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In the Season of Joy

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There are three chests in the jingshi that have never been opened, at least not since Wei Ying came to live there. He noticed them on his wedding night, for the briefest of moments, standing alone when all the rest of their furniture was covered in candles or red silk, but then his husband had swung him up into his arms and carried him to the bed – to their bed, dressed in red linens, strange and familiar all at once and theirs, in a way it had never been before their marriage. And then he had been very distracted indeed and forgotten all about them.

But now Wei Ying sits on the bed and stares at them with furious concentration, as though he might somehow be able to see through wood if he tries hard enough. He’s sure he could make a talisman to do that, actually – but no. If he lets himself go down that path, he will forget all about the chests again. Wei Ying only remembered they existed at all because he was trying to fetch some papers down from a shelf and nearly tripped over them.

He can’t lose focus. If he stops looking at the chests, he’ll forget they exist again. He’s not sure if it’s some kind of talisman or charm placed upon them to keep prying eyes away or if it’s just his usual terrible memory at play. But soon Lan Zhan will be home, and then he will tell Wei Ying what is in the chests!

The chests are small, made from elm, carved with scenes of mountains and bamboo. It’s very fine work, as befits possessions of one of the beloved sons of the Lan sect. But they’re not remotely Lan-ish at all in their design; the wood stained a bold red, latches and hinges made of dull brass that has started to turn green and black with neglect. The neglect, too, is not like Lan Zhan, who spends what feels like endless amounts of time caring for Bichen and Wangji, almost as much time as he spends caring for Wei Ying.

Precisely as Wei Ying begins to contemplate this pleasant fact, the door slides open, and his husband steps inside.

“Lan Zhan!” Wei Ying says, beaming. He bounds to his feet, attempting to tug the tray from his husband’s hand. “Aiya, Lan Zhan, look at all this! You’re far too good to me. How am I ever going to eat all of this?”

“You will manage,” Lan Zhan says serenely. He does not give up the tray, not until he can place it over their table.

Wei Ying sits in his usual spot, folding his arms and pouting playfully. “Is this your plan, Lan-er-gege? Keep your poor zhangfu here and feed him until he’s too fat to run away?”

Lan Zhan doesn’t dignify this with an answer and instead occupies himself with filling Wei Ying’s bowl. Wei Ying snatches up one of the dishes and does the same to Lan Zhan, and then they fall to eating.

It’s only a few moments before Wei Ying finds himself talking again. “Did you cook for me, Lan Zhan?” At his husband’s murmured affirmative, Wei Ying moans with pleasure. “Lan-er-gege, such a good cook! You were wasted as a cultivator, you know that? You should have been married off as someone’s zhufu. You could keep anyone happy with talents like this!”

“You are too kind,” Lan Zhan says dryly. “I would never presume to compete with a zhufu in any field.”

“That’s fair,” Wei Ying says around a mouthful of tofu – practically marinated in chilli oil because his Lan Zhan loves him – and pours Lan Zhan more tea. “Each and every zhufu we meet on a night hunt seems both delightful and completely terrifying.”

“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan says, slightly pained, “please do not speak with your mouth full.”

Wei Ying swallows his mouthful with a gulp and smiles sheepishly at his husband. “Sorry! It’s only that I wanted to ask you something and now I’ve completely forgotten what it was.”

“Mn,” Lan Zhan says and rests his hand over Wei Ying’s, thumb stroking back and forth against Wei Ying’s wrist. “Take your time.”

Wei Ying abandons his chopsticks and lifts Lan Zhan’s hand to his mouth, kissing his knuckles. “My Lan Zhan... how can I think of anything else when my zhangfu is here?”

Lan Zhan leans across the table to take Wei Ying’s mouth, and all is very nearly lost, but then Wei Ying catches a glimpse of the chests from the corner of his eye and recalls them all at once. 

“Ah!” he says into Lan Zhan’s mouth and then has to spend a few moments coaxing Lan Zhan into releasing him and himself into releasing Lan Zhan. “I remembered!”

“Mn?” 

Lan Zhan does not look like he cares terribly much about what Wei Ying has remembered. His eyes are dark, lips flushed and swollen from Wei Ying’s kisses. He cups Wei Ying’s cheek with one of his hands, and Wei Ying nuzzles into his palm, seeking his warmth.

“The chests,” he manages and kisses Lan Zhan’s palm. “The ones by the wall.”

Lan Zhan hums and takes his hand away from Wei Ying, which seems deeply unfair until Wei Ying recalls his objective. He springs to his feet and takes Lan Zhan’s hands, tugging him to his feet, and guides him towards the chests. The three of them are stacked atop each other in a little pyramid, nestled between two sets of shelves laden with books and scrolls.

“These ones,” Wei Ying says. “I never noticed them before, to be honest – don’t you laugh at me,” he scolds. Lan Zhan’s eyes are crinkling up at the edges, a tiny shift in his expression Wei Ying would never have noticed even a few months ago. “I know, I know, I’m terribly oblivious. Anyway, what’s in them? Am I allowed to know? If you wish to keep your privacy, Lan Zhan, you mustn’t let me bully you about it! We don’t need to know all each other’s secrets, surely—”

“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan interrupts, which is a sure sign that Wei Ying is spiralling beyond the point of usefulness with his nervous chatter.

He kisses Lan Zhan’s cheek in gratitude. Lan Zhan allows this patiently and then says, “They belonged to my mother.”

“What did?” Wei Ying asks, and then, “Oh, the chests? They were your mother’s?”

“Yes.” Lan Zhan kneels down in front of the chests and draws them towards him. “When she died, many of her belongings were – taken. Repurposed, perhaps, or destroyed. My uncle saved a few things for my brother and I.”

“I didn’t think the Lan sect was the type to keep belongings after a death,” Wei Ying says. It’s an effort to sound light and casual. 

“These would have been confiscated at the time of her marriage, or soon after.” Lan Zhan rests a hand on top of the smallest chest, rubbing his thumb back and forth over the rusted latch. “I suppose the elders did not consider them to be her property anymore.” 

He falls silent for a long moment, long enough that Wei Ying kneels down beside him and rests his hand on Lan Zhan’s knee. He presses close to his husband’s side,

“I have not opened them since I first received them,” Lan Zhan says eventually. He leans into Wei Ying, an almost infinitesimal movement that Wei Ying feels in the core of his bones. “I do not recall the contents.”

“Hm!” Wei Ying wraps his arms around Lan Zhan and hugs him close. “Well! Let’s finish dinner, eh, Lan Zhan? And then, if you feel up to it, perhaps we could open one. Only if you want to!”

“Mn,” Lan Zhan replies, and they return to the table. Their dinner has only gone a little bit cold, and Wei Ying thinks it a small price to pay for finally solving the mystery of the unopened chests.

Of course, having a little piece of a larger answer means that Wei Ying’s head immediately begins to spin with all kinds of new questions. Like: what did Lan Qiren think was important for his nephews to keep? What kind of possessions had the last Madam Lan even been permitted, alone in her little house? Had Lan Qiren kept anything for himself or for his own brother? If she had been given the white and blue silk garments of the Lan sect upon marrying in – if those clothes had been considered a loan from the sect and not her own possessions – had those clothes been returned to the general store of sect goods? Were they even now being worn by someone in the Cloud Recesses? Probably not Lan Zhan or Lan Xichen themselves – they were taller than most women and broader in the shoulders – but one of the female disciples, perhaps, or even one of the younger seniors? Was Lan Zhan looking upon something that had once belonged to his mother every day?

