Actions

Work Header

A Mother’s Curse (A Mother’s Blessing)

Work Text:

After Lan Xichen’s marriage is finally arranged and a wedding date formalized, the elders turn their sights onto the Second Jade. Of course, just as with Lan Xichen, they ask him his preferences—a beta woman? An omega? A commoner? A cultivator? They ask about height, hair color, eye color, demeanor. All these questions and a thousand more it seems. 

 

Lan Wangji does not want to get married. He is not ready to get married.

 

“It would not be anytime soon, Wangji,” his brother tries to comfort him. “They simply want to know for what kind of person they should be looking. Your marriage will have to wait to take place until after my own, anyway. You have a few years yet.”

 

But Lan Wangji purses his lips together and says, “There is no one I want to marry.”

 

Lan Xichen sighs, pats his younger brother on the shoulder and prods, “Surely, you must have thought about getting married, about whom you want to take as your cultivation partner?”

 

Lan Wangji looks away for a long moment, ears starting to heat. Finally, he says, “A man.”

 

Lan Xichen beams, squeezing Lan Wangji’s shoulder. “I will let the elders know to look for a male omega, then. It will help them narrow down the search amongst the gentry.”

 

Lan Wangji hides his hands in his sleeves, fists clenched tightly together. He already knows the names of all the eligible bachelors in the gentry families that are male omegas; there are very few that the elders would deem acceptable. Which, in the long run, is Lan Wangji’s plan. Force the elders to look at the most uncommon group of people and try to find an acceptable match for him. It will be a short list, since there are more acceptable matches among the female betas and omegas, all of which Lan Wangji will refuse.

 

“I would prefer,” Lan Wangji says, stiffly, “if I was given the chance to find my soulmate myself, rather than have a marriage arranged.”

 

Lan Xichen’s face falls. “Wangji,” he says, softly but not unkindly, “you know the elders will not allow us to find our own matches. Not after… not after father’s marriage.”

 

“Then I would prefer not to marry.”

 

“Wangji, you know that’s impossible.”

 

But Lan Wangji just stares at his brother. He knows it’s impossible. Yet there is still a part of him that’s holding out hope that he’ll be allowed to marry whomever he wishes.

 

Lan Xichen sighs, dropping his hand from Lan Wangji’s shoulder, and says, “I will at least let the elders know to look for an acceptable male omega.”

 

Lan Wangji nods but does not otherwise acknowledge his brother. Lan Xichen does not understand. Lan Xichen is to marry a male omega of the QishanWen Sect, the brother of Sect Leader Wen. ‘A sweet boy,’ they’ve been told. Lan Xichen is not heartbroken about his marriage being set for him. He is not a romantic as Lan Wangji is a romantic, does not seem to remember their mother’s stories about her alpha shimei that she had wanted to marry, once upon a time, before their father. Lan Xichen does not seem to remember the sadness in their mother’s eyes when she told them that she grew to love their father, but that it took time and effort.

 

Lan Wangji does not want a marriage that is not based on love. He does not want to marry someone that he must grow to love. He wants to marry someone that he already loves, someone for whom he already cares deeply. 

 

So, as the months pass and the elders start to narrow down Lan Wangji’s list of potential spouses, Lan Wangji realizes that matters must be taken into his own hands, lest he find himself betrothed to a stranger.

 

Casting a simple illusion spell, Lan Wangji sneaks into the Forbidden Section of the library and begins his search. This is not how he would prefer to do things, but the elders have given him no choice: they are determined to have his marriage arranged by the end of the year, whether Lan Wangji is willing or not. And since Lan Wangji is not willing, he finds the only option left to him is to do something drastic.

 

It takes days of sneaking into the Forbidden Section for Lan Wangji to find that for which he’s been searching. 

 

Unfortunately, it’s a curse. Fortunately, it’s a rather complex one, so difficult even the elders will have trouble breaking it. He copies the pages he needs and returns to the Jingshi. That very night, Lan Wangji stays up far too late perfecting the talisman. He knows better than to use it while sleep deprived, so he slips it under his pillow, deciding to review it in the morning, after breakfast, to ensure that he did not miss any strokes or add any extra.

 

By the next morning, Lan Wangji is nervous but still determined. The elders are not listening to his wishes and so he will force them to listen. He looks over the talisman one last time before placing it on his chest and activating it. 

 

Nothing happens. 

 

Not to be discouraged, Lan Wangji double checks the talisman. It appears correct. Every stroke is in the right place. Every radical is the correct radical. There’s no discernible reason that it would not be working as intended.

 

He tries again. 

 

Nothing. 

 

Heart starting to sink, Lan Wangji gathers the talisman and his papers before he slips out of the Jingshi. Silently, he takes the back pathways, the ones carved out by his own small feet years and years ago. He arrives at the Gentian House, kneels on the wooden porch, and bows. 

 

“A-niang,” he whispers, knowing she’ll hear him. “I need your help.”

 

There’s a moment of seemingly endless silence. Then, a soft sigh of, “A-Zhan, tell a-niang what’s bothering you.”

 

 

The thing is Madam Lan is not entirely human. She’s a huli jing, a fox spirit who, so far, has cultivated five gleaming tails.

 

But, just because she’s a huli jing, it does not mean that both of her sons were born as huli jings. When her first son, Lan Huan, was born entirely human, the elders breathed a sigh of relief, grateful that the ‘curse of the beast’ had not spread to their sect heir. But when Madam Lan’s second son was born, Lan Zhan, the spare, the elders all recoiled and lamented. 

 

“He is cursed,” they’d whisper to each other, gesturing to the soft fox ears and tail that he was far too young to know how to hide properly. 

 

“Such a shame that her bad blood has passed into the main family line.”

 

“We must thank the ancestors that Lan Huan was spared.”

 

Because of little Lan Zhan’s ‘affliction,’ as the elders had taken to calling it, he was allowed an extra day every month with his mother, under the condition that she only teach him how to control his magic and hide away his ears and tails. Madam Lan, of course, did that and more. She could not simply teach him one aspect of his inherent huli jing magic while ignoring the rest. For complete mastery, it must all be taught together. Illusions and fox fire and transformations all go hand in hand. And, if he was to be an accomplished cultivator, then he would have to know how to control both the human and huli jing aspects of his qi, to keep a proper balance.

 

Lan Zhan loved the extra days he had with his mother. They were, of course, filled with learning grueling techniques and other skills, but he was allowed to spend those days in his mother’s company. Few things surpassed the joy that that brought.

 

Lan Huan, however, couldn’t understand why his mother seemed to favor his little brother. Why was A-Zhan allowed an extra day and he wasn’t? At first, it drove a wedge between the brothers: Lan Huan resented Lan Zhan and Lan Zhan, too young to understand why his xiongzhang seemed to hate him, withdrew. But then, one day, while the boys were in Caiyi with their uncle, Lan Huan came to understand the importance of the extra lessons.

 

Lan Zhan, still unable to hide his ears and tail when exhausted or overly emotional, had become distressed when he learned that some people actually ate the rabbits that lived in the forests surrounding their home. He had started to cry, great big tears and racking sobs. Lan Huan and uncle had moved down a few stalls but they both heard the crying, heard the shouting that followed: “A huli jing! It’s taken the form of a child of the GusuLan Sect to curse us!”

 

Lan Huan had spotted A-Zhan just in time to watch a man kick his brother to the ground. In that moment, Lan Huan had forgotten what words were, forgotten all the precepts he was busy learning in lessons. He screamed at the man, threw himself at the stranger, and had bitten down so harshly on the man’s outstretched hand that the stranger screamed and bled.

 

Uncle had appeared not long after, pressed a string of coins into the stranger’s bloodied hand, and said, gravely, “The GusuLan Sect will handle this from here,” before striding off with both boys clutched in his arms, shopping forgotten.

 

“Why?” Lan Huan had asked later, in a break between his sobs. “Why did that man try to hurt A-Zhan?”

 

And so, Lan Qiren explained, again, how A-Zhan was different, how he was too much like his mother and it scared some people, how his extra lessons with their mother weren’t for fun and visiting but for mastering the skills needed to pass as a human.

 

“It doesn’t scare me!” Lan Huan declared, wiping the tears tracks off of his face. “A-Zhan is A-Zhan! And A-Zhan is my baby brother! I’ll help protect him! Forever!”

 

Lan Zhan, for his part after the incident, did not make a single sound for a month, afraid that it was his sobbing that had attracted the stranger, not realizing that it was simply a condition of his birth that drew the man’s prejudice.

 

Madam Lan, upon hearing about the incident in the market, held her sons close, rocking them back and forth. She made them promise to always protect each other and to not allow fear or petty jealousies overrule their common sense.

 

Both boys promised.

 

 

Now, Lan Wangji lies curled upon the floor of the Jingshi, a patch of early morning sunlight warming his white fur. He’s nervous. He knows that his brother will be sad, maybe even disappointed, but Lan Wangji is tired of his voice going unheard. 

 

Of course, he understands and appreciates the irony of the situation: he wants to be heard, wants his wishes to be considered, so, in a drastic act, he’s turned himself into a form which cannot speak. But, sometimes, actions truly do speak louder.

 

There’s a knock at the door.

 

Lan Wangji flicks an ear, knowing it’s Lan Xichen simply by the heartbeat. He waits.

 

“Wangji?” Lan Xichen calls through the door. “It’s Xichen. I came to see if you wanted to walk together to lessons?” 

 

Lan Wangji yips, stretching out and sitting up.

 

The door opens, Lan Xichen quietly entering and closing it behind him. He glances around the room, a slight furl forming between his brows before he spots Lan Wangji’s furry form.

 

Lan Xichen smiles. “Wangji, it’s been a while since I’ve seen you like this.” He folds his legs under himself, kneeling as he proffers a hand to the fox.

 

Lan Wangji makes a small noise of acknowledgement and bumps his head into Lan Xichen’s palm, allowing his brother a few strokes of his fur.

 

“Lessons are soon though, Wangji. You’ll have to change back so that you may attend them.”

 

Lan Wangji tilts his head and then stands, trotting to the table where he has left out the pages that he’d copied from the library. He raises a paw and rests it against the papers, waiting for Lan Xichen to join him. 

 

“What’s this?”

 

Lan Wangji noses at the papers before returning his gaze to Lan Xichen. 

 

Slowly, Lan Xichen reaches out and takes hold of the papers, sliding them out from under Lan Wangji’s paw. Lan Xichen glances at them quickly and then, eyes widening in panic, reads them again.

 

“Wangji!” he exclaims, dropping the papers and cupping Lan Wangji’s face. “ Please! Please tell me you didn’t do this!”

 

Lan Wangji pulls his head from Lan Xichen’s trembling grasp and hides it under the table. Of all the reactions, he never thought that his brother would be scared .

 

 

Lan Xichen, trying to think about the situation logically, scoops Lan Wangji into his arms, snatches the papers off the table where they fell, and runs out of the Jingshi, heading not towards the sect’s most skilled curse breaker, but to the expert on huli jing.

 

Lan Xichen pounds on the door, trying to catch his breath. He knows he broke the rules about running but, if anyone saw him, he thinks he has a valid excuse. 

 

He waits, shifting from foot to foot, adjusting Lan Wangji in his arms. It’s taking too long. Lan Xichen knocks again.

 

“Please,” he begs, “I know it’s not the time to visit but it’s an emergency! I—I will wait all day if I must!”

 

Lan Wangji shifts in his arms, twisting around to watch the door. He whines, letting out a squeaky bark. 

 

“Please,” Lan Xichen begs again, “we must speak with you.”

 

After a long moment, the door cracks open. A single brown eye regards them for a moment and then a soft voice asks, “Did anyone see you come this way? I don’t want you boys to get in trouble.”

 

Lan Xichen shakes his head. “Either way,” he says, “it’s an emergency. Shufu will forgive us for seeking your guidance in this matter.”

 

A small sigh and then the door swings open. 

 

“Get inside, get inside,” she says.

 

Lan Xichen slips in quickly and quietly, shoulders relaxing as the door shuts behind him. Without preamble, he says, “He’s cursed himself,” and hands her the papers to read.

 

She takes them delicately, eyes fitting across the words as she drifts back to the table, seating herself at her half-eaten breakfast. 

 

Lan Xichen joins her, watching nervously from across the table. In his arms, Lan Wangji wiggles, struggling to escape his brother's grasp until Lan Xichen finally relents.

 

Lan Wangji yips, darting under the table and coming out the other side. He climbs into the woman’s lap and settles in the cradle of her crossed legs as she studies the papers. She runs a hand through his fur, repeating the motion until Lan Wangji’s bones feel like liquid in his skin.

 

Suddenly, the woman laughs, her head tipping back, a noise almost like a scream leaving her throat as she makes it through the papers and realizes what they mean. 

 

“A-Zhan!” she crows, delighted. She digs her fingers into the fur behind his ears, scratching affectionately. “A-Zhan, A-Zhan! You’ve been against this marriage business from the beginning! And you’ve finally figured out a way to make them listen to you!” She laughs again, pressing a kiss to Lan Wangji’s forehead. 

 

His tail wags, delighted.

 

Across the table, Lan Xichen makes a pained noise. “A-niang, please, this is serious! Wangji has cursed himself.”

 

Madam Lan laughs again, “Yes, he did. And yes, it is very serious. But A-Huan, I think you have to consider why A-Zhan found it necessary to curse himself in the first place.”

 

Lan Xichen blinks, eyes downcast as he mulls the question over. He knows why. He knows exactly why, but… “I didn’t think his aversion to an arrangement was so… serious. That he’d go to such drastic measures. Isn’t there some way to change him back? With fox magic or something?”

 

Madam Lan sighs and shakes her head. She opens her arms and says, “Come here, A-Huan.”

 

Lan Xichen slips around the table and leans heavily into his mother’s side. Her arm settles over his shoulders and she squeezes him close, pressing a kiss to his temple. “The simplest way to fix this is to fulfill the terms of the curse. You know that, A-Huan.”

 

“I know,” Lan Xichen whispers. “But it’s—a soulmate? It’s going to be very difficult.”

 

“Give it time,” she says. She pets a hand down Lan Xichen’s long hair and continues, “That’s all he wanted. Just time. Time to fall in love, time to find his soulmate.”

 

“But,” Lan Xichen says, voice cracking, “a-niang, he’s gone. And he’ll be gone for all that time. I’ve lost my little brother.”

 

“Gone?” Madam Lan says, a small scoff in her voice. “Lost? Where has A-Zhan gone? Where has he been lost? A-Zhan is right here! A-Zhan is in my arms right now, as we speak! Silly boy,” she says, affectionately, as she reaches up to pinch at Lan Xichen’s cheek. “A-Zhan is neither gone nor lost. He is here. Just different. And, when the curse breaks, he will be different again. Just because his form has changed does not mean that he has changed.”

 

Lan Xichen nods, a sniffle caught in his throat. He feels something touch his leg. Looking down, he sees one of Lan Wangji’s forepaws, stretched out and resting on his thigh. Lan Wangji cracks an eye open, watching him. Lan Xichen reaches down, a small laugh escaping him as he strokes a single finger along the back of Lan Wangji’s paw. The fox’s eyes slip closed again. 

 

“Shufu will not be happy about this.”

 

“Aish,” Madam Lan says, rolling her eyes, “when is he ever?”

 

 

Predictably, Lan Qiren and the elders are all furious about Lan Wangji’s curse. They rant for a while, blame Madam Lan for somehow inflicting the curse, then yell again when Lan Wangji growls at them. But, in the long run, it does throw a wrench into their plans for Lan Wangji’s marriage.

 

“Who will allow their sons to marry a fox? Who will allow their sons to marry a cursed fox? Ridiculous!”

 

They also decide on a story to tell the sect and the rest of the cultivation world at large.

 

Lan Wangji, the Second Jade of the GusuLan Sect, while on a night hunt, has been cursed into the form of a fox! And only true love can break the curse!

 

Naturally, once word gets out, the marriage offers dry up. But then, of all things, they surge! Every sect offers young, eligible disciples! Any one of them could be the soulmate who breaks the curse, after all. And what a feat it would be! What honor it would bring to their sect to say that they broke the curse, that they found the Second Jade’s soulmate, that the soulmate was from their sect! 

 

Lan Wangji’s brilliant idea may have slightly backfired, but at least he’s a fox now. No pressure for conversation or entertaining his guests and, when he gets exhausted of their company, he can just slink away and hide in the back hills or under his mother’s porch. 

 

A few years pass. Lan Wangji remains a fox.

 

 

There’s a fox in the back hills. There should not be a fox in the back hills, unless that fox is Lan Wangji. 

 

The intruder is gray faced and gray backed with a milky-golden color on its belly and legs. Lan Wangji knows that it is not his mother, who has the same white coloring as he does. Which means that a wild fox is trespassing in the back hills, clearly ignoring Lan Wangji’s very well scent-marked territory lines. 

 

The trespasser darts across the field after a butterfly. It snaps its jaws at the insect, misses, and tumbles into the grass. It climbs back to its feet quickly, shaking itself off. Then it sits, ears twitching this way and that. It lays down, rolls around until the grass is flattened beneath it, its paws twitching in the air.

 

Lan Wangji digs his claws into the grass and growls. 

 

The other fox pops its head up, wide gray eyes staring directly at Lan Wangji before it opens its mouth and barks at him, its tail wagging happily, as if excited to see him.

 

In general, Lan Wangji does not like to fight, but he will not hesitate to chase off a wild animal encroaching on his territory. He flattens his ears and growls again. 

 

The other fox barks again, its tail swishing as it wags from side to side. 

 

If this other fox won’t back down and leave, then Lan Wangji has no choice. He gives one last warning growl and charges.

 

The other fox yips, surprised, but quickly folds its ears back and meets Lan Wangji’s tackle.

 

The sound of their gekkering fills the clearing but Lan Wangji has no luck in pinning the other fox and getting it to submit. It’s wily, easily slipping from under his teeth and claws. It even manages to toss Lan Wangji into his back for a moment. And then, somehow, it manages to slip away, its yipping laughter trailing behind it as it darts off into the trees.

 

Lan Wangji, not one to give up so easily, chases after it. He follows it up the mountain, closer and closer to Cloud Recesses. He tries to herd it in the opposite direction—or at least towards a less populated area, like the Cold Springs—but the fox evades him as easily as water evades a fishing net.

 

Lan Wangji watches its gray tail dart around a shrub and turns to follow it before suddenly colliding with something.

 

He tumbles to the ground, releasing an undignified yip as he somersaults into the grass.

 

“Ow!” someone hisses.

 

Lan Wangji springs back to his feet, head swinging side to side as he tries to lay eyes on the fox again. 

 

It’s disappeared. 

 

Lan Wangji bends down, nose pressing to the grass, and inhales, trying to catch the scent of the fox. He can smell it on the ground, on the nearby bush, on the stranger’s legs. He digs his snout against the dark fabric, the scent stronger against the cloth than on the ground, like the fox had brushed up against the man or has taken shelter in his skirts. 

 

Lan Wangji noises into the fabric again, huffing as he tries to figure out where the other fox has gone.

 

The stranger stumbles back a step and, laughing, says, “Little fox! I don’t know what you’ve heard about me but I’m not that kind of omega!”

 

Lan Wangji jumps back with a scandalized yelp. He looks up at the stranger, eyes wide in his furry face.

 

That’s not what he meant! He’s just looking for the other fox! The trespasser! He didn’t mean to—he got a little carried away but—

 

For the first time in a long time, Lan Wangji wishes he was human again, to apologize to the omega, to explain that he’s just looking for the trespassing fox.

 

The stranger—the omega—crouches down and holds out a hand for Lan Wangji. Laughing again, he says, “Don’t worry about it, fox-gege. You didn’t mean anything by it, I’m sure.”

 

Lan Wangji doesn’t bother to sniff the proffered hand, just backs away slowly, like one wrong move will have the omega accusing him of impropriety again. 

 

“Aw,” the omega says, dropping his hand to rest on his bent knee. “Don’t be like that, fox-gege! I’m friendly, I promise!”

 

Lan Wangji continues staring, eyes narrowing, at the omega. They’re not a member of GusuLan, that much Lan Wangji is certain. But their dark robes don’t give away any affiliation with a prominent sect. A guest disciple, then? Lan Wangji knows that the lectures are due to start within the week and several groups have already arrived from various, smaller sects.

 

“Here, how about this?” the omega says, reaching into a sleeve.

 

Lan Wangji tenses, ready to run again, but the man pulls out a baozi, splits it in half, and offers part of it to him.

 

“Hm? You don’t want it? I bought it in Caiyi. I was saving it for later, but I don’t mind sharing it now!” The omega smiles at him, wide and heartfelt, his eyes crinkling at the corners.

 

Oh. Oh, no. He’s gorgeous. 

 

Before Lan Wangji can do anything sensible—such as think about the consequences of his actions—he snatches the torn baozi from the man’s fingers and takes off. 

 

The omega’s laughter chases Lan Wangji across Cloud Recesses.

 

 

“Perhaps you should attend the lectures, Wangji,” Lan Xichen suggests as he lowers his teacup. 

 

Across the table, Lan Wangji turns to face his brother. He tips his head slightly to the side.

 

Lan Xichen sighs. “You cannot expect to break the curse while isolating yourself here in the Jingshi.”

 

Lan Wangji huffs and rests his head on his crossed forelegs. He doesn’t bother trying to correct Lan Xichen about being isolated—he visits the back hills all the time, he sees their mother as often as he can—he isn’t isolated at all. He also doesn’t entertain the thought of attending the lectures for even a moment. That omega will be there, and Lan Wangji can’t possibly show his face before the omega after embarrassing himself so terribly last time. Lan Wangji’s been successfully avoiding any and all guest disciples for the last two days. He isn’t about to ruin that streak for Lan Xichen’s entirely misguided concern.

 

“Wangji,” Lan Xichen says, “most of the disciples this year are around your age. Surely, it’s worth at least meeting them, making a friend or two?”

 

Lan Wangji tucks his snout under his paws.

 

Frowning gently, Lan Xichen says, “Wangji. Not even for me? As a favor?”

 

Lan Wangji flicks his ears back, irritated. It seems that he is about to end his self-imposed seclusion, just for his brother. Annoyed that Lan Xichen would employ such underhanded tactics, Lan Wangji huffs again, raising his head and resting his chin on the table.

 

Lan Xichen beams. “Thank you, Wangji. I’ll let uncle know to expect you.”

 

Lan Wangji sighs and, while waiting for Lan Xichen to finish his tea, stares determinedly out the open doors of the Jingshi. 

 

“It’s a lovely day,” Lan Xichen says, pleasantly. “Perhaps you’d like to join me for a walk, Wangji.”

 

Letting out a small huff, Lan Wangji stands and trots to the doorway, avoiding his brother’s eyes. He’s still annoyed with him.

 

Lan Xichen joins him soon enough.

 

They meander along the pathways in Cloud Recesses, Lan Xichen occasionally commenting on their surroundings or nodding at a passing disciple. They’re a common sight: Lan Xichen, idly strolling along, his younger brother a small, silent shadow, trailing in his wake. 

 

Not much has changed between doing this as a human and as a fox. Only, now, Lan Wangji finds it more difficult to ignore the scents that cover the path, to not investigate every little noise an animal makes under a building or in the woods. Even at this moment, Lan Wangji can smell a squirrel not far off, can hear a muted conversation about the rules, and wants to go investigate. 

