For Wei Wuxian, the nightmares still come sometimes.
They drag him back to times long gone—times he wishes were forgotten—when the air held the acrid smell of blood, the bursts of magical light, the mad shrieks of a dizi full of despair and unfettered rage. Fueled onwards by the image of his Shijie’s blood-stained face, the sound of his name on her very last breath.
When his eyes open again, he’s trembling and covered with sweat, chest pressed against his husband’s back. Usually, he would nose into the crook of Lan Wangji’s neck, calm his thrashing heart with the scent of sandalwood that is so uniquely Lan Wangji.
But tonight, he can’t go back to sleep, not with the way his chest throbs like an aching bruise, the way Shijie’s weak call of A-Xian lingers in his mind like the notes of a haunting tune.
So he gently disentangles from Lan Wangji’s hold, brushes his lips across his husband’s brows when they needle ever so slightly from the movement. When Lan Wangji stills again, face smoothing out in sleep, Wei Wuxian sneaks in another kiss before he tiptoes to the outer chamber of the jingshi, robes rustling.
Moonlight spills through the open window, illuminating the room with a soft glow. Wei Wuxian sits by the window, lifting his gaze to the moon that hangs bright and curved the sky. He remembers how much Shijie loved the moon, how they would sit, shoulder to shoulder, laughing over his pranks and Jiang Cheng’s bad temper. How beautiful Shijie looked with her silken, dark hair, her eyes shining a warm golden in the light—the mortal equivalent of Chang Er herself. Moments in childhood, fleeting and filled with happiness, before everything was taken from her.
Before he takes everything away from her.
Wei Wuxian shakes his head, as if tossing out unwanted memories. Breathing deep, he lifts his hands and scrubs roughly at his face, teeth clenched. Focus, he breathes—in and out, in and out. Think of something else, anything else. Like… like how A-Yuan adopted a bunny from us and named it Wang Xian. Or something about the moon, maybe, and the way Shijie would—
Stop thinking about the moon! he yells back at himself.
Wei Wuxian freezes, hands on his head, before he slowly turns back to find Lan Wangji gazing at him, resplendent in just a thin white robe and not a single hair out of place. His expression hasn’t changed, hard and perfect as a jade stone, but Wei Wuxian can see the worry in the slight lift of his brows, the press of his lips in a fine line.
(He marvels at just how easily he reads Lan Wangji now.)
“Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian says, voice wavering, and instantly, Lan Wangji closes the distance between them, tugs Wei WuXian into his embrace. “Lan Zhan,” he says again, steadier but softer, as if the name itself will banish all the evils in the world. (He’s pretty sure it can, somehow.)
“Nightmares?” Lan Wangji asks gently.
Wei Wuxian blinks up at him. “How did you—”
“I felt you shaking.” Lan Wangji’s hands rub in small circles on his back, gentle and soothing. “I shake too, some nights.”
Wei Wuxian swallows. Of course; just as he keeps his pain behind a mask of laughter and wanton frivolity, Lan Wangi buries his behind iron walls that are only let down with those he trusts.
And Wei Wuxian is one of the lucky few.
He tips his chin up to smile at Lan Wangji, heat prickling in the back of his eyes. “You are so special to me,” he whispers.
Lan Wangji’s hands still on his back. Then, his mouth curves, imperceptibly. “And you, to me.”
Wei WuXian feels his heart surge to three times its size. Only he and he alone can inspire such an expression on the impermeable Jade of the GusuLan sect, and he wants to watch it light up Lan Wangji’s stunning features, again and again, for the rest of his life. He tells the other man as much, which brings out a huff of laughter, quiet and light as a single note from the guqin.
“Anything you want,” Lan Wangji says.
“Oh really? Anything?” Wei Wuxian prods Lan Wangji in the chest. “Then tell me when you have nightmares next time.”
Long fingers wrap around Wei Wuxian’s wrist, and he lifts his gaze to meet Lan Wangji’s, just in time to catch a flicker of emotion beneath dark lashes.
“If you will tell me,” Lan Wangji says then, in a voice so small and defenseless that it makes Wei Wuxian want to kiss him. Assure him that he’s here, always, forever. (Lan Wangji makes him want far too much.)
But he pretends to huff instead. “You drive a hard bargain, HanGuang-Jun, but fine. Don’t blame me if you show up to cultivation meetings all tired because of a lack of sleep.”
“I won’t,” Lan Wanji says. It’s hard to tell if he means he won’t be tired, or that he won’t blame Wei WuXian, but his simple answer brims with so much sincerity that Wei WuXian laughs fondly in response.
They stay like that for a while, Wei WuXian’s head on Lan Wangji’s shoulder, Lan Wangji’s palms on Wei WuXian’s hips. It occurs to Wei WuXian, with a pang in his chest, that this is something his Shijie could have had with Jin Zixuan—something she did have—before the Heavens saw fit to destroy him and everything he loved.
Well, not everything.
“Take me back to bed,” Wei Wuxian sighs, and he feels Lan Wangji’s smile against his temple before he’s lifted up and cradled in strong arms.
The nightmares still come sometimes.
But they vanish as soon as his beloved husband reminds him—with kisses and sighs and quiet whispers—that he is, and will be, all right.
Chapter 2: Domestic bliss
Lan Wangji finds Wei Wuxian on the field, sprawled under a tree in the corner. Hands rested behind his head like a cushion, he’s surrounded by rabbits, some perched on his chest and stomach, others nuzzled up against his sides. Little Apple grazes beside them, tail whipping from side to side, silent and behaving for once. It’s a warm day, and Wei Wuxian is dozing off, his eyelids drooping as the rabbits settle on and around him.
Warmth blossoms in Lan Wangji’s chest, spreading right down to his toes. He wants to join Wei Wuxian, curl up in the shade with his beloved in his arms, but even he won’t be this brazen in public—not within the Cloud Recesses, at least, lest the elders have a stroke at the sight.
When Lan Wangji approaches, Wei Wuxian shifts and looks up at him, a slow smile spreading across his face. “You’re here,” he says, fondly, and Lan Wangji’s heart flutters. “How was training?”
“Good,” Lan Wangji says. He removes the guqin from his back and Bichen from his hip, rests them on the grass before taking a seat by Wei Wuxian. Rabbits tumble off Wei Wuxian and hop up to him, noses twitching, and he offers a few scratches under their chins. “Lan Sizhui is doing exceptionally well.”
At the name, Wei Wuxian grins. “What’s this? Is the impermeable, impartial Hanguang-Jun playing favorites?”
Lan Wangji’s brow twitches slightly. It’s true that he is fond of Sizhui—the one who clung to him and called him ‘daddy,’ whose very presence kept his memories of Wei Wuxian alive for thirteen years. But it is also true that the boy excels at all aspects of cultivation compared to his peers.
“Good is good,” he says simply.
Wei Wuxian lets out a laugh, full and hearty, and Lan Wangji’s lips cannot help but lift at the corners. “Yes, yes, of course he’s good. He’s our cute little A-Yuan, how could he not be?”
“Not little anymore,” Lan Wanji points out.
“He’ll always be little to me.”
Wei Wuxian rolls to his side, ignoring the white and black balls of fur that scatter with his movement. “Lan Zhan,” he says, voice lilting in a way that makes Lan Wangji’s heart sing.
“Mm,” he says softly, fingers reaching down to brush Wei Wuxian’s cheek.
“Come take a nap with me.”
Lan Wangji hesitates. He can’t be this brazen in the Cloud Recesses, but Wei Wuxian is gazing up at him through long eyelashes, dark hair falling over his forehead, and Lan Wangji starts to wonder what it would be like to have Wei Wuxian spread open beneath him on the grass, their bodies naked and pressed together—
Ears tipped red, Lan Wangji draws back his hand, head shaking. “I’m not tired. Instead,” he adds when Wei Wuxian pouts, carefully tugging his beloved’s head onto his lap, “Come sleep here.”
Wei Wuxian makes a great show of considering the suggestion, before he turns and nuzzles his cheek into Lan Wangji’s thigh with a sigh, just as the rabbits had burrowed into his side. Behind them, Little Apple huffs out a high-pitched whinny, as if to say, and how is this any less shameless?
But, surrounded by rabbits and Wei Wuxian’s warm weight on his lap, Lan Wangji is too content to care.
Chapter 3: Ribbon
“Lan Zhan, have you seen my ribbon?”
Wei Wuxian twists back from the mirror to find Lan Wangji fully dressed, his robes smooth and immaculate. As if their desperate rush to bed—hands grappling and grasping, open mouths on heated skin—never happened. He, on the other hand, looks as though he had faced a horde of fierce corpses, with his hair sticking out in odd places, robes crumpled and falling off his shoulders.
“How are you so perfect?” Wei Wuxian sighs.
Lan Wanji’s mouth tips up at the corners. He glides over, slips his palms down Wei Wuxian’s shoulders, where bruises scatter liberally across bare skin like dark petals in the wind. “This is perfect,” he says, voice low.
Wei Wuxian flushes. Lan Wangji sure has changed, from that uptight, rule-abiding fifteen-year-old, to—whatever this is. (Not that he’s complaining.)
“A-Anyway,” Wei Wuxian huffs, lifting his hands to flatten his unruly hair. “I’m going to need my ribbon to look presentable, or you’ll have to face Lan Qiren’s nagging again.” He clicks his tongue. “The old man can bark at me all he wants, but I’d hate for you to get in trouble.”
“Mm.” Lan Wangji bats Wei Wuxian’s hands away. “Comb.”
Wei Wuxian blinks, once, then reaches for the comb on the counter and hands it to Lan Wangji. “I appreciate the grooming,” he says, watching as Lan Wanji’s reflection starts to pull the comb gently through his tangled strands. “But this hair is just impossible without a—”
“I have a ribbon,” Lan Wangji cuts in mildly.
“You do?” Wei Wuxian says, brow arching. “Where’d you get a ribbon?”
Sighing, Wei Wuxian gives in and closes his eyes. Savors the graze of the comb across his scalp, the brush of long fingers against the shell of his ears, the back of his neck. Shijie was the last and only person to brush his hair, and that was decades ago, back when they were children. (When they were carefree and full of innocence, when Jiang Cheng’s glare wasn’t steeped in hatred and blind rage.) The smell of sandalwood lingers faintly in the air between them as Lan Wangji continues with his ministrations, and Wei Wuxian breathes in deep, happy in a way he never thought was possible.
A whistle of fabric, a final tug to his hair, and then a press of lips—slightly chapped but ever so soft—on the round of his shoulder.
“Done,” Lan Wangji murmurs.
When Wei Wuxian opens his eyes, his reflection gazes back at him, actually looking half-decent with his trademark ponytail. “Is there anything you’re not good at?” he says, twisting around to smile up at Lan Wangji—before his smile fades into disbelief. “Lan Zhan, you—”
“Not a problem,” Lan Wangji says. “See you after my lecture.”
Mere minutes after the doors to the jingshi clatter shut, Wei Wuxian hears Lan Qiren’s gasp of horror, clear as the bells of GusuLan.
“Lan Wangji. Where is your forehead ribbon!?”
Here we go, Wei Wuxian thinks, as the Lans engage in argument outside (“He is my cultivation partner.” “That’s no excuse. The ribbon must always be on your person, especially when you’re giving a lecture attended by our disciples.” “Then I will take him with me to the lecture.” “You—!“). Gazing into the mirror, he turns to one side, then the other, and his mouth curves at the contrast of the pale ribbon in his dark hair. Opposites, like him and Lan Wangji.
