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On Drinking Vinegar

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[0.] back where we belong

In the end, it was very simple.

Wei Wuxian leaves the Cloud Recesses, and the further he goes, the more he longs for what he’s left behind. He pushes onward in spite of it. Lan Wangji isn’t his to ask for, and even if Wei Wuxian could ask, the man has his own responsibilities, his duties to attend to, his position to use in order to pick up the pieces of the cultivation world. Wei Wuxian has the world to see anew, and as he does, he wants to try to do the same—pick up the pieces from the ground up, the level that lofty cultivators won’t see from the skies they soar through.

He makes it a year, traveling through all the provinces he’s been before, promising himself he’ll push outward to lands he’s never seen. He can never quite gather himself to make that jump.

Lan Zhan might need me, he tells himself, trying very hard to read between the lines of each letter they exchange for a hint that he is missed as much as he yearns for the man he can’t have beside him. It’s too selfish, he scolds himself. Lan Wangji already gave enough of himself. He can’t ask for more.

Then one day: Come back for Qingming, Lan Wangji is the one to ask him. It’s a simple invitation penned at the end of a brief exchange.

Wei Wuxian goes, heart in his throat and expectation strung tight in his body, and they meet on a hilltop outside of Caiyi. He’s a day early, eagerness driving his pace, and Lan Wangji finds him anyhow.

Lan Zhan will always find him, he thinks, even as he’s afraid to believe in it.

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian says after he’s lowered Chenqing and turned, the edges of his smile still bright with relief.

Lan Wangji strides toward him, eyes moving over him. Drinking in the sight of him, Wei Wuxian might say of anyone else.

Wei Wuxian bites his lip. Can it be possible? “I missed you,” he says out of impulse, and smiles again, rueful.

“You stayed away this long,” Lan Wangji replies, expression shifting in that way Wei Wuxian reads as a frown.

“Ah, Lan Zhan, how could I ask for more, when you’ve had so much to do?” Wei Wuxian replies. He tries to keep his tone light, but he knows his smile falters.

Lan Wangji regards him steadily. “Ask me for more.”

Wei Wuxian takes a step toward him. His heart beats like a hummingbird’s wings. “Lan Zhan,” he says like a protest. He asked once where they should go next, and the regret and hesitance on Lan Wangji’s face had been enough of an answer that it remains seared into his consciousness.

“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji returns, taking another step toward him. “Ask me for anything.”

His resolve crumbles. Wei Wuxian takes the steps that separate them, giving in fully to his impulses. He deposits himself into Lan Wangji’s arms, and Lan Wangji catches him, holding him tight.

“I missed you,” Wei Wuxian repeats, the longing bleeding through, and Lan Wangji’s arms tighten around him.

“Then stay,” Lan Wangji replies. He catches his breath.

Wei Wuxian draws back to gaze at him in wonder. The next movement is both of them; they close in and they’re kissing.

“I want to marry you,” Lan Wangji tells him when they draw back at last for air. “I want you to be mine.”

Wei Wuxian gives him the brightest smile that’s ever stretched his face wide. “Lan Zhan, I’m already yours.”

“Then you’ll marry me?” he presses. There’s a note of uncertainty there beneath the resolve that’s clear in Lan Wangji’s eyes.

“I will.” Wei Wuxian threads their free hands together. “Lan Zhan. I’ll marry you.”

He never thought it could be so simple, but when Lan Wangji is the one to ask, Wei Wuxian discovers it is that easy, after all.

[1.] closely tailored

Lan Wangji takes Wei Wuxian to the Lan fortune teller the next day.

They have to adjust twice to account for Wei Wuxian’s resurrection, the effect of the body he inhabits, but the fortune teller is satisfied, even pleased, with the final results and offers three auspicious dates for a union. She almost doesn’t tell them the first because it is so close—surely they won’t be able to make arrangements in time.

Lan Wangji is very motivated and has resources in hand.

