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music from another room

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Blood and bone, muscle and sinew; she was cracked open once, the only time, heart on full display. Rich as garnet, as rubies, she’d bled, something spilling out of her whose value she didn’t recognize and could not name, not at the time.

Lan Wangji has no heart.

She doesn’t ache at the loss, not really. It’s a familiar pain, the emptiness in her chest, an old friend almost.

She misses what she shouldn’t.

Every morning she rises, goes through the ritual of waking up. She brews tea and drinks it, quietly, at the kitchen island. There is the sound of her cup against the counter, her own swallow loud in her ears. There is music playing somewhere, a radio kept on low. Otherwise it is silent, there is no rushing in her ears. Twin jades, she thinks, mouth quirking, carved of stone.

She dresses carefully, never a hair out of place. On her breast, she pins a brooch–garnet, ruby–and moves through the day.

Lan Wangji’s always been heartless, people say, cold. That’s not true. She burned, heat bright and intense at the core of her. She burns still, banked and low.

She walks to work, a library, keeps time with her steps. Finds a rhythm there and in the movement around her. It drowns out what she can’t hear. As she walks, the brooch catches the light. She thinks she sees a figure in black, and something inside her that can’t be her heart lurches and comes to life.

~

She could wear headphones. She doesn’t. In Lan Wangji’s ears, headphones amplify the sound of her breathing, swallowing, chewing. Everything in her head is louder; it makes the silence elsewhere deafening.

At work, there’s a radio in her office, small, out-dated. She doesn’t tune it–the station set long ago–but turns it on low. Her hands shake. What was it this morning? A ghost, a specter, a stranger in black. Not who she’s looking for. Not that she’s looking.

The rest of the day is uneventful.

It rains. She lies in bed and listens to it on the windowpane, in the leaves. Beneath her skin, her ribs creak and groan like trees in a storm, a whole forest-wind tossed inside her.

Lan Zhan, she remembers, and her heart rabbiting away. Rain then, too, a body pressed to hers, blood pumping in her veins. In the shell of her ear, a voice. On the round of her shoulder, teeth. Fingers at the inside of her thigh, between her legs, against her chest. A rushing in her ears, and then: nothing.

She wakes with a start. Somewhere, the sound of a flute.

~

The day is gray, overcast. Lan Wangji walks to work. She stops to get tea this morning, awake too late to brew her own, her night restless.

Standing in line, the world moves around her. The register, voices, tires through puddles, a child shrieking. She turns her head to watch a red face toddler fight against having their face wiped and thinks of A-Yuan. She pulls out her phone to text him–to say what, she isn’t sure–only to stop mid-sentence, mid-word, at the figure that catches her eye through the window. Slim, dressed in black, gone in the crowd that crosses the street.

Lan Wangji stares. She has to be prompted to order.

On the street, she thinks she hears...But it’s nothing, a trick of the wind, her mind ascribing sense where there is none.

She turns a corner, another. Lost in thought, she is untouchable. Her steps beat a tattoo against the pavement. To work, she thinks. To her office. Her ribs ache.

In her office, Lan Wangji sets down her tea and hangs up her coat. There are plants by the window; she waters them. There’s a concerto on the radio–Poulene, she thinks.

Lan Wangji changes the station.

~

The clouds are clearing by the time Lan Wangji leaves work. The walk home is honeyed. Birds sing in the trees. She stops at a street corner, the light red, and touches the brooch. There is something singing there beneath it. Breathing deep, she tastes lotus root.

She turns a corner. She is almost home. A tune catches her ear, distant. It mingles with the birdsong at first, before resolving itself into a series of notes she knows better than any. If she had a heart, if it could beat...

There is a tugging in her chest. She is tired, and she is living. Lan Wangji follows it. This corner, the next, another block and then there is a figure she knows better than any, slim, dressed in black. Her lips are red. Her smile is radiant.

Lan Wangji wants to reach out, fingers pressed to cool wrist. She imagines the heartbeat fluttering there.

~

Wei Ying, she says.

Lan Zhan.

Lan Wangji shivers. There’s a storm in her belly, butterflies swarming in her chest. She wants to touch her. She wants to kiss her. She licks her lips and watches Wei Ying watch her. What do they talk about? What is there to say? They move through the world together, side by side, until the sky is wine dark and the air chill.

Wei Ying’s smile was once sharp as a knife. It cradles Lan Wangji now, corners softened around her. She could stay here forever, she thinks, and knows that is some fault in her. Doesn’t care. She knows who she is and what she wants. Who she’s been waiting for.

Her home has never been so loud. Wei Ying’s laugh resounds. Lan Wangji’s, after years, joins it. There is light within her, and air. She is expansive and expanding. She breathes Wei Ying in, bodies pressed together tight. They’re tangled, the two of them. There’s no getting loose.

~

It’s dark when Lan Wangji wakes. She is alone. The sheets are still warm. There is a rushing in her ears and, somewhere, a flute.