He gets nightmares sometimes.
Well, not sometimes. Since the Sunshot Campaign, it’s been every single night without fail. He got them when he was a small child too, after his parents died, but those faded eventually and became an occasional occurrence rather than a constant companion. The new ones have just gotten worse and worse.
Back before Qiongqi Path, when he still thought everything would get better again, Jiang Yanli used to sneak down to the kitchen at sunrise and make him spicy congee, petting his hair silently until he stumbled back to his room and fell asleep again for the rest of the morning. Jiang Cheng was usually there too, pale and hollow-eyed, a line of tension weighing down his shoulders. Not one of them ever said what was waking them in the middle of the night, but then, they hadn’t had to. In those quiet, companionable moments, dim light just starting to filter through the windows and the smell of cooking rice rising into the air, it seemed inevitable that they would all get better together.
After, at the Burial Mounds again, he’d ignored the problem until Wen Qing had noticed and yelled at him for ten straight minutes about the negative effects of sleep deprivation on the brain, with the added implication that now she understood why he was like this and also that he didn’t have nearly enough brain capacity that he could afford to lose any. Then she’d stabbed him with needles until he’d fallen asleep for twenty-four straight dreamless hours, because she’s simultaneously one of the meanest and nicest people he’s ever met. Every third night after that, without him having to ask, she came in and did it again: eight hours, no dreams.
“Every night would be bad,” she’d said once, quietly, like she was afraid to admit she cared enough to bother worrying. “You might not ever be able to fall asleep on your own again, if you got too used to it. But this is all right, if I’m careful.”
He’d smiled at her, putting on a teasing face and pretending it didn’t matter very much. “Be honest,” he’d said, “you’re really just worried I’ll stop being scared of you and your needles if you do enough nice things to me with them.”
She’d glared and stabbed him extra hard that night, and he’d winced theatrically every time she looked at him for days. He thinks she knew some of his nightmares were about her, reaching into his chest and pulling something out while he screamed and screamed and screamed until there was no sound left in his body. They didn’t talk about it. Like all their other debts and gratitudes, it sat unspoken between them, acknowledged only in their silent reliance on one another.
On the nights she couldn’t help him, when he woke up shaking, with his hand over his mouth and his teeth digging into the soft flesh of his lip—those nights, he’d creep out of the Demon Subdue Palace and sit with Wen Ning. They would play stupid games and not talk about it at all, quietly keeping each other company until his heartbeat slowed and the fear faded, and it hadn’t been as nice as his shijie’s cooking, but it hadn’t been bad either.
And then everything had gone horribly wrong, and nightmares had been the least of his problems.
Being resurrected only makes it worse. Maybe it’s because he has more to dream about. Maybe it’s because now he really knows what it looks like when all his sins come back to haunt him. Maybe it’s because, after the Nightless City, he deserves it. It doesn’t matter. For the first time in both his lives, he’s found something he isn’t curious about. What matters is that he can’t sleep, not without waking over and over and over again. It’s almost impossible to so much as close his eyes without seeing something.
Dogs chasing him. Lotus Pier in ruins. Jiang Fengmian dead. Yu Ziyuan dead. The surgery. The Burial Mounds, the first time. Killing people. Killing a lot of people. Wen Ning’s corpse. Killing more people. Jin Zixuan dying. Wen Qing whispering her last words to him. Jiang Yanli crying. The Wens dead. The massacre at the Nightless City. Jiang Yanli dying. Jiang Cheng’s face.
Not his own death, oddly. Or perhaps not so oddly: dying is the most peaceful part of that memory.
He mostly stops even trying to rest while he travels from Mo Village to Dafan Mountain. There’s no point, not when every attempt leaves him muffling either screams or sobs. He fantasizes about the dreamless sleep Wen Qing used to give him, but he mostly sits up at night, jerking himself awake when he starts to drift off.
The night after he sees Jiang Cheng and Jin Ling and Wen Ning on the mountain, he finally falls into an exhausted slumber, too drained and heart-sore to keep his eyes open for one more second, but it doesn’t last. He wakes just before dawn, shaking. When he sits up, remembering death and blood and regrets and his family’s hatred, he grounds himself with the cool texture of the jingshi’s varnished wood floor beneath his bare feet, so different from the cave in the Burial Mounds. He looks across the room, squinting in the dim light, and he sees Lan Wangji. And for the first time since Jin Zixuan died, he thinks, I didn’t ruin everything.
After all, he’s sleeping in the Cloud Recesses, and Lan Wangji is here, helping him. There is at least one person in the world who still wants to help him. There’s one thing in his life he didn’t manage to break.
Stupidly, it doesn’t occur to him that his nightmares getting easier to deal with might have less to do with him and more to do with his traveling companion until after they part ways. After the fifth time he wakes up that night shaking and clenching his teeth on a scream, straining for the sound of someone else’s breathing to match his to, he gives up and yells his frustration into the crook of his elbow. He’s viscerally, painfully reminded of the first time he had to try and sleep after he’d left Lotus Pier and his siblings. Of the first time he realized that he couldn’t sit with Wen Ning and play badly drawn games in the dirt of the Burial Mounds.
It feels like reaching for his golden core and finding nothing, like missing a step he expected to find beneath his feet. Like falling.
He tells himself it’s better this way. It’s not as though he can spend the rest of his life sleeping in the same room as Lan Wangji, no matter how fiercely the longing grips him at just the thought. He’s an adult, he’s died, he’s been accused of every crime under the sun, he’s even committed plenty—surely he should be able to sleep a night through without Hanguang-jun’s reassuring presence to help him.
When Lan Jingyi, Lan Sizhui, Jin Ling, and Ouyang Zizhen run into him months later, they have to rescue him from a group of fierce corpses that he’d normally be able to subdue one-handed and blindfolded. But his shaking fingers can barely hold Chenqing, his eyes are seeing double, all his limbs feel ten times as heavy as they normally do, and he’s practically resigned to getting himself killed in the stupidest, most embarrassing way possible when four yelling teenagers—well, three yelling teenagers and Sizhui—pile in and take care of the whole lot. He’d be happier to see them if Jin Ling would stop shouting ‘what the fuck’ and ‘are you an idiot’ and ‘do you think dying is fun’ over and over again, or at least if he’d do it a little more quietly.
“You really are just like Jiang Cheng.” The words come out helplessly fond, and Jin Ling chokes, sputtering and going completely red.
“Wei-qianbei,” Sizhui interjects politely.
Wei Wuxian makes a face at him, or at least he’s pretty sure he does. He’s still seeing double. “No need to be so respectful. Who do you think I am, Lan Qiren?”
“Believe me, no one thinks that,” Jingyi mutters.
“Wei-qianbei,” Sizhui repeats, “are you all right?”
“What?” His head’s spinning a little. He waves a hand dismissively and then instantly regrets it when it makes him lose his balance and crash into a tree trunk. He stays there, leaning against it gratefully. “Of course! I’m fine. I’m excellent. I feel—I’m fine.” Had he already said that? “How are all of you? Where’s Wen Ning?”
“Wen Ning’s doing well! We’re going to meet him in—Wei-qianbei, are you sure you’re all right?”
“Are you drunk?” Jin Ling hisses, sounding personally offended.
“No,” Wei Wuxian says honestly. “Not since a few nights ago when I started to have hallucinations and needed to make them go away.” Getting completely blackout wasted, he’d learned a long time ago, lets him sleep the whole night through but makes the dreams worse. It’s a trade-off he’s been less and less willing to make since he also started having even more nightmares about even worse things. The Nightless City was bad the first time. He doesn’t need drunken delusions to somehow make it even more horrifying.
“What?” Wei Wuxian echoes. His legs collapse underneath him, and he finds himself sitting heavily on the ground. He thinks back to that lecture about how not sleeping was going to screw him up and finds he can’t remember a word. Probably things were supposed to happen a little like this, though.
“You were hallucinating?”
He’s pretty sure that was Jingyi, but his eyes are sliding shut without conscious input from his brain. He’s just so, so tired. He props his eyelids up with his fingers and says, “Do any of you have any tea?”
“Tea?” Ouyang Zizhen says eagerly. “Is this a medicinal thing again? Are we going to have to add chili peppers to it?”
“We didn’t have to add them that time,” Jin Ling snaps. “He’s just an idiot.”
“Let’s go back to the hallucinations,” Sizhui says, dropping to his knees in front of Wei Wuxian and putting a hand on his arm. “Wei-qianbei, what’s wrong? Are you ill? Why were you hallucinating?”
“Because according to Wen Qing, I’m breaking my brain or something,” Wei Wuxian mutters. “Tea?” He’s been strung out on caffeine for days, weeks, maybe months. It’s making the shaking worse, but it makes it harder to fall asleep by accident, and if he finds himself staring at the dead bodies of everyone he loved one more time—
None of the kids say anything, and he blinks up at them blearily. Sizhui says, very carefully, “Wen Qing?”
“Yeah,” Wei Wuxian agrees, and then when they just stare at him with varying degrees of horror, he backtracks slowly over the conversation. “Oh. No. I’m not hallucinating now, don’t worry. I know she’s dead.” Saying it hurts like wiggling a splinter, like he’s pretty sure it always will, but it comes out evenly enough. “It’s just something she said a long time ago. About me being stupid.”
“I think you’re sick,” Sizhui says carefully. “You, um—”
“You look sick,” Jingyi says bluntly. “You look like you got dragged behind a horse all day, actually. Did you get into an argument with your donkey?”
“Little Apple would never,” Wei Wuxian says, which is only true because Little Apple would be far too lazy to drag him anywhere, for any amount of time. “I’m fine. I’m, um—” He zones out for a minute, trying to remember the word he wants. “I’ve never been better,” he settles on at last.
“You’re sick,” several voices say at once, and Jin Ling adds, “I guess that at least explains why you were getting murdered by corpses I could’ve taken care of when I was six years old.”
“I think you should come back to the Cloud Recesses with us,” Sizhui says. “Hanguang-jun will know what to do.”
“Hanguang-jun,” Wei Wuxian repeats. His heart clenches. He wants—but he’d really meant to have this nightmare stuff down before they met again, so he wouldn’t find himself relying on Lan Wangji’s nearness. He’s not supposed to go back yet. But he’s so tired, and his will crumbles. “Yeah,” he says. “All right. Take me back to Gusu with you.”
It takes them two days to get to the Cloud Recesses, with Sizhui and Jin Ling and Jingyi taking turns to support him on their swords as they fly. Ouyang Zizhen had, after some argument, agreed to follow on foot with Little Apple, because Wei Wuxian flatly refused to just leave the donkey somewhere. It’s not as smooth as riding with Lan Wangji, but it’s still faster than walking would’ve been. It’s also too easy, being a passenger: it becomes a struggle, minute-to-minute, to keep from falling asleep midair when all he has to do is stand there. On the first day, he tumbles straight off of Jingyi’s sword, falling twenty feet to crash to the ground. It’s lucky they weren’t higher.
That night, when they camp, he presses his fist to his mouth before he even tries to sleep and dreams, endlessly, of being pushed into the Burial Mounds by Wen Chao. Falling. Resentment. He wakes six times that night before he gives up trying, muffling his screams and holding his body viciously still. He repeats to himself endlessly that he made it out, that he made the space his, that there are people with him now that hadn’t even been born when that happened. That there are people with him now.
It helps, barely, but not enough to let him sleep peacefully. He’s grateful, for the first time, when five o’clock comes and the Lans wake up.
When they try to feed him breakfast, he throws it up. He’s shaking so badly with exhaustion that he can barely balance on Sizhui’s sword. Jin Ling and Jingyi fly so close it’s probably dangerous, but it’s the only way they can reach to prop him up every time he sways.
He’s so tired.
They make it to the Cloud Recesses that night. It’s after curfew but still before bedtime, and Jingyi and Sizhui both insisted on pushing ahead instead of stopping. He hadn’t missed the worried looks all three were trading over his head, but when he’d tried to assure them—again—of his health, he’d gotten five minutes of yelling from Jin Ling, a series of unflattering comparisons to corpses from Jingyi, and an extremely disapproving look from Sizhui that’d somehow been viscerally reminiscent of both Wen Qing and Lan Wangji.
The two little Lans get them all in with their jade tokens, and then Jingyi goes running up the stairs to look for help while Sizhui and Jin Ling brace him on either side and help him walk. A single step up is far more exhausting than it should be, and Wei Wuxian allows himself to consider the idea that Wen Qing was right then, the kids are right now, and maybe he isn’t fine.
“Lan Jingyi!” he hears up ahead, and he winces. Lan Qiren snaps, “Why on earth are you making such a ruckus so late at night?” It’s not even nine o’clock. The Gusu Lan Sect is really, honestly, probably insane. It’s annoying that Wei Wuxian has started to find this kind of nonsense charming as well as hilarious.
“We need Hanguang-jun,” Jingyi wails. “I think Wei-qianbei is dying!”
Wei Wuxian blinks. Apparently, he’d managed to worry everyone more than he’d thought. “You shouldn’t tell Lan Qiren that,” he calls out lightly, though it takes a stupid amount of effort to project his voice enough to be heard. “He’ll be so pleased.”
“Wei Wuxian!” Lan Qiren is suddenly much closer than he was before, and Wei Wuxian jerks back reflexively. “What on earth are you doing?”
“Did you just waste a teleportation talisman,” Wei Wuxian says, squeezing his eyes shut like it’ll help him fill in the blank in his memory where Lan Qiren could’ve walked over, “am I hallucinating again, or did I black out for a little?”
Lan Qiren stares at him. “Lan Sizhui,” he says at last, “what is wrong with him?”
“He’s sick,” Sizhui says. And then he adds, “Wei-qianbei, I don’t think you’re hallucinating, but he didn’t teleport.”
“Probably I blacked out, then,” Wei Wuxian says, feeling oddly sanguine about it. “I might need to sit down.”
It’s not sitting so much as a controlled fall to the ground, where he sprawls on the path. It’s harder to keep his eyes open once he’s lying down, but he pinches the inside of his elbow and rides the sharp burst of pain. The kids circle him, and he forces a grin up at them. “Don’t worry. I’m fine.”
“One of you go to the infirmary,” Lan Qiren is saying. “Get a doctor—”
“I’m not sick,” Wei Wuxian repeats for the hundredth time or so. And he might be shameless, but he still doesn’t want to explain to a stranger that he can’t sleep because he’s too scared. “I don’t need a doctor. I just need—um.” Jiang Yanli and Jiang Cheng. Wen Qing and Wen Ning. “Lan Zhan,” he hears himself say, and he aches with how true it is. “I just need Lan Zhan.”
“I’ll get him,” Sizhui says immediately. “I’ll get him. Don’t worry, Wei-qianbei. He’ll be right here.”
Wei Wuxian falls asleep right there on the path despite himself, and he dreams, and Jin Zixuan dies, and this time Jiang Yanli and Jin Ling are right there, and they’re crying and yelling at him, except then Wen Ning is killing them too, and there’s so much blood, and people are screaming, and it’s the Nightless City, and he’s killing everyone, and they’re all screaming, and they’re all dead, Jingyi and Sizhui and Ouyang Zizhen and Jin Ling and his own stupid donkey, and it’s all his fault—
He jerks awake.
