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"I'm starting to feel," says Lan Xichen, "that this was a counterproductive suggestion."

Wei Wuxian looks down onto the pristine, tranquil cold springs of the Cloud Recesses. Sitting in the water, their bare shoulders rising like dumplings carefully spaced in a steaming-basket, are a large number of Lan disciples.

"They seem to be doing better," he says, encouragingly. "If they--oh, no, I see what you mean."

At the near bank, someone has pressed someone else against the rocks and is kissing them frantically. Wei Wuxian is not going to try to identify them past someone, in case it turns out to be one of those whom he has privately classed as the babies in blatant and self-aware hypocrisy as to just how much sex he'd have been having at that age given half the chance, and how close he still is in age to them if one considers the whole 'death and rebirth' thing as no more than an inconvenient pause in his personal timeline. But they are such babies.

The two disciples, whomever they might be, are now a tangle of limbs and rising gasps. The other disciples in the cold springs are staring at this display with expressions that range from embarrassment to searing longing to outright misery.

It's all that bare skin. That's the problem. Lan Xichen is right: cold water was a good thought, but this has simply compounded the issue. Sticking thirty young people currently out of their minds with magically-induced lust in such immediate and naked proximity to one another is enough to overcome even the most well-instilled Lan discipline.

Well. That's not quite right. The most disciplined Lan of them all is currently hard at work in the library pavilion, having barely broken into a sweat beneath his own robes, despite being the one to catch the first and largest part of this unusual assault. Wei Wuxian smiles at his own feet for a moment, letting the fondness wash through him, then returns his attention to the problem.

"I can't see that it would be all that bad to let them just...work through it," he says. "Could it really do all that much harm to their health? Or their cultivation ability?"

"Probably not. But we don't know." Strain runs through Lan Xichen's voice. "And no doubt that is exactly the kind of confusion that Jin Guangyao wished to create, in leaving this trap for us in the first place."

Personally, Wei Wuxian suspects that the benignly smiling Jin Guangyao wanted a revenge that would wreak the most pain and the most havoc in a sect as buttoned-up as the Lan, once he realised that his sworn brother's faith in him had begun to crumble.

He also suspects they're being distracted, and that Jin Guangyao is seizing the opportunity to set up the next three steps in his game, but Wei Wuxian can hardly do anything about that now. And he's never had much patience for strategy games. He'll kick the board over later. He's not about to abandon his friends in this, their frankly hilarious hour of need.

Lan Xichen sits down on a fallen log. Something about the absolute rigidity of his back and the sad, betrayed softness of his mouth suggests that he is a few minutes away from snapping, and as much as Wei Wuxian would love to see what comprises 'snapping' for the elegant Zewu-jun, pity stirs in his heart.

He pulls Chenqing from his belt and plays a short, florid blast that has only the slightest amount of power behind it. Mostly it's designed to attract attention, which it does.

"Disciples of the Lan!" he yells, when the flushed and miserable faces are all pointing in his direction. "Change of plans!"

Once the disciples have been separated, wrapped once again in the layers of robes that are providing symbolic protection if nothing else, and directed to all find an isolated spot somewhere in the grounds and to meditate very very hard, or something, Wei Wuxian and Lan Xichen return to the library pavilion.

"Wangji," Lan Xichen calls as they enter. "Have you found anything?"

"Yes. I think so."

Lan Zhan's legs are folded beneath him, and he holds his sleeve out of the way as he takes notes, with the kind of grace that songs should be written about. Wei Wuxian has not felt the slightest stirring of whatever is affecting the Lan--it was a well-targeted curse, this one. What stirs in him now is an old and familiar ache like the stretch of a muscle at the end of a long day, something inside him laying down its weapons at the very sight of this man. You're safe, you're home.

"Of course you have!" he says. "I never doubted your ability to find answers in stuffy old books, Lan Zhan."

Wei Wuxian flings himself down onto the mat next to where Lan Zhan is sitting, and peers at the many books spread out on the table. Lan Zhan gives him a long glance, face softening infinitesimally, as it has softened every time since Wei Wuxian first woke up to the sound of a guqin and cool air on the unmasked skin of his cheeks. Wei Wuxian wants to walk out of the room immediately and walk back in again for the sheer pleasure of seeing it happen.

