When the sting comes, Wei Wuxian barely feels it.
He’s heard about the oversized scorpions in the Burial Mounds, of course, their venom warped by the hateful energy that lurks in the earth here. One of the uncles, in fact, had had a nasty run-in with one a couple months ago during a forage, and it had taken two days for the poison to fully run its course.
So, yes, Wei Wuxian has been made tangentially aware of the scorpions. He just hadn’t really thought one would become his problem.
Wei Wuxian gives a small shout when the stinger catches his leg, far more out of irritation than pain, but it’s enough for Lan Wangji to move quickly to the kill, Bichen slashing an icy stripe in the sour gray fog. There’s a horrid, tinny little shriek, and then nothing but a long, ashen silence, and then Lan Wangji — Lan Wangji — is kneeling to examine Wei Wuxian’s leg.
“Lan Zhan, don’t,” Wei Wuxian says, slow in his surprise. His mouth feels strangely rubbery and numb, his tongue tingling against his teeth. “Your robes.”
Looking down from above, Wei Wuxian can only see the dark crown of Lan Wangji’s dipped head, his guan glinting dully in the wan dusk light. For a wild, strange moment, he imagines concern darkening Lan Wangji’s expressionless features, a furrow between his brows, but when Lan Wangji’s voice comes a moment later, it’s familiarly dispassionate. “Does it hurt?”
Wei Wuxian coughs out a laugh, scoffing with bravado. “Hardly. If one little scorpion is enough to take me down, then I’m not named —” He chooses that inopportune moment to take a jaunting step forward, and his leg crumples beneath him like a crushed paper lantern.
“Oh,” Wei Wuxian wheezes, and the other leg quickly follows. He’s kneeling in the desiccated dirt, now at Lan Wangji’s eye level. “Fuck.”
“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji says. Oh, there is a small, shadowed notch between his brows, just like Wei Wuxian had imagined. Maybe it’s reproach.
“I’m fine, I’m fine,” Wei Wuxian says, a verbal hand-waving. He can’t move his legs, but he doesn’t want to let on to Lan Wangji yet. He knows from secondhand experience that the poison has a temporary stunning agent; it’ll pass soon. “You can go on ahead to camp and I’ll catch up with you.”
Lan Wangji’s mouth purses. Definitely reproach.
Then, to Wei Wuxian’s faint horror, he says, “I’ll carry you back.”
“No!” Wei Wuxian says quickly, a flash of panic curdling through him at the image this brings to mind. “You really don’t have to, aha, I can —” He’d rather drag himself back to camp by his fingernails than permit the humiliation of Lan Wangji seeing him like this. And he would, save for the inconvenient fact that his arms have gone a little wooden and numb at his sides, and also, not insignificantly, he’s having trouble moving them.
“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji repeats, then his pale gaze sweeps their surroundings like the path of a beacon in the gloom. His point goes unsaid: If something else bigger and hungrier comes along, Wei Wuxian is dead meat.
Wei Wuxian doesn’t say anything for another moment, searching for a counterpoint that doesn’t sound absolutely ridiculous, and as if that settles it, Lan Wangji moves toward him, one arm sliding under Wei Wuxian’s nerveless knees and the other under his shoulders.
“Lan Zhan!” Wei Wuxian yelps. The shock of being carried this way is unpleasant, a prickly heat that itches through him. “I — I thought you meant —”
“Easier like this,” Lan Wangji says, then begins the walk back to camp, his gait as steady as if Wei Wuxian weighs nothing at all.
“Wouldn’t it be improper if we were seen this way?” Wei Wuxian protests, more because he feels like he should rather than due to any real moral indignation. “Lan Zhaaan, give me some face, will you?” He can’t even wriggle around or tap at Lan Wangji’s chest like he usually would. “Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan, Lan Wangji , Hanguang-jun —”
“Stop talking,” Lan Wangji says evenly. He hasn’t even broken a sweat.
“How can I be expected to stop talking when I can’t move?” Wei Wuxian complains. “At least my mouth still works; what if my lips go numb and then I can’t talk at all? I think as long as I keep talking, it’ll keep the poison from —”
“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji says, in this voice like he has an incipient headache.
