silence is all we heard
you know, our last goodbye
keeps playing through my mind
In some ways, his days in seclusion pass quickly, weeks and months and perhaps years blurring together into a single stream of guilt and regret that Lan Xichen still hasn’t grasped how he should handle and come to terms with. And yet, it’s so painfully slow, because everything recollection is a repetitive noose of his failures; when he’s lost track of what day it is, how can he fathom the concept of time? It’s cyclical, a never ending reminder of how cold and unfeeling fate can be.
He’s an observer in his own life, an afterthought, an outsider influencing nothing- because everything is something that reminds him of what he didn’t do. And it all plays out in his head, every broken promise and pretty lie and years of trust, and Lan Xichen is so very tired of crying over what he can’t change. But Jin Guangyao left a hole in his heart and his life that he can’t mend.
Lan Xichen reads to fill the emptiness around him, every line of Righteousness as if it could give some sort of new meaning, and then scrolls on new cultivation techniques and theories, and learning makes the painful blur of time somewhat more bearable. It slips by through the lines of text, seasons change, and Lan Xichen keeps replaying their final conversation, desperately searching for any meaning or closure the words hold.
There’s a whispered phrase and a talisman drawn so very carefully as he fights to keep the nervous shaking from his hands, all born from secrets found between the characters. It’s a wish, a hope, another chance, something to break the endless cycle of numb existence-
we're running on broken trust
seeing right through me
I’m looking through you, too
and I can’t find the words
Jin Guangyao bows, a small smile on his face as he plays his part all too well. “I don’t want to trouble you, Er-ge. It won’t take long,” he assures him, and Lan Xichen’s mind races. He knows this lie, knows that Jin Guangyao has no intention of returning, and this was meant to be their last goodbye.
His fingers still burn from the talisman he’d held, the all-consuming fire of a life he decided to escape, and Lan Xichen takes a moment to think. This is a turning point: everything will change as it falls apart in Yunping, but Lan Xichen is gifted with knowledge no one else has. He knows what will happen if he lets Jin Guangyao go, he’s seen how lies shatter and blood is spilled, and he can’t watch Jin Guangyao die again.
“A-Yao, please. You cannot go to Yunping,” he pleads, gentle as he can be despite the heavy knowledge of what will happen if he fails.
He shakes his head. “You should check on Wangji and the others, and we can reconvene here later,” he suggests, and now that he knows the truth, Lan Xichen notices the perfectly practiced calm of his gentle expression as he tries to deflect. How many times did he fall for this? How many of Jin Guangyao’s helpful suggestions were merely tools to keep Lan Xichen out of the way?
More lies won’t solve the mess of broken trust between them. “No,” he says firmly, taking Jin Guangyao’s hands in his. “I know what happens if you go there now- I’ve lived it all once and seen what you’ve done and where it leads. I know you’ve lied to me, over and over, but I cannot-” he chokes; he’s not as calm as he’d hoped he’d be for this conversation. He wasn’t ready for the disbelief on Jin Guangyao’s face, the most honest expression he’s seen on him in countless memories, as he processes the words tumbling out of Lan Xichen’s mouth. “Your mother’s remains aren’t in the temple anymore. I’m sorry. I don’t know where they where they were taken, but the only thing waiting for you in Yunping is death.”
His mouth twists, working around unsaid emotions as Jin Guangyao struggles to find words.
Lan Xichen grips his hands tighter, as though that alone could hold Jin Guangyao in place. “Please, A-Yao, please let me help you.”
A thousand words hang unspoken between them-
I can’t watch you die -- I still stand by you despite your deceptions -- Don’t go, don’t leave me alone--
-and everything that tore him up inside as he mourned and cried and sank into the numb pit of loneliness over the immeasurable time that Jin Guangyao has been gone.
He slowly, deliberately grasps at Lan Xichen’s hands, and time passes around them, every extra second they have together a complicated gift. “I can’t stay here,” Jin Guangyao says carefully. He doesn’t meet Lan Xichen’s eyes, instead focused on their joined hands as he tries to find a solution. “If you know what I’ve done,” he says and then he sucks in a breath before he can continue. “Then you know I have no choices left. Someone is threatening to expose me if I don’t admit it myself, and I can’t just sit idly by and end my own life! I can’t- I can’t let that happen.”
