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The first time Xue Yang comes back – the first time he remembers coming back – he is a cat.

He is born with his eyes closed, and that seems somehow appropriate; he is one of three kittens in the litter, all three striped in shades of orange, dark-and-light, with not a trace of black or white anywhere. That seems appropriate, too, when he remembers his past self enough to think such things. Cats, he discovers, know sarcasm intimately, but lack any awareness of irony. He spends his early days warm and safe and sated, curled against his siblings and his mother’s belly.

It’s a good life. He plays with his littermates. His mother feeds him, grooms him, teaches him to kill with claws and teeth. He eats mice and insects with relish, as if they were a grand feast; he plays and fights and play-fights with the other cats living in the alleys. He spends his first winter hidden beneath a building, curled up with his siblings, and in the spring they go their separate ways to hunt and fight and mate.

In summer, Xue Yang is crushed and killed by a cart as it crosses the road.

He has enough time to think that this, too, seems strangely appropriate before he’s thrown once more onto the wheel.

The first time Xiao Xingchen comes back – the first time he remembers coming back – he is a shark.

Awareness takes time to come. The past and future are the same to a shark; that is, they are irrelevant. He was born whole and hungry, and he fled his mother at once, with the instinctive knowledge that all things larger than him are predator , and all things smaller than him are prey, and it does not matter at all that she had borne him inside her body for almost a year.

At birth he is already the length of two jian held hilt-to-hilt, and so there are a great many things that are prey. The ocean is strange and vast, however, and there is endless room for strange, vast things to bloom there, and so there are a great many things that consider him prey in their turn.

He is different, though. He has more than the ordinary age-old perfect clarity he was born with in this life. He has whatever he can keep of his human life, his knowledge, his cunning air-breather ways, for what little they are worth. The shark’s mind is pure in a way that makes awareness hurt, too tightly constrained for the size of human thoughts, but it serves. He avoids the nets of humans fishing, the teeth of black-and-white whales that hunt like wolves, the battles for dominance between the older and larger of his own kind.

A shark’s eyes are not the same as a human’s; the colours are strange, painted by the ocean, and light and shadow are far more important than he ever found them before. More than that, though, he has a sense he does not know the name for, something like scent and touch but not like either. Though the ocean is vast, he knows he is never alone in it; there is always, always the awareness of life, singing in his skin, vibrating through the passages of his snout, his teeth. 

Xiao Xingchen lives a long, long life, swimming endlessly. He sees more of the world than he ever knew existed. He sees things no human eye can perceive. He eats when he is hungry. He breeds, if he encounters another shark at the appropriate time. Once, he swims a little too close to a boat, the human sense of danger and curiosity too closely intertwined to allow the shark to care, and a harpoon strikes his pectoral fin. Xingchen thinks the man who threw it must have been a cultivator, by the power of the throw, and by how close they are to the coast of Gusu. 

Though it tears free of his flesh as he flees to the safety of darker waters, the fin heals with a chunk missing from the edge, something which the shark forgets at once – it does not interfere with swimming, and once the bleeding has stopped it may as well never have happened – and which the Xingchen finds funny for a reason he can’t quite recall. The past does not dwell here.

Seasons and years do not mean much here; his human-mind does not keep the count. He doubles, triples, quadruples in length, fed by the life that the ocean brings to him. He grows into a mighty beast, well-fed, battle-scarred. He is not killed; it simply comes to pass that, over time, his senses fail. The song of life which has prickled across his snout from his earliest moments begins to fade, and for the first time in his long, solitary life, the ocean feels lonely. Empty.

He swims to the deepest, darkest waters he can reach, and allows himself, at last, to stop. He sinks. The human mind is afraid; the shark mind, as it has always been, is clear. As the ocean has fed him, so he will feed it, passing the life in his flesh to a thousand thousand creatures. He is not quite dead when he lands on his flank on the coarse sand, in deeper reaches than he has ever travelled, but laying still is enough to release him at last.

The first time Xue Yang comes back – the first time he remembers coming back – he is a songbird.

