Lan Wangji is a famous and prominent figure not only in the cultivation world, given that he is the Chief Cultivator, but also amongst the common people. Fame and renown weren’t things Lan Wangji would have wished for given the choice, but a natural consequence of the station to which he was born, as well as the actions he has chosen to take.
Most of the time, Lan Wangji feels indifferent about this; people recognise him, and often defer to his expertise, given his reputation.
And then there are the times when he is rudely woken up in the middle of the night by someone trying to lay a curse on him. As an imminently eligible young master from one of the great sects, a number of attempted cursings for the purpose of entrapment or sabotage are to be expected.
The frequency of attempted cursings had increased since he had accepted the position of Chief Cultivator, however. Fortunately, his golden core is too powerful for anything to really take hold in him. This curse is no different—he detects it trying to curl through his heart meridians like smoke. A love curse then. Lan Wangji sighs audibly, something he only does when there is no one else around to hear him.
It must have been cast remotely somehow to have found him in his bed in Cloud Recesses. No matter. Lan Wangji crushes the curse easily, enveloping it in his spiritual energy, and then squeezing. Because he is irritated about his sleep being interrupted, he puts a little extra oomph into it, so the spellcaster will feel how displeased he is when the backlash hits them. It should make them think twice before trying that again.
Curse averted, Lan Wangji closes his eyes and goes back to sleep. He thinks no more of it.
Two days later, Wei Wuxian arrives in Cloud Recesses.
Lan Wangji hadn’t been expecting him. In the last letter he’d received, Wei Wuxian had mentioned plans to head further South, so Lan Wangji isn’t prepared for his arrival.
He is in the middle of a lesson with a group of tiny juniors when a runner arrives with a note. The children get dismissed for an early lunch that day. Lan Wangji walks as quickly as is permissible to the entrance, a heavy sense of anticipation swirling in his veins.
He’s missed Wei Ying. He’s missed him so much.
Lan Wangji spots Lil’ Apple first, nosing at a patch of grass to the side of the entrance. Has Wei Ying already entered?
He hears a retch, followed closely by a spluttering cough. Someone is being sick.
Lan Wangji flies towards the sound. A terrible fear suddenly grips his heart.
“Wei Ying?” he calls. He finds him on the other side of Lil’ Apple, coughing into a bush.
“H-hey, Lan Zhan,” says Wei Ying, his voice worryingly wobbly. He sits back on his haunches heavily, and offers up a threadbare smile for Lan Wangji. His eyes are shiny with tears, and his cheeks are damp.
While it’s so good to see Wei Ying’s dear face—Lan Wangji’s feelings are at such a level that he’d think Wei Ying beautiful in just about any state—he looks ill. Pale and drawn, with dark rings under his eyes as if he hasn’t slept well. His hair rather than being in its usual style to appear chaotic mess, actually is a proper mess.
The smell of alcohol is extremely strong, and it emanates from Wei Ying’s person.
“Wei Ying, are you drunk?” Lan Wangji asks, feeling his own face twist with surprise.
“Um, maybe? I think?” says Wei Ying.
For all that Wei Ying drinks, Lan Wangji hasn’t ever actually seen him this far gone; he usually holds his liquor well.
Lan Wangji crouches beside him, and reaches out to smooth his hair away from his pale, sweaty face. His fingertips brush Wei Ying’s temple, and Wei Ying moans.
A feeling of relief blooms in Lan Wangji’s mind, the kind of acute relief that comes with the sudden, unexpected, cessation of pain.
Lan Wangji isn’t in pain. The relief doesn’t belong to him, but it isn’t difficult to deduce who it must belong to. It’s only years of keeping his face from betraying what he’s feeling that saves Lan Wangji from reacting outwardly. Lan Wangji makes the decision to ignore that he can feel Wei Ying’s emotions in favour of focusing on his pain. That is more important for now.
“Are you hurt, Wei Ying?” Lan Wangji asks, pressing his hand to Wei Ying’s forehead to feel his temperature. There is no fever, but that doesn’t do much to mitigate Lan Wangji’s worries.
“No—I’m not hurt,” says Wei Ying, sagging forward to lean his weight into Lan Wangji’s hand like he can’t help himself.
It’s so strange—Lan Wangji can feel what Wei Ying is feeling. Although the relief is still very profound, wisps of other things are making themselves known; happiness; wistfulness; guilt. It’s all so fleeting that Lan Wangji can’t even begin to deduce what has provoked those feelings, but he wishes he knew their source.
What makes Wei Ying happy? The Lan rules caution against excess self-importance, but Lan Wangji feels it doesn’t break the rules to hope he causes happiness in Wei Ying.
“You aren’t hurt, but you were hurting,” says Lan Wangji.
Wei Ying laughs—he always laughs in the face of his own pain.
“Ah, you’re as sharp as ever, Lan Zhan. Listen, I think I’ve been cursed.” Wei Ying says.
“Cursed?” says Lan Zhan.
“Yeah, the past two days have been…” Wei Ying can’t seem to find the words, and he shudders instead. Thinking about whatever he went through over the past two days fills Wei Ying with dread, and Lan Wangji can feel it emanating from him.
“Anyway—” continues Wei Ying with infuriating flippancy, “—I think I’m actually fine now? The worst, uh, symptom went away when you got here. With that gone I should be able to figure this out myself. Sorry to bother you.”
Wei Ying goes to stand, and almost immediately topples over into Lan Wangji’s arms.
“I’m fine, I’m fine, I promise I’m fine,” says Wei Ying. The way he repeats those words almost sounds like a laugh, but Lan Wangji can tell that Wei Ying feels guilt. Why does Wei Ying Ying feel guilty? There isn’t any immediately obvious reason for it that Lan Wangji can see.
Wei Ying hiccups. “I definitely got this,” he mumbles into Lan Wangji’s shoulder. He weakly presses his hands to Lan Wangji’s chest for leverage as he attempts to stand under his own power.
“You smell nice,” Wei Ying mumbles, as his guilt intensifies. Could it be because he’s arrived so drunk? Is that what he feels guilty for? Even though Lan Wangji can’t really recall the handful of times he himself has been drunk, he does know that it affected his emotions, and the way he expressed himself. Could that be what is happening?
Lan Wangji wants to crush Wei Ying to his chest. He wants to hold him in his arms, and carry him to the Jingshi. He’s strong, he could do it easily. Then he’d lay Wei Ying down in his bed and let him sleep off this strange mood.
Instead, when Wei Ying manages to regain his balance, he respectfully steps back.
The moment Lan Wangji withdraws his touch, Wei Ying collapses, back bowing as if some great, terrible weight is bearing down on him.
He lets out a choked whimper, but Lan Wangji can tell he wants to scream. He can tell he’s in pain—terrible pain. He can tell that Wei Ying doesn’t want him to know.
This time when Lan Zhan touches him, Wei Ying passes out.
It takes all of Lan Wangji’s considerable self control not to panic. This is like something out of his worst nightmares; Wei Ying, in pain. Him, not knowing how to fix it.
Lan Wangji kneels and pulls Wei Ying into his lap, cradling him to try and make him comfortable. For a person with such a strong personality and presence, Wei Ying’s weight feels like nothing in Lan Wangji’s arms. There should be more to him.
Lan Wangji sets two fingers against Wei Ying’s temple and begins to simultaneously transfer spiritual energy to him, and feel out his spiritual veins. He senses something, a wispy thread of smoke stealing through Wei Ying’s heartlines—the curse. Before he can poke at it further, Wei Ying stirs.
“Wei Ying, wake up,” Lan Wangji urges.
Wei Ying opens his eyes and blinks blearily. When he manages to focus on Lan Wangji’s face above him, he smiles like he’s happy to see him. He is happy to see him, Wei Ying feels safe and content. It makes Lan Wangji’s heart swell with affection.
“I’m awake,” Wei Ying says, moving to sit up. The second he loses contact with Lan Wangji the pain hits him again. Lan Wangji can tell, he can feel Wei Ying’s confusion and mounting panic. It's almost overwhelming.
When he sets a hand on Wei Ying’s shoulder he feels Wei Ying’s relief.
“The curse,” they say simultaneously. They’ve both figured it out.
Wei Ying sags where he sits, and buries his face in his hands.
“I’m too drunk for this. Why did I drink so much? The pain wasn’t that bad.” he mumbles into his palms.
Oh, Wei Ying. It makes Lan Wangji’s heart ache to think of Wei Ying, hurting and alone, drinking to try and numb the pain of the curse.
Lan Wangji gently takes him by the wrists, and pulls his hands away from his face so they can meet each other eye to eye.
“This curse causes you pain when you aren’t touching anyone?”
Wei Ying shakes his head in a floppy frenzy that makes his hair whip back and forth. It makes Lan Wangji frown. Wei Ying is always so careless with himself, he wants to cup the back of Wei Ying’s neck and—
Lan Wangji halts that thought in its tracks. It’s best not to let his mind wander on tangents where Wei Ying is involved, particularly in his presence.