 

But he promised his brother a walk, so he sticks by Lan Xichen’s side, not allowing himself more than a brief moment to sniff out a scent trail for later investigation. 

 

Lan Wangji is sniffing at a tuft of grass when he hears a voice that makes his fur stand on end.

 

“Ah! Zewu-jun! We meet again! How are you? What brings you to the guest dormitories?”

 

Lan Wangji whips around, abandoning the grass as he turns toward the newcomer. 

 

Standing just a few paces away is the omega from before, smiling brightly at Lan Xichen! 

 

Lan Wangji has to suppress the sudden urge to bite him. Why is he smiling so much?! Excessive displays of emotion are forbidden! And why is he smiling so brightly at Lan Xichen? What did Lan Xichen do to make this omega look at him like that?

 

Next to Lan Wangji, Lan Xichen returns the smile politely, nodding a shallow bow as he says, “Hello again, Wei-gongzi. I trust you and the rest of the YunmengJiang Sect have been settling in well.”

 

“Ah, yes, we have,” the omega, Wei-gongzi, bows again. “I must thank you again, Zewu-jun! I truly did not realize the GusuLan Sect had so many rules.”

 

Lan Xichen hums. “Yes, we have quite a few. I do hope you’ll strive to learn them and follow them for the duration of your stay.”

 

Wei-gongzi laughs nervously, but raises three fingers to his brow and promises, “I, Wei Ying, courtesy Wuxian, will endeavor to follow the GusuLan Sect precepts to the best of my abilities for the next three months!”

 

Lan Xichen gives a small, amused laugh. “I appreciate your dedication, Wei-gongzi.”

 

Lan Wangji stares openly, eyes darting from Lan Xichen to Wei Wuxian and back, trying to figure out just what is happening. Lan Xichen and the omega have met before? When? Why? And why does it sound like Lan Xichen did Wei Wuxian a favor? Just what happened?

 

Lan Wangji, tired of feeling out of the loop, smacks his tail against Lan Xichen’s ankle, a gentle reminder of his presence.

 

“Ah,” Lan Xichen says, glancing down at Lan Wangji, “Wei-gongzi, this is—”

 

“Fox-gege!” Wei Wuxian exclaims, a bright smile sliding over his face as he crouches down and holds out a hand, a mirror of the first time they’d met.

 

Lan Wangji spends a bare moment preening at the fact that Wei Wuxian gave him a bigger smile than he gave Lan Xichen before he realizes his error.

 

“‘Fox-gege’?” Lan Xichen repeats, a curious lilt to his voice.

 

Ah, right. Lan Xichen.

 

Lan Wangji freezes, eyes trained on Wei Wuxian’s fingers. He doesn’t look at Lan Xichen, nor does he look towards Wei Wuxian's face; either move would be too telling. Lan Xichen doesn’t need another thing to mercilessly tease him about, but Lan Wangji knows he will.

 

And then it gets worse. 

 

“Yes!” Wei Wuxian says, wiggling his fingers, apparently optimistic that Lan Wangji will let him touch him since Lan Wangji hasn’t moved away yet. “We met a few days ago! He crashed into me and then tried to get into my robes!”

 

Lan Wangji barks, jaws snapping at Wei Wuxian’s fingers. 

 

Wei Wuxian jerks back to his feet, laughing as he folds his hands behind himself. “What, fox-gege? Do you think I’m wrong? Did you not run into me and then try to nose into my skirts? Is that not what happened?”

 

Lan Wangji barks again but manages to hold himself back from chasing after Wei Wuxian. Wei Wuxian is correct after all, Lan Wangji did do those things. But he was looking for that other fox! The intruder! The trespasser!

 

Lan Wangji turns to Lan Xichen, hoping that his brother will read the truth from his face like he so often does. But Lan Xichen looks shocked, eyes still wide as the dart between Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji. 

 

“I…” Lan Xichen says, at a loss. “I’m sure it was just a misunderstanding.”

 

Wei Wuxian laughs, head tipping back. 

 

Lan Wangji imagines darting forward and nipping at Wei Wuxian’s heels to make him be quiet, to remind him that excessive noise is forbidden. 

 

Sighing, Wei Wuxian waves a dismissive hand. “Ah, I’m sure it was! You see, Zewu-jun, I had a baozi hidden in my sleeve. I’m sure that this fox-gege smelled it and so I split it with him.”

 

That is very much not what happened and, from looking at Lan Xichen’s face, he doesn’t quite believe it either. 

 

“Of course,” Lan Xichen murmurs, eyes going back to Lan Wangji. This time, he doesn’t look confused. He looks thrilled. 

 

Oh. Oh, no.

 

Lan Wangji makes the mature decision to run away.

 

 

Lan Xichen is—to put it very, very mildly—extremely excited. Positively ecstatic. Absolutely over the moon. In fact, if there wasn’t a rule against excessive displays of emotion, Lan Xichen is certain he would be skipping down the path with excitement. 

 

But, since there is such a rule, Lan Xichen walks sedately to his uncle’s office, biting down on the side of his tongue to keep a wide smile from blooming across his face. 

 

Lan Xichen will have to talk to Lan Qiren about the omega, about Wei Wuxian. Unfortunately, there will be obstacles. Only a few days into his stay and Wei Wuxian has already been warned about Cloud Recesses’s curfew and the rule regarding alcohol. But, even so, he seems like a smart young man. And perhaps Lan Wangji would benefit from someone willing to look past his frigid demeanor and tease him a little bit.

 

Of course, Lan Xichen wouldn’t be feeling so optimistic about Wei Wuxian if he hadn’t seen him interact with Lan Wangji firsthand.

 

Lan Wangji had very nearly allowed the other man to touch him.

 

With every other omega presented to Lan Wangji over the years, both before and since his curse, he’d been very careful to avoid their touch. But Lan Wangji had stepped forward and sniffed at Wei Wuxian’s proffered hand. He sniffed it! And even perked up when Wei Wuxian called him, of all things, ‘fox-gege’. And Wei Wuxian had even said that he and Lan Wangji had shared food! That Wei Wuxian had offered a baozi and Lan Wangji accepted! Lan Wangji didn’t even accept tea from any of the previous omegas he’d met.

 

Lan Xichen digs his teeth into his tongue harder, trying to keep the smile off his face. 

 

When Lan Wangji disappeared between two of the disciples’ dormitories, Lan Xichen had nearly chased after him so he could shove him into Wei Wuxian’s arms and demand that he break the curse that very moment. 

 

Instead, Lan Xichen allowed his brother to flee. Things like falling in love and breaking curses mustn’t be rushed. 

 

As Lan Xichen approaches his uncle’s door, he thinks about what Wei Wuxian had said just after Lan Wangji had ran away, “Ah, he must be shy. There are many perks to being my friend, fox-gege! I won’t give up so easily!”

 

Good , Lan Xichen thinks. Don’t give up, Wei Wuxian.

 

Lan Xichen knocks on his uncle’s door.

 

 

Lan Wangji is having a bad day. In fact, he’s pretty sure he’s having a bad week. It’s been a few hours and he’s still trying to figure out how he went from attending the lectures to supervising Wei Wuxian’s punishment in the library. It seems implausible that Lan Qiren had forgotten that Lan Wangji is a fox. Did his uncle simply think that his presence would be enough to corral Wei Wuxian into copying his assigned lines? 

 

Either way, Lan Wangji followed Wei Wuxian out of the doors of the lecture hall and herded him into the library. 

 

Across the room, Wei Wuxian pouts, brush dragging carelessly over his paper as he copies the sect precepts.

 

“It’s not like what I said was that unusual,” Wei Wuxian says, mulishly.

 

Lan Wangji looks over at Wei Wuxian from his perch by the window.

 

“Think about it, fox-gege!” Wei Wuxian tosses his brush down and drops his chin into a hand. “There are already alternative cultivation styles that exist. Take huli jings for example! The way that a huli jing circulates energy through their golden core and their meridians as a fox—or even in their spiritual form—is already different than a human does! If a huli jing doesn’t have a chance to learn to cultivate their energy properly, they’ll forever lose their fox form and will be a mediocre cultivator—even as a human—at best! If a huli jing can cultivate their energy differently than a human does, then why can’t resentful energy also be harnessed for cultivation? And that’s not to mention the QingheNie Sect’s cultivation techniques!”

 

Lan Wangji stares, head tipping to the side. The obvious answer is ‘because it goes against Dao’ but, for some reason, Lan Wangji doesn’t think that would be a good enough reason. It doesn’t help that Wei Wuxian has something approximating a point: there are indeed differences in the way spiritual energy is cultivated, depending upon the form one takes. Perhaps if Lan Wangji was not who he was or what he was, he would disagree.

 

Instead, Lan Wangji flicks his tail and stands, disappearing into the stacks of books.

 

“Aw, fox-gege! Don’t leave me!” 

 

Ridiculous. 

 

Lan Wangji pokes his head around the side of the stack to look at Wei Wuxian, who is indeed pouting again. His arms are crossed over his chest, eyes down turned, his long black hair slipping over his shoulder and threatening to fall into his ink. His bottom lip is thrust out dramatically. Lan Wangji wants to bite it, to remind Wei Wuxian that excessive displays of emotion are not allowed. 

 

Quietly, Lan Wangji makes a small noise, so as not to disturb anyone else that may be present in the library. 

 

The corner of Wei Wuxian’s mouth twitches, a flash of a pleased smile before it disappears back into a pout. Wei Wuxian looks over at him. 

 

Lan Wangji fights the urge to do something excessive, like rolling his eyes. Huffing, Lan Wangji turns towards the bookcases again.

 

“Ah! Wait for me, fox-gege!” 

 

Lan Wangji can hear Wei Wuxian scramble after him. He ignores the noise and instead trots through the rows and rows of books until he comes to the section of the library where the simplest and easiest to understand texts are shelved. It takes him a moment to find the text he wants but, when he does, he waits by the shelf for Wei Wuxian to join him.

 

“What is it, fox-gege?” Wei Wuxian asks as he clasps his hands behind his back. 

 

Gently, Lan Wangji paws a book out of the shelf until it flops onto the floor. 

 

He watches, waiting as Wei Wuxian squats to pick up the book. He sets his elbows on his knees as he reads the cover of the book aloud:

 

Yinyang and Wuji ( ): An Introduction to Qi .”

 

Wei Wuxian blinks at the title for another long moment before he suddenly snorts, using the book to gently smack himself in the head. 

 

Lan Wangji is just starting to worry that he’s insulted the other man when Wei Wuxian tips his head back and starts laughing, uncontrolled and far too loud for the library. 

 

Lan Wangji snaps at Wei Wuxian’s sleeve, giving it a sharp yank. 

 

Wei Wuxian topples over, still laughing, as he says, “Fox-gege! Gege, I can’t tell if you’re trying to tell me that I’m right or saying that I’m so wrong that you think I should go back and re-learn the basics of cultivation!”

 

Lan Wangji stares. He’s never actually had someone catch on to when he’s joking except for Lan Xichen, their mother, and, rarely, their uncle. He didn’t expect this, and he doesn’t know how to respond. 

 

His tail gives a single, solitary wag.

 

Luckily, Wei Wuxian misses the motion, too busy pretending to wipe tears from his eyes. He sighs, sitting up and crossing his legs. He looks at the book again, flipping idly through the pages.

 

“You know, fox-gege, I’ve never actually read a single cultivation text in my life.”

 

Lan Wangji isn’t surprised.

 

“Don’t give me that look, fox-gege!” Wei Wuxian laughs. “My mama taught me everything I know. There wasn’t really time for reading these dry things when mama found it easier to simply bring me on night hunts with her and a-die.” Wei Wuxian closes the book and stares at the cover for a moment. “I guess you could say that my cultivation is already a little ‘unorthodox’... ah, at any rate, fox-gege, I will gratefully take your recommendation into consideration!”

 

Then, instead of putting the book back on the shelf and politely brushing Lan Wangji off, Wei Wuxian opens the book again and starts to read it. In the middle of the aisle. 

 

How improper. 

 

Lan Wangji sits, folds his forepaws carefully, and rests his head on his legs, nose very nearly brushing Wei Wuxian knee.

 

 

The other fox is back.

 

As soon as Lan Wangji hears the gentle susurration of the other fox moving through the grass, he’s on high alert, ears perking up, eyes snapping open. He had been laying in the field, soaking in the sunlight on a lazy afternoon during a break in the lectures, trying to forget that Wei Wuxian exists. But now, he’s interrupted by another thorn in his side: the fox. 

 

Lan Wangji rolls onto his belly, ears folding back. He keeps flat to the forest floor, letting the grass obscure his gleaming white coat. 

 

The other fox trots across the field, tail wagging as he sniffs out the game trails that cross the clearing. He stops at a patch of watercress that grows at the base of a tree. 

 

Lan Wangji’s lips pull back, sharp teeth on display. If that fox tries to cover Lan Wangji’s scent mark, Lan Wangji will chase him straight out of Cloud Recesses. 

 

The fox bends down, jaws opening, and proceeds to rip out mouthfuls of watercress. He doesn’t even eat it. He just piles it off to the side!

 

What a waste! If this other fox is going to destroy Madam Zongse’s (棕色) watercress, then the least he could do would be to make use of it! 

 

Lan Wangji is just about to launch himself across the clearing and into the other fox’s side when the fox moves again, picking up the whole bunch of uprooted watercress in his mouth.

 

Confused, Lan Wangji watches as the fox jogs from the small watercress patch to an old red pine tree. 

 

Lan Wangji is immediately on alert again, lurching up to his paws, muscles tensed and ready. 

 

The fox stops at the gnarled roots of the tree, head tipping to the side as he stares into the hollow.

 

This is, arguably, the worse option. Between the fox eating the watercress himself and using the plant to lure out Madam Zongse’s kittens to eat them instead, Lan Wangji would prefer that the fox simply eat the watercress. 

 

Of course, the fact that the fox doesn't even need to use the watercress to lure the kittens out at all—since the hollow is at most a hand-span deep and only covered with twigs—is totally irrelevant.

 

The fox drops the watercress at the edge of the hollow and lies on his belly, tail wagging lazily as he watches for the kittens.

 

Lan Wangji darts across the clearing in record time, paws eating up the distance before the other fox can do the same to the kittens. Heart racing, Lan Wangji launches himself at the fox’s back and, just as he’s about to land, the fox turns.

 

“You have to be quiet if you want them to come out, fox-gege,” Wei Wuxian whispers to him, his fingers digging into the white fur on Lan Wangji’s chest as he holds him close.

 

Lan Wangji blinks, disoriented. He’s in Wei Wuxian’s arms. Wei Wuxian is here, sitting in the clearing, just an arm’s span from the kitten hollow, and he’s holding Lan Wangji .

 

Lan Wangji shoves a paw in Wei Wuxian’s face, panicking. He wiggles out of Wei Wuxian’s hold, landing on the soft grass in an undignified heap. He pops back to his feet, head swinging as he looks for the fox. But all he sees is Wei Wuxian.

 

Wei Wuxian, who is smothering a laugh into his palm, who is turning his bright smile on Lan Wangji, who is asking, amused, “Ah, fox-gege, did you finally figure it out?”

 

Before Lan Wangji can decide if he wants to scream or run or possibly even bite Wei Wuxian, he catches movement out of the corner of his eye. He whips around, looking back to the kitten hollow. 

 

The kittens poke their heads out of their small home. All four of them are brown, just like their mother, Madam Zongse. The kittens are still small, able to fit in the palm of a hand, fur soft and silky looking. They’re not quite old enough to leave the hollow permanently but, as Lan Wangji and Wei Wuxian watch, they hop out just far enough to sniff and nibble at the watercress Wei Wuxian had brought over. 

 

“I found them last week,” Wei Wuxian whispers, “the day after you chased me out of here. They were so small, fox-gege! I thought that their mother had abandoned them. I was going to bring them back to the dorms and take care of them there. But then I saw a big fat rabbit hop over to them and I realized, ‘Ah, there must not be enough room in their little nest for their mother to stay with them!’ But she obviously cares for them, fox-gege, do you see how fat they’re getting?”

 

Yes, Lan Wangji sees how fat the kittens are getting. He saw how fat Madam Zongse was getting when she was pregnant with them. He saw her building this little hollow and he saw her, exhausted but proud, the day after they were born. 

 

He sees the kittens now, as they munch away on the watercress.

 

“Aren’t they cute, fox-gege?”

 

Lan Wangji looks over at Wei Wuxian, now stretched out on his side, a hand propping his head up as the other one holds out a sprig of watercress to the closest, boldest little bunny. His lips pull into a soft smile. 

 

Yes , Lan Wangji thinks, heart starting to pound rapidly in his chest, very cute .

 

 

In the last few weeks Lan Xichen has taken to spending an inordinate amount of time with his brother. He makes sure not to shirk his other duties as head disciple but now, any free time he finds, he tries to spend with Lan Wangji and, therefore, Wei Wuxian. Some part of Lan Xichen excuses it as being a good xiongzhang to Lan Wangji, as providing a chaperone to a pair of (hopefully) courting young adults. The rest of him… well, it’s only gossip if he talks about it, right?

 

Wei Wuxian doesn’t seem to mind. He tends to toss Lan Xichen a confused look before smiling and greeting him, sparing a few minutes for idle chitchat before returning to his original task. They’ll exchange their pleasantries and then, since Wei Wuxian is still copying the rules, Lan Xichen will find an interesting book and sit nearby and pretend to read for a while. Not for any nefarious reasons, but just so that he can observe Lan Wangji and how he’s getting along with Wei Wuxian. 

 

Lan Xichen was worried at first, when he’d heard that Wei Wuxian had upset Lan Qiren so much that he was actually thrown out of class. What if Lan Wangji decided that Wei Wuxian wasn’t worth the trouble? What if he stopped spending time with Wei Wuxian? Wei Wuxian is the most promising prospect that they have for breaking the curse! Lan Wangji can’t just decide he doesn’t like him anymore! Lan Xichen will lock them together in a room or a cave or something if he must! It’s been three years! This curse has gone on for far too long!

 

So, it’s only to monitor the progression of Lan Wangji and Wei Wuxian’s budding relationship that Lan Xichen finds himself nearly stalking his brother and the guest disciple.

 

Wei Wuxian doesn’t seem aware of Lan Xichen’s ulterior motives for their little run-ins, but Lan Xichen is starting to suspect that Lan Wangji is beginning to suspect something. That is, if the looks Lan Xichen’s been getting from his brother are indeed the glares he thinks they are. Either way, Lan Xichen supposes, it doesn’t truly matter. He’ll still sit in the library and watch Lan Wangji alternate between staring at Wei Wuxian like he hung the moon and glaring at Lan Xichen like he spit in Lan Wangji’s tea. 

 

Though, being raised in the GusuLan Sect does mean that Lan Xichen doesn’t spare a moment to think about how everyone else will interpret his lingering, because—though he’s truly doing it to keep an eye on Lan Wangji—it means he’s almost always seeking out Wei Wuxian as well. And, to the guest disciples who don’t realize that the fox in Cloud Recesses is Lan Wangji, this might seem a little… weird.

 

Lan Xichen approaches the library at his normal, sedate pace. Lan Wangji is sitting on the wooden walkway that surrounds the building, waiting for Wei Wuxian to finish his discussion with Nie Huaisang and Jiang Wanyin. That Lan Wangji is waiting for Wei Wuxian and not just dragging him inside to do his copying gives Lan Xichen hope.

 

Lan Xichen greets the small group with a bow and the typical bland pleasantries, which are then returned. Lan Xichen continues on his way, walking up the few steps to give Lan Wangji a pleased smile.

 

Lan Wangji huffs, pretending to watch a bird in a nearby tree.

 

“You know,” he hears Nie Huaisang say, “if I didn’t know any better, I’d almost think that Lan Xichen is trying to work up the nerve to court you, Wei Wuxian.”

 

Someone chokes.

 

Lan Xichen’s eyes snap from Lan Wangji’s furry form to the guest disciples: Nie Huaisang is hiding behind his fan; Jiang Wanyin looks like he’s sucking on a lemon; and Wei Wuxian has a pinched look on his face, staring in Lan Xichen’s direction but towards his feet rather than his face.

 

Wangji!

 

Lan Xichen whips around to look at his brother. Lan Wangji is staring resolutely at his own front paws, tail curled delicately around his still form.

 

“Wangji,” Lan Xichen says, but Lan Wangji doesn’t even glance at him, just stands and makes his way into the building. “Wangji!”

 

Lan Xichen is about to chase after Lan Wangji when another voice snags his attention.

 

“Uh, Zewu-jun?”

 

Lan Xichen turns back around. He’d much rather go after Lan Wangji, try to convince him that no, he’s not actually interested in the person that Lan Wangji likes. Lan Xichen already has a betrothed, thanks. Instead, Lan Xichen pastes on his best smile and clenches his fists in his sleeves and says, “Wei-gongzi.”

 

Wei Wuxian gives him a tight smile and says, “Whether what Nie-xiong said is true or not, I feel obligated to say: Zewu-jun is simply not my type.”

 

Lan Xichen hums, the sound a little too high, and says, “It’s simply a misunderstanding. I enjoy spending time with my brother and, since my brother is chaperoning your punishment, it is understandable that some people may come to incorrect conclusions.”

 

Instead of looking relieved, as Lan Xichen expects, Wei Wuxian looks confused, frowning as his brows pinch together. “Your what?”

 

“My brother, Wangji,” Lan Xichen repeats, starting to wonder if Wei Wuxian is messing with him. “You… Wei-gongzi, you’ve been calling Wangji ‘fox-gege’ for almost two weeks. Do you mean to tell me that you had no idea that the one you call fox-gege and my brother Wangji are one in the same?”

 

“Well,” Wei Wuxian says, cheeks start to color, “I mean, fox-gege is…”—Wei Wuxian waves a hand vaguely toward the library doors— “like that , and you’re…”—he gestures toward Lan Xichen— “you? How was I supposed to make the connection?”

 

Lan Xichen has half a thought of not allowing Wei Wuxian anywhere near Lan Wangji ever again: he’s clearly an imbecile.

 

Still, Lan Xichen fights through the incredulousness to say, “It’s widely known that Wangji was cursed into the form of a fox almost three years ago. What other fox do you expect to be found in Cloud Recesses?”

 

“Well, I don’t know. And I didn’t know that Lan Wangji was cursed,” Wei Wuxian wrinkles his nose as he says it, as if the words leave a terrible taste in his mouth. “Are you sure he’s cursed?”

 

Lan Xichen jabs a hand towards the library. “Would Wangji look like that if he wasn’t cursed?”

 

“Well, I dunno. Sometimes, probably?”

 

“S— sometimes?! ” 

 

Wei Wuxian shrugs, “If he wants, yeah?”

 

Before Lan Xichen can respond, Jiang Wanyin cuts in, “Wei Wuxian!”

 

Lan Xichen stands there, only half listening as Wei Wuxian and Jiang Wanyin argue. The other half of his mind is busy turning over Wei Wuxian’s last response: sometimes .

 

Sometimes Lan Wangji would be cursed?

 

Sometimes Lan Wangji would be a fox?

 

Sometimes … 

 

Did Lan Wangji somehow communicate to Wei Wuxian that he’s a huli jing? Did Wei Wuxian discover it himself? Is Lan Wangji in danger by being in Wei Wuxian’s presence?

 

Lan Xichen would rather not believe it. Surely Lan Wangji is a better judge of character than that.

