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This Tornado Loves You

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For all that the events at Koi Tower were almost unspeakably stressful for Lan WangJi, there is at least one upside: his brother knows. His brother knows, and he lets Lan WangJi take Wei WuXian back to the Cloud Recesses anyway. He lets the two of them retreat to the Jingshi for days while the hole in Wei WuXian's chest heals, and he doesn't even make Lan WangJi talk about it, for which Lan WangJi is immensely grateful. He isn't sure how to explain himself at the best of times; talking about Wei WuXian while the man himself is in the next room, wounded and unconscious, would be unbearable. But Lan XiChen is kinder than Lan WangJi is, and so he just gives him a Look, and lets the whole thing slide for now.

 

For three days Wei WuXian sleeps fitfully in Lan WangJi's bed, and Lan WangJi hovers beside him trying not to lose his mind with worry. He sleeps lightly at night, ready to respond to any change in Wei WuXian's condition, and then he has to meditate during the day because he isn't sleeping enough, because he's stupid and in love and terrified, and the only person with whom he could possibly speak about it is unconscious in his bedroom.

 

Lan XiChen comes to visit every day to check in on them, and Lan WangJi struggles to meet his eyes each time, convinced that if they were to make eye contact his brother would instantly know the whole messy story; would realize just how compromised Lan WangJi is, here. That's what scares Lan WangJi: that if the cultivation world really realized how he felt, his defense of Wei WuXian would be dismissed as just the objections of a lovestruck fool. In reality, of course Lan WangJi is lovestruck; but he's also objectively right, and loving Wei WuXian has never prevented him from seeing the situation clearly.

 

When at last Wei WuXian wakes up and is able to sit up without tears coming to his eyes, Lan WangJi feels a dagger untwist between his shoulder blades. He isn't certain how to express his deep relief to Wei WuXian, so he doesn't, but when Lan XiChen visits that afternoon he takes one look at Lan WangJi's face as he enters the Jingshi and says, "Oh, so he's awake," so perhaps he really is as obvious as he fears.

 

"Yes," Lan WangJi says.

 

"May I speak with the two of you?" Lan XiChen asks. Lan WangJi nods, feeling cautious. "I'm not throwing you out," he adds. "I want to have a longer conversation about everything that's happened. But for now I just want to set some ground rules."

 

"Alright," Lan WangJi says, but he hesitates still.

 

His brother sighs. "WangJi," he says, losing some of his Sect leader posture.

 

"I know how you feel about him," Lan WangJi tells him quietly. He doesn't think Wei WuXian is listening in, but he'd rather be careful anyway.

 

"Yes, and I know how you feel about him," Lan XiChen says in a voice just above a whisper, "which is why I'm not throwing him out. WangJi, you're my brother and I trust you. But I won't let him destroy you again."

 

"He didn't," Lan WangJi says, stung. "He won't."

 

"I hope for all our sakes that you're right," Lan XiChen says quietly. Then he straightens and turns back into ZeWu-Jun. "Please let Wei-gongzi know of my presence."

 

"Mm," Lan WangJi says, and goes to tell Wei WuXian. He briefly considers warning him that Lan XiChen has spent the last thirteen years resenting him, but then he decides that 1) Lan XiChen almost certainly will not let on that this is the case; 2) even if he does, they're all adults and they can deal with it; 3) if he says that Lan XiChen resents Wei WuXian, then Wei WuXian will ask why, and Lan WangJi could not possibly explain that to him in the thirty seconds they have to discuss.

 

So he doesn't say anything about it, just, "My brother would like to speak with us both," and Wei WuXian straightens and says, "Okay!"

 

Lan WangJi assumes they'll just talk in the bed chamber of the Jingshi, but Wei WuXian brushes him off.

 

"I'm fine," he insists. "I feel great. I can walk fifteen feet to sit in a chair, Lan Zhan."

 

"Hm," Lan WangJi says.

 

"ZeWu-Jun doesn't wanna talk in here anyway," Wei WuXian points out, swinging his legs over the side of the bed. "It's your bedroom, it'd be weird to have, like, a real conversation with him in here."

 

"Hmm," Lan WangJi says.

 

Wei WuXian plants his feet on the floor, tries to push himself off the bed, and sits back down with a wince. "Oh, wow," he says breathlessly. "That sucked actually. Help me up?"

 

Lan WangJi helps, the two of them clutching each other's arms. Wei WuXian sways a little once upright, and he bumps his forehead against Lan WangJi's shoulder just once, as if in frustration, but he stays standing. Lan WangJi can see his jaw tensing. He wants to kiss him just there, right below the ear. Instead he lets go of Wei WuXian's biceps and takes a step back, letting his right hand fall to Wei WuXian's back to steady him.

 

"Okay," Wei WuXian breathes. "We're good. Okay. ZeWu-Jun. It's just ZeWu-Jun. — Gods, it's just your brother, who's friendlier than you anyway."

 

"Mm," Lan WangJi says noncommittally.

 

"He's more normal than you," Wei WuXian tells him. "That's why I'm nervous."

 

Lan WangJi raises an eyebrow at him.

 

"Normal people are unpredictable," Wei WuXian explains under his breath, as they make their way across the threshold. "Always taking other people's opinions into account. You and me, we're freaks, but we're steady."

 

Lan WangJi stares at him, unsure how to respond to that.

 

"Principles," Wei WuXian mumbles, and then he salutes Lan XiChen, who from the look on his face almost certainly heard that last bit. "ZeWu-Jun. Thank you for everything."

 

"Wei-gongzi," Lan XiChen greets him. "Your thanks are appreciated. You look better than last I saw you."

 

Wei WuXian kind of grins. "Yeah, I'm glad not to be bleeding out anymore," he agrees. "I'm sorry to be rude, but can we sit for this?"

 

"Yes," Lan XiChen says quickly, "of course." He sits.

 

Lan WangJi grasps Wei WuXian's hand as he lowers himself onto the daybed, waving off Lan XiChen's apology with his free hand. Lan WangJi sits beside him. "It's fine, just, stab wound, you know. Heavens, I wish I had my body back. Back in my day you could have sliced my belly open and I would have shoved my intestines back in and kept going."

