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there are no words that can paint (the longing in your face)

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 Lan Wangji has felt many things, despite what others—namely Wei Wuxian—would say.

 He has felt happiness, in his mother’s arms, in his brother’s teasing words, in spending time reading and playing his guqin.

 He has felt sadness, when his mother passes, when he does not see his father, when his brother starts to devote more time to his duties as a Sect Leader.

 He has felt annoyance, in Wei Wuxian’s smirk and teasing words and the way he holds himself and everything around him so carefully.

 He has felt anger, remorse, and hatred in his home being burned down, in having his dignity stripped away so easily, in letting his brother and his uncle and juniors get hurt.

 He’s felt emotions, a wide range of them, and it’s always a rush, it’s always too much and Lan Wangji can’t do anything about it. So he stops everything, learns to shield his thoughts and emotions and lock them away so that they won’t ever show on his face. It’s surprisingly liberating sometimes, when people want to read him, and he can keep up his walls and never let them know of the turmoil that is his mind.

 He’s never felt fear before.

 Of course, there are always moments of doubt in his childhood, but his brother or uncle is always there and there is nothing that can’t be solved with a few hushed words and gentle caresses.

 He’s never felt this exact type of fear before—the one that is all-consuming, dark, terrifying in all its right, the one that grips his bones and renders him immobile, gasping for breath as his vision swims and he blindly grasps for anything that will ground him. This is the type of fear that he’s heard so often described, but never had the pleasure of feeling himself.

 Now, he has, and he’s being suffocated—

 

 It’s dark.

 Everything around him is dark, and all he can hear is war screams, sounds of battle and yells and hushed voices he’s so close to making out.

 He hears voices, yelling screaming begging crying and there’s nothing to chain those voices to—

 The oncoming flash of bright light makes him shield his eyes and then he’s swinging his sword, his body instinctually moving so that the attacker cannot touch him and then—

 A yell, and Lan Wangji watches as Wei Ying roars, fire in his eyes, as he takes the Stygian Tiger Seal and crushes it into pieces, and then there’s—

 There’s nothing.

 Lan Wangji blinks, eyes quickly adjusting to the darkness as another scene, blurred and dull, appears before his eyes, but it doesn’t matter, because the whispers are the most prominent.

 ‘Great news! Wei Wuxian has died!’

 ‘The Yiling Patriarch has died? Who could’ve killed him?’

 ‘Who other than his shidi, Jiang Cheng, putting an end to his own relative for the greater good. Jiang Cheng led the four clans of YunmengJiang, GusuLan, LanlingJin, and QingheNie to destroy his “den”—the Burial Mounds.’

 ‘I must say, good riddance!’

 Lan Wangji’s breath comes out in short gasps, and a cold grip has settled itself on his heart in a vice-like clench, and he thinks he’s screaming, crying out for Wei Ying, and his hands are shaking in the dark—

 And then the feelings flood, they come in a torrent of anguish and insanity and pain, and Lan Wangji claws at his chest to get the feelings out, to reach everything that’s bad inside him and just wrench it out. He feels sorrow, feels the notes of Inquiry echoing through his mind, relentless, and he feels the song he’d composed float through in jagged shards and shattered memories and he’s so lost—

 

 He’d woken up then.

 Lan Wangji had woken up, barely giving himself minutes to calm down, wear his clothes properly and grab everything he needs—Bichen, his guqin, and a pouch of money—before taking off and flying to Burial Mounds.

 Three hours into his flight, Lan Wangji realizes in hindsight that it might not have been the best idea. The fear has ebbed away, a bit, but desperation still claws at his insides and leaves him breathless in a way that is not Wei Wuxian-induced, and that is not a good thing.

 So he makes up his mind, and continues on his straight path to where Wei Wuxian is, and, hopefully, they’ll see each other again.

 

 Lan Wangji flies into Burial Mounds and comes to a rest at the front of Wei Wuxian’s cave, of which Wen Qing is coming out of.

 ‘Second Master Lan,’ she greets him, bowing respectfully, ‘What brings you here?’

 ‘Is Wei Ying okay.’