 

“No fighting! No fighting!”

 

Lan Xichen turns his attention back to the trio of guest disciples. Jiang Wanyin has Wei Wuxian in a headlock, yelling about curses, while Nie Huaisang flutters around them, reminding the two of the rules they’re busy breaking.

 

Clearing his throat, Lan Xichen says, “Jiang-gongzi, perhaps you’d like to join Wei-gongzi in copying the rules this afternoon.”

 

Jiang Wanyin drops Wei Wuxian like a hot potato. Lan Xichen ushers them into the library with a winning smile.

 

 

Lan Wangji loves his xiongzhang, but, occasionally, he has to remind himself of this fact rather forcefully. Case in point, Lan Xichen encroaching on Lan Wangji’s chaperoning of Wei Wuxian’s punishment, to the point of dragging Jiang Wanyin into it

 

To put it mildly, Lan Wangji is peeved. 

 

At least Jiang Wanyin is quiet as he copies the relevant section of the rules. 

 

Or, he was, until Wei Wuxian leans over to him and starts whispering. 

 

“Hey! Jiang Cheng!” Wei Wuxian hisses, trying to be quiet and failing.

 

Jiang Wanyin huffs, rolling his eyes, and mutters, without looking up from his paper, “We’re supposed to be copying the rules, Wei Wuxian. If you get us in even more trouble, they’ll write to my a-niang.”

 

Wei Wuxian pouts and drops his brush onto the table. He crosses his arms and says, “We can talk a little bit. Fox-gege won’t get mad.”

 

Jiang Wanyin whips around to glare at Wei Wuxian. “Will you stop calling him that?! You know his name now, be respectful!”

 

Wei Wuxian huffs, eyes rolling, and says, “Fine, fine. Lan-er-gege won’t get mad! I have questions, Jiang Cheng!”

 

Jiang Wanyin sounds like he’s choking. “ Shut up! ” he hisses. “Just shut up! What the hell is your question, you idiot?”

 

Wei Wuxian beams. “Ah, shidi, you’re so easy to tease.”

 

Jiang Wanyin glares, “Shidi?! Who are you calling ‘shidi’, you dummy?!”

 

Wei Wuxian’s smile doesn’t dim even the smallest bit. “Okay, okay, ‘tangdi’ (堂弟), is that better?”

 

Jiang Wanyin huffs, but doesn’t deny it. “What? What’s your dumb question?”

 

“Do you think Lan Wangji is really cursed?”

 

Jiang Wanyin stares at Wei Wuxian like he grew a second head. “What the hell do you mean? ‘Is he really cursed’? Of course he’s cursed! Have you seen him?”

 

Wei Wuxian shrugs. Picking his brush back up, he starts to write again. “I just mean, he doesn’t feel cursed. And you know how good I am with curses.”

 

Jiang Wanyin frowns, glancing from Wei Wuxian to where Lan Wangji is sitting, a little ways off from them, by the window. He turns back to Wei Wuxian, seeming to be turning the statement over in his mind. After a moment, he turns to Lan Xichen, sitting at a table not too far from them and pretending to read, and asks, “Lan-da-gongzi, what are the specifics of the curse that Lan-er-gongzi is under?”

 

Lan Xichen closes his book, folds his hands over the cover, and says, “It is a complex curse. One used to turn the target into an animal—in this case, a fox. There’s no way to break the curse except to fulfill it.”

 

“What’re the conditions?” Wei Wuxian cuts in. He’s still writing, brush moving over the paper quickly in his sloppy cursive script. He’s chewing on a thumbnail as he concentrates. 

 

“His soulmate,” Lan Xichen answers.

 

Wei Wuxian hums, nodding, practically bowing over his paper now. “Soulmate how? In what way?”

 

“I—” but Lan Xichen stops, because no one has bothered to ask that before. “I’m… not sure. It just said ‘soulmate’.”

 

All eyes turn to Lan Wangji, sitting stiffly by the window. Lan Wangji very carefully doesn’t meet anyone’s gaze and continues staring very determinedly off to the side. 

 

“So,” Wei Wuxian says, turning back to Lan Xichen, “it just said ‘soulmate’, but it didn’t define the action the soulmate would have to take in order to break it?”

 

Lan Xichen shakes his head. “No, it didn’t.”

 

Wei Wuxian sticks the end of his brush in his mouth, the wood clacking against his teeth as he idly chomps on it. “What did your curse breakers say about that, when they saw it?”

 

Lan Xichen’s lips purse together, and he takes a long moment before answering. “They said it could be anything from seeing his soulmate for the first time to falling in love to the first time Wangji and his soulmate touch.”

 

“Or,” Wei Wuxian says, pointing at Lan Xichen with the end of his brush, “it could mean the first time they sneeze in each other’s presence, or when they claim each other, or even the hundredth time they share breakfast. It’s a little vague, Zewu-jun.”

 

Lan Xichen nods, “Yes, we realized that. And, please, call me Lan Xichen. You are Wangji’s friend, are you not?”

 

“Of course I am!” Wei Wuxian says, sounding mildly affronted. “Lan Wangji and I are great friends! The best of friends! In fact, Lan Wangji can even call me Wei Ying, if he prefers!”

 

Wei Wuxian turns around, giving Lan Wangji a bright smile. Lan Wangji’s heart pounds in his chest. Outwardly, he flicks an ear, tail wagging once against the hardwood floor of the Library Pavilion.

 

Lan Xichen catches the motion, a smile starting to form on his face. “Well, if you’re so close, I’m sure Wangji wouldn’t mind if you addressed him with his birth name, too.”

 

Lan Wangji glares at his brother. He minds. He most definitely minds. How is he supposed to handle it if Wei Ying starts calling him ‘A-Zhan’? He’d die. He can already barely handle the thought of calling Wei Ying by his name. For Wei Ying to call him similarly would be terrible! 

 

“Ah,” Wei Ying says, a small smile splitting his face. “I would love to but, unfortunately, I have yet to be formally introduced to Lan Wangji, so I don’t know it.”

 

“This is Lan Zhan, courtesy Wangji,” Lan Xichen answers, perhaps a touch too eagerly. “The second young master of the GusuLan Sect.”

 

“Ah, which characters?”

 

Instead of replying, Lan Xichen stands, makes his way to Wei Ying’s desk, and sits at the adjacent side. “May I?” he asks, holding out a hand.

 

Wei Ying nods, placing his brush in Lan Xichen’s proffered hand, and says, “Go ahead.”

 

Lan Wangji would frown if he had the ability to do so. Just what does Lan Xichen think he’s doing, sitting so close to Wei Ying? There’s hardly an arm’s length between them! How improper! Lan Xichen is betrothed! What would Wen-zongzhu say if she saw this? She’d surely call off the betrothal between her brother and Lan Xichen, citing Lan Xichen’s lack of decorum as the reason. 

 

Their uncle would surely qi deviate if he saw such a display of impropriety!

 

Lan Wangji stands and makes his way to the desk as well, carefully wedging himself between Wei Ying and his brother. He sits again, tail accidentally brushing against Wei Ying’s hip as Lan Wangji curls it around his own side.

 

“These are the characters of his name,” Lan Xichen says, handing the paper to Wei Ying. 

 

Wei Ying hums, studying Lan Xichen’s standard, regular script. “Or,” Wei Ying says, laying the paper on the table, “perhaps all the soulmate has to say is say Lan-er-gege’s name?”

 

Lan Wangji looks up at Wei Ying’s smirking face.

 

Wei Ying lifts a hand and rests it on Lan Wangji’s head, thumb brushing the soft fur between his eyes. “What do you think, Lan Zhan? Do you know what your soulmate has to do to break your curse?”

 

Lan Wangji stares. Wei Ying’s hand sits hot and heavy on his head. He blinks.

 

“Ah, I guess it’s too much to hope that you’d be able to tell us, hm?” Wei Ying turns back to the desk, hand slipping down Lan Wangji’s head to scratch at a spot behind his ears that only Madam Lan’s been able to find before this very moment.

 

Lan Wangji closes his eyes, head tipping into Wei Ying’s touch before he can stop himself.

 

“Lan Xichen,” Wei Ying says. There’s a rustle of paper and Lan Wangji cracks an eye open to watch as Wei Ying hands Lan Xichen the paper he’d been writing on previously. “Did the curse look anything like this?”

 

There’s a grunt from another table, the sound of Jiang Wanyin standing from his crossed legged position and coming to join them at Wei Ying’s other side. Together, they all look to the talisman Wei Ying has written.

 

“Did you just write this?” Jiang Wanyin asks, frowning as he studies the radicals.

 

Wei Ying grunts and says, proudly, “Yep. I told you: I’m good with curses. My mama taught me all she knows.”

 

“She must be a very skilled cultivator,” Lan Xichen says, finally replacing the paper in the table. “And no, that is not what the talisman that Wangji used looked like.”

 

“‘That Wangji used’?” Wei Ying repeats, head snapping up from rechecking the talisman. “What do you mean?”

 

Lan Xichen frowns, spares a quick glance for Lan Wangji, and says, “Wangji cursed himself.”

 

Wei Ying’s fingers tighten in Lan Wangji’s fur momentarily. Then, after a small moment, they relax again, carding through the strands and flattening his coat down his back. “And what made him do that?”

 

Lan Xichen frowns, hands clenching. “The elders… they were insistent on finding a match for Wangji. Wangji was against it. He started to feel that the elders were ignoring his wishes regarding his marriage and so he did this,” Lan Xichen gestures at Lan Wangji’s furry form. “Which is why, I’m guessing, the terms of the curse are for his soulmate to break it.”

 

“Huh,” Wei Ying says, “must’ve been incredibly frustrating for Lan Zhan then.”

 

“Yes,” Lan Xichen agrees, frowning. “I wish I had realized how serious it was before Wangji took matters to this… extreme.”

 

“What,” Jiang Wanyin scoffs, butting in, “was Lan-er-gongzi just that picky or something?”

 

Lan Wangji glares. Next to him, Wei Ying barks out a laugh. 

 

“Jiang Cheng!” he says, amusement clear in his voice. “Just because you’re extremely picky when it comes to spouses, that doesn’t mean that everyone is!”

 

Lan Xichen spares a small laugh. “Ah, no, he’s not picky, per se. His preference was simply for a male omega but there was no one for whom he felt strongly. And he did not want to enter into a marriage with someone for whom he did not hold great affection.”

 

Wei Ying snorts into his sleeve. “Jiang Cheng, didn’t Jiang-shushu say that GusuLan wrote to him about a betrothal a few years ago?”

 

Jiang Wanyin blanches before turning startlingly red. “Shut up, Wei Wuxian! You don’t know what you’re talking about!”

 

Lan Wangji blanches, too, quick flashes of a possible meeting with Jiang Wanyin years ago, of the elders trying to convince him that Jiang Wanyin was an acceptable omega for him. Lan Wangji whips his head around to look at Lan Xichen who, horrifyingly, looks mildly guilty. 

 

“Wei-gongzi is not entirely wrong,” Lan Xichen says, carefully not meeting Lan Wangji’s eyes. “The elders did write to Jiang-zongzhu about a possible match. We were under the impression that, as Jiang Yanli is an alpha, that she would be named sect heir, leaving Jiang Wanyin available to be married out. But, as Jiang-zongzhu explained, the YunmengJiang Sect does not believe in unwanted betrothals and he felt that his son would not appreciate being married out. And, since Lan-zongzhu is unwilling to marry Wangji out, the betrothal was never discussed further.”

 

There’s almost a ringing silence that follows. Lan Wangji knew that the elders were reaching out to the gentry for the hands of male omegas but Jiang Wanyin ? And their father, Lan-zongzhu, the Qingheng-jun, refusing to marry him out? Because Lan Wangji is an alpha and it’s not traditional for an alpha to marry out? Or because he cared about Lan Wangji? Lan Wangji can count the number of times he’s seen his father in person on one hand.

 

Lan Wangji scrapes a paw against Lan Xichen’s knee, head tilting to the side.

 

Lan Xichen spares him a small smile and says, quietly, “From what I heard, fuqin told shufu that he refused to marry either of us out, because he could not bear the thought of upsetting muqin.”

 

Lan Wangji turns back to the table. That makes more sense. Qingheng-jun would sooner cut off his own hand than upset their mother. 

 

“And what does your muqin think of all this?”

 

Lan Wangji turns to Wei Ying. He’s resting an elbow on his knee, his head propped up on a fist as he stares at Lan Wangji’s snowy fur.

 

“Ah,” Lan Xichen says, folding his hands in his lap. “She was not happy with the elders, but she was, hm, amused , shall we say, that Lan Wangji found a method of conveying his displeasure so thoroughly.” 

 

Wei Ying snorts, smiling. “She sounds lovely,” he says. “I’d love to meet her.”

 

Lan Xichen smiles apologetically. “I’m sorry, but that’s impossible.”

 

Wei Ying frowns, “Oh. My apologies. Is she…?”

 

“Oh! No, she’s quite alright. Don’t worry. But she is in seclusion at this time.”

 

It’s not a lie on the barest technicalities but Lan Wangji has already decided that he’ll bring Wei Ying to see his mother as soon as possible. She'll love him. It will probably be terrible for any face that Lan Wangji has left but he wants his mother to meet Wei Ying. He wants her to meet his… meet his… 

 

“Ah,” Wei Ying sighs. “That’s too bad. I have the worst timing sometimes.” Wei Ying pauses, lifting his head as he looks at the talisman he drew again. “Lan Xichen, the talisman that Lan Wangji used, do you remember what it looked like?”

 

Blinking from the sudden subject change, Lan Xichen nods. “Yes, give me a moment and I’ll draw it for you.”

 

“Of course,” Wei Ying murmurs. His fingers dig into Lan Wangji’s fur, scratching down against the skin between Lan Wangji’s shoulders. Lan Wangji shifts, folding his forepaws below himself, his chin coming to rest on Wei Ying’s knee. He moves again, almost comfortable as a paw knocks into Wei Ying’s foot. 

 

Wei Ying shifts, his knee dropping out from under Lan Wangji. 

 

Lan Wangji jerks, starting to pull away, but, before he can go far, there are hands wrapping around his ribs, lifting him from the floor altogether. 

 

Lan Wangji almost yelps, scrambling before he’s suddenly pressed against a firm chest. 

 

Lan Wangji blinks. 

 

There’s an arm wrapped about his back; a hand pressed to his chest. There’s another hand cupping his hips, preventing him from dangling loosely in the air. 

 

What?

 

Lan Wangji blinks again and lifts his head, snout bumping into the underside of Wei Ying’s chin. Wei Ying’s hands tighten on him, the fingers on his chest carding into his fur. Wei Ying scratches idly at Lan Wangji’s fur, migrating up from his chest and to the underside of his jaw. It feels… really nice. The last time that someone held Lan Wangji and pet him like this was possibly years ago, when his mother last did it. 

 

Lan Wangji melts into the sensation. He tips his chin up again, giving Wei Ying better access. His snout presses into Wei Ying’s jaw. He shouldn’t allow this. He should pull himself from Wei Ying’s arms, put some distance between them. But he can’t. 

 

Wei Ying is warm. Warm in a way the humans aren’t but Lan Wangji and his mother are, the way only huli jing are. Lan Wangji can feel Wei Ying’s spiritual energy thrumming under his skin, circulating in a way that’s different to how any regular human’s does. 

 

Lan Wangji suddenly feels ridiculous for not realizing that Wei Ying was like him sooner. It’s obvious, now that he’s looking for it, now that he recognizes the way Wei Ying’s energy thrums under his skin. 

 

Lan Wangji tucks his head into Wei Ying’s neck. Allows himself to bask in Wei Ying’s warmth and his calming scent.

 

He’s pulled from his repose by a hiss: “You know he’s not some pet you can carry around or move as you like, right?”

 

Oh, Jiang Wanyin , Lan Wangji thinks. We would have gutted each other in the first week of marriage…

 

“Of course, I know that, Jiang Cheng. He’s Lan Zhan. It’s different.”

 

“How is that different?” Jiang Wanyin hisses. “He’s a person! He’s our age . And you’ve just pulled him into your lap like it’s nothing! Do you have no shame?”

 

Wei Ying tightens his grip on Lan Wangji. “Jiang Cheng,” he says, somewhat haughtily, “if Lan Zhan didn’t want to be in my lap, then he wouldn’t be in my lap.”

 

Jiang Wanyin scoffs and shakes his head. For a moment, he doesn’t say anything but then, he crosses his arms and says, “I would’ve thought you’d be terrified of him, anyway.”

 

Wei Ying laughs. “And why would I be scared of him?”

 

“You’re terrified of my dogs,” Jiang Wanyin says, jerking his chin at them. “He looks enough like a dog that I thought for sure you wouldn’t want anything to do with him.”

 

“A dog ?” Wei Ying almost shouts, offended. “A dog ! Jiang Cheng ! You watch your mouth! Lan Zhan is clearly a fox! Look at him! What about him looks dog-like to you?”

 

“Oh, I don’t know,” Jiang Wanyin says, sounding bored as he rests an elbow on the table. “Must be the snout, the fur, the ears, the tail…”

 

Wei Ying scoffs, shaking his head. “ Jiang Cheng ! Don’t be ridiculous! All of those things clearly prove he’s a fox.”

 

Jiang Wanyin rolls his eyes. “So, a fox can look close enough to a dog that you could mistake them at a distance but they’re just different enough that you don’t run screaming every time you see one?”

 

“A fox has also never tried to eat me for dinner ,” Wei Ying says, deadpan.

 

Jiang Wanyin’s face heats. “I said I was sorry,” he grinds out.

 

“Yeah, after Princess caught my back leg! Jiang-shushu had told you to keep them in your room while we were visiting.” 

 

“Yeah, and I didn’t realize you would be—I was five!

 

“Yeah! Me, too!”

 

“Jiang-gongzi, Wei-gongzi, we are in the library,” Lan Xichen says, cutting through what was quickly becoming a heated argument between the two. 

 

“Sorry, Lan-da-gongzi.”

 

“Sorry, Lan Xichen.”

 

Lan Xichen nods, accepting their apologies easily. Then, he holds out a piece of paper towards Wei Ying and says, “This is the talisman that Wangji used.”

 

Wei Ying leans forward, studying the talisman that Lan Xichen places before him. He hums, heading tipping to the side. It sends his ponytail sweeping into Lan Wangji’s face. He makes a small noise in surprise, feels Wei Ying’s responding chuckle against his chest more than he hears it.

 

Then, Wei Ying pulls his hand from under Lan Wangji’s chin, causing Lan Wangji to brace a paw against his bicep. 

 

“This radical,” Wei Ying says, tapping against the talisman. “This is how it was originally written? You didn’t misremember or forget what the talisman looked like or anything, did you?”

 

“Wei Wuxian,” Lan Xichen says, calmly but with a certain gravity, “trust me when I tell you that I would not forget any part of the talisman that took my brother from me.”

 

Wei Ying makes a noise that gets caught in his throat and ends up coming out sounding like a squeak. “‘Took’?” he echoes. “Took him where?”

 

“I…” Lan Xichen huffs a laugh, raising a hand to rub just below his forehead ribbon. “Muqin said something similar when we went to her about the curse.”

 

Wei Ying chuckles again. “Ah, I’d love to meet her someday. She sounds brilliant.”

 

“She is,” Lan Xichen says.

 

Wei Ying nods, turning his attention back to the talisman. “So, if this talisman is correct…” Wei Ying stops, humming to himself again as he drums his fingers on the table. Then, he asks, “Did you take Lan Zhan to your mother first, or to the sect curse breakers first?”

 

Lan Xichen takes a moment, then says, “When I found Wangji in this form, I brought him to muqin first, she confirmed that the curse could only be broken by Wangji’s soulmate, and then I brought him to shufu. From there, we went to the curse breakers and the elders. They all confirmed what muqin said. The only cure is to fulfill the curse’s terms.”

 

Wei Ying nods. “Interesting,” he says, slowly, drawing the word out. “And your mother married in, from another sect?”

 

“She was a rogue cultivator,” Lan Xichen confirms, nodding.

 

Wei Ying rubs at the bridge of his nose, stalling for a moment. “Would you say that you take after your fuqin and Lan Zhan takes after your muqin?”

 

“I—” Lan Xichen stops, confused, his brows drawing closely together. “I suppose you could say that. But, more often, we are compared to our shufu, rather than our fuqin.”

 

Wei Ying snorts, trying to smother his laughter behind a hand before he surrenders and, burying his face in Lan Wangji’s fur, laughs for several long moments. 

 

“I’m sorry!” Wei Ying says, lifting his face and weeping at his eyes. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Just. This is— quite a curse.”

 

“Yes,” Lan Xichen says, voice flat, “we’ve realized that.”

 

Wei Ying’s next laugh comes out as an awkward, strangled noise. “Have you?” he squeaks, covering his face with his free hand, shoulders shaking.

 

“Wei Wuxian!” Jiang Wanyin yells. “Why are you laughing?! Just what the hell’s so funny?!”

 

“I—it—” Wei Ying waves a hand. “Later, later! I think I just figured something out, but I won’t be able to confirm it yet. Lan Xichen, can I keep this talisman?” He points to the talisman that Lan Xichen drew.

 

Across the table, Lan Xichen nods. “Please, if it helps you figure out how to break the curse.”

 

Wei Ying snorts as he grabs not only Lan Xichen’s talisman but his own, shoving both into his lapels, jostling Lan Wangji as he does so.

 

“Oh,” Wei Ying sighs, still amused, “there’s no breaking this curse. Just fulfilling it.”

 

 

When Lan Xichen leaves the Library Pavilion, he feels almost wrongfooted. On one hand, he’s elated that Wei Wuxian thinks he figured something out. On the other, he’s concerned that Wei Wuxian feels the only way to return Lan Wangji to his proper form is to find his soulmate and have them do it. 

 

Of course, Lan Xichen is still holding out hope that Wei Wuxian is Lan Wangji’s soulmate but, frustratingly, only time will tell. Still, the memory of seeing Lan Wangji allowing himself to be held in Wei Wuxian arms almost makes Lan Xichen scream in delight. Perhaps this curse will end sooner than anyone thinks.

 

Or perhaps Lan Xichen should talk to Lan Qiren and the elders about contacting YunmengJiang again. This time, with an offer for Wei Wuxian’s hand.

 

 

The next day, Lan Wangji is sunning himself in his clearing in the back hills when he hears the soft thumps of someone’s approach. He cracks an eye open, tipping his head so he can see Wei Ying’s furred form. He watches as Wei Ying meanders around the clearing, brushing against a few trees, covering a few of Lan Wangji’s scent marks with his own, because he’s realized it pisses off Lan Wangji. Wei Ying pads over to the rabbit hollow, tail wagging as he sees the kittens, sleeping in the afternoon sun. Lan Wangji knows this for certain, as he’d also checked the rabbit hollow before laying in the middle of the field.

 

Wei Ying chuffs, taking a couple bouncing steps as he makes his way to Lan Wangji. 

 

Lan Wangji’s tail thumps against the ground, unable to contain the reaction. 

 

Wei Ying notices the movement and lets out an excited scream, taking the last several meters at speed before crashing into Lan Wangji’s side. 

 

Lan Wangji gekkers playfully, rolling with the impact, jaws snapping at Wei Ying. They roll, gekkering and play-fighting until Lan Wangji manages to get his teeth into Wei Ying’s scruff, pinning him to the grass.

