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Wei Wuxian was beginning to get used to the Cloud Recesses… slowly. 

He would openly admit that it was difficult, feeling like an outcast in this sect of admirable figures. He could pretend to ignore the whispered rumors, the terrified glances pointed his way, the looks of scorn and judgment. Being the cultivation world’s most hated figure wasn’t exactly good for winning popularity contests. 

Despite this, he still found himself enjoying his time in Gusu. It was calming and peaceful after so long living under duress, so long always feeling vulnerable, on the edge of life or death. In the walls of the Cloud Recesses, he genuinely felt safe for the first time in this lifetime. 

Of course, he also enjoyed being with Lan Wangji every day and night.

It was enough to just see him in passing during the day, to spend quiet nights sat inside the library pavilion or the Jingshi without any excitement or expectations. 

That was how this strange routine of his started: with a night not unlike any other. 

Wie Wuxian returned home late in the evening after the sun had already set, the chill of late autumn biting at his skin. He entered the room quietly, spotting Lan Wangji sitting down at his table and tuning the guqin silently. Wie Wuxian was content to just watch him for a long while, eyes trailing the way his hands moved with expert precision, admiring the shadow of his eyelashes splaying across wind burnt cheeks. 

Maybe it was the half jug of Emperor’s Smile in his bloodstream or maybe it was nearly two decades of suppressed emotion, but Wie Wuxian suddenly wanted desperately to do nothing but drape himself over Lan Wangji like a heavy fur blanket.

Most nights they would sit across from each other for hours, just enjoying one another’s company as they worked or talked in hushed tones. Wei Wuxian should go to sit down across the table and listen to Lan Wangji’s playing until the bell chimed nine. That’s what he should do.

Instead he walked further inside without thought, moving around the guqin table to sit on the ground behind Lan Wangji instead of across from him. For a few moments he was content just watching the muscles of his back shift as he tuned the instrument, the familiar scent of sandalwood filling the room from freshly lit incense.

He wasn’t an immortal, though, and his patience ran thin quick. “Lan Zhan, it’s nearing nine,” after receiving no response besides a slight nod, he continued. “So that means you’ll be going to sleep soon, because you’re a fuddy-duddy. Anyways, you can’t go to bed with all that finery in your hair, right? So…” 

“Ask your question directly, Wei Ying.” 

Wei Wuxian pouted at the curt tone, but continued nonetheless, “So that means every night you have to take it all out and comb your hair, must be quite a process… If only you had a kind and handsome friend around to help you. If only, right?” 

Lan Wangji turned his head just slightly to glance at him from the corner of his eye, seeming to consider the meandering suggestion for a long moment. After he stared for a second longer his eyes fell closed in blissful resignation, “The comb is on the table beside the bed.” 

Wei Wuxian definitely did not shoot up from the ground with joy, and he definitely did not rush to Lan Wangji’s room to search for the comb. As could be expected, the room was not cluttered in any way and the white jade comb was found with ease.

“Typical,” Wei Wuxian scoffed, fingertips dragging over the decorative pearls inlaid in the handle. “Everything in his possession must be white, like a mourning widow.” 

He soon returned to the central room, attempting to hide his dissatisfaction upon seeing that Lan Wangji had already removed his forehead ribbon. No matter, getting to touch the forbidden accessory hadn’t really been any kind of ulterior motive in asking to comb his hair.

Wordlessly, Wei Wuxian sat down behind the other again and surveyed the task before him. He lived a life without hesitation, and immediately began to run his fingers through Lan Wangji’s hair indulgently.

Like his eyelashes, his hair was thick and dark, stretching down almost to his waist yet still in perfect condition. “Ah, Lan Zhan, how do you comb your hair yourself so expertly, it’s so long. You’re lucky you have me around to help.” 

“Focus on your task,” he chastised, beginning to strum out a few notes.

So bossy , Wei Wuxian thought, but he had indeed started this with the premise that he would remove the accessories and comb his hair. Looking up, his eyes trained on the decorative silver piece that sat upon the crown of Lan Wangji’s head, curling around itself artfully. 

Wei Wuxian had to rise to his knees to begin pulling the hair pins out, “Curse this tiny body. Why couldn’t I be forced into the body of someone who wasn’t so small? You’re much too tall for me, Lan Zhan.” 

Mo Xuanyu’s body wasn’t actually that much shorter than Wei Wuxian had been in his previous life, and he did still make it to Lan Wangji’s shoulder. However, he had noticed in the past the way Lan Wangji’s ears turned a light pink whenever he brought attention to the height disparity, smirking as he noticed the same reaction. 

“Silence,” his uptight friend replied, beginning to play a proper song. It was not immediately recognizable, but the Lan collection of music was much too expansive to recognize every song immediately. It filled the room with a tranquil and warm ambience, and that was all that truly mattered. 

For once, Wei Wuxian listened to the command to be silent and focused his attention on his task. He pulled the many silver hair pins out carefully, taking great measures to not snag any strands of long hair in his efforts. The arrangement of pins and hair was surprisingly complex, making Wei Wuxian wonder how Lan Wangji did this himself every day. 

Wei Wuxian had never done his hair so masterfully or with any element of grace, perfectly content with his hair just being clean and combed, the extent of his accessorizing being a simple ribbon that could be tied within seconds. Granted, he wasn’t from a clan that valued decorum and grace quite like the Lan sect. He only wondered what those overly extravagant Jin bastards had to do to their hair every morning. 

Nearly twenty identical hair pins had been set on the ground before Lan Wangji’s hair was completely free of jewelry or fancy styling. It fell with grace as every part of him was wont to do, covering his back to the point where the white of his robes were no longer visible through the black mass.

