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And when a Great One descends, a womb will be blessed with child.

 

They meet at the waters.

The dream is thin enough that Lan Wangji can step through if he wishes, which is worrying enough without the fact that Wangji does (very briefly) consider breaking through the veil. He prefers to stay hidden, cocooned in the familiar silken smoothness of a dream, where he can choose whether or not to reveal himself; out there in the reality of the world, any hapless fool with enough insight (eyes, eyes on the inside) would see him looming under the water.

Here in the dream there is no sound but the distant thrum of a guqin. Today Wangji’s awareness of the lower plane is sharper than usual: something has happened. Something is burning, the flame-smoke trying to curl into the dream. Wei Wuxian stands before him, arms burdened with something both small and apparently heavy. The longer Wangji stares at the bundle, the more incomprehensible the sight becomes, because it is impossible that he is looking at this thing, this creature, this—but the sudden craving gives it away, punching him in the chest.

A child.

“Wei Ying,” he murmurs. Wangji needs to keep his hands at his side, curls a fist at the small of his back just to keep from surging forward.

“His parents are dead,” Wei Wuxian says. “Most of his family is dead; I only managed to rescue Wen Qing and Wen Ning; they’ll be out of Yharnam by now but—”

 But they will always be hunted, and there’s a chance they will be found. The child is small, tough—small enough to be tucked away in a dream. Wangji would be honoured at the trust if the implications, the consequences, didn’t run so deep, so vast. The child would not understand, would not be able to give his assent. Lan Wangji himself had barely been older when his home had sunk, when the stars had met the seas. Should he not award this child with at least a choice?

“Wei Ying,” Wangji murmurs, “he will change.”

“But he will live,” Wei Wuxian says, certain in at least this. “A-Yuan will live. He will live long enough that he might even forgive me.”

Will you forgive yourself? Wangji dares not ask; he had, in the end, forgiven his father for his decisions, forgiven the Elders for theirs, had loved his mother even after she had left for the heavens (an easy thing, when the waters and the cosmos are so close).

So he takes the child. A-Yuan is tiny, curled up in his arms. He does not stir, does not struggle, does not protest as the waters take him. Under the surface, Wangji becomes something else; he can’t help it. 

The boy is soft. He is perhaps three years of age, which is for the best; his memories of being human are few, paper thin, inconsequential in the face of what he will become. One of Wangji’s tentacles caresses A-Yuan’s cheek before pressing at his lips, inviting the child to suckle, to imbibe the old blood. A-Yuan drinks hungrily, tethering at the brink of starvation. Wangji will never allow such a thing, no matter what fate insists.

And as he cradles this tiny creature, as he begins to wash away the traces of humanity, Wangji yearns.

 

The waters are still. They hide the writhing thing below.

Once, Wangji had grown used to solitude. If he cared enough, he would seek out other Great Ones—Xichen and his sole surviving nephew, or perhaps the Moon Presence that watches Hunters come and go, patient and intent. Not his mother, not Kos, because she is gone—dead, laid out on the shores of an old hamlet, her last child slaughtered with her. 

( ... ah, sweet child of Kos, returned to the ocean… )

He had grown used to the solitude first in his childhood when, even small and deceptively human, he had been far too aware of being different from the other Lan children. He had never been as succesful as Xichen when it came to sociability, and so when not with his uncle or brother, Wangji had been alone. This had not changed after his mother came back for them; Great Ones, by nature, are solitary creatures.

He has not been alone for a while. Time isn’t of much consequence when you’re a thing of the heavens, something that writhes and yearns, but Wangji has learnt to mark it in the comings and goings of Wei Wuxian. He learns to mark it in the cycles of sleep that A-Yuan still needs, his little body growing and changing.

A-Yuan sleeps through the stages of his metamorphosis: first the fusion of his legs (so that he may slither), then the appearance of extra eyes along his flank (so that he may read the stars and their knowledge), then a mouth with three rings of teeth and an agile tongue (so that he may sing to the heavens). Wangji cradles his Celestial Child and waits for the last of the transformations to set in. It’ll be years still before A-Yuan can learn how to wear a human visage; first he must be comfortable in his new skin.

The child cries, of course. It’s not all painless; Wangji knows this from experience. Mostly it is an itch, especially the new teeth. A-Yuan settles with it in time for Wei Wuxian to return and see him.

Wei Wuxian accepts the child in his arms, smiling. He has never been afraid of the great and the terrible, of those things that lurk above and below. It is, perhaps, why Lan Wangji had felt so drawn to him, curious at this Hunter of beasts and the scent of blood on him, the scent of something dangerous. Wei Wuxian isn’t afraid of becoming the very monster he hunts, knowing too well that the monster within needs only a meager excuse to break the skin that keeps it prisoner.

Something has happened. The world is in turmoil.

“Jin Guangshan wants the Wen remnants dead,” Wei Wuxian sighs once A-Yuan settles into another sleep-cycle. “He’s going to the church for aid. I think the church will give it, too…”

Of course the church will. They had done the same with the Vilebloods of Cainhurst, sending Executioners to decimate an old and proud clan. The Lans have a long, long memory, and Lan Wangji is nothing if not a scholar. He has observed the doings of the Healing Church with a vague sort of alarm. After all, what is a scourge of beasts but an excuse to swoop in and act the saviour?

