The aftermath of the whole fight took awhile to sort out. Most people were badly injured. Then there was the matter of what to do with the cultivators who had followed Jin Guangyao and staged this coup d’etat. And in the end, it was Jiang Cheng, the only sect leader who was in comparatively decent physical health, backed by loyal YunmengJiang cultivators who began rounding up the injured and the traitorous, barking out orders for people to assemble to head for Koi Tower.
Since this entire affair had involved so many major sects, it would be a nightmare to sort out. With over forty-some cultivators the LanlingJin sect would have to question and decide whether they would be exiled or worse, entangled together with the attempt on the Nie sect leader’s life, it might take weeks if not months to hold the proper trials and sort through.
But as far as Wei Wuxian was concerned, his family was safe and those he wanted to protect were taken care of. He had no interest in the rest of the politics—happy enough to leave the rest of the affairs to those who did care.
So as the group slowly made their way out of the old farmhouse, he lingered, letting the others walk in front of him.
For the first in a long time, Wei Wuxian’s shoulders felt light. He had finally given back what he owed to Madam Yu and Uncle Jiang, to Wen Qing and Wen Ning. And so, for the first in a long time, Wei Wuxian could think about the things he wanted.
He turned to look at Lan Wangji who had come silently to stand beside him. Wei Wuxian smiled. “Let’s go, Lan Zhan,” he said to him—not a command, but an invitation.
Lan Wangji inclined his head, and together, the two of them slipped away.
Wei Wuxian woke up in the small guest room to the sunlight on his face and a peaceful silence. In the quiet, he could only hear the pages of a book slowly being turned. When he opened his eyes, Lan Wangji was sitting at a chair close by the bed, reading.
Wei Wuxian smiled. The sun lit Lan Wangji’s face so he seemed almost to glow. His eyelashes were long and his visage as still and flawless as a jade piece. Wei Wuxian wondered how long he had been reading now. With so much sunlight pouring into the room, it must be far past Lan Wangji’s usual waking time.
When they had left, only the donkey had noticed and stubbornly followed them to the nearest city outside of Lanling. By the time they reached the town, though, the sun was already beginning to rise, so Wei Wuxian had booked them a room at the closest inn and been asleep almost as soon as his head hit the pillow. He assumed it must be the same for Lan Wangji who had slept even less than he had in the past few days, though he’d still woken up first.
Wei Wuxian wasn’t sure how long he just lay and stared at Lan Wangji’s face, drinking in those handsome features, before Lan Wangji finally noticed.
Wei Wuxian felt a delicious warmth wash over him when Lan Wangji looked at him. In retrospect, he’d been trying to get Lan Wangji’s attention since the moment he’d set eyes on him when he jumped over the wall at the Cloud Recesses. Of course he’d annoyed Lan Wangji half to death in those few months he’d spent with GusuLan. But as young as they were back then, Lan Wangji was like a bright light that Wei Wuxian couldn’t help but be drawn to. It wasn’t until recently that he realized the way he had subconsciously looked for Lan Wangji wherever he went for years now, no matter how unreasonable, turning to look twice whenever he saw a white robe. Wei Wuxian always noticed him the moment he arrived at the Wen sect gathering of disciples, as soon as he rode into the archery contest on his white steed, even when he was doing nothing but walking on an ordinary Yunmeng street and Wei Wuxian was two stories above on a balcony. Something in him was just aware of Lan Wangji’s presence anytime they were in the same place like his whole soul was attuned to him.
Wei Wuxian briefly wondered if maybe, back then, part of the reason he’d been so annoyed at the way Lan Wangji asked him to return to the Cloud Recesses was because it felt like Lan Wangji was looking at him as a problem to be solved, a person to discipline or even to rescue, and not like Wei Wuxian was his friend or maybe something more.
“How do you feel?” Lan Wangji asked, his voice deep and soothing.
Wei Wuxian smiled and stretched a little, making himself more comfortable in bed with absolutely no intention of moving from it. “Good,” he answered.
It was true. Ever since they’d played the duet together last night, Wei Wuxian felt like his whole soul was alight—that feeling of complete power like he was, in that moment, stretching himself to the limit of what he could do, but in the way he was always meant to. Like he could reach the heavens as long as he and Lan Wangji kept playing together.
“What time is it?” Wei Wuxian asked with another small yawn.
“Mid-morning,” Lan Wangji answered, and then sounding slightly embarrassed, added, “We slept through yesterday.”
Wei Wuxian’s smile stretched into a grin. “So even Lan Er-Gege can sleep in sometimes?” he teased.
Lan Wangji didn’t answer, only going to the table and bringing a tray laden with a long-cooled congee breakfast.
The smell of the food made Wei Wuxian’s stomach growl and he finally scooched up to sit, half-amused and half-touched at how gently Lan Wangji was treating him.
“Did you already eat?” Wei Wuxian asked.
“Mm,” Lan Wangji answered.
“Then I won’t be polite,” Wei Wuxian said cheerfully and dug in. Food in this region was most definitely better than at the Cloud Recesses, though not as good as the spices Wei Wuxian preferred from Yunmeng. He happily indulged himself until he was full, and only then did he lazily swing his legs off the bed.
“We should return to Gusu,” Lan Wangji said, “have Doctor Wen check on your progress.”
