Wei Ying readjusts Lan Wangji’s outer robe once more. He’s lost count of just how many times he’s repeated the same action of pulling the loose, thick material tighter around his middle whenever it slides out of place.
“Wei Ying,” he sighs, grasping A-Yuan’s hand tighter.
“There’s a chill in the air, Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying mutters, smoothing the robe over his shoulders.
“It is fall.”
A chill is to be expected, especially this late in the season. Even the more southerly places like Wuzhou still have seasons, though he had not noticed the change as much as he would in Gusu. The shift had been more gradual and subtle, but it seems the weather he associates with autumn has finally come to their corner of the world.
He welcomes the chill. It is much preferred to the thick humidity that has left his robes plastered against his heat-soaked skin, and curled his hair into unruly tangles. He has suffered these long, warm months while pregnant long enough.
His husband, however, has not been as enthused at the change in seasons. He’s been… anxious, to put it mildly. They still have weeks to go before Lan Wangji is meant to go into labour, but his husband has been jumping at every movement, every hesitation, every slight change in his behaviour—as though it will be the inciting incident in the baby’s arrival.
He has, admittedly, grown quite large. At his appointment this afternoon, the physician did suggest the possibility that her estimations were inaccurate. Considering he has an incredibly irregular cycle, considering how often they have sex, it’s entirely possible he’s been pregnant for longer than they thought. It’s entirely possible he could give birth at any moment.
He doubts it, but he still offers his husband what he hopes is a reassuring smile.
“Can’t have you catch a chill,” Wei Ying grumbles. “What if you catch cold and have to give birth all of a sudden?” His eyes widen with the possibility, grip tightening on the front of his robes. “What if you give birth today? She said you could be further along than we thought… and I haven’t even mentally prepared myself to hold a baby! What if I drop them?”
He raises a skeptical eyebrow at his husband. Perhaps he’s far more anxious than he realized. There is so much beyond their control, so much they can’t predict… he understands how stressful the situation must be. How difficult it is to be forced to a precipice, waiting helplessly.
For himself, he feels oddly calm, but he supposes that’s a product of being pregnant. The “baby glow,” as the local aunties call it.
“You will not drop them,” he assures him, covering Wei Ying’s hand with his free one. He gives it a gentle squeeze. “Not your own child.”
“Ah, Lan Zhan, but what if I do?” Wei Ying demands, brows knit together. “What if I’m altogether horrible at fatherhood?”
“You are good with A-Yuan.”
“He was walking and running around when I took care of him! And he’s practically self-sufficient now! It’s different!”
“Wei Ying…” he sighs, searching for calm reassurances. He has never been good with those. “It will all be fine.”
His husband doesn’t answer, tightening his robe instead. “Aiyah… you shouldn’t be going out like this. There’s too many people.”
“It was your suggestion,” he reminds his husband gently. After their appointment, Wei Ying had suggested they walk about the shops before returning home. And the street is not incredibly crowded today, either. There are only a few vendors at their booths, and reasonable crowd of people inspecting their wares.“And exercise is good for the baby.”
“Baba!” A-Yuan yells.
Before he can react, A-Yuan has let go of Lan Wangji’s hand, running into the street.
Lan Wangji’s heart lurches, but he’s not as quick as he used to be. He reaches, but A-Yuan is already fast ahead of him, rounding a corner and disappearing from view.
Wei Ying, however, is much more able, springing to action before Lan Wangji’s fear can overtake him. He turns the corner at an impressive pace, yelling his name as he goes. Lan Wangji follows him at his own speed—the slowest he’s ever been. His heart longs to race after them, to gather A-Yuan up in his arms and scold him for being so reckless. It isn’t like him to run off like that. Very little would tempt him nowadays.
“A-Yuan!” he hears Wei Ying scold as he approaches the corner. “You can’t run off like that. You know that.”
“But I thought I saw—”
“It doesn’t matter,” Wei Ying says sternly. As Lan Wangji turns the corner to approach them, he sees his husband grasping A-Yuan firmly in his arms. His eyes are wide, startled. The same panic Lan Wangji felt is echoed on his face. “Don’t scare your poor baba like that. Or me! My goodness, A-Yuan I—”
“Wei Ying,” he says. His husband immediately relaxes as Lan Wangji reaches them, laying a reassuring hand on his husband’s arm. A-Yuan stares up at him with wide, apologetic eyes, his lower lip trembling. “I know A-Yuan wouldn’t run off without reason,” he says gently, giving his cheek a reassuring pat, smoothing away a tear before it can fall. “but you did scare us both.”
A-Yuan nods miserably, his lower lip trembling. “I thought I saw bofu,” he whispers.
His heart sinks and soars in the same moment.
It… isn’t possible.
His heart is dangerously close to hoping. He breathes deeply to contain it.
A-Yuan nods vigorously. “I thought so. He went that way.”
He points to the street across from them, practically empty save for a few townspeople chatting amongst themselves. It is possible A-Yuan saw someone tall among them—someone in blue, even. Someone with similar hair ornaments. But he could not be here. It’s… too unlikely.
He had written to his brother, months ago now, and invited him to come to him. He did not specify much in his message in case it was intercepted, kept the invitation brief. He told Lan Xichen that he and A-Yuan were well, and that they would like to see himself or his uncle if it was possible. The messenger delivering his letter would alert Lan Xichen of their location should he wish to know. And when the messenger had returned with a simple reply that both Lan Xichen and Lan Qiren could not leave Gusu at that time, he had expected that was the end of it.
In his heart, he knows his brother and uncle were likely very busy. Even in times of peace, there is much to manage in a large sect. There are many meetings to oversee and small treaties to negotiate. There could be myriad of reasons neither of them could be missed for the time it would take to come to him.
And still, he could not help but wonder if they simply didn’t want to come. If they were making excuses.
