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Lead Me On Through

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"Who do you think your betrothed is?" Wei Wuxian asks, sprawling out in front of Lan Zhan and enjoying the prim thinning of his lips at the question. He shouldn't be sprawling—they're in the library, for one, and Lan Zhan is studying, for another—but he can't help himself. Wei Wuxian is a sprawler.

"I do not believe this to be of importance," Lan Zhan responds, without turning his gaze away from his book.

"What!" Wei Wuxian sits up. "How can you say that? Of course it's important! This is the person you'll be with for the rest of your life, Lan Zhan."

Wei Wuxian, at least, is dying to know who his intended is. Uncle Jiang and Madam Yu have kept it secret, as is traditional, and he won't know until the wedding day. Until then, he's free to imagine whoever he wants. He hopes they are good-looking—it would make things easier, if he had someone nice to look at for the rest of his life. He hopes they aren't stuck up, he hopes they're fun. He hopes they like him.

"It would not," Lan Zhan says, "make a difference in what happens. Thus, it does not matter."

Wei Wuxian pouts, kicking his foot out. "You're no fun. All morals and obligation, eh, Lan Zhan?"

"Mn." Not even a hint of a smile. Lan Zhan is so boring sometimes.

Wei Wuxian sighs, then sprawls backwards until he's lying in front of Lan Zhan's desk, staring up at the ceiling. He folds his arms behind his head and thinks quietly for a while. Then he says, "Well, it matters to me who my betrothed is. I want them to be fun. And pretty. And—and yeah."

"Hmm."

A lot of judgment in that hmm. Wei Wuxian turns to look at Lan Zhan from this vantage point. It shouldn't be a flattering angle, this view from below, but Lan Zhan remains perfectly chiseled even now, his eyes cast down towards his book, pretending Wei Wuxian isn't even there.

At least he's answering. Time was, he would simply pretend Wei Wuxian wasn't there, and that was no fun at all. Jiang Cheng thinks Lan Zhan hates Wei Wuxian, but Wei Wuxian disagrees. They're friends. So what if Lan Zhan is a bit of a stick in the mud? He's brilliant. And an amazing swordsman. He's as good as Wei Wuxian, and it's important for your friends to be your equal. That way, nobody gets jealous or gets their feelings hurt. And if he often ignores Wei Wuxian's antics, well. That probably just shows good judgment.

Wei Wuxian gets a wicked thought and rises up on one elbow, peering up at Lan Zhan. "Hey, Lan Zhan. Who do you think it will be—a boy or a girl?"

Wei Wuxian doesn't care either way, really—he's good with both. He doesn't know about Lan Zhan.

This time, Lan Zhan doesn't even make a sound in response, but he does blush, which is adorable. The tips of his ears and nose get pink and everything.

"Lan Zhan! You know! You've got a preference!"

Lan Zhan's mouth thins again, and he says, "I do not. This union will be what it will be. It doesn't matter."

"Ugh, of course it does. What if it's a boy, and you're not into boys? What will you do then?"

"If it's a boy, it will not be a problem," Lan Zhan says stiffly. His ears are positively blazing.

"Lan Zhan!" Wei Wuxian sits up, leaning against the desk. "What if it's a girl?" he asks, curious. Lan Zhan doesn't respond, but he's definitely flushed. "Ohhhhh," Wei Wuxian nods, getting it. "I see, I see. Well, for me, it won't matter. I will be fine either way. Unless they're horrible-looking, or can't—oh, gods, Lan Zhan! What if they're terrible at, you know...the married stuff?"

"Married stuff?" Lan Zhan finally looks at him, eyebrows creasing the tiniest bit. He's really pretty in the late afternoon light, Wei Wuxian thinks fleetingly.

"Yeah, you know." Wei Wuxian waggles his eyebrows. "Married stuff. The stuff they're probably gonna talk to us about when the time gets closer to the wedding."

Lan Zhan is staring at him impassively.

"Ugh, sex stuff, Lan Zhan," Wei Wuxian hisses. "What if they're terrible in bed?"

"That," Lan Zhan says, dropping his gaze back to his book, "is also immaterial."

"What! Immaterial? How can you say that?"

"Sex is just one aspect of married life, it isn't everything," Lan Zhan says, his nose as pink as though he'd spent hours out in the sun. "Therefore, immaterial." He pauses, and Wei Wuxian makes himself wait, knowing there's more to come. It's nice, realizing he knows Lan Zhan well enough to know this. Finally, after a few moments, Lan Zhan adds softly, "I am much more concerned with their mind."

"Ugh." Wei Wuxian drops back onto the floor, looking up at the ceiling where the sunlight shifts with the passing of time. "You would be."

Lan Zhan sniffs in response.

"I mean, I can talk to anyone," Wei Wuxian muses aloud. "They don't even have to contribute...but, I mean, I would like them to. It's much more fun when you're having a conversation, don't you think?"

"Mn."

"Right, exactly. So, I guess you're right there. But I want the...other stuff to be good, too. I don't think it's terrible of me, frankly. I think it's sensible. Won't they expect the same of me?"

When he looks at Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan is, weirdly, watching him back. He hums but doesn't say anything.

"Oh, wow," Wei Wuxian says, a realization trickling down his spine. "They will expect the same of me. Unless, I guess, they're like you and don't care."

"I don't not care," Lan Zhan responds quietly.

"What?" Wei Wuxian rises onto his elbows. "But you just said—"

"I said it was immaterial. Not that I didn't care." He won't look at Wei Wuxian, but he's sort of—frozen, which is different from his usual stillness. This one has a tension to it.

Wei Wuxian licks his lips, and moves incrementally closer, attempting to catch his gaze. "Lan Zhan. Are you saying it matters to you?"

Lan Zhan doesn't respond for long enough that Wei Wuxian almost opens his mouth again, but then, "I suppose I am. It does."

Wei Wuxian crows, sitting all the way up. "I knew it! You can't be all that repressed, right, Lan Zhan? Of course it matters. Do you think you'll be good at it?" When Lan Zhan looks up at him, it's in exasperation. Wei Wuxian laughs. "Come on, it's just us." He lowers his voice, "What do you think, Lan-er-gege? Will you be able to please your new spouse on your wedding night?"

Lan Zhan's ears are positively flaming, as are his cheeks. It makes Wei Wuxian want to push him even more, makes him want to say, what do you think they'll expect you to do to them? Want to hear some ideas? I've got quite a few. Before he can do it, though, Lan Zhan says, "Wei Ying. This is not an appropriate topic of conversation."

"Well, of course not," Wei Wuxian scoffs. "But it's important. Our weddings are supposed to take place, what, six months from now? That's practically no time! How will we ever get ready?"

"There are—"

"Classes and tutoring sessions on how to comport yourself, yes, yes, I know. But they won't be teaching that."

Lan Zhan sniffs again, turning a page for the first time in a while. He's still as a statue again, but maybe a bit less tense. Wei Wuxian tries to picture what Lan Zhan would look like when engaged in...acts of passion, with his future spouse. Would he lie there and allow things to happen? No, no, that doesn't sound right. He would know his duty, so he would engage in things. Be part of them. But would he enjoy them? Wei Wuxian cocks his head, studying Lan Zhan's impassive face. Whoever is betrothed to him really is quite lucky in at least one department: Lan Zhan is more than nice to look at. Whenever Wei Wuxian looks at him, it's like his eyes are resting, and also as though he's tasting the sweetest honey, slow, sticky and delicious.

What would Lan Zhan look like when kissing someone? Would he be stiff, mechanical? It's hard to picture him in the throes of passion. He's so composed, all of the time. Wei Wuxian spends more than half his life attempting to get a rise out of him, failing nearly every time—apart from the first time they met, when he violated a whole slew of Lan rules and Lan Zhan went after him like a beast with a sword. Huh.

It comes to him as a wave of inspiration. Lan Zhan, kissing. Lan Zhan kissing. Lan Zhan. Kissing. A whole world begins to open up in Wei Wuxian's mind, a world where he can enter into his marriage knowing exactly what to expect, and having the experience to back it up.

"Lan Zhan!" he exclaims, then lowers his voice. "Lan Zhan, hey. Lan Zhan, look at me."

Lan Zhan sighs, shuts his book with a snap and pins him with his gaze. "Wei Ying, I am attempting to study."

Wei Wuxian waves his hands. "I know, I know, but this is important. I just had, like, the most brilliant idea." There is no particular shift in Lan Zhan's expression, but Wei Wuxian can tell he's just put him on his guard. Well, who can blame him. But. "Look, just hear me out, all right?"

"Mn."

"Good. Right. So." He claps his hands, then lowers his voice even more and leans in. "Both you and I care about the sex stuff, right?" He sees Lan Zhan stiffen. "Or at least, like. The intimate stuff, you know? For instance," he goes on before Lan Zhan can do something silly like pull away or, worse, get up and walk away, "I care about kissing. I've never kissed anyone before."

"You haven't?" Surprise in his voice.

Wei Wuxian feels his mouth drop open. "Why, have you?"

"Of course not," Lan Zhan responds, sounding positively scandalized. "I simply...thought…"

"Ohhhh, I see." Wei Wuxian feels the pleasure of it in his belly and grins. "You thought, here sits Wei Ying, as handsome as a boy can be, and you're telling me, nobody has ever taken advantage?"

Lan Zhan does not respond, looking down at his book. He does look slightly annoyed.

"Well, I am here to tell you, I have been bereft of kissing partners. Not that I've tried all that much," he admits in a fit of total honesty. "But now it matters. So." He takes a deep breath. "What if…" He leans a little closer in, close enough to sense Lan Zhan's sandalwood scent. It's familiar by now. Comforting. He takes his courage from it. "What if you and I were to, you know. Practice. Kissing." Another deep breath. "With one another."

For a moment, nothing happens. Lan Zhan doesn't move a single muscle. Then, all at once, he's rising up from the desk, book clutched in one hand, Bichen clutched in another. "Wei Ying!"

"What, what?! What did I say that was so bad?"

Lan Zhan is watching him almost angrily, which hasn't happened in so long, it makes Wei Wuxian's stomach drop down to his toes. Oh, no. Oh, no, he's completely miscalculated their mutual concern over intimate matters. "What you propose is—it's inappropriate," Lan Zhan tells him through tightly clenched teeth. He's definitely blushing again, too. "It is unseemly."

Wei Wuxian frowns and rises up onto his knees, looking up at him. "It was just a suggestion," he says, his insides writhing inside him. What is it he's feeling? Is it...embarrassment? Surely not. Shame? Not on your life, not Wei Wuxian. Perhaps it's simply annoyance at having his great idea so easily dismissed. "I don't think it was that inappropriate, anyway. It was sensible."

Lan Zhan looks at him for another moment with eyes blazing, then abruptly turns away and begins to walk out of the library. Wei Wuxian scrambles up, running after him. He manages to bar Lan Zhan’s way just before he can cross through the doorway. "Hey, Lan Zhan." He says it quietly, not wanting to spook. "Look, I'm—I'm sorry, all right? I didn't think you'd be upset." At worst, he thought Lan Zhan would scoff at him, not—not get mad enough that he would actually run away.

Lan Zhan stands stiffly in front of him, eyebrows drawn, face still a little bit like a thundercloud. Weirdly, this makes it a bit easier to picture him in the throes of passion.

Bad idea, bad idea, right. Right. Wei Wuxian shakes his head. "Will you forgive me? I really didn't mean to offend you."

Lan Zhan's jaw works for a moment, then he says, "Very well. I forgive you. Now, may I be excused?"

