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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.

***

Chapter Text

Political alliances take much into consideration, and Wei Wuxian has often wondered just how much of a thorn in the side of the Jiang clan he has been, since now three matches must be made instead of two. He hopes that whoever is matched with Jiang Cheng and shijie is worthy of them. He tries not to worry too much about himself, but he ends up doing it anyway.

All of a sudden, it's as though the floodgates have opened and nearly everybody has begun talking about their future matches. Letters have begun arriving on a regular basis, and it isn't uncommon to hear every conversation he passes turn to who's betrothed this week.

Now, he sighs and slumps onto the grass next to Lan Zhan, who is practicing the qin with the same diligence he applies to everything else. Tomorrow is the fifth day of the week. Tomorrow, they get to practice more.

"Ugh, I think I'm getting sick of all the marriage talk," Wei Wuxian complains over Lan Zhan's playing. "I hope it dies down soon."

"Mn."

"You think it won't?"

Lan Zhan pauses, strong hands delicate over the strings. "Some people have only just learned that their future spouse has been appointed. It will die down eventually."

Wei Wuxian cuts him a glance, and asks, "Has yours?"

"Hmm?" Lan Zhan has resumed his playing, something soft and pretty that Wei Wuxian has never heard before. The melody weaves around them in the clearing, making it feel strangely as though the world is theirs and theirs alone.

"Has your spouse been appointed?"

Lan Zhan pauses playing once more. "Yes. Brother has informed me."

Wei Wuxian bites his lip and turns away, squinting into the distance. He doesn't say anything, and Lan Zhan doesn't offer up any more information. Wei Wuxian has too many questions he doesn't want answers to, but that burn in the pit of his belly, anyway, clamoring to get out. He squashes them down. He doesn't need to know. It's none of his business. Just like his match is none of Lan Zhan's. They're friends, but there are rules to follow when it comes to this stuff. And everybody knows Wei Wuxian is a rule follower, right?

He sighs and plucks a bit of grass to chew on. "I'm just ready to stop hearing about it," he mutters.

"Mn."

Lan Zhan resumes his playing.

*

"Come here, Wei Ying." Lan Zhan extends his hand and Wei Wuxian takes it just as all breath leaves him. They're already naked, having dispensed with and folded up their clothes. Lan Zhan has more than one brazier lit, making the Jingshi uncharacteristically warm, for which Wei Wuxian is grateful. The soft light makes Lan Zhan look golden, his smooth skin looking soft to the touch. And, of course, Wei Wuxian already knows that it is. Has touched Lan Zhan’s skin, in so many places.

He will get to touch even more tonight.

They get on the bed, sitting across from one another with their legs folded up. It's awkward—they're both half-hard already, even though all they've done is exchange a single kiss before undressing—but excitement takes over most of the awkwardness.

"What should we practice?" Wei Wuxian asks, sounding a bit breathless to his own ears.

Lan Zhan doesn't respond at first, but then he leans in, and Wei Wuxian gratefully mirrors him until they're kissing. They don't really need to practice this part anymore. They're very good at it. But it helps with the other stuff, he thinks fuzzily. Kissing takes him from half-hard to fully there, and he moans against Lan Zhan's mouth, hands seeking skin and finding purchase around his back, pressing closer. Lan Zhan rises on his knees and forces Wei Wuxian's head back with the force of his kisses, and yeah, that's—oh, that's so good, Wei Wuxian actually whimpers. He falls backwards, and Lan Zhan wastes no time in getting in between his legs and moving against him as they continue to kiss and kiss and kiss, but—

"Lan Zhan—"

"Mn." Lan Zhan dives in to leave a trail of kisses down his neck, making it nearly impossible to get his thoughts in order. Gods, Lan Zhan is good at this.

"Lan Zhan, we should—something new, right? Something we haven't—"

"Let me touch you, Wei Ying." He breathes it right into Wei Wuxian's ear, which makes every bone in his body melt and his throat dry up. "We can practice touching one another."

Yes. Yes, they should—they should do that. Wei Wuxian can't seem to let go of Lan Zhan long enough to make that happen, though, and they kiss, and they kiss, and they kiss, until he thinks he might come just from that, and wrenches away, breathing hard. "Lan Zhan, we should—"

"Yes." Lan Zhan shuts his eyes and Wei Wuxian sees his jaw working, like he's trying to wrestle back control. That is...unbelievably sexy, and Wei Wuxian shivers despite the warmth.

Lan Zhan drops down onto his side next to Wei Wuxian and then skates his big, warm hand down Wei Wuxian's front, catching a nipple with his pinkie. Wei Wuxian shudders, and Lan Zhan must notice, because he bites his lip and does it again, with more purpose. He tweaks Wei Wuxian's nipple with thumb and forefinger and Wei Wuxian grabs onto the sheets and stares up at the ceiling, unseeing. "Oh."

"Is that good, Wei Ying?" Lan Zhan rumbles, in that low voice Wei Wuxian has come to know intimately. His sex voice. Fuck.

"Yeah, that's—weird, but good. Like...it doesn't feel like much, but then my dick gets harder."

"Hmm."

Wei Wuxian looks over in time to see Lan Zhan lick his thumb and forefinger, and the next time he touches Wei Wuxian's nipple, it feels even more. "Oh, fuck."

Lan Zhan gives him a small smile, then carries on going further south. His hand is so big, it spans nearly the whole width of Wei Wuxian's belly, and that's—yeah, that's. That's good. Wei Wuxian hopes his future spouse has big hands. The lower Lan Zhan goes, the warmer Wei Wuxian feels, until he can feel himself leaking as Lan Zhan reaches the spot below his belly button and his fingers brush the dark hair around Wei Wuxian's dick. Wei Wuxian can't tell if he's not breathing at all or breathing too much. He swallows and clutches the sheet in his fist even tighter.

"May I?" Lan Zhan asks softly, and Wei Wuxian is nodding before he's even done asking.

"Please. Oh, please, Lan Zhan, touch it, touch me."

Lan Zhan runs a loose fist all the way up Wei Wuxian's dick, and oh, oh fuck, that's—that's somebody else touching his dick. Even though it feels like barely anything, Wei Wuxian's face is flaming and he's so embarrassingly hard for it.

Lan Zhan goes back down, his hold tighter this time, Wei Wuxian's precome easing the way, making it ten times better. Wei Wuxian can't look away from how dark his dick looks against Lan Zhan's large pale hand. Fuck, that's—that is so incredibly hot.

Lan Zhan is watching it, too, and in the quiet of the Jingshi, Wei Wuxian can hear Lan Zhan's breathing get harder, louder to his ears. That's. That's good, too. It's all good: the heat of Lan Zhan next to him, the slick glide of his hand on Wei Wuxian's dick, all of it. It's so good, Wei Wuxian is liable to blow as soon as Lan Zhan speeds up his hand, but for now, it's a slow slide, tight and rhythmic, because of course Lan Zhan would be methodical about even this. And he's a musician—he understands keeping to a rhythm.

It's a slow unraveling, and Wei Wuxian begins making slightly embarrassing noises. Whenever he touches himself, it's usually fast and hard, and it does the job every time—he loves orgasms—but this. This is something else. This is Lan Zhan, touching him with purpose, doing it carefully but not wimping out, either. He does this thing with his wrist every time he gets to the head where he twists it, and it sends a jolt through Wei Wuxian every time, until he is all need, a conduit of pleasure, and his vision begins to swim. He's so hard, he's so ready, and he can feel it, building up in his balls and at the base of his spine, writhing around in his belly. His leg draws up of its own accord, and he digs his heel against the bed, hips starting to move, then Lan Zhan leans in and their eyes meet just before they kiss and Wei Wuxian is coming, shuddering apart under Lan Zhan's touch, whimpering into his mouth. He can feel the warmth of his come on his belly and chest as Lan Zhan wrings the very last bit of it from him, and then he falls back, panting up at the ceiling.

They're quiet for a bit, as though Lan Zhan is giving him room to pull himself back together. Wei Wuxian takes a deep breath, then another. Then he turns his head and looks over at where Lan Zhan is still so hard. And so big, and so—Wei Wuxian reaches for him before even making a conscious decision to, and Lan Zhan makes a low noise in the back of his throat that shudders through Wei Wuxian's spent body.

"Is this okay?" he asks, briefly catching Lan Zhan's eye.

Lan Zhan's nod is uncharacteristically jerky, then he's falling onto his back and Wei Wuxian follows the movement until he's hovering over him, sliding his hand up Lan Zhan's dick. Lan Zhan's dick, which is the first dick apart from his own that he has ever touched. It's silky smooth and rock hard and shaped differently than his own. Fuck, it's so dark, flushed, looking almost rough against the paleness of Lan Zhan's belly. They're unsubtle, aren't they, dicks? Well, Wei Wuxian knows what to do with unsubtle things.

He runs a firm hand up and down, up and down, learning as he goes what makes Lan Zhan's belly tense and chest rise and fall rapidly. Lan Zhan makes this noise—it's half-gasp, half-groan—and Wei Wuxian thinks he could get hard again, because, fuck. That's Lan Zhan sounding like that, Lan Zhan who's letting Wei Wuxian touch him in the most intimate way possible and enjoying it. He remembers, all of a sudden, wondering what Lan Zhan would be like in this type of situation and being unable to picture it.

Well, he doesn't have to picture it, not anymore. He's living it, and Lan Zhan is—Lan Zhan is amazing. He's trembling, a little, next to Wei Wuxian, and his head is thrown back, eyes shut, mouth slightly open. Wei Wuxian has to kiss him, he just has to, so he does. Lan Zhan's hand instantly comes up to keep him there, hold him in place by his jaw, and Wei Wuxian stutters a bit in his movements, because apparently it's not all that easy, touching someone and kissing them at the same time. It takes coordination he doesn't appear to possess quite yet, but he makes a go of it, anyway.

They manage to fall into a rhythm, tongues matching his hand, and then Lan Zhan breaks off and his head thumps back onto the bed. "Wei Ying—"

On impulse, Wei Wuxian ducks his head and takes one of Lan Zhan's tight nipples in his mouth. Lan Zhan makes a noise and then Wei Wuxian feels it: Lan Zhan is gonna finish. He has time for the thought to take place and then Lan Zhan is shuddering beneath him and coming, mouth open on a silent gasp.

Lan Zhan comes—a lot. Wei Wuxian watches in fascination as Lan Zhan’s dick continues to twitch in his hold long after Wei Wuxian's would be done. He has the perverse desire to taste it. He doesn't follow through on the thought—he should probably get permission first—but it lodges itself in his brain quite firmly.

Slowly, he takes his hand away and, unsure of whether it's bad manners to wipe it on the sheets, wipes it on his leg, instead.

Then he turns back to look at Lan Zhan, and Lan Zhan is watching him with half-lidded eyes, which is just. Incredibly hot. Wow.

Lan Zhan's gaze rakes him over. "You're hard again," he says.

"What—oh. Oh, right." Wei Wuxian looks down at himself and breathes out a laugh. "Sorry about that."

Instead of answering, Lan Zhan rolls onto his side, takes him in hand, and jerks him off, watching himself do it the whole time. Wei Wuxian whimpers. He's still a little sensitive, but fuck, it feels good, too. Lan Zhan's hand on his dick. Again.

"Lan Zhan…"

Lan Zhan's gaze flies up to meet his own, and it's a bit unfocused, which is so strange to see on him. "Wei Ying?"

Wei Wuxian leans in and without him having to ask, Lan Zhan gets it. They're kissing again, slow and deep, and that's how Wei Wuxian comes a second time, gasping against Lan Zhan's mouth.

Lan Zhan gets up after Wei Wuxian's breathing has returned more or less to normal, and Wei Wuxian watches through the curtain as he moves, completely naked, around the room. He opens a drawer, takes something out, then goes to the basin and fills it with water from a pitcher. Then he dips the bit of cloth in his hands into the water and wrings it out. He does it with the same precision he does everything else, that economy of movement that marks his grace. Wei Wuxian props his head up on his hand and waits.

Lan Zhan rubs the cloth between his hands and advances on the bed. He draws back the curtain and climbs onto the bed.

"Come here," he says. Wei Wuxian has no choice but to go as beckoned. Lan Zhan cleans him up slowly but firmly, getting his belly, then his thigh where Wei Wuxian had wiped his hand, and then finally, he swipes at his own stomach and chest, which is mesmerizing to watch as his abs move in the muted light behind their curtain.

Wei Wuxian feels the need to say something, to get back into some sense of normalcy, because he's feeling just a little bit unmoored, and he doesn't know why.

"So, uh. That was. Good. Right?" A good effort, at least.

"Mn." Lan Zhan squeezes the piece of cloth in his hands and nods. "I agree."

"Oh, good." When Wei Wuxian smiles, it feels genuine enough. "That's a relief, right? Imagine if one of us thought it went well and the other hated it. Awkward."

Lan Zhan's lips twitch the tiniest bit. "Quite."

Wei Wuxian scrambles up until he's sitting, facing Lan Zhan. "So...again next week?"

Lan Zhan meets his gaze. "Yes."

"Good."

He wants to lean in and give Lan Zhan another kiss for the road, but something stops him. They're done for the night, right? So he probably shouldn't overstep. Instead he nods and says, "So, I guess I should—"

"Right. Right." Lan Zhan shifts and then he's moving off the bed, leaving the curtain open for Wei Wuxian to go through. They pick up their clothes with a new air of embarrassment, or maybe just shyness, which is stupid, because look at what they've just done. But Wei Wuxian is more clear-headed now, and he doesn't look over at Lan Zhan as he gets dressed, putting on layer after layer of (thankfully clean) robes.

He snatches Suibian from its holder by the door, takes off the silencing talisman, and turns to Lan Zhan, who's standing still beside him. Wei Wuxian flashes him a grin. A thought occurs to him. "Hey, Lan Zhan. Do you want to go to Caiyi with me? Jiang Cheng doesn't want to, and I don't want to go alone."

Lan Zhan seems to hesitate for a moment. "Tomorrow?"

"Yeah, after classes are done, since it's an early day."

Lan Zhan's eyelashes flutter as he lowers his gaze. "Yes. I would like that."

Wei Wuxian feels a perverse desire to whistle as he walks back to his quarters, and since there's not really anyone around, he allows himself to give in to it.

*

Caiyi is, as always, bustling. Wei Wuxian has come to really like it. It's not the same as being back home—the food is different, for one, and everybody knows that Yunmeng food is superior to every other cuisine out there—but it's nice. He loves a busy street, loves to look around at all the goods being sold, loves buying pancakes and candied fruit from stalls, and he especially enjoys Lan Zhan walking stiffly by his side, eschewing all of it.

"Come on, Lan Zhan, live a little! Don't you want to try something sweet for once?"

Lan Zhan shakes his head minutely, but Wei Wuxian isn't convinced. He sticks the tanghulu stick in front of Lan Zhan's face and says, "Just a bite. Just a tiny bite! I won't let you go until you've done it."

Lan Zhan actually looks annoyed for a second, which makes Wei Wuxian laugh, but then, to Wei Wuxian’s great surprise, he leans in, tilts his head, and takes a careful bite next to where Wei Wuxian had just bitten. Wei Wuxian feels his smile tremulously fall off his face and watches, mesmerized, as Lan Zhan chews and then swallows, licking the corner of his lips afterwards to get all the sticky sweetness off.

Wei Wuxian sounds hoarse when he asks, "So? What do you think?"

Lan Zhan nods, then meets his gaze. "Thank you for sharing, Wei Ying."

"Yeah." Wei Wuxian swallows. "Yeah, no problem, I wanted you to try it. Good, right? I like the, uh, slight tartness, makes the sweet bits even better. Oh, hey, look, buns. Want a steamed bun, Lan Zhan? I might get a couple and I can't eat all of them at once, so you'll have to try it." Once again, Wei Wuxian has no idea what he's saying or doing, only that, in some sort of a fugue state, he buys four buns and shoves two at Lan Zhan, who takes them automatically, then looks down at his hand, like, what do I do with these steamed buns? Good question—Wei Wuxian has no idea. He is now balancing the tanghulu stick along with two buns. At least Lan Zhan has a free hand.

Wow, it's weird how Lan Zhan’s hand can fit two whole buns in it.

"You have really big hands," he blurts out, then feels himself flushing.

Lan Zhan gives him an inscrutable look, then says, voice dry as paper, "It makes it easier to hold a sword."

There is a moment of silence, and then Wei Wuxian loses it, right there in the middle of the street. "Lan Zhan!" He bends over, cackling, and tries to draw breath and not lose hold of all the food he's laden with. "Lan Zhan, that was—was that a joke? Was that a—" He straightens up and leans in, mouth brushing Lan Zhan's ear. "Was that a dick joke?"

He can feel Lan Zhan flush before he sees it, and for a moment, he wonders if Lan Zhan is going to deck him right there on the street, in front of every passerby and stall owner, but Lan Zhan merely gives him another cool look and shrugs. Shrugs!

Wei Wuxian loses it again. It takes them a while to move on—Wei Wuxian has to wipe his tears first and try not to choke from laughing too hard.

They end up at a teahouse. "We should have a real lunch," Lan Zhan says before dragging Wei Wuxian inside. Lan Zhan had taken care of the steamed bun situation by shoving all four in his qiankun pouch, having promised that he would return them to Wei Wuxian afterwards. "It wouldn't do to show up at a teahouse with our own food."

"But then they won't be warm anymore," Wei Wuxian pouts.

"Let's have lunch, Wei Ying."

Well, any establishment in Caiyi is bound to carry Emperor's Smile, and they aren't in Cloud Recesses, so really, it's a worthy trade-off.

They're seated in a corner away from the door, and Wei Wuxian plants himself facing the entrance so he can people-watch. "This was a good idea, Lan Zhan," he says with a grin, before a waiter bustles over to them and they order food, tea for Lan Zhan and—yes!—Emperor's Smile for Wei Wuxian. Lan Zhan doesn't even bat an eye. It's a miracle how far he's come. Wei Wuxian is such a good influence on him.

They're both just taking a sip of their respective drinks when Wei Wuxian looks up and sees a familiar figure in light blue walk in. "Zewu-jun!"

Lan Zhan twists around to see. It is, indeed, Lan Xichen walking through the door, a benign smile on his face. It grows when he spots the two of them and he makes a beeline for their table.

"Wei-gongzi. Wangji. Good to see you."

"Brother."

"Zewu-jun! What are you doing at this most humble establishment?" Wei Wuxian knows he should be more deferential to Lan Xichen, but the man is so nice, it's hard to imagine him getting angry at a little friendliness.

"I had some business elsewhere and decided to stop for lunch before going back to Cloud Recesses. I—" He hesitates, looking down at Lan Zhan. "I don't suppose you would mind me joining the two of you?"

Wei Wuxian immediately jumps up to make room. "Of course not!" He eyes his jar of alcohol. "If you don't mind this humble one partaking of some fine Gusu liquor."

Another guileless smile. "You may drink whatever you like, Wei-gongzi, as long as it's done outside of Cloud Recesses walls."

Wei Wuxian is just shameless enough not to blush, but his stomach does churn a bit. He makes a point of not looking at Lan Zhan after this pronouncement. "Of course," he says with a grin.

When the waiter bustles back over, Zewu-jun orders tea and a bowl of dumpling soup.

"So, Wangji, Wei-gongzi. How are your studies going?"

"Very well," Lan Zhan responds with an incline of his head.

"Oh, yeah, couldn't be better," Wei Wuxian enthuses. "I mean, Grandmaster Lan is still very stern and everything, but I think I'm winning him over. Don't you think, Lan Zhan?"

Lan Zhan makes a non-committal hmm sound, which cracks Wei Wuxian up.

Lan Xichen looks amused. "Our uncle takes his teaching duties as seriously as he takes anything else. However, if you are diligent and produce good results, there should be no fear of his...disliking you."

Wei Wuxian wrinkles his nose. "Well, I don't know if I'm all that diligent, but I do produce good results. Haven't I gotten better with practice, Lan Zhan?" It's out before he can stop himself, and Lan Zhan extremely visibly colors at the tip of his nose and ears, but what can Wei Wuxian do? All he can really do is commit. "I've been much more diligent lately, Zewu-jun. Lan Zhan can attest."

Lan Zhan purses his mouth just as Lan Xichen says, "Oh?" and turns to him. "Well, that's great news, isn't it, Wangji?"

"Yes." Lan Zhan's cheeks have now taken on a blush as well, and it's so pretty, Wei Wuxian almost sighs, then pulls himself back together. He should probably save Lan Zhan some face.

"Anyway, if it's all right for me to ask, what sort of business have you been on, Zewu-jun? Or is it top secret?"

Lan Xichen looks amused as he takes a sip of his tea. "No secret. I had business in Yunmeng."

"Yunmeng!" Wei Wuxian feels himself light up. "How was it? Did you try any food? Did you see Sect Leader Jiang? How was it?"

"I did, indeed, and it was just as good as had been promised. And I did visit with Sect Leader Jiang and Madam Yu. They send their best."

Wei Wuxian very much doubts at least half of that, but he grins, anyway. "Ah, Lan Zhan," he says, turning towards him. "Someday, you'll have to come to Lotus Pier with me and we'll swim in the lakes. There are so many! And canals and waterways. Have you ever had lotus seeds? They're the perfect snack, I could eat ten pods' worth in one go and still want more."

"Mn."

"You say that now, but wait until you see it." Wei Wuxian turns to Lan Xichen. "You had to have tried some Lotus Wind wine, didn't you, Zewu-jun?"

Lan Xichen inclines his head. "It would have been rude to decline."

"I invented it! Sort of. It was my idea to brew it with lotus leaves, to get that special taste. Did you like it?"

"I did. I must say, I am impressed, Wei-gongzi. You have fine taste."

Wei Wuxian beams, then tips his chin at Lan Zhan. "Hear that, Lan Zhan?"

Lan Zhan's lips twitch. "Mn."

Wei Wuxian props his head on his palm and sighs. "Tell us more about your Yunmeng trip, Zewu-jun. Maybe it will convince Lan Zhan to come with me someday."

They can do that, surely. They can do a lot in six months. Maybe he really will be able to convince Lan Zhan to go swimming in a lake with him, maybe even at night. Maybe even without a swimming costume, and maybe they could—

He mentally gives himself a shake. Now is not the time for such fantasizing. And anyway, Lan Zhan probably wouldn't agree to it. But maybe...maybe once they are married, he can concoct some sort of an excuse for all of them to end up at Lotus Pier together. Though he guesses it will be impossible, then, to convince Lan Zhan to go swimming with him naked.

The thought lodges itself under his breastbone and he has to pull his thoughts towards a more appropriate topic with some force.

"Perhaps," Lan Xichen says now, and his benign smile remains impassive on his face. He also knows it's not going to happen.

They eat lunch—in silence—and Zewu-jun insists on paying for it, which Wei Wuxian supposes makes sense. Then, it's time to go back. Wei Wuxian isn't sure why it feels like the sun has gone behind a cloud—it's still a beautiful day in Gusu—but he feels like he's trudging next to Lan Zhan up the steps to Cloud Recesses.

Zewu-jun leaves them and then Lan Zhan is turning to Wei Wuxian as he extracts the four buns from his pouch. They're still steaming hot.

"Lan Zhan! How did you do that?"

Lan Zhan has a tiny pleased smile on his face. "I have a talisman."

Wei Wuxian's smile only grows. "That's supposed to be my line!" He takes two of the buns, hissing, "Hot, hot, hot. Wow, I think they're warmer than they were when we bought them!"