Wei Wuxian would set aside most traditions simply to be married to him; he’s matter-of-fact about only bringing himself to the marriage. Lan Wangji suspects otherwise and won’t allow it.

They go together for the first robe-fitting, choosing colors, fabrics, getting measurements taken. Lan Wangji’s eye falls on the tailor’s assistant, who is regarding Wei Wuxian with the bright awe of so many that look at him when he’s a body in motion, chattering happily away. He steps closer to Wei Wuxian, who doesn’t seem to notice, making broad gestures as he illustrates the tale of his latest night-hunt near Caiyi, and the reason for his less-than-artfully tattered robes.

The tailor’s assistant doesn’t seem to notice either, sidling up to Wei Wuxian to begin measurements despite Lan Wangji looming beside him.

He knows in the objective place within his mind that the tailor’s assistant has to place his hands near, if not on, Wei Wuxian in order to capture his measurements, but that doesn’t mean Lan Wangji has to like it. He’s not going to leave the room for it, at least. Not with the tailor’s assistant making eyes at Wei Wuxian as he is.

There has to be some other way to take a man’s measurements, Lan Wangji finds himself thinking as he watches the tailor’s assistant like a hawk. Does the man really need to hold Wei Wuxian’s wrist like that as he measures from shoulder to wrist?

Lan Wangji clenches his teeth.

“Ah, Lan Zhan, are you sure you don’t want to take tea with the tailor’s wife as you wait?” Wei Wuxian asks. “This must be very boring!”

“I’m sure,” Lan Wangji grits out, and force of will keeps him from looming even closer as the tailor bends to measure from Wei Wuxian’s chest to his waist.

Wei Wuxian’s eyes widen as their gaze meets over the top of the assistant tailor’s head. For a second, Lan Wangji thinks he’s understood.

“It’s only been since this morning,” Wei Wuxian says obscurely, mouth curving in a smile. He gives Lan Wangji a sidelong glance and a chuckle. “And we’ll return home soon enough! Patience.”

He says it like he hasn’t been the impatient one throughout both his lives.

Lan Wangji grinds his teeth hard enough he’s grateful for his strong molars.

“Keep these measurements safe,” Lan Wangji tells the astonished tailor at the end of the ordeal. He has no intention of returning with his husband-to-be for another session, so the man had better hold onto Wei Wuxian’s numbers if he wants the continued flow of custom for the array of clothing Lan Wangji would like to purchase.

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian says, twining their arms together as Lan Wangji steers them out of Caiyi at haste. “Really, are you so insatiable? Don’t we have time for an afternoon meal?”

They don’t make it up the side of the mountain. There’s a nice, thick stand of bushes just past the first turn of the ascent that serves Lan Wangji’s purposes quite well.

[2.] martial awe

At first, when Wei Wuxian writes to Jiang Cheng, he’s certain his former shidi, the man who is no longer his sect leader, will reject his tentative overtures without mercy. In the wake of Guanyin Temple, he made no attempt to reconnect or call him back to Lotus Pier for any reason.

Instead, Jiang Cheng pens a gruff injunction to visit, though he makes it clear in his brusque way that he has no time for entertaining, nor will a lengthy stay be convenient.

It makes Lan Wangji’s mouth go taut, and Wei Wuxian has to reassure him three times it’s simply Jiang Cheng’s way of speaking, he means no offense by it.

Wei Wuxian would have been fine with only the two of them going for the visit to inform Jiang Cheng of the upcoming wedding, but Lan Wangji insists on a retinue, if only a token number. He supposes that’s befitting the status of the Chief Cultivator, and he’s glad to have Jingyi’s company, and Sizhui, newly returned from Qishan with Wen Ning. Wen Ning diplomatically opts to stay behind on the outskirts of Caiyi for their trip to Lotus Pier. Wei Wuxian only realizes once they’ve landed at the pier and stepped into a courtyard full of Jiang disciples in formation that Lan Wangji made certain they had an accompaniment of Lan disciples to offset the grandeur of the welcome that greets them.

