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You'd Break Your Heart to Make It Bigger

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***

"Wei-gongzi? Wake up! Why won't he wake up? Wei Wuxian!"

Wei Wuxian's consciousness comes back as a slow rushing of sound. Voices, movement, something that sounds like fire crackling. It flickers behind his eyelids, so chances are, it's probably a fire. Then a shadow falls over him and he groans as he attempts to peel his eyes open. It's not an easy business—they somehow feel both dry and sticky at the same time, and when he manages to open them the tiniest bit, even the dim light around him feels like blinding sunlight. There's pressure in his chest, but at least his breathing is fine.

He has no idea what happened.

"Oh, finally!" The voice is unfamiliar. "Sir, can you hear me? Are you actually awake?"

Wei Wuxian blinks and comes back to reality in stages. He feels the roughness of bark at the back of his head, the cold packed earth beneath his body, the chilly evening air on his skin. And he feels pain—pain absolutely everywhere. It's a sharp, deep ache, pulling at his bones and at his muscle and at his insides. He swallows against it and rasps, "Where am I? What happened?" Then, as an afterthought, "And who are you?"

"I'm Zhang Hua, sir. We—my companion and I—were on our way to putting a restless spirit to rest, but as we approached, we saw you there, lying on the ground. It would appear you had already gotten rid of it, but had passed out."

That's right. The last thing Wei Wuxian remembers is being at an abandoned manor, after some villagers complained of an unquiet spirit in the place. "It's been this way for years, sir," they'd told him. "Nobody dares inhabit it due to the haunting. Our kids love to go there to be mischievous, and we're just worried something will happen to them." So Wei Ying had gone and taken care of it. Had been taking care of it, until something had taken him out. And now, here he is, with some cultivator crouched over him, looking at him with concern. The man isn't wearing the colors of any major sect. "Where do you come from?"

"I'm from a village in Qishan. Myself and Dai Gan are rogue cultivators, we travel around, subduing spirits and the like."

Wei Wuxian nods. "And how do you know who I am?"

Here, Zhang Hua looks shifty, cutting his eyes to the left where, presumably, his companion is sitting in silence and watching. "We recognized you right away, sir. The way you're dressed…" Then he gives Wei Wuxian an uncertain sort of smile.

That's right. Wei Wuxian keeps forgetting how his style of dress gives him away. Back in...back in his Burial Mounds days, men even attempted to pass off as his disciples, wearing black robes and red ribbons. He shakes his head and attempts to sit up. Zhang Hua shuffles backwards to accommodate him, but doesn't go much further than that. "How are you feeling? What had you used? Some sort of an array?"

Wei Wuxian attempts to remember this himself. His body, still screaming in pain, is making it difficult to do so. "Uh, well, you know...trying to subdue the, uh, evil spirit or whatever that thing was, but—" He breaks off to hiss as he feels a particularly violent stab through his stomach. "Fuck. Sorry. Excuse me."

The guy glances quickly to where his companion is sitting, then back at Wei Wuxian, his gaze searching. "Are you all right?"

Wei Wuxian nods, then thinks better of it and says, "No. I'm in a great deal of pain." What had he done? "Did you say I had succeeded in subduing the thing? The thing haunting the place?"

Zhang Hua nods several times. "Yes. By the time we got there, it was already gone, and you were lying on the ground. We assumed that you had done it. There were traces of an array, but they weren't clear."

The array. That's right, that's what he had done. To bind the thing's soul.

He'd been tired, too. He had been traveling with Lil' Apple without stopping for three days, sleeping rough in the woods. He isn't quite so young anymore, so it had taken its toll. But why is he in so much pain now? It isn't a usual sort of exhausted ache; this is a fresh and unforgiving sort of pain that tears at his muscle, makes bones feel like they're grinding against one another, stabs him behind the eyes. He hisses through his teeth and slumps back down. "What happened after you found me?"

Another look to the left, then the man lowers his eyes and says, "We checked to see that you were still alive. Then we picked you up and carried you out, just in case. That was a few hours ago."

And he's been out of it this whole time. "Uh, well. Thank you for that." Wait. "Did you see a donkey anywhere, by chance?"

The man beams at him. "Yes, Dai Gan brought him to you, he's just over there, eating some grass."

Oh, thank heavens. Losing Lil' Apple would have been a tragedy. "Thank you for that, as well."

Well. Wei Wuxian can't just keep lying here in the dirt with some strangers looking down at him. "Would you be so kind as to help me up?" he asks, and when Zhang Hua gently begins to help him into a sitting position, doesn't cry out, even though he very much wants to. Fuck. Fuck. He's really fucked himself up this time. Unbidden, an image of Lan Zhan's frowny eyebrows comes to mind. He's bent over his writing desk, hair lying perfectly down his back, brush in hand. Huh. Where had that come from?

Thoughts of Lan Zhan always make him smile, though, and his companion gives him a curious look, but doesn't ask.

"You won't mind if I take a share of your fire tonight, will you?" The fire is warm, crackling in the darkness, and it's too late for him to go anywhere tonight. May as well make camp here.

"It would be our honor, sir," Zhang Hua says immediately, his gestures inviting. His smile is very wide. His friend looks less pleased, but doesn't say anything. "Please, join us."

In addition to the fire, they also have stew and even some bread to sop it up, which they very generously share with Wei Wuxian. Bones screaming, he sits at the fire, jerking at the occasional sharp stab in his skull, and tries to think about what happens next while his new friends talk low about things he can't possibly pay attention to. He has to get through the night somehow, then bid them goodbye, and then what?

He should probably go back to the manor if he is to figure out what, exactly, he has done to himself. He thinks he remembers the array—could certainly recreate it, if necessary—but for the life of him, he can't figure out where it had all gone wrong.

Lan Zhan. He needs Lan Zhan.

He's barely had the thought when there he is, fresh in Wei Wuxian's mind, the picture quite clear. He is no longer bent over his desk. This time, Lan Zhan is in the dark, tossing and turning in bed. What? Why would—what a strange thing to think about. Wei Wuxian blinks and the image dispels. Good. That had been… He shakes his head. The pain is making it difficult to think.

Maybe...maybe he should talk to Lan Zhan. He hadn't been planning on going back quite this soon, he had wanted to explore the area a bit more, but he can't exactly go exploring while feeling like he's being stabbed constantly, so he might as well head back. He just hopes Lan Zhan won't be too annoyed by the change of plans. Perhaps he's been enjoying this sojourn, taking care of his duties without Wei Wuxian hanging about the place, making things difficult.

A wave of confusion crashes over him, as though somebody had injected it into his mind. The confusion feels like Lan Zhan. What? That's—what a strange thing to think. Wei Wuxian squeezes his eyes shut and puts his palms over them, pressing in. Fuck, this pain. It's making it difficult to think straight.

Before they settle down for the night, Zhang Hua generously offers him a bit of his wine, as well, which doesn't dull the pain, but blurs things a little bit. He really is being very nice, if a little intense. Wei Wuxian doesn't meet this sort of kindness often.

He tosses and turns that night, unable to get any proper sleep, but he must doze towards morning, as he finds himself waking up in the grey light of pre-dawn, the pain immediately returning. Fuck. He had been hoping it would somehow resolve itself overnight. And why had he woken up so early?

His companions are still sleeping, but he can't possibly wait for them to wake up to say goodbye. He leaves them a note, rolls up his pallet, and goes to fetch Lil' Apple, who doesn't seem too happy at being woken up this early. "I'm not having a great time of it, either," Wei Wuxian grumbles as he tries to get him to move. "Come on, you stubborn ass."

By the time he finally succeeds in getting Lil' Apple to start walking, the sun has nearly risen in the sky, and his stomach is grumbling. He has some money to his name, but no place to spend it. He's got a reserve of apples for his stupid donkey, however, and they both munch on those as they go.

He should go back to the manor, but something is preventing him from doing so. He remembers, now, the array he had set, and will be able to recreate it for Lan Zhan, if need be. Maybe they can come back here together and try to figure this out, if Lan Zhan can be pulled away from his duties.

Lan Zhan. Wei Wuxian looks at the sky and wonders when Lan Zhan is doing right now. An image of him meditating in the cold early morning air comes to mind. Yeah. Wei Wuxian smiles. That seems likely.

It's a two-day journey to Cloud Recesses, and Wei Wuxian spends most of it fighting nausea as the pain continues to wear him down without pause. It makes walking difficult, so he alternates trudging alongside Lil' Apple and riding him, which doesn't make the pain any less, but does get them places a tad faster.

He stops in a small town he'd passed along the way before. There's an inn that he had decided to eschew the first time around, preferring to sleep under the stars instead, but all things considered, he could use a proper bed. He spends nearly the last of his coin on it, along with a good dinner and a jar of liquor.

The pain wears him out—he's in bed by nine, which is truly pathetic, tossing and turning but not able to get out of bed, either. It's torturous, and, unbidden, more thoughts of Lan Zhan float to mind. Once more, he's in bed, but he isn't asleep this time, his eyes wide open, hands shaking over his chest. The image is so disturbing, Wei Wuxian bolts upright in bed and gasps out his name. What is his mind up to, scaring him like that?

It is a long time until he falls asleep.

He's awake with the roosters again, and he is still in pain. He rubs a hand over his face and slowly rises. Might as well get on with it. He washes his face in cold water, then bids goodbye to the innkeeper and goes to fetch his donkey from the stables.

Less than a day now. He should make it to Cloud Recesses by nightfall.

It's a long day. The sun warms him at first, then beats down on him as he passes through the fields with no shade to be had. Combined with the continuous pain, he feels as though every minute lasts an entire lifetime. Beside him, Lil' Apple is slowing too, tired and hot. They are a sorry sight by the time they get to Caiyi, but something about the familiarity of the place, and knowing that Lan Zhan is near, perks him up. All throughout, thoughts of Lan Zhan crowd his mind. Wei Wuxian must be really desperate for a friendly face.

He finds some silver somewhere in his pockets and buys a jar of Emperor's Smile with it. He knows Lan Zhan keeps some for him, for mysterious reasons of his own, but it won't do to mooch off of him as much as Wei Wuxian has been. A man's gotta have some pride. He can provide his own liquor from time to time.

The road to Cloud Recesses is winding and achingly familiar. He finds himself smiling at the sight of the groves and mountains, a spring in his step. The pain has lessened a bit, and he wonders if he hasn't overreacted altogether. Perhaps, if he had waited it out, and gone back to the manor… Well, it is too late now. He is nearly there, then takes the next bend in the road, and—

"Wei Ying."

Wei Wuxian gasps from shock, hand flying to his chest. "Lan Zhan?"

Lan Zhan is standing a few feet ahead, one hand behind his back, looking as though it is absolutely normal for him to be standing still in the middle of the road. A peace washes over Wei Wuxian, a feeling so unfamiliar as to nearly knock him flat.

"Lan Zhan!" Despite the shock, he can feel his mouth stretching into a smile. Oh, Lan Zhan is a welcome sight. "Were you on your way to town?"

"I have been waiting for you."

"What?" Wei Wuxian comes to a stop an arm's length away from Lan Zhan. It's probably the strangeness of the situation that makes the pain recede even further. "How could you possibly know I was coming?"

This close up, he can see that Lan Zhan isn't entirely himself. His normally serene mouth is pinched, and there's a furrow between his brows. His eyes have bags under them. He looks tired.

"I—I do not know," Lan Zhan says.

Wei Wuxian has to cast his mind back to the last thing that left his mouth. Then he frowns. "So, you just had, what, a feeling?"

A rolling sort of confusion whirls between them, almost physical in its strength. Wei Wuxian gasps from the shock of it. "Lan Zhan—"

"Wei Ying." The next moment, Lan Zhan reaches out and grabs Wei Wuxian's wrist.

Abruptly, the pain stops. The shift is so shocking, Wei Wuxian nearly buckles under the relief, and when he catches Lan Zhan's eye, he sees the same sort of relief reflected back at him, and not a small amount of shock.

And then he realizes that the relief he's seeing on Lan Zhan's face, he's actually feeling himself. There are two distinct pieces of him that feel this relief—himself and...and something else. As though another presence has burrowed its way inside his mind and settled there.

"Lan Zhan, what—"

"I do not know." Lan Zhan looks just as shocked as Wei Wuxian, and everything that Wei Wuxian is feeling is amplified in his mind. He thinks that if he doesn't sit down soon, he will fall down under the weight of it all. "But I believe you may have been cursed. No," he says. "We. I believe that we may have been cursed."

Wei Wuxian takes this in, then feels darkness enter the edges of his vision, a weight pulling him down, and then he feels strong arms around him, and then he feels nothing at all.

*

Once again, Wei Wuxian finds himself being awoken from unconsciousness. This time, though, there's a sense of familiarity, of comfort. It's the voice. Whose voice is it?

"Wei Ying, wake up."

Lan Zhan. Nobody else sounds like him. Nobody else calls him by his given name. Wei Wuxian finds himself smiling before he even opens his eyes, which he does slowly, blinking at the dying light of day.

Lan Zhan's face swims into view, eyebrows furrowed, mouth still pinched. Their eyes meet.

Wei Wuxian realizes two things: one, he is cradled in Lan Zhan's lap on the ground, and two, he is not in pain. After two days and two nights of it, the relief is profound. He revels in it for a moment before pushing himself up and sliding out of Lan Zhan's grasp. The peace doesn't last—as soon as he's out of Lan Zhan's lap, the pain starts up again. He winces. "I'm awake."

"Mn." Lan Zhan is watching him with his brows still drawn.

A wave of concern-confusion goes through Wei Wuxian and he nearly gasps. "Lan Zhan, is that—"

"I believe so."

"And why did I pass out, again?"

Lan Zhan shakes his head slowly. "I am uncertain. Perhaps it's your…" He trails off.

"Lack of a golden core, right." Wei Wuxian nods, looking around them. They're still in the same spot where they met, and it is nearly dark. "Sorry about that," he says as cheerfully as he can manage through the confusion.

"Wei Ying. There is no need for apologies." He pauses, seemingly chewing something over. "I myself felt lightheaded with it."

Fair enough. Wei Wuxian nods, then sits up, automatically checking for Chenqing. "Well, I guess I can't spend all night lying around." The ache is largely behind his eyes and stabbing at his temples. "We should...get going."

"Mn." Lan Zhan rises elegantly to his feet, extending a hand to Wei Ying. "Come."

Another shock as the pain abruptly ends. Wei Wuxian sways on his feet, feeling another strong wave of concern that did not originate with him. Their gazes meet. "So, this is weird."

Lan Zhan is close, close enough for Wei Wuxian to detect the slightest twitch of his lips. "Indeed."

"The pain ends when we touch."

A small twitch of Lan Zhan's perfect eyebrows in response. Something like regret uncoils in Wei Wuxian's mind—a regret that he does not actually feel. "Mn."

"And we can, what. Feel each other's thoughts?"

Lan Zhan makes a thoughtful noise. "I do not believe it's thoughts, more like…"

"Feelings." Well, fuck. "Right." This is not ideal. Nobody needs to know every passing fancy that goes through his mind, least of all Lan Zhan. He realizes they're still holding hands and he starts to let go but Lan Zhan makes a noise of protest and squeezes tighter. Wei Wuxian looks up at him in confusion. "Lan Zhan?"

"Feels good." It's a rasp that goes right through Wei Wuxian. He stops the thought before it has a chance to turn traitorous. "I apologize."

Lan Zhan lets go of his hand and the stabbing pain behind Wei Wuxian's eyes and at his temples returns tenfold. Wei Wuxian makes an involuntary sound, but doesn't allow himself to give in. "So, you're in pain, too, huh?" he asks, instead, rubbing the back of his neck.

"Yes."

Now this regret, he feels. This regret is his own. He has no doubt that this situation was caused by whatever it was he did back at the manor, but why on earth had it involved Lan Zhan? Lan Zhan, who had been hundreds of li away? "I'm sorry, Lan Zhan. This is all my fault."

"How is it Wei Ying's fault?" Lan Zhan asks, sounding stubborn. Oh, Wei Wuxian has missed him.

He shrugs, only now looking around for Lil' Apple, whom he finds standing several feet away, munching on delicious Gusu grass. "I think this was caused by my last night hunt. Unless you…"

Lan Zhan slowly shakes his head. "I have not been nighthunting. I was home when it first began."

That sounds wildly unpleasant, having a random terrible pain start up without even knowing the origins. Wei Wuxian winces in sympathy. "Sorry. So, yeah. Me. Why did it involve you?"

More confusion from the Lan Zhan corner of his brain, and that is still the strangest sensation. It does not exactly make his skin crawl, but his entire body is aware of its presence, as though it were an actual physical thing. More stabbing pains join in the headache—his feet and his hands. They have to get to Cloud Recesses.

"We should go."

"Mn. Yes, let's."

The guards at the gate look somewhat surprised to see Wei Wuxian, then let them through at Lan Zhan's curt nod. Only stopping to stable Lil' Apple, they walk to the Jingshi, the familiar sight bringing on such a sense of relief that Wei Wuxian's knees nearly buckle again. This has seriously got to stop.

Wei Wuxian walks into the house slowly, watching Lan Zhan as he joins him, then sits down at his writing desk, where multiple books are stacked neatly to one side, with a half-filled piece of parchment lying next to them. "I have been researching," Lan Zhan says at Wei Wuxian's look. "You must be hungry. I took the liberty of asking for dinner to be brought in shortly."

"Lan Zhan," Wei Wuxian says through the pain, and drops down to sit across from him, chin in hand. "You're too good. Here I am, causing more problems for you, and you're ordering me dinner."

"Wei Ying is no trouble," Lan Zhan says quietly, and Wei Wuxian purposefully prods at the second consciousness inside him, feeling only a vague outline of truth. Well. Lan Zhan has never lied before, why should he start now? "Would you like to take a bath? I…" He hesitates for only a moment. "I have one ready for you behind the screen."

Suddenly, a bath is all Wei Wuxian wants. He wants these clothes off of himself, he wants to get rid of the dust that has settled in his hair and on his skin. He also wants this pain to go away, pain which has steadily grown worse over the last half an hour. "You're the best," Wei Wuxian sighs, and creakily gets up. "Don't mind if I do."

"Please."

Wei Wuxian slowly rids himself of his clothes behind the screen, movements made jerky by the stabbing pain. He grunts his way through undressing, then tests the water with his hand and finds that it's exactly as hot as he likes, hot enough to turn his skin bright pink and for him to really feel it. He sinks into the water and sighs. "Lan Zhan," he calls out. "Has anybody ever told you you're the best?"

"Mn. Once or twice."

Wei Wuxian throws back his head and laughs, a wave of shared merriment hitting him from the inside. Oh. Oh, that's still so weird. He tries to redirect his thoughts to some safer territory, like, say, the fucking curse. "Lan Zhan—"

"Wei Ying. Please relax and enjoy your bath. You do not need to entertain me."

For a second, Wei Wuxian wonders at the sudden change, then realizes that, fuck. Lan Zhan must have gotten something from him, and groans. "This is gonna get awkward," he mumbles.

"Mn."

Wei Wuxian laughs to himself and reaches for the soap.

Afterwards, he puts on his spare set of robes from his qiankun pouch and sits by the brazier as he slowly combs through the snarls in his hair. Lan Zhan is quietly playing the guqin and, despite the ongoing pain that simply refuses to go away, Wei Wuxian feels at peace for the first time in a while.

Then he wonders whose peace he is feeling.

He looks over at Lan Zhan, sitting upright by his instrument, slowly plucking at the strings, creating music. While he was bathing, Lan Zhan has turned himself from Chief Cultivator into Lan Wangji. His hair is down, his outer robe discarded. So few people get to see him like this. Wei Wuxian is honored that he is among that number. He smiles to himself, and for a while, it is just them and the music between them.

Of all the rules he simply can't bring himself to follow while in Cloud Recesses, not talking while eating is right at the top of the list. "So," he says, as he shoves a piece of chicken in his mouth after dousing it in chili oil. "This curse. What have you found out?"

Lan Zhan nods, reaching for the top book in the stack. "Not much, unfortunately. As I did not know the origin, I was at a disadvantage as to where to start."

Wei Wuxian nods, swallowing. "Right, makes sense. But you found something?"

Lan Zhan takes in a visible breath. "I worked backwards. There are—" here, he opens up to a marked page, "—hundreds of curses that cause the sort of pain we're experiencing."

"Oh." Wei Wuxian wrinkles his nose as he pulls the book towards himself, careful not to get grease stains on it. "That's not great news."

"Mn."

The feeling between them tastes like frustration. Disappointment. They share a look. "It's almost nine," Wei Wuxian notes. He can feel Lan Zhan's exhaustion, and it drags him down, as well. "We'll start fresh in the morning. You've got me here now. I'll tell you all about what I might have fucked up on my night hunt."

Lan Zhan closes the book primly. "We do not know that you fucked up."