“You wanted to carry me,” Wei Wuxian reminds him, and for lack of options at his disposal, he bumps Lan Wangji’s chest with his forehead. The sensation isn’t unlike head-butting a boulder. “You could have left me back there and spared yourself. Lan Zhan, at least put me on your back, it’s really too embarrassing to be carried this way.”
“Is it,” Lan Wangji says.
“Are you embarrassed?” Lan Wangji asks without looking at him, in this tone like he knows the answer.
Wei Wuxian would bite his shoulder if he could move. Of course it’s embarrassing. What kind of question is that? What does Lan Zhan know about how he feels? Wei Wuxian sulks the way to the rest of camp.
Wen Qing greets them at the entrance, her gaze sharpening at once when she sees Wei Wuxian’s condition. She remains tensely quiet through Lan Wangji’s passionless, clinical retelling of events, which contains none of the appropriate drama or emotional beats that Wei Wuxian would have included.
A dust-scuffed A-Yuan shadows Wen Qing, one hand tangled in her mud-soaked hem and a knuckle in his mouth. He’s watching Wei Wuxian with wide eyes as he sucks wetly on his finger. He’s still little, but he’s definitely a bright enough kid to follow the line of conversation and to know something is wrong — Wei Wuxian’s being carried in front of him like he’s the child, after all. Wei Wuxian makes a series of silly faces at him as Lan Wangji and Wen Qing talk, hoping to lighten the seriousness of the conversational mood, and tentatively, A-Yuan begins to smile around his finger, some of his wariness visibly mollified.
“Carry him inside and lay him down,” Wen Qing instructs Lan Wangji. Wei Wuxian protests vocally to this treatment, which earns him a chilly, unsympathetic look from Wen Qing. “I have a couple of things that may progress and shorten the course of the paralytic.”
“Is Xian-gege stuck?” A-Yuan asks after Wen Qing whisks off. He trails after the two of them to the rock bed inside Demon-Subdue Cave as Lan Wangji sets Wei Wuxian down with surprising gentleness.
“Just for now,” Wei Wuxian tells him, craning his head to the side to look at A-Yuan. It’s one of the only movements still within his capacity. It feels strange, a little funny, but mostly awful to be rendered so immobile. Wei Wuxian is always moving, talking with his hands or fiddling with something or touching whoever is nearest to him, especially if it’s A-Yuan in his vicinity. He’s a little worried it’ll traumatize the kid, to see him this way. “Hey, how’s this: As soon as I’m better again, I’ll chase you around then plant you in the mud. What do you say, huh?”
A-Yuan’s dirt-streaked face lights up at the prospect. Wei Wuxian bares his teeth at him in a playful threat, and A-Yuan gives a thrilled, high-pitched giggle and skitters away from him, as if Wei Wuxian could get up and catch him. He can sense the trailing weight of Lan Wangji’s gaze, watching the two of them closely — he probably finds the behavior frivolous, or detrimentally fun. Wei Wuxian can’t envision the Lans ever treating their children this way. Or as children at all.
Wen Qing returns then, brisk and business-like, and before Wei Wuxian can put up a fight, she sticks him with three separate needles. He can’t feel any of them, but he protests to the principle of it, and Wen Qing, cruel and unreasonable doctor she is, responds coolly, “Don’t get hurt, then.”
Wei Wuxian listens, a little mulishly, as Wen Qing explains the venom’s properties, chiefly a paralytic for scorpions to stun and immobilize larger-sized prey before a kill, and so on, and so on. Which, bottom line, makes the poison more of a nuisance than fatal. Neither he nor Wen Qing say what they’re both clearly thinking, given Lan Wangji’s presence, which is that if Wei Wuxian had a functioning core to flush out the poison, this annoying side-effect would hardly be an issue.
“There’s a full washbasin there,” Wen Qing says when she finishes, plucking the needles from Wei Wuxian’s arms. She bends to take A-Yuan’s hand in hers. “Is there anything else you need?”
“No, nothing at all,” Wei Wuxian says cheerfully. “I’m entrusted to Hanguang-jun’s attentive care.”
