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What Rests on Tea

Chapter Text

The burial mounds were filled with a terrible darkness, dark clouds endlessly collecting over bone walls and dark crags. They looked like death, come to steal away hope and cast it black as shadow.

 

Wen Ning had always thought they felt like home.

 

The parlor of his skin was corpse-healthy, and he could not smile but he felt a gentle happiness. The tea pot in his hands was searingly hot, but he felt none of its pain.

 

He hoped the Young Master would like this tea, with its modest leaves and gentle steep. He had prepared it so carefully, under his sister’s instruction and watchful gaze. The tea had been placed like so, the water heated to just before a boil.

 

He had poured the water with timid fingers and counted off the seconds like they were more important than life itself.

 

And perhaps, in some ways, they were.

 

His friend had looked so tired recently. Warm skin had gone pale from lack of sun, and endless days of invention had kept Wei Wuxian cloistered into a cave alone. Wen Ning loved that relentless spirit and all the caring in those clever hands, admired the drive to create and protect.

 

But Wei Wuxian had been smiling less, of late, and Wen Ning just wanted him to smile.

 

He cradled the teapot into the deep caves, eyes trailing curiously over the papers collecting on the walls. There were more than yesterday, half drawn talismans scattered across countless scrolls and fixed against craggily stone.

 

The talismans were made of blood but not active, harmless as the paper they were inked on.

 

Even in the fog of creative energy, the Young Master was so careful to do them no harm. Inside this cave may dwell countless monsters and demonic inventions, but the Wen remnants could walk outside with no fear and as much happiness as they could grow in barren fields.

 

Wen Ning treasured his friend even more for this.

 

“Young Master,” he called, voice gentle and quiet in the echoing halls of this cave.

 

A grunt and a distracted noise pulled him deeper, until he walked dead limbs into the true heart of Wei Wuxian’s chaos.

 

Here was the lair of an inventor.

 

Creative energy bled into the air like fury and the hunger before a famine, rolling from Wei Wuxian’s frenetic brush strokes. Scrolls lined the floor to match the ones lining the walls, and half-finished amulets laid over every surface. Quiet scratches of ink echoed over stone walls, a low stream of noise to echo through the cave.

 

Wen Ning had never felt more at home.

 

The smile across his face grew wide and gentle, and he placed the teapot by his friend’s side, waited for those driven eyes to pull off the scroll before him.

 

“Young Master,” he called again, quiet and filled with a respect well earned.

 

A slow blink answered him, and then another, until awareness bled into red eyes and made them black again.

 

“Wen Ning,” came the response, methodical like the words were weighed and tested in thought. Wei Wuxian still looked half-consumed, attention slowly pulling together in the air.

 

Then, brighter and dancing into wakefulness, “Wen Ning! Ah, how long have you been standing there?”

 

“Only a moment,” he said, and meant a lifetime. This ingenious man had saved his life and the souls of all these of the Wen remnants.

 

He would stay by his side for as long as he could.

 

If he could smile, it would be a terribly bright thing now. In this dank cave that stunk of death and death alone, he felt at peace. “What are you working on, young master?”

 

He poured the tea out into a clear cup as he spoke, let its aroma curl into the air like smoke before a flame. But this was a soothing fire, made from modest tea and grown with so much care.

 

He hoped Wei Wuxian would like this tea.

 

The man took the cup with a pale hand, taking a sip through eager words. “A personal teleportation talisman but powered by resentful energy.”

 

The strain across his eyes eased a touch, brushed away by hot tea. Wen Ning felt a small kernel of happiness burst through his dead skin.

 

It had helped, even if only a little.

 

It had been worth the effort.

 

“I want you to be able to get away, if you need to.” The words were determined, dark though spoken in that dancing tone.

 

Always did Wei Wuxian smile through pain. Wen Ning wished his friend would stop and rest that weary mind, that lonely soul.

 

This family of fifty tried to forge the Burial Grounds into a home, and with broken tools and bloody ground they had mostly succeeded.

 

But he knew the longing that dwelled in his friend, in the memory of another life and another family. The man had once had a brother and a sister, had once had friends and a reputation for brilliance.

 

Now he was a pariah.

 

Wen Ning felt guilt boil in his dead veins. This was his fault too, and yet the Wen remnants stayed beneath this brilliant man’s protection.

 

“You do not need to, you know. I…” He stopped, felt words sting his tongue and make him  quietly hopeless. What did he have to give but his devotion?

 

“I will not leave your side, young master,” he said, and meant it with all of his bound soul and dead flesh.

 

The smile that cracked across Wei Wuxian’s face was shattered and broken, but he could do nothing to fix it.

 

A laugh cracked the stale air in two and made the blood pools shake. “All the more reason to make them then. I’ll finish this, and you’ll take it.”

 

“Ah, no complaints!” He raised a long hand against Wen Ning’s words, gaunt fingers glimmering beneath torchlight. They hadn’t always been so slim, so pale. They had once been tanned and strong, calloused by sword work and laughing gestures.

 

Wen Ning would see them happy again.

 

“You will take it, or I swear I’ll sew it into your clothes!” The tone was threatening, the words more so, but he just blinked long and slow.

 

He could not remember seeing Wei Wuxian wielding a needle and thread before, could not imagine his chaotic energy lent to that patience.

 

But the man was ever skilled; Wen Ning could surely be wrong.

 

“Young master, do you know how to sew?”

 

There was a beat of silence, echoing out over the dark span of the cave and across the bones of old corpses. Wei Wuxian opened his mouth, once, twice, bemusement collecting on pale cheeks.

 

That was really all the answer Wen Ning needed, and he suppressed a quiet laugh.

 

The Young Master was truly unstoppable and kind, he thought, and set the teapot on a small scrap of clear table.

 

He took the talisman anyway, tucked it close to his heart. Wei Wuxian had asked him to, and so he would.

 

 

⊱ ━━━━.⋅❈⋅.━━━━⊰

 

Blood stained dead hands crimson, rage replacing his marrow and turning him into fear and fury. His flesh was hate and his bones were guilt and he was angry.

 

The sun shone overhead, burning into pale skin but doing no damage. Wei Wuxian was behind him, was sad, was betrayed. Wen Ning had to protect him, had to destroy and rage.

 

Beneath this sun, he was nothing but resentment made into a shield for his master.

 

They dared raise their bows, they dared threaten Wei Wuxian’s life, this precious and brilliant life. He would kill them all, would slaughter anything that moved, anything that bore fury, anything that shifted and—

 

And he blinked into wakefulness with his hand through Jin Zixuan’s chest.

 

Dead eyes did not need to see, and they required no rest, but he blinked again. Blood collected across the stretch of his arms and dripped its way onto the ground, soaked into cracked earth beneath him like water running through sand.

 

There was so much blood staining him crimson as the dawn, but all he could see was the Wei Wuxian’s face as it paled to horror, to loss.

 

All he could see was despair, and all Wen Ning knew was hopelessness.

