From the position of the sun, Wei Wuxian can tell it’s well past five.
“Lan Zhan,” he says softly. Across from him, Lan Wangji’s eyes slip open. Soft white dapples of light are falling onto the bed from the window, patterning the blankets. The Jingshi is silent, still; they are suspended between the minutes of the morning.
“Mm,” Lan Wangji says, and his eyelids droop, almost like he’s going to go back to sleep. His eyes are absolutely molten in the sunlight, like liquid gold. Like honey. Wei Wuxian can almost feel their deep amber sweetness in his hands.
“I think it’s around nine,” he murmurs, although he hates to say it. This moment is tiny and precious. He doesn’t want to ruin it. “The sun’s already all the way up.”
Lan Wangji hums a sleepy noise of agreement, but otherwise makes no move to leave the bed.
“Don’t you have a class?” Wei Wuxian pushes, sure that Lan Wangji will jump out of bed at any moment, frantic and embarrassed by his shirking of responsibilities and the Lan Clan rules. Well—maybe frantic and embarrassed aren’t the best words to describe him. He’s not sure he’s ever seen Lan Wangji frantic—
Involuntarily, his mind jumps to the night at Puji Shrine, to the terror and panic and fight that had been in Lan Wangji’s eyes as he stared down two immortals, all because he perceived them as a threat—a threat to Wei Wuxian. He thinks of the slight shake in his voice, almost too subtle to detect if you didn’t know the way he spoke. Of the aching softness of his hands afterwards.
In front of him, Lan Wangji shrugs. “Mm,” he says again. “It’s past time. Don’t care anymore.”
“Lan Zhan!” Wei Wuxian laughs, delighted at both this unexpected display of rebellion and at the fact that maybe now he’ll get to spend a few more moments in bed with him. “Where did my rule-loving Hanguang-jun go? I must be a bad influence.”
Lan Wangji’s face falls, although he makes a valiant effort to hide it. This close, though, Wei Wuxian can see every detail—the tiniest downturn of his lips, the suggestion of tension in his brow. His eyes turn sad.
“Ah,” Wei Wuxian says quickly. “I’m sorry. I said something wrong.”
Lan Wangji says nothing, just reaches for his hand under the covers. This surprises him, although when he thinks about it, maybe it shouldn’t. Hanguang-jun doesn’t touch anyone, he knows—doesn’t touch anyone except for him.
Wei Wuxian’s hand tingles at the touch. He makes himself look away, to break the hold Lan Wangji’s beautiful amber eyes have on him. “I...what?” he says weakly. “I’m not what, Lan Zhan?”
Lan Wangji’s hand tightens around his. “A bad influence. You could never be a bad influence.”
Wei Wuxian finds himself unable to speak. Another self-deprecating quip is building in his throat, but after a glance at the expression on Lan Wangji’s face he decides to keep his mouth shut. It was just a joke, but… it’s also a kind of armor, he’s realized, to tear yourself down before anyone else has the chance to do it for you. He’s gotten very good at it.
“I’m sorry,” he says, instead of anything substantial, because it feels safe and right and he really is sorry that he’s the one who put that awful hurting expression on Lan Wangji’s face. The crease between Lan Wangji’s eyebrows deepens; he wants to smooth it with his thumb. After a few moments of hesitation, he does.
Lan Wangji’s breath stutters in his chest, and the soft sound sends something electric through Wei Wuxian. The tension in his face melts under Wei Wuxian’s touch.
“There,” says Wei Wuxian softly, letting the palm of his hand come to rest around the tender curve of Lan Wangji’s cheek. “Don’t look so sad, Lan Zhan. I can’t stand it.”
“Wei Ying,” says Lan Wangji hoarsely. He appears to struggle for words for a few moments, then simply lets his eyes slip shut. His face tilts unconsciously into his touch. “Wei Ying,” he says again. His voice around those two syllables might be the sweetest sound Wei Wuxian has ever heard.
“Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian murmurs back. “Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan.” It feels like a prayer.
They finally do manage to drag themselves out of bed, nearly half an hour later. The Cloud Recesses are bustling with celebration for the Mid-Autumn festival, although that bustle seems formal and stiff in comparison to the preparations at Lotus Pier. For a second he misses it: the smell of cooking rising through the streets, shouts of vendors in familiar Yunmeng dialect, color and energy in the air. But Lan Wangji had invited him here, and Wei Wuxian had readily agreed, and so here he is.
No one pays them much attention in the hallways. Besides a few odd looks, everyone seems too preoccupied to be hung up over the fact that Hanguang-jun has risen nearly five hours later than usual. Wei Wuxian is quietly glad, as he and Lan Wangji make their way through the Cloud Recesses—this morning had been so tender, in the fragilest sense of the word. He thinks speaking it aloud would somehow break it. The quiet space between them, the sweetness, the slow deliberate care with which they had pulled on each other’s robes, although they knew they were on borrowed time—that was for them and them alone.
Now, though, Lan Wangji is needed in three different places at once, and it’s all Wei Wuxian can do to tag along as he’s swept away in the preparations. Lan Wangji, and consequently Wei Wuxian, is absolutely overwhelmed with last-minute lantern buying and offerings choices and flavors of soup. He simply follows close behind him, nods and offers advice when (infrequently) prompted, and wonders why people aren’t going to Lan Qiren or Lan Xichen with these questions so he can finally have a few seconds of Lan Zhan to himself.
Thankfully, they woke up late enough that lunch comes quickly.
“Hanguang-jun,” a disciple is saying, “if you could please come with me for just a few minutes. There are several—”
Wei Wuxian hooks his chin over Lan Wangji’s shoulder. “Lan Zhannnnnn,” he whines, right next to his ear. Lan Wangji stiffens, and the disciple falls silent in his surprise. Somewhere in the back of his mind Wei Wuxian realizes that this is probably extremely disrespectful, especially towards the esteemed Hanguang-jun, but he doesn’t care. This disciple is nothing he hasn’t seen before. And this is his Lan Zhan. “It’s lunchtime.”
Lan Wangji’s head tilts very slightly towards his, and then stops. Wei Wuxian wonders if he would have rested it against his, had they been alone. “Just a moment,” he says. “I believe I am needed for lantern selection.”
“Lantern selection, and then seating charts, and course selection, and heavens knows what else,” Wei Wuxian complains. “Lan Zhan, aren’t you hungry?”
“Zewu-jun has also requested your presence in the library, immediately afterwards,” the disciple adds tentatively. “He also wishes you to attend to several floral arrangements and join him in meeting representatives from Caiyi Town.”
There is a noticeable pause. Lan Wangji frowns, just slightly. “There is much to attend to. I will be alright.”
“Lunch is the most important meal of the day.”
“Yesterday you said breakfast was the most important meal of the day,” says Lan Wangji, and there might even be the beginnings of a smile behind the words.
