“I love you,” Lan Wangji says. Wei Wuxian’s head snaps up. Lan Wangji clears his throat quietly and clarifies. “I am in love with you.”
“No, you’re not,” Wei Wuxian says.
Of all the possible responses, this was not one Lan Wangji was expecting. “What?”
“You just think you love me,” Wei Wuxian says. Little tendrils of resentful energy are still curling off of him, the air growing colder around them, but he looks less angry and more… lost. “Because of the core bond. It -- it links us, right? We just shared a dream, so it’s not ridiculous it would affect other stuff. It’s messed with your head. You can do better than me, Lan Zhan. I live in a cave and my clothes are more patch than robe.”
“I also live in a cave,” Lan Wangji points out.
Wei Wuxian’s face twists. “Because of me! Because you’re stuck with me.”
“Not stuck,” Lan Wangji insists. “Wei Ying, I chose to give you a piece of my core. I knew there might be side effects.”
Wei Wuxian looks miserable. “Because you’re a good person,” he says.
Lan Wangji shakes his head. “Because I would give anything not to lose you,” he says. “Because I love you.” He clears his throat. “Have since before the core bond.”
It would be funny, watching the cogs turn in Wei Wuxian’s head, if Lan Zhan’s heart wasn’t beating so hard he could taste it. “How long?” he demands.
Lan Wangji’s stomach swoops. Does it matter? “About six years.”
Wei Wuxian is fully gaping now. “But that’s how long we’ve known each other,” he says, a hint of desperate confusion creeping into his voice. “You hated me when we first met.”
“Never hated you,” Lan Wangji says quietly. “Was... intimidated.” First by just how loud Wei Wuxian was in general, then by the depth of his feelings for Wei Wuxian.
“Oh,” Wei Wuxian says, dumbstruck. “ Oh .”
“Mm,” Lan Wangji says. “I did not fall in love with you because of the core bond. The core bond exists because I love you.” He clears his throat. “I am sorry if -- I should not have said anything.” Does Wei Wuxian feel trapped with him? There was no other choice than giving him his core -- surely Wei Wuxian would rather be stuck with him than dead, but that doesn’t mean anything. Has he become his father over again, keeping the one he loves tethered to him with no other options, no escape? His mouth is very dry. “I hope you do not feel too uncomfortable, since we cannot separate, but--”
Lan Wangji doesn’t finish the sentence, because he is being suddenly, thoroughly, artlessly kissed, all tongues and teeth. A cool, long-fingered hand slides around his neck, keeping him close, holding his hair just slightly too tightly. He wouldn’t have it any other way, because it’s Wei Wuxian kissing him.
“Huh,” Wei Wuxian breathes, when they break apart for a moment. He reaches out to pinch Lan Wangji’s burning ear. “I’ve always wanted to see if they change temperature as well as color,” he admits. “They do.” He presses their foreheads together, hands on either side of Lan Wangji’s face. “Say it again. I’ll get it right this time.”
Lan Wangji swallows. “I love you,” he says again.
“I love you too,” Wei Wuxian says hoarsely. The smoke has dissipated, leaving behind just the Wei Ying that Lan Wangji knows. He looks like he did when Lan Wangji handed him an invitation to meet his nephew. As if Lan Wangji is something miraculous.
Lan Wangji kisses him again. It’s so dark that he would probably miss his mouth if Wei Wuxian weren’t right there, so close that Lan Wangji can feel the movement of his breath on his face.
“Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian murmurs between kisses. “Lan Zhan, Lan Wangji, Hanguang-jun. I felt so selfish for wanting to keep you here.”
“I want to be wherever Wei Ying is,” Lan Wangji says, wrapping an arm around his back, feeling the nubs of his spine under his splayed hand. “In the Burial Mounds. In his bed.” Wei Wuxian makes a small noise in his throat and kisses him again. Again. Again.
Eventually, Wei Wuxian puts his head down on Lan Wangji’s chest, head turned so his nose is nudging the hollow of his throat. “I don’t want to stop,” he says, sighing. “But I’m too tired to hold my head up anymore.”
“Sleep,” Lan Zhan says, pulling him the smallest bit closer so Wei Wuxian will nestle against him, fitting his leg over Lan Zhan’s and tucking his hand against the far side of his chest. His fingers are still a little cold, but Lan Zhan is more than happy to keep them warm; right now, he feels like he could burn up from the inside. “I will be here.”
He can’t see Wei Wuxian smile, but he can feel it against his skin. “My Hanguang-jun is so good to me,” he says, voice already thick with sleep, and Lan Wangji listens as his breathing evens out again, feels his narrow chest expanding. He would keep him here forever, if Wei Wuxian would permit him to.
Wei Wuxian is snoring quietly into his collarbone when he wakes up, and Lan Wangji has never been happier to open his eyes. The first thing he sees is the mess of Wei Wuxian’s hair, and he wonders if Wei Wuxian will permit him to comb it again, or if he will be too impatient. You’ll have to tie me up to get me to keep still, Wei Wuxian had joked, and he holds back a shiver at the thought.
Lan Wangji’s body has been trained since childhood to wake up at five and stay awake, but Wei Wuxian’s deep breaths against his skin and the weight of his body where it’s sprawled over his own turn out to be nearly as powerful an anesthetic as whatever Wen Qing used to keep him asleep during surgery. By the time Wei Wuxian begins to stir, he’s halfway back to sleep himself.
“Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian mumbles against his chest. “If last night was a very nice dream, you have to tell me right now or I’ll make a complete fool of myself.”
Lan Wangji tightens his arm around him, which Wei Wuxian seems to take as answer enough, burrowing closer. “You’re so warm,” he says rapturously. “I thought you Lans were supposed to be cold and aloof.” He tilts his head up to look at him and Lan Wangji automatically brushes some of the loose hair out of his face. Wei Wuxian leans his head into the touch; Lan Wangji’s heart pushes at the constraints of his ribs.
Wei Wuxian pushes himself up on his elbows, crawls a little higher up Lan Wangji’s body to press his face into the space under Lan Wangji’s jaw. “Made of jade,” he says, scoffing a little and kissing him there. “Hah! Your skin is so soft right here, Lan Zhan.”
Lan Wangji is not quite fast enough to hold back his shudder. Wei Wuxian pulls back to stare at him, as if Lan Wangji is the only thing worth looking at in the world. “Was that what I said?” he wonders aloud, “Or…” He runs light fingers up the line of Lan Wangji’s neck, and even expecting it, Lan Wangji feels himself shiver. “You are ticklish!” Wei Wuxian says, sounding as thrilled as Lan Wangji has ever heard him, a hint of childish delight creeping into his tone. He’s actually somewhat terrified about what would have happened if Wei Wuxian discovered this particular feature of his body (that even he was unaware of) at the beginning of their acquaintance. He probably would have drawn his sword on the spot.
