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“Fuck you, Wen-dog. I’ll come back a vicious ghost. You’ll never be rid of me, so go ahead, kill me if you dare.”

He’s laughing, but the ringing in his ears is louder than his voice that sounds far away like the silver draw of metal swords. Wen Chao’s mouth opens and shuts, cursing him, but he can’t make out the actual words. It’s like he’s lying in a coffin filled with the thump of his own heartbeat, and he’s looking through cracks in the thick wood at the red sun. Blood pools on the ground beneath him where it’s dripping from his mouth, the white-and-red boots draw back and dig harder into his ribs, wringing gasping, wet coughs out of him. His own fingers clench into a fist, pushing as hard as he can to let the energy of his golden core flow through—but it’s not there, it doesn’t work, it’s like trying to push air.

Someone pulls at him, and the world tilts. He smells the sandalwood, sees the light golden eyes before he recognizes him. Lan WangJi hauls him up with one hand. With the other, he makes a rough motion with his sword, and a splatter of blood splits across his expressionless face.

Lan WangJi pushes him, thrusts a sword in his hand—go, go —and when he doesn’t go, Lan WangJi drags him up. The wind his hair against his face as Lan WangJi hauls him onto Bichen with him, his own sword dangling useless from his hand. He thinks it’s funny that not too long ago, Lan WangJi had refused to touch so much as his hand, and now he’s being held close with one arm, the other throwing talisman spell after talisman spell behind them.

 


 

Wei WuXian wakes twice. The first time, he panics, pushing at the arm around him until a body-locking spell wraps around his limbs and he’s forced to go limp.

“You’re safe.” He feels the rumble of the voice and realizes he can smell sandalwood even in the wind rushing by them. His eyes close.

The second time, he’s in a dark room, and he’s being forced to sit up, and a bowl of bitter medicine is being pushed against his lips.

He tries to push it away, but the bowl is pressed more insistently to his mouth.

“It’s medicine. Drink.”

A hand forces his chin up and open, and the person pours the medicine down his throat until the bowl is empty.

He sputters, but he’s finally allowed to lay back down and sleep.

 


 

The third time he wakes, the sun is shining down between slivered gaps in the thin thatch roofing overhead.

Wei WuXian winces and sits up. He’s lying on a pile of hay, two robes covering him. The first is his own, torn and heavy with an iron stench. The second is the white of the GusuLan Sect. When he sat up, it had slid down to his lap, and it’s the first time he’s seen the white robe stained with brown flecks of dried blood.

Lan WangJi looks over from where he stands guard at the doorway of the stable they’re in, his outer robe gone.

“Lan WangJi...why are you here?” Wei WuXian asks. His voice is scratchy, and his throat dry like so much yellow hay had been stuffed down it.

Lan WangJi bends to pick up something outside. When he brings it back, Wei WuXian instantly recognizes the bitter smell of medicine coming from the small, earthenware pot.

“No thanks,” Wei WuXian says, wrinkling his nose.

“Drink,” Lan WangJi says and holds the steaming bowl up to Wei WuXian’s lips.

“All right, fine, I’ll drink it myself,” Wei WuXian says. His hands shake. He downs it all at once, swallowing once, twice, three times, and then takes a deep, gasping breath when the bowl is empty. He can still taste the bitterness on his tongue, but he feels warmer after having had it. “How long…” he asks.

“One day,” Lan WangJi says. He’s turned to look outside again. “We are not far from Yiling yet.”

Wei WuXian looks down at the stained white robe clutched in his cut-up hands. “You can leave,” he says. It comes out a weak croak and he tries again. “You don’t have to stay with me. I’m the one wanted by the Wen Sect.” He smiles, small and resigned. “The worst they can do is torture and kill me, and then I can come back a vengeful ghost and—”

Lan WangJi crosses the room in two broad steps and catches him by the wrist. He lifts it, pressing his thumb into the pulse. Wei WuXian snatches his hand away, eyes wide.

“Wen ZhuLiu,” Lan WangJi says, staring at Wei WuXian’s wrist, then his chest, then his sword lying an arms length away on the ground. “Your golden core.”

“It wasn’t him,” Wei WuXian says, holding his wrist close to himself and looking away. “I asked Wen Qing to take it.”

“Why—”

“I asked her to give mine to Jiang Cheng,” Wei WuXian snaps. “He’s the only—he’s the YunMengJiang Sect leader now.” He’d promised to protect Jiang Cheng with his life, and on his watch, Jiang Cheng had lost his golden core.

“Why did you do such a rash thing?” Lan WangJi grabs him by the shoulders and lifts him until he’s half-kneeling. “Wei WuXian, you—”

“Why do you care?” Wei WuXian says, refusing to look at him. “It has nothing to do with outsiders.”

The hands tighten around him and it hurts. “It has to do with me,” Lan WangJi says.

Wei WuXian laughs, a dry hacking laugh. “Never thought I’d hear those words come out of your mouth, HanGuang-Jun.”

“It has to do with me,” Lan WangJi repeats slow, pronouncing every word. His eyes bore into him. Lan WangJi lets go of him, and he slides back to the ground.

Lan WangJi turns. “Get dressed. We keep moving.”

Wei WuXian slowly pulls on his grimey outer robe and straps his now useless sword to his waist. He holds Lan WangJi’s white robe, hesitating, but Lan WangJi doesn’t turn around again. Finally, he drapes it over his own shoulders and gets up, wearing it as a second robe. He’s not sure if it’s his missing core or the injuries and blood loss or just the late spring chill that’s making his fingers cold and numb and shaky.

Lan WangJi glances at him, but doesn’t comment on the robe. “Get on my back,” he says.

Wei WuXian loops his arms around his neck, and lets Lan WangJi hoist him up. It’s less cold this time, with Lan WangJi’s entire front shielding him from the wind. Wei WuXian breathes in the smell of sandalwood, and closes his eyes.

 


 

It’s dark again when Wei WuXian feels Bichen wobble. It’s only for a moment, but enough that he knows something is wrong. It’s been at least forty-some hours since Lan WangJi had any rest, on top of fighting and flying and carrying Wei WuXian all this time. Even HanGuang-Jun must have a limit.

“Lan Zhan,” Wei WuXian says. It’s so cold flying now that his cheeks have gone numb. “We should rest for the night. You should rest.”

“It’s not safe yet.” Lan WangJi pauses between words. Pressed up against him, Wei WuXian can feel his labored breathing.

They fly for another thirty minutes before the sword tilts again. This time, it almost throws Wei WuXian off his back.

