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Somehow, it gets colder in the Cloud Recesses than it ever did in Lotus Pier.

Or perhaps that’s just an artifact of the way Lotus Pier had always been insulated. There had always been warm fires, warm people, warm food. But the Cloud Recesses is partially built into a mountainside, and its homes are a combination of stone and timber. That makes for pleasant sleep in the summer, but brutal winters, far colder than those to which he was once accustomed. It’s enough to make Wei Ying almost afraid to go back to Lotus Pier for Dongzhi in a few weeks, lest it wear away the gloss of nostalgia by being colder than he remembers, but Jin Ling had insisted.

And well, there’s not much Wei Ying can say to that.

He’s grateful that Jin Ling desires ties to the uncle from whom he’d received the name Rulan, even after everything. He only wishes that this year Jin Ling had held the festivities at Carp Tower, rather than choosing to see his uncle — uncles — in Lotus Pier.

But the three of them are as bound together as Wei Ying’s soul is bound to this body, with the unmistakable kingfisher wings that mark him as a member of the Jin clan better than any Sparks Amidst Snow, or a vermilion mark on his brow.

He casts a glance over his shoulder at them, brilliant blue and surprisingly large. Even now, almost a year later, he sometimes still catches the flicker of blue out of the corner of his eye and turns, panicked and wondering which member of the Jin clan had managed to get so close without drawing his attention. Even the purple heron wings of the Jiang clan or the red-crowned crane wings of the Lan clan are more familiar to him than his own.

Frowning, he runs his fingers along his flight feathers, then reaches up to dig his fingers into the down beneath his contour feathers. His molting has slowed, but he still dislodges two contour feathers and a little puff of down when he tugs lightly at them, then shudders when a gust of wind sneaks into the room through the balcony doors. The frown turns into an outright scowl. He normally likes the fact that he and Lan Zhan have a personal courtyard, but not when it means he’ll freeze to death.

He cannot wait to stop molting. Crows manage to molt, quite sensibly, over the course of a couple months in the summer. Most kingfishers molted for five months. Five! Even Lan Zhan had stopped molting by mid-September, although Wei Ying had nearly laughed himself sick when Lan Zhan had been grounded for almost three weeks because all of his flight feathers fell out at once. He’d looked more like one of the fledgling juniors than an elegant Jade.

Wei Ying preens again, and another few feathers fall free. At least all of his flight feathers had molted in stages so he wasn’t entirely earthbound.

After a few moments of preening, he stops, unfocused and bored. Lan Zhan has been stuck in a stupid meeting all day since Lan Xichen is still in seclusion, and Wei Ying doesn’t know what to do with himself. Dragging a blanket from the bed, he bundles himself up as best as he can with his wings still a mess and flaps them a few times, sending more cyan feathers fluttering around the room. Horrible. Everything about this is horrible.

Worst of all, despite having just come back from a night hunt yesterday with both of the Lan juniors and Wen Ning, he’s lost and lonely. Days like this are rare, and getting rarer still with Lan Zhan’s support, but they still happen. Look at him! He’s ruminating on returning to Lotus Pier, on seeing Jiang Cheng again, on celebrating Dongzhi with the only family he has left — and knows that though both have good reason to despise him, neither turned their backs on him. Not entirely.

He thinks about what it will mean, to be haunted by memories of celebrating Dongzhi with the Jiangs, with his family, in the shadows of Lotus Pier.

He digs his nails into his own palms and opens the door to their courtyard in a fit of frustration, only to suffer instant punishment as the frozen wind whips around him and leaves him shivering despite the blanket

Wei Ying used to be better at living with his own company, or perhaps he just used to be a better liar to himself.

Now, with the usual hour for the Lan clan to sleep approaching and the bed as cold and empty as it was when he woke up, he debates the merits of storming the inner sanctum of Cloud Recesses and stealing away his husband. Lan Zhan probably won’t argue. Much. And even if he does, Wei Ying has many, many, many ways to persuade him to forget all about it. For them both to forget.

The thought makes him feel slightly warmer even as another gust of wind streams into the room, stirring up the papers and feathers behind him. He smiles. It still seems strange, that they ended up here, in love and married, but he supposes he’s willing to accept even the stupidity of molting that lasts practically half the year if it means getting to keep Lan Zhan.

Then a pair of arms wrap around him, and Wei Ying turns, inhaling deeply to catch Lan Zhan’s scent, welcoming his embrace. He smells like mint and something milky and sweet. It’s intoxicating. He shoves all of the maudlin thoughts away in favor of sniffing Lan Zhan again, trying to place the new scent before he’s caught up in a kiss in greeting. In the middle of the kiss, he figures it out and pulls away to blurt, “The soap! You still smell like our soap!” He points an accusing finger at the door that leads to their bath. “Why don’t I still smell like our soap?”

