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Wuxian thinks about his role in the Cloud Recesses sometimes. Reflects when Wangji goes and comes back from meetings with the Lan elders while he stays in the Jingshi, like the proper partner that he promised he’d be whenever they make their trip back to Gusu. Quiet, submissive, obedient, unobtrusive.

Demure.

“Mature,” Wangji whispers instead into his ear in the heat of the night, on their bed, when Wuxian asks him if he likes his husband being referred to as such amongst the other cultivators. “The Yiling Patriarch, tamed at last by the illustrious HanGuang-Jun, turned into a reserved little thing. Brought to heel, like the rabid animal that he is. What do you think, Lan Zhan?”

Wuxian doesn’t much care what they say, neither does Wangji; but they both know firsthand the clout of the grapevine in distorting a person’s name, a situation, an apparent truth. And Wuxian can’t help but wonder if having a more docile reputation – what they call him, how they perceive their relationship – would benefit his husband. Even if he generally stays away from cultivators’ conferences and elder meetings, and Wangji never mentions it, Wuxian doesn’t have to be a genius to recognise how much flak Wangji must have faced for his sake.

He wonders. Wonders. Will having a docile Yiling Patriarch by your side make them respect you a little more, HanGuang-Jun? I wouldn’t mind that, if it’s for you. Being called docile, a submissive role.

But Wangji breathes and repeats, “Mature.”

Insists it as he slots their lips together and kisses him like a puzzle slipping into its rightful place to form the picture that it’s supposed to be. A masterpiece waiting to be completed. A magnum opus. But more than anything else – home.

“Mature.”

Wuxian thinks that his heart must have swelled three times in size at that, the way Wangji’s voice turns heavy and obstinate, because his breath catches harshly at the base of his throat. It makes him think of the time when he watched Madame Yu hold Jiang Cheng while Lotus Pier scorched the skies a sunset glow in the background.

When Jiang Cheng and Jiang Yanli picked their way carefully through the Burial Mounds to bring a fragment of shijie’s wedding to him when he couldn’t reach out to them from his shackles of responsibilities.

When Sizhui held his hand and told him Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think my surname was once Wen, and I remember Xian-gege.

And Wuxian feels rattled, like he would be blown apart, scattered across the seven corners of the universe if someone does not hold on to him and keep him grounded – and that is exactly what Wangji does, one strong arm wrapped around Wuxian’s waist and another cupping the back of his head with a reverence unworthy of him.

The burning that’s prickling behind his eyes doesn’t abate, however, so Wuxian laughs instead. Laughs so hard he nearly wets himself because the alternative to it is to cry, and it’s been more than 13 years too late for that.

And what even is Wangji talking about – Wei Wuxian and maturity? World’s greatest joke. Wuxian doesn’t hesitate in telling his husband exactly that.

“Are you listening to yourself, Lan Zhan?” Wuxian wipes the tears from his eyes as he lets Wangji gently bring his head to the crook of his neck, drawing a deep breath filled with Wangji’s scent of sandalwood. “Your uncle will laugh even harder than me, and it’d be a disrespect to your sect to have an elder die of laughter. Don’t ever repeat what you just said in front of all the Lan elders, alright?”

“Mm,” Wangji replies shortly, tipping his head and burying his nose into Wuxian’s hair, pressing them both together closely. “They wouldn’t understand.”

Wuxian scoffs and toes at the loose sheets on their bed as he gets comfortable on top of Wangji. “I wouldn’t either. I think the world of myself, but even I wouldn’t call myself mature.”

Wangji lets a considerable period of silence lapse between them after that, long enough that Wuxian would have thought that his husband has fallen asleep if not for his fingers stroking his hair – quiet, contemplative, tender, each touch heavy and wistful with a note of Wangji’s affection.

At length, he presses one kiss – two, and then three – against Wuxian’s temple, and tells him, firm, “The juniors will.”

“Will what?” Wuxian asks, tipping his head back to look into Wangji’s eyes.

“Will understand.”