“I’ve touched people—people have touched me—on my way here. Still hurt.”
“So it is only my touch that soothes it?” Lan Wangji doesn’t ever want Wei Ying to be in pain, but it would be a lie to pretend that his touch being the thing to alleviate the effects of the curse doesn’t please the darkest, most possessive parts of himself.
There is a sharp, sudden upwelling of guilt from Wei Ying. Again with the guilt, what in the world could be causing it? Being able to tell what Wei Ying feels must be another effect of the curse, one he doesn’t appear to be aware of. Are his feelings bared to any who come near him, or, like the touch, is it only Lan Wangji?
Generally speaking, it is a state of being for Lan Wangji to want— desperately —to drag Wei Ying back to his Jingshi and keep him to himself. The idea that anyone who comes near Wei Ying might be able to tell what he’s feeling, the idea of Wei Ying being so vulnerable, it only increases that baseline desire a hundredfold.
“Wei Ying, I believe that the curse is making me feel what you feel,” Lan Wangji tells him. Wei Ying looks up at him sharply, and his whole body goes tense. It feels like an explosion of emotion is erupting. Wei Ying is so alarmed that the hairs on the back of Lan Wangji’s neck rise.
“You feel what I feel? The curse—it’s hurting you too? Is it transferring to you when you touch me? Quick—let me go— let me go— ”
Lan Wangji is stricken. His breath hitches and his fingers tighten their grip reflexively. He stands frozen like a statue while those words echo in his head; let me go. They transport him somewhere else, those words. To the worst day of his life. To a cliff top over a river of lava where Wei Ying made him let go—
Wei Ying trying to pull away forcefully is what draws him back to himself, he strains backwards with all of his weight.
“Wait—Wei Ying,” he tries, voice hoarse, heart pounding. “I didn’t mean—”
“It shouldn’t hurt you, Lan Zhan. Let me go, I’ll take it. I can take it—” Lan Wangji can feel Wei Ying’s distress rising the longer he refuses to let go. Wei Ying begins trying to pry at Lan Wangji’s hands with increasing desperation, his fingers digging into the skin of his own arm without care.
That’s what gets Lan Wangji to finally relinquish his grip, Wei Ying’s fingers digging into his own skin hard enough to bruise. Wei Ying topples over backwards, landing hard on his backside. He’s in pain again, but this time he tries so hard to modulate his response. His hands shake, and shoulders curve inwards, and he bites his lip, but he doesn’t make a sound. Lan Wangji can tell he wants to, though.
“I’m f-fine,” he stutters, even though there are tears gathering in his eyes.
“Wei Ying, I misspoke,” says Lan Wangji quickly, falling to his knees in front him. He reaches towards him, but Wei Ying flinches away from his hand. “Don’t,” he says tightly. He’s afraid.
“Touching you didn’t hurt me, Wei Ying. You misunderstood. Please, let me help,” Lan Wangji begs.
Wei Ying blinks rapidly, and a few tears escape and roll down his cheeks.
“But… but you said—”
This time when Lan Wangji reaches for him, Wei Ying allows it. Lan Wangji takes his hand, and Wei Ying gasps in relief. He sways where he sits, looking like he might tip over, so Lan Wangji puts his other hand on Wei Ying’s shoulder to steady him.
He looks Wei Ying in the eye. “I’m fine. It doesn’t hurt me.” He tries to infuse his voice with as much sincerity as he can muster.
“Oh,” says Wei Ying. He lets out a forced laugh. “But you said—? I—I guess I over-reacted, huh? My bad.” Wei Ying is embarrassed. Lan Wangji can feel it like an itch against the back of his neck.
Wei Ying tries to get up, and his legs shake so much that Lan Wangji is afraid they might give on him. Lan Wangji hurries to help him, lifting him by the forearms and keeping a hold of him to make sure he doesn’t tip again, or worse, try to evade Lan Wangji’s touch.
“So… When we touch, it soothes the pain of the curse?” says Lan Wangji, changing the subject. He’s too shaken to try and tell Wei Ying about being able to feel his emotions again. He’ll try again when he’s sober, and less likely to misunderstand.
“Yeah, I guess it does,” says Wei Ying. “I’m sorry, Lan Zhan.” He hangs his head. “I didn’t know that would happen when I came. I just—it hurt, and I didn’t know where else to go.”
Wei Ying feels so very guilty. Lan Wangji still doesn’t understand what the root of that feeling is for Wei Ying, so he has no idea what to do to make things better. He knows Wei Ying doesn't enjoy being taken care of, but this is disproportionate.
“I’m glad you came,” he says. The words feel hopelessly inadequate, but they make Wei Ying feel fond so it is at least better than nothing.
“Do you think you could let me in the library?” Wei Ying asks. “There was a whole section about countering curses if I recall correctly, it shouldn’t take long. I could be out of your hair tonight.”
Lan Wangji hesitates. His knee jerk reaction to Wei Ying asking for something is to give it to him; Wei Ying asks for so little from him. But on the other hand, Wei Ying clearly needs rest, a meal, and possibly some water to help him sober up. Besides that, Lan Wangji doesn’t want Wei Ying out of his hair, and he doesn’t understand why Wei Ying would think he would want that. Lan Wangji gave him his jade token for a reason, and that reason wasn’t decoration.
“You wish to go to the library immediately?” he asks carefully. “You could rest first. Bathe, if you want. Eat.”
Lan Wangji feels Wei Ying’s longing viscerally—he wants those things, so badly—but none of that longing shows in his face. Lan Wangji’s hands flex where they are touching Wei Ying. ‘Let me take you to the Jingshi,’ he wants to say. ‘Let me feed you. Let yourself rest.’
“No, no, I’d rather get rid of this curse as soon as possible,” Wei Ying insists. Lan Wangji is surprised. He can feel that Wei Ying would rather rest, but then again the effects of the curse are very unpleasant. Perhaps there is wisdom in seeing to it first?
“If you are certain,” says Lan Wangji skeptically.
First, they take Lil’ Apple to the Cloud Recesses stables to be seen to. Lan Wangji holds her reins with one hand, and Wei Ying’s wrist with the other.
“This isn’t really necessary, you know,” says Wei Ying, giving his captured wrist a little shake. Lan Wangji would beg to differ purely based on the number of times Wei Ying has nearly stumbled over his own feet, or nearly walked into something. That isn’t even taking into consideration the fact that Wei Ying would be in terrible pain if they weren’t touching.
“Mn,” says Lan Wangji. He continues to hold Wei Ying’s wrist.
“We should stop at the healing pavilion before we go to the library,” says Lan Wangji after they’ve dropped Lil’ Apple off.
“Nah,” says Wei Ying, staggering so close to a pillar that Lan Wangji needs to gently pull on his wrist to correct his course. Lan Wangji is beginning to realise that this trip to the library is probably going to be an exercise in futility—Wei Ying is too drunk to do anything effectively.
“You already checked me over when I was unconscious before, right? And we both know that if neither of us can fix this, there isn’t going to be much a healer can do either. It isn’t an open wound, it’s magic,” says Wei Ying.
Technically Wei Ying is correct, but Lan Wangji still doesn’t like it.
He attempts to sneakily steer Wei Ying towards the Jingshi, with vague plans to convince him to sit so he can play him something on the guiqin that will make him sleep, but it turns out that Wei Ying isn’t quite drunk enough to not notice.
“Wait, wait, wait. The library isn’t this way, it’s that way!” Wei Ying puts his whole body into pointing in the correct direction and nearly falls over. Again. Lan Wangji wraps an arm around Wei Ying’s shoulders so that he can support him better.
“Apologies,” he murmurs. Wei Ying releases a sharp burst of contentment, which Lan Wangji thinks is a strange reaction to being led the wrong way.
Giving in to the inevitable, he steers Wei Ying towards the library.
It’s still the lunch hour, so they have the whole place to themselves.
“Do you have any idea of how you might have been cursed?” Lan Wangji asks as they walk down the aisle dedicated to curse-breaking. Wei Ying has been pulling out texts and scrolls as they catch his attention. He opens each of them to read a few lines, and then either discards it, or hands it to Lan Wangji to carry if he thinks it might contain something useful.
He doesn’t seem to realise that he’s doing it, which makes Lan Wangji happy; he wants Wei Ying to rely on him. He wants Wei Ying to expect things from him—even things as simple and inconsequential as carrying his research materials for him.
“There was a nighthunt a few days ago,” says Wei Ying, pausing his perusal of the shelves. “There was this manor in this village. It gave everyone bad vibes so they asked me to check it out for them. When I did, I found it haunted. Extremely haunted. There was a very unhappy, very resentful, spirit.”
“You faced it alone?” says Lan Wangji, unable to help the note of disapproval that slips into his voice.
