Jiang Cheng spent the better part of the afternoon searching for Wei Wuxian. Knowing his brother would be drawn by the allure of food, trinkets, and pretty girls – or more likely the allure of liquor a more sarcastic part of himself thought – Jiang Cheng started with the market docks. Everyone had seen Wei Wuxian, of course, but nobody knew where he'd gone. Some of the younger women, barely more than girls, had giggled and started debating who was prettier, Wei Wuxian or his husband Lan Wangji. Jiang Cheng regretted snapping at them. It was beneath the dignity of a Sect Leader to be annoyed by the antics of his older brother. Besides, Wei Wuxian'd always had that effect. He charmed people without even knowing it. "I was just being friendly," he'd once told Jiang Cheng. "Everyone's so nice. Why shouldn't I be nice in return?"

Turning his back to the docks, Jiang Cheng's footsteps took him to the long road out of town. His thoughts turned back to his childhood, to the sound of his three dogs yipping from their cage. He'd held onto the cart, screaming, until his father had wrenched his hands off the wood. He'd reached his arms out, calling for his dogs, as his father had carried him back to his rooms. His mother had yelled at him for the outburst. She hadn't yet started blaming Wei Wuxian for everything. Jiang Cheng shook his head even though it didn't drive away the memories. Stupid. The dogs were grown and dead by now, and as Sect Leader he could have as many dogs as he wanted except if he had even one dog, his brother might never visit again.

Wei Wuxian wasn't in his room. Well, he wouldn't be. He wasn't one for seclusion. On Wei Wuxian's third visit, Jiang Cheng had assigned him a permanent room in the family quarters. His sister would have expected Wei Wuxian to put into family quarters on his first visit, but then she would have expected their brother to visit. Wei Wuxian had never commented on the change. Had he even noticed?

Leaving Lotus Pier behind, Jiang Cheng walked to the cliffs where they'd learned archery and recalled the day Wei Wuxian had hit the kite he'd missed in an archery contest. All the young disciples had cheered and Jiang Cheng had been proud to have such a skilled brother.

He walked along the shore and found Yanli's favorite swimming hole. On Wei Wuxian's third day at Lotus Pier, Jiang Cheng and Yanli, who'd lived in the water as children, had shot straight in. Wei Wuxian, never one to be left behind, had splashed in after them. Their father, calling the boy back, had drilled him in water safety and he and Yanli had watched with mouths open, astonished that their new brother didn't know how to swim.

Moving out into nature, further from Lotus Pier, Jiang Cheng passed the tree Wei Wuxian had hidden in his first night with them, where he'd dropped his shoes, and where Jiang Cheng had cried because he thought he'd lost his new brother. Yanli had cooked for them after they'd returned to Lotus Pier. It was probably the first time Wei Wuxian'd ever had lotus soup.

When Jiang Cheng finally found him, Wei Wuxian, dressed in his ever-present black with a red ribbon tying his long black hair up into a messy bun, was squatting by a small pool, poking a stick into the water. "Why am I not surprised to find you stirring up mud?"

Wei Wuxian looked up with a wide grin. Jiang Cheng blinked back his surprise. How could the man look so happy when he didn't want to be here?

"Jiang Cheng, there was a toad, but now I can't find it."

"It was probably scared off by your ugly face." Jiang Cheng scowled at his own words. He'd meant to be nice. "Are you joining me for dinner or not?"

"Is it that late?"

It hadn't been when Jiang Cheng had started looking for him. "Almost."

Wei Wuxian tossed the stick away as he rose to his feet. "Okay."

Jiang Cheng started walking back, only rolling his eyes when his back was turned to his brother. He shouldn't have gone looking for Wei Wuxian. He'd bet a thousand pieces of gold that Lan fucking Wangji never had to hunt him down for dinner.

Wei Wuxian caught up and draped an arm across Jiang Cheng's shoulder. "Do you think there'll be lotus soup? I've missed it in Gusu."

Of course they'd serve lotus soup. Did Wei Wuxian think his own brother had forgotten his favorite dishes? Jiang Cheng shrugged but not enough to disturb the arm draped over his shoulder. "How would I know?"

They ate informally, out in the open, where the outermost edge of Lotus Pier opened to the lake. Out past the far edge of the water, the sun, hanging low in the sky, was surrounded by a scattering of clouds that edged from pink to purple. The wood beneath them didn't rock so much as gently float upon the water.

The lotus soup wasn't as good as Yanli's. Nothing was as good as it had been. Their old dishes had been smashed when the Wen had invaded. The new set wasn't bad but it wasn't what he'd grown up with. Nothing was the same as it had been and Jiang Cheng sometimes thought nothing would be that good again.

Wei Wuxian ate half a bowl before looking up with a grin. "I've missed lotus soup." He said it as if he wouldn't say those exact same words every day of his visit.

"I thought Lan Wangji built you a lotus pond at Could Recesses." When Wei Wuxian had first crowed about the pond, Jiang Cheng had said that Lan Wangji was just like Jin Zixuan who'd built a lotus pond for Yanli. That visit had ended abruptly.

