When the Wens advanced on the rest of the cultivation world, Lotus Pier was among the first to fall. Yu-furen's last words still ring in Wei Wuxian's ears on his many sleepless nights. He took the Jiang heirs and ran.
They did not run far enough.
Under Wen Ruohan's sons' watch, the Jiang heirs are untouched, but treated as possessions. Jiang Cheng, having cultivated into an alpha by his mother, was dispatched with the Wen forces, turned into extra fuel. Jiang Yanli, a beta of weak constitution, was kept in a tower as insurance. But Wei Wuxian, the son of servant, was not so lucky. Though an accomplished cultivator with an abundance of natural yang energy, Wen Chao was not afraid to punish him to keep the last of the Jiangs in line.
As fate goes, Wei Wuxian gets himself thrown into the Burial Mounds.
He climbs out an omega, filled to the brim with yin energy, resentment at his beck and call.
On the other side, Hanguang-jun had been given command of his own squadron of Lan cultivators. They breached the Wen border, but with too many losses, not enough resources. Hanguang-jun took responsibility. He ordered his soldiers to return and report to Lan Xichen.
He let himself be captured.
Wen Xu was cruel, but not the same brand of nasty as his brother. Lan Wangji was kicked around and left in a cell, leg wounded, spiritual powers forcefully sealed. He knew he would only last days before the yang energy building up inside him sent him into qi deviation. Rendering him feral, unable to think for himself, only listening to the most animal of instincts.
Two days pass in that dirty, dark cell. Lan Wangji feels his skin start to overheat, his mind start to scatter. If the guards remember to swing by and toss him stale mantou, he snarls when they step too close. He tastes blood with every swallow.
Then, an omega shows up.
Lan Wangji stares, unsure if in his delirium this is real.
"What is a Lan doing here?" the omega asks. Somehow, he's inside the cell. He smells like doused campfires, burnt spices. Something nostalgic, almost safe, but still - a sour tang, something a little off. He reaches for Lan Wangji, and Lan Wangji snaps, throwing himself back into the wall.
(The thing about designations in this world is that it is dependent on one's affinity to spiritual energy. Not all alphas choose to cultivate, but they are encouraged to do so. Betas can cultivate, and some even reach their alpha potential. Omegas, however. They are rare, cultivated or not. Their ability to carry yin energy, their consequential emotional sensitivity - much of the cultivation world see them only as vessels for energy exchange through dual cultivation or pawns for how they can bend the physically stronger alphas to their will.
But this omega. There is something strange about him, different from what Lan Wangji has read in his studies. Something unnatural.)
Lan Wangji feels trapped. Did the Wens send him? He won't let this omega control him. He sways forwards and tries to shove the other man back.
It was a mistake.
As soon as he touches him, a wave of calm crashes over him like a wave. Threatens to drown him. Lan Wangji fights anyway. He grips the omega's wrists, calls upon his alpha strength, but -
His energy is sealed.
The skinny wrists in his hands creak with his desperate grasp, but the omega just bares his teeth. A knee drives into Lan Wangji's wound. He grunts in pain. Fire explodes in his bloodstream, sweat and panic thickening in the air. He does not know if it is his own.
"We're out of time," the omega says. "My apologies, Lan-gongzi, but I'm sure you don't want to spend another night here, either."
Delirious, shaking, energy unstable, Lan Wangji moves too late to resist when the man bends over him. He feels teeth on his skin.
He gives in.
Wei Wuxian has been breaking into Nightless City for the past few months, ever since he crawled out of the Burial Mounds with distorted yin singing in his bones, ghosts bent under his will. As an alpha he has always been called impertinent, too bright for his own good. As an omega, he is still Wei Wuxian. Forcibly turned as his weakest, Wei Wuxian taught himself not only how to cultivate yin energy but how to channel it. Use it instead of needing an alpha to exchange it. If he was given an excess of yin to suffocate in, he will adapt his lungs to breathe it in.
(If Wen Chao was a smarter man, he might have fully intended to turn Wei Wuxian into an omega. Might have figured out how to bond a new omega, bite him deep and keep him as a weapon.
But he was not. And Wei Wuxian will make him pay for that mistake.)
At first, Wei Wuxian had only the goal of rescuing his brother and sister. Maybe take out Wen Chao along the way, if the man was unlucky enough to run into him again. Only, Wei Wuxian ran into Wen Qing, Wen Ruohan's designated healer, early on his search.
Wen Qing had advised against war. Against experimenting with tainted yin energy, with designations and the power of bonds. But her little brother has affinity for yin, and she is afraid.
Then comes Wei Wuxian, who Wen Chao had boasted of disposing. One of the most promising young cultivators of their generation, thought to be lost amidst this nonsense war. Someone who shouldn't have been able to survive but did, somehow, proving his genius with every breath he takes. Wen Qing saw her chance, and grabbed it. They struck a deal. Wei Wuxian helps escort her family to safety, Wen Qing keeps Jiang Yanli safe and finds information on where Jiang Cheng was sent to.
(If they casually dismantle Wen Ruohan's plans and forces while they're at it, well. They're not looking for praise.)
He wasn't expecting to find a Lan down there tonight. He was looking for one of Wen Qing's uncles, who was assigned guard duty. But here they are.
Wei Wuxian has not quite mastered how to compel such a strong alpha. What he knows is this: an alpha bound to an omega will obey on instinct. So he sinks his teeth into the alpha, marks him as his. Pulls back to find dilated gold eyes locked on his own.
"Come," Wei Wuxian says, and the alpha follows.
It is not a true bond. Those are only formed by trading bites, each side marking the other in full. Wei Wuxian's mark will fade in time; not soon enough the alpha won't be angry when his energy balances out again, but soon enough he can eventually go free and find his true mate without Wei Wuxian in the way.
He brings the alpha to the medicinal storehouse, where Wen Qing finds them at sunrise. Wen Qing takes one look at the man slumped over Wei Wuxian's lap, and sighs.
"What have you done, Wei Wuxian?"
"I couldn't leave him there," Wei Wuxian says. "He was half-feral when I found him."
A healer through and through, Wen Qing is already pulling out materials from the shelves. "That's the second young master of the Lan sect."
"What? Him? This is Hanguang-jun?"
"I didn't hear about this," Wen Qing murmurs, gesturing for Wei Wuxian to turn Lan Wangji onto his back.
"They must have wanted to keep this quiet. Let him go feral and release him against his own sect. Bastards." Wei Wuxian glances at Wen Qing. "No offense."
She shrugs. "We need to unseal his core."
With the alpha half-cognizant, it's easy for the two of them to hold him down. Wen Qing readies her needles.
