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In recent days, the only time Lan Wangji has seen Wei Ying truly smile is when he’s holding their baby. The ones he gives Lan Wangji are taught and wrung, stretched like canvas. There is no warmth in his eyes, no soft laugh broken against crooked teeth. No special lines on his face that he saves just for Lan Wangji. Even his way with A-Yuan is different. He answers him with just as much enthusiasm, musters a smile whenever he is given one, but Lan Wangji notices. He feels the shift.

He does not need to wonder what the cause of it is. That, at least, is reassuring. There is a clear beginning and end to this discomfort, and hope for brighter days to come. Tomorrow, his family will come to celebrate their child’s hundred days. Their home, their lives, will be under scrutiny. Everything they are and ever will be on full display. But once it is done, it will be done. They will have better days ahead.

They live by simple means, compared to his previous life. The celebration will not be as lavish as it would have been, were he there. They have done what they can with what they have, but Wei Ying must fear it will be lacking. That, even if no words are spoken, his uncle and brother’s disapproval will be apparent.

He cannot deny his own apprehension with regards to the day ahead, but Lan Wangji is certain that once his uncle in particular sees Xiao Tuzi’s beautiful face, all doubts he may have will disappear. He will be too enamoured with her beauty to care for such trivial matters as the state of their home, or their marriage. But he also understands Wei Ying’s fear, and he is not sure anything will soothe him. That he will only relax once the moment has passed and they are alone again.

Tonight, Wei Ying swaddles their child with the smallest of smiles, nuzzling his nose against her cheek. Xiao Tuzi lets out a little snuffle in response, and his smile deepens. It eases Lan Wangji’s heart to see his husband happy, however brief—and it makes him ache, too. To see he cannot bring the same joy from his husband. To feel him pulling away, to a place Lan Wangji cannot follow.

“Ah,” Wei Ying whispers as he finishes, “already asleep.”

For all that makes their child unpredictable, at least they can depend on that.

“For now,” Lan Wangji murmurs, hoping to hear a glimmer of amusement from his husband.

Wei Ying does not react. He merely presses a kiss to Xiao Tuzi’s temple and stands over her bassinet, shoulders hunched forward. Lan Wangji watches him blink rapidly, catches that brilliant mind of his spinning at different intervals, shuttered away to fester within him.

There is a wall between them, and he does not know how to climb it. Not when he cannot do what he used to. Not when his body has betrayed him.

“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji murmurs. 

It is not entirely a question, but not entirely an aimless statement either. If there is any way he can understand, he wants to.

His husband does not respond, so Lan Wangji does all he knows. He opens his arms, and waits for Wei Ying to fall into them. No matter what, no matter how they disagree or misunderstand one another, he always will come back to him like this.

With gentle hands, he passes his fingers through Wei Ying’s hair. Notes the tension in the back of his neck and shoulders, feels it pressed against his chest. It does not ease as Lan Wangji combs through his hair, as he’d hoped it would. Does not ease when he lets his nails run over his back and arms. Does not ease, no matter how long they remain, locked together.

“Wei Ying,” he says again after some time has passed. “Tomorrow…”

His husband tenses further, arms tightening as he does. He laughs, dark and untrue, and that is answer enough. Sometimes, there is nothing either of them can say. There is no way to make better than to do. And at this moment, when his husband goes to this deep place Lan Wangji cannot follow, he does all that he can do.

“Sit properly, Wei Ying,” he says.

Wei Ying doesn’t respond immediately. He wouldn’t expect him to. Instead, he lies still in Lan Wangji’s arms for a beat longer, breathing deeply, letting the weight of his words wash over him. Flowing like water down his back, it transforms him. The tension slowly unspools from his shoulders, the grip on Lan Wangji’s robe lessens at even the mere suggestion of relinquishing control. He is learning himself how to take it and know it without letting it overpower him. He is learning to find comfort within it. Perhaps he will never be finished.

“Wei Ying will be my good boy tonight,” he says, once his husband has done as he’s asked.

A warm satisfaction ripples through him as he watches Wei Ying visibly relax beneath his gaze, and Lan Wangji gives him the space to let go. His eyes slowly close and remain unopened. He does not sit “properly” by Lan definition, but he is upright, at least, which is ideal for what Lan Wangji wishes to do. What he thinks Wei Ying will want to do.

“Yes,” Wei Ying breathes. There is a vein in his neck that Lan Wangji wants to press. There is a way Wei Ying’s heart beats when they begin—when Lan Wangji pushes instead of pulls, and Wei Ying lets him. If Lan Wangji were to feel his pulse there now, he knows what he would hear. He once pressed his finger against it when they tried this, felt the distinct pitter-patter of his heart, and knew that this was good.

“Good,” he appraises, stroking his husband’s cheek. It’s a little dry from the cooler weather. A little weathered from all the time spent outdoors in the weeks before the baby’s arrival. He traces every new line, however faint, every blemish. Later, perhaps, when Wei Ying is relaxed and dreaming, he will smooth creams and oils to minimize some of the discomfort. But for now, he has more pressing matters at hand. 

Rising briefly, he crosses the room. There is a lacquered chest upon the table, one Wei Ying gave him not that long ago. It is physically quite light, but there is a heaviness in taking it. In assuming this role, this version of himself that he is still coming to understand.

When he returns to the bed, Wei Ying’s eyes are open—sparkling and a little unfocused. He is already falling at the mere idea of their evening’s proceedings, but Lan Wangji wants him to fall completely. On days like this, when Wei Ying is too far from him, Lan Wangji tries to give him the place to disappear entirely. To simply exist out of his body, and float away.

“Sit up straighter.”

His husband obeys without so much as a breath. Some nights, he fights it. Just a little, just enough to make things interesting, as he would say. But other nights, he goes quietly into this space. He allows himself to feel its weight the moment Lan Wangji suggests it. It’s nights such as this, Lan Wangji understands how much he needs it.

He removes his husband’s robes without fanfare, moving his arms as needed to free him of sleeves. Wei Ying’s body is a dead weight in his arms, loose and pliant for anything. He could give him so much, if he wanted. He could take anything, and Wei Ying would be compliant. It’s a heady feeling, having this much power. Knowing just how much his husband is willing to trust him. His life, in Lan Wangji’s hands, pulsing so vibrantly. His heartbeat, ever steady, at Lan Wangji’s fingertips.

