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He watches Wei Wuxian fall and as he tumbles all of Jiang Cheng’s emotions fall away.

It leaves him empty. Well, emptier. He has been empty for so long now. Ever since Wen Zhuliu’s hand touched his golden core—or maybe even longer, maybe ever since his mother pushed him onto that boat with Wei Wuxian and wrapped them both in Zidian, telling him not to come back.

Baoshan Sanren restored his core, but nothing could restore the emptiness he feels.

He laughs, his voice breaking in his ears, and Lan Wangji looks death at him. Well, fuck Lan Wangji anyway. He’ll never understand. His sect burned, but his uncle and his brother and him all got through it, even if Lan Wangji did break a leg.

Mother and Father died together, protecting Lotus Pier. That hurt, it would never stop hurting, but it was avenged. The Wens are broken, Wen Chao, Wen Zhuliu, Wang Lingjiao, Wen Ruohan, all of them are dead. Nightless City had fallen.

He could move on.

But there are still three deaths inside him that he cannot shake.

His own golden core, restored but never quite the same.

A-jie’s, for which he wants so badly to blame Wei Wuxian.

Wei Wuxian’s, for which he blames himself—and which does not in any way feel like it avenged A-jie.

Rather the opposite, in fact.

He laughs again—what else can he do—and steps away from the ledge.

He has his men search for Wei Wuxian’s body at the base of the cliff, and never admits that he would rather find his brother alive.

**

He tries to throw himself into his work, into the rebuilding of the Jiang sect, and he does. For three years, he does. For three years he forces himself to channel all of his energy, all of his focus, all of his time into two things and two things only: Lotus Pier, and Jin Ling.

He’s immensely proud of them both.

But three years pass by and there is never a day he doesn’t see A-jie’s face in the lotus blossoms and hear Wei Wuxian’s laughter in the rush of the river. Never a day when he doesn’t take a bite of food and think it would be better if A-jie had made it, or correct a disciple’s sword form and wince to think of how easily Wei Wuxian would have whipped them into shape and made them laugh and thank him for doing it. Never a day when he doesn’t wish both of his siblings were just a touch less self-sacrificing: that A-jie had let that sword strike Wei Wuxian or Wei Wuxian hadn’t felt the need to stand for the Wens even when Jiang Cheng couldn’t stand with him.

But then again, they wouldn’t have been the people they were if they had been capable of caring less.

He tells himself, and tells himself, and tells himself that he hates Wei Wuxian, that he is glad he fell, that he was right to kill him (and every time he remembers striking the stone instead and watching Wei Wuxian yank his hand out of Lan Wangji’s grasp and fall, deliberately, to his own death).

He can’t sleep, but Jin Ling is a fussy baby (he really is Jin Zixuan’s kid) and no one really notices that anyway.

After three years, Lan Wangji emerges from wherever he was and starts poking around the cliff base.

He and Jiang Cheng don’t talk, he doesn’t think they’ll ever talk, but he knows what Lan Wangji finds anyway: nothing.

The same thing the Jiang cultivators found as well.

But there is no doubt in his mind that Wei Wuxian is just as dead as Jiang Yanli, and both of them are just as lost to him.

Still, Lan Wangji’s desperate search reminds the cultivation world of Wei Wuxian again, and the whispers start up once more.

One of them, in particular, comes to Lotus Pier, and it will not leave Jiang Cheng’s mind on those sleepless nights (all of the nights are sleepless) when Jin Ling is miraculously down (or is, increasingly, in Lanling, because “he’s a Jin, he belongs with the Jins,” fuck you very much Jin Guangyao) and Jiang Cheng has only himself and the waning moon for company.

They say there’s a portal to death in the Burial Mounds; that the reason the blood pool spouts blood is that it is continually refreshed by the blood of those newly slain.

That if you dive into the blood pool, you can reach the land of the dead, and if you are very lucky or very charming, the God of the Dead might even let you back.