"Yang-qi," says Lan Zhan.

Wei Wuxian says, "Huh?"

"Oh, of course," says Lan Xichen.

Wei Wuxian opens his mouth to demand an explanation, but Lan Zhan's meaning clicks into place before he can do so. He reaches out and plucks up the nearest book, which is on the proper balance of yang-qi and yin-qi within the body, and its importance for healthy cultivation.

"The curse," he says, flapping the fingers of his free hand, and Lan Zhan slides a scrap of paper into them at once. He skims his eyes down the thickly inked clauses. "So that's what that character is referring to."

Lan Zhan nods. His hands, which did not touch Wei Wuxian at all when handing over the paper, are now folded in his lap. These paper talismans were arranged all around the main pavilion, hidden, and their curse flared to life as soon as someone touched the table set at the front of the pavilion, where an initiation trigger was hidden beneath the wooden edge. It's very neat and very cruel and exactly the kind of thing the Yiling Patriarch would once have been accused of inventing. Honestly, Wei Wuxian is having a surge of professional envy over it.

"It's designed to overflow a cultivator's core with yang-qi," Lan Zhan says to his brother. "The stronger they are, the more potent the effect."

Lan Xichen looks paler than ever. He, of course, is the one who would usually have been leading that lesson from the front of the pavilion. The only reason Lan Zhan was taking it instead was because Zewu-jun was so shaken by the morning's revelations that he asked his brother to assume his duties for a few hours.

So: Jin Guangyao, for all his vindictive planning, underestimated the effect that his own betrayal would have. It's the kind of irony that belongs to the theatre--not this room of real, complicated flesh-and-blood people. Including one of the best men Wei Wuxian knows, who gave his heart away in trust and is now falling gently apart.

"Will it wear off?" Lan Xichen asks.

"Yes," says Lan Zhan, and Lan Xichen gives a sigh of relief. "Eventually. You should encourage them to exert themselves, to reduce the risk of damage before it does. Exert themselves with cultivation," he adds at once, as though he can sense the grin growing on Wei Wuxian's face. "It could be seen as a valuable opportunity to practice techniques that have been beyond their capabilities before now."

"Sure, if you want to be boring about it," says Wei Wuxian. Leave it to the Lan to choose the less fun of two options, when the other one is a day of harmless orgies.

"I will do so. But--are you sure you are well?" Lan Xichen asks, frowning at his brother.

"I am able to handle it," says Lan Zhan.

It's what he said when this entire disaster started. When Wei Wuxian, lounging at the back of the pavilion and indulging in a fit of self-proclaimed nostalgia for his own lecture years--though, really, it was more that he finds himself reluctant to let Lan Zhan out of his sight--met his eyes over a room full of hectic, trembling Lan disciples, who were all beginning to pluck restlessly at their robes.

Lan Zhan said in a tight voice: Wei Ying, send someone for Zewu-jun. And Wei Wuxian did.

Wangji, are you all right? Lan Xichen asked, when he arrived at a run. His dignity was not even slightly reduced by the fact that he was holding at gentle arm's length the disciple who had been sent to fetch him, and who was now begging the First Jade of Lan in a fluid stream of desperation to touch him, to fuck him, he needed it, oh, he did--

A not insignificant number of the disciples had in the meantime begun making similar approaches to Wei Wuxian. Thankfully, they'd so far been deterred when Lan Zhan narrowed his eyes, planted himself and Bichen between Wei Wuxian and the room full of hot-eyed young people, and commanded them in tones of pure, flaying ice to remember their discipline as members of the Lan Sect.

Wangji, are you all right?

I am able to handle it, said Lan Zhan. Nothing flickered beneath the surface of his poise.

And his brother simply nodded, and moved on to urgent discussion of what they would do and which of them would handle the research, and that was when Wei Wuxian opened his stupid mouth and said, Do you think those cold springs of yours might help?

"Wei Wuxian," Lan Xichen says now, "Forgive me, I have not thought to ask. Are you well?"

"Perfectly." Wei Wuxian smiles at him. "I'm sure this was aimed only at the Lan, you know."