"What? Oh—" Wei Wuxian shifts aside and Lan Zhan brushes against him as he walks out, leaving Wei Wuxian to stare at his retreating back.

Well. Now he knows where Lan Zhan's limits are. He scratches his head and follows Lan Zhan out, turning to walk towards the guest quarters. Maybe he'll find Jiang Cheng and they can spar for a bit. He's feeling a weird need to hit something. Maybe sparring is just the thing.

*

The problem is, Wei Wuxian does worry about this stuff. Marriage feels abstract, at best, but he knows it's on the horizon. As soon as he is eighteen, there will be a wedding, and then—he'll be a husband. To somebody unknown to him right now.

He wonders what sect they will be from. Where the two of them will live. What their lives are going to be like. Then he shakes his head and dispels the questions. It's not time yet to worry about their lives, right now he's got a wedding night to worry about.

He and Jiang Cheng come back from sparring sweaty and exhilarated. At least he's exhilarated—Jiang Cheng looks kind of cranky. He's betrothed, too, but he never wants to talk about it. "What's there to talk about? I'll see them when I see them. We all do it."

Well, Wei Wuxian's parents hadn't. That's probably part of the reason why Madam Yu is so adamant that Wei Wuxian be married off, that everything be done by the book. His parents had been, from what he knows, in love. So in love that they had eloped, and were barely considered civilized for it. Uncle Jiang had loved his friend, and therefore had kept him near, and then, when a nighthunt went badly, taken in his son. But Wei Wuxian has been hard-pressed to hear much positive about his parents over the years. All he knows is this: a memory, as distant as a star, of riding a donkey while his mother and father laughed at a joke, smiles wide and bright and unencumbered.

"There you two are." Shijie comes out of the house with a tureen in her hands and sets it down onto a table, inviting them to sit.

"Shijie!"

They fall on that soup like starved beasts, slurping and chewing until the hunger is satisfied. Swordwork really takes it out of you. Wei Wuxian slumps over his empty bowl and gives his sister a big grin. She smiles and reaches out a hand to pat his cheek. "You worked hard."

He nods. "Have to maintain my condition if I'm going to keep up with Lan Zhan."

Jiang Cheng rolls his eyes. "What does it matter? You'll never be number one as long as we're in Cloud Recesses."

"Ah, so you admit I'd be number one if we were elsewhere?" That earns him a kick under the table. He rubs his shin and pouts. "Shijie, he's hurting me."

"Boys," she says in a bit of a warning tone.

"Sorry, a-jie."

"Sorry, shijie."

"There is nothing wrong with practicing," she says primly as she takes a careful sip of her soup. "Both of you have improved quite a bit since coming here."

They both beam at her. Shijie is the best.

Still, he's got a point to prove. "Anyway, I don't need to be number one. I just need to match Lan Zhan. Because he's the best, and this way, we can be the best together."

Another roll of Jiang Cheng's eyes. "Why do you chase after him? He doesn't care about you. He doesn't even care about beating you."

Wei Wuxian kicks him back, then says, "Sorry, shijie." Turning to Jiang Cheng, he tips his chin in a challenge. "He does, too. Well. Not about beating me. But we spar, you know. He likes it, I know he does."

"You're delusional. Every time I see him, he's running away from you."

"How do you know he isn't running away from you?"

"Because, unlike you, I'm not an obnoxious hanger-on! What do I care about Lan Wangji?" Jiang Cheng is starting to turn as purple as his robes, and Wei Wuxian decides he doesn't care about this, anyway. He knows the truth. Lan Zhan likes him.

Well. Liked him, at least. Until Wei Wuxian had suggested...what he had suggested. Now, it is a little unclear, but at least Wei Wuxian has apologized.

The thing is, it really is a brilliant idea. They both need the practice, and neither one of them has kissed anybody else. And anyway, it's just kissing, it's not like he proposed they go into their wedding nights defiled or anything.

But Lan Zhan can really be a stick in the mud sometimes. There's probably some Lan rule about kissing anybody but your betrothed, which, frankly, is unfair. Shouldn't they bring experience and expertise to the table, instead of fumbling about the first time?

Wei Wuxian is still thinking about this as he's getting ready to go to sleep and arguing with Jiang Cheng about who gets the first bath, then still as the bell rings for the ten minute warning of classes starting the following morning.

Or, well, he'd been dreaming about it, but that counts, doesn't it?

He darts around his room, furious with Jiang Cheng for not getting him up on time as he fumbles with his robes and attempts to put his hair in some semblance of order. He will not be late again, he will not give Lan Qiren the satisfaction.

Finally, he's more or less presentable, so he grabs Suibian and runs out of the house, only to come face to face with—"Lan Zhan!"

"Wei Ying."

Lan Zhan's face is impassive. He looks the way he normally looks, and Wei Wuxian feels relief rush through every vein in his body. "Lan Zhan, did you come to get me? That's so nice of you!"

Lan Zhan inclines his head minutely, which is as good an answer as any. Wei Wuxian is positively giddy. "Wei Ying was late."

"Almost late, which is not the same. See? There are still five minutes left." He gasps. "Lan Zhan, you're going to be late, too! Your uncle will have my hide!" He grabs Lan Zhan's wrist and tugs him along down the path. "Come on!"

"Wei Ying." Lan Zhan stops and digs his heels in until he's immovable.

Wei Wuxian frowns as he looks back at him. "Lan Zhan? What's wrong?"

"I—I wanted to." He stops and, oh. Oh, is he blushing? "I wanted to...apologize. For the abrupt manner in which I talked to you yesterday."

Wei Wuxian feels his eyebrows climbing up his forehead. "You don't—"

"I was rude and should not have spoken to you like that."

Pleasure swirls deep in Wei Wuxian's belly. Take that, Jiang Cheng. He smiles magnanimously. "It's okay, Lan Zhan, I'm not upset. I mean, I made you upset, and I didn't mean to. Really." He really does wish he hadn't. He never wants to upset Lan Zhan, not for real. And this had felt like it had been for real.

Lan Zhan shakes his head. "Nevertheless. Please accept my apology."

Wei Wuxian laughs and tugs him along. "Apology accepted, you're forgiven, now let's go, we're gonna be late."

Lan Zhan allows himself to be towed along for another few steps, then stops dead again.

"Lan Zhan?"

This time, his blush is deeper. Wei Wuxian finds himself fascinated with the bright color of it, standing high on his cheeks. Lan Zhan is looking somewhere below Wei Wuxian's face. "There is...another thing." He clears his throat. Wei Wuxian waits, puzzled and curious at the same time. "What you...proposed."

All of Wei Wuxian's attention focuses on Lan Zhan at once. Forget class, this is way more important. "Yes?"

"It was not...a bad idea."

Wei Wuxian gapes at him.

"I would like to. Accept your proposal."

Wei Wuxian's jaw is liable to hit the ground at a speed previously unknown to man. "You—what, really?"

Lan Zhan still won't look him in the eye, and the grip he's got on his sword is turning his knuckles white, but he nods and says, "Yes."

Wei Wuxian breaks into a delighted laugh. "That's great! Lan Zhan, this will be great, you'll see!"

"Mn." He actually sounds doubtful, but this wouldn't be the first time a sensible person has doubted one of Wei Wuxian's schemes. He may be doubtful now, but wait till they get going. Lan Zhan is going to be so grateful, come his wedding night.

"When do you wanna start?" Wei Wuxian asks, tugging him along again, hurrying towards the pavilion. "Tonight? Would tonight work?"

Lan Zhan is still exuding heat, but he's allowing himself to be towed, so he must be okay. "Tonight would be acceptable," he says stiffly.

Wei Wuxian throws back his head and laughs. "Tonight, then! Your place. You don't share a space, right? That'll give us privacy."

"Right." A pause. "Fine. After dinner?"

"After dinner!"

They're only a little bit late after that, but Wei Wuxian doesn't even cower under Lan Qiren's glare. Let him glower all he wants. Wei Wuxian has a kissing date. Tonight. With Lan Zhan.

Nothing could get him down now.

*

The day crawls by, and Wei Wuxian is going out of his mind. Not even the notes he exchanges with Nie Huaisang make it go by any faster. It doesn't help that they're going over stuff he already knows—who doesn't know how monsters and ghouls and ghosts are created? This is elementary stuff. He'd much rather get to the practical lessons, but the Lans are sticklers for all things academic. He blows out his breath and chances a glance over at Lan Zhan's straight back. He's paying attention, and he definitely already knows all this stuff. How does he not grow bored of this?

Wei Wuxian smothers the smile that stretches his lips at the thought of Lan Zhan and tonight and hangs his head low, so nobody notices. Then, not for the first time, he wonders if his betrothed is in this very room. After all, a lot of different sects' disciples are gathered for the lectures, and his betrothal, he knows, is political in nature. It could be anybody. Hell, it could be Nie Huaisang, which would be—wow, weird. That would be too weird.

He glances over at where Nie Huaisang is sucking on the end of his brush, looking glazed over. It's probably not Nie Huaisang.

Well, it doesn't matter. Not yet, anyway.

During the break for lunch, Wei Wuxian is grabbed by Jiang Cheng. They and shijie end up sitting next to the Jins—who are so ostentatious they make him want to puke—and he's too busy glaring at Jin Zixuan, who's giving his shijie weirdly surreptitious looks, to worry about tonight.

Not that he's worrying. What's there to worry about? It's just practice. Lan Zhan won't expect him to know what he's doing—in fact, it will be the opposite. They both know that they don't know. Lan Zhan won't know what he's doing, either. In this, as in everything else, they are on equal footing.

Finally, the afternoon lectures wind down, and they're free until dinner. The butterflies in his stomach intensify, and he drags Nie Huaisang off to practice their archery by the back hill, where they are technically not allowed, but have been countless times already. He roundly kicks Nie Huaisang’s butt while Nie Huaisang continues to insist that he doesn't need archery in order to graduate, and really, Wei-xiong, you're too insistent sometimes, can't we just sit and chat like civilized people?

But Wei Wuxian can't chat right now. He's too jittery and he needs some sort of an outlet. So he forces Nie Huaisang through drills until he actually manages to hit his target, at which point Nie Huaisang crows and throws his bow to the ground. "Did you see that? I got it!"

"See, what did I tell you? You just don't try hard enough, Nie-xiong," Wei Wuxian tells him, clapping him on the shoulder and grinning. "Wanna go again?"

By dinnertime, his leg is jiggling of its own accord, and Jiang Cheng keeps sending him looks that are both annoyed and confused. Wei Wuxian just sticks his tongue out at him, then mumbles, "Sorry, shijie."

He tries to eat, he really does, but he can barely choke down three spoonfuls of soup before pushing it away. His stomach is too busy writhing around for it to accept dinner.

Does he know the way to Lan Zhan's? He's never been to his rooms before. All he knows is that it's away from the main disciple dormitories, and he lives alone. Wei Wuxian wonders if it gets lonely. He would hate to live alone.

"A-Xian, is everything all right?" Shijie looks concerned, and he makes himself smile his regular smile.

"Of course! What could possibly be wrong?"

She frowns. "You seem agitated."

"Yeah, you're more crazed than usual, even," Jiang Cheng grumbles. "What's happening?"

"Nothing! Nothing!" Wei Wuxian puts three fingers to his temple. "I swear on my life, nothing is wrong. Just one of those days. Oh, but." Why hadn't he prepared an excuse? Oh, well, the truth is always better. Part of it, anyway. "I'm going to be away for a bit, after dinner. So don't wait for me, all right?"