Finally, Lan WangJi begins bringing them down. He aims for a copse of trees by a silver stream, nothing but a smudge of dark shadows in the black night. He puts Wei WuXian down, careful, and pulls a small pouch out from his robes. He empties it of the herbs inside—only a handful left. Half, he puts back in the pouch, and the other half into the clay pot Wei WuXian used earlier that day.

Lan WangJi cuts down a handful of branches from the nearby trees with his sword, and lights the green wood with a talisman. It’s too smoky and doesn’t burn well, but he begins brewing medicine.

Wei WuXian turns away from the smoke and his eyes follow Lan WangJi. He sets the little clay pot on the fire. Every once in awhile, his eyes flash gold at the fire and the flames flare up with the gust of wind accompanying the spell.

When the flame dies down again, beads of sweat are staining the ribbon tied on Lan WangJi’s forehead. The night is cold, and the fire is small. Wei WuXian, even wrapped in two robes, is shivering.

Only when Lan WangJi moves to pick up the pot does Wei WuXian notice his movements favor his right side.

“You’re hurt,” Wei WuXian says.

Lan WangJi’s steps slow. “I’m not,” he says.

“On your left side,” Wei WuXian says. “Let me see.”

When Lan WangJi doesn’t move, Wei WuXian gets to his feet, bones aching with the movement, and goes to him. He pulls Lan WangJi’s robe aside. Underneath, Lan WangJi’s undergarment is stained red and sticks to his skin.

“Lan Zhan, you—” Wei WuXian’s eyes widen. He loosens the ties on the robe entirely and peels aside both shirt and undergarment. A large gash is revealed, crusted and scabbing but so large and deep that it’s still oozing red. “When did you—when did this happen?”

Lan WangJi grunts.

“Was it when you came for me?” Wei WuXian demands. “You idiot! This—this is really bad. You need a doctor.”

“I can suppress it,” Lan WangJi says. He must have been using his golden core to keep the wound closed, but going without sleep and using his qi and strength to fly them both had finally taken a toll—his control had loosened so that the wound had begun bleeding again. With the amount of discipline Lan WangJi has, he would never let that happen unless he couldn’t help it.

“You can’t keep this up.”

Lan WanJi picks up the clay pot but Wei WuXian shakes his head when Lan WangJi tries to give it to him.

“You need it more than I do,” Wei WuXian says.

Lan WanJi shakes his head. “No.”

“Then we’ll share,” Wei WuXian says.

“Only enough for one,” Lan WangJi says.

“Then brew two, Lan Zhan—”

Even with his wound, Lan WanJi is fast—too fast for Wei WuXian to stop when he hits his pressure points, immobilizing him, but catches him before he collapses to the ground. He props Wei WuXian up against a tree and brings the medicine to his lips, pushing his chin open and pouring in the medicine.

Wei WuXian tries to protest, but it only results in sputtering and gagging, and in the end, it’s easier to drink than to spit it out.

Once he’s finished, Lan WangJi nods and rinses the pot in the stream.

“Lan Zhan, the rest of the medicine—put it on your wound,” Wei WuXian says. He finds the body lock has been undone once he finished the medicine, and he’s able to move again.

Lan WangJi shakes his head. “For you.”

“What if it gets worse?” Wei WuXian demands.

“It won’t,” Lan WangJi says. But Wei WuXian can see the tiny tremble in his hand, the bead of sweat that has dripped down his jaw.

“You know I’ve never met anyone as stubborn as you. At least rest then,” Wei WuXian says. “I’ll take first watch.”

Lan WangJi hesitates.

“You’ve skipped your curfew twice now,” Wei WuXian says. “Go on. Sleep. I’m used to sleeping late anyway.”

“Just a few hours,” Lan WangJi says finally.

Wei WuXian nods. He’ll agree to anything if it will get Lan WangJi to rest. Lan WangJi sits against the tree and shuts his eyes. His breathing evens out a moment later.

Wei WuXian waits until he’s sure Lan WangJi is asleep, and drapes both outer robes over him as gently as he can. Lan WangJi frowns in his sleep but doesn’t wake.

That night, Wei Wuxian breaks out into a shivering fever.

 


 

They travel the same way the next day. Lan WangJi flies them both on his sword, going slow because he must keep away from main roads but not so high that they’d be easily spotted from a distance. At nightfall, they land by another stream and Lan WangJi brews medicine and forces Wei WuXian up to drink it. He’s too tired and miserable to protest.

Between fevered dreams of Lotus Pier burning, the sound of Jiang Cheng’s voice breaking as he cries, the empty ache in his chest, the shivers that wrack his body so hard sometimes that he can just barely hang onto Lan WangJi, Wei WuXian loses track of time.

On the third day, Lan WangJi lands while the sun is still high in the sky. When Wei WuXian blinks his eyes open, he can see the hazy outline of a town up ahead.

Lan WangJi’s face is so close that Wei WuXian can see the flecks of gold in his pale eyes. Wei WuXian’s fever has broken him into shivers again and he can’t seem to feel warm enough though it’s nearly summer. Even though Lan WangJi looks like he’s been carved from a block of pale jade, his body is warm and Wei WuXian wants to get closer.

“Stay here,” Lan WangJi says, propping him up in the lee of a boulder so wind is no longer blowing against him. He pulls his robe more securely around Wei WuXian’s shoulders.

“Where are you going?” Wei WuXian murmurs.

“Out of medicine,” Lan WangJi says. The tiniest frown mars his expressionless face. Wei WuXian wants to tease him about it, but he can’t summon the energy. “I’ll come back soon. Do not move.”

“Okay,” Wei WuXian says. He doesn’t think he could move even if he wanted to.

He drifts in and out of sleep, waiting for Lan WangJi. Sometime after the sun has creeped down on the horizon and dyed the sky red, he hears the sound of footsteps and voices.

He thinks, at first, that Lan WangJi has come back, so he just waits. His inaction saves him from discovery.

“I heard the Wen Sect caught the eldest YunMengJiang disciple—the one they adopted, what was his name?”

“Wei WuQian, wasn’t it?” a second voice says.

It’s a pair of young men traveling together with a donkey and a cart. From where Wei WuXian is huddled, he can hear the crunch of pebbles beneath their boots, the snorts of the donkey, the creaking wood of the cart as it moves along. They’re traveling slow, transporting some goods or other to the town Lan WangJi is in.

“Right right, Wei WuQian,” the first voice says. “So there’s only two left—Jiang WanYin and the sister. It won’t be long before that clan is wiped out by the sun.” He sighs.

“But I heard the Wen Sect didn’t catch Wei WuQian,” the second voice says. “My cousin heard from her friend who was there in Yiling where they found him—HanGuang-Jun—one of those Two Jades of Lan came and fought them off. He’s on their blacklist now too.”

“Someone from the GusuLan? I thought the other sects were keeping clear of the YunMengJiang Sect.”

