Lan Wangji has nightmares.
They aren’t as recurrent as they used to be, not since Wei Wuxian came back to life. He doesn’t wake up screaming anymore, shaking violently with the force of his dreams, feeling the phantom pain of his scars burning on his back and the cut in his upper arm stinging as if the blood were still running from it. He doesn’t lose nights to insomnia, afraid of closing his eyes and seeing him, knowing that with his eyes wide open, he still does.
But the nightmares are still there. He doesn’t think they’ll ever be completely gone.
He still wakes up sweaty, eyes wet with tears, his fingers twitching as they try to keep hold of an arm that has long since been yanked away from his grasp. He often dreams about following it down, about making a different choice. About not being scared.
The dreams aren’t always awful. Sometimes, they are beautiful. Sometimes, he dreams about staying, when Wei Wuxian asks him with his eyes to stay for dinner in the Burial Mounds. He dreams about following, when Wei Wuxian saves the Wen remnants and makes a home for himself. He dreams about trusting him, with his whole heart, even then.
He even dreams about begging, when Wei Wuxian says with a soft smile and red eyes, I will go that way.
On those days, even if the dreams hide a void he will never be able to fill, somehow, the pain is worse. Because beautiful dreams still turn into nightmares, when he wakes up. And he still has to live with the decisions he made.
But Wei Wuxian is alive. Alive, alive, alive.
The pain simmers constantly, but it doesn’t boil. Not like it used to.
They exchange letters, however scarce. Lan Wangji keeps each and every one.
Wei Wuxian sends him drawings of landscapes, of animals, of stars. He talks about where he’s been, the people he saved. He complains lightheartedly about still being perceived as an ugly man in his Yiling Patriarch days. Every letter makes Lan Wangji’s entire week brighter, his steps sound lighter in his room. Not only because of what they say, but because of what they mean.
They mean that Wei Wuxian is still out there. Still thinking about him. Still lighting up the entire world with his presence. And that alone is reason to go to bed with less worries in his heart.
I trust my zhiji is well, Wei Wuxian writes once. Lan Wangji folds that letter carefully and keeps it underneath his pillow.
His answers are never true to what he wants to say. If Lan Wangji were a braver man, he would fill the pages with words of devotion, long sentences about how he thinks of Wei Wuxian every single day, seeing him in everything he touches.
But he keeps his love sealed behind his lips, and forces the tips of his fingers to write answers that won’t completely scare the man away.
Lan Wangji tells himself that knowing that he is alive is enough. And it is.
Except on those very tricky and ever-increasing days when it isn’t.
I have something to ask of you, Wei Wuxian’s most recent letter says.
Lan Wangji clutches it so hard in his hands he almost ruins the paper. The letter doesn’t specify what the request is, and Wei Wuxian expresses his intentions to do it personally, when he visits Gusu, in a week.
It takes a few minutes for Lan Wangji to stop trembling. Wei Wuxian, in Gusu. The Yiling Patriarch, visiting his home again after almost two years.
After getting used to the idea of him being near again, he mulls over what the request could be. He already knows he will do whatever Wei Wuxian asks of him. Saying no never even crosses his mind.
Lan Wangji imagines the answer he will give, running several words on the tip of his tongue and trying to learn which one will taste better. “Yes” is too simple. “Always” sounds right, but not quite there. “Ask, and it is yours” might give away too much of his feelings.
Perhaps he will know when he sees Wei Wuxian’s face, once they meet. In a week.
In a week.
Wei Wuxian turns around slowly, and opens up a smile that makes Lan Wangji’s entire world brighter. He’s almost angry with himself, for having an image of that smile in his head that was clearly not on par with the real thing.
He walks towards him, and like many other times before, Lan Wangji is too stunned to meet him halfway. His heart beats fast against his ribcage as Wei Wuxian nears him and grabs both his arms, squeezing hard. For a moment, Lan Wangji thinks, hopes, he’s going to hug him.
He doesn’t. But he’s close enough. After all these years, Wei Wuxian has never hugged him. He wonders if he ever will.
He clenches his sword as tight as he can. It’s impossible. Certainly, the warmth of his fingers through his robes is enough. Certainly Lan Wangji cannot be so selfish as to want more than this.
