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Lan Xichen and Jiang Wanyin spend years doing intricate footwork around each other at conferences and at Lotus Pier and in assorted locations between where they run into each other every so often. They spend a great deal of effort and a great many words in not talking about the thing that they do not talk about.

Jiang Cheng looks at him sometimes, and Lan Xichen lets him, and that is the long and the short of it.

He does not hide this from Jin Guangyao. As sect leaders there are internal matters they must keep private even from each other, and by mutual agreement they do not speak of Jin Guangyao’s marriage bed, although Lan Xichen has drawn his own conclusions about that. But the things Lan Xichen wants, the things he imagines, the very occasional dalliance he indulges in when lonesome weeks have stretched into months and he has no excuse to see Jin Guangyao - those are no secret between them at all. 

-----

And that is that until Jiang Wanyin and Lan Xichen happen to visit Jinlintai at the same time, a visit that is not terribly unlike any other until it is.

They drink and talk into the evening. There are negotiations underway regarding a delicate stretch of land whose denizens owe allegiance to different sects depending on the person you ask. There are plans to be made for disciples in need of training, and young men and women planning betrothals. There is, as always, the question of what to do about Nie Huaisang, whose leadership seems perpetually a breath from failure but never quite takes that breath. More entertainingly, there are fresh bits of gossip to share.

Jin Guangyao’s servants pour wine with a heavy hand. Lan Xichen burns off the alcohol but the effect is still suggestive. No one is in a rush to leave a genial discussion.

In the end it is Jin Guangyao who excuses himself in a pretty flutter of apologies. They are in his home, after all. He has his wife to tend to and domestic affairs that require his attention. He stresses quite sincerely his hopes that Lan Xichen and Jiang Wanyin will finish the wine before retiring.

He hopes, he tells Jiang Wanyin with the lightest of touches to his elbow, that Jiang Wanyin will not hesitate to be a friend as well as a guest in his home. To avail himself of whatever he likes that belongs to Jin Guangyao while he is under this roof.

Jiang Wanyin is mildly bemused by the odd parting remark. He does not mark it as he would if he knew the things Lan Xichen knows.

Lan Xichen understands exactly what Jin Guangyao is offering. Jin Guangyao’s eyes on him make certain that he does.

Lan Xichen and Jin Guangyao do not come together in that way in Jinlintai. It is perhaps a meaningless gesture in the scheme of Jin Guangyao’s marriage, but one that Lan Xichen nonetheless adheres to.

This does not make him any less one of the things in Jinlintai that belong to Jin Guangyao.

-----

He bathes calmly when he returns to his rooms, and changes into plain, soft robes. 

Unseen hands have prepared his rooms for the evening with anything he might need for his comfort. A basin and a cloth are laid out, and a vial that Lan Xichen recognizes. It will be full of something slippery that will smell mild and pleasant; he does not need to open it to know. The basin and the cloth are usual, when he stays here. The vial is not.

He assumes it was a servant’s hand that prepared the room so thoughtfully for him. It is possible that it was not. He can imagine Jin Guangyao’s slim fingers laying everything out just so, taking personal responsibility, another of the many strange and exquisite ways he provides for Lan Xichen.

He sets the vial aside.

He sends an invitation to Jiang Wanyin, who may after all have already gone to bed. He may be tired from his travel. He may simply not be in the mood to continue any of their earlier conversations, either the ones from that evening or the great unfinished one they have been having for years, the one that says “our brothers were in love, and we failed them and broke them both, we would be foolish to follow the precedent, and yet.” 

(And yet. They may finish that sentence, one day, but Lan Xichen did not wake up this morning expecting for this to be that day.)

Jiang Wanyin accepts the invitation.

-----

Lan Xichen has thought about this more than perhaps even Jin Guangyao realizes. He thinks that to the extent Jiang Wanyin has also thought about it, he will have expectations. Jiang Wanyin likely expects Lan Xichen to be what he so often is in public: soft, slippery, diplomatic. Someone who seems easy in theory to push back against, even if in practice he rarely is.

Lan Xichen can be those things when the situation calls for it. They are a true part of him and do not feel like lies.

