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please forgive my most passionate disruptions

Chapter Text

Lan Wangji wishes fervently that he were a man less prone to finding himself in regretful situations. The club is loud and hot and the strobing lights are already starting to give him a headache where he’s perched on a stool, back ramrod straight and hands folded tightly in his lap. He can barely breathe in this space.

The GusuLan sect’s newest inducted disciple sits beside him, already tipsy, talking too loudly to his friends from other sects. Su She, Lan Wangji thinks his name is. He wishes, again, that he weren’t here, at a fucking strip club of all places on the last night before classes officially start.

But Su She is new, and Lan Wangji’s uncle had asked him to show the young man around, keep an eye on him, the like—and when Su She insisted on going to Club Yiling despite Wangji’s repeated protests, Lan Wangji had followed.

It’s not that he couldn’t leave Su She to his own hedonistic devices—it’s just that he feels responsible. Su She and his friends would have come anyways, Wangji has no illusions about that fact. Lan Wangji is here as a mitigator of sorts, an aggressive damper on their evening to discourage them from losing all sense. The GusuLan sect’s three thousand rules have loosened somewhat over the course of history—disciples are allowed to engage with worldly pleasures with appropriate displays of self-control and respect—so it’s not as if Su She is stepping completely out of line just by being here, though it grinds Lan Wangji’s teeth.

He hates this. Xichen would have been a better choice because Xichen is actually good at understanding and relating to others. Xichen would have come willingly and graciously, firmly kept everyone in check while somehow still managing to win their love and respect, and maintained a perfectly clean record of his own. Why their uncle passed this job to Wangji is a mystery. Everyone knows Wangji is cold and awkward, an uptight stickler for the rules who doesn’t know how to have fun. Xichen is the cool brother. Wangji will never be anything but the grumpy chaperone.

Dimly, Lan Wangji is aware of the DJ announcing a set of dancers, but their names are drowned out by the loud whoops and cheers from around him. Lan Wangji winces against the cacophony, glances at his watch. It’s already far past nine, but it seems things are only now getting started. He resigns himself to an evening blankly staring into his untouched glass of water, cataloguing the way the condensation gathers and rolls down the sides.

But then, there’s a particularly bright flash of light, and he glances up, startled. This is a mistake.

Club Yiling is unique in that it’s coed. Lan Wangji wishes it were less unique when he feels his throat go dry, eyes locking with a dancer sauntering out onto the stage with the most obscene sway to his hips. The man somehow picks him out of the crowd and winks at him with dark eyes, and Lan Wangji quickly averts his gaze, back to his glass, back to the condensation, back to melting ice and still water. His heart is beating rapidly in his ears, blood rushing to his head uncomfortably. He digs his nails into his palm.

It’s not like he’s never seen an attractive man before in his life—there are plenty of attractive men in the world. There are plenty of attractive men in his own sect. But Lan Wangji is the second young master of his family. He cannot look at men. He has a responsibility.

“Restrain yourself,” he snaps, a little too harshly as Su She lets out a loud catcall. He doesn’t bother to check if he looks properly chastised. Instead, he tries to rein in his breathing, one long inhale, one long exhale. He feels exposed and naked, like anyone who looks at him will be able to see—

And because lady luck has long since abandoned him for the night, someone jostles against his back and Lan Wangji looks up unwillingly at the stage for the second time.

The man is right in front of him, grinning down cheshire-like and wicked. His eyes are bright with mischief, cheeks sparkling with body glitter that glimmers with the shifting lights. Lan Wangji is going to look away, he is, but then the man lets out a ringing laugh that exposes the long line of his throat, and Lan Wangji finds himself unable.

He dances like a swordsman, Lan Wangji finds himself noting through a haze of self-recriminating horror and appreciative lust. He tries to focus on the steps, the patterns of his steps. Here—something reminiscent of a parry, there—a strike.

His shirt comes loose, then open, then off, his thin tie used as a prop and then tossed aside, but he doesn’t go much further, only undoing the button on his pants and dipping his fingers beneath the waistband for a brief second before he laughs again, shaking his finger at the crowd endearingly to laughter and good-natured boos. Lan Wangji feels his eyes pinned to the man’s form, the shadow of his collarbone, the dip of his spine. There are other dancers on stage, he knows—even other very beautiful men, but—

Was it the wink? Was it because he noticed Lan Wangji staring and acknowledged him? Is it because Lan Wangji is so pathetically repressed that that alone is enough to set his mind bolting down dirty alleyways and splashing in the gutter?

“Hello,” the man says, and it takes Lan Wangji a full five seconds to realize he’s being spoken to. He’s on his knees in front of him, only slightly above eye level as he leans in close. “What’s your name?”

Lan Wangji feels his mouth opening before his brain catches up. “Lan,” he says automatically. It comes out remarkably steady and cold for how chaotic his internal emotional landscape is.

The man raises an eyebrow, lips quirked. He looks like he’s on the verge of laughter. Lan Wangji wants to tip him over the edge. “Just Lan?” he repeats. “Well, I was looking for your given name, but a surname is fine too, Lan-gege.”

“I’m the second brother,” Lan Wangji corrects because his brain has apparently full-on shorted out. I’m the second brother?? He wants to punch himself in the face.

The man laughs, which Wangji tries desperately not to count as a win. “Okay, Lan-er-gege,” he says amiably, brimming with mirth. “If you say so.”

“And you?” Lan Wangji asks, seizing onto niceties like a drowning man.

“Weren’t you paying attention when they introduced us?” the man asks, affecting a pout and batting his long lashes. “I’m hurt, Lan-er-gege!”

Lan Wangji tells himself he’s refusing to dignify that with a response, but the truth is his mind is a roaring white blankness that offers him nothing. He simply stares.

“I’m WiFi,” the man says, taking pity on him.

“WiFi?” Lan Wangji feels his brows knit ever so slightly together.

“My stage name,” WiFi clarifies.

“WiFi?” he repeats. It’s a ridiculous stage name. He can’t call this man WiFi.

“Hey, don’t knock it,” he scolds him. “I’ve been told it’s very cute.”

“By whom?” Lan Wangji asks.

“Wouldn’t you like to know,” he teases. “You don’t like it? You won’t call me that, Lan-er-gege?”

“No,” Lan Wangji says dispassionately.

WiFi leans down on all fours, back a deep, cat-like arch as he puts his lips so close to Lan Wangji’s ear he can feel the warmth of his breath.

“Then, you can call me Wuxian,” he whispers, like a secret.

“Wuxian,” Wangji repeats unbidden.

“Good boy,” Wuxian murmurs against the shell of his ear. Lan Wangji can almost feel the curve of his lips.

Lan Wangji viciously stomps down on the little flutter in his heart. It’s nothing special—the pun is obvious now that it’s been said. Wuxian probably does this with plenty of customers. It’s a good trick, Wangji thinks bitterly before immediately attempting to rip that bitterness out by its roots. He needs to get a grip on himself.

“I’ll be back,” Wuxian says, pulling away. There’s a hint of regret in his voice and Lan Wangji tries very hard to appreciate the calculated subtlety of his acting instead of allowing himself to be caught up with hope and longing. Wuxian stands up and struts over to a small group of women cheering and waving at him. He bends down and Lan Wangji catches the flash of a smile so wide and genuine it hurts. Lan Wangji turns back to his water.

Su She and his friends are engaged with a woman with a round face and cute button features. Lan Wangji hopes they were too busy to notice his exchange with Wuxian. He watches out of the corner of his eye, ready with a reprimand if any of them get too bold. He doesn’t technically have the right to discipline any of them except Su She, but his reputation is often enough to exercise his authority regardless.

He passes several minutes uneventfully, his heart slowing incrementally the longer Wuxian stays away, flitting from customer to customer. A few of the women dancers come to talk to Lan Wangji, but he engages only enough to be polite, turning down any flirtatious solicitation with quiet refusals. They respect his space and leave him be, which he appreciates with no small amount of relief.

A shot glass is pushed into his view. He looks up sharply to find Su She and his friends grinning drunkenly at him.

“Second Young Master!” Su She says. “Drink up! You can’t come to a club without having at least one drink.”

“Alcohol is forbidden,” Lan Wangji recites without thought.

Su She tsks. “Second Young Master, it isn’t. Not anymore.”

“I keep to the rules,” Lan Wangji says firmly. “I do not drink.”

“Come on, Second Young Master Lan!” a disciple from another clan cajoles. Lan Wangji turns his icy gaze to him, taking in the golden colors of his clothing. LanlingJin. He searches his memory for a name—Jin Zixun, he thinks. Cousin to the heir.

“I do not drink,” Lan Wangji repeats. He pushes the glass back towards them. “Thank you for your offer.”

“Come on, isn’t that too disrespectful?” Jin Zixun bridles. “It’s a token of our sects’ alliance.”

Lan Wangji bites back the first response that comes to mind, allowing the fury to flare itself out before saying, “It is unnecessary. Our sects’ alliance will not be broken by a glass of alcohol shared amongst juniors.”

“Who says it’s unnecessary?” Jin Zixun is drunker than Lan Wangji first realized. There are spots of color high on his cheeks, his words aggressive and slurred. “Second Young Master Lan. I insist.” He pushes the shot back in front of Lan Wangji, sloshing some of the liquid out over the sides. Lan Wangji picks up a napkin and wipes up the spill.

“I refuse,” he says. “Thank you.”

Before Zixun can open his mouth to protest, a hand shoots out and snatches up the glass. Lan Wangji looks up just in time to see Wuxian down the shot, Adam’s apple bobbing. He slams the cup down with a bang on the table.

“Now, now, kiddos,” he says. “Didn’t anyone ever teach you peer pressure is wrong?” He’s smiling cheerfully, belying the dangerous edge to his voice that turns Lan Wangji’s knees weak. He’s glad he’s sitting. “Anyways, I drank it for him. No hard feelings, all right?”

“You—!” Jin Zixun looks positively apoplectic with rage. “We paid for that!”

“Well, you should have asked if your young master here actually wanted it, then,” Wuxian says with an exaggerated shrug.

“We could have drunk that,” Su She snaps angrily.

“You weren’t going to,” Wuxian counters, spreading his hands wide. “Isn’t this fine? The liquor’s been drunk. Your alliance is intact.”

“What would a whore like you know about sect alliances?” Jin Zixun snarls.

“Young Master Jin!” Lan Wangji is halfway to his feet when Wuxian laughs with a wild recklessness.

“What would I know? Enough to know that I won’t remember you.” He turns to wink at Lan Wangji. “Thank you for defending my honor, Lan-er-gege,” he says, blowing him a kiss.

“How dare you address him that way, you fucking fag—” Su She spits before he finds his lips sealed. His eyes widen in shock.

Lan Wangji feels nothing but a frigid rage inside of him as he lowers his hand. It barely shakes. He feels the residue of the spell in his fingertips, buzzing with anger. Undisciplined, he scolds himself as he shakes them out. Uncontrolled.

Jin Zixun starts to open his mouth again and Lan Wangji takes the liberty of silencing him as well. Their muffled objections catch the attention of their friends, but Lan Wangji doesn’t have the time or patience for them.

Wuxian grins, slow and impish. “What, nothing else to say?” he asks innocently.

“Please do not provoke them further,” Lan Wangji says. He pulls out his money pouch, grabs a wad of cash without looking. He presents it to Wuxian with a formal salute. “I apologize for their actions. They were childish and unworthy. Please accept this as recompense for your trouble.”

“Lan-er-gege!” Wuxian says, drawing out the syllables with deliberate playfulness that has Lan Wangji pursing his lips. “Trying to buy me off?” Lan Wangji looks up, brow wrinkled. Wuxian laughs. “I’m joking, I’m joking. I understand.” He bends over, and Lan Wangji realizes, almost too late, that he intends to take the money with his teeth.

He immediately snatches it away.

Wuxian blinks. “Are you teasing me, Lan-er-gege?” he asks with another full-lip pout. “You don’t really intend to give me money? Poor me?”

“It’s unsanitary,” Lan Wangji says, trying very hard to to keep his tone even. “You’ll get sick. Please take it properly with your hands, and put it in your pockets.”

Wuxian nearly falls over, howling with laughter.

“What.” Lan Wangji feels like he’s crawling out of his skin. People are starting to stare. He wants to leave, now.

“Pockets?” he gasps. “Put it in my pockets?? Lan-er-gege, does it look like these are real pockets?” Wuxian gestures expansively to his skintight jeans, still with that top button undone, hanging low on his hips.

Lan Wangji can feel his ears heating, but he remains composed. “Then please take it and put it wherever you’re supposed to keep your money,” he amends stoically.

Wuxian’s laughter is clear and bright and delighted, and he reaches out to take the bills with two elegant fingers, tucking them seductively into his waistband. He licks his lips provocatively at Lan Wangji, who studiously does not acknowledge it, and instead gives him a small bow before whirling around, dragging Su She by the collar out the door.

“Come back soon, Lan-er-gege!” he hears Wuxian call out behind him.

 

Lan Wangji says nothing to Su She as he marches him back towards campus. Su She remains unwillingly mute, but Lan Wangji can feel the way he radiates humiliated anger. Lan Wangji doesn’t care. He releases him at the entrance to his dormitory.

“You have acted in a manner unbecoming of our sect,” Lan Wangji says. “Reflect upon your actions and report to my uncle’s office at six tomorrow morning for disciplinary action.”

He doesn’t wait for a response and walks away, breathing in the cool night air in an attempt to clear out his lungs of the pervasive smoky scent of Club Yiling and the remnant scraps of uncomfortable heat and anxiety. It sort of works, and sort of doesn’t. He returns to his room, writes up a full incident report despite the late hour, seals it, and delivers it to his uncle’s inbox so that it’s ready for the morning. He shoots his uncle a brief text informing him of the disciplinary meeting he’s scheduled before setting his phone aside to charge.

He finds himself at a loss, pacing back and forth before his bed absently, worrying the nervous energy in his veins out into his measured steps. That won’t do. Mechanically, he undresses for bed, washes up, turns out the light, and lies there. He checks the time. It’s very late. He touches his ear, eyes closed, remembering Wuxian’s voice, remembering—Good boy, the ghostly impression of a smile—and shudders. He wrenches his hand away, balling it into a fist. Undisciplined. Uncontrolled. He tries to steady his breathing and fails. All he can see are Wuxian’s catlike eyes, his cutting smile, the length of his fingers, the gold of his skin—

Fuck yourself, Su She, Lan Wangji thinks with vicious deliberation, some impure ugly part of him relishing in the satisfaction of cursing the man. Fuck all of this. And then he reaches between his legs with a hot frisson of shame, gasping Wuxian’s name into the pillow as he gives in.

Chapter Text

Lan Wangji wakes at five and meditates for two hours instead of his usual one before taking a light breakfast. All the details of the encounter are in the incident report, so there’s no need for him to appear in person to his uncle. He doesn’t know that he could stand to look at Su She’s face today, not with the slur that keeps ringing in his ears and stirring something dark and violent in his gut. Last night was a mistake from start to finish. Lan Wangji compartmentalizes and buries yesterday’s shame deep inside with all the rest and prepares for his day.

His first class is at eight-thirty with his uncle—a survey class on cultivation history and technique meant to ensure that new students are prepared with a good foundation. It’s a required course at the Cloud Recesses, no exceptions. Lan Wangji dresses in fresh robes, carefully ties his headband, and heads for the classroom.

Unsurprisingly, he’s one of the first to arrive—he barely glances at the scattering of sleepy-eyed, bed-headed students before he heads for his desk.

And then he freezes, turning back to look at the two young men sitting near the back, one clad in the brilliant violet of the YunmengJiang sect, and the other in a black and red ensemble that speaks to no affiliation. The only mark that places him is a yaopei of wooden and jade lotuses, blossoms and roots.

Lan Wangji thinks he’s going to throw up when Wuxian raises his head up from where it’s pillowed on his arms and blearily meets his stare. Lan Wangji turns away quickly, hoping he hasn’t been recognized, hoping this is a bad fucking dream—

“Lan-er-gege?”

It’s quiet enough that Lan Wangji can pretend he didn’t hear it, setting down his things and performing a panicked breathing exercise. How could it be? How could this possibly be?

“Lan-er-gege!” Wuxian’s voice takes on a jubilant timbre. It’s also just so unfortunately loud. Lan Wangji forces himself to turn back around. Wuxian is waving at him, a wide smile breaking across his face. His eyes are so bright and energetic it’s hard to believe this is the same person who looked three steps from sleep just a moment ago. “It is you! What a coincidence!”

The young man in violet thwaps him hard on the arm. “What are you doing?” he hisses. “Do you know who that is? Don’t be gross.”

Lan Wangji remembers him: Jiang Wanyin, heir to the YunmengJiang sect. They’ve met a handful of times in the past, at formal events as children. Which means—

“Wei Wuxian,” Lan Wangji says, heart sinking. The senior disciple of the YunmengJiang sect. Wuxian. The man gives out his real name while working at a strip club?

“You know my name!” Wei Wuxian exclaims. “But Lan-er-gege, there’s no need to be so formal. You can call me Wei Ying, since we’re already so familiar.” He winks, and Lan Wangji’s heart stutters.

Lan Wangji feels his ears burning and hopes that his hair covers them. “No need,” he says.

“Wei Wuxian!” Jiang Cheng hits him again. “Show some respect!” He turns to Lan Wangji and formally salutes. “My apologies for my brother, Second Young Master Lan.”

Wangji salutes back. “No need,” he says again. Wei Wuxian just laughs, kicking his feet up on the desk with no regard for propriety. “Put your feet back down,” Lan Wangji says reflexively, determinedly not looking at the way the fabric of his outer robes part and flash the bright red within.

“Wangji-xiong!” Wei Wuxian whines in mock offense.

“Now,” Lan Wangji says shortly.

“Okay, okay, okay, I’ll put them down.” He complies, which is only mildly gratifying.

“How do you know each other anyways?” Jiang Cheng asks, looking at his brother accusingly. “Did you inconvenience him?”

Lan Wangji’s mind immediately blanks with panic, which means he says nothing.

“Oh, we ran into each other last night by the sparring area,” Wei Wuxian lies without missing a beat.

“Last night? Didn’t you have—work?” It’s only because Lan Wangji is hyperaware of the conversation that he notices the tiny break in his speech.

“Before work, obviously,” Wei Wuxian says with a charming smile, tucking an errant strand of hair behind his ear. He keeps it shorter than many of the more traditional disciples, but it’s still long enough to be swept up into a messy approximation of the classic style. Lan Wangji suspects he didn’t even comb it before class. It looks wretchedly, unfairly good. “Come on, Jiang Cheng, don’t be so suspicious. Would I cause trouble before classes even started?”

Jiang Cheng snorts impressively. Lan Wangji silently agrees.

And, when Lan Qiren walks into class precisely at eight-thirty and begins teaching without preamble, Lan Wangji’s heart sinks even further.

Wei Wuxian has a clever mouth and a mind that scurries along too quickly for caution. Paired with his apparent problem with authority and insatiable urge to cause mayhem, it’s a deadly cocktail to his uncle’s stiff sensibilities. It’s not that Wei Wuxian has no legitimate points in his casual overturning of all traditional principles, but now is neither the time nor place.

The mixture of relief and dismay that bubbles up inside of him when Lan Qiren finally loses his temper and casts Wei Wuxian out of his instructional Eden not thirty minutes into the first class of the semester is distressingly more parts dismay than relief. Lan Wangji knows he should probably examine that, dissect it and keep only the good, but he follows the flicker of red and black out of the corner of his eye as Wei Wuxian skips out the door and knows he won’t be able to.

“Uncle,” he says after class, approaching Lan Qiren as the other students pack up to leave. “How was the disciplinary meeting?”

Lan Qiren sighs. “Fine. He’ll be turning in an essay of repentance and copying lines for at least the next month.”

Lan Wangji bites back his instinctive, Is that all? He’s not sure what he would have assigned in his uncle’s place. Immediate excommunication from the sect? Stripping him of his sword until he was satisfied with his change in attitude? Even Wangji knows that he’s being extreme. If he stripped Su She of his sword, he knows he would never return it. It is a dishonorable inclination. Everyone ought to be granted the opportunity to better themselves.

“How did it happen, Wangji?” Qiren asks, gathering his materials. “When I asked you to guide him, I never thought you would be accompanying him to such an establishment.” There’s no recrimination in his tone, only perhaps a mild curiosity, but Wangji flinches internally anyways.

“I knew he would go regardless of whether or not I accompanied him,” Lan Wangji explains, eyes downcast. “I decided it would be better if I were there to be sure he would not disgrace our sect.” He feels his lips tighten. “I suppose I failed in that respect.”

Lan Qiren pauses for a moment. “Wangji.”

“Yes, Uncle.”

“It’s difficult to prevent others from acting badly. You did as well as could be expected.”

Lan Wangji nods stiffly. Xichen would have done better, he thinks. Why didn’t you send him?

“I’ve also received a complaint from a disciple of the LanlingJin sect,” Lan Qiren continues. “Something about inappropriate discipline?”

“If you’re referring to Jin Zixun, he was also… with us,” Lan Wangji explains. “He was the first to make disparaging comments towards the employee in question. It would have been far more inappropriate to let it stand. I do not regret my actions.”

“I see.” Lan Qiren sighs. “Very well.”

“Would you like me to write a second incident report?” Wangji offers.

“I would,” he says. “Please have it in my inbox by this evening.”

“Yes, Uncle,” Lan Wangji says with a bow, recognizing it for the dismissal it is.

As he tries to exit the building, still gloomy with a misplaced sense of failure, he nearly walks right into a flurry of red and black.

“Lan Zhan!” Wei Wuxian exclaims, skidding to a stop in the middle of what seems to be an ill-advised charge back into the building. “There you are! I was beginning to get worried.”

“Why?” Lan Wangji asks shortly, too startled for eloquence.

“Everyone else came out ages ago. I thought you were getting scolded!”

“I was not.” Lan Wangji doesn’t know why he feels the need to clarify that to a stranger.

Wei Wuxian throws his head back and laughs with unbridled exuberance. He looks different in the daylight, more human than fae. His movements are looser, less performative, genuine in their messiness and inelegance. Lan Wangji can still see the traces of glitter on his cheeks.

“Of course you weren’t! Lan Zhan is studious and righteous, unlike me.” He grins. “Sorry for upsetting your uncle.”

“There’s no need to apologize to me,” Lan Wangji says, starting to brush past him.

“Hey, hey, hey, Lan Zhan, wait!” Wei Wuxian grabs onto his arm, fingers tight around the crook of his elbow. His hand isn’t especially warm, but it seems to sear through the layers of fabric anyways. Lan Wangji freezes.

“Please release me,” he says through gritted teeth.

“Sorry, sorry, don’t look at me like that—” Like what? Wangji wonders, trying to school his expression into… something. It’s hard when he doesn’t know what expression he’s currently wearing. “—I needed to talk to you about something! Shall we get breakfast?”

“I already ate,” Lan Wangji says. It’s barely ten.

“Well, I’ll get breakfast then, and you can have some tea. Surely you have room for tea?” Wei Wuxian, with his hand still firmly clasped around Lan Wangji’s arm. He smiles winningly.

Somehow, Lan Wangji finds himself walking with Wei Wuxian towards the dining center. Wei Wuxian gestures carelessly as he chatters about any and everything, seemingly undeterred by Lan Wangji’s monosyllabic and noncommittal responses. He still hasn’t taken his hand from Lan Wangji’s arm. That’s. Fine. It’s fine. A more principled man would shrug it away, insist on maintaining more space between them. Lan Wangji is not that man, and he hates himself for it.

“Where did Young Master Jiang go?” Lan Wangji asks, interrupting a several-minute-long treatise on the best methods for seasoning and roasting peanuts.

“Oh, Jiang Cheng?” Wei Wuxian says. “Some class for future sect leaders. Ha! Glad I don’t have to attend.” He beelines for one of the secluded areas in the main hall, half-hidden by a screen. Lan Wangji is pulled along in his wake. “What kind of tea do you like? I’ll get it for you.”

“No need—” Lan Wangji attempts to demure, but Wei Wuxian interrupts him.

“No, come on, I’m insisting. Sit here and hold our place!” He pats the tabletop enthusiastically, shedding his bag. “I won’t take long, I promise. What kind of tea?”

“I really—”

“If you don’t specify, you’ll have to place yourself at my mercy,” Wei Wuxian lectures, which—fuck.

I would, some traitorous part of Lan Wangji sighs like a fluttering maiden. He stabs it, but it refuses to die. “A white tea,” he says aloud. “Any.”

“Okay, I got it, don’t worry!” And Wei Wuxian dashes off, whistling.

Lan Wangji thinks he feels a headache brewing somewhere behind his temples. He sits at the table, gathering himself. What is he doing? Why did he agree to come? Didn’t he already tell himself last night was a mistake?

This is different, that traitorous part of him chirps through a mouthful of blood. It’s totally innocent. You’re making a diplomatic connection. Surely there’s nothing wrong with that.

Lan Wangji resists the urge to bury his face in his hands.

Wei Wuxian returns after an interminable length of time, a tray balanced in each hand as he meanders back to their table. It makes Lan Wangji nervous just watching him weave around tables and people. He seems to be making a game of it—how close can he get to every obstacle, how narrow of a space can he squeeze through, how many fucking unnecessary spins can he add before he crosses the line into disaster?

He makes it back to Lan Wangji without incident, though there are a couple near misses. Lan Wangji releases a breath he hadn’t realized he was holding.

“Tea for the Second Young Master Lan!” Wei Wuxian announces. “The finest!”

It’s far from the finest, as Lan Wangji is well aware. Also, he can smell that it’s oolong tea from where he’s sitting. He takes the tray anyways.

“Thank you.”

Wei Wuxian slides into his seat, sword clanking carelessly against the legs of the table. Lan Wangji tries not to wince.

“What did you want to speak with me about?” Lan Wangji asks, pouring two cups of tea. He pushes one over to Wei Wuxian.

“Oh, yeah—” Wei Wuxian glances around with zero subtlety, then brings out a stack of money from his sleeve. “Here.” He offers it to Lan Wangji.

“What is this?” Wangji asks, even though he knows full well.

“It’s the money you gave me last night!” Wei Wuxian says. “You forgot?” He waves it back and forth.

“But why are you showing it to me?” He pushes Wei Wuxian’s hand out of his face. “It was an apology.”

“It’s way too much, Lan-er-gege! See?” He fans the bills out. “What were you thinking? Did you even look at them before you handed them to me?”

The honest answer is no, but Lan Wangji doesn’t want to be honest. Unfortunately, lying is also forbidden, so he says nothing.

“Lan Zhan! You have to take more care with your money!” Wei Wuxian lectures, grabbing his hand and slapping the bills into his unsuspecting palm. “I appreciate the gesture, but you can’t be throwing this kind of money around.”

“You should keep it,” Lan Wangji says, pushing it back. “I gave it to you freely. There’s no reason for you to return it. What our disciple said to you was unacceptable.”

“So you’re paying for his slur with your own money?” Wei Wuxian asks incredulously. “That doesn’t make any sense, Lan Zhan.”

“Please keep it,” Lan Wangji insists, snatching his hand away when Wei Wuxian tries to put the money back into it.

“I can’t! It’s too much.” He pins Lan Wangji with a stern look, but Wangji refuses to budge. Something in Wei Wuxian’s expression shifts. He leans across the table, elbows narrowly missing his bowl of congee. “I didn’t even give you a private show or anything, Lan-er-gege.”

“Wei Ying!” Lan Zhan snaps without thinking, halfway to his feet.

“What?” Wei Wuxian leans back in his seat, the persona gone as quickly as it had appeared. “What are you acting embarrassed about?”

It took him off-guard. They’d been discussing the events in vague allusions, which had afforded him a false sense of security.

“It’s shameless,” he gets out.

“What’s shameless?” Wei Wuxian cocks an eyebrow at him. “Come on, Lan Zhan. We all know why you were there. Don’t pretend you’ve never done something like that before!”

“I haven’t,” Lan Wangji says, which is true. “And I wasn’t—I was told to watch—”

“Watch what?” Wei Wuxian asks, the edges of a smile twitching at his lips. “Watch me?”

“No—”

“Oh my god, were you on mom duty? Was all my performance wasted on you?”

He’s moving too quickly. Lan Wangji scrambles to find solid ground. With enormous effort, he shoves the bills yet again towards Wei Wuxian instead of blurting out the obvious and terrible response: It wasn’t wasted.

“Lan Wangji, Lan Wangji,” Wei Wuxian sighs. “You’re not being very clear. Is this an apology from the GusuLan sect, or is this how highly you rated my dancing?”

Lan Wangji’s ears are burning. “I have to go,” he manages, sounding only very slightly strangled.

“Go? Nonono, don’t go! Lan-er-gege! Wait! Stay with me while I eat! I’ll be lonely!” Wei Wuxian lunges out and throws his arms around Lan Wangji’s waist as he tries to stumble away. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry! I won’t tease you anymore, I’m sorry!”

“Don’t grab me!”

Wei Wuxian is half-falling out of his seat at this point, kept upright only by his arms tentacled directly above Lan Wangji’s hips. Lan Wangji doesn’t know what to do. Are people staring? He can feel the panic rising in him.

Wei Wuxian looks up at him, chin pressed against his stomach. “Please sit back down. I’ll be good.”

Lan Wangji wants his mouth somewhere else when he says that. He recoils from the thought like it burns. “Let go,” he says.

“You’ll stay? I’ll take the money if you stay!”

What is he supposed to do? Lan Wangji goes to sit back down. Wei Wuxian, after nearly faceplanting into the ground, dusts himself off and pulls a bottle of chili oil out of his sleeve as if he hasn’t just done the most embarrassing thing in his life. He pours a horrifying amount into his congee, then, after a taste, makes a small face and adds another healthy splash. Lan Wangji doesn’t know if he ought to be impressed or concerned.

“Share the money with your coworkers if you feel it’s too much,” Lan Wangji says, eyeing the dish warily. “It’s yours now.”

“Fine, fine, Lan-er-gege, you win! I was just trying to save you some face, but you’ve beaten me.”

Wei Wuxian has the thickest face of anyone Lan Wangji’s ever met. How he expects to save anyone else some face is beyond Wangji’s understanding. He sips at the cup of oolong he didn’t want for lack of anything better to do.

“So, Lan Zhan, what do you do for fun when you’re not frequenting Club Yiling?” Wei Wuxian asks cheerfully as he slurps his devil’s congee.

“I don’t frequent that place.”

“Well, what do you do for fun, then?”

For fun? Lan Wangji tries and fails to think of a single hobby he has that isn’t related to his studies. “Calligraphy,” he settles on finally. That’s almost passable, isn’t it? He enjoys it. Sort of.

“Calligraphy! Such a refined hobby,” Wei Wuxian says. “As expected of the esteemed Hanguang-jun.”

“And what about Young Master Wei?” Lan Wangji asks.

Wei Wuxian gives a little puff of laughter. “You know what my hobbies are, Lan Zhan.”

“I know where you work,” Lan Wangji corrects, determined not to get distracted.

“My work can be my hobby too,” Wei Wuxian points out. “Some people do enjoy their work, you know.”

“Do you?” Lan Wangji asks. It slips out before he can stop himself. His fingers tighten around the teacup.

Wei Wuxian glances up at him through long lashes. “What did it look like, Lan Zhan?” he asks slyly.

“You said you would stop teasing me,” Lan Wangji says. “I will leave.”

“Who says I’m teasing? It’s an honest question!” Lan Wangji stares at him silently until he relents. “Okay, okay. You don’t have to say it. I know what I look like.”

“Does Young Master Wei have any other activities he enjoys?” Lan Wangji asks, trying to divert to safer waters.

Wei Wuxian laughs and shrugs. “Drinking,” he says flippantly. “Did you know Gusu has the best liquor in the region? What a shame your sect members couldn’t taste it until recent history!” Lan Wangji’s mouth twitches unhappily. “It’s just so expensive,” Wei Wuxian continues blithely. “It’s really too bad. Have you had it?”

“I don’t drink,” Lan Wangji says, voice colored with a hint of bitter disapproval.

“Oh, at all? I thought yesterday was just because you didn’t feel like it.”

“I keep to the sect rules,” Lan Wangji says, even though he’s technically breaking one right now by speaking with Wei Wuxian over a meal.

All of them??” Wei Wuxian demands, eyes growing wide. “My god, are you even alive?”

Lan Wangji is used to this sort of reaction when he brings up the GusuLan rules, has long since managed to rise above it, so the sting of it coming from Wei Wuxian’s mouth catches him by surprise.

“I am perfectly fine,” he says coldly.

“Oh, Lan Zhan, don’t be mad!” Wei Wuxian puts down his spoon. “I didn’t mean to disrespect! I’m actually really impressed!” His smile is earnest and hacks its way through Lan Wangji’s defenses like an axe. “I’ve never been able to keep to any set of rules in my life, let alone one so complicated. It’s very admirable of you, Hanguang-jun!”

“It’s not admirable; it’s expected,” Lan Wangji counters, because somehow, the praise is even harder to deal with than derision. “I’m the second heir.”

“Is accepting compliments against the GusuLan rules?” Wei Wuxian asks. Lan Wangji opens his mouth. “Never mind, never mind, don’t answer that!” Wei Wuxian adds hastily.

“Mn.” Lan Wangji takes another sip of his now-lukewarm and frankly subpar oolong.

Wei Wuxian watches him while he eats, heedless of the food he’s putting in his mouth.

“What,” Lan Wangji asks after a few moments. He’s not used to being watched so obviously and intensely.

“Are you really going to finish that tea?” Wei Wuxian demands, the question bursting out of him like he was waiting for the slightest provocation.

“What?” Lan Wangji repeats, nonplussed.

“It’s oolong,” Wei Wuxian says pointedly.

“Yes,” Lan Wangji agrees.

“You said you wanted white.”

“… I did,” Lan Wangji says with exasperated realization. “You brought oolong on purpose.”

“I wanted to see if you would say anything! But I didn’t want you to drink the whole pot out of politeness if you didn’t want it, my god, Lan Zhan, the oolong here is the worst.” Lan Wangji notices, too late, that Wei Wuxian hasn’t touched the cup he poured him, which maybe should have been the giveaway. Wei Wuxian grabs the tray from him, piling their used cups onto it haphazardly. “Here, here—I’ll get some actual white tea.”

“No need,” Lan Wangji tries to stop him, but Wei Wuxian, a force of nature, barrels through his refusal without batting an eye.

“I won’t be long! Don’t get lonely!” He runs off, skipping around a cluster of students with an overconfident zeal that gives Lan Wangji another mild heart attack.

Wei Wuxian. Lan Wangji takes a deep breath, and then another. And in a moment of weakness, he thinks, Wei Ying, and even allows himself the indulgence of a tiny thrill at the name.

Chapter Text

Somehow, somehow Wei Wuxian slots himself into Lan Wangji’s life like there was already a place for him there. The first time Lan Wangji finds him outside his door at seven in the morning, thousand-watt smile more blinding than the sunrise behind him, he immediately shuts the door in the man’s face and goes back inside to nurse his poor, fragile heart back to the land of the living.

Wei Wuxian unhelpfully spends the entirety of this period wailing loudly about how Lan Zhan has rejected him, bemoaning Lan Zhan’s cruelty, whining about how he’s so tired, he got up specially to see Lan Zhan in the morning, and slapping the doorframe petulantly. Lan Wangji nearly goes back outside prematurely just to silence him. He can’t decide if he’s furious or elated, and that particular emotional cocktail makes it very difficult for him to school himself back into the image of the Second Young Master of Lan, of Hanguang-jun, which he needs to be.

He interrupts Wei Wuxian mid-shout, half-ripping the door open. “Wei Ying.”

“Lan Zhan!” he exclaims, grinning shamelessly.

“Are you finished advertising your nuisance to everyone in the vicinity?” Lan Wangji asks.

“Now that Lan Zhan has come out!” Wei Wuxian says happily.

“Why are you here,” Lan Wangji says flatly.

“I came to invite you to some morning sparring!” Wei Wuxian says, waving his sword. “Now that I’m finally at the Cloud Recesses, I wanted to take the chance to spar with different people.”

“And you thought the best way to do that was by barging down my door at seven in the morning.”

“Hey, I was waiting very patiently until you shut the door on me, so it’s really your own fault,” Wei Wuxian protests. “How rude, Hanguang-jun! Is that how you treat a friend?”

“Are we friends?” Lan Wangji asks, regretting it immediately.

“What kind of question is that?? Lan Zhan! We’ve already shared several meals! Isn’t that friendship?”

“Is that your only criteria?”

“We-ell,” Wei Wuxian says, dragging out the syllable and putting his chin on Lan Wangji’s shoulder. “Only my closest friends have seen me at work.”

Lan Wangji shrugs him off like the contact scalds him. “You dance in a public establishment. Am I to assume all of your patrons are your close friends?” He doesn’t mean for it to come out as scathing as it does. Wei Wuxian doesn’t belong to him. They barely know each other, whatever Wei Wuxian says. The man is free with his affections, casually handsy with anyone willing or unwilling. He gives away his smile like it costs nothing, teases and cajoles everyone he meets—Lan Wangji has no illusions about being unique. He can’t. It would be unwise in the extreme.

“Aw, Lan Zhan, are you drinking vinegar?” Wei Wuxian teases, proving Lan Wangji’s point. He drapes his arms over Lan Wangji’s shoulders, leaning aggressively into him. “Don’t worry, Lan Zhan, none of them compare to the honorable Hanguang-jun!”

“Get off,” Lan Wangji says.

“Make me, Lan-er-gege,” he murmurs, too close to Lan Wangji’s ear.

Bichen clatters loudly against Wei Wuxian’s sword, sheath to sheath.

“Wow! Hanguang-jun! We’re not even at the sparring area yet! Isn’t fighting forbidden?” His grin is unbearable. Lan Wangji takes another precise swing.

Wei Wuxian dances out of the way, light on the balls of his feet. Bichen misses by a hairsbreadth. “So fast, Hanguang-jun! Can’t wait to put your sword in me?” His tongue darts out between his lips, quick and mocking.

“You—!” Lan Wangji flies forward with another strike, and Wei Wuxian parries smoothly. Without Lan Wangji quite understanding how it happened, they spar their way down the main path, flying towards the sparring arena with quick steps and earnest blows. It’s early enough that no one is out, but Wei Wuxian is, in fact, a rather good swordsman, so much so that Lan Wangji wouldn’t have the attention to spare for any onlookers anyways.

They burst through the unlocked doors of the sparring arena with a flurry of blows. The second they cross the threshold, Lan Wangji draws Bichen from its sheath and metal rings against metal. Wei Wuxian’s smile has taken on a different character, something more akin to appraisal than provocation. They move around the arena, exchanging strikes instead of words. The air fills with the sound of gasped breaths and the snap of cloth, the whip of blades and the sharp slide of edge against edge.

They are very nearly evenly matched, but Wei Wuxian’s YungmengJiang style is flashier than the GusuLan techniques, aggressively powerful where the GusuLan favors precision, incorporating distraction where the GusuLan values stark honesty in its swordplay. It uses just slightly more energy, and Lan Wangji presses his advantage when he sees the slightest fatigue in Wei Wuxian’s step.

Wei Wuxian is on his back in a second, sword knocked from his grasp. He raises his hands in surrender, laughing breathlessly. “Mercy, Hanguang-jun! I’ve been defeated today! Mercy!” There’s sweat running in rivulets down his neck, his baby hairs sticking to his face. The sweat darkens the edges of his collar, deepening the red like blood on poppies.

Lan Wangji stands above him taking in the sight, the point of his blade hovering millimeters above Wei Wuxian’s throat. Unwillingly mesmerized, he traces it down the line of Wei Wuxian’s windpipe, slow and measured.

Wei Wuxian stares up at him silently, laughter vanished. His eyes are dark, his breathing harsh. He opens his mouth.

The doors to the building slam open to the sound of jocular shouts and bickering, hastily aborted.

“Second Young Master!” Su She exclaims in recognition.

Lan Wangji retracts his sword immediately. Wei Wuxian props himself up on his elbows, swiping an arm across his forehead as he cranes his neck to see the new arrivals. Lan Wangji offers him a hand, refusing to look at Su She and the others. He doesn’t trust himself quite yet.

Wei Wuxian takes his hand, palm hot. Lan Wangji doesn’t look at him either.

“Thanks, Lan Zhan!” Wei Wuxian says cheerfully. “Good match.” He claps Lan Wangji on the shoulder. Gone is the entrancing creature spread on the ground before Lan Wangji mere moments ago. The spell is broken.

“Mn,” Lan Wangji acknowledges with a short nod.

“You?!”

Lan Wangji resists the urge to close his eyes in irritation. Of course Jin Zixun would be here too.

“Ah?” Wei Wuxian asks, one eyebrow raised. Somehow, he manages to convey a lethal mix of confusion, disdain and who me? all in one syllable. It’s calculated to offend. Lan Wangji can’t help but admire it, even as he prays silently for patience. “Who are you again?”

“We were just leaving,” Lan Wangji announces before Jin Zixun can reply with something undoubtedly asinine and offensive. “Please excuse us. The arena is yours.” He bows, trying his best not to allow his contempt for the man to show in his posture.

“Second Young Master!” Su She protests. “You don’t have to—what are you doing with—with—with someone like him?” He gestures at Wei Wuxian with barely contained disgust and embarrassment. He still hasn’t finished copying his lines.

“Someone like the senior disciple of the YunmengJiang sect?” Lan Wangji quips coldly, because he is not a perfect man and can’t quite resist the urge. “Do you find something inappropriate about our acquaintance?”

“That’s obviously not the problem!” Jin Zixun snaps, pointing his sword accusingly at Wei Wuxian.

Wei Wuxian places a hand on his chest, the perfect image of an innocent wrongly accused. The expression is immensely infuriating. It satisfies something vengeful and angry inside Lan Wangji to imagine how it must grate Jin Zixun’s nerves.

“Your implication is dishonorable,” Lan Wangji says. “Good day. We’ll see ourselves out.” With that, he seizes Wei Wuxian’s wrist and pulls his unresisting form through the door. Wei Wuxian waves cheekily to the others, stooping and snatching up his dropped sword without breaking his stride.

Wei Wuxian is laughing before the door slams behind them, whooping with delight and leaning his whole weight against Lan Wangji’s side as they walk. Lan Wangji staunchly tries to ignore the scent of him, the closeness of him.

“Do you really not remember him?” Lan Wangji asks in an effort to distract himself.

“Who, Jin Zixun?” Wei Wuxian asks with a devastating smirk. Lan Wangji closes his eyes against it. “Of course I remember him. It wasn’t even a week ago. My memory is bad, but it’s not that bad. Besides,” he adds wickedly, “how could I forget the people who let me see what the esteemed Hanguang-jun looks like when possessed with a righteous fury?”

“Ridiculous,” Lan Wangji says.

“Not to me!” Wei Wuxian declares. He spins, twirling his sword carelessly by the hilt. “Ah! It was really a sight! I feel so lucky!” He turns back to shoot Lan Wangji another one of his grins. “No wonder you’re such an eligible bachelor. If you defended a maiden’s honor like you defended mine, I’m sure she’d fall for you instantly!”

This immediately sours something in Lan Wangji’s gut. He turns away. “Don’t waste your time with such nonsense,” he reprimands.

“My friend’s romantic fortunes can’t be my concern?” Wei Wuxian asks. “Never mind. You’re too stoic. You’ll scare all the ladies away like that, you know.”

Good, Lan Wangji thinks first, then, I haven’t scared you away yet. “Ridiculous,” he says again.

“You’ll end up an old maid like that, Lan Zhan!” Wei Wuxian chides. He pulls out his phone to check the time. “Ah~ there’s not much time left before your uncle’s class. We should probably shower before we show up.” He winks. “Want to join me?”

“Goodbye, Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji says pointedly and walks towards his room. Wei Wuxian’s laughter follows him long after he’s out of earshot.

