Lan Wangji is so preoccupied on one of his precious, rare nighthunts with Wei Wuxian that he does not feel it when a tiny, quiet curse latches onto him. It is so small and inconsequential that it remains unnoticed until long after Wei Wuxian has gone, and long after it has taken firm hold of Lan Wangji’s meridians.
It doesn't do much, at first. Just sits in his spiritual veins, simmering darkly, weakly. But it grows. Lan Wangji can feel it growing. He researches thoroughly in the Cloud Recesses library, tries every technique he knows. But he cannot shake it.
Most people have no idea anything is wrong. Not even when the pain begins. Not even when Hanguang-jun stops leaving the Cloud Recesses altogether, or when he teaches less and less. He still looks the same. Acts the same. People assume he is focusing on his spiritual development.
The truth is that the pain is constant. It thrums deep in his bones, in his soul. And sometimes it rises up and pulls at his muscles like a child tugging on a sleeve for attention. These are the times that prevent him from nighthunting, from riding his sword. From teaching.
It comes on unexpectedly, and renders him speechless, incapable of moving.
Lan Wangji does not know what it wants.
His family are deeply concerned. Zewu-jun comes out of seclusion. They continue to search for answers.
A month passes.
Sizhui quietly sends for Wei Wuxian.
He meets him at the gate, obviously agitated. Wei Wuxian's building happiness at being asked back, at seeing them all again and wanting to be seen, evaporates.
"What is it?" he asks.
Sizhui vacillates. HGJ has clearly not told Wei Wuxian anything himself, dashing his rather consciously futile hopes that they've been in secret correspondence about the curse the entire time. He's never gone behind HGJ's back about anything before. Sending the message was hard enough.
He bows, apologetic. "Come inside first?"
Wei Wuxian follows him to the disciple dorms, and to the room where they take their tea. Distantly fond memories wash over him, discordant with the acute worry he feels now. Jingyi is there, looking even more harried than Sizhui. He seems like he hasn’t slept in days.
Wei Wuxian sits with them. They stare at their teacups. It takes about two distant trills of birdsong before Wei Wuxian gives up on waiting them out.
"Speak!" he demands. "What is wrong with you two??"
Sizhui startles and bows again. "Thank you for coming, Wei-qianbei," he says. "Ah. We have...there is...an academic question that we need help with."
Like most of the Lan who raised him, he's a terrible liar.
"Alright," Wei Wuxian allows.
"If there were a curse...a mystery curse...that just seemed to cause pain. How would you go about removing it?"
"You're cursed?" Wei Wuxian asks, a jolt of fear in his chest. But he looks fine. He turns to Jingyi. "Is it you?"
"No!" Sizhui hurries to assure him. "No. We're not...no. We just need to know. If you could. Direct us toward possible solutions."
Wei Wuxian narrows his eyes at him, trying to guess at what it is he's not being told. He wonders, briefly, if they would tell him if it were Lan Qiren. If they would think him so mercenary as to not help the old man in a time of need.
He hopes that's not it. But either way, they need him.
"Well, it depends," he begins. "I'm going to need more information. And you're going to need to take notes."
They spend the morning in the library, books forgotten, making charts and arrays and talismans based on the information they have. If it weren't so stressful not to know the truth, Wei Wuxian would call it one of his best days in a long while. But then, some time after midday, a long shadow falls across Wei Wuxian's writing desk, and he looks up to see Lan Zhan standing over him.
He looks surprised. Shocked, even. And not exactly happy, though not upset to see him, either.
Wei Wuxian tries a smile, and a tentative greeting. "Lan Zhan."
Lan Zhan merely looks at the two boys beside him, his jaw going tight.
"Sizhui," he says. His tone is admonishing.
Wei Wuxian starts to feel, quite suddenly, extremely awful. The clarity with which he is not wanted here, not allowed, is staggering. He stands.
"Don't blame him," he says, automatic. "I shouldn't have—he just wanted help. It was overstepping on my part, to come all the way here just for an academic question."
Lan Zhan blinks at him, then Looks at Sizhui.
Sizhui straightens. "He's been helping us. With our work."
With an uncharacteristically visible breath, almost a sigh by his standards, Lan Zhan begins to turn away.
"Come and have tea," he says.
Just before he loses sight of his face, Wei Wuxian registers that it looks tired. He's only really seen him look tired once or twice in his lifeHe thinks, probably, that Lan Qiren being ill is the best explanation for all of it. Wei Wuxian's presence would surely make his condition worse, if he knew.
He follows Lan Zhan, still on edge, resigned to a short chat and a kind ejection from the premises. He's so morose about all of it that he doesn't notice Lan Zhan’s stiffness until they're sitting. Until Lan Zhan pours their tea.