“Understand what?”

Wangji heaves a laboured breath at that, and Wuxian is intimately familiar with the sound. It’s Wangji’s that’s-the-end-of-my-patience-I’m-done-with-this sigh, and Wuxian starts sitting up to make a point; but Wangji just rolls them over and looms over Wuxian with a fond, marginal curl of his lips, his hair a modest curtain of black around them. The night is dark – devoid of moonlight, bereft of starlight – and Wangji has put out the candles long ago, but this close, Wuxian can see the brightness in Wangji’s eyes.

“HanGuang-Jun!” He pulls the angriest frown that he’s able to, but the both of them know that it’s only for show; it’s worlds away from the savagery that had once rested on the brows, hidden in the twitch of the lips of the Yiling Patriarch.

“Wei Ying,” Wangji replies and steals Wuxian’s lips, breath, heart in one fell swoop.

“...You’re despicable,” Wuxian whispers against the curve of his husband’s jaw, and that is the end of his coherence for the night. Wangji is nothing if not thorough.

But it stays. Wangji’s words. In Wuxian’s mind. A long, long time after that. Because Wuxian has promised that he’ll remember everything that Wangji tells him now; because Wangji never wastes or minces his words; and because Wuxian cannot stand not knowing what Wangji had deduced of him and the juniors.

So he thinks. Thinks about his role in the Cloud Recesses.

Thinks about his role beyond.

Also thinks about his role transcending time.

---

Jingyi approaches Wuxian just as he’s exiting the Jingshi to bring Chenqing out for maintenance. There’s a determined look in his eyes, but he’s also hilariously jittery and awkward – and what is one’s season of youth without some false bravado.

“Yiling Patriarch Wei Wuxian!” Jingyi exclaims – arm raised, finger pointing, voice tight, as if he’s never seen Wuxian before and is here to start a fight over a dead family member. It catches Wuxian by surprise, a foot over the threshold, about to step out.

“...Yes? Are you constipated? I can’t help you if that’s the problem. Ask Old Master Lan instead,” Wuxian blathers when all Jingyi does is stare at him, doing nothing beyond dropping his arm. It instantly tips the boy into indignance.

“What kind of rubbish are you spouting now?” Jingyi loses his apprehension and slips into his usual casual behaviour. “How are you even living with all the blasphemies that you’ve said?”

Wuxian shrugs, steps all the way out, and closes the door to the Jingshi. “What exactly is the blasphemy? You being constipated? But you did look like you were constipated.”

“I wasn’t!” Jingyi insists, but some kind of self-consciousness is starting to creep back into his posture, and it’s easy to see that he’s here for something.

“Fine, fine,” Wuxian relents. Old age has really worn him down. “You weren’t. What did you want though?”

The boy falters and fiddles with his thumbs for a while at that, a frown pinching his face. His shoulder hunches, and Wuxian wonders what in the world could have brought Jingyi down.

“Is it another night hunt gone wrong or something?” he asks just as he raises Chenqing from his side to tuck it at his waist.

“What do you mean another – ah wait, is that Chenqing?”

Chenqing. The feared demonic flute that had played tunes that led corpses to war, but also the flute that had put Sizhui to bed at night when he was a toddler. Wuxian looks down at it, and then back at Jingyi. “Mm. What about it?”

“‘Mm’ you say… You sound more and more like HanGuang-Jun these days,” Jingyi replies, scratching the back of his neck awkwardly, and Wuxian grins unrepentantly.

“Oh, don’t you know? Two people who spends a lot of time together will – ”

“Okay, wait, stop!!” Jingyi turns so red Wuxian thinks he would faint from the rush of blood. “God, you’re shameless. Horribly shameless. How does HanGuang-Jun even stand you.”

“Hmph,” Wuxian scoffs, a hand on his hip and leaning his weight on one leg. “He was the one who brought me back here and married me, who do you think is more shameless?”

Jingyi doesn’t even hesitate. “You. Definitely you.”