"Where the hell are you going?" Jiang Cheng snaps. "We've got homework to do!"

"Relax, Jiang Cheng, you know I'll get it done."

"Yeah, and then be late to class again," he gripes in response.

“Not if you wake me up this time!”

Jiang Cheng glowers.

"A-Xian, where will you be?" shijie asks.

He turns to her and grins. "Lan Zhan and I will be doing sword practice! You know, dueling. See? Nothing wicked." That you know of. His grin is liable to fly right off his face.

Shijie's face relaxes and she sits back. "Oh. Well, enjoy your time with Lan-er-gongzi, then."

"Does he know you'll be dueling?" Jiang Cheng asks, looking at him askance.

"Aww, Jiang Cheng, are you jealous I'm spreading myself around?" He slings an arm around Jiang Cheng's shoulders, only to be summarily pushed away. He cackles. "Don't worry, you're still my number one dueling partner."

Bickering, they walk out of the dining hall, and Wei Wuxian waves at them as he makes a beeline in the opposite direction. He gets as far as the first bend in the road when he sees a still figure in white, standing ramrod straight ahead of him. He breaks into a grin, and his belly does a little swoop.

"Lan Zhan!" He waves, then runs up, because he can't help himself.

Lan Zhan's "No running in Cloud Recesses" sounds automatic.

Wei Wuxian laughs. "I know, I know. I didn't mean to break the most sacred rule."

"That isn't the most sacred rule," Lan Zhan says with a slight frown.

Wei Wuxian cocks his head. "Huh. What's the most sacred rule?"

Lan Zhan just shakes his head and starts walking. Wei Wuxian shrugs and follows, chattering. "I didn't see you at dinner, were you all right? I thought maybe—but no, I knew you wouldn't change your mind, I was just curious, I guess."

"I had dinner with my brother and uncle," Lan Zhan tells him. "I have not changed my mind." This he says quietly while looking straight ahead. Wei Wuxian grins.

The way to Lan Zhan's place feels long, leading away from the main drag of pavilions. Wei Wuxian looks about himself, memorizing the winding route. Finally, they come to a gate that leads to a low cottage, its doors open wide. Wei Wuxian stares at it. "Lan Zhan, is this—is this all yours? This is where you live?"

"Mn." A nod of his head.

"Wow." Wei Wuxian follows Lan Zhan up the wooden stairs and inside. A stick of incense, nearly burned down, sits on a low table. When he looks around, he sees the room is sparse but elegant. Very Lan Zhan. Behind a blue curtain, up on a low dais, he sees a bed. He flushes and looks away. That's not for him to stare at.

"Please sit," Lan Zhan says stiffly, indicating the cushion in front of the low table with the incense. He has already shut the front doors. Wei Wuxian, only a little shaky, lowers himself to the ground, and settles Suibian next to himself. He should be proper, right? This is Lan Zhan's space. He should respect it, probably. He sits with his hands in his lap and he waits.

Lan Zhan joins him shortly, a tea service held on a tray in his hands. A tea service and—

"Lan Zhan?" Wei Wuxian is gaping at him. There, on the tray, is a familiar white jug, tied with a blue ribbon. "Is that—?"

Lan Zhan unstoppers the Emperor's Smile and pours out a cup, which he pushes towards Wei Wuxian wordlessly. Just as wordlessly, Wei Wuxian throws the drink back, some liquid trickling out over the sides of his mouth. When he looks back at Lan Zhan, still unable to form words, Lan Zhan is watching him sort of intensely. Wei Wuxian shivers.

He sets down the cup and pushes the jug away from himself with not a little bit of regret. "Alcohol is forbidden in Cloud Recesses," he says without inflection.

Lan Zhan doesn't look at him as he pours himself tea. "Mn."

Wei Wuxian blows out a frustrated breath. The first time Lan Zhan had caught him with alcohol on the premises, he had nearly ejected him altogether. "So why?"

Lan Zhan still won't look him in the eye as he takes a sip of his tea and sets his cup down. "Wei Ying," he says. It's not quite an admonishment. It's definitely not an answer. Then he puts his hands over his knees. It's only because he's looking that Wei Wuxian notices the tight grip he's got.

Ohhhh. Lan Zhan is nervous.

That's so sweet. Wei Wuxian grins at him and leans in. "So, Lan Zhan. Are you ready?"

It isn't that Wei Wuxian is not nervous. He can feel the butterflies in his stomach building, the slight tremor in his hands. But he's sort of—excited, too. Nervous and excited. Both can be explained easily enough: nervousness because he's never done it before, and excitement because it's a new experience he gets to have that he's thought about for years now. Kissing. What is it like?

Lan Zhan clears his throat, then nods.

Wei Wuxian assesses their situation. Currently, they've got a table between them, which won't do—they have to be close. He scoots himself sideways until he's knee-walking up to Lan Zhan. "You should turn towards me," he commands, and Lan Zhan just sort of...obeys. Turning, just like that, to face Wei Wuxian. His eyes are cast down and there's a light flush to his nose and cheeks. His hands are still squeezing his knees tightly.

Right. Wei Wuxian's turn to clear his throat. He'd suggested this, so he should be the one to start it, right? Take initiative.

He wants to. He simply doesn't quite know where to start.

Oh, well, nothing for it. He leans in.

"Wei Ying, wait."

He rears back, searching Lan Zhan's face. Is he changing his mind? It would probably make sense. Wei Wuxian tries not to feel the disappointment of it low in his gut. "What is it?"

Lan Zhan squeezes his eyes shut, and Wei Wuxian notices his eyelashes for the first time. It's no wonder—they're pretty close right now. Like this, he can see that Lan Zhan's skin really is as perfect as it looks from further away, and there's a slight tremor to his lower lip as he opens his mouth, then clamps it shut again. He makes a noise, then finally lifts his gaze to Wei Wuxian's. "We should. Talk about rules."

"Rules?!"

"For...this. Set parameters."

"Ohhhh." Huh. Wei Wuxian hadn't considered that, but trust Lan Zhan to think of everything. "What sorts of...parameters?"

Lan Zhan's ears grow a deep pink. "Parameters of what we will permit ourselves to do."

Wei Wuxian bites his lip. Right. That's. Sensible. "Right. Okay. What, uh. What did you have in mind?" He's not entirely sure, but he thinks Lan Zhan might be biting the inside of his cheek, which is just so cute, he can't help grinning as he waits.

"Kissing—" Lan Zhan clears his throat. "Kissing only. It is, after all, for our betrothed. We...should not go further than that."

The idea of going further creates a sort of static in Wei Wuxian's brain and he blinks in and out of conscious thought for a moment before coming back. "Right," he says in a daze. "Obviously."

"Do we…" Here, Lan Zhan sounds uncertain. "Do we...touch?"

Wei Wuxian casts his mind back to some of those books Nie Huaisang has shown him. Had there been kissing pictures? He thinks there might have been, although those are not the pictures he remembers vividly. Was there touching? "I suppose," he says slowly, trying to remember. "Touching lightly is okay? Maybe, you know. Arms and shoulders and stuff."

Lan Zhan nods, watching Wei Wuxian's chest.

"Anything else?" Wei Wuxian asks carefully.

Lan Zhan really looks like he's thinking about it, eyebrows furrowed in concentration, then shakes his head. "I believe these rules should suffice."

For a moment, Wei Wuxian is surprised—Lan Zhan loves rules. He would not have been surprised if there had been ten more waiting to be spoken into existence. He recovers and grins. "All right, then! We should, uh. We should start." He does still have homework to do—Jiang Cheng wasn't wrong about that.

"Very well." Lan Zhan visibly steels himself, and then raises his gaze to meet Wei Wuxian's. "Come here, Wei Ying."

Wei Ying, for some reason, shivers with the command, and does as bidden. He shuffles closer until their knees are touching, and leans in. Then he closes his eyes, because watching Lan Zhan's face feels like too much all of a sudden. He can feel his own ears blazing, and there's a flutter in his chest. He's about to have his very first kiss.

Gods, he hopes it isn't off-putting. That would be a disaster.

And then his breath stops as he feels Lan Zhan's scent envelop him, and his lips—soft and slightly damp—touch his own. For a moment, it's just that—a press of lips against lips, mostly dry and intimate in a way he's never experienced, but light. Their noses bump against each other as Lan Zhan presses closer, and then makes a frustrated noise. Wei Wuxian opens his eyes. Lan Zhan's are closed, and his eyebrows are drawn together.

He thinks kissing should probably feel different than this. And he is, after all, Wei Wuxian. He can take initiative. Carefully, not wanting to spook Lan Zhan, he tilts his head and slots their lips together from a different angle, and—and then his eyes slide closed just as Lan Zhan parts his lips, and then Wei Wuxian follows, and—

Oh. Oh.

That's kissing. It's sweet, and gentle, and Lan Zhan—Lan Zhan smells good, and his breath is warm against Wei Wuxian's skin.

They part with a soft sound, and when his eyes flutter open, Wei Wuxian is looking into Lan Zhan's eyes. He looks uncertain and he's biting his lip. The lip that had just been pressed against Wei Wuxian's.

Wei Wuxian licks his own lips and croaks, "How was that?"

"Adequate."

Wei Wuxian can't help the burst of laughter. "Adequate?! We just had our first kiss and you're saying it was adequate? Lan Zhan!"

Lan Zhan looks perplexed. "It was. This is practice, Wei Ying. We will get better at it."

As far as Wei Wuxian is concerned, the kiss had been lovely, but maybe Lan Zhan is right. And they are here to practice. "All right, all right. Let's do it again."

The second kiss is better, because they know how to tilt their heads for maximum access. Lan Zhan's lips are soft and he tastes nice. He tastes like the tea he had sipped earlier. Which makes Wei Wuxian wonder if Lan Zhan is tasting Emperor's Smile on his lips, which makes him grin to think about.

And then the grin slips off as Lan Zhan presses closer, slides a hand around the back of Wei Wuxian's neck and opens his mouth against his.

Oh, oh, oh, that's— That's so—

Wei Wuxian makes a noise low in his throat as he surges against him and presses closer. Daringly, he puts his hands on Lan Zhan's shoulders and squeezes, but he's only half aware of doing so, because the rest of his awareness is going towards kissing Lan Zhan, and their kisses are getting deeper, better, oh.

They're kissing now. Trust overachieving Lan Zhan to have gotten them here. Wei Wuxian would feel inadequate, if he could feel anything besides excitement and pleasure. Kissing is nice. No wonder people do it. When you think about the concept itself, it's a weird one. Whoever came up with touching mouths? And slotting them together? Who first invented kissing?

Whoever they were, they must have been a genius. His head is sort of fuzzy around the edges, and he's thinking nonsense, but mostly, he's kissing Lan Zhan back with enthusiasm, enjoying the slide of lips against lips, mouths moving in sync. Lan Zhan feels good against him. His hand on Wei Wuxian's neck feels good, his mouth and the tiny noises he's making feel good. Kissing. Kissing feels good.

When they part this time, Lan Zhan doesn't go far, and they stare at one another from a breath apart.

"How was that?" Wei Wuxian asks softly. He can't make his voice work very well.

"Better." Lan Zhan is flushed, and the word comes out slightly slurred. "That was good, Wei Ying."

Wei Wuxian nods. "It was." Then he thinks, fuck it, practice makes perfect, and surges forward to catch Lan Zhan's lips again with his own.

