yet to prove it.

And that is why I am here, this is the part where I need your assistance. I have already started investigating but I will need more time to dug up all of Jin Guangshan’s and Jin Guangyao’s dirty secrets. It means that in the meantime, they absolutely cannot get hold of Brother Wei, there would be no stopping to them if they did. I fear that they would try to break Brother Wei’s spirit and make him cooperate with them…”

“Wei Wuxian would never help Jin Guangshan with anything,” Jiang Cheng interrupted the Qinghe Nie sect heir mid-sentence. He knew that he should listen to Nie Huisang and his plan but just could not help himself. It sounded too much as if the other was underestimating Wei Wuxian and Jiang Cheng did not like it. Even without aa golden core, his brother was still one of the strongest people he knew.

“Of course he would not,” tried to calm him down Nie Huisang, “at least not willingly that is. But what if Jin Guangshan or Jin Guangyao threatened him with doing something to the Yunmeng Jiang sect? What if they would use you against him and coerce him into agreeing to do their bidding in order to protect you? Can you still say that Brother Wei would be able to resist?”

Both Jiang Cheng and Jiang Fengmian stayed silent. The answer to that was more than clear no matter how much Jiang Cheng wanted to deny it. He knew fully well that Wei Wuxian would do anything to protect their family and the Yunmeng Jiang sect in general, he would even cooperate with a tyrant to protect them. And most probably plot against him at the same time without any regards for his own life, just like he had tried with Wen Ruohan.

The memory was still upsetting Jiang Cheng greatly till this day. He could not shake off the helplessness he had felt when he had seen his brother kneel in front of the Qishan Wen sect just to protect them. He still shivered when he remembered his brother’s smile as he had hung in the air with Wen Ruohan’s hand around his neck and they had been leaving the Nightless City palace without him. It haunted Jiang Cheng and the memories would not let him sleep peacefully at night.

Just like before, he had a strong desire to finally leave this war camp behind him and go back to Lotus Pier and see his brother again. He needed to make sure that Wei Wuxian was safe and sound, recovering from all of his ordeals. And so he did not argue with Nie Huisang anymore, wanting to have all this over with quickly.

The silence seemed to have been answer enough for the Qinghe Nie sect heir and he continued, more gently and with a lot of sympathy this time: “Brother Jiang, I know how you feel. I also worry about my older brother at times and want to protect him to the best of my abilities. This is why I came to talk to you first so you could leave for Lotus Pier this evening. There is no time to lose.

I will explain the whole plan to Sect Leader Lan and my brother, I promise we will take care of most of it. The only thing I ask is that you keep Brother Wei safe and well behaved. Although I believe that Jin Zixuan, Lan Wangji nor Wen Qing would be willing to report anything bad to Jin Guangshan, I do not doubt that he will also send some spies of his own. You need to be careful and look after Brother Wei. There could not be any incidents of him using demonic cultivation or all the minor sects would turn to the Chief cultivator for support. If that came to pass, the Yunmeng Jiang sect would have no other option but to surrender Brother Wei to the Lanling Jin sect or wage a war against it.

Leave everything to us, I promise that it would be fast. We will definitely discover something which would convince the minor sects to come to our side. And if there would be nothing, we can still set up a trap. We will see. For now, just do not worry about this, we will keep in touch. Do not linger here anymore, you need to be by Brother Wei’s side when he awakens.”

Jiang Cheng understood at last, there was no way they would be able to win this fight right now, Nie Huisang had said it himself. They needed more allies and that would take time. The only thing they could do was make sure that Wei Wuxian would recover in peace and not be threatened by the Lanling Jin sect.

The simple mention of having more spies in Lotus Pier was making him uneasy. What if they had already been there? What if danger was already lurking around his brother, just to snatch him away in his helpless state? Of course, Wei Wuxian could defend himself but that was not the case when he was still unconscious.

Jiang Cheng and his father needed to go back immediately, just as Nie Huisang had suggested.

Chapter Text

Jiang Yanli was sitting by her brother’s side and Jin Zixuan was standing behind her, his hands on her shoulders, providing comfort and reassurance. She reached out and put one of her own hands on his in a silent thank you. For the past two days, she had worried about Wei Wuxian to the point that she could hardly sleep or eat. She knew that Lan Wangji would take good care of him, it was now clearer than ever that the Second Jade saw Wei Wuxian as something way more than a simple friend.

Still, her mind was preoccupied with thoughts about how she could help her brother. There was after all only so much that transferring spiritual energy to someone who did not have a golden core could do. Moreover, no one knew exactly what impacts had demonic cultivation and the battle for the control of the Yin iron on Wei Wuxian. She really could not help but worry.

All that time, Jin Zixuan never left her side. He was taking care of her as she was of her brother. He would make her eat meals regularly, if only a few mouthfuls each time and he would tell her to go to bed and try to sleep. Since they were not yet married, he did not lay beside her but only sat close and held her hand. Jiang Yanli once wanted all of this very much but now her own needs paled in comparison with how precarious Wei Wuxian’s situation was. Nevertheless, she still appreciated the gestures and she was sure that Jin Zixuan knew that.

Today however, she was not sitting here tense with worries and helplessness, today, her shoulders were stiff because of relief.

When she had come inside the room this morning to keep vigil by her brother’s side instead of Lan Wangji, she had found things very different than in the evening. The Second Jade had been sitting by his guqin and playing. That in itself was a great change because he had not said even a single word ever since coming to Lotus Pier nor tried to do anything besides watching Wei Wuxian and doing his best to help the other recover.

Jiang Yanli had been even more surprised and had almost burst out in tears when she checked her brother’s condition and had immediately felt that it was way better. His hands had not been ice cold anymore and despite her inability to fully assess the damage done by the resentful energy nor the amount of it in Wei Wuxian’s body, she could tell that his condition had improved significantly. Wen Qing had only confirmed this when she had come back with her needles and started treating Wei Wuxian. She also explained that Lan Wangji had found a way to finally help her brother with his recovery.

Once the Second Jade and Wen Qing had left – the former only because of the Dafan Wen clan doctor’s threats that he would be put into sleep if he did not go to bed on his own – she sat down by the side of her brother’s bed and let the relief fully wash over her. She could tell that Jin Zixuan understood the state of her mind and was thankful that he was not trying to be too pushy. He only silently provided support and was now waiting for her to gather herself and start her routine of taking care of her brother.

Even though Wei Wuxian was still unconscious, Jiang Yanli wanted him to not feel bad once he would wake up and was combing his hair and washing his face every single day. He also looked less fragile that way and she liked it better than to see him as broken as he had been when Jiang Cheng and Lan Wangji had brought him back from the Nightless City palace. She would also move his limbs and body around a bit on Wen Qing’s advice, it would be easier on him after waking up that way and he would not get sores.

After her routine was finished, she picked up a bowl of broth she had brought and which had by now went cool enough for her to try and feed her brother. The task was always a hard one, not because she did not want to do it, on the contrary, but because Wei Wuxian was still unconscious and it was hard to get him to eat anything. Nevertheless, she would never abandon it in a million years.

She picked up a spoon and took a very small amount, delivering it into Wei Wuxian’s mouth. She was ecstatic when nearly none if it spilled out and with a little effort, the soup went down her brother’s throat. She took a towel and dabbed away the spilled drops gently. She continued this process until there was no broth left in the bowl and she was sure that Wei Wuxian had had at least some of it.

Once again, she felt tears gather in her eyes. She wanted to cook all the Lotus root port rib soup that Wei Wuxian could eat until he would get tired of it for him, but he was just laying there motionless and even if she personally prepared his favourite dish, he could not be in any condition to enjoy it.

She hoped that he would wake up soon. He was so pale and thin when he was only sleeping like that; she wanted him to be running around again and joking with everyone with his usual energy and smiling face. And more importantly, she wanted him to eat his fill for every meal and recover as much as possible.

She did not know if he would be able to ever recover fully, and neither Wen Qing wanted to give any hopes in that field. She knew she could not even start to imagine how hard it must be for her brother who had always been powerful and talented, doing everything effortlessly and having a strong golden core to balance his recklessness, to now live without his cultivation. Her own golden core was just barely there, helping her with healing more than with anything else, but she could still feel it and it always gave her comfort. Now, Wei Wuxian would not have this anymore. She wondered how he would cope with this fact.

She was worried that he would try to hide everything. He had always done that, he never showed them his pain, not his real one in any case. He would often pout and whine at her about small cuts or strained muscles but he would never tell her if he was seriously injured. She had come to accept this part of his personality and knew by now how to read him, but she wondered whether she would be able to do that anymore. Somehow, she had a feeling that Wei Wuxian would close off even more.

That was however not something she would be able to confirm until her brother would wake up. All she could do at this point was to take care of him to the best of her abilities and wait. Just as always.

At least now, she knew that she was not alone in this. Her whole family would help. And so would Wen Qing, Jin Zixuan and Lan Wangji. With their help, hopefully, Wei Wuxian would be able to recover in the end. Since they have found a way to make a difference and undeniable progress with the Second Jade’s musical cultivation.

Especially because of Lan Wangji, she was convinced of that. It was not only that the two of them seemed to have something going on between them, something that Jiang Yanli suspected was way deeper and sweeter than normal friendship. She wondered whether the two of them knew or have perhaps even already made their feelings known to the other. It would surely help, she knew that having Jin Zixuan by her side and returning her feeling was the best thing which had ever happened to her.

Chapter Text

Yu Ziyuan was standing at the side of the training grounds and supervising the junior disciples who were running through their forms. They were quite young and cutely clumsy, their moves were full of enthusiasm but they still had a long way to go before they would be anywhere near the level of being called the Yunmeng Jiang sect style.

As she was watching the children try their best, she felt sad. She remembered another child who she had been training just like this, standing sternly above him and reprimanding him for his every mistake. How much must have Wei Wuxian disliked her and feared her when he had been younger? She had always pushed him to his limits and sometimes beyond only for him to become strong enough to take care of her own children. It was only now that she realized that she had been way too harsh with him in this regard as well.

She had been quite strict with everyone, but mostly with the Yunmeng Jiang sect head disciple. She thought she had been preparing him for his duties in this way, but it was only now that she knew that she had in fact failed him. She had berated him and pushed him only forward, she never let him rest until he went through the forms correctly. Looking at the junior disciples with sweat covering their small foreheads, this was not the correct way, she would only hurt them, just like she had already done with her son.

True, Wei Wuxian grew up to be one of the strongest and most prominent cultivators of his generation, but at what cost? Now he was laying in his room, just barely escaping death. Yu Ziyuan knew that that was all her fault for pushing the boy too much and completely disregarding his personal feelings, only ever drilling his duty to him.

Just as she was now doing with the junior disciples. She remembered how quick their progress had been when Wei Wuxian had been teaching them and how happy their faces were when he would come to them and gently point out any mistakes in forms, helping to correct them with patience. That was not something Yu Ziyuan was used to doing. She had always just stood on the side, watching the children with eagle eyes and reprimanding them if they did something wrong. She never walked up to them and explained, she only ever expected them to be able to learn everything after just a single explanation, completely omitting the fact that not everyone was a genius like Wei Wuxian.

And perhaps even the boy had not appreciated her ways. Perhaps he had just been too scared of her this whole time and he had pushed himself to be perfect, just as she had demanded of him. During his first year in Lotus Pier, Wei Wuxian would go train even outside of the assigned curriculum regularly. At that time, Yu Ziyuan had assumed that he wanted to catch up to the rest of the disciples who had been learning cultivation for several years already and she was glad for it. The harder he trained, the faster he would be able to take upon him more duties.

However, now she wondered if it was not because he was scared of her expectations and though it necessary to live up to them. Had he even had any free time at all? Well, that was dumb, of course he had. If not, he would not have been caught causing trouble and playing pranks on everyone. But still, she could not shake off the feeling that she had maybe stripped his childhood away from him, or at least part of it.

She had to change her ways. Not only when it came to Wei Wuxian, she had already decided that she would be the best mother figure from now on if he would let her, despite the fact that she would have to learn everything from scratch. No, she had to also change her attitude towards the disciples. Since Wei Wuxian was still unconscious and Jiang Cheng and her husband were not back in Lotus Pier yet, she was the only one who could supervise the training. And she knew she was not doing it the right way.

She had already thought about the necessity of choosing another head disciple now that Wei Wuxian was not able to carry on with his duties because of his lack of his golden core. But she could simply not do that, it would be too cruel to her son. She was sure that Wei Wuxian would just accept it but would be very sad in fact, perhaps even feeling left out or punished for all she could guess. And she could not have that!

Even without a golden core, surely the boy could still do what he wanted, at least to some extent. Yu Ziyuan had seen his face while teaching and she knew he loved it. She would not take this away from him. She did not want to hurt him anymore; he could do whatever he wanted and she would just stand there, watching him and catch him and help him if ever he could not do something anymore. After all, it had been her education and disregard of him which had caused him to lose his golden core and struggle to still protect her family in the first place. At least partially.

No, she would definitely not make the same mistake again. She took a deep breath and approached a tentative step in the direction of the panting and clearly exhausted junior disciples. Her heart hurt when she saw that a few of them were looking scared or nervous when she came closer. She tried to smile and look like she was not angry. The gentle way did not come easy to her but she was trying her very best. It did not do much, although some of the tension still disappeared from the disciples’ shoulders.

They continued their forms while she was walking between them, their mouths opened slightly in surprise when she would stop and correct their mistakes, gently offering help and explanations. She knew only a few of the young disciples, not many had come back after the fall of Lotus Pier and even less came back to the Yunmeng Jiang sect after it had been re-established. Those she had trained before were looking at her in utter bewilderment, this was not how they remembered her.

It did not matter though; she had already decided to change her ways. The only ones who deserved her wrath and harsh words were her enemies, not the disciples and definitely not her family. She would never again make the same mistake; she would make sure that Wei Wuxian would understand it as soon as he would wake up.

After some time when she saw that some of the disciples were starting to falter in their movements, she stopped the training and let them go for the day. The war was already over and although there may be another one starting soon, it would not be helping anyone if the Yunmeng Jiang sect disciples would be exhausted and on a brink of collapse after each training session.

The children looked at her with a bit of suspicion as they were leaving the training grounds quietly and orderly, so much unlike when Wei Wuxian’s lessons finished and they would all run out to have fun. For now, it did not matter, she would just go slowly and would hope that the disciples would warm up to her at least a bit. She would make sure that whenever Wei Wuxian would decide to come back to the teaching, the children would be prepared and looking forward to it just like she herself would.

Chapter Text

Jiang Cheng was relieved that they could finally leave the war camp behind them and go back home. He had had enough of intrigues and Nie Huisang’s complicated plans in which the Qinghe Nie sect heir wanted to use Wei Wuxian as a bait or his pawn. Although he liked Nie Huisang as a friend and it was true that his quick thinking had gotten them out of a tight spot more than once, Jiang Cheng could not help but to feel tired and slightly angry when those plans would count with his brother’s knowing or unknowing contribution.

It seemed like Jiang Fengmian had also been plotting behind his back with Lan Xichen and Nie Mingjue and Jiang Cheng was offended, if only a little. He had thought that his father had already acknowledged him as the new Yunmeng Jiang sect leader. Should he then not involve him in matters which concerned the whole sect or its head disciple? Should he had not gotten to know about a plan which was set in motion in order to protect his brother and the whole cultivation world?

Well, Jiang Cheng supposed, perhaps it was no wonder. He did not quite shine during the Sunshot campaign with Wei Wuxian doing most of the work and fighting his battles for him. Although he had resurrected the Yunmeng Jiang sect from the ashes of the burnt Lotus Pier and had managed to recruit new disciples, it was still not the old Yunmeng Jiang sect. Perhaps his father did not like all the changes?

Or had he maybe come to think that Jiang Cheng was too weak and not quick-witted enough to be a sect leader because he had failed to see all the dangers which lurked in the shadows? But he had tried; he had never believed Jin Guangyao and now even Nie Huisang had confirmed that that man was not to be trusted, especially not when it concerned Wei Wuxian.

His father did not give him any signs of acknowledgement or any praise or scolding ever since Nie Huisang had left their tent and they had mounted their swords to fly to Lotus Pier. In fact, their home was already in sight and Jiang Fengmian had yet to say a single word. Jiang Cheng knew he had a deep scowl on his face but he just could not will himself to try and put it away.

He was in a very foul mood when they set down in the main courtyard of the Yunmeng Jiang sect compound. The exact one which had been so drenched in blood during the Wen’s siege that Jiang Cheng had to completely replace all the pavement because it could not be scrubbed away no matter how hard anyone tried.

His scowl deepened still when only his mother, sister, Jin Zixuan and several disciples came to greet him and his father. There was no sign of Wei Wuxian nowhere around. Even though Jiang Cheng could think of a number of reasons why his brother had not come to meet them, he knew only one of them was true no matter how hard he wished it was not. Wei Wuxian must have still been unconscious; or if he was awake, he was in such a bad condition that he was not able to get out of his bed.

His hypothesis was proven correct when Jiang Yanli reacted to Jiang Fengmian’s eyes which were scanning the whole courtyard: “Father, A-Cheng… A-Xian, he had still not woken up. Lan Wangji and Wen Qing are taking care of him.” Jiang Cheng scowl was now so tight that he was worried it would stay on his face permanently. His sister was quick in trying to reassure him: “He is doing much better now. Lan Wangji had been playing healing music for him for the last couple of days and it seems to be doing wonders.”

Jiang Yanli did not mention anything about Wei Wuxian’s lack of a golden core. However, Jiang Cheng could clearly hear what had been left unsaid. Without a golden core, his brother’s recovery was slow and everything which would help a normal cultivator was of much less use to him. Even the Gusu Lan sect’s special musical healing surely had only limited effect. Limited, yes, but luckily not none. There was still hope things could get better, if only slowly.

“Sect Leader Jiang, we need you to answer several requests for help from nearby towns and villages. People had been suffering because of the war and are asking for help.”

A Yunmeng Jiang sect’s disciple whose name Jiang Cheng could not recall at the moment was looking in confusion between him and Jiang Fengmian. The man was older and Jiang Cheng knew that he had been in the sect even before the fall of Lotus Pier. He must have also thought that now, when his father was back, Jiang Fengmian would be the sect leader again even though he did not want to offend Jiang Cheng.

It surprised Jiang Cheng greatly when his father spoke instead of waiting for him to explain everything: “I am not the Yunmeng Jiang sect leader anymore. A-Cheng had proven more than capable of leading the sect. I can now retire from the position with light heart. We will hold an official succession ceremony once everything had settled down a little. But for now, please refer to him for any sect related matters.”

During his speech which he had pronounced in a loud enough voice so everyone would hear him, Jiang Fengmian put one of his hands on his son’s shoulder and squeezed a little. Although there were still no words spoken between them, Jiang Cheng saw in his eyes recognition he had been always waiting for. His father’s expression was one of pride and he nodded to show his son his acknowledgment.

Jiang Cheng thought he could not be any happier right now. Well, perhaps only if Wei Wuxian would be there together with him and he could share this moment with him.

He had realized just now that all those years he had been jealous of his brother for receiving all his father’s attention and praise, his feelings had been misplaced. Even now, Jiang Fengmian’s acknowledgment and praise were hidden, barely to be seen if Jiang Cheng had not been looking for them. It was not that his father had not shown him any until now, it was that he had been too blinded by his jealousy that he could not see them.

And of course his brother had needed all the encouragement he could get after living on the streets for so long and having started his cultivation training years after anyone else and with his body still weak from his ordeals. He really should have been kinder to Wei Wuxian at that time. Would anything change if he had? Would his brother perhaps not have such a strong urge to protect them because he felt indebted to their family and guilty for ruining it? Gods knew that Jiang Cheng’s words must have also played a part in today’s state of affairs and in Wei Wuxian’s unhealthy self-sacrificial and self-blaming tendencies.

Jiang Cheng resolutely pushed these thoughts away, he could deal with them at a later date. He had sect leader duties to do now. He would not fail his father’s trust in him. He shook his head a bit to clear it and straightened his spine. It would not do for the Yunmeng Jiang sect to have a weak leader.

All the disciples in the courtyard were now looking at him, and there were even more coming in. Jiang Fengmian was still holding onto his shoulder and Jiang Cheng found it very reassuring. He knew that his father was there with him and he could always turn to him for advise whenever he would need to. He was not alone in this and he would make sure that Jiang Fengmian would be even more proud of him.

“You heard my father,” he addressed everyone, his voice confident and light. He did not feel crushed under the sect leader duties anymore. “Go back to your posts and duties. I will come back to check on everything as soon as I see my brother. Then, I will deal with the matters which had accumulated during the war.”

He was only a little bit stunned when all the disciples and even his parents, sister and Jin Zixuan – the latter with a somewhat begrudging expression but it was not like Jiang Cheng cared about the peacock right now, this was his moment alright – bowed to him. The disciples chorused: “Sect Leader Jiang, Master Jiang, welcome home.”

Chapter Text

The very evening when her family had become reunited in Lotus Pier once again, Yu Ziyuan called all the members – except for Wei Wuxian of course as he had yet to regain consciousness – to the sect hall for a serious discussion. There was a matter which she had been considering ever since getting home and which hardly let her sleep.

As soon as everyone including her sat down around a small table which she had had brought inside, a little reminder of their family’s shared meals, she looked at all of them in turn. She could hardly recognize any of them, they had all changed during the war.

Jiang Yanli had a serious expression on her face but otherwise, she was looking quite calm and collected. Yu Ziyuan recalled all those times she had to reprimand her daughter to sit properly when Wei Wuxian had been injured and she had been impatient to get to him and take care of him. Not anymore it seemed; Jiang Yanli was now way stronger, and they had also more people to care for her brother. She was no longer the only one who would go to him and talk to him kindly when he was not feeling well. They were now all impatient to help to the best of their abilities too.

Jiang Cheng had also grown, both physically and mentally. He was now almost a foot taller, it seemed like he had gone through a growth spurt since the fall of the Lotus Pier. Yu Ziyuan noticed this fact only now. If she needed any proof that she had not been herself since Wei Wuxian had rescued her and her family from the Nightless City palace, this was the best one she could get. She had been so distressed that she had not even paid attention to her children properly.

Jiang Cheng had also gotten stronger on the mental field. Where Yu Ziyuan had not believed he would ever be able to lead the sect this soon, she had been proven wrong. Her son had stepped up to the challenge that he should not have ever faced this young and it had steeled him in the positive way. He was now sitting with his spine perfectly straight and was looking very confident in himself. Yu Ziyuan was proud of him.

As for Jiang Fengmian, her husband seemed just as tired as he had been in the war camp. However, there was no more resignation visible on his face, if anything, there was hope and hidden energy. It was clear that he was ready for whatever life was about to throw his way despite being already almost past his best years. He looked the same way as Yu Ziyuan herself was feeling; somewhat overwhelmed yet proud of their children’s success all the same. The long captivity took a number on both of them and she knew they would need some more time to truly recover.

Once she checked on everyone around her, she took a deep breath, steeling herself for the discussion to come. One that had been inevitable for several days already but also one which she was not ready to have just yet. Still, there was probably no better time than right now, before Wei Wuxian would wake up.

She cleared her throat and started without much introduction: “I have called you here today to discuss a particular point concerning A-Ying.” She winced a bit when her children looked at her with alarm and a speck of distrust in their eyes. She tried to not sound too severe when she continued: “It is about his golden core.”

Now it was her husband who flinched a bit, suddenly looking sad. She could understand him, she herself had been horrified when she had learned her son would never again be able to cultivate spiritual energy or use his sword. It really was too cruel. She still felt extreme remorse and guilt when she realized that it had been – at least partially – her fault that he had ended up like that. She should have never gotten angry and listened to Wang Lingjiao, she should have never hurt Wei Wuxian in the she had had.

It was now however too late to do anything about it. It was not like Wei Wuxian could get his golden core back or cultivate a new one. She knew fully well that those whose golden cores had been melted by Wen Zhuliu could never again strive for the summit.

She squeezed her hands in her lap a bit tighter and willed her mind to abandon these trains of thoughts, it would do her nor Wei Wuxian no good to linger on the past and any possibilities which had been already lost to them.

She gathered herself and continued, her voice never betraying her inner turmoil: “We need to discuss whether we will tell about it to anyone.”

There was a long silence in the room as they were all thinking about it. Yu Ziyuan had already considered both possibilities, telling or not telling the Yunmeng Jiang sect disciples was the question. Lan Wangji and Jin Zixuan already knew about this just as Wen Qing. But not anyone else as Yu Ziyuan hoped.

It was Jiang Fengmian who spoke first, deliberately voicing his own analysis slowly to make his point: “True, there are definitely more dangers hidden when we tell anyone about it. Jin Guangshan wants A-Ying for himself, I am afraid that he would attack head on or send someone to kidnap A-Ying if he knew how weak he is right now. He is an easy target.”

Jiang Yanli frowned a little bit and quickly stepped into the discussion: “But if no one knows, they would expect A-Xian to behave the same as before. They would want him to abandon demonic cultivation and come back to the sword. It will be hard for him to face all the expectations. He will surely force himself and he could end up hurting.”

Yu Ziyuan had also seen this argument coming. This was exactly why she wanted all of them to talk about this together, as a family. After all, it concerned one of them. At the same time however, she was unsure of her own decision. Was it their place to decide who should know and who should not?

As if Jiang Cheng had read her thoughts, he was now coming with his own argument: “Yes, that is right. Wei Wuxian is an idiot; he will definitely try to hide everything, perhaps hoping that we do not know. We cannot have that, it was bad enough that he had to hide his pain until now, he should not have to do that anymore.

But if we want to tell anyone, there is another risk as well. Nie Huisang had warned us that there were probably also other spies and supervisors who keep an eye on Wei Wuxian in Lotus Pier already. Even if we swear everyone to secrecy, it would get out sooner or later. And then everyone would come for Wei Wuxian’s head if he so much as makes a wrong step. We could not have that either.”

Well, all those were true and that was why Yu Ziyuan had wanted them to decide together. This was not something that a single person should try force on Wei Wuxian. There were risks to both variants and she did not know which one was better. They had to protect her son but it could come with a great price. Which one should they opt for? She was unconvinced and torn between both options, neither of them the perfect one she would have liked to have.

No, that was not quite true, she knew it deep down. She had hurt her son too much already and she would not be able to cause him any harm again. For her, the only viable option would be to tell everyone about Wei Wuxian’s missing golden core so he would not have to hide that fact. They would however have to be careful about how they would break the news to the boy in question and how they would treat him afterwards.

It would not do if Wei Wuxian would feel unwanted or useless in the Yunmeng Jiang sect. Gods knew that Yu Ziyuan had said those words often enough for him to believe that if he could not protect her family, they had no use for him and would throw him back onto the streets. She really had been such an awful mother figure to him, she did not even have the right to worry about him.

It was Jiang Cheng who closed the debate in the end. His voice was confident and there was no question that he was talking as the Yunmeng Jiang sect leader and not as her son anymore: “We will wait some more. It is not like Wei Wuxian will wake up tomorrow. Wen Qing said there was still a long way for him to walk to recovery. We should only tell our disciples just before he will wake up. It would help us to protect him now and it would also spare him any expectations later.”

No one spoke after that, they only nodded their heads. The plan was clear and they had to prepare now, both for Wei Wuxian’s recovery and Jian Guangshan’s schemes. They would be busy for a while.

Chapter Text

Jiang Yanli was sitting by Wei Wuxian’s side just as many other times this past two weeks. Wen Qing had warned them that even with Lan Wangji’s healing music and all the care they could provide including regular transfers of spiritual energy, her brother’s recovery would be very slow. She had been right. It was already two weeks and Wei Wuxian had yet to awaken. Although he was proclaimed out of danger three days ago, it was now still the matter of time for him to open his eyes.

Everyone was mortified as they kept vigil by Wei Wuxian’s bed in case he, by some miracle and very impossibly so, which had always been his forte, woke up and no one was with him. They did not want to leave his side for even a single moment and it always took a lot of persuasion for each person to go take some rest themselves. Just as Jiang Yanli had coerced the Second Jade into doing.

She could see that Lan Wangji felt perhaps the worst of them all. After two weeks, she thought that she had learned to read his minimal expressions quite well. Even though everyone always said that Lan Wangji’s face was expressionless, it was in fact far from truth. It was just that his emotions were more often than not conveyed by his eyes and only minute movements of facial muscles which were gone before anyone could notice them if one was not looking closely enough.

And the most telling sign of all, if she would doubt Lan Wangji’s feelings towards her brother – which she did not at this point – was when she had come to take her shift and had overheard the Second Jade calling Wei Wuxian his soulmate. She had already guessed that there had been something much bigger between the two of them, that they were much closer than just friends, so it was not too unexpected for her to confirm that Lan Wangji was in fact in love with her brother.

It was a good thing too since Wei Wuxian needed someone to take care of him and remind him that his life had a lot of value beside laying it down for the sake of her family and the Yunmeng Jiang sect in general. Her brother needed someone to value him when he often did not value himself enough. And it seemed like Lan Wangji could be the perfect choice.

So Jiang Yanli did her best to be nice to the Second Jade and encourage him to spend as much time as possible with Wei Wuxian. All the while making sure that he ate and slept properly. It would not do if Lan Wangji collapsed because of taking care of his loved one, it would not be too good if Wei Wuxian saw that when he would wake up.

Jiang Yanli looked at her brother’s face. Fortunately, it was no longer deathly pale, some colour returned to it already even though it was still not the tanned and smiling face she wanted to see. Wei Wuxian was now also breathing easily enough and Jiang Yanli would have not believed until now that she could feel this relieved while watching someone’s chest rise and fall regularly. But here she was, celebrating even the tiniest signs of recovery that her brother would present.

She reached out and brushed a stray strand of hair away from Wei Wuxian’s face. Who knew how it had gotten there in the first place when her brother only laid unmoving all the time. Nevertheless, it was better this way, he looked more peaceful when she could see his whole face, unobstructed by any obstacles.

She sighed; she hated this. She hated to see her brother this hurt and not knowing when he would wake up. She hated not being able to help in any meaningful way. All she could do was wait. Just as all the previous times when she had been left behind by her brothers and could only see their leaving backs. She could only ever wait for them patiently and treat their injuries and sooth their worries once they would come back to her.

It was the same now, Wei Wuxian had gone away somewhere she could not reach and all she could do was sit here by his bedside and do nothing but wait. It was mortifying truly. Never knowing when and in what kind of condition her brothers would come back was the worst. Still, she never abandoned her duty and waited for them with prepared bandages and medical salves and with a hot pot of her Lotus root pork rib soup that they loved so much.

Not being able to fight alongside them or keep up with them, this was really the only thing that she could do. This and praying for their safe return.

Suddenly, the door opened and since Jiang Yanli had not been expecting it, she flinched a little and immediately turned around on her chair, ready to shield Wei Wuxian with her body should the unannounced intruder be a kidnapper or an assassin. She knew the guards outside of the door would not have let anyone pass but a number of things could have happened and her brother could be in danger.

