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Scattered Sounds

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It’s a rare sort of evening: Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji are ensconced cozily in a country inn, and nobody has been injured or endangered in at least two days. They only laid one corpse to rest on the outskirts of town, and it hardly put up a fight. Even their mysterious friend rests dormant in his enchanted parcels.

The inn is small and nearly empty, their room pleasantly dark. The largest room in the inn—for such an esteemed cultivator, the innkeeper had said, saluting Lan Wangji and utterly ignoring Wei Wuxian, which he was more amused that miffed by, really. Really—but still quite small. There is only one bed, which Wei Wuxian is trying very hard not to think about as the night darkens.

As distraction, Wei Wuxian admires the way the faint lamplight gilds the long lines of Lan Wangji’s fingers around a teacup. The soft light seems to infuse his pale skin—his strength and grace have their own inherent glow—oh, damn, this is not a safe sort of distraction at all.

Seeming to sense Wei Wuxian’s discomfiture, Lan Wangji looks over. “Did you want more tea?”

“No.” Wei Wuxian jumps from the side of the bed and slides to his knees across the table from him. “Pour me a cup.”

He doesn’t want tea, but he needs something to do with his hands, with his mouth, or he’ll go insane. The day has been too quiet, too peaceful, and Wei Wuxian can’t stand it. He’ll say something or do something so terrible, he can’t even fathom it.

Lan Wangji doesn’t even raise an eyebrow at his inconsistency. Just pours him a cup. His hands are so long, so steady. In those smooth, gleaming fingers, the rough ceramic looks like the finest porcelain. Wei Wuxian is absurdly jealous of how the steam curls around his fingers, his knuckles, his strong wrists.

The tea is all right. Somewhat bitter. It’s warm, sinking deep down his throat.

“Sit up straight,” Lan Wangji murmurs. “You’re going to spill.”

Wei Wuxian laughs and leans his elbow on the table. “I won’t. You worry too much, Lan Zhan.” Raises the cup in a dangerously sloppy toast. “Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan. Play me something.”

He still feels too alive, too anxious and buzzing and happy. A dangerous joy. But Lan Wangji’s guqin rests at his side, as smooth and dark and glossy as Lan Wangji’s hair spilling over his shoulders, and it calls to him. He loves when Lan Wangji plays. Perhaps that will calm him down.

Lan Wangji sips his tea and makes no move to grab his guqin. The bastard.

Wei Wuxian sets his tea down and leans further on the table, the better to look up pitifully. “Lan Zha-an. Don’t make me beg!”

“It’s late. The innkeeper and her family will be sleeping.” He looks up, and from the bent of his brow Wei Wuxian thinks he will refuse—until the corner of his lip twitches. “I can play very quietly.”

He pulls the guqin into his lap. His long fingers rest over the strings in a moment of silence, anticipation. Wei Wuxian holds his breath, transfixed, until the first movement and tremulous sound. One low, quick note, and then a longer one, as Lan Wangji tests the acoustics of the tiny room. Then he continues, the song slow and low and held close around them. The guqin murmurs its song for their ears alone. For Wei Wuxian. He recognizes the song, a simple, traditional tune. He cannot remember the lyrics, but he doesn’t need them. In Lan Wangji’s hands, the simple tune is transformed into something magical.

He could make the bawdiest drinking song sound like an epic, Wei Wuxian thinks.

He was right, of course. With each swell and fall of the melody, Wei Wuxian feels the tension lift from his shoulders, his heart. Lan Wangji’s music relaxes him like nothing else. He imagines Lan Qiren would be appalled at this: his favorite pupil playing minstrel for a scoundrel like Wei Wuxian. But Lan Wangji seems utterly content to play for him, his skill effortless. His hands on the strings move surely, beautifully.

The song lulls, and Wei Wuxian asks on dangerous impulse, “Do you know any fun songs?”

A pause. “What do you mean?” Lan Wangji says, with the caution of someone who knows he will regret asking.

Wei Wuxian grins. “You know songs for battle and songs for meditation. Songs to hurt and heal. But Nie Huaisang once told me the great masters of the Gusulan sect know other songs as well. He said that deep within the library of the Cloud Recesses, there was a hidden section devoted to...”

Lan Wangji continues playing quietly, awaiting further explanation, and Wei Wuxian realizes to his horror that his mouth has gotten away from him after all. Another lifetime ago this would have been all right; he could have continued talking and stirred Lan Wangji to fury, so he could revel in the spark of his temper. Lan Wangji’s pale eyes were so beautiful in anger. But the Lan Wangji of the present day is a terrible enigma, and Wei Wuxian can no longer predict the consequences of his teasing.

“Nevermind,” Wei Wuxian says, still grinning, in attempt to backtrack. “Nie Huaisang has always been prone to wishful thinking. Do you know any—ah—drinking songs?”