“Soon, soon,” Wei Wuxian said dismissively. He felt great, and right now, more than any type of physical checkup, the thing he was most concerned about was what Lan Wangji was thinking—or, more accurately, what Lan Wangji thought of him.
Lan Wangji was good. He was really good to Wei Wuxian, and Wei Wuxian wasn’t naive—his husband definitely treated him differently from others. But he didn’t know if that type of different was the type of different that Wei Wuxian wanted it to be.
Lan Wangji had been upset when he found out Wei Wuxian was dying—more than for a stranger, maybe even more than for a friend. However, Wei Wuxian was also his cultivation partner in name and now in the most literal sense of the deed, and the honorable Hanguang-Jun would of course care about what happened to his husband. But the type of cultivation partner Wei Wuxian wanted to be was one who wholly and completely belonged to Lan Wangji, and he wanted Lan Wangji to belong to him. He wanted all of it.
He just didn’t know if Lan Wangji did too.
They were already so close, and yet as he dressed, he couldn’t seem to find the right words to say. How was he supposed to ask Lan Wangji if he wanted to be true cultivation partners? That Wei Wuxian was in love with him and hoped Lan Wangji felt the same?
In the end, he still hadn’t said anything by the time he finished getting dressed and Lan Wangji had tidied up the room. And then, Lan Wangji was leading him downstairs and they were checking out of the inn, and it wasn’t the right time anymore.
“Lan Zhan, I want to have fun today. Will you come with me?” Wei Wuxian asked as they stepped out into the sunlight. If they spent all day together, surely, the right moment would present itself and Wei Wuxian could ask or confess or whatever—he’d figure it out.
“Mm,” Lan Wangji agreed, unaware of Wei Wuxian’s beating heart.
They stopped by the stables first to get Lil Apple who had been the only one to notice when they slipped away. Wei Wuxian had fed it more apples in a single night than was probably healthy for a donkey in an attempt to keep it quiet, so apparently, it had decided Wei Wuxian was its new preferred owner.
“Don’t you want to go home?” Wei Wuxian asked the donkey as he led it outside.
Lil Apple nudged his arm closer to the saddlebag of apples.
“You sure know where the food is,” Wei Wuxian said, wagging a finger at it, but fished out an apple and tossed it to the donkey.
For once in his life, Wei Wuxian had no particular destination in mind. Everyone was safe. Jiang Cheng would have an opportunity, now that Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji were gone and all the other major sect leaders injured, to take the lead in sorting out the situation and win YunmengJiang that honor he’d always wanted. Of course, he and Lan Wangji had responsibilities they’d need to return to eventually, but for now, they didn’t need to rush to return anywhere.
They had not left the town for long, walking along the road when Wei Wuxian glanced at the donkey and then at Lan Wangji who was walking slowly beside it. An image surfaced in his mind and Wei Wuxian quickened his steps to push up against him.
Although he had a bad memory, one in particular stood out to him from when he was still very young—maybe around A-Yuan’s age now, he thought. He remembered a woman on a donkey whose lead was being carried by a tall man as they walked down a dusty street. She was smiling, and he was carrying a small child on his shoulders. That child was himself, and Wei Wuxian remembered being delighted at the height, kicking his heels against his father’s shoulders as he shouted for him to walk faster.
They already had the child back at the Cloud Recesses, Wei Wuxian thought. Now all that was left was the donkey.
“Lan Zhan, Lan Er-Gege, I’m tired,” Wei Wuxian whined shamelessly.
“Ride the donkey,” Lan Wangji answered.
“It might kick me off,” Wei Wuxian said innocently.
Lan Wangji gave Lil Apple, who had been very well-behaved, a skeptical glance.
“Help me up,” Wei Wuxian said. He was being so obvious by now that even he was starting to feel a bit embarrassed.
Thankfully, Lan Wangji stopped asking questions and lifted Wei Wuxian lightly by the waist to set on the donkey’s back. His grip was strong and firm, steady when he picked Wei Wuxian up like he barely noticed the weight at all.
Delighted, Wei Wuxian laughed, kicking his heels against Lil Apple’s sides until the donkey gave him a disgruntled snort.
“Ah, Lan Zhan, it’s trying to kick me off. Pick up the reins!” Wei Wuxian said. “Hurry!”
“Stop fooling around,” Lan Wangji said but did as he asked, picking up the lead.
Under his grip, Lil Apple calmed down, but Wei Wuxian still couldn’t stop smiling as they continued down the road.
They traveled at a leisurely pace, stopping by a small stall by the side of the road for tea and dumplings for lunch. When they reached the next town, they browsed their way through the market although it was still early and they could have made it to the next town over if they’d wanted to. Throughout the day, Lan Wangji responded to his every request, buying him loquats and other snacks when he asked for them, lifting him on and off the donkey when Wei Wuxian pretended he needed help. But by nightfall, he still hadn’t brought himself to ask the question he wanted to ask. He told himself he just had to test Lan Wangji’s feelings for him a little more, be a little more sure of it before he spoke. After all, they were already married—he might like Lan Wangji that way, but if he got this wrong, if Lan Wangji didn’t feel the same, it could affect their sect relations.
But deep down, Wei Wuxian knew the real reason he kept putting it off was because he was afraid. There was only one answer he wanted from Lan Wangji, and he didn’t want to hear anything different.
