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call me home and I'll build you a throne

Chapter Text

 

 

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 Ying.”

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.

“You asked.”

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?”

“Should I?”

“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…”

“Qi deviation.”

“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.”

“Don’t.”

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.

 

 

Chapter Text

In a great display of foresight and self-control, Wei Wuxian had started planning his trip back to the Cloud Recesses months before.

He hadn’t just come back on a whim, one day, after drinking too much alcohol and feeling like he would do anything to have a familiar shoulder to rest his head on. He didn’t run back to what he knew as soon as he got severely hurt, wanting nothing more than the comfort of being taken care of by careful and experienced hands. He didn’t even give up and went knocking on a very well-known door when he caught the first whiff of sandalwood on a random person, and it felt wrong, to smell sandalwood and not see white robes, the pattern of clouds, the grave voice calling his name in a way that made his heart ache.

Instead, he waited. He worked on developing his new golden core, as far as he could. He did research on effective ways to do it, got to know new people, and created new talismans of protection for the houses he visited in exchange for money.

He walked around his decision for several weeks. Asking for help was never something he felt comfortable with, but if there’s one thing his previous life taught him, it’s that there is no use in trying to do everything alone. He would do well in learning to ask for things.

He sent the letter and started making his way there, patting himself on the back and thinking he was very brave for sending it, knowing he could get rejected, knowing this could be perceived as a display of weakness, if the man receiving it were any other than Lan Wangji.

This will be good, he had thought to himself at that mountain, playing a tune he knew with his heart and soul. Having the Lan Clan help with developing his new core was the best decision he could ever make, and the help of the Chief Cultivator would certainly speed the process up.

But then, Wei Wuxian heard his name, and all at once he knew he was lying to himself.

He came back because he missed a voice, a scent, a smile. He came back because he missed the warmth that radiated from the man who was his soulmate, even when they weren't even touching. He came back because he wanted to be near someone he knew, and who knew him back. Someone who would accept him in any way he came.

Wei Wuxian came back because he missed Lan Wangji.

Nothing else.

 

-

 

For the first time in months, Wei Wuxian opens his eyes to a familiar place.

There’s a streak of sunlight hitting the sheets through the window, and Lan Wangji is nowhere to be seen. He spreads his body wide on the mattress, fully intending to spend a few more minutes - or hours - in bed.

Rubbing his eyes open, he can’t help but let out a contented sigh. There’s a lot of comfort to be found in Lan Wangji’s predictability, his steadiness through life. His room even still smells the same, like the sandalwood incense he missed and something cozy he can’t quite put his finger on.

He buries his head on Lan Wangji’s pillow, inhaling the lingering scent of his hair. It feels welcoming. He wonders what it would be like to wrap his arms around Lan Wangji like this, feel his skin getting hot under his fingertips.

He moves the pillow a bit more and notices something underneath. A wrinkled piece of paper, folded carefully into a tiny square. Wei Wuxian frowns as he recognizes his own handwriting.

What is his letter doing under the pillow? Perhaps Lan Wangji is into the habit of reading letters before bed, and this one has gotten lost? It doesn’t seem like something he would do, incredibly organized the way he is, but…

The door opens, and Wei Wuxian  quickly tucks the pillow back in place.

“Lan Zhan! Good morning.”

Lan Wangji stops near the door, a breakfast tray in his hand, and stares at him. Wei Wuxian is suddenly very aware of his own position, lying down on the bed with his messy hair and robes tangling around his legs.

After another big stretch on the bed, he gets up silently and goes to wash his face.

“Where were you?” Wei Wuxian asks after he comes back and sits by his side, his clothes - Lan Wangji’s clothes - more neatly arranged on his body.

“A meeting,” Lan Wangji answers.

“You don’t look happy about it.”

Lan Wangji tightens his jaw almost imperceptibly. Of course he would never admit he isn’t happy about his duties, even if he were suffering from boredom all the way through. Wei Wuxian leans over the table and decides to push him, anyway.

“So are you enjoying your work as Chief Cultivator?”

Lan Wangji gives him his cup of tea, not meeting his eyes. “Whether I enjoy it or not is irrelevant.”

“So, no?”

He keeps his eyes cast down. His silence speaks volumes.

“Ah, Lan Zhan. You look stressed,” Wei Wuxian sets his cup down.

Lan Wangji doesn’t answer. Wei Wuxian wants to reach out and take his hand, but maybe that would be crossing a line. They haven’t seen each other in so long. He feels like he doesn’t know what the boundaries are anymore. Maybe he never knew.

“What is it that’s bothering you the most?” Wei Wuxian presses. He’s nothing if not insistent. “Tell me, and I’ll make it go away.”

Lan Wangji scoffs.

“I will!”

“I would tell you,” he looks up with a hint of amusement in his eyes. “But you can’t make every sect leader go away.”

“If they’re bothering you, I can,” Wei Wuxian shoots him a wicked smile. “It wouldn’t even be too hard, really.”

“Wei Ying.”

“Alright, fine. But you should just say fuck this and walk out when they’re getting on your nerves,” he says. Lan Wangji doesn’t answer, so he gives him a playful tug on his sleeve. “You know… I heard that’s exactly what you used to do, before. Just get up and leave whenever the meeting got boring. It’s what I would do.”

“It isn’t,” Lan Wangji says. “You would call them out on their hypocrisy and make the meeting interesting again.”

Wei Wuxian’s laugh gets interrupted by a knock on the door.

“Enter.” Lan Wangji says.

A young Lan disciple comes in, seeming quite a bit nervous. He takes in Wei Wuxian’s carefree appearance with slightly wide eyes, and bows for longer than necessary.

“Hanguang Jun, Yil- Master Wei.” he stutters, face turning red. “Good afternoon. Teacher Lan Qiren has sent me to tell you that arrangements were made for Master Wei’s guest chambers.”

Guest chambers? Wei Wuxian glances at Lan Wangji, but his face is unreadable, as always. Their eyes meet, but none of them say anything.

“Thank you.” Lan Wangji says eventually, and the disciple bows again and hurries to leave.

Guest chambers.

Wei Wuxian is surprised, but he supposes this was to be expected, since his intention is to stay here for a long time.

Of course, he can’t stay in Lan Wangji’s bedroom, sleeping in his bed, every night. That would be absurd. It would be too imposing. He knew that.

Still, he can’t help but feel a little disappointed.

 

-

 

“You have black ones now?”

Wei Wuxian runs to the middle of the meadow where the rabbits are, and immediately most of them scatter away and hide.

“Mn. And they are mixing.”

“Mixing?” Wei Wuxian raises an eyebrow. Lan Wangji picks up a rabbit from the floor that is mostly white with some black spots, and carefully hands it to him. “Oh.”

Wei Wuxian pets the rabbit for a while, until it starts to squirm in his hand. He lets it go and tries to grab another one, but they all keep running away from him.

Pouting a little, he turns back around, only to find Lan Wangji already offering him another rabbit, all black, with a single white patch of fur over his right eye.

“So small!” he says, then rubs his nose and the rabbit’s together. “This one likes me a little bit better, Lan Zhan.”

Lan Wangji doesn’t answer. There is a softness to his gaze, an easiness that Wei Wuxian longs to see more of. He smiles back, holding the rabbit closer to his chest.

“How far have you gotten?” Lan Wangji asks.

Wei Wuxian sets the bunny down. This is the moment he’s been waiting for: showing Lan Wangji how much progress he’s managed to make in their time apart. He’s been working very hard on his golden core, every single day, and even though he does it for himself, it feels good to finally be able to show it to someone else.

He loosens his arm guards and offers his wrist to him so he can feel the spiritual power running through his body. With one glance at him, Lan Wangji reaches out and takes his pulse carefully.

Wei Wuxian feels the warmth of his skin and forces himself not to yank his arm away. Years of stopping people from feeling for his core have made him wary of these kinds of touches. But this is something he needs to relearn.

And it’s Lan Zhan, Wei Wuxian thinks as he feels his energy reaching out to him.

He wants Lan Zhan to touch him, even if it’s just like this.

“Wei Ying.” Lan Wangji says, staring at the place where their skin meets. He swallows hard, breath a little heavy. “Wei Ying.”

His voice sounds rough to Wei Wuxian’s ears, and when Lan Wangji looks up, his eyes look slightly red. Wei Wuxian grabs his wrist back, feeling the urge to comfort him, to make a joke and lighten the mood.

“Lan Zhan, what’s wrong?” he asks.

“Nothing wrong,” Lan Wangji answers quickly. His grip on Wei Wuxian’s arm keeps getting tighter, almost to the point of pain. “You really-”

“Master Wei!” a familiar voice calls them from somewhere close in the woods.

They both turn in time to see Lan Sizhui and Lan Jingyi approaching them with hurried steps. Wei Wuxian adjusts his sleeves and ties his arm guards back, more out of habit than anything else.

“Jingyi, you shouldn’t shout,” Sizhui says after they come closer and bow to both of them. “Master Wei, we heard the good news. Is it true you’ll be staying with us for a while?”

“Ah, yes. Hanguang Jun is gonna have to live in utter despair as I annoy him to death in the next few months.”

“Months!” Jingyi says with a cheery voice. “Master Wei, you must find time to teach us some things too! It is only fair, since you’ll be living under our care-”

“Jingyi.” Lan Sizhui stops him, but Wei Wuxian is already laughing.

“See?” he turns to Lan Wangji and points at the boy in front of them. “That’s honesty. A true Lan is a Lan who always speaks his truth.”

At that, Lan Jingyi seems to stand a little taller.

“Indeed,” Lan Wangji agrees. “A true Lan is also always polite to a guest.”

Lan Jingyi swallows dry and bows to them again. “I apologize, Master Wei.”

Wei Wuxian shakes his head and gestures for him to relax.

“Ah, Lan Zhan! Aren’t you the one who always told me to shut up when you were their age?” he bumps their shoulders together. Lan Wangji gives him a sideways glance. “Even when all I wanted was teenage Hanguang Jun’s affection! Boys, it was awful. I was always running after him.”

Lan Wangji’s face remains impassive, but his ears blush the slightest bit.

Wei Wuxian smiles with satisfaction. This is the exact kind of reaction he likes getting from him. He turns back to the kids and sees Lan Jingyi looking from one of them to the other with slightly narrowed eyes. Lan Sizhui simply twists his lips.

“... Boys?” he says.

“We- we should go.” Lan Sizhui bows again, then tugs on Lan Jingyi’s sleeve. “You were both obviously very busy. Excuse us.”

Lan Jingyi protests, but they both hurry and leave after that. Wei Wuxian lets out a tiny giggle.

“Hanguang Jun, the juniors can’t even bear to look at your face for a long time,” he says. “It must be your good looks stunning them out of words.”

“It is Wei Ying they can’t bear to look at,” he says. 

Wei Wuxian’s head snaps back in his direction, but before he can ask what he meant, he’s already reaching out for his wrist again, expression focused.

“Where were we?”

“Wait, what did you mean with-”

“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji insists. “Focus.”

Wei Wuxian sighs. Fine. They came here with a purpose in mind, after all. To show Lan Wangji how far he had gotten, and decide on a best course of action for the future.

He probably didn’t mean it in the way Wei Wuxian thinks he meant it, anyway. Lan Wangji has never expressed any thoughts about finding his appearance pleasant, or even displeasing, in any way. He probably does not care. It’s silly that Wei Wuxian would even want him to think of him like that.

Trying not to let the disappointment reach his eyes, Wei Wuxian focuses.

 

-

 

It doesn’t come as a surprise, but Wei Wuxian has a hard time getting used to the Cloud Recesses. He is more open to it than the first time he came here, as a teenager, but it’s still an entirely new world he isn’t accustomed to.

Waking up early is terrible, but he already knew that. Going to sleep early is even worse, when his body feels tired but his mind still feels fresh, used to being more nocturnal from years of going to sleep at the break of dawn. Still, he makes an effort to get used to the daily life there. If he must live here for the next few months - or, luckily, years, although he keeps that hope close to his chest and doesn’t even dare think about it - he should also get used to their routine.

It does not help that Lan Wangji turns out to be a lot more busy than he initially thought. His dreams of walking side by side with him during the day, going together to play their music by the waterfall, and other similarly indulgent fantasies, are all frustrated by the fact that he barely manages to see Lan Wangji at all.

Wei Wuxian takes to crashing into his bedroom at night around dinner time, with his own dinner in his hands. “Let’s eat together, Lan Zhan!” he says with a cheery smile.

Lan Wangji always nods, and gestures him in with a small smile in response. Wei Wuxian fears that the sound of his racing heart will be heard in the room’s unforgiving quietness.

The fifth time he does it, Lan Wangji raises a hand to him.

“Send it back,” he says, and points to the table. “I already have a meal for you.”

And with that simple line, their entire routine changes. Every night, Wei Wuxian comes to Lan Wangji’s room after they’re both done with their tasks. Every night, Lan Wangji already has a warm meal set out for him, waiting. Every night, after they’ve eaten, Wei Wuxian lingers in his room for longer than propriety would allow and watches as Lan Wangji gets ready for bed, undressing to his sleeping robes, and carefully braiding his hair so it doesn’t knot.

Every night, he leaves to his own cold room, and dreams about what it would be like if he ever asked to stay.

 

-

 

After getting a little bit more comfortable in the Cloud Recesses and making his guest chambers look a little more his - half-made talismans everywhere, open books that he still needs to finish reading, and several stacks of papers with his own writing that he will someday arrange into some kind of book - he hears of Lan Qiren’s return.

He is summoned almost immediately, like he knew would happen. The day after Wei Wuxian’s arrival, Lan Qiren had taken a sudden trip, and was only now coming back.

Wei Wuxian can’t help but laugh a little, as he dresses in some of his best clothes to go. A few days before, he had told Lan Sizhui and Lan Wangji that Lan Qiren was avoiding him. Lan Sizhui, of course, had insisted that he wasn’t, and that he was merely busy with other things. Lan Wangji, however, had simply frowned. His silence meant more than his words ever could.

As soon as he enters Lan Qiren’s chambers, he bows as respectfully as he can. He can be on his best behaviour when he wants to, and if he wishes to stay here, perhaps it is time he and Lan Qiren get on better terms.

“Wei Wuxian,” the man says, lips twisted as he sets his teacup on the table and gets up. “I have heard of your reasons for staying with us. Are they genuine?”

Wei Wuxian can at least admire how he gets straight to the point, not wasting any time on niceties.

“Yes, they are.”

“And what are your intentions, exactly?”

Wei Wuxian frowns. Certainly, his reason for staying here and his intentions are… the same thing. Lan Qiren can’t possibly want him to tell him what he already knows.

“The Lan Clan has a very good reputation for training the best cultivators in-”

Lan Qiren shakes his head, effectively cutting him. “I mean, with my nephew.”

“I don’t understand.”

Lan Qiren huffs, clasping his hands firmly behind his back. “You were always a very… intelligent young man,” he notes. Wei Wuxian’s frown deepens further at the sudden compliment. “But you were never very wise.”

Ah.

“Teacher Lan, I-”

“I hope you know Lan Wangji is very fond of you, although I cannot understand why.”

At that, Wei Wuxian feels his heart softening. “Yes, I know.”

Lan Qiren takes a step closer and holds his gaze.

“You have hurt him one too many times,” he says..

The words make his stomach sink. There’s nothing he can say to that. He is very aware of his faults, of everything Lan Wangji had to go through because of him. The marks on his body. The years he spent alone. Everything he has done for him, despite his sect’s clear rules.

And now, Wei Wuxian has come to ask for even more.

“I know,” he repeats, his voice sounding a little less confident. Suddenly, he can’t wait for this conversation to be over.

“Very well,” Lan Qiren sighs, and seems to relax a little in his pose. “How are you finding your stay?”

“Dull,” Wei Wuxian forces a smile. It doesn’t reach his eyes.

He has a million thoughts running in his head, of how he is abusing Lan Wangji’s friendship, to simply barge into his home like this and demand help with something that he should’ve been able to achieve alone. Interrupting his peace, his duties, his meals, because of reasons that are entirely selfish and unnecessary.

“That’s good,” Lan Qiren pulls him out of his thoughts. He sits back down at his table, looking a lot older than he seemed when they started the conversation. “You need a little dull in your life, boy. It would do you good.”

Wei Wuxian can barely listen. His mind is already spiraling into a sea of dangerous thoughts.

With a last bow, he leaves as fast as he can.

 

-

 

Hovering around Lan Wangji had always been second nature to him.

Positioning himself by his side, whenever they were close enough together. Standing a little taller every time he knew Lan Wangji could see him. Leaning into his space to share some kind of warmth with him that he probably shouldn’t be allowed to have.

Wei Wuxian had always known his feelings for Lan Wangji were different. He craved for more than companionship, more than loyalty, more than heartfelt conversations. It was an incredible thing to find someone who could follow his leaps in logic and understand his mind so quickly, but sometimes…

Well. Most times. Most times, Wei Wuxian wanted more. Most times, he found his own fingers twitching, an almost unbearable desire to touch him, even if just to brush his fingers on his jaw. He didn’t know what the back on Lan Wangji’s neck felt under his fingertips, and he wanted to, so much that his limbs almost moved on their own.

People all across the world know that Lan Wangji is beautiful, but only Wei Wuxian knows what it feels like to lose his breath when the late afternoon light hits him, what it feels like to watch him curl his lips in a soft smile and know that it is all for his eyes alone.

But those are all selfish, boyish desires. The real world is much more complicated, and in the real world, he can’t just come into someone’s house and demand their attention.

Maybe I should leave, Wei Wuxian thinks to himself as he stumbles on the tiles of Lan Wangji’s rooftop. Maybe it would be better to stay only for a few more days, gather all the useful information on golden cores the Lan Library has, and make his own way again. Lan Wangji is a busy man, and as much as Wei Wuxian doesn’t doubt his affection for him, liking someone and wanting their constant presence in your life are two very different things.

If this is how it needs to be… Wei Wuxian drinks a big gulp of the Emperor’s Smile jar he bought earlier and watches the moon, high in the sky. Perhaps this is how their relationship must always be. Perhaps they will always see each other in small doses of two or three months at a time, never staying, but always leaving an impression in each other’s hearts.

Perhaps Wei Wuxian is doomed to walk alone in this life, making his way through the world, until the time he looks back and all that he sees are his own solitary steps, fading in the sand, where before there used to be two pairs, or three, or even four…

“Wei Ying,” comes the voice from down below. Wei Wuxian stretches his neck to see Lan Wangji walking towards his own room.

He smiles, despite himself. Lan Wangji in white, walking in his direction. Always a sight for sore eyes, and he will always cherish it, especially when he doesn’t know for how long he will get to see it.

“Ah, Hanguang Jun!” he sits up. Lan Wangji jumps to the roof and stands in front of him, their feet aligned, nearly touching. Wei Wuxian looks at the difference between his worn out boots and Lan Wangji’s pristine white ones, and laughs. “I thought you were still busy.”

Without a word, Lan Wangji removes his hand from behind his back and extends a bag to him.

“What’s this?” Wei Wuxian gets up to take it and look into the contents. The bag makes a weird shuffling noise when he moves it, and there are a few smaller bags inside, all seeming filled to the brim with tiny little-

“Seeds,” Lan Wangji says. “Chili, cardamom, black pepper... Things we do not use here.”

Wei Wuxian stares at the assortment of too-many different seeds inside the bag. So this is why Lan Wangji took so long to come back. He looks at him with a wide smile on his face and closes the bag again. This is adorable. Lan Wangji doesn’t eat these, and someone in the market chose to sell him seeds instead of some of the actual spices he was looking for.

“Lan Zhan, someone tricked you,” he says, knowing how fond his own voice sounds. He’s gonna miss all of this when he’s gone again. “Tomorrow, I’ll go with you and sort this out. How dare they sell the wrong thing to Hanguang Jun!”

“It’s not wrong. I asked for seeds,” Lan Wangji tilts his head a little. Wei Wuxian wants to squeeze both his cheeks between his hands and plant soft kisses on his entire face until he can’t breathe.

“We don’t eat the seeds for most of these. We need to buy the fully grown thing, so we can-”

“I did,” Lan Wangji says, seeming more and more confused every second. Wei Wuxian does his best to hold back a laugh. “But these aren’t for eating. They’re for growing.”

Wei Wuxian blinks at him.

“What do you mean?”

“You can grow them here,” Lan Wangji says. “Instead of always going to the market.”

Wei Wuxian simply stares at him as the realization dawns. Lan Wangji wants him to plant and grow spices for himself in Gusu, instead of having to go back and forth every time his chili oil ends - which is very often, given how much he uses it. He is giving him something based on the knowledge that Wei Wuxian is staying here for a long time.

He blinks back a few times, unsure why his eyes have started stinging.

“You told me… In your letters. You said you enjoyed farming,” Lan Wangji frowns a little, searching his face. “Was I wrong?”

“No! No, I-” Wei Wuxian swallows down the lump forming in his throat. “I do, but… I would need some… Soil space?”

“Yes. I have already claimed a piece of our fertile grounds as Wei Ying’s.”

“You have?” Wei Wuxian widens his eyes. Lan Wangji simply nods. “Lan Zhan, this… It would take months.”

“In the meantime, we could still buy them in-”

“I mean,” Wei Wuxian clutches the bag in his hands. Lan Wangji’s eyes follow the movement, the concern starting to form there, almost imperceptible. “I know we talked about this a little, but it’s months of me… Staying here. Have you thought about that?”

“Mn.”

“Months of having me here disturbing your peace. Months of a very loud person breathing down your neck everywhere you go.”

Lan Wangji’s eyes seem to react at that, but he quickly casts his gaze down.

“Mn.”

“And you’re fine with that?” Wei Wuxian realizes he is raising his voice, and fights to bring it down again. “You’re fine with having me here all the time? With never really having time to be alone?”

“I’ve had enough time to be alone,” Lan Wangji answers in a low voice, his eyes still firmly set on the tiles beneath them.

Wei Wuxian’s breath gets stuck in his lungs.

It’s easy to forget, when he can’t remember a single day of it. It’s easy to pretend no time has gone by at all, and that he came back to life only a few days, and not several years, after his death. It’s easy to walk around and act like none of it really happened, and ignore the very real feelings of loss and grief someone else has gone through because of him.

Sixteen years. Sixteen long years had he been gone, and the world had changed around him. He often took comfort in the fact that Lan Wangji was something constant, a presence in his life that didn’t change, but that wasn’t true. He had gone through so much while he wasn’t here. He became bolder, kinder, more mature. He had raised A-Yuan to be an upstanding cultivator and a gentle person, and in all the years he was gone, Lan Wangji had never forgotten him or allowed his memory to become dark in his mind.

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian reaches out and takes his hand. Lan Wangji startles, but makes no movement to stop the touch. “I’m sorry. I keep forgetting. It’s just a little hard for me to think… That someone really wants me around, for nothing in return,” Lan Wangji opens his lips, but Wei Wuxian squeezes his hand and keeps talking. “I just keep thinking I’m too much for your quiet life. Someday you’ll get tired, and then-”

“Do you get tired of me?” Lan Wangji asks, finally lifting his eyes to him again.

“Of course not,” Wei Wuxian breathes, feeling trapped by his gaze. He can’t lie, not with Lan Wangji looking at him like this. “Never. If I could, I’d follow you around all day, like some of the Juniors seem to like doing.”

“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji doesn’t smile at his joke. He squeezes Wei Wuxian’s hand once, firm enough to ground him. “I’m the same.”

Wei Wuxian swallows, his heart beating loudly inside his chest. His gaze drops to Lan Wangji’s lips, and he quickly closes his eyes to hide it.

“Alright,” he takes a deep breath, focusing on the reassuring feeling of Lan Wangji’s hand on his.

He wishes they could always talk like this, walk like this, even eat with their hands connected. It wouldn’t be an easy task, but it would be worth the effort. With a soft laugh at his ridiculous thoughts, he opens his eyes again. Lan Wangji is finally smiling at him, the soft moonlight on his face making him impossibly more beautiful.

“Alright,” Wei Wuxian says again. “Show me to my fertile ground.”

“Mn. Tomorrow,” Lan Wangji says. “Now, dinner.”

Wei Wuxian raises an eyebrow. “This late? You haven’t eaten yet? I assumed you were dining with some important clan leader and didn’t have time for your humble friend.”

“Ridiculous.”

Lan Wangji tugs on his hand and turns, jumping off the roof and watching as Wei Wuxian lands softly by his side. He lets go of his hand to open the door to his room, and Wei Wuxian immediately misses it.

“Don’t tell me you waited for me, Hanguang Jun.”

Lan Wangji turns back to him. “I waited for you.”

Wei Wuxian smiles bright, feeling like all the weight was lifted from his chest at once.

Maybe, if he can keep this, he will be fine. If he has stability… If he has someone to care for, who cares for him back… Maybe the footsteps on the sand won’t be solitary, after all.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

“... and they were holding hands?”

“Yes.”

“Are you serious?”

“Lying is forbidden.”

“Who told you?”

“Who do you think? He said they-”

Lan Wangji clears his throat behind the two young disciples.

They both snap their heads back and widen their eyes upon seeing him. All at once, the two Lans get up from under the tree they were sitting at and bow respectfully.

“H-Hanguang Jung, we were just…” Lan Lingjun trails off, looking at his friend in hopes of finding something to say.

Lan Wangji may not know exactly what they were talking about, but it sounded a lot like hearsay and silly rumors. The Lan disciples aren’t always well behaved - teenagers are never entirely predictable - and he will, sometimes, turn a blind eye to a few rules not being taken too seriously. But frivolous conversations concerning someone else’s life isn’t something they should be wasting time over.

“Have you finished your training for today?” he asks.

“Yes, we have,” they both say in unison. 

Lan Wangji stares at them, wondering if he should apply some kind of punishment, but quickly decides against it. He promised to meet Wei Wuxian here for their first training session together, seeing as they hadn’t had any time to try anything major since his arrival, and he was already running late. Lan Wangji was always busy with either Chief Cultivator duties or teaching young disciples, so Wei Wuxian had been training alone all this time.

But today he had cleared his schedule. Apart from answering a few lengthy letters this morning, he was free for an entire day, and he intended to spend all of it next to Wei Wuxian.

If only he could find him.

“Have any of you seen Wei Wuxian?” he asks.

The disciples glance at one another before the shorter one answers, “Master Wei said… He said...”

“He asked to tell Hanguang Jun that he would wait for him where they last played together,” Lan Minzhe finishes, both of them acquiring a soft shade of pink to their faces.

Lan Wangji sets his gaze down, unable to help the surge of affection that overcomes him. He remembers the last time, of course. It had been right before Wei Wuxian left, while they were still sorting things out before saying goodbye.

Looking up again at the two very wide-eyed boys, Lan Wangji nods in thanks, waits for them to bow, and leaves for the waterfall.

“Was that a smile?” he hears Lan Lingjun whispering behind his back. “Did Hanguang Jun just-”

“Don’t be a fool, Hanguang Jun doesn’t smile. It was probably just a twitch of his lips.”

Lan Wangji pretends he didn’t hear anything and keeps walking away. Was he smiling? He didn’t even notice.

He thinks he’s been smiling a lot these days.

 

-

 

Lan Wangji finds him lying down on a low tree branch, hands behind his back, more asleep than awake. It’s fascinating how, even like this, there’s still an easy smile on his lips, like his face was made for happiness alone. What a cruel turn of fate it was, that the man with the brightest smile Lan Wangji knew was also the one with the most brutal life.

He wishes he could stare, or simply study him. He can’t say he hasn’t, right on the first day Wei Wuxian came back to him and they slept on the same bed. Together. Close.

Waking up earlier had its advantages, and for one of the first times in his life, Lan Wangji found a reason to stay in bed for a little while longer.

He approaches quietly, but Wei Wuxian hears him coming anyway. In a swift movement, he jumps down from the tree and lands softly in front of him.

“Lan Zhan, what took you so long?” he asks through a yawn, muffling his mouth with his hand.

His eyes are a little swollen. Pretty. Lan Wangji makes no comment on the unruliness of his hair. Doing so would make him want to fix it, and that would certainly be a tragedy, in Lan Wangji’s eyes.

“Letters,” he says after a beat. He needs to remind himself to stop staring so much and forgetting to answer whenever Wei Wuxian asks him a question.

Wei Wuxian rolls his eyes. “Let me know if you need help burning them.”

Lan Wangji doesn’t answer. He would be tempted to accept the offer, if this wasn’t something he absolutely had to get through. Being Chief Cultivator was never something he aimed towards, but the clans had appointed his brother for the role, and since Lan Xichen was still in reclusion, he had gladly taken his place. His brother had been there for him when he was the one who needed time to heal, and now it was Lan Wangji’s turn to do the same.

“Everything alright?” Wei Wuxian asks.

“Mn,” he says. How can it not be? Wei Wuxian is here. “Should we start with sword training?”

“Ah, about that,” he scratches the back of his neck. “I was thinking we could do… meditation.”

Lan Wangji can’t help but frown. Meditation was always Wei Wuxian’s least favorite part of core development.

“Don’t look at me like that! I found a book in your library… And it talked about the importance of meditation for core development. I knew it was important, but I never needed a lot of it before, with my old core, so I never learned how to do it well,” he says, spewing all the words quickly, as if he’s somehow embarrassed about them. “I haven’t tried it seriously with Mo Xuanyu’s core yet. I always just fall asleep. So…”

He looks at Lan Wangji expectantly. Of course, what he’s saying makes sense. Lan Wangji knew he’d been spending some time in the library, but for some reason he didn’t think this would be the outcome.

He nods and sets Bichen down on a nearby tree.

“Alright. Let’s-”

“But I don’t mean the crazy handstands I see you doing sometimes,” Wei Wuxian says quickly. “Just quiet, sitting down meditation. Could we do that?”

“No,” Lan Wangji says, half serious and half just to see the beautiful pout that forms on Wei Wuxian’s face. “You would fall asleep.”

“But Lan Zhaaaaan!” he takes a step forward and tugs on his sleeve. Lan Wangji almost leans in his direction. “I can’t do that for such a long time. I haven’t done meditation in so long! I’m new to it! Won’t you go easy on me?”

He makes a noncommittal sound deep in his throat. How can he deny Wei Wuxian anything?

“Standing meditation, then.”

“Ugh. Fine,” Wei Wuxian raises his arms above his head and stretches his waist side to side. “Let’s go.”

Lan Wangji takes a deep breath to ground himself and starts instructing.