Wei Wuxian was beginning to realize just how much of a task he’d signed up for. 

Picking the jade comb off the table, he began to run it gently through Lan Wangji’s long hair. He was cautious to not pull too roughly while still working through the strands, his left hand caressing it lightly. 

When Wei Wuxian had seen Yanli before her wedding he’d felt the fine expensive silk of her gown, had marvelled at the smooth and refined texture. Somehow, he doubted the emperor’s finest silks could rival the divine texture of Lan Wangji’s hair. 

He took his time with the comb, oddly devoted to making sure he did this right. He’d once heard from the ladies in Yunmeng that to have truly beautiful hair one must comb every strand at least one hundred times each night. He’d gladly spend the rest of his life on the floor of the Jingshi, listening to soft guqin playing and brushing each strand until his fingers couldn’t work anymore. 

Still, there came a point where three songs had already passed and he already brushed out each and every strand of hair with great care. He set the comb down on the table once again, fingers gathering dark hair to throw it over Lan Wangji’s shoulder gently. 

“Lan Zhan,” he murmured, leaning forward to rest his forehead against white robes. The sound of wind whistled into the house gently, a calming lullaby. He moved forward slightly to leech more warmth from Lan Wangji, hand tracing lightly on the back of his waist. “Did I do a good job?” 

“Of course,” Lan Wangji replied without hesitation, not caring to actually feel through his hair and survey the work. Still, Wei Wuxian felt his cheeks warm and a fond smile sneak on to his face. 

He wished life could be like this all the time. Soft words and intimate moments shared on quiet nights like these, a life where he could unabashedly feel Lan Wangji’s warmth and his strength and his mere presence. He wanted Lan Zhan to be the last thing he saw in the evenings and the first thing he saw in the mornings, always there as a gentle yet protective force. 

He knew, deep down, that he had this in a way. He could always count on Lan Wangji to be there for him, to protect him, if he wanted it. He could be tolerated, and indulged, and even touched. But it wasn’t right, it wasn’t wholly what he needed or wanted, and it never would be. 

Hot, embarrassing tears pricked painfully at the corners of his eyes. He quickly closed them tightly, pressing his face closer into Lan Wangji’s back. In quiet moments like these, he could convince himself that things were the way he wanted them to be. He could at least try. 

“Wei Ying,” a low voice broke the long silence. A warm hand circled around to grasp Wei Wuxian’s, pulling it to wrap fully around Lan Wangji and press close to his stomach. Long fingers remained covering his own, moving softly back and forth. 

Wei Wuxian wondered often if Lan Wangji knew how hard he made living sometimes. 

“Wei Ying,” came the soft words again. “It’s time for bed.” 

“Ugh,” the feeling of white robes rubbing against his face wasn’t so bad. “What is it with you people and your brutal indoctrination. I need to have a stern talking to with Grandmaster Lan about how he’s brainwashed generations of people into cruel and unusual practices like going to bed at nine in the evening. No one under the age of ten should go to be so early.” 

Lan Wangji’s back shifted with a soft, silent chuckle, so he’d consider that a win. “Luckily, your behavior makes you perfectly suited to that group. Bed time.” He patted his hand and stood up without any more words. 

Wei Wuxian stayed sitting on the floor in protest, gazing up only to be struck silent by the look he found himself faced with. In the golden eyes and not-smile he found gazing down at him, he saw nothing but the fond affection that Lan Wangji shared only for serene moments like these. His expression was free of judgement, or cold aloofness, or disappointment. 

Only devotion, and possessiveness, and the closest thing to emotion that Lan Zhan could visibly reach. 

It was moments in these in which Wei Wuxian was incredibly tempted to drown himself in the cold springs. 

“Goodnight, Lan Zhan,” he said, only with the hopes that he wouldn’t be faced with that expression any more. He was finding it was more painful than the looks of hatred or disgust. 

Lan Wangji’s hand came down to settle over the crown of Wei Wuxian’s head, thumb rubbing back and forth over his hair for a long moment. He seemed to be deep in thought, as he usually was, just staring at him with that same expression. 

The gesture was tearing Wei Wuxian apart, and he was both devastated and relieved when Lan Wangji’s hand pulled away. 

“Mn,” was all he said before leaving the room, retiring to his bed a whole five minutes after nine. 

As Wei Wuxian went to his own bed, he wondered if his face had shown in that moment just how much of a deranged lunatic he was slowly becoming due the the slow torture that was Lan Wangji. 

The hair brushing soon became a nightly routine completely by accident, or at least that was what Wei Wuxian told himself. There was no way he would purposefully make it so he’d have an excuse to spend time with Lan Wangji every night and share happy, intimate moments with him. 

It became more of a lengthy affair every night, often times Wei Wuxian coming back to the Jingshi early just so he could take his time combing his hair. He didn’t admit this, of course, his stuttered excuse one night being that the cool months brought him inside sooner from the darkness and the chill. 

He severely doubted this lie was wholly believable, but he was lucky enough that Lan Wangji was kind enough to usually let these lies pass without comment. 

His favorite nights were those when nothing of great importance had happened during the day at the Cloud Recesses, when Lan Wangji had no reason to adorn his hair with overly ornate hair pieces. Those nights he didn’t have to spend much time removing hair pins and decorations, instead being able to dedicate his time to just combing. 

It was quickly becoming pathetic how much attention he devoted to someone’s hair, how much of the day he spent looking forward to the late nights when he could just sit on the floor behind Lan Zhan and watch the contrast of white jade against silky black. 

