Wei Ying shoved at Lan Wangji’s back, pushing him into the room they’ve secured for the night, chattering away while Lan Wangji was only half paying attention to the words he was speaking, more concerned about Wei Ying’s tone. “That was stupid, Lan Zhan,” he said, scolding. “Now you’re going to be bruised and there’s not a lot I can do about it, is there?” It was a sore spot now, the skills and powers Wei Wuxian had given up for his brother, as though the truth being out in the open only split apart wounds they’d all thought healed. Or maybe they had never healed, not with Wei Ying bottling up the worst of his complaints inside of petty, superficial gripes, and only now was he afforded any chance to air his grievances about the circumstances surrounding it. “It’s going to hurt. I was looking forward to—” Sighing, he rounded on Lan Wangji and shook his head, wagging his finger. “Be more careful next time.”
Lan Wangji considered it. As far as requests went, it wasn’t one of Wei Ying’s most outrageous. It sounded more reasonable than most of his suggestions. But even so, there was only one truthful response he could give. “No,” he answered, tranquil in the knowledge that he would do as he wished and Wei Ying could live with it or not. If it was within his power to keep Wei Ying from being injured, he would do it. There were still situations where Wei Ying’s abilities were the more useful ones and under those conditions he would consent to allowing Wei Ying to throw himself into harm’s way, unhappy about it the whole time, but well aware that he was capable of taking care of himself, trusting that he would come through unscathed or close enough to it that Lan Wangji wouldn’t risk losing him again.
But this was not one of those situations and Lan Wangji was fully prepared to bear the consequences of these excursions, even if it meant his shoulder ended up dislocated before Wei Ying pulled it carefully back into place for him. The sharp, shattering pain had subsided into a dull, throbbing ache that was already resolving itself. It wouldn’t take long to fully heal. As far as injuries went, it was less awful than a lot of the ones Lan Wangji had seen inflicted upon Wei Ying over the years.
Wei Ying’s mouth fell open, like Lan Wangji’s response came as a surprise to him. ”What?”
He’d thought he’d made himself perfectly clear, but perhaps not. “I was in a position in which I could protect you,” he said, slow, as though explaining a complex topic to a very small child. “So I did.” Obviously.
Wei Ying’s mouth did not see fit to close even with this explanation and he made a scoffing noise of disbelief. “It was a corpse. If you didn’t think I was capable of—”
This wasn’t an argument Lan Wangji wanted to have, not now or ever; he’d thought Wei Ying was of the same mind. They’d never had to have it before. ”You were otherwise occupied.” He bit back an uncharacteristic flood of even more words, maybe a reminder that Wei Ying was already dealing with a corpse at the time. The longer he was away from Gusu and the longer he remained at Wei Ying’s side, the more vocally opinionated he became. Sometimes he missed being entirely inscrutable, safe from the worst of Wei Ying’s speculations because Wei Ying was so incredibly oblivious about the things that mattered most. Now Wei Ying knew too much, could see too much into the heart of what he truly meant. It formed a double-edged sword against which Lan Wangji occasionally cut himself.
He did not relish the thought of cutting himself on it tonight.
It was cold in the room, summer shading to autumn outside: an indication that winter would be harsh, grueling. They may have to stop their roaming for a time, find lodging in some sleepy town or somewhere in the wilderness. Lan Wangji didn’t mind the thought of it. But there was still time until they’d have to make that decision and in the meantime Wei Ying’s hands were very, very warm against his cheeks as he pressed them to his face. Leaning in, nose to nose, he said, serious, somber, “I like it better when you take care of me, Lan Zhan. It’s so much trouble when I have to fuss over you. You’re not nearly as gracious about it as I am.”
Lan Wangji would not admit that his mouth twitched, his pain forgotten now that it had to compete against Wei Ying’s hands.
Twisting on his heel and completing one sharp turn, Wei Ying said, “Lan Zhan, oh, Lan Zhan. What will I do with you?” His fingers wrapped themselves in the sash tied around Lan Wangji’s waist and tugged. It pulled free with little effort. Only Wei Ying could so quickly and easily disrobe him; he’d had enough practice at it. “Your outer robes are ruined.” Doing nothing to protect said outer robes, Wei Ying tossed them to the floor, and with a clever touch, he plucked something from Lan Wangji’s hair. It clattered lightly to the floor as well: a thin, broken stick. “And your head is in danger of becoming a home for birds. All this for me. Was it worth it?”