He hatches in an aviary, and is raised there until he learns to sing; then he is placed in a far smaller cage and brought before a man who sits in a grey hall. The man is immaculately groomed, and his face looks far younger than he must be in truth. Xue Yang had already discovered that in this body he can see a colour he had never known before, something like purple and metal and light all mixed together, but now he discovers that he can see spiritual energy, too, a pale copy of that same colour. This man wears it like a cloak. He accepts the cage from his assistant and lifts it to his face, studying Xue Yang with a cold curiosity that makes Xue Yang’s feathers bristle.

“Interesting,” the man says. “Not quite what we wanted, but very close. It’s hard to tell, of course, whether it’s merely a matter of timing.”

He smiles at Xue Yang, and instinctive terror makes Xue Yang whistle and flutter with alarm, the instinctive response to a bird of anything so large baring their teeth.

“Take him back to the aviary,” the man says, and hands the cage back to his assistant, who accepts it with a bow. The man leans back and picks up a fan, tapping the tip thoughtfully against his chin. “It shouldn’t be hard to tweak things. We’ll get the true gold soon enough.”

“Yes, Nie-zongzhu,” says the assistant, and carries Xue Yang away.

Xue Yang lives a short, pleasant life as a spoiled bird in an aviary in the center of an array, papered with talismans. Every so often he is taken out in a smaller cage, to amuse Nie Huaisang and his guests with his songs. He is never quite sure if Nie Huaisang knows who he is; he is never quite sure if Nie Huaisang finds whatever he’s looking for. It is hard to be concerned, when he is a songbird; hard to focus for more than a moment on any one thing, instead of darting to and fro as the situation demands. One unusually cold winter, some kind of lung sickness gets into the aviary and wipes out half the flock, including Xue Yang.

The first time Xiao Xingchen comes back – the first time he remembers coming back – he is a rabbit.

He is warm for a time, in the nest with his mother and the blanket of his siblings, but rabbits tell stories to each other, in a way that it takes him a long time to recognise as a story; never once does Xiao Xingchen feel safe, not even here, not when the world is full of creatures such as weasels that could come snaking down and snatch him away. He is not afraid, not exactly, but nor is he at peace. The shadow of death walks beside them always; it is almost comforting, to have it so close.

No weasels come; he survives, grows, until he is old enough to leave the warren. He never sees the bird that swoops down from the sky and carries him away. His heart gives out from the shock before he can be eaten; that, at least, is a relief.

The first time Xue Yang comes back – the first time he remembers coming back – he is a wolf.

He is sure, as a pup, that this will be the life for him; perhaps, even, the form he was meant for. He will grow until he is large enough and then he will leave the pack, roam as a lone wolf, kill whoever he pleases.

But the wolf doesn’t want to leave the pack. Eons of tradition or instinct or something scream at him whenever he so much as thinks of it. And when Xue Yang does finally break away, one day, while the pack is sleeping, he discovers soon enough why. The world is cold, and cruel, and the energy he spends chasing down a single rodent isn’t worth the meal. He slinks back, tail quite literally between his legs, and joins the pack in bringing down a deer that feeds them all for days.

They are a long way from human settlements, but sometimes cultivators come through; Xue Yang makes a point of following them, hidden in the trees, mouth open in a panting grin as they fail, time after time, to spot him. They are too focused on supernatural threats to see the much closer danger. Nothing has changed.

Changed from what, though? It can be hard to remember. The wolf turns its nose up at memories; in its mind, if Xue Yang was not pack, he should be dead, and it is a failure on the part of everyone who ever met him that neither came to pass until the end. There’s no room in the wolf for indecision.

The only time Xue Yang is ever seen by human eyes, he has last year’s pups with him, now old enough to learn to hunt. He brings them with him to stalk cultivators, creeping through the undergrowth, low to the ground.

He knows – he knows – he is silent in his tracks; he knows the pups were not silent, but certainly not able to be heard by human ears. It must, therefore, be some trick of spiritual energy that makes the cultivator stop in his tracks and look directly at Xue Yang.