Wuxian rolls his eyes, but then nudges Jingyi in concern. “You’re definitely not just here to tell me that I’m shameless though. What’s wrong? Is it love? Did you find a girl you like but are unable to make a move on? I can teach you – ”

“No such thing!” Jingyi leaps forward to slap a hand against Wuxian’s lips, and then springs away just as quickly when he thinks about how upset HanGuang-Jun would be if he ever catches wind of someone else touching Wuxian unsolicited.

Wuxian, in contrast, falters at a separate realisation. “Jingyi… be honest with me. Did you. Just. Grow taller than me? Even you too?!”

“...Are you seriously crying over this?” Jingyi steps away awkwardly when Wuxian tries to inch closer to compare their height. Wuxian has hardly grown ever since he crossed into the boundaries of Gusu and the Cloud Recesses all those years ago, and it’s a particularly sore subject especially when all the juniors started experiencing their growth spurt a while back. The day Wuxian realised that Sizhui was several inches taller than him had been a horrible memory. It had taken Sizhui several days to coax his surrogate parent out of depression.

“And what exactly did you mean by ‘you too’?! Did you expect me to stay the same?!”

Wuxian stares at him with a betrayed look, and Jingyi nearly flips. He did! He really did!

“That’s it… I’m done. I’m so done.”

“Ehhhhh stop, stop, hang on just a second!” Wuxian throws out an arm frantically and grabs Jingyi’s shoulder, throwing an arm around him. “I was just joking, alright? Just joking. Come on, don’t storm off like that.”

“You’re the worst, did anyone ever tell you that?” Jingyi shrugs Wuxian away and crosses his arms.

“Jiang Cheng used to tell me every day when I was younger, and so did Lan Zhan. And now your Old Master Lan does it too, so yeah, common knowledge to me,” Wuxian waves the comment away nonchalantly, laughing when he dodges Jingyi’s swipe at him and starts leading them away from the Jingshi.

“And yet you do nothing about it.”

Wuxian only laughs louder. “Why would I when it makes life all the more interesting for me? Look at how much more lenient HanGuang-Jun is with you all these days. It’s all because he has gotten used to me, you know?”

“You’re really the worst!” Jingyi sticks his tongue out at him, exasperation clear on his face as he trails after Wuxian. The boy’s steps are firm and unwavering, matching Wuxian stride for stride.

“That’s right, I am. But for all the entertainment that you’re providing today, was there a reason for your visit?” Wuxian prods again, heading towards his favourite pine tree by a ledge, past misty clouds of water spray that shimmer in the evening light.

It’s only the beginning of autumn, but already the days are becoming shorter than before. Wuxian loves it the way he doesn’t quite the other seasons – the clear skies a beautiful display of colours during sunset and a glorious spectacle of clouds of stars strewn across the night blanket after that. Around them, the foliages are slowly turning a brilliant shade of yellow and red, punctuating the green in little stops and starts; and Wuxian lets silence envelope them until they’re almost at their destination.

“Jingyi?”

Jingyi doesn’t reply, only follows Wuxian for a few more paces, catching his senior’s eyes with an uncharacteristic solemnity. And then lets out a heavy heave of breath.

“I’ve some questions to ask you, actually. Wei qian bei,” he adds hastily, as if thinking that better manners would make a difference to Wuxian.

“Don’t,” Wuxian waves it away, and then realises that Jingyi’s mistaking his words when his face falls. “I mean, don’t be all formal with me now. Not don’t ask me the questions. I may be a lot of things, but one thing I’m not is an asshole who wants people to butter me up, especially among friends. Do you understand?”

Wuxian says it so offhandedly that he almost doesn’t catch the startled, shy look on Jingyi’s face. “What? Why do you look so surprised?”

“...By all accounts, I’m your junior, not a friend,” Jingyi mutters hesitantly, plucking at a stray thread on his sleeves, watching as Wuxian starts to sit down by the tree, arranging his robes around him. He pauses halfway to stare at Jingyi like he couldn’t believe his ears.

