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hear the monsters calling home

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PART I

In the modern era, Gusu Lan is an old, old sect that specializes in record-keeping and education. But, like most sects, they also hunt: Monsters. Demons. Wicked cultivators. And, on occasion, vampires.

Recently, three dead bodies have been found by the waterfront—all drained of blood, drained of spiritual energy, but bearing no bite marks. Strange enough for the Lans to investigate personally. Lan Wangji is young, but capable enough to night hunt alone. No one else really wants this one—it's frustrating but not exciting—so Lan Wangji takes it.

After a number of dead ends, he retraces the last victim’s steps to her office building, currently closed off for electrical repairs. When he arrives there’s a man hovering just outside the front door. The man turns, breaking into a wide, closemouthed smile when he sees Lan Wangji.

“Oh, good timing,” he says. His voice is bright, at odds with the dull evening around them.

“Who are you?” Lan Wangji sweeps his gaze over the building, the street. Both are dark and empty, except for the two of them. “Why are you here?”

“Ah,” the man says with a brief salute, “my name is Wei Ying, and I’m just curious.” He cocks his head. “Something feels…strange here, don’t you think?”

“I think you should go home,” Lan Wangji says, and unlocks the door.

“Wait, wait,” the man—Wei Ying—cries. “Okay, I lied. I’m not just curious, I'm also very smart. You’re here about the bodies, right? So am I.”

Lan Wangji pauses. Cuts him a glance.

“Let me come with you and I'll tell you what I know,” Wei Ying says. “Come on, I promise I'll be worth your while. No one knows what killed those people, right? No identifying marks?”

Lan Wangji nearly goes for his sword. “How do you know that.”

“I told you, I'm curious. Oh—I didn't kill them, I swear.” When that doesn’t sway Lan Wangji, Wei Ying pouts. “Ah, gongzi, are you really going to leave me out here all alone? When there’s something going around sucking the life out of people? How heartless.”

Lan Wangji lets the silence stretch. Nothing about Wei Ying’s appearance tells him anything—messy ponytail, dark hoodie, no sword. Entirely nondescript—no indication he’s a cultivator. Maybe he’s a journalist. A thrill seeker. Or something worse.

Lan Wangji says: “Fine.”

Wei Ying brightens. “Fine? As in, I can come in with you?”

“Yes.” Lan Wangji steps inside, Wei Ying at his heels. If Wei Ying is somehow connected to the killings, Lan Wangji reasons, it’s better to keep him in sight.

As they work their way through the building, Wei Ying remains true to his word, chattering away about everything he knows re: the dead bodies. Some of it Lan Wangji knows, too, and some of it he doesn’t. Either way, Lan Wangji can’t detect any resentful energy or killing intent.

On the third floor Lan Wangji sees an odd light under a closed office door. He reaches for the handle.

“Wait—!” Wei Ying’s voice calls down the hall, just before Lan Wangji steps into—

His mother’s room.

It's bright. Warm. His mother sits by the window, soft light spilling across the book in her lap. “A-Zhan,” she says, “you look tired. Come, sit, tell me about your day.”

Something clicks behind him. Lan Wangji turns, but it’s just a wall there, the edge of a window peeking into the garden.

Why would there be anything else?

He sits in front of his mother, cross-legged. She reaches out, ghosting a hand down the side of his face. “It’s all right,” she murmurs. She looks so whole in front of him. So alive. (Why wouldn’t she?) “You’re home now. You can stay here.”

Yes, Lan Wangji thinks. Of course. Of course he’ll stay here.

Something warm splashes on his hand. He blinks down, but there’s nothing there. He feels a bit odd, like he’s—leaking, is the best word for it.

That doesn’t matter, though. What matters is that he’s home.

There’s a sound by the wall. A thump, a splintering. Lan Wangji ignores it. He’s so at peace. He could fall asleep, he thinks. Maybe his mother will stroke his hair as he does.

Another thump. Lan Wangji’s eyes slide shut.

And then there are hands on him, hooking under his arms, dragging him back. Lan Wangji’s eyes fly open as he’s yanked back through the door. His mother’s room collapses in on itself, replaced by a gutted office, an array painted on the floor.

A swirling mass of energy hovers above the array, sparking with blue light. Lan Wangji’s own energy feels sluggish. He reaches for his sword just as Wei Ying lets go of him and draws a talisman in midair, flinging it toward the mass.

The array burns gold for a moment, then scatters like ash, the energy disappearing before Wei Ying’s talisman reaches it.

“Well,” Wei Ying says, “shit.” Then, to Lan Wangji: “Are you okay?”

Lan Wangji uncurls his hand from his sword and takes stock of his body. Beyond his depleted energy, he finds blood coating his mouth and chin, the front of his robes. Two streaks track down his cheeks like tears. He touches them, fingers coming away red.

“I saw my mother,” Lan Wangji says, distantly.

“Huh.” Wei Ying takes a small step back. “Is that all? Did she say anything?”

“She was in—I was in—her room. As it was when she was alive.” It had been a powerful array, to make him—forget. He presses a hand to his nose again.

“Are you going to faint?” Wei Ying says. He’s looking somewhere to Lan Wangji’s left.

“No,” Lan Wangji says.

“Are you sure? Because that’s—a lot of blood.”

Lan Wangji nods once. He's already feeling steadier. He looks up at Wei Ying. “How were you able to pull me out?”

“Ah.” Wei Ying scratches his head, still speaking more at the wall than Lan Wangji. “I think it tried to suck me in too, but…” He taps his nose, like he’s thinking. In the wan lights of the hallway the circles under his eyes look like bruises.