They are safe in this dream. A-Yuan is safe in the dream, now no longer a hunted child. They watch him crawl and wiggle on the shore, leaving a trail of clear, viscous liquid in his wake, watch him explore the beach and the dream. One day he will make his own. One day Wangji will teach him to travel between planes. One day Wei Wuxian will teach him how to wield a sword and a pistol, so that he may blend in and observe the Hunters of the Healing Church.

Today, A-Yuan is a child. Today he squeals when Wei Wuxian lifts him back into his arms, today A-Yuan still suckles on the tendril Wangji offers to feed him the milky substance that sustains him. His little arms flail, fingers wiggling. He lets Wangji know his pleasure with his newly-developed bond, humming as his many, many eyes close.

“That’s right,” Wei Wuxian says. “You’re very sweet, aren’t you?” He looks up at Wangji, smiling like a small, bursting sun. “Our baby.”

The words follow Wangji even as they put A-Yuan in his bassinet—a simple soft thing of wood and cushions that floats on the water. They watch the child together, Wei Wuxian humming a melody that Wangji had composed in the early days of their acquaintance, when a different ache had plagued him.

Our baby.

The truth is that he had thought himself exempt, somehow, had seen his brother succumb to the lament, had seen Xichen try and try and try and fail until there had been Jingyi, had seen Xichen make the painful decision not to risk it ever again no matter how much his body called for it. With clinical detachment, Wangji had looked at the hollow of his own body and found no such pining, so he had surmised that the curse had passed him by, leaving him strange among the Great Ones.

Until now.

Would Wei Wuxian allow Wangji to plant a child in him? He is so close to a tipping point now, more divine than human, close enough that Wangji can almost taste it on him. But Wei Wuxian’s desires may not fully align with Wangji’s—despite their sharing of blood, despite what courses through Wei Wuxian’s veins, he may not bear the same curse as Wangji does: to want, to lose.

He thinks about it relentlessly, thinks about it as he takes Wei Wuxian from behind and spills, the liquid slick, its odor sweet. He could have bred his lover many times just like this, planting the seeds for their children (their many, many children, all doomed to die), but it wouldn’t be right. Wei Wuxian isn’t yet ripe for it, even when he begs to be taken.

So when they part again, Wangji sinks back into the water, watching the shape of his lover distort, watching that smile he loves twist its shape, and he bides his time.

 

They met at the waters.

Wei Wuxian had always been drawn to the wide expanse of them, to their depths and the glassy stillness of lakes, to the rolling of ocean waves, to the secrets they hold and to the promise of drowning. In dreams everything was possible, and in a Hunter’s dream the promise became tangible: in these waters, he would swim, he would sink, he would drown.

He stood on the shore of a dreamt sea and its glittering vastness, observing its crystalline surface, thoughts only of the reality and unreality of it: the place was real, the place was where Cloud Recesses had once stood. In the distance he saw the mountain peak, the clouds that adorned it. This place that was once Cloud Recesses looked peaceful even in desolate reality, except here in the dream it was always dusk, it was always that point where the stars started to glitter. 

The moon shouldn’t be out, and yet it was. The moon hung in its fullness, a pale face reflected on the mirror of the sea. It did not belong in pink skies that slowly faded into deep indigo, and yet Wei Wuxian did not begrudge its presence; this was a liminal space, a place where what should and should not folded into one. It was what Wei Wuxian liked about dreams: the potential.

But he was not alone.

The water rippled. His hand went to the hilt of his sword by sheer force of habit; the dream of the waters may have looked peaceful, but Wei Wuxian wasn’t the best Hunter of Yunmeng for nothing. Every cell of his body, every one of his senses, was aware of the lurking danger.

Something like a crown broke the surface, shining silver in the light, rising. The guan sat on a head of silken hair that fell and draped gracefully, so dark it looked like ink. Golden eyes stared back at him, imperative and almost accusing. As more of its (because Wei Wuxian was under no illusion; this was not a human) body rose from the waters, Wei Wuxian’s grip on Suibian tightened—not fear, not even apprehension, but something baser, something he really would have to look at. Later.

Its robes were gossamer thin, more a veil of modesty than proper clothes. They seemed to be part of the water, glittering in the light just like the surface that it had shattered. It stopped its rising a few tantalising centimeters away from exposing its hips, leaving Wei Wuxian eternally grateful and woefully disappointed.

If the blue shine of the robes hadn’t already given it away, the forehead ribbon did in spades. “You’re a Lan.”

“You are trespassing.”

It was true insofar as reality goes; Wei Wuxian was not in Yharnam proper anymore, closer to Gusu—an even older city, one with more spirits and less demons, but plagued nonetheless. He wouldn’t find beasts out here, he’d thought, not at the shore of the still lake. The clan still commanded respect, even decades after it was said they disappeared, subsumed in water. Even beasts wouldn’t dare defile the old Lan homestead.

A Hunter must hunt, but sometimes all Wei Wuxian wanted to do was dream.

“This is my dream, though,” Wei Wuxian said as if he didn’t know the dangers of dreaming in a place where reality was thin, where something else might host. “Aren’t you the one trespassing?”

