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beneath six layers of silk

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“Okay. I want to do this the gentle way,” Wei Wuxian says. “She hasn’t harmed anyone yet, right? I’m thinking you go in alone, wait until she appears, hold her still with your cord attack while I come in and suppress her resentful spirit. That should be enough, don’t you think?”

“Mn. We’ll do that.”

Lan Wangji glances up at the old palace, magnificent even with its history. The windows beneath the many roofs are still lit, life going on even with the haunting of past grief in its cellars. He feels himself soften with the kindness Wei Wuxian shows even a place like this.

“Stay close,” he says, because he is dumb and in love and always afraid of something unexpected happening.

“Awh, don’t worry, Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian grins, “I won’t let any old ghost harm you.”

Huffing out the slightest of breaths, Lan Wangji descents into the dark cellars.

The basement is built of cold stone. It feels old and quiet around him as he reaches the bottom of the stairs. The bluish glow of the spiritual energy he gathers in his palm throws pale light down long halls and corridors. He can understand the fears of the lord and his people. The story of the mute spirit who will approach you in these corridors, face twisted in a scream without making a sound—it isn’t a kind story.

Apparently, she had been a general here long ago, and a trusted confidante to the empress of the palace. When the palace was under attack she had stayed behind, cutting out her own tongue to guard her secrets in case of capture. She had hidden in the cellars in hopes of one day escaping and finding her empress again, to serve her and confess her love. But the palace had been inhabited by enemies, and she never found the chance to leave. Her spirit haunts the basement with the silent screams of words unspoken, of secrets kept and confessions quieted.

He appreciates Wei Wuxian’s willingness to avoid elimination. Maybe it’s silly, but Lan Wangji feels like he recognizes her pain.

Still, reports say she carries a blade stained with old blood, and that if caught, she’ll take your ability to speak out of jealousy. They had both felt the resentment wafting up the stairs. Suppression is the only right choice.

The dead quiet of the place feels like an irony echoing down empty halls. No words have been spoken here for years. The rooms have been left to rot for too long, leaving thick dust over old furniture and barrels of wine. Wei Wuxian will be able to follow his footsteps. His presence makes Lan Wangji feel safe, and he doesn’t feel fear even as he turns a corner and sees her.

She still wears her armor. Her hair is tied back in a topknot, baring a haunted face. Her mouth is open, as in a scream.

Lan Wangji tightens his grip on the cords hiding in his sleeves. He waits, patient and steady. In the dim dark as she approaches, metal and leather making each heavy step rattle. He sees the rusted blade in her hands and prepares to attack as she steps within his reach. He sees her face and hesitates.

She is talking. Soundlessly, her lips move with a desperation that could only shape heartfelt shouts. As if there’s something she needs to say.

The closer she gets, the more easily he can read her lips. They move around the same words in slight variations—

Tell her, tell her, please tell her, tell her, you have to tell her.

He sees the sorrow at the bottom of her resentment; sorrow and regret that strums a painful chord within him. He makes the snap decision to give her dying wish a chance. If he could just hear her confession—if he could pass it on somehow—maybe she could be liberated. Her beloved empress is long dead, of course, but he clings to the hope that a symbolic confession could give her peace. A shallow hope, but he has to try.

“Tell her what?” he asks, standing his ground even as her twisted face emerges into his blue glow. “I will tell her what you wish. What is your confession?”

Her face moves in wild expressions but her mouth repeats the same words.

Tell her, please, tell her-!

“Tell me what it is,” he says, “Please, let me help you.”

You have to tell—!

He backs away a second too late, and her hand flies up to close around his throat. The strength in her grip takes him by surprise as she slams him into the stone wall. He gasps, grasping for Bichen’s hilt—but hesitates. Her hand is ice cold, merciless and unrelenting as she holds him, but nothing sharp digs into him. Instead, she leans in close to his face, mouth moving fast. He cannot read her lips at this speed, but his eyes widen at the depth of emotion she radiates. It sucks him under, overwhelming in its power.

A flash of red lights up the abandoned hall.

“Suppress!”

A sharp yell and an even brighter glow, coming from the talisman now stuck to the general’s back. She wails in silence, turning her head to stare down the figure of Wei Wuxian, framed by the hallway. Another streak of red shoots through the dark, the force of it making her fall to her knees. Lan Wangji follows, feeling sapped of all strength.

“I said suppress .”

Wei Wuxian claps his hands together. The spirit shudders, growing hollow and weak. Her eyes seem to find Lan Wangji’s in the dark, and her face twists into something resembling a weak smile.

Tell him , he thinks she mouths, and then she’s gone.

“Lan Zhan! What happened?”

He’s still looking at the empty spot on the floor as Wei Wuxian rushes to his knees beside him, hands finding his shoulders.

“Oh—fuck—Lan Zhan.”

That has him looking up. Wei Wuxian sounds scared. He’s still a little dazed and feeling strangely cold, especially around his throat, but otherwise he’s fine. Right?

“Curse mark,” Wei Wuxian whispers. His fingertip follows a line across Lan Wangji’s throat. “Shit. Can you breathe okay? Does it hurt?”

He shakes his head as regret sinks through him. A curse. The last thing he needs is to worry Wei Ying. And for such a silly reason—

A thought strikes them both at the same time.

“Can you talk?”

“Yes,” he responds, relieving them both. “Yes, I… I feel fine.”

“Okay. That’s good.” Wei Wuxian breathes out heavily, giving him a worried up and down. “Well, let’s not wait around to see what it does. Curses aren’t my specialty. I’m sure I can figure something out, but we might not have time for me to experiment. We’ll go to—”

He grimaces a little as he helps Lan Wangji to his feet.

“Well, no choice. We’ll go to Lotus Pier, it’s closest. The healer there is well versed in water-living monsters, and they’re all fond of curses. I’m sure she’ll figure this one out, too.”

“Lotus Pier?” he says, “I don’t like it there.”

Wei Wuxian sends him a look of humorous offence, but also of hurt. Quickly, he backtracks, shocked by his own bluntness.

“I—I like your home. Wei Ying. I do not know why I said that.”

The other man hums as they walk back up the stairs.

“It’s about Jiang Cheng, right? I know you don’t like him. You don’t have to, Lan Zhan, but if you’re hurt, and he can help, then we’re going.”

“My apologies. I’ve been rude,” he mumbles. The daylight outside is bright. Wei Wuxian pauses to look at him, studying the apparent mark on his neck with worried eyes.

“Nevermind, let’s just leave.”

 

They inform the current lord of the palace of their completed exorcism, but Wei Wuxian seems impatient to leave even as praise rains down upon them.

“Ah, look, we appreciate it, but we’ve kinda got a—”

“It’s fine.” It is—Lan Wangji doesn't feel a thing. “You should thank Wei Ying for a successful suppression.”

“Don’t be so humble,” Wei Wuxian chuckles.

“I’m not. I know my skill. I didn’t apply any this time. You fulfilled the mission with kindness and efficiency.”

Wei Wuxian blinks, then softens. 

“That’s a lot of praise coming from you.”

“Wei Ying deserves more praise,” he says quietly.

 

They politely turn down the reward offered and leave for Lotus Pier. Lan Wangji isn’t too worried. A curse taking this long to affect him could surely not be too strong. He has the spiritual energy to take care of any wounds, and the willpower to manage any pain. Still, he lets Wei Wuxian set a fast pace for Yunmeng. Worry doesn’t suit him.

“Not even a sore throat? You sure, Lan Zhan? Then, any other pain? Tickling sensations? Strange colorings? Mood swings? Teeth falling out? Tails growing?”

He shakes his head, suppressing a shudder.

“No. I feel fine. Is there really a curse like that?”

 “The tail? I dunno. This one auntie in Lotus Pier would tell me and Jiang Cheng about naughty kids growing big rat tails. Creeped me out.”

“Probably not, then,” he replies. Wei Wuxian swings his legs in the air from where he’s sitting on the donkey’s back. He’s only lost in memories for a second before his eyes are back on Lan Wangji.

“You really feel normal? You wouldn’t hide any inconvenient pain from me, would you?”

