In the end, it wasn't ideologies that did them in. It wasn't necromancy, or even death. It was a nondescript yellow flower growing in a forgotten section of the Gusu mountains.
They were returning from a night hunt, and Wei Wuxian had expressed a desire to see another side of Gusu, and as always Lan Wangji was helpless to deny him. They had come through the field— massive, open, the craggy mountains rising to the sky all around them, their peaks and ridges both familiar and strange from this different angle.
"Ah, Lan Zhan!" Wei Wuxian had sighed. "Who knew your mountains could hide such a place!" He flopped, shameless, down into a bed of yellow flowers, and Lan Wangji looked with pleasure at the way he stretched his arms behind his head. Wei Wuxian saw him looking, and smirked.
"Come join me, Lan Zhan. Surely you won't just stand there."
Lan Wangji had thought to shake his head, to remain standing, to smile fondly at Wei Wuxian's shamelessness. His nose itched. He couldn't remember why it mattered if he lay down in the flowers next to Wei Wuxian. He did so, and Wei Wuxian yelped with surprise.
"Lan Zhan, you'll get your robes all dirty," he said. "I was just teasing."
"Hm," Lan Zhan said, and the vibration felt pleasant against his lips. He did it again, just to feel the soft buzz of air. He felt strange and sensitive all over, but Wei Wuxian often made him feel this way.
He hummed a third time, and Wei Wuxian propped himself up on an elbow and looked at him. Lan Wangji thought he looked very handsome like that, above him. It was not an angle he was used to seeing Wei Wuxian from. Like the mountains, his face had grown both familiar and strange.
Wei Wuxian was still looking at him. Lan Wangji felt his face grow hot. Wei Wuxian's eyes were very dark. His lips were very red.
Lan Wangji wondered what his mouth would feel like, if he hummed into it. If Wei Wuxian might find the vibration of air from Lan Wangji’s lips pleasant. He could not think of a reason not to find out.
He pulled Wei Wuxian down to him, amidst the flowers, and Wei Wuxian squawked a little and kissed him back. He hummed into Wei Wuxian's mouth, and Wei Wuxian made a very gratifying sound.
"Wait," Wei Wuxian said, after a while of this, kissing and being kissed. He pushed himself back, sitting back on Lan Wangji’s lap. His robes were disarrayed and his hair was coming down where Lan Wangji had put his hands into it. He looked like a picture from a spring book. Lan Wangji wanted to lick his throat.
"Wait, wait, wait," he said, and Lan Wangji could deny him nothing, even if he didn't understand why they weren't kissing again. He very patiently put his hands on Wei Wuxian's thighs, and Wei Wuxian shuddered pleasantly.
"Lan Zhan, we have to, you're not. The pollen," Wei Wuxian said. He was panting, his chest moving with his words. "It's a Thousand Tongued Daylily."
Wei Wuxian's voice rolled over him like rippling silk. Something about a plant.
"I want you," Lan Wangji said. He had wanted Wei Wuxian for nearly 20 years, since he had leaped onto a rooftop, shining in the moonlight. He had agonized about this for so long, but it all seemed very simple to him now in the sunlight. "Do you want me?"
Wei Wuxian's lips parted. His thighs tensed under Lan Wangji’s hands. "Yes," he breathed.
"Then have me," Lan Wangji said, tugging him back down.
Wei Wuxian did fall apart very nicely when Lan Wangji kissed his way along his neck. He threw his head back and moaned so sweetly and loudly Lan Wangji thought the bowl of the valley around them would ring with it. When Lan Wangji's fingers grew too clumsy with want to undo the ties of his robes, he laughed, and ripped his robes open himself so that Lan Wangji could suck hot bruises down his chest.
He could feel desire flowing in him like a river in springtime, leaping, joyous, about to burst its banks. Why had they waited so long? Why hadn't he kissed Wei Wuxian the first night they had met, or at the Wen supervisory office, weak with relief, or on the steps at Jinlintai, in front of the world? He knew there had been reasons, but he couldn't think of a single one.
Wei Wuxian saw that he had grown distracted and pulled Lan Wangji back up to kiss him, and Lan Wangji lost himself in the bright sparkling sensation of Wei Wuxian’s hands fisted in his hair, the way it set his nerves alight. Wei Wuxian bit at his lip when he pulled back, and smiled, sharp.