Until, slowly, as if moved by gentle, invisible hands, Lan Zhan curls into himself, and gasps.
All thought, all expectation, leave Wei Wuxian's mind.
"Lan Zhan?" he says, panicked.
Lan Zhan holds up one shaking hand, as if it stall him. He gasps again, head bowed, body balled up tight, and then rasps, "It will pass."
Wei Wuxian stares in horror until it does. It feels like hours, like a lifetime of Lan Zhan in more pain than he's ever seen.
And then, as if nothing has happened, and just as slowly, Lan Zhan straightens once more. He keeps his eyes down as he reaches out, only trembling slightly, to finish pouring their tea.
"Lan Zhan," Wei Wuxian says, desperate and quite suddenly afraid. "What's happened?"
"Foolishness," says Lan Zhan. His voice is low, and worn softly ragged at the edges like old paper. How did Wei Wuxian not notice? How did he not notice the way he's holding himself, how he moves as if his robes are made of glass? "I allowed myself to be cursed."
"Allowed? Cursed? When? How?"
Wei Wuxian is bursting with questions, and with the desire to reach out, to comfort him somehow. He keeps his hands folded in his lap, sure they would have the opposite effect on anyone in such pain.
Lan Zhan merely shakes his head carefully. "We have not managed to uproot it," is all he says.
It's clear he won't say more. Whether because he doesn't want to tell Wei Wuxian, or because it hurts too much to speak, is unclear. But Wei Wuxian's mind suddenly works up to full speed, and he combines everything he learned from Jingy and Sizhui with this new and horrible revelation. But it's not enough.
"Why did—" Wei Wuxian stops himself before he says it, wondering if it's too presumptuous. But in the end, he needs information above all else. He needs to fix this. Fast. "Why didn't you tell me?"
Lan Zhan still doesn't look at him. "I would not bother you."
Wei Wuxian grips his cup too hard and spills his tea. "Bother me," he repeats. "How—how could—" he stops himself again, and tries to calm down. He needs to think clearly. He needs to speak clearly.
"Is that really all it is?" he asks. "I won't be offended if any of you didn't want me involved. It doesn't matter, I understand. I want to help, not make things worse. Can I do that? Can I help?"
The air seems to leave the room entirely as he waits for an answer. At length, still very carefully, Lan Zhan nods.
"Okay," Wei Wuxian says, unbelievably relieved. “Okay." He takes his first full breath since Lan Zhan appeared in the library. He holds out his hand. "Can I see?"
Before Lan Zhan has so much as moved, he snatches his hand back.
"Actually—does it hurt? To touch things. I don't want to hurt you worse."
Slowly, so slowly, yet elegantly still, Lan Zhan holds back his sleeve and extends his wrist, his fingers held in an approximation of a loose, relaxed curl. But Wei Wuxian can see how rigid it is. How hard he's working to look normal. It's worked, he supposes. He's heard no whispers of anything wrong with Hanguang-jun. And he himself didn't even notice, he reminds himself bitterly. Ridiculous, ungrateful, horrible that he didn't take his first chance to immediately drink him in, to look, to see how he was. Selfish.
"You could not hurt me worse," Lan Wangji murmurs, laying the back of his hand on the table before Wei Wuxian.
It's not an encouraging idea. Wei Wuxian presses the tips of his fingers lightly to his skin, reaching out with his meager energy to sense Lan Zhan’s meridians. They are teeming with something cool and dark that whispers to him wordlessly. He closes his eyes to focus on it, on the gently swaying song it murmurs beneath Lan Zhan’s skin.
He murmurs back, coaxing. Welcoming. It stills, briefly, to listen.
Lan Wangji tears back his arm.
"No." His voice has gone tight with the effort of moving so quickly, his posture bending just slightly from the strain.
"But, Lan Zhan, I could understand it better if—"
"You will not take this upon yourself." His words are clipped, almost angry. Final. His breathing looks less even, and his more pronounced tremor is making one of the jewels on his robes shimmer.
"Okay. I won't," Wei Wuxian says. He holds out his hand again.
"Wei Ying," Lan Wangji implores.
He looks so shaken, so pained, that Wei Wuxian is forced to capitulate.
He sighs. "I really won't," he says. "Not if it would upset you that much."
"It would," Lan Wangji affirms.
"Alright, then that's settled. Can I see again?"
After only the slightest hesitation, Lan Wangji re-extends his wrist for examination. Wei Wuxian touches him again, and tries to hear what the curse is saying. Tries to understand. Tries to see how it works and what's letting it stay.
"It's not really a curse," he says quietly.