Then Wei Ying snaps his fingers. “That's it. You saw your home, or a version of it. The version where you were most comfortable, I’d guess. Most devious trick in the book, making you think you want to stay while it works its magic on you.”

“Then why didn’t it work on you?” Lan Wangji says. He’s under no misconceptions about his own strength as a cultivator. If it worked on him, it should have worked on anyone.

Wei Ying smiles again. “Easy. I don't have a home for it to replicate.”

He keeps talking before Lan Wangji can process that. “But what’s the source, hm? It disappeared completely when I tried to contain it, but it didn’t fight back. Is it—”

He breaks off, grimacing and covering his nose. “Sorry, that’s really a lot of blood.”

When he drops his hand, Lan Wangji catches a flash of a sharp, white fang.

Lan Wangji surges up, unsheathing his sword and swinging it in a wide arc before he’s even fully standing. Wei Ying dances back, and vertigo catches Lan Wangji before he can give chase. He stumbles, blinking hard. Wei Ying backs down the hall.

“Okay, okay, if you’re well enough to try and kill me, you’re well enough to get home on your own,” Wei Ying says. He grins again, a bright streak in the dim light. “See you soon, I'm sure,” he adds, and then he’s gone.

So. Wei Ying is a vampire.

Lan Wangji has only come across a few vampires before, and none of them have been so controlled. None of them would have dragged him from a trap, surely. Most vampires are too driven by hunger and power to be so—human.

This is what the world knows about vampires:

- Vampires are immortal, unless killed via beheading, fire, or starvation.

- Regular vampires have more power than average humans, but their power is rooted in resentful energy.

- Vampires feed on blood and also qi.

- As a rule most cultivators can't be turned into vampires because their cores are strong enough to resist a vampire’s energy.

- Which means any cultivator that does become a vampire is clearly someone that has chosen to do so.

- Which would obviously mean they did that because they were chasing power in a quick and dirty way.

- Vampires cannot enter a home or gated property without a direct invitation.

Lan Wangji thinks about Wei Ying asking Lan Wangji to invite him inside the office building, and then thinks: that will not happen again.

Except it does.

He keeps running into Wei Ying. As Lan Wangji chases the trail of more disappearances and more bodies, Wei Ying seems to always be there—sometimes arriving in time to warn Lan Wangji away from a trap, or sometimes showing up just to talk.

And Lan Wangji—lets him. Wei Ying is a good source of information, he tells himself. He tells himself: if Wei Ying ever hurt anyone, then I would stop him. Then I would hunt him.

Somehow, he already knows that won’t happen.

One night, after another dead end and a long walk along the waterfront, Wei Ying—keeping pace just out of sword range—says: “I have a theory.”

Lan Wangji waits. Wei Ying glances at him, and Lan Wangji nods. He's stopped pretending he does anything but listen when Wei Ying talks.

Wei Ying’s theory: they’re not chasing any sort of demon or monster. This is a man-made trap. Someone has harnessed a source—maybe multiple sources—of resentful energy and is using it to replicate vampire magic. Specifically, replicating a way to harvest qi from living people.

“So we have to find this trap and destroy it,” Wei Ying says, “and also find whoever’s setting it. Preferably soon, because I think the trap is getting stronger. No way this doesn’t end with it spiraling out of control, unless we get rid of it first.”

Lan Wangji thinks Wei Ying might be right. More than might be, if Lan Wangji is being honest with himself. Wei Ying is smart. He's attentive. He knows things Lan Wangji doesn’t. And, so far, he hasn’t lied to Lan Wangji.

He doesn't correct Wei Ying’s “we.”

The next time he sees Wei Ying, in a city park at night, they nearly catch the person laying the trap. Lan Wangji doesn’t think before giving chase—and he doesn’t realize Wei Ying has followed him until Wei Ying tackles him to the ground. His full weight comes down on Lan Wangji, pinning him to the concrete at the top of a set of stairs as footsteps fade into the night.

For a moment Lan Wangji thinks, wildly, that this means Wei Ying has been working with the trap-layers this whole time. That Lan Wangji was a fool to keep letting Wei Ying find him, and for letting him go each time.

(He also thinks about how close they are—closer than they were that first night when Wei Ying dragged him from the array. Like this, with Wei Ying collapsed on top of him, his fangs are centimeters from Lan Wangji’s throat.)

Then Lan Wangji sees the dagger sticking out of Wei Ying’s shoulder.

In the few seconds it takes for Wei Ying to stir and push himself up—hissing in pain as he does—Lan Wangji understands. Wei Ying saw the dagger coming. If Wei Ying hadn’t pushed him, it would’ve landed squarely in Lan Wangji’s chest.

“Ahh,” Wei Ying is saying. There’s another hiss, a slick sound, and then Wei Ying is holding the bloody dagger in his lap. “Do you want this? For research, or something? Better wrap it up if so, I think—it’s poisoned. Ow.”

Lan Wangji doesn’t scramble up—scramble is not something he does—but he gets himself upright very fast. “Poisoned,” he says.

“Yeah. So good thing it hit me, huh?” Wei Ying sways a bit as he speaks.

“Do you have somewhere to go?” Lan Wangji asks, trying to sound calm. The blade gleams, Wei Ying's blood dark as ink on the surface. Lan Wangji remembers: I don’t have a home to replicate. “Someone who can heal you?”

“Yeah,” Wei Ying says. Then: “Oh. Well, she’s out of town right now. But she’ll be back next week.” He winces, then, somehow, smiles at Lan Wangji. “It's not like this can kill me.”