He’s so distracted by his wondering that he barely even notices that they’ve finished their meal until Lan Zhan clears the bowls away and sets the tray outside to be collected. Then he hurriedly gathers himself and his thoughts and joins Lan Zhan by the chests.

Lan Zhan chooses the largest of the three, the base of the pyramid. He sets the smaller two aside and lifts the chest onto the table, and then – stops. Stares down at it, as though he’s at a loss, as though he can’t think of how to open it. Wei Ying frowns at the chest, looking for some kind of lock or seal, but there is nothing to obstruct the latch, aside from the greenish rust.

Ah. So it’s an emotional seal, then.

“Lan Zhan,” he says and takes his husband’s hand. “We really don’t have to open it if you don’t want to.”

“No,” Lan Zhan says. Wei Ying is about to cheerfully agree and put the chest back and never speak of it again, but then Lan Zhan goes on: “I would like to. I am just... hesitant.”

“Nervous,” Wei Ying suggests. Lan Zhan grunts, which is essentially confirmation. “Do you want your big strong zhangfu to open it for you, Lan-er-gege? I know most people assume I’m the decorative spouse, but we both know you secretly married me for my muscles.” 

He flexes his arm to show off his non-existent prowess, which has the immediate effect of making Lan Zhan roll his eyes and kiss Wei Ying. Success!

“Mn,” Lan Zhan says when the kiss eventually breaks. Wei Ying, kiss-drunk and a little dizzy, only blinks at him until Lan Zhan clarifies. “I would like you to open it, if you do not object.”

“Of course I don’t object!” Wei Ying presses a smacking kiss to Lan Zhan’s cheek and cracks his knuckles noisily. “Here we go!”

The latch is very stiff, and it takes a few tries before Wei Ying gets it to open. The hinges make a hideous squealing noise as he lifts the lid, but then the chest is open, and Wei Ying sits back, folding his hands tightly in his lap so he won’t be tempted to rifle carelessly through the contents.

Lan Zhan reaches out a hand. It’s trembling a little. Wei Ying curls his fingers around Lan Zhan’s elbow and rests his chin on Lan Zhan’s shoulder, lending whatever pitiful comfort he can offer.

The first thing in the chest is a thin layer of very fine rice paper, and when Lan Zhan carefully lifts it away, it turns out the contents of the chest are wrapped up in yet more paper. Lan Zhan reaches in and withdraws the topmost package. He holds it in his lap for a moment, smoothing his hands over the surface before he opens it. Inside there is a folded piece of fabric, not silk, but cotton dyed a very pale pink. Lan Zhan stands, letting the silk unfold as it falls from his hands, and the shape of it becomes clear; a ruqun, slightly old fashioned, the kind of thing that was very popular in Wei Ying’s parents day. The sleeves lack the excessive drape that would mark it as something an aristocrat would wear; instead, they are cut close to the wrist, the garment of someone who expected to use their hands. The rest of the garment is lavish, though, drapes and folds of fabric that would form a pool around the wearer’s feet wherever they stood or a train behind them when they walked. The garment of a wealthy merchant, perhaps. Someone who might expect to marry into the gentry, even if they weren’t gentry themself.

Lan Zhan wordlessly folds the cloth again and wraps it carefully, reverently, back into the paper. He reaches for the next garment.

Over the next hour, the pair of them wordlessly uncover an entire wardrobe of clothes, not a single one of them in the Lan colours. If these are Madam Lan’s clothes, and Wei Ying has no reason to suspect they weren’t, she was clearly a woman of means and taste. She loved pastels – the pinks and purples of a twilight sky, the green of unfurling leaves in the first blush of spring – and though none of her garments are silk, the linen and cotton and wool are all of the very highest quality, woven so finely they move like water, many of them embroidered with silvery designs.

The package at the very bottom of the chest is the largest of the lot and the heaviest. The colour of the fabric is brighter, rich enough that Wei Ying can see it through the thin paper, even in the darkness of evening in the jingshi. He knows what they will find even before Lan Zhan unwraps it and reveals his mother’s wedding clothes, blazing red and gold.

They aren’t so intricate as Wei Ying would expect for a sect leader’s wife – notably, they lack even the simplest embroidery – but it’s made up for by the amount of gold jewellery and hairpieces, each one also wrapped in its own packet of paper, settled in amongst the layers and layers of robes. Besides, traditionally a bride would embroider her own wedding garments, and from what Wei Ying has heard of the story, it does not seem like Madam Lan had been given much in the way of notice about her impending nuptials.

It isn’t the first time that thinking too hard about Lan Zhan’s parents has made Wei Ying’s stomach churn, but there’s something much worse about it now, sitting here with his own husband, who lets Wei Ying wear his own clothes in whatever colour he pleases, who would never require Wei Ying to put all his things away in a box.

Lan Zhan re-wraps the wedding clothes with the same consideration he had given to every other garment. He places each package back into the chest, one by one – the red robes first, then all the others in reverse order, until he finally lays the pink ruqun on top. He hesitates, then sets his hands back in his lap. It feels right for Wei Ying to reach out and close the lid, ignoring the screeching of the hinges. He closes the latch and sits back, studying Lan Zhan’s face closely.

“Are you all right, Lan Zhan?” he asks when the silence has dragged on long enough to concern him.

“Mn,” Lan Zhan says. He takes Wei Ying’s hand without looking at him, interweaving their fingers. “I am glad you were here with me.”

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying says desperately, “you can’t say things like that! What am I meant to do – mmfmfm hmm,” he finishes, as Lan Zhan claims his mouth in a bruising kiss.

They try their best to stumble in the direction of the bed, but they don’t quite make it, and Lan Zhan takes Wei Ying right there on the floor, frantic and wild and clawing, as though Lan Zhan can’t get close enough. Wei Ying often finds himself feeling the same way and welcomes it with open arms and sympathy.

They do manage to crawl up onto the bed afterwards and spend a long time lying together, legs tangled and arms around each other, Wei Ying’s mouth pressed against Lan Zhan’s forehead. Lan Zhan does insist that they clean up before they sleep, but even his indomitable spirit is somewhat drained by their adventure with the chest and subsequently fucking on the floor, so it’s little more than a cursory wipe with a warm washcloth before Lan Zhan passes out.

Wei Ying still hasn’t adjusted to the sleep schedule of the Cloud Recesses – might never adjust, if he has his way – and so he stays awake for a long time, stroking Lan Zhan’s hair and wondering what might be in the other two chests.

༻✧༺

Wei Ying inquires, as delicately as he knows how, as to whether Lan Zhan wants to open another chest the next day before Lan Zhan leaves to attend to his duties. Lan Zhan looks thoughtful for a long time and then kisses Wei Ying’s forehead.

“I love you,” he says firmly and leaves.

Wei Ying is not yet a master of deciphering Lan Zhan’s stoicism, but he thinks that might be a no.

