"Time was passing like a hand waving from a train I wanted to be on. I hope you never have to think about anything as much as I think about you."
—Jonathan Safran Foer
Waking up is one of the best parts of Lan Wangji’s day. A slow blink; an exhale; the warmth of his legs tangled with another’s. The soft breathing by his ear, or rumbling across his chest, or heartbeat under his palm, living and real.
Sometimes it is a dream to see Wei Wuxian again. Every day, as Lan Wangji opens his eyes, holding a body that is so bright again. When he was young he had only ever slept in one position, as he was trained: on his back, hands crossed. Now in the middle of the night his body is more attuned to Wei Wuxian’s, his subconscious; unlearning anything he’s ever been used to, just to fit the mold of Wei Wuxian. Wei Wuxian sleeps haphazardly, sometimes on his stomach, other times curled up, fetal, and Lan Wangji will wrap around him. The nights bring an end to another day they have spent together; the mornings are a hope, a promise of a new day.
Wei Wuxian does not stir as Lan Wangji awakens, breathing partially through his nose, mostly his mouth. Lan Wangji smiles. He hovers his fingers beneath his nostrils—once, a habit, now a gesture. Feels Wei Wuxian warm, nose twitching at the extra presence. Lan Wangji runs a thumb over his forehead, eyelids, cheek. Skin smooth, real and quivering. Maybe the beginnings of smile lines.
But this body is young. Lan Wangji loves every moment he spends with Wei Wuxian, and yet cannot help looking forward to each one that will come.
He kisses his husband high on his cheekbone, stroking at the pad of skin behind his ear. Wei Wuxian groans, snuffles in his sleep. Makes a small noise, between a whine and a huff.
Darkness still covers the sky like a blanket, but Lan Wangji gets up, even though his husband does not. There is much to do today—but there is much to do all days, as he goes through his morning routine, a movement at a time, relishing in nothing but now. As the world wakes along with the morning, stars passing through the clouds, color returning over the horizon, Lan Wangji prepares. It is any other day.
In the bed, Wei Wuxian sleeps.
They’re out on a night hunt, as they are wont to do. Wei Wuxian sometimes jokes that their three-year anniversary is coming up, and that they should get married again.
The couple they’re assisting greet them shortly after Wei Wuxian’s breakfast, closer to what would be considered lunch. Wei Wuxian beckons the couple to their table at the inn; they’d agreed, yesterday, to meet them here in the morning.
“So!” Wei Wuxian says, as he finishes his congee. “I have some theories, if you want to take me back to the house.”
The couple agrees, so they depart the inn and head to the couple’s farm, Wei Wuxian chatting along the way. Chenqing hangs loosely from his belt. Lan Wangji strides alongside him.
When they arrive, it is the same as yesterday—no visible disturbances, but a chill that surrounds the house, an aura, grating against everyone’s bones. This morning Wei Wuxian had come up with a theory while Lan Wangji was dressing him.
Now, Wei Wuxian touches the doorframe of the barn. “All your valuables are at the inn?” he asks the couple, and they nod.
Wei Wuxian brings his dizi to his lips.
His song trills and trembles in the early humid air. Nothing happens at first—then, a low rumbling, under their feet.
The building is shivering. The husband asks, “Is it beneath?”
“No,” Lan Wangji says, as Wei Wuxian continues playing. The barn is made of bamboo, slabbed and stacked together, held by its own string. As Wei Wuxian plays, it frays and frays. “It is the house.”
The spirit becomes more agitated with each note Wei Wuxian plays. It resists, pushing in, out, easing to the surface. Wei Wuxian paces around, watching, whistles a particularly low note.
It surfaces as human, gui, resentful energy wound with the spirit of the dead plant. Stronger in this manner, but Wei Wuxian goads the gui, the memory of a spirit, fading the more they separate. Lan Wangji can practically feel its desperation against his skin.
Wei Wuxian glances at him. In a moment, all of the dark energy drags out—from the gui, the guai, inky and split into the air.
