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the seasons come and go, but you’re still here

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It is Autumn and his heart delightfully aches at the sound of bells ringing at the entrance of the Cloud Recesses. Setting aside his brushes in haste, the man leaves behind his unfinished work and hurries from the library in a flurry of white silks.

Crisp, red leaves crunch beneath his feet with each step. He receives many odd stares from fellow Gusu Lan disciples, each likely recalling the number of times Hanguang Jun had scolded them for running to class in such a similar manner. Yet nothing at that point would be capable of slowing him down, if even for the briefest of moments; his beloved is finally home from his travels, and Lan Zhan can only think of how desperately he wants to hold him after nearly a month spent apart.

Wei Ying is wearing his hair down when he sees him. The chilly autumn air must be taking its toll and sending shivers down his usually exposed neck. Lan Zhan wants to run his hands through his hair and kiss his cheeks until they’re as red as the tree leaves, and so he moves faster than before.

“Ah! Lan Zhan, why are you running so fast?! That's scary!”

But he does not speak, instead pulling his husband into his arms as soon as he is within distance. Wei Ying gasps, then sputters in embarrassment as he recalls the crowds of Gusu Lan disciples who had gathered to welcome him home. They all giggle amongst themselves at the affectionate display, some hiding their bashful expressions behind their sleeves.

“H-Hey, they’re staring,” he says against his shoulder. “Let’s do this later…”

“I missed you,” is all he can murmur in response. His fingers tangle themselves into his hair, nearly trembling at how wonderful it is to be able to touch him again. One would think their many years apart would have hardened him to the pains of separation, but perhaps they only weakened him to them instead. “I’ve missed you… so much...”

“Mm… I can tell…”

::

 

Winter has come to the Cloud Recesses, and Wei Ying can only lie in bed and gaze outside at the distant fields of snow blanketing the mountainside. He is sick; nothing major aside from congestion and a bothersome sore throat, but it is more than enough to warrant Lan Zhan’s concern. Until he is fully healed, he cannot go outside.

But it isn’t all bad. Wei Ying turns his head to watch his husband, who has decided to work right beside him in their room over the past few days. Scrolls and stacks of paper are strewn across the floor, a consequence of not having the same desk space he would have in the library. It must be inconvenient. Guilt tugs at his heart, and he begins to sit up.

“You know, it’s okay to leave me alone for a bit. I’m not going to drop dead on you the moment you turn your back! It’s just a cold.”

Lan Zhan does not seem to appreciate the joke about him dying (again). He looks up, frowning disapprovingly.

“Isn’t working at such a small desk annoying, though? You should just go to the library.”

“Not annoying,” he replies, returning to his writings. “Just different. I can get the same work done anywhere.”

Silence returns to the room as Wei Ying watches his husband, paying careful attention to each and every move he makes. It’s funny, almost – typically he pesters him nonstop about when he’ll finish so they can spend time together, though now that he can’t climb all over him as per usual... He smiles softly. A finer appreciation for Lan Zhan’s studious, hard working nature swells up within him, along with a distinct feeling of happiness at getting to watch him in ways others could not.

Lan Zhan notices his staring. “Is something wrong?”

“No, but... Can you hold my hand while you work?”

“...Mn.” He smiles faintly but says nothing. The hand not being used to write reaches over, fingers threading together with Wei Ying’s own. 

They sit like that for a while, comfortably silent as Lan Zhan spends his time writing the cultivation reports from the past week. Wei Ying feels him squeeze his hand every now and then, as though to remind him that he hasn’t forgotten about him despite how focused he is. Eventually, however, Lan Zhan sets down his brush and heaves a sigh.

“Finished.”

“Good, good~ Say, Lan Zhan, I was thinking... Aren’t you cold? You’re not even wearing your winter robes right now.”

“I’m used to the winters here. You’re not.”

Wei Ying pouts, but then motions for his husband to come closer. He does, and that is when Wei Ying sits up to whisper into his ear, “Hanguang Jun, listen, listen. If your hands are cold and tired from all that hard work, I’ll let you warm them between my thighs~”

“My ears.”

“Huh?”

Lan Zhan stares back at him, almost pleadingly. “My ears are cold.”

“...”