After that everything was a blur of feeling, the grass prickling at the back of his thighs, Wei Wuxian’s mouth warm and wet at his neck, Wei Wuxian’s hands smudging hot touches all over his body as Lan Wangji fumbled with a vial of oil.
Everything felt amplified; even the hot press of his fingers into Wei Wuxian’s body sent sparks up his spine. He could feel Wei Wuxian surrounding him– just his fingers, but soon that would be his cock, and they would be as close as it was possible for two people to be. He added more oil, and watched it trickle slowly around his fingers onto the grass beneath them.
“Hurry up, hurry up,” Wei Wuxian said, grabbing for him. His fingertips felt like a brand where they dug into Lan Wangji’s hips, encouraging. When Lan Wangji sank into him, Wei Wuxian made a soft noise Lan Wangji had never heard him make before. He could see where Wei Wuxian opened for him. He wanted to memorize all of it.
When he looked away from their joined bodies, Wei Wuxian had one arm thrown over his face, so that Lan Wangji could only see the stark curve of his jaw, his red-bitten mouth fallen open. He wanted to see Wei Wuxian's eyes, to know what he looked like when Lan Wangji was inside him. How pleasure blew his pupils wide and dark.
But Wei Wuxian did not move his arm, only clutched Lan Wangji closer with his other hand, urging him closer, faster. Hot bright sparks shivered across Lan Wangji's skin at the touch. He could feel Wei Wuxian pulse around him like a heartbeat, fluttering faster and faster as his own world narrowed to a shocking pleasure in his belly. Then the world went white and endless, and Wei Wuxian came shuddering around him as Lan Wangji spilled into him.
He lay immobile for long moments. Gradually he came back to the rapid sound of their mingled breathing. If this was what dual cultivation felt like, no wonder it was kept so secret. Who would not kill for such a feeling?
Wei Wuxian was combing his fingers clumsily through Lan Wangji’s hair, and he hummed at the sensation. Wei Wuxian often helped him with his headdress, but here in the meadow, with their naked bodies intertwined, it felt different to be touched so gently.
He began to realize that his softening cock was still inside of Wei Wuxian, and made attempts to rectify the situation. As he pulled out, a little spill of his own cum rolled down Wei Wuxians thigh. He pushed it back in with his thumb, enjoying the way Wei Wuxian still opened so easily for him.
Wei Wuxian laughed brightly. "Stop staring at the mess you've made of my asshole and come back, you fiend," he said, pulling Lan Wangji back against his breast.
Lan Wangji frowned. He had made a mess of Wei Ying. He should take responsibility. "I will find water," he said, and did not allow Wei Wuxian to pull him back down. Wei Wuxian should be comfortable, and Lan Wangji was aware of the itch of drying cum on his own still-sensitive body. He went to find their water gourd.
But he took too long, his limbs still clumsy with heat. When he returned with his own clothes and the gourd, Wei Wuxian was sitting up, already dressed. "Ah, Lan Zhan," Wei Wuxian said, his laugh too heavy on his tongue. Perhaps his lips were still bruised where Lan Wangji had pressed him into the soft dirt and kissed him and kissed him and kissed him. Lan Wangji could not tell; Wei Wuxian's back was to him. Wei Wuxian pulled his robes tight around his shoulders. He often grew cold, without a core to warm him.
Lan Wangji wanted to offer his own outer robe. In the fading haze of sex he thought only that Wei Ying should not be cold. The fog was fading quickly, replaced by a sinking weight in the pit of his stomach. Wei Wuxian would not look at him, and he needed to see his face — to see what Wei Wuxian had hidden from him, when he had clapped his palm over his eyes.
He reached out, the fabric of his outer robe clenched in his palm, and as he brushed Wei Wuxian's shoulder, Wei Wuxian flinched. The robe slithered from Lan Wangji's hand. A sick horror began to rise in him.
"Let's go back, Lan Zhan ," Wei Wuxian said, putting his hair back up from where Lan Wangji's roving hands had disheveled it. "I'm getting cold."
The sun was still high in the sky, not yet beginning its disappearance behind the precipitous ring of the mountains. But the meadow grass no longer felt warm on Lan Wangji's skin either.
It was a long, silent walk to Cloud Recesses.
Later, in the jingshi, it became clear: he had had Wei Wuxian, and now he had lost him forever.