But he also thinks that Jiang Wanyin might understand that sometimes, in a certain mood, Lan Xichen’s skin crawls with a restless sort of itch. He gets tired of being that version of himself and does not wish to be yielding. Sometimes he would very much like to dig his nails into something and hear it whimper, or to be asked for something and say no without remorse and without carefully wrapping the word in a half-dozen veils of diplomacy and tact.

Jin Guangyao will be this for him when he needs it, but it is not something that comes naturally. 

Lan Xichen thinks that perhaps Jiang Wanyin actually needs something unyielding to break himself against. 

He has let himself hope that Jiang Wanyin would shatter beautifully.

-----

He offers to play something relaxing for Jiang Wanyin, at the end of a long day. Liebing leaps into his hand almost unbidden. Lan Xichen plays several songs, flowing from one to the next before Jiang Wanyin has a chance to speak.

He watches Jiang Wanyin’s shoulders relax as the music does its work. He does not intentionally catch Jiang Wanyin watching his fingers or his mouth work, but he also does not look away first when their eyes meet. He plays for a long time, relaxing himself as much as anything else. Liebing is an old friend; uncertainty feels less daunting when she is in his hands.

By the time he finishes, Jiang Wanyin is leaning back on his hands in a less self-conscious posture than the one he was in at the start. His lips do not seem dry but he licks them anyway before he speaks.

“Music was never my gift.” They both know who had that gift in the Yunmeng Jiang household. It does not require stating out loud. “Zidian is a blunter instrument.”

Lan Xichen looks at Jiang Wanyin’s hand automatically. Zidian is quiescent, very nearly just an adornment. The undercurrents in this room are not the sort of danger she responds to.

“She is straightforward,” he agrees. “Impossible to miss. She suits her owner.”

Jiang Wanyin smiles, sharp and lovely. Lan Xichen would like to taste the curve of his jaw where the expression bends his face into something unfamiliar.

“The person I’m using her on always knows it,” Jiang Wanyin agrees. “The Yunmeng Jiang are not as subtle as the esteemed Lan cultivators.”

Lan Xichen is nearly certain he is being teased. It is a delicate moment on which to balance the rest of the evening.

“If I played a song to affect you, Sandu Shengshou,” he finally says, “I would make certain that you knew it.”

Jiang Wanyin’s laugh is like Zidian: sudden and blunt and effective. It licks over Lan Xichen’s skin and leaves heat in its wake.

“Do we need titles here? Jiang Cheng. If you please.”

It pleases Lan Xichen very much.

“You’ll call me Lan Huan, then,” he agrees. It is a name he rarely hears these days in other mouths than Jin Guangyao’s. 

Jiang Wanyin - Jiang Cheng - nods his agreement but doesn’t give Lan Xichen the satisfaction of hearing him say Lan Huan. He fixes him with a long steady look instead, as if to say I know what is happening here. As if Lan Xichen didn't all but write it in the invitation he sent.

The steps of their long dance are closing in now. There is not much time left to change their minds if they are going to.

Lan Xichen recognizes it as a hand offered, a quickening of the pace, when Jiang Cheng says, “I thought if this didn’t happen that time in Qinghe, it wasn’t going to.”

“Nie Huaisang is a powerful disrupting influence.” Lan Xichen smiles with the memory.

He remembers that evening fondly. The banquet had been particularly lavish, the entertainment provided with Nie Huaisang’s characteristic flair. They’d had a particularly fervent disagreement, Jiang Cheng incandescently furious about something that had not been worth the fury, and Lan Xichen had very nearly tripped him into a pond for the pleasure of fishing him out again and watching him sputter. He’d thought vaguely of wrapping him in dry robes, after, and seeing him shiver. He’d lost the rhythm, for a moment, of the effort it took to not kiss Jiang Cheng on any given day.

But before he could forget himself entirely, Huaisang had dragged Jiang Cheng away to consult on something foolish, and Lan Xichen had gone to his bed alone.

Jiang Cheng fixes him now with a steady, clear gaze, and asks him what will change between them.