Xue Yang freezes, fur bristling. The cultivator takes a step towards him, and Xue Yang growls, putting his body between the cultivator and the pups. The wolf will run, by preference, but Xue Yang will kill , and leave enough of a mess to blame on some other creature.

The cultivator stops, and kneels down right there on the narrow forest path. He extends a hand, low and flat, palm facing down, the way Xue Yang might’ve offered his hand to a strange dog to sniff. Xue Yang hesitates, and creeps forward on his belly, teeth still bared. The cultivator is unnaturally still – the result of all that meditation, maybe – and he doesn’t smell like much of anything. A faint hint of soap, and the plants he has brushed against. Sword oil. His own human-smell is far fainter than it ought to be, as though the cultivator hasn’t been sweating or panting or doing anything at all.

Xue Yang growls, and the cultivator does not flinch. Xue Yang creeps forward a little further, sniffing wildly, and allows the tip of his nose to brush the cultivator’s fingers.

The cultivator smiles.

Xue Yang spins and bolts away, the pups following, running back to the safety of the pack. He’s never quite sure why the encounter unsettled him so badly.

Many seasons later, Xue Yang is kicked by a deer as the pack brings it down, and his right foreleg is badly broken. It never heals well, and he is never able to hunt the way he once did. He still lives a long time, the pack bringing him meat, keeping him company. He watches over the pups as they grow, generation after generation.

He dies when a human hunter comes across the pack and panics; Xue Yang, with his crooked leg, is the only one still in range when the arrow flies.

The first time Xiao Xingchen comes back – the first time he remembers coming back – he is a horse.

He stumbles through life at his mother’s side, as she warily allows the humans who care for them to come close, and eventually even to touch him. He learns to tolerate the feeling of rope and fabric against his skin, to follow a lead. It is not unfamiliar to him, to be led. It is not even unfamiliar to serve; there is something almost peaceful in it, trusting in another to make his decisions. He thinks, from the way the human speaks of him, he has developed a reputation of uncommon placidity for a horse, or at least for this type of horse, but the language is not familiar to him, or perhaps the horse cannot distinguish the sounds clearly.

When he is old enough, Xiao Xingchen is taught to wear a harness and pull a carriage. It is not work he would have chosen for himself, but it is worthy all the same; he carries himself with pride. He is paired with another horse, the same colour as him, dark red with a mane and tail like flax, and they are sold as a matched set to a wealthy household that only rarely travels by carriage at all. Xiao Xingchen learns to carry a rider on his back, and if his mouth is often sore, it is only the inexperience of the young man on his back.

As young men often are, Xiao Xingchen’s rider is reckless; both the horse and Xiao Xingchen himself do their best to avoid the many dangers of the terrain, but his rider is impatient, and whips him until he gallops forward. There is a horrible lurch and the world turns around him, and blinding pain in his foreleg, and then Xiao Xingchen is on the ground, screaming, leg twisted and hoof still caught in the pothole that had tripped him. His rider is trapped under Xiao Xingcheng’s side.

Someone must hear the screaming, either of Xiao Xingchen or his rider. They slit Xiao Xingchen’s throat.

The first time Xue Yang comes back – the first time he remembers coming back – he is a human.

He doesn’t know he’s come back until he’s at work one day, making coffee for his friend, and his tongue slips. Shapes a word he’s never said before. Daozhang.

Xiao Xingchen freezes, and the mug Song Lan is holding cracks in his hand, and Xue Yang runs.

It doesn’t really come back until he’s pressed against the wall in the alley behind the building, shielded by the dumpsters, and Song Lan comes for him – grabs him – and there’s nothing Xue Yang can do, nothing he was ever going to be able to do, not against Song Lan’s unnatural strength, and – and -

He remembers. He remembers. And Song Lan won’t let go of him.

The anger has nowhere to go but out, accusations that only ring true after he’s already said them – you knew, you knew from the start – and Song Lan won’t let go , and – did you think this was fun? – Xue Yang reaches for a sword he hasn’t carried in centuries, in millennia, and this is his enemy and his friend and – he wants to laugh, he wants to – he once caught Song Lan wearing Xiao Xingchen’s glasses and crying, and now he realises that would be because – they have – the same – prescription—

Sorry , Song Lan signs. I had to.