“I would,” his mouth says without his permission. He sucks in a small breath. Strange . “But I am not . I really feel fine, Wei Ying. Do not worry about me.”

“Well now I certainly am! The hell, Lan Zhan.”

“I wouldn’t lie to you,” he says, and means it. 

“No, you would just avoid the topic and answer a subtly different question to the one I was really asking. Is that right?”

He doesn’t want to answer that, and so he plans on doing just what Wei Wuxian had so perfectly described. But words bubble up into his mouth so easily today, slipping out with a confidence he doesn’t recognize.

“Mn. Sometimes.”

There’s a sound between an indignant scoff and a shocked laugh.

“Wow… Really, Lan Zhan. Really. You’re just gonna admit to your slickest trick like that.”

He shrugs delicately, still trying to work through how exactly the discussion had ended up here. He is usually good at navigating conversation.

“You sure are talking a lot today, Lan Zhan.” That worried tone is back, this time with an added suspiciousness. “You still feel okay? You’re not tryna, like, confess your sins to me before you collapse?”

“That would take longer than this,” he says. Then immediately wonders why. 

“Yeah, I’m definitely staying worried here.”

He huffs and kicks at his donkey in an attempt at speeding up. It’s unsuccessful.

 

They settle in at a small inn for the night, as Lotus Pier is at least another day of travel away. They have little choice. Except for a slight dizziness and an apparent weakened impulse control, he still feels normal. He even tries to smile reassuringly at Wei Wuxian as they’re shown to their room. In response he only gets a mistrustful squint.

Travelling together is a habit for them by now. To share a room for the sake of cost is easy—though Lan Wangji is acutely aware of how he would never share with any other travel partner, and that his money pouch wouldn’t stop him. But Wei Wuxian has never made that observation. It’s easy; to settle into the calm and comfortable intimacy of processing their day together, to let the evening soothe the stress away. 

Lan Wangji sits at the edge of his bed, looking at the curse mark in his small handheld mirror. It’s black and wraps around his throat. It certainly looks more dangerous than it feels. The shape of it reminds him of a brushstroke of ink, stern and resolute. He wonders, but the mark holds no answers.

He finds himself, as he often does, observing Wei Wuxian instead. He watches safely from behind as the other man rummages around in his bag, mumbling to himself. The rain that morning has left his hair with a slight curl in its outer layer, letting unruly strands escape from the updo. As he pulls out inkbrush and paper from his pack, Wei Wuxian mindlessly pushes some behind his ear. It’s a little red from the cold air of travel, the curve of it soft and small. Lan Wangji smiles to himself.

Then, without any sort of go-ahead from his mind, he says, “Your ears are pretty.”

Wei Wuxian turns, looking utterly bewildered.

“I—excuse me, what ?”

He glances around, but they are alone. Lan Wangji feels himself blush from the roots of his hair to his collarbones.

“I will get dinner,” he says stiffly and walks away.

 

They eat in silence. Okay, so something is clearly wrong. He’s feeling chatty . It’s strange, the itch on his tongue to comment on the events of the day, to spill his thoughts about these months of travel, to explain what they mean to him. He pushes his lips together hard as he finishes his meal. 

“Alright, I’ve been thinking,” Wei Wuxian says when his bowl is empty, too. “This curse…” 

They speak at once.

“It’s trying to make me confess to you,” says Lan Wangji, eyes widening.

“It’s making you say whatever comes to your mind,” says Wei Wuxian.

They stare at one another.

“That’s gotta be it, though,” Wei Wuxian continues, having apparently not heard him. “I mean, I’ve never heard you talk like this before, except when drunk. You’re not drunk, right?”

He shakes his head, not even daring to open his mouth to answer. His heart is thumping loud with the realization—with the danger that he’s suddenly in.

“This’ll be a real test of your Gusu Lan honesty, huh, Lan Zhan?” Wei Wuxian chuckles, “You won’t even be able to lie now.”

“I never lie.”

“No… But you definitely don’t tell me all of your thoughts.”

He shoots Lan Wangji an accusatory look, but his face is still set with humor. He looks…relieved. The previous worry has settled into exasperated amusement. Lan Wangji glares.

“This is horrible .”

“Awh, Lan Zhan… It’s a little funny. Could’ve been a lot worse.” His face softens. “Don’t worry, another day’s travel and we’ll be in Yunmeng. Just don’t spill your innermost secrets until then, yeah?”

“I will try,” he mutters. 

It really is horrible. Lan Wangji is a quiet man, and he’s very comfortable with that. It’s safe. An upbringing of politeness and restraint has taught him the skill of guarding unbidden thought, of hiding away unwanted feelings—of anger or lust or uncertainty. His mind is a place of locked chambers and maze-like corridors. Even he is scared of venturing too deep, sometimes.

Wei Wuxian is right; the curse is laying open and baring his thoughts to the world. But the amount of them that center around Wei Ying and his feelings towards him—it’s mortifying. 

When he imagines one day confessing his love, as he has many a time, it’s a beautiful moment. It’s overflowing with love, deep and vast and frightening enough to be almost abstract in his mind. It’s a slow and careful processing of those emotions into words. 

It isn’t small, dumb confessions like this.

“You got the softest bed,” he says unprompted while they get ready for sleep. He hears a chuckle in response from behind the privacy screen. 

“Um. Thanks, Lan Zhan.”

Then, while the other man is brushing his hair: 

“You should wear your hair down more.”

“…Ahaha, it’s annoying, though.”

Thankfully he agrees more than he’s itching to tell him it’s beautiful.

“It really is.”

Wei Wuxian laughs, and maybe things are okay.

 

When he awakens in the bleak light of dawn, it’s worse. He can feel it instantly—like a fever. He’s restless with it. As he dresses and does his hair, he keeps muttering to himself, like the quiet stream of conversation he always has with himself in the mornings, but out loud. 

“There’ll be at least a day more of travel… I wonder if we’ll find any inns in that area if needed. Wei Ying doesn’t mind sleeping outside. It’ll be fine. I wonder where we will stay in Lotus Pier. Will we share a room? No, that’s silly. Why would we. Wei Ying is worried about me. I hope this curse will be lifted soon. This is strange. I’m going to get a sore throat if this goes on… Maybe there will be fruit at breakfast. I’ll bring some up for Wei Ying. It looks like it might rain again today. He is still sleeping. I’ll look through yesterday’s report.” 

His lips are still moving around words he’s barely conscious of when the figure of Wei Wuxian stirs on the bed. 

“Unffh… good morning…” comes the gruff greeting from within a pillow.

“Good morning, love,” he replies easily as he pens a correction in the report book. The inkbrush comes to a halt at the end of the line. He hears a yawn.

“Sorry I slept in again. How’re you feeling today?”

Lan Wangji owes a lot to the other man’s bad hearing. He strives to keep his voice calm and even as he carefully allows words to pass through his lips. 

“It’s alright. No rush. Not in pain.”

On the bed, Wei Wuxian has sat up. He’s a mess of unbound hair, legs peeking out through tangled blankets, rumpled robes and shoulder slips. Lan Wangji stares at his report. 

“But it’s worse?”

“Yes,” he whispers.

Thankfully, Wei Wuxian slips behind the privacy screen to get ready, and only approaches when he’s looking a little less like Lan Wangji’s most vulnerable fantasies. However, he is attractive, and his hands are gently touching Lan Wangji’s chin as he gives the curse mark a new inspection. They are a weakness of his—silly, when every part of Wei Wuxian is—but the line of his wrist and his knuckles, the warmth of his palm, the short and hard nails…

“I like your hands a lot,” he says, helpless to stop it. At this point Wei Wuxian seems a little more prepared to hear strange things from his mouth, and only chuckles, tilting his chin to the side as he examines how far the mark stretches.

“Why thank you… They’re all rough, though. Yours are pretty.”

“Mn.”

“Awh, Lan Zhan, you think you’re pretty?”

“I am,” he says with a certainty that makes the other man burst out in a giggle. He feels a wrinkle appear between his brows. His mouth is moving too fast for him to catch up. “I want to be. I should not care but—it’s nice, to feel beautiful.”