 He doesn’t realize until Wen Qing gives him a look that his voice is cracked and rough, and that he must look like a mess—he hadn’t bothered to do anything for his appearance since he’d woken up, and he’s sure that he hadn’t woken up in the best condition either—and the thought of a stranger seeing him like this would have shame filling him, but the only thought in his head is that he needs to know is Wei Ying is alive.

 ‘He’s fine,’ Wen Qing replies after a few seconds, voice laced with doubt and confusion, ‘Why do you ask?’

 ‘I—‘ Lan Wangji stops, breathing quickly and debating whether to tell Wen Qing or not, but it seems that she’s made the decision for him.

 ‘You can go and see him if you want,’ she says, and then turns away, seemingly not caring that there’s a potential invader here. Or maybe it’s because she knows how easily he can be defeated here, especially in this state.

 He says nothing, and instead takes a hesitant step towards the door. His heart suddenly hammers in his chest, but he pushes it away in favour of pushing the door open and stepping inside.

 Lan Wangji closes the door quietly and starts to make his way towards the figure sitting hunched over his desk.

 ‘Qing-jie, is that you? Did you leave something here—‘

 And then his words cut themselves short, when he turns around and sees Lan Wangji standing there, in all his tired glory, hand gripping onto his sword and the other curled into a fist.

 ‘Lan Zhan?’

 His words—his voice—sounds so small, sounds so surprised yet hopeful, and Lan Wangji almost staggers at the weight of those two words leaving Wei Ying’s lips.

 ‘Lan Zhan, you—‘ and Wei Ying cuts himself off, looking away. A myriad of emotions flash across his face, but the only two Lan Wangji recognizes is pain and sadness.

 After all, he’s seen this expression on himself oh so many times.

 Words try to bubble up past his lips, but he doesn’t let them, he doesn’t say anything as he rushes towards Wei Ying, the latter startling as if he thinks Lan Wangji’s going to attack him but—

 Their bodies collide in the fiercest hug Lan Wangji’s ever given, and Wei Ying lets out a muffled squeak and Lan Wangji valiantly tries not to think about the one other time they’d been pressed together like this, the heat of Wei Ying’s body searing through his clothes and his lips a burning brand on Lan Wangji’s that he would proudly bear for all eternity.

 He tries, and fails, as Wei Ying struggles, and falls limp, too much reminiscent of their last time in such a position.

 Lan Wangji had knocked Wei Ying off his chair, and so they’re on the ground, sprawled on top of each other, and all thoughts of propriety fly out of Lan Wangji’s head as he holds on with all the force his shaking arms can muster and Wei Ying hesitantly reaching around his waist to pull him closer in tandem.

 ‘Lan Zhan,’ Wei Ying repeats, softly, for the third time, ‘What’s gotten into you?’

 And Lan Wangji doesn’t reply, but he relaxes on Wei Ying’s body, fingers carding through his hair and trying to get as close as he can to Wei Ying.

 He might regret this later, he knows, he definitely will, but now he lets himself bask in the surrounding energy that’s all Wei Ying’s and that puts him so much at ease than it should. And maybe he’s being selfish, but—

 Lan Wangji’s never been outright selfish before. He wants to let himself be, just this one time.

 Wei Ying’s fingers rub small circles on his back, and Lan Wangji basks in the feeling, the glow of happiness and relief he feels for as long as he can before sitting up and pulling Wei Ying along with him.

 ‘Lan Zhan?’ And this time, it’s reverent, soft, holy, and he feels like he can live on with just Wei Ying saying his name like that, so soft and sweet, like honey and flowers, and Lan Wangji can’t stop himself from pulling his forwards into a hug again.

 Both of their hearts thud in their chests, a steady reminder that Wei Ying, his Wei Ying, is alive and breathing, and slowly, slowly, as their heartbeats gradually snyc together, Lan Wangji has the heart to look into Wei Ying’s eyes again.

 ‘Nightmare,’ Lan Wangji says, uncaring of how disjointed his voice sounds, ‘Wei Ying died and didn’t come back again.’

 He feels Wei Ying’s breath stutter, his hands clench tighter on the back of his robes.

 A pause, then, ‘You were really worried about me, huh?’ The words are teasing, soft, and yet Lan Wangji buries his face into the crook of Wei Ying’s neck while mumbling out an affirmative.