The fight gushes out of Xue Yang like blood from a severed limb. He lets his head fall back. Bares his throat. Waits to see what Song Lan is going to do.

The first time Xiao Xingchen comes back – the first time he remembers coming back – he is a human.

His friends have been acting strangely for weeks and he isn’t sure if it’s because they’re screwing, or because they want to screw him, or because Song Lan is sick and no one wants to talk about it. But tonight – it’s a good night. Xue Yang commandeers the kitchen, shouting commentary over his shoulder as Xingchen and Song Lan trade stories. They relax around the table, eating and talking. Xingchen can’t even complain about Xue Yang spraying him with wine, takes advantage of it to tease them both, peeling off his shirt.

Then he finds the swords in Song Lan’s closet, dark and light, leaning against each other. A matched set, he thinks, and maybe Song Lan confirms, but Xingchen can’t tear his eyes away from them. The pale one that fits so well in his hand, that feels like it belongs to him, and then the other one, the one he knows. The one that, when he draws it, spells out its own name. His fingers walk over the characters as though they don’t belong to him, as though someone else has his body. Fuxue

His throat is numb. 

They unwind and come back together again, like strands of hemp twisted into rope. They talk – Xue Yang is so fucking sick of talking – and they treat each other with something approaching care. And they fuck about it. It seems inevitable, after not one but two lifetimes of pent-up frustration. 

Xue Yang fucks Song Lan. Xue Yang fucks Xiao Xingchen. He’s pretty sure Song Lan and Xiao Xingchen fuck, at some point. The three of them fucking all at the same time seems like the logical next step, but for some reason none of them are taking it, and – well. Xue Yang has never been the patient kind.

It’s Meng Yao who gives him the answer, which, infuriatingly, makes sense. Meng Yao has always been canny, even if this version of Meng Yao doesn’t remember a damn thing. Xue Yang lets it play out at Song Lan’s house; he cooks dinner, bullies Xingchen into drinking more wine than he should, and bullies the three of them into Song Lan’s bed, fully clothed . Not for sex, as he insists to Xingchen, even as Song Lan is rolling his eyes and pulling out pyjamas for them to borrow. Just to sleep. Neither of them are in any shape to get home.

Sleep comes easy, which is a surprise, but when Xue Yang wakes up warm and aching, which is not, he finds his face mashed into Song Lan’s back, fingers clenched tight in the soft cotton of Song Lan’s shirt. Compared to Xue Yang’s living damp heat, Song Lan is a cool relief, and Xue Yang can’t help but press closer, his hips curling forward. It’s dark, the kind of dark that only comes after midnight, and the world is so still and so quiet Xue Yang thinks he could make anything happen, like this silence and stillness has turned the world into a blank canvas, like he could rewrite any destiny he pleased against it.

Destiny feels a long way off, though, with Song Lan in front of him, and Xiao Xingchen on Song Lan’s other side. Xue Yang makes a sleepy noise and presses closer, slides one of his hands down to wrap around Song Lan’s waist. He pushes the tops of his thighs into the backs of Song Lan’s, and his hips twitch against Song Lan’s ass. He realises, in a distant sort of way, that he’s hard – maybe has been for a while, maybe was dreaming of something he can’t remember, something that feels as far away as the rest of the things that worry him when the light can see.

Song Lan moves, just a little, one of his big square palms coming up to cover Xue Yang’s hand where it rests on his waist, tangling their fingers together. Xue Yang hums and noses against Song Lan’s spine, allows himself to squeeze Song Lan’s fingers. He shifts his weight, lets his erection grind against Song Lan properly, little trickles of warmth bleeding upwards through his veins, into his belly.

