Wen Ning knew how weak his physical construction was, he has known this since he was a kid. His sister never failed to remind him of this whenever he has gotten thoughts of what she called as recklessness, which was just things that involved the physical use of his frail body.
In his head, though, Wen Ning himself can say that he was not as frail as his sister wanted him to believe, but he knew it was because she cared too much. It was as if that for his sister, there was only Wen Ning to give the world to, and maybe she did think like that. That was why he tried so hard to be useful to her, even just a little bit, even though how much she wanted to keep all of her problems to herself.
Still, he unbelievably caused his sister difficulty and a lot of problems in the end anyway. That was why all he knew now was the pain. His sister should not find him now. She might just lose her mind.
There was the rain too, hitting his skin hard as he lay there on the mud unmoving. But that was the least of it. If he dies here, what would happen? His sister would be destroyed by grief but wouldn’t it set her free from taking care of him?
What else can he do, at this point? Wen Ning hoped that his sister or maybe even Wei-gongzi would forgive him for being weak like this. He tried to do something and has done small things, at least. Maybe that was enough. Maybe that was worth all the trouble of experiencing death, or maybe this was a punishment of not having done enough and not trying as hard as he should have.
Everyone else around him, all of them Wens he never saw before in his life, are all dead. Obviously, that was about to happen to him too. Does he even dare to do anything now?
Can he dare to do anything when it was in fact, too late?
Ah, Wen Ning thought as he coughed more blood that he almost choked on it, maybe he does not have any more time to think about silly things. He really was going to die. He forced his eyes open, blinking away the raindrops that threatened to enter his eyes, stinging them. Wen Ning hissed, the rest of his useless body already rendered numb.
Suddenly feeling tired, and sleepy, and lightheaded, Wen Ning decided to close his eyes and knew nothing.
The first thing that Wen Ning knew was the overwhelming feeling of being parched. His throat was aching too much that the first thing he did was claw a hand down the column of his neck. He moved, and there was a groan that escaped his dry lips. His body was sore all over as if he was stomped on by a hundred fierce corpses.
The second thing that registered was the sunlight from the windows that almost blinded him. Shielding his eyes, he turned away from the source of light and faced the wall.
The third thing that he noticed was that he was alive. He really was alive, huh? Wen Ning tried to move his almost numb hands and patted himself. He flinched hard at the slightest touch. Yeah, he survived that. But how?
The next inevitable question was, where was he? He looked around and found that he was most likely in an inn not too close to a big town. The layout of the place was less extravagant as if it was designed for lodging meant for traveling merchants, not visiting cultivators with the highest ranks, such as Jin Zixuan or Zewu-jun.
He attempted to get off the bed, maybe find the person who brought him here and thank them, but he immediately found out that he was not strong enough to do. The way his thirst and hunger made his vision swam was not something to be taken lightly. Wen Ning went back to the position he woke up in and looked up the inn’s ceiling. He breathed in, and then out, and then in again.
The door gently opened after moments Wen Ning was not able to count, and the person he saw come in was the last person he expected. Wen Ning shot up from the bed, forced himself to a sitting position, and it aches so much but tried to bow as much as his body allowed him.
“Jiang-gongzi, I… I believe you have entered the wrong room?” Wen Ning inquired. If Jiang Wanyin was here, does that mean that he did not manage to cause trouble for his sister, but troubled Wei-gongzi again?
Upon hearing nothing from the cultivator, Wen Ning pushed more words out. “If Wei-gongzi is around, I would like to thank him for this service of me. Again.”
“Wei Wuxian isn’t here,” barked Jiang Wanyin. “You’re stuck with me, you Wen.”
“I… I… But… you saved me, Jiang-gongzi?”
Jiang Wanyin sighed as if explaining what he did was more of a hassle than the act of saving itself. “What else can I do? You’re still alive when I found you. I knew Wei Wuxian was headed your way, with your sister in tow, so I was about to intercept them. But you’re almost dead. There was no time to lose. I took you away.”
“And my sister? Wei-gongzi?”
Jiang Wanyin shook his head, “They’re not here because they had to find a way to relocate the rest of the remnants of your clan… in a much peaceful manner. I was able to exchange letters with them for the past month that we’re here with your wounds. Now that you’re awake, I have something I’d like to see returned to them.”
“Ah! I… Thank you so much for this service, Jiang-gongzi. I will never forget it, really, I am indebted to you for this life. Wait, ah… the past month?”
“You’ve been sleeping for a month if that’s what you wanted to hear. I didn’t expect less, with how much damage you took and how infected your wounds have gotten.”
“Thank you so much, Jiang-gongzi.” Wen Ning does not know what else to say to the man who saved him. He thought he would have hated the Wens, all the Wens, to the point that he would have left Wen Ning for the dead. But he didn’t. This Jiang-gongzi really was kind, Wei-gongzi was indeed right about that.
Jiang Wanyin looked away, “You saved mine, I heard. From that night… they took Lotus Pier. This is how I repay things. Don’t expect anything more from me, you darned Wen.”
Wen Ning was able to smile. Maybe he can dare to do something for himself, starting now.
