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debt of a knife

Chapter Text

“Kneel.”

 

The wind was bitterly cold, and Wei Wuxian was in nothing but his ancient leathers. Around him, the Lan were in cloaks of deep white and blue, lined with fur. The moonlight lent their impassive faces a strange, cruel glow as they watched him stumble, panting, blood trailing sticky and hot down from the wound in his abdomen to the snow-covered ground.

 

“Fuck you,” Wei Wuxian said pleasantly. “And you know what? Fuck your mothers too. And your fathers. I’m not picky.”

 

“Just give him to us, Hanguang Jun,” a voice said from behind Wei Wuxian. One of the Jin, he was sure. There was no mistaking that haughty tone. “Our young lord wants him.”

 

“With all due respect,” one of the Lans said, “this is our lord’s land. Honoured brother Jin, you are trespassing-”

 

“We’re retrieving a traitor.”

 

“-a slight our lord is graciously choosing to forgive.” The Lan boy’s face remained cold, his tone polite. He wasn’t saying fuck you, but Wei Wuxian was pretty sure it was implied. “But Wei Wuxian is upon Hanguang Jun’s land now, honoured brother, and his fate now lies in our lord’s hands.”

 

Their lord stepped forward.

 

The Lans were all shining and strange, more beings of ice than men, but not a single one of them shone as brightly as their lord. He strode forward, his cloak a whisper of noise against the snow, his black hair glittering with frost.

 

“Kneel,” said Hanguang Jun. His voice was deep.

 

“Oh, I’d love to,” Wei Wuxian said, aiming for a purr – that was promptly ruined by the way his teeth were chattering. “But as much as I’d love to be executed by you – really, I’d just love it – I need to get going. Things to do, you know.”

 

Perhaps the blood loss was making his reflexes slow, because he didn’t see the moment Hanguang Jun crossed the snow and took hold of him. He felt lean, strong fingers close in his hair. Felt the barest press of nails against his scalp, a touch that made sparks of sensation fly through him, and felt his head wrench back.

 

He was forced down to his knees with a yelp.

 

“You were defeated upon my land, Wei Wuxian,” said Hanguang Jun. “According to the laws of the empire, I have the right to claim one of your household as my own.”

 

Wei Wuxian laughed shakily.

 

“I’m afraid I’m a disowned, orphaned traitor, my lord,” he said. “I don’t have a bride to offer you.”

 

“You have yourself,” said Hanguang Jun.

 

Wei Wuxian suddenly felt very, very lightheaded.

 

Oh.

 

“Warlord Lan,” one of the Jin said, horrified. “What can you want with him? Wei Wuxian is a – is a….” He choked for a moment, and Wei Wuxian wondered through the sheer panicked hum of his own mind struggling to catch up with what the hell was happening, whether he’d say traitor or man or just horrible nuisance that you’ll stab within a week because he never shuts up

 

“…man.”

 

Well. That answered that.

 

“The law allows for it,” said Hanguang Jun. He did not seem inclined to say anything else. His gaze was still fixed on Wei Wuxian’s face. With a firm but not unkind hand, he moved Wei Wuxian’s head, left then right, slowly inspecting his features with cold, unreadable eyes.

 

There was a cough from the Jin. A shuffle of feet.

 

“Our young lord will want to witness the marriage,” one of the Jin blustered, after a beat of flustered silence. “He will need an assurance that you do not seek to assist this traitor to escape our righteous justice.”

 

“Would you question our lord’s honour after his generosity in allowing you to live despite your trespass?” the Lan boy shot back.

 

Hanguang Jun raised one elegant hand.  Behind him, the Lan boy fell obediently silent.

 

“This lord does not seek to aid a traitor,” said Hanguang Jun. He sounded contemptuous. Bored. “This lord merely seeks to claim his rights. Wei Wuxian is pleasing to look upon, and I would have him.” His gaze ticked up, glacial cold. “Emperor Jin is familiar with the concept.”

 

Wei Wuxian nearly laughed, but managed to restrain himself. Still, he jerked a little, and felt Hanguang Jun’s grip tighten in response.

 

Emperor Jin is familiar with the concept. That was putting it mildly. Jin Guangshan had, at minimum, hundreds of minor wives claimed in battle, locked away in his palace. He was a letch and a monster, but ah – that was fine, wasn’t it? Lawful. And how could a thing done lawfully be wrong?

 

As if powerful men were not the ones who wrote the empire’s laws. As if Hanguang Jun didn’t hold all the power here, while Wei Wuxian had none.

 

“Forgive us, Hanguang Jun,” another Jin said. This one spoke more softly, his voice deferential and elegant. “Hanguang Jun has not previously expressed his – interest – in the spoils of war. We were taken by surprise.”

 

Hanguang Jun made a noise of acknowledgement.

 

“Your lord may attend the ceremony,” he said. And then he released Wei Wuxian, turning calmly away.

 

And Wei Wuxian – with the kind of suicidal impulse his brother had always yelled at him for – tipped forward and grabbed the lord’s cloak. He didn’t know what he was hoping to accomplish, and by the time his brain began screaming warnings at him – all of them in Jiang Cheng’s voice, no surprise there – his bloody hand was already closed on cloth.

 

The lord froze. Looked down.

 

Wei Wuxian released him with an awkward laugh he couldn’t quite hold back. Hanguang Jun’s eyes narrowed. He kept on walking.

 

The bloodstain on his cloak was a deep, furious red against white.

 

“Allow me to see to your wound, Wei Wuxian,” said one of the Lan, leaning down before him.

 

“Right,” Wei Wuxian said shakily. “Yes.”

 

-

 

His sword was taken, and his favourite dagger removed from his boot. He was given a blanket and a fresh bandage for his abdomen, and some kind of medicine that made his head feel cloudy. (He’d tried to refuse that, but the Lan were all singularly terrifying, and he hadn’t been able to disobey in the face of the flat, cold stare that had been turned on him.) Then he was led to a horse-

 

-and hoisted up in front of Hanguang Jun.

 

He made a strangled sound as he felt large hands close on his waist, lifting him as if he were some delicate waif instead of the full-grown, battle-hardened man that he was.

 

“Did I hurt you?” Hanguang Jun’s voice. Wei Wuxian couldn’t see his face from this angle; only feel the warmth of his body, and the brush of his heavy cloak against Wei Wuxian’s back.

 

“N- no.”

 

Lan Wangji said nothing. The horses began to move.

 

Wei Wuxian turned his head a little, craning to see the Jin at the back of the Lan contingent. He felt a hand tighten at his waist.

 

“Stay still,” said Hanguang Jun.

 

The breath caught, briefly, in Wei Wuxian’s throat.

 

“What do you want me for, my lord?” He kept his voice low. No need to draw attention.

 

“I have explained.”

 

“I heard. You think I’m – pleasing to look upon,” Wei Wuxian felt a smile twist his mouth at the ridiculousness of that idea. He wasn’t a naturally ugly man, sure, but it had been months since he’d last had a good meal or, hells, a proper bath. He knew how he looked. “But Hanguang Jun is a handsome man. And even if he were not – Hanguang Jun is a rich man. He doesn’t need to pluck up someone like me for his bed. So what does this lord want with me?”

 

The wind howled, a faint whistle of noise through the pale mountain trees.

 

“You were once a brother to Sandu Shengshou,” said Hanguang Jun, eventually.

 

“You won’t get anything from him for me,” said Wei Wuxian. “I told you, my lord. I have no family. I was disowned.”

 

“On what basis?” He could feel the murmur of the lord’s voice against his hair. Soft. Hanguang Jun’s thighs were warm against his own; his skin hot, where it pressed against Wei Wuxian’s own, through layers and layers of clothes, in sharp contrast to the chill of the night air.

 

“I committed a dishonourable murder,” Wei Wuxian said, throat strangely dry. Focus. “Blackened my name. Broke imperial law. Jiang Cheng – Sandu Shengshou – couldn’t allow me to stay, if he wanted to rule Jiang lands with the emperor’s support. My name was erased from the Jiang family scrolls. They’ll give you nothing for me.”

 

“Who did you kill dishonourably?”

 

He closed his eyes. The memory of Lotus Pier burning flickered through his mind.  He leaned back against Hanguang Jun, side aching. Even through the soft weight of the man’s cloak, he could feel the rise and fall of his ribcage; the breadth of him.

 

“Wen Chao,” he said finally. “Wen Zhuliu. Wen Xu. I cut their throats in their sleep.”

 

He’d thought it a fairer death than they’d deserved. A shame that that rules of honourable combat – a just war demands a meeting of swords, at an agreed upon place; a just war cannot be a knife in the dark - did not concur.  

 

“And how,” Hanguang Jun asked, “did you come to anger Jin Zixun?”

 

“Ah. I didn’t commit dishonourable murders,” he said, feeling the bitterness curl his mouth into an ugly smile. “You of all people should understand, Hanguang Jun, that there are things you can’t do when you’re a warlord under the Jin Emperor. You can’t take land or hold it without proving your strength in battle. You must obey the rules of combat. You have to pay your taxes into Jin Guangshan’s fat coffers. And you can’t kill women and children who’ve never held a sword. But you can ask a mercenary to do it. And if that mercenary says no…”

 

Wei Wuxian shrugged. Tried to look back at the lord. Could see nothing but that blood-stained cloak; the edge of his dark hair.