The Lan was not impressed. He, if Wei Wuxian was allowed his presumptions, was a hard one to read, but his emotions trembled in the air: exasperation, anger, and a hint of curiosity. He had caught Wei Wuxian’s scent—that of a Hunter who knew the hunt, who knew the taste of blood and didn’t flinch from it.

He looked human. He looked so perfect and effortlessly elegant that it was too much, too eerie. His reflection was decidedly anything but, and Wei Wuxian dared a little glance at that gently rippling mirror, intrigued at the elongated shape, the twisted face with its misshapen mouth, the smooth black hair freely floating, the open ribcage and its uncountable tentacles. He knew what he was facing: a Great One in its territory, in all its celestial glory. How many Hunters could boast of having spoken to such a being without resorting to the only language they knew well: violence?

He tested the words a little, the taste of them, before he let them take shape on his tongue. “You’re beautiful.”

Skeptical, the Lan raised a brow. Wei Wuxian smiled his brightest smile, undaunted, unthreatened. If he looked closer, he could see the Lan’s ears had gone pink at the tips; it was an interesting development, a welcome one. It changed Wei Wuxian’s advance, his posture relaxing. On the whole, Great Ones weren’t a threat if approached under the right circumstances, without ill intent. They were a skittish bunch, though, and Wei Wuxian couldn’t just run his mouth and say, I’ve always wondered what it would be like to be fucked by a God.

“What do I call you?” he asked, quickly rerouting his thoughts along more innocent lines. The Lan glared—glared again when Wei Wuxian laughed. “You must have a name. It would be impolite for me not to show proper respect.”

“Lan Wangji,” the Great One responded. And after a moment, “Lan Zhan.”

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian said, tasting that too. It was good—sweet. “I’m Wei Ying, courtesy Wuxian.”

It was risky; of course it was. He would dive into these pale, glittering waters headfirst with no illusion as to where he would fall, what would be catching him. It was this or the death scythe, and Wei Wuxian knew well what he wanted when the dream ended.

(More, always more, always greedy to be filled).

 

People come to his waters, seeking.

Most of them don’t have enough insight to even sense Wangji’s presence, let alone read his shape under the surface. Most of them come to look at the sunset or the sunrise or the moon, some of them (the ones that can sense something is there, just out of sight) come to pray. Wangji isn’t the kind to grant wishes, even when they ask for a child, because until recently he hadn’t even wanted a child.

He has A-Yuan. In the dream, his child learns how to swim and hum and sing, how to sink in the waters and find the stars. A-Yuan is a clingy child and doesn’t mind that Wangji keeps him close, keeps a tentacle curled around his little body as A-Yuan swims and explores. Wangji loves this little creature—not only because he was a gift from Wei Wuxian, but because it’s A-Yuan, because there is an ache, because A-Yuan is so small and vulnerable and trusts him implicitly.

So when unfamiliar people come to the waters, Wangji pulls A-Yuan close, tucking him in the cage of his ribs where his tentacles spring forth, and observes the distorted movements with suspicion. If even one of them thinks of breaking the stillness by diving in, Wangji will eat them. 

They have boats. Wangji is unsettled the entire time they row across the lake, the water rippling and disturbed. A-Yuan trembles in his chest, recognising the voices and the lures they set. If they think they’ve come to hunt beasts, Wangji will have to disappoint them; he is greater than that, not as easily tricked with pungent scents and the mechanical wails of a metal child. He sinks deeper and deeper into the darkness until he can almost fool himself into thinking those pinpricks of light are stars, are anything but torches held in the hands of hunters.

The Wen from Dafan had been doctors, the kind that do not rely on blood. They had been good, too good, and perhaps that is why the Church is so eager to comply with Jin Guangshan’s request, perhaps that is why the Church sends hunters after people who have no trace of the scourge. It is a simple equation: anyone who can heal without quickening a curse in their patients’ veins is equal to a dire threat to the supremacy of the Healing Church and its old blood.

So they send Hunters.

Later, the stars tell him that these are Hunters of the Jin clan. That these Hunters are not of the Church. That they don’t wear the black or the white; they wear yellows and golds, flaunting it. That they had come seeking knowledge, seeking a trace. That they had heard the rumours of something below, had spoken to fishermen who know of prayers. He holds A-Yuan close, sleeping in his ribcage, and wishes a curse upon the fiends, their children too, and their children forever true.

After all, Lan Wangji is a god. He can grant his own wishes.

 

He dreamt only of the waters now.

Wei Wuxian liked this dream. It was peace in a world riddled with blood and beasts, in a world that knew only violent, visceral death. It was pretty and glimmering in a way that few places were allowed to anymore. Even Lotus Pier had gone up in flames, burning forever in his memory.

Lan Wangji—Lan Zhan, didn’t always come up. Sometimes he stayed below the surface, floating, waiting. On those days he likely just didn’t want to entertain the interloper, the Hunter. That was fine. Wei Wuxian hadn’t come here looking for companionship, had not come here to dream expecting anything at all. Like many, he had thought the Lan simply—gone.

(This was true, from a certain point of view. Once you ascended, you were gone from the mortal plane, dispersed among dimensions, formed anew into something else, something that perhaps resembled who you once were but was more, greater, more).