Granted, it wasn’t like his mooning after Lan Wangji wasn’t already pathetic, like it hadn’t been pathetic in this life and the last. 

When he was younger he would just write off his overwhelming need to be the center of Lan Wangji’s attention, convincing himself and those around him that he simply wanted to break the famous Hanguang-Jun’s seamless composure. He’d spent so long in his younger years telling himself internally that he felt nothing but feelings of friendship towards Lan Wangji. 

In this life, though… Everything was so much different. 

This was his second chance. He was older, and lived in a much different time, and he wasn’t under the watchful eye of every cultivator in the surrounding area. 

It had to be mentioned that Lan Wangji was different too, in every way possible. He was more patient, and tolerant, and warm to those around him. He took care of the juniors in his sect, and was diplomatic to all those he met, and his generosity surpassed anything that could have ever been imagined. In the years he’d been gone, Lan Wangji had grown into a man Wei Wuxian was genuinely proud to call his friend. 

But… that wasn’t just it, of course. 

Lan Wangji was different in other ways, too. The way he acted towards Wei Wuxian was a complete change from his past life, as if they were two different people entirely. Ever since he’d returned, the difference in Lan Wangji’s behavior almost gave him whiplash. 

He was indulgent. When they were outside of the Cloud Recesses he would buy anything Wei Wuxian so much as glanced at, be it a street vendor’s trinket or a bottle of liquor or even a lotus flower on one occasion. He would allow Wei Wuxian to break the rules of the sect more than any sensible young master, giving a disapproving look at the most before turning a blind eye.

He was protective. Wei Wuxian still remembered the time he’d first been harassed by Jin Ling’s hell hound, when in his panic he had cried out for Lan Zhan’s help. In that moment, even he was shocked by how quickly he’d come to his aid. It seemed like every day, even in the safe haven that was the Cloud Recesses, Lan Wangji would not hesitate to raise Bichen threateningly if someone even dared to look his way. 

He was affectionate. In his way, of course. Wei Wuxian could tell that the other man was still not entirely familiar with the act of being casually affectionate, but he was leagues better than he’d been when they were teenagers. He accepted physical touch, at least from Wei Wuxian, openly and without any disgust or shock. There were even the few times where he gave affection without preamble, surprising Wei Wuxian every time. He still had to conceal a blush every time Lan Wangji’s hand simply touched his shoulder.

His mental list of all the ways Lan Wangji had changed could go on for ages, and if he wrote it down all the ways could probably rival the Lan sect’s ridiculous catalogue of rules. 

The point was… he honestly didn’t know what the point was. 

The point was he was absolutely screwed. And spending every night like this was beginning to do more harm than good to his emotional stability. 

It was a rare day that Wei Wuxian woke at the regimented Lan time of five in the morning, and that was a calculated decision. Even though he found himself going to bed earlier with the routine of nightly hair combing before nine, he still couldn’t convince his mind or body to wake up so early. 

Nonetheless, there were the few and far between days in which the chiming bells woke him up against his will. One of these rare days occurred nearly a month after their nightly routine began, the ringing of the bells and loud clucking of distant roosters annoying him out of his bed at five. 

Still in his white under robe, Wei Wuxian started to pace around the central room of the Jingshi, huffing loudly to show his dissatisfaction to the world about being up so early. He continued to kick around aimlessly for a moment before he saw a tall figure move out of the corner of his eye. 

Now, when Wei Wuxian heard that the Lan waking time was five he always assumed that this was merely a suggestion for the honorable Hanguang-Jun, that he would wake up at three just so that he was ready to start a productive day by five. 

He did not expect to see Lan Wangji silently drinking a cup of tea, still in his underclothes and hair hanging down loosely like Wei Wuxian had left it the night before. 

“Lan Zhan,” he greeted with excitement, waving across the room happily like they didn’t live together. “Aren’t you surprised to see me?” 

Lan Wangji looked far too blissful for someone awake so early, face lacking any signs of puffiness or exhaustion. He wasn’t any more bitter or irritable than he was at any other hour of the day. He really did have to be perfect, just to torment one Wei Wuxian. 

“I would be surprised, were it not for your thunderous clomping around.” Despite the sardonic nature of the comment, there was no fire in his words. Still, Wei Wuxian pouted as he moved to plop down at the table across from his far more awake counterpart. 

Without a single word, Lan Wangji poured a cup of tea and placed it in front of Wei Wuxian. 

“Drink,” he commanded simply. Wei Wuxian had to learn how to do that, to command without any effort or aggression or need to instill fear. The only thing he knew how to command was dead people, and he didn’t think that really compared to Lan Wangji’s ability. 

To attest to the talent, Wei Wuxian began to sip at the warm green tea slowly. All the while, his eyes followed Lan Wangji’s movements. He watched him sip his tea with grace and perfect manners. He watched him flip through the pages of a book, probably something boring and old. He watched the untied hair slip over his shoulders freely. 

“Hey!” Wei Wuxian exclaimed suddenly, sitting up straight. If Lan Wangji was a normal person it would have probably startled him. He was not normal, and therefore he just turned his attention upwards like extraordinary nothing had happened. “Have you ever had someone do your hair for you?” 

Lan Wangji wasn’t in any way stupid and obviously knew where this was going, a hesitant glare taking over his expression. Wei Wuxian could understand this, it was much different having someone take down your hair for bed than trusting them to do your hair for the day. It didn’t help that Hanguang-Jun was universally praised for his composed and elegant appearance, and Wei Wuxian was… not.

“Wei Ying,” he began slowly, obviously considering his words carefully. “Do you have the mental capacity this early in the morning to perform such a task?” 