“You’re allowed that, you know. It is nice.”

Seemingly satisfied with the status of the curse mark, Wei Wuxian drops his chin and grins a little to himself.

“Hey, Lan Zhan. You ever wear eyeliner? Cause I’m pretty sure I saw some smudging once.”

“Sometimes. A little,” he nods, “And I wear more lace than I should.”

“Hah, yeah, I take it that’s not the most practical thing to wear during battles.”

“No. But I like it. It’s not against the rules.”

Wei Wuxian smiles at him, gently.

“It is very stylish.”

That should be the end of it, but words keep spilling, all round and soft like through a drunken mouth.

“I have underrobes of lace, too. They tear too easily. Can rarely wear them. But they are pretty.”

“Oh… Uhm. That’s cool.”

Wei Wuxian is wearing a very clear should you be telling me this -look. 

“I have several in white. One in blue overlaid with sheer silk. One in black and magenta.”

“Uh-huh…”

“I look nice in them,” Lan Wangji whispers, and he does, and now he’s thinking about Wei Wuxian’s hands on him; warm through the lace and rough against the delicate fabric. The breath carrying his thoughts is stopped by that very hand slamming over his mouth. He blinks. Wei Wuxian is staring at him, eyes very wide and cheeks darkened. 

“Okay. Okay, I see what you mean,” he laughs, breathlessly, “Um, you could—” His eyes dart around the room. “Silencing spell?”

Behind the palm, he shakes his head with a pained expression. 

“Doesn’t work on yourself, huh… Well, I’ll just have to distract you with my talk, in that case! Usually something I’m good at.”

With a clear hesitance, he pulls his hand back. When Lan Wangji doesn’t immediately start talking about sexy underwear again—he is biting his lip hard to make sure he doesn’t—he sighs in relief and begins chatting about the journey to Lotus Pier and the roads they’ll take there. It works well enough while they eat, pack up and leave their room. He finds his thoughts are easily led by the flow of conversation, and most of his comments are on the relevant, safe topics. It’s a relief, and he can breathe a little easier by the time they’re standing by the inn door. 

“I’ll go get Little Apple.” Wei Wuxian waves and disappears. Nodding, Lan Wangji pays for their stay. The innkeeper smiles at his always generous tip.

“Why thank you, kind sir. I wish you and your good friend a safe journey onward!”

“I want to marry him,” Lan Wangji says, then turns and quickly leaves the inn.

 

As they travel, they talk. Not like they usually do—Wei Wuxian going on about the day’s annoyances, explaining his latest theories on their current mystery mission, telling stories of people he’s met or read about and somehow weaving it all together in a messy, magnificent tapestry of conversation, while Lan Wangji listens closely to his every word and gives encouraging or thoughtful mn s where he sees fit. No, today Wei Wuxian and he are talking. A proper, full conversation, that he finds himself secretly enjoying. Soon Lan Wangji finds himself flipping through the endless memories of their shared youth with a reverent hand; as if they were pages of a beloved, worn book.

“I would not!

“You would,” Lan Wangji finds his face shifting in amusement, “Every day in that library, you would invent a new way to annoy me. Drawing pretty caricatures of me on the back of your papers. Activating talismans you thought I wouldn’t notice.”

“Awh, Lan Zhan, you know I just wanted your attention.”

“You did get it,” he remarks. Luckily the utter truth of it isn’t as obvious as it feels—that Wei Wuxian caught his attention and never again let it go.

“Guess I did!” Wei Wuxian grins, “And anyway, you have to admit that sneezing talisman was pretty clever. If you’d have let me go through with it.”

“It was,” he admits, “Do you know how I knew?”

“That I was up to no good? Hah, tell me.”

“Mn. Back when you were young, you would make this very particular face when cultivating. As you focused your energy your face would go very blank, but you would wrinkle your brows just a bit. As if that stubbornness was a natural part of your inner peace. It was easy to recognize, compared to the grimaces of your studying.”

“...Wow, really? I didn’t know I had a tell like that. Dammit.” He laughs, delighted. “Oh man, nothing escapes your observation, huh.”

“Mn. You still do it when meditating. When you begin to get distracted and you try even harder, your nose wrinkles a little, too.”

“Oh jeez, haha! Meanwhile your face is just the picture of beauty and grace while you cultivate. That’s unfair! How can you look so untouchable while beating up monsters?”

“Our techniques are simply different. Your emotion-driven cultivation is just as strong, if not stronger.” 

Wei Wuxian looks sceptical, as if he thinks Lan Wangji is trying to twist a compliment out of something negative. But he stays silent as Lan Wangji explains. 

“Your cultivation is… close to you. Tied in with your emotions. You like to feel the fight in your body; to be up close to the enemy and feel the sting. It drives you. While my cultivation is distant. It is calmness and control. I prefer sweeping attacks, while you go for close-up, explosive ones. I am stronger in slow, focused cultivation, while you can cultivate with a quick snap of fingers. They are simply different styles.”

“Wow... I’ve never thought of it like that. That’s really cool.”

Lan Wangji feels his heart jumping excitedly in his chest. 

“Mhm. It is why we fight so well together.”

“We do make for quite the pair on the battlefield,” Wei Wuxian says, eyes gleaming with memories. “Well, even though I have to fight a little differently, nowadays.”

“You have regained your golden core,” Lan Wangji reminds him, because he always seems to undermine the utter incredibility of that achievement.

“Haha, yeah. But it’s like having the golden core of a twelve-year-old. It’s not exactly mature, or awe-inspiring in its power. It’s okay, though. I got my cheat talismans!”

“Not cheating,” Lan Wangji says sternly. “Inventive. Creative. Clever.”

“You’re saying my made-up scribbled talismans that used to disrupt your classes and stoke chaos in Cloud Recesses are now an impressive form of attack?” He throws his head back to laugh.

“Yes.”

“No, really.”

Yes. Wei Ying. You are smart.”

“I—come on, Lan Zhan. Aren’t you supposed to be under an honesty curse.”

“I am,” he says, “And you are.”  

Wei Wuxian makes a noise of breathy defeat.

“Ahh, Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan… You’re really something when you get like this.”

“Mn. I am.”

It surprises him; the smug satisfaction he feels from delivering the compliments—no, facts of admiration—that he’s been keeping quiet about for years. It’s as if every time he says something good about Wei Wuxian, and makes him believe in it, he restores the proper balance of the world; little by little. And if it soothes the effects of the curse for a moment, it’s a welcome breath of relief.

The pleasant morning evaporates into a warm day, and Lan Wangji feels himself warming with it. His tongue grows looser as they talk their way through their taste in literature, compare favorite recipes, and discuss their musical hobbies. He can’t remember ever talking this much with anyone. His throat burns a little from unfamiliar use, but it is exhilarating to exist outside of himself like this; expressive and open. It’s frightening, too. But he could almost forget his fears, when existing within Wei Wuxian’s mundane habits is such a joy. To be the object of his attention and the targets of his questioning—as if Lan Wangji held endless curiosity for him.

“Um, well, what’s—what’s your favorite—” Wei Wuxian sucks in a breath as he thinks. “Uuuh, person in Cloud Recesses!”

“My brother.”

He gets a groan in response.

“That you’re not related to—look, Lan Zhan, I’m just tryna get some good gossip out of the situation. Tell me who you despise, if that’s easier.”

“Speaking ill of people not present is a show of bad restraint.”

“Quoting rules at me, even now? Lan Zhan, dear, I’m running out of topics to bring up here… Come on, it’d be fun.”

“Hmm. Well. I like my students.” He nods to himself, knowing it’s true. “Sizhui, of course. Lan Jingyi. Lan Ziying. Lan Hou—she is skilled. Lan Guang and Lan Fuling. Lan Buwei. Lan Cheng. Lan Lihua. All of them. Some of them are not… quite as strong in cultivation. Some forget rules and principles too easily. But I like all of them. They are Lans. They try their hardest. I respect that.”

There’s the sound of a slow exhale from up on the donkey. Wei Wuxian chuckles a little.

