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where the light goes

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PYLADES: I’ll take care of you.


ORESTES: It’s rotten work.


PYLADES: Not to me. Not if it’s you.


Orestes, Euripides; trans. Anne Carson




PART 1: yue / 月




It hits him that evening, there in some unnamed inn straddling some unnamed road, that it has always been in moonlight that Wei Wuxian has caught his eye.


First on the rooftops, brandishing those jars with a smile to match. Then in his room, finishing another day of copying, when he began to memorize his moonlit silhouette. And finally again on Dafan Mountain, playing out loud the sound of his own trembling heart. 


Lan Wangji can barely believe he is allowed to have this back. This, the easy silence between them as they sit and do whatever it is they need to do, somehow both separate and together in their occupied quiet. The only intruder is the moonlight, spilling through the window and over Wei Wuxian’s form on the floor where he sits, cleaning and inspecting Chengqing.


He hears himself say, “Wei Ying.”


Wei Wuxian looks up from his spot on the floor. “I’m guessing it’s time to sleep, since you’ve decided to speak up?”


Lan Wangji hums and watches in silence, aching and aching as the moonlight paints Wei Wuxian’s hair in white gold. If he’s being honest, the night hasn’t quite deepened into hanshi yet; there should be roughly half to a third of an incense time left, but there was little chance he would have gotten any more work done regardless. A wave of want overcomes him again, as drenching and bone-deep as the cold of the Gusu springs — the unspeakable need to run his fingers through that moonlit cascade, to press it to his mouth. 


Dimly he recalls the words poets had used — silk, water, even moonlight itself — to describe a lover’s hair, and he wonders how reality would compare.


No. As if— He busies himself by clearing away his writing supplies from the table, carefully folding up the half-finished report. Mentally, Lan Wangji reminds himself to sit facing away from Wei Wuxian next time.


He stands slowly and has barely shrugged out of his outer robe when he hears Wei Wuxian hiss in pain.


He’s at his side in an instant, his mind jumping immediately to reopened wounds and hidden curses. “Wei Ying?!”


Wei Wuxian is sitting on the edge of the bed, his back to the window so that the moonlight outlines his shape in the dark. His expression is sheepish. “Oh, it’s just— I tried to comb out my hair with my fingers and I got stuck in a knot, and it just caught me by surprise. Sorry Lan Zhan, I know I probably gave you a scare...”


Lan Wangji shakes his head firmly. “Don’t apologize.” His eyes drift over to Wei Wuxian’s hair, tracing the wild arcing sweep of it. It takes all his self-restraint to school his expression as a sharp ache suddenly blooms in his chest, overwhelming him with the desire to smooth his fingers over it, to tangle his hands in it and find out just how it would feel against his skin —


No. Stop. How could he ever want —


“Ah... Lan Zhan?” 


He blinks, meets Wei Wuxian’s hesitant gaze.


“This is going to sound really weird, but I don’t actually, uh. Have anything to untangle my hair with, and this thing doesn’t seem like I can just fix it with my hands. Do you happen to have anything I can borrow?”


(He can barely believe he is allowed to have this.)


“I have a comb in my qiankun bag.” Lan Wangji goes to his outer robe, dropped onto the floor when he’d rushed to Wei Wuxian’s side, lifts it to find the sleeve into which he’d tucked the bag. He realizes he can’t actually see where the sleeve is without the moonlight, so he goes back towards the bed.


Wei Wuxian grins up at him and flips his hair over his shoulder, shifting sideways so Lan Wangji can sit next to him. “As expected of Hanguang-jun! Do you really not mind me borrowing it?”


Lan Wangji turns the robe in the light, finally locates the correct sleeve and reaches in to fish out the bag. “No.” 


He pulls the comb out, glossy jade almost glowing under the moon. As he draws the bag closed, Wei Wuxian glances at the comb and finally seems to register Lan Wangji’s answer, blinking several times. “Ah?? 'No,' you don’t mind?”




Wei Wuxian laughs, folds his elbows on his knees and rests his chin in his hands to regard Lan Wangji. “So generous! How can I repay you for this great favor, Lan Zhan?”


Before he realizes what he’s saying, Lan Wangji replies, “Let me untangle it for you.”




Instantly, Wei Wuxian’s smile drops. They stare at each other for a long moment, caught there in the silver of moonlight. Lan Wangji registers, distantly over the clamor of his own panic, that Wei Wuxian’s widened eyes are— Disgusted? Horrified?


He blinks.




“I — I mean,” Wei Wuxian starts, his mouth opening and closing several times, “If you. If you want to? I’m completely okay with it, but if you don’t it’s fine! I get it, really, you don’t have to trouble yourself —”


“No trouble,” Lan Wangji says, more and more lightheaded with every word of this wreck of a conversation. “It isn’t,” he insists, again, when Wei Wuxian reaches for the comb. His hand freezes. “Truly. Wei Ying, I —” he says, then mentally curses himself for starting a sentence he dares not finish. “It isn’t any trouble.” Not to me, not to me. Not if it’s you.


“...Okay then,” Wei Wuxian says, withdrawing his hand. His eyes are still so wide. “All right. If you’re sure.”


Lan Wangji finally takes the comb out, lets the familiar cool weight of it steady him and his rioting heart. “Mn.” Not if it’s you. He lays the robe carefully to the side, folding it as he sets it down.


Slowly, Wei Wuxian shifts so that his back faces Lan Wangji, the moonlight forming a halo around the tangle in question. It’s at the end of his hair, only half illuminated; Lan Wangji lifts it with his empty hand, turning it in the watery light to inspect it. 


He registers three things: First, it genuinely is a difficult knot.


Second, that even knotted, Wei Wuxian’s hair has a softness of its own — different from the rabbits’ fur, different from his own, from silk and from water. One uniquely belonging to him alone.


And third, that he wants to comb out more than this knot, and with his fingers instead of cold jade teeth.


Lan Wangji closes his eyes briefly, reins himself in with a careful breath. Not now. Now isn’t  


“Lan Zhan?” Wei Wuxian’s voice is another knot, tying him to the present. “Is it — really bad?”


The nervousness in his voice is far too great for him to be only talking about the knot. Lan Wangji hums steadily, firmly grips the hair above the tangle with his other hand to make sure he doesn't hurt Wei Wuxian as he starts to tease the knot apart with one end of the teeth. After a moment he says, “No, Wei Ying, don’t worry. It is manageable.”