There is a thin line of red rope lies in the chest, silken and vibrant with promise. He takes it now, and Wei Ying breathes in. Out and in, eyes tracing every movement, until Lan Wangji positions himself behind his husband to tie it. It is a pleasant process for the both of them. There is a comfort in the rhythm of forming the knots, a meditative quality in the repetition. They have had time to practice. It has begun to come easily.

This time is not quite past them. Lan Wangji still does not… feel much of anything. Not in the ways he used to. His desires, his past cravings, everything fell away with the birth of their child—but this is something he can do for his husband. This is something they can learn together. And now that he has had time to grow accustomed to it, it is here he feels especially calm. The silence as Lan Wangji pulls the knots and sees the tension evaporate from his husband’s stance. The quiet symphony of Wei Ying’s breathing, slowing steadily.

He adjusts himself to inspect his work, pulling and prodding to ensure the rope is the right tension. Tight, but not too tight. Just enough to hold him. Then, he assesses his husband. His eyes are closed, so Lan Wangji helps him. That is all that he wishes to do tonight. To take everything away that can hurt Wei Ying, and give.

He pulls out a plain, black blindfold from the chest. Wei Ying opens his eyes, tentatively, at the sound of the lid opening. His eyebrows arch in anticipation, mouth falling open ever slightly. Lan Wangji grows warm feeling his husband’s gaze trace the line of his hands, when he nearly bends into himself in relief when he sees what has been brought out for him. 

“Sit properly,” he reminds him, adjusting himself so he may tie it.

“Or what?” Wei Ying asks. Slow, dreamlike. There is not fight in him tonight, but Lan Wangji is pleased to find his spirit. Some things will never change.

“Wei Ying will not get my reward.”

He does not wish to impose anything too strict on him, not tonight—but he still wishes to give some sort of parameter. There can be comfort in rules and expectations, they can find relief in structure. Especially when other things remain so uncertain.

His husband adjusts his posture, back straight once again. Lan Wangji runs his thumb along the seam of his lips, pushing into them.

“Good,” he murmurs. His heart races as Wei Ying visibly tenses, then relaxes. The praise seems to run down his back in a series of quiet sparks, each mapped out for Lan Wangji with the curve of his spine. “Now, be good and listen. No sudden movements, nothing without my permission. Keep your hands on your thighs. No touching. Understand?”

Wei Ying nods, lips parting in a silent invitation. Lan Wangji lets his thumb slide away, pressing it into his chin instead.

“Please tell me, Wei Ying.”

His husband licks his lips. They are such nice lips—Lan Wangji has always loved them. He has always loved him.

“Yes.”

“Good,” he says again, patting his husband’s cheek with his other hand. He feels pleasantly warm, seeing Wei Ying melt before him. “Good. You know you may always ask me for something. Anything. But I will choose whether or not to give it.”

Wei Ying’s breath catches in the back of his throat. It always fill him with a quiet satisfaction to hear that sharp intake of breath. To see him slowly transform in front of him.

“Yes.”

“Good,” he praises once more, tracing his husband’s lips with his fingers. He breathes the air from Lan Wangji’s nails, anticipation trapped in his mouth. “My Wei Ying is so very good.”

Wei Ying lets out a soft whine, higher pitched and desperate. Lan Wangji loves that sound. There is something secret about it, something precious. He presses his fingers against the seam of his husband’s lips to hear it again, to feel the warm wet of his husband’s mouth against him. It doesn’t give him the same feelings he remembers, but he still enjoys it. Oftentimes, it is as though he is underwater—his senses muted, his response slower. It takes him longer to reach the surface, and be with Wei Ying. But he is reaching it. Slowly—he has to remind himself to be patient. And this in and of itself is pleasant. To watch Wei Ying react to him, to feel every change. To see just how much he can push, just how far he can go before Wei Ying breaks. 

Wei Ying’s mouth wrapped around his fingers is a pleasing sight, even if it does not spread wildfire within him as it did before. The warmth of his tongue against his skin, the flick of it against the pads of his fingers. It’s simply… different. Different, but good—because everything with Wei Ying is good. Giving himself to Wei Ying in this way is good. There is something pleasing to watching Wei Ying fall apart, even if Lan Wangji cannot join him. Something beautiful in him becoming undone.

He pats his husband’s hair and shoulders as he takes his fingers. Keeps his movements slow and purposeful. He wants him to be lost in the pleasure of it all. He wants to treat him with the gentleness he fears he won’t be given. He cups the back of his head to keep it upright, and presses a thumb against the aching pressure that remains. He lets him fall deeper and deeper until his shoulders slump and his balance wavers, watches his body tense and relax. There is a certain rush that comes from having this much control, something that goes beyond all sense of arousal.

“Good,” he breathes, and lets his fingers slip out of Wei Ying’s lax mouth. 

His husband lets out a small moan in protest, but Lan Wangji merely kisses him. His lips are warm. This is still something he enjoys.

He lets his spit-soaked fingers trace the outline of a nipple, traces the diamond of rope that frames it. He would look so beautiful with more. He thinks his husband would like that. To be contained so thoroughly, to be held. Wei Ying is already gasping against his touch, squirming to demand more, but Lan Wangji doesn’t let him. He will give what he gives—it isn’t for Wei Ying to decide. He tightens the hold on the back of his head, and stills his own hand. Makes him wait a few moments.

“Patience,” he whispers against his husband’s lips, “I will give you what you want.”

He always does. It’s simply a question of when.

He rubs his thumb against the bud of Wei Ying’s nipple, to feel the way it transforms as he pinches and traces the lines of it. He finds the soft and sensitive skin that puckers as the wet of his spit dries and chills, framed so beautifully by the rope, most intriguing. To watch how its colour and shape changes the more he touches it. To feel his response. His other nipple looks severely under-appreciated, the more he presses into this one. Soft, yet taut, as the cool breeze rattles through the shutters and whispers against his husband’s skin. It must be cold, to be so exposed and untouched. Hardly fair at all, if he thinks about it. And Lan Wangji, in all his life, has always striven for fairness. So, naturally, he has to take the other in his mouth to make up for it.

