Work Header

stop. rewind. repeat.

Chapter Text

Lan Wangji is so beautiful when he sleeps.

Wei Wuxian rarely gets to wake up before his husband, but somehow this morning he’d managed it. The cold dawn light filters through the window, hitting the pale jade of his husband’s face as he sleeps. A little beam of light causes Lan Wangji to furrow his brows, and Wei Wuxian chuckles at the sight.

He wishes he could pluck this moment out of time and cast it into amber. Lan Wangji’s cultivation keeps him youthful, but even then in his waking hours the worries of the cultivation world shadow his brows. In sleep, his face has none of that. Wei Wuxian wishes it could always be this way.

For a moment, he’s content just to watch the dust motes dancing through the air towards them, savouring the warmth of his husband’s body. But then, as always, he bores of just watching, and reaches out to touch Lan Wangji’s face.

Lan Wangji subconsciously leans into his hand. Wei Wuxian’s heart flutters in response at that.

Slowly, he strokes his hand across Lan Wangji’s cheek, walks his fingers into Lan Wangji’s hair. His husband’s eyes flutter, before he hums and shifts so that his arms pin Wei Wuxian in closer. Not to be captured, Wei Wuxian squirms his arms free before resuming his gentle stroking of his husband’s face.

“Mm,” says Lan Wangji again, as Wei Wuxian presses their foreheads together, peppers soft pecks down the bridge of his nose. Chuckling to himself, Wei Wuxian caresses a thumb along Lan Wangji’s cheekbone, before kissing his husband good morning.

Lan Wangji cracks an eye open just as their lips part, the faintest hint of a smile teasing at the corners of his mouth. “Wei Ying,” he murmurs, chasing Wei Wuxian’s lips for another kiss, and another, and another.

Wei Wuxian laughs. “Good morning to you, too,” he says, and lets the words linger on Lan Wangji’s lips.

Chapter Text

There are a few things Lan Huan knows to be true: 

  1. Mama can never leave her rooms, 
  2. He and Lan Zhan can never enter without the express permission of Uncle, and
  3. The summertime humidity in Gusu always comes before a big thunderstorm.

Lan Huan is a big boy, which means he doesn’t get scared of thunderstorms anymore, but his brother still does. For all of his remarkable toddler stoicness — for a long while the elders had worried that Lan Zhan had been born mute, he never even seemed to cry as a baby — Lan Zhan still comes burrowing into Lan Huan’s bed during thunderstorms, his blanket flying behind him like a cloak. 

Tonight, the storm rages on, and Lan Zhan is inconsolable even with his gege nearby, trying to soothe him as best as he knows. “I want Mama,” he keeps saying, even as Lan Huan desperately hugs him tight and runs his hand down his brother’s back like he remembers his mother doing. “Where is Mama? I want Mama.”

“We have to ask Uncle if we want to see Mama,” says Lan Huan. And Uncle would not say yes, not at this hour, not when they’d already seen her earlier this month. He rocks Lan Zhan, making the same soft cooing noises Mama would do whenever they came to her with grievances about the strictness of Uncle and the rest of the family. Mama would understand best, out of everyone else. Mama is facing the ultimate punishment for something that Uncle says they’re both too young to understand. 

“But I want to see Mama now,” insists Lan Zhan, in between his sobs. “I’m scared. I want Mama.”

“Dada is here,” Lan Huan mumbles helplessly.

Lan Zhan gives up on speech and breaks into uncontrollable screaming. Lan Huan tries to hush him, but nothing seems to placate the toddler, not anymore. A sudden flash of lighting startles both of them, and Lan Huan sighs, steeling himself for the punishment that would inevitably result from his sudden idea.

“If you be quiet, I will take you to Mama.”

Lan Zhan immediately tries to stifle even his hiccuping sobs. It doesn’t work. His face is red and blotchy, his eyes shiny with tears. It’s so horribly out of place on him, though Lan Huan knows most children regularly look like that. 

(His brother had never been ‘most children’, though. Both of them were supposed to be exceptional. Future jades of the family. They could never be ‘most children’ like the scrappy kids in Caiyi swimming in the canals. Even at his young age, Lan Huan knows his destiny is set in stone, like the rules on the mountainside.)

He throws a blanket over his brother just to help stifle his sobs. “Okay, good enough,” he declares, taking Lan Zhan by the hand. His brother looks like the doodle of a ghost Lan Huan had once seen in the margins of an older boy’s notes. 

Together, they tiptoe out of their bedroom, through the silent rain-spattered halls of the Cloud Recesses, all the way to the small cabin where their mother is kept. There are guards outside, their cultivation somehow keeping the rain from getting them wet. They move to block the door, but one look at Lan Zhan’s pitiful stare from under his blanket melts their hearts, and they silently slide back to let them through. 

The cabin, too, is dark and silent. Mama is a sleeping lump in her bed when they enter, obviously not expecting a visit at this hour from her children. She mumbles incoherently when Lan Huan pokes her, but quickly wakes up when Lan Zhan calls for her. 

“Zhanzhan? What are you —” she breaks off, looking at Lan Huan. “You two can’t be here.”

“I want Mama,” says Lan Zhan, pointedly crawling onto the bed and into her lap, his sopping blanket discarded on the floor. Mama’s expression crumbles; she buries her nose in Lan Zhan’s hair, before looking back at Lan Huan with concern.

“You aren’t worried Uncle will punish you?” she asks.

“Didi needed you,” he replies simply. “I do not care what Uncle will do.”

The faintest hint of a smile tugs at Mama’s lips, as she presses kisses to Lan Zhan’s hair. “Brave boy,” she remarks, before extending an arm to tug him closer, too. “Stay with me a little longer, then.” 

Lan Huan nods. The perfumed oils she uses in her hair tickle sweetly at his nose. Her skin is still soft, but the shadows under her eyes are unmistakable. He’d always gotten the image of a seagull in a birdcage whenever he visits — his mother was not meant for this captivity, and each day of her imprisonment withers at her golden core. 

Lan Zhan’s eyes have closed; the thunderstorm has calmed. Mama begins to hum a lullabye, rocking them both in her arms to the tempo of the tune. Lan Huan, too, feels sleep creeping in on him like waves upon the beach. 

“Sleep, my boys,” Mama whispers, and Lan Huan does, clinging to his mama and his brother as he sinks into dreams.

Chapter Text

Jiang Yanli first meets Jin Zixuan at eight. 

Summer has enveloped Koi Tower in a blanket of golden sunshine. The birds are singing, the cicadas are humming, the dragonflies are skimming along the lake where their little boat has docked. Jiang Yanli clambers out of the boat, careful not to splash water onto her dress, and stares down at the petulant golden-clad six-year-old boy glowering up at her. 

“Well?” Mother asks. Jiang Yanli wants to make a face, but one look from her mother makes her school her lips into a smile. Mother nudges her forward on the dock again, so encouraging it’s basically insistent. At the other end, Madam Jin looks pointedly at her son. 

Jin Zixuan takes her hand, and, with an obviously pained expression on his face, kisses it. “So happy you could come,” he intones.

Jiang Yanli’s own smile grows pained, as she realises that this is but the first day of the rest of her summer. “So happy to be here,” she replies shortly. 

“Already getting along so well,” sighs Madam Jin.  Jiang Yanli makes a throat-slitting gesture at Jin Zixuan behind her back. To his credit, he looks taken aback.

This is not her idea of fun, but she’ll have to make do.

“I’m not going,” says Jiang Yanli at ten, folding her arms at dinner the night before. “The boats to Lanling are too bumpy and the horses even worse!”

“Out of the question,” says Mother, Zidian crackling ominously alongside her temper. She would never use it on her daughter, but heavens know they’ve had some close calls. “We cannot keep the Jins waiting.”

“He doesn’t want to see me,” says Jiang Yanli, “and I don’t want to see him.”

“This has been arranged a long time ago,” Mother insists. She sends a glance to Father, as if asking him to back her up. He merely makes a noncommittal ‘nn’ from over his cup of wine. 

“But I’ll miss A-Cheng and A-Ying,” insists Jiang Yanli, looking over at where her brothers are gleefully trading lotus seed pods. “And I have to take care of them too, you know.”

“That’s why we have servants,” Mother snaps. “They can take care of A-Cheng and A-Ying without you.”

Maybe that’s why you don’t want to listen to me, Jiang Yanli doesn’t say, though her face gets red with the words she’s trying to bottle in. You left me to the servants too, when I was little!

In the end, she’s practically carried to Lanling by the guards, boxed into a palanquin by her exasperated mother. “Maybe it won’t be so bumpy for you now,” she says as she draws the curtains. The guards hoist the palanquin onto their shoulders with a grunt. It’s the height of luxury to anyone else in the world, but as far as Jiang Yanli is concerned, it’s a prison forcing her onwards to destiny.

In Lanling, Jin Zixuan barely kisses her hand this year. His cousin Jin Zixun is here this year as well, and between the two of them life in Koi Towers turns into a living hell. Jiang Yanli lives each night in fear of finding a carp in her bed, each morning in fear of finding a worm in her teacup. 

After a while, she snaps, and tackles them both down the steps of Koi Tower, resulting in numerous scrapes, cuts, and broken bones.

The ensuing lecture from Mother is not her idea of fun, but at least she gets to go home early.

“Why does A-Li have to go to Lanling every summer?” A-Ying asks, his little thief-hands swiping a piece of mantou from her plate before she can protest.

Jiang Yanli is now thirteen, and her little adoptive brother is one of the brightest lights of her life. She looks up from where she’s been experimenting with the soup, a sad smile on her face as she says, “Your shijie has to visit Lanling every summer because of an arrangement with a boy in the Jin family.”

A-Ying frowns. “What’s an arrangement?”

“Well, in shijie’s case, it’s because she has to marry that boy someday.” The words taste bitter, like the soup. She must have put too much of that melon. 

“Why?” asks A-Ying.

“Because Mother is friends with the boy’s mama, and they made the arrangement.”

“But why?” asks A-Ying.

Jiang Yanli laughs. “Honestly, I don’t know.” 

That summer, armed with a newfound knowledge of how to deal with younger boys, Jiang Yanli swans into Koi Tower and takes none of Jin Zixuan’s nonsense. He may call her names and look down at her, but whenever they play weiqi he keeps losing spectacularly. 

“Maiden Jiang has a higher score,” announces the tutor refereeing what must be their sixteenth game. Jin Zixuan slams a fist onto the board, disrupting the stones. Jiang Yanli smiles serenely across the table from him. 

“You’re a very reckless player,” she remarks. “Maybe you should be more careful.”

“I don’t need your opinion,” sniffs Jin Zixuan. Jiang Yanli shrugs. 

“Suit yourself,” she says, already starting to find some amusement in seeing him so humbled.

“This is not my idea of fun,” he retorts. She only smiles wider.

“I can’t believe we’re all going to Lanling this summer,” A-Ying says, with an arm around A-Cheng’s shoulders as they hop out of the ferryboat. Jiang Yanli rolls her eyes as she follows behind, mindful of her mother’s hawk-like glare. 

She’s sixteen now, and every summer has passed much the same — spend the summer at Koi Towers, putting up with the immature buffonery and disdain from Jin Zixuan. Recently he’s been turning his mind more and more towards cultivation, his glares frosty with what he probably presumes is a ‘sense of detached otherworldliness’. As if he could ever compare to the Jades of Gusu Lan or something! 

“So glad to receive you once more,” he drawls this year, barely even looking her in the eye. 

“I’ll buy you a tanghulu if you punch him in the face,” says A-Ying to A-Cheng.

Jiang Yanli has to stifle her own laugh as Jin Zixuan’s expression darkens at that. This summer definitely looks like it’s shaping up to be lots of fun.

“It seems my son is getting along with your brothers,” Madam Jin tells her later that afternoon, as they watch the teenage boys fight with one another on the training grounds. Jin Zixuan may have some of the best cultivators in Lanling teaching him sword tricks, but he’s clearly no match for A-Ying’s scrappiness or A-Cheng’s determination. Jiang Yanli smiles, pride filling her chest as she watches them. 

“Perhaps,” she says. Still doesn’t mean I’d marry your son, she adds quietly.

It’s their last summer as children, she knows. Soon, the boys will all be going to the Cloud Recesses to study cultivation with Lan Qiren. They will all become men, great men destined for great things.

Her own destiny should be great, too, but all it does is fill her with dread. 

Naturally, the ensuing summers see her in Koi Towers only for a week, when Jin Zixuan is on break from his studies. They are perfunctory, polite, distant. 

A-Ying’s fight with Jin Zixuan in Gusu breaks off the arrangement completely.

Many summers pass before Jiang Yanli meets Jin Zixuan again, at the base of Baifeng Mountain. He’s filled out in her absence, muscles and courage alike, resplendent in his golden robes as he calls for her to stay. 

“It was my idea,” he says, red-cheeked yet solemn. “Please forgive me.”

Somehow, just the sight of him makes her knees start to buckle. She staggers backwards, towards the trees, lost for words. He had been the one to invite her to this hunt, after all. Even after all these years, after the sour words against her that had ended their arrangement — 

“I have thought of nothing but you in the years before this,” Jin Zixuan pleads. “I did not think — I did not realise, for so long, that you were the one I’ve been dreaming of.” 

Jiang Yanli slowly sinks to the ground. Jin Zixuan sinks down with her, amid the summer grass and the blooming wildflowers. The hunt continues elsewhere, in the forest all around, but as far as she’s concerned the world contains nothing else but them.

“Please forgive my own haughtiness,” she says. “I did not realise your intentions.”

His hand is warm against her own. Jiang Yanli looks up, just as Jin Zixuan starts to help her back to her feet. “I should have been clearer,” he admits. “I… I have treated you so badly in all of our years together. Every summer —”

“We were children,” says Jiang Yanli. “We did not understand.”

“Please forgive me,” repeats Jin Zixuan.

“I have,” she replies. He takes the hand holding hers, presses a soft, lingering kiss to her knuckles. 

“Our arrangement?” he asks. She nods, and the brightest smile slips onto his face, like the rays of the sun after a cloudy morning. 

And as Jiang Yanli leans forward to kiss her new fiance, she can’t help but think perhaps this truly is her idea of love. 

Chapter Text

“Your dumplings are so ugly, A-Ling, are you asking for me to break your fingers?”

Wei Wuxian can’t help but laugh as Jiang Cheng took away the platter of dumplings from his protesting nephew in order to fix them up. “You spoil him a lot, don’t you?” he remarks.

“Don’t tell me what to do,” retorts Jiang Cheng, which only makes Wei Wuxian laugh harder, turning back to his own dumpling platter. His own don’t come out that nice, either, but for some reason every time he looks back down they all get miraculously fixed. He looks over at Lan Wangji, who has methodically filled five platters with perfectly-wrapped dumplings as well, and is still continuing to make more. 

“Hanguang-jun really can do everything,” Lan Jingyi says dreamily, still only halfway through his first plate because he’d been so distracted by watching Lan Wangji work. “Fighting, studying, cooking… everything he does is perfect.”

“He’s had years of practice,” Lan Sizhui points out.