On the days where he was left to his thoughts, Wei Wuxian sat on the shore and simply existed. Here he was not a Hunter of beasts. Here he did not answer the call to seek paleblood, to end the hunt. Here he was but a man, but a boy, just Wei Ying. Here was a place where he could dig his fingers into the sand and ponder what the waters would taste like—salt, sweetness, neither?

(What would Lan Wangji taste like?)

He shook the thought away, smiling at the water, smiling at the wicked thing hiding beneath the surface. His brother had always said his curiosity would be the death of him, his sharp tongue the weapon of his demise (and in the deep dark recesses of his mind, Wei Ying agreed), but he would not be Wei Wuxian if he were not deeply intrigued with the world around him, mind whirling with questions, with the need to poke and prod and peel the hardened shell of things away and take a peek at what hid below.

The world cannot yield to all of your inquiries, Jiang-shishu had once told him. Wei Ying had laughed and responded that achieving the impossible was what a Jiang was bound to. Of course, of course, Jiang-shishu had laughed, patting his head, but there was something sad, then, something that had been wary.

No matter, he thought as the water rippled. Should his curiosity destroy him, it would have been worth every second.

Lan Zhan was the herald of a beautiful kind of ruination. Here was a man, creature, God that Wei Wuxian would gladly follow to annihilation. Perhaps that ought to have scared him. Wei Wuxian had lost self-preservation some time after his home had burnt, hurtling him into an ugly thing called war—beasts all over the shop, biting and gnawing and slobbering. As a Hunter, one would think to have seen it all, and yet every day brought a new, nastier surprise.

But this—Lan Zhan? This was grace and serenity. This was something for Wei Wuxian alone.

“Wei Ying.”

Heavens, even the way Lan Zhan said his name spoke of ruination, of divinity. The deep rumble of it made Wei Wuxian shiver, and he covered it with a stretch of his limbs, with a smile.

“Lan Zhan.”

Already, his mind was spinning with ways to make a conversation—do you remember what it was like to be human, before your mother came back for you? Would it even matter anymore, after nearly twenty years? His curiosity in this was more than idle, more even than academic, because something strange was afoot within him, something terrible and alluring—

oh the sweet blood, how it sings to me—

But Lan Zhan wouldn’t lie to him, wouldn’t obfuscate the truth. Perhaps it was that higher beings have no need for lies, their twists. Perhaps it was only him, unwilling to shy away from the harsh realities of the world.

Wei Wuxian hadn’t come here seeking truth. He had, in fact, entered this particular dream for an escape—had found something far sweeter.

“Wei Ying,” it said, soft and warm.

All at once, Wei Wuxian’s questions fled. He wanted to shed his robes, so he stood and did it. Lan Zhan’s eyes tracked every movement, his body completely still in the water as if thoroughly stunned. If Wei Wuxian were allowed his boldness, his shamelessness, then he would read the emotion on the air as arousal. He smiled wider.

(Because he had looked at the baser things under his skin, had examined them closely with each and every visit, tracing the shape and the depth. Because he saw the dark ferocity of his own desire reflected back at him and he wanted).

Down to his red inner layer, he slid into the water. It wasn’t cold, exactly, more a pleasant, tepid thing that caressed his thighs. The water parted easily, pushing him to stand almost chest-to-chest with Lan Zhan—Lan Zhan, who stared at him, wide-eyed, chest heaving. He was so, so pale, blue veins showing under his eyes, in his neck—so pretty, too, here in the light of dusk.

Perhaps it was this: the light, the pink of his lips, the gleam of his golden eyes. Perhaps it was that, with only their thin robes between them, there was no space for pretense. Lan Zhan’s fingers caressed their way up Wei Wuxian’s thigh, barely a touch, barely anything, but enough to leave a trail of fire.

Wei Ying stumbled, catching himself on Lan Zhan’s bicep. Standing so close, he could feel the ghost of a breath, could see the slight, perfect curve of Lan Zhan’s eyelashes. His lips were parted, his cheeks tinged with pink. He was so lovely that Wei Wuxian could only stare in wonder, in awe, in realisation, because he knew, then, that his fate was sealed.

And (he learned in that same moment) adoration goes both ways.

 

They meet at the waters, always the waters.

Wangji has stepped on the shores before, out of curiosity. Does so now because Wei Wuxian is laid upon the sand, hair and robes spread out. He is beautiful in this warm light of dusk, beautiful whenever Wangji finds him. Now he is perhaps too pale, perhaps too tired, stretched thin. It is time.

Changing. Wei Wuxian is changing—an inevitability, when in such intimate contact with a Great One. They’ve shared blood. They have shared more, will do so again because Wei Wuxian needs that one last push that will tip him over the cliff’s edge and send him hurtling into the waters, into the cosmos. Wangji will be there to catch him, to hold him, to ease the ache (because he will ache, will yearn, will be Other in a way that will take time to settle).

Changing—Wei Wuxian will change. He will not be a Great One, like Lan Wangji, but instead something Kin, something with pale blood and inhuman skin.

“Wei Ying,” Wangji whispers. Deep in the waters, A-Yuan is tucked away in his bassinet, sleeping, hopefully dreaming.