 

Wei Wuxian manages, somehow (Lan Wangji can only assume through some truly heroic feats of willpower), to not get himself thrown out of Lan Qiren’s class again for the next two weeks. He drags Lan Wangji to meals, folds him into his little trio of friends. Lan Wangji becomes more acquainted in these two weeks with Jiang Wanyin than he ever was as a child. Jiang Wanyin is brusque, argumentative, and angry where Wei Wuxian is light, carefree, and wild. The love between them is obvious—it’s a bright thread that draws them close to one another, even when that thread is spun from lightning and fire. Lan Wangji doesn’t think he sees them go without at least a minor argument once per thirty-minute interaction. Lan Wangji doesn’t dislike Jiang Wanyin, but the way he wears his insecurities and self-shame on his sleeve cuts a little too close for him to stand in large doses. The way his eyes are drawn to Wei Wuxian, even when furious, hurts to see. Lan Wangji doesn’t know if he wants to comfort the man or duel him.

Nie Huaisang is something else entirely. Easygoing and a bit frivolous, Wei Wuxian introduces him as, “Nie-xiong, our resident studio arts concentration.”

“A studio arts minor?” Lan Wangji asks. “Are you undergrad?”

“Oh, no, I’m working towards a secondary cultivation degree like the rest of you, but Wei-xiong likes to bring up my arts minor from undergrad anyways,” he explains, waving his fan. It’s a lovely object—the artistry of the painting is understated and exquisite.

“That’s because it’s the only part of undergrad you enjoyed,” Wei Wuxian says with the familiar cadence of an argument many-times rehashed. “I don’t see why you kept pursuing cultivation when you would have been better suited for the arts. Anyone with half a brain could see that!”

“I’m next in line,” Nie Huaisang sighs. “Wei-xiong, you know that.”

“It’s not like the old days anymore!” Wei Wuxian insists. “What’s the point of progress if we can’t free ourselves from old constraints? Isn’t freedom what we’re striving for?”

“Tell that to my brother,” Nie Huaisang says, not without fondness. “It’s fine, Wei-xiong. It’s not like I have to give up art completely. I can still make my fans in my down time!”

“Did you paint that?” Lan Wangji asks, nodding to the one in his hand.

Nie Huaisang’s eyes light up and he starts enthusiastically explaining the subject matter and brush techniques used. He has a good grasp of literary and artistic canon, which Lan Wangji praises politely. Wei Wuxian is right—the man is clearly well-suited for the arts. He exudes passion for the subject in a way that is conspicuously lacking in class. Lan Wangji doesn’t think he’s heard him speak up or volunteer an answer once thus far. Wei Wuxian scoots closer to Lan Wangji, reaching past him to steal a piece of chicken off of Jiang Wanyin’s plate.

Wei Wuxian loves to touch. This much Lan Wangji is learning as he adjusts to the novelty of Wei Wuxian’s friendship in his life. Wei Wuxian likes to lean across people, lean against people, tuck his chin into shoulders, drape himself dramatically over laps—Lan Wangji draws upon the wellspring of stillness he’s spent so long cultivating with his daily meditation so often he’s rather worried that it’ll run dry. A lifetime of careful work drained in less than a month by a boy.

Jiang Wanyin shoves his brother off more often than not, grumbling about personal space. Nie Huaisang always looks just a bit too delicate for Wei Wuxian’s antics. Which, of course, leaves only Lan Wangji. He resolutely refuses to acknowledge the effect Wei Wuxian’s casual touch has on him, which only encourages the man to bolder and bolder extremes. Right now, Wei Wuxian has half his chest pressed into Lan Wangji’s side, one hand braced against his upper arm for support in his quest for petty thievery.

Jiang Wanyin smacks his chopsticks away with his own, glaring. “If you want more chicken, you can get it yourself.”

“Jiang Cheng!” Wei Wuxian whines. Lan Wangji feels the vibration of it. Wei Wuxian makes another swift darting peck with his chopsticks, only to be blocked again with a deft maneuver that’s clearly well-practiced.

“Wei Wuxian!” Jiang Wanyin scolds exasperatedly. “I’m serious! How old are you?”

“Older than you, so won’t you show some respect to your shixiong?” Wei Wuxian pouts.

“The best respect is to teach you a lesson,” Jiang Wanyin sniffs, shifting his whole plate out of reach. “Don’t be lazy.”

“Ugh, but Jiang Cheng, I’m so sore from morning sparring,” Wei Wuxian complains. “I don’t want to get up again. Do you know that Hanguang-jun is merciless? He won’t let me win even once.

“Lying is forbidden,” Lan Wangji says crisply.

“Is being nice to your friend lying?” Wei Wuxian asks.

“No,” Lan Wangji says, dropping a piece of his chicken onto Wei Wuxian’s plate. This actually manages to startle him into a rare moment of silence, his mouth a tiny ‘o’ of surprise. “Now get off.”

“Lan Zhan!” Wei Wuxian exclaims. “You do love me!”

“Off,” Lan Wangji repeats, nudging him slightly.

Food acquired, Wei Wuxian retreats happily. Lan Wangji can breathe again.

 

Wei Wuxian seems to have decided on his own that Tuesday and Thursday mornings are their new regular sparring times. This suits Lan Wangji well. He comes to expect Wei Wuxian’s cheery greeting at seven when he opens the doors.

“Surprise!” Wei Wuxian calls, like he does every time, waving at him from where he’s sitting on the front steps.

“It’s hardly a surprise when you keep to a schedule,” Lan Wangji says.

“It’s always a surprise when I’m awake before nine,” Wei Wuxian retorts.

“Class is at eight-thirty.”

“I know! It’s always a surprise that I make it!”

It’s almost a month before Wei Wuxian misses an appointment. Lan Wangji opens the door on a drizzly Thursday morning to empty steps and the sound of misting rain. He sits down to wait, then finds after only a few minutes that he doesn’t have the patience to sit still. This is somewhat disquieting, given that he spends an hour meditating every morning. He glances around at every snap of a branch, every rustle of leaves.

He gets up after a quarter of an hour, dusts off his robes, and walks purposefully towards the sect student housing. The YunmengJiang sect house is a little further away than some of the others, tucked in a corner behind the LanlingJin and QingheNie houses. Lan Wangji knocks on the door, softly at first, then more urgently as no one answers.

Vaguely alarmed, he raises his fist a third time only to have the door wrenched open by a very disgruntled-looking Jiang Wanyin.

“What,” he growls, then seems to register that it’s Lan Wangji at the door. “Second Young Master Lan?” he asks, straightening slightly.

“Wei Ying didn’t show up for morning sparring,” Lan Wangji says. “Is he all right?”

“Oh. Uh, yeah, hang on—HEY!” he shouts before Lan Wangji can stop him. “WEI WUXIAN! YOU’VE GOT A FUCKING VISITOR.”

“Oh, no, please don’t—” Lan Wangji tries.

There’s a muffled thump and a yelp from inside before Wei Wuxian stumbles into view, feet bare, clothing askew. His red under-robes are tied badly, open almost to his waist. He has makeup on, though it’s a mess, eyeliner smudged into smoke, colorful eyeshadow smeared. “What what what what WHAT—oh my god, wait, is that—” He squints. “Lan Zhan?? Lan-er-gege, what are you doing here? Shit, what time is it?”

“Almost seven-thirty,” Lan Wangji answers, already backing away and trying very, very hard not to stare. “I’m sorry, I—you’re clearly tired. I just came to make sure you were all right. I’ll let you get back to sleep.”

“What? Oh my god, wait, it’s Thursday, no no no no no, Lan-er-gege, wait, wait, I’ll be right there, let me just—shit, hang on, I just need to put on my clothes and we can go—”

“Wash your face,” Lan Wangji says.

“What?”

“You should wash your face,” Lan Wangji reiterates, trying to assemble his brain back into working order.

“My face? Oh! Oh right, yeah, wow, sorry, yes! Thank you, Hanguang-jun! I’ll be right out!” He almost trips in his haste to get back to his room. Lan Wangji is left facing Jiang Wanyin in a sort of embarrassed silence.

“I’m sorry to disturb you so early,” Lan Wangji finally says.

Jiang Wanyin shrugs. “I was already awake. Why don’t you come inside to wait? It’s wet out there.”

Lan Wangji goes because to decline would be rude. He finds himself standing in the communal dining room. Jiang Wanyin gestures to the tea set on the table.

“Tea?” he offers.

“No, thank you,” Lan Wangji says. “I don’t want to impose.”

“Well, sit down, at least,” Jiang Wanyin says, pulling out a chair. “My brother takes forever in the bathroom. You’ll be standing for a while.”

Lan Wangji sits. He feels stiff and misplaced in this room, but then again, he feels stiff and misplaced in most rooms. Jiang Wanyin is scrolling through his phone with one hand and sipping tea with the other.

“Is it only the two of you here from Yunmeng?” Lan Wangji asks after a few moments.

“Hm?” Jiang Wanyin looks up at him. “Oh. No, there’s also our shijie. She’s not here at the moment, though, she’s…” He grimaces. “Well, she’s over at her fiancé’s place.”

“Jin Zixuan?” Lan Wangji remembers hearing an announcement along those lines some time ago.

“Yeah.” Jiang Wanyin doesn’t elaborate, and Lan Wangji doesn’t press.

Wei Wuxian emerges a surprisingly short while later, more-or-less neatly dressed and cleaned. There are dark circles beneath his eyes, and his hair is a tangled knot at the top of his head. “Lan Zhan! I’m ready, I’m ready, sorry!”

“No need to be sorry,” Lan Wangji says, standing quickly. “It’s not like we promised to meet. I shouldn’t have assumed.”

“What do you mean we didn’t promise to meet?” Wei Wuxian demands. “Just because we didn’t say it out loud doesn’t mean it isn’t implied!”

“Nevertheless—”

“Come on, Lan Zhan, there’s not much time left before class, let’s go!” And he seizes Lan Wangji by the sleeve and drags him out the door.

“Have fun,” Jiang Wanyin says drily.

Wei Wuxian stifles no less than fifteen yawns on their way to the arena. When they arrive, Wei Wuxian starts to draw his sword, but Lan Wangji immediately disarms him.

“Lan Zhan!” he protests, rubbing at his eyes. “That wasn’t fair. We haven’t even started.”

“No swords,” Lan Wangji says, setting Bichen and Suibian aside.

Wei Wuxian frowns. “Why no swords?”

“You’re tired,” Lan Wangji says. “You clearly didn’t get enough sleep. It’s too dangerous. Hand to hand today.”

It’s a testament to how absolutely exhausted Wei Wuxian must be that he agrees with no fuss or terrible flirting. It also takes Lan Wangji less than ten seconds to have him pinned to the ground.

Wei Wuxian blinks up at him. “Oh,” he says softly.

Lan Wangji stands up. “Again,” he says.

Wei Wuxian is so out of it that Lan Wangji barely needs five seconds to have him on the ground again. This at least seems to frustrate him into a state of semi-alertness as he bounces back to his feet, his eyes narrowing in concentration. It still isn’t enough. The fifth time Lan Wangji gets the better of him with a cleanly executed throw, Wei Wuxian finally laughs, sounding more awake than he has for the last twenty minutes.

“Lan-er-gege,” he says with an ineffectual wriggle. “I’m starting to think you were only looking for an excuse to hold me down.”

“Really?” Lan Wangji shoots back. “Or are you throwing the matches on purpose because you like the view from underneath me?”

Wei Wuxian’s eyes widen. He squeaks wordlessly for a second. “Holy shit, Lan Zhan,” he finally chokes out, a little hoarse.

Lan Wangji’s brain catches up to what his mouth just said, and he scrambles off of Wei Wuxian with mounting horror. “Get up and fight me properly,” he says, as if nothing is wrong when in fact, everything is wrong.

“Yes, sir,” Wei Wuxian says, and Lan Wangji tries and fails to ignore the slight breathless, reverent quality to his voice. It serves him right that Wei Wuxian wins their next round. Dimly, it registers that it’s Wei Wuxian’s first win of their acquaintance. Fucking hilarious.

They leave to shower before class, Lan Wangji studiously avoiding Wei Wuxian’s eyes as the latter rambles about the homework he hasn’t finished. He’s not sure he’s imagining the nervous thrum that runs beneath the idle chatter, and he’s not about to sneak a glance to find out.

Lan Wangji’s phone pings as he's tying his headband in place.

 

[8:20am] [Wei Wuxian]
sorry i was so tired today
i picked up an extra shift last night
anyways what im saying is u should come to see me at work again ;)

[image]

There's an attached screenshot of Wei Wuxian's work schedule for the month. Lan Wangji's fingers clench around the phone.

                                                                             [8:21am]
                                                                                     No.

[8:21am] [Wei Wuxian]
:(

Lan Wangji throws his phone onto the bed, pressing the heels of his hands into his eyes. He doesn't have time for this. He's going to be late for his uncle's class which starts in, oh, probably eight minutes now, and that's completely unacceptable for the Second Jade. He takes several deep breaths—in through the nose, out through the mouth. He allots himself thirty seconds of breathing before he grabs his phone and Bichen and heads out the door. It’s going to be a long fucking day.

Chapter Text

Lan Wangji meets Jiang Yanli properly in the basement of the performing arts building during his research for a class project. It’s a small presentation for one of his electives—a focused historical course on the cultural value of cultivation.

“Second Young Master Lan!” she greets him, standing from where she’s carefully hand-stitching a delicate hem. Several other students look up as she sets aside the sleeve. “What can I do for you?”

“I heard that the drama department has restorations of different cultivation costumes throughout history,” he explains. “I’m doing research for a class. I was wondering if I might be able to take some photos.” He glances at the other students working. “Am I interrupting something? I can come back at a different time.”

“Oh, no, don’t worry,” she says, waving it off. “Today’s just an all-call. We’re not quite down to the wire yet. Is there a specific time period you’re looking for?” She looks him up and down. “The clothes you’re wearing right now are Tang-inspired, aren’t they?”

“Yes,” he says uncomfortably. Almost all cultivation students still dress with varying degrees of tradition, but few keep as closely to the early Tang styles as the Lan family. He’s long since ceased to be embarrassed by the stares, but he’s never liked the attention.

“A traditionalist?” she teases. “They’re very nice. Well-made. Come on back—you can just take a look around and see what interests you.”

“Thank you,” he says, inclining his head. He follows her to a double door in the back of the shop that opens into a strange vault-like space. He scuffs his shoe along the peculiar tile pattern on the floor.

“It’s a converted pool,” Jiang Yanli says when she sees him frowning at it.

“A pool?”

“Yes. This building used to be part of a gym complex, but it went defunct over thirty years ago when the new buildings went up. It’s useful for us, though, since we have this huge space to hang all our old pieces.” She turns on a light and rows and rows of tightly packed costumes hung on rails come into view.

“Wow,” Lan Wangji says. It seems eerily endless. The buzzy fluorescents don’t quite provide adequate illumination, lending the entire space a haunting, void-like atmosphere. “How are they organized?”

“Uh,” Jiang Yanli laughs ruefully. “It’s… well, it’s complicated. But roughly by type, then time period, then by color. Here, the cultivation robes are this way.”

She helps him take down a few promising options, lifting the hangers off the rail with a long, hooked stick.

“So Miss Jiang works in the costume shop?” he asks, trying to make polite conversation as they reenter the shop proper, laying the costumes out flat on a free pressing table.

“Yes,” she says, straightening a lapel. “I’m actually the student manager under Madam Jin. I run things when she can’t be here.”

“You’re a cultivation student too, aren’t you? How did you come to work in the drama department?”

“That’s a funny story, actually—” she starts.

“Shijie!!”

Lan Wangji would like to say he doesn’t react, but the truth of the matter is his head snaps around so quickly he almost gives himself whiplash. Fuck.

Wei Wuxian stops short where he’s burst through the doors of the shop, wearing paint-splattered jeans and an old white t-shirt covered in a riot of colorful stains. He has a smudge of black ink across his nose and a paintbrush shoved into his hair. His eyes light up when he catches sight of Lan Wangji.

“Lan Zhan!” he exclaims, waving.

“A’Xian, is the paint on your clothes dry?” Jiang Yanli asks, though she’s smiling. “You know you’re not allowed in here when you’re painting.”

“It’s okay, it’s okay, shijie, all the paint is old! I’m just doing ink today, and I washed my hands and brush before I came in, see?” He holds out his hands for her to inspect like a proud schoolboy.

She laughs. “Okay, A’Xian. I believe you. But maybe stay back there in case Madam Jin comes back.”

“Yes, shijie,” he says obediently.

“What did you need?” she asks, crossing the room to him.

“I actually just came to bother you because my wrist was starting to hurt from all the painting,” Wei Wuxian admits. “So I’m taking a break. But! Now that I’m here, Lan Zhan!” He beckons Lan Wangji over energetically.

Reluctantly, hopefully, he goes.

“Yes, Wei Ying?” he asks.

“You said you like calligraphy, right? We need someone to do the lettering on these banners for the show—I was going to go pester some art students after this, but you can do it too, right?”

“You’ve never even seen my calligraphy,” Lan Wangji points out. “How do you know it’s any good?”

“I trust Hanguang-jun!” Wei Wuxian says. “Anyways, it’s not the end of the world if you mess up or anything. The banners are just paper, and we have a lot of it. Are you free right now?”

“A’Xian, Second Young Master Lan was here doing research for a project,” Jiang Yanli says, patting him on the shoulder affectionately. “Maybe you should go ask someone else.”

“But shijie,” Wei Wuxian whines. “Lan Zhan is more fun than one of the art students.”

“Why don’t you ask Young Master Nie?”

“Ugh, but he’s definitely all the way across campus,” Wei Wuxian complains.

“So text him, A’Xian,” Jiang Yanli laughs. “Don’t you have a phone?”

“I guess,” he grumbles.

“Or do you just want to spend time with Second Young Master Lan?” Jiang Yanli asks pointedly, which sends Lan Wangji’s previously only slightly shaken mood spiraling right off a sheer cliff of panic. “If that’s the case,” she continues sweetly over Wei Wuxian’s sputtered protests, “you should ask him directly.”

“It’s fine,” Lan Wangji hears himself saying, clawing his way back to some kind of stable ground by the skin of his teeth. “I have time. Let me finish photographing these for class, and then I can help you.”

“Second Young Master Lan, sometimes A’Xian needs to learn how to be more clear about what he wants from his friends,” Jiang Yanli says. “Don’t give in so easily! Make him say it!” She nods at him encouragingly.

I wish he were more clear about what he wanted from me too, Lan Wangji thinks hysterically.

“It’s fine,” Lan Wangji repeats instead. “I’m not busy this afternoon.”

Jiang Yanli laughs again, tinkling and light. Lan Wangji wonders if she’s the reason Wei Wuxian is so quick to mirth as well. “Very well. Come on. I’ll help you. A’Xian, I’ll see you later.”

“Shijie, I just got here!”

“You’re not allowed to come in any further, and if you keep pestering Second Young Master Lan, he’s never going to finish. Then how is he going to help you paint those banners?”

“But shijie, I miss you,” Wei Wuxian pouts.

“You’ll see me when the all-call is over, A’Xian.” She smiles. “Run along.” She shoos him gently with dainty hands and he goes, sighing dramatically.

“Don’t take too long, Lan Zhan!” he calls over his shoulder, pulling the paintbrush out of his hair and pointing it at him. “I’ll be waiting! Down the hall to the right!” And then he saunters down the hall, whistling. The door swings shut, muffling the sound.

Lan Wangji turns and walks swiftly back to the pressing table, pulling out his phone. He avoids looking at any of the other student workers, fearing that any of them might be looking back, that any of them can see through to the fluttering in his stomach, the butterflies rattling the bars of their cage.

“Thank you for indulging A’Xian,” Jiang Yanli says, taking each costume as he finishes with it, setting them back on hangers.

“Mn,” Lan Wangji says for lack of anything better.

“He’s been talking about you a lot,” she remarks conversationally, like this isn’t devastating news.

“Oh?” he asks, wrestling his tone into neutrality.

“A’Cheng has already threatened to kick him out of the house if he keeps bringing you up at dinner,” she says, eyes sparkling.

“Wei Ying doesn’t seem like the sort of person who takes threats to heart,” Lan Wangji says, his own heart hammering with—joy? Dread? Shock?

“No,” she agrees. “He was unfazed.”

“What did he do in response?” Lan Wangji asks, smoothing out another set of robes.

“Why don’t you ask him?” she suggests.

That’s completely out of the question because Lan Wangji isn’t quite that masochistic, but Jiang Yanli doesn’t need to know that. “Mn,” he says noncommittally. “Could we see this one on a form by any chance?”

“Oh sure, there’s one that’s about the right size in the corner there.”

Photos acquired, he pauses at the threshold of the door after they refile the costumes where they belong. “Thank you for your help,” he says, saluting her. “It was nice to meet you properly.”

“It was nice to meet you properly too,” she says, saluting back. “I’m glad A’Xian has a friend like you. He could stand to be challenged once in a while.”

Lan Wangji doesn’t know what that’s supposed to mean, so he just nods and heads in the direction Wei Wuxian indicated. He didn’t really need the instruction. He could have just followed the sound of Wei Wuxian’s exuberance, which echoes down the hall.

The scene shop is bustling with activity of a livelier sort than its counterpart. There are students with power drills putting together some kind of tall wooden stand while a whole crew is squatting low to the ground painting panels different colors. Wei Wuxian is near them, but not quite among them, sitting at a wide, low table covered by swathes of snowy white paper. He’s carrying on a conversation with a pretty girl painting panels, half-shouted over the ambient noise of the room. With a start, Lan Wangji recognizes her as the woman with the button features at Club Yiling.

He approaches cautiously, knocks on the doorframe, but no one pays him any mind. He enters, taking care to stay out of people’s trajectories as he makes his way towards Wei Wuxian.

“Wei Ying,” he says, too quietly for him to hear, but somehow, Wei Wuxian perks up and turns to see him anyways.

“Lan Zhan! Over here!” he calls as if Lan Wangji weren’t already standing less than ten feet from him.

Lan Zhan looks at his work. The brushwork is elegant and vivacious, the lines simple, yet descriptive. The scenes depicted are varied in their subject matter—some landscapes, some ornamentations. “I didn’t know you painted,” he says.

“There’s a lot you don’t know about me, Lan-er-gege,” Wei Wuxian says with a wink.

“You always glaze over when Young Master Nie starts to talk about his fan painting,” Lan Wangji says.

“That’s because I’ve heard about it a thousand times already,” Wei Wuxian complains dramatically. “It’s not that I don’t care about the history and intertextuality of the art of fan painting, it’s just that I… don’t… care.”

“I see.”

“Don’t be that way, Lan Zhan, I just mean I only like the actual painting part. People like Huaisang can get excited about the academic part. I just like painting pictures.” He pauses for a moment, then snickers. “All kinds of pictures. I can show you in private, if you like.”

“That won’t be necessary,” Lan Wangji says, a little too quickly.

“Oh, come on, Lan Zhan, you don’t want to look at my beautifully illustrated, lovingly rendered erotica?” He waggles his eyebrows mischievously.

“I do not.” Lan Wangji’s ears are burning. Can everyone hear this? Isn’t anyone else ashamed?

“Fine, your loss,” Wei Wuxian sniffs. He shifts over, patting the cushion where he was just sitting. “Come on, I’ll show you what we need.”

Lan Wangji sits, viciously excoriating himself when he can’t help but seek out the warmth that Wei Wuxian’s body has left behind, can’t help but think about Wei Wuxian’s secret paintings, can’t help but notice—

Wei Wuxian leans across him to pull a roll of fresh paper towards them. It doesn’t help in the slightest. Lan Wangji shivers. Wei Wuxian starts explaining what words they need written on the banners, the dimensions—it isn’t complicated. It’s mostly poetry, a few idioms.

“Here,” Wei Wuxian says, grabbing his phone and starting to pull up the text.

“No need,” Lan Wangji says, pushing up his sleeves and reaching for a brush. “I know them by heart.”

The sound of Wei Wuxian’s fingers tapping on the screen pauses. “By heart?”

“Mn.”

“Oh.” Lan Wangji looks up just in time to see him swallow. His eyes flick to the bob of his Adam’s apple, then back up.

“Is something wrong?” Lan Wangji asks. “Would you rather I used the reference, just in case?”

“No, it’s—no, it’s fine,” Wei Wuxian says, locking his phone and setting it back down. “I just didn’t expect you to have them memorized.”

“It was part of my family’s education,” Lan Wangji says. “My brother would know them as well.”

“Yeah, but your brother isn’t here, is he?” Wei Wuxian bumps his shoulder. “That makes you the fun one.”

“I’m fairly sure it doesn’t,” Lan Wangji contradicts, though his heart squeezes a little. No one has ever accused him of being fun, certainly not someone as easygoing and effortlessly social as Wei Wuxian. Lan Wangji has never cared about his popularity, the opinions of his peers. Whether that was because he had truly risen above or because he realized early on that there was simply nothing he could do to win their favor without fatally compromising himself is something he’s long since stopped examining. Lan Wangji starts writing.

Wei Wuxian watches him for a few moments, then turns back to his own work.

The calligraphy is meditative. The scale takes a moment to get used to, but once he figures it out, it moves along quickly. It pulls Lan Wangji backwards, as if on gentle winds, to the countless hours of his childhood spent at a desk copying and copying until all the characters were perfect, all the forms beautiful, every stroke like the stroke of a sword. It makes things easy.

He moves through the stanzas like water. They’re finished before he even really has a chance to think about it. He sets the brush down, shaking himself out of the daze.

“Is that all?” he asks, turning to Wei Wuxian only to find him already staring, chin propped up on a hand leaning against the table. He’s smiling at him, unexpectedly soft. Lan Wangji clenches his hands into fists against his thighs, holding his gaze steady.

“Yeah, that’s all,” Wei Wuxian says. “Your calligraphy is really good.”

“It’s sufficient.”

“It’s fucking beautiful, Lan Zhan, stop putting yourself down.” The tinge of irritation in his voice cracks across Lan Wangji like a whip. It hurts, but it relieves, just like everything else Wei Wuxian does. Contradictory. A paradox.

“I’m not,” he says stiffly.

“Lan Zhan!” Wei Wuxian gestures at the banners. “Look at them.”

“I have.”

“Mianmian!” he calls out.

The young woman he was speaking with earlier looks up. “Yeah, Young Master Wei?”

“Come look at Lan Zhan’s calligraphy and tell me what you think.”

“Wei Ying—”

Wei Wuxian hushes him with two ink-stained fingers pressed against his lips. Lan Wangji’s train of thought hops the rails and bursts into flame with a screech of twisted metal. “Don’t look at me like that,” Wei Wuxian chastises, like he always does when Lan Wangji fails to emote. “I don’t know your Lan clan’s silencing spell, so I have to do things like this.”

Mianmian dusts off her pants and comes over to look. “Wow,” she says. “You wrote these?” she asks Lan Wangji.

Lan Wangji, realizing he’s being spoken to, grabs Wei Wuxian’s wrist and wrenches his hand away from his mouth. “Yes,” he says. He’s too tense, his fingers are too tight around the joint, he can feel the delicate bones under the skin shifting—

He lets go.

“They’re lovely characters,” she says, squatting down so she can look more closely.

“See, Lan Zhan?” Wei Wuxian says. “Mianmian knows what she’s talking about. She used to be part of the LanlingJin sect, so you know her arts are top notch.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Young Master Wei,” Mianmian says, though she looks pleased nonetheless.

“Used to be?” Lan Wangji asks.

“I left,” she says simply with a shrug. “It no longer suited me.”

“Don’t downplay it like that,” Wei Wuxian says. “Mianmian renounced the LanlingJin sect to defend my honor,” he tells Lan Wangji. “She’s my hero.”

“Shut up, Young Master Wei,” she scoffs. “It wasn’t such a big deal. Nothing to boast about. I was only repaying a debt.”

It’s a huge deal, as Lan Wangji well knows. The LanlingJin sect is the most prominent cultivation sect in their part of the world. Acceptance into their ranks is coveted and envied. The idea that someone would renounce their position in the LanlingJin as a matter of principle is almost unthinkable. And she did it for Wei Wuxian.

“Did you join another sect?” Lan Wangji asks, instead of dwelling on the thin bubble of jealousy and admiration growing inside him.

“Unaffiliated,” she says proudly, sticking out her chin. “It was good enough for Baoshan Sanren. It can be good enough for me.” She shrugs. “Still, having the support of a sect isn’t something I can dismiss easily. I know there’s talk of some rogue cultivators forming their own sect in the area, one based on shared values instead of family ties. Maybe I’ll talk to them, if they’ll have me.”

“You mean Song Zichen and Xiao Xingchen,” Lan Wangji says. Two cultivators of unparalleled skill and honor. “I think they would be honored to have you,” he says honestly. “You rejected hard-won status for the sake of your values. I can’t think of anything more suitable.”

“Oh!” Mianmian reddens. “That’s—that’s very kind of you to say, Hanguang-jun.”

“The truth isn’t kindness.”

“Thank you anyways,” she says sincerely. “It’s always nice to be praised, especially by someone like Second Young Master Lan.” She stands up again. “I’m going to get back to to painting. Young Master Wei, I’ll see you at work on Sunday. Don’t forget to bring the lipstick you stole from me last week.”

“Oh, yeah, yeah,” he acknowledges, waving her off. “Sorry, it was an accident. I didn’t mean to take it home!”

She makes the universal ‘I’ve got my eyes on you’ gesture, then settles down by her panel and takes up her brush.

“You work together,” Lan Wangji comments.

“Yeah, Mianmian is much better than me,” Wei Wuxian says, leaning back on his hands. “She’s classically trained in dance, and she’s cute, and she’s nicer than me. She decimates me in tips every night and rubs it in my face. Well, except the one time you came,” he amends with a laugh. “Many thanks to the GusuLan clan’s deep pockets! That’s literally the only time I’ve ever made more money than her in both of our careers.”

“I dragged her patrons away,” Lan Wangji says. “It’s hardly fair.”

Wei Wuxian scoffs. “What, like you think they would’ve been good tippers? Jin Zixun was an ass to her even when they were part of the same sect. Any money he gives her is fucking spoiled with his condescension. She did fine that night. You honestly probably saved her the trouble of trying to politely disengage.”

“That’s good to hear,” Lan Wangji says. He smooths out his robes. “Was there anything else you wanted me to write?”

“Oh! No, actually, that was it. But wait, before you go, I have a present for you!” He plucks a scrap sheet of paper off his side of the desk and presents it to Lan Wangji.

It’s a painting of him, deep in concentration, posture immaculate, brush in hand. His features are soft and abstracted in clean lines. In the corner of the page, there’s an elaborate doodle of a rabbit.

“Did you do this instead of working?” Lan Wangji asks because falling back on admonition is his go-to defense mechanism.

“I mean, yeah, but it was worth it. I was bored of doing what I was supposed to do. Don’t worry, I’ll get it done!”

“Why a rabbit?”

“Why not a rabbit? Everyone loves rabbits. Rabbits are adorable.” Wei Wuxian leans into his space. “Even Hanguang-jun must like rabbits.”

“They’re fine,” Lan Wangji says, but he touches the little ink sketch lightly, as if he could reach through the paper and pull the rabbit out like a magic trick.

He tucks the paper into the drawer of his bedside table later that night, laying it carefully flat before shutting it away.

 

Wei Wuxian starts gifting him sketches and notes in class, turning them into little paperman talismans that sneak across the room and slip onto his desk when Lan Qiren’s back is turned. There’s a wide variety of subjects—tiny illustrations of the view from the back window, sketches of their classmates in varying states of wakefulness, silly portraits of Jiang Wanyin and Nie Huaisang, gentle caricatures of Lan Qiren, bouquets of flowers, doodles of food, self-deprecating cartoons of himself snoozing during lectures, graceful sketches of Lan Wangji from behind, and lots and lots of rabbits, all on man-shaped pieces of paper less than six inches long.

Lan Wangji takes each one and slides them under his notes without looking at them during class because he knows he can’t afford to be distracted like that, especially not while he’s sitting in the front row of a class his uncle’s teaching. But he also can’t bear to tell Wei Wuxian to stop, can’t bear to crumple them up. So he simply packs them up at the end of class, hiding them amidst his shuffle of papers, so he can spread them all out to look at in the privacy of his room later. His bedside drawer is slowly filling with the little illustrated men. Some of them still have traces of Wei Wuxian’s spiritual energy and shuffle about, making a mess of the others. Typical. With no one to see him, Lan Wangji smiles at their antics before he straightens them up again every night. And if he pats the drawer affectionately when he’s done, no one needs to know.

Wei Wuxian doesn’t bring them up outside of class, and doesn’t remark on the fact that Lan Wangji keeps every one. For this, Lan Wangji is tentatively grateful. He does wonder, however, whether Wei Wuxian is taking any notes at all, or if he’s spending all of his attention in class on painting him rabbits. The part of him that grew up under Lan Qiren’s iron fist wants to chastise Wei Wuxian. The new, quietly waking part of him cradles the thought close.

There’s a knock on his door after dinner one evening. Lan Wangji looks up from his homework, surprised. Hardly anyone visits the jingshi at night. He opens the door to find a grumpy Wei Wuxian on his steps.

“Ugh, Lan Zhan, you wouldn’t believe Jiang Cheng,” he complains without preamble, entering without invitation. He kicks off his boots and half a sock before plopping dramatically on the ground, spread-eagle, glaring at the ceiling. His bag is cast haphazardly aside, spilling its contents all over the floor.

Lan Wangji picks up his boots and arranges them neatly by the door. This seems to cheer Wei Wuxian up a bit, since he immediately sits up and teases, “Wow, Lan Zhan, you’re the ideal housewife!”

“It’s not a woman’s job to pick up after you,” Lan Wangji reprimands, shooting him a Look. He doesn’t want to think about Wei Wuxian with a wife. Also, it’s misogynist. He realizes too late that those thoughts came in the wrong order, which says something unflattering about Lan Wangji’s priorities.

“I know, I know, of course it’s not!” Wei Wuxian says immediately, waving it away. “Should I say househusband instead? Housespouse?”

Lan Wangji pretends to ignore him and settles at his table again.

“Aren’t you going to ask me what Jiang Cheng did?” Wei Wuxian prods, wriggling his way across the floor towards him.

“Jiang Wanyin’s affairs are none of my business,” Lan Wangji says.

“But mine are,” Wei Wuxian says.

“Are they?”

“I’m making them your business,” he declares. “Jiang Cheng kicked me out of our house, so I had to go somewhere else to do my work. Shijie is over at the peacock’s place again, so he bullied me.”

“Why didn’t you go to the library?” Lan Wangji asks. Why did he kick you out? he doesn’t ask.

“The library is so silent,” Wei Wuxian says. “And it’s full of people being studious.”

“You know my room is called the jingshi, right?” Lan Wangji comments drily.

“Yeah, but you’re in your room,” Wei Wuxian counters, though Lan Wangji isn’t exactly sure what that’s supposed to mean.

“Are you saying I’m not studious?”

“I’m saying you’re not boring,” Wei Wuxian corrects. “You’re just the right amount of studious!”

Lan Wangji huffs a breath. “And how studious is that?”

“Studious enough to make me do my work, but also not so studious that you’ll kick me out.” Wei Wuxian looks up at him through his lashes. “Right, Lan-er-gege?” he pouts prettily. “You won’t kick me out, will you? Poor me? All alone?? To the library?

Lan Wangji is very nearly tempted to do just that out of spite. “Get your work out,” he says instead.

“Thanks, Lan Zhan!” Wei Wuxian chirps, diving for his bag as if Lan Wangji is going to change his mind. He almost does as Wei Wuxian spreads his things out even further across the floor like a particularly chaotic tumbleweed.

Wei Wuxian studies like a cat, rolling around, mumbling under his breath and tapping his pencil on the book he’s reading incessantly. Fifteen minutes in, he declares it too hot, and strips off his outer robe without any further warning, giving Lan Wangji mild cardiac arrest. He tosses it carelessly aside and resumes his fidgety studies, clad only in his bright red under-robe.

“Settle down,” Lan Wangji says after the situation becomes untenable another half hour in. Lan Wangji doesn’t think he’s taken in a single paragraph in the last hour, eyes constantly drawn away from the text and towards the bright, shifting figure on his floor.

“Can’t, I’m not comfortable,” Wei Wuxian says without looking away from his book. He spends most of his time on his back, Lan Wangji notices, holding the book above his head, only rolling to his sides for little breaks here and there, rubbing at his neck.

“For god’s sake,” Lan Wangji says. “Come over here.”

Wei Wuxian does look up at that, scooting over, eyes alight with mischief. “Oh? Why? Is Lan-er-gege going to scold m—”

Lan Wangji yanks him close, pulling him off-balance. He takes Wei Wuxian’s weight in his arm and lowers his head carefully onto his left thigh.

“I don’t have any cushions to give you,” Lan Wangji explains through a thick tongue. “But you’re driving me crazy like that.”

Wei Wuxian stares up at him, absolutely agape. It gives Lan Wangji a terribly convenient view of his parted lips. This had seemed like a good idea five seconds ago when it occurred to him, though why on earth he thought so, he couldn’t tell you now at gunpoint.

Wei Wuxian laughs, a delighted little puff of air, and squirms a little until he finds a comfortable position. Lan Wangji returns to his reading, digging his nails into his palm.

It’s both better and worse. Wei Wuxian does stop moving for the most part, which is less distracting, but his head is also practically in Lan Wangji’s lap, which is much more distracting . Lan Wangji is an idiot. He should be disowned from his own sect for such a flagrant display of stupidity. Oh, yes, just initiate close physical contact with the man you have an unbearable crush on, that’s certainly going to help you focus on your studies. Well done, Lan Wangji!

Still, somehow, somehow, the newfound stillness of their arrangement settles slowly over the room and Lan Wangji finds his nerves loosening bit by incremental bit. Wei Wuxian’s breathing evens out, he mutters less. Lan Wangji even manages to find something calming in the slow cadence of his breath, the regular turning of pages. He reads a paragraph, then another. Something in him soothes.

There’s a knock at the door. Lan Wangji looks up. Two visitors in one night?

“It’s me,” comes his brother’s voice, and Lan Wangji relaxes slightly.

“Come in,” he says.

Lan Xichen opens the door. Wei Wuxian pops up from Lan Wangji’s lap.

“Zewu-jun!” he exclaims.

Lan Xichen raises an eyebrow. “Young Master Wei,” he greets with a slight bow. “I’m surprised to see you here.”

“I invaded Lan Zhan’s space,” Wei Wuxian informs him cheerfully, thick-faced as always.

“Indeed,” Lan Xichen says, the hint of a smile playing at his lips. Lan Wangji sees his eyes skirt the room, taking in the mess of the place. They linger briefly on Wei Wuxian’s discarded robe, a little mound of black cloth.

Lan Wangji stands up, refusing to acknowledge the situation, refusing to show any sign that anything is out of the ordinary.

“Brother,” he says. “Is something the matter? Does Uncle need something?”

“Nothing urgent,” Lan Xichen says. “He has a small follow-up he wanted to discuss with you with regards to the break in two weeks. The jingshi was on my way, so I thought I would stop by in person to let you know.”

“I’ll make sure to speak with him before class tomorrow,” Lan Wangji says, pulling out his phone and making a note on his calendar.

“It’s not urgent,” Lan Xichen repeats gently. “You can wait til the weekend, even.”

“Best not to,” Lan Wangji says. He tucks his phone away again.

“All right, Wangji. I’ll let you get to bed.”

“Bed?” Wei Wuxian asks, because Lan Wangji can’t catch a fucking break. “It’s not even nine yet.”

“Young Master Wei, Wangji here keeps to a very strict sleeping schedule. He—”

“You say that like you don’t also,” Lan Wangji interrupts, even though that’s against Lan Sect Rule 38. (It is forbidden to interrupt your elders.) “It’s traditional.”

“Traditional to go to bed before nine?” Wei Wuxian demands.

“We go to sleep at nine and wake up at five,” Lan Xichen elaborates. Lan Wangji doesn’t appreciate the way he can hear him repressing his laughter.

“Didn’t you know that when you came to bother me in the morning?” Lan Wangji asks. “Why else were you here at seven?”

“Oh, I was planning on banging on your door until you woke if you weren’t up already,” Wei Wuxian confesses nonchalantly. “You just happened to open the door before I got around to it!”

“You told me you’d been waiting patiently,” Lan Wangji accuses.

“I lied!”

“Lying is forbidden!”

Wei Wuxian opens his mouth, undoubtedly to embarrass Lan Wangji further, when Lan Xichen cuts in. “In any case, Young Master Wei, Wangji likes to retire at nine most nights. For future reference, the next time you decide to invade his space, as it were.” He smiles charmingly. Lan Wangji kind of wants to throttle him.

Wei Wuxian pauses, brow wrinkled. Lan Wangji sees where his train of thought is going a split second too late. “Wait, but what about that time Lan Zhan—”

Thank you, Brother,” Lan Wangji says loudly. “And good night. I’ll see you tomorrow.” He all but shoves him out the door and slams it. He whirls around to glare at Wei Wuxian, who, to his credit, only cowers a little bit. “I hope,” he says icily, “that you weren’t about to bring up what I think you were going to bring up.”

“Oh my god, Lan Zhan, I’m not an idiot!” Wei Wuxian protests. “Look, I wouldn’t have been specific or anything. I even lied about it to Jiang Cheng, remember? I know you’re weird about it, but it’s not like you did anything wrong. Calm down.”

Lan Wangji is trying, he really is, but he’s jittery and nervous all over again. His brother knows him better than anyone, his brother can see through him better than anyone, and now his brother has seen him interacting with Wei Wuxian, which means that Lan Wangji’s life is as good as over. “I have to get ready for bed,” he says through the haze of panic that’s starting to descend over his eyes.

“Lan Zhan?” Wei Wuxian asks, tone shifting from annoyed to concerned. “Lan Zhan, are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” he bites out. He won’t look at Wei Wuxian, won’t look at the beautiful red streak he paints in the otherwise blue and white jingshi, can’t. Still, out of the corner of his eye, he sees Wei Wuxian start to approach him, arms raised, reaching out.

He steps back. “Good night, Wei Wuxian,” he says, and marches into the bathroom without a backward glance. By the time he finishes brushing his teeth, Wei Wuxian is gone and the jingshi floor is spotless. Lan Wangji buries his face in his hands and screams.

Chapter Text

There’s a short break in the semester two weeks later. The campus population halves, students going home to visit their families or traveling around Gusu for leisure. Caiyi’s business booms during these breaks. Lan Wangji enjoys them for the relative quiet. It’s still warm out, but autumn is fast approaching, bringing milder days and cool breezes. It’s Lan Wangji’s favorite weather, in that he has any favorite weather. He walks the grounds every day, breathes the air that loosens his lungs, and doesn’t have to fucking deal with any of his classmates. Sometimes, he’ll go to the mountains behind the Cloud Recesses and play guqin by the spring. The sound skips across the water like pebbles in the hands of dextrous boys.

As Lan Wangji makes his way to the spring the second day of the break, he hears the faint, chirping sound of a dizi. He cocks his head, listening, then follows the sound. Students aren’t allowed to go exploring the area behind the Cloud Recesses, excepting higher-ranking Lan disciples, but Lan Wangji doesn’t recall any qualifying disciples currently on campus who play dizi.

The music leads him to a narrow, barely noticeable path between two large boulders that opens out onto a tiny, grassy clearing struck bright with sun. And there, leaning against a rock, is Wei Wuxian, eyes closed, black dizi at his lips. The light scatters on his hair, neatly combed and tied for once in his life, polished like volcanic glass. The red of his ribbon flutters and snaps in the breeze like a battle flag.

Lan Wangji aches with want.

The force of it catches him by surprise, hitting him so hard, he feels it like a blow to his gut. It hurts like threads of metal in his veins, like acid in his blood. He grips the stone of the boulder beside him so hard he can feel it digging into his skin. He’s helpless to do anything but watch and listen and desire.

When the last note of the song fades, Wei Wuxian lowers the flute, opening his eyes slowly. His face, unselfconscious and unaware of being watched, has the dreamy quality of lazy satisfaction to it, of a gentle tranquility that Lan Wangji has never seen him carry when he walks among others.