It is a serious question and deserving of a serious answer.

“It doesn’t have to change anything,” he says, careful, careful, spinning out onto thin ice. “There is someone else, but he does not object. And as for the two of us…” He watches Jiang Cheng and feels his way through the right thing to say, to draw out the reaction he wants. “If we meet for further discussion about the border lands tomorrow, and you are hoarse and poorly slept, I will be pleased. And I will not go any easier on you for it. You will have to make your case just as well.”

Jiang Cheng shivers and his eyes go dark and hot. He makes a face very much as if he’s been slapped. 

Lan Xichen imagines many people have wanted to slap Jiang Cheng over the years, but perhaps not many with this precise combination of amusement and desire. There are a great many people in the world with insufficient imaginations. Lan Xichen pities them. 

“How would we start, then?” Jiang Cheng asks. Testing, Lan Xichen thinks, the way the balance between the two of them could shift if they let it.

He lets Jiang Cheng see his eyes drop to Jiang Cheng’s lips where they are slightly parted. He thinks that he would like to start with the pad of his thumb testing the sharp edges of Jiang Cheng’s teeth, and see where that takes them.

-----

Where it takes them is this:

Jiang Cheng is lovely on his knees. Exquisite when he needs air but pushes himself a few seconds longer until he pulls back from Lan Xichen’s cock, mouth and eyes both wet and shining. He started out with his hands on his thighs but now they’re on Lan Xichen’s instead, holding on for a stability that it is a sincere pleasure to provide.

He makes a small, helpless noise when Lan Xichen touches his cheek to feel the soft skin there and his own hardness beneath that, chasing heat and suction and Jiang Cheng’s velvety tongue. 

“Beautiful,” Lan Xichen says, and Jiang Cheng’s eyes tell him that he would be smiling if his mouth were not entirely otherwise occupied right now. They crinkle at the edges. Lan Xichen is glad to find Jiang Cheng is as open and responsive in his pleasure as he is in his more public emotions; he would have been disappointed to find it otherwise.

“You can take more,” he says, which is not a question, and wonders if Jiang Cheng even knows that he sits up a little straighter in response.

He is careful but not entirely gentle as he pushes deeper to find out what Jiang Cheng can take. Smiles when Jiang Cheng chokes a little and pulls back. Rests a steady hand at the back of his head without guiding, so that Jiang Cheng knows that he is thinking about it. That he could push, and hold, and keep Jiang Cheng exactly where he wants him, and is choosing not to.

This is not how he wants to finish, not this soon or in this way.

“Stay like that,” he says the next time Jiang Cheng takes him in, nearly as far as he can comfortably go. Jiang Cheng twitches but stills, attempting to obey with his mouth full and his nose quite nearly pressed into the hair at the base of Lan Xichen’s cock.

“Hold still now,” Lan Xichen murmurs. “I don’t want to hurt either of us.”

He begins, slowly and deliberately, to unwind the ornaments and bindings from Jiang Cheng’s hair. There is not so much to be done, but he takes his time with it for the pleasure of Jiang Cheng’s attempt to be still while he works. For his wide, hot eyes attempting to follow Lan Xichen’s movements until his hands are out of sight, and the unreal heat of his mouth cradling Lan Xichen’s cock, struggling not to move back or forward.

It is an effort for Lan Xichen as well, not to let his hips move the way they want to as he delicately drops the decorative ornament to the cushion behind Jiang Cheng. He reaches to unwind the knot beneath the decoration, careful not to tug. He wants to be gentle with Jiang Cheng almost exactly as much as he wants to see his handprint outlined in red on skin he hasn’t even bared yet. There is so much to want.

When he is done, Jiang Cheng’s hair frames Lan Xichen’s view beautifully. He runs his hands over Jiang Cheng’s scalp, knowing all too well the prickly, unwinding sensation of taking one’s hair down at the end of a long day. 

Still moving with a deliberate slowness, he gathers the full heavy sweep of Jiang Cheng’s hair into an improvised tail at the back of his head. He drags him backward gently, a single firm motion that should not be painful but allows no refusal.