"What is it?" Lan Wangji asks, just as softly.
Wei Wuxian cocks his head. "It is, and it isn't. It's a...thing. It wants something." He opens his eyes. "Do you know what it wants?"
"No," says Lan Zhan. He has sensed this too, and cannot puzzle it out. The hurt is too loud.
"Do you have any unusual cravings?" asks Wei Wuxian. "Like...to kill...or eat spicy food?"
He cocks half a smile, trying to lighten things.
He tries to wedge his energy between Lan Zhan’s and the curse. But it won't budge. And not by virtue of its own strength...there seems to be...overlap, somehow. Some common frequency between the two of them.
Wei Wuxian withdraws his hand, at a dead end.
"Well...it's simple," he says. "Almost like a child. It wants something, and when it gets enough of it, it'll let go. If we can't figure out what that is..."
He looks at Lan Wangji, drawn and pale and rigid, and moves without thinking. He lays a hand gently on his forearm as he speaks. "Then I'll just find a way to force—Lan Zhan?"
Lan Zhan’s eyes have widened and fixed on Wei Wuxian's hand. He sways, almost imperceptibly. Wei Wuxian lifts his hand away, but Lan Zhan flinches and makes a small sound like he's been hit with something heavy and blunt.
"Did I hurt you?"
Haltingly, as if he's confused, Lan Zhan shakes his head.
Wei Wuxian takes his wrist back into his clinical, probing hold, and looks at him. He shakes his head again.
On a hunch, Wei Wuxian lets go, only to uncurl Lan Zhan’s fingers and take his hand in both of his.
Lan Zhan’s eyelashes flutter, and his shoulders drop. Something about the longing in the little curse's whispers falls into place
"That's helping," Wei Wuxian states.
Dazed, Lan Zhan nods. "Yes. Why?"
Wei Wuxian smiles at him a little sadly. He has another hunch, this time about what the similarity between the curse and Lan Zhan might be.
"Affection, Lan Zhan," he says. "It wants affection."
He only lets the silence sit between them a moment before he focuses on action.
"I'll go get your brother. And Sizhui? And...or. Send for them. If—it—I shouldn't let go, I guess. Until they get here. Unless you want me to."
Staring down at their hands, Lan Zhan shakes his head. It's a slow, loose shake, so different from his tight movements of just moments ago. Almost like he's drunk. An uncomfortable thought arises at this apparent level of relief.
"How...how long have you been in pain?" Wei Wuxian asks.
Lan Zhan glances up at him, and then away. Silent. Wei Wuxian huffs.
"Fine. Well is it—is it completely better now? Or..."
After another slightly tipsy-looking moment, Lan Zhan shakes his head again.
"Okay. Okay. I'll just—I only need one hand to send a message talisman. Just let me—"
He takes one of his hands back, and Lan Zhan’s entire body goes taut, hunched, before he forcibly straightens. Wei Wuxian hurries to put his hand back where it was.
"Sorry," he says, holding on tight. "I guess it goes by...degrees? Uh...maybe we could both go get them."
Deliberately, Lan Zhan pulls his hand away.
"Thank you for your help," he says, his voice something thick squeezed through too small a space. "I am sorry you came all this way for something so simple."
Wei Wuxian can see his muscles working to expand and contract his lungs. He can see how difficult it is for him to stay upright, to keep speaking.
"I will find a way to act on your advice. Please do not let this keep you from your travels any longer."
Wei Wuxian's empty hands curl into fists. He doesn't want to say it. He almost doesn't say it.
"I know you don't lie, Lan Zhan, but I don't believe you."
Lan Zhan looks down at the table. He takes a breath in. He pushes it out.
Wei Wuxian decides to play dirty.
"Either you want me gone, or you don't want to burden me," he goes on. "Which one are you going to let me believe?"
Suddenly, finally, Lan Zhan looks at him. Wei Wuxian raises his eyebrows in challenge. Lan Zhan’s mouth works.
"Of course I would not wish to burden you," he says. "It is not necessary."
"I wouldn't just leave you in pain. I couldn't."
"I can bear it."
"I have borne it for over a month," Lan Zhan almost snaps. "There is no urgency."
Wei Wuxian stares at him. "You wouldn't even tell them, would you," he realizes aloud. "A whole month in pain, and not one person has—has—" It hits him. "It's been a month since we nighthunted."
Lan Zhan’s mouth, impossibly, goes tighter.
"Did this happen then? And you didn't say anything?"
"I did not know," Lan Zhan says, "until it was too late."
Another difficult breath. And another.
"I did not want you to feel responsible. Or to worry. It was my mistake."