 Wei Ying draws in a breath, and then he goes limp, collapsing in Lan Wangji’s arms until they’re both supporting each other, teetering on the edge of falling but not quite, shaky yet steady and Lan Wangji thinks he could stay like this with Wei Ying forever.

 They stay like that, for a long while, until Wei Ying shifts and makes to get up, and Lan Wangji, hazy with the want to sleep, panics and holds onto Wei Ying tighter.

 ‘Lan Zhan,’ Wei Ying whispers, ‘It’s okay, I’m not going anywhere. Let’s go lie down, okay?’

 Lan Wangji nods, and lets himself be led to a ledge with some piles of cloth on it.

 Wei Ying stops, turns to him and sheepishly says, ‘Sorry, it’s not much—‘ but Lan Wangji’s already stripping himself of his outer robes, laid them on the makeshift bed and pulled Wei Ying along to sit there with him.

 ‘Lan Zhan, you—‘ Wei Ying stops, looking at Lan Wangji with curious eyes as he takes off his forehead ribbon.

 He takes Wei Ying’s arm, gently draws back the sleeves. His arm’s riddled with scars, old and new, and Lan Wangji, with all the care he has in himself, wraps his forehead ribbon around his Wei Ying’s wrist like a bandage. When he’s done, he ties a careful knot and pats his arm.

 ‘Sleep,’ Lan Wangji tells Wei Ying, who—now that he looks more closely—has dark circles under his eyes, eyes that are mystified by Lan Wangji’s actions.

 ‘Okay, Lan Zhan,’ Wei Ying says, lying down, and Lan Wangji lets himself be pulled along.

 Lan Zhan throws all the rules of his Sect out of the metaphorical window, and cuddles as close as he can to Wei Ying before his befuddled mind drags him into slumber.

 He indistinctly remembers Wei Ying’s laugh as he’d pulled him even closer.

 

 When he wakes up, Wei Ying’s still asleep. His arms are curled around Lan Wangji’s waist, and their legs are tangled together in a way that’s not entirely uncomfortable.

 There’s a soft talisman that’s giving off light in the corner, almost burned out, and Lan Wangji replaces it with a new one.

 Then he looks down at Wei Ying’s face, sleeping, but even in the depths of slumber there’s a tightness in his brows, a downturn in the corner of his lips and trembles leave him from time to time.

 Lan Wangji frowns, and carefully removes himself from Wei Ying’s grasp—as much as he would’ve liked to stay, he needs to help Wei Ying be more at peace.

 ‘I’ll be back,’ he whispers, and then trudges across the room to fetch his guqin where he’d left it by the door the night prior.

 When he returns, Wei Wuxian’s trembling has grown worse, and his face contorts in pain, presumably, and when Lan Wangji sits down on the bed, Wei Ying immediately grasps on the side of his robes and doesn’t let go.

 To calm him, Lan Wangji plays, simple soothing tunes that had been taught to him early, mixed with incantations for one to have peaceful sleep. He goes over the motions methodically, and watches as Wei Ying finally grows more and more relaxed.

 He stops for a moment, and then lets his fingers play a song he’s long grown accustomed to playing when nights are cold and there’s no one but himself that he can seek for comfort, plas a song he’d played to Wei Ying so long ago, when Wei Ying was delirious with fever and they were both stuck in the cave without a hope to get out.

 By the time he’s done, Wei Ying has relaxed completely, and Lan Wangji leaves his guqin standing beside the bed in favour of going out and stretching his limbs.

 When he goes outside, the sky is light gray, and people are already moving about and some of them are farming, he sees in the distance, whereas others are conversing, light, amiable chatter reaching his ears as he looks around for Wen Qing. A lot of people there give him looks, but they’re not hostile, and Lan Wangji believes some of them know him from the last time he’d visited the Burial Mounds.

 All of a sudden, there’s a blur of a ball and something attaches itself to his leg.

 Lan Wangji looks down, and it’s A-Yuan.

 ‘Rich Brother!’

 ‘Hello,’ Lan Wangji says, bending down and pulling A-Yuan into his arms, ‘Do you know where Wen Qing is?’