When Wei Wuxian lowers his hands, he almost chases after him, the scent of petrichor and a hint of alcohol so familiar it almost hurts.
He doesn’t know what his face betrays when their gazes meet, but somehow, Wei Wuxian’s smile deepens.
“You came.” he says.
Wei Wuxian smiles, shaking his head a little.
“Is that all a poor cultivator has to do, to get Hanguang Jun’s attention? Ask?”
“If it’s you, yes,” he says. There is no use in lying.
“Ah, Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian says. “I missed you.”
I missed you, Lan Wangji wants to echo, but the words get stuck in his throat. Instead, he smiles, gaze soft even as Wei Wuxian turns them in the direction of the Cloud Recesses. It’s a well known feeling, the magnetic pull he has . Like his entire heart isn’t in his chest, but kept in Wei Wuxian’s pocket, or nestled between his hands.
And now, his heart came back to him. For however long he stays, Lan Wangji will cherish this.
Lan Wangji stares. He can’t help himself.
Wei Wuxian looks healthy. Beautiful, but that is always true. His eyes aren’t sunken from lack of sleep, his robes aren’t as loose on his resurrected body anymore. His hands aren’t dirty or cut from digging into graves, or looking for food.
Lan Wangji beams with silent pride. He knows he has no right to, when he has little to nothing to do with it. He knows that according to his sect’s rules, pride is definitely something he should repress.
But he has repressed many things in his life. He will allow himself this one disobedience.
“Two meals, and warm water for a bath,” he tells the disciple outside his room, then closes the door to the world. He knows the word will spread fast that the Yiling Patriarch is in the Cloud Recesses. He doesn’t care. For this night, at least, no one will bother them.
Wei Wuxian walks slowly, looking around the room with his eyebrow raised. The wooden floor creaks lightly under his heavy steps.
“Everything’s just like it was when I was here last,” he drops his things on a corner on the floor, already taking up space, like Lan Wangji desperately wants him to. It's been almost two years since Wei Wuxian went on his own separate way on that mountain. Too long. “Do you ever change, Lan Zhan?”
“Please, don’t,” he sits down by the table, an easy laughter escaping his lips. “You’re the only constant thing in my life. A certainty.”
Lan Wangji lowers his head to hide the satisfaction he feels at hearing such words, and sits down by his side. He wants to feel safe for Wei Wuxian, something he keeps coming back to, no matter what. Maybe, eventually, he could. Maybe they will always see each other like this, on and off, throughout the years.
That would be enough, the voice inside his head lies.
For a while, Wei Wuxian twirls Chenqing between his fingers, content to glance around the room and stay in silence.
The water comes. Quietly, he slips behind the privacy screen to get the dirt of the travel out of his body. Lan Wangji takes the time to set his things more neatly into a cabinet, and hang fresh robes for him when he gets out.
He doesn’t look to see if Wei Wuxian brought any spare clothing. He simply gives him his own white robes, and hopes he either doesn’t notice or, if he does, choses to wear them anyway.
Wei Wuxian, in his clothes. Why does it always make his heart beat faster?
When there’s nothing else to do with his hands, he sits down again and starts taking down his hair pieces, keeping his gaze steadily ahead, and ignoring any movement Wei Wuxian’s silhouette hints through the nearly see-through screen.
Wei Wuxian talks loudly as the water splashes around him, excited to share tales of his travels, people he’s seen. Lan Wangji thought he’d heard every story he had to tell, but he keeps him on his toes, surprising him with even more thrilling events he kept from the letters they shared.
When he emerges from behind the screen, still tying the white inner robes around his waist, their meal is already set on the table. They settle down to eat, one in front of the other, as they have so many times before. Lan Wangji's heart soars.
“You shouldn’t have washed your hair,” he says, ignoring how his robes look slightly loose on Wei Wuxian’s body, a little of his collarbone showing above the collar. “It’s late.”
“It was dirty,” Wei Wuxian shrugs. “You wouldn’t want to sleep with a man smelling of the road, would you?”
He stops talking abruptly. Lan Wangji stares.
“I meant- sleep in the same room as-”
“I wouldn’t mind,” he says.
Wei Wuxian opens his lips to say something, then shuts them again. Lan Wangji takes the opportunity to give him the chili oil he bought after hearing of his arrival.