“Well,” Wei Ying says after a moment of silence, “maybe it’s best we go home. It’s almost time to start dinner, anyway. How about it, Lan Zhan?”
He clears his throat, as though it could clear his mind of all thoughts, and nods. Regardless of what he wants, it’s likely better like this. If Lan Xichen were to visit, he would want to control the situation. He would want to arrange a meeting, alone, and break the news gently. Somehow find the words to explain all that had been left unsaid between them. Find the best way to frame Wei Ying without his brother’s judgement.
“I was thinking of doing a potato stir fry,” Wei Ying says, placing his hand on the small of Lan Wangji’s back as they turn the corner back towards the main street. “What do you think, Lan Zhan?”
“Sounds good,” he agrees, placing his hand on Wei Ying’s back in return.
“What do you think, A-Yuan?”
“I want Baba’s food,” their son says resolutely, without hesitations.
Wei Ying bursts into laughter, throwing his head back with amusement. It comforts Lan Wangji to see him relax.
“A-Yuan!” he cries out, bouncing him against his side. “Baba needs his rest now and again. How about I try to season it better? So it won’t be so—”
He lets out a small gasp, the words dying in his throat. The hand on Lan Wangji’s back tenses, as his feet freeze mid-step.
“Wei Ying?” Lan Wangji murmurs. Were it not for his lightness skill, he would have stumbled from his husband’s sudden halt. Turning his head, he follows his husband’s line of sight towards the middle of the street, where the crowds are thinner and the sunlight shines. Reflected against it is a flash of silver, a of a head. Broad shoulders on a tall frame. Blue in a shade so unmistakable.
His heart crashes in his chest, shuddering the breath of out his lungs.
Lan Xichen looks as he always does—tall and towering above nearly everyone within close proximity, hair adorned with his silver dragon headpiece. His robes are a dark blue for travel, with subtle repetitions of the Lan pattern throughout. Certainly not the most adorned of his clothing, but still unmistakable. Even in his most inconspicuous of garments, even within his attempts to appear understated, he shines so clearly among the townspeople. Even the richest cannot match him. Even the finest silks dull in comparison.
His brother’s eyes shine as he takes him in, the smallest of smiles forming at the corner of his lips. There is a softness in his expression Lan Wangji has not quite remembered. A kindness he has not necessarily forgotten, but has not allowed himself to recall. How much would it hurt to remember only to feel the knife of his resentment? Of his horror?
He has missed his smile so terribly. His soul longs to return it. To finally return it.
Lan Xichen’s eyes flicker downwards, towards his large midsection, and fear slices through him once again. Surely, he will make the appropriate conclusions. And he will be…
He is unsure what he will be.
He had wanted to control this moment, to arrange it perfectly. Had wanted to receive some sort of correspondence that could plan for his arrival. Had wanted to sit Lan Xichen down, just the two of them and his impossibly large stomach, and explain in some way to lessen the blow.
But now, there is nothing he can do but step forward in front of his husband.
“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying whispers. Though he can’t see him, Lan Wangji hears the tightness in his throat. Feels his unease emanating out of him.
Lan Wangji can’t actually defend his husband in this state—his movement is too delayed to be useful. All he can do is place his body and their unborn child between the two of them. All he can do is ignore how his heart sinks when Lan Xichen’s face falls.
His brother would never harm Wei Ying. Not here, like this, in these circumstances—but his heart overrules his mind. He won’t take any chances.
“Bofu!” A-Yuan exclaims, oblivious to either of their apprehension.
It is enough to snap the three of them out of their current daze. Lan Xichen blinks, and quickly breathes in. He walks towards them, each step measured with one hand behind his back. He carries Shuoyue loosely, as he always does, hanging at his side in anticipation. Lan Wangji does not allow his eyes to fixate upon it, to imagine all the ways his brother could very easily draw it, and he would be near powerless to stop it. He still carries Bichen, on his back instead of at his side due to his large, protruding stomach, but he is unsure of his capabilities to draw it quickly enough.
But A-Yuan is here with them. His brother would not… not with him here, at least.
“Wangji,” Lan Xichen says, bowing in greeting.
Lan Wangji steps backwards, back into Wei Ying’s embrace, and returns the greeting.
“Xiongzhang,” he says, lifting his eyes to his brother. “I am with child.”
As though it wasn’t completely obvious that he is. It is simply the only thing that comes to mind.
Lan Xichen breaks into a smile, the corners of his eyes creasing as his lips curve upwards. A true smile—not one fit for a sect leader exchanging pleasantries with people he doesn’t like. One that suggests he’s happy above all else, regardless of the current situation.
“Yes, I can see that,” Lan Xichen says, amused. “I am sorry I did not write ahead. I did not plan to come until a few days ago. I did not have a chance to send a message.”
“It is alright, xiongzhang,” Lan Wangji assures him, though his muscles tighten even further as he speaks. Lying is forbidden, a voice whispers in the back of his head. But is it truly lying when he is happy to see him, on some level?
Lan Xichen smiles, either ignoring his behaviour or being unable to recognize it. ”Are you well?”
“Yes.” Reflexively, his hand drifts to his pregnant stomach. Lan Xichen’s eyes follow the path of it as well, widening minutely in wonder. “We all are.”
Lan Xichen smile turns tight around the mouth and pivots to focus his attention on Wei Ying. His face remains calm and placid as ever, but Lan Wangji knows his brother well enough to see the tension in the corners of his mouth, the slight narrowing of his eyes. They are subtle tells, but there all the same. He is… apprehensive.
“Young Master Wei,” Lan Xichen says. “I… you are here.”
Wei Ying nods, his shoulders tensing. He flashes Lan Xichen a smile, too bright to be genuine, and lets out an uneasy laugh.
“Zewu-Jun,” he says, bowing. “I am glad to see you are well.”