Since they’d wasted too much time at the market that afternoon, they decided to stay in the same city that night and found a nice, clean inn. Instead of staying downstairs to eat, Wei Wuxian ordered a bunch of dishes to be brought to their single shared room with their single shared bed. Then he dragged Lan Wangji upstairs, waiting for Lan Wangji to voice either a positive response or a protest at each increasingly shameless demand. But he never did.
“Sorry I don’t have any money so you’ll have to pay this time too, Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian said. “Ah, that’s a few times you’ve already paid for me, huh. I’ll pay you back when we go back to the Cloud Recesses.”
This time, he half hoped that Lan Wangji would say something like they were married—of course Wei Ying was his cultivation partner so his money was Wei Wuxian’s money. But Lan Wangji, man of few words, simply said, “No need. I will pay.”
Of course the end result was the same—Wei Wuxian didn’t need to pay, but he still couldn’t confirm how Lan Wangji really felt about him.
After eating, Wei Wuxian asked for a tub to be brought up so they could bathe.
Once the tub had been filled with steaming water, he glanced at Lan Wangji. “Do you want to go first?” he asked.
“Wei Ying can go first,” Lan Wangji said mildly. In fact, he was still eating at his usual slow pace and hadn’t finished yet.
An idea entered Wei Wuxian’s mind. “Then how about we bathe together?”
Lan Wangji choked on the green bean he’d just put in his mouth.
“Eh? Lan Zhan, be careful!” Wei Wuxian said, quickly patting his back as he feigned innocence.
Even choking, Lan Wangji’s face hadn’t turned very red, though his ears had gone crimson. Still, his expression was pained and made Wei Wuxian feel like he’d just bullied him. It ignited that mischievous side of Wei Wuxian.
He poured Lan Wangji a cup of tea, urging him to drink it.
“Are you feeling better now?” Wei Wuxian asked after Lan Wangji had drank a few sips of tea and stopped coughing. He lingered by Lan Wangji’s side, rubbing his back and dabbing at his mouth with a handkerchief like a young wife. “Lan Zhan, are you really feeling better? You need to be more careful.”
“Mm.” Lan Wangji sounded hoarse, and took another sip of tea.
Wei Wuxian smiled innocently at him. “Then let’s take a bath together,” he said sunnily.
Lan Wangji choked, this time, on the tea.
After the second bout of coughing subsided, he spit out two words, “Too small.”
“What? The tub?” Wei Wuxian asked.
It was true. The bathtub was built for one person. As two full-grown men, there was no way they could both fit in it—not unless... Wei Wuxian tilted his head, looking consideringly at the wooden tub. “Maybe if I sat in your lap…”
Lan Wangji had stopped trying to eat at all in this conversation, so he didn’t choke this time, although both his ears had gone bright red. He was resolutely staring away from the tub.
“Stop joking. Go bathe,” he said hoarsely.
Wei Wuxian laughed. “All right, all right, I’ll stop teasing you, Lan Er-Ge~ge~” he said and finally left Lan Wangji in peace to eat.
There was a small screen in the room meant to give some privacy to those who were changing their clothes. Wei Wuxian decided he’d given Lan Wangji enough of a shock for today so out of the goodness of his heart, he dragged the screen over to hide the tub before he stripped and got in. It was a good sign that Lan Wangji couldn’t even think about getting in a bath with him without choking, right? But then again, Lan Wangji had lost all composure that time when they were young and Wei Wuxian had tricked him into seeing a book of erotic drawings, so it could just be that the upright Hanguang-Jun was just truly uncomfortable with the thought of seeing someone unclothed. In the end, it still wasn’t an answer.
Wei Wuxian sighed as he submerged himself in the hot water. From the other side of the screen, he could hear the quiet sounds of chopsticks on ceramics as Lan Wangji began to eat again.
He washed himself, taking his time as he listened to Lan Wangji eat. From the hallway, he could hear the sounds of the merrymaking of the guests downstairs. The lamplight was golden and bright. Outside the air was cool but here, everything was warm and cozy.
Wei Wuxian thought back to that little dream he’d shared with Lan Wangji back when they’d both thought he would die—of a little cabin in the woods somewhere, living a simple, ordinary life as simple, ordinary people. Of course, with his notoriety and all of Lan Wangji’s obligations to GusuLan, naturally, it was impossible for them for a long time still. But perhaps if they could take trips like this every once in awhile—just the two of them traveling the way Wei Wuxian’s parents used to, going to nighthunt wherever the chaos was and then spending some time away to enjoy, just the two of them. It sounded like bliss.
When Wei Wuxian finally made himself leave the comfortable bath again, the water was only lukewarm. Lan Wangji had finished eating, the table was cleared, and he was reading again by lamplight at the table.
Wei Wuxian came out still adjusting the ties of his underrobe shirt, having foregone the pants for now. It wasn’t his imagination that Lan Wangji’s ears turned red again when he glanced at him. Wei Wuxian took the opportunity to stretch his hands up so he could let down his hair again, making the robe hike up so more of his pale thigh was exposed.
“Put on your trousers,” Lan Wangji said stiffly. “You’ll catch cold.”
“Mm, okay,” Wei Wuxian mumbled, his mouth occupied holding his hair ribbon as he ran his hands through his loose hair.
He obediently put on the underrobe trousers and gestured for Lan Wangji to bathe.