Lan Zhan stares at him for a moment. Then, eloquently, he begins to tug Wei Ying towards the tub. “No, I don’t want to also smell like our soap, I just want to know how you still smell like our soap! Except better! You smell like our soap but better!” He presses his whole face against Lan Zhan’s neck and sucks in a breath. Even though he’s being ridiculous simply to amuse Lan Zhan and distract himself after a long day, it also really is unfair that Lan Zhan can smell this good. He’s deeply appreciative of whoever made the decision to change their soap and is perfectly willing to make Lan Zhan keep buying the same exact soap for the rest of their life.

Instead of leading with that, however, Wei Ying settles for tugging him into another kiss, only to break it again by complaining, “Hanguang-Jun was gone all day! I was languishing!”

“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan admonishes, but he kisses Wei Ying into silence, wrapping his wings around them both. Finally, Wei Ying is warm, and melts against Lan Zhan.

Gently pulling Wei Ying inside, Lan Zhan shuts the doors to the courtyard firmly and seals them. Wei Ying misses Lan Zhan as soon as he lets go and shivers, but brightens as he strides past Wei Ying to fill the tub and heat the water. Wei Ying drops the blanket to the ground, shucks off his clothing, and darts into the bath once it’s ready, sinking up to his chin and sighing with relief. A moment later, Lan Zhan climbs in to join him, slick skin against slick skin.

After the third bath they’d broken, they’d been given a metal one that was more than big enough for both of them to stretch out, but Wei Ying crowds in close anyways, mouth brushing one of Lan Zhan’s collar bones as he strokes soap across Wei Ying’s skin. As distracting as Lan Zhan’s hands are, however, they’re not nearly as distracting as the unanswered questions that are still dogging Wei Ying. He can’t help but think about his family with Dongzhi on the horizon. It aches even now, to realize that he’ll never know what Madame Yu and Uncle Jiang would have thought of his marriage to Lan Zhan. Harder to accept is that he’ll never know what his shijie would have thought, either.

He likes to think that Shijie would have liked Lan Zhan a lot, would have been happy for Wei Ying, to have been offered such a good heart and to be lucky enough to keep it.

Lan Zhan’s kiss coaxes him back to the present. He gazes up at Wei Ying solemnly through long lashes. There’s a moment where Wei Ying almost tries to fake a smile, but the clear and calm gold of Lan Zhan’s eyes makes him look away instead. He trusts Lan Zhan with his whole heart, and trusts Lan Zhan with his heart.

“You’re coming with me for Dongzhi, right?” Wei Ying asks. He knows the answer, but needs to ask anyways.

“Mn,” Lan Zhan confirms. Something in Wei Ying’s chest eases.

He rests their foreheads together. Whatever will happen, he can face it with Lan Zhan.

Still, it can’t hurt to have a proper distraction, and Lan Zhan’s hands are still wandering…

Wei Ying’s wings flutter behind him as an idea strikes. Although the oils he produces are particularly good at repelling water — at least there’s one advantage to being a kingfisher rather than crow — he hasn’t been preening them as he should, fed up with the molting, and he can feel them getting a little waterlogged. He lifts them out of the water, and there’s a plop as a clump of soaked down feathers falls to the wooden floor. Wei Ying stares over the side of the tub with disgust, and then looks at the half dozen other feathers he’s lost that are floating on the surface.

“Lan Zhan,” he whines, nuzzling close. “Preen me.”

“Mn,” Lan Zhan agrees. He sets aside the soap, which will break up the oils coating his feathers, in favor of using his fingers to see what needs to be done.

A lot. A lot needs to be done. Wei Ying knows it to be so from the tiniest of furrows that appears between Lan Zhan’s brows, and he lets himself be turned around. Lan Zhan presses a kiss to the nape of his neck, and then Lan Zhan’s fingers are running through his wings again.

It feels — adoring. Kind. Wei Ying exhales and releases a tension he didn’t even know he was holding, unexpected warmth surging in his chest. He was truly foolish, to think that Lan Zhan didn’t care about him for all those years; Lan Zhan touches him with such quiet joy and presses another kiss to Wei Ying’s spine between his wings. Wei Ying has learned well the way Lan Zhan expresses his affection and can’t help but twist to press their mouths together in a greedy, shameless kiss.

