The idea comes to Wei Ying when they are lying in bed, their outer robes long discharged on the floor.
The day has been a busy one - the harvesting has come, and they have worked in the fields all day, with sleeves rolled up to their elbows and foreheads glistening under the sun, until the heat has gone away with the arrival of dusk.
The Jingshi is all silver, at this hour of the evening; in the light that spills from the window, the shadows the trees cast on the walls seem to come to life.
Wei Ying presses his nose to the skin under Lan Zhan’s jaw. His cheek is lying on Lan Zhan's shoulder and his arm is thrown across his husband’s middle, and Lan Zhan is holding him close to his heart. The position is a comfortable one, shaped to perfection in all the nights of all the years they’ve spent together, just like the one where Wei Ying takes Lan Zhan in his arms. Tonight, however, Wei Ying doesn’t want to lay still.
He nudges Lan Zhan’s jaw one last time, a silent caress that anticipates the disturbance, and lifts his head. The sheets skim against his bare back, so silky they might as well be made of water, cool to the touch; his leg slides between Lan Zhan’s, two lines of hotness against his warmed skin. Wei Ying leans his chin on the back of his hand, and rests his palm on the brand that marks Lan Zhan’s chest. Tonight, he wants to look at his husband.
Lan Zhan is beautiful, bathed in the moonlight. His hair, as dark as the night itself, falls onto the cushions, still a bit damp from the bath. There’s just one strand that hasn’t fallen back like the others, trapped beside the corner of Lan Zhan’s mouth; a single smudge of black, painted by the finest brush, on the pale expanse of Lan Zhan’s cheek.
“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying calls, lips curving up in a hint of a smile when he notices it.
Lan Zhan’s let’s out a quiet hum, a vibration against the ball of Wei Ying’s hand.
“Doesn’t it tickle you?” Wei Ying asks with a shadow of a tease, but the fingers of his free hand are already brushing against the soft curve of his husband’s throat to tuck the lock away.
The muscles under Wei Ying’s fingertips tense when Lan Zhan tilts his head to meet Wei Ying’s gaze.
His eyes are vivid gold, even in the dim silver light, and so close that Wei Ying would count his eyelashes if he had the time.
“Ah, Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying clicks his tongue in playful reprimand, and slides his forefinger under the unruly strand of hair. “Has farming tired the esteemed Hanguang-Jun so much that he doesn’t have the energy to take care of his disheveled appearance?” he asks while his hand travels up Lan Zhan’s cheek, to the shell of his husband’s ear. “Lan Er-gege, what would your students say if they saw you in such an unkempt state?” he teases before finally putting the lock in its place.
“They would not say anything,” Lan Zhan replies.
His expression is so serious it could be carved from jade, but Wei Ying has learnt how to look - there, in Lan Zhan’s gaze, is a gleam of amusement that speaks of a challenge Wei Ying lost the moment he questioned the juniors’ loyalty.
With a delighted grin as an attestation of his defeat, Wei Ying lets his eyes skim over the elegant features of his husband’s face. 'Regal' is all he can think when he admits, “You’re right, Lan Zhan. They respect you so much that they probably tremble at the thought of offending you!”
The silver moonlight dances around the left corner of Lan Zhan’s lips.
“Mn. They do.”
At that, Wei Ying laughs. “So shameless, Lan Zhan! The prim and proper Second Jade of Lan, Chief Cultivator of the Gusu Lan Sect, He who has tamed the Yiling Patriarch - sinning of vanity!”
The crinkles around Lan Zhan’s eyes deepen at Wei Ying’s playfulness.
“Wei Ying has no proof,” he replies, looking like the epitome of innocence and righteousness, and what can Wei Ying do, when Lan Zhan is disarmingly unruly like that?
Joy flaring in his heart, he does the only thing that is right - he leans forwards and captures Lan Zhan’s smugness with his mouth.
The taste of Lan Zhan lingers on the back of his tongue when they part. “Er-gege, spare this lowly husband some face,” he says, but his plea is a smile. “To beat me at my own game like this. You have no mercy for my pride! ” he starts, the next complain already forming in his mind -
And then his brain halts to a stop, because Lan Zhan lowers his head and his lips caress Wei Ying's parted ones.
“I apologize,” his husbands murmurs against Wei Ying’s mouth, stealing Wei Ying's words from his lungs, so bold that the only thing Wei Ying can concentrate on is the ghost of Lan Zhan's breath on the tip of his tongue. “Next time, I shall be more considerate of the feelings of my beloved,” he tells Wei Ying while his nose grazes Wei Ying's cheek, not a liǎng of penitence in his apology, and Wei Ying should call him out, he knows it, but he's already lost in his husband’s shamelessness, he just wants the kiss, the press of Lan Zhan's beautiful, smart mouth on his own, longs for it so much that his eyelids flutter close -
A whimper of impatience escapes his throat. Lan Zhan, however, is merciful; Wei Ying doesn't have to wait long.
The next noise Wei Ying makes is stifled by a puff of air against his lips, one last exhale before the dive. Then, a hand cups his face and Lan Zhan kisses him, soft and sweet and tasting of reward, like it's the first time and the last.
“It’s not fair,” Wei Ying pouts when he regains his breath and Lan Zhan lies back down. “It used to be me – seductive, barefaced, captivating - but now it's you who has me quivering in your arms with a chaste kiss like that! There wasn’t even any tongue, Lan Zhan! Yet here I am, completely at your grace! Tell me, dear husband of mine, how is it that you’ve become immune to my irresistible charm?” he asks as he buries his cheek in the crook of Lan Zhan’s neck, but it's all act and no bite.