 

God, he had always been so timid, always too slow. Now in death he had moved too fast, and this was all his fault.

 

He had driven his hand through the chest of one of Wei Wuxian’s precious people. He was scum, of the highest order, and did not deserve the kindness the Young Master gave him with each smile and cheerful conversation.

 

His dearest friend’s loneliness was all his fault too, and he couldn’t bear this strain a moment longer.

 

He could not let the man die, he couldn’t. Dead hands were shaking, rage pulsing through his veins like his blood once had, like the blood that dripped down his arm and soaked into his robes.

 

If only Wen Qing was here, with all her talent at healing and strength of action, this could be fixed. His sister had always known how to act and what to do, blessed with a decisive mind and a commander’s aura. He wished for her so dearly, as blood collected at the edge of his nails.

 

He needed his sister, he thought with every ounce of his relentless soul, with every piece of his resentful energy tucked into his skin.

 

And the talisman pressed against his chest answered.

 

 

⊱ ━━━━.⋅❈⋅.━━━━⊰

 

There was rock beneath his back, and he was bare. This was the first thought that trickled into his mind, like snow falling down across flower petals.

 

The rock was cold, and he could feel it prickle against his skin for he wore no robes. He blinked heavy eyes, blinked until he could see the ceiling above. It was dark and craggily, not the sculpted luxury he was used to but the bare bones of a cave.

 

There was rock beneath his back, and he had awoken in a hovel. It was cold, and shivers cascaded up his spine to make him tremble.

 

Where had he—

 

Wei Wuxian’s horrified eyes. Betrayal. A hand, bursting through his chest and leaving him numb.

 

Jiang Yanli, he thought, with his whole heart and all of his golden painted soul. His wife, his love, he had almost left her. The rock beneath his back was chilly as frost but he went icy at the thought.

 

He had sworn to never see her cry from sadness again, to wipe away only tears of joy. He had sworn to protect her gentle smile and relentless kindness.

 

He had sworn to do so much, and yet a hand had driven through his chest.

 

The rocks were so cool, and his hands were trembling with terrible memories and fresh wounds. His brother had almost gotten him killed, almost let him die on the hands of Wei Wuxian, pariah and patriarch.

 

The wound that would have left on his wife’s soul was too terrible to name.

 

He felt the rock beneath his skin and could lie still no longer, not with all of this. He had to stand, had to move.

 

Jiang Yanli had to know her brother did not cause this, and he could not go another moment without seeing his wife. He sat up, felt the creak of sore muscle and mending flesh, the slow motions of new tendons creeping into nerves.

 

He looked down at his chest and felt the memory of a hand, pressing through bone and flesh and—

 

He forced the thought down with all his pride, all his love. For now, that thought would lie untouched, those memories would be buried.

 

That hand was nothing but a nightmare. He could not start a war that would hurt Jiang Yanli, not even if he had seen his blood splatter across the ground.

 

It had splattered across Wei Wuxian too, and never had the man looked so hurt.Jin Zixuan had never thought he would prefer a smug smile on that damned face, but here and now he wanted nothing more than to forget when blood looked like, decorating pale skin ashen.

 

He looked down again, proving his will stronger than fragile memories. The stretch of his stomach was red and raw but unbroken. He had been run through, but all he saw across his chest was newly healed skin and the puckers of a scar. A master healer had been at work here, patching his body into health.

 

Where, exactly, was he?

 

A clatter of footsteps answered him, a woman in threadbare robes walking into the barren space of the cave.

 

“You are awake, good.” Her eyes trailed over his bare chest, clinical and judging. “And sitting up, with wounds. Are men always so foolish?”

 

It was a woman with fierce eyes and a sword at her waist, face rough with the struggles of life but no less beautiful. She had an air of command that Jin Zixuan could not ignore, not with the familiar motions of her hands.

 

This was Wen Qing, healer of the Qishan Wen Sect, and he knew her face from a thousand battlefields and their aftermaths.

 

These stone walls could mark only one place.  

 

He was on the Burial Mounds. His moved before he could think, struggling to move his feet to the ground. Here he would be relentless as always. “Where is Wei Ying?”

 

The stone was cold against his palms, where they trembled on the ground. Why was he still trembling? He could not afford to be weak now, not with freshly healed skin scabbing over his chest.

 

His wife waited for him, and oh how he must be strong.

 

Wen Qing snorted, the sound rough and inelegant for a woman of her stature. She raised lean hands and let golden qi shine between her fingers, kneeling at his side without a thought for dignity or dirt.

 

He wished she would stand proud, become the honorable enemy he had once known.

 

But the Wen Clan didn’t have honor left to them, now, did they? In the gilded halls of Koi Tower, that had felt so very right.

 

Here, standing before a woman in cheap robes that had saved his life, it felt different.

 

She poked and prodded at his chest for a moment longer before letting out a grim smile. Then she helped him up, and he felt no cold stone over his back.

 

His chest itched all the more, and he pushed down the sensation.For Jiang Yanli.  

 

“I sent him away. He was too busy weeping at your bedside to let me work,” she said, the words a strange mix of harsh and fond, bouncing off the cave walls to startle him.

 

The healer must be joking; he could hardly imagine the proud face of Wei Wuxian turned to tears over his fate.

 

But that was so unimportant, at this terrible moment.

 

He was at the burial mounds, and that meant he had been saved. But had Wei Wuxian? Did his clan know the truth of that terrible ambush?

 

Was there war on his step-brother’s doorstep?

 

He didn’t know but could not sit and find out. His gilded skin demanded he stand, demanded he fix the mess his brothers had caused.

 

“I must leave,” he struggled forward, legs shaky as a newborn lamb. His pride twinged at the weakness, furious at the delay.

 

Jiang Yanli was waiting for him, with their child.

 

“Men,” Wen Qing said, scorn clear in the dry notes of her tone. She threw a rough robe at him, waited a beat for him to pull it on, and hoisted him up to support him across a strong shoulder.

 

Somehow, he had forgotten her skill with a blade was as deadly as his, had forgotten the strength of her arms. She had been a commander once and earned the respect of Wen Ruohan.

 

He had forgotten, and what a fool was he.

 

The fabric chaffed at his skin, inexpensive and coarse. He could feel the grain and knew it to be of poor make. In all the years of his life, he had not felt such a rough fabric used as clothing.

 

Had… had Wei Wuxian lived like this?

 

Under her strength, they stumbled out of the cave, following twists and turns through bloody walls. Bones lined their path, white as the scrolls that had fallen beside them. Both were stained with ink, marked by the frantic curl of a brush.

 

There had been chaos, here, and madness.

 

Jin Zixuan felt his jaw clench and hoped dearly that madness had not taken his brother in law’s mind.

 

Fresh air greeted them like the touch of wind on a summer’s day, hot and relentless. After the stone-chill invading his skin, he welcomed this like nothing else, let the sun touch him and warm him into something like normalcy.

 

He felt shaky and weak, but whole.

