The door to the Jingshi slammed shut, leaving Wei Wuxian alone in the candlelight with his new husband and the marriage bed. Laughter retreated down the path as Wen Qing and Wen Ning, Uncle Four, Lan Xichen, and a Lan cousin retreated back to the festivities. They were all very drunk – save Wen Ning, whose condition prevented it — and had spent the walk from the banquet pavilion to Lan Zhan’s house — their house now — giving him unsolicited advice.
Wen Qing’s had been an impromptu anatomy quiz.
Lan Xichen’s his third shovel talk of the evening.
He now knew more about Uncle Four and the Lan cousin’s marriages than he ever would have liked to.
Wen Ning had given Lan Zhan a whispered shovel talk, but at least he hadn’t subjected poor Lan Zhan to further embarrassment. Having to marry and sleep with Wei Wuxian was bad enough. Lan Zhan had barely glanced at him throughout the ceremony, hadn’t spoken to him since just after their betrothal was arranged.
Lan Zhan had said it would “be no hardship” to marry him, but he obviously resented the necessity.
And now Lan Zhan had to sleep with him, or this would all be for nothing. The future Chief Cultivator had sent his newly legitimized son to ensure the marriage was consummated. They would both have to take a truth serum, and the sheets would be inspected. If they lied, or failed to consummate, that would be the end for Wei Wuxian and the Wens.
His zhiji was too good, and Wei Wuxian…
Wei Wuxian would spend his next life as an ant.
Red on Lan Zhan felt like his mark, more so with elaborate embroidery sacrificed for fine tailoring on the short timeline. The silk clung to him, cinched in tight at the waist by a thick belt, a single large, golden dragon covering the front of his robe. Delicate golden ornaments fell from his hairpiece of gold flowers, framing his face like the corona of the sun. The most skill court painter would pay an emperor’s ransom for the chance to paint him.
Whoever painted Lan Zhan’s lips in scarlet, and eyelids in gold was out to get him on a personal level.
Of course, that described the majority of the Cultivation World’s population.
Every time he looked at Lan Zhan, obscene fantasies flashed through his mind. Lan Zhan, skin bare as he had glimpsed it only once before, with his head thrown back as Wei Wuxian opened him up with his tongue, squirming beneath him, begging for his cock.
There was no punishment he would not deserve.
His hands curled into fists, and he stared at the ground. He knew what needed to be done, but he couldn’t do that to Lan Zhan. Not when Lan Zhan could never want him back, had only married him to save his life. So Wei Wuxian froze.
Lan Zhan seemed to have no such problem. He walked to the bed, turning to sit, only to startle when he noticed Wei Wuxian had not moved away from the door. His brows lowered slightly in confusion, but then his gaze caught on a bottle of Emperor’s Smile that had been left on the low table in honor of the occasion, despite the Cloud Recesses’ usual rules. Lan Zhan lurched back to his feet, rocking forward and back on his heels without his usual grace, and crossed to it. He poured a cup with shaking hands, spilling some onto the table.
It was unlike Lan Zhan to be so uncoordinated. He must be more frightened than he wanted to show.
By the time Lan Zhan shoved the cup in his face, it had lost much of its liquid. He took the cup with a forced smile and drained the little that remained. Gently, he eased the bottle out of Lan Zhan’s other hand, and took a long swig, barely tasting the wine he’d been dreaming about for years. It burned on the way down, settling uneasily on the little he had managed to force down at the banquet. A few drops escaped his mouth, winding their way down his throat.
Lan Zhan’s eyes sharpened, his lips parting. He swayed forward, tongue extending, and Wei Wuxian held him back by one shoulder. Lan Zhan looked up, his tongue still poking out of his lips like a cat. Under other circumstances, Wei Wuxian would have spent the next five minutes exclaiming over how cute he was. Now…
“Lan Zhan, what are you doing?”
Pushing a little against his hand, Lan Zhan mumbled something that ended in, “…good for you,”
Was Lan Zhan worried about him enjoying this? He was simply too good to exist.
Wei Wuxian sighed, removing his hand from Lan Wangji to swipe it down his face. Remembering his Emperor’s Smile, he gulped down the rest of the bottle.
He couldn’t do this. “There must be a way to fool that truth serum. A talisman, somehow, like the one I used to make you drink that time in reverse. I can figure something out by morning. And I can… dirty the sheets.” He winced. “Sorry, Lan Zhan.”
Making a pained noise, Lan Zhan frowned.
Then he leaned forward and, before Wei Wuxian thought to stop him, bit him on the lips.
Wei Wuxian jerked back. “Ow! What the hell? I told you I wouldn’t do anything —”
Lan Zhan cut him off with an exaggerated shake of his head, as he began pulling at his own belt, fumbling with the complex knot of his wide belt, pouting when it wouldn’t come undone.
Wei Wuxian stared, the bottle nearly slipping from numb fingers before he remembered it.
Tilting his head forward so it rested on Wei Wuxian’s shoulder, Lan Zhan sniffed.
And Wei Wuxian realized what was wrong with him.
Lifting a hand to pat him on the back, he asked, “Lan Zhan, are you drunk?”
Six Hours Earlier
Lan Wangji’s heartbeat was so loud he was certain it must be audible all the way in Lotus Pier, reminding Jiang Wanyin that he would not be attending his brother’s wedding because he had abandoned him for politics. That Wei Ying was about to find a new home despite him.
And then — hopefully — put his cock inside Lan Wangji.
He had thought of little but the consummation since their hasty betrothal was arranged less than a ten-day week earlier.
Every drop of blood in Lan Wangji’s body rushed to his head, except for the ones that rushed south. Black spots burst before his eyes, and he caught hold of his brother’s shoulder to steady himself.
Xiongzhang looked up from attaching ornaments to his hairpiece, some of the few items passed down from their mother that had survived the burning of the Cloud Recesses other than Lan Wangji’s guqin. “Do you need to sit down?”
He shook his head. “I am fine.”
Lan Wangji was not fine.
“It’s all right to be nervous, Wangji. This is a big day.” Xiongzhang smiled encouragingly. “We all would have preferred better circumstances, but you and Wei Wuxian love each other. You’ll be fine.”
Therein lay the problem. Lan Wangji loved Wei Ying, but Wei Ying did not love him.
Wei Ying was marrying him for survival, while Lan Wangji had been fantasizing about him since the night they met. Fantasies that had been vague until recently, skin on skin and the sound of Wei Ying’s laugh, mixed with thoughts of night hunting and cuddling in bed and raising children together.
His knowledge of more than the most basic mechanics of sex was … very recent.
Lan Wangji was not naive, precisely, but he had taken little interest in the specifics of pleasing a lover until Wei Ying. And there had been denial, and war, and worry, with little chance to learn.
It was only since the betrothal that Lan Wangji had begun studying every cut sleeve pornographic text he could get his hands upon in earnest. As he studied, his wedding was planned around him. He was measured for robes with his nose in a book, and allowed Xiongzhang to plan the details with Wei Ying and the Wens, who would be standing in for his family.
He needed to please Wei Ying. This marriage would not be like his parents’. Neither he nor Wei Ying would go into seclusion. Wei Ying would have his run of the Cloud Recesses and, once things had died down enough for it to be safe, the freedom to night hunt as he wished. Lan Wangji would not imprison him. He and Xiongzhang had made certain of it.
But Lan Wangji hoped this might become a marriage in truth, though it would begin in necessity.
The required consummation presented an opportunity. If Lan Wangji was good enough in bed, Wei Ying might begin to see him as more than a friend, keep him close rather than push him away. Even if Wei Ying could never love him, they might share pleasure, and remain confidants. Wei Ying might not grow resentful of being tied to him.
The stories he found were often terrible. But it was an educational experience.
Or should have been.
Lan Wangji began his study with the medical texts in the library, but they offered little enlightenment, such as the importance of consent, and of fingering himself open for his first time. He replaced the texts on their shelves, and made a clandestine trip down to Caiyi Town, bringing back a qiankun bag full of books, a jade phallus, a large assortment of spices, and a dozen new toys for A-Yuan.
The toys and spices he hid in the Jingshi, gifts for after the wedding.
He inspected the details of the drawings, attempted to memorize every word of technique. Wrapped his lips around the jade phallus so could practice hollowing his cheeks and relaxing his throat. Trying not to imagine Wei Ying fucking his throat until he cried and came untouched, not to let the temptation to touch himself become a distraction.
But he kept drifting back to a series of sketches spread throughout one of the more romantic novels, about separated childhood friends who found their way back to each other, and fell in love. A man, face obscured by a curtain of hair, making it easy to imagine this was Wei Ying, pinning down another man with both wrists held in one hand. The second man, bound in ropes, dangling from the ceiling. Blindfolded, with his mouth full of cock. Forced to write letter, with a tongue in his ass.