And without hesitation, Lan Wangji wields Bichen, slices through them both.
The gui fades with the thought of the screech, the guai into nothing, buried into dirt. The barn rattles and falls apart.
Wei Wuxian brings Chenqing down. He’s panting, slightly, but smiling. “And there you have it.”
The couple thanks them, declines their offers to assist them finding a new house. They are young and eager, making Lan Wangji think of himself and Wei Wuxian. Happy and in love, for the first time with each other, and not the last.
“We’ll find a new home together,” the wife says, and Wei Wuxian beams, bright.
In the evening, Wei Wuxian is chattering again as they get ready for bed. The encounter with the gui had been just the start, among a day full of eavesdropping in a teahouse and Wei Wuxian playing with kids on the streets. Sometimes Lan Wangji wonders if they will find other orphans, other children to raise.
“… and they were so scared of you, Lan Zhan!” Wei Wuxian says, and laughs. “And I asked them, what’s there to be scared of? It’s only Hanguang-jun.” He laughs again.
Lan Wangji finishes folding their clothes. “Mn.”
“It’s so funny when children are scared of you especially.” Wei Wuxian glances back at his husband. “You have the kindest face I know.”
“There is Wei Ying’s,” Lan Wangji says.
Wei Wuxian waves him off. “Yes, yes, but this hardly counts as my face now, doesn’t it? I’m still working on trying to look like me.” He crinkles his nose, pouts, the way he would’ve in his old body. “But at least Mo Xuanyu is good-looking, just like me!”
Something about him catches Lan Wangji’s eye. Something—Lan Wangji’s eyebrows tense, and he abandons their folded robes, stepping towards Wei Wuxian.
Wei Wuxian smiles as he approaches. “Hi, Lan Zhan,” he says gently, but Lan Wangji’s eyes are on his hairline.
He brings a finger up, parts. There is a solid white line beneath a layer of his hair, strands near his scalp, dry and foreign like Lan Wangji’s never seen on Wei Wuxian before.
Wei Wuxian looks up at him. “What is it?”
Lan Wangji doesn’t know. He looks into Wei Wuxian’s face—but it’s the same as always, light and carefree. Not a hair on his face, on Mo Xuanyu’s young body. And yet, this hair is not Mo Xuanyu’s.
It may be Wei Wuxian’s now.
“Let us return to the Cloud Recesses tomorrow,” he says.
Wei Wuxian presses his smile against Lan Wangji’s lips—never faltering for affection like this, now, when it is just the two of them. Not lovemaking, just present. “Okay,” he says.
Gusu is home for Wei Wuxian now. Lan Wangji does not take it for granted, as he will follow wherever Wei Wuxian wants to go, whether it is to Yunmeng or to the ends of the earth.
But Wei Wuxian knots their wrists together with Lan Wangji’s headband, says, “I married into your sect, so your home is my home now too!”
Lan Wangji wants to kiss him spineless, breathless.
As the familiar road of Caiyi Town winds into view, Lan Wangji watches. Wei Wuxian talks with passing by merchants, shouts at the children who greet him, bright-eyed and happy all the while. Perhaps it is a trick of the sunlight, perhaps it is simply because Wei Wuxian is always smiling. But there are fish-fins in the corner of his eyes, of this young body.
Lan Wangji wants to kiss every part of him, touch him, remind himself that this is here, now. That he has this, Wei Wuxian, to be treasured, in whatever body. And yet there is a cold trickling of his stomach when he remembers the thatch of Wei Wuxian’s hair.
He says nothing as they make their way back into the Cloud Recesses. They greet the juniors and shifu, and see to his brother in the Hanshi. And then they come home together, arm in arm, hand in hand.
Perhaps Wei Wuxian needs rest. He has not changed; Lan Wangji presses down the wrinkles by his eyes, and Wei Wuxian merely kisses Lan Wangji’s jaw, murmuring his name. Because he likes to, Lan Wangji knows, likes the shape of Lan Zhan in his mouth. Lan Wangji likes hearing it too, likes feeling his tongue, his mouth, his throat make the words Wei Ying. A memory does not die with a name.