Wei Wuxian has to look away, then, to gather himself. To keep the hurt off his face. He knows it isn't personal, but he still wishes Lan Zhan felt he could tell him anything.
He gets up.
Lan Zhan watches the movement, but quickly pulls his gaze away.
"Be well," he says quietly.
Disbelieving silence follows.
"A whole month," Wei Wuxian repeats. "I'll be well if you will. You won't ask for help, you'll be annoyed and just keep hurting if I try to ask for you." He sighs. "Lan Zhan, I may be a poor substitute for family, but we may have to work with what we have until you're sick enough of me to go to them."
He rounds the table to sit beside him. It takes a moment to make himself move more than that, but he manages. He closes his hands around Lan Zhan’s elbow, and then pats it a little bit hoping it counts as affection.
Lan Zhan turns his face away, but he can't hide the way he sags under the touch.
A nod. Wei Wuxian slides one hand down to his wrist, to check. The little curse-ghost is humming madly, hungrily, and holding on even tighter. Wei Wuxian sighs.
"Sorry, Lan Zhan. It's...going to take a lot more than just me holding your arm."
He pulls his arm closer, hugs it to his side, and Lan Zhan reaches out to grip the edge of the table.
"Is—is that better or worse?"
Lan Zhan is silent.
"Better," Lan Wangji says, very quiet.
He is finding it difficult to stay upright, to speak clearly as the tension and constant onslaught of pain drain from his body. He wants to lean into him. But he will not presume, will not make a needy spectacle of himself. Wei Ying deserves better.
"This is awful," Wei Ying says.
Lan Wangji tries not to flinch.
"Pain, for a whole month?" he goes on. Lan Wangji guiltily realizes his mistake. "How do you even sleep?"
"I am able to meditate," he supplies.
There is a heavy silence. "Oh, Lan Zhan. Even you need sleep."
Lan Wangji cannot refute this.
"When was the last time someone hugged you?" Wei Ying asks, at length.
Lan Wangji answers without meaning to. He has been thinking of it as well.
"When Sizhui was small," he says. "Previously, before my mother died."
Wei Ying makes a sound similar to choking. "Lan Zhan...why?"
Lan Wangji turns to him, to look at the stiff way he is trying to help while still trying to hold himself separate.
"I am not the sort of person people naturally wish to hug."
Gradually, Wei Ying’s eyes close, and his forehead thunks onto Lan Wangji's shoulder.
"Lan Zhan," he says, "you told me yourself you don't like touching people. You told everyone. With your words and your face."
This is true. "Mn."
Wei Ying gives him a very pointed look, and squeezes his arm. It makes his ears heat.
"I know the Lan aren't big on hugging, but you should seriously try it," he says. "You know Sizhui gives great little hugs. He'd love to."
Lan Wangji can feel his restraint, his strength, ebbing the more relief he is given. He does not know what would happen should the pain cease.
As if in response to this thought, another wave of burning, nauseating, bone-crushing agony screams through him. His body tries to make itself smaller, to escape. He grits his teeth, but it ends abruptly. He becomes aware that Wei Ying is rubbing soothing circles on his back.
Once he has his breath again, he gives him the answer he is owed.
"I would not have him see me in such a state," he says. "It is not for the child to care for the adult."
Wei Ying lets out a deep breath.
"Alright," he murmurs. "Alright. Your brother? Your uncle? Someone else?"
The thought of any of them seeing him so weak and helpless sets his teeth on edge. But this is unfair of him.
"You are not obligated to stay," he says. "If you wish it, I will speak to xiongzhang."
A pause. "Why don't you want to, though?"
Perhaps it is his deteriorating state of mind, or perhaps it is something else entirely, but Lan Wangji tells him.
"He took care of me once, another time. He should not have to do it again. And I do not look forward to reliving it."
He regrets saying it almost immediately. He cannot look at Wei Ying to see what his thoughtless words have done.
"I understand," Wei Ying says quietly. "But you're really leaving me no choice. So, last chance to pick someone else."
Lan Wangji does not quite understand what he means until it is happening.
Slowly, as if he expects Lan Wangji to pull away, as if he is allowing for it, Wei Ying makes of his arms a circle, enclosed within it Lan Wangji.
The pain intensifies, for just a moment, while his arms hover awkwardly. But then they lay against his chest, his back, and Wei Ying’s hands press against his arm.
"Come here," Wei Ying murmurs, twisting him, pulling him.
The pain dims, and all of his muscles relax. All of his muscles relax toward Wei Ying. He could not stop it if he tried.
"Ah, ha, alright," Wei Ying says, taking his weight and holding him up. "Better, right?"