Lan Xichen’s cock slips out of Jiang Cheng’s mouth along with a truly delicious sound of protest.

“Come to bed with me, A-Cheng.” 

Lan Xichen gives one more gentle, friendly tug on his fistful of hair before he lets it tumble loose again.

“You’ll have to try harder if you want me hoarse at breakfast,” Jiang Cheng says. But he coughs once, and there is a slick of dampness on his chin from mouthing at Lan Xichen’s thumb and fingers and cock. He sways slightly when he rises to his feet.

-----

It has occurred to him that Jin Guangyao could be watching. He would not do it directly without their knowing - A-Yao plays intricate games but that is not one of them. But he might have found an excuse to stroll in the gardens. Lan Xichen does not think it out of the question that he might attentively watch a shadow or listen to a stray sound.

He considers, briefly, silhouetting Jiang Cheng against the window, to be seen from that angle. Jin Guangyao appreciates a careful image and its deconstruction.

But it would not be fair without Jiang Cheng's knowledge, and there is perhaps a jealous part of Lan Xichen’s heart that does not wish to share right away what he has not yet uncovered even for himself.

He takes Jiang Cheng to his bed and does not glance out to see if any shadows move outside.

-----

Given the choice, Jiang Cheng sets Zidian aside, placed gently atop the pile of his clothing. His chin juts up stubbornly as he kneels on the bed, somehow twice as naked without Zidian. She glints at Lan Xichen like a warning.

He does not need the reminder to know that, even naked and weaponless and in his bed, Jiang Cheng could be dangerous if he were choosing to be. Some other day, when he does not have this particular mean bite in his blood, he thinks he would enjoy finding out just how true that is.

But not tonight.

Tonight, he asks Jiang Cheng to hold still for him and to tell him if he needs to move. It is always possible that Jiang Cheng cannot take as much as Lan Xichen thinks he can, and would be willing to admit it. Unlikely, especially the latter part, but possible.

Jiang Cheng snorts wordlessly and settles more firmly into the position he is holding, knees slightly spread for balance, hands resting on his own thighs. Undressed, he is as pretty all over as Lan Xichen had imagined he would be. He has all the scars and calluses of hard training and work, with a bit of the softness that comes to sect leaders once they are forced to spend more of their time at discussion tables than on night hunts. It’s an appealing combination. His cock draws attention to itself; Lan Xichen thinks it would be a satisfying weight in his mouth or his hand or the hot clench of slippery thighs.

For now, though, he has set Jiang Cheng a task. Stillness and obedience. It is Lan Xichen’s task, of course, to make him break it.

He sets to work diligently to learn what Jiang Cheng can teach him. Every body has its own secret paths to pleasure and its own unguarded soft spots. 

Lan Xichen undresses himself before he settles behind Jiang Cheng. It is an indulgence; he wants to feel the radiant heat of Jiang Cheng’s skin in all of the places they touch when he kneels close behind him and starts to explore.

“That time at Qinghe,” he says, beginning with a light touch that he trails over Jing Cheng’s shoulders and spine, “you were very irritating.”

His fingertips feel the fine tremor of Jiang Cheng working not to turn his head when he snaps, “I was right.”

“You were both.”

He tastes the salt-sweat-skin at the nape of Jiang Cheng’s neck and feels him shift restlessly.

“A-Cheng,” he murmurs, and watches with satisfaction as Jiang Cheng corrects himself. “The next time, I will make it hurt.”

And he does. The next time Jiang Cheng moves, it is because Lan Xichen has one hand on Jiang Cheng’s hip and the other around his chest, and is enjoying the view over Jiang Cheng’s shoulder as his cock twitches, looking for touch it’s not getting. That doesn’t count as voluntary movement and he wouldn’t consider it a failure, except that Jiang Cheng sits further back on his heels at the same time, seeking more contact.

It’s sweet. But it’s still a movement. Lan Xichen’s hand is already well positioned to pinch one of Jiang Cheng’s nipples until he does something that one might call a squeak if one did not fear being bitten for it.

Fuck,” Jiang Cheng grits out, but he moves back where he’s supposed to be.

