Lan Wangji did what he could; Wei Wuxian wasn’t in the right state of mind and he couldn’t protect the Wen remnants anymore. The Jin sect was going to eradicate any life left on Burial Mounds even if Wei Wuxian didn’t show up at Nightless City.
With a soft knock on the door, Lan Wangji slid open the door and stepped inside. Everything was still the way it was when Lan Wangji left this morning. Wei Wuxian laid motionless on the bed.
He placed the tray down at the table. It was a bowl of soup and herbal mixture provided by the healers. Since it had been hard to get Wei Wuxian to eat, they had taken to feeding him easy-to-swallow foods. Lan Wangji removed the blankets, slipped his arms around his shoulders and behind the knees, and carried him over to the table.
The first few days were hard. Wei Wuxian was completely unresponsive to anything while Lan Wangji was helping his brother settle the Wen remnants.
The elders trusted his word enough to take a look at the “army” Wei Wuxian was harbouring and was disgusted when they found a child among the elderly. It wasn’t easy relocating a small village of people. While the elders agreed to help after Lan Xichen assent, they made it clear that it would not be done in secret and it would be known that the Wen remnants are in Gusu if anyone wished to question them. In no place to bargain for more than their safety, Lan Wangji acquiesced.
The healers had looked at Wei Wuxian’s state, only able to heal the physical wounds and at a loss about his unresponsive state.
Based on Lan Wangji’s recount of the events at Nightless City, the head healer explained that Wei Wuxian may be in a state of shock and will need time to properly heal, if at all. Lan Wangji did not like the answer. He wished something can be done to help.
Luckily, Wei Wuxian’s body was still responsive and able to swallow when fed.
Wei Wuxian made no sound of protest when given bitter concoctions or plain soups. Lan Wangji longed to hear his voice again, even if it was to yell or scream at him. It was better than seeing Wei Wuxian stare at nothing—not here even though his physical body was.
A-Yuan was getting fussy too. He was taken away from the community he knew and put into a new environment where the only person he knew was Lan Wangji.
Lan Wangji’s heart ached every time A-Yuan asked for “Xian-gege” and he had to tell the boy that Wei Wuxian was unwell so A-Yuan couldn’t see him. A-Yuan tried to put on a brave face the first day, but it crumbled over the next two days and he was nearly inconsolable by the fourth day.
He was having a hard time adjusting.
Back in Burial Mounds, A-Yuan was free to roam around a designated space, playing in dirt and other things he found. Here, he was told to sit still, listen to his teachers, and there was no Xian-gege.
Lan Wangji tried to be a constant in his life, reassuring A-Yuan when he can, but he was only one man trying to appease the elders, take care of Wei Wuxian, look after his own duties, and check on A-Yuan. By the sixth day, Lan Wangji relented and asked if A-Yuan wanted to see his Xian-gege.
A-Yuan nearly leaped for joy, but Lan Wangji sat him down and tried to explain Wei Wuxian’s condition to the three-year-old.
“Is Xian-gege sad again?” A-Yuan asked after the explanation. Lan Wangji didn’t think sad began to explain what Wei Wuxian was likely experiencing, but it was a start. “Auntie said that sometimes, Xian-gege is really sad and can’t play with A-Yuan. But Xian-gege says A-Yuan makes him happy.”
“Yes, A-Yuan makes him very happy,” Lan Wangji said and patted the boy’s head.
There was a part of him that hoped that seeing A-Yuan could help Wei Wuxian. It was a selfish wish and he shouldn’t be disappointed when it didn’t work. But it hurt even more when A-Yuan tried to climb onto the man’s lap as he sat by the window staring at nothing. A-Yuan kept rambling about his day in a way that was reminiscent of the way Wei Wuxian once spoke to him before the world fell into shambles.
Watching the duo, Lan Wangji briefly wondered if this is how his mother spent her last days, staring out into the world that she had been cut off from.