Lan Wangji brings up his hands to try to move himself, to try to brace away, to give him space. Only they are not working properly. It is as if they do not answer to him. He finds them clutching at black fabric instead.
"Excuse me," he forces out.
Wei Ying shushes him, and folds him properly close.
The relief, after so many days, weeks, of steadily increasing pain, is so intense in itself that it frightens him. It feels like death. He struggles to breathe, suddenly heavy and weak.
"Lan Zhan," Wei Ying says, "is it better? Talk to—oh."
He breaks off when he pulls back enough to see his face. His expression goes from questioning to something soft and sad. He tightens one of his arms, and brings his other hand up to Lan Wangji's face. His thumb brushes his cheek, and comes away wet.
Lan Wangji closes his eyes and turns away, lacking the strength to apologize again.
"Don't," Wei Ying says. He lays the same hand on the back of his head, a warm suggestion. "Relax. Let me...let me do this for you. Please, Lan Zhan."
Lan Wangji takes a deep breath. He lets it out, and lets himself be guided.
Wei Ying turns his head and lays it against his shoulder. He shifts them so that Lan Wangji is almost in his lap, so that he is pressed along his front, wrapped tightly in his arms. Lan Wangji’s chest pangs with how much, how long he has wanted just this. Helplessly, pathetically, he holds onto him, his mind slowing as every tension-taut, pain-strung muscle finally releases.
"There," says Wei Ying, rocking him slightly.
An ominous tightness builds in Lan Wangji's chest and throat, finally releasing in a sob.
"Ah, Lan Zhan," Wei Ying murmurs above him, wiping more wetness from his face. "I know you wouldn't choose this. But I...I don't want you feeling guilty, alright?" He squeezes him briefly. "I have...I have maybe too much affection for you. Let me give you some, hm?"
Lan Wangji presses his face to Wei Ying’s chest, clinging. The words wash over him, and his tears wet Wei Ying’s robes. He feels strange and dreamlike, warm and open. He does not know what he might do, like this. What he might say, or ask. A small part of him is afraid.
He feels pressure at his temple. Soft, hot, and damp. He looks up.
"Ah," Wei Ying says, his mouth, which was just on Lan Wangji's skin, twisting, his eyes serious. "Too much?"
Lan Wangji's breath hitches. "No."
Wei Ying threads careful fingers through Lan Wangji's hair, and Lan Wangji has to close his eyes again.
"Can I take these out?" Wei Ying asks, brushing against Lan Wangji's hair ornaments. "I'll be careful."
Lan Wangji nods against him. He lets himself be held close, and holds still as Wei Ying pulls out the pins and unwinds the sections of hair. It is deeply soothing, the way his touch tingles across his scalp, the way his thoughtful, clever hands relieve the pressure on his skull. He melts against him, insensible. He has only foggy, distant memories of drunkenness, but they share a close kinship with the way he feels now. Hopelessly undone.
"I would," he says suddenly.
"Hmm?" Wei Ying asks, fingers still combing through his hair.
"Choose this," Lan Wangji says. It is important that he knows, that he understands he is not some stopgap to prevent pain. He does not know why he was so hesitant to say it, before. What he thought it might cost. "You."
He feels Wei Ying’s sharp intake of breath, rises with it.
"Good," he says. He kisses the top of his head.
The tail end of Lan Wangji's forehead ribbon slips over his shoulder, into his line of sight. The last thing binding his hair back, which Wei Wuxian was so careful not to touch.
A sound comes from the direction of the still-open door, which sounds roughly like "‼️"
Wei Wuxian turns just in time to see Sizhui's red face, before he slides the door closed and runs.
"S—Sizhui!" he calls. "It's not—ah. Well. I think we're going to have to talk to him."
He looks down, but Lan Zhan hasn't even moved. He doesn't seem to mind what Sizhui might think. Or maybe he hadn't even heard? He's gone so still against him.
Wei Wuxian reaches down to check his pulse. The little curse is still there, just holding on. Weaker, quieter, but still there.
"It's not going to let go for a while, I think," he says. "Sorry."
Lan Zhan’s hands fist tighter in the fabric of Wei Wuxian's robes, and he tucks his head up under his chin. His breath is warm on Wei Wuxian's throat.
Wei Wuxian blinks up at the ceiling in lieu of doing something unacceptable.
"You need rest," he says. "Real sleep. To heal, and recover your strength."
Lan Zhan mumbles something that sounds like, "Sleep here," which can't be right.
"Lan Zhan," he tries again, and jostles him lightly. "Sleep?"
Mn," says Lan Zhan.
"Okay," Wei Wuxian says to himself.