He puts the largest chest back where he found it and sets the next two on top of it. Then he does his best to forget all about them. He teaches the very smallest children their first characters, bothers the granny who rules over the kitchens until she tells him what Lan Zhan’s favourite sweet was as a child, and then goes to spend some time with Lan Qiren, doing his best to be quiet and respectful as Lan Qiren instructs him in the day-to-day management of the Cloud Recesses. Much of Lan Qiren’s teachings are things Wei Ying is already familiar with, as the former head disciple of Lotus Pier, but the Lan do things differently from the Jiang, and the duties Wei Ying will have as the acting-sect-leader’s wife are slightly different, so he soaks up the knowledge as best he can.

It helps that Lan Qiren has clearly decided that, since Wei Ying and Lan Zhan are officially married, Wei Ying is part of the Lan inner family now. The difference between stern laoshi Lan Qiren and loving shugong Lan Qiren is – well, it’s actually fairly subtle, in that Lan Qiren is every bit as strict and fussy and, if anything, even more likely to argue with Wei Ying about his heretical ideas. It’s just that ever since the wedding, Lan Qiren hasn’t said so much as a single word to indicate he doesn’t think Wei Ying is good for Lan Zhan or even hinted that he wants Wei Ying to leave. If anything, he seems to be doing his best to fully enmesh Wei Ying in the life of the sect. 

A year ago, Wei Ying would not have been able to reconcile Lan-laoshi with the uncle who put his hated sister-in-law’s belongings aside so his nephews would have something to remember her by. Now, as Lan Qiren carefully walks Wei Ying through the intricate tangle of merchant contracts that keep the Cloud Recesses in rice and tofu, Wei Ying can see it.

“Lan-shugong,” he says, interrupting Lan Qiren mid-sentence, “you’re a wonderful uncle. Lan Zhan and Lan-da-ge were very lucky to have you.”

Lan Qiren stares at Wei Ying with an expression that would look like outright rage if Wei Ying hadn’t been having these moments with him for a while now. He sputters, then manages, “You!”

“Ah! No interrupting in the Cloud Recesses!” Wei Ying makes a little bow. “Please forgive me, Lan-shugong! I promise I was paying attention. It just struck me all at once.” 

Lan Qiren frowns at Wei Ying, as if he’s waiting for the other shoe to drop – not entirely unfair on his part since Wei Ying’s best efforts haven’t been quite enough to stop himself from causing minor disruption on a semi-regular basis – but when Wei Ying contrives to stay quiet and look attentively at the pages in front of Lan Qiren, he seems to relax.

“Well,” he says gruffly, “Wei-zhinuxu is an adequate nephew, I suppose. Now, pay attention! I don’t tell you about these things for my health!”

Wei Ying beams at him and does his best.

༻✧༺

A week later, Wei Ying comes back to the jingshi with his head full of numbers and finds Lan Zhan waiting for him, seated at the table, with the second-largest chest in front of him.

“Oh,” Wei Ying says, every single thing he’s ever learned falling cleanly out of his head. “Lan Zhan! I didn’t know you wanted to...” he trails off, dropping to his knees by his husband’s side – ow, he’s really not as sprightly as he used to be – and leaning in close. “Do you want me here?”

“Mn.” Lan Zhan kisses Wei Ying’s forehead, his temple, his ear. 

He takes Wei Ying’s hand between both of his, strong fingers digging into all the places where Wei Ying’s hand aches from holding a brush for hours on end. Wei Ying sighs and slumps into Lan Zhan’s chest as Lan Zhan works him over, then offers up his other hand for similar attention. Lan Zhan dutifully takes it.

“What do you think will be in it?” Wei Ying asks as Lan Zhan works the knots out of his palm. “More clothing? Maybe some art? Oooh, maybe treasure! Is this your dowry, Lan Zhan? Are you about to make your beloved zhangfu rich?”

“I doubt it,” Lan Zhan says, and kisses Wei Ying’s knuckles. “Money would have gone to the sect.”

“Hmm,” Wei Ying says. “I don’t like that you derail all my fantasies with your logic, Lan-er-gege. Can’t you let me fulfil my dream of unearthing fabulous riches and running away to live as a bandit king with my beautiful bride?”

“You must be content with being the beautiful bride of a fabulously wealthy cultivator,” Lan Zhan says, which makes Wei Ying cackle and squirm and blush so hard his face might fall off. 

None of this seems to make Lan Zhan the least bit repentant for his shamelessness, but he does kiss the top of Wei Ying’s head, and that is a victory on its own.

“All right, all right,” Wei Ying grumbles when he’s firmly cuddled against Lan Zhan’s side. “Let’s open it!”

Lan Zhan gestures as the chest, and Wei Ying very generously abandons the warmth of his husband’s arms to lean forward and open the box. Just like the previous one, the latch and hinges are green and greasy with age and rust, and it takes a little effort to open them, but in no time at all, Wei Ying has the lid lifted, and the contents revealed.

“Oh,” he says weakly. “I was joking about the treasure!”

The chest has an insert made up of little sections, and each of those sections contains pieces of jewellery – combs, hairpins, brooches, other things Wei Ying can’t quite discern the function of just yet. The whole horde of it glitters in pink and purple and green. Lan Zhan reaches forward and lifts the entire insert out, revealing the compartment beneath, which is filled with thin pieces of sheer fabric – sashes, belts, shawls, each one delicate as a dragonfly’s wing. Instead of being wrapped into individual parcels, these have been rolled up into cylinders and laid down in a bed of paper. Wei Ying can’t fault Lan Qiren for that; it would have been terribly fiddly work.

His eyes are drawn back to the insert, to the dozens of tiny little square compartments of jewellery. 

“May I?” he asks.

Lan Zhan inclines his head. “Whatever you wish.”

Wei Ying immediately lifts out the nearest piece of jewellery. He imagines it might be some kind of hair ornament – a long dangling pendant, hung from a hook that he imagines must sit in a bun or a braid or around the stem of a hair stick. He’s only a little disappointed to discover that the purple is coloured glass, not any kind of jewel. It’s still a beautiful piece of work, and there are two of them, probably meant to be worn symmetrically, sitting in their compartment together...

Wei Ying nearly drops the piece he’s holding. 

“Lan Zhan,” he says, very slowly, “did – did your mother—” He looks around, even though he knows full well there’s no one in the room, and leans in close to Lan Zhan, pitching his voice to a stage whisper. “Did your mother have pierced ears?

Lan Zhan’s mouth twitches, and his eyes crinkle up, which is essentially his version of laughter. Wei Ying grins at him, well pleased.

“Why do you ask?” Lan Zhan asks.

Wei Ying offers him the piece of jewellery he found and its twin. “I thought this was for hair at first, but I’ve seen something like this before. It goes through the... um, the—” He can’t think of a better word than ear hole, so he taps his own ear lobe.

Lan Zhan frowns at the jewellery – at the earrings – and takes one from Wei Ying, lifting it up to examine in the light. “I remember these.”

“You do?” Wei Ying wraps his hands around Lan Zhan’s wrists, gentle against his fluttering pulse.

“Mn.” Lan Zhan draws his hands towards him until they rest in the cradle of Wei Ying’s palms. Wei Ying squeezes, and Lan Zhan continues.. “She wore them whenever we visited. It would have been… controversial. She waited until we had arrived and the door was closed to put them on.”