“It… appears so,” Lan Wangji says.
“I’m going to use this for nefarious purposes,” Wei Wuxian says, as if there was literally any doubt about that, and climbs back on top of him.
There’s a not-insignificant part of his brain that thinks he could be content with just this, forever. Holding Wei Wuxian, being allowed to touch him -- no, being encouraged to touch him. Keeping him warm. Watching Wei Wuxian watch him.
Of course, this is the day that Jiang Cheng’s letter arrives.
Wei Wuxian, it reads.
I have told A-jie you’re alive, and no one else. The trial is being held in four days, in Lanling. If you’re going to go and make a scene, tell me. I would rather know what to expect, and I can escort you there. If Jin Zixun tries anything towards you, he will lose his other hand.
A-jie says she’s never been more relieved that her cousin-in-law is a liar and that if she didn’t live literally in Koi Tower she would definitely sneak out to see you. Personally, I would rather not have to pretend that you’re dead, but on the bright side, if you do, A-jie might really move back to Yunmeng. So there are pros and cons.
“It’s a bad idea,” Wei Wuxian says immediately. They’re eating breakfast, but Wei Wuxian seems less interested in his congee than he is in getting Lan Wangji to hold his hand while they eat. Lan Wangji is sure both of the Wen siblings have noticed, probably from the second Wei Wuxian walked in plastered to Lan Zhan’s side, but Wen Qing is uninterested and Wen Ning is too polite to say anything. “How do we know they won’t just corner me and take me out? If they make a move, my golden core isn’t strong enough for me to fight them off without help from Chenqing as well. I should just let them keep thinking I’m dead.”
“I don’t know,” Wen Qing says. “We’re due for an attack any day now, especially now that they think you’re not around to protect us. Better for them to find out you’re alive on your terms than having it seem like you’re hiding.”
“I’ll never be innocent to them,” Wei Wuxian says tiredly. “Won’t they paint me as the villain whether I’m dead or alive? It’s safer to remain inside the wards.”
“You did nothing wrong,” Lan Wangji says, frowning, though he knows well enough how Wei Wuxian is regarded by most of the cultivation world. “You did not even attack Jin Zixun. I was the one who cut off his hand.”
Wei Wuxian’s laugh has just a tinge of bitterness. “Who could doubt the integrity of Hanguang-jun?” he points out. “You acted in retaliation. But anyone who acts against me already has a justifiable motive.”
“But you did not curse him,” Lan Wangji says. “The fact that his curse went away when you were presumed dead means someone else may have wanted it to appear to be you.”
“You’re an easy scapegoat,” Wen Ning agrees. “Sorry, Master Wei.”
“Apology accepted,” Wei Wuxian says, scratching his nose. “Since you’re a scapegoat too. But even if I went, would I be believed?”
“I will stand with you,” Lan Wangji says. “Xichen will stand with me. Maybe Nie Mingjue with him.”
“A-Ning is right,” Wen Qing says, plucking the invitation from his hands and surreptitiously pushing Wei Wuxian’s bowl closer to him. “It may not be a coincidence that Jin Zixun accused you. You might have been set up. Better to face them with Hanguang-jun at your side, in a public setting, so you don’t get jumped the next time you leave the Burial Mounds.”
Wei Wuxian still looks troubled, so Lan Wangji squeezes his hand under the low table. He sighs. “I guess so,” he says. “Four days isn’t much time to prepare.”
“We will be going to Koi Tower,” Lan Wangji points out. “You will be able to meet your nephew.”
Wei Wuxian does brighten, a little. “It’ll be good to see Shijie,” he agrees, finally beginning to eat. “And if they do kill me, at least the funeral is already planned!”
No one at the table finds this quite as funny as he does.
Wei Wuxian hides his anxiety well, but Lan Wangji can see it spilling through whenever he’s especially tired or thinks no one is looking. It would feel unbearably close to how things were between them at the end of the Sunshot Campaign, except now instead of pushing him away, Wei Wuxian just goes quiet. It’s better than being snapped at, but not by much.
He has more tools available to him now, though. It’s not just longing glances and “Come back to Gusu with me.” Now he has the option of pressing Wei Wuxian into the straw mattress and kissing him until he looks half drunk, which is a pretty good short term solution.
It’s a harsh reminder that the world has not stopped turning outside their little bubble, and Lan Wangji struggles with it in his own way. The relief of having Wei Wuxian back and recovering was enough to distract him from other problems, like the reason he ended up huddled on a mountain of dead bodies with the Wens to start with.
He accidentally slips into another of Wei Wuxian’s dreams that really should have stayed private: the moments before Wen Qing cut him open to take out his golden core.
“You had to stay awake?” he asks, swallowing hard.
Wei Wuxian turns, and the dream grinds to a halt around them before Wen Qing’s knife can reach his skin. “You didn’t?” he asks, relieved.
Lan Wangji shakes his head. “It was relatively painless,” he says.
Wei Wuxian wraps his arms around himself. “Good, good,” he says. “What were you dreaming about? It has to be nicer than this.” He casts a glance back at himself on the ground, biting down on his own belt, his brother unconscious beside him.
He doesn’t want to talk about it, and Lan Wangji will not make him, so he takes him by the hand instead and leads him back into his own dream, which is hazy and peaceful and has to do with the stray cat that Lan Xichen attempted to hide in their rooms when he was seven. It makes Wei Wuxian laugh.
The next night, after a long day that he spent harvesting turnips and Wei Wuxian spent feverishly working on a talisman, he is close to sleep when Wei Wuxian sits up, pulling away from the embrace they had settled into.
“Mm?” he says, opening his eyes.
“Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian says. There’s a nervous intensity to his voice. “What happens if one of us dies? With the core bond?”
Lan Wangji wakes up a little more and considers it. It’s not that it hasn’t occurred to him before. “I do not know. No one has done this before.”
“As far as I can tell, there’s only three likely possibilities,” Wei Wuxian says. “One, the core is unaffected. Two, the living person’s core dies along with the other half.” He swallows. “Three, we both die.”
“There is no way to know,” Lan Wangji says, tugging Wei Wuxian back down into his arms. “Let us never find out.”
“What if something goes wrong in Lanling and they attack me and you get hurt too?” Wei Wuxian murmurs. His fingers twist in Lan Wangji’s robe. “I can’t be the person that dooms you.”
“Your death would doom me regardless,” Lan Wangji says. “So please refrain from dying.” He closes his eyes.