Luckily, her worries proved to be unfounded she realized when she spotted another set of purple Yunmeng Jiang sect robes, just like her own, and recognized the face of her mother. Until today, she was still surprised and saddened every time she saw her.

Yu Ziyuan had changed a lot. Where she had previously been all edges and steel, there was something soft and emotional nowadays. It was not visible when she was training disciples or helping with sect affaires. However, it was clear whenever they were alone in a family circle or when she as much as mentioned Wei Wuxian. Her mother was still blaming herself for what had happened to Wei Wuxian and for what he had become. Since her now acknowledged son remained unconscious, she could not apologize nor make it up to him and it was eating away at her.

And the worst of all, she seemed to age several years whenever she stepped inside Wei Wuxian’s room. It was almost as if she was fearing the moment she would have to face him at last but at the same time was hoping that he would be awake every single time she came to check on him. Jiang Yanli could relate, she had similar thoughts although she was sure that she had hopefully never made her brother feel as unwelcomed in his home as her mother had had.

Nevertheless, she had much to apologize for as well. During her sleepless nights at Wei Wuxian’s side, she realized that although she had never showed her brother any animosity herself, it was just as bad to not stand up for him and always brushing away his own feelings. She had never been fooled by his smile but she had deliberately chosen to ignore a lot of times when she should have stood up for him, be it against her mother or Jiang Cheng.

She had also erred, they all did. Despite having already agreed and decided that from now on, they would protect Wei Wuxian in turn and would finally make him welcomed and cared for as they should have done ever since Jiang Fengmian had brought the small child to Lotus Pier, she was afraid that they would never be able to make it up to him for all those years when he did not have any place in their family, not really.

“A-Li, go take a rest. I will call for you should there be any changes.”

Her mother’s voice threw her out of her morose thoughts. It was only then that she realized how tired she was. At first, she wanted to protest but one look into her mother’s eyes convinced her otherwise.

Yu Ziyuan had once again that look on her face. The one full of love and worry for her children, all three of them. Jiang Yanli was only slowly getting used to Yu Ziyuan finally acting as a true caring mother to all of them. But it was a nice change and she would never comment on it, she would just gladly accept it.

Moreover, she knew that her mother wanted to spend some time alone with Wei Wuxian. She always talked to him as if he would wake up any faster if he knew what was waiting for him here. And perhaps he would, who knew.

Jiang Yanli only stood up from her chair and smiled at the other: “Mother, I leave Wei Wuxian to you. Good night.”

Without another word, she left her brother’s room and went to her own where her fiancé was already waiting for her with dinner prepared on a low table. She smiled at him as well and sat down, letting herself be pampered by Jin Zixuan.

Chapter Text

Wei Wuxian’s consciousness came only slowly to him. He could not pinpoint at what exact moment he became aware of his surroundings but it started by the realization that his head was hurting. His ears were full of loud, high pitched screams. That in itself would not be anything too unusual, he was used to the resentful energy raging inside him. What surprised him was something else.

He had expected to die so he hoped that he would not have to deal with this anymore. Surely wherever people went after death must have been a nice place without any pain of suffering. At least he had always imagined it like that, he did not want his parents to be somewhere where they would not enjoy. But it seemed like he had been gravely mistaken. Or did it apply only in his case since he had dared to walk a forbidden path and tamper with resentful energy? He hoped so.

The next thing which came to him was the need to breathe. Luckily, it did not take a conscious effort to do so like sometimes lately, but it was very confusing. Surely dead people had no need for such actions? He did not know what was happening.

Could it be that he had somehow survived his struggle in the Nightless City palace and his battle for the control of the Yin iron? But that was very unlikely; he had been prepared to die back then and it was just too much to hope that he did not. He had wished to find some peace at last, and perhaps reunite with his parents in his next life.

He was not sure he wanted to continue his last one, he had made too many mistakes and caused too much pain and troubles for everyone, he was not ready to face the consequences. Madame would be furious that he had failed in his one and only missing of protecting the Yunmeng Jiang clan. And Uncle Jiang would be so disappointed in him for throwing away his sword and turning to resentful energy. Jiang Cheng too, his brother would surely be so angry that he had once again acted on his own. And Jiang Yanli…

He actually wanted to see his sister. It had been so long since the last time they had been together. It was all his fault as well that she had been captured by the Qishan Wen sect and held captive this long. Would she still be nice and kind to him? Or would she blame him for abandoning her as well? He did not like that thought. He only hoped that his family had safely run away and that the final siege was a success.

Yes, that was the question, was it not? Had they won the war? Was everyone safe? Or had he failed even in this part? What about all the cultivators who had participated in the battle? Had he been of any help or had just made everything worse?

And what about Lan Zhan? He had had the most precious dream during the final efforts at controlling the Yin iron. Had Lan Zhan been there with him, singing the song he had requested and giving him strength and courage he needed to battle with the resentful energy? No, surely that must have just been a dream. Lan Zhan would never do something so undignified and foolish as singing for him in a middle of a fight. Still, it had been very nice and it had helped him to hold on long enough to hopefully succeed.

Suddenly, he heard shifting of fabric not far away from him. It seemed like he was not alone here after all. Nothing was making any sense to him anymore so what was one more mystery?

He took an unparalleled effort and turned his head towards the sound. He was happy that he still had a body which listened to him, at least he was not some kind of a spirit roaming the world unnoticed and without a solid body. That would have been confusing and troubling at the same time. Though, if it would allow him to see that everyone was alright, he would gladly accept it.

Almost despite himself, he opened his eyes. What greeted him was the sight of his Shijie sitting by his bedside and drawing away water from a towel. He could not believe how relieved the knowledge that his sister was this close and seemingly perfectly healthy made him feel. If this was some kind of a nice dream, he did not want to wake up from it. And if this was reality and the gods had allowed him to see his family for one last time, he would be over the moon with joy.

Suddenly, Jiang Yanli seemed to have realized he was watching her and turned his way. A sweet smile immediately bloomed on her lips as she said with unmistakable relief: “A-Xian, you are awake.”

Wei Wuxian smiled in response, overcome with emotions. He wanted to say so many things; he wanted to apologize for abandoning her, he wanted to beg her for forgiveness for giving her a scare in the Nightless City palace, he wanted to swear he had been doing his best even though it had still not been good enough.

But there was only one thing which he actually managed to all but croak out. His voice was hoarse from disuse and barely a whisper due to his fear that anything could now make Jiang Yanli disappear: “Shijie…”

His sister put away the towel she had been holding and reached out towards him, caressing his hair gently and patting his head a few times. Wei Wuxian leaned into the touch. It felt like a lifetime ago when Jiang Yanli had done this the last time. It felt so good and so warm he wanted to cry. He had been craving this ever since…

His memories suddenly came back to him. All his failures marched in front of his eyes one by one and suddenly, he could not understand why his sister was being this kind to him when he was the source of all her troubles. He felt tears gather in his eyes, his head was now hurting even more and the world started spinning around him. The only grounding presence was the warm and gentle hand patting his head.

Right at that moment, he hoped he was indeed dead and could not hurt her or anyone else anymore, that he could not cause any more troubles for his family and tarnish the Yunmeng Jiang sect’s name. The signs were confusing; he did not know where or when he was. He did not know if this was reality, a nice dream or his last chance to tell his sister everything he needed.

He blinked the tears away, he did not want to worry Jiang Yanli on top of everything else. A little brokenly, he whispered one more time: “Shijie…”

She smiled at him again and her eyes were sad for some reason. In Wei Wuxian’s eyes, it felt like he had just been stabbed with a knife. He knew she was blaming him but she was too kind to say it aloud. It hurt; it was what he deserved.

He closed his eyes again, unable to face the look his sister was giving him. The voices and screams in his head grew in intensity again and threatened to overwhelm him. He could not feel Jiang Yanli’s touch anymore and everything which grounded him just disappeared into thin air. He was all alone, all alone with his guilt and the voices of his family and friends, of everyone he knew, which blamed him, scolded him and screamed at him continuously.

It was too much. He knew he deserved it but it was just too overwhelming. He wanted to scream as well but did not find it in himself to oppose them, what they were saying was the truth. He had failed everyone; he could not do even one thing right. He should leave everyone alone; it would be better for them if he disappeared for good.

He felt his consciousness slipping away from him again and he did not fight it. He wanted to get away, he wanted for the voices to stop and for Jiang Yanli’s hand to come back. He knew he was just being selfish, he did not deserve any of that, still, heartfelt wishes could not be so easily abandoned. He felt his tears starting to wet his cheeks and then he let himself go and fall into the welcoming darkness which was pulling him inside.

Chapter Text

Jiang Cheng was tired. He had just finished with the sect leader duties for the day and finally had enough time to go check on Wei Wuxian. For some reason, he realized that the duties of a sect leader were somehow harder to do in the time of peace, or at least in something resembling peace since there were still threats and intrigues to take care of, but it was not war anymore and that had to count.

During the Sunshot campaign, he simply dealt with everything as it came and focused on rebuilding the sect while fighting on a battlefield. Now however, there was no more fighting and the common citizens started to go back to their lives. And that brought with it also the change of their behaviour. Where they had laid low and just tried to survive before, they were now requesting assistance for everything they could not deal with, from help with rebuilding their homes to support for their starving families to night hunting monsters and walking corpses.

He understood them, he really did and wanted to help them, there were simply too many requests to go through. He could not just send all his disciples out, he had to plan ahead and put everything together so that there would be a sufficient number of people still protecting Lotus Pier and watching over his brother. It was not easy; but now, he had his father there with him and they were spending a lot of time together, he was finally learning how to run the sect properly.

It was good that they had managed to find their way to each other at last, Jiang Cheng was very happy to finally have his father’s approval and guidance. However, at the same time, it felt too stuffy and too like they were both walking on eggshells. They did not know how to approach each other and more than once, it would end up in an awkward silence. Nevertheless, it was still better than before when his father barely spoke to him and if he did, it was to correct him, not to encourage him.

Jiang Cheng’s hurried steps brought him to the door of his brother’s door. He stopped in front of it minutely, taking a deep breath before knocking quietly. He had learned the hard way that when Lan Wangji was the one in Wei Wuxian’s room, things could get really awkward. One intrusion on the Second Jade sitting by Wei Wuxian’s side and holding his hand while whispering he loved him was enough for Jiang Cheng to learn his lesson.

He did not even dream to discourage Lan Wangji from taking care or his brother or from loving him in the way that Wei Wuxian did not seem to love or value himself. His brother needed this, he needed people to take care of him so he would not act recklessly. Even when Jiang Cheng did not like to see the Second Jade in this kind of position and situation, he just sucked it up and started approaching the room more cautiously. Perhaps it would do Wei Wuxian some good to find out that there was someone madly in love with him, it would serve him right.

Suddenly, he heard a quiet sob from inside the room and he did not hesitate to open the door anymore. To hell with propriety, if Lan Wangji was the one crying, he would just look away politely, but if it was someone else, he had to know what had happened.

Sure enough, it was not the Second Jade. Jiang Cheng saw that Jiang Yanli was sitting by Wei Wuxian’s side, clutching one of his hands in her own and caressing his hair with the other. Jiang Cheng was alarmed at once. It was very unusual to see his sister cry, not anymore anyway, she seemed to have become stronger, just as the rest of them, only in a different manner.

He quickly closed the distance between them and joined his sister at their brother’s bed. One look at Wei Wuxian’s face had told him what was wrong. His brother’s head seemed to have been in a slightly different position than all the previous times he had visited. Unless it had been Jiang Yanli who had moved it, it could only mean one thing, Wei Wuxian had woken up. At least for a moment because his eyes were still closed just like before.

What struck Jiang Cheng however was seeing tears on his brother’s cheeks. They could not have been Jiang Yanli’s since they were forming two small rivers streaming from his eyes and into his hairline. His sister had done nothing to wipe them away, she only continued to silently cry and pat Wei Wuxian’s hair. It looked like she had even yet to notice Jiang Cheng’s presence.

The Yunmeng Jiang sect leader was wondering what had happened and more importantly, why was Wei Wuxian crying. He wanted to ask but no words left his mouth, he was too distressed for that.

He did not know how long he just stood there like that, watching his siblings’ tears fall until he hesitantly reached out and gently squeezed Jiang Yanli’s shoulder to let her know that he was there. His sister finally acknowledged him and turned around abruptly to see who was there. She let out an audible sigh when she realized it was just her brother.

Jiang Cheng could still not say anything but he did not need to, his sister was already talking: “Ah, A-Cheng, I did not know you were coming this early.” There was a short awkward pause during which Jiang Yanli discreetly wiped away her tears and made a visible effort to smile. “A-Xian had just woken up for a minute. I was too happy and I started to cry. I think he is finally coming back to us. We should probably call for Wen Qing to check up on him, just in case.”

Jiang Cheng nodded, happy to hear that his brother was perhaps finally waking up. That however did not explain the tears on neither of his siblings’ faces. He rose an eyebrow to prompt Jiang Yanli to tell him more. Just to make sure that she understood his question, he shot a look at Wei Wuxian. His brother was now looking like he was sleeping again but the sight of tears on his cheeks was very disturbing and worrying. It was not something that Wei Wuxian would usually do.

Jiang Yanli seemed to have understood his unvoiced question and she shook her head. “I do not know why he is crying either. I think that he must have been overwhelmed. After all, he had been sleeping for three weeks now, I would expect him to be confused. And perhaps he was just happy that he had seen me as well.”

Jiang Yanli stood up with one last look at her sleeping brother and took a deep breath, seemingly to calm herself down a bit. “A-Cheng, stay with A-Xian in case he wakes up again while I am gone. I am going to find Wen Qing.”

Jiang Cheng wanted to tell his sister that there was no need to leave to look for the Dafan Wen clan doctor, she could just send someone to bring her. But he could tell she needed some time for herself right now and he would not deny her this. That was why he only nodded his head in acknowledgment and sat down by his brother’s side.

Chapter Text

Jiang Fengmian was leisurely strolling through the hallways and pathways of the new Lotus Pier, trying to get used to the place. Although the rebuilt buildings, bridges and pavilions looked the same, there was another atmosphere about the place after it had been burned down and then reconstructed from the ashes.

He was not complaining, he knew his children did their best to save what could have been salvaged and to make everything look the same as before. But it was just not his old Lotus Pier anymore. The place smelled different, there was still a hint of new wood in the air mixed with the usual smells of his home; it was simply not the same. Nevertheless, he knew he would get used to it sooner or later, after all, the Yunmeng Jiang sect was no longer his to lead and things were bound to change in a lot of ways, this was only one of them.

He tried to change as well; it was hard at first but now, he thought he was starting to get the hold of it. He openly made his wife know of his love for her and things were thousand time better between them. It also helped that Yu Ziyuan was changing her ways too, her character was finally showing her mellower side which Jiang Fengmian had known existed but had been so well hidden that he could not have seen it for a long time. They have come to a lot of realizations and understandings during their long captivity, in the loneliness and darkness of their cell when the whole world had forgotten about them and they had only each other. Now he knew that he should not have let his wife doubt his love for her from the very beginning. Better change things later than never as the saying went though.

He was also trying to be more open with his children. Once he had started, Jiang Cheng positively bloomed at each of his praises and Jiang Yanli looked at him with pride every time he stood his ground and expressed his opinions clearly instead of retreating as he had used to do before to avoid any and all conflict. He had found out with no small amount of surprise that talking things through, especially with his family, worked wonders and made things easier for all of them. He should have really realized this way sooner.

And speaking of his oldest daughter; he saw Jiang Yanli coming out of Wei Wuxian’s room and wiping at her face as if she was crying. He quickly directed his steps towards her, he did not like to see any of his children in distress, much less the gentle and always calm Jiang Yanli.

She did not notice him until he was standing right beside her and asked with worry: “A-Li, what happened? Is everything alright?”

Jiang Yanli looked at him and there was smile on her face which reassured him just a bit despite seeing tears on her cheeks. She wiped at them again and smiled brighter this time.

“Father, everything is just fine. Wei Wuxian had just woken up for a minute. I have to go get Wen Qing so she could examine him.”

Jiang Fengmian’s relief must have been clearly written on his face when he responded: “Those are great news! I will see him now.” After a short moment of silence when Jiang Yanli’s back was already turned to him as she was about to head search for the Dafan Wen doctor, he added, more to himself than to her really: “I hope that we will be able to explain everything now. We have hurt A-Ying so much, I am afraid he would forgive us just like that and keep all the pain and hurt to himself.”

Jiang Yanli turned back and looked at him with gentle eyes: “Father, do not worry. We know how he is; we will not let him misunderstand. We just have to show him how much things have changed and that he is welcomed and loved.”

“You are right,” Jiang Fengmian smiled back at his daughter, “that is what we will do. Now go, A-Li, go find Miss Wen so we know how A-Ying is doing. I hope he will wake up soon. It had been three weeks already; I am worried for him.”

“So am I, father,” Jiang Yanli nodded and she was gone as if she had disappeared into thin air.

Jiang Fengmian was left in front of the door to his son’s room, suddenly hesitating to open it. The guards made their best to not look at him and he was grateful for that. He was not sure what kind of look he had on his face but it was clear to him that no matter how much of his feelings he was trying to conceal from showing on his face, he was most probably not too successful.

He did not know how he was feeling now that he knew Wei Wuxian was finally waking up. Of course there was relief and happiness in his heart, that was unmistakable, he had been worried for his son all this time and now that he was hopefully finally regaining his consciousness, he could let go of the ice cold fear which had settled in his guts. He had been terrified of losing one of his children due to his mistakes.

He felt guilty too at the same time. Although he was not the one who had told Wei Wuxian that he should give up his life while protecting them, he had never thought that the boy was not strong enough to do so without any harm to himself; he was still not without blame. He knew about his wife’s past dislike of Wei Wuxian due to his parentage and the rumours that he was Jiang Fengmian’s illegitimate child, but he did too little to stop her from going overboard and breaking the boy in the worst way.

He had never thought that her words could cause so much damage, but here they were, with Wei Wuxian who had almost sacrificed his own life in exchange for theirs. He did not quite dare to guess how much of those intentions had been his own sweet and caring character and how much of it was caused by his beliefs that he had no place in Lotus Pier and in the Yunmeng Jiang clan unless he proved his worth by protecting them.

Jiang Fengmian had never done enough to stop his wife’s hatred of the boy, he had only ever run away from all the conflicts hoping that Yu Ziyuan would one day realize how wrong she was. He had been convinced that she would come to see the wrongness of the rumours on her own and stop spouting venom at the child. He should have known better, if he had showed her his love more openly, would things have turned any different? He did not know and he would probably never find out, it was weighing on his mind quite heavily.

And had Jiang Fengmian himself not taken advantage of the distorted beliefs of his son as well? He remembered with shame the last time he had seen his children before the fall of Lotus Pier. He would have liked to think that he had shown his love to all three of them, but he could not quite fool himself. It would not be fair to Wei Wuxian. He had also pushed the boy’s buttons; and when he had been at his lowest after losing his golden core too! How shocked and hurting he must have been back then. Still, Jiang Fengmian never noticed anything different and pushed all his own responsibilities onto a child who had not even been of age yet. What kind of a parent was he?

And the worst thing was that he was only way too aware of the fact that if he apologized, Wei Wuxian would forgive him right away, saying that he was fine and that it had been his own fault anyway. Or at least something along those lines. It was extremely frustrating and also very sad.

Jiang Fengmian shook his head. There was no point on dwelling on the past, it would not change anything at all. He should look towards the future and try his best to right his wrongs. They all should, just as Jiang Yanli had said. It seemed like his daughter was the wiser one now.

He took a deep breath and knocked on the door of Wei Wuxian’s room before opening it.

Chapter Text

Jiang Cheng’s head snapped up from where he had been looking intently at Wei Wuxian, watching out for any signs his brother was perhaps waking up again. He feared that it had been just a fluke and that Wei Wuxian would still stay asleep for some more, it was not too probable that he would regain consciousness right away, Wen Qing had warned them of this as well. But hope was hard to ignore.

Jiang Cheng looked with displeasure at whoever had dared to interrupt his vigil. He was decided to send packing anyone who was not his immediately family at this moment, he felt too emotional to be seen by any of the Yunmeng Jiang sect disciples or any strangers to his family. And perhaps even family would be too much right now.

His anger and irritation lessened a little when he realized that it was his father coming in. Jiang Fengmian looked tired and somewhat hesitant but Jiang Cheng had no desire to try and console him. He had enough to deal with on his own. So he only nodded in greeting and turned back to stare at Wei Wuxian’s once again unmoving form.

He did not even hear Jiang Fengmian approaching until his father was apparently standing next to him and started talking. Well, more like whispering really, possibly in an attempt to not disturb Wei Wuxian’s sleep. Which was at this point not needed anymore, at least in Jiang Cheng’s eyes, he wanted his brother to wake up soon anyway.

“A-Cheng, how is A-Ying doing?”

Jiang Cheng was pretty sure that Jiang Yanli had already told his father about the fleeting moment of Wei Wuxian regaining consciousness so he did not really detail that: “He is asleep again. We will need Wen Qing to give him a more thorough check to see if everything is fine.”

He paused for a second, not sure how and if he should continue. There was too much on his mind and he was worried that if he did not get it out, it would swallow him whole and provoke some unwanted thoughts and feelings. In the end, he let his heart’s pain spill out, whispering this time: “Father, Wei Wuxian had been crying…”

He choked on a sob that he refused to let out and his voice died in his throat. He did not know how he would have continued anyway. The whole situation became too much all of a sudden and he could feel himself crumbling.

He felt strong and warm hands land gently on both his shoulders and his father stepped closer to him, letting Jiang Cheng lean against him with his back. For a second, the Yunmeng Jiang sect leader stiffened, not used to such physical affection from one of his parents, from neither of them. The next moment however, he leaned into the touch, and it was like an embrace he had always so craved. He closed his eyes and relaxed.

“A-Cheng, it is fine. You are not alone, we are here now, we are all in this together. A-Ying will be just fine; we will make sure of it no matter how hard it would be.”

It took an eternity for Jiang Cheng to nod. Of course, they would make sure to never treat Wei Wuxian the same way they had until now. They would make him understand that they loved him and that he is part of the family as well. Yes, Jiang Cheng would do his best. And if his brother would refuse to believe them or would tell them he was alright even though he would be not, the Yunmeng Jiang sect leader would smack – gently of course, he could not forget that Wei Wuxian was fragile now without his golden core – some sense into him.

And speaking of his brother’s missing golden core; it was time to tell everyone. Wei Wuxian would be waking any time now and they could not risk that he would go overexerting or sacrificing himself because of some expectations he would feel they – or the entire cultivation world – had forced on him. Even though, Jiang Cheng was almost certain that despite doing their best, there would still be a part of his brother which would try to pretend like everything was alright. They would however cross that bridge when they would come to it.

He was enjoying his father’s warmth and support when he was startled by a knock on the door. He immediately straightened himself and Jiang Fengmian must have understood because he let go of his shoulders only a heartbeat later.

“Can I come in?” came Wen Qing’s voice from the outside and Jiang Cheng was glad that it was her. He was not sure he would have been able to face anyone else right now.

“Come on in!”

He called quietly and watched the Dafan Wen clan doctor immediately opening the door and walking towards Wei Wuxian’s bed with dignity. She did not ask what had happened, she must have already heard from Jiang Yanli. She must have been just as worried for her patient as the rest of them but still, she held herself calmly and did not rush. Jiang Cheng suddenly found himself admiring her.

He had always though she was a strong woman, seeing that she had served as a personal doctor to the most terrifying man the cultivation world ever knew. It was also her knowledge of the impacts of demonic cultivation on its wielder that were enchanting him, she clearly knew what she was doing and this helped Wei Wuxian out of a near death more than once. Not that Jiang Yanli was not a great doctor herself, but she was not used to dealing with resentful energy and wounds which were not on the surface.

Suddenly, a realization hit Jiang Cheng; although he hated the Wens with all his might and was hoping that their imprisonment in the hands of the Lanling Jin sect would be less than pleasant and more importantly very long, his hatred did not quite apply when it came to a specific Dafan Wen clan doctor. Even when he could not imagine himself accepting any other Wens, Dafan Wen or Qishan Wen alike, into his home like this, having Wen Qing live in Lotus Pier was fine with him, he even came to like it during the two weeks that they had been back from the war.

He did not know how to handle these feelings and right now, he did not want to even try and understand them. He just shoved them deeper inside and willed his mind to focus on something else, namely watching Wen Qing checking up on his brother with her long, pale and agile fingers.

When she was taking way too long for his taste, he became impatient and asked, with more heat in his voice than he had intended to use: “Well? How is he?”

Wen Qing shot him a glare and Jiang Cheng almost shivered under it with how fierce it had been. He however did not give way and did not let any of his discomfort nor admiration for her show on his face. They stared at each other for almost a minute before the Dafan Wen clan doctor shoot back at him: “I cannot work with you glaring at me like that and distracting me. Go clear your head outside for a bit, I will inform you once I finish the examination.”

Jiang Cheng considered for a second starting an argument with her. But he remembered that he had never won one and that it would most probably be pointless this time as well. Moreover, it would delay her from examining his brother and that was the last thing he wanted. So Jiang Cheng gave in easily enough. He had things to do anyway and it was not like Wei Wuxian would wake up any faster if he sat by his side all the time.

“Fine,” he agreed begrudgingly, “it is time we informed the disciples about Wei Wuxian’s missing golden core anyway.” He stood up and headed towards the door after taking one last look at his sleeping brother’s face. He however turned around just as he was opening it. “Send someone as soon as you will be finished with the exam.”

That was not a request but an order and he could see on Wen Qing’s face that she took it as such. Her eyes softened ever so slightly, apparently she could understand his bad mood caused by his worries.

“Just go already.” She sent him away but her voice lacked her usual edge. Jiang Cheng nodded and he was on his way to the training grounds.

 

Chapter Text

Jiang Yanli had only gotten to find her mother and tell her that Wei Wuxian had woken up for a minute. As soon as Yu Ziyuan heard the news, she rushed away, leaving Jiang Yanli on her own. From the direction her legs were taking her in, it was clear that she wanted to check for herself.

As Jiang Yanli was standing there, considering what she should do next, she saw her younger brother and a great number of the Yunmeng Jiang sect disciples heading towards the training grounds. She knew what was coming, they have already discussed it, she did not need to be present.

They had to inform everyone about Wei Wuxian’s missing golden core and that they should try to accommodate him to the best of their abilities. She was pretty certain it would probably still hurt her brother to realize that everyone knew, but it was a better option to him trying to hide this fact and pushing himself too hard as was usually his habit. She did not want him to feel inferior and suffer while hiding the fact and overexerting himself to not let anything show. He would come to understand them one day, and hopefully that day would come soon.

Wei Wuxian needed all their support. Jiang Yanli was suspecting that it would all down on him only now; he had not had too much time to consider his own situation ever since losing his golden core as he had been fighting for his and everyone else’s lives. It would be only now that the reality would sink in and she was afraid how would her brother react. Should he try to hide everything and let it fester inside of him, it could break him in the end, like an infection which would slowly take over his whole body until it would cause irreparable damage. It would be much better for him to let everything out in the open and not have to pretend.

However, that would be easier said than done. She knew her brother and Wei Wuxian was certainly not someone who was able to sit in one place and take care of himself properly. Nor was he cautious enough, as if he was not really realizing how fragile and easily injured he now was. He still behaved as recklessly as ever from what she had heard and seen. It would be a piece of work to keep him from getting hurt despite himself.

It was at that moment that she remembered that they would need everyone’s help to keep her brother safe not only from himself – although that in itself would have been a great task on its own – but also from anyone who would attack him. Of course, Wei Wuxian could protect himself just fine while using demonic cultivation. But she did not want him to overuse it recklessly, especially not after she had learned that it was harming his already weak body and his temperament.

He would need someone to be watching after him once the whole cultivation world would learn that the Yiling Patriarch could potentially be defenceless as he was just a normal man and not a cultivator. They would learn that Wei Wuxian was not left undefended and hopefully the attempts would die out soon enough, perhaps her brother would not even get to know about them. Yes, they would all have to work hard so he would feel welcomed and protected.

And it all had to start with the Yunmeng Jang sect disciples knowing about her brother’s situation. That was both the easiest thing to do and the most complicated one as well.

Telling the disciples would secure them their support and they would undeniably protect the Yunmeng Jiang sect head disciple with their lives if it would come to it. However, as Jiang Cheng had told them, there were already Jin Guangshan’s spies in their midst and it was most probable that there were some between the disciples as well. Jiang Yanli could only hope that this information would force them to reveal themselves so they would be able to dispose of them.

She headed to the training grounds as well, expecting to be able to see something unusual in some of the disciples’ behaviour which could help her to find the spies. All the while, she was musing that once the announcement would be finished, she should head to Lan Wangji’s rooms and inform him of the latest development. He would surely want to be by Wei Wuxian’s side at this time as well. By now, she considered the Second Jade to be part of their family.

She arrived to the training grounds just as Jiang Cheng was finishing his speech: “…and that is why I ask you to help Wei Wuxian in any way you see fit. But without being too obvious about it, most of you know how he is, we do not want to cause him any further harm.”

Jiang Yanli was now standing in the middle of a whispering sea and she was just a little bit overwhelmed trying to listen to each and every one of the voices.

“Senior martial brother… that is just too terrible, he had lost so much because of this war, even more so than anyone else I dare say…”

“To know that he had protected all of us during the Sunshot campaign, he was surely forcing himself just like usually…”

“Yes, we need to protect him. I cannot even imagine what I would do if I lost my golden core. I would have surely not been able to behave normally, I would have been completely crushed, body and soul. Senior martial brother is so strong even without his cultivation…”

“It is hard to believe… Wen Zhuliu should die a thousand deaths for what he had done!”

“And instead of being hailed as the war hero he is, Wei Wuxian is even being persecuted by the whole cultivation world. Despicable!”

“Leave him in peace, we need to keep him safe! Senior martial brother is a good person, I know it, demonic cultivation or not. Plus, he was forced into picking it up in the first place. If he still had his golden core, the Wens would have been cowering at his feet…”

“It is so sad… We need to protect him, we cannot let anyone take him away or harm him…”

She was looking all around, trying to see anything out of place or anyone who would not seem concerned and eager to help Wei Wuxian. However, she saw no one. If there were indeed spies between the disciples, they knew how to not stand out. Some of the younger disciples were confused because they did not quite know who Wei Wuxian was beside the fact that he was the Yunmeng Jiang sect head disciple but that was all that somehow stood out. It was not their fault either for not knowing, they had after all joined the sect only later, when Wei Wuxian had already been missing.

It warmed her heart that all of the disciples seemed to have been of one mind with them and were offering help immediately. The more eyes would be on Wei Wuxian the better. The more protective and supportive eyes to be exact, surely not the stares of those who were looking for her brother’s every mistake to seize him and imprison him. It would never be too little when it came to Wei Wuxian’s protection.