It comes easily to him, by now. He’s been teaching the younger Lan sect members for years, and each person comes with their own difficulties. Some stir too much, some stand completely still but let their thoughts wander too far, and some simply cannot hold a position for a long time.

Wei Wuxian is, somehow, all of these at once. Lan Wangji coaches him through it, telling him the right posture to hold, how to bend the knees, which muscles to engage. Wei Wuxian closes his eyes and does exactly as he’s told… For an entirety of five minutes at a time.

He attempts to meditate as well, when he realizes Wei Wuxian already has a better grip on what to do. But even as he tries to focus, there is a weird tingling sensation on his neck that keeps driving his attention away.

Lan Wangji opens his eyes and catches Wei Wuxian peeking at him with one wide open, trying to be sneaky.

As soon as he’s caught, he closes both eyes again and schools his expression, pretending like nothing happened.

Lan Wangji feels overwhelmed by the wave of affection that hits him. Out of everything there is to love about Wei Wuxian, he has missed his playfulness the most.

“Wei Ying,” he scolds, pressing his lips together to keep himself from smiling. From the teasing grin Wei Wuxian shoots him when he looks back, he isn’t able to hide it very well.

“Ah Lan Zhan, I’m sorry. Your meditation face is too entertaining not to watch. I keep wanting to look at you.”

“I see,” Lan Wangji says, feeling the tips of his ears burn. “Perhaps upside down meditation would be better suited, then.”

“Fine! I’ll focus, I’ll focus,” Wei Wuxian quickly closes his eyes again.

It’s a little easier, after that. Wei Wuxian starts to get more comfortably into it, slipping into a meditative state faster and faster. 

Every once in a while, he slouches, and Lan Wangji has to whisper at him to stand up straight. Posture is a huge part of this, and he can’t let his body do what it wants. It’s about control. The problem is, every time he does, Wei Wuxian loses his focus and ends up having to start all over again.

The next time he slouches, Lan Wangji tries another approach. He walks silently to Wei Wuxian’s side and puts one hand on his back and another one on his chest, gently changing his position.

Wei Wuxian darts his eyes open and takes a sudden step away, raising an arm in between them. Lan Wangji freezes, hands still in the air over the ghost of his shape.

“I… apologize,” he says, lowering his arms.

“No, you just startled me!” Wei Wuxian puts a hand on his own chest, as if he wants to stop his heart from beating. “Sorry, I wasn’t ready.”

“I wanted to correct your position. I will use just my voice, from now on.”

“Lan Zhan, it’s okay! It was just this once. I’ll be prepared next time.”

Lan Wangji nods.

Wei Wuxian manages to get back into the right posture and slip right back to a meditative state without any guidance. It’s impressive how fast he learns things, once he puts his mind to it. Lan Wangji doesn’t think he will ever stop being shocked at how capable Wei Wuxian actually is.

He gets into it quickly, but once again, after a while, his neck starts dropping a little. Not wanting to startle him again, Lan Wangji places the tips of his fingers softly on his back, right between his shoulder blades.

Wei Wuxian immediately shrinks away from his touch.

“Sorry, sorry,” Wei Wuxian says, smiling awkwardly at him.

Lan Wangji tries not to let his heart drop too far. He knows how it feels, to be so focused on something that any movement from outside seems alarming. He knows he interrupted Wei Wuxian’s flow of energy, and this is why he reacted the way he did.

That’s all there is to it, he tells himself. That’s all there is.

Lan Wangji doesn’t touch him again.

 

-

 

In the first few months of Wei Wuxian’s stay, he steals the hearts of every Lan Junior he comes in contact with.

Lan Wangji knew it would happen from the very beginning. Wei Wuxian is the most lovable person he knows, and anyone that gets to know him can clearly see his charm, even if some do envy it. There is no reason why the Juniors wouldn’t open their hearts to him, after a while. He just didn’t realize it would happen so fast.

It begins, of course, with rule-breaking.

Lan Wangji starts hearing rumors about Wei Wuxian everywhere he goes. He knows the disciples are intrigued by the Yiling Patriarch’s presence in the Cloud Recesses, and so he doesn’t scold the young men when he hears them spreading news about him. They talk loudly and often, about almost everything Wei Wuxian does: his Yunmeng Jiang style of sword-fighting, the talismans he makes for himself and teaches them how to use, the gruesome stories he tells about demonic cultivation to whoever has the stomach to hear them.

They talk about him with fascination and fear. They whisper about how impressive it is that he’s developing his new golden core so fast. They mention that he often stops by their classroom, leans over the window, proposes a truly unsolvable dilemma, and then leaves them behind with a laugh and no answer.

If Lan Wangji allows the whispering to go on, it is simply because it’s the only way he can still know about Wei Wuxian’s whereabouts, even when they’re not together. Telling the disciples to stop never crosses his mind. He is too caught up in the euphoria of having Wei Wuxian in his home, always within reach, and hearing about him every day.

Not even four months into his stay, it is impossible to see Wei Wuxian without at least two disciples following right behind.

Lan Wangji feels equal parts happy and jealous. Happy, because since he’s busy, he’s glad that Wei Wuxian at least isn’t alone the entire day.

Jealous, because he wishes he could be the one doing the following.

 

-

 

“This is all wrong!” he hears Wei Wuxian’s voice from where he is sitting by the writing table.

Lan Wangji finishes drying the bath water from his body and puts on his pants. Today has been a very stressful day, after a very stressfully long week. There was a city near Lanling suffering from constant haunting, and the plan of action he had decided needed to be followed to deal with it hadn’t been followed at all. After a five days' trip there to ensure that everything started running smoothly again, Lan Wangji was finally back home.

His plan was to go to his own room, change the dirty travel robes he was wearing, and then immediately go to Wei Wuxian’s chambers and tell him of his arrival.

But when he got to his room, Wei Wuxian had already been lying down on his front steps, one foot crossed over his leg, holding a book above his head as he mouthed the words he was reading back to himself. “Finally, I was starving!” he said, as soon as he saw him. As if no time had gone by at all. As if he had been waiting there, by his door, the entire time.

Lan Wangji’s knees feel weak just remembering it.

“What is all wrong?” he asks, coming out from behind the privacy screen, tying his robes around his waist. 

Wei Wuxian raises his head at him and goes still. 

Lan Wangji holds in a breath. For a second, he thinks about slowing down his movement, about pretending like Wei Wuxian’s eyes on him aren’t pure, or merely just admiring.

It's embarrassing, how much he wants... to be wanted. To be thought of, in less than innocent lights. He has long since lost the shame he used to feel about showing his body. There is no part of him he doesn’t wish Wei Wuxian to see. Even the marks on his chest. Even his scar-ridden back. Let him look at whatever he wants.

Let him have it all.

“Um. I-” Wei Wuxian blinks, eyes idly following the movement of Lan Wangji’s hands as he ties the knot on his robes. “What?”

“You said something was wrong,” Lan Wangji says, batting away his explicit thoughts. His clothes are too thin to hide it, should he indulge in them. “What is it?”

“Oh,” Wei Wuxian swallows, looking down again. “My… Uh, my plants.”

Lan Wangji sits by his side and starts carefully untangling his hair. The table is a mess of spilled ink and scattered papers in front of them.

“Are they not growing?” he asks. He hasn’t seen Wei Wuxian’s garden. Every time he tried, he was pushed away with excuses of it not being ready to show yet.

“They are. But winter is coming soon,” he says, throwing a piece of paper by his side. “Sorry, I’ll clean that. Winter is coming and they’ll all die. Gusu is unforgiving.”

“It is the nature of things.”

“I know, but… There has to be a way to keep these plants warm, right? There are talismans for keeping meals warm. So why not plants? And the same one doesn’t work, I’ve tried. The leaves just dry up and die.”

Wei Wuxian runs his hands through his hair and sighs. His eyes look more sunken than they did when they last saw each other, almost a week ago.

“You’re tired,” Lan Wangji notes.

“Yeah, I haven’t…” he glances at him and sets his brush down. “I haven’t been sleeping well.”

“Why?”

Wei Wuxian waves his hand.

“The usual nightmares. Worries. Memories. You know how it is,” he lets out a weak laugh.

Lan Wangji simply stares at him. He does know how it is. Very, very well.

“And it’s been happening this entire time?”

“Not really. It’s been worse in the past… Week? Five days, maybe? I don’t know why. Maybe I’m more stressed about these plants dying than I thought,” he smiles. It doesn’t reach his eyes.

He looks tired. Tense. He said worries and memories, but Lan Wangji has the strong suspicion it is much more of the latter.

He doesn’t know what to say. He wants to comfort him, somehow, but words don’t come to him as easily as they might for someone else.

Hesitantly, Lan Wangji reaches out to touch Wei Wuxian’s hand. Perhaps physical contact might be of use to convey what he wants to say, where words fail.

As soon as their fingers brush together, Wei Wuxian flinches.

Lan Wangji draws his fingers back as quickly as he can.

“Wait, Lan Zh-”

“I apologize,” he says, before Wei Wuxian can say anything. “I shouldn’t have touched you.”

“No,” Wei Wuxian looks at him, and then at his retracted hand. “That’s not why-”

“You don’t like it. I understand,” he says, cursing himself for the vulnerability in his voice. Again, he has crossed a line.

“Is that what you think?”

Lan Wangji doesn’t say anything. What else could he think? He has tried, again and again, to reach out to Wei Wuxian. To feel… Some kind of skin to skin connection, while they’re still close. But Wei Wuxian always reacts badly, even after his return. The only times when he doesn’t shy away from his touch are moments when one of them is in danger or pain, like carrying him when his leg was cursed, or when he initiates the touch himself: a playful bumping of their elbows, a casual touch to the arm, a squeeze of his hand on the roof.

“Lan Zhan, look at me,” Wei Wuxian says.

Lan Wangji turns his head in his direction, but keeps his gaze down. He’s not sure what his eyes will betray if he looks at him.

“Lan Zhan. Please?”

Wei Wuxian touches his chin very softly with the tips of his fingers, angling it up.

“I… like touching. Please don’t misunderstand,” he says. Lan Wangji can barely bear to look at him, so he focuses on the red hint of his ribbon peeking through his hair, slipping down his shoulder. “I just have this weird reaction when people touch me, sometimes. It’s just… I…”

He stops, trying to find the right words. Lan Wangji’s chin still tingles on the place where Wei Wuxian’s fingers brushed against his skin. He wants more of it. He wants him to hold him, to grab his neck, to touch his lips. He’s so greedy, when it comes to Wei Wuxian. So hungry.

“What is it?” he asks, to keep himself from spiraling into those thoughts. He focuses on the pressure of the ribbon on his forehead and tries not to imagine Wei Wuxian touching more than just his chin, making his skin tingly in all sorts of places. Restraint, he tells himself. And then, out loud, “I want to understand.”

Wei Wuxian tears his gaze away from him, swallowing dry.

“Well. This… Isn’t a surprise, I’m sure, but… I haven’t received many tender touches, since…” he trails off, staring into the distance. “Since becoming the Yiling Patriarch. I can count on one hand the people who still wanted to have anything to do with me.”

Lan Wangji nods, clenching his hands into fists. The world has truly been very unkind to Wei Wuxian. He deserves so much more than he got. Lan Wangji wishes he could give it all to him.

He wishes he had tried harder.

“And even for those people, well, half of them, I couldn’t just let them touch me,” he glances at Lan Wangji and lets out a weak laugh. “I was lacking something pretty important, after all. I couldn’t let y- I mean, them… Notice.”

Finally, he meets Lan Wangji’s gaze. He isn’t sure what his face shows, but Wei Wuxian’s eyes widen just slightly, and then he smiles.

“Don’t look at me like that, Hanguang Jun,” he says. “A sad expression doesn't become you. You look way more handsome when you’re just thinking of ways to murder me instead.”

“Wei Ying, I…” he starts, but there is no amount of words in the world to describe what he feels. “If I had stayed- If I had known…”

“You didn’t know,” Wei Wuxian says, not unkindly. “I didn’t make it easy for you, either. It was just a lot of bad communication on our part.”

Lan Wangji swallows. He thinks communication will never stop being a problem, between them. Not when he can’t build up the courage to say how he truly feels. Not when Wei Wuxian can’t see his acts of devotion as the love confessions they are truly meant to be.

“Would you want to change that?” Lan Wangji asks before he can think better of it. Wei Wuxian looks confused, so he explains. “Your aversion to touch.”

Wei Wuxian lets out a weak laugh.

“Who would touch me, Hanguang Jun?”

Lan Wangji reaches for his hand again, much more firmly, this time. Wei Wuxian almost gasps, the breath caught between his lungs. Before he can try to pull away, Lan Wangji laces their fingers together, much like he has wanted to do for years.

Wei Wuxian stares at their joined hands for a long time. Lan Wangji does, too, unable to look him in the face. He keeps his expression neutral, but his heart seems to jump inside his chest.

Time feels still around them. Lan Wangji, even more so.

And then.

Wei Wuxian’s thumb moves over his hand, caressing him slowly. Lan Wangji inhales as softly as he can, focusing on the feeling of Wei Wuxian’s fingers in between his. He mimics what Wei Wuxian is doing with his thumb, and hears a soft laugh.

When he looks up, there’s an adorable dusky rose shade to Wei Wuxian’s face. He wants to kiss it. He wants to place his fingertips carefully on his cheeks and feel them getting hotter under his skin.

He can do nothing of the sort. And so he keeps very, very still.

“I didn’t think you liked touching, Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian says, tugging playfully on his hand. “Is this alright for you?”

“I do not mind,” he says, his own face blushing in response.

It’s almost absurd, how a simple touch can make his skin flare up, senses overwhelmed. After everything that he’s researched, seen, imagined he wanted to do to Wei Wuxian... Hand-holding is what breaks him down, overcomes him, makes every hair in his body rise.

“I don’t even see your family touching you,” Wei Wuxian says, almost as if he’s speaking to himself, unaware of the storm happening inside Lan Wangji’s heart. “Is it only okay if it comes from a lifelong friend?” he teases.

“Not a friend,” Lan Wangji says, feeling a little lightheaded. He would never let a friend touch him like this. “Zhiji.”

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian says, and suddenly he’s leaning closer, bending their elbows and resting his chin over both of their joined fingers. “Does that mean I can touch you, then?”

In any way you want, he thinks. In more ways than you would want to.

“Yes,” he says instead. It isn’t a lie. It feels like one. “I want to get used to it, as well.”

Wei Wuxian simply smiles at him. “Ah, Hanguang Jun. You really shouldn’t have said that. You’ll get tired of me before you notice.”

Lan Wangji barely registers what he’s saying. It’s so hard to focus, when he’s close like this. His head being supported by both of their intertwined hands, his lips so pretty and so red and so close…

“Never,” he says, hoping it’s the right answer. And then, because his heart is about to burst inside his chest, and because he feels like he can’t take a single second longer without closing the distance between them, he adds, “It’s nine.”

Wei Wuxian blinks several times, his face dropping the slightest bit. Lan Wangji hates it.

“Alright,” Wei Wuxian sighs, letting go of his hand. The cold air feels worse than a sword wound.

He gathers his things and puts them into a pile, saying he’ll come back for them in the morning. Lan Wangji doesn’t mind the mess. His mind is elsewhere completely.

He wants to ask Wei Wuxian to stay. He’s not ready to let him go yet, not like this.

It’s silly. He’s not leaving yet. Lan Wangji will see him tomorrow. Besides, there is no logical reason why they should share a bed, not when Wei Wuxian has a perfectly fine bed of his own not far from here.

Still...

“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji whispers. Wei Wuxian opens the door to the outside, but turns back to him before he can leave.

Stay, he wants to say. Sleep here, just for tonight.

He can’t say that. He can’t.

“It's too late to walk all the way back," the words come out before he has the chance to stop them. They make no sense. There is no possible danger for him in the Cloud Recesses. “I will take the edge of the bed.”

He turns before he can hear the answer and blows out the candle. He has to, otherwise he will have to actually look at Wei Wuxian’s face, and he doesn’t think he can. Willing his heart to slow down, he lies on the bed and crosses his arms over his chest.

The door closes. He hears the shuffling of clothes, and then the weight of Wei Wuxian climbing over him to lie down on the corner. There’s some movement while he adjusts his position, and then silence.

The warmth radiates from his body and makes Lan Wangji’s head spin. Will Wei Wuxian touch him like this, after their conversation? How should he react, if he does?

He thinks about tucking his face into Wei Wuxian’s chest and inhaling him, the smell of his skin, of dirt after rain, of spices. He longs for being able to hug him, press their bodies as close as they’ll get.

He longs for a lot of other, much less innocent things.

No, he tells himself. The liquid burning low on his stomach is precisely why he cannot allow himself to touch Wei Wuxian, right now. He doesn’t know if he’ll be able to stop, if he does. Suddenly, he’s glad he kept his ribbon securely tied on his forehead. It’s a reminder to respect his space, and his decision. It’s a reminder to keep himself in check.

Through the dark, he can hear Wei Wuxian’s breathing. He can hear his own heart, beating loudly in his ears.

Slowly, Wei Wuxian puts his hand on top of Lan Wangji’s crossed ones, over his chest.

“Is… this okay?” he asks. His voice is low and hoarse near Lan Wangji’s ears. He wonders what it means. He knows it doesn’t mean anything.

Lan Wangji can’t breathe. He’s afraid that, if he does, Wei Wuxian will feel how hard his heart is beating, even like this. He won’t be able to hide it, then.

“... Mn,” he answers. Slowly, he spreads his fingers wide, and Wei Wuxian slips his own in between the gaps.

There’s a long, satisfied exhale next to him. Lan Wangji takes the time to breathe in deep, too.

“Goodnight, Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian says.

“Goodnight, Wei Ying.”

Lan Wangji has to force himself to fall asleep.

 

-

 

He wakes up at 5 lying down on his side, with Wei Wuxian’s arm tightly draped over his waist, holding him close. There is a steady, hot breath in between his shoulder blades, and the soft, hazy feeling of a night well-slept in his mind.

Wei Wuxian twitches in his sleep, changing his position slightly, and Lan Wangji realizes their feet are pressed in between each other, tangled under sheets he does not remember pulling up.

He lies there for a long time, breathing as slowly as he can, trying to calm the sudden rushing of his heart. For the first time in his life, Wei Wuxian is hugging him, and he isn’t even conscious while he’s doing it.

Lan Wangji shouldn’t make too much of this. He shouldn’t bask in someone’s sleepy impulses, he shouldn’t enjoy the closeness Wei Wuxian didn't consciously decide to have.

But the arm around him feels so good. Perfect. So much better than anything he could ever have imagined.

Just for a little while, he thinks, closing his eyes again and allowing himself to appreciate the warmth of having the man he has always belonged to holding him close. Dreaming of a world where this is what he wakes up to, every morning.

By the time Lan Wangji gets up from the bed and finally starts his day, the darkness of the night has gone, making space for an entirely new day ahead.

He leaves behind the sleepy, warm and cozy Wei Wuxian of his dreams, and silently ignores the wet patch on his pillow where his tears have made a stain.

They will dry. They always do.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Wei Wuxian prides himself on being very good at not thinking about things.

He spent enough time alone to know that, if he allows his mind to go wherever it wants, he’ll find himself in a bad place. There are too many horrible things in life. If he doesn’t force himself to think about the good ones, what will be left of him, except for a sad, sobbing shape of a man, curled up in a room?

There is a scar on Lan Wangji’s chest, right above his heart, in the same place where his old body had one. There are other, more serious whip scars on his back. All of Lan Wangji’s scars are because of him. He doesn’t think about it.

His brother was left with no one but a nephew to take care of, losing his entire family in a very short space of time, and Wei Wuxian desperately wishes he could mend the tears in their relationship and get to know him again. But it’s nearly impossible. Jiang Cheng would never accept him again. He doesn’t think about it.

He saw a purple shadow today, light, almost lilac. Delicate, too. He followed it around, because his mind immediately thought of his sister, and the urge to call for her was bursting in his throat. In the end, it was only a Yunmeng Jiang sect member, coming to a scheduled meeting with the Chief Cultivator. He was wrong.

He doesn’t think about it.

Instead, he farms. He shoves his hands as far as they will go into the earth and wonders what the fuck he’s gonna do about winter. He’s had a few ideas, but so far, none of them worked as perfectly as he wanted them to.

There’s no way he’s just gonna accept the changing of the seasons. He grew seeds in the dirty, barren lands that were the burial mounds. What’s a little snow?

Wei Wuxian looks at the tiny chilis growing on one of the plants, still green, and smiles.

“You’ll be dead soon, if I don’t get my shit together.”

The sun is high in the sky by the time he finishes. He slaps his hands together to get rid of the dirt and goes to the river to clean up.

Sleeves and pants rolled up so as to not get them wet, he rubs his skin clean. The disciples do their sword training in the morning, so by the time he is done with his small garden, almost all of them will be gone, and then it’s his turn. It’s nice having the training fields all to himself. The Juniors all know he’s developing Mo Xuanyu’s golden core - although they don’t know about his previous, lost one - and they’re all perfectly understanding of it, but it’s still embarrassing to be at a 17 year old’s fighting level. And not even himself as a 17 year old, because he was stronger than most. More like… Jin Zixuan, or some other weaker cultivator from his time.

Sorry, shijie, he thinks to himself, a small smile forming on his lips.

“It has to be because of Master Wei,” the wind carries a low voice in his direction.

Wei Wuxian goes completely still. The person speaking seems close enough that they should have seen him, but the stones and trees around the river hide him too well.

“Do you really think so?” another, higher-pitched voice says.

“Of course. Haven’t you heard the stories?”

“I have, but it’s still very hard to believe. Hanguang Jun, smiling. I won’t believe it until I see it with my own eyes.”

“If you want to see it, you have to stay near him when Master Wei is around. That’s what the others say.”

“So it’s true then? The rumors? Hanguang Jun and the Yiling Patriarch, they’re…”

“We shouldn’t gossip,” the one with the low voice lowers it even further. “It’s against the rules.”

They stay silent for a while. Wei Wuxian has to bite his lips and force himself not to laugh. So the Lan Juniors are curious about him and Lan Wangji. And here he was, thinking every Lan was raised to be a perfect statue of Jade.

“But it isn’t gossip if we’re just worried,” the one with the high voice says. “After all, we care about our Hanguang Jun’s well-being.”

“You’re right! We want Hanguang Jun to be happy! I think the rumors are true, because Lingjun says he saw it, too. The smile. And with the story Jingyi told us, about the bunny lantern, it’s possible that…”

Their voices disappear again. Wei Wuxian lets out the chuckle he’s been holding back and gets out of the water. What rumors could the children possibly be talking about? That he and Hanguang Jun are friends? Isn’t that clear, by now, to the entire cultivation world?

He sits down to slip his shoes back on. The folded-up robes gather at the top of his thighs, the hems a little wet despite his efforts. He’s thinking about laying down a bit, just like this, to let his legs dry before going to practice, when he hears a soft ruffle of leaves near him. When he looks in its direction, Lan Wangji is getting down from Bichen, landing right by his side.

“Lan Zhan!” he leans back on the ground to look at him better, blocking the sun with his hand.

Lan Wangji’s eyes travel down his body, taking in his messy appearance. Suddenly, Wei Wuxian’s mind betrays him, filled with images of Lan Wangji yanking his robes further open, whispering that he looks indecent…

He gets up and adjusts his clothes quickly, clearing his throat. If he allows himself to think about Lan Wangji like that, he might never stop.

He thinks this, ignoring the loud, blaring voice in his head that screams at him that he already does. Every time Lan Wangji gets out of his bath, still tying his robes together. Every time he catches him in the Cold Springs, strong back turned to him, white pants clinging to his-

“Wei Ying, did you get my message?” Lan Wangji yanks him out of his filthy thoughts.

“Uh, no, I haven’t. What happened?”

“We received a visit today, from Yunmeng Jiang. Jiang Wanyin has caught word that you are working on your new golden core.”

“Oh, fuck,” he says. He can’t believe he didn’t think of what Jiang Cheng’s reaction would be, if he heard. “What-”

Without a word, Lan Wangji extends his arms.

He’s holding a sword.

A long, wooden sword, engraved with patterns so familiar to him he could draw them perfectly from scratch.

“Suibian,” he breathes.

“Mn.”

He reaches out for it, swallowing hard. When he let the sword go, all those years ago, he never thought he would be able to ever use it again. In the temple, confronting Jiang Cheng about his golden core transfer, it still seemed like an impossibility, something so far away he couldn’t even fathom it.

But now…

Lan Wangji takes something inside his robes and gives it to him. It’s a tiny piece of paper, textured and expensive-looking. Wei Wuxian picks it up and tears the purple wax seal, trying to remember the last time he received a letter that wasn’t from Lan Wangji himself.

Take responsibility for your own damn sword, now that you can.

Wei Wuxian shakes his head, laughing a little. The words are harsh, of course they are. Jiang Cheng wouldn’t have it any other way, especially after everything that happened between them. But still, the simple act of sending it back to him, of attaching a letter to it and making it clear he’s the one who thought of it...

He unsheathes the sword, feeling it vibrate with energy in his grasp. Suibian. His loyal weapon, once again in his hands, and this time, it didn’t come accompanied by the feeling of weakness, of uselessness, that used to accompany it before.

Lan Wangji observes him quietly, a soft look in his face that somehow conveys… Happiness, he thinks. Maybe even pride.

It dawns on Wei Wuxian, looking at the bright expression in front of him, what it is exactly that he’s doing. He isn’t simply getting stronger for the sake of being strong, or for night-hunting efficiently. He is improving the quality of his life. He is pushing back the time of his death, even if by natural causes. He is slowing down his aging, his life-expectancy, everything. 

Did that occur to Lan Wangji too, before? Is he aware that Wei Wuxian will most likely still be here, even a hundred years from now? Is that why he agreed to help, knowing Wei Wuxian would be safer, healthier, after he started cultivating again?

Swallowing down his questions, he raises his sword to Lan Wangji’s chest.

“Shall we test my progress, Hanguang Jun?”

Lan Wangji gives him a sideways smile, silently recognizing his words for the challenge that they are.

Before Wei Wuxian can follow his movements, there is a blue light shining near his eyes.

 

-

 

Sparring with Lan Wangji is a lot more like dancing than fighting. The easiness of their movements, the rhythm of their feet. The muscle memory from when they did it as equals, all coming back to him instantly, and manifesting in the way he bends a knee to duck from a strike, or flicks his wrist to shield himself.

Wei Wuxian is not expecting to win against Hanguang Jun - he knows he can’t. Compared to the other man, he is but a child, fighting for the sake of fighting, knowing they can only always lose. For Lan Wangji, winning against him would only take a few movements.

But this isn’t about winning. At least, not at first.

Wei Wuxian wants to stir him. He wants to see the confused look on Lan Wangji’s face, the annoyed glances he got when they first did this, on his first night here. He thinks he remembers how to get those out of him, even now. It’s always been one of the things he does best.

He draws back a little, edging Lan Wangji forward. He’s been coming back to his own style recently, less elegant than Lan Wangji’s, more sneaky and fluid. It is not quite the Yunmeng Jiang style, no matter what the Lan disciples call it. He always got into trouble for not following it correctly, but even back then, he never liked to be so predictable in his movements.

He strikes a few times, knowing Lan Wangji will dodge him easily. Lan Wangji strikes back, leisurely, testing out his limits, giving him enough time to react. Wei Wuxian almost laughs at how slow he’s going, but it’s always better to let your opponent underestimate you.

They spar until they find an easy flow, a push and pull pattern that suits the both of them. Wei Wuxian is unable to contain the smile on his lips. He can feel his sword vibrating in his hand, as if it, too, missed being wielded like this.

Lan Wangji doesn’t take his eyes away from him. He lingers, soft and focused, like he doesn’t even have to think about his next step. Wei Wuxian is more than happy to stare at him right back, revelling in all the attention he’s getting.

But enough stalling, he thinks. He needs to act on his plan.

He waits until Lan Wangji is relaxed, used to the predictability of his movements, and strikes hard. The attack is blocked easily, as he knew it would be, and Wei Wuxian uses the opportunity to let his hand brush against Lan Wangji’s wrist.

Thinking of it as a mistake, Lan Wangji shows barely any reaction at all. Wei Wuxian smiles to himself, and continues on his blow by blow strategy.

The next time he surges forward, Lan Wangji stops him mid-strike. Of course. Wei Wuxian twirls around him, brushing their shoulders together, and attacks again.

Crossing their swords, Lan Wangji frowns at him. Twice now, Wei Wuxian has put himself in a vulnerable situation, coming close enough to his opponent that it certainly would’ve been fatal, in a real fight.

Wei Wuxian fakes a panting breath, and pulls on his best frustrated face.

“Wei Y-”

He pushes his sword straight onto Lan Wangji’s stomach, and is evaded instantly. Stumbling forward, he leans on Lan Wangji’s body for support he doesn’t really need. When Lan Wangji puts a hand on his waist to hold him up, Wei Wuxian raises his sword again, aiming for his neck.

He doesn’t fall for it. Before Wei Wuxian can even completely lift his arm, Lan Wangji has already backed away, ready for another defense.

“Wei Ying,” he says, lips twisted in disapproval.

There it is. Almost.

“What?” Wei Wuxian asks, feigning innocence, and attacks.

He keeps pressing on, not exactly gaining ground, but that isn’t his focus. He makes obvious attacks he knows will be dodged, and then uses the space to touch whichever part of Lan Wangji he can reach.

A brush of their hands for too long to be coincidental. A laughter near Lan Wangji’s ear. A touch to his arm, a tug on his robes.

A twirl of his hand on his forehead ribbon, just to test his limits.

Lan Wangji’s neck blushes beautifully with his teasing, eyes opening wide when he realizes Wei Wuxian isn’t making a series of rookie mistakes, but instead doing this on purpose, getting into his opponent’s personal space just to tease.

Wei Wuxian gets more and more confident, grabbing Lan Wangji’s arm, putting a hand on his waist, dancing around him in quick and fluid motions. It never lasts long enough for him to get in trouble, and before Lan Wangji can even react, Wei Wuxian is already drawing back, already attacking again. He knows full well that this isn’t a practical style, and that if Lan Wangji really wanted to, he could stop this in an instant.

But Lan Wangji lets it happen. Beyond his tension, Wei Wuxian can see amusement, the very subtle glint to his eye that shows him that he’s enjoying this just as much, even as he pretends that he isn’t.

“Be serious,” Lan Wangji tries saying, with a frustrated look so cute it makes Wei Wuxian want to stop everything and throw him against a tree to kiss it away.