“I love you,” Wei Wuxian whispers into the dark. “Lan Zhan. I’d tear the world apart for you.”
“Please refrain,” Lan Wangji repeats, yawning and closing his eyes. “I need Wei Ying whole.”
“Lan Zhan ,” Wei Wuxian says, pretending not to be pleased. Lan Wangji falls asleep to the sound of his name said around a smile.
Both of them pretend he’s not making preparations just in case something goes very wrong. He fixes the wards so they’ll be relatively self sustaining, insists on teaching both Wen siblings how to repair them if necessary. “In case I can’t bear to leave my nephew’s side,” he says with a smile. It fools absolutely no one.
“Are you absolutely sure I shouldn’t come with?” Wen Ning asks, for the fiftieth time.
Wei Wuxian knocks their shoulders together. “They need you here more, my friend,” he says. “Plus, I’m trying to persuade them that I’m not doing wicked things with resentful energy, and having you there might undermine my point.”
When he wanders off, Wen Ning’s eyes slide over to Lan Wangji. “You’ll keep him safe, won’t you?” he says, both a question and, surprisingly, an order.
Lan Wangji nods. “With my life,” he says.
“And…” Wen Ning hesitates. “He cares about you very much, Hanguang-jun. I’m sure you know better than anyone that he’s not as tough as he pretends to be.” He folds his hands together, still deferential even as he says, “You mustn’t abuse the trust he’s put in you. Jiejie and I both would not forgive you.”
Lan Wangji isn’t sure which of them he’s supposed to be more afraid of. He inclines his head. “Wei Ying is lucky to have such loyal friends,” he says. “I will endeavor to remain worthy of Wei Ying.”
“Oh, good,” Wen Ning says, sounding relieved the conversation is over. “Thank you, Hanguang-jun.”
“Wangji,” Lan Wangji corrects him, surprising even himself. Only his uncle and brother call him that to his face. But he is feeling an unexpected rush of affection for Wen Ning that is not unlike how he feels towards his brother, and it only seems appropriate.
He gets the feeling that if Wen Ning’s blood flowed in his veins, he’d be blushing. “Oh, uh. Um, thank you, Ha-- I mean. Wa--” He has to swallow, clearly psyching himself up for it. “Wangji. Thank you.” He bows very stiltedly and escapes.
He must tell his sister, because Wen Qing narrows her eyes at him during dinner -- but it’s an approving expression rather than an appraising one. “Wangji,” she says, when he passes her a bowl of sauce. A challenge.
“Doctor,” he returns.
She almost smiles. He likes her very much.
A-Yuan is left in their care the night before they leave, which Lan Wangji does not mind whatsoever. Wei Wuxian is distracted with his talismans, so Lan Wangji plays with him to the best of his ability. Luckily, A-Yuan is a creative child and happy to be in charge, so all he really wants is to make up stories where Lan Wangji is a monster, no, a dragon, and A-Yuan is a wandering cultivator who makes friends with him. Mercifully, the dragon has very few lines.
A-Yuan is climbing onto his back so that he can go for a dragon ride -- which really just means Lan Wangji lifting off the ground slightly as he carries him around the room and A-Yuan makes whooshing sounds -- when Lan Wangji realizes Wei Wuxian has turned around in his chair and is watching them warmly.
A-Yuan takes hold of the trailing ends of Lan Wangji’s forehead ribbon and tugs on them like reins. “Let’s go!” he commands.
“Ah, ah,” Wei Wuxian says, coming over to pluck him off. “We have to be careful, okay? His ribbon is special.” His eyes are laughing as he says it, but he still carefully peels the ribbon out of A-Yuan’s hands.
“It is okay,” Lan Wangji says.
Wei Wuxian squints at him. “Really?” he says, adjusting A-Yuan to sit on his hip. He glances outside. “A-Yuan, look how late it is! It must be past your bedtime.”
“No,” A-Yuan says, but he’s listing to the side. “Xian-gege, play with us. You can be a dragon too.”
Wei Wuxian kisses one of his round cheeks. “Soon, okay? When we get back from our trip. I think it might be time for little rogue cultivators to go to bed.”
“No,” A-Yuan repeats, clinging to him. “Don’t go.”
Wei Wuxian makes a face. “I don’t want to go either,” he says. “But I have to. It’s one of these dumb grown up things.”
A-Yuan shakes his head and hides his face in Wei Wuxian’s shoulder. Wei Wuxian blinks. Lan Wangji steps closer and puts his hand on A-Yuan’s back. “What is wrong?” he asks.
A-Yuan says something, but it’s muffled by cloth.
He’s just tired , Wei Wuxian mouths at him.
“A-Yuan,” Lan Wangji says. “We cannot hear you.”
A-Yuan lifts his head up an inch to drag in a heaving breath. He’s not crying, but he’s close, eyelashes wet and nose starting to run. “Will Xian-gege be hurt again, when he comes back?” he asks tremulously.
“Ah,” Wei Wuxian says, hoisting him up closer and sending Lan Wangji a helpless look. “Your gege will have Lan Zhan to protect him,” he says, as if he didn’t last time. Hot guilt swells in Lan Wangji’s throat, stopping him from speaking. “And his shijie and Jiang Cheng too. You met Jiang Cheng once, do you remember?”
A-Yuan sort of shrugs, curling into his chest.
“Let’s bring you to bed, eh?” Wei Wuxian says. “I promise I’ll play dragons with you when I come back.”
A-Yuan lets out a little sigh and seems to calm down. But when Wei Wuxian starts to carry him out, he makes a noise of protest and holds out a hand to Lan Wangji.
“We’ll all go, then,” Wei Wuxian says, when Lan Wangji takes it without hesitation, and the three of them go off towards A-Yuan’s room, the shadows from the lanterns painting a strange three-person beast on the ground. A-Yuan is rubbing his eyes with his free hand when Wei Wuxian lies him down. “I’ll tell you a secret,” he says to A-Yuan. “Did you know Lan Zhan is a very good musician? Maybe if you ask him nicely, he’ll sing you a song to help you sleep.” There’s a mischievous twinkle in his eye as he turns to look at Lan Zhan.
A-Yuan yawns. “Gege, please?”
Lan Wangji is helpless to deny either of them. He hums instead of singing, because he doesn’t want to wake everyone else, but it seems to do the trick; A-Yuan’s eyes slip the rest of the way shut and his breathing evens out as Lan Wangji finishes the song. He looks up, and Wei Wuxian is looking at him in a way he’s never seen before.
