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Wen Qing’s last memory was of death by smoke inhalation.

It was objectively interesting—death by fire. Painful, of course—hideously, mind-rendingly painful. But surprisingly quick. Asphyxiation within minutes, before the burns were even fourth degree over most of the body. A learning experience. Or it would have been, if it hadn’t ended in, well. Death.

That was her last, lightheaded thought—a weak joke at her own expense. Wei Wuxian would have been proud.

That was her last thought. But then she woke up.

* * *

She opens her eyes to a black table covered with a red cloth, and a body full of needles. Acupuncture, of course, she thinks giddily. The afterlife of a doctor involves acupuncture. Why not?

Upon closer inspection, she appears to be working on Wen Ruohan, which also makes a certain, cracked sort of sense. He’s dead too, after all. And maybe this is a punishment, or a test. Because last time, Wen Qing had let Wen Ruohan live—out of fear, out of misplaced attachment, out of principle.

Swiftly, efficiently, she shoves a needle at the base of his skull significantly deeper, channels qi though it, yanks it from side to side, and severs his spinal cord, paralyzing him and putting him completely at her mercy. A severed spinal cord that high up means he’ll die soon in any case, but she decides to take no chances that he’ll somehow manage to heal himself—she grabs the knife she habitually carries and is apparently still carrying in the afterlife and stabs him in the side of the neck, twisting and jerking until the delicate structures within are mutilated beyond repair. Wen Ruohan is dead before he has a chance to call out. Or whatever the afterlife equivalent to death is.

In life, Wen Qing had been dedicated to never, ever killing anyone, regardless of provocation. She was a doctor; she was sworn to save lives, not end them. And she lived a technically principled life to the end, however complicit she may have been in truth.

Yes, she stuck to her principles, and it was the death of every single person she loved. Letting everyone live turned out to be the same as nurturing an infection and still believing you could save the patient. She simply wasn’t born into the kind of world or clan where morality was that straightforward. She has regrets.

As for this afterlife Wen Ruohan, well…Wen Qing is unsure there’s much point in killing a man who’s already died, but she was denied the satisfaction last time, so this seems, frankly, the very least she’s owed. If this is a test, she hopes she’s proven that she is capable of learning from her mistakes.

It’s a strange feeling, though. Wen Ruohan was a monster: he was responsible for the deaths of most of her family, not to mention what he did to the cultivation world as a whole. But he raised Wen Qing and Wen Ning with as much love as he raised his own sons, if not more. Her feelings toward Wen Ruohan are…complex. But it’s a simple fact that he is far too dangerous to allow. She suffered him to live before, and he was a poison in the world. And now he isn’t.

Which means she’s a murderer, so many years and tragedies beyond the time when that might have achieved something. What a disappointment to her parents she must be.

Posthumous murder accomplished, she sits back and looks around. The afterlife looks exactly like Nightless City, which is not at all what she would have guessed. Is she going to have to stay here with all of her most horrible relatives until she reincarnates? She’d rather not.

It really looks exactly like Nightless City.

At this point, A-Ning, innocent, young, and alive, walks nervously into the room carrying her medicine bag and fresh robes for Wen Ruohan. He bows and stammers all the way through a formal greeting before he notices the blood, at which point he drops everything he was holding onto the floor.

“Jie,” he whispers eventually. “You…you killed our uncle.”

She looks down at Wen Ruohan. He certainly is dead. She was very thorough about it. She looks back up at A-Ning. He persists in being bizarrely shocked, young, and alive.

…Apparently this is still the world of the living. Apparently this is some sort of…time travel. Which is meant to be impossible, of course.

She doesn’t know how, she doesn’t know why, but she does know that this is absolutely Wei Wuxian’s fault.

She looks back down at the corpse of her uncle, who is her sect leader, who is the Chief Cultivator, and thinks that life is about to become extremely awkward.

* * *

The good news is, there’s nothing definitively proving that Wen Qing was the one who killed Wen Ruohan—he often napped after acupuncture treatments, and theoretically anyone could have knifed him in the neck during that time—and with that bloody mess to look at, Wen Qing is hopeful that no one will think to check for externally unobtrusive spinal injuries. To muddy the water further, however, she kills all of her uncle’s personal guards and steals his Yin Iron on her way out. (Wen Ruohan’s personal guards were his own, handpicked scum of the earth, so she feels very little guilt about eliminating them.)

Even better, A-Ning manages to poison Wen Xu while he’s sleeping and before anyone’s noticed that Wen Ruohan is dead. Wen Xu was arrogant, and only kept one guard while he slept. That guard is also dead, which means there’s no proof that A-Ning killed Wen Xu, either. As for Xue Yang, Wen Qing kills him herself, and leaves him where he lies. No one will suspect her in his case—the boy has so many enemies, it’s only a wonder he wasn’t murdered before.

A thorough investigation reveals that he is carrying his Yin Iron with him. She takes that piece, too, and feels that some sort of horrible progress is being made.

According to A-Ning, Wen Chao is “escorting” them to Gusu Lan very early in the morning—earlier than Wen Ruohan liked to be awake. Wen Ruohan also preferred to receive acupuncture treatments immediately before bed, and did not like to be disturbed while he was sleeping. This means that, by happy coincidence, Wen Qing and Wen Ning will likely be miles away before anyone notices that their sect leader is dead, the Yin Iron is missing, and there are various corpses stuffed into chests and cabinets around the palace. And by that time, they’ll be on a lonely, isolated road with no one around but Wen Chao and a handful of guards.

And so it comes to pass. Wen Chao and all of his guards are dead minutes after they leave Qishan Wen—Wen Qing takes care to make it look like fierce corpses did it. It’s so easy to kill people who don’t suspect you, it’s a little off-putting. A-Ning looks downright guilty. He’s such a good person. A good person who is going to live to be old this time, no matter what it takes.

There are only, say, five people in existence who could possibly mourn the loss of Wen Chao in any case, and three of them are already dead. Of course, pointing that out would only make A-Ning even more unhappy. He’s far too kind for the cultivation world.

Wen Qing did at least make the deaths painless. All of her executions so far have been relatively painless. As far as she’s concerned, none of this has been revenge—it’s been surgery.

She wonders when the (surviving) palace guards will realize that Wen Ruohan is dead. Possibly they have already. Possibly the palace is even now descending into complete pandemonium, which will only become more wild when they realize the Yin Iron is gone. It’s an amusing thought.

Out of an abundance of caution, Wen Qing takes the time to write an extremely formal, realistically mournful letter to Nightless City informing them of the death of one of the heirs. What a tragedy. What a crime.

A-Ning would clearly love to ask what the hell she thinks she’s doing, but he’s too well-trained to question her during a crisis. And this murder spree she’s on certainly is a crisis, even if it’s one of her own making. She’ll feel safer once they get to Gusu—she’ll explain everything to A-Ning there. And then likely have a fit of hysterics and burst into tears, thus terrifying him completely, but that’s a future problem.

* * *

The rest of their trip to the Cloud Recesses is much more pleasant than it was the first time, murder spree and unhappiness about her choices notwithstanding. Because they don’t have Wen Chao to drag all the way to Gusu like a yammering ball and chain, they make better time—arriving a day before the saluting ceremony. They apologize at the gate for their lack of invitations, politely wait for Zewu-jun to arrive and clear them for entry (puzzled and slightly suspicious, but unwilling to upset Qishan Wen, which means he hasn’t heard about Wen Ruohan’s death yet), and then make their way into the Cloud Recesses in short order. There is no commotion, no screaming, and no one is set on fire. Truly the world is a better place without Wen Chao in it.

Fate being what it is, they manage to run into Wei Wuxian, Lan Wangji, Jiang Wanyin, and Nie Huaisang the instant they leave their rooms after storing their possessions (all the possessions they could carry, in fact. Wen Qing has no intention of ever returning to Qishan). Lan Wangji appears to be in pursuit of Wei Wuxian (who is being berated by Jiang Cheng), and Nie Huaisang has sidled up to enjoy the chaos from a safe distance. It’s absolutely typical of every single one of them, and gives Wen Qing a pang of irrelevant nostalgia.

Wei Wuxian is so incredibly, unbelievably, painfully young. Wen Qing hasn’t seen him smile without blood on his teeth—metaphorical or literal—in years. She’d forgotten what that smile even looked like. She’d spent so much time mocking him for being a child, but this—this is what he looks like when he really is a child. She’s come back in time less than five years, but Wei Wuxian is an entirely different person. But of course he is. How could he be otherwise? One doesn’t crawl through seven different kinds of hell without changing fundamentally.

And this means he didn’t come back with her.

She’d really been counting on him to come back with her. She’d thought she’d have her leader, her savior, her most annoying little brother. She didn’t think she’d have to do all of this alone. Though maybe she should have. It would be just like Wei Wuxian to find a way to send her back in time that would wipe him out of existence in the process. And just when she’d deliberately gone to die so that he could live. How rude.

Still, he may be only a child, but he’s a child Wei Wuxian, and that means the complicated, overly emotional look she’s giving him is not passing unnoticed. He’s giving her something of a look in return. It’s not quite the recognition she’d hoped for, but clearly some kind of future spillover occurred.

He knows her, but he doesn’t know her. He squints at her like she’s a half-remembered dream, and it makes her want to turn herself into a well-remembered nightmare instead.

She recalls with some satisfaction that she’s already murdered her sect leader and both of his heirs, stolen a dangerous magical artifact, and also died, and therefore no longer needs to care about propriety. With that in mind, she marches up to Wei Wuxian and punches him viciously in the stomach for the pleasure of watching him double over and collapse on the ground, wheezing.

That accomplished, she formally bows and introduces herself to the rest of the students, as does A-Ning, who’s apparently numb to the insanity by now. Lan Wangji looks shocked beyond words, while Jiang Wanyin seems torn between violent protectiveness and baffled delight. Nie Huaisang, unsurprisingly, looks like all his dreams have come true at once and he has nothing left to wish for.

“What did I ever do to you?!” Wei Wuxian wails from the ground at her feet.

“It’s not what you did,” she informs him. “It’s what you would have done.”

“I wouldn’t have done anything!” he insists, but he’s starting to look intrigued. Of course he is—he’s the most perverse person she’s ever met.

“Yes, you would have,” she informs him. “Because you’re an idiot.”

Jiang Wanyin’s leaning more toward baffled delight by the second, while Lan Wangji is developing the kind of appalled expression that suggests he suspects something scandalous is happening in front of him, even if he can’t quite understand what it is. Nie Huaisang has covered his face with a fan, so all that’s showing are his wide, gleeful eyes.

Wen Qing is tired of teenaged boys, and she’s only been around them for five minutes.

Except for A-Ning, of course. A-Ning is perfect at any age. A-Ning also looks like he wants to melt into the ground in a puddle of horrified mortification, but he’s a strong person, and he’ll survive it. He’s survived worse.

“I don’t know you, do I?” Wei Wuxian is asking, sitting up and absently rubbing his sore stomach with one hand. He’ll be fine within minutes. After all, he still has a golden core. “You look…familiar, but I don’t…”

“We’ve never met,” she allows, “but I know you.”

Wei Wuxian, damn him, narrows his eyes and starts taking things seriously. She hates it when he does that. “…Really.”

“For my sins,” she allows.

“Huh,” he says. And stops there, because this is an interrogation he’ll be conducting in private. Because heaven forfend his loved ones should ever know anything about what’s happening in his life. That habit, at least, apparently started before the war. Wen Qing scowls at him.

“What the hell is going on?” Jiang Wanyin demands, having reached his not very extensive limit for weirdness.

“Time travel,” Wen Qing tells him, because she is not Wei Wuxian, and thus it doesn’t cause her physical pain to answer questions honestly. “I don’t recommend it, but I wasn’t given a choice.”

“…Impossible,” Lan Wangji informs her.

“You would think so, wouldn’t you?” she commiserates. “But that’s because you’ve only just met that thing.” She points accusingly at Wei Wuxian.

“Thing?!” he yelps indignantly.

“‘Can you transfer my golden core to somebody else, Wen Qing?’” she mocks, widening her eyes innocently. “‘I definitely have my undead army completely under control, Wen Qing.’ ‘I’m fine, Wen Qing, coughing blood like this is normal!’ Get used to it, Lan Wangji. He’s a ridiculous disaster, but he already thinks you’re wonderful, so you’re never going to be rid of him.”

And that was absolutely the correct thing to say, because seeing Lan Wangji flustered and embarrassed is common enough near Wei Wuxian, but seeing Wei Wuxian blush bright red is a once in a lifetime gift.

“I do not think he’s wonderful,” Wei Wuxian blusters unconvincingly.