The disciples started to leave the training grounds, still discussing between small groups. With a long sigh, she turned around and headed towards Lan Wangji’s room. She had already lost enough time; the Second Jade would surely be worried for her brother. She would just quickly tell him and then go with him to see Wei Wuxian again. There was no doubt in her mind as to what would Lan Wangji do when he would learn about her brother finally regaining consciousness.

Chapter Text

Lan Wangji was sitting in his room, mediating to regain as much spiritual energy as he could and also to clear his mind. When he was dealing with the resentful energy plaguing his husband’s body despite his best efforts, he needed to be of sound and strong mind. He did not want to cause Wei Ying any more harm if his mind would be in turmoil and the cleansing and healing songs would not be played correctly.

Sad to say, the progress was minimal. His husband was still unconscious and the resentment was having its own mind, in his state, Wei Ying could not control it as he had done during the war. So Lan Wangji could only do his best to repeatedly lessen the burden and wait for his soulmate to wake up and finally start working together with him.

He was somewhat startled when there was knocking on the door. He however immediately shot to his feet, it must have been someone bringing him news about his husband. No one else ever came to see him for any other reasons and he would always go take his meals in the kitchens. The Yunmeng Jiang sect disciples were doing their best to be discreet around him and keep their energetic spirits and shouting to the minimum.

He opened the door and saw that there was Jiang Yanli standing on the other side of it. For a second, his heart almost stopped. It had always been disciples bringing him news, not the members of the Yunmeng Jiang clan. He was fearing hearing bad news. Had Wei Ying’s condition deteriorated again?

The next second however, he realized that it was most probably not the case. He could not see any traces of worries or fear on the other’s face, if anything, Jiang Yanli actually looked happy, perhaps even excited as her smile could barely fit her face.

“Lan Wangji,” she greeted with a small bow that he returned, “my brother had just woken up for a minute. He is sleeping again now but I wanted to inform you. Wen Qing is there with him, checking his condition. I thought you would want to know and go see for yourself.”

Lan Wangji had a hard time to not shove Jiang Yanli out of his way and run to Wei Ying’s room immediately. His heart started beating like crazy and if the daughter of the Yunmeng Jiang clan said something else, he did not hear her.

His husband had woken up at last! Those were the good news he had been desperately hoping for! Although Jiang Yanli had just said that they did not know his condition yet, it was enough that he was no longer unconscious, he would now finally start to heal. Just as expected, the Second Jade wanted to go see him. Even if Wei Ying was already sleeping again, Lan Wangji knew that it would now not take too long until he would be able to stay awake for a longer periods of time. He was already longing to see his husband’s brilliant smile and to hear his lovely voice.

Although, he realized, too much had happened and perhaps he would still have to wait a lot longer for those. It was very probable that Wei Ying would need some time to recover, not only physically, he was progressing well in that department under Wen Qing’s watchful eye, but mentally. He had just gone through much and Lan Wangji feared that it had left a heavy burden on him. None of them knew which kind of state he would wake up in and they had all been nervous.

It had been mortifying but at last, it seemed like the long wait was over. Lan Wangji could not help but feel hopeful; even if Wei Ying would not be alright right off the bat, everyone would make sure that it quickly changed and that he would recover eventually. Yes, the Second Jade would make sure of that. He would support his husband to the best of his abilities. He could not make the same mistake as during the war. At that time, he and Wei Ying had not really seen eye to eye and that was what Lan Wangji wanted to avoid doing again.

“…Wangji? Do you want to come with me and see how A-Xian is doing? Wen Qing should be finished with her examination by now.”

It seemed like Lan Wangji had missed something Jiang Yanli had been telling him, her face became concerned although there was still a gentle smile on her lips.

Lan Wangji nodded and immediately went back to his room to retrieve his guqin. He would play for his husband until the other would wake up again, even if it should take days. He hoped that in this way, the resentful energy would be soothed enough for Wei Ying to not feel too bad when he would open his eyes.

Moreover, and he did not want to dwell on this selfish desire of his too much, he had a feeling that his husband liked the song he had written for him and always seemed to be calmer when hearing it. After all, he had asked to have the song sang to him even during his battle with Wen Ruohan and the Yin iron. If that was nothing to say about his preferences, Lan Wangji did not know what would. He was extremely happy, and also perhaps a bit proud of himself and hopeful that it was his song Wei Ying reacted the strongest too.

But he tried to keep this desire under wraps, he still did not know if his husband would even return his feelings. He should take things slow and give Wei Ying enough time to recover before telling him anything. The only problem was that he was not sure he would be able to hold himself back long enough.

He did not remember much from their way to his husband’s room, he was deep in thoughts and by now, he knew the way by heart too, his legs were working independently of his mind. His emotions were all over the place, fluctuating between extreme happiness, relief and worries. It was hard to concentrate on anything at all. There was only one clear desire in his heart: to see Wei Ying.

He willed himself to listen when he was already standing in front of his husband’s room, having his way inside blocked by Wen Qing. The Dafan Wen clan doctor looked stern and slightly worried, but that was nothing new. Lan Wangji could not tell from her expression at all how Wei Ying was faring. It was making him even more on edge.

Then, finally and after what seemed like an entire lifetime, Wen Qing let them in and Lan Wangji’s eyes immediately sought out his husband. He gave out a long sight of relief when he saw that Wei Ying was sleeping soundly and there was nothing wrong with him, if he could judge that only after evaluating his complexion. After making sure that his husband’s condition did not deteriorate, Lan Wangji could finally breathe freely again. When had been the last time he had taken a deep breath anyway?

“Wei Wuxian is indeed starting to wake up now,” Wen Qing confirmed what they had all already known. “He will be probably pretty confused in the beginning with how long he had slept and also considering the events which had rendered him unconscious in the first place. He will now drift in and out of consciousness for a few days, his mind has to get used to being awake again. At this time, I recommend that someone stays with him at all times and that there is light food and water prepared. He would be hungry and thirsty. However, do not let him eat too much just yet, it could be dangerous after a long period of starvation.”

Well, she did not have to tell Lan Wangji twice. He had already decided to stay with Wei Ying until his husband would wake up. And hopefully he would be able to bring him back to them faster while playing for him.

His knees were a little weak and he could feel tears sting in his eyes, he was completely overwhelmed by relief. He did not want to outright break where he stood so he directed his steps, one more careful than the other, towards the place where he usually played. He sat down and got his guqin out. His head was spinning but his fingers knew the practiced motions well. He started playing, trying to regain his calm and composure as much as call Wei Ying back to him.

Chapter Text

When Wei Wuxian’s consciousness came back to him again, he left his eyes closed this time. It was less of a shock than the first time but it was still surprising him to no end that he was allowed to be here. He had never hoped that he would get another chance to hopefully see his family again. Because he wanted to believe that he was here and now only to be able to say his apologies and goodbyes.

He felt incomparably better this time around. The resentful energy was not shouting in his ears right now and it was as if it was almost tamed or something. It was just in the back of his mind, but it was not clouding his judgement or trying to take over. If anything, he actually felt content and he did not want to go back to the pitch black loneliness and emptiness of the death, at least not just yet.

He let himself be soothed by the lovely tones of that special song he loved so much for a while, calm encompassing him and wrapping his mind in a protective cocoon as if the melody was a blanket that someone had wrapped around him to keep him warm and safe. If this was just another dream, he did never want to wake up from it. He was so happy that tears spilled out of his eyes and he could feel them making their way down his cheeks.

Suddenly, the music stopped and he was immediately missing it. He frowned a little and opened his eyes, hoping for it to return. He did not even know why he thought that it would come back if he did no longer pretend to be unconscious, but he had an urge to look and try to see who had been playing. Last time, it had been Lan Zhan, but surely he could not be so lucky to be dreaming about him at a time like this.

He was looking up at the ceiling and it was slightly familiar, he had already seen it before. His frown deepened as he was trying to remember where he was. Then it hit him, he recalled the exact same ceiling from the last time he had woken up and saw his Shijie. And he also remembered that he had used to have the same structure of the wood on the ceiling of his own room back when Lotus Pier was still not burned down.

Could he be back there? Could it be possible that he was for some reason revisiting his memories of the old days? Could it be that his dream of Jiang Yanli had also been just a pleasant memory of one of the many times he had woken up to find her at his bedside, taking care of him and offering him her soup? The nostalgia made his tears run down even faster.

He only realized that he was not alone in the room when he heard a concerned voice he had been longing for: “Wei Ying?”

It took him a lot of effort to turn his head and scan the room for where his hallucination could be. It was not because he was so tired or hurting too much to move anymore, it was because he was dreading to not find him and to be left all alone with only a memory of Lan Zhan’s voice.

He was terribly confused though; he could not understand why he was imagining the Second Young Master of the Gusu Lan sect at a moment like this. And especially because if this was a memory of the time before the fall of Lotus Pier, he had not thought about Lan Zhan too much at that time. He had only started to look out for his every move after his time in the Burial Mounds when he had been searching for a kind-hearted soul of his friend because that particular memory had kept him going.

His eyes did not have to search for long, it actually shocked him to not only find Lan Zhan inside his room, but to realize that the Second Jade was in fact standing at the side of his bed and was now reaching out his hand to wipe away Wai Wuxian’s tears. It was so out of place for Lan Zhan to do something like this – did he not hate him for his use of demonic cultivation anymore? – that he just let the other do what he wanted, not moving a muscle besides staring at Lan Zhan’s face nonstop and taking in every detail.

He was glad that he had not forgotten how the Second Jade looked. But how could he? It was this exact knowledge and Lan Zhan’s song which kept him going whenever he felt like giving up. As if his lips had their own will, he could feel them shaping into a happy smile.

“Wei Ying?” Lan Zhan repeated, this time with even more worry and concern in his voice.

“Lan Zhan…” he whispered, his own voice raspy with disuse and barely audible even to himself. Still, the Second Jade must have heard him because he nodded, as if in response. Wei Wuxian’s throat was dry and speaking hurt. He could not understand how he could feel this uncomfortable even in death but he just brushed it off and begged Lan Zhan: “Water…”

The Second Jade immediately nodded again and reached out for a cup which was sitting on the bedside table. Once again, the Yunmeng Jiang sect head disciple was surprised to find that even this piece of furniture, or any other in the room now that he was looking more closely, looked like his old room. Yet, they also looked different in small details, it was making him feel uncomfortable as his belief that this was just a memory of the past was quickly dissipating. After all, Lan Zhan had never been in his room. Once again, he just brushed the though off and instead, focused his whole attention to the other person in the room.

Wei Wuxian tried to sit up and the Second Jade helped him to get comfortable, leaning his back against the headrest piece. Lan Zhan poured a cup of water and was now holding it to his lips. Wei Wuxian drank thirstily and with a lot of gratitude. The drink was soothing his parched throat and it felt nice. Although it brought back the uncomfortable feeling growing in a small and still well hidden part of his mind: should dead people feel anything at all?

When he finished the cup, he did not even have to say anything and Lan Zhan was already pouring the next one and pushing it gently against his lips, tilting it in place so Wei Wuxian would be able to drink its contents. It was such a domestic scene that he wanted to laugh, or to cry out of sheer happiness, or both at once.

Now he knew this was nothing else but a dream, why else would Lan Zhan who hated him because of his heretic path be this nice to him? Not that he was complaining, certainly not. He would take all that was offered to him, and gratefully.

“Wei Ying, how are you feeling?” asked his dream Lan Zhan and Wei Wuxian’s heart warmed when he heard the gentleness and worry in his voice. There was no trace of hate or reprimand whatsoever. So unlike all those times during the war.

“I am fine, Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian reassured the other and made sure to smile to support his claim.

The Second Jade looked at him with a little bit of scepticism but did not comment on his surely apparent lie. Instead, he put the cup he was still holding down on the bedside table and told him: “I should inform your family that you are awake now. They have been worried.”

The statement brought a small frown to Wei Wuxian’s forehead again. It was not that he did not want to see his family in this dream, but he did not like that fact that he would lose his alone time with this gentle and caring version of Lan Zhan because of that. Before he could object however, the Second Jade had already opened the door and was saying something to someone on the outside.

Then he came back to the room and sat down at a low table where his guqin was positioned. To Wei Wuxian’s delight, he started playing that special healing song again. The Yunmeng Jiang sect head disciple closed his eyes and let himself be overcome by waves after waves of calm.

Now it felt more like the peaceful death Wei Wuxian had imagined. He did not know if he deserved this after everything what he had caused and after failing his family this horribly, but he loved every second of this serene and relaxing moment. He knew he would have to face his family again since Lan Zhan had sent for them but he also knew that this moment was only for him to enjoy before the storm would come.

Chapter Text

Jiang Cheng was running as soon as one of the junior Yunmeng Jiang sect disciples informed him that Wei Wuxian was awake again. He wanted to see him while his eyes were open and there was no stiffness on his face, he wanted to see him smile as he had always been. Always but during the war and the rescue operation to the Nightless City palace. The images still plagued Jiang Cheng’s mind until today.

He had to make sure that his brother was finally with them again. Not only his unconscious body, but his mind and heart as well. He wanted his sibling back.

When he arrived to Wei Wuxian’s room, he was completely out of breath and no one would be able to tell that he was in fact the Yunmeng Jiang sect leader. His appearance must have been dishevelled and his cheeks all red because of both excitement and worry. He could only hope that Wei Wuxian would be in a better mood than when he had woken up the first time and cried. He had not believed his sister even for a second, he knew that his brother had not been so happy to shed tears.

He hesitated in front of the door, suddenly not sure that he could bear it if his brother would be broken and in need of gentle and kind words. He had never known how to give those. Anger and sharp tongue were more his way of doing things. He had never needed to speak gently as he knew that Wei Wuxian understood he cared even without that. They had always been bickering and Jiang Cheng threw all his anger onto his brother to hide his embarrassment and love. It had been enough until now.

But would it be enough even in the future? Wei Wuxian had been through a lot lately and Jiang Cheng did not believe he knew his brother anymore. He had after all disregarded him and pushed him too hard during the Sunshot campaign, still unaware of the fact that he was missing his golden core back then. Would Wei Wuxian forgive him for behaving so angrily and making him a scapegoat of his stress from having to step up as the Yunmeng Jiang sect leader?

Suddenly, Jiang Cheng did not know if he wanted to face his brother this soon. He had thought he had already made peace with himself but clearly, he was still very much unprepared. He was afraid that he would never be able to face his brother again, nor apologize to him and make him feel loved in a proper way. Wei Wuxian would now need a lot of support and Jiang Cheng was starting to doubt that he was the right person to provide it. He had already failed so many times in the past too.

It was weighing heavily on his mind that Wei Wuxian had lost his golden core while protecting him and he had never noticed until he had been explicitly told. The rational part of his mind knew that he could have not done anything differently and that it had in fact not been his fault that his brother was now not able to cultivate spiritual energy anymore. However, he could not shake off the feeling that he should have at least noticed. It was like he had not been paying attention to Wei Wuxian’s suffering and silent pleas all this time. It was truly mortifying.

Jiang Cheng massaged his temples to get rid of his budding headache. The disciples guarding the door were looking at him with strange eyes but Jiang Cheng did not mind it right now. He found it impossible to straighten his back and look like a true sect leader, confident and always knowing what to do. Right now, he felt like a teenager who was struggling with everything, not knowing what he was supposed to do in the simplest of situations, not knowing how to face his own brother. He was at a loss.

His train of thought was only interrupted when someone put their hand on his shoulder and squeezed lightly. He turned on his heel, surprised. Was someone here to attack him? Or Wei Wuxian? He was immediately ready to fight, summoning his experience from the wartime. His body knew how to defend itself.

Luckily, it was only Jiang Yanli with a sweet smile and a mildly startled expression. She immediately let go of his shoulder and looked apologetic, surely realizing that she had frightened him. Jiang Cheng felt ashamed of his reaction. He had been too much on edge to properly assess the situation. It was not like an assassin would just stand there with his hand on his shoulder like that. He had overreacted and he knew it.

The angel his sister was, she did not wait for his apology and rescued him from the uncomfortable silence: “A-Cheng, why are you standing here? Lan Wangji had sent word that A-Xian is awake. We should go inside and greet him properly before he would fall asleep again. Remember what Wen Qing had said, A-Xian will be able to only stay awake for a limited amount of time for a while.

And look,” Jiang Yanli lifted her other hand and showed him a basket where he was sure her famous Lotus root pork rib soup was, “I have brought food for him. We cannot have it getting cold.”

Jiang Cheng nodded, the lump in his throat was not letting him speak and he found out he was not able to swallow it down just yet. He stepped aside to let his sister open the door and stroll inside. He took a deep breath, bracing himself before entering as well.

His eyes were immediately drawn to the bed and to the sitting figure of his brother. He was overjoyed seeing him awake, his worries temporarily forgotten.

Wei Wuxian also seemed to have noticed him and he greeted him with a wide smile: “Hello there, Jiang Cheng. It is good to see you are alright.”

His brother’s voice was hoarse but there were happy sparkles in his eyes. It was almost as if he had never suffered anything worse than a few scratches in his life. He was just as bright as he had been before the fall of Lotus Pier. Jiang Cheng’s heart overflowed with relief even when that idiot was once again not caring about himself and instead being happy that the Yunmeng Jiang sect leader was fine.

He could not hold himself back and he quickly crossed the room, tears gathering in his eyes, he scoped Wei Wuxian into a bone crushing hug. He was so happy to have his brother back!

He buried his face in Wei Wuxian’s shoulder and squeezed even tighter, wanting to make sure that Wei Wuxian was indeed real, alive and breathing in his arms. He would never be able to forget that moment when his brother’s heart stopped beating and how terrible the realization that he could never see him again had been. Now he was just glad to be able to confirm that Wei Wuxian was with them again.

Like in a dream, he could hear his brother’s laughter ringing through the whole room and could feel his hand gently patting his back before returning the hug.

He only realized that he could be potentially hurting Wei Wuxian when Jiang Yanli gently reminded him: “A-Cheng, careful.”

He immediately loosened his arms, suddenly remembering that his brother had just recovered and that he had no golden core either. Yes, he had to be gentle with him now. It was something which did not come easily to him but which he would have to remember and do from now on. Long lost would be the mock fights between them, he could not dare to become too absorbed in them and hurt his fragile brother.

“It is fine, it is fine, Shijie. I am alright.”

Wei Wuxian laughed again but Jiang Cheng could tell from the way his brother’s muscles relaxed under his hands that he had done the right thing. Of course Wei Wuxian would never tell them if he was hurting, he would just have to learn how to figure it out on his own. He would have his work cut out for him for a while.

Nevertheless, he did not mind anything if it meant Wei Wuxian would stay by his side. He would be careful and he would take care of him as his brother had done so all this time. It was now Jiang Cheng’s turn to act responsively and protectively. Their roles had reversed; he was the stronger one from now on if only physical health wise. He knew he could not measure to Wei Wuxian’s use of demonic cultivation of course.

Chapter Text

Wei Wuxian had been all but crushed in his brother’s embrace. He was confused. It was not because he did not like the hug or because he would have never expected it, he knew Jiang Cheng was just a big old softie under all his anger and scowling. He knew his brother cared and that he must have been scared out of his mind when Wei Wuxian had asked him to leave him in the Nightless City palace.

None of those things were unbelievable or unusual. He had also expected a good scolding, but that would probably come later.

What had shocked him was that he was actually feeling Jiang Cheng’s arms around his torso and how they were crushing him uncomfortably, with way too much strength that his weak and tired body could not handle. He felt his ribs rubbing against his skin, trying to exchange their places and it actually hurt. His whole body actually hurt now that he was focusing on it. It was heavy and hard to move too.

Once again, here he was, feeling something while being dead. At this point, he was really starting to question his own death. Was it possible that he had been, by some kind of a miracle, saved and that he was still alive? If he was, he would not complain, he would at least get to say a proper goodbye to his siblings before Madame Yu would throw him back out onto the streets for being useless. She always promised him that much if he failed to protect her family.

He shook his head lightly and laughed together with his siblings. He did not want to think about this right now. Surely he was at least allowed a single nice moment with them. They seemed happy to see him too. Hopefully, he had enough time to indulge them a little bit.

All his worries disappeared in an instant when he noticed that Jiang Yanli was holding a basket he knew only all too well. His heart melted in gratitude. His Shijie prepared her special soup for him.

True to his prediction, Jiang Yanli lifted the basket with a huge gentle smile: “A-Xian, you must be hungry. I have prepared some soup for you.”

Wei Wuxian did not even know where he had gotten the strength to sit up by himself once he was released from Jiang Cheng’s hug. But here he was, folding his legs under him and grinning like an idiot while he was observing his sister lifting the lid of the basket. The well-known aroma of Jiang Yanli’s Lotus root pork rib soup filled his nose and he realized he was hungry. Another thing which he should not feel while being dead, he supposed.

His sister finished pouring the soup into a bowl and she sat on the side of the bed, facing her brother. In the meantime, Jiang Cheng stood up and took two steps back to give them more space. Wei Wuxian had been expecting to have the bowl handed to him so he could already taste the heavenly smelling soup, his stomach was growling now, urging him to hurry up and fill it.

However, Jiang Yanli scoped a spoon herself, blew on it a little and then held it in a way that suggested she was about to feed him like a baby. Wei Wuxian did not want to sadden her by refusing her attention. It would not be too embarrassing either since Jiang Cheng had already seen him in more awkward situations. And Lan Zhan – Wei Wuxian glanced in the direction of the Second Jade – was sitting with his eyes fixed ahead of him, apparently giving the three siblings some privacy while his fingers continued plucking the strings.

Wei Wuxian leaned forward and drank the soup from the spoon that Jiang Yanli was holding. Familiar flavour which he had doubted he would ever get to taste again exploded in his mouth and his eyes went blurry with tears.

“Shijie,” he whispered all emotional, “this is the best soup I have ever tasted…”

His voice broke down towards the end of the statement. He did not mind one bit even when tears finally spilled out of his eyes and he could hardly see his sister anymore. He could however hear that Jiang Yanli was not better off than him, she was also crying. He wanted to console her but he had his hands full with himself at the moment.

From the corner of his eye, he saw a splotch or purple, Jiang Cheng came to the bed. He took the bowl from Jiang Yanli’s hands and pushed it – gentler than normally – into Wei Wuxian’s.

“Just eat by yourself. You have been fed way too many times in the last three weeks.”

His brother scoffed but there was no heat behind his words, just something resembling worry and relief. Wei Wuxian could not stop his tears as he started shovelling the soup down while trying to hide his horror. He could not believe it had been three weeks already. Wait, three weeks from what exactly? From the moment he had died controlling the Yin iron? Or from when he had been rescued and brought here? Unconscious but alive; wherever this ‘here’ was. If his family and Lan Zhan were here, he had nothing to wish for anymore.

“A-Xian, slow down.” He heard Jiang Yanli gently reprimand him. He could finally focus on her again and he saw that she had also stopped crying already and was now giving him her best big sister smile. “You would get a tummy ache. There is enough for seconds if you will like to have more.”

The waterworks of Wei Wuxian’s tears broke down again and he could barely feel it when his brother put his hand on his shoulder and his sister wiped his tears with a handkerchief.

“I am really home, am I not?” he asked more himself than the others in the room.

He still received a reply though: “Of course, A-Xian, and you are never going anywhere again. We are happy to have you back with us, safe and sound.”

This only made Wei Wuxian cry all that harder as his siblings hugged him both at the same time now. This all felt too real to be just a dream – although it would have been a lovely dream indeed – it must have been reality in fact. Wei Wuxian could not explain it in any other way. He had indeed been rescued and was now allowed to reunite with his siblings and live this perfect moment. He never wanted it to end.

He had so many questions and so many things to say, but he remained silent. He did not want to ruin his reunion with his siblings. There would be time for heavy conversations once they would all calm down. There was still uncle Jiang and Madame Yu to meet as well. Wei Wuxian however did not want to think about any of those things right now. He felt safe and cared for in his siblings’ arms and he melted even more into the embrace, putting his arms up to return it.

Chapter Text

Jiang Fengmian was hurrying to Wei Wuxian’s room as soon as he heard that his son was awake for the second time. He hoped that he would be able to still see him up when he would arrive. Last time, he had been too late and could only watch his unmoving and sleeping figure.

When he heard voices coming from the room and laughter he realized belonged to all three of his children, he felt relived. There was also music coming from the inside and he knew that Lan Wangji was there as well. It seemed like all the youngsters were now together and happy. Though he was sure that the cheerful atmosphere would not last for much longer, Wei Wuxian still needed his rest according to Wen Qing. He made it just in time.

He did not even knock on the door before coming inside. His heart almost melted at the sight in front of him and a smile immediately bloomed on his lips. All three of his children were sitting on the bed and hugging. It looked adorable and very sweet. It was clear that they were happy Wei Wuxian was awake just as he was, if not more so. Lan Wangji was sitting on the side of the room, playing his guqin.

Jiang Fengmian had been reluctant at first to let a stranger – although the second young master of the righteous and esteemed Gusu Lan sect – to be in Wei Wuxian’s room. He now did not trust anyone outside of the family and the closest and most loyal Yunmeng Jiang sect disciples. But over time, with a lot of insistence from both Jiang Yanli and Jiang Cheng, and of course after receiving some hard and determinate stares from the Second Jade himself, he relented.

He could tell that Lan Wangji had a special connection with his son and wanted to protect him just as fiercely as the rest of them. A certain letter from Lan Xichen vouching for his brother’s support and undying friendship with Wei Wuxian had also made taking the decision easier. Even his wife did not oppose and only commented that whatever and whoever would make Wei Wuxian feel better should be present.

His children only realized that he was in the room with them when he strode towards the bed, the smile still on his lips. Jiang Yanli and Jiang Cheng let go of their brother and stepped aside so he would be able to look at Wei Wuxian properly.

Recognition bloomed in the Yunmeng Jiang sect head disciple’s eyes and he whispered with a tight and small voice: “Uncle Jiang…”

Jiang Fengmian felt incredibly guilty and sad when his son’s smile immediately became stiffer and he straightened his back and started to get up. Wei Wuxian apparently wanted to greet him properly as the sect leader. But he could tell that he was not healed enough to do anything of the sort, his movements were slow and deliberate and the muscles around his mouth were witnesses to just how much effort it cost him to move at all.

Jiang Fengmian came even closer to the bed and put a hand on Wei Wuxian’s shoulder to stop his attempts. He did not need nor deserved any respect from the boy. Not after he had pushed him way beyond his limits and hurt him in the most horrible ways that a parent – even an adopted one, and perhaps especially as his adoptive father – could. Not after he had completely disregarded him and only saw him as means to protect his other two children.

“A-Xian, it is fine. Do not get out of the bed.” he reassured and squeezed the boy’s shoulder a little bit. Then he added with his throat tight and his heart full of worry: “How are you? Do you feel any better?”

He needed to know that the child was alright, or at least as fine as he could be after nearly dying on them several times and almost sacrificing his life for them. He wanted to tell him so many things, he wanted to apologize for all the pain and stress he had caused him over the years with his ignorance and averting of his eyes. But he could not find it in himself to say any of that right now.

He knew he was behaving like a coward but he needed just a little bit more time to prepare his heart. He could not beg for forgiveness. It was more than clear to him that if he did that, Wei Wuxian would simply forgive him – at least put up a front that he did, he was not sure if he would ever be forgiven in his son’s heart; or perhaps he would and that would be even worse – and nothing would be any better than before. He had to atone for his sins with action, not words only.

“Uncle Jiang, I am feeling much better now, thank you.”

There was that smile that Wei Wuxian usually had on his face but it did not reach his eyes. Jiang Fengmian could read in them all the sadness that his son was feeling; and also the guilt. He sighed internally, he had been afraid of this possibility. He had feared that Wei Wuxian wold feel responsible for everything that happened, especially after he had been blamed by his wife and his other son for the fall of Lotus Pier, and then blamed himself for everything that happened after it.

He was now just pretending to be alright and as usual, hiding his true feelings and pain. It was only that his mask this time was not perfect. Or perhaps it was and Jiang Fengmian just knew it was there and was able to see through it unlike all those other times when he believed that his son was alright after seeing his easy smiles. He really had not been paying attention to him, had he? It was now just one of many things which he needed to change.

Jiang Fengmian sat down on the bed, prepared to apologize. Before he could do that however, Wei Wuxian looked at him with those guilt and sadness filled eyes again and then turned them to fix the bed sheets. He even tried to bow to him as much as was possible when he was sitting down with his legs folded under him. He looked like that small boy who had once broke a vase in his presence and tried to disappear in the flooring while apologizing to him in tears. It looked very pitiful and it stirred Jiang Fengmian’s own guilt.

“Uncle Jiang, I am sorry…” started Wei Wuxian and there was no doubt in Jiang Fengmian’s heart about what his son was about to say.

He did not hesitate for even a second and put his hands onto the boy’s shoulders and pushed them up, lifting Wei Wuxian from his half bowing position. When he could finally see his face and more importantly his eyes, Jiang Fengmian’s heart felt tighter than ever. The guilty expression full of regret and the tears gathered in his son’s eyes were solid proof of just how much he had failed the boy.

“A-Xian, stop it. There is nothing for you to apologize for.”

Wei Wuxian however seemed to see the situation differently: “But I have failed you, Uncle Jiang, I have failed to protect your family…”

His voice was now broken and Jiang Fengmian did not even hesitate and pulled the boy into his arms, gently pressing his head against his chest so he would be able to cry without being seen. He patted his back with one hand and his hair with the other as he was trying to sooth him. He felt tears stinging in his own eyes, not only because of what his son had just said about him failing them which was utter nonsense, he had saved them and the whole cultivation world!

No, what broke his heart to a million pieces and made his own tears come out of his eyes was the use of the pronoun for describing Wei Wuxian’s connection and relation with the Yunmeng Jiang clan. He had said ‘your family’ instead of ‘my family’. What could Jiang Fengmian do now when the boy did not even believe he still belonged to the family? That he was still Jiang Fengmian’s son all the same? That he should stop feeling guilty because none of this had been his fault?

With a voice in which he barely managed to not let his pain and tears be heard, he whispered into Wei Wuxian’s ear: “A-Xian, you have nothing to apologize for. It is us who are sorry.”

He had wanted to continue but he found he could not. He was too emotional and ashamed of himself to be able to say anything more. His voice broke at the end and he was not sure he would ever find it again. He could only silently cry and hide his tears in his son’s hair.

After he had managed to stop crying, he lifted his head in an attempt to seek help from his other children, from Jiang Yanli specifically. He had never been good at soothing and he could tell that Wei Wuxian needed that more than anything right now. He found the room empty, his children and Lan Wangji must have left at some point.

He panicked for a brief second but then he realized that Wei Wuxian still needed him to stay strong. He cradled his son closer to him and continued whispering into his ear that nothing of this had been his fault until he could tell that the boy had fallen asleep again. He tugged him into his bed and sat at the chair beside it, keeping vigil over his son’s dreams.