"Are you sure you don't want all of them?" Lan Zhan asks, a small furrow between his brows.

"Of course not, those are yours. My gift to you."

And then they stand in silence, watching one another for a prolonged moment. It's another eight days until they can practice more, and it feels like an absolute eternity.

Lan Zhan was very sensible in setting this schedule—it wouldn't do to overdo it, after all—but sometimes it feels like torture, this waiting. Wei Wuxian cocks his head and gives Lan Zhan a small smile. "Well, Lan Zhan. I'll see you at lectures tomorrow."

"See you tomorrow, Wei Ying."

Neither one of them moves. Wei Wuxian's feet feel glued to the ground.

It's Lan Zhan who eventually gives him a nod and walks off, ramrod straight, one hand held in a fist at his back. Wei Wuxian watches him until he's out of sight, as the steamed buns redden his hands.

*

Wei Wuxian can't stop thinking about sucking Lan Zhan's dick. He's aware of the concept, thanks to Nie Huaisang's porn, but when he'd first found out about it, it had seemed like a truly strange act to engage in. And then he'd started fooling around with Lan Zhan. And, just like that, it has turned into something he's thinking about pretty much all day long. It's a real problem.

He sits in class and he looks at Lan Zhan's straight back and he thinks, what does his dick taste like? He wonders what Lan Zhan will look like when he does it. He hopes Lan Zhan lets him do it, anyway. Maybe he wouldn't be into that.

Which leads him to thinking about getting his own dick sucked, which leads him to making a true mess of the scroll in front of him and Jiang Cheng elbowing him in the side and hissing at him to stop fucking around.

One time, he finds himself accidentally signing his name as Lan Wuxian, which is just. Horrendously embarrassing in every way that a thing could be embarrassing. He immediately draws over it and makes it look like he had intended for this dark block of ink, thank you, and gets a stink eye from Lan Qiren and two marks down for being messy.

He really needs the fifth day of the week to get here already.

Lan Zhan is busy pretty much all week, so Wei Wuxian doesn't even get to spend any time with him outside of classes, not even to spar or annoy him in the library. Some sort of family stuff that Wei Wuxian isn't privy to. It makes him glum, and Wei Wuxian hates feeling glum.

But none of that matters when the day finally arrives and he's walking through the open doors of the Jingshi. Lan Zhan is already waiting with tea—no Emperor's Smile this time—and Wei Wuxian gives him a quick grin before closing the doors and sealing them with a talisman.

He drops down onto a cushion across the table from Lan Zhan and knocks back the first cup of tea he's offered. "I feel like I've been waiting forever," he confesses afterwards. "Hasn't it been the longest week?"

Lan Zhan is looking down at the table. "Mn."

"Come on," Wei Wuxian wheedles. "You know you missed me. Seven days without me, you must have been bored out of your mind."

Lan Zhan's lips twitch. "It was rather quiet."

"Ha! That had to have been boring."

Lan Zhan doesn't answer, but Wei Wuxian chooses to take that as confirmation. He has another cup of tea before setting it down firmly and leaning in. "Lan Zhan, I've been doing some thinking."

"Oh?" Lan Zhan finally drags his gaze up to meet Wei Wuxian's.

"Yeah." Wei Wuxian can feel a flush all down his chest, but he isn't known as being shameless for nothing. "I've been thinking," he says quietly, "about sucking your dick."

It's Lan Zhan's turn to flush. His eyebrows twitch the tiniest bit. He doesn't respond for long enough that Wei Wuxian is about to open his mouth, but then, "I, too, have given this matter some thought."

"Lan Zhan!" Wei Wuxian's delight cannot be measured by any human means. "You've been thinking about me sucking your dick?"

"I have been thinking...that we should...practice. That particular act."

A shiver goes down Wei Wuxian's spine at the tone of his voice. Quiet, intent, and certain. Lan Zhan doesn't miss a thing, does he? Wei Wuxian suddenly wonders if he's even capable of surprising Lan Zhan with scandalous things. Lan Zhan seems to be surprisingly aware of most scandalous things Wei Wuxian has thrown at him. Wei Wuxian licks his lips. "Should we start tonight, then?"

They do. Once again, they find themselves sitting up naked in bed, kissing, to get things started. The kissing is so good, still. Wei Wuxian doesn't think he will ever get tired of kissing. It occurs to him that perhaps not all kissing is the same. What if kissing his future spouse is different from kissing Lan Zhan? The thought makes him go a little soft, so he sweeps it away, leaning in closer to Lan Zhan, winding his arms around his neck. Lan Zhan makes a noise against him and then Lan Zhan's arms are coming around his middle and pressing him even closer. Wei Wuxian can barely breathe, but he isn't about to stop, either, not when this is what he has: a night with Lan Zhan. Not even a whole night, a mere hour of his time. He isn't about to waste it on sad thoughts.

Something else occurs to him, and he pulls back, eyes scanning over Lan Zhan's forehead ribbon. "Hey, Lan Zhan," he says, and then reaches out his fingers towards it. "Why don't you ever take this—"

But Lan Zhan flinches back, and Wei Wuxian's hand drops.

Oh. All right. He doesn't know where to look, because the look of naked panic on Lan Zhan's face is too hard to watch. After an awkward moment, Lan Zhan clears his throat. "I'm sorry, it's just—the ribbon is...it's sacred."

"Yeah?" Wei Wuxian asks, looking at where their knees are touching.

"It is...not meant for touching. That is…" He stops again, sounding so awkward. Wei Wuxian mentally kicks himself for ruining things. "Do you remember when you asked what the most important Lan rule was?"

"Yeah?" Wei Wuxian still can't look at him.

"It is this. That nobody but your parents or spouse can touch your forehead ribbon."

Oh. Well...of course Lan Zhan had flinched away, then. Wei Wuxian swallows and nods, watching his own hands twisting in his (fuck, extremely naked) lap. "Right. Sorry."

Lan Zhan reaches out and takes one of Wei Wuxian's hands into his own. Wei Wuxian nearly flinches away before taking a deep breath and allowing it. "You didn't know. I'm sorry that I—I'm sorry."

"Why should you be?" Wei Wuxian finally chances a look at Lan Zhan. He's looking—troubled, Wei Wuxian thinks. But not mad. Wei Wuxian swallows. "Sorry I didn't know."

It makes sense, then, that Lan Zhan would keep it on this whole time and not want Wei Wuxian to touch it. Wei Wuxian is just a friend, after all. He takes a deep breath, and then shores up the courage to look Lan Zhan in the eye and say, "Should we—I mean."

"Yes." Lan Zhan leans in and kisses him. Okay. Okay, good. So he hasn't ruined things completely.

The kiss, despite the earlier awkwardness, turns heated pretty quickly. Lan Zhan slides his tongue inside Wei Wuxian's mouth and bites his lower lip, dispelling any remaining worries. They can do this. They're good at this. And they are just getting started.

"Lan Zhan," Wei Wuxian mumbles against him after a while. "Lan Zhan, let me suck you off."

An aborted sort of noise from Lan Zhan and then they're separating, both panting and flushed. "Yes," Lan Zhan says. "Come here, Wei Ying."

Wei Wuxian finds himself obeying without thinking, his body going where it wants to go. Lan Zhan lies back against his pillow and opens his legs and—oh, isn't that a beautiful picture? No dirty book illustration could compare. Nobody is as beautiful to look at as Lan Zhan.

Wei Wuxian fits himself in between his legs and he can't help it—he gives Lan Zhan another kiss. Lan Zhan kisses him back deep and slow, hands on Wei Wuxian's shoulders gentle at first, and then more insistent, and then—oh, he's pushing Wei Wuxian down, down until he's kissing Lan Zhan's chest, and biting his nipple, just a bit. Lan Zhan makes a tiny ah sound that goes directly to Wei Wuxian's dick, and then Wei Wuxian is moving even lower, pressing open-mouthed kisses to Lan Zhan's stomach, licking over the ripples of his abs, tasting as much of him as he can. It feels like stolen time.

Lan Zhan lets him, at first. Stays still for him, tense, as though it's difficult not to move, and Wei Wuxian presses his forehead to his belly and tries to breathe. He inhales Lan Zhan's scent, smelling sex, and then Lan Zhan's hands are pushing him even further down and Wei Wuxian obeys the trajectory until he's facing Lan Zhan's dick, which suddenly looks even bigger than before. He swallows as his mouth waters. Fuck.

"Wei Ying…"

"Yeah. Yeah, Lan Zhan, I've got you," he murmurs, feeling a lot less confident than he sounds, and braces himself with his hands on Lan Zhan's hips.

Lan Zhan's hips. He leans in and licks a stripe up one groove, then down the other. Lan Zhan's dick twitches and smacks the side of Wei Wuxian's face, which makes him snigger, which makes Lan Zhan say, "Wei Ying," which makes him laugh more.

"I'm getting there, I promise," Wei Wuxian says, sounding breathless, and then finally gives in and runs his tongue up Lan Zhan's dick. Lan Zhan freezes beneath him.

Oh. Oh, he tastes good. Salty and a bit sour with sweat, but in, like, a good way. A real way. Nothing has ever felt as real as the silky hardness of Lan Zhan's dick under his tongue. Wei Wuxian takes a deep breath and takes the thick head of it into his mouth. It seems to fill his entire mouth, and the taste is stronger here, where Lan Zhan is already leaking. It's viscous and strange but not bad, and Wei Wuxian takes a hold of the shaft and squeezes. Above him, Lan Zhan's breathing is sort of erratic already, like he's trying and failing to draw in normal breaths.

Wei Wuxian grins and lifts up until the head pops out of his mouth. He feels like he's just been given access to a new toy, and oh, he's going to play with it. He feels wicked with it, with all the things he can do to Lan Zhan like this. The way he can fit the tip of his tongue into the seam of his head, spread the salty slick around. The way he can slide his lips down and engulf the head and then some more, hollow out his cheeks, and give it a suck. Lan Zhan hisses at that, his dick twitching. Wei Wuxian knows that he won't be able to fit the whole thing in his mouth, so he decides to focus on the head and take care of the rest with his hand.

He loosens his lips and slides up until the head is exposed and licks it all over. He loves the taste, he decides. Loves the slick feel of it, too, loves how wet it is, how much Lan Zhan clearly wants it. He's so hard, dick dark and straining in Wei Wuxian's hold.

He slips the head of it back into his mouth and sucks at the tip, fitting his tongue underneath and reveling in the way Lan Zhan's thighs tense around him, the restless way in which he's moving his legs, as though he can't help it. And the sounds he's making, fuck. Lan Zhan is gasping, sounding like he's trying to be quiet but can't. Good. Wei Wuxian will make him loud. Wei Wuxian will make him come. He will use his hand and his mouth and he will make Lan Zhan lose his fucking mind with how good he's going to make him feel.

He suckles at the head and gets a rhythm going, slipping just past the head and hollowing out his cheeks. Someday, he's going to take him all the way, he will take him until Lan Zhan is all the way down his throat, but for now, this will be enough.

"Wei Ying…" A gentle hand settles at the crown of his head. "Wei Ying, please…"

Wei Wuxian smiles to himself and redoubles his efforts, doing his best to keep to a rhythm and make it as tight and wet as he can. He keeps going until Lan Zhan's hand is no longer gentle, but carding through his hair and squeezing, and oh, that's a delicious sting. Wei Wuxian's dick gives a kick.

"Just like that, Wei Ying—Wei Ying—"

Yes, yes, yes, he's doing it. He's sucking Lan Zhan's dick and Lan Zhan is loving it, if the copious way in which he's leaking and his rough voice are any indication. Wei Wuxian will make Lan Zhan lose all control with his mouth, he will make him come, and he'll even try to swallow some, out of curiosity.

In the end, it doesn't take long. One moment, Lan Zhan is moving his hips in tiny increments, and the next, his taste changes to something more sour than salty, and there's a rush beneath Wei Wuxian's fingers, and then Lan Zhan's dick twitches and he's coming, the sounds escaping him high and mindless. Wei Wuxian ends up choking just a little, and the texture is pretty gross, but he manages to swallow some before pulling off and jerking him through the rest of it. As always, Lan Zhan comes a lot, and Wei Wuxian doesn't know when he began thinking that it's hot, but it's super hot.

Lan Zhan's thighs tremble around Wei Wuxian's shoulders, and his head is thrown back so his throat is exposed. Wei Wuxian waits for him to be done before surging forward and putting his tongue in the hollow beneath his neck so he can taste the sweat gathered there. He's hard as a rock. He needs so much.

"Wei Ying," Lan Zhan chokes out. Then he's grabbing the back of Wei Wuxian's head in a vise grip and bringing him up for a bruising kiss, a kiss that tastes like Lan Zhan's breath and come.

They break apart eventually, and then before he can do anything else, Wei Wuxian is being flipped onto his back and Lan Zhan is sliding down between his legs and taking him into his mouth. Oh, fuck.

That's what that feels like? That tight, hot, wet pressure engulfing him, forcing his eyes to roll to the back of his head. Lan Zhan goes down further than Wei Wuxian managed, but then again, Wei Wuxian is man enough to admit his dick is smaller. Easier to handle. And Lan Zhan is doing an admirable job of it, running his tongue up the shaft and then wiggling the tip of his tongue against the seam. Wei Wuxian is making pretty embarrassing noises—he has no problem with being loud—and trembling beneath him. Fuck, that feels—that feels amazing. Lan Zhan is amazing. Lan Zhan is sucking him hard and fast and wet, and when Wei Wuxian manages to open his eyes and look down, he almost comes from the view alone. Lan Zhan, his ribbon crooked, hair a mess, eyelashes fluttering, with his mouth open wide to accommodate Wei Wuxian's dick. He's fucking stunning like this, debauched and god-like. Wei Wuxian won't last long, he knows this. He'll have to learn not to come too fast, he knows that that's important, especially when giving somebody else pleasure, but for now, he's getting his very first blowjob so he can probably be forgiven for pumping his hips and seeking release barely two minutes into it.

"Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan, Lan—"

Lan Zhan hums in response, which vibrates against his dick and Wei Wuxian's head falls back as he loses track of all breath. He thinks he might die from this before he even comes, but then he feels it, the sharp pleasure heightening, gathering at the base of his spine and in his drawn-up balls, as Lan Zhan keeps sucking him off, unrelenting.

"Lan Zhan, I'm gonna—"

Lan Zhan just squeezes his hips, and then sucks him down even more, and that's it, that's all Wei Wuxian can take before he's coming, right inside Lan Zhan's mouth, shaking apart beneath him.

He feels Lan Zhan swallow around him—swallowing all of it—and then pull off. Lan Zhan lands in a heap on top of him, breathing possibly harder than Wei Wuxian. Wei Wuxian paws at him, attempting to communicate that was fucking amazing through touch alone, because he cannot possibly be expected to speak right now. His heart is racing.

A part of him thinks Lan Zhan did better than him. But Wei Wuxian is a quick study. He'll do better next time.

Together, they attempt to get their breathing under control. It takes a while. Wei Wuxian's heart jumps in his chest as Lan Zhan leans up enough to drop a kiss onto his hip. He wants to run his fingers through Lan Zhan's hair the way Lan Zhan had done with him, but he doesn't know if it would be welcome, so he pats Lan Zhan's shoulder and just lays there, staring up at the shadowy ceiling.

Later that night, he stares at his own ceiling and tries to fall asleep for a very long time. It takes him much too long.

*

Every fifth day of the week, they continue to meet, and in between, Wei Wuxian waits. He waits through lectures and meal times, through sword practice with Jiang Cheng and walks with his shijie. He waits as Nie Huaisang chatters next to him. He waits as he continues his not-so-secret mission to break nearly every rule at Cloud Recesses just based on principle, and he waits through his punishments.

Sometimes Lan Zhan stands several feet away as Wei Wuxian kneels and wills for the time to go by faster, and they lock eyes, and he knows—Lan Zhan is keeping him company, and they're both thinking about the same thing.

The fifth day of the week.

One night, Jiang Cheng gets in trouble. It's such a shock, even Wei Wuxian stares at him uncomprehendingly, as Jiang Cheng explains how if Wei Wuxian had been there, he would have decked Jin Zixuan, too, for daring to look at their sister with a haughty sneer. Wei Wuxian is so proud, he nearly cries.

But it's the fifth day of the week, and he ends up missing his date with Lan Zhan because Jiang Cheng is nursing a split lip and shijie is fretting over them both.

"Do the rules allow for a re-do?" he asks breathlessly as he catches up with Lan Zhan the next morning. He'd tossed and turned for half the night, picturing Lan Zhan waiting for him for hours with a cooling tea pot until finally giving up. His heart had whined in his chest at the image, and he had wished he could have sent word, something, anything, but he had been with his siblings—there had been no way. And then it was after nine, and Lan Zhan would have already gone to sleep.

Lan Zhan cuts him a glance without stopping, and it's all Wei Wuxian can do to keep up. "I hope everything is all right," Lan Zhan says mildly. He would never do anything crass like demand to know what happened.

Wei Wuxian shakes his head. "It's fine now. Just. Jiang Cheng punched Jin Zixuan, and we were dealing with that. I'm sorry."

Lan Zhan pauses for a moment before continuing his stride. "No need, Wei Ying. I understand." And then, a moment later, "If you wish to, you may come by tonight."

So he does. And they kiss and practice blowing each other, because Wei Wuxian is determined to fit more of Lan Zhan's dick in his mouth.

He gets halfway there, then Lan Zhan pulls him off by the hair before coming all over his face and it's the hottest thing to ever happen to Wei Wuxian out of a whole host of incredibly hot things.

One time, they try to suck each others’ dicks at the same time. Wei Wuxian has seen it illustrated, and naturally, anything that looks like a challenge interests him. It does not go very well. Trying to concentrate on getting your dick sucked while also trying to suck a dick turns out to be a feat even he isn't capable of, and they wind up laughing on Lan Zhan's bed, dicks in each other's faces, before flipping over and grinding against one another until they come.

They become very good at other things over time. Wei Wuxian manages to get enough of Lan Zhan's dick in his mouth to hit the back of his throat, and Lan Zhan nearly hits the ceiling with how hard he comes.

And they kiss. They kiss a lot. They kiss as a greeting, they kiss as a prelude. They kiss as they jerk each other off, they kiss goodbye. All these kisses are different. The greeting kiss is a lingering press of lips, a hello, you're here now.. The prelude kiss is deeper, headier, a slow exploration that quickly transforms into heat and anticipation. The kisses as they touch one another should barely be counted as such, apart from how their mouths are touching and they are sharing the heat of their breath, tongues occasionally meeting and retreating. The kiss goodbye is a soft peck that can turn deeper before being wrenched away. That one, Wei Wuxian always feels on his lips like a ghost as he walks back towards his rooms.

*

"Lan Zhan, wait up!" It's the seventh day of the week, which means he has to wait a while before getting Lan Zhan completely alone again. But he sees Lan Zhan walking away from the main drag of the pavilions and gets possessed by the need to follow him. Jiang Cheng throws him a bit of a look, but Wei Wuxian doesn't pay him any mind as he runs after Lan Zhan, who stops, turns, and waits for him to catch up.

"Hi!" Wei Wuxian is panting the tiniest bit. "Where are you off to?"

"I—" And then Lan Zhan stops a little awkwardly. It's so unusual, Wei Wuxian just watches as Lan Zhan nearly squirms.

"Lan Zhan? What is it?" An idea comes to him. "Were you off to break some rules?" What could Lan Zhan possibly be doing that he can't even say?

Lan Zhan gets a familiar annoyed look on his face for a moment, which makes Wei Wuxian laugh, and then he straightens up and says, "I can show you."

Wei Wuxian bounces on his toes as he follows Lan Zhan away from the buildings and towards the woods. As they're walking, he chatters about his day as Lan Zhan listens, and it's nice. Even though they're not touching or kissing, or even talking about touching or kissing, it's nice. He likes Lan Zhan. Likes spending time with him.

"Don't you think the Jins are too ostentatious? Even in their Cloud Recesses uniform, they still stand out with their stupid gilded swords and—oh, wow, what?"

They've come into a bit of a clearing within the bamboo forest, and the ground is white and moving. At least, that's what it looks like, before his mind is able to take in what it is he's seeing: a whole colony of white rabbits, hopping about the place.

"Lan Zhan?"

Lan Zhan is blushing, which he so rarely does outside of certain contexts that Wei Wuxian can't help gaping. "I come here sometimes to...to visit," he says woodenly.

Wei Wuxian gives a delighted laugh and drops down to the ground, catching a bunny and grabbing it for a better look. It squirms in his grasp, then settles down enough for him to pet it between its fuzzy ears. "Where did they come from? Isn't it against the rules to keep pets in Cloud Recesses?"

Lan Zhan lowers himself to a spot on the ground where there are no rabbits and also picks up a bunny, who has hopped on over to him as though in greeting. "Mn. Technically, they are wild rabbits. They aren't pets."

Wei Wuxian watches in fascination as Lan Zhan's face softens. He's petting the bunny so carefully with his large hand, as carefully as though he were holding a newborn. "Lan Zhan, you big softie. How did you discover them? How long have they been here?"

Lan Zhan, still pink in the ears, says, "My brother showed me, when I was younger. I've been coming here for a long time."

"So, they really know you, huh?" Wei Wuxian lets his bunny go, then picks up another one, this one even smaller. It's so cute. Everything about this is cute, down to Lan Zhan's smitten expression, which is just...beyond anything Wei Wuxian has ever witnessed. He's suddenly picturing a tiny Lan Zhan, with his proper posture and his headband, sitting upright, petting rabbits. He sort of wants to cry, but in a good way.

"Mn."

"Wow."

For a while, they don't talk, except for Wei Wuxian's running monologue at the rabbits, who are nosing up to Lan Zhan as though he were their mother. Lan Zhan extracts several carrots from his qiankun pouch and then his lap is full of squirming, clamoring rabbits.

"Does your uncle know about this?" Wei Wuxian asks between fits of laughter.

"I believe he likes to pretend he doesn't," Lan Zhan responds, which just makes Wei Wuxian laugh harder.

"Lan Zhan! Scandalous! I'm assuming Zewu-jun knows you still come here?"

"Mn. He...encourages it."

"Incredible." Wei Wuxian releases the bunny in his hand before checking behind himself that he won't crush any underneath himself if he lies down. As soon as he's on his back, he is covered in bunnies: on his belly and thighs, and some even being so brazen as to curl up on his chest, warming his neck. He giggles and looks over at Lan Zhan, who is watching him sort of—indulgently, he thinks. Lan Zhan thinks it's funny. Well, Wei Wuxian agrees.

They spend about half an hour with the rabbits before Lan Zhan decisively puts the last one on the ground and gracefully rises. Wei Wuxian follows, and then he's waving at the rabbits, wishing them a good day. "Can I come back sometime?" he asks, just in case.

Lan Zhan nods.

They're walking close together, and occasionally their knuckles brush, but Wei Wuxian does not see it coming when Lan Zhan grabs his hand, pushes him up against a bamboo tree, and kisses him. He makes a surprised noise before melting into it, and it's. It's nice. More than nice. They've never kissed in daytime before, and never out in the open like this. There's not a soul around apart from the rabbits, and still, his heart is beating double-time. Lan Zhan.

Lan Zhan kisses him thoroughly, the way Wei Wuxian has come to love. With soft lips and a velvety tongue and an intent behind it that's unmistakable. If only they weren't in a forest.

When Lan Zhan finally pulls away, Wei Wuxian blinks open his eyes and they look at one another for a long, quiet moment. "What was that for?" he asks in a hushed voice.