He looks around, suddenly aware that it's just the two of them, alone in Lan Zhan’s house. It's quiet, and dimmer now that the door is closed. He's moved by each of Lan Zhan’s breaths, deep and even, now. He sits a moment longer, his back aching from the awkward position, just to feel the way his ribs expand and contract in the circle of his arms. He tries to memorize it, the feeling it gives him, deep in his chest, in his gut. The feeling of something good and right that belongs to him. He savors it, for those long nights sleeping alone under the stars.
He has a lot of practice, missing things he thought he couldn't live without. He reminds himself it's always easier than you expect, once it comes down to surviving.
But if he's uncomfortable, Lan Zhan must be, too. So he gets his legs underneath them, and his arms around Lan Zhan’s waist, and he gets them up.
"Come on, Lan Zhan, help," he groans. "My foot's asleep, if you don't, we'll both fall."
With obvious effort, Lan Zhan stands. They lean against each other, holding on, like drunks or drowning people. Like something bad will happen if they let go.
And something bad will happen, Wei Wuxian reminds himself. None of this is affection for affection's sake. He’s helping him. There's a purpose.
He walks Lan Zhan over to his bed, and can't help laughing a little bit at how similar it is to the times Lan Zhan has been drunk.
Only this time, he can't just toss him onto his bed and hope he falls asleep. This time, that would be cruel. No, he'll have to suffer all his horrible fondness for him at much closer proximity. He'll have to hold on, and not let go when it feels like too much.
There's no graceful way to do it, really. They end up on the bed in a heap. Lan Zhan seems unwilling to move even then, so Wei Wuxian tries to arrange them to some semblance of a pair of sleeping people. His face burns as he moves them around, as he moves Lan Zhan’s body with his own. It's more overwhelming than he would have thought, to be horizontal together. Wrapped in each other. When he finally gets them settled, heads on the bolster, nothing caught or twisted, he's a little bit breathless.
And then he has to lie there, holding him, staring at his face.
Because he can't help but stare at the best of times, let alone this close. Short, dark lashes against perfect skin. Hair he now knows definitively is very soft. Cute little red ears. Full, relaxed mouth.
He tries very hard not to dwell on the last one. He tries and fails.
It looks even softer than usual, somehow, even more plush. He's wanted to kiss it for so many years, and he thinks, just now, Lan Zhan would let him. It would also, just now, be very unfair to try. He puts it out of his mind. Focuses on the drying tear tracks instead.
"Lan Zhan," he says, "are you still awake? Can you listen?"
He's not expecting Lan Zhan’s eyes to open and fix, alert though they droop with exhaustion, on his own. Too close.
He clears his throat.
"You know you can have this, right?" He's speaking too softly, but he can't help it. "With me," he clarifies, staring at the threads of embroidery on Lan Wangji's collar. "Open offer. Any time you want..." he huffs, "affection."
It's awfully silly, but he can't shake the feeling it needs to be said. A whole month of pain. Alone. Because nobody thought to reach out and comfort him. He's not sure he would have, either, if he's honest.
"You don't even have to ask. I want you to just—you can just—"
He falls silent when Lan Zhan reaches back, runs his hand along Wei Wuxian's arm until he finds his hand on the small of his back, and then picks it up.
The air rushes out of him, and his face contracts gently, his eyes closing again. Wei Wuxian panics, sure he's said too much.
"Lan Zhan! Don't—"
Deliberately, slow with pain, he places his hand on the side of his head. Wei Wuxian rubs a thumb along his temple, and he relaxes, though his expression remains tense. He searches out Wei Wuxian's fingers with his own, and sets them against the knot of his ribbon.
Wei Wuxian's lungs stall.
"Do not wear the Gusu Lan forehead ribbon in sleep," he intones.
A huff escapes Wei Wuxian, which is an improvement on the hysterical laughter that wants to break free. He doesn't know if Lan Zhan...means anything by it. But he can't imagine he doesn't. He tries not to think about whether or not he deserves this much trust—Lan Zhan is clearly waiting for...something. He has heard Wei Wuxian's words, and he has asked his own question in return, Wei Wuxian thinks. He's waiting for an answer. It's an easy enough thing for Wei Wuxian to give.
He plucks carefully at the ribbon until the knot comes undone. He tugs it free of his hair, which falls loosely around his face, framing it differently than he's ever seen. In combination with his fragile expression, it makes him look impossibly young.
He wiggles his other arm under him to hold on, to not cause him any more hurt, as he tries to put the ribbon into his hand. But Lan Zhan just glances up at him briefly and folds both their hands closed around it.
"Sleep," says Wei Wuxian, instead of kissing him or screaming and running away.