Lan Wangji had failed to prevent himself from touching himself, coming to the image of Wei Ying hovering over him, holding him down, making him feel secure and wanted.
If Lan Wangji had known of these acts during the guest lectures, he would have fallen to his knees and begged Wei Ying to take him, pride falling by the wayside.
“I think we’ve lost him.” His cousin Lan Qiaohui, the loudest member of their clan until the birth of her son three years ago, pulled the belt tight and knotted it, and she and Xiongzhang stepped back to admire their handiwork.
“I was nervous before my wedding, but not like this.” She said. “But then, my wife and I didn’t exactly wait for marriage.”
Xiongzhang raised a brow. “What are you talking about? A-Yi was definitely the right size for a premature baby.”
“Shush you.” She hip-checked Xiongzhang out of the way, swooping in to quickly apply black lines on his eyelids, followed by dabs of red and gold powders. “Ha! I win.”
“We’ll take it off, it you want, Wangji.” Xiongzhang assured him.
Qiaohui held up a mirror for him, her expression smug. “I also have a stain for your lips.”
The colors made him look a little less cold, a little more touchable. Perhaps Wei Ying would see him like this, and press him into the nearest hard surface the moment they were alone.
He could only hope.
“I like it,” he said. From the way Xiongzhang’s eyes widened and Qiaohui covered her smirk, it was clear his ears betrayed his reasons.
His brother and cousin turned to fussing over the details of Lan Wangji’s robes. Smoothing out a crease, detangling a stray hair from the earrings that matched his headpiece, accidentally pulling on his freshly pierced earlobes.
The pain was a distraction from the dozens of fantasies and anxieties swirling through his mind, at least.
“Did your uncle or the Wen granny finally win on watching the boys?” Qiaohui asked.
“I believe they’ve reached a stalemate.” There was an undertone of laughter in Xiongzhang’s voice. “I expect in about five years Shufu will pretend he always supported the Wen moving to Gusu, by which point they will have been friends for nearly that time.”
“The only way Master Lan knows how to make friends,” Qiaohui agreed, with a feigned air of sagacity.
Finally, they stood back, and after a thorough inspection that made him feel disturbingly like a horse up for option. declared him a completed work of art. Lan Wangji was uncertain how he felt about that, but trailed after them anyway to oversee the servants’ final touches to the banquet hall.
“Lan Er-gongzi looks like he wants to be eaten alive.” One of the servants giggled, undoubtedly louder than intended.
“Shh! What if he hears you?” Another dragged the first away, leaving Lan Wangji wondering if his appearance made his desires too obvious.
The more he thought about it, the more he felt frozen into place, struck with a curse to prevent him from reaching the one thing he wanted more than anything: Wei Ying laughing by his side, allowing himself to be loved.
What if Wei Ying wanted Lan Wangji to take the lead? It seemed unlikely. Whether he had practical experience or not, Wei Ying was so much more knowledgeable in these matters, so bold in everything he did, but — Lan Wangji was not even slightly prepared for that possibility. He told himself it only mattered what Wei Ying wanted, but deep down, he knew that was not the truth.
Lan Wangji wanted, desperately, to melt under Wei Ying’s touch, to lose himself in sensation as he was taken apart and put back together anew. For all his worries to be swept away as Wei Ying teased his rigid self-control into shreds.
But Wei Ying had concerns too.
If he could just shed his worries long enough to get through the ceremony —
There were bottles of fruit wine left out on the banquet tables on Wei Ying’s side of the room, made by one of the Wens, a man who seemed to be known exclusively as Uncle Four.
Drunk, at least he would be relaxed. It would be easy for Wei Ying to have his way with him.
He picked up a bottle and raised it to his lips, only for it to be snatched away from his grasp.
“Wangji!” Xiongzhang admonished him.
But the damage was done.
The mouthful of wine burned its way down Lan Wangji’s throat, and he crumpled forward.
His brother caught him before he hit the ground.
It took Lan Wangji a moment to assign a meaning to Wei Ying’s words, and then to come up with an answer. His limbs no longer felt beyond his control, and he remembered everything after Xiongzhang made him drink water and eat a few candies right before the ceremony.
But Wei Ying’s shoulder was very comfortable, and Lan Wangji was strongly considering biting his neck. That was certainly a thought he’d had while sober, but he was fairly certain he would not normally do it. He hummed, giving into temptation.
Wei Ying yelped, and pried him off, holding him at arms length. Lan Wangji pouted. He had hoped drinking would make it easier for Wei Ying to sleep with him, but it seemed to be having the opposite effect.
“I’m going to take that as a yes,” Wei Ying said, and Lan Wangji remembered the question.
He tilted his chin up, hoping to achieve what his cousin called his usual ‘imperious’ effect. “I am perhaps slightly inebriated.”
Wei Ying steered him to the bed, which was a step towards his goal, and therefore acceptable. But then Wei Ying moved away to stand in front of him, hands on his hips, which was not. “Who got you drunk, Lan Zhan?”
He did not understand. “I did.”
“You drank? On purpose? Why?” Wei Ying seemed to be trying not to shout, but he was not doing a good job. He grasped at his hair, and tore out a pin with a yelp.
Lan Wangji pursed his lips, remembering the all-consuming terror that had consumed him that day. “I believed it would help.”
It had been silly, he thought now. All he needed to do was get them both naked, and everything would sort itself out. Wei Ying himself had told Lan Wangji he was beautiful. He just needed to remind him.
“Oh.” Wei Ying shrunk into himself. “I said don’t worry, didn’t I? I can figure this out, I promise. You don’t want this, and I will get you out of this. You just sleep it off, don’t worry.”
It was strange that Wei Ying thought he did not want this. Lan Wangji had informed him of his desire to marry him, just after Xiongzhang suggested their betrothal. It had been very difficult to voice his feelings, and he had not used plain language, but Wei Ying understood him implicitly in all other ways. Why not in this?
Perhaps Wei Ying was worried as well, he thought. Concerned that Lan Wangji would be too frigid for the act to be pleasurable. His reputation as the icy Second Jade could easily give that impression. Perhaps he was under the misapprehension that Lan Wangji would prefer a chaste marriage, or would not be willing to learn.
Lan Wangji would do what he could to make himself appealing enough to touch.
“Wei Ying.” Lan Wangji decided to try the stripping method again, and this time his fingers cooperated, finding the loop that allowed him to pull knot in his belt free. He shrugged off his outermost robe, letting it pool around his hips. The next three layers quickly followed, leaving him in a sheer inner robe of wedding red, its sleeves and hem in lotus-patterned lace in honor of his husband.
Wei Ying covered his eyes so quickly he slapped himself. “Lan Zhan!”
“Please do not seek a way out for my sake. It is unnecessary. I am very amenable to sleeping with you.” He rose to drag Wei Ying’s hands away from his face, but his eyes remained scrunched shut. “Wei Ying, look at me,” he said, and did not at all whine.
Wei Ying finally looked at him, staring, wide-eyed at his face, and only at his face. Or so Lan Wangji thought at first, before noticing how Wei Ying’s eyes darted downwards toward the patches of bare skin exposed by the pattern. Yet still, Wei Ying made no move to ravish him., despite how desperately Lan Wangji wished to be ravished.
This was unproductive.
Again, he reached for Wei Ying’s belt, digging his fingers into the knot before Wei Ying could ward him off. Wei Ying caught his wrists.
Lan Wangji tried to tug them free, but when he stepped back to gain leverage, he slipped on his own discarded robes. He fell backwards onto the bed, dragging Wei Ying on top of him, legs spreading wide.
Wei Ying caught himself with his hands on either side of Lan Wangji’s head and knelt between his thighs.
His hands were still caught in Wei Ying’s belt. This time, he managed to pull a loop free, so his robes gaped open.
“Lan Zhan, stop!” One-handed, Wei Ying tore Lan Wangji’s hands away from his belt, and pinned them over his head.
Instantly, Lan Wangji went limp. His ears rang as he stared up at Wei Ying, watching his mouth move but hearing only white noise. Floating on a pillow of clouds yet anchored in the present. As though this, here with Wei Ying was the culmination of his dreams, the empty space within him soon to be filled.
Wei Ying rolled off him.
He whimpered, tears gathering in the corners of his eyes, the threat of a sob hovering in the back of his throat.
Wei Ying leaned over him again, expression creased with worry. “Are you okay? Did I hurt you? I shouldn’t have —”
Shaking his head, he curled in on himself.
