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The Mark of a Phoenix

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“What makes you think you’re so different?”

Sat, sprawled on the bench, in the middle of a grove of peach blossom trees, was a man who held the beauty of the sun. He was stunning, with eyes like charcoal and lips that burned red. His skin was slightly tanned and his hair fell in an inky waterfall over his red robes, that pooled about his body. There was an arrogant tilt to his head as he stared at the man in front of him who seemed to be his complete opposite. Someone pristine, tidy, and calm like the quiet stream.

“I will prove it to you.”

Wei Wuxian threw back his head and laughed—the sound ringing in the grove, yet not seeming out of place. “Prove it to me? Lan Wangji, you are the last person who has the right to say that to me.”

Lan Wangji bowed his head a moment before looking back up at the king of birds. “I swear my loyalty to you.”

Wei Wuxian lifted the wine cup to his lips and hummed. “Thank you, but I don’t need it.”

Lan Wangji’s brows furrowed.

“I sit at the top with the world at my feet,” Wei Wuxian poured himself another cup of wine. The cup hovered just under his nose and pressed against his lower lip. His eyelids were halfway closed and his thick lashes created a shadow against his cheek.

His red lips curled into a smirk before he lifted the cup to his lips and drank it. “What would I need your loyalty for, Hanguang-jun?”

Lan Wangji could not reply. He couldn’t think of any proper response. It was true. Maybe when he had been young—when Wei Wuxian was only a wandering orphan, he would have needed Lan Wangji, but now? Now, Wei Wuxian was the king of birds. He is the child of the sun and the phoenix god that millions pray to. He doesn’t need someone loyal to him. He doesn’t need anyone by his side. He is safe. He is respected. He no longer has to worry about getting betrayed.

“Then, simply let me stay by your side.”

“Are all cranes this stubborn?” Wei Wuxian mused before turning his charcoal eyes at Lan Wangji. “Or is it just you?”

The god of cranes looked away. He was unable to handle the empty, sluggish look Wei Wuxian used to look at him. The eyes that did not contain the unbridled passion from its youth that Lan Wangji had had the joy of witnessing once a long…long time ago.

“Stay if you want then. Sunset Palace has many rooms. Pick one and stay,” Wei Wuxian stood. The long sleeves of his robes brushed against the unfinished wine and caused it to shatter on the cement floor.

Lan Wangji did not move, even as Wei Wuxian walked past him. The sweet smell of alcohol wrapped around Lan Wangji, causing him almost to be intoxicated. He stayed rooted in his spot as the bird fairies swooped in to clean the mess that Wei Wuxian made.

“Hanguang-jun,” one tentatively called Lan Wangji’s attention back to reality. “His Excellency said to have you pick a room. Which courtyard would you like to stay in?”

Lan Wangji hesitated a moment before making the boldest decision of his life. “Which courtyard is His Excellency staying in?”

The bird fairy stared at Lan Wangji in shock. She had always heard the God of Cranes, the Prince of Birds, Hanguang-jun, was a respectable man. Among the feathered creatures, he had always been ranked before her master in terms of respectability, but here he was now! Making such a shameless request! Of course, the servants all knew that Lan Wangji was here to court their master, but to hear such a bold proposal…

“I will take you to the room beside his!” the bird fairy concluded with a cheerful chirp.

Thus, the shock Wei Wuxian felt when he saw Lan Wangji step out, just as he returned from his bath, was heard throughout Sunset Palace.

Despite being screamed at, Lan Wangji’s face remained as it had always been—impassive and unmoving. He simply bowed his head at Wei Wuxian and continued out into the courtyard, under the moon that was particularly round and full that evening.

Wei Wuxian frowned and stepped forward until he was at the top of the steps. He leaned against the column and crossed his arms across his chest. He watched silently as Lan Wangji placed his qin on the table and began to play a rather sorrowful melody.

The melody seemed to weave into Wei Wuxian’s heart and tug at the most fragile parts that no longer wanted to be seen. It dug into a past between him and the crane god that he never wanted to go back to. One where everyone had been against him—where he had no one on his side…not even the man he had thought he could call his best friend. But at the same time, the melody sounded so sweet…so comforting, so…familiar. It had an unexplainable warmth that both burned and healed Wei Wuxian, leaving him muddleheaded and unsure of how to feel.

As his nose soured and his eyes began to redden, the song slowed to a stop.