At the surface, on the shore, his beloved cracks open an eye, waking just enough to smile a sweet smile. His eyes are silvering from their deep brown, becoming iridescent. He knows. He knows what is happening. It is important that he accepts it.

“Yes,” Wei Wuxian murmurs, the ache already present in his voice.

It’s not often that Lan Wangji unfurls from his human form, not often that he has the occasion to, with others present. As he leans over his lover and kisses those pink lips, Wangji lets himself unspool, his entire grotesque being unleashed and defying gravity—limbs and fingers elongating, skin stretching thin over his bones and shifting into something scale-like, his chest tearing open to reveal the ribs and the tentacles they harbour—lifting from the sand and cradling Wei Wuxian in his large hands. His tentacles writhe into the folds of Wei Wuxian’s robes, soaking them with a pale, almost golden liquid.

He rids Wei Wuxian of that old Hunter garb slowly, methodically—wishing his mouth were the type he could use to kiss. A tentacle makes up for the lack, pushing its way past those wanting lips and settling there where Wei Wuxian can lick and suck as he pleases. 

He fucks into that heat idly. It’ll keep Wei Ying occupied as Wangji slicks him up, tentacles wrapping around Wei Wuxian’s thighs and spreading them open for appraisal.

The air already hums with expectation, and Wei Ying watches in rapt attention as Wangji’s face splits, releasing a long, agile tongue. It seeks that place between his cheeks, licking tentatively and making Wei Ying moan, the sound vibrating down the tentacle fucking his mouth. Wangji pushes it deeper without meaning to, making Wei Ying choke—retracts it only for Wei Ying to moan, shaking his head and reaching out as if to say come back.

Shuddering, Wangji pushes his own tongue inside the slick, puckered hole of Wei Ying’s ass—finds him pliant and wanting, legs trembling, his head thrown back, eyes rolling. Wei Ying’s hips buck, desperate, and Wangji wraps a tentacle around his lover’s waist just to keep him still. Another twists around Wei Ying’s chest, brushing his nipples and making him arch, eyes falling shut.

“Mnm!” He tries to wiggle, to move. Wangji won’t let him. There’s a noise like a please that almost melts his resolve.

No. He’s going to wreck this man.

Every inch of Wei Ying’s body drips with golden liquid. A tentacle kisses the tip of Wei Ying’s cock, suckling on it gently. If Wangji weren’t so intent on filling up every part of Wei Ying’s body, he would let him scream, drag every sound out of him until Wei Ying is hoarse with it.

He lets the tentacle swallow his lover’s cock with that thought pressing at the forefront of his mind, watches Wei Ying arch into the sensation and shriek. All the while he pushes his tongue in deeper, finds that hot, sensitive place and presses, spreading Wei Ying even wider, wider—

“—mhm mm—

wider still. His tongue is not enough. Every nerve in Wei Ying’s body is begging for more, singing for it. His blood is hot. He’s close; they’re both close, but it’s not enough. Wangji’s tentacles are wriggling with the need of it, demanding to take their rightful place inside, to fuck, and Wangji will not deny them, cannot. He yanks his tongue out—

“Nng!”

—and doesn’t give Wei Ying even a second to miss him; he’s already back inside, thrusting a tentacle so forcefully that Wei Ying bobs up and down in his hands. He feels it then, a tremor that goes through Wei Ying’s core until it becomes a convulsion of his entire body, and the tentacle swallowing Wei Ying’s cock spasms as he comes, a sound strangled in his throat.

Wangji doesn’t stop—can’t now. He can’t think of anything except for how wide Wei Ying is spread, how well Wei Ying takes him, how sweetly. He could go on for hours, easing Wei Ying anew toward the point of rapture, to the long-awaited moment of metamorphosis that is so near that Wangji’s senses are going wild with it.

“Lan Zhan, Lan-er-gege, please, I—”

The tentacle gagging him has slipped out. Wangji doesn’t mind—continues to thrust, twisting. We’re not done yet, beloved, he whispers, observing how Wei Ying shivers from it, from the anticipation, from knowing exactly where they will end: in the waters, always in the waters, drowning, breathing.

“ —please, I can’t,” Wei Ying says, not entirely coherent, “I can’t, I can’t, I can’t—I know I need it, I know

 He’s swallowed all of Wei Ying’s spend. It’s hardly the first time, and it won’t be the last; he has use for it, yes. Before, it had been an afterthought, something of an idle wish. Now there’s an urgency, a calculation, a desire Wangji needs to see become reality.

With nary a thought, he can feel it: his own body changing, rearranging, readying itself. Wangji doesn’t even mean to, but something in him must have recognised the moment they are at the cusp of—he tries to pull it back, to overturn it, but every cell in his body refuses.

It makes him slow his movements, a press and thrust only by millimeters. It’s enough to make Wei Ying shudder, feverish, but his eyes are clear again, cheeks hot and red. The hesitation has given him time to come back to himself, eying Wangji as if he knows exactly what process has now begun, as if he can see the chain reaction. It is, Wangji opines, wholly unfair how Wei Ying smiles, so pleased with himself.