Lan Zhan makes another tiny, sort of devastating noise, and his hand tightens on Wei Wuxian's nape, whispering through his hair. Wei Wuxian opens wider, wanting to taste more of Lan Zhan, going on instinct alone, and then his tongue touches the tip of Lan Zhan's, and his spine feels like it's been suddenly liquified. He moans—and he would be embarrassed about that, if not for the rest of him clamoring for more—and slides his tongue against Lan Zhan's more firmly.

Lan Zhan responds. Lan Zhan responds beautifully, and he feels so good, and oh, fuck, Wei Wuxian can feel his dick twitching, filling with arousal, and oh, that's against the rules, but he can't help it—kissing feels good. And it's part of sex, and his dick is very interested in sex, and as long as Lan Zhan doesn't notice, he'll be fine, he'll be just fine.

He finds that his hands have slid up and are now cradling Lan Zhan's jaw, which feels sort of… intimate and a little dirty, because he can feel Lan Zhan opening up for his kisses, jaw moving under Wei Wuxian's fingertips. He makes an abrupt sort of noise and then Lan Zhan is pulling back and their third kiss is over.

Lan Zhan is still touching his neck, and Wei Wuxian's hands are still cupping Lan Zhan's jaw, and they're panting so hard, the sound fills the entire house. For the first time since they met, Lan Zhan looks slightly discomposed, his eyes unfocused, strands of his hair out of place.

Wei Wuxian swallows and makes himself ask, "How was that?"

Lan Zhan licks his lips. "Better. I think."

Wei Wuxian makes a noise of agreement. "Yeah. Yeah, that was. Good. That was good."

"Mn."

Wei Wuxian searches Lan Zhan's gaze for—something, he doesn't know what. Then he gathers his courage, and says, "More?"

Lan Zhan is already meeting him halfway. They rise up on their knees as they kiss, something he doesn't realize until they're nearly chest to chest, and the hand that isn't touching his neck is sliding around his back, pressing him even closer. His heart is beating so, so hard inside his chest, and his stomach is filled with butterflies, and it's so much pleasure, he isn't sure how to contain it all inside himself.

Lan Zhan is kissing him hard and slow. It feels like a warm dip in a lake, all-encompassing, both comforting and exhilarating at once. Wei Wuxian's head spins.

When they part this time, they don't go far, and pant against one another, their breath mingling.

"So, I think we're getting better," Wei Wuxian manages. The situation in his pants hasn't gotten better, but he's been mindful of keeping his hips to himself, and he thinks that he can maybe take care of the situation later, when he's in bed and Jiang Cheng has fallen asleep. His shidi sleeps like a log, nothing can wake him in the middle of the night.

"Mn." Lan Zhan shuts his eyes, then opens them, and he's still looking unfocused, which is. A good look for him. His mouth is slightly parted and Wei Wuxian can't stop looking at the glisten of his lips.

Without thinking about it, Wei Wuxian leans in. They kiss for a while, kiss long enough that he loses track of how many kisses they've exchanged. It becomes impossible to count, anyway.

They're definitely getting better.

And then, Lan Zhan moves back and drops down to his haunches. "We should…" He swallows visibly. He's still got a hold of Wei Wuxian, who's hanging sort of awkwardly over him, but not wanting to fall back, because he likes the touching. "We should stop now. It is getting late."

Wei Wuxian blinks and comes back to himself. He sits back, as well. Lan Zhan's arms drop down. They're only touching with their knees again. "Yeah. Yeah, you're right." He still has homework to do. Jiang Cheng will flay him alive. "But this was...good. Good practice."

"Mn." Lan Zhan's chest is rising and falling quickly, and it's strange to think that Wei Wuxian may have been a cause of it. Lan Zhan never looks like that, not even after sparring. "We should...resume. Some other time."

A grin stretches across Wei Wuxian's face. "Yeah. Some other time."

"Tomorrow night, perhaps." Lan Zhan's cheeks are so flushed. The tip of his nose is pink, and he is looking somewhere beyond Wei Wuxian.

Wei Wuxian's hands are tingling. "Yeah. Sounds like a plan."

"Good."

"Good."

Lan Zhan stands and then so does Wei Wuxian, grabbing Suibian, and then he escorts him to the door. "Good night, Wei Ying."

He flashes Lan Zhan a quick smile. "Good night."

Then he walks out into the cool night.

The fresh air feels good on his overheated skin, and his pants situation improves the further away he gets. It's lucky that dusk has fallen, and there aren't a lot of people walking around. He takes a couple of wrong turns because he isn't paying attention, and then stops abruptly by the gate to their quarters. There is a light that he can see through the window, and he is...not ready to face Jiang Cheng yet, not when he can still feel the phantom touch of Lan Zhan's warm hand on his neck. Not when he can feel the ghost of his kisses on his lips and tongue.

He shakes his head.

Who knew kissing really was that great? If he gets to do this for the rest of his life once he is married…

He takes a few deep breaths, shakes out his entire body, and walks determinedly down the path. He can do this.

He pastes on a smile for Jiang Cheng's benefit. Jiang Cheng frowns at him, then looks him up and down. "How hard did you practice? You never get this sweaty when doing swordwork."

Wei Wuxian tightens his grip of his sword and makes himself put on his most shameless grin. "Wouldn't you like to know?"

He doesn't actually like lying to his brother, and this way, there's plausible deniability.

Jiang Cheng rolls his eyes and turns back towards his work. "Get over here and finish your essay."

"Yes, sir."

Wei Wuxian sets his sword in its place, drops down across the table from Jiang Cheng, pulls a fresh sheet of paper towards himself, then reaches for the ink and brush.

Right. Homework. He can do homework. He can.

*

Wei Wuxian knows that he can't just stare at Lan Zhan's straight back all during class, but it's very hard to stop. He just keeps wondering: is Lan Zhan thinking about last night? Is he thinking about tonight? They'd agreed to practice more, but what if Lan Zhan changes his mind?

Wei Wuxian finds himself worrying over the possibility. It isn't—it's just that—it's just that he'd like more practice, is all. Last night, he had manfully waited until Jiang Cheng's soft snores filled their room before taking himself in hand and only somewhat shamefully thought back to the kissing as he’d jerked himself off. He had bitten so hard on his hand when he'd come that he had teeth marks on it afterwards.

He thinks he definitely blushed when Lan Zhan brushed past him on the way to class with a nod of his head. Lan Zhan had, of course, looked calm and collected. Had he—

Nope. Wei Wuxian is not going there. What Lan Zhan does or does not do at night is none of his business.

Maybe all those dire warnings he'd heard from people directly and indirectly were right: once you started down a certain path, you couldn't stop. He's started on the kissing path, and now it's all he can think about.

"Wei Wuxian!"

Wei Wuxian jerks straight and focuses on the direction of the voice, which, of course, had come from Lan Qiren's mouth as he paces the front of the room, droning on about who even knew what.

"Present!"

"I am aware," Lan Qiren says through gritted teeth. "I asked a question. Can you recall what it was?"

Wei Wuxian casts his mind back to the droning and manages to come out with, "The main three ways to achieve a balanced qi?"

Lan Qiren harrumphs, then nods. "Go ahead."

Wei Wuxian rattles off the answer, vaguely aware of the line of tension in Lan Zhan's back. He hopes Lan Zhan is listening. See? Wei Wuxian is not as hopeless as some might think.

"That is correct," Lan Qiren says in the tone of voice that suggests grave disappointment, then goes on with his droning.

Wei Wuxian slumps in his seat and begins doodling, just to have something to focus on. It's going to be another long day.

*

"Wei Ying. Come in." Lan Zhan is watching him impassively from his seat at the table, tea service already laid out in front of him. Wei Wuxian notes that there's no Emperor's Smile this time, but then he supposes that had been liquid courage for the first time.

Lan Zhan looks...comfortable. Not at all jumpy, the way Wei Wuxian is. He makes himself walk inside, shut the doors behind himself, and drop down across from Lan Zhan.

"Lan Zhan." Suddenly, he doesn't know what to say, which is fairly unusual for him. What do you talk about with the person you're about to practice kissing with? He casts about for something, coming up with, "Uh, how was your day?"

Lan Zhan slowly and methodically pours them both tea, holding his sleeve carefully away. "My day was fine."

Wei Wuxian nods. Well, he'd just depleted all his ideas. The silence doesn't seem to bother Lan Zhan, though, which is. Good. Probably.

Wordlessly, Wei Wuxian lifts the tea cup to his lips and drinks the whole thing, then sets it down carefully. He is desperate for some liquid courage right about now. Why is he so nervous?

Lan Zhan takes a slow sip of his tea, sets it down, and only then does the tip of his nose get pink. Wei Wuxian breathes out.

"Should we begin?" Lan Zhan asks, not lifting his gaze.

"Yeah. Yeah, let's start," Wei Wuxian agrees, nodding and not moving a muscle.

Lan Zhan clears his throat. "Should you—"

"Yeah, I'm coming." Wei Wuxian rises gracelessly and scrambles over to Lan Zhan, who is turning towards him and smoothing his robes over his lap in a sweetly prim gesture. Wei Wuxian drops down, facing him, and clears his throat. He can feel anticipation curling in his belly, wetting his mouth, and—he squirms—filling out his dick, just a little. He needs to get himself under control. It's practice. This is just practice, and they have rules. Rules he plans on abiding by, because it's Lan Zhan, and he doesn't—doesn't want to upset him.

"Come here, Wei Ying."

There it is again, a swirl of confused arousal pooling low in his gut at the tone of command. Wei Wuxian has no choice but to lean in, heart beating so, so fast in his chest. Lan Zhan's gaze is serious and intent on Wei Wuxian's as he mirrors him and they meet in the middle.

A press of lips, then a shift, and they're kissing. Really kissing, no more learning which way to turn or how to move. Wei Wuxian makes a helpless noise as Lan Zhan opens his mouth and settles his hands on Wei Wuxian's upper arms. His grip is light at first, but then gets stronger, clutching him so tightly, Wei Wuxian couldn't move if he tried. Lan Zhan is—Lan Zhan is strong, and his mouth is soft and insistent and tastes so good. His tongue is a tease in Wei Wuxian's mouth, a flicker of pleasure that sends goosebumps all down his skin. Wei Wuxian clutches his own robes and attempts to breathe.

Finally, when they're both nearly out of air, Lan Zhan pulls back, and Wei Wuxian can hear him swallow. His grip on Wei Wuxian's arms loosens, then disappears altogether. When he looks Wei Wuxian in the eye, Lan Zhan looks uncertain. "Are you—was that all right?"

Wei Wuxian, who can barely remember his own name at the moment, stammers in response. "Yeah—yeah, that—that was good. It was good, Lan Zhan."

Lan Zhan nods, worrying at his lip. "And should we—"

Wei Wuxian leans in and captures Lan Zhan's lips with his own, because if he doesn't, he thinks he might die. This time it's Lan Zhan who makes a noise, then deepens the kiss, and when he touches Wei Wuxian, it's underneath his jaw, holding him still for his kisses. Wei Wuxian thinks he might melt right into the floor from how good it feels, and he makes a truly embarrassing noise before reaching out blindly and wrapping his hands around Lan Zhan's waist.

That—wait. That hadn't been part of the rules, had it? They'd said arms and shoulders.

But then again, they hadn't specified no face holding, and Lan Zhan doesn't appear to be letting go. Wei Wuxian shuffles closer, then rises up until he's sort of hanging over Lan Zhan and, without breaking the kiss, runs his hands up Lan Zhan’s torso. He leaves them to rest over his chest, where he can feel Lan Zhan's heart beating, oh...so hard, underneath all the layers.

