Lan Wangji would consider himself a decent partner. He's respectful of others' space and time, he works diligently, he is always early, and he is very good to have around in a fight. While he has never enjoyed working with others, he is amenable to it while on assignment.
This is why his 'substitute' position works so well for him.
The National Cultivation Council (NCC) traditionally employs somewhere between ten and thirty substitute cultivators, dependent on demand. Roughly half are assigned to day-to-day fill-ins, people calling in sick or the like; it's not recommended that other cultivators of the same sect take on additional shifts due to the strict regulatory practices surrounding rest and off time.
When your employee can practice inedia and go for impressively long stretches without sleep, it can be easy to take advantage. Even and especially when you work in public service.
Lan Wangji finds long-term substitutions to be the perfect balance. He does not have to worry anyone will grow attached to him the way real partners do, nor about humoring small talk with anyone very long. As with all promoted to such a prestigious position, he has an exemplary reputation that usually puts him above reproach; he was, in fact, the youngest person ever to be accepted as a substitute cultivator.
There were some who questioned the decision, considering his brother's position on the NCC, but his resume was so pristine that rumors of nepotism died quickly. Even as a sect leader, Su Minshan could not do more than lodge a quickly-dismissed complaint, as his sect only split off from the Gusu Lan seven years ago and has little to nothing to show for it.
Lan Wangji privately thinks Moling Su will not entertain a seat on the NCC for several generations at least. The lives of cultivators run quite long.
All this is to say he meets new people often. It is not strange that he would not remember them all; so many faces across so many territories make for very little to remember anyone by.
He enters the Yunmeng Jiang Inner Sanctum with WangJi slung over his shoulder and Bichen on his hip, just in case he is thrown directly into a case. It would not be the first time. Following the directions on the email he'd printed that morning, he weaves his way through the somewhat hectic setup until he finds what appears to be a corner office.
Interesting. He will not need to worry about making up for a less powerful cultivator, then; anyone with a corner office in the Inner Sanctum is sure to be talented and powerful in their own right.
It is 8:59, which makes Lan Wangji one minute early. He knows, however, that typical cultivator shifts run in two twelve-hour stretches marked by the hours of 7 and 19.
His partner should absolutely not be unlocking his office right as Lan Wangji arrives.
"See you later, da-shixiong!" a retreating disciple calls. His partner waves them off with long, elegant fingers.
He goes inside and flicks on the light, leaving Lan Wangji standing awkwardly outside. Should he follow, or give this person a moment to catch their breath?
Ultimately, he decides irresponsible behavior in his partner does not constitute irresponsible behavior in himself. When his watch hits 9 on the dot, he steps forward to push the door open the rest of the way.
His new partner pales when he sees him, which is not a rare reaction to Lan Wangji's general demeanor. He has been told he has a reputation. The strange part is how brightly the stranger smiles in an attempt to cover it up.
"Lan Zhan!" he crows, familiarity on his tongue where it has no right to be. "Haha, this is... are you sure you've got the right office?"
He looks down at his email then back up at the strange cultivator. He's still smiling, desperate just behind the eyes. Lan Wangji nods and offers the pages for the stranger to peruse, but he shakes his head, that oddly frozen expression still on his face.
When he can't bear his own discomfort any longer, Lan Wangji asks: "Have we met?"
The man seems confused. Lan Wangji shuffles through his papers for a moment, feeling foolish. Wei Wuxian. Alright. If he gets truly desperate, he knows the name, so he can try to silently bluff through remembering their acquaintance. People generally get upset when you don't remember them. He will—
—have to answer this question, won't he?
Glad he's never been so thin-faced as to blush, he shakes his head. Wei Wuxian's mouth shuts. He seems dumbfounded; it immediately sours Lan Wangji's mouth. Anyone who thinks themselves so memorable after a small acquaintance is probably quite full of himself.
"Wow," Wei Wuxian mutters before brightening again. "Wow, that's great, actually, fresh start! You ever meet someone you went to primary school with and just know they're seeing you at your worst in their mind? Like, they remember the embarrassing way you broke your arm that one time and now you'll never be respected by them ever? I'm glad we don't have that. I'm Wei Wuxian, but you can call me Wei Ying!" He waggles his brows a little, which Lan Wangji has never seen anyone do in real life. "Since we'll be nice and close for about five weeks here, we can get a head start. MianMian was so rude, abandoning me to the clutches of the great Hanguang-jun! All for the sake of newlywed bliss; personally, a long honeymoon would be nothing in comparison to getting covered in yaoguai guts or whatever, but to each their own, hm?"
It's so much worse than arrogance.
Lan Wangji contends with his own arrogance and pride, somewhat understanding when he sees them in others. What he absolutely cannot handle is talkers. They always want him to talk back and he never ends up with anything to say after they've filled up the conversation on their own.
He tries to run through what Wei Wuxian just said. There's too much to respond to. He can't expect Lan Wangji to reply to all of that, but none of it stands out as important, exactly, so he decides to ignore it.
"Did I tell you my name?" This actually is important; no one has called him Lan Zhan since before his mother died.
Wei Wuxian laughs. "Sort of. You let me call you by it! You called me Wei Ying back." He puts a hand over his heart. "That's why I was so hurt you didn't remember me, Lan Zhan. I thought we were intimate." He seems to be joking, but Lan Zhan feels a stab of confused panic.
How would this person know his name if he hadn't given his permission to use it? No one would be so ridiculous as to figure it out behind his back. While home and courtesy names aren't used widely outside of cultivation clans anymore, they are common within; those born outside the clan obtain a courtesy name when they complete the formation of their golden cores, while those born into a clan like himself typically receive them at birth.
The sound of his home name still feels foreign. Even his brother has called him Wangji for decades. How could he not remember someone he allowed such intimacy? Perhaps it was his illness. He was told he might experience some amount of memory loss, but he's never encountered the expected long-term side effects. Not until now.
"Wei Ying, then." He really hopes he isn't making a mistake. Wei Wuxian beams at him.
They're unlikely to see each other when the assignment ends; what they call each other matters little. The least he can do is try and puzzle out what exactly he got up to with such a person in his youth. It doesn't seem in character for himself, but he can't deny Wei Wuxian's—no, Wei Ying's immediate familiarity with him. He'll get to know him a little better, satisfy the curiosity gnawing at his gut, and put it behind him when the time comes.
Everything is easier once he has a plan. He hopes Wei Ying is not overly enthused by improvisation.
Wei Wuxian is practically bursting from his skin by the time dinner rolls around. They try and do this twice a week, but it's not always possible with three high-powered cultivators, the leader of an up and coming medicinal sect, and a fussy baby in the family.
Still, it's nice; he definitely wouldn't survive without eating Jiang Yanli's cooking twice a week, even if he only has time to find it left in his fridge with a post-it full of hearts tacked on.
After everyone has gotten shop talk and other catching up out of the way, Wei Wuxian puts his back into it. He slumps over the table, whining theatrically and propping his chin against the wood, targeting Jiang Yanli first.
"Shijie, I'm memorable, right?"
"A-Xian is unforgettable," she replies without a second thought. Impressive considering she's also cleaning food off Jin Ling's face. He makes very cute baby babble at her when she speaks; Wei Wuxian feels so full of love he might burst.
Jiang Cheng makes a derisive noise to his right, but everyone in this room knows it for fondness. "He's something."
That clearly amuses Jin Zixuan, but it's Jiang Cheng's duty as a brother to vibe with Wei Wuxian over his sister's husband, so he makes a disgusted face at that, too. Wen Qing—he guesses—kicks him under the table. It's unclear, but Jiang Cheng jumps where Wei Wuxian is seated next to him.
Wei Wuxian has been on the receiving end of those sharp little kitten heels enough to recognize it. Ah, family.
He ignores both of them and sighs. Mournfully. "It's just, the partner they assigned me during MianMian's honeymoon is Lan Zhan, and do you know what? He doesn't remember me at all!"
Jiang Cheng doesn't spit out his wine, but he comes very close. The table is mostly stunned. Wen Qing thumps Jiang Cheng on the back once.
"Uh, should he?" Wen Ning asks from the end of the table. He and his sister did not attend cultivation camp with them, still caught up in petty Wen drama, but they've heard a lot of the stories by now.
"Even if he doesn't remember camp," Jin Zixuan says, as if he could forget where Wei Wuxian decked him, "which should be impossible, who forgets something like the conference?"
Everyone knows about his conference disaster. It was four years ago, but Wei Wuxian doesn't know if he'll ever forget.
Wen Qing catches on to the shock at last. "That was Lan Wangji? You really have no self-preservation instincts, do you?"
"Yeah, yeah, that's not the point, the peacock's right! I could see forgetting summer camp, but the conference? He hasn't attended one since!" Wei Wuxian would know. He's been searching for Lan Wangji every time he's invited. When he isn't physically present, he asks; the answer is always no. It used to make him feel a bit guilty, until he found out Lan Wangji doesn't remember him at all. Any sympathy he felt for the man has dried up.
This is around the time his brain catches up with his mouth as he turns, suspicious, toward Jin Zixuan. "Wait, did you just call him Wangji?"
Jin Zixuan is instantly defensive. "We're acquainted. He's technically an heir, even if everyone knows he won't take it up. Even transitionary heirs have to exist in a society."
Thinking about it a moment, comprehension and a hint of anxiety dawn on Jin Zixuan's face. "There was a period where he was out with some massive curse or illness, I never knew which. Maybe it's related."
"What, the dreaded forget-Wei-Wuxian curse?"
"Sign me up," Jiang Cheng says instantly. It's Jiang Yanli's turn to kick him under the table.
"A-Xian," she says, reaching across the surface to grasp his hand in both of hers, "I'm sure it's not malicious or deliberate. I know you liked Lan er-gongzi a lot—"
Wei Wuxian wrinkles his nose. "Liked him? Who said anything about liking him?"
"—so isn't this a good thing? You'll have a while to get to know each other again." Her smile is so gentle. No one looking at her would realize that she's basically just told him he should be glad for the second chance, after all the terrible things he did with his first. "Maybe you can connect a little better, this time."
That's just... entirely wrong, an entirely incorrect reading of the situation. He can't be rude to Jiang Yanli, but if it were anyone else he'd be laughing outright at the very idea. Him? Wanting to spend more time with Lan Wangji? Liking Lan Wangji, who has barely tolerated him all this time and got him punished more than anyone else he's ever known? Ridiculous.
He squeezes her hands anyway. It's not her fault she reads everything in the most generous way possible.
"Everyone here wouldn't forget me though, right?"
"As if we could." Jiang Cheng huffs, elbowing him in the ribs. "Not for lack of trying."
Wei Wuxian takes his own turn kicking him, but his heart's not in it, distracted by the Lan Wangji conundrum. He makes a decision there and then.
By the time MianMian gets back from her honeymoon, his name and face will be gloriously etched into Lan Wangji's memory. Impossible to remove.
He's going to make that man think of him daily. He wants to drive him insane.
Maybe Lan Wangji will have to invent an actual forget-Wei-Wuxian curse just to survive the aftermath. The thought makes him smile.
Wei Ying thrives on improvisation.
He has never seen someone with such disorganized, unruly cultivation. It is infuriating to watch him clearly bastardize a sword technique from his own clan—probably picked up by watching videos on the competition circuit—and follow it with a move that tempers the flashy nature of Lanling Jin with the sweetness of Baling Ouyang. Beneath it all is the thrum of Yunmeng Jiang, fierce and bold and instinctual the same way the Gusu Lan train with refinement, grace, and tact.
More worrying than that, Lan Wangji is starting to think they did spend a fair amount of time together. Wei Ying cannot read him the way his family can, but he has his moments. Times Lan Wangji is sure his face holds none of the distaste he feels for Wei Ying's soupy mish mash of techniques and is called out anyway. His eyes crinkle with delight, like this is fun.
Maybe he forgot this person on purpose. For the sake of his general sanity and well-being.
It would not be so bad if he were dealing with incompetence or weakness. If he had to step in and protect him often, or if he was slow-witted and cowardly, Lan Wangji would be able to employ the same tactics he always has in those scenarios. Perfunctory action, sound advice, and moving on.
Wei Ying is none of those things.
The mish mash soup of styles works for him. On the occasions either of them have time to spar at the training grounds, he puts rows of disciples on their backs, his laughter more diabolical each time he succeeds.
Lan Wangji is reluctant to join them, no matter how often Wei Ying asks.
It's not that he thinks he would lose. He is confident in his abilities and does not mind losing, but his own sword forms are worryingly predictable. More practice will be needed if he is to represent Gusu Lan against him; he thinks it would be satisfying, to put Yunmeng Jiang's head disciple on his back in front of those who admire him so.
Wei Ying, with his cocky grin and laughing gaze, pushes him to train even through his exhaustion at the end of his shifts, to use the mirrored rooms and practice his formations until they're cutting and fierce as he wants to be. There is more to him than meets the eye.
It is hard to be mad at someone who so readily runs into danger, even if he uses every available opportunity to exaggerate his heroism in the aftermath. He is so shameless that Lan Wangji jokingly texts his brother that his new partner has a face made of steel. Worse, he's aware of his heroism and intellect in a way that sharpens both to dangerous points; Wei Ying seems never to meet a puzzle he is not itching to solve, from finding the bashe nest he was tracking with Luo Qingyang to guessing the name of the lazing cat in the window across the street.
"No, it's definitely baobao. I think I nailed it."
Lan Wangji is filling out paperwork. He's certain Wei Ying also has paperwork, but he's not doing any of it. He leans back in his chair, feet propped against the desk and dripping lingering particles of slime onto his unfinished forms. His pen has not strayed from his mouth. Occasionally, he sucks on it, when he remembers it's there. As Lan Wangji watches, he takes it and taps the nib against his lower lip several times until a black dot lingers on the rosy surface.
He almost jumps when Wei Ying catches him staring. His disorderly, unfocused conduct must be affecting Lan Wangji as well, turning his gaze idle.
Expecting teasing, he is mildly surprised to hear a considerate hum as Wei Ying studies him instead of the cat.
There's no reason to indulge his fooling around. Maybe it is contagious.
"Boring." Lan Wangji is a fool. Boring is merely an encouragement to find a more exciting name.
"Boring?" Wei Ying asks, drawing out the vowels with dramatic flair. "Alright, cat name expert, what exciting and dangerous name do you think it is?"
Lan Wangji ignores him, feeling the tips of his ears flush. Entertaining Wei Ying only increases his bad habits.
When he doesn't answer, Wei Ying throws a ball of paper at him. Lan Wangji snatches it before it can actually hit him in the face, frowning down at the little ball in his hand and ignoring the way Wei Ying cackles at his expression. This is childish. He is not a child. Even when he was, he did not play like this.
(Such a serious boy, Mother would tease, her finger poking his round cheek. My serious boy. He would smile, then. No one else ever thought to try.)
The next thing to nearly hit him is an eraser. (Why does Wei Ying have an eraser? They do their work in pen.) He sets both offensive items on the very edge of his (Luo Qingyang's) desk, between him and Wei Ying, almost as though they can act as a barrier. Like two magnets repelling one another.
"Lan Zhan," he whines, "that perfect body of yours has to have at least one creative bone in it." Wei Ying huffs as he sends another little paper ball sailing onto his desk. Lan Wangji ignores the contradictory nature of the tone and compliment in favor of putting the little ball next to its friends.
"No," he deadpans, signing his name with a little more force than was strictly necessary. Luckily, he's sure Wei Ying will not bother to read it. He pauses, daring to look up and finding Wei Ying's mouth is open in surprise.
He smiles when he catches Lan Wangji watching. "Lan Zhan, are you joking?"
"No," he says in the exact same tone. He expects Wei Ying to sulk or tease him more, but he laughs, head tipped back so the long column of his neck is on display.
Most people believe him devoid of humor, even when he's giving them shit. He feels uncomfortably seen. Strangely so, given Wei Ying's demonstrable lack of insight in most situations.
"You are!" He's far too overjoyed by it. Lan Wangji has never known anyone so happy to see him fail.
He files and re-organizes his work before returning his glare to Wei Ying, who is tossing his pen in the air and trying to catch it in his mouth. Something about the way his lips part, head tilted back as he waits for the pen to drop, causes a lurch in the pit of his stomach.
It was cruel of the universe to make a man so beautiful and give him the most infuriating personality in this realm or the next.
"Lan Zhan," he tries; with the pen still in his mouth it comes out as more of a "Lnh Zhngh" than anything else. His tongue curls around the pen as he tries. Lan Wangji refuses to stare at it.
He focuses instead on the disarray of papers on Wei Ying's desk. "Do you ever turn in your reports?"
The pen drops back into Wei Ying's hand. It is probably sticky with his saliva. After a moment of consideration he wipes it down on his sweatshirt, which is objectively disgusting. Wei Ying doesn't seem to care, shoving it right back in the mug with all his other pens, bright yellow and sporting a cheerful "WORLD'S MEDIOCREST UNCLE" on it in bold English lettering. Lan Wangji is certain mediocrest is not a word in either language, but Wei Ying speaks better English than he does, so he can find no way to refute his claims. Yet.
"Dunno," he answers only after a leisurely wait, "do you ever take the stick out of your ass?"
"No." This time he ensures he is especially toneless.
Wei Ying's head snaps in his direction before he laughs, cackling like hyena and loosening the sharp edges between them once more. It surprises Lan Wangji that such a thing can make him feel... proud.
He is not usually the person who makes people laugh.
So far, the plan is going swimmingly. He's positive no one has ever annoyed Lan Wangji this much.
(He also thought that before, everyone thought that before, but this time he's really, really sure.)
They're up to their ears in baby bashe corpses, but it's Wei Wuxian he looks interested in murdering next.
"Are you," Lan Wangji asks, incredulous, "taking selfies?" There's a tiny drop of blood on his mouth, green and disgusting. If he wasn't so boring and cold he would probably have people clamoring to lick it off him, Bashe germs or no.
"Want in, Lan Zhan?"
He receives a look that perfectly communicates: no, Wei Ying, I do not want to take a selfie with you. I do not live my days in idle frivolity and have never taken a selfie in my life. I do not know what a snapchat filter is, and even if I did, I would never need to use them, because pimples take one look at my glower and another at my golden core before deciding they have no business invading my face.
It's scary how effectively Lan Wangji can speak through glares and minute eyebrow shifts alone.
"A shame," he sighs, turning back to his phone. "That Hanguang-jun fansite would kill for my insider knowledge and pics."
There is, to put it delicately, a pause. Italics necessary. "The what."
"Y'know, your fansite? I think they have an actual website but I don't do RSS feeds, just follow the insta. They got this one candid of you with some rabbits that I'm dying to find out the story behind—"
Lan Wangji, in an uncharacteristic move, steals the phone out of his hand.
"Hey!" Wei Wuxian hides his pleasure behind indignation. Lan Wangji is being so rude right now. He hasn't seen this since they were kids, when he was the first person at cultivation camp to hear him swear. "That's an invasion of privacy, you know. What if I was on my finsta?"
Lan Wangji is unmoved. "I am not looking at your feed."
He was expecting Lan Wangji to ask what the hell a finsta is. The fact that he knows what a finsta is has done strange things to Wei Wuxian's brain. He feels unmoored, cut loose from the world and set out in space to float for all eternity. Lan Wangji, instagram conneisur. Holy shit—
"Lan Zhan, do you have an instagram account?"
"Yes." He says it like it's nothing, still looking through Wei Wuxian's extensive following list. It's the best. Wei Wuxian has pushed the noble and virtuous Hanguang-jun into stealing his phone and stalking his instagram. Maybe few would consider it an achievement, but they don't have the proper imagination to milk it for what it's worth. Only Wei Wuxian should be trusted with such things.
All other thoughts abandoned, Wei Wuxian launches himself into Lan Wangji's shoulder so he can watch, hand curling into the nice fighting leathers he's wearing. White leather really shouldn't look good on him. It's unfair. It's not supposed to look good on anyone, but there Lan Wangji is, defying the laws of geometry and gods alike. He's so easy to dislike, with his silky hair and that prissy little moue he gets when he gazes upon misbehavior.
He actually likes the moue. It's proof not just of his effect on Lan Wangji but of the noble Hanguang-jun having any kind of character flaw. He refuses to stop until at least every full-fledged member of Yunmeng Jiang has seen him make this exact expression, but that's a subject for a different time.
Lan Wangji at last finds the fansite's instagram profile, his face doing something complicated as he scrolls through various candids of himself over the years. He and his brother are the most eligible bachelors in the country, and their fame has only skyrocketed since Lan Xichen's appointment to the NCC. It's surprising no one's stopped him for autographs on the street.
"You really haven't seen this stuff before?"
He shakes his head, handing back the phone. Wei Wuxian immediately scoops it up and swipes the camera open. Using the element of surprise, he takes a shaky photo of Lan Wangji, darting away with a bark of laughter when he tries to swipe the phone again. "Ah, ah, Lan Zhan! I need this, it's evidence."
"How you really feel about your fans!"
"Wei Ying!" Shame he's not silly enough to wrestle him for it. Jiang Cheng definitely would, or even Jin Zixuan if he's in the right mood, but Lan Wangji wouldn't dare make such a childish display. Instead, he unsheathes his sword, just enough that Bichen's glare shines blue in the relative darkness. Wei Wuxian ignores it in favor of examining his handiwork.
It's not a clear shot, not with the half-shadows and the lack of flash, but it's worth the price of gold for bringing such expression to Lan Wangji's features.
Wei Wuxian puts a hand on the hilt of Suibian, though he doesn't unsheathe. "Eight years since we met and you haven't changed! Should we find a wall, Lan Zhan? Reminisce with me a little!"
It's not until the blank frustration enters Lan Wangji's gaze that he remembers. Or rather, he realizes what Lan Wangji doesn't remember. Maybe he'll figure out how to use Empathy between two living people, just to give Lan Wangji a greatest hits reel of their shared childhood.
"Never mind that. The solution is very simple." He gives a strained smile.
Lan Wangji does not dignify him with a response, but his gaze is stuck to Wei Wuxian's like glue. Holding Lan Wangji's undivided attention is exactly as addictive as he remembers.
"If you let me follow your instagram, I'll delete it. Right here in front of you!"
His eyes narrow. "And you will delete it from the recently deleted folder."
Wei Wuxian winces. Lan Wangji sighs and sheathes his sword as he walks over, holding out one hand. "Give me your phone."
With anyone else, Wei Wuxian might tease them for having ulterior motives. Sadly, Lan Wangji is too boring for those; he hands his unlocked phone over with little complaint.
A thrum of anticipation runs through him watching Lan Wangji pull up instagram. He doesn't know what to expect. What sort of things would the great Hanguang-jun put on instagram? Fanciful parties? Meditative interior design? Food pictures?
None of the above. What he pulls up is an account named hanguang_jump, follower count only 17. Every photo in the visible grid is of a pair of bunnies, one white, one black, doing all sorts of adorable things—nibbling grass, mid-hop, cuddling, even nuzzling noses. It's ridiculously cute, but it's not the bunnies themselves that stop his heart, though he's going to spend several waking hours of his life unraveling Lan Wangji's secret soft side later.
What trips him up is that he's seen these bunnies before.
"Lan Zhan," he breathes, "you kept them?"
"What?" He taps the follow button and closes the app. Wei Wuxian has officially become follower number 18. Is there luck in the number 18? He's about to find out!
"The bunnies!" Wei Wuxian crows, looking up to grin at Lan Wangji. This close he can smell the warmth of whatever sandalwood scent he wears, his long hair tickling Wei Wuxian's arm as he adjusts. He opens the photo album and very quickly hits 'recent photos', no snooping involved. So straight laced.
Lan Wangji deletes the photo, but Wei Wuxian is no longer interested in it, absently pocketing his phone again when he receives it.
How does a man have an entire instagram dedicated to the bunnies Wei Wuxian foisted on him as a joke without remembering Wei Wuxian?
Lan Wangji is studying him as well. "What about the rabbits?"
The rabbits. Wei Wuxian nearly coos.
"Lan Zhan, your memory must be awful. Those are the same ones I brought you! I remember that little spot of white on the black one for sure."
More emotion than Wei Wuxian has ever seen from Lan Wangji now flits across his face. "You... recognize them?"
He's never met someone with such a selective memory. Lan Wangji must have really been mad after that cultivation conference disaster.
Valiantly holding back a wince, he goes for theatrical, heaving a sigh and slumping his shoulders. "Children, they forget their fathers so fast." Smirking now, he looks up at Lan Wangji. "Of course, I've been a dead-beat, so I can't expect you to tell them stories about their loving second father, but I did put them in your room the last day of camp. Those are the same ones, aren't they?"
Lan Wangji considers the question, lingering confusion still marring his features. "I dealt with a long term illness several years ago," he admits. "Some of my memories were lost by the time I was cured. I know I received Minzhe and Jiao during my last year of camp."
Before Wei Wuxian can make another joke, he nods, as if he's found something satisfactory. "This fills in a blank I did not realize I had. Thank you, Wei Ying."
The fastest way to cut Wei Wuxian off is via sincerity. Flushing slightly, he avoids eye contact, stuffing his phone back into his pocket with a grimace.
"Well, I'm glad they're still kicking. Can I visit them sometime?" It's mostly a joke; there's no way someone as stuffy as Lan Wangji would want him in his space.
Lan Wangji's "yes" catches him so off guard he almost face-plants into the remains of trampled bashe eggs on his right. Yes? Yes? An invitation to Lan Wangji's home?
When he looks back, Lan Wangji's aura is vaguely smug. Wei Wuxian narrows his eyes, pointing sharply in his direction.
Lan Wangji ignores him and takes out his phone, tapping at it rapidly for a moment before settling in to do the grimy work of organizing the bashe corpses into something that won't drive the clean-up team to tears. He's so considerate sometimes. It pairs ill with his refusal to smile.
The next time Wei Wuxian takes out his phone, he sees the notification from instagram: Lan Wangji (hanguang_jump) started following you.
Over his first two weeks, Lan Wangji's study of Wei Ying continues. It's unclear whether this is due to the fact that he never stops talking, the deliberate competitiveness he brings to each of their encounters, his singular ability to get on Lan Wangji's nerves, or some miraculous combination of the three.
The things he gleans are frustratingly endearing.
When the work has value to him, Wei Ying's work is impressive, powerful, and innovative. He balances his consistent lateness with a habit of staying long after his shift concludes, always on call should anyone need a hand, even when he is at home or asleep. Apparently, if a weird problem comes up you can't puzzle your way out of, Wei Ying is the first person you should call.
He is, if not dedicated, at the least quite diligent.
On the other hand, Wei Ying enjoys making a nuisance of himself. This is not a shock, but Lan Wangji is surprised by how much he enjoys watching others caught in the crosshairs.
At first he pretended otherwise, sticking to the rules set out for him even when Wei Ying tried to rope him in on his schemes in small ways. Once he realized Wei Ying was trying specifically because he knew Lan Wangji would refuse and become annoyed, he changed tactics. Now, when he's asked to stuff a file someone's looking for into his own stack, pretend he hasn't seen what Wei Ying is doing, or confirm some silly lie, he does exactly as asked, no more and no less.
It baffled Wei Ying at first, causing a smug feeling to sit high in his chest. Now, Secretary Yi has resigned herself to labelling them 'partners in crime'. Wei Ying tried to buy them matching shirts until Lan Wangji unplugged his computer and swiped his phone, holding it high over his head and assuring him that even if he were to tell someone about this harsh treatment, not a single person would ever believe him.
He should greatly dislike being tied closer to Wei Ying. When he does not dislike it at all, he begins to wonder if something has broken in his mind. Perhaps he is on the road to qi deviation?
One of his favorite tricks is taking advantage of his position as Head Disciple. The juniors follow wherever they can like little ducklings, listening as he rambles on about this or that. He takes great pride in enforcing the deferential way most visitors are forced to treat him. Wei Ying's manners are perfect when he wishes for them to be so, but there is always a mocking aura to them, like he's going through the motions more to amuse himself than to pay any respects to you. Lan Wangji's attention is rapt every time he watches Wei Ying pull that off, enough that Wei Ying mistakes his interest for curiosity and explains that it's good to make "the kids" question authority once and a while.
Lan Qiren would grow close to a qi deviation himself, listening to Wei Ying's strategies of learning. His face still feels quite thin over getting caught staring; each day he grows more thankful for Wei Ying's absolute obliviousness.
As much as he grows to enjoy most of these antics, there are ones he hates deeply. This morning it is Wei Ying's desire to take on much, much more than necessary, without help or complaint.
"Lan Zhan!" he cheers as he steps out of the office one morning. "You're early."
"I am on time," he points out. His watch says it is 6:35. "Wei Ying is early." This is more accurate, considering he has never seen Wei Ying show up before 7:45.
"Guilty," he admits with a secretive little smile. "Left some of my talismans here last night; we're down an instructor or three, but myself and these bad boys are twice as good as two boring old lead disciples, right?"
"You would normally have a partner for this?" This is not the first time Wei Ying has been pulled from his duties to tend to Head Disciple-related tasks, but it is the first time he has shared what he's off to do beforehand. Typically, he walks in to find Lan Wangji already at work combing through reports, gives a wave, and tells him not to be lonely by himself. Catching him so early is a boon, though Lan Wangji cannot examine why it feels that way.
"Well, sure, in an ideal world, who would take on 32 students by themselves? But it's gotta be me. Sorry, Lan Zhan, I know I actually am behind on paperwork, I promise I'll take it home." He turns with a box under his hands like that's the end of the conversation; Lan Wangji catches his free arm.
"I am free."
"I am not an instructor in the style of Yunmeng Jiang, but I am capable of supervising."
Wei Ying blinks at him in a momentary stupor. "You... what about your papers and everything?"
He fights to keep his mouth from twitching. If Wei Ying knew he could obtain a smile from Lan Wangji, he would become absolutely relentless, and he's not sure he can prepare for that. Best to avoid it altogether. "I am ahead on all assignments." Unlike some, but that goes unspoken.
It is still heard, judging by Wei Ying's wrinkled nose and the way he briefly sticks out his tongue. "Fuddy-duddy. Alright, if you're there, we won't need these." Wei Ying goes to deposit the now-extraneous talismans back in his office. Lan Wangji finds himself wondering if he's volunteered for more than he anticipated.
They head to the training pavilion, which for Yunmeng Jiang is at the heart of the inner sanctum, telegraphing their priorities. For Gusu Lan, the heart of their inner sanctum is the library, but Lan Wangji can claim no opposition to the organization of Lotus Pier.
Valuing the future of your sect is something he can admire.
Wei Ying begins outlining his plans as they walk: "Training starts at nine. I was going to set up an obstacle course; they're getting close to exams and probably ready to jump out of their skins. You up for it?"
"Yes." Lan Wangji has never run an obstacle course, but he understands the theory. "What were the talismans for?"
"Oh, that was just to make things more interesting." He laughs a little. "Thought I'd throw them at anyone slacking off or not paying attention."
Lan Wangji is suddenly curious as to what the talismans do, but he'll sneak a look at them another time. "What changed?"
"Our illustrious guest lecturer, of course." Wei Ying winks at him. "They'll be so busy trying to impress you, I won't have to chase them around."
"Is that your usual teaching style?"
"Absolutely. Teenagers, honestly, they're so flaky."
In the few instances he's helped with training disciples, Lan Wangji has never considered them 'flaky' in any sense. He will no doubt be interested in what differences Yunmeng Jiang has to offer.
The set-up is not overly difficult. For someone who has never participated in an obstacle course, he thinks he's doing a decent job of it until Wei Ying comes to laugh at him.
"Lan Zhan, these are actually easy!"
"For us," he agrees, patching the array Wei Ying has just dismantled. "Not for junior disciples."
"Still, you can't make them winnable. Haven't you heard the Yunmeng Jiang Sect Motto?"
"Attempt the impossible," Lan Wangji recites dryly. While it cannot hold a candle to Gusu Lan's motto of righteousness, it is not the worst Sect Motto he's ever encountered. "Your goal was to make this impossible?"
"Well, yeah. C'mon, don't you want to see them fall on their faces?"
He has never actually met someone this shameless. He does not remember meeting Wei Ying the first time, so that doesn't count. The right thing to do would be to ask him to take this seriously, but Yunmeng Jiang is not his domain. As Head Disciple, it is part of Wei Ying's job to set the curriculum. He should act in accordance with his values and observe with the appropriate amount of judgment in his gaze.
Instead, Lan Wangji finds himself increasing the difficulty of the array beneath his hands, much to Wei Ying's delight.
The junior disciples of Yunmeng Jiang try very, very hard to impress him. Hanguang-jun! Hanguang-jun, look! After spending a bit of time with them, he comes to the conclusion that Wei Ying must be a natural consequence of Yunmeng Jiang's teaching style; almost all of the students are confident to the point of being brash, delighted to fall and pick themselves back up again, and so competitive they fight dirty to the very end. Teenagers are thin-skinned and often prideful, but his heart swells with fondness anyway.
And if he thinks of the press of Wei Ying's shoulder against his later as he starts a new composition, no one but himself will ever know.
"You are unsympathetic to my plight! Every day, Jiang Cheng, every day I suffer."
"A real burden." Jiang Cheng speaks with dry disinterest, fingers clacking through some sort of spreadsheet hell. Wei Wuxian has never liked the degree of organization required by a spreadsheet. Lan Wangji probably thrives on it.
He throws himself into a sprawl on one of the plush chairs set out for visitors in Jiang Cheng's office. As Sect Heir he takes on a lot of duties from Jiang Fengmian, making his office one of the cushiest corners of the Inner Sanctum. Wei Wuxian feels no guilt hanging upside down in the chair, throwing his legs over the back and swinging his feet a little. Like this, all the blood goes to his brain in slow increments; it's kind of funny to see up Jiang Cheng's nose.