He takes them to bed, lost in their passions, forgetting about today and tomorrow.
And yet as Lan Wangji threads his fingers through Wei Wuxian’s hair, during another morning, in the low light, he sees.
The white streak spreads down, now to his chin, where Wei Wuxian will surely be able to see it soon. It spreads wide, a centimeter more than he had last seen, like sunlight over a morning sky. It is dry and cracking between Lan Wangji’s fingers.
The wrinkles around the corners of his eyes are still pronounced as Wei Wuxian sleeps. Light lines in his cheeks—Lan Wangji strokes them with his thumb, kisses. Wei Wuxian does not stir, but his breath huffs against Lan Wangji’s face.
Lan Wangji watches him.
“I think,” Lan Wangji says, “that you are aging at a faster rate than me.”
It is after breakfast. Wei Wuxian is rifling through the pile of essays Lan Wangji’s already graded.
Wei Wuxian looks up at him. “Oh?”
“You.” Lan Wangji struggles to find the words. Because Wei Wuxian has his head tilted, curious. Unconcerned. “Your body is different.”
“Well, it is different from the body I originally died with,” Wei Wuxian says, looking down.
Lan Wangji’s heart tightens. “It is not the body,” he says. “It is you.”
Wei Wuxian’s gaze is searching his. “What do you mean, Lan Zhan?”
Lan Wangji remembers thirteen years of Inquiry. How he’s barely had three years to have this.
They could go to the Cloud Recesses medic, but Wei Wuxian insists that they don’t. Because Lan Wangji is all he needs, well-versed enough in spiritual and physical health. Even as Lan Wangji shows him the patch of white in his hair, Wei Wuxian says, “Perhaps this body is just remembering that I’m not as young as it,” with a slight grin.
So they stay in the Jingshi, in their bedroom. Lan Wangji runs his hands over Wei Wuxian’s body as Wei Wuxian lies in their bed, over his lower dantian and upper dantian, over his golden core. Passes the spiritual energy in, and out—and in again, around the growing golden core, nudging it. They have begun to cultivate it, lightly, with no rush. But now—Lan Wangji swallows, surges more spiritual energy into Wei Wuxian’s body.
Wei Wuxian peeks an eye out open at him. “Lan Zhan, I can feel what you’re doing.”
Lan Wangji pulls his fingers away. He places his hands in his lap.
He reminds himself that Wei Wuxian’s golden core is still there.
“Your body is—confused,” he says, after a moment. “It does not know your spirit.”
Wei Wuxian rolls his eyes. “I don’t know what that means.”
Lan Wangji doesn’t know, either. There are many texts on demons possessing bodies, not being welcomed into one. And Wei Wuxian is hardly a demon, hardly a memory, still very alive with him. Wei Wuxian should write a book, he thinks. He will have the time. No matter what it takes.
Lan Wangji remembers Inquiry, again.
“Resentful energy may have weakened your core,” he hypothesizes. “And along with it, your body may be trying to compensate with age and weariness.”
“That’s just silly,” Wei Wuxian says, sitting back up on the bed. “I feel fine, Lan Zhan. Don’t I look it? I think we’d both know if turned into an old man like your shufu.”
Yet Lan Wangji doesn’t know if they would. He wants to feel Wei Wuxian’s bones, know that they are strong; feel his heart, beating against his own, for the rest of his days.
“I love you,” he tells Wei Wuxian, because he doesn’t know what else to say.
Wei Wuxian blinks; tears spring to his eyes, and he throws himself into Lan Wangji’s arms. “Lan Zhan! You can’t just say things like that so earnestly,” he says, hitting him lightly on the chest. He brings himself into Lan Wangji’s lap, rests his cheek against his shoulder, tucks his fingers under Lan Wangji's headband. “I love you too.”