Lan Zhan doesn't reply to his question. Instead, he takes one of Wei Ying’s hands in his own and presses it to the center of his chest.
There, under Wei Ying’s hand, is a quick thrum – there, under Wei Ying’s palm, is his husband’s fast beating heart.
It’s when Lan Zhan starts to caress his back, fingertips running over the curves of Wei Ying’s shoulder-blades, that the idea takes shape in Wei Ying’s mind.
“Lan Zhan,” he calls his husband and waits until Lan Zhan acknowledges him, just like he always, always does. “Let me take care of you like this, tonight.”
Lan Zhan’s hand stills over his spine - a moment so brief Wei Ying wouldn’t have noticed it if it hadn’t happened on his skin.
“It is not necessary,” he answers, eventually.
Wei Ying props himself on his elbow and sweeps his gaze over the features of Lan Zhan’s face. When it settles on Lan Zhan’s closed eyes, he asks, “Lan Zhan, don't you like back scratches?”
For a long moment, Lan Zhan doesn’t reply. The hand on Wei Ying’s back is still moving, though, so Wei Ying waits. They have all the time in the world, after all; with Wei Ying, Lan Zhan will never have to hurry to give shape to his thoughts.
“I do not know,” is what Lan Zhan says once the moment has passed, quiet and small, barely audible in the big space that is the Jingshi. “Mother would caress me when I sat on her knees, but it was a long time ago. I do not remember if it brought me enjoyment.”
Lan Zhan says all those words facing the ceiling and keeping his eyes closed, and it breaks Wei Ying’s heart. He wants to take his husband in his arms and keep him close, wants to console him with phrases he doesn't know because he's never been good at comforting, but he knows that by doing so he’d allow the sadness to settle in Lan Zhan's mind.
That’s why Wei Ying keeps his tone light instead when he says, “Well, my dear husband, you are in luck,” and smiles as Lan Zhan opens his eyes. Then, as suggestively as he can manage, he confesses, “It just so happens that this lowly servant is very good with his hands,” and gives Lan Zhan a flirty wink.
It takes a while, but eventually, Lan Zhan meets Wei Ying’s gaze.
He looks like the finest art when he nods, dressed in nothing but Wei Ying's hand on his chest, and Wei Ying beams.
“Here, Lan Zhan, lets switch places,” he hurries to say, already turning to lay on his back.
When Lan Zhan lifts himself up and rests his head on Wei Ying's clavicle, Wei Ying places his palm on the broad stretch of his husband’s shoulders. Then, after a moment that smells of sandalwood, he lets it travel down.
The muscles of Lan Zhan’s shoulders stiffen under the first, feathery stroke of Wei Ying’s fingertips, but Wei Ying doesn’t stop. He moves his fingers across the ripples and the lowlands that mark Lan Zhan’s back, thirty-three too many, so warm to the touch. He traces both the scars and the skin that’s remained unmarred as if they are one, making no distinction between what’s considered fair and what’s considered a shame by the people of Gusu Lan.
Lan Zhan has taken the strokes for him. For Wei Wuxian. And Wei Ying shall worship Lan Zhan’s castigation as if it’s his only god.
“Does it feel good, Lan Zhan?” he asks, brushing his chin against the crown of his husband’s head, too eager to know. “Is this servant as good as he claims to be?”
When Lan Zhan doesn’t reply, Wei Ying opens his mouth to call him again, because there’s hardly ever been something as important as this. But then Lan Zhan's breath stutters, and Wei Ying forgets how to speak.
“Wei Ying-" his husband says, voice breaking around the last radical, as his heart beats once, twice, against the palm Wei Ying is keeping on his scars. "My back has sustained too much damage."
I can't feel your hand lingers unspoken in the warm, summer night, and Wei Ying's heart cracks.
The pieces fall on the sheets when Wei Ying lays his head to the side. They clutter the corners of the Jingshi when he looks at his Lan Zhan, who is never ashamed of his scars or of the choices he’s made. His sweet, wonderful Lan Zhan, who’s only ever unsure whether he is good enough, despite being the best man Wei Ying has met.
Wei Ying's voice comes out soft when he swallows the taste of his tears to say, “Lan Zhan, lay down on your stomach.” His sight gets veiled a little when Lan Zhan looks at him with question in his features and blame in his eyes, but it takes him nothing to blink the mist away.
“This lowly servant hasn’t used enough strength, before,” he says with all the love he holds for his husband, and smiles when Lan Zhan gives him his trust and turns around. He tucks the tightness in his throat where the space is endless, then, beside Shijie and the Wens and the Burial Mounds, and sits on Lan Zhan’s thighs.
Placing his hands on Lan Zhan’s ribs, he looks down, at the constellations scattered over his husband’s back.
"Let this servant redeem himself," he pleads.
Then, he waits until Lan Zhan's eyes fall close, shifts his weight to the front, and leans in.
The sound that escapes Lan Zhan's lips when Wei Ying presses at the muscles that run parallel to his spine is the best thing Wei Ying has ever heard.
"Er-gege," he whispers as he bends down to press a fleeting kiss to Lan Zhan's temple, to his cheek, to the corner of his mouth, to where his journey always begins. "Let me take care of you."
And when Lan Zhan gives him another nod, the last one for the night, he maps all the stars of Lan Zhan's back with the tips of his fingers and his lips to embed them in his mind.