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The Rhythm of Two Hearts

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Lan Zhan stared at the toy in his hand.  The stall owner had displayed rattle drums of various colors and sizes and designs over the counter, and Lan Qiren had bought a red one with an abstract flower pattern on its face. 

 

Uncle had originally set his hand on a rattle drum with a white wooden stick and a pale blue iris, but Lan Wangji had spoken up.  He had spoken just quickly enough to change his uncle's mind and just slowly enough that he didn't interrupt an elder by accident.

 

"Uncle, the red one please?"

 

Lan Qiren had looked down at Lan Zhan in surprise, but his face held no anger at Lan Zhan's presumption, and he nodded for the toy seller to pluck up the red one right next to the blue one.  Lan Zhan himself was rather surprised that the words had come out of his mouth, carrying none of the sticky tar that he could feel in his stomach, weighing his insides down.

 

Lan Zhan could feel Lan Huan staring curiously at the side of his face, and Lan Huan opened his mouth, maybe to ask if he was sure, but Lan Zhan turned his head just slightly.  He had no wish for his brother to read his thoughts right now.

 

Lan Zhan held the rattle drum tightly in his hand as his family continued to walk down the village path.  It was starting to snow even though it was still a few hours before nightfall, and before they found a suitable inn for dinner and rest, they had to reach the bookstore where Lan Qiren would buy Lan Huan a guide to the fauna that was local to all the major cultivation sects.  The book was to be Lan Huan's gift for showing suitable behavior, and the rattle drum had been Lan Zhan's.

 

Lan Zhan shook the drum once, and the little red beads on the threads on either side thumped once against the drum's face.  He did it again.  Thump thump.  He did it one more time before he began to create a steady rhythm.  Thump thump, thump thump, thump thump.  There.  That had been the sound of his heart.  Thump thump thump thump.

 

His hand crept up the polished red wooden stick until his thumb lay against the white skin of the drum face.  His thumb pressed a light indentation into the whiteness and deeper until a spark of fear finally loosened his grip.  His uncle was pleased with him and had bought him a gift.  Lan Zhan didn't want to upset his uncle by breaking it.  Lan Zhan had done enough wrong just yesterday.

 

"A-Zhan," Lan Huan whispered as their uncle moved forward at a quicker pace, the breadth of his shoulders and the authority in his stride creating a narrow path for his nephews to follow and escape the bustle of the crowd.

 

Lan Zhan considered how much more punishment he would accrue if he compounded his wrongdoings by ignoring his older brother's concern.

 

"A-Zhan, do you want me to hold your toy?"

 

Lan Zhan's free hand clenched into a fist.  Lan Huan sounded understanding and gentle as always, and clearly, he didn't understand why Lan Zhan didn't deserve his sympathy.  Lan Zhan didn't even deserve the toy, not when Uncle mistakenly thought he'd done a good job when he hadn't.

 

Still, Lan Huan wasn't guilty of doing anything, and Lan Zhan shouldn't be disrespectful, so Lan Zhan shook his head minutely, his throat once again feeling closed up from the stickiness deep inside of him.  Lan Zhan blinked his eyes rapidly.  They were starting to burn with the beginning of tears, and he couldn't have that; he couldn't have his body betraying him like that.

 

Lan Huan said nothing as Lan Zhan breathed deeply, trying to control his feelings.  One little anguished huff escaped his mouth, and then he closed it shut, trapping the heavy, sticky feeling inside where it belonged.

 

"I like your rattle drum," Lan Huan finally said softly, his tone gently melodious like the songbirds that sometimes graced the woods near Gusu Lan.  Lan Huan's voice rose sweetly as he tried to soothe his desperately sad little brother.  "The polished red stick looks very nice.  You know, it reminds me a little of the tanghulu that Mama let us try once.  Do you think so too?"

 

It was a silly comparison really.  Candies and toys had nothing to do with each other.  You couldn't eat toys.  Uncle would frown at such an illogical comparison.  But...

 

Lan Zhan looked down at his rattle drum, and he slid his fingers around the shiny red brightness of the stick.  Lan Huan was right.  It really did look like tanghulu.  Candy was rarely seen in the Cloud Recesses since its mere existence was contrary to the concept of a healthy and balanced meal that was supposed to help children grow.  When their mother heard that they had never tried a piece of candy before, she did something that she had never done before. 