 

Lan WangJi can't help himself. "Stop — saying those words," he demands, pained.

 

"Awww, Lan Zhan, you do care," Wei WuXian coos.

 

"Yes," Lan WangJi says, feeling flustered. Wei WuXian raises his eyebrows a little in surprise.

 

Lan XiChen clears his throat. Lan WangJi looks at him, trying not to look embarrassed. "Sorry," Wei WuXian says. "You wanted to speak with us?"

 

"Yes," Lan XiChen says. "I want to make sure you understand the situation. At this moment, to my knowledge, the only people outside of this room who know you're here are several trusted servants. No one else knows. It's for the best that this situation remains secret for now; for other people to know of your presence here would be to put both you and them in danger."

 

Lan WangJi and Wei WuXian nod. Lan WangJi hates that they have to keep secret, but he knows it's the safest choice by far.

 

"When you are more fully recovered, Wei-gongzi, we'll talk more about what happened, and what happens next," Lan XiChen begins. Words could not describe how much Lan WangJi does not want to have those conversations. "But for now, please do not leave the Jingshi. Keep your voices down. Don't burn candles after dark. Don't light a fire. You'll continue to have meals brought to you, and I'll continue to check in once a day. If you need anything, please ask."

 

"Mm," Lan WangJi says. And then, as it occurs to him, "Will you bring another blanket? Now that Wei Ying is awake... " He isn't sure how to end that sentence. Now that Wei Ying is awake, Lan WangJi doesn't have to lie anxiously next to him all night, and can instead lie anxiously on the daybed in the antechamber? Now that Wei Ying is awake, there's no excuse for Lan WangJi to share a bed with him?

 

"Yes, of course," Lan XiChen says mercifully. "I'll have them brought along with your evening meal tonight."

 

"Thank you," Lan WangJi says. Wei WuXian makes a little noise beside him, a kind of short exhale through his nose. Lan WangJi isn't sure what that means, so he doesn't address it, but he does glance at Wei WuXian, who's deliberately looking away.

 

"That's all I have to say," Lan XiChen says, standing up. Lan WangJi and Wei WuXian stand up as well and salute him, and Lan XiChen turns to leave. But then he turns back, and adds, "Except — one more thing. Brother, I know this is complicated. I still have to form my opinions. I struggle still not to let anger and fear overwhelm me. But I'm honored that you trust me."

 

Surprised, Lan WangJi finally meets his gaze, after having stared somewhere to the left of his left ear this whole time. His brother looks tired, and sad, and proud. "I — yes. Thank you for being worthy of my trust," he says, feeling awkward. Wei WuXian slips his hand into Lan WangJi's and squeezes his fingers once in support before letting his hand drop again.

 

Lan XiChen smiles kindly at him, then claps his hands once. "Well! Thank you for listening to me. Wei-gongzi, little brother, I'll see myself out. I'll see you again tomorrow."

 

Lan WangJi blinks. "Yes," he agrees belatedly.

 

"Goodbye, ZeWu-Jun!" Wei WuXian says to Lan XiChen's back. He receives a friendly wave in return, and then Lan XiChen is gone and they're alone in the Jingshi once more. Lan WangJi looks at Wei WuXian, who looks back at him. "Siblings are wild, huh," he says wryly.

 

"Mm," Lan WangJi agrees, although 'wild' isn't exactly a word that could apply to either himself or his brother.

 

"Well, time for me to sit the fuck back down," Wei WuXian decides, and he collapses back onto the daybed.

 

"Ah—" Lan WangJi starts. He doesn't want to hover, so he kneels in front of Wei WuXian and gestures at his torso, a wordless request to check his bandages.

 

"I'm fine," Wei WuXian insists, batting his hands away. Lan WangJi frowns at him. Wei WuXian sticks his tongue out at him in return. "Lan Zhan. I'm serious. I'm just tired because I haven't stood up in three days."

 

"You worry me," Lan WangJi tells him seriously. He puts his hands on Wei WuXian's knees for lack of a better place to put them. Wei WuXian places his own hands on top of Lan WangJi's, presumably to stop him from trying again to check his bandages.

 

"You don't need to worry," Wei WuXian says. "I swear I'm fine. I'll tell you if something feels off. You know me, I'm a huge crybaby whiner."

 

Lan WangJi frowns at him again. It's true that Wei WuXian can be a bit of a crybaby, but only about injuries that don't actually matter. When it's something important, like a ghost curse or a fundamentally unstable necromantic practice, Wei WuXian keeps it to himself. "Ridiculous," Lan WangJi tells him. Wei WuXian grins down at him.


*


Lan WangJi is well adapted to being quarantined to the Jingshi. He isn't someone who tends to experience boredom; and anyway he has his books, and his calligraphy set; and more than those, he has Wei WuXian, in whose presence he could never get bored.

 

Unfortunately, the same is not true of Wei WuXian. Wei WuXian gets bored easily and doesn't have much patience for sitting quietly, and while Lan WangJi could play go with him for hours, Wei WuXian would rather not. By three in the afternoon, Wei WuXian is clearly going stir-crazy.

 

"Lan Zhan," he says, after beating Lan WangJi a third time, for a total of three wins each and seven ties. "Lan Zhan. I am dying."

 

Lan WangJi sweeps the stones off the board and begins sorting them out again, white from black. "Don't joke like that," he says.

 

Wei WuXian smirks at him. "Why not? I feel like if anyone has earned the right to joke about dying, I have."

 

He's right, of course. "I don't like it," Lan WangJi says, and then he immediately feels embarrassed at having said something so childish. He wants to say: I hated it. You died and I hated it and I missed you. It was your fault. It was mine. Don't joke about it. But he doesn't know how, so he doesn't, just grits his teeth once and doesn't elaborate at all.

 

"Okay," Wei WuXian says, a little surprised. "Sure, fine."

 

Lan WangJi looks at him, unsure how sincere he's being.