But it’s too late. Lan Wangji’s face doesn’t change, but he glances over and gives Wei Wuxian a long, lingering look. Wei Wuxian is acutely aware of the delicate youth of his body, the untidiness of his hair.

Lan Wangji’s hand moves and the tone of the guqin shifts. It is lower, slower, and it hooks unerringly into Wei Wuxian’s veins. He can’t help but gasp and grab the table as impossible heat unfurls in his belly. The melody soars and falls and takes Wei Wuxian’s breath with it.

“Is that the sort of song you meant?” Lan Wangji asks impassively.

Wei Wuxian struggles for composure as the guqin’s song hums through his bones. Damn. He really had thought Nie Huaisang was making shit up. ‘Erotic cultivation’—how could that possibly be real!

He takes a shuddering breath and manages, “I didn’t expect Hanguang-jun to be an expert in such an art.”

“I would not call myself an expert. I read the book long ago, before the library burned. But some subjects are—” He shifts octaves and draws a thin groan from Wei Wuxian’s parted lips. “—easier than others.”

Lan Wangji is calling him easy. How rude. But Wei Wuxian is far too unraveled to protest. Luckily the table between them hides the worst of his reaction, even as the sound builds in the too-small room, as Wei Wuxian is hyperaware of his own ragged breath, of Lan Wangji’s breath across the table—steadier. But not quite steady. Wide-eyed, he catches the faintest tremble in Lan Wangji’s wrist, and the accompanying note is slightly off—

Lan Wangji’s hands lift. The music stops. Wei Wuxian can’t help his whine of protest. “What are you… you can’t just…”

Lan Wangji takes a sip of tea. His hands are no longer trembling, but unless it is a trick of the shadows, his cheeks are faintly red. “Was that not enough of a demonstration?”

Wei Wuxian clenches his fists so hard his nails nearly break the skin of his palms. In the silence, his ragged breath is even louder. He has never felt so aroused before. He blames this new, young body, all instinct and urges. Certainly this body is to blame, and not the strange yearning in his soul, the heavy warmth of Lan Wangji’s gaze along his face, his neck.

He thinks of Lan Wangji’s trembling hand. He licks his lips and sees the way Lan Wangji watches him. The song no longer pulls his nerves, but he grows harder and more desperate by the moment. He says, his voice barely shaking, “I didn’t think you were the sort of musician to start a song and not finish it.”

“Very well,” Lan Wangji says neutrally, but Wei Wuxian doesn’t think he’s imagining the dark undercurrent of desire.

It is not unfamiliar. Wei Wuxian has heard that tone in his voice before. But he has no time to sift through his memories, because when Lan Wangji’s hands fall again to the strings, his every coherent thought scatters like petals to the storm.

His entire world narrows to the tiny room. The tea set is forgotten; the table serves only to separate him painfully from the man seated across from him. Lan Wangji’s quiet song weaves into the shadows, surrounding him, a prison and a caress. He would happily drown in it. There is so much space between them, yet each dip of the music falls like a finger’s touch against his skin. As Lan Wangji’s strong hands move steadily, deftly over the strings, Wei Wuxian feels the touch along his ribs, his hips. A tender grasp around his neck. A far firmer grasp around his cock.

He groans and curls over as the music swells—his forehead presses to the table as his body surrenders—but Lan Wangji murmurs, “Wei Ying,” like a prayer. His voice draws Wei Wuxian up on instinct, so that he is looking into Lan Wangji’s heated gaze at the song’s final crescendo.

He comes, gasping, and only then collapses against the table.

The guqin murmurs a moment more, drawing out the last breath of pleasure from him, and then falls silent. Wei Wuxian falls slack, limbs loose, thoughts still scrambled. He feels he should joke, break the silence, but he can’t muster the breath.

He hears Lan Wangji’s breath gradually steadying from across the table. Then Lan Wangji stands and moves around, a white-robed vision standing above him. He bends down and pushes back Wei Wuxian’s messy hair.

“Are you all right?” he asks quietly.

What an odd question. Wei Wuxian can’t possibly answer it. He blinks. Struggles to sit up. Lan Wangji’s hand lingers at his temple, doing nothing to dispel his dizziness. “Yes,” he manages at last. “I’m just stunned Nie Huaisang was right.”

“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji says, so softly it sends new shivers down his spine. He pauses, and yes, his face is definitely pink. His lips part like he is about to say something, to whisper something close to Wei Wuxian’s ear, but instead he straightens up. The loss of touch is painful. “I’m going to bed. Join me when you wish.”

Wei Wuxian stares after him, absently touching his own face, where Lan Wangji’s hand had rested. Right. Going to bed. The one, single bed.

Excellent work at distraction, he mocks himself. Then he stands unsteadily and blows out the lamp.