"There is no such specifying clause," says Lan Zhan, who has the talisman in his own hand again and is inspecting it. "It should have affected everyone within the defined boundary of the room."

"And even if this Mo Xuanyu was a poor cultivator," says Lan Xichen, "it was your spirit that was transferred to his body. You should be as powerful a cultivator as you ever were."

Wei Wuxian throws his arms wide. "All right, you've found me out. Yes. I am...affected by the curse. But I am inspired by Hanguang-jun's example! My self-control is so good..." No, he can't do it. He chokes on laughter and then, when he can't keep it down any longer, lets it out into the back of his wrist.

Lan Zhan's perfect brow creases. "Why did it not affect you, Wei Ying?"

"Ah," says Wei Wuxian. He considers coming up with some authentic-sounding bullshit, but it's impossible to bullshit the Twin Jades when it comes to cultivation theory. And besides, what if he tells a lie and it gets in the way of them finding a solution to this mess?

So he takes a deep breath and does his very best to explain the whole golden core transfer thing in an offhand way that doesn't make him sound like either some kind of poetic hero or like a colossal idiot.

It doesn't go very well.

"Wei Ying," says Lan Zhan. Something throbs in his voice like a drumbeat, dark and heady and unbearable. Wei Wuxian makes the mistake of meeting his gaze, summoning what's meant to be a reassuring smile, and sees the strange, too-wet glitter of Lan Zhan's eyes. The smile falters and sets on Wei Wuxian's face.

"Lan Zhan," he says, and doesn't know what to say next. Don't cry? I barely think of it any more?

Lan Zhan swallows and reaches out to him. It's a convulsive movement. The moment his fingertips make contact with Wei Wuxian's hand, however, a tiny gasp escapes him. His grip tightens on Wei Wuxian's wrist for a brutal few seconds, and then he tears himself away, eyes screwed shut.

"Wangji!" says Lan Xichen.

Wei Wuxian lunges to put his own hand on Lan Zhan's forehead. The metal plate of the ribbon is the only cool spot; the skin itself is burning hot. Lan Zhan makes another of those soft guttural noises and sways forward, pushing himself catlike into Wei Wuxian's hand.

"Zewu-jun," says Wei Wuxian sharply.

With some wariness, Lan Xichen picks up his brother's hand and feels the pulse. A quick intake of breath tells Wei Wuxian all he needs to know.

"You can handle it," he says softly. "Oh, Lan Zhan. And you the strongest cultivator I've ever known."

The stronger they are, the more potent the effect. All that talent and ferociously honed spiritual energy, turned against itself and burning away beneath parched skin. For the first time, Wei Wuxian lets himself be really, properly angry at Jin Guangyao.

He wraps an arm around Lan Zhan's shoulders. "Will this...hurt him?"

"I hope not," says Lan Xichen. At Wei Wuxian's unimpressed glare, he spreads his hands. "You are right. He is stronger than most of us. I cannot tell if that will work for him or against him, here."

Lan Zhan barely seems to be listening. It's as though the first contact of his skin with Wei Wuxian's unlocked a chest that had been tightly closed. He's low-lidded, his hand wandering over the front of Wei Wuxian's clothes, his breath coming shallow and fast.

"Wei Ying," he murmurs.

"You deal with the others," Wei Wuxian says to Lan Xichen. "I will take him back to the Jingshi, until it wears off."

Lan Xichen looks from him to Lan Zhan and back again. Now it's his face that softens, a bittersweet expression just escaping from beneath the strain and worry. He doesn't say anything; he nods, and even helps Wei Wuxian to get Lan Zhan to his feet, one of Lan Zhan's arms looped over Wei Wuxian's shoulders.

"I can still walk," Lan Zhan mutters, sounding so bitchily like himself that Wei Wuxian hides a helpless grin in the soft dark hair.

By the time they make it to the Jingshi, Lan Zhan is walking more or less normally, though he seems unwilling to disengage his arm from Wei Wuxian. As soon as the door slides closed, he turns his face into the crook of Wei Wuxian's neck and actually nuzzles.