“That was far too wholesome and in no way the juicy gossip I wanted. Damnit, Lan Zhan, you’re so good. You’re too good. Tell me about someone you hate.”

“Jin Guangyao. Wen Chao. Wen Xu. Su She. Jiang Wanyin. My uncle, sometimes.”

Wei Wuxian stops chuckling, and Lan Wangji feels shocked at his own bluntness. The names had slid so easily off his tongue, one by one, that he hadn’t had time to restrain them. His control must be slipping. 

“Well… Fuck, Lan Zhan. What am I gonna do with that?”

“I apologize—I should not—” 

Lan Wangji knows this is a topic of old hurt and of fresh, barely thriving reconciliations. He has no wish to damage the fragile roots of new beginnings. But his curse doesn’t allow him to be kind, or polite. It wants him to speak.

“I am sorry for my feelings towards your brother. I know you love him. I know it is difficult when two people you—you care for dislike each other. I feel the same about my uncle and you.”

He walks faster in an attempt at leaving Wei Wuxian behind, since his mouth seems to stubbornly refuse to shut. Little Apple speeds up too. Of course—he always carries the apples. Lan Wangji huffs and has no choice but to continue.

“Wei Ying. To tell you the truth—Any personal offense, I would’ve gotten over. Any rule broken, and I would’ve forgiven it. For you. But it was you he hurt.”

“Lan Zhan, don’t—” He sounds strained again, but in a different way. Lan Wangji doesn’t look up, scared of seeing the hurt he fears his clumsy confessions are causing. “It wasn’t like that. You know that.”

“I do. He failed you, but so did I. I have sympathy for him. My mind can accept his flaws. But my heart cannot. Not when it’s you.”

That had, once again, sounded too much like a confession of love, and he quickly tries to backtrack.

“But I am trying. I am. To not hate him. Hatred is an impractical emotion. Revenge corrupts the mind. It is better to forgive the past than despise the present.”

Wei Wuxian sighs.

“I know you are, Lan Zhan. But you know what might surprise you?” He smiles a little down at Lan Wangji, crooked and bittersweet. “He is trying, too.”

It does surprise him, at first. Jiang Wanyin is so harsh, so sharp and electric in his entire being. Like he’s made to crackle and sting. Not like Lan Xichen, who is kind to a fault and seems to have a soft spot for everyone.

“He is so different from my own brother,” he says softly. “Xiongzhang is the smiling one, between us.” He then realizes that in his comparison, he is Jiang Wanyin. Not that they are anything alike. Their anger, their resentment at others’ failings which led to loved ones getting hurt, their own guilt as the center of gravity for it all—it was…It was...

More similar than he’d wanted to think.

Wei Wuxian chuckles.

“Yeah… They’re nothing alike, that’s for sure. I like your brother, though. Even though he’s called me your only mistake.”

What?

“Oh!” Wei Wuxian says, like he’s suddenly the one speaking out of turn. “Nevermind that. I do like him, though. He’s similar to you in the best ways, but also so, so different.” He laughs. “I could’ve never traveled like this with him, that’s for sure.”

Lan Wangji doesn’t know whether to worry about his brother’s words or feel strangely proud that Wei Wuxian prefers him as a travel companion. He settles on the last, in the end.

“Mhm. I don’t think switching either of us with our brother would have ended in success.”

It’s difficult not to smile at the image.

“Ha! You don’t say. Me and Zewu-Jun, and you and Jiang Cheng—that’s a recipe for disaster. We’d all fail our missions horribly.”

“Mn. Xiongzhang wouldn't know how to react to your tricks,” his mouth curls, “But he’d be too polite to do anything but smile and nod encouragingly.”

“Haha! Meanwhile Jiang Cheng would plot how to make your untimely death look like an accident in combat.” He points quickly at Lan Wangji, lifting an eyebrow. “That’s the joke version. He’d actually plot how to secretly impress you, while making one hundred percent sure it doesn’t in any way seem like he’s trying to impress you.”

“Hmm, really?”

“Yeah, man. You have no idea. I think he actually respects you a lot.”

“He’s got a funny way of showing it.”

“That’s him. You know, when I was first taken to Lotus Pier, he had these dogs he adored. And he gave them all away so I could stay.” The sceptic confusion on Lan Wangji’s face makes him laugh. “Well, he cried like a bitch about it, locked me out of the house, threatened to sic them on me… But then he gave them up.” 

Lan Wangji isn’t sure if that’s a memory to smile so fondly at, but each to their own. 

“Brother once called my uncle ‘mom’ in class,” he says. “He’s never lived it down.”

“Ohmygod, Lan Zhan! Aahaha, that’s amazing.”

“Mn. He’s funny. I used to envy him because of it. That easiness to him. To be smooth and gentle, and not stiff and awkward.”

“You think you were awkward?” he scoffs.

“Mn.”

“The hell, Lan Zhan, you were the most elegant young man in the country!” 

Lan Wangji looks at him, deadpan.

“Did you ever try to talk to me?”

Wei Wuxian looks back. Then he slowly starts to giggle; a laugh that grows and bubbles with affectionate delight.

“Ahahha! Well. Maybe you’re right. But you were the most lovely awkward young man I’d ever met.”

The silence as they look at one another is just a few beats too long. Lan Wangji feels his face warming. 

“Ah, well,” Wei Wuxian begins with a slight stutter, “And your uncle? You said you hate him, ‘sometimes’. To be honest, I can get that. Haha!”

Lan Wangji nods.

“When he ordered my whipping, and refused to listen. When I told him I would never marry a woman, and he was angry. Whenever he spoke of you. I would hate him for it.”

That was—that was more than he’d intended to say. 

Shit, ” he thinks—no, whispers , like the cursed bastard he is. Wei Wuxian makes a shocked sound of laughter.

“Ah, umm, Lan Zhan… Are you okay?”

He shakes his head fiercely, lifting his sleeves to cover his mouth. The situation dawns on him with a chill. He has gotten too lost in the rush of talking, and now he can feel it all threatening to spill; his scars and his grief, his years of solitude and his struggles with accepting his own desires. What frightens him the most is how much he wants that— how tempting the comfort of sharing his pain seems to him. 

“…How do you feel?”

“Afraid,” his muffled voice betrays through the fabric, “Please. This has been fun but—I don’t want to make a fool of myself. I have things I cannot tell.”

“Okay,” Wei Wuxian breathes, “Okay, we’ll think of something. A distraction? Me talking your ears off so you don’t get a chance to speak? Tell me what you need.”

“I think I should be quiet.”

“Alright. Some peace and quiet, we can do that.”

“Mn. Thank you.”

“Of course, Lan Zhan. Just tell me if you get bored without my pretty voice, okay?”

“Already am,” he mumbles into his sleeve. He hopes that without the words of Wei Wuxian as the enticing lures to pull responses out of him, he can keep his control. But it is difficult, he notices right away. In his silence, Wei Wuxian is swinging his legs from up on the donkey, whistling a barely audible, wavering tune. His determined gaze rests on something far away, perhaps the image of Lotus Pier and safety; right behind those rolling hills of forest. 

“I will be okay,” Lan Wangji finds himself saying. “No need to worry.”

Blinking out of his focused stare, Wei Wuxian sends a smile his way.

“Yeah. I know. Thanks.”

“Mn.”

There is silence for some minutes, only the rhythmic hum of evening insects around them. Lan Wangji tries to focus his mind as he walks—he cannot meditate, but maybe he could find some semblance of that blank state of mind. Instead, his lips move around his every thought.

“Pretty flowers,” he says as they pass by a field with overgrown edges. A thought leads into the next, and— “The weather has been shifting lately. I enjoy spring. Do you? I want to know your favorite season.”

The side eye he receives clearly considers whether to respond or not. 

“Ahah, it’s summer,” Wei Wuxian eventually says.

“Summer… Yes, that makes sense. Loud and bright and beautiful.” He watches the ground as he walks, attempting to pull his thoughts together. “Mine is spring. Life and noise and color returning. I enjoy it.”

“I thought you preferred the quiet?”

“Not anymore.”

