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(Loved You) For A Thousand Years

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“YAH! WANG YIBO!”

The affronted cry rang out across the water, amplified by the dense walls of forest surrounding them. Wang Yibo pulled away with a cackle, splashing water around him as he waded away from Xiao Zhan’s playful anger. The younger man had just used his prop sword to effectively pee on Xiao Zhan, water shooting from a gap in the hilt right onto his unknowing costar.

Admittedly it was funny, and Xiao Zhan was laughing even as he chased after Wang Yibo, water-sodden robes slowing him down. The pebbled bottom of the springs was slippery beneath Xiao Zhan’s feet, the rocks round and weathered from time, and Xiao Zhan darted an arm out to catch himself from slipping when he finally caught up to Yibo. Wang Yibo did not object to Xiao Zhan clinging to him for balance, helping secure him with one big hand around Xiao Zhan’s wrist.

“Lao Xiao needs to work on his stamina, I was worried you were going to drown back there.”

“Yah! You little - -“ Xiao Zhan dipped his hand down to splash Wang Yibo, water flying everywhere. He managed to semi-drench himself in the process too, making Wang Yibo laugh so hard he fell over backwards.

Giggling at the younger’s antics, Xiao Zhan absentmindedly took a step back, only to gasp as he felt a sudden sharp, stabbing pain on his left heel.

“Shit.” He cursed, knee jerking up reflexively. Wang Yibo turned to him in confusion, the grin freezing on his face when Xiao Zhan bent over, lifting his foot up out of the water and gulped at what he saw. There was a medium sized cut on his heel, blood covering the surrounding skin and dripping down to stain the water below crimson.

“Fuck, Zhan-ge, are you okay? That looks pretty deep.”

Wang Yibo waded quickly towards him, the water splashing noisily around his knees with his haste. Xiao Zhan bit his lip as he prodded gently around the injury, wiping away some of the blood with his finger. Out of the corner of his eye he could see Yibo’s eyes widen, immediately calling out;

“Medic! Zhan-ge hurt his foot!”

“I’m okay, Yibo, it’s not that bad.”

Yibo steadfastly ignored him, face set in stubborn worry as he bent down next to Xiao Zhan, one hand going to gently support Xiao Zhan’s elbow. The other beckoned over one of the staff standing at the edges of the spring. Together they each supported one of Xiao Zhan’s arms, helping him as Xiao Zhan hobbled his way over to the rocks, stepping gingerly to avoid putting more pressure on his foot.

Yibo fussed over him as Xiao Zhan sat down, pushing himself into Xiao Zhan’s space to guide him down and fetching one of the antiseptic wipes, opening it with assured fingers to hand over to Xiao Zhan.

“Yibo, can I have some space please.”

Yibo blinked at him in confusion, taking one small step backwards, then another when Xiao Zhan stared pointedly at him. Eventually he relented and sat down just off to Xiao Zhan’s right side, leaving Xiao Zhan to nurse his injuries in peace.

Luckily the wound wasn’t as bad as it had first appeared. The water had made it look like it had bled more than it actually did, but Xiao Zhan dabbed carefully at the cut with tissues until the bleeding slowed down.

Yibo appeared restless beside him, fidgeting back and forth and flicking his wig over his shoulder whilst the staff milled around them.

“Thank you.” Xiao Zhan thanked the assistant, taking the clean tissue and placing the bloodied one by his side.

“Does it hurt?” Yibo asked him when he turned back round, hands clasped on his knees. Xiao Zhan shook his head, pursing his lips in amusement as a thought came to him.

“What would you do if I said yes? Bandage my foot with your ribbon?” He laughed, swaying towards the younger, one slender hand covering his giggles. To his shock Yibo actually looked to be considering it, tugging experimentally on the long white ribbon that was a staple of his character.

Fortunately Xiao Zhan was given an actual bandaid before Wang Yibo could make his own, and he pressed it on smoothly.

“Good as new.”

 

“I think we’re gonna take a break for lunch here,” Director Chen announced into his megaphone, a relieved sigh rippling through the staff immediately after. Xiao Zhan shifted closer to Yibo to avoid the bustle of the staff packing up, inhaling sharply when the action caused his foot to knock against the rough rock outcropping beneath his feet. The pain was now shifting from a sharp bite to a dull ache, but was clearly still sensitive if the throbbing in his heel was anything to go by.

“It hurts, doesn't it.”