“En,” agrees Lan Wangji. He surveys both boys’ plates with a scrutinising eye. “Too much filling, Jingyi. They will burst in the water.”

“Ugh,” complains Lan Jingyi, grabbing a couple more wrappers to try and distribute his filling better. Lan Sizhui finishes up his own platter and presents it to Lan Wangji for inspection. 

“En,” says Lan Wangji in approval. Lan Sizhui flushes at the compliment before taking his platter over to where Lan Qiren is supervising the pots. 

It’s a new year, and even as Wei Wuxian counts his blessings scattered throughout this little kitchen in the Cloud Recesses, he can’t help but miss his absent shijie. Regret bubbles deep inside him, especially as he continues to wrap his own dumpling monstrosities. After all, shijie had been the one who taught him how to wrap these, carefully rolling out the wrappers for his little hands to try. 

You put the baby in the bed, and you tuck the blanket around him, and you give him lots of kisses goodnight… 

“Jin Ling, you can’t skimp on the filling, you useless child! Do you want the people who eat your dumplings thinking you’re miserly?”

“Uncle, I don’t even know what the correct amount of filling is!” protests Jin Ling. “How do you even measure it?”

“With your heart,” intones Wei Wuxian, earning him a thwack in the head with the back of Jiang Cheng’s chopsticks. 

“You’re not helpful at all, Wei Ying,” he grumbles.

“Yeah, we can’t all have Hanguang-jun rewrapping our dumplings,” adds Jin Ling. 

Wei Wuxian gasps, turning to Lan Wangji just as he takes the most recent dumpling that Wei Wuxian had made off his platter. “Lan Zhan!” he exclaims, even as Lan Wangji swaps their dumplings and starts to re-wrap the ugly one. “I had thought — maybe I was going — it was you!”

“Mm,” concedes Lan Wangji. 

“Is Hanguang-jun really that ashamed of my dumplings that he’d re-wrap mine?” wonders Wei Wuxian, even as he puts another dumpling onto the plate. Lan Wangji immediately swaps it out again. 

“Wei Ying will be disappointed when all of his dumplings burst in the water,” replies Lan Wangji simply. “Having good ones to eat is important.” 

“So thoughtful,” sniffs Lan Jingyi, pretending to wipe at his eyes. Wei Wuxian sighs, leaning his head on Lan Wangji’s shoulder to watch his husband operate on his failed dumplings.

“Then I don’t need to make any more work for you,” he says, pressing a kiss to Lan Wangji’s shoulder. “I’ll just keep watching you make yours. You can have all my filling and wrappers.”

“Nn,” says Lan Wangji, pushing the bowl of filling back towards him. “Not all of yours are inedible.”

Wei Wuxian snorts. “I’ll take that as a compliment,” he says, and resumes wrapping.

Chapter Text

“Come back to Gusu with me.” 

The sentence echoes across the battlefield of fierce corpses and ravens, flickers the flames between red and green. The Yiling Patriarch stares, Chenqing halfway to his lips, his hair blowing in the silent breeze. 

He is a creature of unmistakable beauty and danger. Lan Wangji’s heart thunders in more ways than he has ever felt before. The resentment that rolls off him in waves, flickers ominously in his eyes – this is a man who would stop at nothing for revenge. All of Wei Wuxian’s worst parts of him, pieced together into one exquisite monster.

Lan Wangji looks harder, and sees the scared young man that lingers below. The boy whose smiles were wide and teasing, whose eyes sparkled like sunlight he still lurks beneath this deadly veneer, uncertainty making his hands shake as he presents the flute. Presents his power for the world to see.

He is not entirely a monster yet, Lan Wangji knows. He is still partly the boy he loves, the boy he would move mountains for. Wei Ying, you’re in there somewhereGive me a sign.

“So I can be locked up forever?” scoffs the Yiling Patriarch. “I’ll have to decline.”

(“You hate me, don’t you? What’s the point of asking me back to Gusu if you hate me?” asks Wei Ying.)

Lan Wangji wishes, more than ever, that he could tell his younger self to be kinder. To never give Wei Ying the impression that he thought anything but the best of him. It wouldn’t be so hard, then, would it? To approach the Yiling Patriarch as a friend, and not as the condescending rival who could do no wrong?

The resentment rises higher the longer they look at one another. 

“You are mistaken,” Lan Wangji says after a moment. 

The Yiling Patriarch raises an eyebrow, sharp as a dagger.

“I do not wish to cage you, Wei Ying,” continues Lan Wangji, taking a step closer to him. The Yiling Patriarch remains rooted to the ground, lowering his flute with a dumbfounded sort of wonder in his eyes. “I wish only to protect you.”

“From myself?” wonders the Yiling Patriarch, bitterly.

(“How can you protect me, Lan Zhan?” wonders Wei Ying. “How can you save me when I have gone this far?”)

Lan Wangji shakes his head. “I want to cherish you,” he replies.

“As a trophy of war,” retorts the Yiling Patriarch.

Lan Wangji shakes his head again, more emphatically. “As my husband.”

The silence stretches between them then, long and eerie and more than a little awkward. The fire flickers erratically again, but then settles on red; the redness in turn seeps from Wei Wuxian’s eyes and he lowers the flute, a flush seeping into his cheeks like the bud of spring against the last of the winter snow.

“Your husband?” he breathes, almost as if he can’t quite believe his ears. “Why would you do something like that?”

(“What could you possibly see in someone so fundamentally broken, like me?”)

Beside him, Jiang Wanyin is coughing, half in shock. “Should… should I give you two some space?” he wonders, taking several steps back even as he says it. The corpses slowly sink back to the ground, falling soft and silent against the cobblestones. Lan Wangji barely takes them in as he steps closer to Wei Wuxian. 

“You deserve to be cherished,” he replies simply, coming to a stop just in front of Wei Wuxian, who fiddles nervously with his fingers as if he’s at a loss for words  as if he had plotted out the entire conversation ahead of time but Lan Wangji had thrown him completely off-kilter. It’s enough to make Lan Wangji chuckle a little, the sound causing Wei Wuxian’s eyes to widen further. “You deserve to be cherished, and honoured, and loved, for as long as we both shall live.”

“Lan Zhan,” murmurs Wei Wuxian, now determinedly hiding his face behind his hair. “I  I thought you hated me. You were always so angry at me at the Cloud Recesses  always telling me everything was forbidden and fighting with me and biting me 

“Really didn’t need to know that,” adds Jiang Wanyin, his voice strained as he takes several more steps backwards. 

“How was I to know you even liked me, when all I had was proof of the opposite?” wonders Wei Wuxian.

(“Are you sure you like me at all?” adds Wei Ying.)

Lan Wangji extends a hand. “Come back to Gusu with me,” he repeats. Come back to Gusu, and I’ll prove you wrong.

Wei Wuxian takes his hand without hesitation. A couple paces away, Jiang Wanyin sighs in relief. 

“Thank heavens you two finally figured that out. Now can we get the hell out of here?”

Chapter Text

As far as Wei Wuxian is concerned, homes are not places, but rather people. 

As a boy, he’d made his home with his shidi and shijie; as the Yiling Patriarch he’d made his home with the Wen Sect remnants. And now?

Now his home is Lan Wangji, forever and always. And that’s the best kind of home for him, in his opinion. 

Lan Wangji’s class has just ended, students pouring out of the classroom in excited droves murmuring amongst themselves about the next nighthunt. At the sight of Wei Wuxian, many of them freeze up still by instinct, before rushing off a little faster. People are still trying to get used to him, insomuch as people can get used to a bull suddenly deciding to take up residence in a china shop. 

When he manages to enter the classroom, Lan Wangji is still at his desk, grading papers. Wei Wuxian beams as he enters, draping his arms around his husband’s neck and kissing the top of his head.

“Lan er-gege, I missed you,” he teases.

“It has been only two hours since we last talked,” replies Lan Wangji.

“It was forever,” complains Wei Wuxian. Lan Wangji’s eyebrows quirk, as if to ask ‘what’s thirteen years to you, then?’ Wei Wuxian chuckles.

“I’m an impatient man,” he points out. “It’d be forever and ever and ever. I’d start complaining around day three.”

Lan Wangji snorts amusedly, and returns to his grading. 

They spend the afternoon in the gardens, Wei Wuxian halfway in Lan Wangji’s lap as he feeds the rabbits that Lan Wangji had raised in his absence. 

“I like the black one best,” says Wei Wuxian as the rabbit in question hops up to him and steals the oats straight out of his hand. “He’s quite fearless. Really thinks I’m not going to eat him.”

Lan Wangji’s hands tug a little at his hair. Wei Wuxian laughs.

“I’m joking! I wouldn’t eat any of these rabbits. Not much of a meal, for one, and besides, they’re way too cute.” He pauses. “And I wouldn’t dream of eating Lan er-gege’s pets.”

Satisfied, Lan Wangji returns to stroking his hair. Wei Wuxian turns around, grinning from ear to ear. Slowly, he lets himself drift off under his husband’s fingers, savouring the warmth of his touch.

It’s only later when he hears the sound of a guqin that he wakes from his nap to find Lan Wangji instructing a crowd of wide-eyed juniors on some basic chords in Inquiry. Their curious gazes keep flitting to him, especially as he turns his head in Lan Wangji’s lap and starts pressing kisses to his hips. 

Lan Wangji quickly ends the class after that.

“Lan Wangji, I have been infinitely patient about your marriage and your husband, but this is really too much. In the gardens?!” 

Lan Qiren’s voice rings through the outer room of the jingshi. Wei Wuxian presses his ear to a crack in the screen to hear more, though it really isn’t necessary considering how loud Lan Qiren is screaming.

“The junior disciples look up to you! Is this really behaviour befitting of a distinguished member of the Gusu Lan sect?” 

“It will not happen again,” replies Lan Wangji. Lan Qiren sighs, loudly.

“I hope not,” he replies. “Need I remind you promiscuity is forbidden in the Cloud Recesses? Or would you like to copy that upside-down like the children?”

“I understand,” replies Lan Wangji. Lan Qiren sweeps out of the jingshi in high dudgeon. Wei Wuxian can’t help but chuckle at the entire situation, even as the screen to the inner chamber is swept back and his husband steps inside, arching an eyebrow at how close he is to the door.

“All that, for a kiss?” wonders Wei Wuxian.

It’d been a very nice kiss, a very heated one  but it’d been in the gardens in full view of anyone and everyone. Of course that sort of thing wouldn’t fly with the old stodgy Lan Qiren. 

“He says you are a bad influence,” remarks Lan Wangji as he kneels down at his desk, pulling out his papers from earlier. 

“I don’t care what he thinks,” replies Wei Wuxian, coming over to rest his head on his husband’s shoulder. “I care about what you think.”

“En,” agrees Lan Wangji, kissing his cheek. Wei Wuxian’s hands slip under Lan Wangji’s robes, and the rest follows naturally.

“My home,” mumbles Lan Wangji hours later, tucking Wei Wuxian close into his arms. Wei Wuxian’s sore in all the right places, feeling nothing but sweet warmth as he pulls his husband in for a kiss. 

“Mm?” he wonders. Lan Wangji peppers kisses along his jaw.

“Wei Ying is my home,” he murmurs, pressing their foreheads together. Forever and always

Wei Wuxian kisses him silent, his heart so full that he can hardly speak. 

Chapter Text

Wei Ying is six years, five weeks, two minutes, and twenty seconds old when he first discovers his gift of waking the dead.

Unlike most gifts, however, this one did not come in a box, with an instruction manual, or with any sort of warranty. It had not been given to him by anyone, but it did have two major caveats.

Wei Ying finds out about these caveats the hard way, after his mother dies of a ruptured blood vessel to the brain. He pokes her back awake, only for his father to collapse in the next room over just one minute later.

Then when his mother kisses him goodnight, she collapses again, and no matter how hard he pokes, she remains cold and still.

First caveat: he could only keep a dead thing alive for precisely one minute, or else something else will have to take its place.

Second caveat: first touch, life. Second touch, dead. Forever.

After that, Wei Ying is promptly shipped off to the Cloud Recesses School for Boys, where he meets a boy named Lan Zhan. Lan Zhan is six years, eight months, three weeks, and five minutes old, and he has little to no concept of the permanence of death just yet.

His mother, Madam Lan, had been almost a non-entity all of his life. Having pled down from first-degree murder to manslaughter long before he was born, Madam Lan had been spared prison and sent to a psychiatric hospital instead. Lan Zhan only saw her once a month, leaving class early with his big brother to go listen to her hum lullabies while combing his hair.

And then one day, his big brother told him they would no longer be visiting her.

Indignant, Lan Zhan had escaped from the Cloud Recesses and walked all the way to the psychiatric hospital by himself, only to be turned away. He’d snuck up to her window, but had found someone else in her bed.

The first night Wei Ying spends in the dormitory of the Cloud Recesses School for Boys, he hears Lan Zhan’s quiet sobbing, and walks him down to the kitchen to wrap him some dumplings.

Lan Zhan, in return, takes a page from the fairytales his mother had read to him, and gives Wei Ying his first and only kiss.

“I don’t think we should call them zombies. It just reminds me of slow-moving masses of brain-hungry monsters, which is definitely not what’s going on here,” Wei Wuxian says as Jiang Cheng, Private Eye, tucks into the platter of dumplings on the table between them.

It is now twenty-two years, two months, sixteen days, and fifty two minutes after that first night at the Cloud Recesses School for Boys, and Wei Wuxian is the resident dumpling expert at a restaurant called Lotus Pier. The restaurant owner’s little brother, Jiang Cheng, is a private investigator whose cases usually consisted of hysterical mothers running secret background checks of their children’s significant others.

He is also the sole keeper of Wei Wuxian’s little secret. How he came to that position was purely by accident, of course, after witnessing a robber fall off a building directly into Wei Wuxian’s path. The robber had tried to run as if nothing had happened, but Wei Wuxian had quickly cottoned on and touched him again, causing the man to drop dead a second time.

Jiang Cheng had proposed a partnership then: Wei Wuxian helps him solve murder cases — as it really is a lot easier to do that if you could just ask the victim who did it — and Jiang Cheng would split the reward money with him.

“Man, you’re really missing out on these. Does it upset you that you can’t eat dumplings?” asks Jiang Cheng through a mouthful of pork and napa cabbage.

“I haven’t eaten meat since I was six,” says Wei Wuxian.

“What a shame,” says Jiang Cheng. “The Dumpling Patriarch can’t even eat his own creations. But I guess that means more of them for me.”

“Suit yourself,” says Wei Wuxian. “As I was saying, though, zombie is too rude, and undead… no one wants to be un-anything.”

“Fierce corpse?” suggests Jiang Cheng.

“Corpse is too dead of a term.”

“They’re dead-ish people,” retorts Jiang Cheng.

Wei Wuxian shrugs. “I don’t see why we can’t just say they’re ‘alive again’.”

“Because it sounds like they’re narcoleptic,” replies Jiang Cheng, smothering his dumpling with vinegar and ginger before popping into his mouth with a satisfied hum. “Okay, so, how about this case?”

“I don’t like dogs,” says Wei Wuxian immediately. “A dog bit me when I was five. I’ve been scared of them ever since.”