It was not his first choice of places to keep Wei Wuxian, but the Gentian House was empty and unused for years. It had been as quiet as it had been years ago when Lan Wangji was a small child himself, but it was now filled with the one-sided rambling from A-Yuan and Lan Wangji will hold onto the little warmth in this cold house.
It was no surprise that Jin sect had sent someone to ask for the Yiling Patriarch, the Stygian Tiger Seal, and the Wen remnants. Jin Guangyao and his entourage of Jin cultivators arrived almost a month after the pledge at Nightless City.
Gusu Lan sect had sent out an official notice to the cultivation world that the Yiling Patriarch along with his creations and people were taken into Gusu. Lan Xichen had purposely not stated if they were prisoners. Although Lan Wangji would argue against crimes that Wei Wuxian had not committed, too many things had happened after Jiang Yanli was killed that Wei Wuxian was not completely innocent.
“I came here to reason with the Yiling Patriarch,” Jin Guangyao said when Lan Wangji was summoned to the meeting. His brother and the elders were also present. Lan Wangji looked to his brother for help. Almost everyone in Lan sect knew what kind of state Wei Wuxian was in.
“I have told A-Yao that Wei-gongzi is, in a difficult state,” Lan Xichen explained. “He still wishes to see for himself to report to Sect Leader Jin.”
Lan Wangji didn’t like the idea of letting anyone near Wei Wuxian in his weaken state, but he will be present to protect him. Unable to deny the request, he led the golden clad man down the path to the secluded house. Thankfully, his brother joined them.
Wei Wuxian was sitting by the window where Lan Wangji had left him.
Everyday, Lan Wangji would check on him in the morning before breakfast and attend to his morning duties. Then he would bring Wei Wuxian lunch, sitting together with him at the table while feeding him as much as he could stomach. Then he would move Wei Wuxian to the window, letting him bask in the sunlight before Lan Wangji came to see him later in the evening for dinner. Some days, A-Yuan would climb onto his lap and start recounting his day—things he’s been learning—and having more one-sided conversation. After dinner, Lan Wangji would play some healing songs and other melodies before laying Wei Wuxian in bed again.
If Jin Guangyao noticed anything off about Wei Wuxian as they stepped into the house, he was excellent at hiding it.
“He’s been like this since…?”
“Since we found him with Wangji, yes,” Lan Xichen answered. The way Jin Guangyao was silently observing Wei Wuxian didn’t sit well with Lan Wangji. Although gossip is against the rules, he heard one too many times people berating Wei Wuxian for walking down the demonic path that corrupted his mind.
When the healers asked about Wei Wuxian’s missing core, Lan Wangji felt that he was doused in cold water as things started to piece together. The reason why Wei Wuxian had turned to the demonic path was because he had no other way. Although their knowledge on demonic cultivation was limited, Wei Wuxian’s body had been purified of resentment over time during his stay, yet he still hadn’t returned to himself.
“Er-ge, about the seal—”
“It is safe,” Lan Wangji cut in. He had given it to his uncle as a sign of trust and submission. He was willing to do anything to protect Wei Wuxian and the people he almost gave his life to protect. Since then, no one but Lan Qiren knew where the Stygian Tiger Seal is kept.
“Wangji is right. Uncle has sealed it away. Wei Wuxian is not in possession of it anymore. As protection for Wei Wuxian and the Wen people, the Stygian Tiger Seal now belongs to Gusu Lan.”
“That’s good, Er-ge.” Despite his words, Lan Wangji noticed the stiffness in his posture, the tense shoulders, and smile that looked too fake. He doesn’t have any reason to be suspicious of Jin Guangyao, even if his father hadn’t been subtle in his attempt to take what did not belong to him. But standing in the house that once belonged to his mother and now housed his beloved, Lan Wangji cannot help but be protective. “I shall return and let my father know about this.”
Lan Wangji did not see him off, since Lan Xichen was there for that reason. The two of them were closer, sworn brothers with Nie Mingjue. Lan Wangji’s place was here, with Wei Wuxian.