“Lan Zhan ,” Wei Wuxian whines, more forcefully than before. “ I’m hungry.”
The disciple shifts uncomfortably. “Hanguang-jun, I have been instructed to complete the purchasing of the lanterns before half-past noon…”
Lan Wangji is still for a few moments, looking quietly at the floor as the disciple glances between him and Wei Wuxian uncertainly.
Then he lets out a breath. “It is lunchtime,” he says decisively. “I will attend to my duties afterwards. I am sure Zewu-jun and my uncle have it under control.”
The disciple blinks, startled, but bows hastily anyways. “Of course. I will let Zewu-jun know.”
“Lan Zhan!” says Wei Wuxian happily, again delighted and surprised with how willing Lan Wangji seems to be to shuffle his duties. He’s overcome with the urge to throw his arms around his waist, press them close together front and back. He wonders how Lan Wangji would react.
“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji says in response. “We will eat in the jingshi.”
“Ah, Lan Zhan.” Wei Wuxian is happy, he realizes, so happy, in a way he hasn’t been for years. Happy like this morning’s clear sunlight, like their autumn’s first cool breezes to end a stifling summer heat. It bubbles, effervescent from his stomach all the way up his throat, like light in his mouth. “This is why you’re my favorite person.”
And Lan Wangji—with the tiniest movement Wei Wuxian can imagine, just the very corners of his mouth (and yet the enormous softening of his eyes)—smiles.
Wei Wuxian is determined to give Lan Wangji a break, and so as much as it would give him a kick to see Lan Qiren’s face when he realizes there’s chili oil on his commencement speech, he clears the central table in the Jingshi of papers and important documents. He settles them neatly to one side so Lan Wangji won’t worry about losing them (see, Lan Zhan, he can be neat when he wants to be!) and busies himself with filling the table with food instead of endless sheets of paper. He knows it’s just lunch, and not a very good one at that, but Lan Wangji has been held up for a few moments outside and for some reason Wei Wuxian wants it to be ready when he comes in. He’s not sure Lan Xichen or Lan Qiren are the type to set out food themselves, and… wouldn’t it be nice for Lan Wangji to know that the steaming plates were laid out for him by someone who cares? Wouldn’t it be nice, to be some kind of respite?
“Sorry,” says Lan Wangji, unexpectedly, when he slips through the door a few minutes later. “It was urgent.”
“Ah Lan Zhan, don’t apologize for something like that.” Wei Wuxian waves him over; he’s already poured tea for them both. “Come eat, I’m hungry.”
Lan Wangji kneels at the table, blinking quietly at the spread. “That was fast. Did you do this all yourself?”
“Hm, what can I say?” Wei Wuxian grabs a piece of the reddest-looking dish and pops it into his mouth. “Deny my underhanded ways? It’s common knowledge that the Yiling Patriarch has quite a few tricks up his sleeve, you know.”
Wei Wuxian sees the tension returning to Lan Wangji’s face, darkening his expression like clouds over the sun. “Ah,” he amends quickly, “devious, devious tricks to assist in tasks such as the dark art of setting out dishes in record time. You know how it is.”
Lan Wangji’s mouth softens and he huffs out a breath that might even be a laugh. Wei Wuxian feels like an arrow of light has just struck him through the chest. “No talking while eating,” he says, but it’s more perfunctory than anything.
Wei Wuxian smiles, and takes more of the reddish-looking dish (it might actually be a little bit spicy—spice! In the Cloud Recesses!), and for once finds himself absolutely content to sit in silence. Silence is not something that comes naturally to him—even in the depths of study or research or writing new talismans, he has a tendency to talk to himself that has earned him sharp reprimands more times than he can count. And when stillness and silence is imposed on him, as it so often is in the Cloud Recesses, it only seems to magnify every small noise in the area: coughs and shuffling of robes and even the smell of incense becomes grating, rattling harshly in his limbs. He’s always meditated best with background noise, after all.
But here, even in best stiff-collared robes, kneeling at a table with nothing but the clinking of their chopsticks to disturb the silence, he feels more still than he’s ever known. Here, staring at the soft dark fan of Lan Wangji’s eyelashes against his cheek, plucking vegetables from the same bowl, dividing his gaze between the food they share and the drape of the robes against Lan Wangji’s beautiful steady shoulders. Here, across from a person closer to his heart than he ever thought he would have in this lifetime. Here, he’s…
“About the festival,” says Lan Wangji.
“Lan Zhan!” Wei Wuxian groans. “I was having a moment!”
Lan Wangji’s eyebrows quirk, just slightly. “Apologies.” He inclines his head. “Please go on having your moment.”
Wei Wuxian surprises himself by laughing out loud. It’s sudden, and improper, but it’s his , and it breaks the quiet in the most beautiful way. “It’s fine, it’s fine, it’s—ah, Lan Zhan, no talking about the festival during lunch! We’re supposed to be relaxing.”
“Mm,” says Lan Wangji. “I think Wei Ying might like this idea, though.”
“Oh?” Wei Wuxian sets his chopsticks down, then changes his mind and grabs a piece of eggplant. “I’m listening.”
“About the lanterns,” says Lan Wangji. “Wei Ying, do you remember… the night in Puji Shrine…?”
This time Wei Wuxian really does set his chopsticks down. “Lanterns for Xie Lian and Hua Cheng? Oh, Lan Zhan. I do like this idea.” Then he stops himself short. “Ah, aren’t blessings lanterns at least a thousand gold apiece? I may not be living in a cave anymore, but I still don’t have that kind of money!”
Lan Wangji shakes his head. “I will pay.”
Wei Wuxian huffs out an exasperated breath. “You won’t. I won’t let you.”
“Two thousand gold? For two lanterns to honor gods that only I am indebted to? That’s too much.”
Lan Wangji shakes his head, more emphatically this time. “It’s not too much. And it’s not only you who is indebted to them.”
Wei Wuxian tilts his head. “But I was the one who they offered shelter to… Lan Zhan, you tried to fight them!”
Lan Wangji has set his bowl and chopsticks down as well. “Had you not stopped in Puji Shrine for the night, I would not have found you. Would not… could not have been there for you.” He pauses, some unnamed emotion sparking deep in his eyes. “Could not have been by your side when you needed it. Could have lost you.”
“Ah… Lan Zhan.” Wei Wuxian feels like the breath has been knocked out of him, like he’s fallen from a great height. Is still falling. “I… you. Even then? I mean—of course, even then, you were the one who came after me, you—” he shuts his mouth. “Ah, you can’t just say things like that,” he settles weakly.
Lan Wangji just inclines his head. “I will buy the blessings lanterns. Just two. For both of us.”
And—it really will be over two thousand gold, and on the day of the festival he can’t imagine it’ll be easy to find extra room in the budget, and all of that for just two lanterns, and he wants to protest and knows he should protest. But.
He had felt, for what he now realizes could not have been the first time, the deep, single-minded undercurrent of Lan Wangji’s caring that night. He feels it now.