Xiao Zhan flinched, snapping his head up to see Wang Yibo leaning in close to him, dark eyes intently focused on Xiao Zhan’s expression. Xiao Zhan felt his cheeks flush a little, and he cleared his throat, glancing away.

“Aiyah, why are you worrying so much? I’m fine, Lao Wang.” He grinned, aiming a weak punch at Yibo’s arm that the younger easily avoided, grabbing Xiao Zhan’s wrist instead. Xiao Zhan tried not to squirm when Yibo’s hand closed around his wrist, biting his lip to swallow down any response. Yibo’s fingers were long and cool, soothing on Xiao Zhan’s overheated skin. There was a faint roughness from the callouses that decorated each blunt fingertip, which pressed against Xiao Zhan’s skin when Wang Yibo for some reason began taking his pulse.

“Yibo!” Xiao Zhan laughed incredulously, tugging his hand away. “What are you doing? I hurt my foot, not my heart.”

Wang Yibo grinned back at him, his forehead ribbon slightly crooked. Xiao Zhan’s fingers itched to straighten the fabric. Yibo’s lips were twisted in a matching crooked smirk as he replied, “I’ve got to look after our amazing main actor Xiao Zhan. What would people say if they knew I let you go sick?”

“Wang Yibo you - you’re a main actor too! What kind of nonsense - -“

Wang Yibo’s cackle drowned out the rest of Xiao Zhan’s words.

 

***

 

“Do you think you can walk?” Yibo asked him seriously, after they had finished their little play fight. They were almost all alone now, spare for a few staff loitering about. Director Chen was crouched in between them, looking at Xiao Zhan’s foot with a frown.

“I think it’s best if you rest your foot for a bit before we start filming again, Xiao laoshi.”

Xiao Zhan opened his mouth, ready to protest that he was fine and there was no need to delay filming any longer, but one sharp look from the older man had him deflating rapidly.

“I understand, director.” He tried unsuccessfully to keep the pout out of his voice, head hung low to shield his face. Director Chen laughed good naturedly, clapping him on the shoulder before standing up.

“Take care of A-Zhan, Wang Laoshi. That’s an order.”

Xiao Zhan caught the tail end of the exchange between the two men, director Chen’s features alight with mischief whilst Yibo looked faintly flustered, coughing into his fist twice.

“See you later, director!”

“Bye bye!”

Both Xiao Zhan and Wang Yibo watched him go until he was nothing more than a faint blot in the distance, in the end disappearing between a grove of trees.

Finally alone, Xiao Zhan allowed himself to slump, still being mindful of getting any dirt or wrinkles on his costume. Wang Yibo glanced over at him worriedly as Xiao Zhan rolled his neck, the bones grinding in protest. Where they were sat offered at least some semblance of shade, however Xiao Zhan could still feel the extent of the midday heat, oppressive and constant. Sweat beaded from underneath his wig, tinted by the makeup on his face and Xiao Zhan daubed it away carefully, mindful of staining the white sleeves of his robes and facing the costume jiejie’s wrath.

A tissue was thrust into his vision and he took it gratefully, fingers brushing lightly against Yibo’s.

“If you want to go back with the others, I can carry you,” Yibo offered.

“Carry me? Lao Wang, I’m too heavy.”

“Lies. Xiao laoshi is like a fairy, pretty and light- - “ Xiao Zhan made a spluttering sound, “and I have boyfriend strength anyways.”

“Boyfriend strength? Yibo, this is a brotherly drama,” Xiao Zhan rasped, cheeks burning. This heat was affecting Xiao Zhan badly. He kept getting hot flushes randomly, with no obvious cause.

Yibo snorted at that, a distant look in his eyes that had Xiao Zhan swallowing nervously.

“Yeah. Brothers.”

They fell into a comfortable silence after that, the gentle sound of wildlife lulling Xiao Zhan into a semi-daze, eyelids blinking sleepily shut. He tugged at the neck of his robes, pulling apart the stiff fabric to try and allow a breeze to reach his sweaty and overheated neck.

Yibo made a low noise beside him, something like a groan, and Xiao Zhan turned with difficulty, his movements sluggish with the kind of fatigue brought on by heat swamped limbs.

Yibo was looking at a point in the centre of the springs, his hands fisting on his thighs. Xiao Zhan followed his gaze, looking longingly at the glittering surface of the pool.