“Is the thought of sleeping with me so unpleasant that you cannot consummate our marriage?” He asked, voice rough from holding back tears. Strange, it was not usually this difficult. Lan Wangji wondered if it was the alcohol or Wei Ying that hollowed him out, putting his emotions on display.
Wei Ying made a dismayed sound. “What? Lan Zhan, did you hear a word I just said? I can’t sleep with you because you’re drunk! You don’t want this.”
Wei Ying seemed to be very confused. Lan Wangji distinctly recalled saying the opposite.
“You wouldn’t be offering this if the Jins hadn’t forced it on us, I know you only wanted to bring us under the protection of your clan. Because you saw the Wens were innocent when no one else did. I can’t let you be punished for that. Not when you don’t want this.”
Wei Ying ascribed far more pure motives to him than Lan Wangji deserved. Especially when he was still half-hard between his legs, despite the rejection of his affections.
“Wei Ying. I do want this.” He repeated. “Is something blocking your ears?”
Wei Ying rubbed a hand over his forehead, sighing in exasperation. “Can you promise me you’ll remember in the morning?”
He could not.
“Don’t pout, don’t you know that’s cruel and unfair? Do you want me to expire on our wedding night?” Wei Ying pouted in return, which Lan Wangji thought evened the playing ground rather neatly. “Will you drink some water for me? Tea?”
Wei Ying had said his refusal was because Lan Wangji was drunk. His brother and Qiaohui claimed that drinking tea did the trick in hastening the return of a Lan’s faculties after accidental — or not so accidental — indulgence.
If it worked, perhaps Wei Ying would consent to fucking him. “I will drink tea. For you.”
Wei Ying lunged for the teapot, sketching a talisman in the air that heated the water quickly to boiling. He inspected Lan Wangji’s tea collection, and settled on a Dragon Pearl variety, a jasmine green tea produced from silver needles and imported from a region far enough to the south they spoke a different language, despite sharing the same characters.
It was one of Lan Wangji’s favorites.
Even before tasting it, he was warmed. Wei Ying might not want him as Lan Wangji wanted him, might not dream of fucking him until he cried for mercy and holding him gently after, but Lan Wangji had not expected him to.
What mattered was that he had not lost Wei Ying’s friendship in marrying him. So long as Wei Ying agreed to at least an exchange of hand jobs before morning, more might come in time.
When the tea was ready, Wei Ying returned to the bed, perching on the edge an unsatisfactory distance away. Lan Wangji raised himself onto his elbows to accept a cup. They both drank, without speaking.
Silence with Wei Ying had never felt uncomfortable before.
“Tell me about the Wen.” He blurted out. “How is A-Yuan?”
Wei Ying exhaled in relief. “A-Yuan is great! He’s making friends already, you know? He doesn’t know the rules yet, but they’re going easy on him for now. And there’s one Lan kid who’s the worst at remembering them. They’re best friends now, apparently. It’s been a week.”
“I seem to recall you said we were best friends after one fight.”
“That’s different.” Wei Ying poked at the space between Lan Wangji’s eyebrows, and he realized he had scrunched them together.
“I do not see how.” Wei Ying was not the one who had woken furious, embarrassed, and sticky the next morning from a half-remembered dream. Wei Ying had not discovered desire that night, as he parried a bare blade held by a boy who had never before faced a challenge a hundredth as interesting with his sheath.
Wei Ying had simply met a boy, and decided to annoy him into friendship.
“You’re not allowed to be logical when you’re drunk. It’s rude.” Wei Ying teased, sing song and lighter than Lan Wangji had heard him since before they slew a monster out of legend, or perhaps as far back as the guest lectures before Wen Ruohan’s lust for conquest grew undeniable.
Like the first rays of spring sun after a winter of storms, Lan Wangji basked in Wei Ying’s good humor, his eyes half-lidded. “The sky is orange, and the sun rises in the west.”
Wei Ying snorted. “Better.”
It took all of Lan Wangji’s willpower not to gasp as Wei Ying leaned into his space, close enough he could feel the warmth of Wei Ying’s breath on his skin. “The other Wens?”
“They’re scared this won’t last. As long as A-Yuan is protected, they say it doesn’t matter.” He sighed, as though he himself did not believe it could. “But they’re starting to hope. Wen Ning’s really enjoying having more ingredients to cook with and getting to practice archery again. Wen Qing’s as bossy as ever, which is a good sign. The farmers are planning fields on that plot of land you exchanged for my worthless inventions.”
“Your inventions are brilliant, Wei Ying.” He said, as Wei Ying refilled their cups. “And the Wens will be safe, after tonight.”
“I hope so.” Wei Ying whispered, staring into the depth of his tea as though it might show him glimpses of the future. “I hope it’s worth it.”
Lan Wangji reached for his hand, and squeezed before Wei Ying could pull away. “You are.”
Ten Days Earlier
Lan Wangji was on his sword and speeding towards Yiling the moment the Jin messenger’s words sank in. Hours later, hours that might have been too late, he flew through Wei Ying’s wards on the hope that he was still welcome in the Burial Mounds.
The wards barely flickered in response to his entrance.
He dismounted, exhausted, in the clearing in front of Wei Ying’s cave. A middle-aged man with a lined, square face ran inside, as the others watched Lan Wangji with a fearful wariness. A disquieting contrast from his previous visit that drove in made real to him just how precarious the situation had become overnight.
Their home had so recently been infiltrated, after all.
Lan Wangji could not help but notice the missing faces, the six new mounds of dirt bordering the trees. The space the dead left behind was palpable, in so small a village. The hope and determination he had sensed in spite of everything vanished, replaced by an acceptance of desolation to come.
There were no signs of packing. Perhaps they had not yet heard the news, though surely Wei Ying and the Wen siblings must know the consequences of leveling half of Koi Tower.
Wei Ying raced from the cave, a tear-streaked, puffy-eyed A-Yuan clinging to his neck. At the sight of Lan Wangji, he stopped short, nearly letting A-Yuan slip before his arms tightened around him. “Lan Zhan? What are you doing here?”
There was wariness in Wei Ying’s tone. But not, Lan Wangji thought, of him. He couldn’t help but stare, drinking in the sight of his zhiji for the first time in ten months and thirteen days, almost to the hour. He looked — healthier, somehow, despite the worry creasing his brow. The gaunt hollows of his cheeks were no longer haunted by skeletal shadows, merely the natural result of over a year of subsistence living.
The destruction of the Tiger Amulet had already done him a world of good. And if Wei Ying survived its aftermath — if he allowed Lan Wangji to search for a way to replace his lost core, or at least find a more sustainable balance in its absence — Lan Wangji knew he would go on to flourish.
All he needed to do was make certain Wei Ying got the chance.
“You need to leave. All of you.” He stepped towards Wei Ying, reaching out for him automatically. Wei Ying flinched, and he stopped short, clasping his elbows behind his back. “Jin Guangshan has rallied the sects against you.”
“We know.” Wei Ying said quietly, bouncing A-Yuan as he made distressed noises that predicted more sobs.
“Then why —”
Wei Ying sighed, looking at him with something like pity. He handed A-Yuan off to Wen Ning, who stood peacefully at his sister’s side, and closed the gap between them. He raised a hand, letting Lan Wangji feel the ghost of his touch on his jaw. “We have nowhere else to go. I knew this would happen as soon as Xue Yang stole the seal.”
Lan Wangji closed his eyes, but the pinpricks of that phantom touch only intensified. “Jin Guangshan would have come after you anyway.”
Wei Ying chuckled, mournful with resignation. “The threat of the tiger seal was the only thing keeping him away. It was either steal it back and destroy it, or let him have it and die anyway.”
The Jin messenger had told the story differently, but Lan Wangji had known immediately it must be biased. Whether the ghosts, ghouls, and corpses at Koi Tower had been Wei Ying’s or Xue Yang’s, it was not Wei Ying who had begun the fight. Jin Guangshan claimed Xue Yang had agreed to obtain the seal in exchange for a stay of execution, but if that was his only purpose, Lan Wangji would eat his favorite heeled boots.
“I can’t let that happen.” He shook his head, jaw grazing Wei Ying’s hand before it was snatched away, the momentary contact shocking him into meeting Wei Ying’s gaze.
“You came to warn me.” Wei Ying’s mouth hung open, as though he had just realized the obvious.
Lan Wangji stared at him. He did not understand why Wei Ying thought he could do any less.
Then Wei Ying smiled sadly, and shook his head. “Thank you, but you need to leave.”
“I will stand by you.” Lan Wangji was so tired of pretending he could do anything else. “I only wish I could do more.”
Wei Ying’s eyes widened in panic. “No! Lan Zhan, I can’t let you —”
“Wei Ying. There is nothing you can do to make me leave.”
