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A Lifetime of Study

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He saw it happen to Lan Xichen when he was twelve. A respected family from the east had come to visit for a week: something about an exchange of scrolls, something about his uncle wanting to discuss a liturgical text about a minor chord. The visit was one that Lan Wangji would, otherwise, remember fondly: their daily dinners intersected by the elders excitedly wanting to continue their discussion, the wife fondly scolding them for talking philosophy during a meal, and the family’s daughter—fourteen, Lan Xichen’s age—providing the boys with a continuous drumroll of jokes, murmured out of the corner of her mouth. What’s tall yet short and makes no sound? What’s prickly in the summer and smooth in the winter? What did the chicken say from up in the tree? 

Lan Xichen would stifle his laughter and Lan Wangji would press his lips together and not make a sound. During the days they’d go for walks together, the three of them, showing her the hidden waterfalls of Cloud Recesses. She was short and fast and an incessant talker, would run ahead of them, would practice her sword movements while walking, would often proclaim loud and emphatically: “I’m bored, boys, I’m bored! Everything is so boring!” 

And Lan Xichen, looking deeply disappointed in himself each time she’d proclaim as much, would say: “I’m sorry to hear Cloud Recesses isn’t to your expectation, my lady.” 

And she’d make an impatient sound and say, “Not this place! Everything! Always! Ugh!” And then she’d stand between them, grab their elbows, say, “Come, let’s make an adventure,” and would run them into the wooded hills. The adventure would usually be something like hunting down a lost rooster, or pretending the vague carvings on the bark of a tree was an ancient clue to a treasure, or following a sound that then turned out to be a deer in flight. 

The day before the family was due to leave, Lan Xichen came into Lan Wangji’s room and draped himself over Lan Wangji’s bed with a tortured sound. Lan Wangji was reading at his table, mindful of his posture. He’d been corrected by a teacher earlier that month: the slouch of his shoulder. The embarrassment of that still burned hot. 

Lan Xichen groaned again. He looked to Lan Wangji, waited, propped himself up on his elbows and then said, “Aren’t you going to ask me what’s wrong?” 

Lan Wangji stared at the words on his scroll. He said, “What’s wrong.” 

Lan Xichen flopped back onto the bed. “It’s terrible. It’s terrible. She’s leaving tomorrow and I think I might just die.” 

Lan Wangji put his scroll down and said, “Why?” Said, “Did she do something to you?” And suddenly, with a spike of worry, “Did she cast a spell on you?” 

Lan Xichen groaned and held the collar of his robes in hand and said, “Yes! A terrible, wicked spell, I’ll never be rid of this.” 

Lan Wangji stood up in a hurry, ready to act—run, call someone, reach for his sword. But Lan Xichen only remained there, on the bed, looking ruffled. His hair was bunched and frizzy around his forehead, his headband slightly askew. He pulled at his collar, said, “Her eyes cast a spell on me. Her lips! Her swordsmanship. In the name of all the spirits, what I wouldn’t do for just a kiss.” 

Lan Wangji stared, locked in position for a moment, then let go of the hilt of his sword. Sat back down, put his hands to his knees. He’d heard of this, had read about it in the margins of history. Had picked up stories of the older boys, of madness and desire and wars being started over a pair of eyes. A pair of lips. It had always sounded like the grandest exaggeration, and he’d put it down to that: tall tales, fantasies. He couldn’t imagine any person might feel so strongly, would lose themselves so instantly over—over what? A walk in along the water, a joke shared over dinner? 

He told Lan Xichen, “You look untidy.” Said, “You should make yourself presentable.” 

Lan Xichen seemed confused, for a moment. Frowned at Lan Wangji, looked down at himself, looked confused, too, by what he found there: the wrinkling of his robes, the bare chest where he’d pushed at the fabric, had moved it like he couldn’t breathe. 

He fell back with another groan. Covered his eyes and said, all dramatics, “May you never know this, little brother. May you never know the misery.” 

At the time Lan Wangji had thought: I will never. At the time Lan Wangji had thought: nothing in the world could compel me.

 

///

 

He’d forgot all about it, about the family and the visit and that one week that Lan Xichen had lost his mind over a girl—until the day Wei Wuxian kick-walked into Cloud Recesses, had danced on his roof, had spilled his liquor on the tiles, had put his hand on the hilt of Lan Wangji’s sword and gently, with a smile, pushed it back into its sheath. 

That’s when that memory came back to him, in the form of a singular word: boring. Wei Wuxian caused a ruckus in class and pulled the word from the recesses of Lan Wangji’s memory as though with a long, expert finger: boring. Wei Wuxian got in trouble, Wei Wuxian rolled about the library floor and said things like, would you like me on my knees?, did things like strip in the water not a foot away from Lan Wangji, touched people, easily, put his hands on them and then took those hands away again. Wei Wuxian smiled and laughed always, constantly, even when things weren’t funny. Especially when things weren’t funny. Wei Wuxian’s body heat ran high, and Lan Wangji’s very skin went into high alert every time he walked into a room, any room, and all his mind could say to that was: boring, how boring. How very very boring. 

“Boring!” Wei Wuxian repeated, as though it was the worst insult he’d ever been dealt. “Definitely not boring.” The shimmering bond of a rope he’d conjured was tight between them, tight around Lan Wangji’s wrist. Wei Wuxian stumbled to keep up. He babbled for a while, a half conversation had with Lan Wangji, which then turned to a reflective monologue when Lan Wangji refused to answer: he went over a conversation he had with Jiang Yanli, listed his favourite foods, argued for and against them. The day was hot and a line of sweat prickled at Lan Wangji’s spine, collected where he kept his knuckles to the small of his back. 

Wei Wuxian got distracted by a bird in a tree. Lan Wangji put his fingers to the shimmering rope between them and wondered what would happen if he’d twist it around his wrist and pull, and pull, and pull. How Wei Wuxian would be forced to come fumbling toward him. Would be forced to end here, on the dirt, fallen to his knees. Eyes up, mouth open.  

He tugged, a gentle, small thing, nothing like the fantasy raging about and screaming in the back of his mind, and Wei Wuxian looked from the tree to his wrist and with a casual flick ended the bond—as if he’d forgotten it was there. As if he now bored of his own game. 

The city rose up in the distance. Wei Wuxian went ahead. Lan Wangji stared at his back, at the cinch of his waist, and felt at his own wrist—the phantom pressure still there. 

 

///

 

The first time he lost his temper was at the library. Until then Lan Wangji had fought him, had reprimanded him, had told him off, had walked away from him—and it had all been deliberate. The day at the library was not. He’d barely caught a glimpse of the print, barely saw what it was supposed to depict: a leg, a bed, a breast. Wei Wuxian had had it on his person. Had been keeping it close to his chest, had given it to Lan Wangji to see: a joke, of course. A mean-spirited thing, a push to see Lan Wangji embarrassed. 

Wei Wuxian was sprawled so insolent and close, and he smelled of the buttery porridge they’d all had for lunch, and something Lan Wangji hadn’t known was pulled tight within him then snapped: from the one beat to the other, the print was torn up in pieces, and he’d yelled, and had used words that he’d never used, only ever heard—the inflection of fishing boys down at the river, crass and harsh and entirely inappropriate. It had made him flush, hearing words like that, when he was young. 

He was short of breath, storming back to his rooms. He didn’t notice Lan Xichen passing him and startled by the hand of his elbow—pushed it off with too much force. Lan Xichen held up his hands as though to pacify, tilted his head to say—easy, now. 

Lan Xichen looked to where Lan Wangji had come from. “Slow down. You’ll set a fire to the boardwalk, rushing like that.” 

Lan Zahn looked down in assent. He’d not recovered his breath yet. Lan Xichen gave him a long look, then a short smile, and reached up to righten the collar of Lan Wangji’s robes: it had ruffled somewhat in the scuffle. 

Lan Zahn swallowed, kept his eyes down. 

“There,” Lan Xichen said. “Now you’re presentable.” 

Lan Wangji nodded, left. Went to his room and sat at his table and recited to himself the first 500 of the 3000 rules of the clan, his fingers digging harsh into his knees. Every now and then a flash of the print came to him, a flare of anger, the vision of Wei Wuxian on the floor of the library, the hems of his robes hiked up. 

He’d dig his fingers deeper into his knees and whisper, boring, boring, boring, until it went away. Then he continued: learning comes first, do not take your own words lightly, do not act impulsively, do not give up on learning, make sure to— 

A few days later, he watched the painted lantern go up into the sky, watched Wei Wuxian fold his fingers together in prayer, close his eyes, and pledge his loyalty to justice, to a life lived with no regret. That night in his room, Lan Wangji thought he might just choke on the weight in his throat—at the tightness in his chest. He couldn’t sleep, couldn’t breathe: he pulled at the sash of his robe, pulled at the collar, trying to get the cool air on his damp chest. He opened a window, pushed at the sheets, put a damp cloth to his neck. Nothing helped. Nothing. He covered his eyes with his hands, hapless, not wanting to see the mess he’d made of himself. 

 

/// 

 

On their first night alone in the cave, Wei Wuxian pulled at Lan Wangji’s clothes and then at his own and said, “Come, let’s undress,” until Lan Wangji spat up all the stale blood in a fit of shock and mottled desire. He could feel his heartbeat in his leg, in the open wound, in the flecks of medicine Wei Wuxian had pressed into him. 