 

"It's just, I thought you were going to say it was — against the rules, or something. You know, like, 'don't joke about self-slaughter,' or whatever," Wei WuXian says in explanation.

 

Oh. Actually, there probably is a rule like that. It's been — a while, since Lan WangJi has bothered to brush up on the rules. He says "Mm" noncommittally and hopes to leave it at that.

 

Wei WuXian puts his elbows on the table and leans forward to peer at Lan WangJi. "Lan Zhan," he says.

 

"Wei Ying."

 

"Lan Zhan."

 

"Wei Ying."

 

"Lan Zhan."

 

"Can I help you?"

 

"I'm just sayin' your name," Wei WuXian admits. "And then you say my name, which is good. No one fucking calls me by my name anymore."

 

Lan WangJi lets himself reach out and tug on Wei WuXian's bangs. "Wei Ying. Whose fault is that?"

 

Wei WuXian slaps his hands on the table. "Mo XuanYu's, that's who!! Eh! It's all his fault that everybody calls me Senior Mo just recently."

 

"Mm," Lan WangJi says, suppressing the urge to roll his eyes, or smile, or kiss him. He tries to think of something to say. "Wei Ying. Do you know his birth name?"

 

Wei WuXian thinks, then he frowns a little. "No," he says. "I don't. … And everyone who would have known it is either dead or literally Jin GuangYao."

 

They grimace at each other.

 

"That is so fucking sad," Wei WuXian mumbles after a moment. "Ahhh. Fuck that guy. Now we really have to kick his ass."

 

Lan WangJi snorts in agreement and pours the white stones into Wei WuXian's bowl. Wei WuXian watches him do so with a single raised brow. Lan WangJi places his black stone in the far right corner of the board. Wei WuXian shakes his head, but doesn't say anything.

 

They play silently for a couple moves and then Wei WuXian says, abruptly, "Do you pity me?"

 

Lan WangJi looks up at him, but Wei WuXian is looking determinedly down at the board. "No," Lan WangJi says after a moment. To prove himself, he corners one of Wei WuXian's pieces and takes it.

 

"Damn," Wei WuXian says under his breath. He stares down at the board. Then, "I'm waiting for you to elaborate on that."

 

"Mm," Lan WangJi says. Wei WuXian puts a stone down. "I think you don't deserve most of what's happened to you. It's not pity."

 

"Ouch," Wei WuXian says. "Really?"

 

Lan WangJi looks up at him. He actually looks a little hurt. "You think you deserved to get torn apart by ghouls?" Lan WangJi asks him, baffled.

 

"Oh," Wei WuXian says, his forehead smoothing. "Oh, that's what you meant. I mean, I sort of do think that, but I thought you were talking about, like. Jiang FengMian adopting me, or whatever."

 

"You were a child," Lan WangJi says, instead of addressing the fact that Wei WuXian apparently thinks he deserved to die horribly. "There's no deserving or not deserving. That was his responsibility. You don't earn a safe childhood."

 

Wei WuXian stares at him. Lan WangJi quirks his eyebrows, unsure what the staring is for. "I hadn't thought about it like that," Wei WuXian says.

 

Lan WangJi hums, feeling uncomfortable, and places another stone on the board. Wei WuXian reaches out and grabs his hand before he can pull away.

 

"Lan Zhan, let's play music together," he suggests. "If I have to finish this game I swear I'll eat the stones."

 

Lan WangJi tries very hard not to smile. "Mark your words," he says, and Wei WuXian laughs in delight. "No music. We have to be quiet."

 

"I can play quietly," Wei WuXian whispers. "I'll be the quietest flute player you've ever heard. You'll swear it was just the wind in the eaves."

 

Lan WangJi shakes his head, but Wei WuXian has won, and he can tell. He pushes his fingers between Lan WangJi's, lacing them briefly, then he pulls away and starts picking up the stones off the board.  Lan WangJi joins him after a split second of letting himself want to press his hand to his mouth.

 

"What do you want to play? I suppose nothing to communicate with spirits, if we're really trying to be subtle. Do you even know secular songs, Lan Zhan?" Wei WuXian asks.

 

Lan WangJi knows precisely one secular song, and it's the song he wrote for Wei WuXian, because he's in love with him. "I can follow along," he says, instead of saying that.

 

"Mm," Wei WuXian agrees. He pulls his shitty little bamboo flute out and plays a couple preparatory notes as Lan WangJi takes his guqin out and lays it across his lap. "Is that quiet enough, you think?" Wei WuXian checks. Lan WangJi listens as he plays again, and nods.

 

Wei WuXian starts playing a simple melody, and true to his word he plays more quietly than Lan WangJi thought possible on a flute. For his part, Lan WangJi pulls trailing cloth from one of his sleeves across the strings of his guqin, muting the resonance in a way that's almost painful to him, how improper it sounds. But as he plays, figuring out Wei WuXian's melody and harmonizing with it, he hates the different sound less and less. It's new, and strange, but not bad.

 

The quiet music fills the room, sinking like soot into the ceiling, the walls, the floor. Lan WangJi becomes aware of the space inside of the Jingshi in a way he isn't usually; the shape of the architecture, the relationship between pieces of furniture. If he closes his eyes and listens closely to the flute, he can hear the quality of Wei WuXian's breathing, the way the music comes from his lungs and mouth and hands. He can hear the subtle sound of his own fingers on the strings of the guqin, the almost imperceptible impact outside of the note. He wonders if Wei WuXian is listening, too.

 

Almost as soon as he has that thought, he recognizes a measure in Wei WuXian's melody. It disappears into more that he doesn't recognize; and then again: two more measures of his song, interspersed with a melody he doesn't know. Wei WuXian weaves his song in more and more, until it's the entire melody they're playing. Lan WangJi opens his eyes and meets Wei WuXian's gaze, overwhelmed by something he doesn't even know how to name. Surely Wei WuXian knows. Right? Even if he can't see it in Lan WangJi's face, he speaks the language of music. Surely he must hear the adoration / frustration / longing / desire written into the song.