“I can steal Wen Qing’s needles.” Wei Ying tried — failed — to summon a teasing tone.
“You won’t.” He said, with certainty. If Wei Ying intended such a thing, Lan Wangji would already be unconscious and outside the wards.
“You could take A-Yuan. Save him. Please, Lan Zhan. He’s the only one of us you can save.” Wei Ying was not above pleading or dirty tactics, but Lan Wangji had weathered bitter rejections and confronted the knowledge that Wei Ying would allow him to kill him more than once. He could withstand this.
But a murmur of agreement went through the ring of Wens surrounding them, shot through with unease, and Lan Wangji was startled to remember they were not alone.
Wei Ying hissed, pulling a burning talisman from the collar of his robes as it crumbled to ash. “It’s too late,” he said, with a mournful, apologetic smile, and sprang into motion.
Lan Wangji ran after him, the decorum that had been hammered into him since birth not so much as an afterthought.
The man in blue and silver geometric patterned robes who awaited them was not at all the army Lan Wangji expected. “Xiongzhang?”
“Wangji. Wei-gongzi. May I come in?” Xiongzhang directed his most diplomatic smile at both of them. It was not a smile Lan Wangji was used to being on the receiving end of. But Xiongzhang did not engage in subterfuge. If he meant harm, he would not have come alone, with a sheathed blade.
He had come for Lan Wangji. Politics be damned, as their cousin would say. No such thing would ever cross Xiongzhang’s lips, but Lan Wangji was strongly considering adopting the philosophy.
“You’re alone?” Wei Ying echoed his thoughts.
“I am, and asking politely.” That asking at all was merely a courtesy was left unsaid.
Wei Ying turned to him and — realizing with a rush of undefined emotion that he was seeking his approval — Lan Wangji nodded. With a wave of Wei Ying’s hand, a gap appeared in the wards just long enough for Xiongzhang to step through. “We don’t have tea.”
“A private discussion will do nicely.” Xiongzhang said.
Wei Ying paused, and when he spoke the dangerous undertone that never failed to make Lan Wangji shiver had returned. Lan Wangji was inordinately pleased to discover that was not merely an effect of the destroyed amulet.
“Wen Qing will want to be there. I’m not the boss of her.”
Xiongzhang inclined his head. “The leader of the remaining Wen is very welcome.”
Wen Qing did not, in fact, appear enthusiastic about attending their meeting, but Wei Ying cast a pleading glance at her, and she accompanied them. Lan Wangji suppressed a flicker of jealousy. He had seen nothing to indicate Wei Ying and Wen Qing were anything more than friend.
“So this is the Burial Mounds. It’s just as Wangji described it.” Xiongzhang said, once they were seated on rickety stools in the cave. “I’m sorry to say I believed you to be hiding something from him.”
“What changed your mind?” Wei Ying asked, his tone too pleasant for Lan Wangji’s taste.
Xiongzhang merely smiled. “You destroyed the Tiger Seal, Wei-gongzi. A man building an army of fierce corpses would do no such thing.”
“An army? Zewu-jun, it took the seal to create this poor, ephemeral sanctuary.” Wei Ying gestured around them. “Without it, the resentment is already eating away at our borders. Even without the army on its way, we would not survive long.”
A poor sanctuary, Wei Ying said, in describing a miracle. Given time, tools, and the slightest bit of support, Lan Wangji believed his zhiji could rewrite the fabric of the world.
“I imagine Wangji asked you to run away with him.” Xiongzhang said, and Lan Wangji fought against the urge to dig a nice hole to bury his head in.
“Not… in so many words.” Wei Ying said, strangely hesitant. “But there’s nowhere to run to.”
“Perhaps I may offer a solution.” The extreme politeness of Xiongzhang’s tone set Lan Wangji on edge, providing him a moment’s notice. “Marry Wangji, and the Lan can take in those under your protection.”
“Yes,” Lan Wangji blurted out, even as Wei Ying’s jaw dropped.
“Why would you — why would you offer that?”
“It solves the problem, does it not?” Xiongzhang was far too smug, and Lan Wangji wanted nothing more than to curl into a “We have land we can offer to the farmers here, your people now, not Wens any longer. We have resources that can help you better manage the loss of your core.”
An array had been set up to seal Wei Ying’s spiritual energy and hold him, but he had walked through it and the trap did not so much as flicker. When Wei Ying realized what he had inadvertently revealed, he fled. Or so the messenger had claimed.
“You can’t just —Your uncle would never agree.” Wei Ying protested, though Wen Qing leaned forward with interest, looking back and forth between them with a spark of hope in her eyes.
“As it happens, I informed Shufu and the elders that they could accept you as his husband, or lose Wangji.” Xiongzhang said. “It would be appreciated, however, if you would refrain from demonic cultivation where they might learn of it.”
“What? That’s ridiculous.” Wei Ying shook his head rapidly. “Lan Zhan wouldn’t.”
Wei Ying seemed to be operating upon an unacceptable misconception. “I would.”
For the first time since they entered the cave, Wei Ying looked directly at him. “Why?”
“Our promise, do you remember?” Perhaps it had been simply a moment among many for Wei Ying, but it had altered not only Lan Wangji’s perception of Wei Ying, but the shape of his philosophy.
Wei Ying stared, eyes shining.
“Wei Ying, marry me.” I can’t lose you. “You will be safe.”
“But you — Lan Zhan — you’d be giving up so much. A wife, kids, your reputation.” Wei Ying protested, though those would be his sacrifices, not Lan Wangji’s, and there were more ways to bring children into a household than a wife.
He reigned in his feelings to say, a little brokenly, “It will be no hardship, if you are willing.”
Wei Ying stared at him for a moment that felt long enough to cultivate to immortality.
“Wei Wuxian,” Wen Qing said sharply.
They had a long silent, exchange that ended with Wei Ying’s shoulder slumping as he turned to Xiongzhang. “Thank you, Lan-zongzhu. I accept your proposal on behalf of those under my protection.”
Though Wei Ying refused to look at him thereafter, Lan Wangji nearly passed out with relief.
The Wens had just finished packing their meager belongings when the mob arrived, bearing torches and fueled by fear of the unknown.
“Yiling Laozu!” The most obnoxious voice in the Cultivation World shouted, for someone had given Sect Leader Yao a voice amplification talisman. “We have come to deliver justice!”
When Wei Ying emerged from the trees, accompanied by the Twin Jades, Jin Guangshan took the lead. “We will give you one chance to surrender, Wei Ying.”
It was all Lan Wangji could do not to send Bichen flying into the Chief Cultivator-to-be’s neck, at the sound of a name that was his and only his on an enemy’s lips, but Wei Ying merely smirked, twirling Chenqing and leaning back on a tree.
“Haven’t you heard? Yiling won’t be my residence much longer. Just ask Zewu-jun.”
Jin Guangshan asked Zewu-jun.
“Wei-gongzi is correct.” Xiongzhang bowed to Jin Guangshan. “He is betrothed to marry my brother in ten days’ time.”
“So, the Tiger Amulet was a corrupting influence, as we all believed,” Though Jin Guangshan’s tone was pleasant, his expression failed to obscure his fury. “I assume he will be surrendering the Wen cultivators serving under him, in that case.”
“Responsibility for those under Wei-gongzi’s protection will be transferred to Gusu Lan.”
Lan Wangji was impressed. He had never seen his brother so certain of himself, against outside influences.
“Congratulations on your nuptials,” Jin Guangshan turned to Wei Ying with a false smile.
“Thank you,” Wei Ying said, tight lipped.
Lan Wangji, of course, said nothing. He saved his words for those who deserved them — a short list — or necessity.
“We will, of course, need proof that this is a real marriage.” Jin Guangshan continued. “Not simply a sham for the protection of a criminal.”
“It will be no difficulty to provide proof.” Xiongzhang said.
But Wei Ying paled, his sallow, unhealthy complexion nearing the deathly gray of a fierce corpse.
Of course. Lan Wangji had no experience, and Wei Ying did not return his feelings. If Lan Wangji felt faint at the idea of consummation, his mind spiraling into hazy fantasies of Wei Ying over and inside him, Wei Ying had other reasons to be worried.
When they, including Wei Ying and the Wens, arrived back at the Cloud Recesses, Lan Wangji headed straight for the library.
Lan Wangji lay with his head on Wei Ying’s lap as Wei Ying gently removed the pins of his mother’s headdress one by one, carding his hands through his hair. He’d been half-hard since Wei Ying first touched his scalp, but it was an arousal without urgency, almost comfortable. This was something he could perhaps be happy with, even if it went no further.
If not for the deadline that approached with the dawn.