“Are you for freaking real? Friendships based on seniority? Do you know how lonely that would make Baoshan Sanren? She must be at least thousands of years old, with little to no friends!” Wuxian snaps, gesturing at the spot beside him for Jingyi to sit down.

“Well, maybe that’s why she went into hiding,” Jingyi retorts, slumping into place.

“Smart boy, well said,” Wuxian gives him a droll look, “So have you ever considered that maybe that’s why friendships based on seniority is stupid? Seriously, is there a problem with us being friends or something?”

“N..no… Just...”

“Just that Old Master Lan is too strict with the lot of you, and you like to pick the wrong time and occasion to be a stickler for rules, that’s what,” Wuxian retorts, pulling Chenqing out from his waist and setting it on his lap. “You’ve never had any problem talking to me like an equal, so I don’t get why you have to be all awkward now just because you have some questions for me. Now, spill.”

Jingyi doesn’t immediately oblige, settling for watching Wuxian tug out a few more smaller pieces of cloth and a pot of walnut oil, as well as a thin bamboo stick. The wind whistles around them in trills and rustles, ruffling Wuxian’s hair in gentle waves of black and ash. Calm and quiet like this, attention focused on cleaning Chenqing, Jingyi can understand why HanGuang-Jun would love Wuxian this much, transcending the physical body. There’s something about Wuxian that’s too earnest for this world, and Jingyi wonders –

“Is Chenqing really a demon flute?”

Wuxian snorts at the unexpected question and nearly chokes, eyes tearing. “Is that what you think too?”

Jingyi pulls a face, shrugging. “That’s what everyone says.”

“Everyone says lots of things though. If they suddenly say that I’m actually straight as an arrow, does that mean that I will be, and that your HanGuang-Jun will be without a partner? I’m asking about what you think,” Wuxian replies, going back to his task but also watching Jingyi from the corner of his eyes as silence lapses between them again.

“Hey...would you tell me the story of Chenqing if I asked?” Jingyi enquires after some time, eyes fixed on Wuxian. At that, Wuxian pauses in his polishing of Chenqing. Removes the bamboo stick that he’s been using to oil the insides of the black flute, its decorative tassels unfastened.

“Hm...” Wuxian tips his head and looks all the more beautiful for it. “Will I get to hear why you want to know?”

Jingyi bites his lips, looks away, looks back. Nods.

Wuxian laughs. “Alright. What do you want to hear about Chenqing? I’m sure it’s not about all the zombies and ghosts it has led?”

“No. Tell me… how did you get Chenqing. Why do you wield Chenqing? Why did you name it Chenqing?”

---

Chenqing.

Wuxian looks down at the flute in his lap and casts his mind across the sea of bygones. Thinks back to a time when there was nothing in his life but insidious whispers and ghostly fires. When he’d been forced to grow up far too soon, far too quickly; forced to learn to wield a source of power that would corrupt him – that did corrupt him.

And then he looks at Jingyi, and thinks about the boy.

Jingyi’s nothing like Sizhui or Jin Ling, doesn’t have the former’s grace or the latter’s spunk, but Wuxian cannot help but admire his pluck and sense of justice. To the boy, the world is as simple as it is beautiful. What’s good must be protected; what’s bad, destroyed. He decides and judges with his heart, not his brain – the kind to get hurt the easiest if the world is a little crueler to him, and the kind that Wuxian most wants to protect.

Wuxian is fond of Sizhui and Jin Ling, and he’d give anything to safeguard the both of them, but he cannot deny that a big part of that is because of his history and relationship with them. Jingyi, though. Jingyi is probably the one junior who most resembles Wuxian before fate took him and made a mockery out of him. It lights something in Wuxian that makes him want to see Jingyi grow up and not lose his way.

See the world, and still remain the idealist that Wuxian could not be.

It’s still not too late to back out now, not to share too much tragic tales with him. But Wuxian also knows that people must progress.