Oh, fuck, that's so good. Lan Zhan whimpers—whimpers!—against him and then breaks off the kiss with a gasp. "We shouldn't—" Wei Wuxian pulls his hands back like he's been burnt, but then Lan Zhan says, "No, don't stop—" and they're kissing again, tipping back until Wei Wuxian is bearing down onto Lan Zhan, who's leaning back and allowing it, grip like a vise at Wei Wuxian's nape.

"Lan Zhan—"

"Wei Ying, I—"

They can't stop kissing, and then Wei Wuxian is in Lan Zhan's lap, hands running over bodies, breathing hard and heavy against one another. Lan Zhan has wrapped his arms around Wei Wuxian, clutching him close. Wei Wuxian can't stop running his fingers over the tender pulsepoint that flutters beneath Lan Zhan's jaw. Wei Wuxian's lips are so sensitive, and his tongue is heavy, and he's hard enough that he has to work at not pressing himself up against Lan Zhan and ruining everything.

He gasps and pulls away, resting his forehead against Lan Zhan's, eyes squeezed shut. "We're—we're getting better," he manages.

"Mn." Lan Zhan—wow. Lan Zhan sounds sort of wrecked, even in that one utterance. Hoarse and low and— A shiver runs down Wei Wuxian's spine.

"I guess practice really does make perfect." He has no idea what he's saying. All he knows is the feel of Lan Zhan beneath him, how warm and real he is, how much of him Wei Wuxian is getting to touch. His heart is beating like a drum.

"Diligence is important," Lan Zhan says.

Wei Wuxian pulls back and opens his eyes, feeling a smile already stretching his lips. "Lan Zhan, did you just make a joke?"

Lan Zhan opens his eyes and meets Wei Wuxian's gaze. The corners of his mouth lift the tiniest bit.

"You did! You just made a joke about making out!" Wei Wuxian laughs, throwing back his head. He opens his mouth to say something else, except Lan Zhan slides his hands up, links them at the back of Wei Wuxian's neck and pulls him down for another kiss.

Oh.

Wei Wuxian's body is sparking with pleasure. Lan Zhan likes this. Lan Zhan likes this. He maybe likes it as much as Wei Wuxian does, and isn't that just amazing? That the two of them have found something so nice to share, to spend time on, together?

Wei Wuxian smiles into the kiss, then allows it to pull him under and get utterly and completely lost.

*

"Wei Ying," Lan Zhan says after they have wrapped up the kissing practice for the night. "Perhaps we should." And then he stops.

Wei Wuxian waits, feeling flustered and askew. He's still a little bit hard, which he hides under the skirts of his robes, which he's pulled taut underneath his knees. It takes Lan Zhan a while to continue.

"Perhaps," he says slowly, "we should limit our practice to once a week."

Wei Wuxian's heart drops in a way he won't be examining at this time, and he nods. "Right. Yeah. That's...sensible."

"It is, after all, practice," Lan Zhan says, his ears bright pink, "for our future spouses. It's…"

"Only right. That we keep it to…"

"Not every day."

"Right."

Wei Wuxian isn't looking Lan Zhan in the face. Instead, he's watching the rise and fall of his chest beneath six layers of clothing. He's so tightly wrapped up, it's amazing he can breathe at all. No wonder he's always sitting ramrod straight.

"I'm glad you understand," Lan Zhan says, and Wei Wuxian does. He does understand. If it had seemed earlier that maybe this could be—but no. Of course not. Where had he even gotten such an idea? And anyway, they're not allowed to be with anyone, anyway, not in any real way, because in six months, they'll be married to other people. For political alliances. That is their job as the sons—adopted or not—of sect leaders. They're already promised to somebody else, even if they don't know who yet.

"I do," Wei Wuxian says in a stiff voice, then decides he's ready to leave. "I'll see you tomorrow, Lan Zhan." He gets up and re-arranges his robes back into some semblance of order so nobody gets suspicious. He wonders if—oh no, does he look like he's been kissing a boy for half an hour? He would ask Lan Zhan, except he's weirdly too embarrassed, so he'll just have to trust that Lan Zhan wouldn't allow him to leave looking totally wrecked. He grabs Suibian and waves, heading for the door. It isn't until he's almost out the door that Lan Zhan calls out, "Wei Ying."

Wei Wuxian turns around, studying him. Lan Zhan is sitting in front of the tea service and he looks as impassive as ever, with only his slightly mussed hair to give away what he's been doing. "Yeah?"

"Would you...are you free to practice sword work tomorrow evening?"

Wei Wuxian feels a grin tugging at the corner of his mouth. "Sure, Lan Zhan. I can do that."

"Good." Lan Zhan nods. "Good night, Wei Ying."

"Good night, Lan Zhan."

*

It's weird how you can miss something you've only just gotten, once it's taken away again. And it isn't like kissing practice is entirely off the table. It's just been relegated to the fifth day of every week, a midweek sort of marker. Waiting for it, though, becomes kind of unbearable.

Is Wei Wuxian really so horny that he can't wait ten days for a little bit of kissing? That's unacceptable. He has a very full life, with much to do. He has his studies to keep up, Lan Qiren to infuriate, Jiang Cheng to annoy, and shijie to keep happy. And he has Lan Zhan to do all three to. Because kissing Lan Zhan hasn't changed the fact that he still gets on Lan Zhan's nerves—it's just taken on a bit of a new dimension.

"Hey, Lan Zhan, want to go practice archery?"

Lan Zhan turns the page, not looking at him. "No."

"Oh, come on!"

"I am studying, Wei Ying."

"Come onnnnn." Wei Wuxian leans on his desk and attempts to cajole him through closeness. Lan Zhan goes sort of stiff all over and Wei Wuxian pulls away, flustered. Right. That's. Probably weird to do, now. He leans back and sighs, then says, "Fine. What about later? You can't be studying all day, Lan Zhan, even you need a break at some point."

"Three incense sticks' time, then."

Wei Wuxian cheers.

"But you have to let me study until then."

Wei Wuxian mimes shutting his mouth and happily returns to his own desk at the library where he had been reading a work of literature, thank you very much, and not studying.

So they practice archery—Wei Wuxian wins every time—and they practice sword work, and on the fifth day of the week, Wei Wuxian comes over to the Jingshi and they practice kissing.

They have created more rules. They are allowed to be close, but they are not allowed to move anywhere away from the table, and they are not allowed to get horizontal.

But now, they are allowed to kiss not just on the mouth. Wei Wuxian has learned that his neck is extremely sensitive, especially when Lan Zhan sucks a bit of skin into his mouth and uses his teeth to graze it. Wei Wuxian has also learned that tugging lightly on Lan Zhan's earlobes with his teeth will earn him a quiet gasp, something that went directly to his cock the first time he heard it. He learns the softness of Lan Zhan's skin at the nape, learns that when Lan Zhan threads his fingers through Wei Wuxian's hair and tugs, his dick fills out so quickly, his head spins.

They don't touch anywhere below the waist, but it's becoming harder and harder to resist.

"Lan Zhan," he pants into Lan Zhan's skin, just below his jaw, before leaving a trail of kisses all down his neck. "Lan Zhan, I'm so—I can't—"

"I know," Lan Zhan grinds out, hands clutching Wei Wuxian's waist tight enough that it almost hurts. Gods, it feels good.

Wei Wuxian squirms. "Don't you want—"

"We can't, Wei Ying," Lan Zhan responds, then grabs Wei Wuxian's face and pulls him down for a bruising kiss. Wei Wuxian moans into it and then rolls his hips forward, because he can't help it, he can't stop it, he needs to move, to grind. He's so hard, it's nearly painful. No amount of jerking off he's been doing—and it has not been an insignificant amount—has helped stopper the desire that's begun spilling out between them. Desire, at least on his part, to learn more: to find out what it would feel like to have another person touch him, to have someone's hands and gaze on him as he falls apart for them. To touch them, see them, watch them fall apart for him.

Lan Zhan gasps into his mouth and then he's surging forward, bearing Wei Wuxian back until—

"We said we couldn't—"

"Wei Ying—"

"Oh, fuck it," Wei Wuxian groans and then he's toppling backwards, Lan Zhan landing on top, and still kissing, kissing, kissing. Like this, he can feel everything, down to the hardness of Lan Zhan digging into his hip, and oh, fuck, that feels so intimate, that feels so dirty.

Lan Zhan is hard. Lan Zhan wants this, wants him. Wei Wuxian plucks up his courage and runs his hands down Lan Zhan's back, ending with his ass, and pressing down until they're grinding against one another, and oh fuck, Lan Zhan is doing it, he's rolling his hips against Wei Wuxian's, and it's so good, so fucking good. Wei Wuxian can't concentrate on any single sensation, and he has to break off the kiss in order to really feel the rest of it. Lan Zhan immediately dives in and begins kissing his neck, and oh, oh, that feels ten times worse—better—than when they had been upright.

"The thing is," Wei Wuxian pants out, then makes a guttural sort of noise at a particularly hard thrust, "the thing is, they won't just be expecting kissing."

Lan Zhan makes a "mn" sound into his neck, and he's still moving, he's still grinding down.

"Right, they'll—they'll expect other things, you see, and really—"

"We should practice," Lan Zhan mumbles against his neck, then bites down, and Wei Wuxian cries out, head falling back, exposing more of himself to Lan Zhan's mauling.

"Exactly," he finally manages to grind out. "Surely… Surely, we'll need to know what we're doing, what to expect—"

Lan Zhan makes an agreeable noise, and then Wei Wuxian can't talk anymore, because Lan Zhan is kissing him, hard and hot and deep. Everything ratchets up more, pleasure climbing, and Wei Wuxian is barely aware of bunching Lan Zhan's robes in his fists as he thrusts up against him, again and again.

"Wei Ying—"

"Lan Zhan, don't—don't stop—"

And then Lan Zhan does stop, held in stasis above him, a pained look on his face, and then he's gasping, and shuddering, and oh—oh fuck—

Wei Wuxian thrusts up once, twice more, and then he too is coming with a groan, trembling, staining his trousers, with Lan Zhan pinning him to the ground.

Lan Zhan collapses, and Wei Wuxian makes a little oof sound, but wraps his arms around him and just—holds him there, as they attempt to get their breath back. His heart is hammering, and his sluggish brain can't quite believe what just happened. Did they really just—and did Lan Zhan really just—and did he

Lan Zhan takes in a shuddering breath and raises himself up on his arms over Wei Wuxian. At first, his eyes are closed, but then he opens them, and the look in them is searching. Wei Wuxian bites his lip, but it's no use—he's grinning already, tipping his head back, suddenly so close to laughing. He can't believe they just did that.

"Are you all right, Wei Ying?" Lan Zhan asks before tipping sideways and landing next to him.

Wei Wuxian follows his progress with his gaze. "Yeah, Lan Zhan. I'm all right." He chews on the inside of his cheek. "Are you?"

Lan Zhan appears to actually think about it, which makes Wei Wuxian's heart yoink in his chest, but then says, "I am if you are. But I do...apologize."

"Apologize?" Wei Wuxian frowns. "For what?"

"For...overstepping."

Wei Wuxian's laugh is a little incredulous. "It took two of us, you know. Didn't I tell you not to stop?"

Lan Zhan keeps watching him with a tiny frown between his brows. "Then you are...all right...with what we did?"

Wei Wuxian can't believe him. "Yes. Yes, Lan Zhan, I am all right. More than all right."

"And you do not mind that we…" Another uncertain pause. "Broke our rules?"

Wei Wuxian raises himself up on his elbows. "When have I ever minded breaking the rules?"