Lan Xichen nods, his smile deepening by a fraction. His eyes remain just as they were before, scrutinizing him.
“Bofu,” A-Yuan exclaims, straining against Wei Ying’s grip to reach out to his brother. Wei Ying glances at Lan Wangji, reluctant to let go. But surely, Lan Xichen would not do anything to him. Would not take him and run off.
They are both too paranoid for their own good. Too on-edge to properly live in the moment.
Lan Wangji offers his husband a small reassuring nod, and Wei Ying hands A-Yuan over to Lan Xichen with a tense smile. A-Yuan, oblivious to everything, throws his arms around Lan Xichen’s neck, embracing him deeply.
Perhaps he made the right choice in writing to Lan Xichen. A-Yuan should not be made to go without because of his and Wei Ying’s decisions. After all, he was kept from Lan Wangji for most of the three years he was in seclusion. To deprive him of Lan Xichen in turn would be wrong.
“Bofu, can you come home with us?” A-Yuan demands.
Wei Ying casts Lan Wangji a sideways glance before stepping forward, face bright with a smile he often wore as a mask. “Yes,” he agrees, his voice too affectedly joyful to be true, “we should head home soon, anyway. A certain young master needs his nap.”
“No,” A-Yuan whines, shaking his head.
Lan Xichen smiles, free of all pretence. “I will be here when you awaken.”
The entire walk home, Lan Wangji is grateful for A-Yuan’s presence. Without it, he’s unsure what he would say. How to say it. A-Yuan chatters away, informing Lan Xichen of any and every little thing they’ve done since leaving Cloud Recesses, filling what would have been uncomfortable silence with laughter.
Lan Wangji squeezes Wei Ying’s hand, clammy, gripping his fingers tightly, hoping he can offer some reassurance. In spite of his own anxiety, he forces himself to remain calm and think rationally. To think of the assurances they’ve given each other in the weeks since he sent his initial message. That while Lan Xichen may not approve of the marriage, he will be happy about the baby. He will be happy about seeing A-Yuan again. He will not jeopardize their safety. He will want Lan Wangji to lead a peaceful life, even if that means living with Wei Ying. They are far away from the sects—far away from the politics of their former world. He can’t reasonably have any authority here. He can’t.
When they arrive home, Wei Ying takes A-Yuan from Lan Xichen’s arms, in spite of his protests amidst yawns. Wei Ying doesn’t yield, in spite of this, and carries A-Yuan to his room. Their voices, muffled behind the door, is the only sound in the quiet courtyard, long after they’ve departed. The wind is the only movement between them.
“There are rabbits,” he says, because it’s all he can think of saying. “Be careful when walking.”
Lan Xichen gives him an appreciative smile, exhaling sharply through his nose in place of a laugh. As he leads Lan Xichen into the kitchen, his shoulders relax somewhat, though the blades remain significantly taut. He removes Bichen from his back and sets it down beside the kitchen table. Unties his plain, thick outer robe and removes it too. Indoors, with the heat from the stove, it will be too warm. He folds it, placing it neatly beneath Bichen, and wordlessly prepares a fire to make tea.
Tea will be essential, after all. Sometimes, it’s the only way they can talk to one another. The only bridge in the valley between them.
His brother sits at the table, watching him silently as he works. Even with his back turned, he feels his brother’s eyes on him, burning holes into his skin. What does he see when he looks upon him? Does he see his plain robes, his unadorned head, and pity him? Does he judge Wei Ying for not providing those sorts of luxuries to him?
Even if they had the money, Lan Wangji would not want them.
When the tea is prepared, Lan Wangji is forced to face his brother. Lan Xichen stands as he finishes pouring the hot water over the leaves, reaching for the teapot before he can take it.
“Xiongzhang,” he chides quietly, watching his brother set the pot on the table. “I am capable—”
“Wangji,” Lan Xichen says—soft, yet pleading. “Let me.”
He clamps his mouth shut and doesn’t protest when Lan Xichen grasps his arms and helps him sit at the table. Of course, Wei Ying has been doing this for him for weeks—even before he truly needed the help. But having this sort of act performed by his husband is different.
He breathes slowly to calm himself. He can suffer a little humiliation if it reassures his brother. If he allows himself to be taken care of, after their months apart. After keeping something so monumental from him.
Lan Xichen takes a long breath, closing his eyes as he searches for the words.
He himself feels at a loss to speak as well. Even with the walk to formulate an explanation, the words do not come as he had hoped. They remain trapped beneath too many layers of emotions. Too many secret moments.
“I…” Lan Xichen falters. He shakes his head once more, smiling down at the table with resignation. Perhaps there isn’t anything that can be said.
“Xiongzhang,” Lan Wangji says, his throat achingly dry. “I can explain.”
The corners of Lan Xichen’s mouth twitch. He lifts his eyes to meet Lan Wangji’s, the corners creasing once more. “Wangji, I understand,” he says, his voice ever smooth and calm. He exhales sharply, laughing to himself. “Is it strange I somehow knew he was here?”
His stomach turns. Had he really been so obvious?
“I knew,” Lan Xichen continues, pouring their tea, staring at the liquid flowing from the spout into the cup with determination, “he would be the only one who could ever move you to leave.”
There is no lie in Lan Xichen’s words, and yet they leave a bitter taste in his mouth—like a subtle accusation. Implying Wei Ying had persuaded Lan Wangji in coming with him, that he would not have made the choice himself.
“He would have moved me to leave,” Lan Wangji says, meeting his brother’s gaze without blinking, “even if he were—”
Lan Xichen clears his throat and takes a sip of tea.
“I had considered,” Lan Wangji continues, leaving the word to hang between them, “in those years before… I had thought about going.”
“And you stayed.”