If you are extremely wise, the rumors whisper, there might even be a way to bring someone back.

Jiang Cheng knows he is not lucky or charming or wise, but he is very determined, and that will have to do.

What the fuck does he have to lose? Jin Ling is in Lanling so often now, and he loves little Jin Rusong like a brother, and his new first disciple is doing most of the work anyway now that everything is finally back up and running at Lotus Pier and god damn it, he knows it’s a bad idea, but…since when did Jiangs do anything other than attempt the impossible?

One night Jiang Cheng finds himself on his sword headed for Yiling, and he does not turn back.

**

The Burial Mounds are angrier than he remembers, but then again what did he expect? The Wen remnants are gone, Wei Wuxian is gone, and so no one is even pretending to tame the resentment of the site.

Oddly enough, however, the remaining wards let him through unchallenged, and there are fewer fierce corpses than he expected. Maybe most of those were Wei Wuxian’s after all—it’s not like he’d been here before.

Unlike Wei Wuxian, he thinks involuntarily, and shudders.

He walks into the Demon-Subdue Palace, the doors clanging open behind him. The blood pool is glowing, red and vicious, and if he squints and stands on his head he supposes it could look like a doorway.

He feels like an idiot the moment that he thinks that, but he’s already here, there’s no one watching him, who is he performing for anyway? If there’s even a chance to see A-jie again, let alone to bring her back with him, he has to try.

And after all, he’s been living on borrowed time this whole time. He shouldn’t be alive; Wen Zhuliu and Wen Chao should have killed him anyway. That was the point of distracting them from Wei Wuxian all those years ago, wasn’t it? To give his life for theirs.

Put that way, it’s just like repaying an old debt—and he doesn’t even have to pay interest.

He steps into the blood pool like he’s slipping into a bath, the blood (if it is blood, it’s far too watery) eerily neither warm nor cold against his skin.

The moment his head goes below the surface everything reorients, and he is suddenly standing in a long, rocky valley with high, sharp walls. A light gleams atop one of them.

He supposes this must be the land of the dead, but it looks an awful lot like the cliff bottom by the Nightless City.

Oh well, at least that gives him a destination.

He whips out Sandu and starts to fly.

**

The ascent is easy, almost pleasant, and he instantly distrusts it. In his experience, what is given to you easily is either worthless or beyond price, and he does not trust the land of the dead to give that which is peerless up without a fight.

He alights from Sandu at the base of a staircase he knows only too well, and has to restrain himself from looking for Wen Ruohan’s bloody body at the foot of it.

If his instincts are right, he’ll be seeing him soon enough anyway.

He strides up the staircase and into the familiar halls of Nightless City, his footsteps echoing into the vast emptiness of the seemingly abandoned fortress.

Somehow the very absence of other sounds and people makes it worse than when he had walked the same halls to the sound of the dead and dying, his footfalls muffled by a carpet of fallen fierce corpses, no longer undead but twice-dead and still as their master.

He comes into the chamber that he last saw on the night when Jin Guangshan tried to force him to marry A-jie off to Jin Zixuan before the peacock had grown a spine, and comes to a halt.

There on the dais by the throne stands Wen Ruohan, just as he had known he would be, all four pieces of the Yin Iron orbiting in the pit before him, the fires of which cast Wen Ruohan’s face in shadow.

Four pieces, he notes idly. So the Stygian Tiger Amulet was indeed destroyed. Here in the land of the dead, after all, there is no place for those things that exist in the world of the living.

Like him.

“Jiang Cheng. Jiang Wanyin. Sect Leader Jiang. Sandu Shengshou. Welcome,” says a voice that is not Wen Ruohan’s out of Wen Ruohan’s mouth.

“Thank you, my lord,” he says, for this cannot be anyone but the God of the Dead.

“It has been long since a living soul has entered my halls,” says the deity, “but I remember the forms. Will you take tea?”