 

The light was harsh and bright, burning his eyes like it was out to scar him. But he could barely see that, eyes catching on the grim surroundings. The burial grounds were intimidatingly stark, bones lining the rise of endless walls and everything stained dark with old blood.

 

But he could see none of that. His eyes were drawn to quiet smiles and low voices, to sun shining on rough robes and work-worn faces.

 

Among tall cliff faces and blackened stone was the quiet murmuring of people, and this was all he could see. There was nothing but the stretch of low huts, the shambling wreck of a village. The Wen Remnants, forging a life under the Yiling Patriarch’s protection.

 

He had thought them fierce and deadly, enemies being sheltered away out of misplaced pity. But all he could see was poverty, and it sent regret lancing into his bones.

 

Had Wei Wuxian lived in this? Had a noble man truly been brought so low? Jin Zixuan felt a terrible pity creep into his skin, infectious and breaking over his pride.

 

The man he had once known to strike him in the face over Jiang Yanli would not have stood for this, he thought, in a moment of haunting memories.

 

That man had worn silk robes and walked with the pride of a young master.

 

The man that stood a hundred feet away was someone else entirely, and Jin Zixuan didn’t recognize the thin stretch of his arms. He was surrounded by the delighted giggles of children, laughing a sharp laugh into the air.

 

Wei Wuxian looked pale, a haunting pallor creeping over his face. The sun caught on the black stain of his robes and was dragged in and devoured. The color was so different from elegant gold and delicate purple that Jin Zixuan wanted to protect him.

 

His hands were shaking, noticeable even from this distance.

 

But he held the children steady, and laughed a happy laugh, and made them smile like the sun had come down from the sky to dance with them.

 

They were all in threadbare robes, but their grins were so very bright.

 

Light shone on bloodstained ground, but this is not what he saw. He saw bare huts and patched clothes, long faces and thin limbs.

 

He saw people.

 

He was wrong again, Jin Zixuan realized, for the hundredth and thousandth time. Wei Wuxian, with those trembling hands and playful smile, would never be able to stand aside in the face of inequality and mistreatment. He must have seen the remnants of the Wen Clan and been unable to step away.

 

The man had always been so relentless.

 

For so long, Jin Zixuan had hated him for it, with all the righteousness in his gilded skin. How dare this upstart judge him, strike him? How dare the man look down on him for his pride?

 

Now, he saw it with a brother’s eyes and felt worry creep into his bones as a terrible poison.  

 

If his wife saw this man, how deeply would her heart break? What had he let happen, through his inaction?

 

He didn’t know, but standing in this hot sun with rough robes wrapped around him, he couldn’t stop the thoughts.

 

And he didn’t want to.

 

A voice pipped up to his side, gentle and quiet with age. “Ah, the young master is awake! Would you care for some food?”

 

It was an old man speaking to him, with a craggily face but kind eyes. There was a long scar decorating his cheek that spoke of a life beyond a farming field.

 

But dirt was collected under his nails and his smile was kind. He was old enough to have seen the battlefields Jin Zixuan had walked into with pride and walked off drenched in blood.

 

He was old enough to have hate, and here he was offering Jin Zixuan some of the meager food off his plate.

 

“Yes, thank you,” he said, and meant it with all of his heart. A weakness was trembling up his gilded spine, and he felt the weight of the sun so heavily.

 

Had his pride so blinded him to this? Did anyone know of what truly lived here?

 

These were not Wen-dogs, these were not enemy combatants. These were people, in all their miserable and honest glory.

 

How had he not seen?

Chapter Text

It was a day with a painful dawn. The run crept over the horizon as a beacon, burning and terrible. The drumming sound of a thousand feet echoed off harsh stone and into his bones, made his skin tremble. The very walls seemed to bleed with force, creaking into a thousand shuddering motions.

 

It was a sound that he had known would come.

 

Wei Wuxian stood with a harsh finality, taking steps towards the maw of the Burial Grounds. His black robes brushed the ground and left behind his laughter, left behind his smiles. There was dread in him now, and he had a clenched jaw and the lacquered touch of Chenqing at his waist.

 

An army was on his doorstep, and it was his fault and poor luck again. He would not let his new family die, not now, not if there was blood in his veins and strength in his arms.

 

But he could only do so much.

 

The drums summoned him forward, and he took slow steps to the entrance, Wen Ning falling into place beside him as he walked. His friend looked grim and quiet, stiff skin unable to twist to unhappiness.

 

He couldn’t make any expressions these days, and Wei Wuxian had done that to him.

 

“Young master,” came the call, gentle and so very sad.

 

Wei Wuxian smiled against it, smiled like stone had cut into his lips. “You don’t need to be here, you know. You should leave, take your sister and the rest and go find a happy life.”

 

It was a pipe dream he knew, but he said it all the same. It was all he had hoped for the Wen remnants.

 

That timid face hardened, dead jaw stiff but eyes black and stubborn. “None of us have left, young master. And I am sorry, but I am going with you. I won’t—”

 

There was a pause, filled with no silence but the pounding of war drums. “I won’t leave you.”

 

Wei Wuxian felt the rising sun burn into his skin and wanted to cry. He wasn’t shocked, not when he knew his friend so well.

 

But he was furious with worry, mad with despair. They were standing with him and strolling at his side and choosing this death.

 

He couldn’t let them die here, but he didn’t know what could stop that fate.

 

Together, they walked to the front, and together, they faced down the stony faces of four Sect Leaders.

 

The four men stood a judgmental vigil at his gate, the proud lines of Nie Mingjue contrasting to the gentle but unstoppable force of Lan Xichen and the proud and sly rage of Jin Guangshan.

 

In white robes that glimmered like snow over smooth river rock, Lan Zhan stood beside his brother. As Wei Wuxian walked forward his eyes fell on that man, his old friend and older enemy.

 

Strong fingers twitched over Bichen’s hilt, and he felt a needle pierce his heart. Truly, the man must hate him so.

 

Jiang Cheng stood apart, a few steps away with a face like thunder given skin. Wei Wuxian looked at the clenched jaw of his brother and couldn’t bring himself to smile. He laughed instead, cold and sharp.

 

They rocked back at the sound, eyes glancing to Wen Ning beside him as if the man was a leashed dragon and not his friend.

 

“A welcome party, just for me. What brings you storming to my door?” The words cut the morning tension like a knife, infecting it and making it all the stronger.

 

He knew these men, had fought beside them and for them. He knew them, and here they stood, come to kill him.

 

They could take him and make his life into death for all he cared, but he couldn’t stand by and let them touch the others, not Wen Ning, not—

 

He couldn’t.

 

“You dare ask that after you killed my son?” Jin Guangshan’s voice was not righteous but oily, and it sent chills down Wei Wuxian’s spine. The gold peony shone on his robes, and a fan was held in a loose hand. He did not look furious but annoyed, face twisting into something like grief.

 

Wei Wuxian felt such anger, at that voice.

 

Words boiled on his tongue, boiled through his throat until he could hold them in no longer.

