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To say that Lan Wangji feels conflicted about the change in Wei Wuxian’s demeanor when he returns to society after three months of silence—the longest three months of his life—is an understatement.

He's…sharper. There’s something unbridled about his mannerisms, less the overconfident bravado of a teenager who knew his strengths and more the aura of an undaunted spirit; of a man who’d seen hell, walked into it, and came out unscathed.

Relatively unscathed. Wangji can see the way the shadows cling to him, refusing to let go, dancing in his eyes, burrowed under his skin.

It says quite a lot about him that his first instinct isn’t to run.

Instead, he frowns and approaches his old friend—not that he ever acknowledged the title, not that he ever treated Wei Wuxian as such, not that Wei Wuxian cares.

“Lan Wangji,” Wei Wuxian drawls. His cadence is gravelly. Unsurprising. Lan Wangji does not know what happened to him while he was gone, but it had to have been something miserable. Something worth lowering the timbre of his voice.

Maybe it’s just the way that his hair, unbound, wafts in the wind behind him, but he seems taller. More imposing. His irises, shifted from a soft, playful heather gray to an iridescent red, lend to this descriptor. He'd stopped dozens of brave men in their tracks with one look, earning stares of horror when he played his dizi, changing the tides of the war.

“I hear they call you Hanguang-jun these days,” Wei Wuxian continues with a smirk on his face. His self-assured cockiness hasn’t changed, at least. His tone reminds Lan Wangji of days long past, in the Cloud Recesses before the buildings burned to the ground. “How fitting.”

Disturbingly enough, his scent, uncontained in any way, wafts over to Lan Wangji on the breeze. He’s used to this, alphas losing control of themselves, but never Wei Wuxian.

He’s always had exceptional core control. He teased and flirted, but never in an overbearing way, never one to cross this line; he'd always been respectful of other people's space.

And yet, here he stands. Unapologetic. He is sun and sweat and exhaustion from fighting all day; darkness and death and despair from the resentment steeped into his body like ink. He smells pungent and acrid and nobody but Lan Wangji seems to notice because he’s the only person built to notice—it was rare for people to present in either extreme designation.

It was rarer still for a compatible pair to cross paths in adolescence, prime time for bonding and breeding and all sorts of things they’d never done. Lan Wangji had been thrown too hopelessly off-balance by Wei Wuxian’s everything at age sixteen.

Today, they stand several feet away from each other. Lan Wangji struggles to make sense of everything he feels in that moment. Pain. Frustration. Burning arousal.

That last one is the hardest to ignore.

Belatedly, Lan Wangji hums in agreement. He doesn’t care what people call him. If Hanguang-jun is to be his honorary title, his crowning achievement for enacting enemies’ swift and painless deaths, so be it.

Wei Wuxian lifts an eyebrow, intrigued by Lan Wangji’s absent-minded answer. When Wei Wuxian strides over to him, Lan Wangji grows still. He wills himself to stay calm.

He resists the urge to swallow, desperate to wet his throat, to pay attention to anything other than Wei Wuxian clogging his senses. Lan Wangji stopped growing some time ago, as was typical for omegas. Wei Wuxian is several inches taller than him, not so much towering as looming, his whole existence eerie and tantalizing.

Up close, it’s easier for Lan Wangji to pick up his old notes, ginger root and lotus seeds, earthy and bitter, but warm.

Valiantly, he does not lick his lips.

“What’s the matter, Hanguang-jun?” Wei Wuxian jeers. “Can’t stand to look at what I’ve become?”

I'm not afraid of you, he thinks vehemently, fixing Wei Wuxian with a glare. Before he can grab Wei Wuxian’s shoulder, attempting to console him, Jiang Wanyin snaps at his brother to get back to his station.

There are matters more important than Lan Wangji’s attraction to handle at the moment, but Wei Wuxian doesn’t look like he’s going to let this go, whatever this is—he’s always been too curious for his own good, too dedicated to tearing things apart, learning their secrets by crawling inside of them, destroying them from the inside out.

(Lan Wangji carefully does not think about how he would like Wei Wuxian to do the same to him.)

 


 

As allies, their paths cross often.

Sometimes, there isn’t enough space to set up separate camps. Sometimes, supplies run low and they have to make adjustments so that everyone has enough to eat. The elders practice inedia so that the juniors are strong enough to fight every day, powering through the worst of their days drenched in blood and gore.