It’s overwhelming, walking into the wide-open space in front of the Sword Hall in the light of day, neat ranks of purple-robed young men and women folding in proper bows as he stands there beside Lan Wangji. It makes his throat tight, and if he’s raspy when he answers Jiang Cheng’s stiff greeting, he’s sure everyone who knows him will understand.

They won’t resolve the chasm that still splits the ground between them in the span of an afternoon, but despite the strain around Jiang Cheng’s brow and the tightness of his jaw, he’s making the effort. He congratulates them on their wedding, then does what Sizhui predicted but Wei Wuxian would have considered impossible—he states, all but commands, that Wei Wuxian will return to Yunmeng Jiang as theirs before he marries out. Still reeling from that pronouncement, Wei Wuxian can only nod mindlessly when Jiang Cheng declares he has duties to tend to and departs after a brief tea, leaving his head disciple at their disposal.

Wei Wuxian gives the young man a polite smile, trying to make it reach his eyes. Of course Jiang Cheng has a head disciple; it isn’t like he could hold the position for a Wei Wuxian who seceded. A Wei Wuxian who died in dishonor. All this time later, there’s so many things he’s missed, and this is yet more proof of time’s passage.

His name is Fang Kai, and he seems to be around Lan Wangji’s age—the age Wei Wuxian would have been, though he is, in his mind, closer to the age of the body he’s inhabiting. His manner is gentle and accommodating as he shows them to their quarters. It’s another shock, though it shouldn’t be, that Wei Wuxian’s rooms from his youth are long since refurbished and given over to other purposes.

Fang Kai hovers behind Wei Wuxian’s elbow as Wei Wuxian pauses at the threshold.

“Thank you, Head Disciple,” Wei Wuxian says absently, as he takes in the details of an unfamiliar room and what that means for his stay in Lotus Pier.

“Of course,” Fang Kai says. “Hanguang-Jun, your rooms are this way.”

“My rooms are here,” Lan Wangji replies shortly, and Wei Wuxian has to shake himself from his stupor to intercede with a laugh.

He pats Fang Kai’s shoulder and urges him to see to the quartering of the remaining Lan retinue, and the man hesitates a moment longer, his eyes lingering on Wei Wuxian.

“If you are certain,” Fang Kai says at last, bowing low, turning toward where Sizhui waits with a serene face.

“Lan Zhan!” Wei Wuxian says with a laugh when the door is drawn shut behind them and Lan Wangji is pinning him onto the single bed they’ll have to share. “Did you see his expression? He was concerned you were going to despoil my virtue!”

He pulls a face. It’s more likely that Fang Kai was concerned Wei Wuxian would despoil the virtue of the illustrious Hanguang-Jun.

“Wei Ying is blind,” Lan Wangji rumbles, mouth moving down from his jaw to the sensitive flesh of his neck. He fastens his teeth there and sucks lightly until Wei Wuxian cries out beneath him.

“What? No,” Wei Wuxian protests. “Unless you mean he was protective of Hanguang-Jun’s reputation.”

Hanguang-Jun’s hands are pushing aside his robes, untying his pants. No one will ever believe Wei Wuxian if he were to claim Lan Wangji, the most virtuous, untouchable Second Jade, is the one who’s constantly ravishing him at every turn.

“His gaze was on you,” Lan Wangji claims, before his lips find a barely healed bruise below Wei Wuxian’s collarbone. He bites hard enough to make Wei Wuxian shudder.

“Ridiculous,” Wei Wuxian proclaims, as he helps Lan Wangji take his pants off.

[3.] marriage rights

The week before their wedding is a fraught time for Lan Wangji.

With deep reluctance, he sees Wei Wuxian off for his return to Yunmeng. They’ve modified many traditions for their own wedding to accommodate varying practices from their different backgrounds as well as the fact they’re both men, but on this particular ground, Jiang Wanyin pitched his stand. Wei Wuxian would marry out of Yunmeng Jiang, and the wedding would begin at Lotus Pier.

