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of all that is tender and good

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As rumors go, the one that led Wei WuXian and Lan WangJi to the tiny mountain village was hardly a rumor at all; they happened to pass a messenger who was on his way to the nearest cultivation clan to beg for help. The problem was a vengeful spirit haunting an abandoned well, the messenger said, which had tried to lure a handful of young boys to their death. For the last three days it had been howling nonstop; the villagers were terrified it would soon come down the mountain for them.

Wei WuXian shrugged and looked at Lan WangJi, who was already saluting. “It will be our honor to undertake this task.” The same thing he always said.

The messenger was beside himself with relief; he would have to pass by the haunted well to get to the clan residence in the city, and he wanted no part of it. He gave them directions to the site of the disturbance and then scampered back in the direction from which he came.

Wei WuXian checked his spirit compass. “Nothing.” He frowned at the device and shook it. If it was malfunctioning, he only had himself to blame.

“Too weak?” Lan Wangji asked. The well was a ways off, and a weak spirit might not trigger the device at such a distance.

“Hmm. Maybe.” Wei WuXian wasn’t convinced. “Well let’s go, anyway. I’m hungry and the sooner we finish the sooner we can get a proper meal. That messenger must’ve come from a village. Lan Zhan, do you think there’s a decent tavern? I’m tired of camp meals and dried meat. I want wine and spicy snacks. And fresh lotus seeds.” He continued to list all of the food he craved as they made their way up the narrow path.

It was mid-afternoon when they reached the well. The sounds of tortured howls echoed loudly, while the nearby bushes seemed to shiver in response. Wei WuXian didn’t even bother with the spirit compass again. Instead he rolled his eyes. “Some spirit this is.”

“Mn.”

It wasn’t a spirit at all, of course. It was a fox. Granted, the way the sound echoed up from the well was rather disturbing, but that was acoustics, not supernatural activity. Wei WuXian looked into the well. “Poor thing. It looks like she’s in a snare. But how did she get in here?” Sighing melodramatically, he began to take off his outer robes. “And so the famous YiLing Patriarch is reduced to a fox catcher.” 

“She?”

Wei WuXian nodded. “Looks like she was nursing recently. I bet her kits are in that bush. I hope they haven’t starved.” He began to clamber down the well. 

Lan WangJi watched him. His expression softened once Wei WuXian was out of sight. He closed his eyes gently, though whether out of resignation, amusement, or both, it could not be said. 

A moment later, from the well: “Ow! She bit me! Can’t you see I’m trying to help? Lan Zhan, play something to soothe her, will you? She’s all caught up in here.”

At that, Lan WangJi almost smiled. Almost. Instead he pulled out his guqin and began to play. 

The melody swept up the mountain. The howling ceased at once, replaced by Wei WuXian’s constant chatter. “See? That’s not so bad is it? You’re fine, you’re fine. The YiLing Patriarch is here to save you. That’s right, the master of demonic cultivation is in a cruddy well, talking to a fox. This is my life now, did you know that? You can tell all your children that I saved you. This means that if any become a huli jing, they are not allowed to eat me, do you hear?”

A moment later, Wei WuXian emerged from the well, cradling the injured fox. “Keep playing,” he said. “Otherwise she might bite me again while I treat her wounds.” 

Lan WangJin continued to play, watching as Wei WuXian untangled the cords wrapped around the fox’s legs, then washed the cuts and dabbed on a poultice.

“Nothing serious, just shallow cuts,” Wei WuXian murmured. “Madam Fox, can you keep from chewing them for even an hour? Promise me you will try. I know you want to lick them, but leave it for one hour and the medicine will work. Try for me, can you do that? The medicine will taste very bad if you lick. Here, drink some water.” He poured water into his cupped hand.

By now the fox was either too dazed or too soothed to struggle. She began to lap tentatively at the water, then drink in earnest. Wei WuXian kept his hand full, eventually draining his flask altogether. “Not too much at once,” he cautioned. “You’ll get a tummy ache.”

Perhaps emboldened by the lack of howling or the sound of the guqin, one by one, tiny fox faces began to appear underneath the bush, eight all told. The boldest took a step out, only to skitter back when Wei WuXian looked up. Eventually, all of them emerged, cautiously approaching the fearsome YiLing Patriarch. 

Lan WangJi watched from a distance, sitting under a tree as he continued to pluck a soothing melody from the strings. Wei WuXian had sat with his back to him and could not see the way his lips curved up as he watched.

“Madam Fox, are all eight yours? I should say you are Madam Luck! Well not that lucky, you got stuck in a trap. You are all hungry, aren’t you? Here, I -- no, don’t run, look! Such a lucky family, you can have this. I was tired of it anyway. There’s enough to share, go on! It’s just dried meat, it will make you big and strong. That’s the way. Very good! Now, don’t let Madam Luck chew her legs too much. And be good for her until she heals.”