Wei Wuxian snorts. "But I probably did."

"We do not know that." He looks severe, every bit the Chief Cultivator that he is. "Eat, Wei Ying."

Wei Wuxian eats.

*

He's standing by Lan Zhan's bed, scratching the back of his head. "Lan Zhan, are you sure?"

Lan Zhan, sitting on the edge of the bed and looking up at Wei Wuxian with his unfathomable eyes, nods. "I am sure. This will make it easier for both of us to sleep."

Wei Wuxian eyes the door, where he had been planning on leaving to go to the guest quarters, then turns back to Lan Zhan. "All right, but what if I bother you?"

"Won't be a bother." Lan Zhan looks tired. He's feeling the pain, too, Wei Wuxian reminds himself. When he tries to access the Lan Zhan in his head, all he gets is a sort of...acceptance. He wonders what it is that Lan Zhan is getting from him.

"All right," he sighs. He attempts to quiet the worry nagging him at him, hoping to project some semblance of neutral calm. It feels nearly impossible.

Wei Wuxian gets into bed rather gratefully, considering what time it is. Ordinarily, he would be up for hours yet, but his day began a long time ago and pretty far away. He finds that he's exhausted. Once he's settled in, Lan Zhan puts out every brazier in the place, leaving a single lamp burning by the bed, and gets under the covers next to Wei Wuxian. Then he blows out the lamp.

The Jingshi is plunged into a darkness that turns blue as his eyes adjust. Lan Zhan slowly comes into view beside him, lying on his back as always, hands folded over his chest. His eyes, however, are open, his breathing slightly labored. Wei Wuxian does his best to keep to his side of the bed. His breathing comes in spurts.

"Wei Ying."

"Yeah?" His heart beats hard. He wonders if Lan Zhan can hear it. He can probably feel it.

"I believe…" Lan Zhan turns his head and their eyes meet in the dark. "It will be easier to fall asleep if we are...positioned differently."

Instinctively, Wei Wuxian shuffles backwards until his back hits the wall. "Sorry, sorry, I didn't mean—"

"No," Lan Zhan says and reaches out a hand towards him, closing it around his arm. "The other way, Wei Ying."

The pain stops. Oh. Right. In order to fall asleep, they need for the pain to stop. Wei Wuxian swallows. The relief is amazing. "So, how should we…"

Carefully, Lan Zhan pulls him in until Wei Wuxian is shuffling sideways on the bed towards him. Lan Zhan is still touching his arm. "I believe this should be sufficient."

Lan Zhan fully rolls onto his side, facing Wei Wuxian. His hand is still around Wei Wuxian's arm, keeping the pain at bay.

"Okay." Wei Wuxian's breath hitches on the last syllable. He realizes that, despite the relief from pain, he is as tense as he has ever been. Keeping himself to himself will be a challenge. After all...after all...

He shuts the thought down lest it escape and travel across the bed. When he focuses on the Lan Zhan part of his mind, he feels...something. A tendril of relief and something else, something slippery that eludes him. He shuts his eyes.

He thinks, I'll never fall asleep, and then he thinks no more.

*

Wei Wuxian wakes up to warmth. He blinks open his eyes—it is still dark out. What has woken him? And how is he so comfortable?

Full awareness comes the next moment and he freezes. Lan Zhan is lying on his back, with Wei Wuxian sprawled half on top of him, his ear pressed to the hard muscle of Lan Zhan's chest, one arm flung carelessly around Lan Zhan's middle, Lan Zhan's hand on his arm. Lan Zhan's other arm is wrapped around his shoulders. Wei Wuxian's hips, luckily, are not touching any part of Lan Zhan, but only just.

He has to move. He has to shift over before Lan Zhan wakes up and finds him there, but the moment he begins to move, the arm around him tightens and Lan Zhan makes a noise of protest. Wei Wuxian freezes once more.

Is Lan Zhan awake or asleep? Belatedly, he realizes that if Lan Zhan is awake, he'll be able to feel his panic, and attempts to calm down. He reaches out inside his mind and tests the waters—can he feel Lan Zhan?

"Wei Ying."

Wei Wuxian jerks. "Lan Zhan? Oh, I'm—I'm sorry, I'll—"

"Stay. Please."

Wei Wuxian can feel the tension of his arm beneath Lan Zhan's hold, can feel how tightly coiled he is, holding himself as still as possible. At Lan Zhan's words, he tenses further, a gnarled tree curving around a rock. "Are you...sorry, I just— I guess we must have moved in the night."

"Mn." Another tightening of Lan Zhan's arm around him. "We were able to sleep. No pain."

"No pain," Wei Wuxian echoes faintly. His knees are digging into Lan Zhan's legs and he forces himself to unclench bit by bit. Lan Zhan had said stay, and he trusts Lan Zhan. Luckily, all the tension has taken care of his morning problem quite swiftly, so there's no danger in him shuffling a bit closer until he's nearly flush with Lan Zhan's body. Viciously, he tamps down any emotional reaction he could possibly have to the situation, but his curiosity must be sated, too.

What is he getting from Lan Zhan? He can feel him in the back of his mind, but when he focuses enough to examine further, there's only a faint echo of satisfaction. Huh. Must be the lack of pain. Lan Zhan's satisfaction doesn't feel like his own satisfaction. It is lighter, somehow, a shimmering, delicate thing. It would be hope, if not for the contentment. It—it feels good.

"Wei Ying…"

Shit. Could Lan Zhan feel him rooting around in there? He glances off the foreign feeling as if scalded. "Yeah?"

"You seem...tense."

Despite himself, Wei Wuxian snorts. "What gave it away?"

Instead of answering, Lan Zhan asks, "Are you uncomfortable? Should we move back to our previous position?"

And, in the darkness, Wei Wuxian can't be anything but honest. "I'm good, I promise. I...I'd like to stay here for a bit."

"Good. It is not yet five."

Huh. Maybe this is what happens when he goes to sleep at a ridiculous hour—he wakes up at one, too. But he's still tired, and now that he has been able to more or less relax, he can feel sleep pulling him under its softness once more. His eyes slip shut and, unthinkingly, he makes a deep noise, feeling a strange contentment in this liminal space between night and day, between pleasure and pain.

"Sleep, Wei Ying," Lan Zhan says quietly, and Wei Wuxian does.

When next he wakes, he feels as though somebody is ripping him in half. He gasps and rolls to a sitting position, opening his eyes. It's daylight, and Lan Zhan isn't in bed with him. For a moment, Wei Wuxian feels—what, bereft? Surprised? Why should he be? Lan Zhan has his duties. But he's got to be in pain, too, and how will they figure this out if Lan Zhan is pulled away for work things, and—

"Wei Ying, I'm here." Lan Zhan rushes up from out of nowhere and puts a hand over Wei Wuxian's shoulder. Wei Wuxian sags with relief. This is getting very old.

"Sorry I slept so long, you should have woken me."

"There was no need."

Lan Zhan looks—like he always does. Walking the line between severe and serene, exuding a calmness like nobody else can. Wei Wuxian prods at the connection between them, and once again, only gets an echo of something. Concern, maybe? Yes, concern, and a faint determination.

He wonders again what Lan Zhan is getting from him. Endless curiosity and neediness, probably. That's embarrassing.

"What have you been up to?" he asks, at the same time as Lan Zhan says, "I have breakfast ready for you," and Wei Wuxian laughs. "Thanks, Lan Zhan."

"I have been going over the books I pulled from the library. Now that you're here, I believe things will go...faster."

Wei Wuxian nods. "You bet. Let me just...get dressed and stuff and we'll get to it."

Searing pain against his eyelids as Lan Zhan reluctantly lets go. He can feel Lan Zhan's pain echoed through their connection. Oh, gods, now they're feeling twice the pain. What possible curse could do this to two people?

"Fuck," he says with feeling. "We're gonna have to...I can't think like this."

"No," Lan Zhan agrees, sounding strained. "Get ready for the day, and we will...come up with a solution."

The solution is this—they each take a side of the table, sharing a corner, with Wei Wuxian's feet tucked up underneath Lan Zhan's folded up leg. "Okay, that's better," he sighs as the pain leaves like it never was. Not even an echo of it remains. "You?"

"Much," Lan Zhan agrees, and opens up the first book, then hands Wei Wuxian another one off the stack. "I am...I apologize at how inconvenient this is," he adds quietly.

"Lan Zhan! What do you have to apologize for? This was all my doing," he reminds him. "So let's try to fix it, huh?"

"Mn." Lan Zhan nods, and flips open to the page he had shown Wei Wuxian last night. He turns the book towards Wei Wuxian and points. "These are the likeliest candidates."

Wei Wuxian looks. A curse that puts people at odds with one another. "Why would anybody do that? I mean, I guess a curse is a curse for a reason, but that's pretty evil." He reads on. "So, what, the point is that if you can feel what the other person is feeling, you might end up in a fight? But that's no guarantee. Weird." He frowns. "This doesn't explain the pain, though."

"No. So, not that, then."

"Nope." Wei Wuxian looks down, continuing to read. "None of these look exactly like what's been done to us."

"Perhaps we should discuss what actually happened on your nighthunt."

Wei Wuxian blows out a breath and shuts the book in front of him. "Yeah, okay. Let's do that. Do you have paper I can use?"

In order to procure paper, Lan Zhan has to get up and they both wince at the loss of contact. Lan Zhan goes through the motions with uncharacteristic speed, then sets the paper, ink, and brush in front of Wei Wuxian before settling back down and touching his leg to Wei Wuxian's foot. Wei Wuxian slumps from relief. "This is a seriously inconvenient curse."

Lan Zhan's lips twitch the tiniest bit and Wei Wuxian beams at him. He can feel amusement prickling at the back of his mind, and it feels different from his own. He made Lan Zhan laugh! Wei Wuxian knows that Lan Zhan must be getting a wave of smug self-satisfaction from him, but can't do anything to stop it. "All right, so. The curse."

He tells Lan Zhan of the unquiet spirit that the villagers complained of. Tells him about entering the manor ("Alone? Wei Ying." "Well, it's not as if I had a buddy to go in with me, and it wasn't my first time, anyway.") and feeling the presence right away. "It was a resentful spirit, and I've dealt with resentful spirits before, Lan Zhan. It wasn't anything out of the ordinary, you know? But it was strong. I can see how it would put people off going in the place, unless you were a silly kid. I definitely would have gone in there when I was a kid."

"You went in there as an adult." Another twitch of Lan Zhan's lips.

Wei Wuxian is delighted. "Lan Zhan! Mocking a cursed man!"

"I am also a cursed man," Lan Zhan reminds him primly, turning the pages of the book open in front of him.

"Yes, and I am not mocking you." Wei Wuxian pulls a piece of paper towards himself. "Anyway, so, strong resentful spirit. I figured trapping it was my best bet, so I set an array." He pulls the ink and brush towards himself and begins to draw the array from memory. Once he's completed it, he twists the paper towards Lan Zhan. "There. Now tell me what I fucked up."

Lan Zhan frowns as he studies the rendering. "I do not believe you…" He bites his lip, then shakes his head. "This looks like a strong array, I see no mistakes in it."

Wei Wuxian frowns. "Well, that can't be right. I know I somehow messed this up, otherwise why would I have gotten cursed?"

"Perhaps...perhaps the spirit was stronger than the array. What happened after you trapped it?"

"That's the thing—I don't remember. I passed out." At Lan Zhan's look, he waves his hands, conciliatory. "It's okay, it's okay! Two rogue cultivators found me and pulled me out of there."

"Two strangers pulled you out of the manor."

Wei Wuxian winces. "Well, when you put it that way…" In the back of his mind, he can feel the concern growing. It feels...warm. Smooth, like a river rock, and buoyant. "Really, Lan Zhan, this isn't the worst thing to ever happen to me." The concern spikes, and there's a tinge of regret there, too. It feels...green. Can feelings have colors? Wei Wuxian swallows. "I don't mean to worry you, it's just that it turned out fine. And the two men who pulled me out told me I had taken care of the spirit."

Lan Zhan frowns, but doesn't say anything.

"Anyway, that's all I know," he finishes, sagging down. "Not a lot of help, is it?"

"Wei Ying, do you think that going back to the manor would help?" Lan Zhan sounds careful.

Wei Wuxian thinks about it. "If the spirit is gone, there's nothing there that will tell us anything, anyway."

"Hmm." Lan Zhan looks at the array rendering. "What do you know of the family that lived there?"

"Not much to know, to be honest. The villagers only had a handful of stories, and none of them would explain—" He waves a hand between them. "—this."

"All right." Lan Zhan straightens up. "I believe we will need to research more."

"Luckily for us we're in Cloud Recesses, huh?" Wei Wuxian grins.

"Mn." Lan Zhan throws him a quick look, and a frisson of amusement runs up Wei Wuxian's spine. It feels tingly. "Shall we?"

*

They walk touching hands. Not holding, but their knuckles continuously brush against one another's. The lack of pain buoys Wei Wuxian up, making him feel almost giddy with it. He's not in pain, he's with Lan Zhan, and there's nothing the two of them can't figure out together.

Unless they really can't, and have to go back to the manor to try and get some answers. And, of course, they can't move away from one another for longer than five, ten minutes without the weight of the spiking pain pulling them under. For a moment, Wei Wuxian wonders just how quickly Lan Zhan will get tired of him constantly being underfoot.

Before now, they hadn't seen each other in three months.

Wei Wuxian has missed Lan Zhan, and as they walk past polite Lans who would never gawk, but definitely look curious about their proximity, he wonders what Lan Zhan thought of his absence.

"Wei-qianbei? Wei-qianbei!"

Wei Wuxian twists around—the pain spikes—and squints against the sun. "Lan Jingyi! Of course it is." He's grinning by the time the figure in white hustles up to them, not quite running.

"No yelling in Cloud Recesses," Lan Zhan says mildly, which seems to chasten Jingyi enough. Inside, Wei Wuxian can feel amusement. Ha, he knew Lan Zhan liked this kid.

"Yes, Hanguang-jun." Jingyi bows politely, then breaks into another sunny smile. Wei Wuxian finds Lan Zhan's hand and brushes against it. "Wei-qianbei, we weren't expecting you for another month!" Then Jingyi looks down at their touching hands. Curiosity appears to come off of him in waves.

"Change of plans," Wei Wuxian says, then looks at Lan Zhan. Should we? Lan Zhan inclines his head. "Where is Sizhui? We could use your help."

Jingyi is off like a shot, power-walking away from them the next moment. Wei Wuxian laughs, feeling Lan Zhan's ongoing amusement at the back of his mind. "Sizhui is good at research, right?" And Jingyi is imaginative. It could help.

"Mn." A faint wave of warmth reaches him.

Wei Wuxian cocks his head, but doesn't say anything. It's still hard to believe sometimes that his little radish not only survived, but grew into such a lovely young man, and under Lan Zhan's tutelage. An aching sort of love washes over him, so powerful he can't possibly tamp it down. He looks away, feeling Lan Zhan's gaze on him, but when he pokes at the connection between them, he feels only a faint echo of something he can't pinpoint.

"How are you doing that?" he asks abruptly, turning back to Lan Zhan. "How is your side so quiet?" He knows his can't possibly be.

Lan Zhan looks like he wants to deny it at first, then says, "Meditation. I am...able to quiet my mind."

Wei Wuxian throws back his head and laughs. "Of course. I'm too loud, even inside my head." An unpleasant thought occurs. "Hey, it's not...difficult, or anything, having my...everything...in there, is it?"

Lan Zhan's mouth opens minutely, but instead of saying anything, he simply shakes his head.

"Well. Good." Wei Wuxian drops his head. They're still brushing hands. "I'll try to quiet myself, just in case."

Lan Zhan grasps his hand and squeezes. Wei Wuxian looks up at him in some shock. "Do not trouble yourself, Wei Ying. Only do it if it would make you more comfortable. I am...sorry, that this is happening. I feel I ought to give you privacy, but I am not sure how to."

Stubborn and curious, Wei Wuxian focuses on Lan Zhan inside his mind. Regret and worry, the faintest of feelings, reach him. He squeezes Lan Zhan's hand. "Maybe you can teach me. I have quite the incentive to practice, now." He means it as a joke, but something crosses Lan Zhan's face, there and gone again so quickly, he isn't sure what it was. He wishes, suddenly, to have gotten the feeling in his mind, just to know what it had meant.

"Of course. This afternoon, perhaps."

"Yeah." Wei Wuxian meets Lan Zhan's gaze, studying him. "Yeah, that sounds good."

*

Sizhui and Jingyi find them in the library pavilion, poring over another stack of books while touching knees.

"Wei-qianbei!" Sizhui is beaming at him even as he executes a perfect bow, then drops down across from them. "You asked to see me?"

"Sizhui." Wei Wuxian grins at the kid. "Yeah, come, we need your brain. Jingyi, you too." Jingyi beams and drops down next to Sizhui. "So, Hanguang-jun and I have been cursed."

Identical looks of shock greet this pronouncement.

Wei Wuxian spreads his hands. "Yep. It happens! I should say, I've been cursed, and His Excellency has somehow been roped into it, we don't know how yet."

Both boys look at Lan Zhan with the same open shock. Lan Zhan nods in their direction.

"Wow." Jingyi turns back to Wei Wuxian. "What does this curse do? Are you all right?"

"Well," Wei Wuxian says and stretches some stiff muscles in his back. "You may have noticed we're sitting awfully close." Twin nods. "If we're not touching, we're in a great deal of pain. So, that's one thing."

Jingyi gapes, while Sizhui's eyebrows fly up in concern. "So you have to be...touching? All the time?"

Wei Wuxian sends a quick look Lan Zhan's way. "It would appear so. I mean, we have to separate from time to time, but it's not exactly a good time. See?" He moves his knee away from Lan Zhan's and immediately, the pain behind his eyes becomes unbearable. He presses the palms of his hands against his eyes, then shifts quickly so he's touching Lan Zhan once more. The pain disappears. "Yeah, that was bad. Sorry, Lan Zhan."

"No need." Lan Zhan takes a breath next to him.

"The second part of the curse is we can feel what the other is feeling."

"Uh…"

"What, really?"

"Mn." Lan Zhan sits serenely enough, but Wei Wuxian can feel some tension in him, not as well concealed as everything else has been. "I can feel what Wei Wuxian is feeling, and he...can feel me."

"That's awkward, isn't it?"

"Yes, Jingyi." Wei Wuxian huffs out a laugh. "It's a bit awkward."

"Do you know what caused the curse?" Sizhui, ever the sensible one.

Wei Wuxian turns to him. "No. Well. Sort of. I was on a night hunt when it happened, and I, uh, passed out and had to be pulled out of there, so I don't know exactly what happened." He recounts what he does remember to the two of them, then says, "So, this means we have quite a feat in front of us. Thus: research and your assistance."

Jingyi is beaming. Sizhui looks quietly pleased. "Thank you for trusting us, Wei-qianbei. Hanguang-jun."

Wei Wuxian fights the urge to pinch his cheeks. "No need for that, no need for that. Now, let's each take a book and see what we can find."

Not a whole lot, it turns out. Whatever this curse is, it isn't one of the more popular or well-known ones. Wei Wuxian's head is aching a few hours in, and not even touching Lan Zhan can cure it—this one is all his own.

"All right, I might need a break," he says. In truth, he's frustrated and he's embarrassed to have caused such a stupid thing with some silly mistake. He has gone over the array over and over and found nothing that would explain this. No character is off, nothing that's been accidentally substituted for something else.

Whatever this is, it eludes them.

"That is a fine idea. Perhaps…" Lan Zhan hesitates, then casts him a sideways glance. "Perhaps we can do those meditation exercises we talked about," he suggests.

A thought occurs to Wei Wuxian. "Hey. Why aren't we doing Chief Cultivator business? Shit, I completely forgot, what with all the...curse."

"I took care of that this morning. I have relegated more pressing duties to my uncle."

Wei Wuxian winces and looks away.

"There is no need to be upset, Wei Ying. You have done nothing wrong."

How did he—oh, right. Ha. Wei Wuxian shakes his head and taps his fingers on the page open in front of him. "Right, well." This is shit. "Let's try to meditate, I guess." He gets up. A double spike of pain everywhere, all at once. He nearly buckles. "Fuck. Where to?"

Lan Zhan rises easily to his feet and, looking resolute, takes Wei Wuxian's hand. They both gasp with how good it feels. When Wei Wuxian looks over at Sizhui and Jingyi, the two are trying not to gape and failing spectacularly. He huffs out a laugh. "See? Cursed."

"Uh, Hanguang-jun. Would you like us to continue?"

"Only if you have no other duties to see to. Otherwise, there is no need."

"Understood."

Lan Zhan gives them a nod, then turns and begins leading Wei Wuxian towards the exit, hands clasped. So they get to hold hands now. He tamps down any feelings he might have about that as much as he is able, and hopes that Lan Zhan can give him a better long-term solution. Though he hopes it won't have to be too long-term. Because this sucks.