“Wei Ying. I want to put my head–”

“I know what you meant!"

 

::

 

Lan Yuan is teaching them how to make bracelets from the spring flowers that have grown around the back mountain. They are a type that the rabbits don't like and have been avoiding ever since they budded. Rather than let the flowers run rampant and overpower the other species that the rabbits  did enjoy, Wei Ying had suggested they remove them. That was when Lan Yuan stepped in, saying they could do far better than simply rip them up to wither and die without fair use.

“You just need to weave the stems together, see?” The boy shows them his completed work, beaming at the looks of surprise on their faces. He makes it seem so easy! “Though I think this one is a little too big… It looks more like a crown.”

Lan Zhan offers the bracelet he's just finished. It is much smaller, looking the perfect size for a child’s wrist. He practically shoves it into Lan Yuan’s hands. “Here, take mine. I’ll do another.”

“Wow, you’re really good at this,” Wei Ying chirps, nudging his husband. “Although I think it’s because A-Yuan is such a great teacher. Maybe when he’s old enough, he can start directing lessons for the younger students!”

“Mn. I think that would be a good idea.”

Lan Yuan reddens, fumbling with putting on the flower bracelet his father handed him. “I– I wouldn’t say I’m good enough to do that. This kind of thing is hardly important, anyways.”

“Well, I think it’s important. Hobbies are nice.” Wei Ying grins and places his finished work atop the boy’s head. He laughs. “Lan Zhan’s hobby is taking care of rabbits, and mine is causing trouble at every turn! It’s only natural for you to develop your own.”

“Well… I guess so, huh?” Lan Yuan smiles shyly and continues weaving flowers together, obviously pleased with the attention from his fathers. “Maybe… Maybe we can come out here like this again when we aren’t too busy. And if Uncle Huan is available, then he could also come with us to make these. Do you think he’d like that?”

Lan Zhan’s expression softens, a fond look in his eyes. He is happy with the idea, and Wei Ying can only feel his own heart flutter with delight.

“Of course,” they both answer, and their son laughs.

 

::

Summer at the Lotus Pier is nostalgic for Wei Ying. He looks around with a strange expression in his eyes, as though he cannot decide on whether to be happy or sad at his return. Lan Zhan wants to reach over and reassuringly squeeze his hand, wants to tell him it’s okay to talk about whatever is bothering him, but they are not in a space private enough for him to do so.

Jiang Wanyin is walking alongside them, expression tight and sour. He also seems to be reflecting on something unpleasant, and Lan Zhan cannot help but feel mild concern as to why that might be. The history of the Lotus Pier is one wrought with loss for the other two men – this he knows, but for them to still behave so strangely whenever they both happen to be here together…

Lan Zhan wishes he had dragged his his brother along with them. Lan Huan is good at poking at uncomfortable topics. He, however, is not.

“Ah!” It is the first time he has heard Wei Ying speak within the last few minutes. Lan Zhan fully gives him his attention, trying his best not to look too excited at the sound of his voice. “Remember when we were younger and used to sneak out to buy pastries here? I mean, this is a different stall now, but I remember it used to be right here!”

Jiang Wanyin sighs. “ All the stalls here are different now. There’s no point in bringing up the obvious.”

“Well don’t get so mad! I haven’t been here in a while! Last time I came, all I got to see was the main hall where that stuffy meeting took place.”

“I don’t know why you even bothered coming to that meeting. You just slept through it and then had the nerve to ask me what you missed after it was over!”

“It’s not my fault everyone gives such boring speeches…”

The Yunmeng Jiang leader rolls his eyes – however, Lan Zhan quietly notes, he almost looks amused. Memories of how he and Wei Ying used to be inseparable youths during their time at the Cloud Recesses quickly come to mind; it is not jealousy that the he tastes in his mouth, but a hint of sadness. The two have yet to regain such closeness despite how much time has already passed since the clearing of the Yiling Patriarch’s name. He can't help but wonder how his husband feels about that.

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying suddenly says, grinning a little. “Are you feeling hot under all your robes?”

“What?”

“You look a little tired, haha. Home isn’t quite so humid this time of year, so I’m a little worried about you!”