The fire dried the blood, dried his clothes to his skin. It made him itchy, feeling the fabric shrink, caked in mud. Wei Wuxian put on a show of a speech about Mianmian and scars and pretty ladies in distress, his voice tight with forced humour, his shoulder bumping against Lan Wangji’s as he spoke. Lan Wangji was tired, and his body ached, and his stomach was in knots. He didn’t want to have this conversation. He was too tired to have this conversation. He said, “How do you know she’ll remember you?” and Wei Wuxian gave him a frown and an annoyed little, “Why are you so mad?” because it was just talk, to him. It was always just talk. 

“You shouldn’t flirt with people,” Lan Wangji said, turning away, “if you don’t mean it.” 

Wei Wuxian said, “I didn’t flirt with you, anyway.” A petulant little answer. Lan Zahn swallowed, and clenched his jaw, and when Wei Wuxian tried to continue teasing him he looked up and thought: to hell with it. He thought: it’s best if he knows now, it’ll be a lesson, it’ll be a lesson for us both and then he’ll stop, and all will be as it was. But then Wei Wuxian leaned close, and Lan Wangji went quiet. He was sure it showed. He was sure he didn’t even need the words. He was sure everything was clear to Wei Wuxian, now: Lan Wangji’s every desire written on his face, in his eyes, the shortness of his breath. How he trembled all over. How he couldn’t look away from Wei Wuxian’s mouth. 

“I see,” Wei Wuxian said, then, quiet. Lan Wangji’s heart thudded low in his stomach. 

“I see,” Wei Wuxian said. Smiled. “You’re sweet on Mianmian.” 

 

///

 

On the sixth night in the cave, Wei Wuxian picked up the conversation like they hadn’t even stopped. Like the days of silence hadn’t stretched thin between them, like the damp walls of the caves hadn’t made them both sallow-skinned, hungry and tired upon waking, hungry and tired each night when going to sleep. 

The previous morning, Lan Wangji had woken up with Wei Wuxian’s head on his shoulder. This morning, he’d woken up with Wei Wuxian’s hand on his thigh—possessive, keeping him in place. He was asleep, head tilted back against the stone, his Adam’s apple moving to the rise and fall of his breaths. 

Now, Wei Wuxian said to the fire, “Of course that means, then, that you’ve never flirted with anyone, Lan Zhan.” He was thoughtful and wry, half a joke. He had his hands out to the heat. “No, no, to flirt you’ll have to mean it. And to mean it you have to truly care for someone.” He gave him a quick glance, a tilt of a smile. “Have you ever truly cared for someone, Lan Zhan? Her temperament, her airs, the—the—” He cast for an example. “The way she strolled ahead of you as you made your way to class?”

Lan Wangji’s leg was better. He didn’t need the support of the wet wall. He kept his posture straight, his eyes on the fire. The warmth was nice.

“Ah,” Wei Wuxian said, taking the silence for an answer. “Then I pity you, my friend. Such great joys to be had in the depths of infatuation. Though one thing I don’t envy you—” He held up one finger. “Madness. And it is! Thinking of only one person, waking up to their name, going to sleep with their name! Eating and not tasting: that one is the truest loss of all.” 

Lan Wangji counted three breaths. Wei Wuxian shuffled around the fire, settled down next to him. Even in the chill of the cave, he ran too hot, and Lan Wangji could feel the press of his arm like the press of an iron through the cloth. 

He hadn’t meant to ask, but he asked all the same: “Is there someone like that for you?” 

Wei Wuxian made a dismissive pff sound. Waved the question away, said, “Oh no, no, I’m much too busy these days. As you can see. So many monsters to slay, many caves to be imprisoned in. Many haughty young men to annoy.” He flashed a closed-mouthed smile, eyes in crescents, then caught Lan Wangji’s gaze—turned serious, quieter: “But . . . a few times, in the past. I’ve lost my head before, yes.” He seemed to be remembering, then: something fond, something gentle within himself. Then suddenly he looked up, face as though a thought had been shot into him from the air: “Lan Zhan! Does that mean you’ve never . . .?” 

Lan Wangji kept his eyes down. He wondered, idly, how much worse it would be to stand up right now and dive into the monster’s waters. How much worse it would be, to be eaten by the demon beast rather than having to answer Wei Wuxian—with his bright face, that terrible shine that he got when he realised a joke was hidden under the surface. 

Wei Wuxian said, voice hushed, “Have you never been kissed?” 

Lan Wangji didn’t move, didn’t flinch, didn’t indicate that he even heard the question. He had only one memory of lips to his skin: his mother, before she’d died. It was a faint memory. The smell of jasmine, earrings like drops of blood. She’d kissed his forehead, called him her little rabbit. Told him to be good, to go back to the main house. 

“By a lover,” Wei Wuxian added, as though he’d followed the exact path of Lan Wangji’s thoughts. He said, “On the mouth.” 

The fire crackled. A stick broke, fell down the centre of the pile. 

“So you don’t drink,” Wei Wuxian continued. “You don’t read anything fun, you don’t do anything unless you’re told, you don’t touch, you don’t kiss— Ah, Lan Zhan, will there be no joy in life for you?” He pushed a light elbow to Lan Wangji’s ribs, a jest, but it didn’t help: a morbid chill had settled down the back of his neck. His mouth turned down, eyes still fixed. Stay quiet, he thought. Stay quiet and eventually he’ll leave off. 

And there was, then, indeed a pause—a short one, but a pause all the same. Then Wei Wuxian took a sharp breath of thought and turned to him altogether and said, “I’ll tell you what, Lan Zhan. Now I’ll show you how it’s done, yes, and then when the time comes and you finally lose your head to a fine-tempered lady, you’ll know exactly what to do in order to make her sigh to all her friends—” He put on a pitched voice: “Oh, what a gentleman, what a kisser! The best kisser! Because you will, of course—” He jabbed a thumb into his chest, “have been taught by the very best.” 

“No,” Lan Wangji said. It came out on a deep note. 

“Lan Zhan! Why not?” 

“You mean to make fun of me.” He glanced as quick as he could, a shifty thing from the corner of his eye. He hoped Wei Wuxian wouldn’t notice. “You’re bored and you’re looking for a joke.” 

Wei Wuxian made an offended noise, said, “Me! Lan Zhan, surely after all we’ve been through, you know I only want—for you, I would only want to help. See, I only mean—” He sighed, still in his theater. He put his hand on Lan Wangji’s knee. Lan Wangji stared at it, at the spot where it sat, the heat of it through his robes. Wei Wuxian’s fingers were long. His palm was narrow. 

“You’re a good student, aren’t you?” he asked Lan Wangji. It was so clearly still a joke. He didn’t let up. “When have you entered into uncharted territories without having studied them beforehand? Look. It was only an offer.” His hand was still on Lan Wangji’s knee: not heavy, not squeezing, not moving. Just there—calm and as matter-of-fact as anything. “I thought it’d give you some relief, you see. To have studied. To know what to expect.” 

Lan Wangji turned to look at him, now. It was a joke, a terrible one. In the water in the cave behind him, the monster burbled in its sleep. The fire cast dancing shadows over the ceiling, over the warped stone. It was a joke, and Wei Wuxian was smiling, and Lan Wangji had never wanted to kiss anyone in his life—had never wanted to be kissed. Had never thought the option an option, the possibility at all appealing, and now—with the offer of it lying wry and sarcastic and ill-intentioned between them—he found himself desperate for it. Found that his stomach was swooping low and the buzzing of his mind that had never been there before Wei Wuxian pitched to a deafening screech of want. 

He leaned in. Wei Wuxian instantly leaned away with a, unh-unh, a shake of his head. Lan Wangji corrected his posture, shame crawling up, and then Wei Wuxian said: “Like this,” and took Lan Wangji’s chin between a gentle hold. Tilted him up. 

Lan Wangji stared at him. Wei Wuxian whispered, “Part your lips.” 

Lan Wangji did. It was a soft, wet sound. Wei Wuxian’s humour ebbed, and something serious came about him. He shuffled close, all heat and familiarity, and said, “Pay attention,” and kissed Lan Wangji’s bottom lip: just his bottom lip. He lingered, then whispered to the part of Lan Wangji’s mouth: “Now, like this,” and kissed his upper lip. Lan Wangji didn’t know what to do. Everything was locked: his arms, his hands, the turn of his spine. He couldn’t move. 

Wei Wuxian said, “Now, your turn,” and leaned away an inch. 

Lan Wangji swallowed. The space between them seemed blurry at the edges, the quality of a dream encroaching. His mouth felt like it wasn’t his, his lips soft with the press of someone else’s. Wei Wuxian was waiting for him: head tilted, mouth parted. 

Lan Wangji did as he’d been shown: kissed Wei Wuxian’s bottom lip, this upper one. He didn’t know if there was a trick to this, a language of pressure, something he could get right. Their noses brushed. A breath stuttered out of Wei Wuxian, and he said, “Lick your lips, now,” and Lan Wangji did as he was told: licked his lips. “Again,” Wei Wuxian said, and Lan Wangji did as he was told. “Now kiss me,” Wei Wuxian said, and Lan Wangji’s heart was racing at the base of his throat, in his ears, between his legs. He kissed Wei Wuxian again, and it was wet and warm this time and went on for a beat longer, the two of them moving: up, down, up. Wei Wuxian opened his mouth. Lan Wangji’s thoughts went white and hot and he pushed in, pushed his chest to Wei Wuxian’s, and Wei Wuxian turned away on a huffing laugh—leaving Lan Wangji to chase after him. There was a thin line of spit between them. 

“Easy,” Wei Wuxian said, and with a gentle hand pushed Lan Wangji back—then followed. Settled them back into start positions: sat straight, close, Wei Wuxian’s fingers on Lan Wangji’s chin. 

“Tilt your head,” he said, and guided the movement. Before he leaned in, he added with a smile, “Go slow. You don’t want to startle the fair maiden.”