He can’t, so instead he lets out a loud laugh, enjoying the very familiar feeling of satisfaction that comes with making Hanguang Jun get so flustered.

“I’m being very serious,” he says with a wicked smile.

He fires a series of strong slashes in Lan Wangji’s way. Their swords clash against each other over and over, and he surges forward once more, faster this time, applying more of his spiritual energy into it.

Lan Wangji blocks his attack effectively and with ease.

Wei Wuxian stops, their crossed swords right in front of his eyes. Past the blades of Suibian and Bichen, he can see Lan Wangji staring at him, standing very still, waiting for his next movement.

Without ever breaking eye-contact, Wei Wuxian leans down and places a soft kiss on Lan Wangji’s sword-wielding hand.

He watches as Lan Wangji’s entire body freezes, lips parting in a silent gasp.

His heart races inside his chest, his own sword half forgotten. For a single second, he wonders what it would be like, to lean into him right now, close the space between their lips, see how Lan Wangji reacts to their bodies being pressed together...

Wei Wuxian draws his head back, remembering to keep himself in check.

With a flick of his wrist, he presses the tip of Subian’s blade on Lan Wangji’s throat.

“I win.”

Lan Wangji blinks a few times, seeming to come out of a daze. He looks down at his sword, and then back at his face, while his mind seems to process what just happened.

“Mn,” he says, after what seems like a long time. “Wei Ying wins.”

Wei Wuxian smiles at him. Lan Wangji smiles right back.

He sighs, feeling the tension in his body releasing.

He kissed Lan Wangji's hand, and it didn't make a single thing in the world shift.

He kissed Lan Wangji's hand, and they're both still here, still fine, still smiling.

Maybe it’s okay, to push physical contact a little bit further.

Maybe he’s not the only one who wants it.

 

-

 

Meditation turns out to be way more effective than Wei Wuxian initially thought.

He used to hate it when he was young. He remembers it almost vividly, how he and Jiang Cheng would escape to the markets every time Jiang Fengmian tried to make them sit down and focus on their spiritual energy.

It’s a lot easier to meditate now that he actually has a reason for it. And the quiet places in Gusu are plentiful, unlike in the Lotus Pier, where there is life and chaos and lively chatter nearly everywhere he goes.

Well. There used to be. He doesn’t know much about how it is now.

“Master Wei,” comes the excited voice from somewhere near him.

Wei Wuxian opens his eyes and realizes his view of the waterfall is blocked by five little Lan heads. They all bow when he looks, perfect postures, identical to one another.

“Hello there,” he says, uncurling his legs from underneath him and sitting more comfortably on the flat stone. “Were you watching me meditate? Did I look handsome?”

Lan Jingyi, who is positioned slightly behind the other four, scoffs at him.

“How can you be so shameless? We’re here to ask you something!”

“Master Wei, have you heard about the upcoming Lan conference?” one of the boys asks.

Wei Wuxian narrows his eyes and tries to remember his name. He is sure he’s seen these boys before, following him around and asking him detailed questions about ghosts, corpses, talismans and demonic cultivation. He’s always happy to answer, and they’re always happy to listen.

As it turns out, however, having a number of curious boys in the same place as a chatty ex-villain made up the perfect combination to get every elder in the sect angry at him. He’s never received as many glares as he has in the past few months. He isn’t even sure how he hasn’t been expelled yet. Maybe Lan Wangji is putting in a good word for him.

“Yes, I’ve heard about it. It must be really exciting for you all, to have so many new people around.”

“We’ve been wondering, since Master Wei was here for a conference, all those years ago…” the boy hesitates. Wei Wuxian thinks his name is Lan Lingjun, but he isn’t sure. The boy looks at Jingyi for a second, and after getting an encouraging nod, he continues, “We were wondering if you would tell us a little bit about how it went. From an outsider’s perspective.”

They all nod enthusiastically. Lan Jingyi crosses his arms behind them and looks very satisfied with himself. Wei Wuxian wonders if the idea of coming here to ask was his all along.

“How did you know I was here for the conference?” he asks.

“It’s in the Lan history books.”

“Oh. Well, I’m afraid this gege can’t help you much. My time in the Lan conference was spent mostly in punishment for breaking one or two of your excessive rules,” Wei Wuxian laughs a little at how their faces drop. “I’m sorry! I really don’t remember much of what I learned that time. I was punished the first night I got here, after getting into a fight with your perfect Hanguang Jun, who attacked me for no reason...”

At that, five pairs of eyes get a little bit bigger in front of him.

“So you and Hanguang Jun did fight!”

“Hanguang Jun really did start a fight without reason, back then?”

“What do you mean, no reason?” Lan Jingyi asks at the same time. “You must’ve done something wrong.”

Wei Wuxian stares at the very curious faces, and decides there is no harm in letting them know a little bit about what happened.

He leans in their direction, cupping his mouth with one hand, acting like he is about to share a big secret. The little Lans all lean in together to hear him.

“I did bring in some alcohol,” he says, then stops to think a little. “And I broke curfew. I also tried to bribe him…”

Gasps all around.

“But I didn’t know the rules yet!” he says, holding back his laughter at their scandalized faces. “Lan Wangji had no reason to pull his sword on me out of nowhere!”

“His sword!” one of the Lans whose name he can’t remember, but who seems to always be following him, widens his eyes. “And he injured you?”

“What?” Wei Wuxian leans his head back and lets out a loud laugh. “Of course not! Lan Zhan and I are- were, equals. It was just friendly sparring. It only became serious after he knocked both my Emperor’s Smile jars off the roof.”

“The roof,” one of the Juniors says to another. “Again.”

They nod to each other somberly, and then turn back to Wei Wuxian as if no words had passed between them.

Again?

“So Hanguang Jun won, that time?” Lan Jingyi asks.

“Evidently, it was a tie. Lan Wangji had nothing on me, and I didn’t win only because I had to protect two very expensive and breakable jars.”

“Back then, did you also try kissing his han- mmmph!” a boy he is sure is called Lan Minzhe stops abruptly. He makes a muffled sound behind his sealed lips, and looks at Lan Jingyi with fire in his eyes.

Wei Wuxian’s breath hitches. Oh. So someone had seen that.

He stares at the disciples, wondering how exactly did they end up seeing it. Granted, they weren’t sparring in a very secluded place, or trying to hide at all, but still. Could it be possible that he was so entranced by Lan Wangji that he had failed to notice that there were other people around?

Not knowing what to say, he diverges.

“And what were you doing, spying on your seniors instead of studying? Shouldn’t you be preparing for the Lan conference, to set an example for other clans?”

“I won’t be studying in the conference, I’m too old,” Lan Jingyi says, not without pride. “I’m gonna be tutoring alongside Sizhui!”

Wei Wuxian turns him around by his shoulders and starts pushing him away. Lan Jingyi is the oldest one here, and the one in charge, so if he goes, the rest will follow.

“Off, all of you,” he says, ignoring the protests. “I’m in the middle of a very important meditation session and I cannot be disturbed. I still haven’t gotten a single answer for the last dilemma I proposed to you yesterday! You all have papers to submit to me!”

“But Master Wei, we can’t figure out-”

“I’m sure you’re all very smart and can find the answer,” he says, waving them off. “It’s not hard! Go, go, you’re all very responsible teens, make Hanguang Jun proud!”

Reluctantly, the little Lans all leave. Lan Jingyi narrows his eyes at him, but after Wei Wuxian sticks his tongue out, he makes an undignified huff in his throat and also goes, following his other clan members.

Wei Wuxian puts his hands on his waist and sighs. It’s the second time in less than a week that the Lan disciples seem interested in his and Lan Wangji’s relationship.

They must really lead very dull lives in the Cloud Recesses, if this is the only entertainment they have.

 

-

 

Wei Wuxian wakes up early one day and discovers Lan Wangji gone from the Cloud Recesses.

Immediately, his heart drops. The last time Lan Wangji was absent, he felt an anxiousness rising in his chest that he hadn’t felt in ages. He was gone for only a week, but during that week, Wei Wuxian had felt more lonely than he'd been in a long time, losing sleep for the entire time it took him to come back.

He doesn’t like the idea of being here alone. He doesn’t feel like he has earned it, to occupy this space without the tether that is Lan Wangji holding him here. The Lan elders still snicker when he passes, and even though Wei Wuxian always flashes a bright smile their way as if to say “I am here, and what are you gonna do about it?”, he can’t help but feel diminished, every time it happens.

“Hanguang Jun left this morning,” Lan Sizhui is the first junior he finds who seems to know what’s happening. “He said he had a very important business to take care of.”

“He left? For how long?” Wei Wuxian asks, not quite believing Lan Wangji would just go on a trip without telling him about it.

Lan Sizhui shakes his head. “I do not know. But it was not long ago.”

Wei Wuxian nods, wondering what not long ago means and if he has time to follow.

“He went towards Caiyi,” Sizhui says, pointedly, and Wei Wuxian smiles.

“Thank you, A-Yuan,” he gives the boy a few pats on his shoulders, and sets on his way.

It is remarkably easy to find him. Wei Wuxian doesn’t even have to look that hard.

After he gets to Caiyi, presumably not too long after Lan Wangji himself, if they really did leave at a close enough time, all he has to do is listen. Most of the chatter around the streets is of common, daily things, but he looks for something out of the ordinary in them.

“... such a handsome young man,” he hears, and his ears perk up.

“Truly one of the most outstanding cultivators-”

There.

Wei Wuxian follows the trail of talk and praise that usually accompanies Hanguang Jun everywhere he goes. There are heads turning towards the door of a very colorful establishment, and he sneaks into it as quietly as he can.

The walls are covered in different kinds of fabrics, in varied sizes and patterns. Some textured, some smooth, all looking like they are very high quality. Lan Wangji stands in the center, towering over a very short woman, who is smiling and nodding at him.

Wei Wuxian tilts his head. Is he buying clothes? He thought the clothes the Lans wore were all made by clan members themselves...

“Is this the right shade?” she asks.

“A bit darker,” Lan Wangji says, and the woman disappears between layers and layers of fabric, leaving him behind.

Darker? Since when does Lan Wangji wear dark clothes?

Wei Wuxian takes another step forward, stretching his neck to see the color he has in his hands, but the angle isn’t right.

The woman comes back with a folded piece of fabric on her hands and unfolds part of it in front of Lan Wangji.

Wei Wuxian widens his eyes.

Dark red silk.

He stumbles backwards, falling right into a wooden screen with several different colored ribbons draped over it. He catches himself before falling, thanks to his newly acquired sense of balance, but it’s too late. He was already seen.

“Wei Ying?” Lan Wangji says, eyeing him with disbelief.

“Um… Hi. Sorry, I just… Heard you were-”

“Is that him?” the woman looks from one of them to the other.

Lan Wangji turns back to her and nods.

“Great! Come here, young master, I’ll be more confident if I have the right measurements for sure!”

Wei Wuxian is dragged into the middle of the room. Lan Wangji doesn’t look at him, stepping back to give him and the woman some space. Now that he’s turned in their direction, Wei Wuxian can see that the fabric he’s clutching between his hands is a perfect black.

“What-” he starts, but the woman lifts his arms and he loses focus for a second. “Lan Zhan, you’re buying me clothes?”

He had been thinking about it himself, for a while. After he started practicing his sword again and having regular meals, his body had bulked up a little, making some movements rather hard inside his old robes.

“Your clothes don’t fit anymore,” Lan Wangji says, and doesn’t elaborate.

Wei Wuxian isn’t giving up so easily. How had Lan Wangji noticed something he himself had only barely felt?

“How did you know?”

"I noticed."

"But how?"

Lan Wangji glares at him. Wei Wuxian sustains his gaze until the other looks away.

“They were… Tight. On your arms,” Lan Wangji lowers his head. “And on your chest,” he whispers.

Wei Wuxian feels hot blood rising up to his face.

“Waist done,” the woman announces happily, uncurling her arms from around Wei Wuxian’s waist. She looks back at Lan Wangji and smiles. “You were right on the size!”

Lan Wangji’s eye twitches, and he sets his gaze even further down. There’s a slight hint of pink on the tips of his ears, and it spreads over to his neck slowly as Wei Wuxian watches.

He stands there as the seamstress fusses over him, measuring his arms, his chest, his height. He can barely remember the last time he went through this. She seems to be very good at her job, nodding silently as she repeats the numbers to herself, not seeming to take any kind of notes.

And then she wraps her arms around his hips, and Lan Wangji’s jaw goes tight.

Wei Wuxian tilts his head at him.

“Right again!” the woman says after measuring, for all intents and purposes, his ass. She turns to Lan Wangji again and nods approvingly. “You have a really good eye for this. All the numbers you gave match.”

Lan Wangji simply hums in response, but he seems considerably less polite about it now.

She shows Wei Wuxian the fabric and waits for his approval before disappearing again. After a few seconds, she comes back empty handed and bows to both of them.

“The clothes will be ready in three weeks.”

Lan Wangji bows at her respectfully. “Thank you.”

As soon as they leave the establishment, Wei Wuxian can no longer hold his curiosity.

“How did you know my measurements?” he asks, quite bluntly. Lan Wangji startles.

He keeps walking silently for a while. When Wei Wuxian is nearly giving up, the answer finally comes, in the form of a low and almost shy voice.

“I... guessed.”

“Oh,” Wei Wuxian says, in the lack of a better response. “Impressive.”

He’s fairly sure Lan Wangji doesn’t have any insane skills that would help him guess someone’s waist size. There aren’t any Lan tricks that would assist with that, either.

Which means Lan Wangji needed to have looked at him, noticed that his clothes were tight, and then kept his eyes on him at least long enough to calculate the measurements in his brain.

Wei Wuxian knows, in a secluded, hidden part of his mind, that Lan Wangji looks at him. Having his attention is one of the things Wei Wuxian cherishes the most in his life, and so of course, when he gets it, he notices.

But it is one thing to have someone looking at you, talking to you, giving you their time. It is another, completely different - and until now, seemingly impossible - thing, to have Lan Wangji… observing him. Looking at his body directly.

His waist. His hips.

Wei Wuxian shudders visibly at the thought.

“Is that why you came here, Lan Zhan?” he says quickly, hoping Lan Wangji hasn’t noticed his entire body trembling. “To get me clothes?”

“Mn.”

“Well, why didn’t you tell me?” Wei Wuxian asks. “I would’ve come with you, if I’d known. You didn’t have to… to guess…” he stutters.

“It was a surprise,” Lan Wangji says. Before Wei Wuxian can answer, he asks, “Why did you follow me?”

“Oh. I don’t know,” Wei Wuxian shrugs. “It’s weird being in the Cloud Recesses when you’re not there.”

Lan Wangji halts, looking at him intently.

“Wei Ying, you have every right to be there.”

“It’s not that!” Wei Wuxian says, even though it is, and he doesn’t. “I just… Don’t like the idea of you travelling alone. Not when you could have company. If… If you wanted to.”

Lan Wangji’s gaze softens, just a little. He takes a deep breath in, and his features all seem to relax. Wei Wuxian wonders how he could ever have thought that Lan Wangji wasn’t an expressive person.

“You would be too bored by the meetings I have to attend,” he says.

But there is a slight glint to his eyes, something that looks too vulnerable to ignore. Maybe Wei Wuxian has struck something with his offer.

He rememebers when they parted, more than 2 years ago now. How disappointed he was that Lan Wangji had stayed. How much Wei Wuxian wants to travel with him. To stay with him. To whatever with him.

He presses on.

“So?” he says. “You’re bored, too. At least this way we’re bored together.”

Lan Wangji seems to hesitate.

“Come on, Lan Zhan. It’ll be fun. We’ll make fun of stuck-up Jins together. Not Jin Ling, of course. Or maybe especially Jin Ling. And then we’ll come back and thank the heavens that the Cloud Recesses are better," he reaches over and tugs on Lan Wangji's hand. "Let me come with you, next time. What do you say?"

“Wei Ying, I-”

“Unless... You don’t require company. In which case-”

“I do,” Lan Wangji says quickly. “I… would like that. I have to go to Lanling. Before the month is over. You- We could-”

“Yes,” Wei Wuxian reaches for his hand again, before remembering they’re in public and letting it go. “We’ll go. Together.”

Lan Wangji smiles.

It is the easiest thing in the world to smile back.

 

-

 

It isn’t until autumn is gently settling in that Wei Wuxian finally finds an answer to his gardening problems.

He spends the entire day perfecting it in his own room. The talisman needs to be immaculate, otherwise it will not last for the entire time he needs it to. The details are, as always, the hardest part, but after he understands the mechanisms of what he’s doing, everything else runs smoothly.

… Except, of course, for a few minor explosions, which he quickly works to cover up.

It’s almost 9 when he finally bursts into Lan Wangji’s bedroom, rushed breath and flushed face from running all the way. He hadn’t realized it was so late, lost in his work as he was. 

“I got it!” he says as soon as he opens the door, forgetting that he isn’t supposed to be this loud at this hour. “I figured it out!”

Lan Wangji looks up at him, a perfect picture of beauty and peace. Wei Wuxian wonders if he’ll ever get used to it, the sight of Lan Wangji’s perfect features, the weight of his eyes completely focused on him.

He thinks he wouldn’t want to get used to it, even if he could. If his breath were to be stolen away by Lan Wangji, he would give it willingly, every time.

“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji nods.

Wei Wuxian can barely see him, in the dim light of his room, illuminated solely by a candle. He is sitting at his table, a half-finished cup of tea in front of him. There is a jade comb in one of his hands, and although his face looks calm, his knuckles look white from grabbing it so tightly.

“I’m sorry I’m so late,” Wei Wuxian quickly closes the distance between them and sits right by his side on the table. Is he angry because Wei Wuxian missed their dinner? He should’ve paid better attention to the time. “I should’ve been here sooner. Are you terribly upset with me?”

“No. I understand,” Lan Wangji says, and starts to untangle his hair.

“Have you eaten?” Wei Wuxian leans in his direction over the table. 

“I have,” he says. Wei Wuxian hears a loud noise from where the comb gets caught in a knot in Lan Wangji’s hair, but his face betrays absolutely no pain. “And you? Did the food get to you?”

Wei Wuxian tilts his head. He was in a nearly drunken state while he was working, so he can barely remember much of his surroundings, but he does remember food being delivered to him at some point.

“You sent it,” he breathes, catching Lan Wangji’s eyes. “Of course it was you.”

“Mn.”

“Ugh, I-” Wei Wuxian lowers his head onto his hands, rubbing the exhaustion out of his face. “I’m sorry, Lan Zhan. I get really hyper-focused when I-”

“Wei Ying, it’s fine,” Lan Wangji says. His voice... sounds calm… “ I know that about you. Tell me about what you found out.”

He says it almost convincingly. Wei Wuxian would have fallen for it, if it weren’t for Lan Wangji’s hands, quickly combing his hair, using way more force than he had ever seen him use on it before.

He winces when the comb gets caught on a particular big knot and Lan Wangji forces it down anyway, tearing the strands.

“Isn’t that painful?”

Lan Wangji barely looks at him. “It is nothing.”

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian reaches over to take his hand, pulling the comb out from his fingers and setting it aside. “You look stressed. Are you sure…?”

Lan Wangji casts his eyes down and allows his hand to be held. It’s easier now, to do this. He doesn’t look as stiff or uncomfortable by the touch anymore.

“It’s nothing you did,” Lan Wangji says softly.

“Do… Do you want to talk about it? Maybe I could help.”

Lan Wangji shakes his head. “Tell me about your day.”

“Ay, Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian shuffles closer to him, frustrated. “I can’t just start talking about my day when you’re like this.”

“It helps. I like...” Lan Wangji looks down, away from him. Their hands are still laced together, and Wei Wuxian feels the precise moment Lan Wangji trembles, bracing for his next words. “It’s… good. Hearing your voice.”

Wei Wuxian feels a hot wave of affection hitting him, making his body shudder. He loves Lan Wangji with everything he has. He wants to do everything for him. To be everything for him.

If what Lan Wangji needs right now is a distraction, he will be one. He can talk for the both of them.

Slowly, he raises Lan Wangji’s hand to his lips and kisses it, once, just like he did after their sparring session. Lan Wangji gasps, and blushes, just like he did then, too. Wei Wuxian wonders how many people have touched Hanguang Jun so tenderly, if any at all, for him to still be so shocked at the merest brush of skin. He wonders, in the back of his mind, if anyone has ever kissed him.

He has no right to feel the boiling jealousy that rises in his chest, and so he squashes it before it makes a home there.

“Well,” Wei Wuxian starts, adopting his best story-teller voice. The one he uses with the juniors, when he wants to keep their attention. “I had a very productive day, Hanguang Jun…”

He gets up and moves behind him, taking the jade comb in his hand. An old memory comes to the front of his mind, of when he used to do this for his shijie when they were kids, and he fights to put it back.

“The talisman for the plants is ready,” he says, voice low, to match the quiet atmosphere of the room. “In the end, the solution was easy.”

Lan Wangji makes a sound in the back of his throat that somehow conveys a question. Wei Wuxian smiles, kneeling behind him. He is glad to know Lan Wangji so well, to know what his sounds mean. Very few have had the honour.

Slowly, he starts combing his hair, being extra careful with the knots. He explains the process of trial and error he went through, the many talismans he got wrong before. When he mentions the explosions, Lan Wangji tries looking back at him, but Wei Wuxian carefully touches his chin and angles it back forward.

After a while, Lan Wangji’s shoulders finally seem to relax. His breath evens, and Wei Wuxian’s voice gets even lower behind him. There’s only one layer of clothes separating Lan Wangji’s hair and his back, so he’s very careful with the comb. The last thing he would want to do is hurt him.

Wei Wuxian tries not to touch him too much, which is to say, he touches him a lot. His fingers brush over Lan Wangji’s ears, tucking the hair behind it, and settle on the sides of his neck to keep his head steady. The pink flush returns to Lan Wangji’s ears, and he touches it before he can control himself, feeling the heat beneath his fingers.

By the time Wei Wuxian finishes explaining the concept of the new talismans, it is uncertain if Lan Wangji is still hearing him. He’s trying to comb all the way through, but the Lan forehead ribbon keeps getting in the way. He wonders if it would be too much to ask him to remove it. He remembers, vaguely, that Lan Wangji told him what the ribbon meant, once. It’s been too many years, and he’s not sure that he still understands it fully.

Wei Wuxian sneaks a look over his shoulders, but gives the idea up fast. 

Lan Wangji’s eyes are closed. His face looks soft, lips slightly parted, like he’s at peace. Wei Wuxian can’t break that. He’s not sure if he can even speak again, or if the mere sound of his voice would break the fragile comfort he managed to slip Lan Wangji into.

He takes the end of the ribbon with his hand, careful not to tug it, and puts it between his teeth. With the fabric safely out of the way, he finally manages to comb through the rest of it.

“Wei Ying,” comes a soft call from the man, and it makes something inside Wei Wuxian melt. He sounds calm. And Wei Wuxian was the one who helped him get there.

Lan Wangji sighs - fully sighs, a big intake of breath, a long exhale out - and then blinks his eyes open.

Wei Wuxian doesn’t answer, because he can’t talk. Lan Wangji turns back to him and the ribbon tugs, loosening just a little, but otherwise staying firm on his forehead.

He freezes, hands still held in the air. Lan Wangji’s eyes widen just a fraction.

“Uuuh,” he tries saying, but the ribbon is hanging from his lips, tugging rudely on Lan Wangji’s head.

Lan Wangji sets his gaze down on the fabric between his teeth, eyes darkening slightly. 

Silently, Wei Wuxian lets it fall off. “Sorry! Sorry, Lan Zhan. It was… in the way.”

Their eyes meet again, and whatever shadow has just passed before Lan Wangji’s eyes is gone.

“Wei Ying,” he says softly. And then, unbelievably, he adds, “You may remove it.”

And turns back.

Wei Wuxian knows his jaw is still hanging open, but he can’t quite bring himself to pick it back up. As gently as he can, he unties the ribbon and watches as Lan Wangji’s soft, raven-dark hair spills completely on his back.

Out of habit, he brings the tips of his fingers to massage the place where the hair was pulled tight. Lan Wangji lets out a quiet sound, almost a whimper, but doesn’t otherwise move. Wei Wuxian tries not to think too much about it. He can’t imagine what it feels like to have all those hair pieces weighing on it, when his own simpler hairstyle already feels like such a burden.

He puts the comb down, and sets both hands on Lan Wangji’s shoulders to steady himself, slow down his heart.

Lan Wangji's hair smells good. How can his hair smell so good?

“I’m gonna…” he clears his throat. Takes a deep breath. “Can I braid it?”

“Mn,” Lan Wangji's answer comes from deep down in his chest. His tone soothes the nervousness in Wei Wuxian’s heart. “Do you know how?”

“Of course. My shijie and I used to-” he freezes before he can finish the thought. He doesn’t want to ruin the fragile atmosphere they have created with his broken memories. Not when Lan Wangji has finally managed to relax.

He feels a weight on his fingers, and sees that Lan Wangji has placed a hand on top of his.

“Tell me,” he says, gently. Like he wants to know about Wei Wuxian's memories. Like he cares about him, and about his past. 

And Wei Wuxian tells him.

 

-

 

“It’s cold,” Wei Wuxian says, much later, and Lan Wangji nods at him fondly, getting up from his seat.

He closes the windows to his room, checks again that the door is well shut, and blows the candle out.

“It’s cold,” Wei Wuxian repeats in the dark, as he takes off his outer robes, letting them fall to the floor.

He makes his way to the bed and raises his eyebrows at the man in front of him, a silent question. He’s been sleeping here more and more, but still he cannot assume that Lan Wangji will always have a place for him. He waits, heart hammering inside his chest.

Lan Wangji answers by simply going to his cabinet and grabbing thicker covers. He opens them on the bed and waits for Wei Wuxian to lie down, before lying down himself, stiff, and very, very far away.

“It’s cold,” Wei Wuxian tries again, staring at his familiar, gorgeous, moonlit face.

Lan Wangji hesitates, and turns in his direction. For a moment, Wei Wuxian almost smiles, almost bursts, almost cries, thinking that he finally understood his meaning.

Instead, Lan Wangji reaches over and tucks the covers better around Wei Wuxian’s body, eyes droopy with sleep.

He feels for Wei Wuxian’s forehead and finds nothing there. Frowning, he moves to take his hands away.

Wei Wuxian grabs his wrist, and musters all the courage he has left in his body. 

“It’s cold,” Wei Wuxian whispers, carefully placing Lan Wangji’s hand on his waist.

There’s a silent gasp in the dark, a suspended moment where nothing happens. Neither of them breathe. Neither of them move.

And then, slowly, Lan Wangji spreads his arm around Wei Wuxian’s back and tugs him closer, hugging him against his chest.

Satisfied, Wei Wuxian settles in between his arms, hugs him back as tightly as he can, and falls into the peaceful sleep he only seems to get when he has Lan Wangji around, now.

 

 

Chapter Text

The Gusu Lan conference is good for many things. Getting the future clan leaders and influential people to know each other, learn together, and bond, is the main benefit. It is supposed to teach young men and women about propriety, grace, justice, and other venerable Lan rules.

The Juniors all understand this. They also understand that sometimes, things like grace and justice aren’t things young people really wish to learn, and disagreements can brew from the smallest of things.

“I don’t care what you believe! I am sure they have eloped, at some point.”

“No way! If they were married already, why would they have separated for so long?”

“Maybe they had a fight.”

“A two years long fight? Where does your idea of a married couple come from?”

As the disciples scream at each other, Lan Sizhui and Lan Jingyi share a single look. They know they brought this upon themselves when they started discussing Wei Wuxian and Hanguang Jun’s relationship during their shared meal.

What was going on right now was a heated debate in which they were trying to play no part of. The Jin and Jiang sect members that had arrived for the conference all seemed to disagree on whether or not the two men were already married, while the Lan disciples tried mostly to stay quiet. It’s one thing to talk between themselves about Hanguang Jun’s relationships in order to protect and understand him. It was another thing, completely different, to discuss it with other clans.

But the angry flush in Lan Jingyi’s face was getting deeper and deeper as the discussion went on, and even Lan Sizhui looked frustrated with the route it had taken.

“Why should we care if they’re already married?” Jin Ling speaks for the first time, rising from his seat.

All the heads turn in his direction, surprised.

They’re sitting around a single long table after sharing a meal that was supposed to be quiet, but turned out to be anything but. Shared meals are encouraged during these conferences, but the silence rule is rarely followed by anyone other than Lans themselves.

“What you’re doing is nothing more than gossip!” Jin Ling continues. “You should be ashamed!”

“Is it gossip if it’s common knowledge?” a Jiang disciple shoots.

“It’s not gossip to want to know if someone is married or not,” a boy from the Jin sect says. “It’s politically relevant.”

“That’s right!”

“It’s gossip if the things we’re discussing are private,” Lan Sizhui says, drawing attention to himself even if his tone is low. A few of the Lan sect disciples nod.

“We’re not talking about anything private,” Ouyang Zizhen looks up from the table. Under his hands is a black ink drawing, waiting for the finishing touches. “We’re talking about love. I don’t think they’re married yet, but they will be. Maybe they’re in the courtship phase. Maybe they don’t even know-”

“This is all useless speculation,” Jin Ling huffs. “It’s not like we need to know.”

“I disagree,” Lan Jingyi finally breaks his silence. “If Hanguang Jun is married, we definitely need to know.”

“Why?” Jin Ling asks.

“Because!” he glares at him. “Well, for once, we can actually have a good excuse to give to the people who offer him their hand in marriage through us, whenever we visit a new town!”

“What? People ask to marry Hanguang Jun?”

There is a collective nod from all the Lan disciples present.

“It happens every so often,” Lan Sizhui sighs. This is a pain they all know well.

“How often?”

He shrugs. “Every time we travel, it happens at least once, I’d say. They don’t always do it directly. Sometimes it’s more like… an insinuation.”

All the Jiang and Jin disciples alike seem to perk up at this.

“Who?”

“Who are the brave souls that have asked for Hanguang Jun’s hand in marriage?”

“How exactly would one even go about-”

“It’s rude, that’s what it is!” Lan Jingyi says. “And some of them don’t even show their faces. They give us letters to give to him, like we’re some sort of-”

“Jingyi’s point,” Sizhui cuts him off, is that we don’t always know who the person proposing is.”

“You never tried peeking inside the letters?” the loud Jiang disciple asks.

Ouyang Zizhen gasps. “Who would do that!”

“And how does Hanguang Jun answer?”