 

On the next month, when a servant retrieved her shopping list, in addition to the bare necessities she usually requested like bolts of cloth, spools of thread, the odd tome of poetry, she had written down an order for two sticks of tanghulu.  The servant had skimmed the list before opening his eyes wide in surprise, completely speechless. 

 

Their mother had laughed like ringing bells when she told them the story later: "I shocked Lao Ming terribly!  That poor, poor old man!  His eyes were as big as dinner plates!  Do you believe me?"  And then their mother had tickled them on their stomachs and sides as they laughed and tried, unconvincingly, to say that they did.

 

Lan Zhan's mouth lost a bit of its sour pucker as he remembered the hard chewy fruitiness of the tanghulu, the truly overwhelming sweetness of its clear sugar coating breaking into flakes and whisps on his tongue.  Once Lao Ming, who was a patient and dutiful, if conservative man, returned with the fresh tanghulu, their mother had handed each of them a stick, but Lan Huan had exclaimed, "But Mama, you should have some too!  You should enjoy it with us."

 

At the time, Lan Zhan had merely basked in his mother's happy laughter as she praised Lan Huan for being so filial.  It was as usual.  At the time, Lan Zhan hadn't considered that he had done anything wrong by not speaking.  He hadn't thought that perhaps he was lacking something that others possessed.  He hadn't realized that he would need to be as skillful with his words as Lan Huan.  Maybe if he was, he wouldn't have made that terrible mistake.

 

Lan Qiren grunted in satisfaction once they saw the green and gray banner of the bookstore stretching and snapping in the growing blustery wind.  "Come inside quickly," he ordered, holding the door open.  "The weather is getting worse."

 

Lan Zhan settled himself silently in a corner as Lan Qiren took Lan Huan over to speak with the bookstore owner.  His thoughts wandered back to the event that still tormented his heart.

 

Before arriving in Yiling, they had traveled to Lanling Jin for a short visit so that Lan Qiren could show select cultivation texts that Jin Guangshan had wanted to see at a previous banquet.  The texts were too important to be copied and given to another sect, but in the interests of inter-sect harmony, Lan Qiren had decided that he could take the journey to let Jin Guangshan view the texts in his presence and then check on an old friend's well-being in Yiling.

 

While Lan Qiren and Jin Guangshan occupied themselves in the opulent study, Lan Zhan and Lan Huan had found themselves chivvied away to spend time with Jin Xuan and his cousin Jin Xun.  Despite being several years younger, Jin Xuan had quickly demanded Lan Huan's attention since they were both future sect leaders, and Lan Huan had sent Lan Zhan an apologetic look with his eyes before he patiently followed Jin Xuan to the training ground where Jin Xuan was adamant about showing off his brand new practice sword.

 

Stiff with terror at finding himself alone with a strange boy who was already talking faster than he could listen, Lan Zhan attempted to follow the swish of his brother's robes.

 

"Hey!"

 

Lan Zhan reluctantly looked back.  Jin Xun's face was scrunched into a ball, one that boded of ill will. 

 

"What's wrong with you?" Jin Xun snapped.  "I'm trying to be polite like the grown ups said, and you're just sitting there like an egg.  A smelly one."

 

It wasn't like Lan Zhan hadn't been listening.  That would be breaking multiple Gusu Lan rules, particularly the one that implied being patient with long-winded or inane people of some importance.  It's just that Jin Xun hadn't been talking in a way that indicated he wanted any response from Lan Zhan whatsoever.

 

"Apologies," Lan Zhan finally said, after he was unable to remember what he was supposed to do when someone insulted him.  He turned his body away from the doorway and looked at Jin Xun properly to show that he was listening and waited for the other boy to continue talking.  Lan Zhan would have to think of something useful to say in the meantime.

 

Jin Xun stared at him with distaste.  "That's it?  You know, a polite person would have said yeah, they really should have given you a fancier headpiece."

