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jade still unbroken

Chapter Text

Wei WuXian was running out of ideas. He’d asked about Wen Ning, the demonic cultivation, the flute, even his gods damned hairstyle. Whatever it was that caused the other man to recognize him back on Dafan mountain, Lan XiChen’s seemingly endless determination to not give anything away would not fucking bulge.

 

The First Jade was sitting on the opposite end of the table, drink still untouched. The smile normally etched onto his face was wavering slightly as his head bent downwards. His posture was firm, shoulders squared and hands gripping at his robes. He gave no indication of hearing Wei WuXian’s questions, much less of intending to give a response.

 

Wei WuXian squirmed in his seat, eyes darting from his lap to Lan XiChen to anywhere around the room that wasn’t the two of them. He’d never been good with silence, and running out of ideas only meant there was that much less to fill the air between them with.

 

If only Lan Zhan was here. I’ve never been able to stay silent around him even when I wanted to.

 

Wei WuXian perked up, almost falling over from the sudden movement. Of course. Mentioning Lan Zhan will be enough to make him drop his guard and then I'll fucking get him.

 

”How are things with Lan Zh—with Second Master Lan?”

 

Lan XiChen recoiled as if he’d been struck, eyes widening and his whole frame jerking back. A breath left him and only returned after several seconds, though this would be impossible to catch for someone not specifically looking for it. He soon drew himself up again, returning to his original position. This time, however, something was missing. His shoulders hunched forward ever so slightly and his eyes seemed to have faded somewhat. The smile was still present, but smaller and even more tense around the edges. Almost as if it was a challenge to keep it there at all.

 

He shook his head slightly, eyes throwing themselves up to meet Wei WuXian’s. His grip on his robes tightened. ”WangJi no longer resides in the Cloud Recesses, nor is he a member of the GusuLan sect.”

 

The air left Wei WuXian’s lungs as he flinched back, pupils wide. His breathing picked up into shallow pants for the longest seconds of Wei WuXian’s newly restored life before finally settling back to genuine breaths.

 

Lan Zhan leaving the GusuLan sect was unthinkable. Impossible. He was the Second Young Master Lan, the Second Jade, Lan QiRen’s favorite student. The pinnacle of everything the GusuLan sect valued. The Sect Elders all loved him, would never let someone as perfect as him leave. He was the great HanGuang-Jun and he belonged at the Cloud Recesses.

 

So what the fresh hell was this?

 

Wei WuXian opened his mouth, but one look at Lan XiChen snapped it shut before any sound could even begin to form.

 

Those few words must have taken the last of Lan XiChen’s composure, because he looked closer to Jiang Cheng following the burning of Lotus Pier than the seemingly perfect Sect Leader everyone believed him to be. The difference was that while Jiang Cheng had succumbed to the grief, Lan XiChen, in typical Lan fashion, must have simply repressed it and kept pushing himself forward.

 

Before Wei WuXian could produce another reaction, Lan XiChen got up from his place and walked over until he was in front of Wei WuXian, lowering himself to the ground.

 

Wei WuXian immediately scrambled back, hands flying up and waving all over the place. He even pinched himself briefly. ”What are you doing?!” His voice was an octave higher than normal. ”Please don’t bow to me, ZeWu-Jun.”

 

Lan XiChen pulled himself into a sitting position. His eyes were slightly sunken in, the bags under them not quite hidden by what was obviously some form of cosmetics. The posture was still lacking, almost like he was a puppet being held up by the strings on his shoulders. Strings that were dangerously close to snapping. Still, below all that there was something else, a new emotion impossible to identify.

 

Lan XiChen pulled himself up slightly , eyes finding Wei WuXian's and hooking onto them until the younger was unable to look away.  ”Please, Young Master Wei, please find my brother.”

 

Wei WuXian’s mind drew a blank. ”You . . . want me to find Lan Zhan?”