Chapter Text

An out of breath Yunmeng Jiang sect disciple threw the door of Yu Ziyuan’s and Jiang Fengmian’s shared room – yes, they were now sharing the same room for the first time since their marriage decades ago – open without even bothering to knock. At first Yi Ziyuan was about to reprimand them harshly. Even though she was now changing her ways and was trying her best to be more gentle and understanding when it came to both her children and her sect’s disciples, especially the youngest ones, she knew she still had a long way to go. She had to make a conscious effort each and every time.

Before she could however start shouting at the poor girl who was panting while staring at her, the disciple caught her breath at last and managed to speak: “Madame, Senior Brother Wei had just woken up!”

The girl did not have to say anything more and Yu Ziyuan’s anger vanished as if by magic, now she was grateful to the disciple for running all the way here with the utmost urgency. Her heart was however seized by instant fear; now was the time for her to face Wei Wuxian and she was not at all convinced that she was ready for that. There was too much between them to simply put it all away just like that.

After all, the last time Wei Wuxian had seen her was when she had whipped him, almost crippled him really, because she had been angry at him for bringing the Wen army to their steps. Last time she saw him properly standing was when he had thrown himself in front of Jiang Cheng and lost his golden core. Last time she had talked to him was only to blame him for all the misfortunes that were not even his fault. She never asked about his physical health, she only screamed at him.

She hurt him terribly both body and soul and there was nothing she could do about it now. There was nothing which would help her repair the damage she had caused. Wei Wuxian would only remember her as his evil adoptive mother, only as Madame Yu, the unrelenting and heartless Purple Spider. Who else would ever whip their child with their first class spiritual weapon?

She did not count the time they had briefly met in the Nightless City palace. They had both been distressed and they had not really talked, not truly. And even at that time, Wei Wuxian had assumed that she only cared about the rest of her family and not him. He had sacrificed himself for them time and time again and she had never thanked him.

Did she even have any right to go see him right now? He was surely happy now, with the rest of his family, being pampered by all of them in their own ways. Did she really want to ruin that perfect moment for him? She was sure that upon seeing her, he would immediately regress to a guilty small thing that she did not want to imagine. Knowing him, he would take all the blame for himself and his mental state would worsen; even given that she did not know how he was doing at the moment, she was convinced that he would do much worse with her around.

The disciple was still waiting for her reaction to the news and she was looking at her with worry in her eyes. Yu Ziyuan did her best to reign in her emotions and to appear kind when she sent her away: “Thank you for bringing me the news. I will go see him shortly.” She did not know if she had managed to convince the girl that she was alright, but she had just too much on her mind to really care.

She almost wanted to slap herself after the disciple had left. She had to get her act together. She should not be hiding in her room all the time, she would have to face her son one day. And the longer she would be delaying this encounter, the worse it would be for both of them.

She took several deep breaths, steeling herself for what she would see once she would go into Wei Wuxian’s room. How the boy’s smile would drop in her presence and how he would surely look down, trying to make himself as small as possible, fearing she would scold him and punish him like she had used to do when he had made trouble for the Yunmeng Jiang sect or when he had failed to do what she ordered him to in the past.

She did not think personally that he had failed her or her family in any way, but it was most than probable that Wei Wuxian would think differently. After all, it had been her who had conditioned him into readily and quietly take all the blame for everything and anything. Even for things he could not have even done or situations which were obviously not his fault at all. Just as the fall of Lotus Pier.

Once again, she took several breaths and tried to finally will her eyes to look in the direction of the door which she had been avoiding until now. She knew fully well that she had to hurry if she wanted to see Wei Wuxian awake, he had been conscious only for several moments last time and it was entirely possible that he was sleeping by now.

Yes, perhaps she should wait for the next time he would be awake and in a good mood before coming in front of him and causing him to panic and blame himself. Or perhaps it would be better if she waited until he would heal completely? After all, she would not forgive herself if she would hinder his recovery. It was already hard for him as it was.

Her legs made a step back from the door, completely on their own. She realized that she was unconsciously stalling for time, hoping that when she would finally make up her mind and go see her child, Wei Wuxian would not be awake anymore.

She sighed loudly. When had she become such a coward? When had she started being afraid to face her own children?

She actually slapped her cheek this time, hard. She had to take hold of herself. It would do no one any good if she would collapse just like this. Her son needed her to apologize to him and at last be his mother figure if he would allow her to repent for all the hurt she had caused him over the years.

She willed herself to stop thinking so hard and to finally step out of the room. Her steps were hesitant in the beginning but as she was approaching Wei Wuxian’s room, she was walking more and more confidently. No, she would not hide from this anymore, she had to face the consequences of her acts from her son’s hands.

She stopped in front of the guarded door and hesitated just for a moment before knocking on it feather-light and entering without waiting for a reply.

Her heart made a somersault when she saw Wei Wuxian laying in the bed, his eyes closed. She felt guilty when all she knew was immense relief that she would not have to talk to him right now and see him unhappy and afraid of her. She really wanted to first speak with him just the two of them, she did not need any audience for this.

Jiang Fengmian who was sitting by the boy’s side lifted his head and smiled at her tiredly. He looked just as old as his age would suggest for once, it was pretty unusual. His eyes were suspiciously red as if he had been crying. And when she was talking about reddened eyes, she noticed that Wei Wuxian’s were the same.

“How is he?” she managed to whisper after a long silence.

“Just as we had feared,” was her husband’s only response as he bowed his head lower. His voice was tired and sad and it hurt Yu Ziyuan to see him this way. He needed to rest and come to terms with his thoughts it would seem.

“Go have some rest. I will stay with him.”

Jiang Fengmian rose slowly, his whole body suggesting that he was in fact in pain. Yu Ziyuan knew it was more of a mental thing than a physical one but she still almost went to him to support him. Almost. Then she threw all the decorum out of the window, there was no one to see them right now and even if there was, she would not care.

She closed the distance between them in just two steps and took her husband’s hand into her own. Jiang Fengmian looked at her and drew her closer to him and she snuggled for a brief moment against his chest. He kissed her forehead and then he was gone and Yu Ziyuan was left alone in Wei Wuxian’s room.

She sat down by the bed and waited, both hoping and not hoping for the boy to wake up soon.

Chapter Text

Wei Wuxian’s consciousness was coming back to him only slowly. It was like he was trying to go somewhere but his legs were stuck in a thick syrup like substance which resisted his every step. He was trapped somewhere and it took an enormous effort to move at all. Just as he was slowly getting more and more aware of the world around him, only the smells and sounds for now since his eyes were refusing to open just yet, he remembered what he had done before falling asleep.

Uncle Jiang had come to his room all too soon after his siblings had appeared at his side. He had not had nearly enough time to enjoy their company. But it had just been his rotten luck, like usually. He had not protested or regretted having his happy moment cut short. He had known this had been coming and he had been prepared for that.

It had been certain in his mind that he had been allowed to return to Lotus Pier only for him to apologize to the family he had failed and to take his punishment. He would be thrown out soon.

He only knew that he was still in his former home because of the sound of gentle waves caressing the piers and the distant laugher of junior disciples swimming freely and splashing water all around. He had also been like them once, full of life and thinking that he would be able to face everything life threw at him with ease.

Oh, how foolish he had been to believe that! How young, arrogant and naïve. He had been way too confident in his own abilities when he had still had his golden core. Now he knew better. Every day was a struggle for survival and life was hard even when he did everything he could. He would never be able to go to those happy and easy days ever again. He would have to struggle on the streets and face harsh winters just as he had used to as a child.

Though he should not be surprised. He had long resigned himself to this fate when he had lost his golden core. He had failed in protecting the Yunmeng Jiang clan because he was weak, useless. He had no more place in his former family anymore. It hurt but he had no one else to blame for that but himself. He had to face the consequences of his mistakes.

Then he vaguely remembered that Uncle Jiang had held him in his arms and had let him cry his heart out on his chest. He had not done that ever since bringing Wei Wuxian to Lotus Pier. That must have been a sign that he was about to leave in the same way as he had come, scared, trembling with fear and cold and all alone.

It would be easier for everyone this way too. He would not be able to cause any more troubles and Madame Yu would be able to finally find a better head disciple who would be more obedient and would have higher skills so he would be able to protect her family properly. Uncle Jiang had told him that he had nothing to apologize for, that must have meant that they were finally done with him and not even his apology or begging would save him from his fate. Why would  any cultivation sect keep someone as useless as him around?

Now it was just the question of time when Madame Yu would come and finally throw him out. He could only hope for her to be merciful enough to leave him a set of robes to cover himself with and allow him to take his flute with him if it had not been lost during the last battle which was very much probable. Surely everyone had more important things to do in the fight than to look for his spiritual weapon. That was fine though, he could make another one.

He stopped at this thought. He felt concerned at his own wish. He had only used demonic cultivation as his last option, it was time to let it go. He should become just a normal man, the same one he had been destined to be if Uncle Jiang had not rescued him off the streets and if he had survived until this age on his own.

Using demonic cultivation was detrimental to him, just as Lan Zhan had always said. He should stop when was there still time. He would not get Lan Zhan to play for him anymore after all and he would not like for the damage to multiply. He was powerless now and he should start finally getting used to this notion. The war was over; it was time to let go of everything.

No, he could not do that! Not when the shards of the Yin iron were still somewhere out there and someone could take advantage of them. He was the only one now who would be able to stop another demonic cultivator from rising to power. He had to conserve means of manipulating the resentful energy if needed. He would still have to practice demonic cultivation.

He opened his eyes and stared up at the now familiar ceiling. His head was in turmoil and he did not know what he should do now. He felt at a loss and wanted for someone to tell him how to proceed with his life. So much had changed in such a short time and he had only now started to process it all. He had to come to terms with it quickly, soon, he would not have any more time for leisurely musing.

And talking of the devil; his head snapped to the side when he heard Madame Yu’s voice not far from his head: “A-Ying? Are you awake?”

He did not even stop to think about her words and the tone of her voice and he was already scrambling up from under the covers and kowtowing to her, still on the bed as he was not sure he would have been able to get down from it in any other way than falling. He did not wait for her to start scolding him and he was already apologizing. He wanted her to hear all of it before she would grab him by his collar and throw him away just like she had always promised.

“Madame Yu, I am sorry. I have failed you and your family. I could not protect anyone and you have all suffered because of me. What more, I have even failed the Yunmeng Jiang sect. I…”

He could not continue as he choked on a sob. It had really all been his fault from the very beginning. He should have listened to her, he should have listened to Jiang Cheng. He should have done better. Now he would have to face uncertain and dangerous future on his own and would not be able to see his siblings ever again. There was a weight on his chest which was steadily getting heavier and heavier and was crushing him so much that he was having trouble breathing.

Chapter Text

“A-Ying? Are you awake?” Yu Ziyuan asked as gently and quietly as she could. She knew she was still no good at this being kind thing but she still hoped that it would not be too much of a shock to the apparently waking up Wei Wuxian.

Decidedly, she had been wrong. She realized this as soon as the boy’s eyes grew big and fearful, immeasurably guilty deep down when he focused them on her and recognized who was sitting next to him. She did not even have enough time to react to his distress and he was already moving, quicker than she would have expected him given his weakened and still sleepy self, and kowtowing in front of her.

She blinked away her tears and gathered herself as quickly as she could. What she had feared was already happening. Wei Wuxian was apologizing to her and blaming himself for failing in protecting his family; which should have never been his duty to begin with. She had pushed onto him something way too heavy. She had to admit that she was not even sure that this burden would not have broken her herself if she had been made to carry it alone.

Her heart was breaking realizing that she would have actually been happy, or at least satisfied, she was not even sure herself with one of those options would have applied, if this had happened just half a year ago. She would have made the boy apologize for his failure herself if he did not do it immediately on his own. She had really been an awful person, had she not? She never wanted to go back to her past self now.

She was on her feet before she even knew she had started getting up. She could not let Wei Wuxian continue apologizing and berating himself. It was not like he even could, seeing that he was now hyperventilating horribly and gasping for breath.

She grabbed his shoulders and made him sit back up, he went with her directions only too willingly. He must have been scared and probably also in pain. She grabbed his chin and made him look up at her face.

“A-Ying, breathe with me.” She was still trying to sound gentle but it was not doing the trick. If anything, Wei Wuxian seemed even more distressed now than before.

In that case, Yu Ziyuan would have to use harsher methods to snap him out of his panic attack which he was apparently just having. She shook his shoulders with a little bit of force, trying to make the boy focus on her properly. Still nothing, Wei Wuxian’s eyes were glassy and he was looking through her. She was starting to be scared herself. She let go with one hand and slapped her son’s cheek. The blow was not too hard; it was only meant to bring Wei Wuxian’s consciousness to the present.

She was glad that it worked. The boy was now paying his full attention to her again and she repeated, this time with more authority, she need him to listen to her: “A-Ying, breathe with me.”

This time, Wei Wuxian followed her lead and managed to take oxygen into his lungs properly. Yu Ziyuan stopped leading the breathing exercise, she did not want him to continue having dark or self-blaming thoughts so that was why she started talking: “A-Ying, it was not your fault at all. It had been me; I should have never asked you to protect A-Cheng and A-Li like that. Your life matters and I do not want you to throw it away like this. I am sorry...”

Now she did not know how to proceed. She knew she had to apologize for so many things and now was perhaps the best time to do it, she had already started anyway and she did not know if she would be able to gather her courage again any time soon. She had Wei Wuxian’s full attention and the boy was looking at her with something akin to amazement or awe. Of course there was also disbelief but she had not expected for it to not be there. She took a deep breath and started again:

“I am sorry, A-Ying, for asking you to do something I myself had failed to achieve. I am sorry for always pushing you too hard. I am sorry for always scolding you and punishing you. You did not deserve such cold treatment from me. I am sorry for believing all the rumours and accusing you to want to take A-Cheng’s position away from him. I should have known from the very beginning that you would have never done that. It would have been clear too if I had only let go of my preconceptions and clouded eyes. You had always said you only wanted to be A-Cheng’s right hand man and yet, I had berated you time and time again. I should have paid more attention to you and open my heart to you properly, I am sorry I had not. I know it had hurt you. I am sorry I have ever hit, you did not deserve it, I should have whipped that disgusting woman instead and stood by you, my family. I am sorry for never properly loving you like I had, I am so sorry…

Everything I had done had hurt you and now I cannot make it any better. I want to apologize to you from the bottom of my heart, yet I do not even know if I have the right to do that. If I have the right to talk to you and see you at all. I should probably just let you in peace and vanish from your sight right at this moment. I am not asking for forgiveness, to that, I certainly do not have any right. I just want you to see that everything will be different from now on. I do not want forgiveness; I should not apologize to me for anything at all. I just want you to know that I am sorry for everything…”

Yu Ziyuan could no longer keep her voice from trembling and breaking down. She was not sure she was making sense anymore. She did not even dare to look into Wei Wuxian’s eyes, she was afraid of what she would find in there.

She would be probably well equipped to deal with the boy’s hatred or anger. But she doubted her son was even capable of those emotions right now. It would hurt, but she would also be able to handle disgust or distrust from his side, even suspicion would be fine. She was however fearing that he would just try to brush everything off just as so many times before. She was afraid that he would disregard himself and his own feelings and forgive her for everything. She could not allow that, not if she wanted things to change. She did not know how to face him.

So she did not. She let go of his shoulders and took a step back. She bowed to her son, her heart full of regrets for what she had done, for what she had been doing for years, and for things she had failed to do. She could only hope that Wei Wuxian would understand how sincere her apology was and that she did not seek forgiveness.

“Sorry…” she whispered again brokenly.

The boy did not utter a single word, he seemed to not have been breathing. Yu Ziyuan could still not look at him and it was excruciating to wait for his reaction. Each of her heartbeats felt like it was taking a lifetime and she was aging on the spot, becoming tired and even more full of regrets.

“Madame Yu…” came a cautious whisper at last and it completely broke her heart. She turned on her heel and all but run from her son’s room.

She wanted to go to her husband and snuggle in his arms to be able to calm down. She could not tell for sure, but she though that she was perhaps crying as she was walking, more like stumbling really, back to her room. Jiang Fengmian would be there, she had told him to go rest after all. She was in too much pain and she needed someone to hold her so she would not break into a million pieces that no one would be able to paste together ever again.

Chapter Text

Jiang Fengmian was waiting in his and his wife’s room. He had seen the determination and also the distress and anxiety on Yu Ziyuan’s face when she asked him with her eyes to leave her alone with Wei Wuxian. He wished for her from the bottom of his heart to be strong and to overcome her heart wrenching regret.

He himself had had enough of that but he knew that despite her strong front and controlled behaviour, deep down, his wife was a very tender and emotional woman who loved her family with all her heart. Now however, he was afraid that the rejection that she would face from Wei Wuxian could break her.

He had not been able to apologize or to properly explain things to their son because he had been a coward. It was only a feeble excuse that he had not wanted to agitate Wei Wuxian any more than he had already been. He knew fully well that if he had been better at calming him down and less of a coward, he would have stayed strong and stopped the boy from blaming himself. Yet, he had not done that.  All he could have done was to hold his son in his arms and weep together with him. Although it helped him to come to terms with his feelings, he was certain that it had only steeled Wei Wuxian in his distorted beliefs in his own guilt.

Those beliefs that his wife claimed were entirely and solely her fault. He tried to already reason with her on numerous occasions during their imprisonment and afterwards that it was not true. They have all had a piece of guilt to carry, even if Yu Ziyuan’s was perhaps the biggest one – though Jiang Fengmian was ready to argue about that as well –, none of his family members was free of it. They all knew it and it was eating at them constantly.

Luckily, now that Wei Wuxian was finally awake; they would be able to start making it up to him and truly become a family they should have been from the very beginning. Although the road to that would most probably be a long and hard one.

After what Jiang Fengmian had seen with his own eyes, it would not be easy to convince his son that they all loved him and wanted to take care of him now, after all the years they had disregarded his feelings and not cared about his well-being as they should have. There was no question in his mind that they would all have to work very hard towards that.

Suddenly, the door to the room flew open and a very distressed looking Yu Ziyuan run inside. She closed the door behind herself and stayed in the middle of the room. She was crying and so broken that it broken Jiang Fengmian’s heart in response to seeing her like that. He immediately knew that Wei Wuxian had woken up and Yu Ziyuan had been overwhelmed by her guilt.

He could however only speculate at what point that had happened. He himself could not manage to say his apology properly and he was now greatly regretting it as his own guilt was gnawing at his guts with more and more intensity each minute. He knew that if he would not go face Wei Wuxian again soon and finally try to apologize to him – not seek forgiveness, just to let his son know that they were aware of their mistakes – it would break him eventually. Had his wife reached her breaking point just now?

Jiang Fengmian immediately stood up and went to her. He gathered her into his arms and drew her closer to his chest, letting her hide her face and lean into him. They would have never even thought about doing something like this before everything fell apart after Lotus Pier had been attacked. But by now, it had become something they both needed and welcomed. They were here for each other and there was nothing wrong with showing weakness here and now and being comforted.

Once his wife calmed down some, Jiang Fengmian gently let her to sit on the bed. He took place next to her and continued holding her hands in his own, looking at her with worry and concern.

It took another while before Yu Ziyuan finally spoke, not lifting her eyes from the floor: “Fengmian, I have done it. I have tried to apologize…”

That did not surprise Jiang Fengmian as much as he had thought it would. He had always known that his wife was the stronger one out of the two of them. Of course she would succeed in pushing forward. But why was she in this kind of emotional state?

“I could not quite do it. I could not say everything I had wanted. I could not apologize for everything I had done wrong to him. There is just too much… How should I ever face him again? I could tell that he did not believe me. Fengmian, what should I do?”

It was at this moment that Yu Ziyuan looked up and found Jiang Fengmian’s eyes. He almost recoiled, shocked. Even during the long imprisonment, his wife had never been this unhappy and broken. He could tell that she was really at the end of her rope. And she was now looking for an advice because she really did not know what to do anymore.

Jiang Fengmian smiled gently and kissed Yu Ziyuan’s cheek chastely. It was not meant to be anything sensual, it would be very uncalled for in a situation like this. It was simply a token of his support and something he thought would help him to comfort his wife’s hurting heart.

“Ziyuan,” he started ever so softly, “you have already done more than I could. I am sure you did your best. Please do not beat yourself up over this. We have already known that A-Xian would not believe us right from the beginning, we would have to find out way to him slowly. You have made that first and most important step. Now you need to continue shoving him your sincerity. I am sure he will believe in our words eventually.”

Yu Ziyuan continued watching him intently, clearly looking for any kind of dishonesty or doubt on his face. In the end, apparently reassured by him returning her stare without a flinch, she whispered with more hope than she had come into the room with: “I hope so, Fengmian, I sincerely hope so. I do not know what I would do if A-Ying would never be able to believe me anymore.”

Jiang Fengmian kissed his wife one more time, on each cheek, wiping her tears away. Then he tugged at her hand: “It is time for us to rest. We should give A-Ying some more time to heal. And we would also be calmer and more prepared after a good long sleep. Heavens know that we had not had much of that lately. We cannot be too emotional when we face him or he will just try to take all the blame onto himself again.”

Yu Ziyuan nodded immediately and after removing their outer robes and hair ornaments, they snuggled close to each other under the covers, offering comfort and proximity. They slept before they even knew it.

Chapter Text

Wei Wuxian was frozen solid after Madame Yu had all but fled the room, he could not name it differently although he was trying really hard. First his siblings who were way too happy with him being back in Lotus Pier although Jiang Cheng had not let any opportunity slip before to remind him that he hated him for causing the fall of Lotus Pier. Then Uncle Jiang crying together with him and telling him he should not say he was sorry for everything. And now it was Madame Yu whose behaviour had made no sense to him. Just what was happening around him?

He could not understand the world anymore. It had actually been easier when he had thought all of this had been a dream. Now however, he believed that he was back in reality and things had gotten crazy around him. How else should he explain the behaviour of his family? How else should he understand that Uncle Jiang had been brought to tears even though Wei Wuxian could not even start to imagine why? How else should he overlook the hurt expression on Madame Yu’s face when she had apologized to him? Or had he only imagined all of that after all?

And what about Lan Zhan’s behaviour? That was perhaps the most confusing and strange of all. The Second Jade had hated him during the Sunshot campaign because Wei Wuxian had obstinately refused to stop practicing demonic cultivation. The Yunmeng Jiang sect head disciple had also shot down and all of Lan Zhan’s attempts to play for him and help him. And yet, why was the Second Jade, the esteemed and important war hero, Hanguang-Jun, here is Lotus Pier playing healing music for Wei Wuxian of all people? Did he not hate him and wanted to take him back to Cloud Recesses to punish him for his evil ways?

Why was he not imprisoned yet? No matter if by the Gusu Lan sect or by his own family. He was a demonic cultivator and everyone had been fearing him. Why was he in Lotus Pier and why was everyone around him acting this weird? He could not make sense of anything, especially not of his family’s or of Lan Zhan’s behaviour.

He was thoroughly confused and his head was spinning. He knew he must have been looking like a fool when he was sitting on his own bed, in his sleeping under robe of all things, and with a mouth open in surprise. What would anyone tell if they came in?

And just like that, the worst had happened. There was a knock on his door and Lan Wangji’s voice asked: “Wei Ying, may I come in?”

Wei Wuxian’s first instinct was to pretend he was not in the room. He did not want to see anyone right now, especially not Lan Zhan, he needed some time to himself to come to terms with what was happening. Or maybe he could just tell the Gusu Lan sect disciple that he did not wish to be disturbed right now. However, it had not worked too well in the past because Lan Zhan would only start following him around even more often.

“Wei Ying?” came another call from outside of the door. This time, it sounded worried and Wei Wuxian could not help himself to wonder if the worry was for him or because Lan Zhan was afraid that he had disappeared and was causing trouble and sowing chaos somewhere.

After an almost endless second when Wei Wuxian could tell Lan Zhan was standing on the other side of the door with his hand outstretched, ready to knock again, he finally sighed quietly and invited him: “Hanguang-Jun, you may come inside.”

The title was sour on his tongue but there was nothing he could do about that. When he had first woken up, he had thought he had been in a dream so calling Lan Zhan by his birth name had not bothered him. Now however, he had to revert to using the proper addressing. They were not on the same level after all; he was just a vile demonic cultivator hated by everyone and the other was one of the most esteemed young masters the cultivation world could offer. Even if Wei Wuxian would let go of demonic cultivation, without his golden core, they could never again be equals. The knowledge was breaking his heart.

He quickly schooled his expression to polite surprise as Lan Zhan was already coming inside. His face was as expressionless as ever but after spending so much time in his company, Wei Wuxian could actually tell that he was indeed worried. What troubled him was the reason behind that emotion. Not that he would ask of course.

“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan said his name as a greeting while he was watching him intently. It was at that exact moment that Wei Wuxian realized there could be also another explanation to the Second Jade being here in Lotus Pier. He must have been sent by someone to keep an eye on him. At least that would be something the Yunmeng Jiang sect head disciple guessed Lan Qiren would do to assure himself that Wei Wuxian would not cause trouble or run havoc with his demonic cultivation. His heart sank at the realization.

That was why his next words sounded harsher than he wanted them to be: “Hanguang-Jun, what are you doing here?” He felt like so many times during the war when he had to find strength to turn Lan Zhan away even though that was the last thing he actually wanted to do.

The Second Jade continued looking at him for another few seconds and it was becoming really awkward for Wei Wuxian to the point where he tried to avert his eyes only to find them immediately drawn back to the figure clad in white robes.

After what felt like an eternity to the Yunmeng Jiang sect disciple and the distance his eyes had travelled in avoiding and coming back became hundreds of miles, Lan Zhan spoke again, his tone almost pleading: “Lan Zhan.”

Wei Wuxian’s eyes immediately shot back to look at him. Was Lan Zhan trying to say that he should call him by his birth name again? Why would he do that? Would it not tarnish his pristine reputation to be close to the demonic cultivator that was Wei Wuxian? This seemed to have been another one of those things which were just happening around Wei Wuxian and that he could not understand.

And so he let it go and did not react to Lan Zhan’s offer – or an order? He really could not tell – in any way. He remained silent, his eyes downturned now. He heard a sigh and then the Second Jade finally explained the reason for his visit: “I came to play for you.”

If they had been back during the Sunshot campaign, Wei Wuxian would have refused the offer flat out. But right now, he felt exposed and vulnerable, his body and soul still aching. He was actually longing to have that special song played to him by the Second Jade. He knew it would help him calm down and forget his confusion for at least a little. Perhaps he would even be able to relax while listening to it.

He found himself nodding slightly, his eyes still glued to the floor which was now the safest place to look at.

He heard rustling of robes and then something – probably Lan Zhan’s guqin – being placed on the table. And then he all but melted into the melody which was being performed just for him. He did not even have to request this song especially and Lan Zhan was already playing it for him. Wei Wuxian sat in a more comfortable position and relaxed, letting his nerves be soothed by the melody he loved.

Chapter Text

Lan Wangji was playing for Wei Ying and his mind was in turmoil despite his fingers being steady on the strings, after all, he had played this exact melody so many times in the last three weeks that he would have been able to do so in his sleep by now.

He did not know if he should feel happy that Wei Ying had accepted his offer to play for him unlike all those times during the Sunshot campaign or if he should be worried instead. Worried because his husband still stubbornly refused to call him by his given name again and to look at him properly.

In fact, the atmosphere in the room had been awkward ever since he had stepped in. He could tell that Wei Ying had been in distress and confused, yet he did not know how else to help him but by playing the song he had composed for him and which his husband had requested in the direst of times.

As the song continued, he slowly relaxed after seeing that Wei Ying was now meditating and looking calm at last. He did not know if his husband was pretending to meditate because he was trying to hide the truth about his missing golden core or if he was actually feeling better but it did not matter much. Wei Ying’s face did not lie; there was no tension to it and no sharpness around his closed eyes, his whole body looked relaxed as well.

When the song finished, Lan Wangji let his hands rest in his lap and waited for Wei Ying’s reaction. His husband slowly opened his eyes and there was peace in his eyes. If Lan Wangji wanted to be hopeful, he would say that there was even a glint of relief and gratitude in them. He did not want any thanks for his assistance, he had been satisfied with the knowledge that Wei Ying let him play for him at all.

He had not however been prepared for his husband’s question: “Lan Zhan, what is the name of that song? I remember you playing it for me in the cave of the Tortoise of Slaughter and then humming it during the final battle. Is it some very old and powerful healing music of your clan?”

Lan Wangji’s heart almost jumped out of his chest. Wei Ying sounded so peaceful and relaxed, and he had even called him by his birth name again! That was a great improvement. He wondered if now was the right time to finally tell him about his feelings and about the fact that they were already married, at least in his eyes. He still had to ask if Wei Ying would want to honour this union or if he would reject him after learning the truth.

Before he even consciously decided, his mouth was already having a mind of its own: “WangXian.”

He had waited so long for this moment and now that that words were out of his mouth, he finally felt at peace. He did not know if Wei Ying would understand them in the same way, but they were actually his heartfelt confession of love for him.

He did not avert his eyes; he did not want to miss even the smallest of tells that his husband would give him about accepting or rejecting his feelings. Wei Ying looked taken by surprise at first and Lan Wangji did not blame him. He had been less than subtle about his confession after all, who would not be surprised?

He almost could not resist his urge to go embrace and kiss the other when he saw tentative and fragile hope being born in his husband’s eyes as the fact was slowly sinking in.

“Lan Zhan…” there was hesitation and his tone was small but there was no rejection as of yet, “who wrote that song?”

“I did,” informed Lan Wangji solemnly. Now everything was out in the open and all Lan Wangji could do was wait. Still, he did not let go of this opportunity and admitted quietly, a whisper really: “For you.”

Wei Ying looked even more surprised now, his mouth was actually coming agape a little and it was extremely adorable. Lan Wangji could not believe his luck; as of now, there was no rejection nor disgust in his husband’s eyes. Could it be that it would all go this smoothly? Or could it be that Wei Ying was actually even returning his feelings with how gentle and soft his eyes were? Lan Wangji did not want to assume anything as it would hurt badly to learn the opposite if it came to it. Still, hope was a treacherous thing that refused to leave his heart.

He watched his husband’s expression with great anticipation and fear. The surprise which had been there had very slowly morphed into disbelief. Then, a blooming realization came with tears gathering in his eyes and Lan Wangji had a great urge to reach out and kiss them away even before they would spill out of those beautiful grey orbs.

It the end, his husband’s expression settled on awe as he asked, his voice even smaller than ever before, careful yet full of hope of his own: “Lan Zhan, do you mean… is it true... Or am I just assuming on my own?”

It seemed like his husband was thoroughly shocked and for once unable to speak clearly. Lan Wangji smiled and took pity on him. It was also that he had wanted to say those words for the longest time now, perhaps even from the first moment he had laid eyes on his husband on that night of the full moon as he had been sneaking Emperor’s Smile to Cloud Recesses: “Wei Ying, I love you.”

The tears which had been visible in his husband’s eyes until then were now streaming out onto his cheeks unchecked. Now that Lan Wangji could tell that Wei Ying was surely not rejecting him, he finally leaned forward and kissed the tears away as he had wanted moments ago. He put his hands on each side of his husband’s face and held it in place as the other leaned into his touch.

