Wei Wuxian didn't ask the question he'd been wondering about until Nie Huaisang was twice as drunk as he'd prefer him to be before posing it, just in case he was fronting. Fool me once, and all that.
"Nie-xiong," he asked, topping up his friend's bowl. "How long have you wanted to die?"
Wei Wuxian kept an idle but careful eye on Nie Huaisang after the scuffle at Guanyin Temple. Just in case the man's next scheme to shake the world around wouldn't be so half-charitable to him and his.
Well, to his. That was the part that mattered.
Except, Nie Huaisang didn't seem to have a next scheme. Nie Huaisang didn't seem to have a next anything. It seemed that he'd pointed himself wholly toward one goal, and reached it.
It hadn't left him content, because revenge wasn't something you sought to improve your quality of life. And then he'd just stopped. Wei Wuxian was almost certain it wasn't just that the sect leader was such a good liar he couldn't be seen through even if one was looking.
It made Wei Wuxian wonder why Nie Huaisang was still maintaining his (bad) reputation if it wasn't helping with anything. And then he remembered the sort of emotional thunk he'd felt the first time his pride had wanted to flinch in the face of damage to his own reputation and been too chinked and worn to do so.
That had been not very long after the denouement of his own grand revenge scheme, though it had taken a long and ugly decline for his pride to die for good. It had hung on until after he found a new cause to devote himself to and succumbed only after it had conspired with that same cause to ensure he wouldn't be far behind it. It hadn't come back when he did, really. And yet, the thought of standing around idle was still...
He cursed his meddling personality, and paid Qinghe a visit.
Nie Huaisang visibly swam to the revelation Wei Wuxian had couched in the question through a sea of liquor. His eyes wove along an invisible path, then stuck on a point in the ether and went round and very wide with an air of horrified realization.
Wei Wuxian thought at first he hadn't recognized the desire to die in himself before just then, and maybe he hadn't, but what he said was, "Wei-xiong... Do you think... If I was coveting death, would that make me more unfair to A-Yu than I realized I was being?"
Wei Wuxian blinked, hard. Nie Huaisang had lost him. "Ah, who?"
Nie Huaisang raised one richly brocaded arm and flapped it impatiently at Wei Wuxian. "Mmmo Xuanyu," he elaborated with the kind of deliberate placement of syllable that only distorted the words. "He was a good kid," he continued, a little belligerent, like he thought Wei Wuxian would argue. "Super annoying. Hated everyone." He nodded, like this backed up his point rather than undermining it.
Wei Wuxian sat back hard. He didn't often get new information about Mo Xuanyu, now that everyone knew he was a different dead man. Most days, he didn't think about him at all.
Wei Wuxian clicked his own liquor bowl, which suddenly looked less appealing. "So when you set him up to die, you thought..."
"Lucky bastard," confirmed Nie Huaisang, with relish. "Getting the cushy job while I had to stay here and do work."
If Wei Wuxian had ever wondered if Nie Huaisang's dislike for "work" was entirely front, his delivery there would have relieved him of any suspicions.
A different person might have followed up, And what, staying alive is work? But Wei Wuxian hadn't put the Burial Mounds that far behind him. So he just nodded, and took a deep pull of his wine.
Nie Huaisang fixed him with a look. It was bleary, but Wei Wuxian still felt a frisson of threat.
"Why're you asking me this, Wei-xiong?" he asked. "I haven't done enough for you to hate me.... You feel a little bit like you owe me, even though we both said you don't."
"I don't," said Wei Wuxian. Feel, owe. He didn't.
"For walking a troubled youth to his death so I could use you as a weapon, and not even for you," continued Nie Huaisang like he hadn't spoken, shaking his head. "But I knew you're that kind of person.... Why're you asking me this, Wei-xiong? Wei-xiong, are you going to give me a reason to live?" His tone was deeply incredulous. Like this was a magic trick he didn't particularly want to see performed but suspected Wei Wuxian might be capable of pulling off.
"...Figure one out yourself," said Wei Wuxian.
"That's a Lan line," said Nie Huaisang. "But you lie like a Jiang."
"Fine," said Wei Wuxian, because he did actually have something, and he thought maybe he even liked the sound of it. "That Jin Guangyao really tore through the Jin's reputation on his way out. Which, fine, I hate them. But now Jin Ling is the face of the shitshow, and their chief shit-shuffler is dead. Jin Ling was raised by Jiang Cheng, so he's hopeless, and I don't really... I'm no good with controlling the narrative. I just know that being no good at it can get you, ftt, dead."
"Ah," said Nie Huaisang, "I see."
"You're going to fix what you broke," said Wei Wuxian. "And if you don't, I'll make you suffer, and you'll have to put me down. But I'll bring you down with me on my way out."
Wei Wuxian actually quite wanted to live now, and was not eager to use that game chip even for family, but he was hoping Nie Huaisang would draw on the depths of desperation he knew Wei Wuxian was perfectly capable of being driven to and his awareness of him as someone who could be cavalier with his own life (and had been before, fatally, so take that, Nie-xiong, you've never even died), and draw his own conclusions.
"Wei-xiong," said Nie Huaisang, tone a balance of awed and scandalized that threw Wei Wuxian back to their school days. "You're so mean."
"Does that mean you're going to do it?" asked Wei Wuxian.
Nie Huaisang sighed.
"Why are you threatening me if you think I stopped caring years ago?" he asked, although he had not answered the original question with, years ago. "What good do you think it's going to do?"
Wei Wuxian clapped him companionably on the back.
"Having a protégé will be good for you," he said. "You'll be invested before you know it. And I'm giving you Jin Ling! Because I know you will care for his dear little face."
"Your nephew has a face like an overbred cat," said Nie Huaisang.
"That's Jiang Cheng's fault," said Wei Wuxian instead of denying it. "He grew up learning to emote nose scrunch first. Maybe you can teach him not to, at least in front of people he needs to impress."
"No, having a quirk is endearing," said Nie Huaisang. "It gives people something to latch onto thinking about you." He waved a hand broadly and then said, "Optics."
"See, you're already well at work," said Wei Wuxian cheerfully, and finished his drink.
"You're not worried that I'll sacrifice this one, too?"
"For what revenge?" asked Wei Wuxian."
"Fair," said Nie Huaisang, who had definitely hit the dizzily miserable stage of the evening's indulgences. "Wait, what if I wanted revenge on you?"
Wei Wuxian blinked. "What for?"
"For blackmailing me, just now," said Nie Huaisang. "God, you're stupid. Don't get yourself killed again right away not realizing when you're rude to people, please."
"Aw," said Wei Wuxian. "You do care."
"I didn't say I didn't care," said Nie Huaisang. "I just said I didn't bring you back for you. You're the only one who would... Look at this. You have every reason to have a grudge, and you're workshopping me instead." He inhaled, not exactly a hiccup. "I am glad you're back, Wei-xiong."
"You know what?" said Wei Wuxian. "Me too."