“And so A-Yi somersaulted down the slope.” Lan Wangji valiantly finished his story, even as Wei Ying’s fingers tangled in his hair, tugging hard enough that a moan threatened to burst free. “Shufu panicked, but A-Yi was delighted to be covered in dirt. He likes to pretend he is a spirit haunting the river.”
“You know, that reminds me of the time we all woke up to find A-Yuan caked to his neck in mud from the lotus pond, calling himself the Lord of Radish and Flower. He had snuck out from Popo’s —”
There was a knock at the Jingshi’s door. Lan Wangji exchanged a glance with Wei Ying. It was perhaps two hours past the Lan curfew, nowhere near time for the inspection.
“Wangji? Are you decent? Can I come in?”
“Xiongzhang?” He called back, confused, and his brother took that as the permission it wasn’t.
“I brought snacks!” Xiongzhang announced cheerfully, his forehead ribbon set at a jaunty angle and a manic flush to his cheeks, holding two baskets in one hand at an odd angle. Lan Wangji braced himself for embarrassment. “And I thought you might want some extra oils.”
He stumbled in zigzags on his way to the table, several loquats and a fried rice ball spilling from the snack basket on his way. The earthenware jars in the other basket clinked loudly, coming close to rolling out and shattering on the ground more than once. Setting them down, Xiongzhang stood back with his hands on his hips, looking over the results with satisfaction. “I wanted to make sure you had everything you needed to make this the best — “
He turned, taking in the sight of Lan Wangji curled up against Wei Ying, both of them still clothed - despite Lan Wangji’s best efforts — and Wei Ying’s hair still tightly bound up in his guan.
“You haven’t slept together yet?” Xiongzhang slumped, pouting in disappointment. “Wangji, I thought you were excited about this.”
Xiongzhang wasn’t supposed to pout at him like that. That was his prerogative as the younger brother. It was the worst expression Lan Wangji had ever seen, nearly enough to overcome the recent, unfortunate return of his sense of shame.
Wei Ying went stiff as a board beneath him, and not in the way Lan Wangji craved. “He’s drunk!”
“I appreciate your concern for my brother.” Xiongzhang said with far too much amusement and an exaggerated shake of his forefinger. “But having been in his position, I assure you that remaining tipsiness aside, Wangji has been perfectly capable of consenting for at least an hour.”
Xiongzhang frowned, then a firecracker seemed to go off in his eyes. “I can explain the mechanics if you need assistance.”
“Nope! We’re good, no need to explain!” Wei Ying jumped out of bed, making Lan Wangji frown at him with the same level of disgruntlement the rabbits had shown Lan Wangji the first time he showed up without the treats that were shaping them into loaves of bread. “And we need to do that consummation now, thanks for visiting, bye!”
Wei Ying shoved him out the door, and drew a temporary talisman against the door, to ward off further disturbances. He slumped against the door, rubbing his eyes. “Can I trust him? He was still pretty drunk.”
Lan Wangji took a moment to think about his answer. It was important to Wei Ying, and he did want to remember the experience, especially if it was to be the only time.
“I am sober enough to be embarrassed. I set rabbits loose in our wedding hall.” He closed his eyes against the knowledge he would have to live with for the rest of his life. That Xiongzhang was drunk was also his fault, but Wei Ying had seen that happen, and did not need the reminder.
“That was you? Lan Zhan! You have a mischievous streak. I like it.” Wei Ying dropped to his knees alongside the bed, propping his head up on his hands.
Wei Ying might enjoy a few of the pranks his drunken mind dreamed up, but Lan Wangji’s inappropriate behavior had not stopped there. It was a wonder Wei Ying had not already turned and run. “I bit you. I’m sorry. I was…overenthusiastic.”
“But you do want to sleep with me?” Wei Ying’s question was nearly inaudible.
“I have said so several times now.” Lan Wangji held himself in check, imagining himself frozen into stone by a curse, waiting for Wei Ying to set him free with a kiss.
“Just checking. You see, I don’t mind biting.” Leaning down as he spoke, Wei Ying whispered the last bit in Lan Wangji’s ear. “But try it like this.”
Wei Ying bit down lightly where his neck met his jaw, then replaced his teeth with his lips and sucked hard, sending a wave of pleasure through him that made his eyes roll back in his head.
“Or like this,” Wei Ying nipped at his ear lobe, and Lan Wangji bit down on his lip to stifle and embarrassing noise.
“Or this,” Wei Ying kissed him then, and Lan Wangji yielded to the press of his tongue, allowing himself to be swept away. When Wei Ying pulled back, he did so with a gentle nip to his lower lip.
“I see.” He blinked away the haziness filling his mind until Wei Ying came back into focus. “Are there any more techniques you would like to show this novice?”
“Oh Fuck. Where did kinky Lan Zhan come from and are you trying to make sure I’m six feet under come morning?” Wei Ying cleared his throat, and softened, dragging his thumb over Lan Wangji’s cheekbone. “You want this? You really want me?”
He nodded, letting the simple action stand for itself.
“Oh.” Wei Ying pressed his forehead against Lan Wangji’s, the metal of his cloud emblem pressed between them. “What would this novice like to learn?”
Lan Wangji shivered, grasping at Wei Ying’s biceps, shaped by the hard labor of farm work, for purchase. “I want —”
“Hmm?” Wei Ying hummed against his ear.
It was only thanks to the remnants of tipsiness that Lan Wangji managed to whisper, “Fuck me.”
“What was that? I don’t think I heard you?” Wei Ying traced a line from Lan Wangji’s jaw down his chest with his nail, ending with a sharp pinch to a nipple.
Lan Wangji gasped, arching his back. But he did not think he could say it again.
Wei Ying pulled away, evading Lan Wangji as he reached for him. He began to protest, but stopped, when he realized Wei Ying’s destination was the basket of lubricants Xiongzhang had brought. Wei Ying had heard him. He was just — teasing.
Delaying gratification until Lan Wangji begged for it, somehow instinctively sensing that was precisely what Lan Wangji craved. The realization sent more blood rushing to fill his cock, and his heart began to pound in his ears.
“Zewu-jun brought a whole assortment of oils.” Wei Ying held one up, reading the label aloud as a hawker might on the street. “Infused with sandalwood and lavender to heighten arousal for an evening you’ll never forget. A hint of ginger to spice up the bedroom. These are aphrodisiacs, what the fuck Zewu-jun. Peppermint creates an alternating hot and cold effect that — this is a clitoral stimulant. Did Zewu-jun go all the way to Caiyi tonight and just buy the store’s entire stock?”
Lan Wangji was certain that was exactly what had happened. “I left him unsupervised.”
“Well, now we have a whole assortment of options.” Wei Ying showed no signs of choosing one and getting on with it.
Pulling the last knot holding his robe together loose, Lan Wangji let the lace slip off his shoulders and spread his legs.
This time, Wei Ying froze, staring like he wanted to devour him whole. He swallowed, and his voice was low and measured when he spoke. “You want me to decide, don’t you?” Wei Ying set down the bottle in his hands, and returned to the first, skimming his fingers along the jar to pick it up by the lip. “I think I’d like to smell like you. Would you like that?”
A ridiculous question. He reached for his cock, trying to relieve some of the pressure, and Wei Ying was there in a flash, trapping his wrists with intent. All the tension in his body fled.
“Good, just like that. Let me take care of you.” Wei Ying maneuvered them, so Lan Wangji reclined between his legs, his ass pressed against Wei Ying’s half-hard cock. Proof that Wei Ying wanted him, at least a little.
He relaxed back on Wei Ying’s shoulder, watching through half-lidded eyes as Wei Ying coated his hands in oil, and began to knead at his chest, moving south at a glacial pace. He felt not quite present in his own body, reduced to sensation, able to move only as Wei Ying wished.
Those soft, pleading sounds could not have fallen from his lips, the disappointed whine as Wei Ying skipped past the heavy, aching weight to stroke his thighs must have belonged to someone else.
But the sob of desperation when Wei Ying finally reached between his legs to tease at his perineum, but went no further, was all him. “What was it you wanted again, Lan Zhan? Tell me, or I stop here. Maybe I’ll get off rubbing against your pretty little ass and leave you like this.”
That was all it took to break through that last layer of rigid control.
“Please,” he begged. “Fuck me, please, please.”
A single finger pressed inside, but it was like a dam had burst free, and he squirmed in Wei Ying’s lap, trying to drive him deeper as pleas continued to fall from his lips.
Wei Ying’s other hand came to rest on his throat, not pressing down, only grounding him so he stilled. “So desperate for me, Lan Zhan. But I think you need one more finger at least before you can take me.”