Back at the Jingshi, Lan Zhan arranges them to sit on mats next to each other, facing the back garden. The windows are open to let in a breeze and it smells fresh, like only mountain air can. Wei Wuxian takes a deep lungful in, then breathes out. It helps settle him, just a little bit.

"Wei Ying," Lan Zhan says quietly. "Are you all right?"

Wei Wuxian turns to him, carefully watching his face. "Yes. Why wouldn't I be?" What are you getting from me?

Lan Zhan frowns in thought. "You seem...upset by this."

"Well, aren't you?"

Lan Zhan is quiet for a moment. Then, "I am perturbed. And a bit frustrated with our fruitless efforts. But...no. I am not upset."

"Why?" Wei Wuxian bursts out. "Isn't it annoying having me here all the time, having to touch me just to not feel any pain? Not to mention all my feelings just...coming at you. Why aren't you upset?"

Lan Zhan's mouth purses the tiniest bit—blink and you miss it—then he lowers his gaze. "I understand that this is upsetting to Wei Ying."

Wei Wuxian snorts, then shakes his head. "Let's just...do this, so I can leave you alone faster."

A moment of pain that he didn’t feel himself.

"Wei Ying—"

"Lan Zhan. Please." Please let him stop transmitting all his feelings to him before he slips up completely.

"Very well. First, find something in front of you to focus your gaze on."

Lan Zhan goes through several exercises with him before attempting to put it into practice. It isn't easy, Wei Wuxian is man enough to admit it. He isn't used to clearing his mind of thought, instead flitting between thoughts and feelings like a hummingbird from tree to tree. But for Lan Zhan—for Lan Zhan he will try.

"Am I doing better?" he asks an hour in.

Lan Zhan, not opening his eyes, says, "Mn," which tells Wei Wuxian that the answer is most likely no.

Wei Wuxian sighs. "This is never gonna work."

Next to him, Lan Zhan shifts, then squeezes his hand. "It will. Wei Ying, look at me."

When Wei Wuxian does, Lan Zhan's eyes are open, and a wave of certainty crashes over Wei Wuxian—certainty and determination. It feels—steady. Sure. It feels like Lan Zhan. He gasps from the force of it. "Lan Zhan?"

"I know you can do this, Wei Ying. We will keep practicing."

Is that—is that how much Lan Zhan feels, all the time? Wei Wuxian feels like he's been rocked by a storm while on a flimsy raft. When Lan Zhan's feelings suddenly disappear, it's as if he's been left at sea, paddling with no direction. What a strange thing. He swallows, then nods. "All right. We'll keep practicing."

"We also…" Lan Zhan seems to hesitate. "We will need to make use of the forbidden section of the library. I believe that whatever it is we are dealing with will not be in any sanctioned books."

Wei Wuxian attempts not to wince. Last time they had been in there, they had found one of the more unpleasant books he has ever had the dubious privilege of holding. "All right. We can do that."

They meditate for another hour, at which point Wei Wuxian's stomach begins to growl loudly enough for all of Cloud Recesses to hear.

"Why don't we stop here," Lan Zhan says smoothly. Warm amusement prickles at the back of Wei Wuxian's mind.

He laughs. "Yeah. Some lunch would be good."

They eat in the Jingshi, away from everybody else, having gotten some food sent over from the kitchens. Wei Wuxian once again has his foot tucked up under Lan Zhan's leg, and thus they sit, eating without talking. Whatever it is Lan Zhan is thinking, Wei Wuxian is not actually privy to it. He practices clearing his mind of thought. It's hard work.

"You're overthinking it," Lan Zhan says out of nowhere.

"It's like if someone tells you not to blink," Wei Wuxian grumbles. "What would you do? Blink, obviously."

"Mn."

"If someone tells me don't think about a blue cat, obviously the first thing I'm going to do is just that. I can't tell myself don't think about—" He cuts himself off just in time. "Well, anyway. Should we go to the library?"

"Let's."

The problem with trying to clear his mind, or learn how to quiet his voice or whatever, is that it goes against his very nature, and fighting your own nature is akin to pushing a boulder up a mountain. But he is desperate, therefore he tries. Whenever he asks Lan Zhan how he's doing, all he gets is an enigmatic "Mn," and a frisson of concern up his spine. So, he isn't doing great.

The forbidden section of the Gusu Lan library turns up not a whole lot at first. They go in by themselves, Lan Zhan not yet ready to allow Sizhui and Jingyi where he himself had not been allowed as a junior.

"How upset would your uncle be if he found out I've been down here twice already?" Wei Wuxian can't help asking, as he searches through a stack of books he had pulled earlier.

"My uncle would understand the necessity in it."

Wei Wuxian huffs out a laugh. "Would he?"

They're touching again. Still. The closeness between them means that whenever Lan Zhan moves, Wei Wuxian feels it in his bones. Any tiny shift—a hand turning the page of a book—sends a shiver down his spine. It's absurd—they've been close before. But the sort of consistent closeness that the curse necessitates is surely designed to drive him out of his mind.

As he attempts to close off his thoughts, he wonders, why Lan Zhan? Why bring Lan Zhan into it? He wasn't anywhere near the manor, he was tucked safely away up a mountain several days away. It feels...personal, in a way Wei Wuxian doesn't particularly like. Targeted, a precise hit.

And still, they find nothing in the books they've pulled. It gets dark around them, and his back aches in a way that has nothing to do with the curse. He would like to get up and walk around, but that would either mean a tremendous amount of pain or forcing Lan Zhan to go on a jaunt with him, and the last thing he wants is to inconvenience Lan Zhan further. Instead, he groans and lowers his face into the bamboo scroll in front of him. It feels cool, if quite uncomfortable.

"Are you all right, Wei Ying?" Lan Zhan asks serenely, turning the page. As if he doesn't already know. "I believe," he says a second later when Wei Wuxian does not respond, busy groaning into bamboo, "that it is time to end for the day. It is getting late, and we may miss dinner."

At that, Wei Wuxian perks up. Dinner means Emperor's Smile, if he plays his cards right. "Yeah. Yeah, dinner sounds good."

They have to separate to put the books back quickly, and the pain is, indeed, excruciating. The worst, he thinks, is the stabbing behind the eyes. He can handle everything else, but the exquisite torture of feeling as though somebody is stabbing the inside of your head with needles is very difficult to ignore.

He gasps when Lan Zhan walks up to him and takes his hand. "Fuck. Thank you."

"Mn." Lan Zhan sounds strained, and it may be Wei Wuxian's imagination, but he thinks he can detect frustration that doesn't feel like his own. It is still the strangest thing, feeling somebody else's feelings alongside his own. He tests the waters, prodding at the connection. Frustration, a touch of resignation, and...contentment, underneath it all. He rolls the feeling over in his mind, wondering if Lan Zhan always feels just a touch of contentment. He is, after all, the steadiest person Wei Wuxian has ever met. The steadiest and the best. Warmth washes over him—that must be his own.

"Shall we?"

"Yeah, let's go."

They walk out holding hands, not even pretending not to be anymore. Darkness has fallen on Cloud Recesses, and everywhere he sees ghostly figures in white making their sedate way to the dining hall or their own quarters. The air smells of magnolia and the cold, clear scent of the clouds, if clouds even have a scent. Lan Zhan's hand feels right in his own. He tamps down any enjoyment that would give him away and holds on.

Once again, they have dinner brought in—the perks of being Lan Wangji, Chief Cultivator. If the disciple who brings it has any sort of curiosity about why the Second Jade of Gusu Lan is holding the Yiling Laozu's hand, she doesn't show it, bowing deeply and leaving post haste. Wei Wuxian waits until she is completely gone to reach under the table where he had stashed his contraband and pop open the first jar of Emperor's Smile.

"Cheers, Lan Zhan," he says, before pouring it directly into his mouth. Silently, Lan Zhan pushes a cup towards him. Wei Wuxian swallows and laughs. "All right, all right. I'll be civilized."

"Eat, Wei Ying." Lan Zhan produces chili oil from under the table, as well.

Wei Wuxian gives him a shy-feeling smile and dumps it all over his vegetables and rice.

"I believe we should return to the library tomorrow. There is a section I would like to explore that I did not get a chance to do today."

Talking while eating—Wei Wuxian can't hide his surprise. "Sure, Lan Zhan. We can do that." Although he is despairing of finding any sort of clue as to what sort of curse this could be. What if they're stuck like this forever, unable to leave one another's side without causing each other unbearable pain, forced to feel one another's feelings for all of eternity? What if Wei Wuxian has managed to tie himself to Lan Zhan in the worst possible way, with no recourse and no choice left to the man? What if—

"Wei Ying."

Fuck. "Sorry, Lan Zhan. I'll try to quiet it down." He pours himself a cup full of liquor and knocks it back. Maybe that'll help.

"It isn't that," Lan Zhan says quietly, then takes the jar and refills his cup slowly, with care. It's the way he does everything else, too—each movement studied, precise. Steady. Wei Wuxian waits. "It is only that you are getting upset prematurely. We have only just scratched the surface. Something will turn up. In the meantime—" And then he stops. Wei Wuxian frowns, waiting, but Lan Zhan simply shakes his head and puts another piece of tofu in his mouth.

Wei Wuxian tries to feel the connection between them: nothing. Not even an echo. Fuck, Lan Zhan is good at that. It isn't fair.

"We will keep practicing," Lan Zhan says, as though Wei Wuxian had said anything about it. His feelings must be projecting loud and clear. Maybe it's the liquor.

Maybe if Lan Zhan got drunk alongside him, it wouldn't feel quite so lonely.

Oh, well. Wei Wuxian refills the cup as Lan Zhan gathers their empty bowls and chopsticks. "I apologize. I have to—"

Right. "Go ahead. It's fine."

Lan Zhan gets up, severing the physical connection between them, and Wei Wuxian deals with the resulting pain by applying more liquor to the problem. Instead of his usual sedate pace, Lan Zhan rushes through putting the tray outside, then hustles back to drop down next to Wei Wuxian and take hold of his free hand. They both breathe out at once. "Fuck, that sucks."

"Indeed."

Wei Wuxian cracks a smile. "Hey, Lan Zhan. What would it take for you to have a shot of liquor with me?"

He sees Lan Zhan's lips twitch a little in the corners. "Not this."

"Aww. That's no fun. If not this, what?"

He gets an eloquent eyebrow in return, but when he rummages around the back of his mind, he can feel—something. A roiling something, a mess of feelings he has no hope of deciphering. He never thought that anything of Lan Zhan's could ever be messy.

Lan Zhan gives him a look. Wei Wuxian doesn't know what it means, but the next moment, he's feeling nothing but his own—albeit, very confused—thoughts and emotions. He pouts. "Doesn't seem fair."

Lan Zhan doesn't dignify that with a response. Instead, he reaches up and begins to undo his front hairpiece. A thought strikes Wei Wuxian, and it's out before he can stop it. "Hey, Lan Zhan, let me." He tips his chin at where Lan Zhan's hands have frozen over the silver piece. They watch each other carefully, then Lan Zhan drops his hands and nods. Wei Wuxian shifts until he's behind him, knees touching the small of Lan Zhan's back.

It's awkward from the back—it would have been easier to begin in the front, but that would have involved looking at Lan Zhan as he did it, and this way feels...better. Safer. Grounding, somehow.

He unclasps the biggest piece and gently sets it down onto the table. It's quiet in the Jingshi, only the sound of Wei Wuxian's hands on Lan Zhan's hair to be heard. It makes his breathing seem louder to his ears, as though he's disturbing something. Out of habit, which he seems to have developed in just over twenty-four hours, Wei Wuxian roots around for Lan Zhan's emotions inside his brain. Nothing. The only indicator of what's going on in Lan Zhan's mind is how still he is sitting, shoulders slightly higher than normal. His hands are on his knees, fingers grasping the fabric tightly.

Wei Wuxian reaches for the smaller piece in the back. It's achingly familiar, having graced the front of Lan Zhan's hairdo when they were young. He wonders when Lan Zhan changed his style. He wonders what decision had led to it. He wonders about Lan Zhan in the years that he himself missed. He wonders...he wonders.

He sets the second hair piece down onto the table as gently as the first. Next are pins—so many of them. He can't believe Lan Zhan goes through this each morning and night. "Should I—" he asks once the last of the pins is out and safely set onto the table.

"Mn."

He allows the hair to fall, spilling over his hands. It's sleek and smooth, soft against his skin. He moves back to allow Lan Zhan to re-settle it; undo his ribbon and tie it back in his much less elaborate evening style.

"Should I—" Wei Wuxian takes a breath. Alcohol has really loosened him. "Should I comb it?"

It takes Lan Zhan a moment to respond. "Mn." Then, quieter, "Thank you, Wei Ying."

Wei Wuxian keeps their connection via a light hand on Lan Zhan's back as he reaches behind him and finds a comb sitting on a shelf. He is inordinately proud of himself for not causing either of them pain.

In truth, Lan Zhan's hair doesn't really need combing. It's got no tangles, it's already shiny and smooth. But Wei Wuxian does it anyway. He starts on the right, taking hold of the strands and running the wooden comb through them. It feels good in his hand, the comb. It's simple, with a cloud pattern engraved on one side. The Gusu Lan sure love their clouds.

"There," he says, once the last of Lan Zhan's hair has been thoroughly combed through. "All set."

"Thank you, Wei Ying."

Wei Wuxian shuffles his way over to Lan Zhan's side, carefully keeping a hand on his back as he does. "So." He takes the last swig of liquor, then sets the empty jar down with a clink. "Bed, I'm assuming?"

Lan Zhan hesitates, looking at him, then lowers his eyes. "Yes."

Even the thought of it sends Wei Wuxian's stomach fluttering with both dread and anticipation. He isn't tired, but he can't exactly make Lan Zhan stay up until the small hours of the morning, either. That wouldn't be fair. He'll just have to lie there and wait to fall asleep. Once Lan Zhan is asleep, at least, he can relax—he doesn't think their feelings transmit when unconscious.

Getting ready for bed is impossible without separating. They both endure it as best they can, disrobing with their backs to one another, Lan Zhan silently handing Wei Wuxian a sleeping robe with a slightly shaky hand. Wei Wuxian lets down his own hair, shaking it out, until finally he's ready. The pain as Lan Zhan is walking around, extinguishing braziers, is something akin to somebody sawing his limbs off. He is pretty certain that if he closed his eyes and somebody asked him what was happening to his body, he would say he was being cut up into pieces.

Finally, Lan Zhan is done, and then he's taking hold of Wei Wuxian's wrist—his heart speeds up, while the rest of him sags down from relief—and leading them towards the bed.

Wei Wuxian climbs in, by instinct shuffling all the way back against the window, until Lan Zhan gives him a look and says, "Wei Ying. The point is to be close."

Wei Wuxian shuts his eyes and resettles. The point, indeed. That's the problem, isn't it, that— "Lan Zhan!"

Lan Zhan, halfway on the bed, one hand extended to touch Wei Wuxian's shoulder, pauses. "What is it?"

"The curse! The point is—the point is to be close. That's where we should start!"

Lan Zhan looks thoughtful as he gets fully under the covers—they both wince when separated, but he quickly shuffles up and touches his feet to Wei Wuxian's—and says, slowly, "You may be right. Let's begin there tomorrow."

Extremely pleased with himself, Wei Wuxian gives him a smile. "Good. We'll figure it out tomorrow, just you wait."

"Mn." With a flick of his hand, Lan Zhan extinguishes the last candle, plunging them into darkness. "Good night, Wei Ying."

"Good night, Lan Zhan."

Wei Wuxian waits for Lan Zhan's breathing to even out, then carefully, without breaking the connection for longer than a second, turns over onto his back. He stares at the ceiling as his eyes adjust and he allows himself to feel, for the first time in what feels like a very long time, without fear of discovery.

*

He's walking. His white boots make swift progress on the path as bamboo give way to oak give way to maple. With Bichen in his hand and Wangji on his back, he makes his way through the woods into a clearing. The sun is high in the sky and it beats down on his neck, making it prickle beneath the fall of his hair. He maps out the middle of the clearing and sinks down, just as the moon rises. The darkness around him is still, but not complete. There is enough light by which to see his guqin.

He plucks out the first note. Then a second. Then a third. Where are you? Then he waits, as he always does, for another silence.

I'm here, Lan Zhan.

He startles, turns, the world distorting and reshaping itself in a sudden cacophony of sound, and the meadow spins and spins and spins until a familiar figure in black appears behind him, smiling with unseeing, white eyes. I'm right here. The world comes to a sudden halt.

Wei Wuxian jerks and gasps as he wakes to darkness.

What the fuck was that?

The bed beneath him moves, then pauses, and he realizes it isn't the bed at all, but Lan Zhan. Whom he has just woken up. With a truly bizarre, kind of terrifying dream, and—wait, was he—

"Wei Ying." Lan Zhan's voice is almost soundless, a rasp in the dark.

"Lan Zhan…" He raises himself up into a sitting position, his knees still touching Lan Zhan, and presses the heels of his palms to his eyes. "I'm sorry, I'll turn over, I didn't mean to wake you."

"I woke up on my own. Bad dream," he says quietly.

Wei Wuxian blows out a breath. "Yeah, same." He has a suspicion about that. Fuck, that's—that's no good at all. He falls sideways onto the bed. "That was...weird."

Lan Zhan takes in a sharp breath, loud in the dark. "So you were there."

Wei Wuxian groans and buries his face against his pillow. "Fuck, it was your dream."

Lan Zhan sounds strained when he says, "I believe so."

Great. Wonderful. They're no longer even safe in sleep. Frustration and dread roll over him in a wave and he realizes they aren't necessarily all his own. His own taste different in the back of his throat, this is—this has to be partly Lan Zhan's. But his own frustration and dread are there to complement it, intertwining to form a mass that curdles in his stomach. Fuck.

He startles when Lan Zhan's hand reaches blindly and finds his own in the dark. They had been touching knees, but—

"Go back to sleep, Wei Ying."

He huffs out a laugh. "Yeah, that'll take a while. You should, though. It can't be five yet, right?"

"Mn. It is not."

Now that he's awake, knowing he won't easily fall back asleep, the dream from earlier seeps into his consciousness. As Lan Zhan's breathing evens out—he's still clutching Wei Wuxian's hand—Wei Wuxian picks apart what he can remember of the dream. Turning around and seeing himself—himself as a puppet—and wanting to scream. He doesn't remember much before that, only an impression of walking.

Fuck. What a dream for Lan Zhan to have. He hopes they don't happen often.

He lies awake in the dark, his knee touching Lan Zhan's leg, his hand clutched in Lan Zhan's, and he doesn't fall asleep for a very long time.

*

"I apologize, but I must do this. It should not be delayed."

A prickle of frustration in his mind.

"Of course." Wei Wuxian wonders how this particular errand will go. If it were up to him, he'd be on the other side of Cloud Recesses while Lan Zhan took care of business, but as it is, he's not even an arm's length away as they walk towards Lan Qiren's study.

"It should not take long, and then we can get back to researching."

"Sounds good." He tries to sound hearty, but Lan Zhan must feel his reluctance. He tries to shift his thinking, maybe change his attitude. He doesn't have to worry about seeing Lan Qiren. He can take it in stride. If he wants to.

They walk through the open doorway, still holding hands, and when Lan Qiren looks up at them, his face turns into a thundercloud. The speed at which it happens is, frankly, impressive, as is the flashing of his eyes. Wei Wuxian forces himself not to stop in his tracks but step forward alongside Lan Zhan as though he were unbothered. Which he mostly is. He's just tired enough to not want to deal.

They must drop their hands in order to bow, which Wei Wuxian does with exaggerated politeness even as stabbing pain runs through his entire body. His sleepless night is also letting itself be known—he's feeling punchy, he realizes. "Grand Master," he says in a tone that nobody could find fault with. God, he's in so much pain.

"Uncle," Lan Zhan echoes, then stands up from his bow and quickly takes Wei Wuxian's hand again. Oh, fuck, that feels good. Wei Wuxian's breath is ragged when he lets it out. "I apologize for this inconvenience."

Lan Qiren harrumphs, then says, "Wangji. Have a seat." Ah. So he just won't be acknowledging Wei Wuxian. That's probably for the best—Wei Wuxian doesn't feel like going toe to toe with him, he's too exhausted to keep up his side of things.

Lan Zhan steps forward, tugging Wei Wuxian with him, and sinks down across the table from his Uncle. Wei Wuxian does the same, with a lot less grace, and only when their knees touch does Lan Zhan carefully let go of his hand. Wei Wuxian feels himself reaching to pat Chenqing under his belt, a movement wholly instinctive and unconscious, then sees Lan Qiren's eyes flash at the gesture. He doesn't say anything.