“You wouldn’t need to talk to the dog,” says Jiang Cheng. “You just need to talk to the master. Some guy got mauled to death by a dog and the sole witness is this lady here.” He pulls out a picture of a chow chow. “Her name’s Princess, and she’s been framed.”

“How do you know that?”

“The family swears that Princess is innocent,” replies Jiang Cheng. “They’re offering a sixty-seven thousand yuan reward for any information about the death. Have a conversation with the guy, see who did it. Chances are, if some other dog is behind it, then Princess was, in fact, framed.”

Wei Wuxian goes to the morgue, touches the man. Within the week, Princess is exonerated.

And then that weekend, everything changes.

The body of a young man has been fished out of Lake Biling this morning. The victim’s identity is being withheld at this time, but investigators are saying it was probably a boating accident out on the lake…

Jiang Cheng switches off the TV. “That young man’s older brother is offering three hundred thousand yuan for more information on his death,” he announces. Wei Wuxian looks up from the dumplings he’s wrapping with a skeptical eyebrow quirk.

“Three hundred thousand yuan,” he repeats.

“Yeah, apparently he’s the CEO of some tech company and is convinced his brother couldn’t possibly have gotten into a boating accident.”

“Why not, is he some sort of hermit?”

“To some extent, I guess?” says Jiang Cheng. “You in or not? Better make it quick, the funeral’s going to be in a couple of days.”

“I’m in,” says Wei Wuxian, though he’s not sure what’s compelling those words out of his mouth. “Where is he?”

“Caiyi Town,” says Jiang Cheng. “He’s the nephew of the rector of the Cloud Recesses School for Boys. Name’s Lan Wangji.”

“Lan Zhan,” breathes Wei Wuxian, and the dumpling he’d been wrapping drops onto the counter.

Wei Wuxian had never returned to the Cloud Recesses after graduating. He’d declined every reunion invitation, ignored his classmates’ half-hearted attempts to stay in touch. Despite all of that, however, he still found himself spending time every day since he left the school thinking about Lan Wangji.

“You know this guy?” asks Jiang Cheng as the rolling mist-covered hills of Gusu Province come into view of their car.

“I know of him,” says Wei Wuxian.

Jiang Cheng arches an eyebrow. “In the biblical sense?” he wonders.

“I haven’t thought about him since I was seventeen,” lies Wei Wuxian.

Jiang Cheng raises an eyebrow. “You thought about him a lot when you were seventeen?”

Wei Wuxian feels his cheeks flushing. “No comment,” he replies. Jiang Cheng snorts, as they traverse the old familiar tree-lined road leading into Caiyi, which now looks more like a small city than a town.

The facts are these: Lan Wangji, known as Lan Zhan to his (admittedly few) friends and family, had been twenty-nine years, two weeks, and five hours old when his body had been found in the freezing waters of Lake Biling outside Caiyi Town, moments after it had been discarded there. By whom, of course, is the question that Wei Wuxian has been brought over to ask.

“Master Wei, good to see you back in town,” says the rector of the Cloud Recesses School for Boys as they enter the funeral home. His voice clearly indicates the opposite of his words. “To what do we owe the pleasure of this visit?”

“I’d like to see Lan Zhan, please,” says Wei Wuxian, feeling like he’s a stupid child who’d been caught sneaking treats to his best friend once again.

Rector Lan Qiren’s expression darkens with unmistakable sadness. “He’s through there,” he says, gesturing to the door. “I take it your friend has seen Xichen’s request for information?”

“What makes you think that?” wonders Jiang Cheng.

Lan Qiren scrutinises him closer. “I know of Wanyin Private Investigations,” he replies. Jiang Cheng’s cheeks colour, but he heads to the door to open it for Wei Wuxian nonetheless.

At the threshold, however, Wei Wuxian balks. “I… think I’d, uh, like to do this one alone,” he says.

Jiang Cheng raises an eyebrow. “You got something special for this guy?”

“Er, well, you could say something like that,” says Wei Wuxian, rubbing at the nape of his neck with an awkward chuckle. “Just… stupid things. Closure. Whatever.”

(A confession of feelings, maybe.)

“Ask him who killed him first,” says Jiang Cheng. “Also, don’t forget the time limit.”

“Yeah,” says Wei Wuxian, fingers itching for the door handle.

“That’s a minute,” adds Jiang Cheng. “Sixty seconds, no more, no less. Got it?”

“Got it,” agrees Wei Wuxian. Jiang Cheng pushes him in and closes the door, and now Wei Wuxian is faced with the disturbing finality of seeing Lan Wangji lying in a coffin, his expression beautifully serene even in death.

In this moment, his head is full of fairytales, like the sort he and Lan Wangji had read as children. What would the prince do in this moment, faced with the dreaming princess whose curse could only be broken with True Love’s Kiss?

Touching his lips seems too forward. Maybe the cheek —

He reaches out and touches Lan Wangji’s cheek, and is promptly knocked into the coffin by the lapels of his leather jacket for his troubles.

“Hold on! Hold on, Lan Zhan!” Wei Wuxian yells, stumbling backwards. Lan Wangji seizes a chair, pointing it defensively at him. “It’s me! Wei Ying, from school? We grew up together?”

“Wei Ying,” repeats Lan Wangji, his eyes growing wide. He sets down the chair, looking decidedly awkward in his white suit. His hair is shorter than Wei Wuxian remembers. “Where… am I?”

“Do you remember the last thing you did?” Wei Wuxian asks.

Lan Wangji considers it, brows furrowing. “I was strangled by a plastic sack.”

“Right.” Wei Wuxian gestures to the coffin behind him. “You died from that.”

Lan Wangji turns around, looks at the coffin. “Mm,” he concedes.

“Jiang Wanyin!” exclaims Lan Xichen as he steps into the corridor outside the room with Lan Wangji’s coffin. “Imagine my surprise when my uncle mentioned you were here. Are you enquiring after my brother?”

“I am,” agrees Jiang Cheng. Lan Xichen checks his mobile.

“Right, my assistant said he’d be here shortly as well, but he hasn’t shown up yet,” he says. “Master Mo has all the paperwork, though, regarding the reward should you happen to find something pertinent to this case. You’ll have to pardon his lateness; we’re still trying to train that out of him.”

“No worries,” says Jiang Cheng, looking at his own phone timer. Sixty seconds is almost up…

“You only have a minute left, so: do you happen to know who strangled you with the plastic sack?” wonders Wei Wuxian. “Just wondering so that justice can be served.”

“It took me by surprise,” replies Lan Wangji. “I was on the lake with my samples.”

“Samples?” echoes Wei Wuxian. “Of what?”

“The flora and fauna of Lake BIling,” replies Lan Wangji. “I was a researcher.”

“Okay, and you definitely didn’t get a glimpse of your attacker’s face,” says Wei Wuxian.

“He wore a mask,” replies Lan Wangji.

Disappointment curls through Wei Wuxian. “Okay then.” His watch beeps a warning. “Your time’s almost up. But before you go, I just —”

I loved you, Lan Zhan. And I think I still love you now.

The words choke into “you were my first kiss” instead.

Lan Wangji nods. “And you were mine,” he says. “There has been no other.”

A first and last kiss. How fitting. Wei Wuxian steps closer, leans up.

That’s the farthest his lips will ever go, ever again.

“You’ll have to excuse Master Mo; he must be indisposed. I could potentially get you the documents when I return to the office,” says Lan Xichen with a sigh, extending a hand for Jiang Cheng to shake.

Unbeknownst to all of them, Master Mo had in fact made it to the funeral home on time. The problem is, he had came just in time to catch Wei Wuxian’s first caveat.

Sixty seconds have passed, and Master Mo has paid the price for it.

“You do not have to do this,” Lan Wangji points out. Wei Wuxian grimaces, inching just a little out of Lan Wangji’s reach when the other man leans forward. “I understand if you do not wish to —”

“No, that’s not — there’s nothing in the world I’d like more,” mumbles Wei Wuxian, feeling his ears heat up. “I just — what if you didn’t have to, you know, stay dead?”

“Mm,” says Lan Wangji, a clear sign of agreeable excitement. Wei Wuxian scrubs his hands over his eyes.

“Okay, then,” he says. “Hop back into the coffin, and lie still until I come to get you.”

“They will be sealing the coffin to prevent my spirit from becoming vengeful,” warns Lan Wangji.

“I’ll try to get you before that,” bluffs Wei Wuxian, who has no idea how to counteract something like a coffin sealing.

Lan Wangji nods. The faintest hint of a smile tugs at his lips. He gets into the coffin again, folding his hands, and Wei Wuxian closes the coffin lid with his heart hammering in his chest.

(Considering this isn’t his first time keeping a dead person alive for more than a minute, he’s not really sure why his nerves are eating him like this.)

“What does he know?” asks Jiang Cheng as Wei Wuxian steps out of the room.

“Nothing. He was strangled to death by a plastic sack but doesn’t know who did it.”

Jiang Cheng groans. “Then I guess it’s back to good old fashioned detective work,” he mutters, patting Wei Wuxian on the shoulder. “How are you holding up?”

“…What?” asks Wei Wuxian.

“You just reunited with an old friend for a minute and then had to say goodbye to them again permanently,” Jiang Cheng points out. “You’ve got to be more than a little shaken by that.”

“I —” Wei Wuxian’s mouth works uselessly for a moment before he starts heading back towards the door. “I think I’m going to stay for the coffin sealing,” he says. “Old time’s sake, you know. Catch you later?”

Jiang Cheng’s eyes narrow, but he says nothing as he heads out of the funeral home. Wei Wuxian exhales, before pushing back into the room.

The coffin is missing. Wei Wuxian’s heart nearly leaps out of his chest in alarm.

Lying in the dark, Lan Wangji thinks about the life he’d led since graduating Cloud Recesses. He’d gotten research fellowships and scholarships to all the major universities in Gusu; he’d spent his days locked in labs or classrooms with texts and papers and samples. He’d written more words than he could possibly count, gotten more degrees than he could possibly need.

And now here he is, in a coffin, about to be sealed in forever if Wei Ying doesn’t come back soon.

But why should Wei Ying be the one to rescue him? The damsels in Mama’s stories sat around for their princes, but Lan Wangji wasn’t a damsel; he was a scientist. (And a writer, a musician, and everything else he’d put his mind to during the past ten years or so, but that’s neither here nor there.) And he’s perfectly capable of escaping the coffin by himself.

So he does, and replaces his weight with a heavy porcelain vase in the corner of the room. He runs out the back door, hiding himself in the bushes just as his coffin is carried out the door and placed into a hearse. Moments after it leaves, Wei Wuxian comes rushing out the door after it, his expression frantic.

Lan Wangji stands up from the bushes. Wei Wuxian turns towards him, his panic melting into the sweetest of smiles.

“Sorry I’m late,” he says.

Lan Wangji’s head is full of nothing but fairytales.

Chapter Text

As far as strange days go, this ranks pretty high on Lan Sizhui’s oddity scale. The Yiling Patriarch (!) is sitting across an inn table from them, twirling Chenqing (!!) through his fingers as he eyes them all warily. It’s not every day a monster from history appears from out of nowhere. And it certainly isn’t every day he gets to see Hanguang-jun (!!!) look anything approaching flustered.

Yet here they are. Hanguang-jun’s earlobes are pink. The Yiling Patriarch has also noticed that.

“Lan Zhan, are you embarrassed to see me?” he teases, grinning smugly. Lan Sizhui can sense Lan Jingyi and Jin Ling both bristling beside him, evidently itching to jump to Hanguang-jun’s defense. 

To their surprise, Lan Wangji openly shakes his head. “Pleased,” he replies instead, which seems to throw the Yiling Patriarch for a curve. The fearsome Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation fiddles with his flute a little harder, spots of colour also appearing in his cheeks.

“That’s the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me,” he remarks, a little drily. “I’m not sure how to feel about that.”

Lan Wangji nods. “It has been a while,” he replies. Lan Sizhui suddenly wonders if he and the other juniors should even be privy to this conversation.

“I think we better get to our room,” he announces loudly, tugging Jin Ling and Lan Jingyi back with him before they can protest  which Jin Ling does, through some half-hearted splutters. Lan Sizhui hauls him off anyway, slamming the door to their room loudly behind him. 

“You don’t think he’s going to do something evil to Hanguang-jun without us keeping an eye on him?” demands Lan Jingyi, already making a dash for the door. 

Lan Sizhui retaliates by tugging him back by the scruff of the neck. “If he wanted to kill all of us, wouldn’t he have done it already? The stories all say there’s nothing he can’t do, no depravity he won’t commit. But he’s yet to lay a finger to any of us.”

“Biding his time,” scoffs Jin Ling. “Just like he bid his time with my parents.”

Lan Sizhui suspects there’s been some key omissions to the story Jin Ling had been told, but he says nothing, only purses his lips. “If there’s anyone who could take on the Yiling Patriarch, it’s gotta be Hanguang-jun,” he declares. “We’d be of no use to him if we charged in stupidly and got killed for our troubles.”

“Fair,” concedes the other boys, but their expressions remain sullen as they look up at the ceiling, where Hanguang-jun and the Yiling Patriarch are reuniting.

Thirteen years has almost faded most of Wei Wuxian’s more abrasive personality traits, softened the set of his jaw and the ruby glint of his eyes. Seeing the same young man who’d harnessed a reservoir of infinite resentful power makes Lan Wangji’s heart skip a beat, half out of excitement and half out of dread.

Wei Wuxian’s last words to him had been to try and shoo him, to chase him away. But Lan Wangji had stayed. And there’s no knowing what he could change to this younger Wei Wuxian if he acted on his love. Yet the feelings remain.

“What am I like in the future, I wonder?” says Wei Wuxian, perching his chin on his hands and tilting his head to the side. “Brash, annoying, loud, I suppose.”

“Dead,” says Lan Wangji. 

Wei Wuxian’s hand pauses halfway to the cup of wine before him. “Dead,” he repeats. 

“Thirteen years,” adds Lan Wangji. 

Wei Wuxian knocks back the wine again, shuddering. “I  fuck.”

“When did we last speak?” asks Lan Wangji. “You and I, in your time.”

“Uh… the Sunshot Campaign, I think,” says Wei Wuxian thoughtfully. Lan Wangji’s eyes widen. “Wait, how many years between that and my death?”

So many. Lan Wangji feels his throat tightening just seeing him. A young Patriarch unhoisted by his own petard, unburdened by the hubris he’d taken on. Does he know how long the road will stretch, how dangerous this bridge crossing can be, how lonely the entire world will seem?

Lan Wangji can’t change the past, but he wants to. Oh so very much.

Chapter Text

“Let’s make a wish, Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian says, looking up at the stars.

Beside him in this moonlit field, Lan Wangji hums in agreement. “What do you wish for?” he asks.

Wei Wuxian considers it, tucking himself closer to Lan Wangji with a small smile. “Forever,” he says, his fingers seeking out Lan Wangji’s and holding on tight. “Just think — the two of us, waking each day to one another. Spending the rest of our lives together.”