“Yes,” Lan Wangji whispered, not sure what he was saying yes to, exactly, but wanting, wanting everything, anything, and this time Wei Wuxian let him open the kiss. Lan Wangji felt it melting down his back, the heat of it, the fraying edges of control. Wei Wuxian hummed softly into his mouth. Wei Wuxian sucked on his tongue. Wei Wuxian pulled away incrementally, didn’t let it get too frenzied, held him by the side of his neck, fingers splayed over the line of his jaw. 

It was the same tight band he had felt on the dais at the library. The same pull he’d felt in the frozen caves, and when the lanterns went up, and the nights he couldn’t sleep of breathe or think straight for the echo of Wei Wuxian’s laugh in the back of his mind—hard under the sheets, under his robes, not knowing what to do about it, frightened to do anything about it. And now Wei Wuxian smiled against the corner of his mouth, and ran the edge of his teeth to Lan Wangji’s lip, and Lan Wangji grabbed him by the waist and pulled him close—into his lap, pulled one of Wei Wuxian’s legs until he straddled Lan Wangji’s thigh. 

Wei Wuxian said, “Oh,” and was looking down at Lan Wangji now—hair falling forward. His eyes were restless on Lan Wangji, mouth wet and swollen and open. He breathed a nervous laugh. Lan Wangji pulled him down by the back of his neck and this time the kiss heated up fast and quick, and Wei Wuxian didn’t slow them down, couldn’t, with Lan Wangji’s holding him near, his hand squeezing high up Wei Wuxian’s thigh. 

“Fast student,” Wei Wuxian panted, sounding confused and hapless and then—all at once, needy, a sound deep from the back of his throat. Lan Wangji had leaned down to nip at his jaw, under it. His hands were impatient up Wei Wuxian’s spine, fingers hard against his ribs, grabbing him. Wei Wuxian pushed into it, body stuttering, and the movement broke through Lan Wangji’s fog only enough to frighten him a little—only a little. He nosed his way back to Wei Wuxian’s mouth and the kiss continued where it left: in the middle, open and wet, Wei Wuxian’s arms around his shoulders, in his hair, under the fall of it, fingers playing at the knot of his band. 

They went on for a long time. The fire died down, the shadows shortened, and sleep pulled them harshly into one direction while a wild arousal pulled them in the opposite. Then Wei Wuxian moved as if to push deeper into him, and his leg slipped and brushed up against Lan Wangji’s crotch and Lan Wangji groaned and bit at Wei Wuxian’s throat, hard. Wei Wuxian startled away with a hiss, put his hand to the spot—checked for blood. It wasn’t bleeding. 

“Sorry,” Lan Wangji said. 

Wei Wuxian tsk’d and said, “Lan Zhan,” in a way that was so annoyed, so familiar, and Lan Wangji was amazed how that could be transported to here: to Wei Wuxian in his lap, in the dark, a solid maddening heat, a desire that ran as deep as energy itself—unending, with a lifetime of study needed for an ounce of control. 

Wei Wuxian sighed, then. Lan Wangji’s hands settled on his hips. Wei Wuxian looked around, then back to Lan Wangji: inspected him, for a moment. Then, with a small smile, “We should go to sleep.” 

“Mm,” Lan Wangji said, meaning, no. 

Wei Wuxian clambered off him. Lan Wangji hated everything about it. They settled on the ground, but Wei Wuxian kept them close, still: tucked himself to Lan Wangji’s front, chest to back. Fitting. A pair of shells at the bottom of a lake. Wei Wuxian collected his hair behind him, pulled it over one shoulder: a bare back of a neck for Lan Wangji to look at. To press his forehead to, his lips to. 

Wei Wuxian shuddered. Lan Wangji tried to keep his hips tilted away, but Wei Wuxian had probably felt it, noticed. He didn’t say anything about it, didn’t do anything about it. After a while, he said, “Your maiden will be a lucky one, Lan Zhan. There’s really nothing to worry about.” 

“Mm,” said Lan Wangji, keeping his grip gentle at the dip of Wei Wuxian’s waist. 

 

///

 

He’d known. He’d known the moment Jiang Wanyin had puzzled over those upturned hexes, the moment the air shifted in that room, had known at the inn before they’d seen anything—before Wei Wuxian began to pace about that room, deathly pale, a thin cloud of black spirit dust trailing behind him. Lan Wangji had stared from the hole in the roof, adrenaline high and a hope peaking at the same time as it sank: he knew, he knew. He knew what this shift was, what it meant. 

Lan Wanji, Wei Wuxian called him, all ice. First avoiding his gaze, then holding it distant and cruel, the humour in him turned sour, turned dangerous. Lan Wangji demanded answers, breath short and angry and only wanted to touch Wei Wuxian, put his hand to his cheek. He hadn’t, during the brief chance he’d been given in the cave. He wondered if he’d still be warm to the touch. He looked so cold, now. He twirled his flute in one hand, refused to answer, said, “It’s been months since I last saw you. Even if you don’t care for me as a classmate, surely—no need to be so rude.” 

Answer me,” Lan Wangji said, and Wei Wuxian said, “Oh, you wouldn’t get it,” and Lan Wangji, tumbling a step behind his own heart, said all in a rush: “Then come with me to Gusu and explain it to me there.” Come with me, he thought, and only that, on a loop: come with me come with me come with— 

“Gusu?” he said, a derisive laugh. “Isn’t that the place with, oh, what was it? Three thousand rules?” He sucked on his teeth. “Nah.” 

He knew what Lan Wangji was asking. Knew the layers below the question, what was meant. He knew and chose, instead, this fight: this useless, empty fight. Lan Wangji made for the hilt of his sword and Wei Wuxian held him at bay with his flute, bared his teeth, said, “Who do you think you are?” And then, at Lan Wangji’s tense stare, he went dark and serious and said: “What is it, Lan Zhan? Did you think I would never say no to you?” 

His mouth lifted in a crooked smile. His incisor showed, sharp from under the glint of his lip. 

Like this, he’d said in the cave: had held Lan Wangji’s chin between two fingers, had tilted him this way, that. Had let himself be hauled, be held, had gone shivery when Lan Wangji tightened his grip over his ribs—had put his teeth to the soft skin below his jaw. Your maiden will be a lucky one.

It stormed the night Lan Wangji walked away from the inn: gales and gales of wind without a drop of rain. Lan Wangji made his way to Unclean Realm on foot the whole way: didn’t fly, didn’t ride his sword, just walked and walked, letting the wind push against him like a wall. 

 

///

 

It took three days for Wei Wuxian to wake up after the battle of the Shunshot Campaign. Three days and Lan Wangji’s fingers had turned red at the tips, sore and his skin thin—playing by his bedside every morning, and sometimes in the late noon if Jiang Yanli stepped out to get some fresh water, a clean washcloth. Some nights he’d sit behind the house, near the wall where he knew Wei Wuxian’s bed was pushed up against, and continue his playing: soft enough that it wouldn’t startle anyone, but there, still there. 

On the second day after the battle, Nie Huaisang caught up with him on his way over to Wei Wuxian’s rooms and tried to ask him several questions all in quick succession, all of them trembling and unsure, Are you sure he’ll—? Are you sure it’ll—? Will he survive, are you sure he—? 

Lan Wangji had turned to him abruptly, bowed to indicate the conversation was over, and continued on to Wei Wuxian’s door. Jiang Yanli opened for him before he’d even knocked: she looked tired, purple about the eyes. 

In the Unclean Realm, in the days before the battle, he and Wei Wuxian battled in the courtyard as if they were sixteen again, as if their only disagreement was a bad attitude and a bottle of Emperor’s Smile. But this time Wei Wuxian was slower and different, holding his flute as his only defense, and Lan Wangji easily got the upper hand—held the tip of his sword to the unblemished skin of Wei Wuxian’s throat: the spot where he bit too hard, once, in the cave. The skin had bloomed purple in the night, and was there, still, the next morning. That had been months ago. There was no trace of it, then. 

Lan Zhan, Wei Wuxian had said, Adam’s apple bobbing under the barely-there pressure of the blade. I see you continue to make progress, in my absence.

And now he was awake: looking younger than he was with a puff under his eyes, dressed only his underrobes. He looked like he’d overslept for class, was still catching up to the world around him. Jiang Yanli left them with a kind word that he didn’t hear. He could only stare, and stare, and wonder at the horror of being so singularly attached to the life of a man who seemed hell-bent on getting hurt at every turn. 

Wei Wuxian made no efforts to break the silence, and Lan Wangji had nothing to say, and had never been in the habit of speaking beyond necessity. And so Wei Wuxian remained in his bed, looking artfully bored, and Lan Wangji sat to play for him, as he had for days. The notes were the same, his intention the same, but where he could only focus before now his attention frazzled with each of Wei Wuxian’s restless little shifts. His fussing, intakes of breath like he wanted to say something, then changed his mind or said, “Lan Zhan, actually I—” 

“Be quiet,” he commanded. “Concentrate.” 

Wei Wuxian watched him, took a full and long minute to do as he was told: folded his legs, curled his fingers on his knees. Concentrated. It worked, for a short while. The music settled and stretched and settled the undirected spirited, soothed it. Then, all at once, Wei Wuxian was up on his feet, testing his wrists and arms and saying, “Lan Zhan look! I’m fine, I’m better, I’m—!” 

Lan Wangji had crossed the room with no memory of having stood. He held his hands strictly at his side, fists hidden in his sleeves. Said, “Three more days of rest are needed.” 

“Three more days!” Wei Wuxian was going to argue, now, and he was so familiar, in that moment, so fresh and young and eager. 