And then there were Wei Ying’s hands on Lan Wangji’s shoulders and their lips were touching in a feverish explorative journey. The Second Jade could have never imagined how sweet his husband’s lips would taste and he could just not have enough even though he was already in need to take a breath or there was a chance he would suffocate. He would not mind dying right now, knowing that his perfect husband returned his feelings.

Wei Ying pulled a little away and Lan Wangji frowned before that expression had been wiped away from his face completely hearing his husband whisper sweetly into his ear: “Lan Zhan, I love you too. Always had, from the very first second I saw you.”

This led to another heated moment and Lan Wangji found out that they were getting better and better at this. He had literally no experience but it did not matter. It was as if his body and mind knew what to do anyway.

It took them an eternity before they separated from each other, although their hands remained intertwined. It felt so natural like this. Lan Wangji could finally have his husband only to himself. Should he push forward even more and tell Wei Ying that they had already been married as well? How would his husband react to that? He had high hopes as the Yunmeng Jiang sect head disciple returned his feelings and if their passionate kissing had anything to say about that, Lan Wangji would swear that the other was completely infatuated with him.

Then Wei Ying’s face suddenly became serious and the Second Jade was fearing the worst. Had Wei Ying perhaps come to regret his confession? Had Lan Wangji been too forward? Or was there something he had forgotten?

“Lan Zhan, does that mean you will stay with me despite the fact that I am a feared demonic cultivator? Even if I will still not want to pick up the sword again?”

Wei Ying’s eyes were pleading and Lan Wangji would never deny him anything when he was looking like that.

“Mn, will always stay with Wei Ying.”

“Even though you have hated me during the Sunshot campaign?” This time, Wei Ying seemed confused.

From his statement alone, Lan Wangji finally understood why it had been so hard for him to get through to his husband during the war. Wei Ying had been convinced that the Second Jade hated him and probably thought that he had wanted to punish him or imprison him for his use of the demonic cultivation when Lan Wangji had asked him to come back to Gusu with him. It was all making sense now and the Second Jade wanted to weep at how wrong his husband had been.

“Never hated Wei Ying. Wanted to bring him to Cloud Recesses and protect him.”

“Lan Zhan…” his husband wailed after a second and the tears had restarted. Wei Ying all but threw himself at Lan Wangji and the Second Jade cradled him closer to his chest and let him cry while he was patting his head reassuringly and kissing the crown of his hair. He felt like he had finally gotten through to his husband and that everything would be fine from now on, they would face every challenge together.

Chapter Text

Jiang Yanli came to see if Wei Wuxian was perhaps awake again and wanted to have some of her soup. It was quite early in the morning now but her brother’s sleep patterns were unpredictable to say at the least so she hoped she would be able to see him awake before she would have to go tend to her duties for the day.

It seemed that Jiang Cheng had had a similar idea as he was already standing in front of Wei Wuxian’s room. However, something seemed to be wrong.

Her youngest brother was just standing there with his hand in the air, as if he was about to knock but never finished the motion. The two guards at the door were pointedly looking away from both their sect leader and the door and there was a strange shade to their cheeks. It was only when Jiang Yanli came closer that she could tell that Jiang Cheng was blushing furiously as well. She wondered what had happened.

Before she could ask, she heard noises from inside of the room. It took her only a second to realize why the two disciples guarding Wei Wuxian and her youngest brother were so bothered and apparently embarrassed. What was happening inside could not have been mistaken.

Just to make sure though, she asked the guards: “Is Lan Wangji there with my brother?”

The disciples did not look at her but they both nodded. Jiang Cheng blushed even more if that was possible and he looked down onto the ground, probably hoping to hide his embarrassment. It looked truly adorable. She knew that Jiang Cheng was really inexperienced in the matters of love but still, he should not be so impacted just after hearing someone kissing from the other side of the door. Even though those sounds were accompanied by heated calls of ‘Lan Zhan!’ and ‘Wei Ying!’ which was truth to be told a little embarrassing to listen to.

“I see, I am happy for A-Xian then,” she smiled. Then she looked at the two Yunmeng Jiang sect disciples, one on each side of the door. They must have felt her gaze because they both looked back at her immediately. Jiang Yanli was still smiling but her voice was made of steel: “Keep watch over them and do not let anyone disturb them. If someone questions your orders, tell them they come directly from the Yunmeng Jiang sect leader.”

“Understood,” the disciples straightened their backs a little bit more and she could tell they understood perfectly well and were just as happy for her brother as she was. She knew they would not let anyone disturb Wei Wuxian’s and Lan Wangji’s heated moment. Her brother needed this more than her soup right now. She put the basket down for him to enjoy it later.

At her words, Jiang Cheng’s head snapped up as well and he looked at her in utter bewilderment, his cheeks still bright red. Apparently he had been surprised by her claiming that the orders came from him. She smiled at him and took his hand which was still suspended in the air and tugged it down, massaging the back of it gently.

“A-Cheng, come, A-Xian now needs a little bit of privacy, we can come visit him later in the day. I am sure Lan Wangji’s presence will do him much good.”

She did not wait for her brother’s reaction and she already started pulling him away gently. It was a great proof of his turmoil that he did not resist in the slightest. Jiang Yanli wondered what she should do now. She had to calm her brother down and then go help around the compound as she had planned. People around here were depending on her and she promised to help them with what they needed, especially to the elderlies. And then she would have to cook some more Lotus root pork rib soup for Wei Wuxian, her brother needed to eat more.

She wondered what would help Jiang Cheng to snap out of his haze the fastest. She had just the thing! There was some more soup back in the kitchens, still being heated on the stove. She stopped on their way and Jiang Cheng followed her lead. She felt like when they had both been children, it was so familiar and heart-warming. She was sure that even as the Yunmeng Jiang sect leader, her brother would not be able to resist her soup and would be able to calm down after eating some.

“A-Cheng, there is some soup for you in the kitchen. Would you like to go there now and have an early breakfast?”

Jiang Cheng watched her for a long time as if it was taking him forever to just understand her words. Jiang Yanli had to stifle a laugh. He looked so adorable when he was this lost in his thoughts and confused.

“Sister, what had happened…” he started but then he did not know how to continue so he closed his mouth again and looked down to the ground to gather his bearing.

“Do not worry A-Cheng, I will explain everything.  For now, just do not worry too much about A-Xian, I am sure he is perfectly fine and happy at the moment.”

Jiang Cheng looked at her with desperation now and he opened his mouth again. It was clear he wanted to snap something back at her but was unable to find his words. And so he only stood there with his mouth agape and his face full of adorable confusion. Jiang Yanli did not mind, she only tugged at his hand again and her brother let himself be manhandled to the kitchen.

Once they were there, Jiang Yanli busied herself with sitting her brother at a chair and preparing a bowl of soup for him. She put it on the table in front of him and sat across from him, observing him intently. Jiang Cheng made no move to start eating, his thoughts clearly still too disturbed to care even for his basic bodily needs.

Finally, Jiang Yanli took pity on him and explained what she had long known but what had apparently been news to her youngest brother: “A-Cheng, please do not be too shocked. I had already known for a long time that Lan Wangji and A-Xian had been in love. It was only that they themselves did not seem to understand that and had not confessed to each other. Until now it would seem. They look so good together! And I just know that it will make A-Xian happy like nothing else to have Lan Wangji by his side. Lan Wangji can also take care of him when he himself does not.”

Jiang Cheng still looked baffled when he blurted out a single: “What?”

He took another few seconds and several deep breaths to calm himself and added: “I see…” A pause later and a small smirk appeared on her brother’s lips. “I guess it would be good for that idiot if someone worried about and took care of him. Serves him right! Now he would get to know how hard it is for us to watch when he tries to sacrifice himself. Lan Wangji better take good care of him or I will break his legs.”

Then, Jiang Cheng picked up his spoon at last and started eating the soup carefully. If Jiang Yanli did not know him any better, she would have said that the matter was deal with for him. She however had to smile for herself, she could tell that her youngest brother was still very shaken but happy for their other sibling at the same time. That was good. Just as he had said, Wei Wuxian needed someone to keep an eye on him and not let him do anything too foolish.

Chapter Text

Jiang Cheng finished eating his sister’s soup and left her in the kitchen while he headed towards his study, the Yunmeng Jiang sect leader’s study which had once been his father’s. He had already gotten used to his new position even in peaceful times and he was now perfectly capable of handling all the duties and expectations on his shoulders and keeping everything balanced. The only thing which was making his life difficult and his head hurt constantly was Wei Wuxian.

Do not get him wrong; it was not his brother who was on his mind for being a headache himself, but his well-being and protection. Wei Wuxian had been especially well behaved ever since he had woken up, he had even yet to leave his room. There was no doubt on Jiang Cheng’s mind that he would start causing trouble and running wild once he did, but for now, nothing happened.

No it was actually those who wanted to hurt his brother who were making his life difficult. Even though Jin Guangshan and Jin Guangyao seemed to be laying low and publically asking about his brother’s well-being and recovery, they had in fact not given up on having Wei Wuxian join the Lanling Jin sect, voluntarily or not.

Ever since Jiang Cheng came back to Lotus Pier, there had already been three attempts at intrusion into his brother’s room. Luckily, they managed to stop the intruders before they could do anything but it was worrying nevertheless. One of them had even been a long-time servant which had survived the fall of Lotus Pier. That was all Jiang Cheng needed to determine that snakes and traitors could be anywhere, he could hardly trust even the most loyal of people.

He had dreaded to reveal the truth about his brother’s missing golden core but he could not not do that since keeping it a secret would only hurt Wei Wuxian in the long run. They had to do it for him to not overexert himself unnecessarily in pretending to be alright. What his brother now needed more than anything was a safe place to recover, a place where people would accept him as he was, with demonic cultivation and a missing golden core. It was the least they could provide. He was only afraid how his brother would react upon learning that everyone knew about him secrets.

What truly terrified Jiang Cheng to his core was however something different. What was not letting him sleep at night was the fact that since the announcement, there had been no more attempts at Wei Wuxian’s life nor safety. It was as if the information had never been said aloud. He feared that it was just the calm before a storm but he did not know how to stop it from coming.

On his desk, he found another letter from Nie Huisang and he already dreaded the news. It was the first one after the truth about his brother’s missing golden core had been revealed. He was sure that the Qinghe Nie sect heir would not be happy about him acting on his own before as much as consulting him. It could ruin his whole plan of capturing Jiang Guangshan and Jin Guangyao red handed. But Jiang Cheng just could not care about Nie Huisang’s whining.

He sighed and opened the letter. It was short but very concise; it must have been as it had been brought over all the way from Unclean Realm by one of Nie Huisang’s trained birds:

Brother Jiang,

I am getting closer; it will not take long now. I have discovered another five attempts, two directly in Lotus Pier, be careful. Tell Brother Wei to be careful too; I know he is awake now. The news about him had reached me, it is fine, it will help my plan.

Nie Huisang

It was not really what Jiang Cheng had expected but it was a pleasant surprise. It was great that Nie Huisang apparently did not mind the news circulating and would use the rumours in his plan, whatever that was. Jiang Cheng still did not know for sure what his friend had in mind but he believed him. Nie Huisang had become one of his closest confidants during the time that Wei Wuxian had been shutting himself from him during the Sunshot campaign and afterwards.

He also apparently knew that Wei Wuxian was awake already, he must have spies in Lotus Pier Jiang Cheng supposed. It actually made sense, it was only that this was the first time he was hearing about it. Was the situation now getting so serious that Nie Huisang had opted to show him his cards? Or was the opposite the reality and were they now getting closer to unmasking Jin Guangshan’s and Jin Guangyao’s plot? Jiang Cheng could not tell and it was making him nervous.

And the worst, Nie Huisang had mentioned another five attempts at attacking Wei Wuxian. How many had Jiang Cheng missed and how many had the Qinghe Nie’s spies had to take care of? It was very unsettling to learn that he, even as a sect leader, still did not know about everything which happened in the walls of Lotus Pier.

Nevertheless, he was grateful to his friend for protecting Wei Wuxian. Jiang Cheng was not stupid, he knew that Nie Huisang had also another hidden agenda in helping them, but it did not matter. What was important was the fact that the Qinghe Nie sect heir liked Wei Wuxian and wanted to help him for now.

It would also be good for the whole cultivation world if the Lanling Jin sect would not gain any more power. They were already trying to take over all the cultivation sects with Jin Guangshan naming himself presumptuously the Chief cultivator. They also had one piece of the Yin iron. It would simply not do if their spies managed to kidnap Wei Wuxian, he would then have a weapon and also a master who could wield it. The Lanling Jin sect leader would never take any regards as to what would happen to Wei Wuxian after he used him to gain more power nor the means with which he would have to make the Yunmeng Jiang sect head disciple cooperate with him.

Though Jiang Cheng and his family cared. And that was why they would never let the demonic cultivator to be used in this way.

Jiang Cheng picked up a brush and started writing a response to Nie Huisang’s letter. He had to know just how close the Qinghe Nie sect heir was to his goal, how long it would take before Wei Wuxian would be able to live freely again.

Chapter Text

Lan Wangji was very unsettled as he was holding Wei Ying in his arms after the Yunmeng Jiang sect disciple basically broke down. He had not excepted that his confession would have had such an impact on his husband. Then again, maybe he should have. It had been painfully clear that Wei Ying had misunderstood his intentions during the war time and it had been only moments ago that Lan Wangji had been able to explain himself properly.

Or at least he hoped so. The relief on his husband’s face and his heart was more than visible. It was screaming into his face and he kissed it away from Wei Ying’s cheeks coated in the salty wetness. A great weight had been lifted from his shoulders, now he could finally stand by the Yunmeng Jiang sect head disciple’s side without any misunderstandings between them.

Although there was still one little thing which he needed to inform Wei Ying about. He had to tell him that not only he loved him – and it was still a small miracle to him that the other apparently returned his feelings – but they were already married as well. Sure, only given the Gusu Lan sect wedding traditions but for Lan Wangji, there was no question in his mind. Wei Ying was his husband and that was it, nothing more and nothing less.

He had already decided about devoting his life to protect the Yunmeng Jiang sect disciple, both from those who would want him any harm and himself. He had noticed during the war that Wei Ying had a tendency to not care about himself enough and he had decided to change that. He would take care of his husband and remind him that there was at least one person who loved him, believed in him and did not slander him because of his use of demonic cultivation.

Not like he was not worried about Wei Ying using cultivating resentful energy. It had been made clean in the last three weeks when he had been unconscious and Wen Qing had been taking care of him that it hurt his body. However, it was only now that he could confirm that it was hurting also his very soul. Lan Wangji did not want to stop him though, he understood that Wei Ying had not any other choice when he had no golden core anymore, but it did not discourage him from wanting to lessen the negative effects of its use.

He could tell that his husband was not himself yet even though Wei Ying tried to mask his pain behind a smile and brittle words. Until he finally broke down like this in Lan Wangji’s arms. It was truly heart-breaking to see him crumble like that. Then again, the Second Jade was happy that he was the one who made Wei Ying comfortable enough to be shown this side of him. And he was also glad that no one else saw, his husband would be very uneasy later if anyone had.

So for now, all he could do was to sit on the side of the bed and hold Wei Ying in his arms as the other was crying his heart out. He was caressing his hair and back, his husband’s face was buried in his lap. He wanted to sooth him but at the same time, he wanted for him to let go of all the pain and for his tears to wash away everything which was burdening him deep down and which he usually would not show.

This was a moment of great vulnerability on the Yunmeng Jiang sect head disciple’s side and Lan Wangji was fully dedicated to treat it as such.

Wei Ying did not say anything to him after Lan Wangji’s confession but the way he was kissing him almost desperately was proof enough of his feelings. At least the Second Jade thought so as sobs were wracking the fragile and warm – no longer as cold as ice and unmoving – body in his lap.

He continued to provide support and humming the song he had composed for his husband until Wei Ying slowly calmed down and his breathing deepened. He fell into sleep. Not a fitful one full of nightmares that Lan Wangji saw so often during these last days, but a deep healing sleep bordering unconsciousness when his husband’s mind could relax.

He still continued to hold him for a bit longer, wondering what good deed he had done in his previous life to have someone as perfect and special as his husband loving him. He was the luckiest man alive.

When it was nearing lunch time and his stomach was telling him that the breakfast was now only a distant memory, he reluctantly laid Wei Ying back down on his bed. Surely his husband would be hungry when he would wake up, he had not eaten breakfast Lan Wangji was afraid. His husband was still too thin and he was only just starting to truly recover. He needed regular meals.

That was why the Second Jade stood up slowly and decided to go procure a meal for the two of them. Although he did not want to leave Wei Ying all by himself at a time like this – his husband had been greatly shaken when Lan Wangji had found him alone in the room earlier –, he also needed a moment to gather his thoughts. The confession and the fact that his feelings were returned had yet to settle in. He needed to be alone for a few minutes.

He went out of the room and informed the guards to run find him if his husband woke up. Then, he took a long way to the kitchens and was gathering his thoughts and silently celebrating.

He was not too surprised to find Jiang Yanli at the stove. He knew that she used to cook the soup for Wei Ying and apparently she was doing so at this time as well. Aside for a special highly nutritious diet that Wen Qing had prescribed, she also allowed his husband to have the soup after Jiang Yanli told them that she would always make the it to sooth her brothers.

Lan Wangji greeted politely, he did not want to startle the other since he came inside quietly enough for Jiang Yanli to not notice him. Just as he had suspected, she turned around immediately and there was a gentle smile on her lips when she recognized him.

“Lan Wangji,” she greeted back and then her smile became bigger when she continued, “congratulation for finding your way to my brother. I know he can sometimes be such a little blind fool. I am sure it must have been hard.” Lan Wangji’s ears started burning up, apparently he and Wei Ying had not been subtle enough before. Some silencing talismans would be in order for the next time they would start making out, he decided.

Before he could apologize for disturbing the not so calm Lotus Pier, Jiang Yanli was already talking again as if she never noticed his embarrassment. Or chose to ignore it more likely judging by the small sparkles in her eyes. Lan Wangji was suddenly remembering his brother’s subtle way of teasing.

“I am happy for both of you.” Her face had now become serious and Lan Wangji could tell that she loved her brother very much and wanted only the best for him. “He can sometimes be a handful and he barely ever worries about his own well-being but please, take care of him for me.”

It was a heartfelt request from an older sibling who had their younger brother’s happiness in mind. Lan Wangji heard those words as such and he had no complaints, this was exactly what had been on his own mind as well. He would have protected Wei Ying and taken care of him regardless of Jiang Yanli’s request.

Still, he felt it was his duty to oblige and reassure her that he was going to do just that. He nodded his head, his expression solemn as he promised: “Mn, I will take care of him.”

It was a vow for himself as much as it was a promise to Jiang Yanli. Lan Wangji would do his very best to stand by it. And if his best was not enough, then he would strive to reform himself and to give even more. He would devote himself to his husband.

Chapter Text

Wei Wuxian woke up to hushed voices talking not too far away from him. For a second, he was disappointed, he had hoped for the love song Lan Zhan composed for him to be the first thing he heard. But that was fine, his beloved was probably just sitting next to the bed and talking with someone.

However, when Wei Wuxian opened his eyes and looked to the side, Lan Zhan was nowhere to be seen. He was not by the side of his bed nor anywhere else in the room. He felt slightly disappointed. Had they just not declared love to each other? Where could have the Second Jade gone at a time like this? Wei Wuxian needed him by his side, he could already feel the resentful energy becoming more agitated and it was taking him a lot of effort to ignore the screaming in his head. When Lan Zhan had been here, for some reason, the noise was just not as disturbing and hard to manage.

He was even more disappointed when he realized that none of the two voices he was hearing from outside of the room and which presumably woke him up, was Lan Zhan’s. Despite himself, he focused on them. He did not really mean to eavesdrop but anything was better than to listen to the screams of the resentful energy in his own head.

“…what they say about Senior Martial Brother. It is quite sad really. And disturbing as well.”

Now that Wei Wuxian knew that the voices were talking about him – and he could still not place them but at least he knew that no one from his family was amongst them – he could not help himself but to listen further. Although he did not want to know what was being said about him as it would surely not be too pleasant given his use of demonic cultivation, he wanted to hear the rumours being spread at the same time. Perhaps it would give him some idea about what had been happening in the cultivation world while he had been unconscious. No one told him anything yet.

“Yes, I know. The three other great sects got a piece of Yin iron each, presumably for safekeeping, but everyone knows it was just to keep the power balance in the cultivation world intact. And since there are only three pieces, the Yunmeng Jiang sect got Senior Martial Brother. And all just because he can apparently control the pieces.”

“That makes him a really terrifying figure, do you not think so?”

“No! Why would I? I know Senior Martial Brother is now a demonic cultivator, but we knew him personally. We have known him even before, he is a good person no matter what anyone may say. I will not believe the rumours about him being ruthless and cruel for no reason…”

“Say what you may. But I had seen him during the Sunshot campaign. He really was terrifying… Hopefully he will change back to his old self again now that the war is over.”

“Of course he will! With so many eyes watching him, he would have to. The Lanling Jin sect had after all given an ultimatum: if Senior Martial Brother does anything suspicious, the Yunmeng Jiang sect will have to answer to the whole cultivation world…”

Wei Wuxian felt a tear slip down his cheek. He did not want to listen anymore; he had heard enough. He found out that now he actually preferred the screams of the resentful energy. It was something he knew and something which could not really hurt him. It had never caused him as much pain as the voices from the other side of the door had just done.

He did not blame those who were speaking, of course not. It was not their fault that he had become a demonic cultivator and they could not take any blame for his actions during the Sunshot campaign. He had been the one who chose to walk the unorthodox path and he was the one who had to shoulder the weight of the consequences.

It was just that it hurt knowing that the disciples – for it must have been a pair or perhaps more of the Yunmeng Jiang sect disciples who Wei Wuxian used to train judging from the way they called him – seemed to not be sure about his intentions and feared him. After all, had they just not said that they would only accept him as his old self? He was not certain that he could even go back to those days though.

Now he understood everything. It made perfect sense that there had always been someone with him in the room when he woke up, they must have been keeping an eye on him so he would not misbehave and cause trouble for the Yunmeng Jiang sect. Those two outside also must have been there to make sure he would stay obediently in his room, far from any prying eyes. The cultivation world really must have been terrified of him if they had made an ultimatum.

Wei Wuxian wiped away the tear and steeled himself. He had been confused about the way Uncle Jiang and Madame Yu had behaved. But that too was now making sense. They had to maintain the power balance between the sects and they could not have Wei Wuxian leaving the Yunmeng Jiang sect or Lotus Pier for that matter. If anyone learned about it, he would be an easy target, especially if he could no longer use demonic cultivation in order to not offend the other great sects.

He sighed. It seemed like his life had just gotten so much more complicated in a span of a single minute. Or perhaps that was not quite true. He did not know for sure for how long he had been unconscious but it was more than clear that his fate had been decided during that time. It was only that he had learned about it now, everyone else already knew.

Wei Wuxian was now extremely grateful to his siblings for keeping the truth away from him, he could tell that they just wanted to give him a moment of peace to recover. He wondered whether Lan Zhan had also known about all of this. Wei Wuxian made sure to not think too much about it lest he would start doubting the Second Jade’s feelings for him and all of this would hurt so much more.

Suddenly, Wei Wuxian stilled, stricken by panic. What was he about to do now? No one told him but judging from the conversation he had just overheard, he was supposed to become a bargaining chip in the inter-sect politics. Actually, he had already become one unknowingly.

Wei Wuxian took a deep breath and closed his eyes, considering what was expected of him in his new position. It went without saying that he could not use demonic cultivation anymore and had to pick up his sword again. A pained smirk appeared on his lips. That was easier said than done; without a golden core, he could never be a cultivator like everyone else, he would have to pretend.

He would also have to try his best to act like he had been in the past to not scare away the disciples. Madame Yu would not take it kindly if he ruined the only chance the Yunmeng Jiang sect had to rebuilt itself. He would also most probably have to pick up his position of the head disciple again to prove his loyalty to his sect and family. He would have to continue taking care of his duties. No one should doubt where his loyalty was standing and that he would never betray his family.

Wei Wuxian took another deep breath. It would be very difficult, maybe even impossible to achieve all of this without ticking off the rest of the cultivation world or putting his family and sect in danger.

Then, he opened his eyes, his facial features hardened. Yes, it would be impossible to do all of this without a golden core and with the resentful energy still influencing him. But he was from the Yunmeng Jiang clan; what kind of head disciple would he be if he did not lead by example? Yes, attempting the impossible it was from now on.

He would protect his family and clan with everything he got. That must have surely been the reason why he was still alive and back in Lotus Pier.

Chapter Text

After Jiang Yanli and Lan Wangji talked in the kitchen for a while, the daughter of the Yunmeng Jiang clan decided she would accompany the Second Jade back to Wei Wuxian’s room. She heated the very rest of the soup she had made previously and also took some other food fit for a breakfast. Her brother needed to start gaining back his strength and that could only be done with a plentiful and wholesome diet, just a Wen Qing ordered. They needed to be careful thought since Wei Wuxian was just recovering, they had to take it one step at a time.

She was happy to find her brother awake when they made it into his room. But something was different this time. Wei Wuxian was up and about, he had even dressed himself properly and was standing close to the door when they entered. For some reason, this image made her feel on the edge.

She knew she should be glad that Wei Wuxian was feeling up to standing and walking but was not sure if it was not too soon. She would have liked to have him resting for a while longer. Things were not the same anymore, he really could take it easy at last and her parents, especially her mother, would not say anything about it. There were no duties for him to take care of either, he was free to take his time recovering and figuring everything out.

Her uneasiness was however soothed when Wei Wuxian shot them a blinding smiling upon their entrance and she heard his stomach rumbling. Just as she had expected, he started immediately pouting loudly while joining them and looking at each of them in turn: “Shijie, can I smell your soup? I am so hungry! Please, please, can I have some?”

He was eager enough and Jiang Yanli could not help herself to smile as well. She patted her brother’s head gently with her free hand and pointed towards the table: “A-Xian, I am happy to see you are feeling better. I brought you breakfast, now that you are up, we can eat together.”

Wei Wuxian obeyed her instructions and quickly sat himself at the table, waiting impatiently for her to serve him the soup. He seemed like an eager child who knew he was getting his favourite candy and had to wait for the grow-up to get it out of their sleeve. He looked adorable and young like this. If she did not know any better, she could have even thought that he was alright now.

However, she was very familiar with her brother’s pretending to be fine and she was not fooled. At least not fully. Although his complexion looked better now and he was smiling and joking, she could see a hidden sadness deep inside his eyes. It was as if he was trying really hard to act as he had used to but could not quite remember how to actually be happy about it. It was just a front he put up for them to see while he was hiding his true feelings.

She worried if he would even be able to fully relax again. Too much had happened to him and she knew it must not be easy for him to start getting used to everything. He would need time. That was something which she could and would gladly give.

She finished pouring his bowl of soup and served all the dishes on the table. There was not enough soup for the three of them but that was fine, she would make more later. Wei Wuxian however did not start eating right away, he was instead looking at Lan Wangji with a strange expression of wonder and awe in his eyes. His face melted into something very sweet and gentle and she knew that the Second Jade’s confession had done wonders for him.

He pushed the bowl of soup towards the Gusu Lan sect disciple. “Lan Zhan, here. Have you ever tried Shijie’s soup? It is the best, I promise.”

Lan Wangji gave him a small indulgent smile, an expression that made Jiang Yanli speechless, she had not known the Second Jade could look like that. She had to admit that if she had not had Jin Zixuan already, she would have perhaps felt something seeing Lan Wangji smile. Now she was only glad to see her brother melt even more and smile even brighter.

Lan Wangji stopped Wei Wuxian from pushing the bowl of soup towards him: “Wei Ying should eat. I have already had an opportunity to taste Jiang Yanli’s cooking. She is an excellent cook.”

“Is she not?” laughed Wei Wuxian in delight as he picked up his spoon and started hungrily shovelling the soup into his mouth, barely chewing at all.

“A-Xian, slow down. I will make more later, there is no need to rush,” she reprimanded her brother gently.

“But Shijie!” he immediately pouted in mock hurt again. “Your soup is so good I cannot eat it slowly.”

That made both of them smile as she also took her chopsticks and started eating. Lan Wangji followed suit. The meal was a relaxed and jovial affair. After Wei Wuxian finished gobbling down the soup, he started eating more slowly and then he was only picking a few bites here and there, apparently his stomach was still shrunk from his previous experience and he was already sated. What he could not do with busying his mouth with eating, he made up for it by talking.

He spoke about everything and anything, telling stories of the past and more about Lotus Pier for Lan Wangji to hear. Jiang Yanli also joined the conversation from time to time but basically, she was happy to see her brother’s old self back, even when she knew he was probably pushing himself right then.

Lan Wangji did not say anything, he was obeying the rule of not talking while eating, but he had a soft expression on his face and his eyes were smiling when he was nodding or shaking his head when a response from him was required. Wei Wuxian did not seem to mind his silence as he continued to fill the room with idle chatter.

When they finished eating, Jiang Yanli put away the empty dishes and prepared herself to leave. She still had her duties to take care of. The new servants had yet to get used to the place and she often accompanied them and trained them.

When Wei Wuxian saw that she was about to leave, he stood up and was clearly ready to go somewhere as well. That made Jiang Yanli frown a bit in concern. He was not yet well enough to be walking around too much. She could already see that he was having trouble standing up himself and his eyes and features had become tired during their meal. He needed to stay and rest some more.

Lan Wangji must have been of the same opinion because he looked at Wei Wuxian in concern as well and reminded her brother of his own duties: “Wei Ying needs to rest and recover. I will play for you.”

When the Yunmeng Jiang sect head disciple seemed like he would argue with that statement, Jiang Yanli stepped in: “A-Xian, Lan Wangji is right. You should stay in your room for a while longer and rest. You look tired. After you sleep, perhaps you can take Lan Wangji on a small tour around Lotus Pier, but you need to recuperate a bit more before that. You seem ready to kneel over at any second.”

Wei Wuxian looked hurt at her words and she felt bad for asking him to do something he did not want. But there was no going around this one, it was important he rested for him to recover properly. He would still have plenty of time to enjoy his life and run around with Lan Wangji later.

She could tell that while her brother was not happy about her words, he looked relieved at the same time. He must have really been tired because he sat down at the table again with less grace than normally, more like fell back to his seat really. Jiang Yanli was alarmed. It was clear from just this that Wei Wuxian was truly not recovered yet if only a simple meal made him this exhausted.

Lan Wangji sat down as well and busied himself with preparing tea, earning himself a smile from her brother. Still, Wei Wuxian looked at her again the next moment, his expression serious for once, he was ready to make another attempt at convincing her apparently.

She was right she realized when her brother said with all seriousness and no joking nor mischief: “Shijie, I know I should recover more, but I have duties to take care of.”