Lan Wangji wants—Lan Wangji wants —terrible things. No one would have to know, an insidious, horrible voice whispers. No one here to see. It’s only the two of you. You could—

Lan Wangji slashes his hand open on the rock.

Wei Wuxian looks up and sees him standing there. His face breaks into that awful, heartrending smile that twists a knife into Lan Wangji every time he sees it. “Lan Zhan!” he calls, waving his flute. “Lan Zhan, come over here!”

What can Lan Wangji do? He’s weak. He goes, hiding his bloody palm in the folds of his sleeve.

“Lan Zhan, fancy seeing you here!” Wei Wuxian says, not bothering to stand.

“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji says. “Why didn’t you return to Yunmeng with your siblings?”

“Oh.” His smile goes a little crooked, a little awkward. “I wasn’t needed this time.”

“The senior disciple wasn’t needed?” Lan Wangji asks, a little offended on his behalf. It helps, redirecting his inner turmoil towards specific anger.

“It’s not—well.” Wei Wuxian’s eyes flick up towards Lan Wangji, then away again as he rubs his nose. “If you must know, I’m not exactly on good terms with Madam Yu at the moment.”

“So you’re avoiding her for the time being?” Lan Wangji asks.

“I’m… yeah.”

“Wei Ying.”

“What, Lan Zhan?” he asks, exasperated. Lan Wangji hates it. He did this, ruined the peace of Wei Wuxian’s morning with something ugly. He opens his mouth, but Wei Wuxian beats him to it, rolling his eyes. “Will it make you feel better to know the truth? That I haven’t been welcome at the Lotus Cove for almost a year? That she said she hated me? That I brought disgrace to her family? That I shouldn’t ever come back?”

Lan Wangji’s breath punches out of him. He imagines his uncle saying this to him, and then can’t. It’s white-hot, terrifying. “Why?” he asks, because he isn’t thinking.

“Long, complicated family stuff,” Wei Wuxian says dismissively. “It’s fine. Uncle Jiang hasn’t cut me off or anything. I just can’t go back for now.”

“Can’t go home,” Lan Wangji says, and even he can hear the tremor in his voice.

Wei Wuxian looks up. “Oh, Lan Zhan, it sounds so sad when you say it like that!” He laughs, getting to his feet and patting Lan Wangji lightly on the shoulder. “Lan-er-gege, are you worrying about me? So sweet.”

Lan Wangji wants to throw his arms around him, wants to say, come home with me. He doesn’t, because it’s a selfish impulse driven by pity. Wei Wuxian doesn’t need his pity, his condescension. Wei Wuxian doesn’t need him.

“It’s inappropriate for parents to say such things to their children,” Lan Wangji says.

Wei Wuxian snorts. “Madam Yu has never been appropriate with her words,” he says, then immediately looks over his shoulder nervously.

“What are you doing?” Lan Wangji asks.

“Man, even at the Cloud Recesses, I feel like she’s going to pop out of nowhere whenever I shit-talk her,” he laughs. “Ah well. She’s not a bad woman, Lan Zhan. This is the only time she’s ever really wronged me. And you didn’t even ask what I did!” He shakes a finger at Lan Wangji. “How do you know I wasn’t the one who was in the wrong, hm, Hanguang-jun?”

“I know.”

Wei Wuxian stares. Opens his mouth, closes it. Tries again. “Lan Zhan. You can’t be so serious like that all the time. It makes things—”

Makes things what? Lan Wangji wants to scream. Makes things what?

Wei Wuxian shakes his head. “Never mind. Why are you here anyways?”

“I followed the sound of your dizi,” Lan Wangji says. “Only certain disciples of the Lan clan are allowed in the back mountains of the Cloud Recesses.”

“Aw, Lan Zhan, are you here to discipline me?” Wei Wuxian whines.

Lan Wangji… can’t deal with that, can’t deal with his thoughts, can’t deal with the instinctive revulsion those thoughts bring.

“No,” he says, and sits down, summoning his guqin.

“Oh, Hanguang-jun plays guqin?” Wei Wuxian asks, plopping down beside him, all but snuggling into his side for a closer look.

“Not while you’re leaning on me like that,” Lan Wangji says, pushing him away. He starts to play.

He chooses an intermediate song of clarity in an attempt to cleanse his mind and quiet his heart. It would be an insult to choose Cleansing for something so base. After about a dozen measures, Wei Wuxian brings his dizi to his lips and begins to improvise a harmony.

Lan Wangji should reprimand him, perhaps. The songs of clarity are sacred and powerful, not meant to be played as games, but. The sound is beautiful. The way they intertwine is satisfying. Surely something so lovely couldn’t be wrong? Surely the ancestors couldn’t object? Lan Wangji breathes.

The duet is imperfect—Wei Wuxian has a very good ear for music, but the particular song that Lan Wangji chose has a few unpredictable peculiarities that would be hard even for Lan Wangji to match without prior knowledge of the notation. But Wei Wuxian doesn’t falter when he creates something discordant, merely adjusts on the next note. He plays thoughtfully, but freely. Near the end of the piece, he adds a few strange and playful trills of his own, the notes high and odd against the lower guqin strings. Lan Wangji loves them, the ethereality of the sounds. They shiver across his skin.

“Huh,” Wei Wuxian says when it’s over. “Weird piece.”

“It is, yes,” Lan Wangji agrees. “You did well.” He thinks, then reaches for the strings again, only to have Wei Wuxian suddenly narrow his eyes and grab his wrist.

Lan Wangji freezes.

“What the fuck happened to your hand?” Wei Wuxian asks, tugging it over to see, nostrils flaring at the sight of his wet, scabbing palm. “Lan Zhan!”

“It’s fine,” Lan Wangji says, trying to pull away. “I cut it on a rock earlier.”

“How could Hanguang-jun be so careless?” Wei Wuxian demands. “You played the guqin like this?” Still grasping Lan Wangji’s wrist, he starts undoing the black sash around his gauntlet.

“What are you doing?” Lan Wangji asks, trying to pull away.

Wei Wuxian just grips tighter. “Stop moving. I’m going to wrap it with this, and then we’re going to go back and get it seen to properly.”

“It’s just a cut,” Lan Wangji protests.

Unamused, Wei Wuxian presses a thumb to the wound, sending a sharp spike of pain up Lan Wangji’s arm. He gasps involuntarily. It’s not that he hasn’t had worse, but it takes him by surprise.

“Lan Zhan. Just let me bind it.”

“Don’t ruin your clothes on my behalf,” Lan Wangji tries instead. “It doesn’t need a bandage for the walk back.”

Wei Wuxian snorts. “It’s black. A little blood won’t show. Besides, I can wash it.”

“But that’s—”

“Lan Zhan!” Wei Wuxian snaps. “Stop fucking fighting me.” There’s a real anger running beneath his words that gives Lan Wangji pause. He looks into Wei Wuxian’s face. His eyes are burning.

“Okay,” Lan Wangji says quietly. “Okay.”

Wei Wuxian wraps the gash without a word, pulling the sash tight, maybe tighter than necessary, pinning it in place with a safety pin he pulls from his sleeve.

“You carry safety pins?” Lan Wangji asks.

“Habit from shijie,” Wei Wuxian answers shortly, then winces. “Sorry,” he adds, a little softer. “I just.” Lan Wangji watches his throat work for a few seconds. “I don’t like being a bystander while my friends are in pain. While anyone is—” He laughs humorlessly. “Jiang Cheng says I have a hero complex,” he says. “He might be right.”

“Is that such a bad thing?” Lan Wangji murmurs, looking at the black wrapped around his hand.

“Only when it gets me into trouble,” Wei Wuxian says, brightening a little with the irrepressible cheer that seems to form his core. “Which is always. Ah well!” He stands, offering Lan Wangji his hand. “Up you get.”

Lan Wangji dismisses his guqin in a flurry of blue light and takes it, holding on for just a moment too long. “Thank you.”

“Oh no, don’t thank me,” Wei Wuxian says. “I’m allergic to thanks, it makes me nervous. Come on! I know a shortcut to the health center!” And he slips through the crack between the boulders back towards campus. Lan Wangji’s blood still stains one of them. He follows Wei Wuxian out of the sunlight.

 

Wei Wuxian comes to his door that night, bag full of late work and incomplete notes. “I was bored,” he declares, stepping over the threshold before Lan Wangji can stop him. He kicks off his boots, like he did last time, but hesitates as he steps away, looking chastised. He turns around and sets them neatly by the door.

It’s so endearing, Lan Wangji could fucking die.

“So you’ve come to ask me to entertain you?” Lan Wangji asks.

“I never have to ask you to entertain me, Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian says, already starting to ooze his way all over Lan Wangji’s floor, papers scattering. “You do it just by existing.”

Lan Wangji doesn’t say anything.

“It’s a compliment, Lan Zhan!” Wei Wuxian adds before exclaiming triumphantly and digging a half crumpled sheaf of paper out of the bottom of his bag. “You’re lots of fun.”

“Most people would disagree.”

“Most people just don’t have any imagination,” Wei Wuxian scoffs. “Or their definition of fun is too narrow.”

“What’s fun about me?”

Lan Wangji regrets his words the second they’re out of his mouth, because Wei Wuxian grins the grin of a man up to no good and then slithers up against Lan Wangji’s side, pressing his whole upper body against him. Lan Wangji’s breath hitches, and he jerks back. Wei Wuxian slithers very fast.

Wei Wuxian laughs, pulling back a little. “See? The face of Hanguang-jun when he’s taken by surprise! That’s fun! I bet most people don’t get to see that.”

“They do not,” Lan Wangji grinds out, trying to recollect the pieces of his dignity.

“Because you’re so talented at nighthunting, huh?” Wei Wuxian says, nodding sagely. “No one gets the better of Hanguang-jun!”

“That isn’t true,” Lan Wangji says, putting a little more distance between them. Wei Wuxian closes it again.

“Then, am I the only one who gets the better of Hanguang-jun?”

“Don’t flatter yourself. You’ve only gotten the better of me three times during sparring,” Lan Wangji says, clipped.

“Oh, I remember,” Wei Wuxian says airily, crossing his arms on Lan Wangji’s desk and pillowing his head on them like a curious child. “How’s your hand?”

“Fine. Here.” Lan Wangji hands him his black sash, freshly washed and pressed.

“Oh, you didn’t have—thanks.” Wei Wuxian takes it, wraps it quickly and easily around his wrist, then puts his arms back down, rests his chin on his hands. “So will you ever come see me at work again, Lan-er-gege?”

Lan Wangji’s hand stutters imperceptibly. “I will not.”

“Why?”

Lan Wangji looks at him, takes in his pretty face, his wide eyes and red lips. “I was only there last time to supervise our new disciple. It isn’t a place I would go to on my own.”

“No?” Wei Wuxian asks. “But you’re allowed. Not interested in seeing pretty girls? All my coworkers are really nice, you know. They’re all good people and they all like what they’re doing when the patrons aren’t assholes.”

“No.”

“Pretty boys then?” Wei Wuxian’s lips twitch. “Don’t you think I’m pretty, Lan-er-gege? Tell me I’m pretty.”

“Didn’t you come here to do work?” Lan Wangji points out, turning away before he can do something foolish. “Have you even started the assignment due for my uncle when classes resume?”

“Ugh,” Wei Wuxian groans, flopping back onto the floor. “So mean, Lan-er-gege, calling me out like that.”

“You were the one who said I was just the right amount of studious,” Lan Wangji reminds him. “I’m telling you to do your work. Your grades will thank you.”

“My grades will thank you,” Wei Wuxian grouses, but squirms back over to grab the crumpled assignment packet from where he dropped it.

“Still think I’m fun?” Lan Wangji can’t quite resist asking.

Wei Wuxian pauses, looks back at him, then very deliberately licks his lips and half-lids his eyes, stretches his body into a sinuous curve. Lan Wangji’s ears burn, and he looks away.

“Oh yes,” Wei Wuxian laughs as he shuffles through the packet. “Very fun.”

After Wei Wuxian leaves, long after nine has come and gone, Lan Wangji lies awake in bed, burrowed into his covers, thinking about that face as he moans Wei Ying’s name against his fist, fingers crooked inside himself, filled with a tired self-hatred.

 

Lan Wangji makes a horrible decision the Sunday before the break ends. It’s not that he doesn’t own any casual mundane clothing—he and his brother both own a few mundane outfits for official purposes, ranging in formality from business casual to black tie. Lan Wangji hates them all, but puts up with it for the sake of etiquette and politesse when it comes to upholding the Lan name. Lan Xichen, Lan Wangji knows, also owns a small selection of truly casual clothing—t-shirts, jeans, the like—that he wears out on a regular basis when he and Jin Guangyao go mingle in the city for fun. Lan Wangji, being the stick-in-the-mud brother, owns none of those things, and he certainly can’t wear some awful stuffy button-up and slacks to—

He puts on an awful stuffy button-up and slacks, his single pair of oxford shoes, and plaits his hair into a tight braid. He looks—well, not good, but passably normal to people who don’t immediately recognize the Lan ribbon on his forehead. It’ll do.

He takes the bus to Caiyi instead of riding his sword and wanders nervously into the first department store he sees. Lan Wangji has to physically restrain himself from walking with his hand behind his back and falling into his usual gait. He feels fluorescent, like anyone within a hundred-meter radius could glance in his direction and see how he doesn’t belong.

No one spares him a second glance.

How does one do this? Lan Wangji hasn’t been clothes shopping in—well, actually, he’s not sure he ever has, not like this. It’s a far cry from going to a single, high-end clothier to purchase expertly tailored clothing for very specific purposes. Does he even know his size?

Shuffling around the store bustling with young students on their day off, Lan Wangji feels enormously overwhelmed. Perhaps he should try the clearance section? At least then he won’t be wasting exorbitant sums of family money on this endeavor.

He picks the plainest pieces he can find off the rack in varying sizes, too self-conscious to hold them up against his body to estimate, though he sees plenty of his peers doing just that. Black is plain, isn’t it? Black doesn’t stand out. Jeans! Normal people wear jeans! He pulls several variations of jeans off a shelf, gravitating towards the styles that look more or less whole instead of artfully torn.

Clutching his armful of black shirts, dark jeans, and a single plain black snapback, he anxiously combs the store for the fitting rooms, only to be told (very kindly), that he’s only allowed to bring six items at a time. Lan Wangji feels himself shutting down in the face of a wave of anxiety.

“Oh,” he says quietly. “Um. Then I’ll just—” Just what? Give up?? It’s the most tempting thought he’s had all morning. His hands twist in the fabric. He wills them not to—no sense in damaging merchandise he hasn’t paid for.

“Here,” the woman says gently, clearly seeing through his distress. “It’s all right. Just take six with you and leave the rest with me. You can go back in and try the rest in a second trip, okay?”

“Oh.” He nods jerkily. “Yes, all right. Thank you.”

“No need,” she says, taking half the pile from him. “Why don’t you do the shirts first? Oh, take the hat too.”

He does, though it takes him half a century. Fingers shaking, he fumbles the buttons on his shirt for what feels like long minutes before he can finally take it off. The t-shirts he picked out are all… fine. Not one of them is entirely black—they’ve all got some markings, some text—mostly brands. There’s one that has a pattern of tiny, subtle rabbits on it that’s tolerable, if only because of the rabbits. All of them sit tight on his body in a way that he finds far too revealing. He’s not used to being able to see the form of his body through his clothes. The synthetic stretch fabrics hug his skin no matter how he tries to slouch or hold himself shapeless.

Other people wear clothes like this all the time. Xichen wears clothes like this! Lan Wangji has seen him! And it never bothers him to see it on other people, so why is it so terrible to see it on himself? Does it look good? He has no idea.

He keeps the rabbit-patterned shirt that fits him, and a navy shirt with a small smiling cartoon cloud printed where the breast pocket would go. If the designs remind him a little bit of himself, of home, it makes it easier. The hat is just slightly too big, which is good. If he pulls it low, it hides his face.

The jeans are… worse. He hates seeing the contour of his legs in them, hates how tight and restrictive they feel, hates feeling on display. They make his body obvious. He misses his robes with a fierce and protective longing. This was a terrible idea.

He chooses the least offensive pair and goes back out, gathering up his tiny selection to leave. The employee, to his eternal gratitude, doesn’t comment on his choices or rejections, just smiles and waves as he goes. He nods to her.

The bag they give him is a bright, obvious yellow, which he squashes against his body, rolled up as small as it can go so he can hold it mostly hidden under his crossed arms on what feels like an interminable ride back to campus. The clothing is, as expected, horribly wrinkled when he finally unpacks it from the crumpled bag in the privacy of his room. He considers cramming the plastic bag immediately into the trash, but then thinks that would be a waste, so he flattens it out, folds it up neatly, and sticks it in a drawer filled with other useful odds and ends.

He smooths out the clothing on his bed. Two shirts, one pair of jeans, a hat. He forgot to buy shoes. Will anyone be paying attention to his shoes? Probably not. He certainly doesn’t have the willpower to go out again to buy any. The oxfords will just have to do.

 

Club Yiling is louder and smokier than he remembers. He shows his ID to the bouncer, a friendly young man with a slight stutter who smiles at everyone equally and reminds patrons of rules with good cheer. Lan Wangji wonders if he really could throw anyone out. He seems far too nice for force.

Lan Wangji finds a small, one-person table far from the stage with a mostly unobstructed view and pulls his hat down just far enough to hide his face. A lovely, older woman comes to him, dressed in a short slip of a thing, pale scars across her cheeks.

“What can I get for you, sir?” she asks, voice pleasant and chipper.

“Um,” Lan Wangji says eloquently. “Just some hot water?”

“Sure,” she says. “Is that all?”

“Just. Charge me for a—a beer?” Lan Wangji says. “But I don’t want a beer. Or I can just tip you the cost of a beer. I don’t want anything. I just. Water.” God, what a disaster. He pulls out his money pouch and hands her a bill. “Keep that. Just water. Thank you.”

She bursts out laughing. “Honey, it’s okay, calm down. First time here?”

Lying is forbidden, he hears his uncle’s voice intoning from the recesses of his subconscious, which is the absolute last person he wants to think of in this establishment. “No,” he confesses. “But I—second. I don’t know what to do.”

“That’s quite all right! Let me bring you your water, and then I can tell you about all the options we have—”

“No need,” Lan Wangji says in a rush. “I only came to—I don’t drink. I don’t really want to see anyone. I—please.” He pushes the money helplessly at her again. “I don’t want to talk to anyone for the rest of the night. I just came for—” He can’t get the words out. His eyes slide towards the stage.

“For the show?” she fills in kindly. He nods mutely.

“If I give you this, will you tell everyone not to talk to me?” he asks desperately.

“Sir,” she says gently. “I absolutely will, but are you absolutely sure that’s what you want?”

“I’m absolutely sure,” he says.

“This is a lot of money,” she adds carefully, taking the bill from him.

“You should keep it,” Lan Wangji says. “If I hand you a lot of money by accident, then it’s my fault. Just take it.”

Was it an accident?” she asks.

“No,” Lan Wangji lies in a panic, immediately wincing at his transgression. He shouldn’t have come. What was he thinking?

“All right,” she says, taking the money. “I’ll let everyone know not to bother you, and I’ll be right back with your water. If you change your mind, though—”

“I won’t.”

She laughs again. “If you change your mind, my name is Sisi. You can ask anyone to flag me down, all right?”

Lan Wangji nods. It seems easier. She goes, weaving expertly between patrons and employees, hips swaying. True to her word, she returns with his water in short order and, after a final compassionate reminder that he’s free to change his mind at any time, leaves. The other employees ignore him. Lan Wangji finally, finally, breathes out the tiniest sigh of relief.

He sips at his water, checks his phone for the time just as the lights dim. Lan Wangji feels his nerves twist as he glances up at the stage. The announcer rattles off some embarrassing drivel to ramp up the audience that has Lan Wangji clenching his teeth, but he doesn’t move.

And then Wei Wuxian is there, strutting out with an overly loose confidence as he takes his place among the other dancers. There’s an even mix of men and women. Mianmian is there too, Lan Wangji notices. Wei Wuxian slings an arm around her shoulders for a brief second, presses bright red lips to her hair as she laughs, leans into it.

It’s an act, Lan Wangji reminds himself quickly. He’s seen them outside of Club Yiling before, and it’s an act. He came here for a fucking show, didn’t he? Isn’t this the fucking show?

The music is too loud, even this far from the stage. Lan Wangji winces against the heavy bass, the jarring, buzzy synths, but Wei Wuxian moves to them like he loves it. His whole body pulses with the beat, his expression hauntingly seductive as he rolls his neck, drags his hands down this chest. Lan Wangji’s mouth goes drier than the Gobi. Wei Wuxian hasn’t even done anything yet.

It’s a different routine than the one he’s seen before—different music, different clothing. Wei Wuxian undoes the clip holding his hair up, shakes it out, runs his fingers through it. His lips are a bright slash under the colorful LEDs, his tongue running across his teeth. The shirt he’s wearing is some flimsy, gauzy material that shimmers with every motion, every body roll, every complicated flick of his wrist.

With a start, Lan Wangji realizes—I taught him that. It imitates the shape of a restraining move Lan Wangji used on him a few weeks ago during one of their sparring sessions. Lan Wangji can see where Wei Wuxian’s opponent would be, the suggested shape of them that Wei Wuxian moves around. He frowns. There’s a whole narrative to the dance that suddenly becomes clear to him—the secondary invisible figure that Wei Wuxian is—well, sparring, in a loose sense. Toying with, Lan Wangji thinks through gritted teeth.

Because that’s what he’s doing—like the last time he was here, Lan Wangji starts to pick out different steps derived from swordsmanship moves, only now that Lan Wangji has actually sparred Wei Wuxian, he can recognize them with surety. He uses the signature YunmengJiang spin several times in succession, interwoven with a series of suggestive hip rolls before falling suddenly to the ground, splayed open, smiling cheekily. He’s teasing his imaginary partner, even as he kicks his legs, crosses his ankles, arches his back and tosses his head at the crowd. Wei Wuxian glances over his shoulder, up towards where his partner would be standing over him and bites his lip. He mouths something, something that looks a lot like—

Lan Wangji doesn’t dare think more on it, doesn’t dare prod at the suspicion that’s rearing its head.

Wei Wuxian takes off his top with a single hand, the gossamer fabric entangled in his fingers as he draws his hand in a line across his body from pelvis to throat. The crowd whoops appreciatively. Lan Wangji leaves.

 

The thing is, he doesn’t mean to make it a habit. Going once was a moment of weakness—he’d thought that maybe if he just—well. Lan Wangji doesn’t really know what he thought. Life continues as usual—Wei Wuxian intrudes into his space several nights a week under the pretense of doing homework, though Lan Wangji isn’t sure he ever really gets anything done. He eats meals with Wei Wuxian, Jiang Wanyin and Nie Huaisang with regularity. He spars with Wei Wuxian.

Lan Wangji can’t help but notice certain things when they do.

“Are you really doing your best?” Lan Wangji asks abruptly when he gets Wei Wuxian up against a wall, Bichen’s point against his sternum.

“What?” Wei Wuxian asks, breathing hard. He starts to push Bichen away with Suibian, readying himself for another round, but Lan Wangji holds steady. Wei Wuxian glances up at him. “What do you mean?” he asks, a little more carefully.

Lan Wangji finds he can’t ask the question he really means, so he steps back. “Never mind. Again.”

“Again,” Wei Wuxian agrees, regarding him curiously. He doesn’t press.

Lan Wangji returns to Club Yiling that Sunday, posting up at the same one-person table. Sisi, bless her heart, recognizes him and brings a glass of water without being prompted.

“Same as last time?” she asks.

Lan Wangji nods, hands her a tip he’d carefully prepared beforehand. “Thank you.”

She laughs. “I see you counted your money this time,” she says with a wink. Lan Wangji’s ears burn, but she doesn’t mean it unkindly.

It’s… fine. Lan Wangji tells himself this. It’s fine. He’s just here to—to—

To watch the man you’re lusting after take off all his clothes for money, a nasty voice sneers inside him. The pure Second Jade!

Lan Wangji feels his heart curdle a little.

But he seems to have broken some kind of dam within himself. He keeps coming, every time saying it will be the last, only to break that promise the following week. When they’re together on campus, he searches Wei Wuxian for the shadows of the man he sees on the stage, tries to find that elusive mirage in the snorting laughter that bursts out of him when he pours chili oil into Jiang Cheng’s tea at dinner.

Once, Wei Wuxian actually falls asleep in the jingshi, curled up on his side on the floor, book loose and forgotten in his hand. Lan Wangji realizes when he hears the deepening of his breathing and looks over at him. His outer robe is balled up into a makeshift pillow beneath his head, and he’s turned towards Lan Wangji, eyes closed and stray lock of hair fluttering with every exhale.

Lan Wangji gets up and fetches an extra quilt from his closet, laying it gently over Wei Wuxian’s sleeping form. Wei Wuxian always claims it’s too hot in the jingshi, but the windows are open and there’s a cool autumn breeze flowing in. Wei Wuxian barely stirs under the quilt, but he murmurs something unintelligible as he settles himself again. Lan Wangji, unseen, unwatched, smiles because he can, smiles because he wants to, god how much he’s wanted to. He reaches out and pushes the stray hairs back behind Wei Wuxian’s ear so they won’t tickle him and disturb his rest.

He did a solo show last night, Lan Wangji knows, and the night ran late. Of course he’s tired. In sleep, he looks nothing like the predatory character he embodies when he dances. After a last, lingering look, Lan Wangji returns to his own work, a midterm paper for his uncle.

Wei Wuxian bolts awake a few hours later, bleary and panicked. “What time is it?” he demands, voice hoarse from sleep. “Where—fuck, what’s going on? Are you wearing glasses?

“It’s 11:24,” Lan Wangji tells him. “You’re in the jingshi.”

“The—the jing—wait, 11:24? Wait, Lan Zhan, you’re supposed to be—oh my god, I’m so sorry.” He struggles out from under the quilt, starting to gather his things with the clumsy motions of the recently-awoken.

“What are you sorry for?” Lan Wangji asks, saving his essay and closing his laptop. He takes off his aforementioned glasses and sets them down on the table. “Wei Ying, calm down.”

“You go to bed at nine,” Wei Wuxian mumbles. “You should’ve kicked me out. I didn’t mean to fall asleep.”

“Wei Ying.”

“Lan Zhan, next time you have to just wake me up—”

“Wei Ying.” Lan Wangji grabs him by the shoulders, holding him still. Wei Wuxian looks at him, eyes wide and still slightly unfocused. “It’s okay.”

“It isn’t,” Wei Wuxian says, but doesn’t seem to have recovered the mental acuity to reason out why.

“Just stay here,” Lan Wangji says. “I have a futon for guests.”

“What are you talking about?” Wei Wuxian asks helplessly.

“Just sit back down,” Lan Wangji says. Obediently, Wei Wuxian plops back down on the floor, eyes fluttering.

Lan Wangji goes to his closet and pulls out the futon his brother had bought him during a trip to Japan last year, possibly in the hopes that it would encourage Wangji to make more friends. So far, it’s been unused. Lan Wangji spreads it out on the floor. Wei Wuxian looks at it dumbly.

“Sleep here,” Lan Wangji reiterates. “It’s late.”

“I should go home,” Wei Wuxian protests, rubbing a fist against his eyes. “It’s past your bedtime.”

It’s very, very adorable.

“You’re too tired to walk back,” Lan Wangji says. “It’s fine. We can go to class together in the morning. I’ll text Wanyin to let him know you won’t be back tonight.”

“Jiang Cheng doesn’t care what I do,” Wei Wuxian pouts.

“Then I’ll text your shijie instead,” Lan Wangji says.

This, somehow, seems to satisfy Wei Wuxian’s sleep-addled mind, and he crawls onto the futon without another word, pulling the quilt over himself messily. Before he can reach out for his wadded-up robe to use as a pillow again, Lan Wangji hands him a proper one.

“Thank you,” Wei Wuxian mumbles. “Sorry, Lan Zhan. Sorry, Lan-er-gege. I didn’t mean… I didn’t mean to…” He falls asleep again without finishing his sentence.

Lan Wangji, as promised, texts Jiang Yanli her brother’s whereabouts and then plugs his phone in to charge. He picks up Wei Wuxian’s wrinkled robe, shaking it out with a few efficient flicks and then laying it out on the ground so he can fold it up properly. Then, because he can’t seem to help himself, he gathers all of Wei Wuxian’s scattered schoolwork and belongings to put neatly into his bag for the morning.

Wei Wuxian was right. He should have woken him at nine and gone to bed on time, but Lan Wangji is a fool and Lan Wangji is selfish, so he decided to take the opportunity to observe Wei Wuxian in sleep. He already brushed his teeth and washed up hours ago, so Lan Wangji simply turns out the lights and climbs into his own bed, changing clothes under the cover of darkness.

Wei Wuxian is gone by the time Lan Wangji wakes in the morning, which is initially worrying, but then he notices the little yellow paperman on Wei Wuxian’s abandoned pillow, adorned with a cute cartoon of a sleeping rabbit wearing the Lan headband. When Lan Wangji approaches, it stands up and climbs up his arm, fiddling about with his collar and plastering itself to his cheek. Lan Wangji feels a little like he’s going to float away. He slips it into the folds of his robes and carries it with him throughout the day, long after the spell has worn off and it goes still.

 

Just because Lan Wangji didn’t mean to make it a habit doesn’t mean he doesn’t make it a habit, and, because habits are repetitive by definition, it’s only a matter of time before he’s noticed.

“Lan-er-gege?”

Lan Wangji feels like he’s been doused in ice water. Wei Wuxian pokes a finger under the brim of his hat and pushes it up to reveal Lan Wangji’s face.

“It is you!”

“Shut up,” Lan Wangji hisses reflexively.

“But Lan Zhan, I’m so happy!” Wei Wuxian exclaims, lowering his voice nonetheless. “You really came! I thought it was you!” He’s wearing a stretchy black shirt, torn in gashes that reveal his skin. Lan Wangji’s eyes travel down before he can control himself, taking in the tight jeans, the strappy heels.

“Like what you see?” Wei Wuxian asks, low and honeyed, doing a quick little body roll, hands running down his sides. Lan Wangji’s eyes snap back up to his face. He can’t say anything. He starts to fold in on himself. “Oh, no, Lan Zhan, don’t be like that,” Wei Wuxian protests, his voice popping back into his natural register. “I’m just teasing. Why are you sitting all the way back here? Come up to the stage.”

“No, thank you,” Lan Wangji manages. “I was just leaving.”

“Lan Zhan!” Wei Wuxian whines, blocking his way out. “Come on. I have a solo tonight. Just stay for my dance. Just mine! Be a good friend!”

“Wei Ying.”

“Lan Zhan!” Wei Wuxian is leaning into his space, one hand on the back of his chair, one hand on the table. “Please?” he wheedles.

“WiFi.” Lan Wangji looks up to see Sisi standing there with his glass of water, giving Wei Wuxian a sharp look. “I told you this young man didn’t want to be bothered. You should know that by now.”

“It’s okay,” Lan Wangji says quickly, because as much as he wants to die, he also doesn’t want to get Wei Wuxian in trouble. “I know him.”

“Oh, you know him?” Sisi asks, relaxing slightly.

“Yes.”

“He’s my friend!” Wei Wuxian says excitedly. “I’m trying to get him to come closer to the stage. It’s no fun being stuck in the back like this.”

“And does he want to go?” Sisi asks pointedly.

Lan Wangji feels trapped. If he says no, Wei Wuxian will get in trouble, won’t he? If he says yes—then—

“I’ll go,” Lan Wangji says after a beat too long.

“You will?” Wei Wuxian asks, sounding far more delighted than he has any right to. “Really?”

“Just. Just the one,” Lan Wangji says, with difficulty.

“There’s a good seat in the front that’s available, here, I’ll show you, the regular who usually sits there cancelled tonight—” And, before Lan Wangji can really get his bearings, Wei Wuxian is dragging him towards the empty seat by the sleeve, pulling it out for him. Lan Wangji sits, because he doesn’t know what else to do. “Oh, and let me get your water from Sisi!” Wei Wuxian flits back the way they came, twirling quick to avoid another employee with a tray full of drinks. She rolls her eyes at him fondly, unfazed. Lan Wangji wonders if this is where he started playing that game. It certainly explains why he’s so good at navigating crowds at the dining center. He’s doing it in heels.

Wei Wuxian brings him his water and a fresh napkin.

“Thank you,” Lan Wangji says. He’s very close to the stage, and he’s fucking surrounded by people.

Wei Wuxian grins that lovely grin of his. “Just one dance,” he says, making a little heart with his fingers.

“Just one.”

Wei Wuxian winks and disappears back into the crowd, presumably to prepare. Lan Wangji sips his water. It doesn’t do anything to quell the anxious skipping of his heart. He crumples the napkin in his hand. That doesn’t do anything either.

It’s really loud up here. He feels hemmed in on either side, crowded in by two boisterous groups of friends. He checks the time. He wants to leave.

But then the lights go down, the announcer gives his spiel, and Wei Wuxian steps out of the shadows. Lan Wangji is riveted against his will, pinned down like a butterfly in a glass frame.

Wei Wuxian rucks up his shirt to the music, tugs it back down, curves his body through the air like it’s made of liquid. He straddles the chair onstage, tosses his head, spreads his legs wide and looks directly into Lan Wangji’s eyes as he licks his fingers one by one.

Lan Wangji feels like he’s been electrocuted. He tears the napkin.

Wei Wuxian moves into a complicated footwork sequence as the music changes, tilts his head back towards the sky. There’s an aggressive power to the movements, every pop of his joints against the boosted bass suggests restraint and control of something threatening to burst out within him. Lan Wangji feels himself leaning closer as Wei Wuxian pulls off his shirt, peeling it off his skin in one fluid motion and tossing it behind him to cheers. His skin shines.

And then he’s on his knees in front of Lan Wangji. Distantly, there’s the sensation of déja vu, the superimposed memory of Wei Wuxian on his knees before him the night they met—and then Wei Wuxian is reaching forward, knocking the brim of his hat back with a brazen little flick before his fingers slip underneath Lan Wangji’s ribbon and tug.

Lan Wangji doesn’t even notice his other hand undoing the knot at the back of his head before the entire ribbon slithers off his forehead into Wei Wuxian’s waiting palm.

Time seems to slow as Wei Wuxian gets back to his feet, the GusuLan ribbon taut between his hands as he turns back to the crowd. The silver of the cloud pendant glints as he puts it between his teeth, bites down with a bold little smirk. And then—and then—

Lan Wangji watches like he’s watching a car accident as Wei Wuxian pulls the ribbon tight against his throat, knots it at the back of his neck like a collar. The pendant sits just below his Adam’s apple, shifting as he swallows.

Lan Wangji is on the stage before he realizes what’s happening.

“Give it back,” he says, hand out. He’s shaking. Dimly, he can hear the agitation of the crowd, the shouts of alarm, but all he can focus on is the pale blue of his ribbon against Wei Wuxian’s skin.

Wei Wuxian looks—startled, wrong-footed. “Lan Zhan?” he asks. He’s not the terrifying, self-assured force he was just a moment ago. Half-naked, eyes wide and surprised, he looks—he looks—

“Give it back,” Lan Wangji repeats, stepping forward.

Mutely, Wei Wuxian reaches for the knot and undoes it with careful deliberation, never breaking eye contact. The second it comes free, Lan Wangji snatches it from Wei Wuxian’s grasp. There’s a moment when it looks like Wei Wuxian might say something, so Lan Wangji leaps off the stage with a practiced vault, landing hard on his feet and making his way to the door.

He doesn’t quite run, but he certainly isn’t walking, and as he barrels his way through the exit, he collides with the bouncer.

“Oh!” the bouncer exclaims, reaching out with surprisingly strong hands to steady Lan Wangji before he falls. “Are you all right?”

“I’m—” Lan Wangji tries to say it, tries to get the words out, but he chokes on them. His hand is so tight around the ribbon that the pendant is cutting into his skin.

“Here,” the bouncer says after a second of silence. “Let’s go sit outside.”

Lan Wangji goes because he doesn’t know what else to do. The door closes behind them, blessedly shutting out the sounds of an upset and disturbed audience. There’s no line of people waiting outside—Sundays aren’t so busy, it seems, and the bouncer is seated comfortably on one of the front steps. He pats the spot next to him.

“I’m Wen Ning,” the bouncer introduces himself when it’s clear Lan Wangji isn’t going to. “I’ve seen—seen you here before, haven’t I? You’ve been coming every—almost every Sunday for a while now.”

Lan Wangji nods.

“Did WiFi scare you?” Wen Ning asks sympathetically. “Sometimes he can be a little careless when he gets into it. He usually doesn’t actually touch the patrons, though—I was surprised!”

“We’re friends,” Lan Wangji says thickly. “We—we know each other.”

“Oh!” Wen Ning says in realization. “I see!” He glances at the ribbon that Lan Wangji is still twisting hard between his fingers. “But he still crossed a line?”

Lan Wangji nods again.

“Do you want to talk about it?” Wen Ning asks.

“No,” Lan Wangji says emphatically. That’s the last fucking thing he wants to do.

“Okay,” Wen Ning says amicably. “We don’t have to. My sister will scold him for sure, though. She’ll be out in a minute to talk to you, if you don’t mind waiting.”

“Your sister?” Lan Wangji asks, seizing onto the detail.

“Mm! She’s the manager,” Wen Ning explains enthusiastically. “She’s very competent! If WiFi—oh, well, you know him, right? If Young Master Wei offended you, she’ll definitely make sure you’re doing all right.”

“No need,” Lan Wangji says. “I don’t want him to—it wasn’t—I didn’t make it clear—”

“Young master,” Wen Ning says, kindly, but seriously. “There are rules against touching the patrons, and Young Master Wei knows that. If he didn’t discuss it with you before, he really shouldn’t have done it.”

“But I didn’t say he couldn’t.”

“Did you say he could?”

After a moment, Lan Wangji shakes his head no.

Wen Ning takes pity on him. “Don’t worry, young master. We’ve known Young Master Wei for a long time. Even if he behaves badly, we know he’s a good person at heart. He won’t be in serious trouble for long, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

“Okay,” Lan Wangji whispers. It helps, knowing that. “Okay.” They sit in silence for a moment. Lan Wangji takes out his phone and numbly orders a DiDi back to campus.

The door opens again and Lan Wangji tenses.

“Oh, jie!” Wen Ning says, standing.

“Is this the man?” a young woman’s voice asks, matter-of-fact, but not sharp.

Lan Wangji stands to face her. He isn’t quite prepared for Wei Wuxian to be standing behind her. He’s put on a more modest shirt, and he looks so worried it hurts.

“Hello,” Lan Wangji says with a slight bow. “I—apologize for causing a scene.”

“No need,” she says, raising a hand. “What our employee did was wrong. We should be the ones apologizing. I’ve already discussed a refund with the bar for whatever tab you have, and—”

“That—that won’t be necessary,” Lan Wangji says. “I don’t have a tab. I only tipped my server. She’s done nothing wrong.”

The woman raises an eyebrow. “I see. Well, we’re certainly open to discussing other options. Anything you like on the house next time, if you choose to come back.” She smiles, just slightly. “I hope you do.”

“Wen Qing,” Wei Wuxian says, quiet and urgent.

“WiFi has something he’d like to say to you,” Wen Qing acknowledges, stepping aside.

Wei Wuxian approaches, but not too close. The distance he keeps from Lan Wangji is polite, nervous, and horrible. “Lan Zhan,” he starts, then seems to find himself at a loss for words.

“It’s okay,” Lan Wangji says finally.

“It obviously isn’t!” Wei Wuxian protests. “Lan Zhan, I’m sorry. I really—I’m sorry, I went too far. I didn’t think—well, obviously I didn’t think, but I just—I’m sorry. I just wanted to—”

“I know,” Lan Wangji says, because he does, sort of.

“I’m sorry,” Wei Wuxian repeats. He glances down at the ribbon clutched in Lan Wangji’s hand. “It’s—it’s important to you, isn’t it?”

“The Lan ribbon is sacred,” Lan Wangji hears himself reciting dully. “No one may touch it except my family members and—and my spouse. It’s not for—it’s a private thing.”

Wei Wuxian’s eyes widen.

“You didn’t know,” Lan Wangji says as he opens his mouth. “It’s not your fault. You didn’t know.”

“But—”

“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji interrupts, because he’s just so fucking exhausted. “Just drop it. It’s fine.”

“I—”

“Miss Wen,” Lan Wangji says, turning away from him to address Wen Qing again. “Thank you for your kind offer, but it really isn’t necessary. Thank Sisi for me. I’ll take my leave.”

She nods. “Of course, Second Young Master Lan.” She raises her arms in the formal salute among cultivators. Lan Wangji is briefly taken aback, but then he remembers her name and a few pieces fall into place. He salutes her back, then turns to Wen Ning and repeats the gesture.

Wen Ning, surprised at the acknowledgment, hastens to return the salute.

“Wei Ying. I’ll see you in class,” Lan Wangji says, nodding to him as his DiDi pulls up.

“Lan Zhan—”

But Lan Wangji is already getting into the car, slamming the door on whatever the end of that sentence was going to be.

“Fun night out?” his driver asks.

“Just drive,” Lan Wangji says.

Chapter Text

Instead of meditating, Lan Wangji takes two bamboo rods off the wall and kneels on the floor for the first hour upon waking, holding them steady before him until his arms begin to shake with the effort and then some. There’s an anchoring force to the punishment he metes out for himself. It clears his head enough that he can finally stand to wash his ribbon in a basin of cold water before pressing it flat and dry.

It looks just as it always does, unruffled and refined. He traces the cloud pendant with his fingernail, the whorls and ridges of it. It sits securely against his forehead when he puts it on, and he takes comfort in the familiarity of it.

It looked perfect against Wei Wuxian’s throat.

Lan Wangji shakes his head viciously.

“Enough,” he snaps at himself. It sounds tinny and hollow in the quiet of the jingshi. He’s going to go on a walk and then come back and gather his things for class. There. A plan of action. He opens the door.

A sleeping Wei Wuxian tumbles over across Lan Wangji’s legs, startling awake as he falls with a yelp. He scrambles to his feet like he’s been burned, dusting himself off, running anxious hands across his hair. He glances up at Lan Wangji’s shuttered expression and takes several steps backwards, searching for a more respectful distance.

“Lan Zhan,” he says, swallowing.

“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji says, not trusting himself with anything more.

“I—I came to apologize,” Wei Wuxian says after an interminable moment of silence. “Again. With actions this time.” He swallows again, fidgeting. “Um. Here.” He reaches into his sleeve and pulls out a small talisman bag.

“What is it?” Lan Wangji asks.

“I, um. It’s a protective talisman against unwanted touch,” Wei Wuxian says awkwardly. “I’ve been working on a version for my coworkers and me, but there are some complications I still haven’t figured out for us that don’t apply for someone like you. So I just. I just made one. For you.” He chews his lip. The skin is all chapped and torn. Lan Wangji can see the dark circles under his eyes. “I tested it on Jiang Cheng this morning, and it should work.”

“Did you stay up all night?” Lan Wangji asks.

“Not all night?” Wei Wuxian winces. He holds the bag out like the peace offering it is.

Lan Wangji takes it carefully. The fabric is lovely, a soft light blue silk with a silver brocade of lotuses. GusuLan colors. YunmengJiang’s symbol. The beads at the ends of the drawstring are carved white shells. Lan Wangji turns them over in his fingers. They’re rabbits, he realizes after a moment. Tiny, fat rabbits.

Lan Wangji wants to cry.

“You can check my work, if you like,” Wei Wuxian adds nervously when Lan Wangji says nothing. “Here—uh, if you open it, you can take out the paper and—” He reaches forward automatically, then hesitates, glancing up at Lan Wangji for his reaction. Lan Wangji opens the pouch, loosening the drawstring carefully, and pulls out a yellow talisman, intricately painted. He studies it for several moments.