Lan Zhan pulls away too soon. Wei Ying chases the taste of him, only to have Lan Zhan unerringly return to checking Wei Ying’s feathers. Pouting, Wei Ying grinds down a little on Lan Zhan’s lap, noting the way he twitches against Wei Ying’s ass. A smug little smile creeps onto his face.

“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan murmurs quellingly, but not quellingly enough for Wei Ying to resist throwing a smirk over his shoulder at him. Lan Zhan gazes back, placid but implacable. “I’m going to preen you.”

With a sigh, Wei Ying lets Lan Zhan finish, lest he decide it’s more expedient to freeze Wei Ying instead. He’s even well behaved enough to let Lan Zhan dry him and dress him in clean robes, a combination of silk and wool that’s surprisingly effective at trapping heat.

He flops onto their bed, wings outstretched, as Lan Zhan tracks down the bottle of oil that’s been Wei Ying’s constant companion the past few months. Kingfishers don’t spend much time in the high mountains, and his wings are the worse for wear as a result. Lan Zhan finds it tucked amid the essays from the juniors, and Wei Ying offers a sheepish smile when Lan Zhan throws a look in his direction.

Despite the hot bath, his toes are already cold again, and so Wei Ying shoves them under the blanket, grateful that he hadn’t washed his hair. It’s much thicker than Lan Zhan’s and takes forever to dry, and Wei Ying doesn’t want to freeze to death. He props his chin on a pillow as Lan Zhan straddles his lower back, unable to keep from wriggling just a little bit until Lan Zhan pins him down with that reassuring strength.

A moment later, when Lan Zhan is satisfied that Wei Ying won’t move any more, there’s the rasp of glass on glass as Lan Zhan opens the bottle and drips oil on Wei Ying’s wings. Methodically, Lan Zhan strokes the feathers, pulling free a couple of bent ones and clearing away the old down, leaving it all in a soft pile on the ground beside their bed.

It’s soothing. Wei Ying exhales and the taut muscles of his back unfurl. Lan Zhan’s methodical in his preening and moves from the apex of Wei Ying’s wing down, coaxing more oil from Wei Ying’s glands to coat each and every feather. It’s not long before Wei Ying’s eyes close, drifting and content beneath Lan Zhan’s hands.

Normally, Wei Ying would have chattered easily to fill the silence. Today, he thinks of Lan Zhan with his massive white wings outstretched at the heart of Lotus Pier for Dongzhi. Of feeding him spicy jiaozi and pork and lotus root soup. Of returning to that ancestral hall to greet Wei Ying’s family. Of seeing Lan Zhan sitting beside Jin Ling. Of…playing, maybe, allowing Chenqing and Wangji to sing without enemies at hand or blood to spill.

Wei Ying wants it more than he’s wanted anything else.

Lan Zhan knows him too well, or perhaps just well enough, because he choses that moment to kiss the sensitive spot right beneath Wei Ying’s jaw, hands sliding across Wei Ying’s wings in a way that makes his skin prickle. Suddenly he’s extremely aware of Lan Zhan’s weight, the sweet and nutty scent of the oil, and the pleasure lighting up his veins.

“Lan Zhan,” he says.

“Mn,” Lan Zhan agrees, and kisses his mouth with every grain of the searing passion Lan Zhan kept inside for so long.

His hands don’t stop stroking Wei Ying’s wings, soft with oil, confident, possessive, and then he does something to the delicate bones and muscles of Wei Ying’s wings that makes his toes curl and lips part. Lan Zhan’s tongue slides inside his mouth, coaxing filthy noises from Wei Ying. A stuttered moan breaks free as Lan Zhan’s thumbs press against the oil glands closest to the base of his wings before he draws his slick fingers down Wei Ying’s spine to the small of his back.

It’s enough to make Wei Ying try to turn over, to pull Lan Zhan into his arms, but instead Lan Zhan pins him to the bed again. Wei Ying flexes against him, but although Wei Ying has built up his strength and his golden core, he has absolutely no leverage. He’s at Lan Zhan’s mercy.

As far as Wei Ying is concerned, that’s an excellent place to be.

“Er Gege,” he moans in his breathiest whisper, lashes fluttering, “I need you inside me.” He glances up at Lan Zhan out of the corner of his eye and sees the glimmer of amusement in Lan Zhan’s eyes at his little act despite his otherwise unmoved face. “Er Gege, please.” He twists like he’s going to fight Lan Zhan otherwise, only to be pinned down against the bed again, Lan Zhan’s teeth digging into his skin just above where his wings meet his shoulder blade. Another hot little flare of pleasure makes Wei Ying moan for real this time.