“Do I have- Lan Zhan!” Wei Wuxian yelled, perking up even more to show just how much mental capacity he had. “Of course I can manage it, I’m good at everything.” Seeing that his victim still looked hesitant, he knew he had to use craftier tricks. He crawled around the table quickly, wrapping his hands tightly around the other’s bicep. “Come on, Lan er-gege! I can do it, you’ll look even prettier than usual. It’s not like you’re meeting a beautiful lady today or anything.” 

Lan Wangji’s head snapped to the side to look at him sharply, eyes trained on his face for a long moment. The look in his eyes was odd, almost hurt in a way. His attention shifted down to the table again just seconds later, obviously perturbed. It was probably just the early hour. Seeing he hadn’t won yet, Wei Wuxian had to keep going. 

“I’ll do good, I promise! You can trust me, right?” 

“Of course,” came the simple reply, like trusting him was a default. Lan Wangji didn’t look up from his cup of tea, deep in thought. The early morning sunlight hitting his eyes made their light color look nearly transparent, contradicting the dark shadow of his eyelashes. He looked like the rich mistresses who attached mink hairs to their eyes on their wedding day. 

“Then you must trust me to do this too,” Wei Wuxian pillowed his head on the other’s shoulder, squeezing his arm. “Come on, Lan Zhan.” 

When he looked upwards, he could see the beginning of a smile start to form at the edge of Lan Wangji’s mouth. “Very well.” 

His ensuing excitement was perfectly rational, or at least that was what he’d tell himself. Immediately after this Lan Wangji started to instruct him on everything he’d usually do: comb the hair out, tie in his forehead ribbon, pull his hair back, place any pins or accessories. 

It honestly seemed like a lot of work just to look good and walk around the Cloud Recesses, but Wei Wuxian had already committed. 

The first part of combing his hair was easy and more than familiar by now, a simple and calming act. The light of an autumn morning cast through the screen walls illuminated his hair in a way it could not be seen at night, luminous and shiny. When Wei Wuxian leaned close, he could still smell the floral oils Lan Wangji used to clean his hair the night before. 

If Lan Wangji noticed him smelling his hair, he had the grace to not remark on it.

Unfortunately, he couldn’t take as much time combing as he would in the evenings, and soon had to move on. Suddenly he remembered the next step in the process, glancing down at the light forehead ribbon laid out on the table. 

“I’ll leave this part to you,” he sat back on his heels, waiting patiently. When he was younger and had just learned the forbidden nature of the Lan ribbon he’d been so eager to touch it, just to break yet another sect rule and to get under Lan Wangji’s skin. Now… he was much more open to just respecting this tradition and not crossing too many boundaries. 

Lan Wangji put his cup down, looking down at the ribbon for a drawn out moment. After his mind seemed to work for a moment his head turned to the side, looking directly at Wei Wuxian. “You may do it.” 

Lan’s had a special talent for shocking Wei Wuxian into silence at the oddest times. “Really?” 

“Mn,” Lan Wangji nodded serenely, turning back to his tea. “It is part of the process. You must learn how to do it right.” 

“Trust a Lan to turn anything into a lesson,” he chided gently. 

When he picked up the white silk band it was with great reverence, taking a moment to just look at the appearance of it sitting in his hands. His thumb graced over the bumps of the silver cloud medallion, watching the sun bounce off the metal. The gravity of this act did not escape him, he knew that being allowed to not only touch the ribbon but to fasten it showed just how much Lan Wangji trusted him. 

The act of having to stave off tears at five in the morning was not entirely new to him, but it was probably the first time it wasn’t caused by the early hour. 

Glad for Lan Wangji being turned away, he quickly sniffled and got to work. He rose to his knees, pressing the ribbon gently to Lan Wangji’s forehead. He wrapped the fabric back, tying it off behind his head. He spent a good few minutes straightening the ribbon dutifully, making sure it looked perfect.

He didn’t know why this simple act mattered so much to him, but it did. 

After that, doing Lan Wangji’s hair was easy enough. He settled on a relatively easy pulled back style, knowing if he tried anything more complex he’d probably end with a pile of knots and a headache. 

“I did this for my shijie once,” Wei Wuxian mentioned softly as he gathered Lan Wangji’s hair, making sure it looked pristine. Not receiving any verbal response, he continued, “Her handmaid was violently ill one morning, I volunteered to help her with her hair. I spent so long trying to make it look pretty. She was always so patient with me…

“No one ever told me how hard it was to do a woman’s hair, how much jewelry and pins and products you have to deal with. It didn’t help that Jiang Cheng was there the whole time saying it was dumb I was even trying to help, that it was weird if a man knew how to do a woman’s hair,” he smiled faintly, still working on Lan Wangji’s hair. “In the end, it only looked half as good as it normally did. The bun was lopsided and I saw her fix her pins so many times that day. Still, she just thanked me and told me I did a great job.” 

Lan Wangji didn’t comment once when he was talking or when he was done. Often times when he couldn’t think of anything productive to say he wouldn’t say anything at all, which Wei Wuxian appreciated in this sole moment. It was only a few minutes later that their silence was broken. 

“Often times, it is not the quality of a performance but the simple act of having done it that truly matters.” 

Wei Wuxian chuckled, beginning to press ivory pins into dark hair. “You’re just saying that because you think I’ll do a bad job with your hair too. Think again, Lan Zhan, I’ve learned from my mistakes. Today, everyone in the Cloud Recesses will marvel at your hairstyle and ask how you did it so well.” 

“Mn,” was the only response he was given. 