 

Beneath him, Wei Ying goes pliant, relaxing and panting as Lan Wangji settles his chest against Wei Ying’s back. Lan Wangji focuses all his attention on the feeling of his heart pounding in his chest, studiously ignoring every other pulsing he feels throughout his body. With effort, he pulls his teeth from Wei Ying’s fur, before he can give into the impulse of digging his teeth in deeper. 

 

He stares at Wei Ying’s speckled gray fur, at the creamy undercoat, and licks it back into place before he can stop himself. He laves his tongue over Wei Ying’s neck up to ears, ends up sweeping his tongue over Wei Ying’s cheek when the other fox turns his head. Lan Wangji huffs, putting more weight on Wei Ying’s back, pressing him down into the field. He licks over one of Wei Ying’s ears and then, suddenly, Wei Ying turns, rolling over, his hands coming up to catch Lan Wangji before he can scamper away.

 

Wei Ying laughs, a smile pulling over his now human face. “Lan Zhan! Such liberties! I’m really not that kind of omega.”

 

Lan Wangji rolls his eyes, letting out a puff of a sigh as he settles back on Wei Ying’s chest. He tucks his snout under Wei Ying’s jaw, nose pressing into the scent gland by his ear.

 

Wei Ying hums, tucking an arm behind his head, his free hand cupping Lan Wangji’s head, scratching at his ears.

 

There’s a certain spice to Wei Ying’s scent, sharp and distracting, like fresh pine or ginger. As Lan Wangji pulls in another lungful, there’s a musky edge to it, tangy and acidic, almost citrusy. Most days, Lan Wangji finds himself wanting to roll in it but, right now, he finds himself wanting to drink it down, directly from the source. Feeling either daring, stupid, or both, Lan Wangji flicks his tongue out, swiping it over Wei Ying’s scent gland.

 

“Lan Zhan!” Wei Ying yells, scandalized, his whole body jerking. His hand tightens in Lan Wangji’s fur, his chin tipping up for the briefest of moments before tucking back down against his collars.

 

Lan Wangji breaths in again, but Wei Ying’s scent still smells sharp and musky, not at all sour or off-putting. Wei Ying liked it, even if he didn’t want to admit it. But Lan Wangji doesn’t want to chance truly upsetting Wei Ying and so he just tucks his head into Wei Ying’s neck, breathing in his scent, as they enjoy the sunshine together.

 

 Eventually, Wei Ying sighs and says, “Hey, Lan Zhan?”

 

Lan Wangji huffs, nudging his nose behind Wei Ying’s ear to let him know he’s listening.

 

“Lan Zhan!” Wei Ying giggles, fingers tightening in the fur between Lan Wangji’s shoulder blades. “Stop distracting me!”

 

Lan Wangji snorts and finds himself wishing he could say, ‘Wei Ying first.’

 

It is a unique feeling, wanting to speak, to tease. Before meeting Wei Ying, he’d never wanted to do such a thing. He was raised to believe that teasing someone was rude and, therefore, against the precepts. It had been difficult, when he was younger and visited his mother, to reconcile that teasing was not always rude, but could be playful, even a sign of affection, as well. Now, he thinks he understands why she would pull his cheeks or flick his ears. 

 

He likes getting a reaction from Wei Ying.

 

“Ah, Lan Zhan, please, have mercy.” Wei Ying sighs, “I couldn’t concentrate in lectures today at all. I kept thinking about your dumb curse.”

 

Lan Wangji lifts his head, giving Wei Ying his full attention now. 

 

Wei Ying smiles, a soft look tugging over his face. He brushes his hand down Lan Wangji’s back, brings it up and scratches behind Lan Wangji’s ears. 

 

“I think I really need to talk to your mother about it.”

 

Lan Wangji droops, ears flattening as he avoids Wei Ying’s gaze. 

 

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying says, pulling his arm from behind his head and digging both hands into Lan Wangji’s fur. “Lan Zhan,” he says again, gently, “I just have one question for her. Surely, that won’t be too much of an interruption in her secluded cultivation?”

 

Lan Wangji huffs, spends a long moment thinking about how intolerable his mother’s teasing—so much more overt than Lan Xichen’s—is going to be, and then nods, climbing off of Wei Ying’s chest. 

 

Wei Ying lurches into a sitting position, eyes wide as he looks at Lan Wangji. “Wait, really? ” he asks, leaning closer.

 

Lan Wangji nods again and, deciding it’s now or never, trots off into the forest, heading to a path that looks more like a game trail than an actual walkway. He glances back once to see Wei Ying trotting along behind him, transformed into his gray and cream-colored fox form again. 

 

They arrive at the Gentian House shortly, the sun just starting to set on the far side of the mountain. Lan Wangji already knows that his mother will have sensed their approach and he’s proved correct when, as his front paw lands on the bottom step, the front door opens just wide enough for him to wiggle through. 

 

He brushes against his mother’s skirts in greeting and turns, waiting for Wei Ying to join them. But the other fox is still standing at the bottom of the stairs, staring into the crack in the doorway.

 

“Well?” Madam Lan asks. “Are you going to come inside, or will we have to drag you in? You must mean a great deal to my son for him to bring you here. Don’t be disrespectful.”

 

Wei Ying jerks like someone yanked on his tail and, suddenly, he’s human again. Or, at least, mostly human. On his head sit two fox ears, pale gray and obvious against his dark hair and, at his back, two tails wave in the air. Wei Ying bows, low and respectful, with the reverence deserving of a sect leader’s wife. 

 

“Lan-furen,” he says, “this humble one is Wei Ying, courtesy Wuxian. This one is honored to meet you and thanks you for interrupting your secluded cultivation to speak with me.”

 

Lan Wangji blinks. No one has ever treated his mother with so much respect, at least not in his presence. It’s usually just him and Lan Xichen and—before they were old enough to find the way themselves—Lan Qiren who speak to his mother. She has always been very ardent that the Gentian House was a place where they could be themselves, be free from the constraints of being the heirs of a prominent cultivation sect. She even went as far as to tug their ribbons from their hair on the days he or Lan Xichen were especially reserved.

 

Madam Lan stands there stiffly for another few moments and then snorts. “Is that what they told you? Get inside, Wei Wuxian, before someone sees you here.”

 

“Yes, ma’am!” Wei Ying says, taking the steps in a single leap and wiggling through the doorway.

 

Madam Lan raises a brow and gives Lan Wangji a pointed look. “Lively one, isn’t he?”

 

Lan Wangji whines at her, pawing at her skirts.

 

“Oh, A-Zhan,” she says, reaching down and giving his ear a soft tug. She whispers, “Don’t be nervous, baobei. He seems sweet. Cute, too.” She winks.

 

Lan Wangji huffs, turning and taking a seat at the table, his back to his mother. Wei Ying dithers, glancing between where Madam Lan is standing and where Lan Wangji is sitting.

 

“Oh, just sit, silly boy. I’ll make tea,” Madam Lan says, hiding a laugh behind her sleeve.

 

There’s a short moment of silence once Madam Lan disappears into the small kitchen before Wei Ying suddenly drops to his knees beside Lan Wangji. Leaning close, he hisses, “Lan Zhan! Your muqin is so intimidating! How many tails does she have? My mama only has five, but she just got her fifth one a few years ago! Your muqin’s aura though …” Wei Ying trails off, letting out a long, low whistle. Shaking his head, Wei Ying continues, “She must have at least as many as my mama, Lan Zhan. She might even have six of them! Or very close to having six!”

 

Lan Wangji tips his head, considering. He’d never truly thought about it before now. His mother is simply his mother. She has always been his mother and she has always been kind and encouraging and playful. He tries to imagine his mother as intimidating and fails, utterly. 

 

He rests his chin on Wei Ying’s knee, eyes closing as Wei Ying drops a hand to scratch at Lan Wangji’s ears.

 

“Ah,” Wei Ying sighs, “you’re not even nervous, are you?”

 

Lan Wangji huffs but doesn’t move. Wei Ying isn’t incorrect, but not for the reasons he thinks. Lan Wangji is nervous about his mother’s teasing. He’s nervous about the curse. He’s nervous about Wei Ying’s reaction. He’s not nervous about his mother liking Wei Ying. There’s nothing she could possibly dislike about him.

 

Lan Wangji settles into that knowledge and savors what might be the last few moments of freely given affection from Wei Ying.

 

“I hope you like gentian root tea, Wei Wuxian,” Madam Lan says, deadpan, as she sets the tea set on the low table, taking her own seat across from them.

 

“Yeah,” Wei Ying says, clearing his throat. “Yes, that’s fine. I’ve never had it.”

 

Madam Lan hums, a smile pulling over her face as she sets a cup before Wei Ying, and says, “It’s a bit of an acquired taste.”

 

Wei Ying nods, taking the cup. “Thank you, Lan-furen.”

 

“So,” Madam Lan says, lifting a plate of cakes from the tea tray to set on the table, “I can’t imagine that you came all this way without a purpose, Wei Wuxian.”

 

Wei Ying, having just taken a sip of tea, chokes. “Sorry,” he wheezes, “it’s very bitter.”

 

Madam Lan pushes the plate of cakes closer to him. “A-Zhan doesn’t like it either,” she says, before taking a sip from her own cup.

 

Wei Ying grabs a cake and shoves half of it in his mouth at once. “Thank you,” he murmurs, the sound half muffled by the pastry. 

 

Lan Wangji huffs, tail whipping around to smack into Wei Ying’s hip. 

 

Wei Ying jerks, makes another muffled noise, and quickly swallows his mouthful. “Sorry!” 

 

But Madam Lan just laughs, hiding her smile behind her sleeve. “No, no. Don’t worry, Wei Wuxian. In a way, it’s refreshing. To have a guest that doesn’t conform to the rules is quite a novelty.”

 

Wei Ying laughs, nervous and high pitched. “Then I’m glad to be off service, Lan-furen.” 

 

“Mn,” she says, setting her teacup down and curling her fingers under her chin. “Now, why don’t you finally tell why you’re here, Wei Wuxian?”

 

Wei Ying nods, clearing his throat as he sits up straighter. “The other day, I was talking with Lan Xichen about Lan Zhan’s curse. I was hoping you wouldn’t mind if I asked you a few questions about it.”

 

Madam Lan nods, “If I know the answers, I will give them.”

 

“Lan Xichen said that he was the one who found Lan Zhan after he cursed himself.”

 

“Mn.”

 

“Lan Xichen said that he brought Lan Zhan here—to you—when he found him.”

 

“He did.”

 

“I had Lan Xichen draw me the talisman that Lan Zhan is said to have used that day. Will you tell me if this is the talisman that you remember seeing?” Carefully, Wei Ying pulls a talisman from his sleeve and slides it across the table to Madam Lan.

 

Madam Lan reaches for it, lifting it from the table delicately to stare at the writing.

 

“Yes,” Madam Lan says, “this is the talisman that A-Huan brought with him that day.”

 

“Really?” Wei Ying asks. “Are you sure?”

 

“Yes,” Madam Lan says, placing the paper back on the table and sliding it back towards Wei Ying. “I’m certain.”

 

“Interesting,” Wei Ying says. He drums his fingers on the table for a moment. “Can I ask you to look at another talisman?”

 

Madam Lan nods, “Of course.”

 

Wei Ying reaches into his sleeve and pulls out the other talisman, the one he’d drawn himself. He places it on the table as well and slides it to Madam Lan.

 

Madam Lan stares at this one for a long, long moment, not touching it at all. Slowly, a crease forms between her brows, a frown starting to mar her face. Finally, she asks, “Where did you find this?”

 

“I made it myself.”

 

“What a smart boy,” Madam Lan mutters, cupping her chin with a hand, crossing an arm over her chest to support her elbow. Louder, she says, “It’s a brilliant talisman, Wei Wuxian. Thank you for sharing it with me.”

 

Wei Ying nods. “Thank you, Lan-furen, but… can you tell me, between these two talismans, which one do you think would actually manage to curse a huli jing into being trapped in their fox form?”

 

Madam Lan chuckles. Shaking her head gently, she says, “You’re asking questions to which you already know the answer, Wei Wuxian.” Then, she reaches out and taps at the talisman drawn by Lan Xichen. “This radical,” she says. “Both my sons missed it. But you didn’t.”

 

“No,” Wei Ying says, shaking his head. “But I was raised as a huli jing. Not as a human.”

 

“A product of my confinement here,” Madam Lan says, “is that my A-Zhan thinks of himself as a human first and huli jing second.” She sighs, “He brought the talisman to me that very morning, when he couldn’t get it to work. The problem was obvious.” She taps the radical again, “Afterall, the target of this talisman is ‘man’ not ‘huli jing’. It never would have worked for A-Zhan.”

 

Wei Ying chuckles, nodding. “Yes. I had suspected as much. We may be people but human, we are not.” 

 

Madam Lan hums and sips at her tea.

 

“My next question, though,” Wei Ying says, shifting away from the table as he reaches for Lan Wangji at his side. He holds the fox to his chest, fingers scratching under Lan Wangji’s chin. “Well, my next question is perhaps more delicate than the last few. You said that Lan Zhan came to you when the talisman didn’t work for him. Did you adjust the talisman so that it would? Did you curse him yourself?”

 

Lan Wangji knocks his snout into Wei Ying’s chin when he whips his head around to stare at Wei Ying. How could Wei Ying suggest such a thing! 

 

Wei Ying snorts, head tipping back to give Lan Wangji space. “Aish, Lan Zhan, I’m just trying to get to the bottom of this. Calm down. Your muqin is very powerful. She could easily curse you and I’d never be able to tell.”

 

Lan Wangji huffs and turns away. 

 

“Ah! Lan Zhan, don’t be like that! You know I can’t stand it when you’re mad at me!”

 

“Wei Wuxian,” Madam Lan says, cutting in. “I would not curse my own son.” Her teacup clinks as she sets it on the table. “But… I am not above lying for him, for either of them. Especially when telling the truth means condemning them to a life of unhappiness.”

 

Wei Ying stares at her for a long, silent moment. Then, he tips his head back and laughs, a loud belly laugh that shakes his whole body. 

 

“Lan Zhan!” he shouts, before burying his face in Lan Wangji’s fur. He smothers a handful more laughs into Lan Wangji’s scruff. “Ah, Lan Zhan, you silly melon. How adorable.”

 

“So,” Madam Lan says, resting her chin on a hand as she leans an elbow on the table. “Have you figured out how to break my A-Zhan’s curse?”

 

“Mn,” Wei Ying says, the noise almost lost in Lan Wangji’s fur. He lifts his head and says, “It’s a rather simple curse but very powerful! A curse of will power and sticking to your beliefs and convictions! I think, when Lan Zhan is ready, it will be quite easy for him to return to his human form.”

 

Madam Lan smiles, soft and small, and says, “Yes, it should be rather easy, shouldn’t it?”

 

Lan Wangji rests his chin on Wei Ying’s shoulder, lets the feeling of Wei Ying’s fingers carding through his fur pull him into a half doze. He lets the soft buzz of Wei Ying and his mother’s voices wash over him. He’s content to just sit there, in Wei Ying’s arms, letting Wei Ying’s now familiar scent fill his senses. Lan Wangji relaxes into the moment, glad that Wei Ying doesn’t seem upset about the truth of his supposed curse.

 

“Ah,” Madam Lan sighs eventually, “it’s getting late, you two. Let me make you something for supper. You can stay in the burrow tonight.”

 

“The burrow?”

 

“Mn. A-Zhan dug one under the house several years ago. It should be big enough for both of you, if you’re both foxes.”

 

“Lan Zhan! That’s so cool! Oh! Would you like any help, Lan-furen?” Wei Ying offers. “I’m decent enough in the kitchen. My mama and my tangjie (堂姐) have both taught me a few dishes! And I’m very good at chopping ingredients! Tangdi says that I’m hopeless and that I better find an alpha who can cook for me, but I think he’s just jealous that my spice tolerance is so much better than his!”

 

Lan Wangji wiggles, hopping out of Wei Ying’s arms to lead the way into the kitchen.

 

“I wouldn’t be opposed to assistance,” Madam Lan says, standing from the table. “Usually, A-Zhan or A-Huan help me but, as things are… an extra set of hands would be most welcome.”

 

Wei Ying beams. 

 

From his new perch on a nearby stool, Lan Wangji watches as his mother gathers incidents from the larder. She directs Wei Ying easily, voice soft and gentle as they step around each other, Madam Lan rinsing rice while Wei Ying chops an assortment of vegetables and bitter greens. With a snap of her spiritual energy, Madam Lan lights the stove, setting the pot of rice over one of the burners to cook. 

 

In short order, their dinner is cooked and served, Madam Lan thanking Wei Ying profusely for all of his help. 

 

Wei Ying chatters between bites of food, praising Madam Lan’s cooking and then, when the food is gone, offering to help clean. But Madam Lan demurs, stating a lack of space and citing the time.

 

“It’s nearly time for good little boys to sleep, you know. Weren’t you just telling me how Xianxian is three-years-old?”

 

Wei Ying pouts—about to object—when Madam Lan simply continues, as if uninterrupted:

 

“A-Zhan, why don’t you show him the burrow you built?” 

 

Lan Wangji nods, rising to his feet and heading for the door. Madam Lan follows, opening it just enough for Lan Wangji to slip out. He waits at the top of the steps for Wei Ying.

 

“I will help clean everything up next time, I swear.”

 

Madam Lan laughs. “Oh, I know you will. Now, turn back into that cute fox form you have and go get some rest.”

 

“Many thanks, Lan-furen, for everything you’ve helped us with today. I’ll leave now.”

 

Lan Wangji glances to his side, watching as Wei Ying’s slightly smaller, furry form comes even with his own. Wei Ying seems to smile at him, eyes squeezing shut, lips pulling up. He knocks the top of his head into Lan Wangji’s chin. Huffing, Lan Wangji gives Wei Ying’s cheek a quick lick before trotting down the steps.

 

Wei Ying yips and follows. 

 

Lan Wangji leads him under the porch and through the raised supports of the Gentian House until he reaches a small, well-hidden hole in the ground and slips inside. 

 

The burrow isn’t overly large, but it is spacious enough for Lan Wangji and Wei Ying, provided that both are foxes. The dirt floor is packed tightly, a layer of moss and dried leaves providing a bit of cushioning. One of Lan Wangji’s older, ill-fitting robes lays crumpled to one side, to be used as extra warmth for the colder nights. Lan Wangji has always liked staying here, under the Gentian House but, suddenly, the burrow that he dug himself feels shabby, inadequate. He should have grabbed fresh moss while his mother and Wei Ying talked after dinner. He should have come here, days ago, and replaced the old, threadbare robe with a fresh one, one that still smells like him. He should have—

 

Wei Ying yips, excited, bouncing on the moss lining the floor, sniffing at the old robe, rolling around the burrow and covering it with his own scent. 

 

Lan Wangji watches, mouth suddenly dry, as Wei Ying squirms, all four of his paws in the air, his soft, cream-colored belly vulnerable. Lan Wangji takes the two steps necessary to bring him to Wei Ying’s side and, dipping his head down, sets his jaws gently around Wei Ying’s neck. The other fox stills beneath him. 

 

Careful not to break the skin, Lan Wangji lowers himself down, chest to chest with Wei Ying, pinning him in place. 

 

Lan Wangji takes several slow, steady deep breaths, trying to convince himself that now is not the time. Later, later , when they’re not in a burrow under his mother’s house, where she’ll hear everything clearly… 

 

Wei Ying smells so good, though: spicy and musky and irresistible. But Lan Wangji knows he must resist, at least for now. And so, with great effort, he pries his teeth away from Wei Ying’s neck and sets about grooming the rumpled fur instead. 

 

Wei Ying tips his head back, letting Lan Wangji lick from his collar bones to his chin without objection. He settles more fully over Wei Ying, dropping his weight onto him. He lets gravity push them over so that they’re both on their sides, Lan Wangji laying half over Wei Ying, Wei Ying’s forelegs hugging around Lan Wangji’s ribs. Lan Wangji draws Wei Ying as close as he possibly can. The only downside is that he has to stop grooming Wei Ying. As if to make up for it, Wei Ying shoves his snout against Lan Wangji’s neck, each breath ruffling Lan Wangji’s fur. 

 

Wei Ying’s tongue flicks out, once, and licks over Lan Wangji’s jaw.

 

Lan Wangji clenches his teeth together and reminds himself, yet again, that under his mother’s house is not a good place to claim his mate.

 

 

Lan Xichen is not nervous, per se, but he is a touch restless. 

 

Lan Wangji was not in the Jingshi this morning. 

 

Nor was he in the library, nor the dining hall, nor the training grounds.

 

What if someone mistook Lan Wangji for a wild fox and attacked him? What if Lan Wangji was lying, injured, possibly dying, in a ditch somewhere while Lan Xichen was just noodling around Cloud Recesses?

 

Lan Xichen realizes that this is an unhelpful, unrealistic thought, but he also has anxiety and can’t help but worry about his baby brother.

 

In a last-ditch attempt to find his brother, Lan Xichen decides to head to the Gentian House. Lan Wangji would always end up there whenever he was especially upset and, as it’s the first day without lectures since their discussion with Wei Wuxian and Jiang Wanyin in the library, perhaps Lan Wangji has gone there to seek comfort.

 

Lan Xichen keeps an eye out for Lan Wangji’s white fur as he approaches but, spotting neither hide nor hair, he sighs, realizing he’ll have to disturb his mother. He hesitates for just a moment, standing on the porch, arm raised to knock, mind drifting back to Wei Wuxian’s many questions just the other day. 

 

Are you sure he’s cursed?

 

Does that mean that the curse broke the moment that they laid eyes on each other? But then, why is Lan Wangji still a fox? Surely, he’d want to be human again. …Right?

 

Lan Xichen pushes the thought from his mind and knocks on the door.

 

“A-niang,” he calls gently, “it’s A-Huan. I’m looking for Wangji. Is he here?”

 

The door cracks open about two handspans. His mother smiles. “A-Huan, it’s so good to see you. How are you? Have you eaten?”

 

 Lan Xichen returns her smile and says, “Yes, I’ve eaten. Thank you. Things have been busy since we last spoke, but I am managing it well, I believe. Have you seen Wangji lately?”

 

“Are you sure you’re eating enough, A-Huan? You look far too thin.”

 

Lan Xichen chuckles, glancing at his stomach. “It’s a new cut to the robes, I believe. I promise, a-niang, I’m eating enough.”

 

Madam Lan frowns. “Let me get you some cakes,” she says, disappearing before Lan Xichen can object. When she returns, she presses a cloth wrapped bundle of Osmanthus cakes into his hands. “Be sure to share those with A-Zhan and his little friend.”

 

Lan Xichen nearly drops the cakes. “His—his friend ? Wangji was here? He brought someone here ?”

 

“Yes, of course,” she smiles. “A cute little fox. A gray and cream-colored thing. A-Zhan brought him by just yesterday. I believe they’re still in the burrow right now.”

 

“A fox?” Lan Xichen says, voice tight and rising. “In the burrow? Together?

 

Madam Lan hums, nodding. “Yes. By the time we finished dinner, the sun was already starting to set, so I told them to stay, because of the curfew.”

 

Lan Xichen returns his mother’s nod, stiffly. “Thank you, a-niang. I… I will be sure to share these with Wangji and his— fox friend .” 