“Thank you. Your hospitality is most welcome.” Somehow Jiang Cheng thinks that his status as a living soul would not last long if he refused to honor the basic courtesies, though he does not see a tea set anywhere about.

Apparently it does not matter. One moment there is nothing; the next a teapot of exceptional grace and understated design is pouring tea into a matching cup on an elegant low table before him.

“Drink up, young man,” suggests his host. “We drink nothing but the best here. After all, the loveliest pieces break, and the finest tea leaves are steeped and discarded, and so there is nothing but the best for us here.”

Jiang Cheng refrains from pointing out that bad tea is discarded along with good, or that the lower quality pieces break faster than the good. There is no point, after, in being an asshole.

He sips the tea instead. It is, without a doubt, the best cup he has ever tasted.

“It is delicious, my lord. Thank you.”

“Hm,” murmurs the Lord of the Dead, and in that moment, for Jiang Cheng, he ceases to be Wen Ruohan and becomes Lan Wangji—and somehow he is not sure the change is an improvement. “Now that the pleasantries are out of the way, let us get down to business. What is it that brings Sect Leader Jiang into my halls? I assume this is not merely a social visit.”

“It is not,” says Jiang Cheng, and he is proud that his voice does not waver. “I have come for a soul.”

**

“But I am sure you already have one of those.” The god laughs at his own joke, and now he is Jin Guangyao, and Jiang Cheng is relieved of the guilt of hating Lan Wangji at the implication of dimples in his voice. “Why would you come all the way here for what you already have?”

“I have not come for my own soul,” replies Jiang Cheng, keeping the frustration out of his voice, “but for one linked indelibly to mine.”

“Ah, for love.” The being in front of him waves a hand dismissively. “I am sorry if I am the one who has to tell you this, young man, but you are not in love. There is no lover’s soul pining for you in my halls.”

“I know that.” He does not roll his eyes at a god, but it is a close-run thing, because come the fuck on. “I did not say I came here for a lover.”

“Ah.” The deity steeples long fingers, impossibly long, longer than Jin Guangyao’s or Lan Wangji’s or Wen Ruohan’s could ever be.

Yes, ah. Jiang Cheng’s nerves are fraying fast, and it is all he can do not to shout at the divine being before him.

After an infinite moment that Jiang Cheng is certain was also only a few seconds, the Lord of the Dead nods. “The sibling. Yes.” He snaps those impossible fingers. “Are you sure your love is strong enough for that?”

“I am.” Jiang Cheng’s grip tightens on Sandu, not to draw it—he is still clinging to the idea that he is a living soul, after all, and attacking the literal embodiment of death feels like a bad way to maintain that status—but for strength.

He needs all of that strength when, as if called by the snap, the grayed-out figures of two people appear on the dais beside the god. A-jie. Wei Wuxian. But wait…both of them?

“Ah, I see you’ve noticed our little problem.” The god leans back as if amused by the situation. “Which of them will you bring with you? Who do you love best, Jiang Wanyin? Who deserves to come back with you to life?”

Zidian pulses into life on his finger—not yet a whip, but no longer asleep. A-jie’s name is in his mouth, almost on his lips, but does not pass his tongue. Who is this god to judge his love, to tell him he can only love one of his siblings? In that moment it is not Wen Ruohan, Lan Wangji, or Jin Guangyao he sees in the deity but Yu Ziyuan—Mother—snapping at him, at A-jie, for caring about Wei Wuxian. Or maybe it is Jiang Fengmian, casually assuming that the bond between the three of them is less important than whatever Cangse Sanren and Wei Changze used to be to him.

Either way, he swallows the name he was about to pronounce and stands up. Attempt the impossible, he thinks.

“Both.” He stares at the two figures, neither of which has been able to speak or move, and hears A-jie’s words echo in his head: we three are the closest in the world. We must always be together. He came determined to bear away one soul, but how could he possibly leave either? “Both,” he says again, more decidedly this time.