“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji dropped down to his knees and cradled the pale bony hand in his, “I will protect you this time. Please come back to me.”
Their next visitors were the Nie brothers.
After Jin Guangyao returned to Lanling, the news of the Yiling Patriarch being subdued spread far and wide. Part of Lan Wangji was resentful that everyone celebrated as if Wei Wuxian had died.
Wei Wuxian was not kept in the Cloud Recesses as a prisoner, not when he couldn’t even fend for himself. Lan Wangji would take good care of him; protect him from any harm. He was upset that he had to let Jin Guangyao into the safe haven he had created, but now he was demanded of the same thing once more.
“I wished to see for myself,” Nie Mingjue stated simply.
Lan Wangji once admired him for being straight forward and on the side of justice. Sect Leader Nie was a powerful man with a strong personality. He was not the scheming type of person like Jin Guangshan, but he was politically influential because of his status.
“Wei-xiong is a friend,” Nie Huaisang said, hiding behind his fan when Lan Wangji stared plainly at him.
One look at his brother and Lan Wangji knew that he could not deny the request. He trusted Nie Mingjue enough to let him visit. Being the busy and straight forward man that he was, he’ll leave after seeing what he wanted to see.
However, it was Nie Huaisang that Lan Wangji was uneasy about.
He doesn’t know what Nie Huaisang wants and an even larger part of him doubted that he will be the one to be able to help Wei Wuxian.
Once again, they stood in the Gentian House; the four of them looking at the unmoving form of Wei Wuxian. Nie Huaisang tried to ask questions, prompting Wei Wuxian to talk, but he was not even acknowledged.
Although it was petty, Lan Wangji was happy to see how Nie Huaisang deflated when his attempts did nothing. He disliked Nie Huaisang for being close to Wei Wuxian. He couldn’t do anything about Jiang Wanyin, someone Wei Wuxian grew up with, but Nie Huaisang didn’t even know about Wei Wuxian until they came to Gusu to study together. It was unbecoming to feel such a way, but no one had to know about it.
They left faster than the Jin delegates, since Jin Guangyao had spent a good portion of his time convincing Lan Xichen and the elders to hand over Wei Wuxian and the Wen remnants. After, he had tea with Lan Xichen and ended up staying the night as it got too late for travelling.
Lan Wangji naively thought it was the end of it until three months later, Sect Leader Jiang arrived in Cloud Recesses.
Out of everyone that was present, he was most wary of Jiang Wanyin.
Although Lan Wangji was also wary of Jin Guangyao, it was because he was a Jin and Jin Guangshan always had his eyes on the Stygian Tiger Seal ever since Wei Wuxian provided to be unwilling in joining his side.
Yet, Jiang Wanyin was the one to cut ties with Wei Wuxian, told the world that he defected and was their common enemy. He had more reason to hurt Wei Wuxian now that Jiang Yanli was dead trying to protect Wei Wuxian. While the Jin had an objective, Jiang Wanyin had a personal grudge.
However, the small bundle in his arms confused Lan Wangji, but the layers of golden threads made sense when Lan Xichen explained his visit.
“That idiot gave Jin Ling his courtesy name. I know A-Jie and her husband wanted him to see him since that’s what…” Jiang Wanyin trailed off and turned his attention back to the baby. “Never mind, just bring me to Wei Wuxian.”
Lan Wangji was tempted to ask Jiang Wanyin to leave Zidian back in case he got angry enough to attack. But he also had a baby and likely won’t risk any chances.
Wei Wuxian was unresponsive once again, which gained Jiang Wanyin’s ire. Lan Wangji was ready to unsheathe Bichen and spill blood when Wei Wuxian jolted as the baby was gently shoved into his arms. He watched while Jiang Wanyin yelled at Wei Wuxian, rearranging his arms to properly support the now-awake baby.
Three months since bringing Wei Wuxian to Cloud Recesses, the first reaction, or anything, from Wei Wuxian were the silent tears as the light finally return to his eyes as he looked down at baby Jin Ling.