“Mm.” Lan Wangji’s expression is placid when Wei Wuxian looks over at him. There’s going to be mud and grass stains all over his designer coat, and there’s no doubt his stuck-up of an uncle is going to give him a verbal lashing for it. But the slight upturn of Lan Wangji’s lips makes this moment of rebelliousness all worth it.

Wei Wuxian sighs dreamily, squeezing his fingers. “Let’s make it happen, shall we?” he asks.

Lan Wangji squeezes back. “Mm,” he repeats, and turns to kiss Wei Wuxian’s cheek.

From a translation of Rainfall Confessions: Collected Poems by Lan Wangji:

on books

love is not in books, I know;
I’ve read each one cover-to-cover,
and there are still no words to describe
the way you make me feel.

From the very beginning, Wei Wuxian had known he was out of Lan Wangji’s league. The man’s every move speaks of refined upbringing; every article of clothing speaks of money and prestige. Wei Wuxian’s just a kid waiting tables and manning the bar at his shijie’s restaurant to get by for grad school; he really doesn’t bring much to the table in comparison.

Lan Wangji still shows up during his shifts anyway, ordering him drinks once in a while yet never nursing anything stronger than an Arnold Palmer. He tips handsomely, too, and completely in cash, folded into napkins with little poems or drawings. The first napkin Wei Wuxian had returned to him had his number on the back. Lan Wangji had texted him an invitation to coffee shortly after.

With every meeting, Wei Wuxian cracks through more of the ice to find the heart within. Lan Wangji writes poems, plays piano, draws still lifes and landscapes. He’s the quiet second son of a media mogul family, chock-full of entertainers and influencers all around the world. He’s won awards for his art; his chapbooks are bestsellers.

Wei Wuxian has nothing to offer, but Lan Wangji takes what he gives anyway — his heart.

Tonight, however, Lan Wangji is already at the restaurant when Wei Wuxian enters. His austere grump of an uncle sits beside him. They’re not in Wei Wuxian’s section, but he tries to go over and bring them water anyway.

“Three,” says the uncle. “We are waiting on one more.”

Lan Wangji looks down at his napkin, refusing to meet Wei Wuxian’s eyes.

Wei Wuxian has just returned with the water when he sees why. A young woman has arrived, her coat draped over the chair beside her. She sits across from Lan Wangji, arrayed in pale pink.

Wei Wuxian’s hands tremble when he sets down the glasses, and then he immediately finds the section’s server and shoves her towards them for the rest of the night.

He’d known Lan Wangji was out of his league, but even after candlelit dinners, and stargazing out in the park, and all the other clandestine meetings they’d shared, it still stings a little to see proof of just how impossible their forever is.

Lan Wangji texts him an hour later. It was a business meeting, he says. It means nothing.

Wei Wuxian suspects he’s lying, but he sends a heart anyway.

From a translation of Rainfall Confessions: Collected Poems by Lan Wangji:


in this last rainstorm, I
wished you were beside me,
stranded like a maiden for whom
the magpies could not fly.

The next meeting is repentance. Lan Wangji worships him the instant the doors to his bedroom closes, sinking to his knees in penitence before a deity. Somewhere far off in Wei Wuxian’s heart, a storm slowly gathers.

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian murmurs, brushing his lips against Lan Wangji’s ears. “Please be honest with me: a business meeting?”

“Mm,” replies Lan Wangji, his voice steady, his fingers shaking as he unbuttons Wei Wuxian’s shirt.

“I suppose it’s not weird if your uncle is there. But it did seem a bit… I don’t know. I just know your uncle hates me.”

Lan Wangji’s lips pause just above Wei Wuxian’s collarbone. “She has a publishing empire. We are an entertainment company. The merger is logical.”

“Is a wedding logical, too?” wonders Wei Wuxian.

Lan Wangji kisses him silent. In spite of himself, Wei Wuxian swallows down his remaining misgivings. He flips their positions, fingers tangling themselves into his boyfriend’s hair. Lan Wangji arches into him, and the world falls away.

Hours later, as Lan Wangji sleeps silver and beautiful beside him, Wei Wuxian lies awake and traces the curve of his face. Perhaps this is the last time Lan Wangji’s dark hair will fan across his pillows. Perhaps this is the last time Wei Wuxian will be able to kiss those soft lips.

He commits Lan Wangji to memory with fingers and lips, and wishes he couldn’t see where this is going.

From a translation of Rainfall Confessions: Collected Poems by Lan Wangji:

in bed

you tap a rhythm against my skin
that matches the pattern of the rain,
the erratic breaths drawn from my lungs,
and the frantic dancing of my heart.

Wei Wuxian first sees the ring in a windowsill.

It’s the stupidest impulse purchase he’s ever made. It’s a gamble on the possibility of forever, a hopeful investment in the business of love. Despite all his misgivings, all his fears, there’s still the possibility Lan Wangji is his forever.

The ring is a happy weight in his pockets from there on, a box of possibility waiting to be presented. He spends weeks trying to figure out the timing — it can’t be during work, as much as he’d love to slip it into one of Lan Wangji’s drinks. They’re both so busy it’s hard to find time after, and no place in the city feels like the right place to go.

Until he remembers the field where they had watched the stars, and he resolves to invite Lan Wangji there that night.

He’s just pulled out his mobile to text him when he sees a crowd gathered in the park. Curious, he joins them, pushed forward by the brisk pre-storm breeze. It stabs at him, but the bitterness isn’t half as acute as what he sees in the centre of the crowd.

For there stands Lan Wangji, staring down at a bouquet of roses offered to him by that woman in pastel pink. Amid the roses, there’s the faintest glint of a golden ring.

The ring in Wei Wuxian’s own pocket now sinks like his heart. Without a second thought, he turns and runs. “Wei Ying!” he hears from behind as he pushes back out of the crowd, the first hints of drizzle streaking across his vision. “Wei Ying — wait!”

But Wei Wuxian’s heartbeat is echoing too hard in his ears for him stop and listen now.

From a translation of Rainfall Confessions: Collected Poems by Lan Wangji:

for want of envy

dear reader, i lost you — 
the sheets are cold where you used to lie,
the rain obscures you from my sight,
and the heart within me is stretched for want of you.

dear reader, i was never taught
how quickly someone can become your world
and how quickly you can lose them.

“What’s your poison, handsome?” the young man behind the bar had teased, and in that fateful moment Lan Wangji’s world had tilted on the axis of his smile. Wei Wuxian was sunlight and warmth, a happy contrast against the spring rain thundering against the windowpane outside the store.

He’d remembered his manners just in time, choking out a request for water in between heartbeats. Wei Wuxian had remarked something about it being strange he’d sit at the bar to order water, but Lan Wangji wasn’t nearly stupid enough to confess it was him that drew him there.

As the second son, he’d never been expected to inherit the family business. Still, his every connection was scrutinised, every friend carefully vetted. Uncle Qiren’s adherence to tradition had protected him all his life, considering the scandals raised by his parents’ marriage, but the minute Wei Wuxian stepped into his life, Lan Wangji had never wanted to rebel so badly.

The instant Uncle Qiren noticed Wei Wuxian in his life, he’d pushed Luo Qingyang at him. The merger was transparent. But then, so was her distaste.

“I cannot accept this,” Lan Wangji tells her now, even after he takes the bouquet.

She looks almost relieved. “I know there is someone else,” she says. The crowd had vanished with the oncoming storm, but neither of them have moved from their spot. Lan Wangji opens his umbrella, hands it to her with the flowers and the ring.

“There is someone else for you, too,” he says.

“Good luck,” she replies. Lan Wangji nods, as the rain slowly seeps into his white suit.

Its rhythm is a metronome for the beating of his heart as he turns and races out of the park.

From a translation of Rainfall Confessions: Collected Poems by Lan Wangji:


he promised me forever and a day,
and all the years to come in lifetimes after.
“with you beside me, come whatever may
I’ll face it all in sadness and in laughter.”

Wei Wuxian lets his feet take them to the field where he’d first made his wish for forever. The rain blurs his vision; splashes mud across his shoes and clothes as he digs out the ring he’d bought, preparing to throw it down the bank towards the rushing river below.

“Wei Ying!” he hears. Then there’s the solid warmth of Lan Wangji’s body, the familiar scent of his sandalwood aftershave. He closes his eyes, letting Lan Wangji bring him close.

“What are you doing here?” he asks nonetheless, his voice as bitter as he feels. He’s tired of this uncertainty, tired of untruths. Lan Wangji cups his cheek.

“I told her no.”

The ring is warm in Wei Wuxian’s hand. “But I thought —” he begins, but Lan Wangji puts a finger to his lips.

“It has always been you,” he says. “Even when I did not know… I was writing for you.”

The rain clears, almost as if on cue. The faintest hint of the sun peeks out behind the clouds. Wei Wuxian’s eyes go wide, as Lan Wangji kneels in the muddied field at his feet.

“I have no ring to give just yet,” he says, “but I do have my promise.”

“I have a ring,” says Wei Wuxian, sinking down with him. Lan Wangji’s white suit is utterly ruined, and it’s the best thing he’s ever seen. “Forever, Lan Zhan. Please?” he asks, already leaning in.

Yes,” breathes Lan Wangji, and meets him halfway.

From a translation of Rainfall Confessions: Collected Poems by Lan Wangji:

rainfall confessions

the frost has gathered forests on the sill;
the rainstorm beats a rhythm in my heart;
against the lake, a dragonfly’s wings
are as fragile as this new-spun promise.

in every wound i dealt, you bled out love, 
until my hands ran crimson with your devotion.
in every word, i heard your longing
for forever, unenvious of the world around us.

hereafter only strengthens every promise,
as we wake to one another every morn.
run into my arms, out of the rain, 
and let the shelter of magpie wings protect us. 

Chapter Text

A small hush falls over the room at the sight of the figure silhouetted in the doorway. Lan Zhan slowly steps forward, aware that all eyes on the room not fixed on the figure in the door are now turned towards him.

“It’s him,” someone whispers in the crowd. “The Yiling Patriarch.”

“Who would invite the Yiling Patriarch to a party at the Lans’?” someone else wonders.

Lan Zhan steps before the figure, extends a hand.

“Wei Ying,” he says, careful not to let his overwhelming relief and excitement show. Wei Ying moves into the light of the ballroom, his handsome face aglow under the light of the chandelier. Lan Zhan’s breath is immediately stolen by the daring red dress the other man is wearing, slinky and sexy against his hips.

(Not that Lan Zhan was focused on his hips, of course.)

“I almost didn’t come,” Wei Ying admits, even as he takes Lan Zhan’s hand. “But then I realised… I couldn’t stay away. Not from you.”

Lan Zhan’s fingers close against his. “Dance with me,” he replies.

The music strums one lingering refrain. A tango. Wei Ying’s eyes sparkle. His heels clack against the marble floor as he steps in close to Lan Zhan, pressing his body close, alluring.

Lan Zhan places his hand on the small of Wei Ying’s back and realises, with a jolt, that Wei Ying’s dress is backless. And there is nothing underneath.

Wei Ying winks at him, as the song begins in earnest and they start to move. Lan Zhan leads him, but it’s clear Wei Ying is the master of the dance, the scarlet skirts of his dress flying up with each flick of his heel.

The room is silent, stunned. Lan Zhan is dimly cognisant of the vein twitching on his uncle’s forehead, of the shock painted across his brother’s face. He does not care, especially as Wei Ying leans his head against his shoulder. Wei Ying smells of cigarette smoke and azaleas. Lan Zhan drinks him in like a fine wine.

Wei Ying hooks a leg around him, leaning in; Lan Zhan leans with him, unable to tear his gaze from Wei Ying’s. A fire flickers in Wei Ying’s eyes, reflecting the sparks off the chandelier in the room. The chiffon ties of his dress tickle against the back of Lan Zhan’s hand.

As with all the other dances they’ve shared in the privacy of Wei Ying’s studio, this one is natural, intimate, a conversation. Wei Ying’s body is a language he is fluent in, translating easily into their smooth steps across the ballroom. He never falters, he never stumbles — Wei Ying reacts to him almost instinctively, covering any mistakes in his steps with assured grace.

They’ve come so far from the first faltering dances just at the start of the summer. Lan Zhan never wants this season to end. He barely wants this dance to end, but as the last tremors of the strings begin to ring, he dips Wei Ying down, his lips barely breaths away from Wei Ying’s faintly-shimmering skin.

Wei Ying’s breathing is ragged when he brings him out of the dip to polite applause from the room. It only hitches further, as Lan Zhan presses a kiss to the back of his hand.

“Meet me later,” he whispers, a promise of fire and want. “Your studio.”

“I’ll be there,” agrees Wei Ying, his eyes sparkling.

A shiver runs down Lan Zhan’s spine in response.

Chapter Text

“I know, I’m probably not what you expected for a son of the Jiang family,” says the young man sitting on Lan Wangji’s bed in the jingshi. He’s still arrayed in his crimson silk wedding robes, his veil clutched nervously in his hands. “I’m not exactly going to inherit much, since I’m more of an adopted heir, but…”

“No matter,” says Lan Wangji, as he kneels before his new husband, carefully slipping his silk-embroidered shoes off his feet. Alliances are alliances, and riches are riches. They’re all that second sons are good for, anyway. “This is our home now, richer or poorer.”

His husband lowers his long lashes, cheeks flushing at that. “Second Master Lan —”

“Lan Zhan,” says Lan Wangji quickly. “We are husbands now.”

“We are,” agrees the man, the flush deepening further. Shakily, he takes Lan Zhan’s hands, pressing a soft kiss to the back. “Wei Ying.”

Lan Wangji’s own hands tremble as he starts to undo the ties on Wei Ying’s scarlet robes. Inch by inch, tanned and freckled skin is exposed to him. Wei Ying’s hands continue to fidget with his veil, especially as a vibrant whip scar on his back is exposed to Lan Wangji’s curious touch.

“What… what is this from?” wonders Lan Wangji, frowning.

Wei Ying chuckles ruefully. “I was quite the troublemaker when I was young,” he admits. “I got this from when I got caught smuggling alcohol into school! Someone told a teacher, and I got lashed for it —”

Lan Wangji’s heart grinds to a standstill for one terrifying moment as he remembers that moonlit night in the company of Yue Xia Laoren, remembers the scarlet thread that the old man had drawn between him and the mischievous boy perched on the schoolyard wall.

“Wei Ying,” he breathes, sinking lower and pressing his forehead against Wei Ying’s knee. “My apologies.”

“Why are you apologising?” wonders Wei Ying, before he makes a small ‘ah’ of realisation. “You’re the one who told on me, then?”  

I did not realise, Lan Wangji thinks, as he focuses on the brocade of Wei Ying’s robes, on the rabbits embroidered on the dudou tied snugly against his chest. I could not believe it would be you, even when the old man pointed it out to me.

“Forgive me,” he says instead. Wei Ying laughs, tilting his chin up with a bright smile.

“We’re husbands now, Lan Zhan,” he says. “Between us, there’s never any need for sorry.”

Lan Wangji swallows at that, and hesitantly shifts closer, settling between his husband’s knees and thighs. “Wei Ying.”