It’s late at night when Lan Wangji catches Wei Wuxian playing something soft and solemn by himself, far removed from the rest of the troupe they’re traveling with. He stops when he hears Lan Wangji approaching, pulling his lips off of Chenqing to offer the other man a wry smile. “I don’t always play to raise the dead, you know.”

“Mm,” he hums, standing off to the side so that Wei Wuxian doesn’t have to look at him if he doesn’t want to.

Amazingly, astoundingly, the founder of demonic cultivation turns around. “What are you doing here?” Wei Wuxian says. The phrase doesn’t quite register as a question.

Lan Wangji has half a mind to be petty and petulant, given that Wei Wuxian has been so brusque, but he was raised to be polite. To take the higher ground. “I wanted to see you,” he confesses, a deeper truth than he’d been prepared to admit.

Wei Wuxian barks out a disbelieving laugh. “Well, you’ve seen me. Are you satisfied?”

He frowns. In many ways, Wei Wuxian annoys him far more now than he did as a teenager, when all that Lan Wangji wanted (thought he wanted) was for Wei Wuxian to leave him alone.

It’s impressive, how three years could change them so much.

The moon is full. Wei Wuxian’s robes are loose. He refuses to carry his sword, Suibian. Lan Wangji has questions, so many of them, yet the one at the forefront of his mind is whether he can get closer without being maimed. If he can touch Wei Wuxian, work the tangles out of his hair with his fingers.

He smells enticing in a forbidden way, like something placed out of reach to keep Wangji safe.

Lan Wangji has not broadcasted his scent since he was fourteen and first presented, when he’d been whisked away from his lectures and forced into a week of seclusion. He aches to let his walls down right now, when it makes no sense to be vulnerable.

Wei Wuxian does this to him—makes him reckless.

(Idly, he wonders if it’s possible for behaviors to be infectious.)

“If I say no,” Lan Wangji murmurs, “what will you do?”

The other man blinks at him, sweeping up from his perch on the rock, sauntering over slowly, unhurried, unaware of the way that Lan Wangji subtly sucks in a breath. Wei Wuxian tilts Wangji's head back so that they’re looking at each other eye-to-eye, red against amber, the long, pale column of his neck beautifully exposed.

He lets his eyes flick south, the innuendo obvious. “Then I would consider you a fool,” Wei Wuxian hums, stroking Lan Wangji’s chin, admiring his jawline. “Tell me, Hanguang-jun—what could you possibly want with a profane cultivator like me at such an hour? If people found us alone together, they might talk. You stand out with those robes, you know.”

It’s true. Wei Wuxian could easily melt into the shadows if he wanted to.

Lan Wangji does not answer verbally. He simply fixes Wei Wuxian with a look, refusing to turn away or close his eyes, conveying his sentiments silently.

“Ah, that’s right,” Wei Wuxian says. “One must not listen to idle chatter. That’s one of your silly little rules, isn’t it?”

He scowls at the insult, but continues to remain still, letting Wei Wuxian dictate the pace. It’s becoming difficult to remain standing with Wei Wuxian’s scent crowding him, pulling him in. It feels like he’s drowning, struggling to snatch lungfuls of air.

“I can only think of one reason a man like you would come and seek me out when it was unlikely for anyone to chance upon us. Were you hoping to be debased this evening?” An aura of fiendish delight settles in his skin, wicked irises bright in the moonlight.

Lan Wangji does not like the way the resentful energy has made Wei Wuxian impatient and vicious. Does not like the way it whips around him, making the bags beneath his eyes sunken and pronounced. Does not like the way that he only sees glimpses of the bright boy, the genius boy, the wild boy, peeking out beneath this façade.

But. But.

He is so close, and he is no less handsome for becoming this creature, fathomless and hungry and not all there. Lan Wangji can’t deny the way his body responds, eager for Wei Wuxian to turn this exchange into something more. To make good on his words.

He nods.

For a fraction of a second, he thinks he sees Wei Ying staring at him, young and innocent, taken aback by his response. It happens so quickly that it might as well be an illusion, then Wei Wuxian grabs his wrist and drags Wangji to his tent, so far away from everyone else’s that it’s nearly in the woods.

He nearly tears Lan Wangji’s robes in his haste to have him bare, digging his teeth into Wangji's nape deeply enough to draw blood. He scents Wangji, humping against him ruthlessly, tugging on Wangji’s hair with all of his unbridled strength.