“Don’t worry,” she says to Wei Wuxian, at least partially in an attempt to be helpful. “You eventually fool him into thinking you’re wonderful, too, necromancy and all.”

Necromancy?” Jiang Wanyin hisses, rapidly approaching meltdown.

“Well, once he’d given you his golden core, he didn’t have a lot of choice,” Wen Qing tells him. It’s very satisfying, as it’s something she’s wanted to tell him for years, and only now are the circumstances such that she can do so without breaking a promise.

Nie Huaisang is waving his fan around in an agony of schadenfreude. He’d clearly be bouncing and screaming with excitement except that it would draw attention to him. His friendship with Wei Wuxian suddenly makes much more sense.

“He would never give me his golden core!” Jiang Wanyin cries, outraged.

“He would if yours was destroyed.”

“He would not!

Wei Wuxian looks guiltily off to the side. Unfortunately for him, all of them catch it.

“You would? What is wrong with you?!” Jiang Cheng howls.

“Well, I can’t do it now,” Wei Wuxian says sulkily, glaring at Wen Qing. “You’d know it was me.”

“Oh, and you think that’s the problem, do you?” Jiang Cheng demands furiously, reminding Wen Qing that she’d always rather liked him, despite everything. “That I’d find out? Not the part where you’d rip out pieces of your soul for my benefit—the part where I find out about it?!

“…I will inform my brother that the Wen Sect representatives have arrived,” Lan Wangji says distantly, taking comfort in the rules of hospitality and wisely fleeing the scene. Wen Qing feels a little guilty. Lan Wangji doesn’t deserve all this—he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Then again, he should probably start getting used to this kind of thing, as close to Wei Wuxian as he’ll inevitably become. Still, Wen Qing does him the kindness of letting him escape and not informing him that his brother was the one who let them in the gate.

“…Anyway,” says Wei Wuxian, having stared after Lan Wangji for an embarrassingly long time. “Time travel. How did that happen?”

“How should I know? It was your fault,” she snaps.

Wei Wuxian blinks in annoyingly adorable confusion. “Why do you think it’s my fault?”

“It’s always your fault,” she complains. “I don’t know what you did or how you did it, but I do know it must have caused you enormous physical and psychological harm, because that’s how you are.”

“Ah,” Jiang Cheng says in satisfaction. “She does know you. And don’t think we’re done talking about the golden core thing, either, because we’re not. I’m telling Ajie.”

“Jiang Cheng,” Wei Wuxian wails.

Wen Qing nods and heads back to her room, happy with her progress so far. Unfortunately, A-Ning is trailing after her in a state of increasing distress, and she’s going to have to do something about that.

* * *

“…Time travel,” says A-Ning in a quiet, frightened voice as soon as the door closes behind them.

Wen Qing is a terrible sister. “I should have told you sooner.”

“I don’t think I would have believed you,” A-Ning admits. “Not until I saw you with, uh. Them. You don’t. Normally like strangers.”

Very true. To be honest, she doesn’t normally like people she’s familiar with, either, but there are a few exceptions. “Wei Wuxian is possibly the best friend a person could have during a crisis,” she tells A-Ning softly, reaching out to tuck a stray lock of hair behind his ear. “You’ll like him very much.”

A-Ning smiles, some of his worry fading. “You know that.”

“Mm, I do know. It’s nice to be able to cheat. It’s nice to know someone’s true character beyond doubt, and Wei Wuxian is faithful to his bones. That said, when it is not a crisis, he’s a flighty, unreliable mess of a person, and you can’t trust him with so much as the grocery shopping.”

A-Ning gives a bright, shocked laugh, and Wen Qing beams at him. “When you really need him, when your life depends on him, he will absolutely be there for you, no matter what impossibilities he has to achieve, no matter how devastating it is for him personally,” she clarifies further. “But when you don’t really need him, it’s best to think of him as a particularly headstrong toddler.”

“I’ll…try to remember that,” A-Ning says, still smiling a gentle smile like a normal, living human.

“Try very hard. I know you, and you’re going to want to think of him as a hero. He’s not—oh, fine, he is a hero, but he’s also an idiot. It’s so important for you to remember that he’s mostly just an idiot, A-Ning.”

Wen Qing hasn’t seen A-Ning laugh this much in years. Another thing to thank Wei Wuxian for, as if her list weren’t long enough already. She chooses to ignore the slightly hysterical edge to the laughter.

Eventually, A-Ning calms down, and he shakes his head, smile fading. “It’s…there is something about Wei-gongzi. When I saw him…he seemed. Familiar? I felt like I could trust him. Or. Like I trusted him already?”

“Really?” Wen Qing murmurs, intrigued. “And that idiot clearly recognized me, too, on some level. I wonder if it’s only you two?” She hopes so. She certainly doesn’t want anyone else having inexplicable, Yiling Patriarch-related feelings in Wei Wuxian’s direction before he’s done anything to deserve them.

“Jie…what happened to you?”

She sighs. Of course it’s obvious to her little brother that she’s not at her most mentally stable right now. What with all the murder. “I was burned alive, A-Ning. And that was only after you were killed.” She decides not to get into the whole undead thing. It’s an unnecessary complication to the story, and besides, she doesn’t want it to get back to Wei Wuxian and give him ideas.

“Who did that to you?!” A-Ning demands, showing a hint of the buried resentment that once turned him into the Ghost General.

She shrugs, largely beyond caring at this point. “The entire cultivation world, really. Uncle frightened them so badly that they decided the safest course of action was to kill everyone who was named Wen, or looked like a Wen, or might once have been friendly with a Wen. It was a bloodbath.”

A-Ning shifts from rage to sickened terror. Wen Qing wishes she could just not explain any of this to him, but she knows he wouldn’t tolerate that.

“Is that, um.” He hesitates, looks down, frowns stubbornly. “Is that why you had to…with Uncle? And, um. All the other…”

He trails off helplessly, clearly unwilling to say the word murder within the Cloud Recesses, which is wise of him. But then, anyone living in Nightless City learned to keep the possibility of eavesdropping constantly in mind. Or at least, they did if they planned to survive.

Wen Qing is actually going to have to explain the Sunshot Campaign to this tiny, innocent version of her brother. She is going to have to explain to him what they did and did not do—and what their uncle did. She can’t think of many things she would like to do less.

But he has a right to know. So she explains.

She explains the Yin Iron and the invasions and the wholesale slaughter, she explains how every attempt the two of them made to mitigate the damage turned out worse than useless. She explains all that their family did to Wei Wuxian, and how he then killed more Wens than anyone, ending the war. And how even so, when the Jin started murdering every Wen in sight, in the very image of Wen Ruohan, Wei Wuxian was the only one who stood up for them. She tells him about Qiongqi Path, though she only describes him as injured. She tells him about the Burial Mounds.

She tells him about Jin Ling’s one-month celebration in as little detail as she can manage.

And then she tells him about the day they died.

He is very pale by the time she finishes their story, though nowhere near as pale as he was when he was a corpse. At least he’s stopped crying. Or maybe it’s a bad sign that he’s stopped crying.

In any case, all he says is, “What can I do to help?” Because of course he does.

* * *

At the saluting ceremony, Wen Qing and Wen Ning skip Wen Chao’s prepared gift, and instead present Wen Ruohan’s exhaustively researched, incredibly secret treatise on qi deviation. He was an unsung genius on the subject, as no one but Wen Qing ever knew he’d researched it at all—last time, his research was destroyed along with so much of Nightless City before anyone else discovered it. But that research was the reason Wen Ruohan was able to stay alive and relatively sane as long as he did, despite decades of demonic cultivation—it was also the reason he found it so easy to kill Nie cultivators.

And this time, Wen Qing is giving his research on qi deviation to the Lan, so that Lan Xichen can use it to help Nie Mingjue. Wen Ruohan’s research will be used to save the son of one of Wen Ruohan’s most famous victims.

Wen Qing thinks it’s funny. Possibly she’s the only one who does, but she has to take her amusements where she finds them.

* * *

Wen Qing has decided that she and A-Ning should actually attend classes this time, as she’s in no rush to acquire yet another piece of Yin Iron, and besides, building up connections with the other sects seems wise.

The first two days of class pass uneventfully—if one doesn’t count the Wei Wuxian-related shenanigans, which Wen Qing does not. (She cannot believe he actually babbled his demonic cultivation theories right to Lan Qiren’s face. She is going to corner him at the earliest opportunity and stab him with needles until he learns subtlety.)

It’s not until the third day that she and A-Ning are finally called out of class and informed very gravely and sadly of the deaths of Wen Ruohan, Wen Xu, and Wen Chao. They’re told that the Wen sect is in chaos. They’re given the opportunity to return home should they wish it.

They do not wish it.

A-Ning at least manages to look properly distressed by the news, if for the wrong reasons, but Wen Qing has never been good at displaying the emotions she actually feels, let alone ones she doesn’t. She’s struggling to appear as though any part of this information is either new or upsetting to her. (Well, she is slightly surprised that Qishan Wen managed to sit on a world-shaking scandal like this as long as they did, if it’s only reaching the Cloud Recesses now. How long did it take them to find the bodies? A shame she’ll never know.)

Luckily, everyone obliges her by taking her blank expression as shock. She and A-Ning are given the afternoon off to grieve and collect themselves, and nothing more is said on the matter. It really seems that the near-collapse of the Wen Sect won’t inconvenience them in any immediate way at all.

Or so she thinks until the next day, when it becomes apparent that the rest of the students have been informed. This means that Wen Qing and A-Ning are the subject of an appalling amount of sympathy, speculation, and ugly calculation. It’s exhausting.

The two outliers to the general trend are Wei Wuxian and, interestingly, Nie Huaisang, both of whom keep staring at Wen Qing with unsettlingly intent, intrigued expressions. Well, they can suspect what they like, but they can’t prove anything more than the Wen Sect can. Less.

Having identified two potential problems, Wen Qing fails to look for a third, and that’s a stunningly terrible mistake on her part. If she’d ever slipped this way in front of Wen Ruohan, she’d have been gruesomely murdered along with her entire family. Despite everything, it seems that life in the Burial Mounds has made her soft.

Which is why she’s so busy keeping an eye on Wei Wuxian and Nie Huaisang that she never notices Jiang Yanli right behind her.

* * *

Jiang Yanli fakes an illness. She fakes an illness. It’s classic, it’s beautiful, it’s the oldest trick in the book—and Wen Qing walks headfirst into it.

Not that she could have done anything else, which is the true genius of Jiang Yanli’s plan. When you are a doctor and someone requests medical help, it doesn’t matter if you suspect they may be lying. You have to try to help, or else never call yourself a doctor again.

This is especially true if you’ve been casually murdering people as a sideline to practicing medicine.

And so it is that Wen Qing willfully puts herself alone in a room with Jiang Yanli, starts to take her pulse, and only then notices that she’s on the receiving end of a slightly murderous look and that there’s nothing physically wrong with her patient.

Apparently she’s about to be interrogated.

“I was so sorry to hear about your uncle and your cousins,” Jiang Yanli says, not sounding sorry at all.

“Yes,” Wen Qing agrees, frozen in horror—mostly at herself for not seeing this coming. Jiang Yanli is Wei Wuxian’s big sister. She must be able to recognize shenanigans from a province away. “A tragedy.”

“So unexpected, too,” Jiang Yanli murmurs. “It isn’t as if any of them were even ill.”

Wen Qing blinks at her, refusing to admit anything.

“My brothers tell me you’ve traveled from the future,” Jiang Yanli continues, smiling. But there’s a knife behind that smile. That smile says, in the kindest possible way, I’ve realized now what you’re capable of, and if you cause my brothers any pain, I will kill you and they will never find the body. And they’ll never suspect me, either, because just look at this meek little face.

No wonder Wei Wuxian missed this person so desperately. As for Wen Qing, she’s already a little in love. In her past life, she’d never spent any time seriously talking to Jiang Yanli. All of their conversations had centered around medical disasters, whether Jiang Yanli’s own or her brothers’. It means that Wen Qing’s never had the chance to learn what kind of person Jiang Yanli is when she’s not mid-crisis. She’s certainly never been delicately threatened by her before. This is a delightful new experience.

“Your brother saved my life and sanity more times than I can count,” Wen Qing explains hastily, before she winds up politely stabbed to death over a misunderstanding. “My uncle threatened to kill my family on a near-weekly basis to ensure that I wouldn’t dare cross him, but Wei Wuxian—the only person I want to protect more than Wei Wuxian is my own brother.”

Jiang Yanli’s smile softens, loses its murderous edge. “I’m relieved to hear it,” she says gently. “But…they said you called him an idiot and insisted this was all his fault?”

