The road ahead is long and dusty with the recommencement of trade at the end of winter’s bitterest storms. It is nearly empty of travelers for the moment, save for two men and a donkey, and the songbirds that have only just begun to titter and trill flit through the boughs that line the well-worn path. The scent of rain still hangs in the heavy air. The sun is high in the sky, nearly at its zenith, but little heat makes its way to the things living and breathing on the earth.
"So this night hunt," Wei Wuxian begins from his seat astride Little Apple.
Lan Wangji startles internally beside him. They have both been silent for the length of the morning since their chance meeting in the mountains that overlook Gusu. In any other circumstance, it would indeed have been an ideal way to pass the time: walking beside Wei Wuxian amongst rolling hills and gently bubbling streams, no set timetable and no pressing responsibilities to part them. But Lan Wangji has spent much of it reeling between trying to think of ways to convince Wei Wuxian to keep traveling with him, and panicking at his uncharacteristic quietude.
"What is it that summons the great Hanguang-Jun, Chief Cultivator no less, so far from home?" Wei Wuxian goes on, when Lan Wangji does not volunteer an explanation.
It has taken half the walk for Lan Wangji's heart to stop hammering from the surprise of finding Wei Wuxian so soon—and playing the song he had written him. It hammers again now.
"The town elders sent a letter pleading their case. It was vague.” He pauses to find the right word to draw Wei Wuxian in. “Intriguing."
"Getting boring up there on the throne, O Chief Cultivator?" Wei Wuxian tosses a disarming smile in his direction, and Lan Wangji looks away.
He is not incorrect.
"Without details, it is unsafe to send juniors, and I was the only senior disciple otherwise unoccupied," Lan Wangji says. “And there is no throne.”
"Unoccupied?" Wei Wuxian laughs incredulously. Lan Wangji stares at the way his jaw sharpens when he cocks his head at the horizon. "You're the Chief Cultivator. Not to mention, what, Acting Sect Leader?"
"My brother has begun his reintegration," Lan Wangji says, sidestepping the first part of the statement yet again.
Wei Wuxian looks surprised, then gently concerned. "Oh? How is he?"
"Improving. Else I would not have left."
"Of course, of course,” he nods, twirling Chenqing. “I'm glad to hear it. He deserves better than guilt and loneliness, and the cultivation world is better when he's in it."
Lan Wangji nods silent agreement past the warmth that blooms in his chest. Few things please him more than this person he loves most showing genuine care for another person he loves most.
"Still," Wei Wuxian persists, "it must have taken a lot of maneuvering to get away for a while."
It is impossible to put off the truth any longer. Lan Wangji is unsure why, exactly, he is so hesitant to say it out loud. Perhaps, in his own mind, it sounds too much like a confession.
"I am no longer Chief Cultivator," he says at last.
He feels Wei Wuxian turn fully in the saddle to gawk. Lan Wangji does not look back at him.
"What happened," he asks, tone flat in a way that suggests violence against responsible parties.
Lan Wangji's heart does a complicated flip at the implication, and he carefully considers how to clarify without saying too much. "It was my choice. I did not feel I had anything more to offer the position. Or that it had anything more to offer me."
After several moments more of staring, Wei Wuxian rights himself in his seat. "You really were bored," he says, half playful, half thoughtful.
Lan Wangji’s jaw tightens at the very near miss in Wei Wuxian's understanding. He is partially right about the boredom: the work had been important, urgent at first, but as the immediacy of the Chief Cultivator’s problems tapered off, his distraction became harder to ignore. Every dull moment of sect business only served to remind him of how much he simply missed this. He missed traveling and night hunting with Wei Wuxian at his side so much that the missing of it filled him like rising seawater day by day, slowly choking off his supply of air. He had spent such long years missing it, and missing it, then miraculously having it again, and then missing it once more, that he cannot quite believe he has it now. For the present moment, at least. All day he has been drawing in deep, lung-filling breaths when he catches himself forgetting that he can.
Fidgeting at his side draws his attention out of his thoughts.
“You don’t mind me tagging along, do you?” Wei Wuxian asks, picking at a loose thread on his robes. “I shouldn’t have just invited myself.”
Lan Wangji feels an uncomfortable surge of adrenaline. This is his chance to make things clear, to properly invite him to travel together indefinitely. He searches anxiously for the right way to ask, without implying any undue demands. He sees Wei Wuxian’s hands tighten around his flute, and knows he has left the question too long already.
“I do not mind at all,” he says, still scrambling. “It was fortuitous, to have found you.”
He winces at the incompleteness of it, the weakness of the reassurance. But Wei Wuxian smiles at him, his eyes crinkling in that way they do when he is truly pleased. Lan Wangji smiles back, some of his anxiety quieting. He will have to find another way to extend an explicit invitation, for both their sakes.
The rest of the walk passes answering Wei Wuxian's questions about the letter concerning the night hunt, and then listening to his increasingly wild theories until they finally stumble upon the town itself. It is small, but large enough to have a thriving market. As spring has not quite yet arrived in this part of the country, gray skies cast a gloomy pall over the rural bustle. They identify the town’s only inn, and enter.
Wei Wuxian glances around and raises an eyebrow. “Don’t think they’ll have quite the accommodation you’re used to, Lan Zhan,” he says.
The main room is small and dim, with only two customers drinking in the corner. It smells of dust. A worn-thin looking man scurries up to them and bows.
“Young Masters, how can I help you?”
“A room for the night,” Lan Wangji says. He does not ask for two. Wei Wuxian has not agreed to stay and night-hunt with him yet, and if he miraculously does, well. It is a small, slightly dangerous selfishness that he is unable to deny himself, leaving the number of beds to fate.
“Ah,” says the proprietor, and hesitates. “That...that will be no problem.”
Wei Ying cocks his head at him. “That doesn’t seem entirely true.”
“Oh, no, I mean no offense,” the man says, and bows again. “You see, we haven’t opened yet for the spring trading traffic, but of course we can make an exception for two esteemed lords such as yourselves. Will you...require meals, as well?”
Wei Wuxian snorts. Lan Wangji ignores him. “It will suffice to leave food that will keep,” he says. After a pause, he sees an opening, and ventures, “With good liquor, if you have it.”
Wei Wuxian beams at him, then shrugs at the proprietor. “Doesn’t even have to be good, I’m not choosy.”
Lan Wangji’s heart skips a beat. He will stay, then, at least for a drink. They will night-hunt together, and Wei Wuxian will drink with him, and he will likely have till morning to devise more of a plan. A cool wash of relief sweeps through him.
The proprietor nods his understanding. “If the Young Masters plan to take supper at a restaurant, I regret to inform them that there are none others open yet this week.”
“We do not,” Lan Wangji replies. “It is possible we will return very late this evening.”
“Ah,” says the proprietor, looking troubled again. “In that case...I will entrust the Young Masters with a key, if that’s alright. Your room will be prepared for you, rest assured, but….We live up the road, and haven’t hired back the staff who would normally be here so late. Apologies.” He bows again.
“That is acceptable.” Lan Wangji says, mildly scandalized at the idea of returning to an empty inn, late at night, with Wei Wuxian. It is an idly pleasing thought. He crushes it.
Wei Wuxian opens his mouth, but Lan Wangji beats him to it. “We will also be needing lodging for one donkey.”
Wei Wuxian smiles at him again, soft and almost shy. Lan Wangji would pay to house a hundred donkeys for just that.
Once they have successfully made all the necessary arrangements and agreements, Lan Wangji has the pleasure of watching Wei Wuxian ply the proprietor and his two customers for information on the recent spirit attacks - for that, it becomes clear, is what they are. This much is certain. Beyond that though, the villagers seem uncharacteristically hazy on details.
“Either this town is a paragon of virtuous, gossip-free citizens, or there really is something unusual about this spirit,” Wei Wuxian says as they descend the inn steps to the street.
Lan Wangji agrees. “We will need to proceed cautiously."
Wei Wuxian nods at him. They pause briefly so that he may say a cheerfully rude goodbye to Little Apple.
"She probably wouldn’t even come with us if we tried to drag her along,” he says ruefully, patting her neck. “She’s become her own Compass of Evil these days. It's too traumatic traveling with me for very long—which you know better than anyone. But she's developed a sixth sense about resentment. It's actually pretty impressive."
Lan Wangji does not tell him that traveling with him is so far from traumatic as to be quite literally the only time he can take a full breath, and instead produces an apple for the donkey. Ignoring Wei Wuxian’s protests that he'll spoil her, he starts up the path that will take them to the village's family shrines.
The resentment is palpable before they even reach the border of the clearing. The paltry sunlight is fading already, but still manages to cast slanting, ominous shadows through the barren trees as they walk. The air is still and too-silent. He is certain something watches them as they approach. It feels angry, and violent, with a strange undercurrent that plucks at Lan Wangji's nerves.
"Lan Zhan," Wei Wuxian murmurs, "I don't think it'll talk to us. You can try, but…"
"We may need information in order to heal the villagers."
"I know. We just might have to be more creative than asking the source. But there's no harm in trying."
Lan Wangji nods as they break through the treeline. He summons his qin, seating himself at the edge of the cemetery. Wei Wuxian stands beside him, arms crossed, Chenqing in hand, scanning their surroundings. His shoulders are straight, his face set in that alert calm that had once, long ago, signaled hell was very near to breaking loose. Lan Wangji makes himself close his eyes and focus. The playing of this music with Wei Wuxian alive and nearby, after so many years of playing it to his absent ghost, strikes up discordant memories of grief and loss. He pushes past them and Inquires the nasty spirit.
It answers, because it must. It does not lie, because it cannot. But it is...petulant. Unhelpful.
He tries a different tactic, with the same result. He repeats his questions to be sure of the answer.
"It will not answer but with a single word," he tells Wei Wuxian. “‘Want.’”
"Helpful," Wei Wuxian deadpans, pursing his lips.
Lan Wangji stores his instrument and stands. "I will search the northern half."
Wei Wuxian eyes the small graveyard grimly. "We shouldn't separate."
A fitful breeze rustles naked branches overhead. Lan Wangji considers his troubled expression, and nods.
They search the clearing methodically, and find nothing out of the ordinary. Evening is speeding onward, and they will have to leave soon if they want to make it out of the woods before it is truly dark. Lan Wangji is about to say so when Wei Wuxian lays a hand on his forearm. It has been a very long time since he has felt that touch. How can one year feel even longer than sixteen? The faint warmth through his layers of sleeves stops him short.
“Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian says. The evening shadows emphasize the full curve of his lips and the thick sweep of his eyelashes. “Over there.”