 

But Lan Zhan didn't really think it was his place to comment on the quality of what Jin Xun's parents chose to give him for his birthday.  If Lan Huan were present, he'd check with him, but as things were, Lan Zhan went off his best judgment.

 

"Words must not be used without reason," Lan Zhan said softly. 

 

Jin Xun's mouth dropped open, and his eyebrows drew together fiercely.  "What?  I can't believe it!  Did you just tell me to shut up?  What kind of sect leader's brother are you?  Are you seriously trying to be rude to me in my own home?  I'll tell my uncle what you did, and he'll tell you all to get out!"

 

Lan Zhan's eyes grew wide, and his mouth parted uselessly until a "No" escaped him.

 

"No?" Jin Xun stomped his foot.  "You can't say that to me!  You're not the boss of me!  You're just a rude little bastard!"

 

"Jin Xun!"  Amidst all the uproar, it seemed that one of the nearby servants organizing their tea and snacks had wisely gone to find Jin Xuan, who now hurried between Lan Zhan and his cousin, giving the latter a sharp rap on the head.

 

"Ow!  What are you hitting me for?" Jin Xun said angrily.

 

Jin Xuan glared fiercely.  "Besides yelling crass things at Lan-er-gongzi?  You know that my dad hates hearing about bastards and their like.  You can keep screaming about them if you want to miss the Moon Festival next week," he threatened.

 

Lan Zhan's memory grew faint there.  He had stopped himself from crying during the whole mess by withdrawing and hiding within himself until he felt the comforting warmth of Lan Huan's arms hovering around him from behind.

 

In the bookstore, now, Lan Zhan still couldn't consider himself worthy of the bright beautiful toy he held in his stiff hand.  He was surrounded by books, which would normally be a comforting sight reminiscient of their own Library Pavilion, but he felt exposed and raw with feeling.  He wanted so desperately to go home.  He wanted his mother.

 

Before he knew it, his feet moved on their own, and during the ringing of the door opening to allow in a new customer, Lan Zhan slipped out to the icy streets, and he shuddered in surprise as he felt snowflakes fall onto his face and melt, leaving pinpricks of cold wherever they landed.  He walked away from the safety of the bookstore's canopy and held a hand palm up towards the sky and watched as a tiny pile of slush quickly grew and melted on his sensitive skin.

 

The previously busy streets were now quickly emptying of people, and now that he was outside, Lan Zhan realized what a foolish thing he had done.  Uncle had made it clear that they were never to leave his eyesight when they visited places outside the Cloud Recesses.  Even brief trips to Caiyi Village required supervision from a senior or retainer.

 

Concerned that he really would now be a disgrace, Lan Zhan turned hastily back to return before he was found missing, and in the very corner of his eye, he caught a glimpse of something rounded and black, and joyful hope burst into his heart.  It might be a cat!  Lan Zhan had read about cats in one of his informational books, and he had made it a secret life goal to see one for real and to perhaps pet it, if it was amenable to his touch.

 

With growing exhilaration, Lan Zhan walked slowly closer to the lump in the alleyway in front of him, and eventually, he was close enough that he could distinguish a head and limbs and bright eyes, and he realized that he was looking at a boy, not a cat.  Lan Zhan's heart jumped in surprise, and he backed away.  It was a person!

 

"Hey," the boy said, his voice low and a little hoarse.  He sat up and smiled, and Lan Zhan blinked at the sweetness.

 

"Hello," Lan Zhan responded politely.  He had no idea what to say.  He knew that sometimes people didn't have homes and had to live out on the streets, and he knew that his uncle sighed often when he spoke of the topic with the village heads who came to him.

 

"That's a nice toy."  The boy nodded to the rattle drum that hung limply in Lan Zhan's hand.  "I was napping a bit, but I could hear you rattling in my dreams."

 

Despite the apparent accusation of having woken the boy from sleep, Lan Zhan didn't get the impression that the boy was at all angry.  Instead, it sounded like the boy was sharing a joke with him, like he wanted Lan Zhan to smile.

 

Lan Zhan held the toy up properly to show the boy.  "It's new," he said.  Then he wondered if the boy would think he was bragging.  Maybe Lan Zhan wasn't using his words right again.