The doors are drawn open and Lan Wangji steps through, trailed after by Lan Qiren, a vein throbbing in his temple.
“Come with me,” Lan Wangji says, just as Lan Qiren yelps, arms flung across his face, “This shameless partner of yours isn’t even clothed properly!”
We’re both men, Wei Wuxian wants to say.
Instead, he bites back his retort and decides— they are long overdue for another cultivation trip. Far, far away from the Cloud Recesses.
And he might bring a comb with them this time.
Chapter 4: Brothers
The Discussion Conference calls for each Sect Leader to bring their best disciples for an open discussion among seniors and juniors—a new practice suggested by Nie Huaisang, after he rightfully, uncharacteristically, pointed out the disciples’ decisive actions at the Demon-Slaughtering Cave.
It’s held at the Cloud Recesses this year, and Jiang Cheng steps into the unearthly estate with clenched teeth and shoulders raised, memories clinging to him like a shadow. Sent by the Lanling Jin sect, Jin Ling trails after him in silence, though his eyes dart from the ground, to him, and back to the ground again, questions hanging in the air between them.
With Lan Xichen in seclusion, the responsibility must fall on the younger Twin Jade to play host. Sure enough, Jiang Cheng spots the snow-white robes of Lan Wangji from afar, saluting to every guest that enters the hall. Heart in his throat, he expects to see the familiar robes of black and red by Lan Wangji’s side, the high ponytail, the reckless grin he’s had to tolerate for the entirety of his childhood.
But there stands another figure instead, dressed in the pristine Gusu Lan robes, a half knot secured at the top of dark hair that flows like a silken waterfall down their back. The figure’s face is turned as they greet a guest with Lan Wangji, but it’s clear from their mannerisms that it’s not him.
Instantly, Jiang Cheng sees red.
He’s not surprised that Lan Wangji has taken a second lover—the man holds a sort of ethereal beauty that is not of this world. But to love another, after reciting vows of eternal devotion and loyalty? And to have this vixen by his side at the annual Discussion Conference, in place of his—albeit idiotic—cultivation partner?
Jiang Cheng will not condone such shameless infidelity.
Shoving through the crowds (“Uncle, wait up—!”), he forces his way to the entrance, Zidian sparking purple on his forefinger.
“Lan Wangji, you cheating bas—”
When the pair turn to face him, Jiang Cheng chokes on his next word.
“You came,” Wei Wuxian says, face lighting up in a smile.
It’s all that white, Jiang Cheng reasons, twitching. Even a fucking corpse would look elegant in patterned robes that are white as freshly fallen snow.
Unaware of Jiang Cheng’s internal turmoil, Wei Wuxian moves, hand raised to slap Jiang Cheng’s back in greeting, before he stops short. And then, as Jiang Cheng stares at him, he dips his head, bringing a fist to his palm in a proper—impossibly proper—salute.
“Sect Leader Jiang,” he says.
Wordlessly, Lan Wangji salutes Jiang Cheng in turn. The younger Lan’s face remains impassive, but there’s something smug about the stone-cold features, enough to make Jiang Cheng’s blood heat, his hands curling into fists.
They’re making fun of him, that’s what this is. A fucking prank.
“What the hell do you think you’re—”
“Uncle!” Jin Ling crashes into him from behind, sword clanking, chest heaving with exertion. “Uncle, you need to tell me where you’re going so I—” He halts mid-sentence, eyes growing wide at the sight of Wei Wuxian. “You! What are you—Why are you wearing that!?”
Wei Wuxian shrugs. “I promised Lan Qiren I’d be on my best behavior for Lan Zhan’s sake, and before I knew it, I’ve agreed to dress in their robes for the conference.”
Oh. That explains the proper greeting etiquette, too.
As Jiang Cheng’s anger fizzles away, Lan Wanji rests a hand on Wei Wuxian’s waist. “You didn’t have to,” he says, softly.
“I want to,” Wei Wuxian declares. “For you, I will endure flavorless food, four thousand and nineteen—no, twenty-two—rules of madness, and Lan Qiren’s endless tirades!”
The man had effectively insulted the very foundations of his sect, yet Lan Wangji turns to Wei Wuxian and looks at him as if Wei Wuxian had promised him the moon and the sun and every star in between.
Exhaling through his nose, Jiang Cheng whirls around to leave before he’s forced to witness a scene he’d rather not be around for. (To think he thought Lan Wangji would take a mistress; the fool was a lost cause.)
“Jiang Cheng,” Wei Wuxian calls out.
Against his better judgement, Jiang Cheng looks back over his shoulder.
“Thank you for defending my honor,” Wei Wuxian says, head tilting, eyes crinkling at the corners.
Jiang Cheng’s chest tightens. And the thought strikes him as he marches off without a word, Jin Ling scrambling after him—
His sister would have been so pleased.
Chapter 5: Mine
Happy lunar new year!
He looks nothing like Wei Wuxian, but he is everything like Wei Wuxian.
The way he fills the air with chatter, light and teasing, the way he bounces with every step, as though there are springs on his feet. The way he tilts his head to one side before a smile blossoms, glowing brighter, more brilliant, than the ten suns that once scorched this mortal earth.
Sometimes, Lan Wanji lies awake at night, gazing at his beloved, cataloguing every inch of that new body inside his head. Wei Wuxian’s eyes are wider now, his cheeks and hips more rounded, and his hair far coarser and almost untamable—too many times have Lan Wanji’s fingers caught in the tangles, causing yelps that he had to muffle with his mouth and tongue.
He’s also inches shorter, but Lan Wangji thinks it is the perfect height for him to bury his nose into dark strands and weave his arms around the slim waist. Breathe in the unique scent that is still, somehow, Wei Wuxian. He likes it even more that this Wei Wuxian has to lift his chin up for a kiss, slipping his fingers into Lan Wangji’s collar as his eyelashes flutter shut in anticipation.
And there are moments when Lan Wangji sees the pain, the anguish, that plagued his beloved before death—a flicker in those grey eyes that vanish as quickly as they appear, replaced by a silly, boyish grin. That’s why he wants the Ghost General gone, why he wants Jiang Wanyin to curb his sharp tongue and unrelenting cruelty. Why his kisses are soft and sweet and full of heart, because the language of action has always come easier to him than words, and he wants Wei Wuxian to know he’s loved, that he deserves all that Lan Wangji can offer.
“Why are you staring at me?” Wei Wuxian asks, cheeks bulging with a large bite of loquat. He dips his eyelashes, leans in close. “Am I that handsome to you, my Hanguang-Jun?”
Lan Wangji holds back a laugh. Reaches out to brush off juice from the corner of pink lips with his thumb, before bringing it back to his own lips for a taste.
“Mm,” he says, mouth tipping upwards at Wei Wuxian’s flush.
He looks nothing like Wei Wuxian, but he is everything like Wei Wuxian.
And that smile—the smile that holds the world—finally belongs to Lan Wangji.
Chapter 6: Family
Written on Lan Sizhui's birthday. <3
Lan Sizhui remembers now.
He remembers Granny—her bent back and wrinkled hands that shook when he held them, lacing his tiny fingers through hers. He remembers the way she scolded him, spit flying through missing teeth, the way she patted his head gently when he cried. He remembers the panic in her eyes when she grasped his shoulders with an iron grip and told him to hide—and no matter what happens, don’t make a sound, she cried.
He remembers the Ghost General—Ning-gege—back when he was alive. He remembers how shy Wen Ning was, the hunch in his shoulders and the pink that stained his cheeks, when his formidable sister lectured him over matters that Lan Sizhui was too young to understand. He remembers how Wen Ning played with him from time to time, crouching down to make imaginary creatures out of sticks and mud. How Wen Ning continued to play with him, even after his pupils had turned black, his skin a deathly ashen.
But most of all, he remembers his Xian-gege—the one with the smile that lights up the Heavens. He remembers hugging Wei Wuxian’s leg, cheek pressed to the fabric of his dark clothes, going wherever Wei Wuxian went, laughing whenever Wei Wuxian laughed. Remembers being teased and held in strong arms, falling asleep to the sounds of the flute, sweet and gentle and soothing.
Lan Sizhui’s head snaps up, broken out of his reverie.
Wei Wuxian looks back at him—a different face, but with the same easy smile. He tilts his head, gesturing at the bowl in front of Lan Sizhui. “I promise I haven’t added a single spice to the noodles,” he says. “Have I, Lan Zhan?”
“No,” Lan Wangji says, seated shoulder to shoulder with Wei Wuxian. “It is safe to eat.”
Wei Wuxian shoots Lan Wangji a mock glare, before he turns back to Lan Sizhui. “Go on, eat up,” he says, eyes soft. “It’s not every day our A-Yuan turns twenty.”
Lan Sizhui stares at the noodles, long and uncut, floating in a broth that isn’t the usual fiery red.
He remembers now, the happiness he felt—the warmth and laughter, the feel of Rich-gege’s softer, more silken fabric against his cheek—even the cold slice of fear in his belly as he curled into a ball inside the tree trunk, wishing, hoping, for the sounds of a flute.
All of them, from Granny to Wen Ning to Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji—they are family.
Lan Sizhui’s heart swells, and he swallows hard, bringing forth all his education to suppress the flood of emotion—the urge to fling himself across the table and draw the two men into a hug that he never wants to let go.
“Thank you,” he says instead, voice cracking at the edges. Wei Wuxian’s responding smile is fond, as even the pale eyes of Lan Wangji glimmer with warmth.
Thank you for loving me.
Chapter 7: Inquiry
“Have you heard of Wei Wuxian?”
“Have you seen a young man in his twenties, with a high ponytail?”
“Have you heard of or seen a man who plays the dizi?”
The deep note echoes through the trees, and Lan Wangji’s heart drops with the final vibrations of the silk string.
Every night, the same note.
Every night, the same despairing answer.
He shifts, hissing as the fabric of his robes sear a burning trail across his back. Weeks have passed, yet his wounds still feel as fresh as the scars in his heart. He thought a taste of Emperor’s Smile would distract him—help him see the world through those beautiful grey eyes—but he found a way to express the pain instead. Centered it with the Wen sect’s brand against his chest, the brutal agony still incomparable to the news that Wei Wuxian was gone from this world.
His warmth, his heart, his brilliant smile—lost, forever.
Lan Wangji clenches his teeth.
No, not forever. He will find Wei Wuxian. Drag him back to this mortal land, no matter what it takes.
Breathing deep, he rests his fingers over the strings once more.
Lan Wangji pauses. “Elder brother,” he says quietly.
The metallic hiss of a sword being sheathed, and Lan Xichen is by his side, resting one hand on his shoulder.
“It is almost time for bed. Let us return to Gusu.”
“Later,” Lan Wangji says.
His brother’s grip tightens. “Now,” he says, smile unwavering.
Silent, Lan Wangji stares ahead, hands on his guqin and heart in his throat. It’s not the first time Lan Xichen has come to the Burial Mounds. He’s grateful for the concern, but his brother doesn’t understand. His brother has never understood, not now, not then, and not before—when Lan Wangji sat in the wooden hallway and waited, back straight and gazing at the gentians.
Lan Xichen pulls back his hand and exhales, a heavy gust of air. “You have always been so stubborn.”
“Mm,” Lan Wangji says.
“Will you at least tell me about this child you’ve brought back to us?”
Lan Wangji closes his eyes for a moment. He is all I could find of him, he almost says.
“I have told you everything,” he says instead.
The look his brother gives him is piercing. But then he turns, robes swishing.