“Didn’t you see the wanted posters? Pay attention to them when we get to Bai Town,” the second voice says. “Wei WuQian’s is still up, and so is this Lan WangJi. All I know is, if we see them, there’ll be a big reward.”

The first voice laughs. “As though we’d be so lucky! If HanGuang-Jun really did save Wei WuQian, they must be far away by now.”

“You don’t know that,” the second voice whines. “We could use the money. My mother has been sick, and there hasn’t been much rain. It looks like it’ll be a hot summer at this rate, and medicine prices are already skyhigh.”

“Yeah, yeah, we can visit the temple and pray for luck,” the first voice says. “While you’re at it, pray for better looks too. I heard Meimei rejected you again . Aren’t you embarrassed to keep proposing by now?”

Once they’ve left earshot, Wei WuXian stumbles to his feet. His limbs feel achey and weak, and he has to lean on the boulder to stop his head from spinning. If people know about them, if there are wanted posters up—the GusuLan uniform is unmistakable, and a man as beautiful as Lan WangJi attracts attention to begin with. It won’t be long before he’s discovered.

Wei WuXian walks slow, wincing as he stumbles toward the town. He hasn’t gotten even halfway there yet, when he hears a shout.

“Wei Ying!”

He turns and sees Lan WangJi running toward him from the direction of the boulder. He doesn’t think he’s ever seen Lan WangJi run like this—inelegant, robes in disarray. Then he’s right there and Wei WuXian is being swept up and held so close that he can feel the rapid thump of his heartbeat.

Wei WuXian manages a weak laugh. “Isn’t running against your GusuLan rules?” he says.

“You weren’t there,” Lan WangJi says after a moment. “At the boulder. I thought—”

Oh.

Wei Wuxian hesitantly puts his arms around Lan WangJi. “I heard some farmers going to town. They said you were wanted by the Wen Sect too now. For helping me,” he says. “I wanted to warn you.”

“Warn me,” Lan WangJi pushes him back. As fast as his heartbeat was, his face looks the same—stern and cold. “If you walked into town like that—”

He doesn’t have to finish. If Wei WuXian had walked in the way he was dressed, in his current state, he would have been recognized immediately and too weak to stop them when they took him and turned him in for the reward. Wei WuXian bites his lip.

“It’s the fever,” Lan WangJi makes his excuse for him. After a moment, he turns and unsheathes Bichen. “Get on my back.”

Wei WuXian loops his arms around Lan WangJi as they begin to fly again. But Wei WuXian knows that while he might not be completely clear-minded right now, when he headed for town, he was only thinking of Lan Zhan.

 


 

Wherever Lan WangJi is taking them, the towns are further and further apart, and so are the houses. Food gets scarcer when they cannot go buy it, so even when Wei WuXian’s fever breaks, he still feels weak and tired all of the time.

On the sixth day, Lan WangJi breaks another GusuLan rule, and catches two small pheasants. He roasts them over the fire, and the smell wakes Wei WuXian, hungry and nauseous at the same time.

Lan WangJi eats with his eyes cast to the ground where nothing is left of the pheasants apart from a pile of soft, red-brown feathers and white bone. Wei WuXian looks at him, and then looks away, ashamed and guilty.

Lan WangJi stops eating and half-turns. Wei WuXian thinks he can hear the snap of a twig somewhere in the distance.

Lan WangJi hands the remains of his pheasant to Wei WuXian and stands. His fingers tighten on Bichen’s hilt.

Wei WuXian freezes as well, and waits for something to happen.

A rabbit hops out of the bushes, nose twitching.

They both stare at it, and Wei WuXian laughs for the first time in weeks. The rabbit immediately startles and darts back into the bushes, but Wei WuXian can’t stop laughing. He laughs until his ribs hurt, and Lan WangJi is staring at him in alarm.

“It’s okay, I’m okay,” Wei WuXian says, gasping as the last of his laughter calms into breathless chuckling. “I thought—I thought—and it was a rabbit —”

Lan WangJi shifts and gives him a look.

Wei WuXian’s laughter trails off into a smile. “Let me see your wound,” he says to him.

Lan WangJi lets Wei WuXian come close and undress him. The wound doesn’t look any better after so many days, but it doesn’t look worse.

“I’ll clean it for you,” Wei WuXian says.

Lan WangJi stiffens.

“Oh, right, I forgot you hate people touching you,” Wei WuXian says. Then he grins. “But you touched me, Lan WangJi. You’ve been carrying me on your back every day now, Lan Er-Gege,” he teases.

He’s sure Lan WangJi is going to throw him off, but he doesn’t move, allowing Wei WuXian to rinse a corner of his robe in the stream and press it to the wound. Under the firelight, Wei WuXian can see Lan WangJi’s muscles tighten. It must hurt, but he doesn’t make a sound, letting Wei WuXian slowly wipe along the cut until just a red wound is left.

Since Lan WangJi has let him get away with this much, Wei WuXian reaches into his loosened robes and rummages until he finds the medicinal pouch. There isn’t much left.

Lan WangJi catches him by the wrist. “No.”

“I’m better. I feel much better really so I don’t need it anymore,” Wei WuXian says. He doesn’t wait for an agreement, but crushes it and presses it into the wound.

Lan WangJi lets out a hissed breath.

“Let me wash your shirt.” Wei WuXian tugs at the undergarment.

“You—”

“Come on, I’ve already cleaned your wound, touched you—don’t forget we’ve already bathed together too,” Wei WuXian says as he continues to undress him. “I know you like to be clean and that shirt is not clean.”

Lan WangJi frowns, but he lets Wei WuXian strip him of the shirt.

Even though the night has fallen, the moon is high and Wei WuXian scrubs Lan WangJi’s shirt as much as he can with what strength he has. Even when he’s done, the blood has been stained too many days to wash out. He’s still not completely recovered from his fever and he tires easily. When he makes his way back over to Lan WangJi, he sees the other man has fallen asleep.

It’s silent apart from the whispering stream, the rustling trees, and the last snapping embers from the fire.

 


 

On the seventh day, Wei WuXian’s fever completely recedes, and it makes him aware. Even physically recovered, Suibian hangs useless at his waist. He can’t fly, he can’t fight, he can’t practice spells, he can’t run as fast or jump as far or any of the things he’d once been able to do without thinking about it. Even traveling this way, Lan WangJi is the one holding him. He can do nothing to help him, to help Jiang Cheng, to help even himself.

“You should leave me,” he says, letting it slip out when the thought comes, the wind carrying away his voice. Lan WangJi’s shoulders stiffen beneath him. “I’m only a burden.” He should let go. They’re not flying high enough for the fall to hurt him probably—at least, it wouldn’t have in the past—but his arms don’t loosen from around Lan WangJi’s neck.