 

“But you haven’t answered my question,” he went on. “What do you want from me, my lord?”

 

Silence.

 

Shut up, Jiang Cheng’s voice said. Shut up, Wei Wuxian, shut up-

 

“Perhaps you like men who’re hurt,” said Wei Wuxian, ignoring common sense. “Or men who can’t fight back. Is that it?”

 

If anything, Hanguang Jun’s silence seemed to grow – colder. There was no sound but Wei Wuxian’s own breath; the cry of the wind, and the clatter of hooves.

 

“You can do what you like to me,” Wei Wuxian said, suddenly tired. He’d been running from the Jin for days on end. He couldn’t go on much longer. “Whatever it is. You’re not bad looking Hanguang Jun, and I…” He swallowed. He didn’t think saying, I suppose I’ll get enough food and a warm bed and maybe even a halfway decent fuck, which is more than I’ve had in longer than I can remember, and that’s not so bad, would go down well. “…I don’t mind.”

 

“Wen Xu,” Hanguang Jun said abruptly.

 

Wei Wuxian blinked.

 

“What about him?”

 

“When I was a boy, Wen Xu broke my leg,” said Hanguang Jun. “Murdered my father. You killed him. I owe you a debt.”

 

“So,” Wei Wuxian managed, after a moment. “You knew everything about me already. That makes sense. I knew you didn’t want me for my pretty face.”

 

“It is unwise to anger the Jin,” Hanguang Jun went on, ignoring that comment. “Jin Zixun has the emperor’s support. He will kill you with impunity. Marry me and you will live.”

 

If it’s unwise to anger the Jin, why are you claiming me?

 

But Wei Wuxian didn’t ask. He wasn’t quite that stupid. He wanted to live. He wanted it very, very much.

 

Somewhere, the Wen Remnants were waiting for him. He couldn’t let them down.

 

“Ah, Hanguang Jun,” he said instead, laughingly shakily. “How noble of you. How can I refuse?”

 

“You were not asked,” Hanguang Jun said. And there was something dark in his voice that made Wei Wuxian shiver despite himself, shifting uneasily. Hanguang Jun's hand pressed to his uninjured side. The lightest, faintest hint of fingers.

 

“Stop moving,” the lord said. “You will reopen your wound.”

 

Wei Wuxian swallowed. “As Hanguang Jun says.”

 

After that, they rode in silence.

Chapter Text

Hanguang Jun’s fortress was known as the Silent Fort, and it lived up to its name. Within its walls, the Lan moved as silently as they had on the mountains. The wind struck chimes hung from windows and doorways, allowing the faintest echo of music to shimmer through the halls. But the people were quiet. Their eyes on their guests – and on Wei Wuxian – were guarded. Cold.

 

Only the Jin talked. Muttering to themselves. Grumbling. Jin Zixun was hissing something under his breath to one of his men, a doe-eyed youth in plain robes, who nodded obediently and placated him with gentle words. Wei Wuxian was maybe slightly pleased to see that Jin Zixun’s clothing was scuffed, his hair askew, a streak of dirt on his face. He’d been chasing Wei Wuxian for as long as Wei Wuxian had been running, and he didn’t look like a pretty Jin peacock any longer. He was probably angry with Wei Wuxian for that, too.

 

Oh, this was going to be a fun wedding.

 

As Wei Wuxian followed Hanguang Jun, he tried to recall what he’d learned about the Lans, when he’d still been a Jiang clan member. He remembered frustratingly little. In the peaceful days before the Wen warlords had invaded Jiang territory and killed Jiang Fengmian and Yu Ziyuan, Wei Wuxian hadn’t had much interest in politics and other families.

 

He’d learned fast, after Lotus Pier burned. When he’d decided to do anything – absolutely anything – to ensure Jiang Cheng took back control of Yunmeng.

 

He knew Imperial Lan territory was divided into two halves. The ancestral home and the surrounding quiet mountains and lush valleys were under the purview of Zewu Jun, but the arid borders had been claimed by Hanguang Jun. Traditionally, siblings were not inclined to divide territory, and competing land claims always ended in blood. But the Lan were a strange group by any measure, disinclined to displays of wealth or power, but viciously territorial and bloodthirsty when their land claims were challenged and in the defence of family. They rarely took multiple wives. Other lords liked to joke that they lived like monks: never drinking, never eating meat. Only fucking to keep the family line going, and even then only reluctantly.

 

Well. Wei Wuxian's current fate was proof that one of those things wasn't true.

 

“The ceremony will be before dawn,” one Lan announced. A woman this time. She bowed her head to the Jin, her expression remote. “If our honoured brothers will follow me, you will be given rooms in which to rest before the ceremony.”

 

Hanguang Jun looked at Wei Wuxian – one dark, steady look – and then he was gone too. A Lan servant beckoned Wei Wuxian over, leading him in the opposite direction.

 

He was taken to a room with a full tub of water and a waiting healer. Wei Wuxian was checked over once more by the healer. Given the opportunity for a hot bath, and a little food.

 

“Not too much,” the healer said. “Eat slowly. You’ll grow ill, after going without so long.”

 

She gave his bare, bandaged torso a not particularly flattering once over, and left him to wash.

 

He would have enjoyed the food and the bath if he hadn’t, oh – been getting married in a few hours. Instead he was a jittery mess. He gave his hair a perfunctory wash. Scrubbed himself clean, and chewed his way numbly through the food, before dragging on the layers of robes that had been left out for him. The clothes were, thankfully, not the kind of garb a woman would usually wear. Instead the outer robe was a heavy thing in Lan colours, whites and blues, lined with fur to keep out the winter chill. On his skin, it was soft enough not to jostle his wound at all.

 

Someone rapped their knuckles against the door. Pushed it open.

 

“It’s time,” said the Lan. And why did Wei Wuxian feel like he was being led to his execution, instead of being saved from it?

 

-

 

If this had been a proper wedding, he would have worn red. There would have been family. A feast. But a bride taken by war wasn’t owed an honourable marriage, and what he was given – an imperial contract, a meal with an icy wall of Lan clan members and a glowering group of Jin, led by Jin Zixun who was pointedly holding his blade on his knees before him – was more than Wei Wuxian even wanted to deal with.

 

Hanguang Jun wore the same bloodied cloak he had when he’d claimed Wei Wuxian. But his black hair had been combed to a shine. Above the white ribbon bound around his forehead, he had placed a silver pin, shaped to resemble frost, in his hair. No red for him, either, except for the red that Wei Wuxian had given him.

 

The Lan were known across the empire for their coldness and their restraint, but Wei Wuxian was pretty sure that the way they were looking at the Jin was icy even by their standards. Still, they were scrupulously courteous, obeying imperial laws of hospitality, offering Jin Zixun and his men alcohol (which the Lan didn’t drink, and wasn’t that typical of Wei Wuxian’s shitty luck), a fine array of food, and seats of honour at the ceremony itself.

 

Jin Zixun drank steadily and stared at Wei Wuxian with ugly, furious eyes.

 

You can’t kill me now, Wei Wuxian gloated internally, and even offered Jin Zixun a brief flash of a grin. The man’s right eye visibly twitched in response.

 

The wedding itself was a blur. The Jin contingent grew steadily drunker and ruder – a slight that the Lan were forced to cope with, out of courtesy and a need to offend the emperor’s own blood - but at the end of it, Hanguang Jun said, “Come.” And Wei Wuxian followed as he was led from the feasting hall. Led to his wedding night.

 

-

 

And then they were alone. The bed was… big.

 

Wei Wuxian sucked in a steadying breath. He was no wilting maiden. For one he wasn’t a maiden – he was a man, even if the imperial contract had named him Hanguang Jun’s bride, right there in dark indelible ink – and for another, he wasn’t afraid of sex. He’d missed it, actually. And he hadn’t lied, when he’d called Hanguang Jun handsome. He could make it through this.

 

He reached for the sash of his robes, beginning to remove the outer robe with deft tugs of his hands. With a jolt of surprise, he felt Hanguang Jun’s hands on his waist, drawing him closer and…. tying the robe back in place.

 

“It’s normal to take off your clothes on your wedding night,” Wei Wuxian pointed out, with a lot more confidence than he felt. Hanguang Jun’s hands were big, with graceful fingers that drew the robe closed a shade too tightly. Wei Wuxian could feel the movement of his fingertips, the passing brush of his knuckles, like small points of warmth that burrowed through his clothing straight down to the skin beneath. “But if this lord would like to take his – his bride – fully clothed then –”

 

“I am not touching you,” Hanguang Jun said in a low voice. “I told you. I owe you a debt. You do not owe me – congress.”

 

“But you are touching me,” Wei Wuxian pointed out, and gave a wriggle for emphasis. Hanguang Jun’s hands tightened on his waist, and Wei Wuxian’s breath stuttered. Hanguang Jun immediately softened his grip, his fingers fanning out against Wei Wuxian’s sides, his thumbs brushing a feather-light arc against Wei Wuxian’s hipbones.

 

“Your wound,” said Hanguang Jun.

 

“You’re not hurting me,” Wei Wuxian said tightly. As if he had the mental capacity to feel pain, when his pulse was thundering in his ears, and he could feel the much more interesting weight of Hanguang Jun’s warm hands and warmer breath. Hanguang Jun had a very soft looking mouth, for a warlord. Graceful eyelashes.