It still should have been me, Lan Wangji thinks. He doesn't know how to say it.

Lan Wangji watches Wei Ying try to stand only to stagger, catching himself against the top of the stair railing. “Ugh,” Wei Ying says. “Gonna. Just hang here for a minute. Anyway. Sorry the guy got away. Um, if you could not use this as an opportunity to behead me, that’d be great.”

“I won’t—” Lan Wangji says. Stops. “I won’t hurt you.”

“Oh,” Wei Ying says. “Cool. See you next time, I guess?”

“No,” Lan Wangji says, and takes Wei Ying back to the Cloud Recesses.

Wei Ying doesn’t seem to understand what’s happening until they’re climbing out of Lan Wangji’s car at the front gates. He’s paler than usual, still a bit unsteady as the poison spreads, and he wears an odd, nervous expression, looking at Lan Wangji’s home.

“I’ll just…wait here?” Wei Ying says.

Lan Wangji shakes his head, steeling himself. “Wei Ying,” he says, and takes out his entrance token. “Come inside.”

PART II

The last time Wei Wuxian had been in the Cloud Recesses, he had been fifteen, and it had looked very different. Which makes sense, because it had also been a very, very long time ago.

The last time he’d been here, he had still been human.

The Cloud Recesses now is a mix of tradition and modernity—a cultivation campus built on the Lan ancestral home. Wei Wuxian tries not to stare or seem too obviously out of place as Lan Wangji leads him through, as he researches the poison and heals Wei Wuxian in his own rooms.

(The poison hurts, but it’s not like it’s the worst thing Wei Wuxian has ever endured. He’s on edge, wondering why Lan Wangji really brought him here, until the pain finally ebbs away.)

When he starts to leave, Lan Wangji stops him and tells him he can stay.

Lan Wangji’s uncle is furious when Lan Wangji informs him of Wei Wuxian’s presence. Lan Wangji’s brother, the sect leader, seems more confused. But Lan Wangji tells them: “Wei Ying has valuable information for us.” And, with finality: “He saved my life.”

(Wei Wuxian is pretty sure the dagger wouldn’t have killed Lan Wangji. Hurt a lot, and taken a lot of time to heal, but Wei Wuxian probably doesn’t deserve the “saved my life” defense. He hadn’t thought of it that way. He just hadn’t wanted to see Lan Wangji get hurt.)

For better or worse, Wei Wuxian has access to cloud recesses now. He joins Lan Wangji in the library researching the trap they’re chasing. He does not, to Lan Qiren’s surprise, start sucking the life out of everyone. But gradually, unofficially, he does start…living in Lan Wangji’s spare room.

He leaves the Cloud Recesses for a few days on occasion to find Wen Qing and Wen Ning. Wen Qing is a doctor—has been for a long time—and her fridge always has blood bags for Wen Ning and Wei Wuxian. Donated blood is a weak substitute for fresh, but they make do. It’s also a good reason for Wei Wuxian to visit. Wei Wuxian doesn’t live with them, because they stay under the radar, and Wei Wuxian…doesn’t. Rogue monster hunting isn’t discreet, and it’s dangerous enough to exist as vampires as-is—he won’t bring trouble to their doorstep.

He usually doesn’t stay in one place for very long. Mostly he drifts, staying in abandoned buildings (no invite needed!) or inns if someone gestures him inside at the door. Most people who knew him are long gone, but rumors have a way of sticking.

(Rumors of a cultivator so power-hungry he carved out his own core to become a vampire, who tried to singlehandedly bring down the cultivation world, who probably feasted on babies and virgins—and so on and so forth.)

Now, though, he’s at the Cloud Recesses more than he isn’t. He’ll hang out in Lan Wangji’s room and read while Lan Wangji eats dinner or plays music. They’ll pore over texts and theories and diagrams until Lan Wangji falls asleep. Sometimes Lan Wangji falls asleep with Wei Wuxian still in the room, and Wei Wuxian tries very hard not to feel too much about it—how Lan Wangji’s instinct once had been to defend himself against Wei Wuxian, and now Lan Wangji trusts him enough to fall asleep. (Wei Wuxian fails. He feels a lot about it.)

He also finds himself on tentatively good terms with Lan Xichen, helping with other research projects and patching the wards around the Cloud Recesses, and Lan Qiren seems to at least tolerate him. That’s more than Wei Wuxian expected. This, too, is nice.

It works, until the bodies start showing up two cities away. Lan Wangji and Wei Wuxian pack up and follow the trail, setting up a stakeout in an old hotel, waiting for the trap-layers to show their hand.

On the second day, Wei Wuxian gets hungry.

He couldn’t exactly bring enough blood with him for the journey—cooling talismans only do so much. You really need a fridge, if you don’t want it to go rancid. He knows it’s getting bad when he starts to feel cold—and when he can hear Lan Wangji’s heartbeat louder than usual across the room.

It’s not like he can find a local blood bank, rob it, and leave town. Nor can he go spend the night tracking down a seedy underground club where humans let vampires drink from them in exchange for—well, it’s not ideal, but it would work in a pinch, except for the part where Lan Wangji would notice he’s gone. So his plan is to wait it out. He’s not worried about losing control—he’d need to be weeks in and truly starving for that to happen—but he’s pouring a lot of concentration into not letting his hunger distract him.

Lan Wangji notices anyway.

Probably because Wei Wuxian’s hands start shaking. Just a bit.

“You’re hungry,” Lan Wangji says.