 

”You were the only person he was close to outside of Gusu. The only one he ever chose to interact with, if you will. I’m ashamed to admit sect matters have rather prevented me from immersing myself in the search as much as I would like, and Uncle won’t spare the time. I am begging you, Young Master Wei, please succeed where I failed.”

 

Wei WuXian swallowed heavily. The plight of not knowing what had happened to a beloved family member was one he was intimately familiar with. It had been his constant companion during his time on the streets, eating away at him worse than any lack of food ever could have.

 

In simple terms, it was torture.

 

Wei WuXian held the privilege of referring to Lan Zhan by his birth name, but they were in no way as close as Lan XiChen seemed to think they were. In their youth, Lan Zhan had always seemed annoyed with him, always rejecting his teasing and even telling him to get lost on one particularly memorable occasion. Wei WuXian’s ’choice’ to practice demonic cultivation had further strained their relationship. Their last meeting had been civil, but that had been the beginning and end of it, and they hadn’t even seen each other after Jin ZiXuan’s death.

 

Ultimately, Wei WuXian was in no particularly great position to find Lan Zhan. But Lan XiChen was willing to put his faith in him, and if he was willing to go that far for the newly resurrected Yiling Laozu that had to mean he was well and truly out of options.

 

For better or worse, Wei WuXian had never been able to turn down those at the end of their rope.

 

”ZeWu-Jun,” he put his hands out in front of him in as much of a proper bow as he could manage. ”This Wei WuXian promises he will do everything in his power to find Lan Zhan.”

Chapter Text

Wei WuXian leaned against a building opposite the Yiling Teahouse, emptying whatever was left in his coin purse into his palm and poking around at it. The place wasn’t anything too expensive, but the money he’d gotten from Lan XiChen was fading and he still had a long way to go before finding Lan Zhan.


Yiling was just the starting point. The location of the last meeting between him and Lan Zhan. If anything would help his memory recover something that might be useful in finding the other, this place would surely do the trick.


The Burial Mounds loomed in the distance, casting shadows mostly ignored by those walking in them. Black rocks spiked towards the sky as if they wanted to eclipse the sun itself.


For a second, the mist coating the place seemed to surround Yiling as well, reaching up to everyone’s ankles and forming constellations of smoke whenever someone pushed through it. The sound of the Wen remnants going about their day echoed in the distance, a slight laughter ringing through the air as A-Yuan—


”You little thief!” A fruit vendor down the street made a grab for someone, catching a kid by the hair and pulling him closer. ”How dare you steal from me?!”


”I wasn’t stealing, I swear it!” The kid’s arms flew up between himself and the vendor. His knees gave out somewhat as he started falling towards the ground, the only thing stopping him being the vendor’s grip on his hair.


”You think I’d trust the word of some dirty street rat? You’ve been eyeing my stall for days!” The vendor shook his grip on the kid’s hair.


Something surged inside Wei WuXian. His legs moved on their own and before he knew it he was halfway down the street. Maybe it was the ”street rat” part, maybe the thin robe the kid was wearing or even the fact that it was just a kid, but Wei WuXian could not stay on the sidelines. He himself had been forced to fight and earn his food while living here, and the town’s association with the dreaded Yiling Laozu had most likely eliminated whatever kindness or pity its citizens might have otherwise taken on those less fortunate.


Besides, a scene like this would surely put a target on the kid’s back, and with autumn fast approaching that could very well mean the difference between life and death.


Down the street, the vendor raised his hand, bringing it down towards the kid, who flinched back as much as he could.


Wei WuXian was still too far away.


Suddenly the kid yanked free, falling backwards onto the ground. Wei WuXian finally arrived at the scene, positioning himself between the kid and the vendor.


The vendor who didn’t move. He was completely still, even his eyes were frozen.


Nothing about him was moving except for the talisman on his back, firmly stuck where it was but fluttering weakly in the breeze.


Wei WuXian gasped, breaths freezing on his lips as his heart became louder, the beats echoing through his entire being. He stumbled back, eyes still glued on the man as his skin became increasingly clammy.