“It’s fine, I’m used to facing things alone,” says Wei Ying blithely, unaware that those words feel like a dagger in the heart for Lan Wangji. It takes conscious effort for Lan Wangji not to tighten his grip on Wei Ying or the texts he’s carrying. Both are delicate and precious to him. He wouldn’t want them damaged.
“It was strong, but it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary, I’ve dealt with worse before. I trapped it in an array.” Wei Ying’s expression turns thoughtful. “Maybe I made a mistake? That’s probably it, right? I fucked up the array and got myself cursed. Here, I’ll draw it for you and you can tell me where I messed up.”
Wei Ying tugs him over to a table, and collapses beside it in a messy heap. Lan Wangji sets down their reading materials to the side, and sits very close to him so that their thighs are touching. It’s so he can let go of Wei Ying’s wrist safely and use his hands to grind ink for him, but it would be a lie to try and claim that having Wei Ying tucked up so close to him wasn’t a pleasure in itself.
They sit quietly side by side for a few minutes while Lan Wangji sets out some blank paper and finishes grinding the ink, and then Lan Wangji hands him a brush.
As always, watching Wei Ying work is mesmerising. His handwriting is often illegible to anyone but himself, but his arrays and his talismans are works of art. Even cursed, even exhausted, and drunk, the lines he draws are sure and steady.
“There,” he says with a flourish once he’s done. “Now where did I fuck up?”
“You didn’t,” says Lan Wangji. He’s certain—he watched very closely as Wei Ying put down each stroke.
“This looks like a strong array. I see no mistakes in it,” Lan Wangji tells him honestly. “What happened to the spirit after you trapped it?”
“Uh, I think I vanquished it? Or at least, that’s what the two rogue cultivators who pulled me out of the manor told me when I woke up.”
“When you woke up?” asks Lan Wangji flatly. How like Wei Ying to minimise an instance when he was in danger.
“I may have passed out a little bit?” says Wei Ying, scrunching his face up cutely and holding one hand up with his index finger and his thumb very close together.
“Two strangers found you, alone and defenseless, in a manor haunted by a resentful spirit?”
“Well, by the time they found me it wasn’t haunted anymore, was it?”
Lan Wangji resists the urge to pinch the bridge of his nose, the same way Uncle does when he’s exasperated.
“Is there anything to be gained from returning to the manor?”
Wei Ying lets out a thoughtful hum. “No, the spirit was truly gone when I left. Nothing left to ask.”
“And the family that lived there?”
“Gone too, and none of the stories I was told about them would explain any of—” Wei Ying gestures between them, “ This.”
Lan Wangji gives a resolute nod. “Then we will need to research more.”
“Well, I’ll need to research more. Which I’m going to do because you let me into the library—thanks for that by the way. I know you must be busy. There has to be Chief Cultivator stuff you need to do, right?”
Wei Ying is feeling guilty again, with a healthy dose of dread mixed in. It sticks in Lan Wangji’s mind like tar, thick and heavy. Why would Wei Ying suggest such a thing when Lan Wangji can feel him dreading it? It is utterly perplexing. Could it be that Wei Ying is afraid that Lan Wangji’s duties will force them to be parted?
“Wei Ying, I won’t leave you,” he says, staring into Wei Ying’s eyes to impress how seriously he means those words.
“It’s not that bad, you don’t have to touch me all the time, I can handle it,” says Wei Ying. In the spaces between the guilt and the dread, Lan Wangji can feel determination blooming.
Feeling that particular emotion radiating from Wei Ying in this context is so thoroughly baffling, that Lan Wangji reaches with his mind and accidentally discovers that he can perceive more detail if he tries. The flavour of the feeling sharpens, and Lan Wangji can pick out that Wei Ying feels determined to bear the pain of the curse.
That makes Lan Wangji feel like screaming with frustration. Why is Wei Ying’s determination being directed towards bearing pain Lan Wangji isn’t willing to let him suffer? Why is he so reluctant to accept Lan Wangji’s help? Was that not, after all, what he had returned to Cloud Recesses for? After everything they’ve been through together, Lan Wangji thought they understood each other. He thought, at the very least, that Wei Ying understood that Lan Wangji cared for his well being, and didn’t like for him to suffer. Why is he pushing him away?
“You may be able to handle it, but I don’t want you to,” says Lan Wangji plainly.
The burst of affection he feels from Wei Ying is startling in its intensity, and it makes the tips of Lan Wangji’s ears go hot. It cuts his frustration off at the knees, as well.
“Just don’t put my comfort above yours, okay? I know you don’t like touching people.”
Lan Wangji blinks. Well… it is true that he generally isn’t fond of touching people. Strangers. But Wei Ying isn’t a stranger to him, Wei Ying is the man he loves, so the only thing uncomfortable about touching Wei Ying is how much more he always wants to.
“It’s not an imposition. Caring for you is never an imposition or a hardship,” he says. He’s telling the truth, but it still isn’t enough; Wei Ying’s feelings return to that horrible, tar-like mixture of guilt and dread.
“Well, the sooner we figure this out, the sooner I can stop being an inconvenience.”
An inconvenience? Lan Wangji bristles. “Who said you’re an inconvenience?” he demands.
Infuriatingly, Wei Ying laughs in his face. The guilt and dread ebb, and warm affection flows. It takes concerted effort on Lan Wangji’s part to not allow himself to sink into that feeling—it’s so nice. It makes him want to smile, which is inconvenient when Lan Wangji is trying to be stern.
“Ah, Lan Zhan. You’re so good,” says Wei Ying fondly. Lan Wangji’s lip twitches. He will not smile. He feels his ears go hot, but there’s no helping that.
“You are not an inconvenience,” he says stubbornly.
“Sure, sure,” says Wei Ying with dismissive indulgence. “Let’s see what we have here.”
Wei Ying picks a text at random from the pile Lan Wangji had brought over and opens it.
Lan Wangji lets out a breath and decides to let that topic of conversation go—for now—and grabs a text of his own to look at.
It takes a comically short amount of time for Wei Ying to pass out with his head pillowed on his arms on the table, and it doesn’t look like a comfortable angle for his poor neck. Wei Ying’s little puffs of breath stir the pages of the text he’d been attempting to read.
The sight of him like that, face lax, asleep and vulnerable, sends a pang of affection and longing through Lan Wangji. He should have insisted that Wei Ying rest earlier, it was obvious he needed it, but no matter; he may not be in a bed, but he is resting.
“Wei Ying?” murmurs Lan Wangji softly, putting a hand on Wei Ying’s shoulder.
“Mm-hm?” mumbles Wei Ying without opening his eyes. He’s going to get a crick in his neck if he stays positioned like that for too long.
“You’re aren’t comfortable like that,” says Lan Wangji, keeping his voice low and soothing. He takes Wei Ying by the shoulders, and carefully eases him away from the table. Wei Ying let’s out a sleepy grumble of protest, but goes along with it.
He lets Lan Wangji guide his head down to rest against his lap. Wei Ying gives a tiny sigh of contentment, one hand fisting in loose fabric of Lan Wangji’s robe.
“Research, Lan Zhan. I’m researching,” he mumbles fretfully. He settles down and his breathing evens out when Lan Wangji begins to stroke his hair.
Determined to allow Wei Ying to sleep his fill, Lan Wangji occupies himself with the scrolls and texts of their curse research.
At the end of the lunch hour, Lan Sizhui and Lan Jingyi show up at the library.
“Hanguang-jun, the sentry on duty today said that Wei-qianbei arrived here today!”
Lan Wangji winces at the volume of Lan Jingyi’s voice, and gives the boy a pointed look.
“Oh, sorry!” Jingyi cries, clapping both hands over his mouth. He somehow manages to do this loudly, too. Wei Ying somehow sleeps peacefully through the noise.
“He did,” says Lan Wangji in response to the question at a much more reasonable volume. He tilts his head towards Wei Ying’s passed out body. When Jingyi and Sizhui see him, their eyes widen in surprise.
“Is something wrong?” asks Sizhui.
“He has been cursed,” says Lan Wangji.
Sizhui and Jingyi both gasp. Jingyi’s gasp is a little more theatrical.
“Is that why Wei-qianbei is asleep on your lap?” asks Jingyi. Sizhui elbows him discreetly.
“Will you tell us the nature of the curse, Hanguang-jun?” Sizhui asks politely.
Lan Wangji decided to ignore Jingyi’s question. “We aren’t certain of its exact nature,” he explains. “It doesn’t seem to be affecting his spiritual veins, or his spiritual energy. So far the only effect is pain when he isn’t touching me.” He misses the look Sizhui and Jingyi exchange at that piece of information, preoccupied as he is by his charge.
“Can either of you sense anything from him?” he asks, looking back up at them. Lan Wangji can feel a low, relaxed kind of hum from Wei Ying’s slumbering mind.