 

Except, Lan Wangji doesn’t have friends . He has family and acquaintances and Wei Wuxian. Lan Wangji has never had anything even approximating a friend that wasn’t Lan Xichen before he’d met Wei Wuxian just a few weeks ago. 

 

This is bad , Lan Xichen thinks. This is very bad. What if—  

 

But, just then, Lan Xichen spots a pale gray and cream-colored fox wiggle its way out from under the house. It yawns, stretching its forelegs out on the lawn, back sweeping into an arch before relaxing, sitting amongst the gentians. Then, Lan Wangji wiggles his way out from under the porch, shaking his shiny white coat out to try to clear it of any dirt. He trots up to the strange fox, pressing into its side as he leans forward to rub their necks and cheeks together.

 

“Ah, they’re rather cute together, aren’t they?”

 

Lan Xichen makes some sort of tight, high-pitched noise in the back of his throat, Wei Wuxian’s words ringing in his ears again: are you sure he’s cursed?

 

“I must go, a-niang. I just remembered I told shufu I’d meet him after breakfast to discuss important sect matters. With which he’ll need my help. Because I’m head-disciple. It’s all—very important… things. Sect matters! And the like!”

 

Madam Lan smiles at him again, eyes sharp, and says, “Travel safely, A-Huan. And remember to share those with your didi. I expect you boys to eat them all. Bring back the cloth when you can.”

 

“Yes, a-niang. Of course, a-niang. Have a good day, a-niang. I’m leaving now!”

 

Lan Xichen bows hastily, giving his mother a strained smile. He spares a quick glance for where Lan Wangji is still standing far too closely to that other fox, blanches again, and then hurries away, very much not running.

 

He makes it to Lan Qiren’s quarters in record time, pounding on the door urgently. 

 

“Xichen,” Lan Qiren says, face stern as he opens the doors. “What’s the meaning of this?”

 

“Shufu,” Lan Xichen says, bowing quickly. “I must discuss something with you. It’s of the utmost importance and is terribly urgent!”

 

Lan Qiren gives him a long, assessing look before frowning. “Come inside. Sit. I just made tea.”

 

Lan Xichen nods, slipping into the room and rushing to sit at the low table. He drops the bundle of cakes on the table and grabs the tea set, peeking under the lid to see if it’s stepped enough to pour. Seeing it is, he quickly fills his uncle’s cup and then takes another cup from the tray for himself. 

 

Lan Qiren walks sedately from the door, taking his seat at the table with an air of concern. “Drink your tea, Xichen. We will talk after.”

 

Lan Xichen makes a noise like he’s going to protest, but Lan Qiren raises a hand, staying his objection. “Tea, first.”

 

Lan Xichen purses his lips together, forcefully reminds himself that Lan Qiren didn’t witness what he did and so he doesn't understand the urgency of the situation. He drinks his tea far too quickly, the liquid scalding his tongue and heating his chest.

 

Lan Qiren takes his time with his tea, watching Lan Xichen fidget out of the corner of his eye. Finally, when his tea is gone, he sets the cup on the table and asks, “What’s bothering you, Xichen?”

 

“It’s Wangji,” Lan Xichen says. “I know that I have previously talked to you about offering a marriage proposal to YunmengJiang for Wei Wuxian’s hand—which you’ve, understandably, denied every time—but I feel that the situation has changed, and we must act now before we lose Wangji forever.”

 

Lan Qiren frowns. “Explain yourself, Xichen.”

 

Lan Xichen nods, adjusting his robes momentarily before continuing. “The day before yesterday, I discussed with Wei Wuxian the terms of Wangji’s curse. Wei Wuxian seemed surprised to learn that Wangji was under a curse at all. Wei Wuxian said that Wangji doesn’t feel like he’s under a curse. He asked if we were sure that Wangji was cursed.”

 

Lan Qiren scoffs, “Ridiculous.”

 

“My thoughts exactly!” Lan Xichen agrees. “But, less than half a shi ago, I was looking for Wangji in the back hills and I saw him with another fox, one I haven’t seen before. They were— close . Wangji was… he was scenting this other fox, shufu.”

 

“A fox?” Lan Qiren says, stroking a hand over his beard, looking contemplative. “It could be nothing, Xichen.”

 

But Lan Xichen just shakes his head. “Shufu, this is Wangji . When has he ever been familiar enough with someone to scent them? Besides family, that is.”

 

Lan Qiren’s lips purse together, so tightly that the color drains from around them, while the rest of his face starts to darken.

 

“Wei Wuxian had said that Wangji doesn’t feel cursed . And I do not know how long this wild fox has been living in our hills, nor how familiar Wangji is with it. But… shufu, do you remember the story from Dongying—about the oni’s quest—that we found in the Forbidden Section of the library? When we were looking for information about Wangji’s curse?”

 

Lan Qiren grunts and says, quietly, “Refresh my memory.”

 

Lan Xichen nods. After taking a deep breath, he says, “The story is about an oni—a kind of yaoguai native to Dongying—and a human woman under a curse. The oni, frustrated by a nearby gongzi who is encroaching on his territory, makes a deal with the gongzi: the oni will rescue a beautiful guniang—who is trapped in a nearby manor, guarded by a dragon—and, in exchange, the gongzi will return the land that he stole from the oni. The oni, after agreeing to the deal, rescues the guniang from the dragon and sets out for the gongzi’s manor. But, while on the return journey, the oni discovers that the guniang is cursed. Every night, the guniang turns into an oni herself. And the only way to break the curse is with true love’s first kiss. 

 

“Eventually, the oni and the guniang arrive at the gongzi’s manor, where the gongzi has prepared for his wedding to the guniang. But the guniang can’t go through with it; she’s fallen in love with the oni. And when the oni and the guniang share their first kiss, instead of the curse breaking and the woman remaining a human during the night, she’s turned into an oni and never regains her human form!

 

“Shufu,” Lan Xichen says, obviously worried now, “what if—when the curse breaks for Wangji—he never regains his human form? What if he’s fallen in love with this fox and ends up remaining a fox for the rest of his days? 

 

“Wei Wuxian said Wangji doesn’t even feel cursed anymore. We must act quickly! Before Wangji can fall in love with this fox, we must secure his marriage to Wei Wuxian! I know he cares for Wei-gongzi! I’ve seen Wangji allow himself to be held and even caressed by Wei Wuxian. If Wangji already feels this close to Wei Wuxian, then surely love will follow, and the curse will break soon after. We—”

 

Lan Xichen stops abruptly, cut off by Lan Qiren’s hand, delicately raised for silence. 

 

“Xichen,” Lan Qiren says, brows drawn together, a blood vessel pulsing at his temple. “We do not know if the curse will break in such a way. Wangji is also a huli jing. He was born with both human and fox forms. We also do not know how the curse will affect a huli jing.”

 

Shufu ,” Lan Xichen begs, “not knowing what will happen simply means that we should ensure the most favorable outcome, does it not? Shouldn’t we be proactive? Shouldn’t we ensure that Wangji at least has the chance to fall in love with a human , with a friend , rather than a wild animal? If we ensure his marriage to Wei Wuxian, then at least he’d stop focusing on this fox and start focusing on Wei-gongzi. This is our best option, shufu, and we must take it before it’s too late.”

 

Lan Qiren takes a deep breath, lets it out slowly, and then says, “I will talk to the elders. If they disagree, I will talk to Lan-zongzhu directly.”

 

Lan Xichen lets out his own relieved breath. “Thank you, shufu. Thank you.”

 

“I am not happy about this,” Lan Qiren says, still frowning. “Wangji cursed himself to avoid an arranged marriage. We mustn't go behind his back about this. Before I approach the elders or Lan-zongzhu, I will talk to Wangji about the betrothal. If I receive his approval, I will arrange it.”

 

Lan Xichen nods, relieved. “Wangji will give his approval. I know he holds some measure of affection for Wei Wuxian.”

 

Lan Qiren harrumphs, waving a dismissive hand. “Go, attend to your morning duties. And don’t forget your cakes, Xichen.”

 

“Ah,” Lan Xichen gives his uncle a soft smile. Reaching for the bundle of cakes, he says, “Thank you, shufu. I’ll leave you to your work as well.”

 

Lan Xichen leaves his uncle’s office feeling far more assured of Lan Wangji’s chances than when he entered.

 

 

“Ah, Lan Zhan, we don’t have any lectures today, we should do something fun!” Wei Ying punctuates his suggestion with a stretch, arms twisting high above his head as his back arches, toes pointing in his boots. 

 

They’d had breakfast with Madam Lan at the Gentian House, before heading to their clearing in the back hills and sprawling out in the early morning sun.

 

From his perch on Wei Ying’s chest, Lan Wangji tilts his head to the side. He stares down at Wei Ying’s smiling face.

 

“It’s not even noon yet, gege. We could go into Caiyi, we could explore the forest, we could…” Wei Ying pauses, tapping the bridge of his nose with a finger. “We could catch fish in the river?”

 

Lan Wangji huffs, looking away from Wei Ying’s poorly concealed smile. 

 

“Ah, you’re right, Lan Zhan, you’re right.” Wei Ying’s brow lowers, an exaggerated frown marring his face as he quotes, “‘No killing in Cloud Recesses.’ That’s no fun, gege. Haven’t you ever hunted before?”

 

Lan Wangji blinks up at Wei Ying again. 

 

“Wait, I know what we can do!” Wei Ying exclaims, sitting up so quickly that Lan Wangji rolls, ungainly, off of his chest. He lands, in a heap, on Wei Ying’s lap. 

 

Lan Wangji glares, hopping out of the cradle of Wei Ying’s legs and shaking his fur out, miffed. 

 

Wei Ying tries to smother his giggles behind his sleeves. “Oh, Lan Zhan! I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Don’t be mad at me! I just had a great idea, okay?” Wei Ying reaches out and cups Lan Wangji’s face in his hands, leaning forward to conspiratorially whisper, “I have my dizi with me, back in my room at the guest dormitory. We can sneak in so no one sees us, and I can play some songs for you! Hmm? Doesn’t that sound like fun! I know quite a few songs, from all over. I bet you only know Gusu songs, huh?”

 

It’s not entirely untrue. Lan Wangji knows a fair many Gusu songs, of course, but he does have a small collection of eight songs from Qinghe that Nie Mingjue gave him for his tenth birthday. He’s only ever played them once, when he’d first received them, before adding them to the library’s collection.

 

Lan Xichen had assured him that it wasn’t rude of him to do so. Lan Wangji was sharing his songs with the sect and he could still head to the library at will if he ever wanted to play them again. Nie Mingjue would understand. Of course, at the time, Lan Wangji was mostly just confused as to why Nie Mingjue was gifting him songs at all. It wasn’t until he was seventeen, furry and sitting at Lan Qiren’s feet while they watched Lan Xichen, Nie Mingjue, and Jin Ziyao become sworn brothers, that he started to understand at least some of Nie Mingjue’s reasoning for trying to earn his favor. 

 

Now, though, faced with the accusation that he doesn’t know any songs except Gusu songs, Lan Wangji is willing to pretend he’s never received such a gift, if it means that Wei Ying will spend an afternoon playing for him. He wishes, suddenly, that he had his guqin so that he could accompany Wei Ying.

 

Tail wagging lazily, Lan Wangji blinks up at Wei Ying.

 

Wei Ying’s smile turns sly, pulling up more on one side than the other. “Okay,” he says, “let’s go sneak into the dorms. I’m sharing with Jiang Cheng, so we’ll have to be careful unless we want an earful about not returning last night.” And then Wei Ying, still cupping Lan Wangji’s cheeks, leans down and presses a kiss to the soft fur of his brow.

 

Lan Wangji freezes, heart stilling in his chest, eyes going wide as time seems to stop. Suspended between breaths, they stare at each other. Then, the moment breaks like a strand of gossamer in the wind.

 

“Oh, gods!” Wei Ying yells, face flaming, as he throws his hands in the air, pulling them from Lan Wangji as if burned. “I’m sorry! I—I—That!” A strangled noise escapes Wei Ying and he twists, getting his feet under himself, turning as if to run.

 

Lan Wangji panics. Heart caught in his throat, he shifts, a wave of spiritual energy rolling through him. Reaching a hand out, Lan Wangji grabs Wei Ying’s wrist and drags him back to the ground.

 

Wei Ying yelps, tripping over his own feet, his back colliding with Lan Wangji’s chest as he falls, landing half-sprawled, on Lan Wangji’s lap. 

 

“Wei Ying.”

 

Wei Ying turns to him slowly, gray eyes wide as he searches Lan Wangji’s face.

 

“Oh,” Wei Ying breathes, turning in Lan Wangji’s arms to face him properly. He raises a hand, reaching out to caress Lan Wangji’s cheek, thumb brushing the delicate skin under a golden eye.

 

Ears heating, Lan Wangji averts his eyes, gaze dropping to the dip between Wei Ying’s collar bones. There’s a bead of sweat resting in the hollow. Lan Wangji wants to taste it. His hands tighten where they rest on Wei Ying’s waist. 

 

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying says, voice coming out light and breathy. His other hand comes up to grab at Lan Wangji’s shoulder, fingers digging into the silk of his robes. “Ah, Lan Zhan, I can smell exactly what you’re thinking. Haven’t I told you? I’m not that kind of omega.” 

 

“Mn,” Lan Wangji agrees, meeting Wei Ying’s gaze again. Holding steady, he says, “Wei Ying is waiting for the one who knows him best, the one who knows Wei Ying’s heart as well as he knows his own. Wei Ying is waiting for his zhiji.”

 

“Yeah,” Wei Ying breathes, nodding, eyes dropping to Lan Wangji’s lips before snapping back up. “Just like Lan Zhan.”

 

“Mn,” Lan Wangji says before digging a hand into the hair at Wei Ying’s nape and dragging him close, their lips almost touching. “Wei Ying,” he whispers, breath ghosting over Wei Ying’s lips.

 

Wei Ying shivers, whining as he says, “It’s you, Lan Zhan. Been waiting for you.”

 

Lan Wangji nods, whispering, “Waited for Wei Ying. Only Wei Ying.”

 

“Lan Zhan! So mean to your Wei Ying, teasing me like this! Can’t you— mm!

 

But whatever Wei Ying was going to say is lost as Lan Wangji finally presses their lips together. 

 

Before this moment, Lan Wangji did not think that a simple kiss could be earth shattering, but the feeling of Wei Ying’s lips against his is a revelation. It buzzes along his skin, suffuses through his muscles and soaks into the very marrow of his bones, settles low and hot in his stomach. 

 

Wei Ying moans, mouth dropping open as he pants against Lan Wangji. “Lan Zhan. Ah, Lan Zhan, you—you…” 

 

“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji breathes, wrapping his arm tighter around Wei Ying’s waist, lifting him fully onto his lap, Wei Ying’s thighs bracing Lan Wangji’s hips.

 

“Ah! That—Lan Zhan!” Wei Ying whines, arms wrapping around Lan Wangji’s shoulders. 

 

“Mn,” Lan Wangji says, using the hand in Wei Ying’s hair to hold him still, reclaiming Wei Ying’s mouth. Lan Wangji lets himself get lost in the kiss, in the slide of their lips together, in the spice and musk of Wei Ying’s scent, getting sharper and sharper by the second. It makes Lan Wangji bold, gives him the courage to shamelessly trail his tongue along Wei Ying’s bottom lip and—when Wei Ying gasps, mouth dropping open—lets him slide his tongue inside.

 

Wei Ying whimpers, shivering and twitching in Lan Wangji’s grasp. He sinks into Lan Wangji’s hold, letting Lan Wangji do as he pleases. But then, seeming to think better of it, Wei Ying wraps his hands around Lan Wangji’s lapels and tugs, leaning back and dragging them both into the grass.

 

Lan Wangji settles into the cradle of Wei Ying’s hips, careful not to rest fully against Wei Ying, manufacturing a false sense of propriety. But Wei Ying seems to care about propriety now about as much as he cares about propriety at any other time: that is, almost not at all. He hooks a leg behind Lan Wangji’s hips and yanks them together.

 

They both moan, their cocks pressing together through their robes. Wei Ying’s leg tightens around Lan Wangji’s side, his hips arching off the ground, rutting against Lan Wangji desperately. 

 

Lan Wangji pulls away just far enough to rest his forehead against Wei Ying’s, panting against his mouth. The thought of Wei Ying’s touching his forehead ribbon makes him dizzy, makes his stomach swoop with arousal just as much as the feeling of their hard cocks rubbing together does. 

 

Voice tightening, Lan Wangji warns, “Wei Ying.”

 

Wei Ying nods, groaning. “Yeah,” he agrees, head tipping back, his tan throat on display, a delicious, alluring taunt.

 

A taunt that Lan Wangji doesn’t have the strength to resist. Not after a day and a half of mutual grooming, of pinning Wei Ying with his teeth, of drowning in Wei Ying’s mesmerizing scent.

 

Lan Wangji wraps his lips around Wei Ying’s scent gland, tongue swirling against his skin, teeth biting in just enough to make Wei Ying feel the threat of Lan Wangji’s claim.

 

Wei Ying keens at the sensation, wrapping his other leg around Lan Wangji’s waist as well, grinding their hips together frantically. “Please,” he begs, his hands fisting into the hair at Lan Wangji’s nape. “Lan Zhan, ah! Mercy! Mercy! Haven’t you teased your Wei Ying enough already? You play at claiming but with no follow through! I’ll have you know, Lan Zhan, that that was my first kiss! I was saving it for you! You better take responsibility! Lan Zhan !”

 

There was never any question in Lan Wangji’s mind of if he’d take responsibility, simply one of when . But if Wei Ying wants him now, Wei Ying can have him now. 

 

Lan Wangji pulls at Wei Ying’s belt until it falls away, tugs at his lapels and underrobes until Wei Ying’s chest is exposed for his perusal. He drags his palms down Wei Ying’s chest, unable to resist the temptation of wrapping his hands around Wei Ying’s waist. Digging his fingers into Wei Ying’s skin, Lan Wangji watches as Wei Ying tosses his head back again, legs tightening around Lan Wangji as he ruts their cocks together desperately.

 

Lan Wangji stares, enraptured, at Wei Ying. Stares at his flushed face, his kiss-bitten lips, at the love bite blooming over Wei Ying’s scent gland in the shape of Lan Wangji’s mouth. Lan Wangji wants. Wants so much and so fiercely. He feels the last of his restraint abandon him. He reaches up and tugs his forehead ribbon free. He grabs Wei Ying’s arm and jerks Wei Ying’s robes completely free. He wraps his forehead ribbon around Wei Ying’s wrist again and again, securing it with knot after knot.

 

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying pants, staring, dazed and wide eyed, at the white fabric against his tan skin. 

 

Lan Wangji can already feel a terrible possessiveness rearing up in him: Wei Ying wearing his ribbon; Wei Ying covered in his marks; Wei Ying, Wei Ying, Wei Ying . Lan Wangji surrenders, lets himself move by instinct rather than his usual, carefully thought-out routine. He can feel his spiritual energy surge, his white fox ears and both of his tails popping into existence. Lan Wangji pulls Wei Ying closer, one hand at his hips to keep them rutting together, the other cupping the back of Wei Ying’s neck, pulling his head back.

 

“Wei Ying,” he growls, warningly, teeth far too sharp in his mouth.

 

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying answers, his own fox ears and tails forming. He whimpers, chest heaving, nails biting into the fine silks of Lan Wangji’s robes at his shoulders. 

 

Lan Wangji doesn’t give either of them a chance to rethink their choice. He parts his lips and sinks his teeth into Wei Ying’s scent gland. 

 

Wei Ying’s scream fades into a moan, his body arching into Lan Wangji. He keens, panting and sobbing, pleading under his breath, “Don’t stop. Don’t stop. Lan Zhan, ah, Lan Zhan!”

 

Something inside Lan Wangji snaps, like a puzzle piece settling into place, like an impossible riddle, finally solved. He can feel the bond, incomplete but starting to form. Can feel the barest, shadowy glimpse of Wei Ying’s emotions just at the edges of his consciousness. 

 

Suddenly, Lan Wangji is filled with an insurmountable desperation: he needs Wei Ying’s teeth in him. He needs Wei Ying to complete their bond. He needs to get these stupid robes out of the way.

 

With a whimper, Lan Wangji pulls away from Wei Ying’s neck, leaning back to rip his belt from his own waist, tossing it away carelessly. He tears his outer robe away, hands fumbling at the ties of his next layer before he gives up, ripping them apart until he’s exposed from shoulders to waist.

 

“Wei Ying,” he begs, bending low, his chin tipped up to give Wei Ying access to his scent gland. 

 

“Yes, yes, yes,” Wei Ying says, licking a stripe across Lan Wangji’s scent gland. He sucks on it, scraping his teeth against the skin. 

 

Lan Wangji groans, “Wei Ying. Do not tease.”

 

Wei Ying giggles, breathless, and says, “Not teasing,” before he bites, teeth driving through Lan Wangji’s scent gland, sinking into his soul, into the very foundations of what makes Lan Wangji Lan Wangji.

 

Dazed, Lan Wangji gasps, panting raggedly, trying to get his scattered thoughts in order. He wants—he wants—

 

His mind clears, slowly, like blinking away sleep after waking. In the back of his mind, their new bond buzzes, a tingling, distracting warmth at the base of his skull. Lan Wangji prods at it, curious, but can’t quite feel any solid thoughts, no concrete emotions: just the impression of a feeling, a vague sense of foreign contentment combined with needy arousal.

 

“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji says, awed, as he stares into Wei Ying’s gray eyes.

 

Whispering, Wei Ying says, “Lan Zhan.” 

 

Lan Wangji nods, neither of them needing to say anything else. He leans down, brushing his nose along Wei Ying’s, pressing soft kisses to Wei Ying’s cheeks, along his brow, across his jaw, until he finally brushes his lips against Wei Ying’s. 

 

Wei Ying sobs, whining, “Lan Zhan. So mean, er-gege. You tell me not to tease, but you won’t show your Wei Ying the same courtesy!”

 

Lan Wangji snorts, amused, the corner of his mouth ticking up in a small smile.

 

“Ah! No, Lan Zhan! That’s worse!” Wei Ying yells, clapping his hands over Lan Wangji’s face. “You’re too handsome, er-gege!” He cups Lan Wangji’s cheeks, says, “Lan Zhan! As my mate, you must promise me something! You can’t ever smile at anyone that isn’t me! What if that person tries to steal you from me?! My heart wouldn’t survive!”

 

“Mn,” Lan Wangji agrees, smile widening as he promises, “will only smile at Wei Ying.”

 

“Lan Zhan !” Wei Ying keens, covering his own reddening face this time. “You can’t just agree so quickly! It’s unreasonable! What about our children? You have to smile at our children! What if they think you hate them because you never smile at them? You don’t hate our children, do you?”

 

Lan Wangji stares, heart pounding faster and faster at the thought. Children . A small, fat child with Wei Ying’s smile and Lan Wangji’s nose and a pale, ashy gray coat as a fox. Heart fluttering, Lan Wangji promises, “I will love our children, will always smile at them, because they are Wei Ying’s and Wei Ying has given them to me.”

 

“Lan Zhan !” Wei Ying yells, crossing his arms over his face. “Warn me! You can’t just say these things! Go back to being a fox! You’re too much!”

 

Lan Wangji hums, feeling Wei Ying’s bubbling joy in the back of his mind, knowing that Wei Ying’s request isn’t a serious one. He presses a kiss to one of Wei Ying’s forearms and says, “I will warn Wei Ying. But if Wei Ying would prefer my silence, I can think of other ways to occupy my mouth.”