“That’s because he is an idiot, and this is all his fault,” Wen Qing hisses, enraged just thinking about it. “I died to save him, but instead of accepting that, he sent me back in time to do everything all over again. He gave me a second chance at life when I was prepared to give up entirely. Do you understand how infuriating that is?”

Jiang Yanli stares for a long moment, then she halfheartedly brings up a sleeve to hide her unladylike snickering.

Wen Qing is glad her frustrations are so amusing to everyone.

“Do you plan to take over your sect, then?” Jiang Yanli asks when she’s finished laughing at Wen Qing’s pain.

“Absolutely not,” Wen Qing declares. “Even without my uncle in charge, it’s a snake pit. No, with any luck I’ll be able to entirely separate my branch from the main family. We’ve been doctors all along—being part of a major sect has caused us more trouble than it hasn’t. We’ll be well out of it.”

Jiang Yanli looks a little wistful, and Wen Qing wonders at that before remembering the poor girl is meant to be marrying into the Jin Sect. What a nightmare.

“You’re welcome to join us,” she says drily. It’s even true.

Jiang Yanli laughs again. “Oh, thank you. But I really couldn’t. My little brothers are…very hopeless at emotions, and I hate to think what would happen to them if I wasn’t around to translate what they mean rather than what they say.” She frowns pensively. “I hope they’re better about that by the time I marry out, or I…well. I’m sure they’ll be better about it by then.”

Wen Qing diplomatically says nothing at all about the future, but she admires Jiang Yanli’s faith in her siblings, tragically unmerited though it may be.

In a strange way, Jiang Yanli and Lan Xichen appear to be the same basic category of older sibling. It pains Wen Qing to realize that she herself has more in common with, say, Nie Mingjue. If Wei Wuxian and Jiang Wanyin were her brothers, she wouldn’t patiently translate for them. She’d stab them with needles every time they misbehaved until they learned to stop doing it in her presence.

But to each her own.

“Now that we’ve covered that,” she says, deciding to move swiftly along, “are you honestly ill in any way?”

“No more than usual. But thank you for answering my questions,” Jiang Yanli says, still smiling. “Would you mind if I met with you again to ask about the future?”

As much as Wen Qing would like to spend more time with Jiang Yanli, she has no wish to share the horrors of the future with her. “It wouldn’t do you any good to know,” Wen Qing says. “Once the war was over, you led something of a charmed life, at least until my life became such a disaster that it started spilling over and destroying yours as well. Since I have no intention of allowing any of that to happen this time, why would you want to know?”

“I want to know why you’d die to protect my little brother,” Jiang Yanli explains. “And I want to know why he needed someone to die for him while I was apparently off living a ‘charmed life.’ Please understand.”

It sounds like a request, but it’s a demand. Wen Qing sighs. “Fine,” she agrees ungraciously.

Jiang Yanli beams at her, so at least there’s that.

* * *

Classes have been in session for a week when Wen Qing spots a familiar face bowing to Lan Xichen and preparing to leave the Cloud Recesses. The face of a person she’s only seen in company so far, but who is now proposing to wander off all alone and presumably remain out of contact for weeks.

It’s the face of Jin Guangyao. The little organizer. The one who rarely dirtied his own hands, but methodically dirtied everyone else’s. A-Ning described him dispassionately ordering grandmothers and children killed in the prison camp, not with crazed rage, but with simple efficiency. Because those were his orders, and so he carried them out. Then there’s Wen Qing’s own most recent memory of him: when he ordered her family murdered and then presided over her execution with a look of vague satisfaction at a job well done. Not to mention the question of how many atrocities he committed for Wen Ruohan when he was supposedly spying on him.

Wen Qing can’t go around killing every cultivator who proved to be morally bankrupt, because she simply doesn’t have the time. But this one is right in front of her walking into an isolated area and making himself a desperately easy target, and she’s not sure she’s a strong enough person to resist taking advantage of that.

Unfortunately, she’s going to have to resist, because Nie Huaisang is both fond of Meng Yao and suspicious of Wen Qing. If Meng Yao were to abruptly vanish, Nie Huaisang would instantly suspect her. That would be a fantastic way to alienate the Nie Sect, which is the last thing she wants.

That doesn’t mean she’s going to let Meng Yao run wild without supervision, however.

She marches over to Nie Huaisang’s room and bangs on his door. This is his fault, so she’s about to make it his problem.

“Come with me,” she orders as soon as he opens the door, then walks purposefully off into the woods before he can object or make excuses.

He follows her to a remote clearing with only minimal whining. (Clearly there are some advantages to being a Nie Mingjue-style older sibling.) Wen Qing checks for eavesdroppers, then turns to stare at Nie Huaisang, ignoring the way he flinches back and holds his fan up like a shield between them. “You are most of the reason I haven’t killed Meng Yao,” she tells him.

Nie Huaisang’s eyes widen alarmingly. After a moment, they narrow again, and he snaps his fan closed, face abruptly as blank and cold as the worst of Wen cultivators. “And what did Meng Yao, of the Qinghe Nie Sect, do to make you believe he deserves death?” he demands.

Wen Qing is impressed. That was actually a bit frightening, which is not at all what she’d expected, given everything she’s heard about Nie Mingjue’s little brother. It would appear that rumor in the cultivation world is not precisely accurate! How strange, how surprising.

She decides to go for brutal honesty. It’s worked out pretty well for her so far in life number two. “Once you’ve seen a man order your elderly relatives to be gutted in front of you, your tolerance for his ongoing existence is limited,” she explains. Of course, it’s worse when you’ve seen a man do the gutting. That is just one of the many reasons Jin Zixun is going to die the instant Wen Qing gets line of sight on him—no wiggle room for him. Not least because no one whose good opinion she values will miss him. Quite possibly no one will miss him.

Nie Huaisang’s mouth drops open in shock, most of his air of menace vanishing as quickly as it came, but—well, he’s only a teenager. No doubt he’ll become more frightening as he grows older. Heaven knows the rest of them did. “…What?” he breathes.

“Your brother kicked him out of the Qinghe Nie Sect,” Wen Qing expands, deciding brutal honesty is a secret superpower. “I don’t know why—I didn’t care. But afterward he joined the Wen Sect, allegedly as a spy, and eventually stabbed Wen Ruohan in the back. Literally, and only after it became obvious that the Wen Sect was as good as defeated. After that, he was picked up and belatedly acknowledged by Jin Guangshan, and, like a good and filial son, launched himself into participating in atrocities against my surviving, non-cultivator relatives to please his worthless father. And, Nie Huaisang, if I see him going down that path again, I will kill him. It’ll be up to you to prevent that.”

Nie Huaisang is scowling and tapping his fan against his lips with frantic, unhappy speed, likely reexamining everything he thought he knew about Meng Yao. But all he says is, “Did Jin Guangshan live a long life?”

Well, he certainly outlived Wen Qing. “Longer than he’s going to this time,” she says, openly declaring her intent to murder a sect leader to a boy she hardly knows. Committing to the madness.

Nie Huaisang smiles a faint, horrible little smile, and the tapping fan slows. “Well. That will make my job easier, because I’d bet Jin Guangshan was most of the problem.”

“No doubt,” Wen Qing agrees. “I’m sorry I can’t be more specific about why your brother kicked Meng Yao out. I wasn’t paying much attention to anyone else’s sect at the time, what with the way mine was busily plotting world domination.”

Nie Huaisang’s smile becomes less horrible and more conspiring. “Don’t worry,” he says. “Meng Yao is going to find me very difficult to shake for the next…do you know when my brother kicked him out?”

Wen Qing shakes her head. “Some time after the lectures,” is all she can say.

“Well, I’ll stick to him for the next year or two, anyway,” Nie Huaisang decides. “He’s going to be so sick of me.” He beams proudly, so obviously reveling in his evil little brother powers that Wen Qing can’t help but smile back.

“I understand that your family has a problem with qi deviation due to your cultivation,” Wen Qing says, deciding that she may as well admit to this, given all the other outrageous things she’s admitted to. She does want the Nie Sect to thrive.

(Nie Mingjue is a warrior, not a politician. He would never gut children, even if he would absolutely fail to notice that other people were doing it.)

Nie Huaisang stops tapping his fan altogether and stares at her, stunned and angry. “You know about our cultivation?”

“Wen Ruohan knew about your cultivation,” Wen Qing points out, carefully not mentioning that that knowledge was what allowed him to kill Nie Huaisang’s father. “I donated his research to the Lan Sect in the hope that the Lan healers could make something of it.”

Nie Huaisang is staring at her in silent, blank-faced shock. She can’t blame him.

“You might speak with Wei Wuxian about the problem as well,” she barrels on. “I know he is the way he is, but he’s also a genius, and he has a gift for understanding and manipulating resentful energy in particular.”

“What do you want from the Nie Sect, Wen-guniang?” Nie Huaisang asks, a hint of his previous menace returning, fan clutched in white-knuckled hands.

“Mostly I want you to act as a check on the main Wen line,” she admits. “And, well. My branch of the family could always use more friends.”

Nie Huaisang nods, thoughtful. “The Nie Sect can be a very good friend,” he acknowledges neutrally. And then says nothing. He just leaves a very long silence in which Wen Qing is invited to consider what else the Nie Sect could be, if Wen Qing were to cross them.

Yes, even this young, Nie Huaisang knows how to be very threatening indeed. How interesting. Does his brother know?

* * *

Having decided to let Meng Yao live, there’s nothing Wen Qing urgently needs to do for the next few months. The Yin Iron can wait, and no one else who wants killing is located nearby. She has free time. It’s been years since she had such a thing.

And she can’t say it’s entirely a blessing, because without anything else to distract her mind, she can’t help but periodically torment herself with the thought of Wei Wuxian, in all probability, using his life as a power source for whatever spell sent her back. As if that was all he was good for.

He must have thought himself utterly alone in the Burial Mounds when he woke, because he wouldn’t have knowingly abandoned A-Yuan. He must have thought that every single one of his loved ones had either died or come to loathe him. And Wei Wuxian has always hated being alone.

She watches this young version of him practice archery with A-Ning, or pester Lan Wangji, or run around with Nie Huaisang and Jiang Cheng, living his life carelessly like the silly child he still is. She watches him, and thinks it might be a good idea to start planning how to poison Jin Guangshan and make it look like an illness. Jin Guangyao engaged in a lot of evil, yes, but the man who held his leash is a power-obsessed, rapist bastard who wholesale murdered civilians and made Wei Wuxian’s life a misery for no good reason. He’s in desperate need of killing.

But that is a problem for the future, and one she physically can’t take care of now. Which leaves her, once again, brooding over Wei Wuxian’s annoying habit of trying to take care of her when she ought to be taking care of him.

True to form, only two weeks after Wen Qing’s conversation with Nie Huaisang, Wei Wuxian invites himself to her room for tea and a nosy interrogation. A-Ning is out practicing archery on his own for once, so they’re entirely alone. It takes Wen Qing an embarrassingly long time to remember that this is wildly inappropriate.

But it’s Wei Wuxian. He’s her deranged little brother. She can’t quite wrap her head around how it might look. Anyway, she’s already decided it’s too late to revive her relationship with propriety. So long as Lan Wangji doesn’t kill her in a fit of misplaced jealousy, she just doesn’t care.

“Why are you here?” she demands with an aggrieved sigh.

“I brought you tea!” he insists, faux wounded.

She scowls at him, but takes the tea, all the same. Tea is a luxury they absolutely did not have in the Burial Mounds, and no matter how irritated she is, she’s not fool enough to turn down riches like that. “Thank you. And why are you here?”

“So cruel to me, Wen Qing!” he whines, playing at childishness the way he sometimes did in the Burial Mounds—but without the edge of desperation he had then. He’s hiding something, but it’s far less serious than, say, a gut wound.

“I have not yet begun to be cruel to you,” she tells him, because she’s never had time for his baby bullshit, and she refuses to start finding it cute now.

He smirks at her, but concedes. “Lan Zhan says he recognizes you and Wen Ning, kind of, and that seemed weird. I wanted to check if you know why it’s happening. We compared—we think it’s like the way I recognized you and Wen Ning. Lan Zhan says he recognized me, too, when we met.” And he smiles like a love-struck fool.

Wen Qing sighs. She’d think nothing of it if Lan Wangji only found Wei Wuxian familiar—the two of them had an embarrassing level of instant connection even the first time around—but if Lan Wangji recognizes her and A-Ning as well, there’s really only one explanation.

“It must be the Burial Mounds,” she decides. “We all spent time there. But if that were the case, Jiang Wanyin should recognize us, too.” She frowns, trying to remember how old A-Yuan is at this point. Is he missing people he doesn’t remember meeting?