It isn’t a question, and yet it is. He had forgotten that this is how they used to speak to one another, especially during his seclusion. Never speaking plainly, skirting around one another, toeing around what they really mean to say. They have always been honest with each other, and yet there is too much kept for it to be true.
“I was… too weary to leave,” he says simply.
Lan Xichen’s shoulders dip downwards for a fraction, pained. He regains himself quickly, straightening his posture, relaxing his expression. His eyes lower back to his cup, forehead tensing. “So you did not know,” he concludes, “that he was alive.”
His brothers sighs, taking another measured sip. “And he waited these years to come back for you.”
“It is not so simple.”
“Wangji,” Lan Xichen reproaches, “I know how much you suffered in that time.”
Again, his words sting like an accusation, benign as they would sound to another person. They smart against Lan Wangji’s skin, like a slap or a discipline blow. For once, he does not feel like he has warranted them. For the first time in many years, he wants to fight them. He wants to fight for his husband.
“He did not know that much time had passed,” Lan Wangji explains. “He said… he believed himself to be dead… and he awoke in the Burial Mounds and came to find me. He was surprised to hear it had been years.”
“And you believe it.”
Lan Xichen glances downwards, his silence deafening.
“Xiongzhang,” Lan Wangji pleads, fighting to keep his voice contained, “Wei Ying and I are zhiji. I trust him above all else. I do not believe he would lie to me. And he did not return to court me. He wanted—”
His voice catches as he remembers that night Wei Ying returned to him, as he recalls how raw he’d felt in seeing him once again. How heartbroken he was to hear Wei Ying had spirited him away in the hopes Lan Wangji would kill him. To finally perform the justice he’d believed himself to have evaded. He had never intended on living beyond that night. Had never hoped for anything more than a swift death by Lan Wangji’s hand. And he could not do it. He could not give Wei Ying what he’d wanted. How could he ever?
“He wanted me to kill him,” he says finally, refusing to meet his brother’s eyes, to see whatever reaction will cross his face. “He believed it was for the best. Xiongzhang—how could I? How—”
The words ensnare his throat, burning his eyes. His breaths push against his chest, but he forces himself to speak. He only has this chance to make all right.
“I was the one who proposed marriage,” he says. “I was the one who chose to leave. I was the one who wanted children. He did not influence my decision. He wanted to be certain I was certain. How could I not be? I failed him before—I will never leave him again. I…”
His vision blurs as the baby kicks restlessly. They must feel his distress, too. He places his hands atop his pregnant stomach in an attempt to soothe them, his heartbeat stilling when they kick against his palm.
“Wangji,” Lan Xichen murmurs. His hand appears in Lan Wangji’s vision, reaching for the cuff of his sleeve. “I understand.”
He blinks in surprise, darting his gaze back towards his brother. His face is much softer now, his eyes warm.
“If Young Master Wei is your fated person—of course, you would do anything to be with him.” His voice is unbelievably soft, comforting him like when they were younger. “You know when it comes to our sect, there is only one with whom we can abandon our principles, And if he is that for you… then, it is sacred. I would not dare intervene.” He laughs softly to himself, shaking his head. “I would not intervene in any case,” he amends. “I was merely concerned you had been…” He shakes his head, pursing his lips, and leaves the words unsaid.
It wouldn’t be difficult for Lan Xichen to see Lan Wangji, incredibly pregnant, standing beside Wei Ying, and make unsavoury conclusions. That Wei Ying had forced his hand through Lan Wangji’s pregnancy. That the reason Lan Wangji had been secretive about his location, about his current circumstances, because he was afraid. Because Wei Ying would not allow him to disclose it.
It would be wrong, of course, but Lan Wangji recalls how Wei Ying appeared the night he’d died. He was not himself then, capable of many horrors. With that being Lan Xichen’s last memory of him, of course such thoughts would come to him.
“And you are happy?” Lan Xichen asks.
He feels the smile before he makes the decision to. “Yes. I am very happy.”
Lan Xichen returns the smile, warm and gentle once more. “Then, I am content.”
The bath is cool, and still he feels as though he were burning.
It has been a long day, full of so many emotions. So much tension. Even after he and his brother reached an understanding, even after A-Yuan returned from his rest to show Lan Xichen around their home, even after Wei Ying prepared them dinner and gently objected to Lan Xichen’s compliments, Lan Wangji still feels… strange. Not quite himself. Distant. The world is too far away and too close all at once. He feels rough and soft and altogether impossible.
Wei Ying enters their bedroom with a sigh, closing the doors gently behind him.
“Aren’t I glad today’s over,” he declares with a soft laugh, his footsteps wandering aimlessly about the tiled floor. “Well… it was fine, but…”
Lan Wangji closes his eyes, knowing the sound of Wei Ying’s trajectory without having to see it. He envisions how he circles the dressing table to free his hair from its ribbon, each step slowing as he untangles the snarls of his hair from its grasp. He listens as he walks a few more paces to remove his belt and outer robes, draping them over a dressing screen instead of properly storing them. Listens as he crouches down to remove his boots, sighing heavily from the strain on his muscle and joints from the position.
The hands upon his shoulders come as no surprise when their arrival is anticipated. Lan Wangji sinks into the familiar feeling, grateful to now have his husband to focus on.
“And how is my favourite husband?” Wei Ying asks, warm and loving.
He wants to wrap himself inside his voice and never return to the world. He’s already spoken so much today—more than enough. All he wants now is to listen to his husband.
“Ah,” Wei Ying murmurs when he doesn’t respond. “I understand.”
“Mn,” he answers. Appreciation flows fast within him, relieved Wei Ying understands. He loves his husband so very much. Loves how well he knows him.
“Let yourself go for a while, alright?” Wei Ying suggests, taking the scrub brush from Lan Wangji’s idle hand. “I’ll take care of you. Tell you what to do, alright?”