Lan Wangji gripped Wei Ying’s wrist so swiftly that the sound of skin against skin resounded through the room, loud as a slap. “Always.”
Wei Ying’s laugh was awkward, trilling, and red bloomed across his cheeks; he wouldn’t quite meet Lan Wangji’s gaze, focusing instead on fiddling with Lan Wangji’s inner robes. “You’re too serious. Strip and get on the bed, er-gege. There’s something I’d like to do.”
Brow climbing his forehead, he watched Wei Ying, saying nothing, and was gratified when the blush deepened and Wei Ying scrambled to find more words to fill the now incredulous silence between them. It wouldn’t have been dignified to admit it, but he liked it when Wei Ying was flustered. Perhaps one day he’d tell Wei Ying as much. Except then Wei Ying would know that he sometimes winds him up on purpose.
“Not that, not that. You’re injured,” he said quickly, showing his palms as though that would secure belief in his innocence. Lan Wangji could give him this much credit: he didn’t seem as upset about the prospect or lack thereof as Lan Wangji might have expected. “Something else. It’ll be nice.”
Instead of giving Wei Ying his inner robes, he folding them and placed them neatly at the end of the bed. Sitting, he looked up at Wei Ying and waited for further direction, curious as to what he might have had in mind. Knowing Wei Ying, it could be anything. In all honesty, Wei Ying rarely asked for much of serious consequence from Lan Wangji that wasn’t a mere triviality, easily obtained and quickly discarded—so long as there weren’t people in need of help anyway. In a way, perhaps Lan Wangji fell under that category today. Perhaps, then, it wasn’t so strange that he should so gently order Lan Wangji around.
Again, Lan Wangji bit back a soft, fond smile, one that was harder to hide as Wei Ying frowned at him, hands on hips as he looked down at Lan Wangji. “Lie down, please. On your stomach.”
Freezing halfway through the motion, Lan Wangji turned back and looked up at Wei Ying in turn, his heart fluttering against his chest all the while. The scars along his back, ones he now forgot more often than not, itched as they reminded him of their existence. The scar tissue pulled uncomfortably as his shoulders tensed. It reminded him too much of the time he spent convalescing. He did not wish to do it. “Wei Ying.”
Wei Ying, far too smart for anyone’s good, let loose a quiet curse, little more than a puff of air, harmless for all that the words were ugly, seeing everything that Lan Wangji didn’t say. “Ah, never mind. Your husband is thoughtless. Stay there. I’ll just—” He bent and quickly pulled his boots free and then clamored onto the bed behind Lan Wangji, his knees bracketing Lan Wangji’s hips. Lan Wangji wondered how long it would be until Wei Ying complained that his legs hurt from kneeling on the hard bed, the thin bedding doing little to protect his joints from the strain. Before Lan Wangji could wander too far down that line of thought, imagining that he would eventually find himself with Wei Ying’s bare legs in his lap as Wei Ying moaned theatrically, Wei Ying placed his hands on Lan Wangji’s shoulder. They were gentle, exploratory, practiced as his thumbs roved over the shifting planes across the back of his neck and down his triceps.
Were Wei Ying any other cultivator, he might have used his spiritual energy to supplement his touch, ease the strain in Lan Wangji’s body that way, but they were both exquisitely aware that he could not. Though Wei Ying’s method of cultivation was useful in some ways and terrifying in many more, Lan Wangji couldn’t imagine a situation where the resentful energy of corpses would be appropriate for healing a superficial wound. And anyway, Wei Ying had taken Lan Wangji’s concerns to heart; he no longer practiced as cavalierly as he used to, scorning Lan Wangji’s suggestions at every turn. He was serious in his application of his skills and never strayed so far that Lan Wangji’s guqin strings could not reach him.