 

There was a faint noise. The flicker of a candle beyond the door which was… slightly ajar.

 

They were almost the same height. If Wei Wuxian turned his head, just so, their mouths would touch.

 

Instead he touched his mouth to Hanguang Jun’s ear. Said, in a voice that was barely breath, “Someone is watching us. From the door.”

 

“I know,” Hanguang Jun murmured in return.

 

“And…?”

 

Hanguang Jun seemed to – struggle. For a moment. Then he leaned in closer, his breath tracing Wei Wuxian’s jaw. Said against his ear, “It would be better to ensure any spies have no – doubts.”

 

Ah. Politics.

 

If Jin Zixun could claim the marriage was unconsummated, that Hanguang Jun was harbouring a rebel rather than a bride, then Wei Wuxian would be fucked in a very different way than he’d expected to be on his wedding night, and Hanguang Jun and his clan along with him. The emperor wasn’t merciful to those who defied his laws. Wei Wuxian knew that very well.

 

Fucking Jin, thought Wei Wuxian. Ah, Jin Zixun was determined to see him dead, wasn’t he? All because Wei Wuxian hadn’t wanted to help him commit genocide. A true credit to the imperial family, was Jin Zixun.

 

“Come with me to bed, my lord,” Wei Wuxian said. He didn’t say it loudly, exactly – but he didn’t whisper it either.

 

“I won’t touch you,” Hanguang Jun insisted, keeping his voice soft so that their spy – or was it spies? – could not hear them.

 

“I don’t see how you can avoid it,” Wei Wuxian answered, dragging Hanguang Jun back onto the bed with him. He fell back against it, flat on the sheets, Hanguang Jun’s hands releasing him as he sprawled out.

 

He received his answer almost immediately. Hanguang Jun reached up. Pulled a cord. Gauze fell, rippling and falling still, surrounding the bed in a dark haze.

 

“I appreciate privacy,” said the lord, when Wei Wuxian blinked at him.

 

“I can see that,” said Wei Wuxian, trying not to sound too appreciative. “But our shadows are still visible.” He rose up onto his elbows. Ignored the twinge in his side. “You’ll have to do something.”

 

Hanguang Jun watched Wei Wuxian with cold, careful eyes. Then, with slow, avoidable motions he crouched over Wei Wuxian’s body. He lay his palms flat by Wei Wuxian’s head, his black hair surrounding them both in a dark veil. He legs nudged between Wei Wuxian’s own, parting them just enough for Hanguang Jun to balance between them, his robes brushing Wei Wuxian’s own modestly clothed thighs.

 

Wei Wuxian supposed, from a distance, it would possibly look like they were having some truly terrible sex. Maybe.

 

“A little movement would be more convincing,” Wei Wuxian whispered, and to his delight, watched the warlord’s ears darken with a blush. Suddenly, some of the fear he could barely acknowledge eased.

 

“I am not truly lying with you,” he gritted out.

 

“Congress. Touching. Lying.” Wei Wuxian’s mouth curled into a smile. Like the fool with a death wish that he was, he reached his hands up and… touched Hanguang Jun’s hair. “You can call it fucking, my lord. I won’t mind.”

 

Hanguang Jun’s jaw tightened. Without warning, he took Wei Wuxian by the wrists and pinned his hands flat against the bed.

 

Wei Wuxian let out a surprised noise that turned into a moan. And then into a louder moan, as he decided that if he had to embarrass himself, he could at least put his shame to good use.

 

“My lord,” he gasped out, throwing his head back, spreading his legs out across the bed and drawing up his knees. He dug his heels into the bed, drawing them back and forth in a movement that hopefully said, I’m definitely being fucked, to anyone watching from a distance.

 

For a delightful moment, Hanguang Jun looked like he’d been beaten over the head with something heavy. Then his expression sharpened and he said, “Lan Zhan.”

 

Wei Wuxian stopped his theatrics long enough to say, “What?”

 

“If I were…” His voice faded. Then firmed. “My courtesy name is Lan Wangji. But you would call me Lan Zhan.”

 

If I were fucking you. He hadn’t said it and yet it felt like he’d said it. Wei Wuxian realised, that he was hot all over, burning up as if he really had been writhing in bed out of pleasure. And yes, of course – he was hard. Achingly.

 

He was suddenly glad that he hadn’t actually managed to remove his clothes.

 

“Lan Zhan,” he gasped out, with a whine that should have sounded false and was false but also made Hanguang Jun’s eyes darken and Wei Wuxian curl his toes against the bedding in a way that was a little too damn real for comfort. “Lan Zhan, please.”

 

Hanguang Jun – Lan Wangji – shifted above him. Shifted once more. Wei Wuxian wondered how that looked from a distance, because to Wei Wuxian it looked… pretty great.

 

“Make noise,” hissed Wei Wuxian.

 

“I am not loud,” Lan Wangji replied.

 

“Then it’s lucky this isn’t real, isn’t it?” Wei Wuxian said, more sharply than he should have. He winced. “Sorry. That was-”

 

“Good,” Lan Wangji said. His voice was deep, no longer a whisper. A little husky. And pleased. Something for show. “Good, Wei Wuxian.”

 

Wei Wuxian swallowed. Said, “Call me Wei Ying.”

 

“Wei Ying,” he repeated. He released Wei Wuxian’s wrists – brushed his thumbs over them, once, in a gentle apology. He wasn’t touching Wei Wuxian at all now, with anything but his robes, the accidental brush of hair. “Wei Ying is so good to his lord.”

 

Wei Wuxian did his best not to whimper.

 

Instead, he panted, knocked his hands hard against the bed – and truly, fucking was ridiculous, when you had to think about it – and then let out a high gasp that he hoped sounded like he’d come.

 

Lan Wangji rolled off him. Lay flat against the bed, as Wei Wuxian sat up, still breathing heavily. He couldn’t hear anything. The door, half visible through the gauze, was still slightly ajar, but Wei Wuxian felt fairly sure their watcher was gone.

 

“Do you think…?”

 

“Sleep,” said Hanguang Jun. His voice brooked no argument.  

 

“But-”

 

“Wei Wuxian. Enough.”

 

Wei Wuxian lay back down. A few minutes later, he heard the lord’s breath grow even.

 

Had the man actually fallen asleep?

 

He sat up once more and looked over at Hanguang Jun. The man’s eyes were closed. His breathing was still even, deep.

 

Wei Wuxian allowed him one moment to marvel at the fact that this man had saved his life. Had still not fucked him. Had fallen asleep next to Wei Wuxian – a man who had killed multiple warlords in their beds – without a single second of hesitation.

 

He loosened his own robes. Bit down on his lip. Very carefully scraped his own nails against his throat. His collarbones. He repeated the movements until he was sure he’d left marks.

 

Wei Wuxian looked down at his own wrists then, where the faint pressure marks of Lan Wangji’s grip were already fading. With a faint sigh, he brought the first wrist up to his mouth, set his teeth gently against it, and began to suck.

Chapter Text

It was almost morning when Wei Wuxian woke in a panic and thought, what the hell am I doing here?

 

He held himself very, very still on the bed. His heart was thumping rabbit-fast in his chest. He could feel half-snippets of a dozen different memories clawing at his eyelids: Wen Qing sheathing her bloody sword to her side as she ran; Wen Ning tucked A-Yuan into his cloak; the Wen running for their lives, as Wei Wuxian turned, the sounds of the Jin horsemen drawing ever closer behind him-

 

Wen Qing saying, Come and find us, Wei Wuxian, please. We’ll be waiting there-

 

He needed to get out.

 

He slipped off of the bed. Walked slowly across the room, the faint light of the dawn all he had to guide him. Lan Wangji still lay asleep on the bed, the gold of morning washing over his face. He was unfairly handsome.

 

He’d looked so good, holding himself over Wei Wuxian last night. It had made Wei Wuxian want things he shouldn’t have.

 

Wei Wuxian only went as far as the corridor outside the warlord’s bedchamber. Leaned against the wall, sucking in desperate breaths. Shit, he was so tired. It was the kind of tiredness sleep couldn’t fix. He felt like he hadn’t rested since the day Lotus Pier burned. And he couldn’t rest now – couldn’t let himself. He still had work to do. Still had a promise to keep. And Hanguang Jun – Lan Wangji – was… well, he seemed honourable in a way that real people weren’t, and he was powerful and fucking hot and he blushed so prettily, but he wasn’t a fix for Wei Wuxian’s problems.

 

Lan Wangji had said he owed Wei Wuxian a debt. But how far did a debt really stretch? How long before Lan Wangji decided Wei Wuxian was too much of a burden, and threw him back to the dogs?

 

He raised a hand to his face, rubbing his eyes.

 

“I’m sorry,” he whispered to himself. To the Wens, who were waiting for him, and would keep waiting for him, because Wei Wuxian was stuck here for a while yet. “I’m doing my best.”

 

You.”

 

He was slammed back against the wall. In a blink, there was the point of a blade hovering at his throat.

 

Ah, fuck.

 

“I knew you’d try to escape,” Jin Zixun said triumphantly. His breath stank of liquor. His eyes were bloodshot. Wei Wuxian was pretty sure he hadn’t slept at all.