“So generous, our Hanguang-jun,” he says. It’s a miracle there’s enough air in his lungs left to tease him at all. “You’ll let me paint them, won’t you? Mark all over that expensive paper with ink? Remember when we were younger, how I painted rabbits on the lantern we released? That was for you, you know.”
Lan Wangji’s eyes shine a dark, lovely gold, deep with satisfaction. Wei Wuxian wants to cup his face in his hands, lean close and memorize every line of his expression, run his fingers over every tiny quirk of his lips, the crinkles at the corners of his eyes, his soft expressive brow. And then, like the unclenching of a hand around his heart—he knows he wants to kiss him. He wants to kiss him, wants to kiss him, wants to kiss him—
The force of his desire knocks him clean out of his mind and back into his own body. He is sitting across from Lan Wangji, his bones are settled into the silence of the Jingshi, and he is leaning across the table laden with the meal they have just shared. His heart beats furiously against the cage of his ribs. I want, it tells him. I want, I want, and he is right here. He can only struggle to breathe in response. I know, he tells it.
“I know,” says Lan Wangji.
Lan Wangji presses a brush into his hands.
“Hm?” Wei Wuxian looks up from where he had been studying the beautiful craftsmanship on the blessings lanterns. They’re clearly painstakingly crafted, exquisite even before being lit. Two thousand gold still seems exorbitant, but at least Wei Wuxian can say with certainty that they are the best lanterns he’s ever seen.
“You said you would paint.” Lan Wangji hands him an ink stone. “Rabbits.”
“Lan Zhan!” Wei Wuxian laughs, part flattered, part horrified. “I was teasing. Imagine painting over blessings lanterns. I would ruin them.”
“You said you would paint,” Lan Wangji repeats. “Wei Ying is a skilled artist. He could not ruin them.”
“I… ah, really. Do you remember how much you paid for these?”
“I paid two thousand gold,” says Lan Wangji, deadpan. “Haggled it down from two thousand five hundred. Wei Ying should paint them.”
“The paper is already on the lanterns, I wouldn’t even be able to paint properly—you aren’t serious, are you?”
Lan Wangji looks at him for several long, very serious moments.
“Lan Zhan! I can’t, I can’t!”
Lan Wangji looks at him and then down at the inkstone, the set of his shoulders softening, his mouth dipping into the barest forms of a pout, and oh, the pull of his brows, the way his eyelashes dust his cheeks. “Wei Ying,” he says, quietly, “please?”
Wei Wuxian lets out a strangled noise he didn’t even realize had been building in the back of his throat. “Oh, that’s mean,” he says. “Who knew our esteemed Hanguang-jun had such sly tricks in his arsenal! Bending even the hardened heart of the Yiling Patriarch to his whims.”
The best part is that he knows Lan Wangji hadn’t done it on purpose, if the way he genuinely brightens when Wei Wuxian takes the inkstone is any indication. Wei Wuxian huffs an exaggerated pout at him, then laughs at himself, then laughs at the fact that he’s about to paint rabbits over a lantern that costs more than his entire worldly possessions right now. A few months ago he had been sleeping among blood pools in a cave in Burial Mounds, burning with the knowledge that it was only him and his weakened body between the entire cultivation world and a group of people he wouldn’t allow himself to abandon. And he had staggered with the weight of that knowledge, and the weight of throwing his mind against wave after wave of restless spirits with only the hollow place where his core had once been to support him, had felt his bones grinding under that weight—and now he’s here, and it’s the Mid-Autumn festival, and Lan Wangji has just handed him ink to paint rabbits on a blessings lantern.
Wei Wuxian laughs again and rolls up his sleeves.
By the time he’s finished it’s fully dark, and he’s sure the celebrations in Caiyi Town are well underway. He knows the Cloud Recesses have their own celebrations, and of course Lan Wangji will want to be with his family, but Wei Wuxian has realized he is nothing if not selfish when it comes to Lan Wangji, and they’ll only be a few hours at the most. He knows there are several temples in Caiyi that release blessings lanterns—none specifically dedicated to Xie Lian or Hua Cheng, but they’ll make do—and he can think of more than a few good spots to watch them.
“Lan Zhan,” he calls, plucking the lanterns from the floor, “Lan Zhan, have you ever been to Caiyi for the Mid-Autumn Festival?”
Ah—he had been meditating. Lan Wangji rises, his eyes brightening as he catches sight of the lanterns dangling from his fingers. He takes them, raising them to his eyes and inspecting the artwork with careful hands, before he answers.
“Beautiful,” he says, and Wei Wuxian has to stop himself from flushing. It’s unfair, he thinks, for Lan Wangji to say that word with so much sincerity just hours after Wei Wuxian has realized the full force of his love for him.
“Isn’t there a rule against false flattery in your three thousand principles?” he says, unable to meet Lan Wangji’s eyes. “Anyways, have you? I’ve never been.”
“Only a few times,” says Lan Wangji, still cradling the lanterns in his elegant hands. “You would like to go.” It’s a statement, not a question.
Wei Wuxian laughs. “You know me well. Only to release the lanterns, though! I know you need to get back for the celebrations here. Oh, but they’ll be selling mooncakes on the street, won’t they… and Emperor’s Smile! But I won’t drink in Cloud Recesses again, you made sure I learned my lesson the first time, haha…”
Lan Wangji looks at him with such fondness in his gaze that Wei Wuxian feels it rush through his body, leaving warmth in its wake. “We will go,” he says. “And we may stay as long as you like.”
“We will!” says Wei Wuxian happily, and then does a double take. “Wait, we will? Lan Zhan, aren’t you—don’t you have important things to do—”
“I have spent every Mid-Autumn Festival here, with my brother and uncle,” says Lan Wangji pragmatically. “I would like to spend one year with just you.”
“I—oh.” Wei Wuxian blinks, at a loss for words, at the lanterns still carefully cupped in Lan Wangji’s arms, at the way his body curves sweetly around them. “Oh, you really have to warn me when you say things like that. Lan Zhan! You can’t just say that and act like nothing happened!”
“I would like to spend this year celebrating with Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji repeats, like Wei Wuxian’s heart isn’t threatening to beat out of his chest with every word he says. “I would like to spend the evening with you. That is why I invited you.”
“I can’t—when did you learn to—” Wei Wuxian shakes his head. He knows why he’s so flustered. If Jiang Cheng or Nie Huaisang or anyone else had wanted to sneak from their sect’s celebrations to enjoy the festival with him, of course he would be pleased, but this is Lan Wangji. Who barely spoke a sentence to him when they first met, whose minute expressions Wei Wuxian has had to teach himself to recognize, who is now telling him so simply that he wants to spend the festival with just him. Like it’s a fact.
This is Lan Wangji.