No. No no no no NO. He could not have used demonic cultivation. Not again. Not here. Mo Village and Dafan mountain were supposed to be the exceptions. He could not have used it in the middle of Yiling of all places, least of all in front of a crowd.


The expresses of those in the masses told a different story.


”His wicked tricks have consumed him! The only way is to kill him!”


”Monsters only understand the way of violence. If death is what it will take we will gladly give it to him.”


Was someone talking? Where were the voices coming from? Did it even matter? Mo XuanYu might have just been a demonic cultivator, but his looks were similar enough to Wei WuXian’s and they were only a couple of stone throws away from the Burial Mounds. Rumors spread based on less all the time.


Wei WuXian started running. The layout of Yiling had grown unfamiliar to him, but it didn’t matter. All that mattered was that he got away from that square and all the eyes on him and the people sure to start accusing him of everything under the sun again just like they had in his last life.


Could he even find Lan Zhan like this? The other was known for appearing wherever trouble was, so how could Wei WuXian have a chance at finding him if he ran away at the first sign of conflict?


”Young Master! Breathe. You, you have to breathe!” The statement was punctuated by a series of short pants. Whoever was speaking sounded far away, almost like they were on the other side of a wall.


The kid. He must have followed Wei WuXian for some reason. Why? The incident with the vendor was bad but was still preferable to being associated with a demonic cultivator. It made more sense for Wei WuXian to have grabbed him, but the kid had been behind him and not within direct reach of Wei WuXian.


His breaths picked up into quick, shallow pants. Wei WuXian’s frame shook, causing him to fall against a wall. He sank to the ground not even seconds later, hands gripping at his ears as he rocked back and forward slightly.


He mentally slapped himself. No. Bad Wei WuXian. You are not going to have a panic attack in front of this kid. The situation is bad enough as it is and neither of you wants to deal with that.


He pointedly ignored how much the voice of reason in his head sounded like Wen Qing.


His hands moved over the ground, brushing the pebbles on the road. He scoped up a handful, clenching his fist until the stones dug into his palm. His nails joined in soon enough, forming small red crescents in his skin.


Given something to focus on, Wei WuXian’s breathing begun to steady. He slowly retuned back to himself, slumping into the wall behind him as his eyes took in his surroundings.


The kid was on the ground next to him. In all honesty he was probably a teenager, only appearing smaller because of malnourishment. The rags he wore was as thin as they’d first appeared, but more ill-fitted, appearing too small in certain places and too large in others. He was wearing shoes, but they were worn down and were likely stuffed with something.


”You’re still here?” Aren’t you afraid? Was the question he didn’t ask.


The kid shrugged, twisting his hands in front of him. ”I wanted to thank you. You really saved me back there.”


Wei WuXian’s arm moved towards the kid, only to be stopped at the last second. He was not going to ruffle the hair of someone he didn’t even know. ”Street kids look after each other. Or at least they should.”


The boy’s eyes widened a bit, lips parting slightly. The expression was gone as soon as it arrived, narrowing into something more skeptical. ”You’re a street kid?”


Wei WuXian shrugged. ”Used to be.” He shifted to face the kid more fully. ”Which is why I know no one steals from a fruit cart unless they’re gearing up for something bigger, so what are you really trying to get your hands on?” Wei WuXian’s own activity since coming back had been slightly less than lawful, and he wasn’t above adding a felony or two to the list if it meant helping someone else.


The teen narrowed his eyes at Wei WuXian for a second. He then turned away, poking at the road with the tip of his shoe while muttering something.


After about a minute of this, his posture drew up slightly. His head turned up, eyes locking onto Wei WuXian’s. ”Medicine.”


Well, shit. Wei WuXian was serious about helping, but stealing medicine and stealing food were far from the same thing. Vendors with goods that valuable guarded their stalls like dragons guarding their horde, barely letting paying costumers close.


He could tell the teen as much, but it would likely be old news. The boy had done enough research to know he’d have to practice, and no one stole medicine unless they were well and truly desperate.