Long years of practice keep him from doing it by sitting straight up and screaming, but oh, how he wants to. Instead he stays rigidly still, clenching his tongue between his teeth until his mouth fills with the metallic taste of blood. When he can move without it turning into a tremble, he rolls over onto his hands and knees and spits onto the dirt. The bite stings, hot and bitter, but it’s small. It’ll heal.
“Wei Ying,” a horrified voice says, and the world lights up again.
Wei Wuxian turns around so fast he makes himself dizzy. Flickering sparks try to obscure his vision, but they can’t fully hide Lan Wangji, kneeling just a foot away and staring at him with obvious worry. “Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian says. Blissful happiness fills him with dizzying suddenness, even through the nausea and pain. “You’re here.”
“Mn,” Lan Wangji says immediately. “I’m here.” Despite the certainty of his words, his eyes keep flickering between Wei Wuxian’s face and a space just behind him.
Wei Wuxian cranes his head back and realizes it’s the blood. “Oh,” he says. “Oh, no, Lan Zhan—I just bit my tongue. See?” He opens his mouth wide and sticks his tongue out to prove it, which garners him a derisive snort from Lan Qiren but a subtle loosening of Lan Wangji’s shoulders as he inspects the injury. “Honestly, I’m fine. I know everyone probably told you I’m sick, but I’m not, honestly.”
“No, he’s sick,” Jingyi says immediately. “He’s definitely sick. Don’t listen to a word he says, Hanguang-jun. Make him see a doctor. He listens to you.”
“I don’t listen to anyone,” Wei Wuxian says. “And I don’t need a doctor, because I’m not sick.”
“Shut up!” Jin Ling snaps. “Hanguang-jun, he’s definitely sick. He said he’d been hallucinating, he said he blacked out while we were talking to Lan Qiren before you got here, he fainted at least twice while we were on our way—”
“I didn’t faint,” Wei Wuxian protests, annoyed. “I’m way too cool to faint. Don’t tell people I’ve been fainting.”
He gets a minuscule eyebrow raise for that, and Lan Wangji says, “Lotus Pier. With Jiang Wanyin.” He’s too poised and refined to say, You swooned into my arms like a maiden, but the implication is there.
Wei Wuxian scowls. Or, at least, he tries. It’s hard to pretend to be anything but unbelievably, overwhelmingly happy to see Lan Wangji again. “Extenuating circumstances,” he says firmly. “Doesn’t count.”
“Mn,” Lan Wangji says. “Wei Ying. You fainted on the way here. What were the extenuating circumstances?”
Wei Wuxian tries to tease meaning out of that with his foggy brain, but he feels slow and stupid. “Um. Extenuating circumstances. There was—well, there was that whole awful fight at the Burial Mounds earlier in the day, remember? And then—”
“No.” Lan Wangji’s voice is unbelievably patient. Gentle. “Right now. When you fainted coming here. What were the extenuating circumstances then?”
Oh. That makes more sense. He rubs his forehead, like it’ll help him wipe away the headache and get his thoughts moving properly again. “I’m not sick,” he repeats uselessly, because that’s the part he’s most sure of. Not that it seems to be doing any good. “I’m just—” He shakes his head. “I don’t know, Lan Zhan. I’m not sick, though, I swear.”
“He’s dying,” Jingyi says.
Wei Wuxian laughs. “What, again?” he says. “This is so much less interesting than the last time. Still, as long as I don’t lose control and murder you all with resentful energy, I’m doing a lot better, huh?” He laughs again, a little desperately, and then he can’t seem to stop.
“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji says quietly, and Wei Wuxian draws himself together with some effort.
“Jingyi,” he says. “I’m not dying. I’m not. Well, Wen Qing did say this was a good way to go crazy and die, but—never mind. I think she was just—she said that about a lot of things I did. I’m not dying.”
“You were already crazy,” Jin Ling mutters. “Are you hallucinating Wen Qing again?”
“I was never hallucinating Wen Qing,” he protests. “You all just keep thinking I am whenever I bring her up.”
“Well, she’s been dead since way before you were sick, so—”
“I’m not sick—”
He’s cut off by a cool palm covering his forehead. He hadn’t even noticed Lan Wangji reaching out, which is a bad sign for his spatial awareness, but the hand is firm and steady, and he leans into it with a hopefully imperceptible sigh of pleasure.
He yawns. “I said so.”
“Mn.” The hand moves away, and he topples forward to face-plant into a hard chest covered in white cloth. Almost immediately, arms come up to rearrange him into a more comfortable position, letting him rest all his weight on Lan Wangji. His head is gently placed on a broad shoulder, and he hums in thanks. The arms stay around him, holding him gently.
“You always smell good,” he mumbles into the crook of Lan Wangji’s neck. He’d missed it, foolishly: the sweet, comforting scent of sandalwood. Wei Wuxian nuzzles into the warm skin just over Lan Wangji’s collar, breathing in and filling his lungs with it. “It’s nice.”
Silence reigns after that, but he’s too fuzzy-headed to figure out why. Eventually, Lan Qiren says, “Is he drunk?”
“No,” Sizhui says immediately. “We’ve been with him for two days. He’s just sick. Or not. He keeps saying not, and Hanguang-jun is right, he doesn’t have a fever, but he’s weak, he’s been having trouble with balance, his hands keep shaking, and he’s not following conversations very well. It’s…not good.”
“Yeah,” Jingyi says. “Plus, um…that.”
This time Sizhui huffs out something that sounds almost like a laugh, and Wei Wuxian smiles at the sound. “No, I’m not worried about that. He doesn’t need to be drunk or sick to be shameless with Hanguang-jun.”
“Hey,” Wei Wuxian mutters. “Lan Zhan, didn’t you raise him better? He should show more respect toward his elders.”
“Mn,” Lan Wangji says, kindly neglecting to point out that whatever he did, he definitely made Lan Sizhui a sweeter and more well-adjusted child than Wei Wuxian ever could’ve himself. “Wei Ying, what did Wen Qing say?”
“I said I wasn’t hallucinating,” he protests sleepily. He’s so comfortable. “Well, not today, anyway. And even when I was hallucinating, it was things like my hand going through a tree, not Wen Qing.”
His hand going through a tree, odd forms in the distance, shadows and bright lights at the edges of his vision. Worst of all, when he was playing Chenqing once, the faintly heard sound of the wind behind him had resolved into Lan Wangji’s voice, and he’d imagined that he heard it say something with the shape of his name. Then he’d turned, sick with hope, and found that he was weeks away from Gusu and that Lan Wangji was nowhere near and that he was alone, and he’d had to laugh to keep from crying. But that might not have been a real hallucination, only his own vicious longing digging its claws into the meat of his bruised heart.
The arms around him tighten. “Not today,” Lan Wangji says, his voice tense. “Before. When she was alive.”
“Oh. Um… I think she said that I was stupid, and that I was going to make myself even stupider, go crazy, and then die. Or something like that. It’s hard to remember all the details. Mostly she was really mad, and I was having trouble paying attention, and that just made her madder.”
“You had this problem? Back then?”
“No, it’s worse now,” Wei Wuxian says honestly. It’s so easy to just rest his head here and curl his body into Lan Wangji’s and feel like everything, for once, is going to be all right. He yawns. “Don’t worry about it, Lan Zhan. She said I was going to get myself killed all the time. I’m fine.”
“Worse now,” Lan Wangji repeats flatly. “Wei Ying. Tell me what’s wrong.”
“I—” Can’t sleep. But he remembers all of sudden that he’s not walking around telling people that, because it’s humiliating. It was one thing to have a nightmare or two a day, back before he died, but this has gone past ‘war trauma’ to something massive and all-encompassing and debilitating. Something that really feels as though it might kill him. Not that he’ll tell Lan Jingyi that. Not that he’ll tell anyone that, because not being able to sleep because you’re too scared is just—no. “Nothing,” he says. “It’s nothing.”
“It’s not nothing. Tell me.”
Wei Wuxian shakes his head mulishly, pushing his face further into Lan Wangji’s skin. “I’m fine.”
“Take him to the infirmary,” Lan Qiren says. “The doctors there will know—”
“No,” he repeats, fully aware that his voice sounds at least a little frantic and also that he probably isn’t thinking clearly enough to get himself out of this gracefully. The doctors there definitely will know what’s wrong with him, and then he’ll have to explain why it’s been weeks since he’s slept for more than couple hours without being so drunk he couldn’t stand. He pushes himself up so that he can look Lan Wangji in the eye, even though he immediately misses the closeness. “No. Lan Zhan, I’m fine. I don’t need any doctors. I promise.”
Lan Wangji looks at him for a long moment, and then he says, “What do you need?”
You, Wei Wuxian thinks hysterically, but that’s definitely not right. Unfortunately, he can’t remember anything else he could possibly say. Lan Wangji’s worried expression gets worse and worse the longer Wei Wuxian just sits there staring at him, but he can’t think. “Lan Zhan,” he says at last, hearing the note of pleading enter his voice. “Need for what?”
Lan Wangji’s hand covers his forehead again, which is—Wei Wuxian is almost positive that’s already happened, but he doesn’t mention it, just in case he’s wrong. And it feels nice, anyway, so it’s fine. Eventually, Lan Wangji releases him. “You don’t need a doctor,” he says, though there’s a hint of doubt in his voice. “What do you need?”
“Oh,” Wei Wuxian says, and he laughs helplessly. “Oh, that makes sense.” The answer is still Lan Wangji, of course, but he can’t just say that. “Can I—can I just stay here for a little bit? I know you’re busy and your uncle hates me and I’m a bad influence on the disciples, but—”
“Stay. Of course stay. You are always welcome here.”
“Oh.” He sags with relief, slumping back against Lan Wangji’s chest. Instantly, he’s held close again, and he sighs happily. “Thank you, Lan Zhan.”
“No need for thanks. You aren’t a bad influence.”
Wei Wuxian snorts. “Yes, I am,” he says, at the same time Lan Qiren says, “Yes, he is,” and Jin Ling says, “Of course he is. Ouyang Zizhen thought we might have to put chili peppers in tea for him.”
Not even Lan Wangji bothers to dispute that Lan Qiren hates him, but even so, the old man says, “Lan Sizhui, Lan Jingyi. Have someone make up a set of guest quarters.”
Wei Wuxian flinches, then immediately tries to disguise it as a yawn. It doesn’t work. He’s pressed too close to Lan Wangji, and he can feel the concern, sudden and intent, and so he does what he always does: makes himself as ridiculous as possible. “Lan Zhan,” he whines, tilting his head back far enough that their eyes can meet. “Last time I was here, I got to stay with you.” Because he was trying to avoid letting anyone know he was here, as a wanted criminal. “I came all this way just to see you—” Actually true, but no one will think anything of it if he says it like this. “—and you’re not even going to spend any time with me? Hanguang-Jun is so important that I’m sure if we don’t see each other at night, we won’t at all, and I’ll be so lonely. You don’t want me to be lonely, do you, Lan Zhan?”
“Shameless,” Lan Qiren barks.
It’s true, so instead of arguing, Wei Wuxian focuses on Lan Wangji, who’s looking at him with his brow furrowed. “Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji says quietly. “What’s wrong?”
Wei Wuxian freezes like a rabbit in the presence of a wolf. He realizes too late that of course Lan Wangji will feel that too, and sure enough, the frown deepens. Immediately, he forces a laugh, a smile, the most ridiculous expression he can conjure, but then a finger is laid soft and tender over his mouth, and Lan Wangji looks away, at the kids.
“Can he walk?”
That deserves an indignant huff, but Lan Wangji shushes him gently as soon as he draws the breath in, and Wei Wuxian subsides, sinking back into the steady, comforting warmth of his arms. It’s so easy to just close his eyes and assume that for once there’s someone who’s going to take care of him.
Sizhui says, “A little, slowly. He gets tired easily, and his balance is off. He does better with someone supporting him.”
“Really slowly,” Jingyi says. “It’s creepy. Usually he’s running around all over the place.”
Wei Wuxian means to say, again, that he’s fine, really, and he was just leaning on Sizhui and Jin Ling and tripping over his own feet for fun, but then the arm around his back shifts position, the other one goes underneath his knees, and he’s being lifted into the air. He’s cradled firmly against Lan Wangji’s chest, which is—lovely, actually, but he’s fairly sure his face is also on fire. His head is spinning, which he’s going to blame on the lack of sleep instead of the fact that he’s being carried like he weighs nothing.
Lan Wangji ignores him. “Uncle, Wei Ying will stay with me.” It’s very doubtful that Lan Qiren is going to have anything good to say about that, but Lan Wangji doesn’t give him a chance to argue. He nods at the kids politely, and then he turns and walks away toward the distant path to the jingshi. Wei Wuxian pretends to object to being carried for the length of time it takes for them to get five steps, and then he smiles and closes his eyes, wrapping his arm around Lan Wangji’s shoulders and snuggling closer.
“Thanks, Lan Zhan,” he mumbles, yawning and tucking his nose against Lan Wangji’s collarbone.
“No need for thanks.” They walk in silence for a little, and Wei Wuxian feels himself drifting off. For the first time in months, he doesn’t try to stop it. The dreams will still be awful, but at least when he wakes up, he might not be alone. He can’t think of a safer, more comfortable place to be than in Lan Wangji’s arms.
He stirs as he’s being carefully laid down in a bed. It was a short enough walk that he whines pathetically at the unbearable agony of having to wake up, because for once, he hadn’t even been out long enough to start dreaming. “Shh,” someone whispers, a hand on his back rubbing gently down his spine. “Go back to sleep.”
Wei Wuxian struggles to drag his eyes open. “Lan Zhan?”
“Mn. I’m here.”
“Good,” Wei Wuxian says, still half-asleep. “Don’t leave.”
Silence, briefly, and then the sheets rustle as Lan Wangji sits down on the bed next to him, close enough that his leg rests against the edge of the pillow and Wei Wuxian can feel the heat of his body. “I won’t,” he says, the hand resuming its slow, steady pressure.
Wei Wuxian smiles helplessly, and then he suddenly remembers himself. “Ah!” he yells, his eyes snapping open. Lan Wangji’s hand stops. “Lan Zhan, that was—I didn’t mean—you don’t have to. I was asleep, so I was talking nonsense. You don’t have to stay just because I said that.”
“Wei Ying asked.”
“Lan Zhan.” Wei Wuxian buries his face against Lan Wangji’s thigh, feeling himself flush. “If I asked for a mountain of jade, would you give me that too?”
“Yes.” A considering pause. “Eventually. I don’t know where to get one.”
Wei Wuxian can’t help but laugh at that, imagining the great Hanguang-Jun wandering around market towns looking for a jade mountain. “Careful,” he teases. “If you keep being this good to me, I’ll ask you to never leave my side again.”
“Then I won’t.”
But you did, Wei Wuxian thinks, his heart suddenly feeling too small and heavy for its space in his chest. I asked where we were going next, and you said we weren’t. He laughs again, because it’s better than crying about how badly he wants that, for Lan Wangji to never leave him ever again. “It took all these years, but you finally learned to tease, hmm?”
Lan Wangji doesn’t say anything for a while, just keeps stroking his back gently. At last he says, “Wei Ying.”