"No reason," Lan Zhan says, in a tone that absolutely means there is a reason and he simply isn't sharing.

"Then do it again."

Lan Zhan does.

*

Madam Yu and Uncle Jiang arrive unexpectedly. Wei Wuxian wouldn't even know if not for Jiang Cheng, who finds him kneeling in punishment for the millionth time and tells him in a breathless tone, "My parents are here! Quick!"

Wei Wuxian abandons his post and they run towards where Lan Qiren usually greets important guests. Wei Wuxian manages to pry open a window so they can eavesdrop better, then they both duck down just in case.

Voices begin to filter through.

"—taking her back with us now."

"It must be a great relief to you both."

"Yes. She has been waiting too long." Madam Yu sounds kind of bitter. Definitely mad. He and Jiang Cheng exchange a confused look.

"Young men often need a bit of guidance on such matters," Lan Qiren says, sounding so much nicer than he usually does in class. "You have been patient."

"Well, two years worth of patience and guidance seems excessive."

A silence, then Uncle Jiang's voice says, "Regardless, everything is now ready. We hope you will be able to attend the festivities."

Wei Wuxian sucks in a breath. Jiang Cheng's eyes are huge. Are they—is shijie—

"Of course," Lan Qiren says amiably. "It would be my honor."

"We will go find our children now. Thank you, Grandmaster."

"I wish you well."

They don't get a chance to run off before Madam Yu strides out and spots them immediately with her eagle eyes. Wei Wuxian swallows, and hears Jiang Cheng do the same next to him. They are so busted. Uncle Jiang comes out second and gets a very familiar look of fond exasperation on his face.

Both Wei Wuxian and Jiang Cheng drop down to their knees at the same time. "Forgive us, Father. Mother."

"I apologize, Sect Leader Jiang. Madam Yu."

"Oh, get up," Madam Yu says irritably. "I suppose you know what this is about, then?"

"Is—is my sister getting married?" Jiang Cheng asks, in a tiny voice that is very unlike him.

Madam Yu purses her lips and straightens up even more. "Finally," she says in a tone of voice that suggests it's all Jiang Cheng's fault. Wei Wuxian just stops himself from wincing outwardly.

"Yes," Uncle Jiang says with more patience. "Her betrothed has agreed to be married."

After two years? Who the hell is this person who refused to marry their sister? Even if he didn't know it was their sister. Did he?

Wei Wuxian feels his blood beginning to boil, but Jiang Cheng hits him on the back and he tamps it down, trying not to vibrate in place.

"You will both remain here until the day of the wedding, at which point you will be taken to the ceremony."

"Yes, Mother."

"Yes, Madam Yu."

She makes an irritated noise and sweeps away. Uncle Jiang beckons them both to follow.

Shijie looks pale when they enter her quarters, but she doesn't look surprised. She must have known. Wei Wuxian desperately wants to run over to her, but doesn't dare with Madam Yu presiding over them.

"Gather your things, Yanli," Madam Yu orders. "We will be waiting outside." Once again, she sweeps out, leaving Uncle Jiang to follow.

Wei Wuxian and Jiang Cheng stay behind. As soon as their parents are gone, both fall on their sister with questions.

"Shijie, are you all right?"

"A-jie, what's going on?"

Despite her clear distress, she laughs, shaking them off. "I'm getting married," she tells them. "That's all."

"That's all? That's everything!"

"Do you know who you're marrying yet? What have they told you? Where is it taking place? Is it going to be at Lotus Pier or somewhere else?"

"Does that mean you'll no longer be in Cloud Recesses?"

She smiles at them, petting each of their cheeks in turn, and turns away, beginning to gather her things as instructed. "I don't know who it is yet. I am leaving Cloud Recesses for good. And I do not believe the wedding will be taking place at Lotus Pier."

Wei Wuxian and Jiang Cheng exchange looks. Who could it be? Who has kept their sister waiting for two years, and, more importantly, who had allowed that in the first place?

They do not get any answers before shijie is whisked away by their parents. With her gone, Cloud Recesses suddenly feel emptier, sadder, as though clouds have shrouded the place in darkness. Wei Wuxian and Jiang Cheng trudge to the riverbank and sit there with their feet dangling in the water.

"You know, it's a really stupid tradition," Jiang Cheng grumbles, splashing.

"Which part?" Wei Wuxian asks glumly.

"All of it. Not knowing. It's so stupid."

"I know." Wei Wuxian gives a vicious kick, too, probably scaring all the innocent fish swimming by.

His parents, he thinks, had the right idea. Don't wait for someone else to set your future for you. If you're in love, just run away. Be together, even if the whole world disapproves of you. And they must have been in love, to have done what they had done. They must have.

"What if this person treats her badly?"

"I'll kill them."

"I'll help."

They're quiet for a while. Finally, Jiang Cheng sighs and says, "You're getting married soon, too."

Wei Wuxian, who has tried very hard indeed not to think about that, gives a jerky nod. Less than four months now. It's looming closer and closer. Suddenly, he wants to tell Jiang Cheng everything. About Lan Zhan, about what they've been up to, about—about the knot in Wei Wuxian's stomach at the thought of things ending.

He doesn't. Because as much as sharing would unburden him, it would expose Lan Zhan, and he would never, ever do anything to harm him. He would rather die than let Lan Zhan down.

Instead, he jostles Jiang Cheng's shoulder. "Hey, you're not far behind me."

"A month," Jiang Cheng confirms.

"Yeah."

"Yeah."

They sigh in tandem and continue soaking their feet in the cold water, Wei Wuxian hoping it'll give him some clarity. The only thing it gives him is a whole lot of goosebumps.

*

"Jin Zixuan?!" Wei Wuxian is about to wield his sword for something more than practice. "Jin? Zixuan?!"

"Shut up!" Jiang Cheng hisses. "People will hear you!"

They've been dropped off at Jinlintai, and the couple has been announced. Their sister—their angel—has been betrothed this whole time to fucking Jin Zixuan. Who has kept her waiting for two fucking years.

"I swear, I will end him." Wei Wuxian thinks he might be shaking. "This bastard has kept her waiting for two years? Him??"

Jiang Cheng looks equal parts furious and agonized. "I know, I know, I just—how! How is this possible? What were my parents thinking?!"

They both throw up their arms in despair and just watch each other, as though one of them will be able to come up with a satisfying answer. Neither of them does.

In the end, they are escorted to where the ceremony is to begin. The whole thing is a blur to Wei Wuxian, the hours passing in some sort of fugue state where all he sees is red, both literally and figuratively. There is tea drinking and bowing and then, somehow, they come out the other side of things and shijie is married to fucking Jin Zixuan.

And the kicker is, when he sees her face, she looks—happy. Is that possible? There is a moment in which their eyes meet and she gives him the tiniest smile—tiny but real. He can't help smiling back.

Lan Zhan is there. It takes Wei Wuxian a while to figure this out, what with all the fury, but there he is, in the back of the hall, next to his uncle and Zewu-jun, standing straight as a reed, eyes on the middle distance. The moment Wei Wuxian notices him, he feels like he's taking his very first breath.

Lan Zhan. Things can't be all that bad with Lan Zhan around.

The banquet is long and loud. Wei Wuxian finds himself drinking too much and getting dirty looks from Jiang Cheng. People come up and talk to him, and make jovial jokes about how it'll be his turn next, and he overhears some Jin assholes talking about how pale shijie had been, and how they have never heard of someone having to wait for years. It's all a giant snarl of overwhelming feelings, and then Wei Wuxian looks up and Lan Zhan is standing in front of him in in his light blue robes, looking down at him with an unreadable sort of look on his face.

"Lan Zhan," he says over his cup of wine and slowly lowers his hand. "You're here."

He nods. "Wei Ying."

Wei Wuxian will get a crick in the neck if he doesn't stand up soon, so he does. Then they're looking at one another from less than a foot away. Lan Zhan must be hating this banquet even more than Wei Wuxian.

Wei Wuxian leans in, swaying only lightly on his feet, and murmurs, "Do you want to get out of here?"

Nobody pays them any mind as they weave through the throng. Then they're outside in the fresh air and Wei Wuxian is leading Lan Zhan confidently down walkways he has never stepped foot on before until they are all alone, hidden by a pretty sort of garden with a magnolia tree.

Wei Wuxian drops down to the ground, but doesn't let go of Lan Zhan's hand, so Lan Zhan has no choice but to drop down next to him.

"Wei Ying—"

Wei Wuxian leans in and kisses him. Even through his drunken haze, he knows it's dangerous, knows that they are too exposed. Anybody could walk by. All the major sects are present—there would be a scandal of enormous proportion if they were to be found out. But he can't help himself. Not after the day he's had.

Lan Zhan leans into him and for one glorious, prolonged moment, there is nothing but Lan Zhan's taste and smell, his soft lips parting Wei Wuxian's, the warm huff of his breath. Wei Wuxian makes an aborted sort of noise, then Lan Zhan pulls back and Wei Wuxian nearly topples over onto him.

"Wei Ying. We mustn't."

Wei Wuxian squeezes his eyes shut, rights himself, and purses his mouth. "I know. It's too dangerous."

"And it's the wrong day," Lan Zhan says quietly.

And just like that, Wei Wuxian's horrible mood catches up with him and he's shooting to his feet. "I don't care what day it is," he snarls before starting to walk in an agitated circle. "Why do we have these stupid rules? Who needs them? Do you, Lan Zhan? Do you really need them?"

Lan Zhan doesn't respond for a long time, which makes Wei Wuxian even angrier, and he stomps up to Lan Zhan, stopping just short of his feet. He waits with what he believes to be a god-like level of patience. Finally, Lan Zhan lifts his gaze. He looks—shuttered. "Yes." His voice sounds strange. "I do."

Wei Wuxian throws up his hands and stalks off.

Regret catches up with him hours later, as he's lying in an unfamiliar bed in a tasteless, over-decorated room, and the last of his drunkenness turns into a hangover.

Had he really started a fight? With Lan Zhan? Had he really walked away from him without letting him explain himself? And when will he see him next? Sure, there are more festivities tomorrow, but they had barely gotten a chance to talk earlier and Wei Wuxian ruined even that. Lan Zhan will probably want to avoid him. And Wei Wuxian can't blame him, not after he's been such an asshole.

Lan Zhan, ah, Lan Zhan. Really, what had Wei Wuxian been expecting? He doesn't know. He doesn't even know what he would have wanted to hear Lan Zhan say. Lan Zhan is right: they do need rules. Without them, who knows what—

No. He's not going to go there, not when he's already burning up from a shame so deep, it won't even let him sleep. Normally, he sleeps like a log when drunk.

Morning comes, but it doesn't bring any more clarity. Only more questions.

And a desperate hangover.

"What's wrong with you?" Jiang Cheng asks, scowling, as he tears into Wei Wuxian's room. Gods, he is loud. "Aren't you ready yet?"

"As you can see," Wei Wuxian mumbles, as he tries to remember which foot goes into which boot. "Give me five minutes."

"My mother will have your hide," Jiang Cheng warns. Wei Wuxian just shushes him.

Bleary-eyed and exhausted, he follows Jiang Cheng in to the breakfast banquet, where his sister and—gods—his new brother-in-law are already sitting up on a dais, presiding. Shijie looks almost shy, eyes cast down, as she drinks her tea. Next to her, Jin Zixuan looks weirdly just as shy, which just annoys the shit out of Wei Wuxian. Fuck that guy.

Shijie looks up and sees them and her eyes light up, which makes Wei Wuxian want to run right up to that dais and whisk her away from all of this. Instead, he gives her a quick smile and bow and then trails Jiang Cheng to the table next to the Jiangs. Madam Yu gives him a look so cold it's amazing his balls don't freeze on the spot, but Uncle Jiang just smiles at them.

Wei Wuxian endures breakfast, and he doesn't see Lan Zhan. He has a moment of his stomach fluttering as light blue robes streak past his periphery, but it's only Zewu-jun. No matter how hard he looks, Wei Wuxian doesn't see Lan Zhan at all.

*

They're back in Cloud Recesses the following day. Wei Wuxian trudges past where shijie's quarters used to be, and it feels so wrong, to know they're sitting empty. Or worse, what if somebody else has already occupied them?

He tries to peer in, but can't see anything, and Jiang Cheng grabs him by the arm and drags him back to their room.

They don't attend classes that day, and Wei Wuxian spends his time kicking around the back hill, knowing full well he isn't supposed to be there. A part of him, some vicious part, hopes that Lan Zhan finds him and gives him a whole lecture about it. Knowing his luck, though, it would be Lan Qiren. His lectures are no fucking fun.

He runs into Nie Huaisang, whom he had briefly seen at the wedding, but had avoided. He's not even sure why. Maybe because Nie Huaisang doesn't get how awful Jin Zixuan is, and Wei Wuxian hadn’t been able to handle talking to anyone who might speak well of him.

"Wei-xiong! Wei-xiong, what's wrong?"

Wei Wuxian kicks at a pebble and scowls, then drops down to the ground with a sigh. "Nothing, Nie-xiong. It's nothing."

Nie Huaisang gives him a searching glance that's sharper than Wei Wuxian would expect from him, then sits down next to him gingerly and opens his fan. "It doesn't look like nothing," he says quietly. "Is it...the wedding?"

"Whose?"

"Jiang Yanli's."

"Oh." Yeah. It is. But it's more than that, isn't it? Shijie's wedding brought into stark relief how final a wedding is. One minute she was with them, the next thing he knows, she's living a whole new life at Jinlintai, with a whole new family. And that's exactly what's going to happen to him. One minute, he's at Lotus Pier, or Cloud Recesses, and the next—poof. He's gone, whisked off to parts unknown, with a person he probably has never even met. Or worse, has met and hated. Or, even worse than that, has met and forgotten, because who wants an unmemorable person as their spouse? "Yeah," he says. "I guess it is."

"Well, she looked sort of...happy? To me?"

Wei Wuxian scowls harder and viciously chews on a piece of grass he's plucked from the ground. Yeah. He'd noticed that, too, and it's completely inexplicable. Why would she ever be happy marrying that insufferable peacock? He probably thinks he's so much better than her, that horse's ass, when in actuality, absolutely nobody is good enough for his shijie. Not a single person.

"She can't be happy with him, he's a fucking nightmare."

Nie Huaisang doesn't respond, just flutters his fan in silence. Wei Wuxian has a moment of wanting to grab it from him and stomp on it, which is what finally wakes him up to his mood and lets him know he has got to snap out of it. Nie Huaisang, of all people, has done nothing wrong.

"Nie-xiong," he says as a slight reconciliation. "Aren't you worried about your own wedding?"

The fan flutters quicker. "You know me...I only want to be left alone, really."

"Yeah." Wei Wuxian drops onto his back. "Yeah, so do I."

"But we will still be friends, Wei-xiong. We'll visit each other. Our families visit one another all the time."

Wei Wuxian knows that. But it won't be the same, will it? They'll have their own families to worry about. Nie Huaisang's focus will change entirely. No more playing around, no more fun. Then again, that's what growing up is, isn't it?

Wei Wuxian wishes he had more time.

*

He finally sees Lan Zhan in class the following day, and stares hard enough to bore holes in his back the entire time, attempting to gauge his mood. It's basically impossible. Lan Zhan is a brick wall. When their gazes meet after class, however, Lan Zhan does a tiny stumble before striding off, and Wei Wuxian, chastened beyond belief and stubborn to boot, follows.

"Lan Zhan," he says, catching up. "Lan Zhan, wait for me."

Lan Zhan stops and looks at him with such careful neutrality, Wei Wuxian wants to scream. Instead, he briefly touches Lan Zhan's sleeve, then nods towards a corner where fewer people are milling around, and hopes Lan Zhan follows. He does.

"Look, Lan Zhan," he says quietly, not quite daring to meet his eye. There is a sharp lump in his throat. "I—I'm sorry." He can't look up. He just can't. He watches Lan Zhan's stillness, instead. Absurdly, and completely inappropriately, he thinks, I know what he looks like under those robes.

"I...understand, Wei Ying."

Wei Wuxian's gaze flies up. "You do?" That makes one of them.

Lan Zhan meets his gaze for a second, then drops it. "I am...too rigid. For you. If you—"

"What? No!" He lowers his voice, leaning in. "Lan Zhan, you're not. I'm the asshole, all right? Of course we need...rules. I know that. I was just…I was in a bad mood and I took it out on you. And I shouldn't have. So I'm sorry."

Lan Zhan's ears flush a tiny bit pink, as do his cheeks, as though he's spent too long in the sun. "No need," he says quietly. He looks torn, like he's trying to decide whether or not to say something. It's odd how well Wei Wuxian has learned to read him. "Wei Ying, if you wish to...stop. What we have been doing. I will understand."

The very idea is so horrifying, Wei Wuxian gapes like a fish before pulling himself together. He tries to read between the lines, but he's never been very good at that. "Does that...I mean." He takes a shaky breath. "Do you not want to continue?" he asks, in a voice that's quiet enough to mask the sickening fear of it.

Lan Zhan looks at him—really looks at him—and slowly shakes his head. "I should like to...continue. If you are still willing."

Wei Wuxian breathes out. He suddenly feels like laughing. "I'm willing, Lan Zhan. I'm more than willing."

Lan Zhan's brows smooth out and his face softens, just the tiniest bit. "Very well. We shall continue."

Wei Wuxian bounces on his toes. "When? Tomorrow?" Tomorrow is the fifth day of the week.

"Yes. Tomorrow evening."

Wei Wuxian smiles for what feels like the first time in days. Maybe it is. "Great. That's great. I'll see you tomorrow night."

"Tomorrow night, then. Wei Ying." And then, like the rushing of the tide, a tiny smile appears on Lan Zhan's face.

*

"I have given this matter some thought," Lan Zhan says, once Wei Wuxian is situated across from him at the table. "And I believe we should practice...longevity."

"Longevity." Wei Wuxian thinks about this, then flushes. "You mean, not coming two minutes after getting started."

Luckily, Lan Zhan flushes, too. "That's right. I believe we should learn how to sustain ourselves."

Wei Wuxian nods, thinking. Lan Zhan is right. It wouldn't do to start giving your spouse pleasure, only to finish two minutes in. What if they aren't done yet? Seems quite rude, not to mention slightly pathetic. He's read books. He knows it's important to last. "All right. Let's do that."

"All right."

They get undressed and climb onto the bed behind the blue curtain. It's getting a little easier, looking at Lan Zhan, but it still takes Wei Wuxian’s breath away how beautiful he is. He is all elegant lines and curved muscle, not a single movement wasted, all easy grace. Next to him, Wei Wuxian feels awkward, even though he knows he isn't bad to look at, either. He just doesn't compare.

"Wei Ying?"

Wei Wuxian shakes his head and flushes. "Sorry," he says, "I'm here, I'm here."

Lan Zhan is watching him carefully, and for a moment, they're just looking at one another, not speaking. It should be strange and awkward, probably. It isn't. It makes gooseflesh rise all over Wei Wuxian's body, and he can't even blame that on a chill—Lan Zhan has lit enough braziers that it's almost hot. Certainly warm. Wei Wuxian leans in, and Lan Zhan meets him in the middle for a kiss. It's slow, lingering. They're learning slow kisses, kisses that are deep and honey-sweet. Lan Zhan takes hold of Wei Wuxian's jaw and tilts him in a way that makes it even better, and Wei Wuxian grows hard so, so fast. It feels incredible, this burgeoning need. It ripples through his body, an outward sort of pull that leaves him breathless. He wants. He wants so much.

Lan Zhan pulls back, but stays close, eyes gazing into Wei Wuxian's. "What do you want, Wei Ying? What would you like?"

Everything. He wants absolutely everything. "I don't know," he prevaricates. "What would make it easier to start with?"

"Perhaps my hand?"

Why does that make Wei Wuxian flush? He has no idea, but he can feel it in his cheeks and ears, his chest growing warm. "Yeah," he says, then clears his throat. "Yeah, let's start with that."

Lan Zhan lays him down, then settles onto his side, head propped up on his hand, and runs his hand down Wei Wuxian's belly. Wei Wuxian watches its progress, the way Lan Zhan's fingers bump against his ribs, then over the hair below his navel. Lan Zhan doesn't have that, he's smooth until you get to his dick. Wei Wuxian had felt self-conscious about it at first, until he had caught Lan Zhan staring at the hair there with hungry eyes, and now it just makes him blush to remember. He swallows as Lan Zhan puts the palm of his hand over the head of Wei Wuxian's dick and smears the slick already gathered there around. He likes doing that, Wei Wuxian has learned. It makes it easier to jerk him off, makes it glide smoothly. It's a neat trick.

Wei Wuxian bites his lip and tries to breathe. He's supposed to keep himself from coming too soon, and he has no idea how he's going to do that if Lan Zhan does what he usually does, because Lan Zhan is really good at handjobs. Wei Wuxian takes in a shaky breath as Lan Zhan goes down, then begins to pump. He's slow at first, as though acclimating Wei Wuxian to the feel of it. Slow, methodical, torturous. At least this way, there's little danger in Wei Wuxian coming too soon—he usually needs things to speed up before he can come. Lan Zhan must know that, because he's definitely taking his time. When Wei Wuxian dares to look at his face, Lan Zhan is watching his own hand working Wei Wuxian's dick, and he's got his lip caught in his teeth. His hair is a black curtain behind him, his forehead ribbon a flash of white against his pale skin. He's so fucking beautiful.

Wei Wuxian settles more firmly against the sheets and decides to enjoy the ride. His hips start to move of their own accord, obeying a drive he can't control. Lan Zhan is still watching his own hand working up and down, and Wei Wuxian moves his head just enough that he's able to catch his gaze and draw him in for a kiss. Lan Zhan opens up immediately, stuttering a bit in his movements, but recovering fairly quickly. It's so tight and wet and good, fuck, Wei Wuxian won't last.

He has to. It's a point of pride, now.

Lan Zhan starts to speed up in increments, so gradually that Wei Wuxian doesn't even notice at first, until his hips are snapping and he's tossing his head on the pillow, biting his lip hard against his moans. Everything in him wants to take things faster, go until he's thrown into that perfect moment of ecstasy, but he knows he can't. He tries to think about un-sexy things. Things like classes, and slippery fish he catches in the Cloud Recesses streams, and Jin Zixuan—wait, that's weird. It's weird to be thinking about your brother-in-law while getting your dick pumped, but it sure does the trick.

Lan Zhan leans down and kisses his shoulder, his touch lingering. That brings Wei Wuxian squarely back into his body, all thoughts of unsexy things scattered to the winds. Fuck, why is that so good—

"Lan Zhan—"

"Hold back, Wei Ying," Lan Zhan responds in that low voice of his that rumbles through Wei Wuxian's chest. "Keep holding back, you can do it."

Except he can't. Lan Zhan has sped up more, and now it feels inevitable, the pull of it low in his belly. He's going to—he's going to—oh, fuck, he's—

Lan Zhan lifts his hand and Wei Wuxian's hips thrust up against empty air. "What the fuck, Lan Zhan!"

"Pull back, Wei Ying," Lan Zhan says calmly. Easy for him to say, Wei Wuxian had been about to blow, and now he's desperate, his pumping empty air, dick hard as a rock, throbbing. "Make it last," Lan Zhan murmurs.

"Fuck, make what last, there's nothing to make last," Wei Wuxian grumbles. Still, he tries. He takes a deep breath, lets it out. His heart calms down the tiniest bit, and he thinks that if Lan Zhan touches him again now, he'll be able to hold back. Yeah. Yeah, he's good. "Okay, come back, I can do it."