Aha. That gets him a tiny smile hidden in the corner of Lan Zhan's mouth. "Very well."

Wei Wuxian adopts a thoughtful expression and starts stroking his chin as though he's got a beard. "Hmm," he says in an overly deep voice. "We will just have to come up with a new set of rules. If it will make you feel better." Lan Zhan bites his lip, but the smile behind it is unmistakable. For a moment, it takes Wei Wuxian's breath away. He recovers swiftly, however, and continues in his normal tone of voice. "I meant it, though. We probably should, you know. Practice more than kissing. Just in case."

"Just in case," Lan Zhan repeats, sounding uncertain.

"Yeah, you know. Learning to please your partner and all that," Wei Wuxian says heartily. "You don't think it's a good idea?" His heart is still beating so, so hard.

Lan Zhan is silent for a moment, then, "It is, Wei Ying. It is a good idea."

Wei Wuxian beams.

*

So, more than kissing. Wei Wuxian is more than okay with more than kissing. The entire way back to his quarters (on very shaky legs, he might add), he has a stupid grin on his face and a very unpleasant sticky sensation in his trousers.

"What are you so happy about?" Jiang Cheng asks him as soon as he's through the door, looking at him with, frankly undeserved, suspicion.

"What? Can't I be happy to see my shidi at the end of a long day?" He barely knows what he's saying, as most of him is focused on figuring out how to fix his pants situation before it gets worse.

Jiang Cheng scowls, then says, "A-jie was looking for you, but I had no idea where you were." The scowl grows deeper. "I'm assuming with Lan Wangji?"

Wei Wuxian, temporarily ignoring the pants situation, comes up to his brother and slings an arm around his shoulders. "Awww, Jiang Cheng. Are you jealous?"

Predictably and comfortingly, Jiang Cheng throws him off with a single gesture, and says, "You wish. You're just annoying to look for."

Wei Wuxian pretends to pout, then bounces up and through the doorway, calling behind him, "Off to see shijie!"

Jiang Cheng just waves him off.

He ends up making a pit stop to clean himself off, because showing up at shijie's quarters with sticky come clinging to him, even where no one can see it, would be a fate worse than death. He manages to take care of most of it, then carefully knocks on her door.

"Shijie?"

"A-Xian!" A moment later, the doors are sliding open and there she is, smiling at him. Wei Wuxian smiles back. "Come in."

He walks through, then drops down onto a cushion. "Jiang Cheng said you were looking for me?"

She nods, then sinks down to sit across from him. And, all of a sudden, she's looking serious. Wei Wuxian feels his smile drop off. "Shijie? What is it?"

She doesn't respond right away. Instead, she studies him with a soft sort of expression, still looking serious, but also fond. No one ever looks at him the way shijie looks at him. "A-Xian," she says, then pauses. A deep breath lifts her chest. "As you know, in just about half a year, you will be married."

Wei Wuxian grows cold. Could—could she have somehow found out what he and Lan Zhan have been up to? Could someone have seen them? But how? All the windows have always been closed. Nobody should have been able to see them, but if they had—and shijie knows—and if Lan Qiren finds out, if Madam Yu finds out, they're both utterly and completely dead. He clears his throat and attempts to sound nonchalant. "Yep. In half a year's time, it's goodbye to bachelorhood."

She gives him a small smile. "Right. Well." She takes his hands in her warm ones. "I have had a letter from my mother."

Wei Wuxian swallows. "Yeah?"

"And your betrothed has been officially appointed."

All breath leaves him all at once. How had it never occurred to him that it would only happen now? He had been under the assumption that his betrothed had been chosen ages ago, and they were just waiting it out until the wedding day. Knowing that the person has only been picked out now makes it...it makes it real. Makes it realer than it has ever been. Somewhere out there is his future spouse. An image of Lan Zhan flashes through his mind and something squeezes inside his chest like his heart being wrung out. Silly.

Of course his betrothed has been set. In just about six months, he's going to be husband to someone. Someone who is currently faceless in his mind. A general human-shaped void that his imagination fills with all sorts of possibilities, each one worse than the last. Which is ridiculous. He's certain he'll grow fond of whoever it is. He'll have to, being so close.

Won't he?

"A-Xian?" Shijie squeezes his hands. "Say something."

Wei Wuxian puts on a smile that feels brittle on his face and says, "Great! Great. Here I was, worrying I'd be a bachelor forever."

The look she gives him is half-admonishment, half-exasperation. "You were not."

He lowers his head until he's watching their hands, his so big compared to her delicate ones. "No, I wasn't."

"So...how do you feel? Knowing that all the negotiations are complete?"

Terrified, if he's honest. Terrified and something else, too, something that twists his stomach with a wave of nausea. "Fine," he lies. "I mean, like you said. I knew it was happening." He pauses, clearing his throat. "I don't suppose there's any way to find out…" He doesn't finish the sentence, but he doesn't need to. She knows.

She gives him an apologetic look. "I'm sorry, A-Xian. You know it's tradition. You'll meet them on your wedding day."

"Not even a hint, huh?" A thought occurs to him. "Do you know?"

She purses her lips and shakes her head. "No. Mother did not divulge that information to me. I believe the only people who know are my parents and the parents of your intended."

Right. Makes sense. He supposes one of the reasons this tradition exists is so that nobody has the chance to escape. If you know who your fiance is and you don't like them, what's to stop you from running away? But it's harder to run away from a wife, or a husband.

He wonders which one he will have. Not that he's got a preference, of course. He likes both equally. Would be fine with either option.

Still, it would be...good to know. To better prepare.

He thinks about the sorts of preparations he's been doing and suddenly, he's possessed by the perverse desire to laugh, of all things. If only they knew.

Thank goodness they don't.

"A-Xian? Are you all right?"

Wei Wuxian gives her one of his most charming grins and says, "Of course! It's good to know, you know? Now I truly have someone to spend the rest of my life with." He just has no idea what sort of a life it will be.

It occurs to him that shijie is also intended for someone, and has no idea who. So is Jiang Cheng. He's not the only one who'll be going through it.

"Shijie," he says slowly. "How come you haven't gotten married yet?" Tradition states it happens at eighteen. Shijie is twenty years old already.

Something crosses her face, a quick shuttering of light, and then it is as though it never happened. "I do not know, A-Xian." Gently, she extracts her hands from his and settles them carefully in her lap. "My mother has not shared with me her thinking. But I do know that I have an intended...have had, for three years."

Huh. Well. Wei Wuxian makes a sympathetic noise. "Maybe it's for the best. This way, you get to be with us here, right?"

She lifts her gaze and smiles a soft sort of smile. "Yes. I get to be with you."

*

Knowing that they are planning on doing more than kissing makes the following week crawl by. Anytime Wei Wuxian looks at Lan Zhan, he feels as though someone has thrown him at the sun. He goes hot all over, hands shaking a little from anticipation. He can't help wondering what, exactly, they will do. Will they do the thing they have already done, where they move against one another until they both finish? Will there be more to it? He knows they can't—not that.

"Our virtues must remain intact," Lan Zhan says one day when they're practicing dueling and Wei Wuxian brings the topic up as off-handedly as he can.

So. Not that. But...other things. Other things that two people can do together that will bring them pleasure. How clothed will they be? Ideally, Wei Wuxian would like to avoid the sticky trousers situation, if at all possible, but that would mean— and he isn't sure he's quite ready to— and what if Lan Zhan is—

"Wei Wuxian," Jiang Cheng hisses, elbowing him in the side. "Why are you staring at that girl? You're terrifying her."

"What?" Wei Wuxian blinks and turns to his brother. They're in the dining hall having dinner, and when Wei Wuxian is able to focus his eyes, he realizes he's been staring off into the distance, chewing a single green bean, and the girl in his line of sight must have thought he was staring at her. Well. That's awkward. To cover up the awkwardness, he gives her a grin and nod of his chin. She blushes and immediately looks down. Her forehead ribbon looks particularly pale compared to her flushed skin.

Poor thing. Wei Wuxian shakes his head and turns towards his brother. "I wasn't staring."

"What the hell were you doing then, reading her fortune?"

Wei Wuxian elbows him in the side, then says, "Can't a man just sit here and think?"

"You? Absolutely not," is the flat response he gets.

"Ugh, Jiang Cheng, I'm wounded! You've wounded me!"

"You'll live."

"Boys. Behave."

"Yes, shijie."

"Yes, a-jie."

He can't stop thinking about it, though, and whenever he manages to catch Lan Zhan's eye and see the tip of his nose turn peachy pink, he knows that Lan Zhan is, most likely, thinking about it too.

Which gives him courage.

Finally, on the fifth day of the following week, Wei Wuxian is all but running down the path to the Jingshi. The only thing stopping him from doing it outright is knowing that if he gets stopped, that's less time he will have with Lan Zhan.

When he gets there, the doors are, as always, open, and Lan Zhan is sitting calmly at the table with tea already set up.

And a bottle of Emperor's Smile.

Wei Wuxian can feel his mouth stretching into a pleased smile. "Lan Zhan! You didn't!"

Lan Zhan simply reaches for the tea pot and pours out a cup, but the rosy tips of his ears give him away. Wei Wuxian can feel anticipation in the way his stomach writhes, as though a myriad worms have made it their home. He's so excited, he's nearly sick with it. Liquid courage is just the thing.

He slides the doors behind himself, then gives Lan Zhan a quick look before reaching into his robes and pulling out an already prepared talisman. "Just in case," he says through the pounding in his ears, and sticks it to the door.

That should take care of any noises they might end up making.

Is he trembling? Maybe a little. He drops down across from Lan Zhan, and before he can reach for the bottle, Lan Zhan is already unstoppering it and pouring him a cup. Their fingers brush as he takes it and he nearly upsets it, sloshing some precious liquor onto his hand. He throws back the shot, then licks his fingers, because he is not about to waste any more Emperor's Smile if he doesn't have to. When he looks up, Lan Zhan is watching him, and he looks almost angry? But that can't be right. Maybe it isn't angry. Maybe it's simply—intense. But Lan Zhan is a pretty intense person. That's something that Wei Wuxian learned a long time ago, when he had teased him by swapping out his poetry book with pornography.

Little did he know then…

He shakes his head and gives Lan Zhan what feels like a tremulous smile. "So."

"Mn."

"How, uh. What should we…" He stops and reaches for more liquor.

"I have been giving this matter some thought," Lan Zhan says as Wei Wuxian pours himself another cup.

Of course he has. Lan Zhan. Lan Zhan is great.

"Yeah?" Wei Wuxian throws back the cup, this time getting everything in his mouth, thank you very much.

"Mn. I believe we should approach this...methodically."

Perversely, Wei Wuxian's dick begins to harden. Who the hell gets hot at methodically? He can feel himself blushing, and attempts to cover it up by swigging liquor directly from the bottle. "Yeah?" he asks when Lan Zhan fails to continue, wiping his mouth with his sleeve.

"Yes. Last time, we had...not planned ahead."

"Yeah," he agrees. "Let me tell you, it took some doing to get the stains out of my trousers."

Lan Zhan's flush deepens and Wei Wuxian leans forward, as though wanting to bathe himself in its warmth.

"Mn. Quite. I believe we can...repeat our experiment under more controlled conditions."

"Controlled conditions?"

"Mn. And we should...set more parameters."

Wei Wuxian chews this over. "What sort of parameters?"

"Well," Lan Zhan says, then reaches for the tea pot and pours himself another cup. As he drinks, Wei Wuxian studies the fascinating way in which his throat moves. Lan Zhan sets the cup down noiselessly. "I believe that we can dispense with the rule of staying at this table."