A thumb brushes along the side of Wei Wuxian’s jaw, and he blinks his eyes open again, yawning. He rolls onto his back and looks up at Lan Wangji, who only pauses for a moment before cupping the side of his face tenderly. “Wei Ying,” he repeats. “Tell me what’s wrong.”
“Nothing,” Wei Wuxian says instantly, pasting the broadest smile he can onto his face. “Nothing at all. Why would there be anything wrong?”
Lan Wangji fixes him with a steady, unimpressed look, and then he lifts one of Wei Wuxian’s wrists and holds it out, staring at it pointedly.
“Huh? Oh.” The hand is shaking in the air so badly that it looks like one of them must be doing it on purpose, but Lan Wangji’s grip is as still and even as the surface of an untouched pond.
“Fainted,” Lan Wangji reminds him. “Hallucinated.”
“Not very often?” Wei Wuxian tries, without much hope. Sure enough, he’s fixed with a deeply annoyed expression, and he sighs. “It’s really not something for you to worry about.”
Lan Wangji goes so still he might as well be a statue, and then he bites out, “I shouldn’t worry about you? How could I not?”
“I didn’t mean it like that,” Wei Wuxian says quickly. “I didn’t. I just—” He closes his eyes and tries pouting. “Lan-er-gege, I’m too tired for this conversation. Have mercy on your soulmate. Let’s just go to sleep, all right? We can talk about it in the morning.” They can talk about it in the morning mostly because he’s desperately hoping to have pulled off a somewhat miraculous partial recovery by then.
Lan Wangji hesitates, frowning, but then his shoulders drop and the intensity leaves him. He nods once. “In the morning.”
Wei Wuxian sighs in relief, letting his eyes close again. He’s so tired he barely notices the movement when Lan Wangji gets up briefly to disrobe, when normally he’d be almost painfully aware of something like that. Lan Wangji returns quickly, and Wei Wuxian distantly registers being nudged into a sitting position and then Lan Wangji’s gentle hands pulling his outer robes off, but he collapses back onto the bed as soon as he’s allowed, barely waking up enough to catch Lan Wangji’s sleeve with his fingers. “Said you wouldn’t leave,” he mumbles.
“Not leaving.” The bed shifts as another body climbs into it, and Wei Wuxian gathers himself enough to rise halfway and then drape himself across Lan Wangji’s chest, pulling the covers over both of them. He’s too tired to think anything except that he wants them to be as close as possible.
“I can hear your heart beating,” he whispers, and then he falls asleep.
He’s at Qiongqi Path, and Wen Ning is dead. He’s at Qiongqi Path, and Wen Ning is dead, so everyone else is going to die too, every single one of them. He plays Chenqing, and Wen Ning’s empty shell obeys the music, striking one fleeing guard and then the next and then the next, and all around him, people are dying, and he’s burning cold with rage, and yet he’s darkly, viciously delighted to watch them fall. They all deserve to die for this. He’ll build a mountain of corpses here before the sun rises.
He hears a wet gasp and turns, only to see Wen Ning pulling his fist back out of Wen Qing’s body. She stumbles and falls to the ground, bleeding, staring at him all the time. The mud around her turns vividly red, and she whispers, tears in her eyes and blood at the corner of her mouth, “I’m sorry. And thank you.”
And he runs to her, but he trips, going to his knees in the red mud, and when he looks up, there are bodies hanging from the walls: Granny. Fourth Uncle.
“What good did any of this do,” Wen Qing’s voice hisses on the wind, “if you couldn’t even save us, in the end?”
“Wei Ying. Wei Ying, it’s all right. Shh, it’s all right. I’m here. I have you.”
Wei Wuxian wakes, choking on his stifled sobs and wrapped up in Lan Wangji’s arms. He has never, ever woken from a nightmare with someone else so close, and he grabs at Lan Wangji’s shirt and clings to it with shaking hands. “Lan Zhan,” he hears himself say, his voice breaking on it. “Lan Zhan.”
“You’re here,” Wei Wuxian repeats. No words have ever been sweeter. “Don’t leave me alone. I don’t want to be alone again, please. Please, please, Lan Zhan.”
A sharp inhale, and then he’s being pulled even closer, held tighter. “You’re not alone. I’m here. I won’t leave. I’m here.”
Wei Wuxian sobs in aching relief, burying his face in Lan Wangji’s neck like if he gets close enough, they’ll be stuck too firmly together to ever separate. “And A-Yuan. You saved him, didn’t you? He’s alive. He got away.”
“Yes.” The answer is so immediate and certain that even dreams couldn’t possibly argue with it. “Would you like to see him?”
“No. No, it’s the middle of the night, isn’t it? He’ll be sleeping. I just wanted to make sure.” He sighs, shuddering. The poisonous feeling of failure and isolation is leaching away with every rise and fall of Lan Wangji’s chest beneath him. He breathes in, smelling sandalwood and clean fabric, slowly letting the nightmare recede and his shaking ebb as he takes stock of where he is and what’s going on. It comes with the awkwardness of realizing what’s just happened. “Ah—sorry, Lan Zhan, did I make noise and wake you? I didn’t mean to. Usually I’m really quiet.”
“Yeah. Was I not?”
There’s a beat of silence. “You were quiet,” Lan Wangji says at last.
“Really? Then why did you wake up?”
Lan Wangji hesitates, and then he takes hold of Wei Wuxian’s hand and guides it carefully up to his chest, just under where Wei Wuxian had been resting his head. The cloth there is wet with tears. “Felt it,” he explains.
“Oh,” Wei Wuxian says faintly. “Sorry—shit, sorry, Lan Zhan, I didn’t think. Here, I’ll get off you so that doesn’t happen again and you can sleep—”
But Lan Wangji’s arms tighten around him, not letting him move. “Don’t be sorry. Stay here.”
“But I woke you—”
“If you’re crying,” Lan Wangji says firmly, “I want to be awake. Don’t be sad by yourself.”
Which is ridiculous, of course. Sweet—almost unbearably so—but ridiculous. If he woke Lan Wangji every time he had a nightmare, the sects’ Chief Cultivator would be getting as little sleep as their bogeyman. Lan Wangji has better things to do with his time than comfort someone who only ever dreams about things that were entirely his own fault anyway, though he probably wouldn’t listen if Wei Wuxian tried to explain that to him.
“All right,” Wei Wuxian says to placate him. “But let’s go back to sleep now, okay? It’s so far after your bedtime. You must be tired.”
Lan Wangji threads a hand through Wei Wuxian’s hair gently, brushing his cheek with a tender thumb. It makes Wei Wuxian shiver, a pleasant frisson of heat going through him, and he tries to cover it up with a stretch. “Mn,” Lan Wangji says at last. “Go to sleep. I’m here.”
Wei Wuxian is deeply grateful that the darkness of the jingshi at night is probably hiding his sudden flush. Lan Wangji’s kindness is like the ocean: wider and deeper than can possibly be fathomed. It’s more than he can take sometimes. “Let me get off you first,” he says briskly, trying to brush it off like he won’t be hearing those quiet words and feeling that soft touch for days. “I can’t believe you let me fall asleep like this. Aren’t I heavy?”
Instead of moving to let him up, Lan Wangji’s arms tighten further, holding him still. “Not heavy.”
“Wei Ying. I’m not stupid. Stay.”
“Maybe I just don’t want to sleep on the wet patch,” Wei Wuxian says, changing tactics. “It’s not very comfortable, Lan Zhan. It’s cold and unpleasant, and I don’t like lying on it. Won’t my Lan-er-gege take better care of me than this?”
Lan Wangji goes still underneath him, and then abruptly he’s sitting up, letting Wei Wuxian roll off of him to the side. Wei Wuxian barely gets any time to bask in his intelligence, though, because then there’s another movement, and he’s alone in the bed, which really hadn’t been the goal. “Lan Zhan?” he says, pushing himself up and trying not to betray the sudden fear that he’s finally made himself too annoying to put up with.
“Wait there,” Lan Wangji says, though, which probably means he’s coming back. Wei Wuxian strains his eyes in the dim moonlight filtering in through the windows and nearly gives himself a heart attack.
Lan Wangji is taking his undershirt off, his whole torso suddenly exposed to anyone who might care to look. Really, Wei Wuxian is supposed to be the shameless one, but he suddenly feels as prudish as a Lan, his heart pounding like a drum just at the thought that he can almost see something. He wants to get off of the bed and cross the room and wrap his arms around Lan Wangji, run his hands all over everything he can’t quite make out in the faint silver glow of moonlight. He’s so focused, in fact, on not doing anything of the sort that he barely notices when Lan Wangji pulls a different shirt on and ties it, making his way back and sliding into bed again.
“Not wet anymore,” he says smugly, and then he’s lying back down and bodily lifting Wei Wuxian up and arranging him to his liking. It requires quite a lot of manhandling, and Wei Wuxian’s exhausted body is suddenly feeling more awake than it has in weeks. Months, probably.
“Lan Zhan,” he manages to croak out. Lan Wangji is like a banked fire underneath him, all hot skin and comforting presence. “Maybe I don’t want to sleep like this, did you think of that?”
“If something is wrong, will you wake me?”
A huff of breath, one he can feel because they’re pressed completely together. “Liar.”
“Wei Ying. Go to sleep.”
And Wei Wuxian means to argue more, but he’s so warm and comfortable that between one breath and the next, he does.
He’s not sure how many times he wakes up that night. It feels like more than ought to fit in the Lans’ scheduled eight hours for sleeping, but every time he does, shaking and holding back sobs, Lan Wangji is there to cuddle and cosset him and whisper soothing things. He cries on so many shirts that at some point, Lan Wangji strips that layer off entirely and simply places Wei Wuxian on his bare chest. It ought to be distracting, but Wei Wuxian’s lust is apparently letting his exhaustion take point, because every time he tells himself there’s no way he’s going to be able to sleep with Lan Wangji’s nipple right there, just asking to be kissed or bitten, his eyes drift closed and he drops off again.
When he finally wakes up properly, for once coming to with a yawn instead of a choked off scream, it’s still dark, somehow. Lighter, though, so maybe it’s sunrise? Lan Wangji is still tangled around him, stroking his hair and humming their song quietly. Wei Wuxian considers being embarrassed about lying on top of him for a moment or two, but since they’ve been like this all night, it seems fairly pointless now. Instead, he yawns again and pushes himself up a little, folding his arms on top of Lan Wangji and propping his chin there. “Good morning,” he says.
Lan Wangji lets his hand slide down to the back of Wei Wuxian’s neck, where it rests lightly. “Mn.”
“What time is it?” Wei Wuxian asks. “I smell food. Is it breakfast? Do you have to get up soon?”
A pause. “There was a meal just an hour ago. I had it brought here.”
“After breakfast, then?” Internally, he’s stunned that he, personally, has managed to wake so early without force or bad dreams. Lunchtime is more usual for him. “Lan Zhan, have I managed to corrupt you into laziness already? Your uncle’s going to kill me!”
“I won’t let him,” Lan Wangji says immediately, as if he needed Wei Wuxian to be more in love with him. “And I already sent Sizhui to have my brother talk to him.”
“Zewu-jun?” Wei Wuxian frowns. “Isn’t he still in seclusion?”
“Mn. But having Sizhui talk to Uncle would not have worked. My brother won’t mind.”
“Oh. I’ll have to thank him, in that case. Either way, shouldn’t I let you get up now? So you don’t miss too much of the morning and Lan Qiren isn’t too furious with me.”
Lan Wangji looks at him for a long moment, and then he sighs. “Wei Ying. It is a little after dinner, not breakfast.”
Wei Wuxian gapes at him. “It’s when? But you—you—did you just get back?” Even as he says the words, he knows they can’t possibly be true. Not once since they went to bed has he woken without Lan Wangji at his side. There’s no way he slept the day away without waking violently at least a few times, which means—which means Lan Wangji has been here the whole time.
“I didn’t leave,” Lan Wangji confirms.
“Lan Zhan.” Wei Wuxian thinks, horribly, that he might be tearing up. He rolls off Lan Wangji and sits up, turning away so his face is hidden. “You shouldn’t do things like that. I—” I’m not worth it. He shakes his head. “I know you have more important things to be doing than sitting with me all day.”
“Stop being contrary. You’re the Chief Cultivator; you have important things to do. That’s a given, Lan Zhan.”
“Mn.” Behind him on the bed, he hears Lan Wangji sit up. There’s the telltale sound of rustling cloth that means he’s probably putting a shirt on, but then he moves closer. He settles nearby without trying to have them face each other again and begins to carefully untangle Wei Wuxian’s hair, giving each knot such care and consideration that it doesn’t hurt at all. Wei Wuxian thinks he might feel a brief, too-fleeting kiss on the shell of his ear, but it’s so light he could have imagined it. Wishful thinking. “Important things. Not more important than you.”
“Bet you’re the only person who thinks that,” Wei Wuxian says, choked. He might really be crying, which is ridiculous—he’s heard of crying from being sad and crying from being happy, but crying from being in love? No.
“Then everyone else is wrong,” Lan Wangji says calmly. “Wei Ying. You’re not sick. Have you been sleeping?”
Wei Wuxian freezes, and then he forces a laugh, as if that’ll still work at this point. “What, because I slept so late today? Really, you know that’s just what I’m like—”
Lan Wangji sighs. It’s not loud, but Wei Wuxian is so tense that it’s enough to cut him off anyway. “Wei Ying, it’s only me. Don’t do this.” Wei Wuxian doesn’t move, and after a moment, Lan Wangji brushes the hair he’d been finger-combing to the side and—really, definitely this time—lays a gentle kiss against the back of his neck. “It’s only me,” he repeats.
Lan Wangji has never been only, not once, but whether or not he loves Wei Wuxian the way Wei Wuxian loves him, it’s undeniable that Lan Wangji does love him. He’s proved that over and over again. Wei Wuxian has never told anyone about his nightmares before, only had people find out accidentally, but—it’s Lan Wangji. “I can’t sleep,” he says, all in a rush. “I’m so tired, but when I try to sleep, I just dream of—all of it. Everything that happened. Only worse, because it all gets so jumbled up in my mind. I’ve had nightmares for—um. A long time. But it’s been worse since I came back to life. I can barely sleep at all. That’s why I was so—yesterday, I mean, and the hallucinations and all of it. I was just so tired.”
“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji says very softly. And then, “Before? When we were traveling together?”
“It’s, um.” He laughs, feeling awkward. “It’s easier when I’m with someone else? To go back to sleep, I mean. And since we weren’t, um, so close, you never noticed.”
“Then I won’t leave,” Lan Wangji says immediately, so fast and firm it makes something go soft in Wei Wuxian’s chest. “And I won’t sleep so far away either.”
“I’ll wake you that way.”
“Good.” The word is said with such force that Wei Wuxian has to turn to look at him. Lan Wangji is sitting ramrod straight, his face like a storm cloud. He looks more like Hanguang-jun, who always goes where the trouble is, than Lan Zhan, who brushes hair and holds him so carefully. “Wei Ying, listen to me. I never want to be asleep while you cry. Never again. Didn’t I say I was going to stand by you?”
“Yes, but that was for not letting everyone try to kill me a second time,” Wei Wuxian protests. “Not this.”