Wei Ying arches against his touch with a groan, fingers fluttering against his thighs. He is trying to be so good tonight. But Lan Wangji notes the tremor in his hands. He notes the quiet, yet present energy buzzing beneath. Feels how much Wei Ying wants to give into his impulses.

Lan Wangji also wants that. 

In recent days, he has not been taking up space. To minimize himself as much as he can. Quiet, muted, thoughtful—this must be what he thinks Lan Wangji would want, with the arrival of his family. How he would want his husband to present himself. To be on his best behaviour, to be silent and obedient. To show his uncle especially that he has not corrupted Lan Wangji or A-Yuan. 

He does not want that.

No matter what they think, what they will conclude from their brief time together, Lan Wangji does not want his husband to become less than he is. To make himself smaller until he is no longer a blemish. Nothing about Wei Ying could ever be so to him. Nothing he could do, or be. He wants to remind him. He wants to make him.

He pauses, pulling away just enough to watch the jump of Wei Ying’s chest. Watches the hitch in his breath as he waits for Lan Wangji to return. Watches how his fingers curl and straighten against his thighs. Then, he dives back into him. He licks his nipple and pinches the other, then pinches both until Wei Ying squirms. He remains silent, but his breathing is heavier now. Every once in a while, his voice comes with it. Just small, barely-audible vocalizations. A quiet accompaniment to the work of Lan Wangji’s hands.

Wei Ying is good. So very good tonight. But that isn’t what he wants. He wants to see his husband.

He brushes his lips against the side of Wei Ying’s neck. Traces the line of that vein pulsating beneath it with his tongue. His husband shudders at the change of pace, and again when Lan Wangji pulls on his nipples with both hands. He wants to be everywhere, everything. To be so consuming, Wei Ying will have no choice. He will have to break.

He tries to be subtle, but Lan Wangji notices. The shift in weight, the slight movement in his arm. Wei Ying is too clever to grasp himself outright. Not yet—but he is already making plans. Lan Wangji pretends he does not notice. Instead, he focuses on sucking along that line in his throat, on pinching and pulling until Wei Ying’s breaths become broken moans. He waits, giving him some reprieve from the pain, then quickly takes him back to that place. Sinks his teeth into that soft, sensitive flesh, right where it could be seen the next morning. If he presses hard enough, the mark will be unmistakable. It will be clear who Wei Ying belongs to. Who will be just as shameless.

He catches Wei Ying’s wrist before he can touch the growing bulge in his trousers. The sudden surge of movement—Wei Ying is quick, but Lan Wangji is quicker. He curls his fingers around his husband’s wrist. Gentle, but firm, he squeezes just a little. Just enough for Wei Ying to feel it.

“What did I say before?”

His husband’s lips twitch. It warms Lan Wangji’s heart to see. The mere hint of a smile, of what he has missed so much. There is nothing more he wishes to do than see it again. And again. 

Wei Ying clears his throat to speak. “No… no touching.”

“Mn. And what were you about to do?”

This is where his husband laughs. 

It is not as full-bodied as he is used to hearing. More of a whisper than anything. But it is so beautiful, and so missed. Tonight, Lan Wangji will have him breathless.

“What?” he asks again.

Wei Ying sighs heavily, fingers curling towards Lan Wangji’s. “Gege,” he whines.

“What?”

His husband laughs, a little louder this time. His lips brush against Lan Wangji’s. “I’m just…” he whispers, squirming. His skin is so warm. “I’m very hard.”

Satisfaction curls in his stomach, and Lan Wangji feels the phantom heat between his legs. The phantom wanting he remembers so clearly. By now, he would understand Wei Ying’s frustration. He would feel it himself, and it would drive him onward. But as it is, he is much more patient. Much more willing to wait.

“Is that so?” he asks, lowering Wei Ying’s unwieldy hand to rest on his thigh. He brings both hands up to stroke his chest in slow, light circles. “I had not noticed.”

His husband lets out a frustrated groan, bucking his hips for some form of friction. Not touching, but close enough. He knows how to manipulate Lan Wangji’s rules. He is coming back to life beneath his hands.

“No moving,” he instructs, grabbing hold of his husband’s hips to still him. “Patience.”

Wei Ying breathes out a laugh, groaning when Lan Wangji squeezes them.

“I will remind you,” he tells his husband, keeping his voice low and firm, “if you wish for something, you may ask.”

A small bubble of amusement lodges in his own throat as Wei Ying grows tense. How many times has his husband asked the same of him? How many times has he taunted and teased when he could not give it?

It doesn’t matter, anyhow. He will give Wei Ying what he wants. Eventually. But this sort of response simply encourages him to draw it out just a little longer.

“Patience,” he says again, and kisses him.

Wei Ying accepts his mouth without protest, content to give and receive what Lan Wangji offers. He keeps his grip firm, does not leave much room for movement. Keeps his focus on Wei Ying’s lips. On running his tongue against the shape of them. Wei Ying responds in turn by nipping at his bottom lip. Taking it in his teeth and pulling at it. It does not feel the way it would before the baby’s birth. It does not fill him with those familiar sparks. But the weight of it, the sensation, is still pleasant. Still moves him.

Moves him enough he almost misses Wei Ying’s roving hand.

He catches it once more and takes hold of the other. Wraps both of his hands around his wrists. Wei Ying’s breath catches in his throat, so Lan Wangji squeezes them again. Listens as his husband’s breathing quickens. He wants it, too. He wants to be contained, to be held. Everywhere, every place. This is the one way Lan Wangji can do that to him. He will wrap him in an unending embrace.

“Don’t move,” he instructs, and slowly lowers his husband’s hands.

Wei Ying obeys. He knows what is about to happen. His back straight, shoulders rolling back. He wants it. No more dancing around it. And Lan Wangji, although not similarly affected, is ready to begin.

Gently, he secures his husband’s wrists together with another line of red string from the box. Lifting his joined hands, he ties them to the centre of the ropes that meet at Wei Ying’s chest. His fingers twitch at the familiar slide, his breath jumps with a gasp once again. Lan Wangji dares to glance downward, to see the mess of his husband’s inner trousers. They are a pale colour, growing translucent in the front. His stomach jumps a fraction at the darkened shadow of his husband’s cock. Not as it did before, but still good. Everything is good.