“Please be back by nine,” he says, voice soft and filled with weariness. “Even I cannot defend you from Uncle’s wrath now.”
Lan Wangji wants to say that it matters not, wants to keep playing until the skin of his fingers turn red and raw. But he remembers the way Lan Xichen averted his gaze through the lashings, the way he bit his bottom lip hard enough to draw blood. The way he shook when Lan Wangji fell bloodied and half-conscious in his arms, anger and sorrow restrained only by a lifetime of discipline.
Suddenly, he doesn’t want to argue with his brother anymore.
“Mm,” he says.
As Lan Xichen departs on Shuoyue, spiritual energy fading into the distance, Lan Wangji turns back to his guqin. If he has to return by nine, a full Inquiry is difficult. Instead of the notes that would have summoned a spirit, he plays a different tune, fingers flicking lightly against the strings.
Around him, the spirits stir, and he hopes they are listening, that the message will be passed on, somehow, somewhere.
Wei Ying, the strings cry.
Come back to me.
Chapter 8: Reunion
When Jiang Cheng hears the low timbre of a dizi, soft and haunting, his hair stands on end.
The young disciples appear unfazed, their heads bowed over a map as they discuss the best spot for the night hunt. Even Jin Ling has no reaction; he’s jabbing at the map with a finger, engaged in a loud debate with the Lan disciple called Jingyi.
Teeth clenched, Jiang Cheng turns to the source of the noise.
Wei Wuxian is seated on a rock by the lake, lips on Chenqing, fingers darting across the instrument. Long lashes sweep over fair cheeks, while trails of his ribbon flutter in the breeze, a stark crimson in the moonlight. He’s no longer “classically handsome,” as those frivolous girls used to say, but this new face retains much of his boyish charm—enough, at least, to make Jiang Cheng feel nauseous at the thought.
He stalks up to Wei Wuxian, intent on snapping at him to stop the infernal racket. But then Wei Wuxian lowers the dizi and smiles at him, face lighting up, and oh, that hasn’t changed. Stunned, Jiang Cheng’s words stick to the back of his throat, before they morph into a question that slips out of his mouth before he can stop it.
“Why a dizi?”
Wei Wuxian blinks. Then, he laughs, hearty and musical. “No one’s asked me that before.”
“Not even Lan Wangji?” Jiang Cheng snorts, ignoring the way his heart clenches in his chest.
“Lan Zhan’s not the sort to ask questions.” Wei Wuxian’s gaze drops to the dizi in his hand, mouth tugged in a soft smile. “Do you remember the day Jin Zixuan and Madam Jin visited Lotus Pier for the first time?”
Of course, Jiang Cheng remembers. His mother was in exceptional form that day, Zidian crackling purple as she whipped and barked at the Yunmeng Jiang disciples all morning. She was nervous, hoping for the meeting between Jin Zixuan and A-Jie to go smoothly, and it didn’t help that Wei Wuxian had opened his big mouth and called the Lanling Jin sect “a flock of stuffy golden peacocks.”
“Shi-niang had also invited a world-renowned orchestra to perform before dinner,” Wei Wuxian continues. “And amongst them was—”
“—a dizi player,” Jiang Cheng finishes, chest tight. He remembers, too, the way his sister’s eyes shone, the way she hid her open mouth behind her sleeves. “A-Jie was mesmerized.”
Wei Wuxian nods. “She loved the sound it made, said she could hear it in her dreams.” His fingers curl around the dizi, tight and trembling. “That it brought her peace.”
The very idea felt as distant as the sun during the Sunshot Campaign—a time when vengeance kept them grounded and built like ash on their tongue. But Wei Wuxian’s looking at Chenqing with his lips tipped upward at the corners, as though he’s tasted something sweet instead. Something to be savored.
Jiang Cheng swallows. Even near-death, this is how Wei Wuxian survives. With thoughts of kindness and love and family, thoughts that were darkened by resentment, forcefully absorbed and harnessed to keep himself alive.
But what of him, Jiang Wanyin, the supposed leader of Yunmeng Jiang sect? For thirteen years, his every thought—his very existence—was driven by unadulterated hatred for a man who was once his brother, who promised to serve him as his father had served his. Who kept his promise, despite the anger, the insults, the blows exchanged—befitting of the Jiang sect motto and spirit.
(His father would have been so proud.)
Clutching at his chest, Wei Wuxian’s core burning within, Jiang Cheng breathes out a name he hasn’t called for years.
Wei Wuxian’s head jolts up, his eyes wide.
Jiang Cheng breathes again, nails digging into the fabric of his robes. He doesn’t know what to say, only that something has to be said. They’ve gone on for too long like this; he’s gone on for too long like this.
Besides Jin Ling, Wei Wuxian is all he has left.
“I… You and I…” Wei Wuxian leans in, so bright and eager that Jiang Cheng’s chest aches. “We—”
“Uncle,” Jin Ling shouts from a distance. “Uncle, come quick!”
The tension splits in the air like a torn lantern.
Jiang Cheng hisses, turning back to glare at his nephew. “That little brat—”
“Go.” Startled, Jiang Cheng meets Wei Wuxian’s gaze. His smile has gone soft and pleased, glowing under the pale light of the moon. And right there, breath hitching, Jiang Cheng sees his sister—her head tilted in the exact same way, her eyes crinkling at the exact same corners. “Jin Ling needs you.”
So Jiang Cheng nods and leaves, as Wei Wuxian returns the dizi to his lips.
But this time, the sound brings him warmth, like a small ember sparking to life, cradled deep inside his heart.
Chapter 9: Incense Burner (Again)
The ground of the cave is wet and cold against Wei Wuxian’s back. Around him, he can hear gasps and moans, the ragged breaths of a man desperately fighting for control. Or maybe it’s his, it’s hard to tell—to think—with Lan Wanji’s mouth on the inside of his thigh, sucking marks here and there, higher and higher.
“Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian sighs, head tipping back, just as a call of Wei Ying resonates through the cave. A sound so unrestrained, so needy, that it shoots a bolt straight up his spine and out his fingers, which curl into silken dark strands.
When he turns his head, he can just make out the figures beside them—one in robes so dark it blends in with the darkness, the other in robes that shine pale and white as the moon outside.
“Don’t look,” Lan Wangji growls against his skin. The real Lan Wangji, whose hands are smoothing up his thighs, head shifting to nip at him.
Wei Wuxian manages a laugh, breathless. “I already saw one of your filthy fantasies, what’s ano—ah!”
Lan Wangji hums, lips wrapped around him, and Wei Wuxian gasps, hips tilting upward, heels digging into the ground. As Lan Wangji takes him in further, inch by inch, Wei Wuxian has the passing thought that Lan Wangji is trying to distract him from this dream, and distracting him really, really well—
“Do you like that, Hanguang-Jun?” his own voice purrs, cutting through the haze of desire. It’s sharper, harsher, but with a lilt that’s ever so playful, and Lan Wangji freezes at the moan that follows—a moan in his voice.
Wei Wuxian takes the chance to sneak another peek, and this time, he sees it all. Sees himself, hair loose and tumbling past his shoulders, eyes glowing an eerie red; sees the other Lan Wangji, robes in disarray and writhing against his dream version of the Yiling Patriarch, hands tied above his head with a crimson ribbon. Lan Wangji’s own ribbon has gone crooked, his body arching into each and every press of dream Wei Wuxian’s fingers, as though he wants and wants and can’t bear to part from his touch.
And when he—Lan Wangji’s fantasy version—hitches Lan Wanji’s hips up, sliding a leg up onto his shoulder, Wei Wuxian realizes, right there, why the real Lan Wangji is so insistent on distracting him.
“Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian starts to giggle, “Lan Er-Gege. If you wanted me to top, you could’ve just asked!”
“I was young,” Lan Wangji bites out, ears tipped red, before he surges up to crush his mouth against Wei Wuxian’s and swallow his laughter.
Chapter 10: Rabbits
The rabbits are growing in number.
Two—that was the number Lan Qiren had permitted. One black and the other white, he found the pair docile, harmless, and being male, conveniently unable to breed. Those were the only reasons he had agreed to such shameless dismissal of Gusu Lan’s one hundred and third rule regarding animals.
But one year after the end of Lan Wangji’s seclusion, there were five.
Five years later, there were seven.
And now, after ten years, there are twelve.
“Better rabbits than other matters,” Lan Xichen says mildly, when Lan Qiren bursts into the hanshi, vein throbbing in his temple.
Lan Qiren shudders. The implication of other matters sits in the air between them, wretched and unspoken. It shakes Lan Qiren to the core that his nephew has followed the steps of his brother, gifting his devotion—his life—to a demon cultivator with no manners, no shame, no soul. But Lan Xichen speaks sense; Lan Wangji’s new obsession will keep him out of trouble.
Keep him safe, Lan Qiren doesn’t say out loud.
So Lan Qiren leaves the hanshi with his heart calm. Holds back his tongue, even, when he spots Lan Wangji in the meadow, offering cabbages to the little creatures hopping about his feet. He would have walked right past, moved on to his private quarters for a good hour of meditation, if Lan Sizhui hadn’t approached Lan Wangji right then, fist to his palm, head dipping in a bow.
“Hanguang-Jun,” he says, in a voice as gentle as a small stream in the woods.
Lan Wangji glances up, a torn cabbage leaf in one hand.
“The hunt went well,” Lan Sizhui continues. “We’ve—"
“Hanguang-Jun,” Lan Jingyi cuts in, running—running—to join the two on the meadow, white sleeves flying behind him.
But it’s not just the uncultured movements that has Lan Qiren’s blood churn.
It’s the pair of rabbits that Lan Jingyi holds by the ears in each hand, the way his eyes, his entire face, all sparkle with unrestrained excitement.
“Two black ones,” Lan Jingyi proclaims, far louder than is acceptable. “You won’t believe how hard they are to find, compared to the white ones!”
“Jingyi caught them both,” Lan Sizhui says, mouth curving in a soft smile.
“Sizhui spotted them first,” Lan Jingyi adds quickly.
Impassive, Lan Wangji gazes at the rabbits. Then, he reaches out to tug the rabbits into his arms and press his fingers into the fur as though they are rare gems, precious and ever so delicate.
“Well done,” he says.
When the disciples glow with delight, Jingyi practically vibrating with the emotion—thank you, Hanguang-Jun!—Lan Qiren feels the last of his generosity shatter inside him.
Too many rules have been broken in the span of five minutes, far too many.
“Lan Sizhui, Lan Jingyi,” he roars, and there’s something satisfying about seeing a flash of terror across the young faces, “You will face the wall in the Orchid Room and reflect for the next three hours!”
“Three?” Lan Jingyi gasps, indignant. “But we didn’t do anything—”
“Jingyi,” Lan Sizhui says, quiet but urgent as he grasps Lan Jingyi by the shoulders and turns him away. “Let’s do as he says.”
As the disciples leave the meadow, Lan Qiren meets Lan Wangji’s stare—even yet somehow admonishing, just as his brother had looked at him when he refused to acknowledge the heartless murderer he was forced to call sister-in-law. And then—like father, like son—Lan Wangji looks away. Returns his attention to the rabbits around him, indifferent and dismissive, as if he no longer finds the need to explain his chosen path.
As if he no longer finds the need to regain Lan Qiren’s affection.
(“This is exactly as you see it, Brother.”
“This is exactly as it looks, Uncle.”)
Exhaling through his nose, Lan Qiren storms off, head held high and ignoring the way his chest curls and clenches with something that feels like regret.