“Ah Lan Zhan, let’s go, let’s go,” Wei Wuxian says, already heading for the door. He has to resist the urge to hide his face in his hands. “I can’t handle this any longer!”
They settle themselves on the roof of a tavern in Caiyi, far enough from the lights of the street that no one should notice them. Wei Wuxian had managed to convince Lan Wangji to let him ride on his sword when they came down the mountain, and was forced to contend with the abrupt realization that he felt safer in Lan Wangji’s steady grasp, hundreds of meters above the forest floor, than he had ever felt alone on Suibian. Suibian had been his, yes, almost an extension of his own body, but to feel the cool rush of night air on his face and the warm solidity of Lan Wangji’s back beneath his arms—Wei Wuxian had let himself drift in a way he’d never felt before.
He can still feel the phantom press of a hand tucked tightly around his, even sitting on this rooftop a comfortable distance apart. Lan Wangji is quietly watching the street, their rabbit blessings lanterns balanced carefully beside him. Wei Wuxian is a little surprised he even convinced him to sit on a roof in the first place—but, as he considers the events of the day, maybe he shouldn’t be.
He thinks to this morning: the weight of a body curled into his, the feeling of Lan Wangji’s face beneath his palms. Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan. Like a prayer.
It’s not even like they had done anything in that bed together, unless Wei Wuxian tilting his head to rest quiet and warm against Lan Wangji’s shoulder counts as something. Unless Lan Wangji’s slight shift towards him, to press their sides together under the covers, counts as something. Wei Wuxian had drunk his warmth and closeness like a flower turning towards the light.
In hindsight, he thinks it should count as something. This pull, the way his skin seeks the heat of Lan Wangji’s, how it feels like sunlight on his bare face to have his gaze on him. He thinks of the careful way Lan Wangji holds him, how often he speaks to him by touch alone.
It should count. It does count.
He takes a breath and scoots closer. “Lan Zhan,” he says, and plucks the lanterns away to press right up to his side, so close their shoulders almost touch. “Do you know the story about Xie Lian and Hua Cheng?”
Lan Wangji hums. “Perhaps. There are many.”
“The one about the three thousand lanterns.”
Lan Wangji hums again, this time considering. “I have been taught that Hua Cheng was a follower of Xie Lian’s long before he came to be worshipped in our time. After Xie Lian’s third ascension, Hua Cheng released three thousand spirit lanterns to show his continuing devotion to his god. Every year at the Mid-Autumn festival, he continues to release three thousand lanterns to express his piety. They are widely regarded as a symbol of devotion and commitment.” Lan Wangji pauses. “I’ve always thought they were beautiful.”
“I was taught that story too,” says Wei Wuxian. “They told me Xie Lian and Hua Cheng are a god and his most devoted follower. And people say that the strength of Hua Cheng’s belief is the source of his power as a Calamity, that he’s what any worshipper should strive to be.” Wei Wuxian lets his gaze fall to the street, following the couples walking between the vendors. A woman hides a giggle as her boyfriend shyly takes her hand. Wei Wuxian’s own hands ache to touch. “When we were at Puji Shrine… do you remember how Xie Lian introduced him?”
The words escape into the night air, but Wei Wuxian can feel the pressure of them building in his chest anyway. Lan Wangji’s gaze is fixed solidly on the street below, expression, for once, unreadable. The only sound is their breaths and the sounds of the festival beneath them, distant and bright; they are surrounded by the warm lights of Caiyi and alone on their dark rooftop, they are high above the din and yet the noise and brightness is so close he could almost touch it.
He can feel the heat radiating from Lan Wangji’s skin across the infinitesimal space between them. They are so close they could almost touch. A breath more and they would.
His hands ache and ache to hold.
“...Lan Zhan?” Lan Wangji is so quiet, so still, that Wei Wuxian wonders if he’s heard. Or if he’s forgotten. “Xie Lian… he said Hua Cheng was his—”
Lan Wangji looks at him, and in the darkness of his eyes, Wei Wuxian sees that hunger. That ravenous, scraping longing. That sharp, dark, quicksilver thing in his chest flashing to life as he hears Xie Lian’s voice around that word. His husband. It roars in its joy, in agony, it gnashes its teeth and weeps with the endless ache of its want.
“His husband,” Wei Wuxian echoes hoarsely. “He said Hua Cheng was his husband. Because they’re married , aren’t they—” He pauses, swallows down words that might reveal too much. They seep up his throat anyway. “Don’t you think—all those stories about devotion, belief, don’t you think it’s because—because they love each other…?”
“Wei Ying,” says Lan Wangji, and the sky bursts into light around them.
Xie Lian’s three thousand lanterns are released every year on the night of the Mid-Autumn Festival. In Lotus Pier, on a clear night, if you climbed to the tallest building in town, you could catch them sparkling distant and golden across the horizon. Further to the West, closer to their source, it was said that they filled the sky entirely, drowning out even the moon, shining so brightly that midnight darkness would become akin to the light of day. Wei Wuxian has never been anywhere but Lotus Pier for the Mid-Autumn Festival, has never known them as more than a faint, fleeting beauty.
He has never realized how truly impossible it is to comprehend the sheer number of three thousand blessings lanterns, released all at once into the sky. They smother the darkness of the night in their warm golden glow, blotting the silhouettes of trees and distant houses from view. Wei Wuxian’s entire gaze is filled with their light, with the steady path of their ascension, as they rise and rise and disappear into sparks against the inky black of the sky. It’s like his mind has been hollowed into a vessel, empty and dark to hold their endless, overwhelming glow. In all his life, it’s the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen.
And, as he watches them float into the night, he thinks, I bet Lan Zhan looks even more beautiful.
Lan Zhan, who is sitting beside him, the syrupy light pooling over the gloss of his hair, glowing across his skin, painting him the most ethereal being Wei Wuxian has ever seen. Lan Zhan, who is staring straight at him.
The air has suddenly gone out of this beautiful, brilliant night.
“Lan Zhan,” he breathes.
“You’re not—you’re not looking at the lanterns?”
And Lan Zhan, his face so open and raw that Wei Wuxian feels it like a strike to his chest, says, “I’m looking at you.”
Later, they join the throngs of people in the streets, seeking out snacks and souvenirs and anyone selling jars of Emperor’s Smile. Well, to be fair, Lan Wangji is tagging along good-naturedly. Wei Wuxian is seeking out anyone selling snacks and souvenirs and Emperor’s Smile.
“I’m hungry,” he had said on the rooftop, anything to escape the paper-thin silence and the weight of Lan Wangji’s eyes on his as the last of the lanterns faded into the dark. “I want a mooncake. Multiple mooncakes.”
“There are plenty of vendors here,” Lan Wangji had said. And, as if he hadn't already spent enough money on Wei Wuxian that day, “We will buy some.”
“Do you think they have ones with lotus seed paste?” Wei Wuxian had asked. “That’s what I always had at Lotus Pier, growing up.”