“I will lay you down,” he announces.

Slowly, he lowers him onto the mattress, so he is laying face-up. His husband quickly relaxes into the new position, though his breathing remains heavy. Anticipation rustles beneath him, and his toes curl reflexively. Lan Wangji feels a sudden urge to press into the bridge of his foot to force them to uncurl. The surprise reflected all over Wei Ying’s body would be delicious, the laughs that would inevitably break from his mouth exquisite. But Lan Wangji does not wish to wake the baby, either, and Wei Ying’s yelp of surprise would surely do so.

Later. Another time.

For now, he hooks his fingers into the waistband of his husband’s trousers. His heart drops as he feels Wei Ying’s body react. As it tenses at the sudden touch and quickly relaxes. How his stomach bounces as slowly deflates. Does it drop within him like it does for Lan Wangji when he does this? Does his heart beat just as quickly? 

He buries his face into his husband’s neck to tell, nosing along that vein in his throat. Breathing in every heartbeat, his husband is so warm. Lan Wangji’s nose is cold in comparison. Wei Ying lets out a content sigh as Lan Wangji makes his movement more deliberate. He does not shiver at his touch, but there are other ways to do that. Lan Wangji knows them well.

It doesn’t take much effort to rid Wei Ying of his trousers with his face pressed so close to his. His husband is ever helpful, kicking and pushing the garment away with his legs and feet until he squirms enough that Lan Wangji adjusts himself to pull them off the rest of the way. Now exposed, Lan Wangji cannot help but feel Wei Ying looks rather incomplete, with only half his body covered in red. Only half perfectly framed.

He runs his hands along his husband’s calves, smiling as his muscle pulsates. Presses his hands into tightened limbs as Wei Ying draws his knees up. Brushes his fingers against the soft hairs on his husband’s inner thigh. Against the grain and with it, Wei Ying shivers at every touch. His cock, ignored and flushed, twitches against his stomach. It will stay that way for a while longer. Lan Wangji has other plans.

Wei Ying’s whole body shudders when Lan Wangji opens the box again, the anticipation heightened by the restrictions that have already been placed. He wants the experience to be as good as he can, as much of an escape as Lan Wangji can manage. To give the opportunity to detach from everything.

“You know what this means?” he asks his husband softly, taking up another soft line of rope from the box. “Can you tell?”

Wei Ying purses his lips, as though to speak, and doesn’t. That’s fine. He is not as talkative as Wei Ying can be, in any case. They match each other in this moment. 

Lan Wangji does not tend to offer many praises as he begins his work, does not have much to say beyond what is necessary. But in the times they’ve done this, Wei Ying seems to enjoy it all the same. He seems to revel in the silence, in the quiet that Lan Wangji allows to exist between them. Here and now, there are no expectations. No need to be anything but who they are in this moment. Nothing to say, nothing to do. No masks or veils between them.

He wraps a line around his husband’s ankle to anchor it, strokes it as he tests the tension. Then, he guides his leg into the right bend and begins to wrap around it. He allows himself a moment to disconnect as well as he finds his usual rhythm. Breathes in and out with every wrap of line, every knot. Wei Ying is warm beneath him, pliant. His small, gasping moans are enough encouragement.

When he is finished, Wei Ying is thoroughly contained. Wrists against his chest, legs spread open, skin flushed and indented. It’s always a beautiful sight, compelling with no matter of Lan Wangji’s own feelings. He runs his hands along his work, tugging in various places to ensure the security of it. Making sure there is still enough room Wei Ying will not be uncomfortable.

“Is it good?” 

Wei Ying nods rather emphatically.

“Good,” he appraises, hooking his fingers into the rope work. His head is full of pleasant static.

“Feels good,” Wei Ying whispers, curling his toes and fingers.

He gives his husband’s foot a gentle squeeze, the pleasant feeling intensifying. “Thank you for telling me. Is there anything you want?” 

“Hm,” Wei Ying murmurs, twitching his fingers. 

Lan Wangji gives him a few moments to respond, but it seems his work has already had its desired effect. Wei Ying is already floating far above him. Perhaps he should give him options.

“Would you prefer I suck your cock,” he asks, stroking his husband’s thighs, “or would you like my cock?”

Wei Ying curls his toes again. Lan Wangji feels compelled to touch them as his husband gathers his words. He watches the bob of his throat, the purse of his lips, the deep breaths as he readies himself to answer.

“Y-yours,” he whispers.

He hums approvingly, a warm satisfaction bursting from his fingers. Wei Ying will look very beautiful like that, spread open and taking it. He already knows which one he will use.

“Alright,” he agrees, kissing his husband’s knee. “Very good.”

Reaching into the box once more, he lines up his provisions. beside him. The pot of lubricant, the jade cock Wei Ying had bought him after he was far too pregnant to be able to use it. It has proven useful nowadays—his husband is quite familiar with the feel of it. He would want this above any others, once he has been sufficiently prepared.

He could do it now, with Wei Ying all laid out like this. He would open so beautifully for him. Would be such a pretty sight beneath him. But they have been separated long enough as it is. Lan Wangji still longs for his husband’s body, for the familiar warmth and weight of it. Even if he wants in a different way, he will always want Wei Ying close to him. He wants to feel close to him, after days of his distance.

Hooking his fingers into the rope across Wei Ying’s chest, he gently lifts his husband into an upright position. Wei Ying lets out a small whine in surprise, but does not protest. He sighs instead as Lan Wangji positions himself so that his husband’s back is against his chest.

“Gege,” Wei Ying whispers as Lan Wangji squeezes him closer, “Gege, please…”

“Please, what?”

Wei Ying lets out a pitiful whine, using what limited mobility he has left to rub his back against Lan Wangji’s chest. The ropes brush against Lan Wangji’s sensitive nipples, and he finds himself shuddering for once. His breasts must have have grown heavy with milk in the interim. The friction simply draws more attention to it.

“Gege…” Wei Ying moans, his movements quicker and more frantic.

“Impatient,” Lan Wangji mutters, delivering a warning pinch to his hip. “Be still.”

He will give Wei Ying what he wants, but he needs something in return. Keeping one steadying hand on his husband’s shoulder, he uses his other to untie his robe. Then, he slowly tilts Wei Ying’s body until he is resting in his arms, his face against Lan Wangji’s breast.