Wei Wuxian managed to quickly recover himself. He slowly clapped. The sound was jarringly mocking, against the sincere atmosphere that had preceded it.

“Nice song,” Wei Wuxian hummed. “What’s it called?”

“…Wuji.”

“Wuji?” Wei Wuxian allowed the name to roll over his tongue, as if he were tasting fine wine for the first time. He frowned and then looked up at Lan Wangji with a raised eyebrow. “Why is it called this? It sounds so sorrowful?”

“…It is a song of regrets,” Lan Wangji replied. “One about…regrets that can never be amended.”

Wei Wuxian felt his heart clench again. He pushed himself off the column and glared at Lan Wangji. For a moment, his eyes fluttered towards Lan Wangji’s chest, where his heart beat rather rapidly. The heart, although frantic, was still the purest Wei Wuxian had ever seen. And it frustrated him.

“Shut up.”

“Wei Ying—”

“Don’t call me that,” Wei Wuxian took a step back when Lan Wangji stood. He smiled bitterly. “Let us remain cordial, Hanguang-jun.”

Lan Wangji’s fingers dug into his palms. “…Wei Ying…it was never my intention to—”

“Is it ever anyone’s intention to hurt a lo—no, wait. What am I to you? I’m not a loved one,” Wei Wuxian laughed. “But of course, the great Hanguang-jun would never intentionally hurt someone! He will only be swayed to think the wrong thing. He can only be convinced that the man who he thought was good was actually a monster! His heart is purer than even the god of phoenixes, so how could anything harmful be done intentionally?”

“…Wei Ying…”

“Don’t say my name,” Wei Wuxian snarled. He pointed a finger at Lan Wangji. “I am warning you, Lan Wangji, you are toeing my bottom line. I have no idea why you’re here and I have no idea what the Emperor told you to get you to be here, but you best watch it. I accepted my exile and I have done nothing since then! Five hundred years of peace—I will not let you destroy it.”

“…Your Excellency, I was not sent here by the Emperor, nor am I here to destroy your peace.”

“Then what? Make amends?”

“…”

“Lan Wangji, to me, you are an eyesore,” Wei Wuxian felt the lump in his throat form again. His eyelids fluttered slightly. “A reminder of…god knows what. I had always thought it would be us—the two of us—together. That you would never leave me. That you would…always be with me—if not by my side physically then at least by my side emotionally. I thought you would trust me, like how I had always trusted you. But you…”

“I apologize.”

“Apologies don’t work in cases like this, Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian laughed as the name he had locked away for so many years came tumbling out of his mouth.

The two became silent.

Wei Wuxian brushed his tears aside. He looked back up at Lan Wangji. “Especially when they’re five hundred years late.”

“I am sorry.”

“I know. Because your heart is so pure,” Wei Wuxian’s eyes concentrated on Lan Wangji’s chest, where his heart continued to shine and thump rhythmically. “It’s probably been eating at you, huh?...The fact that you believed all those liars.”

“Come back to Heaven with me.”

“No.”

“Why? Those that faked evidence and lied are gone. The exile was lifted four hundred years ago—why won’t you come back?”

Wei Wuxian stared at who used to be his friend and slowly sank to the ground. He sat, with his legs stretched out limply. He leaned his head against the column and stared at Lan Wangji. He swallowed away the lump in his throat and smiled.

The smile wedged itself into Lan Wangji’s heart. He regretted ever asking.

“Lan Wangji…have you ever…lost everything?”

“…No.”

“Have you ever…been…at what you think is the top of the world and then…were kicked down to your lowest?”

“…No.”

“I have,” Wei Wuxian’s came out soft as he laughed weakly. “Twice. I have twice. Once when…my parents were killed right in front of me, and another time when…those that I thought were my colleagues and friends all…turned against me. The first time hurt. It took a while to trust again, but I learned that once I am powerful, I won’t have to be afraid of people harming me and those that I care about…obviously, I was far too naïve. I never—in my entire life—thought that those who I care about could possibly turn against me.”

Lan Wangji bit down on his lower lip and turned away.

“I had the power to protect myself physically. And the power to defend my friends. But I was just stupid,” Wei Wuxian laughed. “I actually trusted people. Why would I do that? Hadn’t I learned, from a young age, that humans can’t be trusted? Why couldn’t I just understand that…no one can be trusted? That it’d be better—safer—to just…be alone? Why did I want someone with me? I was always alone! So, why did I…when I saw you…why did I want…to be with you forever?”