It's over in mere moments, but the alpha flinches hard, curling into Wei Wuxian's hip. Slender fingers come to clutch at Wei Wuxian's robes, hard enough to bruise. Without thinking about it, Wei Wuxian places a hand over the other man's fist. He finds the scent glands on the alpha's neck, presses down. Tries to radiate calm, comfort.
The alpha turns his face into Wei Wuxian's knees, neck exposed. releasing a shuddering breath, his eyes close.
When Lan Wangji comes back to himself, he is being led down a dim corridor. Quietly and quickly, he yanks at the hand holding his own and pins the man up against the wall. He ignores the surprised yelp, throwing his weight forwards, but -
His body locks up before he can apply real pressure. It is the omega from before.
"Hey! Hey! I'm trying to help you," he says, staying still under Lan Wangji's weight.
"Where are you taking me," Lan Wangji demands.
"Out of Nightless City. It's not a very good place for sightseeing this time of war."
"What do you want with me?"
The omega shrugs as much as he is able. "I don't know yet. Right now, I'd appreciate if you let me go and we keep moving, because I did not spend all that effort getting you out of the dungeons to be put back in there again."
Reluctantly, Lan Wangji releases his hold. He steps back, and they stare at each other warily across the small corridor.
"Ready to keep moving?"
"How do i know to trust you?"
The man sighs. "Do you have a choice right now? Look. I'm Wei Ying, courtesy Wuxian. And you are Hanguang-jun, one of the Lan Sect's prized Twin Jades, Lan Wangji. Do you want to share your birth name, too? Will that make you feel more comfortable?"
Lan Wangji glares. He can feel the impatience and anxiety thrumming through the other man, but the emotions turn into a mild hum in the background as Wei Wuxian puts a hand on his hip in a display of flippant arrogance. This omega has a good grasp on manipulating his emotional resonance.That only makes Lan Wangji more reluctant to trust him.
Something about that name tugs at his memory. "You are not Wen," he says cautiously. Wei Wuxian scoffs. "I am Yunmeng Jiang or not of a sect at all."
Lan Wangji's eyes widen. This must be the late Jiang-zongzhu's ward. Last anyone had heard, he had perished along with the rest of the Jiangs.
The last he'd heard, Wei Wuxian was a proud alpha whose cultivation was on par with Lan Wangji's own.
Wei Wuxian straightens suddenly, peering down the way they came. "Listen, I'd love to continue your interrogation, but we really need to leave now."
Lan Wangji is swordless, wounded, core still unstable. The bite on his neck aches slightly, a reminder. Gritting his teeth, Lan Wangji follows.
They sneak out of Nightless City through its deserted west wall. Wei Wuxian leads them down the rocky path, moving with familiarity around the shadows the boulders and cliffs cast. They've reached the woods at the base of the mountain when Lan Wangji finally finds his words.
"You bit me."
Wei Wuxian's shoulders tense up. He doesn't turn around. "I did. It was the only way to move you without you going full feral and attacking me."
Lan Wangji lifts a hand to press against the bite mark. If he focuses, he can feel the bond tying him to Wei Wuxian. Thin, but ever-present.
"Don't worry, Lan Er-gongzi." Wei Wuxian throws him a smile over his shoulder. His eyes are beautiful, but somehow devastating at the same time. Lan Wangji is almost afraid to look too closely, afraid of what he'll find there. If it will be like looking into a mirror. "It's not a full bond. It will fade."
Lan Wangji knows, in theory, how bonds work. He knows, also, how a half-bond works. He grew up watching his father visit his mother every month to renew the bond because she never bit him back. (Older now, Lan Wangji knows his father had never asked her to. He still does not know if that is a kindness.)
So the omega is implying he won't bite him again. He won't make Lan Wangji bite him back. However, in the meantime, the half-bond ensures Lan Wangji cannot stray too far. Cannot harm Wei Wuxian. Cannot bear to allow harm to come to Wei Wuxian.
Lan Wangji's footsteps slow. Wei Wuxian pauses. Turns, expectant. "Where are you taking me?" Lan Wangji asks again.
Wei Wuxian smiles, close-lipped, knife-sharp. "Have you ever been to the Burial Mounds, Hanguang-jun?"
The Burial Mounds have always been said to be a hopeless place. Too full of death and resentment and past grievances. Bordering the Qishan mountains and the swamplands of Yunmeng makes it a place difficult to travel to, as well. Wei Wuxian strides towards the dark smog confidently.
When he first rescued Wen Qing's Popo and her tiny cousin along with a handful of aunts, Wei Wuxian didn't know where else to go. Lotus Pier was ashes, the other sects too far and too hostile towards the name Wen. So he went back where no sane man would follow.
Halfway up the barren mountain, there is a cave. Wei Wuxian had poured blood and sweat and carved out shelter, swallowed the bitter taste of death-stained yin until there was space cleared of resentment, enough for the fugitives to breathe without suffering from corpse poisoning. They've managed to build a few huts, plant some radishes. Traded belongings at the nearest town, a full day's walk, for materials that the aunts can use to weave and to sell. It's not much of a living - but it's surviving.
Wei Wuxian releases the wards long enough for the alpha behind him to pass through. He watches Lan Wangji take the space in, watches the dawning realization that these people are not cultivators.
"Wen Ruohan is ruthless enough to use anyone," Wei Wuxian says, "even his own people."
Lan Wangji looks at him. Wei Wuxian can't read his expression. Before either of them can speak, there's a yell of "Xian-gege!" and then a child is hurtling towards them, kicking up dirt as he goes.
With practised movements, Wei Wuxian catches A-Yuan and swings him around in a circle. "Baby Radish!"
"I'm not a baby!" A-Yuan pouts, even though he most definitely is. He peers shyly up at Lan Wangji, eyeing the Lan-white robes, his forehead ribbon, pristine even now. A-Yuan leans in to whisper in Wei Wuxian's ear. "Who is pretty-gege?"
"Ah," Wei Wuxian says. "That's Lan Er-gege."
A-Yuan mouths the name to himself. His voice carries when he asks, "Why does he smell like you?"
Lan Wangji stiffens beside them, but Wei Wuxian just laughs. "When did you get a grown-up nose, baby radish? You're right. Lan Er-gege is my mate. For now, anyway. So be nice to him, okay, A-Yuan?"
He can feel Lan Wangji's eyes on him. But when A-Yuan reaches towards the alpha in a wordless ask to scent-read him, Lan Wangji indulges the boy patiently.
The boy is still young, not old enough to present yet. His father was an omega, one of the first to be taken for experimentation under Wen Ruohan's orders. An honour, the sect leader said. A-Yuan's alpha mother refused to let him go alone.