"Fuck," Wei Wuxian mutters. Sparks of heat flurry down through his body as he steers them in the direction of the sleeping room and helps Lan Zhan to sit on the edge of the bed. It's fine. It's fine. He will leave Lan Zhan to sleep this off, and he'll stand guard and make sure none of those interfering junior disciples come to bother him and--tell him how much they want to be fucked, how much they want Lan Zhan's hands on their bodies--

"Wei Ying," Lan Zhan says, suddenly very intent.

Wei Wuxian turns his head, distracted in the moment before he stands up, and Lan Zhan kisses him. It is like a collapse; like a straining kite-string has been cut and its burden released into the wind. Lan Zhan's mouth on his is yearning and warm, nothing like the frantic impersonal kissing of the disciples in the cold springs. Wei Wuxian gasps and it's taken as encouragement. Pleasure spills through him as the kiss deepens; his heart throbs in his throat, and the smell of Lan Zhan's skin and hair is all around him, and he wants far more things than he can name.

Wei Wuxian pushes Lan Zhan away and hurtles to his feet. Lan Zhan's hand shoots out, superb reflexes somehow still intact, and grabs at his wrist to stop him from moving further. Wei Wuxian tugs, gives up, and then makes a mess of his own hair in a single frustrated motion. Fuck, fuck. He can't take advantage of a curse like this; what kind of monster would that make him?

"I don't suppose you want to try some difficult cultivation techniques," he blurts desperately. "Are there any you can't usually manage? I suppose not. Ah, Hanguang-jun, you are not making this easy."

Lan Zhan stares up at him, endless dark eyes boring into his. And then, quite visibly, Lan Zhan takes a breath and manages to drag together the pieces of himself. He lifts his hand away from Wei Wuxian's arm with the delicacy of a man letting the last notes of a guqin piece shimmer into nothing. His face closes over. It makes everything in Wei Wuxian want to cry no! and to draw him into his arms.

He settles for sitting down again--with a small prim distance between them on the bed--and nudging his foot against Lan Zhan's ankle.

"Lan Zhan," he says. "I--it's not that I--Lan Zhan, you would be so embarrassed tomorrow. You wouldn't want to look at me. Do you think I could bear that?"

He means it to sound light. Easily laughed off. Instead it sounds, horrifyingly, like pleading. Somehow the last sixteen years have crammed themselves into his mouth and are echoing there. It is very strange, Wei Wuxian thinks, that he should only in this moment realise how desperately glad he is to be alive; how much he wants to keep living.

This mental upheaval is followed, abruptly, by a rather more physical one. Wei Wuxian gives an inelegant yelp as he is dragged down by a merciless grip on the front of his robes; as Lan Zhan, once again displaying admirable speed for someone who could barely be bothered to walk a few minutes ago, somehow manoeuvres Wei Wuxian beneath him on the bed.

Wei Wuxian, indignant, fights back. "Were you not listening to--ow! Lan Zhan!"

The problem is that he is hampered by not wanting to hurt Lan Zhan, while Lan Zhan seems quite happy to hurt him, if it will serve the desired goal of holding Wei Wuxian still. Otherwise, Wei Wuxian tells himself, he would not be so embarrassingly easy to beat. They're well matched, usually.

And it's difficult to remember why he should be resisting at all, when Lan Zhan's hands are like brands on his forearms, and Lan Zhan's weight rests on his hips, and Lan Zhan stares down at him with a dark curtain of hair spilling over his shoulders.

"Wei Ying." The words are a rumble, as if Lan Zhan has hauled them up from the depths of a pit. As if Wei Wuxian is hearing them with his ribs and his guts instead of his ears. "I always want to look at you. I will want to look at you every day, forever. Nothing will change that."

Wei Wuxian's body has urgent ulterior motives, right at this moment, and can't be trusted. But his heart thuds painfully, and his mind whispers that none of the others affected by the curse were making this kind of declaration. Most of theirs ran along the touch me, fuck me lines. Wei Wuxian thinks of that addictive softening of Lan Zhan's face, the set of his chin when he stood next to Wei Wuxian and discarded his reputation without a moment's hesitation.

That had nothing to do with the curse. And neither does this.

"I'm here, Lan Zhan," he says softly. "I'm not going anywhere. I'm not leaving you again."

This time he welcomes the kiss, opens to it, and lets his own desire rise mingled with sheer relief. He can let this happen. He can help Lan Zhan feel better, instead of watching him torture himself with restraint.