“Only a little,” Wei Wuxian says quickly. “It’s fine. I won’t do anything about it. But if you could avoid getting a papercut or something, that’d be nice.”

Lan Wangji frowns. He’s probably putting together the same dead-end options Wei Wuxian did. Lan Wangji knows the basics of how Wei Wuxian feeds himself—has to, this long into living in close quarters. Wei Wuxian watches him draw the same blanks he did.

Then: “Drink from me,” Lan Wangji says.

Wei Wuxian stares at him, shocked. “You can’t mean that.”

“I can,” Lan Wangji says firmly.

“Lan Zhan.”

“It’s practical,” Lan Wangji says. “And I don’t mind.” Finally: “I trust you.”

Wei Wuxian feels faint, and not just from hunger. “You can’t—Lan Zhan. It’s not just oh, here’s a half-liter of blood. I’d also be taking your energy. And—it’ll connect you to me, for a short while. I’ll be able to feel your qi. Follow it.”

(The whole Energy Bond thing is excellent for like, evil vampires who don’t want their prey to escape half-finished. It’s less excellent when your—your friend, maybe, wants to help you not starve.)

Wei Wuxian continues: “Only say yes if you’re okay with that, too. Obviously I won’t use it for anything bad! I swear. But i understand if—”

“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji says. And pushes up his sleeve.

Wei Wuxian gently brings Lan Wangji’s wrist to his mouth, and bites.

It’s so different from the blood bags that Wei Wuxian feels his knees go weak at the first taste. Blood bags are a leaky faucet, stale and flimsy, spun-sugar qi that depletes in hours. This is a flood. Two swallows and Wei Wuxian is less hungry than he’s been in decades.

He lets himself drink for all of seven seconds, Lan Wangji quiet next to him. Wei Wuxian thinks he might be holding his breath. His skin, under Wei Wuxian’s mouth, is soft. His pulse beats hard and steady.

When Wei Wuxian pulls off he doesn’t look up right away. Instead he leans in, carefully cleaning the excess blood from Lan Wangji’s arm. Soothing the wound with his tongue, before he realizes that might be weird and quickly stops.

“It’s,” he says. “It helps heal—”

Lan Wangji doesn’t drop his arm. “If it helps,” he says.

Wei Wuxian finally looks up. Lan Wangji is flushed, cheeks and ears rosy with it. Wei Wuxian can hear Lan Wangji’s heart thudding in his chest, in every pulse point. Feeding can have that effect on humans—heightened sensitivity. A flood of endorphins. The absence of pain.

That’s all it is, Wei Wuxian tells himself. He’s hazy, too. Feeding does that. Lowers his defenses. He carefully bends down again and runs his tongue over the already-healing bite mark. He doesn’t let himself linger. Lan Wangji’s soft expression—it’s just a reaction, nothing more.

So that’s the first time Wei Wuxian drinks from Lan Wangji. The second time is halfway through the next stakeout. The third time is in Lan Wangji’s room at the Cloud Recesses.

(“You don’t have to go,” Lan Wangji said as Wei Wuxian prepared to slip out to Wen Qing’s. “You can if you want, of course, but if you’d rather—”

And then he’d offered his arm.)

The fourth time—

They’re in an inn a few hours from the Cloud Recesses, settling in for the night, when Lan Wangji says: “You should drink.”

This time he doesn’t offer his wrist.

Lan Wangji used to wear turtlenecks, mostly, at home and while night hunting. The more time they spent together, the more Wei Wuxian was grateful for it. If he had to see Lan Wangji’s neck, especially right after feeding, when they were both flushed and full of sensation—

But today Lan Wangji is wearing a button-down. Unbuttoned at the top.

“Wei Ying,” he says, and tugs at his collar. Once, not breaking eye contact. An invitation.

Wei Wuxian takes it.

“Lan Zhan,” he says. He’s speaking right into Lan Wangji’s neck, holding himself there. Lan Wangji’s skin is hot. His pulse pounds in Wei Wuxian’s own ears. “Are you sure?”

In response Lan Wangji cups the back of Wei Wuxian’s neck and presses him closer.

And, well. It doesn’t stop there. It’s so close, so intimate, and it turns into—

Open-mouthed kisses up Lan Wangji’s neck, Lan Wangji’s hands in Wei Wuxian’s hair, rocking against each other, both of them flushed and sensitive and warm, a feedback loop of energy and pleasure and want—

It turns into everything Wei Wuxian wants, and everything he never, ever, thought he’d get. After, Lan Wangji falls asleep with his fingers threaded through Wei Wuxian’s. Wei Wuxian watches the shadows shift on the ceiling, borrowed energy burning inside him like an ember, and tries to etch this moment into his mind. His memory has never been the best, but he wants to keep this moment forever.

The next day, Lan Wangji disappears.

He’d stepped out to get breakfast early in the morning, before he and Wei Wuxian had time to talk about—everything. When he doesn’t come back, Wei Wuxian knows: it’s the trap-layers. They’ve launched a counter strike, and they have Lan Wangji.

Unluckily for them, Wei Wuxian is a vampire. Lan Wangji’s blood and qi is still thrumming inside him, tugging him in the right direction. It takes him less than a day to find the trap-layers, holed up in an old house at the edge of the city.

Here’s the thing: the fact about vampires not being able to enter a building without permission isn’t entirely true. They can, if they’re strong enough.

It’s just going to hurt. A lot.

It's like forcing your way through a magnetic field. Every instinct is clawing at your brain telling you to get out—your feet will turn right around and walk you out the door if you don't force them forward. Your skin will crawl. You’ll shake apart.

But you can do it.