Lan Wangji slowly turns to stare at him. Wei Wuxian winks one eye back at him, his mouth curling up into a small grin.
Wen Qing mutters something under her breath, then looks at Lan Wangji apologetically — rude — before she turns and leads A-Yuan out of the cave by the hand.
Silence follows after. Silence has its own presence here, Wei Wuxian has found, thick enough to sink your teeth into. The only sounds are the rhythmic plink of stale rainwater into small pools eddying in the cave floors, the wind making hollow-bottle sounds through dead trees.
“I was kidding just now, Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian speaks up. The echo of his voice rolls in the quiet. “You’re not obligated to stay, of course.”
Lan Wangji takes a deep, silent breath through his nose, and then answers, without looking at him, “I will stay.”
“Oh,” Wei Wuxian says, more than a little surprised. He’d assumed that Lan Wangji would hare out of the Burial Mounds at first opportunity, the moment their hunt wrapped up. Most sane people wouldn’t voluntarily spend another second in this place. Lan Wangji is only here due to obligation in the first place, after all — a local night-hunt he’d picked up near Yiling that Wei Wuxian had agreed to help out on when they’d run into each other in town.
“Well,” Wei Wuxian says. “I can’t promise I’ll be that much fun.”
“What if you need something,” Lan Wangji says, oddly clipped. He’s still staring fixedly at one of the damp cave walls.
Wei Wuxian feels the corner of his mouth twitch again. “Hanguang-jun is truly too upstanding and good. I’ll be fine. I think I just need to sleep it off.”
Lan Wangji closes his eyes, his long, dark lashes trembling. Then he sighs. “Wei Ying.”
“Don’t get hurt anymore.”
“It’s not like I’m doing it on purpose,” Wei Wuxian points out. “Although…”
“Although?” Lan Wangji prompts.
Wei Wuxian tilts his head down to direct a sunny smile in Lan Wangji’s direction, who he finds is indeed watching him now. “Although your concern is touching, Lan er-gongzi.”
Lan Wangji’s mouth tightens and he darts his gaze away, returning his attention to the far wall of the cave.
“Ah, fine, Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian says, then groans a little as his neck cramps. His shoulders are uncomfortably hunched by his ears and he can’t shift his position. “If you’re going to stay, then the least you can do is entertain me while I’m stuck like this. Tell me a story or something.”
Lan Wangji hesitates. Then he replies, in a measured tone, “I don’t know any.”
“Sure you do.” Unbidden, Wei Wuxian pictures the endless shelves of Buddhist scriptures in the Lan sect’s library pavilion, and rethinks his stance. “Or can’t you at least make one up?”
Lan Wangji shakes his head. “I cannot.”
“Hmm,” Wei Wuxian says, then scrunches his eyes in a yawn. His jaw pops. He lets his eyes flutter shut, and he drifts for a couple of moments — feeling weightless in this body, waterborne. He’s tired all of the time now, no matter how much sleep he does or doesn’t get. He only cracks his eyes open when he senses some displacement of air: Lan Wangji standing to move silently across the room. “Hey, where are you going?”
Lan Wangji returns to his side with the bucket of water, where a stain-mottled cloth is soaking inside. He perches on the stone bed again, ignoring Wei Wuxian’s questioning gaze with apparent dedication.
“In case you need…” Lan Wangji begins, then the lovely, firm line of his jaw clenches. A rash of pink creeps up his neck, darkening his earlobes. “If you needed — help washing.”
Wei Wuxian’s mind goes momentarily blank, but he thinks he croaks, “What.”
Lan Wangji is — sitting at the foot of his bed, blushing furiously and talking about — about what, exactly. Wei Wuxian isn’t entirely sure Wen Qing didn’t mention “hallucinogen” as one of the venom’s side effects.
After another moment of evident struggle, Lan Wangji speaks again, sounding nearly petulant. “Only if you wanted.”
“I don’t — ” Wei Wuxian says. He can’t remember when his mouth got so dry. “You really don’t need to do that, ahaha. Besides, I know you…”
Lan Wangji tilts his head ever so slightly; still no eye contact, but a silent prompt for Wei Wuxian to continue.