"Well, yes," Wei Wuxian said with a shrug. "But no one there knows how to cook lotus soup."

At least he missed something about Lotus Pier. Jiang Cheng dipped his spoon into the soup. Concentrate, he told himself. Focus. If you stay in the moment, you won't give way to anger. "What did you do all day?"

"While you were busy being Sect Leader?" Wei Wuxian asked. "Nothing much."

What? Because there was nothing worth doing at Lotus Pier?

After a moment, Wei Wuxian continued, his words filling the silence between them. "I went to the docks, to the market. I tried some xiao longboa. It's not as good as old man Chu's. Do you remember?"

"Do you think my memory's as bad as yours? Of course I do. I remember when you stuffed yourself sick and kept me up half the night with your retching." Wei Wuxian grinned as if pleased by the memory and Jiang Cheng found himself grinning back. "You should have tried the yang rou chuan. It's better than it used to be."

"I did. They're so good that I want to take the chef back with me to Gusu so he can cook for me."

Jiang Cheng dropped his spoon to the table. "Is that why you're here? To steal my people?"

"It's just one street cook. Besides, he says the girls are prettier here so I doubt I'll see him in Gusu anytime soon."

Why are you here? Wei Wuxian had visited three times in two months before Jiang Cheng had asked. "Why is Lan Wangji suddenly dumping you on me? Is he tired of you already?" Wei Wuxian had laughed and ignored the question. On the fourth visit, when he'd asked, "Do you want to see me or are you here because he kicked you out?" Wei Wuxian had merely shrugged. It wasn't until the fifth visit that Jiang Cheng had gotten a response although being told to ask Wei Wuxian's husband hadn't really answered his question.

After five months worth of visits, Jiang Cheng had addressed his question to Lan Wangji but the answer hadn't told him anything. "Brothers should spend time together." That and "You should be nicer to Wei Wuxian." as if Jiang Cheng didn't know how to treat his own brother. He'd started thinking that those months in demonic cultivation land had broken Lan Wangji. Funny that nobody else had noticed, or maybe not. Lan Wangji was as quiet as he'd ever been. Maybe nobody'd spoken to him long enough to realize he'd been driven mad in that – what had they called it? – alternate realm.

"Does Lan Wangji seem different to you?"

Wei Wuxian looked up from his fish. "What do you mean?"

"Before you two got lost in that demonic cultivation land …"

"It's called Sunnydale," Wei WiXian said helpfully. "And we didn't get lost. We went to help Wen Ning and the Mistress of Blades and Garlic."

Jiang Cheng waved the interruption away. "Before that time, he never let you come visit. I mean, you never came to Lotus Pier."

"Lan Zhan doesn't let me do anything. I do what I want."

"He's the one who wants you here."

"I don't not want to be here," Wei Wuxian said.

That wasn't exactly comforting. "But Lan Wangji suggested these visits, didn't he? They only started after you'd visited that place. You have to see that he's changed."

"It's still called Sunnydale."

"That's not even a real word. What's wrong with Lan Wangji? What aren't you telling the rest of us?"

"There's nothing wrong with Lan Wangji." Wei Wuxian rose, paced to the edge of the pier, put his hands on the railing, and stared out at the darkening sky. "In Sunnydale, we didn't speak the language. This very nice auntie translated for us. I think her family used to own Wen Ning's restaurant? Anyway, she introduced me to something called daytime tv. Jiang Cheng, it was fascinating! A whole play appearing in a small box."

Jiang Cheng rose to join his brother by the railing. "You've spoken of it. Tell me what's wrong with Lan Wangji. Why does he keep sending you here?"

"Nothing's wrong. I was telling you. So, on daytime tv the auntie watched what are called self-help shows. You should have seen it. So many people with so many interesting problems."

"Let's get back to …"

Wei Wuxian waved off the interruption. "Fine. Fine. I learned that families who don't communicate tend to let old hurts fester and that they need to get together and talk things out. I told Lan Wangji about it and he suggested I visit."

None of that made any sense. "Old hurts?"

"You know. Things."

"What things?"

"Just things that people get upset about but don't mention."

"Wei Wuxian."

"All right, all right." He turned his head away. "Like when you let Yanli onto the battlefield. You could have sent her away, sent her someplace safe."

Zidian cracked purple sparks on Jiang Cheng's wrist. "You think it's my fault she died? I didn't let her do anything. You know what she was like. How was I supposed to stop her? Even if I could have, there were no safe places. Cloud Recesses had been burnt to the ground, Lotus Pier destroyed. Where should I have sent her?"

"Did you even try? Lanling wasn't destroyed. She would have been safe there." Wei Wuxian deflated before his eyes and slumped across the railing. "Even if you could have sent her away, she would have returned. I know that. It's just … I miss her. I miss her so much."

It was Jiang Cheng's time to turn his head away. "I miss her too."

They stood there in an uncomfortable silence. Jiang Cheng wanted to hit something, preferably not his idiot brother. "This is supposed to make things better?"

"That's the theory."

Fuck theory. "There are reports of an unusual creature near Ranwan Village. Want to come on a Night Hunt?"

"Hell, yes."