Wei Wuxian doesn’t hesitate. He storms the house, eyes glowing red, running on pure fury. The trap-layers are cultivators, and they don’t expect a vampire to be that invested in getting Lan Wangji back. They certainly don’t expect a vampire to be so invested that a closed won’t keep him out. They panic, setting the house on fire as they flee—a last-ditch effort to kill Wei Wuxian before he can come after them. But Wei Wuxian doesn’t care about them, not while Lan Wangji is still inside.

He finds Lan Wangji upstairs, unconscious. Poisoned. Wei Wuxian picks him up, ignoring the smoke, ignoring his shaking arms, the screaming in his mind telling him to get out get out get out. He barely feels his own burns as he carries Lan Wangji from the house.

He stops a block away to retch blackened blood into the gutter. Then he pulls himself together enough to steal a car and drive, Lan Wangji silent and cold next to him, breathing shallowly.

They arrive at the Cloud Recesses after dark. Wei Wuxian nearly runs the car through the gates, stopping just short. The gate sentries dash to get Lan Xichen.

It’s more chaos than the Cloud Recesses has seen in a while, as Lan Wangji is rushed to the infirmary. Lan Qiren snaps at Wei Wuxian—“What have you done?”—but Lan Xichen just gives Wei Wuxian a terse nod and follows after his brother.

Wei Wuxian drags himself to Lan Wangji’s room. He bandages what he can reach of his burns, heals what he is able, and curls up on the bed. He knows he won’t be allowed in the infirmary—Lan Qiren has a thing about Wei Wuxian being around places where there might be blood—so he waits.

Eventually Lan Xichen and Lan Qiren show up, wary but no weapons drawn. Wei Wuxian explains the kidnapping, about the trap-layers who got away again because Wei Wuxian was too focused on finding Lan Wangji in that house.

Lan Xichen asks: “How did you get my brother out of there?”

Wei Wuxian hesitates, then tells them that sometimes vampires can overcome the compulsion barring them entry.

He does not tell them how he knows this, which is: he learned it right after he was turned.

Hundreds of years ago, Wei Wuxian was a human. A cultivator. And then there was a war. And then he gave up his core for his brother. And then a man named Wen Chao caught Wei Wuxian and threw him in a dungeon with a starving vampire.

It was supposed to just be a slow, humiliating way to kill him, but it ended up turning him instead—because Wei Wuxian had no core. When Wen Chao realized what happened, he gleefully dragged Wei Wuxian into a house, without an invitation, and kept him there. For days.

Those few days nearly drove Wei Wuxian out of his mind. Every part of his newly vampire self was screaming at him to leave, his body straining against the shackles without rest. It’s a blur when he thinks back now, but he remembers when they dragged in another boy. A human—Wen Ning.

Wen Chao told Wei Wuxian they'd release him if he turned wen ning into a vampire. Wei Wuxian resisted. And resisted. All the while he was leeching resentful energy out of the air, brewing it in his own body, and it eventually exploded outward.

His shackles shattered. His captors were dead around him, or would be soon, as the house started to collapse onto them. But before Wei Wuxian got out, he forced himself to walk deeper into the back room. He found Wen Ning and dragged him to safety.

But Wen Ning was dying, injured in the explosion. And Wei Wuxian was a new vampire half out of his mind from days of torture.

So.

Wen Ning. Also a vampire.

The following years—centuries—are also a blur to Wei Wuxian. They won the war. Everyone turned on him, including his family. He ended up sealing himself and Wen Ning and Wen Qing off from the world, throwing them into stasis for hundreds of years.

He doesn't tell Lan Xichen and Lan Qiren his whole story. He just tells them: yes, vampires can enter a residence if they're strong enough, it's just—difficult. So that’s how he got Lan Zhan out.

Lan Xichen and Lan Qiren are clearly turning this over in their heads. Finally, Lan Xichen thanks him for saving Lan Wangji; Lan Qiren says nothing, just looks at Wei Wuxian for a long moment. Then they tell him: Lan Wangji will be in the infirmary for a few days, but he should recover.

“Oh,” Wei Wuxian says. “Oh. Good.”

He doesn’t crumple with relief until Lan Xichen and Lan Qiren leave. Wei Wuxian spends the night curled up on Lan Wangji’s bed, trying to think of anything but houses and fire and Lan Wangji, too cold and too still.

The next day, Wei Wuxian needs to feed again—barging the house nearly drained him. Also, his burns feel worse, so he slips out before dawn and texts Wen Qing that he might need some patching up, if she’s back in town.

He gets a meal, first aid, and a giant dressing-down from Wen Qing, and is feeling overall lighter when he gets back to the Cloud Recesses that evening. That is, until he approaches the gates.

And—

He can't go in.

There’s a barrier when he tries to enter—the kind that exists before an invitation. For a moment he just stands there, uncomprehending. His invitation has been rescinded, somehow. And to do that the Cloud Recesses wards would have had to be deliberately reset, today.

One of the Lan disciples sees him and comes to the gate. Wei Wuxian asks, haltingly, if Lan Wangji is awake.

“He is,” the disciple says. “He woke this morning. Lan-zongzhu has spoken with him.”

“That’s...” Wei Wuxian says, relief and confusion warring inside him. “That’s good. That’s—”

His mind isn’t working right. There’s no cell service in the Cloud Recesses, so he can’t call. He can’t ask what this means. Does Lan Wangji know about the wards? Did he ask for them to be reset?

Does Lan Wangji—regret—?

Well, there are many things he might regret, but. Wei Wuxian feels like he knows which thing Lan Wangji would regret most.