“I know you don’t like touching people,” Wei Wuxian finishes. “I know you especially don’t like touching me. I understand you Lans all think I’m shameless, but I really wouldn’t — I wouldn’t ask you to —”
Halfway through Wei Wuxian’s response, Lan Wangji’s mouth flattens into a tight, displeased line, like Wei Wuxian had said something to insult him. Without another word, he picks up the sopping rag from the bucket and plants it against Wei Wuxian’s neckline, where the fabric of his threadbare inner robes meets the bare skin of his chest.
“Hey!” Wei Wuxian says, more taken aback than resistant. He can’t feel the sensation, but it’s still startling to know Lan Wangji is touching him of his own volition. In a way that’s so…
Wei Wuxian isn’t the sort of person to be easily embarrassed. Few others have a face as thick as his. Even so, dry heat thumps in his cheeks, pulsing in his throat like a lit coal. If he were able to, he’d be squirming like crazy. Between the carrying earlier, and now this — he doesn’t know what to do with himself at all.
“You’re wrong,” Wei Wuxian hears Lan Wangji say then, almost too quiet to be caught through the din of blood roaring in Wei Wuxian’s ears.
“Wrong?” Wei Wuxian echoes dumbly, staring down at the pale, smooth curve of Lan Wangji’s wrist, his hand so close to Wei Wuxian’s naked skin. Has he seen Lan Wangji’s wrists before? Surely he must have. They’re nice wrists, a little blue-veined but graceful, fine-boned.
“I don’t dislike it,” Lan Wangji says. “Touching you.” Then he swallows, a shade paler than before.
Wei Wuxian blinks. “Oh.”
Lan Wangji moves his hand holding the cloth back, his gaze lowered again. He’s going to stop touching Wei Wuxian so soon? After all of that? No, Lan Wangji is circling his hand around Wei Wuxian’s ankle now, hitching his leg up so that his knee bends. Wei Wuxian can’t feel it, can’t control his limbs, but he feels himself redden as he watches Lan Wangji’s motions down the length of his body, entirely speechless for once.
Lan Wangji hesitates, as though steeling his nerve. Or, given it’s Wei Wuxian, possibly biting back bile. His hand might be shaking a little, or maybe that’s Wei Wuxian’s vision gone wobbly. Then he peels the graying leg of Wei Wuxian’s trouser up, baring him to the knee, the crusted cloth tearing away a drying clot of blood on the side of his calf. Wei Wuxian had already pulled the stinger out first thing, but its mark remains, puffy and scarlet and livid.
Silently, Lan Wangji slides the cloth up the side of Wei Wuxian’s leg, clearing his skin of blood and grime.
It would hurt, but Wei Wuxian suddenly wants to feel it, wants the cool grip of Lan Wangji’s hand pinning his ankle in place, the rough scrape of the cloth along his skin. He misses sensation, and with a horrible swoop in his gut, his body gives some internal lurch, a misstep of sense-memory, lying broken and bleeding and coreless and half-dead among scatterings of bone picked clean. He hadn’t felt anything then, either; his back had been shattered in the fall, his legs struggling to move, he hadn’t been sure he could walk again —
Wei Wuxian sucks in a deep breath, anchors himself firmly by biting into the tender inner skin of his lip. No. Not there. Not anymore.
Lan Wangji must mistake the intake of breath for trepidation, because the movements of the cloth pause and Wei Wuxian finds himself being watched more intently than before.
“It’s fine,” Wei Wuxian assures him. His voice sounds strange, too high-pitched and a little creaky. “I just feel weird.”
Lan Wangji sets the cloth down and holds Wei Wuxian’s leg again, his other hand forming a familiar, two-finger shape. A blue-white string of spiritual energy flickers at Lan Wangji’s fingertips, and Wei Wuxian can’t move as Lan Wangji brings his hand closer, closer to —
“Don’t do that!” Wei Wuxian shouts, struggling uselessly to shy away, and Lan Wangji goes still like he’s been struck, the swell of qi flickering. “I mean, I just — please don’t do that, I’m really fine.”