“A secret scandal,” Wei Ying says. He bends down to kiss Lan Zhan’s knuckles. “I know she must have been very beautiful, since she had you, but it’s clear you got your shocking disregard for the rules from her as well.”

Lan Zhan blushes, and Wei Ying has to kiss his hands some more, his heart bursting with tenderness for his husband.

“I,” Lan Zhan says and swallows hard. Wei Ying presses one last kiss to Lan Zhan’s thumb and pauses, peeking up at his husband’s face. “I had always. Thought.”

Wei Ying bites his lip and sits up, shifting forward so he can rest his face against his husband’s shoulder. Sometimes it’s easier for Lan Zhan to say things if he isn’t being watched.

Sure enough, Lan Zhan swallows again, clears his throat, and says, “I have often wondered whether... I might... resemble her more.”

“Oh?” Wei Ying asks, so entirely focused on keeping his voice light that he doesn’t quite manage to parse what Lan Zhan is saying.

“When I first received these.” Lan Zhan sets the earrings back in the box and folds his hands in his lap, knuckles paling with the pressure as he twines his fingers together. “I recall that I... considered... wearing them.”

“Oh,” Wei Ying says, a curl of delight forming in his throat and making his voice go breathy and soft. “Did you think about piercing your ears, Lan Zhan? You would look so pretty.”

“Mn,” Lan Zhan says. He’s blushing, the tips of his ears turning delicately pink. Wei Ying has to hide his eyes in Lan Zhan’s shoulder again before he gives in to the urge to bite them. “My mother was. Very pretty. I wished to – emulate her.”

“I see,” Wei Ying says, a little muffled with his lips pressed against the cloth of Lan Zhan’s robes.

Lan Zhan makes a discontent sound, and suddenly Wei Ying is being lifted, carried, pressed down into their bed on his back. He laughs, smacking at Lan Zhan’s chest.

“Aiya, Lan-er-gege, such a brute! Who would’ve thought my beautiful bride could be so rough with me, hm?”

It’s nothing Wei Ying hasn’t said before, but as he says it now, the blush at the tips of Lan Zhan’s ears flares and spreads all the way to his cheeks.

“Did you like that, Lan Zhan?” Wei Ying asks. 

He pushes himself up, and Lan Zhan retreats, perching on the end of the bed with his back to Wei Ying. Wei Ying kneels behind his husband, hands slipping into Lan Zhan’s hair and easing the hairpieces out, easing out any tangles, arranging it to lay smooth and sleek over one of Lan Zhan’s shoulders.

This is not Lan Zhan’s don’t-do-that posture, Wei Ying can tell. He thinks it might be Lan Zhan’s I-want-to-play-a-game-but-I’m-feeling-shy posture, which comes out only rarely. For the most part, Lan Zhan is absolutely shameless about suggesting things they could try.

Lucky for Lan Zhan, all the things that make him clam up are things Wei Ying can say with absolute impunity.

“Lan-jiejie,” he suggests, as a start.

Lan Zhan shivers, a delicate ripple of tension that seems to start at his hairline and vanish under his collar. Wei Ying presses a kiss to the vulnerable curve of bone that appears as Lan Zhan dips his head forward. He breathes in, draws the scent of Lan Zhan in, breathes out against his skin.

“Lan-guniang...”

“Lan-furen,” Lan Zhan says sharply, head coming up. “I am – I am a married woman.”

“I see!” Wei Ying grins into Lan Zhan’s skin. Something prickles under his skin, a slow build of excitement as the shape of Lan Zhan’s desire unfurls before him. Thrilled and reckless with it, he crowds up against Lan Zhan’s back, hands finding the delicate silk sash at his waist. “Lan-furen, surely you shouldn’t be alone with a servant like this. Wouldn’t your zhangfu have something to say?”

He kisses Lan Zhan’s throat, just over the pulse, at the same moment he jerks Lan Zhan’s sash open. Lan Zhan’s throat moves under Wei Ying’s lips as he gasps.

“So shameless, Lan-jiejie,” Wei Ying mumbles, nipping Lan Zhan’s earlobe. His hands slip under his husband’s open robes, finding bare skin with the ease of long practice. “Anyone would think you wanted—”

He doesn’t get a chance to say much more because Lan Zhan turns around in his arms and kisses him, frantic and messy and searing. Wei Ying shifts back on the bed just in time to catch Lan Zhan as he scrambles into Wei Ying’s lap, straddling him and grinding down hard.

“Beautiful,” Wei Ying says, whenever he can pull away from Lan Zhan’s lips for more than a moment. “My Lan Zhan, my Lan-furen, so lovely, such a pretty lady—”

Lan Zhan makes a desperate sound, face flaming red, and buries his face in Wei Ying’s neck. Wei Ying makes a sympathetic noise and kisses Lan Zhan’s ear.

“I know, I know, it’s so much, isn’t it? Here, I have you, let me…”

Lan Zhan makes a bitten-off cry as Wei Ying finally gets a hand around his cock, and all it takes after that is Wei Ying kissing his ear again and whispering good girl against his fever-hot skin.

༻✧༺

The third box is almost a letdown after that. It contains cosmetics, all of them in ceramic pots thickly covered in dust, and all of them well past any use. Some are dried into a useless grey powder, and others have clearly mouldered while they were closed up. Wei Ying and Lan Zhan spend an evening scrubbing out the sad remains and discover that the pots, at least, are salvageable. They’re gorgeously painted with plum flowers, and once the last traces of mildew are wiped away, it becomes clear that they’re perfectly serviceable, without any cracks or chips that might compromise the contents. If the box had been opened after a year, instead of after nearly two decades, the contents might well have been saved.

“Not to worry, Lan-jiejie,” Wei Ying says and presses a smacking kiss to his husband’s cheek. “Your zhangfu still thinks you’re beautiful! Flawless, even without painting your face!”

Lan Zhan makes a soft sigh, which is essentially his version of rolling his eyes, and patiently waits as Wei Ying peppers his face with kisses.

They set the jars out on a folded strip of cotton on a shelf to let them dry, and Wei Ying doesn’t think of them again until Nie Huaisang comes to the Cloud Recesses. They take lunch in the jingshi, giving them an excuse to gossip over spicy peanuts and let Lan Zhan recover from the headache that usually arises from dealing with Huaisang in his capacity as Chief Cultivator.

“When did you get so interested in fashion, Wei-xiong?” Huaisang asks from behind his fan once they’ve both consumed a truly ridiculous number of spicy peanuts on top of their midday meals. “I hadn’t thought you were the type.”

Wei Ying stares blankly at him until Huaisang’s eyes flick pointedly to the row of little jars and pots – now displayed in a neat row with their lids on because Lan Zhan is lovely like that – and laughs. “They’re not mine. Truly, Nie-xiong!”

“I knew Lan-xiandu’s complexion was too good to be unaided,” Huaisang says. “It all makes sense now.”

“Nooooo,” Wei Ying whines. “All the jars are empty anyway. Why are you making a fuss?”

“I’m just curious, Wei-xiong! Is that such a crime?” Huaisang draws his fan away from his face so he can give Wei Ying the full force of his arched eyebrows. “And what exactly is Lan-xiandu doing with empty cosmetic jars?”