“You must mind yourself,” Lan Wangji said. “Your body,” he said, and then recalled Wei Wuxian’s body, how it felt, and regretted having taken the word into his mouth like that. He added, uselessly: “And your temperament.” 

“My temperament is fine,” Wei Wuxian said, distracted, again inspecting his wrist, but later that day out on the cliffed edge of the square he got himself riled up over nothing much—a conversation, a memory—and quickly lost control. He stumbled from a rock, holding his hand over his heart, the dark dust ebbing to and fro from his chest. Lan Wangji had to hold him by his arm, for a while, keep him close, had to say, “Focus, Wei Ying.” 

It took longer than needed for the Iron’s spirit to settle. And when it did, Wei Wuxian looked wry, expecting Lan Wangji to scold or lord over him. He pulled from his grip and rubbed at his chest, the spot where the iron had branded, mumbled, “Do you doubt me, Lan Zhan?” 

It was a troubled day, as it often was up on that mountain: dark clouds, a frown of weather, the sparks of fire in the air. Lan Wangji wanted to tell him: I worry for you. He didn’t. 

That night, after the banquet, after Wei Wuxian had stormed in smelling like a bottle of liquor with his temper fizzing around him like something electric, undonducted—after he’d insulted half the party and outraged the rest—after he had put the choice of marriage in Jiang Yanli’s hands, embarrassed his brother, slighted the Jim family, slighted the whole—

After that, Lan Wangji followed him. Away from the lights and music of the banquet, the sounds dimming behind them. Over the walkway and the two bridges and all the way to Wei Wuxian’s rooms. It was dark inside, and Wei Wuxian let in without question, going about lighting candles with annoyed little snaps of his fingers. He was moving erratically, a storm brewing in the cloud around him. 

“You need to calm down,” Lan Wangji said. 

“I need nothing,” Wei Wuxian said, and began to fuss with his outer robes, taking them off without so much as a glance at Lan Wangji—uncaring, too easy in his undress. 

Lan Wangji looked away, sat himself down at the table, and began to play. Wei Wuxian stilled, for a moment—then his fingers slowed on the bindings, on the ribbons of his formal robe. His shoulder slumped. He sat down on the edge of his bed, heavy, put his face in his hands. 

“Don’t you ever tire,” he asked, after a while, “of that same tune.” 

Lan Wangji continued to play. 

Wei Wuxian’s breathing slowed. It was early, yet. The banquet wouldn’t be over for hours. Outside the city was quiet: no shuffling of feet, no soldiers repeating orders, no one was looking for anyone from across the street. At length Wei Wuxian said, 

“Lan Zhan.” 

Lan Wangji stopped playing. Wei Wuxian had his hand over his heart, grimacing, teeth clenched. He hissed, once, and Lan Wangji hurried to him, kneeled at his side, took his hand away and placed two fingers in its place. 

“Wei Ying,” he said. “Focus.” He meant: on the pressure of my fingers, on me. On the room around them. “You’re here,” he said. Wei Wuxian closed his eyes. Lan Wangji watched the particles diminish, the dark hum retreat. He flattened his hand over Wei Wuxian’s heart, felt it beating, steady, under his palm. 

When he looked up, Wei Wuxian had opened his eyes. Was looking at him, inspecting him. Lan Wangji had settled in the space between Wei Wuxian’s legs. He had steadied himself with a hand to Wei Wuxian’s knee. He had not noticed, in the grip of worry, the liberties he’d taken. 

He wanted to pull away, and found himself locked in space. Wei Wuxian’s eyes were blood-shot around the edges, the tiredness had creeped back in. Wei Wuxian breathed out, brushed aside a lock of Lan Wangji’s hair, and set three fingertips to the rise of Lan Wangji’s cheek: little dots of heat. 

He said, “Do you remember our game? In the cave?” A shadow of a smile passed over him. “Like years ago, it feels. Doesn’t it?” 

Lan Wangji looked at him. He didn’t want the touch to leave, to change. Wei Wuxian trailed his fingers down, left one at the dip of the corner of Lan Wangji’s mouth. 

A fine trembled settled over Lan Wangji, barely there. Wei Wuxian said, a bare whisper, “Have you been diligent in your studies, Lan Zhan?” 

Lan Wangji looked at him. His chest had tightened on itself, ropes around his lungs. Wei Wuxian leaned closer on a breath and said, “Ah, shame. The great student has fallen behind.” 

Their foreheads were almost touching. Wei Wuxian’s leg was solid under his touch: muscle and bone. Lan Wangji parted his lips. Wei Wuxian said, “Do you remember your lessons?” 

“Yes,” Lan Wangji said, and already into the kiss Wei Wuxian said: 

“Good.” 

It was different from the cave. The room was warm, and their clothes dry, and Lan Wangji’s leg didn’t whine at the bend, and a monster didn’t sleep in the water behind them: there was no immediate danger, no question of sunlight or the night or the next day, and Lan Wangji had spent months not thinking about this. Thinking about this and not thinking about this, stumbling into the memory, running sharply away from it, aching and delirious and confused. And now, with Wei Wuxian close and open for him, sighing high into his mouth again, Lan Wangji couldn’t fathom at confusion: it was so simple, this. It was so simple. It was so simple to tilt his head and go deeper, and faster, to suck Wei Wuxian’s tongue into his mouth, to nip at his lips: first gently, and then, at the whimper of a sound, harder—dragging the flesh between his teeth, soothing it with his mouth, with another kiss. 

Wei Wuxian’s breath hitched and then he moaned and Lan Wangji’s hands went all the way up his legs, his thighs, grabbing under them, pulling Wei Wuxian nearer—dragging him to the very edge of the bed. Lan Wangji went up on his knees and tried to get closer, he wasn’t sure what for but closer: chest to chest, flush, his belly, his hips, his—

Ah, ah—” Wei Wuxian held him back with a hand to the centre of his chest. He was holding himself up with a palm to the bed behind him. They were both panting, and Wei Wuxian looked flushed, and good, and his legs were wide open, his mouth a bruised mess. He said, “Come lie next to me.” 

Lan Wangji looked at him. Wei Wuxian shuffled backwards, out of Lan Wangji’s grip. He left space on the bed beside him. He said, again, “Come lie next to me, Lan Zhan.” 

Lan Wangji went. He felt wooden, now, awkward, unsure what was expected of him. He lied down beside Wei Wuxian, and Wei Wuxian had turned to look at him—was up on his elbow, staring down. Lan Wangji wanted to kiss again. Wei Wuxian didn’t seem in a hurry. He put his hand on Lan Wangji’s chest, over his robes. Left it there, for a moment, said, “Your heart is beating very fast.”

Lan Wangji looked at him. Wei Wuxian bit his own lip, held it under his teeth, ran his touch over the expanse of Lan Wangji’s chest. He went slow, said, “You should’ve heard the way Nie Huaisang used to go on about you, back at Gusu.” His hand went down, over Lan Wangji’s ribs, his belly. “Lan Wangji is so handsome, Lan Wangji is so good, Lan Wangji is so attractive. Oh, if he could see you now, Lan Zhan,” he said, and slipped his hand low between the folds of Lan Wangji’s robes, the slit of his breeches.

Wei Ying.” Lan Wangji had stopped him with a harsh grip to his wrist. The tremble from before had turned into a shiver. Rule number 1547 said, Do not find pleasure in your own hand, rule number 1548 said, do not find pleasure in the hand of your neighbour, rule 1549 said, do not find pleasure in the bed of a— 

“Easy, rabbit,” Wei Wuxian whispered, and leaned down, put his lips to the shell of Lan Wangji’s ear. He said, “It’ll feel good, I promise.” 

And it did. Lan Wangji’s eyes rolled to the back of his head and he dug his fingers into the sheets and he did not breathe, did not move. He’d never dared to do this to himself. A few times, as a child, he’d woken up sweaty and sticky and terrified—a few times he’d woken up grinding down into his own mattress, but never—never had he— 

Wei Wuxian sucked on the spot under his ear and pumped his hand slow and easy over Lan Wangji, the touch light and infuriating and barely enough. Lan Wangji didn’t move, didn’t make a sound. Panted loudly through his nose. His body was tight, alight, every nerve, every patch of skin, everything too hot and not enough, not nearly—

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian said, mouth wet to his cheek. “Lan Zhan, move into my hand.” 

Lan Wangji grunted from behind his teeth, made a sound like a horse. He couldn’t. He kept his lips pressed together. 

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian said, and it sounded less like a request, this time around, more like a plea. He was short of breath, too. He was flushed, too. He kissed Lan Wangji’s chin, the corner of his mouth. 

Lan Wangji managed: “I don’t—” and it was gritted out, barely a sentence. Wei Wuxian moaned softly against him, kissed him on the mouth, then straddled Lan Wangji’s leg, like they’d done before. 

“I’ll show you,” he said into the kiss. “Ah, I’ll show—” His hand lost its rhythm for a moment, and he pushed at his robes, shoving the hems aside, and the kiss got sloppy and Wei Wuxian’s mouth slipped off. He said, “Like this,” and rolled his hips. He said, “Like this,” and rolled into Lan Wangji, and began to pump with his hand again, and Lan Wangji’s mouth was open against his cheek, his stubble, soft skin. 