He intended to stay up to see if he could get away with cuddling up to Lan Wangji on the single bed, but by the time Lan Wangji finished bathing, Wei Wuxian was already asleep, dreaming of bright things.
This continued for the next two days—Wei Wuxian wanting to bring up the status of their relationship, but his courage failing him at the last second every time. All he had to do was imagine Lan Wangji’s look of disgust, imagine Lan Wangji telling him that he didn’t need to bother returning to the Cloud Recesses because Lan Wangji wasn’t a cutsleeve, and Wei Wuxian would lose all courage to say anything. Of course, he knew that if Lan Wangji didn’t feel the same, he wouldn’t so unkind as to actually say or do anything like that, but Lan Wangji could let him down in the kindest way and Wei Wuxian would still be lost.
On the third day when they reached Yunmeng, Wei Wuxian was truly desperate and yet still hadn’t found a way to ask Lan Wangji without risking their current relationship.
Since Lan Wangji appeared fine going anywhere he wanted, Wei Wuxian spent the day wandering around Yunmeng as he pointed out places he used to steal chickens or stalls where they had the best fried pancakes.
“Oh look, there’s a ring toss game,” Wei Wuxian said, pointing to a stall where a group of young children had just vacated. “Have you played this before? I’m really good at this game,” he said as he stepped up to the stall. “Which prize do you want, Hanguang-Jun? I’ll win it for you.”
To Wei Wuxian’s delight, Lan Wangji played along. “You choose,” he said.
Wei Wuxian took a closer look at the prizes laid out. Most of the items were crudely made toys for children, more suitable for A-Yuan than for Lan Wangji. One of the less childish items was a folding fan that looked quite worn. It wasn’t the sort of item that Lan Wangji would use, but it did remind Wei Wuxian of something else.
“Lan Zhan, did Jiang Cheng or Nie HuaiSang ever mention how they escaped?” Wei Wuxian asked, trying to recall the chaotic aftermath of the fight.
Lan Wangji shook his head.
“Hm, maybe we should have stayed a bit longer. We’ll have to ask the next time we see them,” Wei Wuxian said and continued to peruse the items.
Among the items, there was a large turtle carved from stone that reminded Wei Wuxian a bit of the Xuanwu that he and Lan Wangji had once fought together. “I’ll win that one,” he decided and gave the stall owner a few coins to receive three worn wooden rings in return. He backed up quite a number of steps until the stall owner called out to him.
“Young master, you don’t have to back up so far,” the stall owner said.
“It’s no fun if it’s too easy,” Wei Wuxian answered, rolling a ring around one finger as he crossed to the other side of the road.
“But you’ll hit someone if you toss from there,” the stall owner said, looking pained at the number of people walking back and forth between the road. Undoubtedly, he was also afraid of losing a few of his rings to the crowd.
Wei Wuxian grinned. “If you don’t trust me, Second Master Lan will pay for any damages I cause, won’t you, Lan Zhan?” He winked and turned his back on the stall. Knowing full well he was showing off, he shut his eyes and threw back the ring.
A moment later, he heard a gasp and turned to see the stall owner staring at the stone tortoise Wei Wuxian’s ring had looped around.
“I’m pretty good, aren’t I, Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian said, crossing back over the street to collect his prize. “For you, Lan Er-Gege.” He proudly presented the large turtle to Lan Wangji.
From up close, although it was considered better quality goods than most of the other items laid out, it really had been crudely carved. Compared to the other things in the Jingshi, even the incense burner was clearly an expensive, quality piece of craftsmenship, and this ugly turtle certainly wouldn’t fit in.
“Ah, it’s really not that good,” Wei Wuxian said with a sigh. “If you don’t want it, we don’t have to take it with us,” he said.
“I want it,” Lan Wangji said.
A moment later, one of Lil Apple’s saddlebags was weighed down with a heavy stone turtle and it was fed an apple in compensation.
There were still two more rings, though, and Wei Wuxian waved them at Lan Wangji. “Want to try it?” he asked. “It’s Hanguang-Jun’s turn to win something for me,” he said. “I won’t be greedy—just one is enough. You can win yourself something you really want for the last prize,” he said cheerfully.
Lan Wangji wordlessly took the rings and crossed over to the same place Wei Wuxian had been earlier. Then he took an extra step further, making Wei Wuxian grin.
The stall owner didn’t seem to believe his eyes when Lan Wangji also turned his back, and a moment later, a ring came sailing at the stall, landing on a piece of red cloth that Wei Wuxian had glanced at earlier and dismissed.
“That young master has good taste,” the stall owner said with a sigh. “That’s the most expensive item I have—I tempted so many young husbands to try to and win that for their wives,” he said mournfully.
When the stall owner handed it to him, Wei Wuxian saw that it was a fine red cloth soft to the touch, made of silk or some other high-quality material but woven so thinly that he could just see through it. It had been delicately embroidered with the lotus motif of YunmengJiang, obviously ripped off from his own sect.
“He’s got a lucky wife,” the stall owner said.
“He doesn’t have a wife,” Wei Wuxian said absently.
“Oh, then a lucky future wife,” the stall owner said. “Wouldn’t that make a nice veil?”