“They belonged to his mother,” Wei Ying says. 

He hesitates – only after he’s said it, which is not at all useful – but he doesn’t think it’s a secret, precisely. It’s just... private. Tender, like a wound.

To his credit, Huaisang softens. “I never heard very much about the late Lan-furen,” he admits. “I understand she was... unwell.”

“It’s complicated,” Wei Ying offers, since that’s the easiest thing he can say, and also the most he can say without feeling like an absolute heel. “Most of her things were buried with her, of course, but we found a few things lingering in storage recently, and – well, we’re not quite sure what to do with them, really!”

“I see,” Huaisang says. He looks at the jars, speculative, and closes his fan with a brisk snap. “Well, Wei-xiong, if you’d like something to put in all those pretty jars, instead of leaving them empty and useless on the shelf, you just say the word, won’t you?”

Wei Ying laughs it off, and Huaisang lets him, and they turn to other topics. Later, though, once Huaisang has finished with Lan Zhan for the day, Wei Ying grabs him by the elbow and tows him towards the guest quarters.

“Did you mean it?” he asks, pitching his voice low.

“Of course, Wei-xiong,” Huaisang says. He doesn’t even ask what Wei Ying means. He sounds quite comfortable, actually, even though Wei Ying is probably gripping his elbow far too tightly. “Just say the word. And let me know what colours you’d like.”

Wei Ying lights up with the possibilities. He has to blink hard several times to keep his mind from running away with him entirely and nearly walks into a tree, saved only by Huaisang’s timely intervention.

“Should I take this as a yes, Nie-gege, please buy me pretty makeup?” Huaisang asks. 

“Something to suit Lan Zhan’s complexion,” Wei Ying says hoarsely. 

Huaisang hums and pats Wei Ying’s shoulder. “Leave it with me, Wei-xiong. I know just what you need.” 

༻✧༺

The day after Nie Huaisang leaves, Wei Ying walks into the jingshi and finds Lan Zhan wearing an unfamiliar set of robes. 

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Yin says, beguiled and stunned and achingly hard in his robes in an instant.

Lan Zhan flees behind the privacy screen.

It’s too late, though –Wei Ying has already seen him. Wei Ying may never get the image out of his mind. Lan Zhan, dressed in blush-pink silk over pale green inner robes, his hair twisted up and held in place with one of his mother’s hairpins. He looks so soft.

Wei Ying doesn’t chase him because he’s fairly sure that Lan Zhan will come to his senses in a moment and realise that everything he does delights Wei Ying beyond the telling of it, but just in case he calls after his husband. “No, please, don’t hide! You look so beautiful.” 

He cocks his head, listening. Lan Zhan isn’t moving, which means he isn’t changing back into his usual clothes. 

Wei Ying lets his voice go a little hoarse with the hunger raging through the tangle of his guts, lets Lan Zhan hear how sincerely he means it. “My lovely qizi. Lan-jiejie.”

“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan says, barely a sound at all, more an exhale given shape.

“Won’t you let me see you?” 

Wei Ying wants, wants to touch, wants to taste, wants to crawl into Lan Zhan’s beautiful mind and figure out what’s going on in there, wants to give Lan Zhan every single thing he’s ever wanted and things he didn’t even know to want at all. He’ll settle for seeing him, though, if that’s all Lan Zhan can give. They have time for the rests, as long as Lan Zhan doesn’t shut him out now.

Slowly, with the shy halting steps of a deer stepping out of the undergrowth, Lan Zhan emerges from behind the privacy screen.

“You look stunning,” Wei Ying says immediately. He resists the urge to clutch his chest and wail and throw himself onto the bed, pleading for mercy; this is important. “Like – like a spring day, like... uh… you know, I’m no good at extemporaneous poetry, Lan Zhan. Won’t my beautiful qizi take some pity? I’ll recite anything she likes—”

“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan says. His ears are burning red, but some of the brittleness has gone out of his shoulders. 

Wei Ying takes it for an invitation and crosses the room in three strides, going to his knees in front of Lan Zhan and sliding his hands up under his skirts.

“Pretty jiejie,” he murmurs and pushes the layers of silk out of the way so he can press a wet kiss to Lan Zhan’s calf.

Lan Zhan shudders in his grip. Wei Ying flexes his fingers against the backs of Lan Zhan’s thighs and drags his mouth upwards, torturously slow, switching legs every so often for an excuse to go back down and start over. By the time he reaches Lan Zhan’s inner thighs, he’s almost entirely hidden under Lan Zhan’s pretty pink robes, except for where Lan Zhan has taken two fistfuls of Wei Ying’s hair in his hands. Lan Zhan uses his grip to drag Wei Ying in closer, and Wei Ying mouths wetly at the thin linen separating Lan Zhan’s cock from his tongue. He takes mercy when Lan Zhan’s thighs begin to tremble, shoving the last undergarments aside and taking Lan Zhan’s cock down his throat as best he can.

“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan says. 

He sounds really desperate, poor thing. Wei Ying sucks hard and swallows a few times, and Lan Zhan is coming within minutes, fucking Wei Ying’s face with a few short, brutal strokes before he collapses completely. Wei Ying has to grab his husband by the hips to keep him from collapsing onto the floor and scrambles to get out from under the skirts and stand up.

“Was that good, Lan-furen?” he asks.

Lan Zhan, winded and wheezing, just slumps into Wei Ying’s arms. Wei Ying laughs and bullies him over to the bed.

When Lan Zhan recovers enough for round two, he shoves Wei Ying’s face down into the pillows and takes him from behind with cool disdain, informing Wei Ying in haughty tones that most men don’t enjoy losing sword fights with their wives, but Wei Ying is, as always, clearly exceptional. Wei Ying whimpers and rocks back into it, clawing frenetically at the sheets, and finds himself oddly consumed by the fantasy of Lan Zhan, Lan-furen, forcing him into the dirt with a sword at his throat, and then maybe stepping on him a bit. Lan Zhan shoves him down harder and fucks into him with dirty grinding strokes until Wei Ying comes like a geyser.

All in all, it’s a splendid evening. 

༻✧༺

Lan Zhan continues to explore in the privacy of their home. He doesn’t wear his mother’s clothes – he and Wei Ying seem to be in unspoken agreement that it might make things weird if he did – but he quietly orders a range of undeniably feminine silk garments from discreet tailors in Caiyi and models them for Wei Ying. Wei Ying, in turn, gets a lot better at making sure he doesn’t accidentally destroy the garments when he is inevitably overcome by Lan Zhan’s appeal. 

Nie Huaisang comes through on his promise of cosmetics a few weeks later and even includes a couple of pamphlets on the latest fashions. That’s a few enjoyable weeks, too; Wei Ying carefully painting Lan Zhan’s lips cherry red and Lan Zhan immediately ruining his paint by smearing it all across Wei Ying’s body.

It becomes clear soon enough that this isn’t going to be enough to satisfy Lan Zhan for long.

It’s as if that first night, dressing in those pink silk robes, has woken something in Lan Zhan, some long-buried hunger neither of them had been aware of, and now it’s grown to something utterly insatiable. Wei Ying loves it. He’s all too happy to feed it whenever it appears, whether that’s painting his husband’s face or winding silk belts around his husband’s pretty little waist. His husband, who is also, at least for a little while every day, his wife.