 

They play the last notes and let the room fall into silence. Lan WangJi doesn't look away. He has no idea what to say. Wei WuXian has such an expression on his face, intense, unreadable. Lan WangJi wants this to mean more than he knows how to ask.

 

Wei WuXian looks away first. He clears his throat. "Thank you," he says. "For playing music with me."

 

"You're welcome," Lan WangJi says helplessly.

 

Wei WuXian fiddles with his flute a little, then looks up abruptly. "Oh— you know what I just realized?" he starts. Lan WangJi thinks, ridiculously, I love you?? But Wei WuXian continues, "I haven't washed my hair in an unspeakable amount of time. I'm going to go do that. The bath is past your bedroom, right? Okay. Great."

 

"Okay," Lan WangJi echoes. Wei WuXian stands up, pushing himself out of his chair with both hands. He takes a second to gain his balance, but shoos Lan WangJi away when he stands and makes a move to steady him.

 

"I'm fine," he says, "you don't have to worry about me."

 

"Of course I have to worry about you," Lan WangJi tells him, trying not to hover as Wei WuXian makes his way towards the bedroom.

 

"Look, can I just —" Wei WuXian turns to him and, shockingly, grabs Lan WangJi by the front of his robes. Lan WangJi hasn't figured out how to react yet when Wei WuXian pulls him in and embraces him, face tucked confidently into Lan WangJi's throat.

 

"Oh," Lan WangJi says.

 

"I'm fine," Wei WuXian tells him firmly. He emphasizes his point by squeezing Lan WangJi's chest. Lan WangJi exhales sharply in bemusement. "Lan Zhan. I promise I'm not going to fall over and die. Yes, I'm injured. I've been hurt worse before. Stop worrying."

 

Lan WangJi carefully settles his arms around Wei WuXian's waist. He puts his right hand between Wei WuXian's shoulder blades. "You have been hurt worse before," he agrees. "You didn't survive it."

 

"Oh," Wei WuXian says quietly, deflating a little. "I mean. Yeah."

 

"Mm," Lan WangJi says. He feels he's made his point.

 

They stand there holding each other, breathing in and out together. Lan WangJi pulls away at last, giving Wei WuXian's ponytail a tug. "Go wash your hair," he says quietly.

 

"OH," Wei WuXian says. "Right. Sorry," he adds, letting his arms fall to his sides again, "I know you don't like — touching."

 

Lan WangJi bumps the heel of his palm against Wei WuXian's forehead. "Ridiculous," he says.

 

"... Right," Wei WuXian says, and leaves.

 

Lan WangJi sits down by himself on the daybed and covers his face with his hands.


*

 

When Wei WuXian emerges half an hour later, Lan WangJi is sitting on the floor meditating. He doesn't even notice Wei WuXian until he's standing in front of Lan WangJi, hair dripping onto the floor. He crouches down and hands Lan WangJi his own comb.

 

"Hi," he says. "Would you comb my hair?"

 

Gift horses. Lan WangJi takes the comb and nods up at him and doesn't ask. Wei WuXian smiles at him.

 

They end up with Wei WuXian sitting on the floor in front of Lan WangJi, who sits in a chair so that the angle is best. Wei WuXian had come out wearing only his white under-robes, but his wet hair combined with the lack of fire in the hearth had Lan WangJi stripping his bed of blankets and wrapping them around Wei WuXian's shoulders.

 

"They'll get wet," Wei WuXian had protested. Lan WangJi doesn't really care. He'll take the damp blankets for the night; his brother is bringing more anyway, and Wei WuXian can use those.

 

He pulls Wei WuXian's hair out from under the blankets and starts running his fingers through it to get any big tangles. His hair is wet and silky-soft and warm but cooling quickly, and he smells like the soap Lan WangJi has used his entire life. Lan WangJi is absolutely nonverbal as he draws his fingers through Wei WuXian's hair. He couldn't possibly form a coherent sentence right now.

 

When all his hair is sufficiently detangled, Lan WangJi takes the comb out and gets to work. This is easier; the repetitive motion of the comb is grounding, and his hands are farther from Wei WuXian's neck.

 

"Penny for your thoughts," Wei WuXian offers when Lan WangJi is almost halfway up the first section of hair.

 

"Mm." Lan WangJi had not really been thinking about anything. "You're lucky," he decides. "Mo XuanYu's hair is very similar to how yours was."

 

"Hm!" Wei WuXian says. "You know, it hadn't occurred to me, but you're right."

 

"Same waves," Lan WangJi says.

 

"Yeah. And pretty close to the same color."

 

"Yours was darker. Almost black." Lan WangJi finishes combing through the first section of hair. He gives it a tug and moves on to the next.

 

"Right. Hah, you really paid attention, huh?" Wei WuXian teases.

 

Lan WangJi just says, "Yes," because he did pay attention back then. He pays attention now.

 

"Who's more handsome, huh?" Wei WuXian asks him cheerfully. "Was I handsomer back then than I am now?"

 

Lan WangJi pauses. He's fairly certain he knows what Wei WuXian wants his answer to be, but answering either way seems cruel somehow. He settles on, "The way you look is nice."

 

Wei WuXian clocks that for a total non-answer, obviously. "No, come on," he wheedles. He turns to bat his eyes goofily at Lan WangJi, placing his forearm across Lan WangJi's knees for balance. "Who's more beautiful? Wei WuXian or Mo XuanYu?"

 

That's an easier answer. "Wei Ying, of course," Lan WangJi tells him. The truth is that Lan WangJi would think Wei WuXian was beautiful regardless of the face he wore; for him it's less about what the body looks like than what Wei WuXian does with it.

 

Wei WuXian widens his eyes a little in surprise, then grins up at him. It would be so easy to kiss him.

 

"I like when you play along with me," Wei WuXian tells him, turning back away. "I'm surprised every time."

 

"Mm," Lan WangJi says.

 

He manages to comb the rest of Wei WuXian's hair without incident. Wei WuXian hands him his hair ribbon expectantly, but in fact Lan WangJi has never worn his own hair in a ponytail, and therefore does not know how to achieve that on someone else. Wei WuXian laughs at him when he admits this.