Clearly, he thinks, foolishness runs in the Lan family.
Chapter 11: Bedtime story
“Psst. You awake?”
Eyes slipping open, Lan Sizhui turns his head to find Lan Jingyi gazing at him, eyes wide and rounded. “What’s wrong?” he asks, quietly.
“Can’t sleep,” Lan Jingyi whispers. “I’m still hyped up by our night hunt.”
On his other side, Lan Sizhui hears the rustle of Jin Ling shift on his makeshift bedding.
“Not a good reason to keep the rest of us up,” Jin Ling hisses.
“I’m whispering, aren’t I?” Lan Jingyi hisses back.
“Your whispering is echoing through the whole damn forest!”
Hastily, Lan Sizhui shushes them, eyes darting past Lan Jingyi’s shoulder. Some distance away, he can make out Wei Wuxian, face lit up by the campfire, warm and golden. His gaze is trained on the crackling flames, fingers tapping at his dizi, seemingly unaware of the argument brewing among the juniors.
“Senior Wei has been looking out for us all day,” Lan Sizhui says, voice soft. “Let’s not trouble him any further.”
“He’s the one who chose to follow us,” Jin Ling sniffs.
“At least he doesn’t stalk us in the bushes like your overprotective uncle,” Lan Jingyi says with a snort.
When Jin Ling rises up, shaking with indignation, Lan Sizhui shoots an arm out and pushes him back down. “Let’s try to sleep,” he says, firmer this time but no less soft.
Twin grunts sound from both sides—if they only realize how similar they can be—before silence falls again, broken only by the occasional crack and hiss of the campfire.
It’s when Lan Sizhui starts to drift off that Lan Jingyi speaks again.
“Tell us a bedtime story, Sizhui.”
Half-awake, Lan Sizhui smiles in the darkness. “I’m sure young master Jin would rather—”
“I want to hear one.”
Surprised, Lan Sizhui turns.
Jin Ling is staring up at the sky, brows furrowed, cheeks flushed. “I have no memories of bedtime stories. It’d be…” He swallows, throat bobbing. “…it’d be nice to hear what they’re like.”
The unspoken reason hangs over them like a cloud, before Lan Jingyi raises himself up by an elbow to peer at Jin Ling. “You’re in luck,” he says, more cheerily than usual. “Sizhui’s got the best stories! All I got was a recitation of the Gusu Lan sect rules, but Sizhui’s mom told him a whole ton when he was little.“
“Right, er,” Lan Sizhui glances at Wei Wuxian, heat rising to his cheeks, “My… mother, had a lot of stories.” He shakes his head, casting aside his embarrassment. “What would you like to hear?”
“Something uplifting,” Lan Jingyi says without hesitation.
Lan Sizhui considers the request. Then, drawing in a deep breath, he begins.
He tells the story of a poor panda and a rich crane—how the crane offers the frivolous panda money to stop playing his dizi outside the crane’s house, how the panda convinces the lonely crane to bring out his guqinand play a duet with him instead. It’s a simple story, filled with heart and tender sentiment—with memories of grass butterflies and the warmth of a hearty soup—and there’s an ache in Lan Sizhui’s chest by the end of it, tight and burning.
Until, that is, Jin Ling breaks the silence.
“What is this story trying to tell us?” he scoffs. “It’s better to be frivolous and poor? We need money to survive in this world.”
“It’s teaching us that happiness and relationships are more important than money,” Lan Jingyi says, exasperated. “Are you such a pampered mistress that you can’t even understand that?”
"I’m being realistic,” Jin Ling snaps. “And who are you calling a pampered mistress?”
Lan Jingyi fends off Jin Ling’s hand when it reaches across to make a grab for him. “Why take it so seriously?“ he huffs. "It’s just a story, right Sizhui?”
Lan Sizhui pauses. Looks over at Wei Wuxian, who’s looking back at them now, mouth tugged in a soft smile. Instantly, Lan Sizhui flushes, feeling as if he was caught in some heinous act—he might as well have been, sharing his botched version of Wei Wuxian’s own made up story. (Some part of him cringes when he wonders if Wei Wuxian had, in fact, been listening the whole time.)
But Wei Wuxian doesn’t say a word.
Instead, he winks at Lan Sizhui, before he twists around and raises Chenqing to his lips. The low timbre of the dizi fills the air, soft and light. A melody played once for Wei Wuxian, and only once; a melody that he, in turn, saved for the little boy who clung to his leg and called him gege.
Lan Sizhui smiles as he watches his friends’ lashes flutter, their breaths slow. As they fall asleep to a sound that used to strike fear in the hearts of even the most powerful cultivators.
“Yes,” he says, heart warm. “Just a story.”
Chapter 12: My name
It’s his name, just his name, but something about the way Lan Wangji says it—the way Lan Wangji looks at him when he says it—sends shivers down Wei Wuxian’s spine. There’s so much packed in there, as if Lan Wangji has chosen to concentrate every emotion—every ounce of his passion—into two syllables, and Wei Wuxian wants to hear it over and over again. Wants to see the warmth reflected in pale eyes as it’s whispered into the air between them, wants to feel it breathed into the crook of his neck, loving and fond.
And when Lan Wangji presses him into the edge of the cold spring, hands bracketing his hips and mouth hot against his shoulder, it’s the moan of his name (Wei Ying…!) that rocks him over the precipice.
“You should tell your uncle we’ve found another purpose for this spring,” Wei Wuxian says after a moment. They’re still joined together, Wei Wuxian’s legs wrapped around Lan Wangji’s waist, Lan Wangji’s palms on the curve of his ass.
“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji says, chiding but gentle.
Wei Wuxian laughs, heart full.
It’s just his name. But it means the world coming from Lan Wangji.
Chapter 13: Hugs
Jin Ling doesn’t remember the last time he was hugged like this.
His parents are a blur of memories in his head—gentle hands stroking his hair, an even gentler voice humming lullabies in his ear. A-Ling, that voice would say, with golden eyes lighting up in a way that makes Jin Ling’s chest ache. Sometimes he dreams of that warmth, the way it envelops him like a blanket, safe and secure, and he wonders if this is how it feels like to be embraced. (To be loved, fully and wholly.)
It’s not that his uncle doesn’t love him, no.
Jiang Cheng’s love is like a raging tempest, harsh and violent. His hugs are rare, a luxury to be earned. There are times when his uncle looks as if he might wrap an arm around Jin Ling’s shoulders, with Jin Ling gazing up at him, breath held and heart thundering in his chest. But then he doesn’t, and his hand moves to pat Jin Ling’s shoulder instead—once, twice, before he draws it back, snaps something about expecting more, always more.
And then there’s Wei Wuxian.
Wei Wuxian, who gives out hugs freely, easily, who pulls Jin Ling in every time they meet on a night hunt, gaze soft, hands sliding round his shoulders. Who’s hugging Jin Ling right now, right in front of the other juniors.
And Jin Ling would protest, he really would. But Wei Wuxian feels warm against him, solid and steady, and something cracks inside him, spilling between his ribs. It’s a feeling so strange, so unfamiliar, that Jin Ling reacts in the only way he knows how.
“Get off me,” he snaps, robes flying as he darts away, Wei Wuxian’s laughter floating after him. “Madman! Cut-sleeve! I’m never joining a night hunt with you ever again!”
But he does. And he always will.
Because as much as Jin Ling loves his uncle, as much as he knows his uncle loves him, something about Wei Wuxian’s hugs help him to touch the edge of his memories—of warmth and lullabies and home.
Chapter 14: Title
“Sect Leader Nie.”
Nie Huaisang looks up from the chessboard. Swallows the lump in his throat as the disciple salutes.
Sect Leader—the words toll like funeral bells. Nie Huaisang hates them, the responsibility that follows in their wake. Only his brother had shoulders broad enough to carry the weight, and he was content to stand by Nie Mingjue’s side, a shadow watching from the sidelines. But now, the people of Qinghe look up to him for answers, the Sect disciples hang by his every word—all lost without the man who led them fearlessly in times of great turmoil.
Even now, the disciple is staring at him with the most earnest expression, silently awaiting his next command.
Nie Huaisang holds back a sigh. It’s as if his brother had managed to train a litter of loyal, overzealous pups. “What have you found?” he asks.
“Our scouts report that the hand has been seized and brought to the Cloud Recesses by Hanguang-Jun.”
Ah, of course. The man who appears where there is chaos.
Nie Huaisang nods, gaze shifting to his chessboard. His side is winning; there’s only so much one can do against oneself. But that’s what it’s come to, really, an elaborate game he’s playing on his own—an inner battle to control his fury, his thirst for revenge, when he first learned the truth of his brother’s demise.
“There is more,” the disciple says, as Nie Huaisang picks up a lone foot soldier on the side of the board.
Nie Huaisang twists the wooden piece idly between his fingers. “Go on.”
“He has brought Mo Xuanyu with him.”
Nie Huaisang rises to his feet, heart leaping. The great Hanguang-Jun has no reason to take a complete stranger back to Gusu, much less a low-level cultivator who was thrown out of the Lanling Jin Sect. But he has every reason, every need, to take back the one man he has been searching for these past thirteen years.
The Yiling Patriarch has returned.
“This is good news?” the disciple says, eyes bright.
“Excellent news,” Nie Huaisang tells him, turning away when the disciple practically glows in the face of his approval. He wills himself to calm, to focus on next steps. Lan Wangji may be mistaken, that much he cannot discount. After all, Jiang Wanyin’s manic efforts have thus far been in vain.
“Follow Hanguang-Jun and Mo Xuanyu’s every movement,” he says after a moment. “I want daily reports, twice a day if necessary.”
The disciple salutes, head dipping. “Yes, Sect Leader Nie.”
Nie Huaisang’s jaw clenches. No one is more undeserving of that title than he. Not after the way he flung down his saber, tossed aside Nie Mingjue’s love for him like it was trash. (Had he known sooner, he would have let Nie Mingjue burn every last fan in his room.)
Chest tight, Nie Huaisang slaps the chess piece a square higher than its original place—across the river and into enemy territory.
“We’re almost there, brother,” he whispers, his stare searing into the general that sits on the far side of the chessboard.
“Just a little longer.”
Chapter 15: Firsts
Written for WangXianWeek2019 on tumblr
There’s something about being on top, Lan Wangji driving up inside him. Something about grinding down so hard that a sound catches in Lan Wangji’s throat, loud and needy in a way that's rare for him.
“See?” Wei Wuxian sighs, one slow roll of his hips that draws out another keening noise. “I told you you’d enjoy being tied up for once.”
Lan Wangji’s eyelids are fluttering, the skin of his wrists rubbed raw from straining against his own forehead ribbon.
Wei Wuxian hums as he rises and falls from the jolt of Lan Wangji’s hips, breath stuttering each time that spot is struck deep inside him. It’s incredible, having control like this — having Lan Wangji relinquish control like this — even for just one night.
He should make the most of it, Wei Wuxian thinks.
Not breaking eye contact, he wraps his hand around his length, strokes in time with every roll, every circle of his hips. Relishes in the way Lan Wangji’s eyes go dark, his expression hungry, the way Lan Wangji’s thrusts turn hard and fast and desperate. It’s all so good, so much, that he comes soon after, back arching, Lan Wangji’s name on his tongue.
“Untie me,” Lan Wangji rasps after a moment.
Without thinking, Wei Wuxian reaches out to tug the knot loose, too blissed out to realize that Lan Wangji is still hard inside him. Doesn’t notice his mistake, until Lan Wangji’s hands find his hips and flips them, until Lan Wangji rocks into him, pain and pleasure ripping through his still-sensitive body.