So he makes a few quiet preparations, and when he’s ready, he sits Lan Zhan down and makes him an offer.

“Let’s go to Qinglong Town tomorrow,” he says. 

Lan Zhan – currently Lan-furen, elegantly coiffed with a sprig of jasmine flowers in his hair – looks up from his qin and tilts his head, inviting Wei Ying to elaborate. 

Wei Ying beams at him and starts listing items on his fingers. “You don’t have any meetings. It’s far enough away from Gusu that no one will recognise you, and a big enough town that no one will care about strangers. It’s got a market full of textile merchants stopping on their way down the river. And,” he finishes, spreading his hands in a dramatic gesture, “I want to take my beautiful qizi out and buy pretty things for her!”

The tips of Lan Zhan’s ears turn wonderfully pink, and Wei Ying has to creep over and attend to them with loud smacking kisses that make Lan Zhan screw up his nose until Wei Ying kisses that too. Then they’re both distracted for a moment, Lan Zhan tilting his head back and Wei Ying bending almost double so they can kiss very nearly upside down.

“I would like that,” Lan Zhan says when they manage to draw back from each other.

 He sounds composed, but his eyes are very dark, and his ears are still red as ever. Wei Ying kisses his forehead, his nose again, the tip of his chin.

“I want Lan-furen to have whatever she wants,” he declares grandly. This is the kind of declaration that would often lead to them stumbling towards the nearest flat surface, but for now, he just sinks to his knees behind Lan Zhan and wraps his arms around his wife, forehead pressed to the back of Lan Zhan’s neck. “And so, if there’s anything she wants, she should tell me! Nothing would bring me more pleasure.”

There’s a comfortable silence for a moment, broken only by the soft rustle of silks as Lan Zhan sinks back into Wei Ying’s embrace. Wei Ying, though, has learned all the many qualities of Lan Zhan’s silence, and this is a pensive one. There’s something Lan Zhan is thinking about. He waits for it and resists the urge to distract his wife with more kisses to his long, elegant neck. It’s truly unfair how beautiful Lan Zhan is, regardless of whether he’s Wei Ying’s husband or wife.

“I would like… two things,” Lan Zhan says eventually. 

Wei Ying tries not to seem too obviously triumphant and instead makes a soft enquiring noise into the robes near Lan Zhan’s shoulder.

“I would like,” Lan Zhan says, sounding very nearly shy about it, “to be called Wei-furen. While we are in Qinglong.”

Wei Ying whimpers. “Lan Zhan, you can’t – I mean – that’s – yes, of course, anything, but warn me next time.”

“My apologies,” Lan Zhan says, dry as winter air. “I had thought the context was sufficient warning.”

“Awful creature,” Wei Ying mumbles and kisses Lan Zhan’s cheek. “And the second thing?”

Lan Zhan opens his mouth and closes it again, which is unusual enough to make Wei Ying sit up and take notice. He tries not to be too obvious about it, but Lan Zhan probably notices. Lan Zhan always notices Wei Ying.

“If,” Lan Zhan says, hesitating over each word, “and only if Wei Ying does not think it would be… too much…”

Wei Ying bites his lip and sets his chin on Lan Zhan’s shoulder, resisting the urge to shake Lan Zhan until the words fall out or screech what under the heavens could possibly be too much after that thing I let you do with Bichen?!

“I would like to have my ears pierced,” Lan Zhan finishes in a rush. 

His hands twitch as though he wants to cover his face with his sleeves, but then he remembers his dignity and they settle in his lap. Wei Ying loves him so much.

“Oh, is that all?” Wei Ying asks. “I thought Lan-jiejie was going to ask for something scandalous. Of course I’ll pierce her ears for her!”

It is pretty scandalous, actually, and Wei Ying can’t entirely suppress the horrified delight shivering along his nerves. He touches Lan Zhan’s earlobe – perfectly unmarked, as it always ought to be – and kisses the skin just behind it.

It’s not like they haven’t broken all sorts of taboos, separately and together. Wei Ying was running around with an army of corpses for the middle years of their acquaintance! But there’s something about the fact that Lan Zhan wants it, that Lan Zhan has a secret, shameful desire that only Wei Ying knows, that only Wei Ying can help him fulfil, that explodes into an inferno somewhere in the darkest parts of Wei Ying’s brain, the old instincts he tries his best to ignore. The parts of him that are always clawing, scrabbling, for more and more ways to show the world that Lan Zhan belongs to him, and he belongs to Lan Zhan.

“Should we do it now?” Wei Ying asks, since saying any of that out loud is completely out of the question but also inevitable if he doesn’t say something else instead.

“No,” Lan Zhan says. “In the morning, before we leave.” He touches his own earlobe, a gesture that almost looks protective from this angle. “I will have to heal them when we return.”

Wei Ying hums in agreement and squeezes his beautiful wife tightly to his chest. “But you’ll be so pretty while you have them. And it’s not like we can’t do it again whenever you like!”

He’s not quite sure which part of that makes Lan Zhan finally twist around and clamber into Wei Ying’s lap, but he’s also not terribly interested in interrogating it while Lan Zhan’s clever hands are busily divesting Wei Ying of all his clothes, so he lets it go.

 ༻✧༺

In the morning, they kneel on the bed together, still in their white sleeping clothes. Lan Zhan eases his hair over his shoulder, and Wei Ying arms himself with clean silver needles and a pair of Lan Zhan’s mother earrings.

“Are you ready?” he asks.

Lan Zhan doesn’t quite roll his eyes, but the way he looks at Wei Ying conveys about the same thing. Wei Ying snorts.

“That’s my Lan-er-gege,” he says. “Never afraid of a little pain!” And then, before he can panic and talk himself out of it, he puts the needle through Lan Zhan’s ear.

It takes longer to go through than he expects, although perhaps that’s just his determination to be accurate, and once it’s through, he isn’t quite sure what to do to finish the job. He settles on taking the needle back out and replacing it with the earring, a process which makes Lan Zhan flinch minutely where he hadn’t even seemed to notice the needle. A single bead of blood forms at the back of Lan Zhan’s earlobe, and Wei Ying blots it away absently with his sleeve before realising that’s probably not how he ought to be treating what is, technically, an open wound. Even if it is only very small.

“Next ear,” he says instead, trying not to sound as nervous as he is. He mostly sounds like he has a frog in his throat. 

Lan Zhan tilts his head to give Wei Ying better access to his other ear. Wei Ying picks up his second needle.

This time, he expects the resistance. What he’s not expecting is the way Lan Zhan’s jaw softens, just minutely, as he pushes the needle through. Nor is he prepared for the faint sight that eases out of Lan Zhan’s lips, barely there at all. Wei Ying swallows hard and puts the second earring in, careful this time.

“There you go,” he murmurs. He pauses for just long enough to set the needles aside so they won’t get lost in the bedsheets and rests his hands on Lan Zhan’s shoulders. “How does it feel?”

“Mn,” Lan Zhan says, not quite dreamily, but not not-dreamy, either. “Good.”

“I have the most beautiful qizi,” Wei Ying says, because it’s true. In the absence of a better option, he gathers another bead of blood on his sleeve. “Will you let me do your hair, Wei-furen?”