He added a second finger, and with the hand on his throat keeping Lan Wangji malleable and still, he was able to crook his fingers, pressing against that spot inside him every time, pressure building rapidly in his spine. “Wei Ying. Wei Ying, I need you. I —”
Wei Ying chuckled lowly in his ear. “What do you think they’d say? If they knew Hanguang-jun begs for the Yiling Laozu’s cock?”
At that, Lan Wangji shattered. He tried to reign himself back in, but the next press of Wei Ying’s fingers made his vision go white, sending him to heights far beyond what he’d ever achieved alone. When he came back to himself, panting, there was cum pooling on his stomach, droplets staining his robe.
Wei Ying was still hard behind him.
“Wei Ying, you haven’t—”
“I haven’t fucked you yet, have I?” Wei Ying said, cheerful and decidedly smug. “I want to come inside you or not at all.”
Lan Wangji whimpered.
Four Hours Earlier
Lan Wangji would later remember very little of the hours leading up to his wedding. Only a kaleidoscope of colors and prodding hands and an insistent feeling that he needed to escape. That there was something he needed to do before he could possibly hope to marry the love of his life.
Something was missing from the ceremony, something vitally important that would make their wedding about Wei Ying and Lan Zhan, rather than merely Wei Ying’s survival. Something that would surely remind Wei Ying of what they meant to each other, and cement a place for Lan Wangji in his heart.
He would never remember how he escaped from his brother. But his first clear memory after the decision to drink was Xiongzhang dragging him out of the rabbits’ meadow, unaware that Lan Wangji had stowed half a dozen rabbits away in his sleeves.
Rabbits, he had decided, were the solution to everything.
Returned to the room set aside for his preparation, Xiongzhang repaired what damage Lan Wangji had done to his appearance while he dozed.
The ceremony itself, Lan Wangji remembered. To his eternal embarrassment.
Xiongzhang shook him into alertness, ignoring Lan Wangji’s attempts to smack his hands away. “It’s time to get married, didi. You won’t be Wei-gongzi’s husband if you don’t take your bows.”
Lan Wangji shot to his feet immediately, annoyed that Xiongzhang had not simply said that before.
He began to head straight for the banquet hall, only for Xiongzhang to catch his elbow just outside the door. “When we’re in there, don’t say anything. Do you understand?”
Lan Wangji nodded. He had just caught a glimpse of Wei Ying inside, and all his words had been stolen from him in an instant.
His soon-to-be husband was stunning in his wedding robes, brighter than the sun and impossible to look at without embarrassing himself. There was nowhere on Wei Ying where Lan Wangji could safely look without aching to taste.
This was the first time he had seen Wei Ying wearing a guan befitting of gentry, one of gold worked in delicate strands to depict a bird in flight above clouds. A simple, yet fine piece that Lan Wangji’s grandfather had worn at his own wedding, selected to show Wei Ying did not seek power. The embroidery on his robes was simple for the same reason, a pattern of tiny birds around the hems, with a single pair of dragons across the chest.
But Wei Ying had always been stunning in red, and if anything, the simplicity only enhanced his own peerless beauty.
He stumbled, suddenly, his knees giving out. Xiongzhang caught his elbow, preventing Lan Wangji from making the disastrously inauspicious error of falling on his face.
Shufu gave him a suspicious look, but said nothing, allowing the slip to pass. His displeasure with the wedding was apparent already, and he no doubt wanted to avoid any knowledge that could make the experience worse.
Wei Ying’s smile when he saw Lan Wangji was pained, and he looked quickly away.
Look at me, he wanted to shout, as Wei Ying had to him so long ago, but he had promised Xiongzhang he would not.
The bows came first, with Xiongzhang escorting him to the ancestral tablets, and backing away only when Lan Wangji was safely on his knees. They bowed to heaven and earth, to their ancestors and parents, and to each other.
And Wei Ying was his husband.
Lan Wangji was Wei Ying’s husband.
He smiled, giddy. Wei Ying’s mouth fell open and did not close until Xiongzhang appeared to drag them away for the tea ceremony.
As he knelt at Wei Ying’s side to serve the tea, the rabbits squirmed in his sleeves. Lan Wangji poured for Shufu first, then settled his arms in his lap, below his family’s line of sight, as Shufu drank. One by one, as Wei Ying poured his own cup of tea for Shufu, the rabbits began to hop out, congregating below the table.
Shufu harrumphed, expressing his displeasure in the manner in which Wei Ying poured, though there was not a single technical fault to be found. Xiongzhang gave Shufu a pointed smile, and finally, he drank. Wei Ying exhaled loudly in relief, making Shufu glare at him again.
Lan Wangji nudged Wei Ying with his shoulder, intending comfort, and Wei Ying looked up at him in surprise, a hint of a genuine smile on his lips. Lan Wangji could not help but stare at him in adoration.
He was only torn away when Shufu cleared his throat, glaring harder at Wei Ying, who coughed once, and turned away.
Serving his two surviving great-aunts, Qiaohui-tangjie and then Xiongzhang went without issue. But as he and Wei Ying made their way to the table occupied by four of the Wens, there was a crashing sound from behind them.
“Wei Wuxian!” Shufu shouted. “What is the meaning of this?”
Wei Ying paled as he turned, but had to cover his laugh with his sleeve as he saw the problem. There was a rabbit sitting on Shufu’s lap, chewing happily on the ties of his robe. Another two were perched on the table, among several overturned teacups.
A fourth tugged on Wei Ying’s robes, and he stooped to pick it up, cuddling it against his chest and scratching its ears. “You kept them?” He asked, rather than answer Shufu’s question.
Lan Wangji nodded, and Wei Ying gasped, so he knew he must be smiling.
“Explain. Now.” Shufu demanded.
“I do not believe Wei-gongzi is at fault here,” Xiongzhang said. “He was preparing with the Wen siblings all afternoon, under Jin Guangyao’s watch. “Perhaps the rabbits wanted to see Wangji get married.”
No one had mentioned that to Lan Wangji.
Shufu grumbled, but had no choice but to let it slide. They were permitted to complete the tea ceremony with the Wens, standing in for Wei Ying’s family. Wen Popo, the same uncle who bore responsibility for Lan Wangji’s current state, and Wen Qing received tea, while Wen Ning had requested to witness the bows.
Upon approaching the table, the fate of the remaining two rabbits was immediately clear. Both were nestled in Wen Ning’s lap, fast asleep as he petted them in slow, gentle strokes. Even so, his glare contained threats of slow dismemberment, if Lan Wangji dared to harm a single hair on Wei Ying’s head.
Lan Wangji approved.
By the time the second course was served at the banquet — attended by the rest of the Wen remnants, those Lan disciples who wished to attend, Jin Guangyao, and Nie Huaisang as a representative for his sect — Lan Wangji could barely hold his eyes open. He wished to sleep, and wake only when it was time to return to the Jingshi for the consummation.
When it was time for Wei Ying to rail him into incoherence.
But every time he began to slip into a doze, Xiongzhang poked him in the thigh with his chopsticks, then piled more braised vegetables onto Lan Wangji’s rice.
Lan Wangji did not appreciate this.
The only thing he was hungry for was Wei Ying. He managed to eat some of it anyway, and contented himself with watching as the Wen siblings kept Wei Ying engaged in conversation. Wen Ning copied Xiongzhang in sneaking more food into Wei Ying’s bowl, but he did not seem to notice, absently taking an occasional bite as he protested against his companion’s relentless teasing.
Perhaps Wei Ying would one day joke with him like that again, while they played with A-Yuan and the rabbits on a lazy morning.
He began to nod off, but was once again rudely awakened. He glared at Xiongzhang and his annoying, placid expression, and determined he would have his revenge.
The next time Xiongzhang looked away for a moment, to answer a question from Wen Qing, Lan Wangji snagged a chili pepper from a bright red dish in front of Wei Ying, and put it on Xiongzhang’s plate. He then grabbed Wei Ying’s bottle of wine, and poured a cup, placing it within Xiongzhang’s reach.
Wei Ying had noticed, this time, watching him with an almost-smile that would have been more at home on Lan Wangji’s own face, but was out of place on his.
Xiongzhang took a bite without looking, and his eyes widened a moment later. His face turned bright red, and he coughed once, and several more times. Reaching blindly for a cup, Xiongzhang tipped its contents back all at once. He exhaled in relief. Then, his eyes rolled back in his head, and he slumped heavily onto Lan Wangji’s shoulder.
Rolling his shoulder, Lan Wangji dislodged him, and Xiongzhang’s head slid down the back of Lan Wangji’s precious wedding robes to the ground.
When Xiongzhang woke and immediately began cooing over one of the rabbits still roaming free through the hall, he decided he was very pleased with the results.
Unfortunately, Lan Wangji was now wide awake.