Lan Wangji holds him, and breathes. Reminds himself that this is real.
A few nights later, when Lan Sizhui invites them on a night hunt, Wei Wuxian declines.
Lan Wangji looks to him curiously. Sizhui does not question it, though the confusion is unmistakable on his face—Wei Wuxian almost always agrees to a night hunt, even if he and Lan Wangji have other things planned. He loves spending time with the juniors, with Sizhui and Wen Ning especially, even if it means being late to a meeting with the Lan elders.
But tonight Wei Wuxian gives Sizhui a tired smile and an apology. Lan Wangji reaches for his hand under the table. Wei Wuxian squeezes back.
When Sizhui leaves, Wei Wuxian says, “I’ve been thinking.”
Lan Wangji waits.
“I don’t know anything about my body. This body,” Wei Wuxian clarifies, gesturing. “I don’t know why it sometimes feels a little harder to get up in the mornings. Why I want to move slower, sometimes.”
Lan Wangji had not noticed. He stares at Wei Wuxian.
“I don’t like it, so I refuse to give into it,” Wei Wuxian explains. “This—Mo Xuanyu was young, I’m young, I should be taking on every day like I’m young, right? So why—”
He places his hands on his heart, his middle dantian. His golden core.
Wei Wuxian says, “We promised to do it every day, right? For this body’s core?”
Lan Wangji sweeps him up in a kiss.
Lan Wangji loves him, loves to give, loves to carve his way in, pouring his love into Wei Wuxian. As his golden core sings and flourishes, as Lan Wangji feels the spiritual energy inside of him, drinks it in, surges it inside of Wei Wuxian’s body, filling him to the brim. Every part of him.
Afterward, as they lay curled up with each other, Wei Wuxian kisses Lan Wangji’s shoulder. Blinks up at him with dewy eyelashes. Lan Wangji kisses the tears off.
Wei Wuxian giggles. “I have the best husband,” he says.
“Mn.” Lan Wangji licks his cheekbone. “I have the best husband.”
“Hey,” Wei Wuxian says, but he’s laughing again.
He settles against Lan Wangji’s shoulder comfortably. From here, from how his hair has tousled in their lovemaking, Lan Wangji can see the streak of white. It’s grown, still, from last time, trailing down.
Wei Wuxian sighs. “I think you were right about the resentful energy. It’s not the same as it was when I didn’t have my golden core anymore. I’ve been trying to ignore it, but I can feel it—this body doesn’t like it.”
Lan Wangji doesn’t say anything. His fingers play with the knobs on Wei Wuxian’s spine, like guqin strings.
“I should stop,” Wei Wuxian continues. “Just learn how to cultivate normally again.” Lan Wangji can hear the eyeroll in his voice. “But I don’t know if I remember how to. I do, I just haven’t done it in so long. Since my last life.”
“Since you transferred out your golden core,” Lan Wangji says.
“Yeah.” Wei Wuxian runs his fingers over Lan Wangji’s nipple, twinges it. Lan Wangji doesn’t even flinch. “I miss when I was just the first disciple of Yunmeng Jiang. I thought my life would be so easy. I was just smart and good at everything.”
Lan Wangji can’t help it. His chest rumbles.
Wei Wuxian nudges him. “Don’t laugh at me! It’s true. Now look at me. I’ve died twice, I live in the Cloud Recesses, and my body thinks that every day that passes is a month.”
Coldness grips Lan Wangji’s throat. He tries to ignore it.
“We can live elsewhere, if you would like,” he says.
“Nah, I wouldn’t trade seeing A-Yuan so often for the most beautiful palace in the world.” Wei Wuxian doesn’t even think about it; the words just spill from his mouth. Lan Wangji’s eyes feel hot. “I do love this life, Lan Zhan. I love sharing it with you. I just wish… I want to believe that I have more time.”
The fish-fins at his eyes are downturned now.