They never came back.
Wei Wuxian has collected Wen Qing's family to fulfill a debt, but as the weeks turned into months, this ragtag group of people have become as familiar as all the people he'd lost when Lotus Pier fell.
He meets Lan Wangji's eyes and dares him to say a word. Lan Wangji stays silent throughout dinner, a miserable bowl of radish soup. He nods seriously to A-Yuan's chatter, is polite to Popo. As expected of Hanguang-jun.
When the worn and chipped plates are cleared away, Lan Wangji finally finds his words. "You are rescuing civilians," he says.
Wei Wuxian nods, gestures for him to go on.
"Why do you not join the Sunshot Campaign, then?"
Wei Wuxian's mouth tilts up, but his eyes are tired. "Not everyone is as noble as you, Hanguang-jun. Maybe I just want to get my revenge and be done with it."
"Would your revenge not be satisfied by defeating the Wen?"
"You don't want me on the battlefield." He holds Lan Wangji's gaze, lets him see the shadows that haunt him on the inside. Maybe the man would recognize some of them, having lived through months of war himself. Wei Wuxian feels no satisfaction either way.
In the end, Lan Wangji looks away first. He hesitates. Then, "Your cultivation. Was it changed by Wen Ruohan?"
Wei Wuxian sneers. "That bastard and his sons do not get to claim any credit for my genius. Did you know, Lan Wangji, that when you seal an alpha's core and drop them into a place infested with resentment, there's a chance for them to turn omega? Because I couldn't balance out the energy, I took it all in. I couldn't stop it. Then I figured out how to turn it into yin."
Lan Wangji looks faintly horrified. Wei Wuxian's hands itch for some wine, but there isn't anything like that here, even if Uncle Four keeps mumbling about brewing some. There are a lot of things they don't have here. He stands.
"Come on. I'll show you where you can sleep. Wen Qing said you need rest to heal your wounds properly."
In the cave, around the corner behind a natural stone pillar, a roughly-made privacy screen sits. Behind that is a small room, filled only with a worktable and some mats laid out on a stone slab.
"I'll take the floor," Wei Wuxian says, spreading out an extra mat.
Lan Wangji frowns. "Wei-gongzi, I am fine with the floor."
Wei Wuxian waves a hand. "You're injured. Besides, I've slept in worse places. And what's with this 'gongzi'? Just call me Wei Ying. Since we're bonded and all."
"Half-bonded," Lan Wangji corrects reflexively.
Lan Wangji sits on the ratty bed. He watches the red ribbon in Wei Wuxian's hair bounce as the man goes about tidying the small area. "Lan Zhan," he says quietly. "My name."
Wei Wuxian looks at him. He doesn't smile, but his eyes lose some of the hardness from their earlier conversation.
"Okay," says Wei Wuxian finally. "Goodnight, Lan Zhan."
They both lie in the dark.
Wei Wuxian's breathing evens out quickly. Lan Wangji stares up at the cave ceiling. He is tired; his body is still working over time trying to balance out his core again. But his mind races.
He must have been missing for over a week. He hopes his squadron managed to make it back to camp safely. He hopes his brother is alright. There is no way for him to return at the moment, and he fears they think the worst.
Slowly so as not to make sound, Lan Wangji reaches up to brush a finger over the bite mark. It is so small, easily covered with his collar. It doesn't hurt anymore, only pulses occasionally in response to Wei Wuxian's emotions.
Lan Wangji does not believe the omega will hurt him intentionally, not after bringing him here. But that does not mean he can trust him.
His thoughts trail back to his mother. Though she was a beta, she was tied to his father out of punishment. She never tried to fight it. Lan Wangji wonders if she ever thought of breaking the bond forcefully.
His father is also dead now. Lan Wangji apologizes for the unfilial thought, anyway.
Under the bond, his thoughts are still his own. His actions, too. Wei Wuxian does not seem interested in compelling him beyond making him leave the cell that first night. Still - Lan Wangji curls his palm over the bite. Still, he will be careful. He will resist if he must.
The next day, as Wei Wuxian is preparing to head back into the Nightless City, Lan Wangji insists, without a change in his expression, on coming along.
"I'm just grabbing like, two uncles," Wei Wuxian says. "The ones I was supposed to bring back instead of you."
"I will go with you," Lan Wangji says stubbornly.
"Aiyah. You don't have to get yourself involved. Just wait out this bond thing and then you can go home and be a hero, okay?"
Lan Wangji's lips purse. He tugs at his collar, exposing the mark.
Wei Wuxian grimaces in understanding. "I guess having a strong cultivator like you can help," he grumbles. "Is your leg healed? Ah, wait. They took your sword, didn't they? I don't know if we'll have time to break into whichever armoury they hid it in... do you have any other weapons?"
"My qin," Lan Wangji says. He frowns. "They took that also."
Wei Wuxian sighs. "I guess Hanguang-jun truly is as fearsome as they say if they had to strip you of everything and seal your core. It's fine, this is more of a stealth mission anyway. I'll ask Wen Qing about your stuff."
It takes half a day's walk to reach Nightless City. Wei Wuxian takes the quickest route up the rocky mountain and through the fortress wall, having plenty of practise sneaking in and out by now. Lan Wangji follows him like a large elegant ghost.
"We need to get you less conspicuous robes," Wei Wuxian muses.
Under the cover of the night, they slip into the medicine storehouse unseen. Wei Wuxian heads straight to the desk, where scrolls and missives are laid out in a neat mess. He scans the list of herbs and letters on treatment, decoding wq's writing. "They've changed the rotation," he murmurs.
Lan Wangji hovers behind him. He does a great job of suppressing his scent, but Wei Wuxian can still pick out the man's uncertainty and anxiety in the enclosed room.
There's enough information they can be in and out. Still, Wei Wuxian hesitates. "Come on," he says to Lan Wangji.
He takes them around the back, up across the roofs, pausing only to avoid the patrols. He stops on a building and trills three notes. A moment later, a window slides open below them.
"Wei Wuxian," Wen Qing hisses when they tumble in. "I thought I told you it's too risky to come to this room!"
He smiles sheepishly at her. "But I wanted to see Wen Ning!"
The boy waves at him from the table, but shrinks back when he sees Lan Wangji behind him. Wen Qing narrows her eyes. "You brought the alpha along?"
"We're bonded, remember? Sort of, anyway." Wei Wuxian steps in front of Lan Wangji, trying to hide him from Wen Ning's sight as much as possible. "Sorry, Wen Ning. He won't hurt you. He might hurt me but I can handle it."
"Wei Ying," comes Lan Wangji's disapproving voice.