Lan Zhan catches his eye, then wraps his hand around Wei Wuxian's dick, pumps once, and Wei Wuxian arches off the bed, mouth open in a surprised 'o', eyes squeezed shut, and comes. Oh, fuck, fuck, fuck. That hadn't—he hadn't meant—oh, but it had felt so fucking good.

His come is sliding down his stomach towards the sheets, he can feel it, until Lan Zhan catches it with his finger and Wei Wuxian's eyes flutter open just in time to see him lick his fingers clean.

Oh, fuck.

"You know," Wei Wuxian observes in a hoarse voice, "it would be a lot easier to hold back if you weren't all…" He waves a hand around. "You know. Like that."

Lan Zhan frowns. "Like...what?" He sounds genuinely confused.

Wei Wuxian bites his lip. "Never mind, never mind." He takes a deep breath. "Sorry. Sorry I blew too early."

"It's all right, Wei Ying. It was your first time trying."

"Yeah," he says, a bit miserably. "I bet you'll last for, like, half an hour."

Lan Zhan doesn't. Wei Wuxian watches his face as he jacks him off, going as slowly as Lan Zhan had with him, and he doesn't see it coming when Lan Zhan tenses, gasps, and comes all over his belly and chest, turning his flaming face away from Wei Wuxian. Oh. Oh, why is that...why is that so hot, actually?

"Lan Zhan…"

"Forgive me," Lan Zhan grinds out, still turned away from Wei Wuxian. "I couldn't…"

Wei Wuxian grins and runs a hand through the mess on Lan Zhan's belly. "I'll take it as a compliment," he says, sounding half as smug as he feels. "It was kind of hot, actually." Lan Zhan losing control like that. Wei Wuxian tucks the image away to be pulled out at a later time for his own private enjoyment.

Lan Zhan makes a derisive sort of noise, and Wei Wuxian wipes his hand on his own hip before tilting Lan Zhan's face towards his own with a finger to the chin. "Hey, Lan Zhan. This was your first time trying, too."

Lan Zhan seems to color. He swallows, shuts his eyes, and says, "It wasn't."

"What? What do you mean?"

Lan Zhan huffs out a breath. "It wasn't my first time trying. I've tried...before." Wei Wuxian is about to demand with whom, when Lan Zhan says, "On my own. Just to see."

Oh. Oh, fuck. Oh, that's even hotter. Lan Zhan never talks about touching himself. Wei Wuxian hadn't even been sure that he does it. But not only does he do it, he experiments. Wei Wuxian clears his throat and says, "Yeah? How, uh. How did that go?"

Lan Zhan's response is clipped. "Better than this." Oh, he's so annoyed with himself, it's adorable. Wei Wuxian hides his grin against Lan Zhan's shoulder, but he must not be successful, because Lan Zhan huffs out another annoyed breath and says, "It's important, Wei Ying. We clearly both need the practice."

Wei Wuxian lifts his face and attempts to school his features into a more serious expression. "Yes, Lan-laoshi. We will be diligent students in the art of love."

"Be serious, Wei Ying."

Wei Wuxian cracks up. "I'm trying! I promise, I'm trying. It's just that you're so—" But he never gets to finish the thought, because suddenly, Lan Zhan is rolling him over and shutting him up with a kiss. Wei Wuxian moans into it and spreads his legs and allows Lan Zhan in between. They smear one another's come between their stomachs, and it should be gross, but it's sort of hot, instead, and soon enough Wei Wuxian is hard again, rutting desperately against Lan Zhan's hip.

He doesn't last this time, either. Neither does Lan Zhan.

*

"All right, all right," he says the following week. "We can do this. I've been practicing."

Lan Zhan flushes, but his gaze is unwavering on Wei Wuxian's. "Have you."

"Yep. And I'm getting better." He is. It's a little weird, because sharing a room with his brother usually means that any jerking off must be done quickly and efficiently. To deliberately slow himself down and try to last is to court exposure, but luckily for him, Jiang Cheng sleeps like the dead. Thus, he's getting better.

Lan Zhan nods, then stands up. "I have been practicing also. I believe it is...easier. Alone."

Wei Wuxian concedes the point.

This time, they decide to up the stakes. Lan Zhan lays him out and slides down his body until his shoulders are between Wei Wuxian's thighs and Lan Zhan is eyeing his dick with a look that gets Wei Wuxian hard in a fucking instant. It's scary how quickly that turns him on. How much Lan Zhan turns him on.

"Ready, Wei Ying?" Lan Zhan asks in a low voice, and Wei Wuxian grabs the sheets in his fists and gives a jerky nod.

"Yeah. Yeah, I'm ready." He isn't. He can still count on one hand the number of times Lan Zhan has blown him, and it's gotten better with each time. He has no idea how he will last through yet another magnificent sucking off, but dammit, he's going to try.

Lan Zhan gives him a quick look from under his eyelashes, then lowers his gaze to his goal and takes Wei Wuxian in his mouth.

He's slow about it, as though adjusting. He plays with the tip first, holding the base in one hand and licking all around. He wiggles his tongue along the slit, then engulfs the head and gives it a few good sucks. Wei Wuxian makes an aborted noise in the back of his throat and his eyes slide closed.

Okay. All right. So far, so good. There's no rhythm yet, no real momentum, so it's fine. He's fine. Except he is so turned on. Fuck. Lan Zhan is just lavishing him with his not insignificant attention, as though Wei Wuxian were the only thing in the whole entire world. It's heady, this sort of focus. It makes his balls draw up and heart speed up. He swallows against his dry throat and unclenches one hand in favor of sliding it through Lan Zhan's hair. Lan Zhan makes a noise at that, and Wei Wuxian doesn't think it's displeased, so he continues, cradling Lan Zhan's head gently as he sucks him off.

Lan Zhan gets serious pretty quickly. He begins to build up a rhythm, cheeks hollowing, working him tight and wet. Fuck. He's so good at this, focused, unrelenting. Wei Wuxian watches as his dick sort of bulges out Lan Zhan's cheek every now and then, and then can't watch anymore, because it's too fucking much. That's when his dick hits the back of Lan Zhan's throat.

He makes a desperate noise, and tries to move his hips only to be stopped by the clamping of Lan Zhan's hand on his belly. Lan Zhan pulls off and Wei Wuxian watches, helpless, as a string spit connects Lan Zhan's wet mouth to his wet dick. They're the same color. He's going to die.

"Focus, Wei Ying. Focus on holding back."

"Fuck. Fine. Yes," he manages. "Please, Lan Zhan, come back."

Lan Zhan's face is intent, his gaze serious. "Are you going to work on holding back?"

"Yes. Yes! Fuck, just—just—put your mouth back on my dick, please."

Lan Zhan finally obeys, sliding all the way down without preamble. Oh, fuck, fuck, fuck.

Once again, Wei Wuxian is picturing lectures with Lan Qiren striding around, pictures bunnies, pictures his brother's scowling face, anything, anything to stave off the tide that's threatening to pull him under. But oh, Lan Zhan is so good at sucking dick. Wei Wuxian bites his lip until the pain gets to be too much, but it helps, it helps a bit. He throws one arm over his face, hoping that not being able to see Lan Zhan will help ease things just a little.

But it doesn't, not really. Lan Zhan is unrelenting, his rhythm perfect. In desperation, Wei Wuxian reaches down and grabs his balls, pulling down. The back of his hand brushes Lan Zhan's neck and he feels the knot at his throat move up and down, which is possibly the sexiest thing that has ever happened to him. Fuck.

"Lan Zhan, ah—"

Lan Zhan pets his hips but doesn't stop. Wei Wuxian doesn't know what that means, but he knows he needs to last more than this. He takes in a steadying breath and attempts to divorce his mind from his body, except his body is impossible to ignore. Lan Zhan is impossible to ignore. He is—he's going to—he's going to—

"Oh, fuck, Lan Zhan—"

Lan Zhan pulls off. Wei Wuxian gasps and lifts his head, knowing that the expression on his face is absolutely betrayed. "Why?!"

"You were about to come," Lan Zhan says in a calm, albeit hoarse, voice. "I need you to pull back."

Wei Wuxian licks his lips. His belly flutters at Lan Zhan's quietly commanding tone, and he goes practically boneless, for all that he is wound up to within an inch of his life. For Lan Zhan, he'll do it. For Lan Zhan, he'll do anything.

He wraps a hand around the base of his dick and squeezes. His breathing is erratic and he attempts to get it back on track. He surveys his body: the racing of his heart, the tingling in his fingers and toes. He thinks about how good it will feel to make Lan Zhan proud.

"A few more minutes and you can come," Lan Zhan says, and Wei Wuxian almost blows right there. "Give me a few more minutes."

"Okay," he gasps out. "A few minutes. I can do a few minutes."

Lan Zhan drops a kiss onto his hip before gently taking Wei Wuxian's hand off his dick and putting it on the crown of his head, instead. "You can do it, Wei Ying," he says quietly, and goes down.

A few minutes is a lifetime when all he wants is release, but he manages it, because Lan Zhan had asked. He actually makes it a few more minutes before Lan Zhan is pulling off, saying, "You can come now, Wei Ying," and then swallowing him back down. It doesn't take more than another two strokes. Wei Wuxian shakes apart beneath him, coming down Lan Zhan's fluttering throat. He feels like he's coming forever, which is crazy, and he comes more than he's ever come in his life. Lan Zhan pulls off, coughing, then jerks him through the rest of it. Wei Wuxian thinks he might be dying, just a little bit.

It takes him a while to catch his breath.

Lan Zhan lies down next to him as he comes to, head propped up on one hand, and draws idle patterns on Wei Wuxian's skin with a finger. "You did so well, Wei Ying," he says in that low, hoarse voice. He sounds...rough. Used. He sounds like he just sucked a guy off for a while.

Wei Wuxian feels a satisfied smile stretching his lips. "Thank you," he says primly. "I tried."

"You did well," Lan Zhan repeats, and then tips Wei Wuxian's head towards himself for a kiss. He tastes like Wei Wuxian's come. It's not necessarily a bad taste. And it's a very good kiss. It's lazy and sloppy, and it makes Wei Wuxian's gut churn.

He rolls onto his side for better access, then rolls further on top of Lan Zhan, who lets him. He pulls back, but doesn't go far. "What do you want?" he asks. "How do you want to try doing this?"

Lan Zhan fits a finger in the dip between Wei Wuxian's lips and chin, looking unfocused. "Whatever Wei Ying feels is appropriate."

Wei Wuxian grins. "Giving me the power, huh?" Looking serious, Lan Zhan nods. Wei Wuxian's grin slowly slides off his face. "Okay, Lan Zhan," he says quietly, then begins to slide down.

As he sucks Lan Zhan off, Lan Zhan has his head in a vise grip, fingers squeezing his hair nearly to the point of pain. Wei Wuxian could get hard again, just from that. From Lan Zhan's taste on his tongue, the feel of his cock stretching his lips to the limit. He makes it good for him, tries to make it difficult to hold back. Lan Zhan is trembling, entirely quiet beneath him, mouth open, eyes shut. He's so fucking beautiful.

Wei Wuxian feels it when Lan Zhan is about to come and turnabout is fair play—he pulls off immediately and retreats. Not a single part of him is touching Lan Zhan's cock. Lan Zhan whines. "Wei Ying…"

"Hold off," Wei Wuxian parrots, not unkindly. "You can do it, Lan Zhan. I could feel it."

"I know." He sounds desperate. Wrecked. His fingers are still clamped tight around the back of Wei Wuxian's head, and if he wanted to, he could easily pull Wei Wuxian back towards his cock. But he doesn't. Instead, Wei Wuxian watches as Lan Zhan struggles to wrest back some control. It's viciously sexy. He evens out his breathing, relaxes his hold. He says, "Okay. Okay, Wei Ying. You can...you can come back now." His dick twitches against his belly. It's so dark, so hard. Wei Wuxian desperately wants it back in his mouth, so he goes back down.

Lan Zhan lasts. He lasts enough that Wei Wuxian's lips and tongue and jaw begin to ache. He leaks into his mouth and he pumps his hips, but he doesn't come until Wei Wuxian, desperate himself, pulls off and tells him to. Lan Zhan comes the next moment—all over Wei Wuxian's face. It's hot and somehow hilarious and Wei Wuxian, his body spent, begins to laugh. It's breathless and stupid and Lan Zhan looks almost hurt at first, but Wei Wuxian just can't help himself. He laughs himself hoarse as he collapses onto Lan Zhan's hip without bothering to wipe any of it off his face, and finally he feels it—the rumble of Lan Zhan's answering laughter against his cheek.

It's the best shared laughter of his life.

*

It's two months until Wei Wuxian's wedding, and Wei Wuxian is in trouble.

He doesn't want to let Lan Zhan go. He knows he will have to. He knows that they need to stop doing what they're doing, understands that they've gone beyond just practicing. He wonders if Lan Zhan knows. He wonders what Lan Zhan thinks.

He wonders when Lan Zhan's wedding has been set for.

He wonders many things.

One night, he lingers after coming. Ordinarily, they have a routine: kissing, sex, orgasms, clothes back on, good night, Lan Zhan. But that particular night, Wei Wuxian doesn't feel like getting up. Lan Zhan cleans them both off, then settles back next to him on the bed, and when Wei Wuxian stubbornly doesn't show any sign of wanting to get up, Lan Zhan stretches out, props his head up on his hand, and says, "Wei Ying. What is on your mind?"

Wei Wuxian almost tells him, I hate that we have to end this, but stops himself in time. Instead, he runs a hand down Lan Zhan's skin, from the base of his throat to below his navel where his soft dick is nestled in dark hair, and asks, "Lan Zhan, what happened to your parents?"

They've talked about Wei Wuxian's parents. Or, rather, Wei Wuxian had talked, and Lan Zhan had listened. But he had been too shy to ask Lan Zhan to reciprocate. Now he's burning with curiosity, and hoping Lan Zhan doesn't kick him out of bed for it.

Lan Zhan stiffens momentarily, but then takes Wei Wuxian's hand—the one he had been touching him with—and threads their fingers together, squeezing. "My mother died of an illness. My father...had a difficult time reconciling himself to her death."

Wei Wuxian bites his lip. "Did they love each other very much?"

Lan Zhan's head-shake surprises him.

"Really? But he sounds like he was heartbroken."

Lan Zhan gives an almost imperceptible sigh. "He felt a lot of guilt when it came to my mother. But they did not love one another." Wei Wuxian doesn't say anything, in case Lan Zhan wants to elaborate. And a few moments later he does, staring somewhere beyond Wei Wuxian's shoulder. "I remember my mother well," he says slowly. "She lived here, in this house."

"Your parents didn't live together?"

Lan Zhan shakes his head slowly. "No. My father had another dwelling. That is where my brother now lives."

"Oh."

Lan Zhan looks down at their linked hands, rubbing their knuckles against his own hip. "My parents' match wasn't successful. My father had a tremendous sense of duty, I believe. But they never fell in love."

Wei Wuxian knows that many arranged marriages can be quite successful. That, with time, a real love can grow between two people where none had existed before. Even Uncle Jiang and Madam Yu seem to truly love one another, although it is rarely obvious. Surely there has to be passion there, for Madam Yu to simmer so much just beneath the surface. But to not love your spouse at all...it's the fate that Wei Wuxian fears the most.

"In fact," Lan Zhan continues, "my mother hated my father. She never said so, but my father knew, and would often...rebuke her for it."

Wei Wuxian can't believe Lan Zhan is actually telling him this. He's afraid to breathe for fear of scaring him away. All he can do is nod his head in encouragement.

"I was fairly young when my mother passed away. For a long time, we were not told that she had died. Or," he corrects, "I was not told that she had died. My brother was old enough to know."

"Lan Zhan…"

"I sat outside the Jingshi for a long time, waiting for her to open the door."

Wei Wuxian lost both his parents in a night hunt gone terribly wrong, and his story is less tragic than this. His chest constricts. Lan Zhan.

"How old were you?"

"I was five."

Wei Wuxian had been five when his parents had died. The symmetry of it squeezes at his gut. "And your father?"

"He succumbed to his grief a year later."

What a way to put it. He must have loved her after all, Wei Wuxian thinks, but doesn't dare voice the thought out loud. Perhaps it's easier for Lan Zhan to believe that neither of them loved one another than that one did and the other felt the opposite. Which would be worse? He doesn't know.

"So your uncle raised you after that?"

"Mn. He took over our care after my mother passed. Before, even, when my parents had been...indisposed."

Wei Wuxian is afraid to ask what that means. But Lan Zhan doesn't elaborate.

So, instead, Wei Wuxian asks, "What was she like, your mother?"

Lan Zhan bites his lip, eyes growing unfocused once more. "She was very beautiful. She was kind to me. To us. She taught me calligraphy and reading, she helped me memorize the rules. Her favorite tea was jasmine. She liked sandalwood."

Wei Wuxian waits, but Lan Zhan doesn't add anything else. He wonders if Lan Zhan likes sandalwood, too, or if it's like a constant reminder of his mother, as though he were trying to keep her spirit alive in the Jingshi.

Then Wei Wuxian has a disconcerting thought about whether they are currently lying on her bed, and discards it quickly. Best not to think about it.

"I'm sorry, Lan Zhan."

Lan Zhan squeezes his hand and then carefully extricates his own. "It was a long time ago."

Twelve years. "Yeah, but it still matters. I mean...my parents' deaths still matter to me, even if they don't matter to anyone else."

Lan Zhan frowns and meets his gaze. "They matter to me too."

Wei Wuxian's throat closes up and he doesn't ask why.

He leaves soon after, and sleep eludes him that night. He tosses and turns, picturing a five-year old Lan Zhan, a little boy with perfect posture and a completely straight forehead ribbon, learning at his mother's knee about Lan Sect rules and precepts. He thinks his heart might burst with everything that makes him feel, and he doesn't understand why, why it matters so much. Why Lan Zhan telling him about his parents matters so much. Why Lan Zhan trusting him matters so much. But it does, it does, it does.

In two months, they will become just friends again. Will they ever have a conversation like this one ever again?

No. Impossible. It was the sort of conversation you could only ever have behind a curtain, while lying naked next to one another, faces shaded, hidden from view. The sort of conversation lovers have. Not friends.

Lovers. He tests the word out in his mind. Is that what they are now? It's certainly what the books Wei Wuxian has read would tell him. Would call them. They are friends, and they do friend things, like visiting Lan Zhan's rabbits, and studying together in the library. But they also kiss and touch each other in ways no friends ever should. They know each other so intimately now. Wei Wuxian has never known anybody the way he knows Lan Zhan, and he's only just beginning to scratch the surface. When he'd first seen Lan Zhan, he had been awed, even if he’d also been annoyed at his stuffiness and insistence that rules meant everything. But he would never in a million years have imagined that one day, he would be lying in Lan Zhan’s bed, entirely exposed, talking about their painful pasts.

He hides his face in his pillow and squeezes it with both hands. They have to stop before it's too late, don't they. It would be sensible to stop, it would be the right thing to do. They got what they wanted from the arrangement—they got experience. They've learned how to kiss, how to touch, how to wring pleasure from another person. How to enjoy another person. There's no need to continue.

The thought of stopping makes his breath come short, though. It makes his heart beat painfully in the cage of his ribs, as though someone were pounding on it with a hammer. He has never been any good at giving up things that he wanted, and he doesn't know if he can start now.

Eventually, he will have no choice. Surely, then. Surely he is allowed another two months of Lan Zhan. Surely, two months will be enough.

It's going to have to be.

*

They're kissing and kissing. They had meant to start off with blowjobs—because what better way to practice lasting through than an act that drives you absolutely crazy—but they just. Can't stop kissing. Lan Zhan has rolled them over and situated himself between Wei Wuxian's thighs, which is such a good place for him, Wei Wuxian thinks. It's the perfect place for him.

 

Wei Wuxian bumps his hips against Lan Zhan's, then starts to rut against him. Lan Zhan moans into his mouth, and moves in answer. It's so hot, fuck, it's so good. Without thinking, Wei Wuxian wraps his legs around Lan Zhan's hips—it gets them even closer, and they're still kissing, unable to stop. At least, Wei Wuxian is unable to, can't stop, Lan Zhan tastes and feels so fucking good, and they only have so much time left. But no, he won't think about that, he won't—

Suddenly Lan Zhan's hips slip and his dick is nudging behind Wei Wuxian's balls. They break off the kiss and Lan Zhan pulls back enough to look Wei Wuxian in the eye. His gaze is unfocused, eyes glazed over, and before he can think about it, Wei Wuxian bumps his hips, feeling the head of Lan Zhan's dick slide sort of close to his hole. Oh, fuck, that feels...that feels really good. He realizes he's breathing loudly, heavy between them. Lan Zhan is frozen.

"Lan Zhan…"

"Wei Ying, we can't." But Lan Zhan isn't moving away. "We—we shouldn't—"

Wei Wuxian's thoughts are all in a jumble, but the one thought that he can grab hold of is, why not? "But shouldn't we...like...know what we're doing?” he tries. “What if—"

"No." This time, Lan Zhan sort of shakes his head and gently, carefully, moves his hips so his dick is no longer resting against Wei Wuxian's ass. Wei Wuxian bites his lip, but doesn't say anything. "Wei Ying, this is...we can't."

"You don't want to?" he whispers.

Lan Zhan shuts his eyes, eyebrows furrowing. He looks like he's in physical pain. "I do," he chokes out, then opens his eyes. "I do want to. So much, Wei Ying."

Wei Wuxian's heart is thumping hard in his chest. His stomach is in knots. "Then—"

"It's the last thing we're saving for...for our spouses," Lan Zhan says quietly. "Shouldn't we...save something?"

Wei Wuxian has never resented anybody as much as he's resenting a faceless figure at this moment. He bites his lip. When Lan Zhan gets like this, there's no arguing with him. It's about as useful as trying to convince a brick wall. "Yeah. You're right."

Lan Zhan leans in and kisses him. "I'm sorry," he breathes against his lips. "Let me...make it up to you."

Wei Wuxian nods shakily, unable to look him in the eye.

Lan Zhan slides down his body, pins down his hips, and takes him in his mouth.

*

"Wei Wuxian, you are being summoned to Grandmaster Lan's office."

Wei Wuxian stares at the Lan disciple uncomprehendingly. "Wait. Why?"

"I am not privy to that information," the disciple says, sniffs, and turns on his heel.

Wei Wuxian has no choice but to trudge to Lan Qiren's office, wondering just what the hell is going on. A horrible thought occurs to him and he nearly stops in his tracks. Could Lan Qiren have somehow found out about them, after all? Had—had Lan Zhan been feeling so much guilt over it that maybe he's cracked and told his uncle? What is going on?

Wei Wuxian's steps slow to a crawl just before the pavilion. He might have stood there indefinitely if not for Lan Qiren walking out, seeing him, and jerking his head towards the entrance. He doesn't look like he's just found out Wei Wuxian has been defiling his upstanding, perfectly moral nephew, but he does look like he's swallowed a whole lemon, and that can't bode well, either.

Wei Wuxian trails him inside, then continues to stand as Lan Qiren sits down at his desk and puts his hands on its surface. He doesn't invite Wei Wuxian to sit.

"Wei Wuxian," he begins, which is an inauspicious beginning. "The exact date of your wedding has been set. Sect Leader Jiang has summoned you back to Lotus Pier. You are to leave tomorrow morning."

Wei Wuxian's thoughts spin to a halt. "But I—"

"You will spend the next month preparing for your marriage, and you will be married in four weeks' time. That is Sect Leader Jiang's wish."