After another few minutes, the fox gathered her strength and limped off with her litter. Wei WuXian brushed himself off and came back to Lan WangJi. “She'll be fine. Though I can’t imagine how she got in there. What kind of hunter sets snares before the litters are weaned? They should be ashamed.” He examined the broken strings in his hand. “What kind of trap was this, anyway? These knots look like a child tied them.”

Lan WangJi scanned the area, eventually looking up to the tree. Without warning he leapt up to the nearest branch, which bent under his weight. Gracefully, he snapped up something with his fingers, only to leap down lightly once again, his sleeves fluttering. 

“What’s this?” Wei WuXian examined it. It was more string, knotted into a crude lattice with a slip of paper tied to it, almost like a talisman. But the text on it simply said “deity-binding net”. The calligraphy was childish and clumsy.

He looked up at the tree, then back at the well, then at Lan WangJi. “Madam Fox was lucky indeed that we came along.”

“Your hand.”

“What? Oh right,” Wei WuXian finally remembered the bite wound, which throbbed painfully. “It’s fine, I’ll just --” He reached for his water flask to wash his hand and realized it was empty; he’d given the fox all his water. Then he reached for the healing poultice and realized it was gone, too; he’d used them up on the fox. “Ah. Haha. I don’t suppose...?”

With an audible sigh, Lan WangJi used his own drinking water to wash the wound, dabbing the punctures with his own, much more expensive medicine, then bandaging it carefully with a strip of clean cloth. His touch was gentle, almost a caress. Wei WuXian tried not to smile. Even after six months, it still felt like he was getting away with something, to have Lan WangJi touch him in such a way.

The sun was just setting by the time they found the village. It was tiny, which meant the likelihood of proper wine was low, but cheerful enough that Wei WuXian didn’t mind. Much. The elder seemed surprised to see them so soon, probably because night hunts take place at night. He was even more surprised to see who they were; even in such a remote location, the reputation of HanGuang-Jun and the YiLing Patriarch was well known.

Their sudden appearance attracted the attention of many. As Wei WuXian described their ‘victory’, with suitably glorious embellishments, and of course waving his injured hand around for emphasis, he watched the onlookers carefully. As he expected, there were three boys peering fearfully from behind a rain barrel, biting their lips with worry. 

“And so, the vengeful fox spirit is vanquished! Keep the huntsmen away for at least a season, lest her wrath come upon all the village.” Wei WuXian looked at the boys when he said this.

The sudden attention from the YiLing Patriarch was too much; they scampered away. The elder offered them their reward, which was laughably small, but then again, the task had been laughably easy. He proudly brought them to the single tavern, declaring that their wine was of the highest quality and exhorting the tavern keeper to prepare a room for the cultivators.

Lan WangJi accepted the reward and the offer of hospitality with his usual grace. When he turned around, Wei WuXian had gone missing. 

No, not missing -- Lan WangJi found him not far off, having cornered the three boys who had run away. Although they looked terrified, Wei WuXian wasn’t threatening them in the slightest. In fact he was squatting down, smiling at them as he held out the tangled remains of the trap.

When the boys caught sight of HanGuang-Jun bearing down on them, they looked as if they might faint. 

“Ah, don’t worry about him,” Wei WuXian scoffed. “He always looks like that. Don’t you, Lan Zhan? Look, you’re not in trouble, okay? Just make sure you clean up your toys when you finish. The fox got snared and when she struggled, the net caught in the branch like a slingshot, flinging her into the well. She could have died down there, then you really might’ve had a problem. Leave the traps to the hunters. Anyway, what were you trying to catch with the net?”

“W-we were playing --” The boldest boy began to answer, then clapped his hands over his mouth, refusing to look at either of them.

Lan WangJi spoke. “DaFan Mountain.” 

“Y-Yes,” the boy admitted in a small voice.

“Ahhh! You were re-enacting when HanGuang-Jun saved all of the cultivators in the night hunt!” Wei WuXian smiled broadly, standing up. Then something occurred to him. “Hey, you know I was there, too, right? I bet you haven’t heard the story properly at all.” He shook his head in mock disapproval. 

The boys exchanged a look. Hearing that they weren’t in trouble, the bravest one glanced up, his face hopeful. 

Scratching his chin thoughtfully, Wei WuXian continued, “In fact it’s our duty to teach the youth, right, HanGuang-Jun? Otherwise how will they know their history? It happened like this....”

Lan WangJi stood by and listened to Wei WuXian spin a long and dramatic re-telling of the events on DaFan mountain. The boys were mesmerized, utterly enraptured with every word and gesture. The commotion caused others to gather, until it seemed the whole village crowded nearby, watching Wei WuXian tell the tale. 

“And then, I led the corpses away, with nothing but a bamboo flute.” He brandished Chenqing and began to play, walking backwards with dramatic steps. He played a melody which sounded spooky but was in fact meaningless. 

For the first time, Wei WuXian considered how Lan WangJi must have felt on that night, hearing him play WangXian on that atrocious excuse for a flute. Not to say that he’d never given it thought, but now he could put himself in the other’s shoes, so to speak. After so long together, there was no need for him to cast Empathy; he could imagine the shock and surprise, the flickering of hope which had never quite extinguished. 