 

“Lord Jin,” Wei Wuxian said calmly, controlling his breath and raising his hands up against the wall, letting his mouth curl into an easy smile. “I know you’re not the smartest man, but do you think I’d try and escape from the middle of a warlord’s fortress in nothing but this?” He gestured down at his inner robe with the crook of a finger. The robe only loosely bound, open enough to reveal his collarbones and a flash of his bare chest. “I’m only what I appear to be, my lord.”

 

“A filthy mercenary who stole my kills?” Jin Zixun sneered.

 

“A new bride, Lord Jin,” Wei Wuxian said, batting his lashes. And then, because he loved fucking with Jin Zixun, he really did, he said, “I came out here to get some air. I was quite overwhelmed by my wedding night.”

 

Jin Zixun bared his teeth.

 

“Tell me,” he gritted out, “where they are.” When Wei Wuxian blinked at him in fake confusion, he leaned forward, the tip of his blade perilously close to cutting skin. “That bitch Wen Qing, I’m going to find her and I’m going to kill her, I’m going to kill all of them until every Wen is dead-”

 

“My lord!” The doe-eyed Jin man who’d stayed by Jin Zixun’s side all through the feast raced down the corridor. “My lord, if you harm him, it will break imperial law, he is Hanguang Jun’s property-”

 

“What does a dead whore cost anyway?” Jin Zixun scoffed. “A few horses? A pile of gold? If he wants another whore, I could just give you to him, Meng Yao.”

 

“The cost of killing a man’s claimed bride is the attacker’s manhood,” a voice said. Deep and calm. Lan Wangji emerged from the room, his appearance impeccable, his face entirely unfeeling. He held an unsheathed sword. “Lord Jin should be aware of his uncle’s own laws.” His gaze flickered, briefly, to Wei Wuxian’s throat. “And Lord Jin should unhand my wife, or I will be forced to remove his hand from his wrist.” A beat. “That is the price of damage. Edict three hundred and eighty-seven.”

 

Ah, had Wei Wuxian’s husband swallowed the text of the imperial laws, to know them so well?

 

“My lord,” the doe-eyed Meng Yao entreated.

 

Jin Zixun’s hand trembled.

 

“Fine! Fine,” snarled Jin Zixun. He lowered his blade. “Take him.”

 

Jin Zixun stepped back, still vibrating with obvious rage.

 

“You should not have left my bed, wife,” Lan Wangji said viciously, grabbing Wei Wuxian by one wrist. Wei Wuxian stumbled forward against Lan Wangji, dragged by the implacable strength of that arm, and definitely, definitely didn’t feel a black wave arousal crash through him.

 

Lan Wangji’s grip immediately loosened even as he held Wei Wuxian close, hip to chest, his thumb shaping an apology. And that was – good. And right. Because this was just for show. But for the moment – the very small moment he’d believed Lan Wangji was angry – Wei Wuxian had… wanted.

 

He hadn’t known he… liked that.

 

Distantly, he heard Jin Zixun swear out an oath, and Meng Yao say something hurriedly in return. The sound of footsteps. Some of the tension eased out of him. Well. That was done.

 

Then he heard a hiss escape Lan Wangji’s teeth. He looked at Lan Wangji’s face, and realised he was looking down at Wei Wuxian’s wrist.

 

Wei Wuxian’s bruised, teeth-marked wrists.

 

Lan Wangji looked furious. He looked like he was seriously contemplating taking that sword and chasing after Jin Zixun and skewering him through. And Wei Wuxian could have explained what he’d done but Jin Zixun was still terribly close and he couldn’t risk it. At least, that’s what he told himself.

 

“Don’t you recognise your own marks, my lord?” Wei Wuxian asked quickly.

 

He touched his free wrist to his mouth, hoping Lan Wangji would understand what Wei Wuxian had done. Pressed his teeth to the skin.

 

If anything, Lan Wangji’s gaze seemed to darken. Then he let out a wordless noise and dragged Wei Wuxian back into the bedroom.

 

“Stay here,” he said roughly, then left, shutting the door with a pointed click behind him.

 

-

 

Jin Zixun and his men left an hour after dawn. The Lans watched them go from the walls of the fortress. Lan Wangji insisted on having Wei Wuxian stand at his side.

 

“You cannot leave,” Lan Wangji said. He was still watching the Jin leave, his eyes fixed on the distance. But he was definitely speaking to Wei Wuxian, because he was using that low, intimate tone he used when he wanted no one but Wei Wuxian to hear him. “Jin Zixun will discover it if you run,” he said. “The emperor will come to know of it. Jin Guangshan will turn on my clan, and upon my brother also. You must stay.”

 

Wei Wuxian let out a shaky breath. He knew. But.


The Wens.

 

“I thought you owed me a debt, Hanguang Jun,” said Wei Wuxian.

 

Finally, Lan Wangji looked at him. He didn’t say a word.

 

Under that gaze, Wei Wuxian felt like something that had been cut open, all its soft and ugly insides displayed. He had to look away.

 

“Whatever my lord husband says,” he said eventually. “But ah, how will I entertain myself? Does my lord need his wife to manage the household accounts?”

 

“No need.”

 

“Good, I’m terrible with money.” Wei Wuxian tapped his lower lip thoughtfully. “Ah, perhaps you need your wife to serenade you.”

 

“I play music,” said Lan Wangji, which Wei Wuxian guessed was a no.

 

Wei Wuxian played the dizi, but decided to say, “I sound like a dying animal when I sing, so that’s for the best.”

 

Lan Wangji’s mouth twitched. It wasn’t clear if he was suppressing a smile or a scowl.

 

“I’m not going to be good company, my lord,” Wei Wuxian continued, with obnoxious cheer. “The only things I like to do are drink and fight, and you Lan don’t care for alcohol.”

 

“It is forbidden,” Lan Wangji agreed.

 

“And a good bride doesn’t go around brawling, I expect.”

 

Lan Wangji looked at him. Moved to speak – and was promptly interrupted.

 

“Hanguang Jun,” one servant said, approaching with a bow. “Your brother has sent a missive. If you would…”

 

“Yes,” said Lan Wangji. He was still looking at Wei Wuxian. “Go and rest,” he ordered. Then he swept away, leaving Wei Wuxian to contemplate the dull, empty life that lay ahead of him.

 

-

 

When Wei Wuxian returned to their room, he found his sword on the bed.

 

-

 

Wei Wuxian healed. That took time.

 

But he also practiced his swordsmanship in a training yard at the centre of the fortress, shown to him by a helpful Lan girl who told him she’d been asked to direct him by Hanguang Jun himself. He usually went in the afternoons, when the Lan were busy elsewhere – meditating or something equally as boring he assumed – but once he went early in the morning, and found a gaggle of Lan children learning their sword forms. He practically melted. All the Lans were dour and cold, but what made for terrifying adults made for adorable children. It didn’t help that the children were clearly fascinated by him, watching him practice in his own corner with wide, curious eyes in chubby, solemn faces.

 

After that, he made a point of going early in the morning, and in short order he was training the children in some of the simplest forms he’d learned during his own childhood in Lotus Pier. Their tutor allowed it with only the mildest disapproval.

 

“I can hardly you stop you,” she said, when he made a token effort to gain her permission to teach some of the older ones how to properly grapple an opponent barehanded.

 

“Ah, you can try and stop me, I wouldn’t mind,” Wei Wuxian said cheerily, as he gathered up the practice swords – it didn’t hurt to make himself useful, now and again. “I’m just a minor wife. You won’t see me getting haughty just because of who I roll around with.”

 

“Language,” she said, but without any heat. She’d already grown used to Wei Wuxian’s ways. Then she looked him up and down and sniffed. He was reminded, with a pang, of Wen Qing. “We do not gossip here, Master Wei. But that is not how our lord refers to you.”

 

Wei Wuxian looked at her.

 

“What does he call me then?”

 

“We Lan do not gossip,” she said. And refused to say anything more. When Wei Wuxian pressed, she said, “Ask Hanguang Jun, if you’re so curious.”

 

That finally shut him up.

 

-

 

Ask Hanguang Jun.

 

As if Wei Wuxian didn’t spend every night lying next to him, as Lan Wangji slept liked the dead, thinking about all the things he wanted to ask Lan Wangji to do to him. Sweet things. Dark things, that made his insides burn and ache with want and shame.

 

Lan Wangji had been gone for two days, dealing with border skirmishes apparently, and Wei Wuxian had spent both nights alone fucking into his fist and biting down on his own sleeve to stop himself making any noise when he thought of Lan Wangji pinning his wrists or staring at him with dark, furious eyes. Or, hells, speaking to him in that low, intimate voice, telling Wei Wuxian to obey or else, that he was good, calling him his wife-

 

Wei Wuxian stepped into the bedroom, still sweaty from the training yard, sword at his side. And stopped.

 

His husband was back.

 

Lan Wangji was sat upon the edge of the bed, removing a silver pin from his hair. His own sword was on his knees.

 

Without pausing to think, Wei Wuxian approached him. Lan Wangji looked up with those cold, careful eyes of his.

 

“Wei Ying,” he acknowledged.

 

Wei Wuxian did not know where exactly Lan Wangji had been, but the warlord smelled of mountain winds and sandalwood, and his sword was freshly oiled, newly cleaned to remove any trace of blood. Wei Wuxian knew better than most than there was nothing beautiful about killing. But something about the thought of those strong, pale arms swinging a blade…

 

His throat felt dry. Skin hot.