Wei Wuxian throws a smirk over his shoulder, ignoring the strange shiver down his spine at the sound of his birth name in the alpha's voice.
Wen Qing clears her throat. "Why are you here? I left you the new guards' schedule."
"You did. I wanted to ask if you know where Lan Zhan's things are, and - " Wei Wuxian hesitates briefly - "if there is any news of Jiang Cheng."
Wen Qing frowns. "They were quite upset to find Hanguang-jun gone, but if we can make San-shu disappear, it might feed the rumours that the cells are - haunted... Unfortunately, I'm not told about the soldiers' movements, not unless they're sent back for me to treat." As Wei Wuxian's face falls, Wen Qing sighs. "Jiang Wanyin is too important for Wen-zongzhu to use recklessly. I'm sure he'll be sent back eventually. I'll keep an ear out, I said."
Wei Wuxian nods. He ignores Lan Wangji's gaze on his back. reaches out to run a soothing hand down Wen Ning's arm, radiating as much comfort as he can. "And... Shijie?"
Wen Qing's eyes soften. "She is fine. Eating more. I've given her some scrolls on medicine to keep her busy. No one has touched her. And under my watch, no one will." She pauses. "I still think it would bring her relief to know you are alive."
"No," Wei Wuxian says immediately. "Don't - She's safer not knowing." He doesn't want to picture her face when she sees what he has become.
It's not that he's ashamed of being an omega. But it was never a path he'd considered, and the power he now held by pushing omega capabilities past its limits - all of it is unnatural. Unsafe. Dishonourable to the memory of the people who raised him and gave him cultivation.
As if he hasn't committed enough sins. He had to go and bite an unwilling alpha, too.
They leave with Wen Qing's updated intelligence on where and when to find her uncles. One in the cells, another they can collect at the gate patrol. Wei Wuxian leads Lan Wangji back down the tunnels. In the dark, guided by a lone talisman, Lan Wangji asks about Wen Ning.
"He's a beta," Wei Wuxian tells him. But he's shown affinity for yin, and Wen Ruohan has seized upon that potential, piling him with training and experimental procedures. It is only thanks to Wen Qing's medicinal knowledge that she's managed to keep her brother from turning completely, unwillingly.
Wen Ning told Wei Wuxian once that he wouldn't mind being an omega. He's always been sensitive, always been good at reading moods and soothing people's nerves. Only, all of them know no omega is safe under Wen Ruohan's thumb.
"He's the last to go," Wei Wuxian says. "It's too noticeable if I steal him away now."
Lan Wangji takes all of this in silence. He puts out the light talisman as they come to an iron grid.
They've reached the dungeons.
There are only three guards in the dungeons when they walk down the stairs. They're leaning against the walls, looking bored.
Lan Wangji does not know which man they're here for, so he hangs back as Wei Wuxian strides forwards.
"Hey, who are you?! How did you get in here?"
Lan Wangji hears Wei Wuxian drawl, "Oh, don't mind me. I just came back to check up on something I left behind the last time I was here. Say, have you seen a grass butterfly lying around?"
Indignant cursing as the guards draw their swords. "An omega shouldn't be wandering about down here," one says. "Where are your retainers?"
Lan Wangji's hands move to draw Bichen before he remembers it is gone. Just as he goes to step around the corner, instinctively needing to protect Wei Wuxian, the temperature in the dungeons drops drastically. Shadows shift, ballooning outwards, darkening the dimness further. The resentment is so much, so oppressive, that Lan Wangji squeezes his eyes shut. When he opens them, two guards are down, hands clutching at their chests, faces slack.
Wei Wuxian stands still in the middle of it all, wisps of resentful energy drifting from his body like an extra layer to his cloak. "They're not dead," Wei Wuxian says. He lowers his hood. His eyes glow red for a moment before fading to his usual silver. He addresses the last guard. "San-shu? Wen Qing sent me."
"Wei-gongzi," the man says. He bows. "Thank you."
Wei Wuxian waves a hand. He opens his mouth, but is interrupted by a low growl. They all freeze and stare down to a cell further down.
"Who else was kept down here?" Wei Wuxian asks.
San-shu looks nervous. "An alpha from a smaller sect, if I recall correctly. I was only rotated here last night, I don't know how long she's been in here."
Long enough, is the answer. When they walk up to the cell door, the growling intensifies. The scent of fear and anger is sharp like winter frost. An animal cornered.
Wei Wuxian curses under his breath. Lan Wangji can only stare. That's what he would have become, if Wei Wuxian hadn't shown up. Hadn't bitten him.
"Hey," Wei Wuxian calls. "Listen. We can set you free. We won't hurt you if you don't hurt us."
The alpha snarls, loud and guttural. She doesn't move.
Wei Wuxian frowns. When he reaches for the latch, Lan Wangji pulls at his sleeve. "Wei Ying."
"Stay back, Lan Zhan."
Wei Wuxian shakes him off and opens the door. As soon as the latch unlocks and the bars swing open, the alpha lunges forwards, her hair flying, her eyes wild. Wei Wuxian dodges backwards, but her nails catch on his arm, leaving a long scratch.
Lan Wangji sees red.
In two strides, he has Wei Wuxian pushed behind him and the feral alpha shoved back, hard enough she slams into the wall with a loud thump. She bounces back up on her heels, snapping her teeth at him. Lan Wangji growls back. His senses narrow down to threat and protect.
The alpha pounces forwards again, staying low and aiming for Wei Wuxian. The yin running through his body must appeal to her overwhelmed senses, but she would only hurt him in this state. Lan Wangji catches her around the middle and throws her back. He's barely aware of the noise, of the rush of his blood in his ears. Someone is calling his name, he thinks. He ignores it, staring the other alpha down.
She rushes at him, head first, and he meets her halfway in a hard tackle. Core sealed, she should be no match for him, but she is fighting without a care for her own body. Lan Wangji moves defensively, but if this goes on, he'll have to end it. He'll have to -
Distress pierces the air.
Lan Wangji freezes. The alpha smacks a hand across his face at his distraction. He quickly pushes her back, creating distance between them once more.
"Wei Ying," he gasps, wanting to look, to check on the omega, but unwilling to take his eyes off the threat.
"I'm not hurt," Wei Wuxian says.
The scent of distress fades. Lan Wangji's nerves are still on fire, but his thoughts are clearer now, reawakened from the adrenaline-driven frenzy.
"She's too far gone," Lan Wangji says.
Wei Wuxian's voice is subdued when he says, "I know."
The alpha hadn't even paused at the scent Wei Wuxian's distress, however feigned or intentionally released. The excess of yang energy burning like a wildfire in place of her core will run out sooner rather than later. If she is lucky, she'll come back to herself, but never cultivate again. Lan Wangji stares down at her and wonders if it would be kinder to kill her now.