At the realization, Wei WuXian’s tune faltered. But at the same moment, he found he had backed into something, or rather, someone.

He looked up to see Lan WangJi, looking almost the same as he had that night on DaFan Mountain. 

That is to say, to anyone else, he would have looked the same. Lan WangJi’s face was smooth and calm. Only Wei WuXian could see the amusement sparkling in his eyes, and the heat there as well. It was very much a face that said it was time to go back to their room. Now. 

Momentarily transfixed, Wei WuXian lost track of the story. An awkward pause ensued as the villagers watched him stare at Lan WangJi. After a few seconds, the boldest boy called out, “and then what happened?”

The crowd laughed as the village elder took a half-hearted smack at the back of his head for interrupting. Blinking to focus, Wei WuXian concluded the story. “And then, thanks to HanGuang-Jun and his sword Bichen, the corpses were defeated, never to rise again.”

A moderate cheer rose from the audience. The crowd began to disperse, with people discussing the tale as if Wei Ying and Lan Zhan weren’t standing there themselves. 

“And to think, they saved us from the vengeful fox spirit!”

“I always said the YiLing Patriarch was a true hero.”

“You said nothing of the sort! Anyway it was HanGuang-Jun who saved the day, didn’t you hear? The YiLing Patriarch didn’t do anything but play a flute!”

At that, Wei WuXian pouted. “Huh. Only played a flute. Pffft. I made that flute in thirty seconds,” he grumbled under his breath. “Only played a flute. I could have done it just by whistling.”

Lan WangJi put a hand on his shoulder. “Come,” he said, pulling him away. 

Back at the tavern, they examined their room -- the only room -- located over the noisy dining area. It looked as if it hadn’t been occupied in weeks. Clearly the owner had attempted to clean the worst of the dust, but the job was hurried. The marks of a broom were visible along the floorboards, and cobwebs remained in the highest corners.

Lan WangJi’s expression didn’t change when he saw the room, but Wei WuXian had been with him long enough to see that he was disappointed. This just made Wei WuXian bite back a smile; even after everything, Lan Zhan still had his standards. 

Still, it was this or sleep outside, and as it had begun to rain, they accepted the room. As soon as the owner bowed his way out, Wei WuXian leapt toward the bed, rolling to rest on his hips and elbows, raising his eyebrows. 

Before he could try to tempt Lan WangJi into some fun before dinner, amazingly, Lan WangJi spoke first. “Wait here.”

Surprised, Wei WuXian started to get up. “What? Lan Zhan, where are you going?”

“Wait. Here.” Lan WangJi’s eyebrows tightened fractionally, in that way that told Wei WuXian that he meant business. 

Pouting, Wei WuXian sighed. “You never let me have any fun.” It was one of the more outrageous of his lies, by now repeated so often that it lost all meaning.

But still, he waited. For the first few minutes, he stayed on the bed. He wracked his brain, trying to think what HanGuang-Jun could possibly be doing in a village this tiny. It was too late for the market. Indeed, it sounded as though everyone in the village was in the dining room downstairs, celebrating the victorious ‘night hunt’. The clamor of merriment, and more importantly, of wine cups being raised and set down, could clearly be heard through the thin floorboards.

Bored, Wei WuXian began to pace. He inspected every object in the room. Twice. This only took another five minutes. Perhaps Lan WangJi was making sure the food was prepared properly? Wei WuXian continued to pace restlessly. If Lan Zhan still had standards, Wei Ying still lacked patience. 

After ten more minutes, he decided to see where Lan Zhan went. He opened the window and had his foot on the sill, ready to climb out, when the door opened. 

Lan WangJi took in his posture at a glance. He blinked twice, his way of rolling his eyes, before sweeping into the room with a tray of food and drink.

“Just getting some air,” Wei WuXian lied, climbing down. “I don’t want you sneezing all night from the dust. I’m only thinking of you, Lan Zhan.” 

Lan WangJi shot him a skeptical look and set the tray down. Sweeping his sleeves to the side as if they were attending a banquet, he pointed across the table. “Sit.”

Huffing, Wei WuXian slouched over. “Anyway what took you so lo--” 

It wasn’t often that he was struck speechless - at least not without a spirit charm - but the contents of the tray gave him pause. He was expecting food, though why Lan Zhan hadn’t simply asked for it to be sent up was still a mystery. On the tray, there were spicy snacks, which were very welcome, and wine, which was even more so. But there were also half a dozen lotus seed pods, still with raindrops clinging to them. 

Wei WuXian noticed then that Lan Zhan’s robes also glistened with moisture. “You picked these?” They had passed the lotus pond on the outskirts of the village. Wei WuXian had wanted to stop and pick some, but Lan WangJi had insisted that they keep going. 

“Sit.”

So, he sat. He reached for a pod, intending to peel himself some seeds. Instead, Lan WangJi slapped his knuckles.

“Ow!” Wei WuXian whipped his bandaged hand away, cradling it melodramatically. “Why don’t I get any?”