“I know a vendor,” Lan Wangji had said, and they had descended into the street, and that was that.
It is infinitely more crowded and hot amidst the press of people than it had been on their secluded rooftop. Wei Wuxian finds himself grabbing Lan Wangji’s sleeve so they aren’t separated, trying his best not to tug too hard at the delicate fabric. Quietly, Lan Wangji shifts his grip onto his wrist.
“It is unusual,” Lan Wangji starts, as they weave their way through the crowds. He pauses, and Wei Wuxian tilts his head to listen as best he can over the chatter around them—when Lan Wangji speaks, there is always an intention behind his words. “The lanterns,” he says after a few moments, and Wei Wuxian’s chest clenches reflexively at the reminder, “they are not usually so close in Gusu.”
“Oh?” At this Wei Wuxian actually stops, both at Lan Wangji’s words and the fact that a small band of children have darted in front of him; he stumbles a little and Lan Wangji grabs his shoulder to steady him. He squeezes once, then lets go. The pressure of his hand is muffled by his layers of clothing, but Wei Wuxian feels it burn through him anyways. “What do you mean?”
“The lanterns are said to be released from the west,” says Lan Wangji. “Gusu is far east. Normally we barely see them on the horizon, and only if the night is very clear.”
Wei Wuxian blinks. Yunmeng is farther west than Gusu, now that he thinks about it. And not such a long distance away. “Why would they suddenly be so close?” he wonders aloud. “Almost like they were released right here.”
Lan Wangji nods. “It could be some kind of distance-shortening array,” he says, “but for what reason?”
“Right.” Wei Wuxian realizes that they’re standing in the middle of a very busy street, the crowds parting like water over a river stone around them, but considering he’s at the very center of Lan Wangji’s attention, he can’t bring himself to care. “Why Gusu? It’s not like it has any significance to him—not that I remember at least—”
“San Lang,” says someone very near them, “they have lotus seed mooncakes!”
They both freeze. Wei Wuxian bites the inside of his lip, a little scared to look for the source of the voice behind him, and they share a kind of look of single-minded shock and understanding. Wei Wuxian would know that voice anywhere. He remembers its cadence and timbre as intimately as the way it curled around the word husband.
Lan Wangji’s eyes come to focus on a spot a little behind him, and Wei Wuxian turns.
At the stall next to them, two very familiar figures are bending over a display of mooncakes.
“Xie—Xie Lian,” Wei Wuxian stutters, and the man in white looks up with a beaming smile before he can correct himself on the familiar form of address.
“Wei-gongzi!” he says. “What a coincidence!”
Wei Wuxian bows hastily, as low as he can manage without toppling over in the middle of the street. “Flower-Crowned Martial God,” he says. “Crimson Rain Sought Flower.” Next to him, Lan Wangji does the same.
“Ah, ah, don’t be so formal.” Xie Lian waves one hand and gently raises Wei Wuxian from his bow. The other, he notices, is clasped in Hua Cheng’s. “We’re friends, aren’t we?”
“Are we—ah, yes, ah, we are.” Wei Wuxian sends a panicked glance towards Lan Wangji, who looks strangely pleased as he blinks slowly at Hua Cheng. Hua Cheng just looks amused. “Um, thank you again for your help, that night. I… needed to be at Puji Shrine more than you could know. I’m truly grateful.”
“I know,” says Xie Lian, his eyes crinkling kindly. “You prayed to me, remember?”
Wei Wuxian laughs, rubbing the back of his neck. He had never expected anyone to actually answer him… he wonders what exactly he had prayed for, what he had confessed. He can’t remember much of the night before the warmth and light of the shrine, Lan Wangji’s gentle hands on his. “Right. I guess I did.” He laughs again. “I didn’t exactly think that you would show up in person.”
“Ah, well, Puji Shrine is the original,” says Xie Lian. “It has a special place in my heart. As do lost demonic cultivators with the weight of the world on their shoulders.”
Wei Wuxian feels a little bit like Xie Lian has stripped his skin for the world to see, and yet he still feels the gentle warm rush of his affection, all the way from his head to his feet. Hua Cheng looks at him for a moment, and then smiles, like, yes, that’s how he is. Then his gaze shifts to Lan Wangji, and his expression slips into something more kind and understanding than Wei Wuxian thought he would ever see on a ghost king’s face.
Lan Wangji swallows, and, as though at a loss for what to do, bows to them both. “Wei Ying and I are indebted,” he says.
As he had done for Wei Wuxian, Xie Lian gently raises him from the bow. Again, he does not let go of Hua Cheng’s hand. “Enough of that,” he says lightly. “Is there a tavern nearby? Let’s catch up.”
“Lan Zhan doesn’t drink,” says Wei Wuxian. He’s not sure why he’s said it; he’s dragged Lan Wangji to enough taverns to last a lifetime and forced him to watch him down jar after jar of liquor—but. Maybe they would offer Lan Wangji some. Maybe Lan Wangji would consider it rude to refuse—and he doesn’t want him to be embarrassed about getting drunk in front of two immortals. And maybe Wei Wuxian would rather keep a drunk Lan Wangji, sweet and drooping at the eyes, all to himself.
“I don’t either,” says Xie Lian conspiratorially. “Cultivation method doesn’t allow it.” Hua Cheng gives him a sideways glance, and he coughs, coloring at the cheeks and laughing a little at himself. “Ah, well, I guess I’m not exactly following that cultivation path anymore. But I’ve never developed a taste for alcohol. Hanguang-jun, we’ll order some tea, hm?”
Lan Wangji nods, and Xie Lian claps delightedly. “Well, you two probably know this town much better than San Lang and I. Will you lead the way?”
Wei Wuxian does know of a tavern fairly close to here, an establishment with enough class to afford Xie Lian and Hua Cheng at least a fraction of the treatment he’d like to give them. He nods, and Xie Lian follows close to him, Lan Wangji and Hua Cheng falling behind.
“How have you been, Wei-gongzi?” Xie Lian asks, as they weave their way up the street. “I haven’t heard any more prayers from you lately. I guess that’s a good thing.”
“Oh,” says Wei Wuxian, feeling strangely guilty. “Right. I’m not very religious, usually… no offense.”
Xie Lian laughs. “I wasn’t either, when I was mortal. None taken.” He pauses. “I do keep an ear out, though. Just in case you ever… want to talk. Anything like that.”
Wei Wuxian blinks, struck with the realization that a god has just told him he keeps an ear out for his prayers. For him specifically. “Thank you,” he says, for lack of anything else to say. “I didn’t know…” he realizes he was about to say I didn’t know you cared, and that’s a little much, even for someone like him, so he shuts his mouth and laughs instead. “I guess having the personal attention of a god isn’t too bad.”
Xie Lian laughs with him. “How have you been?” he asks, casually, like he’s talking about the weather, although Wei Wuxian knows he means far more than that. “I never got the chance to say goodbye. San Lang and I left before we could really talk… you and your Hanguang-jun seemed, hm. Involved.”