He breathes in and out, trying to shake off a phantom pain in his chest as he tries very hard not to allow his process of thought to go down that winding road—the one of growing up with silence and structure as a safety blanket, of having the wild and untamed teenage riot named Wei Ying shatter his peace, of growing to love the noise and the heat, of learning to associate silence with grief and loneliness. 

“This—doesn't work,” he says hoarsely. “I cannot stop speaking.”

“Sounds like me on a regular day,” Wei Wuxian says. He’s joking to lighten the mood, Lan Wangji knows, but he also doesn’t understand. To ramble like a drunk about a variation of topics is one thing; to feel the pitfall of his most guarded secrets be a slip-up away is another. He begins undoing his waist sash with his free hand. Wei Wuxian watches, eyes wide.

“Oh…” he mumbles as Lan Wangji ties the sash as a gag over his own untrustworthy mouth. “I guess that’s something that could work.”

For a while, it is successful, and they travel in silence. Well, near silence. The fabric muffles his mumbles considerably, hiding his timid compliments in silk and embroidery. He can allow himself that. Wei Wuxian kindly ignores his noises, only occasionally sending a glance his way that holds a mix of sympathy and gentle humor. He must look ridiculous like this. He doesn’t mind—if he spoke his feelings out loud he would surely look a thousand times more ridiculous.

Eventually, his lips grow sore and his jaw aches in its confinement. The sun is low in the sky by now; they’ll soon have to stop for the night. He finds himself shivering in the evening chill. His feet begin to drag, his robes suddenly tight and heavy, clammy where they cling to his body. Something in his chest feels constricted.

“Lan Zhan?”

“Mhmmf…” I’m fine, he says. It sounds weak even to his own ears.

“Wait, wait, hold up.” Wei Wuxian swings off the donkey, expression set in determined worry. “What’s going on? You’re walking slower. And you’re slouching. You don’t slouch, Lan Zhan.”

“Mhf,” he grumbles. A cool palm lands on his forehead, and he closes his eyes for a second in relief. 

“A fever...? That’s strange,” he bites his lip, thinking. “Isn’t there a thing about suppressing curses causing fevers? And worse.” He pales. “Shit, Lan Zhan, take it off. I don’t want you to start coughing blood or something.”

Scared that the now worsened curse will cause him to instantly express his desire to make out, he shakes his head quickly. 

“Mh- mnn .”

Wei Wuxian puts his hands on his hips like a displeased parent, and manages to look stern and affectionate at the same time.

“You’re hurting yourself, Lan Zhan... we can try something else, yeah?”

He’d rather endure the discomfort than the curse, if he’s honest, but he knows it would cause Wei Wuxian a lot of trouble if he were to pass out in the dirt. And he does feel rather dizzy. Nodding, he unwinds the silk wrap from his head, trying his best to hide the drool spot with an elegant folding motion. 

“I’m okay,” he says, just to say something. His voice sounds a little hoarse. He clears his throat. “But you have to make me shut my mouth somehow.”

Wei Wuxian seems to be coming to the same conclusions that he is; that the curse cannot be suppressed for long and that there are still too many hours to Lotus Pier. Still, he nods slowly, drawing a breath.

“Yeah. Give me some time to think, I’ll— I’ll come up with something for you. I have to.”

“Perhaps you could—could strike my head really hard.”

What?

“Could knock me right out. Let the donkey carry my unconscious body back to Lotus Pier. It’d be safe.

“It would absolutely not be safe, Lan Zhan, what the absolute fuck are you saying?”

“Mnm. Don’t wanna talk anymore.”

“I get that, but what we’re not gonna do is start hitting your head . We’re gonna find some other way to shut you up, okay?”

You could kiss me really hard.

The thought is so loud that it’s almost impossible to bite down on, but he slams a hand over his mouth and refuses. He’s only just swallowed the words down when a sharp pain stabs through his chest and stomach, and he crouches down violently.

“Oh , ” he gasps. “Hurts.” Wei Wuxian is there beside him at once.

“Ohmygod, Lan Zhan— The curse hurts you for not speaking?”

He manages a stiff nod. The tightness in his body refuses to let up; it’s like the fibre of each nerve is stretched painfully taut.

Fuck ,” he breathes, digging his fingers into the dirt. 

If Wei Wuxian had been concerned due to his pain, he’s terrified upon hearing him curse.

“Oh—” There’s a break in his voice, and then there are arms around him. Wei Wuxian is all warmth and travel dust against him, clumsily reassuring with his embrace. The scent of him is home. “Lan Zhan, sweetheart . Don’t hurt yourself. Please. It’ll be alright.”

The murmurs ground him as he stifles a sob.

“Just—next time, just cover my ears, alright? Or knock me out. You don’t need to do this.”

Still holding his mouth, he nods. The pain is fading, but with a slow surge that scares him—like a wave pulling back to strike harder with its return. So he cannot distract himself long enough, he cannot gag his mouth, cannot stop himself from talking. He lets Wei Wuxian help him to his feet, heart heavy. 

“I could— shit . Shit, I really can’t do anything. I can’t ride my sword yet—and you can’t ride anything in that condition. I can’t leave you, I can’t go ahead for help. What the fuck, I really can’t do anything—

“It’s okay,” Lan Wangji murmurs, voice fever-soft.

“No, it’s not! Why haven’t we talked about this? We’re supposed to be—if not cultivation partners, then something like that , right? We have each other’s back. But if you ever got hurt—what would I even do? Carry you on my back all the way to Gusu? Let you bleed out on my back?”

“I don’t get hurt often.”

“No, but if you did . I would be useless. I am useless right now.”

“It’s not a malicious curse,” Lan Wangji sighs.

“How do you know that? You’re in pain .”

“It hurts,” he whispers, “But it is not harmful. I—I understand her. I feel her pain. This curse, it’s more than simple honesty. It’s about confessions.”

“What?” Wei Wuxian’s voice is torn, busy worrying about other things. Lan Wangji understands. He would be acting the same if their roles were reversed.

But this is not an honesty curse. It is the dying wish of a haunt, branded on his body to make sure he does not repeat her mistakes. It has a will; a want —he can feel it stinging in his throat. The ghost of the general is tugging at his tongue, coaxing confessions out of the deep pit of his stomach. They were never meant to see the light of day. Having them rise up in his throat like this is terrifying. They grow in his mouth and make it hard to breathe.

He has to tell him.

As they push forward to a nearby forest for shelter, his condition stays unstable. Wei Wuxian walks beside him now, most likely wishing to stay close in case he collapses again. It makes this all so much harder—his kindness. Through all of this mess Wei Wuxian has stayed true to his honor; never once prying for secrets or using the curse to his advantage. And Lan Wangji loves him so much. How can he not allow his mind to think those words? He’s used to thinking it every day.

It rises in his chest like a cold nausea, dizzying and overpowering. It numbs him with its strength. And he cannot—not like this, not right now— he will claw and bite to keep his confession safe. It’s his most precious keepsake. 

But he cannot fight it, this time.

In that last second of desperation he remembers Wei Wuxian’s words, said half in joke, and he pulls the other man close to him. His back hits Lan Wangji’s chest with a shocked breath, but he has no time to speak before hands close tightly over his ears. Finally letting that aching breath shudder loose, Lan Wangji buries his face in messy, unwashed hair and whispers his secret there.

Wei Ying. I love you.

He gasps with the relief that blooms in his chest. Wei Wuxian is frozen in his arms. But as the moment stretches, he slowly relaxes, trembling a little against Lan Wangji’s heartbeats. 

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian breathes; just that one, perfect phrase.

For a moment Lan Wangji thinks he’s heard, and he feels his feet sink into the ground. But a pair of hands are put lightly on top of his own; allowing, reassuring. As if saying, it’s okay, I won’t listen .

Lan Wangji sucks in a breath, pushes his nose deeper into the soft scent of his neck. Strands of hair tickle his mouth as he speaks, “I love you, I love you, I love you, love you, love you…

His confessions feel so small, so pathetic as they hide away in the crook of a neck. But it’s the only place he can keep them safe for now.