Sizhui and Jingyi agree to accompany Wei Wuxian as chaperones, and this is the only factor that eases Lan Wangji’s mind somewhat.

Wei Wuxian has no idea how many people, men and women, flirt openly with him wherever he goes. Lan Wangji has even caught the normally sober herbalist, Lan Hui, acting like a giggly schoolgirl around his husband-to-be when Wei Wuxian stops by to trade talismans he’s made for salves and oil.

Lan Wangji was hoping during their own wedding proceedings, people would abstain from approaching Wei Wuxian with their lewd thoughts, but of course Wei Wuxian is flush with the beauty of his happiness and bounding merrily around all corners of Lotus Pier as well-wishers flock to attend the wedding.

He is fairly sure he negotiated a substantially smaller guest list with Jiang Wanyin.

Even the day before the wedding, Lan Wangji turns a corner of the mazelike piers to find an Ouyang sect disciple he vaguely recognizes—not the earnest, respectful Ouyang Zizhen of their acquaintance—crowded up as close as he can be to Wei Wuxian and begging for a demonstration of his skill with the dizi.

“Go occupy yourself elsewhere,” Lan Wangji says, his voice harsh as a crack of thunder, and the Ouyang disciple turns, his face falling as he takes in the sight of Lan Wangji bearing down on him, Bichen held tense in one hand.

The Ouyang disciple bows so low he may as well be prostrating.

Lan Wangji ignores him and sweeps in toward Wei Wuxian, setting his hand against the wood beside Wei Wuxian’s head with enough force that anyone else would flinch.

Wei Wuxian beams at him. “Lan Zhan! It’s been less than an hour; did you miss me so much?”

“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji says with a frown. “Did he entrap you?”

“What, that Ouyang guy?” Wei Wuxian blinks guilelessly. “He didn’t; we were talking about Zizhen telling stories about his adventures with us to all of the disciples, and he wanted—”

Lan Wangji knew very well what ‘that Ouyang guy’ wanted.

“Master Wei! Master Wei—” Sizhui skids around the corner, sees the two of them, and lets out a visible breath of relief upon seeing Lan Wangji. “Sorry, Hanguang-Jun, I lost sight of Master Wei for one moment and they took a turn while I was talking to Jin Ling.”

Wei Wuxian hisses. “Lan Zhan! Have you set Sizhui on me like a guard? I thought they joined me as my companions!”

“They are your companions,” Lan Wangji replies in utter truth.

Wei Wuxian gives him a suspicious squint.

“Ah, Master Wei, shall we have some tea before dinner? Just the three of us?” Sizhui interjects, and Lan Wangji is grateful for his quick thinking to divert Wei Wuxian.

His husband to be has absolutely needed chaperonage but would deny it with every breath in his body.

“Yes, let’s,” Wei Wuxian says, giving Lan Wangji a limpid sidelong glance. “As long as I’m allowed.”

“Of course you are,” Lan Wangji replies. He looks at Sizhui, who responds with one of his affable diplomat smiles. “If Sizhui is present.”

Wei Wuxian pushes his lips out in a pout, but twines his arm with Lan Wangji’s readily enough. “Completely unnecessary, Er-gege. I’m hardly some virtuous maiden, to need chaperonage from my own husband to be.”

Lan Wangji inclines his head and refrains from observing that Jiang Wanyin probably is traditional enough to insist on that much, if only for public appearance’s sake.

They can’t take tea in either Lan Wangji’s quarters, or Wei Wuxian’s, despite the latter’s loud protests that they’re to be married the next day so what’s the difference? A Jiang household member serves them on one of the waterside stretches, a pleasant alcove with a view of the lake, and they settle in with some snacks and tea.

“It’s nice,” Wei Wuxian says after a few moments. His hand stretches out between them and settles on Lan Wangji’s knee. “Being here with the two of you, the night before.”

“I am glad,” Sizhui begins. He stops and swallows hard, looking out over the water.