Wei Wuxian swallowed hard. It would, he thought, make a nice wedding veil for a bride, though he wasn’t a woman. Had Lan Wangji chosen this gift for him for that reason? But it couldn’t be—folded up, it wasn’t as though Lan Wangji could see the actual size or shape of it. Most likely, Lan Wangji had simply noticed the quality of the cloth and chosen it. Wei Wuxian was thinking too much. But if Lan Wangji wanted...
Wei Wuxian looked back across the street at him. Lan Wangji had turned this time, staring straight into his eyes, and even from the distance, Wei Wuxian felt caught by the brilliant paleness of his gaze. And then Lan Wangji tossed the second ring.
Just then, a cart pulled by a pair of horses stepped between them on the road, obscuring Wei Wuxian’s vision of him. For a moment, he thought the ring would miss, that it would surely get lost in the crowded street flowing between them.
A brisk whisk of air brushed his hair. Then Wei Wuxian felt a gentle tap around his collarbones as the wooden ring looped itself neatly around his neck.
Wei Wuxian was stunned for a moment. It wasn’t possible that Lan Wangji had missed the stall, right? This was Lan Wangji, the great Hanguang-Jun, the Second Jade of Lan, perfection in human form. But he had also tossed it right when that cart had gotten in his way. Was it a mistake?
“Oh it’s too bad you missed that last toss,” the stall owner said as soon as Lan Wangji had crossed back across the street. “But you can’t win very one,” he said. “That cloth you won was already my best prize. Your friend there has it,” he said.
“Mm.” Lan Wangji nodded at the man and turned to Wei Wuxian.
As soon as Wei Wuxian felt Lan Wangji’s eyes on him, he couldn’t help the way his entire face went red. His fingers clutched at the cloth Lan Wangji had won even as they began to walk again, joining in the crowds.
“Lan Zhan, did you miss that last shot?” Wei Wuxian asked finally, voice smaller than he expected.
Lan Wangji paused in his steps and turned to him. His eyes, pale and glimmering with intensity, met Wei Wuxian’s own. He opened his mouth to answer.
And in that moment, Wei Wuxian lost his nerve all over again. “You missed, didn’t you?” Wei Wuxian began to blabber and held out the cloth. “Here, I’m not so stingy that I’d steal your prize. It’s the best prize at that stall. Hanguang-Jun really has an eye for quality,” he said. “That man even said so himself, so since you missed that last shot, you can have this back. I’ll keep this ring instead for a souvenir.” He fingered the wooden ring around his neck that he realized they’d forgotten to return.
“The cloth is for you,” Lan Wangji said after a moment and turned away again.
Wei Wuxian’s shoulders slumped as they began walking once more, disappointed and annoyed at himself.
Wei Wuxian kept that ring around his neck like a clunky necklace, attracting strange looks as they walked. But he stubbornly kept it on, hoping that Lan Wangji would say something about it. If he did, then Wei Wuxian could comment that Lan Wangji had never claimed his prize or something like that—he’d figure out the specifics when the opportunity came up. But Lan Wangji never asked.
In the end, Wei Wuxian gave up on that idea too, suggesting that they buy some food, rent a boat, and he would show Lan Wangji his favorite lotus pond.
“Do you know why it’s my favorite?” Wei Wuxian said as he gave Lan Wangji directions to guide the boat along the small river toward that pond. “It’s because it’s so out of the way that the old man who owns this pond hardly ever came to check on it so we could pick as many lotus pods as we liked.” He grinned. “Too bad it’s winter, isn’t it?”
Once they were there, he pulled out the wicker basket full of still-steaming scallion pancakes and the two jars of Yunmeng liquor that they’d purchased, setting everything out on the small table beneath the canopy of the boat. He even pulled out a delicate jade liquor set that he’d loudly praised earlier just to see if Lan Wangji would buy it for him, and now, poured one of the jars of alcohol into the flask.
The lotus pond was barren at this time of year, only a few browned stalks sticking up out of the water, and not much to look at.
Yunmeng was, surprisingly, colder than Gusu and Lanling, or maybe the warm spell had ceased and the weather was returning again. Either way, it was chilly even in the mid-afternoon, and as Wei Wuxian set out their small meal, he felt something heavy drape over his shoulders. It was the same heavy white GusuLan cloak that Lan Wangji had given him that night at the farmhouse. It had disappeared the next morning and Wei Wuxian had completely forgotten about it until now.
“As prepared as always,” Wei Wuxian said, smiling at him. He must have kept it in his qiankun pouch until it was needed. He handed Lan Wangji one of the scallion pancakes. “Here, try this,” he said. “It’s really good.” He ripped a large piece off of his own pancake and stuffed it in his mouth. “Even better with alcohol,” he lied—that wasn’t a combination normal people would ever think to try.
He poured himself a small jade cup of liquor, swirling it a few times, and then glanced up at Lan Wangji. “Will you drink with me?” he asked.
If Lan Wangji wouldn’t, then Wei Wuxian would let it go.
But Lan Wangji only nodded and pushed forward the second cup for him to fill.
Obediently, Lan Wangji took Wei Wuxian’s words for face value and took a small bite of the pancake before emptying the cup. Wei Wuxian felt a lump lodge in his throat watching him—only Lan Wangji would be stupid enough to believe him and eat scallion pancakes together with liquor.