Lan Wangji stares at him, his expression as inscrutable as it ever is, but he’s at least put his hand down at Wei Wuxian’s request. Wei Wuxian relaxes and lets himself take a deep, quavering breath.
“Sorry,” Wei Wuxian whispers, and it’s newly impressed upon him, all of a sudden, the true vulnerability of his situation. The trust of it. If it were anyone else, left alone with him...
He swallows hard against the sudden, acidic taste in his mouth. The silence drips as rivulets of rain trickle down the dark rock walls, trails glistening like runnels of mercury.
“You could kill me like this, you know,” Wei Wuxian says eventually. He intends it as a joke, but the bitter strain to his words undercuts the effort. “Anyone else would.”
Lan Wangji’s eyes flare an increment wider, but he says nothing in reply.
“They’d all thank you for it,” Wei Wuxian says. He gives one laugh, low and harsh. “You’d be a hero.”
“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji says. The line of his jaw is tense. “Enough.”
“Could you do it, if they asked you to?” Wei Wuxian asks before he can stop himself. The question is far too forward, too bleak for the current context, but he can’t bring himself to regret asking it. He swallows again, suddenly unsteady. “Would you?”
Lan Wangji stares at him for another long moment, as frozen as a statue.
Then he picks up the cloth again, lowering his gaze. Gently, he wipes away the rest of the drying blood and dirt on Wei Wuxian’s leg, leaving the skin gleaming.
“What do you think,” Lan Wangji says quietly, dipping the cloth back in the bucket.
Wei Wuxian swallows, then says hoarsely, “That isn’t an answer.”
Lan Wangji stands to move down the length of the bed, where he repositions himself by Wei Wuxian’s shoulder. Wei Wuxian’s breath picks up at the proximity, scattered and loud. More nervous, somehow, than if Lan Wangji had answered in the affirmative.
Lan Wangji dips the cloth into the bucket again, then wrings out the rust-colored water. His sleeves are rucked up, his forearms naked. It’s the most exposed Wei Wuxian has ever seen him, aside from that fleeting, summer-green memory of Cold Spring.
Without speaking, Lan Wangji moves the rag to the center of Wei Wuxian’s chest, where the vee of his robes opens, and he clears away the dirt and grime and sweat of the Burial Mounds with a slow sweep of his hand. There isn’t a speck of that filth to be found anywhere on Lan Wangji, his stainless clothes and comportment — except where he’d knelt in the mud and the rot earlier to help Wei Wuxian, a dark slash of muck across his knees.
Finally, Lan Wangji speaks. His voice is a low murmur. “Could you really ask such a thing of me?”
Wei Wuxian chews on his bottom lip, following the circular motion of Lan Wangji’s hand. He gets the sense that he’s offended Lan Zhan with his question, although he thinks the ask was plenty reasonable, given their history.
“I guess killing is against the Lan sect rules,” Wei Wuxian suddenly recalls. “Unless in specific circumstances.”
Lan Wangji gives an impatient shake of his head, the cloth sliding to Wei Wuxian’s bare collarbone. “Not the rules.”
Wei Wuxian frowns. Since when does Lan Wangji not care about his sect’s rules?
“Then,” Wei Wuxian says slowly.
“Ask again, another time,” Lan Wangji says, his voice soft. “Ask again when you know the answer.”
Wei Wuxian licks his cracked lips, still tracing the fluid, elegant movements of Lan Wangji’s hands. He’s too tired to discern what that means, Lan Wangji speaking in esoteric riddles again. A subject change is overdue.
“Strange,” Wei Wuxian murmurs as Lan Wangji very, very lightly runs the cloth over his brand scar, like it still might hurt him. “To see it and not to feel.”
Lan Wangji’s eyes lift to meet Wei Wuxian’s, his lips slightly parted. Wei Wuxian stares back, humming with some nameless feeling he can’t describe. He feels hollow and buzzing and honeyed, like a beehive.
“Is it a relief?” Lan Wangji asks. His hand has paused again, seemingly of its own volition. “To not feel pain?”