Wei WuXian’s hand landed on the pouch Lan XiChen had given him. It was supposedly medicine for Lan Zhan, likely things Wei WuXian would not be able to replace if used up. Still, if he turned down the teen, the other would likely go right back to whatever plan he’d had prior to their run-in. Given how his trial run had turned out, he would get caught, which would likely send him to a far too early grave.


Wei WuXian was no Wen Qing. He wasn’t even a regular doctor. He wouldn’t know what to do with medicine more complicated than pain relief and offering to help would most likely just give the kid false hope.


The boy’s eyes left Wei WuXian as his face tilted downwards, hands clenching around his rags. ”It’s not for me.” His voice wobbled slightly. ”My dad’s sick.”


So it wasn’t the kid. Wei WuXian let out a breath as his shoulders slumped slightly. Still, it didn’t change much. If anything, it only meant the kid was even more determined to get his hands on any form of remedy he could.


Wei WuXian had lost his parents at a young age, young enough for him to no longer remember what they looked like. He’d survived on his own, but it wasn’t something anyone should suffer though.


Sighing, he met the teen’s eyes. ”Stealing medicine is too risky. I won’t help you get thrown in jail. However—” he put a hand up to silence the kid, whose mouth opened as soon as those words left Wei WuXian’s mouth. ”I have some on me. I’m not a doctor, I don’t know how to use half of it, but I’ll try my best, alright?”


The teen’s face lit up and Wei WuXian flinched internally. He’d been aiming for a compromise, an offer to help without getting the other’s hopes up. Clearly he had failed.


Wei WuXian swallowed thickly as the teen grabbed his wrist and started pulling him away. Let’s just hope all his dad suffers from is a really bad cough.

Chapter Text

The cottage consisted mostly of wood kept together by gods know what. Cracks and spaces between planks were stuffed with everything from rocks and even vegetation in some places, everything held together by layers of clay smeared everywhere. The roof wasn’t so much a roof as a construction of branches and leaves and moss with the occasional plank peeking out underneath.

 

The kid reached out and shoved a piece of wood that probably started out as a door out of the way, dragging Wei WuXian inside.

 

The thick carpet of leaves gave in under Wei WuXian’s boots, revealing bare ground underneath when he poked at it. The walls, despite the cleaver ministrations, did nothing to keep out the weather, as evidenced by the chilly breeze sweeping through the room.

 

”Father!” The kid let go of Wei WuXian, crossing over to the other side of the room. ”I told you not to move. You’ll never get better if you don’t take care of yourself.” His lips wobbled slightly.

 

The man reached out a hand which the kid grabbed before it could get anywhere. His head turned slightly. ”SiZhui?” His voice was faint, barely above a whisper.

 

Wetness pooled up in SiZhui’s eyes. He shuffled closer to the man, putting his hand on the other’s cheek. ”It’s me. I’m here, dad.” He bit his lip. ”I brought someone. He’s not a doctor but he promised he’d help.” He turned to Wei WuXian. ”You can help, right? Right?” The tears in his eyes overflowed and spilled down his cheeks.

 

Wei WuXian took a step towards them and got down to eye-level with the kid’s dad. The other man’s skin was clammy with sweat despite the cool temperate, black strands of hair sticking to his forehead. His eyes were clouded over, barely open enough for him to be able to see. His clothes were even thinner and more worn out than SiZhui’s, having badly stitched holes in places.

 

Wei WuXian reached out a hand towards the man to check his temperature. Before he got halfway, the man had lifted his free hand and reached out for him, hand touching Wei WuXian’s cheek.

 

”Wei Ying?”

 

It was even quieter than before, more hesitant.

 

Wei WuXian flinched back on instinct. A quiet whimper left the other man, whose hand fell to the ground.