“May I kiss you?”

Wei Ying’s smile lights up the room more brightly than the candles. “Absolutely.”

In the morning, Lan Wangji wakes before his husband. For a long while, he lies there, still reeling over the revelation from last night.

Slowly, hesitantly, his fingers reach for the angry white discipline whip scar across Wei Ying’s back — a lasting mark of Lan Wangji’s foolhardy attempt to deny his fate. Regret swells inside him at the memory of his own disgust, his own fear of the future that Yue Xia Laoren had presented for him.

Who is he to deny the gods, if they have looked into his heart and found its complement?

Wei Ying stirs beside him, long lashes fluttering open lazily. His cheeks flush pink as he takes in Lan Wangji’s current state of undress, probably recalling the love they had made last night as husbands bound by fate. The scarlet wedding ribbon Lan Wangji had worn on his forehead during the ceremony now lies tied to Wei Ying’s right wrist.

“Good morning,” says Wei Ying, smiling up at him. Lan Wangji takes his wrist and kisses the ribbon. Wei Ying laughs at that — a sound quickly becoming Lan Wangji’s favourite. “Who could have ever known the second son of the Lan family would be such a creative lover?”

Lan Wangji feels the tips of his ears heating up. “Books,” he replies.

“Naughty.” Wei Ying inches in closer, kissing him hello. “Tell me more.”

Lan Wangji responds by pulling him closer. After all, he has a lifetime to show him everything.

Chapter Text

“Dare you to take that for a spin,” teases Wei Ying, nodding towards the mechanical bull in the corner of the bar. Lan Zhan raises an incredulous eyebrow at her, causing her to laugh. “Yeah, I mean it! Let’s see a Shanghai girl like you handle the Beast.”

Lan Zhan’s expression is almost comically flat. “Mark your words,” she says, handing a couple dollars to the barkeep. Every head in the country bar turns, as Lan Zhan kicks off her white heels and straddles the mechanical bull, looking more prim than an equestrian as she places her hands on the rubber saddle.

“You ready, miss?” asks the barkeep. Lan Zhan nods, and the crowd cheers as the music starts and the bull begins to move. It’s smooth at first, but Wei Ying’s ridden the Beast enough to know that won’t last long.

Sure enough, the first buck throws Lan Zhan off-guard, but she clings on, to general cheering and clapping. Her eyes widen briefly before they catch Wei Ying’s again and narrow with determination.

Wei YIng feels a shiver run down her spine.

The bull bucks again, and this time Lan Zhan is ready, her hips moving smoothly with the bull as she reaches up and pulls her hairsticks out of her meticulous updo, letting her hair cascade down her shoulders to the small of her back. She tosses the sticks at Wei Ying, the corners of her mouth twitching in a smirk. Someone in the bar wolf-whistles.

The bull speeds up, nearly tips upright, but Lan Zhan still manages to stay on it, her white pencil skirt bunched up to expose sheer pantyhose-clad thighs. Wei Ying’s throat goes dry, as Lan Zhan shrugs out of her white blazer and flings that at her as well, running her hand carelessly through her waterfall of hair.

At the next buck, her hair goes flying, and Wei Ying’s very aware of the warmth in her gut as she watches Lan Zhan riding the bull with a dexterity and grace that gets her heart racing in spite of herself.

Lan Zhan is hot. How did she not notice this before? Probably because she’d had her head too buried in her annoyance at the girl’s delicate sensibilities and arrogance or something. Lan Zhan had looked down on Wei Ying’s slapdash Mandarin, scoffed at her bad chopstick etiquette, wrinkled her nose at the local food. But as this particular day is turning out, it seems maybe Wei Ying had misjudged the cosmopolitan heiress from Shanghai currently renting the spare room at her family’s farmhouse.

The bull stops, and everyone cheers. People flock around Lan Zhan offering to buy her drinks, which she — to Wei Ying’s continued shock — accepts with grace.

“You’re never going to finish all of that alcohol,” she says, as they’re herded into a booth and plied with enough beer to knock out a bear. Lan Zhan takes a sip of one, wrinkles her nose, and pushes it away from her.

“It seemed rude to refuse,” she replies. Wei Ying takes the pint and chugs it down for her. Lan Zhan’s cheeks flush bright pink.

“More beer for me, then,” Wei Ying says, setting down the empty glass with an unladylike belch. Lan Zhan’s nose wrinkles, but the faint hint of amusement in her eyes gives her away. “You want your jacket back or something?”

“It seems hot,” says Lan Zhan, shaking her head. Maybe that’s just you, Wei Ying almost retorts.

“So. Do they teach you how to ride mechanical bulls in China?” she wonders.

Lan Zhan raises an eyebrow in amusement. “No,” she says. “But I sometimes ride Vespas.”

Wei Ying blinks. “You did what?”

“Scooters,” says Lan Zhan, frowning. “Like motorcycles? But not really. There are a lot more of those in China. My sister and I have matching ones. Much more easy to use than cars.”

Wei Ying’s brain immediately jumps to a mental image of Lan Zhan in all white riding a white Vespa through the streets of Shanghai, like Audrey Hepburn but even prettier. “Last time I checked, riding scooters isn’t as unpredictable as riding a mechanical bull,” she remarks.

Lan Zhan purses her lips. “You have not ridden a scooter in China, then,” she points out.

Wei Ying laughs at that. “Okay, I’ll buy it.” She rolls her eyes, picking up another flagon. “Congrats on taming the Beast.”

Lan Zhan smirks, and clinks her own pint against Wei Ying’s. She takes another sip, and promptly grimaces.

That, Wei Ying supposes, might be the next thing she needs to conquer.

Chapter Text

“What do you think?” wonders Lan Huan, stepping back from the canvas with a flourish. “It’s… not bad, right? I hope I captured you well.”

Jiang Cheng swallows as he takes in the portrait. Lan Huan has rendered him in bold, impressionistic strokes, capturing the planes of his body in cold morning light like a sleeping beauty. Between the pale morning sun glistening off his limbs and the dappled details in the crinkled bedsheets, Jiang Cheng finds it hard to believe that that figure in the painting is him.

“What… what would you call it?” he wonders.

Lan Huan thinks about it. “Dong Xian Dreaming,” he says. Jiang Cheng feels a lump in his throat that he can’t quite suppress.

“It’s — it’s beautiful,” he says thickly, reaching out but too scared to touch, for fear of smearing the oils. “You make me look a lot better than I should.”

Should?” Lan Huan arches an eyebrow. “A-Cheng, this is you. I’m merely painting what I see.”

“Yeah, but you have an artist’s eye,” scoffs Jiang Cheng. “I’m not that imaginative. I can’t look at myself in the mirror and think I’m art.”

“You are, though.” Lan Huan nods towards the canvas. “I’ve wanted to draw you since at least our first meeting at the Place d’Italie.”

“At least?” echoes Jiang Cheng, shuffling past the easel onto the narrow balcony. Outside, Paris gleams in the morning, the bells of nearby cathedrals chiming to mark the time. “That implies you’ve seen me before then.”

“Perhaps,” hedges Lan Huan. “Once or twice, at the base of Notre Dame, in the Jardin du Luxembourg, in the halls of the Sorbonne…”

Jiang Cheng can’t help but smile at that. “Creepy,” he jokes. Lan Huan’s cheeks colour. “I mean, I’m here now, aren’t I?”

“You are,” agrees Lan Huan, reaching for him. Jiang Cheng leans into his touch, fixated on the pinkness of his lips and the faint smell of linseed oil clinging to his shirt.

“I could kiss you right now,” he murmurs, and Lan Huan’s eyes go wide.

“I would love nothing more,” he admits. Jiang Cheng leans in closer, and tastes the remnants of wine on his lips.

Chapter Text

“You know, I really hate to bring this up,” says Nie Huaisang in a voice that clearly suggests he’s taking great joy in bringing it up, “but I won the wager, didn’t I?”

Jiang Wanyin blinks at him, and is immediately thrown back to more than thirteen years ago, to a stupid bet the two of them had made as they watched Wei Wuxian walk heavy-footed into the Library Pavillion to take his punishment. “You — you still remember that?” he demands.

Nie Huaisang shrugs. “Is that why you never collected on it when Wei Wuxian died?” he wonders.

“No? I mean, yeah? I kinda doubted the fucker was dead, considering the one thing he loved doing was bringing people back from it,” mutters Jiang Wanyin. “And we never found a body, so it was possible he just vanished to torment us another day. Should’ve counted my blessings while they lasted.”

“And now here they are,” agrees Nie Huaisang, gesturing his fan towards Wei Wuxian, alive and well in the body of Mo Xuanyu, clinging happily onto Lan Wangji’s shoulders. “And I’ve won the bet.”

Technically you didn’t, since it’s Master Mo’s body —”

“Just admit I’m right, like I always am.”

Jiang Cheng grumbles. “What did we even bet on?” he wonders.

“Loser gets to grant the winner one request,” says Nie Huaisang, almost sing-song. Jiang Wanyin groans.

“Can I just pay you instead?” he asks.

Nie Huaisang raises an eyebrow. “What? You don’t even want to hear what my request is?”

“No, not really.” Jiang Wanyin crosses his arms.

“Ugh, fine, how about a thousand gold pieces?”

What?” demands Jiang Wanyin, staring at him incredulously. “That’s — that’s extortion, Huaisang!”

“You didn’t want to hear my request,” replies Nie Huaisang, looking like a cat playing with a mouse. Jiang Wanyin gets the distinct, uncomfortable sense that he is the mouse.

“Fine!” He throws his hands up. “You win. What’s your dumb request?”

“A kiss.” The request makes Jiang Wanyin’s heart stand still. He frowns, blinks, shakes his head like a dog ridding its ears of water.

“Come again?” he demands.

“A. Kiss. Lips to lips.” Nie Huaisang unfurls his fan, hiding said lips with a demure flutter. “Unless you’d rather pay the thousand gold?”

“Fuck you,” says Jiang Wanyin. “I could threaten to use Zidian on you instead; how would that feel?”

Nie Huaisang raises an eyebrow. Jiang Wanyin is certain he’s pouting behind his fan. “You don’t want to kiss me?”

“I —” Jiang Wanyin valiantly bites off saying anything that might end up with them getting thrown out of the discussion conference. “Fine.”

He swoops in and pecks Nie Huaisang’s lips. The other sect leader grabs his nape and holds him in place.

“You call that a kiss?” demands Nie Huaisang. “That wasn’t even worth one gold piece. No wonder you’re still single, Wanyin-gege.”

Jiang Wanyin feels a jolt in his gut at that, especially as Nie Huaisang’s lips meet his again moments later, soft and wet and… fuck. This is better than good. This is a disaster in the making.

“Huaisang,” he breathes when they pull apart, a string of saliva hanging between them. Nie Huaisang blinks innocently up at him. “Do it again.”

“Gladly,” murmurs Nie Huaisang, and obeys.

Chapter Text

“Wei Wuxian, I have something to confess to you,” Lan Wangji says. Next to him, Jiang Wanyin freezes in place, halfway through adjusting the deliberately-messy ponytail he had tied his hair into.

It had all started innocently enough. Wei Wuxian had suggested they trade places for the week, as this was the week when Jiang Wanyin’s betrothed from Gusu was coming to visit. “If you pretend to be me, you could talk to him without all the engagement nonsense,” his shixiong had reasoned, because at the time this had been a wonderful idea with no possibility of anything going wrong whatsoever. “Then you’ll get to know him for who he really is!”

Fast-forward through an entire week of comic mishaps and near-misses, from him having to pretend he likes ridiculously spicy food to watching Lan Wangji choke down his laughter at the sight of Wei Wuxian-as-Jiang Wanyin trying not to run away at the sight of a dog in Lan Xichen’s arms, and — well, fuck. He had not expected this particular complication to arise.

“Yeah?” he wonders. Lan Wangji looks around, the faintest hint of pink in his cheeks. Jiang Wanyin feels his traitorous heart skip a beat as he guides them into a secluded pavilion on the lake. With a nod of thanks, Lan Wangji takes a seat at one of the tables, and folds his hands in front of him.

“Prior to arriving at Lotus Pier, my brother and I decided that we would trade places for the week, so that I could better observe Young Master Jiang from a distance,” he says. “When we were younger, we had often done this trick at banquets so that I could cover for my brother whenever the socialising takes its toll on him, or he would cover for me when I get nervous making speeches. We have been able to replicate most of each other’s mannerisms, though of course we could never fool those who know us truly.”

Jiang Wanyin supposes he should be a bit offended at the implication that he doesn’t truly know either of the Lan brothers, but then if he had, he would probably have seen through their shenanigans immediately. That being said, he raises an eyebrow, puts his legs up on the table in an approximation of his own brother, and nods for him to continue.

“During this week with you, Master Wei, I must admit my heart has been tested sorely. Not because I find my betrothed unappealing but — but because I have been enchanted by you instead.” Lan Wangji — Lan Xichen? — looks at him plaintively, his eyes shining bright against the late afternoon clouds. The distant sound of chirping cicadas lingers long in the silence between them.

Jiang Wanyin feels, strangely, out of breath.

“I shouldn’t be in love with you, Master Wei, but here I am anyway.” Lan Xichen inclines his head. “I am sorry to have deceived you all week, but I feel like I had to speak from my heart before the engagement progresses further. I, Lan Xichen, have fallen in love with you.”

Jiang Wanyin can’t help the harsh laugh that escapes him at that. Of course. Of course Wei Wuxian would steal everything from him, including his own betrothed. Part of him points out that Lan Xichen had only spent the week in his company, but he quashes that voice, reminding it that he had spent the entire week pretending to be his shixiong instead.

“I’m flattered,” he bites out, hoping the pain isn’t splayed out across his face like a lit beacon. “But — but —”

What would Wei Wuxian say in this situation? Jiang Wanyin swallows, searches through his memories of Wei Wuxian flirting with all the girls in Lotus Pier. What did he do when they confessed? What did he say?

(How could he do this, when his own heart has been ‘sorely tested’ in much the same way during this week by the quiet amusement and charm of Lan Xichen-as-Lan Wangji by his side?)

“I’m sorry, I don’t return those sentiments,” he blurts out, rising swiftly to his feet. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a lot of things to do in Lotus Pier! Cultivation things! Since I’m a senior disciple and everything!”

And with that he runs from the pavilion, not daring to look back at the damage he’d done.

Chapter Text

“Since you don’t want any of my special get better congee —”

“Yeah, because the objective is to get better, not to die,” Wei Wuxian’s darling sick nephew mutters mutinously from his bed. Wei Wuxian laughs, and ruffles Jin Ling’s hair.

“Well, I’m going to tell you a story instead.”

Jin Ling rolls his eyes. “I don’t have any choice in this, do I?”

“Nope!” Wei Wuxian grins. “Once upon a time, there was a beautiful scholar named Lan Zhan, who studied very hard in a big monastery called the Cloud Recesses in Gusu. Lan Zhan cared only for three things: reading books, playing guqin, and ordering around the servant boy, Wei Ying —”

Jin Ling makes a gagging noise. “Is this a kissing book?”