“You designed this?” Lan Wangji asks finally.

Wei Wuxian nods.

It’s ingenious, he doesn’t say. “It’s very clever.” He traces a particular flourish, the way it entwines with the main sigilwork. “This is a caveat for emergency situations, isn’t it?”

“Yeah.” Wei Wuxian nods again. “Just in case someone needs to pull you out of the path of a car or something.”

It combines the sigil for sensing intentions, the sigil for exceptions, and the sigil for neutralization, all in a precisely balanced series of strokes. Wei Wuxian is terrible at calligraphy, his characters too wild and unrestrained, but it lends an incredible energy to his talismanic inscription that Lan Wangji seldom sees.

“What’s the problem you’re running into with the design for your coworkers?” Lan Wangji asks.

Wei Wuxian huffs out a frustrated breath. “Sometimes, even if we don’t want to touch someone, we’ll still do it because it’s worth it to us. The secondary, willful desire complicates the main sigil, since the main operator is emotion. They tend to self-destruct in those situations because they can’t handle contradiction. Catch fire and shit.” Wei Wuxian shrugs. “I’m sure it has to be possible. I just haven’t figured it out yet. I might need to throw out the base sigil entirely, even if I don’t want to.” He pauses guiltily, mid-ramble. “Anyways, um. The point is, for any other situation, this should work as-is. If you don’t want to be touched by someone, they won’t be able to break through the barrier without hurting themselves.” He smiles, a little ruefully. “Even if that person is me.”

Lan Wangji doesn’t know what to say, so he folds the talisman back up and tucks it into the bag again.

“You made the bag as well?” he asks softly.

Wei Wuxian looks embarrassed. “Shijie has a bin of scrap fabric in the house that she gets from work. I just sewed something really quick. There weren’t a lot of appropriate patterns, so I hope—anyways.”

“It’s beautiful, Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji says. “Thank you.”

Lan Wangji is rewarded with the sight of Wei Wuxian actually flushing a little at the praise, which is a first. He sears it into his memory, the way he rubs his nose and shuffles his feet, eyes sliding anywhere but Lan Wangji’s face. Lan Wangji runs his fingers over the embroidered lotuses, feeling the smoothness of the silk slippery against his skin.

Wei Wuxian is still holding himself at arm’s length from Lan Wangji. It feels—off. He hadn’t realized how much he’d come to expect Wei Wuxian’s closeness. Lan Wangji reaches out and touches him lightly on the shoulder.

Wei Wuxian goes very still, like he’s afraid the slightest movement will scare Lan Wangji away, send his touch scattering to the wind like a skittish moth. It evokes a terrifying surge of affection within Lan Wangji, this gentle fear. He closes his hand, squeezing just for a moment before letting go.

Wei Wuxian breathes again.

“Thank you, Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji says again, trying to imbue the words with all that he feels. Lan Wangji has never been good with words, but he wants to try. He wants Wei Wuxian to know how much it means. He slips the talisman into his sleeve.

Wei Wuxian seems to struggle with himself for a moment, then, as Lan Wangji starts to close the door behind him, he bursts out, “Lan Zhan, will you have dinner with me tonight?”

Lan Wangji looks back at him as he latches it shut. “Of course. We usually have dinner together on Mondays. I’ll meet you and the others at the dining hall.”

“No, I mean—” Wei Wuxian bites his lip, growls a little in frustration. “Can I take you out to dinner? Just us. At a real restaurant in Caiyi. My treat.”

“Oh.” Lan Wangji’s heart takes a tumble.

He takes so long to say anything that Wei Wuxian continues, “You can think of it as part of the apology, if you want.” His eyes are fixed on Lan Wangji, bright and intense.

“You’ve already done enough,” Lan Wangji says automatically. “More than enough. I couldn’t accept that.”

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian says, a hint of his usual exasperated humor returning to his voice. “I’ll be paying with the money you gave me anyways. There’s enough for one really nice meal for two.”

“You haven’t spent it yet?” Lan Wangji asks, instead of answering.

“No! It felt wrong. But if I spend some of it on you, I’ll finally be free of it.” There’s a mischievous grin creeping onto his face. “Please, Lan-er-gege, won’t you free me of this burden?”

Lan Wangji can’t help it. He smiles.

Wei Wuxian’s eyes widen. “Lan Zhan! Are you smiling? Are you laughing?

Lan Wangji immediately raises a sleeve to cover his face.

Wei Wuxian points an accusing finger at him. “If you’re laughing, then that’s a yes, right? You can’t laugh and then say no! Lan Zhan!”

“Okay,” Lan Wangji says. “Okay, yes.”

Wei Wuxian’s smile, like the first morning he showed up at Lan Wangji’s door, outshines the sun that’s just starting to peek over the horizon.

“There’s still time before class,” Lan Wangji says. He takes a deep breath. “I was going to take a walk. Would you like to join me?”

Wei Wuxian looks torn. “I would,” he says regretfully, “but I’m also about to fall asleep, like, right here. I should probably go back and take a nap.”

“Then I’ll walk back with you,” Lan Wangji says, feeling bold and luminous.

“All right,” Wei Wuxian says, He meets Lan Wangji’s eyes and then, very carefully, steps close and bumps their shoulders together.

 

Lan Wangji realizes his mistake thirty minutes before Wei Wuxian is supposed to arrive at the jingshi. Every piece of mundane clothing he owns is spread out on the bed before him, a sad, small collection. He doesn’t want to wear any of them, but he also doesn’t know how appropriate cultivation dress would be at the restaurant. He should have asked where they were going, but, like an idiot, he’d been too caught up in the euphoria of the moment to have spared a thought for logistics. He doesn’t want to text Wei Wuxian his dilemma because that would be tipping his hand, but he also has no other friends to ask.

He thinks about asking Xichen to come over, then immediately dismisses the idea because he does still have a few shreds of dignity left, and the thought of his brother’s indulgent, sweet smile as he coaches Lan Wangji through how to get dressed for a fucking dinner is nigh unbearable.

He doesn’t know what to do. And, when Wei Wuxian shows up early for once in his life, knocking cheerfully on the door, Lan Wangji is still in the exact same predicament.

He opens the door a crack, just enough to poke his head out. “I don’t know what to wear,” he confesses at Wei Wuxian before he even looks at the man.

Wei Wuxian blinks at him. Lan Wangji registers his clothing. He’s… wearing cultivation robes, albeit formal ones, sword and dizi at his side.

“Uh,” Wei Wuxian says. “Can I see what you’re wearing right now?”

Lan Wangji, now properly embarrassed, opens the door more fully. He hasn’t changed from the robes he was wearing during the day. “I didn’t know what sort of restaurant we were going to,” he says quietly. “I didn’t know if cultivation attire was acceptable.”

“Oh, Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian says with fond exasperation. “You should wear whatever you want to wear. Who cares what the restaurant thinks?”

“I didn’t want to shame you,” Lan Wangji says, to which Wei Wuxian can’t hold back a delighted storm of laughter.

“You? Shame me??” he crows. “Lan Zhan! The day you shame me is the day the earth stops spinning.”

Lan Wangji waits patiently for him to get himself back under control. He can feel the knot in his chest loosening with the sound and finds he doesn’t know why he bothered worrying in the first place.

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian says, straightening up again. “What you’re wearing is fine. Everything you GusuLan disciples own is appropriate for all occasions by definition.”

“I’m going to change,” Lan Wangji says, stepping back inside and closing the door on Wei Wuxian’s squawks of protest.

He goes to his closet, shedding his outer robe as he goes, hanging it up carefully by his bed. He retrieves a more ceremonial robe from its hanger, one with a faint blue brocade on its sleeves and a slightly more embellished collar. It’s not one he has occasion to wear often—it’s not quite formal enough for most official sect events, but a little too decorative for everyday use. He slips it on, tying the waist sash neatly with deft hands. He fetches his wallet, phone and talisman from his discarded robe and picks up Bichen from where it’s lying on his table before going back outside.

Wei Wuxian is lounging on his front steps, spinning his flute absentmindedly. He looks up at the sound of the door sliding open and stands up again, tucking the flute back against his waist.

“You really didn’t have to change, you know,” he says, even as he gives Lan Wangji a quick once-over.

“I wanted to,” Lan Wangji says. “You made the effort, so I should too.”

“You’re too good, Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian says, shaking his head. “It’s okay to relax a little sometimes. Dare to be a little sloppy once in a while!”

“Ridiculous,” Lan Wangji says, but he feels the tug of humor at the edges of his mouth.

They ride their swords into town, Wei Wuxian zooming around and doing tricks around Lan Wangji’s more stately progress. Lan Wangji wants to scold him for being frivolous, but can’t quite bring himself to when he looks so unabashedly joyful, clothes flapping in the wind, hair fluttering about his face as he goes.

The restaurant is small but elegant, with clean, simple interiors and warm wooden accents. Almost everyone there is dressed in varying levels of black tie mundane clothing, mostly western-style, long cocktail dresses and formal suits filling the space. They get a few curious stares as they enter the building, but Wei Wuxian pays them no mind, walking up to the host with his usual friendly confidence, leaning against the little podium to ask for their reservation. The host barely blinks at them, two young cultivation students in the wrong clothes in the wrong space, and flags down a server to lead them up a flight of stairs to a second dining space, populated with lower, traditional tables and fewer people. Lan Wangji lets out a breath at the more familiar atmosphere, the brighter lights.

Their server leaves them with menus and a pot of their signature tea, which Wei Wuxian wastes no time pouring for the two of them, even as he calls for a jar of Emperor’s Smile liquor.

Lan Wangji raises the cup to his nose, breathing in the scent, a light, almost-floral thing. It tastes just as lovely.

The server returns in a few minutes with the liquor and cups, ready to take their dinner orders. Wei Wuxian, like the absolute tasteless gremlin he is, orders all the spiciest dishes and asks for a bottle of chili oil on the side. Lan Wangji sees the server’s eye twitch very slightly when she hears this, which he finds inordinately funny. Lan Wangji orders two mild vegetarian dishes, which seems to mollify her by a degree.

“Did you not bring your own chili oil this time?” Lan Wangji asks.

“Of course not, that would be rude,” Wei Wuxian says, tearing the paper off the liquor pot, too innocently to be ingenuous. “Also, I like seeing their expressions of despair when I ask for it.”

“Of course you do.”

“Why be snobby about food? I’m paying to enjoy it, aren’t I?” He pours himself a generous helping of the liquor. “Any for you?” he offers thoughtlessly, before shaking his head. “Wait, sorry, never mind, I forgot.”

“I’ll have a cup,” Lan Wangji hears himself saying.

Wei Wuxian pauses, looks up at him through his lashes. “Are you sure?”

“Didn’t you say this was the best liquor in the country?” Lan Wangji says.

A delighted grin dawns on Wei Wuxian’s face as he grabs a second cup to pour for him. “It is! Lan Zhan, am I going to see the esteemed Hanguang-jun’s first drink? I’m so honored!” He pushes the cup over to him, propping his chin in his hands to watch unashamedly.

Lan Wangji takes it in hand, brings it to his nose like he did with the tea. It’s surprisingly a light-scent liquor—knowing Wei Wuxian’s tastes, he’d expected a sauce or strong scent after all the praise he’d heaped on it.

Lan Wangji downs the whole cup in one go, because it seems like the way to go about it. The liquor numbs his mouth, burns his throat on the way down. He blinks, setting the cup back down gently on the table.

“Well?” Wei Wuxian prompts after a moment of silence. “What did you think?”

Lan Wangji looks at him. He’s even more vivid than usual, hazy and beautiful under the ambient light. “It was fine.”

“Just fine?”

“Just fine.”

“Ah well,” Wei Wuxian says with a shrug. “More for me!”

The food arrives quickly. It’s all very delicious, which is a relief because the prices were fairly exorbitant. Lan Wangji, feeling daring, nibbles on a few bites from all of Wei Wuxian’s plates, but rapidly comes to the conclusion that he’s going to stick to his own.

Wei Wuxian delivers a rolling litany of small talk, harmless gossip about their classmates, the current running score of his and Jiang Cheng’s prank war (Wei Wuxian is, unsurprisingly, in the lead), funny stories from the drama department—Lan Wangji is finding it harder and harder to focus on the content of his words as the meal goes on. Wei Wuxian’s lips are stung red by the spice, his cheeks blushed from the alcohol. Lan Wangji watches his mouth as he talks and eats, taking unexpectedly dainty bites.

He’s feeling very warm, probably from the heat of the spicy dishes he tasted. Lan Wangji has always had a low tolerance for intense flavors. It isn’t surprising that the effect lingers. Wei Wuxian—Wei Ying looks dazzling, his hands making little trails in the air as he gestures to illustrate a point. He’s not sure what the point is exactly, it might be important, but it really is hard to focus. Wei Ying tips his head, looking expectant.

“Lan Zhan?” he says, waving his hand at Lan Wangji.

“Yes?” Lan Wangji replies.

“Did you hear anything I just said?” Wei Ying asks, amused. He raises his cup to his mouth.

“No,” Lan Wangji admits. “I was just watching your lips.”

Wei Ying chokes on his drink. “I’m sorry, what?” he coughs, wiping his mouth with his sleeve.

Lan Wangji reaches over to pat him ineffectually on the back of the shoulder. “I said I was just watching your lips.”

“Oh, so I’m not hallucinating,” Wei Ying says faintly.

“Do you think you’re hallucinating?” Lan Wangji asks, a little concerned. He places the back of his hand against Wei Ying’s forehead. “Do you have a fever?”

Wei Ying pushes his hand away. “I don’t have a fever,” he says firmly. “Lan Zhan, are you okay?”

“Why wouldn’t I be?” Lan Wangji asks.

Wei Ying narrows his eyes at him. “Are you… Lan Zhan, are you drunk?

“No,” Lan Wangji says. That would be ridiculous. He only had one drink. Surely he couldn’t be drunk. Wei Ying has been drinking continuously for the last hour, and it barely shows.

“How many fingers am I holding up?” Wei Ying asks seriously, holding up two.

They’re very, very beautiful fingers, long with distinct knuckles. Lan Wangji imagines how they would feel inside him and hums happily at the thought, reaching out to entwine them with his own.

Wei Ying’s expression grows more alarmed, which is unfortunate because Lan Wangji would prefer him to be happy, but it’s an expression he hasn’t seen before, so that’s still all right.

“Lan Zhan—Lan Zhan, let go of my hand—are you—seriously, let go—” Wei Ying squirms his way out of Lan Wangji’s grasp, watching him closely. Lan Wangji makes a small noise of complaint, brow furrowing.

Wei Ying takes Lan Wangji’s empty liquor cup, examining it as if it might hold the answers to whatever question he seems to have. “Lan Zhan, you only had one drink. Why are you acting like this?”

“Like what?” Lan Wangji asks.

“Like—” Wei Ying squints. “You don’t think you’re acting weird?”

“No,” Lan Wangji says.

“Okay. Uh, all right. I think maybe we should—I’ll get the check.”

“Already?” Lan Wangji asks, disappointed. He wanted to spend more time with Wei Ying.

“We’ve been here over an hour, Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying says, starting to smile again. “The food’s almost gone.”

“Oh, you’re smiling,” Lan Wangji says. “I like it when you do that.”

“When I… smile?”

Lan Wangji nods emphatically. “You’re the most beautiful when you’re laughing.”

“Oh my god.” Wei Ying looks—his expression is all twisted, like he might be upset.

“But you’re always beautiful,” Lan Wangji adds quickly, in case that’s the problem. “You’re never not beautiful. Don’t be sad.”

“Oh my god.

It’s very important that Wei Ying knows this. Lan Wangji reaches over the table to grab his hand again, fold it between his palms. “Please don’t be upset. I mean it. You’re always beautiful, Wei Ying.”

“Yeah, okay,” Wei Ying says, a little strangled. “That’s—that’s really nice, Lan Zhan. Thank you.” He flags down their server with his free hand. “I’m going to call us a DiDi to get back to campus,” he says after she leaves to get their check. “You’re in no state to be riding your sword, and I refuse to have your drunken demise on my hands.”

“What do you mean?” Lan Wangji asks. “I’m fine.”

“I’m sure you think you are,” Wei Ying says, digging out his phone with one hand, tapping at the screen gingerly with one thumb. “Honestly, I probably shouldn’t be on a sword either.”

“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji says after a few moments. “Are you upset with me?” He thinks if the answer is yes, it might literally crush his heart into dust.

“I’m not upset with you, Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying says. “I’m—I’m only worried for you.”

“Worried about what?” Lan Wangji asks.

“I think if you remember this in the morning, you’ll have a lot of regrets,” Wei Ying says carefully.

“I never regret spending time with you,” Lan Wangji says.

“Oh my god, Lan Zhan, that’s exactly what I’m talking about,” Wei Ying says, taking the check from the server with a nod of thanks. “You’re saying all sorts of embarrassing things—I’m afraid you’ll have no face left to greet the daylight ever again.”

“There’s nothing embarrassing about telling the truth,” Lan Zhan asserts.

“Then are you drunk?” Wei Ying asks again.

“I’m not.”

“What do you think about rabbits?”

“I like them very much,” Lan Wangji answers truthfully.

“Then why don’t you ever look at my drawings of them in class?”

“I do!” Lan Wangji refutes. “I look at them later, and I keep all of them in a drawer by my bed. Every single one. The rabbits are my favorite.”

Wei Ying looks so—it’s another new expression, Lan Wangji thinks, difficult to quantify.

“Lan Zhan,” he says, very quietly. “You’re making things very difficult for me.”

“What’s difficult about rabbits?”

Wei Ying laughs, a little wetly. “It’s not about the fucking rabbits.” He withdraws his hand from Lan Wangji’s grasp, which Lan Wangji opens his mouth to protest, but then realizes he’s just reaching into his sleeve to get out the money he needs to pay for their meal. That’s fine. Lan Wangji can be patient. It would be wrong to steal the food, after all.

Wei Ying counts out the money carefully, leaving it all in a neat stack on top of the receipt. “All right,” he says, when he’s done. “Come on. Let’s get you home.” He holds out his hand, and Lan Wangji takes it, interlacing their fingers. He doesn’t let go after he gets to his feet, and Wei Ying doesn’t say anything about it, just pulls him gently along back down the stairs and out the door. People are definitely staring now, Lan Wangji thinks, but he doesn’t care. He’s holding Wei Ying’s hand. Of course they’re all jealous.

The DiDi is already waiting for them by the time the get outside. Once they settle into the seat, Lan Wangji takes the opportunity to curl up against Wei Ying’s side, resting his cheek against the soft cloth of his robes, hands still entangled. Absently, Wei Ying reaches over with his free hand to pat Lan Wangji on the head as the driver pulls out into the street.

“Keep going,” Lan Wangji says when Wei Ying stops after only a few seconds.

“Hm?” Wei Ying asks.

“Again. Your hand in my hair.” Lan Wangji bumps his head insistently into Wei Ying’s shoulder.

“All right, Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying says placatingly, placing his hand back on top of Lan Wangji’s head. He hesitates for the barest of seconds, then begins petting him gently, fingernails scraping lightly across Lan Wangji’s scalp.

Lan Wangji makes a noise of contented satisfaction, nuzzling into Wei Ying more firmly. He catches a glimpse of the driver’s amused mien in the rearview mirror, which Wei Ying seems to be studiously ignoring.

The drive is fairly short. Caiyi isn’t too far from campus, after all. They pull up in front of the road that leads to the sect housing on campus and the driver parks the car. Wei Ying opens the door and starts to get out, only to find Lan Zhan following him.

“Okay, Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying says. “You have to let go of me now. We’re at my house.”

“I know,” Lan Wangji says.

“Right. So I’m going to go home. Make sure he gets back safe, okay?” The last part is directed at the driver, who gives Wei Ying a thumbs-up. “You can see his house from the street. Don’t leave until he goes inside.”

“I got you,” the driver says. “I’ve done this before, don’t worry. Your—ah, friend is safe with me.”

Wei Ying tries to leave again, but Lan Wangji refuses to let go of his hand, climbing out of the car with him. “Lan Zhan—” Wei Ying tries, but then he looks at Lan Wangji’s face and something in him seems to crumble. “Okay, you know what, never mind. Jiang Cheng and shijie are staying at the peacock’s place tonight, you might as well just come over. Classes are cancelled tomorrow anyways for that admin meeting or whatever, right?” Wei Ying leans over to talk to the driver again. “I’m just going to take him. Thanks for everything.”

“No problem,” he says. Wei Ying slams the door behind Lan Wangji and the car drives away. Lan Wangji waves as it goes.

The entrance hall of the Jiang house illuminates with soft light when Wei Ying flips a switch on the wall. They take off their boots. Lan Wangji takes Wei Ying’s from his hands and sets both pairs next to each other on the little mat for shoes. He likes the way they look next to each other.

“You good?” Wei Ying asks.

“Yes,” Lan Wangji says, standing straight.

“I’m going to get you some water,” Wei Ying says. “Come to the kitchen.”

“Yes, Wei Ying.”

Wei Ying draws a comically large glass of water, drinking half of it himself in one long draft, his throat working rhythmically under the kitchen lights. Lan Wangji watches him. Wei Ying hands him the glass. “Drink,” he says.

“Oh, from the same glass,” Lan Wangji says with a small smile. He drinks obediently.

“Fuck,” Wei Ying mutters.

Lan Wangji hands him the empty glass. “What’s wrong?”

Wei Ying laughs, a little hysterically. “Nothing at all, Hanguang-jun.”

Lan Wangji frowns. “Lying is forbidden,” he scolds, but not too hard. He tries to soften it by caressing Wei Ying’s face, brushing his thumb over his cheekbone. Wei Ying shudders.

“Yeah, I know,” he says.

“Let’s go sit in your room,” Lan Wangji suggests. “I want to touch you more. It’s hard to do that in the kitchen like this.”

Fuck,” Wei Ying says with feeling, then sets the glass in the sink rather harder than necessary, Lan Wangji thinks. It clinks angrily against the metal.

Lan Wangji follows Wei Ying into his room. It’s surprisingly spacious, with a small low table beside the bed, and would be more so if the floor weren’t scattered with crumpled talismans and half-finished projects. Wei Ying pushes them all out of the way with his feet, clearing a space for the two of them to sit at the table on adjacent sides.

Wei Ying leans his elbow against the table, one knee up as he reclines.

Lan Wangji sits properly. “What are you thinking about?” he asks Wei Ying.

Wei Ying doesn’t look at him, stares into space for several long seconds. “I’m thinking you’re very fucking hot, and I’m too drunk for this shit,” Wei Ying answers finally. “Or maybe not drunk enough. I’m not sure which.”

“You think I’m hot?” Lan Wangji asks.

“Lan Zhan, have you seen yourself?” Wei Ying asks, gesturing expansively. He looks like a fallen orator, a bit grand, a bit sad.

“I have.”

“Well, there you go.”

“Wei Ying.”

“What?”

“Come closer,” Lan Wangji says.

“Lan Zhan, ah Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying says, shaking his head. “If you keep asking, I won’t be able to keep saying no.”

“Then don’t,” Lan Wangji says, and reaches over to pull Wei Ying into his lap by his collar.

Wei Ying topples across him with a startled little squeak, arms bracing at the last second against LanWangji’s upper arms. His legs are splayed across Lan Wangji’s thigh, and—oh.

“You’re hard,” Lan Wangji notes.

Wei Ying laughs, his body shaking with it. It vibrates through Lan Wangji, and Lan Wangji gathers him even closer, pulling him flush against him. “How could I not be?” Wei Ying murmurs, face inches away from Lan Wangji’s. “When you’re always looking at me like that?”

“Like what?” Lan Wangji asks, because he never knows and he’s never asked.

“Like you can’t decide if you want to devour me or kill me,” Wei Ying says, a tiny smirk playing about his lips. “Or both.”

“Oh,” Lan Wangji says. “That’s easy. I want to fuck you.” And he leans down to kiss him.

Wei Ying whines against his lips. He tastes like spice and liquor and heady intoxication. Lan Wangji is so happy. He’s so happy! It surprises him, the burbling joy in his chest. So this is happiness!

Wei Ying is slippery against him, hands wandering, tugging, a writhing live wire in his arms. “Fuck, Lan Zhan, fuck,” he gasps, and Lan Wangji takes the opportunity to push his tongue into his open mouth. Wei Ying moans around it, his hips stuttering against Lan Wangji’s leg. Lan Wangji grabs him by the hips, adjusts him into a better position, and Wei Ying goes gladly, grinding down with an enthusiasm that lights something in Lan Wangji’s heart. He slows his kiss, taking time to discover the sensations of it, the texture of the movements.

Left to his own devices, Wei Ying is an unexpectedly soft kisser, more likely to ask permission with his tongue than to take indiscriminately. Lan Wangji discovers he’s the greedy one, which is a sin he’ll perhaps have to reexamine later, but he’s too busy examining Wei Ying’s mouth at the moment, so it’ll have to wait.

Wei Ying reaches down between Lan Wangji’s legs, palming him through the fabric of his robes. Lan Wangji is buoyant, burning—he thrusts into it, seeking the heat of Wei Ying’s hand, Wei Ying’s fingers, Wei Ying—

“Wei Ying,” he says, kissing a trail across his jaw. “Wei Ying!”

“I’m here, Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying says, and he squeezes gently.

A tiny whimper tears itself from some secret place in Lan Wangji’s throat. “Wei Ying, you’re so—”

“So what?” Wei Ying asks, when the sentence hangs unfinished between them. “Tell me, Lan-er-gege. I’m so what?” Lan Wangji isn’t looking at his face, but he can hear the beginnings of a grin in his voice, the way he’s finding his bearings. “Pretty? Were you going to say pretty? You never told me when I asked before.”

“Wei Ying is pretty,” Lan Wangji agrees. “But that’s not what I was going to say.” He licks a stripe up the side of Wei Ying’s neck to feel his whole body arch into it. It’s very satisfying. He does it again.

“Then—then what were you going to say?” Wei Ying pants.

“I don’t know,” Lan Wangji answers honestly. “Wei Ying is just so.”

Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying breathes against his ear. “How can you expect me to live like this? When you talk like this?”

“It’s only the truth,” Lan Wangji says. He cups Wei Ying’s face in his hand, guides it until they’re facing each other. Wei Ying’s lips are wet and swollen, his eyes shiny.

“Lying is forbidden,” Wei Ying recites.

“Good boy,” Lan Wangji says, thumbing across his lips, and Wei Ying’s eyes flutter closed. His tongue darts out to lick at the pad of it, just a little flicker of touch.

Lan Wangji sighs, pushes it into Wei Ying’s mouth, runs it along his teeth. Wei Ying closes his lips around it obediently, suckles on it with care. He opens his eyes a fraction, glances up at Lan Wangji.

Lan Wangji fumbles with the sash at Wei Ying’s waist with one hand at first, then finds it’s too difficult and reluctantly pulls his thumb from the warmth of Wei Ying’s mouth so he can use both.

“Here,” Wei Ying says, trying to help. Their hands tangle, slip over one another. “Here, let me—”

“But I want to undress you,” Lan Wangji says petulantly.

Wei Ying laughs. “But Lan-er-gege, this is my profession!”

I want to undress Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji says stubbornly.

“Then can I undress Hanguang-jun?” Wei Ying asks, playfully slipping his hand beneath the collar of Lan Wangji’s robes to rest against his chest.

“Mn,” Lan Wangji agrees, finally undoing the knot and loosening Wei Ying’s robes so they slip off one of his shoulders. Unable to resist, he buries his nose into the crook of Wei Ying’s neck, breathes in the scent of him, kisses his golden skin, bites at the muscle there.

Wei Ying groans into it, fingers going into Lan Wangji’s hair. “Lan Zhan, Lan-er-gege, god—”

Lan Wangji hums contentedly, pushing the robes further down, raking nails down Wei Ying’s spine. Wei Ying, not to be outdone, makes short work of Lan Wangji’s waist sash, tossing it aside and pushing his way in. Lan Wangji tingles with the touch, little shivering trails of electric heat. When Wei Ying’s hand dips past his waistband and closes around his cock, strokes it once, firm and slow, he feels himself unravelling.

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying murmurs, hand still and torturous. “Lan Zhan can I—can I suck you off—”

Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji moans into his neck.

“Is that a yes? Please, Lan-er-gege, you have to tell me—”

“Yes,” Lan Wangji interrupts. “Yes, yes, Wei Ying, yes.” He punctuates each word with a kiss—throat, cheek, lips.

Wei Ying scrambles off of him, robes falling open and almost off, the red and black draped elegantly across his limbs. Lan Wangji takes a fistful of it, lets the fabric run between his fingers. Wei Ying smiles down at him. “Like what I’m wearing?”

Lan Wangji nods.

“Good.” Wei Ying presses a chaste kiss to his forehead. “I wore it for you.”

Lan Wangji isn’t sure what it is about that sentence out of all the others that sends him careening over an edge, but he stands, narrowly missing Wei Ying’s chin in his haste, and kisses him again, deep and filthy and hungry. It means something. He doesn’t know what. Lan Wangji is bad with words, always has been, but this—this maybe he can do.

“Lan Zhan—Lan Zhan—” Wei Ying gets out between breathy laughs. “If you want me to suck your dick you’re going to have to return my mouth to me.”

“In a minute,” Lan Wangji says.

“In a minute I’m going to fucking die, Lan-er-gege,” Wei Ying protests, pushing him away and towards the bed. The mattress hits the back of Lan Wangji’s knees and he sits, yanking Wei Ying down with him.

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying scolds as Lan Wangji chases after his lips again. “I mean it!” But his eyes are sparkling as he shifts their positions, dragging Lan Wangji more fully onto the bed. “Lie back for me?”

Lan Wangji does, even though he wants to keep kissing Wei Ying. The excessive pile of pillows on Wei Ying’s bed cushion his back against the headboard.

“Good job,” Wei Ying praises, which makes it worth it. He parts Lan Wangji’s outer robes with careful deliberation, then repeats the motions with the inner ones until he’s exposed the expanse of Lan Wangji’s chest. He’s snowy pale compared to Wei Ying, whose skin is rich as desert sand. “God, Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying breathes above him.

“What’s wrong?” Lan Wangji asks when he doesn’t move for a moment. He reaches up to brush a lock of hair from his face. Wei Ying closes his eyes, leans into the touch.

“Nothing,” he whispers. “I’m just—” But he doesn’t finish the sentence. Instead, he turns his head to kiss Lan Wangji’s palm, then leans down, pressing kisses down his sternum, his stomach, the divot of his hips, sliding his way down. His breath is searingly warm against Lan Wangji’s erection, even through his trousers. He reaches past Lan Wangji’s waistband, pulling him out with an attentive devotion that has Lan Wangji’s heart aching.

There’s another beat where he stops moving, only breathes. He looks so overwhelmed, Lan Wangji wants to touch him again, wipe it away.

But then he noses against the length of him, presses his tongue under the head. Lan Wangji gasps and Wei Ying swallows him down as he does.

It feels—it feels—Lan Wangji can’t think, can’t feel but for the desperate, wet heat of Wei Ying’s mouth. His fingers clench in the sheets as Wei Ying bobs his head, hollows his cheeks. The sounds are fucking obscene, and they mingle with their breathing in the air. Lan Wangji throws his head back with a little cry when Wei Ying does something particularly clever with his tongue just there and he feels Wei Ying tremble with it.

“Wei Ying,” he pleads. “Wei Ying, will you—” He’s trying to piece the sentence together, but it’s hard to remember any words but Wei Ying’s name.

Wei Ying pulls off with a wet little pop. “Yes, Lan-er-gege? What do you want Wei Ying to do?” His lips are so red.

“Will you—will you finger me?” Lan Wangji asks. “While you—?”

“Fuck, yes,” Wei Ying says. He reaches across Lan Wangji’s body to rip open his bedside drawer, pulling out a bottle of lube. He squeezes it on his fingers with shaking hands, tosses the bottle aside as he shimmies back down into position. Carefully, he pushes Lan Wangji’s legs apart, pulls his trousers down more fully for access. The lube is shockingly cold against Lan Wangji’s skin as Wei Ying reaches between his legs. “Tell me if it’s too much okay?” he says, and slips one finger inside Lan Wangji.

Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji pleads again, but he doesn’t know for what.

“I’ve got you,” Wei Ying says. “I’ve got you. Do you like two fingers, or just one?”

“Two,” Lan Wangji manages.

Wei Ying adds a finger, rubbing little circles inside Lan Wangji until he starts seeing sparks. Wei Ying lowers his head, takes Lan Wangji back into his mouth, and it’s so much, it’s so much. Lan Wangji is bowstring-taut, unable to think.

Wei Ying’s fingers press down inside of him just as he swallows and Lan Wangji barely has a moment to say, “Wei Ying, I’m—” before he is, thick and pulsing into Wei Ying’s waiting mouth.

Wei Ying sucks him through it, laps at his release even as it spills past his lips, thrusts his fingers a few more times before pulling out and tipping his head up to look at Lan Wangji.

There’s come at the corner of his mouth. It drips towards his chin. Lan Wangji drags two fingers through it, pushes it back into Wei Ying’s lips with an entranced awe. Wei Ying swallows again, licks Lan Wangji’s fingers clean.

Lan Wangji can’t breathe for how much he feels. “Wei Ying,” he says, taking his face into his hands. “Wei Ying.”

There’s a smug satisfaction playing about his eyes. He raises his own hand and wipes the rest of Lan Wangji’s come into his mouth until his face is unmarked. “Is Lan-er-gege satisfied?”

Lan Wangji can still feel the hardness of Wei Ying pressed into his leg, which simply won’t do. “Not yet,” he says, and, before Wei Ying can defend himself, flips their positions with a practiced move that Wei Ying hasn’t yet figured out how to counter.

“Ah, Lan Zhan!” he startles, but Lan Wangji pins his wrists above his head with his forearm, straddles his thighs so he can’t escape. Wei Ying stills. Lan Wangji places his ear against his bare chest for just a moment to listen to his rabbiting pulse. It thunders. Lan Wangji places a kiss over it, then pats the bed searching for the bottle of lube, clumsily pouring a generous heap of it onto his hand.

“Lan Zhan—” Wei Ying tries again, and Lan Wangji kisses him into silence as he untucks Wei Ying from his pants, strokes him hard and fast and inexorable. Wei Ying half-sobs into his mouth. “Lan Zhan.”

Lan Wangji nips at his lower lip, not hard, swipes his tongue over it to soothe the sting. He can feel the tension running through Wei Ying’s muscles, the way his legs tense against his, how his arms strain.

“Lan Zhan, please,” Wei Ying begs, hips bucking. Lan Wangji presses more of his weight down until he can barely twitch upwards. “Please, I’m—please—”

Lan Wangji remains relentless, hand slick around Wei Ying. Wei Ying’s eyes have fallen closed, his mouth open. Lan Wangji watches his face, watches his brows knit, his lips move. There’s a brighter color to his cheeks than before.

“Please—” he gasps a final time before he swells in Lan Wangji’s hand and comes with a sharp and plaintive shout, streaking across Lan Wangji’s hand, his sleeve, his own inner thighs. Lan Wangji can’t resist stroking him a few more times as he comes down from it, wringing out little mewls with each pull.

“Lan Zhan,” he sighs, and Lan Wangji finally releases his wrists. Wei Ying wastes no time in looping his arms around the back of Lan Wangji’s neck and pulling him down for another series of kisses, these ones lazy and sweet. Lan Wangji is so full of what must be happiness he can’t help smiling into them.

“Wei Ying,” he says as they finally break.

Wei Ying’s face is very close, his eyes dark and soft and tender as he looks at Lan Wangji. “Hi,” he whispers.

“Hi,” Lan Wangji whispers back.

Wei Ying starts to giggle. He covers his mouth, trying to stifle it away, but Lan Wangji doesn’t like that. He pushes Wei Ying’s hands off his mouth.

“I want to hear Wei Ying,” he says, and Wei Ying complies.

It’s a lovely, bubbling sound, higher and more effervescent than his usual laughter. Lan Wangji wants to bottle it up to savor. He thinks it would taste better than liquor, better than the finest tea.

“Oh, I’ve made a mess,” Wei Ying says when it finally peters out. He struggles up onto his elbows, but Lan Wangji pushes him back down. He pulls off his outer robes completely, folds them up, and meticulously cleans Wei Ying’s body, and then his own hand before discarding them in a careless heap by the side of the bed. He splays his hand across Wei Ying’s belly, the slight swell of it from the dinner they shared. That makes him happy too.

“What are you smiling about?” Wei Ying asks him.

“I’m happy,” Lan Wangji says. “That’s all.”

“That’s all?” Wei Ying asks.

Lan Wangji nods.

“Okay, let me up,” Wei Ying says, squirming upright.

“Why?” Lan Wangji asks, suddenly worried. “Where are you going?” He sits down more firmly.

“Lan Zhan!” Wei Ying protests fondly. “Just the bathroom to wash my hands. And maybe to the kitchen to get some more water.”

“You’ll come back?”

“Of course I’ll come back,” Wei Ying promises, kissing the tip of his nose. “Right away. Let me up.”

Lan Wangji does, with some reluctance. Wei Ying hops off the bed, kicking off his pants the rest of the way, his figure still swathed with his disheveled robes. After he leaves, humming a simple melody under his breath, Lan Wangji pulls off his own pants and then his inner robes, dropping them on the ground beside the rest of his clothes. He lets down his hair, goes to untie his headband and pauses. Even when Wei Ying had his fingers in Lan Wangji’s hair, he’d been careful not to touch it. It’s still straight on his forehead. Lan Wangji undoes it, coils it with the proper respect, and sets it on top of his pile of clothing.

By the time Wei Ying returns with the ridiculously large glass of water, Lan Wangji is already under the covers, the quilt pulled up to his nose. He peeks out at Wei Ying, who coughs with laughter as he swallows.

“Lan Zhan, do you want any?” he asks, wiping his mouth. Lan Wangji considers, then sits back up to take it with both hands.

“Thank you,” he says politely after he’s finished drinking. He hands it back for Wei Ying to put on the bedside table.

Wei Ying yawns, climbing into the bed with him. He still has his robes on. Lan Wangji tugs at them.

“What are you doing?” Wei Ying asks.

“I want to undress Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji says.

Wei Ying laughs again. “Then by all means, Hanguang-jun,” he says.

The robes are already untied and loose. Lan Wangji simply slides them the rest of the way off with Wei Ying’s help, and Wei Ying tosses them onto the floor on his side of the bed, undoing his hair as an afterthought. Lan Wangji runs his fingers across Wei Ying’s naked form.

“Tickles,” Wei Ying complains, sliding in under the covers. Lan Wangji immediately grabs for him, pulling him in close until they slot together. He buries his nose into Wei Ying’s hair.

“Who knew Hanguang-jun was such a cuddler,” Wei Ying says sleepily. He flicks a finger at the light switch on the wall, shooting a little bolt of spiritual energy across the room to turn it off.

“Good night, Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying says.

“Good night, Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji replies. A crescent moon shines softly through a sliver in the curtains. Wei Ying is warm in his arms.

They sleep.

Chapter Text

Lan Wangji wakes to sunlight and birdsong, feeling languid and warm. He blinks a little, shifting under the covers as he takes in his surroundings.

Wei Wuxian is lying beside him, his naked back exposed in a long curve, hair spilling in messy, looping waves across the pillow. He’s very beautiful. Lan Wangji reaches out to touch without thinking, to trace the furrow of his spine in a mesmerized haze.

And then—

Well. And then he remembers.

Lan Wangji scrambles out from under the covers with a mounting, horrified dread. He’s naked—of course he is, he took off his clothes yesterday before getting into bed with Wei Wuxian. With Wei Wuxian! After he—after they’d—

Lan Wangji feels dizzy with panic, running frenzied fingers through his tangled hair before he yanks on his pants with shaking hands. His headband falls to the ground. He gathers it back up, shoves it in his pocket.

Wei Wuxian stirs with a sleepy little moan, rolling onto his back and blinking bleary eyes open. Lan Wangji freezes as Wei Wuxian catches sight of him, half-dressed, drowning under rolling waves of guilt.

Wei Wuxian smiles. “Lan Zhan,” he says. “Good morning.”

Lan Wangji’s throat is closed against sound, against breath. He only stares.

Wei Wuxian rubs his hand across his eyes, wakes a little more. “What are you getting dressed for? Come back to bed.”

“I have to go,” Lan Wangji forces out. He picks up his inner robes and puts them on, wrapping them tight around his body, tight enough that the sash hurts against his waist.

“Go?” Wei Wuxian asks. “Do you have to be somewhere? Jiang Cheng and shijie are coming back soon for breakfast. My shijie is the best cook! I thought you could stay and eat with us.”

“I can’t,” Lan Wangji says, shaking his head in jerky little starts and stops.

Wei Wuxian looks at him, really looks. “Oh,” he says quietly.

Lan Wangji reaches for his outer robes and then freezes again, staring at the fabric in his hands. He can’t fucking wear this. There are stains all down the front from when he wiped Wei Wuxian’s come off their bodies last night. His breath comes in little panicked gasps. What is he going to do?

“Lan Zhan—” Wei Wuxian says, reaching for him.

Two things happen at once.

Wei Wuxian recoils with a sharp cry of pain, and there’s a flash of intense heat from the robes in Lan Wangji’s hands.

In the deafening silence comes the acrid smell of smoke.

Lan Wangji pulls the talisman Wei Wuxian gave him out from the sleeve of his robe. The embroidery is being eaten away by a thin, glowing line of flame. Lan Wangji smothers the fire between his hands, ignoring the burn of it against his palms. He can barely feel the pain. Everything seems to be very far away. He opens the bag. The paper talisman is crumbling to ash inside.

“Lan Zhan.” Lan Wangji can’t look at Wei Wuxian, but he does anyways. His hair is all disheveled and tangled in the morning light, draped around his shoulders. The covers have fallen down to his hips. He’s cradling his hand against his chest. There are unshed tears in his eyes. Lan Wangji wants to climb back into bed, kiss the tears off his lashes.

“I have to go,” Lan Wangji says.

“Lan Zhan, I—”

“Don’t say sorry,” Lan Wangji interrupts. “You didn’t—it wasn’t—”

“You were drunk,” Wei Wuxian protests. “I shouldn’t have—”

“So were you,” Lan Wangji cuts in. “It wasn’t your fault.”

“Lan Zhan, that’s not—you didn’t do anything wrong.”

“I did,” Lan Wangji says. A flash of a memory—Wei Wuxian spread out underneath him, gasping a plea. He squeezes his eyes shut. “It was wrong of me.”

“Lan Zhan, how could it be wrong for you if it wasn’t wrong for me?” Wei Wuxian asks. “I wanted to—I—you know that this—” He pauses, searching Lan Wangji’s face, assessing. “You know it’s okay to sleep with your friends, right? It’s fine to have casual sex.”

“It’s fine for someone like you,” Lan Wangji says, trying not to think about how much Wei Wuxian’s words hurt.

There’s a pause.

“What do you mean for someone like me?” Wei Wuxian asks carefully, voice darkening with the barest edges of fury. “Someone shameless? Someone lowly?”

“No!” Lan Wangji snaps immediately. “That’s not—I don’t think you’re lowly! I don’t think—you’re just you! Someone like you! Someone who isn’t me!” The words come spilling out of him like a confession. He can’t meet Wei Wuxian’s eyes.

There’s another, quieter pause.

“Oh, Lan Zhan,” he says softly. The pity stings.

“I have to go,” Lan Wangji says stiffly. He balls his dirty robes up in his hands and flees the room. There are no classes today. Maybe he’ll be able to get back to the jingshi without seeing anyone. Bichen is in the entrance hall, leaned up against the wall next to Suibian. He snatches it up, crams his feet into his boots.

He almost crashes into Jiang Wanyin as he half-throws himself down the path away from the sect housing.

“Second Young Master Lan?” Jiang Wanyin asks, blinking at him. “What are you doing? Where are you going?”