"Okay," he says--mumbled, against Lan Zhan's lips, until Lan Zhan realises he's trying to say something and pulls away with a grumbling sound of complaint. Wei Wuxian grins up at him. "Let's start with getting these clothes off, hey?" He reaches for the tie at Lan Zhan's waist, and something like a sunrise with teeth happens in Lan Zhan's expression and he reaches for Wei Wuxian's clothes and oops, now they're fighting again.

"Lan Zhan," he says, laughing. "I meant your clothes. The sooner they're off, the sooner I can touch you."

That wins him a pause. With another deep breath, Lan Zhan sits up, and Wei Wuxian marvels all over again that this man managed to hold himself together for over an hour, including some clever scholarly research, despite having received the worst of the curse himself.

"My clothes," says Lan Zhan. He climbs off the bed and begins to remove them, hair ornament first, with numb-fingered movements. Jiang Cheng gets like this sometimes when he's drunk: convinced that if he moves with deliberation, and speaks slowly, he can hide it. It's a fun stage. One more drink and he usually moves on to shouting; two more after that, and he's giggling and soft and able to be talked into all sorts of mischief.

Lan Zhan is down to his under-shirt and thin trousers now, a triangle of perfect pale skin and the urgent jut of his cock both visible, and all thoughts of his brother fly out of Wei Wuxian's head. He scrambles to sit up on the bed's edge and lets Lan Zhan step between his open knees, and both of them catch their breath at once at the first press of Lan Zhan's hard length against Wei Wuxian's stomach.

No powers in existence could stop Wei Wuxian from touching him at this moment. He fumbles at the string of Lan Zhan's trousers and slides his hand inside, and the low sound Lan Zhan makes when Wei Wuxian takes hold of the hot length is--is something that Wei Wuxian is going to carry with him forever, and which will burn his cheeks to remember every time.

Wei Wuxian gets his other arm around Lan Zhan, palm flat on his back beneath the crisp white of his under-shirt, holding him steady. Lan Zhan's cock jerks in his hand, somehow filling even further, and Lan Zhan cries out and grabs at Wei Wuxian's hair so hard that his scalp stings. It's incredible. Wei Wuxian is the one who feels drunk now, and far too hot within his clothes. The room spins; his blood dances within him like a stream laughing over rocks.

"You're so hard, Lan Zhan," he whispers. "What shall I do with you?"

He leans in and kisses that enticing slice of Lan Zhan's chest, tasting sweat on his skin, and Lan Zhan's fingers tighten in his hair and Lan Zhan shoves within his grip, once, twice--and then Wei Wuxian's hand is suddenly wet and Lan Zhan is shaking in the circle of his arm.

Wei Wuxian strokes his back, soothing, until Lan Zhan moves away. He does so only to remove his shirt and step unsteadily out of his trousers, using them to clean himself off as he goes. Wei Wuxian greedily drinks in the long, flawless lines of his body, and realises that Lan Zhan is still so hard it looks painful. Well--it was never going to be that easy, was it?

"Wei Ying." Lan Zhan is back in his arms, miles of skin, rivers of inky hair. This is absurd and Wei Wuxian is never going to recover. Lan Zhan's teeth scrape over his neck, his tongue soothing the place at once. "I need…"

"Whatever you need," Wei Wuxian says. "We'll take care of it. I promise."

The removal of his own clothes is far less sedate. A dark hunger is alight in Lan Zhan's eyes and he seems intent on lavishing each bared piece of Wei Wuxian's body with attention: the overheated skin of his fingertips, the silken glide of his hair, lips and teeth and the hot puff of breath. Wei Wuxian is trembling, by the time the last of his garments falls to the floor, and so hard he thinks he might explode.

"Come here," he says, and lies back on the bed.

And so Lan Zhan's second release comes at the same time as his own, with Wei Wuxian's hand wrapped around both of their cocks, sliding them together, and Lan Zhan panting into the side of his neck. It doesn't take long. Wei Wuxian has always been an array of inked characters lying patiently in wait, needing only this person to trigger them. Pleasure obliterates him.