 

"it's easy," he insists. "You're such an aristocrat, Lan Zhan. Even Jiang Cheng wore a ponytail every once in a while."

 

Lan WangJi doesn't really know what to say to that other than 'I'm not Jiang WanYin,' so he just says, "Hm." Wei WuXian snorts again and ties his own hair up.

 

"Someday, Lan Zhan," he warns him, "I will put your hair in a ponytail. It'll change your life. It's the perfect hairstyle. It's cute and practical."

 

"Hmm," Lan WangJi says again, more skeptical this time to cover his immense fluster at the idea of Wei WuXian doing anything with his hair. Wei WuXian just laughs.


*


Their evening meal arrives just as the sun starts to slip over the horizon, brought by the same person who'd brought breakfast and lunch: a young serving woman whose name is A-Yan. Lan WangJi takes the tray from her and thanks her, and she bows politely and slips back out of the Jingshi.

 

He brings the tray over to Wei WuXian, who's been catnapping underneath his pile of blankets on the daybed. He presses his hand to Wei WuXian's exposed ankle to wake him. "Wei Ying."

 

Wei WuXian peers at him from under his arm. "Yeah? Lan Zhan..." he mumbles.

 

Lan WangJi lifts a bowl into his field of vision. "Food," he says. "We should eat while it's warm."

 

Wei WuXian perks up. "Is it good? Am I gonna like it?"

 

"Those are two different answers," Lan WangJi tells him.

 

Wei WuXian heaves himself upright and sighs in disappointment at the perfectly reasonably spiced meal. "This place is a prison," he tells Lan WangJi sadly, but he takes the bowl from him and starts shoveling the food into his mouth.

 

Lan WangJi rolls his eyes at him.

 

"I'm serious!" Wei WuXian insists, in between inhaling noodles. "If I ever stay here long term again, I'm planting my own pepper garden and none of you can stop me." Lan WangJi is, of course, immediately obsessed with the idea of Wei WuXian staying in the Cloud Recesses long enough to cultivate a garden. "I'd have a raised planter so your bunnies couldn't get to them. I could put it right out there," Wei WuXian continues, pointing past the wall of the Jingshi. "There's just enough sunlight there. I could wake up and go pick a pepper every morning for my congee."

 

Lan WangJi stifles a smile, feeling his chest warm. "Wei Ying, you live in the Jingshi still?"

 

"Oh. … Well, yeah," Wei WuXian says. "Where else would I live? The juniors' quarters? I don't think so."

 

Lan WangJi doesn't really have an answer to that. "Mm."

 

"Anyway, I'll live in the Jingshi and I'll have a pepper garden and everyone in the Cloud Recesses will shower affection and gratitude upon me," Wei WuXian finishes.

 

"Hm," Lan WangJi says. He has to admit, this is a vision of the future that appeals to him immensely. He wants to ask, Where am I in this fantasy? But he isn't certain he wants to watch Wei WuXian figure out whatever the answer to that is. He looks at Wei WuXian, cool and dark in the blueing light of twilight, and imagines just for a moment what it would be like if he got to keep this forever: Wei WuXian safe and relaxed, in clean white robes, comfortable in the Jingshi. A life in which Wei WuXian touches his hands like it's easy, in which Lan WangJi looks him in the eyes and tells him he's beautiful like it's easy.

 

"The sun's going down," Wei WuXian says, oblivious.

 

"Mm," Lan WangJi says.

 

"Your brother said no candles, right? What are we supposed to do in the dark for two hours until you go to sleep?"

 

Lan WangJi has an idea or two. He finishes his soup so that he has time to come up with literally anything else to say. "I should change your bandages while there's still light," he says when he's done.

 

Wei WuXian pouts. "That's no fun," he complains. "I mean, you're right, and you should, but it's no fun."

 

"Mm. I'm aware," Lan WangJi says. It's no fun for him either.

 

Wei WuXian sets his bowl down on the tray. "Well, whenever you're ready, I guess," he says. "Augh, I wish I could drink right now."

 

Lan WangJi raises an eyebrow at him. "It's against the rules, and you're injured," he reminds him.

 

Wei WuXian rolls his eyes. "I know, that's why I'm wishing instead of doing," he says.

 

"Mm," Lan WangJi says. He sets his bowl down and stands up to go wash his hands. He reaches out to give Wei WuXian's hair a tug on his way past, but Wei WuXian intercepts his hand and squeezes his fingers instead. Lan WangJi lets himself smile as he washes his hands.

 

When he comes back with a roll of fresh cotton, Wei WuXian has extricated himself from his mound of blankets and shrugged out of the top of his robes. Lan WangJi kneels in front of him for the second time that day and begins unwrapping the old bandages. Wei WuXian hisses very quietly as he reaches the part over the injury and dried blood makes the bandages stick to his healing wound.

 

"Sorry," Lan WangJi murmurs.

 

"You're fine," Wei WuXian says. "It just hurts."

 

"I know," Lan WangJi says. He makes his hands as gentle as he can.

 

"I guess I'm lucky," Wei WuXian jokes weakly. "Jin Ling missed all my vitals, haha."

 

"He didn't miss," Lan WangJi says absently.

 

"Eh? Was it that much worse earlier?" Wei WuXian asks, misunderstanding.

 

"No, he wasn't aiming for your vitals," Lan WangJi corrects him.

 

"Oh," Wei WuXian says. He's silent a moment, then he says, "Oh," again, quieter. Then, "Lan Zhan, you're really smart. Did you know that?"

 

"Mm," Lan WangJi says, for lack of anything better to say. He starts cleaning the wound and Wei WuXian hisses again. "Sorry," he repeats.

 

"It's not your fault," Wei WuXian tells him. "So don't apologize."

 

Lan WangJi shakes his head, but obeys. He can feel Wei WuXian's gentle breath against his face. "It doesn't look bad," he says. "You're healing fast."

 

"Oh, good," Wei WuXian says. He touches Lan WangJi's hair and teases, "It's because I've had such a dedicated nurse, yeah?"

 

"Mm."

 

"You're blushing," he points out.