“Please,” he whispers.
Wei Ying laughs to himself, lathering soap onto the brush. “You’ve been so strong,” he says. “So good—taking care of us all. Growing that baby inside you without even a whisper of complaint.”
That is not entirely true, but he lets his husband think it. He isn’t in a mood to argue over small details.
“I can’t wait to meet them,” Wei Ying murmurs, gently brushing his too-tight skin with the scrub brush. The gentle scrape feels so good, so real and grounding. He focuses on the sensation of the bristles moving in different directions as Wei Ying moves the brush all over his body. “I bet they’re coming soon. Just look at how big you’ve gotten.”
He nods, leaning his head against Wei Ying’s chest.
“I want to meet them so much,” Wei Ying murmurs. “It scares me sometimes. I don’t know if I can be good for them. I don’t even know how to hold a baby properly. But…” He laughs softly to himself, moving the brush in slow circles against Lan Wangji’s forearm. “I know you’ll help me, Lan Zhan. Won’t you?”
“Yes,” he whispers, turning his face to rub his cheek against his husband’s inner robe. It’s all he wants to do—raise their children together, grow together, never leave one another. This is only the beginning for them. They will have so much more in time.
“You make me want to be better, Lan Zhan,” his husband continues, focusing on his other arm. “Every day.”
And Wei Ying does the same for him. He would tell him if he weren’t so relaxed. If Wei Ying’s arms weren’t so warm.
Wei Ying laughs softly, watching Lan Wangji curl into him. He lets him rest in his embrace for a few moments before he pushes his shoulders forward, enough to silently suggest Lan Wangji lean in so he can wash his back.
“But I do love you like this…” he sighs, pouring water of his back. “You’re so beautiful, you know? All round and glowing. Wouldn’t mind if you stayed this way a little longer… But I also can’t wait. I can’t make up my mind.”
He laughs softly, scrubbing away at the dead skin on his back. Lan Wangji can’t help but smile with him, and lean into the pleasant scraping against old scar tissue. The salve Wei Ying applies to his back has been aiding in lessening the burden, but the discomfort has not entirely been erased. There are still days he feels the old ache, days it’s amplified by the changes in his body. Every day is a mystery as to how he’ll feel, but it seems as the baby takes up more space, the skin on his back feels especially dry and stretched.
At least he has Wei Ying to soothe it.
He drifts pleasantly as Wei Ying finishes washing him and helps him step out of the tub. As his husband takes special care and attention to dry off every drop that weighs down his skin. He responds to the hand on the small of his back guiding him towards their bed, and perches himself on the mattress with a sigh.
Silently, Wei Ying applies the salve on his back, every stroke slow and precise. He traces scar patterns with fingers, massages particularly gnarled areas with steady thumbs, smooths out the more sensitive places with a light pass of his hand. When he’s finished applying the salve, he sinks the heels of his hands into particularly tense areas, encouraging Lan Wangji to lean against the pressure and find a small fraction of relief.
“So tense, er-gege,” Wei Ying murmurs, pushing into his shoulder blade. “It’s no wonder… But you were so brave for us, you know. I love you so much.”
He hums against his husband’s hands, too tired to respond. Wei Ying knows, anyway. There’s no need for words between them.
“How about we moisturize that belly?” Wei Ying murmurs, reaching for a pot of lotion kept nearby. It’s thinner than the salve for his back, more generic in its ingredients, but it always helps to soothe his dry skin. “Poor Baba,” he sighs, dipping his fingers into the pot, "all tired and dried out. What is our little rabbit doing to you?”
He smiles as his husband moves and readjusts his position, so he’s now kneeling in front of Lan Wangji on the mattress. Their baby can take whatever they need from him—he will never mind. He will embrace whatever changes they make, permanent or otherwise, and love them for what they represent. This is what he always wanted, ever since he was young—always wanted and thought he could never have. He will take every reminder.
“Oh,” Wei Ying laughs softly, smoothing the lotion over the side of his stomach, “I can see their little foot. It’s—”
He chokes on the word and shakes his head, smiling to himself. Lan Wangji glances down, but the angle makes it impossible for himself to see what Wei Ying is seeing. His belly has grown too big for him to know every detail.
“I love them so much,” Wei Ying whispers, placing his hand over the imprint of the baby’s foot. The baby gives a rousing kick in response, making Wei Ying jump in surprise. “Yes,” he says, laughing. He leans in closer to kiss Lan Wangji’s stomach there, caressing it with reverence. “I’m talking about you, little one. A-Die loves you very much.”
Warmth fills him, listening to his husband speak to their child, enveloping him from toe to head. Whatever happens, they will be a family. They will love each other and find ways to remain as they are. He will do all that he can to provide for the three of them. To love the three of them.
His husband lathers the lotion all over his body, paying every part special care and attention. Thumbs trace lines of his veins in this wrists, fingers map out the stretch marks along his stomach and thighs, palms knead into his tender breasts.
“Oh,” he whispers, feeling a strange sensation as his husband carefully applies the lotion to his nipples. It… doesn’t burn, exactly—it’s not even unpleasant, but it’s there, whatever it is.
“Oh, indeed,” Wei Ying murmurs, sitting up straighter. His eyes light with curiosity as he leans in to better inspect them. “I think your milk’s coming in, Lan Zhan.”
He glances down at his breasts, snapping from his daze to take in the situation himself. Grasping one with both hands, he tilts it upwards, ignoring the slight prickling sensation as he does. Sure enough, the area around his nipple is shining with a thin coat of liquid, pale yellow and near-translucent. He has been told this is normal, to have this happen now and again. His body will begin to prepare much earlier than when he will actually give birth. He just has never noticed it before. Seen it happen.
“I…” Wei Ying whispers, wiping away the excess with his thumb. He stares at it curiously, eyes dancing in the lamplight. He purses his lips, his cheeks darkening slightly from blush. “Can I… try?”