Lan Wangji throws him back down on the bed, crowds his body over him. Wills his arousal back, his spiritual energy, his yang, ready to give at the earliest command.
“We will make more time,” he says, and pushes his love into Wei Wuxian again.
Wei Wuxian laughs, gasps, and holds onto him tight.
They tire themselves out, for days, for weeks, for months. But it never feels like a chore when it is with Wei Wuxian, tracking his meridians, feeling his golden core flare, burst brighter underneath him. There is pleasure in Wei Wuxian’s body, burying himself inside until they are one, every sense on fire with him. There is light in Wei Wuxian’s eyes as he kisses him, treasures him, whispers things against Lan Wangji’s skin that make Lan Wangji believe they will spend every waking moment together.
The white rains down Wei Wuxian’s hair eventually, three whole months. It’s slowed, they’ve observed, but not stopped.
“That’s something,” Wei Wuxian says, even though Lan Wangji frowns.
“Your golden core.” He touches Wei Wuxian’s chest. “It is stronger now. You haven’t done demonic cultivation in ages.”
Wei Wuxian shrugs. “It’s alright. Better than nothing, right?”
They’re sitting over breakfast. Wei Wuxian has practiced standard cultivation more; Chenqing rests lonely in the shadows of their bedroom. People are not used to seeing Wei Wuxian without his demonic cultivation. Wei Wuxian reckons it’s good, keeps them on their toes, as they’d begun to get used to seeing him in general.
Lan Wangji says, “We must continue. We must stop your body from doing this.”
Wei Wuxian laughs. “Lan Zhan, don’t tell me you plan on cultivating to immortality for me.”
Lan Wangji’s expression does not change.
He has finished his congee; Wei Wuxian will likely never follow the Cloud Recesses rule of not talking during a meal. “Ah,” Wei Wuxian says, and slurps up another mouthful. “Well, I’m not concerned about that, Lan Zhan. I’m just happy to be with you.”
“I have already known what life is like, without you.” Lan Wangji casts his gaze down. “I do not wish to experience it again.”
“Why would you say something like that?” But Wei Wuxian’s tone is light-hearted. He kicks Lan Wangji under the table. “Really, Lan Zhan, just being with you every day is enough. Even if we weren’t trying to strengthen my golden core, I’d still be fine, as long as you’re here.”
But Lan Wangji is selfish. He knows this, knows the ache in his chest, sometimes more than he thinks he knows what it’s like to be a part of Wei Wuxian’s body. Inquiry haunts his dreams, sometimes, a tremble of his lips in his sleep.
“We should continue strengthening your core,” he says.
“Aiyah,” Wei Wuxian says, but it’s not a complaint, by the way his eyes are twinkling. “Fine, Lan Zhan.”
It takes a year for the second tress of white to reach the end of Wei Wuxian’s hair. They are not always evenly laid out, sprinkled like stars in his night sky. He looks beautiful, Lan Wangji thinks, with or without.
But this body is still young. Supposed to be young. He wishes it were without.
Wei Wuxian is lively as ever, cultivating his core along with the juniors. It is almost as strong as it used to be when he was their age, now, with the amount of dual cultivation that they do. Wei Wuxian meditates and swordfights, back in the comfort of Suibian. His feet are as quick as Lan Wangji remembers, on the night they met. Perhaps quicker.
In the second year, more white has grown out, but not yet overpowering the black. There is a thinness to Wei Wuxian’s skin that Lan Wangji tries to ignore, that they both try to ignore, between every touch and kiss. His golden core is stronger now than when Wei Wuxian died, with the single-mindedness of their lovemaking—and yet, the fish-fins dot around Wei Wuxian’s eyes like peonies.
“Aiyah, we never got married again on our third anniversary,” Wei Wuxian complains one evening, as they bathe together in the Cold Spring. “We have to do it again on our eighth, okay Lan Zhan?”
Lan Wangji opens an eye from where he’s meditating. “Mn.”