 

Wei Ying shrieks. “ Lan Zhan!

 

“Mn, my apologies,” Lan Wangji says, not the least bit contrite. 

 

Wei Ying groans behind his arms, muttering something that sounds quite a bit like, “Not sorry at all. I can feel how smug you are, Lan Zhan.”

 

“Mn,” Lan Wangji says, getting his knees under himself as he sits up, trailing his hands down Wei Ying’s chest to the waistband of his trousers. He tugs at the strings, untying them, slipping his fingers under the fabric, stroking them against Wei Ying’s skin. “Wei Ying?”

 

Wei Ying whines, placing his feet flat on the forest floor, hips lifting so that Lan Wangji can pull his trousers down, before they get caught on his boots. “Fuck, Lan Zhan, you gotta—gotta get my shoes off, too.”

 

Lan Wangji hums, hands going to Wei Ying’s calves as he pulls the shoes off, one at a time, and places them off to the side, tugging the trousers off and dropping them by the boots. Lan Wangji settles his hands back on Wei Ying’s knees, thumbs stroking over the dusting of hair there. 

 

He stares at Wei Ying. Beautiful, alluring, tantalizing Wei Ying. His Wei Ying. His Wei Ying, who’s so slick with arousal that his thighs are glistening with it, so hard his cock’s an angry red, standing at attention from a thatch of dark hair. Lan Wangji sucks in a deep breath, mouth dropping open as the scent of Wei Ying’s slick fills his lungs. His mouth waters with it. He wants to taste it, coat his tongue with it, drink it down until there isn’t room for anything else in him but Wei Ying

 

Glancing up, Lan Wangji watches as Wei Ying shifts his arms, folding them above his head. His eyes catch on his ribbon, still tied around Wei Ying’s arm. Then, they catch on the vibrant red bond mark and something inside Lan Wangji preens, almost growling at the sight. But it’s not enough. He needs to leave more than just those two marks on Wei Ying.

 

Lan Wangji’s gaze drops to Wei Ying’s hips, to his hard cock and slick folds.

 

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying says.

 

Lan Wangji squeezes Wei Ying’s thighs, pushing them wider, watching Wei Ying’s cock twitch. He shuffles back before bending over, resting his weight on his elbows, his hands cupping the backs of Wei Ying’s thighs. 

 

“Lan Zhan? What—” but then Wei Ying makes a strangled noise, a hand flying to grab at Lan Wangji’s shoulder as Lan Wangji presses a kiss to Wei Ying’s slick cunt. 

 

Lan Wangji’s mouth drops open, dragging the scent of Wei Ying’s slick deep into his lungs. It’s impossible to resist the smell, Wei Ying’s usual spice-and-musk scent underlaid with the sharp tang  of Wei Ying’s dripping slit. Lan Wangji licks his lips, groaning softly at the lingering taste of Wei Ying. Fingers digging into the soft flesh of Wei Ying’s thighs, holding them open, Lan Wangji returns to mouthing at Wei Ying’s folds, his tongue sliding out and licking up the slick. 

 

Wei Ying wails, hips lifting, grinding into Lan Wangji’s mouth. “Ah! Ah, Lan Zh—Lan Zhan! You-you can’t! It’s—you can’t—your mouth— ah !” Wei Ying’s fingers dig into Lan Wangji’s shoulders, trying to drag him away.

 

But Lan Wangji doesn’t move, and he doesn’t acknowledge Wei Ying’s pleas except to open his eyes, staring at Wei Ying as he fucks his tongue into Wei Ying’s slit. 

 

“I can’t—I can’t look at you when you’re like this. Oh, oh, fuck .”

 

Lan Wangji hides his smirk against Wei Ying’s cunt. He wants to make Wei Ying come, wants to feel Wei Ying shiver apart under his lips, wants to be the only one allowed to bring Wei Ying to such heights of ecstasy. He swirls his tongue over Wei Ying’s labia, sucking on the folds as he fucks his tongue inside. 

 

Wei Ying keeps trying to talk, voice more pleasured moans than words. “Ah, ah, ah, Lan Zhan! Please—please, you have to—ah, ah! — More! Inside!

 

Lan Wangji considers refusing, considers tongue-fucking Wei Ying into an orgasm, but then—as if reminding him that it exists—Lan Wangji’s cock pulses, needy and insistent, in his trousers. 

 

But Lan Wangji also doesn’t want to fuck Wei Ying too soon, because he knows that once he’s inside Wei Ying’s hot, slick cunt he won’t last terribly long before he knots Wei Ying up tight. So, instead, Lan Wangji turns his head, biting and sucking marks into Wei Ying’s soft thighs as he slips a hand from where it’s holding Wei Ying open. He teases his fingers over Wei Ying’s pussy, coating his fingers in slick. 

 

He pulls his mouth off of Wei Ying’s leg with a pop! , admiring the purpling stains left behind by his lips. He’s looking forward to watching them fade over the next few days. And looks forward to renewing them. 

 

Lan Wangji glances up at Wei Ying’s flushed face, at the sweat beading on his brow, rolling down his neck. Lan Wangji wants him so much, wants to possess every part of him, if Wei Ying will let him. He’s gratified to feel the sentiment echoed from Wei Ying, through their bond. 

 

“Lan Zhan, ah.”

 

Lan Wangji hums and moves forward, hovering over Wei Ying’s straining, twitching erection. He meets Wei Ying’s gaze, draws the moment out, his hot breath puffing over Wei Ying’s weeping cock. Then, he lowers his head, tongue curling around Wei Ying’s erection as he sucks it into his mouth. At the same time, he finally pushes a slickened finger into Wei Ying’s hot cunt, sinking down to his knuckles.

 

Wei Ying wails, hips arching up into Lan Wangji’s mouth and down to his finger, like he can’t choose which sensation to chase. 

 

Lan Wangji tosses one of Wei Ying’s legs over his shoulder, freeing up the hand that was keeping the leg in place so he can throw his arm over Wei Ying’s hips, pinning Wei Ying to the ground.

 

Wei Ying whines. “Lan Zhan! Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan! You—Ah! You— nnnn!

 

Lan Wangji manages, barely, to keep the smug look from his face. He sinks lower on Wei Ying’s cock, rubbing his tongue along the underside. He takes Wei Ying in as deeply as he can, until he can feel Wei Ying hitting the back of his throat. He rises slowly, tongue curling around the shaft. 

 

“Lan Zhan!” Wei Ying whimpers, “Lan Zhan, please, please! Have mercy on this—ah, ah, ah! —on this—this humble vir- virgin!

 

Lan Wangji continues to suck at Wei Ying, keeping his actions slow and teasing. Meanwhile, he rocks his finger in and out of Wei Ying’s cunt just as gently, pressing against the soft, slick walls. He withdrawals his finger almost entirely, lines a second finger up next to the first, and pushes them both into Wei Ying’s tight pussy.

 

“L-Lan Zhan !” Wei Ying dissolves into sobs, his hips trying to arch into Lan Wangji’s mouth, or down onto his fingers, but he can’t: Lan Wangji’s arm is an iron bar, holding him in place.

 

Lan Wangji starts fucking his fingers inside, faster and faster; curling as he pulls out, hand twisting as he pushes back in. He sucks harder at Wei Ying’s cock, tightening his lips as he goes down. He wants Wei Ying to come. Wants to taste Wei Ying’s seedless release on his tongue. On the next withdrawal, Lan Wangji lines up a third finger and bullies all three inside, fucking his fingers in hard.

 

Wei Ying screams, back arching sharply, both hands flying to Lan Wangji’s hair and holding him in place, before he starts to come, flooding Lan Wangji’s mouth with his release, slick squirting out around Lan Wangji’s fingers.

 

Lan Wangji keeps sucking, keeps fucking his fingers in, until Wei Ying is a shivering, mewling mess.

 

“Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan, ah! Too muh-much! It’s too much! I can’t—can’t…” Wei Ying’s voice fails him, panting as his hands clutch at Lan Wangji’s hair. 

 

Lan Wangji gentles the rocking of his fingers, but doesn’t pull them out, keeping Wei Ying stretched open around them. He pulls off of Wei Ying’s cock, pressing one last kiss to just under the head.

 

Wei Ying is still hard, still leaking slick, even with Lan Wangji’s fingers stuffing him full. 

 

Lan Wangji stares at Wei Ying, at the erection, at the slick, at the dark pink flush that goes from Wei Ying’s cheeks to his chest. He thinks about Wei Ying’s scent, heightened in the last few days, driving Lan Wangji to distraction. He licks his lips, tasting Wei Ying again, savoring the flavor on his tongue.

 

“Wei Ying.”

 

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying says at the same time. “I think—I think I might be in heat.”

 

Lan Wangji nods, “Mn. There is a chance it is a false heat, brought on by our bonding, but I suspect that you have been in pre-heat for the last two days. Your scent is intoxicating, but it has been more potent since early yesterday.”

 

Wei Ying whines, flush darkening, his hands leaving Lan Wangji’s hair to cover his face again. “Lan Zhan! You said you would warn me!”

 

“Apologies, I was simply stating a fact. I did not consider that that would necessitate a warning.”

 

Lan Zhan!

 

“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji says, lips twitching, “would you prefer if I occupied my mouth again?”

 

Wei Ying groans into his hands, whining a muffled, “Lan Zhan! ” even as his cunt tightens on Lan Wangji’s fingers at the suggestion. 

 

“Mn,” Lan Wangji says, gently pulling his fingers free.

 

Wei Ying scrambles, hands flying to grab at Lan Wangji’s arm, to keep it in place. “ No! What’re you doing?! You can’t—”

 

“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji whispers, “I cannot knot you if my fingers are inside you.”

 

Wei Ying moans, hands clenching on Lan Wangji but no longer trying to direct him. “Yeah,” he breathes, “yeah, yeah. Lan Zhan, ah, Lan Zhan. You have to knot me. You claimed me and bonded me and now you’re going to knot me and you’re gonna make sure it takes, right?”

 

Lan Wangji stills, hands freezing on the ties to his trousers. Yes, they had talked about children just minutes ago, but Lan Wangji had assumed that Wei Ying would want to wait; would see the healers and drink the contraceptive tea after they made it back to Cloud Recesses. The thought had been mildly disappointing. They’re adults but they’re still young, barely even twenty. He can’t expect Wei Ying to want to start a family with him immediately. But, then again, maybe he should have expected it. They are soulmates, after all.

 

“Yes,” Lan Wangji promises, “I will make sure it takes.”

 

Wei Ying shivers. “ Lan Zhan .”

 

“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji says, pulling at his trouser ties. He pushes the fabric down his hips, having to shuffle to get it over his knees, shoving his boots off at the same time. He wraps a hand around his own cock, giving it a quick stroke to try to take the edge off but it does nothing, not with Wei Ying spread out before him, panting, slick, inviting, waiting for Lan Wangji to fuck a child into his womb. 

 

Lan Wangji grabs Wei Ying, lifting and dragging his hips onto Lan Wangji’s lap. 

 

Propping himself up on his elbows, Wei Ying looks down, across his belly, to stare at Lan Wangji’s cock. His jaw drops. “Oh, fuck, Lan-er-gege, it’s so big. There’s no way it’s going to fit.”

 

Lan Wangji shakes his head, says, “It will fit. Wei Ying is built to take it.” It’s both a promise and a threat.

 

Wei Ying nods, turning wide eyes on Lan Wangji, and says, “But what if it doesn’t? You—you’ll make me take it, right? You’ll make it fit.”

 

“Wei Ying!” Lan Wangji hisses, his cock twitching, bumping against Wei Ying’s slick folds. He says, jaw clenching, “Wei Ying will take it. I will make sure of it.”

 

“Oh, fuck, yes, Lan Zhan .”

 

Lan Wangji grabs his cock again, holding it steady as he slides the leaking head through Wei Ying’s folds. Lan Wangji shivers. Wei Ying’s so slick, so hot, and so tight when the head of his cock finally slides inside.

 

Wei Ying’s knees press into Lan Wangji’s sides, ankles hooking together at the small of his back, trying to draw him in. Lan Wangji lets him, sinking in slowly. He grabs Wei Ying’s waist, fingers digging in as he tries to control himself. 

 

“Ah, Lan Zhan, nnnn! You’re so—Why are you so big?! It’s my first time! Can’t you have mercy on this virgin?”

 

Lan Wangji growls, hands bruisingly tight on Wei Ying now. He can feel Wei Ying’s arousal through their bond, a low-level buzzing in the back of his head. He tries to feel for any real discomfort but doesn’t find any. 

 

“Wei Ying,” he warns, control slipping.

 

Wei Ying opens his mouth, about to respond, when Lan Wangji snaps his hips forward, forcing the last of his length into Wei Ying’s sopping wet cunt.

 

Wei Ying wails, legs tightening around Lan Wangji, holding him in place. He grabs at Lan Wangji’s shoulders, dragging him down, and mouths at the fresh bond mark he’d bitten into Lan Wangji’s neck.

 

Lan Wangji groans, hips grinding against the backs of Wei Ying’s thighs. He reaches down, pulling at Wei Ying’s legs, hooking Wei Ying’s knees over his arms. He braces his palms against the grass, practically folding Wei Ying in half. He spreads his knees a little wider, adjusting his stance.

 

“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji pants.

 

Wei Ying moans, still sucking at the bond mark on Lan Wangji’s scent gland. “Mm,” Wei Ying says around his mouthful, “’An ‘an.”

 

Pressing his lips to Wei Ying’s hair, Lan Wangji murmurs, “I knew Wei Ying could take it.”

 

Wei Ying shrieks, pulling off of Lan Wangji’s neck, face flaming. “Lan Zhan! You—”

 

Lan Wangji draws his hips back and then snaps them forward. 

 

Ah! ” Wei Ying wails, head thumping into the grass.

 

Lan Wangji takes advantage of the movement, sucking at the bond bite on Wei Ying’s neck. He fucks in again and again, face buried against Wei Ying’s neck as his hips slap against Wei Ying’s ass. Wei Ying feels so good around his cock; hot, wet, and so tight. Lan Wangji’s going to knot. He’s going to knot soon . Knot up tight in Wei Ying’s virgin cunt, flood Wei Ying’s womb with his seed until Wei Ying’s swollen with it, until everyone knows that Wei Ying is carrying a child, his child.

 

Lan Wangji groans at the thought, knot starting to form. Every thrust in just a little rougher, every withdraw just a little more difficult.

 

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying begs. “Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan, ah! Please,” he says, turning his head, forcing Lan Wangji to lean back. He drags a finger over the unmarked scent gland on the other side of his neck. “This side, too, Lan Zhan.”

 

Lan Wangji stares. Wei Ying can’t possibly mean for him to claim this scent gland with a bite, too. It’s possessive. Archaic. By claiming both scent glands, there’d be no mistaking it: Wei Ying belongs to him. He might as well write his name across Wei Ying’s skin. But there are also some who consider it romantic: claiming both scent glands means that there’s no chance for someone to form another bond after their first mate passes away. It’s a sign of commitment, of total, unwavering dedication.

 

Lan Wangji wants it, viciously. Can feel the desire echoed in the bond. 

 

Wei Ying ,” Lan Wangji groans, giving one final thrust before his knot forms so quickly he’s dizzy with it. He drops his head to Wei Ying’s unmarked scent gland and slams his teeth home. 

 

Wei Ying keens, sobbing, cunt pulsing around Lan Wangji’s knot, his own cock twitching and spurting across both their stomachs. “ Lan Zhan! ” Wei Ying cries. “Ah, let me—I wanna—Will you let me—”

 

Lan Wangji reluctantly pulls his teeth from Wei Ying’s scent gland. “ Yes ,” he groans, bearing the currently unmarked side of his neck. “There is only Wei Ying,” he says. “Will only ever be Wei Ying.”

 

Wei Ying makes a choked noise. Voice tight, Wei Ying begs, “Warn me!” before he clamps his jaw around Lan Wangji’s neck, biting deep.

 

Lan Wangji groans, body flexing, as if trying to force his knot in even deeper. He starts to come, hips grinding as he empties himself, pulse after pulse of come filling Wei Ying’s cunt.

 

Oh ,” Wei Ying says, lips popping off. “I—I can feel it. I can feel you filling me up. Oh, oh, fuck , Lan Zhan .” Wei Ying shivers apart again, another orgasm rolling through him.

 

Lan Wangji watches, enraptured, as Wei Ying tries to hide his flushed face again. Gently, Lan Wangji lowers Wei Ying’s legs, wrapping them around his hips. He wraps his hands around Wei Ying’s wrists and pushes them into the grass, pinning them in place. He stares at Wei Ying, eyes tracing over every inch of him, trying to commit every breath, every blink, every strand of hair to memory. His eyes land on the twin bite marks framing Wei Ying’s neck. 

 

“Wei Ying.”

 

“Mm, Lan Zhan?”

 

“I am warning you.”

 

“Oh, no.”

 

“You are the most beautiful person I have ever seen.”

 

Lan Zhan!”  

 

Wei Ying tries to hide his face again, but Lan Wangji tightens his grip, keeping Wei Ying’s hands pinned to the grass. 

 

Lan Wangji can feel a soft smile pulling over his face, feels his tails starting to wag lazily. “Wei Ying,” he whispers.

 

Wei Ying cracks an eye open and whines. “Lan Zhan! You’re smiling again!” But then Wei Ying beams. “Too handsome, er-gege. How did I get so lucky?”

 

Lan Wangji feels his ears start to heat. He slips his hands up from Wei Ying’s wrists to his palms, threading their fingers together. He says, “Warning.”

 

“Uh-oh. Okay, deep breaths, A-Ying, deep breaths. Okay, Lan Zhan, I’m ready.”

 

“Not luck. A fated meeting from a thousand miles apart.” (有缘千里来相会)

 

“Lan Zhan!”

 

“When I look at you, I see my future years before my eyes.” (当我看着你,我看到我的未来岁月在我的眼)

 

“Lan Zhan!

 

“Being with you is my favorite place.” (和你在一起就是我最喜欢的地方)

 

Lan Zhan! Shut up! Be quiet right now! You’re terrible! You brute! Come down and kiss me! Right now!”

 

“Mn.” 

 

And Lan Wangji does.

 

A short while later, when Lan Wangji’s knot finally deflates enough to let them separate, Wei Ying presses another kiss to Lan Wangji’s lips and whispers, “I’ll hold your hand, grow old with you.” (执子之手,与子偕老)

 

Lan Wangji pushes Wei Ying back into the grass, lets another wave of Wei Ying’s heat take them.

 

 

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying says, fingers working the ties of his robes back together. “What are we going to tell everyone when they ask about your curse?”

 

Lan Wangji doesn’t respond at first, eyes stuck on where his forehead ribbon is still wrapped around one of Wei Ying’s wrists. 

 

“Lan Zhan?”

 

Lan Wangji sighs. “I do not know. They will ask how we broke it.”

 

“Yeah, and it’s sort of hard to explain how you broke a curse that didn’t exist in the first place.”

 

“Mn,” Lan Wangji says. “When a-niang first proposed the lie, I did not consider that, one day, the lie would have to end. But I also did not expect to meet you, to meet someone for whom I would want to break the curse, so to speak.”

 

“Aw, Lan Zhan, that’s adorable! You’re adorable!” Wei Ying steps closer, throwing his arms around Lan Wangji’s shoulders. 

 

Lan Wangji wraps his arms around Wei Ying’s waist.

 

“You know,” Wei Ying says, “technically, you didn’t lie at all. You just refused to turn into a human again. And it is expected of us huli jing to play a funny trick or two, every once in a while. It’s understandable that your a-niang would say the curse was successful, even when it wasn’t.”

 

Lan Wangji buries his face in Wei Ying’s hair, says, “I do not think xiongzhang—nor shufu—will see it that way.”

 

“Well,” Wei Ying says, “they’ll get over it, eventually.” He pauses, drumming his fingers against Lan Wangji’s shoulder blades. Then, he says, “Or, you can just turn back into a fox and we’ll figure out how to break the curse in some extravagant, public display and then it’ll be no problem.”

 

Lan Wangji considers the offer very carefully. “I do not think that would be any better. I do not want you to lie on my behalf.”

 

“Lan Zhan, ah, I doubt anyone is going to ask if we broke the curse and are just pretending that we didn’t. If anyone asks, I can just say that I’m still working on it. Which, if you look at it as ‘still plotting a big public reveal’, then I am!”

 

Lan Wangji sighs. “I do not want Wei Ying to lie for me.”

 

“Okay,” Wei Ying says, “how about this? You chose the form you’re most comfortable with, we don’t announce the curse is broken—so no one will ask us to explain it—but we also won’t deny that it’s broken if anyone asks. Does that sound good?”

 

Lan Wangji mulls it over. Finally, he mutters, “I don’t want to cause Wei Ying undue stress or scorn.”

 

Wei Ying laughs. “Lan Zhan! It won’t be stressful at all! We can do whatever!”

 

“Mn,” Lan Wangji nods, pressing his lips to Wei Ying’s hair before he opens his mouth and bites playfully at one of Wei Ying’s furry fox ears.

 

Wei Ying jerks, smacking a hand against Lan Wangji’s arm. “Lan Zhan!” he wails, dancing away.

 

“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji says, folding his hands behind his back. He watches as Wei Ying finishes tying his robes, eyes caught on how the collars half-cover his bonding marks. Lan Wangji frowns. He should have bitten them higher, made them more obvious.

 

“Lan Zhan?”

 

Lan Wangji blinks, eyes snapping up to Wei Ying’s face. 

 

“We should… we should head somewhere where we can clean up, before heading back into Cloud Recesses. As much as I like smelling like you, it’s a little conspicuous. And I’d like to finish my heat somewhere with a bed.”

 

“Mn,” Lan Wangji says, imagines laying Wei Ying out on his bed in the Jingshi, where the sheets already smell like him, imagines pulling Wei Ying’s robes off and shoving them into his bed, a makeshift nest until Wei Ying can scent the bed properly. He licks his bottom lip, still able to taste Wei Ying’s slick on his skin. “There is a back path to the Jingshi. If we travel as foxes, no one should see us.”

 

Wei Ying gasps, delightedly. “Lan Zhan ! A secret pathway! In Cloud Recesses ? Is that even allowed?”

 

Lan Wangji steps forward, closing the distance. “Not a secret,” he says, “a-niang knows about it. Wei Ying knows.”

 

Wei Ying throws his head back, laughing. “Lan Zhan! You’re so funny! Why does no one believe me!”

 

Lan Wangji seizes the opening, sneaking in and pressing kisses from Wei Ying’s collars to his jaw. 

 

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying moans, grabbing at Lan Wangji’s arms, pulling him closer. “We should—we need to get to the Jingshi, before we end up knotted in the grass for a third time.”

 

Lan Wangji hums, leaving one last kiss against Wei Ying’s neck. He steps back, reluctantly. “Follow me, I will show you the path.”

 

“Okay, yep,” Wei Ying says, licking his lips. 

 

Lan Wangji turns, spiritual energy rolling through him as he shifts into his fox form. He shakes his fur out, looking to Wei Ying, where the other huli jing now stands in his fox form. Lan Wangji steps forward, rubbing his jaw and neck against Wei Ying’s. He can still feel the ache of his bonding bites—knows that Wei Ying must still feel his own—but he can’t see Wei Ying’s through the pale gray fur. He’s mollified, slightly, by the fact that he can smell his scent so clearly on Wei Ying. He licks across Wei Ying’s snout and then, taking a steadying breath, moves toward the pathway. 