They sit there for a long moment, just looking at each other, and then Wei Wuxian takes him by the hand and tugs him outside, then back into the caves. The cool night air feels good on Lan Wangji’s flushed face, though he doesn’t know why he’s flustered, and then he has a very good reason to be, because Wei Wuxian has backed him up against the wall of his workshop and is kissing him.
“Unfair, honestly,” Wei Wuxian says, nosing against his jaw to tilt it up and biting his neck. Lan Wangji manages to hold back the sound that builds in his throat in response, because he likes to pretend he has some shame left, but he knows Wei Wuxian felt the way his body jumped in response. “Hanguang-jun is handsome, kind, smart…” He licks the place he bit, as if in apology. Lan Wangji clings to him. “And good with children? A lesser man would be jealous.”
“Ngh,” Lan Wangji says.
“Ah, Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian says. “I have no room in my heart for jealousy, because you take up all the space there.”
Lan Wangji takes him by the chin, turns his head, and makes him kiss him on the mouth this time, impatient. Wei Wuxian laughs into the kiss, keeping his forehead pressed to Lan Wangji’s even when he pulls away.
“Sometimes I feel like I died at Qiongqi Pass, and this is what my brain came up with to keep me happy in my last moments,” he whispers, and Lan Zhan grabs him harder, turns them around so Wei Wuxian is the one pressed against the wall.
“No,” he says. “Wei Ying. This is real.”
Wei Wuxian leans his head back against the stone and just looks at him. “I know,” he says. “Because I’ve never been this nice to myself. I couldn’t have come up with this on my own.”
Lan Wangji holds him tighter and Wei Wuxian lets out a short, pleased breath, and wraps himself around Lan Wangji. “Convince me,” he murmurs in his ear, breath hot. “Hanguang-jun. Make me believe it.”
Lan Wangji does his very best.
Wei Wuxian is already awake when Lan Wangji wakes up, which means he probably slept very little. “Lan Zhan,” he says. “Will you do my hair?”
Lan Wangji nods. They don’t have to leave for over an hour, so he takes his time with it, combing Wei Wuxian’s hair out again, letting it slip through his fingers like silk. It’s easier this time, now that he doesn’t have to resist the urge to drag his fingernails gently over Wei Wuxian’s scalp and listen to the low groan or sigh he gets in return. Although Wei Wuxian has no hairpiece, he manages something decently elaborate with just a ribbon to tie it back.
When he’s done, he presses a kiss to the top of Wei Wuxian’s head. Wei Wuxian huffs a very quiet laugh. “This could go very badly,” he says. “But at least I will look pretty.”
“Wei Ying is always pretty,” Lan Wangji says, beginning to construct his own hairstyle. It’s strange to put his hairpiece in again, after a few weeks of not bothering. Wei Wuxian watches him for a few minutes, unusually quiet and still, before snapping himself out of it and getting dressed.
It’s the same black robes he wore when he was attacked. “Don’t look at me like that,” he says, waving Lan Zhan off. “It’s my only semi-nice outfit. You can’t even see any of the bloodstains. One of many reasons to wear black.”
“Hm,” Lan Wangji says skeptically, beginning to pull on his own outer robes.
“You’re not wearing white?” Wei Wuxian asks, putting on his shoes.
“Wei Ying got these for me,” Lan Wangji says. They’re not what he would have chosen, but that is part of why he likes them.
“Hm,” Wei Wuxian says. His face is turned away, but Lan Wangji thinks he sounds pleased.
The walk down to the wards is brisk and bracing. Thankfully, A-Yuan is not awake to see them off yet; Lan Wangji isn’t sure he could say goodbye again. Jiang Cheng is waiting outside the boundary, and Wei Wuxian waves at him enthusiastically.
The first thing Jiang Cheng says to them after bowing is, “Take it,” and he thrusts Suibian at Wei Wuxian. Wei Wuxian takes it and sticks it in his belt, on the other side from Chenqing.
“We should fly together,” Wei Wuxian says to Lan Wangji. “And take turns.”
“Mm,” Lan Wangji agrees. It will take the better part of the morning to get to Lanling, and neither of them currently possess the core strength to do the full trip on their own. However, if they share a sword and switch off, then they will get chances to recover energy.
Jiang Cheng is watching him as he pulls out Bichen and patiently waits for Wei Wuxian to hop on. He looks away when he sees that Lan Wangji has noticed him staring, but Wei Wuxian offers no explanation and so Lan Wangji does not bother to come up with one either.
“Did I bring you your sword just for show?” Jiang Cheng mutters to Wei Wuxian, who smiles blithely.
“It’s cold up in the clouds,” he says, stepping onto the sword behind Lan Wangji and wrapping his arms around him. “Hanguang-jun will keep me warm.”
The words settle pleasantly in Lan Wangji’s chest, even though he knows perfectly well they are meant to misdirect. “We will be late,” he says, to Jiang Cheng’s mystified face, and takes off.
The switching off plan works well enough; Lan Wangji tires after about an hour and squeezes Wei Wuxian’s forearm where it’s wrapped around his waist to let him know it’s his turn. Wei Wuxian shifts accordingly, planting his feet on the sword more firmly, and tugs a little on Lan Zhan to let him know that it’s okay to lean back against him.
With Wei Wuxian piloting Bichen, he allows himself to observe the scenery below them. It’s hard to believe he hasn’t left Yiling in close to a month. It is a fine day, sunny but not too hot, and if it weren’t for their destination, he could hardly imagine a more pleasant journey.
They land in the afternoon, just beyond the gates of Koi Tower, protected from view by a copse of trees.
“I should go in first,” Jiang Cheng says, almost apologetic. “Don’t burn this place down without me.”
“Aye aye,” Wei Wuxian says, a little subdued.
“Remember the plan,” Lan Wangji says quietly, watching people begin to filter in. They are already attracting stares.
“I won’t use resentful energy unless I have to,” Wei Wuxian promises. “And you…”
“Will not remove anyone else’s limbs,” Lan Wangji agrees. “Unless I have to.”
Wei Wuxian squares his shoulders and flashes him a nervous smile. “Nine out of ten people in there hate me,” he says. “If worst comes to worst, we’ll just run away, right?”
Finally, the last of the other cultivators have made their way up the stairs, which is their cue to head in. “It’ll be weird if I show up in a crowd,” Wei Wuxian had insisted. “I know it seems like a dramatic entrance, but we may as well lean into it.
Jin Guangyao is just turning away from his welcoming post at the top of the steps when they step up, the doors to the banquet hall about to close. His eyes widen impossibly for a moment, looking between the two of them, before he composes himself. Wei Wuxian bows.
“This humble cultivator wonders if you can spare a seat inside,” he says. “I have some, uh. Key testimony.”