“Once is enough,” Lan Wangji declares.
Chapter 16: Confessions
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Lan Wangji has never wanted, never dared to hope.
When he first heard his song—their song—on Dafan Mountain, his heart had surged, his chest gone hot and tight. Wei Wuxian, safe and warm and alive—that was all he asked for, all he ever wanted those long thirteen years.
So when his prayers were answered, when he saw the way Wei Wuxian smiled in his new body, bright as he was before the darkness claimed him, Lan Wangji stopped wishing. Stopped wanting. Kept his words to his heart and stayed by Wei Wuxian’s side, because he’s beautiful, he’s Wei Wuxian, and Lan Wangji would follow him anywhere.
I sincerely wanted to bed you, he said.
I’m attracted to you, love you, want you, can’t leave you…
I don’t want anyone else, it has to be you.
Now, folding Wei Wuxian into his arms, Lan Wangji wants. Wants to press his mouth to Wei Wuxian’s and taste the sharp sweetness, wants to tuck his face against the curve of Wei Wuxian’s neck and taste the skin there. Wants to lay him out on the temple floor and mark him thoroughly, catalogue every inch.
But now, they have time. Now, they have forever.
So for now, he holds Wei Wuxian close. Tells Wei Wuxian how he feels, heart pouring open—his hopes, his wishes, his wants.
Chapter 17: Valentine's Day
Written for WangXianWeek2019
Lan Wangji pauses just inside the jingshi , hand on the door. The scent of his home cooked dishes linger in the air, sharp and tangy, the stem of the rose he holds digging into his palm. He had ended his lecture early, ignoring the knowing grins of the juniors. Picked the flower from a giggling florist in Caiyi Town and hurried home with brisk steps, eager to see his husband.
He hadn’t thought he’d find Wei Wuxian on the bed. Naked. Legs spread open, cock curved against his belly.
Fingers slipping in and out of himself, slick with something that glints in the light of the lantern by the bed.
Their eyes meet, and Wei Wuxian licks his lips, lashes dipping—a clear invitation.
“Thought I’d get a headstart,” he purrs.
In seconds, Lan Wangji is on the bed, mouth on Wei Wuxian’s, pressing him back against the sheets. The rose falls to the ground, forgotten, as he kisses Wei Wuxian, hot and breathless, one hand sliding into Wei Wuxian’s hair, the other sinking down to Wei Wuxian’s fingers. Tugs them out and replaces them, swiftly, with his own.
“Ah- wait, wait ,” Wei Wuxian gasps. Lan Wangji shifts to mouth at the sweet curve of his neck, fingers curling. Wei Wuxian’s breath hitches, but he’s insistent, hand sliding around Lan Wangji’s in a tight grip.
“Use the oil Huaisang gave us,” he says.
Lan Wangji’s gaze shifts to the small bottle on the bedside table, lid off and half its contents emptied—slick on Wei Wuxian’s fingers and palm.
Lan Wangji draws in a breath that shakes before, wordlessly, he reaches for the oil. Wei Wuxian watches him, eyes dark and cheeks flushed, and it takes all of Lan Wangji’s discipline not to shed his clothes and plunge into Wei Wuxian. Rock in, slow and steady, savoring in the sounds that catch in Wei Wuxian’s throat, the way Wei Wuxian arches and begs and moans.
“Huaisang is way too knowledgeable about these things,” Wei Wuxian sighs, as Lan Wangji’s fingers enter him a second time. “He has all these books on erotic poetry, and apparently, they’re so educational that he said he can teach a whole class on— ow !”
Wei Wuxian frowns at Lan Wangji, who pulls away, his teeth marks still visible on fair skin. “What did I tell you about biting?”
“Stop talking about Nie Huaisang,” Lan Wangji growls. Gives Wei Wuxian another nip on the shoulder for good measure.
“Do you still get jealous, Hanguang-Jun?” Wei Wuxian laughs, a warm rumble against Lan Wangji’s chest. “Even though I’m yours and yours only?” He presses a kiss to Lan Wangji’s nose, cheeks, lips. “What if I talked about Sizhui? How he’s doing so well in his night hunts, how he plays his guqin with a quiet ferocity, how he directs the juniors with such natural born leader—”
His words tumble into incoherence, Lan Wangji’s teeth sinking into the hard pulse in his neck, fingers curling deep inside him.
Wei Wuxian doesn’t talk much after that.
The next morning, Lan Wangji steps out of the jingshi to find Lan Sizhui waiting for him.
“We’re happy you’re happy,” Lan Sizhui says, hands tightly clasped together, color high on his cheeks. He’s the elected spokesperson of the juniors, Lan Wangji notes, as a huddle of juniors, Lan Jingyi included, watches their interaction from afar.
“But um, if you and Senior Wei could just, well.”
Lan Sizhui offers a weak smile.
“Check if the door is closed first…?”
Lan Wangji exhales. In the next room, Wei Wuxian is still passed out, exhausted from the night’s activities.
To be fair, Wei Wuxian started it.
(To be fair, he had left the door open.)
“We will,” Lan Wangji says.
After Lan Sizhui takes his leave, he returns to Wei Wuxian’s side. Brushes hair off his face, struck by how soft it is, how it slips through his fingers like silk.
Wei Wuxian has turned him more and more shameless with each passing year, but Lan Sizhui is right: he is happy, so happy, heart swelling with all the love he feels for the man dozing on their bed.
“Happy Valentine’s, Wei Ying,” he murmurs, pressing a smile to Wei Wuxian’s forehead.
Chapter 18: Reunions, Deux
Written for WangXianWeek2019
Wei Wuxian lights up when he’s at Lotus Pier.
Lan Wangji sees it in the way he pulls away from Lan Wangji’s side to run down the wooden pier, the way he trails the pad of his fingers up the stair banister as they ascend to the spare rooms upstairs. The way he laughs and jostles and spars with the new Yunmeng Jiang disciples, fitting in as if he had never left.
He’s with them right now, helping out with the fireworks for the night’s celebrations. Glances up to wave at Lan Wangji every now and then, glowing and golden as the setting sun.
Lan Wangji pulls his gaze from Wei Wuxian to find Jiang Cheng standing next to him, fist to palm in a salute. Dipping his head, he offers the same greeting.
“Sect Leader Jiang.”
Jiang Cheng lets his hands fall to his sides, before he swallows, throat working to form the words he struggles to express.
It’s a ritual by this point.
Every reunion dinner, Jiang Cheng will approach him. Every reunion dinner, he will ask the same question, but not without great turmoil, as though the heavens would collapse and the pits of hell would crack open if he were to spill out his true feelings.
Lan Wangji does not like Jiang Wanyin.
He respects him, understands his pain and suffering—to rise from the ashes of Lotus Pier and pull together what remained of a broken Sect is no easy feat. But his temper, his pride, his rigid submission to the concepts of face and revenge—allowing such frivolous notions to blind him from the love he has for Wei Wuxian, from the love Wei Wuxian has for him—are transgressions that Lan Wangji cannot find it in his heart to forget.
Forgive, perhaps. But he will never forget.
Even now, Lan Wangji feels his stomach roil with impatience as Jiang Cheng rolls and twists the sparking ring on his finger—a nervous habit that Lan Wangji notices over their years of forced interaction.
Finally, Jiang Cheng speaks through clenched teeth, as if the very act causes him mortal agony.
“How is he?”
Lan Wangji nods. “He is well.”
“Good,” Jiang Cheng says. His gaze drops to the wood beneath their feet—softens, imperceptibly. “Well is… good.”
Lan Wangji holds back a sigh. Even for a man of few words like himself, this is madness. “Every year, he is excited to come,” he adds.
Jiang Cheng’s head jerks up, eyes wide.
“That’s…” Jiang Cheng’s mouth moves, before he turns to look at Wei Wuxian, who’s juggling three sticks of rockets in the air to the cheers of his disciples. “I’m sure he enjoys the attention,” he concludes after a moment, face twisting in a scowl.
Lan Wangji breathes and mentally recites the Gusu Lan rules: do not fight without permission, do not act impulsively, do not use bad words to hurt others.
Then, he tries again.
“Every year, he is excited to see you.”
But the words fail to bring about their intended effect.
Instead, Jiang Cheng whirls around to fix a heated glare on Lan Wangji, his hands curling into fists.
“Why are you telling me this?” he hisses. “You’re never this chatty at our dinners. Did Wei Wuxian put you up to this?”
Lan Wangji flips his sleeves and slides past Jiang Cheng, heading for the circle of disciples with Wei Wuxian laughing in the center. It takes all of his restraint to keep his steps calm and measured, to not turn back and unleash his frustration. This is a matter between sworn brothers, one too prideful and the other too resigned—both crushed, hindered, weighed down by guilt.
(He’s beginning to understand how Jin Ling feels.)
As Lan Wangji approaches, Wei Wuxian looks up at him, face lighting up, soft and bright as the colored rockets in his hands.
Instantly, Lan Wangji’s anger dissipates.
Perhaps this is enough, he thinks, as Wei Wuxian throws himself into Lan Wangji’s arms, heedless of the disciples around them. Perhaps an invitation to a reunion dinner at Lotus Pier every year—being allowed past the wooden gates—is enough.
And if Wei Wuxian is happy, if Wei Wuxian keeps smiling the way he does, then that’s more than enough for Lan Wangji.
Chapter 19: Pokemon AU
Written for WangXianWeek2019.
Lan Wangji tightens his hold on his Alolan Vulpix, picks up the pace of his gait. His pokemon’s white ears prick upwards, one eye cracking open to the shouts behind him.
“Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan! Wait up!”
A lady walking by covers her mouth with a hand. The man at the next building glances back, once, twice, his Nidoking letting out a snort of disapproval.
At this rate, the whole town is going to learn his name.
Teeth clenched, Lan Wangji stops while his Vulpix, now fully awake, sets its paws on his shoulder to see who’s coming.
That accursed Gastly shows up first, fading in with a bout of high-pitched giggles, tongue lolling out of its mouth. It darts around his Vulpix, who huffs and averts its gaze, refusing to meet the Gastly’s eyes.
“Like trainer, like pokemon.”
A boy his age walks up to him, mouth tugged in a brilliant smile. His hair is long, tied up in a high ponytail with the violet ribbon of the Yunmeng Jiang Sect. The short length denotes his status as a beginning trainee, but the confidence in his stance, his swagger, suggests otherwise.
Wei Wuxian, the bane of his existence.
“Stop following me,” Lan Wangji hisses.
“I wasn’t following you.” Wei Wuxian folds his arms behind his head. “This is just a happy coincidence.”
“Bone,” a voice agrees, enthusiastically.
Lan Wangji’s eyes drop down to Wei Wuxian’s boots, where a Cubone is clinging on tight, chubby arms wrapped around the thin ankle. Next to the Cubone stands an Eevee, its gaze fixed on his Vulpix, head tilted in the same way its trainer so often does. (Lan Wangji will never understand why Wei Wuxian allows his pokemon to roam freely, wild and unrestrained.)
“You caught an Eevee,” he notes.
“I did.” Wei Wuxian’s chest puffs out with pride. “Wanna introduce her to your Eevee? I bet they’d get along.”
Lan Wangji shoots him a frosty stare.
He turns and starts walking, but Wei Wuxian follows, his pokemon trailing after him with springy steps.
“Aw, c’mon. The way we keep bumping into each other, we might as well travel together.”