Wei Ying’s touch still felt good, still relieved the ache in his body, still stirred something within Lan Wangji’s chest that was even now difficult to analyze. Wei Ying’s care for him was too gentle, like he was a precious heirloom to be protected. It made Lan Wangji feel more fragile than he ought to. Wei Ying wasn’t careful with much in life, but he was careful with Lan Wangji.
Leaning in, Wei Ying pressed a kiss to his neck, just under his ear. His chest, mournfully still encased within the confines of both outer and inner robes, brushed against Lan Wangji’s bare back. “Poor Lan Zhan,” he said, teasing and not teasing all at once. It was meant to be a distraction, because not another moment later he pressed his thumb into a knot, sending a jolt of agony down his arm. The tension released again almost immediately and Lan Wangji breathed audibly in relief. “If we had time, I’d take care of you properly. Keep you in bed for days and not hurt you so much.”
Biting at the inside of his cheek, Lan Wangji said, “It’s fine.” It was better to keep moving anyway, not laze about in an inn. So many of the cultivation sects were still rebuilding and there were so many people who needed help who couldn’t get it by petitioning the local sects as they used to. Lan Wangji and Wei Ying did their best to redress the situation, but they were only two in a world filled with dangers. They couldn’t be everywhere. Besides, if Wei Ying was determined to keep Lan Wangji in bed that long, he suspected it wouldn’t just be healing that was happening and that might not even be Wei Ying’s fault.
His words probably weren’t meant to rouse Lan Wangji. They were neither calculated nor spoken with that note of salacious shamelessness he sometimes got. That said, this was Wei Ying. They likely weren’t not calculated either. Though Lan Wangji flushed all over, warm despite the chill in the air, Wei Ying wouldn’t be able to see it. However, it wasn’t quite as easy to hide the effect Wei Ying’s ministrations were having on one particular part of him. He stirred, heat pooling low in his stomach, across his lap, filling him as Wei Ying’s touch continued unabated. Though he wrapped his hands around the end of the bed frame, he couldn’t stop his muscles from twitching, an entirely different kind of ache working through him as he refrained from touching himself or Wei Ying in turn.
If he touched Wei Ying now, he couldn’t be certain what would happen, except to say that it probably wouldn’t help with the pain in his shoulder. And though Wei Ying had expressed disappointment in him earlier—Lan Wangji wasn’t dense; he knew exactly what Wei Ying was looking forward to. Though they’d spent countless nights together by now, neither of them had really gotten tired of the mere fact that they could have this with one another.
Wei Ying’s cheek brushed his and suddenly his touch stilled. “Oh, Lan Zhan,” he said, looking down, catching Lan Wangji when he least wanted him to, as always. Wei Ying might have pressed himself a little bit closer and Lan Wangji might have felt an answering hardness against his back, as familiar to him as his own. “That is very flattering, but I couldn’t possibly…”
Whatever he couldn’t possibly do didn’t involve brushing his hand down Lan Wangji’s chest, because that was something he was definitely allowing himself. His touch remained butterfly light against Lan Wangji’s skin, but pressed inexorably downward. His fingertips were cool against Lan Wangji’s heated skin. If Lan Wangji wanted to keep his reactions a secret, he would no longer be able to. Wei Ying’s hand stopped once it found his sternum and lingered there, fingers splayed, palm catching every hard, fast beat of Lan Wangji’s heart. “But maybe I could,” he said, breathless, against Lan Wangji’s ear, “as long as you don’t move your shoulder, hmm? Maybe it would be okay? What does Hanguang-jun think?” After a pause, sounding exactly like Lan Wangji: “Mn?”
If Lan Wangji said no, Wei Ying’s hand would disappear, return to what it was originally doing; he wouldn’t tease Lan Wangji any longer and the heavy weight between his legs would remain until it faded or Lan Wangji did something about it. It was a loss Lan Wangji didn’t want to suffer when every moment they weren’t giving or taking pleasure from one another was a loss already. So he nodded and swallowed with a click in the back of his bone-dry throat. “Mn.”
“Hanguang-jun is wise.” Wei Ying’s hand crept down his abdomen and, slipping beneath the waistband of his trousers, reached between his legs, but there was a shaky, plaintive note in Wei Ying’s voice and his hand trembled slightly, noticeable only now that he wasn’t using it to massage knots from his upper back and shoulders.