Lan Zhan shudders all over, which Wei Ying takes as a yes.

Naturally, Lan Zhan has already combed his hair out to a perfect fall of silk, but Wei Ying combs it again anyway, for an excuse to touch it. He gathers it up into a high tail and carefully shapes it into the neat bun of a married woman. When he’s satisfied with the shape, he starts adding ornaments.

Lan Zhan’s mother had been fond of flowers, especially plum flowers, if her collection of hair pins are anything to judge by. Wei Ying tries very hard not to give in to excessive ornamentation, but even so, by the time he’s done, Lan Zhan is practically wearing a crown of flowers.

Then it’s time to paint Lan Zhan’s face, which is a pleasure in itself. Wei Ying takes his time. Lan Zhan’s skin is already so perfect he barely needs any powder at all, but Wei Ying makes every stroke perfect as he lines Lan Zhan’s eyes in black, as he paints his lips red, as he darkens his brows, as he dusts pink onto the apples of his cheeks. He even paints a simple, three-petal huadian on Lan Zhan’s forehead, each stroke as delicate as he can make it. Lan Zhan opens his eyes and watches as Wei Ying puts the final touches on his face.

“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan says, low and dark.

“Lan-jiejie,” Wei Ying says and offers up the polished bronze mirror. “I know it’s tempting, but don’t go ruining all my hard work!”  

Whatever Lan Zhan sees in the mirror seems to steal the words from his mouth. Wei Ying takes advantage of Lan Zhan’s distraction to put away the cosmetics and the handful of unused hair ornaments and also to lay out Lan Zhan’s robes for the day.

 ༻✧༺

Qinglong has more in common with Caiyi than Wei Ying would have suspected; the main distinction is the size of the crowd. There are a handful of cultivators from local minor sects wandering around, but no one they know. Wei Ying is fairly sure seeing the Chief Cultivator from somewhere in a crowded hall does not make one qualified to pick out Wei-furen on the street.

It’s a truly clear day, an oddity in a season that has so far been full of soggy grey skies and sullen rain. The sunlight scatters across Lan Zhan’s painted face and clings to his jewellery, lighting him up as he walks carefully on Wei Ying’s arm. He’d found a pair of yuanbao shoes somewhere and decided to wear them out today, despite having absolutely no need to be even taller than he already is. Wei Ying will admit the oddly shaped heel does give Lan Zhan’s walk an intriguing sway and also lift the hem of his lovely skirts safely away from the dirt. He will also admit that he doesn’t at all mind the way Lan Zhan needs to take Wei Ying’s arm repeatedly to keep his balance, even though they’re in a public place where anyone could see them. In fact, he really can’t find much to mind about the shoes at all, except that he didn’t think of getting them for Lan Zhan himself.

Lan Zhan is so beautiful, and Wei Ying’s work on his face so flawless, that no one seems to register him as a man at all, even though his shoulders are certainly broader than those of the average woman on the street. Every time he’s addressed as jiejie or ayi or furen by a merchant, Lan Zhan’s ears turn delicately pink. Wei Ying manfully resists the urge to kiss them every time.

They have lunch at an inn, seated at a table in full view of everyone, and Wei Ying swells up with pride every time a passing gentleman – or passing lady, for that matter – takes a second look at Lan Zhan. Wei Ying fills Lan Zhan’s bowl with the choicest pieces and is even permitted to feed him from his own chopsticks – just once, Lan Zhan looking up at him from beneath lowered eyelashes as his lips close around the chopsticks – and nearly expires right there at the table.

It’s not a surprise, exactly, when Lan Zhan rises gracefully to his feet and allows Wei Ying to take his arm. It’s not a surprise when Lan Zhan’s fingers close tight around Wei Ying’s wrist, subtly steering him out of the inn towards the stables. It is, in fact, almost exactly what they had planned. Wei Ying had assumed, at the time, that it was nothing more than dirty talk, pressing fantasies into Lan Zhan’s ear to drive him higher until he shook apart, but it seems Lan Zhan had held onto them and taken them very seriously indeed.

Wei Ying is a good and loving husband! He would never deny Lan Zhan anything. Obviously, he has to follow through. So, when they reach the stables, when Lan Zhan leads him around the back and behind a nearby wall, Wei Ying happily shoves his husband – his wife – up against it, pins Lan Zhan’s wrists next to his head.

“So shameless, Wei-furen,” he murmurs. “Wandering around back alleys, where anyone might take advantage of you.”

Lan Zhan makes a low noise of protest, the one that means go on. Wei Ying bites down on a smile and drags the tip of his nose up Lan Zhan’s neck as though scenting him.

“Don’t you know your zhangfu is a jealous man, Lan Zhan?” he murmurs and nips at the edge of Lan Zhan’s jaw, right on the point of the bone. “What did you think I would do?”

“Tend to your qizi, perhaps,” Lan Zhan says, his voice so dry that Wei Ying has to bury his face in the shoulder of Lan Zhan’s robes to keep from laughing.

It’s not a problem, though; once his face is there, he discovers he’s at the perfect height to seize Lan Zhan by his pretty, silky hair and yank his head back, exposing the lines of his sweet throat to Wei Ying’s teeth. Lan Zhan groans at the first bite, so deep Wei Ying can feel the vibrations where their chests are pressed together.

“Does my pretty qizi need to be reminded who she belongs to?” Wei Ying asks, sweet as honey, and licks Lan Zhan’s ear. Lan Zhan tries to shake his head, but Wei Ying’s grip on his hair is firm – as much to avoid ruining the hairstyle too severely as anything else – and Wei Ying laughs at him. “I think she does. Spread your legs, Wei-furen.”

Lan Zhan can’t really spread his legs, not in all those skirts – they’re tighter than the clothes worn by cultivators and encourage him into a prim, mincing walk that does truly marvellous things to his hips. He tries, though, and for that, Wei Ying rewards him by yanking the skirts up by the fistful, revealing the fragile bones of his ankles, the twin crescent moons of his calves, the recherche expanse of his strong thighs. He doesn’t stop until all those thin, delicate layers are a crushed mess around Lan Zhan’s waist, exposing the jut of his slender hips and his thick, flushed cock, already leaking, just from Wei Ying pushing him a little.

“Turn around,” Wei Ying whispers into Lan Zhan’s ear, voice harsh with wanting. And Lan Zhan – Lan Zhan obeys, turns, and presses himself against the wall, arches his back as shamelessly as Wei Ying ever has.

Wei Ying runs his hands over the flat planes of Lan Zhan’s ass, squeezing and kneading as best he can, and Lan Zhan drops his head forward against the wall. He’s foregone his forehead ribbon today – and a good thing too, because that wall is probably filthy, and also Wei Ying is certainly not about to allow Lan Zhan to show restraint.

He plants a hand between Lan Zhan’s shoulder blades and pushes him even further forward until his back is curved like a strung bow, so taught he might snap at the waist if the wall wasn’t holding him up. Even that little contact makes Lan Zhan whine, a thin noise somewhere from high in his throat, the kind of sound Wei Ying doesn’t usually hear unless Lan Zhan is right on the edge.