Lan Wangji tears his attention away to look where Wei Wuxian has indicated. A few yards off, just before the woods begin again, there is a low mound of dark earth.
“Disturbed,” Lan Wangji says.
Wei Wuxian nods and strides toward it just as a sharp gust of incongruously hot air sings past them. There is no time to warn him. Lan Wangji leaps forward to knock Wei Wuxian out of the angry spirit’s path, shouldering him aside as he draws Bichen. But he doesn’t quite turn in time. A sharp spear of resentment stabs through him, and he stumbles forward into a tree.
His mind is blank with pain for what feels like a long moment. But then he hears Wei Wuxian’s voice, right against his ear.
“Lan Zhan, don’t move,” he murmurs.
All the hair on the back of Lan Wangji’s neck stands straight. He finds himself pressed between the trunk of the tree at his front, and Wei Wuxian at his back. Wei Wuxian has a firm grip on the wrist which carries Bichen, and on his left upper arm. It feels...proprietary. Suddenly, and entirely inappropriately, a very old, very shameful memory surfaces, of a long-ago dream from which he had woken sweaty and shaking. The place on his chest where the resentment pierced him begins to throb painfully. Wei Wuxian breathes heavily against his ear for half a moment longer, and Lan Wangji feels himself flush.
“Alright,” Wei Wuxian whispers, “it’s coming around again. Chord assassination. No more gentle tactics.”
Lan Wangji nods and gathers himself. Wei Wuxian releases him, spinning out to one side of the trunk, and Lan Wangji takes the other. He strums chord after chord of destruction into the cloud of angry black smoke, while Wei Wuxian plays a commanding, fast-paced melody. The spirit weakens immediately, and they press forward without needing to speak, fanning out to come at it from either side. As Wei Wuxian’s song reaches a frenzied high, the thing releases a piercing scream and implodes. The silence that follows feels like deafness.
Lan Wangji is at his side immediately, searching him for signs of overexertion. “Wei Ying, are you alright?”
“Fine, fine,” Wei Wuxian waves him off. “I’m much better at not overestimating my energy these days."
Lan Wangji finds this hard to believe but says no more, opting instead to keep a watchful eye.
“Are you?" Wei Wuxian says, searching his face, then the rest of him, with worried eyes. "Did it hurt you? You stumbled.”
“It is nothing,” Lan Wangji replies. The curse mark throbs as if to accuse him of lying. But it is nothing—it should fade now that the spirit is dealt with. As should the villagers’ mysterious ailments. “Let us go back, and see how the villagers fare.”
Wei Wuxian nods, a grin pulling at his lovely mouth, lighting his beautiful eyes. “We still make a great team."
Oh, Lan Wangji allows himself to think, just once, how I love him.
“Always,” he says with a matter-of-fact nod. Wei Wuxian’s grin breaks into a smile that puts the day's wan sun to shame, and Lan Wangji turns away. He swallows hard and heads over to set the grave to rights before night is well and truly upon them.
The villagers, it turns out, are not faring as well as they should be.
“He’s been like this since I came to check on him this morning,” the town midwife tells them in hushed tones. They are standing in the main room of a baker’s house while the baker himself languishes in his bed on the other side of a thin wall. “His fever’s only gone up, and the medicine I give for pain seems to be working even less.”
“Is he the only one?” Wei Wuxian asks. The first person in town they encountered and asked about the curse sickness merely pointed them directly here. Finding the illness unresolved, they started the investigation from zero.
The midwife shakes her head. “There’s one more, the blacksmith’s son—he’s twenty and less bad off. The weaver’s husband and her oldest daughter both recovered, and so did the rice farmer’s wife. She’s nearly 80.”
“Recovered? When?” Wei Wuxian does not seem at all surprised. He has his thinking face on. Lan Wangji’s curse mark flares in tandem with a familiar heat in his blood, which he is accustomed to ignoring in his presence.
“Weaver’s husband three days ago,” says the midwife, ticking them off on her fingers, “her daughter yesterday, the farmer’s wife… the day before, I think.”
Wei Wuxian brushes his finger across the tip of his nose. Lan Wangji wants to snatch his hand away and kiss it. He blinks. Such thoughts do not usually make it to the forefront of his mind before he quashes them.
“Were the weaver’s husband and daughter cursed at the same time?” Wei Wuxian asks, blissfully unaware of his trusted friend’s wayward urges.
“Yes. They’d gone to pay respects to his parents and were attacked. Sunday, I think they said.”
“And yet they recovered at different times…” He trails off and walks a slow circle of the room. Lan Wangji watches him closely. He looks tired, but his face is lively with the prospect of a mystery to solve. “Did anybody have any idea what might have healed them?”
The midwife casts her eyes down and pauses before speaking. “They wouldn’t tell me, but I think they might’ve known. All of them seemed...unwilling to share their activities prior to recovery.”
Wei Wuxian stops in his tracks and looks at her sharply. “What does that mean?”
“I honestly don’t know, Young Master. As I said, they wouldn’t tell me.”
“Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian sighs, gesturing toward the bedroom. “Can we help him?”
Lan Wangji goes to find out. The baker is lying on the bed, so pale and still he could easily have already been dead, if not for the sheen of sweat on his skin. Lan Wangji takes hold of his arm, and the baker stirs. His eyes open slowly, then take yet longer to focus on Lan Wangji’s face.
“Are you a spirit?” The baker rasps.
“I am not,” says Lan Wangji, as gently as he can. “I am here to help. Please conserve your energy.”
He places his fingertips against the inside of the man’s wrist and feels for his natural spiritual energy. It is dangerously depleted and mangled, threaded through with resentment and that same strange undercurrent that had bothered Lan Wangji in the forest. It is familiar, almost achingly so, but he does not want to focus on it long enough to place it. He searches instead for the origin point of the curse in the man’s body and finds it in his right shoulder, a blotch on his network of meridians devoid of spirit, of life, of light. Lan Wangji sucks in a surprised breath.
This is not a curse that can be eradicated, but one that must be broken by fulfillment of terms—not so different from the one that had brought Wei Wuxian back to life. It is exceedingly rare for a spirit to construct something of this complexity. Lan Wangji places the man’s hand back where he found it and straightens. He deliberately does not think about the sting of his own cursed flesh as he moves. He finds Wei Wuxian watching him, leaning in the doorway.
“If you will question the others, I will play Healing for him,” Lan Wangji says.
It is the best they can do. The baker will die if Wei Wuxian cannot find out how to fulfill and end this particular curse very soon. He looks meaningfully at him, unwilling to speak such bleak words over a dying man.
Wei Wuxian nods, the odd softness in his eyes turning to understanding and determination. “I’ll be back soon.”
“Be careful,” says Lan Wangji, because he must.
Wei Wuxian nods, and leaves. Lan Wangji plays Healing. The baker creeps closer to death, and he is not alone.
It is not long at all before Wei Wuxian returns. He strides up the steps of the little house, cheeks and lips pink with the night’s chill, eyes bright with discovery, and spins to lean against the doorway beside Lan Wangji. He is visibly holding back a grin. The stars which Lan Wangji has been contemplating to maintain his inner peace hold no interest in the face of such compelling competition. He turns.
“You’ve solved it,” he observes.
Wei Wuxian unleashes the waiting smile.
Lan Wangji fiercely wants to kiss it. He frowns at himself.
“I have. The blacksmith’s son is already on his way to the next town to, uh...well.” Wei Wuxian drops his head and laughs a little, awkwardly. Equal parts embarrassed and giddy. “You’re not gonna believe this, Lan Zhan. It’s a sex curse."
Lan Wangji blinks, and for a moment, his brain refuses to comprehend the words. But then he remembers the word the spirit kept repeating. Want. His curse mark gives a mighty twinge, and inner peace is suddenly a very long way off.
“I’ve never heard of this actually happening before,” Wei Wuxian continues, looking equally delighted and discomfited, “I thought it was just the kind of thing dumb teenagers make up to tell at sleepovers. I can’t believe it’s real.”
Lan Wangji’s ears are ringing. He has never heard of such a thing at all, possibly because he has never been to a teenage sleepover, and possibly because it wasn’t real, until now. This could be an entirely new type of curse. He should probably be taking notes for the Gusu library.
He will not, under any circumstances, be taking notes for the Gusu library.
He swallows down his panic and lets his mind slip past the shock and distaste, skirting around the pain that flares insistently in his own chest. A man’s life is at stake. Serious focus is necessary. But he is not certain how to parse this new information.
“What does this mean in terms of recovery? The afflicted must merely…” He trails off. He’d had it, for a moment. Composure. He tries to get it back, but the silence goes on just a little too long before Wei Wuxian saves him.
“Well, yes and no?” he hedges. “That took some...uncomfortable digging.” He breaks off, color rising in his face. Lan Wangji suppresses the now-horrifying impulse to reach out and feel the heat of it. “It turns out, the curse requires the cursed to carry out the, uh, first sexual desire they experienced, immediately after the curse was cast on them. Which makes sense, given who—”
“You said the blacksmith’s son is on his way to the next town?” Lan Wangji breaks in. He does not need any more details. He can feel his ears growing redder by the minute. It is enough to know if there is a relevant healer nearby, or any kind of alternative at all.
Wei Wuxian snorts, his grin returning. “Yeah. The next town has a brothel.” His expression turns delighted, but pointed. Teasing. Conspiratorial.
Lan Wangj cannot take his customary empty flirting just now. He turns abruptly and goes back to the bedroom. He kneels and passes the baker enough spiritual energy to rouse him. It takes more than it should. The man is so very close to death.
When he opens his eyes, Lan Wangji speaks. “We have found the way to break this curse. It is unfortunately of a sexual nature, and those who are afflicted must carry out the first...sexual thought they experienced after they were struck by it.”
The baker blinks, lets out a long breath, and smiles weakly. “Then I will die.”
Lan Wangji's discomfort is whipped away by such unexpected certainty. “Why?”
Painfully slowly, as if each word is dredged up out of the depths of his lungs, the baker explains. “My wife died three years ago.”
The resignation in his eyes is laced with that same, other, nagging emotion. Lan Wangji recognizes it easily this time, in this context. A longing for something one can never have. He sits abruptly back on his heels, and the room is silent in a way that only death can bring as it nears. His chest throbs, and it is more than just the curse mark.
“So?” Wei Wuxian says, disturbing the quiet. Lan Wangji did not hear him come in. “There’s a cure. You don’t have to die. Trust me, it’s not the solution you think it is, friend.”
“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji admonishes without meeting his eyes. He will not allow Wei Wuxian to see this man’s love and grief and hopeless loneliness mirrored in his own. “It is not a question of preference. There simply is no cure for him.”