“Lan Zhan!” his eyes widen as he reaches for it, promptly dumping about half its contents on his plate. “When did you get this? Have you been enjoying your food a little more spicy lately? Have I finally influenced you for the best?”
“I got it for you.”
“Ah, you’re amazing,” he shoves a spoonful of chili covered rice in his mouth and lets out a happy sigh. “I really did miss you, you know.”
“As did I,” he manages to say, this time.
Wei Wuxian throws one of his brightest smiles his way, like this is what he’s been waiting to hear.
Perhaps it’s fine, to let his devotion spill, just a little. If it gets Wei Wuxian to smile like that, then maybe… Maybe he should do it more often.
“I have something to ask,” Wei Wuxian says after they’ve eaten, and Lan Wangji is stripping down to his inner robes in preparation for sleep.
“Anything,” is the answer that comes out of his lips.
For a second, he panics, thinking Wei Wuxian will surely notice the implication there, and disapprove of it. But when he turns, he’s just sitting on the floor, absentmindedly running his fingers through his still damp hair to get rid of any knots.
“It’s quite a big request. I want you to take some time to think about it. I know you have a lot of duties, and if you accept, I would take up quite a bit of your time.”
Lan Wangji looks at him, already feeling like he might vibrate out of his own skin. Wei Ying, taking up quite a bit of his time. He wants to say yes a thousand times over, even without knowing what it is. He knew he would do anything Wei Wuxian asked, but hearing these words, he feels even more sure of himself.
“I, well,” Wei Wuxian continues. “I’ve been working on Mo Xuanyu’s... My golden core.”
Lan Wangji's eyebrow twitches, despite trying not to show any reaction. Of course, Wei Wuxian is doing the impossible, much like his sect’s motto. If there’s one person in the world who can do anything, it’s him.
He sits down on the edge of his mattress and tries to school his expression back to neutral. It would be awkward to show how pleased he is to hear this, so he carefully starts braiding his own hair to sleep, just to focus his hands on a task.
“Wei Ying, that’s… very good to hear.”
“Don’t praise me too much yet, I haven’t gotten too far.”
Wei Wuxian says it with a smile, as if to say, please praise me. Lan Wangji feels his chest grow warm with fondness.
“I get exhausted quickly, but I managed to fight some weaker ghosts with it. But although I progressed somewhat fast in the beginning, I haven’t seen many changes in the past… Few months. I need a challenge.”
Lan Wangji nods, mostly to keep himself in check. The truth was, it was beyond impressive. In a little over a year, Wei Wuxian had managed to develop a barely used golden core enough that he could use it during night hunts.
“What kind of challenge?” he asks.
“Well, that’s where you come in,” Wei Wuxian leans over in his direction, staring up at him from the floor. “Lan methods of core development and cultivation are well documented and talked about. I want you to help me with… developing it.”
Lan Wangji doesn’t let his hopes go up too far yet.
“That would take months, Wei Ying. Years,” he breathes. Years with Wei Wuxian near him. Has he ever gotten this much time?
“Yes, I know. That’s why I told you to really think about it.”
Lan Wangji doesn’t have to. The answer is yes. He would spend 100 years, 500, eternity, with Wei Wuxian by his side. For however long it takes to work on his cultivation, he will be here.
Even though it would probably be faster than average in Wei Wuxian’s case, it would still be a long time of hard work and concentration. He doesn't know how strong Mo Xuanyu’s core is, but with Wei Wuxian’s soul and essence running through his veins, would it heighten its potential?
If he was already at a stage to fight on his own, even lower level ghosts, then maybe…
“I can see your brain working.” Wei Wuxian giggles. “And I already know what you’re thinking, Lan Zhan. You’re so easy to read nowadays.”
You're the only one with that opinion, Lan Wangji thinks, then looks at him. “What am I thinking?”
“You’re wondering if my soul has any influence on this body. The answer is yes. I can get further than Mo Xuanyu could. But I have to be really careful. If I try too much, too fast…”
“Exactly,” his smile gets a little more restrained. “Which is why I need help.”
“I’ll help,” Lan Wangji says.