“Home,” Lan Wangji says and pushes past him. He isn’t fast enough to avoid seeing the slow dawning of realization on Jiang Wanyin’s face, the rake of his eyes across his appearance—fuck, he must be some kind of spectacle. Running away in his underclothes. Very dignified, Wangji. The humiliation of it burns at his ears. The shame courses hot through his body. Jiang Wanyin must know—

Lan Wangji is almost running by the time he passes Jiang Yanli and Jin Zixuan at the road, rummaging around in the trunk of a car.

“Oh, Second Young Master Lan—” Jiang Yanli calls after him, but he pays her no heed, ignores the bewildered scoff of Jin Zixuan as he flies past.

Blessedly, he sees no one else on his way back to the jingshi. He slams the door behind him with too much force, then stands frozen at the threshold, breathing hard.

He doesn’t know what to do. His whole body feels like it’s crawling with insects. Catching sight of the laundry hamper, he casts his outer robes into it violently, furiously. His hands are shaking. He goes into the bathroom to wash them. They don’t feel clean, even as he scrubs them dry on the towel. He strips down and steps into the shower, dialing the temperature as hot as he can stand it, and then inches it up another fraction.

If he scrapes his skin so roughly the blood vessels bloom into bright red spots, if he tears his comb through his hair sharply enough to bring tears to his eyes, if he drops to his knees so hard they bruise—what of it? He kneels, fingers clenched around the bamboo rods, facing the wall. His hair still drips wet down his back under fresh clothes, into his eyes. He doesn’t move.

An hour goes by. Then another. The rods clatter to the floor, falling from his exhausted arms. His muscles are abuzz with pain, but it isn’t enough, it isn’t enough.

Numbly, he stands, picking up one of the rods and bringing it down hard across his thigh. The shock of it lances through his body, makes everything just a little more real.

He does it again, harder.

Lan Wangji knows, distantly, that something is wrong with his behavior. What can he do? It’s all he knows. There are tears on his face, from pain or anguish—he can’t tell. Anguish is pain too, he thinks, wiping them away with weak and trembling fingers. He slams the rod across his thigh again. The bamboo grows a hairline fracture with a sharp crack in the silence of the jingshi and rips itself from his hands. Is it enough? Is it enough?

Standing hurts. So does kneeling. So does the lotus pose, which he assumes for meditation.

Good, he thinks viciously. Good.

 

Still, there’s only so much punishment even Lan Wangji can mete out upon himself. By early afternoon, he unfolds himself stiffly from his position on the floor and stands gingerly. The sharp lancing pain in his leg has metamorphosed into a dull, bone-deep throbbing. He stumbles around, forces himself to nibble on some food to quiet his complaining stomach. Mechanically, he tidies—picks up the towel from where he cast it upon the floor, straightens a pile of papers that doesn’t really need straightening.

His eye catches on the laundry hamper, on the crumpled blue of his discarded robes. He limps over, reaches in and very carefully fishes out the burnt talisman. He dusts off some of the ash. Some of the luster of the silk has burned away—the corpse of a lovely object.

Gently, he carries it over to his nightstand, opens the drawer full of Wei Wuxian’s papermen. He lays the spent talisman carefully down amidst the little yellow bodies with a rustle, blinks back a fresh wave of tears. He’d always thought of them as asleep, but the talisman brings with it the atmosphere of a hushed crypt.

Lan Wangji closes the drawer as quietly as he can, so as not to disturb them. It’s silly, he knows. None of the little magic spells Wei Wuxian has ever given him have been alive. It’s just—

He opens the drawer again, pulls out the one with the sleeping bunny painted on it. He remembers the way it kissed him on the cheek, and he presses it against his face. It doesn’t move. After a moment, he puts it back.

“Sorry,” he whispers. “Good night.”

His headband is still in the pocket of his pants, which he left in a messy pile on the floor of the bathroom. He untangles it, ties it on around his forehead. Regulation. Restraint. Not that he’d embodied either of those traits last night while wearing it. The thought makes bile rise in his throat, but he swallows, breathes through it.

He puts his pants and inner robes into the laundry hamper and carries the whole thing to the machines in the closet beside the bathroom. The motions are familiar and rote.

Only once the room is filled with the soft whirring of the washing machine does Lan Wangji finally check his phone. There are seven missed calls from Wei Wuxian, three voice messages, and a deluge of texts. The last was from nearly two hours ago. Silence, since then.

The texts are all variations on a theme—lan zhan call me back, lan zhan where are you?, lan zhan are you ok, lan wangji please call me, second young master lan please, second young master lan are you there? Lan Wangji scrolls through the notifications, clicks on the voice messages with a heavy trepidation.

Lan Zhan, hey—it’s me, will you call me back? I’m not mad—I—I mean, that doesn’t matter, I guess, I—are you okay? Lan Zhan, just call me.”

Lan Zhan, can you just text me so I know you’re there?”

Lan Wangji, I—I’ll leave you alone if you don’t want me to bother you anymore. Just—can you just—please, can you just let me know you’re safe? Just a text. I won’t even respond to it. I’ll leave you alone. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

With clumsy fingers, Lan Wangji types “safe” and hits send. Wei Wuxian reads it less than a second later, but, true to his word, doesn’t respond. Lan Wangji locks his phone and sets it aside

 

Lan Wangji arrives early to class the next morning, brimming with a nervous dread that he fears shows. What is he going to say to Wei Wuxian? What can he say?

But he needn’t have worried. Jiang Wanyin arrives alone, wearing a thunderous expression as he casts an angry glare in Lan Wangji’s direction as he brushes past his desk. Lan Wangji feels it burning into the back of his neck throughout class. Jiang Wanyin’s answers are given in clipped and cold tones—not that anyone has ever described Jiang Wanyin as gentle, but it bites at Lan Wangji anyways. Lan Wangji leaves the second class is over, sweeping out of the room ahead of the pack and tries to convince himself he isn’t fleeing.

Wei Wuxian isn’t in class the next day, or the next. He isn’t in class the entire week, in fact. Lan Wangji arrives first, leaves first, ignores Jiang Wanyin’s increasingly enraged scowls and the anxious whispering of Nie Huaisang. He takes his meals alone.

Well, almost alone. Su She finds him at a tiny table in the corner of the dining hall and invites himself into the space, despite Lan Wangji’s monosyllabic, discouraging hums to his pestering questions. Lan Wangji can’t quite bring himself to be so outright rude as to tell Su She to leave him the fuck alone. They’re still of the same sect, after all.

“Su Minshan,” he says, the second time this happens, interrupting a frankly uninteresting and long-winded gossip story about a professor. “Speaking at meals is forbidden. Speaking ill of another behind their back is also forbidden.”

Su She huffs. “I’m not speaking ill of her,” he protests, though this is patently untrue. Lan Wangji just looks at him. Su She rolls his eyes. “Oh, come on, aren’t you speaking during a meal to tell me off?” he asks.

“I’m finished,” Lan Wangji says and clears away his dishes without another word. He decides to take his meals in the jingshi instead.

By Monday, when Wei Wuxian is still a no-show for class, Lan Wangji starts to seriously worry about his grades. It surely hasn’t escaped his uncle’s notice—Lan Wangji sees the minute, disapproving frown that twitches about his lips whenever his eyes pass over the corner of the classroom where Wei Wuxian is conspicuously missing. Lan Qiren values attendance and propriety. There’s a mandatory oral exam coming up tomorrow. Is Wei Wuxian going to skip that as well? Lan Wangji’s heart spirals. He’ll fail if he does.

Wei Wuxian saunters into the classroom on the day of the exam beside Jiang Wanyin, wearing his usual easygoing persona. Lan Wangji can’t help but stare openly at him, lips parted. He wants, god how much he wants—! But Wei Wuxian doesn’t even spare him a glance, beelining for his usual corner with a friendly greeting for Nie Huaisang.

Lan Qiren’s eyes narrow when he enters and sees Wei Wuxian lounging in his seat.

“Wei Wuxian,” he says, drawing a complicated sigil construction on the chalkboard. “What would a talisman marked with these sigils accomplish, and in what context would a cultivator use such a tool?”

There’s a ripple of dismayed gasps throughout the room. It’s an incredibly difficult question—the talisman is built with seven distinct sigils, two of which were only briefly touched on in class because of how rare they are. The interactions between them are embellished and confusing, using archaic conventions that have long since fallen out of practice.

Wei Wuxian studies it with calm, unworried eyes for a minute, then rattles off the answer without fuss or braggadocio. Lan Wangji breathes again. Even his uncle can’t fault him for that answer. It’s exactly the one Lan Wangji would have given.

Sure enough, Lan Qiren gives a curt and begrudging nod of acknowledgement.

Wei Wuxian nods back, then picks up his bag and leaves.

There’s another ripple through the classroom, this time of hushed exclamations. No one has dared walk out on Lan Qiren’s class before, certainly not on an exam day. Every student is only asked one question, but everyone is expected to stay until the end.

But Lan Qiren doesn’t react, erasing the board with a flick of spiritual energy as he chooses the next hapless student.

Lan Wangji hurts.

 

Lan Wangji waits outside at the end of class, steeling himself as Jiang Wanyin comes out—last, as usual, Nie Huaisang in tow.

“Young Master Jiang,” he says, so quietly he isn’t sure Jiang Wanyin can hear him, but Jiang Wanyin looks at him, and Lan Wangji knows.

Nie Huaisang glances between them rapidly. “Uh, I’m late for a meeting with my brother, see you later Jiang-xiong!” He rushes out the door.

Lan Wangji and Jiang Wanyin are alone in the hall.

Lan Wangji takes a breath. “Is—is Wei Yi—”

“You’ve got a lot of fucking nerve,” Jiang Wanyin snarls.

Lan Wangji’s throat closes.

Jiang Wanyin stalks towards him, vibrating with rage. “You still think you can call him by his name? After what you did?”

He shoves Lan Wangji hard enough that his back crashes into the wall. It jars his spine. He makes no move to defend himself.

“And—and—you think you have a right to ask after him? You have a fucking phone, don’t you? You could have returned one of his goddamn calls yourself, if you weren’t such a fucking coward, Second Young Master Lan,” Jiang Wanyin spits, the honorific punctuated with a poisonous sarcasm. He fists a hand in Lan Wangji’s collar and twists, constricting the fabric around Lan Wangji’s throat painfully. “Do you have any idea what you’ve fucking done?”

I disgraced my family? Lan Wangji thinks despairingly. I dishonored myself? I threw away my dignity for a taste of your brother’s skin? But he says none of that.

Jiang Wanyin scoffs in disgust at Lan Wangji’s silence, releases him with a final shove that grinds Lan Wangji’s shoulder blade against the wall. “Don’t you ever fucking talk to my brother again, you piece of shit,” he growls and storms off with all the wrath of a summer tempest.

Lan Wangji lets out a shaky breath. He straightens his collar, dusts off his robes, and heads for his uncle’s study.

 

Lan Wangji and Lan Xichen have long had free access to their uncle’s study with the absolute surety that they would never do anything dishonorable. Lan Wangji is… well, he doesn’t think he’s doing anything terribly wrong, per se, but it’s not exactly honorable either.

Lan Wangji unlocks the door and steps in quietly, taking off his boots. He heads directly for the file cabinet behind the desk, taking the key from its hiding place underneath an inkpot. Lan Qiren still keeps detailed paper gradebooks, updating them every night with meticulous precision. Lan Wangji finds the folder for their class and flips through them until he finds Wei Wuxian, scanning through his marks worriedly. There are a lot of zeroes.

He runs the calculations in his head. If Wei Wuxian gets full marks on today’s exam and continues to do well in future ones, even if he skips every other class from now until the end of the semester—Lan Wangji sighs. He won’t fail. Barely. But Lan Qiren is nothing if not exceedingly, exactingly fair when giving marks. Even if he’d like to fail Wei Wuxian on principle, he won’t.

Carefully, Lan Wangji packs everything away again, taking extra pains to make sure the records are filed correctly before relocking the cabinet and leaving the study exactly as he found it. He swallows, Jiang Wanyin’s voice still buzzing in his ears like a trapped hornet. Don’t you ever fucking talk to my brother again.

Brother, Lan Wangji thinks helplessly, and takes off at a run.

 

The knock Lan Wangji taps against the door of Lan Xichen’s room is certainly too quiet to be heard over the soft conversation within, but somehow—

“Yes?” Lan Xichen’s voice calls out. “Who is it?”

“Brother,” Lan Wangji says, tongue thick.

“Wangji?” Xichen says. “Come in.”

Lan Wangji slides the door open to reveal Lan Xichen sitting by his low table across from Jin Guangyao and—

“Oh! It’s you?” Sisi exclaims.

“Sisi?” Jin Guangyao asks, surprised. “You know Second Young Master Lan?”

Sisi must read something on Lan Wangji’s face because she shakes her head with a laugh. “Oh, not really. We ran into each other at a coffee shop in Caiyi a little while ago. I spilled my drink on him, and he insisted on paying for it. Such a gentleman.”

Lan Wangji is so grateful to her he wants to gather her up in his arms in thanks. She winks at him. He nods, unable to say anything to her, but he hopes she understands.

“Wangji?” Lan Xichen prompts gently. “You wanted to see me?”

“I was hoping we could speak,” Lan Wangji says with some difficulty. “Alone. I can come back another time.”

“No need,” Jin Guangyao says smoothly, getting to his feet. “Sisi and I were just about to leave anyways.”

“Please don’t rush on my account,” Lan Wangji says.

“We were hoping to get groceries before dinner,” Jin Guangyao excuses with a smile. “Don’t worry, Second Young Master Lan. I see your brother plenty.”

“A’Yao,” Lan Xichen scolds gently.

“Er-ge,” Jin Guangyao replies, eyes twinkling with a hint of mischief. “We’ll be on our way then.” He salutes, along with Sisi. Lan Wangji and Lan Xichen return the gesture.

“Please, sit,” Lan Xichen invites Lan Wangji once they close the door behind him.

Lan Wangji does, folding his legs underneath himself with a twinge of pain in his left thigh. Lan Xichen pours him a cup of tea from the pot already on the table. They favor the same kind—a white tea variety their mother used to brew. Lan Wangji takes a sip. It tastes like home.

“You wanted to speak with me?” Lan Xichen asks, refilling his own cup.

“Mn,” Lan Wangji acknowledges, but then finds he doesn’t know how to continue. Lan Wangji isn’t good with words, he never has been. He is not like his brother, who is warm and beloved by everyone he meets. Sometimes, he thinks he is not like anyone.

“Does this have something to do with the lie Sisi told just now?” Lan Xichen asks after a few moments of silence. Lan Wangji looks up at him, flinching. Lan Xichen smiles kindly. “I know you don’t go to coffee shops, Wangji.”

Lan Wangji looks away again, nods once. “How… how does Sisi know Jin Guangyao?” he asks.

“She and his mother were good friends before she passed away,” Lan Xichen explains. “She’s known A’Yao since he was born. They’re family.”

“I see,” Lan Wangji says.

“I know what kind of work she does,” Lan Xichen says without a hint of reproach as he brings his tea to his lips. “If that’s what you wanted to speak about.”

“It isn’t… about her,” Lan Wangji says.

“Then, what is it about, Wangji?”

“I…” Lan Wangji’s hands clench against his legs. “Brother, I—” Lan Xichen doesn’t say anything, waiting with a familiar placid compassion. “I think… I think I’ve done something terrible,” Lan Wangji gets out clumsily.

“What have you done that’s so terrible, Wangji? I can’t imagine,” Lan Xichen says.

“I’ve hurt my friend.”

“Your friend?”

“My best friend,” Lan Wangji confesses, and then it spills out in a tumbling inundation of awkward sentences and ashamed recollections. Lan Xichen listens without interruption or judgment. Lan Wangji talks around the truth, approaches it from different angles like a nervous child poking at a snake with a stick. Still, his brother knows him better than anyone. His brother always has.

“You’re speaking of Young Master Wei,” Lan Xichen states when Lan Wangji’s words peter out.

“Mn,” Lan Wangji confirms. He stares resolutely at his barely-touched tea.

“Wangji, I still don’t know what you’ve done that’s so terrible,” Lan Xichen says gently. “Is it terrible to be in love?”

“I can’t—not with him. Not with—” Lan Wangji’s mouth works silently. He doesn’t even know how to explain it, the contradictory snarl of rules that wraps itself around his lungs and makes it impossible to breathe.

“Why not with him?” Lan Xichen asks.

“Because he—” Lan Wangji’s heart is stuttering in his chest, blood rushing past his ears.

“Wangji, are you okay?” Lan Xichen reaches out, placing a warm, comforting hand on his shoulder. “Is it because of his work?”

“No!” Lan Wangji shakes his head violently. “Not because of that. Because—” Lan Wangji really is a coward.

“Take your time,” Lan Xichen says. He squeezes Lan Wangji’s shoulder.

“Because—” Lan Wangji tries again after several deep breaths. “Because he’s a man.”

The silence that follows this pronouncement is, as expected, painfully perplexed. Lan Wangji looks up at Lan Xichen, meeting his confused and worried gaze.

“And… so?” Lan Xichen asks, blinking.

“So it would be wrong,” Lan Wangji grinds out, wincing.

The confusion intensifies, worry sharpened with a surprised hurt. “Wangji—you—you know about me and A’Yao, don’t you?”

“Not wrong for you!” Lan Wangji tries to clarify. “It’s not wrong for you!”

“Is it wrong for anyone else?”

“No!”

“It’s only wrong… for you?”

Lan Wangji nods desperately.

“Oh, Wangji,” Lan Xichen says and leans over the table to hug him. It’s a terrible hug, really. The table is just a little too long for him to reach without straining, and his sleeve is dangerously close to trailing into his tea, but Lan Wangji leans into it anyways. Lan Xichen holds him for a few moments more before releasing him.

“I’m sorry,” Lan Xichen says. “I know you don’t really like physical contact.”

“I don’t mind it,” Lan Wangji admits in a small voice. He feels all of six years old again, lost and brimming with a grief he doesn’t know how to parse.

“Come,” Lan Xichen says after another few moments, standing. Lan Wangji follows him to the small couch he has across from the modest television set he sometimes uses to entertain guests. Lan Xichen sits and pats the cushion beside him. Lan Wangji sinks into it, and Lan Xichen wraps an arm around his shoulders so that Lan Wangji can lean against him.

The only other person who touches him like this is Wei Wuxian. Lan Wangji breathes out shakily.

“Wangji,” Lan Xichen says. “Was it something I or Uncle said that made you feel this way?”

Lan Wangji shakes his head. “No, it—it just is.”

“But you don’t think what I’m doing with A’Yao is wrong? Or Mingjue?”

“No.”

“What makes it wrong for you then?”

“I don’t know. The Lan family line. I should—I have to—”

“Have to what? Sire children?” Lan Xichen demands incredulously. “What are you talking about Wangji?”

“I don’t know.”

“If anyone was supposed to sire children, it would be me.” Lan Xichen laughs a little at the thought. “That’s not the world we live in, Wangji.

“I understand.”

“Then… why do you feel so terribly about yourself?”

“I don’t know!”

It bursts out of him with frustrated despair. Because that’s it, isn’t it? Lan Wangji has never known why. He just knows that something is. It’s absurd, of course it is, he can see that, he’s always seen that. But it doesn’t make it less real.

“I think—” he whispers after a few moments. “I think there’s something wrong with me.” He reaches down for the hem of his robes, rolls up his loose trousers until the mottled, harlequin bruising on his thigh is visible.

Lan Xichen breathes in sharply at the sight. “Wangji.”

“I don’t know what to do.”

Lan Xichen sighs. “No one really does in life.” He reaches for Lan Wangji’s leg, then seems to think better of it. “Do you do this often?”

“No,” Lan Wangji says. “I never—not until now. Not really.”

“Why now?”

“I—with him, I—”

Lan Xichen understands. He pulls Lan Wangji tighter against him. “Wangji, there’s nothing wrong with what you did. You’re both adults.”

“‘It’s fine to have casual sex,’” Lan Wangji quotes bitterly.

“It is,” Lan Xichen agrees carefully.

“It wasn’t—it wasn’t casual,” Lan Wangji gets out.

“I know. Maybe you should tell him that,” Lan Xichen suggests gently.

 

Lan Wangji stays in Lan Xichen’s room for the night. They have dinner together for the first time in some weeks, the two of them cooking in companionable silence. It’s easy, with Lan Xichen. Lan Wangji feels no pressure to fill the air with inane chatter. When Lan Xichen reaches out a hand, Lan Wangji gives him what he needs without prompting. Utensils and ingredients pass between them fluidly. It’s a familiar routine, and it eases the bands constricting around Lan Wangji’s heart.

At Xichen’s insistence, Lan Wangji takes a vial of medicine to put on his bruises. The salve tingles to the touch, cool against his skin. “Every night until you’ve healed,” Lan Xichen instructs, pushing it back into his hands when Lan Wangji tries to return the remainder. “Promise me.”

“They’re only bruises,” Lan Wangji says.

“Promise me,” Lan Xichen repeats, and Lan Wangji relents.

In the dark, lying on the futon Lan Xichen has laid out for him in his room, Lan Wangji listens to his brother’s even breathing and lets it lull him to a dreamless sleep.

Chapter Text

“I texted Uncle to let him know you wouldn’t be in class today,” Lan Xichen says at breakfast, plating two poached eggs beside lightly sauteed greens. He speaks in their lilting native Gusu dialect, the soothing familial intimacy of it washing over Lan Wangji.

“Why?” Lan Wangji asks, responding in kind.

Lan Xichen looks at him, handing him two bowls of rice. “Spend the morning with me.”

Lan Wangji sets the table. “Dada, I’m fine. I should go to class.” He blinks a little at how easily the endearment comes to him. It feels unexpected on his adult tongue.

“You already know the material, Wangji.”

“Uncle will still mark me off.”

“Are you saying you can’t afford one missed attendance?”

Lan Wangji frowns, setting the plates in front of their places. “Of course I can.”

“Then will you?”

Lan Wangji thinks about it, prods at the concept of a zero blemishing his otherwise perfect record. “I don’t know.”

“You can decide after breakfast,” Lan Xichen says, pouring them two cups of tea. “There’s time yet. I thought it might be nice to play some music together. We haven’t, in a while.”

“Mn,” Lan Wangji says noncommittally, picking up his chopsticks.

They eat in comfortable silence. Lan Xichen’s cooking is traditionally plain, as Lan Wangji likes it. There’s a familiarity to the pale flavors that feels safe. He imagines Wei Wuxian sitting through a meal with them, deprived of his chili oil, and finds himself smiling, just a little.

“What were you thinking of while we were eating?” Lan Xichen asks as they wash the dishes together.

“Nothing, really.”

“You smiled, that’s all.”

“Oh.” Lan Wangji hands him a wet plate to dry. “I thought of something funny.”

“I see,” Lan Xichen says cheerfully, and doesn’t press.

It’s not quite seven by the time they finish. Lan Wangji looks at the threads of sunlight through the window. “Dada, will you take a walk with me?”

“Of course, Wangji,” Lan Xichen says.

They make their way through the winding paths in the mountains behind the Cloud Recesses, taking slow, measured steps in tandem. The leaves have already begun their turning, golds and oranges snaking their way amidst the branches. The air is cool and clear and silent, but for the birds. Lan Xichen doesn’t say anything, doesn’t look at Lan Wangji—he spends his time observing their surroundings with a tranquil curiosity and appreciation. Every once in a while, he’ll pause, gesture for Wangji to look at something or other: a bird’s nest tucked in the fork of a tree, a cluster of drooping ghost flowers—Lan Wangji acknowledges each one with a quiet hum as they continue to move through the rolling landscape.

He feels calmer than he has in weeks. Meditation before breakfast quieted his mind instead of agitating it. For the first time in days, he doesn’t feel the urgent need to punish himself for his real and imagined sins.

Somehow, without him noticing, they approach the narrow crevice between two boulders that leads to the clearing where he saw Wei Wuxian some months ago. It seems longer. Lan Wangji stops.

“Wangji?” Lan Xichen asks. “Is something wrong?”

Lan Wangji slides sideways between the boulders, brushes his hand absently over the sharp edge that no longer carries his blood. Lan Xichen follows.

The clearing looks different in the autumn dawn than the spring morning, heavier, perhaps. Lan Wangji looks out at the grass, still wet with dew.

“I played music with Wei Ying here,” he says abruptly.

“What instrument does Young Master Wei play?” Lan Xichen comes to stand beside him.

“Dizi.”

“Is he any good?” Lan Xichen asks with a hint of amusement in his voice.

“Very.”

“Perhaps we should invite him to some of the Lan music seminars,” Lan Xichen remarks.

“Those are reserved for sect disciples,” Lan Wangji says.

“I know.”

Lan Wangji looks at him sharply. Lan Xichen looks back, mild and unperturbed until Lan Wangji turns away again. “Mn,” he says.

“I brought Liebing,” Lan Xichen says after a minute of silence. “Would you like to play with me here?”

Lan Wangji thinks about it for a long while. Lan Xichen waits patiently.

“Not here,” Lan Wangji says finally. “By the spring, where we used to as children.”

Lan Xichen nods, slipping back out between the boulders.

The spring is close. Lan Wangji pulls out a cloth to wipe down two flat rocks for them to sit, facing the flat mirror-surface of the pool. Lan Xichen nods in thanks, crossing his legs as he summons Liebing with an elegant, two-handed motion. Lan Wangji sits beside him and summons Wangji with a sweep of his sleeve.

Lan Xichen plays the first note, a deep, resonant thing that seems to glide across the waters of the spring. Lan Wangji responds with his own.

Lan Xichen begins, playing a soft cascading melody that gradually resolves into one Lan Wangji recognizes instinctively. Inquiry.

Where are you are hurt?” Lan Xichen asks in the music. There’s no spiritual power behind it. Lan Wangji feels no compulsion to answer, no force pressing the truth out from behind his teeth.

The notes fade. Lan Wangji hesitates, then, before he can think better of it, strums a chord.

Soul.”

It’s too honest, too dramatic. But in music, instead of words, it doesn’t feel so absurd.

How are you hurt?”

I have always been this way.”

May I help you?”

I do not know how.”

May I try?”

You are trying now.”

They play back and forth, a fluid call and response. Lan Xichen never pushes a question that goes unanswered, merely shifts the melody into something new. His eyes are closed as he blows into Liebing, unwavering. He does not look at Lan Wangji.

They play for an hour. Lan Wangji tries to explain himself and his unfathomable rules of existence as Lan Xichen prompts him with melodic strains. He fails, of course, because there isn’t any way to succeed, but the act of attempting to translate his jumbled, racing thoughts into qin language is enough.

It helps.

Lan Xichen lowers Liebing from his lips. “It’s past eight,” he remarks. “Will you spend your morning with me?”

“Mn,” Lan Wangji says.

 

The morning turns into early afternoon, which turns into evening. Lan Wangji emails his other professors to let them know he won’t be in attendance and finds it oddly freeing. He and Lan Xichen don’t speak much to each other. They read silently in the same room for some time. Lan Xichen breaks to finish some of his grading. Lan Wangji goes to make them a fresh pot of tea.

They pass the day in unhurried increments and little tasks. Lan Wangji cooks lunch since Lan Xichen made breakfast. Lan Xichen does a small load of laundry, humming snatches of his current composition. The two of them play several selections from the songs of clarity as the sun sets, harmonizing twin guqin sounds thrumming in the still air.

“How do you feel, Wangji?” Lan Xichen asks before they start dinner.

“Calmer,” Lan Wangji says after a moment of assessment.

“Do you know what to do now?”

He thinks. “I know what I want to do.”

“That’s good,” Lan Xichen says. “When will you try?”

“Tonight,” Lan Wangji says.

“I wish you luck.”

“Dada,” Lan Wangji starts, then pauses.

It’s a long pause, but Lan Xichen waits.

“Thank you,” Lan Wangji says finally, inadequately, switching back to a formal register.

“Wangji, you’re my younger brother. There’s no need,” Lan Xichen says, matching him.

“Thank you,” Lan Wangji insists. “I… missed Brother.”

“I missed Wangji,” Lan Xichen agrees. “Let’s do this again.”

“Weekend.”

Lan Xichen laughs. “Yes, I won’t force you to skip classes again like a delinquent.”

“Wasn’t forced. Chose.”

“Yes, Wangji,” Lan Xichen says. “Chose. You did well.”

 

Lan Wangji returns to the jingshi after dinner feeling strange and light and steady. He changes into the robes he wore the last night he and Wei Wuxian spent together. It’s hard, at first. There’s an instinctive revulsive shame that shivers across his skin, but that’s all it is: a shiver. It passes. When he looks in the mirror, he sees himself and not something monstrous. The robe is only a robe. He is only Lan Wangji.

He rides Bichen to Club Yiling, stepping to the ground lightly by the uncrowded street. Wen Ning sees him approach. His expression perks up, and he waves.

“Second Young Master Lan!” he greets. “You came back!”

“Mn,” Lan Wangji says. “Is… is Wei Ying inside?”

“Young Master Wei is probably busy,” Wen Ning says. “I know he and some of the other dancers were planning to rehearse some new choreography before the show tonight. He’ll be onstage in a couple hours, though! Maybe you’d like to eat dinner in town before coming back?”

“I already ate,” Lan Wangji says. “Thank you. I’ll just go in and wait.”

“Jie was serious last time, you know,” he says earnestly. “Anything you like, on the house. She told me to tell you if you ever came back.”

Lan Wangji starts to refuse, then thinks for a moment. “A… a seat, by the stage?” he asks tentatively.

“Of course!” Wen Ning says. “Here, let me take you.”

“Can you leave your post?” Lan Wangji asks.

“Don’t worry! Almost no one ever shows up before nine,” Wen Ning says. “It’ll be fine.”

“I don’t want to trouble you.”

“It’s no trouble!” Wen Ning insists. “Please, Second Young Master Lan.”

Wen Ning’s sincerity and stuttering kindness is endearing. Lan Wangji follows him.

Club Yiling isn’t empty—there are patrons scattered here and there among the tables, a few already lounging by the stage, drinks in hand. Wen Ning leads him to a seat as far away from any other guests as possible without Lan Wangji asking.

“Please!” he says, pulling out the chair. “I’ll be right back with your water.”

“I—I’ll take tea, actually. If you have it,” Lan Wangji says, pulling out his money pouch.

Wen Ning puts a hand over his before he can start to open it. “On the house,” he reminds Lan Wangji. “Jie said.”

“A tip,” Lan Wangji tries.

“No, thank you,” Wen Ning refuses sunnily. “I’ll bring you some tea.”

He brings an entire tea set on a bamboo tray, actually, the pot and cup made of smooth, ruddy clay. The brew is a strong pu’er that steeps a beautiful rust color.

“It’s from our home,” Wen Ning says absently as he pours Lan Wangji a cup. “My favorite.”

“Qishan?” Lan Wangji asks.

Wen Ning starts, splashing a little. “Oh! Um. I didn’t realize I said that out loud. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make things uncomfortable.”

“It’s not uncomfortable,” Lan Wangji says. “My favorite tea is from my home as well.” He pauses and thinks his words over carefully. “There’s nothing wrong with loving your home.”

Wen Ning looks at him for a long moment. “I hope you and Young Master Wei work things out,” he says finally.

“Thank you,” Lan Wangji says.

Wen Ning bows with a small smile, and walks away to return to his post by the door.

There’s nothing to do but wait. Lan Wangji sips at the tea, which, while not his usual choice, runs pleasantly bitter with a sweet aftertaste. He watches the door at the end of the stage where the dancers enter. It’s almost meditative, the sounds of new patrons coming into the building fading into a murmuring white noise even as the ambient volume increases. People slowly fill the seats around him, bumping his elbows, jostling into his space. Lan Wangji doesn’t spare them a glance, wrestling with the weaker part of himself that urges him to flee, to do this tomorrow.

Lan Wangji does not flee.

By the time the DJ begins warming up the crowd, Lan Wangji has cultivated a small core of steely resolve that he clings to as the lights dim and the audience agitates. Lan Wangji watches the door, heartbeat quickening.

And still, when Wei Wuxian steps out, he finds his carefully nursed tranquility scattered like sand. Lan Wangji’s breath catches at the sight of him, made up, dressed up—armored and dangerous and glinting where the stage lights catch the shine of glitter on his cheeks like stardust. His lipstick is a dark and angry slash across his face, eyes shadowed and hooded, hair tousled. He looks debauched.

Lan Wangji’s lips part without him noticing, and he leans forward, just a little.

Wei Wuxian meets his eyes.

Nothing changes in his expression, but he misses a step in his routine—a tiny mistake. Lan Wangji only recognizes it because it’s the move he taught Wei Wuxian. Wei Wuxian doesn’t look at him again.

There’s nothing really different about this dance—Wei Wuxian still moves with that aggressive confidence that makes Lan Wangji weak in the knees, still smiles and winks and flirts with the crowd—but Lan Wangji wonders if he’s imagining the slight strain in his expression, the unhappy tension in his shoulders. He falls back on analyzing Wei Wuxian’s form. Where Wei Wuxian usually errs with loose enthusiasm, Lan Wangji finds an uncharacteristic rigidity. Lan Wangji wants to pull him out of formation, drag him home and draw it out of him with his own hands. He remembers what Wei Wuxian’s skin looked like in the morning sun and how much he wanted to touch.

The dances follow a certain format: a choreographed group routine to open the set before the performers break off as individuals, drifting between sections of the audience in free improvisation. Wei Wuxian immediately turns his back on Lan Wangji and makes his way to the opposite side of the stage, blowing a kiss to the group of women gathered there. It stings, but then again, Lan Wangji thinks he probably deserves it. He can wait. Lan Wangji sits, back straight. He’ll wait until Club Yiling closes if he has to.

There must be something about his posture and expression that has most of the dancers steering clear of him. He certainly looks distinctly out of place in his formal cultivation robes and tray of tea in a strip club. Perhaps that’s all right. He supposes he was never invisible to begin with.

Something slams hard and loud onto his tray.

Lan Wangji blinks at the cup of alcohol sloshing about in front of him, the sharp smell of it burning in his nose.

“If it isn’t the esteemed Hanguang-jun,” says Jin Zixun, loud and mocking.

Lan Wangji turns to look at him.

“Young Master Jin,” he says frostily. “Su Minshan.”

Su She has the decency to look slightly cowed at his tone, but Jin Zixun only leans more intrusively into his space. “You know, for someone so supposedly righteous, you spend a lot of time making eyes at a stripper.”

Lan Wangji’s skin crawls with a sudden rush of heat and fury. “Is there something unrighteous about that?” he asks evenly.

Jin Zixun barks a laugh, strident enough that several other patrons turn in their direction. “You’ll refuse a drink from LanlingJin because it’s against your clan’s rules, but you’re quick to get on your knees for a whore? Hanguang-jun, Hanguang-jun!” He wags a finger at him. “Isn’t that a little too hypocritical of you?”

“Leave,” Lan Wangji says instead of breaking the finger.

“We’re in public!” Jin Zixun exclaims, voice carrying. “Or are you telling me you’re also the owner of this… respectable establishment?” He snorts, eyes hardening. “Why don’t you take a drink, Lan Zhan,” he says.

The sound of his name in Jin Zixun’s mouth curdles sickeningly in Lan Wangji’s stomach. He can feel himself trembling with an implacable rage that shocks him with its force.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake, you again?” Wei Wuxian demands, squatting down on the stage beside Lan Wangji. Wei Wuxian isn’t looking at him, doesn’t even acknowledge his presence. “Take a fucking hint.” He snatches the cup off of Lan Wangji’s tray, waterfalling it into his open mouth with obnoxious theatricality. “Thanks for the drink, assholes.” He throws the glass at Jin Zixun’s face.

Time slows. Lan Wangji registers the flicker of smug satisfaction across Jin Zixun’s expression as he knocks the cup aside, sees Su She’s eyes narrow as they follow Wei Wuxian’s retreating form and realizes, too late, that something is terribly wrong.

“Wei Ying,” he says, whipping around just in time to see Wei Wuxian’s knees buckle.

Lan Wangji is already on the stage, and Wei Wuxian’s body drops like lead into his arms.

“Shit!” Wei Wuxian gasps. “What the fuck—”

And then he starts screaming.

Pandemonium ripples outwards, everyone turning to look—Lan Wangji moves on autopilot, one hand siphoning spiritual energy into Wei Wuxian’s wrist, the other drawing a sigil in the air from a half-remembered memory, a flash of Wei Wuxian’s delighted, playful laughter in his mind, and flings it blindly in Jin Zixun’s direction.

It works, somehow. A thin, glowing blue thread wraps around Jin Zixun and yanks him backwards towards Lan Wangji.

“What did you put in it?” Lan Wangji shouts. “What did you put in the drink?”

Jin Zixun actually looks a little alarmed at Wei Wuxian’s state. Lan Wangji tries to hold him steady with one arm as he convulses, choking back cries of pain with gritted teeth, fingers clawing at Lan Wangji’s sleeve.

“Nothing, really!” Jin Zixun protests. “It wasn’t supposed to—it was just—”

“What happened?” Wen Qing materializes beside Lan Wangji, hands going straight to Wei Wuxian’s pulse points with clinical efficiency.

“They put something in the drink,” Lan Wangji says. “I don’t know what.” The ground is spiraling away from him. He clings tighter to Wei Wuxian.

Wen Qing’s eyes widen as she examines Wei Wuxian. “Oh,” she says softly.

“What?” Lan Wangji asks.

“Whatever you do, don’t stop that,” she says, gesturing at the energy transfer. She gets to her feet and marches over to where Jin Zixun is still held fast. “Where did you find the recipe for it?” she asks, terrifyingly cold.

“I didn’t—”

He’s lifted off the ground with a surprised yelp. Wen Ning holds him by the back of the neck with one hand, his sweet features white with rage. It looks effortless.

“Tell her,” he growls. Lan Wangji hears Jin Zixun’s teeth clack when Wen Ning gives him a threatening shake.

“We found it in a book!” Su She blurts out. Both Wen Ning and Wen Qing look to him in tandem. He shrivels a little under their combined stares. “It was just—it was just supposed to weaken—there was nothing about something like this—we didn’t mean—”

Wen Ning drops Jin Zixun unceremoniously to the floor and steps towards Su She, who tries to scramble backwards out of reach.

“What book?” Wen Qing asks. “Do you still have it?”

“I—I have it,” he says, nodding quickly. “Back on campus.”

“Bring it to me,” she says. “A’Ning, go with him.”

“Yes, Jie,” he says, and drags Su She out the door.

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian gasps.

“I’m here,” Lan Wangji says immediately, a hand going to Wei Wuxian’s forehead. It’s already hot to the touch. “Wei Ying, I’m here. What hurts?”

Wei Wuxian laughs shakily between broken moans of pain. “Uh,” he manages. “Everything? Ah! Fuck.”

Lan Wangji places a hand over his bare chest, pulses a flash of energy into him as a diagnostic. His eyes narrow. That can’t be right. He does it again.

“L-Lan Zhan.” Wei Wuxian breathes heavily for a few moments. “What—what are you doing.”

“Just trying to see what’s wrong.”

Wei Wuxian laughs again, jagged around the edges. “Oh, I can tell you that. Ugh. Fuck. Fuck. I can feel it—I can feel—”

“It’s his core,” Wen Qing says, crouching down beside them again. The other dancers are running crowd control, shepherding the patrons to the door, soothing ruffled feathers and fielding worried questions. Somehow, Wen Qing seems to have severed the link between Lan Wangji and Jin Zixun, tying off the end to one of the poles on the stage instead. He sits, shaken, in one of the vacated seats. Wen Qing takes two fingers and runs them in a line from the hollow of Wei Wuxian’s throat to his navel and grimaces. “Shit.”

“Oh no, Doctor Wen Qing, is it bad~?” Wei Wuxian asks with a joking lilt, though the effect is ruined somewhat by the little sob that latches onto the end of the sentence, the delirious tinge to the question. Lan Wangji pulls him closer, tangles his fingers into Wei Wuxian’s hair. He thinks he’s going to cry.

“Wei Wuxian,” Wen Qing says calmly. “When this is over, I’m going to kill you myself.”

“So cruel,” Wei Wuxian murmurs. “I thought we were friends. Wow, fuck, I’m really dizzy.”

Wen Qing slaps him across the face. “Don’t pass out,” she snaps. “It’ll be that much harder to keep your core stabilized.”

“Wen Qing, it hurts,” he whispers. His whole body is hot. Lan Wangji can feel the heat radiating off of him.

“I know.”

“How much harder?” Lan Wangji hears himself ask.

“What?” Wen Qing looks at him.

“How much harder to keep the core stabilized?” He can feel it now, the way the warmth of it is dissolving around the edges even as his stream of energy makes up for the loss.

Wen Qing frowns, places her fingers on his wrist. “About twice what you’re giving now, by my estimate.”

“Fine,” Lan Wangji says desperately. “Let him sleep.”

Can you keep that up?” she asks, jerking her head at his hand. “Twice that?”

Lan Wangji nods resolutely.

She looks skeptical. “Look, not to cast aspersions on your ability, but—”

“He can do it,” Wei Wuxian gasps out. “Wen Qing, if he says he can do it, he can do it.”

“I’m not playing games with your core, Wei Wuxian,” she snarls.

“It’s my core,” Wei Wuxian points out, petulant to the end. “That’s not the point though. I’m a man, I’ll stay awake. I just don’t want you to doubt Lan Zhan.” A hint of mischief creeps into his voice, drunk on pain and fever. “But you know, my Lan-er-gege is very strong, Wen Qing, and not just spiritually—”

Wen Qing knocks him out with two precise hits to the temple and neck. He slumps limp into Lan Wangji’s arms. His core immediately starts to shiver apart. Lan Wangji adjusts the energy transfer accordingly, assisted by Wen Qing, until it holds steady again. His ears are burning.

“He really doesn’t know when to fucking quit,” she snorts, but it comes out fond. “I’m going to withdraw now. Can you hold it?”

“Mn,” Lan Wangji nods. She pulls her energy back slowly so Lan Wangji can reacclimate.

“The second you have doubts, you wake him up, understand?” she says, fixing him with a glare.

Lan Wangji nods again. “Of course.”

“I had one of the other performers call an ambulance. It should be here any minute.” She peers at him, softening a little. “Don’t take his teasing to heart. He’s not very good at learning his lesson.”

“It’s okay,” Lan Wangji says quietly, carding his fingers through the tangle of Wei Wuxian’s hair. “I—I didn’t mind.”

“Hm.” She looks at him for another beat, then pulls out her phone, fingers flying over the screen. “I’m texting A’Ning to meet us at the hospital. Do you have a contact for LanlingJin? We need to get someone to deal with him.” She indicates Jin Zixun.

“Try my brother,” Lan Wangji says, unlocking his own phone and handing it to her. “Under emergency contacts. He—he’ll know what to do.” She nods, but before she can call, he continues. “Miss Wen—”

“Yes?” she asks after a moment.

“You know—you know what this is.” It isn’t really a question.

Her expression shifts into something weary. “I do. It’s a poison invented by a member of our sect,” she says. “Rare.”

“Can it be stopped?” Lan Wangji whispers.

“I don’t know.” Wen Qing cocks her head at him. “No one’s ever tried.” Her mouth twists a little wry. “Developing an antidote was never a, ah, priority.”

Lan Wangji tightens his arms protectively around Wei Wuxian. “We have good doctors here,” he says.

“Not as good as me,” she says, and calls Lan Xichen.

Chapter Text

All of Wei Wuxian’s coworkers come by in the interminable minutes that pass as they wait for the ambulance arrive, offering water, food, comfort. None of them are cultivators and so have no spiritual energy to offer, but they’re earnest and worried and Lan Wangji appreciates them all the same. Wen Qing’s conversation with his brother has dragged on, and she’s taken the phone into another room for privacy.

A man with the most intense eye makeup Lan Wangji has ever seen offers to massage his shoulders, which he politely declines. “How about cushion to sit on?” he asks. “We have some in the greenroom.”

“No, thank you,” Lan Wangji says. “I’m all right. I’m used to it.”

“Used to kneeling on the ground with your unconscious friend in your lap?” he asks, raising an eyebrow.

“Used to discomfort,” Lan Wangji clarifies.