Jiang Yanli’s heart was overcome with sadness at his words. She shook her head vehemently and felt tears stinking in her eyes. It was heart-breaking to see her brother still so ready to throw himself away and go on pretending that he was not hurting. For it was more than clear to her that he was doing this just for her family and the Yunmeng Jiang sect’s image again.

“A-Xian,” she spoke gently, not letting her real emotions to be heard, “we will talk about this later. Now your only duty is to heal and rest. You can take it easy and no one will say anything about it, I promise. Alright? Can you promise me that you will not push yourself? At least for the next few days.”

Wei Wuxian seemed concerned about her voice and expression. He considered her plea only for a second before he quickly agreed: “Alright, Shijie, I promise.”

Chapter Text

The next few days were uncomfortable for everyone to say at the least, especially for Lan Wangji. Although Wei Ying had promised his sister to be patient and focus on healing, it did not really take him too long to start complaining. He was recovering quickly now and he did not spend majority of his days sleeping anymore. It was getting steadily harder to keep him confided to his room, much less to the bed.

It was not that Wei Ying had been difficult to deal with, but he was complaining a lot and was he was bored too. Lan Wangji could understand; his husband was a free spirit who needed a lot of stimuli to keep himself occupied at all times now that he was feeling well again. He could also tell that even though Wei Ying refused to say anything, there were times when the resentful energy in his body which refused to be exorcised no matter how much Lan Wangji played Clarity for him started acting up.

The Yunmeng Jiang sect head disciple would then become quieter but more restless at the same time. He would start pacing through the room and would look like a caged animal. Lan Wangji hated to see him like that. It was painful to watch. What was even worse was however that Wei Ying would pretend that nothing was wrong as soon as he noticed someone had been observing him with worried eyes or if they asked.

It really seemed like this compromise of a few days was doing him more harm than good. Wen Qing had said so herself when Lan Wangji consulted her, desperate to be advised some way to help his husband. She only told him to try and keep him busy which was easier said than done really, given that there was only so much they could do inside a single room. He at least tried to spend all his waking time with his husband to keep him company.

Also the members of the Yunmeng Jiang clan came to visit regularly. Whenever they would come, the Yunmeng Jiang sect head disciple immediately cheered up and would chat animatedly with them. He would however have a sad hidden edge inside his eyes which he was masterfully masking with a smile. Lan Wangji could see it though and his heart was breaking with the knowledge.

Curiously enough, no one else seemed to have noticed anything weird and they were even happy that Wei Ying was getting better. Then again, perhaps it was not all that surprising after all. They came only for short visits, no one aside for Lan Wangji himself would now spend all their time with Wei Ying. They were busy rebuilding the Yunmeng Jiang sect. The Second Jade did not blame them for that but he could tell that it saddened his husband deep down and wished he could do something about it.

He had tried to explain the situation to them but it did not work too well. He was lacking words to describe what exactly had been bugging him and the members of the Yunmeng Jiang clan were not his brother to be able to understand him with just a few words. Only Jiang Yanli had gotten somewhat concerned but she did not act on it in the end, saying that Wei Ying simply needed more time to recover.

Actually, the whole Yunmeng Jiang clan seemed to be walking on eggshells when it came to their interaction with Wei Ying. It was not that they did not care about him, they did, maybe even too much for their concerns to be comfortable. But they seemed strangely afraid to dig any deeper, as if there was some kind of an unsaid line that none of them, including Wei Ying himself, was willing to cross. From what Lan Wangji could see, they were not talking about what had happened at all. They just supposedly waited for things to go back to what they had been before the war.

He did not believe this was the right approach to go about this. Not that he could or should for that matter do anything about it though. He was not from the Yunmeng Jiang sect and he had no say in the way how they treated one of theirs. After all, they were clearly caring about Wei Ying very much. He was not the one who would reprimand them for that.

On the morning of the third day, Lan Wangji could not take it anymore. He positively hated seeing Wei Ying on the edge and sad like this. Wei Ying’s smiles for him were now becoming scarce, though no less bright, as he was slowly spiralling into a place that Lan Wangji would not be able to reach sooner or later. So he decided to put an end to this torment.

Despite Jiang Yanli’s previous insistence that Wei Ying stayed in his room and Wen Qing’s less than tentative confirmation that his husband was healing properly – she still insisted that he should stay in bed and would frown every time she saw him outside of it though –, Lan Wangji acted on his own accord.

He had picked up a breakfast and headed to his husband’s room. He had already asked a servant he had seen around if they could bring a table outside of Wei Ying’s room. He decided they would have their meal in the courtyard. The place was not ideal but he wanted to let his husband see sun at last and enjoy some time outside. They would still be close enough to his room if he should feel too tired and the guards would also be able to keep an eyes on him just like before.

It would not be enough, he knew, but it was a kind of a compromise. Un uncomfortable one, but still something he was sure Wei Ying would enjoy.

When he came into the room and invited his husband outside, Wei Ying looked at him with a curious and slightly pained expression.

“Lan Zhan, you know what Shijie said. I need to stay here for now.”

Lan Wangji shook his head vehemently. He could see that his husband wanted to take him up on his offer but for some reason, he hesitated because of his sister’s words. The Second Jade was adamant to make Wei Ying feel better so he was ready to argue with Jiang Yanli if need be. Not that he really thought any true argument would erupt even if the said sister learned about Wei Ying’s short stay outside of his room. Lan Wangji could tell that she loved her brother too much to deny him anything he enjoyed for too long.

“Wei Ying, it will be fine. I want to have breakfast with you out in the sun. Do you not want to come?”

His husband still looked reluctant but that expression was quickly overridden with longing and then eagerness when Lan Wangji opened the door for him and Wei Ying could see the sunny courtyard. He still stood in place however. The Second Jade was at a loss what to do to convince him that he did not have to torment himself and stay only inside.

Luckily, it was one of the Yunmeng Jiang sect disciples who had been guarding the room who left his post by the door and came into view. She was smiling and when Wei Ying saw her, he returned the greeting earnestly, it was clear that he knew her and liked her.

“Senior Martial Brother, please come to the courtyard, we have set the table for you. If you are feeling good enough, you should enjoy the sun for a while.” Then she winked at Wei Ying and there was a little mischievous glint in her eyes, her smile remained gentle though. “Do not worry, we will not tell this to anyone, it is not like we are guarding you because you are under house arrest.”

Those words made Lan Wangji frown minutely. He did not even know why but they were very unsettling. He let go of that thought the next second though because Wei Ying shot a blinding smile in the Yunmeng Jiang sect disciple’s way and then hurried outside.

He first greeted both disciples and talked with them for a minute, immediately spreading a joyful atmosphere all around. Then the disciples ushered him towards the table for him to start eating while the foot was still hot. The breakfast itself was a short but enjoyable experience and it was over before Lan Wangji even noticed.

Wei Ying had gradually relaxed and now he was leaning back on his elbows, his legs spread in front of him and his face turned up to the sunny sky. He was clearly happy to be outside and Lan Wangji wanted for him to never be confined again. From now on, they would eat outside unless the weather made it impossible.

Chapter Text

Today, Jiang Cheng got some spare time during his sect leader duties and he decided to go join Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji for a lunch. He had long accepted the fact that his brother was nowadays almost never alone as the Second Jade spent practically every waking minute in his room. After the first unfortunate revelation during the time when Jiang Yanli had to take him to the kitchen so he could calm himself down with her soup, he was now pretty fine with the knowledge that Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji felt something romantic for each other.

Perhaps the fact that he was now bolder after visiting Wen Qing a few times and hesitantly proposing to court her helped. She had accepted with grace and immediately started telling him what exactly he should do because apparently, he had gone about the whole thing in a wrong way. Not that he minded too much, he was actually grateful for the not so subtle hints. After all, he loved that straightforward and honest attitude of hers.

Immediately after he had gotten her permission, he went to inform his parents and wrote a letter to Nie Mingjue as Wen Qing was now one of the disciples of the Qinghe Nie sect. With everything settled and permissions obtained, together with some congratulation, he was now officially courting as well. Though in a far less obvious and lovesick way than his brother. Nevertheless, he wished Wei Wuxian only the best.

He was already close to his brother’s room when he realized that he could hear Wei Wuxian’s voice from a little distance away. It did not sound as if his brother was obediently recovering inside as he had been told to. It did not surprise him in the slightest, he had known that Wei Wuxian would not take it well if they tried to confide him in any way, he just did not expect for it to happen this soon.

He was ready to scold his brother for not resting properly, Wen Qing had yet to proclaim him fully healed and ready to resume his previous life. He however stopped frozen solid when he came into the courtyard in front of his brother’s room and saw what was happening there.

A table was set in the middle of it and four people were sitting around it, having a meal. It took Jiang Cheng a while to process the image but then he stormed out, ready to confront anyone who was endangering Wei Wuxian’s health, even thought that list contained his brother’s name right on the top position.

Wei Wuxian spotted him first and had a panicked expression on his face before he quickly hid it behind a sheepish smile. Jiang Cheng did not like what he was seeing. His brother should never look panicked like that. He wondered for a second what he had been so afraid of. Did he just not want to be scolded or was there something else behind it? Jiang Cheng could not tell and it was making him nervous. He did not want to be a person that his brother was afraid of.

Then, Wei Wuxian recovered and stoop up – without any apparent difficulty, noticed the Yunmeng Jiang sect leader – waving his hand at him in an inviting gesture and clearing a bit of space by his side: “Jiang Cheng! Happy to see you. Do you want to join us for a lunch?”

“Wei Wuxian, what are you doing up and around, outside of your room? You are still recovering!” Jiang Cheng scolded despite himself. Old habits died slowly.

At least he was relieved when his brother did not get that panicked look in his eyes again and pouted in pretence instead: “Jiang Cheng… I am well now. And it is boring to stay in my room all the time.” He looked at the two disciples who had been supposed to guard him and Lan Wangji and then added: “It was my idea; the others were just keeping me company.”

It saddened Jiang Cheng to see that even after everything he had went through, Wei Wuxian was still ready to throw himself in the line of fire when it came to protecting someone else. He still valued his life and safety too little. That was why Jiang Cheng had entrusted the duty to look after him and prevent him from doing something reckless to Lan Wangji. But apparently, the Second Jade had been more than happy to betray that trust.

It was Lan Wangji who stood now and took Wei Wuxian’s hand into his, squeezing it lightly. “Wei Ying did not do anything wrong. I asked him to have lunch with me.”

That was all that Jiang Cheng could really take. All the more that upon hearing that statement, Wei Wuxian looked at Lan Wangji like a lovesick puppy and the Second Jade returned his gaze. It really was too much to look at.

Jiang Cheng turned his eyes away and searched for something else to pick his attention so he would not have to think about those lovebirds anymore. He and Wen Qing were surely not that obvious and scandalizing. They were very proper, both of them.

His eyes found the two disciples who were still sitting down with their heads lowered. It was clear that they were feeling uncomfortable about their failure to abide with their orders. Yes, they had failed in keeping Wei Wuxian safely inside his room. Then again, Jiang Cheng was not really all that angry at them, he could understand, he would have also had a hard time keeping his brother confined.

Still, his mood was sour now and he had to blame someone for it. “You two,” he started his scolding, his voice sharp, the same one he was using as the sect leader, “why did you not say anything to me? Do you realize that something could have happened? Do you even know what threat…”

Jiang Cheng stopped himself abruptly before he would say too much. He did not want his brother to know about the threat on his life which Jin Guangshan and Jiang Guangyao represented. It was better to deal with it on his own, together with Nie Huisang’s help, than to have Wei Wuxian do something foolish if he would think that he had to protect their family and the Yunmeng Jiang sect.

The disciples sagged their heads even lower in shame. They knew what dangers Wei Wuxian was running even in Lotus Pier and they were also aware that they had been supposed to keep him safe.

Everyone spoke at once after Jiang Cheng’s little outburst, luckily, Wei Wuxian seemed to have picked up on a part of the statement which was less inconvenient in the long run.

“Sorry, Sect Leader Jiang.”

“Jiang Cheng, it was not their fault…”

“Wei Ying…”

However, they all stopped abruptly at the same time as well, apparently not wanting to interrupt the others. An uncomfortable silence fell upon the courtyard. Jiang Cheng sighed as he watched each of them in turn. They all looked apologetic and he guessed that the reasons, while slightly different, were all the same. They felt bad for disobeying and were wanting to take all the blame for themselves.

“Alright,” Jiang Cheng did his best for his voice to sound authoritative but not angry anymore, “you two, go back to your posts. Wei Wuxian, go inside and stay there for the rest of the time your body needs to recover. And I mean it, no sneaking out before Wen Qing gives you an all clear check on your health. Remember, you need to be more careful now. And Lan Wangji,” Jiang Cheng looked at the Second Jade intently, “you should really keep a better eye on him given the situation.”

Jiang Cheng’s scowl shot up and down when he felt a small hand being placed on his shoulder. He had been sure it was Jiang Yanli, trying to mediate the conflict. But only until a quiet voice whispered into his ear: “Jiang Cheng, do not be like that. You will get a heart attack one day. You should come to my room this evening if you are free.”

Jiang Cheng turned on his heel to see who was still holding him. He had already recognized the voice but he wanted to check nevertheless.

Of course, it was Wen Qing. She was standing face to face with him now and one of her eyebrows was raised in a very suggestive gesture. There was no doubt in Jiang Cheng’s mind as to why she was inviting him to her room. It was the first time too. He felt warmth being born in his chest and suddenly, he did not know what to do with himself.

His mind was already at that point in time, a few hours into the future, and he only barely registered that Wen Qing took his hand into hers and was now dragging him into his brother’s room. “Come,” she prompted the other two love birds, “I need to examine you, Wei Wuxian.”

Chapter Text

“I need to examine you, Wei Wuxian.”

Wei Wuxian only hardly noticed Wen Qing’s words. He had been still struck with what Jiang Cheng had said about him being a threat. It was breaking his heart that his brother would think of him in such a way but after what he had learned while eavesdropping, it was actually making sense. Everyone around here was despising and fearing him, they were only tolerating him because of the power balance the Yunmeng Jiang sect got to keep because of him.

He closed his eyes minutely to get over his aching heart. He could live with that; he had already resigned himself to it after he had overheard the rumours. He just did not think that anyone would tell it to his face like this, much less Jiang Cheng of all people. Then again, perhaps he should have expected it after all, his brother was now the Yunmeng Jiang sect leader and it was his job to keep everything and everyone in check. It was clear he thought that Wei Wuxian needed that reminder of the conditions under which he was allowed and obliged to stay here.

When Lan Zhan tugged at his hand to make him move, he finally opened his eyes and looked at him. His heart immediately melted seeing the Second Jade’s worried expression. There was at least one person who truly cared about him as far as he could tell.

Even if someone threatened him, he would not believe that Lan Zhan would ever betray him or go against him. Not after their heartfelt confession and those several days they have spent together. Just the two of them with some occasional visits from his family’s members. Lan Zhan was so sweet and caring all the time. And he did try his best to distract Wei Wuxian and let him experience nice things, even under the circumstances they had found themselves in.

Wei Wuxian knew his place well and Lan Zhan also must have understood. Despite the disciples saying that he was not under house arrest the first day Lan Zhan took him to eat lunch outside, Jiang Cheng’s behaviour just now talked about a different story. But it did not matter too much, not as long as Lan Zhan was permitted and willing to stay with him in his small, enclosed world.

He gathered himself enough to be able to joke around when Wen Qing was examining him. She always made the funniest faces when he answered her questions. Though she could also be quite scary when he lied to her about his condition. He had found out from the first time he had woken up that he should never try to pretend to be alright in front of her because she would immediately see right through him and would make him eat his words by showing him exactly where his body was aching the most.

That was all in the past though. Wei Wuxian felt great and nothing hurt anymore. Even the strain the resentful energy had put onto his mind had been dissipating steadily with Lan Zhan playing healing music for him every day and taking him out to have some fun. Distraction always worked the best for him in order to forget the screaming inside his head.

He now stood tall and proud and could answer all of Wen Qing’s questions without pretending anything. And she knew it, it seemed. She did not look at him with suspicion anymore and did not take out her needles either.

“So, how is he?” asked Jiang Cheng, his voice full of concern. It was making Wei Wuxian believe that he still cared about him. Not as about a prisoner or as someone whom he needed to maintain his sect’s power, but as about a brother or at least someone he truly cared about. Everything was forgotten and Wei Wuxian smiled brightly at him.

He even chose not to tease him about his apparent concern or about the fact that there was visibly something between him and Wen Qing. Perhaps even something similar to what he and Lan Zhan had. He could tell from the tone of his voice which was just a tiny bit softer and less angry when he talked with the Dafan clan doctor. Wei Wuxian was happy for his little brother and he chose to behave to not ruin this moment.

The examination was finished and Wen Qing was now looking at him with something akin to satisfaction. Then she turned to face Jiang Cheng and offered her verdict: “Well, I cannot see anything wrong with him anymore. I would say he is healed. At least as much as he is able to this quickly. He should still eat well and regain some weight and muscle but aside for that, he is fine, physically speaking.”

Wei Wuxian did not like her last words as it assumed she knew about his unstable mental state and difficulty in dealing with the resentful energy. She was his doctor, so there was nothing he could do to hide that fact from her. But she did not have to spill it out to Jiang Cheng, he thought.

However, the Yunmeng Jiang sect leader did not seem to have picked up on that meaning and instead looked straight at Wei Wuxian, his eyes squinted into tight holes as If he was trying to see any lies. Wei Wuxian smiled reassuringly and leaned a bit into Lan Zhan, silently asking for some support. The Second Jade squeezed his hand lightly to let him know he was there with him. It soothed the Yunmeng Jiang sect head disciple.

“Alright then,” Jiang Cheng said in the end. “Does that mean that he is free of confinement to bed? Not that he had spent much time recovering in it thought.”

Wen Qing gently patted Jiang Cheng’s shoulder and the Yunmeng Jiang sect leader visibly relaxed. His expression became less suspicious as well. He really must have been fond of her to show a small smile while talking to her, thought Wei Wuxian.

“Yes, I say he is fine to do whatever he wants again. Of course under supervision.” Wen Qing confirmed and shot a meaningful glance in Lan Zhan’s direction.

Wei Wuxian did not even feel offended when it would be the Second Jade keeping him company and guarding him. He knew fully well that his loved one would not deny him things unnecessarily.

He would still have to be careful to not overstep any bounds and not let the cultivation world doubt his intentions. But it would be fine, at last, he was allowed to go back to his duties as the Yunmeng Jiang sect head disciple. The days of leisurely rest were finished, now it was time for him to play his part in front of the whole cultivation world.

Chapter Text

Today, it was Jiang Cheng who called the family together to discuss how best to proceed in regards to Wei Wuxian. Yu Ziyuan was sitting in her seat, her shoulders sagged. She sighed, she was starting to be tired of this and had only herself to blame for everything.

Despite hers and her husband’s best intentions, the boy did not seem like he believed them when they had gone to see him and tried to explain that everything was different now. That they started caring about him and his well-being after all those years they had ignored him. It was not that Wei Wuxian told them so but she could clearly see it from the way he always politely dismissed their words, thanking them for them but never really taking them to heart, no matter how many times they were repeated.

It was as if he was keeping a careful distance from them and it hurt her deep down. He behaved just like before, obeying her every word but at the same time, being scared of her and feeling like he had a duty and a debt to repay when it came to her family. In a sense, he was the same as he had been ever since the start, Yu Ziyuan could not bear it.

That is why when Jiang Cheng called them all to the throne room, she was eager to hear what he had in mind. Had he perhaps come up with a new way of showing their intentions and feelings to Wei Wuxian? How could they make him understand that they had changed for the better and were now finally – way too late but better than never – ready to accept him and treat him as a true member of their family as they should have from the very start?

How could they make him at ease and feel welcomed? Until now, it was only Jiang Yanli and Lan Wangji around whom Wei Wuxian would relax, certainly not around Jiang Fengmian or her. He only pretended to be fine. It was only now that Yu Ziyuan started paying enough attention to him to see through his mask. Or perhaps, she had known it was there but had not cared until now. She did not even know which of those two was more sad.

However, when Jiang Cheng started talking, it quickly became clear that he had not come up with any solution but brought them instead even more to worry about.

“Wei Wuxian has been given the all clear check on his health.” Jiang Cheng informed them solemnly.

He did not have to say anything else, they all knew what this meant. They could not use the pretence of him being still sick to keep him in his room where he was safe. They had already seen that he did not take it well and it had always broken Yu Ziyuan’s heart when she came to see him and he would be staring out of the window like a trapped animal.

It was however better for his protection to stay inside. There had been several attempts to kidnap him or to assassinate him and he was better hidden in his room than roaming around Lotus Pier and being an easy target. They had set talismans and arrays all around but it would not be enough to protect him if he was to go outside.

“I see,” it was Jiang Fengmian who spoke first. “It seems like now comes the hard part. I cannot imagine keeping A-Xian locked in his room for much longer, I can tell he wants to go outside and be free again. Who are we to deny him this after what he had been through? We have all agreed that we do not want to limit him in what he loves anymore. He had already sacrificed too much for us; he should now be happy. But how do we tell him that he should at least try to be careful? How do we explain that there is a threat on his life even here, in his home?”

Yes, that was exactly the question. There was no doubt in Yu Ziyuan’s mind that should they keep this information from her son, he would do something reckless and endanger himself. She did not believe that even when he would know, he would be careful enough.

Jiang Yanli reached out and put one of her hands on her father’s shoulder reassuringly: “Father, do not worry, we will protect A-Xian with all our might. I am sure that everyone else will also help. All the disciples like him and they would do anything to keep him safe and prevent him from straining himself too much. After all, they know about his missing golden core already.”

And that was another thing which Yu Ziyuan feared revealing to Wei Wuxian. She was scared of his reaction. She still thought that telling everyone was a good step, they would now all help to keep Wei Wuxian from overexerting himself, but how would the son in question react to this, it was another matter entirely. She knew that she would not take it too kindly being his shoes if her weakness was revealed in such a way. Or if it was revealed at all.

She now started regretting ever suggesting this option. It was only at this moment that she realized how much it could drive Wei Wuxian away from them again. Not that he would leave, she did not believe he would even think about it, but in a way he would start keeping his distance even more and they would not be able to get through to him anymore.

“Best would be to explain everything clearly, I am sure that A-Xian would understand once we tell him our reasons.” Jiang Yanli tried to sooth all of them. It was however not working as she had probably anticipated because her expression was tense and there was the same fear reflected in her eyes. It would be so easy to lose Wei Wuxian now.

Nevertheless, Yu Ziyuan knew that this moment had to come sooner or later. They had to face it, there was literally no other option. It would be even worse if Wei Wuxian learned all of this from another person. They just had to come clear in front of him.

“We need to tell him everything,” she spoke at last. Her voice was small but her words carried in them all the seriousness of the situation.

“Yes, we have to,” agreed Jiang Cheng with a sigh. He too did not want to go through this but understood its necessity. Yu Ziyuan was proud of him, he was now becoming a true sect leader worthy of his title.

Jiang Yanli clapped her hands and looked more lively: “Let us tell him over breakfast tomorrow. Since he is now healthy again, he can eat with us. I will cook soup for him and we can all talk in peace. It is already late today, let us sleep on this and face it after a good night’s sleep. We can also invite Lan Wangji to join us, I am sure he would be delighted.”

There was a short silence in the room and then everyone nodded slowly. It was decided, they would face this challenge as a family tomorrow.

Chapter Text

Wei Wuxian woke up in the morning earlier than he normally would. He did not know at what time exactly, but it must have been close to the hour Lan Zhan usually got up at. He had not slept too well during the night since he had to constantly think about the morning. Today was the day when he would have to pick up his duties, today was the day when he would have to put on his usual mask for everyone to see and try his best to behave normally in front of the disciples and his family.

He sighed and sat up on his bed. He was already dreading it but it still made him slightly excited to be able to get out of his room at last. Since Wen Qing had given him permission just as Jiang Cheng did, he could go wherever he wanted to, wherever he needed to go.

It was still a little bit early for the normal training to start but there should already be disciples in the training field. He could go and start interacting with them. It would be easier to get used to his new position and role when only a few people would see, or at least he hoped so. He was no stranger to pretending to be alright and cheerful, but after the war, those did not come naturally to him anymore. He would have to put in some serious effort.

He looked around the room which he now knew as the back of his hand and had to state that he was alone. It made sense; since he normally woke up at a later hour, Lan Zhan was not here with his breakfast yet. That was fine, he could eat after training the disciples. He still did not want to eat together with them, he suspected that he would need a little break after exerting himself.

And he also wanted to spend some time with Lan Zhan. He was sad but he knew fully well that once he would pick up his duties of the head disciple again, he would not be able to spend much time with his beloved anymore. Or at least not in the same way. They could still probably stand side by side during the day as he would be going around, but it would no longer be just the two of them. He was already mourning those easy and happy days.

However, there was nothing he could do about that. It was clear that he needed to prove his loyalty to the Yunmeng Jiang sect. He also had to let the whole cultivation world see that he was no threat by taking up his sword again.

And speaking of his sword, where was Suibian? Until today, Wei Wuxian had not given it much thought. He had not seen it from the moment Jiang Cheng had given it back to him after he had emerged from the Burial Mounds. He had simply tossed it somewhere in his tent and then put it together with his belongings so he would not have to look at it. It had been too painful, a constant reminder that he was not a proper cultivator anymore.

However, now he needed it. If he would not find it, how could he start carrying it around as any cultivator should? He could not imagine the possibility that it had gotten lost during the Sunshot campaign somehow and he would have to get a new sword. Even the thought of carrying Suibian was painful enough, he would surely not be able to take another sword with the knowledge that he would not be able to use it properly anyway.

He wondered whether he had perhaps already forgotten how to wield a sword. It had been so long since he had one in his hand and even longer since he drew one. He would not be surprised if he would have to practice his sword work from the very beginning. Not only had he forgotten the motions, his body probably remembered them from the constant drilling during his younger days, but he was afraid that without a golden core, even this would amount to nothing.

He would have to come up with a new way for him to pretend that he was still able to cultivate with spiritual energy. He could not let the cultivation world see him using resentful energy ever again. From what he had overheard from the disciples only days ago, everyone was out and looking for his every mistake. He could easy tell that it would be hard to convince them under normal circumstances, not even talking about having no way of going back to proper cultivation.

He sighed again and started looking around the room. If his belongings had been salvaged after the war, he was sure they would be somewhere around here. Somewhere where he had not yet looked during his boredom.

After only several minutes of searching, he opened one of the cabinets he had once used to store his supplies for crafting and inventing new talismans out of Madame Yu’s watchful eyes. He had not looked inside earlier as he had avoided anything which would remind him of demonic cultivation and more importantly, which could potentially alert the cultivation world and put them against him. There were no supplies now, only his sword and his flute, standing side by side in two weapon stands.

His eyes filled with tears seeing that even Chenqing had been recovered from the Nightless City palace. Unconsciously, he reached his hand to touch his spiritual tool. He stopped himself just short of actually putting his fingers on the polished bamboo.

He shook his head, even though his flute was calling for him, he could not succumb to his desire. If he would touch it and remember how easy it was to wield it, he would have even a harder time picking up his sword. His determination waivered only for a second. He knew that without a proper weapon, he would be hardly able to protect himself and get a peace of mind which he would not be able to feel while carrying around a sword.

However, his decision had been made, the whole cultivation world was watching and he could not be this selfish. It was not like there was a real danger looking for him in Lotus Pier. He would not have to defend himself. And even if worst came to worst, he could use demonic cultivation without his flute, although harder to control and not as powerful, he would still be able to fight. Not that he would need it, certainly not.

So with a third sight, he unglued his eyes from Chenqing and took Suibian out of the cabinet instead.

He caressed the sheath longingly. The sword had once sung to him and a simple touch would have made his spiritual energy reach back to it, they had been a good pair, it had almost felt like his sword had a spiritual cognition of its own. He pulled Suibian out of its scabbard and looked at the shining metal. Someone had taken good care of it, it seemed. Wei Wuxian recalled all those times when he would clean his sword even several times a day just to feel it vibrating and responding to him under his fingers. It had always been such a bliss to wield it freely and without restraints.

It did not feel like that anymore though. The sword seemed way heavier than he remembered it. It was as if he was just holding a cold piece of metal instead of a first class spiritual weapon. It almost made him cry knowing that he would never be able to wield it as it deserved, never again.

Still, his decision had been taken and he would not go back on it now. He knew what he had to do. And if it came to it, he could still wield his sword for several seconds, it was not like his body was completely devoid of spiritual energy, it was just that he did not have enough of it. He was like any normal person, not a cultivator anymore.

The hollow place in his chest where his golden core had once been started suddenly hurting as if his sword was trying to reach out to something that was no longer there. Wei Wuxian quickly put it back into its scabbard and lowered it out of his sight. He held it close to his hip where he would not have to look at it all the time. The pain slowly receded and he decided to ignore it. It was not like he could do anything about it.

He turned his back to the cabinet which still contained his flute and climbed out of his room through the window. He did not want to face the disciples guarding his door – he could tell that they were there because he could hear their breathing and occasional change of position – and in this way, it was also closer to the training field. He smiled a bit; he had used to do this every morning when he had woken up too late and had to hurry in order not to miss the training.

It was high time for him to go to the training field and greet the disciples there. He had duties to attend to and a cultivation world to convince that he was not a threat as Wen Ruohan had been.

Chapter Text

Lan Wangji entered Wei Ying’s room with a tray containing breakfast for two as he had done since his husband had woken up. Today, for the first time, Wen Qing allowed for spicy dishes to be present and he was sure that his beloved would be delighted. He had missed Lotus Pier’s spices greatly and did not pass any opportunity to whine to Lan Wangji about this fact. Until now however, his body was in no condition to handle such heavy meals.

Even before he closed the door behind himself, he knew that something was terribly wrong. Wei Ying has usually not been awake when he knocked on the door to announce his arrival but he would immediately start whining from the bed to be left to sleep some more. Not today though. There could have been at least fifty good reasons for him to not do it today, but Lan Wangji had a bad feeling.

He immediately turned on his heel and looked towards the bed.

Sure enough, Wei Ying was not inside of it; and neither was he anywhere in the room, Lan Wangji determined with the next look. The Second Jade’s heart almost jumped out of his chest, his husband was missing.

The tray with the food fell from his hands which could not keep it anymore as Lan Wangji immediately unsheathed his sword, ready to come after anyone who dared to take Wei Ying from his side. For he was sure that his husband had just been kidnapped.

The bed was in disarray as the rest of the room. That in itself would not be the decisive tell, Lan Wangji knew how quickly the Yunmeng Jiang sect head disciple could make a room a mess. No, the most important signs were somewhere else. The disciples at the door would have told him if Wei Ying had left on his own through the door. And perhaps the most evident tell was the opened window. That was he way the intruder must have run away with his husband.

The noise of the tray falling on the ground seemed to have alarmed the disciples outside and they run inside with their swords also drawn.

Lan Wangji had no time to explain anything, he only informed them quickly as he was already leaving the room through the window: “Wei Ying is missing. Go tell Sect Leader Jiang.”