He pushed up into the channel of Wei Wuxian’s fingers, felt the blood rush behind his eyes, moaned in unison with Wei Wuxian, and pushed up again and up and up, Wei Wuxian pressing down against him, half kissing, overheated and sweating. Lan Wangji thought it was the best thing he’d ever experienced in his life until Wei Wuxian said, “You can come, come,” and he didn’t know where to, or how, only that it must be the place on the other tumbling end of this steep hill and to get there he needed to go faster, so he did, and Wei Wuxian said, “That’s good, so good, yes— ” and he crested: blind and mindless, soundless, mouth open over Wei Wuxian’s jaw. His spirit rushed quickly out of him and then right back. He spilled, and spilled, and close against him Wei Wuxian murmured: “That’s good, Lan Zhan, didn’t that feel good? Didn’t that—” 

Lan Wangji rolled them over and Wei Wuxian’s breath caught high. Lan Wangji was still out of it, heart still racing, lungs pushing, but his blood sang high with want and Wei Wuxian’s hips stuttered haplessly against him. He caught Wei Wing’s wrists, one at a time, brought them up over his head: held them in one hand and with his other he pushed and pulled at Wei Wuxian’s robe, at the knot. Pulled and pulled and grunted with frustration when it wouldn’t give, and then pushed just enough spirit into it to loosen the tie. Wei Wuxian’s laugh was silent and huffed, and disappeared immediately when Lan Wangji pushed aside the flaps—exposed him all at once: his chest, the sudden concave give of his belly. The V of his hips, his legs, his arousal blood-heavy and weeping between them. Lan Wangji’s heart went heavy at the sight. His stomach swooped, and swooped, and Wei Wuxian said, “Lan Zhan,” shocked and eager all at once. 

Lan Wangji bent down, put his mouth to the mound of his pectoral. Kissed it, bit it. Bit lower, took a dusky nipple into his mouth, did not dare think of his actions, of debasement. The skin below him was holy. Wei Wuxian writhed, pushed against Lan Wangji’s grip on his wrists, hissed and then groaned and Lan Wangji sucked a bruise from the soft skin where his arm met his shoulder. 

“Touch me,” Wei Wuxian breathed, and, “Lan Zhan, bastard, touch me, touch me, please, I’m—” 

He wasn’t sure how it was done. He did what Wei Wuxian had done to him: curled his fingers around the stiffness of it, touched it, touched lower. Cupped him. Wei Wuxian cursed, loudly, then sobbed, then laughed, said, “You’re a demon, sent to earth to torture me, sent to earth to—” 

Lan Wangji kissed him: bit at his lips, licked at them, let it go soft and deep and sped up his hand and swallowed all of Wei Wuxian’s sounds when he, too, crested. Spilled. Come, Wei Wuxian had called it, and Lan Wangji liked the word: as though it announced an arrival, a belonging. A return. 

Lan Wangji continued to touch him long after it was done. Touched and touched anywhere he could find until Wei Wuxian hissed and said, “Enough, enough, you’ve killed me.” He made Lan Wangji lie beside him. Held Lan Wangji’s wrist in a loose circle of fingers. Every now and then a laugh bubbled out of him: a shocked, surprised kind of laugh. Lan Wangji hoped it wasn’t at his expense, at how much he wanted. How much he took. 

“You’re amused,” he said, after a while. 

“I’m done for, I’m dead,” Wei Wuxian said, and gave him a wet and tired smile. A brilliant smile. 

Lan Wangji’s heart squeezed around itself. Wei Wuxian was due back at Lotus Pier, would leave in the morning. The party had agreed to meet at the gates at dawn. And he himself was to return to Cloud Recesses, was wanted at his uncle’s side, at his brother’s. He wondered if he might find a few days in between to leave, to travel to Lotus Pier. He imagined Wei Wuxian showing him around his childhood home: the ponds, the mists, the boathouses dotting the shore. A kiss shared in a hidden nook of the water, of a willow tree. They could share a bed. They could wake together. 

Wei Wuxian said, fingers stroking over the soft inside of Lan Wangji’s wrist: “I’ll see you at the hunt, won’t I?” 

Lan Wangji swallowed, stared up at the ceiling. Said, “Yes. At the hunt.” 

 

///

 

The night before the hunt, during the opening feast, Lan Wangji tried not to look over to the grand doors too often. The dinner had begun, the Yungmeng Jiang clan had all arrived, and brother and sister sat quiet and polite on their end of the hall: Jiang Yanli drinking from behind the veil of her sleeve, Jiang Wanyin with his fingers absent on his sticks, picking up food, putting it down again, not eating. Wei Yin wasn’t there, wasn’t anywhere Lan Wangji could see. 

The night adjourned early: the hunt would begin at dawn, and energies must be kept. The true feast would follow after the main event. As families began to filter out, bid their goodnights, bow and take their leave, Lan Wangji came to stroll alongside a tired-looking Jiang Wanyin and asked: 

“Has he not joined?” 

“Oh,” Jiang Wanyin said, smile wry. “He’s here. I don’t know which tavern, tonight, but he’s here.” 

Jiang Wanyin gave him a thin smile in departure. Jiang Yanli kept her eyes down, as though she’d not heard a word. 

That night Lan Wangji walked from his bed to his door and back to his bed again three times in a row: changing his mind each time, thinking, He knows where to find me, thinking, What if he’s in trouble, thinking, He’s survived without me for so far, surely another night wouldn’t—

And there he was, the next day, smiling and untouched and careless as ever: strolling up to Lan Wangji, taking up the spot next to him as all the men lined up for the archery challenge. He held his hands behind his back, locked on his flute, and said, “Hello,” cheerful as ever. 

Lan Wangji had been very good, these last months. He had not touched himself, had not allowed himself to linger in thoughts of memories, had studied and studied and got himself locked in the library to study; he’d taken to going on long walks in the hills, to bathing in icy waters, scrubbing himself pink, to standing on his hands in the yard outside the house while reciting the commands. It had worked: he’d been very good. 

He looked ahead and said, “Wei Ying.” 

The event started. Wei Wuxian lost his temper, acted too big, had then solemnly asked Lan Wangji for a favour and when Lan Wangji had asked, “What is it?” with his heart a size too big, Wei Wuxian grinned a terror and said: 

“Can I borrow your ribbon?” 

Lan Wangji turned from him, mouth closed, eyes on the dais. He did not answer. 

Wei Wuxian blindfolded himself with his own wristband and shot every single target. It was too boisterous a trick, show-offy, annoying, and Lan Wangji stared at the straight line of Wei Wuxian’s back all the same, the breadth of his shoulders. He ran hot all down to his core.

He found Wei Wuxian again, some hours later, up in the Phoenix mountains: sat between the thin birches, hidden. Lan Wangji hesitated for a moment, wondered if there was a part of him that might keep walking, and then quickly found that there wasn’t: not a single version of him was left that would turn away from Wei Wuxian. 

Wei Wuxian considered his approach with a shuttered look, and he got to his feet slowly, a bare greeting of a nod. He used to run to Lan Wangji, back in Cloud Recesses. Run after him, pester him, had not been able to stay away from him—and now he seemed tired of his presence. Tolerating it. 

By way of hello he said, “So rumour has it you’ve been breaking some rules, over at Gusu.”

Lan Wangji ignored the jab. “I’ve made some progress,” he said. “With the composition. I was wondering if you’d like to try it out, if it works. I could come by, tonight, see if it—” 

And Wei Yin said, “Lan Wangji, Lan Wangji,” and shook his head. He’d not called him that in years. This was not the sharpness he had about him at the inn, not the exhaustion after Sunshot. It was resigned, unhappy. He said, “What do you take me for?” 

Rabbit, Wei Wuxian had called him in bed. Had held on to his wrist that night as he fell asleep. Lan Wangji said, “What am I to you?” and it came out sudden, too loaded.

Wei Wuxian stared at him. Tense, for a beat, considering his retaliation—then deflated. Looked away. After a long pause, with only the distant sound of a bird pecking into the bark of a nearby tree, Wei Wuxian said, “There was a time I thought of you as my other half.”

He didn’t look at Lan Wangji as he said this, eyes down like he was speaking into the past, into something lost. On a wave of unwavering certainty Lan Wangji told him: “I still am.” 

Wei Wuxian looked up at him, held his gaze. Whatever prickly cloak he’d swaddled himself in had fallen off, and there he was: young and wide-eyed and tentative. Frightened. Lan Wangji stepped toward him and Wei Wuxian stepped back, blocked, held out his flute, and Lan Wangji pushed away his hand without much effort. Wei Wuxian let him, and Lan Wangji tried to kiss him. Wei Wuxian turned from it and Lan Wangji took his chin in hand and turned him back, held him in place, kissed him. 

It wasn’t that long ago, when he hadn’t known how to. Not that long ago when he had to be told to open his mouth, to lick his lips, to move. Had to be told how to want. Now he wrapped an arm around Wei Wuxian’s waist, had him arch at the curve of it, tugged his teeth at Wei Wuxian’s bottom lip. Wei Wuxian puffed his breath against Lan Wangji’s mouth, gave a small sound of surrender, let himself be kissed—began to kiss back, swaying into Lan Wangji, warm hands on Lan Wangji’s neck, down the collar of his robes, over the top of his spine. 

Then Wei Wuxian’s knee went up, a little, leg around Lan Wangji’s thigh, and Lan Wangji grunted—had up him against the tree in a second. Wei Wuxian hmf’d, then laughed, breathless, half against Lan Wangji’s mouth, said: “You’re strong.” 

“Mm,” said Lan Wangji, and kissed him with leverage, hooked his hand around the back of Wei Wuxian’s knee and tugged—up, stepped in between his legs, brought them closer. Wei Wuxian huffed a quiet fuck, head knocking back against the tree, and Lan Wangji thrilled at the language. He bent down to Wei Wuxian’s jaw, his throat, the spots he’d bruised those months ago that had since healed: he wanted them back; he needed them back. 