“But—” Wei Wuxian cuts himself off. Lan Wangji can feel searching eyes on his face. He cannot bear it.
“Go and rest at the inn,” he says, and turns back toward the baker. “I will stay here.”
Wei Wuxian is silent for a long moment. “No,” he says. “No, I’ll stay.”
Lan Wangji controls himself well enough to say neither please go nor please never leave me again. Wei Wuxian must be free to make his own choices, in all things. This is the principle Lan Wangji has chosen to guide his life. He will not go against it now, so near the end of it.
“I miss her,” the baker breathes. Lan Wangji almost doesn’t catch it, and leans in closer to hear. “Do you think I’ll see her again?”
“Yes,” Lan Wangji says. “In the next life.” He takes the baker's cold hand in both of his. “You will.”
He feels Wei Wuxian settle beside him, and knows he is still being watched. His chest hurts. His throat feels thick with words unsaid, but they will stay there for as long as they have any chance of doing damage. So the three of them are silent, and the implacable stars wheel overhead, and Lan Wangji holds the baker’s hand until there is no more life left in it.
The inn is dark and desolate when they finally make their way there in the dark of the morning. As Lan Wangji lets them into their home for the night, Wei Wuxian is worryingly silent once more, following a half step behind all the way up to their room. He hovers by the door while Lan Wangji lights the candles.
The room is small and ancient, but there are two beds. Lan Wangji must admit that given the unfortunate turn of events, this is a very good thing. The curse is clawing slowly through him even now, after so much time using mitigating meditation at the baker’s deathbed, and his spiritual energy and his body know instinctively what it requires. Even his skin is...alert. Anticipatory. The slightest movement of his soft inner robes feels like a caress. He disregards this discomfort and suppresses a sigh at the memory of his earlier tentative hope for simple nearness to Wei Wuxian. Lest he wishes to irrevocably shame himself as his very last act, he must be careful to never be too near him again.
“Is it really alright that I joined you today?” Wei Wuxian finally asks.
Lan Wangji straightens from the last candle. “Of course.”
Wei Wuxian’s smile is very small, and aimed at the floor. “I don’t always mean to annoy you, Lan Zhan, it just seems to happen.”
Lan Wangji blinks. He cannot think what he is referring to. “Wei Ying. You do not annoy me.” Wei Wuxian looks up at him, one eyebrow raised. “...Not in any significant way.”
Wei Wuxian huffs and pushes off the doorframe to go and sit at the low table. He pulls a dishcloth off one of the plates there. It is piled with pancakes. He stares at them without seeming to see them.
“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji says, “eat.”
When Wei Wuxian only smiles sadly up at him, Lan Wangji busies himself heating water for tea. He has never known how to reassure his friend without saying too much. How to keep him without trapping him. It has been one of his few remaining sources of inner conflict in the short time since Wei Wuxian’s return. Perhaps it should be a comfort, to let it go now.
It is not.
He seats himself at the table, pours a cup of liquor, and passes it across. He must try not to dwell on his own abbreviated future during their last moments together. In the morning, while Wei Wuxian still sleeps, he will write down his vague but ardent goodbyes and slip out into the dull morning. He might even make it back to the Cloud Recesses before the curse reaches his heart, if he travels quickly and does not use his golden core for anything but suppressing it. He is quite certain the healers there will be unable to help him, but it will be good to say goodbye to his brother and uncle. And Sizhui. But he cannot think about Sizhui now. He is grown, and he will be well attended. He cannot think about the long years ahead, full of Sizhui, and Wei Wuxian, and all their new memories together from which he will be absent.
Is this the pain that Wei Wuxian feels for his lost years?
He cannot think of it. He takes a breath. For now, this. A quiet, cozy room. Tea. And Wei Wuxian. It is enough.
Wei Wuxian breaks the silence. “Have you ever been in love, Lan Zhan?”
Lan Wangji’s heart thumps loudly. He pauses for a long moment before meeting his eyes. His head is tipped to the side, a gently somber expression on his fine features. Burnished in the candle glow, he takes Lan Wangji’s carefully maintained breath away.
“It took me ages of wheedling and charming to get answers out of all those villagers,” Wei Wuxian goes on, “and I still never got to the heart of the thing. I never even mentioned to you the question of why some people seemed to require specific people to heal, and some didn’t. But you just knew. Just from looking at the baker, you knew exactly what he meant. You seemed to understand him. To...empathize.”
Lan Wangji looks back down at his tea. Perhaps he should simply not answer. It is what he would have done, before today. Before he was a dead man.
“Yes,” he says. There is a beat of pregnant silence.
“Ah, Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian says softly. “Sixteen years is a long time. I’m sorry I never asked. What happened?”
This, Lan Wangji wants to say, this, here, now. There had always been some small part of him that thought perhaps some day things would change, and he would tell him. He has never considered what might happen after, only that he would at last be free of the weight of it, constantly sitting in his chest like a stone. That at last he would give all of himself to Wei Wuxian, to do with as he would. He lets that small part of himself slip away as he sips his tea.
He shakes his head, and Wei Wuxian sighs.
“I’m sorry, Lan Zhan, I didn’t mean to pry.”
“You may ask whatever you like,” Lan Wangji tells him, “but I may not know how to answer.”
Silence stretches between them. “Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian murmurs, and places a hand atop Lan Wangji’s wrist. Lan Wangji’s whole body lights up, and he freezes. When he looks, the melancholy on Wei Wuxian’s face is a hair too close to pity for comfort.
“It is time to sleep,” he says. He allows himself to cover Wei Wuxian’s hand with his own for a brief moment before standing. It is, after all, the last time they will touch.
The weakness in his limbs is startling. He will need to meditate before he falls asleep if he is to make it back to the rest of his family. He removes only his outermost layer and his boots, leaving the rest, including his hair ornament and forehead ribbon. The morning will necessitate haste above all things.
To his surprise, Wei Wuxian blows out the candles and makes ready for bed as well. It pains him to leave things this way, colored by sadness and words unsaid. He wishes fruitlessly for resolution.
Just as he stretches out, he hears the dearest voice in all the world say, “Good night, Lan Zhan.”
Lan Wangji closes his eyes. It is as good a farewell as any.
“Good night, Wei Ying. Sleep well.”
Some time later, Lan Wangji wakes slowly, and with unaccustomed difficulty. He feels disoriented and sluggish as he rises and pulls on his heavy outer robes. It takes him a long moment to locate the matches, and even longer to light the first candle. When he can see well enough in the early dark, he finds his qiankun pouch. As he makes his way over to it, he stumbles, but catches himself before he falls. Wei Wuxian stirs.
“Yes. Go back to sleep,” Lan Wangji says, wrestling with numbed fingers to push some provisions into the bag. The curse has progressed much more quickly than he had predicted. He has very little chance of making it to the Cloud Recesses. He can only try.
“Lan Zhan, what…” Wei Wuxian sits up, sleep-mussed and devastatingly beautiful in the flickering shadows.
The curse mark on Lan Wangji’s chest gives a blinding stab of pain, and sudden, foreboding heat unfurls low in his stomach. He pauses, then tries to hurry. It makes his fumbling worse.
“What happened?” Wei Wuxian is saying, swinging his legs to the floor. “What’s wrong?”
“You should sleep, Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji says, going back to sit on his bed to pull on his boots.
“Where are you going?”
Lan Wangji sets his boot back on the floor when lifting his foot makes him unbalanced and dizzy. He takes a breath. Two. He cannot remember the question.
“Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian says, suddenly standing beside him. Lan Wangji blinks up at him, confused, as heat floods him at their proximity. “Are you ill?” He puts a hand to Lan Wangji’s forehead. It is cool, and soft, and Lan Wangji wants to lean into it. It is snatched away before he can. “You’re burning up!”
This is not surprising. But Wei Wuxian must not worry. “I am not ill.”
Wei Wuxian does not look impressed. “Convincing. You look terrible. I’m fetching a doctor.” He turns to go but Lan Wangji catches his arm. The warm silk against his palm is immensely distracting. He struggles to get words out.
"Wei Ying. There is no need."
“No need? Lan Zhan. You can’t even put your shoes on. You’re ill.”
“Not ill,” Lan Wangji maintains, concentrating on releasing Wei Wuxian’s arm, one finger at a time. “Cursed.”
Wei Wuxian stares at him. "Cursed."
Lan Wangji is not certain he had meant to say that. He is having difficulty remembering.
"You were cursed." Wei Wuxian says, working it out. "When…oh. Oh, when you—when you pushed me out of the way. It cursed you."
Lan Wangji agrees. That is correct. But there was a reason he had kept it from Wei Wuxian.
"I'll go settle up with the innkeeper," Wei Wuxian says then, hitting the ground running. He pulls on an outer robe, then sits to pull on his own boots. "I bet they'll keep Little Apple for me until I can get back. You may not like it, Lan Zhan, but I don't think it's safe for you to travel on your own. You don't have to tell me anything, I don't care, but I can't bear the thought of you falling off your sword somewhere all alone. And it may not work that fast, but we don't know, do we? So just humor me, will you?"
Lan Wangji blinks slowly at him. "Travel?"
"To wherever you need to go," Wei Wuxian nods. He looks so sure of himself, so stern and confident as he stands. Lan Wangji would do absolutely anything he asked. "We'll leave as soon as I get back." He pauses halfway to the door and turns. "It'll be fine, Lan Zhan. I'm sure you have nothing to worry about."
"Wei Ying," Lan Wangji manages through sluggish confusion, "what do you mean?"
Wei Wuxian frowns. "The curse. It shouldn't be…" he trails off, looks away. "It shouldn't be difficult for Hanguang-Jun to fulfill its requirements and be free of it. I know it isn't ideal to be cursed in the first place, and I'm sorry. It's my fault. But it isn't the worst curse I've ever heard of. We just have to move quickly, get you to who—" he falters. "To wherever you need."
Understanding breaks through the haze of fever and discomfort in Lan Wangji's mind. The curse must be broken. By…ah. He struggles to keep a lid on whatever volatile emotion is suddenly bubbling dangerously inside him, and straightens. He needs to be more alert for this. He needs to think his way out.
"It is not your fault," he says first, because it is the most important. "And I am not going anywhere." He is not going anywhere to try to break the curse. That was not the plan. He can no longer remember the plan, but that was not it.
Wei Wuxian looks confusedly at the boot in Lan Wangji’s hand, then his expression goes uneasy. "I...you could try that. But after what you said...I’m not sure it’ll work. For you. And the brothel is the next town over Lan Zhan, I told you.”