“Oh. Okay. Good.”


They sit in silence again, but there is a palpable thing hovering in the air between them this time. Perhaps a string, Lan Wangji finds himself thinking dazedly. Or a bamboo pole, wire-thin, running through the center of his quaking heart. Something unbreakable yet unseen, pulling along his stiffened limbs like a puppet, tying him irrevocably to Wei Wuxian.


Gradually the knot unravels, leaving no hint of prior tangle besides a subtle wave in the affected hair. Lan Wangji sits there, his hands growing certain as he runs the comb through that bit of hair over and over and over. When it smooths out, he lets it fall back in place and starts the comb higher, combing through the hair above it as well. 


“Lan Zhan?” Wei Wuxian’s voice is subdued, almost sleepy. Lan Wangji blinks at it, then hums in question.


Wei Wuxian shuffles around, half facing him. His expression is calm and open and earnest, relaxed and loose-limbed. “Lan Zhan, would you do me a favor and comb out the rest too? If... if it’s no trouble?”


The moonlight casts Wei Wuxian in such bright shadows.


(He can barely believe he is allowed to have this.)


Lan Wangji tilts his head, his eyes crinkling ever so slightly. “En. No trouble.”


Wei Wuxian exhales in a quiet laugh, the lines of his face so, so clear, and Lan Wangji aches. That open calmness pulls his empty hand upwards: he carefully brushes a stray wisp of hair behind Wei Wuxian’s ear, lets the sides of his fingers skim along his jawline when he pulls his hand back. He swallows, belatedly realizing his own actions, but then Wei Wuxian’s eyelashes flutter and their gazes meet, and he realizes there is no disgust, no horror, not even shock in his eyes — only hope, as before.


“Lan Zhan,” he breathes, turning more to fully face him, and Lan Wangji’s pulse skips ahead of itself. “Why are you...”


In response he lifts his hand to Wei Wuxian’s hair again, slowly, gently draws his fingertips through it. Still Wei Wuxian holds his gaze with his wide hopeful eyes, and Lan Wangji aches.


“Is this — all right?” he asks, searching Wei Wuxian’s face. 


“Yeah, it's all right! ...I, I mean— If it’s all right for you,” Wei Wuxian replies instantly. Lan Wangji hums in the affirmative, pleased and startled and endeared by the enthusiastic immediacy of his response. Carefully, carefully he moves his hand to his shoulder, turning him so he faces away again. He knows if he continues any further, he would just end up staring at his beautiful moonlit face for the rest of the night. 


Gently he sets the comb at the crown of Wei Wuxian’s head, draws it all the way down through one long section of his hair in a straight, steady motion that is completely at odds with his racing pulse. After a few strokes he notices how Wei Wuxian has to strain ever so slightly against the pull of the comb, so he sets a hand at the top of the section to hold his head in place. Wei Wuxian hums quietly and leans back, relaxing into his hand. Lan Wangji has to fight back against a surprised noise in his throat. He draws the comb through again, just to be sure, and allows himself the luxury of gently raking his fingers through the combed hair before moving on to the next segment.


Over and over and over, he combs out that hair as though it is his own, his heart a stallion pounding along the treacherous cliffs of his trembling veins; at any moment the sea below threatens to surge up and drown him, this tsunami of his own yearning. Over and over and over, he drowns himself in the glow of moonlight reflecting off the inky cascade in front of him, another sea to take him in.


Over and over and over, he relearns this: that Wei Wuxian’s hair softens and gives under his hands, and it only makes him want to know if the rest of him will do that too.


(And he thinks to himself the poets are wrong; that silk and water pale in comparison to this, that no words can adequately describe the cool gentle reassurance of it in his fingers.)


“Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian mumbles when he’s almost done. “Is it troublesome for you? To stay with me like this? Isn’t it so much easier to just, I don’t know... go off and do what you normally do by yourself? Be where the chaos is?”


Lan Wangji huffs wordlessly, draws the comb through the last bit and sets it aside. Wei Wuxian turns back around, watching him, and he sighs.


“Not troublesome for me,” he whispers, and shifts closer to slide his fingers into Wei Wuxian’s hair, cradling the side of his head. He doesn’t miss the way it makes his breath catch, the way he tilts his head ever so slightly to lean into his touch, eyes closing slightly. “Never trouble.”


(He can barely, barely believe —)


“Wei Ying,” he says, and has to fight to keep his breathing even when Wei Wuxian’s hands loop around his waist in response. “Wei Ying, it would never be. Not if — not if it’s you.”


Wei Wuxian shivers a laugh, presses closer. “Really?”


“Mn. Really.”


But then something in his eyes dims. “But this body isn’t even mine.” Lan Wangji blinks, stunned; Wei Wuxian doesn’t seem to notice and plows on, his face darkening as he drops his arms from around Lan Wangji’s waist. “Lan Zhan — I’m not really me. That’s the problem, isn’t it? In the end, after everything, I’m just, I’m —”




The outburst surprises both of them. Wei Wuxian is shocked into silence, mouth snapping shut. Lan Wangji shudders a breath in, reminds himself of his decades of training and cultivation — restraint, control, yazheng. Righteousness. “No,” he says, calmer. “No, that isn’t it. Wei Ying. Listen to me.”


Slowly, his hand shaking, Lan Wangji draws the hand he has at his head through his hair. When he gets to the end of it, he lifts it gently and presses it to his lips, leaves it there; watches enraptured as Wei Wuxian’s eyes widen once he registers what is happening.


“Still you,” he says firmly into his hair. Wei Wuxian stares. “The body is irrelevant when the soul is still you.”


“Lan Zhan,” is the only warning he gets before Wei Wuxian launches himself into his arms, clinging to his shoulders, his face tucked into his throat. Lan Wangji lets go of his hair to reach down and hold him back, his hands earnest and hesitant and hopeful, hopeful, hopeful. He aches, all over, and it takes everything in him not to drop his mouth to the crown of his head and tell him, Your soul is who I love, that is the only thing that matters, it’s you it’s you it’s you.


For a moment they breathe, and Lan Wangji tries to force his traitorous heartbeat down to a normal speed. 