“That looks so refreshing,” Xiao Zhan commented wistfully, fanning his face with the sleeve of his robes. He longed to jump in and submerge himself in the icy depths, a blessed relief from the sticky summer heat. His head swum dizzyingly, the pounding behind his eyes growing words every minute. When he blinked dark spots pulsed in his vision and he swayed lightly, suddenly feeling very faint.

“Woah, Zhan-ge. Are you okay?”

“I’m fine.” Xiao Zhan waved away Yibo’s concern, scooting forwards until his legs dangled over the edge of the boulder they were sitting on and his feet could skim the surface of the water.

“You should get in,” Yibo said jokingly, his familiar croaky laughter filling the air a second later. Xiao Zhan paused, considering, then before Yibo could react he was pushing off the rock and sliding into the springs with a softplop.

“Xiao Zhan!” Yibo’s affronted cry startled several birds nearby, who took into the sky with a series of indignant squawks. Xiao Zhan tuned out the sounds of Yibo’s berating, focusing on wading deeper into the pool until the water brushed the tops of his thighs and he shivered.

“Zhan-ge, what are you doing? You hurt your foot, what if it gets worse?”

Yibo splashed up behind him, scowling.

Xiao Zhan laughed, pushing him playfully on the shoulder. “Lao Wang worries about me too much, I’ll be careful.”

“No.” Yibo shook his head stubbornly. “You could catch a cold. We should go back.”

He reached out to grab Xiao Zhan’s arm but the elder ducked away. Yibo huffed, lunging after Xiao Zhan again, managing to snag a hold of his sleeve and yank the other man towards him. Xiao Zhan stumbled, feet slipping unsteadily on the smooth pebbles. He wobbled dramatically for several moments before ultimately falling against Yibo, sending them both down with an almighty splash.

The shock of being suddenly submerged was an icy slap, freezing all of Xiao Zhan’s movements as he struggled to acclimatise. He forced his eyes open, vision a swirling mass of greens and blues, and caught sight of Yibo’s face staring straight at him.

Distantly he was aware of a tight grip on his wrist, Yibo’s hold, tugging him back up towards the surface. Xiao Zhan kicked his legs, but there was something pulling at him, like his foot was caught between two rocks. He cursed in his head, yanking his leg up harshly, but whatever he was trapped in wouldn’t budge. In fact it seemed to be pulling him back down, an ever growing force sucking him in.

Xiao Zhan felt panic blossom in his chest, bright and terrifying, and he fought down the urge to thrash. By now Yibo had noticed he wasn’t surfacing, and he was tugging insistently at Xiao Zhan’s wrist, his confusion clear in his face.

“What’s wrong?” He mouthed underwater, bubbles streaming from his mouth in a myriad of blues and whites.

“Stuck,” Xiao Zhan mouthed back, his chest tight from anxiety and lack of air. Yibo’s expression stiffened slightly, the yanks on Xiao Zhan’s wrist gaining a sense of desperation. The water made his movements sluggish and heavy, fighting against them even as Wang Yibo tried his hardest to pull them both back up. With one particularly aggressive tug, it happened. In slow motion Wang Yibo’s fingers slipped from where they had been a bar around Xiao Zhan’s wrist, and Xiao Zhan had nothing holding him anymore. The distance between their hands was so minute it was almost comical when Xiao Zhan tried once more, desperately to seize his lifeline, to grab a hold of Yibo, yet missed, and flailing was dragged down.

 

The last thing he saw was Yibo diving after him, screaming soundlessly.

 

***

 

darkness, water, air, can’t breathe, need air, light, swim, swim, air, swim, almost… there…

Xiao Zhan surfaced with a violent gasp, lungs screaming with exertion. Water spilled from his lips as he coughed and spluttered, clutching a hand to his chest and hacking brutally.

“Yibo?” His voice was hoarse and weak, whisper-thin as he desperately called out the younger’s name. Xiao Zhan’s robes slapped against the water when he stumbled forwards, blindly colliding with something solid and warm.

“Yibo!”

“Xiao Zhan!”

Suddenly there were rough hands pulling at him, grabbing him into a hug so tight it expelled the little air Xiao Zhan still had in his lungs. Xiao Zhan ignored the momentary discomfort, the relief he felt at finding Yibo okay and unharmed, almost euphoric. He clung to Yibo in return, anchoring himself to broad shoulders and trying to will down the sob building in his throat.