Xingchen snuffles in his sleep and turns onto his back, long strands of his hair covering his face, clinging. Xue Yang props his chin on Song Lan’s side and looks at him, blinking sleepily. Song Lan takes advantage of the newly-freed space to roll and face Xue Yang. His knee nudges against Xue Yang’s, and Xue Yang’s legs fall open with no effort at all, letting Song Lan’s thigh push up against him. Song Lan settles Xue Yang on his back, moving slow and gentle, all that strength restrained, turned soft by the darkness and the sleep still clinging to them both like a shroud.

“Want you,” Xue Yang mumbles, tugging at Song Lan’s shirt. One of his hands is still clutching a fistful of soft cotton, as though it’s all that’s keeping him tethered, but now with Song Lan over him, above him, the smell of Song Lan filling his lungs with every breath, Xue Yang uncurls his fingers one by one and tugs at the hem instead. Song Lan laughs silently and makes a sign Xue Yang can’t quite place – it looks like brat , but over the heart instead of out to the side, and then Song Lan is taking his shirt off and Xue Yang has better things to do.

He tugs Song Lan down on top of him and strokes his back, feeling the old not-quite-scar from their first lifetimes, or at least the first ones they remember. There’s something, Xue Yang thinks, that he had wanted, but now it’s slipped away from him, if it was ever there at all. He can’t think of anything that would please him more than laying here, Song Lan pressing him down into the mattress, Xiao Xingchen alive and at peace beside them, the steady sound of his breathing in the dark.

Then Song Lan’s thigh shifts just a little, pressing up against Xue Yang’s balls, and he remembers all in a rush.

“Fuck you, Song Lan,” he says, but softly, softly, unwilling to fracture or disturb the softness around them, afraid that if he lets this moment slip away he’ll lose something forever, and Song Lan kisses him quiet, mouth moving sweet and gentle over Xue Yang’s. It reminds Xue Yang, perversely, of sleeping in an empty coffin; not caged, but held, safe, protected from the outside, somewhere he could be at peace. Except he didn’t have anyone to help him with his hard-ons in the coffin house, for all he might have wanted it, for all that Xingchen, as it turns out, had wanted the same thing—

Song Lan’s thigh pulls away and Xue Yang has to bite his own lip before a sound can escape. Hips hips twitch up towards Song Lan, chasing the sensation, and then Song Lan is peeling Xue Yang out of his borrowed pyjamas, tossing them to the floor beside the bed without a care, and Xue Yang thought his eyes were adjusting to the darkness but maybe it’s lighter in here, maybe Song Lan and Xiao Xingchen have some kind of radiation that chases shadow away, because he swears he can see more of Song Lan’s face than he could before.

“Quiet,” Song Lan signs. “If you wake Xingchen, I’ll stop.”

Xue Yang nods frantically, reaching for Song Lan, tangling his fingers in the thick mane of Song Lan’s hair, stroking the familiar contours of Song Lan’s skull as Song Lan kisses his way down Xue Yang’s belly. Xue Yang is hard but not hard-hard, still a little blurred at the edges by sleep; that changes quickly enough when Song Lan nudges his thighs apart and presses a sucking kiss to Xue Yang’s perineum while his rough, dry fingers trace the edges of Xue Yang’s asshole, teasing.

Xue Yang can’t speak, but he knows where Song Lan keeps the lube, and he can untangle one hand and reach for it, patting blindly at the bedside table in the dark, trying not to knock over anything that might clatter, until he can find the handle on the drawer, and then find the little bottle he’s looking for. Song Lan reaches up to him wordlessly, without taking his mouth away from the stretched and shivering span of skin between Xue Yang’s balls and his hole, and Xue Yang presses it into his hand. A moment later, instead of dry fingers, slick ones are pushing in, and Xue Yang arches back on the bed and bites down on his own fist. The lube is cold and Song Lan’s fingers do nothing to warm it, and neither do Song Lan’s lips as he mouths around them, between them, and that’s so goddamn dirty Xue Yang could almost come right then.

“Zichen,” Xingchen mumbles from beside them, and Xue Yang freezes, but Xingchen is just rolling over in his sleep again, one arm flung out across the span of bed beside them. Song Lan doesn’t seem to worry at all, just keeps on working Xue Yang open, and Xue Yang, in a moment of irritated bravado, reaches across the bed and tangles his fingers with Xingchen’s, squeezing gently. Xingchen doesn’t wake; if anything, he seems more deeply asleep, his face going slack and a deep sigh rushing out of him, hand squeezing back against Xue Yang’s.