Lan WangJi said nothing, nimbly seeding and peeling as if he did this every day, putting the prepared seeds into a small dish. He was faster even than Jiang YanLi. 

Biting his lip playfully, Wei WuXian reached over, as if to steal one. He got another slap for his efforts. By now he was too curious to pretend to pout properly. What was going on? 

“Here,” Lan WangJi said, once he had a dozen seeds peeled. He held a single morsel out between his thumb and forefinger.

“Oh, so I am to eat after all then?” Wei WuXian grinned, leaning forward to capture the seed with his teeth, hoping to tease Lan WangJi for making him wait. 

However, his plan was for naught, because Lan WangJi’s face softened, as if that was what he wanted Wei WuXian to do all along. 

Being hand fed on purpose by Lan WangJi brought a flush to Wei WuXian’s cheeks. Not to mention that the seeds were picked and peeled by Lan WangJi too. It reminded Wei WuXian of the time they were in the boat with Wen Ning -- he’d never thought he would witness the fastidious HanGuang-Jun stealing a lotus pod. 

Of course, he never thought he would witness a lot of things.

Lan WangJi continued to hand feed him lotus seeds until they were gone. When he paused to peel more, Wei WuXian helped himself to the wine and snacks. There was only one cup, which meant that Lan WangJi wasn’t planning to have any. In which case, why bother with the cup at all? 

“This wine’s not bad,” Wei WuXian noted, drinking straight from the jar. “It’s no Emperor’s Smile, but it’s quite good. Nice and smooth. No wonder they’re having such fun down there.” As if to emphasize his point, a loud cheer rose up from the ground floor.

“Mn.” Lan WangJi held up another lotus seed. 

Wei WuXian accepted it, but his curiosity got the better of him. “What’s gotten into you tonight?” 

A flash of doubt passed over Lan WangJi’s face. He tentatively bit into one of the seeds himself, as if testing their quality. His face relaxed when he discovered that they were quite good, fresh and mild.

They were just the way Wei WuXian liked them, in fact. Especially so for not having to do the work of peeling them. But there was a difference between the feeling of getting away with something and feeling as if he was being purposely pampered. Lan WangJi was never one to pamper. For the first time since they began traveling together as cultivation partners, Wei WuXian felt a cold sliver of doubt. “Lan Zhan, is something wrong?”

He wasn’t expecting an answer, and he didn’t get one. What was more surprising was that Lan WangJi helped himself to the wine, filling the cup half-full and downing it without hesitation.

As was usual for when Lan WangJi drank, his eyelids drooped. However, he didn’t fall asleep, probably because he only had a tiny bit, not even a full cup. Instead his face softened even further, a playful gleam in his eyes. 

Now Wei WuXian really was worried. Lan WangJi rarely drank, and almost never without Wei Wuxian’s urging. “Lan Zhan, are you are all right? Don’t you want any more?” He gestured at the plate of lotus seeds. 

Lan WangJi shook his head. “For you.” His speech was ever so slightly slurred. 

“It’s not good to drink without eating,” Wei WuXian pointed out. “Here.” He held up one of the seeds.

Not breaking eye contact, Lan WangJi leaned down as if he was going to take the seed with his teeth, as Wei WuXian had done. But instead he sucked on Wei WuXian’s fingers.

“Oh, so that’s your game,” Wei WuXian said. He had no idea why Lan WangJi was going to such trouble. Though the “everyday means everyday” rule had relaxed somewhat, it was still almost every day. By this point the games they played were well established, but no less satisfying for it. 

This indulgence was something new, though. It put Wei WuXian on edge, though he couldn’t put his finger on why. He couldn’t shake the feeling that it was a trick.

But Lan Zhan was not one for tricks. Not at all. Perhaps there really was something wrong?

As he thought about it, Lan WangJi made a frustrated sound low in his throat. Startled, Wei WuXian forced himself to pay attention to what was happening. Lan WangJi leaned back, peering at Wei WuXian thoughtfully, his eyes narrowed as he swayed almost imperceptibly as he sat. 

“Lan Zhan, are you well?”

A hint of a smile lit up his face. “Wei Ying.”

Hearing Lan WangJi say his name always did things to him; even now, Wei WuXian felt a shiver at the base of his spine. “Yes?” 

Lan WangJi opened his mouth as if to say something, but then the most incredible thing happened. He didn’t speak, but instead exhaled through his lips. “Pfffft,” he snorted. He looked down at the tray bashfully, a smile playing about his lips. Suddenly he shoved the dish of peeled lotus seeds across the table. “For you.”

Wei WuXian took the dish but didn’t eat any. “But why did you get them?”

“For you,” Lan WangJi repeated. 

It would be one thing if he’d picked the lotus pods after he’d started drinking. That wasn’t unheard of. The first night they’d -- Wei WuXian couldn’t quite bring himself to put words to it, not wanting to sully the memory of how their bodies had twisted together in that bathtub. Regardless -- that first night, Lan WangJi had drunkenly stolen chickens for him. 