“For me?” he asks. Wei Ying will know what he means.

His husband hums in approval, nuzzling Lan Wangji’s chest until his mouth finds his nipple. Slowly, his lips wrap around it, and he licks along the shape of his areola before latching on. Always so eager to help, it comes naturally to him, and Lan Wangji’s body in turn quickly sighs in relief at the sensation. It warms as Wei Ying draws the milk from him, calms and the slow, enveloping haze begins to seep in. He has been producing so much since the arrival of the baby, more than she seems to need. And Wei Ying can always use a little extra sustenance. His body had been depleted for so long before he returned to him. He needs to make up for lost time.

Perhaps Lan Wangji knew this, deep in the back of his mind. Perhaps he wanted this.

Before he completely loses himself, he feels around the bed until he finds the pot of lubricant once again. Dipping his fingers into the substance, letting it warm with his touch. Wei Ying is already so relaxed, it does not take much to nudge his fingers inside. He makes lazy circles as Wei Ying suckles away, and allows himself to fall deeper. This is the one time he truly feels connected to himself. That he feels he could be… what he used to be. Someday. 

For now, he is content. 

Wei Ying noses along his chest, finds his other nipple without needing any guidance. Lan Wangji slips another finger inside him and listens. His husband snuffles against his skin, too eager to drink that his nose presses flat against the rounded flesh. He cannot help but smile, and use his free hand to stroke his hair. He loves the way it feels against the pads of his fingers. Loves the soft, barely audible moans his husband emits as he takes everything. There is nothing better than this. To hold, and be held in return.

Nothing better…

Nothing…

“Gege,” Wei Ying whispers.

His voice a tether, pulling Lan Wangji back into the present. His hands, still bound, pressing into his flesh. His lips are mouthing against the crest of his breast. Lan Wangji blinks to attention, and straightens himself. 

“Hm,” Wei Ying murmurs with a laugh, “did you fall asleep, gege?”

Lan Wangji drives his fingers deeper inside his husband with a punctuated thrust. The comfortable haze after breastfeeding, heightened with its intensity by fatigue, has him nearly immobile. He could easily fall asleep, here and now, if he wanted to. But there is still much he could do. So much he should do. The cock is still laid out beside him. He had a plan.

Did you?”

“No.”

Wei Ying gasps out a laugh, his bound hands twitching in between them. Lan Wangji wants to wrap his arms around him and never let go.

“Gege,” he sings, chiding, “I think you did.”

He is too tired to feel shame. Wei Ying knows him too well.

“And if I did?” 

His husband laughs again, rubbing his face against his chest. “Gege deserves it.”

It warms him to hear it. Reminds him of before.

“Then,” Lan Wangji says, “I am going to free your bonds.” He curls his hand around Wei Ying’s wrists, as much as he can. “Your wrists and legs. Wei Ying should work for what he wants.”

“Yes,” Wei Ying agrees, tensing himself in preparation. He nods eagerly. “Yes, I should. I should!”

There is no one in the world like this husband. Lan Wangji loves him so.

“Don’t move,” Lan Wangji reminds him, and quickly cuts the rope using a small knife in the box. Perhaps, if he were more patient, he could simply untie his husband and save the rope for another use, but Lan Wangji will not claim to be the most practiced. Not in a moment like this.

Once his husband is sufficiently freed and laid down, Lan Wangji joins him. Though his eyes remain covered, Wei Ying immediately shifts towards him. Immediately hooks his leg on Lan Wangji’s hip and draws him closer. He allows himself to go willingly, even if it is not what he had planned. Even if Wei Ying did so without asking. Lan Wangji is tired and wants to be held. He curls his fingers into the rope to pull Wei Ying closer.

“Hold me,” he orders, if not to keep the illusion of control.

Wei Ying’s laugh rumbles against his jaw as he presses his lips to it. “Alright, gege,” he murmurs, and kisses his face again. 

His arms are strong when they encircle him. Lan Wangji feels the stiffness of his half-hard cock against his hip. With layers between them, he still feels its heat. He remembers, vaguely, what this is supposed to feel like. How he should feel. The blood rushing, the heat stirring in his gut, the wetness between his thighs. And he does feel something, but it isn’t quite the same. There is no urgency like there used to be, no fire. Just Wei Ying. Lan Wangji is so happy to be with him, to touch him, but…

But…

“Is that good?”

Lan Wangji pulls him closer. Perhaps they are just out of practice. It has been a long time that they were even this close, in this way. Lan Wangji would always pull away before anything like this could happen. It did not feel as it should, he did not feel good. And Wei Ying has been so patient, so willing to adapt—but perhaps it’s time they return. Perhaps there will never be a perfect time. Perhaps neither of them remember what a perfect time even is. He should just… let it happen. Push through it.

“No?” Wei Ying asks with a laugh, drawing himself closer.

He loves the weight of his husband against him, loves the strength in his arms and the heat of his skin. He wants to stay here forever, buried beneath him. He wants to be held like his ropes hold him.

“Kiss me again.”

His husband laughs, and settles on top of him. He kisses the underside of Lan Wangji’s chin, the slight dryness of his lips scraping against it. He remembers the way his body would shudder, how it would awaken every nerve inside him, but does not feel it. Its absence is strange, gaping and missing. But they have grown out of practice.

He tilts his head upwards, and Wei Ying rushes to meet him. Lips on his, hands pinning wrists, Wei Ying does not need to see to know this. He remembers, too. Every motion familiar, every reaction second-nature. Wei Ying presses himself closer, clearly losing all thought as his hips grind against Lan Wangji’s like they used to before. And he still remembers this dance, too. He knows how to play his part. His hips thrusting upwards to meet Wei Ying’s, his teeth nibbling on his lower lip—they have not even tried it like this in so long. He hasn’t wanted it, not any part of it. But it’s different now, as Wei Ying’s hands roam his body. As he caresses every change in it so lovingly. He wants to respond, to drive them both forward. He wants to feel how it did. And now, his heart is beating so fast, his face warming with Wei Ying’s ragged breaths. His hands are warm and his love his warmer, and Lan Wangji wraps his legs around him. If he moves himself just so, if Wei Ying reciprocates just so, he should… it should…

Something is not the same. 