“No,” Lan WangJi says, just as quiet, a rumble Wei WuXian feels vibrate through him.

“Why not?” Wei WuXian whispers.

Lan WangJi doesn’t say anything for a long time, and then, “I’m not letting you go.”

Wei WuXian bites his lip and presses his nose into Lan WangJi’s neck, breathing in the faint traces of sandalwood left on his skin.

 


 

That night, Lan WangJi lands them close to a small farmhouse—the only one in the area they’ve come across for hours now. The family living there would be normal citizens. Isolated out here with no other buildings nearby, it would be even less likely that they would have heard of Wei WuXian.

When Lan WangJi knocks on the door, the family lets them in with all the hospitality of country folk. The wife hurries to make them a meal, and the husband tells the two children to draw a bath for their visitors. He thinks Lan WangJi is trying to make him feel better.

Wei WuXian hasn’t been this grateful for a bowl of rice and some simple dishes in a long time.

The boys are fascinated by the visitors and ask question after question.

Even with his stoic face, Wei WuXian can tell Lan WangJi is uncomfortable, so he fields most of the conversation, spinning half-truths and lies.

“Where did you come from? Why do you have swords? Are you a cultivator?” The elder asks. The family only introduced the boys as Gege and Didi—older brother, and younger brother.

“Oh, I’m not a cultivator,” Wei WuXian says. It’s harder to admit than he wants. “We were just merchants, delivering some goods, but we were robbed on our way back. Thank goodness we got away with our swords.”

Wei WuXian shoots Lan WangJi a glance. Lying, of course, breaks another GusuLan rule, but he’s already broken at least a half-dozen by now. Lan WangJi doesn’t correct him.

“That’s right,” the husband says. “We’re too far from the cultivation world here—what would cultivators be doing here? But brigands and outlaws hide out here to escape the law. We’ve more of those than pheasants!” He laughs.

“You’re not injured, are you?” the wife asks. “The nearest doctor lives a day’s walk away, but we can send for him.”

“We’re fine now that we’re eating this wonderful cooking,” Wei WuXian says, and the wife giggles.

“Have another bowl then,” she says, refilling it without waiting for an answer. “Eat. Eat.”

“Did you see any walking corpses on the way?” Didi speaks up. “I want to see a walking corpse!”

“You stop talking nonsense right now, Didi!” his mother scolds.

“But—”

“Oh, you don’t want to see a walking corpse,” Wei WuXian tells the boy. “They’re very scary, all stiff because they’ve been dead so long, so they can only hop like this.” He gets to his feet and gives a few hops, arms outstretched until he locks his hands around the younger boy’s neck.

Didi squeals when Wei WuXian tickles him, collapsing to the ground in laughter.

“That doesn’t sound scary at all,” Gege says.

Wei WuXian straightens up. “Oh, you don’t think so until it it tries to suck the life out of you,” he says, sobering up. “If it catches you—scratches you, bites you, it infects you with corpse poisoning, and then you become one of them if you don’t get an antidote in time.”

The boys listen with wide eyes.

“And worse of all.” Wei WuXian leans close to whisper. “They smell really really bad. Smelling one will put you off your dinner for a week!” He smiles and pats them on their heads. “So be good boys and listen to your parents. Don’t stay out too late, don’t wander off on your own.”

“Listen to him,” the mother says.

“I take it you have some experience with walking corpses then?” the father asks. “You’re really not cultivators?”

Wei WuXian shakes his head. “No, just very unlucky,” he says. His grin seems to relax the husband who continues to ask about new gossip and news.

After dinner, the boys are sent to bed. Wei WuXian has a one-sided argument with Lan WangJi that he’s only half upset he loses, and gets sent to the tub where he submerges himself with a sigh. He scrapes the dirt and blood off of his skin and washes it out of his hair. His skin is a motley of yellow and purple bruises, though thankfully, no larger injuries.

The family is good enough to lend them some spare robes, while the wife takes their dirty ones to wash.

Lan WangJi takes his turn after Wei WuXian, while Wei WuXian goes to chat with the husband and wife some more. They’re shelling peanuts by lamp light and Wei WuXian is trying to subtly find out where exactly they are, when Lan WangJi comes back in.

Wei WuXian stares.

They’d both been covered in grime for the past week, so he’d forgotten just how beautiful Lan WangJi is. It had gotten dark while Lan WangJi bathed, and the couple owns only one lantern. When Lan WangJi comes in, he’s backlit by the bright moon outside, but the fire illuminates his pale eyes, burnishing them golden. Even dressed in the borrowed clothes, dyed a drab green, Lan WangJi wears them with the grace of an emperor.

The couple look stunned at Lan WangJi, and Wei WuXian grins at their reaction. He really is handsome.

“Ready for bed?” Wei WuXian asks, getting to his feet.

Lan WangJi gives a short nod, and the couple rushes to put out spare bedding for their visitors. The house is really barely more than a hut, so it only has two main rooms—a bedroom that the whole family shares, and the common room where they do everything else. Wei WuXian and Lan WangJi are given a couple of straw mats to lay on the floor of the common room and two thin blankets.

Wei WuXian lays on his mat, and stares up at the ceiling, not a star in sight beneath the solid roof over their heads. He can hear quiet murmurs that turn into loud snores coming from the bedroom.

He glances over at Lan WangJi who is lying completely still on his mat in perfect posture. Even his hair is straight and not a strand is out of place.

The window is open, letting in a square of moonlight on the floor between their mats. Even though it’s late spring now, the nights are still cold and Wei WuXian can feel the wind coming through the window and shivers. He moves a little closer to Lan WangJi.

“Lan Zhan…” he whispers. “How is your wound?” he asks, voice low.

Lan WangJi opens his eyes and looks over at Wei WuXian. “Better,” he says.

Wei WuXian gets up and crosses the moonlight to his side. “Let me see,” he says.

Lan WangJi exhales, but he moves to sit up.

Wei WuXian catches his hand as he does. “Let me,” he says. His heart is beating fast. He doesn’t completely know what he’s doing when he pulls aside Lan WangJi’s blanket. He grasps the sash tying his robe together and tugs it loose, feeling the rough fabric slide between his fingers.

Lan WangJi’s eyes on him are like molten gold, but he doesn’t move as his shirt falls open.

The wound, like he said, is better. It’s clean and the skin is only a little pink—none of the red inflammation that Wei WuXian had been afraid to see. It’s scabbed over for the most part, and on its way to healing.

Wei WuXian grazes his hand gently along the run of the wound and then over Lan WangJi’s stomach where, even under the skim of his fingers, he can feel the hard muscle and warm skin. His own heart is beating fast, and he begins drawing his hand away.