 

 

The next morning, there is a knock at the Jingshi doors.

 

Lan Wangji, who had just settled into the tub, Wei Ying’s back pressed to his chest, is only mildly annoyed, a small growl vibrating in his chest at being disturbed.

 

Wei Ying, for his part, giggles, and says, “Er-gege, who would dare knock at your door at this hour?”

 

“Xiongzhang, most likely,” Lan Wangji answers, holding back a sigh. “He will also enter if I do not answer it.”

 

“Mn,” Wei Ying says, scooting forward in the tub, “you better answer it then.”

 

Lan Wangji does sigh this time, the small exhale just a little huffier than the rest. Then, he presses a kiss to Wei Ying’s shoulder before hauling himself out of the bath. He dries quickly, about to grab his innermost robe when he feels a tug on one of his tails. He turns toward the tub. 

 

Wei Ying is hanging off the edge of the tub, a hand tucked under his chin, the other wrapped around one of Lan Wangji’s tails. Wei Ying grins, giving the tail a little shake, and asks, “You gonna answer the door like this?”

 

For a moment, Lan Wangji considers it. But, as much as the brothers love each other, Lan Xichen stares. And then Lan Wangji thinks about answering as a fox, as a human, and the consequences of both. 

 

There’s another knock at the door, accompanied by a call of, “Wangji?”

 

Lan Wangji’s head snaps towards the door, eyes wide in shock.

 

“That is not Lan Xichen!” Wei Ying hisses, sinking lower into the tub with a splash.

 

“Stay in the tub, behind the screen. I will see what shufu needs,” Lan Wangji says, and, with a roll of spiritual energy, the fox ears and tails disappear, leaving him looking entirely human. He dresses quickly, his robes slightly askew, but perhaps Lan Qiren can forgive him for this offense.

 

When Lan Wangji finally answers the door, he’s barefoot, his forehead ribbon still wrapped around Wei Ying’s wrist. 

 

“Shufu,” he says, standing in the doorway, blocking the rest of the room from sight. Unfortunately, it does nothing to block the lingering smell of omega heat from being noticed. Lan Wangji nods, respectfully, but can’t quite bring himself to bow, as he knows he should.

 

Lan Qiren stares. Then, his eyes start to well. 

 

Lan Wangji looks determinedly at the floor.

 

“Wangji,” Lan Qiren says, voice thick. “You—the curse…”

 

Lan Wangji looks back to his uncle, offers a quiet, “It is complicated.”

 

Lan Qiren frowns, face darkening as he takes in Lan Wangji’s hastily put together appearance, the bites on his neck. His eyes narrow, “Is this what you wanted? You were not forced or coerced?”

 

“Not forced, not coerced. Wei Ying is everything I want,” Lan Wangji says, immediately, without a moment’s hesitation.

 

From within the room, both men hear a strangled noise, water sloshing, and then silence.

 

Lan Wangji stares over Lan Qiren’s shoulder, ears burning. He murmurs, “Apologies, shufu. We are bathing.”

 

Lan Qiren sighs, aggrieved. Massaging his brow, he says, “It’s no matter, Wangji. I had come to ask you how you felt at the prospect of marrying Wei Wuxian—”

 

“Yes.”

 

“—but I can see that I needn’t have worried. I will write to YunmengJiang.” 

 

“Thank you, shufu,” Lan Wangji says, bowing his head again. 

 

Lan Qiren nods, once, and half turns to leave before he stops. Looking back to Lan Wangji, Lan Qiren says, “He makes you happy?”

 

A soft smile crossing his face, Lan Wangji says, “He does. Very much.”

 

There’s another strangled noise from deeper in the Jingshi. Lan Wangji’s smile ticks just a little wider.

 

Huffing, Lan Qiren says, “Then, I’m glad.” His eyes start to water again, cheeks going a little blotchy. Clearing his throat awkwardly, Lan Qiren says, “I’ll excuse you both from lectures until,”—he waves a hand, encompassing the Jingshi in the motion— “this business has ended.”

 

“Thank you, shufu,” Lan Wangji replies, a hand going to the door handle to push it closed. 

 

But then Lan Qiren speaks again, “I trust I do not need to remind you about the respect due between mates?”

 

Lan Wangji swallows thickly and nods, saying, “You do not, shufu.”

 

Lan Qiren nods, decisive, but still doesn’t leave. He clears his throat again and says, “I’m glad, Wangji, that you have decided to resume this form.”

 

Lan Wangji frowns, barely. “Shufu?”

 

Lan Qiren offers the smallest twitch of a smile, says, “We will discuss this more later, Wangji. I will ask the kitchens to send extra food for the next few days.”

 

“Thank you, shufu,” Lan Wangji murmurs.

 

Lan Qiren nods a final time, says a short goodbye, and takes his leave.

 

Lan Wangji watches his uncle’s retreating back, the man’s posture as rigid and as well-kept as ever, not betraying a single emotion that had shown in his voice or on his face just seconds previously. His own throat a little tight, Lan Wangji steps back and closes the door.

 

“Wei Ying,” he says, rounding the room divider.

 

Wei Ying sits, submerged up to his flaming red cheeks, in the tub. One of his ears flicks, as if annoyed. 

 

“Lan Zhan!” Wei Ying cries, popping out of the water. “You can’t just say things like that! Think of my poor heart!”

 

“Mn,” Lan Wangji says, pulling at his robes, folding them carefully, and setting them on a nearby stool. “I will always think of Wei Ying’s heart.”

 

“No! That’s just as bad! Lan Zhan!”

 

Lan Wangji purses his lips together to stave off a smile. Bracing a hand against the rim of the tub, Lan Wangji carefully lowers himself behind Wei Ying. He wraps his arms around Wei Ying, pulling him back to his chest. 

 

Together, they luxuriate in the hot water, carefully cleaning each other, enjoying the soft moment of intimacy before Wei Ying’s heat crests again. 

 

 

A few days later—after Wei Ying’s heat has ended and they’ve had enough time to make themselves and the Jingshi suitable for company—there’s another knock at the door. This knock, however, carries with it the same excitability as a child being allowed to eat as many sweets as they wish, since it’s their birthday and their mother says they can.

 

Laying a hand across the strings of his guqin, Lan Wangji steels himself for the conversation that’s sure to follow. He stands, his fox ears and tails disappearing, making him look completely human again.

 

Wei Ying looks up from the picture he’d been painting, watching as Lan Wangji moves around the table. He lays his brush in its holder, moving the painting from the table to place it somewhere out of the way, to keep it from getting smudged. Wei Ying stands as well, his own ears and tails fading as he moves to Lan Wangji’s side.

 

Lan Wangji opens the door.

 

On the other side, stands a beaming Lan Xichen.

 

“Xiongzhang,” Lan Wangji greets as he and Wei Ying both give Lan Xichen a bow.

 

“Wangji,” Lan Xichen says, voice wobbling. “You’re taller.”

 

“Or,” Wei Ying buts in, “perhaps Lan Xichen-xiong is shorter!”

 

Ridiculous. 

 

Lan Wangji fights a fond smile.

 

Lan Xichen grins, doing a terrible job of regulating his emotional display. “Perhaps I have,” he capitulates, chuckling. Then, he says, “Wangji, Wei-gongzi, shufu requests your presence in the Yashi.”

 

Lan Wangji nods, “Mn, we will head there now.”

 

“Do you mind if I walk with you?” Lan Xichen asks.

 

Immediately, Wei Ying agrees. “We’d be honored!” 

 

Lan Wangji grabs Bichen and Wei Ying’s sword—which, Lan Wangji was aggrieved to learn, is named Suibian—from the sword holder. He passes Wei Ying his blade as he swings Bichen over his own shoulder, the strap crossing his chest. Then they join Lan Xichen on the porch, securing the doors to the Jingshi behind them.

 

Wei Ying chatters during the walk to the Yashi, idle conversation without substance filling what is usually a pleasant silence between the brothers. Unsurprisingly, Lan Wangji finds himself enjoying the change, delighting Wei Ying’s babbling.

 

Lan Wangji can tell that—although Lan Xichen is burning to ask about the curse—Wei Ying is doing his best to distract from it. The questions must be answered eventually, of course, but if Lan Wangji only needs to tell his family the truth of his curse once, then he would dearly prefer that to constant repetition. 

 

When they arrive at the Yashi, the doors are already open, allowing Lan Wangji to see the many people already gathered within. He only recognizes some of them. Lan Qiren is seated at the head of the table, then, empty spaces for Lan Xichen and Lan Wangji. Across from the empty spaces sits a man Lan Wangji recognizes as Jiang Fengmian, next to him is his wife, Yu Ziyuan. Seated beside her is a man and a woman he didn’t recognize, and then another empty space he assumes is for Wei Ying.

 

Next to him, Wei Ying freezes.

 

From the table, the unknown woman stands. She is rather short, perhaps only reaching Wei Ying’s shoulders, but she carries with her a heavy aura of spiritual power. She stalks across the room to them, yelling, “Wei Wuxian!” 

 

Wei Ying jumps and laughs awkwardly, a nervous smile sliding across his face. 

 

Lan Wangji takes a half step to the side, placing himself between the woman and Wei Ying.

 

“Oh, don’t you give me that look!” the woman says, still advancing on them, ignoring Lan Wangji entirely. To Wei Ying, she growls, “You told me you were spending the summer with A-Li and A-Cheng at Lotus Pier! Next thing I know, Jiang Fengmian is writing, saying that he’s received a letter about you from Lan Qiren! That Lan Qiren says that you’re at Cloud Recesses, attending the lectures with A-Cheng! All while you’d told Jiang Fengmian that you were returning to Yiling! What do you have to say for yourself, huh, you silly melon?”

 

She stops just in front of them, glaring up at Wei Ying. 

 

Lan Wangji wonders, briefly, if he should maybe growl at her, but, instead, he finds himself suddenly understanding what Wei Ying had meant when he’d said, ‘Your muqin is so intimidating!’ because, this close, there’s no one else this woman could possibly be, except for Cangse Sanren, a five tail huli jing.

 

“I… uhm,” Wei Ying clears his throat, stiltedly. Then, abruptly changing tactics, Wei Ying pouts, shoulders hunching, trying to make himself look small and miserable. He glances at his mother before training his eyes at her feet. Fingers twisting together, Wei Ying says, “Xianxian has never been to Gusu before. Xianxian thought coming to Cloud Recesses with A-Cheng-tangdi sounded like fun. Xianxian is very sorry Xianxian made mama worry.”

 

Cangse Sanren raises a brow, looking disbelieving. She stares at Wei Ying for a long moment, then, after a put-upon sigh, massages her forehead with a hand. She shakes her head and says, voice flat, “I plucked you from or cabbage patch myself, A-Ying, don’t think I won’t put you back.”

 

Wei Ying’s contrite look vanishes. Beaming, he reaches out for her hands and says, “Hello, mama.”

 

Cangse Sanren returns the smile with a soft look of her own. Pulling a hand free, she cups Wei Ying’s jaw, a thumb stroking over his cheek. Then, she takes Wei Ying’s chin between her thumb and forefinger, tilting his head this way and that. The collars of Wei Ying’s current robes partially expose Wei Ying’s claimed scent glands and Cangse Sanren unashamedly eyes the dual marks.

 

Lan Wangji feels his ears heat at the assessment. Cangse Sanren is his future mother-in-law, he doesn’t want her to dislike him. And if she feels he took advantage of Wei Ying’s heat, then there’s a chance she’ll resent him. 

 

Finally, she drops her hold on Wei Ying. Sparing Lan Wangji a quick glance, she asks Wei Ying, “You wanted this?”

 

Wei Ying shoots Lan Wangji a surprisingly shy look. Quietly, face pinking, he says, “Yes, mama. Lan Zhan is the best.”

 

Decisively, Lan Wangji interrupts, “Incorrect. Wei Ying is the best.”

 

While Wei Ying whines and smothers himself in Lan Wangji’s shoulder, Cangse Sanren throws her head back, laughing uproariously. 

 

“Ah, Cangse,” the unknown man from the table says, standing to make his way to them. He is very tall, almost frightfully skinny, and the collars of his robes do a very poor job of covering his twin bond marks. Lan Wangji can only smell Cangse Sanren’s scent on him though and, when he glances at Cangse Sanren’s neck, he can see that both of her scent glands have also been claimed.

 

Cangse Sanren and Wei Changze can truly be called a love match , Lan Wangji thinks, something warm curling in his chest at the thought of Wei Ying being raised by such a devoted couple.

 

Placing a hand on his wife’s back, Wei Changze continues, “Let’s all sit down, yes? I’m sure our A-Ying feels thoroughly chastised for running away.”

 

Cangse Sanren huffs but allows herself to be led back to the table. She drags Wei Ying with her by the hand, pushing him into the vacant seat next to her.

 

Frowning, Lan Wangji follows Lan Xichen to the table, sitting across from the Jiangs and Weis. 

 

Lan Qiren goes through the introductions by rote before he begins explaining the curse and the role that Wei Ying played in breaking it. He even places the talisman that was found with Lan Wangji on the table, to show how complicated the curse was. 

 

Lan Wangji sits, growing more and more uncomfortable by the minute.

 

“The specifics of how the curse broke are irrelevant,” Lan Qiren says, “but, given recent events, it is obvious that Wei Wuxian was instrumental in returning Lan Wangji to his human form. Because of this the GusuLan Sect finds it prudent to arrange a marriage between Lan Wangji and Wei Wuxian. Hopefully, we can come to an agreement quickly, before it becomes obvious that the two…”—his face purples— “shared a heat before marriage.”

 

In the ensuing silence, Jiang Fengmian looks mildly shocked, leaning away from the table to share a look with Wei Changze behind Yu Ziyuan’s back. Yu Ziyuan, for her part, is staring determinedly at the far wall, her lips pursed, jaw clenched. 

 

Uniquely, Cangse Sanren is leaning over the table, frowning at the talisman. 

 

“This is the talisman that locked Lan Wangji in his fox form?” she asks. 

 

“No.”

 

All eyes turn to Lan Wangji. Clearing his throat, Lan Wangji continues, “This talisman was ineffective at setting the curse.”

 

“Wangji,” Lan Xichen says, brows pulled together in confusion. “What do you mean, it was ineffective? Was there a different curse you were under?”

 

Lan Wangji stares at the wood grain in the tabletop. He feels a hand wrap around his wrist, knows it’s Wei Ying’s without needing to look for him. He takes comfort in the little bursts of compassion and affection he feels through their bond. 

 

“The radical, for the target of the spell,” Lan Wangji says. “The target of this curse is denoted as a human and I am not human. When the curse did not work as I had intended it, I went to muqin, who explained why the talisman was ineffective. I begged her to help me rewrite the talisman, so that it functioned correctly, but muqin refused. Instead, she proposed an alternative: I assume my fox form and allow someone to find me at my quarters with the defunct talisman. Knowing that it would be xiongzhang who would find me, muqin said that she would confirm the curse and that it could only be broken by finding my soulmate. This way, muqin would not be burdened with the knowledge that she cursed me, and I would be allowed the time I wanted to find and fall in love with my soulmate.” 

 

Lan Wangji shuffles away from the table, turns to face Lan Xichen and Lan Qiren, and kowtows, saying, “Wangji apologizes to shufu and xiongzhang for this deception and will accept any punishments deemed fit.”

 

“Wangji!” Lan Xichen says, grabbing at Lan Wangji’s arms and dragging him back into a sitting position. 

 

“Do you regret it?”

 

Lan Wangji turns, looking to Lan Qiren. Straightening his back, Lan Wangji says, definitively, “I do not. To regret the curse is to regret Wei Ying.”

 

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying says, scurrying to his feet to run around the edge of the table. He falls into Lan Wangji’s chest, throwing his arms around Lan Wangji’s shoulders.

 

“You knew,” Lan Xichen says, slowly, staring at Wei Ying. “You knew he wasn’t cursed. You’d said as much.”

 

Lifting his head from Lan Wangji’s neck, Wei Ying says, “Yes. Lan Zhan didn’t feel cursed. No resentful energy, no curse marks, nothing. And then when you showed me the talisman he used, I knew there was no way that one would have worked on him. The only factor that I was still unsure of was your muqin. She would have known how to adjust it, just like I did. Lan-furen is powerful enough that she could curse Lan Zhan and there’d be no traces. But, when I talked to her, she said that—while she would never curse her own child—she would be willing to lie, if it meant securing their happiness.”

 

“You spoke to our muqin?” Lan Xichen asks, brows drawing together before, suddenly, his eyes widen, jaw dropping as his cheeks flush. “You—you were—Wei Wuxian, you are a huli jing, too? You were the fox I saw with Wangji at the Gentian House?”

 

Wei Ying nods. “Yes, that was me. My fox form looks quite a bit like a corsac fox.”

 

“You…” but then Lan Xichen is whipping around again, turning to Lan Qiren. “Shufu,” he says, sounding mildly betrayed, “when I told you about the other fox, you weren’t concerned. Did you already know that Wei Wuxian is a huli jing? Or did you know that Wangji’s curse was a lie?”

 

Lan Qiren sighs, rubbing a temple, and says, “Both.”

 

“Shufu!” Lan Xichen says, giving voice to Lan Wangji’s own frisson of surprise.

 

Lan Qiren sighs again. “Of course I knew that Wei Wuxian is a huli jing. I have known Cangse Sanren for over twenty years now. A full blooded huli jing like Cangse Sanren can only beget a huli jing child. As for the curse, I had my suspicions from the beginning. But I held my tongue.”

 

“But why lie, shufu?” Lan Xichen begs. “These last three years, couldn’t you have spared us all the grief?”

 

Lan Qiren gives Lan Xichen a sharp look. “There is a difference between telling a lie and keeping your silence. And if Wangji was already willing to go to such measures to avoid an arrangement, I did not want to challenge the lengths to which he would go when confronted with the truth.”

 

Lan Xichen presses his lips together tightly. Bowing his head, he murmurs, “Xichen apologizes, shufu. I did not mean to accuse you of lying, shufu.”

 

Lan Qiren sighs and, waving a hand, says, “It is understandable, Xichen. This has been a stressful time for you. It is in the past. With the curse settled, let us move on to discussions of Wangji and Wei Wuxian’s marriage.”

 

Clearing his throat, Jiang Fengmian says, “Yes, there is just one thing I feel we should address, before marriage negotiations go much farther. From your letters, Lan Qiren, I get the impression that you’re operating under the false assumption that Wei Wuxian is part of the YunmengJiang Sect: he is not. Wei Wuxian is a disciple solely of Cangse Sanren, a cultivator without any sect affiliation.”

 

There is a long moment of ensuing silence. Then, Wei Ying laughs, hesitantly, and says, “In my defense, I never actually claimed to be from YunmengJiang.” He turns to Lan Xichen before continuing, “When Lan Xichen caught me climbing over the wall, I did say I was looking for my tangdi, Jiang Cheng, and that I had gotten separated from him and the rest of the YunmengJiang in Caiyi—as I got lost buying a bottle of Emperor’s Smile—but I never claimed to be a disciple of Jiang-shushu’s.”

 

Lan Xichen opens his mouth to possibly dispute this but seems to think better of it. Instead, he drops his head into a palm and rubs at his eyes. “No,” Lan Xichen mutters, “you never did say which sect you were from. I just assumed you were from YunmengJiang when Jiang Wanyin confirmed he knew you.”

 

There’s a snort from across the table and, as all eyes turn to Cangse Sanren, the woman erupts onto loud peals of laughter again. 

 

“Qiren-xiong! Qiren-xiong!” she says, tears squeezing from the corners of her eyes. “Perhaps we should just have them do their bows and say they eloped! Hahaha!”

 

Lan Qiren glares, face purpling, and forces out, “Do not address me so familiarly, Cangse Sanren.”

 

But Cangse Sanren shakes her head, “Oh, would you prefer Qiren-xiaoshu (小叔)? We are family now, after all.” 

 

Lan Qiren’s face goes even more blotchy. “That is not—That is even less proper!”

 

Wei Changze suddenly jumps in, tapping the bridge of his nose as he muses, “What would be the proper term though? Lan Qiren-xiong is our son’s husband’s shufu… maybe Qiren-erxu-de-shufu (儿婿的叔父)? No, that’s even worse.”

 

Cangse Sanren throws her head back as laughs, a hand reaching out to grab at Wei Changze’s bicep before she tumbles over completely.

 

“Lan Zhan!” Wei Ying hisses, grabbing Lan Wangji’s sleeve and giving it a small shake. “While they’re distracted, we should get out of here! Let’s elope!”

 

Lan Wangji blinks at Wei Ying. He stares at Wei Ying’s huge smile, his gently flushed cheeks, feels the buzzing, tingling warmth of Wei Ying’s happiness through the bond. 

 

Lan Wangji smiles, threads his fingers through Wei Ying’s, and says, “Mn. I will elope with Wei Ying.”

 

 

Six months later and Lan Xichen is slowly being driven insane. 

 

“Truly, I don’t have an opinion on the flowers,” he says, jaw tight, as one of the many wedding planners stops him, yet again, to ask if he prefers this type of orchid or that type of orchid. “If you’ll excuse me, I am late for a meeting.”

 

The wedding planner opens his mouth to ask another question but, desperate and growing rude, Lan Xichen simply turns away, walking towards his private residence. But, as he approaches the building, he sees two more figures already waiting for him. Half tempted to run into the woods and hide under his mother’s porch, Lan Xichen almost doesn’t recognize the golden robes of the shorter figure, or the dark green and gray robes of the taller. 

 

Thankfully, Nie Mingjue turns to him and calls out a greeting, “A-Huan! You’re late!”

 

Lan Xichen sags, relieved. “I am so glad you both are here,” he says, giving a loose bow to both the other alphas. “Please, come inside. I would love to hide away for a bit.”

 

Jin Ziyao laughs, following Lan Xichen and Nie Mingjue into the house. “Wedding planning is very stressful, er-ge. I can’t imagine having to plan my own. Planning Zixuan-ge and Jiang-guniang’s is hard enough, and I still have six months before the date arrives. You, however, are getting married tomorrow.”

 

Lan Xichen sighs, collapsing into the nearest cushion. “Not for the first time, I find myself thinking that Wangji and Wuxian-difu (弟夫) had the correct idea by eloping.”

 

Nie Mingjue barks out a laugh, reaching for a plate of nut cakes that had been left by the teapot. “You’re going to be zongzhu one day; it must be an official wedding. Wangji-di and Wei Wuxian only got away with it because Wangji-di isn’t a first son. Believe me, I’ve tried getting out of my own but fuqin and Yu-zongzhu have both threatened to butcher me if I actually elope, even if Yu-wu-guniang is willing to join me.”

 

Jin Ziyao snorts into his teacup. “Wen-zongzhu may not be her bofu (伯父), but I’ve heard how much she cares for her didi. You wouldn’t survive the wedding night if you eloped, er-ge.”

 

“Thank you, A-Yao, for those wonderful words of comfort.”

 

Jin Ziyao smiles, “Forgive me, er-ge, would you rather I lie to you?”

 

“No, I wouldn’t,” Lan Xichen sighs. He rubs at his forehead for a moment then asks, “I thought Jin Zixuan was marrying into the YunmengJiang, how did you get stuck with the wedding planning?”