“What’s with the sudden interest in Chenqing?” Wuxian asks in return, leaning back against the sturdy trunk of the pine tree behind them. It’s a valid question; in the few years that Wuxian has become part of Gusu Lan by virtue of his relationship with Wangji, Jingyi has never paid much attention to his flute beyond a cursory interest.

Jingyi fidgets, but he is also resolute. “The night hunt two weeks ago. Do you remember that?”

Wuxian does. Jin Ling had visited to join the Lan juniors for a night-hunt exercise – something that has been happening more and more frequently. And this time, Wangji had brought them to the unfamiliar area of the valleys slightly beyond Gusu, with Wuxian tagging along for extra precaution. He may not be as powerful a cultivator as he used to be, but his wisdom when it comes to demonic rites is invaluable. Not even Wangji, as widely read as he is, could understand the ways of the undead.

And so they had hunted. It wasn’t supposed to be anything particularly dangerous – except, as per usual, Jin Ling had dared Jingyi to go further, and Sizhui had followed to keep them out of trouble. Which, of course, got them directly into trouble.

A whole nest of ghouls, at that. Had Wangji and Wuxian not been there, keeping the ghouls docile with their duet, it would have been difficult to pull the three of them out of the mess.

“What about it? Are you getting nightmares from it or something?” Wuxian can’t help but tease; Jingyi’s ironic fear of ghosts despite being a cultivator with responsibilities to eliminate them is a well-known fact.

The boy doesn’t react beyond a mere shrug. “Yes,” he replies, short and truthful, and Wuxian is suitably floored by the lack of hedging, by how matter-of-fact he sounds.

“I dreamt of the little mistress and Sizhui dying,” Jingyi continues, voice low and grim, and he clutches his fingers into a fist. “I was stuck somewhere, and Sizhui was doing all he can on his guqin, but there’s only so much he could do. The little mistress didn’t even fare a chance with his deity-binding nets and spirit dog. And I couldn’t do anything.

He falls silent after that, and Wuxian waits. He thinks he knows where this is going, but he will not presume until Jingyi tells him on his own volition.

Jingyi looks him in the eye then. “You and HanGuang-Jun. Do you know how cool the both of you looked when you saved us the other day? I want to be able to protect the people whom I care about like that too. The little mistress and Sizhui nearly died, and I want the ability to make sure they don’t.”

“...And you want Chenqing to do that?”

“What, no, of course not! Who would want your old dizi,” Jingyi frowns at him, “I want you to teach me how to use the dizi. Together with Sizhui’s guqin, we can try to do what you and HanGuang-Jun did. I’m under no delusions that we’ll be as good as either of you, but...”

But nothing. Wuxian can only grow that bit fonder of the boy. “Is that all? Then why were you asking about Chenqing?”

Jingyi shrugs again. “I wanted to know. The elders said that you did a lot of frightening things with Chenqing. That Chenqing is said to be unnatural, demonic. Something that could lead armies of corpses cannot be right.

“But that night, when you and HanGuang-Jun saved us, I realised something. Each time I’ve seen you use Chenqing all these while, it was only ever to protect us. Or the people around us. What made Chenqing more infernal back then?”

Wuxian throws his head back and laughs aloud. “Oh Jingyi, sweet summer child, Jingyi.”

“What?” Jingyi barks back, face pinched in irritation. “Don’t call me that. Did you carve Chenqing out from some damn bones at the Burial Mounds or something? Spit curses as you hack them out? Burn it in hellfire? Oy, tell me, you old man!”

Wuxian only laughs harder, whacking Jingyi on the back for a long while before he subsides, wiping a tear away from his eyes. “Oh heavens. Is that how you imagined Chenqing came to be? It’s not even made of bones, Jingyi. It’s bamboo, surely even you can see that.”

“Yes, but you didn’t deny the curses or hellfire,” Jingyi says sullenly. “Did you really?”

Wuxian shakes his head with a small fond smile. It wouldn’t do to joke this much about Chenqing with someone who’s trying so hard to understand, would it? He would really burn in hell if he does.