This was something else. Lan WangJi wasn’t entirely drunk; it was more as if he was very tipsy. But he’d gotten the lotus pods before that, anyhow. Which meant... did he plan this? And why?

Wei WuXian helped himself to a few more seeds while he considered it. There was one surefire way to find out. Lan WangJi was always the most talkative when he was drinking, after all. Granted, it was usually only a few words at a time, but still. “Lan Zhan,” he said finally. “Do you want more wine?”

A shake of the head, emphatic.

“But you wanted some? Why so little?”

“To talk,” Lan WangJi said, with no small difficulty, directing the words at the table. “For you,” he added, looking up expectantly.

For a moment, Wei WuXian wasn’t sure he understood. It would have made more sense if Lan WangJi had said, ‘to talk to you’. But for you? 

And then it hit him. It was no secret that Lan WangJi was reticent. Wei WuXian could count on both hands the number of times he’d heard more than a few words at a time. At first, Wei WuXian thought it was out of some misdirected desire to keep from wrong speech. But over these last few months, he’d grown to understand that it wasn’t manners that was holding Lan WangJi back. 

He simply found speaking difficult. 

There was no stutter, it was true. The issue was not mechanical. As near as Wei WuXian could tell, sometimes words were slow to come to Lan WangJi, even though his thoughts were lightning fast. Rather than force them, he would wait until he had all of the words gathered together, speaking only when needed. But there had been times when Lan Zhan had been seemingly unable to say even one word, frustrated in the extreme. At first, Wei WuXian had assumed it was the frustration that was robbing him of the ability to speak, when in fact it was the other way around: he was frustrated because he could not find the words. 

The times when he spoke in complete sentences were usually recitations of rules, quotes from lessons, or simple phrases or questions. New ideas, though, seemed difficult to verbalize. It hardly mattered: a verb, a noun, a name... these were usually enough for Wei WuXian to understand his point. 

And so now, Lan WangJi had a little wine, knowing that Wei WuXian had teased him in the past for being chatty while he was drunk. He had no way of knowing that, when he drank, he tended to speak even more simply, albeit much more often. He had done it on purpose, hoping to make it easier to speak. To talk, as a gift, for Wei WuXian.

Wei WuXian’s heart thumped in his chest. “Will you remember this in the morning?”

“I think... yes. I... hope.”

The bashful, flushed expression on Lan WangJi’s face was doing all sorts of things to Wei WuXian. He started to smile, touched that Lan WangJi had gone to so much effort. Then a shard of ice wormed its way into his chest again. What if... what if he wanted to tell him something bad? Maybe... maybe all the treats, all the effort, was just to soften the blow? 

It wouldn’t be unheard of. They’d spent over half a year in constant contact. No matter how much Lan Zhan might have yearned for Wei Ying’s memory, the reality of one bad inn after another, constantly paying their way, listening to him prattle on and lie and boast, watching him pilfer sweets and get drunk and start arguments.... Could it be that Lan Zhan was growing tired of him? 

In truth, the doubt had existed as a vague mist in Wei WuXian’s heart for some time. Mostly he ignored the thoughts, not wanting to give them weight. And yet, Lan WangJi had waited so long, and suffered so much, all for him -- it seemed impossible that Wei WuXian would not eventually disappoint him in some way. After all, was there anyone in Wei WuXian’s life who had not been let down by him at one point or another?

The last few weeks hadn’t been very exciting, it was true. The few night hunts that they had managed to stumble on had been very boring, or not proper night hunts at all, like the one earlier in the evening. Maybe HanGuang-Jun wanted something more than saving foxes from wells. Maybe he wanted to go home? More importantly, maybe he wanted to go home without Wei Ying? 

After swirling restlessly in him for so long, the worry coalesced into irrational panic, cold and hard as Bichen, piercing through Wei WuXian. Granted, Lan WangJi didn’t seem dissatisfied - his expression was soft and happy - but he was also drunk, at least a little. 

“Then say it,” Wei WuXian demanded, crossing his arms.

Startled by the sharpness of Wei WuXian’s tone, Lan WangJi looked at him in concern, seemingly hurt.

Wei WuXian realized he was letting his fears get the better of him. He sighed. “Lan Zhan, I’m sorry. Just... tell me what it is you want to say.”

With exaggerated seriousness, Lan WangJi nodded. He closed his eyes. “I want to say you are good.” Effort complete, he opened his eyes again and looked at Wei WuXian.

In confusion, Wei WuXian squinted. “What?”

Huffing in frustration, Lan WangJi started again. “I want to say --”

“No, no it’s fine, I heard you,” Wei WuXian said, cutting him off. “I just don’t understand.” Under different circumstances, he would have made a joke, or boasted, but on the heels of the spike of panic a moment ago, Wei WuXian was off-balance. Lan WangJi had gone to enormous effort to say it, but.... Good? Good at what? Good in general? 