 

The boy tilted his head and looked at the rattle drum admiringly.  "Wow, I can see that.  The paint is super shiny.  Hey, you know what?  The stick part reminds me a bit of tanghulu.  Have you eaten it before?  It's so good!  Especially when it's fresh and not too hard to chew.  I ate a really old piece once, and I thought I'd broken a tooth!  It scared the hell out of me!"

 

Lan Zhan thought the boy talked a lot, faster than Lan Zhan was ready to follow, but unlike with Jin Xun, this chatter was pleasant and mild.  If confusing.  He wasn't sure why the boy was eating such old food that it was a threat to his well being.  "I'm sorry to hear that," Lan Zhan said, relying on a rehearsed phrase that Lan Huan had taught him to use whenever he was told about someone else's misfortune.

 

The boy laughed loudly and brightly, his eyes crinkling into crescent moons, just the way Lan Huan's sometimes did, and somehow Lan Zhan thought that this boy was an excellent match for the equally bright toy they had been discussing.

 

"A-Zhan!"

 

Lan Huan was standing in the partially open door to the bookstore, and he beckoned for Lan Zhan to hurry back before their uncle realized his disappearance.

 

Lan Zhan turned back to the boy in the alleyway, the boy with no home, no good food, the boy who still spoke to Lan Zhan so kindly.  Lan Zhan had no words.  He had only actions.  He thrust the rattle drum into the other boy's startled hands and ran back into the secure warmth of the bookstore.  The soft thump, thump, thump of the beads hitting the drum as it exchanged owners matched the rapid beat of Lan Zhan's heart as he slowed his pace, arriving neatly at his uncle's side.

 

Lan Qiren looked down at him.  "Ah, Lan Zhan, it's good that you've finished looking at the books.  We must hurry if we're to arrive at Wang xian-sheng's house before the storm worsens."

 

Lan Zhan had snuck a look from the corner of his eye as they went past the alleyway, but the snow was piling quickly, and this time, there was no bright-eyed happy boy to look back at him.

 

************************

 

A-Yuan was crying again.  The sobs were muffled but so heart-rending in their restraint that Lan Wangi was drawn out of his fever-muddled dreams.

 

"A-Yuan," he called, but his voice came out like a whisper, and he was still far too weak to move.  Instead of comforting the little boy he had carried in his arms from the Burial Mounds, instead of caring for all he had left of Wei Wuxian, Lan Wangji slowly turned his head on his pillow to get a view of the nurse picking A-Yuan up and cradling him, shushing him with gentle reprimands and snippets of hummed songs.

 

A-Yuan's night terrors had been so great, such a disturbance to the other children residing in the nursery, that Lan Qiren had finally given in and allowed A-Yuan to have a cot in the Jingshi, though he was still expected to spend most of the daylight hours learning lessons.  But at night, A-Yuan's bloody memories seemed to encroach on the boy's normally resilient nature and bright countenance. 

 

It was at night that A-Yuan would roll around in sheets that quickly grew wet with sweat and clutch onto a pillow that was hot and wrinkled with tears.  It was at night that A-Yuan would leave his little bed and sit up crying for "Xian-gege!" or "Qing-jiejie!" or "Ning-gege!"

 

Lan Wangji had argued so long and hard for A-Yuan to stay with him, and now Lan Wangji was hit with the realization that he was helpless to do anything for himself or for A-Yuan.

 

Patient and calm as all the Gusu-trained nurses tended to be, Ang-ayi continued to rock A-Yuan in her arms and walk around the verandah outside so that they could avoid disturbing Hanguang Jun's rest.

 

But Lan Wangji couldn't rest, not when he could clearly hear that A-Yuan was still crying so hard, but his limbs were so thin and weak, and his mind too fragmented.  Then Lan Wangji heard A-Yuan whimper for his rich gege.

 

For the first of what would be many times, Lan Wangji mustered the same strength that possessed all parents when they heard their child in pain, and he called just loudly enough to be heard, "Bring A-Yuan to me."

 

Ang-ayi turned around in surpise.  "Lan-er-gongzi!  Please don't trouble yourself!  I'm terribly sorry that we woke you.  A-Yuan is having difficulty sleeping again, but I can take him to the gardens so that we don't disturb you again."