Lan Wangji moans as Wei Wuxian pinches his nipples, the space between his legs damp and throbbing. “Please,” he whispers, unsure what he’s asking for, exactly, except for friction and heat.

Wei Wuxian pushes Wangji into the ground, pale skin catching on cloth. Rocks dig into Wangji's shoulders through the material. The sounds of nature around them drives home the carnality of what they’re doing. Their scents mingle, carrying on the wind, alerting the animals nearby that there’s a predator hard at work staking a claim.

His fingers brush past Lan Wangji’s entrance, rubbing at him for a moment before teasing Wangji’s flushed cockhead. “Say yes,” Wei Wuxian asks—demands.

“Yes, ye—” Wangji exhales, breathing out as well as he’s able to when Wei Wuxian slams his fingers inside. Wei Wuxian is rough and eager and inexperienced, working off of Lan Wangji’s snarls and snapped instructions to do better.

Some part of him cares enough to listen, to slow down and chase Lan Wangji’s desire, to make him moan for more. He hitches up Lan Wangji’s thigh, decorated now with numerous marks, lifting it above his head, admiring the view, his dark curls and pooling slick enticing enough for Wei Wuxian to lick his lips, all of him red and ruddy and horny.

“This is easily the stupidest decision you’ve ever made,” Wei Wuxian says as he pushes into Lan Wangji’s tight heat, watching as Wangji’s eyes flutter closed, pleasure and pain intertwined as the alpha pushes forward. “Giving yourself to me. What the hell are you thinking?”

I was thinking of you, Wei Ying.

Wei Wuxian can't shove the entirety of his cock in at this angle, so he pulls Lan Wangji into his lap, shocking a startled gasp out of him. He keens, biting his lip when Wei Wuxian pulls him down. He's full to the brim, leaking all over Wei Wuxian’s legs.

“Terrible. Just terrible,” Wei Wuxian mutters. “I want to make a mess of you. I want to ruin you. I want to choke you until you can’t see. I want you here, like this, forever. Why did you do this?”

“Because,” he says, unable to form the rest of the words. I needed it. I wanted you.

He comes like that, squirming in Wei Wuxian’s lap, his toes curling as Wuxian's knot inflates, locking him there for an hour, the two of them sweaty and silent and changed.

 


 

They don’t allow their activities to get in the way of tearing down Wen stations left and right, Lan Xichen and Nie Mingjue leading the charge.

It takes the better part of a year to arrive at the capital, Nightless City.

The day before the siege, Lan Wangji seeks Wei Wuxian out. Not to have sex. Just to spend time together, breathing each other in.

They aren’t bonded—they cannot be, it would be too much to risk—but there's a depth to them. A sense of unity.

Lan Wangji makes Wei Wuxian promise that they will leave this place alive if it’s the last thing they do. Wei Wuxian, simmering with rage, nods, hands balled into fists in his lap, prowling around the camp like a tiger, ready to kill anybody who looks at him sideways.

The Stygian Tiger Seal makes quick work of the foot soldiers, bathing the streets in blood. Wei Wuxian is akin to a nightmare come to life. Green flames follow him wherever he goes. He slaughters people with tendrils of black smoke and raised corpses, earning more weapons for their cause each time a Wen loses their life.

The venerated triad—Nie Mingjue, Lan Xichen, and Meng Yao—are the ones who have the honor of taking Wen Ruohan’s head, bringing the war to a screeching halt. Wei Wuxian does not begrudge them for that. His debts were repaid when he returned from the Burial Mounds, castrated Wen Chao, and pulled Wen Zhuliu’s heart out of his chest, broadcasting the bodyguard's failure to the rest of his sect.

There is plenty of work to be done. There are dozens of cities to rebuild.

Lan Wangji has a duty to go home. What’s left of his home.

(He would sooner die than complain, but every inch him doesn’t want to. He wants to be with Wei Wuxian always and forever, to throw his arms around Wei Wuxian’s neck and command his attention. To pull him away from the shadows, if only for a few minutes at a time.)

They can have this last night, at least; that’s what he tells himself.

Wei Wuxian smiles sadly, in that unfortunate manner where it doesn’t meet his eyes, tumbling into bed with Lan Wangji in a perfunctory way. When he's finished, he pulls away, leaving Wangji adrift, bereft, longing.

Wei Wuxian knots him, but he has no passion. No desire, no ache, no burn.

In a way, Lan Wangji wonders if it would have been better if they had never started this whole endeavor, if they should’ve left their compatibility to the wayside, forever mulling over what-ifs.