“At least to the next gym? That’s where you’re headed right?”
“No, as in you’re not going to the gym, or no, you don’t want to travel together?”
Lan Wangji whirls around, eyes narrowed, his Vulpix growling irritably on his behalf.
“Get lost,” he snaps.
Unfazed, Wei Wuxian laughs, his Gastly joining in. The sun is in his hair and on his face, lighting up the grey of his eyes, the color in his cheeks.
Lan Wangji flits away.
Hates the way his heart pounds against his chest, the way Wei Wuxian’s smile settles and stirs at something inside him, a small, growing flame.
Chapter 20: Free Day
Written for WangXianWeek2019
Wei Wuxian grumbles and curls tighter around Lan Wangji. Doesn’t want to move despite the sticky heat pooling between them. There’s bits of grass and dirt in his hair, sweat collecting in the small of his back where Lan Wangji’s hand rests, but he’s comfortable where he is, held tight in Lan Wangji’s arms.
Lan Wangji’s voice is soft against his ear, the hand on his back pressing him close.
“We should wash up.”
Wei Wuxian shakes his head and tucks his face into the slender neck. Breathes deep, smelling the distinct scents of sandalwood and sex on Lan Wangji’s skin. It wasn’t long ago that they had tumbled to the ground, hot and breathless, hands and mouths pressing and skating over each other in quiet want. Wei Wuxian’s mouth curves at the memory, the way Lan Wangji lets go, completely and utterly, his brows furrowed and his ears flushing pink.
“We passed a small spring earlier,” Lan Wangji tries again.
Wei Wuxian groans. For someone who’s all for a hard pounding on every surface imaginable, Lan Wangji is strangely obsessed with cleanliness.
“Fine,” he sighs. Feels Lan Wangji press a kiss into his hair, before the warmth pulls away and leaves a flash of cold prickling his skin.
But it doesn’t last long; soon, his outer robes are tucked around him, and Lan Wangji’s arms slide under his knees and around his back, lifting him into the air as if he weighs no more than a feather.
Wei Wuxian rests his head against Lan Wangji’s shoulder. “Best cultivation trip ever,” he murmurs.
“Mn,” Lan Wangji says.
Chapter 21: Birthday
It’s frankly a little embarrassing—the giant feast thrown in his honor, the speeches made about his many virtues, the presents and gifts gathered in the middle of the hall.
Jin Zixuan may have basked in the limelight in his younger days, soaked in the praise and extravagance with relish. But now, older, wiser—and perhaps more self-aware—he can’t stop glancing over at Jiang Yanli, who’s seated next to him and watching the tenth speaker as he expounds, at length, on the great Jin heir’s stamina and vitality.
Jin Zixuan’s cheeks are so hot, he’s fairly sure his face is on fire.
“I didn’t ask for any of this,” he tells Jiang Yanli at one point.
She laughs, and Jin Zixuan’s heart flutters.
“I think it’s lovely how much your Sect adores you.”
Jin Zixuan slips a hand over hers under the table. “Maybe a little too much.”
Eyes wide, Jiang Yanli smiles up at him, sweet as the pastries they’re having for dessert. “Just a little,” she concedes.
The speech ends, and after a round of applause, Jin Guangyao rises from his seat at the other end of the long table.
“What an honor it is to have a seat at this auspicious event,” he says, his quiet voice resonating through the banquet hall. “I believe it is a mark of Jin Zixuan’s character that so many of us in the Lanling Jin Sect have nothing but tender words for him. Indeed, this remarkable man possesses everything I hold dear. Warmth. Kindness. Devotion. Love.”
Turning to Jin Zixuan, Jin Guangyao raises a wine cup in the air, eyes bright and lips curled.
“May he live a long and prosperous life.”
In unison, the rest of the attendees raise their cups.
“To Jin Zixuan!”
As the next speaker rises for his turn—god, he’d forgotten how tedious this can get—Jiang Yanli turns her soft gaze to him.
“Are you happy?” she asks.
Jin Zixuan looks back at her. Pauses as he’s struck, again, by Jiang Yanli’s dark lashes, her golden eyes and glowing smile. She’s beautiful, and he will never fathom why he ever found her plain.
Heart full, he squeezes her hand.
“More than,” he says.
After the conference, Nie Huaisang returns to his room to find Wei Wuxian lounging on the cushions, one leg up on the seat.
A part of him wants to bolt—the younger, frightened part of him—but he slides the door shut and turns to smile at Wei Wuxian, who smiles back, head cocked to one side. It’s odd, seeing the face of Mo Xuanyu glow so bright—the original’s smile was marked with pain, keen and jagged at the edges.
“Wei-xiong,” Nie Huaisang greets as he slips onto the cushions across from Wei Wuxian.
“Huaisa—oh, I’m sorry.” Lips curled, Wei Wuxian drops his leg to the floor and leans forward. “Nie Headshaker, was it?”
Letting out a practiced laugh of nervousness, Nie Huaisang draws out the fan in his inner robes, snaps it open with a flick of his wrist. Something about the movement gives him comfort, especially from the way Wei Wuxian’s eyes are gleaming.
“You sure had us fooled,” Wei Wuxian continues.
Nie Huaisang’s fan flutters. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Wei-xiong.”
“Sure you don’t.” Wei Wuxian pulls back, shrugging. “I’ve always found it strange, you know. Why would anyone willingly follow a Sect Leader who wails and cries and runs to the other Sects like a child? Yet, from what I can tell tonight, all your people have for you is admiration and respect.”
Nie Huaisang feels his cheeks warm. It’s one thing to see the way his men look up at him with wide and full eyes, the way they hang onto his every word and follow his every order. But to hear it from a friend, an outsider, is… pleasant.
“The shadow of my brother looms large, I’d say.”
Wei Wuxian raises an eyebrow, gaze contemplative, as if he’s still trying to figure out Nie Huaisang. Nie Huaisang waits, fan dipping up and down. There are voices outside, the rustle of fabric as his servants sweep about, rushing to accommodate the many guests staying in Qinghe for this year’s conference.
After a moment, Wei Wuxian flops back against the cushions, mouth tilting upward at one corner. “As long as you use it for good,” he concludes.
Nie Huaisang offers his most puzzled expression. “Use what—”
Nie Huaisang whirls around to find Lan Wangji at the door, gaze icy and back straight as a plank. His desire to bolt strengthens tenfold at the look on Lan Wangji’s face.
“Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian singsongs. “I thought I’d catch up with Huaisang for a few minutes.”
Lan Wangji lifts his chin. “More than enough,” he says, with an air of finality.
Laughing, Wei Wuxian springs off the cushions to Lan Wangji’s side. “It’s just Huaisang! Did you think we’d be rolling on the bed in passionate love if you hadn’t dropped by?”
Nie Huaisang shivers when Lan Wangji’s eyes flicker to him, narrowing. He’s not ready to die quite yet. “How, um… how is Xichen-ge?” he asks, hastily.
Lan Wangji considers the question before he gives a single nod. “He is well.”
“But in seclusion,” Wei Wuxian adds. His arm has curled around Lan Wangji’s, their hips pressed together as though they are one. “You should visit sometime.”
Nie Huaisang pauses. “I, I don’t know if…” he trails off, the words sticking in his throat. For once, his hesitation is unrehearsed. (For once, this uneasiness is real.) He had taken advantage of Lan Xichen’s kindness and loyalty, forced the gentle soul to turn against a sworn brother.
Surely, he is the last person Lan Xichen wants to see.
In the silence, Lan Wangji’s gaze on him softens.
“’If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading*,’” he recites.
A cautionary proverb.
Nie Huaisang closes his fist around the tail end of his fan, hard wood digging into his palm. Barely notices when Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji take their leave, Lan Wangji tugging Wei Wuxian away by the wrist, Wei Wuxian glancing back over his shoulder.
It’s true that his brother had expressed his distaste—his hatred—for Jin Guangyao’s elaborate tricks and conniving ways.
But he’s different.
He did what was necessary.
Used it for good, as Wei Wuxian said.
Used it for his brother, really, who would have let out a hearty laugh if he were alive. Shoved Nie Huaisang in the shoulder, maybe clapped him on the back for a job well done.
Yes, Nie Mingjue would have approved.
Nie Huaisang’s eyes burn, hot and wet.
*a quote by Lao Zi.
Chapter 23: Wants and desires
For Ammy's birthday!
Obediently, Lan Wangji opens his mouth before a lotus seed is popped in, followed by a press of soft lips. He crunches down on the seed, gaze soft as Wei Wuxian pulls back to smile at him, bright and beautiful.
It’s a simple arrangement—a mat under the stars, with a basket of misshapen pork dumplings and a bowl of lotus seeds. All that, and Wei Wuxian, who surprised Lan Wangji with a picnic, who not only made the dumplings but cleaned up the mess after.
Wei Wuxian, who sits soft and warm on Lan Wangji’s lap, still sporting a streak of flour high across his cheekbone.
Without thought, Lan Wangji reaches out.
Wei Wuxian’s cheek is smooth against the pad of his fingers, his breath a soft huff against Lan Wangji’s palm.
Lan Wangji holds back his laugh when Wei Wuxian stares up at him, eyes wide and full, cheeks flushed pink. It’s not often that he renders Wei Wuxian speechless, and he treasures these moments, especially when Wei Wuxian finds that little piece of himself that actually has the capacity to feel abashed.
Especially when Wei Wuxian leans in, one hand curving around the back of Lan Wangji’s neck.
“I think,” he whispers, mouth inches from Lan Wangji’s, “You missed a spot.”
It doesn’t make sense.
But Lan Wangji indulges Wei Wuxian. Captures Wei Wuxian’s lips with his, licking in for a taste of pork and lotus seeds.
“Wow,” Wei Wuxian laughs, suddenly, into the kiss. “I really overcooked the meat, didn’t I?”
Lan Wangji sighs, his hands tightening their grip on Wei Wuxian’s waist.
“Less talk,” he says.
Wei Wuxian’s lashes dip low, and he slides the palm of his hands across the wings of Lan Wangji’s shoulder blades, eyes dark and molten.
“Whatever the birthday boy wants.”
Their next kiss is slow and languid, like the pull of a tide. They have all the time in the world, just the two of them, and Lan Wangji feels his heart swell as he nips at Wei Wuxian’s bottom lip, hears Wei Wuxian’s breath hitch. He wants more—wants to push Wei Wuxian to the mat and feel his husband shake apart beneath him—but they’re in public, not too far outside the Cloud Recesses.
“Home,” Lan Wangji says, voice gone low and rough.
His lips twitch when Wei Wuxian blinks at him, slowly, slightly dazed. “What?”
“I want to go home.”
“Oh.” Wei Wuxian’s smile glows under the light of the moon. “Then let’s go home.”
They gather everything and head back to the Jingshi. Spend the rest of the night tangled together, robes askew, rocking and rolling into each other until Wei Wuxian is arching up against the sheets, skin covered with dark marks the shape of Lan Wangji’s mouth.
It’s more than anything Lan Wangji ever wanted.
And when he holds Wei Wuxian in his arms later, watching Wei Wuxian’s sleep, he lets the joy flood through him. Lets himself believe that this will last, forever, until the end of time.
Chapter 24: Breaktime
Jin Ling leaps off Sui Hwa, sprints past the mountainside of Gusu Lan rules and straight to the Orchid classroom. His heart is pounding, his chest tight, his mind a whirlwind of thoughts.
Wei Wuxian’s letter was short: Come to the Cloud Recesses.