 

Lan Wangji just barely managed to shake his head, feeling exhaustion creeping up on him again.  "No.  No trouble.  Bring him.  Please."

 

Ang-ayi looked uneasy, but neither Lan Qiren nor the head healer was there to accuse her of poor judgment, so the maternal wisdom in her heart told her to carry A-Yuan to Lan Wangji's bed and tuck him carefully beneath the blanket where he could face Lan Wangji.  A-Yuan curled in close, his small head bumping gently against Lan Wangji's ribcage, and a small hand gripped the lapel of his thin sleeping robe.  Gradually, A-Yuan's cries slowed and grew intermittent until he finally gave one big sniffle and then sighed his exhaustion against Lan Wangji's heart.

 

Ang-ayi watched them for a moment, and now, seeing that the child was calm, she spoke sternly but gently.  "A-Yuan, listen to me, your father is still very sick, and his back pains him a lot.  You must be careful not to move too much.  Do you understand?"

 

Lan Wangji could feel the gentle motion of A-Yuan timidly nodding his head, and Ang-ayi was kind enough and knowledgeable enough about young children to accept that as an answer.

 

A-Yuan was small for his age, and Lan Wangji lifted a trembling hand to rub soothingly up and down the little back, encouraging the uncomfortably curved spine to soften and flatten until A-Yuan slumped fully onto Lan Wangji.

 

"A-Yuan," Lan Wangji said, using all his energy to keep his voice low and steady.  "Listen to my heartbeat.  Listen to the sound it makes.  Thump, thump, thump.  Do you hear it?"

 

A-Yuan pressed his ear to the left side of Lan Wangji's chest, and he gave a cute wiggle as he forgot for the moment the tragedies that plagued him.  "Yes!  Rich-gege, I hear it!"

 

"Good," Lan Wangji said, ignoring the shocked expression on Ang-ayi's face when she realized what appellation A-Yuan used for him.  "Now listen to your heartbeat.  You have one too.  Thump, thump, thump."

 

"Thump, thump, thump," A-Yuan repeated to himself as he listened more to Lan Wangji's heart and patted his own little chest at the same time.

 

Not long after, with a sleepy sigh, A-Yuan closed his tired eyes completely, and tiny huffs of breath started a regular pattern that reached Lan Wangji's ears.

 

"Ang-ayi," Lan Wangji said quietly, not wanting to wake A-Yuan from his hard-won sleep.  "I would ask that you find something in the market for me tomorrow."

 

Shopping for the sect members was not one of her duties, but Ang-ayi understood the trust in what Lan Wangji was asking of her, and she memorized the full criteria of his request.

 

Tomorrow, she went down to Caiyi Village for her errand, and then she returned to the Jingshi and showed Lan Wangji the rattle drum that she had bought.  The rattle drum had a shiny red stick, two ruby red beads hanging from its threads, and the picture of a lotus flower on the face of it.

 

************************

 

Thump, thump, thump.  Thump.  Thump.  Thump.  Thump, thump, thump, thump, thump!

 

Lan Wangji finished the last stroke of the character he was writing, and he let go of his sleeve to free both hands so that he could carefully put away his writing materials.  Then he finally looked up, a smile lifting his face as he regarded the petulant expression on his husband's face.

 

Wei Wuxian twirled the rattle drum in his hands, creating a pleasant melody that accompanied his playfully accusing words.  "Ah, Lan Zhan, I feel terrible!  Six months of marriage, and I can't get your attention anymore.  What if I show a little more skin?"  He hiked up his outer robe to flash a glimpse of his inner red one, and Lan Wangji had to work hard to stop his smile from growing obscenely large.

 

"No?  How about this?"  Wei Wuxian threw off his heavy black outer robe, and he tossed his hair over his shoulder, where the length of it slithered across the red silk.

 

"Wei Ying will always get my attention," Lan Wangji said reassuringly before pausing for the joke, "eventually."

 

"Hanguang-Jun!" Wei Wuxian gasped in complete affront, and he smacked the rattle drum lightly against Lan Wangji's shoulder.  "There!  I've punished you for teasing your husband."