“It... certainly seems so,” Jin Guangyao says diplomatically, and bows belatedly to both of them, still half in shock. “Hanguang-jun. I did not realize you would be attending, but I will send someone to place an extra seat beside your brother.”
Lan Wangji shakes his head. “Beside Wei Ying,” he corrects.
Jin Guangyao’s mouth opens slightly, but he covers for his surprise well. “If you wish,” he says. When he turns to instruct a servant to do so, Wei Wuxian looks at him, brow slightly furrowed. Lan Wangji returns the look placidly. He will not let Wei Wuxian appear alone.
Lan Wangji sticks closer to Wei Wuxian’s side than he should as they walk in. There is no point in being discreet; simply arriving together will turn enough heads on its own. If people are going to spread rumors, they may as well spread correct ones. He can feel how tense Wei Wuxian is at his side; he hasn’t been to Koi Tower since he left it to break the Wens out of the prison camp.
No one bothers disguising their stares as they walk through the hall to their hastily-placed seats, and the murmur of small talk ceases entirely. Lan Wangji supposes they’re a spectacle: the formerly presumed dead Yiling Patriarch alongside the Second Jade of Lan, who has been conspicuously absent for the last several weeks.
“What is the meaning of this?” Jin Guangshan demands, echoing in the hush of the room. At his right, Jin Xizun straightens up in his seat, gaping. His right hand has been replaced by a gleaming hook. Two places to his left, Jiang Yanli has placed a hand over her mouth in a very good impression of complete shock.
Wei Wuxian holds his sword between his hands, in case anyone missed it, and bows. “I apologize for showing up uninvited, Sect Leader Jin,” he says. “Second Young Master Jin, I hope to clear both our names. You did not kill me. And I did not curse you.”
As he speaks, Lan Wangji casts his gaze around the room. Jiang Cheng is frowning furiously, but Lan Wangji has learned by now that this doesn’t necessarily provide any insight to his state of mind; it’s a decent cover for why he doesn’t look surprised. Nie Mingjue has leaned forward in interest, too dignified to gape. Behind him, Nie Huaisang has his fan up, unreadable -- though his eyes are bright and attentive. Lan Wangji looks past the rest of the cultivators towards his brother.
Lan Xichen’s lips are pursed, but he meets Lan Wangji’s gaze. He knows that expression: I’m glad you’re okay. I hope you know what you’re doing.
Lan Wangji nods; he knows his feelings will be imperceptible to everyone except his brother, who nods back.
Jin Guangshan narrows his eyes. “I hope you have brought proof.”
“A-Xian,” Jiang Yanli says. The warmth and relief in her voice is clearly real. “It is so good to see you alive and well. You and Zixun have both made full recoveries.” Meaning: Look how alive and well he is, despite the fact that Jin Zixun’s curse is gone.
“And Hanguang-jun,” Jin Guangshan says, ignoring her. “Are we to understand that you have been sequestered away with the Yiling Patriarch all this time?”
The use of Wei Wuxian’s title is supposed to make Lan Wangji feel ashamed; it does not. “Yes,” he replies, bowing. Shallowly. “I have assisted his recovery from Jin Zixun’s attack.”
Wei Wuxian clears his throat. It’s rare to see him caught this off-guard in public. Perhaps Lan Wangji should not have been so pointed. “It was all very -- sudden,” he agrees. He’s gritting his teeth slightly, but going along with it. “But it is true that Lan Zh -- ah, Hanguang-jun has not only saved my life, but also been generous and diligent enough to help me return to some traditional cultivation techniques.” He pats the sword on his hip.
“And why would he do that?” Jin Zixun sneers.
“You would debase yourself so?” Jin Guangshan asks gravely. “You would voluntarily cultivate beside a man who practices methods no better than Wen Ruohan’s?”
“No would,” Lan Wangji says, irritated. “Already have.”
“It’s mostly talismans, these days,” Wei Wuxian says quickly. “I haven’t bothered with corpses since the war.” Since Wen Ning, he means, but thankfully he doesn’t have enough of a death wish to say that aloud. “I actually hoped to demonstrate a few of them that could become free knowledge, as a show of good faith.”
There is a long pause. No one wants to admit it, but Wei Wuxian’s talismans tend to be irritatingly useful.
“Go on,” Jin Guangyao says finally, grudgingly, and Wei Wuxian stands.
“The first is an alarm,” he says. “If you set it up beforehand, you can trigger it in just a few seconds if there’s an emergency. It’s similar to a ward alarm, but it’s activated by a person.”
The hall is quiet, as he demonstrates its activation, with permission from Jin Guangshan. “The alarm itself can be made in the form of either light or noise,” he says. “Second Young Master Nie, perhaps you would help me demonstrate?” He holds the paper out to Nie Huaisang. “Whisper something to it. No secrets.”
Nie Huaisang leans forward and obliges. Wei Wuxian takes it back, then activates it. A moment later, Nie Huaisang’s amplified voice rings out over the hall, slightly sheepish: “I don’t understand how this works!”
This gets a few chuckles, and some of the tension leaves Wei Wuxian’s shoulders. He doesn’t often get to show off his inventions to anyone but the Wens, who are bemused by them at best, annoyed at worst.
“The second may be more useful to the people living on your land, but it can also be used while traveling,” Wei Wuxian says. “It acts as a water purifier, attracting the things in the water that are not water to it. Zewu-jun, may I borrow your tea?”
Lan Xichen hands it to him politely. Wei Wuxian walks back to the center of the room, then activates the talisman over the tea. A moment later, the bottom of the talisman is covered in bits of tea leaf, and the water, as Wei Wuxian demonstrates, tilting the cup for people to see, is clear.
He hands the cup back to Lan Xichen. “Sorry, Zewu-jun, you’ll have to steep that again. But it is still safe to drink.”
Lan Xichen sips from it, as if it wasn’t a cup that the Yiling Patriarch just handed him, and nods. Lan Wangji feels a flash of warmth towards his brother for trusting him.
“And the third,” Wei Wuxian says, drawing the last slip of paper from his robes with only the slightest dramatic flair, “allows one to track a curse back to the caster.” Lan Wangji watches Jin Zixun’s jaw clench. “We all know that residual energy can cause some splashback onto the caster, but it’s very inefficient to go around asking people to disrobe, not to mention inappropriate. Additionally, this can work after a curse has ended. That took a bit of tinkering.” He turns to Jin Guangshan. “With you and your nephew’s permission, I could demonstrate this as well.”
Jin Guangshan’s eyes flicker between him and the rest of the cultivators, who are watching raptly. “I suppose,” he says finally.
“If I refuse?” Jin Zixun sneers.