Lan Wangji feels as if the tips of his ears have caught fire. He's not sure what his face does then, but Wei Wuxian's reaction gives him some idea.
"Ah, Lan Zhan, don't get angry! There's nothing wrong with that, I didn't mean anything by it." He's holding his hands up in surrender. "I'm not making fun of you. I'm trying to help."
The irony of Wei Wuxian trying to help him with this by taking him somewhere else, anywhere other than this room, alone with him, is nearly overwhelming. Lan Wangji has trouble disregarding it.
"There is nothing to help,” he says, but it isn’t quite right. He needs a better excuse. He’s running out of time for...something.
"Lan Zhan. You're cursed. We can't do nothing."
Lan Wangji sighs. He tries to think. If he were a good man, he would tell Wei Wuxian he is right, but that he does not need help, and he would ride his sword to a secluded place to live out his now-scant remaining time in solitude and give Wei Wuxian peace. He has an inkling that this had been the plan, moments ago, but it feels distant and foggy. So here, at the end of his life, he is proving once again that he is not a good man, but a selfish one. And he finds that now he is truly dying, he does not want to do it alone.
"There is nothing to do," he says, unable to summon anything more convincing. He winces as the mark on his chest digs its way deeper. It is not far at all from his heart, now. It won't take long.
"Lan Zhan!" It is Wei Wuxian who looks angry now, gesturing agitatedly. "We know exactly how to fix this, and if we don't, you'll die. What, do you think you'll just meditate the curse away?"
He tried this last night. It didn't work. "I could try that," he says anyway. It might buy him time to think of something else to say.
Wei Wuxian's face goes momentarily slack before turning serious. He draws himself up, his back straightening out of his habitual slouch, and rounds on Lan Wangji. Something lurches in Lan Wangji's stomach, and his knees feel strange, even seated as he is. Wei Wuxian looming over him this way, calm and authoritative, veers too close to the old, hazy dream the curse has evidently latched onto.
"Why would we waste time on that when we know the cure?" Wei Wuxian asks, and Lan Wangji has to close his eyes.
Because I would not know how to begin to say it, even if I thought I could ask it of you. Because you are not mine. Because you are not mine. Because you are not mine.
"If I am fated to die,” he says at last, “I wish to do so honorably.” It is the truth.
"Honorably? Lan Zhan," Wei Wuxian breaks off, evidently lost for words. "If—you—"
Lan Wangji glances up and sees him lost in thought, an expression of rueful disbelief on his face. He's almost certain he does not want to know what he's thinking.
"If your—if—if what the curse wants you to do is...against one of your Lan Disciplines...Lan Zhan, I don't think the rules are meant to kill you."
Lan Wangji indeed does not want to see Wei Wuxian cycling through that particular subset of disciplines in his mind, weighing them against each other, trying to gauge just how depraved his friend might be. But it may be the easiest thing to allow him to believe. He tries to nudge that strand of reasoning.
"Honor is worth dying for," he says, which is also the truth.
"Not like this!" Wei Wuxian shouts. It is jarringly loud in the quiet of the pre-dawn countryside. He shoves a hand through his uncombed hair and begins to pace. "This is—this is too much. For an arbitrary rule? You can't—you can't be serious. I refuse to believe you are serious about this. Tell me we can leave soon."
"We may leave whenever you like, and go wherever you like," Lan Wangji agrees serenely. The advancing curse is making him feel almost drunk, incongruously at ease. He thinks he could manage going somewhere, if need be. It is quite literally his dying wish to go wherever Wei Wuxian is. He thinks that, at least, might be something he can have. Just for a little while. Not to keep, but to hold close as the curse takes him and he goes cold, to let go of again once he is gone. The way he never could in life. Perhaps, ultimately, it is better this way—
"Lan Zhan," Wei Wuxian breaks into his fevered, maudlin thoughts, and his tone draws Lan Wangji’s gaze. For the first time in a very long time, Wei Wuxian looks afraid. Guilt settles petulantly in Lan Wangji's chest.
"Do not worry," he says reflexively. But he does not have his brother's gift for comfort. He swallows hard as he realizes the thing he had already known before the curse dulled his mind: that trying to stay with Wei Wuxian through his own death would be cruel. "I will not…" make you watch. He sighs heavily. He does not know how to extricate himself gracefully. Nothing about this situation is graceful. It is disgraceful. He is a disgrace.
"Will not what?" Wei Wuxian demands. "Will not let yourself die pointlessly? That's the only way that sentence can end. Lan Zhan. I don't know what your...what your specific...thought...may have been, and I won't ask. But I know you. And it can't be so bad as to truly dishonor you or your sect. Please. Be sensible. Tell me what I can do to help."
Lan Wangji's skin heats dramatically at the unintended implication of the words. Wei Wuxian does not mean to help directly. Does not mean to personally satisfy what the curse wants. And yet it flings image after image across the surface of his mind. Skin against sweat-damp skin. Fingers bruising wrists—
Lan Wangji stands abruptly and crosses to the window. His legs are wobbly, but the chill pre-morning air is stark against his burning face. It allows him to center himself. He takes several fortifying breaths.
"Is she married?" Wei Wuxian asks, soft and sudden behind him.
Lan Wangji turns to face him, momentary calm forgotten. For a dizzying second, he's a teenager again, in a dank cave, incredulous at Wei Wuxian's determination to misunderstand him. For a long moment he can do nothing but stare.
“What you told me last night. Is this about—”
"It is not that," Lan Wangji interrupts. He painstakingly orders his thoughts before he speaks again. "I would not ask a person to save my life in such a way. It would not be...fair. The threat of death is tantamount to coercion."
"You don't have to tell that part, Lan Zhan," Wei Wuxian says, rolling his eyes. "All you'd have to do is walk up to any maiden you please and say—"
Wei Wuxian grimaces at the admonishment. "Too tacky for Hanguang-Jun, even on pain of death. I know. But…whoever you...the particular person, I mean. They would understand. I'm sure. If you would only go."
Lan Wangji turns to the window again. He is tired, and this argument is not how he wants to spend his last moments. He lets the exhaustion into his voice.
"There is nowhere to go, Wei Ying."
Wei Wuxian’s voice is thin with fear when he speaks. "Is she dead?”
Not anymore, he barely stops himself from saying. It is too close for comfort. He needs to end this. “Wei Ying. I do not wish to speak of this anymore.”
“Just tell me, Lan Zhan. Please. I need...I need to know.” He sounds more despondent than Lan Wangji has heard him in this lifetime. It pierces his fear and frustration as neatly as a blade. He relents.
“It is not that. I have told you.”
“So. It isn't person-specific, then, is it?"
Lan Wangji says nothing. It is not in him to lie.
"Which makes it more difficult for you."
Lan Wangji closes his eyes. He loves Wei Wuxian's thinking voice. Loves the life in it, the way you can hear the synapses firing in his incredible mind. But he does not want to hear it just now.
"Because you don't want to pressure a random person."
There is a long moment of silence, in which Lan Wangji fervently hopes Wei Wuxian will dive into attempting some sort of invention to cure incurable curses. The thought of him absorbed in work, frenzied in his genius, makes heat flare low in his belly yet again. He tries to focus on the horizon, where night is just beginning to fade to blue.
"You used to trust me, Lan Zhan. Could you trust me again?"
The question spikes pain through his heart. Apprehensive as he is of what might come next, he is helpless not to answer.
"I have always trusted you, Wei Ying."
When next Wei Wuxian speaks, his voice is so close to Lan Wangji's ear that it raises goosebumps all across the back of his neck, just as it did yesterday.
"Then allow me to go back on my word," he says, almost imperceptibly hesitant. "I'm going to ask you what the curse wants, so that I can do it. If I can. If you'll let me."
After three agonizing, breathless seconds, Lan Wangji wrenches his protesting body away and presses close to the window. One shaking fist clenches the sill, white-knuckled. The other finds the silver filigree at the center of his forehead ribbon.
He counts to five on each breath in and out. It is exceedingly difficult.
"There is no need," he says at last. Despite his efforts, he sounds nearly as wretched as he feels.
"Unfortunately, I think there is every need, Lan Zhan."
Unfortunately. He needs to get out of here. Unfortunately. The word rings endlessly in his mind. Unfortunately. He draws on the dregs of his spiritual energy, thrashing against the black current running down his meridians, and disengages his stiff fingers from the wood.
"I am sorry for the confusion," he says. "I am leaving."
He turns to go. He makes it almost three steps before Wei Wuxian is there, slapping his palm against the wall and blocking the way with the length of his arm. Shivers of desperation run down Lan Wangji's sides, and arousal throbs urgently between his legs. He tries to turn the other way, but Wei Wuxian grips his shoulder. His heart pounds mercilessly against his ribs.
"Please don't do this," Wei Wuxian says, his voice thick and strange. Lan Wangji cannot bear to look at him. "Would you really rather die than let me help?"
"Yes," Lan Wangji says, shaking with the effort of reigning himself in. Wei Wuxian releases his shoulder as if the word scalds him. "I would die to protect you," he amends quietly. In case he hasn't made it clear.
"Protect—Lan Zhan. I don't need protecting from you."
Considering the amount of energy Lan Wangji is currently expending on not tackling him to the floor and doing unspeakable things to him, this statement is almost funny. Almost.
"Unfortunately, at the moment, you do," he grits out. "That is why I am leaving. The threat of death is—"
"Tantamount to coercion, yeah, you said," Wei Wuxian finishes for him. "And you'd be right as always, except…"
That hand finds his shoulder again, lighting up his nerves in a quick flare of alarm as if he’s been burned. Wei Wuxian takes a deep breath.
"Look, you may not want to hear this, but I'd rather you live forever hating me than die because I couldn’t..." He pauses. "You wouldn't be coercing me, Lan Zhan, I'd volunteer any day. Curse or no curse. Preferably no curse. And the thought of you dying is bad enough, I mean, it'd probably kill me—again—but the thought of you dying when I'm not just here but willing? It's too stupid. Unbearable.” He shakes Lan Wangji’s shoulder. “I won't let you, unless death is truly preferable, in which case, I'm sorry I can't be what you need, when you need it most.” He pauses, and Lan Wangji watches the apple of his throat bob as he swallows. He wants to lick it. “Lan Zhan. Will you let me?"
Lan Wangji is leaning heavily against the wall, trying to breathe through his confusion and arousal. He's not sure if he’s understanding any of this correctly. He’s positive his curse-addled mind has made most of it up. It makes too little sense, and aligns too firmly with what the curse wants.