 

He’d heard it wrong. There was absolutely no way this man could have known—

 

”It the fever talking!” SiZhui flew in between the two. His eyes were wide and he was waving his arms around. ”I told you he’s sick, he—”

 

”Wei Ying.” The voice was more forceful, but still barely a whisper.

 

SiZhui turned around to face his father, gripping his hands. ”Dad, he’s not . . . you have a fever.” His voice was incredibly soft, not a trace of the panicked shouts from earlier.

 

The older man shook his head almost invisibly, whimpering slightly.

 

A vision flashed before Wei WuXian’s eyes. The kid’s father, younger, in an equally dark place with an equally pained expression. A forehead ribbon, white funeral robes covered in grime and blood.

 

That . . . that couldn’t be . . . there was no way. No. This wasn’t . . .

 

Wei WuXian leaned closer. The man in front of him was thin, wrapped in dirty robes and with his hair pooling out around him. The fog in his eyes hadn’t lifted, but they were leaning towards a yellow color. Without the dimness, they would probably look like gold.

 

”. . . Lan Zhan,” Wei WuXian reached out again, shuffling even closer.

 

The other reached out, falling forwards due to the strain. Wei WuXian was with him in an instant, breaking his fall before even SiZhui had a chance to react.

 

How? How could this be Lan Zhan? He may no longer be in the prestigious GusuLan sect, but surely a cultivator of his caliber would not be brought down by a fever.

 

Being trapped with the Xuanwu of Slaughter should have been the most miserable point in Lan Zhan’s life, but this overshadowed even that.

 

Lan Zhan’s breath were hot against Wei WuXian’s, coming out far too shallow and hot. Each puff of air was accompanied by a faint rasping sound, barely audible at first but steadily getting worse.

 

Right. Wei WuXian steeled himself, firmly shoving his confusion out of his mind. He couldn’t be this disoriented right now. Not when Lan Zhan needed him and especially not when his kid was involved. If Wei WuXian started to panic, SiZhui would follow suite and then Lan Zhan, who was already approaching death’s door, would have an even slimmer chance of survival than he had currently.

 

”We need to get him out of here. Somewhere drier.” He turned to SiZhui. ”I think I can afford a cheap inn, do you know any?”

 

”I, I think I know a place.” SiZhui twisted his hands in front of him. Then shook his head. ”No. I definitely know a place.”

 


 

Getting the room had been a challenge, one that had involved a lot of back and forth between the innkeeper and SiZhui until the latter got fed up.

 

”Look.” SiZhui had leaned on the desk, standing on his tip toes to get closer to the innkeeper. ”Quite frankly, Young Master Zhao, you owe us. You saw my father fall sick and did nothing and if you repeat that course of action now it will make you directly responsible for his death. You’ve made it perfectly clear that you aren’t a good person, but can you really look your children in the eyes with the knowledge that you took my father away from me when you could have helped?”

 

His voice was eerily level, gentle tone not at all matching the words. The only thing identifying the speech as a threat were SiZhui’s eyes, which held the same rage as Wei WuXian’s during the Sunshot Campaign if one took away the demonic cultivation.

 

Young Master Zhao had stepped back, a shudder ripping though him. ”You can have the room at the end of the hall, just don’t be too loud or I’ll lose my current patrons. And only until the end of the week.”

 

And now here they were.

 

Wei WuXian carefully extracted Lan Zhan from his back and shifted him onto the bed. Almost immediately, Lan Zhan turned to his side, curling in on himself.

 

"His back hurts." SiZhui supplied, fidgeting. "There's an injury . . ."

 

Wei WuXian hissed, slowly sucking in a breath. It would be impossible to properly examine Lan Zhan from this position, but if there was a prior injury involved, moving him would mean putting Lan Zhan in more pain than he already was.

 

Wei WuXian fumbled after his pouch, emptying the contents on the floor in front of him. All of them had etiquettes with one or two neat words scribbled on. Wei WuXian picked up a salve with the inscription ”back” and was just about to dip his fingers into it when he stopped himself.