Wei Wuxian sighs loudly into his skin. “I... I don’t know what to say anymore, I’m so, you’re so...” He lets out a muffled yell against Lan Wangji’s collarbone. “You’ve done it, Hanguang-jun. You’ve rendered me, Wei Wuxian, the infamous and indestructible Yiling Patriarch, utterly speechless!”


Lan Wangji is surprised into a laugh before he can stop himself. Instantly Wei Wuxian raises his head, leaving his arms still clasped around his shoulders, and stares at him in astonishment. “Lan Zhan ah!” he cries delightedly. “Was that— Was that what I thought it was?? Did you laugh?!”


His scandalized tone draws another smile from Lan Wangji, and this time he doesn’t bother trying to hide it. Wei Wuxian lets out a faint strangled sound and lifts a hand, tracing the shape of his upturned mouth with his fingertips. Lan Wangji stares: at him, his hand, his eyes so focused entirely on him


He can feel his pulse in his lips.


“Lan Zhan?” Wei Wuxian whispers. His fingers still.


(The moonlight, the moonlight. Lan Wangji cannot look away.)


He tries to say something, but his voice catches and he can only return a pathetic garbled Mm? against his fingertips.


Wei Wuxian smiles, a small quiet thing so at odds with his usual loud self that somehow Lan Wangji knows this is him, how he is when he is truly, fully himself. 


“Is it okay if I comb your hair out too?” he asks.


Lan Wangji stills.


Of all things he was bracing himself for, it was not this.


Lan Wangji blinks, trying to formulate a response in his mind that is not overly lovestruck or overly intimidating or both. Something delicate is being strung between them, and his only fear is snapping it. 


He’s been silent too long; Wei Wuxian deflates, withdraws his hand, starts to lean away. Instantly Lan Wangji is struck by how cold he feels without Wei Wuxian’s touch, but he manages to say, “Wei Ying. I would... I would like that.”


Wei Wuxian brightens. “Really?” he asks eagerly. Lan Wangji nods, places the comb by his hand on the bed and carefully turns so that his back is to Wei Wuxian. 


But as his eyes trace the frost of the moonlight on the opposite wall, he realizes two things:


One, his hair is still in its usual bun, and Wei Wuxian likely has no idea how to undo it.


Two, he is, naturally, still wearing his forehead ribbon.


Wei Wuxian seems to come to these realizations at the same moment he does, because he hesitates audibly and says, “Oh. Ah. Lan Zhan...?”


Lan Wangji reaches up and undoes his hair, setting the pin and crown onto the little table by the bedside. His mind races along the tracks of his fevered panic as he tries to figure out what on earth to do about his ribbon, because heaven knows he wants to say something with it, but does Wei Ying even know? Would he— How would he feel, if he does know? 


Slowly he reaches up to where his ribbon is knotted at the back of his head, deciding it’s better for both of them if he takes it off himself. But when he does, he feels —


Skin. Fingers; a hand.


...A hand?


Wei Ying’s hand ?!


He turns around immediately, wide eyes fixed on Wei Wuxian. 


“Wei Ying?” he breathes. 


For his part, Wei Wuxian looks as stunned as he feels, lips parted slightly and eyes just as wide, hands frozen in midair where they’d been at his ribbon. “I... Ah...” 


Lan Wangji can hear his swallow, the thud as he drops his hands, every sound amplified in the silence of night. He coughs. “Lan Zhan, sorry, I should’ve asked. That was— That was rude of me, I mean, I of all people should know how important the Lan ribbon is by now.”


Dazed, Lan Wangji wonders, Do you? His bemusement must show on his face somehow, because Wei Wuxian laughs, but it’s forced and self-reprimanding. Lan Wangji’s heart aches at the sound of it, so he shakes his head slightly and takes both of Wei Wuxian’s hands in his, and after a moment of trepidation lifts them to his lips and presses a soft kiss to those knuckles.


“You can...” Lan Wangji breathes in, but it’s closer to a stitched gasp. “You can take it off.” 


Wei Wuxian’s fingers twitch in his, as though that wasn't the answer he was expecting. “You — you would want me to? ...Not someone else?” he asks carefully, caught in this rare moment of honesty.


The moonlight leaves no place to hide; Lan Wangji can see how pink has stolen over his cheeks.


“Only you,” Lan Wangji says into his knuckles. “No one else.”


“Really?” Wei Wuxian huffs in disbelief, eyes wide. Lan Wangji nods. His hands are so warm.


For a moment Lan Wangji wars with himself. Then: “Wei Ying, do you know the ribbon’s...?” 


His voice trails off, swallowed by the sudden yawning doubt in his stomach, a chasm ridged and carved with years of fear.


Wei Wuxian stares. 


Lan Wangji’s heart is whittling away at his ribs. 


He can’t stop thinking about the meaning, the meaning, the meaning. Words — he curses himself silently, this old frustration with his own inability to translate between the languages of thought and speech. His mind has always been so full of noise.


(But: Wei Wuxian has always seemed to understand him regardless.)


“The ribbon’s meaning?” Wei Wuxian repeats after a moment, and Lan Wangji nods dumbly. “I do know. I mean, I didn’t know before, obviously, but now...” He swallows and carefully extracts one of his hands from Lan Wangji’s hold, reaches for his own hair ribbon, long cast aside for the task of untangling his hair. He looks up and meets Lan Wangji’s eyes, then presses it to their joined hands, wraps both their fingers around it. 


Lan Wangji is not breathing.


“I’m not— This isn’t the Lan ribbon, but I guess... Maybe, in the future, it could be? Or it could be my ribbon still, but — it would mean the same? If that makes sense? I’d really like that.” He’s biting his lip, and Lan Wangji hazily wonders how it would feel if it were his teeth instead. “That is... If — If you’re willing, of course. Just, since you trust me with yours, I want you to know that I. I trust you to take mine, too.”


The moonlight leaves no place to hide; Lan Wangji knows Wei Wuxian can see, can feel how hard his hands are trembling.


“Lan Zhan ah,” Wei Wuxian whines. He’s been silent for too long again. “Don’t just leave me hanging!!” 


He’s watching Lan Wangji closely, eyes wide and open and hopeful, hopeful, hopeful. “Lan Zhan?”