In the end, Wei Wuxian wraps her in resentment and forces her into stasis. It will help her stall for time, should the Wens try and use her. In the end, they leave her behind.
They spend the next few weeks shuffling back between Nightless City and Burial Mounds. The tiny community within the mountain of the dead grows, even as the bags under Wei Wuxian's eyes darken.
Wei Wuxian makes A-Yuan laugh, sends out waves of comfort and reassurance for the uncles and aunties. He pretends he doesn't see Lan Wangji hovering at the edge, not a part of them, but never straying too far apart, either.
In the relative privacy of the cave, as Lan Wangji meditates, Wei Wuxian allows his face to contort into a grimace. He has been using resentful energy more and more as he tries to speed up retrieving Wen Qing's family. The string of disappearances are starting to gather attention, and he's had to take drastic measures. It is taking a toll.
The thing about his new method of cultivation - or rather, the thing about omegas and yin energy is that they are a conduct. But Wei Wuxian came out of the burial mounds wrong. He didn't have time to figure out how to cleanse the resentment from the yin, to figure out how to release it from his body. He was never good at meditatin; he doesn't know if that will work on the mess of energy churning under his skin.
Instead, Wei Wuxian lies down and stares at the now-familiar lines of Lan Wangji's profile. This man is so steady. Even in an unfamiliar place, surrounded by unfamiliar people. Lan Wangji had taken his unorthodox cultivation in stride. Lan Wangji still looks him in the eye, even after all the man has seen him do. Even after what Wei Wuxian has done to him.
If Wei Wuxian focuses, chases the thin thread that connects them together, he can pick out the vague shapes of Lan Wangji's emotions. They shift like distant clouds in a blue sky - so slowly, so soothing to stare at, until your eyes close and you find yourself drifting without even realising..
He falls asleep like that, despite the icy tendrils coiled inside his chest.
Wei Wuxian is strange.
Lan Wangji has never seen an omega act like him before - but then again, he has never seen anyone cultivate with resentful energy. If Wen Ruohan could get his hands on Wei Wuxian, the world as they knew it would be destroyed. Yet somehow, Lan Wangji realizes he trusts in Wei Wuxian's goodness.
Not once has Wei Wuxian attempted to compel him to do something he does not want to, or even make tried to make Lan Wangji fight for him. They stole a sword off a Wen soldier on one of their rescues, but Wei Wuxian still insisted on doing the work. It is terrifying, his power, but not once has he lost control.
One day, back on the Burial Mounds, which has grown into a small village by now, Lan Wangji watches Wei Wuxian straighten suddenly, digging into his robes for a talisman that quickly burns into ash.
"An emergency signal," Wei Wuxian explains. "We need to go to Wen Qing."
They meet her in the medicinal storehouse again. "It's Jiang Wanyin," she says with a grim expression. Wei Wuxian clenches Lan Wangji's sleeve so tightly his knuckles turn white. "You need to get him out before Wen Zhuliu gets at him."
The core-sealer. Lan Wangji's own hands turn into fists at the name.
Wen Qing returns to her rooms to throw off suspicion and keep her brother close while the two of them hurry around corners to the secluded building where Jiang Wanyin is currently being held. He'd been caught making contact with a Nie disciple, Wen Qing said. Wei Wuxian seems to barely remember to stay out of sight.
When they finally reach the building, there is only one guard outside. Careless. Lan Wangji is not surprised when, after incapitating the guard by talisman, they kick down the door and find Wen Chao standing on the other side. Jiang Wanyin is bound and gagged on the floor, Wen Zhuliu standing over him. He does not appear to be conscious.
"Who the -" Wen Chao growls, but his beta aggression does nothing to a furious Wei Wuxian and an alpha of Lan Wangji's calibre.
Wen Zhuliu, ever loyal dog, moves back to step in front of Wen Chao. Wei Wuxian seethes, resentment already swirling about him.
"An omega?" Wen Chao says, grinning without humour. "Oh, my father will want you. Wen Zhuliu, get him."
Lan Wangji takes a step forward, wanting to shield Wei Wuxian from those ugly, cruel eyes, but the man stalks forwards, one hand raised threateningly in the air.
"Is your brain so small," Wei Wuxian hisses, "that you don't even recognize me?"
"Why would I care who you are? Come with me quietly, and my father will reward you. Don't you want to be part of leading the greatest sect in the world to victory?"
"The greatest sect? That's funny."
Wen Chao's smile is wiped off his face. "Shut up. You're just an omega. All you're good for is harvesting yin to make alphas stronger."
Wei Wuxian throws his head back and laughs. "Let me remind you, you slimy piece of shit."
The resentful energy that erupts is suffocating. Instead of the usual cloud the billows out, skirting around Lan Wangji, this is pure resentment, fueled by rage and fear and hurt. Uncaring of who stands in its path. Lan Wangji holds up an arm to shield his eyes.
"You thought the Burial Mounds would finish me off," Wei Wuxian says, dangourously low. When Lan Wangji manages to look up, Wei Wuxian has Wen Chao held up by the throat, eyes blazing red. "You should have done it yourself, coward."
Wen Chao grunts in pain. "You - how?"
Wei Wuxian smiles, teeth bared. "You really want to know?"
He lifts his other hand. Crooks a finger. Wen Chao's screams dissolve into pained gurgles as resentment wraps around him, choking him, pouring into mouth, nose, ears. His body shakes with terror and pain. When Wei Wuxian releases him, Wen Chao falls into a heap on the floor, whimpering pathetically. His fear and despair stinks up the room.
Wen Zhuliu has taken several steps back. Clearly smarter than his master, he edges towards Jiang Wanyin. Wei Wuxian glares at him.
"Touch him and you die."
Without a change in expression, Wen Zhuliu shifts into a fighting stance. Wei Wuxian raises his hands. They are trembling.
Lan Wangji has a bad feeling all of a sudden.
The resentment has no physical shape for Wen Zhuliu to hit, but the man is a strong alpha in his own right. He manages to break through the menacing tendrils, tackling Wei Wuxian to the ground. Wei Wuxian kicks, bites, scratches like a hysterical omega - and, Lan Wangji realizes with dawning horror, with the overflow of resentment and the confusing barrage of emotions radiating from him, that's what he is. Wei Wuxian has passed his limit without Lan Wangji noticing.
Wen Zhuliu lowers his hands, reaching for Wei Wuxian's throat. He knows there is no point in going for the omega's distorted core. Lan Wangji is moving before he even registers it.