“It was for everything,” Lan Wangji insists. He looks so unhappy. “Why would you think I wouldn’t want to know if you were hurting? I can’t bear not being able to help you. Let me.”
Wei Wuxian could argue against anything except that distress. “All right,” he says, and it only feels a little like a lie. “All right. Anything you want.” He smiles, leaning closer, trying to make a joke of it so that he doesn’t do something foolish. “Like it’s such a hardship for me to be held by Hanguang-jun all night! All the other cultivators will be so jealous.”
Lan Wangji huffs, getting up and walking across the room. “Ridiculous,” he says. His ears are adorably red. Wei Wuxian wants to kiss them.
He settles for flopping across the bed and saying, in his best whine, “Where are you going? Didn’t you say you wouldn’t leave?”
“Food. You haven’t eaten all day, and Sizhui said you threw up yesterday.” He goes to the table and lifts covers off several bowls. “From dinner. It should still be a little warm.”
Wei Wuxian smiles at him, helplessly fond. “Thanks, Lan Zhan. Always so thoughtful.” It comes out teasing, but he means it. “Is it rabbit food, though?”
Lan Wangji sighs in a distinctly put-upon way, but then he reaches into a cabinet and pulls out a large jar of chili oil. He has an if-you-must look on his face, but in all his time in the Cloud Recesses, Wei Wuxian has never seen a single even slightly spicy meal. There’s no hiding that Lan Wangji got this for him. And he would’ve had no idea when they’d see each other again, so he must’ve had this just…waiting. Just in case.
“You know,” Wei Wuxian says, “this is why you’re my favorite person in the whole world.”
“No talking while eating,” Lan Wangji says, not making eye contact, and Wei Wuxian laughs.
“But we’re not eating yet!”
“We’re eating now,” Lan Wangji says firmly, and he all but drags Wei Wuxian off the bed and to the table, pushing food at him insistently until they really are eating and talking is (according to the truly absurd rules of the Cloud Recesses) forbidden. Wei Wuxian usually ignores that rule as much as he does all the others, but this once, he gives Lan Wangji a break to thank him for being so wonderful all the time. Besides, he somehow manages to get sleepy again halfway through the meal, and by the end, he’s yawning widely every minute or two.
“Bed,” Lan Wangji tells him, clearing away the dinner things.
“But I just woke up,” Wei Wuxian says, protesting mostly for the look of the thing. In all honesty, he can’t imagine anything he wants more right now than to curl up in Lan Wangji’s arms again. “How can it be bedtime already? It’s not even nine yet—you aren’t going to sleep, are you?”
Lan Wangji lifts up a stack of what looks like probably very important and very boring paperwork, and then he sits down on the bed, balancing a wooden board across his lap as a writing surface. It’s all probably things he couldn’t do during the day while he had to take care of Wei Wuxian. “You sleep,” he says calmly. “I will be here. At nine, I will sleep as well.”
It doesn’t look very comfortable. Wei Wuxian pouts to hide how touched he is. “What if I wanted to sleep on you again? Aren’t you going to hold me tonight, Lan-er-gege?”
Immediately, Lan Wangji removes it all, setting it to the side. No hesitation, no annoyance on his face. “If that’s what Wei Ying wants.”
Just like that. Like that’s all he needs to hear. Wei Wuxian feels all of his breath rush out of him at once, but nothing seems to come to replace it. He knows he must be going red. He knows he must be gaping at Lan Wangji like a beached fish. He can’t talk. He can’t think. It’s amazing, unbelievable, beyond understanding that someone this good and perfect can keep being so kind to him. He’d think he was dreaming, but his dreams never make him happy. “Lan Zhan,” he croaks out, his voice rasping and his hands trembling. “Stop being so nice to me.”
Lan Wangji looks at him for a while, and then he just holds his arms open. “Come to bed, Wei Ying.”
That night is restless, but it’s nothing like some of the ones Wei Wuxian’s spent alone. Whenever he jerks awake, gripped by some formless terror, it only takes Lan Wangji’s calm voice to soothe him back to sleep. It’s—well, it’s wonderful. The thought of giving it up is agonizing. He remembers too easily what it’s like to wake alone and trembling in the middle of the dark night, feeling resentment pluck at his edges. Now that he knows what it’s like not to, every room he wakes up alone in will be colder, emptier. It’s so much worse to miss than to simply not have. It always has been, with everything he’s ever once had and given up: a soft bed with clean sheets, gold fire that warmed him from the inside, someone who loved him.
Wei Wuxian doesn’t wake when Lan Wangji does, but he does a little later, when a soft voice calls out from a distance, “Hanguang-jun?”
Wei Wuxian stirs, grumbling, and feels a warm hand stroke his back soothingly. “Go back to sleep, Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji murmurs. “I’m here.”
“Hanguang-jun?” the other voice says again.
Wei Wuxian unwillingly drags himself out of the soft grip of dreamless sleep, following the sound. He shifts restlessly, rubbing at his face with one hand as if he can push away tiredness like clinging cobwebs. “Hanguang-jun?” he echoes, and he hears Lan Wangji sigh. He yawns expansively, dragging his eyes open, even though they seem as stiff as corpses. “Is that Sizhui?” he says blearily. When Lan Wangji doesn’t say anything, Wei Wuxian calls out, louder, “Sizhui?”
“Wei-qianbei?” Sizhui’s voice sounds surprised, and Wei Wuxian realizes it’s coming from the door to jingshi. Sizhui must be standing just outside it. “Is that you? How are you feeling?”
“Still not sick,” Wei Wuxian mutters, and Lan Wangji pats him soothingly, though there’s a tiny frown marring that perfect, impassive face. Wei Wuxian smiles at him, and yells, still not bothering to get up, “Come in!”
Sizhui opens the door immediately, entering, and then he gets five steps into the little house and stops dead. He’s biting his lip on what looks like a broad smile, but there’s also a blush rapidly spreading across his face. “H-Hanguang-jun,” he says, looking down at his feet. “Wei-qianbei. I didn’t mean to interrupt.”
Wei Wuxian is pretty used to having his napping interrupted at this point, and it’s usually for much less pleasant reasons than Lan Sizhui. He’s about to say so when his sleep-fogged brain realizes all at once what someone coming into a bedroom where he’s sprawled on Lan Wangji’s bare chest in bed is probably going to think. He snorts, and then he has to press his hand to his mouth as he starts laughing helplessly. Each look at Sizhui’s flushed face, the way his eyes keep skittering away from where the two of them lie tangled together in bed, sets Wei Wuxian off fresh. They ought to be grateful that it wasn’t Lan Qiren who came to look for his nephew. Giving people heart attacks is probably forbidden in the Cloud Recesses.
“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji says patiently at last, and Wei Wuxian stifles his laughter, grinning at him.
“What?” he says. He can’t help the giggles that keep threatening to spill out, and his shoulders are still shaking with suppressed laughter.
Lan Wangji looks at him solemnly, and then he reaches out and brushes a gentle finger down Wei Wuxian’s cheek, stopping at the corner of his mouth. “It’s good to see you happy,” he says quietly, and Wei Wuxian’s laughter dries up, replaced with wide-eyed shock.
“Oh,” he says faintly. “Um.” His insides squirm, and he has to look away. He pushes himself up into a sitting position at Lan Wangji’s side, letting the covers fall down and pool around his hips. He laughs again, but it feels awkward and forced. “Don’t worry, Sizhui,” he says. “I haven’t despoiled your Hanguang-jun. Look, I’m wearing clothes, hmm? It’s just him who’s too shameless to.”
“I wasn’t worried,” Lan Sizhui says. He’s still smiling. “I was just surprised. I would’ve thought you’d be too sick for—” He goes even redder and stops. “Anyway. I’m glad you’re feeling better, Wei-qianbei. I was just coming by to see if Hanguang-jun wanted to take the day off again today.”
Oh, right. Wei Wuxian looks over to see Lan Wangji frown and open his mouth, but before he can say anything, Wei Wuxian sings out, “Nope! He can go back to work today! No need to bother Zewu-jun or Lan Qiren.”
Lan Wangji’s frown deepens. “Wei Ying,” he says quietly.
“Lan Zhan, I’m fine. I slept so much yesterday that—” He hesitates, glancing over at Sizhui, and then he tilts his head to the side, plastering his silliest smile to his face. “A-Yuan, can you give your fathers a chance to talk privately?”
Sure enough, Sizhui chokes, looking down. “U-um, sure, Xian—I mean, Wei-qianbei. I’ll just be—I’ll just be outside.”
“You really can call me Xian-gege again!” Wei Wuxian yells as Sizhui hurries out, but there’s too much happiness from that almost-slip to have him anything but smiling. He tries to make it a pout when he looks back at Lan Wangji. “You raised him too well. He’s too polite.”
“Mn,” Lan Wangji says. “Maybe you raised him too well.”
Wei Wuxian laughs. “What, during the couple years I spent burying him in the radish patch and trying not to let him starve? I don’t think so.” He stretches, raising his arms high as he tries to work the kinks out of his back. When he glances over, Lan Wangji is staring at him, face inscrutable. “What?”
Lan Wangji blinks several times and looks away. “You did a good job.”
“Only you would add ‘good parent’ to my list of achievements,” Wei Wuxian tells him fondly, “along with waking the dead and mass murder.”
“Either way, that’s not the point. Lan Zhan, you don’t need to babysit me today.”
“It’s not babysitting,” Lan Wangji says immediately, his mouth hardening into a mulish line. Wei Wuxian loves him to distraction, stubbornness and all.
“Yes, yes,” he says. “It’s not babysitting. It’s very kindly taking care of your soulmate who can’t be trusted to lie in a bed by himself. Maybe you ought to get someone else to do it. I’m sure your uncle would be delighted to hold me through a nightmare or two. It might give him some pleasant ideas of what I’m frightened of, the better to torment me with later.” Lan Wangji glares at him, and Wei Wuxian snickers. “Honestly, Lan Zhan,” he says, trying to pin a serious look to his face, “I’m fine. I slept all day yesterday and all night. Even I can’t lie in bed much longer. I’ll get bored, and then I’ll start bothering you, and then you’ll wish you’d left to do work when you had the chance.”
“No, I won’t,” Lan Wangji says, as if Wei Wuxian hasn’t been annoying him since they were teenagers. Ridiculous, wonderful man.
“Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian tries, determined to keep Lan Wangji from letting the cultivation world implode just because he thinks he has a responsibility to take care of dumb idiots who can’t sleep alone, “I really don’t want your uncle to be any angrier with me than he probably already is. If I keep you from your duties again, he’ll probably burst through the doors to demand that I copy your sect’s rules, no matter what your brother says to him. Lan Zhan, there’s four thousand of them now. I’m not copying them.”
“He would not,” Lan Wangji says seriously. “And if he did, I would copy them for you.”
Wei Wuxian puts his hands over his face. “Lan Zhan. How come you were never this nice to me when were kids? Imagine if you’d offered to copy sect rules for me when we were stuck in the library together. I probably would’ve—” He shakes the thought off. What would he have done? Fallen in love? He’d done that anyway.
Lan Wangji’s silent, and then he puts an almost tentative arm around Wei Wuxian’s shoulders. “I should’ve been nicer to you,” he says awkwardly, “the whole time.”
Wei Wuxian groans, hopeless with longing, and collapses sideways to lean against Lan Wangji and smell his warm skin. He lets himself be held for a few agonizingly perfect moments, and then he sighs, turning his head to kiss Lan Wangji’s bare shoulder and then pushing himself up again. “I’m awake,” he says firmly, “and you have to go save the world from everyone trying to take advantage of the chaos we’re in now. Be honest, how many people are trying to blame every little thing going wrong now on Jin Guangyao so that they can make it someone else’s problem?” The tightening of Lan Wangji’s lips is answer enough. “Go remind them that lying is forbidden in the Cloud Recesses, okay? I’m not tired. I slept enough. I can wait until you get back tonight.”
Lan Wangji presses one of his thumbs into the hollow underneath Wei Wuxian’s eye, where there must be a dark bruise-like bag. Wei Wuxian does his best to sit still, as if he were trying to hide a nightmare, so that he doesn’t do something foolish like shiver or lean into the touch. Lan Wangji looks at him searchingly. “You’ll be here when I get back?”
Wei Wuxian shrugs, pretending a casual lack of concern, like his whole soul isn’t expanding with the idea that Lan Wangji wants him to be here later. “Of course,” he says easily. “Where would I go? Ouyang Zizhen hasn’t even brought my donkey yet.”
“Of course,” Lan Wangji echoes. He looks away. Neither of them says anything, and the silence hangs between them wrongly like a missed cue in a duet. “I’ll go,” Lan Wangji says finally, and Wei Wuxian just nods.
Lan Wangji dresses in silence, and Wei Wuxian doesn’t watch. He picks absently at a thread coming loose from the blankets and doesn’t think about the startling intimacy of changing for the day in a bedroom they shared. In some ways, being carried here had felt less familiar. He knows how to thicken his face for things he’s supposed to be embarrassed about. He’s less sure how to deal with the subtle, quiet ways Lan Wangji demonstrates affection, with the way he makes space in his life and home without commenting. It’s kind and sweet and wonderful, and it makes it very unfair that Wei Wuxian just wishes desperately that he would comment, just once, so it would be clearer whether this is concern over the nightmares or something else, something deeper. Softer.
“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji says when he’s done, hesitating by the door.
Wei Wuxian looks up at him and smiles. “Hmm? Yeah?”
Lan Wangji swallows. Wei Wuxian wants to lick his throat where it bobs with the motion, and he makes himself look away. “I’ll see you later.”
“Yeah, of course,” Wei Wuxian says, determinedly casual. “Later.”
Lan Wangji leaves, and Wei Wuxian collapses face-first onto the bed and yells his frustration into the pillow. It isn’t particularly helpful, but at least the sheer agony of loving someone so perfect and so important to the rest of the world is a reminder that this—the jingshi, the bed, Lan Wangji’s strong arms—don’t really belong to him. He was borrowing them temporarily. He has to give them back to the rest of the more deserving universe.
After three hours of trying to sleep again, alone, without Lan Wangji—three hours of waking up shaking, sweating, reaching across a cold empty bed in search of someone who isn’t there—he accepts that it isn’t going to work. That he’s as helplessly needy as he always has been. He isn’t even sure now if he could sleep with Lan Wangji on the other side of the room, because Wei Wuxian wants him here, close, warm and safe. He hasn’t just not fixed his problem, he’s made it worse. He has no idea what he’s going to do when he has to leave again, when he can’t simply let Lan Wangji soothe his troubles away with his calm voice.
That, however, he’s electing to make a problem for some future version of himself, the one who has to tear himself away from the sense of peace that he feels every time he sees Lan Wangji looking at him or not-quite smiling at him or sitting there like a bright beacon against the dark wood floors. This version of himself just has to find some way to stay entertained in the Cloud Recesses without getting into too much trouble. That’s difficult enough, since he has no one to bother. Everyone else is going about their very important business, but he doesn’t have any business, because he doesn’t really belong here. He’s a guest. He hates being a guest.