“What, from here, without touching him?” asks Jingyi.
Both boys shake their heads, clearly mystified by the question. It must mean that only he can feel Wei Ying’s emotions. What a perplexing curse; only his touch can soothe Wei Ying’s pain, and only he can hear Wei Ying’s emotions. Why him?
That’s when Lan Wangji recalls the curse from two nights previous. The curse he had crushed without a second thought, and barely any effort. Mo Xuanyu’s body had a fledgling golden core that Wei Ying was in the process of cultivating, but it was nowhere near the level necessary to crush a curse out of existence. Enough time had passed for the damn thing to really take root, so Lan Wangji couldn’t even use his more powerful core to crush it for him.
Lan Wangji had a sinking feeling that someone had tried to curse the two of them together, and that when Lan Wangji had crushed his side of it, it had redoubled itself within Wei Ying, and somehow bound them together.
He draws his thoughts together and gives the boys the details he knows about Wei Ying’s last night hunt. He hesitates over sharing his latest theory, but ultimately decides to tell them. More brains working on the same problem can only be a good thing, so they all need to be on the same page. At the end of it, both Sizhui and Jingyi are gratifyingly worried for Wei Ying’s wellbeing. (Lan Wangji has to remind Jingyi to keep his voice down again ). It makes Lan Wangji happy to see that Wei Ying is liked and appreciated and cared for.
“Is there anything we can do to help?” asks Sizhui.
Lan Wangji assigns them some tasks: Jingyi is to take a message to Lan Qiren, wherein Lan Wangji expresses regret that he won’t be able to attend to his duties for at least a few days. Sizhui agrees to arrange for hot water to be brought to the Jingshi for a bath, as well as meals that will be to Wei Ying’s liking. Both of them volunteer to continue researching the curse—they’re such good boys, and Lan Wangji feels lucky to have them.
After the boys leave the library to see to their tasks, Lan Wangji decides it’s time to take Wei Ying to bed. None of the texts he’s looked through seem relevant to Wei Ying’s curse, especially in light of his realisation that the curse probably had two targets, and he keeps getting distracted anyway, staring down at Wei Ying’s face pillowed on his thigh, and wanting to pet his hair to smooth away some of his worries. It seems like a better use of his time to put Wei Ying to sleep in an actual bed.
He carefully lifts Wei Ying into his arms. In his sleep, Wei Ying wraps his arms around Lan Wangji’s neck and tucks his face under his chin. He lets out a few sleepy, barely intelligible mumbles. Lan Wangji understands “ warm ,” “ mm, stop it, Apple ,” and then, most devastatingly, his own name, accompanied by contentment.
He wants very badly to lean down and press a kiss to Wei Ying’s forehead. It’s not a liberty that is his to take however, so he restrains himself and carries Wei Ying out of the library.
They go to the Jingshi, where Lan Wangji sets Wei Ying down on his own bed. He removes Wei Ying’s boots, and pulls a blanket over him, carefully ensuring that they maintain physical contact the whole time.
He settles himself by the bed, kneeling but keeping a firm hold on Wei Ying’s wrist, and passes the next hour meditating to the beat of Wei Ying’s heart.
Eventually, Sizhui knocks and enters with the items Lan Wangji requested. On the table he leaves a tray of food. He makes several trips hauling in hot water to fill the tub. Once he’s finished, he puts a heat preserving talisman that Wei Ying taught him on it, and tells Lan Wangji that he’s heading to the library to see if he and Jingyi can find anything useful, his expression soleum and earnest. He’s such a good boy; they’re so lucky to have him.
Shortly after that, Wei Ying begins to shift and mumble in his sleep. Wei Ying’s feelings during sleep have been like gentle waves, splashing harmlessly against the edges of Lan Wangji’s mind. Now, it’s like a storm is brewing.
Two main emotions become clear to Lan Wangji; fear, and self-loathing. Wei Ying whimpers, and his brows furrow as those feelings build steadily. The pressure of it makes Lan Wangji’s chest hurt.
“Wei Ying, wake up,” says Lan Wangji urgently, cupping his cheek. He can tell from the touch that it’s been a few days since Wei Ying last shaved; regrowth prickles against his palm. Lan Wangji doesn’t mind that he isn’t clean shaven. He’d be content to stroke the skin of Wei Ying’s face, prickly or smooth.
When Wei Ying opens his eyes, they’re wet and shiny. The fear melts away now that Wei Ying is awake, but the self-loathing doesn’t.
“Ah, Lan Zhan,” he says, voice slightly choked up. He takes a shuddery breath in, and then he sits up. Lan Wangji let’s his hand fall away from Wei Ying’s cheek, and mourns the loss of warmth against his palm.
“Oh, we’re in the Jingshi. Did you bring me here, Lan Zhan? Did I fall asleep in the library? You should have just woken me up, I’m meant to be researching,” Wei Wuxian lets out a very forced laugh, surreptitiously rubbing at his eyes.
He’s trying so hard to pretend he’s okay, to play it all off as a joke, but Lan Wangji can tell what he’s feeling. He’s embarrassed. He hates himself. He hurts.
“What did you dream?” Lan Wangji asks softly.
“Nothing out of the ordinary,” Wei Ying answers quickly, flapping a hand at Lan Wangji as if to clear the topic away. “How long was I out for? Must have been awhile, I feel pretty sobered up now.” He gives another forced laugh. Lan Wangji hates it.
“Just a few hours.”
Wei Wuxian lifts the wrist that Lan Wangji is holding, and stares at where Lan Wangji’s fingers are wrapped around it for a moment.
Under normal circumstances, Lan Wangji would let go and keep his distance for Wei Ying’s benefit, but he doesn’t want Wei Ying to be in pain. There is no reason for him to tolerate that pain when Lan Wangji is perfectly willing to stave it off for him with his touch.
“Have you been here with me the whole time?” Wei Ying asks.
Guilt. Affection. Exasperation. But mostly guilt. Lan Wangji doesn’t understand it.
“It’s not your fault,” he says helplessly.
Wei Ying snorts derisively. “Who else’s fault could it possibly be, Lan Zhan? I got myself cursed and now you feel like you’re trapped here with me—”
“I do not,” Lan Wangji interrupts.
“Well, even if I’m not trapping you, I’m keeping you from—from your duties. It’s enough that you let me into Cloud Recesses and that I can use the library. You don’t have to babysit me.” The guilt and self-loathing are rising to a fevered pitch.
“You’re right. I don’t have to do anything, but I want to. I don’t want you to suffer,” insists Lan Wangji.
“Well, the feeling is mutual. I don’t want you to suffer either.”
Wei Ying gets out of the bed, and forcefully shakes off Lan Wangji’s grip.
He takes two steps, and then stops, swaying where he stands. He lets out a small sound, almost a whimper. His feelings have dissolved from coherent emotions into bright sparks of pain.
“See? I’m—I’m fine. It’s not—n-not that bad. I—I can—” Wei Ying takes another step, and then he collapses. Just that small amount of distance between them, this small amount of time, has him panting and shaking.
“ Fuck,” he whispers, low and emphathetic. He hurts so much that just the echo of it is making Lan Wangji’s teeth ache—could the curse be intensifying?
Lan Wangji goes to him immediately. He pulls Wei Ying into his arms, right there on the floor of the Jingshi. Wei Ying doesn’t resist; he melts. All the tense lines of his body relax, and he lets out a sound that is uncomfortably close to a moan. What Lan Wangji would give to have Wei Ying, soft and pliant, cradled in his arms because he wants to be there. Because Lan Wangji made him relax.
It’s a dangerous thought to allow himself, so Lan Wangji forces it away, and takes Wei Ying’s wrist to pass him some spiritual energy. Wei Ying shivers with it, and Lan Wangji can tell it feels good to him. Cool and soothing. If he were allowed, Lan Wangji would want to find out all the ways he could make Wei Ying feel good…
Wei Ying lies still for a minute, catching his breath, chest heaving as if he’s recovering from hard physical exertion.
“Wei Ying?” Lan Wangji says. The words snap Wei Wuxian out of that state of blank pliancy, and back into awareness. The guilt and frustration Wei Ying feels is so strong that Lan Wangji would almost prefer those sparks of teeth-grinding pain. Almost.
“Well, that was embarrassing,” says Wei Ying with more of that fake flippancy. He’s looking anywhere but at Lan Wangji’s face, refusing to meet his eyes. “I blame Mo Xuanyu—my original body was much better at bearing pain—”
“Wei Ying.” Lan Wangji takes Wei Ying’s face in his hands, and forces him to meet his eye. “Enough. You don’t need to bear any pain, why do you keep trying to?”
“I’m not,” says Wei Ying stubbornly. When Lan Wangji gives him a flat look, Wei Ying repeats himself insistently. “I’m not! I’m not a masochist. I’m just trying to spare you , I know you don’t like touching people.”