It took them about two more weeks until they were able to meet up with his sister and Wei-gongzi. The days were filled with short conversations of nothing but Jiang Wanyin asking him the food he would like to have and Wen Ning telling him where else he still felt sore.
It was almost nothing. It should have been nothing, but Wen Ning could not help but look at the cultivator in a strange way he knew he never looked at anyone before. He started to notice more things about the other person, such as how pronounced his jawline was, or how his brow furrow ever so slightly when he tries to focus on something.
Wen Ning thought it was a little bit weird, paying attention to somebody like this, in a way that was like this… It was something of a first for him.
“A-Ning? A-Ning, are you okay? You were spacing out. Do you feel anything strange? Are you sore or hurt somewhere? I told you that you should just continue to rest before traveling here. That Jiang Cheng, really…”
“Sister, please. I’m fit to travel. It was… It was actually Jiang-gongzi who insisted to wait for a bit more before going here.”
“He almost gave you the wrong formulation of medicine - twice! - after I explicitly wrote to him on how to make them by hand. But…” Wen Qing smiled, “I guess he did a good job after all. The color was back on your cheeks and you look healthier than the last time I saw you.”
Wen Ning nodded, “As I said, sister, Jiang-gongzi took care of me.”
“Fine, he did.” Wen Qing took both of his hands. “But I was so worried about you. When we arrived, you weren’t there. Wei Wuxian was so angry about it that I don’t know how Hanguang-jun handled him. And believe me, I do not want to know.”
“Hanguang-jun?” Wen Ning asked.
“He volunteered to help. They’re relocating half of the Wens to Gusu and half of us will live with the Jiangs, as members of their clans. We are expected to live as if we were never Wens who threatened to kill everyone. As if we ever did that anyway,” said Wen Qing. “Still, this is the best way for us to live.”
They continued to walk around the outskirts of Lotus Pier, a little town within the Jiang clan’s domain, on thier way back from buying some herbs. Wen Qing wrapped her hand on her brother’s arm, “So, Granny Wen and Uncle Four decided to go to Lotus Pier and work with the lotuses. A-Yuan goes wherever Hanguang-jun goes so he’ll become a Lan soon. What do you think?”
Wen Ning mulled it over yet the answer has always been clear, “You mean, where should I go? I’ll go where you go, sister.”
“I’m thinking of being a Jiang by clan… if they’re going to allow me to, but I’d like to work in Gusu. Hanguang-jun said he could grant me access to their books on medicine, to help him with that spunk Wei Wuxian.”
“Heh,” smiled Wen Ning. “That’s right. At least Wei-gongzi knows he’s not going to be alone anymore. It would be scary if he thought that he has to do everything on his own, and took us all Wen remnants by himself in some weird faraway place somewhere.”
“Agreed. I’m glad he didn’t do that.” Wen Qing nodded with a knowing smile.
“Oh, no. Sister, did you, by chance, tell Hanguang-jun about Wei-xiong’s golde…”
Wen Qing immediately pulled her brother away from the crowd, leading him to the road that can lead them back to Lotus Pier, “Shh! Let’s go back now. They must be wondering if we slipped away to be evil Wens or start another Sunshot Campaign.”
Wen Ning had no choice but to follow. Maybe this was indeed the better option out of any other options he was too scared to think about. When they got back to Lotus Pier, they immediately found two figures by the gate.
“Ah! Wen Ning! How have you been?” Wei Wuxian’s yelling can be heard by literally anyone in about twenty feet radius from the man, or something like that. He was also waving at them enthusiastically.
When they were standing near enough, they both bowed at the cultivators. Wen Qing spoke, “Sandu Shengshou, Wei-gongzi.”
Wei Wuxian let out a burst of boisterous laughter, “Aiya, Wen Qing, you don’t have to do that anymore. You’re gonna be Jiang clan members now! Right, Wen Ning?”
“That’s more reason to give you respect, Wei-gongzi. I am sure Jiang-zongzhu will agree,” said Wen Ning, still bowing.
Wen Ning dared to look up a little bit. When he did, he caught Jiang Wanyin’s gaze that was already on him.
He scoffed, then, and turned away and started to walk inside, “Do whatever it is you want. Wei Wuxian already did the worst. Ask Lan Wangji about it.”
“Hey, Jiang Cheng! I thought you were going to say something to Wen Ning! You backed out! Aiya, such a coward…” Wei Wuxian ran after the sect leader and wrapped an arm around his neck, laughing all the while.
Wen Qing looked at him sharply as they walked inside, “What was that about?”
Wen Ning shook his head, trying not to panic and think about anything, “I… I don’t know, jiejie. Maybe it was something about my bruises? He usually asks that every day while I was recovering. Maybe he got used to it?”
Wen Qing hummed, yet she dropped it, making Wen Ning sigh of relief.
The next months spent in Lotus Pier has become blurry. Days melted together, mainly under the heat of the sun and the warm waters Yunmeng offered him. He does not do much or dared to do anything. He just resorted to maybe teaching all the kids how to shoot kites. It was not much, just adjusting their forms and fixing the bad habits they have. It was nice, though, makes Wen Ning feel not at all useless.