“No, Jingyi. I didn’t. Did not spit curses or burn it in hellfire. Chenqing has never been more infernal back then than it is now. Chenqing is Chenqing. Everything else was all just me.”

“...oh.” Jingyi seems to deflate at that. “So you just...carved it like some normal dizi? Not influenced by any negative spirit and all that?”

Wuxian smiles wider. “No. Well, technically, a little because everything that grows in the Burial Mounds will be affected, but it doesn’t make Chenqing evil.”

“Then you didn’t even think about killing the Wens when you were carving Chenqing?” Jingyi pushes, and Wuxian has to pause at this.

Because did he? It’s been so long ago, and he’d died for 13 years. No matter how one looks at it, that would do something to a person’s memory.

But did he? Think about scraping the flesh of the Wens who had destroyed his family, caused Jiang Cheng and his shijie that much pain, and spun the world on an axis of terror? Imagine slipping needles between their nails for all the torment that they’d inflicted on him by throwing him into the Burial Mounds? Envision the fright on Wen Chao – Wen Ruohan’s face as he forced them to face their darkest nightmares in the form of the undead.

He probably did. He tells Jingyi as much.

“I was angry. I was beyond angry,” Wuxian admits, eyes faraway, fingers tapping against Chenqing. He doesn’t think he’s ever spoken to anyone about his early days at the Burial Mounds, not even to Wangji.

To Wangji, Wuxian’s past is not something to escape from, but it’s also not something that needs to be aired out entirely in the name of finding closure. He lets Wuxian decide who or when he wants to talk about things – if he needs to talk about things – helps him remember that the present is his reality now, caught and trapped between Wangji’s secure arms; that regardless of all that has happened, Wangji will forever be his shield and anchor.

Maybe today is a good day to sift through his memories after all.

“So yes,” Wuxian says slowly, contemplatively, dazed – like he’s trying to drag himself back from the corners of the yesteryears, and for some reason, it brings tears to Jingyi’s eyes. “I might have. I guess maybe the elders aren’t wrong, if you get right down to it. Perhaps there is something demonic about Chenqing.

“But Jingyi. I think...more than killing the Wens, I thought about Jiang Cheng when I was making Chenqing. And shijie. And Jiang-shushu and Yu-furen. I thought about everyone at the Lotus Pier, and I thought about studying here, at Cloud Recesses with Lan Zhan. The first time I tasted Emperor’s Smile, and the first time I was punished here. I remember wanting...I remember.”

When Wuxian turns to Jingyi next, it’s with a wistful, bittersweet smile – heartfelt and small. Final. “That’s right. I remember.”

Jingyi stares at him apprehensively. “Remember what?”

“Nothing. Something. Everything,” Wuxian breathes, pleasure slowly stealing across his face the way sunrays steal across the land during sunrise. It’s the dawn of something bright, and Jingyi doesn’t know what it is, but it makes Wuxian look like he has caught precious stars in his palm. It’s how he would stare at HanGuang-Jun sometimes, when he thinks HanGuang-Jun isn’t looking.

And then Wuxian visibly recollects himself and says, “You’re such a little devil, Jingyi. Did you ask about Chenqing to test me? If I gave you a wrong answer, you’d not consider learning from me?”

“...w-what?” It’s hilarious how Jingyi nearly leaps away, face red. “How are you so ridiculous?! That was completely unwarranted!”

Wuxian’s smile turns into another full-blown laugh. “It was, wasn’t it? Oh well! I’ve decided. I guess I’ll teach you how to use the dizi after all!”

“Who wants you to teach?!”

Wuxian grins. “So you don’t want me to teach?”

Jingyi baulks and backpedals. “Okay, no. That’s not…specifically what I meant...”

“So is that a yes or a no?” It’s unfair how easy it is to rile the boy up.

“...Fine. Yes. Yes, alright?” Jingyi is too old to pout, but Wuxian’s not one to point fingers when he does it just as much. Instead, he just beams, bright and pleased, proud of himself, but even prouder of Jingyi.