 

"Hm." Lan WangJi begins wrapping the clean bandages around Wei WuXian's waist. He has to reach all the way around his body to do so, which is an excellent excuse not to make eye contact with Wei WuXian.

 

"Hey Lan Zhan. Lan Zhan."

 

"Mm. I'm listening."

 

"What did your brother mean when he said he has to try not to let anger and fear overwhelm him? I didn't think he was angry with Jin GuangYao yet."

 

Lan WangJi hesitates for a moment, then finishes with the bandages. He ties the end off and sits back on his feet. "He isn't," he says.

 

"Then why is he angry? What's he scared of?" Wei WuXian puts his arms back through his sleeves and starts adjusting his collar. He's doing it wrong; he has to adjust the belt first. Lan WangJi leans back up to help him.

 

"You," he says, as he tucks fabric into place. "He's angry with you. Scared of what you might do."

 

"Wh — I'm not the Yiling Patriarch anymore," Wei WuXian protests. "Not in any meaningful way, I mean. And anyway I thought he liked me!"

 

"He did," Lan WangJi agrees. "Then everything happened."

 

"Oh," Wei WuXian says, deflating. After a moment he says, "You know I still don't remember some of it? I don't actually remember the end at all. Isn't that stupid?"

 

"Mm," Lan WangJi says. "The end was awful. If you don't remember it, good."

 

"You were there?" Wei WuXian asks.

 

"Not at the very end," Lan WangJi admits. "But just before."

 

"Oh," Wei WuXian says. Then, "Were you trying to stop me?"

 

Lan WangJi finally stops fiddling with Wei WuXian's lapels and smoothes his hands over his chest. He leaves his right hand over Wei WuXian's heart, feels it beating. "No," he says honestly. "I was trying to protect you, Wei Ying."

 

Wei WuXian covers Lan WangJi's hands with his own and makes a sound in his throat. Lan WangJi looks at him and realizes, to both their horror, that Wei WuXian's eyes are filling with tears. "Oh, fuck," Wei WuXian swears, quiet and emphatic. "Fuck, I'm sorry, I'm just — You're so —" He tries to wipe his eyes on his shoulder. Lan WangJi untangles his hands and reaches up to brush the tears away. Wei WuXian makes another choked-off sound and grasps his wrists, but lets him do it. "I'm sorry," he says again.

 

"It's not your fault," Lan WangJi tells him, an echo of earlier. "So don't apologize."

 

"Lan Zhan, can I—" Wei WuXian starts, and Lan WangJi hugs him. Wei WuXian puts his arms around his neck and shoulders and hugs him back hard, pushes his tear-wet face into Lan WangJi's throat like he did before. Lan WangJi half-pulls, half-guides Wei WuXian's collapse off the daybed into his lap. Wei WuXian shudders a sob into his shoulder and clings tighter. Lan WangJi lifts him a little to adjust the positions of their legs, and then they settle into each other.

 

Lan WangJi has never touched someone like this before. He doesn't really know what Wei WuXian might want from him, so he improvises; he does what he's always secretly wanted someone to do for him.

 

He holds Wei WuXian close and tells him, "It's okay to be sad." This seems to be the right thing to say, or at least not a wrong thing; Wei WuXian heaves a shaky sigh and goes boneless in his arms. Lan WangJi reaches up with one hand and carefully unties Wei WuXian's ponytail, letting his hair cascade down his back. He draws his fingers through Wei WuXian's hair from the crown of his head all the way down his back, then again, and feels his breathing evening out. "More people should have tried harder to protect you," he says quietly. "I should have tried harder."

 

Wei WuXian shakes his head. "It was my fault," he says, his voice thick. "You had to protect me from me."

 

Lan WangJi shrugs and keeps petting Wei WuXian's hair. "That doesn't change anything."

 

Wei WuXian sighs wetly and pushes his flat hands into Lan WangJi's back. "You're so good," he says. "How are you so good?"

 

Lan WangJi isn't so sure he is good, and anyway he doesn't really know how to answer that, so he doesn't. He presses his mouth against Wei WuXian's forehead instead, realizing almost belatedly that it's a kiss. He feels Wei WuXian sigh again, silently, into the dip of his collarbone.

 

"Do that again," Wei WuXian whispers. Lan Zhan feels his whole face heat up. Wei WuXian pulls away and sits up a little. He frees one hand and wipes his face with a sleeve, and then he makes eye contact as he repeats himself: "Do it again."

 

When he's not slumped over, they're just about of a height with each other. Wei WuXian is on his lap. Lan WangJi pulls his right hand through Wei WuXian's hair to cradle his jaw, aware that the mood has shifted dramatically. He leans forward and kisses Wei WuXian's forehead again.

 

Wei WuXian's hands drift up to rest at the back of his head, fingers lacing together over his hair. "Now my turn," he says slowly, when Lan WangJi finally leans back away. He tilts Lan WangJi's head down a little to reach, and Lan WangJi stops breathing as he feels Wei WuXian kiss his forehead ribbon.

 

"Wei Ying," he says, feeling strangled.

 

"I know what I'm doing," Wei WuXian murmurs against silk and skin. "I know what this means. Is this okay?"

 

Lan WangJi can't speak. He tries to hum and it comes out sounding halfway to a moan. He knows what it means.

 

Wei WuXian giggles breathlessly into his hair. "Is that a yes, Lan Zhan?"

 

"Wei Ying," he manages. "I—"

 

Someone knocks on the door of the Jingshi.

 

They look at each other, eyes wide in the dark. Wei WuXian presses one last hasty kiss to his forehead and slides himself off his lap, stumbling back to sit on the daybed. Lan WangJi pushes himself off the floor and goes to answer the door, feeling like his whole body is vibrating.

 

He cracks open the door and sees — a stack of blankets with legs. "Hello?" he asks, disoriented.

 

A-Yan peeks out from behind the blankets. "Good evening, HanGuang-Jun," she says. "I'm sorry to bother you. ZeWu-Jun said to bring these to you."

 

"Oh," Lan WangJi says, opening the door wider. "Right. I'll take them. Thank you." He takes the blankets from A-Yan, who bows.