"He made a village on MianMian's desk for the paper balls I throw at him. There's even a little sign stating the population; I've never seen him changing it, but I know he has to, because if I throw more the number goes up." Jiang Cheng does not interrupt his rhythm or deign to glance in Wei Wuxian's direction. He's not sure he has yet impressed upon his brother the seriousness with which this must be taken.
"You don't understand, he bought them each a googly eye. They stare at me all day. I feel their soulless little eyes on the back of my neck morning 'til night!"
"What did he name it?"
"The village of paper balls."
"Luanzang. Wait, how come that's the only time you pay any attention!"
Jiang Cheng smirks at his computer. "The burial grounds for your mess. How poetic of him."
"The point, A-Cheng, is that he's a demon, and no one but me realizes he's a demon. Only Secretary Yi and I know the truth!"
"He turns in every report with meticulous detail, which is all I care about."
"You should care about me," Wei Wuxian grumbles, flipping upright in the seat before throwing one leg over the side. If he sits like a heterosexual, Jiang Cheng will think something's genuinely wrong and call Jiang Yanli.
"Shidi, when did your love for me grow cold?"
"When you became physically incapable of talking about anything other than Lan Wangji."
"Heartless! I come to you in my hour of need— "
"What you need is to tell me what you actually came for."
Jiang Cheng sighs. "Sect business? You, the Head Disciple of Yunmeng Jiang Sect, had something business related to discuss with me before you saw Hanguang-jun walk by?"
Wei Wuxian frowns. Business... ah! He lets a slow smile spread across his face. "You are absolutely right." Jiang Cheng waits, fingers poised over the keyboard.
"Yue Shi broke the kettle again."
He leaves Jiang Cheng's office gasping with laughter, not feeling sorry for Yue Shi in the least. It's the third kettle, after all, and while Wei Wuxian isn't big on tea, Jiang Cheng lives and dies by his mid-morning cup.
"Tell me, Lan Zhan, what does this look like to you?"
Before he can respond, Wei Ying sticks his phone in Lan Wangji's face.
"—what is that thing? A-Jie, stay back—" The voice cuts off in a scream as something huge and snake-like slithers out of the mouth of the cave. It looks like a hiking video that's turned into a monstrous photobomb; Lan Wangji has never hunted anything via weibo post before, but the timestamp is only from a half hour ago. Snake season, he thinks, somewhat grim.
"How did you find this?"
"It's going viral, how do you think?" When Lan Wangji just stares at him, Wei Ying drops the smug tone. "Nie-xiong sent it to me."
"Well it certainly wasn't Mingjue-ge. Who else do you know with a rep for being all-seeing?"
He acts like all of their acquaintances are mutual; Lan Wangji has the uncomfortable feeling they might be. What kind of person is he, to have remembered Nie Huaisang and let Wei Ying slip his mind?
This time, he promises himself, I will remember.
"Cave's just outside the border with Moling Su, but our Inner Sanctum's closer. As a Major Sect it's still within our rights to claim it if we get there first."
That rule is traditionally designed so that Minor Sects will not lose face asking for assistance from the five Major ones. If Su Minshan were not so boastful, this would be the case for Moling Su as well, but as it is not, they would likely lose more face than most.
He has seen the rules bent this way before, but mostly by Qishan Wen; at that time, he found their behavior distasteful at best.
Lan Wangji thinks of the last time he saw Su She, smugly claiming he'd never worked for anything in his life. He thinks of being forced to refer to him as Sect Leader Su and bow in spite of the disrespect visited upon him.
He summons Bichen. Wei Ying smiles.
The sword ride is quick. The weather is just on the warm cusp of Spring, but Wei Ying's cheeks are still pink with cold by the time they land. A crowd has gathered around the mouth of the cave, not within range of any snapping mouths or slithering beasts, but well within sight to keep watching the spectacle. Some are clearly news crews. When they see cultivators, a wave of relief passes through the crowd.
"This site is temporarily under the jurisdiction of Yunmeng Jiang!" Wei Ying's voice is near-booming as he sends up a guardian flare, creating a barrier between the spectators and actual danger. Only those who wear the bell of Yunmeng Jiang will be able to pass through; Lan Wangji rarely takes his off, as they are valuable possessions that have been sold for high price on the black market.
The news sites are going to have a field day with this. Considering the brazen way Su She always claims Moling Su can stand on its own, it will be a blow to his ego—declaring the site for Yunmeng Jiang is as good as saying they can't stand on their own. Lan Wangji can only hope it forces him to meditate on his proper position in the world. He has officially exhausted the limits of brain power one can devote to someone like Su She.
"I will search this area." He vaguely gestures to the mouth of the cave. "You..."
Wei Ying catches what he doesn't feel like saying. "Go do the talky-talk with the witnesses?"
Lan Wangji nods.
"Sir yes sir, Wei Ying does only as Hanguang-jun commands!" With an insolent three-finger salute, he's off, ignoring Lan Wangji's glare. He isn't ordering Wei Ying around simply to be imperious. They both have strengths; it would be more accurate to say that Lan Wangji has weaknesses that Wei Ying does not. Is this not maximum efficiency? If Lan Wangji went to talk to the witnesses, he would probably intimidate them into silence, giving Wei Ying yet another excuse to laugh at him.
Lan Wangji forces himself to focus. At the mouth of the cave, there are no imprints in the grass that would indicate the slithering of a snake. A shame; Wei Ying is still frustrated that they did not find the adult bashe while destroying her nest.
Whatever was in the video must have legs of some kind, then, or perhaps some sort of barrier which prevents it from exiting the cave—a lizard? Or some shapeshifter? Perhaps a reptile-like spiritual beast with the ability to stretch its neck? Or a snake that has been injured.
Rapidly flickering through the possibilities, he narrowly dodges the snapping head as it darts out, no sound precluding its emergence. An earth-shaking roar rings in Lan Wangji's ears long after the sound has stopped, the head drawn back at a much slower pace before disappearing into the cave once more. Splashes of mud roll slowly off the repelling charms on his leathers.
"Yep, saw that!" Wei Ying is quick to return to his side, serious as he scans Lan Wangji for injuries. It's—nice, to see any evidence that Wei Ying cares. "You okay?"
"En." He nods in the direction of the cave. "That is no snake."
"No," Wei Ying agrees. "By cobbling together the few accounts, it sounds like a spiritual beast. If only anyone could agree on which kind!" In spite of the danger, Wei Ying looks amused. "One guy called it a big worm."
"Not a worm," Lan Wangji says with an air of seriousness. It's only somewhat tinged with mockery—Wei Ying is probably the only person outside of Lan Xichen who would catch it. "No depressions in the grass at the mouth of the cave. I believe it walks."
Wei Ying makes a face. "You make it sound so ominous."
"Would you prefer it slithered?" Lan Wangji makes sure to over-emphasize the word so clearly that Wei Ying cannot help but laugh at him, grossed-out face disappearing.
"No, no, no, I take it all back!" He holds up his hands between them. "Lan Zhan, stop being funny, I know you're only doing so because you don't want to go inside."
Lan Wangji pauses, tilting his head a fraction. "Are you saying I am cowardly?"
"Well, not to presume..." he trails off, unable to finish the sentence before helpless giggles overtake him. "The look on your face! When I watch this on the news later, it's going to be amazing."
Feeling out of his own body, Lan Wangji is reckless; he pushes Wei Ying toward the mouth of the cave. His timing is terrible. The moment he does so he wants to take it back, knowing it was far beyond unprofessional, but Wei Ying is still laughing right up until the head of the beast darts out again between them.
There's very little time to react. They're fast enough to avoid it as it snaps outward, but it's clearly incensed; looking at its head, Lan Wangji realizes it's vaguely shaped like a tortoise. Wei Ying catches it around the neck with a binding talisman as it attempts to retract.
"Got you!" he cheers. In its haste to get away, the tortoise turns and snaps in the wrong direction, catching Lan Wangji in the leg and dragging both of them back with it.
"Shit, Lan Zhan! Hold on!"
What he would hold onto is unclear; he unsheathes Bichen and stabs it into the earth, which only creates a deep furrough as it is dragged through mud and grass. Next, he attempts to stab the tortoise, but it shuts its eyes against the glare of his sword, and the armor even on the eyelids is impenetrable. Strong, he notes, thoughts broken into bite-sized pieces by the pain radiating from his leg. Fangs, he notes separately, a thousand serrated edges dig into his flesh.
Wherever it goes, they both must follow; Wei Ying cannot untangle himself either, not with a fast-paced target. A wave of pain pulls at his thoughts like a riptide. When he surfaces again, Wei Ying has caught himself on the blackened shell the tortoise is pulling him toward. "Catch!"
Lan Wangji drops Bichen and catches the lip as well. The tortoise does not stop pulling. Instantly, he wonders if it will pull his leg clean off, but he trusts Wei Ying.
He watches Wei Ying let go of everything, leaping forward toward the mouth of the tortoise and forcing it open. A stupid plan. A straightforward one. He's one of the most powerful cultivators Lan Wangji has ever met, but when he goes to pry the jaws of the beast open, Lan Wangji still feels a frisson of anxiety tear through him.
If he loses his leg because he distracted himself playing with Wei Wuxian, he will never, ever forgive himself.
It takes longer than he'd like, or perhaps time is merely stretching around the pain. For a while, all he feels is relief as the pressure eases, until finally he can see a small gap where Wei Ying has pushed the jaws apart. It's an incredible feat of strength, even for his level of cultivation. Wei Ying's passion does him credit.
The moment he can do so without tearing his leg cleanly off, Lan Wangji pulls it out of the beast's mouth, the two of them tumbling out of the shell in tandem. The fall is nothing to cultivators of their ability, but when Lan Wangji goes instinctively to roll into a standing position, he crumples.
He ignores the pain, summoning WangJi instead. His discordant, aggressive notes slam a wall of spiritual power over the opening in the tortoise's shell—when it hits the barrier, the sound of its roar is almost deafening.
"Go," he says through gritted teeth, "call help. I will hold." He's not likely to get reception within the cave.
"Are you crazy?" Wei Ying's hand is already disappearing into his qiankun pocket, the other tight around the hilt of his naked blade. He's never even asked what Wei Ying's sword is called. Seems a strange thing not to know, now that they're in a life or death scenario for the first time.
Focus. There is no time to persuade him; this beast would be manageable were they both at full strength, but it's best not to risk it when he's critically injured. He opens his mouth to try anyway when the beast snaps its head against the spiritual barrier again, cracking through his power slightly.
The rock behind them shifts with ominous intent.
Wei Ying turns in horror. Lan Wangji forces himself not to do the same as he shores up his hastily-erected barrier. Dust clogs the air around them as rumbling, crashing, and the sound of rock breaking fill the room.
When he has a moment to look, he realizes it's the first time he's seen Wei Ying worried.
The tortoise hits the barrier with bruising force; Lan Wangji can no longer focus on this new, vulnerable side of Wei Ying.
"Is there anywhere," he asks, starting to feel light-headed, "to hide?"
Wei Ying snaps into action, eyes darting madly throughout the system of caves they've found themselves in. "Tunnels—too small for the shell. You ready?"
"As I can be." The beast tries to brute force through his spiritual energy again, clearly not the most intelligent creature. Lan Wangji has just enough strength to hold the line before dismissing WangJi and allowing Wei Ying to pull him onto his back.
Once, his face was probably thin enough that he would refuse, but he feels only gratitude and a hint of apprehension at the teasing that will follow when they are free. He is carried into a tunnel, around a bend, and deposited in a small dead-end. Both of them pant heavily into the silence.
Yes. That is a succinct summary of their problems.
With a grimace, Lan Wangji calls Bichen back to him, slicing the leather off his calf and carefully peeling it from the wound. It stings, sending a wave of pain rushing over him. He manages to breathe through it by shutting his eyes.
When he opens them again, Wei Ying hovers over him.
"Stop that," he snaps, kneeling to get a closer look at Lan Wangji's leg. Stop what? He doesn't ask, thoughts slower than they should be. Lan Wangji rests his head against the cave wall and lets Wei Ying do as he wishes.
They are required to carry basic medical supplies in their qiankun pockets for these situations, but Lan Wangji's experience with using them is mostly theoretical. Wei Ying, on the other hand, seems to have practice. He summons an herbal disinfectant spray from his own pocket rather than asking for Lan Wangji's; it must be the blood loss that makes his heart beat a little faster when he catches it. Wei Ying doesn't seem to think it's noteworthy. Entirely focused in a way Lan Wangji hasn't observed from him before, he bends his face low to examine the wounds, one hand holding his hair to the side. Even in its ponytail, it's long enough to skim the cuts if he isn't careful.
Beautiful. The thought almost forms aloud. Lan Wangji realizes he's a bit dazed.
"It is okay."
Wei Ying's angry gaze catches his. "None of this is okay, so stop it."
He can't help it; his lips twitch toward a smile. Wei Ying's expression shifts, eyes once angry now blown wide, pupils huge, until the silver-grey at the edges is but a mere sliver. "Lan Zhan?"
"Okay to spray," he clarifies. Lan Wangji can handle the sting. Wei Ying blinks, then laughs a beat too late, strangely out of sync. He looks down at the wound again.
"Right," he mutters. Lan Wangji is unsure if the speaking is for for his benefit or Wei Ying's. "Okay." He takes the nozzle in hand and sprays down the length of the cuts. It carries the expected sting, but Lan Wangji is buoyed at the thought of any toxins carried between the beast's teeth or in its fangs being neutralized and expelled. Wei Ying, too, is surprisingly cautious—watching him now, you would never know the way his hands never seem to sit still, nor guess at how fluttery he typically is.
The concentration is endearing.
When he can't stand it anymore, Lan Wangji puts his thoughts into words: "You are good at this."
Wei Ying laughs. Lan Wangji does not point out the hitch in his breaths. "That's all Qing-jie. She wouldn't let me quit practicing until I was perfect. 'You can deplete your spiritual power,'" Wei Ying mimics, doing a decent impression of what sounds like an imposing woman, "'but you will always know how to bandage your wounds.' I never forgot." Bandages as secure as he can get them, Wei Ying tests them one last time. "She always says it's Jiang Cheng and A-Ning that worry, but secretly, she's gone soft on me."
Lan Wangji connects the dots. "You speak of Wen Qing." Technically a rogue cultivator due to a nasty split with the Wens, Wen Qing is a formidable name. She has attempted to start her own medicinal sect, the Dafan Wen, but it's only barely getting off the ground. Should the experiment be successful, it may encourage other ancillary families from great sects to split from their roots, which is not a practice the Great Sects want encouraged. She faces much adversity. Lan Wangji has followed her career with interest. He had not realized she had such close ties with Yunmeng Jiang.
"Surprised?" Lan Wangji nods, provoking a tired smile from his partner. "I'm glad." Wei Ying busies himself tucking extraneous supplies away, shoving a pill into Lan Wangji's palm at the last second. "Qing-jie always says Jiang Cheng is too obvious, but he can be sneaky when he wants to be. He lets people think he's all bluster so they won't look too closely."
Lan Wangji's fuzzy mind takes a few extra seconds to connect those dots. "They are romantically involved?"
"Engaged." Wei Ying seems to brighten when he speaks of it. "I set them up, but they never give me any credit. How is it that I can be so heroic and no one ever notices?"
In the bare light, it's difficult to judge how serious Wei Ying's expression is. Lan Wangji looks at him through half-shut eyes. "You are good at reminding them." He holds out his palm, where the pill Wei Ying gave him still rests. "What's this?"
It's not that Lan Wangji doesn't trust Wei Ying, but putting anything foreign into his body without understanding it is cause for concern.
Wei Ying produces an airplane-sized bottle of water from his pocket, the tiny ones that hold so little water they can be considered a crime against the environment in their own right. "Something Qing-jie and I cooked up. It's experimental, so you don't have to take it, but I've had it before and I think you should. Helps with the pain."
"Blocking the receptors. As far as I can tell, it uses the same total body control principles we learn in cultivation on a more refined scale. It'll only last a few hours, but if I can't get any cell service, we're going to have to kill that thing ourselves."
Lan Wangji considers that. In spite of his distaste for the bottle, he takes it and finishes it off, the pill sliding smoothly down his throat. He puts the empty bottle and cap into his own qiankun pocket, much to Wei Ying's amusement.
"No littering in the murder turtle's house?"
"It is more likely a tortoise," Lan Wangji corrects, ignoring the teasing altogether. "Do you remember studying the Divine Beasts?"
A theory has been coming together at the back of his mind. He spent a great deal of time in the Sanctum Library during his most recent mandatory sabbatical, and is more immediately familiar with things learned in his youth than he otherwise might be. A moment of frustration comes over him that he can remember these things and not Wei Ying, but then, the accounts of a demi-Xuanwu seem less trivial now that he can use them for something.
"That is not the Divine Beast Xuanwu." Of course Wei Ying would remember so easily. Lan Wangji takes a moment to quietly marvel at the pace of his mind. "I don't even think the divine beasts were real!"
"Mn, but it may be where the legend originated. There are records of a Tusha Xuanwu thought to be an imitation of the divine beast. It rampaged in this area several centuries ago before it was driven underground by a group of cultivators, disappearing altogether."
"What, it's just been hibernating? Like a bear? I will never be able to look at the fat bear contest the same way again, this is terrible—"
"By some estimates, it killed nearly 400 people. Perhaps it was full."
Wei Ying stops his nervous rambling, giving him a skittish look. "Tusha Xuanwu went into a food coma."
"It is not outside the realm of possibility."
He squints at Lan Wangji for a moment, suspicious, before a tired smile blooms on his face. Lan Wangji is satisfied.
"Lan Zhan, I've just realized something."
"I don't think you're boring at all."
No, he was not satisfied before. This is what satisfaction feels like.
Unfortunately, the Xuanwu choose that moment to investigate their absence, rattling the cave around them as it tries to snake its head through the tunnel. Dust and light debris fall onto their heads. The neck of the tortoise cannot actually reach them this far around the bend, but he hears the teeth ferociously snap on its way out.
"Try your phone," he tells Wei Ying, who fumbles immediately for his qiankun pocket.
He frowns down at the screen, then tries standing and holding it above his head. "I have a bar!"
The first call he attempts is to Jiang Wanyin, but it doesn't connect. The bar isn't consistent enough; every time he attempts the call, it drops a second after it connects. Frustrated, Wei Ying types out a text instead, holding up the phone and waiting until a specific moment to send.
They wait. Lan Wangji only remembers to breathe when he hears Wei Ying's sigh of relief.
"It went through!" He kneels to shove the phone into Lan Wangji's face, showing a text to "shidi <3 <3 <3" which reads:
BIG CAVE ON THE NEWS SHIDI COME QUICK UN-CAVE-IN US LZ INJURED BRING QING-JIE
Lan Wangji raises a brow at Wei Ying, who laughs, interrupted only when the cave rumbles around them again. The Xuanwu's roars are starting to grate on his ears.
"I bet you text your brother with perfect grammar," he teases. The jab hits its mark, but Lan Wangji has no time to worry about it. A sickening crunch puts a crack on the wall on their right.
Things are about to go very, very badly.
His leg works no better when he moves to use it, but he is able to work his thoughts around the pain at a much faster rate. Wei Ying was right; it's not about fixing anything, just about holding off the suffering a little longer. Considering his options, he draws Bichen and balances atop his sword with his good leg. Once he feels confident he won't fall off, he summons WangJi again. "That wall will not survive another hit," he points out to Wei Ying. "Ideas?"
"Full of 'em! Mostly sucky ones." He waits. Lan Wangji has been called many things, but he is not impatient. They are low on time, but not so low that Wei Ying has to improvise. Wei Ying's eyes rake over him, puzzling something out—all he can do to assist is stand very, very still.
Wei Ying's expression hardens into resolve.
"You're a Lan heir. Did you learn all the family spells?" His eyes flicker toward WangJi. Lan Wangji is not slow.
"You are thinking of Chord Assassination." It is a technique forbidden by current Gusu Lan principles unless in life-threatening circumstances. Luckily, this would qualify. "I am proficient, yes."
He catches Wei Ying's eyes dropping down to his hands where they rest at his sides. Resists the urge to flex them or curl his fingers into fists.
"Cool, uh, great." Wei Ying coughs in the middle of his statement. "Won't be hard to lure it into attacking. When the head's out of the shell, use Chord Assassination on the neck and hold it steady, but far enough away that the head can't reach you. When it's distracted, I'll climb in the shell and start stabbing."
"And if the Xuanwu bites through the string?"
"You have to get it close to the head, like a snake. How's your aim?"
Lan Wangji rolls his eyes and doesn't dignify that with a response. Wei Ying likely wants to tease him more, but they hear a rumbling crunch from outside. The Xuanwu must be walking closer, hoping it can force its shell through the wall of the cave at last and devour them whole.
Centuries of hibernation must have made it somewhat ravenous. They've run out of time.
When Wei Ying gestures toward mouth of the tunnel, Lan Wangji can do nothing but nod. He's lucky to have Bichen; he certainly wouldn't be able to keep upright without the relationship he has with his sword and its comforting presence beneath his working leg. From his qiankun pocket, he retrieves a carefully rolled guqin string. He prefers to restring WangJi himself, which is lucky, because he does not have Lan Yi's practice with spiritually unstringing his guqin at a moment's notice.
He has never employed the Chord Assassination Technique outside of a practice chamber. Uncle will not be pleased. Lan Xichen, on the other hand, will be quite impressed.
The moment they get within smelling distance of the Xuanwu, the head snaps out toward the scent of Lan Wangji's blood. There is no time to think—he has bare seconds to spare as he casts outward with string and spiritual power alike, but it works.
Snared at the neck, the beast thrashes, but Lan Wangji holds steady, already feeling the string start to chafe against his palms. "Go," he says, proud of how steady his voice is.
Wei Ying does not hesitate. His build is suited to speed and dexterity, which he uses in equal measure as he takes a running leap toward the hollow of the tortoise's shell. There are wet squelching sounds not long after he disappears, like boots in thick mud. Lan Wangji would look, but all of his focus is dedicated to holding the head in place, not allowing it to squirm out of his reach and go after Wei Ying until he's done.
The strings begin to cut into his palms. An indeterminate amount of time has passed, both too short and too long, minutes or perhaps several hours. He enters a faux-meditative state in an attempt to center his being on this one task, ignoring the blood trickling down his wrists, enticing further hungry roars from the creature before him. In the damp cold of that cave, Lan Wangji is not only patient—he seeks to merge with patience itself.
It can be called a mixed success.
He does manage to focus, but his concentration is too deep. He does not hear Wei Ying's panicked shouts, though he will be told of them later; apparently, he almost lost his sword in the corpse sludge. He also does not hear the sounds of Jiang cultivators breaking through the rocks which block the cave entrance, though they take a great deal of time and are not exactly quiet. The only thing that penetrates his focus is Wei Ying's cheer of delight as he manages to stab something vital through the thin skin inside the shell; the beast screams and rages while Lan Wangji tightens the string around its neck.
One moment, he is straining furiously. The next, the head of the tortoise falling to the ground, Wei Ying's head poking out from the shell as the remaining body hits the ground with a thundering crash.
"Did we do it?"
Lan Wangji's hands are bleeding heavily. He looks down at them, then up at Wei Ying, who is covered in what looks like the mud of half-digested human remains.
"Lan Zhan, that was amazing! You just—"
But whatever he just is left unsaid. Struggling to reboot his brain, he watches in horror as a bashe—their bashe, he recognizes the diamond patterns on her head as a match to the infants in the nest—slithers over the defeated shell of the Xuanwu, still dripping water from the pond just beyond. It must have come to make a new home here as well; the cave is cool and dark, and would be a beacon to a beast of its kind.
Even as he opens his mouth to shout, the bashe snaps her teeth into Wei Ying's torso, cutting off his sentence altogether. Instinctively, Wei Ying shoves his blade back into her eye, narrowly avoiding his own body as he does. The bashe falls to the side. Wei Ying's side gushes blood.
"Found her too?" he asks, dazed. "Two for one, Lan Zhan, we got really lucky."
Lan Wangji makes it just in time to catch Wei Ying as he passes out, Bichen dipping slightly beneath the weight.
Wei Wuxian is falling asleep. Lights flash above him, too bright sometimes and too dark at others. He ignores them as best he can. Sometimes Wen Qing swims in his vision, others it's Lan Zhan, aloof but so, so close.
He thinks Lan Zhan might be holding his hand, actually. That's weird. Nice, but weird.
There are a lot of people talking around him. No, a few, but a lot of chatter. His body feels achey and boneless. He tries to move, but there's a searing pain on his side. "Am I on fire?" he tries to ask, but it comes out as more mumble than word. It doesn't sound like anything at all by the time it hits his ears.
"Quiet." That's nice, who's talking? Oh, it's Lan Zhan. He's never admitted to it, but he thinks Lan Zhan has a nice voice—low and mellow, like an audiobook or those ASMR videos Jiang Cheng uses to fall asleep.
Wait, he's not meant to agree with Lan Zhan. "No," he manages, very articulate, thank you, Wei Wuxian.
The hand holding his squeezes once. "You must not talk," he hears from the nebulous space above his head, "or you will interfere with Wen Qing's work."
Oh. He doesn't want to do that. It must be important, because Lan Zhan's voice is strained, and that's a lot of emotion for him to show all at once. He's proud that he can tell the difference.
Before, he thought that Lan Zhan was one sound, not a melody but an endless tone that droned in his skull. He wanted to break the monotony; even the staccato pause when Lan Zhan responded to him was better than that awful noise. Now, Wei Wuxian hears all sorts of notes in Lan Zhan, so many things he didn't notice or wasn't shown. He finds himself hanging on the end of every one, hoping to follow the tune just a little longer.
An idea forms.
"Play?" If he can hear Lan Zhan's music, it will distract him from that swelling, stabbing pain.
"There is no room for WangJi here." Wei Wuxian desperately wants to ask, someday, why Lan Wangji has a guqin named WangJi. Is that not too self-referential? Was he given his courtesy name because his guqin is named WangJi? Which came first, the Wangji or the WangJi, ha ha ha?
There's not enough breath in him to ask now. Before he can try asking something else, that hand squeezes again.
"Quiet. I will sing."
Wei Wuxian has never heard Lan Wangji sing before. A song to carry him away. It won't be the same as shijie's lullabies when he was small, still frail enough to get sick, so skinny you could count his ribs and prone to fever every other month.
So it's not the same, but it's similar. Good. The song makes him feel warm from head to toe, even with no words to it, just a hum in Lan Zhan's low voice. When he finally falls asleep it stays with him, a soundtrack to dreams he doesn't remember when he wakes.
The next two days are not easy. He and Wei Ying are both supposed to be resting, but Lan Wangji was offered the choice to go into the office if he would like, so long as he uses crutches on day one and does nothing strenuous for the 2-3 days of healing that will follow. He's annoyed at how cumbersome it is—rarely does he end up actually injured on a job, he's meticulous and a strong cultivator—but he puts up with it as best he can. There is a lot of paperwork, after all: forms to justify commandeering an area outside their territory, things to sign related to him being injured on the job, the report on the hunt itself, a separate report to the NCC on the hunt and how he got injured. It fills the first day without Wei Ying so thoroughly that he can mostly ignore the empty desk in front of him.
By the second day, he learns to hate the office.
Lan Wangji spends the morning filling out Wei Ying's paperwork just to give himself something to do. It's perilously close to cheating, but judging the way things are run here, he would bet Jiang Wanyin cares little for who does it as long as it gets done. He leaves them in a neat stack on Wei Ying's desk with a pastel blue post-it that reads 'to be signed' and finds he has run out of busywork altogether.
Being confined to a desk may, in fact, be torture. The hyperbole makes him wonder, not for the first time, if this much proximity to Wei Ying is good for him.
By noon, he's made up his mind to go home. Lan Wangji packs his things away rapidly, annoyed at his slow pace of movement even though it will pass far sooner than an ordinary person's injury would allow. He rarely allows himself to sulk, but this is his body, and he wants it to work to his standards, whether or not they are unreasonable. Lights off, he heads out of the Inner Sanctum for the day.
He's only just starting the drive when he gets a call.
"Lan Wangji speaking."
"Aiyou, Lan Zhan, so formal! Aren't we closer than that?"
He does not say how much of a relief it is, hearing Wei Ying sound so cheerful. "Wei Ying. How do you feel?"
"Aw, you do care. I'm alright! A little stir crazy, actually. Did you go to work? Jiang Cheng said you were in right on time yesterday, which is ridiculous, you almost got eaten by Tusha Xuanwu!"
His usual response would be a deflection, but he finds he does not want to deflect with Wei Ying. Perhaps it is made easier by the lack of eye contact.
"I would rather work. It is as you said."
"Ah, you too? Still, you can't have any more paperwork to do. You type fast for an old man." This joke is familiar; more signs that Wei Ying is rapidly on the mend. "Anyway, did you?"
"Go to work again!" Wei Ying's chirp blares through his speakers, but Lan Wangji cannot find the strength to turn down the volume.
He thinks, briefly, about lying so Wei Ying will not have the opportunity to tease. This plan is foiled by his strong belief in being honest with those he values the opinions of.
He did not realize he valued Wei Ying's opinion until this point.
"I did. I have just left."
"Lan Zhan, did you take a half day?" Yes, he is definitely preparing to tease. Lan Wangji glares at the speaker. Wei Ying cannot see him, but it is fulfilling nonetheless.
"There was nothing left to do."
"Not even my stuff?"
"I filled out your reports as well."
"I was joking! Fuck, Lan Zhan, did you really do mine too?"
His ears are burning at the sound of Wei Ying's laughter. Perhaps if he does not speak, Wei Ying will drop the topic.
"You're a lifesaver. Not mine, A-Cheng's, he tried to bring them over last night and I almost killed him. Really, I could kiss you!"
His ears are now officially on fire. Lan Wangji has not thought about kissing Wei Ying before, but now that he has, his brain does not want to let go of it. This thought clings to him throughout the rest of the drive, sticky and meddlesome even as their conversation moves past it.
"Anyway, you're heading home?"
"Cool, cool... I was wondering, uh. Was your offer to visit the bunnies a legit one?"
Lan Wangji almost runs a light. The car jerks to a stop, his seat belt tight over his chest. "It was." He has no clue how his voice has managed to come out so even, because if Wei Ying is asking what he thinks he's asking, then—
"Like, I can take advantage of that? Say, right now?"
—then he will have Wei Ying in his home.
It doesn't take long to think of an answer. Such a concept is incongruous with his understanding of the world, but he wants it. The idea that he should want it is no longer quite so surprising, with the thought of kissing still on his mind, the tenor of Wei Ying's voice still coming from all sides.
"Or another time," he says. Lan Wangji must have been too slow to respond. "I know it's last minute, it's just that I'm just stuck here and I can only send stupid memes to Nie-xiong on WeChat for so long before I lose my—"
"Wei Ying. It is fine. The only problem is time."
"Minzhe and Jiao live in the Cloud Recesses. That is four hours by train."
"Oh." Wei Ying's voice dims a little. "That's fine, then, if you — "
"I do not mind." His heartbeat is very fast, now. "If you are willing to go, I am also willing."
"Lan Zhan, missing that much work?"
"I have been told to rest for another two days after this, as have you. We are not expected." That's probably pushing it; even the Yunmeng Jiang disciples know he's a workaholic. It's just—
The thought of sitting alone in the office for two more days like this one... it would not really be missing much, if he were to leave for the remainder of his healing.
If you're sure." This hint of insecurity surprises Lan Wangji, who has never seen him unsure of his welcome. Perhaps it is the wound.
"I would not invite you otherwise."
This time he can hear the smile in Wei Ying's voice when he replies. "I believe you. Okay, I'll get ready. What time should I be at the station?"
"Can you pack quickly?"
"Then give me your address."
"Mine?" His voice has risen an octave.
"I will meet you."
"Oh." Relief colors his tone. "Oh, yeah, absolutely, that's fine. Faster the better, I guess." He rattles off an address about half an hour from Lan Wangji's temporary residence.
"You are not far from me. I will see you in an hour."
"Sounds good! I don't know what I'd do staying here any longer." The phone clicks off before he can respond, leaving the air oddly dead in the silence.
He will need to pack a bag. That should not take long. He will also need to buy tickets and text his brother (who will text his uncle and have the jingshi prepared even if he is not physically at home, because Brother is Brother). Still, the thought of returning home fills him with more elation than it typically does.
Perhaps it is Wei Ying's presence that has changed his view. He catches himself wondering what the roof of Wei Ying's mouth would taste like and resolves to have his thoughts in order by the time he sees him once more in the flesh.
Wei Wuxian does not freak out as he shoves his bag into the trunk of the Didi. Really, he doesn't. Sure, it was impulsive of him to agree to spending a four-day weekend with someone who previously had blocked out all memory of him and possibly only considered him a friend starting two days ago after undergoing a harrowing trauma together, but. He trails his hands over the door handle before climbing in and tries to exude cool.
Normally he would throw himself down into the seat. Today, he sits with all the gentle qualities of an ordinary man in his early hundreds, wincing slightly. Lan Zhan frowns at him, having taken the Didi from his place first. Wei Wuxian's address is on the way.
"Are you permitted to travel?"
"As long as I take it easy." He thinks this defies Wen Qing's other "don't do anything stupid" order, but it's only stupid for him and the weird dreams he's been having. Wei Wuxian is used to nightmares; he doesn't know how to handle these new, softer dreams of warmth, where he lies in the grass and listens to his favorite people talking all around him, Lan Zhan's song in the distance as the backbone of everything.
None of that makes any sense.
Lan Zhan is currently looking out the window, the midday sun running through his eyes and making them look like pure gold.
He clears his throat. How did they get into the only Didi he's taken in the last year without music playing? Silence is so not his friend.
"I'm surprised your uncle hasn't, like, banned me from ever returning." Fuck. His mouth is not his friend.
"Were you so disobedient?"