Jiang Wanyin gives him an odd look. “What do you mean? It’s always humid this time of year. It’s the Cloud Recesses that aren’t –”

And then his faces goes scarlet in realization.

“Eh? You know that I live with Lan Zhan now, so I was talking about the Gusu Lan se –”

“I know what you meant!” Jiang Wanyin snaps, voice nearly cracking. His face has yet to recover, still burning with shame as he hurriedly marches on ahead of them. “Just… J-Just hurry up, we don’t have all day to spend touring the place! This isn’t some kind of honeymoon for you two! We have important business to take care of!”

Lan Zhan blinks. “I don’t think he likes me very much.”

Wei Ying only grins. “Is that what you think?”

“He seems… mad that you live with me now.”

“I don’t think so. I think he’s just struggling to adjust to all these changes. Things have been tough for Jiang Cheng for a long time… Be patient with him, okay? It might not seem like it, but I actually think he’s getting a lot better.”

“Mn… I think after the meeting, you both should talk.”

“Huh? Why?”

Lan Zhan glances around. “I… don’t want this to be a place of pain for you. Things have been tough for you, too.”

Wei Ying’s expression is a lot more serious than it normally is. “What… What does that have to do with Jiang Cheng?”

“You are important to each other,” which, he thinks, is a little awkward for him to admit, “It isn’t good to keep things like this to yourself... You’ll never be happy when you come here, then.”

“Wow. That was a lot said in so little words.”

“...”

Wei Ying sighs and rubs the back of his neck. “I guess I’ll talk to him… Don't blame me if I end up dead again, though."

"Not funny.”

“But you know, this place isn’t purely pain for me like you think. I do have a lot of happy memories here… it’s just natural to feel a little sad about them sometimes, don’t you think?” He smiles a little and places a hand on Lan Zhan’s cheek, a warm look in his eyes. Lan Zhan wants nothing more than to close the distance between them with a kiss. “How about I strike you a deal? After I talk to him, tonight I’ll show you all the places I used to steal watermelon from this time of year!”

“...Fine.”

“Oi! What are you two doing over there? Quit trying to eat each other’s faces and hurry it up , ” Jiang Wanyin calls from up ahead, hands planted on his hips. It’s rather easy to see where Jin Ling gets some of his personality from, now that Lan Zhan thinks about it. “Autumn will come before you two make it inside, I swear.”

Lan Zhan’s eyebrows twitch.

Maybe… Maybe Wei Ying doesn’t need to patch things up with this guy.

::

It is autumn once again, and they have already been awake for quite some time. The sun cannot even be seen peeking over the mountains just yet. Wei Ying has to admit though that he can now understand why his husband enjoys rising so early despite how agonizing it may seem – the world just before sunrise is so quiet, and yet so full of life. He feels content like this.

“It’s nice. Not nice enough to make me do this every day , but maybe once a week.”

Lan Zhan runs a hand through his hair. The touch of his fingers immediately relaxes him. “With me?”

“Who else am I going to bother at – what is it, 4 am? I’m not mean enough to drag A-Yuan out of bed at this hour. Children should enjoy being children for as long as they can.”

He receives a quiet hum in response. They sit together in silence for a little while longer, watching out the window for the approaching sunrise as they drink hot tea and rest within each other’s arms.

“Hey, Lan Zhan?”

“Mn?”

Wei Ying sets down his cup and reaches up to play with his husband’s face, forcing him to smile by pushing the corners of his lips upwards. “I’m not too annoying, am I?”

“...No.”

“Hey, what? You hesitated!”

“It’s hard to speak like this. Besides... Why do you ask?”

“Well, uh... We’ve already been together like this for a while… But there’s never going to be a point where you get tired of me, right? Like, you won’t wake up one day and think I’ve had enough of this guy and throw me out? I want to spend every season of the year like this with you until the very end, so I can't help but worry sometimes that – I dunno, maybe one day you won't feel the same if you think I'm kind of... annoying.”

Lan Zhan almost looks alarmed that he would even think of such a miserable end to their relationship. The man pries his hands away from his face and laces their fingers together, squeezing gently.

“Every day means every day.”

“...You know, out of context, that really sounds poetic! I like it~”

“Mn.” Lan Zhan kisses the top of his head. “I like it in-context, too.”