“Jiang Cheng doesn’t understand his own feelings ever, so we’ll never know with him,” Wei Wuxian says dismissively. This is rich, coming from him. “Also…the Burial Mounds?”

Wen Qing blinks at him. She can never remember what he does and does not know about their previous lives. The once-Yiling Patriarch has never set foot in the Burial Mounds. Bizarre. “We were living there.”

He stares at her open-mouthed for a very long time. He closes his mouth. He opens it again. “Why?” he eventually manages.

“Because we were the most unpopular people in the entire cultivation world, and you were afraid that if you took us anywhere else, we’d be murdered.”

“By cultivators, though,” he argues, dazed with dread. “Not by whatever nightmare, resentful crap is going on in the Burial Mounds—seriously the horror story to beat all horror stories, the place no one ever returns from. Wen Qing. Why did I think that was a good idea? Why did you let me think that was a good idea?”

She shrugs, enjoying this more than she probably should. “Wen Chao had you thrown into the Burial Mounds once, and you managed to crawl your way out that time. I suppose you thought you had the knack of it.”

It’s been a while since she’s seen such a distressed look on Wei Wuxian’s face, at least over something as silly as suffering that will never happen. He’s so young. “Wen Chao is dead,” she reassures him.

He laughs a bit hysterically and ducks his head, avoiding her eyes. “What was I to you? Why would you trust me to save you?”

Wen Qing sighs, but of course it was inevitable that he would ask for the ugly details, just as it was inevitable that A-Ning would. Both of her little brothers always insist on plumbing the full depths of the horror every time. She supposes she should be grateful that Wei Wuxian waited this long to ask. Even Jiang Yanli beat him to it.

Because her past life directly involved Wei Wuxian in a way it didn’t involve Jiang Yanli, Wen Qing tells him…most of the truth, as she did A-Ning. She gives him the barest outline of the fall of Lotus Pier, the sacrifice of his core at her hands, the Sunshot Campaign. She tells him about the prison camps. She tells him that he saved her brother, but carefully doesn’t mention how. She dwells on how physically and mentally unwell demonic cultivation made him, not that she thinks that will stop him if he’s backed into a corner. She talks at some length about the Burial Mounds and their arguments over what to plant there. She tells him about A-Yuan, and then, whimsically, a bit about their one visit from Lan Wangji. Finally, she tells him that the cultivation world coveted his power so much that they pretended to be afraid of them as an excuse to slaughter them. She does not tell him that they used his love for his sister and Lan Wangji as bait for the trap.

And even so, she can see his horrible, busy little mind finding ways to blame himself for absolutely all of it.

“So I didn’t help you at all,” he concludes bleakly, in the world’s most predictable moment of self-flagellation.

She reaches out and smacks him upside the head. He yelps and flinches back with a comically wounded look on his face.

“You kept us alive for a year we wouldn’t otherwise have had, at enormous cost to yourself,” she says in a slow, careful tone, since he is clearly a child and needs things explained in the most basic terms.

“A year in the Burial Mounds,” he says skeptically.

She waves a dismissive hand. “You’d done something to the place—probably absorbed most of the resentment directly into your own body, you unspeakable idiot. But afterward, the Burial Mounds really were…well. They were an enormous improvement on a Jin prison camp, for a start, but they were more than that. We had a life there, hard though it was. It was our home. I don’t regret following you, Wei Wuxian. I never did.”

He ducks his head again, this time to hide tears. She drinks her tea and lets him.

It’s very good tea.

“Are you…” he says eventually, drying his eyes and looking up at her. “How are you doing? With this whole time travel thing? Because all that happened to us, but you’re the only one who really remembers. Aren’t you lonely?”

I love you so much, you impossible, self-sacrificing fool, she thinks helplessly.

“This from the man who always tries to do everything by himself and never wants to tell anyone when he’s in pain?” she demands, turning away so he can’t see whatever embarrassing thing her face is doing.

Wei Wuxian laughs weakly. “Maybe it takes one to know one!”

Wen Qing sighs. She could dodge him, she knows, but Wei Wuxian really is annoyingly persistent once he’s gotten hold of an idea. And the truth is…she’d like to talk to someone. And it can’t be A-Ning—he’d be horrified.

Meanwhile, she’s already hit Wei Wuxian with most of the disturbing facts about his previous life during this conversation—her current personal crises are not going to be what breaks him. (She knows very well what it takes to break Wei Wuxian. After all, she’s watched it happen.)

She nods and turns to face him. He asked for it. “Before I traveled back in time, I’d never killed a person in my life. I’m a doctor. We save lives—we never end them. My family, we were never…we weren’t that kind of Wen.”

Wei Wuxian leans forward, worried. “How many people have you killed since you came back?”

She smiles at him, trying to ignore the tears suddenly pouring down her cheeks. She committed to this path—she made her decision. Crying about it is shameful. “Sixteen. And I’m not done yet.”

He frowns, reaching across the table to grab her hand. “Hey, hey. You can just tell me who you want to kill, okay? I’ll do it. You don’t have to.”

Wen Qing laughs, and the laugh turns into a sob, and Wei Wuxian is terrible. How is he already like this? “So I would plan a murder, and you would commit it? Wei Wuxian, I would be entirely responsible for that murder, and I would have dragged you into it as well. Can you try to not be idiotically self-sacrificing for five minutes together?”

He scowls. “I’m not idiotically self-sacrificing!”

Yes, you are.”

“What about you! What do you think you’re doing, breaking all your promises to yourself to save everybody? If that’s not self-sacrifice, I don’t know what is. And you won’t even let me help you.”

“You didn’t want to help me, you wanted to do it for me.”

He brightens. “Does that mean you will let me help? I can kill some of them, Wen Qing! You’re doing this for all of us—we should help.”

She shakes her head, refusing to address that for the moment. She’s not sure Wei Wuxian has ever killed a living person at this age. If he hasn’t, she doesn’t want to be the reason he starts.

If he has…well. They can discuss it, she supposes. When she has more energy to deal with Wei Wuxian’s terrifying level of commitment.

Instead, she only addresses the last part of his nonsense—the Heroic Wen Qing part. “The idea that you have to end lives to save lives—it’s not a kind of triage I ever wanted to learn,” she tells him, finding herself unable to relax the death grip she still has on his hand. “If…if I believed that there was a prison in the world that could hold these people, I would…but I don’t believe that, Wei Wuxian. I don’t.” But that’s not true, either, is it? Because she’s killed a lot of Wen guards along the way, and they were just ordinary cultivators. They could have been detained quite easily. No, she killed them because it was convenient. After all her struggles, she’s become that kind of Wen after all.

She’s never understood the Yiling Patriarch version of Wei Wuxian as well as she does now. She certainly never wanted to understand him this well.

“So do you have…I don’t know, a list?” Wei Wuxian asks thoughtfully, drawing no attention to Wen Qing’s refusal to release his hand. “You must, right? Of people you know have to die.”

“…I suppose.” She hasn’t thought of it as a list before, but of course that’s what it is. A hit list. This realization isn’t making her feel better about anything.

“Then all you have to do is kill your way through the list,” Wei Wuxian insists, alarmingly intent. “And then you’re done. Right now, you have special knowledge, so you have a special duty. Once you run out of special knowledge, you can go back to being a doctor and nothing else.”

She stares at him helplessly. Is she actually being treated to baby Yiling Patriarch logic right now? Is this what he was telling himself during the Sunshot Campaign? That if he killed everyone responsible for the fall of Lotus Pier, he could stop being the monster he’d made of himself, and just…live a normal life? Of course it was. Of course.

The worst part, the very worst part is that he might even have managed it, if the world had let him.

Fortunately, she’s distracted from the question of whether to hug Wei Wuxian or hit him by the sound of the door opening.

“Jie?!” Oh, it’s A-Ning. And he’s horrified. “Jie, why are you crying?!”

She releases Wei Wuxian’s hand, puts her head down on the table, and gives up, generally.

“She’s upset that she has to kill people to save us,” Wei Wuxian informs A-Ning, fierce and protective and in desperate need of a slap. “We’re going to help her.”

“Of course we’ll help you, Jie,” A-Ning says worriedly, huddling close beside her. “You should have asked me for help before!”

Wen Qing lets out a laugh like a sob. “I’ve been having you poison people and dispose of bodies since I came back in time!”

“Well, I can do more,” A-Ning says firmly.

She loves A-Ning very much, but there are times when she wants to throttle him a little bit. Like the time when he drugged Wen Chao’s entire division and then smuggled Wen enemies into her supervisory office. Also the time when he snuck medicine into a heavily guarded jail to treat a much-loathed prisoner. Also now.

She’d like to blame Wei Wuxian, but sadly A-Ning has been this way all his life.

“Don’t do anything insane unless I explicitly tell you to,” she orders them both severely.

They nod at her with disturbingly similar looks of earnest innocence. She doesn’t believe either one of them.

* * *

On a particularly bright, sunny day, Lan Qiren announces that class will be cancelled for a week, as he’s leaving for a discussion conference.

Wen Qing had managed to forget about this. She marvels at that for a while—her life has been such a cascading series of catastrophes that an entire waterborne abyss just slipped her mind. Incredible.

Well, she plans to invite herself along this time, too, since she feels somewhat responsible for the situation. That waterborne abyss is pure Wen nonsense, and it’s a disgrace that any other sect should have to deal with it. The least she can do is help.

The day after Lan Qiren leaves, Wen Qing visits Jiang Yanli in the morning and informs her that she will be feeling ill later in the day, and ought to rest.

“This is the first time I’ve ever received a preemptive medical diagnosis,” Jiang Yanli muses, blinking bemusedly, but she allows herself to be tucked comfortably in bed with a warm blanket and a medicinal tea Wen Qing is trying out on her.

“I’ll check on you this evening, and bring your silly brothers to visit you tomorrow,” Wen Qing says, because she is not above taking credit for something Wei Wuxian would have done anyway if it will make Jiang Yanli smile at her like that.

Medical crisis averted, Wen Qing goes in search of the aforementioned silly brothers.

“I see that you’re willingly spending time near me in public,” Wei Wuxian observes a few minutes after she finds them. “That’s not like you. You must want something.”

“Wei Wuxian,” Jiang Cheng wails, fit to keel over in an agony of adolescent embarrassment.

“You’re right,” Wen Qing informs Wei Wuxian, ignoring Jiang Cheng and especially Nie Huaisang and whatever his conniving little face is doing. “I’d like to be present for the chaos you’re about to become involved in.”

“Is someone going to die?” Nie Huaisang whispers behind his fan, eyes bright with intensely Nie enthusiasm at the prospect.

Wen Qing eyes him, considering. “Possibly,” she says.

Nie Huaisang blinks a few times, apparently comes to the conclusion that the person who dies may well be him, and hurriedly absents himself. Wen Qing smiles. That boy is so much smarter than he lets on.

“You didn’t have to menace Nie-xiong,” Wei Wuxian tells her reprovingly.

Well, it’s only fair, seeing as Nie Huaisang has already menaced her. Not that Wei Wuxian would believe it. “What, I can’t do things just for fun?” she asks.

Jiang Cheng laughs, then immediately gazes off into the middle distance, pretending he hadn’t. Wen Qing smiles at him.

And here comes Lan Xichen with the news about what he thinks are water ghouls.

After Lan Xichen leaves, both Wei Wuxian and Jiang Cheng turn to stare at her with uncomfortably eager expressions.

“Is someone going to get eaten by water ghouls?” Jiang Cheng wants to know.

“Are they really water ghouls?” Wei Wuxian, more perceptively, asks.

“Only if we’re lucky, and no,” Wen Qing responds, and then escapes, ignoring all of their whining, protesting, and follow-up questions.

* * *

It turns out to be much easier for Wen Qing and A-Ning to talk their way onto a night hunt when Zewu-jun regards them as poor, sad orphans rather than evil Wen spies.

Wen Qing resents this a little. After all, they were technically poor, sad orphans last time, too. Admittedly, she was also an evil Wen spy, but she does not choose to dwell on that. And A-Ning was as innocent then as he is now. More innocent, in fact. He hadn’t helped her kill a significant number of their family members last time.

The trip in general proceeds much as it did before, and Wei Wuxian once again flirts aggressively with Lan Wangji all the way to Caiyi. Wen Qing remembers that she found it unspeakably annoying last time. She notes with despair that she’s just finding it cute this time. Time travel has ruined her as a person.

Further to which, she may have tagged along on this trip out of a sense of responsibility, but it’s only a mild sense of responsibility. Just before they head out to the lake, she mentions to Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji that they’re dealing with a waterborne abyss, and she feels that’s good enough. The boys immediately panic and bolt away to babble franticly to Lan Xichen and Jiang Wanyin about it, so her work here is done.