The former made more sense -- Wei WuXian was highly skilled in any number of things -- but the latter was laughable. He was the YiLing Patriarch. He might not have been evil, but he most certainly was not good.

At the moment, whatever else he was, he was confused. He stared helplessly at Lan WangJi. It was pointless to ask for clarification. Though his words loosened by wine, there were limits to what he was able to convey in such a state. 

Lan WangJi’s expression darkened. “Do I lie?”

Chastened, Wei WuXian cast his gaze down. “No.”

A pause. “You think I am wrong.” There was so much sadness in Lan WangJi’s voice. 

Wei WuXian, for the second time in one night, could not think of a thing to say. The pause was twice as long as the last, and a hundred times more excruciating. “Perhaps we’ve traveled too long together. You’re beginning to believe my lies,” he joked weakly.

Lan WangJi sighed in frustration. Abruptly, he lunged to his feet. “Then I will show you.” He yanked Wei WuXian to stand up as well, ignoring his squawks of protest. He led them not to the bed, but to the window. For a moment Wei WuXian thought Lan WangJi wanted to show him something, but the tavern was on the edge of the village: there was nothing to see outside but the moon shining on the empty fields.

But then Lan WangJi shoved him against the window frame, pulling Wei WuXian’s hands over his head. Lan WangJi leaned into him, nosing gently down his neck. “Good,” he said again. “You are good.” 

It was such a simplistic idea that Wei WuXian was tempted to interpret it simply as a compliment of his skill in pleasing Lan WangJi physically. Certainly, he worked very hard to make Lan Zhan happy in that regard, and in turn he was happy to do so. But something in Lan Zhan’s voice hinted towards a broader meaning.

Wei WuXian whined, both in frustration and out of the desire blooming throughout his body. 

“You don’t believe,” Lan WangJi murmured. He pressed a hand against Wei WuXian’s heart. “Why?”

Wei WuXian’s mouth hung open. “Because I’m not.” 

Snorting -- who knew that HanGuang-Jun snorted -- Lan WangJi nuzzled at Wei WuXian’s neck again. “Are you never wrong?”

Wei WuXian’s attempt to huff in disapproval was undermined by a needy whimper when Lan WangJi nipped at his earlobe. Of course, he had been wrong countless times. But to point it out was just... “Rude,” he managed.

Lan WangJi hummed in amusement. 

“Anyway are you always right?”

At that, Lan WangJi reared back to look at him, considering the question. “More than you,” he said finally. 

Wei WuXian had to admit, he had a point. But that didn’t matter. Before he could argue his position, Lan WangJi spun him around so they were back to chest. 

Wei WuXian could feel how hard Lan WangJi was already. Normally Wei WuXian would be too, but the confusion and worry meant he hadn’t caught up.

Lan WangJi sensed this, taking a few minutes to nibble at Wei WuXian’s ears and neck, running his hands all over. It helped that he continuously rutted against Wei WuXian, leaving very little doubt as to his ultimate intention. 

In fits and starts, Wei WuXian began to relax, only to tense up again when he heard Lan WangJi whisper, “Good. Wei Ying, so good.”

Well this was just frustrating. How was he supposed to enjoy himself when Lan Zhan wouldn’t stop talking??

Regardless of Wei Ying’s inability to focus, his body was fully on board with the new direction for the evening. He moaned quietly. “Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan,” he panted. “Be gentle.” 

He always said that, of course. And, of course, he never meant it -- just the opposite, really. He liked it when Lan Zhan was rough. He liked it when he wasn’t rough, too, but they had never been anything close to gentle with each other. 

And yet now, with the way Lan Zhan traced his fingertips along Wei Ying’s jawline, maybe it wouldn’t be the worst thing to try gentleness. 

Wei Ying shivered when Lan Zhan rucked up the back of his robes. A moment later, he felt Lan Zhan’s length slide against him. He was already slick; Wei Ying wasn’t sure when that had happened, but then again, Lan Zhan had several months of practice. 

With the next shift of Lan Zhan’s hips, Wei Ying felt the inexorable pressure against his entrance. Probing fingers first, and then Wei Ying hissed as Lan Zhan entered him. This would have been impossibly painful half a year ago, but now, after so long together (and after yesterday morning’s rigorous efforts), Wei Ying’s body easily relaxed to allow the intrusion. 

Even still, this was different from normal. It truly was gentle, the way Lan Zhan moved within him. Just as Wei Ying began to relax fully, he heard Lan Zhan whisper, “Good.”

Wei Ying tensed slightly, still uncomfortable. This was getting ridiculous. He wasn’t good. He’d never been good. He had done good things, on occasion, and had good intentions more often than not, but that did not a good man make. Did it?

No one had ever said he was good. Ever. Talented? Yes. Clever? Of course. Ambitious? That went without saying. But good?

Never. Not Jiang Cheng, nor Jiang FengMian, nor (obviously) Madame Yu. Not Jiang YanLi, his beloved shijie. Not Wen Qing, or Wen Ning, or even A-Yuan. Even if Lil’ Apple had the gift of speech, it wasn’t certain that he would declare Wei Ying to be good. 