Everything the way it was, the way he remembers, and yet it doesn’t feel as it should. He doesn’t feel as he should. 

There is ice in his throat. It pushes into him.

It is not as if this discovery is new. It is not as if he has not felt this way before. And still… still… it hurts now. It lodges deep in his chest and pulls. Because he wants it to be the same. He wants to feel like he once did. He misses it. He misses it.

Wei Ying kisses him again, messily and full of promise. Perhaps Lan Wangji just needs a moment more. Needs a moment to feel this. To know Wei Ying’s eager lips against his, to feel his heart flutter when he misses his mouth. It has been a long time he has even felt close to this—it will take some time to reawaken what’s dormant. He should not try to rush back into things. He should remain in this moment. Stay with Wei Ying, and enjoy it for what it is. Not dream of what it could be.

Is this what his husband thinks? Is he full of hope for the night before them, now that they are here? Has he missed it, too? What can Lan Wangji even say, if it is not meant to happen?

Wei Ying rolls him onto his side, a hand sliding into his open robe. Gripping his waist, caressing his back. He traces the lines of his scars until they dip lower and disappear into the edge of his trousers. His fingers skirt along the hem. Hesitating, questioning—Lan Wangji wishes he did not have to ask. He wishes he could answer as he once did.

His hand stills against the small of his back.

“Lan Zhan?” 

Wei Ying’s voice is low, but apprehensive—and Lan Wangji knows he has been found out. His stomach turns, as Wei Ying remains motionless. His hand is above anywhere that would be considered improper were he not his husband, his head is pulling back as though to look at him. Lan Wangji grasps onto him tightly, enough to immobilize him. Enough that he could not move his hands and take away the blindfold, even if he wanted to. He does not want Wei Ying to see him. If he does, he may just break.

He swallows down the shard in his throat. Holds tighter as his husband breathes. 

“Can we stop for a moment?” Wei Ying asks. As though this is something he needs. As though this is not entirely for Lan Wangji’s benefit. He is the one in control, he should be the strong one. He should not cause Wei Ying any more worry. His whole intention was to help him let go, not burden him with more troubles. “Can you talk to me?”

He clings to Wei Ying and does not speak. Every word is too heavy, every breath too hard to untangle. Inside him is a chasm, empty and aching and still not ready. He wants to be free of it. He wants to go back.

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying tries again, stroking along his spine. “For me.”

The tears brim in his eyes without his permission. He chokes when he tries to stop them.

“Ah,” his husband murmurs, knowing without having to see. “It’s alright, Lan Zhan. Is it something I did?”

He shakes his head violently, then buries his face in Wei Ying’s neck. Wei Ying is, and always will be, the most respectful husband. He would never, could never, wrong Lan Wangji on purpose. It is himself that is wrong, himself that cannot give. His own body betraying him.

“Something you didn’t like?” his husband tries again. He is far too understanding, too patient.

It wasn’t even that Lan Wangji didn’t like it. He wanted to like it. He wanted it to feel right again.

“Sorry,” he whispers.

“No need for that,” Wei Ying answers, stroking the back of his head. “It isn’t your fault, Lan Zhan.”

He knows this. He does. He’s just tired.

I’m sorry, Lan Zhan. I should have asked.”

“No,” he whispers, clinging harder. “Don’t apologize.”

His laughter vibrates against Lan Wangji’s cheek. “You don’t apologize,” he teases. He presses his lips to the top of Lan Wangji’s head, smacking his lips emphatically. Once, twice, three times. Lan Wangji’s mouth twitches. 

“Ah, is that a smile?” Wei Ying asks, and kisses the top of his head again. “Can I see?”

“No.”

Not yet. He isn’t ready to be seen again.

“Alright,” Wei Ying concedes with a laugh. “I bet you look so cute right now, Lan Zhan—all pouty and red. But we can stay here for a while, if you need. Whatever you need, I want. You know that, right?”

“Mn.”

He trusts Wei Ying. He knows Wei Ying. His husband would never lie to him. But is there not more he wants? No errant wishes?

“I just like you,” his husband continues, stroking Lan Wangji’s ankle with his own foot. “I just like being with you so much.”

He presses a kiss to his husband’s neck, hoping that is enough. Hoping he will understand. Being with Wei Ying is enough. In any way, any time—he loves him so much. He only wishes he could give him more. All of himself, like before.

“We can stop, if you want,” Wei Ying suggests. “Go to sleep?”

He lets out a shaky breath. He does not want that. To leave things as they are, unresolved and unanswered. To leave Wei Ying unsatisfied. It would feel worse to leave it as such. This strange, unsettled current, this feeling gnawing at him. He wants to see it through. He wants there to be something he can do. Something he’s still capable of. He just…

“Lan Zhan? Do you want to sleep?”

He shakes his head. 

His husband’s gentle laughter soothes him. 

“Then, what do you want?”

His throat is dry from crying, but he needs to force the words out. He needs Wei Ying to know. He lifts his face to speak, grateful Wei Ying still cannot see him. 

“Want,” he whispers, his voice breaking, “to make gege come.”

His husband’s lips twist into a smile. Against his thigh, Lan Wangji feels his cock twitch. It comforts him. To know he can still undo him, to know there are still ways he can satisfy him.

“Yeah?”

“Yes.”

A thumb brushes against Lan Wangji’s shoulder, draws small circles into his skin. His other hand cups the back of his neck, warm and so needed. Lan Wangji could melt right into it, here and now. Submit to the familiar weight of this role, wear it like a robe. Feel his husband’s embrace with every command. He is not strong enough to go without it any longer. Not tonight.

“Then,” Wei Ying says, his voice darkening. “Can I not see my good boy?”

He gulps. He feels too raw, too exposed to be observed. Too ashamed, too tired—but Wei Ying asked. So nicely. How can he ever deny him?

“Mn.”

“Is that a yes?”

He swallows. “Yes.”

Wei Ying shifts his hold, the hand on Lan Wangji’s shoulder coming away to pull off the blindfold. With a sigh, he loosens the fabric until it comes away, and Lan Wangji is face to face with his husband.

“Ah, here we are,” Wei Ying says, taking all of Lan Wangji in. “Here he is.”