His voice was hoarse from disuse and his arms weak from barely eating, but he looked happy as Jin Ling gurgled in his arms. They stood there for a while; Wei Wuxian trying to coo at the child while Jin Ling responded with his own gurgling. Just like any newborn, they tired easily, and Jiang Wanyin took him back to lay him in a bed and have the nanny take over his meals.
Wei Wuxian flinched when Jiang Wanyin stepped forward, earning a sigh before they left the Gentian House. Once they were alone again, Lan Wangji stepped forward, knelt before Wei Wuxian, and looked up at him like every other time. He didn’t try to reach for his hands this time.
“Lan Zhan.” The name was spoken softly, just like when Wei Wuxian was talking with the baby. “Where am I?”
Unable to lie, he replied, “Cloud Recesses.”
There was a strange smile on Wei Wuxian’s lips when the question was asked, as if he knew the answer with the presence of the Twin Jades. He likely gave himself a moment of doubt before a broken laugh bubbled out of him.
“Leave me alone.” He turned away, facing the window like how he normally sat. It had scared Lan Wangji that he was going to return to how he was.
“A-Yuan has been asking for you.” It was a cruel tactic to keep Wei Wuxian with him, to keep him present, but it worked when Wei Wuxian’s head turned so fast and nearly fell into Lan Wangji’s arms as he lurched forward in desperation.
“How is he? Is he here too? What about the others? What happened to them?”
Lan Wangji held Wei Wuxian’s shaking form by the arm, afraid that he’ll hurt himself in his weaken state. He waited patiently until Wei Wuxian asked everything he had, waited for a chance to speak.
“A-Yuan and the others are fine,” Lan Wangji started and Wei Wuxian’s shoulders sagged like all the energy left him “They’re here, in Cloud Recesses. I will take you to see them when you’re stronger. I will bring A-Yuan to see you if you wish.”
There was a strange sound coming from Wei Wuxian as he tried to pull away from Lan Wangji, his eyes looked wild.
“See them? See A-Yuan? Is that how you treat prisoners now, Lan Zhan? You might as well put us together, or is Gusu Lan that scared of me that they need to lock me up somewhere else, away from all of them?”
Lan Wangji knew that anything he said would not matter, not when Wei Wuxian was not listening to him. Instead, he made sure Wei Wuxian was comfortable before leaving to fetch A-Yuan. It was his only way to prove his words were true.
A-Yuan was confused when Lan Wangji came in during his lessons. With an apology, he took A-Yuan out of his class and told him that his Xian-gege was better. A-Yuan lit up with the idea of seeing Wei Wuxian again that he nearly ran off if he wasn’t holding Lan Wangji’s hand. He did take off as soon as he saw Wei Wuxian through the window, calling his name loud enough to break the rules. But being this deep into the Cloud Recesses, no one could hear it apart from the three of them. Lan Wangji could let it slip for now. Later, he will remind A-Yuan of the rules, but seeing the unbridled joy on both their faces were worth it.
A-Yuan once again seated himself on Wei Wuxian’s lap, talking away about moving to Cloud Recesses, his classes, his new robes, his peers, the other Wens, and Lan Wangji. When A-Yuan told him how Lan Wangji always came to visit A-Yuan everyday and sometimes brought him to visit Wei Wuxian, there was a strange smile he gave A-Yuan before lifting his gaze to look at Lan Wangji.
A-Yuan talked until it was near dinner time. He was never away for this long, usually an hour or two before going back with Lan Wangji. But since Wei Wuxian was finally responsive, Lan Wangji didn’t have the heart to separate them.
With a promise to visit again soon, A-Yuan left hand in hand with Lan Wangji.
When Lan Wangji returned with dinner, a much heartier meal but still easily digestible, he pretended not to notice the pointed gaze from Wei Wuxian. He was being watched like a prey calculating every move from its natural predator. Lan Wangji was used to this routine, except Wei Wuxian may put up a fight for once.