Lan WangJi catches his wrist again and pulls him so suddenly that Wei WuXian falls right on top of him.

“Lan Zhan! Your wound!” Wei WuXian says, horrified, right before Lan WangJi’s mouth closes on his.

 


 

They can’t do much—not with Lan WangJi’s wound and the family only a thin wood panel away. Lan WangJi pries open Wei WuXian’s mouth, licking into it, and igniting a trail of fire with every press of his strong fingers into Wei WuXian’s skin. He pulls Wei WuXian’s thighs apart, moving his hips in small, grinding circles up into him, and Wei WuXian clings on—twisting around Lan WangJi until he’s entirely in his lap, rubbing up and down to the same rhythm.

It’s uncomplicated, and it doesn’t take long. Wei WuXian comes first, kept quiet only by Lan WangJi pressing his mouth to his lips again, swallowing his gasps. When Wei WuXian comes back to himself, Lan WangJi is still moving against him, an intense look on his face, biting his own lip to keep quiet, and holding onto Wei WuXian so tightly he’ll surely have bruises in the morning. Wei WuXian smiles, holding Lan WangJi close and rubbing his shoulder and urging him to go faster—faster, you can do better than that, Lan WangJi, Lan Zhan, Lan Er-Gege, come on—until Lan WangJi comes, burying his face deep into the curve of Wei WuXian’s shoulder.

By the time the family stumbles from their room, trying hard to keep quiet as they set about morning chores, they’re already on separate mats again.

 


 

They stay with the family. They don’t mean to—every day, Wei WuXian thinks this is the day they should leave, but the first day, their freshly washed robes have to dry in the sun, so he and Lan WangJi go and help the husband tend to his field while they wait. The second day is the wife’s weaving day and Gege’s shirt is already so worn through that there’s holes in the elbows, and an extra pair of hands would help so much so Wei WuXian volunteers. He makes a worse mess of it, so they stay a third day for Lan WangJi to help untangle the threads he’s messed up while they switch and Wei WuXian goes back out to the field.

Three days turns into four turns into a week turns into two.

As the days pass, the weather creeps into summer and it gets warmer as well. Wei WuXian and Lan WangJi spend most days out with the father. Lan WangJi prefers the tediousness of tending to the fields, pulling weeds and wading in ankle-deep water, helping the plants grow. Wei WuXian likes going hunting, setting traps and catching the meat he can take home.

One day, Wei WuXian spends paring a bow and a set of crude arrows. He takes the boys hunting, teaching them proper form and how to aim and shoot. It takes several days before Gege finally catches a fat, old pheasant, but the boys march back like the greatest warriors, and eagerly help pluck and cook their catch. Wei WuXian helps and adds so much spice to the dinner that the boys tear up, but are too proud of themselves to stop eating.

And every night, after the family retires, he and Lan WangJi find themselves beneath the same blanket. Lan WangJi covers Wei WuXian’s mouth to keep him quiet, but he never uses the silencing spell, swallowing every gasp and moan.

As the days pass and the weather turns from warm to sweltering, the ache in his chest doesn’t fade, but Wei WuXian grows accustomed to it. He tells the family stories after dinner—acting out the fight scenes himself and pulling Lan WangJi to his feet to be a standing prop as Wei WuXian darts around him. The stories are half real, half made up, and he takes exaggerated bows when the boys clap for him and demand another.

Lan WangJi doesn’t exactly smile more or speak more, but something about him relaxes. He smells like sun and sweat and fresh grass from the field.

One afternoon, they finish their chores early, and Wei WuXian grabs Lan WangJi by the hand, laughing as he pulls him into the nearby woods.

“Dinner,” Lan WangJi reminds him.

“We’ve still a few hours before then,” Wei WuXian says, grinning at him. He leans forward to press a quick kiss to Lan WangJi’s lips. “I want to show you something,” he says. “I found it last time I took the boys pheasant-hunting.”

His surprise is a little blue lake about a thirty minute walk from the house. Surrounded by trees, the only sounds that can be heard there is the rush from the waterfall filling the lake, and the occasional bird call and stir of the canopy.

“It’s not as cold as the one in the Cloud Recesses,” Wei WuXian says, looking between the pool and Lan WangJi’s face. “But it’s pretty, right?” he says, nervous all of a sudden. “I remember how much you liked to cultivate there, so when I found this place, I thought—”

“It’s pretty,” Lan WangJi says.

Wei WuXian didn’t realize his grip had been tightening around Lan WangJi’s fingers until he loosens them. He grins at him. “Then what are you waiting for?” he says, undoing his own robe and stripping down. He leaves Suibian by his clothes, still unable to rid himself of the habit of carrying it everywhere even though he hasn’t used it in a long time.

“You—here?” Lan WangJi asks.

Wei WuXian kicks his shoes off and jumps in the water, shouting from the cold. He winks at Lan WangJi over his shoulder. “Oh, what are you thinking about, Lan Zhan, didn’t I already say I brought you here so you could cultivate?” he teases, but when Lan WangJi joins him in the lake, Wei WuXian circles his arms around Lan WangJi’s neck.

“What are you doing?” Lan WangJi says.

“It’s warmer where you are,” Wei WuXian says with a grin.

“It’s not,” Lan WangJi says.

Wei WuXian’s grin widens. “Are you saying you want me to leave?” He begins drawing away, and laughs when Lan WangJi’s hands come around his waist, holding him in place. “So you don’t want me to leave after all?” he says. “You want me to stay? With you? Forever?”

He doesn’t expect Lan WangJi to nod—just one, short, emphatic dip of his chin.

The water doesn’t feel cold anymore, and Wei WuXian can’t stop smiling. He reaches up to tug at the ribbon around Lan WangJi’s forehead. “You’re still wearing this even now?” he says. They’ve been wearing the homespun clothes of the little family since they came, their tattered uniforms put away long ago—unsuitable for farm labor—all except for this ribbon still left on Lan WangJi’s forehead.

“You can take it off.” Lan WangJ’s eyes bore into him, like he’s trying to tell Wei WuXian something without words.

“Really? And to think you got so angry when I accidentally pulled it loose that time,” Wei WuXian says, reaching up. He tugs it gently, still a little hesitant, but Lan WangJi doesn’t stop him. Only his hands tighten, thumbs pressing into Wei WuXian’s hips when it comes off entirely.

Lan WangJi reaches for the ribbon once it’s come off, but Wei WuXian holds it away from him with an exaggerated pout. “Hey, you can’t take it back once you’ve given it to me,” he says.

“I’m not taking it back.”