“My beautiful Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying says and rubs his thumb up and down over the sweet pink bud of Lan Zhan’s asshole. “Already so worked up. Do you think you could come just from this? Just from your zhangfu showing you off to the world?”

“Yes,” Lan Zhan says, throatier than he usually is when he’s decided to be obnoxiously blunt. 

Wei Ying smacks his ass, cupping his hand so the blow is loud rather than forceful, but Lan Zhan jolts and whimpers as if Wei Ying had struck him with a horsewhip. Wei Ying makes a sympathetic sound and smooths his hand over the place he struck – there isn’t even a red mark, much less a bruise – and then leans forward until he can bite at the nape of Lan Zhan’s neck, thoughtfully exposed with all his hair caught up in those elegant pins.

“I could fuck you right here,” he tells the back of Lan Zhan’s head, watching the trembling that starts at the scalp and rushes all the way down Lan Zhan’s spine. “Anyone could walk past and see, Lan Zhan... but you might like that, hmm?”

“No,” Lan Zhan says, more of a gasp than a word, but he rocks his hips back against Wei Ying’s, grinding hard against Wei Ying’s cock.

“No? But you seem so eager,” Wei Ying says. He teases his fingers over the cloth covering Lan Zhan’s chest and pinches at where he guesses a nipple might be. “If it’s not being caught, what is it?”

“Want my—” Lan Zhan almost growls when Wei Ying pinches his chest again, which suggests Wei Ying has not actually found a nipple. “Want my zhangfu. Want – want... ah.

There’s the nipple! Wei Ying squeezes hard since he’s sure a gentler touch won’t be felt through all those layers, then strokes it firmly. Lan Zhan grunts and shoves his hips back again.

“I want my zhangfu to see to my needs,” he says, almost huffily.

“Have I been neglectful?” Wei Ying asks, mock-sorrowful. “Is my poor qizi so uncared-for that she can’t even wait until we get home?”

“Yes,” Lan Zhan says and finally turns his head, glaring at Wei Ying over his shoulder. 

Wei Ying slips a hand between Lan Zhan’s legs to palm his cock – dripping, now, and Lan Zhan’s grouchy composure breaks when Wei Ying pushes his thumb against the slit, dissolving into harsh pants.

“You want your zhangfu to fuck you?” Wei Ying asks again. 

He gathers Lan Zhan’s wetness in his palm. It’s not enough to fuck Lan Zhan, not really, but it’s enough for other things. He does drip when teased.

Yes,” Lan Zhan says – groans, really – and presses his cheek against the wall. “Please, Wei Ying—”

Wei Ying smears his handful of precome against the insides of Lan Zhan’s pale thighs. He has a moment to regret his own clothing choices – he’s dressed in six layers, a proper young lord to escort proper young lady Lan Zhan as a proper gentry wife – but it’s only the work of a moment to get them all out of the way, and then he can finally push his cock between Lan Zhan’s legs.

Lan Zhan makes a sound like he’s been punched, but he’s happy about it. Wei Ying wraps an arm around his hips, holding him up as he tightens his thighs around Wei Ying’s cock, forming a slick, tight vice around them, clenching down so hard it’s almost painful for Wei Ying to withdraw. Wei Ying makes gentle, soothing sounds into his ear, stroking his hip. 

“Does it feel good, Lan Zhan?” he asks and nips Lan Zhan’s earlobe. “Does my pretty qizi like having her zhangfu fuck her?” 

Lan Zhan nods, a noise of wordless hunger curling in his throat. He jerks as Wei Ying finds his cock, strokes it slow and firm and demanding, and his thighs twitch just enough for Wei Ying to pull back and fuck in again. 

From there, they’re really off to the races, Wei Ying bending Lan Zhan forward and mounting him like a dog, rutting between his thighs. Lan Zhan braces himself against the wall, panting, whimpering when Wei Ying neglects his cock in favour of fucking him harder. 

“Anyone could see you like this, Wei-furen,” Wei Ying croons. “Lucky you’re a married woman, or I’d ruin your reputation—”

Lan Zhan shudders all over, head dropping forward, and Wei Ying bites a grin into the back of Lan Zhan’s neck. 

“Do you like that, Lan-jiejie?” he asks, breathless with the exertion of fucking Lan Zhan the way he deserves. “The idea of being despoiled in an alleyway? The idea of everyone knowing you’d been taken—”

“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan says. He somehow sounds aggrieved and hungry all at once. 

“I know, jiejie,” Wei Ying says and gets his hand back on Lan Zhan’s cock. “Don’t worry, this zhangfu can fill you up.” 

It only takes a handful of strokes, sharp and almost viciously tight, before Lan Zhan comes with a stifled wail, shaking so hard Wei Ying is briefly worried for his health. His worry only lasts until Lan Zhan deliberately tightens his legs around Wei Ying’s cock, and then Wei Ying pulls back and comes all over Lan Zhan’s ass and the backs of his thighs, barely managing to keep his own wails from escaping. He slumps forward, breathing hard into Lan Zhan’s neck, idly rubbing his come into Lan Zhan’s skin with his fingers. 

“Lan-jiejie,” he mumbles, lips mashed into Lan Zhan’s skin. “So good for me.” 

Lan Zhan pushes up, lifting Wei Ying with him. His limbs have a fine tremble, like a newborn fawn learning to stand up. Wei Ying wraps his arms around Lan Zhan’s waist, and Lan Zhan turns within them, leaning down to kiss Wei Ying’s temple, his cheek, his mouth. Wei Ying, considerate to his husband’s clothes, slides his hands up Lan Zhan’s thighs to keep his many layers of skirts and robes rucked up around his hips. No sense ruining them, not when they’re clearly going to get a lot of use. 

Lan Zhan leans forward, resting his weight on Wei Ying with a pleased sigh. Wei Ying uses the moment to straighten out his own robes and wipe his come from Lan Zhan’s thighs, as much as he’d like to leave it there and watch it drip. It makes Lan Zhan shiver pleasantly against him, so he keeps petting, scratching his fingernails gently over Lan Zhan’s ass. 

Eventually, he does have to let Lan Zhan push his skirts back down and straighten them until he looks almost like he could be a respectable lady, except for the way his hair has gone loose and a little wild from all the exercise. Wei Ying straightens it as best he can, but it really needs to be taken down and done again. He kisses Lan Zhan again, a sweet little brush of lips. 

Lan Zhan sighs, sated and pleased. “Shall we return?” 

“Of course, qizi,” Wei Ying says, taking Lan Zhan’s arm. They walk together towards the inn. 

“And next time,” Lan Zhan says, thoughtfully, “perhaps Wei Ying would like to be the qizi.” 

Wei Ying chokes and almost trips over his own feet; only Lan Zhan, gliding serenely beside him, holds him up. He’s momentarily blinded by a vision of himself dressed in pale floaty silks, Lan Zhan tenderly sliding a needle through his earlobe. 

“Perhaps!” he says, high and strained. 

Lan Zhan doesn’t say anything, but he doesn’t need to; the quirk at the corner of his mouth is enough. Wei Ying’s heart swells in his chest, warmth flowing through him. 

“I love you,” he says, and leans his head against Lan Zhan’s shoulder. “Zhangfu or qizi.” 

“And I love you,” Lan Zhan says and presses a kiss into his hair. “Take me home, zhangfu.”