"Wangji. The Shi clan have requested a particular audience with you regarding a dispute with the Yao clan. Here is the letter."

He pushes an unrolled scroll towards Lan Zhan, who takes it and quickly scans the contents. "This matter does not seem urgent," he says mildly.

Wei Wuxian is curious, but doesn't even attempt to peek. Instead, he thinks ahead to the research they will have to do when done here. He knows now where to start, he thinks—the idea is to be as close as possible at all times—but what it means and why them, he still doesn't know. Was it an accident? Did the spirit do this on purpose? Was it a defense mechanism? But if so, it was unsuccessful—the spirit is gone, Wei Wuxian saw to that. So what is the point of it, and, most importantly, how do they undo it? It might be too much to hope that they'll find an answer in a book.

He tunes back in just in time to hear Lan Qiren say, "—care of it quickly and move on. This..." He waves a dismissive hand at where they're touching knees. "It is unbecoming. Surely you can handle the separation in order to see to your duties."

The flash of irritation is sudden, and it is strong. Wei Wuxian's head whips around to where Lan Zhan remains completely impassive and serene, watching his uncle as though he were talking about the weather. Holy shit, though. Lan Zhan is sort of pissed. Wei Wuxian wonders how he could have felt that, with Lan Zhan keeping such a tight lid on things, but that irritation had definitely not been his own. Wei Wuxian hadn't even been surprised at Lan Qiren's words, only that it had taken him so long to say something.

"The pain that we feel upon separation is nearly debilitating," Lan Zhan says calmly. "This is a fine solution until we are able to break the curse."

"A fine solution, indeed," Lan Qiren says, nearly growling. "The elders are starting to talk."

"We have done nothing to make the elders concerned. The curse will be broken. In the meantime, I appreciate your willingness to take over some of my more pressing duties."

Oh, Lan Zhan is hiding it well, but Wei Wuxian—Wei Wuxian knows better now. He can also feel the connection between them flickering, then coming back to life, as though Lan Zhan is trying to keep a lid on his feelings but...can't. Is that possible? Wei Wuxian watches with fascination as Lan Zhan's nostrils flare the tiniest bit, but nothing else about his countenance changes. How the hell does he do that?

The meeting with Lan Qiren doesn't last much longer. He dismisses them both with a wave of his hand and a huff, going back to the book in front of him and not looking up as they get up and walk out.

Outside, Wei Wuxian can feel Lan Zhan's stifled relief. He squeezes Lan Zhan's hand. "So I guess it wasn’t urgent, then?"

Another flash of irritation. "No. No, it was not. Shall we?"

As they walk, Wei Wuxian prods at the connection between them. It feels like a silvery string, and he tugs on it, coaxing. As though called, a feeling of bemused frustration reaches him and all of a sudden, he feels bad. Lan Zhan is clearly trying to calm himself, and Wei Wuxian isn't letting him be. He lets go mentally, but it doesn't stop the feelings from reaching him entirely.

Lan Zhan stops abruptly. "Wei Ying."

"Yeah?"

Lan Zhan is looking somewhere around his chest. "I believe that I… That is…" Frustration, with a hint of worry. "I believe I am no longer able to fully close myself off from you."

"Yeah. Yeah, I got that." Wei Wuxian watches him curiously, doing his best to give him privacy even as Lan Zhan's feelings trickle in unbidden.

"I...apologize. For any intrusion. I do not wish to…" He stops, his lips going momentarily flat. "...make you uncomfortable."

Wei Wuxian can't help it—he laughs. "Lan Zhan. I've been making you uncomfortable for over two days now. It's only fair, when you think about it."

"Mn." He doesn't sound convinced.

Wei Wuxian squeezes his hand, then tugs him along as he starts walking towards the library pavilion. "Come on, let's figure this out, so we can get our privacy back."

Even if it means letting go of Lan Zhan. The thought is sudden and not entirely welcome. He stops it in its tracks.

Determination and hope flash inside Wei Wuxian's mind. They're a bit more faint than before, but still there, still forcing him to make room for it all. He hadn't realized that that was what Lan Zhan's feelings in his mind were doing, but that is what is happening—his mind is expanding to make room. It feels...strangely heavy. He is glad the feelings are faint.

He wonders how Lan Zhan has been handling Wei Wuxian's cacophony in his orderly mind.

They find Jingyi and Sizhui bent over a giant stack of books at one of the library tables. Lan Zhan gives them a slow nod before proceeding to tug Wei Wuxian along towards the bookshelf that hides the forbidden section. Wei Wuxian attempts to focus on his feelings alone, but every now and then Lan Zhan's will intrude. He feels...frustration. Irritation. And that steely determination that sometimes shows on his face like a crack in a facade. Wei Wuxian shivers. It's a difficult thing, holding it all inside.

He wants to ask Lan Zhan, what is irritating you? Where are these feelings coming from? but doesn't dare. It isn't—it’s none of his business. It is, in fact, entirely his fault. What he needs to do is solve this pickle and move on as quickly as possible.

However, even the realization that this must have something to do with closeness doesn't bring them any nearer to an answer, much less a solution. As they go through book after book, seated at a table, knees constantly touching, the search feels fruitless. The longer the day wears on, the harder it becomes to feel hope. Lan Zhan appears to be in a better mindset, judging by the connection between them, but by lunchtime, Wei Wuxian's exhaustion catches up to him and he feels like throwing every book that's failed them against the wall.

"Wei Ying." It's quiet, measured. "We will solve this. Nothing is instant."

Wei Wuxian rubs his eyes and falls backwards, hitting his head on the hard floor in the process. It's what he deserves. "But you would think we would have found something by now. How many curses can there possibly be in the world?"

When he opens his eyes, Lan Zhan gives him a mild look. Across their connection, he feels amused exasperation. He snorts. "Fine, countless. There are countless curses. So how are we supposed to break this one, when we don't even know what it is?"

Lan Zhan seems to hesitate, then says. "Why don't we have lunch? And then perhaps, we can meditate."

Wei Wuxian groans.

*

Lunch is quiet, and Wei Wuxian allows himself the indulgence of Emperor's Smile. When he prods their connection, he finds no disapproval, merely a fond sort of exasperation. It makes his ears burn and confuses him. He knocks back the first cup, and only then does he reach for the chopsticks. He's so very aware of his foot tucked up against Lan Zhan's thigh, and that awareness must, it must be transmitting to Lan Zhan himself. Wei Wuxian shifts his thinking and focuses on the food.

"So," he says, once the dishes have been cleared away. "It's getting stronger."

"It would appear so," Lan Zhan agrees mildly. "I believe some meditation may be useful here."

Wei Wuxian feels—something. He can't put his finger on it, but it's there, a frustration of sorts. When he looks at Lan Zhan, however, his face is as serene as ever. "Sure," he says, distracted. "Sure, let's try to meditate about it."

They arrange themselves at the center of the room, the doors open wide to let in fresh air, knees touching. As he closes his eyes, Wei Wuxian feels a peace wash over him—the sort of peace he hasn't felt in years. Possibly ever. It trickles from his scalp all the way down his spine and arms and legs, down to his very toes. He shivers, feeling his shoulders loosen.

It's Lan Zhan. He's feeling Lan Zhan, his inner core, his very soul when he is calm. Wei Wuxian feels a prickle in his eyes and frowns, chasing it away. It's just that it feels so good, this peace. Calm and steady and grounding. He feels his shoulders loosening, the muscles of his neck unclenching. He sets his hands on his knees and a finger brushes Lan Zhan's. He flinches, then allows himself the touch. After all, they've been touching for days now. Why should this be any different?

"Wei Ying. Focus."

Wei Wuxian nods. Right. Focus. He can focus. He can do this.

He sits up straight, mimicking Lan Zhan, and does his best.

He wakes up to warmth, a contented confusion washing over him. He's lying with his head pillowed—oh. With his head pillowed in Lan Zhan's lap, and the soothing motion he's feeling is Lan Zhan stroking his hair with a light touch. Before he can flinch away from their connection, he feels it again: that peace. A fondness. A fondness that squeezes at his heart and makes his hands tingle.

Then he remembers himself and tenses. Lan Zhan stops his stroking.

"Aiyah, Lan Zhan," he mutters, pressing the heel of one hand to his eye. "You should have woken me."

Lan Zhan hums. The connection flickers between them and Wei Wuxian feels like he is possibly still dreaming. Everything is quiet. "There was no need. You were tired."

He has to get up. He needs to get up.

He doesn't want to. Lan Zhan's hand has settled over his shoulder. The pressure is light, but grounding, and if he could, he would stay here for the rest of his life, in this airy room with Lan Zhan holding vigil over his dreams.

What did he dream about? He can't remember.

He supposes he could ask Lan Zhan.

Wei Wuxian sighs and raises himself up into a sitting position. When he meets Lan Zhan's gaze, it’s impossible to read—more so than usual. Wei Wuxian tilts his head and feels that prickle of fondness, along with something that feels slippery, easily bypassed, impossible to catch. "So. More research?" he manages.

"Mn."

*

Another fruitless endeavor—Wei Wuxian is beginning to hate the library more than he did even as a teenager. Lan Zhan remains steadfastly hopeful and calm, which only winds Wei Wuxian up more.

"It does not do to give into despair," Lan Zhan says primly, turning a page. "We will find the answer, Wei Ying."

"Where! And how!"

A wave of exasperation—that has to be directed at him. When he looks at Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan's ears turn pink. He's still staring at the book in front of him. "Research. Patience."

Wei Wuxian throws up his hands. "It's entirely possible that there is no solution. Or that there is no information on this curse in your entire library. What then? Are we stuck like this forever?"

A stab of—hurt? No, that can't be right.

"We will not be stuck like this forever," Lan Zhan says quietly. "We will find a way."

Determined, still. Wei Wuxian attempts to quiet his own feelings so he doesn't mess things up for Lan Zhan. It must be exhausting to have Wei Wuxian in his head all the time.

Wei Wuxian shuts up and slides another book towards himself. For a moment, the pressure of Lan Zhan's knee against his gets stronger, then releases. Wei Wuxian answers the nudge with one of his own.

*

"I believe we might have to go to the manor where this happened," Lan Zhan says as they're packing up for the night.

Wei Wuxian straightens up, making sure to keep his foot touching Lan Zhan's. "Really?"

"Mn. We may be able to find something at the source that would explain it. At least we could rule some things out."

"Huh. All right. Now?"

Lan Zhan pauses in his movements, then shakes his head. Between them, Wei Wuxian can feel a reluctance that he can't explain. "No. Not tonight. It is late, and you are tired. We shall go tomorrow."

Well. A destination. At least there's something they can try that isn't sitting among books and dust, feeling helpless. Wei Wuxian perks up. "Excellent. Then we'll go tomorrow."

"Mn."

Wei Wuxian finds himself chatting during dinner, buoyed by the promise of action. Lan Zhan refills his cup with liquor as he talks, fond amusement running through their connection. It warms Wei Wuxian as much as the liquor. "Maybe we'll run into those rogue cultivators who got me out of there. Maybe they will have seen something I hadn't, because, you know, passing out."

"Perhaps," Lan Zhan nods, taking a sip of his tea. He pauses, hand held in the air. "I don't suppose—no."

"What?"

"Nothing." Lan Zhan shakes his head and sets his cup down. "A stray thought with no basis. Yes," he adds. "Perhaps we will find help out there."

Once again, they are forced to separate and endure nearly unbearable pain as they get ready for bed. Once more, they disrobe with their backs to one another, Wei Wuxian putting on one of Lan Zhan's white sleeping robes, then tying the sash securely around his waist. He washes his face as his hands shake, then helps Lan Zhan put out the lights.

He climbs into bed, Lan Zhan following. When their legs touch, he shudders with relief, nearly trembling with it. "Fucking hell," he sighs.

Lan Zhan, hand finding his in the dark, hums in agreement. The relief flowing between them is palpable. Before he can think better of it, Wei Wuxian pulls on Lan Zhan's hand until they're face to face, breath to breath. "Sorry. Just. Need…"

A roiling mass of confusion and relief. "I understand." Lan Zhan's voice is a whisper in the darkness of the Jingshi. His breath is sweet from his tea.

"Okay. Good."

"Good night, Wei Ying."

"Good night, Lan Zhan."

*

Hands touching his bare skin, running down his back, kneading his ass; legs spreading his own; hot mouth on his throat. A moan rips through him, his own hands spasming around the warm body in his arms—

They're moving together in rhythm, pleasure building, and then they're kissing—deep, searing kisses that make him lose his mind—

He's on his stomach, with someone draped over his back, and he's close, he's so close, he's going to—

"Wei Ying—"

Wei Wuxian gasps as he comes to. His hands are clutching thin fabric—Lan Zhan's sleeping robe—and he can't see anything in the dark. He feels a heartbeat beneath his hands and warm breath ghosting over his skin and then his eyes adjust and meet Lan Zhan's. Between them, a riot of emotion—confusion and fear and heat and he doesn't think before leaning in. Lan Zhan meets him in the middle.

They're kissing. Everything is hazy, unreal, an extension of dreams, but Lan Zhan is solid under his touch. His mouth is soft, yielding, his tongue like velvet. Wei Wuxian drinks him in greedily, and the reverberation between them nearly knocks him back. Lan Zhan wants this—he can feel it, washing over him like the tide, pulling him under. The pleasure between them is amplified, nothing like the dream. He feels Lan Zhan's mouth moving against his own and he feels his own moving under Lan Zhan's. He couldn't close himself off if he tried.

"Wei Ying—"

He moans, dipping in for more kisses just as Lan Zhan covers his fists with his own hands and rolls Wei Wuxian onto his back. Lan Zhan bears down against him, trapping his breath—as if he had any left.

He has never been warmer, never been this overwhelmed. They're touching everywhere now, and it isn't just relief, although not being in pain does feel like a high. The pleasure of it is nearly blinding, and they're still wearing clothes. His mind drifts back to the dream—was it his own? Was it Lan Zhan's? Is there a difference?—and he tugs at Lan Zhan's robe until the sash gives way and it falls open. Lan Zhan's skin glows pale in the dark. His exposed chest feels cool—no, that's Lan Zhan's—and they're still kissing, barely drawing breath. Lan Zhan's legs spread his and oh, one nudges against his balls, forcing a cry. Lan Zhan moans in answer, and then they're fumbling with their respective robes, hands clumsy and shaking. Lan Zhan, as always, gets there quicker, ripping the robe off of himself and reaching for Wei Wuxian's. Wei Wuxian lets him and soon they're both only wearing thin trousers, lying skin to skin.

He says, "Lan Zhan," then breaks off. He doesn't want to talk.

Lan Zhan leans in and kisses him, mouth hungry and hot, and yeah. This doesn't require talking; not talking is better. Their heartbeats are rapid, hollow things trapped inside their skin, their kisses deep. Lan Zhan is hard against him and when Wei Wuxian slides his hand down Lan Zhan’s bare chest, his tight, yielding stomach, and wraps a hand around him over his trousers, they both tremble.

Fuck. He can feel that, he can—he can feel how good his hand on Lan Zhan's cock feels, even through the fabric. Lan Zhan's hand finds Wei Wuxian's hip and his fingers dig in, stinging. Wei Wuxian grows harder. He fumbles with the waist of Lan Zhan's trousers until Lan Zhan gets the picture, rolls onto his back, and slips out of them, leaving him bare. Wei Wuxian follows an impulse and closes his mouth around a dark nipple. It's a shock and it goes through Lan Zhan like lightning.

He's sensitive there. Wei Wuxian does it again.

"Wei Ying…"

No talking. Talking can only ruin things, take them away. He puts a finger over Lan Zhan's lips, then fumbles one-handed with his own trousers. It's nearly impossible this way, and fairly undignified, but he manages, in the end. Then he rolls on top of Lan Zhan, legs twining, cocks touching, and they both gasp, shaken. The dual pleasure of it is too big to contain inside his skin. Wei Wuxian trembles as Lan Zhan bucks up, then finds his hands with his own and clasps his fingers in between. The grind of bone grinds against bone is grounding.

"Kiss me again," Lan Zhan whispers, and Wei Wuxian dips his head and obeys, a groan ripping through them both. Lan Zhan tenses and then the world is spinning twice over—Wei Wuxian lands on his back. It feels good, both in being pinned down and doing the pinning. He can't differentiate between the two. The desire between them rolls over him in nearly sickening waves, they want so much.

Lan Zhan ruts against him, gasping. Wei Wuxian feels it in all its strength, the pleasure doubled, liquifying his spine. Their kisses turn nearly feral, no finesse, only need, only taking what they want. They want, he knows now, each other. They want each other, Lan Zhan wants him, and Wei Wuxian gasps as he breaks off the kiss, his skin feeling as though it were on fire.

It's the curse, it's only the curse, but he can't stop, neither one of them can. They have no intention of stopping. They're giving in.

Touch-hungry and turned on, Wei Wuxian slips his hands from Lan Zhan's grip and runs them down his back, nails scratching. He is desperate for Lan Zhan, so desperate, it terrifies him. Want you inside me, as deep as you can get, he thinks, but out loud he manages, "Want you to fuck me."

A shudder runs through him—Lan Zhan's.

"Wei Ying…"

"I don't care how, want you, anything, anything—"

Lan Zhan kisses him, holding onto his jaw, keeping him in place, as though Wei Wuxian is going anywhere. Then the kiss ends—Wei Wuxian whimpers—and Lan Zhan begins to slide downward, running his lips across Wei Wuxian's skin. It feels silky under his touch—he's tasting himself in the back of his throat—and it feels sensitive everywhere Lan Zhan touches. His chest, his ribs, his navel. Hands running down his arms, squeezing. Lan Zhan's chin bumps his cock and they both hiss. Lan Zhan must feel it, too, he has to, they're inextricably linked.

Lan Zhan takes him in his mouth and Wei Wuxian cries out, head falling back. Oh hell, it's hot, wet, lush. Lan Zhan moans around him and Wei Wuxian trembles, hands scrambling. They find purchase in Lan Zhan's hair as they squeeze him tight. His beautiful, silky hair, now tickling Wei Wuxian's skin where it falls across his hips and thighs.

Lan Zhan's mouth. Lan Zhan's mouth is tight, his cheeks hollowing as he sucks. Where did he even—how does he even—Wei Wuxian can feel the way the pleasure echoes between them, a hard, thumping rhythm, reverberating across their connection. Lan Zhan has to feel how good he's making it for Wei Wuxian, how much pleasure he's giving him, and it pierces through some animal part of Wei Wuxian, his endless need. He grips Lan Zhan's head where it bobs up and down. He can feel that, too, the way his cock stretches Lan Zhan's mouth, a stinging sort of pressure that shouldn't feel good, but does. Lan Zhan's want pours out between them, his desire limitless, his pleasure all-encompassing.

"Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan—" Lan Zhan hums. "Ah—Lan Zhan—" Lan Zhan clenches his hands around Wei Wuxian's hips, nails digging in. Wei Wuxian is rutting against him now, fucking his mouth with no compunction; he's too far gone. Lan Zhan loves it. Wei Wuxian can feel the rapid beating of his heart, the way his mouth waters and jaw aches with the thrill of it.

He's close, he is so close, and Lan Zhan must feel that too. In answer, he tightens his mouth, goes faster. He pulls off so only the head of Wei Wuxian's cock is in his mouth, then goes down again, and again, and again. Wei Wuxian is lost to it, lost in the bliss shared between them. It ratchets up higher, winding up, a swirl of pleasure, and he's shouting, mindless of the dark, unable to contain anything anymore. He thinks Lan Zhan is trembling.

He comes with Lan Zhan's lips around his cock, spilling into his hot mouth as he shudders and nearly bucks Lan Zhan off. Lan Zhan pulls up, and when Wei Wuxian can open his eyes again, he meets Lan Zhan's, dark and intent.

"Lan Zhan—"

Lan Zhan swallows visibly, then grips Wei Wuxian tighter before allowing himself to slump down, head pillowed in the cradle of his hips. They're both panting for breath, unable to take in enough air. Wei Wuxian's throat feels the echo of soreness. Lan Zhan is hard, his heartbeat rabbit-fast, his blood pumping in his veins. Whoever thought Lan Zhan cold and aloof has never had him in their bed.

"Wei Ying."

Lan Zhan's desperation is a palpable, nearly physical thing. He's so turned on, Wei Wuxian wonders for a moment if he isn't hard again himself, isn't just as desperate.

"Lan Zhan, come here, come up to me," he rasps, pawing at his shoulders. "Let me…" He doesn't know what. He wants to suck him off, he wants to touch him. He wants Lan Zhan to fuck him, has wanted it since they were practically kids and Nie Huaisang's porn was the new point of reference for all of the nebulous want he had rioting inside him.