To Lan Wangji’s considerable disappointment, Wei Ying did not fuck him immediately. Wei Ying held his hips in place when he attempted to grind back against the hard length of his cock, tragically separated from Lan Wangji by the fabric of Wei Ying’s pants.
“I want to last, Lan Zhan. Give me a minute.” Wei Ying caught his hips, holding him in place. “Can you wait for me?”
“I suppose. If it means you will…” He began loftily, but trailed off, no longer able to summon the shamelessness that had landed him in Wei Ying’s arms. It seemed he was well and truly sober, and could tragically no longer ask Wei Ying to fuck him until he cried.
“If it means I’ll… what?”
Wei Ying expressed interest in Lan Wangji’s desires, but he was all of a sudden hit with the worry that Wei Ying’s interest was merely polite. The interest he thought was his due a husband he had never wanted.
It would be just like Wei Ying to give himself away like that.
“Wei Ying, do you want this?”
“Do I want this? How can you even ask — Oh, Lan Zhan.” Wei Ying shifted out from beneath him, gently leaving Lan Wangji to lie bereft on the bedding.
Fear began to choke him once again, but Wei Ying returned. He climbed back into bed, aligning himself lengthwise with Lan Wangji’s body so the heat of Wei Ying seeped into his core. A cloth, damp with warm water, made him flinch as it swept over his belly. “What do you think happened with our betrothal?”
He threw an arm over his eyes, hiding the tears beginning to prickle at the corners. “I trapped you. You had no option but to agree.”
Wei Ying captured his hand and pulled, exposing him. But his expression was nothing like Lan Wangji had expected. “I thought I trapped you!
“Xiongzhang would not have offered if I did not —Wei Ying, I —” He could not quite produce the right words.
But with the misunderstanding out of the way, Wei Ying understood him anyway. “Oh. Me too.”
“I thought, if I could please you, you might — you might grow to feel comfortable here.” His ears caught fire at the admission. “I procured books.”
“You’ve been studying? What exactly — wait, no.” Wei Ying began to tease, but caught himself, growing serious. “Lan Zhan, if you shaved your head and took a vow of silence, I would still want to be around you, because you’re my favorite person.”
“A vow of silence would be little different. But please rest assured that I would never cut my hair.” He never had, save for the single lock now bound together with Wei Ying’s and stored safely away.
The cloth was flung away, and Wei Ying rested on one elbow, absentmindedly tracing the planes of Lan Wangji’s chest with his forefinger. “Little different? Ha! I’d miss your sense of humor.”
“You are the only one who would.” Lan Wangji had been told many times he lacked such a thing entirely.
“Then other people have never paid attention to you for five minutes.”
Wei Ying seemed to think this was a shame, but Lan Wangji preferred it that way. “Only you.”
“You know, A-Yuan thinks you’re hilarious. I bet other kids do too.”
“That is acceptable.” But Lan Wangji was not the one whose value was truly overlooked. “People do not pay attention to you, either.”
Frowning in confusion, Wei Ying rested his head on Lan Wangji’s chest. “Plenty of people pay attention to me.”
He shook his head and, realizing that he could, placed a hand on the small of Wei Ying’s back. “They think you are funny, or unruly, or mad, and do not see you are clever, and kind, and steadfast.”
Wei Ying sucked in a breath. Closing his eyes, he counted to ten, mouthing the numbers. When he opened them, his gaze locked with Lan Wangji’s and his own breath caught. “Maybe I only want you to pay attention to me too.”
“You do not feel trapped?”
Despite Wei Ying’s previous assurances, he could not help but worry.
“I think I built up an ideas of what you were thinking in my head, and you did the same and neither of us bothered to talk about it. Lan Zhan, believe me when I say I’m exactly where I want to be.” He paused. “With you, in case that wasn’t clear.”
You want me? He wanted to ask, but did not feel it was the right moment. They lapsed into silence.
“You haven’t asked what really happened at Koi Tower.” Wei Ying said, after a while.
“I know enough.” The details did not matter.
“Aren’t you curious?” Wei Ying pressed. “About that, or about how I lost my core?”
“If you wish to tell me.”
Wei Ying did wish to tell him, it seemed, the words spilling forth like a mountain creek in the spring thaw. “The Tiger Seal decided it liked Xue Yang better. It led him through the wards, led him to it, let him kill several of our people in the process. I couldn’t let him keep it, so I.”
“Do you still believe I would judge you?” It hurt to think that Wei Ying would believe that, because Lan Wangji’s missteps had led him to.
“You should.” Wei Ying said quietly. “I called as many ghosts as would respond to me with Chenqing, and went after him. The corpses were his, mostly; I can’t exactly control an army with just a flute. But he was inexperienced and couldn’t tear my ghosts away from me. I knew the Tiger Seal far better, because I created it — so I destroyed it, and sent the backlash into him. I don’t know how many other people died in it.”
“You did the world a service.” So far as Lan Wangji was concerned, that was simple fact.
Wei Ying laughed wetly. “You’re ridiculous.”
“I learned from you.” He informed him.
Wei Ying hummed, and began curling a strand of Lan Wangji’s hair around his finger.
The question that truly ate at Lan Wangji was something else entirely. “Do you regret that your siblings could not be here?”
Wei Ying shrugged. “Sort of. I don’t know if Jiang Cheng would want to be here.”
Lan Wangji did not know either. Jiang Wanyin’s emotions were a mystery to him, and he preferred it that way. But it was clear to him as the waters of the cold spring that Wei Ying was lying.
“I know Shijie, at least, would love to be here. She offered to sneak out with only the Peacock, but…” Another shrug, just as falsely apathetic. “Her baby could come any day now! With her health, she shouldn’t risk traveling away from doctors right now. I don’t think I’d have been able to persuade her not to come for any other reason.”
“We will find a way for you to see her soon.” Lan Wangji promised. “I wish your family could have been here, for you.”
“The Wens are like my family now too, aren’t they?” Wei Ying said, and there he found honesty. Wei Ying was very good at finding family, because those few who truly valued him invariably wanted to keep him.
Lan Wangji would never stop feeling awed that he was the one Wei Ying had chosen to hold him closest.
“The whole of your family, then.” He conceded.
Wei Ying brightened then, at a thought he soon expressed. “But Lan Zhan, I’d marry you at a roadside temple covered in dirt.”
What was Lan Wangji supposed to do then? Not kiss him?
Wei Ying kissed like Lan Wangji was a delicacy to be savored, to be tasted and explored until Wei Ying discovered every secret delight stored within him. Lan Wangji could only urge him on, overwhelmed, until Wei Ying sat back to catch his breath.
Lan Wangji sat up with him, reaching out towards Wei Ying’s guan in question.
Wei Ying let him take down his hair, the guan, and the usual red ribbon from beneath it, let him finally untie his robes and run his hands down Wei Ying’s chest. But when he grazed the sensitive flesh along Wei Ying’s sides, he found himself flipped onto his back faster than he could blink. That was all it took to bring him back to readiness.
“You like when I’m rough with you. Don’t you?” Wei Ying asked, delighted. “I asked you a question, Lan Zhan.”
“Yes.” He breathed.
“I hoped so. You look so pretty like this. Messy, and beautiful, and mine.” Wei Ying traced his thumb over Lan Wangji’s lips. They parted under his touch, and Wei Ying’s thumb slipped inside. He sucked on it, instinctively, and was rewarded with a punched-out sound. Wei Ying replaced his thumb with two fingers, pressing down on the back of his tongue. Lan Wangji moaned, needy and unfulfilled, his eyelids fluttering closed.
“I won’t make you wait much longer. Keep sucking on me for just a little while. I just need —” Wei Ying grasped around in the sheets as Lan Wangji obeyed, losing himself in the idea of pleasing him. As Wei Ying gave a cry of triumph, his fingers vanished, and Lan Wangji made a noise of protest.
“Lan Zhan? Are you okay?” Wei Ying hovered over him in concern.
“Hmm.” He agreed and when Wei Ying seemed unsatisfied, tried again. “Yes.”
“Do you still want me to fuck you now?” He held up the bottle of lubricant from earlier so Lan Wangji could see it.
“Wei Ying.” He admonished, because that was the least intelligent thing Wei Ying had ever asked. Including whether Lan Wangji liked Mianmian.
“You’re allowed to change your mind.”
“I have not.” He tried to say flatly, but it came out a whine. “Now please. I have been patient.”
“You’ve been very patient. I think you deserve a reward.” Wei Ying took Lan Wangji’s wrists, and pinned them above his head, as he had hours earlier.
His breathing turned ragged.
“Hold them there for me.” Wei Ying’s hands moved away, and Lan Wangji kept his in place, linking them together so he would not forget. “Good boy.”