A small frown appeared on Lan Wangji’s face just like the way it had the first time he’d drunk alcohol. He put his cup down, and then, still holding the scallion pancake in one hand, he leaned his head against his other hand. Before Wei Wuxian had finished counting to ten, he had fallen asleep.
“Ah, Lan Zhan, how can you be like this?” Wei Wuxian sighed when Lan Wangji’s eyes closed. He felt like crying. This good, pure man who would do something as silly as eat scallion pancakes with liquor just because Wei Wuxian told him to— “I like you. I like you to death. What am I supposed to do?” Wei Wuxian pressed his face into his hands.
He forced himself to calm down as he too, ate scallion pancakes and drank liquor—feeling like he had to do it now that he’d tricked Lan Wangji into it.
Drifting alone together on this pond with only the occasional call of a bird overhead to accompany them, Wei Wuxian felt the anticipation building up in him the longer it took for Lan Wangji to wake.
When Lan Wangji finally opened his eyes again, he looked so sober that Wei Wuxian almost thought he was until Lan Wangji took another out of the scallion pancake he was still holding and then tried to drink from his still-empty cup.
Wei Wuxian smiled, the lump in his throat loosening as he watched, and he gently took the cup from Lan Wangji’s hand. “How am I supposed to bully you when you’re like this,” he said. “Don’t drink anymore,” he said. “Just eat the pancake.”
“Mm.” Lan Wangji obediently ate, as slowly as always, somehow making eating street food look like he was handling a delicacy.
“Lan Zhan, you’re too easy to trick,” Wei Wuxian said as he ate his own pancake. “If it’s someone with bad intentions, you could get in real trouble, you know,” he said, conveniently ignoring that he himself didn’t exactly have the best intentions getting him drunk. “You better just stay with me for the rest of your life so I can protect you.”
Wei Wuxian looked up, startled. He hadn’t expected Lan Wangji to answer him when it wasn’t even a question. “You’ll really stay with me?” he blurted out.
“I will protect Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji said with utter seriousness.
Wei Wuxian didn’t know why those words, said with such serious intensity, made him start to blush. “Don’t say things like that,” he groaned. “Give me a little dignity, Lan Er-Gege, how am I supposed to react when you do that? A grown man shouldn’t be blushing. It’s embarrassing, don’t you know.”
“Mm,” Lan Wangji agreed again. “I will protect Wei Ying,” he repeated and then frowned, adding, “But I will not tell him.”
Wei Wuxian kicked his feet beneath the table. Since when could Lan Wangji say such embarrassing things with such a straight face. But since Wei Wuxian was the one who had gotten him drunk, it was his own fault.
Suddenly too warm and unable to sit still for a moment longer, Wei Wuxian pushed the cloak off his shoulders and got up, walking a few steps over to the narrow prow of the boat. They weren’t moving anywhere but there was a bit of wind, and having come out from beneath the canopy, the air felt colder.
When he looked down at the still water, he could see his own face clearly reflected back. His skin was a darker shade than usual from the blush. A sudden idea surfaced in his mind and he turned again to Lan Wangji.
“Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan, look at me!” he said.
Lan Wangji looked at him, still eating his scallion pancake.
In his life, Wei Wuxian had fallen many times. He could handle the shock of cold water, but it was still unpleasant. If someone was willing to jump in after him, if someone was willing to be with him in it, to suffer it with him, if Lan Zhan was willing, then—
Before he could finish his thought, he let go and began falling backwards off the boat.
Wei Wuxian saw Lan Wangji’s eyes as he shot up, dropping his scallion pancake and reaching for him.
If Lan Wangji would dive into that cold water with him, then he’d—
But before he could feel his body submerge into icy water, he felt a pair of arms wrap around his waist, and he was being pulled up and away from the wintry cold.
He felt himself pressed full-bodied against Lan Wangji, the rapid thump of a heartbeat against his hand.
“Lan Zhan…” Wei Wuxian breathed, looking up at him.
Lan Wangji’s heart was beating fast and he was holding Wei Wuxian so tightly it almost hurt.
Wei Wuxian began to laugh. All he had asked for was someone to fall with him—who knew that Lan Wangji wouldn’t let him fall in the first place. He laughed and laughed until he couldn’t breath and looked up at Lan Wangji’s lovely face, a frown on it now although his arms had not loosened from Wei Wuxian’s waist as though afraid he might try to jump in the water again if Lan Wangji let go.
“Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian said, reaching up. He wasn’t sure exactly what he planned to do, to touch his face, touch his forehead ribbon, only that as he reached up, somehow Lan Wangji was leaning down.
And all of a sudden, he couldn’t look away. Lan Wangji was looking right back at him, his gaze burning Wei Wuxian up, and in the end, he wasn’t sure who closed the distance between them. Suddenly, everything was burning. Lan Wangji’s mouth was wet and sweet, still a trace of that fragrant liquor on his tongue. Wei Wuxian could feel Lan Wangji’s hands at his waist, trying to pull him closer, nearer, and Wei Wuxian followed him until someone’s legs knocked against something else and they ended up toppling down in the boat. Wei Wuxian ended up half sitting in Lan Wangji’s lap, unwilling for their lips to be parted for even a second even as he tried to maneuver himself into a more comfortable position, pushing aside robes until finally he could straddle Lan Wangji’s thighs.