It clicks for Lan Wangji suddenly, the feelings Wei Ying is projecting to him. The guilt, the self-loathing. ‘The sooner we figure this out, the sooner I can stop being an inconvenience,’ Wei Ying had said.
Lan Wangji could never consider Wei Ying an inconvenience. He’d spent thirteen years mourning Wei Ying’s death, missing him, wishing he was still alive, going over every moment leading up to Wei Ying’s horrible fate and agonizing over what he could have done differently. For thirteen years he’d done his duty and gone through the motions, despite the greyness of a world without Wei Ying to colour it.
He’d tried to live the way Wei Ying couldn’t—defending the weak, curbing the strong. It had been too late to live with no regrets. He’d tried to be an affectionate caregiver to a-Yuan. He could never replace what had been taken from his young charge, but he made sure he knew he was safe and loved. That Lan Wangji would protect him from harm.
For so long Wei Ying had been nothing but a memory to grieve for, a memory to aspire to. Lan Wangji was still reconciling those years of living with nothing but a memory, to the flesh and blood man in his arms.
The flesh and blood man who apparently has no understanding of the depth of Lan Wangji’s feelings for him if he believes that a curse like this is a hardship for Lan Wangji to help him with.
Lan Wangji doesn’t think he has been subtle about his feelings. He makes no attempts to reign in the impulses that see him buying bottles of Emperor's Smile for Wei Ying, bottles of chilli oil, giving Wei Ying his jade token so he can enter Cloud Recesses whenever he wishes, fretting over the number of blankets on Wei Ying’s bed, sending him money and sweets when he goes away. Lan Wangji can’t help but put his feelings into action.
So for Wei Ying to feel guilty about taking up Lan Wangji’s time, for him to feel like such a burden for needing Lan Wangji’s help—it’s absurd.
Wei Ying’s mouth is set in a determined little pout that belies all the guilt and uncertainty he is feeling.
“You think I don’t like touching you?” says Lan Wangji roughly, letting one of his thumbs brush Wei Ying’s cheek, slow and lingering.
Wei Ying’s breath hitches, and his eyes become very round. Wei Ying’s feelings shift to something hot and syrupy. He’s shocked. Shocked, and…
“Or maybe you don’t want to touch me?” Lan Zhan muses. He lets go of Wei Ying’s face in favour of taking one of his hands.
“What?! Don’t be ridiculous, Lan Zhan. Who wouldn’t want to touch you! I’m definitely the kind of person who doesn’t mind touch.”
“Mn. Then you think I don’t like touching you. Is that why you feel guilty?” Lan Wangji asks.
“Who says I feel guilty?”
You do. Lan Wangji thinks, and that’s the moment he realises he hasn’t re-attempted to clarify that particular side effect of the curse for Wei Ying, and that he really ought to.
Wei Ying must be able to tell something from the expression Lan Wangji is making because he says, “What? What is it?”
“The curse seems to have an additional effect. I apologise—I tried to tell you when you arrived, but you reacted poorly.”
“Another effect? What is it? It’s not hurting you, is it? I—I vaguely remember you saying something about that. ” Wei Ying’s expression matches how he feels perfectly—concerned. He tries to pull his hand away from Lan Wangji, probably because of some misguided sense of altruism, but Lan Wangji doesn’t let him.
“It doesn’t hurt me,” says Lan Wangji emphatically. He wants to avoid the misunderstanding they had the first time Lan Wangji tried to tell him at all costs; he doesn’t think he can bear it if Wei Ying demands he let go.
Wei Ying’s eyes narrow with suspicion. “When we’re close like this, I’ve been able to feel your feelings,” Lan Wangji admits.
“My—my feelings?” Wei Ying screech-stutters.
The hand not currently being held by Lan Wangji goes up to splay over Wei Ying’s face. The parts of his face visible between his fingers are going red.
“Lan Zhan!!” Wei Ying groans, loud and whiny. “How could you do this to me?!” He is mortified, and Lan Wangji can’t really fault him for feeling that way; if it were him, he would feel much the same way at being so exposed to another.
“I am not doing it on purpose,” Lan Wangji points out gently.
“You have to promise me that you’ll ignore everything you feel from me! I can’t believe this! You can’t hold anything I feel against me!”
“Of course.” There is nothing that Wei Ying could feel that would change things between them. “Wei Ying, the guilt you feel, it is concerning to me,” says Lan Wangji, picking up the topic where he left off.
Wei Ying groans, and goes from hiding his face with his hand, to shoving the whole thing into the crook of his elbow. “Whyyy! Just ignore it!” he says, voice muffled.
“I know that, to a certain extent, what you feel is out of your control. But the fact that you feel this way makes me worry that you don’t understand how much you are valued and cared for,” says Lan Wangji carefully. It’s the closest he’s ever come to articulating his feelings out loud—it’s surprisingly difficult. Lan Wangji almost regrets crushing the curse when it tried to take root in him; maybe if he had let it, Wei Ying would be able to feel how much Lan Wangji adores him, and he would accept his help guiltlessly.
Wei Ying being back, Wei Ying being alive—that is enough for Lan Wangji. He doesn’t need Wei Ying to feel the same way he does, he just wants him to be safe and happy. He shouldn’t be forcing himself to withstand terrible pain because he thinks Lan Wangji doesn’t want to touch him.
A burst of affection washes over Lan Wangji, and Wei Ying lets out an indignant squeak.
“What will it take for you to drop this topic?” says Wei Ying desperately to his elbow.
“Let me help,” replies Lan Wangji immediately. “I don’t like it when you’re in pain, Wei Ying. I like it when you let me help. Let me, please?” Lan Zhan implores.
The feelings of affection intensify, and Wei Ying sighs. He lowers his arm and stops hiding his face—it’s still quite red.
“You’re really too much, Lan Zhan. How can I refuse when you ask so earnestly? Fine .” Just that word, ‘fine,’ makes Lan Wangji feel as though he could fly without his sword.
Lan Wangji has achieved many things in his life. He is one of the most accomplished guqin musicians of his sect, and his swordsmanship is second only to his brother’s. He helped slaughter a legendary beast when he was a teenager, and he has slain countless yaoguai and lain to rest to scores of restless spirits. None of those things has ever made him feel such a sense of accomplishment, such a sense of satisfaction, as that moment of Wei Ying’s capitulation. Wei Ying submitting himself to his care is all Lan Wangji has wanted for a long time.
“There is food on the table, and a bath behind the screen. Which would you like first?”
Wei Ying chooses to eat first—the food Sizhui had brought goes down well. Lan Wangji sits by him and pours him tea, wondering idly if he is glowing with satisfaction.
He’d offered Emperor's Smile, but for once, Wei Ying hadn’t felt like drinking. That was probably for the best seeing as Wei Ying was only just sobering up. He does accept the chilli oil, though, dousing his already spicy-by-Cloud-Recesses-standards food with even more spice.
He makes happy sounds as he eats, his mouth turning redder and redder. Lan Wangji struggles not to stare.
Once Wei Ying has eaten his fill, it’s time for a bath
He tries to walk behind the screen without Lan Wangji, forgetting that ceasing to touch is a bad idea. They sort themselves out and proceed behind the screen together.
They stand before the steaming tub, hand in hand, for one long, silent, awkward moment.
“Well, I guess it’s nothing you haven’t seen before. Right, Lan Zhan?” says Wei Ying cheerfully. “And if you don’t want to look, you can just close your eyes.”
“Mn,” says Lan Zhan, privately very grateful that Wei Ying can’t tell what he feels. In the end, he places a hand on the back of Wei Ying’s neck while Wei Ying undresses himself. He keeps his eyes firmly on the paintings decorating the screen, and off the skin Wei Ying is baring, but he can’t help but notice how warm Wei Ying’s skin feels under his hand.
Wei Ying takes his hand once he’s divested himself of all his clothes, and uses it to keep his balance as he steps into the tub.
The sigh of pleasure he releases on contact with the warm water sends a shiver down Lan Wangji’s spine. He has to close his eyes for a moment to maintain his equanimity when the feeling of Wei Ying’s pure sensory pleasure hits him a moment later. He wants Wei Ying to make that noise again, but for him this time. He wants to make him feel good.
“Hmm,” Wei Ying hums thoughtfully, giving Lan Wangji’s hand a little squeeze. “To wash myself, you’re going to have to put your hand somewhere else.” Lan Wangji nearly chokes, but then Wei Ying continues, “I kinda need both of my hands to wash my hair.”
That’s how Lan Wangji finds himself with both hands tangled in Wei Ying’s thick hair, massaging fragrant oils into his scalp. He can tell through his one-sided connection to Wei Ying’s feelings that Wei Ying likes what he’s doing very much—it feels good to him. Lan Wangji can also feel Wei Ying’s affection. Much like steam and the scent of sandalwood seem to hang in the air around them, making this corner of the room behind the folding screen feel cozy and intimate, so does Wei Ying’s affection.