 A-Yuan points, and Lan Wangji lets himself be led to the direction he’s pointing in to find Wen Qing talking to her brother.

 ‘Wen Qing,’ he greets her, and then, ‘Wen Qionglin.’

 ‘Second Master Lan,’ they chorus, and then Wen Qing says, ‘Is there anything we can help you with?’

 ‘Wei Wuxian,’ here, he hesitates, unsure of how to put his words, ‘Is he alright?’ It’s the furthest thing he wants to ask, but his words are stuck in his throat, all trying to rip their way out, but it’s all too clustered.

 They look at each other for a moment. ‘He is not hurt, if that’s what you mean,’ Wen Qing answers consciously.

 ‘He—resentful energy?’

 ‘Ah,’ Wen Qing says in understanding, ‘About that. We’ve been monitoring his health and heart—the only damages that have happened to his body are when he has used a very large amount of resentful energy. Even then, he has increased tolerance and soon might be completely immune to the effects of resentful energy on his body. His mental state—I’m not so sure of.’

 Lan Wangji nods, thoughts of wanting Wei Ying to stop using demonic cultivation returning to him.

 But—he’s seen the people here. He’s seen how they work, for a brief moment, and none of them have evil intent, they’re past their middle ages and there isn’t anyone here that’s under twenty aside from some teenagers and A-Yuan.

 These were not the war-hungry Wens that had stormed his home.

 And without Wei Ying’s demonic cultivation, without the barriers of corpses and lines of defense that Wei Ying has put up, all these people would be dead.

 Lan Wangji cannot let go of his past easily, but he thinks—maybe, maybe he can understand Wei Ying a little better now.

 ‘If it helps,’ Wen Qionglin says meekly, ‘I can sense when Wei-gongzi’s using too much resentful energy. Maybe if you’re around I can tell you?’

 Lan Wangji nods, murmuring his thanks as he turns over his own thoughts.

 A yell breaks him out of his thoughts, and all three of them turn to see Wei Ying running towards them, half-clothed and eyes and hair wild.

 Lan Wangji makes a move to go to him, but belatedly realizes that he’s still holding A-Yuan, as quiet as the child had been. Wen Qing notices his dilemma, taking A-Yuan from him and walking off with We Qionglin at her heels.

 ‘Lan Zhan!’ Wei Ying yells, as he runs, arms wide, and Lan Wangji has barely taken a step forward when Wei Ying crashes into him, wrapping limbs around him tightly and holding on as if he wants to be glued to Lan Wangji’s side forever.

 ‘Wei Ying?’

 ‘Lan Zhan,’ Wei Ying sobs, ‘Lan Zhan, I thought—I thought you left me—I thought I dreamed last night, but—but Bichen and Wangji were still there but you weren’t and—‘ he pauses, heaves a beath and continues holding Lan Wangji tight.

 ‘Wei Ying,’ he says, softly, hugging Wei Ying, ‘I will never leave you. Not again.’

 They stay like this until Wei Ying’s sobs and whimpers subside, with Lan Wangji rubbing soothing circles into his back and Wei Ying burrowing himself into the crook of Lan Wangji’s neck.

 ‘Are you alright?’ Lan Wangji asks, pulling back so that he can look over Wei Ying properly, ‘Did you sleep well?’

 Wei Ying lets out a weak laugh. ‘Mn, I definitely feel more rested than usual. Must be because the great Hanguang-jun’s with me, huh?’ With that, he throws out a wink.

 Lan Wangji sighs. He notices that his forehead ribbon’s becoming undone on Wei Ying’s wrist. Reaching down, he makes to take his wrist, but Wei Ying, mistaking it for wanting it back, slides it off and hands it to him.

 ‘Lan Zhan, isn’t this sacred or something? Why’d you give it to me?’

 He doesn’t say anything, instead takes the offered ribbon and takes Wei Ying’s wrist, making sure to wrap it properly this time and tying it into a more secure knot so that it rests securely on Wei Ying’s arm.

 ‘A gift,’ he says, answering Wei Ying’s curious gaze. ‘A promise to protect you whenever I can. To aid you when you are in need. To be there for you in your darkest of times.’

 In GusuLan, those words are practically marriage vows—yet Wei Ying knows nothing of them, so Lan Wangji is safe. He doesn’t know if he should cry or be thankful for Wei Ying’s obliviousness.