He leaned back for just a moment to catch his breath, but the moment he opened his eyes and looked at Lan Wangji, he felt like all the air had been punched right out of him again. Lan Wangji was so beautiful, his lips wet and swollen, eyes a burnt umber, robes askew. And then Lan Wangji was pulling him right back, licking into Wei Wuxian’s mouth with a skill that made him wonder, light-headed, if he had done this before even though Wei Wuxian knew it couldn’t be possible.
He wrapped his legs around Lan Wangji’s waist and the proximity was so good, he automatically ground up, even as Lan Wangji devoured his mouth. He felt like he couldn’t get close enough. Lan Wangji’s fingers tugged at the wooden ring still around Wei Wuxian’s neck, and Wei Wuxian gasped.
“Ah, Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian wasn’t sure what he was trying to say but every time Lan Wangji ground up at him, he forgot all over again. He wanted to get closer. He wanted to touch him, and as though reading his mind, he was suddenly pushed back on the ground, but when he thought he might hit the hard ground, instead, Wei Wuxian was met with softness. He’d been pushed down against the soft, thick cloak he’d discarded earlier.
Lan Wangji loomed over him, dark hair falling around them like a curtain, and Wei Wuxian reached up, his legs spread around Lan Wangji’s hips. “Kiss me again,” he begged.
Lan Wangji complied, and as he did, he reached for Wei Wuxian’s robes. Wei Wuxian wondered if Lan Wangji was even coordinated enough to undress him right now and began to help him, only for Lan Wangji to grab his wrists. He looked annoyed, as though he thought Wei Wuxian was trying to stop him, and a moment later, Wei Wuxian was even more shocked to find Lan Wangji stripping off his forehead ribbon to bind his wrists together, pushing his hands up so Wei Wuxian couldn’t move his arms.
“Lan Zhan! Lan Er-Gege, who knew you were into this kind of play,” Wei Wuxian said, a breathless laugh on his lips. He was surprised, but more than that, turned on, and he wiggled, pressing his ass against Lan Wangji in an attempt to get him to move. “Aren’t you going to undress me?” he asked, raising his eyebrows provocatively.
Lan Wangji’s frown became a full glare, reminiscent of all the times Wei Wuxian had been on the receiving end of such a look. The first time he’d seen it was that night they’d first met, and every time since, he’d felt a delicious thrill of danger and pleasure from it. But all of those times paled in comparison to the way Lan Wangji was eyeing him now.
“Hurry up,” Wei Wuxian begged as Lan Wangji fumbled at the ties of his robes. “This is your fault. If you hadn’t tied me up, I could help you, but since you’re the one who tied me up, you have to undress me too,” he said, intending just to tease him a bit.
Who knew that in the next moment, Wei Wuxian heard a loud ripping sound and suddenly his robe was falling away, torn open. Wei Wuxian gaped at him.
“Are you a beast?” he demanded, unbelievably turned on. His robes had been made of good quality and thick material, the type that was specially reinforced and worn by cultivators so they could function as an additional layer of protection when they were on night hunts. Wei Wuxian’s naturally, did not have the sorts of protective talismans and spells woven into the average cultivators’ robes or he wouldn’t be able to demonically cultivate, but the material was the same and they were definitely not something even a cultivator would normally be able to tear apart with his bare hands.
Lan Wangji ignored his protests, running those strong hands down warm, bare skin, and every place his fingertips brushed ignited, all of Wei Wuxian feeling overly sensitive. Lan Wangji’s thumb traced just beneath the skin-warmed wooden ring around Wei Wuxian’s neck, and he felt like he couldn’t breath.
“Lan Zhan, touch me,” Wei Wuxian gasped. “If you don’t touch me right now, I—”
Lan Wangji kissed him, still running his hands down Wei Wuxian’s skin, lighting a trail of fire as he went until his hand reached into Wei Wuxian’s trousers.
Wei Wuxian’s whole body arched back as Lan Wangji’s hand wrapped around him, a litany of praises pouring from his mouth as he begged Lan Zhan, Lan Wangji, Lan Er-Gege, please and more and hurry and faster—
He could feel Lan Wangji’s hips stuttering against his, Lan Wangji’s hand moving around him to the same too-fast rhythm. Lan Wangji’s mouth was on his, the two of them unable to do anything but breathe the same air—and then everything burned white hot as Wei Wuxian’s mind went blank of everything except Lan Zhan’s name.
When he came back to himself, Lan Wangji was a dead weight on him, so heavy it was a little hard to breath, but Wei Wuxian didn’t ever want to move from that secure weight on him. They were so close together that even though Lan Wangji’s clothes were still in between them, he could feel Lan Wangji’s ragged breathing in sync with his own.
They were a tangled mess of limbs and half-ripped clothes. Wei Wuxian’s legs were still spread around Lan Wangji’s hips. Wei Wuxian’s hands were still tied with Lan Wangji’s ribbon, and though he wanted to be untied so he could touch Lan Wangji, he wanted to get these words out first.
But even now, he didn’t know where to start. How was he supposed to explain all the things he felt for Lan Wangji, what he wanted with Lan Wangji, how he didn’t want anyone or anything except for Lan Wangji.