 

In order for a salve to work, he actually needed access to Lan Zhan’s back. Which meant he’d have to disrobe him. Which he wasn’t about to do in front of the kid for a number of reasons.

 

Wei WuXian squared his shoulders, turning away from Lan Zhan. ”He needs cold water. See if you can find some rags too. Should make it easier for him to cope until the fever goes down.”

 

SiZhui swallowed hard and nodded, then ran out of the room.

 

Wei WuXian got to work immediately, undoing Lan Zhan’s belt and pushing the robes away from his upper half as gently as possible.

 

Underneath, Lan Zhan still had a few awkward traces of muscles, but it was overshadowed by how his ribs were poking out from his stomach. Nearly all of them could be traced without the need to touch, even from the somewhat awkward angle caused by Lan Zhan’s new sleeping position.

 

Wei WuXian walked to the other side of the bed.

 

One look at the other’s back was enough to almost make him drop the salve. Lan Zhan’s back was comparable to a mountain range. Ridges of scars poked up everywhere, leaving nearly no skin undamaged.

 

Whip scars. No other weapon would cause something like this. Lan Zhan had been whipped brutally and repeatedly or it wouldn’t have scarred this much. How many hit’s he’d taken was impossible to gauge at, but it would surely be enough to make someone of even his caliber pass out.

 

Had to be enough to make him pass out. Right?

 

Thud. SiZhui returned with a barrel of cold water, setting it down near the bed.

 

”What, what happened to him?” Wei WuXian’s eyes stayed wide, unable to tear themselves away from the other’s back.

 

SiZhui stepped closer, narrowing his eyes and tilting his head a little to the side. ”You truly don’t know?” It was somewhere between a question and a statement.

 

Wei WuXian swallowed. ”Only that he left the GusuLan sect. ZeWu-Jun told me no one has heard from him for thirteen years.”

 

SiZhui’s nose wrinkled briefly as a complicated expression crossed his face. ”You really don’t—" he lost his composure. "Everyone always knows. No matter where we go, it’s the great HanGuang-Jun was bewitched and ruined by the Yiling Laozu.”

 

”The Yiling Laozu?” It was all Wei WuXian could do to keep his voice steady.

 

SiZhui’s eyes widened. His hands flew up over his mouth as he gasped. ”It’s just rumors! Dad was never involved in demonic cultivation! Please, Young Master, please don’t stop helping us because of some, some baseless rumors!” His fists balled at his sides, voice somewhere between anger and pleading.

 

Demonic cultivation. Lan Zhan? The same Lan Zhan who’d tried to drag him back to Gusu to ”purify” him ever since he crawled out of the Burial Mounds?

 

He opened his mouth. It stayed open for a while. ”SiZhui.” A beat. ”Since I myself actually am a demonic cultivator, would it not be extremely hypocritical for me to turn someone out because of that?”

 

SiZhui’s eyes widened a bit. ”I . . .” he twisted his hands and turned his head down. ”I forgot about that. I apologize.” He managed a rather clumsy bow.

 

Wei WuXian gave a small chuckle. For someone raised outside the GusuLan sect, SiZhui behaved a lot like someone from the Cloud Recesses. Or rather, he behaved like someone in a desperate situation who had been raised with the Lan sect rules in mind, breaking them due to circumstances and feeling terrible afterwards. If not for his age, Wei WuXian truly would have thought he was Lan Zhan’s biological child.

 

Wei WuXian’s hands tightened into fists. Blood rushing inside of him. He had undeniably been hated towards the end of his first life, but had people really thought him such a monster that merely being associated with him caused Lan Zhan to suffer like this?

 

No. No. Lan Zhan was good and righteous and everyone with half a brain should be able to see that. They had barely met except for that one time in Yiling, and that was before everything went wrong. Whatever Lan Zhan had gone through these last thirteen years, there was no way at all to justify it.

 

Whoever was responsible for this should thank whatever god they prayed to that Wei WuXian wasn’t actually the monster they made him out to be. If he were, he personally would have made sure  they suffered a fate worse than death for hurting someone so good so much.