Lan Zhan would frequently call Wei Ying’s name, and Wei Ying would appear quickly, always telling him “I’m here” before attending to whatever he needed. For a while, Lan Zhan did not realise that whenever Wei Ying told him “I’m here”, what he really meant to say was “I love you.”

“Wei Ying.”

“I’m here! Did you need more tea?”

“Wei Ying.”

“I’m here! More incense, right?”

Then, one day, Lan Zhan realised that he, too, loved Wei Ying back.

“Wei Ying.”

“I’m here!” The servant boy hopped into the jingshi, looking around him for the task Lan Zhan wanted him to perform. “Um… what did you want, Lan er-gege?”

The nickname sent shivers down Lan Zhan’s back, and he stepped forward swiftly, capturing Wei Ying’s lips in a sweet kiss. “You,” he replied simply.

Jin Ling retches. “Ugh, I can’t believe you tricked me into listening to you recount your gross little fantasies with Hanguang-jun,” he complains.

“Fantasies!” splutters Wei Wuxian, pouting at his nephew. “This is all one hundred percent true!”

“Is not,” says Jin Ling. “Everyone knows you took longer than Hanguang-jun to realise your feelings.”

Wei Wuxian puffs himself up in indignation. “Who’s telling the story, you or me?”

Lan Zhan strode past the Man in Black, disdain curling at his lip. How could he even bring himself to thank this man, who is clearly the Yiling Patriarch and the murderer of his true love?

“Hey, hey,” snapped the Man in Black. “I just saved your life, Hanguang-jun.”

“He didn’t!” protests Jin Ling. “He just got lucky and happened to have an immunity to zhenniao poison!”

“Death would be preferable,” retorted Lan Zhan coldly, “considering who you are.”

“Oh?” wondered the Man in Black. “And who might that be, exactly?”

“The Yiling Patriarch,” said Lan Zhan, letting his hatred colour his words. “You killed my true love.”

“I did?” The Man in Black frowned. “Would probably help if I knew your true love’s name. Some simpering maiden, I suppose? Or maybe some whiny concubine?”

“No, a man,” said Lan Zhan, “with eyes as grey as a storm, a smile as bright as the sun. Wei Ying.”

“Wei Ying. You know, actually, I do remember him,” said the Man in Black. “He talked about his true love, too, some scholar-gentleman by the name of Lan Zhan. Eyes like topaz, skin like jade. I guess did him a favour when I killed him, then, so he doesn’t have to see his true love turn as false as you.”

Anger rose in Lan Zhan at that. How dare this murderer presume such things about him! Reaching out, he gave the Man in Black a rough shove, pushing him over the edge of the hill.

The man yelped. “Lan Zhan? Lan Zhan, what did you do that for?” he demanded as he rolled down the steep grassy slope. “Lan Zhan, I’m sorry, I won’t make fun of you again — I’m here!”

Lan Zhan blinked. “Wei Ying,” he breathed in realisation, and flung himself down to roll after him.

“Hanguang-jun wouldn’t roll,” insists Lan Jingyi, visibly offended.

Wei Wuxian groans. “Okay, fine, Jingyi, he slid cooly down the slope and came to a stop next to Wei Ying, and there wasn’t even a speck of dirt on his pretty white robes. Happy?”

“I’m never happy,” says Lan Jingyi. Lan Sizhui cuffs him over the head. “Hey!”

“Wei Ying,” gasped Lan Zhan, kneeling down next to the prone form of the Man in Black. Slowly, he reached out and raised the black mask from over his love’s eyes, revealing Wei Ying’s handsome face. “I believed you to be dead.”

“Death cannot stop true love,” said Wei Ying simply, reaching out to curl his fingers in Lan Zhan’s hair. “All it can do is delay it for a little while.”

“I shall never doubt again,” declared Lan Zhan, as he leaned in to kiss him again —

“Again with the kissing!” groans Jin Ling, as Lan Jingyi and Lan Sizhui start crying next to him.

“I think the others like it,” says Wei Wuxian, nodding at the Lan disciples.

Hanguang-jun waited thirteen years for true love,” blubbers Lan Jingyi in between his sobs. “It’s — it’s so beautiful —”

Chapter Text

Lan Wangji doesn’t cry.

That’s the prevailing belief throughout the Lan Sect, and probably the entire cultivation world. The second Jade of Lan, whose face was as fixed as marble, as impenetrable as ice, could not be compelled to show any expression beyond mild disdain. To coax a tear from him would be quite literally like coaxing water from a stone.

Wei Wuxian finds out, rather accidentally, that conventional wisdom where Lan Wangji is concerned is… actually quite false.

The first time Wei Wuxian sees Lan Wangji cry, he hadn’t meant to see it. He’d gone to find the other cultivator in hopes of apologising for the Library Pavilion incident, since, well, he’s not nearly so heartless as his teasing makes him out to be.

He slips back into the Library Pavillion, having seen a light still on in the chamber where Lan Wangji usually does his studying. A bolt of mischief takes him, causing him to soften his footsteps in hopes of sneaking up on the other boy, but then at the sound of a sniffle, he freezes.

Lan Wangji’s shoulders are trembling. His hands shake against his brush, and though most of his face is obscured by the book he’s holding to his face, Wei Wuxian can distinctly see droplets of water hitting the paper below.

Guilt bubbles in his stomach at the sight. Had he been the cause of this?

With his heart pounding harder in his chest, Wei Wuxian quietly slips back out of the Library Pavilion. He’ll have to think of some other way to express his sorriness, somehow.

The second time Wei Wuxian sees Lan Wangji cry, it’s a moment of vulnerability as fleeting as a candle’s flame. Caught in the flicker of the small fire between them in this dark, terrible cave, the single tear that rolls down Lan Wangji’s cheek claws at Wei Wuxian’s heart.

“I’m sorry for mentioning it,” he says, looking away from the sight. It seems too intimate for him to see Lan Wangji like this. “It must be difficult, dealing with… with losing your home.”

He can hear Lan Wangji take a deep breath, can hear his robes rustling as he wipes at his face.

“We must focus on the Xuanwu,” he replies. When Wei Wuxian looks back at him, there is no indication on Lan Wangji’s face that the tears had ever been there.

Always so stoic. Always careful to present an unflappable face towards the world, scared to let someone in. Wei Wuxian supposes they’re not that different there, after all. If he’d lost Lotus Pier — a thought so terrible he doesn’t want to linger on it for long — he’d probably be a sobbing wreck on the inside, too.

They defeat the Xuanwu, and after Lan Wangji rescues him from its jaws he plays for him a song of such unimaginable beauty that Wei Wuxian’s very bones feel haunted by each note.

And then, after that, that terrible thought comes true.

The third time Wei Wuxian sees Lan Wangji cry, the battlefield is strewn with the corpses of Wen soldiers. He walks carelessly between them, letting their bodies softly fall at his feet. Chenqing dangles carelessly from his fingers.

“Come back to Gusu with me,” pleads Lan Wangji. There’s a note of desperation in his voice, his eyes swimming with the emotions the rest of him refuses to display. Wei Wuxian scoffs, as the darkness ebbs and flows inside him.

“Do you think I am a war trophy to be locked away?” he wonders drily. “Or worse, a war criminal who must be imprisoned?”

“The single-plank bridge is dangerous,” warns Lan Wangji, his hands clenching into fists at his side. “If you continue, you may not be able to control it.”

Resentment rises in Wei Wuxian at his words. “You assume a lot about what I can or cannot do,” he snaps. “Have you considered, perhaps, that you take your own authority for granted?”

The reason things are undiscovered or unexplained is because no one in the world has the guts to explore them. And the reason no one wants to explore these avenues is because of moral goody-goodies just like Lan Wangji, who are so concerned with the good that they would crush anything remotely deviating from it!

“I am concerned for your safety,” Lan Wangji bites out, his shoulders trembling.

“I neither need nor care for your concern,” spits Wei Wuxian.

Jiang Cheng steps in, reminding Lan Wangji that he has no authority over a disciple of Yunmeng Jiang. Wei Wuxian watches, then, as the emotions spill over Lan Wangji’s cheeks, as he lowers his gaze and turns away, shoulders shaking.

The third time Wei Wuxian sees Lan Wangji cry, he thinks, well, he deserved that, and hates himself for it.

The next time Wei Wuxian sees Lan Wangji cry, he’s reminded again of the first time.

The forests of Baifeng Mountain are quiet during the hunt, the sounds of cultivators taking down monsters distant to his ears. Wei Wuxian himself is still reeling from the kiss he’d just had, his lips still tingling from the memory of the mystery maiden’s lips against his own.

He’d just seen off his shijie by the observation towers, and slipped back into the hunt in an attempt to find Lan Wangji and tease him some more about his destruction of the trees. But when he does find Lan Wangji, his breath stops short when he sees what the Gusu cultivator is doing.

Lan Wangji is standing still in the middle of a clearing, the stalks and petals of numerous wildflowers scattered at his feet. His breathing is laboured as he systematically tears petals off of the flower clutched in his fist.

Wei Wuxian has half a mind to shout something, perhaps about why Lan Wangji is indiscriminately destroying the flora of Baifeng Mountain in the middle of a nighthunt, but the sudden glint of autumn sunlight against the tear tracks on Lan Wangji’s cheeks give him pause.

He’d never been good at handling Lan Wangji crying, has he?

Guiltily, he shuffles back into the refuge of the trees, hoping to slip away unnoticed. Of course that means his next step causes a twig to snap.

Bichen is out in an instant, slicing through all the trees in the vicinity. Wei Wuxian barely avoids getting sliced himself.

He rushes away faster at that. Lan Wangji would never forgive him if he knew Wei Wuxian had seen him like this, even if this wasn’t the first time.

The memory of the kiss still lingers on his lips.

The last time Wei Wuxian sees Lan Wangji cry, a little boy named A-Yuan is curled up in his lap, refusing to let him go.

“You seem upset about not being able to leave,” he jokes, as A-Yuan lets out a fake snore, as if pretending to sleep will convince his new Brother Rich to stay a little while longer. “I’ll get A-Yuan out of your hair, then, so you can be on your way —”

“No,” says Lan Wangji flatly, bowing his head and hiding his face behind his hair. The tears still spill, down his cheeks, onto the little boy. A-Yuan’s nose twitches at it. “These are not from sadness.”

Wei Wuxian swallows. “What are they, then?” he wonders. Lan Wangji closes his eyes.

“I have not heard your laugh in a long while,” he replies.

“I’ve laughed plenty of times through the years,” scoffs Wei Wuxian.

Lan Wangji shakes his head. “A true laugh,” he says.

Wei Wuxian rolls his eyes. Of course Lan Wangji would be cryptic about something even remotely close to expressing an emotion. “What’s there to cry about? Is the sound of my laughter that repulsive? I’ll try not to do it again, then, Lan er-gege.”

“No!” The word rushes out a little too soon, clearly, because Lan Wangji then swallows, and shakily starts to card his hands through A-Yuan’s hair. “I do not know why I am reacting this way, either. But I know it is not from sadness.”

Wei Wuxian feels a lump rise in his own throat, as he tries to look away from the picture of Lan Wangji gently doting on the little boy in his arms. This could never be in their future — he himself is too tainted for that. Too impure.

Lan Wangji could never dream of starting a family with a demonic cultivator, of all things.

“Wei Ying?” wonders Lan Wangji, quirking an eyebrow. Wei Wuxian wipes at his own eyes, forcing a smile onto his face at the sound of his name.

“Just something in my eye,” he lies. “Thank you for caring for A-Yuan, Lan Zhan.”

Lan Wangji nods, inclining his head.

Wei Wuxian swallows down the lump in his throat, as longing curls deep inside him at the sight of what he knows he cannot have.

Chapter Text

Wei Ying,” hisses Lan Wangji as the other boy drags him out of the Library Pavillion. “You — you cannot keep doing this.”

I can’t keep doing this? It takes two to do this,” says Wei Wuxian, grinning from ear to ear as they make their way out to a secluded clearing in the gardens, set far back from the rest of the buildings. Here, a magnolia tree sheds its fragrant petals against a crisp spring breeze. “You could have said no, you know.”

Lan Wangji purses his lips. “I was not aware that was an option,” he mutters.

Wei Wuxian laughs. “Now you’re just playing coy,” he says, leaning against the trunk of the tree and beckoning him closer. “Now then, Lan er-gege, where were we in our lessons?”

Lan Wangji swallows and complies, noting the tangles of leaves and twigs in Wei Wuxian’s wild hair, the smudge of dirt on his cheek, the sun-kissed freckles along his nose like little dusty stars. “If we are caught, we could be punished for promiscuity.”

Wei Wuxian laughs at that. “But we haven’t even gotten into the worst of it!” he exclaims, fondly running a hand along Lan Wangji’s cheek. Lan Wangji suspects his own face may be streaked with dirt now. He’s a bit terrified at how much that excites him.

“The worst?” he breathes. “What do you mean?”

“Well, that’s things that would definitely be considered obscene,” teases Wei Wuxian, now twirling Lan Wangji’s hair around his finger. “But… there’s nothing wrong with kissing, is there?”

Lan Wangji exhales. “No,” he agrees. Wei Wuxian grins.

“Well, then, there you have it.” Slowly, he tangles his hands further in Lan Wangji’s hair, mussing up his careful hairstyle. Lan Wangji’s heart stutters in anticipation. “Let’s review our kisses, yeah?”

“Mm,” concedes Lan Wangji, and leans in to capture Wei Wuxian’s lips with his own.

Chapter Text

Despite having spent most of his life on a punctual and rigid sleeping schedule, Lan Wangji finds that he cannot sleep tonight. Wei Wuxian is here, cradled in his arms. His solid presence should be comforting, but Lan Wangji is terrified that if he moves too abruptly, the other man will simply fade like smoke.

“Lan Zhan,” breathes Wei Wuxian, turning his head to rest on Lan Wangji’s chest. “Are you still awake?”

“Mm.” Lan Wangji cracks one eye open, looking at Wei Wuxian — or rather, Wei Wuxian clad in the body of young Master Mo, but with the fire that Lan Wangji would recognise from anywhere sparkling in his eyes. “You should sleep.”

“So should you,” retorts Wei Wuxian. “It’s long past your bedtime.”

Lan Wangji reaches up, tucks a strand of hair behind Wei Wuxian’s ear. “If I dream, I dream of this moment,” he replies. “But when I wake, you fade with the morning lark.”

“I swear I won’t fade this time,” says Wei Wuxian, grinning as he presses his lips to the inside of Lan Wangji’s wrist. “See, how real does that feel?”

Lan Wangji exhales at the touch. “I did not feel it,” he lies.

“You didn’t, huh? Maybe I should find a better place.” Wei Wuxian’s lips trail up his arms to his shoulder. “How about here?”

Lan Wangji shakes his head. Wei Wuxian raises an eyebrow, before pressing another kiss to Lan Wangji’s chest, above where his heart beats erratically.

“Still no reaction?” Wei Wuxian pouts at that, the quirk of his lips so familiar and yet so strange. He presses his lips to Lan Wangji’s throat, just near his pulse. “You aren’t even ticklish. How sad.”