“I know,” he agrees, accusations on the tip of his tongue, questions that have lived and died and festered in his heart, and-
Lan Xichen squeezes his hands in comfort and frustration. “If Dongying is where you must go to live, then I won’t stand in your way, but know that Yunping is a trap. The only thing awaiting you there is your death.”
He doesn’t offer to come, not in words, but Jin Guangyao understands the meanings in the breaths between them, and finally looks up to meet his gaze. “Er-ge…I won’t stop you, because I am a selfish man who wants something he knows he doesn’t deserve,” he says, voice low as though there’s nothing and no one in this world but the two of them. “But I won’t stop you from leaving me now, either.”
“I have already lived a life where I turned my back on you, and I don’t plan on doing it again.”
I was happy just loving you
They can’t fly all the way to Dongying - not even Lan Xichen can, with all his talents - but they can head to a port without being stopped. Lan Xichen’s company lends legitimacy to their presence at the port, more helpful than ever now that Jin Guangyao’s secrets and lies are spilling out of the cracks and causing ripples throughout the cultivation world.
They travel in silence. Jin Guangyao holds himself with the practiced poise he always does - Lan Xichen knows that some of it comes from his late start at cultivating, so he makes up for innate power with perfect posture - but at times his shoulders sag and his head twitches, as though he wants to look over at Lan Xichen. He has to have questions and Lan Xichen can only begin to imagine them, but his self-preservation instinct keeps him from pressing for answers.
As if Lan Xichen could turn around now. As if he could return to the detached numbness he drowned in. As if he could stop loving him.
I loved you hardest
and to be honest
I think I still do
Sect Leader Su meets them at the dingy entrance of the least populated port in a small town south of Lanling, sparing a confused look of disdain for Lan Xichen before bowing at them. “Sect Leader Jin, Sect Leader Lan.”
Jin Guangyao nods. “Minshan, I’m glad you made it,” he says warmly, as though he’s greeting him for a visit at Koi Tower instead of planning to flee the country. There’s a zhou at the dock - larger than the boats the slip through the rivers of Gusu, but not by much - with a small crew checking it over quietly. “Please tell the crew to make room for another passenger, as Zewu-Jun will be joining us.”
There’s only a second of hesitation, but Lan Xichen can feel the coldness in the air before Su Minshan agrees. “Of course. We should be ready to depart within the hour,” he explains, bows once more, and heads towards the dock.
Jin Guangyao offers Lan Xichen a smile, calm and composed as if he’s coordinating an event, his expression betraying nothing but an organized sense of authority. But he knows Jin Guangyao - or he likes to hope he still does, at least a little - and he knows that when anything goes wrong, he blocks out his stress by taking control in any way he can. Lan Xichen had known that before, but years of replaying every memory of Jin Guangyao to try to find some meaning or understanding or reason, or most unlikely of all, closure, have shown him even more, and he can see the slight tremor in Jin Guangyao’s hands, the twitch at the corner of his lips, the almost jerky deliberateness of his steps, and-
“You don’t have to do this,” Jin Guangyao says, a soft murmur almost lost in the background noise of a working town waking up. It’s an offer, a plea - Lan Xichen knows that Jin Guangyao never wanted him to see the broken cracks in his sparkling clean image - but he’s seen that man now, watched him admit everything and still beg for forgiveness before lying again in a desperate shot at getting out alive, and he’s decided to rewrite time itself to give him another chance.
“It wouldn’t do to break promises,” he answers and Jin Guangyao doesn’t bother to hide the way surprise colors his face. It’s gone in a flash and the smiling mask is back like a safety net for his emotions.
Jin Guangyao chuckles quietly. “You always knew which rules to follow and which to ignore,” he says, voice as unknowable as solid stone, and offers Lan Xichen his hand. “Come, let me at least get you some sort of breakfast.”