Wei Wuxian’s letters are never short. Long and rambling and entirely devoid of purpose or actual content, but never short.
Something is wrong.
Jin Ling had dropped everything. Literally, flung the paperwork to the ground, to the shriek of a Jin disciple who handed it to him. Ran out into the open air where Sui Hwa whipped out of its sheath without pause, as if sensing its master’s urgency.
In the Orchid classroom, junior disciples have gathered. The majority of them are Lan disciples, but there’s representation from the smaller sects, including Ouyang Zizhen. Jin Ling shoves through the crowd to the front, where Lan Sizhui and Lan Jingyi are seated with perfect posture—near-perfect, for Lan Jingyi. Their faces are grim, Lan Sizhui’s lined and pale with worry.
Wei Wuxian is nowhere to be seen.
“What’s going on, what happened?” Jin Ling demands.
“No idea, we were just told to gather here for an urgent discussion,” Lan Jingyi says, frowning. “Even Sizhui doesn’t know, and Senior Wei tells him everything.”
Jin Ling’s heart drops like a rock. Is Wei Wuxian ill? Has he been struck with some incurable illness? Is he dying?
And why, Jin Ling thinks, did the idiot not invite his uncle?
“Ah, you’re all here!”
Wei Wuxian sweeps into the classroom, Lan Wangji by his side. He’s the picture of health, with his wide eyes, rosy cheeks, and sun-bright smile. A low buzz of murmurings rises from the juniors, before they’re instantly silenced by Lan Wangji’s stare.
“What’s the emergency?” Lan Jingyi calls out.
“I’m glad you asked, Jingyi.” Wei Wuxian’s face turns solemn as he clasps his hands together, back straight. “We’re gathered here today…”
As one, the juniors lean forward.
“…to find a mate for Little Apple.”
A pause, before Jin Ling jolts to his feet.
“A-Ling,” Wei Wuxian says, brightly. “Where are you going?”
Jin Ling whirls around. “Anywhere other than this ridiculous charade!”
“I think it’s sweet,” Ouyang Zizhen pipes up, while Lan Jingyi slaps a palm to his forehead.
“Good lad.” Wei Wuxian turns to Lan Wangji, as Lan Sizhui curls his fingers around Jin Ling’s wrist and tugs him back down. (At least some color has returned to Lan Sizhui’s face.) “Lan Zhan, if you will.”
Nodding, Lan Wangji slips a hand into his robes to draw out a scroll, which he snaps open with a flick of his wrist. It drops down, revealing a map of Gusu and the surrounding villages. On the surface of the map are a smattering of crosses in black ink and a large dark stain in the corner.
“Little Apple is looking lonely these days,” Wei Wuxian begins.
Jin Ling would have bolted by now, if not for Lan Sizhui’s firm grip on his wrist.
“He looks at the rabbits and sighs like he wishes he had companions, the way they do. A partner he can spend time with and cherish for the rest of his donkey days. Why, he’s been so irritable that just yesterday, he almost bit my finger off!”
“He bites you every day,” Lan Jingyi points out.
Wei Wuxian points to the crosses, ignoring the remark entirely.
“The X marks possible farms that might own donkeys. I think the best thing we can do here is divide and conquer: split into pairs or threes to check out each farm and report back on whether there’s an attractive female candidate for Little Apple.”
“Or male,” Lan Wangji adds.
Wei Wuxian smiles at Lan Wangji as if he hung the moon.
All the juniors but Ouyang Zizhen squirm in discomfort; that smile often leads to certain actions that are best performed behind closed doors.
After a moment, Lan Sizhui raises a hand. “Senior Wei, Hanguang-Jun. Jingyi, Jin Ling, and I will form one team.”
“Excellent,” Wei Wuxian chirps, just as Jin Ling narrows his eyes at Lan Sizhui.
“This is a fucking waste of time,” he says, in a low hiss. Around him, the rest of the disciples are calling out their teams. “I have a lot of Sect shit to do back at Golden Koi Tower—”
“Lighten up, will you?” Lan Jingyi snorts. “When was the last time you stepped out of that tower after they started your Sect Leader training? Isn’t this a chance for you to take a break from ‘Sect shit’? Plus, you can blame it all on Senior Wei, and everyone’d believe you.”
Lan Sizhui gazes back at Jin Ling, eyes soft. “Jingyi’s right. We haven’t seen you in ages.”
Jin Ling swallows. It has been a while since he breathed fresh air, much less go on a night hunt with his friends. The old prudes at the Lanling Jin Sect has had him read dusty old manuals about the history of the sect every damn day. Sign papers upon papers until his wrist and fingers cramp and he loses all comprehension of what he’s signing for.
Wei Wuxian’s head turns and their eyes lock.
And then, Wei Wuxian winks.
Jin Ling’s breath catches. What had he written in his last letter to Wei Wuxian? That he was bored and dying and please send help?
The thought sends a flood of warmth through Jin Ling’s chest.
“Team assignments,” Lan Wangji says, his quiet voice slicing through the din and bringing it to immediate silence. “Lan Sizhui’s team, Yangyi village. Lan Zhigao’s team…”
“Yangyi village?” Lan Jingyi protests. “The old farmer there is mean and loud!”
Jin Ling lets out a laugh, Lan Sizhui’s hand still warm on his wrist.
Maybe this isn’t so ridiculous after all.
Chapter 25: Summer
Lan Sizhui finds them in a field of lavenders, the quiet sounds of a guqindrifting lazily in the air with the warm summer breeze.
Immortality can turn monotonous, dull even, but his adopted parents manage to find joy, together, in the nooks and crannies of life. Even now, Lan Wangji’s face is soft and pleased, fingers strumming lightly at silk strings as Wei Wuxian dozes against him, head resting on his shoulder.
That image alone would have tugged Lan Sizhui’s lips into a smile, but it’s the flower crown sitting on Lan Wangji’s head that has him putting a hand to his mouth, barely restraining a laugh that threatens to escape.
It’s a valiant attempt, no doubt, but there are twigs sticking out of the crumpled mess of flowers and leaves, the diameter so impossibly small that it just about circles the headpiece atop Lan Wangji’s dark hair.
Yet, Lan Wangji nods with pride, when Lan Sizhui asks if Wei Wuxian had made it for him.
As Lan Sizhui settles down next to him, Lan Wangji reaches into his robes to pull out a second, equally crushed, ring of flowers.
“This is yours,” he says, softly.
Lan Sizhui smiles, eyes flicking over to Wei Wuxian, who mumbles and presses closer to Lan Wangji in sleep. Wordless, he sets the flower crown over his own headpiece, before he gently unwraps the cloth around his guqin and sits it next to Lan Wangji’s.
Lan Wangji nods again. Together, their fingers move in tandem, song soaring across the lavenders, warm and full of heart.
It’s a perfect summer.
Chapter 26: Anniversary
The assignment is simple: exorcise the spirit that haunts one of the local villages.
The old village head spares no details, regaling them with tales of a silvery wisp that flickers in and out of sight, too quick to be caught; of deep moans that ebb and flow in the air, the sound lingering until the crack of dawn. Some say it’s a woman, wronged in her past life and unable to move on. Others believe it’s a man, murdered and seeking revenge.
Whatever it is, the villagers are terrified, and they want it gone.
So Wei Wuxian roams the village with Lan Wangji after sundown, eyes peeled for this elusive ghost. He doesn’t foresee a fight; chances are, it’s harmless—probably lost—or someone would have been attacked by now.
In the dark, the village is quiet, tranquil. The only light comes from the lantern in Lan Wangji’s hand, bright and golden. It illuminates the side of Lan Wangji’s face, and Wei Wuxian can’t look away from the curl of his eyelashes and the warm glow of his eyes.
“This is one way to spend our anniversary,” Wei Wuxian hums.
Lan Wangji’s lips tilt upward at corners. “Later,” he says, his low voice making Wei Wuxian’s pulse jump. Makes him remember the last time Lan Wangji held him down, the last time that mouth was tight around his cock.
“Let’s find this ghost,” Wei Wuxian declares loudly.
Lan Wangji laughs, a soft huff of breath.
That’s when the weeping starts.
Soft at first, like the whimpers of a wounded child, Wei Wuxian feels the hair rise on the back of his neck as the sound slowly intensifies. Sweeps through the village and winds itself around his ears, like some sort of terrible lullaby. There’s pain in it, so much pain, brimming with rage and grief and loneliness.
It doesn’t take long to track down the source.
At the end of a winding path, Lan Wangji lifts the lantern, and the light falls over a lone woman curled up beneath a tree. Her shoulders are shaking, her eyes wrenched shut, globs of tears rolling down the pale cheeks. Clad in a simple garb, the edge of her figure blurs and trembles, shimmering silver in the darkness.
When she looks up, dark hair falling over her face, Wei Wuxian hears the catch in Lan Wangji’s breath, sees the golden eyes widen.
“Someone you know?” he asks.
But Lan Wangji is already drifting forward, drawn like a moth to the flame. He stops before the spirit, whose crying has ceased at the sight of Lan Wangji, her gaze flicking from him to Wei Wuxian, and back to Lan Wangji again. Then, rising to her feet, she frames the curve of Lan Wangji’s cheek with a delicate hand, presses her forehead against his. And for a fleeting moment, Lan Wangji returns the gesture, touching his fingers to hers.
Wei Wuxian frowns, unsure of how to take the intimate scene unfolding before him. Lan Wangji may be the silent sort, but he’s not one to keep secrets. Especially not from him.
“Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian tries again.
“We met once,” Lan Wangji says then, and Wei Wuxian almost lets out a sigh of relief. “Many years ago.”
Lantern set down, there’s a rustle of fabric as Lan Wangji uncovers his guqin.
Silent and still, the woman watches Lan Wangji sink down, resting the instrument carefully in front of him. Wei Wuxian joins him, a shiver running up his spine when the spirit’s eyes fall on him, bright with sadness. As if she knows him, somehow.
“How did the two of you meet?” he murmurs.
“In the mountains,” Lan Wangji says. “She is a lost soul, doomed to roam the earth until she dissipates.”
Wei Wuxian’s jaw goes tight. Only one deed can turn a person into a lost soul.
“She killed herself.”
“Yes.” Lan Wangji’s face hardens. “Drove a knife through her own heart when her in-laws forced her to remarry, following her husband’s death in the Sunshot Campaign.”
Despite the teachings of human philosophers about the necessity of suicide in certain contexts, the gods have an entirely different mindset. To take one’s own life is to reject the mandate of heaven, and the gods don’t take well to such insubordination. As punishment, these tortured souls are removed from the cycle of reincarnation so they will never again be reborn.
A fate worse than death.
Wei Wuxian cocks his head to one side; one question still remains. “What were you doing in the mountains?”
Lan Wangji hesitates. “Searching.”
Lan Wangji’s throat bobs, and Wei Wuxian leans in, breath held. In their time together, Lan Wangji has only lost his god-level composure a total of four times. Once, after that disastrous bath incident, then again, when Wei Wuxian had a deadly string wrapped around his neck. The third happened on the morning of their official wedding day, and the fourth, well.
This is the fourth.
They both startle at the sound of strings being plucked, three low notes filling the air around them.
The ghost straightens, her gaze fixed on Lan Wangji.
She knows how this works, Wei Wuxian realizes. “What did she say?”
Again, Lan Wangji pauses, before he looks up at Wei Wuxian through his lashes.
“You found him.”
Wei Wuxian barely restrains the urge to ram his head against the nearest tree.
Idiot, idiot, idiot!
Who else would Lan Wangji be searching for, deep in nature where spirits reside?