He clicks his tongue. “That’s no reason to seek it out. I’ll be back.”

“The ambulance will be here soon,” Lan Wangji says fruitlessly.

A woman smiles at him from where she’s sitting close by. “Just let him. We’re all useless right now. It’s something to do. You understand, right?”

Lan Wangji does. He sits on the cushion graciously when it’s brought to him, nodding his thanks. Everyone seems surprisingly more grounded than Lan Wangji expected. Their worry is for Lan Wangji’s well-being, for Wei Wuxian’s physical comfort. Lan Wangji himself feels a distinct separation of himself from the situation—if he stayed fully present, he would panic, he’s sure, and panic will do no one any favors, least of all Wei Wuxian. If Lan Wangji’s concentration falters, Wei Wuxian could lose his core permanently, and it doesn’t bear thinking about.

So Lan Wangji doesn’t. He lets the strange certainty that the other performers carry carry him. That everything will be all right. Their unwavering confidence in Wen Qing’s ability, their innocent faith that Wei Wuxian will pull through because he always does. There’s a history there, and Lan Wangji wonders, not for the first time, who Wei Wuxian is to these people, how he came to be here.

A door in the back of the building bursts open and everyone looks up at the exasperated cry of dismay echoing through the room.

“A’Yuan! Get back here!” And then a tiny toddler is scrambling up onto the stage, plastering himself against Lan Wangji.

“Xian-gege!!” he exclaims. “What happened to Xian-gege?”

Lan Wangji is at a loss.

“A’Yuan!” An older woman comes hobbling out of the back room with the determined speed of a grandmother on high alert. “A’Yuan, come back!”

“I want Xian-gege!” the child insists, tugging and pushing at Lan Wangji’s arm. There’s a worrying wobble to his voice. “Xian-gege promised—

Lan Wangji reaches out a hand to steady Wei Wuxian’s body to prevent the jostling from rolling him onto the ground.

“A’Yuan,” one of the performers says gently. “What did Xian-gege promise?”

“Promised!”

“Promised what?”

A’Yuan makes a wordless whining complaint.

“Did he promise to play after his dance?” the man with the beautiful makeup prompts.

A’Yuan nods vigorously. “What happened?” he demands. The man hesitates.

“An accident,” Lan Wangji hears himself say. “I’m sorry.”

A’Yuan stops tugging at his arm, turning round, curious eyes on him. “Accident?”

“Xian-ge—Wei Ying is hurt. I’m sorry. He can’t play.” Lan Wangji fumbles around his curt sentences—is this how one speaks to a child? He has no idea. It occurs to him that perhaps most people would try to lie, to say Wei Wuxian fell asleep or something equally implausible. He’s been informed before that just because he would never have bought such a lie as a child doesn’t mean most children wouldn’t. But of course, it’s too late. Lying is forbidden, after all.

“Why is this gege sorry?” A’Yuan asks, scrunching up his nose. “Xian-gege told me no one has to be sorry about accidents.”

“Some accidents are more serious than others,” Lan Wangji says. Is calling it an accident lying? The degree was an accident, certainly. It must have been. He turns it over in his head. Should he have specified?

As Lan Wangji ponders this question without an answer, the old woman finally catches up to the stage, puffing for breath.

“Young Master, I’m so sorry,” she says to Lan Wangji with a small bow. “A’Yuan! Please, listen to Popo, won’t you?”

“I want to stay!” A’Yuan insists.

“A’Yuan, Young Master Wei can’t play with you tonight. Let’s go home, and I’ll play with you instead, all right?” she tries.

“Xian-gege is hurt!” A’Yuan declares. “A’Yuan will help!” He reaches a chubby hand out to where Lan Wangji’s hand is still feeding a steady stream of spiritual energy into Wei Wuxian’s wrist. Lan Wangji’s other hand shoots out instinctively to stop him.

“Don’t,” he says. It comes out thready and afraid. He steadies his breath. “It’s dangerous,” he explains as A’Yuan cocks his head at him. “If you disturb the flow, something… something bad will happen.”

“But A’Yuan knows how to do it,” he insists, pointing at the transfer. “Xian-gege showed me how.”

“Showed you how to give away your spiritual energy?” Wei Wuxian taught a toddler how to do that? Lan Wangji wonders if he should be more annoyed or impressed. Energy transfer is a subject usually reserved for older students. Traditionally, children are taught an emphasis on self-awareness and cultivation before they’re deemed ready to be giving any of their energy away. Energy transfer isn’t easy, especially for someone who hasn’t yet developed a core.

“Mm!” A’Yuan affirms, nodding solemnly.

Lan Wangji looks at his determined little face, the stubborn set of his chin and sees the shape of Wei Wuxian in his fiery expression. “Give it to me then,” Lan Wangji says, releasing him. He holds his palm up for A’Yuan. “Give it to me, and I’ll give it to him. It won’t be dangerous that way.”

A’Yuan nods again, very seriously, then places both hands into Lan Wangji’s waiting palm. They’re small, sticky in the way children’s hands always seem to be. Lan Wangji could make a fist around them both. A’Yuan’s brow furrows in concentration, and Lan Wangji feels a little jolt of energy come rushing into his arm. It’s childishly exuberant, unrefined, misdirected, but so very fierce in its intent. Lan Wangji captures the tiny flare of it, spins it into something usable, and adds it to his own energy flow.

“Thank you,” Lan Wangji says, inclining his head. “Much obliged.”

“Does Gege want more?” A’Yuan worries. “A’Yuan can give more!”

“No need,” Lan Wangji says. “You’ve done well.”

The door to the office slams as Wen Qing comes out, Lan Wangji’s phone in hand. She stops short when she sees A’Yuan.

“A’Yuan!” she scolds. “I told you to stay in the greenroom!”

“Xian-gege is hurt,” he informs her. “I was helping!”

“Helping?” she says incredulously.

“Mn,” Lan Wangji says in his defense, because he feels like he ought to. “He was helping.”

“See! Gege said so!”

“I’m so sorry, Miss Wen,” the old woman sighs. “He got away from me again. I’ll take him home.”

Wen Qing scoops A’Yuan up into her arms. “A’Yuan, did you hear that? Go home with Popo for the night. It’s almost your bedtime.”

“Play?” he asks.

“Next time, all right?”

“Oh.”

“Here, I can go back and play with him for a bit,” one of the performers says. “I’ve got a free night.”

“Are you sure?” Wen Qing says with a frown. “It’s really all right.”

“I’m sure,” she says, standing and dusting herself off. “It’s the least I can do. Give Popo a break.”

“We’ll work out a babysitting fee later,” Wen Qing promises, but she waves it off.

“Miss Wen. Consider it a favor. It’s no hardship, you know I like A’Yuan.” She winks at him, and A’Yuan giggles, winking back with both eyes. There’s a flurry of conversation as they discuss logistics, Wen Qing handing A’Yuan over to the dancer as Popo goes back into the greenroom to fetch their jackets.

“Bye-bye, Gege!” A’Yuan calls as he’s being spirited out the door. “Come back soon!” He waves.

Lan Wangji nods and raises his free hand in acknowledgement. There’s still the ghost of a tingle in his palm.

 

By the time the ambulance arrives, Jin Guangyao has already come and gone to escort Jin Zixun off somewhere, presumably to some kind of disciplinary hearing. Lan Wangji is more hollow than angry as he watches them leave. Jin Guangyao doesn’t even undo the leash still glowing bright against Jin Zixun’s wrist, just holds the free end in his hand. It paints a humiliating picture. Lan Wangji can’t say he isn’t a little satisfied, but it’s the definition of a pyrrhic victory.

The ride to the hospital is surprisingly tranquil, despite the blaring sirens. The techs are efficient and careful, taking vitals and hooking up an IV without disrupting Lan Wangji’s work. Wen Qing rides with them, explaining the situation, her credentials. The discussion of the medical technicalities flies over Lan Wangji’s head for the most part, and he lets the words wash over him and fade into a blurry hum. He’s tiring a little—he feels the fatigue creeping into the edges of his consciousness and redoubles his efforts.

By the time they settle Wei Wuxian into a ward, Lan Wangji can feel himself starting to shake. He sits by the bed, settles himself into the trance-space he’s carved out for himself through years of meditation, and holds Wei Wuxian’s core together. He gives it another half-hour, perhaps, before he’ll be forced to wake him again. He loathes the idea, breathes through it, tries not to imagine Wei Wuxian’s broken screams.

The door to the room bursts open with a violent bang. Lan Wangji looks up to see Jiang Wanyin barreling towards them, expression ugly with unrestrained rage.

“What the fuck?!” he shouts. “How the fuck did you let this happen, what the fuck do you have to say for yourself?”

“Please lower your voice,” Lan Wangji says hoarsely.

“I will not fucking lower my—”

“A’Cheng.” Jiang Yanli closes the door behind her, face pale and drawn. “Enough.”

“Jie!” Jiang Cheng whirls around. “Jie, look at him!” There’s a ringing desperate terror to it that reminds Lan Wangji of himself, six years old and running to his brother with night terrors. His throat tightens.

“I’m looking,” she says softly. “Second Young Master Lan, you must be tired. Let us.”

“I—” Lan Wangji hesitates. It isn’t arrogance that gives him pause—he knows his own abilities better than anyone, knows his limits. But he also knows exactly how much energy is required, and he— “Miss Jiang,” he says carefully. “Keeping his core stable requires a lot of energy. I—”

“I hope you’re not about to talk shit about my jie’s cultivation level,” Jiang Wanyin interrupts dangerously.

“A’Cheng,” Jiang Yanli says, a little sharper.

“I should do it,” Lan Wangji says.

“Second Young Master Lan,” Jiang Yanli says, turning that sharp edge on him. “A’Xian is our brother. Will you deny us the right to help him?”

“If I believe you could fail, I must,” Lan Wangji says, because it’s true.

Jiang Yanli takes Wei Wuxian’s other wrist in her own and begins channeling despite Jiang Wanyin’s vicious little scoff. “Then let us prove that we won’t.”

“Jie, we have nothing to prove to him,” Jiang Wanyin snaps. His eyes burn through Lan Wangji. “This is your fucking fault. They were coming for you, and he—!”

“It was never meant for me,” Lan Wangji says quietly, miserably, because he’s had time enough to come to that conclusion.

“A’Cheng, come sit,” Jiang Yanli says. “Help me. I can’t do it on my own, you know that.”

Jiang Wanyin drags up a chair, the metal legs chattering across the tile floor harshly, and slams himself into it, but the hand that reaches to support Wei Wuxian’s wrist along with his sister’s trembles with a frightened tenderness.

Lan Wangji feels their energy envelop Wei Wuxian’s core like a rushing wave, a stunning contrast against his own. They are warmth and motion to his cool stillness. It feels—it’s a kind of love Lan Wangji is unaccustomed to experiencing, the kind that bowls a person over with its ferocity. It is more than enough.

Lan Wangji withdraws slowly, allowing them to take his place. Immediately, there’s a bone-deep ache that settles into him, a light-headedness that swoops through his stomach and sends him slumping in his chair.

“You’ve worked hard,” Jiang Yanli says.

Jiang Wanyin says nothing, but the violet stream of energy flowing from his fingertips crackles its distaste.

There’s a gentle knock at the door before it opens, and Lan Xichen enters cautiously. “Wangji,” he says, the name a question.

“Brother,” Lan Wangji says, standing to greet him with a struggle.

“Can we speak outside?” Lan Xichen asks.

Lan Wangji glances at Wei Wuxian’s unconscious form involuntarily.

“We’ve got it,” Jiang Wanyin says stonily. “Get out.”

Lan Xichen’s mouth twitches slightly with concern, but he holds out a hand for Lan Wangji, escorts him out.

“What is it, Brother?” Lan Wangji asks, though he can guess.

“Wangji, are you okay?” Lan Xichen asks in Gusu dialect.

“No,” Lan Wangji replies honestly, slipping into the language in exhaustion.

Lan Xichen nods. “Shall we sit?” He gestures to a few empty chairs in the hallway.

“Mn,” Lan Wangji agrees gratefully. His knees are weak. They sit in adjacent chairs for a moment, saying nothing.

“Wangji, A’Yao is going to need a statement from you about what happened,” Lan Xichen says. “I will as well. We can do it at the same time, if that’s more convenient.”

“I can write one if you bring me paper,” Lan Wangji says.

“You’re planning to stay.” This is not a question. “Wangji—”

“Dada, I have to,” he says. “I have to.”

“Wangji, there are many skilled cultivators among the doctors here,” Lan Xichen points out. “It doesn’t have to be you. Young Master Wei also has others who love him. I’m sure there will be no shortage of people willing to share the burden.”

“Wei Ying is not a burden,” Lan Wangji says, fingers tightening against his robes.

“I know, Wangji,” Lan Xichen acknowledges patiently. “But the situation is.”

“My fault. My burden.”

“Wangji, you know it wasn’t your fault.” There’s a rare edge to Lan Xichen’s tone, one that brooks no argument. “You know.”

After a moment, Lan Wangji nods. “Mn.”

“As long as you know.”

“I won’t leave. I’ll be well enough to resume in an hour or two.”

“I’ll bring you something to eat.”

“No need. Dada has his own matters.”

“Wangji is one of those matters,” Lan Xichen says. “I will bring you something.”

“Send someone.”

“I will bring you something,” Lan Xichen repeats firmly. “Rest.”

“I will stay in the room in case they tire,” Lan Wangji says, standing.

Lan Xichen sighs, but stands as well. “As you like,” he says. “Take care of yourself. You can always call me.”

“I know.”

“Miss Wen has my contact. She promised to keep me informed.”

“She’s been given access to the tools she needs?”

Lan Xichen nods. “Su Minshan arrived with her brother and the book. She’s going over it right now.”

The mention of Su She sours in Lan Wangji’s mouth. “And what will happen to Su Minshan?” he asks.

Lan Xichen looks him over carefully. “We will see.”

 

Lan Wangji returns to Wei Wuxian’s room and posts up in a corner, perched awkwardly on an uncomfortable chair as he meditates and recuperates his energy. The Jiang siblings say nothing to him, though Yanli acknowledges him with the slightest of nods. So even Jiang Yanli has her limits of courtesy.

Lan Wangji makes himself small and unobtrusive as well as he is able while still maintaining a good form.

Time passes. Lan Wangji is unsure how much.

“Second Young Master Lan.” Jiang Yanli’s voice is terse with effort and cuts through his concentration. “I’m afraid we’ll have to trouble you again.”

Lan Wangji opens his eyes and stands in one smooth motion, his knees creaking and stiff. He resumes his place on Wei Wuxian’s other side and begins siphoning energy. Jiang Yanli and Jiang Wanyin withdraw. Jiang Yanli blows out a sigh. “Apologies,” she murmurs. “It’s barely been a few hours.”

“It’s no small thing,” Lan Wangji says. It isn’t. He’s replenished his energy, but he can tell it’s draining faster this time around. He’s unsure how sustainable the pace is. Eventually, they’re going to have to find others to help. What time is it? He pulls out his phone. Past three in the morning. It explains the hollow nausea taking root. No matter, he thinks.

“Has a doctor come by?” he asks.

Jiang Yanli shakes her head. “A’Xian is physically stable. We can call a cultivator to relieve you in a moment, though. I just didn’t think I could hold on any longer.”

“No need,” Lan Wangji says. “I can maintain this for a little while.”

Jian Yanli frowns, but doesn’t protest. “All right. The call button is the red one on your side. If you feel like you’ll need help soon, that will bring a cultivator here.” She rubs her eyes wearily. “I’m going to get us something to eat. A’Cheng, would you like to come?”

Jiang Wanyin shakes his head. “You go ahead.”

Jian Yanli fixes him with a look, and the two of them proceed to have an entire silent conversation of increasingly pointed expressions before Jiang Yanli finally seems satisfied and nods. “Then, I’ll take my leave for now. Second Young Master Lan, do you have any dietary restrictions?”

“No need,” Lan Wangji tries. “My brother will come.”

“I insist.”

Lan Wangji opens his mouth to refuse again, but Jiang Wanyin cuts him off. “For heaven’s sake, stop playing the martyr,” he snaps. “If you have a chance to eat my jie’s cooking, you’d be a fool not to take it.”

“A’Cheng.”

“What.”

“Behave, won’t you?”

“I’m looking out for him, aren’t I?” he growls.

“Thank you,” Lan Wangji says. “I do not have any restrictions, except alcohol. I’m sorry for the trouble.”

Jiang Yanli smiles slightly. “It’s hardly trouble. It’s where my strengths really lie anyways. I’ll be back soon.”

The moment the door clicks behind her, Jiang Wanyin sighs and takes up Wei Wuxian’s other wrist again.

“What are you doing?” Lan Wangji asks.

“I have more stamina than my jie,” he admits angrily. He does most things angrily, really. “I didn’t need to stop yet. There’s no sense in you wearing yourself to bones.” The heat of his energy pulses through Wei Wuxian’s meridians, bumps up against Lan Wangji’s and asserts itself. Lan Wangji pulls back gracefully until they share the burden equally. Jiang Wanyin’s energy prickles where it meets Lan Wangji’s, like he can’t quite help lashing out just a bit. Lan Wangji understands.

“So,” Jiang Wanyin says after several minutes of silence. “Did you work it out.”

Lan Wangji cocks his head at him.

“Did you two work it out,” he enunciates, looking anywhere but Lan Wangji’s face.

“It happened before we had a chance to speak,” Lan Wangji says.

“Fuck,” Jiang Wanyin curses.

“I’m sorry,” Lan Wangji adds.

“Stop.” Lan Wangji can almost hear him grinding his teeth. “Stop. Stop fucking. Stop apologizing.”

“I’ve wronged you—”

“You haven’t fucking—for—” Jiang Wanyin splutters. “You haven’t wronged me, you stupid fuck.”

“You’re very angry.”

“Of course I’m fucking angry! But I don’t want you to apologize to me.” Jiang Wanyin says this whilst glowering intensely at Wei Wuxian’s hand. “So stop.”

Lan Wangji thinks, perhaps, that this is Jiang Wanyin’s very brittle attempt at a truce. “Mn,” he agrees.

It’s past four by the time the door opens again. Lan Wangji and Jiang Wanyin both look up to see a timid Wen Ning slipping in, closing the door softly behind him. He stops short when he sees Jiang Wanyin.

“Ah,” he says. “Young Master Jiang.”

“What are you doing here?” Jiang Wanyin says rudely. Lan Wangji feels his energy spike, just slightly.

Wen Ning holds up a little black bag, covered in powdery stains. “I—uh, I came to—I didn’t know what I could do to help. So I brought Young Master Wei’s makeup bag. I thought I could—um, clean his face. It’s not good for him to leave all of it on for so long.”

Lan Wangji wordlessly shifts his seat over a little to make room for Wen Ning on his side of the bed. Jiang Wanyin doesn’t say anything else, so Wen Ning accepts the invitation, picking up another chair one-handed and setting it down carefully beside Lan Wangji. He opens the makeup bag, rummaging through the clacking bottles and brushes until he finds a wrinkled pack of face wipes. He reaches over to cup Wei Wuxian’s face and turn it towards himself.

Jiang Wanyin stands up abruptly. “Second Young Master Lan,” he says stiffly. “Can you handle it alone for a little while?

Lan Wangji nods. Jiang Wanyin pulls away and stalks out, shutting the door just a little harder than necessary. Wen Ning winces.

“History?” Lan Wangji asks.

Wen Ning nods. “It’s a long story. I won’t tell it now.” He pulls out a wipe and begins cleaning the makeup from Wei Wuxian’s face in gentle swipes. The foundation, the contouring, the glitter, the eyeliner—it comes off like varnish being stripped off an old oil painting. It takes Wen Ning a few passes. Wei Wuxian’s face, naked and young in sleep, reveals itself under his fingers.

Lan Wangji watches.

It’s impossible to miss the way Wen Ning’s eyes go soft, the way his knuckles brush against Wei Wuxian’s cheekbones, how his hands linger on his skin. He trails his fingertips across Wei Wuxian’s forehead, brushes errant strands of hair away from his face, and Lan Wangji knows.

“You don’t have to worry,” Wen Ning says without looking up.

“Worry?” Lan Wangji repeats.

“Young Master Wei doesn’t feel that way about me.”

Lan Wangji’s heart startles. It feels like a bird, ready to flee at the slightest approach.

Wen Ning packs up the wipes, setting the bag on his lap. He folds the used ones neatly and puts them in his sleeve. “It’s obvious, isn’t it?” He smiles at Lan Wangji. “Jie tells me it is.”

Is that what I look like? Lan Wangji wants to ask. “Not obvious,” he says instead.

But Second Young Master Lan sees it?”

After a moment, Lan Wangji nods. “I see it.”

“Good,” Wen Ning says without bitterness. “I’m glad. It means you care.”

“Are you…all right?” Lan Wangji asks.

“Oh, yes!” Wen Ning says quickly. “Yes, I’m all right. I know. I’ve always known I’m not—that kind of person for Young Master Wei. I’m happy enough with this.”

“And what is this?” Lan Wangji asks quietly.

Wen Ning shrugs. “What you see.”

 

Jiang Wanyin returns mere seconds after Wen Ning leaves, which leads Lan Wangji to believe that he’d spent the entire time prowling back and forth just outside the door. Or perhaps leaning moodily against the wall. He takes up his position by Wei Wuxian’s side without a word.

They go on like this, taking intermittent breaks. Jiang Wanyin is strong enough to hold Wei Wuxian’s core by himself for short periods of time, allowing Lan Wangji to recuperate in fits and starts. They trade back and forth. It feels interminable.

Lan Xichen returns with Jiang Yanli not long afterwards, bearing packed bowls and boxes of food.

“Brother,” Lan Wangji says. “You’re still awake.”

“I ran into Miss Jiang on our way back,” Lan Xichen explains. “Why don’t we all have an early breakfast together?”

“Who will take care of Wei Ying?” Lan Wangji asks.

“I will,” Lan Xichen says. “Rest, Wangji. You too, Young Master Jiang. You both must be very hungry.”

“We can call someone from the hospital instead,” Jiang Yanli suggests. “So that Sect Leader Lan can eat with us.”

Lan Xichen demurs with a single raised hand and a slight smile. “Please, don’t worry about me. It would be my honor to help your brother. We’ll take turns.”

Lan Wangji doesn’t know if the Jiangs notice the fatigue in Lan Xichen’s eyes, the slight muzziness in his voice that betrays the toll his sleepless night has taken. Lan Xichen sets his bag of food on a table and sits in Wen Ning’s vacated seat. “I brought you paper as well,” Lan Xichen says, taking Wei Wuxian’s wrist from Lan Wangji carefully, slowly replacing Lan Wangji and Jiang Wanyin’s energy with his own. “But there’s no rush.”

“Thank you,” Lan Wangji says. He isn’t sure he could string together three coherent sentences, much less an excoriating statement on the current situation.

Jiang Wanyin shakes out his hand, stretching his wrist briefly. Jiang Yanli pats him absently on the head and starts unpacking the food.

“Is it really okay to just set out a meal like this in the hospital?” Jiang Wanyin asks with a touch of irony. “Doesn’t that seem like it should be against the rules or something?”

“I asked Miss Wen when I passed her on the way in,” Jiang Yanli says. “She said it was fine.”

“You saw her?” Lan Wangji asks.

“She didn’t say anything about A’Xian,” Jiang Yanli says. “I didn’t ask. I expect she’s working as hard as she can.”

“Where’s Jin Zixuan in all of this?” Jiang Cheng asks, handing Lan Wangji a pair of chopsticks. Lan Wangji takes them automatically, a little surprised, a little grateful at the gesture.

Jiang Yanli sighs. “He’s… still with Lianfang-zun.” Her lips purse minutely. “They’ve been discussing what to do all night. It’s been… difficult. Sect Leader Jin is… well.” She doesn’t say more, but the twitch of her eyebrows is very telling.

“A fucking bastard,” Jiang Wanyin says bluntly. “We all know it.” His shoulders hunch up slightly as he shoots a guilty look at Lan Xichen, who coughs politely and looks the other way. Still, there’s the grim edge of a smile there. Lan Wangji sees it because Lan Wangji is looking for it.

They lay out all the dishes, Jiang Yanli heating the food with a quick flicker of spiritual energy. Lan Wangji finds that his brother has brought him a simple watercress dish, lightly seasoned with a mild sauce. It’s one of his favorites.

Jiang Yanli has brought not only a delicious lotus root and pork rib soup, but also several small spicy side dishes and a bowl of fresh lotus seeds for dessert. The Jiangs eat without reserve. There’s a casual atmosphere to the way they approach the meal that Lan Wangji finds both intimidating and comforting in equal measure. He sees Wei Wuxian reflected in the easy way they move.

“It’s all very good,” he says to Jiang Yanli. “Thank you.”

“Oh, you like it?” she says. “I’m so glad. Sect Leader Lan, did you make this?” She gestures to the watercress.

Lan Xichen nods. “I did. I’m sure it pales in comparison to Miss Jiang’s cooking.”

“No, it’s lovely!”

Lan Wangji and Jiang Wanyin eat quietly as their more sociable siblings enliven the silence with amiable chatter, discussing different cooking styles and trading sincere compliments and advice. Lan Wangji wonders a little if Jiang Wanyin ever feels the way he does, awkward and unfriendly beside their older siblings who seem to make friends so effortlessly. Where Lan Wangji is cold and taciturn, Jiang Wanyin is stiff and stubborn. The youngest siblings, the strangest siblings.

Still. Jiang Yanli peels lotus pods and places them in small heaps on Jiang Wanyin’s plate, teases crooked smiles out of him with her cajoling. Lan Xichen has always seen Wangji, even when no one else has. He’s here now after a sleepless night, holding the boy Lan Wangji loves together. It all means something. Being the strangest isn’t so bad.

Lan Wangji finishes eating first, packing away his utensils and dishes before he switches places with Lan Xichen. Jiang Yanli joins him after a few minutes, adding her small thread of energy to his own. Lan Xichen draws Jiang Wanyin into conversation as he begins eating. Jiang Wanyin awkwardly offers him a peeled lotus pod from his plate, which Lan Xichen accepts with thanks.

“You know, I’ve never had fresh lotus pods before,” he comments just as the door opens.

Everyone looks up at Wen Qing, who stands there, haggard and determined. Wen Ning hovers behind her, equal parts concerned and excited.

“So,” she says wryly. “Good news or bad news first?”

Chapter Text

“Bad news,” Jiang Wanyin says after a beat. He says it like he says everything—sharp, chased with anxiety.

“The damage is irreversible,” Wen Qing says bluntly. Lan Wangji feels horribly cold.

Jiang Yanli’s eyes widen with the beginnings of devastation, lips parted. Wen Qing holds up a hand.

“There’s still good news,” she says with a faint smile. “I think we can save his core.”

Jiang Wanyin and Jiang Yanli gasp out twin sighs of shocked relief. Lan Wangji’s heart starts beating again.

“You really don’t pull punches, do you, Miss Wen?” Jiang Wanyin snipes.

“You asked for the bad news first,” she shoots back.

She approaches their little gathering, Wen Ning darting over to draw up a chair for her. She settles into it with a tired grace. Jiang Yanli pushes over a plate of uneaten lotus pods. Wen Qing nods her thanks and begins peeling one.

“The poison targets the core’s ability to hold itself stable,” she explains. “Without that, the core scatters and dissolves. What you all have been doing is holding it temporarily in stasis with a constant stream of energy. We need to build a permanent scaffold that we can transplant around his core. If we do it right, it’ll bond with what’s left and replace what was lost.”

“How do we do something like that?” Jiang Yanli asks.

“We don’t. I do,” Wen Qing says. “But it’ll take a lot of energy. I ran some theoretical calculations on it, and I’m going to need several cultivators’ worth of daily reserves to build it.”

“So we’ll give you energy, and you’ll build the scaffold?” Jiang Yanli says.

Wen Qing nods, eating the lotus pod. “Sooner the better,” she says after she swallows. “But I’m sending all of us home to rest first. It’s not something I want to attempt on no sleep.” She smiles crookedly. “I don’t particularly want to fail.”

“Are we enough?” Jiang Yanli asks, looking around at the group.

Wen Qing frowns. “Perhaps. I’m not familiar with your cultivation levels, but it’s possible. At least two more would be ideal.”

“I suppose we can always ask the hospital staff,” Jiang Yanli says hesitantly.

“We can,” Wen Qing agrees. “But it would be better if it were from people he cares about, or people who care about him. I suspect he’ll always feel the difference between his own energy and the transplant. It will be easier to adjust if he’s familiar with the donors.”

Jiang Yanli nods very seriously. “I’ll find some.”

Wen Qing sets an appointment for the next morning, sternly mandating a good night’s rest and at least one solid meal for everyone in the room. Lan Xichen calls one of the hospital staff cultivators, explaining the situation and drafting a rotation schedule for Wei Wuxian’s care for the next twenty-four hours. Lan Wangji pulls away as the cultivator replaces him, feeling a slight pang of—something as he watches this stranger take his and Jiang Yanli’s place. He has no doubt that the man will do good work—the hospital is famous for its stringent standards—but Lan Wangji still feels just the slightest bit bereft.

Lan Xichen places an arm around his shoulders, slowly so as not to startle him. Lan Wangji lets him.

“Come back to my place,” Lan Xichen says.

“Mn,” Lan Wangji agrees, and lets himself be led away.

 

Lan Wangji tries to let Lan Xichen take a shower first when they return, but Lan Xichen firmly refuses, shooing him into the bathroom with an armful of clean clothes and shutting the door pointedly behind him. Lan Wangji feels a little better afterwards, emerging with his hair loose and a towel draped around his shoulders to the smell of fresh chrysanthemum tea. Lan Xichen looks up from where he’s going through a stack of essays.

“Brother,” Lan Wangji says. “I’m finished.”

“Wonderful.” Lan Xichen takes his glasses off and sets them aside. “I’ve left the tea out for you. Don’t wait for me to take a rest. The futon is still set up in my room.”

“Thank you,” Lan Wangji says, settling himself at the table. He hears the shower start up as he pours himself a small cup of tea.

By the time he’s finished washing his cup, he’s ready to collapse. He draws the curtains in Lan Xichen’s room and promptly tucks himself under the quilt on the futon, drifting immediately into a dreamless sleep.

He wakes disoriented, but refreshed. Lan Xichen is breathing deeply in the bed, facing away from Lan Wangji. There’s the golden floss of late evening sunlight lining the curtains. Lan Wangji rises quietly and moves to the kitchen to start preparing dinner.

He decides to make a light fish soup with pickled vegetables after checking through the contents of the fridge and begins by starting a fresh batch of rice in the cooker. The sweet smell of the steam fills the kitchen a few minutes later as he cleans and debones the fish.

Lan Xichen comes into the kitchen just as Lan Wangji is finishing up, hair undone and scattered. He’s only wearing his inner robes, dispensing with formalities and etiquette.

“Pickled vegetable fish soup?” he asks, poking his head over Lan Wangji’s shoulder.

“Mn,” Lan Wangji affirms. “Almost done.”

“I’ll serve the rice,” Lan Xichen says.

They eat in silence. Lan Xichen looks younger like this, half-dressed and unselfconscious. Lan Xichen looks more like him. It reminds Lan Wangji that for all his brother’s competence and responsibility, they’re hardly three years apart.

“I presume you’ll be staying at the hospital tomorrow after the transplant?” Lan Xichen says as they clear the table.

Lan Wangji hesitates. The answer is—well, the answer is yes, but.

“Wangji?” Lan Xichen prompts gently when Lan Wangji fails to reply.

“I… would like to,” Lan Wangji compromises.

“You don’t need my permission,” Lan Xichen says, reaching out to touch him softly on the cheek. “Hm?”

“Mn,” Lan Wangji says with a tiny nod.

“Would you like to bring Young Master Wei a meal for when he wakes?” Lan Xichen suggests. “There’s time yet before we need to sleep again. I have the ingredients for wontons. Do you think he would enjoy those?”

Lan Wangji nods.

“The jicai and wonton skins are in the freezer,” Lan Xichen says, opening the fridge and pulling out a few packs of ground pork. Lan Wangji dutifully takes out the frozen ingredients, defrosting them rapidly and precisely over the sink with a shot of spiritual energy. It’s a well-practiced routine—Lan Wangji starts setting up the table, passing Lan Xichen any ingredients or seasonings he needs as he goes back and forth between the kitchen and the dining room table. He spreads a tablecloth over the wood, then places a stack of clean trays, two small bowls of water, plates—it’s good to have rote tasks.

Lan Xichen brings over the mixing bowl of filling and sets it in the center between them. Wordlessly, they sit. Lan Xichen half-hums a familiar local melody as he works, calloused fingers pinching and twisting the wontons with careful, quick motions. Lan Wangji takes comfort in the repetitive movement—filling, water, fold, pinch, twist—tiny golden purses covered in flour. They make efficient progress, neat rows of the wontons filling the trays.

“It’s funny,” Lan Xichen remarks after a little while. “Even though we learned how to fold them together, you can always tell who made which one.” It’s true. Lan Xichen tends to use a little more filling, curves the edges of his wontons a little tighter. Lan Wangji’s are small and elegant beside them.

“Mn,” Lan Wangji acknowledges.

“Everyone makes them a little differently, don’t they?” Lan Xichen continues, placing another wonton on the tray.

“People make by preference,” Lan Wangji says.

“Yes,” Lan Xichen agrees. “I think it’s nice, seeing the personality of the cook in the shape of the food.”

“I suppose,” Lan Wangji says.

“What do you think Young Master Wei’s wontons would look like?”

Lan Wangji can’t resist a tiny snort at the question.

Lan Xichen laughs openly. “Really? Such a low opinion?”

“Wei Ying is… messy,” Lan Wangji admits. “Not suited for precision. Overeager. They might explode.” He pauses. “Good at painting,” he adds guiltily. “And talismans.”

Lan Xichen laughs again. “Well, you never know,” he says cheerfully.

Lan Wangji nods. “I shouldn’t speculate.”

“No need,” Lan Xichen says as he folds. “We’ll just invite him next time.”

They set aside one tray in the refrigerator to stay fresh for the morning and put the rest away to freeze before bed. Lan Wangji begins washing the utensils and dishes, but Lan Xichen stops him.

“Leave it. We should get more rest so that we can best help Young Master Wei tomorrow morning.”

Lan Wangji nods and leaves the utensils in the bowl to soak.

 

In the morning, Lan Wangji cooks a serving of wontons and prepares a simple broth. It’s the one he and Lan Xichen grew up with from the region, just a sliver of lard and minced scallions in boiling water. He wonders if the flavor will be too light for Wei Wuxian’s taste and makes a note to stop by and buy a small bottle of chili oil from the grocery on the way to the hospital. He packs everything into glass containers and wraps them neatly in a plain lunch bag, taking care to remember utensils.

“I’ll meet you there,” Lan Wangji says to his brother as they prepare to fly out. “I have to make a stop somewhere.”

Lan Xichen nods. “Very well. Be safe. Text me if you need anything.”

“Mn.”

They set out together and peel off in different directions. Lan Wangji searches the aisles of the grocery for the brand of chili oil that Wei Wuxian favors and brings it to the cashier, buying a bag of fried chili pepper snacks that catches his eye on the way up. It looks exactly like something Wei Wuxian would like.

Despite his detour, Lan Wangji is still the second to arrive at Wei Wuxian’s hospital room. Lan Xichen has already sat down beside the bed, relieving the cultivator on duty.

“How does his core feel?” Lan Wangji asks tentatively.

“No worse,” Lan Xichen says reassuringly. He smiles ruefully. “No better.”

Lan Wangji nods. As expected. He sets the food down on a table and sits beside his brother to assist.

Wen Qing arrives not much longer, Wen Ning in tow, with—

“Gege!!” A’Yuan wriggles out of Wen Ning’s arms and beelines for Lan Wangji, plastering himself to his leg. “Gege, I came to visit Xian-gege! I came to help!”

Wen Qing sighs. “He insisted. It was easier to bring him.”

Lan Wangji looks at his brother, who nods, and he withdraws his energy, bending down to scoop A’Yuan into his lap. “Are you going to give more of your energy?” he asks.

“Mn!” A’Yuan says happily. “A’Yuan has a lot to give!”

“Mn,” Lan Wangji acknowledges seriously. He catches Lan Xichen hiding a smile and decides to ignore it.

Jiang Wanyin and Jiang Yanli come together, dressed in matching violet robes. Jiang Yanli offers a small bento box to Wen Qing.

“Sweets,” she explains, when Wen Qing cocks an eyebrow at her curiously. “I cook when I’m anxious. And I wanted to thank you.”

“Oh,” Wen Qing says, a flash of surprise crossing her stern features. “There was no need.”

“Of course there was,” Jiang Yanli says, pushing it into Wen Qing’s hands. “You’ve taken care of A’Xian this past year. Consider it thanks for doing what I couldn’t.”

Wen Qing’s lips part with a startled vulnerability for half a moment before her expression shutters away again. “Then, I’ll have to thank you. I’ve heard Young Master Wei wax poetic about your cooking many times.”

“A’Xian exaggerates,” Jiang Yanli demurs.

“Maybe it’s because he’s such a poor cook himself,” Wen Qing mutters, half to herself.

Jiang Yanli laughs. “He burned a hole through one of my pots once,” she confesses. “I banned him from the kitchen. He never had a chance to improve.”

Burned a hole through a pot? Lan Wangji dwells on this new information as he absentmindedly bounces A’Yuan on his knee, much to the latter’s delight.

The door opens and Jin Zixuan steps in awkwardly. “Apologies,” he says. “I was… held up.” His lips press into a thin line. “Sect matters.”

“You?” Jiang Wanyin asks incredulously. “Jie, you got him to agree to help?”

Jin Zixuan shrugs. “He’s going to be my brother-in-law. And I do respect him.”

“He punched you in the face.”

Jin Zixuan raises an eyebrow. “So did you.”

Jiang Wanyin doesn’t seem to have a retort for this, so he settles for a disbelieving scoff.

“Don’t worry, Zixuan,” Jiang Yanli says, checking her phone. “Our father is running late too. The flight was delayed. He should be here any minute.”

“Your father?” Lan Wangji asks, thinking of Wei Wuxian’s bittersweet talk of his family situation.

“Father always comes running when Wei Wuxian is in trouble,” Jiang Wanyin says, a touch sour, but he scoots a chair close and takes Wei Wuxian’s wrist in his hand.

“Will you be giving energy?” Lan Wangji asks Wen Ning.

“Ah,” Wen Ning says. “I don’t think I can.”

“Low cultivation level?” Lan Wangji asks.

“That’s… not really the problem,” Wen Ning says with a small smile. “My cultivation was always low, but now—well. I don’t think it’s very suitable.”

“Would you like to try?” Lan Wangji asks. He holds out his hand.

Wen Ning hesitates, eyes sliding over to his sister.

“It won’t work,” she says bluntly. “Sorry, A’Ning.” She pushes his hair behind his ear. “I know you want to help.”

“It’s okay,” he says. “I can always help in other ways.” He smiles a little wider at Lan Wangji. “Thank you, Second Young Master Lan. Save your efforts for A’Yuan.” He places his hand over Lan Wangji’s, pushing it back towards him.

Lan Wangji wonders at Wen Ning’s peace with himself, wonders what exactly could be so abnormal about his spiritual energy that it would be impossible to use. He nods.

Jiang Yanli’s eyes widen as she reads her texts. “Uh, A’Cheng?” she says with something like horror in her voice. “A’Cheng?

“What?” Jiang Wanyin says, immediately on high alert. “What happened?”

She looks at him, aghast. “Mom’s here.”

Jiang Wanyin gapes. “Mom’s here?? Why?

Jiang Yanli shakes her head, handing him her phone. He snatches it and scrolls through the texts. “I don’t know either. They’re pulling up to the hospital right now.”

“Fuck, what are we going to do?” Jiang Wanyin asks.

Jiang Yanli shrugs helplessly. “What is there to do?” She takes her phone back. “I’m going to—I’ll go get them. Uh.” She bites her lip. “Brace yourself?” she says with a wince.

Jiang Wanyin grimaces. “You too,” he says.

“I’ll come with you,” Jin Zixuan offers, but Jiang Yanli waves him off.

“Better for me to go alone,” she says with a forced smile.

“A’Li—”

“Zixuan.” She squeezes his hand. “It’s okay. I’ll be right back.”

She returns leading Sect Leader Jiang and Madam Yu, her expression a convincing mask of amiability that betrays nothing of her earlier trepidation.

Jiang Fengmian looks exhausted, older than his years as he enters the room, surveying the occupants with a tired smile. Yu Ziyuan only looks angry.

“Miss Wen,” she says sharply, addressing Wen Qing.

“Yes, Madam Yu,” she says, standing gracefully.

Yu Ziyuan looks her up and down imperiously. “I understand you’ll be building the transplant?”

“Yes,” Wen Qing confirms.

Yu Ziyuan stares her down a moment longer. “Good,” she says finally. “It’s the least you could do for him.”

“I agree,” Wen Qing says unflinchingly.

Jiang Wanyin looks enormously uncomfortable from where he’s sitting, head bowed over Wei Wuxian’s wrist with far more concentration than it merits.

“Jiang Cheng!” Yu Ziyuan snaps. “Sit up straight.”

“Yes, Mom,” he says quickly, straightening his spine.

“San-niangzi,” Jiang Fengmian says quietly, placing a hand on her arm. She shakes it off with a light tsk, but says nothing more.

“Is this everyone, then?” Wen Qing asks, looking around at everyone gathered.

Jiang Yanli nods. “I thought our parents and Zixuan would be enough.”

“I have some energy from Huaisang,” Jiang Wanyin adds. “He couldn’t make it in person. It’s not a lot, but—” He shrugs.

“I’m sure A’Xian will appreciate it,” Jiang Yanli says.

Wen Qing explains the process to them, pulling up several diagrams and calculations on her tablet to show her work. Lan Wangji isn’t a doctor, but Wen Qing’s explanations are confident and plain, absent of confusing jargon and obfuscating asides. The principles she draws on are sound. Jiang Fengmian takes the tablet and scrutinizes some of her more complex points, nodding as he does so.

“One person will always have to be maintaining his core while we build the transplant,” Wen Qing says.

“I can do it,” Lan Xichen volunteers. “I’m already in the midst of it anyways.”

“We can always switch off if you’d like to contribute to the scaffold,” Wen Qing offers.

Lan Xichen shakes his head. “If I’m needed, I’ll be glad to help,” he says. “But I’m happy doing this. Young Master Jiang can withdraw now if we’re starting.”

Jiang Wanyin nods and stands, shaking out his fingertips.

“Very well,” Wen Qing says. She puts her tablet away and clears a space in the center of the room. “Everyone ready?”

She starts with her own energy, golden streams of it pouring from her fingertips, resolving themselves into a spherical shape hovering in the air between them, the size of two human hearts. It’s hard to look at, hard to see. Lan Wangji feels his eyes sliding away from it as he tries. Wen Qing’s own eyes are narrowed to slits as she molds it, making minute adjustments here and there. It takes interminable minutes, and it makes an unexpected sound. Lan Wangji would be hard-pressed to describe it—something between an oppressive, vibrating bass and the resonant note of a gong. It’s something felt more than heard. Lan Wangji places his hands over A’Yuan’s ears when he starts to squirm. He’s not sure how much it helps, but A’Yuan at least stops fussing.

“Okay!” Wen Qing calls over the dull roar filling the room. “Line up!”

Jiang Fengmian steps forward first, placing two fingers on Wen Qing’s wrist and siphoning energy into her meridians. There’s a noticeable crackle and shiver as Wen Qing wrestles for control and the color of the sphere deepens. Yu Ziyuan steps forward when Jiang Fengmian finally pulls away, staggering ever so slightly. Wen Ning immediately pulls a chair over for him. Yu Ziyuan spurns the chair Wen Ning brings for her when she finishes, opting instead to sweep out of the room entirely.

Jiang Yanli breathes out the smallest sigh of relief and places her fingers on Wen Qing’s wrist.