Lan Wangji thought of all of his small rituals of care — peeled fruit in the mornings, Wei Wuxian's cup and bowl drying in the sunshine, the small brazier kept near the desk for his eternal cold hands. The comb lying in its place near the hair oils, for when Wei Wuxian helped him take down his headpiece. He had traded all of those bright things for a single moment of lost control.
Wei Wuxian would not let Lan Wangji care for him again. He could barely look at Lan Wangji.
Lan Wangji remembered how hard Wei Wuxian had worked, as a boy, for a scrap of his attention. How he himself had felt so full of desire he might die with it. He had thought it the worst thing in the world, when Wei Wuxian's gaze had skittered over him as soon as he met it, like none of it mattered. Like it didn't light him on fire just to see the curve of Wei Wuxian's lips.
He knew now that he was a fool. He should never have allowed himself to look back, even then. He had had Wei Wuxian's eyes on him; he had met that gaze, had returned it. Months and months of warm brown gazes, flickers of black heat, the crinkle at the corner of his eyes when he broke into a smile. And Lan Wangji had lost it all.
This was the worst thing: Wei Wuxian looked at Lan Wangji’s shoes. He greeted him with perfect, stilted courtesy. He would not meet his eyes.
And in the meadow, Lan Wangji had reached for him, in concern, in confusion, and Wei Wuxian had flinched away. He had shrugged on his robes with an uncomfortable laugh, and Lan Wangji had watched as Wei Wuxian had sealed himself away.
And when they had reached the steps of the jingshi, Wei Wuxian had paused just inside the door. He took a deep breath, his shoulders square against—the cold? Lan Wangji moved to light a brazier, but Wei Wuxian pulled him back with a hand on his sleeve.
"Lan Zhan," he said, "I wanted to apologize."
Lan Wangji blinked at him. "To apologize." He still felt wrongfooted, from having Wei Wuxian so close and then suddenly so distant. They had walked side by side down the mountain, but Wei Wuxian had felt a thousand li away.
"With—in the meadow. I shouldn't—"
Lan Wangji felt his face heat, grateful for the darkness of the jingshi. "Wei Ying has nothing to apologize for." Wei Wuxian had not been the one to tumble them into the grass, not the one to strip their clothing away, not the one to— he shook his head. "It is I who should apologize," he said.
"No," Wei Wuxian said, suddenly vehement. "No, if I don't need to apologize, you certainly shouldn't." His brow was half in shadow; only the lantern light filtering in from the porch lit the turn of his cheek up towards Lan Wangji, the black hollows of his eyes.
"It can be neither of us, then," Wei Wuxian said. "A freak of nature, that plant. It wasn't real. It can just not mean anything."
Lan Wangji's heart sank into his gut. In the heat of the meadow, he had not listened when Wei Wuxian had explained, but he remembered running across a reference to Thousand Tongued Daylily before. It was an aphrodisiac, and Lan Wangji had been so foolishly blind with want for Wei Wuxian he hadn't even noticed anything out of the ordinary.
But Wei Wuxian had. "Wei Ying—" he began.
Wei Wuxian paused, a dark familiar shape in the dark familiar room. "I'm tired, Lan Zhan," he said. "Can we talk about this later?"
Lan Wangji nodded, his throat choked with fear, then realized Wei Wuxian's back was to him. "Mn," he said. "Later."
But it had been weeks, and later had not yet arrived.
In the absence of conversation, Lan Wangji had been waiting for Wei Wuxian to leave, to say with false brightness that he'd overstayed his welcome and it was time for him to return to the road. Lan Wangji did not know how to tell him that his welcome was not something that spoiled quickly as a fruit in summer, even now.
But Wei Wuxian did not leave. Lan Wangji asked, one morning, catching Wei Wuxian before he vanished from the jingshi, if he would prefer to stay in the guest quarters.
Wei Wuxian stiffened, when Lan Wangji grabbed his sleeve. He had been trying so hard not to touch Wei Wuxian, but he didn't know how else to stop him.
"Ah," Wei Wuxian said, not turning. His shoulders looked like two halves of a wall. "I suppose that might be easier."
"If you would be more comfortable there," Lan Wangji said.
Wei Wuxian laughed, then, with all the tension still in his shaking shoulders. "No," he said, when his laugh has quieted. "I don't think I would."
"You are welcome to stay here, then," Lan Wangji said, "as long as you would like."