Lan Wangji exhaled heavily. His body tensed against Wei Ying’s. It should have been easier than this to keep himself still, but as soon as Wei Ying’s hand wrapped around him, even as loosely as it was, Lan Wangji nearly jumped, nearly turned and tackled Wei Ying to the bed, injury be damned. If he truly wanted to, that possibility was within his grasp. Wei Ying would capitulate quickly enough. He wouldn’t have to feel as though he was shattering under the touch of a person who was already shattered. That was the only explanation for how uncertain Wei Ying’s strokes were. And when Lan Wangji tried to turn his head to look at Wei Ying, Wei Ying ducked his own, pressing a light kiss to Lan Wangji’s injured shoulder before sucking a line up Lan Wangji’s throat and then pushing Lan Wangji’s hair aside to nip at the back of his neck.
Lightning bolts of pleasure crackled down Lan Wangji’s spine and Wei Ying’s touch grew more confident by the moment, stroking Lan Wangji in the exact way he sometimes demanded that Wei Ying stroke him when neither of them were entirely in the mood for more, too tired from the day’s journey or a hunt or for no other reason than because that was what Lan Wangji wanted him to do.
It would have been like any other such night except that the hitch in Wei Ying’s breath that didn’t at all match the way he sounded when he was aroused.
Once he realized what it was, Wei Ying’s perfect touch no longer mattered, and he might have been dropped into the cold springs back home for how suddenly his priorities shifted, arousal fading, forgotten. Anger flickered deep within him, anger at himself for letting Wei Ying hoodwink him this way. To allow himself to be this distracted when Wei Ying—when he…
And he knew Wei Ying’s penchant for hiding the truth of his wounds from others, knew it more intimately than anyone except Clan Leader Jiang.
Grabbing Wei Ying’s wrist, he said, “No.” And when he twisted around this time, Wei Ying was too startled to bow his head or otherwise hide his reaction. It was written all over his face, clear as daylight. ”Wei Ying.”
“Aha,” Wei Ying replied, trying to sound casual when he was obviously feeling anything but. An awkward smile graced his lips, no more elegant than a statue that was starting to crumble under its own weight. “Lan Zhan, you are too observant sometimes.” He glanced at Lan Wangji’s lap and frowned, dashing his hand across cheeks that were now pink. “So what if I’m a little sad you got hurt for me? Let me—”
Lan Wangji brought their mouths together and wrapped his arms around Wei Ying’s body, heedless of the pain-filled reminder that he had so recently dislocated his shoulder. There were words he couldn’t say without starting an argument, so he didn’t say them, but he also couldn’t lie to Wei Ying either and so he didn’t speak any of those words either. They weren’t anything Wei Ying couldn’t guess on his own if he wanted to.
This might have been like falling into old habits.
“Let me touch you,” Wei Ying said. “It doesn’t have to be—but…”
He pulled Wei Ying down onto the bed and held Wei Ying in his arms, let Wei Ying’s hands drift over his body as they would because there was nothing he wouldn’t do for Wei Ying. When Wei Ying reached for him this time, Lan Wangji didn’t stop him. From the pleading tone in his voice, giving Wei Ying his way was the best thing Lan Wangji could do for him. Closing his eyes, he was able to reach completion after several long, tantalizingly slow minutes, his warmth spilling into Wei Ying’s palm almost as an afterthought, his whole body alight with gentle pleasure as Wei Ying cleaned up. With Wei Ying’s head tucked under his chin after, he could almost forget his guilt, the very deliberate knowledge that this wouldn’t be the last time this issue came up.
Wei Ying had to know, too, but they were both very adept at putting aside inconvenient things for another time.
When he tried to reach for Wei Ying in turn, Wei Ying laced their fingers together instead and rested both on his own stomach. “That’s okay, Lan Zhan,” he said, quiet, confident, content. “This is what I want.”
Lan Wangji’s brow furrowed, but he said nothing in response and a comfortable silence fell between them, unbroken for a long while, long enough that Lan Wangji was almost certain that Wei Ying had fallen asleep.
He made a promise to Wei Ying, the only promise he could under the circumstance: I’ll be more careful.
It was the only concession he was willing to make.