Wei Wuxian tilted his head, bared himself. Offered himself. Lan Wangji’s thoughts went static, silent, and this was all there was: the soft-tight feel of Wei Wuxian’s skin between his teeth, the taste of him, the tendons where he sucked, kissed. Breathed hot and then cold, nuzzled. Wei Wuxian was shaking, shaking. 

When Lan Wangji came up to kiss him again, Wei Wuxian met him halfway, frenzied—messy and open, and louder now, the slick sounds of his tongue against Lan Wangji, the half-formed whimpers. He’d locked his arms all the way around Lan Wangji’s neck: had him in a hold, too close to move at all. 

“Tonight,” Lan Wangji said, a breath away. “I’m coming to your room.” 

Wei Wuxian nodded, kissed his upper lip, his chin. 

“Don’t lock your doors,” Lan Wangji told him. 

Wei Wuxian moved against him, riding his thigh. 

“I’ll knock three times,” he added, and Wei Wuxian keened and said, “Lan Zhan,” impatient, and Lan Wangji had every intention of doing as asked, of not waiting at all—of pushing his hand between the folds of Wei Wuxian’s robes and rubbing him until he finished—but then the sound of nearing footsteps and rising voices and a general disagreement came from the road. They parted hurriedly, distracted, panicked. Wei Wuxian grabbed him by the arm and pulled him along, had them crouch low to the ground—hiding, watching the scene unfold. 

Lan Wangji, however, could barely focus on the road below: Wei Wuxian’s hand was a branding heat on his wrist, his body too near, and close—so close—on Wei Wuxian’s neck, above his collar, a mottled constellation of bruises was forming; blooming slow, unmistakable. 

 

///

 

“Hello,” Wei Wuxian said that night. He stood lounging back against a beam, a bottle of liquor loose in his hand. He didn’t look up when Lan Wangji entered, just took another swig, liquid running down over his throat: purple, blue, an edge of yellow. The shape of Lan Wangji’s teeth. “So,” he told the room at large, “have you come to play me some restful tunes?” 

Lan Wangji closed the doors behind him. His hands were shaking. He hadn’t brought his guqin. Wei Wuxian noticed his bare back, said, 

“No? I thought you were here for your composition, Lan Zhan.” 

Lan Wangji crossed the room in three steps, half carried by his spirit, which tumbled out of him without direction—it hadn’t happened to him since he was a child. Only children slip, set curtains on fire, make cups of clay burst on accident. 

Wei Wuxian watched him come toward him, wide-eyed, unmoving, frozen. Lan Wangji came to stop a foot away and swayed. Wei Wuxian looked him over, gaze dropping—lifting. He smiled thinly, eyes on Lan Wangji’s chest. “Have you come for more lessons, then?” He huffed a laugh. He sank so far within himself, every time Lan Wangji let him out of his sight. Did Lan Wangji need to stay by his side at all times, he wondered. Sleep outside his door, follow him around the streets? Wei Wuxian said, “I’m afraid I’ve taught you all I know, my Lan Zhan. You’ll have to go out and test your newfound skills on the masses. How about Mianmian? Weren’t you sweet on her? And she seems like your type. All . . .” He brought the flask to his mouth, paused, concluded: “Righteous.” 

Lan Wangji took the flask from him on a tilt, tossed it away, and to the sound of breaking clay—to the sound of Wei Wuxian’s sputtering protest—he stepped in. Gentler, he was, made momentarily soft by the tight undertone in Wei Wuxian’s voice: something frightened and eager to break, to ruin, to use words in a parrying movement. He cupped Wei Wuxian’s face, leaned close. Pressed their foreheads together. Wei Wuxian smelled like his drink, like an open fire, like ozone. He closed his eyes, frowned against Lan Wangji. Their noses touched, brushed. 

“Wei Ying,” he said. 

Wei Wuxian reached up, took Lan Wangji’s wrists in a loose hold. He moved to tilt up, changed tracks, held his breath. He swallowed, and Lan Wangji could feel the dip of his throat to heels of his hands. 

Lan Wangji said, “I want you.” 

Wei Wuxian tightened. Said, “You shouldn’t.” 

“I want you.” 

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian said it like a warning, like he had one foot in regret, but all the while he angled closer, brushed his lips to Lan Wangji’s, exhaling on Lan Wangji’s inhale. 

They kissed slow and long, hidden in the shadow of the room, Wei Wuxian pressed back against the beam—Lan Wangji holding him like a quail’s egg, cupped in the dip of his palms: over Wei Wing’s face, his ribs, his waist. He took his time undoing the ties of his robes. He spent a good while in the crook of Wei Wuxian’s arm, the inside of his elbow, teasing at the thin skin there; he went to his knees, parted Wei Wuxian’s robe, kissed the softest peak of his stomach, bit his hips, put his face to the crease between thigh and crotch. He trembled, and trembled, and Wei Wuxian breathed heavily throughout, eyes squinted shut, grip like a vice on Lan Wangji’s shoulders.  

In the end, Lan Wangji carried him to bed: Wei Wuxian’s robes open all down his front, his breeches untied, his legs wrapped around Lan Wangji, arms folded around his shoulders. Wei Wuxian looked down at him, seemed startled to have found himself there. 

Lan Wangji settled them down easily, settled in the cradle of Wei Wuxian’s hips. Wei Wuxian pushed his hands down Lan Wangji’s robes, seeking skin, hands trembling on the ties. Lan Wangji helped him. They were both useless, both shaky. 

Wei Wuxian’s breath hiccuped out of him. His legs were restless, feet shifting up and down over the back of Lan Wangji’s shins. They got the knots undone and Wei Wuxian sank his hands in with a quiet, yes. And then: skin on skin. And then: a blurry succession of moments, an unfocused close-up of Wei Wuxian’s collars, his mouth, the line of his hair. They kissed and rubbed and rubbed. Lan Wangji was squeezing a hard hand to the top of Wei Wuxian’s leg, fingers harsh in the flesh, and the deeper his nails dug the higher Wei Wuxian’s breath caught, the looser his mouth, the more glazed the look in his eyes. 

Lan Wangji felt it building quickly and tried to hold on, couldn’t. He warned with a warped, “Wei Ying, ” and Wei Wuxian said, “Come on,” and pushed his hand down to hold them both together and Lan Wangji startled into spilling: stuttering, pushing, grunting softly against the jut of Wei Wuxian’s jaw. 

Lan Wangji collapsed over him. Wei Wuxian was still touching himself. He grabbed at Lan Wangji’s back, fingers digging, said, “Lan Zhan,” said, “My Lan Zhan. Put—put your—,” and bared his bruised throat. Lan Wangji, his mind like cotton, like warm water, like a summer’s heat—Lan Wangji put his teeth to flesh. Made the mess worse. 

Wei Wuxian took a sharp breath, opened his mouth and spilled, all sweat and slick between them. 

The night hummed. They took a long time to catch their breath. Lan Wangji didn’t close his robes to go get the pitch of water from the corner, and Wei Wuxian watched him as he walked back: eyes trained on Lan Wangji’s nudity, a flush up his cheeks.

He turned to look away with a sudden huff—a disbelieving little laugh. 

He was blushing, still, as Lan Wangji ran the damp cloth over his chest, his legs. Over his softened cock.  

They fell asleep. At a dark moment in the night Wei Wuxian woke him up again, a hand to Lan Wangji’s shoulder—saying his name on a quiet repeat, pitched and breathless—and for a fraction Lan Wangji was ready for danger: demons and ghouls and trolls. But there was nothing, just Wei Wuxian moving against him, kissing him. 

They kept quiet out of respect for the spirits of the night. Lan Wangji held Wei Wuxian by the back of the neck, a thumb stroking under his eye, his cheekbone. There was a stretch, then, when nothing happened: not kissing, not moving, only a close catching of breath—foreheads together. There was another stretch, after, where Wei Wuxian rummaged over the side of the bed and resurfaced with a tincture from his satchel, fumbled with its stopper. 

Lan Wangji asked, “What is it?” 

And Wei Wuxian said, “Advanced material,” voice thick and fond, and took Lan Wangji’s hand and covered his fingers with something viscous, something that warmed fast. He showed him, then, what to do: where to touch, how to touch, to stroke and push and crook his fingers. Lan Wangji’s head felt heavy with what they were doing, unthinkable and so good, Wei Wuxian restless and tight around a bundle of three fingers—straddling him, moving down on him. 

It might have been daytime again. It might have been night once more, a full cycle of them in that bed, moving at a languid, incremental pace—Lan Wangji couldn’t say with certainty. Not the hour, not the year, not the city they were in. Wei Wuxian lifted off and positioned them as he wanted, hovering over Lan Wangji’s lap—Lan Wangji holding his breath, staring up, wondrous—and sank down. Made a joining of them. Lan Wangji was mindless, kissing Wei Wuxian’s hair, the shell of his ear, the tender marks on his throat. 

Wei Wuxian dug his hands under the fall of Lan Wangji’s hair and moved. His chest pressed close to Lan Wangji’s, sweat making everything slippery.  

At some indeterminate point Wei Wuxian whispered, words barely formed, “Lan Zhan. How does it feel?” 

“Good,” Lan Wangji said, an understatement of a lifetime. He said it again: “Good.” 

Three days days later they crossed paths in the rain, in the storm, Wei Wuxian up on a steed, a collection of runaways around him. Lan Wangji stood in his way, sword in askance. The rain was soaking through his shoes, through the cloth, freezing him. 

“If I were to die, Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian called to him, face wet and dirty, teeth bared. It was hard to hear him over the din of the wind. “If I were to die, let it be at your hand.” 

 

///

 

Lan Wangji fell ill and did not leave his bed for a month. He recovered, and still did not leave the bed. His brother sat in the other room and played the guqin for a speedy recovery. 