It goes on like that for a while. Lan Xichen scrapes fingernails across Jiang Cheng’s skin and then teases the resultant red lines with his tongue. He finds a spot under the left ribs that is ticklish, and does not reprimand him for it, but will not touch Jiang Cheng again until he gets himself under control. He notes the tension in Jiang Cheng’s shoulders and neck that was there long before this evening, and would require more than a night’s pleasure to unwind. He files it away for future consideration.

There are things, Lan Xichen thinks, that only people who carry a certain type of burden on their backs every day can understand. How it can be a gift to be allowed to try at something and fail in a way that has no great consequences for family or sect. To be praised for the attempt anyway, and trusted to succeed on the next try.

“You can move now, A-Cheng,” he finally says before he climbs off the bed to go fetch the vial. He has to repeat himself before Jiang Cheng opens his half-lidded eyes and floats up from the place inside himself where he’s gone.

-----

He had intended to have Jiang Cheng wet his own fingers, but instead he finds himself using his own mouth for the purpose. He wants to savor the taste of Jiang Cheng’s skin.

It is a thing he has wanted before, when Jiang Cheng gestures impatiently or imperiously. He imagined it, of course, with the crackle of Zidian like thunder between his teeth, shaking him to his foundations. But there are fantasies and there are realities, and this is in no way disappointing. He rolls his tongue lavishly around Jiang Cheng’s fingers and watches to see if there are darker shades still that his eyes can be taken to. Listens to Jiang Cheng’s breath stutter and heave.

When he deems the fingers wet enough for a start, he pulls them from his mouth slowly, a thorough and regretful relinquishment, and then places his teeth at the thin skin of Jiang Cheng’s wrist. When he bites, and Jiang Cheng squirms but doesn’t pull away, he imagines he can taste the pulse there where it lies so close to the surface. He removes his teeth and watches their imprint fade before he asks the next question.

“Are you going to let me inside you? We can do something else, if it’s not your preference.”

He’s usually guessed correctly when sizing up a potential lover in this way, but not always. It scarcely matters; it’s hard to think of something he would not want to do, if Jiang Cheng has strong preferences.

But Jiang Cheng brings a hazy gaze to bear on Lan Xichen and says, even as he reaches behind himself with his spit-slick fingers, “It’s too late to go slowly, isn’t it?”

It is, most likely. Years and years too late. There was no other way this was ever going to go.

He’s wonderful, Lan Xichen thinks, and then echoes it out loud. Jiang Cheng deserves to hear it; wonderful as he breaches his own body at Lan Xichen’s request. Whether it is the praise or the sudden intrusion that makes him sigh and tip his head backward, Lan Xichen doesn’t know. 

He did not tell Jiang Cheng to start with both fingers but even without looking, he’s sure he did. That he would not go easy on himself even without specific instructions. Still. There is that thing in him that is only partly sated, that wants to bite and snap.

“Both of them,” he clarifies.

Jiang Cheng huffs an exasperated breath of obviously and twists deeper into himself in an abrupt motion. It does beautiful things to the arch and line of his body, makes him a tightly-strung bow, waiting to be used.

Lan Xichen occupies himself while Jiang Cheng works himself open one desperate breath at a time, bending down to taste more of him. His collarbone and the sweat beginning to catch there. One nipple and then the other. A silent apology for the earlier pinches, for which he is not actually sorry at all.

He has not kissed Jiang Cheng’s mouth yet and is all too aware of it. He is waiting.

Jiang Cheng’s color is flushed and deep now, all down his face and chest. He must be nearly ready for something more, his spit-wet fingers drying past the point of comfort for this purpose, and still not opened enough. But he has not been told to stop or to add another finger, and he does not.

Lan Xichen waits and watches until Jiang Cheng’s eyes slide shut, from the sensation or the scrutiny, and the right name finally falls from his lips. Quiet, like something he was holding tightly and didn’t entirely mean to let go of.

“Lan Huan,” he says. “Please.”

It is not something Lan Xichen would refuse even if he wanted to.