 

“What happened?” He asked into Yibo’s shoulder, fisting his hands in Yibo’s robes until he was certain that nothing could take him away from Yibo again.

Yibo grunted, words spilling from his mouth so quickly Xiao Zhan struggled to catch them all.

“You…underwater… thought you were drowning… scared… don’t ever… please. “

Yibo’s hold on Xiao Zhan tightened until it was almost painful, and Xiao Zhan didn’t know if it was him or Yibo shaking. Maybe both.

“I - I couldn’t get away, it was like something grabbed me.”

Xiao Zhan’s chest heaved brokenly, heart thudding so heavily he could feel the resounding beat in his ears. The rest of his words fell off into silence, a small sob tumbling from his mouth that Yibo answered with a low painful sound, holding Xiao Zhan even tighter.

 

Xiao Zhan didn’t know how long he and Yibo stood there, clutching each other, but eventually they calmed enough to let go, taking a few halting steps apart. Even then it was a hesitant thing, the grip of their hands still bruisingly tight.

“Okay?” Yibo murmured, and Xiao Zhan nodded, lifting his chin up to face the sky.

It was then that he noticed something was… different.

“Where is everyone?” His voice still came out scratchy, and he winced at the sound of it.

Something in the air felt inherently different, a growing sense of unease that boiled up and threatened to overspill as Xiao Zhan stood in the centre of the cold springs, water lapping around his calves.

It was quiet, too quiet. Gone was the soft chatter of the staff milling about the shooting location. In its place was only silence, broken only by the faintest hint of birdsong.

“What’s wrong, Zhan-ge?” Yibo reached out for his arm, worried. Xiao Zhan met him halfway, grabbing Yibo’s thumb loosely, but he was distracted.

“Doesn’t this feel different, Yibo? It’s too quiet I - - I don’t know.”

Yibo frowned, tilting his head back and peering at their surroundings. Xiao Zhan watched him, chewing his lower lip nervously. The water splashed around his ankles as he shifted from foot to foot, restless energy stopping him from standing still. After an age Yibo seemed to finish his assessment, turning back to Xiao Zhan. His expression in that moment reminded Xiao Zhan of Lan Wangji, serious and strong, excluding a quiet yet undeniable power.

“Stay here, ge. I’m gonna go look around a bit.”

Xiao Zhan instantly objected.

“What do you mean “stay here”? I’m coming with you Wang Yibo, don’t you dare try and tell me not to.”

Yibo glared at him and Xiao Zhan glared back, winning the impromptu staring contest when Wang Yibo eventually acquiesced, muttering something under his breath about “stupid big doe eyes” that Xiao Zhan chose to ignore.

They stumbled out the springs, drenched robes weighty and cumbersome with water. Several times Xiao Zhan nearly slipped, clinging to Wang Yibo’s biceps, his fingers digging in harshly. His foot ached in protest every time he put it down, but he stifled his sounds of pain, not wanting to worry Yibo further.

When they reached the top of the hill it was undeniably clear that they were not where they had been before, and this wasn’t the same cold springs. There was no one, no bodies, no traces of human life.

“Well,” Yibo stated, and Xiao Zhan could hear the unspoken volumes behind that word, “They’re not all playing a prank on us, are they? Director Chen and the others?”

“But why would they do it during filming?”

Yibo didn’t respond, although the frown on his face grew more severe.

Xiao Zhan pushed off from where he was leaning into Yibo’s side, marching along the main path. There was a beat before he heard Yibo’s surprised grunt, and the subsequent scramble of limbs, the younger rushing to catch up with him.

“Ge! Ge?” Yibo’s voice was shrill with alarm, “Zhan-ge! What are you doing - -“

“Exploring,” Xiao Zhan huffed, bunching his wet robes in one hand and holding them up away from his legs. Yibo made a wheezing sound behind him, and his ears were strangely red when Xiao Zhan threw a look at him over his shoulder.

“You should — you should be careful ge.”

Yibo seemed oddly distracted, gaze fixed pointedly at the ground. Xiao Zhan spared his strange behaviour a single puzzled look before he continued with renewed vigour.

“It’s okay Yibo, it’s not like anything bad could happen - -“

“WEI WUXIAN!!”

They both froze as a white robed figure came barrelling down the slope, slamming into Xiao Zhan and nearly knocking him to the floor.

 

 

“Where have you been? Have you been making trouble again? I told you to stop bothering - - Lan Er Gongzi!!”