Wei Wuxian gets inexplicably warm. "Yeah?"

"Mn. I believe that...a bed...would be more suitable."

Oh, Lan Zhan's blushing. His nose and ears are terribly flushed, and suddenly, all Wei Wuxian can think is, how dark does his dick get when he's hard? Which is. An absurd thought, and also one he actually has the potential to receive an answer to. His own dick gets harder, balls beginning to ache. Fuck.

He clears his throat. "Right. That's. Sensible. Makes sense."

"Mn." Lan Zhan nods, still not looking him in the eye. "I believe also that we should...save our garments from getting ruined."

Wei Wuxian translates this in his mind. When he swallows, his throat does a weird little dry-click. "So, no clothes," he says, and it comes out a little breathless.

"Correct."

"Anything else?" This time it's nearly a squeak. He has got to get himself under control.

"As previously discussed, we are only allowed to use our hands and mouths. We must...remain virtuous...in other respects."

At hands and mouths, Wei Wuxian's entire being feels like it's lifting off the ground and floating somewhere up to the ceiling. He thinks he might pass out if any more of his blood goes southward. "Yep. Understood."

"Mn."

Wei Wuxian waits, but Lan Zhan is done speaking, evidently. Which leaves them staring at the table in silence while Wei Wuxian's gut churns in anticipation as though someone were putting it through a sieve. In the silence, the clink of the Emperor's Smile jug sounds particularly loud, and Wei Wuxian suppresses a wince. But he needs this drink.

Once he's set it back down onto the table, he waits another moment, before finally bursting out with, "So, should we get started?" Lan Zhan is already rising from the table. Wei Wuxian mirrors him and then they're meeting halfway and then they're kissing.

Oh, oh, oh fuck, that feels so good. It always feels good, kissing, but now it feels even better, knowing it's a prelude to more. That the kissing is only the beginning, that they don't have to stop and negotiate halfway through.

Lan Zhan tastes so good, the depth of him, his breath and tongue. He's making tiny noises in the back of his throat and Wei Wuxian drinks them in like nectar. They're shuffling sideways towards the area of the Jingshi Wei Wuxian had forbidden himself from ever looking at. They're moving towards Lan Zhan's bed.

Lan Zhan's bed, where Lan Zhan sleeps each night, where he maybe even touches himself, when it's quiet and dark and he's all alone. Where Wei Wuxian is about to find out what he looks like stripped of his layers, what he looks like when he's at his most vulnerable.

And Wei Wuxian is about to be vulnerable right back.

"Fuck, wait, Lan Zhan, wait—"

Lan Zhan immediately stops, dropping his hands from Wei Wuxian's waist and hair, and steps back. "What's wrong, Wei Ying?"

"No, no, nothing is—it's just—let's—naked?"

Lan Zhan is flushed in his cheeks and what Wei Wuxian can see of his neck. His nod is a stuttered, jerky thing. Lan Zhan's hands go to his belt, and then Wei Wuxian does the same thing to his, and they're undressing. A part of him desperately wants to be the one to peel Lan Zhan out of his layers, but he knows it would take too long, and they don't have that kind of time. They never have enough time.

So he strips himself, as swiftly as he can manage with his trembling fingers. Belt, outer robe, inner robe. He's down to his shirt and trousers, and then he's down to just his trousers, and it's so obvious how excited he is, and he feels himself flushing. The look of his dick tenting his pants is obscene, it's—dirty, especially under Lan Zhan's scrutiny. And Lan Zhan is looking, all right. He's got his lower lip sucked into his mouth and he's untying his last layer before the shirt and trousers and oh—

Oh, Lan Zhan is hard. His dick is curving up under the white of his trousers and even through the layer, it looks dark and thick. Lan Zhan's dick.

Wei Wuxian swallows, and without looking away, unties his trousers, and there. They're pooled at his feet and he's utterly and completely naked, shivering a little in the chilly air of the Jingshi. He wraps his arms around himself and can't quite make himself meet Lan Zhan's eye. He's never been fully naked like this in front of another person before.

When he finally looks, Lan Zhan is staring at him like—uh, wow. Wei Wuxian shivers more under his gaze, and it's that intensity that is the reason that he doesn't fully process a nearly naked Lan Zhan, but then he does, and—

Lan Zhan is beautiful. It's a well-known fact, of course, that Lan Wangji is a gorgeous human being. But there's Lan Wangji, unapproachable young man carved from jade, and then there's Lan Zhan, his pink-mottled chest rising and falling rapidly, looking at Wei Wuxian with such a hot gaze, Wei Wuxian thinks he might just burn up like a talisman. Wow, Lan Zhan really wants to fool around.

He's so strong, is the thing. He's pale, except for all the places where he's flushed, and besides his dick, his trousers also show the sharp lines of his hips, and Wei Wuxian gets a sudden flash image of himself licking up and down those grooves. That's probably. That's probably weird.

"Lan Zhan?" he asks, and his voice comes out a bit breathless. "Are you...are you gonna—"

Lan Zhan doesn't wait for the end of the sentence. He makes quick work of his drawstrings and Wei Wuxian is looking at his very first naked person. Who just happens to be Lan Zhan. He thinks he might be making a slight wheezing noise, but surely not, surely that's just—

Lan Zhan takes a step towards him, eyes visibly scanning him all over, and says, "Wei Ying? Are you all right?" He stops an arm's length away. "We do not have to do anything you are not comfortable with."

That's when Wei Wuxian finally snaps to. "I'm comfortable! Oh, I'm comfortable." His voice comes out only a little bit high.

He isn't actually comfortable. He is so outside of his comfort zone, he may no longer be in the same country. But he does know what could help. "Will you kiss me?"

Lan Zhan's wary gaze transforms into something else, something that makes Wei Wuxian shiver again, and then he's taking hold of Wei Wuxian's arms—which are still wrapped around himself—and leaning in for a kiss.

Oh, fuck, they're so close. Well, of course they're close—they're kissing. Except, even as his eyes slide closed, Wei Wuxian is aware of just how naked Lan Zhan is as he kisses him, knows that if he moves his hips...just a fraction over… They both suck in a breath as their dicks brush. Oh, what an odd sensation.

Wei Wuxian breaks off the kiss and looks down. Lan Zhan's dick, he notes distantly, is bigger than his, longer and thicker, and it's so dark with blood. It's so dark against the paleness of his belly and hips, his strong thighs. Perversely, Wei Wuxian's mouth waters. Oh, fuck. Hands and mouths. They could do...so much.

"Should we," Lan Zhan says, sounding breathless himself, "move over to the bed?"

"Yeah," Wei Wuxian responds without lifting his gaze from their dicks. "Yeah, let's do that."

When he doesn't move, Lan Zhan squeezes his arms and says, "Wei Ying."

His gaze snaps up. Lan Zhan's cheeks are a soft pink, and his eyelashes are fluttering against them. He's not looking at Wei Wuxian's face, either. "Yeah. Yeah, let's—"

"Bed."

"Yeah."

Lan Zhan takes his hand, even though the bed is right there behind the gauzy blue curtain, and leads him. Their hands are damp. It should probably be a little gross, but all Wei Wuxian can think is, he's holding my hand.

He gets the enviable view of Lan Zhan's ass as he walks, and then Lan Zhan is drawing back the curtain, pushing back his blanket, and pulling him close. "Lie down, Wei Ying."

Wei Wuxian licks his lips and nods before setting one knee on the bed and then knee walking onto it. For a prolonged moment, Lan Zhan just sort of stares at him, and Wei Wuxian notices a dotting of sweat on his forehead, around his hairline. For some reason, it gives him courage, so he extends his hand and says, "Come here."

Lan Zhan takes his hand and joins him on the bed, looking like some sort of a—god, or a mystical creature. He really is absolutely stunning to look at. And if he looks like he's made of cold stone, he doesn't feel like it. He's radiating warmth, which is good, because Wei Wuxian is still a little bit chilly, so he shuffles closer until their dicks touch again and he catches Lan Zhan in yet another kiss.

Lan Zhan makes a noise as he deepens the kiss. Kissing while naked with your dick out is somehow a whole other level from just kissing. It's a bit overwhelming, if he's being honest, but not in a bad way, necessarily. It's just...a lot. It's closeness and intimacy and it's sex, even if all they're doing is kissing. For now.

Lan Zhan shifts and then he's rolling over on top of Wei Wuxian and bearing him down into the bed. Wei Wuxian makes a pretty embarrassing noise in the back of his throat, but who could blame him? Lan Zhan feels heavy on top of him, but not crushing him—he's holding himself up—and Wei Wuxian sort of automatically opens his legs. Lan Zhan fits in between them perfectly.

Wei Wuxian can feel his face blazing. He must be so flushed, blushing furiously even as Lan Zhan's tongue plays against his own. Lan Zhan has gotten really good, he notes distantly. They both have. Practice really does make perfect.

Wei Wuxian is having trouble breathing all of a sudden. He breaks off the kiss and just pants there for a while as Lan Zhan looks down at him, his hair falling and making a dark curtain around their faces. It feels cozy. Safe, somehow. This is just them.

"Are you all right, Wei Ying?" Lan Zhan asks in a hushed tone, which also makes him feel safe.

He nods, and that's when he realizes he's trembling, just the tiniest bit. He'll blame that on the slide of their dicks together, and how warm and strong Lan Zhan feels above him. "Yeah. Yeah, I'm good," he stutters out. "Should we—"

"Mn." Lan Zhan pulls back, but doesn't leave the cocoon of Wei Wuxian's legs. "What would—"

"Maybe what we did before," Wei Wuxian bursts out with. "Only, like, for real this time, without—"

"Yes." And Lan Zhan leaves himself propped up by one arm as he slides his other hand down Wei Wuxian's torso—has he always been ticklish there?—then down—oh shit—to his ass.

Lan Zhan's gaze is so, so dark, and it's pinning Wei Wuxian in place. He's definitely trembling, but he can't let himself get lost in this. They have a goal, right? The goal is to learn. "How do we—"

Lan Zhan sort of—undulates, and brushes their cocks together. The slide is easier this time, because they're both already leaking. Oh, that feels—Lan Zhan does it again, and yep. Yep, that feels fucking amazing. The light pressure, the smooth glide of hip and dick, and before he can think twice about it, Wei Wuxian fits a thumb to the groove of Lan Zhan's hip and nearly loses his mind when Lan Zhan moves again and he feels the movement under his thumb. Why is that so—why does that feel like—

Wei Wuxian can move, too. And he does. They start off slow, moving in a rhythm together, and then Wei Wuxian slides his hands over Lan Zhan's waist and, feeling immensely daring, around to his ass, where he can't help squeezing it, because damn, that feels good, too. Apparently he likes asses. At least Lan Zhan's ass, which is strong and muscular and a really satisfying handful.

As he squeezes, Lan Zhan makes a noise, then gasps, and starts moving faster.

"Like that?" Wei Wuxian asks, breathless.

Lan Zhan nods, then drops his head and suddenly his forehead is resting against Wei Wuxian's neck and something flutters inside Wei Wuxian's ribcage, soft and pliant. Wei Wuxian closes his eyes, and allows the rhythm to take him.

Fuck, that feels good. Lan Zhan doesn't stop moving, and Wei Wuxian is incapable of it, and together, they start to work up a sweat. He can feel it in the prickling low at his back, between his legs where his balls have drawn up tight, in the spot in his neck where Lan Zhan's breath tickles his skin. He hadn't realized it, but he's wrapped one arm around Lan Zhan's back and is running it up and down his skin in a sort of soothing motion, as though Lan Zhan was a particularly skittish colt. They're both making gasping noises now, and then he nearly comes off the bed when Lan Zhan pulls back and slides his mouth down his neck before biting lightly down.

