Meng Yao wakes up in the same way he has for the last few weeks since their injuries had healed for it - in Lan Xichen’s arms.
It isn’t strictly a…physical thing, he doesn’t think, since it had definitely started as a way to both share warmth and to have reassurance through the night that the other one hadn’t been taken by their pursuers. But after the last accident for the Wen that Meng Yao had orchestrated to give them some breathing room, and having found them a small shack in the countryside to stay in that had a door and a hearth and everything…neither of those excuses is really holding much water anymore.
And yet here he is, wrapped up securely in the other man’s arms and held close to that broad chest and he closes his eyes to savor it, his expression unguarded in a brief moment of weakness that he doesn’t realize he has a witness for until he feels Lan Xichen’s hand drifting to brush softly against his arm currently wrapped across the other man’s chest - precisely the position they’d fallen asleep in last night as Lan Xichen had lain on his back in typical Lan fashion with Meng Yao cradled gently against his side.
The touch is much too careful to be done in his sleep.
Meng Yao’s expression instantly freezes and he feels tension creep into his shoulders as he begins mentally berating himself for the slip-up. He can’t afford those. Hadn’t been able to afford those for a very long time.
“I know you’re awake,“ he says quietly as he looks at the rough homespun blanket covering both of them up to the waist. "Let me up, I can start breakfast.”
“Hmmm..No,” Lan Xichen murmurs, voice a soft rumble low in his chest, making it vibrate ever so slightly under his arm that he’s now stroking more openly, having been caught out. “I’m comfortable.” Meng Yao lets out a delicate little snort at that and he glances up to look at Lan Xichen’s faint hint of a smile in response, his eyes still closed against the morning sun creeping in through every loose board in the walls.
“We don’t sleep like this to be comfortable,” he reminds the other with a scoff and he’s unsurprised when all that gets him is a slight widening of the smile and Lan Xichen’s other hand beginning to stroke his back, his palm warm through the flimsy barrier of his sheer underrobe.
“No? Hm. Why do we sleep this way, then?”
“We..it is…” Meng Yao props himself up a bit on his elbow to get some distance (it’s difficult to think when Lan Xichen’s shoulder is warm and solid under his cheek) and he frowns to himself as he mentally stumbles over the next excuse in his ever-growing list of them. Unfortunately they’re all equally flimsy and easily argued, and he knows that Lan Xichen will argue whatever he chooses in his gentle way, try to push him into telling the truth. He’s been doing that more lately, pushing beyond what he used to in a search for answers - whether Meng Yao wants to give them or not.
“It’s alright, A-Yao,” he murmurs and Meng Yao looks up through his lashes to find the other man already watching him, gaze warm and honey-sweet as he looks up at him. He’s so beautiful like this, Meng Yao thinks. He’s still sleep-soft and his skin is hot even through the double layer of their robes, his hair fanned out on the pillow under his head and his cheeks a slight, delicate shell-pink, his lips a few shades darker. He meets Lan Xichen’s gaze again and feels himself getting caught in it, laid bare by nothing more than a gentle voice and kind eyes.
“No, come back,” Lan Xichen urges as he drags his hand up the length of his forearm to wrap those beautiful, long fingers around his wrist so he can gently pull his hand from his shoulder to his lips apparently for the sole purpose of pressing feather-light kisses against his knuckles. Meng Yao is shocked enough by the gesture that his mask cracks again and it earns him a gentle sigh of relief. “Ah, there you are. I like it best when you don’t hide your face,” he murmurs, and though Meng Yao could press the issue and argue that he hadn’t hidden his face at all, he knows what he means. And he’s tired of arguing.
“A-Yao,” the only man to ever truly see him whispers. He brushes that broad hand up his back and really, how was Meng Yao ever supposed to resist?
His eyes slip shut of their own accord as Lan Xichen curls his hand into a gentle fist against his shoulder blade and the thin fabric of his underrobe whispers against soft skin as it slips down over the curve of one shoulder to expose it before getting caught in the crook of his elbow and sliding no further. Meng Yao gasps as pliant lips press into the newly exposed hollow at the outer end of his collarbone where it meets his shoulder and he bites his bottom lip to stifle anything else - word or noise - that wants to escape under the skilled and methodical ministrations of Lan Xichen’s lips.
It lasts for what feels like a small eternity of nothing but tender kisses and quiet, unsteady breathing shared between them until a particularly loud bird call from outside startles Meng Yao and he shoves Lan Xichen away with trembling hands. He scrambles out of bed with another gasp on his lips and he tugs his robe more fully around himself, eyes wide and wild as he pants for breath as if he’d just finished a full practice bout with Nie Mingjue. Lan Xichen is still in bed, sitting up now with the blanket pooled around his hips, robe half open and draped on his muscular frame in a way that’s criminally delicious. Meng Yao’s neck and shoulder are faintly aching with bruises in the shape of the mouth currently turning his name into a question and a prayer simultaneously.