 ‘Lan Zhan,’ Wei Ying says, eyes shining, ‘Lan Zhan—thank you. This—this means so much to me.’

 Lan Wangji nods, lets himself hold his gaze until Wei Ying frowns, and asks, ‘But you want me to stop demonic cultivation. You were so adamant about it before. Why change now?’

 Lan Wangji opens his mouth, and says nothing, for anything he says will come out sounding like a love letter, will sound too warm and loving and caring where he should not be. So instead, he repeats the words he said last night: ‘Nightmare. Wei Ying died and didn’t come back again. People here need your cultivation.’

 ‘Lan Zhan,’ Wei Ying whispers, drawing him close again, ‘You really care about me, don’t you?’

 He mutters out a quiet ‘mn’, and against his better judgement, tells Wei Ying quietly, ‘Using demonic cultivation is harmful. Don’t want Wei Ying to die.’

 He sees the moment when Wei Ying’s eyes widen, sees the precise moment where he understands, and Lan Wangji doesn’t know if he should fear the smile that overtakes Wei Ying’s face.

 ‘You don’t mind me using demonic cultivation,’ Wei Ying speaks, laying out all the facts that Lan Wangji has desperately wanted to say, ‘You just want me to stop using it because you think it’s harming my body.’

 Lan Wangji nods into his shoulder. His legs are going to cramp from standing so long, and he sinks down to the ground, uncaring of how the ground will dirty his robes, and pulls Wei Ying along with him.

 ‘Lan Zhan,’ Wei Ying speaks carefully, taking his hand into his own, ‘Resentful energy and demonic cultivation—it’s different from what you know. Yes, sometimes I get hurt but not when I use it in moderation. It’s like—it’s like discovering a new way of cultivation all over again. For spiritual energy, there’s already a list on what to do and what not to do, so it’s easy. Demonic cultivation is different. There isn’t any guide, and sometimes there are hiccups—but at least I have Qing-jie to help me!’

 Wei Ying says this with a grin, and Lan Wangji wants to reach up, to cup his cheek and pull him close and never let go. But he doesn’t. He can’t.

 ‘So, don’t worry, Lan Zhan—Qing-jie worries about my mental health, but in all honesty I’m just worried about everyone living here and everything that’s going on, so I tend to snap sometimes.’

 ‘You,’ Lan Wangji hesitates, ‘You’ll tell me if it’s too much?’

 Wei Ying criticizes him for a moment, and Lan Wangji knows he’s unreadable, but he lays his soul bare for Wei Ying to see that he only wants him to be happy.

 ‘Yes,’ Wei Ying finally says, slumping forward and resting his head on Lan Wangji’s shoulder, ‘Yes, Lan Zhan, I promise I’ll tell you if it’s too much.’

 Lan Wangji lets out a quiet ‘mn,’ and now, with Wei Ying half on top of him and their hands clutched together—now, he thinks he is content.

 

 When they get up, it is almost noon, and Lan Wangji is led to the middle of the Mounds, where tables and benches have been scattered about and people are milling around. They get food from a kindly-looking man, and Lan Wangji follows Wei Ying to a bench on the side.

 ‘How do you get food here?’ Lan Wangji asks, before he eats, because Wei Ying will probably talk long enough for an answer that he can finish his lunch. It’s nothing like Gusu, of course, these are people with low food rations and it’s probably a wonder they aren’t starving, but the soup is good, despite it looking gray and with lumps of different shapes.

 Those turn out to be vegetables.

 Wei Ying explains to him while eating, hands gesturing wildly, that food grown in the soil at the Burial Mounds take on a different appearance because of the resentful energy. As far as he knows, there is only very trace amounts of resentful energy in the food itself—it won’t do anything to interfere with a person’s body or heart.

 ‘Medicinal herbs are another thing, though,’ Wei Ying says, in the midst of chewing, ‘We have to get them from Yiling, and sometimes it’s difficult because we don’t have enough money.’

 He goes on to explain the mechanics of it, how the resentful energy sometimes affects the healing properties of herbs and one unfortunate accident where a person had been badly affected by it. Wen Qing had just barely managed to cure them.