 

“One of your sons tried to kill me. Another laid down the foundation for an ambush. The third I saved. Is this what the Lanling Jin Sect calls honor?” He paused, and laughter caught on his voice dark and mocking. “Ah, but you don’t have any honor, do you, Jin Guangshan?”

 

The words were too harsh and too sharp and too much, and they would burn so many bridges. But he couldn’t keep them contained, couldn’t stop their press from his lungs.

 

He had tried so hard, and worked so long, to protect the people he loved. He had sacrificed every facet of his beloved life, every hope and comfort and—

 

And he would do it all again. But here and now Jin Guangshan accused him of killing the man his Shijie loved, and that was a step too far.

 

He did not look at Jiang Cheng, did not watch for his brother’s frustration. There was no need; he could hear it in the low snarl, quiet and desperate over rough stone.

 

Wei Wuxian did not look.

 

Cunning eyes flashed and the cultivators behind the Sect Leader rustled with discontent. “You dare accuse me of this? My heir is dead at your hands, madman. You have gone unchecked long enough.”

 

The words echoed out, pressing forward with the merciless sun and twisting the air into tension. Old bones lined the rocks above them, a thousand bodies given to death and misery here.

 

A thousand soldiers if Wei Wuxian wanted them. He took a breath, felt it shake from tired lungs and whispering out like darkness and desperation. At his side, Wen Ning shifted, motions stilted with death.

 

His friend would die with him, if he asked. Wei Wuxian didn’t know if there was another path before them but bloodshed. There was a weapon of iron and dark energy in his sleeve, and he rubbed contemplative fingers across it and wondered.

 

What price would he pay to save the Wen remnants? Would Jiang Cheng stand down, to live another day?

 

Would Wei Wuxian's death be enough to quench the fury in the air?

 

He did not know, but he knew they would not listen. Their minds were poisoned against him, poisoned by popular opinion and the tongue of whispers.

 

His gaze caught on white robes and golden eyes and he wondered if Lan Zhan would be the first to strike him down.

 

He hoped not.

 

But a proud voice broke the tension like the rays of a gentle sun, ruthless but yet kind. “No, father, I am not.”

 

There was a collective inhale, a thousand lungs breathing shocked breaths. Jin Zixuan strode down the rocky path in threadbare robes and with a king’s bearing, each footstep precise and firm.

 

He stopped at Wei Wuxian’s side, drawing to a slow halt and staring down his father with a calm face. There was a healthy sheen to his skin, and he looked as if he slept an eternity and risen immortal and young.

 

Wei Wuxian couldn’t help but glance down at his chest, at the hole that was now healed. He would not forget how blood and ribs had looked, cracked open, for the rest of his life.

 

“Everything the Yiling Patriarch has said is true. I was saved by this man and the remnants of the Wen Clan that live here. Our pride had been damaged by poor behavior, and I will not stand for it.”

 

“Child—” began Jin Guangshan, face contorted and strained. That silky expression of rage was melting into worry, and had Wei Wuxian the mind, he would have laughed at it.

 

But Jin Zixuan was standing by his side and speaking in his defense and he could not think.

 

There was the sound of rustling robes and low murmurs, breaking through the Sect Leader’s voice and drawing every eye.

 

Lan Zhan, one of the twin jades of Gusu Lan and with a face more beautiful than polished jade, strode forward.

 

His steps towards Wei Wuxian were confident and sharp, his lips set to calm but a maelstrom in his eyes.

 

No blow came, no harsh strike of the sword and no challenge. Lan Zhan stopped before him for the space of a long heartbeat, and then turned on foot to stand at his side. White robes swirled around him at the motion, catching the sun and fracturing its rays.

 

I stand with him, that motion said, with clean lines and the elegant drape of a forehead ribbon.

 

Wei Wuxian felt like he couldn’t breathe with happiness, with disbelief. Lan Zhan was standing with him, beside him, for him.

 

Maybe hate wasn’t what stirred in those golden eyes after all. “Lan Zhan,” he breathed, and received a low nod in response.

 

He couldn’t breathe.

 

“The Gusu Lan Sect would support Wei Wuxian,” spoke Lan Xichen, the words proud but gentle. The man sounded like spring rain come to wash away too much blood and pain. “There has been too much strife and bloodshed between us clans and for the Wen. It should end with peace now.”

 

Wei Wuxian wanted to turn his face to the sun and rest in its glare, wanted to smile. He didn’t understand this fate, not with his too-thin fingers and pale skin.

 

He did not deserve this, he thought, feeling the splatter of Jin Zixuan’s blood across his face again.

 

But the man stood beside him now and spoke otherwise.  

 

Jiang Cheng walked forward with lightning crackling across his fingers and jaw sent into the edge of fury. He looked like a brother made angry, and Wei Wuxian had never been more grateful to see those eyes.

 

He had worried for his brother’s duties and pride, but he should have known Jiang Cheng would stand beside him.

 

The man trusted him, and that felt like benediction.

 

“The Yunmeng Jiang Sect stands with Wei Wuxian as well.”

 

Two of the great clans supporting him, another brought to shame over accusations. It was enough to change fate, enough to make the pariah listened to and heard.

 

It was enough to make Wei Wuxian smile, disbelieving and fragile. Corpses would dance at his fingers and before the sound of his flute, but right now all he needed was his brother.

 

He glanced at Jin Zixuan, tall and proud in threadbare robes. The glint of righteousness in that face was unmistakable.

 

Perhaps all he needed were two brothers, after all. 

 

The sun shone relentless overhead, and the broad body of Nie Mingjue stared down at him, gaze heavy and burning. The man looked like he was weighing the truth on a trader’s scale, watching how Wei Wuxian shifted.

 

The warrior’s gaze shifted to Lan Xichen and grew soft. For a moment, there was silence but for the quiet communication of sworn brothers, the crinkling of eyes and the pursing of lips.

 

At last, Nie Mingjue stepped forward with the force of a mountain, glimmering and deadly in the sunlight.

 

Wei Wuxian felt the remnants of tension creep from his spine like water flowing off rock. 

 

“The Qinghe Nie Sect as well. Now cut this polite talk and deal with the problems like cultivators and not gossiping children.” The words were not harsh but blunt, and the crowd of cultivators shifted at them, shifted like leaves caught in the breeze.

 

This was a thing no one had foreseen, and Wei Wuxian couldn’t quite believe it. Fate had never been kind to him, and now the clouds had parted and the sun felt less brutal.

 

Jin Zixuan spoke out, and he felt every word shake his bones. “The issue, Sect Leader, is that my brother in law was set up to kill me.”

 

A proud jaw clenched, the man strong and firm in ragged robes. “It is an insult to my wife’s family, and I will not stand for it.”

 

This was a brother’s support, unexpected but so very precious. This was so much more than good that he couldn’t bring himself to bear the words.

 

All he could do, in the end, was smile a real smile.

 

 

⊱ ━━━━.⋅❈⋅.━━━━⊰

 

 

For long months Wei Wuxian had been protector and pariah, shield and curse. He had carved out his bones to keep the Wen remnants alive and done it gladly and with feeling.