“Wei Ying,” is all he can manage before he drops his hands and reaches for his face instead, finally, finally brings their mouths together. Wei Wuxian lets out a surprised strangled noise, as though he has any right to be surprised after saying everything he’s said; the sound makes Lan Wangji’s chest ache, and he presses closer, swallowing Wei Wuxian’s sigh, burning at the feel of Wei Wuxian’s blind hands at his neck, his collarbone, his unbound hair, pulling him in. 


(He can barely, barely believe —)


A quiet sound escapes from the back of his throat before he can stop himself. Wei Wuxian grins against his mouth, tangles his fingers into his hair to deepen the kiss. Lan Wangji almost reciprocates when he remembers how much effort he’s put into combing out Wei Wuxian’s hair, so he settles instead for running his hands through it over and over, letting it slide through his fingers, letting himself drown in the surging warmth that is Wei Wuxian.


“Lan Zhan, wait,” Wei Wuxian gasps into his mouth. Lan Wangji pauses and draws back, but doesn’t stop combing his fingers through. Wei Wuxian reaches up and tugs on one of his hands; after a moment he laces their fingers together.


“...Are you worried about ruining your handiwork or something?” he asks, tilting his head.


When he says it aloud like that, Lan Wangji can’t hide the puff of laughter that escapes his lips. “En. Something like that.”


Wei Wuxian grins in delight and buries his face in Lan Wangji’s shoulder, his arms circling his waist once more. “I can’t believe you,” he says, but it’s fond and astonished and just this side of lovestruck. Lan Wangji holds him and lets himself press his mouth to the top of his head, closes his eyes. 


Quiet returns. Lan Wangji strokes his hair over and over and over, and eventually Wei Wuxian leans back to hold his gaze. Lan Wangji takes in the sight of him, flushed and bright-eyed, a new kind of mischief alight in his face.


“You still haven't answered my question,” he says. Lan Wangji blinks. “Earlier? My whole ribbon spiel? ...Oh my god, Lan Zhan, please don’t make me say it again, I think I’ll faint if I have to repeat that —”


Ribbon? Lan Wangji thinks in a daze. It rushes back to him then, the way Wei Wuxian had untied his own hair ribbon and presses it to their joined hands, the halting stutter of if you’re willing, so hesitant and unlike his usual unwavering front.


“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji says, and it is moonlight pounding through his fingertips. “I have been trying for years to say I am willing.”


Wei Wuxian stares at him. His mouth is hanging open. “Years??” he asks incredulously.


Lan Wangji decides it is time for some concrete evidence. “I... was not very good at saying it,” he admits. “Do you remember the hunt on the mountain? The one where you wore a blindfold?”


Wei Wuxian stares blankly at him, confusion furrowing his brows. “The one where you punched a tree?”


Lan Wangji hates this more than words can ever hope to express. 


“What happened. Before that.”


“What happened... I was...” Wei Wuxian hesitates, a step away from the truth. His eyes widen, and he lifts them to stare at Lan Wangji full-on. 


“Oh, my god,” he breathes. “You were the one who stole my first — ?!” And then he slaps his hand over his mouth, eyes even bigger than before.




It is Lan Wangji’s turn to stare.


“That was... your first kiss?” he says hoarsely.


Wei Wuxian bursts out laughing, wiping clumsily at his eyes. “Lan Zhan, I wouldn't be freaking out if it wasn’t!” he says, a little hysterically. “I can’t believe this, I —” Then he halts, turns his gaze back to Lan Wangji. All the mirth is gone from his expression. 


“You’re not joking? That many years ago??” he asks.


Lan Wangji nods mutely.


Wei Wuxian laughs again, short and amazed. “Wow,” he says quietly. “Wow.” He reaches out and, after a moment’s hesitation, gently slips Lan Wangji’s forehead ribbon off, holds it to his lips.


“This is okay, I’m assuming?” he murmurs, looking up at him.


Lan Wangji is not breathing.


(He can barely believe —)


For a few beats it is all he can do to stare. Then he exhales carefully and tugs him close again, briefly kisses the corner of his mouth behind the silk. Wei Wuxian grins shakily before setting it down on the bedside table. His hand drifts up to trace Lan Wangji’s jaw, an echo of what Lan Wangji had done to him earlier. 


They watch each other, silent. Looking, breathing. Lan Wangji knows he could stay like this for days on end: Wei Wuxian’s skin on his, his gaze a softer bolder kind of light tracing the planes of his face.


“Lan Zhan, you know that I’m in love with you too, right?” Wei Wuxian says suddenly.


Lan Wangji smiles slightly, blinks hard to fight back the tears that suddenly sting his eyes. “En,” he replies. 


(Even now, he can barely, barely —)


Wei Wuxian laughs, brings his other arm up to sling it onto his shoulder. “You know, Lan Zhan,” he says, still smiling, “that kiss on the mountain was really something! I could barely stand afterwards, did you know?” 


Lan Wangji did not know. His breath catches in his throat, as affected by this knowledge as Wei Wuxian had evidently been affected by him. Wei Wuxian, of course, does not miss this; his grin widens and he leans in close.


“Did that surprise you?” he whispers, his lips a breath away from Lan Wangji’s own. “Lan — er — ge — ge?” His tone is smug, drawing out the syllables. Lan Wangji is fighting to keep his breathing steady, every inhale slow and measured and controlled. It's a worthless cause in the end: his eyes are huge and black, his pupils completely blown, and his heart is a trembling storm thundering against his ears. Wei Wuxian doesn’t miss anything, because of course he doesn’t, and a blush creeps across his face again.


“Lan Zhan,” he murmurs, his eyes half lidded, “can I kiss you?”


Lan Wangji breathes. The moonlight glints in Wei Wuxian’s irises, all allure and brightness.


“Yes,” he whispers.


Wei Wuxian’s hand is still holding his jaw, and he exhales softly before pulling him close. Lan Wangji feels the warmth of his mouth shudder down his bones — spilling like the moonlight through the cracks of his body, filling every gap and crevice. He is the sun, the moon, the stars; he is the land below, the waters beneath, where the brightness of it all goes. Light. He shivers and arches closer, opens his mouth around a gasp at the press of Wei Wuxian’s tongue on his lips. Wei Wuxian moans his name, clutches his jaw, eyelashes fluttering against his cheek. 