Ah. The dreaded memory loss. Even with his and Jin Zixuan's illness explanations, it's starting to grate on Wei Wuxian's nerves again. Not that it's Lan Zhan's fault, but he's never been good at keeping his feelings to himself, regardless of whether someone's actually at fault. One need only look at Jin Zixuan himself for evidence.
He takes a breath and tries to let the hurt pass, answering as normally as possible. "Just about every way I could be. That month of copying was the worst mistake Lan Qiren could have made; once I knew the rules by heart, I could break them deliberately. Some might even say vindictively!" He laughs a little, unable to help himself. "That was a good summer. We were sixteen, and I think you were sure I'd forgotten the rules. You got so mad when I started finishing all your sentences and you realized I knew, but it wasn't going to stop me." He turns his head, cheek pressed against the seat so he can look at Lan Zhan's profile.
It's unfair how good he can look, sometimes. His hair is unbound today. He's wearing jeans. Briefly, Wei Wuxian thinks Lan Zhan should be made illegal. He already looked good in white leather, which obviously no one is supposed to do, and now he's swaddled in some huge white sweater without diminishing his killing aura in the least.
Wei Wuxian watches Lan Zhan swallow. He's never considered someone's throat attractive before. "Wei Ying." He doesn't finish the thought, leaving it to awkwardly hang in the air between them. Or maybe there was no other thought? Sometimes, Wei Wuxian does the same with Lan Zhan. He just likes the syllables on his tongue. Better than Wei Wuxian's name, really, which is—
That was not what he expected.
"About what?" He tries to think of anything that would require such a serious apology between them and finds nothing. "The bashe? It came out of nowhere, Lan Zhan, I wouldn't—"
Their Didi pulls to a stop, cutting the conversation short until they're in the queue for security, pushing the cart with their luggage on it using a little spiritual energy. Neither of them are meant to strain their bodies, anyway.
He faces backward, knowing Lan Zhan will tell him if he needs to move up in the queue. He wonders if Lan Zhan will drop the subject entirely. Sometimes Wei Wuxian does that, when the thought of apologizing overwhelms him—usually with Jiang Cheng.
Ah, no. That's determination on his face. When he tries again, Lan Zhan's voice is low and soft, likely trying to avoid eavesdropping. He's such a private person. Wei Wuxian leans closer to hear him.
"I wish," he says, jaw clenched, "I wish I remembered those things." A tiny furrow of frustration has appeared between his brows, a far cry from his normal expressionless state.
Wei Wuxian blinks heavily at him.
"There's nothing you can do about it," he points out, though the apology floods him with warmth. He knows he's been a baby about it, especially in his own mind, but it's gratifying (and embarrassing) that Lan Zhan noticed. Jiang Fengmian always said he was born with a smiling face; maybe that's true, but Jiang Yanli can always tell when they aren't genuine, and it seems as though Lan Zhan is getting decent at it too.
He doesn't want to say it's fine, even though that's on the tip of his tongue. It occurs to him that this must be just as frustrating for Lan Zhan. Imagine having an entire area of your life just forgotten?
"Do you want me to tell you about it?"
Lan Zhan looks briefly surprised. Has the idea never occurred to him, or is it the offer and source catching him off guard? He blinks and the emotion smooths into nothingness. Wei Wuxian feels annoyance creeping back beneath his skin.
"En." This mollifies the strange beast trying to awaken in his chest. What is wrong with him lately? "Yes," Lan Zhan says, "I would like that."
No one should ever give Wei Wuxian such a large platform to take advantage of. He's going to talk Lan Zhan's ears off.
(Not that he hadn't planned on doing that before.)
The story of their first meeting—sword fighting along the walls over a few bottles of Emperor's Smile, both of them fifteen and overconfident—takes them all the way through security, where Lan Zhan flashes his NCC badge. Wei Wuxian belatedly realizes he must have used it to get him a ticket without knowing his passport number. The thought of telling Lan Zhan's teen self that he just broke the rules to let Wei Wuxian pet some bunnies fills him with glee.
When he tells the story of how Jiao mounted Minzhe right in front of them moments after Wei Wuxian deposited them on his bed, Lan Zhan refuses to look at him for twenty straight minutes. He does not admit to his bunnies being an old married couple by now, either, even when Wei Wuxian slides to the floor of the train car and begs from his knees.
Lan Wangji enjoys being home. The Cloud Recesses are a soothing environment, the quiet burble of rivers and streams replacing the bustle of the city in his ears. He likes his car, likes that he has his own spot reserved at the foot of the mountain, even when Wei Ying teases his prius for its lack of dust and eco efficiency.
Most surprising, he likes Wei Ying here.
He's been regaled for the past four and a half hours with tales of why Wei Ying would consider himself banned; he can even see why his teenage self would be so frustrated with him, submerged in the rules as he was to avoid his anxiety about straying out of bounds.
Most of the Gusu Lan principles are to ensure their countenance remains upright and in accordance with righteous standards. Wei Ying's life is righteous. The rules he breaks are more literal interpretations than the day to day sect still adheres to, though he can see why such a person would grate on his uncle and his strict rhythms. He is more conservative than most—with what happened between Lan Wangji's parents, the adult he's become finds it difficult to be overly harsh in his interpretations of Uncle's behavior.
"You're sure they haven't added a line to the wall? 'Do not associate with Wei Wuxian?'"
Had it been so, I would have remembered your name, Lan Wangji nearly says. He stills his tongue out of respect for the recent nature of their conversation. It is, as they say, a bit too soon.
"I am sure," he replies, settling into the drive.
He would usually ride Bichen or climb the thousand steps, were he returning on a normal day. Due to their limited mobility, he finds himself instead on the back access road, mainly used for disability access to the mountain and never before something he's needed to use. The trees are more lovely than he remembers. It is... peaceful.
"You miss home," Wei Ying determines. When Lan Wangji looks over at him, he's shifted enough to look back, gaze heavy on Lan Wangji's cheek. It's foolish for this to feel intimate. Lan Wangji has spent prolonged periods in Wei Ying's space, trapped together in an office, for many days of late.
And yet. Here they are with no fighting leathers in sight. Whisps of hair fall from Wei Ying's ponytail, framing his face in a way that softens his angular features, sweetening them.
He cannot help flashing back to how Wei Ying looked on his knees in the crowded train car. Lan Wangji forces his eyes back on the road.
"Sometimes." He surprises himself in answering. He is not immune to Wei Ying's social graces; his constant babbling makes it feel okay to indulge in frivolous talk as well, for nothing more than sharing a little more of himself with someone he... likes. "I enjoy my position."
Lan Wangji exhales through his nose. "You are right. This is home."
Wei Ying yawns, surprisingly kittenish with it. "I always said I'd live anywhere, so long as it's only a train away from shijie." When Lan Wangji chances another look at him, Wei Ying's eyes are half-lidded, the leg on his uninjured side curled up to his chest. It is a mark of his enjoyment of Wei Ying's company that he feels nothing seeing Wei Ying's shoe on his interior. "Jiang Cheng would go crazy without me there, though. He talks tough—" Wei Ying makes claws out of his hands, his mouth doing a small snarl, "—but he'd be lonely. What about your brother?"
"What about him?"
"Zewu-jun is a lot older than us; I know Mingjue-ge thinks we're all just unruly kids, even now. I'm only a few days older than Jiang Cheng, and in public he'll always be my superior, but that's my shidi, you know?"
He does, or at least he's seen it in the way Jiang Wanyin and Wei Ying interact. When they aren't speaking of sect business, there is a lot of ribbing. Wei Ying's general streak of hubris and self-importance makes itself known more in the presence of Jiang Wanyin than anyone else.
Lan Wangji's relationship with his brother differs greatly, but when Wei Ying explains, he can somewhat see the similarities.
"Xichen travels often as well." As Sect Leader, he splits his time between traveling for the council and staying home with sect business. It is not often they cross paths in person. "When he is busy with NCC matters, Uncle oversees the day-to-day running of our sect." This job would normally go to Lan Wangji as sect heir, but considering he's only temporarily taken on the position, their circumstances are unique. Exceptions have been made.
Wei Ying laughs. "Yeah, I bet you tell that to every newspaper who knocks. Gimme the dirt! Does he also get under your skin?" He sounds delighted at the idea. "Zewu-jun is always so serene, I bet he drives you up a wall."
He has flashes of Xichen's teasing smile from throughout his life. Perhaps he is one of three people in the world who understand the variation between his brother's various smiles. It is in the eyes, if you know where to look; he makes it very hard for people generally to remember where that is supposed to be.
"How do you know?"
Lan Wangji feels the ridiculous urge to smile again. "That he, as you say, 'drives me up a wall'."
When Wei Ying laughs, he does so with his whole body. When he really gets into it his shoulders shake. "Lan Zhan, I'm not supposed to laugh more than a little," he whines, breathless with it.
Guilt and satisfaction walk hand in hand in his chest.
"It is not often," Lan Wangji feels the need to point out. "We are close, I think, though I have little to compare it to. He..." His ears heat. "I am not known for being easily read. He has always been able to do so."
Wei Ying reaches out and pats Lan Wangji's thigh. It's only three touches, brief and brusque. He might as well have lingered for how fast Lan Wangji's heart is pounding.
At least, he thinks desperately, I wore my hair unbound today. Hopefully no part of his ear is showing.
"Lan Zhan ah, the mortifying ordeal of being known! I bet shijie would get along great with Zewu-jun. They should hang out."
He thinks of what he's heard of Jiang Yanli and finds himself agreeing. It is also a convenient way of forcing down his arousal as they pull into the small lot at the top of the mountain.
Some of the Lans have the weirdest vibes.
Not all of them. Wei Wuxian is able to charm the younger ones he meets, for the most part—it's the elders that really mess with him. No matter what flavor he gets from their looks, they're always loaded in a way that immediately gives him the heebie-jeebies.
"You're sure I'm not banned?" he asks for what feels like the thousandth time.
"If you would like to read every rule, I will take you to the Wall of Discipline." Lan Zhan's tone is dry enough to make a cactus shy. Wei Wuxian opens his mouth to tease when he gets his third death glare, this time from a woman with a very ornate guan, the kind normally reserved for historical dramas.
He swallows and wraps an arm through Lan Zhan's, who takes it with as much grace as possible. "Lan Zhan," he whispers, "I think that auntie wants to kill me."
Lan Wangji looks around, frowning. "Lan Xinling?"
"Is that her name? She looked at me with total killing intent!" His whispers are bordering on full-volume again, but they're far enough from her now that he cares less. "If you snuck me in here and I get sacrificed for disobedience or something, I'm going to haunt you."
"I have undergone too many purification rituals for you to haunt me."
"But I'm special. I'd be the coolest, most powerful ghost ever."
"Mn." This is Lan Zhan's 'amused agreement' noise. At first he thought it was his 'you're an idiot' noise, but he missed the thread of indulgence underneath before. He's had a lot of time to go over their interactions after the Xuanwu Cave incident. Some things that didn't make sense before do, now that he's stopped filtering them through a lens of absolute disgust and started considering Lan Wangji as a neutral, or perhaps even positive, presence. It's like something in his hindbrain clicked, and now he sees the overtures of friendship that weren't there before.
The arm-holding, too, is an indulgence. One Wei Wuxian forces himself to stop once they're out of view of Lan Xinling.
Once, on their first night hunt together, Lan Zhan told him he did not like to be touched. Wei Wuxian used to take that as a personal challenge; now that they're (maybe?) friends, it seems rude to continue on like he doesn't know, even if Lan Zhan probably doesn't remember saying it. He can be a good friend! He knows what respect means!
"Anyway, do all your elders really hate rule breakers as much as Lan Qiren?"
"No." Lan Zhan's cool tones have a tiny thread of confusion woven in. Wei Wuxian barely catches it, but it intrigues him. "Uncle is... conservative."
That is hilarious. "You think? Just a touch?"
"He has reason," Lan Zhan points out. Wei Wuxian's ears perk up.
"Not here," he says, and oh. Those kinds of reasons.
"Lan Zhan, you don't have to tell me." He's not that big of an asshole. The thought of Lan Qiren knowing any personal drama of his makes him want to shrivel into a ball and kill someone all at the same time. He's sure Lan Qiren feels the same, but in reverse. "Oh fuck, is that your house?"
The single-level building they're approaching has its own archway on the path, with a sign labeled jingshi in beautifully carved characters. All the wood used to build it, from the archway to the structure itself, is wood so dark it may as well be black. The accents bring white and pale blue, creating the effect of snow bursting through a canopy of trees in terms of its color scheme.
It's beautiful. It's very Lan Zhan.
"Why jingshi?" he asks, unable to help himself. "Surely Hanguang-jun is not so quiet."
He looks just in time to catch the idea of a smile in Lan Zhan's eyes, though it never takes shape. "It was once a meditation room. The sign preserves sect history."
Wei Wuxian narrows his eyes. "You picked this one, didn't you." Not only is it in a quiet section of the Cloud Recesses, it's quite far from the Inner Sanctum, closer to paths leading into the forests or headed off to clearings full of tall grass. They both approach a little out of breath, but Lan Zhan manages to unlock the door and float their belongings along inside before finally letting the talismans he was powering die out.
"Yes, I chose. In case you were unaware, I am not overly fond of people."
His tone and delivery are nonchalant, but when Wei Wuxian glances over at him, Lan Zhan is looking right back, unabashed and tall. It makes him feel bold.
"So long as you're overly fond of me..." Wei Wuxian trails off, winking a little theatrically, "I'd say you simply have taste."
"Hm." Lan Zhan doesn't disagree. He... doesn't disagree? This new tactic makes Wei Wuxian blush to the roots of his hair, and he's furious at it. At last, Lan Zhan has hit upon his only weakness on purpose!
Dreaded sincerity. That absolute bastard.
"So!" He tries not to draw any attention to his weird behavior, not that it is weird, but it feels weird in his brain, and that makes him weird, really. He yawns for what feels like the million billionth time. "So. I know I was very bunny forward on the train. Some might even call me extremely optimistic. But."
Lan Zhan leans against the wall, arms crossed over his chest. The wall conveniently takes weight off his foot and makes him seem entirely nonchalant about things. Damn, he's good. "You want a nap?"
This time, Wei Wuxian can see the fondness in his gaze for what it is. He lets it wash over him like some soothing tropical breeze, trying not to get into his own head about it. It's fine. Lan Zhan and him aren't acting too differently after the murder turtle incident. He can still keep his footing if whatever they do now comes with a softer layer just beneath, an addition he didn't see coming but would have, had he not spent all that time assuming Lan Zhan would hate him forever.
He's doing pretty well until he settles in on the couch—he'll sleep the day away if he goes to the guest room now—and Lan Zhan takes a seat cross-legged on the floor in front of him. "Uh?" he squeaks. It's stupid. Lan Zhan isn't even sitting in front of his face, just at his feet, opening his laptop on the low table in front of the couch.
"Sleep." His voice is almost absent-minded as he starts whatever he's working on. When Wei Wuxian's energy remains stiff, he turns those golden eyes over his shoulder, impassive and heavy. "Wei Ying. When would you like to wake up?"
They're not talking about it. Nope. That's fine. Wei Wuxian can see the peek of Lan Zhan's bare toes from under his leg, shockingly intimate, but no, they definitely aren't talking about it. He can handle that.
"An hour and a half?" He clears his throat, hating that it sounded like a question. "I was reading about REM cycles and they say that's about the length of a full one, so if it works, I'll feel better. I don't usually take naps, I'm not sure—"
"An hour and a half is fine." Lan Zhan turns back to his work, already in the zone. "That will be a good time for the rabbits to eat. I will inform their usual caretakers that we are stepping in."
Just like that. Decisive. Wei Wuxian expects to stew in that for a while, but when he closes his eyes, the scent of sandalwood takes him back to that dream he's been having, where Lan Zhan was singing and everyone was there. He floats on that for a while, dropping off so fast even Wen Qing would be proud.
This is a good opportunity to catch up on sect duties he's been neglecting while on assignment with Wei Ying. Lan Wangji doesn't really take it. He had half a mind to, when he started, but he can fool himself no longer after the third time he catches himself timing his breathing to Wei Ying's. Every five breaths or so, his will hitch, throwing Lan Wangji off his rhythm and causing him to pause until he hears the next normal inhale. Some minor sleep disorder of Wei Ying's, one he probably doesn't even think about.
It's not not cute. It is. Cute.
His brain stutters over the word, not wanting to internalize it. Having Wei Ying in his home, curled under the light blanket he'd previously only seen as decorative, is a lot to process. Tangled dark waves of hair sprawl across his throw pillows. At one point, Wei Ying moves his foot and his sock-covered toes brush Lan Wangji's back.
He does not finish reorganizing this year's cultivation camp schedule. Baling Ouyang's calendar conflicts can wait.
The hour and a half slips through his fingers fast. Even though he's timed it out from Wei Ying's breathing evening out rather than when he laid down, his phone vibrates in his pocket too soon for his comfort. He glances over his shoulder at Wei Ying's open mouth, the beauty mark just below his lip, his slightly uneven hairline.
How to wake Wei Ying?
Lan Wangji moves to stand over him, but that feels imperious. No one would appreciate waking to the sight of his somber face looming over them and blocking the light. Then he goes down on one knee beside the couch, feeling clumsy as he nearly elbows Wei Ying in the stomach. He pauses with his hand hovering over Wei Ying's shoulder.
No response beyond a little nuzzle into the pillow. Lan Wangji's chest hollows out, making room to store this memory. "Wei Ying," he says again, this time grasping his shoulder and shaking it gently. The man in question grumbles, a little sound in the back of his throat. Lan Wangji has no feelings about it.
"You must wake," he commands, desperate not to be alone in the strange intimacy of everything. "If you do not, the rabbits will not eat on time. Will you let them go hungry?"
"Hungry?" he asks, mostly understandable, if very raspy and soft.
"Mn. You may eat as well."
The smudge of his dark lashes flutter a moment against his cheek. Wei Ying soaks in the rays of the sun in ways Lan Wangji never has, his skin kissed with honey, sweet and lively. Dazed grey irises at last come into view. "La—" the sound of his name cuts off in favor of a yawn, ending with the same kittenish wrinkling of his nose as before, "Lan Zhan?"
"Hey." He blinks and manages to clear some of the haze in his expression. "S'dark. Did I oversleep?"
Lan Wangji shakes his head. "Not quite. It is twilight. We are on schedule."
"That's a first." His voice croaks on a vowel, chuckling at his own joke.
Lan Zhan realizes he still has a hand on his shoulder. Panicked, he snatches it back, moving to the other side of the low table in a rush. "It is a small distance to the rabbits," he says, asking without asking if Wei Ying feels up to it.
"I think I can manage a five minute walk." When he looks back, Wei Ying has his arms stretched high above his head, worn black t-shirt riding up on his torso. Lan Zhan averts his eyes, staring resolutely at his closed laptop instead. "Really, I feel a lot better. Maybe there's something to a proper sleep cycle, huh?"
Sometimes, learning about Wei Ying feels like collecting crumbs; for all that he likes to talk, he doesn't speak to his personal life much. The things he shares of himself are outlandish and likely half-true, which Lan Wangji suspects keeps most people from asking. "Wei Ying has trouble sleeping?" He hopes the edge of curiosity doesn't show in his tone. If he had to guess, nonchalance is likely a better tactic than interest.
"Sometimes." The word is accompanied by a vague wave. "Not lately, but it's that feeling, you know, like my brain won't shut off? It just goes, brr, brr, whirring. Never dies down." Many hand gestures accompany this description. Lan Wangji, who has always found it easy to sleep and rise at the same time each morning, does not know. He hums in a vague way and goes to grab boots he will not mind getting mud on.
The forecast had a twenty-five percent chance of rain.
"Grab a coat," he says as he passes the couch. Wei Ying makes no indication that he will move. Pausing at his closet in contemplation, Lan Wangji takes out two; cultivators do not feel the cold as much as ordinary folk, but they grow uncomfortable when soaked through, the same as anyone else.
By the time he's finished, Wei Ying is at the door. He has done nothing to fix his hair. His ponytail is slightly crooked where it sits, tightened but otherwise untouched. The imprint of Lan Wangji's throw pillow is still a fading red mark on his cheek and neck. He seems to notice none of it, bouncing on the balls of his feet as he waits.
"Come on, Lan Zhan, you've been edging me with promises of cuteness all day!"
Lan Wangji blinks at the metaphor. "Have I?"
Something in his expression sets Wei Ying off, throwing his head back in laughter before grasping at his side, wincing. "I told you not to be funny!"
"Wei Ying should stop, first." He opens the door to let them out, dark grey coat thrown over one arm.
He cannot see Wei Ying's surprise from behind him, but he knows it from his tone of mocking outrage as he follows. "You can't blame the injured! Lan Zhan, I'm sick, you should spoil me."
At that, he does look. Wei Ying is taking in the trees and the fading sunset, not looking at him at all.
"We are both injured," Lan Zhan reminds him.
"As our slow pace would indicate." He smiles as he says it. This is his typical act: hey, that was kind of mean, what I just said, but I'm so cute, won't you forgive me?
It is frustrating, to know how well it works on him.
"If I am holding you back," he says, tone dry, "by all means, find your way."
"No no no!" Wei Ying hurries to take Lan Wangji's arm, though he doesn't actually put weight on it, only using it to link them close. "I take it all back. Your aunties would corner me in the woods and we'd cause an intersect incident when my corpse turned up tomorrow all strung up from the trees."
It takes a surprising amount of effort not to roll his eyes. He can admit to having seen many strange looks directed their way, but not all of them have been frosty. Wei Ying is prone to focus on the worst of things. Several Lan elders had actually sent him pleased looks as they passed, though Lan Wangji cannot decipher their cause. Perhaps they have missed the chaos caused by Wei Ying during camp? Surely they would remember it; he cannot imagine any other students have indulged in such antics as Wei Ying described.
Whatever their motivations, the reaction has surprised Lan Wangji, if only in its existence. It is true that he has never brought a friend home to the Cloud Recesses, that he was always known as a solitary child, but Wei Ying is known to be within his peer group, so it cannot be that odd. The fact that there were so many eyes on them today is a mystery he should unravel.
When he can devote any effort to that, which is certainly not when he has Wei Ying pressed so close.
They make a brief stop with Feng Zijing, who is in charge of scattering food for the rabbits while Lan Wangji is away. He says nothing untoward, but his eyes are curious as he notes the casual touch between them. Lan Wangji is not known for throwing an arm around a friend or even being open to hugs, aside from the rare occasion his brother cannot help himself. The brief time Feng Zijing catches his eye, Lan Wangji's look almost dares him to say something, taking the basket and blanket from him when offered.
Wei Ying does not notice. "Wow, such a big basket! All this for two bunnies?"
Feng Zijing gives an amused look. "Hanguang-jun didn't tell you?"
"Tell me what?"
"I think," Lan Wangji cuts in, "it will be best for Wei Ying to observe the surprise."
"Ah." Feng Zijing's look is amused, but he does not spoil anything. "As you say. How long are you here, this time?"
"Three mornings, two evenings."
"I'll stop by tomorrow morning, then." He gives a salute to Wei Ying, as he is the Head Disciple from another sect; though they have lost much of the formality of the old days, the Lans still observe some courtesy. "Wei-gongzi, a pleasure."
Wei Ying waves him off. "Wei Wuxian is fine! Thanks for the bunny food."
Feng Zijing's notably stifles his smile—mindful, perhaps, of Lan Wangji's eyes on him. He bows to him as well. "Hanguang-jun."
As they start down the path again, Wei Ying swings the basket. "Gongzi! He was practically in our age group, couldn't he drop the formality a little? Honestly, you Lans are stuffy as always. He seems nice, though."
Wei Ying's nice causes a vivid fantasy to flash through Lan Wangji's mind; in it, he trips Feng Zijing with absolute subtlety, letting him fall face first into the mud. Wei Wuxian laughs meanly several feet away. By the time he's wrestled loose of such impulse, Wei Ying has moved on, halfway through a conversation on his own.
"—my reputation, Lan Zhan? I am no respectable young master. What happened to 'Wei Wuxian will never make a name for himself' or whatever else xiansheng used to say?"
"The address is not inaccurate," Lan Wangji admits. "I have read your scholarship on the use of talismans and musical cultivation in supplementing a weak core. In addition to being Yunment Jiang's Head Disciple, you are also working toward grandmastery in cursework at a very young age, correct?"
Wei Ying turns wide eyes on him. "Lan Zhan, are you saying you've followed my career?"
"Mn." Truthfully, when seeking out Wei Ying's scholarship, he knew he'd read it before. He could not recall having done so, but the information was stored somewhere in his brain. That's what he gets for subscribing to so many cultivational journals.
So many times he might have crossed paths with Wei Ying, yet he has not, not since they attended camp here in the Cloud Recesses. How can that be possible?
"Ah, well, all that's stuff's just a side project, really."
He tries to downplay it, but Lan Wangji feels like smiling. "Wei Ying outstrips entire careers as a side project. Perhaps they should be more respectful."
Lan Wangji takes a sharp elbow to his side for his efforts. It is worth it to be the cause of Wei Ying's laughter. He always sounds so surprised, like he cannot imagine someone else being so funny, or maybe he cannot imagine Lan Wangji being funny. He hasn't had the courage to inquire as to which.
"You make me sound like such an ass," Wei Ying jokes, forgetting both their injuries to bump Lan Wangji again. Both of them wince. "Fuck, get it together, what is a golden core for if I can't even heal a—oh, Lan Zhan, a bunny!"
"En." There is, in fact, a rabbit on their path. In a few steps that path opens to a clearing, where the rabbits have made their warren and everything smells like fresh earth and grass. Wei Ying's eyes are comically huge.
"There are more than two bunnies?"
"Many more. As it is inadvisable to make pets from wild animals, Jiao and Minzhe were released here. They... attracted friends."
Wei Ying darts ahead. Lan Wangji thinks of reminding him he's not supposed to run, but his enthusiasm is endearing. He follows as fast as his twinging leg will allow, watching as the rabbits scatter at the presence of someone so loud and unruly. He sighs.
"Am I scaring them?" Wei Ying calls back.
He slows to a stop in the center of the clearing, not too far from one of the burrows. Lan Wangji catches up. "They will run from loud noise and sudden movements," he reminds Wei Ying. "They are prey animals."
Wei Ying glares at him. "All I am is loud noise and sudden movements."
Lan Wangji tamps down on a smile. "I have anticipated the challenge. Sit." He sets down the basket and throws out the blanket, worn and grass stained, so they will have somewhere to rest. Wei Ying's eyes crinkle into crescents.
"No grass stains for Hanguang-jun," he teases. "Surely grass would cower rather than giving such offense?"
"Grass does not care for pomp or circumstance." He keeps his tone solemn as he reaches into the basket of wildflowers and delicate bark. "To the fields, we are most useful once we are dead and can be eaten."
"Morbid," Wei Ying says with sharp delight. Lan Wangji is going to develop an addiction. 'Death by trying to delight Wei Ying' will be engraved on his urn. It would not be the worst way to go.
The day turns to night with absolute peace, a rare event in Lan Wangji's life as it stands. He has not allowed himself to sit with it in a long while. Eventually, Wei Ying learns to sit quietly and a few rabbits tentatively hop over, sniffing at his knees and biting at the flower stems on his palm.
"I did it!" he whispers, still loud but manageable. "Lan Zhan, look!"
"Mn." He is so taken with Wei Ying he almost forgets the bark in his own hand. When he feels a nudge at it, he is relieved to see Jiao has come.
He does not need to point them out. Minzhe is not far behind, and Wei Ying spots them before Lan Wangji can say anything, gasping as his free hand flies to his throat.
"Lan Zhan, are those ours?"
"En." His heart is beating fast. He is glad Wei Ying cannot tell. Minzhe hops directly into his lap, settling in without concern for the food at all, old as he is. All he seems to want is the warmth of Lan Wangji's body heat. Wei Ying coos in what seems to be helpless fascination.
It has only been a week since they spoke of it, but he has started thinking of them as Wei Ying's rabbits as well. The two given to him by Wei Ying are, after all, the only two he has named, the only two with elevated importance to him, in what he can admit is a pet-like fashion. '
Wei Ying watches Jiao eating from his hand with rapt attention. "They missed you," he breathes, awed. Lan Wangji tries not to let that please him.
"I do not know that they remember me as such. I am gone more often than I return."
"They definitely miss you," Wei Ying argues, affronted. "Look at Minzhe, he can't get enough!"
Minzhe seems annoyed at Wei Ying's stage-whisper-yells, but not enough to move from where he's turned into a ball on Lan Wangji's lap. He runs his fingertips down Minzhe's back and lets himself imagine a world in which rabbits had good long-term memories.
It is a romantic thought. Sweet, even. There is no harm in letting Wei Ying believe it.
Eventually, basket empty and well into the darkness of evening, Lan Wangji begins to collect their belongings. The blanket he folds tightly enough to be packed into the basket, which he plans to leave on Feng Zijing's doorstep. Wei Ying is considerably slower on their walk back than he was on the way there, but he seems suffused with warmth as well, the cold bringing a small flush to his cheeks that teems with life.
"I still can't believe they survived so long," he says, awed. "Rabbits in the wild only live a couple years, and as you said, they're not pets!"
"Mn. They are protected from predators here. I would say it is somewhere between wildlife and ownership."
"Oh, like a little rabbit protectorate. That's so sweet." Wei Ying sways in his direction, almost knocking both of them off balance and giggling. "Sorry, sorry! I'm beat, even with a nap."
Lan Wangji hums. "Our bodies are working hard to correct our injuries. We will need rest."
"Good thing your sect is so restful, then." It is definitely a tease, but the bitterness in his voice before when he spoke of the Cloud Recesses has faded slightly.
The rabbits have had a positive effect, then.
They make it back with no rain, even taking the time to stop by Feng Zijing's porch and return the basket. "Can we go again tomorrow?" Wei Ying asks as he slides out of his shoes.
"Mn. I will go twice a day. You may come and go as you like." You are not attached to me, he does not say, though it thrums beneath his words. You may go where you like. The thought fills him with anticipation and dread at once.
Wei Ying pauses to watch him hang the two coats. "Why wouldn't I? Who else am I going to hang out with, hm?" He sounds affronted. Lan Wangji hovers between pleased and anxious, still. Wei Ying's expression shifts.
"Lan Zhan, did you bring two coats?"
He looks directly at Wei Ying, whose brows are furrowed. How is it that someone so smart can be totally oblivious to the world around him?
"One of them wasn't for me, was it?"
He does not answer that either, turning instead toward the hall closet, where he grabs the additional bedding for the guest room.
"Hey! Lan Zhan, answer me!" Wei Ying follows him through the hall, blathering on all the way until Lan Wangji shoves a pillow into his hands.
"Good night, Wei Ying."
It takes a very long time to fall asleep around the fact that Wei Ying is in his home, with only one thin wall between them.
Wei Wuxian did not think he'd ever return to the Cloud Recesses. Once cultivation camp was no longer a thing Madam Yu and Uncle forced him into attending, he had even celebrated.
That aside, he really enjoys their long weekend. It takes Lan Zhan a day or so to get him clearance to the Inner Sanctum, but once he has it, they even reminisce in the library, with Wei Wuxian telling him more fun stories from their disastrous weeks of library detention.
Now that they're talking more about it, it's easier to see the pattern of where Lan Zhan's memories stop and start. So easy that a theory begins to coalesce in the back of his mind, though it's mostly half-baked insanity and clearly a product of his ridiculous self-absorbtion.
He can't stop thinking about it, though.
It's not as though Lan Zhan loses all kinds of memories. He remembers being assigned to monitor punishments during camp, and remembers that he had a variety of ill-mannered students to tend to over the years. He remembers finding Minzhe and Jiao on his bed, but he doesn't remember who put them there. He even remembers their punishment for breaking curfew, though when asked, he cannot remember what the infraction was, and it starts them off on a tangent about whether the legal battle over making corporal punishment illegal in cultivation sects will stick this time, so Wei Wuxian forgets to inquire further.
The pattern is distressingly centered on Wei Wuxian. Targeted, almost. Lan Zhan doesn't seem to have picked up on it yet, but Wei Wuxian has noted the specificity and been baffled by it. He even joked about this! The forget Wei Wuxian curse. Can there be such a thing? More importantly, why would there be?
He never considered it out of the realm of possibility for Lan Zhan to... well, not forget his existence, but put it out of his thoughts. He's always found Wei Wuxian difficult to handle. This partnership is the first time he can remember Lan Zhan feeling anything positive toward him, and even that he's chalked up to Lan Zhan's shoddy memory of his worst antics. Pulling him off the wall was one of the worst, because they were both whipped for it, but there are all sorts of ways he's pushed Lan Zhan in their youth. Hell, he pushed him well beyond youth; there was a time when he came up with new theories just to piss Lan Zhan off, or contradict something stuffy he'd been saying.
The cultivation conference, for instance.
He only mentions it off-hand, but it's the thing he's been most curious about. How does Lan Zhan remember that conference? Does he remember it at all? If his suspicions on what Lan Zhan has forgotten are correct, anything is possible.
It's their third night in the Cloud Recesses when Wei Wuxian starts going through Lan Zhan's bookshelves, bored and waiting for him to be finished in the kitchen. The night before they'd gone to a restaurant in Caiyi Town, just at the foot of the mountain, but then Lan Zhan made the mistake of admitting he can cook. Wei Wuxian had immediately started a campaign to needle him into doing so tonight; it took much less haranguing than he would have thought.
You can tell a lot about how someone feels for you based on how they cook for you. Jiang Yanli had been the one to teach him that, insisting that so long as they could cook, he should try coaxing any of his respective partners into doing so for him early on.
A-Xian needs someone who can take care of him, Jiang Yanli teased, patting him on the head. At the time he'd soaked up all her attention and set the thought aside, but it loops in his mind now, regardless of their relationship.