 

”You’re angry too. Good.” SiZhui was dabbing a wet cloth at Lan Zhan’s forehead, stopping momentarily to meet Wei WuXian’s eyes. ”Father always says not to hold onto anger but . . . look at him!” He waved his hands towards Lan Zhan, careful not to hit him. ”He shouldn’t be here, dying of a fever, when he was once one of the most respected men in the cultivation world!”

 

”He’s not dying.” It was an impulse. Lan Zhan couldn’t die. Wei WuXian might have ruined Lan Zhan’s life, but he wasn’t going to let the other man lose it. ”The medicine I have should be enough to treat him, and he’ll likely get better now that he’s out of the elements.” He could have stopped there. But . . .  ”Besides, I won’t let him die.”

 

I owe him that much.

Chapter Text

Wei WuXian hummed as he spread the salve over Lan Zhan’s back. His fingers ghosted over the scars, hesitant to touch and even more so to press down with the force needed to actually apply the slave.

 

SiZhui had done a far better job, but the boy had all but passed out from exhaustion and was currently curled up next to the bed cradling Lan Zhan’s hand. The blanket Wei WuXian had thrown him was wrapped around his frame, having been treated like some great treasure and not just a ragged, frayed piece of cloth he’d picked up in Mo Village.

 

Wei WuXian’s fingers traced the scars on Lan Zhan’s back, making sure to coat them in the salve while using it as sparingly as possible. Lan XiChen had given him a generous amount, but there was no indication of what the salve contained, so copying the recipe would be impossible.

 

Would Lan Zhan even want to see him? If not for Wei WuXian, Lan Zhan would have received the best care possible at the Cloud Recesses, or possibly wouldn’t even need the care in the first place.

 

”He’s always like this! Never considering the consequences his actions will bring onto others!

 

Madam Yu had been right. If he’d just been better, done better, so much tragedy could have been averted. Lotus Pier. Shijie and Jin ZiXuan. The Wens. Everything he did always just brought disaster to everyone around him while he lived on. He hadn’t even been able to die properly, having been summoned back by his own invention in some cruel twist of a fate he wished would just leave him alone already.

 

Lan Zhan shifted under his hand, causing Wei WuXian to withdraw it. The other man moved to sit up, failing halfway through and supporting himself on his elbow as he slowly wriggled his way up against the headboard. He reached out for the lantern in the bedside, bringing it around so it illuminated Wei WuXian’s face.

 

”Wei Ying. The voice was as soft as it had been back at the cottage, despite how rough Lan Zhan’s voice was. It was almost like a prayer, so incredibly full of emotions.

 

Wei WuXian breathed out and leaned forward. His head moved up and down slightly, mouth parting but no sound coming out.

 

”Wei Ying is here?” Lan Zhan’s eyes were wide. He put down the lantern, reaching out with his now free hand. His fingers stopped just in front of Wei WuXian’s face, curling towards his palm ever so slightly.

 

”Dead?”

 

Lan Zhan had to know Wei WuXian had died, so the question couldn’t be directed at him.

 

Wei WuXian let out a breath, itching closer and wrapping Lan Zhan’s hand in his own. ”Oh, Lan Zhan. No.” He shook his head.

 

Lan Zhan’s hand shook slightly, as did the rest of him. ”Dream?”

 

Wei WuXian shook his head again. He moved Lan Zhan’s hand, bringing it up to touch his cheek.

 

”. . .” Lan Zhan’s eyes widened, a breath leaving him. His fingers moved over Wei WuXian’s skin as he leaned forward. ”Real?” His voice was the smallest Wei WuXian had ever heard it, barely a whisper against Wei WuXian’s robes. ”Wei Ying is real?”

 

Wei WuXian leaned closer, so close their foreheads were almost touching. He reached up and put his free hand on Lan Zhan’s cheek. ”Real.”