(Here's the thing. A few days ago, when he checked his reflection in one of the little pools in the cave, the bond-mark on his neck was gone. It had faded, as it would without a renewal. As it would, in a half-bond.
He hadn't told Wei Wuxian. He didn't know if Wei Wuxian had noticed, so busy keeping Wen Qing's family alive. He didn't ask why he didn't tell Wei Wuxian himself.)
Lan Wangji does not feel the bond-enforced pull to throw himself in front of a blade for the omega anymore. Still - he moves, launches himself at Wen Zhuliu with all the force he has, shoving him off Wei Wuxian, snarling.
The omega is not his. He is not Wei Wuxian's. But Lan Wangji wants to protect him all the same.
He wrestles with Wen Zhuliu, tumbling them towards the far wall. Wen Zhuliu fights rough, but not dirty. He makes a move towards Lan Wangji's core, but Lan Wangji does not make the same mistake twice. He draws the stolen sword and cuts the man's arm clean through.
"Wei Ying," Lan Wangji says, staring Wen Zhuliu down. The other alpha is still conscious, but no longer standing.
He receives a wordless keen in reply. Eyeing Wen Zhuliu for a second longer, making sure the man won't be getting back up, Lan Wangji lets himself turn. Wei Wuxian is still on the floor. He's hunched over, arms clutched around himself.
"Wei Ying!" Lan Wangji drops to his knees next to him. "What is wrong?"
He reaches for Wei Wuxian's shoulder and flinches back at the heat emanating from him. Wei Wuxian sways. His eyes are no longer red, but no longer focused, either. The resentment around him has dispersed, yet his body seems to be buzzing with energy. Lan Wangji is worried.
With Wen Zhuliu preoccupied with trying to stop himself from bleeding out and Wen Chao no longer in his right mind, no one stops Lan Wangji when he hefts an unconscious Jiang Wanyin over his shoulders and an unresponsive Wei Wuxian into his arms.
It's a miracle he makes it back to Wen Qing's rooms without being seen. She ushers them in quickly, face pale. Her brother helps to transfer Jiang Wanyin to the bed, wide-eyed but unfazed by the blood staining their clothes. Wen Qing does not try to convince Lan Wangji to let go of Wei Wuxian.
"He went overboard, didn't he?" Wen Qing bites her lip. "A-Ning, treat Jiang-gongzi's wounds for now. You, come with me. I'll take you to Wen Ning's room."
She looks at him. "Can't you feel it? He's going into heat."
She leads them to a room down the hall. "Stay here, do not light the candles."
"What should I do?"
Wen Qing takes Wei Wuxian's wrist, but he jerks away after a few seconds, burrowing into Lan Wangji's chest. "This is the worst place and worst timing, I don't have anything to make him a nest, and I doubt he's aware enough to try. Keep him comfortable and hydrated, whatever he needs to feel safe. He's never had a heat before - but even the great Wei Wuxian has a limit." Seeing the barely suppressed panic in Lan Wangji's eyes, Wen Qing sighs. "Heats are usually triggered by an influx of yin energy. It's most easily handled by exchanging it with an alpha's yang to settle the core, which leads to better health in both parties, cycling out the excess."
Lan Wangji swallows. He does not understand all the theory but he understands enough to hear what the healer is saying. He has never dual cultivated with anyone. Thinking about committing the act with Wei Ying makes something in his chest tremble. But he doesn't want it to happen like this.
"Is there another way?" he asks, even though his arms are tight around the omega in his arms.
Wen Qing purses her lips. "I don't know enough about how Wei Wuxian is manipulating the yin in his body and how the resentment hasn't killed him yet. Without a mate, omegas can only wait it out. Their bodies are also able to balance the energies, just slower and more painfully. Pass him energy," she advises, "when it starts to act up. Having an alpha near will help, especially one that he recognizes through a bond, however unfulfilled. I will do my best to divert all attention for as long as I can."
Just before she shuts the door behind her, she says, "Wei Wuxian is a foolish, stubborn man, but he's strong. He'll be alright."
Lan Wangji sits in the dark room, holding Wei Wuxian close. The only source of light is from the moon slipping through the far window. He smells blood and distress, unsure if it is his own or Wei Wuxian's, or both. His heart pounds in his ears. He is terrified, he realizes distantly.
Wei Wuxian is not small, is not fragile. Lan Wangji has watched him incapacitate several men at once with a wave of his arm. But right now, that same man is clinging onto him like he is a raft in the middle of a storming sea.
Lan Wangji is afraid he might drown them both.
At last, Wei Wuxian stirs. He pushes himself up, sitting on the bed. Lan Wangji reaches for the jug of water Wen Qing left. Wei Wuxian drinks obediently, movements sluggish.
"Lan Zhan," he says slowly. "Jiang Cheng?"
"Safe," Lan Wangji assures him. "Wen-guniang is looking after him."
"That's," Wei Wuxian starts. His hands reach up to grip the front of his robes, scratching at his neck where the scent glands are. "... good. I, Lan Zhan. What's wrong with me?"
He sounds lucid, but he is projecting emotions loudly and carelessly in a way he never had before. Lan Wangji digs his fingernails into his thigh. He answers, "You are going into heat."
Wei Wuxian stares at him. Then he laughs, the sound high-pitched and closer to a wheeze. "Fuck," he says. Louder, "Fuck! I don't - I'm sorry, Lan Zhan."
"It's not your fault."
"But it is, I lost control, and I tied you to me and now you're stuck here and - "
His distress is sour against Lan Wangji's tongue. Reaching out, he runs a hand down Wei Wuxian's back, a firm pressure. Instantly, Wei Wuxian shuts up, eyes snapping up to meet Lan Wangji's. "Wei Ying," Lan Wangji says. He pulls aside his collar, lifts one of Wei Wuxian's hands up to his neck. Lets him feel the unblemished skin there.
Wei Wuxian inhales sharply. "It's really gone? I thought I was doing too good a job blocking you out, but. That's. Why didn't you say something? You could be halfway to Gusu by now! Why are you still here?"
Lan Wangji sits there next to Wei Wuxian, holding his hand. Tries to come up with an answer. He fails.
Wei Wuxian opens his mouth, but a heavy shudder rolls through him before he can speak. He drops his head, panting. "Ah. I hate this."
"Does it hurt? Wei Ying, what can I do?"
The hand in his tightens, and then slips away. Wei Wuxian hunches inwards, hiding his face. "Lan Zhan. Lan Zhan, you stupid man, you should have run as soon as you could - ah. Fuck. Promise me, Lan Zhan."
Anything, rests on Lan Wangji's tongue. He swallows it.
"Promise me you won't let me bite you again."