But the hand leaves his shoulder and slides up his neck, leaving a trail of goosebumps in its wake. Slender fingers settle against his jaw. This part, at least, is real.
"Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian repeats, softly this time. Intimately. “Will you let me?"
Lan Wangji cannot help it any longer. He wants. Has wanted for so very long, and the only person he has ever wanted is here now, offering him anything, everything, and Lan Wangji is weak. There is a curse working on him, yes, but more damningly: he does not want to die. He wants to stay here, with Wei Wuxian, for as long as he possibly can. He takes a deep, shuddering breath and nods jerkily. Wei Wuxian lets out a long, shuddering breath in return, as if they share one pair of lungs. Then both his hands are on him, warm and tentative, and Lan Wangji barely suppresses a shiver.
"Okay,” Wei Wuxian murmurs, clever hands already working at Lan Wangji’s belts. “Can you tell me what...what needs to happen?”
Lan Wangji tries to imagine describing it out loud. Can’t. Clenches his jaw and shakes his head. He still has not managed to so much as look directly at his face.
Wei Wuxian huffs. It sounds frustrated but also...fond. “We’ll figure it out,” he says, and something tight begins to ease in Lan Wangji’s chest. “One thing at a time. Can—I mean. Should I be taking these off?” He pauses, fingers hooked in the edges of Lan Wangji’s robes.
This is a loaded question. Lan Wangji would almost rather die than answer it. Almost.
“Okay,” Wei Wuxian says, half to himself, and begins to work at the ties.
Lan Wangji should be helping, shouldn’t be standing here like a helpless child, or worse, an imperious fool, but he can’t seem to will his limbs to move. He’s paralyzed, terrified he’ll do something wrong or unwelcome, cross some undefined line down the center of what they’re doing, out of necessity and into something else. So he stands perfectly still, and he stares at nothing, and he burns.
“You can—I mean,” Wei Wuxian’s hands pause at his innermost tunic. “You can touch me, Lan Zhan. If you want, or, if it’s part of the whole...I know it’s not—this isn’t something you’d normally do. But you—Lan Zhan, you’re shaking.”
Wei Wuxian takes hold of his white-knuckled fists and brings them together between their chests. “Will you look at me?”
It is quietly said. Less of a request and more of an existential query. Disarmed, Lan Wangji meets his gaze, and it stuns him breathless. He is so, so beautiful. Perfect, and delicate, and handsome. All his fire, all his tenderness right there on his lovely face. And right now it also appears that he is so, so sad. Lan Wangji aches to see it. It is a long moment before Wei Wuxian speaks again.
“I won’t tell you to relax, because I know being cursed is awful enough without being manhandled. But please, Lan Zhan, what can I do? What can we do to make this less horrible for you?” He casts his gaze about the room. “Can I...hang...hang a sheet between us? Would that help?”
He is so earnest. Determined. Wrong about everything. Lan Wangji’s heart sinks like a lump of raw iron. He cannot stand it. He feels like he is dead already.
“Wei Ying.” It comes out more of a scrape of air than words. He swallows but his throat is dry. “I cannot do this,” he says. Wei Wuxian’s expression crumples, and with it, Lan Wangji’s last defenses. “It would be lying to you. Taking advantage. I cannot do this.”
Wei Wuxian shakes his head but does not let go or step away. “Lying? Lan Zhan, you’re not making sense. Please—”
“It is you,” Lan Wangji forces out. “What it wants. What I want. Is y...you.” He had once thought the admission would feel like the lifting of a weight. Instead he is crushed beneath it. “Forgive me.”
There is a long pause wherein Lan Wangji continues to stare at his hands, encircled within Wei Wuxian’s. He waits for them to feel the cool morning air again, bereft.
“Let...let me get this right,” Wei Wuxian says softly. Slowly. “Are you saying that the first—the...the first sexual thought that you had after it cursed you, the thing that can save you...involves me. Specifically.”
Lan Wangji nods, shamefaced. Death cannot come swiftly enough.
“I...it makes some sense, I guess I was the only person around, but Lan Zhan. This whole time, since last night, I’ve been right here. And you’ve been planning some...noble, but extremely preventable death?”
Lan Wangji feels as if he’s being accused of something. He does not know how to respond to that.
“This whole—” Wei Wuxian cuts himself off just as he’s working up to a point. His next thought is barely voiced. “Because it’s dishonorable. To want me.”
“Yes,” Lan Wangji says, grateful to be understood at last. But in the ensuing silence he chances a glance at Wei Wuxian’s face and finds it viscerally blank.
“That’s fair,” he says, the awful blankness in his words, too. “Fantasizing about the Yiling Patriarch isn’t something to admit to lightly.” He blows out a rueful huff of a laugh, shakes his head. He lets go of Lan Wangji’s hands to step away. “And here I was, practically forcing you—”
“No,” Lan Wangji half-sobs, horror cutting through his haze of confusion. He staggers and nearly falls in his effort to grab onto Wei Wuxian somehow, to grip his shoulders, to force understanding into him. “No. I have wanted Wei Ying. There is nothing dishonorable in you. Nothing. My shame is in...in the way I want you, and in wanting more than I could ever ask of you.”
Wei Wuxian looks confused now, holding Lan Wangji up by the elbows as he tilts against him. “But—Lan Zhan. I just told you. I’m—you can ask. I’m willing, I said so just now.”
“The threat of death,” Lan Wangji repeats, despairing, into Wei Wuxian’s black-robed shoulder.
Wei Wuxian abruptly pushes Lan Wangji back against the wall and fixes him with a furious stare. Lan Wangji’s heart stops.
“You really are determined to die of inflexibility, aren’t you,” Wei Wuxian says, then kisses him full on the mouth.
The kiss is bruising, and desperate, and searingly hot. Lan Wangji is lost to it as soon as it begins, dizzy with it, desire surging through him almost painfully to war with the curse. When Wei Wuxian breaks away, he follows, chasing the sweet relief of his lips unconsciously.
“Breathe,” Wei Wuxian reminds him, leaning their foreheads together.
Lan Wangji starts breathing again. The curse is flickering along his meridians, fractionally weakened by this turn toward satisfying its requirements.
“Is this okay?” Wei Wuxian is breathing hard, and Lan Wangji cannot stop staring at his wet, red mouth.
He swallows and nods. “Helps,” he says.
“Good,” Wei Wuxian says, and kisses him again.
Lan Wangji tries to remember to breathe this time. But then Wei Wuxian’s tongue is in his mouth, sliding along his own, seeking out every secret gasp and sigh that Lan Wangji never knew he contained, and his teeth are catching on Lan Wangji’s lower lip, and Lan Wangji’s knees give out. Wei Wuxian catches him, using the length of his body to pin him to the wall.
“Are you alright?” He asks, his eyes sharp with concern.
“Yes,” Lan Wangji says. It comes out husky. Wrecked.
Wei Wuxian’s eyes darken. He glances down. Shifts his hips against Lan Wangji’s. “Oh,” he says.
Lan Wangji’s missed breaths catch up to him all at once as Wei Wuxian slides a hand down his side to press between them. The tentative pressure is shocking, inappropriate, and very, very good. Lan Wangji’s head thunks back against the wall, and Wei Wuxian seals his blazing mouth against his exposed throat. He feels unmoored, nothing but formless pleasure adrift between hand and lips, and it is so much better than he ever guiltily imagined.
“Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian pulls away to say, urgent and breathy. “I—need to know what to do. You have to tell me.”
Lan Wangji takes a shaky breath and nods. He finds he can think now, somewhat. “It keeps...bringing the same dream to mind. It wants that.”
Wei Wuxian blinks at him. “Dream?” His kiss-swollen lips quirk in a grin. “You dream about me, Lan Zhan?”
It is meant jokingly. To lighten the heavy weight of this moment. Lan Wangji cannot find it particularly funny, after all the nights he has woken in tears. “Often,” he says, and Wei Wuxian’s smile fades. “But not always like this. And this one is...old.”
Wei Wuxian swallows. “Old?”
Lan Wangji looks away. He thinks, perhaps, he can admit this now. That it might not cost him as dearly as it might under different circumstances. And he feels somehow that he should explain what is, unbelievably, about to happen.
“The Sunshot Campaign,” he says finally. “After we found you again, and you were not speaking with me. I dreamed this then. I was...frustrated. I wished I could make you understand that I trusted you. That you could trust me. That I would—” do anything for you, he swallows down. It is too much to burden him with just now. “I did not know how.” He shakes his head. “My subconscious mind did not separate those frustrations from...physical ones.”
The silence following this speech feels loud. Part of Lan Wangji wants to stuff it back into his mouth, to revoke the shattering of this friendship that he has only just gotten back. As if, laughably, speaking those words were the part of this that will be their undoing.
“Lan Zhan.” It’s a mere breath, a comma before Wei Wuxian kisses him again. This kiss is softer, and sweet, yet still urgent. Lan Wangji’s heart jumps into his throat and stays there.
“I don’t know how to process all that,” Wei Wuxian admits against his lips, with the ghost of a laugh. “I don’t think we have time, right now, but thank you. For telling me.”
Lan Wangji shakes his head vehemently. “Do not thank me.”
Wei Wuxian huffs. “Fine, then. Tell me about this dream.”
Lan Wangji feels his stomach lurch. He glances at the bed. Wei Wuxian catches it and nods.
“That’s a start,” he says, and guides Lan Wangji to sit on it before stripping himself of his clothes.
Lan Wangji looks away, his cheeks and ears heating, still uncertain of what he’s allowed. But then Wei Wuxian stops, and sits beside him, red inner robe loose around his shoulders, and reaches out a trembling hand to brush his hair behind his shoulder. Lan Wangji faces him, meets his gaze. Candlelight dances in his dark eyes, exaggerates the prominence of his graceful collarbones. Tenderness has replaced the determination in his face, and Lan Wangji feels a pang of longing for this to be something else. Something true. He watches as Wei Wuxian leans in deliberately to kiss him, slow and deep, and his body’s battle against the curse drags him back into the oblivious tide of arousal. Wei Wuxian lies back and pulls Lan Wangji on top of him, and Lan Wangji forgets to feel embarrassed while he tries to remember to breathe again.
It is good, like this. So, so good. Wei Wuxian warm and solid beneath him, the bones of his hips pressing into the soft dips of his own. The sighing and shifting of it, the way their erections brush every few moments, knocking air out of Lan Wangji’s lungs. The knowledge that Wei Wuxian’s body, at least, is indeed entirely willing, is an inciting shock to his system. He relaxes slowly into a shared rhythm, lets his instincts guide him into the rising flood.