Lan WangJi reaches for it again, and this time, Wei WuXian lets him. He watches, curious, when Lan WangJi loops the ribbon around Wei WuXian’s left wrist and winds it around and around, only tying the ends once it’s completely been wound like a bandage. Lan WangJi has wrapped it firmly on Wei WuXian’s wrist but not too tight, like someone is holding his hand, and Wei WuXian can see the clouds imprinted on the ribbon.

Lan WangJi’s thumb brushes against the fabric, and lifts Wei WuXian’s hand up to press a kiss to the ribbon, reverent. His light eyes stare into him like he’s trying to look into Wei WuXian’s very soul— Wei WuXian wishes he could give it to him.

He pulls closer and kisses Lan WangJi. “Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan,” he whispers and sighs as Lan WangJi dips forward, ghosting his lips against Wei WuXian’s lips, then his jaw, then his neck, until Wei WuXian can’t stand not kissing him for a moment longer. From there, there’s no stopping any of it—how they lick into each other’s mouth, biting at one another. Wei WuXian’s used to muffling his voice with his knuckles when they do this in the confines of the little hut, but this time, Lan WangJi pulls his hand away, the one wrapped in the ribbon, and Wei WuXian’s voice echoes across the waters.

It happens there in the water. Lan WangJi’s fingers play Wei WuXian’s body like a guqin, wringing gasps out of him as he demands more, arching into them. When Lan WangJi does, it hurts, and Wei WuXian locks up around him, tears leaking from his eyes as he tells him how much it hurts and it’s his first time and wasn’t it supposed to feel good. Lan WangJi tries to soothe him without words, running careful hands down his body and pressing kisses into his brow, as Wei WuXian waits for it to get better when it feels like he’s being split open.

Eventually it does—the pain fades to an ache, and then Lan WangJi presses a spot inside him that makes Wei WuXian’s voice ring the ripples in the water, and then it’s good—so good, Wei WuXian’s nails digging into his shoulders and telling him to hit that spot again, again, go faster, slower, harder, and then nothing but Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan—

 


 

Much later, they head back for the house, holding hands.

Wei WuXian can’t stop glancing over at Lan WangJi every few moments, even when Lan WangJi’s thumb traces circles over his pulse point where it’s been wrapped in the ribbon.

“We’re late for dinner,” Wei WuXian says, swinging their joined hands. “Do you think they saved food for us? If not, I can always cook for you. HanGuang-Jun has no problem with my cooking, right?”

Lan WangJi gives a low grunt of agreement.

“Even after doing me like that, you still hate to talk?” Wei WuXian teases him. “Don’t you think we’re close enough now that you can say a few more words?”

“What do you want me to say?” Lan WangJi asks.

Wei WuXian laughs. “You even need me to teach you how to hold a conversation,” he says and leans a little closer, putting his head against Lan WangJi’s shoulder for just a moment. They’re nearly the same height, but Wei WuXian wants to tease him a little, peering up at him through his eyelashes. “How about asking me how I feel? If I’m sore? If I need you to carry me? Or if I want you to…” He whispers a filthy suggestion in his ear.

He laughs when he’s swept into Lan WangJi’s arms, and Lan WangJi strides more purposefully toward the house.

Wei WuXian is still teasing him, nipping at his earlobe and whispering into his ear, when they crest the hill overlooking the house and Lan WangJi stops walking.

With the sudden stiff set of his shoulders, Wei WuXian also hears the voices coming from below and slowly drops his feet to the ground.

“Drag the bodies to the back. We want to be ready when that Wei WuXian comes back with his Lan-dog!” Wei WuXian recognizes the haughty, high whine of Wen Chao’s voice even from a distance.

In front of the house, there are four bodies in green lying on dark ground—two larger, two smaller—and Lan WangJi barely grasps Wei WuXian’s mouth and presses it shut before he starts to scream. He shakes in Lan WangJi’s grip.

“Are you sure they’re here?” Wang LingJiao asks. “It looks like only those country hicks lived here.”

“Bring the robes,” Wen Chao orders. One of the Wen disciples brings two sets of robes out of the house, one light and one dark—Lan WangJi’s white sect uniform, and Wei WuXian’s YunMengJiang uniform that neither of them has worn in weeks now. “Instead of turning them in, this family sheltered them? They deserved to die!” He turns toward the house. “Search every inch of this farm—no corner of that field goes unsearched! Drag those traitors out!”

“I’m going to kill him!” Wei WuXian hisses against Lan WangJi’s palm, struggling as he sees Wen Chao and Wang LingJiao disappear into the house. “Let go of me! I’m going to kill him!

Lan WangJi pushes until Wei WuXian’s hiding his face in Lan WangJi’s shoulder, muffling his tears and his frustration when the Wen servants begin dragging the bodies away.

 


 

They run. All night, Lan WangJi holds tight to Wei WuXian’s wrist, forcing him to stumble after him. It’s too dark to see in the forest for them to fly on Bichen, and too risky with the Wen sect disciples searching for them.

When the golden rays of dawn break, Wei WuXian’s tears have dried. They can’t go on like this.

Even at the edge of the world, so far from everything, the sun beats down on them. It stops raining, and they kick up clouds of yellow dust even on the side roads they’re keeping to. They spend nights tossing and turning on the hard ground, too hot and sweat-sticky in their homespun clothes.

One afternoon, trudging along the road, Wei WuXian feels the sweat trickle down his neck. He’s been so hot for so long that he doesn’t really feel it anymore, doesn’t think he’s even sweating now, just putting one foot in front of another, staring down at his own shadow. His head throbs and he can’t quite catch his breath and then the world is going dim and he hears Lan Zhan shouting his name.

He caught sunstroke, Lan WangJi tells him when he wakes again. Lan WangJi sets a slower pace then. At nightfall, they use the last of their money to book a room at an inn in a little, nameless town.

Wei WuXian drinks all the tepid, dusty water that is brought to their room, and sleeps all night. They don’t leave in the morning even though the room grows hotter as the sun rises higher in the sky.

Lan WangJi fucks Wei WuXian, fast the first time, and then slow, and then a third time. Even though they’re facing each other, Lan WangJi’s face is buried in Wei WuXian’s shoulder, biting until there must be imprints and bruises left on his skin.

Wei WuXian gasps, breathless, digs his fingers deeper into the flesh of Lan WangJi’s back, pressing his heel into the back of Lan WangJi’s thigh and arches up, welcoming the pain and gasping praises and profanities.

“Yes,” he pants into Lan WangJi’s ear, lips wet as he bites into the lobe. “Yes, yes, oh god—yes, right there, Lan Zhan, don’t stop—don’t—”

When Lan WangJi sleeps, unmoving under the sheets, Wei WuXian lingers by the window, looking for a glimpse of green at the dusty, tan street below. He thinks about times when he was happy, when things weren’t golden, maybe, but the sun wasn’t so large and the people he loved were safe.