And then he was already outside, on the rooftop, looking all around for any signs of where the kidnapper had escaped to. He had not felt any traces of spiritual energy inside his husband’s room, nor had he noticed any of the arrays being broken. It was impossible for anyone to use a teleportation talisman there. Or anywhere in the vicinity really as the arrays spread to a larger area around the whole building. That only left the more mundane way of kidnapping a person and that was to simply carry them away.

Lan Wangji’s desperation was growing with each heartbeat. He was certain that Wei Ying would not have let himself be taken away just like that, he would have tried to defend himself. Or at least leave a trail for them to follow. But there was nothing the Second Jade could pick up on. It was as if his husband had disappeared into thin air.

He mounted his sword and rose into the air, hoping to see more from up above. He had no luck though, he could not tell to which direction the Yunmeng Jiang sect head disciple had been taken to. He started circling around, taking in wider and wider perimeter with every turn.

Before he could get too far away though, he heard commotion from Wei Ying’s room. He decided it would be more beneficial to go back and see if others would not have some kind of idea where his husband could be or who had taken him away. He had not found any clues by himself so perhaps it would be good joining his forces with the Yunmeng Jiang sect. The more eyes there would be, the faster they would be able to find Wei Ying.

He set his sword down in the middle of the courtyard, he did not want to climb in through the window again. It would be against his principles and he could destroy some of the clues as well. Why had he not thought about this earlier? Perhaps he had already erased some important evidence himself, his heart was now beating like crazy and his head was starting to spin as he was making his way back to Wei Ying’s room.

Jiang Cheng was already inside, looking all around a little breathless. He must have run here after being alerted about his brother going missing. There was tension in his muscles and when he turned around, Lan Wangji could also see panic in his eyes. Quite well hidden but there nevertheless.

As soon as the Yunmeng Jiang sect leader turned around, he was already questioning Lan Wangji: “Second Young Master Lan, what had happened? I have been informed that my brother is missing and that you are chasing the intruder. Did you catch him? Where is Wei Wuxian?”

Lan Wangji could not answer any of those questions, he did not know what had happened nor who had taken Wei Ying and to where. All he could do was shake his head to let Jiang Cheng know that he had not caught the culprit yet. His only consolation was that he had not seen blood anywhere so his husband must have been kidnapped but not hurt. At least he hoped so, he was not sure what he would have done if that was not the case.

He had already lost Wei Ying once, during the final battle in the Nightless City palace when the Yunmeng Jiang sect head disciple’s heart had stopped beating, but this was completely different. This time, he did not have Wei Ying in his arms and could not help him in any way. He was at a complete loss about what to do.

Chapter Text

Jiang Cheng had had a terrible morning today as he had not slept a wink during the night, thinking about how to tell his brother that everyone knew about his missing golden core and that Jin Guangyao and Jin Guangshan were after him. It had been a lot for him to digest and he had not even been the victim in question. He was afraid of how would his brother react.

And now this happened. He had run to Wei Wuxian’s room as quickly as he could only to find it empty just as the disciple had told him. His brother was nowhere to be seen and so was Lan Wangji who was supposedly chasing the intruder. Jiang Cheng could not believe that anyone had gotten inside his brother’s room and taken him away.

They had made everything they could have thought of to secure the place and Nie Huisang’s spies were keeping an eye on it as well. How was it possible that some assassin or a kidnapper had gotten their hands on Wei Wuxian? And what was even more stunning, why did his brother not resist or alert anyone? It was a mystery they would have to solve later, the most important thing now was to find the Yunmeng Jiang sect head disciple safe and sound.

When he saw Lan Wangji walking – or more like running if running had not been forbidden to him – into the room, he turned to him and started questioning: “Second Young Master Lan, what had happened? I have been informed that my brother is missing and that you are chasing the intruder. Did you catch him? Where is Wei Wuxian?”

After all, Lan Wangji had been the first one in the room, he must have seen something. Or at least heard how Wei Wuxian had been spirited away. As far as Jiang Cheng could tell, there was no disruption in the arrays they had set up so the intruder must have come in through the open window.

The Yunmeng Jiang sect leader’s heart fell through the floor when Lan Wangji only shook his head but remained silent otherwise. Even without any words spoken between them, Jiang Cheng knew that the Second Jade would have made everything possible and impossible to get Wei Wuxian back if there had been any clues left behind. Which meant, there were none and his brother was missing just like that.

His eyes hardened when he turned towards the disciples who were standing by the door with guilty expressions. He knew that they would not have been able to do anything when Lan Wangji could not. He was not angry at them, they only had to find his brother as soon as possible.

“Go tell everyone else that Wei Wuxian is missing. I want search parties to be send out immediately! We have to find my brother no matter what.”

The disciples only nodded their heads and took off running. That left only Jiang Cheng and Lan Wangji inside the room.  Even though the Yunmeng Jiang sect leader knew that the Second Jade must have already searched for clues, he still wanted to see for himself. He also needed something to distract him from the ice cold fear in his guts, fear that he would never see his brother again.

It was at that exact moment that Jiang Yanli came inside the room and stopped in the centre of it, looking around. She seemed more confused than anything and Jiang Cheng wondered if she had perhaps not heard about Wei Wuxian being kidnapped yet. She certainly did not look like she was beside herself with fear or worry.

“What happened, A-Cheng, Lan Wangji?” she asked in a soft tone, only a little nervousness and uncertainty in her voice.

 Surprisingly, it was the Second Jade who spoke first: “Wei Ying is missing.”

Something about that statement did not sit quite well with Jiang Cheng. The disciple who had come to inform him clearly said that Wei Wuxian had been kidnapped but now it seemed more like Lan Wangji thought he may have been taken away but he was not completely sure.

Jiang Yanli must have picked up on this subtle tell and she asked another question which the Yunmeng Jiang sect leader should have probably given before starting to be beside himself with worry: “Do you know what happened?”

Lan Wangji shook his head. Jiang Yanli nodded and looked around: “It does not seem like anyone was here, could it be possible that A-Xian left on his own? He had been wanting to get out of his room for some time now. Perhaps he had just gone on a stroll or something?”

Jiang Yanli’s voice sounded pleasant, not too worried. Now that Jiang Cheng looked around carefully, he could not see anything out of the ordinary. There was a mess, but that was quite normal for his brother, especially if he had been looking for something. But there were no signs of fighting, no torn or destroyed things, not upturned furniture. It seemed improbable to him that his brother would not have defended himself in case of an attack. Jiang Cheng had probably overreacted.

Jiang Yanli seemed to have come to the same conclusion as him: “Did he take his flute with him?”

Jiang Cheng immediately went to the small cabinet where he himself had put Wei Wuxian’s spiritual weapons, both of them. He had not been sure if he should put Suibian there as well, he did not want to hurt his brother while reminding him of the fact that he could not wield it anymore. But in the end, he decided to store them together. He knew that Wei Wuxian had had quite a bond with his sword and would probably be unhappy that Suibian got lost during the war.

And sure enough, when he opened the cabinet, he immediately noticed that one of the weapons was missing. However, it was not Chenqing as he and his sister had assumed. The sword was gone.

“That idiot,” muttered Jiang Cheng under his breath so no one else would hear, “worry about yourself for once, would you!”

It was clear to him why his brother would take his sword instead of the flute. He was apparently still under the impression that he needed to save the Yunmeng Jiang sect’s face. Was it possible that he even knew about the ultimatum that had been given by the rest of the cultivation world about him being forbidden to use demonic cultivation? Or was he simply not wanting to use it anymore when it had almost cost him his life?

Either way, Wei Wuxian was now walking around Lotus Pier, unnoticed and without a weapon to protect himself, a perfectly defenceless target for a kidnapping or assassination.

Jiang Cheng stormed out, looking for the closest disciple. When he found one, he stopped her and ordered: “Stop looking for Wei Wuxian outside of Lotus Pier, he is somewhere here. Tell everyone to find him and keep him company while they would inform me of his location. Quickly!”

The Yunmeng Jiang sect leader could not have been entirely sure that his brother had not left the gates of Lotus Pier but he had a hunch. He suspected that if Wei Wuxian wanted to leave altogether, he would have also taken his flute with him. Just as a cultivator’s sword was his best defence and a source of his strength and peace of mind, so was Chenqing for Wei Wuxian.

He just must have been somewhere around and they had to find him quickly. Before Jin Guangshan’s or Jin Guangyao’s spies would.

Chapter Text

Wei Wuxian got to the training ground without encountering a single soul. It was very unusual to him as in the past, Madame Yu had always insisted that disciples needed to work hard from the early morning. Not that she had had much luck with Wei Wuxian himself but she had given him her attention relentlessly and harshly in the afternoons if he had not showed up on time so he had done his best.

Today however, it was even a little earlier than that and there was no one in the training field yet. Wei Wuxian decided that he should perhaps give it a try and see how well he would be able to wield his sword even without his golden core. It was not like he could not lift it anymore or move it around. He would only not be able to perform everything a proper cultivator could, such as sending his sword out of his hand and manoeuvre it or fly on it.

But he would still be better than any other uneducated non-cultivator. He had after all received the training, he could do this.

With a small feeling of discomfort and a pang of fear which he ignored, he pulled Suibian out of its scabbard. He had once loved to just observe his weapon as it shone in the morning sun and how he could make it all the more beautiful when he channelled his spiritual energy into it at the same time. Now however, he did not even look at the blade when he positioned himself to start a routine round of movements.

He could still not bear to look at his sword properly, it hurt too much. Especially when his body remembered the motions and how he had once used to channel his spiritual energy during the routine. He could not stop himself from doing so unconsciously and thus tugging at the strings of his tender emotions. Every time he reached towards the place where his golden core had once been, his blood froze in his veins, his senses touching only the ice cold emptiness inside.

When he finished the first round of the routine, he was already panting heavily and the hand holding the sword felt like it was on fire, it was trembling from the strain of holding the weapon straight. He was not used to sword fighting anymore after all. This just confirmed his suspicion that he would have to start his training all over again. He would also have to learn to do the movements in another way, one that would not put so much strain on his muscles. He was not as agile as he used to be. He would also have to either get used to himself trying to use his non-existent golden core or stop reaching for it out of habit. He would have to work hard.

When he finished his second routine, his head started spinning and he was seriously out of breath. He was cursing his weak body; a normal junior disciple could go through the routine fifty times before even sweating. And here was Wei Wuxian, the Yunmeng Jiang sect head disciple who could barely lift his sword anymore. How was he going to pretend he had picked up cultivation of spiritual energy again?

He put his sword down, still not looking at it properly and wiped sweat from his forehead. He had already known that this would not be easy but he had not expected to be so tired just after moving around this little. For the time being, only a few days though, he could pretend that he had yet to recover fully and that his reserves of spiritual energy were drained but those excuses would not last for long.

He had once been a powerful cultivator and everyone would expect him to become one again. Except, it was literally impossible. And this time, even the Yunmeng Jiang sect motto and all Wei Wuxian’s willpower would not do anything about it. He wanted to cry at his weakness. How was he going to convince the whole cultivation world? How was he going to convince his family and his sect?

Then, Wei Wuxian realized something he should have already known a long time ago. His family knew about his missing golden core, they had after all been present when Wen Zhuliu tried to melt it in the Nightless City palace.

Wei Wuxian swayed in place, catching himself on his sword so he would not fall down. If his family knew, were they actually expecting him to pick up his duties again? No, that could not be. He was useless now and he would not be of any help in teaching the junior disciples like that. They had not told him to go back to teaching, they had not given him the position of the head disciple back. Surely by now, the Yunmeng Jiang sect had a new head disciple who was better than his useless demonic cultivator self.

How could he had been so blind? So selfish? He had wanted things to go back to the way they used to be but he knew it was impossible. He was being kept around only out of pity and because of his value as a political pawn. He suddenly felt very drained. He really had been a fool to think he could still do something around here. He should just go back to his room and remain there as an obedient pawn. Just like a pretty doll which is nice to look at and good to show off but of no use otherwise.

Was that why his family members had been acting so weird around him all this time? Was it because they did not want to tell him about his new position? Was it because they felt pity for him and did not want to disappoint him too much?

Wei Wuxian sighed heavily, now he knew that there was nothing for him to do but to sit obediently in his room and not practice demonic cultivation. With a heavy heart, he put Suibian back to its scabbard and clenched it hard in his left hand.

Old habits really died hard, he almost wanted to laugh at himself. When he had Chenqing at his waist, he always wore it in a way he could reach for it with his right hand. Now his body remembered that he could not hold a sword in the same way because his right hand needed to be free to unsheathe it at any given moment.

He felt so pathetic right now. All he wanted was to run back to his room and hide there his shame from the whole world.

Before he could make a single step, a shout rung through the training field: “Wei Wuxian!”

He flinched badly and was alarmed at once. The war was still too vivid in his memories and he reacted on his instincts trained during that time. Instead of drawing Suibian and trying to defend himself, he reached for his flute. Which was, unfortunately and very apparently, not there. His hand only touched an empty sash.

Wei Wuxian panicked internally and took a step back from the threat. He did not know what else to do but to call upon resentful energy to protect him, the only thing which he should not do right now. He took another step back and his vision became blurry and his breathing picked up, he was seriously panicking, not knowing what he could do.

Chapter Text

Jiang Yanli had been searching through Lotus Pier for what felt like hours. She had been sure that her brother would not have left without at least saying goodbye so at she had this thought to comfort her if nothing else. This, and her fiancé who came to find her shortly after she had run from her room in distress after being told that Wei Wuxian had disappeared.

She did not like that there could be any number of people only waiting for her brother to come out of his room unguarded so they could snatch him away from them. She knew that they should have explained all the dangers to him earlier but they wanted him to have a peaceful and easy recovery. Now, she could only hope that it was not yet too late and they would find Wei Wuxian safe and sound.

The most worrying part was that her brother had not taken his flute with him but his swords instead. He was now nearly completely defenceless. He was still quite weak from what she could have seen and without his spiritual tool, she was not sure he would be able to fend off an assassin or a kidnapper. Or anyone who would want him harm because of his unorthodox path of cultivation. There were countless possibilities and her brother was facing them without a weapon. For she did not consider his sword a weapon now, not when he could not really use his due to his missing golden core.

She had to wonder though why he had even taken it in the first place. She had heard from Jiang Cheng that he had refused to so much as look at it properly during the war. Why was he carrying it around now after all that time? She had a bad feeling.

This dread only intensified when she and Jin Zixuan finally found him in the training ground. He was standing there alone with his sword drawn. He was not holding it upright, instead, he was leaning heavily on it as if he could not quite stand on his own. Jiang Yanli felt horrified at the image. Wei Wuxian looked extremely exhausted as he just stood there and was catching his breath. Had he been trying to wield his sword despite the fact that he no longer could?

At last, her brother put Suibian back to its scabbard, very slowly and not with his usual grace. The movement looked like it was painful for him. Jiang Yanli was sure that it was not only the fact that he must have overexerted himself and was probably hurting all over. This pain seemed to have been coming from somewhere deep down, from his very soul.

Jiang Yanli could think about several possibilities why he would do that and none of them was making her any more at ease. Jin Zixuan who had been walking by her side all this while seemed to have not understood the severity of the situation and called out to her brother: “Wei Wuxian!”

The Yunmeng Jiang sect head disciple flinched badly and immediately turned around, swaying a little bit while doing so. What Jiang Yanli saw in his face right then would haunt her for the rest of her days. She had hardly ever seen such terrified expression, and surely not on her brother. What was even worse was that Wei Wuxian reached for his flute which was not at his waist and when he realized it, he took two steps back from them, apparently not recognizing them and just trying to get away from the potential threat.

Jiang Yanli’s eyes filled with tears at once. She quickly grabbed Jin Zixuan’s hand so he would not come any closer to Wei Wuxian and cautiously took one step closer to him instead. She completely ignored wisps of resentful energy which were now surrounding the demonic cultivator, apparently in a desperate attempt to shield him from whatever could mean any danger. Jiang Yanli was not sure if he had consciously summoned them or if the resentful energy inside of him was just acting on its own, but it did not really matter. She could tell that her brother was only trying to protect himself.

“A-Xian, it is me, your sister. Everything is fine, you are safe.”

She was walking very slowly towards him, one step at a time, while she was still talking to him, keeping her voice gentle and steady despite wanting to start crying and hide in Jin Zixuan’s arms. Her brother needed her to be strong now.

When she was only a few steps away from him, holding her breath as she could already feel the resentful energy in the air, her brother’s eyes finally focused on her.

“Shijie?” he asked. And oh was his voice vulnerable and small. Like all those times he had been a young boy and was looking for her after one of his nightmares. It was breaking her heart to see him like this. Luckily, the resentful energy dispersed into thin air as soon as recognition bloomed in his eyes.

“Yes, A-Xian, it is me.”

“Shijie!” Now it sounded half like a sob and half like an exclamation which Wei Wuxian would try to give her to let her know he was happy to see her. Jiang Yanli was sure that if he had been in just a tiniest bit of a better shape, he would have smiled at her to hide all his hurt. Now, he was unable to do so.

She took the last few steps to him and gathered him in her arms. It felt a little bit ridiculous since she was way smaller than him but she would never do otherwise. Wei Wuxian stood still for a fraction of a second before succumbing to her embrace and burying his face into her shoulder. He put his hands around her in turn and was holding onto her as if she was his last lifeline. She patted his back and let him gather himself.

“Shijie…” he called her for a third time and now it sounded apologetic.

Jiang Yanli patted the back of his head and asked gently: “A-Xian, why do you not give me your sword? I can tell you are not ready to carry it around just yet.”

She did not want to outright say that he would never be able to do so again. She did not want to upset him any more than he already was. It surprised her when he immediately unglued himself from her and put his sword into her hands way faster than she had expected. To top it off, he did not look like he was regretting giving it away or unwilling to do so. Instead, he seemed relieved to have Suibian as far from him as he could.

This only strengthened Jiang Yanli’s suspicion that he had not gone training with a clear mind. He must have been either forcing himself or he had been perhaps hoping to be able to somehow reconnect with his sword even without his golden core. Either way, now he looked happy to stop trying.

“A-Xian…” she started, determined to get the truth out of him. How could she help him if she did not know the reason for his decision?

He must have sensed that she wanted to do just that because he interrupted her before she could finish her sentence: “Shijie, I am fine. I just wanted to try, that is all.” His laughter was in no way happy and Jiang Yanli had to squint at how false and forced it sounded.

She frowned at him a little, her expression serious now, the same one she would always use for scolding her brothers. Despite her slightly menacing exterior, her voice remained quiet and concerned, coaxing even: “A-Xian. Why did you take off just like that? Did you really only wanted to try? Or had you perhaps thought that you had to?”

The way Wei Wuxian averted his eyes and suddenly stopped smiling, even that fake one he ha been giving her until now, told her that she had been right all along. He must have been pushing himself once again, most probably because he thought that he had to protect his family or the Yunmeng Jiang sect in this way. Had he perhaps somehow come to learn about the terms of the agreement for his stay here as the Lanling Jin sect was seeing it?

She sighed internally to herself. There was a conversation between Wei Wuxian and the rest of the family which was long overdue at this point it would seem.

Chapter Text

Jiang Cheng was running towards the training field as soon as a disciple informed him that he had seen Wei Wuxian there only minutes ago. It had been almost half an hour since no one could find his brother and now his previous worry was leaving him, being replaced by anger. He felt angry at Wei Wuxian for being reckless again and worrying everyone.

Though, deep down, he could not say that he was all that surprised. As soon as Wen Qing had pronounced Wei Wuxian healthy enough to move around, Jiang Cheng had known that his brother would not wait for too long to start running around and causing havoc just as was in his nature. He had to actually hide a smile, now that he knew that Wei Wuxian was fine and there was no danger – he could already see him standing together with Jiang Yanli and Jin Zixuan in the middle of the training field – he was relived and happy that his brother was lively enough to be running around after all that he had lost and went though.

Suddenly, he almost stopped in his tracks when the Lanling Jin sect heir started scolding Wei Wuxian, quite harshly at that: “Wei Wuxian. How could you have done that? You have worried everyone like this and now you are standing there, pretending that everything is alright? Nothing is fine, nothing will ever be this way! Had you not been the one to say just that to me? Pretending never solved anything and holding onto one’s pride neither. Were you not the one to tell me just this when I had been trying to pointlessly pretend I did not feel anything for A-Li?

Just come out and say why you are walking around with your sword even though you clearly cannot wield it anymore. You look ready to kneel over and I am sure that you had not been training even for that long. Why do you force yourself like this and pretend to be fine? Would it not be easier for you to carry your flute around? You had seemed pretty out of it when I called out to you earlier, and I could tell you wanted to grab it…”

Now the Lanling Jin sect heir’s voice became almost pleading as he came to stand at Jiang Yanli’s side and put his hands around her shoulders as if to support her. Jiang Cheng did not know what had happened before he came to the training field but one thing was clear to him. Wei Wuxian must have been trying to train with his sword. There was no doubt in the Yunmeng Jiang sect leader’s heart about whether his brother had really been forcing himself and had been surprised when interrupted.

Just as he was storming through the training ground, he could at least tell that Wei Wuxian was repentant for once. He was not trying to deflect what had been said and his head was lowered as he was looking at the ground.

Jiang Cheng joined Jiang Yanli and Jin Zixuan, facing his brother with a scowl. He saw Suibian in his sister’s arms and he could tell that she had taken it away from Wei Wuxian before he could have hurt himself even more. Why had he been trying to wield it anyway when he knew it would be useless from the very beginning? It could not be that he had not realized that he would not be able to use it as he had done in the past without a golden core? His brother was not that stupid.

“A-Xian, please talk to us…”

Before Jiang Cheng could start scolding his brother, Jiang Yanli was pleading him to tell them just the thing he himself wanted to know.

Wei Wuxian seemed glued to the spot earlier but now his head shot up and there was a horrified expression on his face and he came closer to his sister and was trying to console her. Jiang Yanli had tears in her eyes, a full proof tactic to get her way; though Jiang Cheng did not doubt that they were genuine.

“A-Xian…” pleaded Jiang Yanli again while looking directly at him and taking hold of one of his hands as her other one was still holding Suibian.

This was the last straw for Wei Wuxian is seemed because her whispered brokenly and apologetically at the same time: “Shijie… It was just because I have overheard disciples talking about the ultimatum given to the Yunmeng Jiang sect by the Lanling Jin sect. That I cannot use demonic cultivation anymore. I wanted to not cause trouble and I have thought I would try to pick up the right path again to let the cultivation world see that I was no threat. But I…”

Wei Wuxian stopped talking, his voice disappearing into nothingness. But he did not really need to say any more. It was clear to Jiang Cheng what the ending of that phrase should have been. His own eyes started to sting and he had a hard time to blink his tears away. He was a sect leader now, he should not show so many emotions; and he should certainly not break down in the middle of the training field where everyone could see.

His sister however did not have such duty and she choked on a desperate and pained sob: “A-Xian…”

Jin Zixuan immediately gathered her in his arms and started consoling her. Jiang Cheng suddenly felt slightly jealous, he would have perhaps appreciated someone to do the same thing for him. His emotions were raw as he watched his brother once again lower his head, this time in a silent apology.

“You really are a stubborn fool, Wei Wuxian, let me tell you that. You should not worry about those things. Let me worry instead and just focus on your recovery and on spending time with Lan Wangji.”

Jiang Cheng did not really want to say that last sentence aloud but it surely seemed to have done the trick. Wei Wuxian’s head snapped up and he was watching the Yunmeng Jiang sect leader with his mouth agape and his cheeks slightly red, Jiang Cheng knew this time it was not from overexertion. The look on his brother’s face was priceless and he did not regret telling him that he knew about the relationship between him and the Second Jade in the slightest.

It only pained him that even after everything, Wei Wuxian would still try to sacrifice himself and his well-being for their family and the Yunmeng Jiang sect. It seemed like old habits die hard. Jiang Cheng could only hope that one day, his brother would no longer feel obliged to overlook himself and his discomfort and pain – for he was sure that even deciding to carry Suibian around despite knowing that he would not be able to wield it properly must have been extremely hard for his brother – and would start caring about his own happiness.

They still had a long away ahead of them to fix what had been broken so much in the past.

“Come,” he told all three of the others and turned around, leading them to the sect hall where breakfast was already being prepared, “we need to talk about many things. We shall have breakfast all together and finally clear everything up. Really, can you not be a stubborn fool for just one second…”

Even though Jiang Cheng wanted to scold his brother, there was no heat behind his words. He knew that Wei Wuxian was nothing if stubborn and too self-sacrificial for his own good. On the other hand, he would not have wanted him to be any different, that was just who his brother really was.

Chapter Text

Yu Ziyuan and her husband were already sitting in the sect hall where a table for eight people had been set up. They had decided yesterday that they should also include Jin Zixuan, Wen Qing and Lan Wangji into the discussion with Wei Wuxian. She had long seen that her children had developed feelings for those three and they were also the appointed supervisors. If they were going to tell Wei Wuxian everything, he should also hear it from their own mouth that they did not count of actually reporting anything about him to the Lanling Jin sect, or any other for that matter. Her son needed to know that he was safe and free at last.

Although it looked like everyone just decided to be late this morning, letting them wait in an uncomfortable silence that neither she nor her husband were willing to break, each lost in their own thoughts and worries. They had heard a commotion outside but they had assumed it was just because the disciples finally saw Wei Wuxian up and around after so long. They had been very excited to have him back.

Their assumption however lasted only until Jiang Cheng threw the door to the sect hall open and marched in followed by all the of the youngsters. For some reason, they all did not look too calm, each of their expressions variating between different levels of worry, anger, embarrassment and resignation. Aside for Lan Wangji’s whose face Yu Ziyuan had yet to learn how to read. But even there, the emotions were somehow easier to see today. Something must have happened.

She and her husband were not left in the dark for long because as soon as Wei Wuxian made it into the room with tense shoulders and a fake smile, Jiang Cheng turned to him and scolded: “See what you did, you made everyone worried unnecessarily, you should stop with that. Disappearing like that… never do it again. You need to be more careful now that…”

Jian Yanli intervened just as she always had: “A-Cheng, that is enough. A-Xian had already apologized for not telling us he was going to train this morning; you should let it go. He did not know how dangerous it could be going outside without informing anyone. It was just a misunderstanding really. We did not explain things properly; he could not have known.”

“Sure he could not!” retorted the Yunmeng Jiang sect leader. “I am not angry because of that. I am angry because he had been forcing himself unnecessarily again! After everything, Wei Wuxian should just…”

Yu Ziyuan was thoroughly confused now and she could not stay silent any longer. She wanted to know what had happened that led to Jiang Cheng scolding his brother like this. Although she could have taken a not so wild guess from the previous conversation between her children. A conversation, in which Wei Wuxian did not take part, only looking to the ground, seemingly very uncomfortable and guilty.

“A-Cheng, A-Li, what happened?”

She glanced sideways at her husband and confirmed that he was just as confused as she felt. It looked like her children were having some kind of argument and she could tell that Wei Wuxian was feeling bad for doing whatever he had done. She knew this kind of posture only too well and she did not like seeing it now. They have already agreed that they would take care of the boy and that they would try not to upset him but it seemed like it was already becoming hard to accomplish. Especially with her younger son’s temper.

Jiang Cheng’s eyes snapped to look at her and she could tell that he was not as much angry as he was worried. He was just trying to mask his emotions. In this regard, he was way too similar to her. They would have to work on this together, she decided. Not now thought, now they had to concentrate on the matter at hand, whatever that matter was.

“Mother, Wei Wuxian had just thought it would be a great idea to run away from his room and go train with Suibian in the training grounds.” He glared at his brother again but continued talking to her instead of starting to scold him again. That was some progress at least, he must have realized how uncomfortable Wei Wuxian was feeling at the moment already. “He had pushed himself too much.

And he refuses to tell us why.” He turned towards his brother again, this time to question him: “Wei Wuxian, tell us why. Why did you decide to pick up your sword? Why did you push yourself until you looked ready to collapse at any moment? And do not think for a second that I had not seen that. I know. Tell us why?”

Wei Wuxian looked away from him, his eyes still glued to the floor, and pressed his lips together even tighter than before. He looked very guilty at the moment. The silence was stretching uncomfortably.

Then Jiang Cheng seemed to have taken a deep breath and realized that Wei Wuxian was already probably feeling very bad – something that the whole family had agreed upon preventing with all their might – and he turned to the Dafan Wen clan doctor instead: “And Wen Qing, you should have known that my reckless brother would just run around as soon as you let him. Why did you not tell him to stay in his room for longer?”

Yu Ziyuan had already realized that Wen Qing was not one who would let herself be put down this easily and not defend herself when attacked. Now she was only proven right when the Dafan Wen clan doctor turned on her heels and glared at Jiang Cheng dangerously. Her voice was sharper than the best sharpened blade and it made even Yu Ziyuan shudder. She wondered how her son could stand her scolding without batting an eye. They really were well matched.

“Jiang Cheng,” Wen Qing spoke in a low key voice. It seemed to have been above her to shout but she sure did not sound pleased with the previously received harsh words. It was a clear warning for the Yunmeng Jiang sect leader to reign in his anger. She continued even quieter: “Do not use this tone with me. I am Wei Wuxian’s doctor and I decide to say when he is well and when not. What do you know about medicine? And anyway, I want to see you try keeping your brother in his room.”

Yu Ziyuan was quickly thinking how she should deal with the situation. This was not what they had had in mind when they had decided to have a talk this morning. They were supposed to try and talk openly with Wei Wuxian and instead, they were now making him feel bad. If they would not stop with this soon, how would they be able to explain everything so the boy would trust them?

She could feel her own anger burning inside her. That had been the only way she knew how to take control of a situation for the longest time. She however did not want to let herself be controlled by it this time. She had already decided to change and this would make her take several steps back. She had to prevail. And more importantly, she wanted to show Wei Wuxian that things would not be the same from now on.

What should, or could, she do to avoid a disaster when the boy would start blaming himself for everything again? It was clear to her that he was not far from that if his guilty expression – not even hidden under a smile for the sake of his siblings – was anything to go by. She looked at her husband with plea in her eyes. She was ill equipped for this but she hoped that Jiang Fengmian would be able to calm the situation before it escalated even more. He had always been the more diplomatic one of the two of them.

Chapter Text

Before the argument between Jiang Cheng and Wen Qing could truly start, Wei Wuxian lifted his head and tried to mediate. Or more like put himself in the line of fire so their attention would be diverted towards him. Jiang Fengmian winced a little remembering his son had been doing the same thing when he and his wife had used to argue. It was painful to look at as never before.

“Aya, Jiang Cheng, Wen Qing, shop arguing. I am sorry I have just disappeared from my room and worried you like that. But I am fine, I promise. So please, do not do this because of me…”

It seemed like Wei Wuxian had wanted to say something more but he had stopped when Wen Qing and Jiang Cheng turned his way in a perfectly synchronized movements and glared at him, scowling.