 

Jin Ziyao smiles, tight, sharp, and exhausted, and says, “Jin Zixuan is Jin-zongzhu’s only legitimate child, er-ge. It’s only fitting that he has two weddings, one in Lanling, the other in Yunmeng. See, er-ge, I may be Jin-zongzhu’s heir—by virtue of being the only child of his who wasn’t born an omega—but that doesn’t mean I’m his favorite.”

 

“Ah,” Lan Xichen says, “I see. And Jin-zongzhu is making you plan the Lanling wedding?”

 

“Oh, no,” Jin Ziyao says, smile sharpening, “I volunteered. Ever since I came to live at Jinlin Tai as a child, Zixuan-ge is the only one there who has ever been kind to me.” Jin Ziyao stares into his tea for a moment. Then, he looks up at Lan Xichen and says, “Plus, I want to see the look on Jin Guangshan’s face when everything goes off perfectly.”

 

Nie Mingjue laughs heartily. “You’ll have stiff competition, Yao-di. Just the other day A-Sang was telling me how Jiang Wanyin has taken over wedding planning from Yu-furen. To hear A-Sang tell it, Jiang Wanyin is set on making sure that his a-jie has the wedding of the century. He’s even asked A-Sang to come to Lotus Pier and help him plan it.”

 

“Oh?” Jin Ziyao says, placing his chin on a fist. “And you let our little A-Sang go to Lotus Pier, all by himself?”

 

Nie Mingjue glares, teacup nearly shattering as he slams it back to the table. “And just what do you mean by that?”

 

“Nothing, nothing,” Jin Ziyao says. “Just… an unmated omega inviting an unmated alpha into his household? Should you be worried about planning A-Sang’s wedding here in a few months?”

 

Nie Mingjue looks thunderous. “Are you suggesting that the alphas of the QingheNie are—are loose or—or—”

 

Jin Ziyao laughs, nearly tipping over with mirth.

 

Between the two, Lan Xichen waves a hand. “Calm down, calm down. Please , I’m stressed enough with my own wedding tomorrow. I don’t have time to discuss anyone else’s.”

 

Nie Mingjue huffs, turning away, as Jin Ziyao snickers quietly into his sleeve.

 

Finally, after his giggles subside, Jin Ziyao asks, “What about Lan Wangji? Isn’t he supposed to arrive soon?”

 

Lan Xichen sighs, staring into his teacup. “He’ll be here when he can, but, well, you know Wangji… He and Wuxian-difu will continue night hunting up until Caiyi, most likely… but Wangji did write a few days ago to say that they’d just passed through Tingshan.”

 

“Hmm,” Jin Ziyao says. Then, changing the subject, he asks, “Are you flying all the way to Nightless City to collect Wen-gongzi?”

 

Lan Xichen shakes his head. “Wen-gongzi’s cultivation isn’t terribly strong. Wen-zongzhu is to arrive with Wen-gongzi and a few close advisors and family members this afternoon. They’ll stay at a guest house and I’ll collect Wen-gongzi tomorrow morning from there.”

 

“And Wen-gongzi is seen as a proper fit for you, a sect heir, with his poor cultivation?” Jin Ziyao asks, an eyebrow raised.

 

Lan Xichen sighs, rubbing his thumb over the rim of his cup. “Apparently, Wen-gongzi and I share a similar… disinterest in marital activities outside of heats and ruts.”

 

“Huh,” Jin Ziyao says.

 

At the same time, Nie Mingjue says, “Good for you, A-Huan.”

 

“Thank you,” Lan Xichen says, offering a tired smile. “I’m very much looking forward to all this being over with, if only to avoid all the wedding planners.”

 

 

That evening, just before curfew, one of the junior disciples knocks on Lan Xichen’s door. Setting Liebing in its holder, Lan Xichen pulls his outer robe on and answers the door.

 

The junior disciple bows and says, “Hanguang-jun and Yiling Laozu have been spotted on the trail heading to the main gate. They should arrive within one ke (刻).”

 

“Thank you for telling me. Please, make sure someone informs shufu, as well,” Lan Xichen says, hurrying out the door and past the junior. He makes it to the main gate in half of a ke, pacing just within the boundary as he waits. Soon enough he hears Wei Wuxian’s voice:

 

“I swear, Lan Zhan! I’m not so big that I can’t walk, you know! I mention once —one single, solitary time! —that there are about a million steps going up to Cloud Recesses and they’re gonna make my feet hurt and you just sweep me straight up into your gorgeously strong arms! You can’t carry me everywhere all the time, you know! You’ll have to set me down eventually! What about our child, huh? You can’t hold us both at the same time! You’ll have to set me down when it’s time to hold them!”

 

There’s a brief moment of silence, and then, Lan Wangji’s voice, “Wei Ying, I have two arms.”

 

Lan Zhan!

 

Lan Xichen is already smiling by the time Lan Wangji and Wei Wuxian appear. As suspected, Lan Wangji is carrying Wei Wuxian in his arms. To Lan Xichen, his brother’s face is unbearably smug. Wei Wuxian, for his part, is pressing both hands to his face. 

 

“Wangji,” Lan Xichen says, “Wuxian-difu. I’m glad you both arrived safely. I’ve had the Jingshi set up for you.” I’ve had the Jingshi set up for you for months now , he doesn’t say.

 

Lan Wangji nods, a smile still playing across his face, “Thank you, xiongzhang.”

 

Lan Xichen’s smile pulls wider. “Allow me to accompany you to the Jingshi?”

 

Lan Wangji nods his consent, about to continue down the path when Wei Wuxian lifts his head and smacks Lan Wangji’s chest.

 

“Set me down, you silly man,” he says. “We’re in Cloud Recesses now. What would your shufu say if he saw you being so shameless?”

 

Lan Wangji purses his lips together, refusing to rise to the bait, and refusing to let Wei Wuxian out of his hold. 

 

“Lan Zhan!” Wei Wuxian says again. 

 

Lan Wangji looks at Wei Wuxian for a long moment. Then, he heaves a small sigh and carefully sets Wei Wuxian back on his feet. He doesn’t step away though, keeping a hand on the small of Wei Wuxian’s back until he’s sure Wei Wuxian isn’t at risk of falling.

 

Then, Wei Wuxian turns to Lan Xichen and bows a greeting. “Xichen-dabo (大伯), long time no see!”

 

Lan Xichen didn’t think he’d feel so relieved to see his brother and brother-in-law but, having both of them back within the bounds of Cloud Recesses unknots something within his chest. 

 

Lan Xichen gestures down the pathway towards the Jingshi and, as expected, Wei Wuxian fills the short journey with idle chatter. 

 

It’s not until they reach the steps to the Jingshi that Lan Xichen notices that—instead of Wei Wuxian’s usual animated hand movements—Wei Wuxian has spent the entire walk caressing a hand over the gentle swell of his stomach.

 

Lan Xichen’s eyes widen, so shocked he nearly trips over the bottommost step of the Jingshi. 

 

“Wuxian-difu, Wangji, you—”

 

“Surprise!” Wei Wuxian shouts. “Are you excited, Xichen-dabo? You’ll have a little zhizi (侄子) or zhinu (侄女) in a few months’ time!”

 

“Yes,” Lan Xichen says, voice tight, “thank you. I am—very excited. Will—will you be staying in Cloud Recesses for—for the next few years?”

 

“Mn,” Lan Wangji says. “We plan on raising our children here.”

 

“Oh,” Lan Xichen says, voice wobbling. “My apologies, I—I have been rather stressed, lately, but I am very excited to be a bofu.”

 

Lan Wangji nods, says, “Mn. As are we.”

 

And ,” Wei Wuxian says, “we are also very excited to be shufu and shenmu (婶母)!”

 

Lan Xichen blushes darkly, spluttering. 

 

Wei Wuxian laughs, says, “Xichen-dabo, I have met Wen Ning several times now, he’s a good friend and a good person. If Wen Qing has approved of this marriage, then I know you will get along well. You don’t need to look so nervous!”

 

Chuckling awkwardly, Lan Xichen finds himself nodding. “Thank you, Wuxian-difu…”

 

“Xiongzhang,” Lan Wangji interrupts, “it is getting late.”

 

“Yes! Quite right!” Lan Xichen says, jumping on the excuse. “I’ll leave now, let you both get settled in. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

 

“Mn, tomorrow.”

 

“Bye, Xichen-dabo!”

 

Lan Xichen makes a hasty exit, not quite running back to his own house. He sleeps rather uneasily that night but, he assumes, that’s to be expected: he’s getting married tomorrow, after all.

 

 

“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji growls, hands fisting in the sheets.

 

Wei Ying pops off of Lan Wangji’s cock, panting, and says, “Yes, Lan Zhan-gege?” 

 

Lan Wangji’s cock, held securely in Wei Ying’s hand, twitches, dribbling more precome.

 

Wei Ying giggles, bending down and swirling his tongue around the head of Lan Wangji’s cock. Wei Ying seals his lips around Lan Wangji’s erection and sucks, slowly sinking down.

 

Lan Wangji reaches down, tracing a thumb along where Wei Ying’s lips stretch wide around his cock. He can smell Wei Ying’s slick from where he’s lounging back on the bed, Wei Ying kneeling between his splayed legs.

 

Wei Ying wraps a hand around the base of Lan Wangji’s cock, right over where his knot is already half formed. Lan Wangji’s hip thrusts forward of their own volition, fucking himself deeper into Wei Ying’s throat. 

 

Wei Ying moans, pulling up and off. “Fuck, Lan Zhan, you taste so good.” Wei Ying brings his other hand up, using it to jerk Lan Wangji off as he ducks down, sucking Lan Wangji’s balls into his mouth, one at a time. 

 

“Wei Ying ,” Lan Wangji growls again, thighs spreading wider. A hand lifts from the bedsheets. He’s about to fist it in Wei Ying’s hair when Wei Ying pulls back.

 

Twisting a hand around the head of Lan Wangji’s cock, Wei Ying pouts. “Lan Zhan ! You said I’d have a full ke to do whatever I wanted! It’s barely been half a ke!”

 

Lan Wangji exhales harshly, hand fisting in nothing, and drops it back onto the bed. “Wei Ying has been two-thirds of a ke.”

 

Wei Ying barks a laugh. “Have you been counting, Lan-er-gege?”

 

“Mn.”

 

“Ah, Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying shakes his head. “Of course, the venerable Hanguang-jun would count. But,” Wei Ying smirks, lowering his mouth to Lan Wangji’s testicles again, “if Lan Zhan can still count, I’m obviously not doing a good enough job at this.”

 

Wei Ying slides his hands from Lan Wangji’s cock. He drums his fingers on Lan Wangji’s thighs for a moment, thinking. Then, eyes sparkling, Wei Ying throws Lan Wangji a dangerous smile. 

 

“I know how to get Lan-er-gege to forget the time,” Wei Ying says, sliding off the bed.

 

Lan Wangji watches as Wei Ying—stomach gently swollen with their child—moves to the head of the bed. He places a knee on the mattress by Lan Wangji’s head, a hand by his hip, and, carefully, swings his other leg over Lan Wangji’s head, putting his dripping cunt right in Lan Wangji’s face.

 

“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji says, hands going to Wei Ying’s hips.

 

Wei Ying clicks his tongue. “Watch it, Hanguang-jun. I’ve still got some time left.”

 

Lan Wangji sighs, breath ghosting over Wei Ying’s slick folds, causing Wei Ying to twitch, his cock dragging across Lan Wangji’s chest.

 

Wei Ying groans and puts his mouth back on Lan Wangji’s cock.

 

Lan Wangji, for his part, focuses on counting down to the full ke. Afterall, their agreement had been that Wei Ying could do whatever he wanted for a ke and Lan Wangji wouldn’t touch or object in any way. Still, it is incredibly difficult to count a full hundredth of a day with Wei Ying rutting his cock against Lan Wangji’s chest, with Wei Ying’s holes not even a handspan from his mouth.

 

Then, just as Wei Ying’s twisting his hands around Lan Wangji’s half-knot again, times up.

 

Lan Wangji doesn’t hesitate and, grabbing Wei Ying’s hips in an iron grip, he drags Wei Ying back, burying his tongue deep in Wei Ying’s pussy. 

 

Wei Ying gasps, “ Lan Zhan!

 

“Times up,” Lan Wangji growls, shoving his tongue back into Wei Ying’s cunt. He licks and sucks at the folds as Wei Ying gasps and moans around his cock, still trying to blow him.

 

Lan Wangji curls an arm over Wei Ying’s hips, hand splaying across Wei Ying’s lower back. Lan Wangji fans his fingers out, pressing his thumb to Wei Ying’s asshole, teasing at it, rubbing small circles into the tight furl of muscle. Lan Wangji takes his other hand and wraps it around Wei Ying’s cock, lets Wei Ying fuck into his tight grip and then back to his tongue and thumb. 

 

Then, just as Wei Ying’s rhythm starts to fall apart, Lan Wangji pulls his hands away. 

 

Wei Ying wails, Lan Wangji’s cock slipping out of his mouth again. “Lan Zhan!” he cries.

 

Lan Wangji grabs Wei Ying’s hips, fingers digging in deep. Lan Wangji holds him in place, licking over Wei Ying’s asshole before he shoves his tongue inside. 

 

Wei Ying keens, rutting desperately against Lan Wangji’s tongue as he babbles into the crease of Lan Wangji’s thigh. 

 

Feeling merciful, Lan Wangji frees one of his hands, shoving three fingers into Wei Ying’s sloppy cunt. 

 

“Oh, fuck, oh, fuck, oh, fuck! Lan Zhan! ” Wei Ying comes, cock untouched, across Lan Wangji’s chest, cunt squirting over Lan Wangji’s chin and neck.

 

Wei Ying whimpers, face still buried against Lan Wangji’s leg, as he continues twitching, pleasure quickly giving way to oversensitivity. 

 

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying pleads. “Lan Zhan, please. I can’t—I can’t!”

 

Lan Wangji pulls back from Wei Ying’s rim just long enough to say, blasé, “Wei Ying can.”

 

Wei Ying wails. “No! Lan Zhan!”

 

“It is my ke now, Wei Ying. If you truly want me to stop, you know what to say.”

 

“Lan Zhan!” Wei Ying whines, “You can’t do this to me! Aren’t I the mother of your child? Won’t you have mercy on me?!”

 

But if Wei Ying is hoping to receive any actual mercy, he’s terribly mistaken.

 

Lan Wangji ignores Wei Ying’s pleas and goes back to sucking and licking at Wei Ying’s rim, fucking his fingers lazily into Wei Ying’s pussy.

 

For the next whole ke, Lan Wangji turns Wei Ying into a writhing, sobbing mess. Then, deciding Wei Ying’s had enough, Lan Wangji pulls his tongue and fingers free. He taps Wei Ying’s thigh, orders, “Up.”

 

Wei Ying practically falls off of him, landing on his side on the bed, chest heaving. 

 

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying says.

 

“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji replies. He moves, getting up to his knees and straddling one of Wei Ying’s legs. The other leg, he lifts, placing the calf over his shoulder.

 

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying whines, “why are you so insatiable?”

 

“Perhaps if Wei Ying could tell me why he is so alluring, I could tell him why I am so insatiable.”

 

“Lan Zhan!”

 

Lan Wangji smiles, yanks Wei Ying closer by the hips, and lines himself up.

 

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying says again, reaching out to grab at Lan Wangji’s forearms, “you gonna fuck another baby into me?”

 

Lan Wangji thrusts inside, half-formed knot slamming into Wei Ying’s cunt in one solid, forceful move. 

 

Wei Ying sobs, hands tightening on Lan Wangji’s arms as his cunt flutters around Lan Wangji’s cock. 

 

“How’re you still so big, Lan Zhan, ah? We’ve been doing this every day since we mated. How’re you still so big?”

 

Lan Wangji can’t focus enough to answer, knows he’d just end up asking why Wei Ying is still so tight. Instead, Lan Wangji pulls out and, not even giving Wei Ying time to cry about feeling empty, slams back inside. Lan Wangji sets up a slow but hard pace, grinding his cock against the back of Wei Ying’s pussy with every thrust, like he’s trying to get as deep inside Wei Ying as he can.

 

Wei Ying keens, whining, with every thrust, every grind of Lan Wangji’s half-knot in his cunt, his nails digging into Lan Wangji’s arms. But, with the position Wei Ying’s in—with Lan Wangji straddling one leg and the other tossed over his shoulder—there’s nowhere for Wei Ying to go, no way for him to wiggle his way out. 

 

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying says between moans, “you could just hold me down and do whatever you wanted to me, couldn’t you?”

 

Lan Wangji slams in, hard, grunting as he grinds his cock and knot into Wei Ying. 

 

“You could,” Wei Ying says, licking his lips. “If you wanted to, we could—could pretend. Or—or—I bet your spirit fox form is huge. I bet you could pin me down—easy, like it’s nothing—Do you think your cock would still fit inside? When you’re in that form?”

 

“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji growls, warningly. 

 

“When I’m not,” Wei Ying says, starting to shiver as his orgasm creeps up on him. “When I’m not—after I’ve—”

 

“Yes,” Lan Wangji agrees, groaning as his knot fully forms, locking him inside Wei Ying as he starts to come.

 

Wei Ying moans, turning his head to half-bury his face into the sheets, his own orgasm rocketing through him, cock twitching as he empties himself onto the bed, cunt clamping and pulsing around Lan Wangji’s cock.

 

Carefully, Lan Wangji lowers Wei Ying’s leg from his shoulder. He massages Wei Ying’s thighs, his hips, strokes gently over the bump of their child in Wei Ying’s womb. 

 

Wei Ying hums. Reaching up to wrap his arms around Lan Wangji’s shoulders, Wei Ying drags him down, pouting until Lan Wangji peppers his face with kisses.

 

Outside of a heat or rut, Lan Wangji’s knot deflates quickly. When he’s finally able to pull out, he goes to a nearby wash basin and cleans them both up.

 

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying says, his fingers carding through Lan Wangji’s hair where his head is resting against Wei Ying’s stomach. 

 

Lan Wangji hums in acknowledgement.

 

“I was serious, you know, about doing it in your spirit fox form… or both of our spirit fox forms. That would be fun.”

 

“Mn,” Lan Wangji says. “After our child is born and you’ve sat for the month.”

 

“Fuck, yeah,” Wei Ying says, cock twitching where it’s trapped under Lan Wangji’s bicep.

 

“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji warns.

 

Wei Ying sighs, “I know, I know. Can’t I just look forward to it, though?”

 

“Mn, I will look forward to it, too.”

 

Wei Ying laughs and goes back to carding his fingers through Lan Wangji’s hair. Lan Wangji pets his fingers over the soft trail of hair that descends from Wei Ying’s navel to the dark thatch of hair between his legs.

 

“Wei Ying, what about Yuan?”

 

Wei Ying thinks about it for a long moment. “Which yuan? The yuan in langyuan (阆苑) paradise?”

 

Lan Wangji shakes his head, “No, I was thinking of the yuan in yiyuan (意愿).”

 

“Oh,” Wei Ying says around a yawn. “I like it. That’s cute. Our little A-Yuan, Lan Yuan. What should we use for a courtesy name?”

 

“We will discuss it later. It is time to sleep, Wei Ying.”

 

Wei Ying pouts. “I'm not sleepy. I haven’t even had my bedtime kisses yet, how can I possibly be tired?” But the statement is ruined by another yawn. 

 

“Sleep, Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji says, leaning up to press the required bedtime kisses to Wei Ying’s lips.

 

 

The next day, Lan Xichen gets married before his entire sect to a shy young man named Wen Ning, courtesy Qionglin. 

 

Wei Ying, who has met Wen Qionglin several times previously, quickly decides that they will be the very best of friends, expertly extracting a promise from Wen Qionglin to join him for an archery contest sometime in the next few weeks.

 

Wen-zongzhu sighs, the alpha looking put upon when Wei Ying points out that they’re in laws now. “You won’t be able to get rid of me so easily now, Qing-jie!”

 

Lan Wangji also watches as, at the banquet, Jiang Wanyin seems to spend all his time either hurriedly whispering to Nie Huaisang or staring, red-faced, at Wen-zongzhu. When Nie Huaisang ends up talking with Wen-zongzhu, hiding their faces behind a fan, and then pointing to Jiang Wanyin, both alphas looking contemplative, Lan Wangji decides he neither cares, nor wants to know any more than what he’s already seen.

 

Lan Wangji does seize on one opportunity brought about by the wedding though: approaching Jiang Yanli and asking her if she’d be willing to teach him how to make lotus and pork rib soup, as it is one of Wei Ying’s favorite dishes and no one else can make it as well as Jiang Yanli can, according to Wei Ying.

 

Near the end of the night, though, he overhears Wei Ying talking to Lan Xichen and Wen Qionglin. “No, I swear, you should let me give your first child their courtesy name! Tangjie let me pick one for her first child and she loves the name, I swear! Anyway, I was thinking ‘Jingyi’ would be a good counterpoint to ‘Zewu-jun’, you know? And a little homage to ‘Qionglin’! Cute, right?”

 

Lan Wangji watches the whole event stoically, heart aching in a way that’s difficult to put into words. He is happy for Lan Xichen and Wen Qionglin. They dance around each other, shy and nervous, but with a subtle spark of hope that shines every time their eyes meet.

 

Cangse Sanren and Wei Changze approach them at one point, Cangse Sanren flattening her hands over Wei Ying’s stomach and making threatening promises to visit and help Wei Ying sit for the month after their child is born.

 

Cangse Sanren scandalizes a good portion of the wedding guests by pressing kisses to Wei Ying’s cheeks, and then further horrifies them when she manages to bully Lan Wangji into stooping down so she can press a single kiss to his cheek, too. Cackling, Cangse Sanren moves back into the crowd, leaving Wei Changze to say, “We’re going to go find Qiren-xiong. We bought a jade and mother-of-pearl razor in Caiyi that we thought he’d like.”

 

Lan Wangji feels like he’s missing something, but he often feels like that when it comes to social interactions, so he doesn’t let it bother him.

 

A hand slips into Lan Wangji’s. He turns, a soft smile already forming on his face as he looks at Wei Ying. Wei Ying grins, beaming, face lighting up like the sun.

 

“Do you see them?” Wei Ying asks, jerking his chin towards the tree line. “They’ve been hiding in the trees this whole time.”

 

Lan Wangji follows his gaze and, standing arm-in-arm amongst the trees, is his mother and—though it’s been almost fifteen years since he saw him last—a man he can vaguely recognize as Qingheng-jun. 

 

“Oh,” a voice says on Lan Wangji’s other side.

 

Lan Wangji glances over, seeing Lan Xichen all dressed in red standing next to him. Looking back to the tree line, Lan Wangji watches as his mother raises a hand and waves, mouthing the words, “Have you eaten?”

 

Wei Ying laughs, falling into Lan Wangji’s side. 

 

“Lan Zhan! Ah, Lan Zhan. We’ll have to bring our little one to meet Lan-popo as soon as we can, okay? Afterall, our little one will be just like us! Ah, can you imagine? Their little ears and their first tail! Ah, it’s too cute! They’re going to be too cute!”

 

“Mn,” Lan Wangji agrees, pressing a shameless kiss to Wei Ying’s temple. “They will take after Wei Ying, then.”

 

Lan Zhan!




The End