Heat flares at his husband’s proposal, his cunt practically shuddering with sudden violence. He never thought that would be something he would be interested in. Had never even considered it an option. But seeing the darkness flicker in his husband’s eyes fills him with new desire. To watch his husband explore this new part of him, to feel him in this way… he wants it. He wants it so much.
Wei Ying smiles, lips spreading slowly to reveal his front teeth, eyes so bright they’re practically stars. Without breaking his gaze, he takes his thumb to his mouth and rests it on his tongue. Raising an eyebrow, he licks away the early milk, brow furrowing in contemplation.
“Doesn’t taste like much,” he admits with a laugh. “But I might just be tasting my hand.”
He laughs once again, eyelids crinkling with joy. Beneath it, Lan Wangji notes the curiosity that remains. The slight drag of his eyebrow, the quick blink. The hesitancy to ask for what he would freely give.
“Perhaps,” Lan Wangji says, his voice hoarse from disuse. He clears his throat before proceeding, “you need another taste.”
His husband’s brows angle upwards with delight, mouth twisting into a smirk before leaning in. Gently, he laves his tongue over his sensitive nipple, drawing small circles as he laps up every drop. It isn’t much, not yet, so he quickly switches to the other side, licking away what he can find. All the while, Lan Wangji’s skin burns, his breasts tingling as his husband transitions to gently suck on each nipple. It’s a familiar sensation now, the kind of want that builds whenever his husband stimulates his breasts. It seems his body is finished with new experiences.
Now that that stops his husband from thoroughly enjoying the process. He leaves tender bites along his flesh, mouthing against every inch of his breasts. Every motion, Lan Wangji feels in between his legs. He’s already so wet and wanting, he can feel it without being touched.
His husband laughs to himself, straightening his posture to look Lan Wangji in the eye. “After a thorough inspection,” he informs him, teeth reflecting in the dim light, “I can conclude it really doesn’t taste like much. Maybe salty? A little?” He clears his throat, cheeks darkening once again. His lids flutter as another thought crosses his mind. “I will have to try again. Later… to compare.”
Heat ignites his skin once again. His inner folds quiver at the mere thought.
“Yes,” he agrees, taking hold of his husband’s hands to pull him closer. “You must.”
“I must,” Wei Ying repeats, giggling. He creeps closer, spreading himself to gently perch on Lan Wangji’s thighs, leaving a generous amount of space between himself and the baby bump. “If Hanguang-Jun commands, who am I to deny such a righteous man?”
He rolls his eyes, but cannot stop a smile when Wei Ying’s giggles build beyond sound. He loves when his husband’s joy envelops him so. When it becomes too much for noise to express. When all it is are their bodies together, and his arms wrapped gently around him.
“I’m so happy, Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying murmurs once his laughter has faded. His cheek shine from tears, wiped hastily away with the back of his hand. “I never… it’s real.”
Emotion rears in his throat as he leans in to kiss his husband. It’s all so real, so impossible. So beyond what he imagined in his wildest dreams. In just a few short weeks, their baby will be here with them. Their little family will grow.
They remain still for a long while, holding each other, warmth radiating in the centre of their embrace. And slowly, Wei Ying shifts in Lan Wangji’s lap. Slowly, he lifts his face to feel cooler air. He presses his face against Lan Wangji’s neck, sending shivers down his spine when his breath dances along sensitive skin.
When he finally lifts his face to kiss Lan Wangji, he practically moans at the taste of his lips. Waiting without realizing he was waiting for it, wanting it without realizing he was wanting it—Wei Ying’s lips on his are a homecoming. His heart stills from it, tasting the remnants of his early milk with the faint perfume of lotion. Tasting Wei Ying’s mouth beneath it all.
He loves him so much, he could lose himself inside him.
“Lie down,” Wei Ying breathes, lips pulling away only enough to speak.
Heat reignites in his body, thrumming against his skin. With his husband’s help, he lays atop the mattress, rolling onto his side while Wei Ying undresses. He’s quick to join him again, fitting himself along the curve of Lan Wangji’s back. He drags his hand along Lan Wangji’s skin, from his inner thigh up to his breast, fingers stroking gently, memorizing each imperfection.
Reflexively, Lan Wangji leans against him, spreading his legs to invite him in. He hooks one leg with Wei Ying’s to angle his pelvis for better access, in spite of his husband’s amused laughter.
“What’s this?” Wei Ying murmurs, grip tightening on his breast, “does my husband want something?”
He exhales slowly, angling himself to press firmer against him. Of course, Wei Ying already knows what he wants. Knows how to make him ask for it.
“Tell me what you want, Lan Zhan,” his husband says, voice reverberating against Lan Wangji’s back. “Be a good boy, won’t you?”
He breathes in deeply, relaxing against his husband’s grip. His heart doesn’t race as it once might have. His mind doesn’t fight against him as it once might have. All that consumes him are the images from his mind, each perfect and needed.
“I want…” he whispers, covering Wei Ying’s hand with his own. “I want you to rub my pussy with your cock.”
It isn’t so difficult to ask anymore. Not like it used to be.
“Hm,” Wei Ying agrees with a sigh. “Yes… I’d like that, too. Thank you for telling me.”
He melts into his husband’s embrace, sinking into that sweet, familiar feeling of falling. Of letting his husband take hold and forgetting all but him. Wei Ying is firm against him, hard and needy without any further stimulation. He readjusts himself accordingly to fit himself against Lan Wangji’s slit. Already, his cock is slick with pre-come, sliding against Lan Wangji’s own wetness. He is fire against every nerve in Lan Wangji’s body, warming and cooling him in the same moment.