It took only a few more minutes for him to finish his work, moving to sit beside Lan Wangji and inspect his work. The hairstyle looked clean and put together, if not obviously more simple than his usual styling. Baby steps, Wei Wuxian reminded himself. 

He ran his hands through the loose black strands, smiling warmly at Lan Wangji. There were so many times in the day when Wei Wuxian didn’t know what to do when faced with the glance of Lan Wangji, suffocated by the pressure of his tender gaze. 

“Lan Zhan-a,” he chirped happily. Despite the upsetting nature of his feelings, it was so effortless to be happy in Lan Wangji’s presence. He scooted closer, pressing their knees together as he reached up to adjust his forehead ribbon with great care. “Don’t you want to see my hard work?” 

“Mn,” Lan Wangji nodded. When Wei Wuxian retrieved a small hand mirror he inspected his appearance, turning it in all directions to see the state of his hair. Finally, he made sure his forehead ribbon was indeed straight before setting the mirror down. Wei Wuxian found himself faced with an approving half-smile, knocked breathless by the honest expression. “Very good.” 

Wei Wuxian had to remind himself that he was the fear inducing Yiling Patriarch, the cruel demonic cultivator, and he definitely was not the type to preen at the approval given to him for his hair styling skills. 

At least, he wasn’t the type to preen on most days. 

“You’re just saying that.” 

“No, I am not.” Lan Wangji stood up, looking down at him with his not-smile. His hand came to rest on the top of Wei Wuxian’s head, a place it seemed to gravitate towards naturally. “I am not the type to say things for the sake of them being said.” 

“No, I suppose you’re not,” Wei Wuxian chuckled. He reached an open palm up, eyes wide and mouth in a pout. “I’d like to be compensated for my services now. Don’t think I’ll just do your hair for free because you have a pretty face.” 

The last thing he expected when jokingly asking for money was for Lan Wangji to lean down wordlessly and cradle his head to press a gentle kiss to his loose hair. 

“Hopefully that can bribe you enough until I can give you proper compensation.” 

Once again, Wei Wuxian was stunned into silence. He merely nodded, processing what just happened as he saw Lan Wangji take one last look at him before leaving the room, presumably to finish getting ready for his day. 

It took a few minutes before Wei Wuxian came back into his right mind, standing to return to his room. After Lan Wangji left the Jingshi he ended up falling asleep for three more hours, more than willing to stick to his own schedule rather than the Lan regime.

Although, if every morning went like this, he could see the appeal in waking up so early.

That night, Lan Wangji returned to the Jingshi relatively later than usual. He found Wei Wuxian working at the table on new talismans, scribbling on blank papers as he sat in deep thought. He approached, holding a small bundle of red fabric in hand. 

“Wei Ying,” broke the serene silence of the room. 

Wei Wuxian looked up from his work, surprised to find a flash of red in front of his face. He looked up in question, setting his brush down and giving Lan Wangji his undivided attention.

“What’s this?” He questioned, taking the offered bundle in hand. The silk was fine, soft and embroidered with the image of a songbird perched upon the branch of a tree. The fabric was slightly worn, as if it had been passed between generations before him. 

“Your compensation. A gift.” Lan Wangji watched him, affection creeping into his eyes. “I went into Caiyi this evening.”

Well, that was certainly something. Wei Wuxian had only been joking that morning, wanting to dispel the tension of the moment. He’d never expected Lan Wangji to go out of his way just to give him a gift for something he’d enjoyed doing a little too much already without payment.

“You didn’t need to do that, Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian smiled, looking down at the bundle as he unwrapped it with unparalleled care. 

Sitting inside the red silk was a comb. It was carved from heavy cherry wood, small clouds whittled into the dark handle. The small trinket was in no way showy or overly ostentatious, beautiful in its simplicity. If Wei Wuxian was being honest with himself, he would find it beautiful no matter how it looked, simply because it was a gift from Lan Wangji. 

“Oh, Lan Zhan, it’s stunning. Did you want a new comb for me to use on you every night?” He joked, holding it close in his lap. 

“It’s for you, not me.” 

“I’m kidding, Lan Zhan. I love it,” he couldn’t contain his smile or his affection in the moment, leaning forward to press a kiss to Lan Wangji’s knee through his white robes. “You didn’t actually need to give me a gift for doing your hair. Your trust and presence is gift enough.” 

Lan Wangji’s fingers ran through his hair, caressing his scalp. “I know I didn’t need to. I wanted to.” 

Well, that was enough for Wei Wuxian.

Wei Wuxian knew that Lan Wangji loved him. 

Of course he knew. It was hard to ignore the looks that people gave them, the rumors shared in whispers between the juniors, the not so subtle comments from Lan Xichen. 

It was hard to ignore the way Lan Wangji looked at him, the way he would give Wei Wuxian anything and everything he asked for without a second thought, the way he’d pass through hell and high water just to protect him. 

Lan Wangji loved Wei Wuxian. And Wei Wuxian loved Lan Wangji. 

And that made ignoring all the feelings and thoughts within himself all the more painful. Because he couldn’t act on them, that was something he’d decided long ago. 

Hanguang-jun was revered, and respected, and looked up to by all below and above him. He had worked his entire life to get where he was, to be honored within the cultivation world. He was a Twin Jade, after all, and that meant something to him. 

Wei Wuxian had already ruined his reputation by now. How could a son of the Lan sect stand by the Yiling Patriarch? He must have been brainwashed or manipulated or blackmailed. How dare Hanguang-jun let himself be corrupted by someone so reprehensible? 

There was no way that Wei Wuxian could truly acknowledge his feelings. He knew if he were to act on his desires Lan Wangji would be indulgent and loving and open, and that just couldn’t happen. Wei Wuxian couldn’t bring himself to willingly ruin everything Lan Wanji had worked so hard for just for his own selfish reasons. 