“Then you will never get revenge on the person who really cast it,” Wei Wuxian says easily.
Jin Zixun glares, but waves a hand to go ahead.
Wei Wuxian activates the talisman in Jin Zixun’s direction, who begins to glow faintly. Out of the corner of his eye, Lan Wangji notices movement. Someone in light robes is trying to slip out of the hall unnoticed. It is spectacularly unsuccessful, because they begin to glow as well, much more brightly.
“Aha,” Wei Wuxian says, and Lan Wangji can tell he’s working not to sound too smug. “We have our caster.”
“This is slander!” the man spits, turning.
“Who are you?” Wei Wuxian asks, squinting at him and deactivating the talisman.
“Su She,” Lan Xichen says, shocked.
“It’s a set up,” Su She says, pointing an imperious finger at Wei Wuxian. “He’s just trying to redirect blame from himself! That talisman could do anything.”
Wei Wuxian waves the slip of paper. “Anyone care to check? It’s not as complicated as it sounds.”
Su She draws his sword, which is a bad move in a room full of cultivators. “I don’t have to take this,” he says, and lunges for Wei Wuxian.
Wei Wuxian dodges in time, drawing his own sword -- but only to block. “Really not proving your innocence here,” he says cheerfully.
“Shut up,” Su She hisses, attacking again. Lan Wangji has a hand on Bichen, about to rise to his feet before Wei Wuxian catches his eye and shakes his head minutely. Not yet. Lan Wangji doesn’t like it. Across the room, Jiang Cheng is similarly poised, every muscle tensed like a snake about to strike. Jiang Yanli has handed Jin Ling to her husband, reaching for her own sword just in case. “What reason do I have to curse Jin Zixun?” Su She demands, attempting to slash across Wei Wuxian’s chest.
Wei Wuxian leaps back, just barely keeping his balance. “What reason do I have?” he counters, parrying the next strike. “Technically speaking, he’s my in-law.” Wei Wuxian is as skilled a swordsman as he ever was in technique, but he doesn’t have the strength right now to back up offensive attacks the way he used to. Lan Wangji can tell how tired he is after only a few exchanges, already running low after the long flight here.
“I don’t pretend to know what goes on in the Yiling Patriarch’s head,” Su She spits. He attacks again, and this time Wei Wuxian’s blade wobbles under his. Su She’s eyes narrow -- he can smell blood -- and he twists his blade, forcing Suibian to fly out of Wei Wuxian’s hands, skidding across the floor and disappearing over the top of the stairs outside. He swipes again, and Wei Wuxian has to dodge so suddenly that he falls, flat on his back on the beautiful stone floor. Su She raises his sword.
Lan Zhan is on his feet in a second. He will not allow a repeat of last time. Wei Wuxian will not be hurt in front of him again. Su She thinks, perhaps, that if he murders Wei Wuxian, that there will not be enough evidence against him to prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt. Like Jin Zixun, he thinks he can get away with killing an innocent man in broad daylight, in front of his infant nephew no less, because who would dare take the Yiling Patriarch’s side?
He is wrong. Lan Wangji steps forward, and as he does so, he feels a pull in his stomach, an exertion of spiritual energy. It is like when Wei Wuxian walks too far away, or when he was young and practiced swordplay until he could barely stand. But in this moment, he has not done anything yet.
Lan Wangji understands a second later, when Bichen flies out of his grip, just in time to let it go. It goes straight to Wei Wuxian’s hand, as if this is something they’ve practiced. As Su She brings the sword down, Wei Wuxian raises Bichen to block. The clang of metal echoes throughout the banquet hall, as Su She brings his sword down and Wei Wuxian blocks him with a sword he wasn’t carrying a moment ago.
For a second, no one moves, not even Su She. And then he’s tackled by Jiang Cheng.
Lan Wangji has never liked Wei Wuxian’s brother more than when he’s watching him pin Su She to the ground facedown, twisting both hands behind his back in a way that must be painful. Wei Wuxian clambers to his feet, holding Bichen carefully. He’s smiling at Lan Wangji, as if the eyes of the entire room aren’t on him carrying Hanguang-jun’s sword.
“Thanks,” he says. “We have to remember to pull Suibian out of the shrubbery on the way out.”
“How--” someone sputters, and the room erupts in noise. Everyone is on their feet, either trying to help Jiang Cheng or figure out what’s going on. Lan Wangji ignores it, walking over to sheath Bichen.
A clear voice calls, “A-Xian!” and Wei Wuxian straightens up eagerly, looking for the source of the voice.
“Shijie!” he cries, spotting her. From close up, Lan Wangji can tell she looks tired, but she’s still beaming at Wei Wuxian. She is wearing a Jin gold dress with a sheer purple overlay that doubtless costs more than everything the Wens have spent in the last six months.
It is unorthodox, certainly, for the wife of a future sect leader to be throwing herself into the arms of a quasi-outlaw, but then, the Jiangs have never favored strict conventions. Wei Wuxian melts into her arms, folding down around her slight frame. “A-Xian,” she whispers. “You gave your shijie a terrible, terrible fright. What would I do if you were gone?”
“I heard you defended my honor,” Wei Wuxian says admiringly. “Would you really have gone back to Yunmeng?”
“Maybe,” she says. “It was that or kill my husband’s cousin with my bare hands.”
“Shijie!” Wei Wuxian says, laughing.
“Really though,” she says. “You almost broke my heart. A-Cheng’s too.”
Wei Wuxian’s face does something strange behind his smile. “Did he cry?”
“Of course,” Jiang Yanli says. This is the sternest Lan Wangji has ever heard her sound. “Don’t tease him too much. He blamed himself.” She gives him one last pat on the cheek, as if checking that he’s still there, before turning to Lan Wangji and bowing. “Hanguang-jun. Forgive my rudeness. I understand we have you to thank for getting my brother back in time. Thank you.”
He bows back. He never spent much time with her before, but he is finding that he likes her very much. “It is my honor to help Wei Ying however I am able to,” he says, and when he comes back up she is smiling at him. She and Wei Wuxian share no blood, but Lan Wangji cannot help but notice how similar they look when they smile and mean it.
“Enough, enough!” Jin Guangshan bellows from his end of the room. Standing at his side, Jin Guangyao winces from the volume. Sitting on his other side, Jin Zixun looks murderous. “Nothing has been concluded!”
“Sect Leader Jin,” Lan Xichen says. “It seems quite clear to me that all is not as it seems. We are trying the wrong man for the wrong crime.”
“I don’t mind letting Jin Zixun off the hook for my murder,” Wei Wuxian offers. “Since I wasn’t murdered and all.”