“Feel that?” Wei Ying murmurs, lowering his hand to grasp his cock. Slowly, he guides it along Lan Wangji’s slit, edging his folds open with its head. “I’m already so wet for you, Lan Zhan.”
“Mn,” he moans, shivering at his husband’s words. His body will only ever bend for him, will only ever be affected by him. He loves feeling his husband in all ways, but especially like this. Loves the warm slick of this position, feeling all the small movements as they slowly become one.
“Yeah,” Wei Ying agrees, grinding his hips. His cock brushes against Lan Wangji’s clit, sending shivers down his spine again. “Of course you like it. You want my cock all the time, don’t you?”
“Mn,” he agrees as he moves against his husband, chasing that sweet pressure once again.
His husband’s laughter vibrates against his back. “Greedy,” he chides, slapping his cock against Lan Wangji’s clit. Over and over—every touch, however brief, incites an ache deep within him.
“Does Wei Ying… not want my pussy all the time?” he asks, cunt pulsating with want. Greedy, like Wei Ying said. So very greedy, and he no longer cares enough to be burdened by it. No longer cares enough to be silenced. He will have his husband however he wants, however they both want, and nothing will stop him. Not even his own mind will hold him back.
“Yes,” Wei Ying whispers, voice so low it’s nearly a growl. He grinds their hips together, his cock tracing the length of his slit, sparking an even deeper ache within him. “Want it all the time. Want fill you up, give you more babies.”
He groans at the slight change of pace, nodding enthusiastically as his husband ruts against him. In turn, he rolls his hips in shallow, desperate motions. Already, Wei Ying is dripping all over him, the head of his cock pushing against the seam of his inner folds. Teasingly, light and somehow heavy. Not enough and too much, he can’t decide which is worse. Which he wants more.
“More?” Wei Ying whispers, his breath hot against Lan Wangji’s ear.
“Please,” he breathes.
His husband laughs softly to himself, indulging him readily. His hand slips in between his folds, deft fingers working in all the ways he knows. Even though he anticipates it, he never tires of the feeling. The familiar rhythm of Wei Ying spreading his folds, baring him to the world. The familiar jolt as his thumb pushes against his clit. The agonizing slick as he slowly encircles his cunt, finally entering with such little resistance. Lan Wangji can barely feel him, he’s so wet. Wetter still with every move his husband makes, with every hook of his finger and push against his most sensitive places. And his cock is still hard between his spread legs, still desperately thrusting as his fingers work inside. As Lan Wangji moans and writhes beside him.
They climax in tandem, their bodies so aligned, so familiar, it merely takes a whine from his husband to send him over the edge. Wei Ying follows him without a pause, spilling onto his thighs as he fingers him through the last of his orgasm, holding him until the very last shudder.
He slumps forward, leaning his face into the pillow as his husband kisses his shoulders and strokes his hair. Already, he feels incredibly light. Drowsy, as his heart slows and his husband washes away the remnants of the evening. Before, he would have wanted more, would have given it, but he is not as he once was. Being pregnant has slowly become quite the burden, one welcomed but nevertheless noticed.
“Good boy,” Wei Ying murmurs, sliding the covers over him. He presses a kiss to Lan Wangji’s temple, his lips spreading warmth through his forehead, all the way into his heart. “Working so hard to grow that baby. You rest now, alright?”
“Mn,” he hums, smiling when his husband kisses the corner of his mouth.
He dozes as Wei Ying flits about the room to extinguish the lamps, the sounds of his footsteps echoing in his ears as sleep pulls him away. He awakens only briefly to his husband rejoining him, arm draped across his belly, knee squeezed in between his.
“Goodnight, Lan Zhan,” his husband whispers, his voice muffled by Lan Wangji’s hair.
“Goodnight,” he somehow manages, the word too distant to be real, his body too weightless to feel.
Wei Ying’s gentle laughter lulls him to sleep.
When Lan Xichen arrives at their home the next morning, he’s dressed much simpler than the day before. His robes are a plain light blue, subtly embellished by the Lan pattern along the trim of his collar, his sleeves slim and tucked beneath bracers. His hair is tied simply without any adornments. Without the weight of his usual fabrics and the shine of silver in his hair, he appears much smaller. So unlike Zewu-Jun, the Lan sect leader.
“Wangji,” Lan Xichen greets, smiling. His expression doesn’t break when he turns to greet Wei Ying. “Young Master Wei.” His smile spreads wider when he crouches down to take A-Yuan in his arms. “It is good to see you all again.”
“Yes,” Lan Wangji agrees.
“Zewu-Jun,” Wei Ying says, attempting a smile, “I don’t believe I’ve ever seen you so… casual.”
Lan Xichen huffs out a small laugh, the corners of his eyes creasing as his smile deepens. “It is true, I do not often dress so simply,” he replies, lowering his gaze. “I would like to offer my services. If there is anything you need assistance for, I am happy to help.”
“Ah, that is very kind,” Wei Ying says with a wave of his hand, “but it isn’t necessary. You’re a guest here.”
“I am a guest,” Lan Xichen agrees, “and you are expecting. It is the least I can do. There must be some tasks you have not yet completed.”
He is right, of course. Lan Wangji thinks of the unwashed laundry and the unswept floors and the weeds that have sprung in the garden. There are not enough hours in the day, and Lan Wangji is too pregnant to complete most of them with the same efficiency he did before. Wei Ying has the remnants of the crops to focus upon, after all. He must prepare their fields for the winter. Once that task is completed, he will be able to help Lan Wangji more.
But even though the extra hands would be appreciated, he’s hesitant to accept. It seems uncourteous to receive his brother as a guest and give him chores the very next day. Even with Lan Xichen offering. Then again—he has kept so much from his family as of late. Neither Lan Xichen nor Lan Qiren have had a chance to be with him for any stages of his pregnancy. They haven’t been able to observe any of the traditions, to watch the baby grow within him, to help him in their own ways. He can never return what he took from them, but he can give Lan Xichen this. He can let his brother take care of them this one time.