“We’re not really supposed to forward these letters to Hanguang Jun anymore,” a Lan disciple says in a low tone, almost as if he’s embarrassed to be a part of the conversation. “Zewu Jun told us not to, many years ago. He receives the letters.”

Jin Ling frowns. “But he’s in reclusion now. Isn’t he?”

“Mn. Teacher Lan is the one who receives them now,” Lan Sizhui says. And, before they can get into discussing Zewu Jun, he adds, “I’m not sure Hanguang Jun is even aware of it.”

“Aware of what?” comes a familiar voice behind Ouyang Zizhen.

They all freeze, heads turning towards the sound.

Wei Wuxian is towering over them, arms crossed, a carefree smile on his face. He looks at each of them with amusement, waiting for anyone to answer his question.

“What isn’t Hanguang Jun aware of?” he repeats.

The Lans disciples share a look. They are not allowed to lie.

“The... the bunny problem!” Ouyang Zizhen says, turning back to face Wei Wuxian better. “The bunnies are… Overfed. From too many disciples giving them things to eat. Fat.”

There are nods all around the table, followed by tiny exclamations of agreement.

Wei Wuxian gazes suspiciously at them. For a moment, it seems like he’s about to question the veracity of what they’re saying.

And then he notices the paper in front of Ouyang Zizhen, and his eyes widen.

Three disciples jump to cover the art at once, but Wei Wuxian is faster. Before they can even see his movements, he already has the paper in his hands, holding it up and away from their grasp.

“What’s this?” he asks, still smiling at them. “Are you cheating on the test Old Lan Qiren gave you? Ha. I used to-”

His jaw clamps shut as his eyes fall on the paper.

The drawing is a faithful depiction of him and Hanguang Jun with their hands linked, facing each other as they have a conversation on the roof.

Lan Jingyi had witnessed the scene one night, way before the conference started, and insisted on narrating it to some of his most trusted friends. Hearing the account, Ouyang Zizhen had sighed and claimed that such a romantic display of affection needed a faithful visual accompaniment. 

“This is… Uh-” Wei Wuxian swallows. “Very… well done. The shading. Is good.”

Ouyang Zizhen rises from his seat, his face impossibly red.

“I’m sorry Master Wei, I was just-”

Wei Wuxian shuts him up by raising a hand. He stares at the drawing for a few moments longer, tracing his fingers along the lines of Lan Wangji’s robes.

His mouth falls open, closed, and then open again. 

“However,” he turns back to look at them. “It is, um, extremely inappropriate to be drawing when you should be studying. So… I’m confiscating this.”

He rolls the paper into a cylinder and taps Ouyang Zizhen’s head with it. Before any of them can protest, Wei Wuxian strides away with confidence.

Once he’s out of sight, the disciples around the table finally take a breath.

“He’s one to talk, after telling us about how many rules he broke in his own conference,” Lan Jingyi bumps another disciple’s shoulder.

“He took it,” Ouyang Zizhen whispers.

Lan Sizhui sends a commiserated look his way. “I’m sorry, Zizhen. I know you’ve been working on it for hours.”

“What a bully!” Jin Ling bangs his fist on the table. “He can’t just take your things, that’s stealing! We should go get it back!”

“Are you joking?” Ouyang Zizhen lifts his head at him, eyes glowing. “The Yiling Patriarch has something I made! He said the shading was good! I wonder if he knows a lot about drawing. Would he give me some pointers, if I asked?”

Sighing, Lan Sizhui gets up and suggests, firmly, that they should all go to bed. This day has been too long already.

Only the Lans obey right away.

 

*

 

Lan Sizhui has no right to feel proud for a man who is, for all intents and purposes, over a decade older than him.

A man who has fed him, housed him, and played with him as a child. A man who has helped his family and been his family, even though he can scarcely remember it.

He has no claim or credit over the things he accomplishes. If anything, it should be the other way around.

Still, as he watches Wei Wuxian get up on his long-forgotten sword and fly with an ease only a practiced cultivator has…

Lan Sizhui thinks he can be excused for the surge of pride that rises in his chest.

He keeps a careful eye on him all the way to Wen Ning’s farm. This is a trip he finds himself making very often, from Gusu to Wen Ning, from Wen Ning to Gusu, and lately Wei Wuxian has been accompanying him on his visits.

His sword flying has improved immensely since they got here. On a few occasions, when the days are bright and he’s feeling particularly cheery, Wei Wuxian has even insisted on carrying the both of them on his own sword, to test his spiritual energy progress. Although he wobbled a bit at first, soon enough he could carry them all the way there.

Wen Ning welcomes them with all the enthusiasm he always seems to put into everything. Lan Sizhui loves these trips, especially now that he has more company. The three of them share a bond that no other people share on this earth, and as long as he is living, he wants to make sure Wen Ning is happy and provided for.

They sit in his garden for a long time, talking about soil and the upcoming weather. Lan Sizhui smiles at seeing the two very old friends who have been through the worst of experiences together finally relaxing, speaking of idle things. It is healing, in a way he can’t quite explain.

Sometimes, when they come, Wei Wuxian and Wen Ning practice with their swords, even inviting Lan Sizhui to join in on the sparring. Wei Wuxian hasn’t been training with Suibian in the Cloud Recesses anymore, not since he got past most of the disciple’s level of fighting. Instead, he tells Wen Ning to give it everything he has, and almost always loses against him, although even that has been happening less and less.

“Don’t tell Lan Zhan how far I got,” Wei Wuxian says with a wicked smile, every time they come back. “It’s a surprise.”

Lan Sizhui’s heart grows three times fonder. Hanguang Jun will be happy when he sees that Wei Wuxian is progressing well. He has been happy, in a full, almost floating-on-air sort of way, ever since Wei Wuxian came back. Lan Sizhui had always known there was grief hidden behind his stoic face, but it’s one of those things you can never realize the depth of until it’s gone.

For that, he keeps Wei Wuxian’s secret. He has always found that one or two omissions didn’t actually qualify as breaking the rules.

Today, Wei Wuxian and Wen Ning do not spar. Instead they set up Wei Wuxian’s newly invented talismans around Wen Ning’s plants, making sure his crops won’t freeze during the winter. By the time they’re done, the sun hangs low on the sky, painting the fields yellow and sending an almost melancholic light through the windows of Wen Ning’s cottage.

Eating with two people who aren’t required to stay silent is always lively and noisy. But Wei Wuxian’s mood isn’t quite right, all throughout the day, and the difference is clearly felt by all of them.

After they eat, Lan Sizhui walks outside to feed Little Apple and to give them some privacy. He walks as far as he can without being suspicious, but a cultivator’s hearing catches more things than normal, and Wei Wuxian’s voice has a way of carrying through the wind.

“Lan Zhan would never come with me. You know that,” he says. His voice sounds sadder than usual. Lan Sizhui feels his own lips twist in sympathy.

“You could ask him,” Wen Ning says.

“I have. The last time, right after Guanyin temple, I asked. He wouldn’t come. Chief Cultivator duties, you know how it is.”

Lan Sizhui frowns. It’s unheard of, to him, that Hanguang Jun would refuse Wei Wuxian anything.

“I understand his duties just fine,” Wei Wuxian continues. “I’m proud of him for doing so well. I would be more than happy to…” he trails off.

“Stay with him?” Wen Ning adds.

“Yeah. It’s a beautiful place, Wen Ning. I don’t feel trapped there, not like I used to when I was young. If I can go nighthunting once in a while, that's all I need. And I think the kids really like me. I get this feeling, sometimes…” he stops for a minute, and then continues in a hushed, hurried tone. “I have this feeling that Lan Zhan might… Uh, want me to stay, too.”

“Of course he does. You are zhiji,” Wen Ning says.

“No, I don’t…” he sighs. “I don’t mean it like that. I mean… In another way. He might… Maybe, he might want the same things I want,” he clears his throat. “From him.”

“...”

“Do you understand what I’m saying?”

“... I-I think so.”

“Don’t blush! This is already a difficult conversation, don’t make it worse!”

Lan Sizhui feels the blood rising on his face, too, even if he doesn’t fully catch the meaning behind Wei Wuxian’s words. This isn’t a conversation meant for his ears. He takes Little Apple’s reins and tries getting a little further away.

“Sorry, Master Wei!” Wen Ning’s voice still reaches him. There really isn’t anywhere Lan Sizhui can go. “But, if you know that he wants the same… thing… Why don’t you stay?”

There’s a loud clinking of glass as Wei Wuxian pours himself another drink.

“I don’t know for sure. Like I said, it’s a gut feeling. I’m still… testing it.”

“Testing it,” Wen Ning repeats.

“Yes.”

“How?”

“Just… testing it,” Wei Wuxian says, and doesn’t elaborate. “There is also, unfortunately, the matter of his family.”

“Zewu Jun seems fond of you. A-Yuan, too.”

“That’s two for three. But old Lan Qiren despises me. He’d never want me there,” Wei Wuxian pauses to gulp the rest of his drink audibly. “The thing is, I would be happy to go against the entire world, if Lan Zhan wanted me to. If he asked me to.”

“Why don’t you?”

Wei Wuxian stays silent for a long moment. When he speaks again, his voice sounds a lot more subdued.

“He… He never asked me to,” Wei Wuxian says, after a while. “Even when we parted ways, last time, I gave him every opportunity, and he never once asked me to stay. I think, in some ways… That’s what I’m waiting for. I can’t just stay. Not if there’s a slight chance he might not want me there.”

Silence. Lan Sizhui blinks at the sky as the donkey eats another apple straight from his hand. He thinks he should interrupt the conversation. It’s almost entirely dark now.

“I’m sure he wants to, Master Wei,” Wen Ning says, his tone sweet and comforting. “Hanguang Jun isn’t a man of many words.”

“I don’t know,” Wei Wuxian sighs, and somehow, even his voice contains a shrug.

That seems to end the conversation. They switch to other, less emotional topics, and the atmosphere changes into a happier one.

Lan Sizhui waits for the appropriate amount of time before entering again, just in time to catch a smile on Wei Wuxian’s face.

“It’s time for us to head back home,” he says.

Wei Wuxian downs the rest of his liquor and grabs his sword from the table.

“Alright, Master Lan,” Wei Wuxian grins at him. “We’ll see you again soon, A-Ning.”

Wen Ning packs them a few fruits and vegetables before they go. By the time they leave, there isn’t any lingering trace of sun in the sky.

All the way home, Wei Wuxian seems lost in thought. It’s always impossible to know exactly what goes on in his brain, but it’s unusual to see him so quiet.

Lan Sizhui doesn’t mind, though. He has thoughts of his own. He can’t help Hanguang Jun and Wei Wuxian sort their feelings out, but when it comes to one of Wei Wuxian’s other worries… He thinks he might have an idea.

And he knows just who to ask for help.

 

*

 

Somehow, as Lan Jingyi got older, he found himself in the position of Lan Qiren’s favorite.

He doesn’t know how it happened. He doesn’t know how to stop it. One day, without any of them really understanding why, Lan Qiren had simply taken to him in a way he had only ever taken to his own nephews, and to Lan Sizhui.

Lan Qiren trusts him. He lets him speak up during meetings, and always listens to his speculations during class. He asks Lan Jingyi about how the disciples are faring, and Lan Jingyi always gives him honest - and sometimes annoyed - accounts about their progress.

He never thought much of it, really. It became a somewhat regular occurrence, to be invited to have tea with him along with Lan Sizhui. Lan Jingyi came to expect it, and even, in some cases, take it for granted.

It isn’t until Lan Sizhui approaches him with an idea that he starts to really, really regret it.

“The other clan leaders are all furious,” Lan Qiren shares with him as they make one of their customary walks around the Cloud Recesses.

On days such as these, when Lan Qiren finds him on his way to a meal or to fulfil one of his many duties, he always slaps an amicable hand on his shoulder and orders him to walk by his side for a while.

“Why are they furious?” Lan Jingyi asks.

“They think the conference is happening too close to the winter months!” Lan Qiren says. “They wanted it to be during the summer.”

“Why? So they can hibernate?”

Lan Qiren’s lips twitch into an amused smile, which he quickly hides away. “Do not speak ill of your elders, boy.”

“I-I’m sorry.”

He continues on his account of the many problems they've been facing during the conference, but Lan Jingyi is barely listening. His mind keeps going back to Lan Sizhui’s plan, and everything he’d asked him to do.

“We have the power to make Teacher Lan see how good Master Wei is,” Lan Sizhui had urged him, just last night. “We just have to be subtle about it.”

But if there’s one thing Lan Jingyi is not good at, that’s subtlety.

“I think Hanguang Jun has been looking very healthy in the last year,” he says, trying to sound nonchalant.

Lan Qiren clenches his jaw. They've been walking together for a few minutes, going along a specific path he set towards a place he wishes Lan Qiren to see, and the teacher still hasn’t noticed anything out of the ordinary.

Lan Jingyi hopes it stays like that. Every so often, they veer off course, and he discreetly guides them back.

“That is true,” Lan Qiren says, one hand carefully locked behind his back. “Wangji is… Cheery. It is unusual for him.”

“Unusual as it might be, isn’t it a good thing, Teacher Lan?” he blurts out, then almost slaps himself for his forwardness. Lan Sizhui really shouldn’t have trusted him for this.

Lan Qiren gives him a look, then says, somberly, “I do not know yet. Only time will tell.”

It’s not the answer he was expecting, but for now, it will do.

“I hope we see more of Hanguang Jun’s cheery side in the future,” Lan Jingyi adds.

“I would want nothing more for him. But it's complicated, Jingyi. Sometimes-”

Lan Qiren stops, looking ahead with wide eyes.

They’re standing at a large field, a secluded piece of land in the corners of the Cloud Recesses. In front of them there are several stripes of raised soil where a recent plantation was made. At regular intervals, as if they were made by a professional hand, different kinds of seedlings sprout from the earth.

Wei Wuxian is sitting on the ground with his bare feet covered in mud and his black robes raised up to his knees. In his hands are a bunch of tiny red peppers to which he seems to be whispering soft words to.

“Master Wei!” Lan Jingyi bows, announcing their presence.

He keeps a trained eye on Lan Qiren, taking stock of his reaction. Although the disciples visit Wei Wuxian’s garden very often, be it to hear his stories or to ask about assignments, most of the elders haven’t shown any interest in ever coming near it. He knows bringing Lan Qiren here was a bold move, but Lan Sizhui assured him that if these two are going to be at least amiable to each other, they need to start by actually being in the same place.

Wei Wuxian turns his head to them and raises his eyebrows. His eyes go from Lan Jingyi to Lan Qiren, apparently not quite believing what he’s seeing.

Lan Jingyi is just considering making a run for it when Wei Wuxian finally rises, patting his dirty hands on each other to get the dust out.

“What an honour to have visitors in my humble farm,” he says, opening one of his big smiles. “Don’t tell me. You are both here because you are also tired of food with no taste.”

Lan Qiren clenches his fists. Lan Jingyi intervenes before they can start a disagreement.

“You’re impossible. We barely even got here, and you’re already teasing!” he says. Can’t Wei Wuxian see that he’s trying to help, for once, and actually try to play along? “Teacher Lan got here by accident, of course.”

He can’t say they are both here by accident, because that would be a blatant lie, and he doesn’t lie.

“Ah, of course,” Wei Wuxian nods slowly.

They look at each other silently, not knowing exactly what to say. This is when Lan Jingyi should do something, right? He had a plan. He needs to stick to it.

“Well, since we’re here, why don’t you tell us about the new talismans?”

Wei Wuxian’s eyebrows go even further up into his hairline.

“Really?” he asks, looking from one of them to the other. “I’m sure Old L- uh, Teacher Lan wouldn’t want me wasting any more of his time.”

“What talismans?” Lan Qiren asks them. His face doesn’t look pleased at all. This is going very, very wrong.

“Ah,” Wei Wuxian’s features seem too tense. “I’ve been calling them sun talismans. They’re for optimizing crop life.”

“Sun talismans?” he says, letting his curiosity take the best of him. “What's that?”

“Well,” Wei Wuxian turns his back at them and points ahead. “As you can see, there’s the garden. The sad, cold, dying garden, in the unforgiving Gusu cold.”

Lan Jingyi can’t help but roll his eyes at his theatrics.

Wei Wuxian walks towards a twig stuck firmly to the ground, and beckons them to follow.

“This right here,” he says, pointing at the twig. “Is what’s gonna ensure that doesn’t happen. Took me a while to figure it out, but I got there.”

It is only then Lan Jingyi notices that all around the field, forming a circle on the ground, there are several similar twigs stuck to the earth. Every single one of them has a talisman tied to the tip, glowing red with energy.

“Are they like heating talismans?” he asks.

“Yes and no,” Wei Wuxian says. “I tried those, but they have to be in contact with the thing they’re heating, and the plants just shriveled and died. This one is more like a… Flame.”

“But it’s not burning.”

Wei Wuxian laughs a little. “I know. That was the hard part. I wanted a talisman that emanated strong heat, but didn’t burn. It had to be hot enough that the plants stayed warm, but not hot enough to dry or kill them.”

“Like the sun,” Lan Jingyi says, finally understanding where his logic is going.

“Exactly!” Wei Wuxian beams at him. Lan Jingyi can see it in his eyes now, the excitement that comes when he’s talking about something he likes. It’s the reason why the disciples all seem to like him so much. When he talks about things, he makes you want to pay attention, too. “I wanted to create a space around the plants that mimicked the summer sun. So that way, when you stepped close enough…”

He grabs Lan Jingyi’s arm and pulls him towards the talisman. Before he’s even close to the twig, Lan Jingyi can sense the air around him changing. It becomes hot and stuffy, and suddenly he feels like he’s wearing too many layers.

"The whole air changed," he says, dipping a hand outside of the reach of the talisman again to feel the difference in the cold air.

"Great, right?” Wei Wuxian clasps his hands together. Now Lan Jingyi understands why he’s not wearing his autumn clothes. “Each talisman creates a sort of warmth field around it, up to a distance of about... Maybe 9 chi?”

Lan Qiren makes a sudden movement, and Lan Jingyi is abruptly reminded that he is, in fact, still there. The man reaches a hand into the field made by the talisman, just far enough to feel the warm air.

“And this is safe?” his nose wrinkles in suspicion.

“Of course." Wei Wuxian says. “I made sure the heat would never go above what it is now. It won’t cause any fires or explosions.”

Lan Jingyi turns to him, his mind already working.

“Master Wei, if this is true, then could it work on bigger fields?” he asks. “Or even inside a room, for when it gets too cold?”

Wei Wuxian’s eyes spark with interest.

“Bigger fields, definitely, although you would need to place more of them. As for a room…” he scratches his chin. “I haven’t tried it in a closed space. I think it could be fine, except I might have to change it a little bit, so you can activate it and deactivate it several times.”

“Is that possible?”

“Probably?” Wei Wuxian says with a bright smile, like not knowing is half of the fun for him. “We could-”

“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” Lan Qiren pulls back his arm, setting it behind his back once again. His face is unreadable as he nods at Lan Jingyi to come with him. “It isn’t certain that these talismans won’t have burned the entire clan down by tomorrow.”

Wei Wuxian’s smile falters.

It’s quick enough that no one would’ve noticed, if Lan Jingyi wasn’t looking directly at him. Faster than it is gone, it returns, as is the teasing expression on his face.

“Teacher Lan, I think you will be pleasantly surprised," Wei Wuxian says.

“We will see,” Lan Qiren answers. “Come, Jingyi, let us go. We have a lot to do.”

He turns and walks away, not caring to wait for an answer. With an apologetic smile towards Wei Wuxian, Lan Jingyi bows his goodbye and follows his teacher out of the garden.

It isn’t until they’re far enough not to be heard that he gets the courage to speak.

“Teacher Lan, aren’t the sun talismans really useful?”

Lan Qiren walks faster. Lan Jingyi has to pick up his pace to keep close.

“Stay away until you know the exact nature of how they work,” he warns.

“I think they will work well. Definitely impressive!”

“That is… true,” Lan Qiren says slowly, like it pains him to admit it. 

“Wei Wuxian seems like an inventive person.”

Lan Qiren sighs. “He is, Jingyi. Just be careful around the things he does, until you’ve learned enough. He is intelligent, but there might be… lingering energy.”

Lan Jingyi stares at him. 

“But he hasn’t been using demonic cultivation anymore,” he says.

Lan Qiren’s head snaps back to him.

“What?”

“Not since he got here,” Lan Jingyi says. Did Lan Qiren really not know?

“Jingyi. Are you speaking honestly?”

“I always do. Don’t you remember it, Teacher Lan? He’s developing a new core.”

Lan Qiren looks at him for a very long time.

After a while, he huffs, and they continue on their way.

They don’t speak of it anymore. The conversation shifts to other topics, and soon enough, they are parting ways again.

But Lan Jingyi knows Lan Qiren by now. He has learned to read him just as well as he has learned to read Hanguang Jun, and that wasn’t one of his regular huffs.

It was a satisfied one.

 

*

 

Jin Ling hates the Cloud Recesses. Hates it. Especially so close to the winter, when it’s getting a little too cold to be outside, and there’s nothing, really, that he can do here.

He keeps going off by himself to find things to do - the bunnies have been a great way to pass the time, although he will never admit it to anyone who asks -, and lately his favorite thing is to simply walk around and get to know every corner of every mountain in the place.

It’s an amazing location, that he will concede. And also, perhaps most beneficially, it’s huge. So big that he almost never runs into anyone on his walks, free to spend his time alone.

Which is why it's such a big surprise when he takes a left turn on one of the many secluded forests in the place to find not only a clearing with a large, muddy lake in the center, but also Hanguang Jun himself, staring silently at his own closed hands.

Jin Ling halts. It isn’t that he’s scared of Hanguang Jun, really. He isn’t. But he would rather not cross paths with him if he can avoid it. It’s not that hard, since the man is almost always busy doing other things, and doesn’t seem like the type to just wander. To find him here, of all places, is certainly unexpected.

Jin Ling knows for sure that Hanguang Jun, being who he is, has already noticed his presence. He still hasn't moved a single muscle to look at him, though.

Just when he’s starting to wonder if it would be impolite to simply backtrack and leave, the Chief Cultivator turns his head slightly in his direction and angles his head.

Fuck. Now he definitely has to talk to him.

Fumbling a little, Jin Ling takes a few steps closer and bows to him, trying not to look too scared. The result is a sick twist to his face that probably makes it seem like he’s being snotty, which isn’t ideal, but it’s better.

“Hanguang Jun,” he says, simply.

“Jin Rulan,” Hanguang Jun answers in the same tone.

It’s only then that Jin Ling realizes there are seeds on his hands. He recognizes them immediately.

“Lotus seeds!” he says cheerfully, before he can stop himself. His eyes widen for a second, thinking he has perhaps allowed too much of a childish inflection in his tone, and fights to make his voice lower and mature again. “If Hanguang Jun is gonna eat them, raw is not the best way. My uncle eats them raw, too, but I found that toasting it makes them taste much better.”

“I am planting them,” he nods at the lake in front of him, ignoring his words. “Here.”

“Here?” he scowls. “You can’t.”

Hanguang Jun raises an eyebrow at him. Or, at least, Jin Ling thinks he does. It’s hard to tell, but he kind of sees it twitching, a little bit.

“What I mean is, this place is too cold. The lake seems alright, but with the winter season coming, there’s no way they’ll grow.”

Hanguang Jun nods, then reaches into his robes and pulls out a handful of folded talismans, all written in red. Jin Ling takes one look at the characters and recognizes them immediately.

“Oh, Wei Wuxian’s sun talismans?” he asks. He’s seen them activated, one day, after eating yet another tasteless meal in the Cloud Recesses, and sneaking into Wei Wuxian’s garden to borrow some peppers.

“Mn,” is the only sound the man offers in response.

“I think it could be doable, if you spaced the talismans well enough. And if you don’t plant the seeds too deeply into the mud. They do better when you plant them closer together, too.”

At that, Hanguang Jun tilts his head at him. His face doesn’t change, but Jin Ling thinks it looks a little more… pensive.

Or maybe he’s thinking about murdering him in a very violent way. There’s really no way to tell.

“Do you know a lot about lotus?” he asks.

“Of course! I’ve planted them,” Jin Ling says, stuffing his chest a little.

He hasn’t. But he sees them being planted and tended to, when he stands by the Lotus garden his father built for his mother, and watches the work being done there. He also spends a lot of his time in the Lotus Pier, and if the knowledge of how to take care of lotus flowers wasn’t ingrained in him by this point, his uncle would’ve probably whipped him to shame.

Hanguang Jun contemplates him for a long time, and then says the weirdest words Jin Ling has ever heard from him in his life.

“Show me.”

It is not a request.

Before Jin Ling can think of an answer - because he has to say no, he can’t just show Hanguang Jun how to plant lotus seeds, right? - the man is already tying up his sleeves and rolling up his pants.

In one confident motion, Hanguang Jun, the Second Jade of Lan, the Chief Cultivator, steps barefoot into the lake, effectively getting his feet dirty with the mud that’s been gathering at the bottom of it.

And, well. Jin Ling has to follow. He can’t be more fussy about his robes than Hanguang Jun. He likes being clean, but there’s a line. If even the pristine Chief Cultivator is willing to get his hands dirty, then so is he.

He rolls up his sleeves and pants and gets into the lake right away. Before he knows it, the words are spewing excitedly out of his lips, and Hanguang Jun is nodding along to everything he says.

Helping him is… surprisingly easy. He learns fast, follows everything perfectly, and listens intently as Jin Ling tries teaching him everything he knows about lotus flowers. Which, as he’s just now figuring out, is a lot more than he initially thought.

Hanguang Jun should be embarrassed about taking instructions from a person younger than him, but he isn’t. Jin Ling has never seen an older person admit to not having full knowledge of something so gracefully, and then take that knowledge from a cultivator that was not yet in the same level. It is… Brave, in a much more subtle way than he’s used to. Jin Ling isn’t sure what to make of it. He doesn’t even feel compelled to gloat for knowing something the Second Jade of Lan doesn’t.

Before he can even notice the passage of time, their work is done. While Jin Ling does all the finishing touches, Hanguang Jun gathers a few long twigs and sticks them in a perfect circle around their newly made garden. He sticks a talisman to each one, and with an elegant hand movement, activates them all at the same time.

Jin Ling, who is still inside the circle created, starts feeling the heat immediately.

“Won’t it boil the water?” he finally thinks to ask, perhaps a little belatedly.

“It's not that strong. These are only for a mildly cold temperature. When the snow starts, I will change them into stronger ones.”

Jin Ling widens his eyes. “There’s a difference?”

“Mn,” Lan Wangji picks up another talisman inside his robes and holds it up close to the one sticking from the twig, side by side. "Here.”

To Jin Ling, they look like the exact same thing.

“I don’t see the difference,” he says, because pretending like he knows something he doesn’t probably won’t work with the most esteemed cultivator from their time.

After his own uncle, of course. Jiang Cheng could take Hanguang Jun in a fight, if he wanted to. He simply doesn't want to.

“Look closer,” Hanguang Jun says. “It is subtle.”

Jin Ling takes a step closer to the talismans, leaning his head forward. He takes each line into consideration, itching to find the answer alone.

He stares at it for a long time. Another teacher would’ve shown him the answer, but Hanguang Jun patiently waits for him to find it, holding the talismans very still. For that, Jin Ling is grateful. He hates being patronized. He can figure it out on his own. He just needs time.

“Here!” he points at a single stroke in the characters that is barely noticeable even from up close.

“Correct,” Hanguang Jun says.

Jin Ling stands a little taller.

They exit the lake and put on their shoes again, not talking. Jin Ling was expecting things to be more awkward, but… The silence is fine. It suits him. It’s almost like being alone.

“Jin Rulan,” Hanguang Jun calls. He’s already looking perfectly put together again, while Jin Ling hasn’t even finished lowering the hems of his pants back down. “You were of great help, and for that I am thankful.”

“Uh…  You are… very welcome, Hanguang Jun," he says. The curiosity itches on his skin, so he gathers all the courage in him and asks, "Why are you making a lotus garden here? Are you… I mean, I didn’t know Hanguang Jun was fond of them.”

“I am not,” he answers simply. “Your uncle is.”

For a single dizzying second, Jin Ling thinks he means Jiang Cheng. It takes his mind a while to wrap around the fact that he means his other, less reputable uncle.

“Oh,” is all he can answer.

Hanguang Jun nods, deeming that a suitable answer, and turns to leave.

“I- I thought you hated me!” Jin Ling blurts out before he can help himself. He can’t stand that he sounds like such a child, but he won’t take it back now that he said it. That would be worse.

Hanguang Jun turns back, one eyebrow slightly raised. Jin Ling didn’t know he was capable of expressing so much.

“Because I… s-stabbed…” he can’t bring himself to finish.

Hanguang Jun does something imperceptible with his eyes, and all the fear Jin Ling denies having for him rises in his blood.

“I wouldn’t!” he hurries to say. “Not again, I mean. I really-”

“You are not at fault for your grief or for what society has erroneously taught you about Wei Wuxian,” Hanguang Jun says. It’s the longest sentence Jin Ling has ever heard him speak. “I do not hate you.”

“Oh…” Jin Ling finally exhales the air in his lungs. “I’m-”

“And I know -” Hanguang Jun adds, slowly and pointedly. “- that it will never happen again.”

It sounds like a threat. It is a threat. Jin Ling swallows.

“O-of course not.”

Hanguang Jun hums, satisfied. He takes three steps away, then calmly turns back.

“Do not tell Wei Wuxian about the garden.”

Jin Ling watches as he leaves without waiting for an answer.

That has to be one of the weirdest interactions he’s ever had with anyone, ever.

 

*

 

Ouyang Zizhen likes to think he is very knowledgeable when it comes to love and all the forms it can take. He is particularly sensitive to it. He knows, for instance, that his father loves him, even if he is strict. He knows his mother loves his father, even when they fight. He knows Jin Ling’s uncle, Jiang Wanyin, loves him, even though sometimes it seems like he doesn’t.

And he knows, above all else, that Hanguang Jun and the Yiling Patriarch are in love.

It’s so obvious that all the disciples have noticed. Even when they aren’t together, all they talk about is each other.

Well, in Hanguang Jun’s case, he doesn’t really talk. Still, it’s awfully clear.

It’s in the way he pauses in the market when he sees a ribbon that is just the right shade of red. It’s in the way he keeps buying tiny flasks of food seasonings the disciples know are not for his own use. It’s in the way he looks at the horizon when the sun starts to set, whenever they’re out for a night-hunt, and whispers “Let us head back home” to them before going up on his sword and not ever looking back.