 

But it had been so much to bear, so much weight to carry.

 

In the aftermath of that fateful sunny day, that weight had been stripped from his shoulders. He was free, light as a bird and given hope.

 

We must take them in, Jin Zixuan had said, and the world listened. That man didn’t have the stain of blood on his fingers, wasn’t marked by demonic cultivation.

 

He wasn’t feared, and that made all the difference.

 

On the first day after the siege that ended in peace, a thousand cultivators camped outside the burial mounds’ walls. Rumors spread like wildfire through their ranks, but preparations spread even faster; a town for fifty was to be established, deep in the heartland of Lanling.

 

Wei Wuxian turned to the man beside him and smiled like the sun had shone over the horizon.

 

“Thank you,” he said, and meant it with his whole heart. It was the softest he had ever spoken to Jin Zixuan, the softest they had ever been with each other. For long years they had been sharp words and fierce stares, always predators circling each other for weakness.  

 

Always had he thought this man not good enough for Shijie. He knew now that he had been wrong.

 

Jin Zixuan just looked at him with noble eyes and the pride of a general. He had changed from threadbare robes to the sheen of golden silk, but his face was still understanding.

 

“No, Wei Ying, thank you.” The man took a breath, careful and measured. “You saved my life, and now I can go home and see my son again.”

 

A-ling, Wei Wuxian thought, and wondered if this peace would let him know his nephew.

 

“I—“ The man paused, the words seeming difficult and strained. “I know we have had our differences but know that I consider you a brother. I hope someday you will consider me the same.”

 

Wind pressed between them, gentle on a summer’s day. It was hot, and the itch of his robes was strong, but all Wei Wuxian could focus on was the respectful nod Jin Zixuan gave him.

 

He threw back his head and laughed, delighted and with an unfamiliar happiness crawling in his chest.

 

Who knew that his precious family could grow so easily?

 

The curl of his smile grew teasing, the sun beat into his pale skin and kept him warm. He grinned into Jin Zixuan’s proud face and felt hope.

 

“Keep making Shijie smile, and we will see.”

 

 

On the second day, with a smile like the sun over water and the grace of a lotus bloom, Shijie swept into the camp.

 

She stepped gently, with the hesitance of recent childbirth, and Jin Zixuan hovered at her elbow as the picture of a devoted husband.

 

Wei Wuxian watched her approach, felt his fingers tremble. He had run to her side before, laughed a delighted laugh and smiled as only she could make him. He had made her grin, with tall tales and spun stories.

 

He had been a younger brother, if only to see her happiness glimmer in the air. Shijie could have conquered the world with that happiness, if she had wanted to.

 

But now he hesitated, in threadbare robes and with face pale with madness. For long months he had been the Yiling Patriarch, made of corpse bones and flutist of the dead.

 

It had been so long since he’d seen her, so long since they had spoken and laughed together. They were far from the children that had danced on wooden piers and smiled into pork rib soup.

 

They were so far from their youth, here, where bones cracked beneath his heels. He had gaunt hands and blood dripping from his hair like dye. His skin was stained by moonlight and invention, and his soul by folly.

 

Jin Zixuan had almost died at his hands, by his carelessness. Did he deserve to touch her?

 

“Shijie,” he began, the words soft and weighed down by countless dark thoughts. How many nights had he spent alone, surrounded by corpses and bloody talismans?

 

How many times had he thought of the curve of lotus blooms across water and known regret?

 

He wanted to cry, wanted to rage, wanted to break down onto rough stone and let out his self. He took a shaking breath, let it ripple out through clean air. The camp around him was bustling with nervous energy and a terrible hope.

 

He knew it to not be hope but promise. Jin Zixuan had sworn to take them in. Jiang Cheng had backed him up, faced twisted by frustration but words firm.

 

The Wen remnants would have a home, free of suffering and prejudice. At long last his responsibilities were done. For a breathless moment he could let himself have the space to open his eyes, to stare into water and see his reflection.

 

He could see what he had become, on this path.

 

What he saw did not make him happy, now. He was stained and broken and bloody with madness, he was wrong, he was too gaunt and too pale and—

 

And he wasn’t enough anymore. He did not deserve Shijie’s kind touch.

 

So he did not approach, did not reach out. His trembling fingers stayed at his side, and though he laughed it was a quiet sound of hesitation.

 

He could not reach out.

 

But Jiang Yanli knew. She always knew; for long years she had been able to read him like a finely inked-scroll.

 

A younger brother could never keep secrets from his sister, and now she took steps to reach him.

 

Here her fine robes rustled, silk brushing like the whispers of the wind. Here Jin Zixuan shadowed her footsteps and looked on Wei Wuxian like he was family. Here she smiled such a gentle smile.

 

The sun rose with her smile, he thought, as she lifted a hand to cradle his face. Her fingers were so warm, soft as the kiss of fog on his skin. They brought back lotus seedpods and fine braids decorating his hair, a thousand moments spaced into two decades of life together. He was dragged into a childhood he had left behind, into memories he had treasured above all others.

 

When had he let himself forget them?

 

“Let it out, A-xian. We are the Jiang Clan. When we want to laugh, we laugh.”

 

The look in her eyes was glimmering and proud, the expression of someone who held truth in their fingertips.

 

Wei Wuxian used to think there was nothing Shijie could not fix. Long years of war had proved him wrong, shown him that blood and blade had a place in the harsh corners of the world.

 

Now, with her hand cradling his cheek, he wondered if he had been wrong yet again.

 

“And when we want to cry, we cry. It is okay, A-xian.”

 

She wiped away his tears, caught them with gentle fingers. He felt safe as he had not since—

 

He had not felt safe since this fool’s war began. He took a breath, felt it hitch in his chest and emerge a choked laugh. Pale fingers twitched at his side, twitched to pull her forward into a hug.

 

But he did not need to, because Shijie had always known his thoughts as if they were her own. He folded into the space of his sister’s arms, rested his face into the silk of her shoulder like he could finally know rest.

 

And he cried, with Shijie smiling that quiet smile that shone as the sun.

 

“It is okay to cry,” she said, and so he did.

Chapter Text

The sun was shining like a living thing, gentle and mild but so very bright. It touched breathless on the young grass, brushing over patches of ground and winding paths.

 

It was a beautiful sun, for a beautiful day, and Wei Wuxian felt fragile contentment burrow in his bones. The energy of the dead was gone, corpse bile washed from his skin and sunlight replacing it ever so gently.

 

He felt happy.

 

It was a strange feeling for this beautiful day, but there was so much strange about this place and its gentle grass.

 

He turned to the road and watched it bustle, watched as the temporary camp of yesterday was turned into a home. There walked A-yuan, trailing behind Wen Qing with a basket of flowers. Here worked Granny, old hands digging into the ground and laying wood into place.

 

Between the Wen Remnants worked disciples from so many clans, with strong muscles and wary eyes but—

 

But they were helping.