He tries library, but he gets as far as the doorway before he realizes there’s a class of tiny Lan children in there. He hovers for a minute, laughing silently at their little forehead ribbons and chubby cheeks and serious expressions, but then the teacher sees him and jerks back in surprise, and he slips away before anyone can ask if he’s trying to corrupt the next generation with demonic cultivation or bad life choices or general rule-breaking.
No one can accuse him of corrupting rabbits, though. Even Lan Qiren would be hard-pressed to find anything nefarious in him sitting in the grass and kissing their soft faces. Better still, they only live at the edges of the Cloud Recesses, where he’s much less likely to run into someone who can look at him with that sickening expression of mixed shock and wary tension. None of the bunnies particularly like him either—certainly not as much as they like Lan Wangji, which is perfectly reasonable, because Lan Wangji should be first in everyone’s hearts—but, being tiny and helpless, they can’t do much about it.
They settle down once he stops moving around so much, and he leans quietly against a tree, breathing deeply and watching them hop around. He imagines Lan Wangji coming out to feed them during all those long years when Wei Wuxian was dead, taking care of them and loving them and petting them gently. Looking down at them and paying attention to their little rabbit problems with all the seriousness with which he addresses Chief Cultivator duties and moral questions and how Wei Wuxian is going to be able to sleep at night.
Wei Wuxian smiles down at the little furry bodies surrounding him, reaching out to brush his fingers against their twitching noses. “Your Hanguang-jun is too good,” he says to them, “but you already knew that, didn’t you?”
He imagines them agreeing with him in little squeaking voices, and he laughs happily, tugging at their impossibly soft ears. They hop away from him in protest, but they’re too lazy to go far, and he stretches his legs in front of him and pulls out some talismans he’s been designing. He works on them for a while, tweaking strokes here and there, moving unconsciously around the clearing to follow the patches of sunlight. The Cloud Recesses are almost always a little too cold for him, but the sun is bright and warm and wonderfully untainted by a fog of resentful energy.
He has to get up and stretch once morning gradually brightens into afternoon, twisting his spine and hearing it pop like an old man’s. “All right,” he says to the rabbits, which have gotten closer to him over the hours, apparently deeming him acceptable once he stopped bothering them so much. There’s probably a lesson to be learned there, but he’s not going to learn it. “What now?”
The rabbits don’t have an answer for him, of course, but he smiles at them anyway and pulls Chenqing from his belt. “Did Lan Zhan ever play for you?” he asks. “I bet he did. Lucky bunnies! To be played for by the esteemed Hanguang-jun isn’t an experience to be taken lightly, as I’m sure you know! Ah, I’m sure my humble offerings will be nothing like what such elegant young masters are used to—” He stops to bow. “But I hope you will gift this unworthy one with your attention anyway.”
He plays at random, half-remembered snatches of songs from his childhood in Yunmeng and things he’s heard Lan Wangji play before, slipping from one to another without thought. The rabbits, of course, ignore him completely, hopping over his feet and continuing to nibble at whatever greenery there is, but he was hardly expecting a captive audience. They’re better, at the very least, than Little Apple, who always brays and stomps his way through Wei Wuxian’s music, as if offended by the idea of pleasant sounds.
He plays for the rabbits and the open skies and the sheer joy of being here, in this place that belongs so thoroughly to Lan Wangji. He finds the key of his music changing, almost without thought, following the trail of his thoughts and his longing heart straight to a song his fingers know so well they can play it without direction. He imagines clear guqin notes to anchor the melody, a duet that’s only in his head, and then he opens eyes he hadn’t realized he’d closed, smiling, and—
—looks straight into the eyes of one of the Lan cultivators, chalk white and staring at him with nothing less than pure, bone-deep terror.
Wei Wuxian’s fingers tighten on Chenqing, as he whirls around to look behind him, thinking—but there’s nothing. Rabbits. Trees. Rocks. The pure, beautiful white and green and blue of the Cloud Recesses, nothing to disturb the peace. Nothing, he realizes, as he turns back, but him. He smiles carefully at the man, trying desperately to come up with a name, but it’s just another cultivator in white robes and a forehead ribbon. “Sorry,” Wei Wuxian says carefully. “Did I startle you?”
The man stumbles back a few paces. He’s holding a basket of vegetables, like he’d come out to feed the rabbits. A few dark green, wet-looking leaves spill over the edges and lie abandoned on the grass. “Y-you can’t do that here,” he says. His eyes are wide, horrified. “You—you can’t do that here.”
Wei Wuxian blinks at him, looking down at himself, flipping mentally through three thousand Lan rules, copied over and over and over again as a teenager. There are more now, he knows that, but—he’s not running, he’s not shouting, he’s not making any kind of fuss, he’s not arguing, he’s not being rude or talking back or making Lan Qiren cough up blood. He wasn’t even being that loud. “I can’t…play the flute?” he says, confused, because the Lans would never have a rule against music. The man flinches, and Wei Wuxian steps back, spreading his hands, trying to look harmless. “I can’t—” He stops. “I can’t play the flute,” he repeats slowly, and the other cultivator darts a terrified glance at Chenqing. Wei Wuxian looks at him, properly: white robes, forehead ribbon, trembling hands, and a face that’s perhaps five or ten years older than Lan Wangji’s. Someone who would have been at the Nightless City.
Wei Wuxian takes another three quick steps back, almost tripping over a rabbit that doesn’t get out of the way in time, feeling understanding slice into him like a well-sharpened sword. “I wasn’t—” He looks down at Chenqing, watches his hand clench around the dark wood, his knuckles white. “I wasn’t,” he says again. “I was just—it was just music.”
“You can’t,” the man says, his voice almost a wail. His breath is coming too fast, and he doesn’t seem to have even heard a word. Wei Wuxian feels abruptly, bizarrely guilty for not knowing his name. To have scared someone this much, once upon a time, and never even have known. “Not here!”
“All right,” Wei Wuxian says softly, as gently and carefully as he can. “All right. I’m not, see. I stopped. Okay? I stopped.”
The other man stumbles back too, and Wei Wuxian almost wants to laugh—there they are, standing in the middle of a clearing full of rabbits, holding a flute and some vegetables, both retreating as if from a fight they’re losing. How ridiculous. But there’s nothing funny about the panic there, the too-fast inhale, the shaking fingers. Wei Wuxian knows panic like that. He remembers it like an old friend, like the feeling of falling. He takes a single step forward and stops when the man flinches. He rocks back.
“I’ll go,” he says instead. “I’ll just—I’ll go. You—the rabbits. You take care of the rabbits. I’ll go.” He isn’t quite sure the man hears, but he doesn’t wait to find out. He turns. He walks away. He barely notices when he leaves the Cloud Recesses, when his feet find the long mountain path and follow it down. He doesn’t know where he is or where he’s going until he looks up to find himself in Caiyi, in the middle of the road. There are people passing him on all sides, brushing by politely as they get where they’re going, tactfully ignoring the random stranger standing with his feet rooted to the smooth flagstones.
Wei Wuxian tips his head up to the sky and breathes out, feeling relief pour over him like cold rain, because none of them have any idea at all who he is.
The wine shop he walks into is a nice one, big enough to have two levels, so he can tuck himself into an open window on the second floor and drink slowly, watching people pass by beneath him. He doesn’t talk to the servers much other than to ask for Emperor’s Smile and gesture for another jar when he runs out. Sometime around the fourth hour and sixth jar, he can see them eyeing him, wondering whether he can pay for this and why he isn’t ordering any food, and really, he might not be able to pay for this. He can’t even remember if he grabbed any money on his way out of the jingshi, since he’s never needed any in the Cloud Recesses. He can’t bring himself to care.
For perhaps the first time in his entire life, all he wants is to talk to no one and have no one talk to him, but still, stupidly, to be—not by himself. He wants the sound of other people, moving around and doing people things, living their lives peacefully or happily or angrily. He wants to listen to them argue and joke and play and welcome each other home underneath the setting sun. He shivers a little, leaning outside to chase the fading daylight, and then it’s gone, and he’s sitting there with the window open, cold and very alone.
He has another drink and counts the stars in the sky.
He’s starting the eighth jar and finally starting to feel the edges of his awareness soften as he rubs at the unraveling hem of his robes, pressing the pads of his fingers flat against the weave, when a low, familiar, well-loved voice says, “Wei Ying.”
Wei Wuxian stops, his breath catching as he stares at the sky. Slowly, hesitantly, he looks down at the streets, mostly empty now that it’s gotten so late. On the street below him, standing out against the darkness like another brightly shining star, is Lan Wangji. Under the moonlight and the shop’s paper lanterns, his white silks and perfect face and bright eyes glow, and Wei Wuxian aches, looking at him. “Lan Zhan,” he hears himself say, and he wonders if it’s all as obvious to Lan Wangji as it sounds to him: the way his voice curls around the syllables of Lan Wangji’s name, the way he holds it in his mouth and releases it slowly, the way he lingers over the rise and fall of the wide vowels.
The air between them is still and charged with Wei Wuxian’s formless longing for another heartbeat, and then Lan Wangji’s brow furrows slightly, and he’s leaping into the air smoothly. Wei Wuxian has to scramble back from the window, pushing himself back toward the table he’s been ignoring as Lan Wangji lands lightly on the sill and climbs over into the room.
“Wei Ying,” he says, frowning. “You’re here.”
“I’m here,” Wei Wuxian agrees, voice faint, gaping at him. He feels as though he’s dreaming. Or like everything else was the dream and he’s finally woken up. “You’re also here. What—what are you doing here?”
Lan Wangji’s frown deepens. “You weren’t there,” he says, “when I got back.”
Wei Wuxian stares, trying to drag his mind out of the swirling eddies of self-pity and make it start working again. “What?”
“You said you would be there when I returned,” Lan Wangji says, “but you weren’t. Why did you leave? Why didn’t you come back?”
Their conversation in the morning. Wei Wuxian remembers it all at once, and he forces a weak smile. “Lan Zhan, ah,” he says, trying to tease, “did you miss me?”
“Yes,” Lan Wangji says immediately, and Wei Wuxian fumbles his grip on his jar of Emperor’s Smile and nearly drops it on the floor. “Wei Ying. Why didn’t you come home?”
Wei Wuxian inhales, gasping, feeling like the air is scraping across his throat. Home. Home. He has to put the jar down so he can brace his hands against his knees, so that he can press his forehead against his arms. He can’t breathe. He wants—he wants the golden wood and warm water of Lotus Pier; he wants radishes and Fourth Uncle’s terrible wine at the Burial Mounds. He wants to have a home, one where people welcome him back and notice if he’s late, and he’s so fucking close, and it hurts to remember that Lan Wangji’s never asked him to stay. He wants this properly, where it’s his, really his, his to keep, and it should be enough—Lan Wangji’s support and quiet affection should always be enough—but it’s not. It’s not, it’s not. Lan Wangji’s right there, and Wei Wuxian is still so lonely.
“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji says, his hand on Wei Wuxian’s back. Wei Wuxian didn’t notice him getting so close, and the weight of his warm palm is a shock. “Wei Ying. What’s wrong? Did something happen?”
Wei Wuxian makes himself laugh and sit up a little. He scrubs his hands over his face. “No,” he says. “No, nothing. I just—I missed you too, you know, Lan Zhan. Let’s just go—” Home. He shakes his head. “Back. Let’s just go back. I didn’t mean to make you worry. I’m sorry. Let’s go back.”
Lan Wangji reaches out, placing his graceful fingers against Wei Wuxian’s jaw and tilting his head up. His gold eyes are searching, intent. Wei Wuxian wonders what he’s looking for, since it can’t be what everyone else seems to find. Lan Wangji doesn’t say, though, only hums in agreement. “Mn,” he says, pulling Wei Wuxian to his feet. “Let’s go.”
And Wei Wuxian gets to watch as he wordlessly pays Wei Wuxian’s bill, gets to follow him out of the building, gets to let Lan Wangji pull him close so they can stand on Bichen and fly up the mountain together. Gets to undress and slide into bed with Lan Wangji and lie awake thinking it would be so easy, so comfortable, if he just let this never end. If he just imposed on Lan Wangji’s worry and kindness and forgot to leave, if Lan Wangji never actually managed to be rude enough to tell him to go, if Wei Wuxian could just stay and stay and stay, if—if—
Wei Wuxian wakes up sometime in the night, screaming around his hand. He almost never does that these days—he’s gotten very, very good at muffling the noises that try to escape from his throat—but every so often a particularly bad one will get around his defenses. Lan Wangji is shaking him awake and saying his name over and over again, sounding almost frantic, and Wei Wuxian gives up and sobs on him, exhausted and frustrated and sick with lingering misery. Lan Wangji murmurs soft assurances the entire time, holding him so tightly it almost ought to be painful. Instead, it’s the safest Wei Wuxian has felt since Lotus Pier was destroyed by the Wen Sect.
When he finally settles again, Lan Wangji’s lips are pressed to the top of his head and the steady stream of words has become occasionally interrupted by a gentle kiss to his hair. Wei Wuxian longs, desperately, to tilt his head up and steal one of those kisses for his lips instead. To stop himself, he pushes himself up to a sitting position, even though it means leaving the comforting warmth of Lan Wangji’s arms.
“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji says, sitting up as well, though he politely doesn’t close the new distance between them. Wei Wuxian wishes he would. “Do you want to talk about it?”
Wei Wuxian shakes his head immediately. “No,” he says. “No. I don’t even want to think about it, Lan Zhan.” He sighs, rubbing at his forehead and then folding his body over so he can press his head to his knee. “Do you ever get nightmares?”
He straightens up again, trying to inspect Lan Wangji’s face in the dim moonlight. “Really? What about?”
Lan Wangji is silent for a long time, and Wei Wuxian is just about to change the subject—after all, if he doesn’t want to talk about it, why would anyone else? But then Lan Wangji takes a deep breath, audible in the quiet of the jingshi, and says, “You.”
Wei Wuxian goes cold. Of course, he thinks numbly. Who wouldn’t have nightmares about him? There probably isn’t a single person present at the Nightless City who doesn’t. “Oh,” he gets out, past the sudden way his throat seems to have closed up. He slides off the bed, suddenly unable to spend another moment sitting there. He forces a laugh. It hurts. “That makes sense, Lan Zhan. I did some pretty frightening things, huh?”
“You—no.” Lan Wangji sounds horrified, and in the next moment, he’s off the bed too. His arms go around Wei Wuxian’s body from behind, holding him close and keeping him from walking away. “Wei Ying, no. Not like that. Losing you. Not being able to save you. Never getting you back. That’s what—all of them, about that. Nothing else.”
Relief is warm and immediate, but so is the crushing sadness of remembering that Lan Wangji had to live through all those years without each other that Wei Wuxian got to miss, being dead. He turns so he can press their foreheads together. “I came back,” he says, wrapping his arms around Lan Wangji’s neck. “You saved me this time. You saved me so many times. You won’t ever lose me again.”
“Mn.” It sounds almost like a sob, and Wei Wuxian’s heart crumples like wet paper.
“I came back,” he repeats. “I’m here.”
“It’s easier for me,” Lan Wangji says. “Like you said. When you’re here. When I’m not so—alone.”
Wei Wuxian is filled with something soft and yielding, something so gentle and tender he doubts there are more than five people in the world who’d believe him capable of it. He pets Lan Wangji’s head like he’s one of the rabbits. “That’s good. We can take care of each other, Lan Zhan. Let’s go back to bed, okay? I’ll be here.”