Lan Xichen takes his hand without hesitation and lets him lead the way; Jin Guangyao always knows the best places to get food even in the most remote villages sprinkled across the country. But for once, they’re stuck with meager portions of rice and watery soup, the sad remains of last night’s dinner from the only place willing to open up to them this early in the day. If it were any other time, Lan Xichen would laugh, but as it is, they eat the cold meal in a somber sort of silence, with only the crying of the gulls and the hush of the waves to keep them company.
Su Minshan returns from the zhou as they’re finishing up. “Everything should be ready, Sect Leader. And I’m sorry it turned out this way,” he says, sounding very much like the young man who left the Cloud Recesses on bitter terms. But Jin Guangyao pats his hand, seeing an honesty behind the apology that Lan Xichen missed.
He shakes his head. “I’ve thought it through, and Zewu-Jun is right: it’s a trap, an unwinnable dead end, and there’s nothing left for me there,” he explains, and it’s with that admittance that Lan Xichen sees the tired resignation finally hit him. He has panicked and spiraled through plans and it all comes back to this: a quiet escape with so much lost and nothing gained- except for his life, and he’s decided to settle.
do you remember when
you were all about me
or am I just a myth?
Gusu is on the sea and so, despite being raised in the untouchable mountains, Lan Xichen grew up around water, but the winding rivers that tie the various coastal towns together didn’t prepare him for the vastness of the open ocean, stretching endlessly under the starry sky. He finds it calming. Looking out over the sea soothes the worry gnawing away at him, the crisp night breeze a welcome relief from the cramped quarters of the zhou. He breathes in deeply, watching the first rays of sunrise streak across the water and set it alight. Even the dawn is different out here, sharper and brighter and so much more than the times he and Jin Guangyao had watched the sun rise after night hunting. At sea, everything is more of itself, and nothing from the shores of his old life seems to compare.
“Good morning, Er-ge,” Jin Guangyao says as he joins him at the railing. There’s a thin smile on his face that doesn’t reach his eyes, and the harsh shadows from the early morning rays do nothing to hide the bruised blemishes of stress under them.
Lan Xichen nods. “I haven’t watched the sunrise in awhile,” he admits, knowing that to Jin Guangyao, they were night hunting together until a few weeks ago, planning a discussion conference and gently teasing each other for their terrible sleep schedule. But for him, it’s been so much longer, with countless days that he lost to regret.
They’re standing next to each other now, quiet as the water sparkles with the light of a new day dawning, and Lan Xichen worries again, dwells on the lies and the sacrifices and messy broken trust, because he loves Jin Guangyao, he does, but no one is as perfect as the heart wants to make them. And Jin Guangyao chooses his words carefully still, even with all the cards on the table, with his past exposed, and Lan Xichen wants to know where they stand- even if he can’t bring himself to ask.
“Minshan is taking over the watch soon. I was just letting him rest a bit longer,” Jin Guangyao explains without looking at him. He’s reserved in a way that Lan Xichen has rarely seen; it’s how he holds himself when he can’t figure out how someone feels about him. He saw it in the months leading up to Nie Mingjue’s death as the last remains of their friendship burned and fell apart.
Lan Xichen looks at Jin Guangyao, and he doesn’t have the words to make anything right, not yet, but he hopes in time, they’ll get there. “You should get some too, then.”
Every second is a weight now that time is more than a meaningless mark on a calendar. Jin Guangyao takes a breath and exhales before he tilts his head to face Lan Xichen. “Then you should as well,” he offers, an invitation that Lan Xichen didn’t realize he’d been waiting for, and he smiles back warmly.
the air is getting thin
and I can’t find the words
so save your breath
I was happy just loving you
It’s tight quarters, truly meant for one person to sleep in at a time. The boat sways gently beneath them as they move through the space, trying to find a balance-
between them, in so many ways, and Lan Xichen has never wanted there to be awkwardness between them, heavy in the air, and-
Jin Guangyao grabs his wrist and meets his gaze, his eyes alight with something close to desperation. “Er-ge, Xichen, please, I don’t want to talk about it more but I feel so lost around you now, and-” he breaks off mid sentence to pull him closer. “I want you all to myself.”