 

He unsheathed his sword. Lan Wangji continued to stare at him.

 

“Take the sword from me, my lord,” said Wei Wuxian quietly.

 

Lan Wangji did not move.

 

Usually, when he decided to do something this monumentally stupid, he heard his brother’s voice in his head. But right now Wei Wuxian could hear nothing but his own heartbeat. His own stupid want. He took a step closer.

 

“Take the sword from me, Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian said, and saw the shudder that ran through the man at the sound of his own name. “Take it from me. Show me that you can.”

 

Something like understanding flickered through Lan Wangji’s eyes. He placed his own sword to the side and stood in one elegant motion. He took the hilt of Wei Wuxian’s sword. Wei Wuxian gripped on tighter.

 

Staring into Wei Wuxian’s eyes, Lan Wangji slid his fingers up Wei Wuxian’s hand – up over the grip of his fingers, the hollows of his knuckles, the fine bones of the back of his hand. His wrist. Ever so slowly he pressed his own fingers in. And in. The pressure built, until Wei Wuxian could feel jolts of pain up his arm, enough to make his eyes sting.

 

His hand spasmed. His gaze was on Lan Wangji’s when let out a gasp of pain, open-mouthed, and the sword clattered to the floor.

 

 

Lan Wangji’s grip loosened. But Wei Wuxian was still gasping. The pain had melted into pure heat, melting through him, and it was – so good. So sweet. “Lan Zhan,” he breathed, pleading. And then Lan Wangji was biting out a groan. Leaning in.

 

Kissing him.

 

It was a filthy kiss. Wet, open-mouthed, their tongues meeting in a way that made Wei Wuxian shudder all over and press against Lan Wangji, trying to fit their bodies together with a hunger that came over him with terrifying strength. Lan Wangji deepened the kiss, taking Wei Wuxian’s mouth with a pressure that was bruising and Wei Wuxian gripped onto him with a fist in that beautiful white robe, his sword hand lax and aching at his side.

 

“If I had really taken you to bed on our wedding night,” Lan Wangji said roughly, pulling back for air, “I would have marked you here.” His mouth traced a line along Wei Wuxian’s jaw, down to his throat. Wei Wuxian tipped his head back automatically, giving Lan Wangji room to breathe soft against the tendons of his throat. “Your neck. Your thighs. I would have used my teeth. Made you beg.”

 

There was nothing Wei Wuxian wanted more, had ever wanted more, than for Lan Wangji to set his teeth against that skin and bite. He wanted Lan Wangji to make him cry. He wanted -

 

“Wei Ying,” murmured Lan Wangji. “Ask me for what you want. You must ask.”

 

Lan Wangji lifted his head, his lips red, his eyes hungry. But he was still. Waiting for something. For Wei Wuxian to speak.

 

Do it, Wei Wuxian wanted to say. Take me, bite me, mark me.

 

But he didn’t. He knew what he wanted – what he really wanted – and he wasn’t brave enough to put it into words. The words were stuck in his throat. He’d thought for so long of asking Lan Wangji for things, so many things, but now they were both here he didn’t know how.

 

He said nothing for a long time. Far too long. And Lan Wangji released a breath. Drew back. His expression was unreadable.

 

“I will sleep elsewhere tonight,” Lan Wangji said quietly. And then he was gone.

Chapter Text

Wei Wuxian walked the walls of the fortress. The Lan left him alone, which was good, because Wei Wuxian was in the mood to sulk extravagantly.

 

He should have said something. Anything.

 

He swung a foot out, kicking a loose piece of stone. Someone would have to tell Lan Wangji the walls needed better upkeep. Not Wei Wuxian though. Wei Wuxian could never talk to Lan Wangji again, because he only wanted to say one thing to Lan Wangji and for some reason he couldn’t say it.

 

No. That was a lie. He’d known exactly why he couldn’t say it. But that made the wanting no easier. It didn’t make the way Lan Wangji had let go of him, walked away from him, any easier either.

 

Something dark moved overhead. Wei Wuxian looked up.

 

The Wen clan had once bred birds to carry messages for them.

 

They’d kept the breeding and training of those birds a complete secret because of the unusual skill their messenger birds possessed: when those birds reached their destination, they would only land and give up their message to a person who knew the distinct call they’d been trained to obey.

 

Wen Chao had used dark, ostentatious hawks, tasselled with gold. Wei Wuxian knew, because he’d shot Wen Chao’s favourite from the sky himself. But Wen Qing was cleverer than her dead, distant cousins. The bird Wei Wuxian saw circling overhead was unremarkable, apart from the red cloth bound around one of its feet. Wei Wuxian’s breath hitched.

 

He’d tied that to A-Yuan’s wrist himself. See, I’ll still be with you A-Yuan! I’ll come back, I promise. You don’t need to cry. Let your uncle hold you, it’s time to go-

 

Wei Wuxian let out a low, swooping whistle of noise and the bird turned in the sky. Flew down to meet him. It perched on his outstretched arm, talons digging viciously into his sleeve.

 

He took the message from its ribboned foot with shaking hands.

 

“I don’t have any food for you,” he muttered. “I’m sorry.”

 

The bird bit him once in compensation, then flung itself back into the air.

There were no words on the parchment. Only a drawing of a skull.

 

Wei Wuxian sat down on the ground, staring at that skull through blurring eyes. To anyone else, the message would likely have looked ominous. But Wei Wuxian looked at it and felt relief so complete it had taken his legs out from under him.

 

They Wens had made it. The Jins hadn’t caught them. They’d run and hidden themselves, just as planned.  They were alive.

 

He needed to go to them.

 

-

 

Escaping the Silent Fort was easier than it should have been, because no one… tried to stop Wei Wuxian from going. No one watched him, as he dug out his ancient leathers, and grabbed his sword – as he slipped out with a merchant carrying away the remains of a delivery, under a sack in his cart. For some reason he was trusted.

 

That made the fact he was betraying that trust much harder.

 

He travelled on foot until the deep dark of the night. It was like being his old self again, except that he wasn’t hungry or thirsty, his ribs unbruised and his side healed, the only ache on him the memory of Lan Wangji’s fingers grinding down on his wrist.

 

He heard the sound of hooves behind him, in the distance. He should have hidden or run, but the noise was coming from where he’d been – from Hanguang Jun’s fort – so he waited on the road, sword still sheathed, as the noise drew closer.

 

A single rider stopped before him. Dismounted.

 

Even in the night dark, Wei Wuxian recognised Lan Wangji’s face. Lan Wangji looked at him for a long moment. Took a step closer.

 

Wei Wuxian took one back. Lan Wangji froze.

 

“Please,” said Wei Wuxian. He swallowed, voice hoarse. Ah, why was this so hard? “Don’t take me back.”

 

“Wei Ying.” He sounded wretched.

 

“I’ll come back,” Wei Wuxian said quickly. “Lan Zhan. I promise I’ll come back but I… right now, I need to do something.”

 

Lan Wangji stared at him.

 

“You are not my prisoner,” said Lan Wangji, eventually. “I am sorry I led you to believe otherwise.”

 

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian whispered.

 

Slowly, Lan Wangji approached. Reached under his cloak and removed a pouch.

 

“For you,” he said.

 

Wei Wuxian took it from him. Inside the pouch were… gold coins. A lot of gold coins. A letter, marked with Hanguang Jun’s seal, proclaiming Wei Wuxian as under his protection. One small dagger, sheathed but no doubt wickedly sharp.

 

“If you wish to return to Lotus Pier, Sandu Shengshou would welcome you home,” said Lan Wangji. “If you wish to go elsewhere, I can arrange a retinue to accompany you. And if you wish to go alone… you will have money and what protection I can offer with my name.” After a pause, he drew back his hands, and said, “I did not have the chance to obtain food.”

 

Wei Wuxian let out a shuddering breath.

 

“I can’t accept this,” he said.

 

“You can.”

 

“Lan Zhan, why are you so – so nice to me?” Wei Wuxian asked helplessly. “I’m a burden to you. You saved my life but I… I can’t stop causing you trouble.”

 

“You’re no trouble.” Lan Wangji’s voice was quiet.

 

“Liar. You’ll really let me leave? Even if all those people who trust you pay for it? If the Jin come for you?”

 

“Yes,” Lan Wangji said simply.

 

Why?”

 

“Look at me, Wei Ying.” Wei Wuxian looked. Lan Wangji’s expression was soft. His eyes were tender, unbearably so. And Wei Wuxian could only stare, and stare, as Lan Wangji let him see everything that lay in his heart. Just like that. “You know why,” Lan Wangji said finally.

 

Wei Wuxian closed his eyes. His heart ached.

 

“Jin Zixun wanted me to murder the last of the Wens. But there were only children left. Old men and women. And two people I... I considered my friends. Wen Ning. Wen Qing. I promised to protect them. Wen Qing - I told her a place she could go, and they’ve made it there.”

 

It was a huge leap of faith, to even tell Lan Wangji this. Even Jin Zixun hadn’t been sure if Wei Wuxian knew where the surviving Wens had gone. But now Lan Wangji knew.