Wei-gongzi visited a couple of times and stays for a few days with A-Yuan in tow, but that was that, and they go back to Gusu. Wei Wuxian, due to his lack of a golden core, had to undergo some kind of rehabilitation in pursuit of getting another one. If in case it doesn’t work, at least there was Hanguang-jun and his sister to help him in any way.
Wen Ning was positive that they will figure that out somehow. They always will, anyway, so he just… began to live happily and as contented he can be. There was no wrong with that now, right? Things have been rebuilding, slowly, and it was nice to see it in person, right in front of his eyes.
That was why, right now, he was just finished with tutoring a group of young disciples on their shooting stances in the training hall. He just dismissed them, but instead of immediately going back to his room, his gaze kept on traveling towards the purple figure just by the old arch as the clan leader barked his orders to the ones rebuilding it.
Jiang Wanyin caught his gaze, and then quickly dismissed the disciples to work. He walked towards him with an eyebrow raised and hands crossed over his chest. Wen Ning looked at him, curious, before bowing, “Jiang-zongzhu.”
“You’re doing well with the children.”
“Ah,” Wen Ning smiled as he straightened up. “Thank you so much. I… I really tried my best. And I’m having fun around here, too. Thank you for letting me stay in Lotus Pier.”
“Told you already, do whatever it is you want.” Jiang Wanyin said with a slightly exasperated look.
To this, Wen Ning smiled, “Whatever I want, Jiang-zongzhu?”
“Does anything not to your liking, then? Should I do something? You don’t like it here? Do you wanna go to Gusu instead, with your Wei-gongzi?”
“What? No, of course not. I like it here, Jiang… Jiang-zongzhu. Lotus Pier is so beautiful,” Wen Ning looked at the clan leader as he said the words, as he meant each and every single one of them.
“You thought of it, then? Changing your name? That’s one of the consequences they laid out to us during that conference at Koi Tower. No one should be named a Wen if we were to do this.”
Wen Ning looked away to avoid blushing, “Being named Jiang Qionglin seems… seems to be too much. Being in Yunmeng is… should be enough.”
His heartbeat started to quicken and he suddenly felt embarrassed to say it.
Jiang Qionglin. Jiang Ning? Is that… Is that even allowed? Can he even think of naming himself like that? Can he think of living as a Jiang… in Yunmeng as an official member of the clan?
“Whatever you want,” said Jiang Wanyin with a small smile.
Wen Ning grinned, finding confidence, and took the sect leader’s hands, “Then, I’ll be a Jiang! I’ll be the part of your sect. I hope I can help build Yunmeng to be better than it was before!”
Jiang Wanyin did not say anything, but he did not pull away. Wen Ning was happy about that, “You’re always so mean to Wei-gongzi, and you also like yelling and shouting at the others, too… But you were so kind to me, Jiang-zongzhu. I doubt if you would threaten to cut my legs off.”
“I totally can,” scoffed Jiang Wanyin.
Wen Ning looked at him with a tilt of his head.
“I can! I will cut your legs off you leave… or something…”
Wen Ning laughed, “You won’t have to. I would not dare to leave, Jiang-zongzhu. Do you really want me around?”
Wen Ning stepped closer, still holding his hand. He could not help but smile because somehow, all the looks he has given this person, all the attention he could not help but give him, the way he found himself smiling whenever he was able to get glimpses of his purple robes around Lotus Pier… All of it makes a lot of sense now.
“It would be my honor, you know, Jiang-zongzhu. To be able to stand here, right now, in front of you, like this. Not even Wei-gongzi can do this, I believe.”
“Of course not,” was Jiang Wanyin’s immediate answer. “Only you…” He stopped and then looked down on his hand that Wen Ning was holding.
He moved his other hand and placed it on top of Wen Ning’s, “I don’t know how to do this. That Wei Wuxian always teased me for being so bad at this thing I have been blacklisted by matchmakers, and I-”
Wen Ning pushed himself forward and pressed a kiss on Jiang Wanyin’s cheek, immediately pulling away. “Ah, Jiang-zongzhu, is that something I can do…? No, I… I wanted to do that. You said I can do whatever it is I want to do-”
Wen Ning could no longer say anything anymore as he was pulled in, his chin gently touched by a warm hand as the sect leader of Yunmeng Jiang leaned down to kiss him full on the lips.
Jiang Wanyin pulled away, looking so confused and amazed at the same time. He reached out a hand and tucked away a stray lock of hair under Wen Ning’s ear.
“It is that easy to do, huh, Jiang-zongzhu?”
“No, I… That was hard. I… I was… That Wei Wuxian keep teasing me for this and called it a big fat crush… so, I… Yeah, it turns out it was easy. This is fine. More than, even.”
“You said whatever it is that I want, so of course it is, Jiang… Jiang Cheng.”
Wen Ning looked at the entrance of the training hall, the very public place that he just remembered they were in and saw Wei Wuxian giggling, A-Yuan by his hip and Lan Wangji by his side.
“A-Ning,” smiled Jiang Cheng. “I think we may have a little audience.”
Wen Ning hummed, happy, and contented, all because he dared to be alive.