 

Lan Wangji wondered if the punishment in question would extend further than that into some intimate wrestling, or if Wei Wuxian was looking for Lan Wangji to take revenge for the smack by insisting on his shoulder being kissed better.

 

But Wei Wuxian was looking down at the rattle drum, his quick clever fingers studying it, and his expression spoke of contemplation, not passion, so Lan Wangji told the simmering embers in his lower belly to sleep, and he asked softly, "Wei Ying?"

 

Wei Wuxian startled a bit, but he smiled brightly at Lan Wangji.  "Ah, I was just thinking how familiar this toy is.  It's Sizhui's, isn't it?  Kind of funny that he would play with a toy that existed when we were kids."

 

"Mm," Lan Wangji agreed.  "I believe this toy was familiar to my uncle's generation as well.  The design is an old but classical one."

 

"Did Lan-er-gongzi ever have a rattle drum?" Wei Wuxian asked curiously, his restless knee asking the same question as it nudged against Lan Wangji's leg on the floor.

 

"I...did," Lan Wangji finally answered, after probing the hazy depths of his own mind.  "It was a gift...from Uncle...for doing well."

 

"You don't have it anymore?  I just saw this one in the trunk."

 

Lan Wangji shook his head definitively.  "I don't believe I kept it for long.  It seems I lost it shortly after Uncle bought it.  He was quite displeased."

 

Wei Wuxian had slowly prowled across the floor until he was draped over Lan Wangji's shoulders, and at this admission, Lan Wangji could feel his husband's muscles tensing.  "What happened after that?" Wei Wuxian asked idly.

 

Lan Wangji took his husband's hand in his and stroked a calm line down the wrist and into the sensitive center of the palm.  Wei Wuxian's fingers twitched and then relaxed.  "Uncle did not assign any punishment," Lan Wangji said.  "I don't remember the reason I gave, but Uncle must have found it a reasonable one."

 

Wei Wuxian went limp again and molded himself against Lan Wangj's back.  "Well, of course!  I'm sure baby Lan Zhan was as trustworthy as his adult self is now."

 

Lan Wangji tugged gently on a long curl of hair that dangled from Wei Wuxian's head and down Lan Wangji's chest.  "And what about Wei Ying?  Did you enjoy a rattle drum in your childhood?"

 

"I enjoyed several rattle drums," Wei Wuxian cheerfully announced.  "I got the last one when I was about 10 or so, but it didn't last long.  Jiang Cheng did something annoying with his, and we ended up fighting with them like swords, haha.  His broke too, so it was fair."

 

Lan Wangji listened contently to this new anecdote about Wei Wuxian's childhood, even as his nose wrinkled slightly.  He would never understand the contentious brotherhood that Wei Wuxian seemed to enjoy, seemed to value, with Jiang Wanyin.  Lan Wangji tried very hard to picture Lan Xichen attacking him with a rattle drum, even in play as children, and the ridiculous image ended as soon as he tried to conceive of it.

 

"Actually," Wei Wuxian said, thoughtfully, his arms dropping from Lan Wangji's shoulders to his sides, his long fingers fiddling with the lacy top layer.  "The funny thing is that I had so many rattle drums because Uncle Jiang thought it was a really important toy to me.  He said that I used to talk a lot about this red rattle drum I used to own.  I guess I must have lost it pretty quickly on the streets.  I don't really remember though.  Being hungry all the time did a number on my memory, ahaha!"

 

Lan Wangji dropped a hand onto Wei Wuxian's, and he felt those antsy fingers still underneath his grasp.  He held his husband's hand more tightly as he reinforced a promise he had given before: "I will make sure you never suffer that pain again, Wei Ying."

 

"Ah, Lan Zhan," Wei Wuxian sighed, dropping his head against the crook of Lan Wangji's neck.  "What are I going to do with you?  You're always saying such sweet things.  Let me see your tongue!  Is it made out of silver?"

 

Wei Wuxian reached out his hands in a gentle threat to press Lan Wangji's lips apart, and Lan Wangji rolled away from him, smoothly stealing the rattle drum as he did so.

 

Lan Wangji held the toy up and spun it between two fingers in a quiet taunt, his eyes daring his husband to come over and take it back.  Wei Wuxian smiled at him with heavy promise, and the air between them pulled tight for a long, long moment before Wei Wuxian finally pounced at Lan Wangji.