It was Wang Zhuo Cheng, yet something about him was different. As Yibo watched he seized Xiao Zhan in a chokehold, pulling him away from Yibo’s side. “A- ah!” Xiao Zhan whimpered against the painful and restricting grip, stumbling.

At once Yibo was spurred into action, surging forwards and grabbing the arm holding the elder man and throwing it away. Xiao Zhan rushed away, rubbing at his neck balefully.

Wang Yibo held back nothing, turning on Wang Zhou Cheng with a sharp glare, hissing, “What are you doing?”

“L- - Lan er gongzi I — what do you mean? Was my brother not annoying you? Did he do anything to you?”

Wang Zhou Cheng made a move as if to grab Xiao Zhan, but Yibo moved in front of the elder, blocking him.

Wang Zhou Cheng visibly faltered, a strange look alighting on his face before a frown overtook his expression.

“What’s wrong, Lan er gongzi?”

Why did Zhou Cheng keep calling him er gongzi?

“A-Cheng, why do you keep calling us that?” Xiao Zhan was frowning, and a sinking, impossible realisation had begun in Yibo’s gut.

“Wei Wuxian! I am being polite! Don’t think I am as shameless as you, calling the Second Jade by his given name.”

The scowl on the man’s face only grew more pronounced. By now Wang Zhoucheng would have folded, dissolving into laughter with the success of pranking the two main leads, yet the man in front of them did nothing but scowl.

A ludicrous thought was brewing in Yibo’s mind, that somehow made no sense and was also the only explanation. Yibo could almost hear Xiao Zhan’s mind whirring, and saw the moment the elder reached the same conclusion as him.

“A-Cheng,” he began slowly, hesitant, “your name, it is …”

“Did you hit your head in those springs? It’s me! Your brother, Jiang Wanyin.” He scoffed, rolling his eyes, and Yibo suddenly felt like he had been punched in the stomach.

“Oh my god.” Xiao Zhan whispered beside him, his tone conveying exactly how Wang Yibo felt.

 

“We’re in the Cloud Recesses.”

 

***

 

“Tea?” Lan Xichen offered them kindly, a benign smile on his face.

Yibo nodded once, drawing himself up to his full height.

“Yes. Thank you… brother.”

The words tasted strange on his tongue, and for a second Wang Yibo thought he saw Lan Xichen’s expression flicker, contemplating.

Settling down, Wang Yibo couldn’t help but analyse the disjunction in his actions. He fumbled when arranging his sleeves, nearly knocking a cup off the table, and cursed his clumsiness silently. Lan Wangji would never do such a thing.

Xiao Zhan was uncharacteristically quiet beside him, chewing his lip in thought. Yibo found himself drawn to the action, staring at the fullness of Xiao Zhan’s lower lip for a beat longer than he should.

“Ehem.”

“Brother.”

“Mn.” There was an amused twinkle in Lan Xichen’s eyes, and he took a sip of his tea gracefully before continuing, “You seem distracted, Wangji. Did something happen at the cold springs to you and young master Wei?”

Xiao Zhan’s head snapped up.

“Mn, nothing happened.”

Lan Xichen’s gaze drifted over Xiao Zhan, who smiled, his grin blinding and bright and every inch Wei Wuxian, so believable even Wang Yibo was convinced for a second.

“That’s right, Lan Gongzi! Lan Zhan and I were just playing.”

“I see.”

Wang Yibo raised his cup to his lips and took a measured sip, resolutely ignoring his inner turmoil. The way Lan Xichen looked at him made him feel as if he were in a glass closet, the walls of his facade useless in the face of the eldest jade’s knowing looks.

“How have you found the classes, Wei Gongzi? I hope they have been enjoyable?”

Xiao Zhan paused for a beat, before smoothly answering Lan Xichen’s question. They fell into a conversation that Wang Yibo only half listened to, the volume of his thoughts too loud to disregard.

The differences between the Hanshi they were sitting in now and the Hanshi of The Untamed were minute yet unmistakable. Wang Yibo was not one for design, the artistic skills lying primarily with Xiao Zhan, however he could sense that the grounds and buildings here held a certain energy.

Spiritual energy he realised after a moment, fighting back the urge to add a that’s so cool

The place was alive with it, the sensation foreign yet comforting. Yibo registered after a moment that he could feel it in himself, a burning warmth in his gut like a second heart, supplying his body with heat.

