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out of the dark

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Wen Ning doesn't dream, but sometimes, when he sits still and silent, memories come drifting back. Some clear as the day they happened, some faded, some happy, some not. All welcome. So many people only exist in his memories, now.

But Wen Ning doesn't dream, so when he lets his mind wander, and hears a soft voice saying I'm sorry, Qionglin, but I'm going to put these back now, he knows it's real.

That voice—

And I'm sorry, but if I'm doing this right, you won't remember any of this.

For once his first instinct is not to go to Wei Wuxian, and he's not sure why. He tells A-Yuan he will be taking a journey, and departs for—

—Qinghe, he realizes, after two days of travel. He remembers more, now. A delicate songbird coming to rest on his lifeless flesh, to the sound of someone else's delighted laughter. His own hand on a brush, tracing out shaky lines, mapping what he remembers of Koi Tower's secret places. Being locked away in those secret places long ago, and a face in the shadows, hidden behind a fan: oh my, what else has San-ge kept hidden away?

When he reaches the Unclean Realm, the guards let him pass like they know him.

"Ghost General, what brings you here?" Sect Leader Nie asks in a distant, bored voice. 

"Didn’t you call me Qionglin, once?”

The fan flips aside, Nie Huaisang leans forward. “You do remember.”

Wen Ning nods, then adds, “If you kept pretending, I’d have turned around and left, I’d have pretended, too.” He pauses. “I don’t remember everything. But I didn’t run all the way from a dungeon in Lanling Jin to Dafan Mountain in the space of a night, did I? Someone, you, took me there. Before that...how long was I here?”

“Not long enough,” says Nie Huaisang, then, “Too long. Long enough to start seeing you as more than a weapon.”

Wen Ning knows he’s a weapon; he has been a weapon for nearly as long as he was human. But with Nie Huaisang, he remembers discussing how he was to be wielded. “I agreed to it, didn’t I?”

"Well," says Nie Huaisang, "that's what I kept telling myself, so if you remember it that way too—"

"Huaisang." Wen Ning reaches out to catch Nie Huaisang's wrist before he can hide behind his fan again. "I agreed to it. Um...did you know, not everyone died, back then? I have a cousin?"

Nie Huaisang blinks at the change of subject. "I did. I mean! Not back then, actually. But I figured it out afterward."

“That is to say, the world now...I’d already started to think, maybe I don’t have to be a weapon anymore, before I remembered.”

“...and then you came back.”

“And then I came back,” Wen Ning repeats. “Huaisang, everyone says you don’t like weapons, anyway.”