“It is fine,” he says, laying a hand on his husband’s arm. “We could do with the help.”
His brother’s smile grows. “Show me what you need.”
He spends most of the morning delegating tasks for his brother to complete while Wei Ying heads into the fields with A-Yuan. They barely talk as Lan Xichen sweeps the floors and launders their robes and A-Yuan’s sheets (he draws the line at his and Wei Ying’s bedding—it would be far too revealing), but the silence is comfortable. Familiar. Like their many nights in Gusu before everything changed for them. When there were silences that didn’t demand to be filled. When they enjoyed each other’s presence without needing to entertain the other.
“A break?” Lan Xichen suggests once he’s finished hanging the last of the wet laundry.
“Yes,” he agrees, letting his brother help him stand.
“Perhaps a walk outside?”
He nods. Even though they have mostly been out in the courtyard, he is quite warm. The wind and open air will cool him.
Lan Xichen doesn’t let go of his arm, even once they are outside, but Lan Wangji doesn’t protest. His brother’s arm is grounding, steadying. A perfect remedy to the spinning of his head as they wander towards their makeshift garden. He must be more overheated than he’d thought.
“It’s lovely, Wangji,” Lan Xichen says. “Your whole home is.”
“Thank you,” he whispers.
“Shufu will be happy to know you are settled,” he continues. “Unless…”
“You may tell him. All of it.”
There isn’t much point in hiding any longer. Not from them.
Lan Xichen stretches his smile thin. “Alright.” He laughs softly to himself, shaking his head. “He may disappointed to miss the birth.”
His heart sinks in his stomach, dull and painful. He regrets all that he didn’t say before. All the pain he has caused them.
“He will understand,” Lan Xichen continues, giving his arm a reassuring squeeze. “The circumstances of your situation are… difficult. I understand there was really no good way to send the message along. That you may have been apprehensive to send it at all.”
“I was,” he admits. “I worried… he would be misunderstood.”
Lan Xichen nods, sighing heavily. “You know him best, Wangji. If you trust him, I do, too.”
“I have always trusted your judgement, Wangji,” his brother reminds him. “Shufu… he will come around. He trusts you, too. And he loves children.”
At least there is that.
“But Wangji…” Lan Xichen continues, his brow furrowing, “he may not be… as forgiving. About your husband’s past.”
He leans into his brother, gulping. The sun is shining down on them, causing sweat to bead at his forehead. He is still too warm. He leads his brother towards a shadier area of the garden, among the remnants of the gentian blossoms.
“I am aware.”
“He will, of course, not intervene,” Lan Xichen assures him. “He values your safety and happiness. He… has his opinions.”
He is certain he will hear all about his uncle’s opinions once he comes to visit. It is a burden he will bear if it means his uncle can meet his child and see A-Yuan once more.
“Wangji…” Lan Xichen begins, breathing deeply. He closes his eyes, smiling to himself as he formulates the words. “The demonic cultivation… does Young Master Wei still practice?”
He has not used it much since their marriage, though in recent weeks, he has allowed himself more lenience. Enough to activate talismans from time to time. Enough to feel the presence of spirits every now and again. Not as he once did. Not with the urgency or power he once possessed.
Even so, he will not have his uncle or brother’s respect for Wei Ying be conditional, to hang upon the false hope he will return to a righteous path they approve of. They will accept every facet of his husband, or they will be met with disapproval. He will not allow his husband to diminish any part of himself. He wants Wei Ying to live as he wants to live without the burden of others’ expectations.
“Would it matter if he did?”
Lan Xichen exhales, closing his eyes once more. “Of course not,” he sighs. “He is your zhiji. That is enough.”
“Yes,” he agrees firmly.
His brother blinks slowly, turning his attention towards the garden. Clearly searching for a new subject to fall upon.
“You have gentians here, too,” he says, hand hovering over the remnants of their blooms.
“We found one among the crops,” Lan Wangji explains, exhaling to dispel the tension in his shoulders. “They have since expanded.”
His brother smiles, warm and unguarded. “They are lovely.”
He gazes down at the flowers, letting comfortable silence wash over them once more. Lan Wangji attempts to relax into it, but he is still unbearably tense. His face is far too warm. His skin practically aches as he moves.
Perhaps he should ask to return indoors and lie down. Then again, he was also uncomfortable indoors. At least here, in the shade, there’s a breeze.
“Gentians always remind me of our mother,” Lan Xichen says. “You look so much like her.”
His throat constricts, eyes stinging with a sudden wave of emotion. He had hoped to speak of her someday, to know more from what little he does. But… hoping and having are different. He is not quite prepared. His heart beats too fast, his eyes burn too deeply, and his throat is far too dry. All he can do is nod.
“She would be happy, Wangji.”
He nods once more, the air in his lungs pushing against him as he fights to retain control of his emotions.
“I think she would like Young Master Wei,” he adds, rubbing Lan Wangji’s forearm affectionately. “She would admire his spirit. And yours.”
He tries to offer some sound of acknowledgement, but his throat is too dry, and his eyes are too bright, and the sun is too hot, even in the shade. Sweat pools at his forehead, and he feels…
“Wangji?” Lan Xichen asks.
He opens his mouth to speak, but no sound comes. Something… shifts in his stomach. Lowering, sinking. It takes him a moment to realize it’s the baby. His lower back pulsates as he comes to this realization, contracting and seizing as he sags into his brother. He isn’t in pain, but the new sensation is so present. Overwhelming, consuming. It radiates from his lower spine into his womb, pushing against it. The baby is pushing against it. The baby is lowering themselves inside him, preparing themselves.
“They are coming,” he manages to say. “They are ready.”
He will have to be, too.