 

“I need to make sure they’re safe,” Wei Wuxian said. “I need to help them. I owe them that.”

 

He heard the soft shudder of Lan Wangji’s breath.

 

“You are one man, Wei Ying,” said Lan Wangji. “You cannot protect them alone.”

 

Wei Wuxian laughed raggedly.

 

“I know. But I have to try. Who am I if I don’t try? I’ve done many terrible things for the sake of protecting the people I love.” He opened his eyes, looking down at the ground. At anything but Lan Wangji’s face. “I’m not ashamed of that. I’ve killed by trickery and killed to make a point.  I’ve killed for money. But if I let innocent people die – if I help make it happen – what am I? What justice is there? Lan Zhan. I won’t ask you to save them,” whispered Wei Wuxian. “You… you’ve done enough for me. I know I’m betraying you by leaving. And I can vow to you that I’ll return, but you have no reason to believe me.  But you need to know, I wouldn’t leave if I had a choice.”

 

“Then do not,” said Lan Wangji.

 

Wei Wuxian shook his head. But Lan Wangji was still speaking.

 

“I told you I was quelling border skirmished,” Lan Wangji said. “But I lied to you. I was not.”

 

He held out his palm. “Look,” he said.

 

On his palm was a disc. Painted wood. On it was a carving of a sun. But each ray of light emanating from it was a symbol: a beast’s head. A cloud. A lotus.

 

The Nie. The Lans. The Jiangs.

 

“I know you were once a brother to Sandu Shengshou, because he told me so,” Lan Wangji told him. “I have spoken with your brother and with Jiang Yanli. With Nie Mingjue. With lords of great power and lesser. And we have built, together, an alliance against the emperor. Jin Guangshan has long been unfit. And now together we are going to remove him from power.”

 

Wei Wuxian swallowed. “You… you’re going to try to overthrow the emperor?”

 

“We will succeed,” Lan Wangji said, steady and sure. “My brother has a spy among the Jin. I would not have found you without the assistance of that person.”

 

“You shouldn’t tell me so much,” Wei Wuxian said, alarmed and hopeful. Jiang Cheng. Did his brother still care about him? Still think of him? “Lan Zhan, you shouldn’t just trust people!”

 

“You are not people,” said Lan Wangji. “And you have trusted me with your secrets. As I should have trusted you with my own from the very moment I found you. I was a fool, to keep my silence.” He was quiet, for a moment. Then: “You would not have run, if I had trusted you.”

 

Wei Wuxian said nothing.

 

“You may still go, if you wish,” said Lan Wangji, into the silence. “I will not keep you. But let me help you save the Wen. I will call upon the assistance of my brother. We can bring them to safety. Wen Qing is a doctor, yes?” Wei Wuxian nodded numbly. “There is always need for physicians, at Cloud Recesses.”

 

“You’ll help me save them,” said Wei Wuxian.

 

“Yes.”

 

“You’ll… you’ll risk angering the Jin. To save them.”

 

“They will be angrier when we go to war with them,” Lan Wangji said.

 

Was it possible to fall in love with someone in a single moment?

 

It was so cold. The wind was blowing through the mountains. And Lan Wangji was watching Wei Wuxian with soft eyes, with an open palm, with an offer to save Wen lives, and Wei Wuxian along with them.

 

“Yes,” he said eventually, through the ache of his own throat and heart. “Help me save the Wen, Lan Zhan. Please.”

 

-

 

Wei Wuxian had to wait, after that. Wait for a messenger to be sent to central Lan territories; wait for another message to be sent back. But they were travelling soon enough, Wei Wuxian riding his own horse, a Lan cloak of white thrown over his shoulders.

 

Lang Wangji’s brother waited for them on the outskirts of Lan territory. He looked nearly identical to Lan Wangji, but his expression was softer. Zewu Jun, the scholar warlord - the one who guarded Lan ancestral lands – approached them with a smile.

 

“Wangji,” he said. He looked at Wei Wuxian, and offered him another smile, more guarded this time. “And this must be Wei Wuxian.”


“Zewu Jun,” said Wei Wuxian. Bowed his head. It was probably best to keep his mouth shut as long as possible. The more he spoke, the more likely he was to offend Lan Wangji’s brother. It was probably best to wait to do that until after Zewu Jun had helped him save the Wens. “It’s an honour to meet you.”

 

Perfunctory courtesies done, Zewu Jun returned his focus to his brother.

 

“It would be better to wait, of course,” said Zewu Jun mildly, as if continuing a previous argument with Lan Wangji, who stared at him with the resolute blankness. “To enter Jin territory now is to show our hand.”

 

“Sandu Shengshou and Chifeng Zun are prepared for war,” Lan Wangji said calmly. “As we all are. Jin Guanshan will fall or he will not. Delay will not assist us.”

 

Zewu Jun shook his head with a faint sigh.

 

“Then we ride,” he said. “Lead the way, Wangji.”

 

-

 

The Burial Mounds were on what had once been Wen territory. Now this land belonged to the Jin. But the emperor’s kin had claimed far too much land, too greedily, and a mass grave on land where nothing could grow held little interest to them.

 

This was where the Wen had agreed to hide, when Wei Wuxian had refused to kill them for Jin Zixun’s coin, and decided to save them instead.

 

There were only two fighters among the surviving Wen, and both of them stood together shielding their sorry little camp as the Lan riders approach. Wen Qing had her sword out. Wen Ning had his bow drawn, ready to fight. It was only when Wei Wuxian yelled out their names, windmilling his arms, that Wen Ning finally lowered his bow. Wen Qing sheathed her sword a moment later, when Zewu Jun dismounted his horse and offered her a bow of respect, his voice mild as he explained the Lan clan had come to offer their protection to Lady Wen and her people.

 

Wei Wuxian practically flung himself off his horse. He strode over to the Wens, looking at their camp – at Uncle Four and Grandmother Wen, and Wen Ning beaming with relief – at the makeshift huts with figures peering out from behind drapes -

 

“Brother Xian! Brother Xian!”


A small figure was running towards him. Wei Wuxian kneeled down, and A-Yuan flung himself into Wei Wuxian’s waiting arms. He held the boy tight, smelling his soft hair, feeling those small hands grip onto him. Alive. They were all alive.

 

“There you go, A-Yuan,” he said fondly. “I told you I’d come back, didn’t I? It’s going to be alright.”

 

-

 

After the war, Zewu Jun would accompany the Wen survivors to Cloud Recesses, where they could practice their healing traditions in peace. But for now, they remained in Lan Wangji’s own fort, where they could be best protected. A set of rooms was arranged for them, deep in the centre of the fort. Food was laid out, and baths, and honestly Wei Wuxian was fairly sure if anyone had said a single nice word to them, Wen Ning would have started crying. Thank goodness for Lan restraint.

 

Wei Wuxian helped them settle in, cheerfully ignoring the look Wen Qing gave him when she worked out that Wei Wuxian was more than a guest of Hanguang Jun’s.

 

“You can’t talk about it in front of the child,” he said, when she tried to speak. A-Yuan was still clinging tenaciously to his leg, and didn’t look like he was willing to let go. “Think of his innocent ears!”

 

“Wei Wuxian,” she said sharply. “We are going to talk about this.” Her gaze was narrow. She said, deliberately soft, “If you’re here against your will…”

 

“Ah, no,” he said. Smiled. “Trust me. I want to be here.”

 

She pursed her lips.

 

“You’re a good liar.”

 

He stepped closer to her, dragging A-Yuan’s weight along with him. Touched his knuckles to her cheek. It was more affection than Wen Qing would usually have tolerated, but she allowed it now. They were alive, after all. If they couldn’t be soft now, when could they?

 

“I’m not lying,” he said. “I’m happy here. I promise.”

 

-

 

That night, he forced himself to be brave.

 

He dressed in his old leathers again. His boots. Wrapped his own red ribbon in his hair.

 

Went to the bedroom he shared with his husband.

 

Lan Wangji was sitting on the edge of the bed. He looked as if he’d been waiting for Wei Wuxian to come to him. Perhaps he had been.

 

 

 

 

“You told me to ask you for what I want,” said Wei Wuxian, without greeting him; without anything but the thud of his own heart, which said, I’m home. “And I think that’s because you know what I want, don’t you Lan Zhan? And you…” Wei Wuxian trailed off. Shook his head. “I don’t know how to say it,” he said.

 

Lan Wangji said nothing. His silence was a waiting silence – not angry or impatient, not demanding. He was still and quiet and looking at Wei Wuxian with utter gentleness.

 

“I couldn’t ask,” Wei Wuxian said finally. “Not then. You can’t ask for what I want if you don’t trust someone.”

 

He looked down at his hands. Thought of the Wens, sleeping safe in their own quarters, in warm beds with full bellies, all thanks to Lan Wangji.

 

“But I trust you now, Lan Zhan,” he said, raising his head. Meeting Lan Wangji’s eyes.

 

“I trust you too, Wei Ying.”

 

Wei Wuxian scoffed. “You have absolutely no reason to.”

 

“Nonetheless,” Lan Wangji said calmly.

 

Wei Wuxian laughed, a little helplessly.

 

“Ah, Lan Zhan,” he said. “You’re too good. I want you so much. And I - I want so much from you.”