Wei Wuxian shook his head. He leaned his chin against the palm of his hand. “I thought to myself ‘Even if everyone turns against me, as long as Lan Zhan is still here, then I’ll be fine’…and then you left. And I was alone. And I realized that…even if I didn’t commit any of those crimes, I should just admit to them because I no longer had anyone there. What was the point of staying?”

“Wei Ying, I’m sorry.”

“…Five hundred years too late,” Wei Wuxian stood.

He watched Lan Wangji for a moment. He took in the way the breeze lightly played with his white robes, the way his eyebrows were furrowed just the slightest, the way the moon made his golden eyes sparkle in the most miraculous way.

“I love you.”

Wei Wuxian frowned.

“I really…love you,” Lan Wangji said, with a near desperation to his voice. “A second chance. I promise, I will stay by your side.”

“You won’t,” Wei Wuxian laughed. “Your heart may be pure, but I know you’ll just leave again. Go now—before I get attached again.”

“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji stepped forward several paces and quickly latched onto Wei Wuxian’s wrist. “That day—”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Wei Wuxian pulled away easily. Lan Wangji hadn’t held on too tightly, for fear of harming him.

“…You won’t even hear my explanation?”

“Should I?”

“Please.”

Wei Wuxian hesitated. He looked down at the fingers that tightly gripped the white robes and then back at the golden eyes that brimmed with desperation. “…Fine.”

“I wanted to go to you,” Lan Wangji took a step forward and paused before taking a step back. “Truly, I did. I admit, I was convinced for a moment, but upon thinking about it further, I realized the holes in the logic, so I went to find evidence. It was just…”

“You were too late.”

“…I was too late.”

“Thank you.”

Lan Wangji lifted his head to look at Wei Wuxian with a pair of hopeful eyes.

“But that’s all,” Wei Wuxian said. He took another step back. “Stay…if you still want…my Sunset Palace will always welcome you. I won’t go back to Heaven though. And I cannot bring myself to…return your feelings anymore.”

“That’s fine,” Lan Wangji quickly said. “It is more than enough to stay by your side.”

“…Mn,” Wei Wuxian nodded. “I’m going to bed.”

“See you tomorrow.”

“…Goodnight.”

Lan Wangji remained unmoved as he watched Wei Wuxian step into his room, red robes dragging on the floor.

Only after Wei Wuxian blew out the candles in his room did Lan Wangji return to his own room. He was not tired. He stayed up all night.

They say time eases all pain, but the pain of betrayal could not so easily be soothed.

True to his word, Lan Wangji did not leave Sunset Palace. He remained there as the season shifted from warm to cool and then cool to hot. The seasons shuffled through many times and, at some point, Lan Wangji had become used to this sort of mild weather. He no longer felt suffocated in the heat. He even wore less layers and pulled his hair up when he felt too warm. He had become accustomed to this small domain and the servants had become acquainted with him.

This entire time—a full two hundred years—Lan Wangji’s heart remained the purest Wei Wuxian had ever seen. There was no a speck of black.

“Honestly, it’s very impressive,” Wei Wuxian sighed one day as he looked at Lan Wangji. “Not even a stain of black.”

“…Thank you.”

“You know what else is impressive?”

“Hm?”

“Tomorrow marks the three hundredth year anniversary of your stay,” Wei Wuxian said. He sat up. “So, when are you leaving?”

Lan Wangji fixed the crown on his head and then turned to look at Wei Wuxian. “Not leaving.”

“Don’t you have that glorious Moonlight Palace to return to? What’s wrong? Don’t like how dark and cold it is anymore?” Wei Wuxian teased.

Lan Wangji’s lips curled up slightly as he took in Wei Wuxian’s bright smile and the way his smile grew upon seeing Lan Wangji’s. But, at the same time, Wei Wuxian’s words stung his heart. Wei Wuxian still feared that Lan Wangji would leave.

“I like it here better,” Lan Wangji replied. “You are here.”

Wei Wuxian’s eyes widened and his face immediately flushed red. He shifted and looked away. “What are you talking about?”

Lan Wangji smiled. “You are here, so I will not leave.”