Lan Wangji looks at the omega shivering before him, discomfort and fear radiating relentlessly. The alpha in him howls to ease his suffering. The alpha in him wants to feel teeth breaking skin.
"I promise," Lan Wangji makes himself say.
Wei Wuxian looks at him, eyes glowing silver in the spare moonlight. Then he squeezes them shut. Bites his lips hard. When he opens them again, they are hazy. Wei Wuxian has lost his words.
He is in heat.
Wei Wuxian feels like his body is burning up and freezing cold all at once. Where his core is, something yawns and gapes, screaming silently for something to fill it. Before it caves in on itself. His hands shake, his head throbs.
Someone is calling his name. It sounds so far away. Wei Wuxian reaches out anyway, blindly.
I'm here, he tries to say. His throat is too dry. Please, he tries again. He does not know what he is asking for. Please, he begs, panting.
Large hands cup his shoulder, his head. Wei Wuxian trembles. The touch is warm, pleasantly so. Gentle. Wei Wuxian feels himself being tugged forwards. He is being embraced - but the strong arms around him are not a cage. Only holding him firmly enough he does not sway off the edge of the bed.
He dives forwards, burrows in, digs his fingers into a sea of white robes. He presses his nose against the alpha's collarbones. Sandalwood, sweat, blood, stale panic; something underneath all that that soothes the ache deep inside his core. Something like starlight on a quiet winter night, something steady like a lighthouse.
"Lan Zhan," Wei Wuxian finds himself mumbling.
The hand cupping the back of his head pets him once, twice, slides down to the nape of his neck. Lingers. Wei Wuxian whimpers, shoving his face into the alpha's throat until the hand tightens its grip on Wei Wuxian's neck.
"What do you need?" he hears.
He doesn't know. He doesn't know. All he knows is - he is held, he is safe, and there's a burning need inside him - a need to latch onto this comforting warmth, a need to take, to give, pulling him in all directions. He wants to crawl into the alpha's ribcage, slip into his meridians, fall asleep next to the campfire inside him.
He loses time.
He stays there, being held, until the yin inside him surges up again, making everything lightning sparks, making him rock forwards into Lan Wangji, trying desperately to press closer than he has been. His instincts are telling him conflicting things: he wants the alpha to take him, press him down, force the icy flames from his body. He wants take the alpha apart, stab his fingernails through soft skin and force a space inside for himself. He muffles a scream against Lan Wangji's neck. Pants against it, mouth open, until the skin is wet.
The hand clamped around his neck flexes. Wei Wuxian grows still. Then - something bright and warm, tempered like morning sunlight, seeps into him. Wanders through his body alongside the painful ice, washes away the frost like a kiss.
It fades too quickly.
Wei Wuxian pushes even closer, straddling the alpha's lap. He clenches his legs around Lan Wangji's waist, making small hurt noises until Lan Wangji continues to feed him energy. The unhealthy yin inside him rises up like the tide. Lan Wangji's clean energy helps to calm the worst of it, enough so Wei Wuxian can doze off against him in intervals. When Lan Wangji moves away to grab water, Wei Wuxian whines and clings at him. He tucks his face against Lan Wangji's scent glands and refuses to move away.
They go like this, riding the waves, for who knows how long. When Wei Wuxian starts rutting against him, half-hard and whimpering, Lan Wangji knows to start pushing energy into him. It's not enough, never enough, but Wei Wuxian is enough of himself to recognize it is more than he deserves. In return, Wei Wuxian scrapes his fingernails down Lan Wangji's back, a possessive gesture that settles the both of them. The air fizzles between them.
One particular time:
Wei Wuxian, high on the energy mingling in his body, fighting for a balance, opens his mouth and latches onto Lan Wangji's neck. He licks a steady stripe up, nicks his teeth at the skin.
A hand comes up to tug on his hair. "No," the alpha says, voice vibrating through their chests where they are pressed together.
Wei Wuxian snarls. He squeezes his legs, feeling Lan Wangji's hips dig bruises into his thighs.
The hand in his hair only tightens. "No biting," Lan Wangji says, softer. His other hand strokes along Wei Wuxian's side, up to brush against his scent gland. He presses down, once, then slides away. "Be good."
Wei Wuxian feels his body go boneless in response. His lips close, and he sinks down to gnaw at Lan Wangji's collarbones instead.
The moon rises and sinks, and his heat along with it.
He remembers snapshots: being stripped of his outer robe. Being wrapped in another robe, one that smells familiar and safe. Being laid down on the bed. Being pulled close and pressed into Lan Wangji's neck once more.
He remembers whining in discomfort, being shushed with callused fingers tracing circles on his clammy skin. He remembers the heated scent of arousal, the bitter frustration of being held too tightly to do anything more than rut against the body holding him.
He remembers falling asleep to the steady rhythm of a heartbeat against his ear. He remembers waking up in snatches, feeling empty and too full all at once. He remembers being taken care of. He remembers warmth.
Suspended in his heat and with strong arms ready next to him, Wei Wuxian lets himself fall.
Wei Wuxian's heat lasts through until late afternoon the next day. Lan Wangji stays awake, even when his core starts to tire with all the energy he's been passing to the omega. The room smells like a mixture of them both, warm and safe.
He is reluctant to release the omega from his arms. The man has passed out some hours ago, face flushed but the tension finally faded from his frame. Lan Wangji tucks the blanket around Wei Wuxian and climbs out of bed to refill the water.
He can still feel the weight of the other man in his hands, taste the intoxicating scent of rougui and petrichor, even if it is tinged with unnatural yin. He cuts his tongue on his teeth, fighting down the part of him that wants to claim Wei Wuxian as his, wants Wei Wuxian to do the same. They are in enemy territory. They have been forced to be vulnerable in front of each other in too many ways. Lan Wangji cannot trust his instincts. All he can do is make sure they leave here alive.
He has just finished filling up the jug when the the sharp, sour scent of panic pierces the air. Setting everything down, Lan Wangji hurries back to the bed, where Wei Wuxian is tangled within the sheets, grasping wildly at nothing.
"Lan zhan? Where-?"
"I am here," he says, climbing onto the mattress to hold Wei Wuxian. He sends a tiny burst of energy through Wei Wuxian's wrist, checking the omega's meridians. His body appears to be calm now, but his eyes are still hazy, hands scrabbling at Lan Wangji's robes clumsily.
Lan Wangji makes him drink water. Wei Wuxian keeps one hand latched onto Lan Wangji's robe, as if afraid Lan Wangji will disappear if he lets go. Lan Wangji does not know if Wei Wuxian is even aware of the action.