“Wei Ying,” he groans, and Wei Wuxian hums, pleased, but it’s broken and ragged, all his playful teasing stripped away for the bare honesty of this instead. They’re both beyond words by now, and so Lan Wangji lets himself drown.


When he leans back at last, it is with trembling fingers — barely, barely, still — that Lan Wangji brushes back the hair that’s fallen into Wei Wuxian’s face, desperately trying to slow his shallow pants. Gently he tucks the strays away, captivated by the way Wei Wuxian’s hair and face are awash in molten silver, the way Wei Wuxian’s mouth stays slightly parted as he gasps for air, the way Wei Wuxian’s dark eyes are fixed on his, outlined and sparkling in the moonlight.


(Of all things he was bracing himself for, it was not this.)


“Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan, oh my god I just realized,” Wei Wuxian says breathlessly, “I didn't even end up combing your hair out, I messed it up even more!” Lan Wangji nods intently, mock upset, and Wei Wuxian’s face breaks into a grin. When Lan Wangji can’t help but mirror it, Wei Wuxian laughs delightedly. 


“Lan Zhan, I can’t take this, this is so unfair,” he teases. “You look even prettier when you’re smiling!” 


Lan Wangji is absolutely drowning in the way he says even prettier. He draws his fingertips through Wei Wuxian’s hair and hums instead, watches as his eyes drift closed. “Feels good,” he mumbles. He tips his body into Lan Wangji’s, burying his face in his collar. “Lan Zhan ah, Lan Zhan ah. How are you just good at everything?”


Lan Wangji has nothing to say at that, simply continues stroking his hair and leans down to press his lips to his forehead. Wei Wuxian lets out a quiet noise, tightening his arms around Lan Wangji’s shoulders so that they stay pressed against each other.


Time passes. At some point Wei Wuxian tilts his head up wordlessly to kiss him again, sated and soft-mouthed, and at some point the moonlight on the wall becomes moonlight on the floor. It is deep into hanshi by the time Lan Wangji finally brings himself to pull away slightly from Wei Wuxian’s embrace, still remaining close enough that his hands stay at his waist. “We should sleep,” he murmurs, head dipped low next to Wei Wuxian’s ear. It does something to his heart, that he can have this: these casual invasions of each other’s space, now something warm and welcome. 


“You’re right,” Wei Wuxian sighs. “Sorry Lan Zhan, I’ll do your hair tomorrow, I’m really too tired.” Lan Wangji hums, thrilled in his contentment, and presses a kiss to his temple. Wei Wuxian lifts his head to eye him blearily, already half asleep as he tips over sideways onto the bed. His hand doesn't leave Lan Wangji’s waist, and he pulls groggily at the cloth there.


“Lan Zhaaaan,” he says. “Come sleep with me?”


And there is this: the way he says it, without hesitation and in full trust, that makes Lan Wangji’s heart stutter. 


Silently he does as he’s told, and they tuck into one another, Wei Wuxian’s arm slung around his waist, his head fitted into the hollow of Lan Wangji’s throat. Lan Wangji finds that, inexplicably, he is fighting back the urge to both cry and laugh at the same time. He traces with his eyes the silver of moonlight on the slopes of Wei Wuxian’s body and marvels at it all, because even now he can barely, barely believe this closeness is something he is allowed to have.


Silently he presses his mouth to Wei Wuxian’s hair, combs his fingertips through it one more time. “Goodnight, Wei Ying.”


Wei Wuxian’s smile brushes against the skin of his neck, and he shivers before he can stop himself. “Mm, goodnight Lan Zhan.”


The moon slowly sets.

Chapter Text

PART 2: ri / 日




The sun is still a dim muted haze when Lan Wangji wakes.


It takes a moment for him to fully register why he feels as though he’s still asleep, caught in the sunbeams of some long-lost dream — the warm weight of Wei Wuxian pressed against him, his gentle breaths against his throat. A dream undreamt, reborn into the bright of morning.


Lan Wangji closes his eyes and lets himself sink into the sensation, feeling and feeling and feeling how Wei Wuxian’s body tangles into his, how soft his hair is against his fingers where they, too, tangle with him.


His hair, he realizes, is soft the way light is soft. Light: that is the word the poets have overlooked. Real, unreal, yet here nonetheless.


Absentmindedly he lifts his hand slightly to stroke Wei Wuxian’s hair away from his face, running it through his fingers over and over as the sun climbs higher and higher. He wants this for every morning he wakes into.


The walls are a kaleidoscope of pale golds when Wei Wuxian stirs. Lan Wangji loosens his hold on him to give him room to shift and stretch, lets himself stare at the hazy brilliance of the morning light on his face.


Sunlight, he thinks, suits him too.


Wei Wuxian squints his eyes open at last. It takes him a moment to register Lan Wangji’s presence, but it’s evident when he does — he blinks hard and rubs at his face, mouth parted as if about to say something. But instead he seems to take a moment to reconsider and then, to Lan Wangji’s silent astonishment, leans close to press their mouths together briefly. Lan Wangji doesn't even have a chance to close his eyes before Wei Wuxian leans away to grin up at him, reaches up between them to brush his hair back from his temple.


“Morning, Lan Zhan,” he says. 


There is sunlight of his own unfurling in Lan Wangji’s ribcage. “Good morning, Wei Ying.”


Wei Wuxian’s grin widens, his eyes glittering with something unnameable but undeniably warm and kind. “Did you still wake up at that ungodly hour?”


Lan Wangji lets himself smile slightly. “I had no reason not to.”


Ahhh? Not even my presence could make you sleep past maoshi??” Wei Wuxian bats at his shoulder, light and playful. “How disappointing, the power of habit is truly formidable.” Then he thinks for a moment and adds, “No, habit in the hands of the mighty Hanguang-jun is truly formidable.”


“Habits can change,” Lan Wangji murmurs and draws him close again, presses scattered kisses to the top of his head, his forehead, his temple. Then he thinks for a moment and adds, too, “The mighty Hanguang-jun can change.” 


After all, he doesn’t say, not so mighty around you.  


Wei Wuxian’s resounding laughter is muffled but bright as he throws his arm over his waist again, and Lan Wangji smiles into his hair. “All right all right, I won’t tease you anymore, you’ll say things like that and then I’ll never stop bugging you,” Wei Wuxian says delightedly. 