 

“If you want to ask, you may ask,” Lan Wangji said. He remained where he was, seated on the edge of the bed. To anyone who hadn’t lain beside him night after night, he would probably have looked unmoved. But Wei Wuxian could see the tension in his hands and his jaw. The leashed feeling in him, waiting to be let out.

 

It was good to know that Wei Wuxian wasn’t the only one practically vibrating out of his skin.

 

For a moment, Wei Wuxian allowed a little silence, and just… stared, at Lan Wangji. His broad shoulders. That long hair. That perfect face and those war-callused, elegant hands.

 

Wei Wuxian wanted him so fucking much.  

 

“Hanguang Jun took me as his wife under false pretences,” Wei Wuxian said. But he smiled as he said it; let his voice sink into something purring and predatory, so Lan Wangji would understand that this was Wei Wuxian trusting him. This was Wei Wuxian asking. “You didn’t defeat me, Lan Zhan. You just took advantage of the fact that I was already on my knees.”

 

“I see,” Lan Wangji said. “I have been deceitful.” His voice was as calm as ever, but there was a faint curve to his mouth. “How shall I make up for my falsehood, Wei Ying?”

 

“Try and capture me yourself, as you should have, Hanguang Jun.” Wei Wuxian let his voice deepen, falling into the role. As he spoke, he took up his sword. Sheathed it. Lan Wangji watched him. “Fight me. And if you defeat me – if – then you can take me. Use me however you see fit.”

 

“Wei Ying.” His voice was rough.

 

“I want to beg, Lan Zhan,” he said, feeling heat coil inside him, dark and sharp. “I want to fight you. I want to say no. And I want you to make me obey.” He licked his own lower lip and watched Lan Wangji’s gaze fix on the motion. “I want you to take me as your bride, Lan Zhan,” breathed Wei Wuxian. “Is that what you want?”

 

Lan Wangji’s gaze was impossibly dark.

 

“I will need to know if you truly desire to refuse me,” said Lan Wangji.

 

Wei Wuxian couldn’t imagine that happening. But he didn’t argue. If this was what Lan Wangji needed from him, he’d provide it.

 

Yunmeng,” he said. “If I say it, you’ll know.”

 

Lan Wangji stood. Drew on his outer robe. His still bloodstained white cloak. He took up his sword.

 

The face he turned on Wei Wuxian was the one Wei Wuxian first saw, that night he bled on the snow on his knees before Lan Wangji.

 

“Run,” said Lan Wangji.

 

Wei Wuxian didn’t need to be told twice. He turned on his heel, barrelling out of the door.

 

It was easy to sink into the grip of the idea, as he raced down dark corridors, the sound of his own rushing blood in his ears: He was still the old Wei Wuxian, an outcast and a mercenary, running for his life. Hanguang Jun was chasing him. Hanguang Jun wanted to use him. He didn’t want Hanguang Jun to catch him.

 

But he did want it, of course. He just wanted them both to earn it.

 

He pelted down a side corridor. He’d made sure to run in the opposite direction of shared dormitories and the rooms given to the Wens, and here there was the silence of rooms long unused. There was a smell of dust in the air. Moonlight came in through narrow windows. In the spill of light, Wei Wuxian saw his own shadow – and Lan Wangji’s, drawing ever closer.

 

How are you so silent? Wei Wuxian marvelled internally. He could barely hear the thud of Lan Wangji’s footsteps. There was no noise but the whispering rustle of his cloak – the sharp hiss of metal as he drew his sword.

 

Their shadows melded. Wei Wuxian gave a sharp exhale and drew his own sword, twisting to meet Lan Wangji’s blade with his own. There was a clang as steel met steel. Over their swords, Wei Wuxian met Lan Wangji’s eyes.

 

“Hanguang Jun,” he said, baring his teeth.

 

“Wei Wuxian.” Lan Wangji’s voice was dark. “Yield.”

 

“Ah no,” said Wei Wuxian. “I don’t think so.” Not yet.

 

Wei Wuxian was a trained fighter, a mercenary – a little fear wasn’t enough to break his focus. He took a step back, forcing Lan Wangji to follow, parrying blow after blow. Lan Wangji was stronger, but Wei Wuxian was quick, and he used his speed to his benefit, light on his feet. But Lan Wangji was more cunning than Wei Wuxian had expected.

 

Lan Wangji shoved him back with a heavy blow. His eyes narrowed.

 

He threw his own sword to the ground.

 

Wei Wuxian’s surprise was… clearly something Lan Wangji had wagered on, because when Wei Wuxian hesitated, Lan Wangji darted forward. Gripped Wei Wuxian’s wrist, brutally hard. The pain that shot through Wei Wuxian’s arm was sudden and undeniable. It forced his fingers open with a spasm.

 

Wei Wuxian’s sword was knocked from his hand. He had no time to react before Lan Wangji slammed him to the ground, pinning him down, a leg thrown over his own, one callused hand wrapping around his wrists and holding them flat against the floor. Wei Wuxian let out a breath that absolutely wasn’t a moan, swore, and tried to fling Lan Wangji off by abruptly shifting his own body weight against the floor. It did no good: Lan Wangji had more muscle, and now that he had Wei Wuxian beneath him, he only had to press to keep Wei Wuxian trapped.

 

His body was so warm. Wei Wuxian was already sweating, overwhelmed.

 

“I have you, Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji said. His voice was a whisper against Wei Wuxian’s ear.

 

Wei Wuxian tried to fling his head to the side, to get away from the tingling pleasure of Lan Wangji’s breath on his skin. He couldn’t think. But Lan Wangji lifted his free hand and gripped Wei Wuxian by the air, pushing his head back and leaving his neck in a bare, vulnerable arch. There was no escaping that breath anymore – no way to avoid the pleasure that melted into him and left his blood burning.

“Is this where you want to take me, my lord?” Wei Wuxian gasped out. The giddy fear and hunger in him were soaring like birds. He felt so alive. He had to crush down the urge to laugh with the pure joy of it. “Right here in this corridor?”

 

“Wei Ying knows how to act for an audience.” And then Lan Wangji wasn’t simply breathing anymore. His lips were tracing the lines of Wei Wuxian’s throat. Then his teeth. “Does Wei Ying not want everyone to see he belongs to me?”

 

“No,” said Wei Wuxian, but he was panting, and without his say his hips were moving, trying to press his aching cock against Lan Wangji’s leg, or the edge of his robes. Anything. He could imagine it – eyes on them as Lan Wangji made him pant and moan and beg. As Lan Wangji took him.

 

As Lan Wangji said, Wei Ying is mine.

 

“But Wei Ying does belong to me,” Lan Wangji said. He released Wei Wuxian’s hair and reached instead for his own, unknotting the ribbon he wore across his forehead. Then he reached for Wei Wuxian’s pinned wrists and bound them up tight. “He is my bride.”

 

Lan Wangji took his bound wrists and bit around the cloth, a harsh press of teeth followed by the softness of his tongue that made Wei Wuxian pant, helplessly aroused. He tried to shift away again, tried to struggle, but Lan Wangji only pinned him back down and moved to bite, vicious and hot, against the curve of Wei Wuxian’s jaw, the soft skin behind his ear, the edge of his throat. No softness of tongue this time. Only pain.

 

Wei Wuxian loved it.

 

When Lan Wangji began to undress him – methodically, coolly, right there in the corridor – Wei Wuxian tried to fight again. But Lan Wangji’s hand was an iron band, holding Wei Wuxian’s bound wrists pinned. His other hand was cruelly gentle, when it touched skin: nails skating the hollows of his ribs; thumbs brushing over his nipples, then twisting, in a way that made Wei Wuxian groan. He moved lower, scraping nails over Wei Wuxian’s thighs. Digging his fingers in. Bruising him where his skin was soft.

 

Wei Wuxian forced himself not to beg. Only bit his lip, then whimpered, when Lan Wangji released his wrists.

 

“Keep your hands where they are,” he commanded.

 

“Or what, Hanguang Jun?” Wei Wuxian challenged. “What will you do that you’re not?”

 

“I won’t let you come,” Lan Wangji said, in a voice entirely devoid of feeling. “No matter how you beg.”

 

Wei Wuxian struggled for air. It was suddenly hard to breathe.

 

Lan Wangji moved down his body. Wei Wuxian didn’t move his bound hands.

 

Wei Wuxian felt Lan Wangji’s hair brush his thighs. His lips. Then Lan Wangji began to bite his thighs, sucking in marks, and Wei Wuxian was gasping, squirming, the pain was melting through him like fire and his cock was achingly hard and Lan Wangji wasn’t touching it.

 

Lan Wangji nudged one of his thighs wider. Finally, a hand came up to palm his cock. For a single moment, Wei Wuxian’s vision went white with sensation – then Lan Wangji was moving again, his fingers tracing Wei Wuxian’s hole, his fingertips slippery.

 

“What…?”

 

“Oil,” said Lan Wangji. “To open you for me.”

 

“Don’t...” Wei Wuxian began, even though he had no idea what he wanted to say. But Lan Wangji was moving up his body, sliding a hot, callused finger into him as he began kissing him, slow and thorough. Wei Wuxian couldn’t speak anymore. Just breathe, struggling for air as Lan Wangji opened him with steady, merciless strokes of that finger inside of him.