(The sex was too far. Wei Wuxian went too far. He got complacent, comfortable. He forgot who he was. He forgot what he was.)

Wei Wuxian turns and walks back down the mountain road, numb.

So that’s that, then.

He's got his travel bag, but half of his stuff is in Lan Wangji's room. He'll just have to ask for it back at some point, when he can stomach it. He goes back to Wen Qing and Wen Ning, but doesn’t say what happened.

Lan Wangji calls him two days later, which must be the soonest he’s able to walk outside and find cell service. Then he calls again, because Wei Wuxian doesn’t pick up. Then he texts: are you all right?

Wei Wuxian responds an hour later: I’m not the one who got poisoned! haha how are you

Lan Wangji: recovering.

[lan zhan is typing]

[lan zhan is typing]

[lan zhan is typing]

Lan Wangji: will you return soon?

Wei Wuxian thinks about going back and standing at the edges of Cloud Recesses while Lan Wangji brings him his belongings at the gates. Like a coward, Wei Wuxian says: chasing some leads. i'll let you know when i'm back in the area. don't worry, i won't

He accidentally sends it like that, cut off. “I won’t retaliate” is what he meant. He can’t even finish it. What he sends instead is: you don't have to worry about me.

After that, they don’t see each other for three months.

PART III

So. Wei Wuxian goes off on his own for a bit, living like he did before he befriended Lan Wangji, which includes a lot of sleeping in abandoned houses—no invite needed—and camping when that doesn’t pan out. He keeps tracking strange disappearances, sending updates to Lan Wangji.

(They’re short, polite messages. Just like the short, polite messages he gets back. Lan Wangji asks him if he’s returning only one more time, and then stops. Wei Wuxian doesn’t know if he’s relieved or not.)

(He’ll go back for his stuff someday. When it doesn’t hurt as much.)

A few months in he catches a trace near where he is—half a day from the Cloud Recesses by car—and tracks the trap-layers to a stretch of woods. He can sense a shift in the forest’s energy, the closest they’ve—he’s—been to finding the trap in a while. He plunges into the trees.

He’s drawn to a clearing, so thick with resentful energy he can feel it in his teeth. Got you, Wei Wuxian thinks, and steps into—

Lan Wangji’s room.

A breeze drifts in through the open window, bringing the smell of cold mountain air. Lan Wangji sits cross-legged on his bed, a book open in his lap. He’s looking at Wei Wuxian, expression soft.

“Lan zhan?” Wei Wuxian says. “How did I...”

He hadn’t been here, before. There was a reason for that. Wasn’t there? A reason he’d left. Because the gates—

“You’re here because I want you here,” Lan Wangji says.

“Oh.” Wei Wuxian stands in the center of the room. “You. Do?”

Lan Wangji blinks up at him. He’s wearing a soft shirt, loose enough that it’s slipping off his shoulder. On his neck Wei Wuxian can see bite marks—healing, but fresh. Wei Wuxian must have fed recently. That makes sense. He doesn’t feel hungry. For a moment that thought snags in his mind, because he’s always at least a little hungry—always careful not to take too much—but right now he doesn’t feel much of anything except strangely, distantly tired.

If he’s not hungry, then he must really be safe.

“Come,” Lan Wangji says, reaching out and guiding Wei Wuxian onto the bed, settling Wei Wuxian’s head on his lap. “Wei Ying. You’re home.”

“Oh,” Wei Wuxian says again. His eyes drift shut.

No one hears from Wei Wuxian for two weeks.

Lan Wangji is trying, and failing, not to worry. He knows he—messed up somehow. When they slept together. His brother said Wei Ying had forced his way into the house without an invitation to save Lan Wangji, but then Wei Ying—left. after.

It’s clear Lan Wangji did something to make Wei Ying leave, to put distance between them. He won’t force Wei Ying to come back when he clearly doesn’t want to. He’ll wait for Wei Ying’s brief updates and tell himself he isn’t owed any more than that. But the longer this sudden silence stretches, the more terrifying it is.

The second week without a word from Wei Ying, a vampire shows up outside the cloud recesses.

He seems like just a polite young man at first, asking the gate sentry if she could get Lan er-gongzi? But when Lan Wangji steps outside and the man introduces himself as Wen Ning, Lan Wangji recognizes the name. Wei Ying’s friend.

Wen Ning says Wei Wuxian hasn’t been in touch with him or his sister, either—for longer than usual, these days. And then Lan Wangji is sure something is very wrong.

He gets a car and drives to Wei Ying’s last location immediately.

It takes him a day to find the same stretch of forest, and he knows, immediately, this is where Wei Ying is. It’s overrun with resentful energy, and when Lan Wangji finds the clearing he can see it, dark smoke roiling in the air.

In the center, curled on the ground, is Wei Ying.

The resentful energy is so thick around Wei Ying that Lan Wangji can almost cut it with his sword. So he does. He slashes the array, driving the energy back as he makes his way to Wei Ying. It’s a reverse of their first meeting, Lan Wangji pulling Wei Ying to safety.

All the other times they’ve encountered the tap, it had just been fed. It was energized and able to fight back, able to disappear back to its creators. But the trap hadn’t worked on Wei Ying the way it did on other people—he doesn’t have the kind of energy it wants. Instead it had just ensnared him there, confused, trying and failing to feed on him in a constant loop. Meanwhile, Wei Ying has just been—stuck, and the trap has been stuck as well. So for the first time, the trap doesn’t disappear, and Lan Wangji can do something about it.