“Good.” Wei Wuxian sighs, stretches his neck. “I think we should have a small ceremony and just invite a few people. Then on our tenth, we can have a big one!”
Lan Wangji says, “We will get married a third time?”
“Of course,” Wei Wuxian says happily. “We should do ten in that year, actually. We can travel to all the sects and do one. Then on our eighteenth, we can find other couples to get married with us. That would be fun. And then… hm, what number comes after that? What—hey, Lan Zhan!”
Lan Wangji’s strode across the pond, pressing their bodies together, kissing Wei Wuxian like his life depends on it. His fingers skate through the black and white of his hair, his scalp, his neck, his spine, every bit of him.
When he pulls away, Wei Wuxian says, “Shameless!” But he’s grinning, yelps when Lan Wangji bites his chin.
Lan Wangji’s throat feels so full. “Wei Ying,” is all he can think of to say.
“Yeah,” Wei Wuxian says, and thumbs at the mark of Lan Wangji’s teeth. “I love you too.”
And so on their eighth year of being married, they get married again—modest in the Cloud Recesses, with Lan Sizhui, Jingyi, Wen Ning, and shufu. Lan Wangji’s brother, who came out of seclusion earlier this year, also attends, looking healthier and stronger than he had the day he stopped. Jiang Wanyin also attends with Jin Ling, as well as Nie Huaisang, who both Lan Wangji and Wei Wuxian had felt obligated to invite, as the Chief Cultivator.
“This is ridiculous,” Jiang Wanyin says, before the first ceremony. “You two are already married.”
“We eloped,” Wei Wuxian corrects him. “This is different.”
“Is it? It took you eight whole years to have an actual wedding.” Jiang Wanyin looks around at the decorations; Jingyi and Sizhui had a particularly fun time setting them up. “And why here? Why not at the sect you were raised in?”
“Aw,” Wei Wuxian teases. “You want me to have a wedding in the Lotus Pier, too? I’ll be sure to take note of that.”
“What are you talking about?” Jiang Wanyin demands. “Don’t tell me you’re planning on getting married again.”
Wei Wuxian doesn’t answer, but Lan Wangji shares a smile with him as Jingyi and Jin Ling argue about the propriety of how some of the decorations are laid out.
The white trickles out of Wei Wuxian’s scalp like a fountain, a little more than half. Lan Wangji watches Jiang Wanyin glance at Wei Wuxian more times than he cares to count; the sallowness of his cheekbones, the wrinkles lined deep around his eyes. Lan Wangji does not wish to give Jiang Wanyin an explanation, does not think they owe him one—but that is his selfishness talking again. His belief that one day, Wei Wuxian’s golden core will become impenetrable, overpower the simple wear of his body.
After he and Wei Wuxian perform their bows, to the altar and each other, and complete the formal ceremonies, they disperse for their banquet. Lan Wangji had put in the effort, earlier, with the cooks, to make every single one of Wei Wuxian’s favorite dishes that are now spread on the table in front of them. Jin Ling bemoans the idea of eating spices for the rest of the night, until Sizhui asks him lightly if he was really raised in Yunmeng.
Lan Wangji finds himself heading towards Jiang Wanyin, though he doesn’t know what to say. Jiang Wanyin looks up from his seat as he approaches.
“I suppose you’re not going to tell me what’s going on with him,” Jiang Wanyin says, nodding towards Wei Wuxian.
Lan Wangji glances. Wei Wuxian is laughing at Jingyi valiantly trying to eat the spiciest dish in front of him.
“Have you not figured it out?” Lan Wangji asks.
Jiang Wanyin huffs. “I’d guess it has something to do with him in his new body, with a golden core that’s not his.” He frowns. “But I didn’t think the consequences would be so drastic.”
“It was worse, before,” says Lan Wangji. “We are working on sustaining it.”
“I’m going to pretend I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Jiang Wanyin shoves a particularly excessive amount of rice into his mouth. He chews and swallows.