“Won’t you put your babies in me?” he says, using two fingers to spread his ass-cheeks as if the tentacle seated there isn’t enough. “Won’t you make me nice and gravid for you—”

Not yet. Soon, yes, but not right now, because Wei Ying isn’t there yet. The utter shamelessness with which he’s begging—gagging for it, really—wakes something feral in Wangji. Suddenly Wei Ying is too coherent, too lucid, and that is wholly unforgivable, unacceptable.

Without a warning, he withdraws the tentacle and thrusts it forward, making Wei Ying shout in surprise. Wangji doesn’t give him time to recover either, seeking out and immediately finding that sweet spot that draws a delightful scream from Wei Ying’s lips—still sensitive, with the liquid aphrodisiac heightening the sensation. Wangji feels it all keenly, his body leaning into the pleasure, eating up the noises. He licks a wet line from Wei Ying’s navel up to his chest, tasting the substance he’s lathered Wei Ying in, tasting Wei Ying beneath that. Tasting his cock, which has hardened again.

There’s a godliness to him already, something hiding just under his skin and waiting to be nudged out, to break the surface. Wei Ying is beautiful in Wangji’s hands, will become even more beautiful once Wangji is done with him. Every time before when they had done this, it had been about something else—about giving in to corruption, about testing the shape of their desires, about testing the limits of their bodies, about proving the other is wanted, about the fantasies that plagued them—

Today it is about them. Today it is about becoming, about belonging. Some part of this will hurt, will stretch and itch and bring agony. Every step towards that, every step thereafter, has to be pleasure that suffuses it, because Wangji refuses to lose the one good thing that has come from uniting with the cosmos.

“Lan Zhan—”

Something within him wants to roar, a bubbling in his chest that he struggles to deny. Wei Ying is beautifully laid out in his palms, hair spread out and falling through his fingers. It’s obscene.

They spend too suddenly, too soon, rutting wildly, desperately. Wei Ying cries out, voice going hoarse and cutting off mid-way. It’s almost too much, rippling across Wangji’s scales, making him topple over, tentacles drenching Wei Ying in his pale-golden spill. For a blissful, sparkling moment, Wangji’s vision blurs; the sensation leaves him reeling before he can suck in a breath and return to coherence.

Wei Ying, eyes glazed over, is reaching up, fingers extended. He’s too small to reach on his own, so Wangji bows his head, allowing them a touch, a moment of intimacy that exists outside of primordial need. It is just them. It is just love.

With the tip of his tongue, he licks Wei Ying’s cheek—a facsimile of a kiss, good enough for now. Wangji is too unwound to shift into something small and compact, a skin that cannot ever keep all of his wants, all of his love. Wei Ying understands, smiling one of his sun-smiles. He’s so lovely it hurts. He’s so good that it is more than Wangji can look at, can bear.

He feels it happen before he can think to stop it. At the base of his hips, the slit opens up, a release. This is thicker than his usual tentacles, as thick as his fist, this has ridges and a tip almost like a soft barb. Wei Ying’s eyes go wide at the sight of it, at the length and the thickness, at the realisation that it will be going inside him whether he thinks he can take it or not. He will bear it.

“Is that your cock?” Wei Ying says, awed. “Lan Zhan, have you been holding out on me—”

He has half a thought to just gag Wei Ying again, to shut him up. The wiser side of him wants to make Wei Ying scream, to drag another orgasm out of him.

So Wangji takes his hands from where they carry Wei Ying, instead planting them on the beach for support. His tentacles hold Wei Ying up, tilt him slightly to offer his gaping hole, bring him closer so that he lines up perfectly with the blunt head of Wangji’s cock.

“Oohh,” says Wei Ying, more a moan than anything, “oohh, no, I don’t think that’s going to fit, Lan Zhan—”

It will have to. It will have to, because there’s nothing else that he wants more, and he thinks Wei Ying wants it too, given how the man wiggles in anticipation, how he tries to bend over to see. Wangji tilts him back forwards just a bit, offering the proper vantage point from which to see the slow, careful push upwards, testing, stretching, and Wei Ying keens from it, mouth falling open, eyes fluttering shut as the sound rips out of him.

“Yes! Yes, it’s—you’re inside me, Lan Zhan, Lan-er-gege, please —”

Wei Ying tries to buck his hips, groaning when he can’t, when he finds himself held in place. Wangji is too big and rigid anyway, but he sees Wei Ying go wild with the thought of moving, of friction, of those ridges going deeper and grazing the right spot, of the tip catching on it and almost stabbing, almost on the wrong side of painful, but so, so good.

Wangji, who has been on his haunches this entire time, goes to his knees now for better support—jostles Wei Ying in the process, thrusting deeper into the heat of him. The scream it rips out of Wei Ying reverberates against his scales, leaving behind something pleased.

The next roll of his hips is smaller, tighter, the last vestige of a control he lost long ago where Wei Ying is concerned. It begins a cascade of similar movements, a facsimile of gentleness. He can no longer make Wei Ying scream, but drinks instead in the gentle tears, in the quiet supplications for more, for faster. They can go no faster lest Wangji break him, but Wei Ying is past understanding this, legs spread out and twitching, begging.

Shh, he whispers in Wei Ying’s mind. One of his tentacles caresses his lover’s cheek, picking up the tears. Wei Ying sobs helplessly, face scrunched up in pain, in ecstasy; he’s reaching his limit, fucked beyond comprehension.