“Now, now, don’t get greedy. Let’s see what they have to say for themselves, shall we?” The god—or perhaps he should think of it as a demon—claps those long hands together as if presenting the beginning of a show.

Jiang Cheng is really starting to hate this fucking asshole, even if he does have really good tea.

**

“Who shall we ask first?” The deity taps his lips while Jiang Cheng stays resolutely silent, having already said all he plans to say. “No opinion? Oh well, age before before beauty, I suppose.”

Jiang Cheng tries his hardest not to react to the implied insult to A-jie’s looks—which is made easier by the fact that her face fills in with color and she draws a shuddering breath. “A-Cheng?”

“A-jie.” The name is drawn out of him as easily, more easily, than breathing.

“A-Cheng. You need to take A-Xian with you.” Her face tightens in what he recognizes as fear. “I gave my life for him, A-Cheng. Please. Please. Let it have meant something. Take him with you. Keep him alive, this time. For me.”

“A-jie,” is all he can say, the tears streaming down his face. He had known she had done it intentionally, known that his own actions in driving Wei Wuxian off the cliff would have broken her heart, but hearing it in her own voice is worse than he could ever have imagined.

“Now, now, we can’t have only one side presented!” The god gestures and A-jie’s face goes slack and gray, and Wei Wuxian’s lights up. “Let’s hear from the other, shall we? Maybe they’ll make this easy for you and agree!”

“Jiang Cheng!” If Jiang Yanli’s face was tight with grief, Wei Wuxian’s is in constant motion, as it was in life, but it expresses equal terror and concern. “For God’s sake, take shijie. She has a child, Jiang Cheng. Besides,” and suddenly the mobile face is stark and still. “I’m better off here. You said nothing I did was connected to the Jiang clan any longer. You had better stick with that, for everyone’s sake.”

“Ah, but how could he?” The god interrupts, and for once Jiang Cheng is glad of it, glad of the chance not to think of the way Wei Wuxian won’t meet his eyes even in death. “After all, he can hardly avoid being connected to you, can he? Not with your golden core spinning in his lower dantian.”

“What?!?” He’s not sure he actually forms the word inside the sudden expulsion of breath from his body, but he hears it loud and clear in Wei Wuxian’s voice—only it continues on. “How dare you tell him that?”

“Wei Wuxian?” He wills it to come out demanding but all he hears in his own ears is weakness and fear.

“It’s nothing, it’s nothing.” But he still won’t meet Jiang Cheng’s eyes.

“But Baoshen Sanren restored my core,” he says, and again the words come out more as a question than he wishes they would. “You brought me to the mountain and I climbed and she...she restored it.”

But he can feel it, now that the words have been said. He can feel how his new core—Wei Wuxian’s core—draws him towards his brother. How it wants to connect. He had dismissed it as a result of his own sentiments, his own wish that Wei Wuxian would just come home and stop fucking around with the Wens, but...it’s not.

Or not just that, at any rate.

“Wei Wuxian.” This time it is not a question, but Wei Wuxian answers it anyway.

“Yes,” he whispers.

The god laughs, and snaps his fingers, and Wei Wuxian goes rigid—as does A-jie, the color flooding back into her face. “Ah, it’s good to have these things out in the open, isn’t it?” It is not. “Now choose: who will you bring back with you?” He raises a finger. “Ah. One minor thing, but you had better know it now. I won’t interfere with your departure, but if you so much as look back or up at your chosen soul before you emerge fully into the living world, I will have to repossess their soul. Sorry for the inconvenience.” He smirks, and again there is a strong feeling of Jin Guangyao in the room. “Now, who will it be? The sister, or the brother? Blood, or the golden core?”

“Choose.”

**

He takes a deep breath, and walks quickly up the steps towards A-jie, his hand extended towards hers. She shakes her head as he approaches in a last, desperate attempt to change his mind.

Except she doesn’t know it.

As his hand closes around her wrist he lashes out with Zidian and catches Wei Wuxian around the waist, pulling him across the dais towards them.