 

The sun shone down onto the land and Wei Wuxian knew happiness.

 

Lanling was a land of peerless skies and fertile fields, he thought, as he watched Wen Ning hold up the shell of a building with a single arm.

 

It would be a good place to settle for a while.

 

A rustling and a shimmer drew his eyes up the sky, made him stare into the gentle light of the sun. There, a glimmering flash of divine steel, a trembling current in the air. Wei Wuxian swallowed, breath catching in his throat for a long heartbeat.

 

Then he smiled.

 

The stream of pale robes against the sky was unmistakable. Before that bright light, harsh but fair, Lan Zhan looked like the moon come to drive the sun across the horizon.

 

Wei Wuxian felt a terrible happiness bubble in his chest, followed by a quake of dread.

 

Here he stood in this gentle-green field. Here, he was threadbare and shabby with madness, coated by the stain of blood and crushed bone.

 

But Shijie had cradled his face and brushed away his tears, had pressed smooth fingers into his cheeks and smiled at him. Her smile was such a brilliant thing, he thought, and felt the warmth of it linger on his skin like a blessing.

 

He was not worthy, but she had given him forgiveness and that made his spine straighten with pride.

 

He smiled, as Lan Zhan landed. He laughed, a sister’s permission making him strong, and waved an enthusiastic hand.

 

“Lan Zhan,” he called, walking towards the man with a dancing step and a grin that could light the sun. It only felt like a half-lie, and that was such progress. The day was so beautiful, and A-yuan was following Wen Qing like she had hung the moon.

 

It was a good day.

 

“Wei Ying,” came the response, gentle and methodical. But the voice was tight, bound by emotion Wei Wuxian couldn’t name.

 

That face was calm as ice, but a storm swirled in golden eyes. In the long years Wei Wuxian had known Lan Zhan, he had never seen such a glimmering of emotion.

 

“Ah, Lan Zhan, you missed me, didn’t you?” He laughed out, testing the moonlit waters of Gusu for a response. He expected the tension of a no, the hard stare of a never.

 

But Lan Zhan just stared at him with eyes like thunder and a face like jade. The man spoke a single word, and it echoed through the air as an avalanche.

 

“Yes.”

 

A healing heart beat in his chest, Wei Wuxian knew, but it was driving into a fever-pitch now. The sun was shining onto his skin and leaving him warm, leaving him breathless. When had that sun grown so relentless?

 

The man had missed him. The man had missed him.

 

“What—” He stopped, felt the light burn overhead and the gentle clamor of construction surround him.

 

He was in the beginnings of a home he didn’t need to guard, anymore. With Jin Zixuan’s promise and careful guard, the Wen remnants could be left to survive on their own. He was bound and trapped by duty no longer.

 

He could leave. Wei Wuxian was as free as he had ever been, and the corpse bile had been washed from his skin.

 

Lan Zhan had missed him.

 

“You can’t just say that, Lan Zhan. With a face as fine as yours, how is that fair?” His voice was teasing but his smile held only truth, only the delicate beat of his heart.

 

He was still worn from too many tears, still raw and vulnerable. He could not bear this acceptance.

 

The other man just hummed and stepped in, standing beside him as specter and guardian. Wei Wuxian looked up at that beautiful face, traced hungry eyes over the lines of an elegant jaw and gilded eyes. The man made him think of gentler times, of long hours spent in the Library Pavilion with ink staining the stretch of his fingers.

 

He thought of Come back to Gusu with me, and wondered at why the man was here.

 

“You here to try to drag me back to Gusu with you, Lan Zhan?” He couldn’t help the words, couldn’t help the fear clutching at his throat. He smiled and laughed, spoke with a teasing tone, but he felt such worry.

 

He didn’t want Lan Zhan to be here to remake him. But there was no need for fear, no need for that horrible dread.

 

Lan Zhan stared at him with golden eyes and spoke quiet and firm.

 

“No.” The man said, voice melodious as the guqin he played with long fingers and endless skill. “I am here to stay.”

 

The words echoed like thunder and the crash of a waterfall, breaking over Wei Wuxian’s skin and leaving him breathless.

 

To stay, the man said, like he could drop every responsibility that bound him to the Lan Clan and leave.

 

To stay, the man said, like something here was worth staying for.

 

Wei Wuxian couldn’t hear for the heartbeat pounding beneath his skin. The sun was so warm, and he couldn’t breathe.

 

He spoke instead, disbelieving and hopeful.

 

“Here? You want to stay here? Why would you want to stay here?”

 

He couldn’t understand, didn’t know what words to speak. Why would the man of jade and peerless skill want to stay here? There was nothing but a half built village here, nothing but the remnants of a clan Wei Wuxian had worked so hard to protect.

 

The grass was green and lovely, but it was so humble.

 

Lan Zhan shook his head, strands of black hair shifting with the movement like ink spilled into clouds. He looked as frustrated as Wei Wuxian had seen him, the lines of emotion curling out from his eyes and cracking into that peerless face.

 

“Not here, Wei Ying. I will stay with you.”

 

With… him?

 

Wei Wuxian blinked against the shock in his chest, against the happiness. This was too strange to be believed to strange to be real.

 

He had blood curling like smoke against his skin and gaunt hands that were stained crimson. There was no joy in his face but a sharp fury, and not gentle edges but anger.

 

The Yiling Patriarch was not worth Lan Zhan.

 

But here the man stood, with golden eyes staring into his and speaking a thousand promises. Here Wei Wuxian stood, with Shijie’s forgiveness pressed into his cheek.

 

Had he cried enough to earn this, yesterday?

 

Wei Wuxian took a step to the side. Lan Zhan followed, effortless and casual as if he was strolling across the polished stone of Gusu.

 

He took another step, and again, Lan Zhan followed.

 

The laugh that cracked across his voice was unstoppable and breathless, too desperate and too real and so happy.

 

“Lan Zhan, you really are ridiculous.” The words were fond, and Wei Wuxian smiled as he spoke them.

 

He forgot about the blood on his robes, of the corpse bones lining his memories.

 

He looked at Lan Zhan and smiled under that relentless sun.

 

For a moment of delirium, he thought the man smiled back, small and hopelessly precious.

 

But a blink took it away, and he knew it to be a trick of the light.

 

 

 

It took a month to build the village, even with Wei Ning’s strength and Wei Wuxian’s skill. At the end, standing among sturdy buildings and planted fields, he could only feel a deep satisfaction.

 

The sun shone a nourishing light on the crops growing around him, bright and cheerful. The wall built around the village was low and made of a rough and charming stone.

 

It was for privacy and not protection, and that made all the difference.  

 

Beside the largest building was a small pond, and on its still surface floated a delicate spread of lotus blooms, white and pink petals catching the light and leaving it breathless.

 

He glanced at them and watched the curl of their steams, saw the healthy green of the pads floating atop the water.

 

The transplants were doing very well, he thought, with a dancing grin. Shijie’s next visit might make them bloom, knowing the strength of her smile. Maybe they would wither beneath Jiang Cheng’s furious glare, but it didn’t matter.