Wei Wuxian is a lot more vocal. He talks and talks about how great Hanguang Jun is, and at first, many disciples think he’s being sarcastic. He says the most outrageous, and simply untrue things, like “Lan Zhan really is so funny!” and “Look at how excited Hanguang Jun is!” when his face looks, for lack of a better expression, completely bored.

And he’s touchy. He tugs on Hanguang Jun’s robes, leans in on his shoulder, grabs his hand, bumps their arms together. He seems to be somewhat free with his touches with a lot of people, when he is the one initiating it, but no one is ever at the receiving end of it as many times as Hanguang Jun is.

Ouyang Zizhen almost choked on his own saliva on the day Wei Wuxian decided to join them on a night-hunt and, claiming he was simply too weak to fly on his sword alone, smiled wickedly and climbed onto Hanguang Jun’s sword along with him, standing at his back.

There were a lot of quiet gasps as the disciples took in the oddness of the scene. All of them had carried someone else on their swords before, and it was not… supposed to look as intimate as it did when Wei Wuxian grabbed both sides of Hanguang Jun’s waist from behind and leaned his chin on his shoulder.

“Didn’t you say he was already flying the both of you with his own spiritual energy?” Ouyang Zizhen whispered to Lan Sizhui that day, as they watched Hanguang Jun take an uncharacteristically long breath, and take off flying.

Lan Sizhui gave him a look that was half satisfied and half conflicted. “I did.”

Oh.

Since that day, Ouyang Zizhen has watched from afar. He doesn’t mean to get involved at all. He knows how love can bloom slowly and how fragile it can get on its developing stages. Really, it’s better if none of them intervene.

And then Wei Wuxian catches him drawing again, and he has no choice.

Luckily for him, this time he’s drawing something else. It’s the face of his beloved as he remembers it, since they haven’t seen each other in a long time.

“Who’s that?” the Yiling Patriarch’s voice comes from behind him, circling the tree he’s sitting at.

Ouyang Zizhen almost jumps from the ground. Wei Wuxian walks almost as silently as Hanguang Jun, and he didn’t hear him coming at all.

“Master Wei!”

He rubs his chest for a while as Wei Wuxian settles down by his side, a basket of tiny yellow fruits in his hand. Ouyang Zizhen widens his eyes.

“Loquats!” he reaches over to grab one, but Wei Wuxian pulls the basket away.

“Ah! You don’t even say please? Is that the way to treat your elder?”

“Sorry. Can I have one, please?”

Wei Wuxian smiles at him.

“Tell me who you’re drawing, first.”

“Oh,” Ouyang Zizhen turns the half finished piece to him with a shy smile. “This is my betrothed.”

“Betrothed!” Wei Wuxian throws a loquat at him. “And I didn’t know of it?”

“I… I haven’t… We’re not telling…”

Wei Wuxian lets out a small chuckle.

“Calm down, it’s fine. I didn’t know you liked someone.”

Ouyang Zizhen feels himself blushing. “Ah, yes. I haven’t seen her in a while. We exchange letters.”

Wei Wuxian gives him a wicked smile, bumping their shoulders together.

“And does she dab the letters with her scent, so that you will remember what she smells like?”

He’s teasing, but Ouyang Zizhen doesn’t care.

“Yes, as a matter of fact, she does,” he says. Wei Wuxian nods, his shoulders shaking a little. “Is it terribly silly of us, Master Wei?”

“No, no, of course not,” he says, but the amusement is clear on his face. “Young people do all kinds of, uh… romantic things. Tell me, what else do you do to remember her?”

Ouyang Zizhen pauses, thinking of something that isn’t too personal to share.

“Well, I don’t know about her, but I usually…” he pauses, knowing very well that he’s flushing badly. “I always keep her most recent letter with me,” he taps his chest, where the letter is safely kept.

He knows he shouldn’t be speaking about this, but he misses her terribly. Any excuse to talk about her is a good one.

“At night, when I sleep, I… I put the letter under my pillow,” he admits.

Wei Wuxian’s head snaps back to him so fast Ouyang Zizhen can hear it crack.

“What did you say?”

“Uh, under my pillow?” he repeats. “So I will dream of her. Haven’t you ever wished you could dream of H- I mean, your loved one, Master Wei?”

Wei Wuxian doesn’t answer. He is staring at him with his mouth hanging open, like he can’t quite believe what he’s hearing.

“You love her,” he says slowly, deliberately. “So you keep her letter under your pillow.”

Ouyang Zizhen nods. He doesn’t get why this seems to be such a difficult concept for him to grasp.

“Exactly.”

Wei Wuxian looks at the far-off distance, losing focus. He nods his head a few times, in deep thought about something.

Ouyang Zizhen takes the time to steal a loquat without being noticed. By the time Wei Wuxian looks back at him, he has already eaten it and thrown away the seeds.

“Well, in any case,” Wei Wuxian clears his throat. “You’re really good at that.”

He points at the drawing in Ouyang Zizhen’s hands. It’s only half finished, but he supposes it really is one of his best ones.

“Thank you, Master Wei,” he says, not without embarrassment. “I’ll color it after I’m done with the outline.”

“I meant to ask you about that, actually. Do you ever use colored ink?”

“Yes, sometimes. Although ink is a little expensive.”

Wei Wuxian nods.

“I draw too, but…” he spits out the seeds from the loquat he’s eating and picks another one. Ouyang Zizhen reaches out to grab one more, too. “I’m not that good anymore. Ah! Hands off! These are for Lan Zhan. Off, off...”

Wei Wuxian slaps his hand away.

For a few moments, they sit in silence, watching as the wind blows through the leaves of the trees. Despite what he said, every once in a while Wei Wuxian throws a loquat at him, and then pretends he doesn’t even remember doing so. Ouyang Zizhen smiles to himself and tries to peel them open with his fingers to pluck the seeds out.

“Ay, that’s not how you eat them. You have to- eh, forget it. Listen,” Wei Wuxian leans closer to him, raising an eyebrow. “I have a secret request for you.”

“... Secret?”

“Don’t look so scared! That offends me! What do you think I’m gonna ask?”

Ouyang Zizhen shakes his head. “I’m not scared! I’m just… surprised. That Master Wei would want anything from me.”

Wei Wuxian narrows his eyes at him, then pushes him playfully with his elbow.

“Don’t be modest. Hear me out. I need you to help me draw…” he speaks slowly, as if he thinks his request is gonna be the most absurd thing he’s ever heard. “A picture of Lan Zhan and me.”

“Oh,” Ouyang Zizhen sighs in relief. He can definitely do that. “Of course.”

Wei Wuxian drops his voice even lower.

“You can’t tell anyone about this. Not another soul. Not even Hanguang Jun,” he sighs. “I would do it alone, if I could. I’m mortified even asking for it, but I want it to look good, and I have no experience with colors. Especially when it comes to red ink.”

Ouyang Zizhen’s eyes widen. Can he mean...

“Red,” he says, just to make sure he heard right.

“Yes. Bright red, not red like my robes. You said you knew how to use colors?”

“Uh, Master Wei, may I ask… Why do you intend on using red ink?”

“Oh. For our robes, of course.”

Ouyang Zizhen blinks at him. “Do you mean… Marital clothes?”

Wei Wuxian looks around. After making sure no one’s listening, he nods.

It’s Ouyang Zizhen's turn to lean in. “Are you and Hanguang Jun going to-”

“No questions,” Wei Wuxian says. “If you’re doing this for me, you can’t ask anything, and you can’t tell anyone. I will pay you, of course.”

“There’s no need! I would be happy to help-”

“Don’t be stupid. Of course I’ll pay. Consider it a coin for your silence,” he smiles wickedly in his direction. “It’s not my money anyway.”

Oh. Of course, the Lan clan is very wealthy. If Wei Wuxian is marrying into it, then…

“I will do it,” Ouyang Zizhen says, before he can even think of what he’s agreeing to. But the picture is already forming in his mind, and at this point he thinks that even if Wei Wuxian gave up, he would try to draw it himself.

Wei Wuxian’s smile brightens his entire face. “Really?”

“Yes.”

“Great!” he gets up then, slapping the dirt from his robes. “I have to go meet Lan Zhan, but we’ll meet tomorrow. And if I hear that a word of this got out, I’ll slit your throat.”

Ouyang Zizhen’s heart stops.

“I’m joking!” Wei Wuxian ruffles his hair a bit, messing up his ponytail. “It’s so easy to scare you juniors.”

He gathers his loquat basket, throwing three more on Ouyang Zizhen’s lap.

“Don’t forget to invite me to your wedding,” Wei Wuxian says as he walks away. “I love free food!”

Before Ouyang Zizhen can even start to think about saying Wei Wuxian should invite him to his wedding, too, the man is already gone.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Every day, Wei Wuxian thinks about kissing Lan Wangji.

It’s an old thought, wanting to lean into him and press their lips together. It comes from before he knew what wanting a man felt like, from when he would fantasize about kissing him and still lie to himself that it was just another way to tease.

But he’s here, now, and there is no escape. No pretending his feelings never existed. He brushes Lan Wangji’s hair and leans in to take his scent, and every single time, he has to close his eyes against the need to bury his head in it. He takes in the sight of a freshly bathed Lan Wangji, almost every night, and thinks of running his tongue over the drops of water that linger on his body. He drapes an arm over Lan Wangji’s waist to go to sleep, or turns his back to him and pulls him closer, and with every breath he feels his fingers tingling and his lips numb with the urge to get more.

The thought is equally terrifying and exhilarating. Wei Wuxian’s skin burns with deprivation every time he feels himself leaning a little too close. It’s ironic that his body should feel more and more hungry for Lan Wangji’s touch, the closer they get. Like it was easier not to think about it, and not to miss it, when they were away. Like Lan Wangji is a magnet that pulls him in, and the closer he is, the more he wants.

Wei Wuxian is on the verge of doing something really, really stupid. And there is a small, ever-increasing part of him, that thinks that maybe Lan Wangji would let him.

 

-

 

“Wei Ying.”

Wei Wuxian pauses with his foot dangling over the windowsill. He stayed out drinking for too long today, lost in thought, and by the time he got back the lights inside the Jingshi were all off. He thought Lan Wangji was sleeping. Apparently not.

“Sorry, Lan Zhan, I was-”

“Wei Ying,” comes his deep voice in the dark.

Wei Wuxian jumps into the room and unties his outer robes. He’s been sleeping here every day, now. He doesn’t need to ask for permission anymore. Lan Wangji will have made space on the bed for him. He always does.

“No,” Lan Wangji says, and Wei Wuxian freezes with his robes half off his shoulders.

“What?”

“Come back,” Lan Wangji whispers, and there’s something about his voice that doesn’t sound quite right.

“Lan Zhan?” he calls, but there comes no answer.

He leans down to inspect Lan Wangji’s face. His eyes are closed, a tiny furrow in his brow, and his entire body is shaking lightly. As Wei Wuxian watches, he jerks a little, lips moving around a word he can’t quite hear.

Sleeping.

“No,” Lan Wangji mutters, his hand curling and uncurling into a fist, over and over again. “No, no, no, no…”

Wei Wuxian kneels down on the floor by his side.

“Lan Zhan, wake up.”

“Wei Ying, ” Lan Wangji’s face twists into a grimace. There’s a single tear slipping down his face. Is Lan Wangji having a nightmare about him?

“I’m here,” he says.

“Wei Ying,” he calls again, low and hoarse, desperate, and Wei Wuxian feels something snap inside him. “Come back.”

He sinks by his side, not knowing what to do. He’s never seen Lan Wangji having a bad dream before. He didn’t think it was possible.

With his heart tight inside his chest, Wei Wuxian notices Lan Wangji’s hand, still opening and closing around something that’s not there. A picture forms in his brain, a memory from a long time ago. His stomach sinks.

“Come back,” Lan Wangji repeats, another solitary tear streaming down his face.

Wei Wuxian brushes a thumb over it, feeling his own eyes starting to sting. Those words feel too familiar to him. It’s a moment in his life he thinks he is never going to forget.

How could he? He has the same exact nightmare, all the time.

Lan Wangji is dreaming about the day he died.

“Lan Zhan, wake up,” he shakes Lan Wangji’s shoulder.

There is no reaction. The tears still drip down the sides of his face. Wei Wuxian wipes them away carefully, and shakes him harder.

“Lan Zhan. Wake up. I’m here.”

“Wei Ying,” he calls softly, heartbreakingly, but his eyes are still not opening. His hand twitches again, and Wei Wuxian grabs it without thinking.

Lan Wangji’s fingers squeeze his so tightly he thinks they might break, but it doesn’t matter. Wei Wuxian squeezes back, his other hand on Lan Wangji’s face, tapping lightly on his cheek.

“Lan Zhan!” he calls again, and this time, finally, his eyes open.

Unfocused, Lan Wangji’s golden gaze locks on him, open, vulnerable, and too familiar. Wei Wuxian is transported back to that moment, their hands interlocked over the edge, and Lan Wangji looking at him exactly like that. Like he’s about to lose everything that matters to him in the world. Like he’s about to throw himself right after.

There is no time to talk, no time to react at all, before Wei Wuxian is tumbling. His center of gravity shifts, and there is a single, horrifying moment when he thinks it’s happening, he’s falling again, and this time it wasn’t even his choice-

Lan Wangji’s arms wrap around him, desperate, bruising, as Wei Wuxian realizes with a gasp that he didn’t fall from a cliff, but was instead pulled from the floor onto the bed, in a single movement.

He lies on his side on the bed as Lan Wangji hugs his waist tightly, still not quite awake.

“It’s a dream,” he hears Lan Wangji saying, even as his voice breaks. “Wei Ying isn’t here.”

Wei Wuxian feels fresh wet tears dripping on his collarbone, his own heart racing inside his chest. He takes a deep breath and holds Lan Wangji closer.

“Shhh, Lan Zhan, it’s not a dream,” he says. Lan Wangji inhales him and hugs him tighter. “It’s really me, I’m here.”

Lan Wangji responds by nuzzling his face on the curve of his neck. His entire body is still trembling, the tips of his fingers digging deep into Wei Wuxian’s back.

“I’m here, it’s over,” he says.

And then, because he wants to, because he thinks he can, Wei Wuxian places a long kiss on Lan Wangji’s forehead.

It seems to work. His trembling subsides. Wei Wuxian kisses the top of his head, his hairline, his eyebrows. Lan Wangji starts breathing normally again, his body relaxing under Wei Wuxian’s lips.

“Wei Ying,” he says, seeming… Entirely more awake than he should be.

His lips freeze on the bridge of Lan Wangji’s nose. Just as the man is batting his eyelashes open, Wei Wuxian raises his head.

“Wei Ying?” Lan Wangji calls again, definitely, definitely awake.

Wei Wuxian’s heart races. He feels like a child who got caught stealing candy. He shouldn’t have been kissing a sleeping Lan Wangji, not like this. Not when he probably wouldn’t even remember the kisses tomorrow.

Lan Wangji tries raising his head, but Wei Wuxian puts a hand on the back of his neck and gently guides it back down to his shoulders.

“Go back to sleep, Lan Zhan,” he says, hoping he’s still sleepy enough to obey right away.

Instead of doing what he’s told, Lan Wangji tucks his head further down onto his chest. He turns his face a little, bringing a hand to his sternum.

“Not a dream,” Lan Wangji says, hand resting right above Wei Wuxian’s heart. “Alive.”

Wei Wuxian melts right into his touch.

“Alive,” he echoes, in a voice as soothing as he can manage.

They stay like that, holding each other for what feels like an endless night. Wei Wuxian listens to Lan Wangji’s unsteady breaths, and Lan Wangji listens to his racing heart. Eventually, the rhythm of their bodies synchronizes, and Wei Wuxian finally feels himself calm down.

He thinks he hears Lan Wangji saying it again, right before he drifts off to sleep. Like a prayer being whispered for his ears alone. Alive, alive, alive, alive...

For once, Wei Wuxian is happier for it.

 

-

 

His core grows stronger every day.

He easily beats all the Juniors who he used to lose fights to. He meditates with Lan Wangji and even gets to try the handstands he seems to appreciate so much. He goes on night-hunting trips with the disciples and feels his own power surging through his veins, pulsing along with his blood.

He forgot how good it was, to feel this capable.

The first time he gets injured on a night-hunt, Wei Wuxian almost cries from happiness.

It's a bad injury. A miscalculation on one of the disciples' part led to him having to throw his body in front of the boy, before the ghoul could get to him. The result is a deep slash across his stomach, a scar he will wear proudly in the years to come.

As Lan Wangji sets up a quick camp for them in a clearing, Wei Wuxian enjoys the feeling of putting his newly acquired spiritual energy to work.

The disciples see the smile on his face, even as his weak body has to be carried and laid down carefully, and think he's crazy. They worry, at first, but seeing Wei Wuxian talking lively soothes their hearts, and they quickly go sit in a circle to talk between themselves. Lan Wangji is the only person who pays him any mind.

"Don't give me your spiritual energy, Hanguang Jun," he says as playfully as he can, but the drops of blood running past his lips ruin the whole effect. "Let's see how long I'll take to heal alone, hm?"

Lan Wangji gives him an exasperated look - which means he raises one of his eyebrows, just a little - and ignores his request.

"This way, it won't scar," he says, touching two fingers to his wrist.

“Ay, a man needs a few-” he starts to protest, but the words die on his throat when he feels Lan Wangji’s energy, fresh and never-ending, going into him. His body drinks it like it's starving, and given his state, it probably is.

He closes his eyes and drops his head back on the tree he’s resting against.

“Wei Ying?”

“I’m fine, Lan Zhan,” he smiles. “It’s just… I can’t even remember the last time I was actually able to feel someone lending me spiritual energy.”

Lan Wangji stays silent, focusing on helping him. The ache in his stomach dulls down to a throb, and his breathing gets a little easier.

Suddenly, there’s a flash of memory inside his head, triggered by the distinctive presence of Lan Wangji’s energy inside him.

“Lan Zhan,” he whispers, trying to take hold of the scattered images in his brain.

He furrows his brow, overwhelmed as the pictures flash in front of his eyes. Xuanwu. A cave in the unbearable cold. A sword filled with dark energy, the voices of a hundred vengeful souls calling to him.

Lan Wangji, like a light in the dark, keeping him grounded, helping him through it, speaking calmly to him. And...

“Wangxian,” the word is punched out of him, breathless. He snaps his eyes open, focusing instantly on the same man, still there, by his side, even after everything.

Lan Wangji freezes.

“Wangxian,” Wei Wuxian grabs Lan Wangji’s wrist with all the strength he still has in his body. “That’s the name.”

“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji’s jaw is tight as he says his name.

“It’s the name of the song!” Wei Wuxian tries getting up, getting closer to him, but there’s a searing pain in his stomach when he moves. He collapses back on the tree, coughing as Lan Wangji’s hands support him. “Lan Zhan, won’t you answer me?”

“Stay still. You’re hurt.”

“I’m right though. Am I not?” Wei Wuxian asks. “Wang... Xian,” he says slowly, tasting the syllables in his tongue. They go well together, he thinks.

Lan Wangji settles him back into a comfortable position, avoiding his eyes. He keeps his lips shut tight and takes Wei Wuxian’s wrist again, pointedly ignoring him.

“Lan Zhan…”

No answer. Wei Wuxian calls again, knowing his voice sounds fainter than he would like. He raises his free hand to touch Lan Wangji’s chin, forcing his head up.

When his golden eyes meet him, the intensity in them is devastating. He looks terribly vulnerable, terribly beautiful, with his ears blushing an attractive shade of red.

Wei Wuxian almost forgets what he was about to say.

“I remember it, Lan Zhan,” he breathes, thumb gliding over Lan Wangji’s cheek. “The name of the song.”

Lan Wangji’s eyes fall shut, and for a brief second, he leans into his touch. Vaguely, Wei Wuxian is aware that there are people around them, disciples sitting with them in the forest, but he doesn’t care. The only thing in the world is Lan Wangji. His eyes on him, the warm feeling of his skin.

“Yes,” Lan Wangji says, barely a whisper. “You remembered it.”

Wei Wuxian’s heart swells with an almost indescribable fondness. He loves Lan Wangji. Loves him, loves him, loves him. A tiny laugh escapes his lips, just thinking of the sheer truth of it. He rubs the tip of Lan Wangji’s ear between his fingers to feel the warmth in them, trying to ground himself.

“It fits the melody,” he says. "It's a beautiful name."

When Lan Wangji finally looks at him again, he’s smiling.

Wei Wuxian is going to kiss him. He is going to get up, injury or not, and close the distance between them right now. His eyes slip down to Lan Wangji’s lips, soft, slightly curved up, and he is sure that no amount of blood loss is gonna stop him.

“Lan Zhan,” he says, trying to get up again, ignoring the shooting pains in his guts.

There is a small cough from somewhere around them, the sound of a twig breaking. Wei Wuxian is abruptly reminded that they are very much not alone.

He falls back into the tree with a pout on his lips, disappointed. Fine. He shouldn’t kiss him while he’s almost dying, anyway. He can wait until the next perfect opportunity.

“What is it, Wei Ying?” Lan Wangji asks, eyes soft as he gently takes Wei Wuxian’s hand away from his ear, lacing their fingers together.

Wei Wuxian smiles again. He’s perfect.

“I’m hungry,” he says, hoping the emotion isn’t too clear in his voice.

Lan Wangji nods, blinking slowly at him in the tender way he does sometimes, if Wei Wuxian is lucky enough.

He leans his head down and kisses Wei Wuxian’s hand, brushing his lips over every knuckle, exactly like Wei Wuxian does to him. Except a thousand times more heart-stopping.

“Then I will get you food,” he says, and slowly rises.

Wei Wuxian stares at him as he walks away, body weak, and heart hammering against his ribs as he tries to catch his breath.

As he tries, desperately, to wrap his head around the notion that Lan Wangji might not only want him, but love him in all the ways Wei Wuxian loves him, too.

 

-

 

“Wake up, Wei Ying.”

Wei Wuxian stirs in the warm bed, half awake, and buries his face further into the pillow.

A hand touches his shoulder, shaking him lightly. He lets out a weak moan in protest, trying his best to keep hold of the dream he was having, but it’s all in vain. He can’t even remember what it was about.

The touch gets more insistent, and finally Wei Wuxian turns towards it, blinking his eyes open against the morning light.

Like a heavenly sight straight from the skies, Lan Wangji sits by his side on the bed. The sunlight comes in through the window and hits his face just right, painting his hair a light brown. Wei Wuxian rubs his eyes, trying to make sure he’s awake.

Wei Wuxian doesn’t usually see him in the morning. By the time he rolls out of bed, Lan Wangji is already way too far into his day, running the thousands of errands he has to run.

“Lan Zhan?”

“Good morning,” he says, already with a soft smile on his face. What has Wei Wuxian done to deserve it, so early in the day?

“Good morning,” he puts his hands up to his mouth to cover a yawn. “Is everything alright?”

“Yes,” Lan Wangji says. “Happy birthday.”

“What?” Wei Wuxian quickly sits on the bed. “Today?”

“You don’t have to rise,” Lan Wangji says, gently guiding him down again. “You can sleep in for a bit longer.”

Wei Wuxian lets his head fall back on the pillow, feeling incredibly tempted to take him up on that offer. But it’s impossible, now that he’s awake, to fall back asleep, especially knowing today is his birthday. He hasn’t celebrated his birthday in many, many years. He doesn’t even know exactly what his age is.

“Ay, Lan Zhan, if I can keep sleeping, why did you wake me up, huh?” he laughs a little.

Lan Wangji lowers his eyes.

“I apologize. I wanted… to greet you. ” he says. “I brought breakfast.”

He points at the table where a bowl of something unidentifiable rests, the steam visible from even far away. Wei Wuxian’s stomach makes a loud noise.

He gets up instantly and stretches his arms above his head. When he sits down, he realizes Lan Wangji is watching him, and opens a big smile.

“This smells incredible, Lan Zhan! Aren’t you gonna eat?”

Lan Wangji shakes his head, going to stand in front of him. “I have to go. There’s a class I need to teach. But…”

He stops. Wei Wuxian tilts his head at him, waiting for him to go on.

“But what?”

“When the sun sets, I… I would ask you to meet me, if that’s possible,” he hesitates. “At the edge of the western woods.”

Wei Wuxian’s heart races in anticipation.

“Of course. I’ll be there.”

Lan Wangji nods. “Very well. I will see you then,” he says, weirdly formal. Maybe a little nervous? Did he think Wei Wuxian would say no?

“I’ll see you then,” he repeats back, not even trying to hide his smile.

Lan Wangji lingers for a few more seconds, simply looking at him. Then, with a flutter of white robes, he turns away and walks out the door, leaving behind a very confused - and very eager - Wei Wuxian.

 

-

 

All day long, he feels on the verge of exploding.

He tries his best to fill his day with things that grab his interest. He has lunch with Lan Sizhui, he paints with Ouyang Zizhen, and he takes his bow to train archery, which is something he hasn’t really done in years.

His mind, however, is always drifting off to Lan Wangji, and his request. He keeps trying to guess what he wants, by asking him to meet him at that exact place. He’s half tempted to go there before the time comes and explore the place, just to see if there’s anything special about it, like hidden food, or maybe a huge stack of Emperor’s Smile.

He even dresses up for it, which in hindsight seems… Excessive. He uses one of his more elegant robes, the ones with the padding that enhance his shoulders. It’s a little silly to be putting so much thought into it, but he thinks he can be excused. It’s his birthday, after all.

When the last ray of sun disappears in the horizon, turning the sky a dark purple shade, Wei Wuxian is already waiting for Lan Wangji where they agreed to meet.

He turns Chengqing idly between his fingers, more out of habit than anything else. The resentful energy in it doesn’t call for him as strongly as it once did. It’s easier to ignore it, and to push it away, now that he has a strong golden core.

He wonders, briefly, if he should greet Lan Wangji to the notes of Wangxian, and feels giddy just imagining his face.

Before he can start, there is a blue light moving in front of his eyes. Lan Wangji gets down from his sword, looking every bit as gorgeous as he always does. Wei Wuxian asks himself if he’s ever gonna stop losing his breath every time he sees him.

“Wei Ying,” he says, barely audible even in the silent forest. “Hello.”

“Hi,” Wei Wuxian smiles.

Lan Wangji stares at him again, just like he did in the morning. It’s a little unnerving to be gazed at so intensely, but Wei Wuxian finds he likes the attention just fine.

“So… Why are we here?” he asks.

Lan Wangji inhales. “Follow me,” he says, and enters the woods.

Night falls on them, but cultivators are skilled at seeing in the dark. Still, he grabs Lan Wangji’s arm and leans his weight into him, following as close as he can. He knows he isn’t fooling anyone, pretending he needs aid to walk on the right path, but Lan Wangji doesn’t push him away.

“Hanguang Jun, why are you leading me into the woods at night, huh?” he says with his mouth close to Lan Wangji’s ear, feeling a little bit daring without the light of day to help control his impulses. “What kinds of unspeakable acts do you intend to do to the Yiling Patriarch?”

Lan Wangji tenses under him.

“Shameless,” he says.

“I’m shameless? You’re the one who’s taking me to a hidden-”

Wei Wuxian halts, all the words quickly dying on his lips.

They’ve stepped into a clearing in the middle of the woods, big enough to fit a small lake. Lan Wangji makes a quick gesture with his hand and a small sphere of fire lights up the waters in front of them. Wei Wuxian has never been to these sides of the Cloud Recesses before, so he’s not ready for the sight that greets him.

His mouth hangs open as he stares, his grip tight on Lan Wangji’s arm. All along the lake, dozens of lotus stems sprout from the water, some still developing, some already showing hints of the flower starting to bloom.

“Lan Zhan,” he says, but his throat feels dry. He swallows, trying to regain composure. “What… How long has this been here?”

“Not long.”

“When did… How…” he takes a deep breath. “What happened?”

“You said you missed it,” Lan Wangji says, simply. Like he isn’t shifting Wei Wuxian’s entire world with a single sentence. Like he isn’t changing his life and his fate with a simple gift.

The lake is beautiful. It’s what he tried to do in the Burial Mounds, and failed. It’s what he’s been missing since he left Lotus Pier, when his sister was still with them, and the joy of stealing lotus stems and eating the seeds was something he took for granted.

“Did you… plant lotus seeds here, Lan Zhan?”

Lan Wangji lowers his gaze. “Mn. Jin Rulan helped.”

“Still, I… W-was…” he clears his throat. “Was it your idea?”

“Yes.”

“For me?”

“Mn.”

Wei Wuxian stares at him, completely speechless. Lan Wangji still does not meet his eyes.

This man, his… his best friend, his soulmate, his equal, the only person in the world who truly knows him… Built a place for him, in his home. Found space for him, more than once, and welcomed him into his sect, his room, his bed.

“Lan Zhan,” he whispers, but he has no idea what to say.

Without thinking, without even realizing what he’s doing, Wei Wuxian steps closer to him, grabbing the collar of his robes. There's surprise in Lan Wangji’s eyes when Wei Wuxian dives into him, pressing their mouths together, kissing him as hard as he dares to.

For a breathless moment, he lingers, pulse quickening and eyes shut tight. He wants to move, to take, to relish in the feeling of Lan Wangji's lips, soft and full on his own.

But fear gets the better out of him, and Wei Wuxian pulls back, face already heating in embarrassment.

"I…" he tries saying, but Lan Wangji is staring at him with wide eyes, his lips still slightly open and looking so, so inviting that Wei Wuxian almost makes the same mistake twice. "I just wanted-"

Lan Wangji grabs him by the waist and knocks their lips together again, yanking a gasp out of him. Wei Wuxian wastes no time, sliding his arms to his neck, pulling him closer, as close as they will get. He kisses him passionately, messily, their bodies leaning into each other and fitting together in a way Wei Wuxian has only ever dreamed of.

He darts his tongue out and licks Lan Wangji's lips, testing him, tasting him, and the sound Lan Wangji makes in response goes straight down his spine.

Wei Wuxian is the first to pull back, heated and panting. He keeps their embrace, unwilling to let go, and rests his forehead on Lan Wangji’s. The touch of the cold metal from the ribbon grounds him just enough to get a single word out.

"Fuck."

"Wei Ying," Lan Wangji whispers, more vulnerable than Wei Wuxian has ever heard him.