It’s a demand but one he could deny, could say no and walk away, as if he could possibly resist. “A-Yao,” is his only breathless response before Jin Guangyao yanks him down into a kiss. He tastes like the salty breeze and the poor excuse for a meal they had hours ago, but also himself, like the countless stolen kisses they’ve shared over the years, and his hands tangle in Jin Guangyao’s hair, lets himself be pushed onto the bed, and it feels like all the tenseness between has turned to desperate need.
Jin Guangyao bites at his lower lip before his mouth moves lower. “I want all of this,” he murmurs, and presses a trail of kisses along Lan Xichen’s neck. He pauses, just for a second, and sucks at the pale skin there, hard enough to bruise- something they’d never been foolish enough to risk before. But the past is behind them and the future is whatever they make of it, and Jin Guangyao marks him up as much as he damn well pleases. Lan Xichen gasps and grips Jin Guangyao’s waist, both to hold him in place and ground himself.
“You’re possessive,” he manages, and there’s a chuckle against his neck, another brief kiss, and Jin Guangyao pulls back slightly to look at him with dark want in his eyes.
“Shouldn’t you know that by now? I’m a greedy, selfish man who’s done terrible things to get what I want,” he says, grinding down on Lan Xichen’s crotch with purpose. “You’re a far better man than I’ll ever be but now- now you’re still here with me.”
“Yes-” he begins, but Jin Guangyao grabs his robes and kisses him again, as though he’s still afraid to hear Lan Xichen’s side and shatter the last bit of love between them. He’s insistent and demanding, deft fingers untying Lan Xichen’s robes before yanking them open, and he knows precisely how to touch him to get Lan Xichen to moan and beg for more. Jin Guangyao's soft, uncompromising demands set something on fire within him, shoving all other thoughts from his head, and it’s such a comfort he’d thank him if he could get a word in. But it’s a tightly controlled mess, as is everything with Jin Guangyao, and-
His train of thought is interrupted by fingers wrapping around his wrist and guiding his hand into Jin Guangyao’s robes. “Touch me,” he orders, voice husky with barely concealed need. “You should know how to do that without any other explanation at this point.”
And he does, because he’s watched Jin Guangyao come apart above him and beneath him, and Lan Xichen slips his hand further in without guidance, between the folds of silky robes until-
Jin Guangyao gasps and grips his shoulders, rutting against Lan Xichen’s fingers because he wants more, more, always more, and he’s more than happy to comply. Lan Xichen rubs circles around his clit and Jin Guangyao hisses demands into his ear, a possessive litany marked by sharp kisses and needy bites. He would always rather pleasure him than hurt him, Lan Xichen promises, and the noises Jin Guangyao makes from that are obscene. Lan Xichen curls a finger in him and feels him clench around it before moaning for more, because he doesn’t have to be that patient anymore.
“Let me do this,” he insists, and only Jin Guangyao could look so commanding while half undressed in a dingy ship, and Lan Xichen’s chest is warm with a fondness he never wants to lose. He shoves Lan Xichen’s hand out of the way and shifts slightly before parting the last of Lan Xichen’s robes so he can grasp his cock. He strokes the length slowly, with practiced ease, and looks at Lan Xichen through his lashes. “Zewu-Jun is so loyal, you deserve a reward. Don’t you think? I know it’s against your sect rules to ask for such a thing, but I have no problems being improper,” he says, sugary sweet with a sharpened edge, every sentence punctuated by Jin Guangyao’s talented hands moving achingly slowly over his cock.
Lan Xichen groans at the leisurely pace, but Jin Guangyao has him pinned with how he’s sitting. “Are you just going to tease me, A-Yao?” he asks, and Jin Guangyao smiles.
“I only wish to take care of you,” he answers, and there’s a raw honesty to it that he didn’t quite expect, leaving him defenseless to Jin Guangyao’s measured touches. He's always been weak to this, to the delightful way Jin Guangyao moves on top of him. Even though he has had countless days to regret and hope and remember, Jin Guangyao's self-assured words and motions catch him off guard every time. He shifts so he can guide Lan Xichen’s cock, and there’s the last bit of delicious torment as he rubs the head against his slick entrance, relishing in it, before he finally slides down on it.