Lan Wangji hums and leaves it at that. He is more than content with this.


They spend a few minutes there silently, holding one another in the drowsy quiet, Wei Wuxian nestled into Lan Wangji’s chest. Lan Wangji closes his eyes, and it is not for the necessity of sleep but rather for indulging in the luxury of this: Wei Wuxian safe and soft against him, alive and steady and loved. 


Loving him


The sudden thought washes the air from Lan Wangji’s chest and he strokes his hair again, fights to breathe through his own stunned endearment.


(He can barely believe —)


“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji eventually says. “We should get up.”


Wei Wuxian sighs, but it rasps with the edges of a laugh. “Fine, fine. But first I’m going to do your hair, okay?”


Lan Wangji’s breath catches with his pulse. He’d forgotten about that promise. 


He hums in agreement and sits up, sweeps his hair behind his shoulders. Wei Wuxian swings himself upright after him and slides Lan Wangji’s comb from the table, turning it this way and that under the sunlight. The jade gleams, glows even, newly translucent in the gold morning brightness.


Wei Wuxian pats Lan Wangji’s elbow to get his attention. “I just realized, I don’t really know how to actually do your hair the way you usually do it,” he admits, tapping the comb with a fingernail. The clink is crisp, bell-like, and it reminds Lan Wangji of sunlight glinting off water. He blinks in acknowledgment. Wei Wuxian grins at him in response. “Is it okay if I just comb it out for you? I don’t want to mess up your image or anything.”


Lan Wangji considers for a moment, then swallows his pride and shakes his head. Gives voice to the truth. “No. I want... I want you to do it. However you want.” 


He looks away, ears burning, but he can see from his peripheral vision that Wei Wuxian is frozen.


Lan Wangji decides that since he’s dug himself into this hole, he might as well go all in. 


“Like yours, if — if you want.”


Neither of them are breathing. There are only two sounds: the trill of sparrows outside, and the almost audible widening of Wei Wuxian’s eyes.


“Lan Zhan,” he says, strangled, “Are you— Are you serious?? No, you’re serious, you’re pretty much always serious.” Lan Wangji watches in his own embarrassed muteness as Wei Wuxian flushes bright red, absolutely unmistakeable in the sunlight. 


“You’re not kidding?” Wei Wuxian checks again. “You— You’d actually like that?”


Lan Wangji can feel, with every nerve ending on his body, the heat searing his skin. He may as well ascend on the spot. “En.”


Wei Wuxian lets out a tiny huff, delighted astonishment pushing it into a laugh. “All right, if you say so! Oh my god, I can’t believe this. I can’t believe you. Lan Zhan, you’re gonna be the death of me, you know that?” 


Lan Wangji turns around again and closes his eyes, wills himself not to dissolve into amazed tears or hysterical laughter or both. He can barely believe himself.


There’s a second of deliberation, and then Lan Wangji feels the soft tug of Wei Wuxian’s fingers in his hair and he tilts his head back ever so slightly, breathes deeply to grant his stammering heart some air.


“This feel okay?” Wei Wuxian murmurs, drawing his fingers through his hair. Lan Wangji hums, relaxing his own fingers where they had been gripping the edge of the bed. He didn’t realize he had been so tense. Wei Wuxian lets out another one of his exhaling laughs and scoots closer, repositioning his legs so that one of them hooks around Lan Wangji’s waist and the other dangles over the bedside, a hold without hands that makes Lan Wangji’s heartbeat trip. 


“Does it hurt? Let me know if it hurts,” he says, and Lan Wangji’s eyes snap open.


Let me know


Something huge looms over him. 


Let me know


He can’t breathe. 


if it hurts if it hurts if it hurts.


Another sea, a colder sea. It crashes around him, washing around his waist and pulling at the backs of his eyes, his palms. 


Does it hurt, didi? Let me know if it hurts.


How long had it been since anyone had bothered to ask — ?


Didi ah, if you don't say anything how will mother know? 


Years, he realizes. Years. Ever since —


Mother —


Dimly he realizes that Wei Wuxian’s fingers have stilled behind him, and then there’s a hand at his cheek, turning his head so his gaze meets Wei Wuxian’s. 


An anchor, in those icy depths. 


“Lan Zhan?” he asks, panicked. “Lan Zhan, what’s wrong? You got all stiff suddenly, is something wrong? Was it something I said?”


Lan Wangji opens his mouth to respond, but nothing comes out and he shakes his head. Wei Wuxian nods, small and slight in such a way that Lan Wangji knows, somehow, he’s picked it up from Lan Wangji himself. Then he settles back a little, retrieving his leg from Lan Wangji’s lap and gives him some room before reaching up to pull Lan Wangji’s head to his chest, hooking his chin over his crown.


“You don’t have to tell me, if you don’t feel like it,” Wei Wuxian says quietly. Lan Wangji exhales. “I’ll still be here no matter what you decide, okay? I’m not going anywhere.”


Lan Wangji turns his face to tuck into Wei Wuxian’s throat, lets the warmth of his closeness seep through him, chase away the bitter cold. “Thank you,” he whispers into his skin.


Wei Wuxian runs his fingers through Lan Wangji’s hair and hums like he would, the vibration of it a soothing press against his forehead, and Lan Wangji finds it in himself to smile.


The coldness begins to recede, and eventually he does pull away, with a quiet sigh, from Wei Wuxian’s hold. “Better?” Wei Wuxian asks, and he nods silently, turning to let him comb his hair. 


Lan Wangji lets his eyes slide closed, lets himself drown in the gentle rhythmic pull of Wei Wuxian’s hands in his hair. He thought that his heart would be loud and fluttering in this moment, but surprisingly it is quiet: quiet, unhurried, and so unexpectedly grounded. Anchored. The comb softly rakes his scalp in waves, and he is not drowning now but rather sailing, floating, carried so lightly on the crest and break of this kinder warmer sea.


(Of all things he had braced himself for, it was never, never this — the certain gentle steadiness of Wei Wuxian’s love, a sunlit reflection of his own.)


He sits still as Wei Wuxian clacks the comb back onto the table and gathers his hair up into a ponytail, feels him hesitate again. “Oh, Lan Zhan, small problem,” he says. “I, uh... What do I tie it with?”