Lan Zhan lets out a long, slow breath. His eyes stay closed. "Mn."
Wei Wuxian watches his face relax, watches for any sign of something going wrong. He reaches out to check on the curse, to make sure its hold is weakening as it should. He's certain he won't be able to sleep himself—it's still daylight, not to mention his anxieties or the way his very blood seems to be vibrating with Lan Zhan’s closeness, with the way their fingers twine together in blue silk.
But Lan Zhan’s breathing is hypnotically even, and he's so surprisingly soft in Wei Wuxian's arms. It shouldn't be a shock, it's not as if he dresses himself in stiff angles and hard points. But he's always so...solid. Implacable. It's strange to know him now as such a warm, pliant creature. Strange, and wonderful in a way that makes Wei Wuxian's chest ache.
He lies there thinking too much while also thoughtlessly stroking Lan Zhan’s back, his hair, until deep in the night the little curse lets go. Wei Wuxian feels the moment it drifts off, at peace. Liberated. Lan Zhan sighs in his sleep. Wei Wuxian tries so hard not to wonder what its absence will mean when Lan Zhan wakes, that he sends himself off to sleep, too.
Morning dawns, and an unusually long time after, Lan Wangji wakes.
He is warm, and his body is heavy. So heavy, so weighed down that he thinks he must still be dreaming. His eyes do not want to open, so for many breaths, there is no way to know.
Then, something shifts, and the sensation is so foreign that his eyes open at last.
The warmth, the weight, resolve into a person. Black-clad, and half atop him. Breathing deeply against the side of his face.
The memory of the past month comes back to him all at once. The last day and night, more slowly. He remembers being held. Being...touched. Lovingly.
He closes his eyes again, remembering. He was brought to bed. He was cared for—he had required care.
He is embarrassed. He is filled with something bittersweet. When he tries to cover his
eyes with his free hand, he finds it is not free at all. His ribbon is tangled up in his fingers, and in Wei Ying’s.
It hits him suddenly, a blast of futile adrenaline that prickles under his skin, a wash of cold at the memory that he had been so bold, so selfish as to ask Wei Ying for such a declaration in such an extenuating circumstance. His mind, sluggish, clings to the hope that Wei Ying’s memory had failed him once again, and he had not thought anything of it. That he had not felt obligated to...
Lan Wangji begins clumsily tugging the ribbon from Wei Ying’s fingers. He tries to be gentle, so as not to wake him, but his muscles are not moving as precisely as he is accustomed. He takes a steadying breath, and tries to center himself.
"Reminds me of that cave," Wei Ying says, sudden and quiet.
Lan Wangji's heart hammers.
"Not the Xuanwu. The cold pond. You remember."
It is not a question. This is good, because Lan Wangji could not speak to answer.
"You hated it so much," he goes on. "I always wondered what Lan Yi really thought of seeing us like this." He lifts his entangled hand. "We were just kids, though, and you were already sacrificing one of your rules to help me. I think she saw that, and thought you were good. That it meant good things."
He pauses, and Lan Wangji closes his eyes. If he does not, he might look at him. And he cannot do that.
"Why are so many great heroes destined to always be so right and so wrong about everything?" Wei Ying muses. "She was right about you, of course. Of course. But she had no idea..."
He trails off. He pushes the ribbon off from around his fingers, and presses it into Lan Wangji's palm. Lan Wangji's heart sinks down through the bed, through the floor.
The sadness in his voice. The regret. As if he has done something wrong. As if the past he speaks of is ancient and fixed, a tragedy they still walk within today.
The curse is gone. But Lan Wangji does not feel relief.
Wei Ying surprises Lan Wangji out of his thoughts by speaking again, instead of taking his leave.
"Do you remember what I said before you fell asleep?"
Lan Wangji tries to think back. To force himself to remember, instead of skirting the edge of it all in shame. The kindness of it staggers him.
"Good. Don't forget it. I get...there aren't many people I know, anymore." Wei Ying’s thumb rubs absent circles on the back of Lan Wangji's hand. It sends goosebumps up his wrist. "At least not who would want to...anyway. Just don't forget it. Any time."
They are silent, together, unmoving but for breaths and heartbeats and Wei Ying’s gentle thumb. Until Wei Ying leans closer, and presses a kiss to Lan Wangji's temple, before moving away to stand.
"I did not hate it," is all Lan Wangji's panicked, stricken heart can muster.
Wei Ying pauses.
"I hated the confusion," he goes on. He breathes through the fog of exhaustion and too many other things to name, and he holds up the ribbon. "This has belonged to you since that day. I have never known how to tell you, without obligating you...to claim it."
Wei Ying is very still, until, "Lan Zhan."