"Wait, Lan Zhan, don't talk," he says, a little terrified of what he might hear. But the idea of Lan Wangji staying silent is somehow even scarier. "Actually, please say something. Was that… That was fine, right? I didn't… I didn't overstep?"

Lan Wangji answers by kissing him again, slow, and a lot more tender. His lips are wet, warm, and moving against Wei Wuxian's in a perfect rhythm, which he follows eagerly. He feels lightheaded, confused, like his mind wasn’t ready for how good it would feel to let his body act as it has wanted to, for years. How good it would be to have Lan Wangji fit so perfectly in between his arms.

Wei Wuxian sighs into his mouth, and it parts for him, wet and perfect, as their tongues brush against each other. Lan Wangji lets out a low, maddening, beautifully shocked sound, and Wei Wuxian dives in deeper, unable to stop the hunger that seems to want to take him over.

This time, Lan Wangji draws back first, and immediately sinks his head down on Wei Wuxian's shoulder, arms tightening further around him.

"Lan Zhan," he says softly, still a little dizzy. If this is what kissing feels like, then he isn’t sure if he can take anything else.

Lan Wangji doesn't answer. His fingers dig into Wei Wuxian's back, and if they were touching bare skin, it would definitely be hard enough to bruise.

"Lan Zhan, are you alright?" he asks, caressing Lan Wangji's hair, pressing a small kiss at the top of his head. "You're shaking."

Lan Wangji pulls back to look at him. His eyes are red around the edges, but there is a peace to his expression, a fullness that wasn't there before. Wei Wuxian cups his jaw and grins.

The smile he gets back almost knocks the breath right out of his lungs. He plants another, quick kiss on Lan Wangji’s lips, because when the love of his life looks that beautiful, he must.

A shadow passes over Lan Wangji’s eyes, and for a second, Wei Wuxian has the distinctive impression that he’s gonna be thrown against a tree, or pushed to the ground, and kissed to an inch of his life. His breath staggers in his throat, the anticipation almost unbearable, but before anything can happen, Lan Wangji’s face smooths out again.

“Dinner,” he breathes, like he isn’t thinking about food at all. Wei Wuxian stares blankly at him. After a while, he clarifies. “We should go inside and have dinner.”

Wei Wuxian drops his hands down to Lan Wangji’s arms. 

“Alright,” he says. “Let’s go somewhere warmer.”

“You go first,” Lan Wangji says.

Slowly, almost as if he regrets it, he disentangles his arms from around Wei Wuxian’s waist and carefully steps back.

Wei Wuxian resists the urge to cling onto him. “Why?”

“I forgot something. I will not be long.”

There’s a deep flush on his face, visible even in the dark. Wei Wuxian studies him, trying to understand why he would want to go away now, of all times.

“I’ll hold you to that, Hanguang Jun,” he says, still a little confused.

Lan Wangji nods, then turns around and leaves as quickly as he came. Wei Wuxian watches him go in silence.

He waits. One, two, three heartbeats.

And follows.

 

-

 

Wei Wuxian finds him in the Cold Springs.

He approaches carefully, trying not to make any sound. Lan Wangji’s clothes are neatly folded on the ground, and he sits by a large rock, back completely straight.

Once Wei Wuxian gets close enough, he can see the focus on his face, the slight furrow in his brow. Smiling to himself, he approaches. He knew there was something wrong the instant Lan Wangji stepped away from him.

Slowly, he strips from his robes and shoes, leaving only his pants on. He doesn't know why Lan Wangji went away so suddenly, but he figures he wouldn’t be Wei Wuxian if he didn’t pester him about it. If there's one thing he has learned during his life, it's that more often than not, even though Lan Wangji might say he wants to be alone, he doesn't. Not really.

“Weird time to be meditating, I think,” he says as he slips inside the icy cold water, trying not to shiver too much from the shock of temperature.

Lan Wangji’s eyes snap open. “What...”

“Why did you come here, Lan Zhan?” Wei Wuxian asks, circling him on the water. The waves ripple around his body in circles, and Lan Wangji stares at him, his pale muscles tensing. Wei Wuxian doesn't even try keeping his eyes away. He doesn't have the willpower to, not after their kiss.

“I’m sorry,” Lan Wangji says, seeming to be staring at him just as intently. His hands curl into fists over his knees where he sits. “For making you wait.”

“I didn’t wait, did I?” he smiles.

He takes another step closer to Lan Wangji, and watches as his jaw clenches.

“Lan Zhan, how can you bathe here when it’s so cold? Wouldn’t it be better to have a warm bath?”

Lan Wangji’s eyes slip down his bare chest. It’s a brief look, barely a second before he turns away, but Wei Wuxian notices.

“Not right now,” he says.

“Hmm,” Wei Wuxian leans over by his side, standing so that his chest is level with Lan Wangji’s gaze. “I know a few things about the Cold Springs, you know.”

“Mn,” Lan Wangji closes his eyes. “It clears the mind. Heals wounds.”

“Right,” Wei Wuxian reaches over to tuck a strand of wet hair behind Lan Wangji’s ear. When his fingers brush the tip, he can feel the heat there. “It also calms down the heart…”

He lets his fingers brush over Lan Wangji’s forehead ribbon, very softly.

“... and extinguishes the fire in one’s body.”

Lan Wangji stands up and grabs his wrist, the water sloshing around them.

“Wei Ying.” he says. “Don’t tease.”

“Ay, Lan Zhan, you’re the one who left me alone on my birthday,” he says, moving even closer. Their bodies are almost touching now, skin on skin, and Wei Wuxian finds it harder and harder to breathe. “I can’t even tease you a little bit, as revenge?”

Lan Wangji sways in his direction, almost as if on accident. Wei Wuxian inhales, bracing himself for the moment they will meet, but it never comes.

“Not like this,” Lan Wangji closes his eyes. “Please.”

Wei Wuxian’s heart sinks. Lan Wangji looks pained, like there are a million conflicting thoughts in his head. 

He… He doesn’t want…

Fuck. Wei Wuxian was wrong, again. He really should’ve thought better before making a move, instead of stupidly acting on impulse, as he always did.

“I... Lan Zhan, I’m sorry. I thought...” he lowers his arm, but Lan Wangji doesn’t let go. “I thought I saw you reacting, in a certain way, and maybe… maybe you wanted… But I was wrong. I won’t do it again.”

Lan Wangji’s eyes flutter open. “What?”

“It’s okay,” Wei Wuxian squeezes his hand, trying to sound reassuring. “I’m sorry for… Pushing.”

“No,” he says.

“Is it a rule thing?” he asks, suddenly wanting to make sense of the rejection, when moments ago Lan Wangji had looked incredibly open to it. Did he imagine the heat in his eyes? Did he imagine the way Lan Wangji clung to him, finger digging into his back? “Or are you just… Not interested in these types of-”

“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji’s grip on his wrist tightens almost to the point of pain. “That’s not it at all.”

Wei Wuxian blinks at him, feeling the edges of his eyes starting to burn. He’d always known getting denied by Lan Wangji would hurt, but… Somehow, the real thing is worse.

“Then what is it?” he asks, even though he knows the answer. He has read the signals wrong. Lan Wangji’s love for him has always been fraternal, and not romantic at all.

Lan Wangji touches his chin, very lightly.

“I left because I am not certain if I can…” he hesitates. When he finally speaks, his voice is but a small whisper, and his eyes are far from Wei Wuxian’s own. “Keep my restraint.”

“What?”

“You kissed me,” he breathes, and both of his hands come up to cup Wei Wuxian’s face, the tip of his thumb brushing over his lip. “You kissed me, and I almost…”

He freezes. Shuts his lips. Wei Wuxian takes him by the waist, pulling him closer until their bodies touch, and oh, oh…

He feels Lan Wangji’s body, pressing on his hip, and they both inhale sharply. He doesn’t try to pull back, but Wei Wuxian’s hands tighten on his waist anyway, wanting to keep him as close as possible.

“Lan Zhan, are you…” he starts, because he needs him to say something. A responding body isn’t a responding mind, he knows, he knows, and Lan Wangji has run from him once. “Almost what?” he says. "I kissed you, and you almost what?"

Lan Wangji closes his eyes and rests their foreheads together.

“Almost lost control." he whispers. "I wanted... Wei Ying, I-”

Wei Wuxian kisses him full on the lips, letting his arms circle his back and pull him in. Lan Wangji lets out a tiny, almost whimpering sound, and pushes him further into the water.

He walks backwards without looking, trusting Lan Wangji to guide their steps, until his back hits a boulder behind him. Lan Wangji squeezes him against it, trapping him there, but he has no intention of ever escaping.

The first press of their bodies together is ecstatic.  Wei Wuxian knows that whatever this is, whatever they’re about to do, he won’t be able to last. He's half on edge just thinking that the person touching him is... Is...

"Lan Zhan," he calls, his control slipping from him as he lets his hands drag over Lan Wangji’s body, digging into his skin. There’s a sound from Lan Wangji's throat when Wei Wuxian finds his scars, bumpy and sensitive on his back, but he buries his face on his neck and thrusts his hips forward, rubbing them together.

Wei Wuxian lets out a low moan on Lan Wangji’s ear, and bites the tip of it to keep his noises down. He grinds his body on Lan Wangji’s thigh, their cocks rubbing together, and the sharp pleasure he gets from the simple action is a thousand times more overbearing than anything he has ever done on himself.

He’s aware, distantly, of the sounds the water makes around them as they move, much more explicit and loud than he anticipated. But Lan Wangji presses his body flush against him, then moves his hand to untie his pants, and every thought in his head that isn’t Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan suddenly disappears.

Lan Wangji takes one moment to pull back, hungry eyes travelling down Wei Wuxian's body, taking him in. Wei Wuxian tries not to blush at being so… intensely gazed at, and uses the opportunity to tug Lan Wangji closer and untie his pants, as well.

“Wei Ying, I want...” Lan Wangji says, his lips red and his face colored in a deep flush. He bites Wei Wuxian's lips, then goes down on his neck. “Can I touch you?”

Wei Wuxian laughs, low and raspy in his ear.

“If you have to ask, you’re already one step behind,” he says.

When they take each other in hand, Wei Wuxian’s mind goes blank. He can swear he has stopped breathing, he has to have stopped breathing, because the air is knocked out from his lungs. Lan Wangji kisses him, and kisses him, his hand moving fast on his cock, and Wei Wuxian feels like he could go crazy just from the notion that this is really, really happening.

He wants to breathe, to gather himself, to say something, but he can’t. There’s a fire building deep down in his guts, and Lan Wangji’s lips feel cold from the spring water. There’s nothing else Wei Wuxian can think about. Nothing else that matters.

Lan Wangji moves with him, breathing hard, burying the sounds that come out of his throat on Wei Wuxian’s neck. He feels like pure instinct, just feeling, as Lan Wangji slides his hand inside his hair and tugs hard. Wei Wuxian cries, squeezing his hand on Lan Wangji’s cock, relishing in the way he thrusts his hips up to meet his hand.

“Lan Zhan,” he whispers, or maybe screams. “Lan Zhan, ah, I…”

Lan Wangji kisses him again, and with a low groan against Wei Wuxian’s tongue, his entire body shudders, the pleasure overcoming him in a few strokes.

Wei Wuxian pulls back to watch him as he finishes, enthralled by the blissful expression on his face. He never thought Lan Wangji could look more beautiful than he already was. Apparently, he was wrong.

He keeps stroking, too hypnotized to notice when Lan Wangji starts really shaking from the overstimulation, the moans turning into tiny whimpers on his lips.

“Ah, Wei Ying, please-” he says, higher pitched than Wei Wuxian has ever heard him speak, and it’s that, more than anything, that sends him over the edge.

His orgasm crashes over him, darkening his vision and making his knees go weak. Lan Wangji watches him through it, mouth open as he pants.

Wei Wuxian collapses back on the stone, and Lan Wangji collapses over him, trying to catch his breath.

He hugs Lan Wangji close and tucks his head on his shoulder, feeling a lot like he's floating on air. For a while, they stay silent, enjoying the heat of each other’s bodies, the gratifying comfort of physical closeness.

Eventually, Wei Wuxian feels himself begin to shake, and not in a good way.

“Lan Zhan, I’m cold,” he whines, feeling incredibly clingy. “Let’s go home.”

Lan Wangji’s entire body tenses over him.

Fuck.

He pulls back and stares at Wei Wuxian intently. “What?”

“Let’s go eat something,” he corrects himself. He can’t just drop the fact that he has been thinking of the Jingshi as their home for a while now right after they just did… that. Lan Wangji already has enough to think about. “I’m hungry.”

“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji’s hand tighten on his waist. “You…”

Wei Wuxian feels his throat go dry looking at him. He looks… scared. Terrified. This definitely isn’t something Lan Wangji has spent any time thinking about, clearly. What was Wei Wuxian thinking, letting it slip out like that?

“Come on, Lan Zhan, it’s freezing here,” he laughs to cover up the way his words sound shaky. “Give me some warm food. It’s my birthday.”

Lan Wangji hesitates for a moment, but then he sees Wei Wuxian pout, and his face softens into a tiny smile.

“Alright,” he says, and the tension is thankfully gone from his voice.

He slips Wei Wuxian’s pants up, carefully tying them back. It’s… gentle. Caring. For some reason, Wei Wuxian eyes start to burn.

“There’s soup waiting," Lan Wangji says.

Wei Wuxian smiles his brightest smile yet, knowing that if he doesn’t, he might just start crying.

“Soup sounds perfect,” he says.

They get dressed together, almost in a daze, and when they walk up to the Jingshi, Lan Wangji takes his hand and laces their fingers together.

Wei Wuxian lets himself be guided back to his not-yet-home, figuring that maybe, this is a conversation for another day.






Chapter Text

Lan Wangji wakes up with Wei Wuxian in his arms.

It’s disorienting, at first, having a warm presence so near him, tucked into his chest. His arm feels numb under Wei Wuxian’s head, and their legs are tangled up together. He doesn’t move.

This, by itself, is not new, although Lan Wangji isn’t sure if he will ever get used to it. Ever since Wei Wuxian started making a habit of sleeping in his bed they have woken up in different levels of closeness, and every time, he feels his pulse picking up with the sheer euphoria of it.

The first time Wei Wuxian explicitly asked for them to be close, guiding his arm to his waist, Lan Wangji almost froze. His throat was dry, his heart was racing, and with every breath he took he was afraid that Wei Wuxian would notice just how nervous he was.

But even that, somehow, became a habit. It was unspoken now, that whenever they went to sleep, some part of them needed to be touching. Sometimes, it was just their hands. Sometimes, their entire bodies. It still made Lan Wangji crazy, but he thought he was better now about pretending that it didn’t.

Today is different.

Today, they are skin to skin, shirtless under the covers, and the only layer separating their bodies is the thin fabric of their pants.

Lan Wangji squeezes his eyes shut.

He must be dreaming.

But it feels so real. It felt real, kissing Wei Wuxian, touching him in the Cold Springs… In the Cold Springs, for heaven’s sake, that was an old fantasy he hadn’t dreamt of in a long time...

And then, coming back to his room. Having dinner with him, as he spun crazy stories about new talismans he was planning to create. “A talisman for making things colder, Lan Zhan. If I can make things hotter, then it stands to reason…” he had said, with a boyish grin on his face. Lan Wangji only nodded, unable to give his words the full attention they deserved.

How could he? He was thinking about how Wei Wuxian bit the tip of his ear.

He had noticed it, Lan Wangji thinks. Noticed the way his eyes lingered on his lips. The way he wasn’t really listening, for the first time in his life.

When they got to bed, Wei Wuxian smiled at him. A teasing smile, the one that always made Lan Wangji’s blood burn. He’d hovered over Lan Wangji’s body, hair spilling onto his face, and asked, “Lan Zhan, do you want, maybe, to repeat the-”

Lan Wangji shudders now, at the mere memory of it. He hadn’t been able to keep himself from laying Wei Wuxian back on the bed before he could even finish the sentence, yanking their robes open. They had found their pleasures again, just like that, bodies flush on one another, Wei Wuxian’s hot breath on his neck. They didn’t even use their hands, grinding on each other like animals, and Lan Wangji had even felt feral, felt desperate, like he would go insane if he didn’t get more.

And all the while, Wei Wuxian, gasping under him, clawing at the sensitive skin on his back, letting sounds spill from his lips that Lan Wangji had never thought he would be able to hear.

Was it really all a dream?

Wei Wuxian mumbles something in his sleep, almost as if to answer his question, and then moves a little bit away to lie on his back. The cold his body leaves is brutal. Lan Wangji opens his eyes.

It’s still too dark to properly see his face, but Lan Wangji’s sight doesn’t fail him. He blinks the fuzziness away slowly and studies the state of the man in front of him.

Naked from the waist up, Wei Wuxian’s newly acquired muscles rise and fall slowly with his breath. Each curve of his body is enticing, drawing Lan Wangji’s eyes even more now that he can see bare skin. There’s a slight trail of hair under his navel, guiding his gaze down to black pants that weren’t even properly tied back after they…

Lan Wangji takes a deep breath, trying to keep his body calm.

Wei Wuxian lets out another small sound from his throat. He snores in this position, Lan Wangji has noticed over the many nights they’ve slept together. It’s a low, almost feline sound, like the soft purr of a cat.

He moves his hand up from where it still rests over Wei Wuxian’s waist, trailing a soft line all the way up to his chest. Wei Wuxian’s heart beats steadily, healthy, and there’s the simmering energy of a strong core, somewhere further down. Perhaps, if this is a dream, Wei Wuxian has never died. Perhaps, here, Lan Wangji has gotten to him before it was too late.

Before he can stop it, his eyes fill with tears. These were the cruelest of his nightmares, the ones that tricked him into happiness. A blessing while he sleeps, a curse when he’s awake.

Still, he moves closer, chasing the warmth of the body by his side, resting his ear on Wei Wuxian’s chest. He thinks he is allowed to have this kind of comforting touch, now. As if on instinct, Wei Wuxian’s sleeping arm curls up around him, his hand sprawled lazily on his back.

As Lan Wangji’s head moves softly up and down, following Wei Wuxian’s lungs, his mind struggles to piece the reality of what happened the day before back together.

 

-

 

He pays his brother a visit, as he is allowed to, once a month.

It’s always nice to see him. It’s especially nice to see him doing better and better, after more than three years spent in isolation. His brother’s seclusion period is as much politics as it is personal, and leaving too soon or too late might influence his reputation as Sect Leader for years to come.

Lan Wangji doesn’t like to compare their situations, but he feels his heart heavy for what his brother went through. He just hopes that, when he finally does come back into society, the other sect leaders won’t hold it against him that he has defended a person such as Jin Guangyao. Lan Wangji certainly does not.

“Wangji,” his brother smiles at him, as he always does, when he comes in. But a single look at Lan Wangji’s face has the smile turned into a bright grin. “You look happy today.”

Lan Wangji doesn’t answer. Not because he doesn’t want to, but because he doesn’t know how. He has no words to explain what happened, or what he’s feeling.

“Well. Come sit down,” his brother makes way for him and points at the table. “I have prepared some tea for your visit.”

They talk of other things first, as Lan Wangji sits down and pours tea for the both of them. A long time has passed since his last visit, and there are a lot of things his brother needs to be made aware of, such as the conference, his work as Chief Cultivator, their family, and the state of their sect in general. It’s much of the same they always talk about, and it comforts the both of them, to have somewhat of a normal routine, even like this.

As Lan Wangji finishes his account and sets the cup aside on the table, he notices a small stack of letters. One of them has his name.

He quickly averts his gaze, but his brother has already noticed.

“Ah,” Lan Xichen says. “You got another one. Meishan Yu clan, this time.”

Lan Wangji raises an eyebrow.

“I know. Sizhui himself gave it to me,” Lan Xichen smiles. “I still don’t get why you asked me to intercept these.”

“It’s easier,” Lan Wangji says. “There aren’t as many now.”

The letters were always the same. Requests for personal meetings with Hanguang Jun, with the purpose of offering an advantageous marriage between clans. At first, he used to accept the meetings and listen to all of their offers first before politely, but firmly, declining. He thought it would be rude to decline before even hearing what they had to say.

As it turned out, that didn’t work. He quickly found that sect leaders were much more prone to outbursts during personal meetings than they were in letters.

After that, he started sending written responses. It was better for all parties involved. He saved face from having to come up with increasingly more polite ways to say no, and the clan could save face from having wasted their time and money on a pursuit that would take them nowhere.

Still, there was a lot of dissatisfaction. Some kept insisting, or trying to make better offers. Some tried to go over his head and ask for Lan Xichen’s permission, as sect leader. Luckily, his brother always smiled and made it clear that when it came to Lan Wangji, not even he would be able to force him to do something.

By telling the Juniors that he was no longer receiving such proposals, the letter income had nearly stopped. As Lan Wangji expected, the Juniors talked among themselves, and eventually, the news got to other sect’s disciples their age. He didn’t usually approve of gossip, but in this case, it had served him well.

“I suppose you’re right,” Lan Xichen says. “Even though there are always the insistent ones.”

He gives Lan Wangji the letter and watches as he tucks it inside his robes to look at later. They still read them, when they come. It’s always good to know what clans are willing to offer, and depending on how it goes, they can even deflect their proposal to another prominent Lan bachelor.

“Will you give it any thought?” his brother asks, as a habit. He already knows the answer.

Lan Wangji simply pours them more tea.

“Speaking of which,” Lan Xichen quirks his eyebrow. “How is Wei Wuxian?”

Lan Wangji’s grip on the cup tightens, almost breaking it in pieces. He glares at his brother, not failing to notice the implications of the unsubtle subject change.

“Xiongzhang,” he scolds.

“Did he enjoy your birthday gift?”

His ears burn with embarrassment remembering Wei Wuxian’s reaction to seeing the lotus pond, and everything that happened between them right after. It still feels like a distant dream, a fantasy he created in his mind.

“Yes,” he manages to say. 

His expression must betray his thoughts, because his brother starts chuckling.

“I see,” Lan Xichen says. “So is he staying permanently, then?”

Lan Wangji’s gaze drops to his hands. He doesn’t think so.

Despite their shared kisses, despite their shared heat, Wei Wuxian is still free to do as he pleases. There is… something between them, fire and attraction, mutual fondness, and perhaps, now that they’ve opened that door, they will continue to explore this side of their relationship when they meet again. But the truth is, none of the things they did mean, by themselves, that Wei Wuxian would ever want to stay.

And Lan Wangji is trying so, so hard not to let his mind go there. Not to wish. He knows Wei Wuxian’s nature. He knows that if he asks him to stay, Wei Wuxian will recoil, will think he is trying to trap him, and the careful bond they’ve been building might tear.

So he won’t say a thing, and he won’t hope. Hoping for anything more would only result in disappointment, in the end.

Lan Wangji settles for being as realistic, and as harsh with himself, as he can.

“I think he will leave when the Lan conference comes to a close,” he says, after a while. Lan Xichen frowns. “His golden core must be strong enough now.”

“Must be?”

“Yes. Wei Ying doesn’t train with me anymore,” he swallows. “I don’t know much of his progress.”

He doesn’t tell his brother the full truth. That he has invited Wei Wuxian to meditate by his side, or to practice swords and archery together, and been denied. That Wei Wuxian hasn’t even been training in Gusu grounds anymore, not that he knows of.

This is another reason why Lan Wangji thinks his departure must be close. Wei Wuxian is growing tired of spending every hour of his day in the Cloud Recesses, and is looking for help training elsewhere.

He knew it was coming. It shouldn’t hurt as much as it does.

Lan Xichen simply looks at him. It’s difficult seeing that expression on his face, like he desperately wants to help, but doesn’t exactly know how. Lan Wangji has seen it one too many times.

At last, he mutters, “Wangji, may I ask you something?”

Lan Wangji nods. “Of course.”

Lan Xichen leans over the table, ruining his perfectly straight posture, in favor of catching Lan Wangji’s eyes.

“What, exactly, has Wei Wuxian done here, that he couldn’t have done anywhere else?”

“What do you mean?”

“It seems to me,” Lan Xichen talks slowly, but his voice is not unkind. “... that core development is really straightforward. So, why Gusu?”

Lan Wangji furrows his eyebrows.

“Lan methods of core development are-”

“Are public to the entire cultivation world, by now,” his brother gives him a gentle smile. “Surely, there is something else in the Cloud Recesses that brought him here.”

“Xiongzhang,” Lan Wangji says. “I do not think so ill of Wei Ying to believe he came here out of pure interest. There are other things for him here. It’s good for him to see Sizhui.”

“And you.”

Lan Wangji hesitates. It’s still hard to conceive that Wei Wuxian truly does want to spend time with him, even when he has nothing to offer.

“... and me,” he concedes.

Lan Xichen sighs. “What I’m saying, brother, is that maybe his reason for coming had nothing to do with his core. Maybe… he just wanted to come.”

Lan Wangji takes another sip of his tea. It’s silly, to think that Wei Wuxian would go to such lengths just to come here. Surely, he knows by now that he doesn’t have to have any excuses like that. It isn’t like their old days, when Lan Wangji would say he was night-hunting just to travel to Yiling, in the hopes of catching sight of Wei Wuxian in the crowd.

He stares down at the table, not knowing quite how to answer. His brother doesn’t understand their dynamic, and Lan Wangji couldn’t explain it if he tried.

“I believe I have meddled too much,” Lan Xichen says when there’s no answer.. “You do have a lot of things to do, and I’ve kept you long enough.”

Setting his tea down, Lan Wangji nods at his brother. The sun is starting to set outside the window, and soon enough it will be time for dinner. He cannot stay longer.

He feels the familiar pain in his heart, knowing he is leaving his brother alone for yet another month, with the exception of Lan Qiren and Lan Sizhui’s visits.

“Do not worry,” Lan Xichen says as they rise, almost as if hearing his thoughts. “I’ve been doing much better.”

Lan Wangji nods again. He knows. He can see color on his brother’s face, now, where he couldn’t before. Even heart wounds can heal, although they will always leave a scar.

Just as he is opening the door to leave, already feeling the cold wind blowing on his face, his brother calls.

“Oh, Wangji,” he says. Lan Wangji turns back to him. “You should see about applying something to that… Cut… On your lip. It will heal faster.”

Lan Wangji frowns. He didn’t cut his-

Oh.

His eyes go wide. Running in his mind are the memories of Wei Wuxian’s bruising kiss the night before, paired with his long and careful staring in the morning. Just as Lan Wangji was leaving, Wei Wuxian had stopped him at the door and held his chin up, looking at him with narrowed eyes.

Lan Wangji’s entire body had frozen under his scrutiny. He let himself be analysed, not even attempting to resist. Wei Wuxian looked at his mouth for an indecent amount of time, smiling to himself, before whispering an enigmatic, “Show them, Hanguang Jun,” and smacking a kiss right onto his waiting lips.

Show them, Hanguang Jun.

His knees wobble under him.

“I believe rosemary oil is good for cuts,” Lan Xichen teases.

Lan Wangji doesn’t dignify that with an answer. With one last, hasty bow, he turns around and leaves before he can embarrass himself further.

 

-

 

For the next two weeks, Lan Wangji follows an exact routine.

There is thorough stretching in the mornings, as he warms up his body for the day.

There is class teaching, and reading the essays the younger disciples leave him.

There is night-hunting, sometimes, although that might take more than a single day, and with the Juniors following excitedly behind, it often does.

There are meetings, be them with his own sect elders or with people from other clans, and pretending that he cares about all the politics involved in every miniscule topic they insist to talk about.

And now, incredibly, unbelievably, there is kissing Wei Wuxian.

Not just one type of kiss, either. Many, many different kinds, that he never imagined would be possible.

He categorizes them in his mind.

The morning kisses, when Lan Wangji gets up, and Wei Wuxian pulls him back a little, insisting that he stays a while. Lan Wangji regrettably informs him that he can’t, and then kisses the pout on Wei Wuxian’s sleepy face, just because he can.

The surprise kisses, in the evenings, when Lan Wangji is writing letters while Wei Wuxian is tweaking on his numerous inventions, and the look of utter concentration on his face is too inviting to let the opportunity go.

The hasty kisses, that simply start one day when they pass each other in the Cloud Recesses, each going their own way, and Wei Wuxian gives him a kiss on the cheek before he even realizes what he’s doing. A few heads turn their way, but Lan Wangji doesn’t care. From then on, whenever they pass each other, a kiss must be exchanged.

The hand kisses, whenever they go to Caiyi town, and Wei Wuxian flirtingly asks for his money pouch and kisses his knuckles for it, before disappearing into the crowd.

The implied kisses, when he comes back from the crowd with gifts for his favorite disciples, and always, always, something for Lan Wangji. A flower, a piece of candy, or wood scented incense sticks for his room. On those days, Lan Wangji’s world stops, and he stares at Wei Wuxian’s lips for so long the man goes red under his gaze.

And the exploring, devastating kisses, when they lie down at night, losing themselves in each other’s touch. Never going too far, never more than strokes, and grinding, and lips on feverish skin, but always going just far enough to fill the room with noise.

Lan Wangji pours his soul into every embrace, wishing he never had to let go, but knowing that, when the time comes, he will.

He feels for Wei Wuxian’s core, after he’s already asleep. It hums with spiritual energy, an incredibly impressive progress for such a short time. His chest is filled with pride for the person Wei Wuxian has always been. Resilient. Brave. Strong.

How can he ever expect to keep him?

Wei Wuxian is a force of nature, meant for greatness, meant for freedom. Lan Wangji should be glad to be able to watch him run.

 

-

 

As autumn finally comes to a close, so does the Lan conference.

Lan Wangji is sitting by the lotus pond, idly playing melodies on his guqin, when he hears it first: the sentence that he’s been dreading to hear ever since this whole thing started.

Wei Wuxian is knee deep in mud, focused on changing the talismans around the flowers for a stronger kind and humming along to the notes Lan Wangji plays, when he suddenly stops.

“Lan Zhan,” he calls to him, softly, almost hesitantly. “There’s something I want to talk to you about.”

Lan Wangji freezes, fingers still on the chords. No, he thinks desperately, and only just keeps the word from spilling from his lips. When he feels confident enough, he looks up.

But they don’t get a chance to talk, not that day. Jin Ling interrupts them, demanding lotus seeds as a snack for his trip home, and Wei Wuxian bullies him for an entire hour before complying.

Lan Wangji stays quiet, listening to their bickering, until the time comes when he has to leave. There are things to take care of, and there’s the official closing ceremony to host.

By the time he gets back to his room at night, exhausted after sending all the disciples on their way home with good wishes, Wei Wuxian is nowhere to be seen.