 When they’re done, Wei Ying tells him he plans to stay outside for today and come up with new tunes for his flute, and looks surprised when Lan Wangji offers to accompany him on his guqin.

 Wen Qing comes to join them, carrying A-Yuan, halfway through, and Lan Wangji watches on as the two of them talk about what’s going on in the outside world.

 In his boredom, A-Yuan has crawled over to Lan Wangji, and he watches as he continues to crawl on Lan Wangji’s lap. He has not handles any children much, but he knows that they need to be held carefully, so he braces an arm against A-Yuan’s back to prevent him from falling.

 The toddler looks up at him, eyes wide and round in a way that reminds Lan Wangji of what Wei Ying could’ve been when he was a child, and his hand comes up to rest on his small head, stroking his hair and bouncing him on his lap while A-Yuan giggles happily.

 Lan Wangji continues this for a few more moments, until he realizes that the other two are not speaking anymore, and looks up to find the reason why.

 Both of them are staring at him, Wen Qing with a mix of the beginnings of trust in her eyes and Wei Ying—Wei Ying’s look is far more undecipherable, but there’s something akin to a bittersweet smile with a soft look Lan Wangji’s unsure he’s ever seen on Wei Ying’s face before.

 He looks down, suddenly embarrassed at being caught in a position like this. Blissfully unaware of what’s going on, A-Yuan starts pulling at his cheeks.

 Then Wei Ying laughs, loud and bright and clear, and Lan Wangji wants to smile despite the redness that’s creeping up his ears.

 ‘Lan Zhan, you—‘ Wei Ying cuts himself off, laughing breathlessly, and Lan Zhan takes in the way his eyes seem to sparkle again, the way he almost throws himself off the rock he’s sitting on, the trembles of his body that come with laughter, the way he just looks so perfect sitting there in rags and Chenqing by his side.

 ‘Lan Zhan? Hello?’

 Lan Wangji starts, coming back to earth and realizing that Wei Ying’s spoken to him, but he has no idea what he actually said, ‘Mn?’

 ‘Ah, nothing, Lan Zhan,’ Wei Ying says, leaning back and grinning, ‘Nothing at all.’

 

 (Later, when Wei Ying goes off to talk with Wen Qionglin, Wen Qing pulls him aside and says she wants to talk.

 ‘Yes?’

 She turns from where she’s walking, and tells him, ‘I see you’ve given him your ribbon.’

 Of course, Lan Wangji thinks resignedly, just because Wei Ying didn’t know the meaning of their forehead ribbon doesn’t mean other people didn’t.

 ‘Yes,’ he finally replies, seeing that Wen Qing apparently wants an answer.

 She looks at him critically, ‘How long?’

 Lan Wangji blinks, then opens his mouth. Lying is prohibited in Gusu—but this isn’t Gusu, Wei Ying’s voice whispers in his mind—but he feels that the medic won’t tell anyone if it isn’t her secret to tell. ‘Since he came to study in Gusu.’

 He sees the flicker of surprise in her eyes, before it’s masked by her usual resting face. ‘Well,’ she says, after a stretch of silence, ‘Treat him well. The rest of the cultivation world hates him; he doesn’t need you to turn his back on him too.’

 ‘I won’t.’ The conviction in his voice surprises even himself, and he continues to say, ‘I’ve already lost Wei Ying so many times. I can’t lose him again.’

 Wei Qing nods, a pleased smile on her lips, and turns to walk away.)

 

 Lan Wangji promptly goes back to the cave at eight, having spent the remainder of the day either with A-Yuan or Wei Ying, and tries to meditate for at least forty minutes before he goes to bed.

 Sometime during that, Wei Ying comes in, and Lan Wangji is almost tempted to smile when Wei Ying tries to be quiet, and fails miserably when he knocks over something metallic and curses.

 Aside from that, there’s only the rustle of paper, and when Lan Wangji finally opens his eyes, Wei Ying is hunched over at his table and his hand is furiously drawing out designs for whatever contraption he’s been planning.

 ‘Wei Ying.’

 ‘Hm?’

 ‘Come. Sleep.’