“Alright, I get it, I’m here. Why wouldn’t I be here? I own this place!” Wei Wuxian stood, rather flustered.

“Wei Ying, where are you going?”

“I—it’s getting hot in here!” Wei Wuxian said.

“If you come over, I can cool you down.”

Wei Wuxian’s red face only turned redder. “Lan Zhan!”

Lan Wangji’s smile fell a little crookedly off his face. He stared at Wei Wuxian as a surge of warmth filled his entire person. “…What did you call me?”

Wei Wuxian’s jaw dropped and he repeatedly fumbled about his words. “That is—no, I—a slip of the tongue, honestly. I didn’t mean to—what are you doing?”

“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji had stood and stepped closer. “…Does this mean you forgive me?”

“What are you talking about?!” Wei Wuxian asked. “You—stay back a little.”

Obediently, Lan Wangji did not take another step.

Wei Wuxian rubbed his arm and glanced at Lan Wangji. “…You actually aren’t coming closer?”

“You told me not to.”

“Good, stay there,” Wei Wuxian grumbled. “You’re really ridiculous. You actually stayed here for three hundred years. Aren’t you bored? Don’t you have things to do?”

“I do have things to do, but everything is sent here now. I am not bored, because I have you and I like listening to you talk.”

Wei Wuxian’s face burned more. “Stop talking like that!”

“I learned it from you.”

“Don’t accuse me of teaching you such strange things! When have I ever?”

“I learned that I should be straightforward, or one day I will lose the chance to say everything I wanted to.”

Wei Wuxian opened his mouth and then promptly closed it. He sighed at Lan Wangji. “I really can’t win against you.”

“Are you trying to? I’m sure you can if you tried.”

Wei Wuxian glared at Lan Wangji.

“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji carefully stepped forward again. “I promise, I won’t ever leave you. We can…make a vow.”

Wei Wuxian laughed. “Lan Wangji, do you know what you’re talking about?”

“Yes.”

It was true that a phoenix could bind their lives to someone. Once they found someone who they wanted to mate with, the phoenix would tie their lives together. If one dies, they both perish. One could not exist without the other and if this vow would to ever be broken, the one who broke it would die.

“…You better think this through,” Wei Wuxian said, his voice growing smaller as his anxiety grew larger. “If you leave me, you’ll die.”

“I won’t leave you.”

Wei Wuxian pursed his lips. “We better not.”

“Wei Ying—”

“I don’t want you to die,” Wei Wuxian said. “You can leave me, but I don’t want you to die…”

Lan Wangji stepped forward and held onto Wei Wuxian’s hands. “I won’t leave you and I won’t die.”

“Think this through.”

“I have. I swear to the Heavens that if I leave you, I will suffer a death more terrible than the eighteen levels of hell.”

Wei Wuxian jerked forward to cover Lan Wangji’s mouth, but the vow had already been made. Thunder cracked just outside Wei Wuxian’s window, signaling the Heavens had heard. Wei Wuxian whipped his head back to look at Lan Wangji, anger blazing in his eyes.

Lan Wangji ignored this look and only lifted his thumb and bit into it. He held pressed his thumb against Wei Wuxian’s lips and watched him silently.

Wei Wuxian hesitated a moment before allowing his tongue to take in the blood that had become painted against his lips. He moved to do the same.

A moment later, Lan Wangji felt a painful searing against his wrist. When he lifted his sleeves, the mark of the phoenix had appeared, showing everyone that he was Wei Wuxian’s mate.

The two stood in silence and stared at the mark, their heart rates raising as they finally realized what had just happened.

“We’re mates now,” Wei Wuxian choked out the obvious.

Lan Wangji allowed his sleeve to fall and cover the mark. He lifted his head and smiled. “We are.”

“I…we’re,” Wei Wuxian looked up at Lan Wangji. He blinked at the heart that still burned pure. “We’re mates now.”

“Yes.”

“And I love you.”

“…Yes?”

“And you know.”

“Yes, I know. I love you too.”

“And I know that.”

Lan Wangji watched with amusement as Wei Wuxian’s face grew redder and redder upon finally realizing the severity of the act they had just done. “Shall we hold a ceremony?”

“A what?”

“A marriage ceremony,” Lan Wangji stepped forward and carefully wrapped his arms around Wei Wuxian’s waist. He pressed a soft kiss against the man’s forehead. “So, all three realms can know just how lucky I am.”