He waits, but there’s no flutter of black robes opening his door. Fear threatens to overtake him, making him think that this is it, Wei Wuxian has left without even saying goodbye, but the rational part of his brain knows he wouldn’t do such a thing. He wouldn’t. He wouldn’t.

Eventually, he lies down alone, body too tired to stay awake. He falls asleep to the sound of his own solitary breathing, and the quietness of an empty room. A quietness he isn’t used to, not anymore.

When he wakes up, Wei Wuxian is by his side. Peaceful in his sleep, hair spilling over the pillow, and smudges of something bright red on his fingers and face. Not blood, human or otherwise, although he can’t quite figure out what it is.

Whatever it may be, Lan Wangji doesn’t worry further. Wei Wuxian is here. Everything else is secondary.

One more day with him, that is all he asks. Just one more day of Wei Wuxian, for as long as Lan Wangji is alive.

 

-

 

“Psst!”

Lan Wangji’s hand comes to a stop, the brush between his fingers dripping ink on the paper.

“Psssst!”

He looks around the Jingshi. Wei Wuxian’s voice sounds close, but he can’t quite see where he’s calling from.

“Lan Zhan!” he says again.

Lan Wangji looks in the direction of the sound, and his eyes lock with a smiling Wei Wuxian, dangling from the roof outside, looking at him through the window.

“You’ll fall,” Lan Wangji says, though his chest lights up with fondness.

Wei Wuxian raises his eyebrows at him, and disappears.

There are heavy steps on the roof, too heavy to be unintentional. Wei Wuxian is teasing him, trying to get him to follow.

Sighing, Lan Wangji drops the letter he’s been writing and goes out. It’s already past dinner time in the Cloud Recesses, and all clan members have retired to their own chambers. Wei Wuxian is nowhere to be seen.

Lan Wangji jumps, landing swiftly on the roof.

“Here,” Wei Wuxian says from behind him.

He turns. There’s a jar of Emperor’s Smile dangling from Wei Wuxian’s hand, and the moonlight shining on his hair makes it glow almost silver. Lan Wangji’s gaze goes soft.

“Wei Ying,” he says, taking a step closer. “Come inside.”

Wei Wuxian smiles. “I will. In a minute. I just…” he looks away, lips twisting a little. “I needed a little fresh air.”

Lan Wangji watches him take a sip of the liquor in his hand. He’s still wearing the robes he used to go visit Wen Qionglin, earlier in the day. It’s one of the new ones Lan Wangji had made, with a black fabric that had subtle, almost invisible details in dark gray, resembling clouds. He would be lying if he said it wasn’t a self-indulgent pick. Thankfully, Wei Wuxian hadn’t commented on it.

“You know…” he turns to Lan Wangji, tilting his head in thought. “I told you I came here to develop my core.”

“Yes.” Lan Wangji already feels a little breathless.

“It happened faster than I anticipated,” he taps his fingers on the jar. “I was kind of… expecting it to take at least three years. Not that I'm all the way there yet, but... I did get pretty far, didn't I?”

Lan Wangji was also expecting it to take a lot longer to get to where he is. More time to develop his core meant more time with him here. But he would never voice those thoughts out loud. They were too close to selfishness.

“Wei Ying is an outstanding cultivator,” he says instead. It’s not a lie. “I am not surprised.”

Wei Wuxian huffs, but his eyes are gentle.

“Lan Zhan… Is this where we met? For the first time?”

Lan Wangji frowns. Why would he bring up such a thing?

“No,” he answers. “We met at the gates. The Jiang Clan was arriving.”

“Right!” Wei Wuxian laughs a little, lost in memory. “We forgot the invitations, and you wouldn’t let us in.”

“You broke in anyway.”

“Of course!” Wei Wuxian turns to him then, outraged. “You were too hard on us. Especially me. I still think breaking in was the right choice.”

“You didn’t just break in,” Lan Wangji looks pointedly at the alcohol in his hand. “You broke several rules, that night.”

“I did?” Wei Wuxian says in a teasing tone. He holds Lan Wangji’s gaze as he raises the jar and pours the liquid directly into his mouth. Some of it dribbles down his chin, and he dabs it with his sleeve, smiling wickedly. “I don’t remember.”

Lan Wangji feels the corners of his lips curving up.

“Clearly, you haven’t learned a single thing,” he says, leaning into the teasing. He can be playful, too, for Wei Wuxian. He can let himself enjoy the remaining time they have together while it lasts.

Wei Wuxian walks towards him, footsteps sounding loud on the roof tiles. Lan Wangji watches him approach, unmoving. He has always liked watching Wei Wuxian coming in his direction. There was something about his posture, the sway of his body, the smug smile on his lips, that just caught his attention and never released it.

“I think you’re the one who needed to learn to break a few rules.”

Lan Wangji reaches forward and takes the alcohol from his hand.

“I did,” he says, when Wei Wuxian opens a delighted smile. “But you never learned to follow them.”

“Hanguang Jun...” Wei Wuxian’s eyes glint in the dark night.

He says it slowly. Han. Guang. Jun.

When Wei Wuxian says his title, it takes the weight off of it. It pulls it down to earth, to something manageable, something his. It isn’t spoken with reverence, it doesn’t talk about something he isn’t. It’s just… Hanguang Jun, like Lan Wangji, like Lan Zhan. It rolls off Wei Wuxian’s tongue like mockery, and like praise.

“Wei Ying,” he answers. He never wants to call him anything else again.

“Give that back.”

“Alcohol is forbidden in the Cloud Recesses,” he says.

Wei Wuxian throws his head back and laughs. The moon highlights the long curve of his neck, the slight red swell on his upper lip, put there just last night. Lan Wangji wonders if he’ll get to kiss it one last time, before Wei Wuxian has to go. Maybe he should make it swell even more. Make it last. Make Wei Wuxian remember him for days after he was gone.

His thoughts are interrupted by the flicker of movement right below his vision.

Wei Wuxian’s fingers curl around the hilt of his sword with impressive velocity, raising it to Lan Wangji’s face. This time, however, Lan Wangji is ready, and by the time Wei Wuxian has Suibian in the air, Bichen is already waiting to meet it.

Their swords clash with a metallic sound, vibrating through the quiet night air.

“You’re gonna drink that, Lan Zhan?” Wei Wuxian asks, his smile a blinding light beyond their blades. “I’m sure I can beat you when you’re drunk.”

He doesn’t wait for Lan Wangji’s answer, and attacks.

Lan Wangji defends himself from the blow, eyes widening when he immediately notices the difference between the strength in it now and the strength he had when they fought together a few months back.

Wei Wuxian gives him a cocky smile, like he knows exactly what’s going on inside his head.

“Don’t look so surprised. I’m hurt!” he says, and turns on his feet to strike at Lan Wangji from the side.

It happens fast, almost catching him unprepared, but Lan Wangji’s body is well trained, and even with his mind elsewhere, it will still answer in kind. He blocks another blow from him, this one much closer to his face, and watches as Wei Wuxian gets more and more confident.

“Lan Zhan,” he applies his body weight on the sword, pressing closer. “I was gonna tell you about my golden core progress today.”

Lan Wangji pushes him away and jumps back. Wei Wuxian follows right behind, not even losing a beat.

“But you’re right!” he continues, striking with precision, going directly for the Emperor’s Smile in his hand. Lan Wangji is so shocked he almost lets it go. “Doing it this way is a lot more fun.”

Wei Wuxian’s sword meets his, forcing him to draw back. Lan Wangji strikes again, putting just a little more strength into it, trying to test Wei Wuxian’s limits, but his attacks get blocked over and over again.

He watches more than fights, observing Wei Wuxian’s quick movements like a man who has been starved. There is no sense to his style beyond his own whim, moving to one side and then the other, no rhythm, no reason. He is free, even in this. Just like Lan Wangji remembered it.

They jump from one roof to another, and every time their swords crash against each other, the air brims with energy. Lan Wangji can feel, even from this far, just how strong Wei Wuxian has gotten, just how powerful his core is, now that he has put so much work into it.

Without even trying to win, he watches Wei Wuxian dance around him. His hair flies with every movement, a few strands gathering on his face and neck before another swirl of his body sends them away. His black robes move around his figure, revealing shades of dark red underneath, matching the red on his cheeks as his breathing gets heavier with the effort.

Lan Wangji swallows around the lump forming in his throat. He loves Wei Wuxian in all of his forms, in all of his days, with everything he is. But this… This Wei Wuxian, happy and alive, powerful in his own body, through his own hard work...

This is why he decided to help. That smile, right there, and the feeling of their energies connecting. The knowledge that Wei Wuxian will be alive, in the many years to come. And that, if the gods are kind enough, Lan Wangji will meet him again.

He shouldn’t be so affected by this. They will see each other again, he is sure of it. Letting him go now isn’t half as bad as letting him go was at that precipice, so why... 

“Lan Zhan?”

Wei Wuxian’s smile falters. Lan Wangji’s breath hitches in his throat. It’s fine, he wants to say to him, but the words feel heavy on the tip of his tongue. Smile again, please.

Lan Wangji strikes instead, wondering if his lack of enthusiasm in the fight is what’s distracting him. Wei Wuxian dodges easily, quick feet moving side to side, roof to roof, as Lan Wangji blindly follows.

He jumps from the roof they’re on back to the Jingshi. Lan Wangji goes after him, sword raised and ready, but Wei Wuxian turns mid-air, a wicked smile on his lips. He slashes his sword at him, the blade catching the light just right, and in less than a second, takes the jar right out of Lan Wangji’s hand.

“Ha!” Wei Wuxian raises it above his head, triumphant. He lands swiftly on the tiles, and Lan Wangji lands right below, looking up at him from the ground. “See, Lan Zhan? I can beat you even with-”

Lan Wangji feels weak. He struggles to stay upright, but his mind is dizzy, and he sways forward a little before catching himself.

“Lan Zhan?” Wei Wuxian asks again, lowering his sword. There’s a pinch between his eyebrows, and the worry is clear on his face even from this far.

Lan Wangji’s eyes burn with unshed tears. He doesn’t know why he’s reacting like this. Wei Wuxian will live. He will live. They’ve said goodbye before, and it wasn’t goodbye, not really.

Knowing that is enough. It should be enough.

So why does it feel so terrible to let him go now?

Why does it hurt more to have to let him go after having a taste of everything his life could have been?

Lan Wangji drops his sword to the ground.

“Lan Zhan!” Wei Wuxian jumps to him, his own sword already back in its sheath.

Lan Wangji stumbles forward, crashing his body onto Wei Wuxian and taking him in a tight embrace. Warm hands curl around his back, and he buries his face in the comfort of Wei Wuxian’s neck.

“What… happened? Are you hurt?”

Lan Wangji shakes his head.

“You did it, Wei Ying,” he says, shocked at how shaky his voice sounds. Too vulnerable. He squeezes Wei Wuxian’s waist even harder, wanting to hide in him.

“You’re crushing me,” there’s a hint of laughter in his voice. Good. Lan Wangji wants him to always be happy. “Lan Zhan, put me down.”

Lan Wangji startles. He hadn’t noticed he was holding Wei Wuxian’s feet off the ground. He puts him back down slowly, without breaking their embrace, and takes a shuddering breath.

Wei Wuxian pulls back to look at his face.

“Lan Z-”

Lan Wangji kisses him.

There’s a wet, desperate feeling to it, one that wasn’t there before. He drowns in Wei Wuxian’s touch, tasting the alcohol on his tongue, breathing in the scent of his skin. His lips feel soft and pliant between Lan Wangji’s teeth, and the sounds he makes are just as alluring as they’ve always been.

Wei Wuxian is the first to break it, lips glistening a pretty wet pink. He frowns a little, noticing something isn’t quite right, and takes a breath in to ask what it is.

Lan Wangji leans into him again, not wanting to let him speak. If he keeps Wei Wuxian from talking about it, from asking about it, perhaps he can delay it for another moment. Pretend that they still live in a world where his departure is a faraway thing.

He threads his fingers inside Wei Wuxian’s hair, holding his head in place as their kiss deepens. Wei Wuxian sighs into him, giving in to his touch. His hands travel on Lan Wangji’s body, bringing his waist forward, holding their hips together. 

“Wei Ying,” he whispers, because he can’t help himself. He wants to keep saying his name forever, and he wants him to be the only one who hears it.

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian holds him by the shoulders when Lan Wangji tries to chase his lips again. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing wrong,” he lies, fingers curling inside Wei Wuxian’s hair. “Kiss me.”

Wei Wuxian stares at him, searching for something in his eyes.

“Alright,” he says after a while. “Alright, Lan Zhan. Let’s go inside.”

 

-

 

Wei Wuxian doesn’t look away from him.

Not when he leads Lan Wangji into the room, closing the door behind them. Not when he snaps his fingers, and every single candle in the room blows off, with the exception of one. Not when he unties his outer robes slowly, watching as Lan Wangji catches the hint and does the exact same.

And not when he pulls Lan Wangji by the hem of his pants, and kisses him deeply.

There is a new sort of urgency in how their lips crash together. Wei Wuxian leans into him, bending Lan Wangji’s body backwards with the strength of his embrace. He isn’t the sort of man to sigh, but he can’t help it, not when the body on his feels too warm, too good to handle.

Wei Wuxian walks to the bed, still holding him. He keeps moving his hands on him, going lower, upper, squeezing his waist. Like he can’t decide what to do.

Lan Wangji understands. There are so many things he wishes to try with him, and so little time. He feels the back of Wei Wuxian’s knees hitting the bed and lays their bodies down, landing on top of him.

Wei Wuxian makes a sound when Lan Wangji’s body weight takes the air out from his lungs.

“I’m sorry,” Lan Wangji says, holding himself upwards, and not sorry at all.

“Don’t be,” Wei Wuxian laughs.

He raises his hand to tuck a strand of Lan Wangji’s hair behind his ear. It pools around them in waves, brushing over Wei Wuxian’s face, mixing with his own.

It’s dark, but the solitary candle shines just enough light on them. Lan Wangji can see the glow in Wei Wuxian’s eyes, the flushing of his skin. His lips are slightly curved, a gentle smile that he hadn’t ever seen, not before they started being intimate. Lan Wangji shudders to think it might be reserved just for him, just for them, just for moments like these.

“Better?” Wei Wuxian asks, letting his hand rest over Lan Wangji’s jaw.

Lan Wangji doesn’t answer. Being honest would ruin the moment, and he wants to enjoy this. To make the most of it.

“I know it’s overwhelming…” Wei Wuxian rubs the tip of Lan Wangji’s ear between his index finger and thumb. It’s a habit he’s been picking up for a while, and he can’t say he minds it at all. “But I’m strong again. You won’t have to worry about taking care of me anymore.”

Lan Wangji’s eyes fill with water, and he closes them to keep any tears from landing on Wei Wuxian’s face.

“I’ll always worry,” he whispers.

Wei Wuxian tugs on his arm, silently asking him closer. Lan Wangji lies down fully on top of him, skin to skin, nuzzling on his neck, and letting their legs get tangled together.

“Aren’t you happy, though? That my core is doing so well,” his hands run over Lan Wangji’s back, idly following the patterns of his scars. “I thought...”

“I am,” Lan Wangji kisses his neck, as gently and as slowly as he can manage. He’s being too emotional, and Wei Wuxian is noticing it. It’s exactly the opposite of what he wanted. He can’t burden Wei Wuxian with his feelings, not when he should be enjoying his moments with him, taking in everything he can.

Wei Wuxian bares his neck, making way for Lan Wangji’s lips.

“Lan Zhan…” he whispers, the tips of his fingers dipping just below the hem of Lan Wangji’s pants. “I want to make you feel better.”

“I already feel better.”

“Bullshit,” Wei Wuxian chuckles. Lan Wangji bites the tip of his ear. “Ah! I’m serious though. Hey.”

Wei Wuxian lifts himself up and turns their bodies over, forcing him down on his back. Lan Wangji tilts his head up, ready to catch him in a kiss, but Wei Wuxian puts his hand on his shoulder and holds him down.

“Lan Zhan.” Wei Wuxian waits for him to meet his eyes. “Tell me what you need.”

Lan Wangji slips his hand under his hair. How can he answer a question like that? He wants anything Wei Wuxian will give him. Everything. He wants to drown in him and never have to come back. He wants to touch Wei Wuxian every day, for the rest of his life.

And, most of all… He wants to remember this was real. He wants to wake up tomorrow, and the day after that, and not mistake any of this for a dream.

Wei Wuxian searches his face in the dim light, waiting for his answer. He looks so beautiful like this, looking at him from above, a small teasing smile on his lips. Lan Wangji loves the feeling of his body on top of his, the weight pressing down on his chest, his hips…

“Take me,” he breathes out.

Wei Wuxian blinks, and Lan Wangji wishes he could take it back. He holds his breath, afraid of what the answer might be. This… Seems like a lot to ask. It is definitely a lot to ask. It feels like baring too much of his heart, too much of how deep his desire runs. 

“Take you…” Wei Wuxian says. “Where?”

Lan Wangji’s heart doesn’t beat inside his chest.

Before he can think of something else to say, Wei Wuxian’s eyes go dark above him.

“Lan Zhan,” his hands squeeze Lan Wangji’s arm, and he licks his lips before asking. “Take you how?”

“Wei Ying,” he answers. It’s all he can say.

Wei Wuxian shifts his weight on top of him, wanting to look at him better, and Lan Wangji feels… He feels…

“I didn’t think you would…” Wei Wuxian’s voice seems calm, but the hardness in his pants speaks to urgency. “Want me like that.”

Lan Wangji frowns. He still doesn’t get it, does he?

Without a word, he reaches behind his head and unties his ribbon. He considers, for a brief moment, tying it on Wei Wuxian’s wrist. A visual representation of being fully his, something he already feels deeply in his heart.

But it would be too much. Too big of a gesture, right before Wei Wuxian has to go.

He sets it aside on the bed, and brings his hand to the back of Wei Wuxian’s neck.

“I want you in every way,” he says, simply.

It’s not a confession. Not quite. But how he feels should be obvious, by now, even for Wei Wuxian. It is certainly obvious to everyone else.

“Fuck,” Wei Wuxian buries his head on the curve of Lan Wangji’s shoulder. “Alright. I...” he swallows. “I want that, Lan Zhan.”

Lan Wangji does his best to keep his heart from jumping out of his chest. He lifts his body up a little and reaches under the bed, taking a half used vial of oil.

Wei Wuxian’s eyes widen a little, and Lan Wangji feels his entire face burning. He doesn’t mind if he knows about what he has or hasn’t tried on himself, but somehow, seeing that expression on Wei Wuxian’s face makes him more embarrassed than it should.

Still, Lan Wangji places the vial on his hands, closing his fingers around it.

It’s a selfish desire, but… He has always wished, as he prepared himself, that warmer hands could do it for him. Loving, calloused hands. Hands that could touch and explore Lan Wangji’s entire body, if they so wished.

“Will you…” he starts.

“Yes,” Wei Wuxian whispers, his eyes going dark. “Lan Zhan… Lie down.”

And Lan Wangji does.

Wei Wuxian kisses him then, a heated touch of their mouths. He hovers over him, hand sliding on his body, raising every hair in its wake.

Lan Wangji holds his bottom lip between his teeth for a long time before letting go, willing all his shame, all his uncertainty, to be gone. This is Wei Wuxian. There is nothing he wants to hide from him, no part of him he doesn’t wish to be seen.

He will never be ashamed of his love. Not again.

Wei Wuxian tugs their pants away, slowly, eyes locked with his. When Lan Wangji spreads for him, lust flooding over any feeling of embarrassment, he sighs.

“You’re gorgeous, Lan Zhan,” he says, like it’s the most obvious thing in the world. That, more than anything, sends a chill all over Lan Wangji’s body.

It’s not simple work, opening him up. He is nervous, and Wei Wuxian has clearly never done this before. He applies too much oil, lets it spill on the bed, and giggles. It burns an ugly satisfaction in Lan Wangji’s veins, to know that he is the first, at least, that Wei Wuxian is doing this with.

Mustering up all his courage, Lan Wangji takes his hand and guides him, leading his fingers inside himself, trying not to blush too much when Wei Wuxian keeps his eyes on him and notices every little face he makes.

Soon, it becomes too much for him to keep a clear mind, and he lets his body fall back on the bed, hands curling tightly on the sheets.

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian’s own voice sounds strained. His free hand goes up to Lan Wangji’s cock, making the breath hitch in his throat. He pumps it once, watching Lan Wangji’s reaction, then slowly teases his thumb along the tip.

Lan Wangji closes his eyes, shaking as the fingers inside him move, so different from his own. Wei Wuxian slides a third finger in, slowly, and a low sound slips from his throat.

“Fuck,” Wei Wuxian says, thrusting in and out, changing the angle inside him. “I love when you do that.”

Lan Wangji wants to ask what he means, but Wei Wuxian curls his fingers up, and his mind goes blank. He lets out another, needy whimper, as the hand inside him picks up pace.

“Wei Ying,” he calls, feeling his pleasure build impossibly fast.

Wei Wuxian doesn’t answer. His entire focus is down, watching as his fingers go in and out of his body, his other hand stroking Lan Wangji’s cock. His own, neglected erection rubs on Lan Wangji’s thigh, leaking. Lan Wangji tries to reach for it, to reach for him, but Wei Wuxian slaps his hand away.

“Wei Ying,” he says again, when he manages to grab Wei Wuxian’s wrist. “Enough.”

Wei Wuxian blinks up at him, confused, almost like he’s coming out of a dream.

“Enough?” Wei Wuxian kisses his knee, his thigh, the tender skin next to his cock. Holding his hair back, he licks a single line up Lan Wangji’s length, tongue swirling under the tip.

Lan Wangji throws his head back. They had tried mouths, once, a few days ago. It had been the most amazing thing he had ever felt, thus far. He feels Wei Wuxian’s lips kissing the tip of his cock and wonders if his own hands will ever be enough again.

Wei Wuxian doesn’t stop. He licks him, sucks him, squeezes his waist. Every touch sends a thousand different fires up his skin, and Lan Wangji is already too close to indulge in how good it feels.

“Wei Ying,” he scolds, voice sounding way less sure than before. “Stop teasing.”

Finally, Wei Wuxian lets him go. He comes up to meet him, their bodies sweaty, pressed together. There’s hesitation in his eyes as he slides Lan Wangji’s legs further open, settling in between them.

He’s nervous, Lan Wangji notices. Just as nervous as he is.

It’s comforting, knowing he isn’t alone in this. Lan Wangji smiles at him, and Wei Wuxian smiles right back, resting their foreheads together.

“Ready?” he asks.

Lan Wangji nods. He isn’t, but this isn’t something he thinks he will ever be ready for.

Using a hand to guide himself, Wei Wuxian presses into him. Immediately, Lan Wangji feels the difference between this and his fingers, so much harder, so much bigger, so much better. He bites Wei Wuxian’s shoulder, not because it hurts, but because he doesn’t know how else to react to pleasure he has never experienced before.

“Fuck, Lan Zhan…” Wei Wuxian slides in slowly, breathing hard next to his ear.

His upper body shakes under Lan Wangji’s hands, or perhaps he is the one who’s shaking. There is no way to tell, not when Wei Wuxian finally bottoms out, their bodies flush against each other, and Lan Wangji holds onto him so tight he knows Wei Wuxian’s skin will bruise.

He stops for a moment, catching his breath. Lan Wangji relaxes around him, trying to memorize everything he’s feeling, every single sensation.

When Wei Wuxian moves, it’s slow. His cock drags inside Lan Wangji, stretching him completely, and he hears more than feels as his own breathing turns into moans, as the sound of their hips slapping together fills the room.

“Lan Zhan, you feel so good,” Wei Wuxian whispers to him, but Lan Wangji can barely focus on his words. He moves his hips down to meet him, circling them, relishing in how it makes Wei Wuxian’s lips fall open in a breathy moan. “Fuck, ah, stop moving, Lan Zhan, please, I can’t… Focus if you...”

Lan Wangji pulls him in closer with his legs, and Wei Wuxian whimpers on top of him. He wants him as close as possible. He wants Wei Wuxian to claim him, to own him, to love him so hard he never goes anywhere else. To be buried so deep inside Lan Wangji’s body he won’t ever be able to call anywhere else his home.

It’s an ugly, possessive thought, but Lan Wangji has always had ugly, possessive desires. When it comes to Wei Wuxian, he never learned how to pace himself, how to want less. He never learned control.

Wei Wuxian fucks him freely, with abandon. There is no rhythm to it, no restraint, and it’s so like him Lan Wangji feels overwhelmed, the notion slowly settling into him that the man above him, the man inside him, is Wei Wuxian. His Wei Wuxian. His.

He feels the beginning of his orgasm building up on him, and groans in frustration, biting down on Wei Wuxian’s shoulder, hard. He wants this to last. He wants to stay here forever. The weight above him, the sight of Wei Wuxian’s sweaty forehead, his pleasure ridden eyes. He would do anything, if he could only have this for a little longer. He would do anything for him to stay.

Wei Wuxian sits up a little, holding Lan Wangji’s hips down as he thrusts into him, hitting the spot inside him that drives him mad with pleasure over, and over, and over again.

“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji digs his nails on Wei Wuxian’s thighs, an obscene sound escaping his throat. “Wei ying, ah, ah, I-”

“Yes Lan Zhan, yes, come on, let me hear you,” he says, his hand coming up to stroke Lan Wangji’s cock, fast and merciless.

It takes no effort at all. Lan Wangji’s body is not used to this amount of stimulation, and he tips over the edge after only a few strokes. His back bends forward, body taut as he spills all over Wei Wuxian’s hand, the thrusts inside him faster and faster as Wei Wuxian chases his own orgasm, too.

Lan Wangji has to hold Wei Wuxian’s hand, unable to ask him to stop, shaking as the overstimulation makes his vision go dark around the edges. Wei Wuxian lets out a cry and spills inside him, a hot, strange feeling that Lan Wangji never thought could be this intimate.

Wei Wuxian lets his weight fall on top of him, and Lan Wangji immediately wraps his arms around his back, breathing hard.

He closes his eyes, letting satisfaction wash over him. After a while, Wei Wuxian tries to get up, but he holds him tightly in place, not wanting the moment to ever end.

Lan Wangji kisses his head, his cheek, the shell of his ear, sliding his hands slowly up and down his back. He inhales in as deeply as he can, taking in Wei Wuxian’s scent, so different after this than it is in the morning. 

“Lan Zhan, I have to clean us up,” he giggles, then regrettably pushes his body away. “Wait.”

Lan Wangji does. In the last couple of weeks, he was the one who cared most about cleaning, but he doesn’t think he has the energy today. Wei Wuxian does a quick job, tossing the dirty rag away, and immediately comes back to bed.

He lies down by Lan Wangji’s side, taking his hand in his and lacing their fingers together.

“That was…” Wei Wuxian pauses. Breathes. “Unforgettable.”

“Mn,” Lan Wangji says, then kisses Wei Wuxian’s knuckles. “Wei Ying is unforgettable.”

The smile he gets in return is worth everything he owns.

“So… The thing I wanted to talk to you about,” Wei Wuxian starts.

Lan Wangji feels his stomach dropping.

“Tomorrow,” he interrupts, as his heart struggles to beat inside his chest.

“But we-”

“It’s late,” he says, maybe a little too harsh. To make up for it, he pulls Wei Wuxian closer, and waits until he nests comfortably in the curve of his shoulder. “We should sleep.”

Lan Wangji closes his eyes as hard as he can and lies completely still.

After a while, he feels Wei Wuxian give up, his breathing leveling out as he falls into a peaceful sleep.

 

-

 

Lan Wangji lies in bed for hours, his dreadful thoughts keeping him awake.

Tomorrow, he said, like postponing it would make it any less painful.

Perhaps it would’ve been better to just… Get it over with. Say what they have to say, suffer what they have to suffer, and that’s it. But fear had gotten the better out of him, and now he can’t fall asleep at all.

Slowly, as to not wake him up, Lan Wangji tucks himself under Wei Wuxian’s arm and rests his head on his chest, listening to his heart. He likes doing this, after Wei Wuxian has moved away in his sleep, as he often does. It lets him make sure it isn't a dream. It lets him make sure the body by his side is real, and brimming with life.

He can’t ask him to stay. He can’t. Nothing good ever comes from trying to keep Wei Wuxian anywhere, especially here, with him. He will simply retreat further, go away faster, and take longer to come back. Lan Wangji could never bear to see that look on his face again, like the mere mention of staying in Gusu is a betrayal of their relationship. 

He won’t ask.

He wants, more than anything, to ask.

The words feel like a lump in his throat, pushing their way out. They stop his breathing inside his lungs, and burn on the tip of his tongue. There are so many things he wants to say to Wei Wuxian. So many of his feelings, never exposed, never even mentioned, that he wishes he could make known to him. 

He feels the tears he’s been holding all day finally spill from his eyes. They wet Wei Wuxian’s chest, and even when Lan Wangji tries to wipe them, they simply keep coming.

“Wei Ying,” he whispers, testing the sound of his voice.

Wei Wuxian doesn’t move. His chest moves up and down gently, still soundly asleep.

Lan Wangji takes a deep breath. Maybe, if he says it now, it'll be okay.

“Wei Ying. Stay,” he says, as low as he can.

His fingers curl on a loose strand of Wei Wuxian’s hair. This isn’t enough. One word isn’t enough.

“Stay,” he tries again. “Wei Ying, I…” he lowers his voice even further. “I love-”

Lan Wangji’s chest feels constricted. It feels forbidden, to say it out loud. It feels like he's breaking a thousand rules at once.

“I love you, Wei Ying,” he chokes out, almost breathless. The pressure in his chest eases. “I want you to stay here.”

As soon as he says it, his emotions burst, and his entire body starts to shake. He has kept these words in for what feels like his entire life. Saying them to a sleeping Wei Wuxian is not the same, could never be the same, but it’s better than not saying them at all.

This is a weight he is always going to carry. These words, spoken but unheard, until the day he dies. Or until the day he feels brave enough.

“Stay with me,” he whispers, feeling like his heart will stop if he doesn’t keep talking. “I love you. I love you. Stay.”

Lan Wangji stays there, muttering silent declarations onto Wei Wuxian’s chest. They’re not enough, but they will have to be. What he’s getting from him is already so much more than he imagined. It would be selfish to want anything else. It would be selfish to want everything.

It isn’t until he feels fingers squeezing on his back that Lan Wangji realizes Wei Wuxian’s breathing has picked up considerably.