When he can breathe freely again, he forces himself to step back. His hands are shaking. He feels lighter, chest big and empty, only a faint taste of disappointment in his mouth. It’s a hollow confession, and he knows it won’t soothe the curse for long. 

Wei Wuxian turns slowly, as if scared of what he’ll see. He gives Lan Wangji an uncertain smile.

“Feel better?”

How strange it must be, to know Lan Wangji just confessed his innermost secrets so very close to him—but to not know if they are of guilt or of shame or of love. Lan Wangji fears that the other would suspect the former two. And it’s true; he has blamed himself for the past many a time, but he and those days have come to an understanding. When he thinks of Wei Ying these days, guilt is far from the front of his mind.

“This is going to be difficult...” he mumbles.

“What?”

“Stop being so nice to me.”

Wei Wuxian laughs a little, like he doesn’t understand. As they keep walking, he stays close to Lan Wangji’s side, their shoulders sometimes brushing. 

“I’ll always be nice to you, Lan Zhan.”

 

Of course, a mock confession like that wasn't enough. It never could be. Lan Wangji has whispered it many a time into his pillow, and it never made a single thing in the universe shift. 

Once the sunset-tinted forest has closed around them, Lan Wangji is all shivers and chest pains, placed safely on top of the donkey by authoritative hands. He feels ridiculous with his lace draping down the flanks of the animal, but he has little protest left in him. His body aches. 

“Wei Ying,” he murmurs, scrunching up his face when he’s hit with the donkey’s ear flicker. “Wei Ying, Wei Ying…

“I’m here, Lan Zhan.” His voice is tight. “We’ll travel through the night and get you to Lotus Pier, alright?”

“I don’t like when you’re worried. Don’t be worried, Wei Ying. Stop worrying.”

There’s a huff of an exhale, like a strained laugh.

“I’ll stop worrying when you stop dying on my donkey.”

“Not dying. Not leaving you. Never. ” His mumble rises, grows stern. 

“I’ll hold you to that, Lan Zhan.”

“Why would I leave? I wouldn't want to leave you.”

“That’s… not how injuries work,” the other man sighs.

“Did you want to leave me?”

He hides his face in coarse fur as soon as the words are spoken. The question is fragile glass in his mouth. There’s a long pause, only footsteps and darkness. Then a slow exhale.

“No. I didn’t . But—let’s not talk about that right now. Okay?”

“I want to talk,” he hums, feeling a purpose through his delirium. “I want to talk about you.” 

“I—I don’t know, Lan Zhan. You said you had secrets. But if it soothes the curse, then, fuck— I don’t wanna see you hurting. I don’t know.” 

“Do you remember when we first met?”

“Yes,” Wei Wuxian’s voice wavers a little, “Yes, of course I do.”

“I remember first seeing you, that night on the rooftops. I couldn’t believe it. Not only trespassing and bringing liquor, but doing so deliberately. As if you thrived on it—breaking regulations, denying the fates, laughing in the face of authority. As if rebellion was in your blood.” 

 “Ah… Lan Zhan, that’s—”

“And it was so different. From everything I’d known. I broke a rule within minutes of meeting you, Wei Ying, did you know that? Unsheathing a sword without proper reason. Violence should always be the last resort. But you made me feel more in danger than I’d ever been before, as if sharp blades were the only possible defense against that smile.” 

He drags in a dizzying breath as the pressure in his chest lightens a little. It immediately rushes out again with words; the price to pay. 

“I remember how scared I was as a teenager. About how to act and where to belong. About being a cutsleeve. About my future position. My marriage. I wanted to devote myself to cultivation, to avoid it. Go into seclusion for years, if necessary. But I was also lonely. It was strange. Difficult.”

“Lan Zhan, are you sure you want to—I don’t want you to feel uncomfortable after this.”

 “I can’t stop,” he whispers. “I can’t, Wei Ying, so you’ll just have to forget all this. Can you do that for me?”

Lan Zhan…

“You’ve forgotten so much already. You forgot that time you offered to carry me. It meant so much to me, Wei Ying, even if you were joking. Even if you just wanted a reaction from me, it was something familiar, and sweet. I think you saw that I needed that. You took care of me back then, and in the cave—” He smiles through a shudder. “You and me in the cave, like in a story. Do you remember that I sang for you?”

“Yes. I remember.”

“Good. That’s good. You’re so good, Wei Ying. So kind. Seeing you in the Burial Mounds, making a home out of bones and rotten dirt—it hit me then. How the rebellion in you was a warm flame. One that people could gather around, like a hearth.” He nods to himself. “And you were a fighter. You still are. Forming your second golden core, do you know how fucking impressive that is?”

There’s a broken-off giggle.

“Out of everything that’s happened today, you cursing is still the wildest thing… Ah, Lan Zhan. I—thank you. Thank you for saying that. I guess it is pretty cool of me.”

“It is! ” he insists, making Wei Wuxian laugh again. “I’ve seen the hours you put into meditation, despite hating the practice; you have a focus I’ve never seen from you before—a calmness, not driven by desperation. And how you’ve gathered all your old writings and the bastard works they spawned, studying them despite the memories, deciphering useful teachings from scribbles for new generations. And that time I passed by the training grounds and you were exercising your sword forms, and you had your robes tied up around your waist for ease of movement and I caught a glimpse of your lower thigh, and Wei Ying, I cannot forget it, but I should not have been looking, that was wrong. Please forget I said that, I did not mean it, that’s a lie, ugh , what I mean is. About your thigh—not yet sun-tanned, a little paler, like a secret, and the sweat— no . No, no, no... it was aesthetic, ah, appreciation, your forms were very good. You were good, I liked watching you. Wait, that’s not it—ah, say something, anything, make me focus—"

There’s a hoarse whisper: “The, uh, the Cloud Recesses.” 

“Yes, good. I love my home. I love you in my home and how well you fit in there. When you teach the students and I see your eyes light up with the joy of making them love the art of cultivation... Your enthusiasm for their potential and your trust in the skill they will grow into. The way you adopt the Lan principles so genuinely, trying your hardest not to offend even when bringing your energy, your fire, into everything you do. Because anything less would be impossible, Wei Ying, my love, but you fit in so well here.”

The words bubble out from the chambers of his mind and heart, ecstatic with the sensation of being uttered. They feel so lovely being formed in his mouth, folding themselves into the warm evening air as if they belong there. Lan Wangji is flushing with molten heat, pulse heavy, the world dizzying beneath his own loosely hanging legs—but for one disorienting second he doesn’t know if it’s the effects of the curse or simply the thrill of speaking his adorations out loud.

Somehow, the fall into danger is more of an adrenaline rush than he’d expected. It had been mortifying to let adoring compliments slip out of his mouth without warning. And it had been frightening to feel his declaration of love grow painfully big in his chest, demanding to be let out. But at the same time, these things that the curse has given him a taste of—he wants that. 

“Even as much as I’ve struggled—I like being honest with you. It is strangely thrilling. I like speaking with you, I want to tell you everything, Wei Ying, I want you to listen. Our relationship—friendship, I like it. You’re so important to me. And I wish for you to know me; all of me. Even what frightens me. Would that be okay?”

Wei Wuxian’s gray-shaded silhouette stays silent in the dark. His heart thumps , and he rushes to explain himself.

“Talking with you like that, conversing about anything we can think of—I want to do that every day for the rest of my life, Wei Ying, I would be happy then. To bare myself, for you. To talk of memories, and the future, and people around us; of missions and mysteries, of the current weather, I will talk about anything with you. I love that easy intimacy of conversation we have. The way our voices ebb and flow throughout the day, filling in the spaces of the other’s words as if it is only natural. Talking with Wei Ying feels like instinct, to me. ”

“You’re… Lan Zhan . This is the curse talking.”