 

Keeping by the usual rules of the bedroom, neither of them used any spiritual power, and Lan Wangji just barely managed to duck around the writing desk to avoid those devious hands ready to snatch up their prize.

 

Wei Wuxian went around the desk, following Lan Wangji as he stepped behind the privacy screen that separated the primary sleeping area from the bathroom.  Wei Wuxian's steps had slowed, and he put his hands up in makeshift claws while he grinned playfully at Lan Wangji, and Lan Wangji smiled back before he also slowed his pace as he circled the bath tub. 

 

This time Wei Wuxian made his move by rushing forward to grab one of the long fluttering white sleeves that dragged behind Lan Wangji as he ran, and Wei Wuxian succeeded, pulling at the silky fine material with a triumphant smirk.

 

Lan Wangji had already loosened his belt, so he let it drop, and his outer robe pulled from his body with a whoosh, and Lan Wangji smiled as Wei Wuxian's eyes widened in surprise as the mass of empty cloth collapsed into his arms.

 

"You're too sneaky, Lan Zhan!"  Wei Wuxian's voice was breathless and entirely too delighted.

 

"I need to be, with you," Lan Wangji retorted.  He backed away from his husband, his hands feeling behind him for any obstacles, and his hand bumped against the low cupboard that held their soaps, oils, and razors. 

 

Seeing that, Wei Wuxian hesitated, and Lan Wangji knew he had the advantage since his husband wouldn't make a move if he thought he might startle Lan Wangji into injuring himself against the furniture.  So, Lan Wangji took his chance, and he threw himself bodily at Wei Wuxian, who let out a peal of startled laughter as his arms wrapped around Lan Wangji's waist.

 

"I win," Lan Wangji whispered, and now he was feeling breathless too.

 

"Are you sure?" Wei Wuxian asked, as he moved one hand to Lan Wangji's stomach, giving a quick caress before working at the knots tying Lan Wangji's remaining robes together.  "You're in my arms, not the other way around.  Doesn't that mean I still caught you?"

 

Lan Wangji let the remaining robes pool at his feet, and he indulged in the look of unmasked desire burning in Wei Wuxian's eyes.  Then he slid his hand down the red silk clad chest in front of him, and he yanked the red belt off roughly, leaving his husband completely bare as well after the red silk robe slithered down without support.

 

"Yes, you caught me, Wei Ying," Lan Wangji finally answered, and he pulled Wei Wuxian closer for a kiss when a loud bang and the rattle of beads on the Jingshi's wooden floors echoed through the room.

 

Lan Wangji's eyes met Wei Wuxian's, and their rise of laughter couldn't be contained.  They laughed heartily together, and then their mouths finally smooshed together into the long-awaited kiss.

 

After a very pleasant, tiring, and tender hour filled with more touching and laughing, Lan Wangji sent a spark of energy towards the candles to bring a soft darkness to the room.  Wei Wuxian had spent a much more physically active day training the juniors in swordsmanship while Lan Wangji had finished his paperwork, so he had already begun dozing on Lan Wangji's shoulder.

 

Feeling rather energetic despite how late the night had grown since their antics first began, Lan Wangji stroked his husband's hair fondly and played with the visible curve of ear.  He felt comfortably warm and relaxed and soothed, as he always did after they had engaged in physical intimacy.  He lay his hand on Wei Wuxan's back and felt the firm muscles flexing as breath came in and out of that beloved body.

 

"Mmm, Lan Zhan," Wei Wuxian murmured into the hollow of Lan Wangji's throat.  "You feel so warm, so good to sleep on.  I can hear your heart beating nice and strong."  Wei Wuxian yawned, and he wriggled over until he had snuggled himself more firmly into Lan Wangji's chest, one hand coming up to cup his cheek.  "Go to sleep, Lan Zhan, you have another early day tomorrow."

 

Lan Wangji did shut his eyes then, and he listened for the beat of Wei Wuxian's heart working in tandem with his own.  Thump, thump, thump.  Thump, thump, thump.

 

It was an infinitely precious sound.