After Wei Ying’s hair is rinsed, he drags a thumb down Wei Ying’s cheek. “Shall I help you shave?” he asks.
“Um…” Lan Wangji feels the muscles of Wei Ying’s face work when he swallows. He feels a little nervous; could he be concerned about Lan Wangji handling a blade so close to his jugular? He’s had bad experiences in the past with people trying to cut his throat, so Lan Wangji can’t blame him for feeling wary. Feelings aren’t always logical, and Lan Wangji is confident that it isn’t him specifically that Wei Ying doesn’t trust, but rather his instincts trying to protect him from a vulnerable situation. He can’t be unhappy with Wei Ying’s self-preservation instincts for finally deciding they should actually exist.
“Of course if you prefer to do it yourself, I will—”
“No,” interrupts Wei Ying. “I don’t mind.” He leans his head against the edge of the tub and tilts his face up in offering. He feels… shy. “You can do it. You’ll probably do a better job than I would myself. Maybe you’ll actually make me presentable for one.”
Lan Wangji can’t resist stroking Wei Ying’s cheek once last time. “Mn.”
He sets about gathering up the implements he needs, which are luckily all within reach of the tub so he can keep touching Wei Ying.
Wei Ying shuts his eyes when Lan Wangji begins to lather his face with the cream he uses when he shaves himself.
“I will begin now,” he warns him so Wei Ying isn’t surprised by the touch of the razor. Wei Ying’s eyes remain closed, and his expression remains serene as Lan Wangji carefully drags the razor across his skin. Wei Ying doesn’t feel nervous or shy anymore, simply content.
“There,” Lan Wangji declares when he is finished. Wei Ying reaches up to run his fingers down his own face to feel.
“So smooth,” he exclaims. Lan Wangji wants to touch too, wants to feel how smooth he’s made Wei Ying’s cheek, but he refrains himself.
“Thank you,” says Wei Ying.
After his bath, Lan Wangji gives Wei Ying a few of his underthings to sleep in. Wei Ying yawns as Lan Wanji does up the ties for him. Wei Ying’s hands are on Lan Wangji’s shoulder to maintain physical contact.
“It’s so early, why am I so tired?” Wei Ying complains.
“It is nearly nine,” Lan Wangji disagrees. “The past few days have been trying for you.”
Lan Wangji feels Wei Ying’s embarrassment when it comes time for him to dress down himself, but in the end they succeed in extricating Lan Wangji from his layers of robes and getting him dressed for sleep without too much hassle.
“I’ll comb your hair,” says Lan Wangji. He sits on the bed, and directs Wei Ying to sit between his legs. Lan Wangji continues to run the comb through Wei Ying’s hair long after it lays smooth and tangle-free.
It’s just so nice, and domestic. Wei Ying feels content and peaceful. Lan Wangji doesn’t want it to end.
“You’ll make a very good husband one day,” Wei Ying says sleepily, out of the blue. Lan Wangji freezes mid-stroke, and he feels a Wei Ying jolt, and then tense up under his hands.
The feeling he gets from Wei Ying is a blue, wistful kind of melancholy. “You should do this for your spouse. It’s nice,” Wei Ying murmurs.
“Mn,” Lan Wangji acknowledges, not trusting himself to speak. There is only one person he wants to be a husband to.
He taps Wei Ying’s shoulder with the comb. “Do mine,” he requests, heart in his throat. Wei Ying takes in a quick breath—he feels taken aback, but he’s happy. Wei Ying accepts the comb and they switch places. The initial surprise Wei Ying had felt at the request melts away, leaving behind the same warm affection Lan Wangji had felt earlier, coupled with something… poignant? Could it be yearning?
Wei Ying’s words from before echo in his head as he kneels between Wei Ying’s spread thighs with his head bowed.
You’ll make a very good husband one day…
Wei Ying’s hands are surprisingly gentle—far more careful not to tug too hard with Lan Wangji’s hair compared to the times Lan Wangji has seen him do his own.
You should do this for your spouse…
Could it be—? Could Wei Ying want—?
Lan Wangji forces himself to take a breath to calm himself. He wants so much, but it’s not the right time to bring it up.
He isn’t sure he could bear it if he were wrong, and had to feel just how wrong he was first hand from Wei Ying. Plus, it wouldn’t be fair to put Wei Ying in that kind of position either, burdening him with Lan Wangji’s feelings when he needs Lan Wangji’s touch to prevent the effects of the curse.
After the curse is broken, he vows. I’ll ask him for a chance. I’ll confess.
Despite everything, Wei Ying still falters when it comes to actually climbing into bed. He’s flustered, and the feeling of it tickles Lan Wangji’s mind.
“You mean for us to share your bed?”
Lan Wangji turns down the covers. “Mn.”
“Are you sure, though? I’m not pleasant to share with if Jiang Cheng’s testimony is anything to go by, although that was when we were children…” Lan Wangji frowns at the mention of Sect Leader Jiang.
“If you are to sleep, we need to be touching,” he says patiently.
“I mean, I could sleep on the floor, and we could hold hands or something if that’ll make you more comfortable—”
Lan Wangji has had enough—he takes Wei Ying by the shoulders and pushes him down onto the bed. Wei Ying is tired, and Lan Wangji is tired of him pushing away things he wants. It’s time to just give them to him.
“Hey!” Wei Ying cries indignantly.
Lan Wangji climbs in after him, and pulls the blanket over both of them. A small burst of his spiritual energy douses the braziers, plunging the Jingshi into darkness.
Wei Ying’s hand is warm in his.
“Are you sure?” Wei Ying whispers to him in the dark.
“Go to sleep,” Lan Wangji whispers back.
Smooth skin under his palms. He trails his hands from ankle to knee, and then he grips, parting them forcefully. He lays down, delivers himself into the warm, willing embrace of the eager body beneath him.
It feels so good to press against him, to be so close to him. He wants to press closer—
His beloved arches underneath him. He moans.
Lan Wangji finds his lips and swallows up that moan with his mouth—
Lan Wangji wakes, arousal still pumping, hot and insistent, through his veins. Dreams like that aren’t uncommon for him.
What is uncommon, is waking from a dream like that to the reality of Wei Ying pressed against him in his bed. He’s a warm weight from Lan Wangji’s shoulder to his thigh. One of Wei Ying’s arms is wrapped tightly around his chest, his fingers curled into the fabric at Lan Wangji’s sleeve. His hips are pressed flush against Lan Wangji’s side.
Wei Ying gasps awake just as Lan Wangji registers that he’s hard. Wei Ying is hard. Wei Ying is aroused—Lan Wangji can feel it.
“Fuck,” Wei Ying whispers hoarsely, hips jerking foward seekingly like he can’t help himself. That’s when Lan Wangji makes the shocking realisation that his own arm is wrapped around Wei Ying in return, and that one of his hands currently has a handful of Wei Ying’s— soft, incredibly plush—
“Sorry,” whispers Wei Ying. He makes a choked off little sound, and some new feelings slam into Lan Wangji. Shame. Fear. Regret. Longing.
“My fault.” Self-loathing. “I shouldn’t have—I know you—you don’t—” Wei Ying words fail him, and Lan Wangji can feel that it’s because his emotions are choking him.
Lan Wangji pushes at Wei Ying, who readily rolls away onto his back. He rises, and sits back on his heels above Wei Ying. He needs to fix this; Wei Ying shouldn’t be feeling like this, it breaks Lan Wangji’s heart.
“I can take the floor,” Wei Ying blurts desperately. It feels like his chest is being crushed in a vice. “It won’t happen again, I pro—” Lan Wangji kneels at Wei Ying’s feet and puts his hands on his ankles. It silences him.
In the cool light of the early morning, Wei Ying blinks up at him, looking like one of Lan Wangji’s fantasies come to life with his bare feet and his rumpled clothes, his flushed cheeks and his heaving chest.
“Lan Zhan?” he whispers, confused but unresisting as Lan Wangji circles the delicate bones of his ankles with his thumb. Confused is a marked improvement from self-loathing, and it tells Lan Wangji that he’s doing the right thing.
He smooths his hands up over Wei Ying’s shins and calves next. Touching him in real life is better than the dream—he can feel the way Wei Ying’s muscles tense under his skin as he is touched. He can feel the texture of his leg hair—just a little coarse.
When he reaches Wei Ying’s knees, he grips them firmly.
When he pushes them apart, spreads Wei Ying’s thighs to make room for himself, the throb of arousal he feels from Wei Ying is so strong he almost moans. Wei Ying does moan. Lan Wangji lowers himself, presses them together. He places a hand on either side of Wei Ying’s head to brace himself above him. Better, but still not close enough.
Wei Ying bites his lip—he’s still very turned on, but he’s also worried. More confused.
