“I’m afraid you’re going into heat, Wei-gongzi,” said Lan Xichen, his face apologetic. Wei Wuxian blinked at the man who sat across from him. And then he started, his brain catching up to the full import of the sect leader’s words.
Lan Xichen smiled in comprehension. “Wangji told me who you are. In the circumstances...” He waved a hand.
“So what are you going to do to me?” he asked, narrowing his eyes. He had no reason to mistrust Lan Xichen, but he’d never quite known where he stood with the man. Smiling and non-committal, that was Wei Wuxian’s experience of Lan Xichen. So he wasn’t entirely sure how to react when the man broke into laughter. His face must have shown his apprehension and annoyance.
“I apologize,” Lan Xichen said, sobering. “Only, certainly you know you have nothing to fear from me, as an omega.”
“Uh, I was more referring to the fact that all the sects banded together to kill me, Gusu Lan included. At least, that was the last I knew. Have things changed so much?”
Lan Xichen took a long breath. “That’s...an oversimplification. What I know right now is that my brother trusts you. I used to believe him deceived by you, but he’s...given me reason to wonder. I trust Wangji, and he believes you are a good person, despite everything that happened. For his sake, I’m willing to hold my judgment for later on the subject of your intentions.” He sighed and his face softened. “The more pressing concern at the moment is that you are an omega about to experience your first heat.”
“I can’t believe Mo Xuanyu did this to me,” grumbled Wei Wuxian, shaking his head. “How am I supposed to live as an omega!?”
“Indeed. You were used to an alpha’s body and position.” Lan Xichen’s eyes passed over Wei Wuxian’s figure. “But didn’t you realize what was happening? Did you not know you were inhabiting the body of an omega?”
“Oh. Er….” He rubbed the back of his neck. “Well, no, I knew. His family said things that made it clear.” His mouth twisted up. “It was clear from the things many people said about him.” At first none of that had mattered to him as he’d struggled not to be discovered. He was just grateful that so many people thought him crazy and not worth thinking about. He’d played up to the omega stereotypes: silly, flirtatious, cowardly. “I knew. I just...thought I’d have more time before I’d have to deal with this. I guess I just didn’t think about it,” he finished with a shrug.
Lan Xichen let out a small sigh. Of course, here was an omega who fit none of the stereotypes. Lan Xichen was a strong leader for the Gusu Lan Sect, a skilled fighter, a serious scholar. There was something...soft about him. But no one who’d seen him in the Sunshot campaign could deny his strength. And besides, he was a Lan, so who could say where the conditioning of all their rules left off and his gender began?
“Well,” said Lan Xichen. “Of course we have spaces available appropriate to a heat, where you will be secure and undisturbed. And far from any prying eyes or ears.” So no one heard him moaning and howling like an animal, in other words, he thought, wincing. “I can show you to one as soon as you like, get you settled.” Lan Xichen hesitated, then after a beat spoke again. “Our juniors who present naturally spend their heats alone. It’s a perfectly survivable experience, though sometimes not very pleasant.” Again an apologetic expression crossed the sect leader’s face.
“I’m not looking forward to it,” he replied with a grimace. He’d heard horror stories from other boys, mostly not omegas themselves. But they said all kinds of things about how painful and desperate it was for an omega to spend a heat alone. The only omega Wei Wuxian had ever known closely himself was his friend Nie Huaisang. Huaisang had loaned some of his pornography to him as a boy, the kind showing omegas in heat. He’d told him a little about the implements he’d been given to use on himself. The whole thing had sounded alarming and painful. Well, some of the books had been alright.
“There is an alternative,” said Lan Xichen, cutting into his ruminations.
“What?” he asked, surprised and suddenly hopeful. Was there some way to prevent this heat after all? Some herb or cultivation technique?
“You could have a partner,” he said, dashing Wei Wuxian’s sudden hopes. “An alpha.”
Wei Wuxian huffed a laugh. “Sure, but where will you find one of those who’s willing to sleep with the Yiling Patriarch?” Lan Xichen remained silent and impassive for a moment, as if evaluating him. He inhaled and then let out a large breath.
“Wangji has volunteered.”
Silence echoed in the room for a moment. Then Wei Wuxian broke into loud laughter. “Are you joking right now?” he asked after he caught his breath. But Lan Xichen’s face was stony. “Oh. Uh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean...” He realized belatedly that the sect leader might take his laughter the wrong way. “No offense, I just meant...there’s no way he would ever do something like that.”
“And yet, he has,” replied Lan Xichen. “He was quite anxious for me to convey that to you. He nearly pushed his way in here himself without letting me speak with you first.”
“I...” Wei Wuxian found himself without anything to say. Lan Zhan, offering… His mind almost refused to think it. Why in the world would he do that? Maybe he didn’t actually hate him, fine, but this was something else entirely. All of his Lan sect purity, his rules, his restraint. The man acted like it would damn him to hell if he so much as smiled or drank one cup of wine, much less...befoul himself like this. And with Wei Wuxian? Not only an omega and a man, but Wei Wuxian, the demonic cultivator, the Yiling Patriarch.