Your Hanguang-jun. No matter how many times Wei Wuxian has referred to him as his privately, when there was no one but himself around to witness it, it still hits him hard. “Not—not mine,” he says quickly. The words ache. I want. “Hanguang-jun. He’s… I don’t know if I would refer to him. Like that.”
“Oh?” Xie Lian tilts his head. “Alright then. Not yours. How have you been?”
Wei Wuxian thanks him internally for his insistence on that one subject. “Better,” he says, and finds that he means it. “I have a nephew now. People weren’t happy with me showing up to his naming ceremony, haha, but Lan Zhan even accompanied me there. And then he invited me here to Gusu. I’m not sure what kind of strings he had to pull with the Lan elders, haha…”
“Any clan should be happy to have you,” says Xie Lian kindly, and this really makes Wei Wuxian laugh.
“You should have seen how I acted when I was here for their lecture,” he says. “Oh, Lan Zhan and his family hated me back then. For good reason.” He sobers. “I think they probably still hate me, now.”
Xie Lian hums, and they find themselves at the entrance to the tavern. Hua Cheng and Lan Wangji are a fair distance behind them, talking with their heads bent together. Xie Lian smiles in their direction. “Well, Wei-gongzi. Don’t forget you still have allies in this world.”
Wei Wuxian thinks, briefly, of his family. Of his shijie, of Jiang Cheng. “Yes,” he says, swallowing thickly around the words. “Of course. My family… I’ve caused them a lot of worry. I think they’ve forgiven me… but still.”
“Oh,” says Xie Lian. “Your family, of course. But I meant me, actually. San Lang, if you would like his help. He knows a fair bit more about demonic energy than I do, at least.”
“Oh,” Wei Wuxian echoes dumbly. “Oh. I… oh. Thank you.”
“More people love you than you think, Wei Wuxian,” says Xie Lian. And he looks past him, where Hua Cheng and Lan Wangji are approaching. “It would do them a disservice to forget.”
“Wei Ying,” says Lan Wangji. He reaches for one of his hands, turns it upwards, and presses a small parcel into his palm.
“Thank you,” says Wei Wuxian, startled. “Um… Lan Zhan, what’s this for?”
“For you,” says Lan Wangji simply, and ducks into the tavern.
Xie Lian smiles, and follows him inside.
They end up talking for a long hour in the tavern, the air thick with the scent of good food and the sound of good conversation. Lan Wangji recommends a tea which Xie Lian orders, pale green and fragrant and probably something that only cultivators forbidden from drinking enjoy, and Wei Wuxian surprises himself by sharing only a couple jars of Emperor’s Smile with Hua Cheng. The conversation flows freely, but he’s barely even buzzed, and so he’s not sure why he agrees so readily when Xie Lian pulls him outside under the guise of getting some air.
“San Lang has things to discuss with your Hanguang-jun,” says Xie Lian conspiratorily, as they round the back of the tavern, overlooking the docks. “I thought we could give them some time alone. He’d never ask for it himself.” Lake water sloshes quietly at the stone, throwing its briny scent into Wei Wuxian’s face. He breathes it in.
“Lan Zhan?” Wei Wuxian can’t help but turn to look at Xie Lian incredulously, although it’s hard to make out his face in the dim moonlight. “Really?”
Xie Lian laughs. “San Lang’s told me a lot about him,” he says. “A lot about you, by proxy.”
“Oh,” says Wei Wuxian. He’s not sure how to feel about the implication that knowing Lan Wangji somehow also involves knowing him.
“Speaking of, what did he get you?” Xie Lian tilts his head and gestures to the place where Wei Wuxian had tucked the package into his robes. “Ah, you don’t have to open it here if you don’t want to. But forgive me for being a little bit curious.”
Wei Wuxian is curious too. He fishes the package out, slightly warm from the heat of his body, and unwraps the rough brown paper.
“Oh!” says Xie Lian delightedly. “I love mooncakes.”
Two small, perfect mooncakes sit in their humble wrappings. Wordlessly, Wei Wuxian offers one to Xie Lian. An emotion he hadn’t before been able to name rises in his chest. He names it now.
Xie Lian takes the mooncake from his hand and bites into it, humming happily. Wei Wuxian studies the delicate pattern on the surface of his before he does the same.
It’s lotus seed paste. The sweetness spreads across his tongue at the same time it carves a hollow in his chest. It hurts, suddenly, gently. He remembers his Shijie placing a mooncake in the palm of his hand, one for him, one for Jiang Cheng, carefully rationed although they knew they could steal more from the kitchens when they were done. But the ones gifted from her were always the sweetest, and he and Jiang Cheng would nibble them away bit by bit until there were only crumbs in their hands. Then they would race to her side, begging for just one more, for the delight of receiving them.
He thinks of Lan Wangji pressing the package into his hand. How he must have turned back, Hua Cheng in tow, to purchase these two mooncakes from the vendor. Even through the shock of the appearance of two deities, as he had bowed to them, as overwhelmed and at as much of a loss as Wei Wuxian had been—he had remembered. He had thought to buy them, just because Wei Wuxian had mentioned it.
He thinks of Lan Wangji placing mooncakes in his palm. The delight of receiving them.
“I think lotus seed paste is my favorite,” Xie Lian is saying. “And these are really good— Are you alright? Oh, Wei-gongzi.”
Wei Wuxian blinks furiously, like it will dispel the wetness gathering in his eyes. “That’s me.”
“What’s wrong?” Xie Lian asks, gently. He laughs a little, and before Wei Wuxian has time to wonder if he’s laughing at him, says, “My taste buds are a little ruined from hundreds of years of eating scraps, but I thought these were very good.”
“They are,” says Wei Wuxian. He swipes quickly at the corners of his eyes. “Lan Zhan got them, of course they’re the best.”
“Oh no,” says Xie Lian suddenly, putting a hand to his mouth, “will he be upset that I ate one? Were they for you two to share?”
Wei Wuxian shakes his head. “He doesn’t like sweets.” Then the implications of those words hit him, and another fresh wave of emotion swells in his chest. Lan Wangji doesn’t like sweets. There is no doubting the insistent tug of his care. “He… I just mentioned that I wanted lotus seed mooncakes,” he says lamely. “A few minutes before we met you. I guess he remembered.”
Xie Lian hums. “That’s kind of him.”
“It is,” Wei Wuxian agrees. “He’s always kind to me.”
Xie Lian looks like he wants to say more, but instead he tucks his hands into his sleeves with a pensive twist to his mouth.
The sound of the lake laps up over the silence.
“I don’t know how much you remember,” Xie Lian says, chewing his lip. “Of the night you came to Puji Shrine.”
“Not much,” Wei Wuxian says. “I do remember you and Hua Cheng. But, um… mostly Lan Zhan.”