His blood goes cold.

No. No no no no…

He sits up on the bed, facing away. Wei Wuxian grabs his wrist, trying to pull him back, but Lan Wangji doesn’t budge.

“Lan Zhan, come here.”

“You’re awake,” he says. “I didn’t-”

“Do you mean it?” Wei Wuxian interrupts him.

Lan Wangji risks a glance his way.

Wei Wuxian is sitting on the bed, eyes wide and focused on him. He holds Lan Wangji’s arm with incredible force, nails digging into his skin.

“Lan Zhan. Answer me,” Wei Wuxian crawls on the bed to come face to face with him. “Is it true?”

“Wei Ying…”

“Don’t lie to me,” he slides one leg over Lan Wangji’s knees, straddling him, and cups his face with both hands. “Lying is forbidden in the Cloud Recesses.”

Lan Wangji doesn’t look up at him. He can’t. He remembers the look Wei Wuxian gave him the first time all too well. He never wants to see it again.

“Lan Zhan, please, I’m going mad here,” he brushes his thumb over Lan Wangji’s cheeks, wiping his nearly dry tears. Lan Wangji closes his eyes and focuses on memorizing his tender touch. “You weren’t just saying that in your sleep, right? Lan Zhan. Lan Zhan. Won’t you look at me?”

Wei Wuxian tilts his head upwards, and Lan Wangji finally opens his eyes.

His breath gets caught in his throat.

Wei Wuxian is smiling.

Smiling.

“Yes,” Lan Wangji says, because he can’t lie, not when Wei Wuxian is on top of him, looking at him like… like…

Like he wants this. Like he’s happy. Like this is something he doesn’t hate to hear.

“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji’s arms curl around Wei Wuxian’s waist, not quite sure that this isn’t some kind of dream. “I meant all of it.”

Wei Wuxian’s smile gets impossibly brighter.

“Lan Zhan,” he says, touching their foreheads together. “My Lan Zhan, you stupid, clueless, gorgeous man.”

He’s laughing. It makes Lan Wangji smile, too, just from the euphoria emanating from him. My Lan Zhan, he said. My, my, my.

“My Wei Ying,” he echoes, because it’s the only answer he can give.

“I’ll stay,” he says, and Lan Wangji’s entire world stops. “I’m gonna stay here, and I’m gonna make your boring life so crazy you’re gonna regret having me in no time. I’m gonna bring my things over to your room and I’m gonna make this my home, and you’re just gonna have to deal with it, because I love you, and I’m staying.”

He says all of it in one breath, smiling all the while. I love you, and I’m staying. Lan Wangji barely has time to make sense of the words before he continues.

“Did you hear me?” he moves his hands to the back of Lan Wangji’s neck. “If you don’t really want me to stay, or if you just mean stay for another year, say it now.”

“Stay forever,” Lan Wangji says. And then, to his face, for the first time, “Wei Ying. I love you.”

Wei Wuxian lets out a high-pitched giggle.

“Fuck, Lan Zhan, I’ve loved you for so long,” he breathes. “I think I’ve been in love with you since day one.”

Lan Wangji kisses him, feeling like his chest is about to burst.

Is this much happiness possible? Can he survive feeling this good, this right, for more than a few minutes?

"I have loved you my entire life, Wei Ying. Every single day of my existence."

Wei Wuxian holds him close, taking him in an open mouthed kiss, careless, loving, and everything Lan Wangji has ever wanted.

“You're so talkative, when it's just the two of us" he says, still giggling. “You barely say anything during the day. But here… It feels like a secret, just between you and me.”

Lan Wangji doesn’t answer. He rubs his hands on Wei Wuxian’s back, his feverish skin a contrast to his cold palms.

“It is just between us, right?” Wei Wuxian asks. “For me… It can only be you. It was only ever you.”

“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji reaches out to kiss his lips, his jaw, his neck. “There was never anyone else in the world for me.”

Wei Wuxian kisses him again, throwing his body weight on him and pushing them back down to the bed.

Lan Wangji slides his lips down his collarbone, giving him tiny, playful bites. When he gets to a tender spot on his shoulder, Wei Wuxian hisses, and he pulls back to rub a finger over it.

“I’m sorry,” he says, looking at the purple bruise his teeth had left on Wei Wuxian’s skin, earlier.

“You got a little carried away,” Wei Wuxian chuckles. “Did you… I mean, I know you asked for…”

He stutters over his words. Lan Wangji tilts his head at him and waits.

“Did you like it?” he asks, at last. “I didn’t hurt you, did I?”

“No,” Lan Wangji refuses to look away from him, even though he can feel the blood rising to his cheeks. “It was… Very good.”

Wei Wuxian’s fingers slide up to the back of his neck, scratching slightly.

“I definitely wouldn’t mind doing that again,” he says. Lan Wangji’s blood boils underneath his skin. “You looked like you were having a lot of fun.”

“I was,” Lan Wangji’s hand squeeze over his hips. “I could show you.”

Wei Wuxian’s eyes go dark, understanding his meaning without having to ask.

“Show me, then,” he says.

For the first time in his life, Lan Wangji spends an entire night awake.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Wei Wuxian moves his belongings to the Jingshi.

It doesn’t take long. He doesn’t own that many things, although he’s been gathering more and more gadgets over the course of the last year.

Lan Wangji helps him. Or rather, Lan Wangji follows him around, keeping a hand on his waist, adjusting locks of his hair, taking things from his hands and letting their fingers brush for way longer than necessary.

It makes the task last twice as long as it should, but Wei Wuxian isn’t going to complain. He understands the feeling too well. He wants to touch him all the time, too.

There’s a funny look in Lan Wangji’s eyes, like the love is gonna spill out from him at any moment. Wei Wuxian has always noticed that gaze, that intensity, but he never knew how to put words on it.

Now, it feels like every word he knows won’t ever be enough.

 

-

 

Something weird starts happening.

Wei Wuxian starts seeing way more of Lan Qiren.

Before, it was like he actively avoided him, going out of his way to be at the other end of the Cloud Recesses from wherever Wei Wuxian was.

Now, it isn’t like Lan Qiren is seeking him on purpose, but still. He doesn’t leave a place immediately after Wei Wuxian arrives, which is… not at all what he’s used to.

It gives him chills, but if it means Lan Qiren is finally becoming more welcoming of his presence here, Wei Wuxian isn’t going to complain.

One day, while Wei Wuxian is tending to his garden, a shadow looms over him.

“Aren’t you going to pluck the weeds out?” the exasperated voice asks.

Wei Wuxian turns around to see the old teacher himself, staring at his work with judging eyes.

“Oh. Good morning, Teacher Lan,” he says. Contrary to what the people used to say about him, Wei Wuxian was never impolite to his elders - unless, of course, there was a clear reason to be -, and he isn’t about to start now.

“Good afternoon. But I suppose it’s morning, if you rise as late as 9.”

Wei Wuxian doesn’t think 9 is late at all, but Lan Qiren is looking at him with his arms crossed and his lips pressed tight, so he keeps his mouth shut.

“So? Are you going to clean your garden?”

“I already got the weeds out. These aren’t weeds,” Wei Wuxian points. “They’re just trying to grow somewhere. Pretty harmless.”

“Any plant you don’t want is a weed, boy,” he says.

And then, inexplicably, he bends down and yanks it right out of the ground, tearing it from where it curls around the chilis. Wei Wuxian feels his jaw dropping. He’s never seen Lan Qiren touching dirt before.

“If you’re going to have a garden in the Cloud Recesses, at least do it properly, like a Lan would,” he throws the plant away and pats his hands, oblivious to Wei Wuxian’s shock. “There are books on gardening in our library. A disciple will deliver them to you.”

“Uh… I-” Wei Wuxian frowns, not knowing quite well if he’s being scolded or not. “Thank you?”

With a quick glance at him and a single annoyed huff, Lan Qiren walks away.

On his way down the hill, he passes the figure of Lan Wangji, who has apparently been watching them for a while.

Wei Wuxian starts waving, but before he can be seen, Lan Wangji turns to his uncle and mouths something.

It looks suspiciously like “Thank you, shufu.”

 

-

 

“Wei Ying.”

Wei Wuxian opens his eyes, already smiling to the sound of the familiar voice.

“Good morning,” Lan Wangji says, and kisses his forehead.

“Lan Zhan, are we 10 years old?” he asks, yawning a little. “Kiss me on the lips. We’re alone.”

Lan Wangji bends down, and Wei Wuxian hugs him closer to trap him there, but he doesn’t budge.

“I have a meeting,” he says when they part.

Wei Wuxian rolls his eyes. “Right. The Yu clan is here.”

“Mn.”

“But you don’t have to go immediately. Surely we have time to-”

“It’s a scheduled appointment,” he says.

“Ugh. Fine.”

Lan Wangji gets up from the bed, his loosely tied robes slipping down his shoulders. It truly is a heavenly sight: his dark hair cascading down the pale skin of his back, the way his silhouette thins at his narrow waist and then spreads on the curve of his hips.

Wei Wuxian stays on the bed, watching as Lan Wangji takes off his robes and slaps a heating talisman on the wooden tub, already filled with water. He stands there completely naked, waiting for it to warm up, as he untangles the knots in his hair with his fingers.

“Lan Zhan, you’re tempting me on purpose,” Wei Wuxian says.

Lan Wangji turns his head slightly in his direction, tilting it like he has no idea what he’s talking about.

Wei Wuxian almost wants to laugh. Over the course of the last few days, he found out that Lan Wangji is actually much, much more feral in bed than he ever could have imagined. The calm and put-together appearance could never have prepared him for the insatiable creature he found hiding underneath Lan Wangji’s skin. He would blush and lower his gaze, while tearing off Wei Wuxian’s clothes at the same time. He would tell Wei Wuxian to stop talking or teasing him, but his hands would be digging bruises into Wei Wuxian’s hips.

Oh, this was definitely, definitely on purpose.

“I’m not,” Lan Wangji says, but Wei Wuxian knows he’s lying through his teeth. “I have to bathe before leaving.”

‘I’ , Lan Zhan?” he asks, already getting up from the bed. “Not ‘we’ ?”

Lan Zhan lifts his long, muscular legs, and steps into the water, sinking down slowly.

“You’re free to join me,” he says. “But feel no obligation to.”

Wei Wuxian unties his robes and lets them fall to the floor.

“What do you mean, feel no obligation? How could I ever-”

His eyes fall on the open letter left by the Meishan Yu clan, right on the table, and his voice goes silent.

Lan Wangji was writing a response to it the day before when a Lan disciple arrived to tell them that the Yu Clan had suddenly arrived. Lan Wangji didn’t seem pleased by it, but Wei Wuxian was too distracted by his own work to ask him why that was.

He picks the letter up out of curiosity, and starts reading.

“You seemed bothered by this yesterday,” he walks towards the tub, eyes running through the words. “It is in everyone’s interest to join two powerful clans through the unbreakable bond of... Wait. Is this a-”

Wei Wuxian looks up, but Lan Wangji has his eyes closed, simply enjoying the water.

“A marriage proposal?”

“Mn.”

“To you?”

“Mn.”

Wei Wuxian feels his throat closing. Surely, he can’t accept it. He can’t be thinking of…

“And what will you say?”

At that, Lan Wangji finally looks at him.

“To what?”

“This…” Wei Wuxian walks toward him, reading through the letter once more. “I suppose this is a very advantageous… I mean, whether you accept or deny, the consequences will be-”

Lan Wangji reaches for his hand, effectively shutting him up.

“Wei Ying,” he says, his voice softer than before. “I won’t accept.”

Wei Wuxian tries his best to suppress his sigh of relief.

“Oh,” he swallows. “That’s… good. You wouldn’t want... to marry without love.”

“No,” Lan Wangji says, looking fixedly at him. “I wouldn’t.”

Wei Wuxian leans down, feeling a bright smile paint his face despite his efforts to hide it. He comes eye to eye with Lan Wangji, kneeling by his side, and kisses his wet hand.

“Is that why they’re coming here today?” he asks. “To discuss a marriage alliance?”

If the clan sent a letter and didn’t even wait for an answer before coming, it means that they’re serious about their business. Whoever this person they want to marry off is, they are determined to get them together with Hanguang Jun.

Wei Wuxian can’t really say he blames them.

“Mn,” Lan Wangji answers, turning his hand up so Wei Wuxian can kiss the inside of his wrist. “Don’t worry. Shufu and I are used to diverting these things.”

“Lan Zhan…” he kisses up his arm, trailing his lips over his skin. “Can I come to the meeting as well?”

Lan Wangji narrows his eyes, like he knows exactly what’s going through his mind.

“Yes,” he says. “Under one condition.”

“What is it?” Wei Wuxian asks.

He feels Lan Wangji’s arms wrapping around him, and then his weight shifts in middle air. There’s a loud splash of water as Wei Wuxian is pulled into the bathtub, landing on his lap.

“Bathe first,” Lan Wangji says, and kisses him full on the lips.

 

-

 

The meeting starts boring, like any other meeting Wei Wuxian has ever been to.

Greetings and pleasantries, useless conversations that have nothing to do with what they came here for.

He sits by Lan Wangji’s side, with Lan Qiren right in the center of the room. The tea they’re offered is too bitter for his taste, and Wei Wuxian can swear he’s this close to raising his voice and asking the people who sit in front of him to just speak their minds already.

He won’t. The Yu clan members are already looking at him like they’re scared he’s gonna explode into a cloud of black smoke. He’s half tempted to actually do it.

The girl who he assumes is here to be Lan Zhan’s match is, in fact, very pretty. She also seems to be extremely polite, bowing to them respectfully and sipping quietly on her tea without even wrinkling her nose at the taste.

And she is… staring at Lan Wangji. A lot. But that should be normal, right? He would also want to have a good look at the person he’s being married off to...

Wei Wuxian is not focusing on her, though. He’s focusing on the sect Leader and the girl’s mother, who are the ones who probably sent the letters here.

The talk finally moves into politics, and Lan Wangji’s hand twitches almost imperceptibly by his side. Wei Wuxian glances at him, wanting to catch his eyes.

Ever since the meeting started, it’s like Lan Wangji went into an open-eyed meditation session. He hadn’t moved a single muscle, not even to drink. Wei Wuxian highly suspects he wasn’t listening to a word of what was being said.

“... the Lan Clan seems to be steady in its growth throughout the years,” Leader Yu says.

“Of course. And the Yu Clan is a powerful ally we can always count on,” Lan Qiren says.

The Yu leader shifts in his seat, glancing at his wife. “This is, in fact, a relationship we would like to strengthen, in the next few months.”

Lan Qiren sends a brief look in Lan Wangji’s direction, then says. “I... believe we have a lot to offer to each other, still.”

Wei Wuxian rolls his eyes. Why are they dancing around the topic? Just say what you came here to say and be done. He pities Lan Wangji for having to deal with all of this in these years as Chief Cultivator. He never enjoyed this kind of small talk.

How many times has he had to deal with marriage proposals, for him to say that he and Lan Qiren are used to handling it? Surely it would have to end, at some point. People would eventually get the hint that he doesn’t wish to get married.

Wei Wuxian wants to soothe some of Lan Wangji’s apprehension, but he isn’t that close, and if he speaks too loudly, anyone will be able to hear.

Making sure no one is looking, he flicks his wrist and pushes a wooden spoon to the floor.

All the heads turn in his direction, startled by the sound. He apologizes with a smile, and bends down to pick it up.

When he rises, he’s sitting considerably closer to Lan Wangji.

“This is boring,” Wei Wuxian whispers at him, now in the right distance to be heard. Lan Wangji sends a blank look in his direction, and slowly shifts his body a little closer, too. He’s a lot smoother about it. Wei Wuxian smiles at him. 

The talk of marriage starts.

Lan Qiren is very polite, but it’s clear from how he tries to deflect the questions that he knows Lan Wangji will not accept any of the offers that are being made. Wei Wuxian doesn’t envy his position. It must be hard having to toe the line between denying a request from an influential clan, while still keeping in their good graces.

The problem is, Leader Yu doesn’t seem to get the hint. He is insistent, talking about all the things they could offer each other, about his daughter’s dowry, about her qualities. Lan Qiren listens gracefully, but Wei Wuxian can see by the reddening of his neck that he’s starting to get a little bit annoyed.

He sighs, leaning forward on the table to rest his chin on his hand. His eyes fall on the girl again, and he can’t help but raise an eyebrow at her.

She is still looking intently at Lan Wangji, her eyes going up and down his features with what is clearly... interest.

Wei Wuxian feels a weird weight on his stomach, something he can only barely recognize. Yes, Lan Wangji is beautiful and deserves to be looked at, but this… Isn’t this too much?

He hasn’t dealt with jealousy many times in his life, but he thinks this is what it must be like, to feel the urge to go stand in front of Lan Wangji’s body and shield him from her watchful gaze.

Without thinking, he slides his body closer to Lan Wangji, not caring about how obvious it looks. The girl doesn’t seem to notice him, focused so intently as she is.

Wei Wuxian huffs in frustration, but an idea sparks in his mind. Something that will probably get a few glares from the Lan elder, but that will also be… a clear message. Not only to her, but to the leader of her clan.

Slowly, deliberately, he reaches behind Lan Wangji’s back and tugs at the end of his forehead ribbon.

Lan Wangji’s eyebrow does a light twitch, but he doesn’t move. Wei Wuxian does it again, searching his face for any sign of resistance, but there isn’t a single trace of it.

Satisfied, he pulls one end of the ribbon to the front of Lan Wangji’s shoulder, visible to the entire room, and curls it around his own finger.

He makes sure to seem as casual as he can, keeping his eyes on the person who’s speaking, absentmindedly playing with the fabric like he does it everyday.

The first person to notice it is the girl, her eyes widening slightly as her hand goes up to touch her mother’s wrist. The mother looks at her, then at them, and her jaw drops.

Wei Wuxian resists the urge to smile, focusing on Lan Qiren’s speech about how Lan Wangji is surely one of many suitable bachelors in the Lan clan.

The girl and her mother whisper between themselves, watching as Wei Wuxian wraps and unwraps the ribbon around his wrist. Good. It seems like the meaning of the Lan ribbon is well known throughout the clans, even if he didn’t know it himself as a teen.

Wei Wuxian sighs at his own obliviousness. A few nights ago, before they went to sleep, Lan Wangji had stood in front of him and tied the ribbon around his entire forearm. He looked devastatingly vulnerable while doing it, not even meeting his eyes, and Wei Wuxian felt like he was something breakable, something he needed to hold tightly and take good care of.

So that was exactly what he did. He guided Lan Wangji to the bed, kissed his entire body, and held him as close as possible through the entire night.

The next day, he went to the Library, just to make sure he knew the full meaning of Lan Wangji’s gesture. He remembered being told one night when they were teenagers, but he’d been drunk, and his memory was never something he could fully rely on.

He clenches his hand at the memory, tugging the ribbon down. Lan Wangji turns to him then, not angry, not even annoyed, but with an inquiring look in his eyes, silently asking if there’s anything wrong.

“Sorry,” Wei Wuxian says, raising a hand to adjust the ribbon on his forehead.

“Mn,” Lan Wangji keeps his eyes on him as he smoothes the fabric over his skin, not quite smiling, but blinking slowly in the way he does when he wants to. “No need.”

They turn their faces back to the room, only to be met with a number of shocked eyes.

“We should… The Yu clan-” Leader Yu clears his throat and looks back at Lan Qiren, seeming at a loss for what to say.

Wei Wuxian risks a look at him too, and has to press his lips together against the bubble of laughter in his throat. The teacher is completely red in the face, looking at the both of them with widened eyes.

Lan Wangji meets his stare right on, a silent conversation seeming to pass between the two. Eventually, Lan Qiren takes a deep breath, and turns back to the guests.

It’s not a long meeting after that.

He does a great job of denying them Lan Wangji’s hand, while still giving them just enough to keep a prosperous alliance without insulting their pride. Wei Wuxian can’t help but admire his political abilities, and by the time the meeting is finally over, Lan Qiren has Leader Yu smiling and laughing loudly again.

Wei Wuxian finally takes a full breath when he walks out of the meeting, following Lan Wangji closely. Once outside the door, he allows a wicked smile to draw up his lips, and tugs on Lan Wangji’s sleeve.

“You were right, Lan Zhan! Your uncle is truly very good at this, and I don’t just throw compliments at Old La-”

“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji turns to him and grabs his wrist, a tiny pinch between his eyebrows. “You did that on purpose.”

Wei Wuxian tilts his head at him.

“Yeah. I thought I could help you out a bit. Maybe if we can get some of the marriage proposals to stop…” he shrugs. He doesn’t want to mention his jealousy, or the deep desire in his chest to claim some part of Lan Wangji for himself. To show people exactly who they are to each other.

“But there are implications,” Lan Wangji tightens his grip on him in a way that almost hurts. “That we are...” he stops.

Wei Wuxian searches his face, trying to understand what the problem is.

“Did I go too far?” he asks, and the look on Lan Wangji’s face somehow gets even more conflicted. “Does it bother you, if… If people know-”

“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji breathes.

The door opens behind them again, and the people of the Yu clan walk out, followed by Lan Qiren. They exchange farewells and bows, vowing to stay in contact through letters, and still, Lan Wangji does not let go of his hand.

“Wangji,” Lan Qiren calls after they’re gone.

Lan Wangji blinks, like coming out of a daze, and drops his wrist.

“Shufu,” he turns to him.

“Before anything else,” Lan Qiren glances at Wei Wuxian, then back. “... Talk to your brother.”

Lan Wangji nods. Lan Qiren goes back inside, and he turns to look at him again.

“Will you wait for me?” he asks.

Wei Wuxian gives him a soft smile.

“Always.”

 

-

 

Wei Wuxian waits.

And waits.

… and waits.

After what feels like hours, Lan Wangji still isn’t back at the Jingshi. He starts becoming restless, the fear that he’s done something wrong yet again growing inside him, and that this has somehow ruined the fragile start of the relationship they’re trying to build.

He visits the bunnies for some kind of distraction, thinking that maybe petting something fluffy will make him feel better. As soon as he sits on the grass with a rabbit in his hand, however, two distinctive voices start calling him.

“Master Wei!” Lan Jingyi comes down the cobbled path, with Sizhui right behind.

Wei Wuxian waves at them, and the bunny takes the opportunity to hop off from his lap, escaping back into its home.

“Master Wei,” Lan Sizhui says when they get close enough, bowing to him. “Is it true?”

“Is what true?”

“That we are to have a wedding soon!” Lan Jingyi says. “I wonder if the disciples can help with the preparations?”

“I think we can,” Lan Sizhui nods, with wide eyes not at all usual to his calm demeanor. It’s the most excited Wei Wuxian has seen him in a while, and it makes him smile despite his confusion. “If Master Wei allows us, of course we could help.”

Wei Wuxian shakes his hands in front of them. “I think you kids have it all wrong. There won’t be any weddings. Hanguang Jun refused.”

“Refused? That can’t be.”

“We’ve heard it from Teacher Lan himself, Master Wei,” Lan Jingyi points behind him, as if the man is standing right there. “Just now, about the wedding of Hanguang Jun and-”

“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji’s voice sounds over the boys’ loud ones, making them go silent. As soon as he arrives, the bunnies all start coming out of their hiding, gathering around his feet.

The kids turn in his direction and bow, no less excited than the bunnies are to see him.

Lan Wangji nods at them, then glances over at the rabbits as if he’s recognizing their presence, too.

“Allow us,” he says to the boys.

“Uh, of course, we have many things we need to get to!” Lan Sizhui tugs on Lan Jingyi’s arm, and they start walking away.

“I’ve never done anything like this before,” Lan Jingyi says, his voice getting smaller and smaller. “Are we gonna have to invite the Ghost General, do you think? We should! His presence would-”

“Wei Ying?” Lan Wangji calls.

Wei Wuxian turns back at him, already feeling a bright smile tugging at the corners of his lips. He takes Lan Wangji’s hand in his and laces their fingers together.

“What took you so long?” he bumps his shoulder playfully.

Lan Wangji takes his chin and brings it closer, pressing a soft, gentle kiss on his lips. Wei Wuxian closes his eyes to it, letting it linger for as long as he can.

He feels himself swaying forward when they part, wanting to chase his lips back, but manages to stop himself just in time.

“Did you have a good visit to your brother?” he asks, voice sounding way more steady than he is inside. He wonders if kissing Lan Wangji will ever stop feeling like a hazy dream.

By the foggy look Lan Wangji gives him in return, staring at his lips like he can focus on nothing else, he feels the exact same way.

“Lan Zhan?” he calls, and their gazes finally lock.

“I found something,” Lan Wangji says suddenly, seeming to come back to reality. “When we were moving your belongings to my room.”

Wei Wuxian frowns. “What did you find?”

Lan Wangji takes a deep breath. And another. Silently, he reaches into his sleeve, and takes out a rolled up piece of paper.

Wei Wuxian’s heart drops to his stomach.

“Lan Zhan,” he says, but the words die in his throat. He recognizes it too well.

“It fell from between one of your talisman stacks,” he explains.

Lan Wangji unrolls the paper slowly, revealing the art little by little. It’s the piece Ouyang Zizhen helped him with, where he and Lan Wangji are standing tall, face to face, completely dressed in bright red marital robes. There are accents of gold on their clothes and hair, which Wei Wuxian remembers adding on a whim, thinking there was no way he could ever do Lan Wangji’s beauty justice. He still tried.

“This is…” he swallows, not knowing quite well what to say. Lan Wangji stares at him, waiting, and his fingers touch the paper so lightly it almost looks like he’s holding something holy. “Uh, Zizhen drew it for-”

“It’s your art. I recognize it,” Lan Wangji whispers, tracing his fingers over the lines of Wei Wuxian’s face in the painting. “I keep everything you have ever drawn me.”

Wei Wuxian stays quiet, trying to breathe slowly. He feels like his heart has stopped beating, and like it’s racing out of his body, all at once.

“Wei Ying…” Lan Wangji says, his voice slightly shaky. “You made this, and you never mentioned it, so neither did I. But today, you...”

He stops. Carefully, he rolls the paper again, holding it close to his chest. His eyes are focused somewhere near Wei Wuxian’s feet, too scared to look up, and the fragility in his gaze breaks something in Wei Wuxian’s heart.

“You knew what it meant. To touch the ribbon, especially in public,” Lan Wangji clutches the paper, and then carefully relaxes his fingers again. “So does this mean…? Wei Ying, am I mad, if I assume…”

“You’re not mad,” Wei Wuxian says, grabbing both of Lan Wangji’s wrists. “You’re not mad if you assume, as long as you don’t think I am mad for wanting it.”

Lan Wangji very nearly gasps, his eyes finally snapping up to meet him.

“Wanting it,” he echoes, like he can’t quite believe what he’s hearing.

Wei Wuxian pries his fingers open and takes the drawing from his trembling hands.

“I’m not naive, Lan Zhan,” he carefully tucks the drawing back inside Lan Wangji’s sleeve. “I have no clan. No money. Nothing to offer.”

“I don’t want anything,” Lan Wangji says, and his eyes are too red, too open. “I only want you.”

Wei Wuxian feels his knees buckling under him, and leans into Lan Wangji’s body for support. Immediately, strong arms curl around his waist, hands sprawled over his back. Lan Wangji sways a little, too, and it’s almost laughable, how they are both trying to support each other while being in no condition to do so.

“Still,” Wei Wuxian says, not knowing exactly why he’s resisting so much. A part of him has always wished for Lan Wangji to find the drawing, even if he would never have shown it to him willingly. “It would be such a scandal…” he laughs, but there’s only resentment in it. “The righteous Hanguang Jun, married to the disgraced Yiling Laozu.”

“No,” Lan Wangji says, squeezing him even harder. His gaze is determined, intense, and Wei Wuxian can’t look at anything else. “Lan Zhan, married to Wei Ying.”

“Lan Zhan,” he repeats, testing the words on his tongue. “Married to Wei Ying.”

“Is it… Something you would ever want?” Lan Wangji asks.

“To be claimed as yours, officially?” Wei Wuxian lets out a tiny laugh, but this time, it’s genuine. “For you to be mine, irrevocably, forever?”

“I already am,” Lan Wangji says earnestly, stealing all the air from Wei Wuxian’s lungs.

“Of course I want it, Lan Zhan,” he cups Lan Wangji’s face, brushing his thumb over his cheeks. “I want everything from you. Haven’t you learned it yet? If you keep letting me, I’m going to take, and take, and take, and I will never be able to stop.”

“Then take,” Lan Wangji touches their foreheads together, lowering his voice to a mere whisper. “Marry me, Wei Ying.”

Wei Wuxian smiles, ignoring the way his own eyes sting.

“Alright,” he says. “Alright, Lan Zhan. Let’s get married.”

Before his brain can register what’s happening, they’re kissing, and Lan Wangji is squeezing him so hard it almost hurts. Wei Wuxian doesn’t care. His grip on Lan Wangji is just as tight, tighter even, as he melts into their embrace.

“Fuck, your uncle is gonna be so mad,” he whispers when Lan Wangji gives him space to breath, laughing almost hysterically.

“Shufu already knows.”

“He does?” Wei Wuxian pulls back to look at him. “What about your brother?”

Lan Wangji gives him a playful bite on the lip.

“He said he cannot wait to attend.”

“Attend?” Wei Wuxian draws back even further, but Lan Wangji holds him close. “Isn’t he in seclusion?”

“He has hinted at his return for a while, now,” Lan Wangji kisses up his jaw, stopping to bite the tip of his ear.

“That’s… good,” Wei Wuxian says. He thinks he should pay more attention to what’s being said, but he can’t focus with Lan Wangi’s breath on his neck. “Wait. Wait, wait. Is that what the children were talking about? Our wedding?”

“Mn.”

“But how did you know I’d say yes?” he teases, poking Lan Wangji’s cheek. “What if I didn’t want to be your husband, huh? What would you have done, Han. Guang. Jun?”

“Husband,” Lan Wangji’s eyes darken, and the beautiful flush rises back to his ears.

Wei Wuxian smirks, recognizing the look on his face.

“Husband,” he kisses Lan Wangji’s cheek, then his nose, then his lips. “Husband, husband, hus-”

There’s a blue light, and suddenly, Wei Wuxian is being lifted by his waist to stand on Bichen’s blade. Lan Wangji climbs on it right behind him, and starts flying them home as fast as he can.

Across the Cloud Recesses, Wei Wuxian’s laughter sounds loud and clear. None of the Lans startle: they are used to it, by now.

Wei Wuxian is home.