When they had come for shijie, she had been whisked away and married almost immediately. Why does he—why does he have to leave a whole month early, just to—

Lan Zhan. Oh gods, Lan Zhan. He thought they would have a whole other month, but if he's leaving tomorrow—

"That is all," Lan Qiren says, not looking at him. "You are dismissed."

Automatically, Wei Wuxian gives a bow, turns around, and walks out. He expects, for some reason, for the sun to have set, feeling as though he has lived a whole lifetime in the last two minutes, but the sun is still high in the sky, and he is expected to pack his things. Just like that.

He has to find Lan Zhan. He has to tell him, has to—say goodbye. He goes in search of him, but no matter where he looks—the library, the clearing with the bunnies—he cannot find him. When he decides to stop by the Jingshi, it's locked up tight, and nobody answers his call. For a wild moment, he wonders if this is how Lan Zhan had felt, sitting there in front of his mother's house, waiting for her to come out.

He gives up and trudges towards his rooms. He should tell Jiang Cheng. He should find and tell Nie Huaisang. And he will. He will do it, right after he packs.

Jiang Cheng is in their quarters, studiously practicing calligraphy, tongue peeking out between his teeth, when Wei Wuxian returns. He looks up and frowns. "What's wrong with you?" he demands.

Wei Wuxian's throat constricts and he has to clear it before he can say, "I'm being sent back to Lotus Pier tomorrow. To prepare for my—my marriage."

"What?" Jiang Cheng begins to rise. "What does that mean, prepare? Why can't you spend the time here? When a-jie—"

"I don't know, Jiang Cheng," Wei Wuxian snaps, then feels bad. He tries again. "All I know is that Sect Leader Jiang wants me to return to Lotus Pier tomorrow, and that I'll be married in four weeks."

Jiang Cheng mouths four weeks as though not believing it, which is rich of him. They've all known that it would be about a month from now. They had just thought...they had thought they would have more time. "You wouldn't happen to know where Nie-xiong is, would you?" What he really wants to ask is, you haven't seen Lan Zhan, have you? but he can't make himself say it. Jiang Cheng would somehow know. He would know.

Jiang Cheng shakes his head, still looking a bit stunned. "No, sorry. I—what will you do now?"

Wei Wuxian slumps against a post. "Pack."

And so he does. He shoves all the belongings he's accumulated since coming to Cloud Recesses in his qiankun pouch, leaving a set of his own robes and his sword for traveling tomorrow. Everything else gets packed away, until his side of the room looks entirely devoid of stuff, which just looks...all wrong. It looks so wrong. He turns away from it towards Jiang Cheng's side, whose stuff is still exploded all over.

"So," he says.

Jiang Cheng stares at him with wide eyes. "You're leaving."

"Yeah."

They don't say anything for a while, and then Jiang Cheng says, "Wanna go fuck around in the stream?"

"Hell yes, let's go."

They end up running into Nie Huaisang on the way there and pull him along. The entire time, Wei Wuxian is scanning the crowds, looking for Lan Zhan, but he is nowhere to be found.

"I can't believe you're getting married," Nie Huaisang says for the tenth time, after they've exhausted themselves splashing in the stream and yelling. He's leaned back on his hands, looking at Wei Wuxian assessingly. "I mean, we knew this, but wow. It's, like. Real now. Really real."

Wei Wuxian scowls and tosses a pebble into the water, where it sinks below the surface without so much as a single skip. He tries again with a new one. "Yeah. It's really real now."

"What does preparing for marriage even entail? Shijie didn't have to go through that," Jiang Cheng says, sounding deep in thought.

"Maybe they'll talk to you about sex or something," Nie Hauisang says, then snickers at whatever he finds on Wei Wuxian's face. "What, it's true! It's part of it, my brother told me."

"I don't want Madam Yu talking to me about sex," Wei Wuxian mutters, cringing. "Or Uncle Jiang."

"I think they bring in someone for it. It's, like, that person's job to prepare you for what lies ahead." Nie Huaisang intones the last part.

"Well, I don't want that, either." Nobody can teach him what he has already learned, anyway. Not a single person in the world can explain sex better to him than Lan Zhan has shown him, week after week. With his touch and his words and his...his everything. Wei Wuxian knows what sex is like. He knows what he's losing.

It isn't until Jiang Cheng falls asleep that night that he sneaks out. Cloud Recesses at night is quiet, dark. He has to light his own way, but not so brightly as to alert anyone. And anyway, he knows the way well enough, has traversed the path between their homes so many times after the sun has gone down. He practically knows the number of steps it takes.

He hesitates on the stairs of the Jingshi. Lan Zhan must be asleep, and he'd be waking him up...but if not now, he'll never have another chance. Lan Zhan deserves to know, at least. And they deserve to say goodbye.

Wei Wuxian swallows past the lump in his throat that hasn't left him since his meeting with Lan Qiren, and quietly walks up to the window above Lan Zhan's bed. He lays a hand on the wall, then rests his forehead against it until he can breathe right, and gives a quiet knock. "Lan Zhan," he whispers. "Lan Zhan, it's me."

Nothing.

He tries again. Another knock, another whispered, "Lan Zhan."

Shit. Shit, he can't leave here without talking to him, he just can't. And he won't. A terrible thought occurs to him: what if Lan Zhan isn't there at all? What if the reason he hasn't been able to find him all day is that he's away from Cloud Recesses altogether? But then, wouldn't he have told Wei Wuxian?

Why should he tell you? It's an insidious thought. Why, indeed. There is no good reason.

He tries again. Another knock, louder this time, another call of his name. He rests his forehead against the cool wall and waits.

Nothing.

He has to go. Has to leave. He should leave, should go back to sleep and say goodbye to Lan Zhan in the morning, if he's even in Cloud Recesses. Wei Wuxian gives another feeble knock, but he is already turning away, trudging down the steps towards the white stone path that leads out of the gate. He is about to take the last step down when the doors of the Jingshi whisper open and Lan Zhan calls out, "Wei Ying?"

Wei Wuxian turns abruptly. Lan Zhan is standing in the doorway, his white robes nearly glowing in the dark. "Lan Zhan…"

"Wei Ying, what's wrong?"

Wei Wuxian takes a deep breath and walks up the three steps it takes to get to him. "I came...I came to say goodbye."

It takes Lan Zhan a while to respond. "What?"

"I'm leaving, Lan Zhan. I've been summoned back to Lotus Pier to...to prepare for my wedding. I'm going in the morning."

It's nearly impossible to see Lan Zhan's expression in the dark. For a long moment, they're both silent. Then Lan Zhan extends his hand and Wei Wuxian takes it and Lan Zhan is walking backwards, Wei Wuxian following him into the Jingshi. By habit, he slides the doors closed, and then Lan Zhan reels him in.

They're kissing. He can't quite tell who starts it, but Lan Zhan is pressing Wei Wuxian to himself, sliding his tongue against Wei Wuxian's, and Wei Wuxian makes a desperate noise before stumbling them backwards towards the bed.

"Wei Ying—"

"One last time, Lan Zhan, just—one more time…"

Lan Zhan makes an aborted sort of sound and then they're kissing again, Wei Wuxian untying the flimsy tie of Lan Zhan's thin robe and revealing his chest and his light white trousers, already tented. Lan Zhan is tugging on his belt, hands rough and impatient. They've never undressed one another before, and it's awkward, it's difficult to do, but they manage it, Lan Zhan throwing Wei Wuxian's robes to the ground, then all but ripping his trousers off of him. Wei Wuxian steps out of his boots, leaving himself naked. Lan Zhan sinks to his knees and it's all Wei Wuxian can do to stay upright as Lan Zhan grabs him by the hips and presses his forehead against his stomach. His breathing is hot and erratic and he's not doing anything, he's just...kneeling there, in front of Wei Wuxian, hands clutching him hard enough to bruise.

Wei Wuxian feels like sobbing. He feels like screaming.

He wraps his arms around Lan Zhan and leans down until he can press his lips against the crown of his head. He realizes belatedly that Lan Zhan isn't wearing his forehead ribbon. He is utterly and completely bare.

He doesn't know how long they stand there like this, but eventually Lan Zhan moves—to kiss his belly, run his hot, open mouth over Wei Wuxian's hips, lean up and catch a nipple in his mouth.

"Lan Zhan…"

Lan Zhan shakes his head as though coming out of a dream and then he's rising to his feet and grabbing Wei Wuxian's hand. "One more time, Wei Ying."

Wei Wuxian follows, stumbling along; Lan Zhan parts the curtain and drags them both behind it. Wei Wuxian hits the pillow and then Lan Zhan is on him, kissing him hard and deep. They wrap their arms around one another, and Lan Zhan settles in between Wei Wuxian's legs, and they're rutting. There's no finesse, no technique, there's nothing but the two of them desperately clutching at one another, unable even to kiss, as their cocks slide again and again against each other.

Wei Wuxian can't breathe. Lan Zhan is everywhere: his face pressed up against Wei Wuxian's neck, his hands clutching Wei Wuxian's over their heads, his body one big, hot wave against him, pressing him into the sheets.

One more time, one last time.

Wei Wuxian lets out a desperate "Kiss me," and Lan Zhan is there the next moment, stealing his breath. Wei Wuxian doesn't know how he ended up with his legs wrapped Lan Zhan's waist, but it feels good, it feels right like this, it feels as though Lan Zhan is meant to fit in there, meant to be held like this.

Lan Zhan groans and breaks off their kiss, starting to move faster, snapping his hips harder. Wei Wuxian is burning up, and he's getting close, so close—but he doesn't want to. Hates that it's happening. The sooner he comes, the sooner it will be over, and he never wants it to end, never wants Lan Zhan to leave the cocoon of his body. Wei Wuxian knows he'll be so cold when he does.

But it's inevitable, and it happens sooner than he expects. Lan Zhan is first, seizing up above him, one long groan escaping his mouth, and then Wei Wuxian feels wet warmth between their bellies. He follows soon after, unable to stop the tide from coming. He trembles through it, turning his head away in case Lan Zhan can see tears in the dark.

As they settle down and Lan Zhan carefully holds himself above him, Wei Wuxian attempts to surreptitiously wipe his face on the pillow. He swallows, throat feeling thick. Neither one of them says anything.

And then Lan Zhan gently takes hold of Wei Wuxian's thigh and settles his leg back onto the bed, allowing himself to slide off. Wei Wuxian waits until Lan Zhan is settled on his side, then turns to him, grabs one of his hands, and says, "Let's run away."

"Wei Ying—"

"Please, Lan Zhan, let's—let's do it. They wouldn't—we could hide out in some town somewhere far away from here, maybe going from place to place. We could—"

"Wei Ying…"

"My parents did it. My parents ran away, because they—and I—"

"Wei Ying—"

"Lan Zhan, I love you."

Oh, fuck. He hadn't meant to say that. He should not have said it. He hadn't even known that's what this is, until it escapes his mouth and hangs between them like a dark fog.

He tries it out again, his heart beating rabbit-quick. "I love you, Lan Zhan. I don't want to marry anybody else."

Lan Zhan is silent for a long time. Wei Wuxian can barely breathe as he waits. Say something. Anything. The silence becomes oppressive, crawling all over his exposed skin, burning him from the inside out.

Finally, "Wei Ying." His voice is hoarse, sounding so unlike Lan Zhan. "Wei Ying, I…"

Wei Wuxian squeezes Lan Zhan's hand with his own. "I don't want to marry anybody else," he repeats.

And then, so very gently, Lan Zhan extricates his hand. "We can't, Wei Ying."

Everything stops. He can no longer hear cicadas out of the window, can barely tell he's breathing. His skin goes cold, especially his hands. His throat closes up.

"Wei Ying, we...we have a duty." Lan Zhan sounds hollow, empty. Horrible. "I have a duty to my family."

Wei Wuxian swallows and turns away. Of course. It makes sense. It had been practice for Lan Zhan, after all. "I see," he manages.

"As do you."

He's gentle. Fuck, he's so gentle, and quiet, and Wei Wuxian loves and hates him at the same time. He has never loved and hated anyone at the same time, it makes his head spin.

"I don't care," he says stubbornly. "I don't…" But what is he fighting for, if Lan Zhan doesn't feel the same way? Which he obviously doesn't. It's so clear now, all of it, and all Wei Wuxian can do is attempt to walk away with some dignity intact. "No, it's fine," he says dully. "Of course. I understand."

"Wei Ying—"

"Don't, Lan Zhan. I get it." He moves as carefully as he can without touching Lan Zhan, sliding off the bed and parting the curtain. "I'll probably see you at the wedding."

"My wedding date has been set, too."

Wei Wuxian freezes. He doesn't want to turn around, but he waits.

There's a rustle as Lan Zhan sits up. He's breathing loud and harsh behind him. "I found out yesterday. It's happening, Wei Ying. I—I cannot stop it."

In all this time, Wei Wuxian had been picturing himself married to some faceless person. How had he managed to forget that Lan Zhan will be married also? That Lan Zhan will spend the rest of his life with somebody else. Sleep in the same bed as somebody else. Maybe even love somebody else, if he's lucky.

He swallows, and it sounds too loud to his own ears. "I understand," he manages.

And then a warm touch to his back. He flinches. "Do you?"

Wei Wuxian gives a hollow laugh. "Yeah, Lan Zhan. I get it. Believe me, I do."

He shakes Lan Zhan off and goes to retrieve his clothes. He's still sticky with come, but it'll dry and he can't be bothered right now. Their clothes are a white mess on the floor, and he hates how long it takes for him to find his own trousers and robes. He slides on his boots last. Lan Zhan is silent the entire time.

Finally, as Wei Wuxian straightens up, Lan Zhan gets up and walks over to him. He's still completely naked, and it's though he doesn't even care. "Wei Ying, please. Come here."

Despite himself, Wei Wuxian takes the two steps towards him. He doesn't say anything.

Lan Zhan takes his hand gently and just as gently brings it to his lips. Wei Wuxian squeezes his eyes shut against the sight. The kiss is warm, lingering. Lan Zhan brings Wei Wuxian's hand to his cheek and presses—it's so, so hot. Wei Wuxian feels like sobbing again.

"Goodbye, Wei Ying." One last squeeze to his hand and then he's released. His arm flops uselessly by his side.

"Goodbye, Lan Zhan."

Then he's turning around, sliding the Jingshi doors open, and escaping out into the night.

Chapter Text

Lotus Pier is just as he'd left it, only quieter. Disciples still practice out in the courtyard, and people still bustle around, but there's no Jiang Cheng, and there's no shijie. All there is is Wei Wuxian, his room, and alcohol.

He knocks about the place for the first few days, attempting to tell himself he's getting reacquainted, but really, he just has nothing better to do. Uncle Jiang calls him in one day and gives him an actual book on what to expect from marriage. He's not really looking at Wei Wuxian as he does it, then tells him that this book is in lieu of comportment lessons, which he believes to be unnecessary. "It is an outdated tradition," he says. "I believe young people are very knowledgeable these days." Then he coughs. Wei Wuxian squirms and sweats. Uncle Jiang doesn't look like he knows just how knowledgeable Wei Wuxian is, but...no. Surely not. Surely he would have already been punished, if they knew.

Wei Wuxian thanks him and doesn't look at the book again.

He goes into town and gets gloriously drunk at an inn, stumbling home after dark and throwing himself onto his bed without bothering to take his clothes off.

That's how a servant finds him the next morning. "Wei-gongzi?" she says carefully.

"Mrrhh?" He lifts his head, then wipes the drool gathered in between his mouth and the pillow. "Whatisit?"

"You're wanted by Sect Leader Jiang and Madam Yu, Wei-gongzi. They're in the greeting hall."

Wei Wuxian collapses back down.

It doesn't take him too long to get presentable, which is a miracle. He's starving, but there's not much he can do about that. He's also got a headache, and there's not much he can do about that, either, not yet. He'll take all the herbs and food afterwards.

He all but stumbles into the hall, then comes up short. "Shijie?"

His sister is sitting at one of the tables with her useless husband next to her, and when she sees him, she breaks into a smile. "A-Xian!"

Madam Yu makes a derisive noise but doesn't say anything. When Wei Wuxian catches sight of Uncle Jiang, he's smiling an indulgent sort of smile. "Hello, A-Xian. Greet our guests."

"Shijie, what are you doing here?" he asks instead of greeting the peacock. It's only when shijie looks at him with a bit of a rebuke that he sighs, gives a perfunctory bow, and says, "Welcome to Lotus Pier, Jin-gongzi."

He gets a very curt sort of nod in return. Whatever.

"We've come for a visit. And I wanted to talk to my little brother about his impending nuptials."

Ugh, of course. Everybody is hell-bent on talking to him about his impending nuptials. If he never hears the word "nuptials" again, it will be too soon. He sighs. "It's good to see you."

They're able to get away from everybody else and find a spot to sit on one of the smaller docks, feet dangling off the wooden planks. Shijie has even taken her boots off, and is leaning back on her hands, smiling up at the sun.

"I miss home," she says. "I mean...Lotus Pier."

He watches her. She looks—well, he thinks. "Are you happy in Lanling?" he asks carefully. Is he treating you well? If not, I'll kill him right now.

She opens her eyes and turns to him. "I am, A-Xian. I'm very happy." She seems to hesitate. "I admit, I wasn't...certain. Whether I would be."

He pinches his mouth against a retort about how obviously she wasn't sure, she's married to a useless gremlin.

She must see it on his face anyway, because she laughs. "Don't be like that, A-Xian. He is a good man. He is simply...misunderstood."

He gives her an incredulous look. "Shijie," he says as carefully as he can manage. "He's been nothing but haughty and mean since we've known him."

"He is awkward," she admits. "He's shy, A-Xian. Nobody seems to understand this, but he is. He's...different...when he's not among strangers."

"So why did he keep you waiting for two years?" he demands. "Don't tell me it wasn't his doing."

She gives an acknowledging sort of nod. "Yes. Zixuan didn't want to get married. He didn't know who his intended was, and he was very scared."

"Welcome to life," he mutters. "Didn't his parents insist? Didn't yours?"

"They tried," she says. "But Zixuan's parents… You have to understand: he is their world. They gave him an extra two years because they wanted him to get used to the idea. In the end, he agreed to the marriage."

"And now? Is he at least nice to you?"

"He is." Her smile takes on a softness that Wei Wuxian has never seen before. "He's more than nice. We're very happy, A-Xian."

Wei Wuxian blows out a breath. He should be happy for her. And he is. He is. But there's a hollow space between his ribs, an emptiness that whines at her words. "I'm glad," he says, and it comes out wooden. He tries again. "I'm really happy that you're happy, shijie."

"Thank you, A-Xian." Another pause, longer this time. She takes a breath and then says, "There's something I wanted to tell you. I've already told A-Cheng."

Wei Wuxian gets distracted by a bird flying over the water, letting out a familiar sort of caw. "Yeah? What is it?"

"I—I would like your help in figuring out a name."

He turns back to her. "Huh? What name?"

"A name...for the baby."

It takes him a moment to understand exactly what she's saying. Then he's turning bodily towards her, eyes popping. "What?"

She's beaming. "We're expecting a child."

"Shijie!" Oh gods, that means—nope. He is just not going to go there.

She laughs, sounding carefree and light. "So, will you help?"

"Of course! I'm—of course." He thinks about it. "The next generation of Jins is Ru, right?" It comes to him immediately. A beautiful flower for his beautiful shijie. "Rulan," he says.

She cocks her head, watching him. Her voice sounds a bit strange when she says, "Rulan?"

"Yes," he confirms. "Rulan."

She nods. "Very well. Jin Rulan, then."

Wei Wuxian nods back, then settles back down. "Gods, I cannot believe...I'm going to be an uncle?"

"You are," she says with a smile. "You and A-Cheng."

"Uncles." And for the next little while, Wei Wuxian feels some hope for the future. They continue sitting on the dock, bathing their feet in the water, and he smiles for the first time in what feels like forever.

*

He finally cracks open the marriage book a week before the wedding. Every day feels like the worst countdown of his life. The closer the date, the tighter the clench of his stomach. What he's feeling, he knows, is nothing short of dread. When he tries to think of the future, he cannot think past the wedding date. How would it even be possible? He has no idea what the future holds. He has no idea what it will look like. Who he will be sharing it with.

He has received a letter from Lan Zhan, and he has yet to answer it, because he doesn't know how. When he had seen Lan Zhan's writing, his heart threatened to burst out of his chest, but Lan Zhan hadn't said anything about their last conversation. Hand't told him he had any...regrets, brought nothing up about their shared activities. He simply wrote to him about things such as his rabbits, and his studies, and his qin practice. The letter would have been of little consequence, except that it came from Lan Zhan.

Wei Wuxian has tried to answer numerous times, but what can he possibly say? Life here at Lotus Pier is dull, and I never thought I would ever think that. Or, I dream of you sometimes, and in my dreams, you turn away from me. Or, I miss you like a limb, I feel as though I'm bleeding.

He gets drunk, instead. Then he lights a few candles, opens the fucking marriage book, and leafs through it.

Honor and respect. Filial relations. Procreation. Pleasure. Harmony. Blah blah blah, fuck. He shuts it with a snap and throws it to the floor.

Harmony. Sure—if he's lucky, and he’s pretty sure he's never been that lucky. How can you find harmony with a complete stranger? How can you share pleasure when you know nothing about one another? He'll be expected to...be vulnerable. With that person. He'll be expected to consummate his wedding night with a complete and total stranger.

He rolls over onto his side and looks out of the window at the dark water rippling in the moonlight. He'll be expected to leave Lotus Pier, as well, to live somewhere he has never been.

Who is he betrothed to? Who is the faceless stranger his life will be tied to for years to come? Is it a woman? A man? Whoever they are, they will be marrying someone who could never love them. Wei Wuxian pities them, as he pities himself. He's awash in pity, for all of it. For how he and Lan Zhan parted; for not being able to write him back a decent letter; for thinking of him anytime he touches himself; for coming too soon as he does so; for not being able to forget his taste, his feel, his scent.

Wei Wuxian curses and rolls over onto his back, staring at the ceiling. He has to forget it, all of it. He has to move forward, because it is expected of him, and he owes the Jiang sect that much. He will marry a good match, and he will learn to love, or at least like, his new spouse, whoever they might be. Because he has no other choice.

*

The auspicious date for the wedding happens to fall on the day after Wei Wuxian's birthday.

Uncle Jiang gives him a present: it is a Jiang sect serenity bell, and it is beautiful.

"Wherever you end up, A-Xian," he says, "You will always be part of us."

Which makes Wei Wuxian tear up in the most humiliating fashion, which he laughs off as he gladly accepts the gift. "Thank you, Jiang-zongzhu. For everything." He means every word.

Jiang Cheng arrives late in the morning and greets him with a gruff hug that ends in a chokehold, so at least some things haven't changed.

"When is your wedding set for?" Wei Wuxian asks once they're sitting on the docks, people-watching and snacking on lotus seeds. "Nobody tells me anything."

Jiang Cheng says as he chews, "Three months."

Wei Wuxian makes a face at him. "Three months, huh? I wonder when they'll be bringing you home."

"Soon, I imagine." Jiang Cheng looks glum.

Wei Wuxian knocks their shoulders together. "Maybe it won't be so bad," he says, trying to sound encouraging and feeling like an utter hypocrite. "Your parents wouldn't give you an unworthy match."

"Have you met Jin Zixuan?"

Wei Wuxian scowls. "Ugh, good point." Even though he makes their sister happy. He's still a prick. Wei Wuxian will never change his mind on this and nobody can make him. "I can't believe we're going to have a tiny Jin Zixuan on our hands."