Xue Yang tries not to pant, tries not to make any show at all of how fucking good it feels as Song Lan opens him up, tries to be considerate – daozhang needs his sleep, after all – but the warmth pooling in his belly and at the base of his spine says tells him he might not be able to keep it up much longer. He focuses on Xingchen’s face instead, his mess of hair, the way his lashes cast long shadows over his cheekbones.

Song Lan pulls away at last, shoves his own pants off his hips and kicks them carelessly off the bed. Xue Yang looks at him, breathing deep, his whole body at an angle, stretching from Xingchen to Song Lan; he wants, he wants, he wants. 

“Mm,” Xingchen says. “Having fun?” 

“Oh thank fuck ,” Xue Yang says, and clutches Xingchen’s hand tight. “Please, daozhang, please, come here—”

“You woke him,” Song Lan signs. 

“He woke himself!” Xue Yang whines back, digging his heels into the small of Song Lan’s back. 

Xingchen laughs and crawls closer, not letting go of Xue Yang’s hand. “I did,” he says, and kisses Xue Yang’s forehead, feather-light. “Don’t punish him for my mistakes.” 

Song Lan gives them both a massive, put-upon sigh, and lifts Xue Yang’s legs up to rest on his shoulders. Xue Yang flushes all over, embarrassed in a way that feels foreign. Xingchen is watching, eyes wide, lips parted, watching as Song Lan exposes Xue Yang’s vulnerable places, watching as Song Lan’s heavy cock slides into Xue Yang’s body. 

“Oh,” Xingchen breathes. “Beautiful.” 

“He is,” Song Lan signs, and Xue Yang squeezes his eyes shut, turning his face to press against Xingchen’s thigh in protest. 

“Are you embarrassed, Xue Yang?” Xingchen runs his fingers through Xue Yang’s hair, snagging on the tangles and pulling through anyway. The prickles of pain along Xue Yang’s scalp only seem to intensify the sensation of being split open by Song Lan, and he groans long and loud against Xingchen’s thigh. 

“May I?” Xingchen asks. Xue Yang isn’t sure what he’s asking for, exactly, but he nods wildly, mouth still open, leaving wet smears on Xingchen’s thin linen pants. Xingchen moves away, but his hand is still tangled with Xue Yang’s, keeping him there, keeping him safe. 

Song Lan isn’t moving yet, just staying inside Xue Yang, one hand resting on Xue Yang’s belly. Xue Yang grunts and tries to kick or squeeze or do something to make him move, but Song Lan just snorts and ignores him. 

“Patience,” he signs. “You’ll get what you want.” 

“Here,” Xingchen says, and then he’s coming back, naked, his shirt dangling from his wrist – he has to switch the hand holding Xue Yang’s to get it off – and then he’s kneeling above Xue Yang’s head. “Here, good boy. Open your mouth for me.” 

Xue Yang feels, vaguely, that he should be protesting, should be trying to rearrange himself, but Song Lan takes that moment to rock his hips, just a little, a slow grind against Xue Yang’s insides that feels impossibly good, and when Xue Yang opens his mouth to moan Xingchen slides his cock in, smooth and easy, like Xue Yang was made for this. All Xue Yang can do is tighten his grip on Xingchen’s hand, tilt his head back and open his throat. 

“That’s it,” Xingchen says. His free hand cradles Xue Yang’s face, rubbing little circles back and forth over the cheekbone. “You started without me.” 

Song Lan must sign something – Xue Yang can’t see, his vision is nothing but Xingchen’s thighs and the mattress beneath them – because Xingchen laughs, hard enough that Xue Yang can feel it vibrating all the way down to his cock. 

“That’s very considerate, Zichen,” Xingchen says, sweet, gentle, “but next time, you should wake me.” 