“I’m curious though. You could have asked any of the Lan elders to teach you. Why didn’t you go to them?”

Almost instantly, Jingyi turns a vicious shade of red, a flush that creeps steadily over his face. It’s hardly attractive, but so very endearing.

“What? What? Is it because they’re old?”

Jingyi ducks and mumbles, grudgingly turning his head away and then wincing when Wuxian trills in delight. “You really think so! You’re so dead!”

“I don’t!”

“Then? What did you say just now, muttering all to yourself? I couldn’t hear you at all!”

“I said,” Jingyi rears back, face even more blotchy now, thoroughly embarrassed, “I said… that it’s clear, alright? The chords that you make on Chenqing.”

“That’s a given, right? I mean, I can’t ruin my own reputation with a lousy performance on Chenqing, right?” Wuxian snorts inelegantly, going back to cleaning Chenqing again.

But Jingyi shakes his head and laughs exasperatedly. For all his wisdom, Wei Wuxian can still be ridiculously dumb!

“Your intentions, I mean. It’s stupid, but somehow, I feel it. There’s no need to outright explain with words, it’s right there – in the midst of Chenqing’s thrum. You get what I mean?” he asks, vague and stumbling over his reply in search of words, afraid that he’s not conveying his thoughts clearly.

Except Wuxian has to pause again. Has to draw deep, stuttering breaths. Ground himself, tether himself because he feels it again – the horrifying floaty feeling that makes him feel like he could just drift up against gravity. And it’s bad that Wangji isn’t here to hold him down this time, keep Wuxian to himself even as Wuxian feels light as air – a burden lifted.

Because these are simple words, but they’re also potent words; and Wuxian had not realised that he’d needed to hear them until they slapped him in the face. He had not, but his heart had. And it had waited for decades, obstinately patient.

“Haha. Is that so?”

“Yeah. That’s so. You know, Wei qian bei… I hate that I’m saying this, but I guess you’re actually pretty cool after all.”

---

Wuxian’s seated by the open balcony of the Jingshi when Wangji comes back from his daily duties, pausing at the threshold to stare at his husband’s form outlined by moonlight.

“You’re back, Lan Zhan!” Wuxian turns and grins, holding his arms out for affection. He’s spoilt, he knows this, but there’s a heavy weight in his heart that he wants to share with Wangji as soon as he can or he’d suffocate. Wangji comes forward instantly as if he knows, and he probably does because he pulls Wuxian’s head to rest against his chest, letting him listen to his slow, easy heartbeat.

“Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan. Did you know, Jingyi surprise-attacked me today,” Wuxian mumbles into his clothes, muffled, and melts as his husband’s fingers card through his hair and scratch his scalp.

“Mm,” Wangji draws back a little to look down at Wuxian’s face and softens when he sees nothing but muted delight reflected. “What did he do?”

Wuxian chuckles and puts his head against Wangji’s chest again, arms coming around and tightening around his waist. “Things that sneaky little shits do, like slipping through my emotional defences – that’s what he did! Can you believe him?!”

“Mm,” Wangji replies without missing a beat, and it warms Wuxian to know that his husband has probably profiled Jingyi in his many years of guiding him, enough to not be surprised when Wuxian makes outrageous statements like that.

“What did he do?” Wangji repeats, shifting to sit beside Wuxian so that Wuxian could lean back against him.

Wuxian laughs again and wriggles to get comfortable. “Made me cry.”

Wangji raises an eyebrow.

“Good sort of crying,” Wuxian hastily amends, snickering, but then turns soft and fond after. “Lan Zhan, have you ever feared Chenqing? The kind of music that I made back then?”

Outside, the night is still, not unlike the clear waters of an undisturbed pond – not even a single ripple. It’s past ten, and all Lan cultivators have retired to their rooms, as is dictated by the sect rules. The only thing that mars the silence that falls between the both of them is the rasp of their clothes rubbing against each other.