The snow season had started. Lan Wangji sat in a rumple of sheets, in his sleeping robes, and stared out the window, watched as everything disappeared under a formless blanket of white. Once, a rabbit hopped across the yard, the same colour as the snow. He put his nose to the air, twitched. Searched for grass, did not find it, and left. 

 

///

 

Lan Wangji found the box where he’d left it: under his bed, under three privacy spells, a seal. 

He unlocked it, took out each item at a time and placed it on his table: his mother’s earrings, glass drops of red; two letters he’d written and never sent; the ribbon of his first headband; a drawing made in his likeness, posed for at the library pavilion; a pebble, a shard of clay, a crumpled and blood-stained sash. 

 

///

 

When he saw him again in Yiling his first thought was: this time will be the end of me. His muscles were still sore from recovery. He could still feel the weight of the bed, the weeks he’d spent between sleep and wakefulness. He’d been practicing his sword a lot by himself, lately, running through formations outside his mother’s old rooms. 

The child would not let go of his leg, weeping and weeping. Wei Wuxian took the child in his arms with ease, called him his son, asked Lan Wangji, “What did you do to him, why’s he crying?” like there was something secret and funny about the whole thing. 

“I didn’t do anything,” Lan Wangji said, still stuck on the word son. Wei Wuxian looked so good: fresh-faced and tousled. His time away had done him good. The thought sat tight at Lan Wangji’s throat: his time away had done nothing of the like to Lan Wangji. It had nearly killed him, if anything. 

“Ah, I see,” Wei Wuxian said, nodded. “You’ve confused the boy with your good looks. Such a handsome man, he thought, must be kind, too! And then you gave him that sour face,” and Wei Wuxian gestured, a smile about him. “Frightened him witless. Of course he’s crying.” 

Lan Wangji swallowed. Last time they’d met was over the glint of Lan Wangji’s sword. Last time he saw Wei Wuxian was when he watched the caravan leave: watched him disappear into the storm on horseback. Now he held A-Yuan’s hand sweetly, showed him the straw butterflies at the market stand. His smile, when Lan Wangji offered to buy the boy the toy, was generous. 

“Let’s see about food,” Wei Wuxian said, after a stroll, after A-Yuan had begun to exhaust the first excitement of his gifts—had turned a little tired and weepy. Wei Wuxian had come to stand near Lan Wangji, now. Arms almost touching. The crowded street bustled around them, people brushing close, in a hurry. Wei Wuxian said, “Will you join us?” 

Lan Wangji didn’t welcome the swoop of his stomach, the tightness in his chest. He said, “Join you?” 

“Don’t be coy,” Wei Wuxian said. “Join us. We have a lot of catch up on, no?” He smiled a half smile. “Talk about the good old days.” And then, antsy all at once he said, “Come on, then, it’s on me,” and took Lan Wangji’s wrist in hand, pulled him along. Held it in his grip all the way to the tavern, maneuvering the crowd, fingers warm under the hem of Lan Wangji’s sleeve. 

While waiting for the food, the child ran around the table, babbled, climbed into Lan Wangji’s lap. Wei Wuxian told him to stop it and Lan Wangji said, “It’s fine. Let him.” Something shifted in the way Wei Wuxian looked at him, then: turned molten and soft. And when A-Yuan chatted over his soup Lan Wangji told him, “No talking during meals,” and Wei Wuxian launched into a speech about how A-Yuan never listened to him when he told him to be quiet and Lan Wangji cut him off with: “You too. Quiet.” 

This startled Wei Wuxian: first into silence, then into a laugh. “Oh,” he said, voice low. He had that look again, sharp and hot. “You haven’t changed.” 

 

///

 

“Demon Tamer?” Lan Wangji asked, repeating the sign he’d read above the caves. He had a hand neat behind back. He kept his posture straight, kept his gaze light on the clutter around him: cups and plates and spells around him. Wei Wuxian’s house, as close as. He was messy. 

“D’you like it? I thought of it myself.” Wei Wuxian showed him down a cool corridor. Lan Wangji was reminded of another cave, another time. “Now the question being, of course, am I the tamer of the demon, then, or the demon that needs to be tamed? Who knows!” 

He shot Lan Wangji that crooked smile. 

Lan Wangji gave him a single nod. 

There wasn’t any tea to have, only hot water. Wei Wuxian seemed embarrassed by the fact, which in turn embarrassed Wen Qing, which in turn abashed Wen Ning—fresh into the world as he was. Confused by it as he was. 

They all ate their broken-off pieces of a dry and tasteless cake, sipped their water in uneasy silence until Wei Wuxian seemed to lose a battle with his temper over the whole thing—said, “Pathetic, ” stood up abruptly and left. Wen Qing wanted to follow him, but Lan Wangji stopped her with a hand and a, “No. Let me.” 

Lan Wangji found him in the anteroom of the anteroom of the cave, the deep open space that around the corner from the pool where Wei Wuxian had made his sleeping quarters: a bamboo bed, a small table covered in sketches, in carvings, in stickered-on spells. Wei Wuxian had his back to Lan Wangji, had slumped against the damp wall, brooding. He glanced over his shoulder to see who’d come for him, saw Lan Wangji, turned his gaze away. 

Lan Wangji said, “Wei Ying.” 

Wei Wuxian took a deep breath. Held it. Lan Wangji said, “The tea is not an important matter.” 

Wei Wuxian leaned back against the stone, stared up, wry and disagreeing. He told the cave, “Nice semblance of a life we have here, huh. Almost like real people.” 

Lan Wangji didn’t know what to tell him. He wanted to say, come with me then, but he’d tried that before, several times before, and never had the answer been yes. He wanted to say, bring the boy, too, only that squeezed at his heart, and he wouldn’t dare speak out loud the flashes of a possible future he before him: a life in Gusu, Yuan safe and fed in Cloud Recesses, a room of his own, and Wei Wuxian in Lan Wangji’s bed—the morning light crossing sharp over his face on Lan Wangji’s pillow. 

Lan Wangji pressed his lips tightly together and walked a short pace away, made as though he was inspecting a draft of a spell. A charm. Held his hand behind his back, held the hilt of his sword. He was catching himself, bracing himself. Then he walked to the bed and sat at its edge. Put his sword to the side. 

Wei Wuxian watched him go, his shoulders pressed to the wall, belly out, petulant still. He said, then, “You were very kind to A-Yuan today.” 

Lan Wangji looked at him. 

“I liked it,” Wei Wuxian said. “It was good for him.” 

Lan Wangji nodded. 

Wei Wuxian said, “You were good with him.” 

Lan Wangji, unsure of the meaning, unsure of what he was being told, only said: “You are too.” 

Wei Wuxian’s jaw tightened, and a short silence bubbled, and then Wei Wuxian pushed off the wall and marched straight toward him: went to his knees before Lan Wangji, all movement, put his hands to Lan Wangji’s legs, pushed them open, began to fumble at the hems, at the ties. 

“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji said, startled into both arousal and fright. He tried to stop him, caught his wrists, but Wei Wuxian twisted from the grip and continued: fingers shaky and restless on the folds of Lan Wangji’s robes, breathing through his nose. Lan Wangji caught him by the shoulders, then, the side of his neck. He said, “Wei Ying,” and Wei Wuxian stilled—looked up at him with glassy eyes. 

Wei Wuxian swallowed and slumped forward: face into Lan Wangji’s chest. He’d be able to hear Lan Wangji’s heart, like that, if he pressed closer. If he turned his ear to listen. Lan Wangji closed his eyes, wrapped an arm around Wei Wuxian’s back—pressed a hand into the heat of Wei Wuxian’s hair and held him, like that. A trembling came over him, a shivering that he now knew to read as some untamed love trying to rise to the surface. Just a few months ago he’d wallowed in fear of never getting to hold Wei Wuxian again and now here he was: holding him. 

Wei Wuxian moved, nosed up to Lan Wangji’s neck, kissed him there chastely, then kissed his collar, the dip at the base of his throat, over the cloth of his robes—the centre of his chest. “Let me,” he said, and looked up, serious. His eyes were bloodshot. “Let me.” 

Lan Wangji swallowed. He nodded, widened his legs an incremental inch. Wei Wuxian was on him in a heartbeat, undoing the straps of his white breeches, taking him in hand—putting his mouth on him with a throaty hum. Lan Wangji swore to the, “Gods,” which he had never before and swayed back, put a hand to the mattress to catch himself. He still had a loose grip in Wei Wuxian’s hair. It bobbed up and down, up and down. The cave ticked and burbled with the sounds of damp stone and dripping stalactites and so the small wet noises of Wei Wuxian’s mouth moving over him blended into the quiet orchestra of the room. They were too far from the main space, and could hear nothing from afar, and Lan Wangji hoped—with the short part of his brain still buzzing—that they wouldn’t be heard, too. 

They hadn’t done this, before, and it was hot and slippery and overwhelming. Lan Wangji had been teetering on the high peak of desire since the moment Wei Wuxian had smiled at him from across the marketplace and could now only gulp for breath, shudder his exhales, try to hold on for dear life. Wei Wuxian was going very fast. Lan Wangji stared at where his lips stretched tight, at his own bulge through Wei Wuxian’s cheek, at the dripping, at how Wei Wuxian’s throat worked and worked. He moaned and hummed and Lan Wangji’s fist tightened in his hair, and his hips stuttered up and he whispered: “You like this.” Not a question, an observation. 