The look in his eyes is a homecoming. Lan Wangji feels himself relax into them. Into the relief of Wei Ying taking care of him. He has been taking care of Lan Wangji all this time, but not  quite like this. How different it feels now, to have Wei Ying’s full attention.

“Wei-gege,” he whispers.

His husband’s smile deepens as he pinches Lan Wangji’s his swollen cheek. “Lan Zhan,” he says, running his other fingers along the dried tracks his tears left behind. “I’m sorry. You needed me.”

“No sorries,” he mumbles, focusing his attention on his husband’s collarbone. Even if it’s true. He has needed Wei Ying this week. He away, and Lan Wangji was not strong enough to bring him back. He did not have the words. He could not voice his own needs.

Wanting is still so difficult. Sometimes.

Wei Ying laughs once again, smoothing his hand against Lan Wangji’s face. “Alright. But still.” 

His husband leans closer to press his lips to his cheek. Then, without warning, his tongue darts out, licking the dried salt of his tears.

“Wei Ying!” 

“What?” he teases, licking again, “I’m thirsty, Lan Zhan. Salt helps with dehydration.”

“I will get you water, then. Wei Ying should’ve asked.”

“Sorry, gege.” 

“No apologies,” Lan Wangji reminds him, and detangles himself to fetch the water pitcher.

While standing, he takes the opportunity to check on their baby, still peacefully asleep in her bassinet across the room. He refrains from reaching in and holding her, refrains seeking comfort. It is better to not disturb her. To let her sleep while she is so inclined to.

“How is she?” Wei Ying asks when he returns.

“Asleep.”

“Good, good.”

His husband pours himself a cup and drinks it, then offers some to Lan Wangji. The water is cool and refreshing. He did not realize how thirsty he’d become.

When they have both had their fill, he sets the pitcher aside on the floor nearby. He then takes his time to place the blindfold back in the box, along with the torn remains of the rope. He hesitates in closing the lid. Wei Ying’s chest is still decorated with all of Lan Wangji’s intricate ties. Perhaps he wants to be freed from it.

“I’ll keep it, Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying answers before he can ask, running a hand along the thin, red line. “I like how it feels.”

His heart beats warm with familiar satisfaction, the latter events of the night slowly fading as Wei Ying draws him in. As he envelops him in his arms.

“Lan Zhan has been so good for me,” Wei Ying tells him. He kisses Lan Wangji’s forehead with reverence. “Now, tell me what your plans were for me.”

Wei Ying is too close to look at directly, but Lan Wangji still feels a little raw around the edges. He wants to see this through, but he wants to escape, too. He wants to disappear back into familiar roles.

“I wanted to watch gege to fuck himself.”

Wei Ying lets out a low groan.

“My husband has the best ideas,” he sighs, drawing Lan Wangji closer. “How would you have me?”

There are so many ways, but Lan Wangji goes with his original plan. The original set of images that first came to him. His husband will know how to put on a good performance.

“Lie down. No touching.”

“No—”

“Use this and only this.”

“Aiyah,” Wei Ying grumbles, taking the cock in hand. “So bossy, Lan Zhan.”

“Is that not what you want?”

His husband merely winks at him. “I want whatever gege wants.”

“Wei Ying—”

Wei Ying lays himself down upon the mattress, and places the jade to his lips. It would be cool to the touch, having sat on the bed for so long. Lan Wangji approves of his choice, even enjoys watching the shape of his mouth shift as Wei Ying sucks on it. With his free arm, his husband beckons him closer, opening wide to invite Lan Wangji to lay beside him. He obeys without protest, watching his husband’s throat bob and cheeks hollow as he takes the cock to his mouth. And when he finally draws it away, it is thoroughly slicked. His eyes follow the trail of spit from Wei Ying’s lower lip to the tip, to the rough shine on his mouth. He wants to touch it.

“It’s so big, gege,” Wei Ying complains, pouting. “What if it hurts?”

“It will not.”

He knows for a fact his husband can take it. He has taken it so many times. The challenge of it always excites him.

Wei Ying’s pout deepens. “What if it does this time?”

He feels his lips twitch. Wei Ying’s satisfied laugh is enough to know that was his intention. He does not mind being deceived. 

“I believe in your abilities.”

His husband raises an eyebrow with a delighted smirk. “My abilities,” he repeats, running his tongue over his bottom lip. It would have driven Lan Wangji wild, before. Now, he is just fond. “Ah—I don’t know, Lan Zhan. I think I need help.”

“Help.”

He bats his eyelashes exaggeratedly, in a way Lan Wangji cannot help but be endeared to. His husband can be so ridiculous, all for the sake of making him smile. In turn, he will try to meet him. He makes a point in rolling his eyes, if only to hear his husband laugh again.

“Lan Zhan!” Wei Ying exclaims. “Have mercy!”

“What does Wei Ying need?”

His husband’s gaze softens, and he tilts his face to accentuate the look in his eyes. The wide, wanting pleading that Lan Wangji can never deny. He wants to kiss him, right then and there. Kiss that sweet, pouting, clever mouth.

“Can I see you, gege?”

Lan Wangji can recognize his tone, his inflections. It is clear what Wei Ying wants. But something new stirs within him, emerging from the grief within. Something familiar and somewhat new. The desire to push back, to play along. To tease and not relent.

“You already can,” he says, gesturing towards his husband’s uncovered eyes.

“That’s not what I meant.”

“Say what you mean, then.”

His husband lets out an exasperated huff, rolling his eyes fondly.

“I wanna see you, Lan Zhan. All of you.”

His heartbeat quickens, ever slightly. It is not as though Wei Ying has not seen him since he gave birth to their child. It would be impossible not to, given how close they are, how much they rely upon one another. But this is a different kind of seeing. Something Wei Ying has not asked for yet. And he wants to show him, to satisfy him. To feel wanted, desired even when he cannot reciprocate. But perhaps… he is still willing to play. To make Wei Ying work for it.

“Enough talking,” he mutters, sitting up to watch him. “Put it in.”

Wei Ying’s eyes widen with mirth. “But… it’s been so long since… I’m not properly prepared.”

“Go slow, then.”

He knows Wei Ying can take it. He doesn’t need anything more.

His husband lets out a long, dramatic sigh. “If you insist.”