It's not like he's dating Lan Zhan. They're partners. It's a different type of intimacy. One that will be ending soon, as much as he's been enjoying it.
Trying to take his mind off of the expiration date on this forced proximity, he instead grabs a random book off Lan Zhan's shelves. It's on cultivation, of course, but it takes him a moment of flicking through it to realize it's not just that.
It's his. The journal he organized on alternative forms of cultivation, the one he'd sunk nearly all of his savings into and barely broken even on. No one was really interested, which many of his contributors had rightly predicted, though they'd still been happy to do it and happier to take his advance payments. It had mostly been a project of spite. He doesn't regret doing it, exactly, but it's not something that's given him any face, in the cultivation world or outside of it.
He flips to his own chapter: The Theory of Diabolism. All of it has stayed firmly in theoretical territory, but he remembers how proud he'd been, to have organized his thoughts in a professional manner like this. He'd even entertained the notion that someday, somewhere, someone with a weak or damaged golden core might seek it out and test some of those theories—in a safe research setting, of course. Qi deviation is survivable after medical intervention these days, but the golden core is often wiped out by it.
What would it be like for those people to have a new path open to them? If they could work out the possible resentful side effects, of course.
He hasn't thought of the book much in the few years since its release. The shock of seeing it here, in Lan Zhan's place, is a new layer entirely. What would Lan Zhan be doing with such things? Prim, fussy Lan Zhan, who still abides by nearly all the 4,000 rules of Gusu Lan, even though the Sect hasn't held their members to all of them in over a century?
"Lan Zhan!" He can't help it, this is too good. "Your former self would be horrified! Alternative Cultivation: An Exercise in Thought on your shelves? Unless you bought it as emergency fuel for the fireplace, which, knowing you, might be right in your petty wheelhouse. Or did my scholarly pursuits convince you where my arguments at the conference couldn't? Do you need me to talk academia to you more?"
He doesn't like to shout, so it takes some time for Lan Zhan to get things settled enough in the kitchen to head out and speak with him, a dish towel over his shoulder and slight frown on his face. Sort of. Really, his eyes are a little pinched and that's all Wei Wuxian can really see, but it's enough for him to understand as a frown.
He doesn't say you don't remember? because the question would, at this point, be redundant to the point of cruelty. "Our first. We were on a panel together, I mentioned some of my theories on diabolism as an alternative cultivation method for those with damaged cores, you argued that such a thing would harm the user more than it would aid them, we fought about it and you cancelled the rest of your appearances."
This all seems to be news to Lan Zhan. "I have never attended a conference," he says before throwing a frustrated look at the floor. "I do not remember doing so. I have always thought them crowded wastes of time."
He opens his mouth, then closes it, not sure what to say. It's as good as confirmation of his theory. It makes his heart hurt, swelling painfully in his chest.
Did Lan Zhan want to forget him, specifically, this badly? Is this, the version of Lan Zhan who likes him, an anomaly? If he got those memories back, would he hate them, hate himself for ever having interacted with Wei Wuxian, someone so anathema to him he seems to have erased his existence from memory?
Wei Wuxian hands over the book when Lan Zhan gestures for it, a bit dazed. He flips through it a moment, brows actually pinching together the more he does. "I have read this before," he says, "but I do not remember buying it. Nor do I..." He trails off, closing his eyes. Wei Wuxian steps closer, reaching to take the book back and set it back on the shelf.
"Does it hurt?"
Lan Zhan opens his eyes, bewildered. For him, that mostly involves a panicked look in his eye, but it's so unusual on his face that Wei Wuxian feels sucker punched by it. He doesn't answer. Wei Wuxian is pretty sure he knows the answer anyway.
"It's alright." He feels something well in his throat and forces himself to swallow past it. "Lan Zhan, is dinner ready?"
This seems to snap Lan Zhan's attention back in order. "Mn." The panic fades, and Wei Wuxian breathes an inward sigh of relief.
"Let's set the table, okay?"
He goes without complaint, the two of them setting up dinner together. The act of routine, even in an unfamiliar home, settles his nerves, and he can see it does the same for Lan Zhan. Thoughts whir through his mind on fast tracks. If Lan Zhan hated him enough to erase him, why would he buy Wei Wuxian's book? He can't remember purchasing it, so it wasn't a result of forgetting his disgust with Wei Wuxian's behavior and thoughts. Lan Zhan doesn't seem like the type to hate read a whole journal, not if he was going to prominently display it on a shelf in his own home.
None of it adds up.
Wei Wuxian goes absently through the cupboards. It's a long shot, of course, but—
"Ooh, Lan Zhan! Could it be? Are your taste buds more refined than you have led me to believe?" He holds up a jar of chili oil at Lan Zhan, who seems confused.
"No." A pause while he looks over the label. It's even Wei Wuxian's favorite brand, which seems like a stroke of fate. "I have never cooked with it. When I am in residence, one of the disciples typically stocks the jingshi. It must be on my list." Lan Zhan frowns down at the little bottle. "I have never noticed."
The gears of Wei Wuxian's thoughts turn faster than ever. First the book, now his favorite chili oil, the exact same thing he'd see if he opened Jiang Yanli, Jiang Cheng, or even Wen Qing's pantry. In Lan Zhan's. And he can't remember why.
None of it makes any sense.
"Lucky for me!" he says rather than calling any more attention to it. In spite of the non-answer earlier, he has a suspicion it does hurt when Lan Zhan tries to remember these things, and he doesn't want to cause him pain.
Dinner isn't anything fancy, only rice, steamed vegetables, and fish. At first, Wei Wuxian is disappointed, though he cheerfully douses it all in the chili oil regardless. Lan Zhan is a good cook. He doesn't have to put anything extra into it just for Wei Wuxian. He was being stupid, earlier, thinking about—
He frowns. His bowl and Lan Zhan's are slightly different. When he takes a proper look, he realizes that while Wei Wuxian got fish, Lan Zhan gave himself a serving of tofu, instead.
Right. Lan Zhan doesn't eat meat or fish at all.
The meal goes from boring to precious so fast it gives him emotional whiplash.
"You didn't have to make two things, you know," he says as he digs in, trying to hide his own delight. Jiang Yanli is the only other person in his life who will cook separately for him, and usually it's for two, since Jiang Cheng has the same insane taste in spice as him whether he'll admit it or not. He thinks of Lan Zhan bringing him an extra coat, silently and with a fair amount of stealth. Thinks of how he tried to get Wei Wuxian to leave him behind in that cave with the Xuanwu, and the panic in his voice when he'd called his name, too far away to warn him before the bashe got her teeth in him.
A bottle of chili oil he can't remember. A book he's read but never read before. Strange looks from the Lan elders, eager and reproachful in equal measure.
"I know," Lan Zhan agrees.
Wei Wuxian smiles. He'll figure it all out later, when the faint blush on Lan Zhan's ears isn't there to distract him.
Perhaps this was a mistake. He watches Wei Ying text his sister, upside down on Lan Wangji's couch. His knees are over the back, feet kicking, and his shirt has been forced upwards at the back, so that the skin just above his jeans is on display. None of that should be enticing. It isn't, really.
The problem resides with himself. Troublingly, once the floodgates were opened, they have not shut. He feels as though his brain is slowly dying, one cell at a time. Or, more accurately, it is being rewired. The new neural pathways are easy to follow:
Wei Ying sticks his tongue out in a childish display > Lan Wangji considers putting it to better use.
Wei Ying lays with his head in Lan Wangji's lap, letting rabbits jump onto his stomach and settle in for a nap > Lan Wangji falls asleep to slow, syrupy fantasies of getting him to drop, of watching Wei Ying's eyes flutter shut as he naps with Lan Wangji's cock in his mouth, holding him open, an ever-present reminder.
Wei Ying licks chili oil from his fingers, humming with satisfaction > Lan Wangji imagines him making the same sound, slightly muffled, as he shoves his fingers into Wei Ying's mouth and tells him to be good.
Maybe this is what's been giving him headaches of late. He would not be surprised if there were some physical consequence to thinking with such delirium as often as he does. Wei Ying has never expressed interest in him in this regard, nothing beyond the same flirtatious remarks he drops on Secretary Yi or literally any other living, breathing human they encounter. He has no way of knowing if Wei Ying harbors any similar thoughts at all, and until he knows for sure, he absolutely should not fantasize so often about someone who considers him a friend.
Despite the logic of this conclusion, he cannot manage to stop. Wei Ying is not so tan that marks would not bloom easily on his skin; now, hanging off his couch, blood rushing to his head where it is pulled toward the floor, the expanse of his neck is displayed like a canvas.
Lan Wangji stands abruptly. "I need to feed the rabbits." This is not strictly true. He has a good half-hour, give or take, before he should set out. It's the befuddlement of Wei Ying he's seeking to avoid, trying to get his head in order.
Dropping the phone on his stomach, Wei Ying pouts. "But shijie was just about to call! Since I can't see Jin Ling this weekend, I told her I need a status update."
He feels a flicker of guilt, but not much. Wei Ying needed to be away from home. The weekend has done wonders both for his healing and for his mood, which Lan Wangji has observed improvement in each time a new day arrives. It makes him feel more smug than he ought. Since obtaining Jiao and Minzhe he has come to understand his desire to take care of something, to take and keep close and warm for as long as he can. Now those instincts have transferred to Wei Ying, who does not need them, and the thought of leaving this place, of returning entirely to their separate lives, leaves him breathless and bereft.
"We will stop to say our farewells to the rabbits on the way to the station," he offers. Their train is the last to depart this evening, so they will have plenty of time.
It is a conciliation prize, but Wei Ying seizes it.
"Sounds good! So long as I get a little bun time before we're out."
"Mn." Lan Wangji is already shrugging into his coat. He narrowly avoids walking into the door frame when Wei Ying sits up to wave at him and his entire face is flushed sweet red. Lan Wangji can think of many, many ways to recreate such an effect.
He takes a moment to lean on the door once it's shut.
Feeding the rabbits clears his head. As they are a wild population, they probably shouldn't have started feeding them in the first place, but Lan Wangji hadn't wanted to let Jiao and Minzhe fend for themselves, and now their rabbits are just a touch domesticated, waiting on the humans to feed them like the spoiled children they are. He stays standing the entire time, scattering sweet grass and vegetables into the wind, scratching his hands on rough bark.
Even so, he feels scattered and unprepared for meeting his uncle on the path back to the jingshi.
"Uncle." Lan Wangji salutes as properly as he can with a basket thrown over his elbow.
"You depart this afternoon, I take it?"
"I am sorry to have missed you."
Lan Wangji nods. There is a very pregnant pause. They both know what's coming, but he refuses to be the first to break. If Uncle is to have judgments about his decision to bring Wei Ying home, he must voice them entirely on his own, with the courage to stand in his convictions.
Because Uncle is Uncle, he does.
"It has come to my attention you returned with one other." At Lan Wangji's nod, Uncle frowns slightly. "What purpose does bringing that boy with you serve?"
Ah. Well. Lan Wangji had expected this, but it is a disappointment nonetheless. He has never experienced the people he cares for disliking one another. It is more discomfiting than he could have predicted.
"Wei Ying is an adult, now." His tone is more controlled than ever. He cannot find it in himself to push harder. "In my time as his partner, he has demonstrated significant growth when compared to the antics of his youth." This is true, if only a technicality. He does not comport himself in a way that Lan Qiren would approve of, even now, but he is a capable and intelligent cultivator with limitless potential. That should be good enough for anyone.
Lan Qiren's responding look is doubtful. "Regardless of his accomplishments, Wei Wuxian has never shown suitable respect. He scorns that which should be held in high regard in favor of what is easy. Tell me, has he adjusted his strategy in the intervening years?"
The comment is more pointed than Lan Wangji would have expected. He could understand Lan Qiren disliking how Wei Ying flouts the principles of their clan, which are borne from a desire to achieve righteousness and grace in all things. He could also counteract such arguments with ease. This, a more specifically targeted comment about Wei Ying's values, flummoxes him. Why has Uncle paid such attention to a disciple who visited no more than three times, someone he should, by all rights, have mostly forgotten?
"I do not see it as such."
"No." Lan Wangji takes a moment to collect his thoughts, which Lan Qiren does not begrudge him. There are principles against speaking impatiently. "The opposite, in fact. In studies and matters of paper pushing, perhaps, but Wei Ying favors the harder path. He wants a challenge." He had not considered it boiled down in so many words, but Lan Wangji still finds a ring of truth in them.
"Yes, that incident with the cave." Lan Wangji was not thinking of the Xuanwu of Slaughter, though he can see how Lan Qiren got there. "Irresponsible, dragging you in without waiting for reinforcements—"
"The Xuanwu of Slaughter dragged me in," he cuts off. "Without Wei Ying, it would have eaten my leg, if not my entire body." He feels a twist of satisfaction as Lan Qiren's expression shows reluctant mollification.
"He always had potential," Lan Qiren admits, shocking Lan Wangji with such an echo of his own thoughts. "Not that he's done enough with it. Xichen told me you were both injured in that fight. Have you recovered?"
He nods. "As has Wei Ying."
"Very well. As you are leaving today, there is no point in advising you further." He pauses, an odd weight to the silence between them. "When your assignment is over, do you plan to see him again?"
Lan Wangji has been avoiding thinking of it, but. "If Wei Ying is agreeable."
Lan Qiren's expression hardens. "I see." He might, but Lan Wangji feels more blind than ever.
He is still trying to parse the conversation when he gets back to the jingshi, straining his thoughts. It is easier and more enjoyable to let himself be distracted by Wei Wuxian's laughter, his sister's voice rising tinny and small from the speaker.
Wei Wuxian feels panic set in almost as soon as he gets home. The train ride back was uneventful, aside from falling asleep on Lan Zhan's shoulder, which was mostly funny. Only he would have a face thick enough to drool on Lan Zhan's expensive sweater. People would kill to be in his place, literally. Shouldn't he feel smug?
Being with Lan Zhan, he's come to realize, has a soothing effect. It doesn't matter if he's being petty with him or cooking them dinner or sending the lawyer who serves them their expected complaint from Moling Su off with a you are ill-equipped and unqualified to speak to me, you may return after appropriate reflections. Every flavor of Lan Zhan makes him forget about the stupid shit running through his head at all hours.
More embarrassingly, his amorphous dreams have solidified into elaborate, colorful fantasies where Lan Zhan helps him build a house. They are bizarre as they are comforting. When he wakes up on the train, he half-expects to see Lan Zhan's bare arms and a hammer in one hand.
Once he's alone, though—that's when all bets are off. The thoughts that died down in the back of his mind all rush back to the surface, buzzing and awful. He can't ignore it any longer. Setting his metaphorical shoulders, Wei Wuxian begins to unravel the mystery that's been tugging at him from the moment Lan Zhan asked have we met?
It's more difficult than he thought it would be, to keep his research and theories a secret from Lan Zhan. He's rapidly grown accustomed to how often they're together, how easy it is to bounce ideas off him until he's got a solution on lock. Wei Wuxian enjoys working with MianMian too, no question about it, but something with Lan Zhan just... clicks. All his sharp edges find nothing to repudiate them, just water that flows around him and flexes to match. If Wei Wuxian wants to prank someone, Lan Zhan will supply him or play lookout without blinking. If he wants to solve some cultivation problem no one's been able to figure out in all the centuries they've done it, Lan Zhan doesn't say it's impossible, only commenting occasionally to bolster Wei Wuxian's incessant babbling.
Even the annoyance at his paperwork habits has stopped. Now, if there are reports to file, Lan Wangji fills them out twice and places them on Wei Wuxian's desk to be signed. "More efficient," was the only response to Wei Wuxian's questioning of his new methods.
(He won't say no to someone doing his work, but he's surprised every time. And touched. Is cheating on paperwork allowed to be touching? Whatever, maybe cheating is his new love language. Or would it be Lan Zhan's? He's never been able to figure out if it's your love language if it's what you want to get or if it's what you do, and at this point, he's too afraid to ask.)
The point being, Lan Zhan is a great sounding board. Without it, he must resort to drastic measures, which is never pleasant.
"Jin Zixuan," he starts, cornering him in the hall after dinner but before dessert. "Brother mine."
The peacock squints at him. "What do you want." Ah, he's been found out. Perhaps he was laying it on a little thick?
No, that's not it. Wei Wuxian never does that.
"Nothing much, just a favor. Since we're such good... brothers, and all."
"What." Jin Zixuan crosses his arms. Wei Wuxian tries his cutest pleading eyes on him. He uses them on Jiang Yanli all the time. Maybe he's absorbed this weakness through their love bond!
"I need you to get me a guest pass into the Cloud Recesses Sanctum Library."
Jin Zixuan smirks slightly. "What, your boyfriend can't get you in?"
"What?" Wei Wuxian bleats, flailing a little. "My boyfriend? If you mean Lan Zhan, that's just—that would be—ridiculous, we are partners, I laugh at the—at the very suggestion of your insinuations, Zixuan! Preposterous. Your people skills are awful. Just terrible. It would be more accurate to say Lan Zhan is your boyfriend, and you're married, so—"
Jin Zixuan's head is in his hands. "I don't know why I bother," he groans, but it's so muffled Wei Wuxian can pretend not to hear it. He does need a favor, after all.
Once he's done with his little crisis, he asks again. "You have a reason you don't want to ask Wangji?"
"... Care to elaborate?"
"Nope." This time, Wei Wuxian pops the 'p'.
He sighs. They stare at each other for a bit, in a total stand-off, but he knows Jin Zixuan will fold. He's not known for his incredible backbone.
"You're coming to help me pick A-Li's birthday present next time."
Wei Wuxian holds three fingers up. "I swear, I will do everything in my power to prevent a repeat of the Birthday Fiasco of 2017. Just get me in."
A moment of tense glaring follows.
"Fine. When do you need it by?"
Wei Wuxian winces. "Tomorrow... would be nice?"
Jin Zixuan rolls his eyes. "You're the worst. I'll see what I can do."
As it turns out, he can do a lot. Jin heirs get all sorts of favors, and before he knows it, Wei Wuxian has gotten his hot little hands on a two-day guest pass to enter the Gusu Lan Sanctum Library. The pass burns a hole in his pocket all through the next few days, but at last, the weekend comes.
He must seem insane to Lan Zhan, who watches him practically vibrating at the door. When his expression gets mildly inquisitive, Wei Wuxian can only shrug and toss a hasty goodbye his way as he goes.
He has a train to catch.
It is massively inconvenient to have to get a hotel room in Caiyi rather than staying at the jingshi again—for one, nothing in his hotel smells like sandalwood, and for another, the commute is a lot worse—but he has Suibian and can actually ride it this time, so he'll make due. The ride up is actually kind of nice. It's colder here than it is in Yunmeng, the air whipping around him until he's forced to burn a little spiritual energy so he won't freeze, but it's gorgeous, too. Unlike Yunmeng Jiang, a sect at the center of a bustling port city, Cloud Recesses is largely removed from the wider world, filled with cool nature and birds and stuff. He touches down just outside the wards and enters on foot, as is polite, before trudging up to the Inner Sanctum and straight for the library. The few elders he passes seem very confused, but he flashes his pass at the entrance without issue.
Thank you, Jin Zixuan. He might actually try to find a present shijie likes this time.
Cloud Recesses has the most extensive Sanctum Library out of any in the country, aside from the Wens, who guard theirs with ferocity and never allow visitors to compare. Normally the queue is crazy long, but if you have the hook-up, you can obtain a guest pass with relative ease. Sort of. If your hook-up isn't within the five Great Sects, you'll be pushing your luck, but cultivation still has a fair amount of that good old-fashioned classism running through it. Things have progressed, just not by much.
Wei Wuxian would usually be able to get one as Head Disciple of Yunmeng Jiang, but his, ah, unique relationship with Gusu Lan has made him wary. Asking Jin Zixuan might have hurt his pride, but Wei Wuxian's face is so thick he barely noticed it. All in all this was very smooth.
He finds a corner table and starts pulling books from the shelves.
Reading is not his favorite part of academic research. He's far more suited to lab settings, getting his hands dirty with experimentation and results, but this isn't some cut-and-dry academic paper. It's Lan Zhan's life, his memories, that are at stake.
Hitting on that thought still causes a twinge of anxiety to roll through him. Lan Zhan had very little reason to like him, before. Restoring his memories of Wei Wuxian will likely revert them to somewhere near that point, where Lan Zhan couldn't stand him and Wei Wuxian thought it was about sixty percent deserved on his part.
He'd spent so long trying to get Lan Zhan's attention he hadn't cared what sort of attention it was, not until it was far too late. Now, having known what it's like to be someone Lan Zhan does care for, going back to what they had before might be excruciating.
But what else can he do? Whenever he gets so fed up with reading he wants to bash his brain in, he pauses to mull over alternative solutions: nothing comes. It's sort of an all or nothing, giving back memories, especially if Wei Wuxian's suspicions about methodology are confirmed. He could attempt to only give back good memories of himself, but it would be creepy of him, and those memories would be few and far between if any exist at all.
So. He knows what he has to do, even if he doesn't like it. Even if he'll miss Lan Zhan's warm gaze on him terribly. He'll live. He wants Lan Zhan to be able to make informed decisions, doesn't he?
No, a traitorous part of him whispers. No, you don't.
He's always known he's selfish. Everyone has told him so, from Lan Zhan to Jiang Cheng to Madam Yu and even, on one memorably awful occasion, Jiang Yanli. That many people tell you something about yourself, it must be true, right? But even his selfishness has limits. He can push himself; it's his favorite thing to do.
For Lan Zhan, he'll get a bit selfless with it. For Lan Zhan he's willing to at least try.
His research turns up a lot of stuff he already knew. Curses are his thing, and most memory removals have the sting of a curse to accompany them. While there are multiple ways to remove specific memories from someone, tying those to a person are actually rather difficult. A lot of them involve some sort of love spell, which makes Wei Wuxian's stomach turn.
He wastes his first day like that, going over curses and love spells like they're going to help. By the time the candles burn low, a signal that the library is going to close soon, his eyes are drier than the desert and he's no closer to figuring out what's wrong with Lan Zhan's memory. Or, more accurately, he's found too many options. His notebook is at least a page and a half full of a useless list of garbage.
Alone in his hotel room in Caiyi, he orders soup up to his room and spares a few minutes to pine for some spice.
The only worthy distraction from the bitterness is more work, which he throws himself into. The rest of the evening is spent crossing things off his list as he runs through their symptoms in his mind; his memory has never been perfect, but his memory for things he's read is generally sharp, especially the first few days after he reads them. Wei Wuxian spends more time than is probably healthy trying to remember every time he and Lan Zhan have spoken about their shared history, cross-referencing with how vague his memory is or how much of it was removed or the look, sometimes, on his face when he can't grasp them.
He falls asleep with his notebook on his face and a pen in hand.
The next day proves no easier. He spends it researching the positive effects of memory treatments instead, pouring through the medical texts to see if anything jumps out at him. He knows they've been used in therapy for a variety of mental illness-related treatments, but it's extremely controversial as a practice, which seems to largely eliminate it from the Lan Sanctum Library's areas of focus.
By lunch he's ready to give up, certain he wasted valuable time that could have been spent annoying Lan Zhan, when he bumps into Lan Xichen himself.
"Wei Wuxian," he greets with a smile that crinkles his eyes at the corners. He's heard Zewu-jun has a politician's knack for making one feel at ease, a natural gift, but his similarities to Lan Zhan mostly just make it unnatural and borderline unnerving. Lan Zhan never smiles this remorselessly. Seeing it on such a similar face is, put bluntly, jarring.
"Sorry, Zewu-jun." As Head Disciple, it's always important not to offend any Sect Leaders Jiang Cheng will have to deal with someday. It's worse when it's also Lan Zhan's brother. He salutes, which seems to amuse Lan Xichen.
"Have you accompanied Wangji home again? I was sorry not to have been here to greet the both of you, but duty calls."
"Oh, haha, nope!" Wei Wuxian waves that off a bit nervously. "I didn't tell Lan Zhan I was coming, actually. I wouldn't be able to focus."
Lan Xichen seems curious. "Is that so? I have found Wangji to be an excellent study partner."
"He is, he is! It's, uh, me, I'm the issue there." Wei Wuxian's face flushes, his mouth refusing to explain further. What is it about Lan Zhan that shatters his composure? His face is so thick you could bounce a sword off it, but mentions of Lan Zhan have him... flustered. It must be the memory issue. Something about it gets him all jumpy.
Lan Xichen is patient with him, at least. "I see." His expression is surprisingly hard to read. It presents itself as open at first glance, but everything is under tight control in a way that reminds him of Lan Zhan. Unlike with his current partner, he has no experience with Lan Xichen, and is therefore unable to tease out any nuance to his gaze. He merely waits for the ax to fall.
"If you are not here with Wangji, it must be on Sect business. Is there anything I can help you with?"
Wei Wuxian considers it. He could tell the truth, but it would expose something about Lan Zhan to his family that he hasn't even told the man himself. That doesn't seem right. He probably shouldn't go around lying to Sect Leaders, but this won't really be a lie, it'll just be... letting Lan Xichen continue to assume something that was always incorrect. Which is fine. He definitely won't be telling Jiang Cheng about this.
"Yes, actually." He pulls Lan Xichen to the side, so they're no longer obstructing the busy hall of the Inner Sanctum. "Have you ever heard of... uh, a particularly strong memory curse? I know that's vague. It would affect memories of a specific person, rather than a time period or event, and would be subtle enough that it could go unnoticed for years."
Lan Xichen considers the question. Wei Wuxian shifts his weight from one foot to another, strangely anxious.
"There are many memory curses on record," he says slowly. "I am sure a few deal with this specifically. Do you have any other information?"
Wei Wuxian tamps down on his own spike of suspicion. Lan Zhan speaks highly of his brother and seems close with him, though not in any way Wei Wuxian understands, as his relationships with his siblings are vibrant and riotous more often than not. He doesn't believe Lan Xichen would be part of any plot that harmed Lan Zhan, but then, he would think that about most of the Elders too. Maybe. They seemed to like Lan Zhan during his visit, at any rate. Some even held his face and lamented how tall he'd grown, though Lan Zhan mentioned they did this every time he visited. It was domestic! Cute!
Not really the vibes he'd expect from people who erased someone's memory, though they're his only current suspect. None of it makes any sense.
"The, uh, target, I think he gets headaches if he tries to get around the curse. It tries to rework memories involving a specific person, but sometimes they're just totally erased. I think that's based on how strongly the person erased was associated with that memory in the target's mind." Wei Wuxian gives a little huff of frustration. "It's actually really clever. I don't know if you know this, but I'm working toward grandmastery in cursework—"
"I've heard." Lan Xichen's eyes actually twinkle, like he's a character in a donghua or something. It is uncanny. "The NCC is aware of your talents, Wei-gongzi."
"Oh!" He hadn't considered that, but it doesn't surprise him. "Right, thanks? Anyway, I'd love to meet whoever put this one together, because they're talented as hell, even if I think it's wrong."
Lan Xichen gives him an interested glance. "Is that a firm stance?"
"Pretty much." Wei Wuxian gives him a look.
"Even if the memories were quite harmful?"
Relief courses through him. For a moment he got worried that Lan Xichen was about to make himself a very convincing suspect, but this is in line with all the academic and intra-discipline arguments for or against memory modification. Lan Xichen has probably read some of the same periodicals Wei Wuxian browsed through earlier.
"Yeah, I'm not sure. On the one hand, erasing that pain is great, but sometimes pain is part of us, right? It makes us who we are. We aren't the same person without it. Would I want to be come a different person just to avoid that? Not really, and I think it'd suck to watch someone I loved do it, too. I wouldn't stop them—I don't think—but I wouldn't like it, either."
Lan Xichen concedes the point. "Well said. It is not an easy question to answer, though I am in support of its uses as a life-saving intervention."
"It can be used that way?" This interests Wei Wuxian greatly.
"In dire circumstances," Lan Xichen agrees. He opens his mouth to say more when someone calls his title from down the hall.
Wei Wuxian laughs. "Duty calls, huh?"
"Always. Will you remain in the Cloud Recesses long?"
"Sadly not. I've got a train back this evening, actually. Work early tomorrow."
Lan Xichen bows his head. "Then it is unlikely we will see each other again. Have a safe trip home, Wei-gongzi."
"Thanks, Zewu-jun. And thanks for your help!"
Lan Xichen waves a hand. "I didn't actually help."
Wei Wuxian is now jogging backwards, causing several Lan disciples to swerve to avoid him. He ignores their glares. "No, but it's the thought that counts, right?"
"As you say." That politician's smile is back on his face. Wei Wuxian's fingers itch with curiosity as to what's beneath. He'll have to ask Lan Zhan for some tells before he sees Lan Xichen again.
He waves and heads out, frustrated but determined. He didn't find anything here, but that doesn't mean he won't figure it out. It just means that whoever did this probably invented the curse on their own, or at least modified and mushed several existing ones together. It's as good a start as any to figuring out what drained Lan Zhan's memories.
Two weeks is a pretty short time limit, but Wei Wuxian is Yunmeng Jiang's Head Disciple. He was born to attempt the impossible.
Foolish as it is, Lan Wangji cannot help the melancholy overtaking him. It is a Monday like any other, except it is the second to last he will spend here, at a desk across from Wei Ying. The same Wei Ying who has graduated to throwing small unpackaged snack items at him, knowing he will not waste them by adding to Luanzang. Who will make him stop everything he's doing just to feed him some of Jiang Yanli's soup, right from the same spoon he was using moments ago, their mouths touching the same places in an unsanitary thrill he can never bring himself to deny. Whose annoyances have ingratiated themselves to him so well he finds himself thinking home is quiet and wondering when he began to hate the silence.
It is Monday, and the bags under Wei Ying's eyes are more pronounced than usual. Until meeting him, Lan Wangji had presumed cultivators were immune to the phenomenon. They are able to go without sleep for a great many days if they are powerful, as Wei Ying is powerful.
It seems they cannot hold out indefinitely.
He wants to ask, but they do not have that sort of relationship. Not really. He catches flickers that make him feel hopeful—occasions where he says or does something and thinks he sees a flash of naked desire on Wei Ying's features—but they pass too quickly for any certainty. He feels like a child in a movie, wanting to scribble a note and toss it onto Wei Ying's desk. Do you like me? Please choose yes or no. If you would please also indicate how much, on a scale of 1 to 10, or 1 to 100 if 1 to 10 is not precise enough.
It's mortifying—and exhilarating. Like walking on pins and needles, it stabs at him before offering release, only to start up again when it will most inconvenience him.
When he gets back to the quiet, sterile darkness of his temporary residence and his emotions feel too big to be housed in one body alone, he calls Xichen.
"Wangji, is everything alright?"
Ah. This is not their weekly phone call, and Lan Wangji does not typically call outside those parameters. He is off kilter.
He does not know where to begin.
When he says nothing, Lan Xichen interprets his silence with alacrity. "I see. Would you like to hear about my day?"
Stories from his brother are never dull. For one, a Sect Leader's life is always stuffed full with activity; while the structure would never suit someone like Wei Ying, and the politics would never be a favorite of Lan Wangji, he finds Lan Xichen suited to the role. He is proud of his brother in many ways. He is capable. Strong. Affectionate and firm in equal measure.
Open with such affections when the occasion calls for it.
They make it to Lan Xichen's afternoon strategy session with Nie Mingjue and Meng Yao when the moment feels right.
"When did you know?"
Lan Xichen does not take offense at the interruption. He understands the workings of Lan Wangji's mind sometimes more than he understands them himself.
Making the correct leaps in logic, Lan Xichen quietly prods. "That I felt as I do for A-Yao and Mingjue?"
Relief crashes through him. "En."
"Oh, Wangji." A sigh of fondness mixed with sadness. It does not surprise him. Their family has a loaded history when it comes to romance. He was surprised, really, that the three of them made it work. He has never asked exactly how often they needed to go to therapy in the early post-almost-break-up days, but he is glad he did not have to break out any of the specific legal codes surrounding what is or is not prohibited in duels between cultivators.
That would not have ended well.
"I imagine it is different for everyone," Lan Xichen admits. It is a very Brother answer, not helpful, but very true to life. Lan Wangji is not disappointed. He waits.
There is no shame in silence with Lan Xichen, though they do not stick to it long, in this case. "Is there any indication Wei-gongzi returns your affections?"
Feng Zijing probably didn't think hard at all before ratting him out. He should be upset, but he isn't, really. It might not even have been Feng Zijing. Though he and Xichen were separated from their peers to some degree as a child, the Gusu Lan pride themselves on a sort of communal parenting style. He has many, many aunties and uncles, and while they cannot read him as well as his brother, some can read him as well as Lan Qiren, who he has no doubt came to some correct conclusions based on the last time they spoke.
Whoever told him, Lan Xichen has cut to the heart of the matter. Lan Wangji cannot avoid it now.
"Sometimes," he admits. It's nothing solid, just glances, but he has a suspicion. He'd wondered once if Wei Ying would not have simply chased after him, were he to harbor such desire. Looking back, it feels like an errant thought, foolish, borne from his own insecurity rather than observations of Wei Ying himself.
The people Wei Ying flirts with all have one thing in common: unavailability. Except. Wei Ying flirts with Lan Wangji as well.
It is possible he has mistakenly been put into such a category.
"Good." Lan Xichen seems disproportionately relieved, but Lan Wangji can understand that, to an extent. He has always been the more solitary of the two. Lan Xichen has long wished for him to have friends, though he has not gone so far as to verbalize it; a romantic relationship would be something beyond Lan Xichen's wildest hopes for him.
He allows himself to be pleased. He thinks Lan Xichen would like Wei Ying.
"Ge, do you remember Wei Ying from cultivation camp?"