“Mn,” Lan Wangji agrees, sounding relieved. It’s a little difficult to get back without having to stop holding each other, but they manage at last.
Wei Wuxian lies on his back this time and pats his own chest. “Put your head here, Lan Zhan. You can hear my heartbeat that way. You’ll know I came back and I’m really alive again.”
Lan Wangji sits on the edge of the bed and doesn’t lie down. “What about you? How will I know if you need me?”
I always need you, Wei Wuxian thinks helplessly. Out loud, he says, “I’ll wake you. I promise.”
Lan Wangji hesitates, clearly not believing him. “Wei Ying,” he says. “I—the nightmares. Mine. About not being able to protect you. Don’t make me—”
“I know,” Wei Wuxian says, as gently as he can. “I get it. I’ll let you take care of me. Really, this time.” He reaches out and tugs at Lan Wangji’s wrist. “Besides, if you lie on top of me, I’ll have you between me and the rest of the world. I’ll feel so safe that way.”
And Lan Wangji must believe him, because he drapes himself over Wei Wuxian like a warm, heavy blanket. The weight of him, pressing Wei Wuxian back into the bed, is deeply comforting, a constant reminder of his physical presence. Wei Wuxian falls back asleep with a smile on his face.
It doesn’t fix the nightmares, of course. He has to shake Lan Wangji awake twice for comfort and soft touches, and once the racing of his heart does it for him. And sometime in the early hours of the morning, he wakes, slowly, to Lan Wangji’s lips pressed against the pulse point in his neck, his voice whispering, “You’re here. You’re here. You’re here.”
“I’m here,” Wei Wuxian says sleepily. “It’s all right, Lan Zhan. I’m here. Go back to sleep.”
And they do.
Wei Wuxian spends a week in the Cloud Recesses, catching up on rest and touching Lan Wangji as often as he thinks he can get away with. He plays with the kids too, Sizhui and Jingyi and Jin Ling and even Ouyang Zizhen, once he arrives with Little Apple. Lan Wangji doesn’t usually have time for him during the day, but they eat together, and it’s enough to have him at night, close and sleepy and a steady, comforting presence. Or it should be, at least. Anyone sensible would think so. When Lan Wangji wakes him at five every morning while extracting himself from their tangle of limbs, Wei Wuxian fantasizes about drawing him back and kissing those sleep-soft lips, the ones that smile at him and say Wei Ying so tenderly. He doesn’t. He sticks his head under the covers and whines about being woken and pretends to be annoyed, but it’s so easy to want and so hard to stop.
He starts looking at maps in the library and watching the weather, trying to figure out when to leave. He can tell that all the elders wish he would, that his welcome is rapidly wearing thin. And even if it weren’t, no amount of loving Lan Wangji is ever going to make it easy for him to follow four thousand rules banning all the things in life that are the most fun. He really does try, and Lan Wangji doesn’t care when he breaks them, but he can feel everyone else’s disapproval. And Lan Qiren hates him, of course. Wei Wuxian’s very used to people hating him, but it’s worse this time, because Lan Wangji cares that Lan Qiren hates him. And that’s awful. So he should leave, he really should. He’s going to leave. Next week, maybe, or the week after. Just—not now. Not when he still needs Lan Wangji so badly. Not when he hasn’t figured out a solution of his own yet. Not when Lan Wangji needs him.
At the end of the week, Lan Wangji disappears for a day. Wei Wuxian doesn’t think anything of it, happily teaching Lan Sizhui some new sword forms, until he gets asked six separate times by various disciples whether or not he’s seen Hanguang-jun. He takes to saying, cheerfully, “Not since he left me in bed this morning,” just for the shocked and horrified looks on their faces. Probably he shouldn’t imply they’re sleeping together—euphemistically, that is—but it’s so funny to watch them stutter and try to respond, and he honestly doubts Lan Wangji will do anything more than tell him he’s shameless and then totally fail to correct anyone’s resulting misconceptions.
When Lan Wangji gets back that night, Wei Wuxian wraps him up in a delighted hug, because somehow even a single day is too long to be apart. Which sucks, since he’s definitely leaving. Probably soon. Almost certainly. “Where have you been? Everyone seems to think I’d know, but you didn’t say. Were you abandoning me here after all, Lan Zhan?”
Hearing things like that said with such certainty is really—at this rate, Wei Wuxian might end up trying to stay forever, if Lan Wangji will take pity on him, just because he doesn’t know how he could give this up a second time. “Well, if you weren’t deserting me here to languish without you, missing you desperately, where did you go? Why didn’t you take me?”
Lan Wangji looks away just slightly, past the side of Wei Wuxian’s face. “I got you something,” he says, stilted.
Wei Wuxian’s eyebrows shoot up. “A present? For me? Ah, Lan Zhan, you should be careful with that. I’ll get spoiled.”
“Good,” Lan Wangji says promptly.
“Good?” Wei Wuxian laughs. He feels effervescently happy, like being sweetly, cheerfully drunk. “Lan Zhan, you want to spoil me? I’ll be terrible, you know. I’ll make you do everything for me. I’ll be ever so greedy. I’m already whiny. Imagine how much worse I’d be if you indulged me too often.”
“Mn,” Lan Wangji says. “Be greedy.”
The list of things a truly greedy Wei Wuxian would ask for is longer and more shameless than Lan Wangji can probably imagine. “Well, then, first, I want my present. Lan-er-gege got it for me, didn’t he?” He drapes his arms around Lan Wangji’s neck. “If it’s from you, I already like it so much.”
“Ridiculous,” Lan Wangji mutters. His face is impassive, but his ears are bright red. Despite that, he wraps an arm around Wei Wuxian’s waist, pulling him comfortably close. His other hand pulls a silk pouch off of his belt and holds it between their faces. He’s looking away again.
Wei Wuxian affects a dramatic gasp, but truly, he’s stupidly touched—no matter what it is, it’s something Lan Wangji went out to get for him. A present. A real one. He grabs for it eagerly, feeling something hard and flat inside the soft pouch, and dumps it out into his open palm. Out comes a jade medallion, large and beautifully translucent, the pale and clear color that means high quality. On it, in careful stylistic detail, is carved a mountain. Wei Wuxian takes one look at it and laughs himself sick, falling forward onto Lan Wangji’s shoulder to gasp for breath. “Lan Zhan!” he cries out, once he can talk again. “You really got me a jade mountain after all!”
“Mn.” Lan Wangji hesitates a moment, the uncertainty only evident in the way his hand flexes once on Wei Wuxian’s hip, and then he reaches over and flips the medallion over. On the back is carved symbols for clarity and serenity and the banishment of resentful energy. Wei Wuxian stares at it. His hand tightens on it, and he realizes that it’s been slowly, painstakingly infused with cool, pure spiritual energy. The spiritual energy of the peerless Hanguang-jun, in fact.
“Lan Zhan,” he says slowly, “what…”
“For the nightmares,” Lan Wangji says quickly. He’s looking at his feet, not at Wei Wuxian. “You could wear it at night. It might help.”
“Oh. Oh. Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan, you’re so—really for me? Thank you.”
“I want to help.” The words are very quiet, but the arm still around Wei Wuxian’s waist tightens.
“You always help,” Wei Wuxian tells him honestly. “And this definitely will. I don’t know why I never thought—well, I do know, it’s because I didn’t have spiritual energy and couldn’t have anyway—but I’m honestly so grateful that you’re always thinking of me like this.”
“Always thinking of you,” Lan Wangji agrees. His voice is still very soft.
Wei Wuxian shivers and has to step away, still smiling. How do you think of me, he wants to ask. What kind of soulmates do you think we are. He doesn’t let himself. Instead, he tilts his head to the side and makes himself smile cheerfully. All that time looking for a solution, and Lan Wangji found one in a week. That’s—he’s happy. Of course he’s happy. “I guess if I have this, I can leave, huh?”
Lan Wangji’s head jerks up, staring at him. In the next instant, he’s reached out and yanked the jade medallion back.
Wei Wuxian chokes, his hand closing on empty air. His mouth has dropped open. Lan Wangji’s ears are slowly reddening, and he’s back to refusing to make eye contact. Awkwardly, he presses the jade back into Wei Wuxian’s grip and then backs up. His steps are smooth and his face is blank, but to Wei Wuxian, he looks mortified anyway.
Wei Wuxian closes his mouth, opens it to speak, and then closes it again. He licks his lips. “Lan Zhan,” he says, and then he stops. He must be misreading this, even though he can’t think of another way to read it. “Lan Zhan, do you…do you not want me to leave?” Lan Wangji twitches, a muscle jumping in his face. He doesn’t say yes, but he doesn’t say no either. Emboldened, Wei Wuxian steps forward. “Do you want me to stay? With you? In the jingshi?” He steps forward again, into Lan Wangji’s personal space. He puts his hands on Lan Wangji’s shoulders. It takes real effort to make himself say, in the same light tone, “In your bed?”
Lan Wangji inhales sharply. “Wei Ying,” he says. His voice scratches, low and rough. “Do not tease.”
“Who’s teasing?” Wei Wuxian says. They’re so close. It’s maddening. His skin is prickling, all over, lightning dancing from nerve to nerve. “Lan Zhan, who’s teasing? If you want me to stay—if you want me here—Lan Zhan, you could tie me to your bed, and I’d only be unhappy if you didn’t stay to keep me company.”
Lan Wangji’s eyes flash, and he grabs Wei Wuxian by the hips and pulls him close, so they’re flush together. “Wei Ying.”
“What?” Wei Wuxian murmurs. There’s a scant inch between their mouths. It would be so easy to—and just the thought that Lan Wangji might actually let him, might actually want him to—he’s giddy. He’s on fire. “Do you like that idea, Lan-er-gege? Me, tied to your bed, helpless? Subject to your every whim? You could do anything you wanted, and I couldn’t stop you—”
‘Kiss’ might be overly generous, actually: it’s half a bite, clumsy and vicious, but Wei Wuxian moans into it desperately anyway. He licks his way past Lan Wangji’s sharp teeth and into his mouth, clinging to the cloth covering those broad shoulders and almost losing hold of the jade pendant. It’s better than he could’ve imagined. Lan Wangji is like a volcano: he comes to devastating, world-shaking life all at once. Being the object of his passion is as intoxicating as it always has been, as it was when they were kids and Wei Wuxian would try anything just to get a reaction, any reaction. He feels now as if he’s standing in the middle of a storm, liable to be swept up and overwhelmed at any moment.
Lan Wangji’s hands fist in the back of Wei Wuxian’s clothes, clawing, grasping, pulling him closer. He’s barely giving Wei Wuxian any time to breathe, kissing him so forcefully that it feels desperate, hungry, almost agonized—like a last kiss, not a first. It’s wonderful. It’s terrifying. Wei Wuxian wants to lose himself in it, frenzied, to forget that there are people and places and feelings other than this, here and now. He pushes into Lan Wangji’s grip, gets his fingers into all that neat hair, feels his finger brush over the soft silk of the ribbon, and Lan Wangji makes a sound not unlike a sob.
“Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian says, breaking away to try to draw enough breath for words. “Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan.” It’s all he has time for before Lan Wangji’s kissing him again, licking the words out of his mouth and completely destroying any further attempt at speech. Not that Wei Wuxian fights much—kissing like this is addictive. As much as he wants to talk, he wants more to lose himself in the deluge.
“Lan Zhan,” he manages, some minutes later. His voice is hoarse, kiss-rough. “Lan Zhan, you don’t really think I want to go away, do you? I’d never leave if you’d asked me not to. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do if you asked. I want to be with you all the time, don’t you know that?”
Lan Wangji stares at him. His lips are red and puffy where Wei Wuxian’s been biting on them, his ears are flushed, and his hair a mess. The impenetrable mask has cracked and given way to show someone human, lustful, kissable. He’s breathing hard. His eyes are wide. “Be with me all the time,” he repeats faintly, like he can’t quite believe the words are coming out of his mouth.
“Yes!” Wei Wuxian yells. It’s probably too loud, but really. It should be obvious. It should be said as loudly as possible. Everyone should know. “Of course! If you want me, where else would I want to be? I mean, want me here. Well, the other one too—”
“I want you.”
“You have me,” Wei Wuxian tells him instantly. “I’m yours.”
“Mine,” Lan Wangji says, something fierce and achingly glad in his voice. “Mine.”
“Yes, yours, yours—”
He’s cut off by another savage kiss. There’s no need to interrupt this one with words, so he doesn’t, just surrenders to it completely, tangling his hands in the mess he’s made of Lan Wangji’s hair. At some point, he’s lifted up bodily, and he responds by wrapping his legs around Lan Wangji’s waist and moaning eagerly. He wants every part of them to be touching. He wants to do this forever. Perhaps they could make a new job: Kisser of the Chief Cultivator. Or a rule that says they can’t ever go more than ten minutes—maybe five minutes—maybe one minute—without kissing. He imagines telling Lan Qiren that and starts laughing helplessly into Lan Wangji’s mouth.
“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji says sternly, pulling his head away.
“I’m just happy,” Wei Wuxian tells him, kissing his nose, his cheekbone, and, daringly, his forehead ribbon. Lan Wangji shudders, something he can feel all through their pressed-together bodies. “Lan Zhan, I’m so happy. Don’t stop kissing me. Come back. How will I know I’m yours if you don’t show me?”
Lan Wangji’s arms, holding him up, tighten. “I’ll show you,” he says. This time when they fall back into one another, Lan Wangji carries him, blind, over to the bed and throws him down onto it. “I’ll show you,” he repeats, and then he crawls over Wei Wuxian and leans down to kiss him again.
Wei Wuxian is still buzzing from being tossed like he’s weightless, but it doesn’t stop him from winding his arms and legs around Lan Wangji, dragging him closer and trapping him there. They kiss and kiss and kiss, tasting each other, running their hands all over each other’s bodies. Wei Wuxian glories in the feeling of surging up against the strong, immovable line of Lan Wangji and being completely unable to throw him off. He’s not sure who yanks at whose clothes first, but it doesn’t take long before they’re ripping at the ties, trying to tear each layer off of each other.
And then there’s the joy of bare skin. The ecstasy of touch. Every gorgeous inch of Lan Wangji’s perfect body over his. He’s never felt so greedy, and when Lan Wangji pulls away for a single moment to throw their robes on the floor, Wei Wuxian whines, high-pitched and needy, grabbing at him with hungry hands. Lan Wangji comes back to him, and then there’s nothing between them at all. Wei Wuxian licks a stripe up Lan Wangji’s neck while he feels out the borders of old scars with his hands, tasting salt sweat and the scent of sandalwood and the safest place he’s ever been.
Lan Wangji groans, like it’s been punched out of him, and his hips jerk forward into Wei Wuxian’s. Their cocks grind together once, a stuttering slide as they both let out shocked sounds of pleasure. “Oh,” Wei Wuxian says faintly, and then he hitches his hips up to do it again and again. It’s unbelievably good every time, better than he could’ve imagined, and he’s almost tempted to just do that until they both fall apart. And then Lan Wangji’s mouth moves to his neck, and he bites down as a counterpoint to a particularly powerful thrust, sucking when Wei Wuxian cries out and surges in his arms.