So he’d stifle himself. He’d suffer, and long, and spend every night and morning combing Lan Wangji’s hair like his loyal servant. 

Contrary to what many believed, Wei Wuxian did more around the Cloud Recesses than just bother Lan Wangji.

He helped with the gardens and the cooking, he worked on new talismans or inventions, he even taught the occasional (unapproved) lesson to the Lan disciples. There were days where he’d spend all his hours in the library pavilion, or shooting arrows at targets in the sky, or helping the sect doctor with her patients. 

Despite all these activities, his main talent in life was bothering people. And his second favorite person to bother in the Cloud Recesses was Lan Xichen. 

Okay, perhaps bother wasn’t the correct way to describe it. He liked keeping Lan Xichen company, was all.

After the events with Jin Guangyao, the elder Lan brother had been particularly reclusive, barely talking to anyone or even leaving his rooms. Wei Wuxian knew that the behavior bothered Lan Wangji deeply, despite never outwardly mentioning it, so he made a habit to visit Lan Xichen at least once a week. 

There were times where neither of them said anything the entire time, those were the worst days. When Wei Wuxian could see the stress weighing on Zewu-jun’s shoulders, when the line in between his eyebrows seemed to never go away. 

There were other days, though, ones where Wei Wuxian didn’t feel guilty for talking Lan Xichen’s ear off. When they could talk for hours, or sit in comfortable silence, or days like today where they would practice music. 

Contrary to Lan Qiren, Lan Xichen was the ideal teacher. He was knowledgeable yet unpretentious, patient yet fun, approving yet firm. Wei Wuxian actually came to enjoy the days where he’d learn a new song on his flute the most, glad to be able to distract Lan Xichen in this way. 

They’d been practicing a relatively new song for nearly an hour now, Wei Wuxian stuck on a particularly challenging run within the piece. He’d been practicing it again and again, determined to get it right just for the sake of doing so. 

He was so distracted by this determination, in fact, that he didn’t hear the door of Lan Xichen’s home open and close, stuck in his own world of repeating these few measures over and over. He didn’t stop until Zewu-jun spoke up finally, attention pulled to the front of the room. 

“Wangji,” his welcoming smile was warm and composed. This was one of his better days, none of the stresses of his mind weighing on him as they usually seemed to. “This is a pleasant surprise.” 

Wei Wuxian lowered his flute, turning his head to grin back and Lan Wangji. The mere sight of him brought joy to the last few frustrating minutes, restoring the breath back into his lungs. He wondered how horrified Lan Wangji was to hear him butcher the run so many times. 

“Hanguang-jun, come to witness my failure in person?” Wei Wuxian asked jokingly, finger rubbing at the characters carved into his flute. “I hope my lack of musical expertise won’t ruin your opinion of Lan Xichen’s teaching skills.”

Lan Wangji nodded his head towards him mildly, arms held behind his back. “Hardly. I merely admire my brother for his patience in listening to such a sound for so long.” 

If someone told Wei Wuxian when they were teenagers that Lan Wangji would one day openly tease him with that half-smile on his face, he’d tell them they’re even crazier than he was. And yet, here they were. 

Wei Wuxian mock pouted, throwing his flute down to the ground. “Lan Xichen, are you going to allow him to ridicule me like this? I think he should be kicked out of the classroom for bullying. I can’t believe you even let such rude disciples like this into the Lan sect.”

Lan Xichen’s smile was tender and unbothered, making his face warm immediately. “Wangji, you know positive reinforcement is how we encourage students like Wei Wuxian. His crying is the only thing more bothersome than his playing, after all.” 

Wei Wuxian whined miserably at the teasing of the Twin Jades, pouting for a moment before he let Lan Wangji address what he’d come here for with Lan Xichen. He flipped through his sheet music for a moment and listened vaguely to the conversation, something about changing the time of some scheduled event.

A few minutes of conversation passed before they stopped talking, inciting Wei Wuxian to turn his head to look back at Lan Wangji once again. 

“Ah, Lan Zhan, come here,” he beckoned with his hand. Without question, Lan Wangji obediently walked to his desk to stand by him. Wei Wuxian motioned for him to lean down, reaching up to adjust his forehead ribbon, seeing that the silver charm had been lopsided. He messed with the light blue fabric expertly, centering the band in an instant. He finished with a smile and tucking a lock of black hair back into place. “Such a mess, Lan Zhan-a, you’re lucky to have me around.” 

“Mn,” Lan Wangji agreed with a nod, standing fully once his appearance was fixed. His face fell as he spared a look at Lan Xichen, who was watching them with a barely concealed smirk. Wei Wuxian felt like whenever the three of them were in a room together Lan Xichen smiled like he knew a secret know one else was privy to. Lan Wangji’s only rational response was to look particularly awkward and quickly bow his head. “Brother, Wei Ying; I’ll leave you to your lesson.” 

Lan Wangji quickly hurried from the room after this, shutting the door firmly behind him. After, Wei Wuxian was faced with the knowing smile of Lan Xichen, but the older man had the kindness to not make any further comments. 

It wasn’t until the end of their lesson nearly an hour later that he spoke up, watching silently as Wei Wuxian stood up and tucked his flute away into his belt. Wei Wuxian had already bid him goodbye and was halfway towards the door when he was stopped. 

“Wei Wuxian,” Lan Xichen spoke up mildly. Wei Wuxian turned to face him once again, faced with the kind and pensive expression Zewu-jun seemed to nearly always wear. “I’m… glad you’re fitting in here.”