"Mostly Uncle's fiery ranting," he says with a hint of a smile in his voice. "I was still in rigorous training to accelerate my studies." They'd known their father was dying for some time. It had forced the timeline on Lan Xichen's life to accelerate at a brutal pace, but he had survived, and he is now considered one of the most capable Sect Leaders on the NCC. Perhaps it is not a coincidence that the Twin Jades of Lan have each made history as one of the youngest people to succeed in their respective fields.
Lan Wangji accepts his answer and returns with his own. "I am. Certain. Only wondering if it is too soon to be."
"I do not consider matters of the heart to arrive on a set schedule," Lan Xichen points out. "Nor have I known you to make many rash decisions." Many? Lan Wangji is not sure he has ever made one.
Until now. Until Wei Ying.
"It is okay?"
He doesn't realize he needs to ask the question until he's asked it. There is a long pause.
"Oh, Wangji," he breathes into the receiver. Lan Wangji feels his ears redden. "It's okay. Of course it's okay."
Lan Wangji makes a relieved hum.
"I will only caution you once. You are an adult, who must make your own decisions. But."
The relief is rapidly cooling to anxiety within him. "But?"
"Do not keep it so close you bury it."
That is not at all what he was expecting to hear. Cautions against being rash, suggestions to take his time, even worries about Wei Ying's character would have come first. But Lan Xichen has seen to the heart of him once again. He feels stripped bare, which probably means he should heed the advice.
Brother's is not always easy to follow, but it has rarely led him astray.
"I will not. Ge, thank you."
They speak of a few other logistical things before ending the call for the evening. Lan Xichen has an early meeting. Long after the conversation ends, Lan Wangji still hears those words ringing in his ears.
Do not keep it so close you bury it.
Perhaps he would have, if he were a little younger and a little less aware of his own flaws. He is too quiet. Even at his most out-going, he is loathe to share what he feels in words.
However. He can attempt to translate them into strong action, if he has the courage.
It may yet call for a hands on demonstration. He will need to catch and decipher more of Wei Ying's little looks, first.
Of course, he realizes he wants to suck Lan Zhan's dick more than he wants to live right when he's putting his money where his mouth is.
He cannot be blamed for this. Wei Wuxian is a simple man—working in tandem to draw out the male dao lao gui first, taunting it into leaving its hideaway and diving out of the way just in time for Lan Zhan to behead him? It's objectively devastating. His leathers repel blood and viscera, but the splatter of it sticks to his skin, a slash of red over his nose and cheek that makes Wei Wuxian's insides melt.
Lan Zhan looks back at him. For a moment he forgets the parameters of their hunt altogether, because light eyes have gone dark with adrenaline and something and a fire starts to lick its way up his spine.
A cry of anguish breaks the connection between them, snapping it as Wei Wuxian processes several things at once. The dao lao gui's female partner at the mouth of a tunnel, a gutteral, reptilian scream in her throat. The poisonous darts raising out of her skin, ready to strike. Lan Zhan's back between the two of them.
He doesn't stop to think.
At a desperate speed, he tackles Lan Zhan to the ground and feels something sharp pierce his bicep, rolling off Lan Zhan immediately so he won't be pinned. He hears the sounds of a fight, but there's a burning pain working its way through him that's decidedly unpleasant, and every time he tried to move to assist, it flares brighter, hotter, eviscerating all other thought.
He doesn't surface again until he's in the back of Wen Qing's mobile unit, Lan Zhan on the other side of him, transferring spiritual energy to his core in a steady stream of blue-white light. "It's a reunion," Wei Wuxian breathes, making it through two huffs of laughter before a pained noise replaces it in his throat. "Lan Zhan. Gonna sing to me... again?"
"Wei Wuxian. Stay awake." Wen Qing snaps her fingers in his face, which is very rude. Lan Zhan is occupied holding one of his hands while transferring spiritual energy, or he would have protected him, he's sure.
Lan Zhan squeezes his hand. Oh. He said that out loud? Ha.
"Last time," he says, eyelids drooping, "you wanted me sleeping. Like. All the time."
"Bashe venom can be burned off by your golden core while you rest. Dao lao gui venom is about fifty times stronger."
"Huh." The whole mortal peril part of his job is something he's gotten very used to. He wonders if he should be more up in arms about this? Wei Wuxian tries to muster any outrage on his own behalf and can't.
He blacks out for about a minute, coming back to Wen Qing shaking him at the shoulder. The non injured one. "Ow," he says anyway. It hurts.
"Stay awake." She sounds very angry. He feels a twinge and struggles to put a smile on his face.
"I'm fine, Qing-jie." He opens his eyes so wide he feels like he's in some sort of torture device. "I have you, right? You and Lan Zhan."
"And if you sleep, you won't."
"Okay, okay," he mutters, turning to Lan Zhan. He always looks so damn calm. Sitting there all pillar-like and handsome, like nothing can shake him, and then his eyes turn fully to Wei Wuxian's, and he realizes something important. Something he needs to remember for later.
This it what it looks like, he thinks, yelling at his shitty memory to catalog it, when Lan Zhan is afraid.
"Wei Ying." He realizes his eyes are shut again, busy trying to commit every tiny part of Lan Zhan's expression to his brain file labelled 'important'. He's forgetful about a lot of things, but he knows it's important to remember Lan Zhan's expressions, or he'll never figure him out. He wants to. He wants to so bad.
He opens his eyes. "Wei Ying, thank you."
It takes him a second to catalog what this is for. "No problem," he slurs, tongue thick in his mouth. He's so tired. "We're partners. No dying on me."
Lan Zhan squeezes his hand. "I would appreciate if you would live as well."
It cracks him up, making the venom burn brighter and hotter in his veins, but he doesn't even care. So formal and stiff, his Lan Zhan. A flower blooming around slabs of concrete, trapped and reaching out anyway. How could he think he was boring, when he's amused him for so long? Was he a moron? Wei Wuxian squeezes his hand, too.
"Fuck, I'm sorry."
"For what?" they both say at the same time, making him giggle again.
"Dunno. Worrying you."
Wen Qing's expression softens infinitesimally. "You certainly keep it interesting, Wei Wuxian."
When he looks at Lan Zhan, the fear has abated somewhat. He looks like he's considering something.
"Between us," he says, gravity in every word, "there is no need for 'sorry' or 'thank you'." No matter that he was the one saying thank you first! But Wei Wuxian understands. He mulls that over for a bit, trying to wrap his brain around complex thoughts when it mostly feels like mush. He thinks he gets it.
His chest is warm, not hot or burning, just. Warm.
They keep him talking all the way to the medical pavilion, at which point Wen Qing kicks Lan Zhan out altogether. "Take a nap," she snaps, "or you'll drain yourself dry."
Wei Wuxian wants to laugh at the stubborn clench of Lan Zhan's jaw. He doesn't do anything he doesn't want to, ever, and it seems like he doesn't want to leave Wei Wuxian. Wen Qing is also used to being obeyed.
Who wouldn't want to watch them duke it out?
Just then, Jiang Cheng appears, and Wen Qing waves him over. "There, you've got a replacement. Out."
Lan Zhan looks at Jiang Cheng, then at Wei Wuxian, shoulders tight. After a moment, he steps away and allows Jiang Cheng to start transferring him energy instead.
"Can you not manage a month without some stupid sacrifice?" he snaps.
Wei Wuxian raises a brow. "A-Cheng, haven't you heard of taking one for the team?"
"Idiot." Jiang Cheng's eyes are red at the corners. Was he so worried? Wei Wuxian reaches up with his good arm to pat Jiang Cheng's cheek. He's fine, he really is.
He doesn't see when Lan Zhan slips out, only noting his absence later, frowning around the room like a child whose favorite toy has been taken away. Jiang Cheng tells him exactly that, just in time for Jiang Yanli to arrive and flick him in the back of the head, Jin Zixuan posting up in the corner and refusing to admit he cares in the least.
Wei Wuxian beams at him, anyway. He's going to roast him so hard for this. He can already hear the 'crying at my bedside' jokes he's going to make at the next family gathering, preferably one with a lot of Jins in attendance.
Lan Wangji is only a little surprised when Wen Qing comes to collect him. He would have been more so, had he not met with Jiang Yanli on the way to find a cot to rest and restore himself. She has a kind smile, but a politic one, very similar to his brother's.
He left their brief conversation certain that should any further harm come to Wei Ying while in his care, he would not be interested in the consequences. She had also patted his arm and wished him well, in a way that seemed, at least, to be genuine.
And now, Wen Qing.
"He needs to stay up another 8 hours, at least." They walk through halls splashed with red and gold, Wen colors turned softer, as comforting as a somewhat sterile medical facility can be. "Are you up to the task?"
"I am." He has stayed up many nights in a row for night hunting. Even though the original hunt took them well into overtime, he feels awake, almost buzzing with it. Worry for Wei Ying has overridden his internal clock.
They stop outside Wei Ying's door. Wen Qing sizes him up. "Are you?"
He does not think they are speaking of staying up all night, anymore. Lan Wangji feels the urge to stand straighter, but his posture is already excellent. There is no slump to straighten out of. Instead, he can only incline his head, a brief nod. Wen Qing looks him dead in the eye.
"I'll hold you to it." Her voice is a naked blade. Lan Wangji understands.
"I do not mind."
Wen Qing gives a tight-lipped smile and opens the door.
"Lan Zhan ah! Come to spring me?" He sounds—inebriated. Loose. "I have been abused, held hostage against mine own will, er-gege, will you free me?'
He bats his eyelashes in a cartoonish manner. Lan Wangji feels struck in the face. There are many things happening, here. Wen Qing pats his arm once.
"He's your problem now," she states, heading over to help him out of the bed. There are no machines attached to him, which is a positive sign.
Someone has changed him into dark sweatpants and a red sweater that looks ridiculously soft. Lan Wangji would like to pay them money for their service.
They've also brought him a duffel, which he slings over his own shoulder. Wei Ying looks up at him, slightly loopy, grinning. "Will gege carry me too?"
Wen Qing rolls her eyes. "Don't push your luck," she tells Wei Ying, saving him the trouble of trying to formulate a response when his entire mouth is dry. She turns to Lan Wangji, apparently recognizing that one of them must remain responsible, and in his state, it will not be Wei Ying.
"Remember, 8 hours. Minimum. Don't let him eat, either, though he'll get pretty hungry. Watch him."
This is a test, of sorts. Can you take care of Wei Ying? He does not consider failure an option, nodding once and hitching the duffel a bit higher on his shoulder.
Wei Ying is a little delirious, but definitely conscious and moving of his own volition. He spends the entirety of the drive back to Lan Wangji's temporary residence alternating between explaining how dao lao gui venom works (isn't it cool that like, they both have the same poison, but the ladies draw it out until it hurts? like, biologically speaking, that's a pretty loaded commentary) and complimenting Lan Wangji's driving (hooooly fuck, did you just cut them off? hell, yeah, Lan Zhan, do it again, I wanna watch, you're so hot when you're annoyed) with an utter lack of self-consciousness.
Normally, Wei Ying is a fairly unfiltered person. Riding out the effects of whatever cocktail Wen Qing put him on, he's impossibly shameless.
By the time he's pulled the car into park, his ears are burning, his heart pounding. It's so loud he thinks Wei Ying might be able to hear it, were he not so out of sorts. He exits the car and comes to the other side to open Wei Ying's door, heart thudding when Wei Ying waggles his eyebrows in his direction.
"Lan Zhan, I can't possibly stand, I'm injured. Won't you take pity on your poor partner and carry him upstairs?"
He's joking. He winks his left eye, unbuckling his seat belt and making grabby hands at him. Lan Wangji is positive that if he waits about five seconds, Wei Ying will laugh it off and step out of the car, stumbling in the direction of the elevator. He is not so high on whatever mix of anti-venom and drugs in his system that he would take such statements seriously.
Lan Wangji shrugs. He can come back for the duffel later. Leaning into the car, he slides his arm around Wei Ying's back, the other beneath his knees. "Lan Zhan!" he squeaks, but Lan Wangji pays him no mind, kicking the door shut as he lifts Wei Ying into his arms.
"Oh, fuck, holy fuck, Lan Zhan, what, put me down!"
He adjusts his grip slightly, making sure Wei Ying is secure. In spite of his words, he puts his arms around Lan Wangji's neck and clings. Sticky, he thinks, smiling where Wei Ying cannot see.
"You're not seriously going to—Lan Zhan!"
It is no hardship to carry Wei Ying. They are only an inch apart in height, but Wei Ying is of a slimmer build, and Lan Wangji's golden core is strong enough to help him lift a car, if only for a few seconds. Comparatively, this is easy.
It's nice, actually. In his arms, he knows Wei Ying will not exert himself. He is as secure as Lan Wangji can make him.
"You're really not gonna put me down?" Wei Ying's tone wars between awe and outrage. "My reputation! What if one of your fans sees us and blasts the picture out to the world?"
He fights down the full-body shudder that wants to overtake him at the thought. The idea of many, many people seeing him with Wei Ying, taking care of Wei Ying, in a way that is often seen as romantic... yes, there is a great deal of appeal in that. Still, he does not vocalize those thoughts. It would not be fair to do so while Wei Ying is in no state to respond. If he told Lan Wangji anything now that he would not say sober, it might hurt his heart more than never hearing them at all.
Eventually, he settles on something neutral. "I would take responsibility."
"Lan Zhan?" When he looks down, Wei Ying's eyes are on him, wide and shining. Lan Wangji does not know how to handle this. Handle him.
He wants to.
"Press eleven," he says, slightly hoarse. Wei Ying snaps out of it enough to turn to the buttons and press the right one, throwing his arm immediately back around Lan Zhan's neck when he's done.
He seems to have accepted the carrying, at least. When he leans his cheek against Lan Wangji's chest, he must be able to hear the frantic pounding of his heart, but he doesn't acknowledge it. "No one would believe me," he mutters, "if I told them you were so shameless."
The doors open at his floor. He tries to remember his brother's words, taking a fortifying breath. "I am not ashamed to take care of Wei Ying."
"Lan Zhan!" The tone of voice is confusing, some mix of embarrassment, delight, and outrage. Warmth curls through him in careless tendrils.
He whispers his door code into Wei Ying's ear so he can punch them in, stopping in the foyer to toe out of his shoes before walking Wei Ying to the couch. He sits him down rather than laying him across it, worried that it would be too much of an enticement to sleep. After a moment of indecision, he kneels down to take off Wei Ying's shoes.
"You don't have to do that," Wei Ying says, bleary with disorientation but trying to reach down with clumsy fingers. Lan Wangji takes his hands and sets them at his sides. Wei Ying goes mute.
The shoes come off easily after that. Lan Wangji goes to set them by the door, returning to see Wei Ying's eyes following him back. "You really carried me," he says, sounding stupefied.
Lan Wangji has nothing he can say to that. Nothing that wouldn't give him away.
"Will you stay awake while I retrieve your bag?"
Wei Ying snaps out of whatever stupor he was in, holding up three fingers in a salute. "On my honor!"
Someone else might make a joke out of that, but Lan Wangji puts stake in Wei Ying's honor. He nods once and departs, feeling ants crawl under his skin the entire time he has to part from him.
He was right to. The moment he returns, he finds Wei Ying's head pillowed in the crook of his good arm, his body angled toward the door and lashes brushing his cheeks.
The sound of his voice snaps him to attention, blinking muzzily in Lan Wangji's direction. "Huh?"
"You were not staying awake."
He frowns, looking down at his elbow like it has personally betrayed him. "I told myself I'd watch the door until you came back!" His defense is weak. "My eyes must have slid shut."
This may be harder than he thought it would be, and for different reasons. Wei Ying often does not sleep enough as it is. He had falsely presumed that would give him an advantage in a scenario where he could not sleep, forgetting, of course, that he cannot use his golden core to bolster his energy the way he normally would. It would be too much strain on his body. For now, all processes must be focused on the healing, leaving nothing left for any other practices.
They end up trying a fair amount of techniques. This is not Lan Wangji's home, so he does not have the many puzzles and strategy games he has there, usually employed by him and Lan Xichen on days where they could manage a few hours of quiet to themselves. He finds a deck of cards in one of his emergency packs, a boon which entertains them for a long while, Wei Ying getting frustrated at Lan Wangji's impeccable poker face.
"You're a thief!" he crows, eyes red-rimmed and cheeks flushed. "A grifter! Schemer! A con man of—of ill repute!"
Lan Wangji gives nothing away. "Wei Ying has too many tells."
"You Lans have, like, hiding genes. Hidery genes. Do they train you on this?"
Slowly, he shakes his head. "I am unusual in this regard, even in comparison to my sect."
"The most Lan to ever Lan?" Wei Ying would probably have meant that as an insult, once. Now, he notes the flash of glee in Wei Ying's eyes as he says it, the overwhelming fondness on his face. It feels like seeing more than he ought. Private. He has to look away.
"In some ways." He is certainly a Lan in how quickly he has fallen in love. Brutally fast, like being pushed off a cliff, no warning or time to prepare himself. He has been told it was similar for his father, once.
He can only hope not to repeat his mistakes. Do not trap him, he reminds himself, warring with his brother's voice in his mind, do not keep it so close you bury it. There must be balance, correct? Some way to tell Wei Ying of his feelings in a way that won't overwhelm him or leave him feeling obligated?
Lan Wangji has seen the way he interacts with his family, has heard stories about the scandal of it, the Jiangs adopting a servant's boy like that. He is now one of the most respected Head Disciples in the Great Sects, but that sense of debt and duty rides him hard. There is a reason Wei Ying makes up for being late in the mornings by staying well past his shift in the evenings, checking in on everyone, always on call.
He does not want to be something on Wei Ying's list of duties.
Eventually, they get tired of poker, mostly because Wei Ying's sense of competition will only allow him so many losses before he grows bored and fidgety. They trade ideas back and forth before settling on some strange mash-up of truth or dare and twenty questions. "If you don't wanna answer," Wei Ying explains, shoving his cold feet under Lan Wangji's leg as he gets comfortable on his side of the couch, "you have to say something else."
"Another secret." Wei Ying wiggles his toes. "Like, so you're always giving up something, even if it's not the thing you were originally asked for. Keeps it even."
This is, perhaps, the most terrifying game Lan Wangji has ever been asked to play. He frowns. "Are you in the correct state of mind to play such games?"
"What, high?" Wei Ying chuckles. "Yeah, these are like, drinking games usually. I'm good. Are you good?"
Lan Wangji frowns harder. "I am not under any influence."
"So you say!"
He does not indulge Wei Ying's suspicions, putting a hand on his ankle to stop him moving his feet so much. He does not mind Wei Ying shamelessly taking advantage of his warmth, but the squirming makes it difficult to concentrate. Wei Ying stills.
"Who goes first?"
Wei Ying clears his throat. "Me, duh. I'm injured! The sick one always goes first."
"What if more than one person has been injured or is sick?"
He considers it, pink tongue darting out to wet his lips. Lan Wangji stares straight ahead at the darkened TV screen. He can still see Wei Ying's side profile in the reflection.
"Flip a coin, maybe? Anyway, since you're fit enough to carry a grown man without even blinking, I think you should take pity on me."
Lan Wangji nods. Wei Ying lifts his arms up to cheer before wincing at the way it pulls on his bicep.
"Okay, okay, okay, ah, Lan Zhan... Have you ever gotten in trouble without me there to provoke it?"
The only time he remembers getting into trouble, Wei Ying has determined himself to be the cause of. Once, he'd been smug about the near-pristine nature of his record. He had always known his boundaries, always acted in accord with his sect and their principles, and always been righteous. Having spent so much time with Wei Ying, he is no longer certain what he feels about it, but he shakes his head. "I have not."
Wei Ying reaches out to poke him in the arm. "Boring!" He's smiling, which eases the sting, but Lan Wangji is glad for Wei Ying's words in the Xuanwu Cave. He does not want to be boring, not to Wei Ying.
He needs to get off this topic.
"What is Wei Ying's favorite song?"
"Lan Zhan, that's not personal at all! Or, it is, but it's not juicy. Besides, I can't pick favorites, that's just too hard. It's like asking if I have a favorite child. Or if you have a favorite bunny!"
"Jiao." He immediately bites his tongue. Wei Ying's eyes widen. For a moment, there is silence between them.
Wei Ying bursts into hitching, gasping laughter.
"Lan Zhan! You have a favorite bunny? That makes sense, Jiao is so cute, all that black fur."
"Mn." His ears are burning, his gaze averted. How does Wei Ying always bring out such things in him?
"So generous with your free answers, but alas, you cannot trick the great and devious Wei Ying out of asking you more! Since I can't think of a song... my least favorite animal is dogs. Least favorite is way easier to answer than favorite, hm?"
He senses a story there, but Wei Ying does not seem interested in elaborating. He could ask, of course, on the next round, but it may be cruel, if the story is a very bad one. He will file it away for later.
"Speaking of least favorite, what's your least favorite Gusu Lan Principle?"
Ah. Wei Ying is likely trying to embarrass him, but he easily identifies which principle has always troubled him. "Be mighty, and others will die for you. Might should not motivate loyalty, and I do not want anyone who is loyal to me to die for it."
Wei Ying winces. "Yeah, that one sounds suited to the ancient times when everyone was warring. Now it's a little out of date."
He nods. "This is the reason for the modified list."
"Still made me copy all four thousand!" Wei Ying sticks out his tongue. Lan Zhan knows he stares at it a little too long, but he does not check whether Wei Ying has noticed.
He considers his questions, but is not brave enough yet to ask most of them. "Of those you remember, which of the Gusu Lan principles do you like best?"
Wei Ying points at him, glaring. "Don't think I didn't notice you asked a favorites question again, even if you didn't say favorite." He strokes his chin as he thinks, reaching behind him to grab a throw pillow he can hug. "Eh, this is hard, they're so stuffy! I suppose you can't go wrong with do not take advantage of your position to oppress others, though that should just be a given of human society, I can recognize it's not. Or maybe appreciate the good people, I like the sentiment of it. That's not one answer, do you accept?"
"Ha, tricked you! Alright, time for the deep shit, I'm bored. What's the best and worst days of your life?"
He thinks about pointing out that this is two questions, but decides he doesn't really mind. It gives him the precedent for future flexibility of his own. "Worst... when my mother died." He stares down at the curve of Wei Ying's knee, avoiding his eyes. "I was told, but I did not believe it. I waited for her to open her door all night, until Uncle found me." His fingers had been half-frozen with winter chill, his knees sore and aching from kneeling on the doorstep. He had not understood what he did wrong. He had not been aware that it was not his fault, no matter how many times the Elders and his brother told him so.
"Lan Zhan..." In spite of his knowledge that the question was personal, Wei Ying still sounds a little guilty. He reaches out to brush his fingers over Lan Wangji's shoulder. "And the best?"
He thinks about it. It takes far longer than thinking of the worst day had been, but that is the nature of human memory. We cling to the worst of them. After a minute or so of silence, he shrugs. "I do not think I have had my best day, yet. I am still waiting."
Wei Ying sucks in a harsh breath. They sit with that knowledge for a while longer before he is gently prodded into continuing the game.
"Do you prefer perfect honesty or a protective lie?"
"Honesty." Wei Ying's answer is so fast it makes him laugh. "Ironic, considering I don't often employ that tactic myself, but I guess we hate the stuff we do the most, right?"
Lan Wangji files away this information in his now overflowing folder on all things Wei Ying. He also files away the look he's getting, right now, warm and a little bit awed; it's almost as if Wei Ying did not expect to be entertained by him for so long. He does not yet understand the lengths to which Lan Wangji would go to keep that look, to learn more of Wei Ying and the strange inner workings of his mind.
"What's the stupidest thing you've ever done drunk?"
Lan Wangji feels himself smirk for a moment. "I have never been drunk."
Wei Ying's mouth drops open. He splutters. "Lan Zhan! I know you got me in trouble for liquor so many times, but I thought you'd have tried it by now."
"Alcohol is prohibited."
"Within the Cloud Recesses! Not, like, all the time, right?"
Lan Wangji concedes the point. "Most of our sect does not adhere to this rule outside the boundaries of the Cloud Recesses, no."
"But you do. By choice, or coincidence?"
"Are we allowing follow-up questions?"
Wei Ying tilts his head. "Just one, and you don't have to answer, it's not a forfeit."
"Mn." Lan Zhan thinks it over. He hadn't considered his motivations before now. "Both, perhaps. I have never been tempted to try."
Wei Ying hums, interested. Lan Zhan finds himself eager to ask more, if only to discover new facts about Wei Ying. It is a fun game.
Over the next couple hours, they delve deeply into each others' lives. Through the lens of a game, with rules and structure, it becomes easier to share things that likely would not come up in conversation. He learns that Wei Ying lived on the streets for several months before he was adopted by the Jiang Clan, that he does not care for vinegar, that the only memory he has of his parents is riding in their car with the sunroof open on a long, winding road, and that if he were not a cultivator, he might have tried his hand at becoming a farmer. Wei Ying's least favorite color was white (I always thought you Gusu Lan looked like you were in mourning all the time, honestly, with those white ribbons and uniforms, but I've started coming around to it) and now it is a combination of yellow and green. He learned much of his English by listening to angry women sing country music. He is unnerved by people speaking to human children in the same voice they might use on a pet.
In turn, Lan Wangji talks more than he thinks he has in the past two years. He admits that his mother did not love his father, but did love him and Lan Xichen very much, at least, from what memories he has. He likes vinegar, as well as other sour or bitter tastes, much to Wei Ying's chagrin. He would like to adopt a child before he is thirty, which Wei Ying coos over until his face is thin as paper. He has put out on the first date, which Wei Ying mocks in delighted tones, and he has never been asked on a date, or been given flowers, both of which Wei Ying treats as extreme injustices in the world. If he were not a cultivator, he likely would have been a musician, which Wei Ying thinks is both boring of him and in character. Boring comes up often, but there is always something to offset the dull ache of it, whether Wei Ying is saying he'd buy up 100 tickets to every show thanks to his massive agricultural empire, or clumsily crawling across the couch to cup his face and make sure he knows I'll get you all the flowers, Lan Zhan, so many, in all the colors until you've got pollen on your nose and you're attracting bees.
He is glad that, of all the people in the world, Wei Ying is the one who wants to.
Between their first two ideas to waste the time, they have made it through approximately four hours. The sun is beginning to kiss the horizon, turning the sky warm and blush-pink through the windows. It is long past the time Lan Wangji would normally wake up. Wei Ying has probably stayed up this late before simply for fun, or because he could, or to complete an overdue assignment.
He stays close even after he lets go of Lan Wangji's face. After a peaceable sigh, he settles in against Lan Wangji's shoulder, smacking his lips. It is denying both of them when he pushes him off.
"Lan Zhan," he whines.
"Wei Ying. You are supposed to stay awake."
"I'm very awake!" His eyes are bloodshot, his stomach growling. He does look rather pitiful. Lan Wangji gives him a look, and Wei Ying relents. "Fine, fine." Instead of snuggling in, he rests his chin on Lan Wangji's shoulder. Wei Ying is so close he can count each individual eyelash, sooty and surprisingly long where they frame his quicksilver eyes. He hopes the pounding of his heart is not reflected on his face.
"Do you wish to stop?"
Wei Ying pouts. "No. But I think if we keep sitting and talking, I'll nod right off. Your voice is so soothing, Hanguang-jun, have mercy."
"Mn." He waits, but Wei Ying offers nothing further. "What would you like to do, then?"
"I dunno. Entertain me!"
Lan Wangji gives him another look. Wei Ying laughs, pressing his forehead to Lan Wangji's shoulder and shaking with it. When he looks up again, his eyes have darkened with warmth.
He's never wanted to kiss someone so badly in his life.
"Yeah, just like that. I could sit here trying to guess all your looks for hours! Like this one... means you like me, I think."
For a moment, panic surges through him, but Wei Wuxian's grin remains unchanged. "That's progress, you know. I used to tell everyone we were enemies. That I was so special you hated me and me alone! But you didn't even remember. Isn't that funny?"
It isn't, really, but he feels relieved nonetheless. Wei Ying means as friends. He means that Lan Wangji no longer 'hates' him, though he cannot imagine himself doing so. Who was he before, an idiot? A fool? An entirely different person? It twists at his heart.
To cover his panic, he shakes his head. "You would quickly grow bored and fall asleep."
Wei Ying scrunches his nose. "Would not. You're so interesting!"
He feels his brows raise minutely. Wei Ying has called him boring six times since they entered his residence. Reading him more clearly than he would have expected, Wei Ying laughs again. "Ah, Lan Zhan, you can't listen to me! Most of the time, I'm only teasing. Remember the Xuanwu Cave? I don't think you're boring at all."
His expression must remain skeptical, because Wei Ying reaches down to tangle their hands together. He is very affectionate, in general, but Lan Wangji has never been the intended target for such an extended period of time. It is overwhelming in the best and worst of ways. Is Wei Ying only doing this because he is out of his wits? Does he desire this normally, but force himself not to take it? Or is Lan Wangji merely any port in a storm?
"Really, you're really fascinating. I always think you're going to do something different than you do. You were so predictable when we were younger! Now you make villages out of paper balls and carry me in elevators. How could I be bored with you?"
Lan Wangji swallows hard, feeling his own throat bob. In spite of Wei Ying's words in the cave, he'd not properly internalized them, happy with them in the moment and not necessarily applying them in the aftermath. Wei Ying is not the first, second, or even tenth person to call him stuffy and boring, so he had not considered how this would feel. To be regarded as—fascinating, by someone with such a sharp, bouncing mind, who can never stay focused on one thing for long. He is something that captures Wei Ying's fraught attention span.
It feels impossible. It staggers him, warmth and affection wrapping him in a vise grip.
"I am glad." It feels too honest, but he doesn't want to leave Wei Ying drifting alone. He knows that Wei Ying normally keeps these statements hidden behind a smile or a joke. To be this vulnerable, it must in part be related to his heightened emotional state, his intoxication. Lan Wangji knows the sentiments are still likely to be felt, but this level of openness deserves some of his own, even if he has to shove the words past his clogged throat with the force of a battering ram. "Wei Ying, what would you like to do?"
He hums, chin vibrating against Lan Wangji's shoulder. They've been close like this for so long that Lan Wangji has grown used to it. He will, perhaps, feel bereft when they have to move, but that is a problem for his future self. His present is contented, cat-like in satisfaction as he matches a beauty mark at Wei Ying's hairline to the one just beneath his lower lip. When he is sure, or if Wei Ying asks, he will kiss each one and search for more.
Wei Ying must be sober for that, however.
"Anything?" His lilt is teasing, but Lan Wangji nods.
"Except sleeping or eating." He is slightly chagrined, but Wei Ying does not seem disappointed. His eyes are sweet curves of mirth, matching his easy grin.
"Anything?" he asks again.
Lan Wangji squeezes his hand. "Within reason," he reminds, relishing Wei Ying's pout. He watches him think. At one point, he wets his lips, and his breath fans Lan Wangji's cheek.
He will dream about this, he knows. He looks forward to it.
"Would you drink?"
The question surprises him. Wei Ying must see his face do something, because he sits up, eyes wide. "Not that you have to! But um. If you were curious. Maybe. I can't, but you can, and then we could be—matching. Both of us loopy." His smile is sweet and shy. "Do you want to get loopy with me, Lan Zhan?"
It is, objectively, a terrible idea. There is no guarantee that he will be able to keep Wei Ying awake or stop him from eating if he is drunk. He has no way to guess his own alcohol tolerance, no frame of reference for how he will behave or how much he will remember. It would be extremely irresponsible of him to say yes.
Wei Ying is looking at him as though, should he say yes, he would have hung the moon and stars themselves.
"Would you stay awake?"
"Lan Zhan!" He places a hand over his heart. "You wound me. I feel clearer, now. Can't you tell?"
Now that he's asking, Lan Wangji does see it. His sentences are more coherent and thought out, though they are still more open than Wei Ying is prone to being. He narrows his eyes.
"Wei Ying." His voice is grave. Wei Ying sways closer at the sound of it. "Your sister and Wen Qing have both indicated that I will die an unpleasant death should I fail to take care of you."
He blinks, then bursts into helpless giggles, scrunching his whole face up. Lan Wangji is hopelessly endeared.
"So scared! Lan Zhan, you should see your expression, like you're about to attend your own funeral! I promise, nothing bad will happen. I'll be on my best behavior."
Lan Wangji stares. Wei Ying's best behavior is not what he would call good. This seems to affront him.
"Alright, fine, I'll be awake. I won't raid your fridge. I swear! Besides, you don't have to get drunk. Just one little sip! Just to try. Really, I can't let you go without introducing you to the wonders of liquor, Lan Zhan, it's one of my favorite things in the world."
It will embarrass him later, but this is probably what convinces him. Going through Wei Ying's duffel, he finds a coat to put him in for the walk to the corner store. Wei Ying grumbles as Lan Wangji bundles him up, but he is agreeable enough on their exit, looping their arms together as has become customary and clinging tight for their journey downstairs and across the street. Lan Wangji rarely shops at convenience stores, he's too much of a planner, but they have a basic selection of liquor, which Wei Ying paws through with an air of haughty affront.
"None of these are good enough for you, Lan Zhan!" He seems positively incensed. Lan Wangji holds back a smile.
"It is my first. I will not know the difference."
"But I will."
Wei Ying is pouting harder than ever. Lan Wangji wants to bite his lip until it bleeds, wants to lick at the wound and keep it open until Wei Ying makes pained little noises into his mouth. His next sentence is one Lan Wangji misses entirely past the ringing in his ears.
"—so really, when you think about it—"
He stands with his hands on his hips, eyes widened slightly. They are still very red. Lan Wangji does not have feelings or thoughts on the subject. Whatever Wei Ying sees, he nods, swallowing once and turning to pick a bottle of wine.
"This is a good place to start. Lan Zhan, I can't believe you've never tried any of this. You're from Gusu! Home of Emperor's Smile! That's five thousand times better than any of this stuff."
He has heard of Emperor's Smile. It is reputed to be one of the clearest, lightest liquors brewed in the country. Many people consider it the finest; Wei Ying seems to be one of them.