 

He would take curled flowers and lightning crackling like thunder for his brother’s company.

 

Slow, with all the time in the world and a lazy happiness, he took a breath of spring air, let it rush into his lungs and fill him.

 

It was a good day.

 

He lifted a modest porcelain cup, the wooden table before him sanded smooth and homely. Steam threaded into his nose and made his spine drop its tension.

 

He leaned back and basked in the sun like a cat spread out under the noon-day light.

 

It was a beautiful day to watch the lotus blooms float across the pond. It would be all the better when he could pluck their seeds and show A-yuan the best way to peel the delicate food.

 

Wei Wuxian smiled into the sunshine.

 

The robes wrapped around A-yuan’s shoulders were not threadbare but thick and soft. The tea steeping in his cup was not humble but fine and delicate. The medicine in Wen Qing’s house was not the scraped together remnants of plants but the cultivation of Gusu Lan.

 

It was plentiful, and he finally knew rest.

 

He took another sip of tea, let the flavor linger on his tongue. It was good, calming and centering in a way he could afford to appreciate.

 

But he had always been more for wine than tea, and years of an inventor’s lifestyle had not changed that.

 

Maybe Lan Zhan and he could journey out and fetch Emperor’s Smile. It was a treat he had thought of much, over the long years.

 

What he wouldn’t give to drink it again and share a cup with Lan Zhan. Could the man hold his liquor, he wondered, fingers tracing around the rim of his plain cup.

 

Would Lan Zhan stumble and fall? Would he lose that carved-jade composure? Or would he drink like a god of wine and not even blush?

 

Wei Wuxian didn’t know, but for the first time in years he had the space to find out. There were gentle lotus flowers in the pond beside him, and the sun shone across sturdy buildings and the humble beginnings of a new life.  

 

Here and now, he could lay down his burdens and rest. He had been given no greater gift.

 

 

 

On the eve of the sixth month, Wei Wuxian became the inventor and innovator of the cultivation world.

 

He still didn’t quite know how it had happened.

 

It was a regular visit from Shijie, her smile outshining the very face of the sun. She walked through the humble village with fine golden robes and a quiet happiness that spread through the air. Jin Zixuan walked at her side, expression softened from pride to the doting care of a man in love.

 

Wei Wuxian just grinned like a loon.

 

The three of them settled beside the lotus blooms, steaming cups of tea resting before them and the clamoring giggling of children layered in the background.

 

They laughed and giggled themselves, Wei Wuxian doing anything in his power to make Shijie smile. The world revolved around her laugh, and it always made the blood beneath his nails feel so powerless.

 

He would do anything for that smile.

 

It took only a moment for Lan Zhan to emerge from the chaos of the playing children, peerless face calm as ever but hair ever-so-slightly tangled. In a glimmer of white robes, the man walked up beside him, folding to the ground beside Wei Wuxian with endless grace.

 

If those charmed robes could bear stains, Wei Wuxian knew there would be muddy marks from hip to foot from the playful dancing of A-yuan.

 

He wanted to see those marks like nothing else.

 

Shijie’s voice drew his attention up and away, to a quiet smile and a beautiful laugh. Golden eyes lingered in his mind, but Wei Wuxian pushed them away.

 

Lan Zhan had already proven he wasn’t going anywhere.  

 

The sun glimmered off Shijie’s face as she spoke, delicate and kind. “A-xian, have you finished that talisman?”

 

Ah, he thought, setting his tea down on the table with a careless hand. Lan Zhan caught it before it could tumble over, strong hands reaching past him to hold the modest porcelain.

 

He spared a single cheery smile for the man, watched golden eyes go bright and happy for an instant, before he leapt up to dig through chaos of his inventions. 

 

The talisman, he thought, discarding the scraps of inventions in search of it. He needed to find it, for Shijie, for her quiet request. This table in the glorious sun was where he held court, and it was scattered with brushes and the tattered remains of a thousand scrolls and half-written ideas.

 

There had been an effort to clean before Shijie’s visit, but it had only succeeded in moving the mess into hiding. There was no hope for it now. 

 

Wei Wuxian had tried, at least, but now he just laughed and dived into the wreckage of an inventor’s scattered mind.

 

It took him a long moment and two deep sips of tea before he found the talisman inside the chaos. A pale scroll shimmered with delicately marked lines, black ink bleeding dark on the white surface.

 

It was a careful thing, made to let out a gentle light on the darkest nights.

 

A-ling had been sleeping poorly, Shijie had said, and asked for a light that would not risk a fire. Wei Wuxian had never brought the full force of his genius to bear so quickly.

 

He handed it to Shijie with proud hands and watched her smile shine even brighter. He hadn’t thought it possible, but Shijie had always lived by their clan’s motto.

 

The lotus petals drifted across water and the sun glimmered around them, breaking before the force of their happiness.

 

Wei Wuxian just laughed and stole his tea back from Lan Zhan’s careful hands.

 

“Have you considered sending your inventions, formally, Wei Wuxian?” Jin Zixuan’s voice was cautious but polite, born of pride but familiar.

 

They had spent six months learning to be brothers, and that bond was taking root between them now. It was still fragile, but it had a strong foundation and Shijie’s smile to give it purpose.

 

So he sipped his tea on this sunny day and considered it. “Sending them in as in giving my inventions away?”

 

The thought wasn’t appealing, really. So much death had come from his hands and the strokes of his brush. He shifted, leaning towards Lan Zhan’s comforting presence. In the glimmering light of the sun it was hard to remember the darkest times, where bone had cracked beneath his fingers and marrow had flowed onto his skin.

 

But he still could, and that hurt all the worse.

 

“Yes, with credit.” Jin Zixuan nodded, elegant and refined. The man’s eyes were dancing over Shijie’s hands, watching for any hint of exhaustion. A childbirth was exhausting, Wei Wuxian remembered, and watched Shijie’s fingers with double the precision.

 

“I think you could do a lot of good, A-xian.” Shijie’s words were soft and her smile kind. She reached forward to press a loving palm onto his arm, and the warmth made him feel clean and bloodless.

 

One invention had saved the life of her husband. Another had almost taken it.

 

What would do the least harm?

 

He smiled, but this was a fragile thing beside the glimmering lotus blossoms.

 

“Ah, maybe maybe. Shijie, I can just make useful things and send them to you.”

 

Things that couldn’t be used for war, he thought, remembering the Wen blood on his hands. He hadn’t needed to lift Chenqing to his lips in months, but the black lacquer flute still hung at his waist.

 

It was a weapon and reminder, for what he had almost wrought.

 

Could he move the world forward? Could he shape the future? Could he do it without cursing more people to death?

 

His fist clenched at his side, restless and trembling. There was so much he didn’t know, so much he couldn’t. The future wasn’t his to know, but it was his to shape.

 

That was all the more terrifying. Desperate, he reached for Lan Zhan, for the familiar weight of calloused fingers. They had grown to fit into the same space so well, these past months, that the action was instinctive.