 Wei Ying doesn’t raise his head as Lan Wangji strips himself of his outer robes, laying them on the makeshift bed, just as he’d done the night before. ‘Lan Zhan, I can’t sleep yet! It’s too early! Besides, I’m so close to finishing this!’

 Lan Wangji lets out an exasperated breath, ‘Fifteen more minutes.’

 Wei Ying looks up to smile at him and mumble an affirmative.

 And those fifteen minutes are spent in silence, broken only by Wei Ying muttering at infrequent intervals, and if he feels the weight of Lan Wangji’s heavy gaze on him, Wei Ying doesn’t say anything.

 It’s barely been a day, Lan Wangji reflects, but in that time he had gotten closer to Wei Ying than he ever has in his years of knowing him. Though—it was urged on by the nightmare as well. In hindsight, it’ll probably be silly, acting on a whim because of something that might not even happen, of the future that’s unstable and shaky at best, but, as Lan Wangji watches as the light from the nearby talisman shine onto half of Wei Wuxian’s face, he doesn’t think he’s made a bad decision.

 Finally, true to his words, Wei Wuxian gets up fifteen minutes later, stretching and groaning when his joints pop, and sheds his outerwear as well to join Lan Wangji on his bed.

 The flimsy inner clothes he wears slip down a bit, and Lan Wangji catches sight of purple marks on Wei Ying’s back.

 ‘What—‘ He doesn’t say it, but his intent is all too clear when his hand reaches up to trace the visible scar lining his back.

 ‘Oh, those are from Zidian,’ Wei Ying says carelessly, and then smirks, that infuriating smirk that Lan Wangji’s grown to love, ‘Want me to take theses off for you?’

 ‘Shameless,’ Lan Wangji replies, on point, but he does not refuse and Wei Ying slips the shirt off so that Lan Wangji can see the full expanse of his back.

 There’s a criss-cross of scars—whip marks—on his back, all purple and glinting in the low light of the cave if Lan Wangji looks hard enough.

 There are other scars too. Those are probably from his childhood, Lan Wangji thinks—cultivators have high healing factors and thus almost no scarring—and there’s one on his shoulder, where flesh had been ripped apart and sewn together crudely.

 He’s tracing them before he can tell himself not to, and Wei Ying shivers under his touch.

 Lan Wangji wants to lean forward, wants to kiss the scars and leave his mark on all of Wei Ying’s body. But he knows that there is a line, and he will not cross it. Not again.

 He pulls away, and Wei Ying wordlessly pulls his shirt back on before sliding under the blanket and pulling Lan Wangji close to him.

 ‘Goodnight,’ Lan Wangji says quietly.

 Wei Ying hums, ‘Night, Lan Zhan.’

 And then arms are around him, holding him tight, and Lan Wangji thinks he never wants to leave Wei Ying’s embrace. The talisman is snuffed out.

 Lan Wangji is on the verge of sleep when—

 ‘Hey,’ Wei Ying whispers, and Lan Wangji feels his arms wrapping tighter than before on his waist, ‘You asked me to go back to Gusu with you.’

 Hope flares in his heart as Lan Wangji pulls back a bit to make out his features in the dark, but he knows, truly, in his heart, that Wei Ying would not leave those people defenseless. He never wants Wei Ying to know how much that rejection had hurt him.

 ‘And I said no,’ Wei Ying says softly, ‘But—Lan Zhan, may I ask you something?’

 The words are courteous, so unlike Wei Ying, but Lan Wangji nods and watches as Wei Ying averts his eyes.

 ‘Stay here with me.’

 The words are whispered, soft, and yet what strikes Lan Wangji is how vulnerable he sounds, how defenseless he is—Wei Ying is at his weakest right now, and yet, he had still allowed Lan Wangji to see him in this position.

 That is absolute trust, Lan Wangji thinks dizzily, and it takes him a few moments before he replies.

 ‘Yes,’ he breathes out, heavy and insistent, yes. I’ll stay with you. I’ll protect you and I’ll love you. I don’t ever want to be away from you again.

 Lan Wangji feels Wei Ying’s blinding smile even as he snuggles into Lan Wanji’s chest.

 Here, in the dark of the night, with Wei Ying’s arms wrapped around him and his own around Wei Ying, he is happy.