Though she does also forbid A-Ning from rescuing Su She. She doesn’t know enough about the man to actively desire his death, but she knows enough to refuse to risk A-Ning’s life over him.

The first impression he gave was nearly getting her brother killed when A-Ning was attempting to rescue him from his own arrogant stupidity. Next, Wen Qing heard that he’d been kicked out of the Lan Sect for betrayal. After that, A-Ning informed her that he’d periodically turned up on the edges of the prison camps, scurrying around in Jin Guangyao’s shadow.

So no, Wen Qing isn’t going to kill him. But she’s not going to let A-Ning try to save him, either. Fortunately, though A-Ning would throw himself into lava for the sake of an innocent, he’s alarmingly willing to let bad people die, even at this age. He’s also alarmingly willing to trust her definition of bad people—which is something he’ll grow out of, eventually.

Not to say that he blindly follows her lead in all things, even now. She’d tried to forbid him from coming out to the lake at all, and even informed him that the waterborne abyss would try to suck out his soul, but he stubbornly and mistakenly informed her that he could handle it. She despairs.

In any case, forewarning means they don’t blithely paddle onto the lake like easy prey—they wait with swords drawn, ready to fight or fly at a moment’s notice. This is interesting, because it’s quite obvious that Zewu-jun doesn’t really believe them about the waterborne abyss—if he did, he wouldn’t have allowed most of them onto the lake at all. On the other hand, he’s not fool enough to ignore them altogether.

He’s so reasonable. It’s a little irritating, to be honest.

But because Zewu-jun is so annoyingly reasonable, the hunt turns out to be a success, and features far less shock and alarm than last time, too. Jiang Cheng remains uninjured and A-Ning refrains from allowing his soul to be sucked out at all, which is much appreciated. Zewu-jun subdues the abyss, the same as last time, but this time Wei Wuxian is undistracted by Su She, and is therefore able to assist with talismans. Talismans that Wen Qing doesn’t recognize. She suspects Wei Wuxian might’ve invented them after she told him about the Burial Mounds because he’s ridiculous. She’ll have to interrogate him about that once they’re back in the Cloud Recesses.

Su She manages to get himself killed after all, and in much the same style as he attempted to last time—by assuming he had better control over his sword than he actually did, which is dangerous at any time, but deadly in the face of a waterborne abyss. He did have the courtesy to die out of immediate sight of anyone but Wen Qing. It means no one else noticed he was gone until he was gone for good, which is just as well.

All in all, it’s everything Wen Qing had hoped to get from this night hunt. If Wei Wuxian would just stop staring at her, life would be perfect.

* * *

When they return to the Cloud Recesses, Wen Qing takes the opportunity of Lan Qiren’s continued absence to go to the library and catch up on administrative work she really should have done long before.

Or at least, she tries to do that. She’s almost immediately interrupted by Nie Huaisang, who sidles up to her, checks exaggeratedly for anyone within hearing range, and then whispers, “Did you really use an entire waterborne abyss to assassinate a man? Because Wei-xiong says you did, and if it’s true, that is the coolest thing in the history of cultivation and I would like your permission to tell my brother about it.”

Wen Qing sighs. It’s a shame, but it turns out she’s going to have to ruin all of her hard work and murder Wei Wuxian herself.

She refuses to answer any of Nie Huaisang’s questions, chasing him out of the building and firmly ignoring his whining about how unfair it is to leave him in the dark.

After a start like that, one would think that she’d give up on the library, but no. She stubbornly spends much of the next few months there, writing letters and generally organizing the future of the Dafan Wen. The library is a comfortable place, and it feels deceptively safe, which is something she needs, because arranging the secession of her branch from the rest of the Wen Sect is not a comfortable prospect.

Fortunately, she’s chosen the best possible time to do it. The main branch is in wild turmoil after the mysterious deaths of most of its leadership and the loss of the Yin Iron, so they’re unlikely to kick up a fuss over the secession of a handful of doctors who they always considered more burden than benefit, idiotic though that attitude may be. They’re especially unlikely to cause problems when the cultivation world is avidly watching them with poorly hidden glee. (It’s not every day the strongest sect collapses under the weight of its own incompetence, after all.)

But despite all the chaos in the Wen Sect, the other sects aren’t taking murderous advantage of the situation—only ruthless political advantage. Why would they bother with murder? The Wen Sect never had a chance to declare war. They never burned other sects to the ground or killed their leaders and disciples. At this point in time, the most the Wens could legitimately be accused of was arrogance, power-hungriness, and being unpleasant at parties. Not the sort of thing that sparks a genocide. At least Wen Qing has managed that much with her murder spree.

Once she’s sorted out the Dafan Wen, she’ll still need to figure out a solution to the Yin Iron problem, of course. It’s dangerous even if no one’s using it—she worries it’s making her more homicidal than she strictly needs to be. The temptation to push it off onto Wei Wuxian is very strong, but…that would be too cruel. She knows he’ll lose his current childishness sooner or later, but she doesn’t want to be directly responsible for taking it from him. It would be little better than handing Yin Iron off to A-Yuan. She’ll need someone’s help, though. She can’t destroy it on her own.

But first, secession.

After a storm of letters, it turns out that the battered Wen Sect is willing to let her branch secede, and even to take over Yiling (which is too close to Yunmeng Jiang, and thus too far from the seat of what’s left of Wen power, to be considered worth defending at this trying time). Wen Qing has to laugh.

(She thought of trying to stay on Dafan Mountain, but…there are too many horrible memories there, now. Not to mention the statue periodically given to snatching souls—which is another task to set Wei Wuxian to, come to think of it. Somehow, Wen Qing’s relationship with Yiling is actually less fraught than her relationship with her hometown.)

In any case, allowing the Dafan Wen to secede amicably, complete with a gift of territory, is a logical move, politically. It means the branch is not lost so much as set aside. They still have bonds of family, don’t they? Won’t they offer doctoring services at a discount in the future out of gratitude? Or so goes Wen Zhuliu’s likely thought process.

And it would have been Wen Zhuliu, because in the absence of anyone else remotely competent, he’s the one who’s taken over as de facto Sect Leader. This is hilarious, firstly because of how damning it is that the Core-Melting Hand is seen as the most reasonable person in Qishan Wen, and secondly because he wasn’t born a Wen. Even Wen Qing has more blood right to take over the sect than Wen Zhuliu. Wen Mao would be having hysterics if he knew.

Not that Wen Qing plans to argue—she’d rather die than inherit the mess that is the current Qishan Wen Sect. The Core-Melting Hand very possibly is the most reasonable powerful person in Qishan Wen at the moment, and she has no objection to him being the leader of a sect she’s no longer part of. Unlike everyone formerly above him in the hierarchy, he actually has a sense of honor. Always one of the things she’d found most confusing about him—that he could have a sense of honor, and yet still lend himself to all of that. Willingly, that is. She lent herself to all of that, too, the first time around, but that was because of vicious coercion. Wen Zhuliu freely participated in Wen Ruohan’s evil nonsense.

But Wen Ruohan is dead, and all that’s left is Wen Zhuliu’s personal sense of what’s right. The fact that he’s always been happier as a follower than as a leader, and is in all probability miserable right now, is simply an amusing bonus.

So things are proceeding well on that front, which is soothing to Wen Qing’s anxieties. And whenever she needs a break from thinking about politics, she can always entertain herself by observing the hilariously inept courtship occurring on the other side of the library. She’s just the right distance away—not close enough to hear whatever inanities Wei Wuxian is babbling, but close enough to periodically check their body language. Poor Lan Wangji. He’s being quite successfully seduced, but neither he nor that idiot Wei Wuxian recognize it.

Teenagers.

It’s funny, though, and a little bit sad. She’d had no idea Wei Wuxian was this enamored of Lan Wangji this far back, though really, she should have known. One could justly accuse Wei Wuxian of many things, but lack of devotion was never one of them.

Wei Wuxian’s love life is, perhaps, part of the reason she’s making no effort to push anyone to find the Yin Iron sooner. The other part is that there’s no immediate need—she’s already removed the most urgent threats, her family is safer than they’ve been in decades, and she and A-Ning could both do with a bit of time to relax in the Cloud Recesses before facing the rest of their lives.

Yes, she and her brother deserve a rest, and Wei Wuxian…well. He deserves more time to ineptly flirt with Lan Wangji. He deserves all of the tiny number of things he allows himself to want.

* * *

Unfortunately, life is what it is, and events will insist on moving forward. Eventually, Wei Wuxian manages to get both himself and Lan Wangji into enough trouble for a beating, and then they go off to the cold springs together. Wen Qing knows how this story ends.

And indeed, they’re soon reported missing. Previously Wen Qing had blamed this on Wen Ruohan, but now she wonders if the Yin Iron itself is making this happen, somehow. If it’s searching for other pieces of itself. If it wants to move.

She reassures A-Ning that nothing too bad has happened to Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji, and then she braces herself for the exhausting argument she already knows she’ll need to have with Wei Wuxian about why becoming friends with the Yin Iron is not a valid life choice. The longer she wanders the woods pretending to look for the boys, the more bitter about this inevitable argument she becomes.

The search is widespread, but Wen Qing remembers where they appeared last time, so she just meanders aimlessly until what seems about the right time, then heads over to the back hill and waits. And indeed, they eventually appear. Awkwardly sprawled all over each other. Tied together with Lan Wangji’s headband. His…special, intimate, family-members-and-spouses-only headband. Two timelines in a row.

They really are hopeless.

They are also in possession of a piece of Yin Iron, or so Wen Qing deduces from the reaction of her own pieces. She’d known it last time, of course, but it’s hitting her harder now. They’re still such children. And now they’re involved in this mess.

The boys are distracted from their accidentally intimate position by the reaction of the Yin Iron, and they both turn to stare at her in open suspicion. She smiles at them. They work so well together when they aren’t tripping over their own awkwardness. “Well?” she says. “We’d better go speak with Zewu-jun, hadn’t we?”

She hustles them out of the area before Jiang Wanyin arrives, and then waits until they’re nearly to the Hanshi before congratulating them on their betrothal. Lan Wangji immediately turns so red he’s almost purple and Wei Wuxian trips and falls right on his face.

Wen Qing serenely ignores both of them and knocks on the door to the Hanshi.

Lan Xichen opens the door, looks at her, looks at the chaos behind her, and clearly decides to be an absolute monster of an older sibling about it. He manufactures a convincingly frantic look (no doubt helped by the fact that he really was frantic until a moment ago) and interrogates the two boys about their health and well-being at length. He also rants about how worried he was, and presses them to explain in detail just where they were and what they were doing all night long, alone together—and, incidentally, why his brother’s headband is so wrinkled.

He keeps coming back around to the headband every time Lan Wangji thinks he’s safe. Lan Xichen is more of a dick than Wen Qing realized, and she admires that about him. For her part, she repeatedly helps deflect the conversation from going in a more serious direction. After all, the Yin Iron isn’t doing anything at the moment, whereas tormenting younger siblings is imperative.

But the fun can’t last forever—eventually the boys manage to wrench the conversation around to their preferred topic. Gracelessly, it has to be said. Lan Xichen is just about to mention the headband for a least the fourth time when Wei Wuxian points accusingly at Wen Qing and bellows, “She has a piece of Yin Iron!”

At that point, Lan Xichen pales, drags them all inside the Hanshi, and puts up silencing talismans. “Explain,” he says with unusual grimness.

Lan Wangji obediently explains everything he knows, including the presence of Lan Yi, which Wen Qing had never known about until this moment. She can see that Lan Xichen is shocked his brother would admit to any of this in front of a Wen.

(Lan Wangji undoubtedly thinks Wen Qing already knew, and she’s not about to correct him.)

Wei Wuxian also throws in observations—he’s surprisingly astute for his age, but still so far from the man he might’ve been in a few years. It’s making Wen Qing feel old. Also tired and depressingly alone.

When their story winds down, Lan Xichen nods, unnervingly without comment, and turns expectantly to Wen Qing, who sighs.

“You really never told him about the time travel?” she asks Lan Wangji.

Lan Wangji narrows his eyes at her like an annoyed cat. “Gossip is forbidden in the Cloud Recesses.”

Wei Wuxian snickers and Wen Qing rolls her eyes and turns back to Lan Xichen. “This is not the first time I’ve lived through these events, and last time, everything ended very badly—in the burning of the Cloud Recesses, for a start. The Yin Iron was…if not the beginning of it all, an important step on the path. So I’ve collected two pieces myself, and I came here to wait for this one to appear. If you have any idea how to destroy them, I’d be delighted to assist.”