“This is me talking,” he gasps, “I’m telling you everything. I think about you so much, Wei Ying, I cannot stop thinking of you,  you’re in my thoughts all day and you’re so beautiful there and I— really should not tell you all this because you will be overwhelmed but Wei Ying, Wei Ying, I can’t stop, I cannot—"

Little Apple comes to a sudden halt as the reins are tugged. Beneath heavy eyelids and with swimming vision, Lan Wangji takes in the sideways silhouette of Wei Wuxian. He’s stepping closer, he realizes. In the dark it is difficult to tell if he’s crying or laughing. But his breath is on Lan Wangji’s skin and his hands are steadying his body, restless as if trying, somehow, to aid. But Lan Wangji is helpless against the whirlpool current of the curse, all vertigo and desire.

“The strands of hair at the back of your neck, they drive me crazy ,” he murmurs, “I want to kiss them... I think about your hair a lot. I want to braid it, brush it with my own combs, breathe it in—you smell so good, Wei Ying. Did you know? You do… I find you so attractive—I want so much, when it’s you; it’s frightening. I, I want you, in the private spaces of my arms and my bed—I want to see you naked, for you to see me without anything on and find me pleasing.” 

There’s a small sound close by his ear, one that is unmistakably Wei Ying but also so strangely different—as if the noise is pulled from the depth of his being. 

“I want to—to please you,” Lan Wangji whispers, voice growing gruff, “...Want to make you come. Oh no . Too much—Ah, want to, to take you in my mouth, want you to pull on my hair and hold me down, be rough and take me, Wei Ying, please . I’m yours to use. I cannot be telling you this, you will hate me , do you hate my desire?”

The fever roars in his blood, the curse washes desire through his body, the night hides his full-body flush. He cannot breathe for the fear of rejection. When Wei Wuxian’s voice sounds, somewhere close to his head, it is incredibly soft. Like a wisp of warm wind.

“Lan Zhan—it’s okay. I don’t hate it.”

Something is falling in him—dropping in a sudden, straight fall. He presses his eyes shut.

“Would you ever want me? Would you— is it strange to you, the idea of me like that? Do you like it? Wei Ying, do you like me? Could I be someone you wanted?”

“You are, Lan Zhan, you are .”

He is crying now. It tears right through the buzz in Lan Wangji’s head, has him struggle upright with the forest spinning around him.

“Help me off this donkey,” he demands. 

The arms that close around his feverish, clumsy body are steady, but he feels the shake in the chest he leans against as he’s lowered to the ground; feels the puffs of barely restrained sobs against the crown of his head.

“Don’t cry,” he furrows his brows, not stepping out of Wei Wuxian’s closeness. “Listen to me...”

Wei Wuxian shakes his head, “Lan Zhan,” he says, broken through with sudden inhales, “Lan Zhan, shut up…

“No,” Lan Wangji says. “I don’t think I will.”

He slides his hands along fabric in the dark, finding two warm hands and slipping them so easily into his own. He lifts them; places them against his chest, against the beating heart and chaos in there, entrusting him with it all. 

“Wei Ying. You are my chosen person in this world. I am meant for you ,” he says, voice grave and insistent. “You can feel it too, can you not? That I am yours, and always have been. You feel it in the pit of your stomach; that deep-rooted sense of belonging. When you look at me, do you feel it? Do you get that headrush of turmoil, of elation , that blaring alarm of importance, the certainty that this is the puzzle you want to spend your days solving?”

Wei Wuxian tugs his hands out of his. He listens, through the visceral orchestra of his breaths, his pulse, his headrush; the uproar of his body—he hears convulsing breaths, muffled against a palm. Searching along the grayscale silhouette of him, Lan Wangji settles his palms against wet cheeks. 

“You’re crying,” he whispers, brows pulling together, “Why are you still crying… I’m saying I love you. Can I not? Won’t you allow me?”

A sharp sob tears through the air, and Wei Wuxian’s body falls into his arms—collapsing, as if broken, as a head lands heavily on Lan Wangji’s shoulder. He cries there, into the crook of his lacy shoulder and soft neck, while hesitant long-sleeved arms loop loosely around his back.

“Lan Zhan, oh, ” he sniffles, presses his name into skin; wetly.

“Mn,” Lan Wangji confirms. 

“Are you—ah, are you sure… ? The curse—”

“The honesty curse,” Lan Wangji reminds him. He leans into him, leans into the moment; which feels dark and languid and lenient. His mouth presses against hair, against a temple—then he ducks his head down into the space beneath jaw and hair, kissing a trail up Wei Wuxian’s neck. “I am sure,” he confesses there. 

With a sudden inhale, Wei Wuxian sinks into his embrace even further. 

Ah , you—but, Lan Zhan... Are you okay? I mean, are you feeling—are you feeling fine now? Your fever…”

“It’s okay,” he kisses jawline, kisses the spot of skin beside his ear. “Not frightened anymore.” 

“Oh… That’s…” Fingers tighten in the back of his white robes. “You love me,” Wei Wuxian whispers, like he’s having a revelation. “Lan Zhan… Lan Zhan, my dearest. You love me.”

“Yes.”

“Ahahah, that is… that’s fucking crazy.”

“Mhm.”

“I mean, that is the wildest thing you’ve said to me today. Forget your cursing, this is…”

“It’s nothing new,” he says, “Only a fact of history.” 

Wei Wuxian goes quiet in his arms. “Alright, Lan Zhan,” he sucks in a sharp breath through his nose, shifting in the dark. “You have to let me confess back now.”

What a joy, to allow that. He wipes warm tears away with both thumbs.

“Tell me,” Lan Wangji whispers, “Tell me, tell me…”

“Okay. You—Lan Wangji, you are a thrill to me. I can’t believe you love me back.” A chuckle. “Strike that, I do believe it—I do, Lan Zhan, don’t look at me like that, just because it’s dark doesn't mean I can't tell when you frown at me—it’s just, a lot. After all that I’ve been, all that I’ve done. It’s hard to love yourself, and even harder to believe someone else would take that fall without any profit. I’ll believe you; not because of the curse, but because—you are you , you’re Hanguang-jun, you’re Lan Zhan, and everything you say is a record of truth.” 

“Hmm,” Lan Wangji shifts the body in his arms, so he can brush his lips against his forehead, this time. He thinks it's his forehead. “No profits? I always was better at mathematics.”

He feels the shake against his chest before he hears laughter.

I love you, ” he hears, whispered like a mystery, “I love you, and I’ll let you love me, Lan Zhan. Because it’s you. Okay?”

“Thank you,” he means it. To make Wei Wuxian accept that he is worthy of love might just be his greatest achievement ever. Though having him say those words is a close second. To gain the attention, the love , of the radiant sun itself— 

“Alright, Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian breaks through his thoughts. “I need you up against a tree right now.”

“Oh. Yes.

There’s a stumble in the dark, his robes catching on bushes and branches until his back slams against bark, and then Wei Wuxian is kissing him. Calloused and travel-scraped hands cup his cheeks as a warm mouth finds his, again and again. Lan Wangji’s eyes close, body moving on its own as he gives in to the desire to chase each kiss even as they’ve just begun. Slowly, reverently, his hands inch their way from arms to sides to waist to lower back, feeling the textures of fabrics that he’s looked at so many times but never gotten to touch. The warmth and shape of him pressed up against his body is a wonder. As Wei Wuxian misses his mouth, giggles, and begins kissing down his neck instead, Lan Wangji breathes heavily into the night.

“I have— thought about touching you like this, so many times... Your robes—touching them, being this close to you, hah, wanted to disrobe you. When you wore red; I wanted to touch you, back then.”

He ducks in for more kisses, but finds only teeth and warm cheeks.

“You’re smiling,” he murmurs.

“Ah—ahaha, you disapprove?” 

He shakes his head but realizes it won’t be seen.

“You have the sexiest smile,” he says instead. Wei Wuxian makes a strange noise again.

“We should be in an inn right now,” he demands, then breaks off in a huff, “Sorry, was that too forward?”

“Have you heard me speak today, Wei Ying?”

“Good point,” Wei Wuxian breathes, then begins to undo Lan Wangji’s belt. His fingers fumble along the sash, letting it drop to the ground when he successfully opens it with a pleased little noise. He pushes open his outer robes, and continues his endeavor to reach Lan Wangji’s skin. There’s the embroidered second layer with a wide collar, the pure white third layer, the silky fourth...