Lan Wangji regards him with fondness. Sizhui has always been clear and forthright in communication, but when it comes to his deepest feelings, he has a Lan’s reticence at self-expression.

“I’m glad you are marrying,” Sizhui says at last, turning his earnest smile on Wei Wuxian. “I am happy you will have each other from now on.”

“Aiyah, A-Yuan, you make it sound like you’re leaving the nest!” Wei Wuxian complains. “We’ll still have you around too, you know. Family dinners and so forth.”

Lan Wangji covers the hand Wei Wuxian has on his knee. Sizhui’s smile is more brilliant than the sunset. They are family. The wedding only formalizes what they already know in their hearts to be true.

The next day their wedding commences, and Lan Wangji only has eyes for Wei Wuxian, whose attention never wavers from him for a second.

By the time they sink down together onto their red silk-draped marriage bed in the Cloud Recesses, Lan Wangji knows the journey has been long but worth every hard-fought step of the way.

[4.] the right price

They take up night-hunting when Lan Wangji’s duties allow. He will never be a Chief Cultivator who devotes himself solely to paperwork or conferences. Trusted disciples sort his correspondence and dispatches; many pen rote responses.

They’re just past Guangling seeing to a report of a Shan Xiao, and Lan Wangji notes the repeated grimaces the magistrate sends in Wei Wuxian’s direction as they question him. It’s typical for Wei Wuxian to handle the questioning, but this magistrate won’t reply to him with more than a few curt words. At last, Wei Wuxian gives Lan Wangji a significant look and excuses himself.

“Lan Zhan, I’m going to see to our provisions,” Wei Wuxian says, despite the fact they’ve brought their own, stored in one of Lan Wangji’s qiankun pouches. “Can you handle the rest?”

Lan Wangji inclines his head in understanding and assent.

As expected, the magistrate’s tongue loosens once the former Yiling Laozu has left his chambers.

Once Lan Wangji finishes questioning the magistrate, he returns to the market street to find Wei Wuxian bargaining and flirting with a handsome stall vendor—older, smile lines—and Lan Wangji strides in on him and pays the full amount before he can spend any more time bartering.

“Do not barter,” Lan Wangji tells him in a forbidding tone as he takes him by the wrist and steers him away from the handsome paper merchant.

“That’s not a rule of Gusu Lan,” Wei Wuxian shoots back in an irked manner. “I’d know; I’ve even learned the new rules so I know whether I’m crossing your uncle.”

“There is no need,” Lan Wangji replies. He softens his demeanor the further they get from the stall. His fingers loosen around Wei Wuxian’s wrist. His husband turns his hand in his grip and laces their fingers together, and Lan Wangji’s heart lightens as always at that easy, casual affection.

“Lan Zhan ah!” Wei Wuxian protests. “Where I come from, bartering is a way of life, it’s like a religion! It’s how we got by during the lean years!”

Lan Wangji considers this. He knows there were many lean years. First for Yunmeng Jiang, as they recovered from the occupation of Lotus Pier and the devastation of the sect; and the even more difficult privation that followed as Wei Wuxian scraped to earn enough to feed a band of refugees living in the Burial Mounds.

“I understand,” he says after a pause. “Gusu Lan pays because we can. The full amount is our means of supporting those who support us.”

Wei Wuxian blinks over at him for an instant. His heart-stopping smile spreads across his face. “Lan Zhan,” he says, and his voice catches in a slight, pleased laugh. “You’re really great, you know that?”

Lan Wangji’s ears go warm and his hand tightens on Wei Wuxian’s. “It is our duty,” he says, though not as stiffly as he might have once.

“It’s your way of satisfying an obligation without injuring local pride,” Wei Wuxian notes.

Lan Wangji looks down to disguise the swell of fondness that overtakes him at Wei Wuxian’s keen perception. “Come, let’s find an inn,” he says, changing the subject.

“For lunch?” Wei Wuxian asks. “For gossip?” His gaze turns sly.