Wei Wuxian has his fair share of chronic aches and pains these days; far more, since his fall into the Burial Mounds, far more without a core to mediate injuries’ effects. He hurts all over now, all the time. And yet…
“I would rather feel pain than nothing at all,” Wei Wuxian says, suddenly unable to tear his gaze away from the distinct, plush arch of Lan Wangji’s mouth. It’s only because — it’s just that Lan Zhan has never been so close in his space. He’d spent most of their earliest days avoiding Wei Wuxian, and it’s not like there had been any opportunity for such intimacy during the Sunshot Campaign. Wei Wuxian has never been touched this way by someone who isn’t family. It’s been a very, very long time since he’s been touched by anyone without the intention to hurt. Stranger, that it’s coming from Lan Wangji. Stranger, and better than if it were anyone else.
Gingerly, almost trance-like, Lan Wangji brings the cloth up to touch Wei Wuxian’s chin, and finally, Wei Wuxian can feel it — the wet, the cold, the unexpected heat radiating from Lan Wangji’s touch. He flinches in surprise, and Lan Wangji’s expression shutters, a silent retreat, pulling back —
“Wait,” Wei Wuxian says quickly, his voice cracking. “Wait, don’t — it was — nice, to…”
He feels abruptly stupid, clumsy with words. What is he even saying? This is Lan Wangji, for heaven’s sake; Lan Wangji, who’d fought him at swordpoint on a moonlit rooftop and had seen him punished with a bastinado; Lan Wangji, who had threatened to imprison him in Gusu and had watched Wei Wuxian forge the heretic path with nothing but revulsion and anger.
Lan Zhan, who’s here in this lonesome ossuary when no member of Wei Wuxian’s family or sect is anywhere to be found. Lan Zhan, who’d carried him back to camp in his arms, who’d washed him clean even while his shoulders and hands were stiff with discomfort. Lan Zhan, who had said he would stay, even if just for the night.
Hesitantly at first, then more surely, Wei Wuxian tilts his head toward Lan Wangji’s hand, a wordless invitation to continue.
Lan Wangji has more reason than anyone to hate him, to want him dead. The objective knowledge of that fact doesn’t stop Wei Wuxian from baring his throat to him, a silent challenge, an unspoken question. He hears Lan Wangji’s breath hitch, like he understands what he’s being asked and offered.
The moment drags, and drags, and then Lan Wangji resumes where he’d left off, the rag cool against his overwarm face. Wei Wuxian’s eyes flutter shut as Lan Wangji cleans three days’ dirt and dried sweat from his skin, the damp fabric rough against his cheeks, his jaw, the cordons of his neck. It doesn’t sound like either of them are breathing.
Lan Wangji is meticulously thorough, of course — no man as relentlessly pristine as he is could be lackluster in his hygienic practice. Wei Wuxian tries to squirm, oddly ticklish, as the rag traces over the shell of his ear, the back of his neck. He still can’t feel anything below the collar, but he can see goosebumps rippling along his skin. The rag keeps coming away blacker than before, the pail water clouding like upturned river silt, and Wei Wuxian finds himself a little abashed, confronted now with the physical evidence of how little he cares for himself these days. None of the Wens do. Other priorities, he supposes. Lan Zhan must find him filthy, and he isn’t wrong.
Lan Wangji ah, Lan Wangji. Unfairly beautiful as a general rule, but even more so in proximity, almost too much so to fully comprehend. That must be why Wei Wuxian can’t look away from him; what person with a working set of eyes could, he reasons? It’s not like he has anything else to do, given his current condition, except watch Lan Zhan, and in any case — somehow, despite his boring nature, Lan Wangji manages to catch and hold Wei Wuxian’s attention like nothing else, like a fishhook snagged in his throat. In a room full of people, Wei Wuxian would seek him out first, would bound to his side and beg for a scrap of his scorn like a hungry stray.
“Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian murmurs, closing his eyes as the damp cloth moves over his temple. “Pay attention to me.”
It’s only because Lan Zhan is so close that Wei Wuxian hears the tiniest huff of breath, pitched low. A laugh? A sound adjacent to a laugh? Wei Wuxian keeps his eyes closed and tries to school his expression into something neutral, thrilling in this quiet victory.