 

Lan Wangji set his teeth at the juncture of neck and shoulder, sucking leisurely at skin. Slid another finger into Wei Wuxian. He was already tracing a third around the furl of Wei Wuxian’s body, and Wei Wuxian felt so full, too full.

 

“I don’t,” Wei Wuxian bit out, hitched. “I don’t, can’t take it, too much-”

 

“You can. Spread your legs wider.” When Wei Wuxian did not, Lan Wangji shoved them wider with his knee, fingers sliding in deeper. He pressed the third in too and it ached, it hurt.

 

Wei Wuxian whimpered, grinding down onto Lan Wangji’s fingers.

 

Lan Zhan.”

 

“So good for your lord,” murmured Lan Wangji, and if Wei Wuxian had even been able to brush a hand over his own cock, he would have come right then and there. Instead he could only stare at Lan Wangji’s face as Lan Wangji withdrew his fingers and gripped him by the hips.

 

Lan Wangji pressed into him with deliberate slowness.

 

Too slow. Too slow. It should have felt like a kindness. Instead, he could feel every inch of Lan Wangji’s cock inside, opening him, carving out a space inside him. Even after three fingers he was too tight for this. He pressed his feet against the stone, curling and uncurling his toes, his body too full of feeling and too full of Lan Wangji to stay still.

 

Lan Wangji drew back his own hips, until he was barely inside Wei Wuxian’s body. Then he slid back into the hilt. Slow, so slow. Then again. And again. And again. It was like being opened up for the first time, every time. Wei Wuxian could only pant, helpless and bound with his hips in Lan Wangji’s hands.

 

Lan Wangji was staring right back at him, his eyes dark and hungry, as if he wanted to drink in every sound Wei Wuxian was making, wanted to take note of every press of his teeth over his lips or shudder of his throat as Lan Wangji pressed him open, forcing pleasure through his bloodstream. Wei Wuxian knew he was begging, distantly, that he was panting Lan Zhan Lan Zhan my lord please please, but he couldn’t stop himself. He was out of control. Being fucked by Lan Wangji felt like, felt like…

 

It felt like being claimed.

 

“Lan Zhan,” he groaned again. His clenched and unclenched his bound hands. Tried to draw his thighs together. Tilt up his hips. Anything, to feel friction against his cock, anything. “Lan Zhan. My lord. I need – I need to come.”

 

“Is my bride begging?”

 

“I did what I was told, my lord.” And ah, hells, was he crying? His face felt wet. It felt so good and hurt so sweetly, he was overwhelmed. He felt Lan Wangji’s fingers against his cheeks, wiping the tears away. Felt those fingers against his own lips, rubbing the salt in. He parted his lips, little flickers of his tongue against those fingers. He felt one dip between his lips and let his mouth fall slack, still crying as Lan Wangji traced his teeth, his tongue. Fucked him.

 

Lan Wangji drew his hand back.

 

“Wei Ying,” he said, dark and gentle, still fucking Wei Wuxian open deep and slow, owning him completely. “Who do you belong to?”

 

“Lan Zhan,” he whimpered, feeling broken open, free and so vulnerable he could have flown out of his skin. “Lan Zhan. I’m yours. Please. I’m yours.”

 

“A reward,” said Lan Wangji, reaching down, his rough fingertips brushing over Wei Wuxian chest, his stomach, down and down further, before they wrapped firmly around his cock. “For your obedience.”

 

Three harsh tugs on his cock, Lan Wangji brushing his thumb over the slit, and Wei Wuxian was orgasming, shaking, falling apart so completely that he couldn’t even make a noise – only open his mouth and wail noiselessly, throat locked.

 

Lan Wangji fucked him through it – fucked him through the aftershocks – until Wei Wuxian was squirming with oversensitivity, unsure if he was trying to get away from Lan Wangji or get more of him. Lan Wangji’s strokes grew more brutal and uneven – he pinned Wei Wuxian’s hips down, grinding them against stone – and Wei Wuxian could only lie there, being used, his cock trying valiantly to rise all over again.

 

When Lan Wangji came, he groaned. Kissed Wei Wuxian, who arched up to meet him, wishing he could hold him, feel that dark long hair in his hands, touch that cold face which was flushed now, dark at the cheekbones and ears, his lips swollen.

 

“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji murmured. He kissed Wei Wuxian’s forehead as he unravelled the ribbon; as he traced Wei Wuxian’s wrists with the gentlest touch. “Are you well?”

 

“Lan Zhan,” he said tenderly. “My Lan Zhan. Let’s go to bed.”

 

-

 

Lan Wangji carried Wei Wuxian back to their room and they fucked again, tangling together on the bed, Wei Wuxian riding Lan Wangji, one hand pressed to the hard planes of Lan Wangji’s stomach for balance. He loved the feel of Lan Wangji’s muscles moving under his hand – the way they tensed as Wei Wuxian fucked down onto him, and Lan Wangji rose to meet him.

 

“My bride rides me beautifully,” said Lan Wangji, gripping Wei Wuxian’s waist with reverent hands.

 

Wei Wuxian made a sound that wasn’t entirely human and ground down on Lan Wangji, feeling the hot stretch of that dick inside him, filling him up. Lifted his hips, whimpering again at the sweet friction and the stretch. His thighs were aching and his body was sore around Lan Wangji’s cock. His skin was covered in marks that were sure to turn into deep, livid bruises. They were on his wrists, his throat, his jaw. There’d be no hiding them. Everyone would know what they’d done.

 

This was perfect.

 

“Don’t,” he said weakly. “You can’t say things like that, Lan Zhan. What am I meant to do?”

 

Lan Wangji was watching him intently.

 

“Wei Ying likes to be praised,” he murmured.

 

“No,” Wei Wuxian protested. And then, almost immediately, as if to prove himself a liar, he asked, “Am I a good wife, Lan Zhan?”

 

“You are so good,” Lan Wangji said, in that low, velvet voice of his, raising his hips to meet Wei Wuxian’s own rolling undulation. “So sweet. I could ask for no better wife.”

 

“You’ll keep me then?”

 

Lan Wangji’s hands tightened brutally on his waist. Wei Wuxian only had a second to prepare for Lan Wangji to lift him up, off his cock. Wei Wuxian was thrown back against the bed – he let out a whoop of a laugh as Lan Wangji leaned over him, caging him with the breadth of that strong body. Without pause, Lan Wangji slid back into him, gripping his thighs, near folding him in half even as he kissed Wei Wuxian sweetly, leisurely.

 

“Yes,” Lan Wangji breathed, gentle against Wei Wuxian’s lips. “I will keep you.”

 

“Good,” Wei Wuxian said, trying not to pant, gripping Lan Wangji’s hair in his trembling hands. “Because I want to – ah, there! – stay.”

 

They didn’t do much more talking, after that.

 

-

 

Wei Wuxian was… not going to get up and tutor the Lan children today. He wasn’t even sure it was a good idea to see the Wens.

 

He was lying on his side, facing Lan Wangji, who was watching him in return, expression soft.

 

“Deep thoughts,” he said, brushing his thumb over the crease between Wei Wuxian’s eyebrows.

 

“Ah, no. I’m thinking about how I’ll explain all of this to the Wens.” He gestured vaguely at his neck. “I don’t want Wen Qing to murder you. Or shit, Wen Ning to cry. Do you have any high-necked robes…?”

 

“Not a one,” Lan Wangji said placidly, as if Wei Wuxian hadn’t seen him wear multiple high-necked robes in the past.

 

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian whined.

 

“Mn.”

 

“Wen Qing is a doctor, you know. She could poison you.”

 

“You will have to convince her not to,” said Lan Wangji. “I trust you will find a way.”

 

Wei Wuxian kissed him. He couldn’t help himself.

 

“I want something to cover my neck at least,” Wei Wuxian said, when the kiss ended. Then he brushed his hand over Lan Wangji’s face, running his thumb over the ribbon now secured back over Lan Wangji’s forehead.

 

“What do you call me, Lan Zhan?” When Lan Wangji frowned in confusion, Wei Wuxian clarified, “I know you call me a bride here, but what do you call me to your other Lans? Do you call me wife? Husband? Anything at all?”

 

“We do not claim brides,” Lan Wangji said, staring into Wei Wuxian’s own eyes with a tenderness that made Wei Wuxian want to jump him and also curl up into a ball of sheer embarrassment. “You did not consent to marry me. It was not a proper marriage. It would be presumptuous to call you my husband or my wife. So I do not.”

 

“What, then?”

 

Lan Wangji was silent for a time.

 

“I say you are my equal,” Lan Wangji said finally. “The one I have chosen. My beloved.”

 

“Oh.” Wei Wuxian let out a shaky breath. “Lan Zhan…?”

 

“Mn?”

 

“I want to be yours,” he said. “Husband or wife – I don’t care what we call it. I want to marry you properly. I want us to wear red. I want a feast. And I want to drink liquor.” He curved a hand around Lan Wangji’s jaw; marvelled at the feel of that soft skin under his palm. That he could have this – him, Wei Wuxian, a mercenary unworthy of love, who thought he’d die bleeding out on the snow – could have this. “What do you say, Lan Zhan? Will you marry me?”

 

“Yes,” said Lan Wangji. He smiled then and it was – breathtaking. The soft curve of his mouth. The crinkle of his eyes. The love radiated off of him. “Yes, Wei Ying. I’ll marry you.”