“To hire a room,” Lan Wangji replies blandly, which could simply mean to secure lodgings for overnight.

Wei Wuxian’s delighted laughter rings out. He knows very well what Lan Wangji is really after, even so early in the afternoon.

[5.] a healer’s salve

A very optimistic part of Lan Wangji had hoped, after their marriage, there would be no further pursuit of Wei Wuxian despite how outrageously charming he continues to be.

It isn’t Wei Wuxian’s fault, and he isn’t flirting for the sake of it anymore—Lan Wangji has seen his flirting, and that’s reserved for Lan Wangji’s sole enjoyment now. Or trying to bargain down street vendors, which Lan Wangji seems to have averted by stepping in to pay before any bartering begins. Now he’s only being himself, and he thinks the other party is being nice, or appreciative, or in one instance, trying to suck up to Wei Wuxian to have him put in a good word to the Chief Cultivator.

They’re wrapping up a night-hunt to assist the Tanzhou Yang sect, a subsidiary group of cultivators that has yet to build their numbers back up from the decimation of the Sunshot Campaign, though it’s going on two decades since the war. Lan Wangji has no particular desire for, or expectation of, praises to be lavished upon him as Hanguang-Jun or the Chief Cultivator. Still, he’d rather endure excessive praise with a stoic face than stand watching people fawn over his husband.

“Wei Wuxian is so skilled, putting such a ferocious yao to rout!” one of the blushing young lady cultivators says, her hand nearly touching Wei Wuxian’s trailing sleeve. He’s wearing his dark blue Gusu-style robes on this trip.

Lan Wangji looks at her and wonders if it’s possible word of his marriage hasn’t reached Tanzhou, near to Gusu as it is. There’s been a nonstop stream of thinly veiled advances aimed at Wei Wuxian since they’ve reached Tanzhou.

“There’s no need, truly,” Wei Wuxian replies with a scoff. He winces as he takes a step toward the path and his right foot founders. “It’s important to study the methods of liberation and suppression for all types of creatures, you know!”

The Yang sect rarely has to deal with much worse than the low-level shambling corpses that a child disciple can put down, so Lan Wangji took up the request from Tanzhou Yang personally. There are certain times of the year when Wei Wuxian is more restless than others, and the prospect of a trip to the coast was a timely coincidence.

Now that he’s watched Tang maidens hovering so close to Wei Wuxian, the navy blue of his robes is all but obscured by their brown and salmon colors as they flock around him, and Lan Wangji is wishing he’d sent Sizhui and Jingyi in their place after all.

He pays their inconsequential attentions little heed. Wei Wuxian is friendly and polite in return, and none of the Yang girls are going to get anywhere.

“Yes, but you did it so quickly!” another young woman simpers.

Wei Wuxian shoots her a glance and takes another step, wincing. “Really, it’s not that—” He cuts himself off with a small yelp as he shifts his weight. Lan Wangji deftly weaves between one Yang maiden and the next to get to Wei Wuxian’s side, and Wei Wuxian leans against his shoulder.

“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji utters, and rather than waste any time chastising his husband for underplaying another injury, he sweeps him off his feet and carries him into town. A bevy of clamoring ladies trail after them.

The Yang healer is around Lan Wangji’s age, a woman with a no-nonsense expression and steady hands, and she points to a mat and tells Wei Wuxian to sit in such decisive tones that he seats himself with a look of astonishment. She lifts away his robe to expose his leg and both she and Lan Wangji hiss at the long, jagged wound that is revealed. It’s ripped his pant leg apart until it hangs in shreds.

“How did you walk on this?” the healer demands, looking over at Wei Wuxian as she takes a pouch out of her sleeve and removes a needle and silk thread.

“I didn’t even feel it!” He narrows his eyes at the needle. “What are you going to do with that?”

She gives him a bitter draught to numb him, tells him brusquely not to move, and gives Lan Wangji the option to wait outside or stay before she begins to stitch him up.