“Lan Zhan,” he says breathlessly. “Are you leaving a mark? Are you making sure everyone is going to know what you were doing to me? That everyone knows I belong to you?”
Lan Wangji doesn’t respond, just moves his teeth higher, to just underneath Wei Wuxian’s jaw, and does it again, harder this time. It’s as good as an answer. Wei Wuxian wails loudly, squirming. His skin is hot, stinging, too small for the sheer amount of sensation he seems to be experiencing.
“Lan Zhan, you’re such a bully,” he says, reaching down between them. “Biting me like that. So mean.” And then he gets his hand around both of them, their cocks together in his tight grip, and Lan Wangji hisses. “Oh,” Wei Wuxian whispers, beginning to stroke, his own hips bucking up into it. “Lan-er-gege. Does that feel good? Do you like it when I touch you? Have you thought about this at night, with me in your bed, sleeping and helpless? You could’ve done anything to me.”
“Shut up,” Lan Wangji says, his voice cracking, and Wei Wuxian laughs joyfully.
“Make me,” he says. “What else can you think of for me to do with my mouth, hmm?”
Lan Wangji pushes two fingers into Wei Wuxian’s mouth without preamble, and Wei Wuxian almost chokes on his delighted surprise. He sucks them in, licking them firmly and hollowing his cheeks as much as he can, moaning exaggeratedly. It’s worth it for the way Lan Wangji’s wide eyes go dark and intent. Wei Wuxian shivers. There’s no logical reason this should be turning him on, but all of a sudden it is: he imagines that the fingers on his tongue are Lan Wangji’s cock instead, hot and heavy, and then that he’s wetting them so Lan Wangji can use them somewhere else, and the moan that rips its way out of his throat this time is completely genuine.
Lan Wangji yanks his fingers out of Wei Wuxian’s mouth like he’s been burned. They stare at each other, breathing heavily, and then Lan Wangji moves away a little, sliding down the bed, kissing and licking his way down Wei Wuxian’s chest. Wei Wuxian pushes himself up on his elbows so he can watch. He realizes, as if from a distance, that he’s still talking. “Lan Zhan, ah, are you really going to use your mouth on me? And you say I’m shameless. What would the rest of the sects say if they saw their Chief Cultivator on his knees for me like this?”
He’s ignored completely, which is good, because at this point, he has no idea what he’s saying. Lan Wangji, as direct in this as everything else, just swallows his cock down without bothering with any more foreplay, and Wei Wuxian falls back against the bed, his words dying on a choked gasp. He’s not sure what he’s more overcome by: the feeling of a tongue, wet and soft, running over him, or the knowledge that it’s Hanguang-jun doing this to him. It’s sloppy and uncoordinated and clearly the first time Lan Wangji has done anything of the sort. It’s fantastic.
Wei Wuxian tries to time his panting breaths to the rhythm of Lan Wangji’s filthy sucking mouth, an attempt at maintaining control that’s destroyed completely when one of Lan Wangji’s hands leaves its vice-grip on his hips and brushes an inquisitive finger, still spit-slick, underneath him. Wei Wuxian freezes, his eyes widening as he stares at the ceiling, feeling gut-punched with stunned, all-consuming lust. Fuck, just the thought—
Lan Wangji lifts his head up, Wei Wuxian’s cock leaving his mouth with a wet sound. He clears his throat before he speaks. “No?”
No is definitely not what he wants to communicate, but his throat closes on yes. He stares at Lan Wangji blankly, trying to think of something to say that isn’t just incoherent begging, an endless stream of words as embarrassingly obvious as how he’s been acting all week, as if it could really be possible to not know how badly he wants, needs, how often he’s been thinking of— Fuck. He wishes, uselessly, that Lan Wangji hadn’t given him the opportunity to respond and had just taken the fucking obvious context clue of him currently being flat on his back and panting for it.
“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji says quietly. The sound of his voice, low and steady, is somehow grounding, and Wei Wuxian takes a deep breath.
“So forceful, Lan Zhan,” he murmurs, coy and sweet and not at all in line with the way his heart is racing. “Lan-er-gege is so strong and rough with me. I’m completely at your mercy. How could I stop you from doing anything you wanted?”
A long silence, and then Lan Wangji says slowly, “Mn.” Wei Wuxian exhales the breath he hadn’t realized he was holding, dizzy with relief.
And then Lan Wangji gets up. Wei Wuxian shoots into a sitting position so fast his head spins. “Where are you going?” he says, in a tone of voice that is absolutely not hysterical.
Lan Wangji doesn’t even get off the bed, though, putting a reassuring hand on Wei Wuxian’s side and rummaging in something nearby with the other. He grabs something and then drops it on the sheets. It’s a jar of some kind of oil or salve or—
Wei Wuxian stares at it and then him. “Have you done this before?”
“No,” Lan Wangji says immediately. “Who else would there be?”
“Well, I was dead for more than a decade, so I guess I shouldn’t actually be—” Jealous. He’s jealous. He’s burning with it, in fact.
“No,” Lan Wangji repeats. “No one else. Never.”
Wei Wuxian relaxes slightly. “Then why do you have that?”
Lan Wangji meets his eyes and says evenly, his ears bright red, “Thought about it.”
“Nngh,” Wei Wuxian says, articulately. “You thought about it. You thought about it with me?”
“You thought about holding me down and putting your fingers inside me to open me up for your big—”
Lan Wangji almost leaps on top of him, shoving him back down against the bed and cutting him off with a vicious kiss. “Stop talking,” he says when they separate, sounding pained.
“What?” Wei Wuxian says, fake-innocent. “Isn’t that what you’re going to do to me? You can do it but you can’t say it?”
Lan Wangji glares at him, and then he pins Wei Wuxian down with one hand on his chest and kisses him again, which just goes to show that Wei Wuxian is right and annoying people will absolutely get him what he wants. He loses himself happily in the feeling of it: Lan Wangji’s soft lips, his sharp teeth, his hair falling down and blanketing both of them, his heavy hand. Wei Wuxian’s body feels like warm liquid, like he could let go and simply soak contentedly into the sheets. His awareness narrows down to all the places where they touch and nothing else, which is why when a slick finger finds him and presses straight inside, he almost shrieks in surprise, turning his head away with a hoarse gasp.
“What?” Lan Wangji says flatly. “You can say it but you can’t do it?”
Wei Wuxian gapes. There’s—in him. Inside him. “Mean!” he yells. “Who knew you could be so mean!”
Lan Wangji hums noncommittally and moves the finger in and out a little, like he’s experimenting. Wei Wuxian squeaks. It’s bizarre. Feeling Lan Wangji’s calloused finger, the intent look on his face, all that attention focused directly on Wei Wuxian—he’s never been so aware of his own skin. That’s the pad of Lan Wangji’s finger. That’s his knuckle. That’s a second finger, which is really too much too fast, right? Except fuck, that’s also right about when it starts feeling good instead of just weird. “Ah,” he hears himself sigh, tilting his hips up, “Lan Zhan, shouldn’t you slow down? You’re taking my virginity right now, you know.”
Lan Wangji hisses and adds a third finger. This time there’s a burn of pain along with the pleasure, and Wei Wuxian yelps, moving into it even as he says, “Too much! Lan Zhan, you’re such a brute! Be nicer!”
“All right,” Lan Wangji says after a short, thoughtful pause. Wei Wuxian barely has enough time to think, wait, what, no, before Lan Wangji’s moving down the bed again, the three fingers staying buried inside, and his mouth is closing over Wei Wuxian’s still hard cock. This time, he times each slow bob of his head with a press of his fingers deeper inside. It’s devastating, and that’s before he manages to do…something that makes Wei Wuxian’s entire spine light up, his back arching with what might be an actual sob.
Wei Wuxian’s knowledge of cut-sleeve porn is fairly limited, which was clearly a fucking mistake, because Lan Wangji takes that data point and proceeds to use it to drive him absolutely crazy, and Wei Wuxian has no clue how he’s doing it. Every press of those fingers has him crying out, yanking rudely at Lan Wangji’s hair, but Lan Wangji ignores him completely, pinning him to the bed, like Wei Wuxian doesn’t have any say at all in what’s happening, and fuck, it’s hot. If this is what sex is like, they’re never getting out of bed ever again.
At last, when Lan Wangji shows no signs of stopping at any point, he has to use his grip on Lan Wangji’s hair to drag him off and gasp weakly for breath. Wei Wuxian presses his head back against the hard pillow and tries to claw back control of his body.
“Wei Ying?” The fingers have stilled too, which is probably a good thing, but also makes Wei Wuxian kind of want to whine and fuck himself back on them again.
“If you keep going like that,” he manages, “I’m going to finish.”
“Oh,” Lan Wangji says, his voice slightly tinged with relief. “Good.”
Wei Wuxian pushes himself up again so he can glare properly. “No!” he snaps. “Not good!”
A brief, confused look passes over Lan Wangji’s face. There’s spit all over his red lips. It’s incredibly distracting. “Wei Ying doesn’t want…”
“Of course I want to! But are you going to be satisfied if you only get to put your fingers in? Hmm?” He sees Lan Wangji direct a speculative glance towards his ass, and adds, pouting, “How can you be thinking about doing it afterward anyway? What if it’s different then, and I don’t like it? Actually don’t like it, I mean.” He grins. “We can try that next time, and if it’s awful, you can use my mouth instead. But if you’re going to fuck me properly now—”
“You want me to fuck you properly?”
He just got Lan Wangji to curse. His cock jerks a little, untouched, even as he says, “Lan Zhan, who taught you to talk like that? So crude.”
Lan Wangji rolls his eyes minutely, which is hilarious and adorable. And then he pulls his fingers out of Wei Wuxian with a filthy wet sound, and Wei Wuxian squirms. “Ah, ah,” he says weakly, not quite a protest, letting Lan Wangji manhandle his legs apart and crawl up the bed so he can settle between them.
It brings their faces back together, and Wei Wuxian hears his breath hitch. It’s ridiculous, how vulnerable the intensity of Lan Wangji’s eyes makes him feel. Stupid, too, considering he’s kissed Lan Wangji, sucked his fingers, had those fingers inside him—if there are intimacies left for them, they shouldn’t include having Lan Wangji stare at him from a handsbreadth away. They’ve definitely already done this. But somehow he feels exposed, seen, and it’s terrifying. He feels as if this last look, Lan Wangji’s serious gold eyes pinning him in place, will finally betray the unpleasantness that must be lurking somewhere underneath his skin like a sickness.
But Lan Wangji only says, soft and tender, “Wei Ying is so beautiful.”
Wei Wuxian inhales sharply, and then he finds himself laughing. It isn’t relief he’s feeling so much as pure, easy, unadulterated happiness. “Who was second most eligible bachelor for all those years, huh? It wasn’t me! Shouldn’t I be saying that to you?”
“Not a bachelor anymore,” Lan Wangji says calmly, and oh, oh—
Wei Wuxian doesn’t really have time to process that, doesn’t have time to say do you really mean that, please mean that, because then Lan Wangji is pushing his cock in in a slow, steady slide. Wei Wuxian’s slick and open from being fingered, but it’s still very different from that, because in this, as in all things, Lan Wangji is really being an overachiever.
“You’re so big, Lan-er-gege,” he says, turning it into a whine. “Who said you had to be this impressive here, too? Isn’t it too much? I’m going to die, I definitely can’t take it, I—ah, fuck—I’m going to break, have some mercy.” Lan Wangji doesn’t, of course, which is good, because Wei Wuxian would probably have to kill him if he did. Lan Wangji is so hot and hard and thick inside of him, and it really does feel like being claimed, like being owned, like belonging, like when Lan Wangji said mine, he meant it. Wei Wuxian wants him to have meant it. He wants to belong somewhere, to somewhere.
When they start to move, it’s frantic, punishing, like Lan Wangji is trying to leave another possessive mark inside. Wei Wuxian hopes it works. Lan Wangji should leave marks anywhere he likes. Everywhere he likes. Everyone will know, then, what they are to each other. No one will ever doubt Wei Wuxian’s presence here.
“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji says, his voice breaking on it. “Wei Ying, touch yourself.”
“Why, do you like to watch? That’s so dirty, Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian manages, even though he knows why, can feel it in the way the rhythm has begun to stutter. He gets a hand on himself awkwardly, pressing his thumb just under the head of his cock and stroking roughly. It’s almost too much, with the way Lan Wangji’s filling him up. He doesn’t want to feel anything but that.
Lan Wangji’s hips shove forward again, harder, and then there’s a pulsing heat deep inside Wei Wuxian as he collapses on top of him. Wei Wuxian moans, loud and wanton and completely desperate, fucking his own fist to chase his release. It doesn’t take much, because he can feel it in him, or he thinks he can, he can feel that Lan Wangji just really did mark him, and he comes with a shout.
They lie there together, panting, for some minutes, until Lan Wangji lifts himself up and drops back onto the bed. Wei Wuxian feels dazed in the best possible way. He aches, he’s going to have marks everywhere from Lan Wangji’s vicious teeth, and there’s something—maybe oil, maybe not—dribbling out of his ass. He’s never felt happier. “Lan Zhan,” he says, pleased, “look what a mess you’ve made of me.”
“I’m looking,” Lan Wangji says, his voice dark and deeply satisfied.
Wei Wuxian laughs, turning his head to see Lan Wangji lying on his stomach looking spent, his head turned to the side so he can see Wei Wuxian and an expression on his face that can be best described as smug. Wei Wuxian tries to moderate the massive grin on his own face, but it keeps breaking through at the edges. “Yes,” he says seriously, “you did all this to me. You were so rough about it, too. I may never recover. What are you going to do about it?”
“Hmm.” Lan Wangji pushes himself up a little and reaches over, playing idly with his own seed as it runs down Wei Wuxian’s skin, a speculative look on his face. His fingers get higher and higher, and then he presses two of them back into Wei Wuxian’s body, shallow but insistent.
“Ah-ah-ah.” Wei Wuxian’s hips rise off the bed as his back arches. It’s definitely too much. He’s oversensitive and overstimulated, and he can’t believe he’s even considering whether they could go a second round. “Lan Zhan!”
“Is it awful?” Lan Wangji says calmly. “Do you actually not like it?”
The words strike a chord in Wei Wuxian’s memory, and his brow furrows. Then his mouth drops open. “Lan Zhan! I said next time, not two minutes after the first time! Who knew you could be so shameless? Have some patience while my battered body recovers.” He keeps his offended expression for another moment, and then lets it turn into a smirk. “You’re going to have to wait at least half an hour.”
“Mn.” Lan Wangji draws his fingers back out, and Wei Wuxian lets out an involuntary whimper, squirming a little. The movement jostles something hard and cold underneath him, and he frowns, reaching back to pull out the jade mountain Lan Wangji had given him. He stares at it, and then he starts laughing, running his thumb over the carvings.
“I must have dropped it when you distracted me,” he says cheerfully. “Thanks again, though, Lan Zhan. I really like it.”