A moment of stillness, gasped out breaths, infinity between them-
Jin Guangyao’s fingers dig into his shoulders, dragging him back to reality as he straddles him. Sweat drenched bangs cling to Jin Guangyao’s forehead, and the vermilion mark Lan Xichen has grown so accustomed to is all but gone, smeared during their extended escape, and Lan Xichen leans up to kiss him again. It’s needier this time, somehow, every slide of Jin Guangyao’s lips on his, every bite and nip, every jerk of his hips a promise and a question, and Lan Xichen has given up on sorting his feelings into anything coherent now. Jin Guangyao rocks against him and a thousand words die on his lips, so he doesn’t try to speak; instead, he trails a hand down his side, moving Jin Guangyao’s robes enough to touch him again, and-
Jin Guangyao throws his head back and moans, Lan Xichen’s name on his breath like a prayer. “You never gave up on me,” he says, trying desperately for confidence and instead it’s tinged with worry, so subtle anyone else would miss it, but Lan Xichen doesn't.
“Never-” and that draws another needy gasp out of Jin Guangyao, more than any physical touch could. For all that he builds castles of his achievements, the permanence of Lan Xichen’s love and trust is a treasure Jin Guangyao can never reconcile as his and his alone.
So he deals with it as he deals with anything that overwhelms him- he claims it as his own. Jin Guangyao tugs at the pins holding Lan Xichen’s hair up until he finds the knot of his forehead ribbon, and he pulls it loose. “I’ve never thought of harming you, Er-ge, ever,” he gasps out, a desperate promise and plea, before Jin Guangyao kisses his now bare forehead.
“I know,” Lan Xichen assures him, because that, above all else, he can trust. Jin Guangyao clenches around him, a decadently tight warmth, and kisses him until they’re both breathless.
Jin Guangyao is close now, his breath coming faster and more uneven and his body spasming with the threat of ecstasy. Lan Xichen knows he’s not far off either, but his own orgasm is an afterthought, his hands are for Jin Guangyao, reaching down in the tangle between them to touch his clit once more. Jin Guangyao jolts as though he’s been shocked, but the extra touch brings him to orgasm anyway. Lan Xichen bucks his hips beneath him, rolling and undulating them in a way that deepens Jin Guangyao’s orgasmic moan, drawing his climax out longer until the tightness within him is almost unbearable, and Lan Xichen is coming too, and his body and Jin Guangyao’s bodies don’t end or begin, they are shuddering, shared vessels of longing and loyalty and lust.
Jin Guangyao collapses against him in a tumble of limbs, and Lan Xichen wraps an arm around his waist to steady him. His eyes meet Jin Guangyao’s like a kiss without touch. There are words they should say, further justifications and apologies and explanations for everything they know the other was hiding, but neither has the key that will let those words out. When Jin Guangyao sighs into his shoulder, exhaling the last shaking gasps of lust and a lifetime of secrets, Lan Xichen realizes that maybe just trusting each other enough to be like this once more is explanation enough.
Lan Xichen falls asleep with Jin Guangyao curled on his chest and the distant, muffled sound of the waves beneath them, and every piece is a comfort.
oh, I'm coming up for air
so save your breath
love was never dead
The ocean stretches in front of them, as endless as the future’s possibilities and just as bright. The sunset has set the waves on fire with its golden glow, and Jin Guangyao joins him at the railing.
“What’s on your mind?” he asks, pressing a warm cup of tea into Lan Xichen’s hands with a fond look. There’s none of the sharp fear now, and it’s reminiscent of simple conversations shared in quiet Lanling mornings, afternoon tea in the Cloud Recesses, and every night they’ve spent together.
Lan Xichen smiles warmly and takes a sip. “You,” he answers truthfully, and Jin Guangyao’s honest laughter is his reward.
“Love is a fool’s game,” he tells Lan Xichen, and any seriousness is lost to the smile in his voice.
Time has given them a second chance to mend the broken pieces of their relationship and come out better on the other side, and that hope is enough for him. “Then be foolish with me.”
And Jin Guangyao leans in, pulls him close enough to whisper a promise of love and so much more, and kisses him in the dying light of the sun.
so save your breath
oh, save your breath
our love was never dead