"You speak as if my breaking rules for you is the paradigm. You lament it. I reject the notion. This, now, is our paradigm: me, alone, in pain, and you the only balm."
Lan Wangji hears himself only once the words have left his mouth, and feels a flare of pain down in his bones. He takes a breath. Another.
"Apologies," he says, contrite. "As I said, it is not my wish to make you feel—"
"Shh," Wei Ying cuts him off, suddenly close again. Very close. "Be quiet," he whispers from where he has tucked his face beside Lan Wangji's.
He is wrapped around him again, holding tight, almost lifting him from the bed with the force of it.
"Don't—" he kisses Lan Wangji's cheek, then just presses his face to it. "Don't apologize."
Lan Wangji cannot breathe.
His hands are clutching at Wei Ying’s arm, at his waist. He is too stunned, too overwhelmed, to manage his actions. He turns his head, blinking the morning light from his eyes for a second time.
Wei Ying is there, half a breath away, pink-cheeked and stunning, searching Lan Wangji's face. His clever eyes settle on Lan Wangji's mouth before skittering away.
Lan Wangji's heart skips a beat, and he parts his lips as if he would speak. No words come, but the movement draws Wei Ying’s eye once more. He stares, and Lan Wangji stares helplessly back, all thought suspended.
Wei Ying kisses him.
Quick, like the pecks to his temple and cheek. Like he is uncertain of making too much of it. Lan Wangji registers this too late. He has already followed, reflexively chasing his mouth. He pauses a hair's breadth away, tense. Wei Ying closes the distance.
He falls against him, pressing him down, heavy once more in a deeply pleasant way. He kisses him, and kisses him, and then pulls away to look. Awed, Lan Wangji dares to touch his face, to map the shape of his cheek, his jaw, and to hold it in his palm. Wei Ying leans into his hand.
"Lan Zhan," he says, hoarse. "Is this alright? You don't—"
Lan Wangji cannot hear uncertainty, and cannot answer. He pulls him down and fits their mouths together, opens his lips to feel the plush give of one of Wei Ying’s between his own.
Wei Ying’s next breath is shaky as it ghosts across Lan Wangji's face, but he only presses closer, opens to him, presses deeper. He shifts, and Lan Wangji's body wakes suddenly from its stupor, his skin abruptly going hot and shivery.
He can feel Wei Ying’s heart pounding against his chest, a mirror image of his own. The kiss stays slow, tentative, a question of boundaries, as it deepens. And deepens. The first shocking spark of something more comes when Wei Ying’s tongue flicks into his mouth.
There is a knock on the door. They break apart, the sudden reminder that they are not alone, that the world at large has not slowed to a stop, jolting them back into it.
"Hanguang-jun?" A tentative, worried voice. Sizhui. "Wei-qianbei?"
Guilt settles back into Lan Wangji's chest, its old home. But then Wei Ying’s face drops atop it, and it is overshadowed by the comfort of this casual use of his body as a convenient surface. He shuts out all thought of what other casual uses Wei Ying might find for him, and gathers himself.
"Sizhui," he calls. "A moment."
Wei Ying sighs dramatically, and twists to peek at him with one eye.
"We can do that again," he says, "right?"
Lan Wangji feels liable to sing.
"Yes," he says. "Whenever you like."
Wei Ying groans, and kisses him again.
"You can't smile at me like that if I have to wait," he says.
He flings himself away to lie on his back. Lan Wangji sits up, and begins the process of getting up and making himself presentable. But Wei Ying’s hand darts out to hold his wrist.
"Whenever you like, too," he says.
He's gone serious again. He holds on, waiting, until Lan Wangji nods. Then he smiles, and stands, and stretches.
"Don't get all neat again, Lan Zhan," he says, grinning. "You're resting today, just let him see you're okay and go back to bed."
He turns halfway to the door.
"This is going to be a different talk with Sizhui than I thought we'd have. His Xian-gege and Youqian-gege are—" he stops, his grin fading. "Ah..." he shakes his head.
Lan Wangji stands, his whole body aching, and goes to him. He cradles his face in both hands, and kisses his forehead, once, for all the times he has wanted to and felt unable.
"We will tell him, and anyone you like, whatever you like. Or," he says, and takes up Wei Ying’s wrist, "for now, if you would rather tell him before we have decided on the words..."
He wraps his ribbon around it, but pauses before tying it off. He looks at him in question.
Wei Ying nods, smiling again, but softer.
Lan Wangji ties the knot, and as soon as it is secure, there are arms around him.
They both take a deep breath before parting. Wei Ying takes his hand, and squeezes.
Awake, together, and curse-free, they open the door.