He turns away when he sees the red uniform of the Wen sect disciples, pulling the window shut again even though it’s stuffy and too warm in their little room. He gets back into bed beside Lan WangJi, kisses his shoulder, breathes the smell of sweat and dust.

 


 

On the third morning, Wei WuXian wakes, and Lan WangJi is not there.

He comes back a few hours later with supplies—a thin cloak and fresh meatbuns and even a jar of the local alcohol—safe and unhurt, but Wei WuXian pushes Lan WangJi against the door, shoves and hits him with weak fists.

“What were you thinking?” he yells. “I woke up and you weren’t there, Lan WangJi—what the hell was I supposed to think—how—”

Lan WangJi kisses him, even as Wei WuXian continues to protest and push him away. He holds onto Wei WuXian, insisting and kissing until Wei WuXian gives in and kisses him back, desperate and violent and hurting.

Lan WangJi tries to push him in the direction of the bed, but Wei WuXian pulls him down to the ground. On the dirty wooden floor, Lan WangJi holds Wei WuXian’s face, kissing away the tears that come and Wei WuXian clutches at his shirt as he sobs desperately, telling Lan WangJi that he can’t be worth it, that Lan WangJi must know how he’s better off without him, how Wei WuXian has messed up so badly and he wouldn’t blame Lan WangJi for wishing he’d never met him, and if Wei WuXian could have died back in Yiling, then—

“Everything is going to be okay,” Lan WangJi promises, holding Wei WuXian close.

“How can you say that?” Wei WuXian yells, pushing against him. “Everything I touch dies! How am I supposed to—”

He feels his body go numb and his lips seal themselves. It’s been weeks since Lan WangJi last used either spell on him.

“You are going to be okay,” Lan WangJi repeats in the sudden silence.

He bundles Wei WuXian into that new cloak he just bought, wrapping it securely around his shoulders and pushing the hood up over his head. Lan WangJi holds him by the waist, dragging him along, but the cloak is so long that no one can tell Wei WuXian isn’t moving on his own. To the world, it must look like one young man is supporting his drunk friend.

Like this, they make their way down the stairs and leave the inn. With his head hanging and no way to hold it up, Wei WuXian can only see the dust of the streets and the boots of the people they pass by. After awhile, he sees more and more of the white-and-red boots of the Wen Sect. He listens, waits for someone to recognize Lan WangJi and stop them, but no one does.

They turn a corner and then another, and then Lan WangJi is stepping into over the threshold of a compound. Lan WangJi lifts him a little higher so his feet won’t drag over the step.

“Young Master Lan! Is that Young Master Wei?”

Wei WuXian recognizes the voice, and struggles with renewed vigor. It’s Wen Ning.

Lan WangJi grunts.

“Quickly, this way,” Wen Ning says.

Wei WuXian wishes he could do anything to stop this. He wills his body to move—if just a finger could move, tell Wen Ning he didn’t want this.

Lan WangJi’s steps are assured and steady, but too soon, they’re crossing the threshold of an inner building within the compound.

“That’s him?” Wen Qing’s voice.

Had Lan WangJi arranged this too when he was gone for those few hours?

Wei WuXian struggles, willing his left pinky to move. He can still feel everything—the cloth of Lan WangJi’s ribbon wrapped around that hand, the way his body is slumped into Lan WangJi, the smell of him—he can’t let him do this.

He still hasn’t gotten himself to move before Lan WangJi puts him down on a bed. He can see with the hood of the cloak thrown back, Lan WangJi bends over him, smoothing his hair back from his face. Wei WuXian tries to shake his head, open his mouth, but he can’t, and all too soon, Lan WangJi turns away from him.

“You’re really sure this is what you want?” Wen Qing asks. “It’s a difficult procedure. With Jiang Cheng, it took seven days. With what you want, it will take longer, and it has a low chance of success.” She pauses. “Even as a medical practitioner, I’ve never attempted what you’re asking me to do,” she says. “If things go wrong, you could both die.”

Lan WangJi replies slow, like every word is being forced out of him. “Wei Ying is already prepared to die.”

Wei WuXian hates that Lan WangJi knows this, that for all he’s tried to be happy with just Lan Zhan, he can’t—not with the heavy sun hanging over them both, and their shadows stretching too thin for too long—in this world, he can never have what he wants.

“And you?” Wen Qing asks.

The answer comes easily. “I bowed once,” Lan WangJi says.

Wei WuXian can’t imagine Lan WangJi bowing to anyone—the proud HanGuang-Jun, on his knees, begging Wen Qing for this favor, and yet, he’s already seen him do so many things he never imagined he’d see.

Wen Qing exhales and finally comes in view of Wei WuXian. Wei WuXian struggles, pushing against the bonds of the spell, but he couldn’t free himself even with his golden core, and he can’t do anything now.

Wen Qing leans over him, and Wei WuXian tries to shake his head, to do anything, as he sees the needle she’s holding get closer and closer.

He feels a prick in the center of his forehead, and everything goes black.

 


 

He dreams of Lotus Pier, of days spent plucking lotus pods and digging the seeds out, of flying kites with Jiang Cheng and the younger disciples, competing to see who can fly them the farthest and still shoot them down. He dreams of the subtle taste of his shijie’s lotus rib soup, of Jiang FengMian’s warm smile, of Yu ZiYuan ordering him to protect Jiang Cheng with his life. He dreams of the Cloud Recesses, of tranquil hours spent dozing in the library to the smell of sandalwood and the sound of Lan WangJi’s breathing. He dreams of the archery contest, of the stench of the XuanWu of Slaughter, of the piles of bodies in purple uniforms stacked irreverently in the courtyard, of the four in green laid out on the dusty doorstep of the farm. He dreams of Lan WangJi’s touch, of the nights they spent gasping into each others’ mouths, of his golden eyes burning a trail to Wei WuXian’s skin everywhere he gazes. He dreams of pulling off Lan WangJi’s ribbon, and Lan WangJi tying it to his wrist, staring at him all the while, too sincere—a promise.

 


 

Wei WuXian wakes to a dim room. The windows of the room are shut tight, keeping the sun away. He’s stiff, like he’s been lying in the same position for too long, and he shifts. He can turn, he can move, he can—Lan Zhan—

Wei WuXian sits up, throwing back the sheets covering him.

It startles Wen Ning badly who drops a bowl of foul-smelling medicine and immediately begins apologizing and backing out of the room again, but Wei WuXian only has eyes for the man lying in a cot an arms’ length away from him.