He flexed his hands, knuckles standing stark and prominent against the cup, and felt the quiet surge of spiritual power.

So cool.

“- - I have kept you too long.” The sudden lull in conversation caught Yibo’s attention from where he’d been zoning out, and he realised Xiao Zhan was staring at him.

Lan Xichen looked at them both, still wearing the same gentle smile. Wang Yibo would be comforted if he didn’t feel like a caged lion, clawing at the bars of its cage. There was a hidden depth behind that look, and Yibo didn’t particularly want to stay around and find out how deep it went. The sooner he and Xiao Zhan could get away and discuss privately, the better.

“Mn, thank you brother,” Lan Wangji’s characteristic monosyllabic replies were a blessing here, allowing Wang Yibo the ability to be as non verbal as he wanted without exposing himself.

Finishing his tea, Wang Yibo stood fluidly, Xiao Zhan joining him on his feet a moment later.

They were almost out the door when Lan Xichen spoke, voice soft yet commanding.

“Take care, Wangji and young master Wei. I believe something… strange may happen soon.”

 

***

“He knows.” They had barely made it through the sliding doors of Yibo’s —Lan Wangji’s — rooms before the younger man turned to him, frantic.

“He knows we’re not them.”

“How can you be so sure?”

“I just know, ge. Fuck, this is bad.”

They fell into a tense silence, Yibo pacing across the centre of the room while Xiao Zhan sat on the bed, knee bouncing nervously.

 

They had barely been alone ten minutes when a harried knock came at the doors of the jingshi. Yibo instantly froze, the hairs on the back of his neck prickling with trepidation.

Xiao Zhan’s eyes were wide and panicked when they met Yibo’s own, and something in it gave Yibo the confidence he needed to go and open the door.

Whatever happened, Xiao Zhan could not be hurt.

The door slid easily open to reveal a Lan disciple, probably of an age similar to Lan Wangji and Wei Wuxian. His clothes were all in disarray, forehead ribbon strewn haphazardly across his forehead. It would be a comical sight, if Yibo were in a humorous mood.

“Yes.” Yibo caught himself glaring unconsciously, belatedly realising when the Lan disciple let out what could only be described as a squeak.

“My apologies, Lan er gongzi. Sect Leader Lan has requested your presence.”

“Why?”

“I — I’m not sure, Lan er gongzi. He only said the matter was urgent, and to fetch you and young master Wei immediately.”

“I see.”

Wang Yibo stepped back from the door, and into Xiao Zhan who had just come up behind him.

“Yi — Zhan ! Lan Zhan!” Xiao Zhan narrowly covered up his slip, grabbing Yibo’s arm to keep from falling over. Yibo quickly secured him, tugging his wrist until the elder was steady on his feet. Xiao Zhan’s pulse was racing underneath Yibo’s grip on his wrist, long fingers encircling the thin bones easily.

“Young master Wei?!”

A rather strangled yelp came from the open door, and Yibo belatedly remembered they had company.

The Lan disciple was staring gobsmacked at Xiao Zhan who paused like a deer in the headlights, mouth agape.

“What are you doing in Lan er gongzi’s private rooms? Have you two been here… alone ??”

He sounded so scandalised. Yibo had to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing. Xiao Zhan had gone a vibrant red, mouth opening and closing soundlessly for a moment before he finally spluttered out,

“What do you mean?! Nothing happened! I — we… and people call Wei Wuxian — me! myself! — shameless.”

Yibo punched himself in the thigh, hard.

The Lan disciple cast him a fleeting puzzled look, but his healthy respect (fear) of Lan Wangji successfully prevented any further questioning.

“My apologies, young master Wei.” He bowed deeply, hair parting like a dark curtain around his face. “I didn't mean to cause offence. I only wanted to ensure that your chastity was still- -“

“My chastity is perfectly fine, thank you!”

Xiao Zhan’s squawk was so loud it displaced several of the nearby nesting birds, sending them into the sky with a chorus of alarmed screeches.

 

“Not a word.” Xiao Zhan hissed at Yibo when they were outside, the disciple a safe enough distance away that they could speak freely. Yibo cackled quietly, bumping Xiao Zhan’s shoulder.

“He was fearing for our virtues, ge,” Yibo chortled, thoroughly amused at his own joke.

“Fearing for my virtue! You've read the book Lao Wang, you know how Lan Wangji is.”

Yibo’s grin turned lopsided, and Xiao Zhan suddenly felt the urge to shiver.