“Can you stand?” Lan Wangji asked. The healers had come in occasionally to check on his condition and move his limbs, so they did not become stiff. Lan Wangji could have done so as well, but it felt inappropriate.
As expected, Wei Wuxian lost muscle mass and could barely uphold his own weight. Lan Wangji easily carried him as he always did, earning a squawk from Wei Wuxian but little protest since Wei Wuxian can’t do much. He did draw the line at being fed no matter how much his hands shook, but eventually relented because he was getting more on himself than into his mouth.
“I will bring you some water to wash up later,” Lan Wangji said when most of the food was eaten.
He nearly cried from relief seeing how much was eaten compared to the last three months. Of course, Wei Wuxian still complained about the lack of taste though Lan Wangji didn’t think it would be wise to feed a healing patient spicy food.
“Lan-er-gege, with what strength do I have to wash up?” Wei Wuxian asked with genuine amusement. The first time Wei Wuxian was brought back, they gave him a thorough clean up to wrap up wounds and clear up the grime from the battlefield. When alone, Lan Wangji was hesitant to touch Wei Wuxian more than necessary, especially since washing another was a fairly intimate gesture. “Unless that’s your way of calling me dirty.”
“No,” Lan Wangji said as he spooned the last bit of plain congee. “I will help if Wei Ying wants.”
“I want a bath,” Wei Wuxian said mischievously. Lan Wangji was beside himself with happiness, “Lan-er-gege will help me, right?”
While part of him was happy that Wei Wuxian was relying on him, another part of him was unsure what to do with the knowledge that he will be seeing Wei Wuxian fully naked since they were teenagers. He will be able to touch and feel his skin, and the mere thought nearly had Lan Wangji shattering the bowl in his hand.
“I will help,” Lan Wangji said; his ears burned as Wei Wuxian cackled in delight. This was how things should be.
“Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian called out before he stepped out of the house to return the empty bowls and ask for someone to help draw a bath. “Thank you for helping.”
Lan Wangji’s gaze softened at the sight of Wei Wuxian dressed in white robes sitting at the table of his mother’s house.
“Wei Wuxian is coming with me,” Jiang Wanyin said with his arms crossed. It was an unreasonable demand and Lan Wangji opted to ignore it.
“Wei Ying will remain here. He has no association to Yunmeng Jiang anymore.”
Jiang Wanyin gritted his teeth and threw wild accusations at Lan Wangji. Although he was thankful for Sect Leader Jiang bringing Jin Ling to Cloud Recesses and breaking whatever trance Wei Wuxian was stuck in, he was not about to hand Wei Wuxian to anyone. Wei Wuxian was practically defenseless without Chenqing or the Stygian Tiger Seal.
The secret about Wei Wuxian’s core was kept between the healers and Lan Wangji. Although Lan Wangji wanted to let his brother and uncle know, Wei Wuxian hid this fact for so long that it felt disrespectful to reveal his secret.
Jiang Wanyin also likely did not know by the way he treated Wei Wuxian. If he truly cared, he would not have left him alone.
“Wei Ying will remain in Cloud Recesses. If you wish to visit, you are welcome to.” Since their discussion was going nowhere, Lan Wangji did not see a reason to stay and talk to Jiang Wanyin any longer. Any moment he was not spending with Wei Wuxian was wasted time.
It had been five days since Jiang Wanyin had arrived. Although Wei Wuxian didn’t say anything, Lan Wangji knew he was itching to see Jin Ling again. He was not in any position to ask Jiang Wanyin any favours, so he brought A-Yuan to see Wei Wuxian everyday. A-Yuan’s teachers were not as happy with the arrangement, but Lan Wangji did not care what they think. He will personally oversee part of A-Yuan education to ensure that he got the best teachings since Wei Wuxian too can pass down some of his knowledge from growing up in Yunmeng Jiang.
Lan Wangji would attend to his own duties in the mornings while Wei Wuxian was still asleep. At lunch, he would bring the food to the Gentian House and spend some time together with Wei Wuxian.