“Hey, Lan Zhan...” Wei Wuxian unfolds his leg and gives his foot a playful kick. “I told you to think about it! This means I’d be here for a long time, taking up your time, your space, your peace. And I can’t pay you! I have nothing of worth to give. It isn’t as simple as-”
“I’ll do it,” he says again, more forcefully this time. “You don’t have to give me anything.”
Wei Wuxian looks away, hiding a small smile. Doesn’t he know Lan Wangji would do anything for him, by now? Doesn’t he understand that he holds Lan Wangji’s life in his hands?
“Wei Ying. You’d have to live here,” he says, just in case he isn’t thinking of all the implications of this proposal. “You’d adhere to my sect’s rules?”
“If I say I’d adhere to about half of them, would you think that’s enough?”
“Half sounds generous, in your case.”
Wei Wuxian’s laughter vibrates around the room.
“I can follow rules when I want to. I just never want to,” he tosses his hair back, exposing his neck again. Lan Wangji does not stare. “You know me, I won’t give up alcohol. And I’m loud! I can’t hold it back.”
Wei Wuxian gives him another light shove with his foot.
“Going to bed at 9 is also a very obnoxious rule to follow. But I could be convinced,” he says, tilting his head at him, “if the bed is warm enough.”
Lan Wangji freezes, his fingers stuck in between his hair strands. He looks down at him, but Wei Wuxian is already getting up from his seat, smoothing his robes with his hands.
He probably doesn’t mean what he said to sound so… insinuating, Lan Wangji knows this. But still, the words hit him hard enough to take his breath away.
“Speaking of, I think I’m ready to go to sleep,” he says, stretching his arms above his head, his lean body curving backwards. “It’s not my usual bedtime, but I’ve been walking a lot, so…”
Lan Wangji panics again, suddenly realizing he never thought to make Wei Wuxian another bed, or even prepare guest chambers.
“Hm,” he frowns. “Would you- I didn’t think-”
“So can I take the corner?” Wei Wuxian stops right in front of him with his hands on his waist. Lan Wangji has to force his head up to his face.
“Yes," he swallows.
After they're ready, he waits for Wei Wuxian to lie down first - on his belly, with his feet sticking up, as if he’s not sleepy at all - and blows the candle out. Lan Wangji lies down, too, with his arms carefully folded over his chest, breathing as slowly as he can and trying to control his rapidly beating heart.
It’s not that they haven’t shared beds before. It’s just that, most times, it was during travels, where sharing was necessary for whatever reason. In the Cloud Recesses, however, there were more than enough empty beds for him to sleep in.
He hears Wei Wuxian laughing weakly in the dark, adjusting his position so that he’s more comfortable. The bed is big enough for both of them, but it’s still not made for two people at once. In the silence of the room, they bump elbows and legs until Wei Wuxian turns to his side, facing him.
“Lan Zhan,” he touches his arm with the tips of his fingers, before suddenly pulling them back. “Hey.”
Lan Wangji hums to indicate that he’s listening. The moonlight falls on the side of Wei Wuxian’s face, painting his hair silver and glinting off of his eye. Lan Wangji blinks slowly, already a little sleepy, and does very little to conceal his loving gaze.
“Are you sure it’s okay for me to stay?” he asks. “If you don’t want me here… I understand.”
“Why wouldn’t I?” Lan Wangji says.
Wei Wuxian hesitates. "I don’t know. Because of my reputation,” he laughs, like he always does when he doesn’t want to show how much something hurts him. Lan Wangji wishes he could kiss that habit away. “Because of the things I did.”
“Wei Ying.” Lan Wangji turns a little in his direction too, forcing himself to stay awake for just a little longer. “What other people think doesn’t matter to me.”
“Are you sure?”
He nods. After all this time, Wei Wuxian still has insecurities about his feelings. It would be hurtful, if he didn’t understand where it came from.
"Stay," he says, sure that his sleepiness is at fault for his running mouth. “I will help you.”
“Okay,” Wei Wuxian sighs happily, and seems to settle more comfortably on the bed. “I’m excited. Both of us, in the Cloud Recesses. It’ll be just like old times.”
“Mn,” Lan Wangji smiles at him, knowing it won’t be like old times at all.
His younger self had no idea what he was missing, avoiding Wei Wuxian for so long, ignoring him when he called, pretending not to have eyes only for him.
This time, he intends to make the most of it.