Wei Wuxian did turn then, finally. His gaze was searching, as though Lan Wangji were a particularly inscrutable talisman. Lan Wangji did not feel inscrutable. Wei Wuxian had carved all of his emotions out of him that afternoon in the meadow and arrayed them on his face and his body like a buffet of soft things, there for the taking.
"Would you—" He shook his head, and bowed. "Thanking Hanguang-jun for his hospitality," he said, brightly, his smile falling over his face like a shutter, and Lan Wangji felt sick with it.
He wanted to leap forward and pull Wei Wuxian from the bow, as he had seen his brother had done with Jin Guangyao so many times. But Wei Wuxian did not wish to be touched.
He returned the bow, feeling just as stiff as the jade statue his reputation made him out to be. Wei Wuxian's footsteps were light on the stairs. Lan Wangji did not rise from his bow until he could no longer hear them.
Wei Wuxian did not leave. But he might as well have been a ghost Lan Wangji shared space with. He was gone from the jingshi's guest room by the time Lan Wangji returned from his morning meditation, and he did not return until after Lan Wangji had readied himself for bed.
Lan Wangji had waited with a pot of tea at the low table until long past the hour for bed. He had kept the lanterns low, so that Wei Wuxian would not stumble in the dark. But he had fallen asleep, and the lanterns had burnt themselves out. He was awoken by Wei Wuxian's quiet curse when he slipped into the jingshi, as though he had been waiting for the lights to go out before returning, so that he could avoid Lan Wangji.
"Oh, Lan Zhan," Wei Wuxian said, quietly. He rested an arm on Lan Wangji’s shoulder, and then he saw Lan Wangji’s eyes blink open, and his face changed. He pulled away and continued brightly, "that tea must have really put you to sleep! Let's get you to bed."
And he walked a full step behind Lan Wangji, until they reached the threshold of his bedroom. Wei Wuxian had used to usher him places with a hand at the small of his back, an easy, proprietary touch. Once he had carried Lan Wangji to bed, after he had foolishly twisted his ankle on a night hunt, and tucked him in like a child. And now he was a step away, waiting outside of Lan Wangji’s private space, like a servant, or a petitioner. Lan Wangji did not wait up again.
But Wei Wuxian did not take Little Apple and leave Cloud Recesses, and Lan Wangji did not know why. Surely there was nothing keeping him here. Surely it would be easier for him to go.
Once he caught Wei Wuxian looking at him, his brow furrowed, as if trying to figure something out. But as soon as he saw Lan Wangji’s head turn, he flushed, and looked away.
This couldn’t last. Lan Wangji couldn’t even see Wei Wuxian from a distance, his head bent over a talisman with one of the juniors, without noticing the pale expanse of neck that he had kissed. He heard Wei Wuxian laugh, from a courtyard away, and thought of his bright laughter in the meadow. If there was something he could do to make Wei Wuxian feel comfortable laughing with him again— if he could apologize in such a way that Wei Wuxian would come back to the jingshi before the lights were out, or share a meal with him and Sizhui. If they could not return to their previous easy closeness, perhaps they could be friends again.
So he needed to lie in wait, then. He knew Wei Wuxian sometimes returned to the jingshi for lunch, when he knew Lan Wangji would be busy with meetings. So at midday he canceled a meeting, and boiled water for tea. He spread the tray and the pot and cups on the low table, and settled in to wait.
It didn’t take terribly long before there was a rustle at the door. The water would still be hot. And then Wei Wuxian was standing in the open doorway with his boots halfway off and his mouth open in a comical O.
"Wei Ying," Lan Wangji said. He picked up the teapot and began to pour. "I would like to have that conversation now, if it is convenient for you."
Wei Wuxian looked caught out. But he joined Lan Wangji at the low table. He looked pale, his eyes bright, like he hadn’t been sleeping well. Lan Wangji didn’t like it.
“I’m sorry,” Lan Wangji began, meaning to apologize for his deception in orchestrating this conversation, but Wei Wuxian interrupted him.
"Don't," he said. "Lan Zhan, please don't apologize to me for— what happened, in the meadow." Wei Wuxian couldn’t even talk about it. This was not a promising beginning.
"Why shouldn't I?” Lan Wangji set down the kettle. “We were both affected, but you were made— I made you uncomfortable, and so I should apologize."