 

The man rubbed a firm thumb into his palm and Wei Wuxian felt his heart gentle.

 

“I’ll think on it, Shijie,” he said, and melted into the warmth radiating from his hand. The sun shone so brightly, but it held nothing on those calloused fingers.

 

Wei Wuxian wanted to feel that hand forever.

 

 

 

Two months later, he delivered patterns for demonic attractors to the hands of the Gusu Lan Sect, and watched them become common. The patterns went out with Lan Xichen’s careful promises and more careful scrutiny.

 

He stood beneath the sun and watched the world being to notice him as something other than a war-beast.

 

Lan Zhan held his hand then too.

 

 

 

 

It took him a year to realize he was in love.

 

The sun was setting on the sleepy village, light breaking over carved wooden walls and shimmering through a thousand blades of grass. He watched it and felt all its fracturing light as if it was his own.

 

It had been a long day of invention, and it would be a longer night. Energy was thrumming through his veins, relentless and manic. It bubbled up like acid and he couldn’t keep it at bay.

 

Once it had been turned to a bloody purpose. Now it would be turned to a protective one.

 

Sleep wouldn’t come tonight, he knew. He stretched up, let his spine crack into a symphony of static sound. There was too much impatience in him, and he needed to let loose his dancing steps.

 

Had Lan Zhan returned from Gusu, he wondered? It had been three long days; surely the man was done by now. How long could the drab halls and endless rules keep him occupied anyway?

 

Wei Wuxian was far more interesting, and this sleepy town filled with manic invention and children’s laughter was home, wasn’t it?

 

He stretched again, standing with a long sigh and a symphony of stiff muscles. The night was young, and his hands were barely shaking from overuse. Yet here he was thinking of a man far away and in mourning robes.

 

Here he was, waiting for Lan Zhan like a bride bound to home.

 

He laughed, felt amusement curl over the warmth in his chest. He liked that thought, liked the ideal dream his life had become.

 

What a strange turn of fate, two prominent cultivators settled into gentle invention and quiet days.

 

He did not have to wait for long. Methodical steps echoed across beaten earth and into his bones, and he turned to greet the sound.

 

Lan Zhan strode forward like a tiger, all contained strength and endless elegance. Fine white robes rippled in the moonlight, shaking over the earth and shining as silver.

 

The man looked beautiful, of perfect pedigree and bearing, but Wei Wuxian could only see Lan Zhan.

 

“Ah, Lan Zhan, you took so long? I made congee!”

 

The man just hummed, dropping down beside Wei Wuxian and laying a calloused palm across the strength of his thigh. It burned into his skin, into his robes. It felt like the sun had come to rest across him and given him life.

 

He wanted to lean into the touch and so he did, taking all that Lan Zhan allowed.

 

It was a good thing the man allowed him so much. It was a good thing he was so warm. It was a good thing Wei Wuxian wanted to grin into golden eyes.

 

This domestic life had never been something he thought he would enjoy, but now—

 

Now with invention at his fingertips and Lan Zhan keeping him company, he could hardly imagine another life.

 

Lan Zhan looked at him with molten eyes and lifted something off up. It took Wei Wuxian a moment to register the small bottles, the fine pottery emblazoned by stark red characters.

 

Emperor’s Smile was something he would always recognize, even long years kept from its taste.

 

He laughed, the sound delighted and endlessly happy. The sun had come to rest beside him, bringing fine liquor and great company.

 

“Ah Lan Zhan, for me? You are going to spoil me you know!” He pulled the jugs from the man’s calloused hand, scooted across the ground to lean closer.

 

The bottle opened easily under his clever fingers, and he took a long and delirious swallow. It tasted like smoke and smooth liquor, like the fog over mountains and the wet oak of a long rainstorm.

 

It tasted delicious, and he hummed around the mouthful.

 

Golden eyes hadn’t looked away, intense and burning. He smiled into that peerless face, laughed through the gentle warmth floating in his chest. The moon made Lan Zhan look like a statue carved from jade and decorated lovely with silver.

 

Wei Wuxian’s lungs felt so tight. Had he caught a cold? A-yuan had been ill a week ago, sniffling into the air like he was dying.

 

Wei Wuxian must have caught that passing sickness, for his chest to feel so tight. 

 

“You want some, Lan Zhan?” He held out the bottle from tempting fingers, letting his grin go reckless and inviting.

 

He expected a no, expected a shaken head but no judgement.

 

Instead, Lan Zhan hooked the jar from his fingers and took a long swallow, contemplative and serious. There was a moment of silence, as the moon shone down around them and Wei Wuxian laughed in surprise.

 

Had Lan Zhan even drunk before? Did he know how to handle it?

 

Wei Wuxian didn’t know, and he couldn’t wait to find out. He opened his mouth to speak, a grin dancing across his face and over his heart.

 

“Lan Zh—”

 

The words were cut off by lips pressed against his. They tasted faintly of liquor, but all he could think of was their warmth, how they were slightly wet and soft against his.

 

Lan Zhan was kissing him. It was a bright summer’s day, Wei Wuxian had never felt happier, and Lan Zhan was kissing him.

 

The smell of sandalwood consumed him, spread across his skin and soaked into his soul. He opened his mouth, let Lan Zhan press closer, let the kiss fall deep and devourous.

 

After four frantic beats of his heart, after a lifetime and an eternity and all the spinning turns of a golden core he no longer had, Wei Wuxian could breathe again.

 

Lan Zhan had pulled back, just enough to stare at him. Their breath was shared like smoke, hot and desperate.

 

Oh, he thought, blinking into golden eyes. They shone like they held the sun, swirling with a thousand perfect memories.

 

I love him.

 

⊱ ━━━━.⋅❈⋅.━━━━⊰

 

There was a steaming pot in his hand, hot to the touch but not searing his dead skin. It smelled thick and oaky with the bloom of summer, and Wen Ning had been glad at its smell.

 

It was a fine tea, expensive and smooth. But this was hardly important, really.

 

It was the Young Master’s favorite tea, and so Wen Ning was glad to have it in the village. He had prepared a pot, as he always did when the sun had begun to dip into the sky and scrolls were cast across Wei Wuxian’s table.

 

He rounded the corner with a quiet step, a gentle smile lingering in his cheeks. It was difficult to smile, through dead muscle and relentless rage, difficult to move the muscles into something that wasn’t a snarl.

 

But the Young Master had spent a day poking his cheeks until the expression was possible, with effort. Wen Ning could never express how much that gesture meant.

So he would bring tea everyday instead.

 

The first thing he saw was white robes pressed against black. The second was a spilled jug of liquor, lying to the side and dripping onto the smooth ground.

 

The third was something he wasn’t meant to see.

 

If he hadn’t been long-dead and blood-less, he would have flushed crimson as the sunset. The pot in his fingers was searingly hot, but he felt like his eyes were burning even more.

 

He had never leapt away faster, in all his life.

 

Perhaps it was best if he did not deliver the tea, today.