Wei Wuxian couldn’t hold back a slight scoff, “I don’t think I’ve ever fit in anywhere, Zewu-jun. You and Lan Zhan are the only people here that are truly welcoming. Some juniors mildly tolerate me out of curiosity, but most here just view me as a bomb that could go off at any moment.” 

“You put far too little faith in yourself, and you misunderstand my point. I mean to say that… you will always have a place here, I hope you can see that. You make people here very happy.” 

Wei Wuxian wondered if Lan Xichen made his meaning painfully obvious at times because he could see how dense the people around him were. 

“Well, I hope to keep it up,” he flashed a slight smile before bowing and stepping out of the room, taking a stuttered breath as soon as the door closed behind him. 

With every routine, things were bound to deviate eventually. 

Wei Wuxian had gotten into the habit of returning back home earlier and earlier, the cold weather driving him to hide inside all day. He’d been raised in Yunmeng where its was nothing but hot and humid year round, nothing to be said of this mountain chill. 

He supposed he could get used to it eventually, if he stayed long enough. He wanted to get used to it someday.

That day didn’t seem to be coming any time soon. Even inside he could barely focus on his own thoughts, shivering from the cold seeping in through outside. He sat on the floor in front of the desk, staring down at his unfinished work as he tried desperately to ignore the chill. 

He couldn’t seem to concentrate on anything, soon distracted again from Lan Wangji entering. He couldn’t even forget about the cold by talking to Lan Wangji, seeing that he was busy doing something around the Jingshi and going between rooms. Wei Wuxian pouted miserably and reluctantly returned his mind to his work by force. 

However, he didn’t have to wait for attention for long. Soon enough Lan Wangji approached from behind, surprising Wei Wuxian by wrapping heavy white robes around his shivering shoulders. When he looked back, sure enough Lan Wangji was missing the upper layers he’d entered with. 

“Won’t you get cold?” His only response was a shake of the head, leaving no room for argument. Wei Wuxian wouldn’t pass up the residual warmth and calming scent of sandalwood that surrounded him, pulling the robes closer around his body and looking back at the table. “I don’t know how you survive on this horrible mountain.” 

Lan Wangji slowly settled down to the floor behind him, setting something down on the table. When Wei Wuxian looked over at the noise, he was met with the sight of the cherry wood comb from Caiyi. That must have been what Lan Wangji was searching for earlier. 

“Your clothes are made for southern weather. We’ll get you a warmer wardrobe.” Wei Wuxian didn’t think he could argue with Lan Wangji even if he tried to when it came to things like this. If Lan Wangji stated something like it was a fact, it would be. 

“Ah, as long as they aren’t white. You know I’d make them a mess the first day I got them,” Wei Wuxian sighed, picking his brush up again to work. He was distracted once again a few moments later when he felt the ribbon in his hair being pulled loose, his hair falling down to his shoulders freely. “Lan Zhan, what are you doing?” 

“Sh,” was Lan Wangji’s reply, setting the red ribbon down on the table gently. Wei Wuxian was frozen still as he felt his hair be pressed down straight, mind whirring. He watched as the dark comb was picked up from the table. “Let me do this for you.”

Wei Wuxian forced his lungs to start working again, relaxing his posture and staring down at the table. Maybe if he thought about anything but Lan Wangji combing his hair he wouldn’t freak out like he so desperately wanted to. 

“Okay,” he croaked. He felt Lan Wangji grip him around the waist, pulling him backwards to sit closer. “Hey! Just because you’re bigger than me doesn’t mean you can just manhandle me, Hanguang-jun.” 

“I think it does mean that.” If Wei Wuxian didn’t know better, he’d think that Lan Wangji was laughing at him. Whatever, he was the one having his hair brushed out with care, so who was really laughing. “What are you working on?” 

Wei Wuxian tried to not let his head be pulled too much by the gentle strokes of the comb through his hair, looking down at his half-completed project laid out before him on the table. There was ink everywhere, to the point that he wondered if the desk would be presentable by the time he was finished. 

“Nie Huaisang’s birthday is soon, I’m painting a fan to send to him. He’s so attached to that showy one he carries with him everywhere, he’ll probably just throw this one in a drawer and forget about it. But it’s the thought that counts, right Lan Zhan?” 

“Mn,” Lan Wangji hummed, pausing his combing to look at the half-finished painting on the screen of a birchwood fan. The painting was going to be a view of the cold spring waterfall in Gusu, although right now only the sky and trees were complete. “It’s beautiful.” 

Wei Wuxian tried to contain his smile, shaking his head. “It’s not even done yet, Lan er-gege. You’re just saying that to make me happy.” He dipped the brush in fresh ink, beginning to outline the waterfall. 

Wei Wuxian almost threw the ink covered brush across the room when he felt Lan Wangji pause his combing to lean down and press a dry kiss to the back of his neck, chaste and sentimental. 

“Did it work?” Lan Wangi’s voice was low and dark, like Wei Wuxian could feel the vibrations move through his bones and take him over. His voice was reminiscent of the baritone notes of the guqin. 

Wei Wuxian settled his free hand on Lan Wangji’s leg, leaning back for a moment. “You don’t need to woo me with sweet words to make me happy, Lan Zhan.” He could feel the press of Lan Wangji’s forehead against the back of his neck, felt the delicate pressure of his breaths. 

A long moment passed before Lan Wangji sat up again, returning to his task of combing his hair. Wei Wuxian focused on his work again as well, dipping his dried out brush in ink to continue painting. They sat like that for the time of another burned incense stick, silent and working in each other’s company. 