 

Lan Zhan lurched forward, burying his face in the crook of Wei WuXian’s neck, hands wrapping around the back of his robes and clenching around the fabric. His whole frame shook with sobs as something wet coated Wei WuXian’s skin and slowly flowed downwards.

 

The behavior was so unlike Lan Zhan, who had avoided physical contact like the plague in his youth. Just what had happened since then? SiZhui seemed very tactile, so Lan Zhan had probably had to loosen up a bit, but that didn’t explain the ferocity with which he was holding onto Wei WuXian now, clinging onto Wei WuXian like he was a rope and Lan Zhan was drowning.

 

Wei WuXian’s eyes stung, vision going blurry as tears spilled over and made their way down his face.

 

Why was he crying? Lan Zhan was the one who had suffered. Lan Zhan was the one who had had everything he knew taken away from him. Lan Zhan was the one who had been left to die in an unfinished cabin outside Yiling—likely would have died if SiZhui hadn’t run into Wei WuXian.

 

The thoughts circled around in his head until Wei WuXian forced them out. He shuffled even closer to Lan Zhan, hands carefully wrapping around the other’s back as he pulled him closer.

 


 

By the time the sun rose, Lan Zhan had long since fallen asleep. Wei WuXian had maneuvered the pair so that he was against the headboard, Lan Zhan’s head nestled in his lap. The rest of Lan Zhan’s body had curled against Wei WuXian’s, every reservation form his youth seemingly obliterated.

 

Wei WuXian had stayed awake, couldn’t close his eyes without seeing Lan Zhan’s state back in that cabin. The thoughts he’d pushed out of his head kept creeping back in, hissing how he didn’t deserve this closeness, how he should leave before Lan Zhan woke up to avoid hurting him further.

 

Wei WuXian had tried to leave exactly once. His attempt to disentangle himself from Lan Zhan had been immediately met with resistance. Lan Zhan had whimpered at the loss of physical contact, reaching out for Wei WuXian as his face scrunched up and he curled tighter around himself. Wei WuXian had not been able to deny Lan Zhan, justifying the movement by getting them into their current position.

 

There was a small noise from beside the bed, followed by the rustling of fabric as SiZhui got up, pulling the blanket tighter around himself. He rubbed his eyes and blinked a few times before his eyes flew open almost comically at the sight before him. ”What—”

 

Lan Zhan shifted at the noise. Eyes opening as he pulled away from Wei WuXian enough to be able to face SiZhui. He sunk back against Wei WuXian almost immediately after seeing the kid.

 

”His fever broke during the night.” Wei WuXian’s voice was thick with exhaustion, both from the lack of sleep and the emotions and thoughts that had dominated his brain for the last day. ”He should probably eat something, though.”

 

He moved to get his bag, but Lan Zhan immediately pressed down against him, making some sort of very un-Lan Zhan like noise as his fingers curled around Wei WuXian’s robes.

 

”SiZhui.” Wei WuXian’s head turned up so he was facing the kid. ”There should be a pork bun in my bag somewhere, along with a jar of water, could you please get them for me? The jar is the one that looks like it’s alcohol and the bun should be in the box.”

 

SiZhui nodded, scrambling across the room to where Wei WuXian had discarded the bag. He found the water soon enough, but the bun was another story entirely. By the time the kid found the box, most of Wei WuXian’s stuff was on the floor around him.

 

”Aha!” He pulled himself up, eyes glistening as he walked back over to the two adults.

 

It was the wrong box. Rather than the one with the bun, this was something he’d picked up from Mo XuanYu’s place. The talisman inside had some traces of resentful energy clinging to it, but Wei WuXian had been unable to pick up what, exactly, the contents were supposed to do. He’d grabbed it in the hopes of figuring it out later, but the search for Lan Zhan had taken priority.

 

Wei WuXian opened his mouth, but SiZhui opened the box before he could make a sound, turning it upside down to dump its contents into Wei WuXian’s hands.

 

The talisman had barely made contact with Wei WuXian’s skin before everything went dark.