Wei Wuxian pulled off just enough to say, “Been thinking about it,” by way of explanation. His lips were to the head of Lan Wangji’s heavy cock, catching the spill. Lan Wangji had to close his eyes, had to bite down hard on his lip, muffled a sound. Wei Wuxian made quick work of him, then: sucked him down like a storm, dug his hands into the tops of Lan Wangji’s thighs. Lan Wangji came and Wei Wuxian swallowed it, all of it, and resurfaced with his chin shiny, eyes wild. Panting. 

Lan Wangji, spent, still felt a kick of lust at seeing him like that. He wiped a thumb over Wei Wuxian’s lip, the wetness below. Wei Wuxian turned to it, sucked at it, pulling a desperate huff from Lan Wangji and then Wei Wuxian was moving: putting his face to the crook of Lan Wangji’s arm, his armpit, his neck, saying, “That was hot, you’re so hot, god,” and touching Lan Wangji: unsteady hands over his shoulders, chest. He said, chopped off little sentence: “I forgot—how—” Climbed into Lan Wangji’s lap, “—just looking at you, god, and you were so—” Kissed him, short and almost distracted, grinding his crotch to Lan Wangji’s stomach, rubbing his face to Lan Wangji’s cheek, neck, saying, “—missed you, wish I could—wish I could—” 

Lan Wangji ended up having to get him down onto the bed to calm him down a little: lie on top of him, put his weight down, surround him. Wei Wuxian’s babble paused for a moment, then. Lan Wangji had pinned his elbows down beside Wei Wuxian’s head. Wei Wuxian arched up against him, and Lan Wangji’s heart beat wildly where it pressed close to Wei Wuxian’s chest. 

“Kiss me,” Wei Wuxian said, and Lan Wangji did. He could taste himself on Wei Wuxian, could feel Wei Wuxian hard against his hip, how he twitched when Lan Wangji nipped at his lip. When he pushed down, as well, when he took Wei Wuxian’s earlobe between his teeth and gently pulled. 

They rutted gracelessly for a while: no rhythm, no goal, too many clothes between them. Then Wei Wuxian said, “Lan Zhan Lan Zhan do you remember, do you remember how I showed you to—” His voice was very deep and broke around a syllable. Lan Wangji nodded. He remembered all of it: whatever it was, he remembered it. 

Wei Wuxian had the stoppered jar hidden under his bed. Lan Wangji thought, for a brief moment, what it he kept it hidden for, and his mind supplied him answers he was not ready to consider, and so he closed his eyes and breathed. Wei Wuxian was pushing out of his robes in the bed, half under Lan Wangji still; he was shoving down his breeches, getting them down just enough. 

He turned onto his stomach, raised himself a little. Said, “Come here Lan Zhan. Come here, come here, come—” Lan Wangji was already there, a hand on Wei Wuxian’s hip. Wei Wuxian turned his head to the side on the straw pillow, looking at Lan Wangji over his shoulder. His eyes were wild and pitch black. He was shaking, too. “Do you remember?” he asked. He was slurring. He’d handed Lan Wangji the stoppered jar. He said, “Do you remember when I showed you how—?” 

“Yes,” Lan Wangji said, and slicked his fingers, and began. 

They didn’t last very long. Lan Wangji fucked him hard and fast and thought he’d perhaps lost his own mind, somewhere toward the end, there. Wei Wuxian had stopped speaking, had only breathed, had only given little grunts with each slapping backward motion—bouncing back against Lan Wangji’s lap. Their breeches were at their knees, still: they hadn’t had the patience. They raced each other at a mad speed and met at the finish line in tandem: Wei Wuxian’s spine curled into his chest, Lan Wangji’s arms like a vice around him as he bit at the back of his neck. Some kind of animal, he felt. He wouldn’t let go for a while, after. 

And when he did, he sat up on the side of the bed and breathed into his hands. He still had half a layer of a robe on, one shoulder draped off. It had shafed against his stomach, when they’d rubbed close, and left an irritated patch. 

Behind him Wei Wuxian lay sprawled out, a hand loose over his mouth, fingers at his lips. The silence was something stunned. At length, he put his hot hand to Lan Wangji’s back. Ran it down his spine, slow and reverent. Then up, and swooping sideways, over his shoulder blade. He was mapping out his back, testing its breadth. He tugged at the remaining sleeve until Lan Wangji let that drop, too, and then he was bare. 

Wei Wuxian hummed appreciatively. Lan Wangji could feel him come closer, the heat of his body. Lan Wangji took a deep breath and said, “A-Yuan. He’s a good child.” 

“Mm,” Wei Wuxian said. With his blunt nails he pulled a gentle line down Lan Wangji’s back. Lan Wangji shuddered, and counted himself a lost cause: there was nothing Wei Wuxian could do that wouldn’t turn him on. 

The touch was gone, then. He heard Wei Wuxian shuffle, settle back. It was growing chilly in the cave. Wei Wuxian said, then, all amusement: “Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan.  Imagine if we had a child, Lan Zhan. Hmm. He’d be well-dressed, always well-dressed, like his father. Face like a button.” His fingers returned: brushed Lan Wangji’s hip. “But he’d be the bane of all the servants, always running everywhere. Barefoot, probably, dragging in the dirt.” He pinched the skin, startled a hiss from Lan Wangji, and said, “A touch of mischief. A good streak to have in a child, wouldn’t you say?” 

Lan Wangji turned to him. He looked indecent, decadence itself: bruised and shining on the bed, hair a mess, legs wide, mouth red and swollen—the scars on his skin like a statement. He looked like he’d been fucked boneless, and he had been, and the truth of it settled an inch to the left of Lan Wangji’s core: he’ll always want this. He’ll never be able to be near or away from Wei Wuxian and not want him—never be able to look at him and be first to look away. He was bound, he was done. This was it, for him. 

He touched Wei Wuxian’s cheek, his lips. Settled his grip loose at the base of Wei Wuxian’s throat. He could feel the heartbeat there, lovely and strong and picking up speed, now. He said, “Yes.” 

Wei Wuxian’s throat bobbed under his palm, his eyes gone glassy, mouth open. 

They fucked again, slower this time. Wei Wuxian on his back, his legs wrapped around Lan Wangji, ankles crossed and pressing to his lower back. Lan Wangji had used his ribbon to tie Wei Wuxian’s wrists together and hold them over his head. That, especially, had been effective: had made Wei Wuxian’s messy and incoherent, eyes unfocused, arching up off of the bed, pulling against the restraints. He was babbling, then, saying, “Yes,” and, “ah, faster, just—, ” and, “god, Lan Zhan Lan Zhan my—” 

“Shh,” Lan Wangji said, moving over him, pushing in. “Quiet, don’t speak,” he said, and Wei Wuxian’s words turned into a breathy silence, a collection of ah, ah, ahs. “Good,” Lan Wangji told him, and his voice didn’t sound like his own: something syrupy and dark. He said, “So good, Wei Ying.” 

Evening fell. They dozed, awoke. Wei Wuxian pillowed his head on Lan Wangji’s stomach, and was now kissing it: his navel, the trail of hair. The soft flesh, the bones of his hips. He settled down again, ear to Lan Wangji’s sternum, and said, “I suppose you won’t stay for long, will you. Rabbit along, back to the realm.” 

Lan Wangji didn’t answer. He was running a wild game of calculations in his mind, of possibilities: what if he did, and what about duties, and his brother, and uncle, and the whole damned world, mad as it was. 

Wei Wuxian sighed. “Best not, eh? This devil would probably get too eager if you stayed, anyway. Tie you down, lock you up. Not let you get away.” Wei Wuxian grinned up at him, sad and beautiful. 

Lan Wangji, stupid and halfway into a heartbreak, said, “I believe it would be the other way around.” 

Wei Wuxian’s smile had his eyes in crescents. His hand was stroking so gently over Lan Wangji’s chest, down his arm. “Does that make you the devil tamer, do you reckon?” 

“Mm,” Lan Wangji said. Then, “I’ve forgot how to kiss you. Show me again.” 

Wei Wuxian laughed. “Fallen behind so quickly! What would your uncle say?” He pushed himself up, crawled up Lan Wangji’s body, hovered close and said: “Pay attention this time, yes? So you go like this . . .” 

 

///

 

Wei Wuxian took to the task of dressing him when it was time to leave: one piece of clothing at a time. His hands lingered, and his lips too, and they were both slow about it, sad about it. 

“Will you be careful on the way back?” Wei Wuxian asked, fastening Lan Wangji’s underrobe for him. 

Lan Wangji hummed the affirmative. 

“Will you visit again?” 

Lan Wangji said, “As soon as I can.” 

Wei Wuxian nodded, helped him into his second robe. “Will you miss me?” 

“Yes,” Lan Wangji said. “More with every leaving step.” 

Wei Wuxian kept his eyes on Lan Wangji’s chest and looked angry: jaw tight, eyebrows drawn. He didn’t ask any more questions when he put on Lan Wangji’s final robe. He left Lan Wangji to tie his shash, bent to where the ribbon had fallen to the ground: handed it to Lan Wangji. 

Lan Wangji held it in his palm and hated it. He then took one end of the silken band and used a rush of spirit to cut off a short band of it—took Wei Wuxian’s hand in his, pushed up his sleeve, and tied it around his wrist, twice over. The light blue looked odd on him, delicate against his skin, and the sight of it rushed through Lan Wangji. He glanced up, found Wei Wuxian staring at him, wordless, then brought the wrist to his mouth: kissed the spot where the ribbon met skin. 

“Think of me,” he said, and meant: when you look at it. 

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian said, and swallowed, and pressed as close to him as a person could, roughly pushed their foreheads together. His wrist was still in Land Wangji’s hold. He whispered, “My Lan Zhan, my half, my love.” His breath was warm to Lan Wangji’s lips. “What else, but think of you.”