“This needs to be an ongoing investigation,” Jiang Cheng says, brushing off his hands and standing up now that Su She has been properly restrained. “I doubt he was working alone.”
Jin Guangshan begins to splutter, going red. “This is the first I’ve heard of any of this!”
Nie Mingjue grunts. “Concerning,” he says. “That this could be going on under your roof without your knowledge.”
Lan Wangji realizes in this moment why his brother finds Nie Mingjue’s bluntness so refreshing. With the focus pulled from him, Wei Wuxian tucks his hand into Lan Wangji’s elbow.
“But the Stygian--” Jin Guangshan begins.
Jin Zixuan stands up. He’s holding Jin Ling, and he looks exhausted, but more like a sect leader than Lan Wangji has ever seen him. “Father,” he says. “I think that’s enough for today.” He turns directly to Wei Wuxian and bows. “I apologize for my cousin’s unprovoked attack,” he says. “It is clear to me that we have much to answer for. Will you grant us forgiveness?”
Wei Wuxian bows back. “I only have one condition,” he says. “Please allow the Burial Mounds and the remaining Wens there to exist undisturbed. None of the people there raised a hand against us in the Sunshot Campaign, and some of them actively aided our side when possible. I believe they have earned the right to live in peace.”
Jin Zixuan nods. “I will do what I can,” he says. It’s not quite a promise, but Lan Wangji knows Jiang Yanli will hold him to it. In his arms, Jin Ling begins to fuss, and Jin Zixuan looks back up at the crowd. “I believe we should retire for today.”
Lan Wangji lets out a breath as the cultivators begin to slowly disperse, some shocked, others insisting they suspected all along. Wei Wuxian takes sister’s hand and tugs. “The baby,” he says. “I need to meet the baby.”
Jin Zixuan is having a very terse conversation with his father, barely interrupted by Jiang Yanli going over to retrieve Jin Ling. makes her way over to her husband and takes Jin Ling. He’s deep in a terse conversation with his father, but he spares a moment to smile at her. She returns with a bundle of cloth that is, of course, gold, and lets Wei Wuxian coo over him.
“I suppose you’ll be returning to Yiling after this,” she says, returning with a bundle of cloth that is, of course, gold. , watching him gently poke Jin Ling’s cheek, only a tinge of melancholy in her tone.
“I think we’d better spread the good news,” Wei Wuxian agrees. “But maybe…”
“I’ll come visit,” she promises, then looks between him and Jin Ling. “Would you like to hold him?”
“Is that even a question?” Wei Wuxian says, but as soon as she holds him out, he hesitates. “He’s so small,” he says. “Way smaller than our A-Yuan. What if I drop him?”
“You have to support his neck,” Jiang Yanli says, showing him how before she hands him over. Wei Wuxian takes him carefully, reverently.
“He’s perfect, Shijie,” he says, then, to Jin Ling. “Ah, I’m sorry I was so late, Young Master Jin. Please forgive this humble uncle.”
Jiang Yanli leans over to Lan Wangji. “Who is A-Yuan?” she asks.
“He is the last Wen child,” he tells her quietly. “He is three.”
He thinks he manages to say it impassively, but Jiang Yanli’s eyes soften in understanding. “I see,” she says.
Lan Wangji is about to try to ask tactfully what it is that she sees when Jiang Cheng bounds up, having handed Su She off to a handful of guards. “You have to support his neck,” he says.
“I am!” Wei Wuxian says, but he lets Jiang Cheng adjust his arms a little. When Lan Wangji looks at Jiang Yanli, she’s beaming, with just a hint of tears in her eyes.
Lan Wangji turns away to give them a little privacy as a family, catching sight of his own brother.
“Wangji,” Lan Xichen says, pushing through the crowd to clasp Lan Wangji’s shoulder. “I am so glad you are well. I assumed you stayed in Yiling when you didn’t come back to Gusu, but I still worried.”
“Apologies, brother,” Lan Wangji says. “I should have sent word.”
Lan Xichen waves him off. “No matter now,” he says. “Wangji… what happened?”
“We are cultivation partners,” Lan Wangji says. He doesn’t plan to say it, but he doesn’t lie to his brother and, well. Isn’t it the truth? In the corner of his eye, he sees Wei Wuxian’s head jerk up.
“I see,” Lan Xichen says, although that doesn’t quite answer the question of how Wei Wuxian could wield Bichen like his own. Instead of pressing further, he just says, “You’re not coming back to Gusu, are you.”
It’s not really a question; Lan Xichen knows him too well. “Perhaps to visit,” he says.
“Ah,” Lan Xichen says. To anyone else, it would sound cordial; Lan Wangji can hear the melancholy underneath. He takes a deep breath. “Maybe I will come by and visit you in Yiling,” he says.
“Please do,” Lan Wangji says. “We have much to talk about.”
“We do,” Lan Xichen agrees, eyes dropping to Bichen momentarily. “But not here.”
“No,” Lan Wangji says. “Not here.” He will tell his brother everything -- well, almost everything -- later. He hopes Wei Wuxian will eventually be able to tell his siblings everything as well.
“But you are safe?” Lan Xichen asks.
“Mostly,” Lan Wangji says.
“And happy?” he ventures.
Lan Wangji thinks of Wei Wuxian’s messy hair in the mornings, of the feeling of dirt between his fingers, A-Yuan’s sleeping weight in his arms, Wen Qing’s grudging respect, Wen Ning’s small smiles, his silent companionship with Granny Wen in the kitchen. He would not have known how to articulate those as part of a future he wanted until he had them.
“Very,” he admits.
Lan Xichen exhales on a smile. “Then I will be happy for you,” he decides.
Before they leave, they fetch Suibian, which clattered down nearly half the flight of stairs. A handful of people tap Wei Wuxian on the shoulder, but they’re requesting copies of the talismans he demonstrated, not demanding to know the secrets of demonic cultivation. Lan Wangji tries to be patient throughout these encounters, but by the time Wei Wuxian sends the last one off, he is thoroughly ready to leave. He has always had trouble articulating his feelings -- it’s why Lan Xichen’s ability to read him so easily is useful -- but he doesn’t have to, because Wei Wuxian takes one look at him and laughs.
“Having fun?” he jokes.
“Mm,” Lan Wangji says.
“I’m just kidding. We can go right now if you want. Let me just say goodbye,” Wei Wuxian says. He turns back to find and hug his sister.
Jiang Cheng sidles up beside him. “Thanks for saving him,” he says. “Guess I forgot to say that last time.”
“No trouble,” Lan Wangji says. Then, because he is making an effort, he adds, “Nice tackle.”
“Thanks,” Jiang Cheng says.