Afterwards he lies there as they catch their breath, Lan Zhan a heavy weight sprawled half on top of him, and tries to think in a straight line. It's like trying to walk while drunk. Lan Zhan's thumb brushes over his nipple, back and forth; having come once, Wei Wuxian feels sensitive all over, and the sensation is so acute it veers close to discomfort. But he would not stop Lan Zhan for anything.

A hard cock nudges against his hip.

"Wei Ying," and already his name in that deep rough tone sends shivers down his spine, leaves him pliant and helpless. "I want to fuck you. Will you--can I--"

Even caught in a curse of driving lust, Lan Zhan has enough control to ask permission. Wei Wuxian swallows twice past the dryness of his throat. Sweat tickles his neck. His scalp catches where he is lying on the length of his hair, and he wants to drown in the shape of Lan Zhan's mouth. He should probably be saying something like I haven't done this before or even, have you done this before? but honestly, he's finding it hard to care. He's read plenty of books. He knows how this works. And there's no way someone as intelligent as Lan Zhan, self-denying tendencies notwithstanding, has made it to this age without at least a theoretical grasp of the act.

"Yes," he manages, and, "please."

Lan Zhan swipes his hand through the combined mess on Wei Wuxian's lower stomach and uses his fingers, wet with it, to work Wei Wuxian open.

Complaints and comments alike die on Wei Wuxian's tongue. When Lan Zhan begins to press the head of his cock into him, the effort of moving slowly painted all over his beautiful face, Wei Wuxian's vision swims with brown sparkling light. Lan Zhan fills him entirely and there's no room in him for anything but the movement of his breath, the numb hunger of his mouth.

Lan Zhan's eyes are open when he comes, this time. Wei Wuxian feels skewered by the intensity of feeling there, and the way it makes him feel in return. It's as if he's swallowed a ball of sunshine and it's glowing deep within him. He laughs, a soft and wrecked sound, and rubs his thumb over Lan Zhan's cheekbone.

"You could kiss me," he says, and Lan Zhan--of course--does one better. He leans down and worships Wei Wuxian's mouth with his own, but he also wraps his hand around Wei Wuxian's straining cock and gives it the three merciless strokes it needs for Wei Wuxian to give a strangled cry and pulse all over his fingers.

Only then does he withdraw from Wei Wuxian's body. His fingertips trace over the tender, throbbing skin at Wei Wuxian's entrance, wet with his own release, and Wei Wuxian can't help squirming. His breath leaves him in a hiss.

"Did I hurt you?" is the instant question.

"No, Lan Zhan. You didn't. You couldn't." Not quite true, but it feels true; Wei Wuxian is so giddy with love and satisfaction that he cares even less than usual about the words that come out of his mouth. "However--for the next round, you could fetch that muscle salve that you were using yesterday. Anyway, how are you feeling?"

"Better," Lan Zhan says. He rolls onto his back and rubs at his own head as if suspicious to find it clear. "Can think."

"This one's still thinking about what he wants," says Wei Wuxian, giving Lan Zhan's wet and rigid cock a gentle pat; they're practically old friends, now.

"Wei Ying," Lan Zhan says, sounding very much like himself, and Wei Wuxian laughs.

"I would kiss him," he murmurs, and lays a demonstration of a kiss over Lan Zhan's collarbone. "I would very much like to do that. But--perhaps next time, all things considered."

"Next time," says Lan Zhan. One of his slow, sideways smiles creeps onto his mouth. Wei Wuxian kisses it, as well.

"Well, Lan Zhan. You could hardly think I will let you escape, now that we know how good we are at this."

Not long after that the feverish restlessness returns, and Lan Zhan's breath quickens. Lan Zhan does fetch the salve, and is liberal with it, and this time it doesn't hurt at all. This time Lan Zhan hooks Wei Wuxian's legs over his shoulders, and Wei Wuxian nearly sobs with the blissful jolt of pleasure that goes through him at the end of every determined, masterfully-aimed thrust.

He leaves bruises on Lan Zhan's hips. Lan Zhan leaves scratch marks on his shoulders the time after that, when Wei Wuxian climbs astride his lap and fucks himself down onto Lan Zhan's eager cock. Lan Zhan fucks him between his thighs, and comes in his hand, and even works himself to completion astride Wei Wuxian's chest, splashing his neck and chin and then diving down with a growl to lick Wei Wuxian clean of his own mess.