 


 

Unfortunately, Lan Wangji is stubborn.

He is painfully stubborn, to the point that it makes his brother and his uncle worry. He is so mulish that it is impossible to stop him once he has his heart set on something, pushing everyone and everything in his way off the path, trudging forward.

It takes him three months—the same amount of time as the last vacant season, full of long nights and bleeding fingers—to break away from his duties, to seek Wei Wuxian out again.

Wei Wuxian looks worse for the wear, milling about running errands for Jiang Cheng, contributing to the efforts to rebuild Lotus Pier. “I need to talk to you,” Lan Wangji says.

Jiang Wanyin and Yanli turn to stare at him in confusion, the former glaring and the latter opening her mouth in surprise, stunned to see the second jade of Lan speaking so bluntly.

Arrogantly, Wei Wuxian tilts his nose up, drawing attention to their height difference, sneering down at Lan Wangji. “What will you do if I say no?”

It’s an echo of an old conversation, one which reverberates through Lan Wangji’s bones.

He’s pleased, though he doesn’t show it, that Wei Wuxian remembers.

“You won’t,” Lan Wangji declares, letting his guard down, giving off the faint smell of sage and hibiscus, herbal and sweet, just for Wei Wuxian.

He scoffs, but does not disagree, following Lan Wangji until it becomes clear that Wangji has no idea where he’s going, where they can be alone.

Wei Wuxian sweeps into his quarters like a royal, lying down on his humble bedroll without a care, dark robes draped over pale skin.

Lan Wangji, deciding to damn the consequences, kneels across Wuxian's lap, letting his hair drape over his shoulder, scent oozing from his pores. Wei Wuxian can smell his arousal, thick and rich, made all the more agonizing because Wangji hasn’t been suppressing his instincts.

It’s been too long since Wei Wuxian bed him. Twelve weeks too long.

Wei Wuxian laughs humorlessly, allowing Lan Wangji to tower over him for once, wiry fingers tracing the omega’s jawline. “You haven’t learned your lesson, I see,” he says.

Seconds later, there is a crack in the veneer. Softly and shyly, Wei Ying—the shift is so distinct that it's obvious—says, “Why me? You need to let me go, Lan Zhan. You were supposed to let me go.”

“I don’t want to,” Lan Wangji declares, cradling Wuxian's gaunt cheeks, staring into his red eyes. “Let me in,” he pleads desperately, refusing to let his lover look away.

“I can’t,” Wei Ying mumbles, fighting the urge to let his eyes slam shut, suppressing the voices, the darkness, his ever-present anger.

“Try,” Lan Wangji commands, using his fearsome strength to tear Wei Wuxian’s layers off.

It is…different, this time. Wei Wuxian is both present and absent, stiff as a rod beneath him but dazed. Lost. He struggles to define himself within the confines of Lan Wangji, the omega's hips undulating above him, round cheeks clenching around him, forcing Wei Wuxian to make a home of him.

“I want you to come in me,” Lan Wangji says. It’s a request he’s never made before. Wei Wuxian’s pupils blow wide.

“You’re insane,” he snarls, squeezing Lan Zhan’s shaft with enough force to make him wince. “I—we shouldn’t.”

Please,” Lan Wangji urges him, the wet squelch of their bodies meeting, of their pants, filling the room. He digs his nails into Wei Wuxian’s back, amber eyes glossy. He’s so close but he’s so empty. He needs Wei Wuxian to need this too. “Say yes, Wei Ying. Say yes.”

He studies Lan Wangji for a long time, looking so bewildered and overstimulated that Lan Wangji aches for him. Has he truly never been so unconditionally cared for? Never been told such things straight out? How beautiful he is, how glorious, how powerful and dangerous and perfect? How much he is wanted?

What a crime.

That’s a situation he must rectify immediately.

He clamps down on Wei Wuxian’s cock, hard. Wei Wuxian groans, glaring at him for his impudence.

“You’re a fool, Lan Wangji,” Wei Wuxian murmurs, knotting him up so full that Lan Wangji swears he can feel Wei Wuxian in his abdomen. Up his throat. In his lungs, in his limbs. Everywhere.

“Lan Zhan,” he corrects him, nails digging into Wei Wuxian’s back as long, languid moans are dragged from his lips. Wei Wuxian fucks up into him as well as he can, the two of them locked together.