Lan Wangji’s reply, when it comes, is solemn but strangely gentle. “Wei Ying has my attention.”
Good, Wei Wuxian thinks, a little smug but for the most part deeply content with his results. After all of those weeks, in their early days, of cold rejection and neglect, Lan Zhan hadn’t been so resistant to him after all, in the end. It’s with this thought that Wei Wuxian realizes that, uncharacteristically, he has yet to make an off-color joke out of this scenario. How remiss of him. And when Lan Wangji is so close within reach, so irresistibly easy to tease.
Wei Wuxian smirks with his eyes still closed, and out of some habitual reflex, he finds himself saying, “Hey, Lan Zhan, while I’m like this, you could really…”
In the past, when Wei Wuxian has envisioned raunchy scenarios in the context of Lan Zhan, it’s always been for the purpose of being perversely outlandish. Always out of boredom, or amusement, or a means of provocation. Lan Zhan is so quick to rile, after all, and it takes so very little, when it comes to things of a salacious nature.
Except for whatever reason, this time, when Wei Wuxian actually pictures it — Lan Wangji flipping him over onto his front, the heat of his hand splayed across the small of his back, Wei Wuxian powerless to resist anything — he chokes on his words. For an unprecedented second time that evening, Wei Wuxian feels himself blush.
Lan Wangji gives an expectant “hm?” when Wei Wuxian trails off into silence. He’s watching Wei Wuxian’s face for the rest of his sentence, like he believes Wei Wuxian has something of real importance to say. Watching him with that shadowing scrutiny that he always does, a sharpness like a thorn.
“I —” Wei Wuxian stammers. His cheeks are tingling. “Nothing.”
If Lan Wangji notices Wei Wuxian’s inner turmoil, he doesn’t show it. He moves the cloth away from Wei Wuxian’s face to redirect his attention to his hands, his wrists, the modest peek of forearms that he can reach without rolling up Wei Wuxian’s sleeves any further. Wordlessly, Lan Wangji slides the cloth between each slat of Wei Wuxian’s fingers, clearing out gray dust from the webbing cracks in his dry skin. Never one to half-ass anything, Lan Zhan.
For his part, Wei Wuxian is still mulling over that little blip; the stubborn, lingering heat in his cheeks that won’t recede. So much for being shameless, he thinks, a little gloomy but mostly irritated with himself. Since when has he balked at things like this? Involving Lan Wangji, no less? Is he losing his edge? Besides, it’s not like Lan Zhan would ever...with anyone, he would never —
Lan Wangji drops the cloth back in the basin and sets it on the floor, as clear an indication as any that he’s finished with his work.
“I will let you rest,” Lan Wangji says, and makes as though to move, and Wei Wuxian can’t even reach out to grab him, so he says, quickly, “Hey, wait.”
Lan Wangji waits.
“Just now,” Wei Wuxian says, and licks his lips. “Thanks. You really didn’t have to do — all that.”
“No need for thanks,” Lan Wangji says, more crisply than before, like he’s irritated or something. He’s so weirdly moody for someone who’s supposed to be emotionless.
“It’s close to hai shi,” Wei Wuxian points out. “Where will you sleep?”
“The floor,” Lan Wangji replies. “Or I will meditate.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Wei Wuxian says. The image of Lan Zhan, in his immaculate robes and — everything — sleeping on the floor of this place is utterly incongruous. “The ground here will break your back. There’s plenty of room on this straw pallet; A-Yuan sleeps with me all the time.”
Lan Wangji surveys him with an unreadable expression. “A-Yuan is a child.”
“Well, yeah,” Wei Wuxian says. His nose itches something furious, and he contorts and wiggles his facial muscles to relieve the sensation. “What’s that face for? What are you so worried about? I can’t exactly take advantage of you, given the fact that I can’t move.”
“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji says irritably, and he glances away, but his ears are pink. Success. Flirting with Lan Zhan, after that stumbling mishap earlier, feels like regaining an upper hand, in some satisfactory way.
“I’m kidding, I’m kidding,” Wei Wuxian continues, pressing his advantage. “I wouldn’t do that, anyway. Unless you’re into that?”