Lan Zhan finally does as asked, his movements ungainly, so entirely unlike him that it sends a shock through Wei Wuxian. When they kiss, he tastes bitter and tangy—he tastes like Wei Wuxian. His tongue is heavy in Wei Wuxian's mouth, his teeth sharp. He isn't holding back, and Wei Wuxian meets him nip for nip, breath for breath. He feels like he is devouring and being devoured all at once. He's trembling.

He finds that he's got Lan Zhan clutched in his arms, pinned between his legs. He breaks off the kiss, but Lan Zhan doesn't move away. They tip their forehead together. "What do you want, what can I do?" he whispers. They smell like sex, heady, all-encompassing.

"I don't know," Lan Zhan whispers. "Anything. I want you."

It's almost enough to sober Wei Wuxian up. He has to remind himself it's the curse, the curse that's brought them together. He has simply taken advantage of the situation, he is simply taking all that he can get while this lasts. It is almost enough to bring him back to reality, but he allows the riptide between them to drag him back under.

"Fuck me," he gasps. "Want you inside me, Lan Zhan, fuck me, please."

"Wei Ying." It's a desperate moan, spoken into the skin of his throat. "I don't—"

"We can use spit, I don't care, just…" He reaches between them and runs a hand over Lan Zhan's cock, then shudders. Fuck, that felt good, and Lan Zhan is hanging on by a thread. Another touch and he will come. Wei Wuxian doesn't care, as long as he gets inside him first. "You're wet, we can use that," he murmurs in his ear. "Please, Lan Zhan."

Another shudder runs through them both—Lan Zhan's. He's trembling, and Wei Wuxian's hands shake in return. He spreads his legs more fully so Lan Zhan is cradled between them, then shifts until Lan Zhan's cock is nudging behind his balls. Oh, fuck, he wants it, he wants it so much, he's mad with it. He can feel Lan Zhan's desire, his confusion, the seed of his doubt, and he squeezes Lan Zhan's hips between his legs, says, "You can feel it, I know you can. You know how much I want this."

And finally, Lan Zhan calms down enough, pulls himself back far enough from the brink, that he lifts his head and runs a hand over Wei Wuxian's cheek, the line of his jaw, sweeping his hair back from his forehead. Then he looks him in the eye. "All right, Wei Ying."

Wei Wuxian kisses him. When they separate, he takes Lan Zhan's hand and, watching him in the dark, spits onto his fingers. Lan Zhan, careful to continue touching, slides down until he is between Wei Wuxian's legs, then catches his eye.

"Do it," Wei Wuxian says quietly.

Lan Zhan opens him up slowly, watching him all the while. It's awkward, and it stings, but there's more, too, a satisfaction he can't explain. A fullness. He closes his eyes and tips back his head, allowing himself to feel only Lan Zhan's fingers inside him. He's thorough. It occurs to Wei Wuxian that Lan Zhan must know what to do because he feels what Wei Wuxian is feeling, and a shiver runs down his spine. He doesn't need to say anything. Lan Zhan knows.

Lan Zhan. Lan Zhan is so turned on, it clouds Wei Wuxian's mind, makes his soft cock twitch in response. It fills his lungs, tingles his fingertips. Lan Zhan's movements are measured, controlled, but Wei Wuxian knows better. On the inside, he is burning up, a roar of need.

He groans as Lan Zhan's fingers slide deeper in, sparking pleasure—real pleasure, not just the pleasure of intimacy, but more. His cock twitches, and with every twist of Lan Zhan's fingers, begins to grow hard again. He gasps, his breathing labored.

"Good?"

He swallows. Good isn't the word for it. Overwhelming, aching, nearly too much. "Yeah. Yeah, I'm good," he manages. Then, "I'm ready, Lan Zhan, just—just fuck me."

Lan Zhan frowns, opens his mouth, and Wei Wuxian surges up, grabs his wrist.

"I mean it. Just—want you inside me."

He's grown half-hard already, Lan Zhan's pounding need infecting his own. He wants the closeness, wants Lan Zhan in his arms. More than anything, he wants Lan Zhan in his arms.

Lan Zhan doesn't say anything as he pulls out, then spits into his hand and rubs it over his cock. He's leaking, too. It should be enough.

It is. As Lan Zhan begins to slip inside, Wei Wuxian's body shudders with it—not just the inexorable, aching slide, but the hot grip of his body around Lan Zhan; he can feel it. Can feel how tight he is, can feel how much pleasure he's giving Lan Zhan by letting him inside. He grows hard so fast, his head spins.

"Fuck."

"Wei Ying?"

"It's—it's good, I'm good, I just—" It's all-encompassing, inevitable. His heart is beating so loud, he's amazed the Jingshi isn't pulsing with it, its walls around them as steady as always. He feels as though the whole world should be rocking, their shared pleasure waking every single occupant of Cloud Recesses. But it doesn't. It rolls between them, heavy. It belongs only to them.

Lan Zhan slides all the way home. The connection between them flickers, and for a moment, Wei Wuxian is alone in his body, a sensation drop. "Are you—are you fucking meditating right now?" he gasps out.

Lan Zhan swallows audibly. "I'm...I am too close. Just…"

Wei Wuxian laughs up into the ceiling, relief flowing through him. "Come on, come back," he asks. "Come back to me."

Lan Zhan makes a pained sound in his throat, and then he's back, his pleasure filling Wei Wuxian's lungs and skin and bone. Wei Wuxian cries out; it's sensation overload. He's so hard, he wants so much. Lan Zhan leans over him, propping himself up on his hands, and Wei Wuxian surges forward to catch his mouth with his own. Lan Zhan groans, kisses him back, and then begins to move.

It's a hot, tight clutch and a blunt intrusion all at once. He can't focus on any one sensation, he's drowning in it. Lan Zhan's body heavy over his own, his narrow hips between his legs, his breath, hot over the skin of his throat—there isn't a single part of Wei Wuxian that isn't on fire. Lan Zhan's movements are tight, precise, driving him to distraction. The pleasure he feels is amplified tenfold by the pleasure of Lan Zhan— it is nearly too much. They're damp with it, hot with how good it feels, how hard Lan Zhan is beginning to fuck him, building up the rhythm. Wei Wuxian's body begins to sing with it.

They fuck hard, fast, Lan Zhan's hips snapping. Wei Wuxian gathers him as close as he can with his arms around his neck and back, nails scratching on every thrust. Yes, this is what he wanted, what he's always wanted— has wanted for so long that he can't remember not wanting it. He gives himself up to sensation, throwing back his head and crying out from how good it feels to get fucked and do the fucking. Lan Zhan's pleasure is as strong as he is, stronger, because Lan Zhan is all around him, he's inside his body and mind, he is absolutely everywhere. Every nerve ending, every cell is filled with Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan. They are one and the same, connected in the most intimate way two bodies can be, and it’s impossible to tell where he ends and Lan Zhan begins. The tight clutch around his cock is as real as Lan Zhan moving inside him; the frantic beat of Lan Zhan's heart is as hard as his own.

They're kissing, if one could even call it that—they're devouring each other, breath and spit and teeth, and oh, oh, fuck, he's close. Or is it Lan Zhan? Does it even matter? He whimpers with it, presses closer, as close as he can get, and Lan Zhan leans down and bites the juncture of his neck as Wei Wuxian cries out. He can feel the meat of it between his teeth, can feel the damp, smooth skin against his tongue, can feel the tight pleasure where Lan Zhan is now sucking what surely will become a bruise come morning.

"Lan Zhan—"

"Wei Ying," Lan Zhan mutters into his skin. "Wei Ying, Wei Ying, Wei Ying."

Wei Wuxian's eyes fly open and he clutches Lan Zhan's body to himself as the fall becomes inevitable, as the pleasure gets to be too much. It is a feedback loop between them; he has never felt pleasure like this in his whole life. Lan Zhan's pleasure is a sharp ache between his legs. He tries and fails to tell the two of them apart, they've slipped into one throbbing, pulsing entity.

Lan Zhan thrusts in once, twice, and then he's coming—and Wei Wuxian is coming, his cock untouched—crying out against one another, trembling hard against the sheets.

It takes them a long time to come down. Lan Zhan remains inside him until he's soft, his face buried against Wei Wuxian's throat, while Wei Wuxian draws patterns over his damp back. They're both loath to part—Wei Wuxian can feel Lan Zhan's reluctance as a physical thing—but eventually, he knows they must.

Lan Zhan slips out as Wei Wuxian hisses, then drops down, covering Wei Wuxian's body with his own. His breathing is hard, rapid against him. Wei Wuxian couldn't move even if he wanted to, and he doesn't want to.

Reality begins to intrude as their pulses slow. He doesn't know which one of them tenses first, it is nearly impossible to tell where the fear has slithered in, but it moves between them; not yet a regret, but taking the shape of one.

His skin grows cool; his blood, cold. Lan Zhan moves off of him slowly, not meeting his eye. He supposes that, if not for their connection, they could have pretended not to freak out afterwards for a little bit longer. But it's impossible to hide from someone inside your mind.

Wei Wuxian swallows and catches hold of Lan Zhan's wrist before he can move too far away. "Lan Zhan." He doesn't know what he'd been planning on saying. All he knows is he can't let Lan Zhan go while he's still got his spunk seeping out from between his legs.

Lan Zhan is reluctant, wary as he meets his eyes in the dark.

"Lan Zhan, I—" Lan Zhan regrets it. Wei Ying can feel it as Lan Zhan comes down, the deep ache of a regret that fills his veins with ice, sours in his stomach. "I don't—" He has to make himself clear, has to explain in a way that won't throw decades of friendship out the window, that won't take his favorite person away from him for good. "It was the curse," he says, swallowing. "Please don't regret this, I…" Can't lose you. He can't make himself say it.

Lan Zhan gently lies down next to him and just as gently extricates his wrist from Wei Wuxian's hold. There is a rush of sadness, but the intensity of the Lan Zhan in his mind is already receding, quieting just the smallest bit. It is no longer a colorful cacophony in his mind but a trickle of emotion that Lan Zhan tries and fails to suppress. Their feet are the only place they are touching. "I do not regret Wei Ying," Lan Zhan says quietly. That wave of fondness rushes towards Wei Wuxian, warming him.

"Okay. All right." Wei Wuxian swallows. "Middle of the night madness, right?"

A vicious tamping down of emotion, but which, Wei Wuxian can't really tell. "Right," Lan Zhan says. "We should sleep."

"Yeah. Yes." Wei Wuxian wrinkles his nose. "I have to…"

Lan Zhan hums. They are forced, then, to get up together awkwardly and hunt around for a towel. Wei Wuxian cleans himself up one-handed, flushing in the dark. They find their clothes lost inside the bed and carefully put them on piece by piece.

They lie back down on the bed, only touching toes. "Good night, Wei Ying."

"Good night, Lan Zhan."

It must be close to four in the morning. It's nearly time for Lan Zhan to get up.

They lie in the dark, eyes closed, and neither one of them sleeps. Knowing that pretending is fruitless, and doing it anyway.

*

"Hanguang-jun! Wei-qianbei!"

They turn as one to see Sizhui and Jingyi not quite running up to them. Despite everything, Wei Wuxian cracks a smile in Lan Zhan's direction. A frisson of amusement between them, like the clouds parting.

The morning has been tense, so far, with both of them attempting to shut off their connection without success. Lan Zhan has been moody and sad, while Wei Wuxian has been...irritable. Frustrated. And deeply, incredibly sad.

The fucking curse has led them here, and now he can never unknow what it's like to touch Lan Zhan; what it's like to kiss him, have him kissing back; what it's like to have him in every way that Wei Wuxian has ever wanted. He knows now, and leaving once they settle this thing will be one of the hardest things he will ever have to do.

He tries to get excited about where to go next. Perhaps he will head towards Yunmeng. You can never go home again, and Jiang Cheng will most likely not welcome the intrusion, but something about it calls to Wei Wuxian. A place he once called home, however distant now, could soothe some hurts.

"There is no running in Cloud Recesses," Lan Zhan admonishes them quietly as Jingyi waves a book over his head. "What have you got?"

While Jingyi catches his breath, Sizhui shuffles from foot to foot looking anxious and excited in equal measure and says, "We think we may have found it."

"We have found it," Jingyi corrects. "I'm ninety-nine percent sure we found it."

"Jingyi thought of it," Sizhui says, with a quiet sort of pleasure. "Tell them, Jingyi."

"It's a love spell," Jingyi announces, beaming.

Wei Wuxian feels an unpleasant sort of jolt. What the fuck? "What sort of love spell?"

"It's a spell to tie you to, uh, another person." Here, the two exchange a look. "It causes pain whenever you're apart and you can feel each other's feelings."

Wei Wuxian looks at Lan Zhan, who is already looking back, eyes wider than usual.

Then Wei Wuxian turns away and says, "But how could I have gotten wrapped up in it? I certainly didn't cast it." The idea is, frankly, abhorrent. Who would cast a spell that vicious?

Sizhui and Jingyi exchange a look and then shrug in a very un-Lan-like manner. "I'm not sure, Wei-qianbei. But we're fairly certain this is the spell you're looking for."

"Wei Ying."

Wei Wuxian turns to Lan Zhan, still reeling. "Yeah? What are you thinking? The spirit, exacting revenge?"

Lan Zhan shakes his head. "The rogue cultivators who helped pull you out."

Wei Wuxian feels his eyebrows climb into his hairline. "Zhang Hua and Dai Gan? But why?"

Here, Lan Zhan looks like he's about to shrug in the same way as his disciples, but stops himself. A strange sort of feeling in the back of Wei Wuxian's mind, a proprietary, possessive feeling, there and gone again, replaced by an exhausted acceptance. "Perhaps they were...fans."

"Fans?" he asks, incredulous. "Of who, me?"

"Mn. You are, after all, quite recognizable. As...the Yiling Laozu."

"That's right!" Jingyi says enthusiastically, impervious to the awkwardness swirling around them. "While you were gone, people followed your example in things! Used your inventions, the way we did. Do. You were famous!"

Wei Wuxian has a splitting headache. "Famous for being a villain, maybe," he mutters.

"Not necessarily, Wei-qianbei," Sizhui says quietly. "People looked up to you, too."

"Yeah! Not to mention, your reputation has changed since you've come back. You've been cleansed of blame!" Jingyi says triumphantly. "So, yeah. I can see how someone would get, uh, carried away."

When Wei Wuxian looks to Lan Zhan for help, Lan Zhan is watching him carefully. There's no humor in his eyes, and no amusement between them. Wei Wuxian croaks, "That's ridiculous."

"But it's as good an explanation as we have at the moment," Lan Zhan says quietly. "Sizhui, does it say how to break it?"

Here, Sizhui and Jingyi exchange an uneasy look. "It must be broken by the person who cast it," Sizhui replies. "I'm sorry."

"You have got to be fucking kidding me." How in the world are they meant to find some rogue cultivators who belong to no sect and answer to no one? He thinks back to the meeting, thinks back to how strangely excited Zhang Hua had seemed— which, now that he thinks of it, should have rung some alarm bells. Would have, if not for him having been stunned and in pain.

"I believe this means we must go back to the town near which the manor is located. Someone might have seen them and could tell us where they went."

"Or they could still be in town!" Jingyi pipes up. At Sizhui's slightly admonishing look, he says, "What? They could be. It's been, what, a few days?"

Wei Wuxian shakes his head, feeling truly hopeless. He can't believe that knowing what likely happened hasn't made things easier. If anything, it's made them more difficult. "They're long gone by now."

"It's a start, Wei Ying," Lan Zhan says in that measured way he has. "We should give it a try."

"We can help!" Jingyi says, then gets a quelling look from Sizhui. "We can," he mutters at the ground. "Four heads are better than two."

Sizhui looks between them. "It's true. Isn't it, Hanguang-jun?"

Wei Wuxian looks to Lan Zhan, as well. He supposes it might be easier to have two more bodies with which to search. "Jingyi is correct," Lan Zhan says. "It would be helpful to have you both."

Jingyi looks more smug than Wei Wuxian has ever seen him, while Sizhui looks pleased, in his quiet, understated way. Wei Wuxian wants to pinch his cheeks.

He desists. "Well, it's settled, then! Off we go. Lan Zhan, I don't suppose—"

"You will ride with me, if you are amenable."

Riding Lan Zhan's sword for hours, pressed up close to one another, sounds like a particular form of torture, but they don't have a choice. There's no time to lose. "I'm amenable." He doesn't think it comes out strangled.

Lan Zhan nods, then turns to the boys. "Get your provisions ready and meet us at the gates in fifteen minutes."

"Yes, Hanguang-jun!"

"Yes, Hanguang-jun!"

Two streaks of white diminishing in the distance. Wei Wuxian sighs. "I'm sorry, Lan Zhan. I have no idea how—I have no idea how this involved you."

A flash of something: not quite irritation, not quite frustration. Exasperation, tinged with fondness. He looks at Lan Zhan out of the corner of his eye. At least there's still fondness.

"We can ask the culprit when we find him," Lan Zhan says, like it's going to be a breeze and not akin to looking for a needle in a very large haystack. "Let us get ready. I will send word to my uncle."

*

It's been a long time since Wei Wuxian has been on a sword. The lurch of it as they ascend makes him a little queasy with memory, but he holds on, propped up by Lan Zhan's solid form. Lan Zhan has one arm wrapped around Wei Wuxian's middle, and if he tries very hard, Wei Wuxian can feel his heartbeat at his back, steady and warm. Wei Wuxian closes his eyes and tries his best to breathe. He realizes, as soon as he does it, that this is a mistake, because with his eyes closed, he can feel all of Lan Zhan where he's holding onto Wei Wuxian. He can feel the phantom of last night's touches. For a moment, he wonders if he isn't going to fall off the sword from the sheer want in him.

He gives fairly faithful instructions as to how to get to the town, and after a couple of strained hours, they alight at the city gates, Wei Wuxian stepping off Bichen with unsteady legs.

"Well," he says, then clears his throat. "Here we are. Let's go."

The town is as small and busy as he remembered it being. They stop at an inn first, to have tea and ask around. The proprietor remembers two men fitting the description Wei Wuxian gives, but has no idea where they might have gone. If he wonders about two grown men holding hands, he doesn't say anything.

The four of them have their tea, pay, and walk back out into the street.

"Should we split up?" Sizhui asks carefully.

Lan Zhan looks thoughtful for a moment, then nods. "You and Jingyi should take this street. Wei Ying and I will visit that teahouse." He points south.

"Yes, Hanguang-jun."

The teahouse has pretty good liquor on offer, which Wei Wuxian, not wanting to fall off a sword, only drinks in moderation. Lan Zhan drinks his white tea, and the awkwardness between them is nearly bearable. They're touching knees as they sit. They don't speak of the previous night.

Wei Wuxian, who can't get it out of his mind, attempts to school his emotions in a less dangerous direction. He has no idea what Lan Zhan can feel, but what he's getting from Lan Zhan is that continuous sadness that gnaws at his ribs, sometimes making it difficult to breathe. What's making you sad? he wants to demand. How much do you regret what we did? Would you do it again if I begged you the way I begged last night?

Fuck. He downs another cup of liquor before resolutely pushing it away from himself and calling the proprietor over. "Sir, I have a question for you," he says as heartily as he can manage. "You wouldn't, by chance, have seen two men here recently? Both cultivators, though they don't belong to any sect. Would have been carrying swords, one of which is black? The other also had an instrument on his back."

The proprietor thinks about it for a moment, then says, "You know, sir, I think I did see two men of that description."

Wei Wuxian sits up, feeling Lan Zhan perk up next to him. A spark of hope amidst the sadness. Wei Wuxian allows it to fill his lungs. "Oh yes? When?"

"About two days ago now, sir. Yes, I believe it was—we had tripe soup on the menu."

"And do you know if they were planning on sticking around, or happen to know where they went?"

The proprietor scrunches up his face in thought. "I believe they were talking about leaving right after lunch, sir."

His heart plummets down to his feet. "I don't suppose you heard where they were planning on going…"

"I believe they were going to Nanxun, about ten li from here."

Wei Wuxian beams at him, then looks over at Lan Zhan, hope returning like a sparkling thing. He grins. "Thank you, sir. And thank you for the excellent liquor. You've been a great help."

They leave a generous tip and go to look for Jingyi and Sizhui, who are also triumphant. "They've gone to Nanxun, Hanguang-jun! That stall owner sold them some steamed buns and overheard them talking."

Wei Wuxian can't stop himself from reaching out and pinching Sizhui's cheeks. "Well done, A-Yuan!" Sizhui colors and throws his friend an embarrassed look.

Jingyi is beaming. "Shall we go, Hanguang-jun? Wei-qianbei?"

"Yes. We should leave at once," Lan Zhan agrees, and they make their way to the city gates.

Compared with the length of time it took to get here from Cloud Recesses, this is but a skip and a jump. They get to the town gates just before dinnertime.