“Like this, Lan Zhan?” Wei Wuxian parts his loosened robe and pushes both their trousers down in quick, deft movements.
Lan Wangji gasps and presses his face to Wei Wuxian’s shoulder, overcome by so much soft, hot skin. Wei Wuxian spreads his thighs around Lan Wangji’s hips and moans softly at the sudden scorching contact, digs his fingers into the meat of Lan Wangji’s ass, and grinds their hips together until a strangled sound makes its way out of Lan Wangji’s throat.
“Or something else?” He’s panting into Lan Wangji’s ear. “Do you want my mouth? Do you want to fuck me, Lan Zhan?”
“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji grits out. “Stop.”
Wei Wuxian lets go of him immediately. “I—I’m sorry, I—”
Lan Wangji grips the backs of Wei Wuxian's shoulders tighter. His heart is beating so fast he fears it might give out. “Too close,” he murmurs into his throat. “Need to calm down.”
“Oh,” Wei Wuxian breathes. “Oh. Alright.”
When Lan Wangji feels like he can move without coming on the spot, he reluctantly rolls off of him. They catch their breath on their backs, side by side. After a moment, Wei Wuxian props himself up on an elbow. Lan Wangji keeps his eyes firmly on his face.
Lan Wangji takes a deep breath and sits up. He pulls the tangle of his trousers off his ankles, then unties his tunic. He hesitates for only a moment before pulling it off. Wei Wuxian getting a closer look at his scars should be the least of his current worries.
When Wei Wuxian hisses and reaches out to touch the curse mark on Lan Wangji’s chest, he realizes he hasn’t actually seen it himself. The charred, peeling patch of skin is just to the right of his branding scar, the edge of it obscuring the Wen design. He can’t feel the brush of Wei Wuxian’s fingers at all, until he trails them over to the long-healed ridges above his heart.
“Lan Zhan,” he murmurs, and brings the hand up to Lan Wangji’s face. He touches his burning cheek, thumbs across his swollen lips, then leans in to kiss him again. It is too much. Lan Wangji’s breath hitches with something akin to grief before Wei Wuxian pulls back. “Should I take off—”
“It does not matter,” Lan Wangji says, then pauses. He has always wanted to ask Wei Wuxian to do this, but he dares not take this particular liberty. What it implies is not something Wei Wuxian has agreed to. Will ever agree to. So he reaches up and unties his forehead ribbon himself before carefully wrapping it around a bedpost. Wei Wuxian tracks the movement closely.
Finally, he can put it off no longer. He tries and fails to meet Wei Wuxian’s eye, then turns to lay on his front. His voice comes out small when he says, “Like this.”
“Oh,” says Wei Wuxian. “I—oh.”
Lan Wangji turns his burning face into the bedding. He knows there are many possibly objectionable things about this revelation. He feels exposed, and suddenly a little bit afraid. “Please do not force yourself, against your own will. I could not bear it.”
“No, Lan Zhan, I just…” Lan Wangji flinches in surprise when Wei Wuxian’s hand comes to rest on his shoulder blade. “I just didn’t expect…” He trails off, soothing vague shapes into Lan Wangji’s mangled skin, following the thick, intersecting lines of his scars.
“I know it is not pleasing to look at,” Lan Wangji offers, and struggles to pull the blanket haphazardly over himself. He tries not to feel suddenly bitter about it. After the years of incapacitation, of indescribable suffering, of painstaking recovery, after the years of having made his peace with the punishment and its marks, it is both grotesquely fitting and maddeningly stupid that it should add yet more difficulty to this particular moment between them.
“Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian says, exasperated. “As much as I—never mind. I meant I didn’t expect you to have wanted something like this. But is it really so shameful?”
“No,” says Lan Wangji. “Not this.”
“Is there...something more to it?”
Wei Wuxian waits for him to elaborate. He does not. Wei Wuxian sighs. “One thing at a time. Have you ever done this before?”
The question shocks him. “Of course not.”
Wei Wuxian snorts. “Of course,” he repeats, then sobers. “I’m sorry it has to be this way. You deserve better.”
Lan Wangji is quite sure he would never have had this, any other way. “Have you?”
The question comes unbidden. Once it does, he realizes he likely does not want to hear the answer.
“Of course not,” Wei Wuxian throws back at him, sounding every bit as offended. Lan Wangji is not entirely surprised, but enough so that he turns his head to look at him with one eye. Wei Wuxian offers a halfhearted grin. “But I’ve done a fair amount of reading?”
How could Lan Wangji forget? “I remember,” he says, and Wei Wuxian smiles for real. Even now, after everything, in the middle of this, it makes Lan Wangji’s heart skip a beat. But then Wei Wuxian is rising from the bed.
“Wei Ying?” He hates the broken desperation in his voice.
Wei Wuxian stops, brushes his fingers through Lan Wangji’s hair, and says, “I’m not going anywhere. I have to find some kind of oil.”
Lan Wangji almost asks, before understanding hits him and everything becomes terrifyingly real. He lies very still and tries not to hyperventilate for what feels like a very long time before Wei Wuxian returns to kneel beside him.
“Try to breathe,” he says again, and slides the blanket away. “I’m going to go slow. Just one finger, at first.”
This concept, this consideration, untethers Lan Wangji’s calm once more. “You do not have to—there is no need—”
“It’ll hurt if I don’t. I’m not going to hurt you if I can help it, Lan Zhan. Ever again.” He pauses. “Will it meddle with what the curse needs, if I do it this way?”
Lan Wangji forces his mind to slow and consider. It is not part of the original dream, the thought that sparked all of this. But will not prevent them from enacting it. “No.”
“Good. Do you have any other objection?”
Lan Wangji is silent. Wei Wuxian’s hands find his hips, and tug.
“I think it’s easier on hands and knees,” he says.
Lan Wangji swallows hard and props himself up as asked. He feels even more exposed this way, vulnerable and cold. The ends of the curse are in tatters all through him, and his mind is growing yet clearer, which is somehow worse.
Wei Wuxian drops a kiss on his shoulder, then on the middle of his spine. Lan Wangji is astounded by the sweetness of it. One hand runs down his back, fingers dipping into the cleft of his ass, and he closes his eyes on a shaky breath.
“Gonna start now,” murmurs Wei Wuxian.
The first finger presses against him, slick with oil, and he cannot help but flinch away from the startling intimacy of it. Wei Wuxian gentles him with shushing sounds and calming squeezes to his thigh before touching him there again. He starts with small, firm circles that are somehow both soothing and arousing. Lan Wangji is not sure what this would be like in any other circumstance, but as it is, he is consumed immediately by an inferno of desire, his body screaming for more. Still, when the finger presses harder and slips just inside him, his hands clench tight into the bedding.
“Breathe,” Wei Wuxian reminds him again. His voice is low, hypnotic, and relaxes Lan Wangji by degrees the longer he speaks. “It’s strange, I know. But it gets better if you relax.”
Lan Wangji breathes in through his nose and out through his mouth, ripping his thoughts away from what Wei Wuxian knows and how he might know it. It is not his to think of. The finger begins to move, pulling out before pressing in deeper, and deeper, each time a more exhilarating relief. Lan Wangji breathes, and breathes, and jumps when he feels the rest of Wei Wuxian’s knuckles press against him.
“Like that,” Wei Wuxian says roughly, still working his finger in and out. “Just like that.”
He pauses on an outstroke and runs his thumb along the sensitive rim of muscle. Lan Wangji shivers, and suddenly wants more.
“Adding another,” Wei Wuxian warns as if reading his mind.
This time the stretch is more, and it would be uncomfortable rather than just strange, but Lan Wangji is long past discomfort. He wants more, much more, now, but Wei Wuxian adds more oil and works them slowly. By the time he’s fit them both all the way in, Lan Wangji is struggling to keep still, sweat beading on his skin. It feels confusing, and primal, and good.
“Alright?” Wei Wuxian asks.
Lan Wangji nods. Words are beyond him.
After a handful of breathless moments, Wei Wuxian spreads his fingers as he pulls them out, starts stretching him further. A small, helpless sound makes its way out of Lan Wangji’s throat. It is a constant battle to hold his body in check, to keep from rocking back onto those clever fingers, but he manages it. That is, until the angle changes just so, and Wei Wuxian brushes against a new place inside of him that sends a jolt of pure, visceral pleasure through his body, collapsing his arms and forcing out a startled grunt.
Wei Wuxian curses under his breath, and a few measured strokes later, he finds it again. And again.
Blistering pleasure shoots through Lan Wangji, and he can no longer stop himself from pushing his hips back, chasing the feeling, twisting his fists in the bedding for purchase. He bites down hard on the back of his wrist to keep his mouth from loosing embarrassing, uncontrollable noises. It’s far too much and yet not enough. His cock hangs heavy beneath him, and he needs friction, not much, just a little, oh, and Wei Wuxian has three fingers in him now, and if he keeps hitting that spot, he might not even—
“Stop,” he pants for the second time.
Wei Wuxian goes completely still, fingers still buried deep. Lan Wangji shifts restlessly, wanting to find that delicious rhythm again. But he cannot allow it. His breaths are ragged and uneven, his cock twitching desperately.
“Wei Ying,” he gasps. “The curse.”
“Okay,” Wei Wuxian says. He sounds as destroyed as Lan Wangji feels. Slowly, gently, he eases his fingers free. Lan Wangji cannot quite bite back a helpless whine. “Okay.”
Lan Wangji focuses on trying to collect his wits as he feels Wei Wuxian shift behind him. He spreads his knees wider to let him kneel between them, and the openness of it feels so wanton that his neglected cock jumps again.
“Alright,” Wei Wuxian says, smoothing a gentle hand down Lan Wangji’s hip. “I’ll go slow. Are you—”
“Do not ask,” Lan Wangji interrupts. That part is important. Important, and mortifying, as the rest of this is about to be. “Here.”
He eases his forearms out from under his head, shifts them until his chest, throat, and cheek are pressed to the bed unsupported. He folds them behind himself and crosses his wrists at the middle of his back. “Hold here,” he says, tapping them together.
A beat of silence. “Are you—”
“Do not ask,” Lan Wangji repeats. He doesn’t think he can say this more than once. “Please,” he adds helplessly. “Hold here, and do not touch me anywhere else. Do not...do not stop until we both have finished.” He pauses, breathing hard. Is this too much? Is this too much to ask for? He’s so aroused he feels he might die if they stop, even without the curse. He tries to think how best to explain the crux of the thing the curse wants. “If...if you still mean to do this. Do not ask. Take.”