There is a long, awkward silence until Wei Wuxian comes bounding back.
“Let’s get out of here,” he says, wrapping an arm around Lan Wangji. Lan Wangji draws Bichen again. It will be a tiring trip, but he wants to go back to Yiling with a strength that surprises him. Wei Wuxian steps on behind him. “Goodbye, Jiang Cheng! Send me more letters, I miss you.”
“You’re so fucking weird,” Jiang Cheng says. “Next time I come to Yiling, you’re explaining everything. Don’t die.”
“I’ll do my best!” Wei Wuxian tells him as they take off.
Without Jiang Cheng’s eyes on them, Wei Wuxian relaxes fully against Lan Wangji’s shoulder. The evening is cool but not cold. They have to switch off more often this time, shifting control of Bichen between them every twenty minutes, taking it up seamlessly when one grows tired. By the end of the journey, handing over control feels so natural that they can do it wordlessly.
They make it back to the Burial Mounds just as the sun is setting, both drained nearly dry of spiritual energy. Wei Wuxian has just enough time to say, “I’m so tired, let’s go to--” before A-Yuan comes running from the cave. Wei Wuxian catches him deftly, swinging him up into a hug. “Ah, did you miss us?”
“Yes!” A-Yuan says. “You said you would play dragons when you came back.”
Wei Wuxian scrunches up his face. “Did I say that?”
A-Yuan nods seriously.
“Tomorrow?” Wei Wuxian tries. “Your Qing-jie is going to be really proud of me for actually trying to get some sleep.” He spots her leaning in the entrance to the cave. “Wen Qing! The Jin aren’t going to come after us so much anymore.”
“You didn’t kill them all, did you?” she asks.
“Nah,” he says. “Played nice. It’s very tiring, did you know?”
A-Yuan casts a hopeful glance at Lan Wangji. “Dragons?” he asks.
“Just a little,” Lan Wangji agrees. He turns around to let A-Yuan climb onto his back. A-Yuan takes hold of the ends of the ribbon again, and Lan Wangji doesn’t stop him. They fly once around the fields, just a few minutes, just a foot above the ground, but A-Yuan shrieks in delight. Lan Wangji is thankful that this is enough to amuse him; he’s not sure he could manage anything more right now.
“I’ll take him back,” Wen Qing says when they land. “Bathtime. Say goodnight?”
“Goodnight dragon,” A-Yuan says, kissing Lan Wangji clumsily on his cheek and letting go of his ribbon. “Goodnight, Xian-gege.”
As they stumble back to their rooms, Wei Wuxian smiles at Lan Wangji sleepily, leaning into his side. “Sorry he was pulling on your ribbon,” he says, pulling off his shoes. “I should have noticed sooner.”
“I do not mind, if it is A-Yuan,” Lan Wangji says honestly.
“I thought no one could touch it,” Wei Wuxian says, tilting his head.
“No one except parents, partners, siblings, and children,” Lan Wangji says.
There is a soft, selfish little place in his heart that very much likes when he is able to surprise Wei Wuxian, and it nearly bursts when Wei Wuxian’s mouth opens.
“Well,” he says quietly. “He’s not your parent. Or your partner.”
“Mm,” Lan Wangji agrees. “Not my sibling either.”
“Oh, Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian says, and he puts his arms around Lan Wangji’s shoulders to hide his face in his neck. “Ah,” he says. “It’s unfair, you know. You’re too good. My Lan Zhan.” Lan Wangji puts his hand on his back and lets him cling until he can show his face again. When he lets go, wiping surreptitiously at his cheeks, Lan Wangji reaches up and undoes the ribbon’s knot fully. It takes a little longer than usual because A-Yuan was pulling at it, and Wei Wuxian watches him, slightly baffled, as he finally gets it untied.
He doesn’t look any less confused when Lan Wangji ties it neatly around his wrist. He looks at it, than at Lan Wangji’s face, then down at the ribbon.
“I have a stupid question,” Wei Wuxian says. “Are we… actually cultivation partners? Or did you just say that so your brother wouldn’t ask why you have to stay in Yiling?”
“Are we not?” Lan Wangji says.
Wei Wuxian turns his head slowly. “Do you want that?”
“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji says.
He cracks a smile, but there’s still something nervous underneath. “I said it was stupid,” he says. “I just needed to be sure.”
“Do you want that?” Lan Wangji asks, because it’s important.
Wei Wuxian swallows. “More than -- anything,” he admits. “And not just because we share a core. I think I’ve wanted it ever since we met Xiao Xingchen and Song Lan all those years ago. Even if I didn’t know what I was wanting.”
“Then yes,” Lan Wangji says.
“You say it like it’s so easy,” Wei Wuxian says, leaning forward, but seemingly not to kiss him. He runs his fingers over Lan Wangji’s brow, then down his nose, traces the curve of his upper lip. Lan Wangji lets him. His face is thoughtful but distant, like when he’s making a new talisman. “It’s strange. You were so untouchable when we were young.” They’re still only twenty-two, but Lan Wangji does not interrupt. He too felt older after the war. “And here I am, touching you, and you let me, and you like it.”
“Mm,” Lan Wangji agrees.
Wei Wuxian shucks off his outer robe and presses forward to clamber into his lap. He’s all knees and elbows, so it’s a little awkward, but Lan Wangji doesn’t mind because he’s closer. “I want to be your cultivation partner,” he says. “I want to make the Burial Mounds into something other than the Burial Mounds. We should pick a new name, by the way, I’ve been brainstorming. Growing food was easier this year than last year, and next year should be easier than this. I think I’ve almost persuaded Wen Qing on the potato front. And this could be, like… a real place. Not just somewhere to run away to. Somewhere A-Yuan can grow up.”
“Yes,” Lan Wangji says. “Yes.”
“Yes?” Wei Wuxian says, eyes crinkling as he smiles.
“Yes.” Lan Wangji wraps his arms around Wei Wuxian and pulls the both of them backwards onto the bed. “But for now, bed.” He extinguishes the candles with the flick of his hand and his very last trace of spiritual energy for the day.
“You’re so smart, Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian says. “I have the smartest cultivation partner in the world…” It trails off into a yawn. Lan Wangji pulls the covers over both of them.
Lan Wangji thinks about the way that the Burial Mounds were in Wei Wuxian’s dream. Uncontrolled, overwhelming. Resentment soaking into the very ground. He listens to the night air now; there are late summer frogs chirping in the grass, a handful of birds, the gentle whisper of wind in the grass. A living place. Beside him, Wei Wuxian’s breathing evens out into sleep. His hand is tucked against Lan Wangji’s waist. It’s warm.