Lan Xichen kisses Jiang Cheng and slides his arms around him all at once to feel him startle and entirely lose his rhythm in himself. It’s awkward, of necessity. It’s perfect. Jiang Cheng’s mouth feels as good here as it did sucking at his thumb and licking his cock, but any earlier finesse is gone. He’s gone messy and desperate now and Lan Xichen can’t help but feel a selfish little surge of pride at that.

“Okay, A-Cheng,” he says, pulling away just enough to form the words, up against Jiang Cheng’s lips. “Hang on. I’m going to help you.”

When he opens up the vial, Jiang Cheng moves as if to take his fingers out of himself. To reach for the slick, perhaps, or to make way for Lan Xichen to take over for him.

Lan Xichen fixes him with the look and the small tsk sound that Jiang Cheng already learned, earlier in the evening, is a call for correction. Jiang Cheng freezes.

“I didn’t say to stop,” Lan Xichen says, and pours the oil generously over two of his own fingers. This isn’t supposed to be about that kind of discomfort.

He shifts to reach behind Jiang Cheng, to slide his own not-entirely-slim fingers in alongside Jiang Cheng’s and spread enough oil there that Jiang Cheng can begin to work his fingers again, alongside and around and intertwined with Lan Xichen’s own. So they can open him up together. He does his best to caress Jiang Cheng’s fingers, to the extent the angle allows.

The sound Jiang Cheng makes, a ragged, choking thing, lights up something low and mean in Lan Xichen’s belly.

Jiang Cheng’s free hand flails and then comes to rest on Lan Xichen’s shoulder, clutching wildly at him. It’s intensely satisfying to find himself the cause of Jiang Cheng’s unbalance and the soothing of it, all at once. 

It’s not quite as good as getting all the way inside Jiang Cheng is going to be, but it’s very, very good.

-----

In the end, it’s practicality as much as greed - for the pretty, fluttering noises Jiang Cheng makes, and the clench of him around three of Lan Xichen’s fingers - that makes him finish the job on his own, freeing up Jiang Cheng’s hands for other work. He isn’t going to last all that long once he’s finally fucking Jiang Cheng. It’s better like this; to have Jiang Cheng kneeling over his lap, working himself over with the remaining oil on his hand, bringing himself near to the brink and then backing down.

He makes Jiang Cheng stop touching himself once, and twice, and it’s intensely hot how he twists and curses because of it, even though the motion nearly makes Lan Xichen’s fingers slip free.

He rubs the tip of his thumb where Jiang Cheng’s body is stretched so accommodatingly around him now. Presses just a little as if he might try to slip it in alongside the rest. Memorizes the strangled sound Jiang Cheng makes, and the way his hand flies from his cock to make sure that he doesn’t tip over the edge he’s been warned away from.

Jiang Cheng would be so open for him with that bit more pressure, Lan Xichen thinks. Dizzy visuals flash through his head too quickly to make any real sense of - four fingers, a hand, that unsettlingly large jade toy Jin Guangyao likes so much, what if, what if both of them, what if Jiang Cheng would let them both, together--

He bites Jiang Cheng’s shoulder to muffle a desperate sound. He’s supposed to be the one keeping it together here.

“You didn’t tell me you were going to be a fucking sadist about this.” Jiang Cheng sounds slightly loopy, warm and pleased despite the complaint.

Lan Xichen rests his forehead against Jiang Cheng’s shoulder and lets himself laugh helplessly for a moment, not caring at all whether the motion jostles Jiang Cheng and sends sparks up his spine. Which it does, to judge by the sound it elicits.

“It was strongly implied,” Lan Xichen says, when he has a hold on himself again. “Perhaps you were not paying attention.”

“Lan Huan,” Jiang Cheng says breathlessly, attempting to look cross and failing, although one would think that muscle memory alone should carry him through that expression if nothing else. “Zewu-jun. Fuck me already or I will scream.”

It is not quite a please, but Lan Xichen is out of patience and for Jiang Cheng, that was very nearly a polite request. Sliding his fingers free, he gives a nearly-gentle shove and watches Jiang Cheng topple.