"And a-jie, too," Jiang Cheng reminds him. "She'll be a good influence."

"Yeah. Look at us—she influenced us, and we seem to have turned out all right."

Jiang Cheng pushes him into the river.

*

That night, Wei Wuxian sits on a cushion with his eyes closed as shijie brushes his hair. It's tradition. It's nice, he supposes, except for how he knows he will never get to sleep tonight. He has spent the entire day trying not to think about tomorrow. Trying to find the good in all of this. Trying to forget the fact that he will most likely see Lan Zhan, at least get glimpses of him in the crowds. Trying to forget many things.

"A-Xian, what are you thinking about?"

Wei Wuxian opens his mouth. "I'm in love with Lan Zhan."

Her hands stop abruptly. Oh fuck. Oh, fuck, what has he done? He hadn't meant to say that out loud, he hadn't meant to—oh gods, what will happen now?

Is he breathing? Is he hyperventilating? He genuinely can't tell. His head spins. "Shijie—"

"It is all right, A-Xian. I won't tell." Then he feels the air shift as she stands up and walks around, dropping down in front of him. Her face is serious. "Now. Tell me what is going on."

And he does. He tells her as much as he can, without getting into any gory details. He talks about practicing kissing. He talks about the fifth day of the week. He talks about saying goodbye. He doesn’t say that Lan Zhan doesn’t love him. "And now I'll be married to someone else, and what if I can never love them as much as I love him?"

Gently, she takes hold of his face. "My A-Xian. I'm very sorry. It must be so hard." She looks so kind, it's all Wei Wuxian can do not to burst into tears. "You may surprise yourself. You have discovered something about yourself." He snorts. "And you have uncovered an ability to love. Nothing says that, with time, you won't be able to fall in love again. Or at least feel a deep affection. Perhaps...perhaps these feelings will fade with time."

He doesn't want them to. That's the thing: he never wants to stop loving Lan Zhan. Loving Lan Zhan has been one of the best things to ever happen to him. Why would he want to give up this feeling, even if it causes him pain?

His face crumples. "Shijie, what do I do?"

Her brows draw together for a moment before smoothing out. She smiles. "You meet your betrothed tomorrow, and you be brave, and you take your bows. And I will be there. All right?"

Miserably, he nods. "All right. I can do that. I can be brave."

"You are one of the bravest people I have ever known, A-Xian. I know you can do this, and I know you will be happy."

"How do you know that?" he demands. "How can anybody possibly know that?"

She bites her lip and gives him a tiny smile. "I have a feeling."

If only he could believe it.

*

The morning, when it comes, comes too soon. He had been right: he'd tossed and turned for half the night, finally falling asleep just before dawn. He is tired and his stomach hurts and before he is ready, somebody is knocking on his door, demanding entry.

It's Jiang Cheng. "Aren't you out of bed yet? Come on, we have shit to do!" Wei Wuxian groans and something heavy falls on top of him, covering him like a blanket. "Get dressed, shijie and I are going to do your hair."

Traditionally, it is an elder woman who does this—Wei Wuxian knows, he's read all about it. But perhaps Madam Yu had decided to be merciful and given the job to shijie. Thank goodness for that. Neither one of them would have enjoyed the process.

"Get dressed and I'll call her in."

Reluctantly, Wei Wuxian gets up and pulls on his usual robes. His wedding robes, for which he had been fitted almost as soon as he had arrived at Lotus Pier, are hanging on the outside of his wardrobe, almost in mockery. They're beautiful. He hates them.

Once he's decent, shijie comes in. All three of them sit on cushions on the floor and shijie begins the onerous task of taming his hair into a fancy ‘do while Jiang Cheng chatters. "Everything is ready. Your future whoever's procession should be here by mid-day. You're going to meet them in the courtyard. Then the tea, then the bows, then—" He cuts himself off.

Wei Wuxian purses his mouth. Then they will be escorted to the wedding chamber, where a new bed has presumably already been built, and then they will be left alone while everybody else goes on to feast until the wee hours of the morning. Maybe there will be food in the wedding chamber, if they're lucky.

A huge part of him cannot believe that the day is here. That he never wrote Lan Zhan back. That this is absolutely it, and there is no way out now. He's going through with it, and tomorrow, he will wake up a husband next to someone he has only just met.

And then, presumably, they will set off to parts unknown, never to return to Lotus Pier as home again. He'll come for visits, though. It's tradition, after all.

"There," shijie says softly, and holds up a mirror in front of Wei Wuxian. "Take a look."

He does. He looks—he has to admit it. It's a good look. He's got small braids framing the sides of his face, with a beautiful gold ornament clasping his ponytail. His hair is shiny with oil and not a piece of it is out of place. He won't embarrass himself in this department, at least. He's going to look good on his wedding day.

They take breakfast in his room, brought in by a disciple, and Jiang Cheng keeps giving him odd, searching looks.

“What? What is it, Jiang Cheng? You're freaking me out."

Jiang Cheng blushes and shakes his head, scowling. "Nothing. You just look surprisingly all right, that's all. Not your usual mess."

Wei Wuxian punches him in the shoulder.

"Boys, behave."

"Yes, shijie."

"Yes, a-jie."

The rest of the morning is a blur and also seems to drag on forever. Now that it's here, he wants it over with. Madam Yu comes to lecture him about decorum, then Uncle Jiang stops by and wishes him well. He claps him on the shoulder, looks him in the eye, and says, "Your parents would be very proud of you." It's all Wei Wuxian can do not to burst into tears. It's pretty embarrassing. He also wonders about it. Would they be proud? Or would they have wanted more for their son? Would they have wanted him to elope, the way they had?

If only… If only.

But he's here now, and there is no escape.

Jiang Cheng shoos everybody out and then he helps Wei Wuxian into his elaborate wedding robes.

It is a sea of red. Red silks and brocade, with exquisite gold embroidery over the front panels. Layer after layer of the most expensive clothing he has ever worn, and with each layer, he feels heavier and heavier. Finally, the belt is tied and he is ready.

"Wait!" Jiang Cheng bustles over to a drawer. "You forgot this."

The red veil that goes over his head. Of course. His betrothed will wear one, too. It will be the last thing Wei Wuxian sees before he meets his new spouse.

He feels like he's been pretty patient with all of it, but for some reason, this is the thing that makes him snap. "Do I have to? Jiang Cheng, please, I just want to walk out there and—"

"You have to. Mother will kill us both if you don't. It's tradition."

"Ugh. Fine." The veil goes over his head. "Then you'll have to lead me, I can't see anything."

The veil is barely translucent enough to let in light. His world is awash in red as Jiang Cheng tsks and takes him by the elbow. "All right. Ready?"

Wei Wuxian takes a deep breath. There had been a rabbit among Lan Zhan's colony who loved getting chest scritches, and anytime you did it, one of his little feet would thump-thump-thump on the ground so fast, it was a blur. That is how fast his heart is beating. His stomach churns, and he can barely feel his hands. This is it, this is it, this is it.

He swallows, gives a cough, and straightens up. "Okay. All right." Another deep breath. "I'm ready."

Jiang Cheng leads him out.

He knows Lotus Pier like he knows the back of his hand, every twist and turn of it. There isn't a bit of it that he hasn't explored, hasn't touched. And yet as the two of them proceed out into the main courtyard, the way feels longer than it should; twistier. Too many turns, too many steps. It's as though his anticipation has stretched not only time but space, has dilated the very fabric of the place.

By the time Jiang Cheng says, "All right, we're here," Wei Wuxian is sweating under his robes. He squirms to get the worst of the itch off.

Jiang Cheng goes to pull away, but Wei Wuxian reaches out and grabs his hand. "No, stay. Would you—would you—"

"All right. I'll stay."

With his brother by his side, Wei Wuxian listens to the bustle around them. The procession has arrived, and he thinks he can hear shijie's voice, and Uncle Jiang's, among the hubbub.

Then, Uncle Jiang says, "Welcome to Lotus Pier, dear guests. We will now reveal the two intended for marriage to one another."

Thump-thump-thump goes his heart. It pounds in his ears, and for a while, his own heartbeat is all he can hear.

"Please get ready to throw off their veils," Uncle Jiang says.

Wei Wuxian hears Jiang Cheng take a breath. Even he sounds nervous. "Ready?" he whispers. "I'll count it off for you, all right?"

Wei Wuxian nods, not trusting his voice.

"Okay." It's a hot whisper against ear. "Three, two, one—"

The world goes light as the veil is swept from his head. Wei Wuxian blinks until he can focus on shapes again, and sees another figure in red standing some ways away from him.

The next moment, their veil is swept aside, revealing their face.

And then, the world stops.

For a long moment, Wei Wuxian has no idea what is happening, can only blink and stare, because he's looking—at Lan Zhan.

Lan Zhan is standing there, in front of him, wearing red silk robes with a red forehead ribbon, and he's watching Wei Wuxian back with a look that threatens to burn him up right there on the spot.

Everyone around them is quiet. So quiet, they may as well not be there at all for all Wei Wuxian takes notice of them.

Lan Zhan. Lan Zhan.

Lan Zhan is standing in front of him wearing red, and Lan Zhan is—is his intended. His betrothed. His future husband.

"Lan Zhan…" he breathes, and then the next moment, he's moving, only to be stopped by Jiang Cheng's painful grip.

"Stay put," Jiang Cheng hisses in his ear. "You can't go over there yet, it's not allowed."

Lan Zhan makes an aborted move forward, but he doesn't need anybody else to stop him. He's always been more disciplined than Wei Wuxian.

Wei Wuxian blinks and only then notices Zewu-jun standing next to Lan Zhan, smiling an enigmatic sort of smile.

This all takes place over seconds, at most, but it feels like an eternity.

His heart will burst at any moment, he knows, and he'll end up bleeding out right there at Lan Zhan's feet, because he won't be able to withstand this much happiness. This much joy doesn't happen in the world. Not to Wei Wuxian. Not to anyone, probably.

Lan Zhan is watching him, and the look in his eyes makes Wei Wuxian's skin feel as though someone took a match to it and struck. He is alight.

"Wei Wuxian of YunmengJiang," Uncle Jiang says. "Lan Wangji of GusuLan." When Wei Wuxian can finally tear his eyes away from Lan Zhan, he sees that Uncle Jiang is smiling. "Your union will bring an alliance between our two sects, making both stronger as a result. Your lives, just like our two sects, will be inextricably linked." He pauses, watching them with a smile. "You will now proceed into the Sword Testing Hall for the tea ceremony. Afterwards, you will take your bows. Then you will travel to Cloud Recesses, where you will perform the traditional Lan hand-fasting ceremony, and partake of the banquet, before being escorted to the wedding chamber."

Wedding chamber. Cloud Recesses. Hand-fasting. Wei Wuxian's mind, running at a faster speed than it has ever churned before, can only catch so much of what he's hearing.

Wedding chamber. Cloud Recesses. Hand-fasting. Wedding chamber.

And all of it, with Lan Zhan. Lan Zhan, his groom. Lan Zhan, his new husband.

A future suddenly unspools before him where there had been only darkness before. A future so bright, it nearly blinds him. Traveling to Cloud Recesses. Waking up to Lan Zhan tomorrow morning. Will they live in the Jingshi, where it all began? Is that where the newly-made marriage bed is, or will it be brought in later?

There will be a marriage. There will be a life—together.

He feels a sharp jab in his ribs and blinks himself to the present. "Go over now, don't just stand here like a lump," Jiang Cheng hisses, which is when Wei Wuxian realizes that he's missed something.

"Huh?"

"You're supposed to meet in the middle and take each other's hands, go!" Jiang Cheng gives him a light push and Wei Wuxian stumbles forward, catching himself just in time before he goes head first over his beautiful robes.

He watches Lan Zhan's face the entire time he walks. Lan Zhan looks—Lan Zhan looks—Lan Zhan looks like he wants to eat him alive. His gaze is more intense than Wei Wuxian has ever seen it. Suddenly he wonders just how many heart attacks everybody present would have if he were to greet him with a kiss. He nearly laughs, and then they're meeting in the middle, taking each other's hands, and Wei Wuxian is laughing for real, throwing back his head. He can't stop, the relief flowing through him is too much. He's laughing, and he thinks maybe a part of him is crying—he feels something wet on his cheeks—and when he blinks and looks at Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan's lips are tilted up in a shy smile, his eyes reflecting it tenfold.

"Lan Zhan," he whispers. "Lan Zhan!"

"I know," Lan Zhan says, sounding dazed. "Wei Ying. I had no idea until we got here, and even then—"

"I had absolutely no idea either! I thought I'd—I thought I'd lost you."

Lan Zhan's smile drops off and he grows serious. "I did, too. I thought...you never wrote me back."

Wei Wuxian's laughter dies in his throat. His head droops a little in shame. "I know. I'm sorry. I—I didn't know what to say."

Lan Zhan, preternaturally serious, nods, then visibly swallows. "I understand."

"I thought—" Suddenly, he realizes that he needs to say something very important. "Lan Zhan, I know you knew that I love you. And I know you may not—that it may be different for you, but I hope that—"

"Wei Ying." His voice is low, so low. Wei Ying loves his voice. He will get to hear his voice for the rest of his life. "It is the same for me."

Wei Wuxian swallows around a lump in his throat. "Yeah?"

"Yes. Wei Ying. Yes." He pauses, eyelashes fluttering. "I love you." He lifts his gaze. Wei Wuxian's insides give a kick. "I am sorry that I never said it back. I simply...well." He worries his lower lip with his teeth. "At the time, I saw no other way. I hope...you can forgive me."

"Lan Zhan—"

"I have missed you," Lan Zhan says quietly, and the tenderness in Wei Wuxian's heart threatens to swamp him completely.

Feeling lighter than air, he laughs again and squeezes Lan Zhan's hands. "I want to kiss you so much right now."

"And I, you."

Instead, they simply look at one another, Lan Zhan's smile small but brilliant. Wei Wuxian put it there. Wei Wuxian makes him happy.

And Lan Zhan loves him.

*

Wei Wuxian's hands shake as he pours tea for Uncle Jiang and Madam Yu. In fact, all of him is sort of trembling like an autumn leaf, and he can't stop smiling. He knows it's probably inappropriate—people are meant to be sort of somber at weddings, aren't they? It's serious business—but he can't stop. Not when Lan Zhan is there, in scarlet robes, pouring tea for his uncle and brother, a tiny secret smile tucked into the corner of his mouth.

They're getting married. Wei Wuxian is marrying his best friend. More than a friend.

Wei Wuxian is marrying his lover. His stomach swoops at the very thought.

Everything they had been denying themselves—time, more of each other—can be theirs. His heart just doesn't seem big enough to contain it.

When they take their bows, Wei Wuxian embarrasses himself by crying. Not a lot, just sort of...leaking from his eyes a bit. He sniffs surreptitiously to try and hide it, and when he faces Lan Zhan for the final bow, he sees that his eyes are bright, also. Oh. Oh, that's all right, then. They're both like this.

They are not, he knows, officially married yet—they still have to go to Cloud Recesses and do the hand-fasting first—but they are halfway there. They are close.

The distance between Yunmeng and Gusu is significant, but it isn't insurmountable. Wei Wuxian had been prepared for that: a wedding that takes place across two separate locations. He just hadn't known it would be Cloud Recesses.

They fly on swords, the strangest procession. Wei Wuxian has seen wedding processions in the air before, and it had looked spectacular. Two red blurs leading the way, with robes fluttering in the wind. Now, it's him and Lan Zhan, and he feels like screaming with the joy of it, the only thing stopping him Madam Yu and Lan Qiren at his back. He looks over at Lan Zhan, whose red ribbon is fluttering behind him, a gold cloud-patterned hairpiece atop his head, and almost falls off his sword.

Incredibly, his hair is still in place when they touch down in front of Cloud Recesses. Shijie hurries over to check on him and pats it down, just in case, grinning when he catches her eye. She tweaks his nose. "Didn't I tell you you'll be happy?" she whispers.

"How long have you known?" he whispers back.

"Two days. You're a very lucky boy, A-Xian. And you deserve your happiness."

He has got to stop tearing up, this is getting ridiculous. He laughs through it, then he and Lan Zhan are quickly ushered through the gates.

His heart jumps when understanding finally dawns: the hand-fasting is done with a Lan forehead ribbon. Lan Zhan's forehead ribbon. He catches Lan Zhan's eye, knowing his own are wide with shock, and Lan Zhan gives him a careful nod. Because, of course. The only people permitted to touch the ribbon are your spouse and children. And Wei Wuxian is about to become his husband. In the hushed atmosphere of the hall, they are joined together by Zewu-jun, who gently ties the ribbon around their wrists, gives Lan Zhan a soft look, and then officially pronounces them married.

Lan Zhan takes Wei Wuxian's hand and brings it to his lips, watching him the entire time. Wei Wuxian's knees tremble, heart racing. Lan Zhan loves him. Lan Zhan is his husband. He's known for several hours this to be the case, but he doesn't think he will ever get used to it, not really. When he is old and grey, he will look over at Lan Zhan, old and grey himself, and think, I can't believe I get to be his husband.

They watch one another for a prolonged moment before being gently pushed towards the dais set up for them at the head of the banquet. Oh gods, that means people will be looking at them the entire time. And there will be no alcohol, because Cloud Recesses. He hopes Lan Zhan has some stashed at the Jingshi for him...but why would he? He wouldn't have known Wei Wuxian would be coming back.

Still, there will be so much Emperor's Smile in Wei Wuxian's future, he thinks giddily.

The banquet is long and arduous, but it doesn't even matter. Throughout, Wei Wuxian is aware of one thing and one thing only: Lan Zhan next to him. His warm presence, so steady and sure. Lan Zhan sits upright, looking stunning in his wedding robes, the red of the ribbon setting off his pale skin, and takes small bites of his fish. Wei Wuxian can barely get anything down. His mind is already elsewhere, racing ahead to the promise of the wedding chamber, and all that that entails.

His hands itch for Lan Zhan. It has been a month since they've kissed, a month since they parted that night in the Jingshi. Wei Wuxian hasn't liked to think about it; hasn't liked remembering what Lan Zhan's rejection had felt like, how bitter it had tasted in his throat. He can make his peace with it now. Lan Zhan had been right: their duty lies with their families. It just so happens that they have the world's best luck, to be marrying the person they already love.

He loves me.

"Wipe that grin off your face, it's unseemly." Jiang Cheng has come up to them, now that the toasting part of the banquet has ended, and is scowling at Wei Wuxian from underneath his eyebrows.

"Aww, Jiang Cheng. I know you're happy for me." Next to him, Lan Zhan is very still.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah." His scowl drops off and he looks down. "Uh, listen. I just...I hope...well, have a good marriage, all right? Both of you. You—you deserve it."

"Jiang Cheng!" Wei Wuxian reaches for him but Jiang Cheng is already jerking away and walking off, huffing.

"He's allergic to sincerity," Wei Wuxian explains, grinning. "But that was the nicest thing he's ever said to me."

Lan Zhan nods. "My brother...is also happy for me."

Wei Wuxian feels his smile drop off slowly. "Did...did he know?"

Lan Zhan doesn't ask him about what. He lifts his gaze to Wei Wuxian's and nods, slowly. "He has known from the beginning."

Wei Wuxian tilts his head in question. Surely not—that.

"How I felt about you," Lan Zhan goes on, and oh, he's blushing again. They're married and he's blushing. Wei Wuxian simply has to lean over and kiss him: just a quick peck on the lips, but he can't stop himself anymore. His body is too aware of Lan Zhan, turning towards him like a flower towards the sun. Lan Zhan makes a tiny noise of surprise, but when Wei Wuxian pulls back, he's smiling what Wei Wuxian has come to learn is his secret Wei Wuxian smile. Wei Wuxian bites his lip and feels like if he isn't careful, he might just float off towards the ceiling.

The entire wedding party escorts them to the wedding chamber, which is just. Incredibly embarrassing. Even Wei Wuxian can feel himself blushing, hand sweating in Lan Zhan's grip. Jeez, must everyone know their business? He knows it's tradition, but really. And people call him shameless.

He gives Lan Zhan a quick look, then pushes open the door. He's never been to this part of Cloud Recesses before, but at first glance, it doesn't appear much different in style: airy and sparse, elegant. Somebody has already lit some braziers. Lan Zhan walks through behind him, then the door shuts on all the cheers and jeers and they are alone together for the first time in a month.

"Lan Zhan—"

Lan Zhan is already leaning forward and capturing his mouth in a kiss. He tastes like the tea they had at the banquet, a little bit like the osmanthus cakes they had been served for dessert. Wei Wuxian moans against him and presses up as close as he can. He fancies he can feel the beat of Lan Zhan's heart through their layers, or maybe his own is beating at double-time. Fuck, it feels so much longer than a month, it feels like an eternity. Lan Zhan opens up the kiss, sweet but forceful, bending Wei Wuxian back with the strength of it.

"Wei Ying," he murmurs after breaking it off. "Wei Ying, Wei Ying, Wei Ying." He presses his forehead into Wei Wuxian's neck and breathes against him. Now Wei Wuxian's heart is definitely beating in double-time, feeling fit to burst.

"Lan Zhan," he says and it only comes out like a whine a little bit. Lan Zhan has him in a tight grip, almost painful, but it feels so good. He feels held, protected. Wanted. Loved. He feels like he might faint dead away from everything he's feeling, now all the noises outside have died down and they are truly, truly alone. "Lan Zhan, we can—we can do whatever we want," he says with wonder. "Did you realize that? No one will stop us. They can't—we're married!"

"Married," Lan Zhan whispers into his neck, tickling his skin. "Married to Wei Ying."

Wei Wuxian's laugh is a puff against Lan Zhan's temple. "Married to Lan Zhan."

Finally, Lan Zhan pulls away enough that they can look one another in the eye.

"You're happy to be married to me, Lan-er-gege?" Wei Wuxian asks, giving him a bit of a cocky grin.

Lan Zhan's gaze darkens and that's all the warning Wei Wuxian gets before Lan Zhan leans down, grabs him underneath his knees and back and picks him straight up off the ground. Wei Wuxian yelps.

"Lan Zhan!"

"I'm happy, Wei Ying," Lan Zhan says evenly, but the corners of his lips are twitching. "Is Wei Ying happy to be married to me?"

Wei Wuxian wraps his arms securely around Lan Zhan's neck and laughs. "Can't you tell, Lan-er-gege?" He leans in and Lan Zhan meets him halfway for a kiss, slow and heady. "We're so good at that," Wei Wuxian whispers afterwards. "Want to do what we've been practicing for this whole time?"

Lan Zhan, cheeks and the tip of his nose dusted pink, gives a shaky nod. "I may be a little out of practice," he says in a too-serious tone. "I hope you can forgive me."

"I haven't been practicing longevity," Wei Wuxian tells him, smoothing his hand across the brocade over Lan Zhan's chest. "You'll have to teach me all over again."

Lan Zhan looks like he might eat him alive if Wei Wuxian isn't careful. Wei Wuxian hopes he can tell that Wei Wuxian would let him. "I can do that," Lan Zhan says, then starts walking towards—oh. The marriage bed.

Oh, fuck, it's huge. And so luxurious-looking, with red silk pillows at the head of it, and a gauzy red curtain covering it on three sides. It's a bed made explicitly for fucking, and Wei Wuxian cannot wait to test it out all night long.

"All night long, Lan Zhan," he says seriously. "Hope you can keep up."

Lan Zhan throws him down. "Challenge accepted."