Wei Wuxian was staring at the wood grain. Even now he wouldn’t look Lan Wangji in the eye. "No, we weren't," he said, miserably.
"What?" Of course they had both been affected. Wei Wuxian had clutched at him, and— and encouraged him— had moaned, and laughed, when Lan Wangji had entered him—
"We weren't both affected. I don't have a core."
"Thousand Tongued Daylily pollen flows through the meridians," Lan Wangji said, frowning. He had checked, during one of the long interminable Wei Ying-less weeks, in the library, to make sure there would be no lasting ill effects on either of them. “It affects cultivators and non-cultivators alike, and your meridians are mostly intact.”
"But— but I wasn't affected," Wei Wuxian repeated. He was, if possible, even paler than before. He had blushed so nicely in the meadow, but he had been under the effect of an aphrodisiac, and now he was sitting uncomfortably across from Lan Wangji. It was unfair to compare the two.
"Wei Ying." Lan Wangji took a breath. "Of course if you say you were not affected, I will believe you. But are you sure? You seemed—” His eyes had been so bright, and his hands had clung to Lan Wangji’s sides, as though he couldn’t stop touching. “And even I did not recognize the pollen initially, because it did not differ from my— my ordinary feelings towards you."
He hazarded a glance across the table. Wei Wuxian's mouth hung open. "Your feelings towards me," he said.
"We don't need to discuss them further," Lan Wangji said, looking down again. "I do not wish to make you uncomfortable."
"Lan Zhan, please," Wei Wuxian said, his hand shooting out to grab Lan Wangji’s wrist. "Pretend I am very stupid, with a very poor memory. Enlighten me." He was finally looking up, but it was Lan Wangji who could not meet his eyes this time.
There was no point in dissembling any further. Wei Wuxian deserved honesty from him, and he could not keep him here under false pretenses. "I want you," Lan Wangji said. "I consider you my soulmate. I have wanted you for years, almost as long as I have loved you."
"Lan Zhan." Wei Wuxian's eyes, when he raised his gaze to meet them, were wet in the flickering light. "How can you say that so easily?"
"I have lived with it for a long time," Lan Wangji said, and smiled, a little shaky. "Wei Ying is easy to love."
Wei Wuxian’s hand shot across the table, and grabbed Lan Wangji’s in his own. "Me too," he said, pressing a kiss to Lan Wangji’s knuckles. "Me too, me too, me too. Lan Zhan!”
Lan Wangji could feel his heartbeat in his throat, brimming with joy. Perhaps Wei Wuxian could feel it in his fingertips, against his lips.
Wei Wuxian frowned, briefly. “But I thought— I thought it was the pollen. I thought you didn't really want me."
"You did not take advantage of anything I did not freely give."
"And then after, I felt so guilty, and you just kept trying to apologize—"
"You were uncomfortable, and I had made you that way." Lan Wangji rubbed his thumb across Wei Wuxian’s. "I was so afraid you would leave, and so determined not to keep you here if you wished to go."
"I thought of leaving. That night I came back late and tripped over you in the dark, I was going to pack that night and be gone in the morning."
He had been so close to losing Wei Wuxian, then, after all these years. Lan Wangji felt dizzy at the thought. "I wanted to talk to you. Or just to sit with you, if you didn't want to talk."
"I know," Wei Wuxian said, scrubbing a hand across his face. "Your forehead ribbon had slipped and your cheek was creased from your sleeve, and I wanted to kiss you so badly. But you'd stopped touching me, so I just let you go." He smiled wetly. "We're really so stupid, Lan Zhan. We must be the two stupidest people alive. Will you still love me if I'm tremendously foolish?"
"Yes," Lan Wangji said. He could not stop smiling, and the expression felt strange and new on his face.
"Why is this table in the way?" Wei Wuxian said, untangling his legs with some frustration. "I needed to be kissing you five minutes ago. Three weeks ago. Twenty years ago."
He came to Lan Wangji's side and sat next to him, their bodies curving towards each other like the unfolding petals of a flower. Lan Wangji felt breathless. Wei Wuxian bent very close to his face, and paused, his hand hovering above Lan Wangji's cheek. He seemed to be searching for something in Lan Wangji's face. "Can I?" he said, hushed.
Lan Wangji rose to meet his kiss. If he hadn't known better, from the way Wei Wuxian's lips felt against his own, he would have said the room had been filled with those little yellow flowers.