Lan Wangji, at that moment, realizes he did not think this far ahead. For a beat he contemplates the situation logically, but then some cheekier part of his brain interjects and compels him to say lightly, in an imitation of his earlier answer: “Yours, if you want.”


Wei Wuxian does a double take behind him. 


“Wait wait wait, mine? My hair ribbon?!” His grip on Lan Wangji’s hair loosens in shock. “Lan Zhan, are you ser — ?”


Then it hits him. “Wait.”


Lan Wangji waits.


Are you being serious?”


Lan Wangji stays silent.


“You’re not, are you. Are you?”


Lan Wangji hums, noncommittally. 


“Oh my god! Lan Zhan !” There’s a gentle tug as Wei Wuxian pulls on his hair as admonishment, and Lan Wangji doesn’t bother to suppress the laugh that hunches his shoulders. “Was that a joke? Are you joking with me?”


“En,” Lan Wangji replies, the sound of it lilting upward in his own amusement.


Wei Wuxian joins him in laughing and bats at his shoulder, slumps forward to press his face into Lan Wangji’s back. “Who would have thought! Lan Wangji, giving me the heart attacks I usually give him?” Then he mutters, half to himself, “Where is my ribbon, anyway...?” 


Lan Wangji frowns. Wei Wuxian had slept with his hair loose, hadn’t he?


Then there’s a belatedly suppressed Oh behind him, and Lan Wangji hums in question.


“It should be on the bed somewhere, I kind of... let it go when we were. Ah.” Wei Wuxian gathers himself and sits up. “When we were kissing last night. And I forgot about it after that. It’s definitely here though, it shouldn’t have gotten far from the bed.”


“Mn,” Lan Wangji replies. He absolutely cannot respond to that in comprehensible words. “Leave it, then. We can find it later.” 


“Yeah,” Wei Wuxian says immediately. “Yeah, alright, of course. So what do we do now?”


Lan Wangji reaches behind his head and carefully slides his hair out from Wei Wuxian’s hands. “I can show you how... how I usually do it myself.” He turns his body slightly towards him, peers from the corner of his eye as Wei Wuxian’s expression shifts into delight. He takes his hands back to fold them under his chin, elbows on his knees, and regards Lan Wangji like the eager pupil he both is and isn’t. “Really?”


Lan Wangji nods. “En.”


Wei Wuxian’s grin widens even further. “So then I can do it next time? Wow Lan Zhan, your mind is truly remarkable!”


Lan Wangji hums, lets his amusement slip into the timbre of it. As remarkable as yours? He maneuvers himself to face Wei Wuxian more directly, tips his chin down so he can see the top of his head.


 “Can you see clearly?” he asks anyway. There’s a pause, and Lan Wangji hesitates. He can’t bring himself to look up at Wei Wuxian’s face. Is he being too... strange, about this whole hair thing? Is he making it, something perhaps insignificant to Wei Wuxian, into something overly significant? Does Wei Ying even really want to know, or is he just going along with everything to appease me — ?


“Oh! I can,” Wei Wuxian says, sounding startled himself. “Yeah, I can, sorry, I was just kind of thinking. This is absolutely surreal, Lan Zhan is okay with teaching me how to do his hair — when before, he could barely stand being in the same class as me!”


Lan Wangji huffs. “That was different,” he says. “We were different.” 


“That’s exactly what I mean,” Wei Wuxian replies as Lan Wangji starts to gather comb-smoothed swaths of hair into his hand, the motions as familiar as daybreak. “I’m honestly kind of in denial about the whole thing. You really, really were sick of me back then, so this...” He taps Lan Wangji’s wrist lightly, twice. “This feels — how should I say — surreal.” 


Lan Wangji stops. He looks up. 


Wei Wuxian is watching him, head tipped ever so slightly to the side and eyes earnest. 




(He is sure neither of them are breathing.)


That’s how it is for a moment before Lan Wangji thins his mouth. With one hand he holds his hair in place and with the other he reaches out, taps Wei Wuxian’s wrist in return. Lets his own eyes soften.


“Ridiculous,” he says quietly.


Wei Wuxian’s resounding laugh is so, so bright, and Lan Wangji withdraws his hand to slowly finish doing his hair. But he knows Wei Wuxian is watching, knows that’s all he actually needs to learn something like this. Wei Wuxian hands him the crown and hairpin, and he begins to slot everything in order.


“Mmm,” Wei Wuxian says when he’s done. “That easy, huh? Let me try?”


Lan Wangji hums his agreement. He starts to undo the ornaments. Muscle memory grants him the luxury of drawing his focus away from the cold jade and towards Wei Wuxian’s warm gaze instead, watching him watch him . Wei Wuxian, of course, does not fail to notice this; he grins brightly and darts close to press a quick peck to his forehead where his ribbon would be and instantly leans away, still smiling. Something about it bursts like summer in Lan Wangji’s chest. 


He lets his hair down, grateful that his surely-burning ears are hidden from view.


Lan Wangji sits, head tipped and still, as Wei Wuxian gathers up his hair again, fingers steady but obviously inexperienced. There’s a moment where he has to adjust his position, rising to his knees — even sitting with his head lowered, Lan Wangji is that much taller than he is. The motion presses his chest to the crown of Lan Wangji’s head and he lets his eyes close, drowning and soaking in the warmth of his closeness. In this. Them.


(It hits him in a rush that Wei Wuxian is doing his hair, and he allows himself a small smile there in the hidden sheltered warmth of the space between their bodies. Them. He can barely believe —)


A moment later Wei Wuxian pulls back. “Okay, I’m done.” 


Lan Wangji looks up. Wei Wuxian is grinning at him, lopsided but blindingly earnest. “Hm. Not bad!” he says, half to himself. Lan Wangji reaches up and feels his hair, the crown and pin in their place. He’s right; it isn’t bad. It’s looser than when Lan Wangji does it, but strong enough to hold.


Then Wei Wuxian reaches out to tuck his hair behind his ear and says, with absolutely no warning, “Although honestly I think you look prettier with your hair down, but that’s just me.”


Lan Wangji stills.


Wei Wuxian’s grin widens into a stifled laugh. “Lan Zhan!” he wheezes. “Your face, oh my god! That’s it, now that I know your weakness you will never escape. Not a day will pass without me reminding you you’re pretty, it’s settled!”