Wei Wuxian tosses his head back and laughs. "Come here, come here, come here."

"Undressing now." Lan Zhan arches an eyebrow. "You too."

"Wait, no." Wei Wuxian sits up and scooches until he can grab onto Lan Zhan and pull him in between his knees. "Let me, all right?"

It is a luxury they have never had before. Back when they had been practicing, it had been a matter of efficiency, to undress themselves, but now—now they have all the time in the world. Wei Wuxian may already be half-hard, but it's a good sort of anticipation. He can undress Lan Zhan if he wants to.

He looks up at Lan Zhan and bites his lip. "Yes?"

"Yes." Lan Zhan's lips are so soft and pink. He has such a beautiful mouth. Wei Wuxian can't believe he gets to have him. "Please."

Wei Wuxian gets to work. Lan Zhan's belt is tied on his back, so he wraps his arms around him and finds the straps, then undoes each one in turn. The belt loosens in his grasp and he throws it on the ground. Lan Zhan will not be needing that again.

Then he pulls back and, catching Lan Zhan's eyes, goes for the ties on his outer robe. It's a heavy, beautiful fabric, and whoever tied it did a damn good job—Wei Wuxian can barely undo the knot. He curses and tugs until finally the ties give way and he scrambles up until he's kneeling on the bed and can reach Lan Zhan's shoulders. He pushes the fabric off of them and the robe falls heavily to the ground. He won't be needing that either.

"Don't look at me like that, we'll hang them up later," he mutters.

"I didn't say anything," Lan Zhan has the audacity to say.

"Yeah, but you were thinking it. I'm messier than you, Lan Zhan," Wei Wuxian warns, hands smoothing down his front to get to the ties of the next robe. "You'll have to get used to it."

Lan Zhan gives a solemn nod. "Very well. I shall accept it."

Wei Wuxian can't help smiling as he stares at his hands undoing the next knot. This one gives easier, and soon, the second layer joins the first one on the floor. Lan Zhan's trim figure is becoming more visible with each layer Wei Wuxian sheds, and suddenly he wants nothing more than to get to his skin, his hands knowing what it is they've been missing. One last robe, and then his shirt—this one white, as befitting a Lan—and Lan Zhan is naked from the waist up, still wearing his red ribbon (his everyday one is currently tied around Wei Wuxian's wrist as is, apparently, tradition) and gold hairpiece.

Wei Wuxian leans forward and buries his head in his neck, inhaling. Oh, how he's missed his smell. Lan Zhan—skin and sandalwood and boy. "Lan Zhan," he mumbles against him. He has no point, he just wants to say it.

Lan Zhan seems to get it, as he runs a hand up Wei Wuxian's back and murmurs back, "Wei Ying." And then, "My Wei Ying."

Wei Wuxian makes a truly undignified noise and pulls back enough to say, "Lan Zhan, you—"

But Lan Zhan kisses him, and Wei Wuxian finds himself melting against him, hands seeking the warmth of his chest. His hands—his hands feel like they've grown extra nerves, because everywhere he touches Lan Zhan gives him the biggest pleasure, the softness of his skin like the warmest silk. He could easily get addicted to Lan Zhan, he thinks, then laughs, because too late: he already has.

"Let me," he whispers as he reaches up to unclasp his hairpiece. Lan Zhan ducks his head to make it easier. His hair stays put, but Wei Wuxian doesn't bother with the other ties. He just didn't want either of them to get hurt on that thing—it looks sharp.

Then he catches Lan Zhan's eye and asks, "Can I?" And Lan Zhan gives a solemn nod. Wei Wuxian finds the knot of the forehead ribbon and slowly and carefully begins to untie it. It's symbolic more than anything—Lan Zhan's real ribbon is already on his wrist, after all—but it still feels important. He is now Lan Zhan's husband. He gets the privilege of touching Lan Zhan’s most sacred possession. This will be his second time seeing Lan Zhan without his forehead ribbon, and the sight takes his breath away.

Lan Zhan, undone for him.

"Where should I—"

Lan Zhan takes the ribbon from him, then lifts Wei Wuxian's empty wrist and gives him a quick questioning look.

"Yes. Yes."

Lan Zhan ties the red ribbon around his wrist. Now Wei Wuxian is doubly claimed. The very thought makes him harder. "Come here, come here," he says, and Lan Zhan goes easily. They kiss and they kiss and then Lan Zhan is pushing him down onto the bed and climbing on top of him. Wei Wuxian gets the idea and together, they crawl up the bed, impeded by his own heavy robes, which have grown itchy with sweat. Suddenly, he feels like he's suffocating.

"Help me get these off, I can't—"

Lan Zhan's hands are already going for his belt. It's more awkward this way, but if anyone can manage it, it's Lan Zhan. He's good at everything—it's not a surprise he's good at this. Compared to him, Wei Wuxian feels clumsy and awkward. But that's all right. Lan Zhan can be graceful enough for them both.

Lan Zhan manages to undo Wei Wuxian's belt and throws it over the side of the bed, giving him a bit of a triumphant grin in the process, which just makes Wei Wuxian laugh and swoon at the same time. Under Lan Zhan's clever hands, the ties of his robe quickly give way, and Lan Zhan all but rips the robes apart, layer by layer, until Wei Wuxian's shirt and trousers are displayed, and then he rucks up his shirt, coaxes Wei Wuxian's hips up, and strips him of his trousers. Wei Wuxian is left with his arms sort of awkwardly bound by the robes, lying there on display for Lan Zhan's frankly, flatteringly hungry gaze. Holy fuck.

"Lan Zhan—"

But before he can even add anything else to that, Lan Zhan bends down, gently takes hold of his cock, and sucks him down.

Oh shit, oh fuck, oh wow.

Wei Wuxian makes quite an embarrassing high-pitched noise, but who could blame him? It's been a whole month, and Lan Zhan has already demonstrated his skill time and again. He is really good at this. He takes Wei Wuxian halfway before sliding back up and teasing the head with his tongue. Then he licks him up and down, hot, wet swipes of his tongue, before taking him in again and sucking. It's so fucking hot. He's completely naked, bent over Wei Wuxian, who is currently trapped by layers of silk and brocade, feeling dissolute with his shirt rucked up and his trousers down, and oh, Lan Zhan starts sucking him in earnest, and it's so good, so good, so—

"Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan, Lan—Lan Zhan!"

Lan Zhan makes what Wei Wuxian can only think of as a grumpy noise, but stops his onslaught with his lips loosely touching the head, both glistening. Oh, wow, that's. Obscene. Incredibly sexy. Wei Wuxian blinks.

"Wei Ying?"

Right, he had something to say. "Yeah, I was just—I'm gonna come too soon if you keep that up, and I'm not even naked yet."

Lan Zhan's dark gaze pins him down. "You said all night long, Wei Ying. I expect you to keep up."

A shiver runs down his spine. "That is true," he says shakily. "I did say that." And he can go again, he can go more than once if you give him enough of a recovery period. "Yeah, okay," he says, falling back and moans when, without any more preamble, Lan Zhan sucks him back down. Oh, fuck, that's so good. It's tight and hot and wet and Lan Zhan doesn't make any more detours, he just keeps going. He's moaning, too, these tight little noises that escape and go directly to Wei Wuxian's dick, which is already plenty hard, thank you.

Fuck, that feels incredible. Wei Wuxian does his best at holding off—partly to make the pleasure last, partly to please Lan Zhan, show him he hasn't forgotten everything. But it becomes harder and harder to do, and he covers his face with his sleeved arm and opens his mouth on a silent gasp, feeling when the fabric grows wet from it, as Lan Zhan sucks him again and again. He feels like he's flying, he feels swollen with pleasure and desire, everything appears to throb. When he uncovers his face, he sees that it's gotten darker outside and the yellow brazier lights are flickering across the ceiling. He swallows and bites his lip, but he won't last any longer, he can't, it's too much—

He comes down Lan Zhan’s throat, trembling and crying out. He has the absurd thought that he hopes there was nobody lingering outside the door just now.

Lan Zhan slowly slides off and uses his hand to milk him through the rest. Wei Wuxian manages to scrape open his eyes and meets Lan Zhan's gaze. His dick is so dark in Lan Zhan's hold, still heavy and hard. He's breathing as though he's just run a long distance really fast instead of just getting his dick sucked. Of course, there's no just about it.

"Fucking hell, Lan Zhan," he manages.

Lan Zhan looks so pleased, he's almost bordering on smug, which is a surprisingly good look on him. It's a slow grin, eyes crinkling, and he crawls up the bed until he's held up above Wei Wuxian, mouths a breath apart. "I'm glad you enjoyed that," he says quietly, sounding less smug than he looks. He sounds sincere, which is just—Wei Wuxian rears up and kisses him. Lan Zhan immediately opens up and oh, that's still weird, the taste. That's Wei Wuxian.

Wei Wuxian licks the taste from him, feeling hungry, not even a little bit sated. They're definitely just getting started.

"Lan Zhan, what do you want? Want me to suck your dick?" he offers. It can be a little pre-dinner snack, they can be greedy. They can have a full-course meal tonight. They are not in a rush. They have all night. They have the rest of forever.

Lan Zhan bites his lip, then leans down until his face is buried against Wei Wuxian's neck—Wei Wuxian is starting to suspect he likes it there, which makes his belly churn—and mumbles something Wei Wuxian can't understand.

"What? Was that a yes?"

He feels Lan Zhan shake his head, then drop a kiss below his ear. Wei Wuxian shivers. "I want us to...try something new."

"Something new—oh." One of the few things they did not allow themselves to go through with, the only rule they had managed to stick with, is fucking, and Wei Wuxian has been living with the regret. He had wanted to get fucked so much, he had nearly talked Lan Zhan into it, but in the end, Lan Zhan had held firm. Now, though. Absolutely nothing is stopping them. Something giddy wells up in his belly, threatening to escape. Absolutely nothing is stopping them. "Lan Zhan, you want to fuck me?" he breathes.

Lan Zhan, despite everything that has just taken place, despite having swallowed Wei Wuxian's come not a minute ago, flushes, but he doesn't look away. If anything, his gaze gets heavier. He holds himself up above Wei Wuxian with one arm, sliding the thumb of his free hand over Wei Wuxian's cheekbone in a gesture so intimate and possessive, Wei Wuxian would have swooned if he hadn't been lying down already. He may swoon yet. "If you would permit me," Lan Zhan says seriously.

And that's it. Wei Wuxian must kiss him or he will die. He surges up and Lan Zhan drops down and they're kissing. He can feel Lan Zhan's dick against his hip, and he's already leaking, it's smearing against Wei Wuxian's skin. He wants it all over himself, wants everything Lan Zhan is willing to give. He wants his hands on him and his body over him and he desperately, desperately wants Lan Zhan inside him.

"Please," he says, and his voice comes out embarrassingly hoarse. "Please, can we? I've been dying for it."

Lan Zhan swallows visibly and nods. "Me too. Me too, Wei Ying."

A hot surge of satisfaction rushes through Wei Wuxian. Yes.

They get Wei Wuxian out of his clothes, finally. They push all the robes off the bed, then pull back the covers and Wei Wuxian climbs underneath, stretching out every limb to all four corners. It feels good, sensuous, this silk against his skin. It warms as he touches it, and he slides his feet all around, then turns over to his stomach and props his chin on his hand, watching Lan Zhan walking all around the room, gaze searching. "Lan Zhan?"

Only now does Wei Wuxian notice the fruit and two jugs of something set up on a tray underneath the window. There are buns, as well. He smiles. They've thought of everything.

"Lan Zhan, what are you—"

"Looking for...supplies."

"Supplies...oh. Oh, right." Wei Wuxian feels himself flushing. How can he still blush after everything? But Lan Zhan—his husband!—is walking around the room completely and unashamedly naked, looking like a god in the golden light of the braziers, and they're about to fuck. Another bout of giddiness threatens to erupt from his belly. They're about to fuck.

If they can find the supplies Lan Zhan is looking for. Wei Wuxian sits up, following his progress, then leans over the side of the bed and feels around right next to it. His hand comes in contact with a cool jar, which he grabs and pulls out. It's round and fat and when he opens the lid, he sniffs at the contents. It doesn't smell like much, but when he touches it, it's a slippery sort of salve. "Lan Zhan, I think I found it," he says, then clears his throat.

Lan Zhan is instantly back at his side, taking the jar and also sniffing it before putting his fingers inside. Something about how his fingers look against the opaque contents makes a dark shiver run down Wei Wuxian's spine. He bites his lip. "Yes," Lan Zhan confirms, then meets his gaze. "And you're certain you—"

"Gods, yes, get over here." Wei Wuxian crawls backwards, then throws the covers off of himself. The room is warm, and it's about to get a whole lot warmer. Lan Zhan climbs in after him, jar still held carefully in his large hand, and leans down for a kiss. It's slow, anticipatory. Wei Wuxian's heartbeat flutters through his veins. Everything is sort of zinging inside him, and the longer they kiss, the more excited he gets, until his dick gets with the program and starts to fill out again. Lan Zhan is still hard, pressing himself up against Wei Wuxian shamelessly, leaking against his skin. Fuck, that's good.

"It's too bad," Wei Wuxian says, breaking off the kiss and pressing his lips to the heat of Lan Zhan's cheek, right next to his ear, "that we never practiced this part. What if we mess it up?"

"I think," Lan Zhan says very seriously in response, "that our spouses will forgive us for this lapse in experience."

Wei Wuxian cracks up, which makes Lan Zhan give him a secretive sort of grin, and wraps both arms around his neck. The ends of the ribbons on his wrists trail down Lan Zhan's skin. "Lan Zhan, you're hilarious. Has anybody ever told you how funny you are?"

The tips of Lan Zhan's ears are dark pink. "No," he answers very seriously.

"Well, you are. You're incredibly funny. You're the funniest person I know. I like you so much, I love you so much." He's running off at the mouth and it's slightly embarrassing, but he also can't stop, and then he doesn't want to, because the look on Lan Zhan's face becomes incandescent. He's glowing in the golden light of the room. He's the only thing Wei Wuxian wants to look at ever again. He fits his finger in the divot between Lan Zhan's chin and lips and presses until Lan Zhan gets the hint and opens his mouth slightly. He has gorgeous lips and straight white teeth and the hint of his slick tongue makes Wei Wuxian even harder. "Kiss me, husband," he commands quietly, and Lan Zhan obeys instantly. Wei Wuxian moans against him. He feels around for the jar in Lan Zhan's hands, takes it from him, and sets it aside in favor of threading their fingers together. The ribbons around his wrists are a tight reminder of what tonight is. What it means. What it means from now on. "I want you so much, Lan Zhan," he whispers. "I'm bursting with it."

"Wei Ying." It sounds almost like a plea. "Wei Ying, let me—"

"Yes. Yes, come on, I want it, want you."

Lan Zhan sits up between his legs and grabs the jar with the salve. "I…" He clears his throat as he brings it closer. "I have...done some reading."

Wei Wuxian's brain screeches to a halt. "You what—what kind of reading?" He thinks he already knows, but he is desperate for confirmation.

Lan Zhan purses his lips, then says, "Illicit materials."

Wei Wuxian barks out a laugh. "Lan Zhan! Where did you even find them?"

"The Cloud Recesses library is quite extensive, you know," he says, sounding almost pissy, which is just so hilarious, Wei Wuxian has to laugh again.

"If it's in the library, why's it illicit, then?" he asks curiously.

Lan Zhan flushes even more, which is incredible, and says, "The materials did not come from the readily available section of the library."

Wei Wuxian thinks his eyes are going to pop out of his head. "Did you raid the forbidden section, Lan Zhan?" he demands. "Did you break the rules to learn about fucking?"

Lan Zhan swallows, then gives a nod. "This was...before you left. And then...I thought, I might as well, because…" And then any sign of mirth disappears. His eyebrows draw together and he won't look Wei Wuxian in the eye. "I knew I should be dutiful, and I knew that I would be matched up with a man, so...but it wasn't…" He stops, looking lost.

Wei Wuxian thinks he understands. A hot flash of jealousy had gone through him at the words matched up with a man, but it would be stupid, to be jealous of a phantom. There had been, apparently, no other man than him. "I get it, Lan Zhan," he says seriously. He doesn't like that Lan Zhan is looking almost upset, because this night should only be good, so he takes Lan Zhan's free hand and shakes it. "Tell me what you've learned," he urges, and then adds, "or better yet, why don't you show me?" The grin he gives Lan Zhan cannot be mistaken in its intent. And it works: Lan Zhan's face clears, and the corners of his mouth tilt up the tiniest bit.

"Very well," he says, nodding. "Are you ready?"

Oh, he's ready. He's been ready for months. He's been burning up with curiosity, dying to know what all the fuss is about, and only a small part of him has been worried it'll be disappointing. He's with Lan Zhan—nothing could be disappointing with Lan Zhan. "What do I do?"

Lan Zhan licks his lips, sets the jar back down where they won't be likely to knock it over, and says, "I should like to...use my mouth first."

"You mean—oh." Wei Wuxian's body flushes with heat. "Like, on…"

Slowly, Lan Zhan nods. "If you'll let me."

Wei Wuxian manfully resists the urge to hide his flaming face behind his hands. If Lan Zhan wants it, then...Wei Wuxian wants it, too. "Okay," he says. "Okay. Where should I—how should I—"

"This is fine," Lan Zhan says a bit woodenly, then scooches down until he's lying on his belly between Wei Wuxian's open legs. Oh. Oh, that's...that's quite a sight. "Allow me?" He puts his hands on the backs of Wei Wuxian's thighs and spreads then. His hands are so large, they span the width of his thighs, and Wei Wuxian can feel every pressure point of each finger. He swallows and nods silently. Lan Zhan spreads his thighs a bit more, hums, and leans in.

Oh. Oh, that's weird. It's wet and strange and, at first, it doesn't feel like more than that. But Lan Zhan hums again, sounding pleased, and then the relentless wet pressure of his tongue begins to turn into something else. Wei Wuxian bites his lip. It feels—it feels weird but good, shivery, different. Lan Zhan is using the flat of his tongue, then the tip to sort of go around the rim, and alternating between the two, and Wei Wuxian's eyes slide closed as he relaxes into the bed. This feels good, and the more Lan Zhan does it, the better it gets. He finds himself melting into the bed, spreading himself further, loving the relentless pleasure of it. Lan Zhan is still gripping his thighs, and the longer it goes, the tighter the grip, the harder his dick gets, until he's hard as a rock, doing his best not to touch himself lest he come too soon again.

He finds himself breathing hard, letting out little breathy moans and gasping up to the ceiling. "Lan Zhan—"

Lan Zhan hums, providing truly outrageous vibrations against his hole.

"Lan Zhan, that's—are you—fuck—"

Lan Zhan hums again, this time sounding like a confirmation, and keeps going. Before he knows it, Wei Wuxian can feel the tip of his tongue entering him and oh gods, that's—

"Are you sure you like that, Lan Zhan, is it weird, is it—"

Lan Zhan breaks off and pulls back. When he speaks, his voice is shot. "Wei Ying tastes good." Wei Wuxian squeaks. "Does it...does it feel good?"

In response, Wei Wuxian bumps his ass in the air. "Come back," he says when Lan Zhan just waits. "It feels so good."

Lan Zhan dives back in with a tiny smile.

It feels like it goes on for hours, even though that's impossible, because Wei Wuxian could not possibly last through hours of this. But time sort of dilates as he loses himself in the pleasure of it. When Lan Zhan finally pulls back, he almost seems to do it reluctantly. But, fuck, he's been hard for so long. He must be dying.

"I'm ready, I'm ready, please, fuck me," Wei Wuxian mumbles, only vaguely coherent.

"Still need to get you ready," Lan Zhan says seriously. "With my fingers."

Wei Wuxian doesn't shoot off, but only because he's keeping his hands to himself. Fuck. "Okay," he says in a daze. "Okay, get me ready."

Lan Zhan reaches for the salve and scoops some out. That in itself is obscene, but then he rubs it all over two fingers and makes quick eye contact with Wei Wuxian before reaching in between his legs and sliding one finger in. Wei Wuxian nearly hits the roof. "I—" Lan Zhan pulls the finger out, then slips it back in, and again, Wei Wuxian might lose his mind. He gasps, his breathing harsh, and says, "More? More, Lan Zhan, more, come on—"

Lan Zhan comes back with two. It's a little tight now, but better, because it's fuller, and suddenly, all Wei Wuxian wants is to be completely filled up. Lan Zhan grazes that spot again that makes Wei Wuxian's fingers go numb and sparks fly behind his eyelids, and Wei Wuxian cries out. "Like that," he urges, "just like that. Oh, fuck, Lan Zhan, don't stop—"

"Don't intend to," Lan Zhan murmurs, then slides his fingers inside him again, and again.

Wei Wuxian's dick twitches and slaps his belly every time Lan Zhan touches that spot inside him. Wei Wuxian is moaning continuously now, and oh fuck, if Lan Zhan doesn't fuck him soon, he's going to come completely untouched.

So, he needn't have worried, then. His ass being played with is not a disappointment.

"Wei Ying—"

"Now, Lan Zhan, now, do it now, fuck me, please."

If he's feeling full with just two fingers, how will a whole dick feel? Not just any dick: Lan Zhan's dick. Wei Wuxian's body is vibrating with pleasure and anticipation.

Lan Zhan leans in and kisses him—hard, intense—then pulls out his fingers. Wei Wuxian is left feeling a bit like a fish out of water, breathing hard, waiting for the return of something he hadn't realized he needed until today. He watches in silence as Lan Zhan slicks up his dick with shaky hands, and fuck, that's a sight to behold. Wei Wuxian sort of desperately wants Lan Zhan's dick in his mouth, but more than that, he wants to be fucked, so he spreads his legs, feeling completely wanton and flushed with embarrassment, but not enough to stop. Hell no. Lan Zhan is his husband: they're going to see one another in all sorts of new ways. Besides, he doesn't think Lan Zhan will mind this one.

Lan Zhan looks up at him, and Wei Wuxian feels like pinned to the bed, caught in his gaze like that. "Lan Zhan…"

"Wei Ying." Lan Zhan's voice is as tight as his grip on the backs of Wei Wuxian's thighs as he gets into position. "Are you— can I—"

"Yes, yes, yes, please, please get inside me already, want to feel you, Lan Zhan, come on—" He has no idea what he's saying, but he must be communicating something, because Lan Zhan shuffles closer, slides his hands until they're under Wei Wuxian's ass and lifts him up enough to line them up. Wei Wuxian has never felt more exposed. He shuts his eyes and turns his head enough to bury his face in the sheets.

"Wei Ying? Are you all right?"

Wei Wuxian nods shakily, then gropes around until he finds Lan Zhan's knee with his hand and squeezes. "Please, Lan Zhan." He feels weirdly empty, in a way he had not expected. "Need you, just do it already."

Lan Zhan doesn't respond, but the next moment Wei Wuxian feels the head of his dick rubbing against him. He bumps his hips and Lan Zhan gasps.

"Careful, I—"

Wei Wuxian doesn't want to be careful. He doesn't want Lan Zhan to be careful. He wants Lan Zhan to fuck him so much, he can taste it in the back of his throat. "Please, please, please," he breathes, forgetting all embarrassment. "We've waited for so long, come on, Lan Zhan, don't—"

Lan Zhan slides inside. It's just the head, Wei Wuxian thinks in a daze, but it's—a lot. It's definitely more than two fingers' worth. It hurts, a stinging, stretching sort of ache. His lungs are burning—he's forgotten to breathe. Shakily, he exhales, then opens his eyes and looks at Lan Zhan. Lan Zhan's eyes are closed, eyebrows drawn, and his lower lip is caught in his teeth. He's not moving, and Wei Wuxian might just die right there on the spot, because he needs him to move, needs him to fill him up completely, to hit that spot.