He didn’t know how long he stared into space trying to come to grips with this, but eventually he looked back up at Lan Xichen. The older man was smiling kindly at him once more. Wei Wuxian shook his head helplessly at him.
“If you don’t want him, obviously that’s your choice,” began Lan Xichen, but he hurried to wave him to a stop.
“It’s not...that, really...just...I don’t understand.” Lan Xichen sighed again.
“My brother cares about you. He always has. Are you not aware of it?”
Wei Wuxian frowned. “I’ve always thought I drove him crazy.” That won him a smile.
“Yes, you probably did. And I think he liked it.” Lan Xichen tilted his head to the side and looked right into his eyes. “So the question is...do you care for him? And do you want this with him, because those are two separate things.” A moment passed in which Wei Wuxian had to look away from the searching gaze. “Wangji means everything to me,” continued Lan Xichen in a quieter tone. “I don’t want to see him hurt. So you should think carefully before you agree to something if you’re not sure.”
Wei Wuxian was silent, his heart pounding loud in his ears and his skin flushed with perspiration as it had been for hours now. Could he do this? With Lan Zhan of all people? Did he… want to? As he considered the idea of Lan Zhan spending a heat with him, he became aware of a feeling of...comfort? Longing. The thought, the idea of having Lan Zhan with him made him feel less...alone. Less, yes, he had to admit it, afraid. He could survive a lot if Lan Zhan was by his side. Maybe even this. It was a crazy idea, but then again, perhaps it made some sense.
“I…,” he said finally, aware that Lan Xichen had been scrutinizing him this entire time. “I’d like to talk to him. I need to talk to him. Before…” There was a pause and then the sect leader nodded.
“I’ll show you to the seclusion room and then I’ll get Wangji,” he said, rising to his feet. Wei Wuxian followed him down the paths of the Cloud Recesses, around to the rear of the mountain. Eventually they came upon a fenced in garden, entirely screened from view. Within the high walls was a small cottage surrounded by well-maintained beds of flowers. Lan Xichen lead the way inside and showed him around the interior. The furnishings resembled a guest chamber, rather than an occupied room. But there were some subtle differences. The bed was merely a thick mat laid on the floor, centered on a large carpet. There were an abundance of pillows resting on it. Lan Xichen showed Wei Wuxian a cupboard filled with blankets, sheets, and other bedding. In a wardrobe there were a number of plain white robes, which he also pointed out for his use. Then, finally, his face coloring a little, Lan Xichen turned to a small chest near the bed.
“If required,” he said, and opened the chest without further explanation. Inside were an assortment of different objects, nestled into velvet padding. After a moment, Wei Wuxian felt his own face flush with heat as he realized what he was looking at. Implements of pleasure, some shaped like male genitals, some more abstract, but all clearly meant to be inserted. He spluttered, unable to restrain his reaction, but unsure what to say. He couldn’t really imagine using any of them on himself, some of them seemed very large. And yet it seemed his body had other ideas, because he felt a rush of something hot and knew some moisture escaped him. The feeling was disturbing. He suddenly was very ready for Lan Xichen to leave him alone.
“T-thank you, Zuwu-Jun,” he said, moving away from the embarrassing chest. “I’m sure e-everything will be fine.” He gave him a bright smile, trying to exude confidence. But this was not an arena he’d ever really felt confident about. Cultivation, sure. Battle, no problem. Speaking his mind, regardless of his audience, he was a pro at that. But romance? Sex? Those had always been theoretical matters to him.
Lan Xichen gave him a last, reassuring smile and made his way to the exit. “I’ll get Wangji, then.” He seemed to hesitate. “You must make up your mind quickly one way or another, though,” he added, serious. “You’re very close to your heat, if I’m not mistaken, and though I trust my brother’s self-control, he’s always...been susceptible when it comes to you. If you decide you want him to leave, you should tell him, before it becomes too difficult for both of you. I don’t want there to be any regrettable incidents.” Wei Wuxian swallowed, nodding.
“Do you have any other questions? Before I go?” Lan Xichen looked kindly on him, the sternness of a moment before melted away. Wei Wuxian considered, his mind racing, trying to remember everything he’d heard about omega heats.
“Oh,” he said, smacking his head with his hand. “What about pregnancy? Surely if Lan Zhan…” He waved his hand vaguely. The Lans were a respectable family. They wouldn’t want one of their leading sons having children out of wedlock.
“Of course,” said Lan Xichen. “I should have mentioned that, but I forget how little education and experience you have in these matters. Even after passing a heat with an alpha, there is a period a time during which a pregnancy can be prevented. There’s a tea.”
“Oh!” He was surprised. He hadn’t heard of such a thing before, despite having been taught as an alpha. Surely someone would have told them if such a thing existed. He’d always been taught taking an omega in a heat as good as guaranteed a child. “I never heard that before.” Perhaps it was a recent discovery.
“I’m not surprised. It’s knowledge kept mostly to omegas and doctors. Some alphas would not like knowing their omegas had such a choice. So unless an omega tells their alpha partner directly, it’s rare for one to find out.”