Jiang Cheng’s highly-trained reflexes must be good enough that he could catch himself if he wanted to, even aching and denied, even with all the endless toasts they all drank, but he does not. He goes where Lan Xichen wanted him, sprawling backwards.

Breathtaking.

-----

Years later, when every foundation he was ever sure of has crumbled and he no longer knows what was real, when the living have died and the dead returned to miraculous life and he has been in seclusion for nearly a year, Lan Xichen will emerge briefly for his brother’s wedding. 

The pain of eyes on him and whispers about him, piercing the numbing fog of so many endless identical days, will feel a little like being alive.

Lan Wangji and Wei Wuxian will thank him several times for attending and assure him that it is all right if he is tired and wishes to go lie down. They will be so sincere and so concerned and so terribly grateful that he will have to dig his fingernails into his own wrist to keep from screaming. He will taste blood. 

He will see Jiang Cheng only from a distance, across a room, standing alone. It will remind him of those years before the night at Jinlintai, when they looked and looked and wanted and did not touch. He will remember then, with startling clarity, what it was like to grip Jiang Cheng’s hips for the first time and to ease himself into his body with a hot, frantic shock of desire.

He will think: that was real.

It will be a narrow thread to cling to, and not much of a foothold. He will not speak to Jiang Cheng or anyone else that day. 

Even so. It will be a beginning.

-----

He was right to think this will not be drawn out. Jiang Cheng feels too good, hot and tight and perfect, and it has been months since Lan Xichen last took someone to his bed.

Still, he holds out as long as he can. There are encouragements to endurance: Jiang Cheng’s thighs around his body encouraging him deeper and the way his voice hitches when Lan Xichen finds an angle that feels good to him.

Jiang Cheng’s vocabulary seems to have mostly been reduced to variants of “fuck,” but they all sound pleased and Lan Xichen is fairly sure he is forgiven for having been, what was it? “A fucking sadist.”

He slows to a shallow grinding motion, buried deep in Jiang Cheng, and kisses him before he can open his mouth to complain about it. Jiang Cheng makes an emphatic noise that sounds a lot like fuck again, but kisses him back, deep and sweet. They move slowly together for a time, as if that might somehow make it last.

It cannot last; Lan Xichen can feel the end of his self-control approaching.

“A-Cheng,” he says, when he must break free for air. “Do you want to come now?”

It’s hard to sound both indignant and about ten seconds from orgasm. Jiang Cheng manages it.

Of course I do,” he gasps, “fuck, how did you get the reputation for being the nice one?”

Lan Xichen asks himself that regularly, but it hardly seems like the time. He is reaching the end of his rope and he still wants to see Jiang Cheng shatter.

“If you come now, I will not stop once you are done,” he says, a warning, “Or you can wait until I’m ready too.” He does not mention that it will be a very short wait. He is not being the nice one right now.

Jiang Cheng sucks in a breath like he’s trying to make space inside himself; as if Lan Xichen inside him and over him is taking up all the air in his body. Overwhelmed, he is stunning.

“What would you prefer, A-Huan?”

The answer and the name are too quick, a little too sweet. Lan Xichen doesn’t trust it. 

He would very much enjoy fucking Jiang Cheng through his pleasure and past it, until he is oversensitive and whimpering for it to be over. But he would also like to keep him like this for a while longer, forever, strung out and trembling and trying desperately to keep up a brave front. There are no options here that constitute a loss.

Still. Jiang Cheng has been good, mostly, and deserves a reward for it. And perhaps he would cry, afterwards, and let Lan Xichen kiss tears from his eyes. The thought nearly finishes the whole issue right there.

“I think you should come now, A-Cheng,” he says, and mostly means it.

Which makes it all the more delightful and surprising when Jiang Cheng shivers under him, takes a single ragged breath, and says, “Then I’ll wait.”

His voice is triumphant, far too pleased with himself, and Lan Xichen can’t help but smile down at him and kiss the corner of his very nearly vicious smile.

“I will try to make it worth your while,” he says, and dedicates himself to hanging on as long as he can before making a thorough mess of them both.