“A-Yao?” Lan Xichen murmurs as the hand he had stretched out to try to catch him falls back to the bed with a soft thump. Meng Yao darts a glance around the small structure before he drifts to the door on bare feet (ugh, dirt floors) and he doesn’t even open the ragged collection of boards that’s all that really stands between them and the world, he simply looks through one of the gaps to hunt for any irregularities in the overgrown grass close at hand or beyond it in the woods sheltering the clearing from civilization. “There’s no one here but us,” Lan Xichen calls quietly from the bed and Meng Yao straightens his posture slowly, trying to gather as much dignity around himself as he can muster when dressed in nothing but a black robe thinner than a piece of paper. He turns back to face the other to find him looking at him with so much tenderness it makes his entire body ache.
“You can’t know that for sure. We could be found at any moment.”
“Then we will be found and we will deal with it then,” he replies implacably and Meng Yao does not stamp his foot but he is sorely tempted to.
“Then everything I’ve done for you would have been for nothing!! You can’t be caught!” he retorts, too sharp, too jagged. He waits for the anger, for the indignation at being spoken to so disrespectfully by an inferior, but it’s Lan Xichen so of course there’s nothing in those wide, trusting eyes but concern and sadness. Meng Yao schools his features as well as he can back towards something polite and distant as he refuses to shuffle his feet. It would be a sign of weakness, and that’s even more intolerable than the idea of kicking up more dirt to stick to the bottom of his bare feet. “You are the Sect Heir-” an unsubtle reminder of the dynamic that should exist between them even now, and that Lan Xichen regularly disregards as if it never existed in the first place - “ And you have the majority of the Lan library on your person. You absolutely cannot be caught.”
“You are equally as important to me, A-Yao. I will not allow you to be caught either.”
Silence reigns, tense and uncomfortable, as Meng Yao attempts to make that declaration align with his own views. He’s unsurprised to find it quite impossible.
“A-Yao...why aren’t you returning to the Unclean Realm?” Lan Xichen asks after a while of nothing but staring and the unsynchronized rhythms of their breathing and Meng Yao groans as he finally does give into his childish urge and stomps across the small shack to plop himself firmly on the edge of the bed, back bowed. What’s the point in keeping up appearances anymore anyway? Lan Xichen has seen him at his worst already, and Meng Yao, at least, knows that worse is coming. It will do him good later to nurture that trust now, to make Lan Xichen feel special for being allowed to see him unguarded.
He refuses to acknowledge that he might be allowing it for the sake of the fragile hope in his chest that someone in the world could see the truest version of him, see the hideousness lurking at his core, and care for him anyway.
“I have been banished,” he replies, voice cold and empty as he stares at the opposite wall. He has plans, of course - he always has plans - but his banishment is still there in the front of his mind, taking up valuable space that should be used to plot his own survival with a despair he hadn’t thought himself still capable of. “I have nowhere to go.”
“You cannot take me to Gusu,” he replies instantly, turning his head to meet the other man’s saddened gaze. He isn’t sure if he looked like that before or after his second pronouncement but it doesn’t really matter very much. “It will need rebuilding. Our position is still dangerous. It will anger Nie-Zongzhu, it will damage my reputation and yours, it -“
“Shh A-Yao. It’s alright. Come here.”
Lan Xichen never interrupts. He simply doesn’t. Not even when he should, or when it’s clear that he wants to. He doesn’t. The fact of it happening now is enough to shock Meng Yao and he obeys without thought. He lays himself straight back and plants his feet on the floor as his head somehow ends up cradled in Lan Xichen’s lap, the man’s nimble fingers deftly working out the worst of the snags in his hair from overnight, though there aren’t many. He’s always so exhausted at the end of the day that he sleeps still as stone on Lan Xichen’s chest. Still. The gesture is oddly reminiscent of his mother holding him and soothing him at the end of long days spent running away from other children in the streets outside the brothel in Yunping, the ones who wanted nothing to do with him except to see how much fear they could subject him to before they were called home for dinner. His eyes fill with tears unexpectedly as the sense memory hits him right in the chest and Lan Xichen doesn’t even pause in his careful stroking.
“It’s alright,” he murmurs with a gentle sweep of his fingertips across his forehead, the gesture turning into a pass of the back of one knuckle against his temple that’s wet with tears he’s powerless to stop. A sob breaks out of Meng Yao’s chest, a little baby bird of a thing, too fragile for the world that’s waiting to destroy it.
“No,” he protests, voice cracked porcelain as he closes his eyes against the sight of the gaps in the thatching overhead. “It’s not. Nothing is.”
“I’m here,” Lan Xichen replies, beginning to sound less composed than usual. “I’m right here, A-Yao. We’ll figure this out.” Meng Yao tenses in preparation to sit up but Lan Xichen’s free hand is suddenly on his chest, restraining and comforting at once as he leans down. His hair, unbound and still a little tangled from sleep, falls around them in a curtain and pools like heavy silk on Meng Yao’s shoulders as Lan Xichen leans down to press his lips against his forehead, soft and slow. “Don’t get up,” he pleads. “Stay with me.”
Meng Yao should stand up. He should compose himself, he should pretend that he never had a reason to compose himself in the first place. He should plan their next move, try to figure out how much longer they can hunker down in the shack before they have to move on to avoid detection.
He shouldn’t let Lan Xichen make him weak.
“Huan-ge,” he breathes and he feels the shudder in the curve of Lan Xichen’s body around his head and shoulders. “Take care of me,” he adds. And instead of standing, instead of establishing a proper boundary, he lets Lan Xichen drag him into the bed properly to do just that.