At this Xie Lian turns, his eyes bright. “Yes. Your Hanguang-jun. How to say this… San Lang and I have been married for quite a while now. But at first…”
The thing in Wei Wuxian’s chest pulls, as it always does, so hard he gasps for breath.
“Yes,” says Xie Lian. “That.” He places a gentle hand on Wei Wuxian’s shoulder. “Does it hurt?”
“No,” says Wei Wuxian. “Well. Yes. But only because there’s so much of it.”
“The wanting hurts,” Wei Wuxian corrects himself. And he knows what his next words are, feels them deep in his chest, sitting there like burnished golden kernels. He swallows around them, his throat clicking dryly. Maybe this is just for him. Maybe this will be with him until he dies, wrapped deep in his body where his core once was, jostling for air in that empty space. For light.
But Xie Lian waits. The hand on his shoulder is patient. Here is the face of a man who had left his husband’s bed in the middle of the night to bring Wei Wuxian tea and offer him fruit from his own altar. He had offered him the first bearings of comfort, too, even before Lan Wangji came.
And Lan Wangji had come.
“Loving him doesn’t,” he blurts. He watches Xie Lian’s face open, blooming warmth and happiness, a delighted smile rising to his lips. Something in Wei Wuxian is blooming in return. “Loving him could never hurt.”
“Wei-gongzi,” says Xie Lian happily, patting his shoulder now. “Here I was thinking I’d have to make you see it, and you’ve known all along.”
“Yes,” says Wei Wuxian. It feels good to have said it out loud, he realizes, to have it in the air between them. “Well, actually. I think I only really realized today.”
“Good!” Xie Lian laughs. “I was surprised when San Lang told me he wanted to release the lanterns from Gusu this year, but it looks like his timing was perfect.”
Wei Wuxian stares. “Hua Cheng wanted to release the lanterns from Gusu? Because of… us?”
“You should ask your Hanguang-jun about it,” Xie Lian says. “Or… well. I’m not sure he’ll know any more than you.”
“The lanterns were because of us?” Wei Wuxian repeats disbelievingly.
Xie Lian tilts his head. “Yes.”
“But—why would you come all this way? Wasn’t it hard to—”
“Wei-gongzi,” says Xie Lian. “It wasn’t hard to help a friend.”
Wei Wuxian stares at him, mouth opening around words he can’t quite form, for a long few seconds. “Why us?” he asks, finally.
Xie Lian looks over the water, thinking. “I almost didn’t go to Puji Shrine, the night you came,” he says. “But I heard your prayer, and it seemed so like myself that I knew I couldn’t let you be alone.” He hums. “I have… known, very intimately, what it is like to feel that the world has abandoned you in the fallout of something you thought you could control.” He turns to look at Wei Wuxian. “But the world didn’t abandon us, did it? Not all of it.”
Wei Wuxian can do nothing but nod.
“To be loved like that is a precious thing,” says Xie Lian, almost more to himself than to Wei Wuxian. “Maybe the most important thing a person can be entrusted with.”
“I know,” says Wei Wuxian. “I know, you don’t have to—you don’t have to tell me —”
“San Lang has made me the happiest I’ve been in eight hundred years,” Xie Lian tells him. “Wei Wuxian. Don’t you think it’s time for you to be happy too?”
That night, Lan Wangji doesn’t even have to ask before Wei Wuxian slips into bed with him. He simply pulls the covers, sends him a small glance over his shoulder, and Wei Wuxian is there, extinguishing the candles and pressing in beside him. And, as he had the night before, Lan Wangji quietly moves closer, until their shoulders press together in a single line of warmth. His eyelids droop over his lovely bright eyes. “Goodnight, Wei Ying,” he says, so softly his voice seems to be made for his ears alone, and the words are for settling into his body and nowhere else.
“Goodnight, Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian whispers back, not nearly as intimately, but Lan Wangji’s face smooths and softens in contentment anyways. His eyes slip shut, and moments later his breathing has gone deep and even.
Oh, I love him, Wei Wuxian thinks, feeling the warmth of Lan Wangji’s body next to his and the deep quiet stillness in his breaths. He thinks it helplessly, like a little stumble into part of his heart, falling with something solid to catch him. Not a realization, or a decision, or a confession, even to himself. Just a statement. He’s held his love for Lan Wangji deep in his flesh and bones for a long time now. And, here, it curls a lazy tendril towards the place where their shoulders touch, shifts a little in its sleep, and makes itself known.
Of course he loves him. Of course he loves him. It’s as intrinsically tied to his life as his heart and his lungs—as blood flows through his veins, as he takes each breath, he loves him.
And as good as he is at playing tricks with his own mind, he can’t even begin to try to tell himself that Lan Wangji does not love him too. Who would he be if he didn’t see the care that Lan Wangji has shown him, over and over, in every step and glance and touch of hands? Who would he be to take this bright soft thing and not tuck it beneath his ribs, sheltered by his heart? Lan Wangji tells him goodnight in the same breath he falls asleep, and waits for Wei Wuxian to say it back before he closes his eyes.
This is the kind of thing you writhe over, tangling the sheets with the force of your own desire. This is the kind of thing you cradle with whisper-soft hands, very close to your chest.
Wei Wuxian decides he needs some air.
Past nine, it is very quiet and dark outside the Jingshi. Which, really, he should have expected. The main paths of the Cloud Recesses are fairly well-lit for patrols, enough that the guards hardly have to carry a lantern. But here, well into a footpath that winds through the back hills, it is pitch-black except for the moon through the trees. Silent except for the wide rush of the wind.
The autumn night is cold, piercing through his sleeping robes now that he’s stopped moving. He should have thought to grab something warmer on his way out. But leaving Lan Wangji without waking him had been hard enough, and the last thing he wanted to do was knock something to the floor while fumbling in the dark.
Wei Wuxian follows the path a little further, until he reaches a clearing. Here, without the dense foliage overhead, the moon shines clear and strong. The stars are dim tonight, if they are there at all, and so it is only the moon in a vast, black sky. All that dark, against that little bit of light. It must be lonely.
There had been a time, not so long ago, where he had resigned himself to being part of that darkness. He knew, when he and the Wens fled to Burial Mounds, that no one else would follow. Who would have a reason to join him there, against the entire cultivation world, where the earth wept resentful energy and the mountains cradled them as if celebrating the absence of light? No one would go to such utter blackness so willingly. Not if they had any other choice.
But he had hoped, hadn’t he. Selfishly. He had wanted Jiang Cheng to stay, even as Wei Wuxian led him to places he knew Jiang Cheng wouldn't follow. It hadn’t been a surprise when he left him to the darkness, but it hurt all the same. They had been by each other’s sides their entire lives. It had felt like the world had abandoned him.