They take a while to find the rhythm between them. Xingchen rocks in and out of Xue Yang’s throat, sharp and precise, while Song Lan fucks him with steady deep strokes that make Xue Yang want to thrash and claw himself open. Xue Yang is nothing but a single nerve strung between them, plucked over and over until he’s raw, dissected, pinned out on display, and he can’t take it, he can’t, except that he does, and keeps taking it until Song Lan buries himself deep in Xue Yang’s body and comes, hips slamming forward so hard it feels like Xue Yang’s bones might bruise. 

As soon as Song Lan pulls away, so does Xingchen, and Xue Yang whimpers, clutching frantically at Xingchen’s hand. 

“Shh, I’m right here.” Xingchen strokes Xue Yang’s open mouth with his free hand, two fingers dipping in and petting idly at the slick skin inside his cheeks. “Song Lan, will you hold him?” 

There’s a moment of transition, the three of them tangling and untangling as they rearrange themselves, and then Xue Yang is facing Song Lan, pressed against his chest, held close; Xingchen releases Xue Yang’s hand only for a moment, as he presses up on Song Lan’s other side, and then there are a series of slick sounds and Song Lan’s head tips forward, his arms squeezing even tighter around Xue Yang’s torso. Xue Yang tilts his head up, seeking a kiss; he finds one, licking his way into Song Lan’s mouth, feeling where the ragged edges of his torn-out tongue have long since become smooth almost-scars, where a different Xue Yang marked him forever. 

“Song Lan,” he murmurs, and then Song Lan cries out, wordless, as Xingchen pushes into him.

Xingchen reaches across Song Lan’s body and finds Xue Yang’s hand again, grips tight. Xue Yang flexes his arm and lets Xingchen use him as leverage to fuck deeper into Song Lan’s body. Song Lan is shaking, panting, overwhelmed, and Xue Yang laughs in a way that’s not entirely unsympathetic. 

“Here,” he croons, half-taunting, “here, I have you,” and kisses Song Lan again, biting his lower lip and tugging, drawing Song Lan into him, swallowing down his gasps and moans in greedy gulps. 

Xingchen is ruthless with Song Lan, finding the angle that makes him jolt and cry out and then hitting it again and again, while Song Lang’s cock harders against Xue Yang’s thigh again, and Xue Yang in turn runs his fingers through the mess of lube and come dripping between his cheeks and uses it to slick his thighs. 

“Here,” he says again, like a chant, as if the word means anything, “yes, here,” and closes his thighs around Song Lan’s cock. 

Song Lan crushes Xue Yang close again, and this time it’s Xue Yang who’s kissed. Song Lan can’t exactly lick his mouth open but Xue Yang can pretend, can open to him, can yield, just a little, just this one allowance, while Xingchen presses his forehead against Song Lan’s spine and almost growls as he fucks in harder, deeper, making Song Lan all but sing into Xue Yang’s mouth.

“Come on,” Xue Yang says, boneless, sleep-soft, his own hard cock still rubbing against Song Lan’s stomach. “Come on, a little more. Fuck him, Xingchen, fuck him hard, fuck him up —”

“I’m trying,” Xingchen says breathlessly, and that makes Song Lan laugh, his whole body shaking with it, and that sets Xingchen off, and then Xue Yang is laughing too, squeezing his thighs tight around Song Lan’s cock, squeezing his fingers tight around Xingchen’s hand. Song Lan bends down and kisses his face – his cheek, his nose, his forehead, his chin – peppers him with a dozen silly smacking kisses. 

“Touch him,” Xingchen says. 

“I am ,” Xue Yang complains, but it turns out he’s not the one Xingchen was talking to. Song Lan wraps his huge hand with its heavy knuckles and its callused fingers around Xue Yang’s cock and squeezes hard, breathtakingly painful and Xue Yang’s words trail off into a yelping whine. “Oh, oh, fuck, you meant – touch me – yeah , you heard him, touch me, Song Lan.” 