Once or twice they switch things around, and Wei Wuxian has the blinding pleasure of seeing Lan Zhan writhe on his fingers and cry out. He's already come so many times himself that his un-cursed body has no hope of pleasuring Lan Zhan in that way with his cock, but next time--

"Next time," he whispers into Lan Zhan's mouth, sealing the promise with a kiss. Kisses between them seem so practiced and so natural now that Wei Wuxian can't believe they haven't been doing it all along.

But nothing works so well as the inexorable slide of Lan Zhan's cock and the spill of his essence within Wei Wuxian's body; nothing gives Lan Zhan the same relief from the endless spring of yang-qi that surges within him, or lets him think so clearly during the period of recovery. And Wei Wuxian finds himself equally thirsty: for the sounds Lan Zhan makes, for the tired and delighted smiles they share, for that sunshine glow that laps at his edges every time Lan Zhan finishes inside him.

After a couple of hours, Wei Wuxian leaves Lan Zhan in one of these half-dazes and goes to fetch them water to drink and cloths to make a poor attempt at cleaning up, even though he knows it's futile. They'll just make messes of themselves again soon. But the everyday Lan Zhan cares so much about neatness and cleanliness; Wei Wuxian can give him this small thing. He'd give him anything.

He wraps himself in a robe to fetch the water. His legs buckle unsteadily under him at first. His whole body is a drawn-out, wonderful ache.

When he returns to the bed, Lan Zhan is already reaching for him, as if he can't bear not to be touching Wei Wuxian for a second longer. So much for cleaning up. Wei Wuxian makes him drink the water first, and kisses him lavishly as reward. Then he disrobes and lays himself out on his stomach, arms draped over a pillow, feeling almost luxuriously lazy as Lan Zhan slides into him with no warning and no salve. Not that any is needed. By now it's as though his whole body has reworked itself around Lan Zhan's cock, fucked open and willing and smooth.

Lan Zhan comes twice more without ever pulling out, and the second time he bites at Wei Wuxian's shoulder hard enough to leave a mark.

The day passes. Light shifts into the gold of afternoon and the shadows of early evening. The ache of Wei Wuxian's body is less glorious now, clarifying into a deep and steady exhaustion. He murmurs reassurance when Lan Zhan makes concerned noises, barely words at all, against the nape of his neck. They moved past proper speech some time ago. Wei Wuxian now knows this body as well as his own, all its tastes and scars and tender points. He can read epics in the curl of Lan Zhan's mouth and the shift of his ankle, in the precise and achingly loving touch of those musician's fingers.

He wants to take all of Lan Zhan into himself, to consume him and embrace him and know him entirely. Sore and tired as he is, this closeness is still better than anything else in either of his lives.

Lan Zhan pulses deep within him and groans, a ragged sound that rasps its way out through a throat already worn raw with pleasure. Wei Wuxian's lower body raises a sluggish flag of pain when Lan Zhan slides out, but he's floating, far beyond feeling anything too strongly.

"Wei Ying," Lan Zhan says. His hair is tangled; his neck and chest are a mess of sticky patches and love-bites, and fine tremors shake his fingers. But he's smiling, and Wei Wuxian realises why when he drops his eyes to where Lan Zhan's cock is softening against his thigh. "Thank you."

Wei Wuxian collapses back onto the damp, sex-stinking mess of the bed. He is never moving again. It's all he can do to smudge a kiss over Lan Zhan's fingertips, when Lan Zhan lies down beside him and pulls him close with an arm draped over his side, hand resting finally over his heart.

"Thank you," sighs Lan Zhan into his hair.

"My pleasure," says Wei Wuxian, like the polite noble son he never was, and passes promptly into sleep.


Lan Wangji awakens to the sensation that someone has taken the muscles out from beneath his skin, delivered a loving and personal pummelling to each one, and then set them back in place. He's also hungrier than he can remember being since the first growth spurt of puberty, and happier than he's been in his entire life.

And sticky. Quite...remarkably sticky.