“Lan Zhan, the food here is so plain,” Wei Wuxian complained once again. They have not had a meal together where Wei Wuxian did not lament about the lack of spice. “I’m going to die from lack of flavour in my food. Even though you keep saying I’m not a prisoner, I’m convinced that this is a type of torture. Feed your prisoners tasteless food until they starve themselves.”
“I will bring you to Caiyi once you fully recover,” Lan Wangji said. He already had plans to purchase chili oil for Wei Wuxian once he was in good health and able to stomach more flavourful foods. He also studied traditional Yunmeng dishes that he could try to make.
“Really? I can finally have some good food?” Wei Wuxian looked so happy that Lan Wangji wished that they could go now.
“First, Wei Ying needs to regain his strength,” Lan Wangji said and Wei Wuxian visibly deflated.
“Such a bully.” Wei Wuxian pouted but ate his fill. Lan Wangji knew their situation at Burial Mounds was bad, but he was informed that Wei Wuxian usually ate the least, giving part of his portion to A-Yuan or skipping meals altogether. He didn’t even have his core to practice inedia.
Lan Wangji will ensure that Wei Wuxian is well-fed from now on. There was no need for him to starve himself anymore.
Lan Wangji had been too carefree. With the easy days, he almost forgot that Wei Wuxian was a free spirit, unable to sit still.
“Lan Zhan, you said I wasn’t a prisoner, right?” Lan Wangji stopped mid-song and turned to Wei Wuxian. Over the weeks, Wei Wuxian had gained his weight back. His brother stopped him from bringing him to town because he was the Yiling Patriarch and it was dangerous if someone recognized Wei Wuxian. Instead, Lan Wangji brought the food to him.
Wei Wuxian looked upset, unable to go to Caiyi himself, but he forgot about it as soon as he ate the dangerously red dishes. Lan Wangji also started to cook Yunmeng dishes to find what Wei Wuxian liked and adjusted his cooking to Wei Wuxian’s taste.
Between his alone time with Wei Wuxian and visits from A-Yuan, Lan Wangji was swept away by the feeling of domesticity that he overlooked a large question at hand.
“When can I leave then?”
“You can’t keep me here,” Wei Wuxian said with all the terrifying aura of the Yiling Patriarch. Lan Wangji saw past his façade.
“The cultivation world is afraid of you.”
Wei Wuxian snorted, “I know.”
“They will not let you live. You are safe here.”
“You do not care about my safety,” Wei Wuxian retorted harshly. Lan Wangji did not miss this. He wished to go back to the teasing words and easy laughter.
“Will you leave A-Yuan behind again?” Wei Wuxian stiffened at the words.
He was not there when A-Yuan woke up crying and screaming. Lan Wangji watched helplessly as A-Yuan called for people that were dead or unresponsive. Granny was much too old to be disturbed in the middle of the night so Lan Wangji resolved to stay with A-Yuan on those nights. He listened to A-Yuan cry about how he will be good so that those he loved would stay and not leave him behind again. Wei Wuxian was one of the people A-Yuan cried out for.
“That was a low blow and you know it, Lan Wangji.”
“What about your core?” Wei Wuxian turned pale under Lan Wangji’s gaze. “How long will you be able to keep it a secret?”
“I realized when you were… incapacitated.”
“Who… who else knows…?”
“Only the healers,” Lan Wangji said softly. “We have not said anything. You hid the fact for so long. I should have noticed something was wrong when you did not hold Suibian again.”
“No, you shouldn’t have known at all,” Wei Wuxian said as he curled into himself.
Lan Wangji put aside his guqin and moved to sit next to the bed where Wei Wuxian sat. Gently, he reached out for the hands that were once cold. It was nice to feel them emit their own warmth.
“Wei Ying, as long as I am here, I will not let anyone harm you. I will take care of you, A-Yuan, and the Wens.” Lan Wangji looked up to gaze at the face of the man he loved so dearly. Wei Wuxian looked tired and vulnerable for the first time since the war. “Stay in Gusu with me.”