Lan Wangji swallows. His self-control is slowly ebbing, the farther up Wei Wuxian’s lips move. “Wei Ying —” he breathes, his hands now moving to rest against the small of Wei Wuxian’s back, pressing them closer. Wei Wuxian hums, dipping down to nose against Lan Wangji’s collar before tracing a line of kisses up his jaw.

“I’m here,” he murmurs, and brushes his lips against Lan Wangji’s.

Chapter Text

“Master Wei!” Wen Ning’s voice calls from up front. “Mr Lan to see you again.”

Wei Ying pauses in sweeping up the studio space, setting his broom against the wall and skirting by a large plywood set piece. “What does Mr Lan want?” he calls.

“To schedule another session,” says Mr Lan when Wei Ying emerges out front. His hat is in his hands and his suit is as white and pristine as ever, and in the evening light his hair falls soft against his glasses. Wei Ying’s breath hitches, though not of his own volition. “I cannot seem to recall… if you have any shots of me with an agreeable expression?”

“Define agreeable,” says Wei Ying, poking through the envelopes full of developed prints for people to pick up. Mr Lan fiddles with the brim of his fedora. “You didn’t really smile, if that’s what you’re looking for…”

“Not severe,” says Mr Lan, a rather bashful tilt appearing in his shoulders.

“Well.” Wei Ying triumphantly pulls out a folder marked ‘Lan’ on it. “I might’ve had a few shots of that.”

Mr Lan pulls out the photographs in question, thumbing delicately through them with his brows furrowed. “You… have quite a talent,” he murmurs after a moment, setting down the prints on the counter in quiet awe. Wei Ying has to admit, he’s also quite proud of how these ones turned out. Mr Lan in the photographs looks ethereal, untouchable, like a god who had descended to earth to play with the mortals for a season or two while searching for a greater meaning in the universe.

“I had a good subject,” he demurs. “So, are you sure you want to schedule a return appointment? Have I gotten the perfect shot yet?”

Mr Lan considers it, before putting all the photos back in the envelope. “No,” he says. “How about Wednesday, ten in the morning?”

“You got it,” says Wei Ying, winking at him. Mr Lan swallows visibly, before setting down a couple bills as payment and sweeping out the door. Wen Ning chuckles as he rings him up.

“You think his watermelon’s sweet?” he teases.

Wei Ying elbows him.

Chapter Text

“Lan Zhan! Fancy seeing you here again!” Wei Wuxian’s frustratingly cheery voice tears Lan Wangji out of his meditation in the cold springs. Gritting his teeth, he looks back just in time to get splashed in the face with water, as the Yunmeng disciple jumps into the water with all the subtlety of gunpowder.

Slowly, he runs a hand down his face, scowling. “The cold springs are for cultivation,” he grinds out. Wei Wuxian giggles, splashing him again for good measure.

“Who says I’m not cultivating as we speak?” he wonders, though his teeth chatter a bit in the frigid mountain air. Lan Wangji harrumphs, turning his back on him. “Ooh, Lan Zhan, what’s that on your back? Is it your soulmark?”

Lan Wangji whirls around again, but it’s too late. Wei Wuxian’s grin is wide and cheeky. “I can’t believe it!” he exclaims. “You do have a soulmate! Who’s the unfortunate soul bound to you, I wonder?”

“You bear a mark as well,” remarks Lan Wangji waspishly. “I can only pity the fool who is bound to you.”

“Of course I do,” says Wei Wuxian, moving his hair out of the way to flaunt the mark on his chest. The words ‘I love you’ blossom across his heart, scarlet strokes spelling out his fate for the world to see. “I bet my soulmate is a beautiful woman with the stars in her eyes… probably not a cultivator, or won’t have a high enough level to avoid death. Tragic, but at least she’ll love me enough for this to be her dying words.”

“Tedious,” scoffs Lan Wangji.

Wei Wuxian pouts. “Soulmarks aren’t tedious. What does yours even say?” He moves to try and get behind Lan Wangji again, to see what’s on his back, but Lan Wangji merely turns against his every move. “Come on, Lan er-gege! You can tell me; I won’t tell a soul!”

“No,” insists Lan Wangji, the tips of his ears flushing in spite of himself. He presses back against the edge of the pool, hoping the panic isn’t evident on his face. 

When he returns to the jingshi later that night, he pulls down the covering over the mirror and gingerly examines his back. There, the angry red scratches of his soulmark seem almost burned into his skin.


Because of this, his mother had once taken him aside with pity in her eyes. Zhan’er, she had said, I hope you know your soulmate does not have to be the most important person in your life.

Why would you say that, Mama?

Because their last words to you are to tell you to leave.

He’d tried to rationalise it, of course. Maybe it will be a moment of mortal peril. Maybe he will lose his soulmate to some terrible monster, or to some deadly catastrophe. Maybe the reason they shout for him to leave will be because it will save his life. 

Zhan’er, you must learn to be okay with being alone. 

He can still hear his mother’s voice, after all these years, as she carefully traced the soulmark on his back in the middle of helping with his bath. I’m already okay with it, Mama, there’s no need to worry. 

Lan Wangji takes a deep breath, covering up the mark on his back. There’s no use letting his imagination get ahead of him. He will simply have to wait and see.

It’s not that many years later Lan Wangji realises his imagination didn’t run that far ahead after all. At the mouth of the cave stands thirty-three Lan clan elders. Inside, there is only him and the Yiling Patriarch, weak but still furiously struggling against Lan Wangji’s arms.

“I love you,” he tells him, sending spiritual energy into his chest, into the spot where his soulmark should be burning bright. 

“Leave,” spits Wei Wuxian, and Lan Wangji’s heart crumbles into itself.  

Chapter Text

Song Lan’s boyfriend has a new cat.

This is a fact that Song Lan finds out rather unpleasantly when he is jumped by a fuzzy black ball of death and claws the instant he opens the door into the apartment. He only barely manages to avoid the claws to his face, at the expense of his back.

“Chengmei!” scolds a girl’s voice through the haze of pain in Song Lan’s head. “Bad kitty! Down!” 

There’s an irritable hissing, followed by a surprised yowl as the business end of a broom meets the black furball scratching down his back. Song Lan collapses with a yelp, as Xiao Xingchen’s ward A-Qing reaches over and plucks the protesting cat off of his shoulders. 

“Thanks,” Song Lan sighs, looking up at her from the threshold he’d collapsed over. “Appreciate it.”

“Dumb kitty,” replies A-Qing, rolling her eyes. The black ball of fur in her arms hisses at her. “Yeah, you know I’m talking about you.” 

With a groan, Song Lan slowly clambers back to his feet. “Where did he even come from?” he demands. 

“A-Die found him in the rain a couple weeks back,” says A-Qing, rolling her eyes. “Dumb kitty just won’t leave.”

“Why would he, if you keep feeding and sheltering him?” wonders Song Lan. A-Qing sticks her tongue out at him. “You know I’m right, though.”

A-Qing pouts, before squeezing the cat in her arms a little tighter. It makes a smug purring sound rather like the motor of a car, and Song Lan makes a face at it in reply as he dusts himself off and goes to find his boyfriend. 

“A-Qing has been asking for a cat for quite some time,” says Xiao Xingchen as they watch the young girl try to lure Chengmei out from under the couch. “This one happened to be a stray with no prior claim. It was serendipitous.”

Song Lan hums, sipping at his tea. His boyfriend smiles over the rim of his glasses as he refills their cups. 

“Who named it?” he wonders.

Xiao Xingchen laughs. “A-Qing,” he says, causing her to look up in protest.

“No, it was A-Die!” she insists. “It’s because he was so ugly when we found him, all beat up and soaking wet from the rain.”

Song Lan snorts, as Chengmei suddenly shoots out from under the couch to pounce at A-Qing’s feather toy. A-Qing laughs, wildly shaking it out of the cat’s reach, much to its chagrin. “But he’s not that ugly now, is he?”

Xiao Xingchen smiles, shaking his head. “He has a missing digit on his paw,” he points out. “Not that it makes him uglier, of course. I think it gives him character.”

“Makes him eviller,” adds A-Qing, now trying to pull the feather out of Chengmei’s stubborn grasp. “Bad kitty.”

“He’s not doing anything wrong,” Xiao Xingchen rebukes gently.

“He does nothing but think of murder all day,” retorts A-Qing. “So he’s always bad.”

Xiao Xingchen laughs. Song Lan raises an eyebrow. 

I know the cat’s evil because it attacked me, but how do you?” he wonders. 

A-Qing merely pouts up at him. “He keeps shedding on my laundry,” she replies. 

Song Lan has to admit that’s a valid argument in favour of the inherent evilness of this cat. He finishes his tea, before going to kneel down beside the cat, trying to tug the feathers out of its grasp.

He gets bitten for his troubles, but it’s a small price to be paid for A-Qing’s laughter.

Xiao Xingchen is a decent cook sometimes, and tonight is one of those nights. His steamed fish makes Song Lan’s mouth water just by the smell, and even A-Qing, who can be picky about her meals sometimes, scarfs it down without question.

This also means Chengmei plants itself right next to the table and yowls as if there isn’t a bowl of food sitting in the kitchen. 

“You’re spoiling him,” A-Qing complains as Xiao Xingchen slips a couple bites of the fish to the cat. “At this rate, he won’t eat cat food anymore.”

“Cats eat fish,” replies Xiao Xingchen innocently. A-Qing’s pout deepens.

“The dry food in the kitchen has fish in it,” she points out. “And I mixed it with some of the wet food, and he still wants to pretend as if we’re starving him.”

“Well, you can’t blame Chengmei for liking human food better,” muses Xiao Xingchen. “Who knows what additives get put into pet food…” 

A-Qing scoffs. “Would you feed him chocolate, then? That’s poisonous to cats. Or milk —”

“I thought cats love cream,” says Xiao Xingchen innocently.

“Do you want to kill the kitty?” demands A-Qing. “Because that’s how you kill the kitty. Or at least make him vomit all over the apartment again.” 

Song Lan chuckles, especially as the girl gets up and retrieves the food bowl from the kitchen, setting it down in front of Chengmei with a determined scowl. The cat sniffs the concoction in the bowl, takes a couple nibbles, before knocking the bowl over with one swipe.

“You little —!” hisses A-Qing, as Chengmei smugly resumes nibbling bites of fish out of the small plate that Xiao Xingchen sets down in front of him. “He’s just being greedy, A-Die, stop it!”

“There’s plenty to go around,” says Xiao Xingchen. Chengmei agrees by rubbing itself up against his shins. 

A-Qing rolls her eyes. “I even made sure to get the foreign brand organic food,” she grumbles. “Ungrateful brat.”

Chengmei licks its paws almost smugly in reply. 

“Shh — shh, Xingchen, what if A-Qing hears —” breathes Song Lan into the space between their faces, as Xiao Xingchen arches into him with another long, piteous moan. 

His boyfriend reaches up and tangles his hands into his hair. “She listens to music at this hour,” he murmurs. Song Lan can’t help but laugh at that.

“Sure, but — the neighbours, too, Xingchen —” he’s cut off again by Xiao Xingchen’s lips against his, Xiao Xingchen’s hands skillfully running down his spine. Song Lan gasps as he presses their foreheads together, bucking against his boyfriend’s hips. Xiao Xingchen’s legs wrap around his waist, as his other hand moves down to stroke them both —

There’s a scratch at the door. The two of them freeze, almost as if trying to pretend if they don’t move, the cat on the other side will give up and go bother A-Qing instead. But the scratching persists, now coupled with accusatory mewls. 

“I should let him in,” sighs Xiao Xingchen. “Chengmei has grown used to sleeping in my bed.”

Song Lan reaches over for the bedside lamp, so that he can look down mock-judgementally at his boyfriend. “Doesn’t the cat have its own bed?” he wonders.

“Habit,” says Xiao Xingchen shortly. Song Lan sighs, tucking a stray strand of hair behind his boyfriend’s ear. 

“Might as well,” he concedes, rolling off of Xiao Xingchen to let him slip his pyjama bottoms back on. His boyfriend goes to open the door, and Chengmei comes bolting in, leaping onto the bed in one fluid jump. Song Lan winces as the cat walks onto his body, but as soon as Xiao Xingchen gets back into bed, the cat immediately settles down in between them and starts to knead at Song Lan’s chest.

“What’s it doing?” wonders Song Lan. Xiao Xingchen laughs. 

“He likes you,” he replies. Song Lan pulls a face, especially as the cat’s paws now move to claw at his cheeks. 

“Funny way of showing it,” he says. 

“The vet says he was weaned too early,” says Xiao Xingchen, gently pulling Chengmei off of him to stroke along his back. In the lamplight, Song Lan watches its eyes blink slowly before it flops down to rub its head against the crook of Xiao Xingchen’s neck. “And he’s had such a hard time of it on the streets, too. The vet took out some worms when we first brought him in.” 

Song Lan shifts onto his side, hesitantly offering a finger to the cat. Chengmei sniffs it experimentally before turning back to him and snurgling at his chest again. This time, Song Lan lets him. 

“It’s nice of you to take such good care of him, then,” he concedes. Xiao Xingchen chuckles, running a finger against the soft black fur gathered at Chengmei’s scruff. 

“We’re all he has,” he replies. “If he’s got nine lives, who knows what he’s had to deal with before? A little kindness won’t cost much.” 

Song Lan has to agree with that, as he reaches over to cup his boyfriend’s cheek. Chengmei’s claw’s dig into his t-shirt at that moment, causing him to yelp. 

“At least put claw caps on him,” Song Lan pleads, extricating the cat’s paws from his chest. 

Xiao Xingchen’s laugh is the last thing he hears before sleep claims him.  

Chapter Text

“We’re almost there!” exclaims Wei Wuxian as she emerges from the clouds. From her own vantage point on Bichen, Lan Wangji arches a sceptical eyebrow at her. “Seriously, it’s not too far off, I promise.”

Lan Wangji’s nose twitches, mildly irritable. Wei Wuxian had said as much several incense sticks ago, when they’d just passed through a series of narrow gorges and elder-growth forests. The senior disciple from Yunmeng laughs, guiding Suibian up to coast alongside her.

“I promise we’re almost there,” she says, before tugging Lan Wangji by the sleeves of her robes to follow her down through the clouds. “See? Here we are!”

Lan Wangji’s breath hitches as the valley below comes into view: a vast, sparkling blue lake, rolling green fields dotted with wildflowers, a blue haze of cypress forests on the distant shores. With a whoop, Wei Ying points Suibian into a sharp dive, surfing a wind current down into the valley towards the lake. 

“Wei Ying —” warns Lan Wangji, but the other girl is already long out of earshot, red ribbons and skirts flying wild behind her as she plummets through the air. With her own heart in her throat, Lan Wangji points Bichen downwards as well, clutching onto her weimao for dear life. 

Through a combination of sheer skill and luck, Wei Wuxian manages to pull out of her death dive just mere zhang from the ground, before landing lightly onto the grass by the bank of the lake with a broad grin. Turning back upwards, she starts to wave and shout for Lan Wangji to hurry up. 