The trap is like a vampire, Wei Ying had said. So Lan Wangji pulls Wei Ying back through the trees, then returns and destroys the trap like one. He burns the clearing until the array is gone, until the swirls of resentful energy have been choked away by actual smoke.

Lan Wangji stays long enough to suppress the flames and make sure the trap is well and truly gone, and then races back to Wei Ying.

Wei Ying, who is barely coherent, and starving.

He’s been slowly drained of energy for two weeks. His fangs are out, poking against his lower lip, and his eyes won’t focus on anything as Lan Wangji gets them back to the car. Lan Wangji—as carefully as he can, heart pounding—bundles Wei Ying into the backseat.

Then Lan Wangji climbs in with him and shoves up his own sleeve.

“Wei Ying,” he says, “drink.”

He brings his wrist to Wei Ying’s mouth. Wei Ying makes a strangled noise and jerks away.

“No,” he says, voice raw. “No, no, I won’t. I won’t.”

“It’s okay,” Lan Wangji tries to tell him. “You’re safe, it’s okay, please. You have to drink.”

“I,” Wei Ying says, pressing a hand over his mouth. His hand brushes Lan Wangji’s, and he’s freezing. His pupils are constricted, pinpricks. “I can’t,” he says, muffled. “I messed up. I don’t want to mess up again.”

“You didn’t,” Lan Wangji says, bewildered. He wonders if this is an aftereffect of the trap. “It’s gone, Wei Ying, we destroyed it. It’s okay.”

He pulls Wei Ying’s hand from his mouth. Wei Ying is shaking apart under him, pressed against the back seat, and Lan Wangji is terrified. So.

Lan Wangji pulls out his knife and draws a line across his own skin, then presses his arm to Wei Ying’s mouth.

Wei Ying drinks.

For a moment it's like a switch has flipped. Wei Ying is still delirious, but ravenous, too. He latches on to Lan Wangji’s wrist, surging up, climbing on top of him, pressing Lan Wangji’s arm against the seatback and drinking deeply. Lan Wangji lets him, stroking the back of Wei Wuxian’s head and saying, “That's it. It’s all right, Wei Ying. That’s it.”

Wei Ying makes a small sound, eyes fluttering shut. His legs are thrown over Lan Wangji’s lap, and Lan Wangji fights not to pull him even closer.

A few minutes later Wei Ying blinks. Slows. Seems to realize where he is, what he’s doing. He wrenches off, panting.

He isn’t shaking anymore, and he isn’t freezing. His pupils are blown wide.

“Lan Zhan,” he says. “Lan Zhan, I'm sorry.”

And he collapses.

Lan Wangji lets himself panic for just a few seconds before doing the only thing he can, which is buckling Wei Ying into the backseat and breaking every speed limit on the way back to the Cloud Recesses.

Wei Wuxian wakes up as the car comes to a stop. Everything hurts—his joints, from being curled up in some sort of stasis for two weeks, his brain from everything else. it comes back in patches. The trap. Lan Wangji’s rescue. The feeding.

“Ahh,” Wei Wuxian says, voice scratchy. He can feel Lan Wangji’s energy inside him, a quiet hum, and the warmth of having just fed. He wants to curl up in a ball.

(He’d thought he was still immune to the trap. Turns out some part of him, along the way, started thinking of Lan Wangji’s home as his own.)

Lan Wangji looks over, sharp. “You’re awake,” he says, and he sounds ragged. In a moment he’s on the other side of the car, helping Wei Wuxian out. Wei Wuxian blinks. It’s late evening. Lan Wangji has parked haphazardly right outside the Cloud Recesses gates.

Nearby, Lan Xichen seems to be working with a small group of disciples—checking wards, maybe. They make their way over as Lan Wangji ushers Wei Wuxian toward the gates.

“Is that—?” Lan Xichen says, right as Wei Wuxian realizes what’s happening.

He’s fully awake in an instant, backpedaling, twisting out of Lan Wangji’s grip. His knees buckle, but he scrambles back until he’s pressed against the wheel well of the car.

“Please,” he hears himself saying, “please please please please, no—”

There are people in front of him, hazy shapes, Lan Wangji and maybe Lan Xichen and the disciples, closing in. “I’m sorry,” Wei Wuxian gasps. “Please, I’ll go, I’m sorry, please don’t—”

(Another house, centuries ago, Wen Chao dragging him inside—)

“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji says, somewhere above him, “it’s okay, you don’t have to—you don’t have to go in, Wei Ying, please—”

Wei Wuxian hunches over, fisting his hands in his hair. He feels more than sees Lan Wangji reach out, only to stop, hands hovering halfway.

“Wei Ying. I just want to—make sure you are okay. Heal you, if need be. That's all. I’m sorry. You don't have to see me. My brother can attend to you, if you prefer.”

Wei Ying shakes his head. “I can't,” he says. “I can’t.”

Now that he's no longer being forcefully dragged toward a barrier, Wei Wuxian is regaining some clarity. The world rushes back into focus like a bad radio connection, bursts of static giving way to a dawning realization that he’s cowering by a car in front of—everyone.

Lan Wangji is saying something again—another apology? Wow, this is a mess. Wei Ying wipes his mouth, and then his eyes, and turns his head so he's looking down the road. He’s being—irrational. The last few minutes are a blur, and he can still barely make out what's going on, but. Get a grip, Wei Wuxian, he tells himself. Obviously lan zhan is not going to do—that. Lan Zhan probably just forgot about the wards being reset. And now Wei Wuxian has gone and made a big deal out of it.