Wangji has allowed himself to imagine this before, to imagine Wei Ying’s mouth instead, as Wei Ying had put his mouth on his cock while he’d still looked human. This had been impossible, then, had seemed illicit even as Wei Ying had swallowed him down with relish, had allowed Wangji to fuck his face with abandon, fingers curling in the dark, silken tresses of Wei Ying’s hair. To be given this now, to be allowed to plunge into Wei Ying as he sobs for more, is a pleasure that makes him wild, that makes the painful ascension to the stars worth it.

Shh, he whispers again as Wei Ying moans, broken. They must be close now, so close. Wei Ying is already leaking. Shh, I will get you with child.

Slowly, as if it takes heroic effort, Wei Ying opens his eyes. Tears glisten on his lashes, almost sticking his eyelids together, eyes all red and puffy as they look up, pleading—as if saying, will you, please ?

The tentacle caressing Wei Ying’s face strays dangerously close to his lips, and Wei Ying turns his head to take it into his mouth before Wangji can even think. Wei Ying hollows his cheeks as he sucks, pulling his head back to drag his tongue up its length, so Wangji fucks there too, one hard slap of a thrust in tandem with his hips, two, three—

It’s a ripple, like the heralding of a tide, and Wei Ying’s entire body seizes, arching into its wave. The tentacle slips out, falling away, and Wei Ying clenches so delightfully around Wangji’s cock that it tips him over the edge, spilling so ruthlessly, so resolutely, that it is unstoppable. They are both consumed, shuddering under its force—

—a cry, a roar to the skies—

—and as they spend, so lovingly, unwaveringly carried to ecstasy, something unfurls in Wei Ying.

He gasps, eyes lifted towards the heavens. “It’s—writhing—within me… it’s—”

—rapturous—

—and Wei Ying unravels, a revelation and an apotheosis all at once, a burst of stars, and the cosmos born anew. His eyes black out completely, and within those bottomless pools there is a knowledge, a seeing, that Wangji recognises: it is an unveiling of the universe, an unfolding of its veins. If he cuts Wei Ying now (but he never will, never could) it would be that same iridescent void under his skin, spilling out like the purest ink. It is beautiful.

The last seconds of metamorphosis peter out. Wei Ying’s shallow breaths deepen, his body shuddering as it settles into its change—nothing obvious yet, aside from the bottomless pit of his eyes and its iridescent sheen, but that may come later, may arrive in stages.

Something awakens in Wangji, too—swells like hot iron, burning as it begins its slow pace. He panics trying to stop it— too soon, it’s too soon for this still, but he cannot stop its determined, unpitying path through him, searing hot in a way that makes him shiver with pleasure.

It feels much bigger than it is, feels like a large, rough stone instead of the perfectly spherical, pearlescent eggs that he had seen Xichen lose before they could take properly. The stretch is considerable, throbbing. Wangji can lose his entire mind in it, retaining just enough to be aware of his hips rolling gently—not seeking relief per se, but guiding. Wei Ying has gone limp in the grasp of his tentacles, mouth hanging open just so, eyelids fluttering.

At the tip, the egg seems to encounter friction, a thing that makes Wangji’s mind blank out pleasantly, his senses overwhelmed. He pushes in a little deeper, finding the pulsing opening where Wei Ying’s new womb nestles. One firm thrust sends the egg in, Wei Ying gasping at the sensation, a willing receptacle.

“Oohh,” says Wei Ying, eyes wide, “it’s here…”

They stay there, caught in the wonder of it all—their egg, the potential of their child. If Wangji were not so grotesquely large and looming, if he were still more human in shape, he would place a hand on Wei Ying’s stomach. It’s still flat, but it holds promise.

Barely half a moment later, he feels it surge again—too much, too soon. He throws his head back and bears it, not knowing how many more times they’ll have to, just having a vague notion that Great Ones like him, the ones with more aquatic tendencies, often do this in clutches, whereas others plant only a single seed and hope. Wangji, too, hopes.

By the third egg, Wei Ying is sobbing again, overstimulated, sweating. Wangji himself is heaving with exertion, head spinning, feverish. There is something like pain in it, at the edges, threatening to fall in; Wangji plants the fourth egg with a groan, tentacles lapping at Wei Ying’s cheek, drinking his tears. The fifth egg has him shivering, thinking wildly that he will die like this: seated deeply within Wei Ying, life and sanity being dragged out.

If it weren’t so rapturous, would they even survive it? He hasn’t heard of Great Ones perishing in the act, but they often plant their children in human, mortal creatures—so small, so fragile. Wei Ying had, at least, chosen this, had chosen Wangji, but to not choose this, to not be aware—

—as often is the case, with Oedon’s bearers—

—surely would break even the strongest minds. Wei Ying is sturdy and vast, skirting the edge between euphoria and torment. The sixth egg takes its place, leaving them both panting a few bursts of a breath. That—the reprieve—is gone quickly, stolen in the scorching heat of something that feels final, complete, and Wangji gives Wei Ying the seventh egg.

It is as if the world has shifted. Perhaps it is them, instead.