Chattering about the delights of Emperor's Smile, they make it all the way through check-out and back to the apartment. Lan Wangji sits Wei Ying at the table and goes through his cupboard for the most appropriate cup, eventually settling on a small, decorative liquor bowl. All of the dishes came with the pre-furnished home, but they have a hint of personality to them, something a little off center that he's sure is supposed to make the temporary nature of the lease less bleak.
Lan Wangji sits across from Wei Ying and pours. He looks morose as the liquor flows, inhaling deeply and laughing a little to himself. "Even that basic swill smells good to me right now. Probably knowing I can't have it. Doesn't that make everything sweeter?"
He thinks of the desperation with which he wants Wei Ying, who is both close and as far from him as ever. "Mn." He hopes he will not remain unobtainable forever.
For a few moments, the little bowl remains between them. It sits as though Wei Ying has thrown down a gauntlet. He props his chin in his hand and tilts his head, gazing at Lan Wangji through somewhat lowered lashes. He frowns. Wei Ying straightens up with a chuckle.
"That wasn't a sleepy gesture! I was just getting ready to watch."
"Of course. What else is worth watching?"
Lan Wangji has the bowl in hand before he consciously registers it. He suddenly understands people's impulse to drink as a way of escaping their problems. He downs the bowl in the hopes that it will make his heart stop jumping the moment Wei Ying says anything close to complimentary.
Surprisingly, he likes the taste. He was not sure he would, but the hint of bitterness and sour sits directly in his wheelhouse. It slides down his throat with ease. He licks his lips as he sets down the bowl, pleased at Wei Ying's rapt attention. Should he pour another?
He motions vaguely to the bottle, but Wei Ying snatches it, cuddling it close to his chest with an attempt at a glare. It's ruined by the amusement dancing in his eyes. "Ah, ah, we don't know your tolerance yet. You should wait a few minutes. So greedy!"
Lan Wangji nods. He will wait. As they do, Wei Ying gets up to set the bottle on the counter before returning to his seat, chin in hand again. "Don't worry, Lan Zhan. Even if you're an awful drunk, I'll take care of you."
The words flush him with warmth. "Mn." He feels... tired. Mirroring Wei Ying, he discovers it feels good to rest his head. He considers closing his eyes and the world goes dark.
When he emerges, he feels—strange. Off-center. He blinks slowly, looking at Wei Ying, who is looking back with extreme amusement.
"I thought you were out for good! Which would have been a shame, seeing as you're meant to entertain me into keeping awake. Who knew I'd be the one having to worry about keeping you up today?" The sun is well into the sky at this point, early morning light filtering in and filling the apartment with dappled shadows. Wei Ying leans in, eyes narrowing as he searches Lan Wangji's face. He sits very still. He will let Wei Ying look his fill. It is good, to do what Wei Ying wants from him, to please him.
He finds it is motivating him greatly.
"You know, I really can't tell the difference. You aren't even flushed!" Before he can prepare for it, the back of Wei Ying's hand is brushing his face. His mouth drops open in surprise.
Wei Ying absolutely cackles.
"Well at least I know you're human! Your face is so warm, Lan Zhan, I could cook an egg on it. You really are drunk after just that little bowl, huh?"
"No." He is not drunk. He would know, surely, if he was? He would feel different. He does not. He still likes Wei Ying so much. He still knows he must keep him awake, and stop him from eating.
He will take care of him.
Lan Wangji checks his phone. In less than three hours, he will be able to make Wei Ying something to eat. He should check his fridge. He does not have meat. He did not expect to bring Wei Ying home with him today. He has nothing to his tastes; the thought sends a frisson of panic through him.
He's on his feet in the next moment, opening his fridge and rummaging through it. Nothing to be found. Closing it, he goes through the cupboards, frustrated with himself. He'd thought of buying chili oil when they got back from the Cloud Recesses, but it had seemed too forward, or like he was expecting more than he deserved or could receive. How could he expect Wei Ying to want to spend even more time with him, after they already saw each other for twelve hours a day? He'd been right, too—Wei Ying had barely communicated over their shared weekend, only returning to his barrage of inane texts when he was trying to distract Lan Wangji from work during the day.
Now, he curses himself for a fool. When he shuts everything away again, Wei Ying leans against the wall behind him, following his every move. "Looking for something?"
He nods. Then, he turns to get his coat. Wei Ying trails after him, but Lan Wangji offers nothing until he asks: "Lan Zhan? Where are we going?"
"Okay. We were just there, though. What do you need?"
Lan Wangji faces him with a frown. "Chili oil. Meat."
Something flickers on Wei Ying's face. Like this, he seems very sober to Lan Wangji, who wonders if that is a sign of his drunkenness before remembering he's already decided he is not drunk. He steps into Lan Wangji's space, who has to fight down a shuddering breath.
"Do you need anything, baobei?"
The endearment flushes through him, heating the tips of his ears in an instant. He shakes his head, then nods, frowning harder. "Food for Wei Ying."
"Wei Ying is fine." His voice is so nice. He has not heard it in this manner before, soft and close, intimate. It cracks something in his chest. "I can't eat, remember?"
Lan Zhan is affronted. "Not now. Later."
Wei Ying's eyes are dancing again. He wants that. He likes it when something he says makes Wei Ying happy. Even if he's laughing at him, specifically, he is glad to make him happy. Sometimes that part makes him feel drunk, the way he definitely is not right now, even though he doesn't know what it would feel like if he was.
His jaw clenches. He must make Wei Ying happy. If Wei Ying is not happy, he won't stay. Lan Wangji needs to figure out how to make him, to keep him, to—to—
"Lan Zhan." He feels a hand come up to his shoulder. It softens him, slightly. "We can go later, okay? I don't know if it's a good idea for you to go now."
He shakes his head. "It must be now."
Wei Ying's mouth gently quirks. "Is that so?"
A nod. He will not explain. Wei Ying is not ready to hear it. He mixes up their coats, only realizing when he goes to button his and realizes there's a zipper, instead.
He is not drunk. He may be tipsy, however. That is allowed.
Wei Ying looks like he wants to point out the confusion, but he looks so good swamped in Lan Wangji's long coat that he refuses to acknowledge that. Tugging Wei Ying out the door, they make their way back to the convenience store, arm in arm once more, as if they go everywhere like this. If Lan Wangji had his way, they would. It would be nice to link himself to Wei Ying permanently. Perhaps there is a talisman for that.
The store is more difficult to navigate than he remembers. Not wanting Wei Ying to get lost, he parks him in the corner with both hands on his shoulders, gaze fierce. "Stay."
Wei Ying looks like he's trying desperately not to laugh, which is confusing. Getting lost is a serious matter. Lan Wangji must always be able to find him. He waits for a nod of assent before darting off, walking through the aisles and finding what he needs. Chili oil, which he presses into Wei Ying's arms. Hot chips, because Wei Ying likes them, a bag half full on his desk more often than not. Noodles, because he's run out. Pork and eggs for Wei Ying's breakfast. He puts each into Wei Ying's arms one at a time, not letting him move until they're finished, fumbling his phone as he goes to scan out.
"You should let me pay next time," Wei Ying says, shaking his head and putting his phone away. Lan Wangji pretends not to hear him.
The first thing he does when he gets back is put away the groceries. The second thing is hanging his coat. Something about the order is wrong, but he gets everything where it's meant to go, in the end. Is that not the most important part?
Only when he's got the apartment organized does he join Wei Ying, who has been watching from the couch, curled over the back like a cat. His eyes gleam; for a moment, Lan Zhan can envision a swishing tail. "Do you like cats?" he asks, sitting next to Wei Ying. There is a lot of space on the couch. It is not nearly as appealing as soaking in Wei Ying's warmth for as long as possible.
He doesn't seem to mind, either. "I do, actually." He's leaning his head on his elbow, but his eyes are open and clear, so Lan Wangji does not reprimand him. This time. "You know me, I like someone that's hard to win over. Cats are fun like that."
Lan Wangji also likes cats. "Do you want one?"
"A cat?" Wei Ying scratches his nose. "Ah, they're self-sufficient, but it wouldn't feel right to get a pet when I'm home less than I'm out, you know? Someday, maybe."
He scratches it off his list of birthday gifts. Wei Ying's birthday is a long ways away from now, but he is hopeful. They are not the youths they once were. Wei Ying must know that—that he feels—that he wants them to be close. Yes. He must know that much. It will have to do, for now.
Wei Ying gently prods Lan Wangji in the foot with his own. "Wanna play some more?"
Hm. It is a frightening prospect; he does not feel he has excellent control of his faculties at the moment. That said, they played before when Wei Ying was less clear-headed. It would be fair to even the score.
"Great! You first."
Lan Wangji takes his time considering, ultimately deciding to be brave. "When you first saw me again," he asks, studying the pattern of the hardwood floor beneath his feet, "did you hate me?"
It's clearly not what Wei Ying was expecting, judging by the harsh intake of air beside him. "I—what?"
"It is okay," he says, "if you did. I know you do not. Now."
"No, no, Lan Zhan, no. I didn't hate you. I..."
He waits, holding his breath. Wei Ying laughs a little hoarsely.
"I was mad that you forgot. It's stupid, it doesn't matter anymore. But no. I didn't hate you. Of course not." He pokes Lan Wangji in the bicep with one long finger. "Who could hate the noble Hanguang-jun? Not I."
He doesn't want to be that, not to Wei Ying. He does not feel particularly noble around him. He does not feel like the bearer of light, shining across darkness. To Wei Ying he is always Lan Zhan. If there are expectations, they are not lofty, nor do they carry a hefty weight. Perhaps that is why they hold such intrinsic value to him. He turns to face Wei Ying, eyes struggling to focus on his before catching, steady.
"Wei Ying," he says, "Wei Ying, I."
"Don't look so guilty! Lan Zhan ah, you said it yourself, didn't you? Between us, there is no need for 'sorry' or 'thank you'. That was very smart of you."
He does remember saying that, but he feels Wei Ying deserves the apology. Or if not an apology, a promise.
"I will not forget," he vows, solemn and heavy on his tongue. "From now on, I will never forget a single moment I share with you." This he knows. Every minute detail of Wei Ying has tattooed itself across his inner thoughts by now. Even when he is not directly thinking about him, he never strays far from his thoughts, hovering with the promise of more the moment his mind is free to wander. He reaches out, brushing Wei Ying's cheek with his fingertips. His hand falls into his lap like a stone, heavy and tingling with warmth; Wei Ying's cheeks are glowing. "I swear it."
Something strange twists through Wei Ying's expression. It is not easy to decipher.
"I believe you." Just like that, Lan Wangji can breathe properly once more. Wei Ying's laugh this time sounds strained. "You might not remember this, but I'll still believe you."
Lan Wangji frowns. "I promised."
"And you're drunker than I have ever been, which is impressive, honestly, considering how little you drank." Wei Ying pats his head. It is both condescending and fond. Lan Wangji tilts his head back, surprising Wei Ying just long enough to catch one of his fingers and bite.
Lan Wangji has heard that tone before. He has heard it from people he's fucked before. Approximately half of the blood in his brain rushes south in an instant, though he knows he should not push his luck. He gives Wei Ying a smug look. He looks mortally offended.
"Lan Zhan! What are you, a beast?"
He pretends he has not heard the question. Wei Ying snorts and flicks his shoulder. "I can't believe people think you're reserved and serene."
The smugness only intensifies. He does not want to be reserved or serene in the eyes of Wei Ying. He has succeeded, and he has tasted Wei Ying's skin, and he seems to be well on his way to healing. Lan Wangji leans against the couch cushions with extreme satisfaction.
"Ask me," he says. Wei Ying's grin is tired but agreeable.
"Lan Zhan," he says, afixing him with a look. "Lan Zhan, what's your favorite thing about how I look?"
He is suddenly glad for his lack of biological ability to blush. If he did not have this, he would surely be flushed entirely red by now. Does Wei Ying... does he know? He studies him, not possessed with the greatest ability to read people in this state, but comes away ultimately satisfied. No. This is merely Wei Ying teasing, as he always does, reminding people he is handsome only when he thinks they are out of his reach or uninterested.
Lan Wangji is neither. Convincing Wei Ying of that will be another story.
Clearly not expecting a straightforward answer, Wei Wuxian blinks. "My—smile?"
"Mn." His ears are burning. "Wei Ying smiles with his whole body. His teeth are—cute."
That lovely smile is lighting up his face again. Lan Wangji fights the urge to sway toward it. "Lan Zhan, you can't be so nice to me! You're too much. Stop being sincere."
His brows furrow. Wei Ying often says the opposite of what he wants. Does he want Lan Wangji to continue? It seems like he may.
"Your front teeth," he says, "they are slightly bigger. Like—bunnies. Your eyes are very small. Cute."
Wei Ying has buried his face in his hands entirely, depriving Lan Wangji of his smile, now. Is this some sort of punishment?
"Lan Zhan," he whines, "you're going to kill me."
"I will not." He puts his hand on Wei Ying's arm, checking his phone. "Wei Ying. In a half hour, you may sleep."
He scrubs his hands over his face before revealing it again, a delicate flush spread across his skin. He is so—lovely. Lan Wangji does not know what to do with him. Wei Ying looks equally baffled by Lan Wangji's existence.
"Alright. One half hour. No more games, you'll give me a heart attack. What should we do?"
Lan Wangji pretends that he has not been thinking about this. "Bed."
Wei Ying's lips twitch. "I thought we had to wait a half an hour?"
"Not for sleeping, yet. We will stay up." He drags him to the second bedroom, which he has had no use for until now, but his stipend paid for anyway. Then he goes to retrieve Wei Ying's duffel bag. "Get ready."
"Yes, sir," Wei Ying mumbles. Lan Wangji manages to get out the door before tripping over his own feet as he registers those words. He. He will have to unpack this reaction later.
HIs own journey to bedtime readiness is clumsy. For one, his rhythms are off. It is now nearing late morning, not at all a typical time for him to sleep. He almost misses the toothbrush with his toothpaste, staring down like the two items have offended him. Nevertheless, he manages to prepare himself, returning to collect an amused and unkempt Wei Ying when he returns. There is a kink in his hair from where the ribbon had kept it in place, but it otherwise falls in soft waves down his back, apart from the portion on the side of his head which is shaved entirely. He has not changed from his comfortable clothes, which makes sense, but it seems he is otherwise ready.
Lan Wangji takes him by the wrist, leading him into his bedroom and depositing him in front of the bed. "Sit," he says, pointing at the floor. "I will comb your hair."
Wei Ying's cheeks flush again. "You—what?"
"Sit." Lan Wangji takes him by the shoulders and pushes, just a little, until Wei Ying buckles and puts his body into a lotus pose at the foot of Lan Wangji's bed.
His stomach flip-flops intensely, a thousand creatures squirming in delight and anticipation within him. He goes to retrieve the comb.
When he was young, his mother would do this for him. She would comb his hair long after the tangles and snarls were cleared, the soothing, rhythmic motion of it calming his nerves and making him feel cared for, even treasured. Now he will do the same for Wei Ying, who will know that Lan Wangji treasures him.
He slides into position with his legs on either side of Wei Ying's shoulders. The man in question tilts his head back to look at him, a long, searching look. Lan Wangji hopes he likes what he finds. He cannot control his face well enough to hide anything that might be leaking out from under the surface of him, not right now.
Carefully, he grasps Wei Ying's head in both hands, tilting it so it sits straight on his neck again. "Stay," he murmurs, and Wei Ying nods before stilling beneath his touch.
At first, there are many tangles. His family has very straight, very even-tempered hair, as far as he understands. Wei Ying, meanwhile, has waves to his, which of course means more snags with the comb. He eases them gently but not with a light touch, gathering the hair above the snarls so that Wei Ying does not feel the tugs against his skull. Once all of the tangles are cleared for the moment, he begins to run the comb slowly through the strands, trailing it over Wei Ying's scalp before dragging it through the rest of his heavy hair, tugging pleasantly at the strands. He remembers this feeling well. He hopes Wei Ying enjoys it as much as he does. From the sighs he makes, he thinks he does.
Lan Wangji zones out. He's not sure how long he brushes Wei Ying's hair, losing himself in the repetitive, soothing motion of it for a while. It's only when Wei Ying catches his wrist that he slows, listening to his low chuckle and feeling the sound throb all the way through him like a physical touch.
"If you keep that up," Wei Ying says, voice low and throaty, "I'll fall asleep."
"Just a little longer," Lan Wangji assures him.
The two sit for a moment before Lan Wangji remembers what to do. He sets the comb aside, getting to his feet on one side and offering Wei Ying a hand up. When he goes to lead him out of the room and back to his own, however, Wei Ying frowns.
"Where are we going?"
Lan Wangji slows in the threshold. "I am tucking you in. You are tired, and healing. Your necessary wakefulness is nearly at its end. By the time you fall asleep, it will be completed."
Wei Ying frowns. "But I didn't get to do yours."
Lan Wangji blinks, slowly, then again. "Mine?"
Reaching out, Wei Ying takes a few strands of Lan Wangji's hair between his fingertips. "Your hair. Don't you want help with it?"
He had not considered it. He did not know he could want someone to touch his hair so badly, aside from his mother, who never again would. He nods, lets Wei Ying guide him into the same position he was in before, listens to him chatter as he takes any extraneous hairs of his own from the comb and walks them to the trash in the corner of his room. When he sits behind him, Wei Ying's knees squeeze Lan Wangji's shoulders once, comforting.
He feels a tug at his forehead ribbon and freezes.
"You don't sleep with this on, right?"
He cannot breathe. How could he forget the ribbon? He should be snatching it away and explaining its importance to Wei Ying, who has no doubt forgotten, if he ever learned the significance at all. He should be furious. Should, should, should, and all he feels is heat, dripping down his spine and curling in his gut. Wei Ying, tugging at his ribbon. Wei Ying, wrapping it around his own wrist. Lan Wangji tying both together, letting the white fabric dig slightly into the flesh, leaving welts when he eventually would untie it.
The want pulsing in his veins is nearly unbearable.
"No." His tongue feels far too thick in his mouth. "You may remove it." He holds his breath as Wei Ying begins to do so, unaware of what he's been offered, unknowing of what it means to Lan Wangji. He should tell him. He should. But the thought of being rejected, now, when his defenses are this low, is too much to bear. He remains silent as Wei Ying stands and splays it across the desk in the corner before returning to his former position.
"Didn't wanna forget and get it wrinkled or something," he explains, bracketing Lan Wangji's body with his knees once more. Unlike Lan Wangji, he chatters as he begins unraveling his braid, and all the way through, telling nonsense little stories about his family and friends as he goes. Lan Wangji feels a flash of jealousy at the name Wen Ning, which shows up often, but it seems to be in a fairly platonic capacity, and eventually the combing makes him feel so mellow he swallows down his vinegar and lets his shoulders droop.
At last, Wei Ying sets the comb aside. He pauses before running his fingers through Lan Wangji's hair, scritching at his scalp, gathering his hair behind his ears. "Your hair is like silk," he mumbles, arranging it so that it falls over Lan Wangji's right shoulder. Wei Ying's hand brushes the shell of his left ear a moment before falling away.
He stows the thank you bubbling in him, tucking it away, as there is no need for such things between them. Instead, he turns to look at Wei Ying out of the corner of his eye. "Yours is lighter. Like air."
Wei Ying laughs. Is it strained? No, surely not, what could have done so? "We're not getting into a compliment war, Lan Zhan." He punctuates the end of his sentence with a loud yawn. "We're too tired. Let's sleep, hm?"
He follows Wei Ying in spite of his assurances that he'll be fine, waiting until he's in bed and going to turn out the light for him. "Good night, Wei Ying." He hopes he does not forget what happened tonight. If he does, he knows Wei Ying will remind him. He has already done so for so many memories; this one, as the last, would be a fitting bookend.
"Good night, Lan Zhan."
Wei Wuxian wakes before Lan Zhan for what he thinks may be the first time in history.
He shouldn't gloat, really. Lan Zhan is not at fault for being unable to hold his liquor. Still, memories of their night and morning together waft over him like sweet incense, making him laugh to himself or shake his head as he starts on tea for the two of them. He doesn't think he'll ever forget the look on Lan Zhan's face, so earnest and warm, when he said he liked Wei Wuxian's bunny teeth.
He doesn't even have to hunt him down or reheat the tea. The sun is flirting with the idea of setting when Lan Zhan emerges, still in his pajamas. He slides into the seat facing Lan Zhan's bedroom and allows himself a little delight.
"Lan er-gege, you've slept so late! How irresponsible." Wei Wuxian is fully dressed while Lan Zhan remains in his pajamas. It makes him feel... cozy. A bit domestic. His head swims with the swirl of aromatic steam.
Lan Zhan briefly stops to thickens his face for an approach. Those pale eyes study him intently as he sits, fingers curling around the handle of his tea, making the largest mug Wei Wuxian could find seem suddenly tiny. "How does Wei Ying feel today?"
"Better than ever." It's true. His golden core has burned off any after-effects of the venom by this point; no more strange bouts of lethargy or swooping in his stomach. Well, he might have felt swooping in his stomach seeing Lan Zhan in a short-sleeved shirt with a dragon curling over the chest, but that's on him, not the dao lao gui.
Lan Zhan opens his mouth. "If you apologize," Wei Wuxian interrupts, "I'm developing a complex." He shuts his mouth. The two of them drink tea in silence. He thinks fondly of the jingshi, which for all its asceticism had so many traces of Lan Zhan compared to this place.
Just another stop on his great journey. Wei Wuxian almost chokes on his tea in an effort to wet his dry throat.
He waits until Lan Zhan is suitably relaxed to broach the mark he saw this morning, just as their day drew at last to a close. It feels wrong to just spring it on him, despite how desperately Wei Wuxian wants to examine it. When the silence goes from comfortable to the kind that makes him want to fidget, he decides he's given Lan Zhan all the time he can muster.
Before he can continue, he notes Lan Zhan's ears, exposed by the low braid he's wearing, flush red. He blinks. "What do you remember about last night?"
"Staying up with Wei Ying while the antidote ran its course." He resolutely looks somewhere past Wei Wuxian's ear while he says it.
He can't help the creeping smile on his face. "And what did we do?"
The flush on his ears spreads all the way to the lobes. It's unbearably charming. "I remember most of it. I told you I would." Wei Wuxian is surprised his memory goes that far, though it's clear there are some gaps. "The details are unimportant. The results were as intended."
"So you don't want to hear about how much you said you like..."
Lan Zhan's eyes snap to meet his, the ghost of panic behind them. Something he doesn't remember! Wei Wuxian draws out the moment for as long as possible, but can't bring himself to poke that thin face of his.
He looks away, but not before Wei Wuxian catches relief there. He made the right call; it would not be in Lan Zhan's best interests to tell him about how much he also likes Wei Wuxian's smile. While it was extremely endearing, he's not sure Lan Zhan's ready to hear it. Instead, he leans over the table with his elbows on it, chin propped on his palms as he studies Lan Zhan some more.
"You're a sweet drunk, you know. So honest. I think if I'd asked for the moon you'd have tried to fly up and grab it."
"Hm." Lan Zhan has now resorted to turning his entire face away from Wei Wuxian. Joke's on him, his profile is as fantastic as the full frontal.
"Are you always so obliging, or am I special?"
A delicate pause. Lan Zhan finishes his tea. "I would not know."
"That's right! It was your first time." Wei Wuxian feels tenderness pool in the cavity of his chest. "You're so unfair," he complains.
Lan Zhan gives him a look.
"I'm serious! The first time I got drunk, Jiang Cheng and I threw up on each other. You, on the other hand, just walked around being adorable and slept it right off with no hangover! The benefits of a mature golden core, but still." He pouts a little. "Unfair."
"Some might call it a reward for good behavior."
"I've been good!"
"Wei Ying is good," Lan Zhan agrees, causing the return of that little swoop he felt earlier, "when it suits him."
Wei Wuxian pretends at being mortally offended. "Well. Well! Just for that, I'm not telling you what I found this morning."
He waits about ten seconds. Lan Zhan sighs. "What did you find?"
"Would that be good?" he asks, tone sly. "If I told you?"
Lan Zhan looks him dead in the eye. "If you tell me, you will know."
Wei Wuxian flushes. Unlike Lan Zhan, his face hides absolutely nothing. He might as well have melted into a puddle beneath the table. Needing a distraction, he stands abruptly, reaching out and making grabby hands at Lan Zhan. "Come on, it'll be easier on the couch." He takes the hand up even though he surely doesn't need it. Wei Wuxian tries not to wonder whether his hands are clammy.
When Lan Zhan takes a seat on the couch, Wei Wuxian doesn't follow, pacing back and forth. "Okay, so. Don't panic."
The look he gets says so clearly I am not the one panicking that he might as well have said the words aloud. Wei Wuxian rolls his eyes.
"I mean it. There's not an easier way to say this, so—just. I found a curse mark behind your left ear."
Lan Zhan's hand rises to cover that spot almost unconsciously, his expression dropping. "What?"
"When I was done fixing your hair." His cheeks heat again. "It's really small and white; I don't think people usually get close enough to you to see it? And unless you're looking behind your left ear, why would you notice..."
He looks a little panicked for a moment, then takes a deep breath, obviously trying to quell it. He expects Lan Zhan to run straight for a mirror set up to try and see it, or maybe his phone camera. Instead, Lan Zhan looks up at him.
"Can you tell anything about origin or effect?"
"Not without a closer look." Wei Wuxian swallows hard. "I, uh, thought you should be sober for that part."
"Mn." Lan Zhan's gaze is expectant. That small tinge of desperation remains, flavoring every tiny expression as he runs through them. "Will you?"
"Oh, of course!" He's an idiot. He should not have needed Lan Zhan to say that aloud. Shaking off the hesitance, Wei Wuxian walks over to the couch, eyeing it a moment before pressing one knee into the cushion right beside Lan Zhan's leg. He kneels, ignoring the warmth as their bodies press together; it's a little awkward, but it's also the best vantage for him to see behind Lan Zhan's ear. "Turn that way?" He motions the opposite direction from himself. Lan Zhan turns so his knees press the cushions on the other side, his body at a diagonal.
Wei Wuxian exhales through his nose. There it is. He can see the sharp ends of a couple petals sticking out, even before he brushes Lan Zhan's hair back or moves his ear. "I'm just—gonna—"
Lan Zhan nods. This feels a lot like blanket permission. Wei Wuxian tries to yank his traitorous mind back on track.
First, he takes his braid in one hand and tosses it over the opposite shoulder. It's already doing most of the work to keep Lan Zhan's long, heavy hair out of the way, but this is the first time he's been sober while holding it in his hands. He finds his fingertips linger for a moment on the silky texture. Idiot. Letting it fall, he returns to the skin itself, one hand going to hold Lan Zhan still with the press of fingertips on the nape of his neck while the other hovers at his ear.
His skin is soft. From the look of him it should feel like jade, hard and cold, but Wei Wuxian knew that for a lie already. Lan Zhan runs warm, and his skin is as human and vulnerable as anyone else's.
Is his voice lower? Probably not, that would be ridiculous.
Wei Wuxian blinks dumbly at him for a moment before pulling it together. "Right, sorry, I'll be quick." He forces himself not to think about anything other than cultivation as his thumb hits the delicate shell of Lan Zhan's ear, bending it forward slightly so he can see the lotus in full. It's such a tiny thing. He's sure that the intent of whoever left it was for it to remain unseen forever; only someone paying the insane levels of attention Wei Wuxian has been would even let their eyes catch on it. Lan Zhan's skin is even paler here, not seeing the rays of the sun, but the lotus is so starkly white that it shows.
"I need to—" He can't finish the sentence, not knowing how to explain. Instead, Wei Wuxian leans closer, using his forearm to steady himself against Lan Zhan's shoulder. Strong, he thinks before slapping it away, intrusive and buzzing with all the annoyance of a gnat. Lan Zhan is cursed. He should be un-cursing him, not—not whatever his brain is doing.
He smells so good. Wei Wuxian is never again going to be able to walk into certain sections of the hardware store without getting hard.
"I'm going to touch it." Why is his voice so weird? Maybe he forgot to breathe, worrying Lan Zhan would be able to feel it. He takes his hand off the nape of Lan Zhan's neck and channels a little spiritual energy, brushing a fingertip over the tiny mark. In spite of its size and delicate beauty, the power of it punches through him, tearing a gasp from his throat.
"I'm fine." Really, that was more of a squeak, but he is, he's fine. It was just a surprise. He hurries to touch it again so Lan Zhan won't think he's freaking out, this time pressing his thumb over it. The punch of the magic is just as potent. Now that he's expecting it, he can tease out some details from it, though the signature is too scattered for him to get very much.
"Definitely multiple people." He thinks he hears Lan Zhan take a harsh breath. "It's not any of the basic ones, either. Probably modified, either for specification or ease of casting." He had guessed that, but he still frowns, pressing a little heavier into the hollow behind Lan Zhan's ear and trying to coax more from the mark itself as it interacts with his own spiritual power. "Feels like—maybe Suppression? Borrowing a little from Elimination, but not enough to actually hurt you. There's something else, too, something that's not curse magic at all, but—" he frowns down at it. "Lan Zhan, this is old. Years old, and very entangled with you. No one scanning your spiritual energy would even stumble over it."
"That would explain why it has not been found before."
He knows he's not imagining it this time; Lan Zhan's voice is definitely lower, rumbling pleasantly through him. He takes his thumb from the curse mark, though he can't resist tracing the shell of his ear before he goes. It reddens beneath his touch—before he can move from Lan Zhan's space, a hand snatches back at his wrist, holding so tightly he gasps.
Both of them freeze. Lan Zhan slowly turns his head until he can see Wei Wuxian's face, wrist still caught between them. He increases the pressure.
Wei Wuxian makes a tiny sound at the back of his throat.
"You like this," Lan Zhan says. It should feel like a non sequitur. His blood can't decide where to rush, some of it heating with arousal while the rest flushes hot around his head, making him dizzy.
He didn't know he liked this until right now, but he nods anyway. He does. He likes it. When Lan Zhan tightens his grip and the true bite of pain comes, he makes a higher, more embarrassing sound and has to squeeze his eyes shut.
The pressure eases. Lan Zhan rubs a thumb over his wrist in slow, soothing strokes. After a moment, his hand comes to cup Wei Wuxian's face.
"Wei Ying." It's just his name, but he doesn't think anyone has ever said it with such wonder. When he peeks from under his lashes, Lan Zhan is even wearing an expression; it isn't one he can name, something hungry or unfathomable, but his eyes have grown dark with how wide his pupils are.
Wei Wuxian is overcome with a blinding need to kiss him.
It's far too eager to be elegant. He leans too far forward too fast, scrambling so he doesn't lean all of his weight on Lan Zhan solely through their mouths. Lan Zhan, who takes it mostly in stride, whose hand is big enough to span the entire side of his face. He opens his mouth and it feels like permission; Wei Wuxian takes and takes until he's breathless with it.
There is a sense that Lan Zhan is coaxing him, like he's some wild animal he needs to bring to heel in order to get it to safer territory. He fights to breathe around that knowledge, to fit it inside himself, and then something must click, because Lan Zhan stops coaxing and demands. Exploratory touches of his tongue become a devouring art as he sucks the air from the room, from Wei Wuxian's lungs, until he's gasping and melting and practically falling into Lan Zhan's lap.
Dangerous, his brain tries to remind him, but that would be the warning of a coward, which Wei Wuxian is not.
Emboldened by the way Lan Zhan's tongue has overtaken his mouth, he scrambles for a moment, using Lan Zhan's shoulders for support so he can sit up long enough to actually slide into Lan Zhan's lap. Like this, Wei Wuxian can undo his braid and bury his fingers in Lan Zhan's hair, luxuriating in the heat rolling off him in syrupy waves. Thoughts swim slowly through the mush his brain’s become; when Lan Zhan gets his hands on Wei Wuxian’s waist, the only thing he can think is big.
“Lan Zhan,” he breathes into his mouth, barely brushing his hips against Lan Zhan’s abs and making a small, wounded noise. He doesn’t have anything else to say, just enjoying the way his name tastes, intimate and soft on his tongue. When he rolls his hips again, Lan Zhan traps him in place.
The hold is just shy of bruising. Wei Wuxian shivers and tries to move. A thrill shoots through him when he can't; he's always known that Lan Zhan was built for strength while he was made for speed and smooth dexterity, but there's knowing and there's knowing. Now he knows.
A wild noise sticks in his throat. "Lan Zhan," he pants, "you wanna trap me?" His fingers tighten enough for Wei Wuxian to moan. "Wanna—fuck—hold me where you want me? Make me?" He's asking like he knows the answer, like they've done this a thousand times. He could make him. He thinks Lan Zhan could do absolutely anything right now and he wouldn't say no. Lan Zhan pulls him down and grinds up and it's the control he takes, just as much as all that contact, that has his dick twitching in his pants.
He wants to ask more, but Lan Zhan grows bolder by the second, taking advantage of Wei Wuxian's preoccupied mouth and mouthing at his jaw, his neck, the tiny bit of shoulder exposed by his collar. "Wei Ying was good," he says into the sensitive skin at his throat. Wei Wuxian shudders so hard he almost forgets their earlier conversation.
"Was—was I?" He stutters as Lan Zhan teases him, lips brushing skin without giving the deeper sensation he craves.
"Mn." This close, he can feel the hum of Lan Zhan's lips, that familiar sound curling sharply in his stomach. Lower, maybe. "Because you were good," he says, devastating every time, "I will make it hurt."
The sound Wei Wuxian makes can only be described as a whimper.