He wouldn’t be confused if he could feel the raging inferno within Lan Wangji that wants to devour him, or if Lan Wangji could hold him up to a mirror so he could see how appealing he is like this.
“I don’t understand,” he says. “Is this—Are you just—? M-my dream was like this. Just because I—you don’t have to—”
Lan Wangji interrupts him with a kiss—their first kiss. Wei Ying’s mouth softens and opens for him beautifully. The small, wanting sound he makes when Lan Wangji licks into his mouth is delicious. It’s amazing to feel Wei Ying’s hunger for this—Wei Ying’s hunger for him. Lan Wangji has wanted for so long, was willing to deny himself forever if he was the only one who wanted , and now he finally has Wei Ying right where he has always wanted him; pinned underneath him and moaning with pleasure. He wishes he could share the rush of triumph and pure, unadulterated joy he feels.
“You kissed me,” says Wei Ying when Lan Wangji pulls back. He’s dazed, which is flattering for Lan Wangji.
“Mn,” answers Lan Wangji, pressing a kiss to Wei Ying’s newly smooth cheek.
“Can—can I touch you?” Wei Ying asks, anticipation beginning to rise off of him in powerful waves. “Let me—I want to—” Lan Wangji hums his consent as he begins sucking kisses into the delicate skin of Wei Ying’s throat. He’s thought about it so much, sinking his teeth right here —
It makes Wei Ying pant, makes his hip cant up. Lan Wangji has always loved to learn. He can’t wait to learn Wei Ying’s body.
Wei Ying’s hands go to his shoulders first, squeezing the muscle. Wei Ying groans.
“You’re so strong, ” he sighs wonderingly. From there, his hands move frenetically over Lan Wangji’s body, like he doesn’t know where he wants to touch most and can’t help but try to touch everything at once—Lan Wangji’s chest, his stomach, his arms. Wei Ying wants to touch him so bad. Wei Ying can’t believe that he’s allowed to.
They rock against each other desperately, and it feels so good, even through their clothes.
“Lan Zhan, I want—can I—” Wei Ying tugs at the ties holding Lan Wangji’s sleep top closed. In answer to the question, Lan Wangji sits up and reaching down to help him, shrugging the top off and discarding it somewhere over the side of the bed. Usually he’s fastidious about his clothes, but right in this moment, he couldn’t care less where it ends up.
Wei Ying is quick to begin working on the ties of Lan Wangji’s pants, while Lan Wangji opts to begin getting Wei Ying out of his clothes, and in short order, they’re left in nothing.
“Come here,” says Lan Wangji, pulling Wei Ying into his lap. “You’re so beautiful,” he says, deeply moved by the privilege to see Wei Ying undone like this.
“I can’t believe you have the audacity to say that to me when you look like this,” says Wei Ying. His affection feels like a blanket.
Wei Ying reaches between them and touches Lan Wangji where he’s hard and hot. He moans, and he feels the effect that has on Wei Ying, so he doesn’t hold back from doing it again.
He reaches down between them and guides Wei Ying’s hands to wrap around both of them, together, and then he wraps his own hand around both of Wei Ying’s, and then they move. Together.
“Look at me,” Lan Wangji implores. Wei Ying looks into his eyes, and the affection Wei Ying feels swells until—
Oh… he loves me. The revelation seeps beneath Lan Wangji’s affection-starved skin, like scorched earth soaking up water after a long drought. It had been there the whole time Lan Wangji realises—Wei Ying’s love—only it had been masked by guilt and pain. He hadn’t recognised it for what it was because of its melancholy flavour.
He loves me, Lan Wangji thinks, and then he comes so hard his consciousness whites out for a moment.
It’s embarrassing how quickly Lan Wangji comes, but in his defense, he had to feel Wei Ying’s pleasure too, which just compounded everything. It’s alright because Wei Ying follows very shortly after, and Lan Wangji suspects that it was the sight of his own completion that tipped Wei Ying over the edge.
Lan Wangji lays down, and pulls Wei Ying down with him to hold him in his arms, heedless of the sticky mess between them. He strokes Wei Ying’s hair, slow and even.
At first Wei Ying’s feelings are like a cloud of euphoria, but then the heat of the moment cools, and Lan Wangji begins to feel some anxiety creep in. More guilt.
“Wei Ying?” he murmurs questioningly.
“You wanted that too, right?” asks Wei Ying in a small voice. “It wasn’t just me?”
Lan Wangji stops stroking Wei Ying’s hair.
“Wei Ying, look at me.”
The anxiety spikes and Wei Ying goes tense. He raises his head to meet Lan Wangji’s eye reluctantly, but whatever he sees in Lan Wangji’s face makes some of the tension leave him.
“I want you,” Lan Wangji tells him, reaching up to tuck Wei Ying’s hair behind his ears. All of Lan Wangji’s work with the comb the night before has been undone by what they did. No matter. Lan Wangji is willing to comb Wei Ying’s hair again and forever.
He leans up to press a chaste kiss to Wei Ying’s lips. “I feel the same way you do.”
“What?! But—but—but I love you!” Wei Ying protests.
“Mn,” Lan Wangji answers, tracing the curve of Wei Ying’s cheek with his fingertips.
“Lan Zhan, you—you’re smiling,” says Wei Ying wondrously.
“People smile when they’re happy, Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji tells him.
“You’re happy about this? You’re happy I love you like this?”
“Mn. After all, I love Wei Ying, too. I’ve loved you for a long time. I’ve wanted you like this for a long time.”
“Lan Zhan!” Wei Ying whines, hiding his face in the crook of Lan Wangji’s neck.
Lan Wangji manages to coax him out with kisses, and they pass the rest of the morning discovering other ways they might please each other.
Several hours later they lie entwined together in Lan Wangji’s bed, naked, sweaty and sated. Lan Wangji is on his back. Wei Ying curls into him, a leg thrown carelessly over Lan Wangji’s, an arm over his torso, and his face pressed into the hollow of Lan Wangji’s throat.
Lan Wangji holds Wei Ying at the nape of his neck with one hand, and slowly strokes up and down his spine with the other. Lan Wangji feels like nothing else in his life will ever be able to top this exact moment. He is happy, comfortable, and he has the man he loves held safe in his arms. More importantly, those things are all true for Wei Ying as well.
He closes his eyes and tries to commit everything he is feeling to memory; the weight of Wei Ying’s relaxed body leaning against him; the warmth of their bare skin pressing together; the knobs of Wei Ying’s spine under his fingertips. He wants to cherish it.
“Sooo,” says Wei Ying. He untucks himself, rolls on his belly, and props his head up with one hand so he can look down at Lan Wangji. He bends his knees and kicks his feet behind him, giving Lan Wangji a nice view of his bare calves.
Wei Ying has always been dynamic. He was a dynamic boy who grew into a dynamic man, who just can’t stay still or quiet to save himself. It was that energy, that exuberance and liveliness, that first drew Lan Wangji to Wei Ying.
Lan Wangji makes a mental note that if he wishes to peacefully cuddle with a delightfully boneless Wei Ying for longer, he will have to tire him out better next time.
“You said something about feeling this way for a long time,” Wei Ying teases. The smile he beams at Lan Wangji is blindingly bright and beautiful. Lan Wangji has missed that smile. He reaches up and brushes his thumb against Wei Ying’s bottom lip, just because that’s something he can do now. He doesn’t think the novelty of it will ever wear off.
“Mn,” he answers. “Since the first time you came here.”
“The first time I came to the Jingshi?”
“No, the first time you came to Cloud Recesses.”
“ What?!” Wei Ying cries incredulously, sitting up straight. Lan Zhan appreciates the view this gives him of Wei Ying’s bare torso. “Surely not, Lan Zhan. Surely you don’t mean when we were fifteen and I was an incorrigible trouble maker? Lan Zhan, back then I literally lived to bother you! You liked me then?”
“Mn,” says Lan Wangji, amused.
“Lan Zhan, nooo.” Wei Ying dramatically flops face down on the bed, burying his face in a pillow. “I don’t know who that’s more embarrassing for, me or you,” he says, words muffled.
Lan Wangji reaches out to pet Wei Ying’s hair. “I’m not embarrassed. I loved you then, and I love you now,” he says patiently.
“How dare you say something like that, Lan Zhan. Don’t you know my heart can’t take it?” Wei Ying grumbles into the pillow.
When he sits back up, his face is pink. Lan Wangji finds it endearing, especially after all the things they just did together. “It’s a good thing I love you, too,” Wei Ying says, and then he throws himself back into Lan Wangji’s arms. Lan Wangji hugs him back tightly. He’s so happy—he’ll never tire of hearing Wei Ying say ‘I love you’.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” asks Wei Ying in a lower, more serious register, head tucked up under Lan Wangji’s chin.
“I didn’t think it mattered,” Lan Wangji offers honestly.