"Right!" Wei Wuxian claps his hands, habitually making sure some other part of him is touching Lan Zhan. "Splitting up worked wonders last time, shall we do it again?"

"Mn." Lan Zhan nods. "Sizhui and Jingyi, Wei Ying and I will be at that teahouse," he says, pointing. "You take the streets. Let's meet at the inn in an hour."

This time, Wei Wuxian has tea, saving his liquor stomach for dinner. Unfortunately, this teahouse is less successful than the last. "I'm sorry, sir, but I haven't seen two men fitting that description around. But," he rushes on, clearly seeing Wei Wuxian's face fall, "I never leave this place. They may have been spotted elsewhere in town."

They finish their tea as it is only polite, but glumly. Wei Wuxian wishes he had gotten liquor, after all.

"Wei Ying…" Lan Zhan stops, laying a strong hand on Wei Wuxian's leg, which he had been jiggling without realizing. "We will find them." A wave of assurance flows through Wei Wuxian. It's so strong, he can only assume it was meant to reach him. He glances up at Lan Zhan, who is watching him back steadily. "We are very close."

"But what if they leave town before we can find them?"

"Then we'll find them elsewhere." He sounds just as reassuring as he feels. Trust Lan Zhan to believe in long-shots.

Wei Wuxian sighs and shakes his head. "All right. Let's go find Sizhui and Jingyi."

They find them at a pancake stall, Jingyi stuffing his mouth while Sizhui talks with the owner. Sizhui catches sight of them and smiles, thanking the man, then walks up to Wei Wuxian and Lan Zhan. "This man saw them earlier this afternoon, but not since then. They might very well still be in the city," he tells them, his tone pleased.

This city is larger than the previous one had been, easier to get lost in. Of course, the two can't know they're being hunted. Still, it feels like an onerous task. Wei Wuxian deflates.

"Wei Ying, this is good news," Lan Zhan says quietly as Jingyi makes his sheepish way towards them, wiping his hands of pancake grease. "It is dinner time. Let's find an inn. Perhaps the men we are looking for are staying there as well."

The closest inn has two rooms available. They're led upstairs and shown them. The rooms are spacious, each one with two beds. Wei Wuxian eyes the size of the beds. The two of them sharing one will be a tight squeeze, but they'll make do. Maybe they can push the two beds together.

"Would the masters be requiring dinner?" the servant asks hopefully.

"Yes. We shall be down in a moment. Please find us a table."

Sizhui and Jingyi go into their room to, presumably, get ready in whatever Lan way one gets ready for dinner after being on the road. Wei Wuxian and Lan Zhan walk into theirs and stare at the two beds. Wei Wuxian flushes down to his toes.

"Let's settle in," Lan Zhan suggests.

They have to separate in order to freshen up, Wei Wuxian shaking as he makes use of the basin that he fills with fresh water. By the time they're ready, Wei Wuxian is in so much pain, tears have welled up in his eyes. When Lan Zhan finally holds out his hand and Wei Wuxian takes it, he slumps against Lan Zhan's shoulder in relief. "Fuck, that’s awful every time."

"Mn."

He pulls away only a little reluctantly. He isn't looking forward to settling in for the night. He can't imagine how awkward it's going to be.

"All right, I know we said dinner, but I want to have a little look-see around the inn, just in case."

Lan Zhan pauses, watching him carefully. Reluctance flows between them. "Let us not take too long."

When they walk down the hall and Wei Wuxian peeks into slightly opened doorways, they find nothing apart from a scandalized woman, who shoos them out with some very strong words.

"Okay, that was my fault," Wei Wuxian admits. "Never walk into a lady's chamber while holding a man's hand."

Lan Zhan's lips twitch in answer.

Sizhui and Jingyi are already sitting at the table, pouring tea. "Hanguang-jun! Wei-qianbei!" Truly, Jingyi has never been quiet once in his life.

Sizhui shushes him as Wei Wuxian does a quick and thorough scan of the room. No luck. "Jingyi, don't announce them," Sizhui says. "What if the men we're looking for are here? We want to surprise them. Right, Hanguang-jun?"

Lan Zhan tugs Wei Wuxian down as he sinks into the cushion and they arrange themselves in the usual configuration of touching knees. "Mn. Perhaps that would be best."

Wei Wuxian flags down a server and orders a bottle of the house liquor. "So, we think he'd get cagey and try to get away?" he asks, once the server has left.

"Well, I know I would. What? It's true," Jingyi grumbles. "I mean, it clearly went awry, and if I saw you again, I'd think you were going after me. Which you are. After him, that is. What's his name."

"Zhang Hua."

"Right. Him."

It makes sense. This means they must see the two men before they see Wei Wuxian. Lan Zhan isn't helping, with his beacon whites and air of Chief Cultivator lighting his every step. Wei Wuxian sighs. "What a mess."

"It's not all bad," Jingyi offers. "I mean, it got you to come to Cloud Recesses. It's been a while. What?"

"Nothing," Sizhui says tightly. "It's true, Wei-qianbei." He turns his sweet smile on Wei Wuxian. "You have been missed by this one."

"And this one," Jingyi nods. Then he throws a quick glance at Lan Zhan, but mercifully says nothing.

When Wei Wuxian dares look at Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan gives a single silent nod.

"It's been good to see you all, too," Wei Wuxian says as neutrally as possible. "Since we're here, tell me all about your latest exploits. How are your nighthunts going?"

He half-listens as he looks at every single person who enters the inn. Jingyi begins to tell tall tales about subduing evil spirits and slaying hungry ghosts. It would be nice, if most of Wei Wuxian's mind wasn't preoccupied with memories of the previous night and floating towards the one coming up. It seems impossible that it was just over fourteen hours ago that he had Lan Zhan's mouth on him, going out of his mind with need. Now, he shifts in place and does his best to act normal for the benefit of the children.

Dinner comes and goes and still no sign of his new nemesis. He entertains several very vivid scenarios as to what he will do to the man when he finally catches up with him, and he must get quite loud inside his head, because Lan Zhan looks over at him and says, "Wei Ying. We can't actually kill the man."

He cracks up despite himself. "I'm not planning on killing him. Just giving him a little taste of his own medicine."

Jingyi scrunches up his face. "You're going to put a curse on him?"

"No," Wei Wuxian says with a straight face. "I'm going to poke him with needles for an hour. Very long ones. From the inside out."

"Wei Ying."

Jingyi stares at him, horrified, then gives an uncertain smile. "That was a joke, right? Was it a joke, Wei-qianbei?"

Wei Wuxian sighs and takes a swig of his liquor. "Yes, Jingyi. It was a joke. Relax."

Sizhui lowers his face but Wei Wuxian catches his tiny smile, anyway.

*

"We should push them together," Wei Wuxian suggests, as the two of them stand in front of the two beds, holding hands. "More room that way."

"Hmm. Yes."

It takes a bit of maneuvering, but they manage to push the beds to the center of the room, closing the gap between them.

Lan Zhan is tired—and it's no surprise, it's nearly nine. Wei Wuxian is wound up, but he doesn't have a lot of choice in the matter. If it were up to him, he'd be propping up a table with three bottles of liquor on hand, but it would be unseemly to ask Lan Zhan to stay up with him only to watch him get drunker by the minute. Thus, bed it is.

They separate once again to get ready, trembling from pain. It's exhausting. For all that he's jittery, Wei Wuxian feels the exhaustion in his bones, which currently feel like they're on fire. Pain takes it out of you even in small increments.

Lan Zhan is the one to put out the light in the room, and they climb into bed, rolling towards one another. Lan Zhan puts his hand on Wei Wuxian's wrist and the pain stops. The relief, as always, is palpable. It floats between them, dizzying.

"Wei Ying, I…"

Wei Wuxian tenses. Is it going to happen now? The talk? It was a mistake, he'll say. I have never wanted this. Wei Wuxian waits as Lan Zhan's reluctance and worry float towards him.

"I am...sorry."

Wei Wuxian breathes out. "I know, Lan Zhan."

By the light of the moon, he can see Lan Zhan blink slowly. "You do."

I'm in your head, he wants to say. Then again, he's beginning to learn that knowing someone's emotions does not necessarily help you understand them. He wants to crawl inside Lan Zhan, to hear every single thought, pull them out like fish from a river. "I do. I…" Don't want this to change us. He can't bring himself to say it. Can't make the words take shape outside of his mind, because it already has. It sits between them, a physical presence, pushing them apart even as they're lying as close to each other as can be. "I'm sorry, too." That is not a lie.

Lan Zhan doesn't say anything for a long time. He's consumed by regret, bitter and stinging. Wei Wuxian wants to shut himself off from it, wants to hold onto something that doesn't make his stomach hurt, but it's impossible—Lan Zhan is feeling too much.

Finally, Lan Zhan says, "We should sleep. The earlier we get going with our search, the better."

"You're right," Wei Wuxian says. "Good night, Lan Zhan."

"Good night, Wei Ying."

*

He wakes with a gasp in the dark once more. This time, they're not in the Jingshi. As his eyes adjust, Wei Wuxian can make out the sparse room around them. Beneath his ear, Lan Zhan's heart stutters.

He is awake.

Wei Wuxian wants to pretend to be asleep, doesn't want to have to roll over and only touch out of necessity. Lan Zhan's arm around him squeezes, however, and then his voice rasps, "Wei Ying?"

He groans and buries his nose against Lan Zhan's ribs. "Sorry. Did I wake you?"

A deep breath, another. "No."

The last of Wei Wuxian's dream leaves him and he realizes that what he's feeling is want. Need. Desire. It isn't just his own, either. Lan Zhan's emotions are swirling inside his mind, filling his veins. Wei Wuxian lifts his head, raises himself up enough to look Lan Zhan in the eye, and tries to understand.

Lan Zhan is watching him back, and it would look like a blank, passive expression, if Wei Wuxian didn't know better.

It's dark. Everything is easier in the dark.

He swallows, leans in, and says, "I'm sorry." Then he kisses him.

Lan Zhan opens up his lips, catching Wei Wuxian's between them, and inhales, a sharp intake of breath. Wei Wuxian doesn't let go. They stay like that, suspended in the moment, and then Lan Zhan's hand comes up to thread through Wei Wuxian's hair and they're kissing, deep, hot, slick. Wei Wuxian's heart threatens to beat right out of his chest, and he can feel his arousal growing. His, and Lan Zhan's. Lan Zhan makes a noise against him and then the world is tilting as he rolls them over. It's deja vu, an echo of the previous night. They have no real excuse—they didn't have a shared dream, this time. Not that Wei Wuxian can remember. They're filled with unnameable feelings, a swirl of emotion that seems impossible to pick apart.

They kiss and they kiss and they kiss, Lan Zhan's mouth hot over Wei Wuxian's, his tongue like velvet against him. Wei Wuxian opens up his legs and welcomes Lan Zhan's in between, their pleasure shared as their cocks touch through the fabric. He wants to get them both naked, but that would require stopping and he doesn't want to stop. If they stop, they'll think better of it, and he. He doesn't want to. They've gone past regret now, past rational thought. He doesn't want to think. He wants Lan Zhan.

"Wei Ying—"

He shakes his head. "Shhh." Lan Zhan kisses his finger where it lands on his lips, then, eyes meeting in the pale light, he opens his mouth and takes it in. He sucks on Wei Wuxian's finger as his eyes flutter closed and their arousal kicks up another notch, reaching new dizzying heights. Lan Zhan is filthy like this, bared in his wantonness.

Wei Wuxian squeezes his thighs around Lan Zhan's hips and slots their cocks together as Lan Zhan continues to suck, hips pressing together. "Lan Zhan—"

Lan Zhan hums without releasing him.

"Lan Zhan, I can't, it's—"

Lan Zhan pulls off and opens his eyes. Without looking away from Wei Wuxian, he thrusts against him. Wei Wuxian gasps, and Lan Zhan does it again. It feels impossible now to tell whose pleasure he's feeling, the reverberation of it like the striking of a gong, again and again. Wei Wuxian whimpers as his eyes slide closed, and thrusts back, increasing the pace.

"We should—"

He shakes his head, makes a noise, squeezes Lan Zhan tighter. No, no talking, no talking. "Just—don't stop," he whispers. "Don't stop, Lan Zhan."

Lan Zhan doesn't. He grabs Wei Wuxian's hands in both his own and raises his arms up over his head, pinning him in place. He thrusts against him, dry and hard, and then he leans down and catches the flesh of Wei Wuxian's neck between his teeth. Wei Wuxian cries out, head falling back. Oh, fuck, that feels—that feels so good, he can't—

Lan Zhan begins to suck, fingers squeezing in between Wei Wuxian's, and Wei Wuxian loses thought altogether. It's an approximation of the previous night, a pale imitation, and still, it drives him to distraction. He trembles beneath Lan Zhan, feeling the ghost of his own neck under his lips, feeling the want that fills Lan Zhan to the brim.

It's the curse. It's the curse that's forcing them together, because come morning, more regrets will come. He knows this, and he cannot stop, and doesn't want to. Couldn't if his life depended on it. It's inevitable now, and he whispers Lan Zhan's name in the dark until he can catch his mouth with his own, growing hot and trembling and mindless. He comes with Lan Zhan stealing his every last breath, shuddering beneath him.

Lan Zhan trembles in response above him and gasps as warmth spills between them, Wei Wuxian feeling the echo of his ecstasy as if it were his own. He doesn't care that they're still clothed, he doesn't care that regret will come any moment now, he doesn't care. All that he cares about is Lan Zhan's fingers caught between his own and Lan Zhan's breath against his skin, hot and rapid and perfect.

Lan Zhan grows heavy above him, and Wei Wuxian still doesn't want to move. Neither does Lan Zhan. Wei Wuxian can feel his reluctance as he shifts and slides off. Wei Wuxian feels cold where Lan Zhan used to be.

Lan Zhan moves enough that only their feet are touching. On impulse, Wei Wuxian leans in and gives him a quick kiss on the lips. He wants to say, please don't regret this. He can't make his throat work enough to do it, but if he thinks it hard enough, maybe Lan Zhan will hear it.

Lan Zhan's lips press against his own for one breathless moment, and then he's retreating. His feelings grow greyer in Wei Wuxian's mind. Diminishing. Wei Wuxian shuts his eyes and rolls over onto his back. "We should sleep," he says.

"Good night, Wei Ying."

"Good night, Lan Zhan."

*

The morning comes too soon, and Wei Wuxian wakes up gasping from pain. Lan Zhan is on the other side of the room, washing his face.

"I am sorry," he says and hastens back, putting his hand on Wei Wuxian's shoulder. "I apologize." He doesn't look him in the eye.

Wei Wuxian shakes his head and presses the heel of his palms to his eyes. "I know. We can't...we can't be touching all the time." He doesn't know which form of touching he's referring to.

When he drops his hands, spots dance in front of his eyes. Lan Zhan nods. "We had better get ready. There is another inn in town. It would be good to check there as soon as possible."

Wei Wuxian gets ready in record time. They meet Sizhui and Jingyi in the hallway, then bid the proprietor a hasty goodbye.

"You won't be staying for breakfast?"

"Thank you, but we must hurry," Lan Zhan responds, giving him a respectful bow. The proprietor sighs and goes back to polishing his cups.

"Wei-qianbei, what will you do when you catch him?" Jingyi asks as they make their way across town, Wei Wuxian scanning every face he comes across.

"Politely ask him what the fuck he was thinking," Wei Wuxian tells him distractedly.

"What happens if he refuses to take the curse off?"

"I'll find a way to persuade him," he all but growls, hand automatically going to Chenqing.

Jingyi looks rather more excited than he probably should. Sizhui chews on his lip, which is probably against some Lan rule. Lan Zhan simply continues his sedate walk next to Wei Wuxian, the hand that isn't holding Wei Wuxian’s held in a fist behind his back.

He's sad again this morning. Well, hell, so is Wei Wuxian. Sad and exhausted, down to his very bones. It has been days of no peace, days of trying to hide in plain sight from the most important person in his life. Days of touching, days of being unable to escape for even a moment without heartstopping pain setting in. He's too exhausted to even try to hide his feelings.

"We will find him," Lan Zhan says quietly. "You must have patience."

Wei Wuxian snorts.

The inn proprietor looks at them with some suspicion after they ask him, gaze dropping to their joined hands, then running back up their bodies. "Why do you ask?" he says rather haughtily.

"We have business with them," Wei Wuxian responds through clenched teeth. "Very important business."

The man looks at him in an assessing way, then looks down in a manner that suggests Wei Wuxian does not deserve eye contact, and says, "Yes. The two men you describe are guests at this inn."

Wei Wuxian's heart goes double-quick. A flare of hope and triumph—his or Lan Zhan's? It doesn't matter. It throbs between them.

"And are they here at the moment?" Lan Zhan asks in his cool voice.

The proprietor seems more inclined to respond to him. Must be the way he holds himself. Lan Zhan has always been above reproach. "No, sir. They left a few minutes ago."

Wei Wuxian swears under his breath. Lan Zhan, maintaining his composure much better, asks, "And are they planning on returning?"

"They only paid for one night, sir. They did not inform me of their plans."

Wei Wuxian is outside before he can think about it, Lan Zhan's hand still held firmly in his. "We can find them," he says, determination thrumming through his veins. "We're splitting up. Sizhui, Jingyi—you go that way. Lan Zhan and I will go this way."

"Yes, Wei-qianbei." The two are off like a shot.

"Come on," Wei Wuxian says and tugs Lan Zhan along. "I will absolutely kill them when we catch them. I will. Just you watch."

"Mn."

Wei Wuxian throws him a sideways glance and snorts. "Are you on my side now?"

Lan Zhan's lips purse, a shiver of amusement running between them. "Mn."

"Lan Zhan! Never thought I'd see the day where your bloodlust catches up to mine."

Lan Zhan doesn't respond, but the amusement only grows. There's a relief to it. Wei Wuxian breathes out and realizes this is the first time all morning that he hasn't felt like throwing up. He increases his stride, scanning the crowd. Nothing, nothing, nothing, and then they take a corner, and he stops dead. "Lan Zhan. That's him. I'm almost sure that's him."

The man he's pointing to has his back to them as he haggles with a stall proprietor, but Wei Wuxian would recognize his robes and sword anywhere. He hadn't realized he'd watched the man enough to commit him to memory, but it is. It's him.

Determined, Wei Wuxian all but yanks Lan Zhan forward, and his steps eat up the distance between them and the man. The man's friend is standing off to the side. It's them. Finally, it's them.

Wei Wuxian and Lan Zhan come to a stop a mere arm's length away from the man. His friend is the first one to notice them. His eyes grow wide under Wei Wuxian's gaze, and silently, he taps his friend on the shoulder. "Uh, Zhang Hua…"

"What is it, Dai Gan? I'm busy."

Dai Gan, not taking his eyes off of Wei Wuxian, taps him harder. "Zhang Hua. Zhang Hua, turn around."

Zhang Hua makes a derisive noise and does as asked.

"Hello," says Wei Wuxian.

To say that the man blanches would be an understatement. "Uh…"

"We have some unfinished business," Wei Wuxian says with a smile. "Would you care to join me and my companion for a few moments? I'm sure this," he says, indicating the stall, "can wait."

Zhang Hua sucks in a breath, lets it out, and then he's taking off, shouldering his friend out of the way.

"Lan Zhan!"

Lan Zhan is already on it, taking to the air with Wei Wuxian in tow, until he cuts the guy off a way down the street. "No need to run," he says calmly. "We simply want to talk."

Zhang Hua looks between them, then back towards his friend, who's watching it all go down with huge eyes, and slumps in on himself. "Wei-gongzi. This one is...profoundly apologetic."

Wei Wuxian steps forward. The man refuses to look at him, eyes trained on the ground. "Are you?" he says quietly. Around them, the town is beginning to bustle with morning business. It's no place to hash things out. Wei Wuxian looks around and sees an alleyway that will do just fine. "Come with me."

They herd him along, his friend hurrying up to join them and looking at Zhang Hua worriedly while wringing his hands.

Once they're safely out of the bustle, Wei Wuxian whips out Chenqing and says, "One false word and all bets are off. Understood?"

He licks his lips nervously and nods several times. "Yes."

"All right. Talk. What did you do to me?"

Zhang Hua throws a nervous look towards Lan Zhan. He has to know who he's dealing with. A strange expression comes over his face and then he's turning away even as his cheeks grow alarmingly pink. He clears his throat, then mumbles, "I put a curse on you."

"Louder, please," Wei Wuxian grinds out between clenched teeth.

"I put a curse on you. A-a-"

"A love spell," Lan Zhan says calmly.

The man throws him a quick look and nods, looking absolutely miserable. It does nothing to quench Wei Wuxian's bloodthirst. "Yes," Zhang Hua whispers.

"Why?"

He clasps his hands together in front of him and looks up at Wei Wuxian with tragically raised eyebrows. "I'm sorry! It was a terrible mistake!"