“Thank you,” he began in the end, staring up at the canopy, smiling at the weight of Lan Wangji on him. “If not for you…” He wanted to thank Lan Wangji for all that he’d done for Wei Wuxian. If it hadn’t been for him. If he hadn’t married Wei Wuxian, protected him, brought him into GusuLan to keep him safe. If he hadn’t protected the entire Wen clan. If he hadn’t defended Wei Wuxian again and again even from himself when he was being eaten alive by resentment so he couldn’t see that everything Lan Wangji was doing was for him. If he hadn’t looked for a cure. If he hadn’t come to the wedding to give him face when all the other sects wondered why the righteous Hanguang-Jun would marry him. If he hadn’t saved Jiang Yanli and saved Wei Wuxian. If he hadn’t gone to find a cure in the form of a song that had both saved and given Wei Wuxian his life back. If not for all of this, Wei Wuxian didn’t know where he’d be now. Maybe still in the Yiling Burial Mounds, maybe eaten alive by resentful energy, maybe dead.
Wei Wuxian didn’t know how he’d gotten so lucky to have Lan Wangji as a husband who he loved so much. He was about to say more when Lan Wangji suddenly sat up. It was cold without Lan Wangji’s body covering his with his robes torn open and trousers half-off, and he shivered. “Lan Zhan…?”
But when Wei Wuxian looked up at him, Lan Wangji was very pale, breathing hard, and looking at him like Wei Wuxian had just slapped him.
Wei Wuxian felt his heart drop to his stomach and he struggled to sit up. “Lan Zhan…”
Lan Wangji reached forward, and for a moment, Wei Wuxian felt a warm rush of relief, only for Lan Wangji to loosen his bound hands with a few tugs. Once his forehead ribbon was back in his hands, Lan Wangji took a few stumbling steps back and began tying it back on as quickly as he could. His hands were shaking, and it took him several tries before he could tie it on properly. He wouldn’t look at Wei Wuxian.
Wei Wuxian felt the rest of his words die in his throat. He wiped off his chest and wrapped the remains of his robes around him, feeling cold down to his bones for reasons that had nothing to do with the weather.
“I...I’m sorry,” was the only thing Wei Wuxian could say. He felt so ashamed he wanted to dig a hole and bury himself in it. He had gotten Lan Wangji drunk and taken advantage of him. Lan Wangji was a man, after all, and being provoked that way, of course, he would… Wei Wuxian didn’t know what else he could say.
He wished they were anywhere but in this small boat right now. He wished he could take back everything—maybe then he and Lan Wangji could have remained friends, cultivation partners in name if nothing more. At least then he could stay by Lan Wangji’s side, but now…
Wei Wuxian shivered.
Then, he felt a gentle, warm current run over him, familiar. Lan Wangji was passing spiritual energy to him. Even at a time like this, he noticed Wei Wuxian was cold—he just didn’t know for what reason.
“Don’t touch me,” Wei Wuxian forced the words out, hunching in on himself more. He didn’t want Lan Wangji’s pity for not liking him the way Wei Wuxian wanted. Even at a time like this, Lan Wangji still cared about him enough to feel guilty about rejecting Wei Wuxian, or maybe just cared about him enough to want him to be warm. It would be okay, he told himself. “I—” He took a deep breath so he could steady his voice. “I just need some time.”
He didn’t look at Lan Wangji as he pulled the wooden ring off from around his neck, dropping it to the ground. He didn’t want to take Lan Wangji’s cloak, but with his robes the way they were, he had no choice but to pick up that GusuLan robe and wrap it around his shoulders.
Lan Wangji didn’t answer, but after a few moments, the boat began to move. Lan Wangji was guiding it back to shore.
The trip back to Yunmeng took far too long this time, and as soon as the boat touched dock, Wei Wuxian stumbled out of it. “I’ll meet you back at the Cloud Recesses later,” he said and without waiting for a response, hurried away into the crowds in the Yunmeng sunset.
He knew, of course, exactly the way to go to return to Lotus Pier.
That was another thing Lan Wangji had given him that he’d so ungratefully thrown back in his face. If not for Lan Wangji, Jiang Cheng would have no choice but to break ties with Wei Wuxian and who knew when he’d be able to come back here. But now, he could walk through the gates of Lotus Pier without a single alarm sounding and head straight for the rooms that were still his.
Lotus Pier was quiet. It had only been a few days, so Jiang Cheng was likely still with most of the other senior cultivators at Koi Tower tying up loose ends, and Wei Wuxian didn’t have to answer any unwanted questions.
He sat alone in his room, staring into space for a long time. By the time he thought to take a bath and change out of his torn robes, night had already long fallen, so Wei Wuxian decided to go heat up his own water instead of disturbing anyone.
The mundane task kept him busy as he took several trips back and forth from the kitchen to bring water back to his room. He washed himself absently, but wouldn’t let himself touch a drop of alcohol—not after what he’d done to Lan Wangji. Once he’d finished bathing and dressing himself, he still couldn’t sleep so he went out again for a walk, hoping the night air would tire him.
Beneath the moonlight, he once again visited all his favorite places in Lotus Pier, and then in the rest of Yunmeng when he ran out of places to go.
But he’d taken Lan Wangji to all these places just earlier that day, and where once the memories had all been ones of him and his family and his sect, now they were overlayed with his memories of Lan Wangji, so happy just earlier that day when he’d been so hopeful that maybe, just this once, everything would work out for him.
By the time he returned to Lotus Pier, the sun had risen.