“You are not fine!” they scolded him finding the same rhythm to do so and Wei Wuxian’s mouth closed shut. He immediately looked even more guilty.

Jiang Fengmian was suddenly reminded of all those times that his wife had scolded the boy and how he would immediately try to take all the blame onto himself, pretending to be fine. Yes, he should have seen earlier that his son was anything but fine in those moments. Or perhaps, he had known all along but just decided to ignore Wei Wuxian’s pain in order to keep the ties of his family as intact as they could be. Not anymore though, he would not let it happen again.

He could see his wife looking at him with clear plea in her eyes. She must have also remembered and was now feeling guilty just like him. Jiang Fengmian did not want her to spiral down that way any more. He knew that despite her composed exterior, there must have already been a storm brewing inside of her. One, that he would have a hard time calming down with all the children present. He was certain that his wife would not take it too well to break down in front of them.

He stood up and went to the arguing trio. Jiang Yanli looked like she wanted to intervene too but did not know how. Jin Zixuan was holding her hand and looking bothered and embarrassed, it must have been hard to watch drama inside of someone else’s family, even though that very family would be his as well soon enough. As for Lan Wangji, he remained as stoic as ever. Jiang Fengmian wondered what the Second Jade was thinking. He could not tell from his expression but he was sure that Lan Wangji was not taking it too well to see Wei Wuxian in this kind of situation. Jiang Fengmian had already seen just how protective the Gusu Lan sect disciple could get, he would not want to be on his bad side.

He stopped when he was standing at Wei Wuxian’s side, facing the two angry cultivators together with him. He tried to calm the situation: “A-Cheng, Wen Qing, please do not be too harsh on A-Xian. I am sure it had been just a misunderstanding.” He could see them realizing what they had been doing and relaxing ever so slightly, not looking at Wei Wuxian with anger in their eyes anymore. Jiang Cheng even appeared remorseful.

Despite also wanting to know what had Wei Wuxian been doing in the training field with his sword, forcing himself according to Jiang Cheng’s words, he held himself back from asking. It would not do to rile up the emotions in the room any more. Instead, he opted for diverting the situation into a more pleasant one: “Let us all have breakfast together. We need to let A-Xian know what had happened when he had been asleep. Perhaps then, he would feel like confiding his reasons with us.”

He turned towards his older son and continued talking to him directly: “A-Xian, we do not want to force you to do anything. Please, just come listen to us and we will try to make everything clear. I am afraid that we had not talked far as much as we have needed as a family in the past.”

He saw how Wei Wuxian’s eyes became wide and surprise overcame his previously guilty posture. He could understand. His words must have sounded very weird to someone who had always been included in the family seemingly only for the purpose of protecting it and laying his life down for the sake of it. They really had done wrong to him in the past. Not anymore though, they were now changing their ways and they would include Wei Wuxian properly. They would treat him with care he deserved and would not let him hurt himself for their sake again.

Wei Wuxian beamed at him, immediately, he seemed to have been his old self from the times before the fall of Lotus Pier, and perhaps from even earlier, things had never been the same after he had come back from his studies in Cloud Recesses because of breaking off Jiang Yanli’s engagement. Jiang Fengmian could tell that what Wen Qing and Jiang Cheng had said was true, Wei Wuxian was certainly not fine and it was only now that he could see it this clearly.

“Yes, Uncle Jiang!” the boy chirped and took refuge at the table, in his usual spot. The atmosphere in the room calmed down and the uncomfortable cold which had come with it finally disappeared. Wei Wuxian’s smile had warmed the room in the way only he could.

All the others went to sit down as well; Jiang Yanli at Jin Zixuan’s side, Jiang Cheng side by side with Wen Qing and of course Lan Wangji let himself slip to the last empty seat just next to Wei Wuxian. Jiang Fengmian had to smile to himself. His family was about to become bigger in the near future it would seem. He wondered if he should start preparing dowry for all three of his children at the same time.

Food was served and Wei Wuxian immediately started chatting away as he was putting pieces into Lan Wangji’s bowl and urging him to try various Yunmeng specialities. Jiang Fengmian observed him intently. Although he looked fine now – or at least tried to pretend to be fine – he could tell that his son was tense and awaiting, perhaps even fearing the conversation up ahead. He decided to only breach it at the end of the meal.

Everyone needed to gather themselves and when else than during a happy chatter and a leisurely meal? Jiang Yanli and Jiang Cheng were now dragged into the conversation as well. Wei Wuxian even tried to involve Wen Qing and Jin Zixuan but the result was questionable at best. He did not seem to mind though. Everything looked like there was nothing wrong with the world. At least for this frozen moment of happiness. Jiang Fengmian could only hope that what they were about to tell Wei Wuxian would not shatter it completely.

Chapter Text

Now that the first shock of being scolded for training with his sword had passed, Wei Wuxian was actually happy to be in the presence of his family. He did not mind Lan Zhan and Wen Qing joining them for the meal but he was not too excited about Jin Zixuan being there as well. Though from the way the Lanling Jin sect heir looked at Jiang Yanli, it was clear that he no longer had anything to say against her.

When Jiang Yanli had told Wei Wuxian about the renewal of her engagement, she had looked happy and that was everything the Yunmeng Jiang sect head disciple needed to know. The fact that Jin Zixuan could also throw Wei Wuxian’s own words to his face for worrying everyone was also speaking into his favour, he had some backbone after all. And so he tried to drag the Lanling Jin sect heir into the conversation as well.

He was trying his very best to appear and behave as he normally would during a leisurely family breakfast. But he found it extremely hard to do.

The usual joking and light conversation was just not coming to him easily as it had had before. The fact that his family seemed deep in thoughts and was barely reacting to him, leaving him with the whole burden of the conversation did not help too much. Moreover, Wei Wuxian dreaded the moment that this meal would change into an escalated situation. He knew he was in for a scolding and he was just waiting for it to go down.

He was glancing at Madame Yu every other second, trying to see if she was taking a breath to start, but so far, nothing was happening. It was putting him slightly on the edge and all he could do was to try his best to ignore the looming disaster and carry on with the conversation. It was not as if he was looking forward to the moment the shouting would begin but it would be better than this shadow of normalcy which all of them were trying to preserve with not much success.

And the worst part was that he was not even too sure what he had done wrong this time. He had just gone and proceeded to do what he believed had been expected of him, what he had thought Madame Yu would tell him to do anyway. She often berated him for not taking his role seriously and for embarrassing and endangering the Yunmeng Jiang sect. He had tried to protect it this time but it seemed to not have been enough.

Or perhaps it had and it had been just his siblings who had not been happy about his new role in the sect? His role in the Yunmeng Jiang clan had always been that of a servant and a protector, this had not changed so it could not be this bugging them. Or had they simply been too worried about him and seeing him push himself had made them angry? Wei Wuxian could not tell for sure.

He felt like ever since waking up after the war, he was living a different life. Nothing seemed to be the same anymore and his family was also behaving quite oddly. It could of course be because they were aware of his predicament, however, Wei Wuxian did not have the impression that it was all there was to it. Something seemed to be escaping him, something important which he needed to know.

Though he could not put his finger on what it was. No one would tell him anything, if it was on purpose or if it was just his family’s way of giving him a brief time to recover, he could not tell. He was missing part of the picture after his long unconsciousness and no one was willing to fill him in.

Not that he had not asked, he had. But everyone just avoided the subject and would quickly excuse themselves. The only one who was willing to tell him at least something was Lan Zhan. However, with how the Second Jade usually spoke, providing only the bare minimum of information, Wei Wuxian gave up fairly quickly. Plus, he had learned about his somewhat precarious status in the Yunmeng Jiang sect already and could understand if his family did not want to tell him, they must have been afraid of his reaction.

It was also not the first time and the only area where they were treating him differently now. He could tell that the fact that he was missing his golden core was making them uneasy. Jiang Yanli and Jiang Cheng had told him on several occasions that he is now fragile and should take better care of himself. It hurt to know that they were now seeing him as someone weak who could not do anymore what he desired and needed to be protected.

As for Uncle Jiang and Madame Yu, Wei Wuxian found out that he could not read them at all. They seemed to have been outright avoiding him this whole time, always making sure to apologize to him and show him how sorry they were for everything. If Wei Wuxian did not know better, he could have perhaps thought that they were sick or something. However, to his ears, it sounded more like they were trying to coax him into staying in Lotus Pier and to not do anything foolish which could, even potentially, endanger the Yunmeng Jiang sect.

They now seemed almost afraid of him and he could not blame them for he was afraid of himself as well. More exactly, he was afraid that he could lose control at any moment and be tempted to use demonic cultivation when in danger. He had already overreacted earlier in the training field after all. But he hoped that it had only been brief and would not cause any troubles. He would not be able to bear it if he had already put the Yunmeng Jiang sect at risk due to his inability to relax in his own home.

He had been so startled when Jin Zixuan had called out to him that he had let his control slip for the briefest of moments. Even if he wanted to pretend like nothing happened, he could not lie to himself. He had been so panicked that the resentful energy just reacted to his subconscious command to protect him. He would have to get better at this, he really needed to get used to using his sword again.

The conversation once again stopped and he could not find it in himself to carry on without a care anymore. He was so tense that his shoulders were actually starting to hurt. Jiang Cheng had promised him to explain everything and he knew that that moment had come. Everyone was now putting their chopsticks down and their expressions became grim and serious.

He knew that this time, he would hear all about what he was expected to do and how he should behave to still be permitted to stay in Lotus Pier with his siblings. The conditions under which he was were not too clear to him but that was about to change.

He put down his chopsticks as well and looked at his family members. He was waiting for the blow.

Chapter Text

Lan Wangji was sitting next to Wei Ying at the breakfast table and was letting the conversation completely slip by him. He was watching how his husband was trying to keep things going and act as normally as he could. He could tell just how much effort it took him and how hard it was to actually even try to keep some level of normalcy.

He would be happy with Wei Ying being broken or sad or afraid; he could just not bear to watch this theatrical play which was hurting him deep down a little bit more every second while he forced himself to hide his true emotions. Lan Wangji had seen his husband’s reactions and behaviour these last few days and could tell that Wei Ying was not the same person he had once gotten to know. All his cheerfulness and easy personality was now dimmed and what was left was a sad and hurting teenager who needed help.

He could tell that the Yunmeng Jiang clan members either could not see it or were too much at a loss about how to support Wei Ying. They carefully avoided talking about anything upsetting with him and were keeping him in the dark about his own situation. Lan Wangji did not find that just. He had tried to inform his husband at least a little bit, however he still did not believe that it was his place to be telling him about the Yunmeng Jiang sect’s matters. He had felt trapped.

And he felt that way even now. The only thing he could do for his clearly distressed and tense husband was to discreetly hold his hand under the table. Hopefully, all the misunderstandings would be cleared up soon.

From his position by Wei Ying’s side, he could tell that his family greatly cared about him, only they did not quite know how to express it properly so their concerns and care had been suffocating the Yunmeng Jiang sect head disciple. On the other hand, Wei Ying seemed to have misunderstood something and he had been tense and saddened despite Lan Wangji’s best efforts. He had been forcing himself to fit and the Second Jade did not appreciate to see him doing that much for the family whom he had already rescued once and had paid the greatest price for that.

Finally, Jiang Fengmian spoke and broke the uncomfortable silence around the table: “A-Xian, I am happy to see that you are feeling better. We have been worried about you.” There was a short pause when everyone was looking even more uncomfortable, especially Wei Ying. Lan Wangji squeezed his hand in silent support. “We know that you deserve to know what is going on and we want to tell you everything. Things have changed and we do not want to have any misunderstandings between us anymore.”

Then, Jiang Fengmian with the help of Jiang Cheng and Jiang Yanli explained what had happened from the moment of the fall of Lotus Pier. Lan Wangji had already heard some of it, but not everything and he was surprised at some facts. Especially by the openness and honesty with which everyone was narrating their part, even Yu Ziyuan had expressed her own experience and told everyone that she wanted to change her ways now.

Throughout the entire time, Lan Wangji could tell what Wei Ying was feeling. The smaller and previously warm hand had now become completely ice cold in his hold. It started trembling just as the rest of his husband. There was no doubt in Lan Wangji’s mind that We Ying was greatly surprised and distressed by the narrated events.

And especially when his family explained to him that everyone already knew about his missing his golden core. At that point, Wei Ying’s fingers had balled into such a tight fist that Lan Wangji was afraid his husband would hurt himself. He started gently rubbing soothing circles into the back of the said hand, trying to ease the tension.

He could understand why Wei Ying did not like to hear that. It was such a personal matter, Lan Wangji could not imagine how it would feel if he had lost his golden core and someone revealed that information to everyone without his authorisation. Until now, he could not agree with the Yunmeng Jiang clan’s choice to tell the disciples the truth. Of course, Jiang Yanli explained the reasoning behind it – that they had only wanted to make things easier for his husband upon waking up and did not want him to force himself, which he had done anyway – but he did not think it justified anything. They should have spoken about this with Wei Ying before saying anything at all.

Lan Wangji now looked at his husband’s face which was downturned and his eyes never left the table. He could see there the immense hurt but also resignation he had not expected to be there. Now he was even more confused. Why would Wei Ying not say anything back and only accept all of this? If it had been his younger self, the Second Jade was sure that the Yunmeng Jiang sect head disciple would have rose the dead to show his fury, figuratively speaking of course. But now, it seemed like Wei Ying was only resigned and sad.

Jiang Fengmian finished his explanation: “A-Xian, please do not think poorly of us. We have just wanted for you to not be burdened by having to do anything. You have already sacrificed too much for the Yunmeng Jiang sect and our family. You should not suffer anymore. No matter what you do, we are ready to stand up in front of the whole cultivation world to defend you. You have done nothing wrong; I know you must have considered picking up demonic cultivation to be necessary at that moment. And it saved us all, no matter what Jin Guangshan says.”

Jiang Cheng nodded, he had already explained the whole situation around the ultimatum in less than courteous words. He had also assured Wei Ying that Nie Huisang was working on this and would soon be able to unmask both the Lanling Jin sect leader and Jin Guangyao to the whole cultivation world. Then, Wei Ying would be free.

Yu Ziyuan finally lifted her head and Lan Wangji saw tears in her eyes. It was something that he would have never believed possible but it seemed like today was a day for miracles and great revelations.

“We believe in you. We want to protect you and stand up for you no matter what you do. We are a family and we all love you very much A-Ying. I am sorry it had taken us so long to realize this, especially to me. Now at last, we are all ready to treat you as you deserve. You have no obligation to us or to the Yunmeng Jiang sect, we just want you to be happy and safe. So…”

Yu Ziyuan was now clearly fighting against her tears and she choked a little on a sob which escaped her before she could finish her last sentence: “So, you can take your time to recover and to think things through. We will support you in whatever decision you take. And if that would be to leave the Yunmeng Jiang sect because of how we had treated you in the past, we will accept that. But if you decide to stay, we will support you in whatever way we can.”

Wei Ying’s hand was now shaking nonstop in Lan Wangji’s hold and a sob escaped to him as well. The Second Jade’s eyes were immediately drawn to him. Just in time. His husband did not care for who was in the room with him and he all but threw himself into Lan Wangji’s arms and sobbed into his chest. All tension had now left his body and he let himself be cradled and supported by Lan Wangji’s arms.

Chapter Text

Wei Wuxian was crying his heart out into Lan Wangji’s chest. He knew he should now probably say something, or thank his family for caring so much about him, or smile at them and forget everything that had happened. Or basically do anything else than to cling to his loved one with a bleeding heart and raw emotions.

He could not believe what had been said. Do not take him wrong, he did not doubt that the words had been true and that his family had indeed changed, he just could not know how he was fitting into that picture. He had thought that they had been angry with him and afraid of him. That they had condemned him because of his use of demonic cultivation and were about to punish him and then let him pretend in front of the whole cultivation world that he had given up his path for good, leaving him with nothing at all.

Oh, how foolish he had been! How self-important and arrogant! He had thought that only he himself should protect his family and put his life on the line fort the. He would have never imagined that they would want to do the same for him. Even Madame Yu now seemed very fragile and soft when she was crying into her husband’s shoulder. She looked so small right now that Wei Wuxian was ready to forget everything that she had even done in her past and believe that she wanted to flip a new page and start treating him differently.

The only thing he did not know how to feel about was the fact that everyone apparently knew about his missing golden core and that he was not a cultivator anymore. He had been thoroughly heart-broken when Jiang Fengmian told him. He had also been extremely confused; why would they tell the whole cultivation world about his weakness when they needed the Yunmeng Jiang sect to conserve its position as one of the great sects? It would have made much more sense to keep this knowledge hidden and pretend like Wei Wuxian was an all-powerful tool which was loyal only to the Yunmeng Jiang sect.

His tears had only started to fall when he had heard the explanation. He had really been assuming everything wrongly. It was not that his family wanted to use him as he had expected, instead, they seemed ready to protect him from anything and everything and from anyone who would want to as much as look harshly at him. In this light, he felt like a fool for worrying them and forcing himself to start training with Suibian again.

Now he was sobbing his heart out because of how wrong he had been and how hurt he must have made his family feel when he had not believed them. He should have believed in them from the very beginning. Thinking back, Madame Yu and Uncle Jiang had tried to explain everything but Wei Wuxian just stubbornly and rudely refused to listen to them. He was regretting that greatly now.

Still sobbing and with tears coming out of his eyes, he managed to unglue his face from Lan Zhan’s chest at least so much so he would be able to speak. He tried to calm himself but was unable to do so. His emotions were raging and were still too raw and untamed for him to reign them in. It did not matter however. He had to let his family know how sorry he was for making them worried and for thinking badly of them; for not believing them.

He tried to speak as clearly as he could but his sobbing and sniffling was not making it any easier: “I am sorry, Uncle Jiang, Madame Yu, Jiang Cheng, Shijie… I am sorry to not have believed in you. I have just assumed everything on my own and I have hurt you. I am sorry and thank you for all your worry and care. I will try to do better from now on.”

He did not turn his head when Jiang Cheng all but grumbled, clearly hiding his own emotions: “Shut up, you idiot! We have just told you to not do your best anymore. You can now do whatever you would like to. Even if there had ever been any debt for you to repay to the Yunmeng Jiang sect – which there had not been, mind you! –, it would have long been paid tenfold.” Jiang Cheng’s voice now became a little bit softer when he continued: “And just as mother said, we should be the ones to apologize, not you. You have never done anything wrong, you have only jumped into the line of fire for all of us and saved us more than once. It is time for you to take a rest, Wei Wuxian. Let us protect you in return.”

Wei Wuxian felt a small hand caressing his back and he knew that Jiang Yanli who was sitting next to him was trying to sooth him and offer silent support. He was glad for it and suddenly started sobbing harder again.

“Yes, A-Xian,” Jiang Fengmian’s voice was full of emotions but stayed strong and unyielding, a true voice of a former sect leader. “I have not saved you all those years ago because I wanted you to be indebted to me. I have not taken you in to be a protector for A-Cheng and A-Li or to sacrifice yourself for the Yunmeng Jiang sect. Neither have I picked you up because I was in love with your mother, no matter what rumours may be circulating around.

None of those, you silly boy. Me and Wei Changze had been sworn brothers almost all our lives. I could not have let you live on the streets and die because of the harshness of the world. It was as simple as that; I saw my own children in you and did not want to let you suffer like that. I am sorry that until now, you did not hear this from me. But this is the truth. I really wanted us to be a family, you are a son to me, A-Xian, although I would never ever try to take the place of your parents.”

Before even consciously deciding to move, Wei Wuxian was already on his feet, staggering slightly. He made his way around the table on unsteady limbs and then fell to his knees right in front of Jiang Fengmian, the person he considered one of his closest relatives in this world. Not that he was being not filial, he loved and honoured his parents, but Uncle Jiang was as close to a father figure for him as it could get.

Jiang Fengmian seemed taken aback by his reaction and was starting to get up, probably to stop him from kneeling. But Wei Wuxian had something else in mind. Without giving any warning, he propelled himself forward and hugged Uncle Jiang by his waist, his head nested in the elder’s lap. He did not feel childish at all, nor did he think about how others could see his behaviour as exaggerated or immature. He just wanted to show how deeply he cared for the only father figure he had ever known.

He let his tears run freely when he felt the formed Yunmeng Jiang sect leader patting his head soothingly. No matter what Jiang Fengmian had said, Wei Wuxian had always considered the Yunmeng Jiang clan his family. All of them with no exception. And although he had heard it many times that he had to protect them because of a life debt, he would have done so regardless of those words.

It took him a long time to calm down enough so he would be able to sit up straight and hug his siblings who had joined him on the ground in the meantime. He then stood up and smiled at everyone to let them know just how happy he was. They were smiling back at him with tears in their eyes, all of them.

Even Madame Yu whom he had feared until now had indeed changed it seemed. She was watching him with something resembling fondness in her eyes. There was also pain and hurt and what Wei Wuxian could clearly identify as regret. She did not look like her usual fierce and strong self at all. She was standing a little on the side, not joining the family hug. Wei Wuxian felt sorry for her.

Since it did not look like she was about to scold him, he decided to try his luck. He did not want to see such painful and apologetic expression on her face and so he slowly approached her. She seemed to have been taken aback but he did not pay it any mind. She was not shouting at him not telling him to stand down, she seemed even perhaps happy that he was coming up to her.

Without thinking too much about possible consequences, Wei Wuxian hugged her, a little awkwardly but who could blame him when he had never felt anything resembling love for his adoptive mother before, not like for the others. They were a family now so what use would there be for formalities?

He did not know if he ever truly would feel the same way about her as he did for the rest of his family, but he would try. They could put the past behind them and start anew. If Madame Yu was willing to finally tolerate him as a true family member, who was he to not meet her half way?

Chapter Text

Yu Ziyuan watched her three children interact with each other and hearing their laughter was a balm for her soul. It was now a week after the moment they had all finally come to an understanding during breakfast. Ever since then, Wei Wuxian seemed to have gotten more open with them again and also stopped hurting himself. He was no longer trying to pick up his sword again, which Yu Ziyuan knew he had done only because he had though they would ask him to do so.

When she realized that, she even discreetly removed the sword from his room so he would not have to see it every day. It seemed to have been the right decision as her son was now always carrying his flute around and looked much more relaxed. She still remembered how jumpy and easily scared he had been before she hid Suibian from him several days ago. Apparently, he had been reluctant to walk around with his flute which was identifying him as a demonic cultivator.

Whatever happened to convince him that he did not have to hide his new cultivation here in Lotus Pier, Yu Ziyuan was grateful for that. She made sure that everyone knew why Wei Wuxian had resorted to it and that no one would watch him with contempt or fear. He could relax at last.

And that was just what he, Jiang Cheng and Jiang Yanli were doing. Yu Ziyuan and her husband were watching them from the shadow of an open pavilion built above water. The three were teasing each other and laughing happily. Jiang Yanli and Wei Wuxian were sitting on a pier and had their feet splashing the water at Jiang Cheng who was standing inside the pond and glaring at them with a poorly hidden smile.

It was a peaceful scene that Yu Ziyuan had not believed she would ever see again. Not after what she had done to the boy. She still marvelled at the fact that Wei Wuxian was so quick to forgive them and they were all now working towards strengthening their ties as family. He had even hugged her, no matter how awkward or uncomfortable that had been for both of them. He had taken the whole Yunmeng Jiang clan on his mercy and was doing his best to fit right in.

However, Yu Ziyuan could not quite believe that everything was fine. There was just something weird about this whole situation. Something which she knew existed but could not quite put her hands on or name it.

It was the little things which would often pick her attention but would soon be over or her mind would find other explanation for them. Such as Wei Wuxian slightly flinching and his smile appearing just a tad more unnatural whenever he greeted her. Or how he would quickly hide the longing in his eyes when he saw disciples training with their swords; he had never picked up teaching again. Or how he would be just a little too cheerful yet careful to not make anyone mad at him.

Or, just like now, how he would not take off his clothes no matter how hot it got. From what Yu Ziyuan remembered from the times of his childhood, Wei Wuxian had always been quick to jump into the lakes and play with his brother or the Yunmeng Jiang sect disciples. Not anymore however. For this whole week, he had never taken off more than just his shoes and socks, always going around with his body fully covered.

She could have of course waved her hand and let it go. Without a golden core, his body could no longer regulate its temperature as cultivators used to and so he would get cold very quickly. The children and people from the town, the normal people, had never taken such liking to soaking in the lakes after all.

But she did not believe this was the true reason. Not after Jiang Cheng had tried to take his robes off the first time and Wei Wuxian flinched away, pulling his robes closer to him while glancing in Yu Ziyuan’s direction. She would have liked to believe it had been just a coincidence, however, she could not. It looked too much like he did not want her to see him without his robes.

And she could easily guess why. It had been her who had personally whipped him just before he had lost his golden core. Although she had seen his back when Jiang Yanli had been taking care of him after they had rescued him from the Nightless City palace, he did not know about it. She could tell that he was trying hard to not let her see because he did not want her to feel guilty.

Or anyone else for that matter. He very carefully avoided topics which would trigger anyone’s guilt but his own. He still did not get over the past. And who was Yu Ziyuan to blame him? The war had been traumatic for all of them, but most for her son. And it was not just the Sunshot campaign in itself, he had a much heavier burden to carry. All because of her. It had been her who had used to tell him all those hurtful words about his parents out of jealousy and only treating him as a disposable servant who was not good enough for anything but protecting her children. How she wished she could erase those thoughts from his mind!

He had forgiven them way too easily and it was making her feel on edge. Despite playing the perfect happy family with all of them, Yu Ziyuan did not see this. She only saw Wei Wuxian forcing himself to act cheerfully and to indulge them. It did not look like he himself was as free and high-spirited as he was trying to appear. It was just a pretence to ease their minds while he was still hurting deep inside.

Regretfully, he would never talk about it. Whenever the topic of his own well-being was as much as mentioned, he would immediately retreat into himself and show just his usual mask to convince the other that he was perfectly fine. Yu Ziyuan did not know if this was the case for everyone, but it was certainly for her. Whenever she came talk with the boy, he would always be very polite and seemingly open and friendly but she could clearly see the hidden wariness in his eyes.

He did not trust her and she knew she deserved it. She was the last person he probably wanted to talk to about his worries and pain. He did not outright push her away but perhaps this careful balance he had created between them hurt more. He should have despised her, hated her, screamed at her to leave him alone. But he never did such a thing. Instead, he was forcing himself to forget and forgive. It was painful to watch really.

The only time Wei Wuxian actually seemed relaxed and would let his mask fall was when he was with Lan Wangji. He would let himself be spoiled and properly protected, he would whine to him and talk with him openly and without pretence. Something that he no longer felt comfortable with doing around anyone from the Yunmeng Jiang clan as far as Yu Ziyuan knew.

Not that she had been spying on him or anything. It was just that their closeness and openness for each other could not have been overlooked. It seemed like Wei Wuxian was way happier at Lan Wangi’s side than interacting with his own family. Yu Ziyuan was actually starting to think that it would perhaps be better to just let him go, let him follow his heart and not imprison him in their affection and tie him to Lotus Pier.

Wei Wuxian should be free and happy. And at the moment, the Yunmeng Jiang clan and sect were not able to give him that. The choice was his though; if he ever asked her to let him go, she would agree, that much was clear to her. Jiang Fengmian and the rest of her children were of the same mind. There was just one problem, Wei Wuxian’s life was still in danger because of Jin Guangshan and Jin Guangyao.

Chapter Text

It had already been two weeks now from the day that Wei Wuxian finally understood that his family did care about him and wanted to mend their ties. They had known it would not be easy from the very beginning, they had prepared for it mentally. But nothing could be done when the boy in question did not accept the care and apparently only ever felt awkward about it.

Jiang Cheng could tell that his brother was not feeling alright and that he was still forcing himself. This time however, he was doing so while trying to act normal and to give them a sense of a happy family. He had even started to talk to Yu Ziyuan more; but the thing was that Jiang Cheng could tell how much it costed him. It was the small signs that were the most telling: how he would flinch occasionally when being called and would only face them after a second with a perfectly fake smile on his lips, from how his laughter was not free and unrestrained anymore but painful sounding to the Yunmeng Jiang sect leader’s ears, how he would always retreat back to his room looking utterly exhausted but would still say that he was fine and thank them for their protection.

And this was another thing which was apparently putting an edge between them all. Not only did Wei Wuxian pretend to play a perfect family with them while his heart was not into it, he also thanked them for all the care and protection. This was the final straw for Jiang Cheng to know that something was very much wrong. His brother would have never felt comfortable being protected like this.

They however did not have another possibility to go around things. Someone was always with Wei Wuxian and his door was guarded at night. Since there were still people after him – just yesterday, there had been another intruder which had been stopped before making it over the walls of Lotus Pier – they could not very well leave him by himself. Even more so that he told them over and over again that he had given up demonic cultivation.

Despite his words, which Jiang Cheng did believe but which saddened him greatly, the Yunmeng Jiang sect leader was glad that his brother would at least carry his flute around. It had actually taken a little bit of persuasion but it was undeniably worth it. Wei Wuxian had been so jumpy those first hours and days, he had looked truly pitiful. And Jiang Cheng could fully understand him; after the Wen indoctrination, he had been walking around without his sword and he had not liked it. Moreover, he had not been completely defenceless at that time, only, Wei Wuxian was without a golden core.

Even all the disciples in Lotus Pier were taking care of his brother and making life easier for him. They would carry things around instead of him, they would not let him overdo it while he was training them and they would certainly not let him touch any swords – not even a training one – for fear that it would make him remember his loss.

As it stood, they had to protect Wei Wuxian not only from outsider threats but also from himself. It was as if his brother did not understand that he was now just a normal man and had to behave like one. That meant more carefully than until now. He was still as reckless as ever; as soon as he was freed from bed rest, he was already running around without any care as per usual. Only now, it was different, every small scrape or bruise needed several days to heal and his body was still weak and fragile. They had to protect him even if it meant to forbid him things which he had liked doing before. They were trying.

But it was not enough. Or, more like, it was perhaps too much. Wei Wuxian only ever smiled and thanked everyone for being worried for him. However, Jiang Cheng observed with heavy heart how his brother would start acting differently at each turn. For example, he stopped training the disciples – something he had always greatly enjoyed – and would only ever teach archery. He would not go swim to lakes anymore and would only stay on the sides, watching everyone have a good time and telling them that he did not want to ruin their fun. He had been talking jokingly but Jiang Cheng could guess what was behind those words, he did not want to be a burden to anyone.

It was painful to watch how Wei Wuxian was visibly dying with each passing day and whatever anyone said to him would only make it all the worse. It would only push him to try harder and to hurt himself more. Jiang Cheng did not know what he could do about it. He was at his wits’ end.

If there was not a threat on Wei Wuxian’s life, he would not have insisted on keeping such a close eye on him and his brother would possibly feel more free and happier. But that was not an option, not until Jin Guangshan and Jin Guangyao would stop lusting after the Yiling Patriarch’s powers and would not send kidnappers and assassins after him.

Jiang Cheng sighed and shook his head. It was not doing h