“Mn.” The younger hummed, not looking away from Xiao Zhan’s face. “I know.”

 

***

Lan Qiren’s rooms were as organised as one would expect from the dignified grouchy-like-an-older-pet-who-had-seen-enough Lan sect leader.

Xiao Zhan stepped in behind Yibo, feeling slightly nervous. Lan Qiren was infamous for his… distaste of Wei Wuxian’s antics, and judging by the tick in the elder man’s brow his fuse was already running short.

Lan Xichen was sat beside him, and he smiled kindly at them when they sat down. Muscle memory from the months they’d spent training for their roles made their salutes almost seamless.

“Brother. Uncle.”

A nod.

Xiao Zhan’s hair tickled the back of his neck, and he shook his head to try and dispel the uncomfortable feeling, earning a sharp glance from Lan Qiren.

There was an unknown woman sitting on Yibo’s other side, and Xiao Zhan shot her a stealthy look as he readjusted his sitting position, fidgeting on his spot.

The woman appeared to be in her mid twenties, and was obviously not from Gusu Lan. She looked scared, the liquid in her cup shaking slightly despite the stillness of the air.

Xiao Zhan didn’t have time to wonder more, as at that moment Lan Qiren began to speak.

“This is Gu Qiu, from Wu Village. Gusu is the closest sect, so she has come to us to request aid.”

Xiao Zhan felt his heart drop somewhere deep into the pit of his stomach and stay there, dread spreading through his veins with each beat.

The woman spoke in a voice barely more than a whisper, “The village healer is stunned, they say they have never seen anything like it. They say we have been cursed, but for what? We are good people!” She began to cry.

Xiao Zhan ached to comfort her. Yibo looked slightly stunned, and Xiao Zhan could feel the tension in his body where he was pressed against the younger’s side under the table. His feet were beginning to go numb where they were pinned beneath him, and he sagged slightly against the man in white, feeling Lan Qiren’s pointed glare like a laser through his skull, stare turning confused when Yibo made no move to push Xiao Zhan off.

Gu Qiu took a shuddering breath, wiping away the tears from her face angrily. They left red blotchy stains on her cheek, but her voice was determined when she spoke again.

Xiao Zhan listened with rapt interest as she explained the nature of the supposed curse, a chill rolling down his spine at her solemn words, “People are dying, but their bodies do not decay. It is as if they’ve been frozen in the moment of their death, forever unchanged.”

The frown between Lan Qiren’s brows grew more pronounced in the silence that followed.

Xiao Zhan’s robes were rumpled and knotted around his knees where he had been worrying the fabric between his fingers, and for an irrational moment he panicked, thinking about what the costume jiejie’s would say.

Except here there were no costume jiejie’s. Only a cursed village and a world Xiao Zhan had only read about, yet was now a part of.

“Well,” Lan Xichen said, “would anyone like some more tea?”

 

***

 

“We have tried everything to bless the land, yet the curse still remains.”

“Has anyone else fallen victim, or is it only the village head's daughter?”

“Only her.”

The ‘so far’ goes unsaid.

“Well, it seems - -“

Xiao Zhan’s fingers drummed a frantic beat on the table, his mind racing with thought. He and Yibo needed to get away somehow, somewhere they could convene and discuss how in the fuck they were going to get out of this situation. The longer they stayed amongst the others, the more likely it was that someone would grow suspicious. Once this meeting was finished he would grab Yibo and feign wanting to show him something in the back meadows, and they could make a semi escape.

As long as nothing unexpected happened, it would all be fine.

“- - we will send someone to investigate.”

“I will go,” Yibo said.

Xiao Zhan’s teacup fell from his fingers and shattered.

 

**

 

“Wangji I —“ Lan Xichen blinked in shock. “Are you sure?”

Wang Yibo swallowed, his lips pressing thin into an all too familiar grimace, and the action was like a block of cement dropping in Xiao Zhan’s stomach and lodging itself in his gut.

“I am sure.”

Xiao Zhan flinched.

“Will you require assistance, Wangji? I can ask for one of the seniors to accompany you.”

Lan Qiren asked, throwing an aggravated glance at Xiao Zhan and the shards of his broken cup that still littered the table.

“I will be —“

“I’ll accompany him!”

Xiao Zhan shocked himself with the vehemence of his declaration, grabbing the table with both hands and leaning forwards until he could stare directly at a stunned Lan Xichen. “Me! Pick me, let me go with him. Please.”