Each cultivator takes several minutes to finish transferring their energy. Lan Wangji keeps his eyes trained on Wen Qing, who never falters in her concentration, sweat beading at her brow as she works. The work, as she described it, is finicky and difficult. The scaffold has to be strong enough to support, but not so strong to be inflexible—malleable enough to graft onto what remains of Wei Wuxian’s core, but not so malleable that it’s overwhelmed and dissipated. Lan Wangji has never manipulated his energy in ways beyond combat and basic healing and transfer because it’s never been necessary. He doesn’t know how difficult it must be, only that it must be.

Jiang Wanyin’s fingers glow violet, flaring briefly into a clear green right at the end. The sphere glows with layers of colors, edging towards garish. Jin Zixuan steps forward.

By the time Lan Wangji stands to face Wen Qing, the pulsing thrum of the scaffold is almost unbearable. Wordlessly, Lan Wangji offers his hand to A’Yuan, who obediently sends him a bold little flash of energy, despite wincing in obvious discomfort at the noise filling the room. As soon as it’s done, Wen Ning picks him up and takes him out of the room. Lan Wangji braids A’Yuan’s energy in with his own, the way he did before, and places his fingers on Wen Qing’s wrist.

He feels extraordinarily cold when he feels the last of his reserves drain into Wen Qing. She nods and, with a pained grunt of effort, brings the scaffold over Wei Wuxian’s body.

“Open his robes,” she says through gritted teeth. Jiang Yanli rushes to comply, untying the hospital robes and exposing his abdomen. “Withdraw, Sect Leader Lan!” Wen Qing shouts. Lan Xichen pulls away smoothly, brow knitted with concern. Wen Qing pushes the glowing sphere down hard against his stomach, hands trembling with the effort, light leaking between her fingers.

And then it’s over.

The silence feels muffled against Lan Wangji’s ears. Wen Qing takes two steps and then collapses into the chair that Jiang Yanli brings to her. He feels, oddly, like it should have been more complicated, taken longer somehow. For all its difficulty, the procedure took less than an hour.

“Okay,” she says, after a moment. “It’s done. He should be safe now.” She pulls herself close to Wei Wuxian, running two fingers from his throat to his navel, pausing. “It’s starting to graft.” She leans back against the chair again with a sigh. “It’ll be easier for it to take while he’s asleep. I’ll have the hospital staff take him off the anesthetics in a few hours.”

The door opens, and Wen Ning comes back inside carrying A’Yuan, who immediately jumps down and pitter patters over to Wen Qing, tugging at the hem of her robes. “Qing-jiejie!”

“Yes, A’Yuan,” she says, picking him up despite her exhaustion.

“Is Xian-gege okay now?” he asks curiously.

“He’s okay now.”

“A’Yuan helped!”

“Yes,” she says with a tired smile, booping him on the nose. “A’Yuan helped.” She looks up around at the rest of them. “Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m going home to take a nap. I’ll be back to check on him in the afternoon to make sure everything is progressing as planned, and I’ll have my phone on me in case of any unforeseen emergencies in the meantime.” She stands, propping A’Yuan up on her hip.

“Thank you, Miss Wen,” Jiang Fengmian says, rising with her. “For everything you’ve done. You’ve worked hard.”

“As it should be,” she says with a small nod. “I owe Wei Wuxian… a lot. I’m glad to have been able to help him here.”

There’s a pause between them, heavy with unsaid things. Then, Jiang Fengmian bows in a salute. Wen Qing, unable to reciprocate while holding A’Yuan, simply inclines her head respectfully.

“I believe I’ll be taking Miss Wen’s advice to rest,” Jiang Fengmian says to his children. “Will you two be returning to the sect housing with us?”

“Someone should stay with A’Xian,” Jiang Yanli says. “Just in case.”

“I’ll stay,” Lan Wangji says quietly.

Jiang Wanyin glares daggers at him. “Will you now?”

“A’Cheng—” Jiang Yanli starts.

Jiang Wanyin pokes a finger into Lan Wangji’s chest. “Don’t fuck this up again,” he says threateningly.

Lan Wangji meets his gaze steadily. “Mn,” he says.

Jiang Wanyin narrows his eyes just a fraction, then turns away abruptly. “I’ll be going back with you. Jie, you should come too.”

Lan Wangji watches the corners of her mouth lift ever so slightly before she hides her smile with her sleeve. “Yes, I’ll come,” she says agreeably. “Thank you for watching over A’Xian, Second Young Master Lan.”

“No need,” he replies automatically.

“Of course there’s a need,” she says. “You have my number. Call me if you need anything, all right?”

“Thank you,” Lan Wangji says.

Everyone trickles out of the room, Wen Ning pausing at the threshold to give Lan Wangji a comforting nod. And then he’s alone with Wei Wuxian and Lan Xichen.

“You’re really all right here?” Lan Xichen presses.

“Mn,” Lan Wangji says.

“Don’t forget to eat,” Lan Xichen reminds him, getting to his feet. “And the salve, for your bruises.”

Lan Wangji had forgotten—entirely. The events of the last forty-eight hours had completely swept the thought of his self-inflicted injuries out of his mind. “Oh,” he says.

Lan Xichen hands him the bottle of salve. “I found it on the table in my room. I know you want to take care of Young Master Wei, but don’t neglect yourself, all right?”

Lan Wangji takes it. “I won’t,” he promises.

“I have to return to campus to continue discussing the situation. I’m afraid I won’t be back for many hours, but if you need me—”

“Don’t trouble yourself,” Lan Wangji says softly. “Please, Brother, you’ve done enough.”

“Wangji.” Lan Xichen places a hand on his head, a warm and comforting weight. “I would do more.”

“I know.”

Lan Xichen smiles, pulls his hand away. “Good.” He pulls out his phone, scrolling quickly through his notifications. “Ah, I should really get back, if only to rescue A’Yao from his father.” He pauses, considering. “Or his father from him.”

The thought of tiny Jin Guangyao finally snapping and strangling Jin Guangshan, all while wearing his patented beatific smile, is darkly gratifying. “Lianfang-zun has been speaking with Sect Leader Jin about the situation?” Lan Wangji asks.

“Him and Jin Zixuan both,” Lan Xichen says.

“It isn’t going well,” Lan Wangji says, a statement. It’s clear from the frustration that laced Jin Zixuan’s voice all morning, the worry in Lan Xichen’s brow when he reads the texts from Jin Guangyao.

“No, not really,” Lan Xichen admits. “As Young Master Jiang so astutely pointed out, Sect Leader Jin really is a fucking bastard sometimes.”

Lan Wangji raises an eyebrow at this. “Speaking ill of another behind their back is forbidden.”

“I know,” Lan Xichen says cheerfully. “But it was very satisfying. I’ll be sure to copy some lines tonight to make up for it.”

Lan Wangji can’t help it. He laughs, a small huff of air. Something loosens in his chest as he does. The panes of morning sunlight in the room suddenly seem brighter. He feels present in his body again.

Lan Xichen beams, clearly enormously pleased with himself. “Then I’ll be going. Remember, Wangji—”

“Food,” Lan Wangji recites. “Salve.”

“Well done,” Lan Xichen says, and closes the door behind him.

 

Lan Wangji drafts a mass email to all of his professors, including his uncle, from his phone, apologizing for his unexcused absences. He follows up with individual messages requesting extensions for the assignments he’s let fall by the wayside. He writes his statement while he waits beside Wei Wuxian’s bed, explaining the situation as it unfolded in exacting, damning detail. His characters are precise and cold on the paper. He signs the bottom of the page, then pulls over a fresh sheet so he can make a copy. It’s almost cathartic, the action of condemning. The sound of Wei Wuxian’s breathing, even and unpained, helps.

The door opens just as he finishes signing the second statement. When he looks up, his uncle is there.

Lan Wangji’s breath flees his lungs, but he tries not to let it show. He stands on wobbly legs to greet his uncle, hands clasped as he bows.

“Uncle,” he says, and his voice does not shake.

“Wangji.” His uncle is not smiling, but his uncle does not smile often.

“I’ve just finished writing my statement,” Lan Wangji says. “If you’d like to take the one for LanlingJin as well, I have it ready.”

“I will, thank you.” Lan Qiren stands over Wei Wuxian, eyeing him critically. “So.”

“Yes, Uncle?”

“This is the young man who’s made off with my nephew’s good sense?”

Lan Wangji tries not to let himself be cowed. “Are you disappointed?”

“Of course I’m disappointed,” Lan Qiren says sharply. Lan Wangji flinches away from the words, as if he could dodge them like blows. “He is willful, undisciplined, improper and a terrible influence,” his uncle continues harshly. “He distracts you from your studies and has no sense of shame or consequence for his actions.” Lan Qiren glares down at Wei Wuxian’s sleeping face. “He is arrogant, thinks himself above the rules, flippant with his elders and a braggart on top of that.”

Lan Wangji swallows. “Uncle—”

“He’s just like his mother.”

Lan Qiren has not met Lan Wangji’s eyes once in the midst of his tirade, choosing instead to focus all his attention on Wei Wuxian. Lan Wangji feels his breath catch.

“You’ve spoken highly of Cangse Sanren in the past,” he says, barely louder than a whisper.

“I know,” Lan Qiren says angrily, and leaves it at that.

His uncle is not one for comfort. He stiffly reminds Lan Wangji of the work he’ll have to make up for classes and gives him a fleeting and awkward pat on the head, as if he were a child again. Lan Wangji hands him the statements, and he folds them neatly and tucks them away in his sleeve.

“What will happen to Su Minshan?” Lan Wangji asks as his uncle prepares to leave.

“Expelled from the sect,” Lan Qiren replies shortly. “The university board has heard the situation but has yet to decide whether they will expel him from the institution.”

Lan Wangji nods. “And Jin Zixun?”

Lan Qiren’s mouth thins like he’s just bitten into an unripe persimmon. “It remains to be seen.”

 

Lan Wangji wakes by degrees and senses—the smell of antiseptic and hospital sheets, the distant sound of the PA system, and the gentle sensation of fingers carding through his hair. He opens his eyes.

He must have fallen asleep sometime after his uncle left, face pillowed against Wei Wuxian’s bed.

The fingers stop moving and withdraw. Lan Wangji sits up to meet Wei Wuxian’s eyes, patient and unsmiling.

“You look like shit,” Wei Wuxian informs him flatly. His own face is pale, his hair disheveled. There’s a gauntness to his features that hurts Lan Wangji to see. “Have you even gone home?”

“I’ve gone home more than once,” Lan Wangji says.

“Why did you come back?”

Lan Wangji swallows the lump in his throat that rises at Wei Wuxian’s question. “I had to,” he says, because it’s true.

It seems this isn’t the right answer, because Wei Wuxian huffs a sigh and leans back, closing his eyes. “You’re not responsible for this mess,” he says. It comes out dull, a little cold.

“It’s not about responsibility,” Lan Wangji insists. I couldn’t stay away if I tried.

“Then what is it?” Wei Wuxian asks, sounding immeasurably tired. “If not responsibility, then what? You don’t even like me.”

This is terrible, surprising news. “What?” Lan Wangji says, because he can’t think of anything else. “What are you saying?”

Wei Wuxian’s eyes crack open again. “I don’t know, Second Young Master Lan,” he says. “How else was I supposed to interpret this? You found the idea of sleeping with me so disgusting you couldn’t get out the door fast enough. There was a time when I thought—it doesn’t matter. I thought wrong.”

“I came back,” Lan Wangji says, reaching for Wei Wuxian’s hand. He twitches it out of reach, and Lan Wangji pauses, restraining himself. “I came back to find you. Wei Ying—”

“Second Young Master Lan, please, I’m—I’m begging you not to make this any harder,” Wei Wuxian grits out.

“Don’t call me that.”

“Then what am I supposed to call you?” Wei Wuxian snaps. His fingers are trembling on the sheets.

“My name,” Lan Wangji says, and this time he laces his fingers with Wei Wuxian’s, grips tight when he tries to pull away. “My name, Wei Ying.”

Wei Wuxian stares at him for a long moment, then barks out a rough, humorless laugh. “What am I supposed to do with this?” he demands. “What do you want from me, Lan Wangji?”

“I want you,” Lan Wangji says, letting the words out before he can think better of it. “I just want Wei Ying.” Wei Wuxian opens his mouth, but Lan Wangji breaks a sect rule and interrupts, “I like you very much.” He pauses, considering. “I like you so much,” he amends, because he needs to get this right. “I feel like I’m going to die from it.”

Wei Wuxian’s eyes are growing wider by fractions, and he’s looking at Lan Wangji, looking at him with a guarded, shuttered emotion Lan Wangji can’t identify, so he presses on. “Lying is forbidden,” he says, stumbling over the phrase. “Wei Ying, do you believe me?” He squeezes his hand tighter around Wei Wuxian’s.

Wei Wuxian’s expression is all twisted. “I—” His eyes dart away.

So Lan Wangji throws his caution to the winds, scatters his sense on the autumn breeze and leans in to press his lips to Wei Wuxian’s.

Wei Wuxian actually squeaks in surprise, his lips parting slightly, and Lan Wangji pushes his tongue forward, just a little, to show that he really does want. Wei Wuxian’s mouth is sour from sleep, the angle is awkward, and their teeth are dangerously close to clacking painfully against each other, but Lan Wangji is not good with words, so Lan Wangji will make do with what he can.

He draws back after a few moments, his ears burning. “Do you believe me?” he asks again, voice hoarse and nervous. Their fingers are still laced together, Wei Wuxian’s slack against his.

Wei Wuxian is staring openly, winded and shocked. “You—” he starts, then shakes his head. “Lan Zhan?” he asks instead.

“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji replies.

Wei Wuxian lunges forward and kisses him again.

 

“I’m not—fixed,” Lan Wangji says, afterwards. Wei Wuxian is humming a little ditty as he combs Lan Wangji’s hair with his fingers. His hands still.

“What do you mean?” he asks.

“I can’t promise not to—I’ve always been this way,” Lan Wangji struggles. “It’s not something that—it won’t go away.”

“What won’t?”

Lan Wangji turns to look at him. “Whatever’s wrong with me.”

“Oh,” Wei Wuxian says. “I know.” He brushes a long lock of hair behind Lan Wangji’s ear.

“Is that… okay? With Wei Ying?”

“I don’t understand it,” Wei Wuxian says. “But I think it hurts you much more than it hurts me.”

“I hurt you very badly.”

“Then I shudder to think how you must have felt,” Wei Wuxian says drily. There’s a faint smile playing around his lips. “It’s okay, Lan Zhan. If you’re willing to try, then I am too.” He waggles his eyebrows. “You know I love breaking the rules.”

Lan Wangji nods, because he doesn’t think he can speak.

“Oh, Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian sighs fondly and kisses him on the nose. “Don’t look at me like that.”

“Like what?” Lan Wangji makes himself ask. It’s hard without the alcohol loosening his tongue, but he asks.

“Like I’m breaking your heart,” Wei Wuxian says. He pauses. “I’m not, am I?”

“No,” Lan Wangji says, shaking his head. “No.” He hesitates for a moment. “There are… a lot of rules.”

“I know,” Wei Wuxian laments. “I’ve copied them.”

Lan Wangji feels the edges of a smile curve at the corners of his mouth. “Far more than those.”

“Well, then we can break them together,” Wei Wuxian says decisively. “If you’d like.”

Lan Wangji nods. “I would.”

When Wei Wuxian leans in to kiss him again, Lan Wangji goes willingly, and the ever-present shame gets a little quieter.

 

Lan Wangji fills him in on the situation—the events at the scene, the sleepless night, the operation—Wei Wuxian barely remembers anything from the night of, his memory a hazy patchwork of impressions and dreamlike settings.

“You flirted with me,” Lan Wangji informs him. “While you were dying.”

“I wasn’t dying,” Wei Wuxian protests. “Don’t be dramatic!”

Lan Wangji has Wei Wuxian’s hand in his again, because that’s something that’s allowed now, and he holds tighter. “I thought you were,” he says softly. “You can die from core destruction.”

“I didn’t.” Wei Wuxian frowns. “Hey, Lan Zhan, look at me? Lan Zhan!” Lan Wangji looks. Wei Wuxian is full of messy life, his expression animated, eyes fierce. “I didn’t die,” Wei Wuxian says.

It’s their fourth kiss in the last half hour, not that Lan Wangji is counting, but his stomach still swoops a little with it, he still feels the stars bursting in his lungs. This too is allowed now. This is allowed now! When Wei Wuxian finally pulls away, Lan Wangji finds himself chasing after his lips in a way that makes Wei Wuxian laugh. It’s the first time Lan Wangji has heard it in weeks.

“Lan-er-gege!” Wei Wuxian admonishes. “We’re in public.

“Private room,” Lan Wangji points out with a little thrill, still high on the sound of Wei Wuxian’s laughter.

Wei Wuxian’s eyes sparkle. “Lan Zhan, who’s flirting now?”

Lan Wangji can’t take his eyes off of Wei Wuxian. He wants to take him home to the jingshi and wash his hair, bathe him and tuck him into a proper bed. He wants to sit beside him until he falls asleep.

Wei Wuxian laughs again when Lan Wangji fails to respond. “What are you thinking about, staring so intensely?”

“You in my bed,” Lan Wangji says, because it is honest, and because maybe, underneath the shame, there is something wicked in him still.

Wei Wuxian’s splutters slightly, eyes growing round. There is a special delight to rendering him speechless when his mouth always runs so quick and free. Lan Wangji keeps his expression neutral and impassive, even as his heart leaps with mirth.

“What the fuck, Lan Zhan!” Wei Wuxian finally gets out. Then, quieter, “Is that on the table?”

Lan Wangji thinks about it carefully, about what he wants, what he’s wanted since they met. “Mn,” he affirms.

“Fuck,” Wei Wuxian murmurs under his breath. He looks at Lan Wangji, eyes blazing. “So how long am I going to be stuck here?”

“Until Wen Qing clears you.”

Wei Wuxian groans, head thunking back against the reclining back of the bed. “So a while,” he says to the ceiling.

“She’ll be by later to examine how the transplant is grafting.” Lan Wangji pauses. “How does it feel?”

“Weird,” Wei Wuxian admits, sitting up straight again. “Foreign, I guess.”

“Can you recognize the donors by their energy signatures?” Lan Wangji asks.

Wei Wuxian furrows his brow as he concentrates. “Sort of? They’re all tangled up. If I knew everyone who was there, I could maybe pick them out.” He closes his eyes. “Wen Qing, of course. Jiang Cheng and shijie.” A smile. “You.” His eyes open again. “Who am I missing?”

“A’Yuan, Nie Huaisang, Jin Zixuan—” Lan Wangji lists.

“The peacock?!” Wei Wuxian exclaims.

“Mn,” Lan Wangji confirms. “He said he respected you.”

Wei Wuxian laughs disbelievingly. “Jin Zixuan? Respect me?” He squints. “Are you sure I’m not dead?”

It’s a joke, but Lan Wangji’s heart thumps painfully. He grabs Wei Wuxian’s hand even harder. “Not dead.”

Wei Wuxian squeezes back apologetically. “Sorry, yes. Not dead. Very much alive.” He smiles again at Lan Wangji, and it’s—there’s a radiance to it that Lan Wangji pulls close.

There’s a knock at the door before it opens, and they both look up to see Wen Ning ducking in.

“Wen Ning!” Wei Wuxian calls, waving.

Wen Ning freezes, eyes wide as he takes in Wei Wuxian’s grinning face, and then he runs forward with astonishing speed, throwing his arms around him.

“Oh!” Wei Wuxian exclaims as Wen Ning holds him tight. “Hello! Did you miss me?”

“Young Master Wei,” Wen Ning gasps, the words muffled against Wei Wuxian’s shoulder. “Young Master Wei!” He’s shaking, Lan Wangji sees, trembles frissoning through his body.

“Oh, Wen Ning,” Wei Wuxian says softly, reaching up to stroke his back gently. “I’m okay, see?”

Wen Ning pulls back, an uncharacteristically angry expression on his face. “I’m not,” he snaps. “Don’t do that again!”

Wei Wuxian pulls him back into the embrace, one hand cupping the back of his head. “I’ll do my best.”

Better than your best,” Wen Ning insists into the fabric of Wei Wuxian’s hospital robes, pale fingers fisted in the fabric.

“Now, is that reasonable?” Wei Wuxian demands, a smile creeping into his voice. “How am I supposed to do better than my best? Come on, Wen Ning, cut me some slack—”

“Shut up,” Wen Ning mutters, finally releasing him with a glare. “You know what I mean.”

“How do you feel?” Wei Wuxian asks, patting him on the cheek.

“Like I want to cry,” Wen Ning says, staring at him with dry eyes and a crumpled expression.

Wei Wuxian looks immediately stricken, his hand stuttering to a standstill. “Oh—”

“Don’t,” Wen Ning says, grabbing onto his hand. “Stop that.”

“What if I cry for both of us, hm?” Wei Wuxian offers, a little wetly.

“Young Master Wei!”

“What if I annoy you so much you stop feeling sad?” Wei Wuxian teases, swiping at his eyes, and Lan Wangji sees the begrudging beginnings of a smile on Wen Ning’s face.

“You’re already succeeding,” he grumbles. “I’ll go get Jie and let her know you’re awake.”

“Fuck, I’m in for it, aren’t I?” Wei Wuxian groans.

“You sure are,” Wen Ning says, not without some relish. He bows to Lan Wangji. “Apologies for interrupting, Second Young Master Lan,” he says.

“No need,” Lan Wangji says.

Wen Ning looks between the two of them, studies Lan Wangji’s face for a moment. “You worked it out, then?” he asks.

“Wen Ning!” Wei Wuxian exclaims. “Have you been gossiping about me? With Hanguang-jun?

Wen Ning looks at him, unimpressed. “I’m leaving.”

“So he knew,” Wei Wuxian says once the door shuts. Lan Wangji tips his head at him questioningly. “That you—well.”

“That I liked you?” Lan Wangji says, feeling the tips of his ears get warm again.

“Yeah.”

“I’m surprised you didn’t know,” Lan Wangji confesses quietly. “I… said a lot of things. When we were drunk.”

“I…” Wei Wuxian bites his lip. “You were so upset afterwards, I thought—I don’t know what I thought.” He glances up at Lan Wangji through his lashes. “But you meant them? Really?”

“Mn.” Lan Wangji nods. “All of them.”

“Oh,” Wei Wuxian says. His cheeks are pink. “Okay.”

“You’re very loved, Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji says. It’s important for Wei Wuxian to know, suddenly. “Not talking about me,” he adds. “Not just me. Everyone. Wen Ning. Your family. Friends.” He realizes he’s tipped his hand too late, but the words are already out in the air. Well. What’s one more confession?

Wei Wuxian brings a hand around the back of his neck and kisses him, soft and chaste and reverent. “Sorry,” he whispers when he pulls away. “I’ve just been thinking about kissing you a lot. And now that I can—” He laughs. “It’s easier than words.”

“Don’t apologize,” Lan Wangji says. “Not for that.”

Wei Wuxian kisses him on each cheek, once on the nose, once on the forehead. “Okay,” he says impishly. “Then I won’t.” He takes a breath, catches sight of his phone set neatly on the bedside table with the rest of his clothing. “I have to text my siblings.”

Wen Qing arrives just as Wei Wuxian sets his phone back down, eyes steely.

“Hi, Wen Qing!” Wei Wuxian says brightly.

She marches over and tears his robes open perfunctorily, ignoring his squawk of protest, and runs a diagnostic. She steps back, apparently satisfied.

Wei Wuxian wraps the robes back around himself defensively. “Rude!” he pouts. “How could you, Doctor Wen Qing? I’m easily embarrassed!”

Wen Qing snorts impressively. “So you’re fine.”

“Thanks to your hard work!”

“It’s coming out of your wages,” Wen Qing says stonily.

“Oh no, Wen Qing!” he whines. “Don’t be so cruel! I’m sorry! I was wrong, it was stupid, I know!”

“Knowing isn’t enough!” Wen Qing snaps. “Clearly! Next time, think with your head and not your massive hero complex!”

Wei Wuxian gapes. “Was I supposed to just let them bully Lan Zhan?”

“Oh, so he’s Lan Zhan again?” Wen Qing asks pointedly.

“What does that have to—no, wait, that’s not—”

“You do this every time, Wei Wuxian!” There’s a color high on her cheeks as she cuts in. “Every fucking time, you put yourself in harm’s way without thinking, and—” Her chest heaves. “How am I supposed to face this again?”

“I—”

“I know that’s just who you are,” Wen Qing continues over him furiously. “Dropping everything to help someone in trouble, I know, it’s just—”

“I don’t regret it,” Wei Wuxian says softly. “Not Lan Zhan. Not you.”

“Sometimes I think you should!” she shouts.

“Why?” Wei Wuxian asks. “Why should I? Wen Qing, how could I?”

“Eventually, there’ll be nothing left of you to give,” Wen Qing says wretchedly. “Haven’t you done enough? Isn’t it enough?”

“Wen Qing,” he says gently. “I didn’t mean for it to be a grand gesture. I just took a drink. Nobody thought it would turn out this way.”

“I’m going to kill them,” she says, breathing out shakily.

“Please don’t,” Wei Wuxian says with a laugh. “You know I don’t have the money to bail you out.”

Wen Qing cracks the slightest of half-smiles at that. “I’ll say. I’m the one running payroll.”

“Well, if you’re going to take it out of my wages, can you at least do it in installments so I have some income?” Wei Wuxian wheedles. “Otherwise how am I going to stay on top of my prank war with Jiang Cheng?”

“You’re such a fucking idiot,” Wen Qing says. “I’ll go talk to the hospital staff about releasing you.”

Wei Wuxian perks up at that. “Oh? Are you letting me go home today?? Are you being merciful, good Wen Qing?”

“Don’t push your luck,” she growls. “You upset Wen Ning very badly, and you aren’t forgiven yet.”

“Yes, Wen Qing,” Wei Wuxian says meekly. Wen Qing doesn’t exactly slam the door, but Wei Wuxian still laughs ruefully. “I know I fucked up,” he says before Lan Wangji can say anything. “It was unnecessary and careless.”

“Dramatic,” Lan Wangji supplies.

“Ugh,” Wei Wuxian groans. “Yeah, I know. I was just really angry. It was an obvious trap.”

“It’s not your fault.”

“I know.” He places a hand over his abdomen. “But it was stupid.”

“Is it uncomfortable?” Lan Wangji asks.

Wei Wuxian shakes his head. “Not really. Still just weird. I’ll get used to it, I’m sure. It—I don’t know.” He smiles absently. “It’s also nice, in a way. Like I’m carrying everyone’s heart inside of me. If I think of it that way, it feels less strange.”

His stomach suddenly lets out a loud grumble.

“Are you hungry?” Lan Wangji asks, somewhat unnecessarily.

“Did you bring me food?” Wei Wuxian asks hopefully.

Silently, Lan Wangji brings over the containers of wontons and soup, unwrapping the cloth around them and taking off the lids. He heats each bowl with a shot of spiritual energy. This is perhaps frivolous, but he’s recovered enough to do this much.

“Eat,” he says, handing a bowl to Wei Wuxian, along with utensils and the bottle of chili oil he purchased that morning. “Careful of the heat.”

“You even brought me chili oil? Lan Zhan!!” Wei Wuxian exclaims, pouring a generous amount into the soup, and then pauses just before he starts to eat. “Oh.”

“What is it?” Lan Wangji asks.

Wei Wuxian looks at him, full of a dawning wonder. “You know what brand of chili oil I like,” he says, like this is somehow surprising.

“Of course,” Lan Wangji says.

“Did you make this?” Wei Wuxian gestures to his bowl.

“Brother and I made them together,” Lan Wangji says.

“I’m an idiot,” Wei Wuxian mutters.

“Wei Ying?”

“You’re too good to me, Lan Zhan,” he says instead of explaining and takes a loud slurp of soup.

“Is it good?” Lan Wangji asks after a few moments. “I know it’s plain.”

“It’s so good, Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian says around a mouthful of wonton. He frowns and swallows. “Speaking while eating is forbidden, Hanguang-jun,” he reprimands sternly.

Lan Wangji inclines his head and says nothing more, ducking his head over his own bowl to hide the smile he can feel pushing up against his mouth.

He finishes eating before Wei Wuxian, silently putting his last three wontons into Wei Wuxian’s bowl despite his protests. And then, because he promised, he pulls out the salve and rolls up his trousers.

“What’s that?” Wei Wuxian asks. “Are you hurt?”

“It’s nothing serious,” Lan Wangji says, applying the salve. The bruises are colorful and ugly, but they barely hurt anymore.

“How?” Wei Wuxian asks.

Lan Wangji pauses. He can’t lie. “I don’t wish to tell you,” he says.

Wei Wuxian blinks, and Lan Wangji can see the way his eyes flick over the patterning of the bruises, the way he’s so clearly speculating and running calculations. Lan Wangji lets down his pant leg again, sweeping his robes over his legs again.

“Maybe one day,” he says. “Not now.”

Wei Wuxian searches his face, then nods. “All right.”

There’s a gentle knock on the door. “A’Xian?” Jiang Yanli’s voice calls from the hallway.

“Shijie!” Wei Wuxian exclaims.

The door opens, revealing Jiang Yanli and Jiang Wanyin. “You’re awake!” Jiang Yanli says.

“I am!” Wei Wuxian replies enthusiastically.

“Is that all you have to say?!” Jiang Wanyin demands. “Not even a thank you?”

“I was just saying hi, Jiang Cheng!” Wei Wuxian says petulantly. “Can’t I thank you after I greet you?”

“You haven’t greeted me!”

“How is this not greeting you?”

“You call this a greeting?”

“A’Xian, A’Cheng!” Jiang Yanli says between her laughs. “Don’t fight.”

Jiang Wanyin snorts. “I’d be more worried if he didn’t immediately start a fight with me.”

Who started a fight?” Wei Wuxian huffs. “I didn’t start the fight! Right, Lan Zhan? You saw!”

“Don’t drag Hanguang-jun into your bullshit!” Jiang Wanyin snipes.

“It’s your bullshit too!”

“So how are you holding up, Second Young Master Lan?” Jiang Yanli asks Lan Wangji pleasantly as her brothers begin to bicker in earnest.

“Well,” Lan Wangji says, finding it to be true.

“I see you already fed A’Xian,” she says, glancing at the empty bowls.

Lan Wangji sees the bags of food in her hand. “I’m sure he’d be happy to keep eating,” Lan Wangji says.

Jiang Yanli laughs again. “Oh, I’m certainly not worried it’ll go uneaten,” she says, setting it on the table. “You’re free to eat some too. I brought enough to share.”

“You’re very kind.”

“Wait, so who else donated?” Wei Wuxian asks Jiang Wanyin. “I never got the full list—I heard the peacock was here!”

“Yeah, he was,” Jiang Wanyin says. “I was surprised too.”

“So, what, you guys, Lan Zhan, the peacock, Wen Qing, A’Yuan, Nie-xiong, and… yeah, who else?”

“Dad came,” Jiang Wanyin says gruffly.

“Uncle Jiang came?” Wei Wuxian asks, the naked surprise in his voice painful to hear.

“Did you think he wouldn’t?” Jiang Wanyin scoffs. “Come on.”

“Oh. I just thought—well, because of Madam Yu—”

“Oh, A’Xian, about that—” Jiang Yanli starts anxiously, but the sound of the door opening cuts her off.

Madam Yu stands at the threshold, imperious and intense as always, dressed immaculately, gaze cutting daggers across the room.

Jiang Wanyin and Jiang Yanli automatically shift with an unspoken and unconscious immediacy that speaks to years of habit, placing themselves between her and Wei Wuxian. Lan Wangji takes Wei Wuxian’s hand in his.

None of this goes unnoticed by Madam Yu, who raises one sharp eyebrow. “What,” she asks coldly, the word ringing out like the crack of a whip. “Am I not allowed to speak to my own son?”

Lan Wangji hears the three sharp intakes of breath from the siblings, catches sight of the panicked glances between Jiang Yanli and Jiang Wanyin, feels the tremor that runs through Wei Wuxian as his other hand touches his abdomen in realization. He tightens his grip.

“Stop looking so timid!” she scolds. “Is this how I raised my heirs?”

“Mom—” Jiang Cheng starts.

“Of course, Madam Yu,” Wei Wuxian interrupts hurriedly. “I’d be happy to speak with you alone.”

There’s a glacial moment where no one moves.

“Well?” Madam Yu prompts. Jiang Yanli and Jiang Wanyin scramble to obey, but Lan Wangji finds himself desperately unwilling to move.

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian says in a low, urgent voice. “It’s okay. Go.”

Lan Wangji looks at him. There’s apprehensive fear in Wei Wuxian’s expression, but also a flicker of determined hope. Lan Wangji doesn’t want to leave.

“Go,” Wei Wuxian says again, a command this time.

Lan Wangji swallows and lets go of his hand. He and Madam Yu spare no glances for each other as he walks past her on the way out.

 

Jiang Wanyin starts pacing nervously back and forth in the hallway with a jerky, tense gait. Jiang Yanli sits in one of the chairs, patting the seat beside her for Lan Wangji.

“Would you like to see some old photos of A’Xian?” she asks cheerfully, though Lan Wangji can hear the undercurrent of worry that runs beneath her words.

“Make sure to show him something really embarrassing,” Jiang Wanyin suggests tightly as he walks past.

“Well, what do you think counts as really embarrassing, A’Cheng?”

Lan Wangji is once again struck with admiration for Jiang Yanli, the way she draws their attention to distraction instead of anxiety, even as her knee bounces up and down rapidly.

“The horrible haircut I dared him to get,” Jiang Wanyin says. “The old man chasing him down for stealing lotus pods. That time I pushed him into the lake. Oh, when he jumped into my arms when we ran into a dog at the market. And—”

“Slow down, A’Cheng,” Jiang Yanli giggles, scrolling rapidly. “Some of those are so old I’m not sure I have copies on my phone.”

“Here,” Jiang Wanyin says, throwing himself into a chair beside her, opening his own phone. “I have them all in a folder.”

“You keep a folder of embarrassing photos of A’Xian on your phone?” Jiang Yanli asks.

“How else am I supposed have them on hand?” Jiang Wanyin asks, affronted. “What if I have to embarrass him at a moment’s notice?”

Lan Wangji thinks that, from what he knows of Wei Wuxian’s blasé and cheerful shamelessness, there’s not a single photo that Jiang Wanyin could show him that would actually embarrass him, but he leans over to look politely anyways.

It’s a terribly unflattering album that Jiang Wanyin has curated, spanning over a decade of shots. Many aren’t so much embarrassing as simply bad photos, catching Wei Wuxian mid-yawn or blink, and several (miraculously) mid-sneeze. Lan Wangji furrows his brow as he’s shown picture after blurry picture of Wei Wuxian violently sneezing.

“How did you take all of these?” he finds himself asking.

“Wei Wuxian telegraphs his sneezes,” Jiang Wanyin says. “He’s got a tell you can see coming from 108,000 miles away. Plenty of time to get your phone out.” There’s an amused, satisfied pride accompanying this information.

As they swipe further back, the photos get less horrendous and more silly. Lan Wangji pauses over a photo of Wei Wuxian, no more than seven or eight years old, covered in dust and grime, grinning cheerfully around a slice of watermelon bigger than his head.

“Oh, that was when A’Xian first came to live with us,” Jiang Yanli says softly. “Dad took that picture.”

Lan Wangji looks at the scruffy boy with the thousand-watt smile and the starry eyes and wishes he could hold him.

“Oh my god, you’re sickening, the both of you,” Jiang Wanyin growls. “I’ll fucking forward it to you.”

“What?” Lan Wangji says, too late as Jiang Wanyin snatches the phone back. A second later, he feels his own phone buzz.

“There,” Jiang Wanyin says grumpily. “Keep your fucking hearteyes private, for heaven’s sake.”

Lan Wangji doesn’t know if he ought to thank Jiang Wanyin or not. He’s saved from having to make the decision by Madam Yu’s exit from Wei Wuxian’s room.

“Don’t be late for dinner,” is all she says to her children before she sweeps past them down the hallway.

The three of them exchange glances, then get up simultaneously in wordless agreement, piling back into Wei Wuxian’s room. He looks at them, half-dazed.

“What happened?” Jiang Wanyin demands. “What did she say?”

“I…” Wei Wuxian shakes his head as if to clear it. “I’m coming home for New Year’s.”

There’s a shocked silence for half a second, then Jiang Yanli shrieks and flings her arms around him. “A’Xian!!” she exclaims. “A’Xian!!”

“Shijie!!” he exclaims back with equal, dawning excitement.

“Seriously?!” Jiang Wanyin asks, looking bowled over. “Mom—she really—?”

“Really,” Wei Wuxian says over Jiang Yanli’s shaking shoulder, face splitting into a grin wider than the moon.

“Thank fuck,” Jiang Wanyin exhales, but even he can’t seem to keep the elation from creeping into his voice.

“Lan Zhan!” Wei Wuxian says, turning his joy full-force to Lan Wangji. “Lan Zhan, I get to go home! Oh—oh my god, are you crying?

Lan Wangji raises a hand automatically to his face, surprised to find it wet. “Oh,” he says.

“Lan Zhan, don’t cry!” Wei Wuxian says with an unbridled laugh.

“Congratulations,” Lan Wangji says, which is—stiff and not enough and altogether the wrong thing to say, but Wei Wuxian only drags him in by the collar for a kiss over Jiang Yanli’s head as Jiang Wanyin makes retching noises in the background.

 

Wen Qing wants to keep Wei Wuxian under observation for another few days, and no amount of whining or cajoling on his part budges her in the slightest.

“I’m your goddamn doctor,” she snaps, finally losing patience. “And I swear to the heavens and the earth that if you protest one more time, I will keep you for a whole week.”

Wei Wuxian snaps his mouth shut and mimes zipping it closed, clasping his hands together and bowing rapidly in contrition. This doesn’t stop him from flopping back theatrically against the bed with a loud groan of complaint the instant she leaves.

“I’m already bored, Lan Zhan!” he sighs.

“Endure it,” Lan Wangji says. “Sooner or later, you’ll be able to leave.”

“Seems like it’s going to be later,” he grumbles. “Ugh, I’m going to have to retake your uncle’s class, aren’t I? Ah!”

“I don’t believe Uncle will fail you if you’re diligent when you return,” Lan Wangji says. “He is fair.”

“Ugh, if passing depends on my diligence for the rest of the semester, I might as well give up now,” Wei Wuxian moans.

“I’ll help you,” Lan Wangji offers tentatively. “We can work… together.”

Wei Wuxian perks up immediately at that. “Is that an invitation to your room??”

“If you’re diligent,” Lan Wangji says.

“I can be diligent! I can be the most diligent!”

Lan Wangji huffs a tiny breath at this brazen lie.

“You don’t believe me?” Wei Wuxian asks in mock-offense. He leans close. “I just need motivation,” he whispers, breath grazing the shell of Lan Wangji’s ear. Lan Wangji swallows, ready to interrupt, but Wei Wuxian continues. “Or maybe I need something interesting enough to hold my attention, hm? Won’t you be so good as to provide, Lan-er-gege?” His lips close warm and soft around the lobe of Lan Wangji’s ear.

Lan Wangji shoots him a disapproving look because he doesn’t trust himself to speak.

Wei Wuxian falls backwards laughing. “Oh my god, Lan Zhan, you should see your face! What’s this? It’s not like you haven’t said shameless things to me before! Even just in the last few hours!”

“It’s not about what you said,” Lan Wangji protests uselessly.

“Oh?” Wei Wuxian says blithely. “Then, what was the problem, Hanguang-jun?”

Despite his embarrassment, despite the absurd, over-the-top way Wei Wuxian flirts, Lan Wangji finds himself nursing a burbling, overwhelming happiness that he’s a little too nervous to face head-on, lest it vanish like smoke.

Even though he wants to stay, Lan Wangji knows that there’s little sense in his keeping a constant bedside vigil for three days beside a Wei Wuxian who is no longer in any imminent danger. Still, he can have this one day, can’t he?

Lan Wangji keeps a close eye on him for any signs of pain or discomfort, but he’s as animated as he ever was. Periodically, his hand goes absentmindedly to his abdomen, but the expression on his face is never pain, only a mild surprise, as if he hadn’t expected to find his core still there, spinning away. He convinces Lan Wangji to accompany him on a whirlwind tour of the hospital, still attached to his IV, to stave off his restlessness. Lan Wangji isn’t sure how much Wei Wuxian actually learns about the hospital, given that he barely seems to pay any attention to the actual layout of the building, spending all of his time chattering endlessly to Lan Wangji about one subject or another. He does seem to tire faster than he would have on any other day, but that’s to be expected. Lan Wangji can still hear the way Wei Wuxian screamed if he lingers too long on the memory. Even unconscious, his body must have been under a terrible amount of strain. Lan Wangji thinks this and places his hand on Wei Wuxian’s lower back, applying the slightest bit of pressure. Wei Wuxian leans back into it with a soft hum as they make their way back to his room.

He lets Lan Wangji slide the robes off his shoulders so he can knead the tension from his back, his neck, his shoulders. He lets out pleased little moans whenever Lan Wangji pushes on a particularly tangled knot, which is both wonderful and awful. Lan Wangji suspects he’s doing it on purpose when he catches sight of Wei Wuxian sneaking a glance at him, eyes half-lidded and lips slightly parted. He doesn’t even have the shame to hide it, blowing Lan Wangji a kiss instead. Lan Wangji pushes down harder in retaliation and is rewarded with a sharp gasp and high peal of laughter.

“I surrender, I surrender!” Wei Wuxian says, batting his hands away and shrugging his robes back on.

Wei Wuxian wants to save Jiang Yanil’s cooking for tomorrow, so Lan Wangji leaves the hospital to pick up a spread of spicy dishes from a local restaurant for dinner, since it seems Wei Wuxian’s family has made plans that his siblings can’t get out of. This doesn’t seem to offend Wei Wuxian in the slightest, though Lan Wangji voices his worry.

“Uncle Jiang already texted to let me know he’d be by tomorrow,” Wei Wuxian says, waving him off and snapping his chopsticks apart in one motion. “And Jiang Cheng and shijie haven’t seen their parents since the break, so it’s natural for them to have dinner together. Anyways! That means I can have dinner with you! Wait, did you not order anything non-spicy for yourself? Lan Zhan!”

“I’m happy to eat what Wei Ying eats,” Lan Wangji says, though the spice numbs his lips and burns his throat. It still tastes good, after all.

“You’re so silly, Er-gege!” Wei Wuxian admonishes. “Make sure you eat something properly when you go home, okay?”

“Mn,” Lan Wangji agrees.

By the time Lan Wangji reluctantly packs up to return to campus, the sun has already set. He returns to the jingshi and takes a shower to wash away some of the hospital smell. He texts his brother and uncle to let them know that he’s back and planning on attending classes in the morning.

His brother texts back a string of happy emojis while his uncle responds with a formal acknowledgement. Minutes later, there’s a knock at the jingshi door.

“Brother,” Lan Wangji says when he opens the door with his hair still wet and loose to find Lan Xichen holding several bags of frozen wontons.

“Wangji,” Lan Xichen says, handing him the bags. “I brought half of the wontons for you, so you can keep them on hand.”

“Thank you,” Lan Wangji says, taking them over to the freezer. “Did Brother wish to discuss something with me?” he asks.

“Unfortunately, yes,” Lan Xichen says apologetically. “It’s about Su Minshan and Jin Zixun.”

Lan Wangji gestures to his table. “I will make tea,” he says, and Lan Xichen nods his thanks.

The news, when Lan Xichen finally explains the situation, is equal parts unwelcome and infuriating.

“Jin Zixun will remain under the auspices of LanlingJin?” Lan Wangji asks, setting his teacup down before his trembling hand can spill its contents.

Lan Xichen nods. “Yes. Jin Guangshan was unwilling to expel a member of the family.”

“But he is expelled from the university.”

“Yes.”

“Will he be punished by LanlingJin?” Lan Wangji asks.