"Oh, fuck—"

Lan Zhan licks him in response, then does it again, and again, and Wei Wuxian is moving faster, squeezing Lan Zhan between his legs, and when Lan Zhan bites him a fourth time, he cries out and comes without warning. He shudders with it, and then hides his flaming face in the crook of Lan Zhan's neck, because ugh, he hadn't meant to come so soon.

"Wei Ying—"

"Sorry, sorry, so sorry—"

He thinks Lan Zhan is shaking his head, but then Lan Zhan freezes above him and Wei Wuxian feels a warm wetness on his belly and feels Lan Zhan's dick slap against his skin. Oh fuck, that shouldn't be hot, but it is, it's so hot.

Lan Zhan collapses on top of him. Wei Wuxian can barely breathe, but that's okay, he doesn't need to. He continues to run his hand up and down Lan Zhan's back as his heart beats against Lan Zhan's in an uneven rhythm. It's a hollow sound in his ears.

Before they can actually stick together, Lan Zhan pulls back. His gaze is skittering across Wei Wuxian's face and then down their bodies, landing on where their softening dicks are pressed up together. Wei Wuxian starts to feel self-conscious the longer Lan Zhan looks, and he turns his head so he's looking through the gauzy curtain at the rest of the house. It's as though they're in a cocoon here, hidden from the rest of the world. Except the curtain is see-through. How hidden can you be?

"Wei Ying? Are you all right?"

Wei Wuxian turns his head and makes himself meet Lan Zhan's gaze. Then he makes himself grin. "Of course. Why wouldn't I be?"

Lan Zhan is watching him carefully, looking as though he's about to say something, then nods his head and finally moves off, collapsing onto his side next to Wei Wuxian.

"Are you all right?" Wei Wuxian asks carefully. Please be all right, please be all right.

"Mn. I am."

This time when he grins, it feels real. Wei Wuxian reaches out and pokes Lan Zhan's chest. "You're heavy, you know."

"Mn."

"It's okay, I liked it."

Lan Zhan's unfocused gaze appears to snap to. "Did you?"

"Of course. Sorry I, uh. Finished so fast."

Lan Zhan shakes his head. "So did I."

"We'll get better the more we do it," he says, with confidence he doesn't quite feel.

Lan Zhan's face softens. Wei Wuxian doesn't know how he knows this, because it's not as though the lines of his face change or anything, but something about him grows relaxed. "Yes. We will."

Wei Wuxian beams.

*

After they've cleaned up and gotten dressed, carefully avoiding one another's gaze, Lan Zhan invites him to stay for tea. Wei Wuxian eyes the tray with some regret. "I can't, I'm sorry," he says, and means it. "I promised Jiang Cheng I’d spar with him tonight."

"Of course." Lan Zhan is back to looking impeccable. He had somehow managed to fix his hair, and then helped Wei Wuxian put himself back in order. He's so good, Lan Zhan. "I will see you in class tomorrow, then."

Wei Wuxian takes a deep breath and lets it out in a whoosh. "Yeah. Class. Tomorrow." He nods. "Hey, uh, would you want to study together?" What? Where had that come from?

Lan Zhan's eyebrows twitch. He's just as surprised as Wei Wuxian. "Study together?"

"Yeah, you know. Hang out in the library."

Usually, when they're doing that, Wei Wuxian is trying to annoy Lan Zhan into abandoning studying altogether, but he really does mean it this time.

"If you like," Lan Zhan says in a careful voice.

"I like." He grins. "Well, all right, then. I'm off."

"Goodbye, Wei Ying," Lan Zhan says, with an incline of his head.

"Bye, Lan Zhan." Wei Wuxian waves, grabs Suibian from the holder by the door, takes off the silencing talisman, and opens the doors.

It is much nicer showing up back at his quarters without a mess in his trousers. They had been very smart, removing that particular problem.

*

Wei Wuxian can't sleep. It's too hot, so he kicks his covers down, and then it's too cold, so he pulls them back up. And then he's too hot again.

The other problem is, his brain won't quit. What does a guy have to do to get sleep around here? Normally, he doesn't have a problem sleeping. In fact, his only problem is waking up. But it's the darkest point of the night, and Jiang Cheng is snoring across the room from him, and Wei Wuxian can't sleep.

His thoughts keep turning to earlier, when he and Lan Zhan had—when they had...done that. When Lan Zhan had pinned him to the bed and moved against him until they both came, and it had felt—it had felt so—fuck. It had felt so good.

Is this what he's to expect from marital relations? He doesn't think he learned much from today—he doesn't feel like he participated enough to get good at it—but it was certainly. Instructional. Of course, if his intended is a woman, it would probably look a little different. Feel a lot different.

He turns over onto this side and stares into the darkness where he can just about make out the outline of a window. His intended. Who has been decided on, and all the negotiations ended. He wonders what the negotiations entailed. He guesses that they will live at his future spouse's home. There is no way Madam Yu would allow him to stay at Lotus Pier.

He bites his lip and buries his face in the pillow.

It's all right. He'll visit. Him and his wife, or husband. Surely they'll be allowed to visit. And Jiang Cheng will definitely live at Lotus Pier, because there is no way Madam Yu would allow him to leave, and anyway, he's future sect leader. Of course he's staying. Where will shijie be?

Unclear.

He turns back over onto his back and stares at the dark ceiling. Where will Lan Zhan live? Will he be allowed to visit?

Well. Wherever Wei Wuxian will be, Lan Zhan will always be welcome. Him and his...future spouse. Wei Wuxian hopes it's a husband. Surely, his family wouldn't make him marry a woman if he doesn't particularly want to. Right? So. Lan Zhan and his husband.

Wei Wuxian frowns. He can't picture it. Who would be good enough for Lan Zhan? He can't think of a single gentry family that has a son who would be Lan Zhan's equal. Jin Zixuan? Nie Huaisang? No. Which means that Lan Zhan would have to marry beneath himself.

Wei Wuxian hates that thought. Lan Zhan...Lan Zhan only deserves the best. And yeah, all right, Lan Zhan said it doesn't matter to him, but surely it has to matter a little?

Whoever Lan Zhan's betrothed is, they will be lucky to have him. And they better appreciate him, or Wei Wuxian will have something to say about it. Then he gets an image of defending Lan Zhan against a faceless guy and has to laugh at himself, just a little. Lan Zhan doesn't need Wei Wuxian to defend him. But what if Wei Wuxian wants to? Surely, he should be allowed to defend his friend, whom he likes very much, in case his friend's husband is undeserving. He would say, do you have any idea how lucky you are…

His thoughts have strayed too far into some weird fantasy land, and he tries to pull back. He wonders, for a moment, if Lan Zhan's intended has been agreed on. Maybe he should...maybe he should ask.

The thought makes it feel as though a hundred snakes have taken up residence in his belly. Maybe not, then.

The last thought he has before dropping off to sleep is, I wonder, if we have children, whether they will be friends...

*

"Wei-xiong!" Wei Wuxian turns around and sees Nie Huaisang waving at him with his closed fan. "Wei-xiong, wait up!"

A Lan disciple next to Wei Wuxian sniffs and mutters, "There's no yelling in Cloud Recesses," which makes Wei Wuxian crack up a little bit, and then he's waving back and waiting for Nie Huaisang to catch up to him.

"Hey Nie-xiong, what's going on?"

"Wei-xiong, look what I just got from my brother!"

That's when Wei Wuxian notices that Nie Huaisang is holding a letter in his hands, which he shoves at Wei Wuxian the next moment. Wei Wuxian gives him a quizzical look before unfolding it and scanning his eyes over it. "Oh, wow. I guess we're all getting this, huh?"

"What? Your betrothed has been chosen, too?"

Wei Wuxian folds the letter back up and hands it back to Nie Huaisang. "Yeah. Yeah, my shijie told me."

Nie Huaisang's face takes on that special I smell gossip look. He elbows Wei Wuxian, giving him a sly look. "Does she know who it is? Would she tell you?"

"No, and...probably, but that's why she doesn't know." He realizes that's true. Shijie is soft on him. She probably would tell him, if he tried hard enough. "Any idea on yours?"

Nie Huaisang shrugs.

They start walking away from the main drag, making their way, he realizes, to the bit of the river where Wei Wuxian had first tried teaching Nie Huaisang how to fish. It isn't until they're settled on its bank, Wei Wuxian's bare feet already submerged in the water, that Nie Huaisang says, "I've been trying to figure it out, but I don't know what my brother's intentions are for me."

Wei Wuxian leans back on his hands and looks up at the cloudless sky. "Hmm. What's he like?"

"Who, my brother?" Nie Huaisang shrugs. "He's very fierce. Strong. He protects me."

"So, he wouldn't give you away to just anybody," Wei Wuxian says with assurance.

"What if he gives me away to someone who's like him?" Apparently, the thought makes Nie Huaisang shudder.

"You wouldn't want your spouse to protect you?" Wei Wuxian asks curiously.

"It's not that, he's just so...severe. My brother doesn't know how to have fun. Not like you and me."

"Ah." A thought occurs to Wei Wuxian, which must occur to Nie Huaisang at the same time, and they turn to one another. "They wouldn't—"

"He wouldn't—no."

"No, surely not."

They burst out laughing, jostling one another's shoulders. "Imagine us, married? They'd never allow it!" Nie Huaisang says, giggling. "I bet they think we need a firmer hand."

The thought clearly makes him glum, because he slumps down and fiddles with his fan.

Wei Wuxian doesn't much like the thought, either. "Ugh, I wish they'd tell us so we can prepare," he whines, leaning back against the rocky ground. "This is gonna kill me before my time."

"Well, I'm planning on putting it out of my mind," Nie Huaisang declares. "I've got eight months before this happens. That's ages. There's still plenty I can do as an unmarried man."

"Oh, yeah?" Wei Wuxian turns his head to look up at where Nie Huaisang is staring at the water burbling away. "Like what?"

Nie Huaisang shrugs. "You know, hang out with my friends. Draw pretty things. Read." He says the last bit with a sly tone to his voice, which makes it extremely clear what sort of reading he's planning on engaging in. A sudden desire to spill his biggest secret overtakes Wei Wuxian for just a moment, but he pulls back just in time. Nobody can know, and Nie Huaisang isn't exactly known for his discretion. He would definitely end up spilling it to someone.

Instead, he knocks his leg against Nie Huaisang's and laughs. "You dog. What, you think you'll stop all that once you're married? Even drawing pretty things?"

The idea seems to distress Nie Huaisang. "Well, not that," he says hurriedly. "I mean, I would hope my husband would make allowances."

"So, a husband then?" Wei Wuxian asks curiously.

Nie Huaisang shrugs. "My brother asked me, and I think I would definitely prefer a husband."

"Wow. Cool."

Nie Huaisang shrugs, looking slightly dejected.

Wei Wuxian can't have that. "Well, for your sake, Nie Huaisang, I hope your future husband is a good man who will allow you to draw and make all sorts of pretty things, and also act out your favorite bits of reading."

That gets him a smack on the thigh with a fan and a giggle, and they end up getting pretty damn wet, roughhousing on the riverbank.

Nie Huaisang is a good friend, Wei Wuxian decides. He just hopes they don't end up betrothed to one another—they would make an absolutely terrible match.

***