Lan Wangji leans over to kiss his cheek, and then he sits up, swinging his legs off the bed and standing. Wei Wuxian watches him walk across the room, feeling calm and settled, his eyes briefly picking out each scar on Lan Wangji’s back before he lets his eyes drift downward. It’s a great view, and he enjoys it happily while Lan Wangji looks for something. He doesn’t bother to raise his eyes when Lan Wangji turns around until he hears a huff of laughter and looks up to meet Lan Wangji’s eyes.
“Lan-er-gege is very impressive,” he says, grinning.
“Shameless,” Lan Wangji says sternly, but he’s smiling back in that tiny, pleased way of his.
“Very shameless,” Wei Wuxian agrees easily. “When you look like that, how can I help it?”
Lan Wangji comes back to bed, a soft cloth in his hands that he uses to wipe off Wei Wuxian’s stomach. Wei Wuxian lets him without teasing, feeling pampered and spoiled and cared for. When Lan Wangji puts the cloth down without doing anything else, though, he raises his eyebrows.
“Is that the only place you’re going to clean, Lan Zhan? I think you made another part of me dirty, too.”
Lan Wangji shrugs. “No point in cleaning.” Wei Wuxian must look as confused as he feels, then, because he adds, “You said half an hour.”
“Insatiable!” Wei Wuxian yells immediately, but the word breaks on his uncontrollable laughter. “My soulmate has too much energy!”
“Mn,” Lan Wangji says, sounding unconcerned, and then he leans over to cover Wei Wuxian’s lips with his own again.
They kiss for a while like that, lazy and relaxed. Easy, without the burning, desperate passion of their first kisses. It’s sweet and gentle, and Wei Wuxian feels breathless with how comfortably happy he is. When they finally separate, he knows he must be radiating his pleasure. Lan Wangji smiles at him indulgently, brushing some hair out of his eyes, and Wei Wuxian stretches up for another quick kiss. No matter how many he gets, he always wants more.
“Lan Zhan,” he says, letting his head fall back onto the pillow. “Lan Zhan…”
“Mn.” Lan Wangji puts an arm over him and then pulls him close, their sweaty sides sticking together a little. It should be unpleasant, but it isn’t. “I’m here.”
“Earlier,” Wei Wuxian starts to say, and then he shakes his head, nestling closer and deciding not to spoil the moment. “Never mind. Kiss me again?”
Lan Wangji does so immediately, because he’s wonderful, but then he pulls back and cups Wei Wuxian’s face with one hand. “Wei Ying,” he says. “Earlier what?”
Wei Wuxian makes a face at him, grumbling wordlessly and trying to tug Lan Wangji’s head down for another kiss instead. Lan Wangji lets himself be tugged, but it doesn’t stop him from repeating, “Earlier what?” after they separate again.
“Ugh,” Wei Wuxian says. “Lan Zhan, don’t you listen to me? I said ‘never mind.’”
“Mn.” Lan Wangji shifts closer, half-draping his body over Wei Wuxian’s protectively and kissing his cheekbone. “Knowing Wei Ying,” he says, “that means I should pay more attention, not less.”
“I’m here,” Lan Wangji repeats, and Wei Wuxian tries not to melt with pleasure too obviously.
“Why do you have to be like this, huh?” he grumbles, faking annoyance so he can pretend that he’s person instead of a small puddle of lovesick goo. “Why do you have to be so perfect all of the time? How am I supposed to keep up with you when you’re just always being perfect?”
Lan Wangji hums speculatively, pressing his thumb against the corner of Wei Wuxian’s eye and then dragging it gently downwards, tracing the edge of Wei Wuxian’s face. “It won’t be hard. You are already perfect.”
Wei Wuxian feels himself flush, his face hot. He squirms. “Lan Zhan. You can’t just say things like that without any warning. It’s not fair!” When Lan Wangji just shrugs, apparently unrepentant, he groans. “Just—come here, come here. Kiss me again. You have to kiss me again, I really need—”
Lan Wangji, always good to him, gives him another toe-curling kiss, as directed. It’s so focused—intense and thorough and so skilled that Wei Wuxian almost has to wonder if Lan Wangji managed to take lessons in this as well, right alongside swordplay and talismans and calligraphy. It’s glorious. All Wei Wuxian has to do is lie there like some kind of sybarite while Lan Wangji does whatever he wants.
“Lan Zhan,” he murmurs against Lan Wangji’s lips when there’s a breath of space between them again. His hands are locked behind Lan Wangji’s neck, holding him close, keeping him from going too far. Before he can think better of it, he says, “Earlier, is that really what you meant? When you—was I right? Do you want me to stay? You—I mean, you never said.” Lan Wangji stares at him blankly, and Wei Wuxian laughs a little, looking to the side. “I can’t tell what you’re thinking when you look at me like that, you know. Anyway, I know you said I was yours, but that’s not really—well. I just thought I’d…check.”
There’s a long, long silence, and then Lan Wangji says, very slowly, “You wish to know if I want you to stay?”
Wei Wuxian is actually starting to wish, a little desperately, that he hadn’t asked. He tries to worm his way out from under Lan Wangji’s body, but Lan Wangji cages him in with his arms immediately, holding him in place. “Well, yes!” he manages, looking anywhere but at Lan Wangji’s face. “I asked, but you never said.”
“I—” Lan Wangji stops. Wei Wuxian’s never heard him fail to finish a sentence before, never considered that Lan Wangji might try to say something he hadn’t thought out completely beforehand. When he chances a glance back, Lan Wangji’s eyes are wide and stunned and incredulous. “You didn’t know I wanted you to stay?”
“You never asked!” Wei Wuxian blurts out, the words falling out of his mouth without a conscious decision. “I kept waiting and waiting for you to ask me to stay, and you never did, so I left! How was I supposed to know if you didn’t say! How could I know, when—” When, after all, Lotus Pier and his brother are still there, but his home isn’t. “How was I supposed to know I was still welcome,” he says quietly, “if you didn’t tell me?”
One of Lan Wangji’s broad palms cups the side of Wei Wuxian’s face and then tilts it up, so that Wei Wuxian has no choice but to meet his eyes. “Wei Ying,” he says, and then he swallows hard. “I missed you every day for sixteen years. I missed you before that.” His grip tightens, almost becomes too much, and then it loosens again, becomes a caress. “How could I ever want to have to miss you again?”
“But you didn’t—” say, he almost finishes. Only Lan Wangji never does say, not in so many words. He makes room and doesn’t leave and brings wine and chili oil into his neat house and worries when Wei Wuxian doesn’t come home at night, and he does say—he says all the time. It’s Wei Wuxian who wasn’t listening properly, every time Lan Wangji smiled and meant, I want you here. “Oh. Oh, Lan Zhan.”
Lan Wangji leans forward to kiss his way along the side of Wei Wuxian’s face, and Wei Wuxian shivers with it. “I thought,” Lan Wangji says, his mouth at the corner where jaw meets neck, a careful pressure, “that if you wanted to stay, you would.”
“Well, that was silly of you.” Wei Wuxian tugs at his long hair, trying to tease so that he doesn’t cry. “Don’t you know I like to be wooed?”
“Hmm,” Lan Wangji says, kissing him again. “Then I’ll woo you.”
“Oh, no,” Wei Wuxian says with feeling, feeling pleasure warm the edges of his ragged heart, “you’re going to be awful about this. You’re going to be so serious about it all the time and make me listen to you say all those shameless things about how much you love me and missed me. How could you do this to me.”
Lan Wangji snorts quietly, and Wei Wuxian feels it against the sensitive skin of his throat. For a moment, they lie there, blanketed by the warm silence, and then Lan Wangji murmurs, “Wei Ying?”
Another pause, and then Lan Wangji pushes himself up so they can see each other. He looks troubled, for some absurd reason. “I know you don’t like it here, in the Cloud Recesses,” he says. “There are too many rules. And you get bored. If you—I don’t want you to be unhappy.”
He’s so, so kind. Wei Wuxian loves him desperately. “I don’t mind the rules, honestly,” he says. “Especially since you don’t actually care if I break them, as long as I don’t send your uncle into a qi deviation.”
Somehow, that just makes the frown on Lan Wangji’s face deepen. “But you don’t like it here,” he repeats. “I know you don’t like it here.”
Wei Wuxian opens his mouth to deny it, but he stops when he sees the way Lan Wangji is looking at him. Soft, worried. “I…” He sighs. “It’s not the rules. Well. Not only the rules. It’s more that—” He stops and then smiles weakly. “Can it really be that my clever, brilliant, insightful Lan-er-gege hasn’t noticed that he’s the only one who wants me here?” Lan Wangji’s body goes rigid where he’s looming protectively over Wei Wuxian, and Wei Wuxian pats him comfortingly and tries to laugh it off. “I mean, Jingyi and Sizhui do too, I think, but they don’t actually spend very much time here anymore, since they’re always going out to play with Wen Ning and the other kids. It’s okay, though! I don’t mind so much.”
Lan Wangji’s eyes narrow. “Who.”
“Who has made you feel unwelcome,” Lan Wangji says fiercely, clearly ready to take up Bichen and go teach them a lesson immediately.
Wei Wuxian bites his lip on a helpless smile, but he says, “Lan Zhan, no.”
“No,” Wei Wuxian repeats, raising a hand so he can brush it against the curve of Lan Wangji’s jaw. “Lan Zhan, in my life, I have hurt people and scared people and killed people. I have been someone else’s nightmare. And I am glad, every single day, that you’ve forgiven me for that and the kids have and Jin Ling, but nobody owes me that. And I’ve been punished enough, I hope, one way or another, but you can’t just make people not hate me.”
“Yes, I can,” Lan Wangji says mulishly, and Wei Wuxian laughs without quite meaning to.
“Yes, yes,” he says, being sure to let Lan Wangji hear the condescension in his voice. “Hanguang-jun can do anything. Forgive this humble one for saying something so foolish.”
Lan Wangji huffs. His eyebrows draw together a little. Abruptly, he says, “I never forgave you.”
Wei Wuxian freezes, because he knows that doesn’t mean what it sounds like, but— “What?”
“You said I forgave you,” Lan Wangji tells him seriously. “I never forgave you. I never needed to. There was never anything to forgive you for.” Wei Wuxian’s breath stutters on his next inhale, catches roughly in his throat, and Lan Wangji must hear it, because he says very, very gently, “My Wei Ying is good.”
Wei Wuxian is trembling a little underneath him. He knows Lan Wangji can feel it. “Lan Zhan, I—”
“My Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji repeats, looking right into him with those solemn eyes, “is good.”
If Wei Wuxian spends all the rest of this second life being virtuous, being perfectly behaved, following all four thousand rules the Lans have carved into stone, he still won’t deserve this. He doesn’t think anyone could. “My Lan Zhan,” he says, just to feel the syllables in his mouth. “See? Who cares about everyone else? Who cares if they like me? How could I want to be anywhere else and alone when I could be here with you?”
“Don’t be alone,” Lan Wangji says immediately, protectively, wonderfully. “Be with me.”
Wei Wuxian pulls him down for a firm, lingering kiss. “Neither of us is going to be alone,” he says. “I’ll stay with you. You make me happy enough that I could live anywhere and not mind, just as long as I got to be with you.”
“I don’t want you to not mind,” Lan Wangji says. “I want you to be happy. How can I make you happy?”
Wei Wuxian smiles, winding his arms around Lan Wangji’s shoulders. He makes his voice teasingly solemn, furrowing his brow intently. “Hmm, that’ll be very difficult. You’ll have to work hard. You’ll have to—to kiss me. To kiss me and say my name and hold me tight and ravish me and feed me and sing for me and pay ever so much attention to me.”
“Yes,” Lan Wangji says without hesitation. “All of it. Every day.”
Wei Wuxian pretends to gasp. “Every day? Can my Lan Zhan truly handle such an onerous schedule?”
“Every day,” Lan Wangji says again, like he’s really worried Wei Wuxian might think he wouldn’t. He leans down for another kiss, and when he pulls back, he looks determined. “You are good. You are…” He hesitates, and Wei Wuxian smiles to see the way his mouth works, trying to fit itself around years of natural reticence. “Bright,” Lan Wangji finishes. “You light up—everything.”
Wei Wuxian squirms, trying to hide from the sweet pleasure of hearing Lan Wangji say things like that. “You’re the one who’s Hanguang-jun.”
“You’re the one who’s Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji replies, like that makes any sense at all. Wei Wuxian groans anyway, feeling his cheeks flush horribly as he closes his eyes against the heady, intoxicating sound of Lan Wangji’s devotion. Lan Wangji kisses his cheek, his lips gentle, as feather-soft as his voice is when he says, “I know how good you are. Sizhui and his friends know that. Everyone else will too. It is impossible to spend time with you and not—it is impossible. Or it should be.”
“Well, it’s me,” Wei Wuxian says, knowing as soon as he opens his mouth that it’s wrong. “I’m always achieving the impossible.”
“Lan Zhan.” Wei Wuxian almost tries to push him away, but it’s easier in the end, better, to pull him down so that Wei Wuxian can tuck his own face into the crook of Lan Wangji’s neck. “Lan Zhan,” he whispers into the skin there, “it’s okay. Honestly. I hurt people. They’re allowed to hate me for that.”
Lan Wangji doesn’t say anything, but Wei Wuxian can tell from the way his arms tighten, the way he tries to gather Wei Wuxian even closer, that he doesn’t agree. It ought to be annoying, to argue with someone so unwilling to back down, but instead it makes him feel small and safe and very loved. Lan Wangji will always see a better version of him than anyone else does, and Wei Wuxian is selfish enough to want him to.
When Lan Wangji finally speaks, it’s to say, his voice a low rumble right next to Wei Wuxian’s ear, “If I am right, and things improve, then we will stay. If you are happy. If you feel comfortable here.” He takes a deep breath. He’s so warm, so heavy and perfect. “If you are right, and they continue to hate you willfully, then when things settle and I stop needing to be Chief Cultivator, we will leave. We’ll go wherever you want. We’ll find somewhere you will never feel unwelcome.”
“Lan Zhan.” Wei Wuxian’s heart is pounding within the fragile cage of his ribs, so hard it might shatter him from the inside. “This is your home. You love it here.”
“I love you,” Lan Wangji says calmly, as if he weren’t rewriting the entire fabric of his life for another person. “Wei Ying. I would rather be with you, too.”
Wei Wuxian is smiling, he realizes, the corners of his mouth stretched so wide his cheeks hurt. There are tears pricking at the corners of his eyes, but for once, they’re just because he’s overwhelmingly happy, overflowing with it. “All right,” he says. “Then let’s stay together, Lan Zhan. It doesn’t matter where. We’ll figure it out. Let’s just stay together always.”
That night, when he sleeps, his jade mountain hanging around his neck and Lan Wangji on top of him, he dreams twice. The first time is of the three months he spent in the Burial Mounds after being thrown down by Wen Chao, surrounded by resentful energy and on the edge of death the entire time. Of the aching loneliness, of the certainty that all his options would lead to disaster. Of the anger and bloodlust infecting him, the steady erosion of his optimism. When he wakes up from that one, he makes Lan Wangji light a candle and kiss him until they’re both too tired to continue, yawning into each other’s mouths.
The second time, he dreams of a tiny house with a garden. He kneels in healthy soil, green plants growing all around him. Drifting out of the house’s windows is a familiar tune, plucked out on a guqin.
He wakes up smiling.