 

"Have a good evening," she says.

 

There's a split second where he thinks, How does she know?? But then he remembers that that's fucking absurd and she's being polite. "Thank you," he says again, and she leaves.

 

As he closes the door, Wei WuXian calls, "Who was it?"

 

"A-Yan. With your blankets," Lan WangJi tells him. He gestures with the blankets and goes to put them on the bed.

 

"I kind of assumed I would be sleeping out here," Wei WuXian admits from the daybed.

 

"What? No. You're injured. I'll sleep on the daybed," Lan WangJi tells him, coming out again. Wei WuXian's form on the daybed is reduced to a blur of pale and black in the blue dark.

 

"I don't want to throw you out," Wei WuXian protests, twisting to face him as he approaches. "It's your—Wait." He stops and shakes his head. "No, this is stupid. I want to sleep with you. In your bed. We both win."

 

Lan WangJi's brain gives up the fucking ghost. "Oh," he says.

 

"Is that okay? You want to, right? I got the impression that you might want to," Wei WuXian says anxiously.

 

Lan WangJi looks at him. He cannot fucking believe he was seriously about to go sleep on the daybed while Wei WuXian was in his bed. He nods.

 

"Okay," Wei WuXian says, bobbing his head up and down. "Okay, cool. Great. Awesome. Hey do you want to go make out with me until we go to sleep?"

 

Lan WangJi walks over to stand in front of Wei WuXian, who looks up at him hopefully. He holds out his hands, which Wei WuXian takes, and together they push/pull him to standing. Wei WuXian immediately slings his arms around Lan WangJi's waist and tilts his head flirtatiously. "Is that a yes, Lan Zhan?" he asks again.

 

Lan WangJi cups his sweet face in his hands and kisses him, long and slow. Wei WuXian hums into the kiss, tilting his head for a better angle. He's so warm. His lips are — well, they're his. Lan WangJi loves them. They stand there holding each other, kissing almost silently in the dark, for a long moment.

 

When at last Wei WuXian breaks the kiss, he half-gasps against Lan WangJi's mouth, "I forgot to breathe," and Lan WangJi is so startled and endeared that he can't help but laugh breathlessly. "Ah!!" Wei WuXian whispers. "You — you!! You're laughing!"

 

Lan WangJi hides his face in Wei WuXian's hair. "You saw nothing," he mumbles into his ear, grinning, his heart beating wildly inside his chest. The expression feels strange on his face.

 

"You're so fucking cute," Wei WuXian tells him, and presses a kiss to his throat.

 

Lan WangJi exhales carefully, slides his hands through Wei WuXian's hair. "Mm."

 

"Hey Lan Zhan?" Wei WuXian asks, sliding his hands slowly up Lan WangJi's back. "I have a confession to make."

 

"Mm."

 

"That wasn't our first kiss," Wei WuXian admits. Lan WangJi blinks. Wei WuXian continues, "When I got you drunk that time, after Yi City — I kissed you. Just once. Or — well, just once on the mouth. I don't — I mean, I do know why I did it, but… I shouldn't have kissed you while you were drunk. It wasn't fair to you, and I'm sorry."

 

Lan WangJi, of course, has absolutely no recollection of this. He wishes he did. Once on the mouth? Does that mean Wei WuXian kissed him other places?? He takes a moment to contemplate the possibilities there, until he realizes that, of course, Wei WuXian is waiting for him to respond.

 

"Mm," he says. "You're forgiven." Wei WuXian huffs in amusement, and his shoulders drop a little, as if they had risen in nervousness. Lan WangJi kisses the shell of his ear and he shivers a laugh. "I also have a confession."

 

"Huh? What's that?"

 

"Yi City wasn't our first kiss either," Lan WangJi tells him. Wei WuXian does a full-body Huh? "Back before everything. That day on the mountain, when you were blindfolded. You were in a tree."

 

Wei WuXian is still for a moment, and then he pulls away and hoots, "That was YOU?" Lan WangJi nods at him. "Lan Zhan!! That's so fucking ballsy!! Well I never!!"

 

"Mm."

 

"You wanted me even back then?? At the height of my insufferability???"

 

"Wei Ying," Lan WangJi feels the need to say, "You have always been insufferable, and yet I have always suffered you."

 

"You thought I was annoying!! You were so mad that I threw you a flower!"

 

"I had a crush on you," Lan WangJi tells him. "I thought you were teasing me."

 

"I was teasing you!!" Wei WuXian whisper-wails despairingly. "I had a crush on you!"

 

"I kept the flower," Lan WangJi admits. Wei WuXian stares at him, then thunks their foreheads together.

 

"Stupid," he says. "We are so fucking stupid."

 

"Mm." Can't argue with that.

 

"Lan Zhan?"

 

"Mm?"

 

"Take me to bed."

 

Lan WangJi does.


*

 

"Four."

 

"What?"

 

Another kiss. "Five."

 

"Oh. … Six."

 

"Seven."

 

"Lan Zhan. Quit counting. You get all of them, dummy. … Oh. Do that again."

 

Lan WangJi stops counting after that.


*

 

Lan WangJi wakes up at five. But Wei WuXian is still asleep, face tucked into his throat and arms wrapped around his chest, and Lan WangJi would actually, literally rather die than untangle himself from him. So he sleeps in for the first time in thirteen years, lulled into comfortable half-sleep by the warmth of Wei WuXian's body and the steady rhythm of his breathing. He wants to memorize this: the way the soft morning light turns the whole room gold; the way their bodies fit together; the steadying weight of the blankets; the smell of young grass growing outside the Jingshi, and Wei WuXian's hair still smelling faintly of Lan WangJi's sandalwood soap. The way the inside of his lips feels sore, bitten and sucked almost raw, the most satisfying bruise he's ever had.

 

He's busy quietly cataloguing these details in his mind, which is why he doesn't realize that there's someone in the Jingshi until a silhouette approaches his bedroom door. He moves without thinking, summoning Bichen in its scabbard on the wall and jostling Wei WuXian awake after all with his movement.