Eventually Lan Wangji seemed to deem his work done, setting the comb down and passing the time by running his hands through his hair gently. Wei Wuxian took the excuse to stop working, setting down his brush and leaning his head back, eyes drifting shut. 

Lan Wangji’s mouth found its way to the back of his neck again, laying tender kisses against warm skin. Wei Wuxian settled back into him, skin prickling as Lan Wangji’s hand circled around to settle on his stomach. He briefly forgot that taking in oxygen was necessary to survive, that he couldn’t live on Lan Zhan’s touch alone. 

It didn’t matter, as all the air in his body seemed to rush out as he was suddenly pulled back, finding himself settled into Lan Wangji’s lap. He leaned his head back fully to rest on Lan Wangji’s shoulder, opening his eyes to meet his heavy stare. 

“Mine,” Lan Wangji spoke the single word like a vow, like a declaration, like a claim. Wei Wuxian felt the skin of his face heat, a coil tightening in his chest at the simple word. It felt like a command and a plea simultaneously, like all the feeling from over a decade trapped in between four letters. 

“Always,” Wei Wuxian confessed, raising his hand to tangle in Lan Wangji’s hair. He knew he should feel vulnerable; insecure spread out and being watched like prey, but he didn’t. He felt protected and cherished, like nothing in the world could come between them. He’d never felt any different in the presence of Lan Wangji. “And you’re mine.” 

“Of course,” Lan Wangji admitted without a moment’s doubt, like it was obvious. Wei Wuxian was coming to realize that perhaps it was. Perhaps this was inevitable, that his doubts and fears could never dare to stop this from happening. 

That train of thought brought his mind back to the present, to the world outside of the home they’d made here. The smile fell from his face, turning in Lan Wangji’s lap to press a hand against his face gently. The expression he was met with scared him to his core, seeing nothing but open affection and trust. 

“I need to make sure this is what you want,” Wei Wuxian began on a deep sigh, all the doubts in his mind creeping up like a malignant weed. A shot of fear ran through him, thinking of the consequences of what they were about to do. “I… I don’t want to doom you to a living hell of being with the Yiling Patriarch.

“Lan Zhan, think of what people will say about you. It was already bad enough when I came back, I already made people judge you and your sect just with my presence, won’t this only make this worse? We… I want this, more than anything. But I don’t want my feelings to ruin everything you’ve worked so long for in the cultivation world.”

Lan Wangji stayed silent for a few seconds after his outburst, seeming to just consider him and his words. “It seems like you’ve already made the decision for me, in your own mind. Wei Ying…” He took a deep breath, face falling. “I made the mistake of putting the opinions of others before you a long time ago, and I spent thirteen years regretting it.

“I didn’t stand with you when it mattered, but now I can. I’ll cut down every cultivator in the world just to be by your side, if that’s what it takes.” 

Wei Wuxian had to fight the tears brimming at his eyes, reminded once again of what Lan Wangji had gone through in those thirteen years. Pain, isolation, loneliness. Wei Wuxian had told him countless times to stop blaming himself, that he’d been one of the only people on his side at the time, but it didn’t seem like his words could ever truly erase those years of suffering. Maybe he could make it right, in his own way.

People always said that embracing love was as easy as breathing, and maybe for normal people it was. They weren’t normal, though, and accepting their feelings was hard. Wei Wuxian knew that giving into love would be messy, and dangerous, and risky. 

He knew that if he were to kiss Lan Wangji right now, it would probably be a bad idea. 

So, in the spirit of his former life and his current one, he did it anyways. 

He twisted his fingers in smooth hair and pulled Lan Wangji forward without another thought or word, taking his own breath away by pressing their mouths together. Nothing felt quite as good as throwing away all his fears and hesitations, to show that he no longer cared about the opinion of anyone but the man in his arms. 

Wei Wuxian felt himself be pulled closer in Lan Wangji’s lap, the kiss reciprocated with fervor. Being close like this, showing Lan Wangji all his feelings so physically, came more naturally than he could ever hope. Embracing their love was difficult, and it was scary, and it felt like he was born to do it. 

He was born to feel Lan Wangji’s heated breath fall upon his face, to be held in the strong arms of his soulmate, to be next to this man forever and always. If he was put on this Earth for that purpose and none other, he couldn’t find it within himself to complain.

He was distracted from his reverie by Lan Wangji flipping them over and pushing him down into the ground with his weight, holding him close and assaulting his neck with slow kisses and soft bites, making Wei Wuxian’s eyes fall closed and his cheeks heat like a Yunmeng summer. 

If they didn’t make it to the bed in Lan Wangji’s room until far after the nine bell, still wrapped in each other’s arms, well Wei Wuxian certainly wasn’t going to tell anyone.

Maybe he was a bad influence after all. 

The next morning Wei Wuxian was woken up by the movement of Lan Wangji waking beside him, for once not regretting being woken up so early by the Lan schedule. 

Bathed in warm sunlight, Wei Wuxian sat in their bed with drowsy eyes and a happy smile to do Lan Wangji’s hair like any other morning. He carefully combed out the tangles made by his own hands the night before, tying the forehead ribbon to his forehead with more reverence than ever.

Of course, he was soon distracted by Lan Wangji’s body pushing him down to the bed again and his hands sneaking under the fabric of his robes. The press of insistent kisses and gentle touches made him completely forget about combs and ties and hair pins. 

And if Lan Wangji showed up to his morning meeting late for the first time ever with mussed hair and a lopsided forehead ribbon, well… Wei Wuxian was just glad he didn’t have to see Lan Xichen’s poorly concealed smirk and hear the gossip spread throughout the Cloud Recesses.