So for HanGuang-Jun, his beloved Lan Zhan, to insist thus, it was too much. “Lan Zhan, please,” Wei Ying whispered. There was none of the melodramatic whining tone he normally took. He truly was seeking mercy, not from the physical sensations, but from the words.

He got none. “Good,” Lan Zhan said again. “So good.”

Wei Ying squirmed. He didn’t want to hear it. Because Lan Zhan was wrong. Wasn’t he? And yet, Wei Ying couldn’t deny how amazing it felt. Surreptitiously, he tried to reach down and stroke himself, to provide at least a little relief.

His attempt didn’t go unnoticed. Lan Zhan grabbed his wrists and pinned them over his head. “No.”

“Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan, please,” Wei Ying begged. “Please?”

His response was only another hum. “Can’t you take it?” Lan Zhan thrust again, with just a bit more force. 

The angle was perfect; Wei Ying’s toes curled up as pleasure curled up his spine. Without Lan Zhan's normal force and speed, there was nothing to focus on but how amazing it felt. 

They were still clothed, however. Eventually Lan Zhan seemed to get frustrated by the fabric. He stopped, closing the shutters to the window before undressing Wei WuXian with the utmost care.

It was maddening to stand there and submit to it. Wei WuXian was confused and frustrated and aroused. He fidgeted and whined, wanting Lan Zhan to just get on with it, already. 

Such tactics had never worked, and apparently they were not any more effective now. Lan Zhan seemed to savor dragging out the moment, sliding the cloth over Wei WuXian’s shoulders, letting it drag down his chest and hips, catching on his hardness before pooling at his feet. His own clothes were removed without any delay, which seemed just a bit hypocritical to Wei WuXian; how come he wasn’t allowed to unwrap his luscious Jade in the same way? 

But there was no chance to object. Lan Zhan reached instead for the curtain. But he didn’t draw it closed, but instead once again grabbed Wei WuXian’s wrists, pulling them overhead; with a few deft loops of the fabric, he was essentially tied in place.

The bonds were not particularly tight, and the curtain itself would surely pull down if he applied any force. Still, Wei WuXian kept his hands up. Lan Zhan often bound him in different ways; perhaps now he would get the proper fucking he felt he deserved. 

Lan Zhan didn’t let him turn around. “Like this,” he insisted, slowly pressing himself into Wei WuXian once again, at the same time lining his shoulders with light kisses. 

It was just as gentle as before; perhaps even more so. Slow and tender, like ripples in deep water, like the breeze after the storm. All the while, Lan Zhan continued to murmur soft words into his ear. Good, good, so good, so beautiful.

Wei WuXian felt trapped. He knew that the words Lan Zhan gave him were sincere, but they felt like mockery. He was not good. Lan Zhan was wrong. The panic from earlier hadn’t quite subsided either, and now began to worm its way through the cracks. Wei WuXian wasn’t good, and even if Lan Zhan thought so, he would eventually learn the truth. Each bit of praise felt like a brick laid in the road that would lead Lan Zhan away from him. 

It was too much. Wei WuXian felt as if he might weep. He knew that if he truly wanted Lan Zhan to stop, he need only say ‘stop’. But it did feel good -- ah! so, so unbelievably good -- if only Lan Zhan would stop talking. 

Despite the heaviness of his heart, his body continued to react. With his hands tied, there was no way to touch himself, and Lan Zhan seemed determined to deny him in that regard. Whining, Wei WuXian squirmed, hoping to buck backwards and get Lan Zhan to go faster.

He gasped as the slight change in angle brought an almost painfully acute throb of pleasure deep inside him. He’d felt this before -- of course he had -- but never with such slow, deliberate pressure. All thoughts and doubts fled as the physical sensations blotted out everything. 

And then the pleasure continued to build. Wei WuXian’s breath came in shallow bursts. “Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan!” His voice was a hoarse whisper as a new source of panic presented itself, this one much more animalistic. The pleasure kept building and building -- he was already past the point where he would normally finish. But without being able to touch himself, there was seemingly no outlet. What would happen? Would he pass out? Would he lose his mind from this?

Shuddering and whining, Wei WuXian began to babble. “Lan Zhan, please, you must -- I can’t -- it’s too -- I can’t --” 

Lan Zhan’s only response was an amused hum and a slight increase in tempo, neither of which helped in the slightest.

Wide-eyed and breathless, the first wave hit. Wei WuXian’s hips jerked uncontrollably as he moaned. It was so much more intense than normal, crests of pleasure that heated him from the inside out. And yet even as they began to pass, there was little relief. He looked down to see he was still hard; aside from a few droplets at his tip, there was no sign that he’d had an orgasm. 

Confused, panting, and shaky, he felt Lan Zhan spin him around. But rather than loosen his bonds, Lan Zhan bent down and lifted him easily, his arms looped behind Wei WuXian’s knees. He was pinned to the window frame as Lan Zhan continued to fuck him. 