The wound will heal faster than it would have a year ago, the recovery sped along by Wei Wuxian’s strengthening core, but any cultivator would need basic medical care for a wound this grievous. A core can only do so much.

Lan Wangji waits, knuckles white on Bichen, as Wei Wuxian lays on the mat trying not to make noise while the healer puts neat stitches in his wound and slathers a salve over it once that’s done. He begins to get suspicious when she spends a great deal of time on that part of the treatment, and smooths beside the wounded area up one side then down the other with slow deliberation.

“Oh, that’s…ah, you have good hands,” Wei Wuxian mumbles, and Lan Zhan’s mouth twitches. The draught must have been stronger than baijiu. “Done so soon?”

“Would you like me to touch you some more?” the healer asks archly.

Lan Wangji recognizes the dry tone of someone teasing a person with something they’re serious about.

“Unnecessary,” Lan Wangji says in freezing tones, sweeping forward to block the healer with his body and help Wei Wuxian up from the mat.

“He should keep his weight off it for the next few days,” the healer says, still looking at Lan Wangji’s husband. “Take painkillers as needed.”

“Alcohol?” Wei Wuxian asks hopefully.

“Alcohol by itself, but not with painkillers,” she says, giving him a stern look.

“Thank you,” Wei Wuxian says, melting against Lan Wangji. “You’re so nice!” He beams at her.

“Anything else I can do for you?” the healer asks, keeping her eyes on Wei Wuxian. “Perhaps you’re staying in town a few days? I’d be happy to make a personal call—”

“No, we are not,” Lan Wangji snaps. He picks Wei Wuxian up, careful to keep his grip under the knee, nowhere near where he was wounded.

He does book a room at the inn, but he is very specific in his instructions regarding no visitors and all meals to be delivered.

Wei Wuxian protests that he doesn’t need to be fussed over or coddled, but he settles into it readily enough that Lan Wangji knows this is when he needs it most.

“You are too trusting,” Lan Wangji informs his husband, who is half-dozing from the painkiller he’s taken obediently after eating.

“Hmm?” Wei Wuxian hums back, shifting his cheek on Lan Wangji’s thigh.

“Pay it no heed,” Lan Wangji returns. He strokes Wei Wuxian’s hair until he falls asleep. Wei Wuxian’s ability to see the best in people is a fitting counter for Lan Wangji’s own tendency to distrust the intentions of others.

[+1. no easy prey]

“There’s no need to apologize,” Wei Wuxian says for the fifth time, as Jin Ling’s head disciple makes another shuffling sidestep near him, wringing his hands. “Really, Jin Haoran. We’re on a night hunt; I don’t expect to return immaculate.”

“I’m sorry!” Jin Haoran says again anyhow. “This lowly one doesn’t have any drying talismans, Master Wei.”

Wei Wuxian flaps a hand at him. “Well, no one expected this night-hunt to end up in the river!”

He turns and shades his eyes with a hand, looking up the sinuous silver curve of the river he’s just climbed out from. His clothes are sopping wet, and although the sun is out, it’s still so early in spring that the air is cold. It’s a measure of his strengthening core, he knows, that the chill no longer bothers him as much.

They’ve split up into groups to cover more ground, and somewhere along the stretch of river, Sizhui and Jin Ling have hopefully not stumbled into the same ridiculous trap that Wei Wuxian foundered into, pushing Jin Haoran out of the way just in time for the reed-spirits to ensnare him and pull him into the river instead. Getting himself free was a small matter, but Jin Haoran is being way too deferential about his drenched state.

“Master Wei, we should get those wet robes off you,” Jin Haoran says beside him.

It’s not even that much that kicks off his suspicions; it’s the gentle touch of fingers to the wet cloth that clings to Wei Wuxian’s forearm.

Wei Wuxian pulls his arm away from Jin Haoran’s grasp and blinks over at him. He makes his eyes purposefully wide, like he can’t possibly understand what Jin Haoran is after. He’s not going to cause one of Jin Ling’s remaining faithful disciples to fall out with him by accusing him of approaching Hanguang-Jun’s husband in an inappropriate manner. Wei Wuxian has no illusions that it’s Lan Wangji’s status that would be more at issue than his being Jin Ling’s uncle.