They haven’t talked about it, how Lan Wangji spent those thirteen years. Lan Wangji doesn’t broach it; Wei Wuxian doesn’t ask. There have been hints, little guesses that Wei Wuxian made over the years, like the growing herd of rabbits in the fields, the jars of Emperor’s Smile hidden beneath the floorboards, the reputation of “being where the chaos is.”
It seemed as though Lan Wangji was simply honoring his memories of Wei Wuxian, a sweet gesture as it is. But if Wei Wuxian were to lose Lan Wangji, he wouldn’t have sat on his heels, gathering and wallowing in memories. No, he would have taken action. Torn the heavens apart to find his husband, dead or alive—and Lan Wangji has more tenacity than him and Lil’ Apple combined.
Of course, Lan Wangji searched for him. Of course, Lan Wangji used Inquiry.
And Wei Wuxian can envision it all too easily, the long fingers sliding along silk strings, the frantic questioning of every spirit, every ghoul, every corpse he encounters. Playing and playing until his skin tears and his blood splatters. Maybe not even then.
Having lost her husband, this spirit must have connected with Lan Wangji. Listened to his pain and shared hers in exchange.
Wei Wuxian swallows the lump in his throat.
First, the assignment at hand.
Then, maybe, it’s time they talk.
“Ask her why she’s here,” Wei Wuxian suggests to Lan Wangji, who dutifully translates the question, fingers flicking over the guqin.
The ghost bends over, strums a long, dissonant melody in response.
“She stopped by this village because this was where she lived with her husband.” Lan Wangji’s eyes shift to Wei Wuxian, gleaming in the light of the lantern. “She is sorry for the trouble and will leave when the sun rises.”
Wei Wuxian’s brows needle together. How can they possibly drive out a lost soul seeking refuge?
“After so many years, she must not have long in this world. We can work something out with the villagers if she wants to stay.”
Lan Wangji delivers the message.
Shaking her head, the ghost reaches out again, and notes ring out from the guqin, quiet and sorrowful.
Lan Wangji exhales. “She wishes to resume her search for her love so she may spend her remaining days with him.”
“You mean her husband’s reincarnation?” Wei Wuxian stares at the ghost. “He won’t remember her. He won’t remember a thing about their life together.”
Her reply is quicker than the last as she offers her first smile at Wei Wuxian, sadness tinged at the corners. Then, head dipping in a bow, she fades out of sight, leaving a wisp of silver in her place.
“What did she say?” Wei Wuxian asks.
Lan Wangji lays a hand over the strings, silencing the final quiver of sound.
Wei Wuxian looks up at the sharp jawline, the high cheekbones. The soft curl of pink lips, reserved just for him. They’re returning to the Cloud Recesses on Bichen, Wei Wuxian carried bridal style in Lan Wangji’s arms—a luxury he’s never giving up, even after his core has been fully cultivated.
“Did you meet many like her, in your search for me?”
Lan Wangji’s heart quickens against Wei Wuxian. “Not many,” he says after a moment. “But enough.”
Wei Wuxian nods, slowly. Only lost souls, or those with lingering business, would have remained on this earth. Many of them must have led tragic lives, and an accumulation of such raw pain would surely have an effect on one who is already grieving.
Wei Wuxian’s chest aches.
“What if you never found me?” he mumbles. “What if Mo Xuanyu never summoned me, or if I had somehow reincarnated…” He trails off when Lan Wangji looks down at him, gold eyes fierce and piercing.
“I would look for you, until the end of my days.”
Wei Wuxian’s heart skips. His instinct is to apologize. For his arrogance, the way they parted. For leaving Lan Wangji alone all those years. But between them, there is no need for ‘thank you’ and ‘sorry’. No need to dredge up unwanted hypotheticals, either.
“Will you tell me about it?” he says instead. “The spirits you met, the stories you traded?”
Lan Wangji’s tone is chiding. “Tonight is our anniversary.”
“After sex,” Wei Wuxian says, without missing a beat. “Always after.”
Lan Wangji considers it. Then, with a huff, “All right.”
Wei Wuxian chuckles, presses a kiss to Lan Wangji’s jaw. Thirteen years of Lan Wangji’s life, the better part of it spent on an endless, fruitless search for a man who hardly deserved his attention, much less his complete and utter devotion.
Lan Wangji’s smile glows on his face, brighter and warmer than the golden hues of the sunrise behind them.
The explosion is deafening.
Lan Wangji’s shoulder cracks against stone, the ringing in his ears drowned out by his own shout, his own heartbeat. He should have noticed the explosives on the madman. Should have been the one to fling Wei Wuxian to safety, not the other way around.
The air smells acrid, burning, black smoke filling his lungs. Lan Wangji wants to call for Wei Wuxian, beg him to answer, but he chokes on the words, throat gone so tight he can hardly breathe.
Lan Wangji drags himself up, arms shaking. The temple looks like something out of a warzone, reduced to charred timber, but Lan Wangji’s vision tunnels in on a figure in familiar black robes, curled up on the path leading to the temple, dark hair spilling across stone and grass.
Wei Wuxian is hurt. Wei Wuxian isn’t moving.
Lan Wangji can’t see straight.
He doesn’t recall how he makes it to Wei Wuxian, but he does, and he’s gathering Wei Wuxian into his arms, eyes and fingers searching for burns, wounds, anything that will need attention. His left arm is twisted at an odd angle and there’s glass in him—all over him—tiny fragments ripping up through his robes. He must have been halfway out the door when the force of the explosion shattered the hanging lanterns and sent him flying.
The small voice comes out in a burble of ashes and blood.
Lan Wangji’s breath rattles as he inhales. “Don’t talk.” He holds Wei Wuxian as close as he dares, runs his fingers through the matted hair. “I’m here.”
Wei Wuxian lets out a breathy chuckle, eyes half-lidded and unfocused. “Can’t hear a damn thing. Explosion… blew out my eardrums.”
Lan Wangji swallows, and nods. Rises to his feet with Wei Wuxian cradled against his chest, struck, always, by how weightless his husband is. Like he could drift away from Lan Wangji at any moment.
Wei Wuxian shifts as Bichen carries them into the sky.
“Your clothes,” he croaks. “They’re filthy.”
Lan Wangji shakes his head. “None of that matters.”
Wei Wuxian blinks up at him, brows furrowed, and it takes a moment for Lan Wangji to remember that Wei Wuxian can’t hear him.
So, instead, he leans down. Presses his lips to Wei Wuxian’s bloodied mouth. It’s soft and sweet, the kiss, and Lan Wangji sighs when Wei Wuxian eases into it, fingers rising to tangle in his hair. Reminding him that Wei Wuxian is warm, and breathing, and alive.
“I’m okay,” Wei Wuxian murmurs against his mouth. “I’m okay.”
And Lan Wangji responds by pulling him closer, delving deep. Pours his relief into the kiss until Wei Wuxian laughs, wetly, and pulls away.
It’s their first failed investigation.
But Wei Wuxian is with him, by his side, and that’s all Lan Wangji has ever needed.
It’s not a conversation Lan Zhan wants to hear.
But he hears it nonetheless: Lingjiao sniggering with a group of lackeys on the next table about his supposed relationship with Wei Ying. Words like “nasty” and “disgusting” and “abnormal” are tossed in, followed by high-pitched giggles.
Lan Zhan grits its teeth. Stupid Wei Ying. Loud, obnoxious, frustratingly attractive Wei Ying. They met at the martial arts opening ceremony for new students, and the fool hasn’t stopped harassing him since. It’s not as if they’re friends, or that Lan Zhan has any desire to be friends. And it’s not Lan Zhan’s fault if he can’t pull his eyes away when Wei Ying walks around sloppily dressed in his uniform, the open collar exposing a fine line of collarbones. It’s certainly not Lan Zhan’s fault that Wei Ying drinks water the way he does after a few rounds of sparring—head tilted back, the long column of his throat working.
No, it’s Wei Ying’s fault that he’s now a topic of gossip among Lingjiao and her sycophants. It’s also Wei Ying’s fault that he’s sitting in a bar, drunk, while Wei Ying’s in the john or whatever.
But it’s Lingjiao’s ugly words that make Lan Zhan’s eyes burn, his stomach heat up and twist. Who is she to be prejudiced, to judge what’s normal or not normal? Her relationship with Wen Chao is conditional at best, dysfunctional at worst, and certainly not a normal one.
Ignorant, is what it is. Ignorant and unacceptable.
A thought flits through Lan Zhan’s mind. Clings to him and grows, fueled by alcohol and righteous anger. It’s the perfect way to spite Lingjiao and all those who think like her.
“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying calls, right on cue. Lingjiao looks over as Wei Ying walks up to him, face lighting up. “Sorry, sorry, would you believe there’s a line to the men's—mmf!?”
Lan Zhan has slammed his mouth onto Wei Ying’s, shoving him hard against the counter. The kiss is aggressive, with hints of teeth and tongue. Wei Ying is surprised at first, eyes wide, hands hovering in the air. Lan Zhan expects him to fight back. Wants him to, in a way. Instead, as Lan Zhan kisses Wei Ying without grace or poise, fingers curling into the roots of his hair, chest flush against his, Wei Ying starts to relax. Parts his lips and lets Lan Zhan in, palms flattening against Lan Zhan’s back.
“My eyes,” Lingjiao shrieks above the bar crowd’s raucous cheering.
Lan Zhan shivers; from triumph or joy, he can’t tell. But it’s everything he’s ever dreamed of. More than, really, the way Wei Ying’s lips fit so perfectly against his. Lan Zhan doesn’t know why he was fighting this before his brilliant idea. He would have done it sooner if he’d known how good it feels, how thrilling it is that he is the one who pulls away, Wei Ying’s mouth chasing his for one last kiss.
There’s a pause then, the din of the bar dimming to a dull hum. A long pause, Wei Ying looking up at him, slightly dazed, as Lan Zhan contemplates kissing him again.
Because that’ll show Lingjiao. Show the world that it’s okay, and that he is so done in by Wei Ying and his stupidly beautiful smile.
“So,” says Wei Ying, breathless. He’s bracing himself against the counter, as if about to fall, hair mussed and collar gone askew. “Do I get an explanation, or is this just the way we’re greeting each other from now on?”
Lan Zhan snorts, and tells him.
“Right,” Wei Ying says. His eyes dart to the empty glass on the bar counter, before flicking back to Lan Zhan. “You don’t hold your drinks well, do you?”
“Drink,” Lan Zhan corrects him. “Only one.”
“I don’t think that makes it any better,” Wei Ying laughs, a sound that used to be so annoying but has turned musical tonight, like soft bells chiming in the distance. “All that for Lingjiao’s benefit, huh.” He runs a hand through his hair, the corners of his bitten lips tugging into a grin. “You sure showed her.”
Lan Zhan’s heart skips.
“More,” he says.
“More what?” Wei Ying says, head cocked.
“More kisses,” Lan Zhan says.
“Oh,” Wei Ying breathes. “I don’t know, Lan Zhan, you’re pretty drunk…”
“More,” Lan Zhan insists, hands grasping Wei Ying’s waist.
Wei Ying hesitates, before he slides his hands around Lan Zhan’s neck. “Fine,” he whispers, mouth to Lan Zhan’s pink-tipped ear. “But don’t blame me when you’re sober tomorrow."
The next morning, Lan Zhan blames Wei Ying. Loud, obnoxious, frustratingly attractive Wei Ying.
But he doesn’t say no when Wei Ying asks him out again.