His hips jerked upwards in response, and his cock dripped precum onto his stomach. Lan Wangji wondered vaguely why those words had such a strong effect on him.
Wei Ying lifted his legs, dragging him down until his ass rested on Wei Ying’s lap. Then finally, he lifted Lan Wangji’s hips again, and lowered him down, tortuously slow, onto his cock. He let him rest there, stroking the outside of his thighs, until Lan Wangji bucked his hips and begged him to move.
Only then did Wei Ying shift forward reaching overhead to relieve Lan Wangji of the need to focus on his arms, and hiked one of Lan Wangji’s legs up to wrap around his ass. Lan Wangji relaxed into the pressure as Wei Ying finally, finally began to thrust.
At first, Wei Ying hovered over his lips, their breath mixing, but as he found a rhythm that filled the air with Lan Wangji’s involuntary cries, he kissed him.
Lan Wangji sank into the kiss, becoming nothing more than a response to the ways Wei Ying played his body. Where there was nothing and nowhere else he needed to be than here, with his husband, exchanging pleasure unlike anything he’d felt in his life.
It came as a surprise, when Wei Ying wrapped a hand around his cock, and he spilled between them almost immediately. His walls contracted around Wei Ying, and Wei Ying came inside him, collapsing onto his chest.
Lan Wangji felt full and happy and ready to do all that and more every day for the rest of their lives. So when Wei Ying asked, a little nervously, if that had been all right, Lan Wangji laughed at him.
Wei Ying gasped, and forgot to be offended, watching him with shock, and an expression Lan Wangji now felt comfortable calling fond. And perhaps a bit sappy.
He hadn’t laughed out loud since his mother died. He thought she’d appreciate that Wei Ying had made him do so, that his marriage would be noting like hers, though the reasons for it had been so similar.
Wei Ying pulled out, and got out of bed. But Lan Wangji scarcely had a chance to miss him before he was jumping back in, spilling loquats onto the sheets with a wet cloth in hand. One of the loquats rolled to a stop in the center of his chest.
Lan Wangji looked down at it, and raised his brow at his husband.
Wei Ying laughed and began to wipe him clean. “I don’t think either of us ate very much at the banquet.”
“A fair point,” he said, and stuffed the loquat in Wei Ying’s mouth. His eyes bulged, and, after taking a bite of the fruit, flung himself onto Lan Wangji, peppering him with kisses, cleanliness forgotten.
“Will you accept a loquat from me this time, Lan Zhan?”
“I do not like the peel,” he confessed. Lan Wangji did not mind the bitterness of much of the food in the Cloud Recesses, but he found it dimmed his enjoyment of the fruit’s tart sweetness. As a child, he had been scolded for pickiness, and learned to live with his disappointment. Wei Ying made him feel like he did not have to.
“What am I for, if not to peel fruit for my husband?” Wei Ying proceeded to peel and seed not one, but five loquats, feeding them to Lan Wangji one after the other.
Not long after they had both eaten their shares, Lan Wangji yawned.
Wei Ying combed his fingers through Lan Wangji’s hair. “My poor husband. It’s so far past your bedtime.”
His heart still skipped a beat every time Wei Ying called him husband. “I have no regrets.”
But he was forgetting something.
“Where is my forehead ribbon?” He was unsure when it had come off, amid everything.
Wei Ying frowned, and fished among the sheets for it. He found it, finally, on the floor. Lan Wangji took possession of it, and Wei Ying’s left hand. Wei Ying watched in silence as Lan Wangji wrapped the symbol of his self-restraint around his wrist.
“We’re married,” Wei Ying whispered in awe.
Satisfied, Lan Wangji crossed his arms over his chest, and fell asleep.
When the usual hour approached, Lan Wangji refused to regain consciousness. He pulled the arm wrapped around him closer, and drifted back to sleep.
When the sun shone in his eyes, he turned onto his stomach, and buried his face in the sheets. Miraculously, he did not seem to be hungover, but outside of war, he had never had so little sleep in his life.
He was also very sore.
And he still did not regret a single moment.
Only when Wei Ying groaned and stirred from the glare of the sun did Lan Wangji concede to the start of the day.
“Hey,” Wei Ying whispered, when their eyes met.
“Good morning, Wei Ying.” He said. “Husband.”
Wei Ying shifted forward to kiss him softly, and Lan Wangji found the horrors of morning breath were overestimated, when one was very in love. He grabbed Wei Ying’s ass to pull him closer. When their torsos came in contact, he found that Wei Ying was also very interested in further exploring the physical side of their marriage.
“You never said what you were studying this past week.”
“Many things.” He said, but there was one particular subject he was very interested in trying out. “I purchased something, to help reduce my gag reflex.”
“Did you make much progress?” Wei Ying’s pupils dilated with interest when he nodded. “Show me.”
Tragically, the door opened just as Lan Wangji was beginning to take him into his mouth.
Someone coughed. Lan Wangji froze. And Wei Ying threw the covers over their bodies, suspending Lan Wangji in darkness.
“I told you, you should have knocked.” His brother was saying from outside the door, when Lan Wangji managed to get his head above the covers.
Sober, Xiongzhang fortunately possessed a sense of decorum.
“Knocking directly contradicted by father’s orders.” Jin Guangyao replied. “But I do rather wish I had ignored them, yes.”
“We are covered, Xiongzhang.” Lan Wangji called.
Xiongzhang stepped inside, and Jin Guangyao lowered his hand from in front of his eyes.
Jin Guangyao cleared his throat. “While I do not believe further proof is necessary, my father has requested a complete report. Please drink this.”
He held out a stoppered vial toward each of them.
“I don’t know if it’s a good idea for Lan Zhan to drink that.” Wei Ying said.
Lan Wangji was not particularly enthusiastic about being bound to tell the truth for several hours, rather than the single minute of honesty a dose of truth serum induced in others, he would bear it, if it got Jin Guangyao out of the Jingshi.
And preferably out of Gusu entirely.
Jin Guangyao put his dimples on full display. “I am well aware of the Lans’ poor tolerance for intoxicants. Er-ge helped me produce a dose that is perfectly safe for your husband, after he gave a demonstration of why it was necessary.”
Xiongzhang grimaced. “I’ve been informed I dragged A-Yao, our cousin, and the Wen siblings down to Caiyi, terrorized several merchants, barged in on you, and passed out in a guest room hallway. My deepest apologies.”
“Unnecessary,” Lan Wangji held no intention to confess to his own role in the matter. It was this time, after all, that Xiongzhang had interrupted something.
“None needed. Please Zewu-jun, stop making me feel almost respectable.” Wei Ying gave an exaggerated shiver.
“Perhaps we can get this over with then.” Xiongzhang said pleasantly, meaning he would like to immediately forget this ever happened.
“Please,” Jin Guangyao said, with emphasis.
Lan Wangji wholeheartedly agreed, and swallowed the contents of the vial Jin Guangyao offered to him.
“In that case…” Wei Ying grabbed the other vial, and downed it in one swallow.
Jin Guangyao counted down from thirty, then asked, “Is this a real marriage?”
“I love Wei Ying more than life itself.” Lan Wangji said.
“I love you too.” Wei Ying smiled that wide, heartstopping smile that had first drawn Lan Wangji to him, the one he’d missed for so long, and it was all too easy for Lan Wangji to get lost in his eyes.
“And you had sex?” Jin Guangyao reminded them of his presence.
“Oh. Yeah, absolutely.”
Questions answered, Jin Guangyao hightailed it out of there. Xiongzhang was even faster.
A beat after the door closed, Wei Ying burst into relieved laughter, collapsing onto Lan Wangji’s shoulder. Lan Wangji patted him on the back and hoped Xiongzhang and the more annoying of his sworn brothers had not irreversibly killed the mood.
When Wei Ying calmed sometime later, he gestured towards Wei Ying’s cock, still covered by the sheets. “Shall I return to…”
“I have another idea.” Wei Ying held up his red ribbon. “It doesn’t have the same meaning as yours, but I thought we might make use of it.”
Intriguing. “How so?”
“I thought I might tie it loosely around your wrists — don’t look at me like that I need do some research before we do anything really interesting —” Wei Ying paused to smooth away his pout with a peck on the lips “— and have you ride me in the bath.”
He thought about it, imaging his arms looped around Wei Ying’s neck, head thrown back, Wei Ying’s fingers digging into his ass as he controlled the pace of Lan Wangji’s hips.
Lan Wangji tilted his head to look at Wei Ying from beneath his lashes. “I could be persuaded.”
The sound of his husband’s laughter was all he needed to know that whatever came next — however their enemies came for Wei Ying, whatever was necessary to keep Wei Ying healthy for as long as possible — they would have each other.