“Lan Zhan,” he says a few seconds later, when he thinks his voice won’t shake anymore. “Ah. Thank you for your help. Sorry you had to drive me all the way here.”

Lan Wangji pulls his hands back a fraction. “Wei Ying. What do you mean?”

Wei Wuxian gestures at the gates, at Cloud Recesses in general, trying not to look at Lan Xichen and the disciples who are still watching him. “I can't go inside, Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian says, as calmly as he can. “But don't worry, I can make my way back down the path. Well. I might have to sit here for another minute, but then I can go. Unless—do you need me to do anything while I’m here?”

Lan Wangji had said the trap was destroyed, but maybe there’s a new text to look at, some way to be sure, and Lan Wangji plans to bring it to the gates. That would be nice, because Wei Wuxian could really use an extra few minutes to let everything stop spinning.

But Lan Wangji is looking at him in shock, and growing horror.

Wei Wuxian says quickly: “It still works. The barrier, I mean. It’s still in effect, if that's—I felt it when you were—taking me over, it's still. Yeah. You don't have to worry about that.”

Lan Wangji has been crouching, but now he tips forward, fully kneeling in front of Wei Ying. “Wei Ying,” he says, “what do you mean, you can't come inside?”

“Since you reset the wards,” Wei Wuxian says. “After— um.” He doesn't finish, but he's sure Lan Wangji will know what he means.

Lan Wangji shakes his head. “We didn’t— Wei Ying, we didn’t—” He stops. Twists back to face Lan Xichen, who is looking at Wei Wuxian with a horrible expression.

“Brother,” Lan Wangji says.

Lan Xichen says: “We did reset the wards. All of them. While you were unconscious.”

Softly, terribly, Lan Wangji says: “Why.”

“After Wei-gongzi told us—” Lan Xichen hesitates. “After he explained how his kind can push through the invitation barriers, in extenuating circumstances, we took a closer look at our own wards.”

Wei Wuxian doesn't know why he needs to be here for this. He really doesn't want to hear what comes next—how, surely, Lan Wangji woke up, and remembered being taken, and what happened before that—and asked his brother and uncle to please make sure Wei Wuxian doesn't come back—and—

Wei Wuxian tries to get up. It doesn't go well. Lan Wangji catches him. Wei Wuxian is shaking, and Lan Wangji doesn't let go.

Lan Xichen continues. “Uncle and I thought it prudent to strengthen the wards. We didn't intend—we didn't realize that resetting them would revoke—we didn't realize.” To Wei Ying: “We only meant to protect ourselves, but not from you. I am so sorry.”

Lan Wangji is quiet. So is Wei Wuxian, trying to understand that. “Well,” Wei Ying says eventually, and it comes out as a rasp, “ah. Good news is, the strengthening worked.”

Lan Wangji’s hands—one on Wei Wuxian’s shoulder, one cupping his elbow—tighten, then loosen, then tighten again.

“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji says. “Come inside. Come inside.

Wei Wuxian blinks. He can't feel the barrier anymore. Before, it had been strong enough that he felt its presence from ten meters away, radiating out from the gates. But he doesn't feel it now.

“Oh,” he says. “Yeah. I'll—if that's—” He casts around, still trying to figure this out. “I left some stuff behind, you were probably wondering when I’d come get it, wow, this is. Sorry, I just thought. I thought.” Again, he can't finish, but he finally looks at Lan Wangji.

Lan Wangji is looking back, and Wei Wuxian thinks there's no way Lan Wangji can't see the horrible truth of what Wei Wuxian thought—that you wanted me gone—written all over his face.

“I didn’t know,” Lan Wangji says. “Wei Ying. I also—I assumed you wanted to leave. After.”

“I didn't,” Wei Wuxian says before he can help himself.

“I didn't want you to,” Lan Wangji says.

“Oh,” Wei Ying says. “Oh. Lan Zhan. Say that again?”

“I didn’t want you to leave,” Lan Wangji says immediately.

“No, no, the—” Wei Wuxian gestures at the gate.

Lan Wangji shifts, cupping one hand around the back of Wei Ying's head. “Come inside,” he says. “Come inside, whenever you'd like, and stay, as long as you'd like.”

Wei Wuxian has been forced away from a lot of places before. He’s been barred entry. He’s wanted to leave. But it has been a long, long time since he’s been asked to stay.

So, he comes inside. Lan Wangji tucks him into his bed and climbs in with him and holds him there, and doesn't let a single person say a single thing about Wei Wuxian’s presence in the Cloud Recesses as long as Wei Wuxian calls it his home. (Which is a very, very long time.)

They keep hunting the trap-layers, who have scattered. Wei Wuxian helps teach disciples how to spot traps like that, while he and Lan Wangji research how not to get stuck in them. He helps Lan Qiren fact-check old texts in the library using his firsthand, centuries-old knowledge. He spends time with Lan Wangji. So much time. In their home, on the road, anywhere and everywhere. They discover they’ve barely scratched the surface of how deep their feelings can run. (And of any and all sexy blood-drinking possibilities.) They are happy.

(Eventually, Wei Wuxian tells Lan Wangji the horrible story of how Wen Ning became a vampire. And, years later, when they run across an immortal cultivator named Jiang Cheng, Lan Wangji learns the story of how Wei Ying became a vampire as well.)

And for the rest of their lives Lan Wangji never misses an opportunity to invite Wei Wuxian inside somewhere, whether that’s at the Cloud Recesses gates or the door of his room or a “come in,” said while holding the blankets up so Wei Wuxian can slip into bed next to him.

It’s a good life, and a good undeath.

The end.