Lan Xichen seems a little stunned. “Time travel?”

“It’s Wei Wuxian’s fault,” Wen Qing says promptly.

“You have no proof of that,” Wei Wuxian mutters indignantly.

“Do you have proof of the time travel itself?” Lan Xichen asks. “Because it is…difficult to believe.”

“She warned us of the waterborne abyss,” Lan Wangji points out, surprisingly helpful.

“Is that how you knew?” Lan Xichen murmurs, eyeing his brother in a calculating manner that is clearly making Lan Wangji uncomfortable.

Wei Wuxian, white knight, cuts in at this point to rescue his boyfriend from brotherly judgment. “She must be telling the truth, Sect Leader Lan—I didn’t travel back in time with her, but I still…I don’t know. I recognize her. And I recognized Lan Zhan and Wen Ning, too, as soon as I saw them.”

Lan Wangji nods. “I recognized Wei Ying,” he agrees. “Also Wen Qing and Wen Qionglin.”

Lan Xichen digests that in silence for a while. He then decides, as he did with the waterborne abyss, to suspend his disbelief and prepare for the worst. “The Cloud Recesses burned?”

“It won’t happen this time,” Wen Qing reassures him. “I’ve cut off that path.” She cut it with a knife.

“May I ask how?”

“I’d prefer that you didn’t.”

Lan Xichen nods thoughtfully. “Was the Yin Iron the cause of your uncle’s death?”

Well. It’s certainly the reason Wen Qing killed him. “Yes,” she confirms without hesitation, ignoring Wei Wuxian’s incredulous stare and desperately hoping Lan Xichen won’t notice it.

“Then it is critically important that we destroy it,” Lan Xichen decides with a sigh. “The library may have something useful—controlling and dissipating resentful energy was once a particular interest of my father’s. His research may be helpful.”

“Would your father leave seclusion to deal with this?” Wen Qing asks, trying to remember if he’d ever left seclusion last time. She remembers that he’d died, but not how.

“Ah,” says Lan Xichen, expression draining from his face until he looks like a perfect, beautiful, emotionless doll. “No. I don’t think he would.” And that’s all he says.

Wen Qing blinks slowly. She’s always thought of him as one of the more stable members of their generation, but it’s possible that the cracks in Lan Xichen are less noticeable not because there are fewer of them, but because they run deeper.

Thankfully, Lan Xichen’s psyche is not her problem. “Well, let’s head to the library, then. We probably ought to pick up your uncle along the way.”

“Can we not?” Wei Wuxian demands, casting her an appalled sideways glance.

“Unfortunately, Wei Wuxian may have a point,” Lan Xichen says apologetically. “My uncle will be, ah. Highly unlikely to entertain the possibility that you’re telling the truth. It might be wisest to research independently, and reach out to my uncle if we find ourselves unable to move forward.”

Lan Wangji makes a small, unhappy sound, but does not actually disagree with his brother’s assessment. Wei Wuxian, meanwhile, laughs.

Lan Xichen certainly found a very diplomatic way to say, My uncle is a hidebound, stubborn old goat who would literally rather die than have his notion of how the world works challenged. Wen Qing nods easy agreement. Lan Qiren would have been helpful, but they shouldn’t need him. It’s not as if she and the library aren’t old friends by now.

So she and all these men she’s acquired go off to scour the library together, while Lan Xichen sends a letter to Nie Mingjue, asking him to check his own library for similar topics.

The research is not as frustrating as Wen Qing had expected, mostly because the Lans, combined, are actually a perfect complement to Wei Wuxian—Lan Xichen will humor him until he becomes too agitated or overexcited or whatever, at which point Lan Xichen unleashes Lan Wangji. It’s hilarious. Wen Qing is learning more about Wei Wuxian management than she is about resentful energy dissipation, and she’s learning a lot about resentful energy dissipation.

Most of it, indeed, from Qingheng-jun’s research, because the man was quite clearly obsessed. She doesn’t know why and she absolutely doesn’t want to, but it’s serving his family well now. Better late than never, she supposes.

In the end, between the Lan and the Nie libraries, it only takes a month to figure out how to destroy the Yin Iron. Wen Qing is incredulous, and on behalf of Lan Yi, she’s enraged, too. To think how much violent idiocy could have been avoided if anyone had ever thought to address the Yin Iron problem before it became critical. But no, the men in charge chose to ignore what was out of sight, abandon Lan Yi in a cave, and eventually throw a tantrum that destroyed half the world, starting with Wen Qing’s parents. The fact that it’s typical doesn’t make it less infuriating.

She shares this thought with Lan Xichen and he agrees wholeheartedly. She likes Lan Xichen. It’s a shame about his secret brokenness.

* * *

She’s changed her mind. She hates Lan Xichen after all, and she hates everyone who associates with him, too.

“You strongly implied that you would all come out of this with your insides on the inside,” she informs him calmly, jabbing him with a needle harder than she technically needs to and taking pleasure in his flinch. “And yet here we are. You, flat on the ground, and me, covered in your blood. How did that happen.”

Lan Xichen tries to answer. She has to give him that—he does earnestly try to answer. But he’s woozy with blood loss and sedated out of his mind besides, so it doesn’t really work.

“We were sure the music would calm it down enough that it wouldn’t attack like that,” Nie Mingjue explains, grimacing and flinching at small noises. He has a broken arm and incipient qi deviation, and it says a lot about how today is going that he’s currently the least of her problems. Or at least he is now that he’s stopped brandishing his saber, screaming about the untrustworthiness of Wens, ordering her to begone, et cetera and so on.

“Thank you for explaining why I should never believe a word out of your mouths ever again,” Wen Qing says distractedly, channeling qi into the most damaged parts of Lan Xichen—which unfortunately include his face. She’s going to be so furious if he’s managed to permanently maim that face with his carelessness. That would be an outright crime against the cultivation world. Happily, the face is currently the worst problem—she’s already healed his guts, so he won’t die today. It’s more than she’d hoped for when she first spotted him.

She finishes patching together his face to the best of her abilities, then moves on to Lan Wangji, who almost managed to rip his left arm clean off. She has to elbow Wei Wuxian out of the way to get to her patient, though, because he seems to have decided that draining his entire core into Lan Wangji is the only viable course of action. It’s not the worst thing Wei Wuxian could be doing, so she’s allowing it.

In a bizarre twist, Wei Wuxian has nothing physically wrong with him. Psychologically, however, he’s a crashing disaster who’s making Qi Deviation Mingjue look stable.

And to think they’d told her they wouldn’t need her nearby when they destroyed the Yin Iron. Hah.

During the last timeline, the sects had also allegedly managed to destroy their pieces of Yin Iron. However, considering that Wen Qing never heard about any emergency medical interventions on that occasion, they’d either found a better method than this one, or a great deal of lying was done. Neither would surprise her.

Whatever method they used, it’s beyond Wen Qing’s reach now—she only knows about this method, which comes complete with maiming. Though not permanent maiming—between Wen Qing and Wei Wuxian, they manage to ensure that Lan Wangji will have two functioning arms, and that means everyone is walking away from this in one piece.

As for Lan Xichen, he’s now cognizant enough to feel that he ought to be playing Cleansing for Nie Mingjue, but too out of it to realize there’s no way he can play an instrument right now. Instead, Wen Qing makes him sing it once with no power behind it, then she turns to Wei Wuxian and orders him to repeat the song. He does. Wen Qing checks with Lan Xichen to see if there were any mistakes, and Lan Xichen gives an impressed—almost alarmed—nod of approval. He should be alarmed, too. The way Wei Wuxian’s brain works is frightening.

Wen Qing sets Wei Wuxian to sing Cleansing to Nie Mingjue until one or both of them passes out, while she concentrates on monitoring her two injured Lans. Within half an hour, everyone is stable enough to be moved to the healers, if very slowly and with much swooning and staggering. Once there, Wen Qing explains what’s wrong with everyone and what she’s done about it. That accomplished, she leaves the rest of the doctoring to the far more alert and awake Lan healers. Instead, she goes outside to join Wei Wuxian, who’s collapsed on the steps out front, insisting nothing is wrong with him—which is more true than it usually is, so Wen Qing decides not to argue about it. Instead, she sits beside him with an almost-content sigh, hoping for a moment of the kind of quiet camaraderie they used to manage sometimes in the Burial Mounds.

That’s not what she gets.

“Wen Qing!” Wei Wuxian cries at the sight of her, giddy with exhaustion and unused adrenaline. “We did it! We survived the Gusu Lan lectures!” And he bursts out laughing. Hysterically.

She considers being the bigger person, but then gives up on that idea and starts slapping at him like they’re a couple of bad-tempered small children, while he continues laughing and half-heartedly fending her off.

She deserves this.

* * *

Three pieces of Yin Iron are now destroyed, and only two remain. All of the people who destroyed the Yin Iron are alive and well, despite their own best efforts. Lan Xichen’s face is still beautiful, Nie Mingjue is no closer to qi deviation than usual, Lan Wangji has two functioning arms, and Wei Wuxian is as sane as he ever is. Wen Qing therefore allows herself to believe that she’s successfully overcome all the challenges the lectures could throw at her. What could possibly go wrong at a lantern lighting ceremony?

As is so often the case, she’s underestimated Wei Wuxian. And now he’s trying to cause a diplomatic incident with the Lanling Jin.

Wen Qing had missed all of this ridiculousness last time, if it happened—she’d left as soon as her lantern was in the air, which was wise of her. But she’s here now, unfortunately. And she’s amazed, because here is an only moderately attractive, snobbish boy who is honestly acting as if he thinks he can do better than Jiang Yanli. All of Wei Wuxian’s enraged frustration on the subject of Jin peacocks suddenly makes perfect sense.

On the other hand, this is still Jin Zixuan, who Wei Wuxian respected, however reluctantly. And A-Ning killed him. Wen Qing feels a certain responsibility there, even if her regrets and responsibilities stem from a future that will never come.

That said, Jin Zixuan is an impossibly annoying adolescent, and a little harmless torment will do him good.

Wen Qing tosses logic to the wind and slides into the middle of the argument, briefly throwing everyone off with her presence, and says to Jiang Yanli, “Break off your betrothal to him—he’s a twit. Marry me instead.”

Jiang Yanli is as taken aback as Wen Qing’s ever seen her, which is an achievement, given the level of nonsense Jiang Yanli is used to tolerating from her brothers. “Oh,” she says. “I…I…thank you, I’m honored, but I…”

“Not interested in women?” Wen Qing asks, a bit disappointed if she’s honest. “That’s fine. You can marry my brother.”

A-Ning makes an alarmed little blurting noise. Possibly Wen Qing should have consulted him on this? No, no point. Jiang Yanli’s not going to take them up on it, more’s the pity. It would be very silly of her, politically speaking, to do so. But Wen Qing had to offer, on the off-chance.

“She’s betrothed to me,” snaps the peacock.

Wen Qing turns and eyes him over her shoulder. “Oh yes?” she says. “And what are you worth?”

He splutters indignantly. “I’m—!”

“Not your parents, not your money, not the dubiously worthwhile sect you belong to—she’s not being forced to marry any of those. She’s being forced to marry you. And what have you, personally, ever done to persuade her that you’re anything short of a nightmarish marriage prospect?”

He gapes, silenced at last. Apparently he doesn’t have an answer to that. It’s likely a question that has never once occurred to him, in fact.

Wen Qing turns back to Jiang Yanli, ignoring the indignant mutterings of various Jins who aren’t accustomed to hearing their sect described as dubiously worthwhile. “If you’re worried that you won’t be able to break the engagement, don’t be. The Wen Sect will have no trouble extracting you from this…inferior connection.” Seeing as Wen Qing’s murdered her way through the main family line, this is probably no longer true, but hopefully everyone’s ideas haven’t adjusted to the new reality yet.

There is a long, uncomfortable silence while the crowd digests that blatantly inflammatory statement, and then Wei Wuxian bursts into uncontrollable laughter so loud it’s impossible to have a conversation over him. The squabble reluctantly breaks up. Wen Qing notes with amusement that the Jin sect girl standing beside the peacock is snickering into her sleeve. She’s trying to be discreet about it, but given the peacock’s wounded look in her direction, she’s not succeeding. Wen Qing likes the look of her.

Also, Wen Qing had forgotten how very satisfying it is to be the one to make Wei Wuxian laugh. Hearing his genuine, happy (or at least gleefully malicious) laughter still gives her a sense of achievement that doesn’t make sense in this timeline, but she’ll take it, all the same. Who knows what will happen in the future? Every laugh is precious.

Unfortunately, Nie Huaisang is studying Wen Qing with an unnervingly thoughtful expression. Apparently he’s learned something this evening. She actively does not wish to know what it is.