Lan Wangji looks at Wei Wuxian again. Wei Wuxian is watching the both of them now, and beams when he catches Lan Wangji’s eye. “Lan Zhan!” he says, waving happily.
Jiang Wanyin grumbles. “You can go back to your husband for the second time.”
“He will be my husband several more times,” Lan Wangji cannot help himself from saying, before going back to Wei Wuxian’s side.
But the three-day ceremony ends with a moment of Lan Wangji overhearing them speak in low voices one afternoon, Jiang Wanyin’s, “You’re all I have left,” and Wei Wuxian’s, “What about Jin Ling? Don’t tell me you’re gonna forget shijie’s son like that.” And both of them, red-eyed at the end of the day, not looking at each other—until it’s time to leave, and Jiang Wanyin punches Wei Wuxian’s shoulder and says, “Don’t have a wedding at the Lotus Pier.”
They watch as their guests leave the Cloud Recesses. Wei Wuxian says, “He wants us to have a wedding at the Lotus Pier.”
And so they do, the first one on their tenth. By this time, Wei Wuxian’s bones have begun to thin. Lan Wangji can feel it when he pushes the spiritual energy inside of him. Wei Wuxian never tires, but his movements slow, his skin shrinking like paper.
And still, he is the most beautiful thing Lan Wangji has ever seen.
They get him a stick. Wei Wuxian needs slight assistance when he does his bows again, but Lan Wangji does not hesitate to help, kissing him on the forehead afterward. Wei Wuxian smiles up at him after the ceremony, says, “Hanguang-jun is the best.”
“Wei Ying is the best,” Lan Wangji says, and squeezes his hand.
Lan Sizhui and Jingyi have come too, older than Lan Wangji could ever imagine them being. He remembers when Sizhui giggled under the pile of rabbits Lan Wangji buried him in—during those thirteen years, during Inquiry. Yet Sizhui is just as bright now, a reminder of what he and Wei Wuxian had together. Could have, if there was more time.
During the banquet, Wei Wuxian pats Sizhui’s face. “You’re getting old now, too,” he says, despite that the white overtakes his hair now. “When are you gonna get a wife, A-Yuan? Or a husband,” he adds thoughtfully.
Sizhui laughs, scratches the back of his head. “I don’t know if I can find a partner who loves me as much as Hanguang-jun loves you.”
“Nonsense,” Wei Wuxian says. “A-Yuan’s so lovable, anyone would be lucky to have him. Don’t you think so, Lan Zhan?”
Lan Wangji nods.
“You’re supposed to say that,” Jingyi cuts in. “I mean—Hanguang-jun’s the best dad, and you’re just too nice, Wei-qianbei.” He says it like an insult.
“Still talking back to your elders, Jingyi?” Wei Wuxian says. “How about you, then? When are you gonna get married?”
“Don’t—that’s—none of your business!” Jingyi splutters and shoves a loquat in his mouth.
Wei Wuxian’s laughter fills the Lotus Pier, fills the city, fills every bit of Lan Wangji’s heart.
In the eleventh year, it is unmistakable to everyone who sees. Wei Wuxian looks fifty years older than he should be, lines on his forehead and cheeks and eyes. And he still wears his red ribbon, smiles up at Lan Wangji in the morning and nights, still the best part of Lan Wangji’s day.
Lan Wangji knows he feels the days slipping away.
Wei Wuxian has long lost the ability to dual cultivate every day; but he tries, when he can. His core is strong, but not strong enough. Lan Wangji wonders if they could have started this sooner, the moment he had his suspicions—the moment he’d recognized Wei Wuxian, the moment Wei Wuxian came back.
Inquiry is a familiar ache in his fingers.
Sometimes lying with Wei Wuxian feels so close, but so far away. He is all the things Lan Wangji remembers, that he loves, loud and opinionated and unending. Yet sometimes words will come slower, memories will drag to a halt, and Lan Wangji’s own black as pitch hair is a taunt against of the shock of Wei Wuxian’s white. He sees time when he looks at Wei Wuxian now, the time that they have left together, the time that they will lose. Wei Wuxian is no longer mornings, but sunsets, the remains of daylight against a purpling sky, the promise of dark at the end of a light.