"What, you did it by accident?"

"Well...no." Here, he looks sideways at his concerned friend, then back at the ground. "Not...technically."

"So, tell me. Why."

"You're the great Yiling Laozu!" the man bursts out. "I've studied your teachings!"

Wei Wuxian rolls his eyes. "What teachings, I never wrote anything…"

"Your work, then! It speaks for itself! And then you came back, and I wanted to meet you so very badly—"

"Well, you did. You met me. Why did you curse me?"

"I—I—"

Wei Wuxian lifts Chenqing to chest height.

"I wanted to bind myself to you! It's a love spell, all right? I wanted you to fall in love with me! You were—you were right there, and I—I had an opportunity, and I..." He trails off.

Wei Wuxian shuts his eyes and groans. He feels the beginnings of a killer headache coming on. "Clearly," he says slowly, rubbing his eyes, "something went awry. Why did it involve him?" He points at Lan Zhan, who is as still as a statue next to Wei Wuxian. When Wei Wuxian can focus on something besides the man in front of him and the headache building behind his eyes, he realizes that what he's sensing is slight panic. Why would Lan Zhan be panicking?

The man looks at Lan Zhan and grows even paler. "I… uhm… Your Excellency, I—"

"Speak," Lan Zhan says, betraying nothing of what he's feeling.

"It misfired," the man says miserably, slumping down even further. His friend is watching him with very concerned and affectionate eyes. "Or, rather, I messed it up, and used...uh...the wrong spell."

"Did you,” Wei Wuxian hisses. "What happened?"

"I realized after you left that, uhm…that...well. The spell, the curse, didn't bind you to the person who cast it. You know. Me."

"Mmhmm."

Behind him, Wei Wuxian sees two figures in white run up to them, both out of breath. "Oh! You found them!" Jingyi exclaims. "Excellent, what did we miss?"

Sizhui puts a quelling hand on his wrist. Jingyi shuts up.

"Zhang Hua!" Wei Wuxian barks. "What happened with the curse?"

"It bound you to...it bound you to...it…"

Wei Wuxian lifts Chenqing again in warning.

"It bound you to your true love!" the man shouts, then covers his face with his hands.

The words seem to ring out in the alley for a very, very long time. Wei Wuxian stares at the man, unseeing.

The panic he had been feeling from Lan Zhan turns to a resigned acceptance which Wei Wuxian can't explain. He also can't look at Lan Zhan. He cannot. Lan Zhan's panic, his acceptance—he’d known. Or he had suspected. Had known that Wei Wuxian loved him, and now it's been confirmed to him in front of, oh gods, Sizhui and Jingyi. Wei Wuxian wants to fall through the ground. He wants to take off and run as far as he can, because the thought of Lan Zhan knowing is too fucking scary to bear.

"I'm sorry, Wei-gongzi," the man mumbles against his hands. "I hadn't…"

"Speak clearly," he barks, wanting to take this out on somebody and finding the perfect target.

Zhang Hua sighs and drops his hands. "I hadn't realized that you had...already been...spoken for."

"What?"

Zhang Hua actually has the gall to roll his eyes at him. "Well, aren't you? Look, you're both clearly under the curse, you can't get away from one another. That's what the curse does, it brings two people together who are meant to be together."

"I—"

Zhang Hua waves his hands between them. "You're in love!" he all but shouts.

Wei Wuxian's mind shuts down entirely in that moment. Another wave of nauseating panic—this one might have been his own? No, no, what he's feeling is definitely not panic. What he's currently experiencing is profound shock. And also.

"That's not—" True he wants to say, but it is. For him. For him, it's true. Lan Zhan simply got caught up in his bullshit.

"Wei Ying." It's quiet, but it arrests everyone. Not even Jingyi dares breathe as they all turn to Lan Zhan. "I am...sorry."

"What? Why?" He has no idea what's going on.

Lan Zhan turns to him, his gaze somewhere around Wei Wuxian's middle. "I suppose…" He swallows, then looks around. Wei Wuxian sees him catch Sizhui's eye.

Sizhui immediately unfreezes and says, "Hanguang-jun, may we escort these men elsewhere?"

"Take them to the inn," Lan Zhan instructs in a cool, detached sort of voice. Wei Wuxian is still blinking at him. Lan Zhan's riot of emotions is suddenly unstoppable. Resignation, sadness, frustration, regret: it all coalesces into something nearly solid that's obstructing Wei Wuxian's throat. He can barely breathe.

Sizhui and Jingyi grab the two men and take them out of the alleyway, leaving the two of them alone.

"Lan Zhan…" Gods, he's so embarrassed. Humiliated. As obvious and shameless as he had been the previous two nights, it had been done under cover of darkness, swept aside by daylight. It's not nighttime anymore, and a man shouted you're in love!, knowing it for a fact. Wei Wuxian can't make himself meet Lan Zhan's eye for anything.

They're still holding hands.

"Wei Ying." Lan Zhan squeezes his hand. "Wei Ying, I must speak plainly, now that Zhang Hua has spoken of it."

Here comes his rejection, couched in years of friendship and a certain fondness—he knows now, Lan Zhan is fond of him. He just isn't fond of him the same way Wei Wuxian is. Suddenly, he can't bear to hear the words. "I know, I get it, I'm sorry—"

"If my feelings—"

"No, really, Lan Zhan, I understand, it's all right, you don't have to—"

"—make you uncomfortable, I apologize," Lan Zhan says, and then, his voice rising in volume a notch, "I do not expect you to reciprocate."

Wei Wuxian's brain grinds to a halt. He stops talking.

"I do not expect you to feel beholden to me," Lan Zhan continues quietly. "I would...very much like it if we could remain friends."

Wait. What?

"Lan Zhan—"

"Please, Wei Ying." He swallows audibly. "A friendship would be enough."

"Wait, I…" He looks up at Lan Zhan's face, finally, and finds two spots of color sitting high on his cheeks. He's sharply reminded of the night Lan Zhan had gotten drunk and tried to steal chickens. For Wei Wuxian. He'd been pink in the cheeks then, too. "Lan Zhan," he croaks, something blooming in his chest that might be the beginnings of hope. It tingles his fingers and curls his toes. "What are you saying?"

Lan Zhan frowns and finally looks him in the eye. "Is it not obvious? Has it not been obvious this whole time?"

"Has what not been obvious?" Wei Wuxian whispers.

"Wei Ying, I love you," Lan Zhan says, as though he's explaining a simple sword maneuver to junior disciples.

White noise fills Wei Wuxian's head. Lan Zhan's words are ricocheting through his brain, as Lan Zhan's embarrassment and determination and not a little bit of frustration reverberate inside him. "You—love me."

"Mn." More color on his cheeks. Lan Zhan is burning up.

"Love me like...in love?" Wei Wuxian asks, heart beating rabbit-quick.

Lan Zhan squeezes his hand and turns away. "Yes, Wei Ying," he says quietly. "You do not have to indulge it."

"Lan Zhan!" He lets go of his hand and instantly regrets it—the pain is excruciating—then takes a quick step towards him until they're practically chest to chest and throws his arms around Lan Zhan's neck. The pain is immediately replaced by butterflies in his stomach, a flurry of hope and pleasure and glorious relief, and he laughs, his mouth a mere breath away from Lan Zhan's. "Lan Zhan, you—how can you not know?"

"Wei Ying—"

"I love you, too. Of course I do. Lan—"

He doesn't get to say anything else. Lan Zhan's lips don't let him. Wei Wuxian makes a noise against him and then he's opening his mouth to Lan Zhan's and letting him in, allowing him to steal all of his breath. Lan Zhan gasps, deepens the kiss, and his arms come around Wei Wuxian's body, wrapping him in their strength. They kiss right there in the light of day, in a dingy alley, Wei Wuxian grinning into it, and then suddenly, he is alone with his thoughts.

It is an instant drop and they pull away, looking at each other with wide eyes.

"Wait..." Carefully, Wei Wuxian unwinds his arms from Lan Zhan's neck and takes a slow step away from him until they are no longer touching anywhere.

No pain. His laugh is a sound of pure shock.

"Lan Zhan—"

"Wei Ying."

"It's gone. Lan Zhan, it's gone—"

Lan Zhan closes the distance between them and kisses him again, as Wei Wuxian grins against him and kisses him back over and over and over again.

*

"All right, how did you do it?" Wei Wuxian asks as he and Lan Zhan stride into the inn. They are no longer holding hands, even though, ironically, he desperately wants to, now. But they've made enough of a spectacle of themselves to last a lifetime. Instead, Lan Zhan is half a pace behind him, a quiet and steady presence.

Sizhui and Jingyi have their hostages seated at a table, Zhang Hua looking glum, while his friend continues to look on, concerned. All four look up at Wei Wuxian's voice. He walks up to and looms over his target, as the man in question lifts his head to look at him, having to crane his neck. "Did what?"

"How did you take the curse off?"

Zhang Hua's eyebrows draw together. "I didn't."

"What? No, you must have, it's gone. See?" He gestures between himself and Lan Zhan. "No pain. No curse. Can't hear each other's thoughts." Which feels, actually, odd. It's like the silence after a scream. A ringing, physical awareness of no sound, merely an echo of one.

Zhang Hua narrows his eyes. "You must have done something to stop it…" All of a sudden, his eyes widen and he blurts out, "You must have confessed!"

Wei Wuxian frowns, looking back at Lan Zhan for a moment, then turning back around. "Confessed? Confessed what?"

Zhang Hua has the nerve to roll his eyes again. "Confessed your feelings. For each other. That's how you get rid of this curse, I looked it up, after...after you left."

Oh. That's not what Jingyi's book had said. Wei Wuxian flushes from the roots of his hair down to his toes, not meeting anyone else's eye.He wishes, desperately, that this wasn't happening in public, and in front of the junior disciples, no less. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees the two of them exchanging glances. Jingyi looks positively gleeful. Ugh.

Wei Wuxian clears his throat. "Well, whatever it is," he says, "it's gone. So, you're free to go."

The man scrambles up just as Jingyi says, loudly enough for everyone to hear, "Wei-qianbei! You're not going to exact your revenge?!"

Wei Wuxian rolls his eyes. "I'm feeling magnanimous today. Go. No, wait!" He grabs the man by the front of his robes and looks him deep in the eye. "If you ever pull anything like this, ever again," he says slowly in a quiet voice, "I am the Yiling Laozu. I will find out. And I will personally hunt you down and, as this young man here says, exact my revenge. Got it?"

Zhang Hua winces as he tries to push his hands off of him. "Yes, Wei-gongzi."

"You understand?"

"I do, Wei-gongzi."

"Fine." He unclenches his fists. "You're free to go. Get out of my sight."

Zhang Hua practically leaves dust behind as he scrambles out of the place, his friend giving them all a quick bow and then following closely behind, calling his name. Satisfied, Wei Wuxian drops down to a vacated seat, and gestures for Lan Zhan to join them. "Sit, Hanguang-jun. We're celebrating." He flags down a server and orders a bottle of liquor. At Lan Zhan's arched eyebrow, he says, "Don't look at me like that, we're celebrating."

"And what are we celebrating?" Lan Zhan asks quietly.

Wei Wuxian darts a quick look over at Jingyi's avid face and Sizhui's carefully neutral one, and says, "The end of the curse, obviously."

"Ah."

"Mn."

The waiter comes back with Wei Wuxian's liquor and a white tea for Lan Zhan, who thanks him with a nod of his head. Lan Zhan is so dignified, Wei Wuxian thinks, with no small amount of affection. His heart is beating double-time, still. Lan Zhan loves him. He feels like a kid on the eve of his birthday. He feels like a teenager, after his very first kiss. He feels like flying.

"Wei-qianbei," Sizhui says quietly. "Would you really have done something to the man if the curse hadn't been lifted?"

Wei Wuxian considers his answer very carefully as he brings his full cup to his lips. He takes a swig, then sets it down and says, "I would have wanted to. But no, Sizhui." How honest should he be? Eh, fuck it. "I wouldn't have had the energy. I'm too old for revenge."

Jingyi scoffs. "You're never too old for revenge."

Wei Wuxian narrows his eyes at him. "Isn't revenge against several of the Lan precepts?"

Jingyi throws a quick look over at Lan Zhan, who is quietly drinking his tea with a neutral expression, and mumbles, "Yes, Wei-qianbei."

"That's right. So curb your bloodlust."

"I'm not—"

"Jingyi." Sizhui lays a hand calmly on Jingyi's knee and the kid quiets down. A true miracle.

"Anyway. Time to head home, I think," Wei Wuxian says, then his mind catches up with what he'd just said.

Cloud Recesses isn't his home. Not really. In truth, he doesn't really have one. Cloud Recesses is more like his occasional base, a place to come back to when he gets tired of the open road.

Jingyi, of course, notices the slip right away. He practically lights up as he pounces. "Does that mean you're staying, Wei-qianbei?"

Wei Wuxian darts a quick look over at Lan Zhan, who's watching him back calmly. Wei Wuxian isn't fooled. Behind the serene exterior is a riot of feelings. He is simply no longer privy to it.

It's probably for the best.

"I don't know, Jingyi," he answers carefully. "We'll have to see."

*

The Jingshi is, as always, quiet when they return. Wei Wuxian steps into its cool interior and takes a deep breath to calm his beating heart.

Sharing Lan Zhan's sword on the way back had been vastly different to before. This time, Lan Zhan's arms held him tightly with a purpose other than safety. Wei Wuxian could lean back against him without worry, could feel anything he wanted to with no fear of consequences. Could put his own hand over Lan Zhan's, tangle their fingers together, and know that he was allowed to do that. More than allowed. Welcomed.

Lan Zhan comes up behind him now and slides his hands over his waist. "Wei Ying," he says quietly.

Wei Wuxian leans his head back against him and shuts his eyes. Lan Zhan is so warm. So solid against him. "Lan Zhan, ah." He takes a deep breath, then turns in the circle of his arms. It brings them nearly mouth to mouth. He catches Lan Zhan's gaze on his lips. He can't help grinning. "Lan-er-gege," he says, testing it out on his tongue. The way Lan Zhan's eyes flash makes him want to say it again and again. For the rest of his life. "Are you looking for something from this humble, cursed man?"

"No longer cursed," Lan Zhan points out.

"Humble, then."

Lan Zhan's eyes narrow with no small amount of mirth, but he doesn't contradict him. Instead, he breathes in and out, and says, "You are welcome to...stay."

Wei Wuxian's smile drops off his face. He chews on the inside of his cheek. "You don't think it's more complicated than that?"

Lan Zhan makes an inquisitive noise.

"You know...I'm not a Lan," Wei Wuxian says. "Your uncle would rather see the back of me as soon as possible. I'm an unduly terrible influence. The list goes on." He swallows against his dry throat.

"I do not wish to pressure you," Lan Zhan murmurs. "The offer holds no obligation. But it is...there. Open to you. There will be no obstacles."

"Not even the elders?" Wei Wuxian asks curiously. "Not Zewu-jun?"

Lan Zhan's eyebrows furrow. "My brother would not stand in the way. Even...even in seclusion, he is still sect leader. If he allows it, there will be no objections."

Wei Wuxian wants it. He wants it badly enough that he is willing to put up with countless ridiculous rules, willing to put up with Lan Qiren's disapproving frowns, willing to put up with too much, probably, to be with Lan Zhan.

But. "Do you really want this?" he asks carefully, looking somewhere beyond Lan Zhan. The Jingshi doors are still open, fresh air floating in. "Want me?"

"Yes. Wei Ying. Yes." Lan Zhan squeezes him tighter. It feels so good, Wei Wuxian nearly gasps with it. "But only if you do. I would never force you."

"Lan Zhan is good," Wei Wuxian says solemnly. "I know that."

He leans in and kisses him. It's almost chaste at first, just an acknowledging press of lips on lips. But then one of them takes in a breath, the other opens his lips, and suddenly they're kissing deeply, exploring, letting each other in.

Wei Wuxian breaks off with a gasp. "Where would I stay?"

"Here." The answer is immediate. "With me. If," he adds, his gaze intent on Wei Wuxian's, "you would like it."

"Sleep together every night?" Wei Wuxian asks, tilting his head. "And not just out of necessity."

"Every night," Lan Zhan echoes, his voice gone rough.

"All my mess here, too? I get messy, Lan Zhan. I'm kind of a nightmare."

"Here. With all of your mess." He says it without hesitation, without any reflection, as far as Wei Wuxian can tell. He simply says it, like it makes all the sense in the world. Wei Wuxian's heart beats hollow and fast, blood running hot in his veins.

"You would have me, just like that," he says, mortified to hear the needy rasp in his voice.

"I would have you," Lan Zhan says, "in any way I could get you."

After that devastating pronouncement, with a flick of his wrist, Lan Zhan slides the Jingshi doors closed, the lock clicking into place. He walks Wei Wuxian backwards towards the bed, kissing him as they go—on his lips, his cheeks, the hinge of his jaw, the spot just below it. Wei Wuxian wraps his arms around his neck and gasps at every new sensation, every new spot that Lan Zhan's warm lips touch. He's dizzy with it, dizzy with desire and the new knowledge still settling into his mind. Lan Zhan loves him.

He can't believe that, finally, he may be getting what he has wanted for so long that it's become a part of him. Loving Lan Zhan has become inextricably linked with every other emotion he carries inside him, a part of his mind that will never change, just like his propensity for chaos and love of liquor.

His legs hit the bed and only Lan Zhan's arms wrapped around him allow him to remain standing. "Lan Zhan," he whispers, giving him a quick kiss in the corner of his mouth. "Right now? In the middle of the day?"

"Right now," Lan Zhan nods, answering his kisses. "Right now, anytime, always."

Wei Wuxian laughs and tips his head back. He wishes, all of a sudden, to know exactly what Lan Zhan is feeling. But inside his mind are only his thoughts. Perhaps it's for the best. He can focus better this way. Can focus on the feel of Lan Zhan's lips against his neck, focus on the way they make their way across his skin, nipping and sucking and forcing goose bumps to rise in their wake. He's gasping for breath from this alone.

There's a freedom in this he had not expected, a freedom in letting Lan Zhan wreck him until he's an incoherent mess, a freedom in being ruined. Lan Zhan goes for his belt, unbuckling it with quick fingers and dropping it to the floor, then untying every tie he comes across.

"Lan Zhan, ah, let me—"

Lan Zhan shakes his head, eyes intent on his handiwork. Wei Wuxian feels like laughing, he feels like flying. He lets Lan Zhan undress him down to his trousers, then returns the favor, with a bit less grace and skill. Lan Zhan's layers feel impenetrable, until finally he’s down to undershirt and trousers.

They've been here before, but never when Wei Wuxian could really see, and he drinks in the sight before him with hungry eyes. Lan Zhan isn't bothering to hide his excitement. The skin exposed by his shirt is flushed, he's radiating warmth. He's tenting his trousers, too, and Wei Wuxian's mouth waters at the sight. He makes quick work of both articles of clothing until Lan Zhan is standing before him, gloriously naked in the light of day.

He's fucking gorgeous. Wei Wuxian had known how strong he is, how dedicated to maintaining his form, but it's one thing to know and quite another to see that strength in every line of his body, every curve of muscle and the shape of his bones beneath his skin.

"Lan Zhan…" He runs his hands all over his body, taking in as much skin as he can, first with his fingertips, then with his mouth as he dips his head and kisses his neck, his shoulders, his chest.

"Wei Ying…"

Wei Wuxian shakes his head and continues, biting and licking everywhere he can reach like this, and then he sinks down onto the bed and pulls Lan Zhan in by the hips. His glorious, gorgeous hips. He looks up at him and licks his lips. "Let me?"

Lan Zhan's only response is to thread his fingers through Wei Wuxian's hair at the back of his skull and tighten. He looks almost lost, mouth dropped open, eyes a little wild.

Wei Wuxian grins. He leans in and nuzzles the spot right next to Lan Zhan’s cock that smells so much of Lan Zhan, only more. It's strange to be doing this and feeling only one heartbeat, only the thrum of his own desire. It's strange, but it's enough. Enough to be touching Lan Zhan's smooth, soft skin, inhaling his scent, and then tasting his cock from root to tip.

Lan Zhan's hand around him tightens, but Lan Zhan remains silent above him. Wei Wuxian wonders what it is he's feeling. He wishes, just for a moment, that they were still open to one another so he could feel the full strength of Lan Zhan's want. He knows he wants him because Lan Zhan is so hard, it looks nearly painful—cock dark, veiny, hot against his mouth. One of them is trembling, and Wei Wuxian genuinely can't tell who until he sees the tremor in his own hands as they clasp Lan Zhan's hips. Then he feels a tremor underneath them, and okay, so maybe it's both of them.

He looks up at Lan Zhan as he takes hold of his cock and slips the head into his mouth.