His head clears of sleep. Then it fills with sense-memory, and he feels a splash of heat across his cheeks as if someone has tossed a bucket of water over him.

He pulls on a simple robe, not wanting to subject his usual clothes to anything more until he's had a chance to wash thoroughly. His bed is empty of anyone but himself; the Jingshi is empty too, but Lan Wangji searches himself for the hollow sense of need and want and uncertainty that has been his bedfellow for so long, and cannot find it. He pauses, hands on the tie at his waist. He breathes quietly and listens.

Not far outside the Jingshi is the sound of exertion, interspersed with the sound of muttering. After yesterday, Lan Wangji would be able to identify Wei Ying from the simplest of exhales; the barest, thinnest of sounds. He finds a smile on his face.

The Cloud Recesses are quieter than usual when he steps outside. This hour of the morning usually sees disciples moving between their sleeping quarters and the dining areas, or the fields where they practice. Domestic staff should be scurrying around. Instead a faintly embarrassed mist hangs over the entire complex, stretching sly fingers up to the mountains, and a hungover sort of silence reigns.

Wei Ying is doing sword drills with Suibian, wearing only a couple of layers of robes. His hair is swept up in a topknot and he moves with a careful grace, as if recovering from an injury and not wanting to test his strength too far. The blade carves patterns of light where it catches the dim morning sun. He leaps and spins in the air, covering nearly the full length of the Jingshi before he lands again. Snow crunches softly on the ground beneath his feet.

Lan Wangji stands in the entrance and watches. After some time, Wei Ying notices him, and falters to a standstill. Lan Wangji is exhausted at the very thought of arousal, but something glows within him anyway when their eyes meet. It's nothing new. This particular glow has been there for years, and will be there for the rest of his life, and it has barely anything to do with sex.

"Were you lying?" he asks.

Wei Ying's mouth makes an interesting shape. He looks down at the sword and doesn't pretend for a moment not to understand. He's been caught using the kind of cultivation techniques that would be impossible for someone lacking a golden core.

He says, "No."

Lan Wangji fetches his older brother. Xichen thankfully declines to comment on any aspect of Lan Wangji's appearance; his eyes crease and he says only, "I'm glad you're more yourself, Wangji."

"Yes," says Lan Wangji. He does not feel like himself. He feels better.

Wei Ying submits with only a small amount of whining to having his pulse taken. Xichen's eyes widen, then narrow, and then he drops his gaze to the ground.

"And it was like this when you woke up?" he asks.

"Yes," says Wei Ying.

"Ah."

Lan Wangji already suspects where this is heading, but he lets his brother do the talking anyway, explaining--with steadily averted gaze--that...certain acts...might allow the excess of yang-qi to be...transferred. And enough of it might create a kind of golden core where one was missing, like a cup left empty and waiting for the fragrant pour of tea to fill it to the brim.

"Temporarily, I assume," says Wei Ying. His thumb brushes in circles over Suibian's hilt, exactly as it brushed over Lan Wangji's cheek and collarbone and a hundred other places. It's a motion of wistful affection.

Xichen nods. Wei Ying nods in return. "How long?" he asks, as if enquiring about the length of a harvest festival.

"Perhaps a week."

Another nod, and a shrug. No matter, the gesture says. This is Wei Ying, who gave away the core of himself for an ungrateful brother, and wouldn't have told anyone if it weren't for the vagaries of circumstance.

Lan Wangji, his mind full of tea and desperation, finds himself blurting: "What if we kept topping it up? Every day?"

Both of them turn raised eyebrows in his direction.

"A small amount at a time," he clarifies, before either of them can point out that the curse no longer exists. And he's glad of it. That sickly, searing overflow of energy within him is something he is in no hurry to experience again.

Wei Ying laughs unsteadily. "Lan Zhan, you need your qi."

"Like you needed yours?"

That, gratifyingly, shuts him up.

"In small, frequent doses it...could work," says Xichen. He looks pained. Hope crawls through Lan Wangji in bright red tendrils.

"Every day?" says Wei Ying, finally. He looks at his sword, and then looks at Lan Wangji's mouth. A faint touch of colour fills his cheeks. That incredible smile of his is lurking behind his lips, and at any moment it will burst through.

"Every day," says Lan Wangji.