The twelfth year passes.
On the thirteenth, Wei Wuxian looks up and says, “Hey, Lan Zhan, why do you look like you’re getting dressed for a funeral?”
He is not. But his white robes feel heavier on his shoulders.
“You’re frowning.” Wei Wuxian stands up—wobbles, until he grabs his cane. Makes his way forward, touches the skin of Lan Wangji’s smooth cheek. “Hey, what’s wrong?”
Lan Wangji knows that the tears are trickling through his eyelashes. Here is the man he loves—the same, and yet so different than when Lan Wangji knew him a decade ago. A lifetime ago.
He feels unable to speak, closes his eyes, rests his face against Wei Wuxian’s palm.
“Lan Zhan.” Wei Wuxian’s thumb runs over his lips. “Lan Zhan, I’m still here, you know.”
Lan Wangji knows. He nods. “I wish—” he says, and his voice breaks.
“You wish what?” Wei Wuxian says. “That I was immortal? That we could spend more time together?”
Lan Wangji opens his eyes, looks into Wei Wuxian’s grey ones.
“I do, too.” Wei Wuxian’s eyes are shining. “I wish I could spend every day with Lan Zhan. I wish I could forget everything that makes us human just to be with you.”
Lan Wangji shudders out a breath, wraps his arms around his husband. Holds him, close, wants to feel every part of him. Wants to never let him go.
Wei Wuxian speaks against his ear. “But hey, we tried, didn’t we? And look how far we got.” He pulls away, eyes half-moons through his teary smile. “And I’ve been alive longer than I’ve been dead. That’s something, isn’t it?”
“Not enough,” Lan Wangji croaks out.
“No, not enough,” Wei Wuxian agrees. Lan Wangji is getting the shoulders of his robes damp. “But at least you’ll actually have a spirit to play Inquiry to this time, right?”
He is warm and alive underneath Lan Wangji’s fingertips. Lan Wangji never wants to forget this.
Wei Wuxian dies in the summer.
It is after their fifteenth year of being married. Lan Wangji wakes, and Wei Wuxian doesn’t, small and smiling in his sleep. Lan Wangji does not know when he took his last breath.
It is not the worst part of the day. The worst part is keeping him here, telling Sizhui to tell the others, stroking Wei Wuxian’s hand and willing for him to open his eyes again. Wake up. Hear his heart, feel his warmth. The worst part is living it over and over again, with every moment that passes; and again, what he never thought he’d have to endure again.
The sun caresses the sky when they bring him out, when they mourn, when they cremate his body on the seventh day. The heat beats on his back, his heavy white robes as he sits vigil, remembering. He wants to believe that Wei Wuxian is still with him, around him, with the swelter of summer. But Wei Wuxian is ashes now—ashes, again, with no more body to search for.
He does not know how long he sits with the tomb; only that, eventually, Sizhui takes him by the hand and leads him back to the Jingshi. Helps Lan Wangji clean up, bathe, out of his funeral clothes and into new ones. Sizhui says nothing, apart from his quiet questions, wiping his cheek. Lan Wangji looks at him, how grown he is now, and wishes Wei Wuxian could see this too. Could see the man Sizhui will be, in the years to come.
In the afternoon, Sizhui promises to come back for dinner. He gives his father his guqin, smiles, then leaves.
Lan Wangji’s body feels heavy. But he rests his fingers on the strings, stretches them. Tries to remember how to breathe.
Inquiry flows from his fingers like an old friend.
Wei Ying? he plays. Are you there?
The tones strike the air. Sunlight peers into the Jingshi, through dust motes.
Wei Ying, I love you.
And so naturally, the spirit plays back: with the familiarity, the joy of the life Lan Wangji will always love.
Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan, I can’t wait to see you again. Let’s have another wedding.