“Young master Wei, I don’t know if it’s quite appropriate…”

“Please. Please.”

Lan Xichen saw what Xiao Zhan couldn’t say, and his eyebrows lifted with a quiet realisation.

“I see. Well, I shall have to send a message to Sect Leader Jiang.”

“He won’t mind! Uncle Jiang won’t mind!”

Xiao Zhan could hear the desperation in his own tone. Wang Yibo’s stare was a physical thing, fixed on the side of face like it could burn him.

Xiao Zhan would let it, if that meant Wang Yibo didn’t go alone.

“Please, Xichen-xiong! I promise I’ll be good!”

Xiao Zhan smiled, even though it felt like his face was cracking in two.

He had always been stubborn. He wasn’t going to change now.

 

“I’d feel safer with the knowledge that Sect Leader Jiang knows where I am sending his head disciple,” Lan Xichen said, an amused smile pulling at his lips, “however I am happy for you and my brother to travel together. It will be good for both of you, won’t it, Wangji?”

Wang Yibo looked like he was struggling to swallow a mouthful the size of a watermelon, but he nodded jerkily.

The relief that swept Xiao Zhan’s body was almost euphoric, and he sagged over the table, finally releasing a breath he hadn’t even realised he’d been holding.

They’d go together.

Even if Xiao Zhan had to sneak along in Yibo’s Qiankun pouch.

 

***

 

“What the hell was that, Xiao Zhan?!”

“I should be asking you the same, Wang Yibo! What kind of suicidal idea was that, volunteering to go alone on what might as well be a death mission?? Explain that to me!”

Xiao Zhan’s tone raised until he was almost shouting, his vision going blurry with anger. He stalked up the steps of the Jingshi, chest heaving with emotion.

Wang Yibo slammed the sliding doors shut behind him, making them rattle ominously. The jittering sound broke the tension that blanketed the room, thick and suffocating and overwhelming.

As quick as it had come, Xiao Zhan’s anger left.
He breathed in once, deeply, releasing it with a shuddering sigh.

“Look I — I’m sorry. For getting angry at you.”

Xiao Zhan fiddled with a loose string on his sleeve, eyes cast low, and swallowed heavily. “I was just… worried.”

“About me?”

He didn’t need to look to know Wang Yibo was grinning.

“Yes about you, Lao Wang, you little shit. Now stop laughing at me.”

“I’m not laughing at you.” Wang Yibo said, laughing. “It’s just that Xiao laoshi is so cute, I can’t help but smile—“

“Wang Yibo are you human?!”

Wang Yibo’s cackle was still the same, even when Xiao Zhan bared his teeth at him. He sobered up soon though, scooting closer to Xiao Zhan on the bed and placing a warm hand over Xiao Zhan’s knee.

“I’m sorry too, ge. I shouldn’t have shouted at you. I just didn’t expect you to volunteer to come with me.”

“So you thought I’d just let you go alone? Here?

“…”

“Wang Yibo, you aren’t human.”

“That’s cause I’m a cool guy.”

This time Xiao Zhan did get up and walk away.

 

***

 

“Wangji, Young Master Wei… may I speak with you for a moment?” Lan Xichen stood around four steps above them, hand placed neatly behind his back.

He was every inch the Lan sect leader, and Xiao Zhan swallowed his apprehension as he fell into step behind Yibo, face lifting in a smile.

“Zewu-Jun! Have you come to wish us well before our treacherous and danger-filled journey!? Give us some priceless heirloom that will aid us on our travels?”

“Something like that,” Lan Xichen laughed gently. “I wanted to wish you a safe and successful trip.”

He looked at them for a moment, poised with a hand behind his arm, and Xiao Zhan suddenly understood why the Twin Jades were said to be the best of their generation, if not all time.

Lan Xichen’s aura… it was undeniable.

 

“Take care, both of you. Stay together and help each other. It is a strange world we live in, and you are new to these things.”

“Thank you, Zewu-Jun.” Xiao Zhan saluted with Wang Yibo, both receiving a parting pat on the shoulder.

They descended slowly down the steps, Qiankun pouches full of food and supplies bumping lightly against their hips.

Slowly, the greys and greens of the cloud recesses way to the vibrant colours of Caiyi town, which in turn gave way to the browns and greens of the countryside
until finally, they were alone.

 

***