Song Lan’s cock is still sliding through the mess of Xue Yang’s thighs, still hard and somehow finally hot against Xue Yang’s skin – maybe from Xue Yang’s body heat, maybe from friction – and it feels like he’s getting wetter as he goes. Xue Yang uses his grip on Xingchen’s hand, sweaty and slick though it is, to pull himself up until he can lean over Song Lan’s torso. Xingchen meets him halfway with a kiss that feels more like a bite, nothing but sharp teeth and tearing intent, and Xue Yang groans, hips stuttering as he fucks up into Song Lan’s hand. 

“Tell me I can come,” he demands, and Xingchen laughs and bites the line of his throat with a kind of savagery Xue Yang would never have expected of him. 

“No,” Xingchen whispers, and uses their joined hands to shove Xue Yang back down to the bed. Xue Yang goes, laughing all the way, and for some reason that’s the thing that tips him over the edge, the thing that makes him come in long jets against Song Lan’s belly, gasping and cackling and rutting into Song Lan’s hand. 

Song Lan wipes his hand on Xue Yang’s thigh and hauls him closer, rearranges him so every time Xingchen fucks into Song Lan, Song Lan fucks into Xue Yang’s thighs. All Xue Yang can do is hang on, mouthing at whatever comes into reach – Song Lan’s face, his chest, his hand – and then Song Lan finds Xue Yang’s free hand, the one Xingchen isn’t holding, the one with the missing finger, and brings it to his mouth. 

Xue Yang watches, wide-eyed, as Song Lan wraps his lips around the stump of the pinky and sucks, slow and gentle. It feels more intimate than a kiss, more intimate than being flayed open, more intimate than anything Xue Yang has done in any life, and he can’t help the sharp inhale, the lump forming in his throat. Song Lan looks him square in the eye and kisses the stump, and Xue Yang feels his eyes start to burn, blinks frantically to try to head off whatever’s happening, but then Song Lan throws his head back with a hoarse groan and comes in long, long pulses, still rocking into Xue Yang’s thighs until he must be sore. 

Xingchen rolls the three of them so Song Lan is pressing Xue Yang into the mattress again and bites down hard on the nape of Song Lan’s neck. His eyes find Xue Yang’s and stay, looking at him, weighing him down against the mattress just as much as Song Lan’s weight. Xingchen and Song Lan have the same eyes, but the way they look at him is always different, always – Xue Yang wants to flinch, to look away, but he can’t. He has to stare up at Xingchen, something almost like tears forming in the corners of his eyes, and then Xingchen finally comes, mouth dropping open, eyes drifting closed. 

“Oh, fuck,” Xingchen says, which is so entirely unlike him that Xue Yang starts laughing again, and that sends the whole pile of them toppling across the bed. Song Lan spreads out like a fed-up starfish and shoves at them both as if he’ll knock them off the bed, but Xue Yang just crawls in closer and rests his chin on Song Lang’s pectoral. He has to sniff a few times and blink before his face feels like it’s working, and by the time he’s done that Xingchen is mirroring him on the other side, looking at him over Song Lan’s chest. 

“Rest, you monsters,” Song Lan signs. Xue Yang ignores him to stretch forward and press an almost-chaste kiss to the corner of Xingchen’s mouth, only licking him a little bit. 

“Don’t you want to clean up?” Xingchen murmurs against the edge of Xue Yang’s mouth, although his eyes dart to Song Lan. He’s smiling. 

“You broke me,” Song Lan signs. 

Xue Yang snorts and presses a smacking kiss to Song Lan’s mouth. “We’re gonna wake up crusty and you’re gonna finally have an excuse to throw us out, is that it?” 

“No,” Song Lan signs, emphatic. “Stay.” 

“Well, if you insist,” Xingchen says, and kisses Song Lan, sweet and easy. 

Xue Yang watches them with something warm and tangled blooming in his chest, and drops to the bed to hide it. He rests his head on Song Lan’s shoulder and drapes an arm over his belly, is both startled and unsurprised when Xingchen takes his hand. 

“Is this, like, ironic?” he mumbles. “Us, I mean.” 

“Go to sleep,” Song Lan signs.

Xue Yang, warm and sated and safe, curls against his lover’s side and sleeps.