Wei Ying makes a wounded sound and grabs Lan Wangji’s hand to bring it up to his mouth so he can press a kiss to the back of it.
“I didn’t think it would change anything,” Lan Wangji explains. “I had no expectations of you, Wei Ying. After losing you…” Lan Wangji pauses; there’s a lump in his throat. This is difficult to talk about for him; Wei Ying’s death has been an open wound for him for so long, and it’s really only just beginning to heal. Lan Wangji clears his throat and forces himself to continue. “I just wanted you to be safe and happy. I hoped for you to find those things by my side, but I didn’t wish to pressure you.”
“I do feel safe and happy by your side, Lan Zhan,” says Wei Ying fiercely.
“Then…” Lan Zhan hesitates, but it bears asking. “Then why did you leave after we returned from Guanyin Temple?” There had been a few blissful weeks where Lan Wangji had gotten to see We Ying first thing in the morning. He’d gotten to bask in his presence during the day, and pour his liquor in the evening. And then one day Wei Ying had gathered up his things, loaded up Lil’ Apple, and bid the Cloud Recesses farewell.
“This is going to sound ridiculous, but I was too happy here with you.”
“You’re right, that does sound ridiculous.”
Wei Ying laughs. “I didn’t want to overstay my welcome. Things were so good, and I didn’t think it could last. You had your duties, and I’m the Yiling Patriarch. I think I wanted to save some of the goodness for later, it felt like a finite resource.”
“It is not. Is that why you felt the way you did? I couldn’t understand why you felt so guilty,” Lan Wangji admits.
“You couldn’t? You’ve been so good to me, Lan Zhan, and there I was, bringing you trouble. Of course I felt guilty! And then I made you feel obliged to touch me all the time because of the curse, when you hate touching people—”
“I like touching you,” Lan Wangji interrupts, flipping over the grip Wei Ying has on his hand so he can bring Wei Ying’s hand up to his mouth for a kiss.
“Well I know that now! I thought you were being noble and self-sacrificing! I don’t feel guilty anymore, I promise. You should be able to tell.”
That is the moment that Lan Wangji realises that he can no longer feel Wei Ying’s emotions. When had that happened? Between the intensity of his own emotions, and Wei Ying being his usual chatty, vibrant self, Lan Wangji hadn’t noticed.
“I cannot feel you anymore,” Lan Wangji says. “Do you think the curse has been broken?”
Wei Ying sits up. “Huh, only one way to find out, I guess.”
Before Lan Wangji can protest, Wei Ying rolls himself out of his embrace. Lan Wangji follows him and snatches him back into his arms very quickly. “Wei Ying!” he hisses. “There is not only one way to find out, I can—”
“It didn’t hurt,” Wei Ying interrupts. “Lan Zhan, that didn’t hurt at all! Holy shit, I think we must have broken it!”
Lan Wangji places a hand right over where Wei Ying’s heart is, and lets his spiritual senses sink in. He finds that Wei Ying is right—no trace of the curse lingers in his system.
“What do you think cured it?” Wei Ying asks. “I bet it was the second thing you did with your—”
Lan Wangji silences him with his mouth.
They stay in bed for a bit longer.
“So you just crushed it with your golden core?” asks Wei Ying.
“Mn,” answers Lan Wangji. It’s nearly lunchtime, and they’re walking hand in hand towards the library. Hunger was the thing that had finally motivated them to get out of bed and put some clothes on.
“I believe that caused the curse to affect you more acutely than if it had been shared between us. It bound us together,” Lan Wangji explains.
“Huh, you know what?” Wei Ying taps his nose. “I think the caster of the curse was one of the rogue cultivators I encountered on my last night hunt.”
“One of the rogue cultivators who discovered you unconscious, you mean?” says Lan Wangji wryly. Wei Ying laughs.
“Did I tell you that? I don’t remember.”
“I deduced it from context.”
“Anyway, I wasn’t really paying attention at the time because I was in a lot of pain, but one of them was extremely scared of me. Like, it was more than just being afraid of my reputation. He tried to give me all his money when we parted ways, which in hindsight, is really strange.”
“Did you take it?”
“How else do you think I afforded to get that drunk on the way here?”
“Wei-qianbei?” Sizhui and Jingyi are standing just outside the library. Wei Ying’s eyes light up when he sees them.
“My favourite juniors! It’s so good to see you, let me look at you.” He lets go of Lan Wangji’s hand to step forward and greet them.
“Wait, the curse!” cries Jingyi. He points at the space between them. “Don’t you need to—!” Jingyi loses steam when it becomes clear that Wei Ying isn’t going to keel over from pain.
“It doesn’t hurt anymore?” asks Sizhui.
“Nope," says Wei Ying with a little smirk that Lan Wangji finds extremely sexy. “We were coming to tell you that I’m cured and you can stop researching.”
“If the curse is broken, why were you holding hands still?” asks Jingyi suspiciously.
“If the curse is broken, should we inform Lan-shifu that you will resume your duties, Hanguang-jun?” asks Sizhui. Lan Wangji and Wei Ying make eye contact.
“No,” says Lan Wangji with a tiny smirk of his own. “There are still some things that need to be attended to.”
They eat lunch with Sizhui and Jingyi, and then they spend the next three days locked in the Jingshi together.
Between one of their rounds of vigorous sex, Wei Ying remarks, “Maybe that curse was a blessing in disguise. I wouldn’t have come back to Cloud Recesses for a while if it hadn’t happened. I certainly never would have confessed how I felt.” He’s sitting between Lan Wangji’s legs, reclining against his chest.
“Mn,” says Lan Wangji behind him, peppering kisses to his neck.
“Do you think we should go back to the village where I did that night hunt? We should probably try and track down that rogue cultivator to make sure he doesn’t try that again on someone else,” Wei Ying muses aloud.
“The backlash will take him at least another month to recover from. It can wait, and in the meantime we have better things to do with our time,” answers Lan Wangji, sliding his hands down Wei Ying’s body. Wei Ying shivers.
“Yeah, you’re right.”
(Many towns away, a rogue cultivator named Zhang Hua sneezes. He wonders fearfully what became of Wei Wuxian, who he’d met a week ago.
He’d recognized him right away—the red and black robes, the red ribbon in his hair, Chenqing grasped tightly in one of his fists. None of the painted depictions Zhang Hua has seen of the Yiling Patrarch have ever done him justice—he is actually quite beautiful. Striking, in a way that makes a man want to stare.
And Zhang Hua had done quite a lot of staring, seeing as Wei Wuxian had been unconscious when they’d found him. He’d carried Wei Wuxian’s limp body out of the previously haunted manor, insisting to his fellow rogue cultivator, Dai Gan, that he could manage himself.
Dai Gan had shrugged and allowed it, more interested in examining the very complicated, very impressive array Wei Wuxian had used to subdue the spirit.
Zhang Hua had laid Wei Wuxian out on the ground and taken him by the wrist to feel his pulse. As he’d suspected, Wei Wuxian had just been worn out; he’d depleted his stores of spiritual energy severely. He would be fine after a bit of rest.
As he’d knelt by Wei Wuxian’s side, Zhang Hua hadn’t been able to help but notice some things. Things like; the way Wei Wuxian’s long lashes fanned over his cheeks; how soft his lips looked; how trim his waist was; how long his legs were.
Zhang Hua was already a self-admitted fan of the Yiling Patriarch—he’d studied his teachings—but in that moment, alone with him, Zhang Hua had realised that he’d been given a unique opportunity.
He’d acted quickly—he’d needed to do it before he lost his nerve, or Dai Gan returned and talked him out of it. He had a spell book and he was somewhat gifted when it came to spell-casting. The spell he’d wanted to cast wasn’t one that he’d attempted before, but in the words of Wei Wuxian’s former Sect, he would attempt the impossible.
The spell had been just sinking into Wei Wuxian’s skin, when Zhang Hua felt the first twinge of wrongness. He’d been confused—it appeared to be working? Wei Wuxian was unconscious with precious little spiritual energy left, which meant he should have been particularly vulnerable to it, but something didn’t feel quite right.
The mother of all backlashes had hit him with the force of a thousand suns. It had happened so suddenly that Zhang Hua hadn’t even had a chance to brace himself. It had felt like being struck with lighting—pure, powerful, primordial energy forcing its way through his body and scorching everything in its wake. He’d burned from the inside out. When it had finally been over, he’d been surprised to find his body intact and undamaged, so severe the pain had been.
The rest of that night was a terrifying blur to Zhang Hua—if Wei Wuxian was capable of something like that while unconscious, Zhang Hua shuddered to think of what the man might do to him if he were awake. What he might do to an overambitious rogue cultivator who had tried to put a love curse on him...
He did the smart thing and offered Wei Wuxian all his money as a bribe, and then he ran for his life.
He threw away his spell book the first chance he got, vowing that if Wei Wuxian would just spare him, he’d never curse anyone again.)