As Lan Zhan watched Wei WuXian wave and set off up the mountain, a deep hurt throbbed in his chest. But still he turned and walked. He barely noticed his own feet under him. As soon as the announcement of his new role as Chief Cultivator had been made, he had known this was coming. Their world was torn by mistrust and power vacuums. There was no better pillar of clarity and strength than himself to settle their turbulent world. But…
The sound of a flute shocked Lan Zhan out of his thoughts, and his forgotten feet halted.
Lan Zhan. The next time we see each other, you better have a name for this song. Wei WuXian spoke in his head.
Way ahead of you. Lan Zhan thought. But he knew what that meant for him. He detested lying. And if he spoke the truth of the name…
Lan Zhan resumed his pace, and tried not to listen to Wei WuXian’s music. The tune he had composed fell from Chenqing, slow and bittersweet. It cut through the air like the song of a lone nightingale crying amidst the ashes of Gusu so many years ago, and Lan Zhan’s nose rinsed with grief as he walked. But he had to make this decision. Wei WuXian was a bubbling brook, destined to run and travel far and wide. He was a calm lake, fixed to his land.
But the more steps he took, the more a deep sensation of wrong ate at his gut. A strange sort of rising panic.
We will meet again.
But when? Another 16 years? Lan Zhan knew the dangers of the world. Wei WuXian’s cultivation was weak after his resurrection, he had admitted it himself. Who knew what might happen? If something dire became of him… Lan Zhan would never be able to tell him how he truly felt. Wei WuXian would never know the extent of his feelings.
All of a sudden, the path ahead of him turned grey. The same grey that had misted his eyes over that period he had mourned. Ahead of him lay a grey life of duty. Sizhui was grown up and on his own path. Wei WuXian was a speck behind him. Even Lan Xichen was not the same as he had been. His brother had watched his own love be ripped away from him. And now…Lan Zhan was bringing that same loss on himself. Why could he not do his duty and have Wei WuXian too? Why should he have to give up one for the other?
When Lan Zhan’s feet touched the meadow at the mountain’s foot, a tear slipped down his face. His chest was tight. Everything felt horribly wrong. The sun shone, but his core was cold. He was not sick, yet he felt weak and trembly, and as though he might not eat in days. Gusu was his home, but it felt desolate and unwelcoming. The sensation hit Lan Zhan. He did not want to go back to Gusu. The only place he wanted to be was on that hilltop beside Wei WuXian. How had it taken him this long of a walk to realize it? Idiot.
Lan Zhan wiped his cheek, feet rooted in place. Idiot.
Don’t you want? Lan Xichen’s voice from so many years ago haunted his ears. He did. His heart hurt, he wanted so much. True, Wei WuXian was a running brook, and Lan Zhan a calm lake. But do not even those two meet somewhere? He had thought that this was a bind of black and white. But with Wei WuXian, when was it ever? Together, could they not solve any problem?
Lan Zhan swallowed. Breathed. But even calm, he could not bring himself to take another step forward. As someone who had utter faith in their internal judgement, he could not ignore such a painful sense of wrong. So he breathed again, this time mind set on resolution. His shoulders drooped with relief. His heart burned less. Right.
He unsheathed Bichen and flew.
Wei WuXian still stood on the hilltop, flute on his lips. Now much closer, the sad resignation reverberated from the enchanted instrument, unmistakable. Lan Zhan did not know how long his walk had taken him. Perhaps Wei WuXian, deep down, was unwilling to leave too. Would he be more willing to leave after Lan Zhan spoke to him? Or less? But in his heart, Lan Zhan knew he would regret it the rest of his life if he did not speak now. And in his case, the rest of his life may be an eternity. That was a long time to regret. So Lan Zhan landed silently behind the other cultivator as the last notes of that song dropped from his flute.
“Wei Ying.” He spoke before it could end. Wei WuXian froze, flute still at his lips, but no sound pierced the air. Slowly, as if in a dream, he lowered it. Lan Zhan watched his back tense, as if he was bracing himself for an illusion or mistake. Then he turned. Wei WuXian’s doe-like eyes widened in soft surprise, a far cry from the act of flippant smiles and waves from their departure. Then as Wei WuXian saw and realized Lan Zhan in front of him was real, his face broke into a smile of absolute relief. The path ahead of Lan Zhan burst into colour. The corner of his own mouth pulled up with fondness as Wei WuXian stood there and beamed.
“Wei WuXian.” Lan Zhan stated his courtesy name this time, to underpin what was to come. His heart throbbed against his ribs, so strong that he could feel the pulse in his throat.
“WangXian.” He murmured, but they were close enough that it was unmistakable. “The title of the song. Always.”
“W…” Wei WuXian trailed off, eyes wide. But Lan Zhan did not look down in shame or fear. He held the other man’s gaze. It was this that he wished him to know, whatever the reaction. Then a choked noise caught in Wei WuXian’s throat. A laugh...? Panic flared in Lan Zhan’s chest. He had expected rejection, desired acceptance, but to be laughed at?
“You silly…” Wei WuXian said with such tenderness in his voice that Lan Zhan’s panic evaporated. True, Wei WuXian did have a penchant for laughing at inappropriate times. Then the other man’s hand moved up to Lan Zhan’s temple so that his fingers rested in the hair drawn back from there. His thumb smoothed over Lan Zhan’s headband. Lan Zhan’s breath and heart stopped at that. Shameless. But…welcome.