Lan Zhan’s tongue slides over the mark, and he leaves a twin above the other wing, then soothes that with his tongue too. His fingers are doing wicked things where they’re buried in Wei Ying’s feathers, and the nutty scent of the oil is enhanced by the tang of sweat that beads where their skin meets. Wei Ying isn’t thinking about the cold anymore. He can’t.

What he can do is roll his body, pressing his ass up against Lan Zhan’s groin. “Don’t you want to be inside me, Lan Zhan?” he whines. “I need it, you left me alone all day.” He pouts. “Please, I was so good…”

The amused glimmer is back, and Wei Ying philosophically accepts that he’d gone a little too far. Not even the youngest, most innocent child would believe those words out of his mouth. Still, he gets his reward, which is Lan Zhan pushing Wei Ying’s hair out of the way so that they can kiss.

“You’ve been patient all day,” Lan Zhan murmurs, and Wei Ying’s blood thrills until he adds, “Be patient a little longer.”

Mouth open in outrage, Wei Ying tries to sit up, but Lan Zhan’s still straddling his back. He drips more oil across Wei Ying’s wings, and then slowly, deliberately, drives Wei Ying out of his mind.

Dizzily, Wei Ying can’t seem to recall whether his wings used to be this sensitive. Oh, everyone jumped like they were being scalded when puberty hit and touching each other’s wings left them as, ah, stimulated as any other tender touch. Wei Ying remembers his own wings practically aching the first time he’d been in Gusu Lan, trying to tease Lan Zhan into touching them, or into touching Lan Zhan’s own just to fluster him. He’d succeeded only once, and he’d never forget the heat in Lan Zhan’s eyes. He’d mistaken it for rage at the time.

Now he knows better.

But Mo Xuanyu’s body is past puberty, mostly, so he shouldn’t be so on edge, and yet Lan Zhan’s nails scraping over the delicate skin at the base of his flight feathers makes him claw at the pillow, hips rubbing against the sheets. A genuine whimper escapes when Lan Zhan strokes one of his oil glands to the point of oversensitivity, the mix of pleasure and pain jolting through him. He knows his skin is flushed, can feel his pulse pounding, but Lan Zhan doesn’t relent.

Instead, Lan Zhan’s mouth is sharp and hot against the fine, tender feathers that brush Wei Ying’s scapula. He tries to arch and fails, and begs, “Er Gege, please.”

“Wait,” Lan Zhan rumbles, and Wei Ying feels more than hears the word. Lan Zhan’s dark locks are sliding across his skin as Lan Zhan kisses up his back, until their mouths meet again. It’s everything Wei Ying needed.

“No,” Wei Ying demands. His eyes find Lan Zhan’s, pale gold and clear and so intense they might well be a flame. Wei Ying burns for him. “No, no more waiting.”

And what is there for Lan Zhan to do except yield to his husband’s command?

They’re naked in an instant, but Wei Ying doesn’t have the chance to turn onto his back before the oil drips along the cleft of his ass. Lan Zhan’s palm falls heavily onto the small of Wei Ying’s back, but now that he’s getting what he wants, he’s happy to indulge Lan Zhan’s desires. He spreads his legs wide as he lifts his ass up, giving Lan Zhan plenty of room to work.

Two fingers press inside him and curl, effortlessly making Wei Ying’s dick jump when they find that spot that makes him see stars. He offers a soft, sweet sound for Lan Zhan’s ears and is rewarded with more pressure. He’s been strung out for what feels like hours, maybe days, weeks, months, always starving for Lan Zhan to come home to him.

He rocks back against Lan Zhan’s fingers, clenching as though that’ll keep them inside him. It doesn’t, but it does get him a thumb pressing against the sensitive area behind his balls that makes him twitch with need. He rocks back even harder, wanting to fall over the edge, but Lan Zhan won’t give it to him. “I don’t have any more patience,” he groans aloud, casting a very put-upon look at his husband. “Lan Er-Ge, won’t you have mercy?”

“Perhaps,” Lan Zhan allows, adding a third finger — except there’s no “Perhaps,” about it, because he doesn’t fuck Wei Ying with those fingers. Instead he just presses them in deep, without finding the spot inside Wei Ying or rubbing his thumb where Wei Ying desires it most.

Gripping the sheets, Wei Ying thrusts back, fucking himself on Lan Zhan’s fingers, while Lan Zhan’s other hand makes its way up to Wei Ying’s wings, finds one of those much-abused oil glands, and presses.

Wei Ying shrieks.

It’s not pain. It’s not. It’s just not anything other than pain either, just a brilliant moment of complete sensory overload that’s neither good nor bad, just is with an all-consuming passion.