“Okay, Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian breathes. “Okay.” His fingers close gingerly around Lan Wangji’s wrists. It is close, but not right. Not the tone of the dream at all.
Lan Wangji swallows. “Harder,” he says.
Wei Wuxian’s grip tightens.
“Harder,” Lan Wangji insists.
His grip goes tight enough to bruise, and Lan Wangji turns his head so that the sound he makes is muffled in the bedding. It has been so long since his mind went back to this, and yet it still has an undeniable effect on him. The curse recoils from its advance on his heart.
“Yes,” he says when Wei Wuxian doesn’t move. He sets his knees yet wider, spreading himself in invitation. He wants this, wants him, wants him exactly like this so much that he feels he might go mad if he doesn’t have him immediately.
“Lan Zhan,” says Wei Wuxian, his voice breaking. Lan Wangji feels him shift his weight, hears him take a few shaky breaths. It is torture not to see him, but that is half the point. “Okay.”
Lan Wangji’s body goes taut as a bowstring at the blunt press of the head of Wei Wuxian’s cock against his rim. The pressure increases, and Lan Wangji bites his lip at the new, burning stretch of it. It feels so much bigger, so much harder than Wei Wuxian’s careful fingers. He’s wanted this so desperately, so hopelessly, for so long, but he has a moment of fear that it will merely be horrible. Pain, and mortification, and nothing else. But when the head slips through and Wei Wuxian is inside at last, he finds that in the stinging edge of it there is heart-stopping pleasure. Lan Wangji bites his lip so hard he tastes copper, yet still fails to hold back a groan. Wei Wuxian stops. He squeezes Lan Wangji’s wrists.
“Relax,” he commands. “Or I stop.”
Lan Wangji goes practically limp at the tone, the threat. It sounds real, sounds like Wei Wuxian in the height and heat of battle, and though he knows deep down the threat is empty, the feeling of these firm words washing over him all but obliterates the curse.
“Okay,” says Wei Wuxian. Lan Wangji shudders.
Wei Wuxian presses on, torturously slowly, and Lan Wangji is helpless to do anything but heave great, shaking breaths beneath him. He is split apart, shivering and gasping, by degrees. It is unbearable. It is everything.
When finally he feels Wei Wuxian pressed flush against him, his hips flex unconsciously, seeking something, anything, to relieve the ache of his cock, and meeting only air. Wei Wuxian makes an agonized sound.
“Lan Zhan,” he breathes. “You...you... Do you—” he stops himself from asking, and Lan Wangji feels a heady rush of affection. “I have to move, I—”
Pinned and powerless as he is, Lan Wangji does his best to move his hips, to confirm, to demand. Wei Wuxian swears vividly before carefully pulling out the slightest bit, then rolling his hips back against Lan Wangji’s. The overfull press of it is breathtaking. Wei Wuxian does it again, and again, forcing air out of Lan Wangji’s lungs in tight little huffs that almost catch on his vocal chords. Pleasure sparks in fits and starts, unpredictably, at myriad different sensations he could never have imagined. A thumb against a tendon in his wrist. Strong muscles hard against the soft flesh of his inner thighs. The drag of fabric against his nipples as he’s shoved forward on the bed. Everything about his body that he holds private and protected, open to Wei Wuxian and lavished with stimulation. It is overwhelming, but it is not enough. Wei Wuxian’s grip has gone slack.
Lan Wangji moves his arms. “Wei Ying,” he pleads, the rhythm of his words determined by Wei Wuxian’s hips.
Wei Wuxian pauses and brings his other hand down to join the first, wrapping them both more tightly around his wrists, then shifts his weight down onto them. Lan Wangji’s back arches down acutely, pressing his chest harder into the bed. A soft oh escapes his lips at the sensation of not just being held, but being held down by Wei Wuxian. He feels his still-untouched cock begin to leak.
Then Wei Wuxian pulls almost entirely out, only to push back in with a single thrust that fits him snugly against that place that sends lightning through Lan Wangji’s veins. Lan Wangji’s mouth falls open on a shocked moan.
“Lan Zhan, fuck, I can't—I—” Wei Wuxian pants as he struggles to keep up his rhythm.
Lan Wangji writhes, unable to stop his drawn-out sounds as Wei Wuxian drives against his prostate without fail. He is close, so close, between the delicious onslaught of Wei Wuxian’s cock and the immovable weight on top of him, but the curse needs more.
“Harder,” he begs, and it comes out on a series of broken moans, his every syllable turning obscene. “Wei Ying. Please.”
Wei Wuxian leverages his weight against the hold on Lan Wangji’s wrists, and then he is driving down so hard that each thrust knocks Lan Wangji's knees a little farther out from under him. Lan Wangji cries out unintelligible, half-formed words as scorching pleasure crests in a blinding burst that goes on, and on, and on. A violent, full-body tremor rips through him, gathering him tight around Wei Wuxian’s cock. Wei Wuxian lets out a desperate shout and fucks him faster, rough and uneven. Lan Wangji’s orgasm rolls and peaks again, and again, approaching the precipice of pain.
After Wei Wuxian shoves in deep and stays there, quaking with his own climax, Lan Wangji can see and hear again but nearly loses his faculties once more at the indescribable feeling of Wei Wuxian coming inside of him. He clenches his fists and bites his lip on a whimper, as his cock gives a last, painful twitch. Finally, he begins to come down. He is shaking, his breaths fast and too-shallow, his body weak, his mind blank. His straining muscles go lax and he slumps, flat on the bed now from the force of Wei Wuxian’s last thrusts. His oversensitive cock is trapped uncomfortably against the sheets, but he cannot move. After several breaths, Wei Wuxian lets his aching wrists go, braces himself on the bed, and pulls away. Lan Wangji feels tears prick at his eyes, and turns his face into the sheets. He returns moments later, but Lan Wangji still feels the sense of loss.
“Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian says softly. “I’m going to clean you up.”
Lan Wangji shifts, tries to gather himself to save Wei Wuxian the trouble, but his muscles ache, unwilling to move too quickly. His body is weary and his spiritual energy is all but drained by the curse. He feels a warm hand on his back and stops.
“Just rest, Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian says. His voice is soothing, but his hand trembles. “Let me.”
The tears spill over into the bedding, seeds that bloom dampness against Lan Wangji’s cheeks. He loves Wei Wuxian so very much. He has always known he cannot keep him, but he cannot imagine anything other than losing him entirely after this. He cries silently and stays still as Wei Wuxian gently cleans away the mess they’ve made.
“Can you turn?”
Lan Wangji considers refusing. Considers simply pretending to fall asleep, or something else equally as childish, to avoid letting Wei Wuxian see the horrible sadness, the desperate love he feels, plain on his tearstained face. To avoid seeing whatever mortifying thing—obligation, regret, disgust—is surely written on Wei Wuxian’s. But the time has long since passed since he was able to refuse Wei Wuxian anything. Gingerly, eyes closed, he turns over.
"Thank the heavens," Wei Wuxian breathes. "The curse mark is gone, it worked."
It worked. Like an experiment, or a battle plan. Lan Wangji's face burns as Wei Wuxian wipes him off, and his hand comes up reflexively to cover it. The movement must draw Wei Wuxian’s attention there for the first time, for he sucks in a sharp breath and catches Lan Wangji’s arm.
“Lan Zhan, what—?” He cuts off and lets go, sounding distressed. “Did I hurt you? Are you hurt?”
Lan Wangji is sore in several places, but that’s neither Wei Wuxian’s fault nor the reason for his tears. His jaw clenches as he pushes down the lump in his throat. “No,” he croaks.
He feels Wei Wuxian’s fingertips against his face, feels his thumb smooth away the wetness there, and the pain in his chest is almost enough to make him want to check if the curse mark has truly gone.
“Will you look at me?”
That question again, asked so plainly, once again sounds less like a request. More like uncertainty. As if Lan Wangji would ever choose not to look at him. But he is not sure he can, just now. He hesitates.
“Alright,” Wei Wuxian says. His hand and his warmth retreat. “Alright, I’ll leave you. I’m sorry.”
All the air leaves Lan Wangji’s lungs, and he reaches for him, eyes open. Wei Wuxian looks down at the hand grasping his wrist, then up at his face, eyes wide.
“Stay,” Lan Wangji breathes.
It is the one word he has been trying so very hard to keep to himself for as long as Wei Wuxian has been back in this world. He does not mean to say it now. Another tear slips down his cheek.
Wei Wuxian makes a distraught sound and rushes back in to wipe this tear away, too.
“Lan Zhan,” he says, eyes moving over his face as if searching for injuries. “I’ll stay. I’ll—can I—”
“Yes,” Lan Wangji says despite his guilt, not caring at all what he is asking.
Wei Wuxian pulls him close, tugs the blanket over them both, and wraps his arms around him. At some point he has abandoned his red robe, and now there is nothing between them but breath and skin. Lan Wangji’s nose is pressed to his throat, his forehead tucked under his cheek. It feels so right that Lan Wangji could burst with it. Better than anything else in this world, is to be held by Wei Wuxian. It is a shame that he must learn this on the brink of losing him.
“I am...sorry,” he croaks, holding down a sob. “So sorry.”
“Lan Zhan, no,” Wei Wuxian says harshly, his arms tightening their hold. “Don’t you dare. Please. You have nothing to be sorry for. I told you, I...I'm a willing participant.”
"I...was not certain that was real," Lan Wangji admits.
“Oh, Lan Zhan. I swear on...I swear on my nephew’s life,” Wei Wuxian says. “If anything, I should...I should be sorry.” He loosens his hold and lifts an arm as if to let go.
Lan Wangji does sob at that, helplessly turning his whole body further into Wei Wuxian’s. He clenches his fists between them and tries futilely to regain control of himself. “Please,” he says wetly, “don’t.” He means it to apply to both letting go and apologizing. He does not know how to make that clear.
Wei Wuxian settles his arms back around him, at least. “Don’t cry,” he whispers, carding his fingers through Lan Wangji’s messy hair. “I’ll stay as long as you want me.”
Lan Wangji would give anything for this to be true. Emboldened by the bleak certainty that it is his last and only chance, he puts his arms all the way around Wei Wuxian’s middle, and squeezes.
“And when you want me to go, I’ll go. Don’t worry, Lan Zhan. Just tell me what you need.”
Lan Wangji’s heart stumbles painfully in his chest. “I would never ask you to go,” he whispers into Wei Wuxian’s skin.
The fingers in his hair pause. “You don’t have to say that, Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian says. “You’ve been through too much. Think of your own feelings, for once.”