They sit in comfortable silence for a while, Wei Wuxian leaning into Lan Wangji, and Lan Wangji petting his hair absentmindedly.
Eventually, Wei Wuxian pulls away. His gaze is clearer now, his emotions tucked back towards himself.
"I think it's over," Wei Wuxian says. "How... how are you feeling?"
Lan Wangji shakes his head. "I am fine. It is you who I am concerned about."
Wei Wuxian flexes his fingers. He looks down at the hand still fisted in Lan Wangji's robes, and then quickly lets go. "I'm feeling better, honestly. Still want to hurt Wen Chao as much as I can but not like I'll lose myself. I should say thank you, for staying - "
His eyes widen suddenly. "Did I-? Lan Zhan, tell me, tell me i didn't, I can't do that to you again - "
Lan Wangji catches his hands and squeezes until Wei Wuxian's mouth snaps shut. "You did not bond me. You listened to me. You did well, Wei Ying."
A shiver goes through Wei Wuxian's body. He stares, wide-eyed and slack-jawed at Lan Wangji.
"And," Lan Wangji continues, "there is no need for thank yous or sorrys between us. If we start, we would never end."
Wei Wuxian blinks. Then he throws his head back and laughs. Lan Wangji tears his eyes away from the pale line of his throat. A little to the right, hidden by the messy whorl of black hair - it would be the perfect place for a bonding bite.
"Lan Zhan ah. If only we had met in any other time, any other place. I think I wouldn't have minded if you bit me."
Lan Wangji's breath catches in his throat. He looks at Wei Wuxian, with flyaway hair still plastered against his skin, a crease on his cheek from falling asleep squished on Lan Wangji's collar. There are still bruises under his eyes. He is still too thin from pushing himself too far for too long.
He is beautiful.
"Me, too," Lan Wangji says. He reminds himself not to crush Wei Wuxian's fingers in his own. "If Wei Ying would bite me now. I would complete the bond. If Wei Ying wants."
Wei Wuxian's hands twitch. "Don't," he whispers. "Don't say that. Am I still influencing you? Let go, Lan Zhan - "
"No. I promise that every word I say is my own." He tucks Wei Wuxian's hair behind his ear. "We do not have to. Not now, not ever. But I wouldn't mind. If it is Wei Ying, I wouldn't mind anything."
Wei Wuxian stares at him until the tears welling up in his eyes spill over. As gently as he can, Lan Wangji thumbs them away. It only serves to make Wei Wuxian cry more, but he is leaning into Lan Wangji's touch again. A gift.
"You mean it," Wei Wuxian realizes.
"Lan Zhan, you're too good." Lan Wangji shakes his head, but Wei Wuxian has closed his eyes, inhaling deep and breathing out slowly. "Okay. Let's save my siblings and get out of here, and then - let's start over. I want to properly court you and be courted by you."
They sneak back to Wen Qing's room, still smelling like each other. Wen Qing lets them in, casting a sharp once-over at them both before nodding. Then she steps back, and there is Jiang Cheng and Jiang Yanli. Safe, alive, whole.
Wei Wuxian is frozen, afraid to break the spell.
"A-Xian," Jiang Yanli gasps. She is skinnier than the last time Wei Wuxian saw her, but healthy enough. She stands, hands reaching out, shaking. "You're alive."
"Shijie," he chokes out, falling into her arms. There is no place safer in the world than his jiejie's arms. He buries his face in her shoulder, breathing in the lavender of her scent, the stale fear and stress, the waterfall of relief.
He looks up and catches sight of his brother, hunched on the bed, staring at them with haunted eyes shining with tears he is too proud to shed. Carefully untangling himself from Jiang Yanli, Wei Wuxian goes over and thumbs away Jiang Cheng's tears. Unconsciously, he releases scents of comfort and assurance, trying to ease some of the pain from the last year still etched across his siblings' faces.
Jiang Cheng flinches. "What's wrong with your scent? Did they do this to you?" Jiang Cheng growls, jerking his head to glare at the Wens.
"Wen-guniang has been looking after me all this time," Jiang Yanli cuts in. "And Wen-gongzi is the one who brought me here unseen."
"It's not them," Wei Wuxian says, letting his hand fall back to his side. He turns to Wen Qing. "How is he?"
"His core is overworked," Wen Qing says, "but undamaged. You got to him in time."
"But what about you?" Jiang Cheng demands. "What happened to you, Wei Wuxian? You were an alpha. Tell me what the fuck happened!"
Wei Wuxian can't. Faced with Jiang Yanli's tearful eyes, with Jiang Cheng's exhausted grimace, he is not ready. Doesn't know if he ever will be.
As if sensing his thoughts, Lan Wangji steps closer and squeezes his wrist. Wei Wuxian melts into the touch, sinking into the steadiness that Lan Wangji offers.
Jiang Cheng's eyes narrow. "Who is this? Did he touch you? Did he use you - Is that why you smell wrong?"
"No! Lan Zhan didn't do anything wrong," Wei Wuxian says.
"Hanguang-jun watched over him through his heat," Wen Qing says, ignoring Wei Wuxian's betrayed look. "Without him, Wei Wuxian would have run himself dry."
"Heat," Jiang Cheng mouths to himself.
"A-Xian," Jiang Yanli says. She cups his cheek. "We thought you were dead."
"I know," Wei Wuxian says. "I'm sorry. I didn't want you to see me like - I did what I had to, to survive. But it wasn't pretty. I don't know if I can be your shidi anymore. I've done unspeakable things."
"Bullshit," Jiang Cheng growls. "You attempted the impossible, didn't you? That's Yunmeng Jiang all the way through."
Wei Wuxian sucks in a shaky breath. He tries to collect his emotions, still unsteady from the heat. He squeezes Lan Wangji's hand back. Then he reaches out to Jiang Cheng again, and this time his brother doesn't move away.
They're all tired, running on empty. But someone will find Wen Chao soon, or Wen Zhuliu will manage to crawl his way to Wen Ruohan. They need to leave. Wen Qing packs as many of her notes and medicines as possible. With three swords between them, they manage to fly out quickly under the cover of the night.
Later, Wei Wuxian will have to deal with the appalled look on his siblings' faces and Wen Qing's disbelief when he shows them the settlement on the Burial Mounds. Later, they have letters addressed to sect leaders to send, a war to end.
Later, Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji will have a long conversation about trust and home, rebuilding, about hands reaching for each other and holding on and not letting go. About asking and the sweet joy of saying yes without fear of the future being torn away.
For now, Wei Wuxian lets Lan Wangji put his hand on his waist, steadying him on the borrowed sword. He presses a hand against the collar of Lan Wangji's robe where his bite mark used to be.
A promise to look forwards to.