Next he knows, Lan Zhan has stood with Wei Wuxian in his arms. His core strength is ridiculous. Wei Wuxian wants him to throw him against the wall. He doesn't throw him, exactly, but he does stumble them into the wall when Wei Wuxian curls his tongue around his earlobe, licking into his mouth again until both of them can no longer breathe. Wei Wuxian decides air is overrated, moaning as the hard line of Lan Zhan's cock aligns with his. The way he moves his hips is—is—
"No," he whines when Lan Zhan pulls back, attaching his teeth to Wei Wuxian's jaw instead. His body doesn't match his words, neck arching up even as he wants Lan Zhan's mouth back on his own. "Come back, come on, fuck, ah, Lan Zhan, that hurts!" He holds Lan Zhan at the back of his neck, keeping him glued to that spot until a dull throb runs all the way through his body. "What are you, a dog?" he gasps. The next sound he makes is incoherent.
Lan Zhan ignores him and his babble, lifting him at the thighs again and walking him the rest of the way to the bedroom. In spite of earlier words, he does the gentlemanly thing and sits on the bed rather than tossing Wei Ying onto it. He settles back into his spot on Lan Zhan's lap like he was born for it.
Wei Wuxian feels unhinged by this kiss, though he can't explain why it breaks him over any other. Maybe it's the intimacy; this is the only room that feels like Lan Zhan in this whole space. The air is tinged with sandalwood and jasmine, clean and warm, curling into his skin. I'll smell like Lan Zhan, he thinks, wanting to roll in his sheets, press their skin so tightly together that Wei Wuxian can absorb his sweat. Is that gross? It should be, but the thought of anything wet between them sends a pulse through his veins, a throb that beats the drum of desire.
Then there's Lan Zhan's hand on his ass, squeezing and pressing the seam of his jeans against his hole, and did that broken noise come from him?
"Ah, ah, Lan Zhan, you have to—sh-shut me up." Wei Wuxian stutters at the teeth latching onto his jugular, pressing a bruise in their shape before he lets go and sucks. The keening is definitely, definitely from him.
"So loud, what—what will your neighbors think, er-gege, your reputation—"
Lan Zhan leans back, pulling Wei Ying easily along with him until he's sprawled over him like a desperate, whining blanket. Once they're horizontal he's flipped onto his back, his legs bracketing Lan Zhan's thighs as he rolls his body down into Wei Wuxian's. With no attempt to silence him, Wei Wuxian lets himself be as loud as he want, exhaling in luxurious sighs or low groans depending on how Lan Zhan is moving at the time. He almost forgets he said anything until Lan Zhan's teeth bite at his jaw, just below his ear, a place he could not have told you was sensitive until this very moment. It feels so fast. It feels like they should've done this the moment Lan Zhan first came through the office door. He could've bent him right over his desk, wrung desperate noises from him as he tried to stay quiet.
Anything, anything, anything. Too much and not enough. They should have been doing this every day for weeks.
Lan Zhan finally answers him. "They will know," he says, breath hot on Wei Wuxian's cheek and hand trailing down to grasp his, lifting it up over his head to press him harder into the bed, "that you are shameless." He moans as if on command, woozy with how hard he is, how badly he wants to come. He strains his hips up, grinding against the hard line barely contained by Lan Zhan's bunny pajamas.
Fuck. Wei Wuxian likes him so much.
"That I make you so," he says into Wei Wuxian's collarbone, mouthing at his shoulder, warm and wet and so, so good. He can't stand it, he really can't.
"Off," he pants, "off, you're so mean, hiding like this, let me—" He's scrambling at Lan Zhan's shirt and trying to take his pants off with his feet at the same time.
Wei Wuxian feels something like a smile press into his skin and whines, offended. "Lan Zhan, are you laughing at me?" He's only seen Lan Zhan smile once. It almost killed him, and that was in a life or death situation. Laughter would surely send him into fits, and then how would he get Lan Zhan's dick in his mouth?
Priorities. He's full of them.
Lan Zhan sits up on his knees, which is a crime against him specifically, "no, come back, Lan Zhan—"
"I will come back." His voice is so steady and sure. He strips off his shirt with one hand, and Wei Wuxian realizes he could be taking off his own. "Without pants." The promise is enough to start a mad dash to nakedness.
Being dressed in nothing but pajamas means Lan Zhan is able to shuck his clothes long before Wei Wuxian, batting his hands away and tugging his jeans all the way down to his ankles, getting them off one leg at a time. Wei Wuxian lets himself luxuriate in all of Lan Zhan's skin on display, his hand absently rising to fist his cock; the first touch is too good, almost making him kick Lan Zhan in the face.
He's back over him faster than Wei Wuxian can blink, catching his hands and shoving them above his head, somewhere with pillows.
"I will touch you." It feels inevitable; perhaps all Lan Zhan promises feel like that. Wei Wuxian arches up into him and moans when the head of his cock brushes the thick underside of Lan Zhan's.
"Gonna talk about it," he asks, breathless, "or deliver?"
Lan Zhan does not answer in words. Instead, he shoves Wei Wuxian's wrists together in one huge hand, tightening his grip until it's just shy of painful. Wei Wuxian feels deliciously pinned, squirming any part of him not weighed down and sighing as Lan Zhan pins him with his thigh. Without warning he grinds down, sliding his dick through the precome wetting Wei Wuxian's stomach, lining them up so well he can barely keep his eyes open.
He laughs, high and breathy. "Er-gege," he moans, "it's almost like we're fucking." He fights to look properly at Lan Zhan, eyes rolling a little when Lan Zhan uses his free hand to wrap around their cocks. He's so big he can pin Wei Wuxian and grasp them like this all at once, and he's so trapped, all he can do is take it—
"If I fucked you," Lan Zhan says with a twist of his wrist, voice so even he could be in public, "you would know." The tone is dismissive, as though Wei Wuxian needs to be taught what proper fucking is.
He comes so hard it takes him a second to remember he has legs.
When he regains awareness of his mortal form, his hips jerk away on instinct. Lan Zhan has not stopped touching him. It's too much, too wet and too hot and too on him, he literally just came, but he's too much of a noodle to stop him, either.
He could do anything to me, he thinks once more, trying and failing to squirm away from his touch. It's dizzying.
"I can't," he croaks, "stop, I don't, I really." His voice grows progressively higher with each word. Lan Zhan's look down at him is utterly implacable.
"You cannot what?"
He tightens his grip, smearing them both with Wei Wuxian's come. He's going to make him say it. He can't. He can't think of the words, it hurts, it feels so good he's lost the ability to name it, he wants to run and wants to grind forward and his face is so, so red. The heat of his skin feels like a fever when he brushes his own shoulder.
"Use your words," Lan Zhan prompts. Wei Wuxian tries to struggle out of his grip and hit him, but all it does is cause sweet friction between his trapped wrists, held into the pillows like it's their permanent home.
Impossibly, he thinks he might get hard again. He has to—do something, anything to give himself just, a second, half a second, any relief at all.
"Inside me," he gasps, landing on the only solution available.
Lan Zhan freezes.
"Want you inside me, like, yesterday." It's both true and an enticement to end the sweet torture he's inflicted. Lan Zhan's blink is very slow. Holding Wei Wuxian's gaze, he trails his finger through the mess he's made of them both, the very act a challenge.
Wei Wuxian's breath hitches in his chest. He thinks he's done it. Lan Zhan takes his finger, soaked in nothing but their fluids, and brings it down to circle his hole. Wei Wuxian should ask him to grab the lube from the drawer.
Instead, he pushes down on that curious figure, moaning with it. That's it, he thinks, give me just enough time to get hard again, fuck...
He's zoning out. His eyes have fluttered shut. He notes a shift in pressure on the bed, but there is nothing to prepare him for the way he shouts as wet, warm heat engulfs him. He tries to twitch away, helpless, eyes wide as he looks down and watches Lan Zhan blow him. He's looking right back up at him through his lashes, his finger too dry to slide in and out, just resting there, giving him the tease of being filled.
People aren't supposed to get hard again this fast. It doesn't really matter. All he can do is moan and flop back into the pillows, leaning into it with pathetic twitches of his hips. "Please," he breathes, feeling fucked out though they've barely begun. "Please, please." He doesn't know what he's even asking for. It could be anything. Whatever. He thinks he'd do whatever Lan Zhan wanted, so long as it felt like this, so long as he never stopped.
Lan Zhan slides down until he's hitting the back of his throat, feeling it squeeze around the head of his cock as Lan Zhan gags slightly. It doesn't seem to bother him. In fact, he comes back for more, until Wei Wuxian is making all sort of embarrasing, whiney noises, his newly freed hands tangled up in Lan Zhan's hair. When it's too much, when he feels too close to the edge, he tugs at Lan Zhan's hair in an effort to pull him off. It has little effect beyond making him moan—the vibrations make his whole body roll, trying to fight the arm Lan Zhan braced over his stomach and thrust into his mouth.
"S-stop," he moans, shaking his head against the pillows. "Lan Zhan, I'll come, you can't."
He slides out and off of Wei Wuxian, which, in spite of his protestations, has him instantly bereft. "I lied," he breathes, reaching out and making vague grabby motions, "I lied, come back, Lan Zhan, fuck, get back here, how could you abandon me like this—"
Lan Zhan returns with lube, slicking his fingers as he gets one knee back on the bed. He's only just close enough for Wei Wuxian's fingers to brush his abs; they flex beneath his touch, making him laugh. "Stop showing off," he teases, liking the gentlemanly way Lan Zhan takes time to warm the lube on his hands before diving back in. "I think your body is trying to seduce me, how shameless, aren't you supposed to be controlled?"
The next brush skims lower, fingertips trailing over the thick shaft of Lan Zhan's cock where it juts against his stomach. It's gorgeous and flushed red. Wei Wuxian can't decide where he wants it first.
Luckily it's not up to him. Satisfied with his supplies, Lan Zhan returns to driving him insane, batting at his hand when it goes to touch him again and catching it, threading their fingers together a moment. Wei Wuxian feels a wave of fondness that's almost overwhelming; he's grateful that Lan Zhan doesn't keep them there for long, or he might end up saying something far more embarrassing than the hole he's already dug for today.
Lan Zhan brings their shared knuckles to his mouth and kisses Wei Wuxian's, a feather-light touch that is bruising to the heart. He then puts their hands near Wei Wuxian's mouth, letting go to take two of his fingers and press them to his own lower lip. "Occupy yourself," he murmurs, golden eyes on fire. "If you speak, I will slow down."
Oh, fuck. Wei Wuxian's dick twitches against his stomach. Fuck.
He waits, eyes heavy on Wei Wuxian's mouth. When he slides his fingers over his tongue, he closes his eyes and pictures sliding down onto Lan Zhan's cock, letting it fill his mouth and hit the back of his throat, bittersweet and silky and warm. He moans, then starts when Lan Zhan pushes a finger back inside him. "Hnnh," he hears from his own throat, muffled by his own fingers. Lan Zhan's long hair brushes his stomach and he shivers.
"You may come," Lan Zhan says, as though this is an indulgence rather than a way to actually kill him. He would point this out, but Wei Wuxian can be good. He can, and this time, the first time, he wants Lan Zhan to know it. He told him to keep himself occupied, so that's what he'll do.
Lan Zhan adds another finger. Wei Wuxian copies him. Three is a tight fit, but the stretch is what he wants, every part of him held open for Lan Zhan to see. The idea should be horrifying. Most of the sex he's had has been pathetically standard; already, he's deviated from his usual routine, but he doesn't want to stop. He's never wanted anything less.
He wants to be cracked open and split apart. For the first time, it feels like someone might actually deliver on that. Fitting for it to be Lan Zhan. Stubborn, bitchy, sweet Lan Zhan.
Lan Zhan, who is currently driving him out of his mind.
Fuck me, he tries, but he doesn't remove the fingers from his mouth, so it comes out garbled and indistinguishable. Lan Zhan pulls off of him, staying close enough that the words he speaks are pressed against the side of Wei Wuxian's cock, his lips barely brushing the skin.
"Have you spoken?"
Lan Zhan's fingers abruptly slow in their delicious curling motions, causing Wei Wuxian to groan like a wounded animal. He shakes his head, reasoning humming doesn't count and "mm-mm"-ing around his hand. He can feel drool trickling down the sides of his face, everything wet, his whole being a mess. He wants to beg, but he knows it would only have the opposite intended effect.
That mouth brushes over the head of his dick again, making his hips twitch in tiny, aborted movements. "I must be mistaken," Lan Zhan breathes, opening his mouth and sinking back down onto him. Wei Wuxian tries to thrust with a yelp, held down by Lan Zhan's hands, one over him and one inside him. He gets back up to his previous speed, curling his fingers to brush over Wei Wuxian's prostate over and over.
He's making awful hitching sounds now, not able to get in enough air and forgetting why that might be important. Lan Zhan isn't even bobbing his head anymore, just keeping him there and breathing in and out from his nose, warming as much of Wei Wuxian's cock as possible while fingering him into insanity. He feels not just pinned but hopeless with it; when he comes, he almost chokes himself in surprise, fingers curling and twitching down his own throat for a moment.
It's less substantial than the first, of course, but he still tastes himself on Lan Zhan's tongue when he comes back up to kiss him. Wei Wuxian's entire body is boneless at this point, kissing with no finesse, only sheer, languid desire. He whines when Lan Zhan pulls away, opening his mouth and closing it, darting a glance at Lan Zhan. He looks fond and a little bit in awe. Wei Wuxian wants to remember this look on his face until he dies.
"Wei Ying may speak, now."
Oh. Right. That's why he did that. Huh. He opens his mouth but his tongue feels twice as heavy as it normally does, his mind mushy and out of sorts. Cultivators do have a faster refractory period as part of their excess yang energy, but even for him, it's been a lot, tonight. "La—Lan Zhan?"
He brushes a thumb over Wei Wuxian's lower lip, who chases it, licking salt from the tip before it's taken away. He makes a small sound, forlorn. Lan Zhan gives his infinitesimal version of a smile.
"S'good?" he asks, unsure. Lan Zhan leans down to kiss him.
"Good." He passes the word into Wei Wuxian's mouth so easily. It makes his nerves sing. "Will you be good for me, still? Once more?"
Wei Wuxian nods before the conscious thought makes its way through his skull. "Can, I can. And you're gonna make it—hurt?"
"If Wei Ying wants it to." He thinks about being held, about the ache at his wrists, about stretching his mouth wide and the dry press of Lan Zhan's finger inside him. He nods even harder.
Lan Zhan ducks down to kiss his throat. "Good," he says again, sinking his teeth into Wei Wuxian's skin. He moans loudly and unabashedly; if Lan Zhan's neighbors are listening, they'll sure get a show.
He's not left enough time to feel empty when Lan Zhan pushes in. One moment he's still held open by his fingers, the next breached by the blunt head of his cock. It's big; two fingers was not enough to stretch him for this, not in the least.
It's going to hurt. Wei Wuxian makes a gasping, breaking sort of sound, the sort that peels him apart. The aching stretch is one of breathless satisfaction, that feeling just over the line of too much but not so far he'd want to stop. Lan Zhan does not stop, or wait, or ask how he's doing. All of his awareness narrows to that singular sensation, hollowing him out, leaving him raw. An inexorable slide. Lan Zhan is inevitable in ways Wei Wuxian has never known.
He doesn't know how long he's been making tiny, fucked out little "oh" sounds, his heart racing, hair stuck to his neck with sweat. Lan Zhan leans over him. The world darkens as his hair blocks out the light. He bottoms out and Wei Wuxian feels like he's floating, but also pinned, the way a butterfly might be.
"Wei Ying." Ah, the first break in Lan Zhan's composure. He barely catches it with how zoned out he is, how far under he's found himself able to go. He tightens his legs around Lan Zhan's waist, holding him close, letting him bury his face in Wei Wuxian's neck. It feels amazing. It's like a full-body blanket. His thighs tremble.
For a moment, they revel in the closeness. Wei Wuxian has fucked and been fucked before, but it's never felt so close, like Lan Zhan is crawling under his ribs and wrapping his entire being around Wei Wuxian's heart. He manages to lift his head just enough to kiss Lan Zhan's hair; it feels like coming up for air after being under a great deal of water, like the first breath when your lungs are about to give out. He expected this part to be hard and fast, but he's underestimated Lan Zhan's sentimentality. He feels lips press briefly at the hollow of his throat.
And then Lan Zhan begins to move.
He makes each thrust count, slowly building to a rhythm that drives Wei Wuxian to madness. After the first few slow, wet drags through him, Lan Zhan sits up, braced on one forearm while he cups Wei Wuxian's face with the other. It's really nice. He turns his head to nuzzle for a moment and then bites into the meat of his palm. Lan Zhan pulls his hand away immediately, much to Wei Wuxian's delight.
"I can bite too," he points out, breathless and having to stop every time Lan Zhan fucks into him. It's so deep, it feels like being run through, like that point where you've been stabbed but the pain is so overwhelming you can't feel it yet, just the strange sensation of your body being invaded. For Wei Wuxian, that feeling is accompanied by pleasure, the pain and ecstasy of it merging until he can't quite pry them apart.
People aren't usually willing to give him that. Lan Zhan wraps his free hand around Wei Wuxian's throat and he gives and he gives and he gives.
It doesn't take long for Lan Zhan to realize he isn't working his angles. The little expression of affront he gets when Wei Wuxian is not rolling his eyes in delirium the way he was before makes him want to giggle, helpless and giddy with it. He opens his mouth to give some mocking pointers, but before he can, Lan Zhan pauses, considering, before grabbing a pillow from behind Wei Wuxian's head. It feels good to be able to tilt his head back further, to arch his throat and beg to be bitten, a canvas for Lan Zhan's mouth and teeth, a target for his hand when he wants it.
He also knows the moment it's shoved beneath him that Lan Zhan is about to find his angles again.
It takes him three thrusts from there to force a wail from Wei Wuxian's throat, the head of his cock rubbing through him in all the right ways. Now he's scorching, now his eyes can barely stay open. The next time he looks up at Lan Zhan, his expression is one of pure satisfaction.
Wei Wuxian can't even make fun of him. He's fucking him so well. He deserves all his smug expressions. As many as he wants, really.
Lan Zhan's hand back around his neck, he arches into it, whining in the back of his throat. "Please," he moans, knowing Lan Zhan likes that, when he says it. It's the only word he can think of. That and — "Ah, ah! Lan Zhan!"
His whole body coils tight like a spring. A little late, a thought comes to him, almost unbidden. Like it's been lying in wait for the moment to strike.
"Lan Zhan," he slurs, "are you wearing a condom?"
Lan Zhan fucks into him so hard his body jolts with it. "We are both cultivators. No diseases." It's the sort of non-answer he knows means that Lan Zhan is embarrassed.
His mouth moves with no input from his brain. All of it is being fed straight by his dick. "You're not." He laughs, breathless. "You're not, y'could put a baby in me, so shameless—"
He tries to tell him how filthy that is, but someone is squeezing his throat. Lan Zhan is squeezing his throat. He doesn't let go until Wei Wuxian's whole face feels flushed, tears gathering at the corners of his eyes. By the time he can take a proper breath again, he doesn't quite feel capable of moving his mouth well enough to tease. He'd tell Lan Zhan he's fucking the pest energy right out of him, but well, he is, so he can't, he can only take it, overwhelmed and sore, shaking all over.
And he. He doesn't stop.
Not when Wei Wuxian is unable to stop his punched-out groans, not when he tries to wrap a hand around himself and Lan Zhan bats it away.
"You said it was too much," he points out. Wei Wuxian cries out in an anguished sob.
He comes before Lan Zhan does, but not by much. Wei Wuxian's knee is pushed tight against his chest, Lan Zhan's cock hollowing him out in the best of ways, he comes untouched, streaking white across his own chest and neck. Lan Zhan makes a low, desperate noise and thrusts a few more times before finally letting go, forehead pressed against Wei Wuxian's throat. After a moment, he feels Lan Zhan's tongue licking up his neck, cleaning him off. Arousal tries valiantly to pulse through his ruined body again.
"Think I died," he says after a minute to remember what language is. "Killed me, Lan Zhan, you..." The trail of thought ends abruptly as Lan Zhan attempts to move, with Wei Wuxian wrapping sticky arms around him and legs to match.
"Noooo," he whines. He can feel Lan Zhan's lips curve against his shoulder. He stays until he's fully softened inside him, slipping out despite Wei Wuxian's body wanting desperately to keep him there. He likes his new living blanket. It weighs him down, pins him until he's safe.
He is not allowed to leave.
When Lan Zhan tries again he pouts, jelly limbs still hooking his ankles around each other. "I must clean up," Lan Zhan says, voice gentle. "I will come back."
"Later," Wei Wuxian demands. "Later, later. Nap first."
Lan Zhan pushes up onto an elbow enough to see Wei Wuxian's face. "Sleep, Wei Ying."
"You sleep," he says, like a brat, but he doesn't manage to stay awake long enough to see if Lan Zhan obeys.
It is a bit more than a nap. In their defense, they had stayed up far too many hours before immediately over-exerting themselves. When Lan Wangji wakes again, it is four in the morning, which is almost what he needed to fix his internal clock.
Of course, this is not the first thing he processes.
The first thing is the feel of silky skin against his, his leg hairs rubbing against someone else's. Wei Ying has rolled entirely on top of him in the middle of the night, which should be suffocating and hot, but mostly suffuses him with warmth and affection. He was perfect. He is perfect. They should have spoken more, about what they wanted from each other, but they seem to be well matched. He does not know how much Wei Ying will remember about how he cleaned them both off, bundling him in the sheets before venturing out to grab something from his fridge. After feeding Wei Ying three quarters of his diced watermelon while he dozed, slowly chewing and making variations of the same happy, purring sort of noise, he'd nodded off in truth, trusting that Lan Wangji would arrange them as he saw fit. He'd curled them together and fallen asleep not long after that.
Loathe to move his human blanket, he diverts his biological urges a while longer, reaching up to rub warm circles into the bare skin at Wei Ying's back. He does not wake, nor does he even stir, really, but he nuzzles at Lan Wangji's neck at one point. He feels... peaceful. Beyond that. Unbearably satisfied, maybe. Perfect.
Eventually, when he can delay no longer, he carefully lifts Wei Ying off of himself and arranges him in the pillows, planning to replace them again as soon as possible. Wei Ying makes a discontent noise before settling in once more, burying his face in the sheet. Lan Wangji doesn't know how he breathes around the feelings curling in his chest. He isn't sure he can survive them, but he's not sure he would want to live without them, either. Not now that he's known them in full.
The rest of the morning, he meditates, propped up against the headboard with Wei Ying sprawled across him, one arm curled around his thighs. He thinks he would like to wake to this every morning. When Wei Ying's lashes finally flutter against his leg, he brushes a hand through his hair, still well and truly tangled by the events of the previous day.
"Lan Zhan?" he mumbles. "Did we oversleep?"
"No." It's barely 9, which is like to be when Wei Ying gets up without work to go to, anyway. "We have merely corrected our schedules."
"Oh." He rubs his cheek against Lan Wangji's thigh for a moment before freezing, waking up long enough to realize this is something new. A flush rises to the back of his neck, exposed in between the spill of his dark hair. "Oh. Hi."
"Hello." Lan Wangji cannot stop the warmth from infusing his voice, and he does not try. "Wei Ying, how do you feel?" This is what he was most anxious about. They did not discuss their needs, during sex or from aftercare, and it has been a niggling worry at the back of his mind.
"Mm." The hum is one of utter satisfaction. Wei Ying stretches a little, making a face and then laughing. "Good. Sore. That's good."
Lan Wangji considers him a moment, watching as he slides into a sitting position. He has bruises dotting his throat, as well as the imprint of Lan Wangji's hand fading on his hip. His wrists are slightly red. Ears hot, Lan Wangji reaches out, turning Wei Ying's chin until he's looking at him dead on.
"I would hold you."
Wei Ying blinks at him for a while before he catches on that it was a question. "Oh! Yes, yeah, duh, obviously." With permission granted, he tugs Wei Ying into his lap. He goes willingly enough. Once he's fully curled around him, warm and all-encompassing, Lan Wangji lets himself relax a bit.
He trails his hand up and down Wei Ying's spine. "Wei Ying. I do not regret anything we have done."
Against the skin of his shoulder, he feels Wei Ying bite at his own lip. "There's a 'but' coming, isn't there?"
Lan Wangji slides his hand up to squeeze the back of Wei Ying's neck. "No buts. It is not... advisable, to have slept together while we are also working together, but I do not think it will compromise us in the field."
Wei Ying's breath wooshes out of him. After a moment, he starts giggling, almost helpless with it. "I thought," he gasps, "I thought you'd say something about, how, I dunno, we aren't right for each other, something about, something." Ah. The giggles are the sound of his relief, then. Lan Wangji is pleased that he is relieved over such a thing.
Until the panic kicks in.
"Is that something Wei Ying believes?"
"Nonono, of course not! Just, y'know, the general public, and everyone who knows us, they might. Uh. Believe that."
Lan Wangji smiles against his temple. "Ge is already aware. He did not have anything negative to say."
Wei Ying sits up. "You told your brother we had sex?!"
"No." He smooths a hand over Wei Ying's hip, who gentles at the touch. "I told him of my feelings for you."
Wei Ying brightens at this, then dims all at once. The switch nearly gives him whiplash. "Lan Zhan, wait. Before you—I think I know what your curse mark is for."
He nods. "I have also come to a similar conclusion."
A frown mars Wei Ying's face. "And?"
"And, you aren't worried that you hated me so much you wanted to forget I existed? That you asked to erase me from your life? That if we can lift it, you'll go right back to despising me, and you'll hate yourself for this?"
Lan Wangji does not need to consider it, but he lets the silence sit between them, if only to ease Wei Ying's nerves. An immediate answer will not satisfy Wei Ying's fears. He has clearly spent time working up to them, and Lan Wangji will give them the respect they are due, though he personally considers them to be baseless.
"I retained most of my memories, aside from ones involving you," he points out. "I am not so different a person as I was. All things considered, I believe the person I was and the person I am would feel the same."
Wei Ying gets a hunted look in his eye. "But—"
"But what if—"
"Wei Ying. Do you know what they call our clan, within the sect itself?"
He shakes his head, mute. Lan Wangji kisses his brow.
"Cursed," he whispers. "Doomed. Do you know why?"
Of course he doesn't, but he shakes his head anyway, eyes wide.
"Because love consumes us. We find people, and we do not let them go." Lan Wangji cups Wei Ying's face with one hand. "I am positive that, being as I am, there is no version of me that feels any differently from this one."
He has not said the words, not quite, but Wei Ying is clever. He does not need any time to figure it out.
"Lan Zhan," he says, weakly.
"You do not have to decide immediately," Lan Wangji assures him. His expression does not change. He has had hours of meditation to come to terms with what this morning's conversation would entail, and he has made his peace with it. "It is best that we wait, in any case, until we are no longer partners. It is only a week more."
Wei Ying's expression falls. He is dangerously close to a pout. "A whole week?"
"You must be patient." Lan Wangji tamps down a smile. "If you are good, I will reward you."
He perks up again, all hurt forgotten. "What kind of reward?"
Lan Wangji taps him on the nose with one finger. "Wait and see."
"Fine." Wei Ying slumps over, wrapping him in a hug. "Fine, but I'm not getting up until noon, then. You have to stay here with me."
"And cuddle me really tight, so I can think of it when I have to go home, alone, to my cold, lonely bed, without you."
"And you can't put on a shirt for the rest of the day."
Lan Wangji smiles into Wei Wuxian's hair. "Mn."
He feels a long sigh against his skin. "This is gonna be the longest week of my life," he grumbles. "You're lucky you gave me a nice curse puzzle as a distraction."
"Mn." He tightens his own arms around Wei Ying's waist. He is not the only one who will be upset by the wait, but it will be worth it. He does not want Wei Ying's integrity compromised over this.
Surely they can wait seven days.
Wei Wuxian has decided Lan Zhan is torturing him. That is the only explanation for why, when he's being stunning and perfect one desk over from him, he is not allowed to kiss him, or pull his hair, or play with his forehead ribbon, or—
"We Ying. Focus."
He sighs, taking the pen out of his mouth. "Lan Zhan. Lan Zhan, it's impossible."
"Nothing is impossible for Wei Ying."
He flushes instantly. Lan Zhan has not, of course, applied his ban to nice words. They just can't act on them. He can tell Lan Zhan how badly he wants to be held down and wrung dry by him again, but all it will do is leave them both unsatisfied.
He sort of wants to stick his head through the wall.
Giving up on work entirely, Wei Ying pulls up his scholarly access websites and begins searching. Even if the Gusu Lan Sanctum Library didn't have anything on the curse, there's got to be some way to find answers. He scrolls through various search parameters, turning up a lot of things that interest him, but none of them necessarily relating to Lan Zhan. Now he really wants to put his head through the wall.
He runs through every possibility he'd jotted down, wondering if he'd eliminated some too hastily. When nothing comes to mind, he goes through his conversation with Lan Xichen again, knowing there was something about it that stood out to him as helpful, but—
Lan Zhan has learned to ignore his random noises of triumph by now, but this one is good. He remembers Lan Xichen mentioning something about memory alteration as a life-saving treatment. Wei Ying fucks around with the advanced search filter for a while before starts hitting on things that are interesting.
"You haven't encountered any soul-sucking yao lately, have you?"
Lan Zhan grunts in the negative. Wei Wuxian sighs. "Damn, that one was interesting. Apparently, if the yao is slow enough, you can modify someone's memories during the process just enough that it changes their soul on a fundamental level, and the yao can't track them anymore, so the connection breaks. Isn't that cool?"
He returns to his research, thinking that one would have been nice, because it would have meant that Lan Zhan thought some memories of Wei Ying were integral to his sense of self. There's something about being that important to him that... well, it's enticing, to say the least. He tries to push down his own selfish desires and focus on the reading.
A few more refined search terms later, he hits on an article in a medical journal about proper memory altering and intervention. Most of the original reasons necessitating the intervention are barely skimmed over, but since that's not the important part to curing Lan Zhan, he breezes through them. The meat of the article is where he hits gold.
"Lan Zhan, this is so cool, these techniques were refined by Baoshan Sanren! She taught my mom, apparently, but she's a total recluse and just lives by her title. Wow, really smart though, damn..." He trails off, getting lost in the rest of the article and missing what Lan Zhan responds with. Not only is it interesting, it's relevant. After days and days of searching, it may yet be a breakthrough, and Wei Wuxian feels his heart stutter in his chest.
What are the chances that the woman who taught his mother might also be the key to unlocking a curse on the person he may or may not be falling in love with?
He ends up taking the research home with him, glued to his laptop with a stack of talisman paper in front of him. His first few attempts are god awful, and he's very glad Lan Zhan isn't there to see them, because frankly, he thinks a third year could have done better. He's overthinking it. His mind is a mess. He definitely can't sleep like this.
So he doesn't.
Friday approaches before his talisman does, and at this point, he can barely look Lan Zhan in the eye. He hasn't slept in three days, hasn't showered in... one? Two? It's unclear. Lan Zhan has been frowning steadily at him all day.
Normally, for anyone else, there would be some sort of big affair for their last day. Lan Zhan has been working there for five weeks; everyone knows him by now. Yet, owing perhaps to his reticent personality, the only thing that occurs is many, many visitors. They largely overlook Wei Ying, which is good, because he's definitely not doing any sect work, but they also mean Lan Zhan has no time to question him. Good for Wei Wuxian, not so good for Lan Zhan's mood.
As the clock ticks toward seven, Wei Wuxian wants to scream. He doesn't know the answer. His set time limit has run out. Sure, he'll still see Lan Zhan again, but—
"One sec, just, mm, hold on—"
He feels a hand on his jaw, turning him away from his work, tilting his chin up. The wall clock reads 19:01. "You should claim your reward," he hears, almost distractedly. Lan Zhan's tongue is in his mouth before he has time to make another sound.
His work on the curse is delayed another night. Wei Wuxian is ashamed to say he mostly forgets about it that weekend, until he sits up from a dead sleep at 3am and runs naked into Lan Zhan's kitchen to scribble out the idea he'd dreamed on printer paper. Lan Zhan wakes to the sound of his satisfied crowing, but when he sees what Wei Wuxian has done, his aura of consternation turns into one of surprised pride.
Wei Wuxian only shames him for the surprise for a half an hour, tops.
"Aiyou, sorry, might be cold, it feels cold to me anyway." The brush touches his skin, held in a steady hand. It is a bit cold, but it's nothing Lan Wangji cannot handle. Wei Ying has practiced the symbol all day, trying to get it just the right size and shape to unravel the curse mark on his skin. At last, he thinks he's found a solution.
"Remember, it shouldn't hurt," he says, voice high with nerves. "If it hurts, something's wrong, you have to tell me, okay?"
"I will." He reaches back to squeeze Wei Ying's thigh. "It will work. Wei Ying is nearly a grandmaster."
Wei Ying's laughter fills the space exactly as intended. The painting resumes at the back of his ear, the symbol big enough to cover the tiny white curse mark while small enough not to be blocked or obscured by his hair.
He feels a click against his own spiritual energy when the last line slots into place. Wei Ying hums, blowing warm air on the back of his neck in an effort to make it dry faster. He keeps up a nervous stream of babble as they wait, more for his own benefit than Lan Wangji's, who has far more faith in his abilities, and in how he will react to retrieving his memories.
To Lan Wangji, there is no version of events in which he does not love Wei Ying. Following that logic, very little will change, beyond perhaps understanding the nature of the curse and why it was enacted in the first place.
The paint dries. Wei Ying stalls a moment before sighing, brushing his thumb over the delicate skin he's just painted. Lan Wangji shivers.
"You ready, baobei?" He wants to take the thread of anxiety in Wei Ying's voice and tug until it unravels, but nothing he can say or do will effectively accomplish it. He folds his hands in his lap and nods.
"Okay. Okay. Okay! Hold on tight." There is nothing to hold onto. He suspects Wei Ying is just making noise to make it. He presses his thumb to the hollow behind Lan Wangji's ear and pushes, funneling spiritual energy directly into the array to activate it.
