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Jul 27, 2021 5:59 PM
More time travel with Lan Wangji and Jiang Cheng
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Wangji does not exactly expect for Jiang Wanyin to toss Wei Ying off his sword, but his eyes stay glued to the two of them in front of him all the same. The entire ride to the Unclean Realm he watches for the slightest sign of danger, even with wind sharp and unforgiving in his eyes.

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Wei Ying does not fall. Wei Wuxian keeps one hand on Jiang Cheng's shoulder for support; the other holds Chenqing behind his back. 

He hates this -- hates flying without feeling any connection to the sword beneath his feet, without power and confidence thrumming through his body, without a golden core. The world feels empty and flat, and he is powerless. It reminds him of his last sword ride. The one that had ended with Wen Chao hurling him down...

 

So no, Wei Ying does not fall, but for the entire journey the memory of falling claws at his bones. At least Jiang Cheng cannot see him sweat and tremble.

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They finally land a bit outside of the Unclean Realm and approach the rest of the way on foot.  Sentries identify them and let them pass into the fortress itself.

The courtyard has been turned into a hospital.  Wounded cultivators lie in uneven rows of stretchers, having been carried in from the battlefield for treatment.  Healers and those too young or weak to fight tend them, kneeling by the sides of the fallen or running this way and that carrying medicine and bandages to where they are needed.  Jiang Yanli is one of them, though it takes a careful eye to recognize her.  She's wearing a simple and faded robe that doesn't stand out well from the gray.

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It does take longer than usual to spot his sister, but not long. Never long. Even looking as worn and exhausted as she does now, exhausted enough to break his heart, Jiang Yanli is a radiant person.

Wei Wuxian drifts across the courtyard until he stumbles to a halt behind her, chest tight. Chenqing burns against his palm.

"Shijie..."

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Yanli turns slowly, half expecting that she was just imagining the quiet voice.

"Xianxian," she breathes, looking up at him.  What happened to him?  He looks awful.  Yanli slowly stands, not taking her eyes off of him as she approaches for a hug, making her face into a smile because that's what A-Xian needs.

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HUG. "Shijie," he whispers, tears stinging his eyes. "I've come back."

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She holds him, reassuring herself that he's really there.  Over his shoulder she looks at Jiang Cheng.

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Physically, he isn't pale or thin or hurt.  Emotionally, he looks like he hasn't seen her in thirteen years since he watched her bleed to death in his arms.  He wants a hug too, but is being patient.

He turns to Hanguang-jun.  Jiang Cheng has already lost more face than he wants to in front of him and knows he's not going to get through this without more crying, so he would really like it if Hanguang-jun would stop following them for the evening.  He bows, polite and formal.  "I thank you for your assistance in reuniting Wei Wuxian with A-Jie.  But now we really must discuss things as a family."

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Wei Wuxian blinks back tears before turning and nodding to Lan Zhan in affirmation.

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Fine.

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Yanli has no context from which to assume Lan Wangji would even want to join them.  She bows, then drags her little brothers over to their guest suite and sits them down.

"We were so worried.  Where have you been?"  She is, in fact, still worried.  A-Cheng is openly crying now that they aren't in public, and that's not a good sign.  She reaches out to hold A-Xian's hand, and her other hand reaches to settle his hair.  They're all together at least.  Her worst fear has been averted.

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"I'm sorry, Shijie, I didn't mean to be away for so long. I'm all in one piece.  Have they been taking good care of you here?"

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"Don't worry about me, A-Xian," she says, tapping his nose playfully. "Qinghe has been most welcoming.  I enjoy having the chance to visit, though I wish it had been under better circumstances.  It's been busy working with the medics but its good that I've had the chance to help in some way since I couldn't go looking for you myself."

"I knew I could trust A-Cheng to bring you back.  That sounds like it must have been quite a story." she says, turning to Jiang Cheng.  Perhaps he'll be willing to tell her something?  Yanli didn't miss that A-Xian didn't tell her anything about where he'd been.

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Jiang Cheng doesn't want to be on the opposite end of the table anymore.  He scoots to one of the closer sides and hugs her, clinging like he's drowning.  He attempts to explain.  The explanation does not start out especially coherent.  Jiang Cheng takes a breath.  

"This should probably wait until we've eaten.  And Wei Wuxian has gone to bed."  He's already heard it, and there's no reason to make him sit through it twice.  Jiang Cheng pulls slightly out of the hug to address Wei Wuxian for a moment.  "You look even more tired than you did yesterday," he accuses him.  

"A-jie.  The short answer is that I've gone back in time.  So has Lan Wangji, though from 11 years earlier than I was.  No, I don't know how.  You and Wei Wuxian both die, in the future.  Thirteen years before the time I came back from."

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Oh no!  She shifts herself so that she's hugging him instead, her arms wrapping over his.

Yanli doesn't want to leave them after hearing that, but yes they absolutely need food.  After another minute of hugs, she excuses herself to hurry to the kitchens and start preparing something.  That's something she can do, and also something very important.  She still doesn't know what happened to A-Xian, but from how thin he is it looks like it involved not having enough to eat.

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Shijie is being too nice to him, really, of course she is. The last time they were together, Wei Wuxian had gone behind her back to put her asleep and send her away in Yiling. He still squirms with guilt about that.

Not to mention the fact that he kills her. He doesn't deserve any soup right now, but Shijie is still herself.

He sighs and sprawls back in his seat. "Have you looked in a mirror lately? We all look tired."

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"I'm not the one trying to keep hold of mental stability through whatever demonic cultivation you've already done in the Burial Mounds.  Lan Wangji wasn't keeping you awake by staring at you or anything weird like that, was he?  If he does anything to make you uncomfortable I'll break his legs."

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"What, no! Jiang Cheng! Lan Zhan doesn't stare. I just had a lot to think about. Don't you think you should be more worried if I slept easily, after everything you told me? You want me to just snooze around knowing I'm supposed to fly off the handle and kill everyone?"

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"Try anyway.  Sleep deprivation isn't going to make you any more clever or stable."

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Will food help with being clever or stable?  Because Jiang Yanli is back and setting down the bowls.  

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"Shijieee, you're too good to us." Gripped by a sudden desperation to seize the food before it vanishes, he barely refrains from snatching his bowl and gulping it down at once. That would alarm the both of them, probably, and they don't need anything more to be alarmed about.

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A-Xian can have as many bowls as he wants.  His Shijie is very happy that he's eating, no matter how fast.  

Jiang Cheng eats at a normal pace.  He had the recipe, in the future, but not his sister.  It's her that he focuses on.

Yanli takes over the conversation.  She'd been shown Nie Huaisang's aviary along with the rest of the Unclean Realm shortly after arriving.  Describing her favorite birds sounds like a safe enough subject.  Far better than wounded soldiers or war.

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He likes listening to her talk! And the soup is tasty and filling wonderful, certainly better than anything he deserves. He thinks his tongue forgot it could taste anything so delicious.

He makes no effort to bring the conversation around to anything more urgent or serious, even once two and a half bowls are empty and he's had enough. That can be Jiang Cheng's job.

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Jiang Cheng is content to stay quiet for a surprisingly long time.  He doesn't know what to start with.  Oh, wait, yes he does.  "Wei Wuxian, now that you've eaten you should go to bed.  You look terrible."

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