“WangXian.” Wei WuXian repeated again, and moisture wet his eyes as he grinned. Then he seemed to notice Lan Zhan had frozen at the so blatant touch on his sacred headband. His smile faltered towards something more apologetic, and the pressure of his hand lightened. Something made Lan Zhan catch his wrist, and hold it there. His head burned with panic at what to do next. He could not speak. His eyes were drawn to Wei WuXian’s half-open mouth as desire rushed through him like a killer current. Would it be too much?
Wei Wuxian seemed frozen too. Above the mid-morning birds and insects, Lan Zhan heard the other man’s breath shiver, and his own heart beat like a hundred ceremonial drums in unison. The fingertips in Lan Zhan’s hair shot tingles down through his cheeks, but the thumb on his forehead band made his lower stomach quiver with the scandal of it.
Almost as if in a dream, Lan Zhan brought his second hand up near Wei WuXian’s jaw. When he did not recoil at the movement, Lan Zhan rested his thumb on the other man’s cheek, with his other fingers curled under his throat. Wei WuXian’s eyes flickered wider at that, and Lan Zhan felt a tremble run through his skin. But he still did not move. The pair gazed at each other, the moment hanging like a drop of water on the verge of falling.
The fingers in Lan Zhan’s hair increased their pressure, just a little. Lan Zhan, not daring to breathe, pressed his hand against Wei WuXian’s skin a bit more too – not enough to move him, but Wei WuXian tilted his head up just a little anyway, and his eyelids drifted as his gaze flickered to Lan Zhan’s lips.
Lan Zhan did not know who moved first. All he knew was that one moment, he was wracked with nerves, trying to analyse these little movements, these little touches… and the next his mouth was so close to Wei WuXian’s lips that he could feel the little shudder of breath that left a tingle against his own lips, like the ghost of a butterfly wing. The metal centrepiece of his headband pressed against Wei WuXian’s forehead, and his throat hitched. Lan Zhan’s mind was sheer white as he lingered so close that their lips barely touched, and then he leaned forward just the tiniest amount.
It was only the slightest brush of lips at first, broken by shaky breath, but it set his mind on fire. Heat rushed up from where their mouths met, like boiled water down his spine and through his chest. Pleasure and thrill buzzed down him, and he hung on to Wei WuXian’s wrist for dear life as the other man caught his lips again, and this time pushed for more than a chaste brush. His lips were so soft. His mouth was so hot. Lan Zhan unfurled the hand under Wei WuXian’s throat to cup over his cheek and push into the soft strands of hair behind his ear, dizzy not just with sensation, but with an incredible sense of joy.
“Lan Zhan,” Wei WuXian laughed, and laughed some more as he pressed his forehead against Lan Zhan’s. A smile broke on Lan Zhan’s face too, more emotion than he’d shown since he had watched the love of his life fall to his death. This time around was much better. A tear slipped down Wei WuXian’s cheek, even as he beamed.
“Lan Zhan you came back for me.” Wei WuXian arms looped around his neck and waist, and Lan Zhan found himself in a crushing hug. He returned the embrace and buried his face in Wei WuXian’s neck and hair, elated and giddy. The world was right again. He was home.
It took the entire rest of the day to get back to Gusu. Wei WuXian, a man of great enthusiasm and libido kept dragging Lan Zhan into foliage to kiss him passionately, and Lan Zhan, a man of unparalleled blue balls, kept allowing him to do so. Nothing got too publicly indecent, however, and His Excellency Hanguang-Jun returned home with only one witness account of him smooching the Yiling Patriarch against a tree – but even then, it was a picture of restrained, gentlemanly smooching, so his reputation went untarnished.
It was almost time for dinner, so Lan Zhan led Wei WuXian to the usual hall.
“Ah, Wangji, you are ba – “ Uncle’s eyes caught on Lan Zhan’s hand. Usually it rested in a neutral position behind his back. This evening, however, Wei WuXian had laced their fingers together, and Lan Zhan liked it so much that even if Wei WuXian tried to drop it under Uncle’s glare, he was not letting go. But in a classic Wei WuXian move, he swung their hands to make it more obvious, then waved with the other one.
“Good evening, uncle!” Wei WuXian chirped happily, and Uncle choked. It was not just a cough. He put his hands on his knees, flushed ruddy, and Lan Zhan thought that this might be the second time Wei WuXian might make his Uncle pass out (true the first time had been a sword ghost, but Lan Zhan was fairly sure his horrendous flute music had contributed somewhat). Luckily, the other disciples had not turned up for dinner yet, and would not witness this drama.
“Uncle!” Lan Xichen hurried over to Uncle from their tea room and rubbed his back. Lan Zhan offered them Wei WuXian’s bamboo container of water.
“What happened?” Lan Xichen looked up as Uncle blusteringly refused something the unholy creature who had seduced his nephew had touched. Then his brother’s eyes caught on their hands.
“Oh.” A warm smile spread across Lan Xichen’s face, the first real one that Lan Zhan had seen since Meng Yao’s demise. They had been quite hollow after that. Then he mouthed ‘congratulations’ over uncle’s still-shaking shoulder, and gave them a thumbs up. Lan Zhan gave a small nod, and let him lead Uncle away to possibly faint. He would get used to it eventually.
“Mm.” Wei WuXian gave what one might call a cathartic sigh, and nestled his head against Lan Zhan’s shoulder. “I think I can stay in Gusu just a little longer.”
“We will manage. Together.” Lan Zhan gave his Wei WuXian a kiss on the forehead, and could not help but think that the way he felt now was a thousand times better than if he had returned to Gusu alone, uncertainty be damned.