She turns her attention to her brother, and discovers him looking bemused, as Jiang Cheng has put an arm around his shoulders and is cheerfully leading him back to the residences. Interesting that in their previous timeline, Jiang Cheng wasn’t this friendly even after A-Ning saved his life. But then, there was a war on, and she and A-Ning were nominally on the enemy side.

It’s so pleasant, not having a war.

As for Jiang Yanli, she clearly doesn’t know whether to laugh or panic. Eventually she sidles up to Wen Qing and says, in something approaching awe, “You just don’t care, do you?”

Wen Qing smiles at her. “I’ve been humiliated, beaten, whipped, and driven from my home; I’ve watched loved ones be murdered, and then died horribly for what turned out to be no reason at all. I’m well beyond caring.”

Jiang Yanli looks appalled. Wei Wuxian, however, just eyes Wen Qing thoughtfully and sidelong, like he’s thinking about cornering her for another teatime intervention. She rolls her eyes at him. Imagine Wei Wuxian thinking he has the right to judge someone else’s mental health. The hypocrisy is staggering.

* * *

Wen Qing and A-Ning may have left the Cloud Recesses immediately after the lantern ceremony last time, but there is, in fact, one final morning of class and a farewell ceremony left to go. To say nothing of having their grades handed out.

Wen Qing decides to stay through all of it this time. It turns out that youthful experiences are more valuable than she gave them credit for, even or perhaps especially the boring ones. A-Ning deserves as many of them as she can give him.

As for herself, she makes a little, last-minute use of the library, just to be sure she hasn’t missed any of Qingheng-jun’s unsettling, inexplicable insights into resentful energy. She’s unsurprised to see Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji there, too, even though Wei Wuxian’s punishment is long over.

She’s equally unsurprised when Wei Wuxian lights up at the sight of her and scuttles over, undoubtedly to cause trouble. He walks right around her table and sits beside her—inappropriately closely, if the way Lan Wangji looks a breath away from drawing his sword is anything to go by. “So,” Wei Wuxian says, leaning in cozily, too quiet for Lan Wangji to hear. “After lectures, you’ll be able to travel around. You’ll have more range. So who are you killing next?”

Wen Qing would like to know why so many of her conversations with Wei Wuxian turn out so wrong. “Jin Guangshan,” she tells him, because he’s Wei Wuxian, and she doesn’t keep secrets from him. And anyway, she’s long since told Nie Huaisang. She’s just recklessly babbling her murderous plans to everyone now, apparently. She wonders if this is a cry for help.

Wei Wuxian looks delighted, because of course he does. “Oh? Ambitious. Why him?”

Wen Qing considers her response. Then she reformats it to remove all the swearing. “There are too many reasons to discuss in a reasonable amount of time. Let’s just say that in an ideal world, he would have dropped dead ten seconds after Jin Zixuan was conceived. The man is essentially Wen Ruohan without the courage or integrity.”

Wei Wuxian’s eyes widen. “Yikes. You want help?”

“Absolutely not.”

* * *

The next day, they receive word that the Jin Sect Leader and the Jiang Sect Leader will soon arrive in the Cloud Recesses upon Lan Qiren’s invitation to discuss the behavior of their children (but more likely to discuss the problem of the Yin Iron, if Wen Qing is any judge).

Wen Qing and Wen Ning take a trip to Caiyi, coincidentally arriving in town only a few hours before Jin Guangshan. They happen to encounter him slinking into one of the few brothels in town, and, to A-Ning’s horror, Wen Qing follows him in. Jin Guangshan is quite taken with her, and seizes the first opportunity to get her alone.

She has A-Ning wrap the corpse in a fishing net weighted with rocks and then toss the lot into the lake. (Leave it to the Wen Sect, Wen Qing thinks with self-directed bitterness. No sooner is a waterborne abyss contained than some Wen is trying to form a new one.)

A-Ning is noticeably more distressed by the fleeting threat to his sister’s virtue than he is by her creation or his disposal of the corpse of a sect leader. It takes a moment for Wen Qing to remember why this is strange.

…It’s possible she’s become too accustomed to thinking of A-Ning as a nearly indestructible fierce corpse, rather than the sickly teenager he actually is. That said, he’s certainly rising to the challenge. Maybe she’d coddled him too much the first time around. Maybe he hadn’t liked that.

Well. Just one more thing it’s too late to worry about.

The next day, the Jiang Sect Leader arrives at the Cloud Recesses. The Jin Sect Leader does not, though several of his men do, fretfully admitting that he’d gone off alone the evening before for…amusement…and had never returned.

Nie Huaisang and Wei Wuxian both give Wen Qing impressed salutes, one more subtle than the other. Jiang Yanli favors her with an appalled stare every time she thinks Wen Qing isn’t looking. Fortunately, no one else seems to have put it together, especially not Jin Zixuan, who seems honestly upset about the disappearance of his awful father—or possibly just about becoming the leader of the most miserably political of all the sects as a teenager. Wen Qing feels for him, she does. She still doesn’t regret murdering his father.

After much worrying and wringing of hands, the sect leaders collectively decide that all these high-profile deaths and disappearances are related to the implosion of the Wen Sect. It’s not that they’re wrong, exactly, just that they have their cause and effect slightly muddled.

They’re also extremely worried about the safety of the Dafan Wen in general and Wen Qing and Wen Ning in particular, which is hilarious for any number of reasons. Not least of which is that, at this moment in time, they seem to remember both that the Dafan Wen exist and that they are pacifists. Amazing how quickly that information slipped from common knowledge after the Sunshot Campaign began.

On a less enraging note, the sect leaders happen to mention that a handful of Jin disciples have stayed behind in Caiyi to continue the search for their sect leader. Jin disciples led by Jin Zixun. Wen Qing takes note of this information, and leaves the meeting in a thoughtful mood.

Jin Zixun turns out to be even easier to dispose of than his uncle—he showed no hesitation in following a pretty woman into a quiet alleyway. The world is making this refreshingly simple for Wen Qing.

Happily, the death of Jin Zixun means that Wen Qing is out of people to kill for the moment—and if Nie Huaisang does his job and keeps Meng Yao in line, she’ll never need to kill again. She can be a doctor again. She can be herself again. She’s free.

When this hits her, she walks to her room (expressionlessly, the better to avoid helpfully interfering little brothers), closes the door, silences the room, and cries for an hour out of sheer, exhausted relief. These past few months have been the ugliest kind of surgery she’s ever performed, and she hates it.

She hates most of all that she’s pleased with the results. It’s awful that she’s being rewarded for this behavior.

* * *

The next day, the Jiang head home—except for Wei Wuxian, because Lan Xichen (after some persuasion) requested that he accompany Lan Wangji on a quest for the Yin Iron, and Sect Leader Jiang had no polite way to refuse.

Jiang Cheng only throws a small tantrum. Wen Qing is impressed. At Jiang Cheng’s age, she would have thrown a much bigger tantrum if someone had tried to send A-Ning off on a quest without her.

…She would throw a bigger tantrum about it now, come to think of it.

Nie Huaisang, meanwhile, tags along on the quest without consulting anyone or asking permission, apparently out of prurient curiosity. It’s fine. Wen Qing has long since given up on containing Nie Huaisang, and he’s friendly to A-Ning, in any case. He’s welcome.

The five of them leave the Cloud Recesses together so boldly that no one thinks to take note of them, which is more subterfuge than Wen Qing thought the Lans were capable of. It’s interesting.

Their first stop is the Lady Florist. They manage to collect the Yin Iron from her with a detailed explanation from Wei Wuxian, one of Nie Huaisang’s poems, and no drama whatsoever. Wen Chao does not appear and no one’s house is burned. It’s amazing how peaceful life can be.

“We should take a slight detour so that you can meet our family,” Wen Qing announces as they leave Tanzhou. “Our cousin will likely be missing Wei Wuxian without knowing why.”

“Cousin?” Wei Wuxian asks, startled. A-Ning, beside him, looks almost equally startled, but at least this time Wen Qing is springing a nice surprise on him. (He’s also clearly curious which cousin this is, but he wouldn’t make the mistake of asking in company and ruining the game.)

“Yes,” Wen Qing says repressively, refusing to elaborate. Then she turns to Lan Wangji, who is looking worried and jealous, to the surprise of no one (except Wei Wuxian, probably). “You too, heartbreaker. My cousin only met you once, but you made a huge impression. He asked after you for months, not that you ever showed your face again. A visit is the very least that you owe him.”

Lan Wangji has definitely never been called a heartbreaker before and has no idea how to handle it. Wei Wuxian, on the other hand, is downright gleeful. (And so is Nie Huaisang, in a sneaky sort of way, because he’s a troublemaker.)

“Lan Zhan!” Wei Wuxian cries. “Such a beautiful face, such a cold heart! Leaving lovesick innocents scattered across the landscape wherever you go! I never would have believed it of the Second Jade of Lan. Shocking!”

Lan Wangji casts him a sour look, and Wen Qing maliciously says nothing to correct their assumptions. In fact, she allows the nonsense to continue all the way to Dafan Mountain and up to Granny’s house, where she derives enormous satisfaction from picking up A-Yuan and saying, “Here, you two. This is my cousin, Wen Yuan.”

A-Yuan waves shyly. A-Ning snickers, but quickly coughs and lowers his eyes and tries to look innocent. Lan Wangji stares. Wei Wuxian looks briefly shocked, but then starts to grin at a prank well pulled. Nie Huaisang sidles silently behind A-Ning, because apparently children are included on the list of things he pretends to be afraid of.

“A-Yuan,” Wen Qing says, lightly pinching one of his round cheeks, delighted by how well-fed he is. “This is Wei Wuxian. He’s my friend.”

A-Yuan turns, staring at Wei Wuxian for an uncomfortably long time. Wei Wuxian stares back equally intently, because no one can out-child Wei Wuxian—not even a literal child.

“Xian-gege,” A-Yuan decides eventually, then reaches enthusiastically for Wei Wuxian, who takes him with a smile and a bemused glance in Wen Qing’s direction, but no argument.

Granny also sends Wen Qing a bemused look, probably confused about why she feels so comfortable handing her grandson off to a strange young man. Wen Qing only shrugs, but she is intrigued that A-Yuan seems to be more in tune with his future memories than anyone else so far. Possibly it’s because he has fewer memories to begin with.

“…Rich-gege?” A-Yuan asks, squinting in confusion at Lan Wangji, who is doing the Lan Wangji equivalent of squinting in confusion back.

“That’s right,” Wen Qing agrees mercilessly. “That’s your Rich-gege. He’ll buy you as many toys as you like.”

“Toys?!” A-Yuan cries, staring at Lan Wangji with shining, greedy eyes.

Lan Wangji looks even more baffled, but not, to his credit, unwilling. He nods.

A-Yuan shrieks with glee, causing Lan Wangji to flinch, and reaches out for him. Wei Wuxian obediently passes him over to a terrified Lan Wangji, laughing all the while.

They’re such fools, both of them. Wen Qing has no idea why she likes them.

The rest of the family takes to Wei Wuxian just as easily and quickly as A-Yuan and Granny did, which fits in with Wen Qing’s theories. Fourth Uncle in particular keeps giving Wei Wuxian his various experiments in alcohol to test out. He seems to feel no need to analyze his desire to single Wei Wuxian out this way, and soon enough is just delighted with the appreciative audience he’s found. He’ll probably decide he has a sixth sense about alcohol connoisseurs. That seems the kind of thing Fourth Uncle would decide.

Nie Huaisang sidles over toward the alcohol and makes friends with Fourth Uncle fairly quickly, too, and then it’s the three of them drinking too much together, which Wen Qing really should’ve seen coming. Meanwhile, Lan Wangji has sat down next to Granny with A-Yuan in his lap—within easy sight of Wei Wuxian, of course—and is earnestly listening to Granny describe her favorite recipes. A-Ning is failing to extract himself from the mob of aunties who swarmed him and started asking personal questions the instant he came within grabbing distance.

It’s been a very, very long time since Wen Qing had her whole family in one place. She hasn’t had them all in once place and safe since childhood. She smiles at the bizarrely perfect scene, then sits next to Wei Wuxian and steals his drink, cheerfully ignoring his complaints. This is a good day.

It’s the reason she waits until the next day to mention the soul-snatching goddess statue.

* * *

By the time the goddess statue is safely suppressed and they leave Dafan Mountain to collect the last piece of Yin Iron, Wei Wuxian is entirely wrapped around A-Yuan’s tiny finger, and Lan Wangji is worse. It only took two days. Wen Qing shouldn’t be surprised, as they were no better in the future—Hanguang-jun and the Yiling Patriarch indeed. No one who’s seen them with a toddler could ever take those titles seriously.