Almost instantly, the pleasure started to build again. How was this even possible? Wei WuXian whimpered and moaned, heedless of the noise he made. Not that it mattered; the sounds from the tavern were too loud for any risk of discovery. 

Lan Zhan leaned into him and at last, finally, there was at least some contact as Wei WuXian’s shaft slid against his chest and stomach. But the pressure was feather light, barely enough to provide relief. 

And of course, Lan Zhan continued to speak. His words were coming faster, breathier in time with the speed of his thrusts. Good. So good. Mine. My Wei Ying. So good. My love, so good for me.

Wei Ying was too lust-drunk to do anything but take it. Once he stopped resisting, the words soaked into him like rich wine, blotting out all doubt and worry, giving him something he never knew he needed. He found himself answering, “Yes. Yes, Lan Zhan, please, more, more, always more....”

Lan Zhan gave up any pretense of gentleness, rutting hard, his hips snapping. His kisses became nibbles, then bites as he began to lose control. He shifted slightly, further increasing the friction on Wei Ying’s shaft, now trapped between them.

Wei Ying felt another burst of pleasure grow within him. His eyes flew open. “Lan Zhan?”

Lan Zhan stared into his eyes, his lips working soundlessly as he thrust. Even though he no longer spoke, there was no need. The words were captured in the intensity of his gaze, and Wei Ying could not look away. 

This time, the pleasure built from both inside and out, with an intensity Wei Ying had never experienced. There was nothing he could do to hurry it along, either; he couldn’t move, even to shift his hips, not without falling down. He couldn’t close his eyes or mouth, could hardly breathe. There was nothing he could do but accept it, let Lan Zhan give him this pleasure. “Lan Zhan, I’m --”

With a choking sob, Wei Ying came again, this time spurting wildly against his own chest. Lan Zhan followed not a second later, his eyes rolling shut as he buried his face in Wei Ying’s shoulder, thrusting hard once, twice, and then once more. 

For a long moment, they stood panting and shivering against each other. The sounds from the tavern below began to impress on their awareness. 

Before, the noise had been the sound of general merrymaking, raucous and unfocused. Now, though, there was a rhythm to it. The villagers were cheering.

Not just cheering, but cheering... Wei WuXian, specifically?

“What the --”

Lan Zhan hummed in amusement and began to let Wei WuXian down as the cheers continued, then died away. He untied the curtain and guided them both to the bed. 

“Lan Zhan, why are they not calling your name too?”

“I told them you did the work,” came the answer.

“Work? What work? You’re the one who played Wangji. The credit should be yours. All I did was untie a few knots.”

Lan Zhan shook his head, gathering Wei WuXian into his arms. There was a long pause, but Wei WuXian waited patiently for Lan Zhan to answer: “You climbed the well. You soothed her with your words. You gave her all your water, and food, and medicine.”

Wei WuXian couldn’t deny that, but he couldn’t see why it mattered. “So? You would have done the same.”

An affirmative hum confirmed this. “And why?”

“Because you are --” Wei WuXian cut himself off, rolling his eyes. He was about to say, because you are a good person. Caught by the logic, he huffed, squirming to show his disapproval (but also crawling further into his arms). 

Lan WangJi murmured, “Now sleep.” 

Wei WuXian sighed, letting his eyes fall closed. After half a minute, they snapped open again, this time because he noticed the lack of noise. He half sat up, trying to listen.

Lan WangJi hummed inquisitively, prying one eye open.

“It’s so quiet all of a sudden,” Wei WuXian explained. Sudden silence was never a good thing, in his experience. But now that he was paying attention, he could hear low murmurs and clinking pottery. He relaxed, realizing that the crowd had dispersed and the owners were cleaning up. “Such a large celebration,” he mused. “Rich villagers, to be able to drink so much.”

“I paid,” Lan WangJi said.

Wei WuXian coughed in disbelief. “What??”

“I paid. For the noise.”

That took a moment to parse. Wei WuXian deduced that Lan WangJi had paid for the wine, to encourage the villagers to get rowdy and make enough noise to drown out their lovemaking. “Lan Zhan!” he gasped, shocked. “You didn’t! All that, just so you could have your way with me??”

Lan WangJi’s eyes were already closed, but a subtle smile played on his lips.

Wei WuXian, on the other hand, giggled silently for a long time. For all that Lan WangJi thought he was good, clearly, Wei WuXian’s mischief was rubbing off on him, too. All thoughts of worry and doubt were dispelled, utterly forgotten. 

Lan WangJi was already asleep. Wei WuXian watched his face for a few moments. I guess the wine affected him after all. That, or it was nine o’clock. Would he really remember this in the morning? Wei WuXian realized that he hoped so. And perhaps they could try being gentle more often. Maybe it wouldn’t kill him to try to find ways to pamper Lan Zhan, too. Just a little. 

He continued to mull over the ways he might surprise Lan Zhan with something special. He still had little money, true, but he was clever. And talented. And ambitious. Maybe it was possible that he was good, too. In any event, if it meant pleasing Lan Zhan, he was willing to find out.