“I see.” Wei Wuxian exhaled, the complicated dance between alphas and omegas sounding exhausting, as it always had. He’d been content to let other alphas worry about their conquests, spending his time enjoying himself and exploring cultivation methods, demonic or otherwise. “Thank you, Zuwu-Jun,” he said and bowed to the other omega.
“Then I’ll leave you,” said Lan Xichen in return. “Mind what I said about Wangji. He’s more fragile than he seems.”
With that, he turned and walked through the doorway, leaving Wei Wuxian to stare after him, trying to understand his exact meaning. He huffed to himself. Clearly Lan Xichen thought Wei Wuxian was going to throw himself at his brother or take advantage of him. As if, after everything he’d done, everything he’d been though, he didn’t have any self-control. Well, he’d show him who could control himself. He’d out-Lan the Lan clan with his self-restraint. It wasn’t like he was going to jump on Lan Wangji and just start...well, that was ridiculous.
“Wangji.” His brother’s voice alerted Lan Wangji to his presence, drawing his attention up from the book he was skimming. He hurriedly shut the cover and tried to obscure the title from his brother’s view.
“What’s that?” asked Lan Xichen, not fooled by his behavior. “On Omegas and Their Protectors, eh?” He smiled down at him. “Doing some hasty studying?” Lan Wangji felt embarrassment rise in him, but he maintained his composure.
“I have read it before, but wanted to review...certain particulars,” he said.
“And was it helpful? Or any of the other texts from that section of the library?” his brother asked. Lan Wangji lifted a shoulder in a gesture that was barely a shrug, but which he trusted his brother would understand. “Do you have any questions you need answered? You know you can ask me, as your brother and an omega.”
Lan Wangji couldn’t look his brother in the face. “No.”
“Are you sure?” He hesitated, torn between his own discomfort with the topic and his concern for Wei Wuxian.
Wangji hesitated, torn between his anxiety and his pride. “I-is it painful?” he asked at last.
Lan Xichen cocked his head. “Painful? You mean a heat?” He barely inclined his head in response. “Well it can be, if an alpha isn’t able to...assist.”
Lan Wangji shook his head, to indicate this hadn’t been his meaning. “No, I mean...when an alpha...does...” he trailed off, unable to continue.
His brother looked at him, puzzled for a few more moments, before blushing as he realized his meaning. “Oh! You mean, to be--” He cut himself off with a tiny smile. “Ah, for the omega, you mean? No, no, it’s not painful. Especially not during heat. It’s...” His brother’s face darkened, his eyes far away. “It’s very nice.”
Lan Wangji’s heart was racing just at the thought. He stood, leaving the books he’d been searching through stacked on the table. He had some more things to fetch. “H-he did agree?” he asked, turning back to his brother. Panic washed over him as he realized he didn’t know yet if Wei Wuxian would consent, if he would let him…
“Oh, my apologies.” Lan Xichen pulled himself back to the present. “I spoke with him. He...I believe he has not yet made a decision.” Lan Wangji stood, frozen, unsure how to respond to that. Lan Xichen gave him a sympathetic look. “You must understand, Wangji, he’s very overwhelmed by the entire situation at the moment. He was very surprised when I told him you volunteered yourself as his companion.”
Lan Wangji’s heart sunk in his chest. Surprised? Something of his distress must have shown because his brother continued. “I don’t believe he’s aware of...your feelings, Wangji.” At this, he looked up and met his brother’s gaze. It was rare for Lan Xichen to so openly refer to what they both understood to be true. “He was very concerned about the reasons you made the offer. He wants to speak with you.”
A few seconds passed as Lan Wangji listened to the pounding of his heart in his chest. “Did he...do you think he...” wants me, the question finished in his own mind. After a moment, when he didn’t continue his brother spoke again, evidently understanding enough of his meaning.
“I can’t say what he feels with any certainty, other than that I know he is confused right now. But...Wangji, you must let him know what you want. You need to tell him, clearly, before he makes any decision. It’s only fair that he know the truth before anything happens. You can’t...can’t just let the heat make this decision for him. Unthinking desire isn’t a firm enough foundation upon which to build love.”
Wangji looked up at his brother, hearing something more than just brotherly advice and a clan leader’s wisdom. He didn’t know many details of his brother’s private life, but he knew he hadn’t always spent his heats alone, and he knew who he had spent them with. Both of the people he’d spent them with. He also knew that those visits had ended after tragedy had befallen one of them. He had wondered about how Lan Xichen fared since then, but told himself it was his own business. This was the first time he glimpsed an unspoken heartache from his brother, and wondered if he had been too wrapped up in his own pain all these years to see his brother suffering as well.
“Brother,” he said, making a gesture towards him. But Lan Xichen shook his head and cut him off.
“Your omega is waiting, Wangji. Go. Take care of him.” A deep longing stirred in Lan Wangji’s breast, a desire to do just that, along with an ache at the thought that his brother had apparently lost the person who did that for him. But he didn’t speak again, just made a bow and departed, headed towards the jinshi to retrieve what he needed.