After a few tight breaths of disbelieving silence, Lan Wangji tips his head back to look at him. His exquisite face is uncertain, pained even, as he holds him. Lan Wangji recognizes that expression. From the Burial Mounds, the Jinlintai, Guanyin Temple. The way he hedges and retreats when he thinks he has taken too much. It hits Lan Wangji like a hammer to the head. He never wants to see it directed at himself ever again. He must make sure of it.
“Wei Ying,” he says, feeling as if this is all just another dream, suffused with weakness and now queasy with dread. Each sentence comes out stilted and thick. “I will always want you. But I do not want you to feel obligated to me. To anyone.”
Wei Wuxian’s eyes come up slowly to search his, brow furrowed. Lan Wangji doesn’t know of any more ways to prove it to him. Except. He takes a breath and swallows hard.
“I...I love you,” he says. “I want you with me. But I do not want you unhappy.”
“Lan Zhan…” Wei Wuxian trails off. He looks lost.
“I love you,” Lan Wangji repeats. It is easier each time, the bone-deep relief of it finally hitting and making him dizzy. “I have loved you. I have wanted you, and will always want you.” Embarrassment catches up to him then, and he has to look away. “But I understand if this is...unwelcome. You—”
“Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian cuts him off with a tightening of his arms. He brings one hand up to feel Lan Wangji’s forehead, then sets it under his jaw. He tilts Lan Wangji’s face back up toward his own, and the expression there is...overwhelming. The selfsame lonely hunger Lan Wangji has felt for so long, permeated with desperate hope, awe, trepidation. "Are you...are you sure this isn't some after-effect of the curse? You've been—"
"Wei Ying," says Lan Wangji, not stopping now until it is truly settled between them, for better or worse. "I have wanted you since you broke into my home and we fought on the rooftops. I have loved you since we sent our hopes to the heavens in paper lanterns. I was not cursed then. I have...I have dreamed of you, I have composed music for you, I have played for you every night. I have—"
Wei Wuxian cuts him off with a frantic kiss. Lan Wangji does not remember to breathe. It is very different to be kissed so honestly, to be kissed for loving instead of dying. Wei Wuxian knows him now, in so many more ways than before. And he is kissing him as if to claim them all.
When they break apart, Wei Wuxian looks down, remorseful. "We maybe should have done this part before."
"Perhaps," allows Lan Wangji, though at the moment, taking the measure of things, he can find nothing wanting. It makes him smile.
Wei Wuxian's fingertips trace the shape of it on his lips. "Lan Zhan, I...I should have," his eyes flit up to Lan Wangji's, then back down to his mouth. "I've been so scared of finally chasing you off—" Lan Wangji makes a noise of disapproval, which Wei Wuxian muffles with a firmer press of his fingers. "No, listen. I really thought you'd get tired of me, before and now, even though you tried to tell me you wouldn’t. I tried too hard not to be selfish, and ended up making us both miserable. We could have…. But you have a life. An important one. I didn’t want to interfere or overstay my welcome."
Lan Wangji removes the hand from his mouth. "I could not bear it without you, not again. I came to look for you."
A sharp intake of breath. Eyes shut tight. Fingers laced through his. Lan Wangji wants to remember everything about this moment, when Wei Wuxian says, "I hated leaving you. I just…. It hurt to love you and think you didn't feel the same. I’m sorry."
Lan Wangji's breath, his heart, his blood, all stop. He grips Wei Wuxian’s hand weakly and cannot let go. Wei Wuxian opens his eyes.
Lan Wangji swallows. "You…" His mouth forms the word but no sound comes out.
Wei Wuxian looks mildly alarmed. "I...obviously. I mean. Of course I love you."
Lan Wangji crushes himself against Wei Wuxian, hiding his face between his throat and his shoulder, locking his sore arms around his waist.
“Lan Zhan,” says Wei Wuxian, shellshocked. “Did you really not know? Everyone knows. I thought…I thought I was the only one being dense.”
Lan Wangji shakes his head, still pressed hard into Wei Wuxian. He had not known. He would never have guessed. He cannot quite believe it is true.
“Breathe, Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian says yet again.
Lan Wangji takes a great gulp of air. Wei Wuxian pets his back with firm, sure hands.
“Ah, Lan Zhan, come here,” he says, between kisses to his hair, his temple. “I need to kiss you again, I really need—”
Lan Wangji obliges. He is kissed, and is held, and is kissed. It is languid, and warm, and Lan Wangji feels the thick veil of sleepiness drawing over him despite the upheaval to his worldview. Wei Wuxian loves him. He wants to stay awake forever, does not want to miss a moment of this, but he feels so safe. Comfortable in a new, luxurious way he has never experienced. It lulls his senses. Wei Wuxian slides his hand down his back, to his thigh, and up his side, drawing a ticklish shiver out of him, then noses down below his jaw to suck a kiss there, too. Lan Wangji’s breath catches, and it is the easiest thing to tip back and give him more room. Wei Wuxian crowds in with enthusiasm, sucking and licking his way down his throat.
Lan Wangji sighs. Despite the marrow-deep exhaustion of fighting a curse for a day, he has never in his life felt this good. His fingers tangle in Wei Wuxian’s hair to guide him back to a particularly sensitive spot. When Wei Wuxian happily goes to work there, it sends a shock of heat through his oversensitive, worn-out body—almost enough to wake it. But not quite. His grip tightens in Wei Wuxian’s hair and on his hip. Wei Wuxian hums and settles against his side more heavily, rolling him fully onto his back. The long line of him pressing Lan Wangji into the bed is a revelation. He never wants to be anywhere else. His eyelids flutter open when he feels Wei Wuxian growing hard again.
“Wei Ying,” he whispers into the gray dawn that has begun to fill the room. Night has lifted, and with it the blanket of silence that had covered the little town. Outside, carts rattle and doors slam, but they seem a world away. Disconnected from their private little universe. He slides his hand down from Wei Wuxian’s hip but stops at the border of hair that grows there, hesitant. It’s silly, now, to be unsure. And yet…
“Touch me,” Wei Wuxian breathes. His fingers tighten against Lan Wangji's ribs. “Please. If you want.”
If he wants. “Ridiculous,” Lan Wangji says, but it has no bite. Wei Wuxian smiles against the bruises he’s painting across his skin.
Lan Wangji brushes his fingers down the length of Wei Wuxian’s cock, and Wei Wuxian goes completely still. He wraps his hand around it. It is delicately smooth, and hot, and hardens in his grip. His heart pounds sluggishly, and Wei Wuxian’s humid breaths are quick against his throat. He knows how it feels to have this inside of him, knows what it is to be mercilessly thrown over the edge by that alone. Merely holding it in his hand should feel inconsequential. But Wei Wuxian loves him, and is asking him to touch him, and they are flying out beyond Lan Wangji’s wildest hopes and dreams, now. It is anything but inconsequential.
He rubs his thumb up and down under the head, feeling his way around. Wei Wuxian sucks in a sharp breath, and bends a knee between Lan Wangji's legs to press closer. Lan Wangji sighs sleepily.
"Lan Zhan," Wei Wuxian pants, bringing his hand down to rest low on Lan Wangji's stomach, "do you want…"
Lan Wangji shakes his head and hums a negative. "Tired," he says.
"Okay," Wei Wuxian says. "We can sleep."
Lan Wangji tightens his hand, and Wei Wuxian's hips jerk. "Not yet," he says, smoothing his thumb over the head, through the wetness at the tip. Wei Wuxian groans. "Want to see you."
Lan Wangji moves his hand properly, and Wei Wuxian falls silent. The angle is different, different fingers called on to do different things, and he is too tired to do much anyway, but Wei Wuxian picks up the slack, fucking into his hand, against his hip.
"Lan Zhan," he moans softly, rutting against him. "I...you feel so good. Your hand, I...oh, and you felt so good before, but I didn’t want to...to let myself…”
“I know,” says Lan Wangji, struck by something bittersweet. “It was the same for me.”
Wei Wuxian gasps and nuzzles his cheek. “We should...we should try again some time,” he says, and Lan Wangji’s fist tightens. “Lan Zhan ah, next time, I want, oh, will you fuck me? I want...I've wanted that for so long, will you—"
"Yes," Lan Wangji pants into his hair. He is overcome by how it feels to hold him while he moves this way, to watch him like this. The smooth, golden line of his shoulders, the muscles that work in his arm. His grip on Lan Wangji's shoulder, flexing in time with his hips. It all carries him right to the edge of need, holds him suspended just under the threshold of something his body cannot manage. "I want that. Anything you want, we can—"
"Fuck, like that. Oh, like that, Lan Zhan. I love your hands," he pants. "I want...I want everything with you. I want you to fuck me. I want to fuck you again, however you want, but, I, I want to see you, I just—"
Lan Wangji tugs him by the hair until he can cut off his obscene, wonderful words with his mouth. The kiss is messy, just a wet, open, slide. Perfect for the messy, open way he feels.
Soon, Wei Wuxian is gasping into it, "Oh fuck, Lan Zhan, oh, oh." He cries out, and Lan Wangji gets to watch him go over the edge, gets to feel him spill over his fingers, gets to catch him and hold him tight when it is over.
After a long, treasured moment of just feeling Wei Wuxian's chest rise and fall with his labored breaths, Wei Wuxian lifts his head as if it weighs a million pounds. Lan Wangji knows how he feels. But then he sits up.
"What a mess," he says.
Lan Wangji agrees, but is not certain he cares just now. Wei Wuxian tugs on his wrist. Lan Wangji frowns.
"Come on," Wei Wuxian says. When Lan Wangji makes no move, his tone turns cajoling. He tugs his arm back and forth. "Come on, Lan Zhan, come with your Wei Ying...it'll be worth it, I swear, just two seconds of effort, come on…"
He finishes with a pout. Lan Wangji sighs and, with no small difficulty, sits up. Wei Wuxian grins and pulls him out of bed, holds him up while he wipes the come off him with a pair of discarded trousers, and immediately pushes him into the other bed.
"See?" He says, cuddling in close under the clean blanket. "Worth it."
Lan Wangji can only smile and kiss him again, all the urgency of it spent elsewhere, leaving only tenderness and the desire to be as close as possible behind.
“I love you so much, Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian says against his lips. “I can’t believe…." He sighs. "I want to be with you always.”
“Yes,” Lan Wangji breathes, something winged and free soaring in his chest. He tangles their legs to clutch him closer. “That is all I want.”
“Good,” Wei Wuxian murmurs, but Lan Wangji is already drifting off.
They go back to sleep.
And then, they travel. Together.
Title from "Dream a Little Dream of Me," originally by Andre and Schwandt, most famously released by the Mamas & the Papas.
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