As for the quest, it continues surprisingly stress-free for Wen Qing, and the boys seem to be having fun, too. Well, most of the boys. They do lose Nie Huaisang when he realizes Wen Qing wants them to fight the Tortoise of Slaughter.

“Xue Chonghai’s Tortoise of Slaughter?” he demands. “The murderous, uncontrollable, seething with resentment Tortoise of Slaughter? That one? You want to fight that? No. I’m not fighting a murder turtle, and you can’t make me. Not even Da-ge could make me. I need to be keeping an eye on Meng Yao, anyway!”

And with that, he goes home, apparently the only sane member of the party.

Wei Wuxian, predictably, is incredibly excited about fighting a murder turtle, and even seems weirdly competitive toward his alternate self on the subject. Lan Wangji isn’t any better, frankly, because while he may do a more convincing imitation of sanity than Wei Wuxian, he isn’t discernably more sane in truth. As for A-Ning, he appears eager to be lead into trouble by deranged older boys and his irresponsible sister.

The boys don’t change their minds after the fight, either, because apparently fighting the Tortoise of Slaughter is much more fun when you’re not injured, trapped, and starved—and the addition of aerial support in the form of A-Ning’s arrows helped, too. The three of them march out of the cave covered in guts and glory and thoroughly pleased with themselves.

Wen Qing has probably been an awful influence on all three of them. She sighs and trudges past them into the cave to fish a haunted sword out of a pile of turtle viscera, because that’s what her life has become.

* * *

Now that they’ve collected the last of the Yin Iron, there’s nothing left to do but destroy it. And so they head to Qinghe, Lan Wangji contacting his brother to meet them there, and Nie Huaisang to warn him that they’re bringing hazardous resentful material to his house.

None of this explains why the first face they see on arrival belongs to Jiang Cheng. He himself refuses to tell them why he’s there, whether he has permission to be there, or even how he found out they would be there.

He’s hilarious.

They collect Nie Mingjue and Lan Xichen eventually, though, and this time, the most talented young cultivators of the age manage to destroy a couple of pieces of Yin Iron without injuring themselves in any way. They’ve perfected the technique just when they’ll never need to perform it again. Still, the Yin Iron is entirely gone, and that’s cause for celebration. Apparently Nie Mingjue agrees, because he throws a feast.

Wen Qing approaches the feast with dread, but she should have known better—of course it’s nothing like any cultivation world banquet she’s ever attended. Nie Mingjue’s influence is obvious in the way everyone jostles comfortably together, shouting over each other, mocking each other, and bragging about their accomplishments. Nie Huaisang’s influence is obvious in the beautiful decoration of the room and the flawlessly tasteful arrangement of the tables. And Meng Yao’s influence is obvious, heaven help everyone, in the way the whole thing goes off without a hitch or a moment of awkwardness.

So the banquet is surprisingly pleasant, the general sense of relief and burdens lifted is strong, and it’s possible that Wen Qing drinks too much. Which is probably why she feels the need to comment on the fact that Wei Wuxian has practically climbed into Lan Wangji’s lap to the person least interested in hearing about it.

“Your brother is going to marry Lan Wangji,” Wen Qing informs Jiang Cheng, who has the misfortune to be seated beside her.

He stares at her in abject horror. “What?

“Wei Wuxian,” she repeats slowly, “is going to marry. Lan Wangji. So the time to get used to the idea of sharing him is now.”

Jiang Cheng immediately tries to hide hurt behind anger, the way he always does. “You’re saying he chose Lan Wangji over me in the future.”

“I’m saying he chose to rip his body and soul to pieces rather than be a burden on either of you in the future, but this time, I think he deserves as much happiness as I can give him. Why can’t he have both you and Lan Wangji? Is that too much to ask? Is he your pet? Must he spend his life chained to a pillar in Lotus Pier for you to be satisfied?”

It’s possible Wen Qing should learn to be a little more gentle with people, because now Jiang Cheng looks like he might cry. She takes pity.

“You can’t…hold on to your people as tightly as you want to,” she tells him, feeling it’s wise to share her hard-earned experience in this area. “They can’t take it. They break. I wanted my little brother always within my sight, and so he took to doing wilder and wilder things every time I turned my back, because he hated that lack of freedom. Maybe if I hadn’t…” She shakes her head sharply, refusing to torture herself with hypotheticals from a forgotten world. “If you let them leave when they want, they’ll come back, but if you trap them, they’ll gnaw off their own legs to escape. I’m not sure it’s true of everyone, but it’s true of my brother and yours.”

Jiang Cheng scowls, conflicted and unhappy. Eventually he says, “My mother says…well. She says the opposite.”

“Your mother is a living, breathing cautionary tale about the dangers of excessive attachment,” Wen Qing, who has definitely had too much to drink, observes.

It’s okay, though, because Jiang Cheng snorts with laughter—even if he immediately follows it up by looking anxiously around the room, as if his mother might spring out from behind a tapestry and berate him.

“If you start negotiating marriage terms with Lan Xichen now, you’ll get a better deal than if you wait for your parents to do it with Lan Qiren,” she points out.

Jiang Cheng stares at her like she just grew wings. “I don’t have the authority for that!” he wails. “My mother would be furious! The Lan elders would throw a tantrum.”

“A contract is a contract,” Wen Qing insists, knocking back another ill-advised drink. “Where I come from, they’re all dead anyway. They’re only alive now thanks to my hard work, and they ought to be bowing down to me in gratitude. So why should I give a damn about their petty little rules for who’s allowed to be happy?”

“Right, that’s…you know what? I’m taking that,” he says, seizing her drink, which is high-handed of him. “And I guess I’ll go talk to Zewu-jun about marrying off my brother, because that’ll be less insane than whatever this is. You, just…stay there and don’t talk to strangers.”

And with that, he scurries away before she can tell him that he has no right to order her to do anything. Adding insult to injury, he sends A-Ning over to keep an eye on her.

There should be a rule against little brothers tattling on their elders to other little brothers. It’s against nature, surely.

It’s also further proof that Jiang Cheng…doesn’t have romantic feelings for her in this life. Which makes sense, really. In their past life, she was a mysterious and elegant stranger. In this life, she introduced herself by punching his brother and then babbling about time travel. That’s enough to put anyone off. Anyway, he was a little young for her even in their past life, and is ridiculously too young for her now, and not just in years. This is for the best.

He also let her die in their past life. She knows that should be more of a problem for her than their current age difference, but it isn’t. He let her die because his duty to his sect took precedence over his personal feelings, and in a twisted way, she finds that attractive. If she’d been in his place, she’d have let him die. It’s possible that her love life is just destined to be a little bit cursed.

She’ll never see that comb again.

Wen Qing is not clear on much more that happens that evening, but suspects herself of alarming her brother by becoming maudlin toward the end.

Even so, she feels well enough in the morning to appreciate the rumor racing through Qinghe—the rumor that Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji’s marriage negotiations have officially begun.

Jiang Cheng and Lan Xichen are fun people to know.

* * *

When the Wens and Lans and Jiangs leave Qinghe, they travel together, as they’ll all head the same direction for some time—Yunmeng Jiang and Yiling, in fact, are quite close to each other. The Dafan Wen will practically be Wei Wuxian’s neighbors. (Half of the year, anyway. When he marries Lan Wangji, they’ll be splitting their time between their sects—because their brothers did the initial bargaining, and their brothers are ridiculous. The adults are, indeed, going to throw several tantrums when everyone gets home, but that’s not Wen Qing’s problem.)

This is the first trip Wen Qing has taken in years that doesn’t feature any panic over the safety of her loved ones. There is no hideous weight of responsibility on her shoulders, no knife at her throat. She’s giddy with the relief of it.

“This is boring,” Wei Wuxian complains, because he is a nuisance. “Having an actual quest was much more fun. Wasn’t it fun, Lan Zhan?”

Lan Wangji betrays Wen Qing by saying, “Mn,” in apparent agreement. A-Ning is also smiling shyly, which is no surprise at all, but is a further betrayal.

“What about that was fun?” Wen Qing demands.

Wei Wuxian blinks at her in surprise. “What wasn’t? We got to solve puzzles and meet fun people and fight a famous monster. And then we destroyed an evil thing and saved everyone from a war. Isn’t that the whole reason people become cultivators?”

Wen Qing stares at him. She’s never had to deal with a genuinely optimistic Wei Wuxian before, and she’s not sure how she feels about it. This is not what she considers normal behavior for him. Which is good, of course. It’s wonderful, because his previous normal behavior was caused by trauma and was dangerous to himself and others besides. Still. It’s throwing her off.

“Do you have anything else for us to do?” Wei Wuxian asks brightly, hanging over Lan Wangji’s shoulder. “Any more monsters to kill? Or people?”

She doesn’t have anything pressing for him to do, no. But the sad fact is that if someone doesn’t give him a task to keep him occupied, he’ll definitely find some other way to stress-test society.

Have you ever killed a living person before?” Wen Qing asks at last.

Wei Wuxian blinks at her. “I killed my first living person when I was eight years old,” he says blankly.

Wen Qing sighs and tips her head back to gaze imploringly at the sky. Why did she think it was a good idea to ask Wei Wuxian questions with potentially upsetting answers? Why does she never learn?

“Wei Ying?” Lan Wangji asks in alarm.

Wei Wuxian shrugs and steps away from him slightly, smiling uncomfortably and avoiding eye contact. “It wasn’t a big deal,” he insists like the enormous liar he is. “It’s just, uh. After my parents died, I lived on the streets in Yiling for a while. And, you know. People aren’t great to street kids. There was this guy who tried to…anyway, he wasn’t a problem for long. The dogs were the problem.” He shudders, and it’s theatrical, but also, Wen Qing knows, sincere. “Dogs are monsters, Lan Zhan. Never let anybody tell you otherwise.”

Lan Wangji clutches at Wei Wuxian’s arm, looking like someone who passionately desires to travel back in time and murder a great many people and dogs in Yiling. Wei Wuxian’s smile softens into something more genuine.

Wen Qing is trying to remember if she knew that Wei Wuxian had lived on the streets in Yiling. She doesn’t think so. She knew he’d lived on the streets somewhere—street kid techniques for survival proved surprisingly useful in the Burial Mounds, so he had no real choice but to mention it—but she’d never realized where. It was always Yiling with him, wasn’t it? The Yiling Patriarch, indeed.

“Well, if I need to kill anyone else, you’ll be the first to know,” she says eventually, giving up on brooding over Wei Wuxian’s tragic youth as a waste of time. “It shouldn’t come up, though. All of the dangerous problems have already been dealt with. I’ll save you for bizarre cultivation problems. Force you to invent me miracle talismans. That sort of thing.”

Wei Wuxian brightens. “I was good at talismans?”

Wen Qing rolls her eyes at him. “You are already good at talismans, fool. When you lost your golden core, you had no choice but to become amazing at them.”

“Ohh.” Wei Wuxian nods, thoughtful. “That makes sense. I wonder what I can make when I still have normal cultivation…?”

“Stop talking about the golden core thing!” Jiang Cheng orders uncomfortably. Wen Qing wishes he hadn’t chosen this exact moment to stop talking to A-Ning and start listening to their conversation.

“Oh, calm down about it, Jiang Cheng,” Wei Wuxian says absently, clearly still plotting out revolutionary talismans. “I told you I can’t do that now.”

“So you’ll find some other stupid way to maim yourself, pretend it’s for my benefit, and ruin my entire life?” Jiang Cheng asks conversationally.

“Yeah…uh…what?”

Wen Qing feels it’s entirely justified when Jiang Cheng attacks him. Still, she grabs A-Ning and pulls him over to stand beside Lan Wangji until Wei Wuxian and Jiang Cheng have worn themselves out. Lan Wangji at least pretends to be a reasonable person.

It may be the most pleasant trip Wen Qing’s had in years, but that doesn’t mean it’s not occasionally ridiculous.

* * *

On the day the Cloud Recesses would have burned, Wen Qing busies herself putting the finishing touches on her new office in Yiling. On the day Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji would have killed the Tortoise of Slaughter, she personally escorts A-Yuan, Granny, and all of the Dafan Wen to their new homes near Wen Qing’s office. On the day Lotus Pier would have been attacked, she visits it with A-Ning and amuses herself by gossiping with Jiang Yanli about Wei Wuxian’s upcoming wedding, watching A-Ning actually joke with Jiang Cheng, and shoving Wei Wuxian into the water any time the opportunity presents itself.

She likes to think that her Wei Wuxian would be proud of what she’s done with the second chance he gave her.