Oh, he tastes incredible. Tastes like sex, like Lan Zhan. Salty and clean. He's big, and Wei Wuxian knows it'll take quite a bit of practice to take him in more than halfway, and he's giddy with possibilities. He'll be allowed to do this again, there's no sense in rushing. The previous two nights, he'd been racing the clock, wanting everything from Lan Zhan before it was snatched away. Now, the future unspools before them, unhurried and dreamy, a future of endless nights together.

His eyes slip shut without his input and other senses take over. Taste and touch and smell, all full of Lan Zhan, and he can hear Lan Zhan's gasps, small, as if he's trying to control them, but searing despite it all. Wei Wuxian is forcing those sounds from him. He feels powerful, like a god.

He lowers his mouth, stretching his lips as wide as they can go to accommodate Lan Zhan's girth, reveling in how dirty it feels, how wanton and good. He uses his tongue the way he remembers Lan Zhan doing to him, laves him up and down, then begins to suck. Lan Zhan hisses above him and his hand in Wei Wuxian's hair tightens so much, tears spring to his eyes. The sting of it feels incredible. Wei Wuxian makes a pleased noise, and Lan Zhan's legs begin to shake.

Maybe he should have let him get on the bed before doing this, but he hadn't been able to wait. Wei Wuxian bobs his head faster, sucking him thoroughly where his mouth can reach. Maybe. Maybe he can go further. He slows and opens wider, nose buried against Lan Zhan's belly, and goes down. And down, and down, until he can feel Lan Zhan nudging his soft palate, then his throat. He can feel himself just on the edge of what he can take and inhales, steadying. He goes back up, then down again, and again, and again. Lan Zhan can no longer hide his whimpers, and Wei Wuxian drinks them in along with his precome, loses himself in it. He, it turns out, loves sucking cock. Loves the silky, heavy feel in his mouth, loves the taste, loves what the act is doing to Lan Zhan, unraveling him until he's a trembling, whimpering mess under Wei Wuxian's touch.

"Wei Ying, I—oh—you don't—don't have to—"

Wei Wuxian doesn't do anything stupid, like pull off and tell him he does, but he does suck harder, go faster. Despite his words, Lan Zhan's fist in his hair is like iron: Wei Wuxian is going nowhere. He uses his hand where his mouth won't reach to give him rhythm, and he sucks. He's so hard himself, he's nearly dizzy with it. Or maybe it's the oxygen deprivation. He's whining as he goes, and he thinks he can get Lan Zhan there, thinks it could be soon, when suddenly, his mouth is taking in air and he's staring up at Lan Zhan's face, blinking. Lan Zhan has pulled him off his cock and is staring at him like he means to devour him whole.

"Lan Zhan," he rasps. "Why?"

Lan Zhan visibly swallows and shakes his head slowly. "Didn't want to finish yet." His voice sounds tight, just barely on this side of controlled. He pulls up and Wei Wuxian has no choice but to rise, ungainly and awkward, until they're face to face. Lan Zhan slots their mouths together, and there's a special thrill in knowing he's tasting himself on Wei Wuxian's tongue. They kiss for what feels like forever, Wei Wuxian winding his arms around Lan Zhan's neck, Lan Zhan's hand tightening in his hair. If Lan Zhan wanted to lead him by the hair for the rest of their lives, Wei Wuxian might actually be okay with it.

The pain of parting is no longer there, but Wei Wuxian wants to be touching him forever anyway.

"What do you want, Wei Ying?" Lan Zhan asks, breath puffing against Wei Wuxian's mouth.

Given the choice, Wei Wuxian might choose this nearly every time. "Fuck me. Want you to fuck me."

Lan Zhan tips their foreheads together. He pants against Wei Wuxian, clearly trying for control that seems to be costing him. "You want that?"

"Fuck yes. Why, don't you?"

In response, Lan Zhan kisses him again.

They have to separate to work out logistics. Before he goes to get the oil ("I have massage oils for sore muscles," he explains. "It should work better than...before.") Lan Zhan all but rips Wei Wuxian's trousers off of him. Wei Wuxian gets on the bed and watches Lan Zhan walk away from him, very much enjoying the view. He has a glorious ass. Maybe he'd let Wei Wuxian fuck him at some point.

He's just daydreaming about leaving visible bites all over that ass when Lan Zhan returns with a small bottle in hand and hands it to Wei Wuxian. Wei Wuxian startles, then grins. "Wool-gathering," he says by way of explanation. "Get down here."

Lan Zhan gives him a strangely uncertain smile, then climbs onto the bed next to him and gathers Wei Wuxian to him. More kissing, then, Wei Wuxian thinks with no small amount of glee. He's so into the kissing. Lan Zhan tastes good, and they're already getting good at this, learning each other's rhythms and wants. Kissing turns into Lan Zhan biting his way across Wei Wuxian's neck, down his chest, back up below his jaw. Wei Wuxian makes a choking noise as a bite lands on the knot at his throat, then a tongue soothes it. Lan Zhan rolls them over until he's hovering over Wei Wuxian, and then he spreads Wei Wuxian's legs and runs a gentle hand from his balls over his perineum, forcing a shudder from him. He does it again and Wei Wuxian whines, spreads his legs wider. "Come on, Lan Zhan, don't tease…"

"Not teasing," Lan Zhan tells him gravely. "I'm simply...enjoying."

Wei Wuxian gasps as Lan Zhan presses up harder. Fuck, that feels—that feels—

"I'm enjoying it too," he pants out, "but I also want you to fuck me already." He thrusts the jar of oil at Lan Zhan. "Come on, sweetheart," he whispers.

Lan Zhan's face does a complicated...something, Wei Wuxian doesn't rightly know what, and then he takes the jar from Wei Wuxian's loose grip. "If that is what Wei Ying wants," he says. Then he leans down for another kiss.

Lan Zhan is a kisser. A major kisser. Wei Wuxian could get used to the kissing treatment.

Lan Zhan's touch returns with the added slickness of the oil, and Wei Wuxian hisses as he grabs into his arm. "Oh, fuck."

"All right?"

He opens his eyes—when had he closed them?—and nods, meeting Lan Zhan's eye. "Yeah. Just...do it. Please."

Lan Zhan nods and begins to circle his hole with a single slick finger. Wei Wuxian shudders—feels sensitive. He forces himself to breathe. He can barely remember this part from the hazy time two nights ago, and focuses on it now, reveling in the touch. His cock is leaking onto his stomach, he's so wet with it, and he thinks he could come from two strokes altogether.

He can't stop watching Lan Zhan's face. He's got a furrow between his brows, and he's looking at where his hand is working, which forces a blush onto Wei Wuxian's cheeks. That's... An intimate view, in daylight. It had been easier in the dark. Still, something animalistic shivers through him at the sight, and he spreads his legs wider, rolling his hips.

Lan Zhan circles his finger, and then he's pushing in, breaching past the tight, tight, tight ring of muscles there. Wei Wuxian realizes he's gripping Lan Zhan's arm, white spots haloing his fingers where they've dug into his skin. He tries to let go, but then Lan Zhan slides the finger further in and he can't, he can't, he can't. It feels, like it had the first time, strange—an intrusion of sorts, up until his finger grazes some spot that makes stars burst behind his eyes, and then all Wei Wuxian wants is that sensation, again and again, and he doesn't care what sort of discomfort he has to go through to get it.

"Another one," he says, sounding winded. "More, Lan Zhan, please."

Lan Zhan obeys instantly, dripping oil between his thighs and onto the sheets. Wei Wuxian raises his hips to meet his fingers, fucks himself on them, no longer feeling any sort of embarrassment at all. It feels too good, he can't bring himself to feel anything but the joy of being touched.

Lan Zhan meets his gaze as he insinuates a third finger in and thrusts up. Wei Wuxian cries out, head tipping back, and holds on harder.

Lan Zhan fingerfucks him for what feels like forever, as though he's forgotten about the main event. When Wei Wuxian opens his eyes again, Lan Zhan is watching him with his dark gaze, so intense, it makes him shiver. "Aren't you hard for it, Lan Zhan?" he whispers. "Don't you want to be inside me already?" Lan Zhan's eyes, impossibly, darken even more. "Fuck me, come on. I need you."

He does. He's so hard and he's so turned on and all he wants is for Lan Zhan to get inside him, cover him with his body completely, bear him down into the mattress.

"Whatever Wei Ying wants," Lan Zhan rumbles and oh gods, that's his sex voice. It's even lower than usual, and there's a rasp to it that goes straight to Wei Wuxian's cock. Then again, he's being fingerfucked. Everything is currently going to his cock.

Finally, Lan Zhan pulls out, leaving Wei Wuxian almost bereft of touch, and tips oil onto his palm. They watch one another as he slicks up his cock, and Wei Wuxian finally manages to tear himself away from Lan Zhan's gaze to watch as the dark head of his cock pops in and out of view from his huge hand. Oh, that's unbelievably hot. Maybe Lan Zhan will put on a show for him sometime, show Wei Wuxian how he likes it, and then maybe Wei Wuxian will let him get to nearly the point of no return and then slide down and replace his hand with his mouth so he can finally—

"Wei Ying."

Wei Wuxian startles and looks up. "Yeah?"

Lan Zhan looks almost amused. "Enjoying the view?"

Wei Wuxian feels himself flush. "Yeah," he says, unrepentant. "I am."

Lan Zhan puts a hand on his jaw and kisses him.

He continues to kiss him as he shifts on the bed and then gets in between Wei Wuxian's spread thighs, settles his weight against him. He kisses as he surges against Wei Wuxian, as though he can't help it, and their cocks slide together, a delicious friction that makes them both gasp as one.

"Okay, okay, okay," Wei Wuxian mutters. "Get inside me already."

Lan Zhan fixes him with another dark look and doesn't look away as he goes for his own cock and moves his hips so it nudges behind Wei Wuxian's balls. It becomes clear that Wei Wuxian will have to do some work here, too, and he bites his lip as he hikes his legs up high around Lan Zhan's middle, giving him access.

Lan Zhan lines himself up and pushes in.

Oh, fuck. Oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck. Wei Wuxian gasps as he's breached, still open, but three fingers is still no match for the thickness of Lan Zhan's cock, which is quite proportionate to the rest of him. It's a slick slide, even better than before. He moans as Lan Zhan moves inexorably forward, and for a moment, he expects to feel that, too, the hot tightness around his cock. But no. All he can feel is what his body is experiencing. And oh, it's fucking good. It's nearly too much, and he panics for a moment that he won't be able to take it, but then Lan Zhan thrusts forward and seats himself to the hilt inside him.

"All right?" he asks, sounding strained, holding himself above Wei Wuxian with shaky arms. Wei Wuxian loves him so much, he thinks it must be spilling out of him, out of his every pore, seeping directly into the sheets around them.

"I'm all right, Lan Zhan," he whispers and leans up in a clear sign. Lan Zhan, being very smart and also into kissing, obeys instantly. They make a circle of connection as they kiss, and Wei Wuxian thinks he may lose his mind before Lan Zhan even starts to fuck him.

Which should be soon, because he can't handle the fullness, they have to move

Lan Zhan breaks off the kiss, moves back, one hand under Wei Wuxian's ass, pulls back, and thrusts back in. Wei Wuxian cries out. "Again, do it again—"

Lan Zhan does it again. And then again, and then again. Wei Wuxian clutches sheets in his fists and strains to meet him, hips obeying the rhythm Lan Zhan has set for them. It's slow at first, measured—it is, after all, Lan Zhan. But things turn frantic very, very quickly. They've both been hard for what feels like forever, riding the edge of need, and Wei Wuxian thinks he could come untouched, like he had last time, even with no phantom clutch around his cock.

Lan Zhan gets loud. Wei Wuxian swallows and clings to him as Lan Zhan moans into his neck, his gasps sending shiver after shiver down Wei Wuxian's skin. He fucks Wei Wuxian hard and fast, hips snapping, body rolling over him like a wave, again and again. He hits the spot every time and Wei Wuxian is a continuous conduit of pleasure, liable to burst at the seams at any moment. He needs to come so much, he can taste it, and it's unclear which one of them will go over the edge first.

It turns out to be him. Lan Zhan makes it happen with a hand between them, stroking him off fast and hard, made slick by Wei Wuxian's need. Wei Wuxian shouts himself hoarse as pleasure overtakes him, white light bursting behind his eyelids as he comes, Lan Zhan frantically tugging him through it. He realizes, as he comes down, that he's got Lan Zhan clutched tightly between every limb he has, and Lan Zhan is saying his name, over and over and over again, the words dissipating against Wei Wuxian's skin, until finally, Lan Zhan's hips stutter and stop as he comes, spilling inside him, trembling in his arms.

Wei Wuxian feels tears in the corners of his eyes, which is... Embarrassing. He wipes them surreptitiously where Lan Zhan can't see, because he's still collapsed with his face buried against Wei Wuxian's neck.

Fuck. Oh, fuck. If this is sex without a curse, he will take it every time.

There is a luxury to feeling so rooted in his body, when his body can give him so much pleasure. Can give them both this pleasure.

He can't wait to do it again, over and over and over.

Lan Zhan's weight becomes too much after a while, and he must realize it, because as soon as Wei Wuxian shifts, he startles and pulls back, holding himself up over him and looking at his face as though he were searching for something. He must find it, because the small smile he gives Wei Wuxian could light up the darkest of nights.

"Hi," Wei Wuxian whispers.

"Wei Ying," Lan Zhan answers, and then gives him a shy smile. How he can possibly feel shy after fucking Wei Wuxian this thoroughly with no inhibitions is a mystery, but it makes Wei Wuxian's stomach squirm and his heart thump harder in his chest. Lan Zhan leans back down and they're kissing again, always kissing.

Kissing Lan Zhan is quickly becoming one of his favorite things.

Eventually, they must separate, especially once Wei Wuxian can no longer ignore the tackiness between his legs. They find a piece of cloth to wipe him down with, then tumble back into bed, tangled up together. It's funny, touching this much, now that it's no longer a necessity. Except that Wei Wuxian has gotten used to it. His body craves closeness.

It's good to be back squarely in himself, but a tiny bit of loneliness creeps in through the back. He staves it off by snuggling up to Lan Zhan harder. Lan Zhan wraps his arm around him and keeps him there.

"We should be getting up, I suppose," Wei Wuxian mumbles against his skin.

"There is nothing pressing," Lan Zhan tells him quietly. "I...should very much like to stay here for a little while longer, if you are amenable."

Wei Wuxian lifts his head and tries to meet Lan Zhan's eye. "You want to loll about in bed in the middle of the day?"

Lan Zhan's eyes crinkle the smallest bit in the corners. "Yes. I should very much enjoy lolling about in bed with you, Wei Ying."

Wei Wuxian feels like his chest is glowing from the warmth he's feeling. "Hey, Lan Zhan," he begins thoughtfully, laying his cheek on Lan Zhan's chest. "Do you miss it?"

Lan Zhan doesn't ask what he's referring to. "A little." He gives Wei Wuxian a squeeze. "It was...interesting...having your feelings in my head."

Wei Wuxian groans. "Ugh, I can't imagine. What was it like? What was I, you know, transmitting?"

Lan Zhan is quiet for a while, probably trying to come up with a politic way of saying really fucking loud and annoying. Wei Wuxian waits, nerves fluttering on the edge of his awareness. "It was...enlightening."

Wei Wuxian snorts.

"I simply mean that your mind is constantly...busy. You feel so much, Wei Ying. All of the time."

Wei Wuxian lifts up on one elbow so he can see Lan Zhan better. "Could you tell?"

Lan Zhan looks at him thoughtfully, then sweeps a bit of hair from his forehead with a slow hand. "Not exactly. Anytime I got close, your feelings would shift. It was—"

"Annoying?"

"—somewhat frustrating. Although, I admit, it was only frustrating for selfish reasons."

"Selfish, huh?" Wei Wuxian grins, tapping out a mindless rhythm over Lan Zhan's belly.

"Mn." Oh, he's blushing. He's so cute. "I admit to having had a certain...curiosity. As to the nature of your feelings for me."

"But you didn't know?" How is that possible? Lan Zhan, at least, was working hard to hide himself. Wei Wuxian could not.

"Hmm, no. Not fully." Lan Zhan takes the hand on his belly and laces their fingers together. "Feelings are not thoughts. A lot of what I was getting from you was...panic. Worry. Concern."

Wei Wuxian thinks about that. "I got similar things from you from time to time. I guess we were both trying to hide. You," he says, poking Lan Zhan’s chest with their linked hands, "are just better at it than me."

"Wei Ying is open and honest," Lan Zhan says in a tone that makes Wei Wuxian's gut churn. "You are just as good as I have always known you to be."

Wei Wuxian swallows, turning away. "Lan Zhan…"

A squeeze to his hand. "It is true."

Wei Wuxian takes an uneven breath, then turns back to look at Lan Zhan, who is looking at him with soft, satisfied eyes. A man could get used to that, if he isn't careful. Wei Wuxian has never been careful in his life. He doesn't plan on starting now. "And Lan Zhan is just as steady and good." He looks down at their linked hands over Lan Zhan's firm chest. "You were so peaceful at times, Lan Zhan. It was a respite."

Lan Zhan tugs him closer until they're breath to breath. "I wish to be your respite always, Wei Ying. If you will let me."

And what is Wei Wuxian meant to do with that? He doesn't burst into tears, but he does feel the prickle of them in the corners of his eyes and has to blink through the sting of it. "I can't repay you," he says, voice thick.

"I do not desire repayment. I simply desire Wei Ying."

They don't talk much after that, and they don't leave the bed for the next few hours, either.

*

Lan Zhan comes back to the Jingshi in the evening. Wei Wuxian is there already, having spent a few hours in Sizhui's company tending to the rabbits, but mostly chatting. Once you get the kid going, he can chatter for China.

Wei Wuxian shoots to his feet, wiping his hands on his robes. "Well?"

Lan Zhan takes his time answering. He settles Bichen in its holder, then slides the doors closed. He takes off his outer robe, and only then does he approach Wei Wuxian, take his hands in his own, and kiss him soundly on the lips. Wei Wuxian feels his shoulders loosening where he hadn't even realized they'd been tense. "You are to stay here, if you wish it."

Wei Wuxian bites his lip. "No pushback from the elders?"

Lan Zhan evades his gaze, which is answer enough. "They do not have the final word in the matter. All they can do is advise."

Wei Wuxian snorts. "I bet they advised that you kick me out three ways from Sunday."

Lan Zhan acknowledges this with a nod. "It does not matter. You are my...guest. And my brother has vouched for you. His word is final."

Wei Wuxian blows out a breath. "Thank you, Zewu-jun." His gaze skitters away from Lan Zhan's.

"Wei Ying." A squeeze to his hands. It's as if neither one of them can remember they don't always have to be touching anymore. "You are welcome to stay. Here, with me. I—I want you to. But only if you do. I will not hold you to a promise that may have been made...in haste."

Wei Wuxian looks back at him, studying Lan Zhan's face. His serious, open gaze. The slight blush to his cheeks, the dusty pink of the tips of his ears. He remembers, with sudden clarity, the amount of emotion that is concealed behind his often impenetrable face. "You mean it," he says slowly.

"Every word."

Wei Wuxian turns away and tugs Lan Zhan along to join him on the cushions on the floor. They sink down, still holding hands. Wei Wuxian looks Lan Zhan in the eye and says, "I want to stay, if it means being with you."

A small intake of breath. "It does."

"Then it's settled."

A small smile in response that, on Lan Zhan, is the widest grin. "I am glad."

Wei Wuxian pokes him in the chest. "You won't regret it?"

The answer is an immediate and fervent, "Never."

Wei Wuxian squirms and ducks his head. "You're too good to me, Lan Zhan."

"Only as good as Wei Ying deserves," comes the grave response.

Ugh, he's so cute. Wei Wuxian groans and leans his forehead against his hard shoulder. "You're making my heart ache, Lan Zhan."

"Wei Ying should be happy," Lan Zhan says quietly. "Here, with me."

"With you," Wei Wuxian echoes, then lifts his head. They're a breath away. He can no longer count the number of kisses they've shared on both hands, but it still feels new, this press of lips on lips, the plush softness of Lan Zhan's mouth, which never wastes unnecessary words. The silky touch of his tongue, the sharp nip of his teeth. He tastes of tea and himself.

"I suppose," Wei Wuxian says after parting, "I'll have to find something to occupy my time, now that I'm no longer on the road all the time."

"Mn. You will. There is plenty you can do."

There is. He knows that. He can still travel, too, if he wants to. Only now he has a home to return to. Lan Zhan to return to.

"If I had to share a mind with somebody," he says, "I am glad it was you."

Lan Zhan gives a tiny smile. "It was always going to be you, Wei Ying."

Wei Wuxian doesn't answer in words, but he doesn't need to. As both of them have recently learned, words are crucial in certain moments, but in this one—in this one, a kiss is more than enough.

***