“Lan Zhan?” Wuxian twists around to stare after a while but catches nothing beyond a slight quirk of lips before Wangji leans forward to press a kiss against his forehead.

“No. Chenqing commanded fear, but the heart that made it only wanted to protect. I could hear you, loud and clear.”

And then Wuxian laughs so hard he nearly mistook his tears for tears of laughter. Of course Wangji saw through him from a long time ago This is the man who defied the world for him, allowed himself to be flayed open for his sake, stood by him and gave him his everything just so Wuxian could face the world with someone by his side. This is the man who promised him forever, and in return, is gifted with Wuxian’s forever.

What was Wuxian even doing, asking such a stupid question. Silly. Just silly. So Wuxian stretches his neck, braces himself on Lan Zhan, and raises himself to peck at the underside of Wangji’s jaw with a satisfied grin.

“...Shameless.”

“Am I? But Lan Zhan, did you know, Jingyi said that I’m actually pretty cool!”

“Mm. Told you before. The juniors will understand.”

Wangji does not complain when Wuxian smears his tears on the front of his robes and then peeks up delightedly, radiant and cheeky. “Yes, you did, didn’t you? When will I learn to start trusting your intuition, I wonder?”

Wangji huffs in a way that’s as close to a scoff as his refined manners would possibly allow him. “Start tonight.”

“What?!” Wuxian startles, but abruptly gets cut off when Wangji guides him onto his back on the floor, a hand cupping the back of his head. “Wow...Lan Zhan. I’ve underestimated how brazen you’ve become”

The look on Wangji’s face is almost smug. “My intuition. Start trusting it tonight.”

“Pfffffft. Okay. And what does it say now, Lan er-gege?”

Wangji buries his smile against Wuxian’s neck, breathing in the scent of love, home. and irreplaceable past, present and future. “Touch you. Kiss you. Keep you pleased.”

“Oh my.” Wuxian’s voice drops to a whisper, warm and tender, “That’s one lascivious intuition you have there.”

“You married me,” Wangji says in response, nipping at the lobe of Wuxian’s ears – and delights in the shivers that rack his body in uncontrollable spasms.

“Ugh,” Wuxian groans, twisting away but also succumbing to Wangji’s patient strokes along his sensitive sides beneath his clothes, “Don’t I at least deserve the bed? Are you such a narcissist that we’re going to do this near an open balcony where we’ll give everyone a free show if they’re willing to watch? Not even I would do that! Lan er-gongzi, think about it, please!”

So Wangji acquiesces and carries his husband over to their bed, hidden from the world behind a folding screen; peeling layers of worldly coverings, then pressing lips and fingers in reverence and worship to the skin beneath.

“Lan Zhan,” Wuxian whispers breathlessly when Wangji tucks him onto his side and tugs at his legs to wrap around Wangji’s waist, “Do you think I’d be a good teacher to the juniors?”

It’s a testament to Wangji’s patience and self-restraint when he pauses in the middle of his movements, carefully considering the question for several long seconds in which Wuxian squirms, uncomfortably exposed.

“No.”

“Oh.” Wuxian bites his lips, voice small. But Wangji has more to say, fingers cupping his husband’s face in a tender touch.

“Uncle is a good teacher,” Wangji bends and presses his lips against Wuxian’s eyelids, and then mouth. “You. Are a mentor.”

“...oh,” Wuxian replies, voice even smaller, thoroughly embarrassed now. Typical Wuxian – unrepentant in seeking for attention, preening when people relinquish it to him with an amused huff; but weak, so weak, when sincerity crosses his path. “That was unfair, Lan Zhan.”

“It was?” Wangji strokes Wuxian’s cheek again, thumbing the apple of his cheeks, flushed by arousal and embarrassment.

“Yes, it was.”

“But my intuition –”

“Your intuition,” Wuxian scowls even as Wangji kisses him again, slipping fingers around and into him, “is – shit.

---

A glow settles and slots into place within Wuxian that night, and he thinks that maybe he’s not so useless after all.