Slowly, cradling something precious in his hands, Wangji lowers Wei Ying onto the sand. The inky-blackness of the shadows slide towards Wei Ying, over his body, shrouding him in a gossamer thin robe that barely hides anything. Wei Ying arches, smiling, settling into his new form, his new existence. 

Pleased, Wei Ying turns his focus to Wangji. He looks blissed out, moaning a little as he moves—not in pain, nothing so terrible, but like he aches. He must, given how far he’s been stretched. Wangji misses his brown eyes, but it is a small loss in exchange for something far more cherished:

Wei Ying lays his hand upon his stomach, the tiny swell of it. In time it will grow. In time there will be more than a promise.

“I don’t feel empty anymore,” Wei Ying says softly. 

 

Something like a dawn breaks, the waters pale and glittering. Lotus flowers stretch out as far as the eye can see.

Wei Ying floats at the surface, serene in the weightlessness. He is full, gravid, staring up at the nothingness of the sky, and secure in the feeling of the cosmos at his back, stretching out below. Lan Zhan is nearby, watching. Everything is exactly as he wants it.

A baby squeal makes Wei Ying laugh—their A-Yuan is awake more frequently now, paddling with his arms to swim up and bump against Wei Ying’s back. A rumble from Lan Zhan says, be careful, because an expectant Great One is a fearful Great One—so much loss, so much yearning, so much fragility in things so small, things that are growing, things that can wither. Things that can die.

The thing is this: Wei Ying is gravid, yes, but the higher the lifeform, the less likely it is to reproduce in copious amounts. Lan Zhan had gifted him seven eggs—seven, whittled down now to six, the first having dropped from Wei Ying so suddenly that he had shrieked in the water, feet kicking, body feeling the loss so keenly he had been disconsolate with it, not allowing even Lan Zhan to touch him. It had hurt, hurt, hurt—

The thing is this: humans produce an enormous amount of eggs, too, but only one or two are fertilised at once. Wei Ying now carries six, and he cannot tell which of them has that spark of life, the promise of it. Perhaps none of them do, and that is a thought so unacceptable that he shoves it out. He will give them a child. He will give them a child.

Perhaps sensing the cold terror that creeps in Wei Ying’s veins, Lan Zhan swims up, breaking the surface in his humanoid visage, gliding closer to where Wei Ying floats. A warm hand settles on the distended curve of Wei Ying’s stomach—a womb stretched out, heavy and large with the things that grow within. Lan Zhan’s hand is soft even through the black, gauzy fabric that serves as a veneer of modesty. He is so soft in this form.

Excited, excited, excited, A-Yuan chirrups as he swims circles around them. He has been excited ever since Wei Ying had ascended. They hadn’t really told him, hadn’t really spoken of siblings, but he understands that they are waiting for something. He understands that Wei Ying has changed.

They are excited too, when they’re not worried. With a hand pressed against Wei Ying’s skin, Lan Zhan allows a flicker of a smile, reassured once more that his husband and their eggs are safe. That they have a warm, safe place to hatch, that their babies have somewhere to nestle. Wei Ying looks up at that pretty face and feels the happiness bubble again in his chest. There is a memory of adoration, so long ago—extending out to the future, to the infinity of their lives.

Lan Zhan leans down. Wei Ying’s hand grasps the back of his neck, lips parting to offer a kiss, to offer love. He sucks gently on Lan Zhan’s bottom lip, relishes in the shiver it draws from his husband, delights when Lan Zhan licks his tongue inside—it’s so adorably human of them.

Something of a giggle overtakes Wei Ying. Lan Zhan smiles down at him before turning away and scooping A-Yuan out of the water, making their son shriek and squeal and wriggle.

Excited, excited, excited.

They lose another four eggs, the terrible unlucky number. They drop out, leaving a horrible space in their wake. Exhausted, grieving, Wei Ying curls up on the shore and holds the last two there, in place, keeping his body taut, perhaps an attempt to shield them from the curse. Perhaps a prayer to something much older than he, a prayer for benevolence, a prayer to a thing that does not care. Lan Zhan is restless in the waters, grieving, hopeful.

Birthing even one living child from their very first clutch would be unprecedented—two, nothing short of a miracle. It had taken Lan Xichen seven tries before Jingyi had survived, and the ordeal had left him both reclusive and trepidatious. Surely theirs will not be different odds.

(They already have A-Yuan. They already keep a child. There is a balance to these things: what you can keep, you can lose).

 

They come to find him at the waters, the gravesite of his mortal body.

Will they enter the dream? Will they look upon the waters, the lotuses? Will they know, then, that he is happier than he has ever been, that he has found answers to the questions—the ones he had asked, the ones he hadn’t?

Nothing can move him from this beach, the soft sands, these waters. All that is there is a shadow and a flute, the last physical proof of his existence—what he had once been, what he will never be again. What he had willingly cast off. They find instead what he has become: host of the dream forevermore, his true body and soul anchored in a dimension they can only reach through interaction with things left behind, abandoned.

They dream.

Jiang Cheng stares in horror as the water ripples. Jiang Yanli calls out a name as he breaks up through the water, smiling benevolently. She gasps when three little heads pop up around him, their many pale eyes blinking.

Aren’t his children beautiful, he says without opening his mouth.