Wei Wuxian comes and comes and comes, emptying his load inside of the omega. He tears into Lan Zhan’s skin, into his sensitive scent gland, and marks him, spilling his seed again, drinking in the sobs Lan Wangji lets out, swollen.

Twenty minutes later, when he’s deflated enough to start thrusting into Lan Wangji again, he presses him into the bedroll face down, nose buried in his arms as Wuxian's hips snap, attempting to breed Wangji at a feverish pace.

He can’t lie about what they’re doing anymore. There’s a mess of their bodily fluids all over the room. He hasn’t pulled apart from Lan Wangji in an hour. He fucks Wangji like he’s never fucked him before, spearing Wangji on his cock up against the wall, face-to face. On the floor, with Wangji on his knees. Choking Wangji with it, pulling on Wangji's hair, his heady hums zipping up the hard line of his shaft, come dripping down his chin when Wei Wuxian spilled over for the fifth time, painting Wangji's face, filthy and flushed. Using him.

At the end of it all, Wei Wuxian lets a single tear fall from his eyes, wrung dry as he is, too tired to put up a fight. “Yes, Lan Zhan,” he concedes at long last. “Yes.”

 


 

It’s a balmy evening in Lotus Pier when Lan Wangji plays him Cleansing, the two of them working together so that Wuxian can establish balance. He still has things he won’t say, that he won’t admit to Lan Wangji, and that’s okay—he’s trying. He’s works hard to let Wangji in, but the Stygian Tiger Seal and all the resentful energy swirling around his person are persistent. They don't want to let him go.

It’s going to take a long time for Wei Wuxian to feel like himself again, to be free from the voices in his head, but Lan Wangji is a patient man. He does not mind waiting.

There’s a sense of satisfaction in being like this with Wei Wuxian. In being acknowledged. He’s never been one for jewelry, but he dons a dainty collar, now, to show that he is claimed. To show that he is mated, and cared for.

Even possibly—hopefully—loved.

There is further proof, of course.

There is his shape, gradually growing curves. His belly, rounding out with Wei Wuxian’s child.

There’s evidence in the way that Wei Wuxian asks for him every evening, asks to touch and feel and hold and admire. There’s evidence in the way his eyes flicker from red to gray; their efforts are paying off.

There’s evidence, even on his darkest days, in the way that Wei Wuxian remains careful, cradling Lan Wangji’s girth in his arms, petting the strong, honorable omega in his arms who chose him. He knots Wangji full in the middle of his second trimester, where he's starting to show in earnest, glowing with pride. He just glows, full stop, living up to his title, shining in a way that makes Wei Wuxian feel as pitiful as he does impressed, the air fleeing out of his lungs when Wangji presses his fingertips against his abdomen and smiles.

It’s too soon for this, for me to be in this deep, Wei Wuxian thinks, while another part of his head shouts, you gave in a long time ago and you shouldn't have, but he can’t let go. He would sooner die than let go. Lan Wangji is his mate; they could fall to pieces if they separated.

On the difficult nights, when Wei Wuxian skulks off to be alone, playing the dizi for no one, staring into the abyss, Lan Wangji wakes softly, padding after him, luring him back to bed with soft words and his scent. It's changed with pregnancy, his herbal tones shifting to something milky sweet, cloying and hypnotizing and exactly what Wei Wuxian needs.

“Shh,” Lan Wangji says, petting Wei Wuxian’s hair until he drifts off, until his limbs go slack. Until he relaxes.

If this is what love feels like, Wei Wuxian muses on those nights, when he is Wei Ying, when he can truly admire what it is he has, what he will have, in just a few short months. Then I want to bask in it until the end of my days.

He doesn’t know how much time he has left, even if Lan Wangji works fast. Even if they do manage to unravel the maze of curses etched into his body, the wicked ways he’s learned to use this energy to his advantage without a core, he doesn’t know.

But he’s willing to fight to find out, fighting to be what Lan Wangji needs him to be, for one more day of this. One more hour. One more minute. One more second.

For Lan Wangji, for the sake of their soon-to-be family, he would give up everything he is. Everything he’s become.

There’s a sort of pleasure that comes with the realization, the bone-deep sense of understanding, that for once in his life, Wei Wuxian is going to do something right. He clings to that feeling with all of his strength, holding Lan Wangji in his arms, kissing the back of his neck, the words I love you trapped at the back of his throat.

But Lan Wangji hears them, nonetheless, and that is more than enough.