Wei Ying comes all over their bed, jolting when Lan Zhan finds it in him now to give Wei Ying the pressure he’d wanted so badly inside him. The pleasure crests for a moment and fades away slowly, tarrying in the wake of the things Lan Zhan keeps doing to his wings, until Wei Ying is quivering. He drops his forehead to the pillow, breathing heavily as Lan Zhan adds a fourth finger.

“Lan Zhan,” he gasps, all artful coyness stripped away. “Lan Zhan.”

“Mn,” Lan Zhan agrees, and pulls out his fingers only to split Wei Ying apart with his cock.

It’s all Wei Ying can do to brace himself, still mired in oversensitivity. When Lan Zhan’s fingers wrap around his softening cock and stroke, Wei Ying yelps. He’s so full, with Lan Zhan inside him, and there’s no thoughts of coldness at all. Instead, his body is prickling with sweat even with winter nipping at their heels, and he’s sure every iota of him is flushed — with desire, with need, with joy. His wings spread even wider, spread as Wei Ying’s body is spread, on display for Lan Zhan.

And then Lan Zhan starts moving.

Although his cock is amazing, driving in and out of Wei Ying with devastating precision, it’s his hands in Wei Ying’s wings that leave Wei Ying’s thoughts scattered to the four corners of the world.

“Please, hn — Er Gege, please, I can’t — oh, oh please — ah! — ”

Lan Zhan has him captive, cock slowly hardening beneath Lan Zhan’s clever fingers, a respite that’s hardly a respite at all — wings, cock, it’s all the same after a point, all a ceaseless wave of hunger and sensation that leaves Wei Ying with nothing left. He cries out. It’s Lan Zhan’s name, he thinks. Or maybe it’s just more begging, begging for this to continue forever, begging for this to cease so he can breathe, begging for Lan Zhan himself.

Lan Zhan fucks him faster then, harder. Wei Ying spreads his legs even further even as he clenches his eyes shut, holding on. His toes are curling, heart racing, veins filled with liquid fire. He senselessly grabs for Lan Zhan’s hand, wondering if Lan Zhan will even understand, but Lan Zhan — if Wei Ying has spent this last year learning Lan Zhan’s heart, then Lan Zhan has spent almost the last twenty learning his. Of course his fingers find Wei Ying’s, of course he entwines them as he presses Wei Ying’s hand to the sheets, of course his chest meets Wei Ying’s spine, of course his wings spread, casting shadows over Wei Ying’s body to dull the kingfisher blue in the shadows that Wei Ying spent so long thriving in — of course.

Of course Wei Ying comes again.

Time ceases, for a while. Lan Zhan finishes inside him and then curls their bodies together. They’re close, and warm, and Lan Zhan still smells like their soap. Laughter bubbles in Wei Ying’s chest, and he presses a kiss to Lan Zhan’s skin. His ribs, maybe. He can’t be bothered to open his eyes and check for sure. It’s enough that Lan Zhan’s hands are stroking through his wings again but they’re soothing now. He’s careful not to make Wei Ying shake with oversensitivity. Not much, at any rate.

Fondly, Wei Ying kisses his skin again, and inhales deeply. Soap. Sweet oil. A bit of sweat. It’s pleasant.

“Jin Rulan would not have asked you to attend Dongzhi if he could not forgive you,” Lan Zhan says quietly. Wei Ying stills. “Nor would Sect Leader Jiang have accepted your presence if he did not feel the same.” Unspoken is the acknowledgment that they are family, of a sorts, even now.

Wei Ying fumbles for Lan Zhan’s hand. He kisses the tender skin of his inner wrist, and lets Lan Zhan’s wings shelter them both. “I love you,” he whispers, and Lan Zhan kisses him. He doesn’t speak the words, but Wei Ying feels them in his chest all the same.

Lan Zhan falls asleep not long after. In the dark of their room, Wei Ying finally creeps from the bed, grabs a flint, paces out into the cold of their courtyard. He plucks one of the larger feathers he hasn’t yet shed from his wing, and strikes a spark from the flint, catching the slender feather on fire. He holds it aloft, the ashes whisked away by the wind.

Maybe he’ll save a few of his molts, to burn at the family altar. The dead may be far from his reach, but Lan Zhan isn’t. Jin Ling isn’t. Jiang Cheng isn’t.

Humming, Wei Ying heads back inside, and pretends not to notice the way Lan Zhan just so happens to curl around Wei Ying in his ‘sleep’.

Wei Ying holds onto his smile until morning.