-----

In the aftermath, he can only hang on to Jiang Cheng, who has his face pressed up against the side of Lan Xichen’s neck, shaking and wordless and very nearly sweet. Not that he would ever say as much out loud. 

Jiang Cheng shudders when Lan Xichen sighs and presses his hips forward one more time to savor as much of Jiang Cheng’s warm, finally thoroughly pliant body as he can before he eases himself out and away.

He does not go down on his stomach to lick Jiang Cheng’s thighs and stomach clean, but he considers it. 

Lan Xichen can manage a second round some nights but this doesn’t feel like it’s going to be one of them. They are none of them as young as they were when they met, when Lan Xichen had no eye for Jiang Cheng or his friends but only for the servant Nie Huaisang brought with him. Who now owns the bed they have just thoroughly debauched, the food and drink in their stomachs, and the oil dripping down Jiang Cheng’s thighs as Lan Xichen eyes them with a lazy sort of hunger.

Strange, how things come to pass.

Jiang Cheng eases his legs down flat and rolls to his side with a theatrical groan and a mumble about being ruined, unable to walk on his own back to his rooms. Lan Xichen takes this as a cue and bestirs himself to fetch the bowl of water and the cloth that had been laid out for them. The cruel clutching thing that catches hold of him sometimes appears to have glutted itself and gone to its rest, and he finds that he would very much like to take care of Jiang Cheng now.

-----

When they are relatively clean again, and stretched out next to each other so that neither of them has to walk anywhere for a time, Jiang Cheng asks again.

“Why tonight? Why not two years ago, or five years?”

There are answers. You were not ready, I was not ready, it took time to see you for what you are beneath the bluster, there was always a war or a diplomatic nightmare, I was caring for Wangji, you were grieving, it was difficult for me to admit what I wanted to A-Yao. But Lan Xichen does not wish to make the moment heavy, and he hopes that there will be other nights for those conversations.

“I liked the robe you wore tonight,” he says, and this is also a truth. He is aware that Jiang Cheng creates his image carefully and is stubbornly proud about it, that his wardrobe is carefully chosen for effect. “You reached for your cup and bared your wrist, like so.”

He places two fingers on Jiang Cheng’s pulse and imagines, or perhaps does not imagine at all, that it leaps under his touch.

Jiang Cheng snorts, sounding more like himself by the moment. “That was all?”

“It was one grain too many in a mountain of them,” Lan Xichen says, barely listening to himself, busy watching Jiang Cheng’s un-self-conscious sprawl, telling the truths that he can tell tonight. “A final push. I wanted to see you bare. I wanted to bend you over the table right there. It has been long enough, A-Cheng.”

Jiang Cheng chokes on nothing at all.

It is gratifying.

“If I think of that tomorrow while Jin Guangyao is being officious and unbearable and you sit beside me,” he says, “I will never forgive you.”

“I will accept that blame,” Lan Xichen says gravely. 

He watches Jiang Cheng smile at that before he can stop himself. It is easier than he thinks most people know, to make Jiang Cheng smile. He wears his stormcloud face like Lan Xichen wears his own smile, and neither of them are an entire truth. They are both of them unbalanced. Lan Xichen is not at all surprised to find that like this, there is a stable point to be found between them. 

“If you would like to rest here for a while,” he says, “I will wake you in time for you to return to your rooms without scandal.”

He watches Jiang Cheng visibly struggle with biting back some remark. Presumably something about the inhumanity of Lan sleeping hours, or the nobility of the great Zewu-jun.

He is trying to be kind, Lan Xichen realizes with a sharp pang. It feels very much as if someone has stabbed him in some critical organ with a very precise and delicate blade, a wound difficult to locate that he may nonetheless never recover from.

“Thank you, Lan Huan,” Jiang Cheng finally says. “I would be grateful.”

He sleeps easily and deeply. Lan Xichen does not, at first. He watches Jiang Cheng rest, committing the sight to memory in case he is not permitted to see it again, and determinedly does not look anywhere near the window.

When Lan Xichen finally sleeps his rest is light and fitful. He dreams of shadows in the garden and a sense that somewhere, somehow, he has missed something important.