For a moment, nothing happens. He opens his mouth to ask, but there is something stuck in his throat, an onslaught overwhelming him in a tidal wave—
"Alcohol is prohibited within the Cloud Recesses."
Most people did not smile when spoken to in such tones. Not from him. The boy looked like he'd encountered the most delightful thing in the world, here in front of him, staring at Lan Wangji. How could this be so?
Still smiling, he drew his leg up from within the boundary, sitting atop the wall and dangling his other leg over the other side. "I'm not in the Cloud Recesses, now, am I?" Technically, he straddled the very line, walking on the equivalent of a knife's edge. Lan Wangji's hand went to Bichen's handle at once.
The boy held out one of the little bottles in his direction, expression unchanged, beyond perhaps a hint of fresh amusement. "Come on, be a good boy and come drink with me. I'll let you so long as you don't tell anyone I was here."
Ridiculous. Idle. Shameless. He sent Bichen directly, knocking the bottle over the wall with its hilt before calling it back to his hand. The boy's expression changed, flickering between scorn and genuine dismay.
"What kind of person wastes Emperor's Smile!" The smile came back, more dangerous than before. It was all sharp edges, now; for a moment, he felt as though sharp teeth flickered through his mouth, though it was only a trick of the moonlight. His hand tightened on Bichen as the boy went to grasp his own sword hilt, winking his left eye in Lan Wangji's direction.
"You must know nothing at all. Do you even know how to fight?"
Lan Wangji's jaw clenched tight. As a model student and second heir to his clan, he had never been so underestimated or insulted, particularly not by outsiders. Before he could remind himself of the rule prohibiting unauthorized fighting, he was drawing his sword against the boy and his smile, driving him back across the wall in a duel that left him breathless.
Later, when he knelt in self-assigned punishment, that sharpened smile refused to leave his mind.
"Wangji! Lan Zhan! Lan er-gege!"
At last, his head snapped up, mouth opening to tell the shameless Wei Wuxian off once more. He had a quick mind and sure feet, but spent all of his time devoted to idle frivolity. It would be enough to drive anyone mad!
Before he could, Wei Wuxian smiled. "So that's what gets you to respond? If we're so familiar, you should call me Wei Ying. Wouldn't want anyone thinking we aren't close!"
"We are not."
"Lan Zhan, Lan er-gege, you must not be cruel to your friends! We are intimates, now, you know." That awful wink appeared again. "Anyway, I just wanted you to look at me. Had to get your angles right."
He would not ask. If he asked, or showed any curiosity, Wei Wuxian would believe that he was interested. It was best to ignore him altogether.
"What is the name of your sword?"
"Suibian!" Wei Wuxian grinned. "Clever, right?"
Lan Wangji did not know why he bothered. "Idle. Frivolous." Just like you, he thought, and hated himself for having even a moment of passing interest.
Wei Wuxian had left him his phone number. It was hastily scrawled on the bottom of a piece of paper, clearly ripped from notes of some kind, with fragments of characters hanging on the edges. There was no name or indication of who it belonged to. He only knew because Wei Wuxian had pressed it into his fist, refusing to take no for an answer or respect his boundaries against touch. He was not sure Wei Wuxian had ever met a barrier he did not delight in breaking.
"I mean it, you should visit!" he called as he ran backwards to catch up with Jiang Wanyin. "There's a lot to see at Lotus Pier. Frivolity! Merriment! Sometimes, on rare occasions, joy! All things you should definitely try in the next century!"
He laughed at his own joke and darted away, leaving Lan Wangji with a clenched fist and an inward confusion. He had always taken Wei Wuxian's words as pure jest. Did he... did he want Lan Wangji to visit him? For real?
He tried to imagine it, for a moment. The image did not come. The idea of Wei Wuxian choosing to spend time with him, not for annoyance or punishment, but merely to have fun, was unthinkable. People did not consider him fun or invite him to 'hang out' or 'visit' anywhere. It must be a joke. Surely, it was a prank of some kind.
Hours later, shut up in his new quarters, Lan Wangji noted a loose floorboard. The jingshi was old, after all; as much upkeep as they did on it, it would always be one of the oldest buildings in the Cloud Recesses. Prying it up, he noted the small hideaway, staring down at it for a long time. It was nothing to grab one of his blank journals and shove the paper into it, slamming it shut tight and stuffing it beneath the floorboard before stamping it back into place. Lan Wangji was flushed by the time he was done, his heart pounding.
A joke, to be sure. Another outlet for Wei Wuxian's petty cruelty.
Sometimes, he wondered if he was also being punished, as often as he was assigned to oversee Wei Wuxian's punishments. It was true that he was ahead on the curriculum, seeing as he'd studied throughout the year, but this was no reason to always give him such tasks. His only relief was that he knew the silencing spell, though he had not needed to use it yet, today. Wei Wuxian was oddly quiet.
Until, of course, a shadow loomed over his desk.
"Lan Zhan, I really wanted to tell you something." When he said nothing, Wei Wuxian took that as a cue to continue. It should not have surprised him at this point. "I'm sorry I got you into trouble. Really, I am! You were just trying to stop me; that sucks."
Lan Wangji was stunned to silence. He did not recall a time he'd ever heard a sincere apology from Wei Wuxian. As he was frozen, Wei Wuxian seemed to panic, leaning down over the desk so he could catch Lan Wangji's eye. "I'm sorry, sorry, sorry, how many ways can I tell you until you forgive me? We've been friends for over a year, Lan Zhan, you have to forgive me someday!"
He did not know how to answer. Truthfully, it was not his place to forgive Wei Wuxian or not. He did not see it as something necessary for him to be sorry over. He had broken the rules, and Lan Wangji had done so as well; by what motivation mattered not at all. He looked up to say so when Wei Wuxian slid to his knees, his arms going over the desk as far as they could reach. Lan Wangji's eyes could not help widening in surprise.
"Please, can't I make it up to you? I'll even apologize from my knees. Will you believe me then?"
This was too much. He went to close his book and speak properly to Wei Wuxian when he noticed the quality of the paper had changed. Before him now was not a book on the history of musical cultivation; rather, it was a battered copy of some sort of lewd publication. Horrified, he immediately tore it in two, ignoring Wei Wuxian's cry of dismay as he threw both halves in his face.
"Lan Zhan, you're ruining perfectly good art!"
"You are a degenerate," he replied coldly. If he could make his tone frigid enough, perhaps Wei Ying would not note the panic in his eyes or the frantic thrum of his heart. "Leave."
"Fine." Wei Ying only looked back once, to stick out his tongue in a childish display. "You didn't deserve to see it, anyway!"
The first time he felt an odd hitch in his lungs, he thought he was sick. He had only barely come of age, the final weeks of his last cultivation camp as a student in full swing. His core was strong for his age group, but it was possible, he thought, to catch a common cold. He watched from the window as Wei Ying walked the winding path beneath the trees, speaking animatedly to Nie Huaisang and Jiang Wanyin. Mortifyingly, Jiang Wanyin caught his eye, causing Lan Wangji to immediately avert his gaze. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Jiang Wanyin elbow Wei Ying in the stomach and murmur something. His own stomach twisted painfully. Wei Ying leaned down to listen before his head snapped in the direction of the window. As Lan Wangji was not looking properly, he could not read the words from his lips, but he didn't need to, positive they were something callous or disparaging. Yes, of course; they were followed by laughter, after all, Wei Ying's cheeks flushing with mirth.
He coughed into his hand, frowning down at the droplet of blood. Perhaps the illness was worse than the common cold, after all.
Wei Ying had cut his hair. Not by much, still keeping it long in the style of cultivators, but it no longer reached his hips in its high, ribbon-tied style. Lan Wangji debated whether it was worth it to approach him. Would he be received with the curiosity of a cat playing with its food, or would he be mocked for trying at all?
Before he could, he saw Wei Ying grasp a woman by the back of her coat and haul her into his arms, narrowly saving her from walking into oncoming traffic. From across the street, he saw them speak for a good fifteen minutes, talking and laughing in an obvious way. Wei Ying touched her shoulder enough times that it made his own almost crawl toward his ears.
He was out of the tea shop before he realized what he was doing, crossing the street just in time to pass by the girl, who was now going in the direction he'd just come from. Wei Ying saw him before he could decide on how to approach, his face a mix of surprise and arrogant amusement. "Lan Zhan, long time no see!"
"Wei Ying." He had thought of this many times, what he might say to Wei Ying if he saw him again. A thousand lines he'd practiced in the mirror over the past two years, the words sometimes sticking in his throat, making it feel clogged and thick with substance. He remembered exactly none of them, faced as he was with Wei Ying's mercury gaze and mercurial attitude. He finally understood what people in his class meant when they said they 'lost brain cells' doing certain activities.
Seeing Wei Ying was one of those activities.
"You should not flirt when you do not mean it." Out of the many, many things he could have said, this was perhaps one of the worst, yet there was no way to take it back. Once again, the vinegar at the back of his throat overwhelmed his common sense. A typical occurrence when Wei Ying was present, but one that frustrated him, anyway. He watched Wei Ying's expression harden and grow sharp and wanted to punch himself in the face.
"First words out of your mouth are a lecture, huh?" Wei Ying rolled his eyes. "It's a wonder anyone bothers. Nice seeing you or whatever." And then he was crossing the street, and Lan Wangji felt a tightness in his chest.
It took two train stops for him to properly cough up whatever was trying to escape him. The other passengers had moved far, far away from him at that point, or as far as he could go. None of them seemed close enough to see what he'd coughed up and have any questions.
Lan Wangji frowned at his palm, where the pink petals of a flower lay, stacked in a group of four or five, stuck to each other with blood and mucus. He did not think it could possibly be natural. He would have to arrange time in the library when he returned home.
He had not expected Wei Ying to be on the panel. Perhaps it had been a foolish oversight, but he had been asked to sub in at the last minute, and had not bothered. The familiar tightness in his chest worsened the instant he heard Wei Ying's telltale cackle, even from across the room.
Lan Wangji made it through most of the panel by speaking very little. He was not sure when a flare-up would occur, whether it would happen during or if he would have time to escape into privacy before the hacking, choking feeling began. The last time he'd felt this bad was at Jiang Yanli's wedding, seeing Wei Wuxian dancing with a girl he didn't recognize from across the room. The disease had not manifested in camellia before that night, nothing with such a large bud; pulling them from his throat had been like trying to throw up a pillow.
He hoped he could get so lucky as to follow a similar timeline here, at least. Maybe even so lucky as to eject plum blossoms from his lungs, small and tightly packed amid the blood.
Lan Wangji knew better than to open his mouth to argue with Wei Ying. He truly did. It was not that he was unaware of the possibilities represented by his theories on diabolism, but each time he pictured the experimentation involved, he pictured Wei Ying, poking holes in his mind and his core in an effort to help others, hollowing himself out for the sake of progress. It made him more ill than the flowers in his lungs. When he could take it no longer, when he was about to hack blood onto the microphone, he merely took a steadying breath and left, disappearing back to his hotel room where he could tug the flowers from his chest in peace.
In some sort of cosmic joke, each flower he pulled from his throat came up a lotus. Funny, he thought, tears gathering at the corners of his eyes. He could not tell if they were from the physical pain of it or the emotional damage wrought. In either case, the fault rested with him and him alone.
That night, he fell asleep leaning against the sink, pale and chalky and utterly alone.
His brother's face, usually so politic and cheery, was devastated. "Will you not even try? Not even ask?"
"The endeavor would be fruitless. I have considered it, but that path is not viable."
Lan Xichen turned away, possibly to hide any deeper reaction to Lan Wangji's words. He averted his eyes as well, giving him privacy, wishing he'd waited a little longer. He was managing it on his own. Was he so weak, to need to share the burden when he knew there was no solution to his problems?
"You cannot know another person's heart." Lan Xichen, of course, was a romantic. He had not lost that, even with their parents for an example. Lan Wangji admired it.
He did not agree. The matter was left unsettled, for now.
"The study's sample size was small, but for your case, I really think—"
Lan Xichen was angry. He wondered in a detached away how often people saw these sides to his brother. Was that a privilege reserved for him? He hoped not. Brother's partners deserved this candor as well, though he doubted they would like it in the moment. He certainly could not bring himself to enjoy it here and now.
"Your life is not—it's not comparable! Would you really throw it away out of stubbornness?"
"I will not forget Wei Ying." He was determined in this. If there were only two paths, he knew which one he could stand to walk toward. The one where he knew himself. The one where he remembered every excruciating moment with Wei Ying, every agony and every mistake. It hurt, but that hurt would be nothing to someday realizing he'd forgotten him altogether, altered himself so fundamentally he was unrecognizable.
Who would he be? How could he be, without this love in his chest, carving him out until he was more flower and thorn than person? He coughed, glad his gloves repelled the blood which quietly spewed from his lips. He could not contain it, these days.
Lan Xichen knelt in front of him, taking his hands, ignoring the blood entirely. "I will not lose you, Wangji. Don't ask me to."
He clenched his jaw. It was manipulative of Xichen, but he was not sure he would keep himself from doing the same thing, were their situations reversed. It did not change his mind.
"We cannot always choose."
Lan Wangji frowned down at his tea. It was too fragrant. How had he missed that?
"Uncle?" His voice, already hoarse from the abuse his throat had taken of late, was slightly slurred. "Ge?"
"Wangji." Lan Xichen's gaze was sympathetic, but unyielding. "This is not the choice you would have made, but it is the choice that will keep you alive."
"No." Panic set in, but it was a dull thing, seen only through the fog settling over his mind. "
"If it is a choice between a nephew who someday despises me, or no nephew at all," Lan Qiren said with grim determination, "I do not consider it a choice."
He wanted to protest more, harder, but his eyes would not open. He could not see. He could not move. A haze, an indeterminate amount of time passing, and through it all, the fog.
Something lodged in his chest. Something to do with—who?
Whatever it was, it sank back into the depths of his lungs and was forgotten.
His memories merge in a cacophonous riot. Up becomes down, left becomes right, north is west and east is south and everything is twisted and turned until he cannot tell them apart. He opens his mouth to say something before realizing he cannot speak, something lodged so solidly in his throat he starts to gag.
"Lan Zhan?" comes Wei Ying's panicked voice from behind him. "Lan Zhan, you said you'd tell me if it hurt!"
He cannot process that voice right now. It means too many things—pain, longing, affection, warmth, anxiety, panic, love, loss—all of them more than he can handle. He holds up a hand, the universal signal for wait, and begins the horrible, hacking cough.
It is more painful than most that have come before it, which is a statement he did not realize he could make. The blood comes first, splashing across his kitchen tile again and again as he coughs, kneeling on the ground and reaching desperately into his mouth. It just has to get far enough, if he can just get it closer he can pull, like the ripping of a bandage from the skin. Wei Ying is panicking, but he does not touch him, sensing something at play he cannot comprehend, or perhaps simply too nervous.
The two images in his mind of Wei Ying superimpose over each other, sending a painful amount of dissonance through his brain at the same time as what feels like a branch scrapes through his throat. He ignores Wei Ying's rising panic. Unable to speak anyway, nothing he does will be of much help.
Instead, he focuses on the gagging. He may be rusty, but he has recently relived his own very vivid memories of dislodging the plants from his body. It will not be pleasant. In fact, it will be grotesque. He wishes desperately he were alone, but he cannot tell Wei Ying to leave, because he cannot speak at all. Working his throat, he eventually manages to get his fingers back into his throat enough to brush the flower.
He pulls a single petal from his throat and groans. Of course, he would not be so lucky as to grab it by the stem on the first try.
It takes him four attempts, in the end, and an awful lot of blood and petals strewn across the floor. He grasps the stem hard and yanks, ignoring the internal damage—his golden core can manage healing it, since it has not been consistently abused in several years—as the stem comes into full view. At last, he fully dislodges it, four blooms in total, the top one entirely divested of petals. His throat is utterly shredded, probably all the way down to the lung tissue.
"What," he hears Wei Ying gasps, "the fuck did they do to you?"
For some reason, it is this that sends him over the edge. He can't—he cannot process this. Wei Ying, glaring at him from across a table. Wei Ying, laughing at him for how boring and ridiculous he is. Wei Ying, kissing him tenderly in the middle of the night, practically still asleep. Wei Ying in his lap, cooing as he brings their fingers together. Wei Ying who is worried for him, Wei Ying who loathes him, neither of them fit with his understanding of the world because he no longer has one.
Wei Ying freezes where he was doing—something, in the kitchen. Filling a glass with water? He can't tell from where he's still kneeling, watching his blood pool before his eyes. The orchid is pink with dashes of white.
"Get out," he breathes, overwhelmed, unable to think past it. "Get out. Please." One part of him desperate to be alone, one part desperate to soften the blow.
He is torn in two. Lan Wangji cannot stop shaking.
Without another word, Wei Ying goes. It's not until he hears the door slam shut that Lan Wangji can breathe, collapsing backward, narrowly avoiding laying on anything gross as he tries to sort out who, if anyone, he is, and who he is supposed to be now.
Wei Wuxian calls out sick on Monday for the first time in his life.
Cultivators do not generally experience typical illnesses, but they are still provided mental health days or allowed to account for various emergencies in their lives. Wen Ning will probably fill in for him so they don't have to call someone from the NCC. He doesn't put much thought into it, texting Jiang Cheng at 2am like a coward and crawling back into bed, curling his arms around his pillow and burying his entire face in it.
He's allowed, isn't he? A little wallowing is definitely within his rights. He knew this would happen, but he'd allowed himself, for a brief fragment of time, to believe Lan Zhan's promises would hold weight with the version of him that remembered it all. That he knew what he was getting into.
Fuck, he's such an idiot.
He's more self-aware than people think. Sure, he spent a long time full of overwhelming arrogance and pride, but being forced into responsible adulthood has knocked him on his ass enough for that to fade. He can see, looking back, that he was an ass to Lan Zhan far more than he ever deserved it. By the time of the great Cultivation Conference Incident, he even understood Lan Zhan a little bit, at least enough to know that most of his objections to things came from trying to follow his sect motto and be righteous. He was never a malicious person. The same cannot be said for Wei Wuxian, but he's learned to live with that part of himself, to nurture it and take it in hand, make it behave until he needs it to stop.
It was childish of him to think that Lan Zhan would be able to... what, forgive and forget? Fuck, until their partnership, he's not sure he said more than three kind words to him as teens. Those three were mostly to lull him into a false sense of security. He should just—forget Lan Zhan, who doesn't need to work with him anymore and will probably be speeding back to Cloud Recesses for some bunny cuddle therapy or something. He really should.
At dawn, he's still dozing when he feels a weight on his bed. His family has keys to his apartment. He's too sad to pretend he's surprised.
Jiang Yanli's hand is gentle as it runs through his hair, rubbing slow circles on his scalp. She hasn't done this in years. After a few minutes, he props himself long enough to give her a bleary look. "A-Cheng, that traitor."
Her smile is always so full of love. He doesn't know how she stands it, how she stands him. Right now, the thought of putting up with him for so many years seems like a special kind of torture, one he's only recently discovered. It's a little hard to breathe around it.
"He wanted to come himself, but we convinced him someone needed to keep the Inner Sanctum running."
Ah. Yes, that was probably for the best. Jiang Cheng is good at cheering him up in his own way, but he's not the sort of comforting Wei Wuxian needs right now. What he needs is to crawl into his shijie's lap and cry a little. He's positive that will solve... something.
Because she is secretly a bully, she doesn't let him. "Up, first." He groans, and Jiang Yanli rubs his back. "If you come and sit on the couch, I'll start cooking."
He looks up at her, miserable. "I don't have any groceries."
"I brought them with me, Xianxian." She gives him a look that suggests he is an absolute fool. That's fair.
Bundled into a blanket burrito on the couch, with the smell of lotus and pork rib soup slowly permeating every inch of his apartment, Wei Wuxian manages to tell the story. When he puts it all into words, it seems ridiculous, like something out of a movie or fairytale, but Jiang Yanli takes it all with utmost sincerity, alternating between sitting down with him and making sure the soup turns out. At some point, she makes them both tea.
"That would be overwhelming for anyone," she says when he's garbled up every last detail, reaching out to put a hand on his shoulder. "Not just for him, but for you, too. You both must have a lot to process."
They make their way to his tiny dining room table, with Jiang Yanli moving her chair so it can be right up next to his. He loves her so much. It's not—for all that he had guardians, he never had parents, but she might be close. Jiang Cheng and himself are both impressive, fearsome cultivators with massive reputations, but it's Jiang Yanli that makes them feel safe. Nothing is more comforting than her food, her presence, her firm but gentle coaxing.
He really doesn't know how he would survive without her.
"Do you think it's..." He trails off, not daring to voice it aloud. He doesn't like hoping for things. Ensuring things happen, forcing them to with his own hands, that's what he can rely on. The rest is always up in the air, left too much to chance, spinning around him and just out of reach.
Jiang Yanli can finish his thought, anyway. Sometimes he wonders if she has some sort of sister telepathy going on. She rests her head on his shoulder, her hair smelling like jasmine, familiar and nostalgic enough to ease some of the tightness in his chest.
"Nothing is out of reach," she promises. When Jiang Yanli says those things, it's easier to believe them. "Not for A-Xian. Maybe you would feel better if you could figure out what, exactly, the purpose of the curse was?" And maybe it will be an excuse to talk to him again? She doesn't say it, but she doesn't have to.
It's not the worst idea. It's not like he's stopped thinking about it. Even when she fills all his cheap tupperware with soup and presses a kiss to his brow, apologetic but eager to return to Jin Ling, the scene of horror plays in the back of his mind.
Lan Zhan, kneeling, coughing up blood and other small, wet, pulpy things. Lan Zhan, reaching into the back of his throat and pulling an orchid from his lungs. In all his time considering the curse, he hadn't considered that it would have another, more visceral portion to it, one that could possibly be so painful.
Wei Wuxian opens the digital cultivation library and searches throwing up flowers. It turns up surprisingly few results, all of them relating to an oft-unheard of disease with murky origins tying it to Japan.
He opens ten articles in a row, going through each individual tab with rapt attention. Each time, he feels more confused than ever, wondering if he's missing something. There must be some other... flower-throw-up disease that the cultivation library hasn't accounted for. This can't be—this can't be it.
It just can't.
All the articles are variations on a theme. There are various treatments for Hanahaki Disease, ranging from experimental surgery to memory modification to actual, rom-com levels of madness.
Because Hanahaki is a love disease. A sickness born from love which is never returned. There's not enough cases to study what the exact tipping point is, but from the cases they have been able to track, it seems attached to those with particularly strong emotions, or those who—for a variety of reasons—must strongly suppress them. He thinks of Lan Zhan as a teenager, watching them from the window when he thought no one was looking. At the time, he'd laughed it off, wondering why Lan Zhan would shut himself inside on such a beautiful day if he wanted to look outside so bad. When Wei Wuxian had darted inside to ask, he was nowhere to be found, and until now, he'd forgotten all about it.
Such emotions, when stifled with rigor and left unreturned, will fester. It starts in the lungs.
It would be ridiculous, to assume who they were for. Shameless even for him. He's—he was such a dick to him, there's no way it's him Lan Zhan was holding onto, no way.
Lan Zhan, stopping him on the street and telling him to take himself more seriously. His countenance had been so stiff. Wei Wuxian had been too annoyed to spend any time wondering what he was so pissed about, exactly. The paleness on his face at the cultivation conference, which Wei Wuxian had always taken for a sign of his frustration or disappointment.
Effects will intensify should the patient remain within close proximity to the object of their unrequited affections, or should their thoughts stray to them for too long. It is a feedback loop of pain, physical and emotional; a parasitic disease which feeds on spiritual power to sustain itself until the host is nothing more than a husk.
He's much, much more than an asshole. Every time Lan Zhan ran from him, he thought nothing of it. He was never very curious. He'd only seen it as another sign that he was too stuffy to change, caught up in wondering why, exactly, he'd been so fascinated by annoying him in their youth. He'd been frustrated by his own interest in such a boring person, hadn't he? And the whole time, Lan Zhan had—had been—
Memory hits him with the force of a freight train, Lan Xichen's political smile fixed and stiff on his face.
Even if the memories were quite harmful?
I am in support of its uses as a life-saving intervention.
Even his face isn't thick enough for realizing how badly he'd fucked up that conversation. He tries to imagine what he would do, if Jiang Cheng had been in love with someone to the point that it was killing him. Tries to picture how he'd feel, how he would berate that person for not realizing what was right in front of them, how he'd love to wring the life from them for being so stupid.
He's surprised he made it free of Cloud Recesses with his life.
Logically, he knows that it's not exactly his fault. Lan Zhan could have told him. He's not sure what he would have done, but even if he said nothing, there are other, gentler ways to cure Hanahaki Disease. One of the most oft attempted ones is asking the object of your affection out, finding some other way to explain the effects of the disease while you try and get them to love you in return. It apparently has a very low success rate, but he knows it would have worked for Lan Zhan.
He knows, because it did. Whether he remembered it or not, Lan Zhan got Wei Wuxian to fall in love with him all on his own. It was easy. For a minute there, it even felt weightless, like being freed from a weight he didn't know he'd been carrying. And now—
Wait. If he's in love with Lan Zhan, too, why did he still have the orchid in his lungs?
Wei Wuxian scans back through the articles, going all the way through three pages of sources before he finds anything useful.
Memory modification is the least dangerous treatment for Hanahaki Disease, though if undone, may include lasting side effects such as headaches, nausea, memory fragmentation or loss, temporary dissociative episode(s), and expulsion of remaining but dormant effects of the disease itself.
Something slots into place in his chest. His eyes burn. Oh, Lan Zhan. How lonely it must have been for him to try and shoulder this on his own. He thinks back to him shouting for Wei Wuxian to get out, looks at the side effects, and is surprised he didn't do anything more. If it were Wei Wuxian experiencing that many memories on top of each other, especially such incongruous ones, he doesn't know that he would have reacted any differently.
Determination filters through him in slow waves. He'll give Lan Zhan his time, to come to terms with the memories and sort them out. Like, a few days, minimum.
And then, if he doesn't seek him out on his own, Wei Wuxian will just have to hunt him down. It's simple.
Maybe he has enough time to get a shirt printed with CONGRATS on the front and IT'S REQUITED on the back. Lan Zhan loves him. He is contractually obligated to think that's funny.
Three days after the harrowing kitchen incident, Lan Wangji does not know how to feel, exactly.
His thoughts have mostly settled back into their usual patterns. He did not live his life too much differently to how he would have, had he kept his memories of Wei Ying, which is a comfort. He was not so different that he feels an alien in his own skin, which had been one of the fears, when this plan was first suggested, and part of the reason he had originally turned it down. There is obviously more to it than that, but it's an unexpected boon.
He extends his lease on the place another month, with his own savings rather than his NCC stipend. He assumes the NCC will not be calling on him for that time, considering the last text he'd sent to the family groupchat before turning off his phone: I know.
Lan Wangji is not verbose by nature. They will understand his meaning—of that much he can be certain.
It is strange to experience jealousy of yourself. He knows he shouldn't feel this way—it was him, after all, he's been the same person all this time—but the thought that there was a version of him that got to hold Wei Ying, to all but admit to his love and be held in return, who also fucked Wei Ying until he cried, it's a lot to take in. The things he did without his memories feel oddly disconnected from reality. A blip of time he doesn't know how to rectify.
He was not—unhappy. Nor was he less himself in the ways he thought he would be. He did not notice what was missing, the way he always imagined he would. In many ways, he is the same person.
But who he was without Wei Ying is muted. Unchallenged, that version of himself had been much more agreeable to doing what was asked of him, more willing to go out on a limb. Kinder, if he can admit his worst faults. Less open to new ideas, which he notes unnerved Lan Xichen, now that he has the proper context for the strange looks he would sometimes be given. It was an imperfect solution to a difficult problem.
He understands, to some extent, why they took the choice away from him. When he thinks of turning on his phone and speaking to any one of them, however, panic sets in, until Lan Wangji spends an hour sat in his bathtub, knees hugged to his chest, trying to remember how to properly breathe.
When the knock comes at his door the next day, he cannot claim to be surprised.
If he ignores them, they may leave. He just needs—time. He does not know when the disease will return; it had been strange, to wake up with thoughts of Wei Ying and not also wake up coughing blood and pollen from his body. The Lan Zhan of his memories did not do so for many years, but before that, it had become a daily ritual. He does not know what to make of it. He does not know how long the reprieve will last.
He hasn't decided whether he should submit to the process of erasing Wei Ying once more, or if it would be better to die with as much of his dignity intact as he can muster.
The polite knocks turn more demanding. He wonders if his neighbors can hear it. They did not complain of Wei Ying's noise before, so he doubts it, but they may think he is in some sort of trouble, or getting evicted. He tries to distract himself with these possibilities.
The person at his door will not be ignored.
He freezes. The water he was pouring for his tea sloshes all over the counter as it pours well over the rim of the cup, splashing his toes with burning heat. He hops out of the way, setting the kettle aside and ignoring the water for now. He distinctly remembers telling Wei Ying to leave. It had not been his proudest moment, and with his phone shut down, there has been no way to reach out and apologize or explain.
Still, he did not expect him to come. Not after... that.
The knocking is now full-on pounding. He can imagine Wei Ying perfectly, thumping his fist against the door, irritation in his eyes and twisting his mouth into a frown. Lan Wangji knows the taste of that mouth, now. He does not know how on earth he can be expected to forget it.
"Lan Zhan, are you really not going to let me in? If you picked up your phone I wouldn't have had to come over!"
He thinks about asking Wei Ying to at least keep it down, so his dirty laundry will not be aired with the entire building. It would only spur him on, anyway. He lets it go. He should open the door. Wei Ying is blameless for it all, the unlucky recipient of his useless affections. There is nothing to be mad at Wei Ying for, and he is not, not at all.
Afraid would be the apt descriptor. He is afraid to face him. The thought makes his heart pound in his ears.
"Okay, fine!" He's still shouting through the door. "If you won't do this inside, we'll have to do it from here. I know you can hear me!"
Lan Wangji walks toward the door, putting his back to it and closing his eyes. Wei Ying does not hear him move closer. He still yells, when he speaks, but Lan Wangji doesn't want him to stop.
He doesn't want to be the reason Wei Ying is quiet. He wants him to be loud, and riotous, and there, all the time, always. It is the last part that scares him the most.
He doesn't answer.
"Lan Wangji? Hanguang-jun! I don't really know if you can hear me, kick the wall or something!"
In spite of himself and the anxiety twisting in his gut, Wei Ying makes him want to laugh. He knocks on the door three times before he can think better of it, cutting off whatever else Wei Ying was planning to say, filling the silence with something—charged.
He hears the thump of what must be Wei Ying's head hitting the door. "There you are," he says, like he's been searching for Lan Wangji for years rather than waiting a few minutes. "Okay, this is hard. Uh. I know you're a big talker, but try not to interrupt, okay? I don't think I'll be able to say it twice, I'll die."
Lan Wangji's heart throbs. Overdramatic, ridiculous Wei Ying. His hands fist at his sides, eyes closed, waiting for the ax to fall.
"I know I was really awful to you before. And now you remember all that, and it's probably way harder for you to see me, but I did some research and I think maybe you liked me anyway? Not—maybe—you loved me anyway, and Lan Zhan, I'm so much better now, and I swear, I'll never treat you like that again. I know I didn't see you, I wasn't looking, but I'm looking now! I can see you, all the way through, Lan Zhan, you're beautiful." His heart stops altogether. "I don't know how to look away. I don't want to. I didn't know how to tell if I loved you, but I think I know it now. It's more than anything else. It's anything and everything else. I love you, I want you, I everything you, so if you don't open the door I'm going to have to break it down and squat in your house until you want me back, because I am not puking up flowers, that looked like it really sucked when you did it—"
Lan Wangji fumbles for the door handle, turning it and his body just in time to catch Wei Ying when he stumbles forward. He must have been resting a lot of his weight against the door, just like Lan Wangji. The feeling of Wei Ying in his arms is familiar, now, and unfamiliar at once.
"Wei Ying." His voice is hoarse, though his throat healed days ago. "I am not—the version of me you knew."
Extricating himself somewhat from Lan Zhan's chest, he stands in the threshold of the door and takes Lan Wangji's face in his hands. "But the person you were, and the person you are, they still feel the same? All of them?"
He cannot lie about it, not now, not with Wei Ying's eyes on his. "En."
Wei Ying's smile is blinding. "Anything and everything, Lan Zhan. I'll figure out all of them and love them just the same."
He did not—he could not have predicted this. This is not something he can have. He has known it for too long to unravel the tangled thread at the center of his heart, at the core of who he is, and accept that this is true.
The surprise must show on his face, because Wei Ying leans forward, pressing his lips to Lan Wangji's cheek and wrapping his arms around him so tightly he cannot breathe. The door falls shut behind them at last. He doesn't want to breathe, so long as Wei Ying holds onto him like this. So long as he doesn't let go.
"I'm sorry you had to wait so long," he says again. Lan Wangji dredges up words he said while he was not quite himself, but words he meant, nonetheless.
"There is no need for 'sorry' between us." He allows himself, at last, to hug Wei Ying back, squeezing him tightly around the waist. Quieter, muffled at his shoulder, Lan Wangji admits: "Wei Ying is worth waiting for."
They stay there, wrapped in each other, for a very long time. Later, Wei Ying will take the rest of the week off, with Jiang Cheng's confused but supportive blessing. He will curl up in Lan Wangji's lap as often as he pleases, trading stories back and forth and untangling the knots of their memories, together. He will spend a lot of time bemoaning missed time, and complaining that Lan Wangji did not seek him out sooner, he had to date many mediocre people before this, Lan Zhan, won't you take responsibility?
It will feel too soon to joke about such things, but Wei Ying is known for making jokes far too soon. Lan Wangji will not mind.
He will take responsibility.