“Both,” he says, with all the conviction of the Lord of Lotus Pier, one of the Twin Prides of Yunmeng. “I said I choose both, and I so choose.”

He closes his eyes, slides Zidian off his finger in an echo of his mother in the last moments he spoke to her, and lashes it tightly around his siblings by feel.

He turns away and opens his eyes to stare down an angry god. “Now let us pass. You said you would not hinder my departure.”

The eyes he could not see before are now red and bright, twin blood pools in a still-darkened face, and the Yin Iron is spinning faster and faster. “Very well. I will abide by the terms I set, and let you go. But if you so much as glance at either of them, be assured that I will take great pleasure in restoring them to their rightful place within these halls.” There is a final snarl, and the god is gone—along with the table, cup, and teapot.

“Fuck you,” mutters Jiang Cheng under his breath.

“A-Cheng!” His sister’s reproach is a reminder that insulting their (hopefully former) host is probably a poor idea, as well as of the task ahead. He keeps ahold of her wrist and tugs them along.

“Grab onto each other. I’m afraid this is going to be a fucking nightmare.”

And so it proves. It’s difficult enough to bring them with him down the stairs of Nightless City (who the hell decided to put in so many steps?), but when they come to the precipice—the very one, he cannot help but note, from which Wei Wuxian flung himself in literally another lifetime—he sits down with a thump, and hears them do the same behind him.

“It’s down there.” He gestures, not turning around. “In the valley.”

“I know.” Wei Wuxian sounds wry—he can imagine the look on his face, and has to restrain himself from turning to look. “That’s how I ended up here, after all. There’s a portal there in real life too.”

Huh. He hadn’t known that. Maybe the dip in the blood pool hadn’t been necessary after all.

“But then again, I wouldn’t recommend it. I ended up crawling out of the blood pool in this world—and if you think it’s creepy in the Burial Mounds among the living...” Wei Wuxian’s voice suggests he’s trying to make a joke of it, and failing. “You wouldn’t have liked it,” he ends, his voice heavy, as if he expects Jiang Cheng to do something like tell him he deserved it.

A-jie does her best to make peace between them, and Jiang Cheng doesn’t have the strength to tell her all his resentment drained away with the news about the golden core—replaced by new resentment, because what the hell and how the hell did that happen, but not burning the same way anymore.

They sit there for a while, staring at the cliff—or at least, Jiang Cheng is. He has no idea what the others are doing because he still can’t look at them. They could be playing go, for all he knows, or learning how to weave, or literally anything.

They sit like that for a long time. Occasionally one of the others will shift, or move, or do something that makes sound, but by and large a heavy quiet settles over them.

**

“Well.” Wei Wuxian eventually breaks the calm. “I suppose you’re probably wondering about the golden core, huh.” He is, but it doesn’t seem like the most important thing right now. Though they seem to have infinite time, or at least as much time as it will take him to starve to death on the edge of this cliff so he might as well listen. They had checked—this world doesn’t seem to exist beyond the immediate environs, so there is no walking around to where the mountain lets them come back up the valley. A-jie is being quiet; he thinks she wants them to talk about, well, this. “I’m sorry, A-Cheng.” He doesn’t usually call him that. “You really should have left me behind. You and shijie could have flown back on Sandu by now.”

“Shut up.” He nudges the shoulder he can’t see, his eyes tightly screwed shut against the topic of conversation and the chance of accidentally dooming them all both. “You idiot, I was never going to leave you behind. Anyway, you were talking about the golden core?”

“Yeah. It’s just…you were dying, all right? Giving up. I couldn’t...I couldn’t see that happen. And I was reading, like, everything in Wen Qing’s library—and she had a large library, let me tell you, that thing was massive—and there was this experimental technique. A core transplant. And I had all these ideas about demonic cultivation anyway, and so...”

“So you gave me your core.” Jiang Cheng heard the god clearly enough, he doesn’t need to hear Wei Wuxian say it again. “Even though I fucking gave it up for you, you gave me yours.”

