The journey back to Yunmeng was especially long when one person was restricted to walking and the other was too tired to fly them both, even after a night’s rest. Jiang Cheng was surprised when a reply to Wei Wuxian’s message came stating that everyone was waiting in Lotus Pier for their return; with the exception of Wen Ning, who had arrived shortly after they’d left the Inn. Wei Ying had stood nervously between his two adopted family members and prayed for a conflict free resolution. His patience was not endless - as many people were aware - and he'd ended up throwing his hands to the sky in frustration before storming off ahead of them. Jiang Cheng was torn, with things now exposed and the truths in his life becoming lies and the lies now laid to rest, he was unsure how to react to the fierce corpse now. Could he really blame someone who, under the wrong circumstances, was no different than the sword at his side? Wen Ning was quick to follow after Wei Wuxian, leaving Jiang Cheng to catch up.
• • •
It was a quiet walk for a short while, the trio moving in a single parade format. No one spoke and the atmosphere was charged. Abruptly, Wei Wuxian stopped and exclaimed, “I forgot!" before turning around and heading back the way they had come.
"Hey! Where are you going?!" Jiang Cheng most certainly did not stutter and swiftly closed a hand around Wei Wuxian's arm. Wen Ning stiffened and a small warning noise escaped him. Jiang Cheng eyed him but didn't relinquish his grip.
“I forgot to visit the young boy back in town." That answered none of Jiang Cheng’s questions.
"Master Wei helped out a young homeless child when we last passed through. He promised to see him again." Wen Ning answered when Wei Wuxian wasn’t forthcoming with an explanation.
"And you’re going to go back now?" Disbelief coloured Jiang Cheng’s tone.
• • •
Wen Ning looked between the pouting Master Wei and the exasperated Sect Leader Jiang before forcing himself to speak.
"Perhaps I could go back and check on his wellbeing, Master Wei.'' Wen Ning restricted his muscle movement to prevent himself from flinching under the weight of Sect Leader Jiang's stare. Wei Wuxian considered the option, visibly brightening before searching his sleeves. Jiang Cheng sighed and produced a small coin purse, tossing it to the undead. Wen Ning scrambled to catch the hastily thrown object. Wei Wuxian looked up at the sound of coins.
"Go do what you must. I will continue on with my brother." Wei Wuxian cooed, and to Jiang Cheng’s distress, latched onto his arm like an octopus, patting his face and hair.
"I'm so proud of you A-Cheng!" he bawled.
• • •
Jiang Cheng flushed bright red at Wei Wuxian’s theatrical but sincere words and Wen Ning fled the scene to hide his own embarrassment at the exchange. When Wei Wuxian showed no signs of letting go, Jiang Cheng rearranged their position and hoisted him onto his back. His stab wound protested mildly, and the indignant squeak Wei Wuxian produced didn’t help his nerves.
"Shut up. We'll be quicker this way."
"But... your wound."
"It's fine." Wei Wuxian didn’t seem to take his word for it and soon after Jiang Cheng felt some spiritual energy being transferred. He considered protesting but decided to take the fact Wei Wuxian wasn’t trying to get down as a win. A compromise. Gradually the energy slowed to a stop and Wei Wuxian grew heavier on his back.
"Always wearing yourself out." Jiang Cheng mumbled under his breath. As he tightened his grip, Jiang Cheng allowed himself a moment; content that he was allowed to carry Wei Wuxian like this as he used to do as a youth when his mother wasn't present.
• • •
It was well past sundown when Wei Wuxian roused. He was warm, covered in what appeared to be his brother's outer robe, under a tree with Jiang Cheng at his side. A small fire burned low, the short logs glowing in the darkness and casting warmth upon his eyelids. When he moved, Jiang Cheng groaned and prodded his side.
"Go back to sleep. It's still dark." Tired as he was, Wei Wuxian didn’t protest, remaining still until sleep claimed him again. He was next awakened when Jiang Cheng rose from his side, jostling him in the process.
"You slept like a log." Jiang Cheng commented lightly. Wei Wuxian could hear the underlying worry and a warmth that had nothing to do with the dying fire filled him.
"This body has never had the care it needed. It grows weary easy." Wei Wuxian couldn’t even be enraged about that for he was simply grateful to have a body at all. Life just wasn’t fair for most people.
• • •
Jiang Cheng almost questioned how bad one’s life could be that suicide would be better but then he remembered the choice Wei Wuxian made; that soft relieved smile. Glancing sideways, Jiang Cheng looked at Wei Wuxian; really looked and he did not like what he saw. It was clear that, with the time spent under Wei Wuxian’s control and Lan Wangji’s care, Mo Xuanyu's body condition had improved from the first time he'd seen it. Still. His brother looked frail, arms thin and cheeks pale. It was remarkably similar to how Wei Wuxian had looked all those years ago in the shadow of the Burial Mounds, surrounded by old and broken Wens. Jiang Cheng hadn't stopped to consider back then the motives behind Wei Wuxian’s choice. He only felt the betrayal and confusion. He had seen but ignored the state of Wei Wuxian and those who followed him when he’d made his half-hearted attempt to draw Wei Wuxian back to Lotus Pier all those years ago.
• • •
Recalling something he had been told as a youth, Jiang Cheng opened his mouth.
"I'm sorry. I know I said it before, but it needs repeating. I’m sorry for abandoning you all those years ago, for not seeing what was right in front of my eyes and living up to the faith you had in me." Wei Wuxian went to speak but Jiang Cheng cut him off.
"No, no just listen. I'm disappointed in myself now that I look back and see how much I missed; in the future I'm going to do better." Jiang Cheng paused to take a breath and Wei Wuxian took the opportunity to speak.
"I've never been prouder. Everything you've done, accomplished, are signs of the great man you've become. I don’t want you to change." Jiang Cheng silently considered those words and a part of him acknowledged just how good it was to hear those words from someone who knew of all that had been lost and rebuilt.
• • •
"What do you plan on doing next?" Jiang Cheng asked. He genuinely wanted to know. Where would Wei Wuxian go now that all the lies about him were revealed? Wei Wuxian shrugged.
"Wander I suppose. Lan Zhan will be required to return to his Sect now that we've gotten to the bottom of all this mess." Jiang Cheng frowned.
“He said that?"
Jiang Cheng sighed, dragging a hand down over his face.
"What?" Wei Wuxian felt as though he was missing something, considering he could feel the exasperation coming from Jiang Cheng.
"The man dotes on you, you idiot." Jiang Cheng growled; his brother could seriously be dense sometimes.
"I know he does." Wei Wuxian’s tone was soft; fond, "But really, I can't expect Lan Zhan to give up everything just to be with me and I don't think I could survive living in Cloud Recess."
• • •
"What about Lotus Pier?" Jiang Cheng didn't know why he asked as now he was dreading Wei Wuxian's reply.
"Can I?" A tiny voice, quiet and unbefitting one such as Wei Wuxian offered a question that was so uncertain, Jiang Cheng almost flinched.
"Lotus Pier is your home and the people who reside there your family. I won’t make you stay, but your home and family are waiting for you." Wei Wuxian’s whole being was radiating joy and Jiang Cheng again wondered how he ever doubted Wei Wuxian. As quick as it arrived that joy vanished, and Jiang Cheng frowned at its absence.
"I can’t... I can't leave Wen Ning. I cannot leave him alone in this world again." There was a resigned sadness to Wei Wuxian that made Jiang Cheng’s blood boil. He barely clamped down on his reflex response. This was the turning point for them and he needed to make an effort.
"I will tolerate his presence.'' Wei Wuxian beamed.