Lan Xichen sighs. “Sect Leader Jin was… not forthcoming, claiming it to be private, intra-clan business. He insisted that Jin Zixun did no physical harm to you, and so GusuLan had no claim to make.”

“And YunmengJiang?” Lan Wangji presses. “Wei Wuxian is their senior disciple.”

“That discussion, I was politely informed, was one that did not concern us,” Lan Xichen says with a smile that Lan Wangji recognizes as one masking genuine fury.

“I see,” Lan Wangji says.

“Su Minshan has until the end of next week to remove himself from the university grounds,” Lan Xichen continues. “But he has requested an audience with you and Young Master Wei before he leaves.”

“What for?” Lan Wangji asks, too sharply, too rudely. He takes a steadying breath.

“I believe he wishes to apologize,” Lan Xichen says, tone taking on the barest edge of reprimand. This is fair—Lan Wangji resolves to control himself. “I said I would ask if you were both willing. Are you?”

Lan Wangji thinks about it. For all that Su She has been an undesirable presence in his life, Lan Wangji has, on principle, always upheld the value of forgiveness. This does nothing to quell the bitter tide that rises in him.

Lan Wangji takes a deep breath. “I will see him, if Wei Ying is willing.”

At this, Lan Xichen’s smile grows more sincere. “That’s exactly what Young Master Wei said when I asked him.”

“Exactly?” Lan Wangji asks doubtfully.

“He may have used more colorful wording,” Lan Xichen admits with a laugh before sobering. “I will schedule a time for him to see the both of you and send you and Young Master Wei the details.”

 

Lan Wangji dutifully eats a small bowl of wontons for dinner after Lan Xichen leaves since he promised Wei Wuxian he would. Before he retires to bed, he reviews all the work he’s missed and sets aside time in his schedule to get caught up. It’s not nearly as bad as he imagined. The last few days have felt like weeks, but in reality, he’s barely missed anything.

He goes to classes, requests notes from some of his more studious classmates, and counts the minutes until he can go back to the hospital. Wei Wuxian doesn’t make this any easier, burying him in a deluge of texts so frequent he eventually has to change his settings from vibrate to silent to avoid disturbing his lectures.

“Lan Zhan!” Wei Wuxian exclaims when he finally arrives at his room late in the afternoon. “I missed you! Did you miss me?”

The truth, as ridiculous as it is, is yes. “Mn,” Lan Wangji says, setting down his things and posting up in his chair beside Wei Wuxian’s bed. He looks better—his hair is messy, but untangled, and his face looks brighter, cleaner. “How does Wei Ying feel?”

Wei Wuxian sighs. “Fine,” he says. “Bored~”

“Would you like to go on a walk?” Lan Wangji offers.

“I thought you’d never ask!” Wei Wuxian chirps throwing off his covers and shoving his feet into slippers. Lan Wangji thinks about pointing out that he’s been in the room for less than thirty seconds, but refrains.

“How was Wei Ying’s day?” Lan Wangji asks as they amble through the hallways. Wei Wuxian launches gladly into anecdotes about the people who came to see him, praising Jiang Yanli’s cooking, complaining about the lack of entertainment—Jiang Fengmian had stopped by as promised, and Nie Huaisang had apparently popped in for half an hour between classes. Wen Ning had brought A’Yuan by after school had let out, and Lan Wangji is sad to learn that he had just missed them, but—perhaps, he thinks tentatively, there will be more opportunities for him to see the Wens from now on.

“I brought some food,” Lan Wangji says. “Would you like to share?”

Wei Wuxian beams at him. “You really are the best to me Lan-er-gege,” he says.

Lan Wangji thinks that this is patently untrue. He has been, at best, inconsistent and unpredictable towards Wei Wuxian these past few months. “I’m not,” he tries to say.

“You put up with me!”

“Mere tolerance should not be praised,” Lan Wangji says with a little frown.

Wei Wuxian pauses and Lan Wangji nearly runs into him.

“Lan Zhan,” he asks seriously. “Are you only tolerating me?”

There’s a rush of fear that courses through Lan Wangji at his words. “No,” he says immediately. “Never.”

Wei Wuxian smiles. “See? So what’s the problem with praising you? You bring me food, and you remember my favorite brand of chili oil, and you let me disrupt your space even when it’s inconvenient, and you help me with my work, and you’re always defending my honor, and—”

“Enough,” Lan Wangji says, feeling very warm about the ears.

“I had a lot of time to think about it more carefully,” Wei Wuxian carries on, starting to walk again. “I don’t know why I ever thought you disliked me. You do so much.”

“I have not always been kind to Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji says.

“I cross all your lines, Lan Zhan. You’ve been very kind to me.”

Lan Wangji pulls him backwards, spinning him around to press a nervous kiss to his lips. He nearly misses, because he moved too quickly, and there are people around, but—he is making an effort, he wants to make an effort, he wants Wei Wuxian to know—

“I’m happy you cross my lines,” he says urgently when he pulls away. “You make me happy, Wei Ying.”

Wei Wuxian grabs his wrist and starts pulling him rapidly back towards the room. “Lan Zhan,” he says firmly. “Can we please fucking make out when we’re back inside the room?”

“If Wei Ying wants,” Lan Wangji says, heart skipping a beat.

“Does Lan Zhan want?” Wei Wuxian asks, even as he’s pulling them through the door.

Lan Wangji pushes Wei Wuxian up agains the door, carefully because even though he’s no longer on an IV, Lan Wangji is still hyperconscious of his mortality. He studies Wei Wuxian’s face for the barest of moments, traces his thumbs across his cheekbones, and then leans in.

Wei Wuxian’s lips open under his without hesitation, his arms going up around Lan Wangji’s neck as they kiss. It’s very, very nice.

By the time they break apart, they’re both breathing heavily. Wei Wuxian’s eyes are a little glazed, his lips shimmery and wet. “Fuck,” he says with feeling, yanking Lan Wangji close by the hips.

“We’re still in the hospital,” Lan Wangji says breathlessly, even as his hands go to Wei Wuxian’s waist.

“Private room,” Wei Wuxian says, parroting Lan Wangji’s words back at him with a mischievous little lilt. But he steps back and takes a few deep breaths, straightening his crinkly hospital robes to absolutely no avail. “Two more days,” he mutters, almost to himself. “Two more fucking days.”

“Are you hungry?” Lan Wangji asks in a desperate attempt to change the subject, walking over to the table to rummage in his bag for the food.

“Oh, I’m hungry,” Wei Wuxian growls in frustration, then immediately buries his face in his hands. “Okay, okay, I’m fine, I’m fine, this is fine.” He throws himself with an audible plop into the chair beside Lan Wangji. His hand immediately snakes its way onto Lan Wangji’s thigh.

Lan Wangji pointedly removes it. “Behave,” he says.

“Can’t I even touch?” Wei Wuxian pleads.

Lan Wangji shakes his head. “If you do—” He doesn’t finish the sentence.

“If I do, what?” Wei Wuxian prods, sensing weakness.

Lan Wangji starts taking the lids off the bowls because responding to Wei Wuxian is a dangerous prospect. “Would you like to try heating the food?” he asks.

“Oh!” This does seem to distract him. “That’s a good idea. I haven’t tested my energy control yet.”

He flicks his fingers at a bowl with a red flash, and the contents immediately boil over all over the table.

“Oh shit!” Wei Wuxian exclaims, leaping to his feet and yanking Lan Wangji out of the way before the liquid spills onto their laps.

It wasn’t a very large bowl of soup, but even a cup of soup is a lot of soup when it’s all over the floor.

“Well,” Wei Wuxian says over the sound of the soup dripping steadily off the table. “I think that could have gone better.” He darts forward to rescue Lan Wangji’s bag from the spreading flood, setting it on a dry chair.

“Perhaps,” Lan Wangji says diplomatically.

Wei Wuxian starts to giggle, quietly at first, then in uncontrollable, roiling waves. Lan Wangji watches him, his head thrown back with it, one arm over his eyes as he leans against the bed. He is incandescent.

They clean up the mess together with handfuls of paper towels pilfered from the dispenser over the sink in the corner of the room. Lan Wangji heats up the rest of the food for them and they eat an early dinner.

“Did you get the message about Su She?” Wei Wuxian asks abruptly as they’re finishing up.

“Mn,” Lan Wangji says, glancing at the clock. “He will be here soon.”

“Yeah,” Wei Wuxian says, wiping his mouth on a paper towel.

Lan Wangji hesitates, but then asks, “And… do you know what will happen to Jin Zixun?”

“Ah,” Wei Wuxian says, eyebrow twitching. “Uncle Jiang has been telling me about it.”

“Brother… is not pleased,” Lan Wangji says, then adds, “I am not pleased.”

“No one’s fucking pleased,” Wei Wuxian says with a shrug. “But what did you expect? Cousin to the heir? Jin Guangshan was never going to lift a finger. Not for the son of a servant like me.” Lan Wangji opens his mouth, but Wei Wuxian belays him with a raised hand. “Sect politics aren’t fair, Lan Zhan. They never have been.”

“It’s unjust,” Lan Wangji says anyways. “If Su Minshan is expelled, then Jin Zixun should be expelled.” He pauses. “More so. He was the primary aggressor.”

“As much as Su She grinds my nerves, I feel kind of sorry for the bastard,” Wei Wuxian says, putting the lids back on the empty bowls.

“Do you?”

“There’s a special sort of despair you feel when you know your birth is the only reason you aren’t granted the same treatment as someone who is otherwise your equal.” Wei Wuxian pauses. “Or your lesser. Still—” He pulls out his phone, showing Lan Wangji a wall of text. “The one good thing to come out of this bullshit is this apology text from Jin Zixuan. I sent screenshots to shijie because she deserves to know what kind of idiot she’s marrying. The one Jin Guangyao sent was comprehensible, but no fun at all.”

“They were both unhappy with their father’s decision,” Lan Wangji says, skimming the message, which reads more like bad medieval poetry than an apology.

“Yeah. Oh well, I’m thinking of taking out a restraining order out of spite, just to make seating arrangements at discussion conferences into a logistical nightmare, but if we’re being honest, that’s just going to come down on Lianfang-zun’s head. We all know he’s the one doing the work anyways.”

Wei Wuxian continues musing on the pros and cons of the theoretical restraining order, mood light and unburdened as he rambles, putting the bowls back into Lan Wangji’s bag as Lan Wangji wipes down the table once more for good measure.

“What do you think, Er-gege?” Wei Wuxian asks, propping his chin in his hand as he leans his elbow against the table.

“I don’t want him anywhere near you ever again,” Lan Wangji says immediately. He doesn’t even need to think. He wants Jin Zixun ruined, but barring that, he’ll take never seeing the man within a hundred meters of Wei Wuxian for the rest of their lives. “But it’s Wei Ying’s choice,” he adds reluctantly.

Wei Wuxian hums noncommittally, waving his fingers in the air and leaving spitting, sparkling trails in their wake. “It feels stronger than it was before the poison,” he remarks, and then falls silent.

They sit together quietly as he practices a few inert talismans in the air. There’s something akin to wonder in his expression that makes Lan Wangji ache inside to see.

This is how the time passes between them until Su She arrives.

He looks… defeated, really. His handsome face is drawn with stress and his posture curves in on itself.

“Second—” His voice catches in his throat and he coughs. “Second Young Master Lan,” he corrects formally, not quite able to meet their combined gazes.

“Su Minshan,” Lan Wangji acknowledges.

“Young Master Wei.”

“What’s up,” Wei Wuxian says flatly.

The corners of Su She’s mouth tighten, but he refrains from lashing out. “I came… to apologize,” he grits out. “For my actions. Which were dangerous and childish.” He shifts on his feet. Every fragment seems to come at great cost. “I’m sorry for the hurt I caused you.” He bows very slightly.

A long and painful silence follows.

“Is that all?” Wei Wuxian asks bluntly.

Su She’s eyes snap up to him, provoked. “I—” His jaw works. He looks away again.

“Well,” Wei Wuxian says after another moment. “If that’s all you had to say, it’s been received.” He glances at Lan Wangji questioningly. Okay? he mouths at him. Lan Wangji nods almost imperceptibly.

“You saved my life once!” Su She blurts out suddenly.

“Uh,” Wei Wuxian says.

“Not you!” he snaps. “Second—Hanguang-jun.”

Lan Wangji blinks. “What?” he asks.

“Almost ten years ago,” Su She says, the words spilling out faster and faster. “At Biling Lake. There was—the GusuLan sect was—you and your brother were investigating a water ghoul infestation, but then—”

“The Waterborne Abyss,” Lan Wangji says with a dawning realization.

“Yes!” Su She latches on desperately, continuing. “I almost drowned.”

“You lost your sword in the water,” Lan Wangji remembers, the memory surfacing as if through fog.

Su She colors, but nods. “I… I worked—I—everything I did after—I joined the GusuLan sect because of you, I wanted—but you never even—”

Everything seems to grow distant. “I never what?” Lan Wangji hears himself ask.

“You never even looked at me!” Su She shouts. “No matter what I did—you didn’t even remember, when I couldn’t forget. For ten years! And every time I tried to—to be friendly, or, or—get you to loosen up, you just got fucking colder.”

That stings. The disgusted disappointment in Su She’s voice actually hurts. Lan Wangji holds himself as still as he can, breathing, still breathing.

“But then he showed up, and it was like—” Su She’s own breathing grows rapid and angry. He’s staring unseeingly at some fixed point on the ground in front of him. “I couldn’t get you to spare me one fucking kind word, but he winked, and you let him put his hands all over you?” The bitter jealousy of it echoes in Lan Wangji’s ears.

“So all of this was because you had a fucking crush on Lan Zhan?” Wei Wuxian asks icily.

“I—!” The sound of Wei Wuxian’s voice seems to bring Su She’s awareness back to reality. He looks up at Wei Wuxian, eyes wild.

“If—” Lan Wangji’s mouth is dry. He swallows and tries again. “If that was how you felt, why did you—that night, why did you call Wei Ying a—” He can’t force the word out. It gets caught between his teeth, tangled in his tongue.

Su She doesn’t seem to have an answer for this. A heavy, oppressive silence descends.

Lan Wangji’s breathing is loud in his ears. “Why didn’t you tell me?” he asks. “Why did you do this instead?”

Tell you?” Su She asks derisively. “To what end?”

“So you hurt Wei Ying to—what, to punish me?” Lan Wangji demands. This is somehow the worst possible revelation. It cuts in ways Lan Wangji doesn’t know how to quantify or describe.

Lan Wangji is cold. Lan Wangji is not friendly or nice or welcoming or peaceable. He has never concerned himself with the feelings of others. How can he, when he has never understood them? He doesn’t know how to be any other way. Would this have happened, if only he had been more like his peers? Would this have happened, if only he had been less himself?

Su She at least has the shame to look away at that.

“I think we’re done here,” Wei Wuxian says, voice pitched with a dangerous nonchalance. “But hey, take comfort,” he adds viciously. “It wasn’t all in vain. At least you’re the reason Lan Zhan met someone he actually likes.”

Su She face cycles through a whole palette of colors before he storms out without another word, slamming the door in his wake.

“Lan Zhan?” Wei Wuxian says, walking around so he’s standing in front of Lan Wangji. “Hey, look at me?”

Lan Wangji does.

There’s none of the vitriol that he’d used on Su She left in his face. He looks at Lan Wangji with a patient and worried kindness that soothes, just a little, as he tips Lan Wangji’s face towards him with a finger under his chin.

“Can I sit in your lap, Lan-er-gege?”

And Lan Wangji means to remind him again of the fact that anyone could walk into the room at any time, he does, but it all gets lost somewhere on the way to his mouth, jammed behind the lump in his throat, so he nods instead.

Wei Wuxian straddles him easily, scooting forward until their chests are pressed together and he has his arms tentacled around Lan Wangji’s back. His face is tucked into the crook of Lan Wangji’s neck, nose nuzzling at his ear.

“What… are you doing?” Lan Wangji asks, hoping his voice doesn’t betray him.

“I’m hugging you,” Wei Wuxian says, a little muffled. “It looked like you might need it.”

Lan Wangji raises his arms hesitantly, placing his hands awkwardly on Wei Wuxian’s back.

Wei Wuxian snorts in amusement. “You can touch,” he says. “As much as you want. As much as you need.”

So Lan Wangji pulls him in even tighter, so close he thinks they’re both breathing with a little difficulty, but the pressure of it helps, the weight of Wei Wuxian helps. He holds on like he’ll fall if he doesn’t, holds on for long minutes with his face buried into Wei Wuxian’s shoulder, eyes squeezed shut against the turmoil that threatens to spill out of him.

Slowly, the chaos in him calms. His grip on Wei Wuxian loosens by degrees until Wei Wuxian pulls back just enough so that their noses are touching.

“Are you okay?” Wei Wuxian whispers.

Lan Wangji nods.

“You know it’s not your fault, right?”

Lan Wangji nods again. He does know—there’s no sense in blaming himself. It is no one’s fault but the ones who acted in violence. He knows. He knows.

Wei Wuxian kisses him and Lan Wangji lets himself focus on nothing but the sensation of it, the way Wei Wuxian’s lips are chapped from the dry hospital air, the way he tastes like Jiang Yanli’s cooking and the dinner they shared, the way he tempers his overflowing exuberance into something so gentle.

They sit together for a few moments after they break apart, held loosely together by the loops of their arms. Lan Wangji feels—quiet. Wei Wuxian sighs in content as he snuggles against Lan Wangji.

“What you said,” Lan Wangji says finally.

“Hm?” Wei Wuxian asks lazily.

“At the end. To Su Minshan. It was… cruel.”

Wei Wuxian pulls back to study his face. “Does that bother you?” He says it without contrition, without anxiety. Wei Wuxian does not apologize for who he is.

Lan Wangji examines his feelings. “A little,” he concludes. “But I’m still glad Wei Ying said it.” He pauses. “I thought you felt sorry for him.”

“Ugh, in principle,” Wei Wuxian grumbles. “But it’s different when I’m watching him hurt my er-gege.” He shrugs. “I never said I was a very principled man.”

“Wei Ying is principled.”

“Not perfectly,” Wei Wuxian says with a smile.

“No one is.”

Wei Wuxian’s smile grows wider. “Not even Hanguang-jun.”

“Mn.” Lan Wangji strokes his hair. “Wei Ying should probably get up.”

A sly grin flickers across his face. “I’m already up,” he says, wiggling his hips against Lan Wangji’s. He leans in close, places his lips right up against Lan Wangji’s ear. “You know, I’ve been thinking,” he murmurs. “I never did give you that private show I offered you. What do you say, Lan-er-gege? I’m being released in two days. Are you still going to refu—”

Lan Wangji stands without warning, swooping his arm under Wei Wuxian, even as he yelps in surprise and wraps his legs instinctively around Lan Wangji’s waist. Wei Wuxian is already shaking with helpless giggles as Lan Wangji carries him over to the bed and dumps him there. Things are not perfect, but Lan Wangji can live with that, he thinks as he watches Wei Wuxian let go willingly and fall backwards, spreading his limbs out like a starfish over the too-small bed as he laughs and laughs and laughs.

 

 


WARNINGS: 

1. experimental surgical procedure completed without explicit consent of the patient. it turns out okay. 

 

NOTES:

(i... literally wrote so much in the end notes i surpassed the character limit EEK so i'm sticking the first four here!!)

1. all right guys. according to my word processor, final wordcount for this chapter clocking in at 14,460. dear god.

2. jicai (ji4 cai4 | 荠菜) is shepherd’s purse, but i wanted to use “purse” as a descriptor later in the scene, so I used the chinese term for it instead ;;;;; write woes ahahahah. the wontons + broth i described here are the ones that i’m familiar with making with my shanghai-based family. as far as i can tell, gusu is in the suzhou area (i think??) which is close by….??? i did my best

3. this is a random detail but persimmons come in both astringent and non-astringent varieties. the astringent kind, if you eat them when they’re not like FULLY RIPE to the point of mushiness, make your tongue feel like it’s covered in hair LMAO i sure do….. have firsthand experience…. of this :’) (but they’re so good it’s worth it)

4. 108,000 miles—this is actually the phrase 十万八千里 so 108,000 li as opposed to miles. i always think it’s such a fun metric of huge distance. i think it comes from journey to the west and the story of the monkey king? sun wukong is supposedly able to travel 108,000 li with one somersault, which i found very delightful as a child. it might have other origins but idk what they are, probably buddhist tbh. (then again, journey to the west is all about bringing buddhist texts to china so *shrug*)

Chapter Text

Lan Wangji hesitates at the threshold of the jingshi, hand hovering at the door, heart pounding in painful staccato. He swallows hard, the little chirp of a text notification from Wei Wuxian still ringing in his ears.

lan-er-gege!!! u can come in now!!!! followed by a cheering kaomoji and several winky faces.

It’s fine. He just has to breathe. There is nothing shameful about this, he repeats tentatively to himself as his fingers find purchase in the door handle. It helps to imagine it in Wei Wuxian’s voice, the soothing tenor of it with notes of gentle laughter. Nothing at all, remember?

He pulls the door open.

The jingshi is draped in gauzy fabrics backlit with soft lamps hidden from view, all the curtains drawn over the windows. It gives the jingshi a deceptively cozy atmosphere. There’s a chair innocently placed in the center of the room, one that Lan Wangji recognizes from the Jiang house’s kitchen. Lan Wangji is never going to be able to eat a meal there after this.

He shuts the door behind him, takes off his shoes with careful deliberation, setting them neatly on the mat. There’s shuffling coming from the bathroom, a clatter of a bottle being knocked to the floor and a cheerfully bitten-off curse. Lan Wangji is hyperaware of every sound, the quickening of his own breath in the quiet, the susurrus of his robes—they feel deafening, even against his thundering heartbeat.

“Wei Ying?” he calls tentatively, voice very soft.

“Lan Zhan!” Wei Wuxian’s voice exclaims, slightly muffled by the bathroom door. “Are you ready?”

Lan Wangji licks his lips nervously. “What constitutes ready?”

A laugh. “Don’t think too hard. Just tell me when you’re in the chair.”

This is more vague than Lan Wangji had hoped for, but he takes a steadying breath, shedding his outermost layer and hanging it in a closet. His eyes flit towards the chair, then back to his hands, still anxiously and ineffectually smoothing down the fabric on the hanger. He takes a step back, then another, trying to hold his hands still by his side.

He walks to the chair, settles into it like a songbird might, tense and ever-ready for flight.

“Wei Ying,” he says. “I’m here.”

The lights dim ever so slightly, though Lan Wangji isn’t exactly sure how given that the jingshi is not equipped with dimmer switches. It shifts the quality of the air, tipping it into something… else.

A lilting guitar strain threads its way through the room.

This in itself is surprising—it’s not at all the kind of music Lan Wangji expected. He’d been braced for the kind of thudding music he’s come to associate with Club Yiling, the kind that worms its way inside the ribcage and makes its raucous home there.

This loosens his chest, makes it a little easier to breathe.

The door to the bathroom clicks open, and Wei Wuxian steps out from behind the translucent fabric hung across the frame. Lan Wangji feels his lips part.

Wei Wuxian approaches catlike from across the room, every step with his bare feet light and calculated. His hair artfully disheveled, figure draped in loose robes that trail over the floor, he pauses right before Lan Wangji, fingers reaching out to ghost the air by his cheeks, knuckles not quite brushing skin.

Lan Wangji’s eyes flutter shut briefly because it’s too much, it’s already too much, how can he be expected to?

Wei Wuxian’s layered robes are a riot of violets, one of the prides of YunmengJiang. Lan Wangji already wants to surge to his feet and throw his arms around him, hold him fast and still. He could be happy like that, he thinks, just like that, holding a Wei Wuxian who is whole and loved. He doesn’t, but it’s a near thing.

“House rules,” Wei Wuxian murmurs, swaying to the melody that fills the room. “I can touch, but you may not. Understood?”

Lan Wangji nods mutely, his voice having fled the moment Wei Wuxian’s shadow had appeared to him.

Wei Wuxian’s hand slides around the back Lan Wangji’s neck, sifting through his hair, fingers cool against his burning skin. “Good boy,” he says with the faintest of smiles.

It’s all Lan Wangji can do to stop himself from grabbing that hand, kissing that palm, taking those fingers into his mouth—

Lan Wangji tries to remember to breathe as Wei Wuxian begins to dance.

It’s different than everything he’s seen before. Wei Wuxian moves with the deliberation of a kunqu performer, the care of someone who knows every shift of the body carries meaning. His arms frame his face in unexpected shapes, hands skimming down his sides with fluttering motions. When he undoes the sash at his waist, letting the first layer slip from his shoulders to pool at his feet, he does it with the grace of a lazy tongue of flame.

He steps out of the fabric towards Lan Wangji, then stops, still hovering just out of reach. Wei Wuxian trails his own fingers down his face, letting the tips catch on his lower lip one by one, his eyes playing demure, flickering up towards Lan Wangji then away again. Lan Wangji takes a shuddering breath.

Wei Wuxian mouths the lyrics to the song as he continues to move, turning circles, hands still all over himself. He looks so—! Lan Wangji knows he’s leaning forward in the chair, but he can’t bring himself to care. Oh, how he wants! Even without the dizzy haze of alcohol, Wei Wuxian is the brightest point in the soft light. His skin shimmers as rolls his head, presents his throat to Lan Wangji. Lan Wangji reaches out before he thinks, and Wei Wuxian catches his hand in his, places it against his mouth.

“No touching, Er-gege,” he whispers against the whorls of Lan Wangji’s fingerprints. “Remember?” His tongue darts out just for a second, and he pushes Lan Wangji’s hand away.

This is crushing, if Lan Wangji is being honest, which he always is. He retracts his hand obediently anyways, pausing only to bring it to his own lips for a brief moment. He’s rewarded with a stutter in Wei Wuxian’s otherwise fluid motion.

When the next layer comes off, it reveals a sheer, wine-red slip of a thing beneath, and this is how Wei Wuxian looks when he takes the final step into Lan Wangji’s space, pushing Lan Wangji’s legs apart and taking his place between his thighs.

Lan Wangji has his head tipped up to look into Wei Wuxian’s sharp painted eyes, the halo of light about his crown. He very much wants to kiss. Wei Wuxian’s hands come up in tandem to caress the planes of Lan Wangji’s face, fingers curled around the shells of his ears. When Wei Wuxian opens his mouth and sings along to the music, his lips are so close to Lan Wangji’s own that he can taste the warmth of Wei Wuxian’s breath.

“请原谅我多情的打扰,” he whispers, and then pulls away, leaving Lan Wangji feeling terribly, terribly bereft.

“Wei Ying,” he says hoarsely.

Wei Wuxian doesn’t answer him, just steps away in a whirl of crimson as the music picks up. Lan Wangji watches, entranced. He can see the shape of Wei Wuxian’s body in silhouette through the diaphanous red of his last layer. Wei Wuxian dances with it like a maiden with her sleeves. It comes away from his body in panels, revealing flashes of naked skin before it falls back into place, shielding him coyly from view.

By the time Wei Wuxian finally returns to him, straddling Lan Wangji’s hips and settling with a pointed squirm into his lap, Lan Wangji can feel the threads of his self-control snapping one by one. Wei Wuxian is so warm as he rolls himself against Lan Wangji. They’re both hard already—Lan Wangji can feel it every time Wei Wuxian rocks his hips. He keeps his hands clenched into fists by his side as Wei Wuxian’s eyes sparkle at him. Delicately, Wei Wuxian reaches over and pries them loose, placing both of Lan Wangji’s hands on his waist.

“Be gentle, Er-gege,” he warns playfully.

It takes everything in Lan Wangji not to yank Wei Wuxian down hard, but he manages to keep his hands light, though they tremble.

Wei Wuxian hums approvingly and honors him with a little more friction, lips turning up at Lan Wangji’s involuntary gasp.

“Heavens, you’ll really be the death of me,” Wei Wuxian says with a heartbreaking fondness. Lan Wangji thinks he must have misspoken, because it’s obviously Wei Wuxian who’s going to kill him first if he keeps on like this, moving faster as the music crescendoes, moving, moving—

The song ends, and Wei Wuxian freezes. Their noses are almost touching. There’s a beat of silence punctuated by ragged breathing.

Lan Wangji lifts Wei Wuxian up sharply, and Wei Wuxian yelps in surprise, wrapping his legs around Lan Wangji’s waist. There’s a persistent buzzing in Lan Wangji’s head, the buzzing of elation and desire and permission. He all but throws Wei Wuxian onto the bed, careful not to let his head hit the boards.

Wei Wuxian is already laughing as he is wont to do, bouncing back up into a sitting position. “So eager, Lan-er-gege!” he teases. The slip he’s wearing slides off one shoulder, and Lan Wangji tugs it sharply off the other with a single-minded drive. He wants it off now, he wants to see Wei Ying, he wants—

His hands go still as the slip falls away, leaving Wei Wuxian sitting in a pile of bright red. He’s wearing nothing but a pair of blue lace panties underneath, and he stretches languidly to show them off.

Lan Wangji can’t think. Or speak. Or move.

This just makes Wei Wuxian laugh harder. “Like seeing me in your colors, Lan-er-gege?”

It breaks the spell. Lan Wangji tears the ribbon from his forehead, pushes Wei Wuxian down hard against the bed. He straddles him with his knees.

“Snap your fingers if I cross the line,” he manages to get out.

Wei Wuxian’s brow wrinkles, though the smile never quite leaves his mouth. “What do you mean sn—mmf—!”

Lan Wangji shoves the metal ornament on his ribbon between Wei Wuxian’s teeth like a bit and pulls the ribbon tight, jerking on the ends until they cut into the corners of his mouth. He knots them securely behind Wei Wuxian’s head with the ease of decades of practice.

Wei Wuxian’s eyes are wide with a shock that’s quickly tilting into lust. Lan Wangji lets his hand rest lightly on Wei Wuxian’s throat, just enough so that he can feel the pulse jumping there.

“Hands,” Lan Wangji commands through a thick tongue. “Above your head.”

Wei Wuxian raises them slowly, never breaking eye contact, until he holds them crossed at the wrist. Lan Wangji undoes the sash at his waist and ties it tight around them before he strips out of his outer robes and tosses them to the floor.

Wei Wuxian’s pupils are blown wide, his breathing huffed around the makeshift gag. His spit darkens the light blue fabric, and Lan Wangji feels a dark thrill in seeing how the sacred is profaned. He leans down and kisses Wei Wuxian, tonguing between his open lips, feeling the embossed surface of the cloud held between his teeth. Wei Wuxian whimpers into it, his whole body arching.

Lan Wangji thinks he is alight. There’s a fire running under his skin, so bright and so ecstatic. He keeps kissing Wei Wuxian for long minutes until spittle runs from the corners of Wei Wuxian’s mouth, until Wei Wuxian’s moans grow plaintive and insistent.

Lan Wangji shifts down the bed peppering kisses and nips along the way like a trail of breadcrumbs to find his way home. When he scrapes his teeth along the dip of Wei Wuxian’s bones, right at his waistband, Lan Wangji hears him gasp.

He’s never done this before, but the theory is there, surely? Lan Wangji mouths over Wei Wuxian’s erection through the lace, feeling the texture of the fabric chafing lightly against the thin skin of his lips. He exhales hot over it, presses kisses to it as Wei Wuxian shakes. He throws his arms over Wei Wuxian’s thighs to hold him still as he peels the panties down with his teeth.

Wei Wuxian cries out, a tiny, startled “ah!” that travels like lightning down Lan Wangji’s spine. He glances up to see Wei Wuxian staring down at him helplessly, lips jewel-bright and kiss-stung against the blue of his ribbon.

Lan Wangji takes the head of Wei Wuxian’s cock into his mouth, laying his tongue against its underside, the ridges there. He feels Wei Wuxian make an aborted thrust and bears down harder, hollowing his cheeks. Wei Wuxian tastes like skin and sweat and the barest bitterness of precome. It sticks in the back of Lan Wangji’s throat, burns just a little. Lan Wangji hums around the thick heat in his mouth, lets it vibrate there before pulling off to take a breath.

He presses his nose into the soft curls of hair at his base, sucking kisses there until he’s satisfied with Wei Wuxian’s shivers and little whining noises. It takes a while. After all, Lan Wangji is greedy. By the time he looks back up, Wei Wuxian’s eyes are glazed and dizzy, his whole body tighter than piano wire. He leans back down.

Lan Wangji fucks his own mouth on Wei Wuxian’s cock, feeling the slip of precome on his tongue as he moves. He doesn’t understand how much he wants this, can’t begin to fathom the depths of his own insistent neediness. He swirls his tongue around the head once, then again—

“Lan Zhan—ah, Lan Zhan, wait—” Wei Wuxian gasps around the ribbon, words muffled around the edges, and then there’s come filling Lan Wangji’s mouth, faster than he can swallow, hotter than he expected. It spills past his lips back onto Wei Wuxian as he gags on it, the acrid taste of it stinging in his nose. He swallows anyways to draw out Wei Wuxian’s cries, swallows again and again until Wei Wuxian is sobbing and writhing away from him.

“Please, Lan Zhan, please, please—” he babbles through the ribbon. “Lan Zhan, please—

Lan Wangji licks him one last time from base to tip for good measure and hears Wei Wuxian’s voice crack on his name.

Lan Wangji rises back up on his knees, clambers up the bed until he’s straddling Wei Wuxian’s waist. Untying his inner robes and shoving his own trousers down, he takes himself in hand with trembling fingers, runs the wet tip of his cock over Wei Wuxian’s nipples, against his collarbones, across his lips. A bead of precome drips into Wei Wuxian’s held-open mouth. Lan Wangji feels his own breath punched out of him.

“I’m going to come on you,” he says, stroking himself. “Okay?”

Wei Wuxian nods. “Hanguang-jun is welcome,” he whispers.

Lan Wangji gasps because he was already close, and paints white streaks on Wei Wuxian’s throat, his chin, speckles his ribbon with his own release.

Lan Wangji’s knees give out, but he catches himself before he falls with his full weight onto Wei Wuxian. With a shaking hand, he undoes the butterfly knot behind Wei Wuxian’s head, freeing his mouth.

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian murmurs. “Lan Zhan!”

“I’m here,” Lan Wangji responds. “I’m here, Wei Ying, I’m here.” He’s shivery all over, tremors in his muscles like static.

“Untie my hands so I can put them on you,” Wei Wuxian says.

Lan Wangji does, and Wei Wuxian pulls him down so they can kiss, long and unhurried. Lan Wangji can smell himself on Wei Wuxian’s skin.

“Fuck,” Wei Wuxian says with feeling. “Damn it.”

“What?” Lan Wangji asks, immediately worried. “What’s wrong?”

Wei Wuxian grins wryly. “I really wanted you to fuck me.”

“Oh.”

“Don’t look like that!” He pecks him on the nose. “This was good too. This was so good, actually,” he laughs. “Hanguang-jun really knows how to bear things in his mouth, doesn’t he?”

Lan Wangji buries his face into Wei Wuxian’s shoulder because of course Wei Wuxian has to be embarrassing in all things.

Wei Wuxian continues, words tripping off his tongue without a hint of shame. “But I want your come inside of me too, you know? On me, inside me, in my mouth—”

“Wei Ying!” Lan Wangji interrupts, feeling his cheeks heat.

“Is Lan-er-gege shy?” Wei Wuxian teases. “Doesn’t he want that too?”

He does want that too. He wants to mark every inch of Wei Wuxian in the filthiest way possible so no one else can have him again. This is a dishonorable thought, but he supposes he could stand to grow a little more comfortable with his own dishonor. So he forces himself to nod, to show Wei Wuxian that he’s trying.

Wei Wuxian’s smile grows wider and softer. “Look at you,” he says, bringing one hand to his cheek.

“Look at me?” Lan Wangji asks. He doesn’t want to. He just wants to keep staring at Wei Ying.

“Where do you keep your lube, for next time?” Wei Wuxian asks, craning his neck. “In here?” He tugs the bedside drawer open before Lan Wangji can stop him.

Wei Wuxian’s eyes widen. There, laid out before him, are all his little paper men and doodles, every sketch he’d ever given Lan Wangji. And there, among them, is the shell of his burnt talisman. He turns back to look at Lan Wangji, his eyes wide and brimming with an emotion Lan Wangji is scared to name.

“Oh, Lan Zhan!” he says.

“I—I don’t keep it there,” Lan Wangji stammers. “I mean. I have—it’s somewhere else, I can—”

Wei Wuxian cuts him off with a fierce kiss that silences the panicking gallop of his mind. “I changed my mind, I don’t give a fuck about the lube right now,” he says against his lips. “I like you so much, please just keep kissing me so I don’t lose my mind.” So Lan Wangji does.

When they finally break apart, he can feel Wei Wuxian starting to shiver from the cold, the drying sweat and come on his skin leaving him cool to the touch. “Wait here,” he says, getting to his feet. He opts to step out of his pants entirely, leaving himself wearing only his inner robes, untied and loose. He catches sight of Wei Wuxian staring at him appreciatively and looks away quickly as he heads to the bathroom. Inside, he cleans himself with a warm washcloth, then fetches a second to bring out to Wei Wuxian.

He opens the door to the sound of fluttering wings and snapping paper.

All of the paper men from the drawer are awake, flying towards him in an excited flock, swirling around the room like the first flurry of autumn leaves in the wind. They swarm to him, plastering themselves to his arms, his cheeks, his legs, climbing over his body with feather-light touches, tugging playfully on his clothing and hair, pecking at the corners of his mouth.

“Wei Ying!” Lan Wangji says.

And there he is, beyond the wittering flock of paper, naked and laughing with a smile to charm the moon out of water.

 

 

 

 

 


 

thus begin the end notes.

here’s the song. I linked it way back in chapter one, but this is the cover i think about and listen to all the time. and here’s a translation i did real quick!

 

夜好深了

It’s deep into the night

纸窗里怎么亮着

Why is there light in the paper window?

那不是彻夜等候 你为我点的烛火

That’s not the candle you lit for me after waiting all night, is it?

不过是一次邂逅

But it was just an unexpected meeting

红楼那一场梦

Red mansions, it’s all but a dream1

我的山水全部褪色

All my landscapes have faded

像被大雨洗过

As if washed by a storm

杯中景色诡魅

In the cup, the scenery is bizarre

我忘了我是谁

I’ve forgotten who I am

心情就像夜凉如水

My mood is like the night, cool as water

手里握着蝴蝶杯单飞

In my hand I hold the butterfly chalice2, flying alone

不醉不归

If I’m not drunk, I’ll not return!


说好破晓前忘掉

I’d agreed to forget by daybreak

拥抱变成了煎熬

Embraces become torment

犯错像迷恋镜花水月的无聊

Making mistakes is as senseless as being infatuated with reflections and illusions

请原谅我多情的打扰

Please forgive my most passionate disruptions


威凛凛跨雕鞍忙传一令

with imposing power, striding forward upon a carved saddle, in the midst of command3


醉怎么会喝醉

Drunk! How did I get drunk again?

美因为你的美

Beauty! Because of your beauty!

爱匆匆一瞥不过点缀

Love is just a rushed glance, nothing but embellishment!

飞看大雪纷飞

Fly, watch the snow flurries fly,

却再也找不回

But you can never find again

被白雪覆盖那些青翠

That verdant greenery covered by the white snow

当时空成为拥有你唯一条件

When time and space became the only conditions to have you

我又醉

I’m drunk again!

琥珀色的月结了霜的泪

The amber moon begets tears of frost

我会记得这段岁月

I will remember these years


说好破晓前忘掉

I’d agreed to forget by daybreak

拥抱变成了煎熬

Embraces become torment

犯错像迷恋镜花水月的无聊

Making mistakes is as senseless as being infatuated with reflections and illusions

请原谅我

Please forgive me!


4, 3, 2, 1!

花田里犯了错

In the flower field, I made a mistake

想要破晓前忘掉

I wanted to forget by daybreak

就像我来歌手

Just like my coming to Singer4

有人觉得奇妙

Some people find it amazing

台上的一分钟

One minute on the stage

十年功把眼泪掉

for ten years of sweat and tears

说说笑笑

Talk a little, laugh a little

唱唱跳跳

Sing a little, dance a little

也请你拍手叫好

And also ask that you clap and call bravo!

我的山水全都褪了色

All my landscapes have faded

多情的打扰请原谅我

These most passionate disruptions, please forgive me!

不是彻夜为我点的火

It’s not the candle lit for me at the end of the night!

在那花田里我犯了错

In that flower field, I made a mistake!

花田里犯了错

In the flower field, I made a mistake!

 


1. a reference to the Chinese classic, Dream of Red Mansions (红楼梦)

2. a reference to an opera called “The Butterfly Chalice” or possibly the 1965 movie of the same name; I admittedly know nothing about either of them and most of the information concerning the opera is in Chinese and frankly, I don’t have the energy to spend researching it ;;;

3. this line is from an opera! it’s not in the original song, but the cover artist (吴青峰 | Wu Qingfeng) sang this line for one of his band’s (Sodagreen) original songs several years ago. You can watch a video comparing the music video of the song, his recording of it behind the scenes, and the original opera piece it comes from here! If you’re interested in the Sodagreen song, you can listen to it here on Youtube. If you’re looking on Spotify, it’s off their “Once in a Lifetime” album.

4. this break in the song was written by Wu Qingfeng and isn’t in the original. “Singer” is a competitive singing show, which is where he’s performing this cover. You can watch a lot of the original seasons on Youtube, though they only recently started offering English subs. The 2019 season was plagued with a lot of like, copyright and technical issues, so it’s actually quite hard to watch it in full, even in China lmao. it’s really unfortunate, bc wqf is in it, and i’m extremely weak for him, as well as refined grandma Chyi Yu, and several other very talented artists. Most international audiences probably are familiar with the season that starred Jessie J in 2018, which was also a really good season and has my weird alien boy hua chenyu and my soft classical boy huo zun!! (2015 remains extremely dear to my heart though, ahahaha all of those singers came crashing into my heart full speed :’) im v gay for tan weiwei)


NOTES bc i broke the character limit again!!

1. Re: the (lack) of a dimmer switch—wwx definitely got one of his theatre lighting friends to help him set up the lights for his private strip show because he’s just Like That and you know theatre kids are all about the shenanigans

2. kunqu is an older form of chinese opera that predates the peking opera that most people are familiar with. I think they’re also contemporaries, but gonna be honest, my knowledge of kunqu is extremely limited as in my step-grandma is a kunqu teacher and gave me like 3 lessons once, but my chinese wasn’t good enough to follow her explanations :’) The wiki page is here!

3. 请原谅我多情的打扰 — hello yes i did quote the title in the epilogue, yes this is dangerously close to songfic, no i don’t care

4. so there’s two instances in this where I really played myself by thinking about the dialogue half in chinese and half in english and the first is “Hanguang-jun is welcome” hahaha. In my head, he’s saying, “含光君,请”, which is like please, or you’re welcome to, or a request to go ahead.

the second is, “Hanguang-jun really knows how to bear things in his mouth” LMAO. /o\ for those of you who speak chinese, in my head, it goes something like, “不愧是含光君,真会含!” is this a valid pun?? honestly??? i have no idea, probably it’s something no chinese person would ever say, but the the joke is that the “han” in hgj is the same “han” for holding things in your mouth and look im BAD at dirty talk this is so fucking embarrassing ANYWAYS me, having trouble translating my own bad chinese into english??? it’s more likely than you think *hides face*

5. “to charm the moon out of the water” this is. idk it’s a reference to a line in the song—the one about illusions and reflections. the actual phrase is “镜花水月”: “flowers in a mirror, the moon in water”, and it refers both to illusory things and sort of like, taking an unrealistically positive view of a situation. but guess what!! the happy fantasy became reality!!! they did it!!! so, a smile to charm the moon out of the water, ie, to make the fantasy real. is this dumb?? YEAH but oh WELL i’m a SAP and a FOOL and i’ll see myself out anyways, i really wanted to end the story on an image of wei ying laughing bc I think one of the most important and moving parts of his character is that no matter what happens, no matter how terrible the world, he’s always going to be someone who turns towards joy, you know?