“Lan Zhan—Lan—” Wei WuXian feels the qi inside him flare, a rush through his body stronger than he’s ever felt before—this was always the difference between the core he’d cultivated and Lan WangJi’s hours of discipline. Wei WuXian can’t breathe. “You—”

As he stumbles over, reaching for him, Lan WangJi’s eyes open, and he feels another rush of something pounding where his golden core rests. He feels a warmth begin from somewhere in his chest and then the feeling spreads through him, happiness and a deep joy and complete contentment. The feeling is so intense, Wei WuXian’s legs buckle and he collapses against Lan WangJi. The feeling dies down for a moment, surprised, before Lan WangJi slowly sits up and rearranges them so Wei WuXian is being pulled against him, being held, and the feeling comes back stronger and stronger—so much—too much—

“Lan Zhan,” he whispers, trying to hold back the tears pricking his eyes because he can’t bear to feel this much—like being submerged in an ocean so deep he can’t breathe. “You—” He stares into those golden eyes, and for the first time, comprehends everything Lan WangJi can’t say because words can’t express this.

“Congratulations, the operation was successful.”

Wei WuXian startles and only Lan WangJi’s arm around his hip keeps him from falling off the cot.

Wen Qing watches them from her seat at a table. She’s calmly sipping from a cup of tea, but she looks pale and tired.

“What did you—” Wei WuXian breaks off and tries again. “How can I—why do I feel—”

“Your HanGuang-Jun begged me on his knees to cut out half his golden core and give it to you,” Wen Qing says. “It’s the riskiest golden core operation. In theory, it’s possible, but never performed successfully before now.”

Wei WuXian feels the golden core within him pulse, and he doesn’t know if it’s coming from him or Lan WangJi. “So we each have half a core? How is that possible?” he asks. “I can—I can feel him.” His fingers tighten around the collar of Lan WangJi’s robe where his hand is curled. “It’s strong. This isn’t—this can’t be only half his core.” If this was only half Lan WangJi’s golden core, he’d be strong enough to conquer the cultivation world single-handedly.

Wen Ning sighs and rubs at her temple with one hand. “Apparently, it’s not possible. A golden core must always be whole—you can’t have half a core,” she says. “But you can share one.”

They share a core.

They share a core.

The words resonate in him, bouncing back and forth, the repeating echo of a truth and a feeling—a revelation. There’s another surge in his chest so intense it leaves him gasping, and he has to—regardless of their audience—take Lan WangJi’s face into his hands and kiss him again and again.

“Please control yourself,” Wen Qing says after a moment.

Wei WuXian feels a surge of annoyance and restlessness this time, and he laughs, pulling away from Lan WangJi, but not so far as to not still be touching.

“As you’re the first case, you’ll have to find out the side effects for yourself, but from the literature, I have a few guesses of what you’ll experience,” Wen Qing says, and then more impatiently, “Are you paying attention, Wei WuXian?”

“Yes, of course!” Wei WuXian says, drawing back from where he’d been leaning in to Lan WangJi again like gravity.

“First, the disadvantages,” Wen Qing says. “I couldn’t divide HanGuang-Jun’s core—I nearly lost both of you in the operation, and the only way to save you—the reason why you share a core now—was to tie the core to your souls,” she says. “But that means, if one of you dies, so will the other,” she says.

Wei WuXian remembers the helplessness, the fear, the panic he’d felt when Lan WangJi brought him here. Lan WangJi tightens his grip, pulling until Wei WuXian is leaning, pressed back to front, and he can feel Lan WangJi’s slow, calming heartbeat.

“Advantages—most likely, if you both cultivate, your core will grow at twice the rate,” she says. “But you come from different sects with different practices, so you’ll have to be doubly careful of qi deviation.” She gives Wei WuXian an especially pointed look.

“The rest, you’ll have to find out on your own,” she says. “I’ll have Wen Ning bring medicine. You can stay the night, and then you have to go. You can’t be caught here.”

“Thank you,” Wei WuXian says as she gets up to go.

Wen Qing pauses in her footsteps. She shoots them one last look before she leaves. “You better not show up here with another request after this, Wei WuXian,” she says.

Wei WuXian beams at her. “I can’t make promises,” he says, and feels a surge of annoyance from Lan WangJi. “But I don’t think I’ll need to,” he says quickly.

Even with his words, it takes awhile for the concern to fade.

“I’m just joking, Lan Zhan,” Wei WuXian says to him. “Really, you know what I’m like—you really know now, don’t you? You can feel me like I can feel you, can’t you?” He presses his hand to Lan WangJi’s chest and feels the warmth run through him, like a flame spreading through his veins until Wei WuXian’s suffocating. He gasps for breath, collapsed against Lan WangJi. “How can you feel so much?” he asks. “And make no expression at all?” He presses a finger to Lan WangJi’s brow.

“Sorry,” Lan WangJi says.

Wei WuXian laughs. “Ah, you’re much easier to understand this way, Lan Zhan,” he says. “Even if you brought me here against my will,” he says. “You know I really thought you were going to give your golden core to me. I would have never forgiven you if you did.”

He feels a branch of cold fear thread through him and rushes to reassure him. “But you didn’t,” he says. Lan WangJi knew how he’d react, how he’d never forgive himself, so he hadn’t thrust that upon him. “Look, I’m not mad,” he says. “Ah, this makes things better—we’ll live together, we’ll die together, we’ll cultivate together. Shall we get married?” he says, grinning.

The surge of enthusiasm almost knocks him over and Wei WuXian collapses in laughter, looping his arms around Lan WangJi in delight.

It won’t be quite that easy—not a happily ever after, not for a long time at least. They’ll have to get used to this so Wei WuXian doesn’t collapse under the sheer weight of Lan WangJi’s intense emotions, get used to their cultivating so they don't risk qi deviation. There’s still Jiang Cheng to find, YunMengJiang to avenge. They can’t allow the Wen Sect to continue this way—it will hurt too many people, and Wen Chao will still be looking for them.

But for now, Lan WangJi’s eyes are golden and warm, and Wei WuXian can feel everything in him—the worry he still holds for his missing brother and the remainder of his sect, the suppressed frustration he hadn’t been able to save his father, the other disciples, the library of the GusuLan, that it had taken him too long to find Wei WuXian—but along all of it is a deep undercurrent of contentment and affection and joy—of love.

Wei WuXian takes that lovely, expressionless face in his hands, and he can read every minute clue now—the faintest curve of his brow, the twitch of his cheek, the bow of his lips, the gaze of his eyes—and wonders how he never noticed them before. “Lan Zhan, you’re so good. You’re the best. I like you so much, Lan Zhan.” The more he speaks, the happier he feels like an endless loop cycling between him and Lan WangJi in infinity.

For now, they’re golden.