“Ah, no need, no need!” Wei Wuxian says brightly. “I’m not cold in the least, but if I were, I could set some of these handy reeds on fire!”

Jin Haoran’s eyes widen and he takes a step back, as Wei Wuxian intended.

“Besides, Jin Ling and Sizhui should be coming up the embankment; it wouldn’t do to expose him to my masculine charms,” Wei Wuxian continues.

Jin Haoran’s lower lip pushes out in a slight pout. “Master Wei, I can’t have you getting sick under my charge!”

“Please, no stripping your clothes off,” a pained voice says behind them, and Wei Wuxian whirls with a broad grin. He recognizes Jingyi’s voice, and Jingyi was paired off to search the area with… “Your husband might take it as a sign to carry you off into the bushes.”

Lan Wangji’s gaze seeks his, poised but alert.

“When have we done that on a night-hunt!” Wei Wuxian screeches, and has to amend when the slight, smug tilt of Lan Wangji’s mouth reminds him. “When you were there for it, anyhow!”

He rolls his shoulders and steps away from Jin Haoran, filing away a mental note not to let the eager young disciple get another chance to be alone with him, lest he catch his husband drinking vinegar again. Once every now and then is acceptable—Lan Wangji tends to be very vigorous afterward—but they should at least try to set a good example for the youth.

At first, Wei Wuxian had taken little heed of other people’s attentions toward him as long as Lan Wangji was near, so wrapped up in the newness of being with Lan Wangji, indulging in the deep well of love that was focused upon him. He supposed the radiance of his happiness had drawn people to him, men and women alike, but hadn’t thought anything was meant by it until Fang Kai had tried to escort them to separate quarters.

Lan Wangji had lavished him with very physical affection that night, showing him with lips and teeth and hands and cock how very much Wei Wuxian was desired. The matter of Fang Kai left his mind until the next morning when Wei Wuxian took a late breakfast in the room off the kitchens and Fang Kai brought him tea. He’d leaned in to serve, and his eyes caught on a particularly visible mark Lan Wangji had left above Wei Wuxian’s collarbone—and him with no high-necked robes to cover it. Fang Kai had blushed, excused himself in stammers, and fled.

Wei Wuxian has paid a bit more heed after that.

He isn’t concerned with the flirtatious attitude of others. The only person he tries to get a rise out of is his Hanguang-Jun. And it turns out, letting others get close enough in their misguided efforts is sufficient to sour Lan Wangji’s face like he’s replaced his tea with vinegar.

“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji says in a tone of light admonishment, his step quickening as he draws near.

“Aish, Lan Zhan, I’m fine—” Wei Wuxian begins to protest, and gives his husband a helpless, fond smile as Lan Wangji draws a winter-weight cloak from his qiankun sleeve. He walks right up to him and settles it around Wei Wuxian’s shoulders, and Wei Wuxian beams at him as Lan Wangji adjusts it with care around him.

“Disgusting!” a new voice declares. “Canoodling in the middle of a night hunt! Have you no shame?”

Wei Wuxian glances at Lan Wangji with a grin. His husband replies with a stoic look. “Ah, if only you knew how many times Hanguang-Jun has told me I’m shameless!”

Jin Ling’s face works as though trying to decide what expression to settle on as he and Sizhui make their way down the river bank toward them. “Well, try to provide a better model as our elder, then!”

Wei Wuxian’s grin widens. “Ah, nephew, if only you knew.”

A hand smooths over the fur collar settled around his neck, and Wei Wuxian returns his gaze to his attentive husband. “Is everything all right?” Lan Wangji murmurs.

“Just right,” Wei Wuxian replies gladly. He doesn’t need jealousy to keep Lan Wangji’s eyes on him, after all.

Though vinegar does add flavor to the meal, whenever the mood strikes.