"Husband," he rasps. "Sweetheart. Please."

Lan Zhan's eyes fly open and, without looking away from Wei Wuxian, he slides inexorably in. Wei Wuxian arches off the bed, toes curling, and tries to breathe, but whimpers instead. Lan Zhan slides in a little bit more, and then some more, until finally, he's in all the way, and Wei Wuxian feels entirely flayed open. It still hurts, but the pressure against that spot is making stars dance behind his eyelids. It's a strange dichotomy.

"Wei Ying, are you all right?" Lan Zhan leans in until he's propped up over Wei Wuxian, and Wei Wuxian feels his body responding, bending to Lan Zhan's movements, until he's all but folded up. He is a little bit on fire.

"Need you—need you to move, Lan Zhan, need you to—"

Lan Zhan pulls out—which is such a strange sensation, Wei Wuxian feels like he's taking his soul with him—then slides back in. Yes. Yes, that's what he needs.

"Don't—don't stop, don't stop, Lan Zhan, keep going, please, please, please—" The last please is a stuttered gasp, because Lan Zhan does it again, and again. He is so hard inside him, Wei Wuxian can't escape the pressure. It feels weird, but it also feels good, and while his dick had flagged a little on entry, the more Lan Zhan moves, the harder Wei Wuxian gets, until he's leaking onto his belly. He wants to touch himself, but he sort of wants Lan Zhan to touch him, and he doesn't know how to ask for it.

"Wei Ying," Lan Zhan says, and oh, his voice is shot, strained, so unlike his usual composed tone. "Wei Ying, I won't...I may not...last."

Wei Wuxian exhales on a shaky laugh. "It's all right, sweetheart, just fuck me, fuck me as much as you can, we'll go again, just keep going." Once more, he finds himself babbling with very little idea of what he's saying, all he knows is that he feels like he's being skewered but in, like, a sexy way.

Lan Zhan keeps going, faster now, and when he leans down even more to get at Wei Wuxian's neck, he hits the spot unerringly, and Wei Wuxian cries out. He grabs Lan Zhan around the back and holds on as much as he can, even though his hands keep slipping—Lan Zhan's back is covered in sweat. Lan Zhan does it again, moving in a stuttering rhythm, not quite fluid, not the way he usually moves, and Wei Wuxian sees stars again. It becomes a continuous thing, this sharp pleasure, and he realizes he's moaning, whining, really, for more. "Yes, yes, fuck, just like that—like that—Lan Zhan—"

"Wei Ying." Lan Zhan sounds wrecked, he sounds lost, and his breath is scorching against Wei Wuxian's skin. They're both sweaty as hell and Wei Wuxian's hip joints are beginning to ache with the stretch, but even that feels good, somehow, having Lan Zhan there in between, making room for himself. He fits so well in the cradle of Wei Wuxian's open thighs.

Lan Zhan fucks him a few more times, going faster, until they're moving up the bed with the force of his movements— then Lan Zhan freezes and Wei Wuxian feels it when his dick twitches and kicks inside him. Warmth floods him as Lan Zhan gives a groan and trembles in the circle of his limbs. Wei Wuxian is holding him in a vise grip, not wanting this to end, knowing that it must now, but Lan Zhan keeps going. The slide of it gets even slicker, because that's his come easing the way now. Wow. Wei Wuxian is giddy with it, giddy with all of it, giddy with how good it feels, how good they're gonna get at this, giddy with possibilities.

Lan Zhan leans back, still keeping himself inside, and, catching Wei Wuxian's eye, bites his lip and takes a hold of his cock. He strokes him fast and hard, the way he must stroke himself, because the angle's right. Someday soon, Wei Wuxian is going to make Lan Zhan jerk off in front of him so he can watch. Fuck, they're going to do so much together they'll get tired of sex, except for how that is never going to happen.

For now, he can barely think of anything but the overwhelming pleasure of Lan Zhan's hand on his dick, and his dick in his ass, and it only takes a handful of strokes for Wei Wuxian to reach his peak. He shouts himself hoarse, throwing back his head as he comes, covering his stomach and chest. Lan Zhan's hand keeps moving until the very last drop is gone, and then some more, until Wei Wuxian hisses and grabs his hand. "I'm—I'm done, I'm so fucking done," he manages.

Lan Zhan lets him go and they watch each other as he pulls out. It feels sort of gross, Wei Wuxian will admit.

Lan Zhan collapses sideways on the bed, eyes closed, and he looks properly wrecked. It's such a good look on him, Wei Wuxian wants his hands all over him, except for how he can't move, either. His legs are sore. His ass is definitely sore. Hell, his neck is sore. It all feels absolutely amazing. He shuts his eyes and allows himself to float for a bit, just getting his breathing back under his control. His heart is thump-thump-thumping in his chest.

After a while, Lan Zhan stirs and shifts. Wei Wuxian cracks open his eyes and can't help the goofy grin at the sight of Lan Zhan—his husband—looking at him with a small smile on his face, his hair in a complete mess. Wisps have escaped the severe way in which his half-knot is pulled up, and his eyes are sort of glazed over. He reaches out, and Wei Wuxian catches his hand and pulls him in. Lan Zhan collapses onto him with an oof and Wei Wuxian grabs him around the shoulders before he can move away.

"We should—"

"Nope," he says, sounding sort of smug. "We should just lie around and bask in the great sex we just had. That was not bad for a first time, right?"

Lan Zhan hums and snuggles in closer. Wei Wuxian thinks he might melt right into this huge bed. "Not bad at all," Lan Zhan says agreeably.

Wei Wuxian wants to say something else, but he's feeling sort of fuzzy and mellow and heavy and then his eyes slide closed and he passes out.

*

Wei Wuxian wakes up sweaty, with hair in his mouth. The room is still lit by braziers, so it can't be that much later. He tries to figure out what woke him, and realizes it's the way Lan Zhan is drawing patterns on his skin in repetitive, soothing motions. So, he's awake.

It's Lan Zhan's hair that's in his mouth, too, head resting on Wei Wuxian's chest. He can't really feel his arm, but who cares, when he's got Lan Zhan just resting on top of him like it's normal.

Neither one of them has anywhere to go. Nothing to fear. This is the first time they've actually slept together. Well...at least Wei Wuxian slept.

"Hello," he says quietly, not wanting to disturb the atmosphere around them.

Instead of responding, Lan Zhan turns his face and kisses Wei Wuxian's chest. He hums and leans up enough that they're within kissing distance of one another. So they kiss. Wei Wuxian imagines he doesn't taste very good, after sleeping, but Lan Zhan doesn't seem to mind. It's a sweet kiss, just a press of lips, really. Wei Wuxian hums, feeling satisfied, if somewhat sticky. Although—he should be more sticky, definitely between his legs, but he isn't. Lan Zhan.

"Did you sleep at all?" he asks.

Lan Zhan slowly shakes his head. "Not tired."

Wei Wuxian feels his mouth stretching into a feline grin. "Good. We have a lot of time to make up for."

Lan Zhan smirks—smirks!—and runs his hand up Wei Wuxian's flank and over his hip until he finds his soft dick and palms it. "Are you sure you're up for it?"

"Keep doing that and I will be." It probably won't even take that much—just knowing that Lan Zhan wants him, having Lan Zhan resting naked in his arms, legs intertwined, is turning him on. Lan Zhan continues to lazily palm his dick, watching Wei Wuxian the whole time. Wei Wuxian sweeps a stray hair away from his forehead. "What are you thinking about?"

"Fucking you."

It's so unexpected, Wei Wuxian barks out a laugh. "Forward! What, again, already?"

"You said all night, Wei Ying. Are you not up for it?"

It's a challenge. Wei Wuxian has never backed down from a challenge. He is kind of starving, though, which his stomach lets them both know the next moment. Lan Zhan snickers against his armpit.

"Look, I was too keyed up to eat much at dinner, all right? Be a good husband and fetch me some of that fruit."

Lan Zhan's gaze goes sort of dark and intense and the next moment, he's pushing off and rising from the bed, still gloriously naked. Gods, he is beautiful. Wei Wuxian can't believe he gets to keep him, forever and ever. Political alliances are great, actually.

He watches Lan Zhan walk over to the window, pick up the entire tray, and bring it back to the bed, setting it carefully on top of the covers. "Come eat," he says, and who is Wei Wuxian to disobey?

The jug, incredibly, contains a sweet wine. There is another one with water. Wei Wuxian pours Lan Zhan water, himself some wine, and they split the persimmons between them. The flesh is sweet, juicy—he can feel it running down his chin and neck. Before he can even think about how best to wipe the sticky mess, Lan Zhan leans in and runs his tongue up from Wei Wuxian's collarbone to his mouth, ending his unexpected journey in a kiss filled with sweetness. Wei Wuxian hums happily. That's nice—no need for clean-up. "You're insatiable," he notes, not without pleasure. "Is this what happens when you're not constrained by any rules?"

Lan Zhan gives him a bit of a look. It says, stay with me and find out. Wei Wuxian laughs and takes another bite of his fruit.

Between them, they put quite a dent in their supply, and afterwards, neither one of them is quite up for more sex just yet. Wei Wuxian is full of good wine and good cheer. They laze around, touching knees, and Wei Wuxian interrogates Lan Zhan about the last month: the month they'd spent apart.

"Were you lonely without me, Lan Zhan?" he asks, rolling over onto his side and propping his head on his hand. With each movement, his body reminds him of earlier, pinging in the oddest of places. It feels good.

"Mn." Lan Zhan takes his free hand and threads their fingers together. "It was...quiet. Without you."

"I bet. I bet you missed my noise."

"I missed Wei Ying," Lan Zhan seriously. Something about how earnest he is in response to Wei Wuxian's teasing makes Wei Wuxian's belly roil. He leans in and shares some of the remaining wine taste in his mouth with Lan Zhan. Afterwards, Lan Zhan says, "My brother talked to me about my upcoming marriage."

"What did he say?"

"He discussed marriage being an allyship. A partnership. He talked of...friendship. Harmony."

Wei Wuxian digests this. "He was talking about me."

"Mn. Only I did not realize it at the time. I...resented it." He says the last part quietly, staring at a spot between them. "I was upset. That I would have to share myself with somebody else."

"Me too. I was so mad, Lan Zhan. I hated everyone who was making it happen."

Lan Zhan raises their joined hands to his lips and gives Wei Wuxian’s knuckles a kiss. His eyelashes make deep shadows on his cheeks.

Later, Wei Wuxian goes down on Lan Zhan, sucking him in deep, deeper than he ever has, as though permitted to. Lan Zhan squeezes his hair and pulls and it's the sweetest, most pleasing sting. It gets Wei Wuxian fully hard, and Lan Zhan sucks him off again, sliding a finger inside Wei Wuxian and wringing a mind-searing orgasm from him. He is really good at that.

Eventually, they put out the braziers, then kiss in the dark for so long, their lips begin to buzz. Somewhere in there, they allow sleep to overtake them—it's been a long day. Wei Wuxian wakes up to darkness and hot kisses being dropped onto his hip, and hums. Lan Zhan fucks him from behind this time. It's different, deeper like this, and Wei Wuxian can't stop whining and making the most embarrassing noises he has ever uttered. Lan Zhan seems to love it. He encourages it, hot breath in Wei Wuxian's ear telling him he's beautiful, he's perfect, just like that, Wei Ying, let me hear you, let me hear how much you love this, love me fucking you. It's fast and hard and Wei Wuxian sort of whites out a bit as he comes.

He wakes up to the hazy light of pre-dawn. He blinks—why is he awake? He's never awake this early, and they didn't get to sleep until well after midnight, fucking like it's the last time, knowing well that it's only the beginning. Then he opens his eyes and meets Lan Zhan's gaze. Lan Zhan's face is smooth, free of worry. He gives a slow feline blink, and just as slowly smiles.

Wei Wuxian buries his nose in the pillow and tries to hide the stupid grin growing on his face.

"Good morning, husband," Lan Zhan says in that deep, beautiful voice of his. It's the first time he's called him that.

Wei Wuxian squirms. "Good morning, husband."

He gropes around under the covers until he finds Lan Zhan's hard dick, slick at the head. "I see you're ready for me."

Lan Zhan doesn't appear to be embarrassed in the least. "Always ready for Wei Ying."

Then he rolls him over and they rut against one another to completion, trading kisses the entire time.

It's the best morning of Wei Wuxian's life.

*

His things have already been moved into the Jingshi. In the end, it's almost anti-climactic, except for how it changes everything.

He had said goodbye to his family at the breakfast banquet, gotten a few winks from Nie Huaisang from behind his fan, and been punched in the arm by Jiang Cheng. Then everybody had carried on celebrating while he and Lan Zhan were told that they were free to go, now that all the formal wedding rituals have ended. And so they'd left.

Wei Wuxian feels very solemn, walking up the Jingshi steps. The last time he had been here, it had been pitch black, Lan Zhan the only bright spot in the dark. Now he's walking into his new home.

The first thing he notices is that the bed has, indeed, been replaced by the one they had slept in the previous night. It no longer bears the red curtain or pillows, but it's—their bed. Their new bed, the one they will share every night from now on.

"Wei Ying?" Lan Zhan comes up behind him and hooks his chin over Wei Wuxian's shoulder, sliding his arms around him. Wei Wuxian automatically leans back into him, shoulders relaxing. "Are you all right?"

"Mn." He is, he thinks. It's just strange: Lotus Pier is no longer home. "Lan Zhan," he says, still eyeing the bed, "are you sure you won't mind me in your space?" They could, he supposes, have an arrangement, if he gets to be too annoying with his habits. Their schedules, for one, are wildly different. What if—

"Wei Ying." It sounds almost like an admonishment, only kinder than that. Lan Zhan takes him by the waist and turns him, Wei Wuxian letting him, until they're face to face. Lan Zhan looks serious. "I will not mind. I want you here. With me. I have wanted you here for a long time."

Wei Wuxian feels like hiding his suddenly flaming face behind his hands, but manfully desists and nods, instead. "All right. And all my things? And the fact that I cannot go to bed at nine pm no matter what? Or wake up at five? Or—"

"Yes. All of that. This is your home now, too."

His home. Their home. Wei Wuxian smiles and puts his hands over Lan Zhan's chest, just because he can. He leans in and kisses him, just because he can. He makes a pleased sound in his throat, just because he can. He feels the shape of Lan Zhan's smile against his lips.

He supposes he should start unpacking, but maybe. Maybe that can wait a while longer.

Chapter Text

Jiang Cheng's wedding is a lot more relaxing than his own had been. For one, Wei Wuxian doesn't have to participate, except for playing the part that Jiang Cheng had done for him. Easy enough.

Now, he sits among the guests and drinks and winks at Jiang Cheng and Nie Huaisang sitting up on that dais, looking stunned.

Wei Wuxian can admit it: he hadn't seen that one coming.

"I cannot believe they're married," he says for the hundredth time to Lan Zhan. "Can you believe they're married?"

"Mn." Lan Zhan is a lot more sanguine about it, which, he supposes, makes sense. Lan Zhan never got close to either Jiang Cheng or Nie Huaisang, but for Wei Wuxian—his brother has married one of their best friends. That's absolutely wild. What will their marriage even look like?

"Think they'll be happy?" He wants happiness for them. He wants everyone to have happiness, wants everyone in the world to have what he and Lan Zhan have.

Getting used to living together has been an exercise in patience, but not in a bad way. He's simply learning how to accommodate another person in his life, and he's largely enjoying the process. Lan Zhan is kind and infinitely patient—a lot more patient than Wei Wuxian—so they don't fight or anything. Sometimes things can get a bit tense, but then Lan Zhan will sit down at his qin and lose himself in the music for a little bit. He plays one melody more than others. Whenever Wei Wuxian has asked what it's called, he has told him, "You should figure it out," which is ridiculous—how is Wei Wuxian supposed to know? But it helps.

His duties as husband to the Second Jade of GusuLan are not many, but he takes them seriously for Lan Zhan's sake. Zewu-jun will often invite them to sit in at meetings with other sects, to learn. Lan Zhan will, at some point in the future, begin taking meetings of his own, to help support his brother. Wei Wuxian will join him, as the Jiang Sect representative. It's all terribly formal and not altogether interesting, but Lan Qiren has had to start taking him seriously, and that's been the most fun.

Once, Wei Wuxian had said to Lan Zhan, "I cannot believe your uncle let this marriage go ahead. Surely he had to have had objections."

Lan Zhan had looked thoughtful, finally saying, "At the end of the day, he and the other elders can advise, but he is not sect leader. The decision was always with my brother."

Thank goodness for that. Wei Wuxian loves his brother-in-law for that alone.

Now Lan Zhan nods. "I hope they will be happy," he says, then takes Wei Wuxian's hand and brings it to his lips. Their gazes meet. Wei Wuxian knows from that one look alone that he is getting epically railed tonight. He can't fucking wait.

Lan Zhan really has turned out to be insatiable, but that's good, because so is Wei Wuxian. Sex with Lan Zhan has not lost its shine now that it's a regular occurrence. If anything, it's made it better. They've tried...so many different things. In so many different ways. Lan Zhan is fucking amazing. The other day, he had fucked Wei Wuxian up against the wall while completely holding him up, and Wei Wuxian had nearly lost his mind.

He's learned to deep-throat. Lan Zhan has been really enjoying this newfound skill, and taking full advantage of it. Once, he laid Wei Wuxian out on his back with his head hanging off the bed, stood behind him, and fed him his cock in a way that allowed him to feel it expanding Wei Wuxian's throat from the outside. Wei Wuxian had been barely able to breathe. It had been incredible.

They're a little bit exhausted.

"I think I'm going to go over there and say hi," Wei Wuxian says now, taking one last swig of his wine.

"Mn."

He gets up and waits until Sect Leader Yao has cleared out (ugh, he can't stand that guy), then walks up to the dais, giving them both a wink. Predictably, Jiang Cheng scowls. "What?"

"What do you mean, what? Can't I wish my brother and my best friend happiness on their nuptials?"

Nie Huaisang looks a bit like he's sweating, up close, and his fan is going very quickly. Wei Wuxian doesn't miss the way his eyes linger on Jiang Cheng, though. Jiang Cheng doesn't seem to have noticed yet. Interesting.

"Are you being sarcastic?"

"Jiang Cheng, you wound me!" He puts a hand over his heart. "I'm not an asshole, I really wish you guys the best. I think you're gonna like being married. And, Nie-xiong, I think you're going to love Lotus Pier. Have you had Lotus Wind wine yet? You'll go crazy for it."

"I have not," Nie Huaisang tells him in a slightly shaky voice. "But I'm looking forward to it."

Wei Wuxian grins. "Seriously, marriage is great."

Jiang Cheng looks like he wants to say something cutting, but then quickly looks over at Nie Huaisang and stops himself. Also interesting. Wei Wuxian narrows his eyes. "You guys are being so awkward around one another, what the fuck. You're friends, remember?"

Nie Huaisang hides more behind his fan, but his eyes crinkle in a smile. Jiang Cheng rolls his eyes, but there's no real heat to it. Then he looks over at his new husband and bumps his shoulder. "Wei Wuxian is right, you know."

Wei Wuxian pretends to die of shock, much to Nie Huaisang's delight.

"I know," Huaisang says with a small smile, and bumps him back. "You were just being weird, so I—never mind. We're friends."

"And now, husbands!" Wei Wuxian beams. "Isn't it funny how the world works?"

"Don't you have a husband of your own to annoy?" Jiang Cheng turns back to him. "How he puts up with you, I'll never know."

Wei Wuxian leans in and whispers loudly, "I'm a tremendous lay, Jiang Cheng."

Jiang Cheng pushes him away with another scowl. "Gross. Don't talk to me about—about that."

Wei Wuxian sniggers, catching Nie Huaisang's eye, but Nie Huaisang has gone back to looking shell-shocked. Oh, right. It's possible he just realized he'll have to have sex with Jiang Cheng tonight. Good luck to him.

Wei Wuxian attempts to sober for their sake. "Listen. Seriously. Being friends already is great, you don't have to get to know a total stranger. You like each other! It's lucky!"

"Thank you, Wei-xiong," Nie Huaisang all but squeaks, then takes his cup of wine and downs it in one shot.

"Yeah, yeah." Jiang Cheng mirrors him.

"Atta boy." Wei Wuxian claps him on the shoulder. "All right, I'm going to go back, because I can feel Madam Yu's eyes on the back of my head. Am I right?"

Jiang Cheng looks around, then nods. "You are correct."

"Great. I'm leaving. See you later."

He gets the dubious honor of being one of many who escort the newlyweds to their wedding chamber later. Lan Zhan decides he wants no part of it, and who could blame him? Wei Wuxian cheers when the happy couple open the door and disappear, and then goes back to his husband, who is deep in conversation with his brother.

"Well, they've been sent off," he informs them. "The rest is up to them." Wei Wuxian has a good feeling about this. Not about the sex—he doesn't want to think about that part—but the marriage itself. They're good friends. Surely they can be good life partners. Jiang Cheng will be loyal, and Nie Huaisang will bring fun and mischief to the table, not to mention artistic sensibilities.

"I have made sure to wish them joy," Zewu-jun says, smiling his enigmatic smile. "I believe theirs will be a good union."

"I agree with you there," Wei Wuxian grins, then takes Lan Zhan's hand. "Ready?"

They're staying for several days—Lan Zhan's gift to Wei Wuxian. This way, he can drink with impunity, and spend some time at Lotus Pier. Shijie has already left. Being pregnant apparently tires you out, and she had looked happy but beat. But now Wei Wuxian has Lan Zhan with him, and Lan Zhan has never truly been to Lotus Pier, apart from their wedding. Wei Wuxian can't wait to show him around.

He has a whole agenda, with many items to tick off. One of them is to try and see if Lan Zhan will drink some Lotus Wind wine. Just a taste. He doesn't have to—but Wei Wuxian will offer, just in case. He will pick lotus pods from the lake for him, and go swimming with him, and they will have sex in Wei Wuxian's old room, with the windows open to let in the breeze from the water. (They'll be sure to be very, very quiet about it. It'll be like a new challenge for them. They never bother being quiet at home.)

"I am ready," Lan Zhan says, and after a nod to his brother, allows Wei Wuxian to cart him off.

They walk out into the cool night, the back of Wei Wuxian's neck immediately going up in goosebumps. It smells like lake water and lotus blossoms. Lan Zhan's hand feels good in his.

"I can't wait to show you my old room," Wei Wuxian says, leading them away from the courtyard.

"I'm looking forward to seeing it," Lan Zhan agrees, and follows.

The way there takes them many turns of the walkway, and it isn't until they're out of earshot of the banquet that Wei Wuxian pins Lan Zhan against the railing and kisses him. Lan Zhan instantly kisses back, taking hold of his jaw, the way Wei Wuxian knows he likes doing. Wei Wuxian smiles into the kiss.

"Shall we?" he asks after a while, and Lan Zhan, instead of pointing out that it had been Wei Wuxian who had stopped their progress in the first place, nods.

They walk hand in hand towards his old rooms, bumping shoulders and exchanging glances.

Wei Wuxian's heart is a fluttering, tender thing inside his chest. Lan Zhan is here, with him, and he always will be.

Wei Wuxian walks, and smiles, and thinks towards the future.

*