“For me?” Wei Wuxian sounds surprised.

“Yes, you idiot. Did you think I was so incompetent I got caught by accident? They were looking for you, they were almost on top of you, so I made a noise and I got them to get me.” He nudges the shoulder again. “I knew you’d keep A-jie safe, and I wasn’t much use, so...”

“Not much use? Jiang Cheng, you’re our sect leader.” Wei Wuxian punches him in the shoulder. “We needed you. I was just another disciple, but you...you are the Jiang sect. I couldn’t let you die.”

He hears the crunch of gravel as A-jie pulls herself up—she must have been sleeping on Wei Wuxian’s other shoulder, from the sound of it. “A-Xian. A-Cheng. I see we’re at the punching stage again.” He can hear the humor in her voice, the tone that has always said you boys can get along, if you really try.

“Yeah,” he grunts. “It turns out everyone here is a self-sacrificing idiot. Even you, a-jie—and I thought you were better than us.”

“Right?” Wei Wuxian scoffs next to him. “Shijie has always been the best of us, and then she threw it all away for me.”

“That is not what I meant.” He almost looks at Wei Wuxian for that, but remembers at the last moment and slaps a hand over his eyes. “A-jie, tell him he’s an idiot.”

“A-Cheng!” she scolds. “A-Xian, you’re not an idiot, but my choices were my own. Don’t act like I didn’t have the same right to save you that you had to save A-Cheng, or the Wens.”

“Sorry, shijie.” Wei Wuxian wines. “Forgive Xianxian? He’s only three.”

Jin Ling is three, you’re twenty-four.” Jiang Cheng rolls his eyes behind his closed eyelids, which he thinks rather spoils the effect, but Wei Wuxian probably knows he’s doing it anyway, if the huff of laughter is any reaction. But then he sobers. “Not that that will matter if I can’t get us off this cliff.”

“I think time works differently here, A-Cheng,” says A-jie, and of course she knows the right thing to say. “And A-Xian, of course I forgive you. But don’t make me do anything like that again, promise?”

“I promise, shijie.”

The silence that falls now is more companionable—easier, somehow, now that these things are out in the open.

**

After another indeterminable period, Wei Wuxian nudges Jiang Cheng. “Hey. Jiang Cheng. Wake up.”

“I’m not asleep, idiot, I’m just not looking at you.”

“Fine.” He thinks Wei Wuxian is rolling his eyes now. “You know how you have my golden core?”

“Yes. Don’t fucking remind me. I’m still pissed at you for that.”

“Does that mean you can wield whatever?”

“Huh?” He doesn’t process it for a moment—does Wei Wuxian think his golden core is so amazing that it would let Jiang Cheng wield anything besides a sword as a spiritual weapon?--but then it clicks. “Oh, Suibian. I have no idea.” But the possibility is there, now that he’s thought about it. Suibian has locked itself since Wei Wuxian’s death—or before, he has no idea when Wei Wuxian, who apparently doesn’t have a golden core, last wielded it—and he had never had any reason to try to draw it.

But now he does.

The core of their problem right now is that he cannot carry them both down on Sandu, and they cannot crawl down with his eyes closed—or with Zidian connecting the other two, for that matter, and he doesn’t trust the Lord of the Dead enough to retract it.

But if they had two swords...A-jie is not a great cultivator, and cannot fly any long distance, but a controlled fall should be doable.

He holds out his hand and concentrates.

He concentrates for a very, very long time, his qi reaching out over distances he cannot even calculate, but there is a very, very faint tug on the end of the imaginary line he is casting out, and he dares not let go until he’s very certain what it is.

In the end, Suibian smacks into his hand with enough force that he almost topples them all over—only the fact that A-jie is bracing Wei Wuxian who is bracing him through their shoulders keeps him upright.

“Apparently I can summon Suibian,” he points out, and Wei Wuxian blows a raspberry at him.