Lan Wangji tightens his fists at his sides. He visibly grapples with responding for another moment before he says, thinly, “Don’t speak nonsense.”
Wei Wuxian backs off good-naturedly; Lan Zhan had done him a large favor, after all, and he doesn’t deserve to be wound up tonight. Wei Wuxian doesn’t want to piss him off into leaving, either. He just makes it so easy.
“Okay, I’ll stop,” Wei Wuxian says gamely. “But I wasn’t joking about sleeping here. This bed could fit at least three.”
It’s not, strictly speaking, a “bed,” at least by the commonly understood definition of the term, but it is a place where Wei Wuxian sleeps, and even its brittle straw pallet is preferable to the icy, uneven stone floors.
Lan Wangji hesitates for another moment, seeming as though he’s about to refuse, then he moves back toward the bed with jerky determination, like he’s taking up the challenge to spite Wei Wuxian. He’s wearing the same stubborn, fixed expression he used to when they would spar as teenagers, or when Wei Wuxian ensnares him in a particularly thorny debate about cultivation or ethics. Something about it makes the pulse pick up in Wei Wuxian’s throat, a surge of thrilled delight that he can’t explain away.
“There you go,” Wei Wuxian murmurs when Lan Wangji settles next to him, not so close that their shoulders touch, but. Close. His eyes drift shut. “Much better, yeah?”
Lan Wangji doesn’t say anything in reply. Tension radiates off of him, his body rigid in Wei Wuxian’s periphery. He’s lying stiff-backed in the regular Lan sleeping position, fully clothed in his layers.
“Hey,” Wei Wuxian mumbles, already drowsing. Whatever Wen Qing had stuck him with has fully settled in, his vision darkening at the corners. “Lan Zhan.”
Lan Wangji makes some movement, a minuscule shift and a rustle of hay, before he says levelly, “What is it.”
“Be sure to say goodbye,” Wei Wuxian says. “Before you go.”
Lan Wangji will undoubtedly be awake earlier than Wei Wuxian, and for whatever reason, the idea of waking up to Lan Zhan gone, without a word, an empty space in his bed, it’s — it makes something in him hurt, like a prodded bruise. There had been a time where he’d eagerly looked forward to seeing the back of Lan Zhan, but now, he’s...he’s the only one, who…
Lan Wangji says something in response, muffled and unintelligible as Wei Wuxian’s consciousness slips, and the next thing he knows, he’s blinking awake, nightfall a deep cavern around him. Or maybe it’s early, early morning. His head is throbbing, and he’s so thirsty that his spit is like paste, an acrid taste in his throat.
Experimentally, he wriggles his toes, then his fingers, and his body responds to the command; slowly, with blood sluggishly beating through each limb, then a painful, electric tingling with his pulse.
Wei Wuxian turns his head, wincing at the crick in his neck, and blinks in surprise to see Lan Wangji still beside him. What strikes him so oddly, he realizes, is that Lan Wangji is sleeping on his side. Wei Wuxian has never seen him in such a way, so akimbo for a Lan — not even when Lan Zhan had been mortally injured, that time in the Xuanwu cave. He’s twisted toward Wei Wuxian, his cheek puffed out where it’s squished against his hand. Like he’d been — keeping an eye on him. The forehead ribbon is the only article of clothing that’s been removed, folded with precision between them.
Lan Zhan and his neatly folded headband, his slightly parted mouth, still frowning in sleep as though in consternation. Ridiculous man. Despite himself, Wei Wuxian’s heart squeezes. He likes him so much. He’d never really thought he did, before.
Before he knows what he’s doing, Wei Wuxian sees his hand reaching out — experimental, to test his recovered abilities, itching to touch — before he remembers what he’d said to Lan Zhan earlier; that he didn’t have anything to worry about from Wei Wuxian taking advantage. He quickly drops his hand. Lan Wangji sleeps on, and Wei Wuxian watches.
He lies awake until the sun rises through the thick fog and washes pale, apricot light over them, a slow-warming haze. Shaping his hands around this new feeling, as feeling returns.