“Come on, Lan-jiejie, don’t be so slow!” she calls. Lan Wangji grits her teeth and picks up her pace, though within a couple li of the ground she veers into a hover and gently descends onto the grass beside Wei Wuxian, not a single hair out of place. 

Wei Wuxian, on the other hand, looks about as windswept as you could possibly get. Lan Wangji has half an urge to run the other girl’s wild curls through her comb. Or her fingers.

She folds her hands behind her back and fidgets the urge away. 

Wei Wuxian is now unpacking the qiankun bag by her side, pulling out of its depths a jug of Emperor’s Smile and two cups, as well as loquats, osmanthus cakes, and an assortment of pumpkin, sunflower, and lotus seeds. Lan Wangji watchers her arrange the spread, her gaze fixed on the glow of the summer sunshine kissing her skin.

“There we go,” says Wei Wuxian, triumphantly stepping back to admire the spread laid out onto the grass. Then, to Lan Wangji’s shock, she shrugs out of her outer robe, laying it on the grass beside the food and drink. 

Heat creeps up the back of Lan Wangji’s neck, flushes heavily along her ears. She tries to divert her gaze, lowering the brim of her weimao to preserve the other girl’s modesty, but Wei Wuxian’s amused laughter easily tears through the gauze of her veil. 

“Don’t be so shy, Lan-jiejie,” she teases. “We’re both girls and it’s such a hot day, anyway. I don’t know how you can survive in those layers of yours.”

Lan Wangji kneels down beside the picnic spread, keeping her gaze deliberately lowered. This proves to be a mistake, though, as Wei Wuxian then takes the chance to swipe her weimao off her head.

“Wei Ying!” shouts Lan Wangji, glaring up at her, but the other girl hides the hat behind her with a broad grin. With the heat threatening to spill to her cheeks, Lan Wangji stubbornly turns her gaze back out across the lake, determined to ignore Wei Wuxian’s immodest figure for the rest of the day.

It does, of course, beg the question of why she’d even agreed to go on this excursion with the senior disciple from Yunmeng in the first place. It didn’t seem to be a nighthunt, and Wei Wuxian had promised to return them both to the Cloud Recesses before curfew. Lan Wangji’s only real excuse at this point is to say that she had wanted to keep an eye on Wei Wuxian, to prevent her from getting into trouble. 

But considering that Wei Wuxian hadn’t even thought to invite either her sister Jiang Yanli or her friend Nie Huaisang, her insistence on bringing Lan Wangji out here with her seems uncharacteristic of her, at best.

Lan Wangji could not be so arrogant as to assume a girl who’d managed to break at least ten of the Cloud Recesses’ rules before their classes had even started would ever consider someone like Lan Wangji herself as anything approaching a friend, let alone anything more intimate than that. Yet, despite the isolation of the location, despite the presence of the (contraband) Emperor’s Smile, Lan Wangji is loath to consider this a trap.

“Drink some,” says Wei Wuxian, pouring her a small cup of the wine. Lan Wangji shakes her head. “Come on, Lan-jiejie, we’re far from the Cloud Recesses right now. Live a little!”

Lan Wangji shakes her head again. “Alcohol is forbidden,” she points out. 

“You can’t fault me for bringing a drink on a hot day,” retorts Wei Wuxian, unbundling the seeds with a triumphant grin. She sits down cross-legged and unladylike, Lan Wangji’s weimao in her lap. Lan Wangji’s fingers flinch towards it briefly before she folds her hands behind her back again, pursing her lips. “Aren’t you going to eat something? Here, have a loquat.”

She tosses it at Lan Wangji, who catches it without error and hides her mouth behind her sleeve as she eats. It bursts bright and sweet against her tongue, with just the faintest hint of tartness.

“I have plums,” Lan Wangji says after a moment, before producing the fruits from her own qiankun bag. Wei Wuxian’s eyes light up at the sight of them, though she hesitates to reach for the one being proffered to her. Lan Wangji has to bite her cheeks to tamp down her amusement at Wei Wuxian’s sudden shyness.

“Are you sure?” Wei Wuxian manages after a moment.

Lan Wangji inclines her head. Wei Wuxian worries at her lips for another second more before she takes the fruit, and then places the weimao back onto Lan Wangji’s head. 

“I was just teasing,” she explains. “I’m sorry I took your hat. If the sun’s too bright, I —”

“Do not worry,” says Lan Wangji, bowing her head. Wei Wuxian pouts, before taking a swig of her Emperor’s Smile straight from the jar. Lan Wangji can’t help but raise her eyebrows at that. 

“What?” protests Wei Wuxian. “You’re not drinking the wine, so what’s the point?”

“Unseemly,” replies Lan Wangji. Wei Wuxian laughs. 

“Come on, look at me,” she says, sprawling out onto her outer robe and looking up at Lan Wangji with an amused smirk. “You really think that’s something I care about?” 

Lan Wangji’s gaze darts downwards briefly as she hides her own smirk behind her sleeve. Wei Wuxian rolls onto her back, her smile now open and welcoming, before polishing her plum with the sleeves of her inner robe and taking a generous bite.

The juice trickles everywhere, dripping sloppily down her chin onto her sun-kissed collar. Lan Wangji can feel her breath hitch in her chest at the sight; her own hand falters against the skin of the other plum. Suddenly not trusting her self-control, she puts it back into the qiankun bag, fiddling nervously with the tassel of her jade pendant.

“Not gonna eat the plum?” wonders Wei Wuxian. Lan Wangji shakes her head. “Have another loquat, then.” 

Lan Wangji takes it, polishing the loquat on her sleeve over and over again as she listens to the sound of the other girl devouring her plum. She would sooner die than admit that she’s enjoying the view, as she picks at the loquat’s skin as a desperate last attempt to preserve what’s left of her self-regulation.

The sounds of eating pause beside her. Lan Wangji looks back up to see Wei Wuxian staring thoughtfully at her plum. After a moment, the other girl sits back up and raises her sleeve, demurely finishing the rest of the fruit before taking out a handkerchief to wipe her mouth clean. Lan Wangji watches the cloth dab away the rest of the juice glistening against Wei Wuxian’s soft pink lips, and wonders — not for the first time — how sweet those lips might taste against her own tongue.

“I have to leave the Cloud Recesses soon,” says Wei Wuxian when she finally tucks her kerchief away. She also tries to hide the Emperor’s Smile behind her sleeve, but then gives up on that entirely, finishing the rest of the wine in one open gulp. “Shijie says I have to go to Qishan. Uncle Jiang is in negotiations with Wen Ruohan about an alliance.”

Lan Wangji has a suspicion she knows what sort of alliance is being put on the table. She focuses on peeling her loquat, letting the little orange pinches of skin drift down onto her robes. She’d always known Wei Wuxian would have to leave the Cloud Recesses someday, but she hadn’t anticipated that day being this soon.

“I’m probably not going to make a great match,” the other girl admits, staring moodily at her empty wine jug. “Probably some lesser branch of the Wen clan, or a high-ranking general.” The disdain is clear in her voice, though — a disdain Lan Wangji can feel echoing deep within herself at the concept of Wei Wuxian getting married and starting a family, of all things.

(Though red really is a nice colour on her. Not that Lan Wangji has devoted considerable amounts of time to imagining her in red outfits, of course.)

“I know, you probably can’t see me married to anyone,” Wei Wuxian continues, setting down her jug with a sigh and looking out across the lake. “I’m too ‘unseemly’, or whatever. I mean, I can’t really see myself married, either. I want to go on adventures. See the world. Help people.”

Lan Wangji inclines her head. “I am of the same opinion,” she replies.

Wei Wuxian raises an eyebrow. “Not the marrying type? You?” she asks, half-incredulous. 

Lan Wangji raises an eyebrow at her, as if to ask if she had ever expressed any sort of interest in marriage before. Wei Wuxian laughs at that, as she sprawls back down onto her outer robes and props her leg up on her knee.

“I wouldn’t have expected it of you, Lan Zhan,” she teases. “You’re usually so full of filial piety; isn’t it the ‘pinnacle of womanhood’ or something to provide male heirs for the family?”

“For a husband’s family,” Lan Wangji points out sourly. Wei Wuxian makes a small ‘ah’ of realisation at that.

“So you don’t want to lose the family you were born into,” she says, grinning. “But exactly how are you going to get around that? I imagine your uncle’s already in negotiations, too — or your father, though I don’t think I’ve ever seen Sect Leader Lan at all — ”

Lan Wangji flinches a little at the mention of her father, at the memory of kneeling in the snow outside a small cabin in the back of the Cloud Recesses covered in withered gentians. The people of Caiyi may believe that her mother had been spirited from them like a fairy princess by the princely Qingheng-jun to live happily ever after as the mistress of the Cloud Recesses, but she and her brother had both grown to know better than to believe that. Fairytales are make-believe for a reason.

“Uncle agrees to allow me a couple more years to focus on my cultivation,” she murmurs. Wei Wuxian hums in understanding.

“Maybe you should set up tests for future suitors,” she says, grinning. “Weed out all the unworthy ones with a series of ridiculous tasks, like — like pulling a thread through a shell, or weaving a thousand bolts of silk, or matching a hundred colts with their mares…”

“Tedious,” scoffs Lan Wangji. “I fail to see how any of those would indicate a partner worthy of my hand.”

“It would be testing their creativity,” Wei Wuxian points out. “Their problem-solving skills. Their intelligence?”

“Richer families would send proxies,” says Lan Wangji, unable to keep the scorn out of her voice. Wei Wuxian’s nose wrinkles in agreement. 

“Then you’d run the risk of having a talented and handsome proxy representing a gross old man,” she remarks, looking nauseated at the very concept. “Maybe you should forget I said anything, then, haha. Or impose a rule that the suitors themselves have to take the tests.”

Lan Wangji knows she should shut down this sort of wild speculation, or call it tedious, whatever, but the more she thinks on the sorts of tests she could set up for potential suitors, the more she can’t help but wonder how easy it would be for Wei Wuxian to pass them. 

“If I were to impose tests,” she says after a moment, “they would be simple. Best me in a sword fight, memorise the sect rules, and…” she swallows. “Make me happy.”

“Memorise the sect rules?” demands Wei Wuxian. “That’s going to weed out a lot of candidates. Someone would have to be in love with you to memorise all three thousand of those.”

Lan Wangji thinks back to the month Wei Wuxian had spent copying those rules, and tucks a smile into her sleeve. 

Wei Wuxian continues. “Best you in a sword fight — well, that’ll also be pretty tricky, you’re the second best in the list of cultivators for a reason.” She taps thoughtfully at her chin. “The trickiest one would probably be to make you happy. I’d love to be in the room where your future suitors all throw their faces away in an attempt to amuse you.”

“It is not that difficult,” scoffs Lan Wangji, slightly defensive.

Wei Wuxian gapes at her. “Is so!” she insists. “I can’t even remember the last time I made you happy!”

Lan Wangji swallows down the lump that’d inexplicably popped into her throat at that. “Right now,” she manages after a moment, and Wei Wuxian immediately swings back up into a sitting position to stare wide-eyed at her.

“Lan Zhan, you —” A peony-pink flush is seeping into her cheeks, and that talented mouth with that silver tongue is now working uselessly, frantically, unable to fathom what Lan Wangji had just admitted. “You — Lan Zhan, you can’t just say things like that!”

“Why not?” wonders Lan Wangji, her heartbeat quickening at the petulance on Wei Wuxian’s face. Had she miscalculated? Had she misread everything that had transpired between them so far, and made a terrible, irrevocable mistake?

Wei Wuxian crawls onto her knees, her grey eyes already shining. “How can you play with a maiden’s delicate heart like this?” she demands. “I mean, you have to know — I’m not — I can’t —”

“What is the ninth rule of my family’s sect?” wonders Lan Wangji.

“Do not eat more than three bowls. I’ve copied those words into my brain, I swear, please don’t —”

“You also bested me your first night, when we fought on the rooftop.”

“Not really, you got me to drop my Emperor’s Smile —”

“We are like-minded in values and goals. Our methods differ, but are not wholly unharmonious.”

“Lan Zhan, you cannot be serious,” protests Wei Wuxian. Ice runs down Lan Wangji’s spine at the very implication. 

“Why not?” she breathes, hardly daring to breathe, to look back up. The veil of her weimao closes between her and Wei Wuxian, who sighs and puts her head in her hands. 

“I have to go to Qishan,” she repeats. “Uncle Jiang has an arrangement. You know I cannot refuse — he’s raised me since I was young, put a roof over my head, fed me…” 

Would pair you to be a broodmare for some unknown Wen general, Lan Wangji adds scathingly in her mind. Wei Wuxian absently wipes at her eyes, the rise and fall of her chest erratic and unsure.

“I can’t refuse,” she repeats. “And yet…”

Lan Wangji bites into her loquat, hides the seed. Slowly, she shifts closer to the other girl, her knees bumping against the edges of Wei Wuxian’s outer robe. She tucks the veil of her weimao behind her shoulders, before reaching out for the other girl’s hand. 

“Love is not a privilege granted only to the men of the Lan family,” she says, tracing a finger down the heart line of Wei Wuxian’s palm, marvelling at how deeply it seems to run. “I refuse to believe it.” 

“I — I thought you hated me,” says Wei Wuxian after a moment, her voice rather flabbergasted. “I wasn’t sure which one it was, really, it honestly could have gone either way with you and I wouldn’t have been surprised. That’s why I wanted to bring you out here today, to clear the air before I left.” 

Lan Wangji allows herself the slightest of rueful chuckles at that. “I should have been clearer,” she agrees. “I have not always been kind. And yet…” 

Slowly, she brings Wei Wuxian’s hand to her lips. I know the one who will pass every test, bear every task, surmount every obstacle. She will have a smile as bright as sunshine, hair as free and dark as the nighttime wind, eyes as grey as the daybreak after a storm. 

“Lan Zhan,” murmurs Wei Wuxian, her voice oddly hoarse. “You… if you keep doing this, if you keep going, I won’t be able to hold back, and then we’ll both be in so much trouble…”

Lan Wangji knows the right answer is to stop. Knows her filial duty is to refrain. Knows her heart is too far gone for that to be possible. Out here in the wild, in this hidden valley tucked so far from the Cloud Recesses and Lotus Pier and the rest of the cultivation world, she can finally reach up and remove the veils of propriety separating her from her own desires, and lean in to claim Wei Wuxian’s lips for her own, forever.

Wei Wuxian’s kisses taste of plum, of Emperor’s Smile. Lan Wangji’s head spins like she’d drunk the jug herself. With a soft, needy moan, the other girl’s mouth slowly opens, and Lan Wangji reaches up to cup her cheek, to bring her close, to drown herself into the kiss.

When she resurfaces, she’s pressed Wei Wuxian down onto her outer robe, and the other girl’s eyes are alight in a way that sets a fire burning deep in the base of Lan Wangji’s spine. With an exhilarated smile, Wei Wuxian sprawls back to let her wild dark hair fan out around her, and starts to fiddle with the ties of Lan Wangji’s own outer robe. 

“Break rule three with me,” she teases.

Lan Wangji nods, and leans in to chase the last of the Emperor’s Smile off her lips.