“Fuck, how many are there?” Wei Wuxian mumbles.

“Two more.”

“When we’re married, you’re only allowed to wear one layer at home, okay?”

Married! ” he gasps under a breath. “Yes. For you, I will cut down to five.”

“Oh, come on— Two , at the very most!”

“Four,” he sucks in a breath as he feels Wei Wuxian’s touch through his innermost layer.

Three . If I’m good?”

“If you’re good, I won’t wear any at all.”

“Lan Wangji!”

Neither of them has time to follow up on the exclamation, because Wei Wuxian’s hand is on his bare stomach. They both pause to breathe. Lan Wangji struggles not to shiver with the thrill of having his chest bared against night air, so close to the road. Having Wei Ying’s palm settle against his quickly breathing belly, fingertips exploring skin as they slowly gain confidence.

“You know what I will allow, though?”

Wei Wuxian’s voice is barely more than a husky breath against his jaw. He cannot answer, not with that hand reaching the beginnings of his faint trail of hair. With fingers that trace, circle, tease their way down.

“I want to see you in your lace—”

“Yes.”

“You would look so pretty.”

Yes,” he gasps as Wei Wuxian reaches into his pants, his own hands tightening in black fabric. “Oh—fuck—” as that playful hand closes around him, his length wet and hot and hard already. There’s a stutter in the first glide of palm against him, Wei Wuxian mumbling something under his breath and then shifting his grip. The next slide up is a tight, demanding fist. Lan Wangji throws his head back.

“Does that feel good?”

Yes ,” he says, “Feels— so fucking good. Wei Ying, god, touch me more. Do it again.”

He does, several times, and the rush of blood and desire to a point low in his belly is overpowering. The movement is growing slicker, better , so tempting to lean fully into. Lan Wangji has never been this turned on.

“Curse or handjob making you swear so much?” Wei Wuxian pants against his neck.

“I don’t know, ” he says through a strangled whine, “Never had either before.”

He feels Wei Wuxian’s laughter directly into his skin, and somehow that makes him suddenly very close.

“Wei Ying, faster,” he gasps, “I love your hand on me, please, more—”

“You’re killing me,” Wei Wuxian says, but obeys. The noise of their joining is vulgar in the open forest, but the fact of it; the explicitness of Wei Ying pleasing him, is deliciously hot to Lan Wangji. His back arches, hair tangling in bark, and Wei Wuxian holds him still and keeps pleasuring him even as he moans, once, and falls slack like a puppet with cut strings. 

“Mercy,” he whispers, pushing the hand away. He rests against the steady figure of his lover as he hears the other shifting a little awkwardly.

“Do not,” he says, more breathily than stern as he grabs the other’s wrist, “—wipe that on my robes.”

“Haha,” Wei Wuxian chuckles in embarrassment, “I mean, what am I supposed to do then?”

“Hold on,” he huffs, taking a moment to regain his focus. “Let me.”

Still holding that treacherous wrist, Lan Wangji uses his free hand to undo Wei Wuxian’s robes. He’s way more efficient at it; perhaps due to years of experience with difficult dress codes, perhaps because he’s spent too much time observing the belts and loops and ties of certain black and red pieces of clothing. Once he has access to unlace the strings of his pants, he takes Wei Wuxian’s stained hand and guides it beneath, making him wrap his hand around himself with Lan Wangji as the steadying pressure on top.

“Ohmygod,” Wei Wuxian moans in a very small voice. “Lan Zhan.”

“Make use of the resources at hand,” Lan Wangji quotes in a murmur, and begins moving their hands. He adores the way Wei Wuxian gasps and instantly clings to him, breath coming in sharp and needy inhales. Somehow it’s even better than being touched—to know he is pleasing Wei Ying, their shared touch making him feel good. The hand in his is slack and obedient, curling around cock just as he guides it to.

“You like it?” he asks into a damp temple. “You feel that—? You’re all wet. My seed coating you...”

Wei Wuxian curses violently, hips rocking forward.

“Stop saying shit like that, ah—”

“Really?”

No, ” he moans, defeatedly. 

Lan Wangji notices the tension in his lover’s body, how he curls in on himself, as if hiding away in the throes of his pleasure. He can’t have that.

“I wish it wasn’t dark… Wei Ying, I have wanted to watch you when you come for so long.”

“Ohmygod—”

“I’ve pictured it so many times. If you’d say my name, or be incoherent. If you’d beg. How your pretty mouth would fall open, your eyes squeezing shut in pleasure—your every nerve feeling ecstasy as you feel me clenching down around you. If you’d keep fucking me as I come. I want it, I want to see you so bad. Want to see you when you can’t think, can’t speak, can only brokenly say my name.”

“I, Lan Zhan—!”

Yes , like that. Come on, show me—bite me, pull my hair, moan just for me—tell me you’re gonna come.”

The body in his arms jerks, as if hit by lighting. He wishes, wishes he could see Wei Wuxian’s face as he comes apart—but oh, hearing the song of a dragged-out moan that breaks so wonderfully at the end is almost as good. And he will have other chances. 

Their shivers and beating hearts calm down slowly, in rhythm with each other. Lan Wangji burrows his face into all of Wei Ying he can reach, loving how shared this moment feels. The intimacy of standing together in a forest after nightfall, trembling after an orgasm, a little cold now that the sweat is drying, softening dicks out, feeling the ache of very tender love.

“So, hah, what do we do now…?”

Lan Wangji snaps his fingers, bathing them in pale blue light. He reaches an embroidered handkerchief to a Wei Ying that is looking deliciously debauched.

“Yeah, we could’ve just done that earlier… It was hot just hearing your voice, though.”

Wei Wuxian is in the middle of a smirk when he pauses, eyebrows lifting.

“Your curse mark!”

“It’s gone?” He tugs at his collar, stretching his neck. “My confession was accepted, then.”

“It better have been. It made me cry.

“Mn,” he agrees, smiling. 

“Alright, that’s it. I want to properly confess, too.”

With a stern expression, Wei Wuxian scrambles to put their clothes into decent order again. 

“I’ve told you I love you,” he says once he’s done. “I hope you know how much I mean that. You’re so—you’re so much to me, Lan Zhan. Stability, safety, you know that. But I wanna… I want you to know how much fun you are.”

“Fun?”

“You’re like—like this endless world I wanna delve into, Lan Zhan. I want to map you out and explore all your lands—to sleep new places every night, to feel the weather on my skin, to find thrills in the discoveries I make. You’re an adventure to me, Lan Zhan, my love; I find more excitement in you than in any of my travels.” 

He furrows his brows slightly in thought, and it’s so familiarly endearing that Lan Wangji might just melt.

“I love to know you—the confidence of it, but also the perpetual process. I want to love you on all kinds of days, through every kind of mood—to love you on the battlefield, with your back to mine; love you by the dinner table; love the inked signature of your letters. I’ll let you love me, as much as you want, so you have to allow me as well. Fair?” 

It’s all he can do not to shudder; not to smile widely into the night. The words are like something sweet stirred into him, honey settling at the bottom. 

“Wei Ying , yes. I adore you. I have loved you always. I will allow you; I am yours to keep, okay?”

“Okay,” Wei Wuxian breathes, posture relaxing. “And—I hope you’ll still feel like you can tell me anything. I want to hear your thoughts. As many as you are willing to share with me.”

“All of them. Even the tiresome ones.”

“Not a word that comes out of your mouth could ever be boring, Lan Zhan.”

“Say that again after I recite the events of a Sect Banquet from memory.”

Oh, how he loves making Wei Ying laugh.

Tomorrow, Lan Wangji will find a river to wash his handkerchief in, and they will decide whether a visit to Yumeng is excusable, and reasonable. Tomorrow, he will pay his respects to the general and her lover. Tomorrow, he and Wei Wuxian will officially be starting their day as lovers, partners

They fold out blankets to sleep on. They settle down for the night, embracing, as if it’s the most natural thing in the world. Wei Wuxian’s sleeping breaths brush against his collarbones, so maybe it is. It makes the entire sickening fall worth it, when this was where he landed.