“Give it here,” he says, and Jiang Cheng blindly hands it over, trying not to stab his brother (again) in the process. “Apparently when you die, you end up in the body you think of yourself as having—so this body has a golden core.”

“Well, that would have been useful information several hours ago,” gripes Jiang Cheng, but there isn’t any heat behind it. His brother has a golden core again, is all that’s running through his head as he mounts Sandu. “Do you think you can carry A-jie down without flying into my line of sight? I can’t exactly fly this blind.”

“Can do!” He can imagine the stupid three-finger salute Wei Wuxian must be doing. “Shijie, hop aboard, and let’s let Young Master Two Swords here do his business first.”

“That’s Sect Leader Two Swords to you,” he says. “And besides, now that you have a golden core I expect you to take Suibian back. I’m not making Sandu jealous.”

“That makes sense, A-Cheng.” A-jie swoops in before Wei Wuxian can say anything, but it doesn’t feel as fraught as it used to before.

**

The flight down is surprisingly uneventful. He’s pretty sure Wei Wuxian is going to boast about how fancy his flying was to avoid Jiang Cheng seeing him, but he doesn’t really care—he kept his hands blinkering his eyes, focused on the valley floor below as Sandu guided him down, and now he just has to find the opening in the cliff wall that he stepped out of in order to get back to the blood pool.

He hears his siblings land and closes his eyes, which makes the search infinitely more difficult.

Wei Wuxian coughs behind him. “Jiang Cheng, I, uh, know where the portal is.” Another cough. “It’s, uh, not in the wall.”

He sighs. “Then how am I supposed to find it?”

“I don’t know, Jiang Cheng, I’m just telling you facts!”

“Boys!” A-jie breaks through the incipient argument. “A-Xian, just position A-Cheng in the right direction. You can touch him, he just can’t look at you.”

“Oh.” They both nod—or at least, he assumes that’s what Wei Wuxian is doing, since A-jie doesn’t scold him. “Yeah, that would work.”

He squeezes his eyes tight and feels Wei Wuxian’s hands surprisingly gently push him until he moves where he’s guided. To Wei Wuxian’s credit, he only pushes him into a rock wall once.

“OK, it’s right in front of you. Just step forward.” Wei Wuxian’s voice is confident. “I promise it’s not another rock wall.”

“It better not be,” he threatens, “or I’ll break your legs once we’re out of here.” But he steps forward anyway, and it is not a rock wall. It’s the infinitely worse, incredibly creepy feeling of the blood pool. He sticks his hands out, fumbles for the edge, and pulls himself bodily out of the pool.

This would be much easier if he had Lan upper arm strength, but he doesn’t think he did that badly.

He turns to look back at the pool and then turns and practically runs out of the Demon-Subdue Palace. What was he thinking? If he sees them emerge, that means he sees them before they’ve fully emerged, and that means all of this was for nothing.

He’s panting as he slams his back into into the door to the Demon-Subdue Palace. With that closed, he can’t see them. It will all be fine.

“Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahoo!” He hears a shout and a splash. He doesn’t need to see to know that Wei Wuxian just rode Suibian out of the blood pool, but he wishes he could have.

It was probably fucking awesome.

He’s never telling his brother that, though.

“A-Cheng?” A-jie’s voice confirms that both of his siblings must have been on that wild ride out of the pool. “Where are you? We’re out now. It’s safe.”

He throws open the door and for a moment he just stares.

They’re there.

His siblings.

Alive.

Then he’s caught up in A-jie’s arms and Wei Wuxian is piling onto them and they go down in a giant cuddle pile as if they weren’t in the middle of the Burial Mounds and in constant danger from fierce corpses.

But hey—they have two swords, and three cultivators, and if he could get here himself alone he’s pretty damn sure they can all get back together safely.

He crushes his siblings to his chest in a bear hug, squeezing tight. “Neither of you is ever allowed to fucking die again, or I’ll break your fucking legs.”