 

Several things happen almost simultaneously:

  • Bichen hits his outstretched hand hilt-first and begins to unsheathe itself, flashing morning light across the room;
  • the intruder slides open the door;
  • Wei WuXian wakes up and realizes in an instant what's happening;
  • Lan XiChen sees him and says, "Oh! There you—"
  • Wei WuXian wraps his bare hand around the blade of Bichen;
  • Lan WangJi does not accidentally kill his brother.

 

The three of them freeze for a long moment.

 

"Lan Zhan," Wei WuXian says at last. He releases his hold on Bichen. "Sheathe your sword."

 

Lan WangJi obeys him mechanically. Wei WuXian's hand is bleeding. "I'm sorry," he says, shaken. "Wei Ying. I'm sorry." He takes Wei WuXian's hand in his and pushes spiritual energy into the wound: a series of four deep, clean cuts across his fingers.

 

"I'm fine," Wei WuXian says, but he lets Lan WangJi do it anyway. "It's your brother whose head you almost took off. Good morning, ZeWu-Jun."

 

"Good morning, Wei WuXian," Lan XiChen says finally. "Good morning to you too, WangJi."

 

Lan WangJi sits up fully so that he can bow deeply in apology. "Brother," he says. "Please forgive me. I didn't realize it was you."

 

Lan XiChen leans against the door frame. "I should hope not," he says wryly. "You'll have to forgive me too. I should have knocked."

 

Wei WuXian stifles a hysterical giggle. It occurs to Lan WangJi belatedly the many, many ways in which the both of them are currently unfit to be in the presence of the sect leader (or, for that matter, just his brother).

 

He sits up and allows himself a deep sigh, because otherwise he'll disintegrate into the floor. Wei WuXian pats his back sympathetically. He reaches over blindly to his bedside table and grabs his forehead ribbon, which he ties carefully, as if a forehead ribbon could make up for the fact that his hair is otherwise completely disheveled. Well: it's a start.

 

"Hm," his brother says.

 

"Hm," Wei WuXian says.

 

"A-Zhan—" Lan XiChen starts.

 

"No, no," Wei WuXian interrupts. "I want to see how long it stays like that."

 

Lan XiChen rolls his eyes, but in a good-natured way. Lan WangJi isn't sure what they're talking about — maybe his hair is messier than he thought, or something — so he ignores it.

 

"ZeWu-Jun, can we help you?" he asks.

 

Lan XiChen shakes his head. "A-Yan was concerned that no one was there to receive breakfast this morning, and I was concerned that it appeared Wei WuXian had disappeared. I see my worries are unfounded," he says, eyes dancing in amusement.

 

Oh. That makes sense. Lan WangJi would have been worried too. "I apologize for the confusion," he says. He absolutely refuses to acknowledge the reason for the situation.

 

"You're forgiven," Lan XiChen says easily. "I apologize for waking you. I'll let you wake up fully now."

 

"Mm."

 

Lan XiChen turns to leave, but then he turns back around and says, "One more thing. Wei WuXian?"

 

Wei WuXian points at himself, like, Me?

 

"You've experienced the consequences of your actions firsthand. I expect you know that there absolutely cannot be a repeat of what happened in the past. But your actions had consequences for the people around you, too," Lan XiChen tells him, expression grave.

 

"I know," Wei WuXian replies, equally serious but clearly a little lost.

 

"Good," Lan XiChen tells him. "Then you should know that if you hurt my brother again, it won't be your fierce corpses ripping you apart. It'll be me."

 

Lan WangJi blinks. "Don't threaten my partner," he says.

 

"No, it's fine," Wei WuXian says, tilting his head into Lan WangJi's shoulder. He and Lan XiChen are still looking at each other. "I'll hold you to that, ZeWu-Jun."

 

Lan XiChen nods once, and Wei WuXian nods back.

 

Then Lan XiChen leaves, closing the door behind him. Moments later the door to the Jingshi opens and shuts as well.

 

Lan WangJi doesn't know what to say. Wei WuXian hooks his chin over Lan WangJi's shoulder and threads his arms around his waist.

 

"So. I'm your cultivation partner, huh?" he asks.

 

Oh. He did say that, didn't he. "Do you want to be?" Lan WangJi asks, looking down at him.

 

"Yeah, I think I could get behind that," Wei WuXian says, grinning. "What about you, do you wanna be my boyfriend?"

 

Lan WangJi thinks about it. "No," he decides.

 

Wei WuXian wilts. "What, really? I mean, okay, I guess, but—"

 

"I want to be your husband," Lan WangJi tells him.

 

Wei WuXian gapes at him. Lan WangJi kisses his forehead. "Lan Zhan," he says.

 

"Mm."

 

"Lan Zhan. Are you serious?"

 

"Yes."

 

"Yes," Wei WuXian says hurriedly. "Yes, you can be my husband. Holy fuck."

 

Lan WangJi turns in his arms and pulls him back down onto the bed. Wei WuXian braces himself on his arms, elbows framing Lan WangJi's head. His loose hair falls in a curtain around his face. Lan WangJi is in love with him.

 

"— I'll ruin you," Wei WuXian says suddenly. "If you marry me the cultivation world will never forgive you."

 

Lan WangJi brushes a thumb along Wei WuXian's cheekbone. "If you could ruin me, I would already be ruined," he tells Wei WuXian, who makes a noise of disagreement. "You don't remember. I stood with you at the Burial Mounds. I held your hand and kept them from killing you. If they're surprised after all these years, that's on them." He realizes as he says it that it's true. Those who were ready to take his defense of Wei WuXian seriously would take him seriously whether they thought he was in love with him or not; those who were ready to kill Wei WuXian wouldn't care either. For once in their lives, they have nothing to lose.

 

Wei WuXian is staring at him.

 

"What."

 

"I'm just, like, super fucking in love with you," Wei WuXian says.

 

Lan WangJi smiles at him, soft and sincere. "I'm in love with you too."

 

"Marry me," Wei WuXian says.

 

"Yes," Lan WangJi says, and kisses him. "Yes. My love. Yes."