He has no idea how to respond to that. Does that even warrant a response? Is Wei Wuxian expecting one? What would I say anyway? His ears are burning. He remembers to breathe again, looking down even as Wei Wuxian laughs brightly. Lan Wangji stands to put on his outer robes and maybe distract himself from the way his mind is repeating you’re pretty you’re pretty you’re pretty you’re pretty, over and over and over.


The words wash over him like sunlight, and Lan Wangji closes his eyes briefly. How is it that he is both drowning, and flying?


He can feel Wei Wuxian’s eyes on him as he slips his arms through the sleeves. Wei Wuxian is still laughing quietly to himself, just watches back when Lan Wangji glances at him. Lan Wangji pauses, then lets it be, cradles close this knowledge that Wei Wuxian knows he knows he’s watching, and is letting him watch. You look prettier you look prettier.  He straightens the outermost robes, his mind a sun-warmed shore.


(He can barely, barely believe —)


Lan Wangji decides Wei Wuxian’s hair takes priority over being fully dressed, so he returns to the bedside with his outer robes hanging loose from his shoulders. He sits down behind Wei Wuxian, who twists around to cock his head at him like a bird. “Lan Zhan?”


“Your hair,” Lan Wangji says, kindly. “Yours is messy too.”


There’s a brief second where the words seem to tangibly click inside Wei Wuxian’s mind, and then his entire face brightens. “Oh!” he says, not bothering to conceal his delight. It’s contagious; Lan Wangji smiles ever so slightly as he turns back around. “Okay, yeah. I was really out of it for a second there, I could hear you saying words but they weren’t making sense together.”


Lan Wangji gathers his hair from the front, sweeps it behind his shoulders. “Mm.” Silently he allows himself to indulge in a second of pleased self-congratulation; evidently, Wei Wuxian had been as flustered by the concept as he was. 


(And in his mind the sunlit waves break upon the shore, washing out and washing in with whispers of you look prettier you look prettier you look prettier. He stands in the middle of all, but this time it is drowning of a different kind — this time, he is not alone.)


Lan Wangji starts with his hands, this time, carefully prying apart the tangles when his fingers catch. Wei Wuxian exhales, long and drawn-out. But it shakes, and Lan Wangji frowns.


“Wei Ying?” he says. His hands still. “What is wrong?”


“Nothing!” Wei Wuxian replies quickly. “Nothing, nothing, just— I’m feeling a lot of things right now, but it’s not... a bad thing?? I...” He exhales forcefully, short and shallow. Lan Wangji hums to tell him he’s still listening, takes up the comb and starts drawing it through his hair. In an afterthought he dips his head down and presses his mouth to Wei Wuxian’s shoulder, his nape, and Wei Wuxian lets out a staggering laugh halfway to a sigh. 


Lan Wangji waits.


“No one’s done this for me,” Wei Wuxian finally says, his voice distant and gripped tight. “Not in— Well. Not in a really, really long time.” He shifts slightly, his face in profile as he glances at Lan Wangji before glancing away again. “And I guess I just got overwhelmed, like, holy shit, this is real; you’re here with me and everything and I — I didn’t realize. How much I care about, how much I want this. You. Everything.”


He’s turned around fully by the end of his speech, even if he won’t meet his eyes — and Lan Wangji finds himself staring at perhaps the softest, strangest, most beautiful expression he has ever seen on Wei Wuxian’s face. Like sunlight.


(He doesn’t know what to call it yet, but he thinks he will in time enough.)


“Wei Ying,” he says slowly. “I...” How does he respond to that, give voice to the clamoring surging adoration admiration love that climbs up his throat, like sunlight sunlight sunlight?


“You don’t have to say anything,” Wei Wuxian says quietly. “I just wanted you to know, that’s all.”


So he doesn’t, and instead settles for tipping his body toward Wei Wuxian, presses his mouth to his forehead, his cheekbones, his lips. Breathes.


Hopes that Wei Wuxian will hear what he doesn’t say aloud.


“Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian says when he leans back. The breath he lets out shakes and his eyes are glimmering crescents, but he’s smiling, brighter than the slowly lightening day beyond the window. “Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan.” Lan Wangji lets himself be pulled back to him, breathes in Wei Wuxian’s shaky exhale even as he presses their mouths together. Lan Wangji shivers as he crowds close without hesitation now, his hands firm at Lan Wangji’s face. His heartbeat pounds against Lan Wangji’s and he is light and he is sea he is this, the warm insistence of Wei Wuxian against him.


(He can barely —)


Wei Wuxian pulls away ever so slightly, still close enough that Lan Wangji can’t make out all of his face. Lan Wangji sighs quietly at the loss and Wei Wuxian hums lightly, smiling, traces delicate lingering circles on Lan Wangji’s cheek with his thumb. Then, barely above a whisper, he says in yet another echo to Lan Wangji’s words to him, “Thank you too.”


Lan Wangji lets out a breath of laughter, endeared and altogether thrilled by how closely they both evidently pay attention to one another. Always, always listening; listening, learning. Replying in kind.


But first: “Your hair,” Lan Wangji reminds him, drawing the moment to a close.


Wei Wuxian laughs and turns around again. “Right! Then I can teach you how to do a ponytail, and you will be enlightened.”


Lan Wangji narrows his eyes skeptically, but he knows the smile hasn’t left his face. “Mm. We’ll see.”


He combs through the rest of Wei Wuxian’s hair without incident, now familiar enough in these depths to adequately navigate their rise and fall, syncopations to his own heartbeat. Wei Wuxian’s breathing slows and the morning becomes quiet again.


(And perhaps they have always been like this, or at least always meant to be: a push and pull unseen, but nonetheless, undeniably, irrevocably felt. As the sun pulls the moon pulls the sea.)


He can barely, barely believe, after everything, he is allowed to have — this.


And when he finally tells him so, this gift sunlit, the smile Wei Wuxian offers in return brims with that unnamed brightness.


“Well that won’t do,” he says, drawing himself closer to settle his arms at Lan Wangji’s shoulders, loose and relaxed and so, so easy. “I’ll just have to convince you to believe you have this, won’t I?”




Lan Wangji thinks, now, that he has a name for it.