The moon tonight is bright enough that it’s crowned with a soft silver halo. In that in-between, the little space where the darkness meets its edge, is a kind of reaching out. A bringing of light. The darkness cannot infringe on the moon’s solid border, but neither does the moon allow the darkness to go untouched. In that vast swath of night sky, without company of stars, the moon stands solitary in its light. But the darkness has never been alone.
On the same night that Jiang Cheng had publicly denounced him, Lan Wangji had set out to find him at Burial Mounds. He found him at Puji Shrine instead.
Wei Wuxian breathes in, sharply, and then exhales, watching his breath make clouds in the air. He’ll tell Lan Wangji tomorrow, he decides. He’s had enough of waiting. This little love has always been there—pressed into a corner by the horrors of war and what came after, but still small and hopeful, and there. And now there is no need for killing or the eerie whistle of Chenqing on the air. After all of what has happened, do they not deserve to have each other?
He takes a few steps, and then sees, abruptly, a small circle of light glowing through the trees. In the utter darkness of the forest it is beautiful and strange, never disappearing even as it flickers behind branches and leaves, shining defiantly into the night. It’s a warm light, golden, even, and growing closer every second. Wei Wuxian catches sight of an elegant hand through the trees, a flash of white robes and dark hair.
“Lan Zhan,” he breathes. Through all these years, bringing him light.
Lan Wangji breaks through the tree line, and Wei Wuxian calls “Hanguang-jun!” before he can stop himself.
Lan Wangji’s head flies up, startled by his title. Then he catches sight of Wei Wuxian, leaning against a boulder in the middle of the clearing, and the corners of his lips twitch upwards. He glances down at the lantern he holds, and then back at him, amusedly, as if to say, yes, I am carrying light.
“Lan Zhan, why are you up?” Wei Wuxian goes to meet him, noticing the heavy outer robe he carries over his arm. Did he leave in such a rush that he couldn’t put it on? “Here, let me take the lantern. Put your robe on, it’s cold.”
Lan Wangji regards him with a few moments of silence. Just as Wei Wuxian begins to shift, wondering where he went wrong, he huffs lightly and drapes the robe over Wei Wuxian’s shoulders. “You are the one wearing only a sleeping robe,” he says. “It is for you.”
It’s heavy, meant for Gusu winters, and the familiar scent of sandalwood clings to its folds. It rests over Wei Wuxian’s back like an embrace.
“Ah, but aren’t you cold?” Wei Wuxian protests, even as the shivers that have wracked him ever since he left the Jingshi begin to subside. “You’re not wearing much more than sleeping robes, either. The wind really gets to you, after a while.”
Lan Wangji shakes his head, and presses the lantern into Wei Wuxian’s hands. “I will not stay long to disturb you. I only wanted you to be warm, and have light for the way back.”
“Oh,” says Wei Wuxian faintly. Oh, his Lan Zhan is too good to him. “But what about light for your way back?”
“I know this path well,” says Lan Wangji. “I have walked it many times, even in the dark.”
“It’s very narrow, though,” says Wei Wuxian. “Dangerous.” No matter that he had walked it to get here. “Lots of upturned roots. What if you fall? Think of my Lan Zhan lying on the forest floor, at the mercy of the bugs and night animals until the Yiling Patriarch deigns to finish his brooding and stumbles across him.”
In the moonlight, Lan Wangji’s cheeks go faintly pink. “Wei Ying came here to be alone. Away from other people.”
“Ah, Lan Zhan.” Wei Wuxian waves a hand. “You should know you don’t count as ‘other people’.”
The pink in Lan Wangji’s cheeks deepens, and he drops his eyes to the ground. “The path is very dark and dangerous,” he murmurs. “Wei Ying is right. It would be better for me to stay.”
Wei Wuxian actually laughs out loud with the force of his delight. “Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan!” he says. “Ah, this is why I love you.”
Lan Wangji goes very still.
And it’s true, and it’s a part of him, and Wei Wuxian is not picky about when he makes his love known. But there’s still a small catch in his chest, a sensation not unlike the weightlessness of his body going out from under him, as he stares at Lan Wangji’s downturned eyes and realizes what just came out of his mouth.
Around them the forest comes alive with the sound of wind, although Wei Wuxian barely feels it through Lan Wangji’s outer robe. There’s a stillness in his chest, silent, waiting. Lan Wangji is still staring at the forest floor, lips slightly parted, unblinking even as the seconds stretch by.
“Lan Zhan?” he tries. “Is… are you alright?”
In one sudden motion, Lan Wangji lifts his head to meet Wei Wuxian’s eyes. His eyes are wide and dark and beautiful, lips trembling. The moonlight glows across the planes of his face. Against the dark, the white of his robes seems almost to shine.
“Wei Ying,” he says. His voice is rough with emotion, it shakes around the words, and it is the sweetest sound Wei Wuxian can imagine. Oh, his Lan Zhan. He’s never heard it so unsteady before.
“Lan Zhan,” he says, and takes his hand. “I love you.”
It runs through him like water. From his feet all the way up his body, it draws golden and rushing and spills out his mouth in the truest words Wei Wuxian has ever said.
“Wei Ying ,” says Lan Wangji again. He grips Wei Wuxian’s hand tight enough it almost hurts.
“I love you,” says Wei Wuxian. He raises Lan Wangji’s hand and presses his lips to the delicate line of his wrist, and hears a sharp gasp of breath in return. His lips burn with it, with the heat of Lan Wangji’s skin. He reaches out to cradle his face, to feel the soft delicate skin of his cheeks beneath his fingers. “I love you.” Two kisses, pressed feather-light to each of his eyelids. He is dizzy with the scent of sandalwood that rises around him. “Lan Zhan.” Thumbs stroking the curve of Lan Wangji’s cheekbones, another kiss to the bare skin where his forehead ribbon usually sits. Lan Wangji makes a choked little sound, high in his throat. “I think you love me too.” His mouth, pressed chastely against the very corner of Lan Wangji’s lips. His breath against him.
“I do,” says Lan Wangji, all in a rush, “Wei Ying, I love you. I love you.” For a moment he just stares, his beautiful face cradled in Wei Wuxian’s palms, his expression open and sweet and radiant. He is smiling.
“Kiss me,” says Wei Wuxian, and he does.
In the night above Gusu, two blessings lanterns are released, much later than the rest. Through the cold and the wind they circle each other, climbing higher into the sky, until they are distant enough that the glow of two lanterns has become one. Until all you can see is a single, brilliant point of light.
Wei Wuxian watches until even that tiny pinprick disappears from view, until the blackness of the sky strains his eyes. He stares for so long that Lan Wangji squeezes his shoulder and turns to go back into the Jingshi, leaving the candle they had used to light the lanterns by his feet.
He stares until the blackness swallows his vision, so completely he almost thinks he’s closed his eyes, and is only staring at the inside of his eyelids. But the inside of himself is no longer so utterly dark.
“Wei Ying,” calls Lan Wangji, quietly, from inside.
He picks up the candle and turns towards him.