Wei Ying takes a few moments to breathe, another few to slick the cock with a little lubricant to ease the way. Then, he leans back into the pillows and spreads his legs. Lan Wangji watches his husband’s face transform as he slowly guides the toy inside himself. The way his mouth drops open unconsciously, the small gasp as he nudges it deeper. He winces, and Lan Wangji smoothes his hand across his forehead. Already, the heat on his face is mounting. They have barely begun.

“It’s too hard,” Wei Ying insists, shaking his head. “Lan Zhan—I can’t.”

“You have,” he reminds him gently.

“That was then! I can’t possibly be expected to—I need a little encouragement. Just a little.”

Lan Wangji raises an eyebrow. “Encouragement.”

Wei Ying nods enthusiastically, gasping as he slips the cock in a little further. “Give me something to look at, Lan Zhan! I need—visual stimulation.”

Something prickles in the back of his neck. Something stirs within him. Not quite desire, not quite burning hot enough to be, but something like it. Something that was not there before.

“…tits,” Wei Ying is saying. “One tit! I’m not fussy! Please, Lan Zhan. I need it.”

He blinks back to the scene before him.

Half a tit! Just let me see some nipple!”

A strange huff of a laugh is forced from his lips before he realizes it. Wei Ying is absolutely ridiculous. He loves him so much. For that alone, he will give in to his demands. He will give him a good view.

“Yes,” Wei Ying moans as Lan Wangji lets the robe slip from his shoulders. “Lan Zhan—you’re so hot, you know? Seriously—ah! You just… had a baby, and you get hotter? It’s not fair… I will perish! I…” He gasps again, tilting his head back. His hips shift upwards to tease the remains of the cock inside himself. “It’s so big,” he whispers again, pouting. 

Wei Ying’s praises reverberate in Lan Wangji’s ears. They are not unfamiliar, but they ring differently. In this context, in this manner. He hungers to hear them again. “You’re almost there.”

“Almost is not enough!” Wei Ying groans, writhing into the mattress. “I need… I need…”

More visual stimulation?”

“Yes!” He grinds onto the cock, shuddering. His free hand grips onto the sheets desperately as his own cock twitches. His thick thigh muscles flex as settles into the new fullness “Just a little something! A calf! A thigh! Your bush? Oh—please, I want the bush. It’s so good, Lan Zhan. I don’t think you realize how much I love it. Just wanna—”

His husband talks too much. Lan Wangji slips his fingers into his mouth to stall him.

If he is being honest with himself, he is surprised. To hear Wei Ying speak so freely, so lustfully 

Wei Ying loves him, he knows. But to love someone and to be attracted to someone are different. And he knows Wei Ying has found him attractive, but… Perhaps he thought, somewhere in the back of his mind, that Wei Ying would not as he currently is. Considering how… unavailable he has been. Considering how intimate they used to be. He thought, perhaps, something would change.

Clearly, he should have known better. That Wei Ying’s desire would be unshakeable.

And now, he should give him what he wants.

He pulls his fingers out of Wei Ying’s mouth, delighting in his sad, soft moan as he takes them away. Giving his cheek a gentle pat, he rises from the bed to remove his trousers. The heat in Wei Ying’s gaze, following his every move, makes him feel…

Something. Familiar, but different. Still unattainable.

Perhaps not forever.

Wei Ying’s cock twitches as Lan Wangji seats himself behind him. That also makes Lan Wangji feel… something. That strange something, half-familiar and different—along with the warm, smug satisfaction of being able to provide. He allows his eyes to wander, to see the evidence of his work. To find all the ways he can make his husband burn hot. Wei Ying’s gaze does not leave him as he builds a rhythm, as he thrusts the cock inside himself and back out. It does not take him long to pick a pace, just as brutal as he used to fuck Lan Wangji, just as relentless. Lan Wangji feels something stir within him, minuscule and difficult to understand but present, as he stares back. His husband moans and gasps and twitches—and he imagines himself in Wei Ying’s position.

It is strange to want something and to also still wish to reject it.

Wei Ying could come like this. Just like this, at the pace he has established, with the skill he has. He could come like this and be satisfied. But Lan Wangji wants more. He wants to be the one to make him fall apart. 

While so much remains unfamiliar, the feeling of Wei Ying’s cock in his mouth is not. He revels in its weight, its warmth. He still likes the taste. Still likes the pretty sounds he can draw from his husband’s mouth. With this, he has grown especially skilled. It does not take much effort to envelop his husband. To let him slide down his throat and fill him.

Wei Ying groans, low and appreciative. He rotates his hips, trying to maintain his own rhythm. Lan Wangji wants to make him stutter. Lifting his eyes to his husband, meeting them,  grasping firmly onto his cock and squeezing. Hollowed cheeks and a wandering tongue. Wei Ying doesn’t stand a chance against him.

Lan Wangji anticipates the sudden jerk of Wei Ying’s hips. He follows him down as his husband fills him. Does not let go, even for a moment. Wei Ying is warm all over. Inside and out, Lan Wangji feels him. He knows him.

“Lan Zhan,” he gasps, as the last of his seed fills Lan Wangji’s throat. His free hand reaches to stroke Lan Wangji’s hair. “Ah—you know just what I want.”

And this is what he loves now, what makes Lan Wangji’s heart beat. This is what he longs for—to feel fingers in his hair and hear soft praises. To be cherished and loved and wanted. To know that he is wanted.

“Come here and give me a kiss,” Wei Ying whispers.

Lan Wangji is nothing if not obedient.

“Was it good?” he asks his husband, hovering above him, making him chase his lips.

“Very good,” Wei Ying tells him with a smile, and pulls him on top of him. “Lan Zhan is my good boy, after all.”

His. Wei Ying’s. Some days, he still cannot believe it.

His husband squeezes him close, and Lan Wangji rests his face against his shoulder. Skin to skin, warm and so connected, he feels at peace. He feels close to him, in a way that sometimes feels so impossible. 

He is not good at speaking his feelings. Neither of them are practiced in being open. They try, but so often it does not feel like enough. He is so much better at showing. At being. And they have always been closer in bed above anything. He does not know how to move the wall that is so often between them.

There will be no room for that tonight. Not when they made the most of it, in spite of his shortcomings.

Eventually, Lan Wangji leaves the warmth of Wei Ying’s arms. He unties the rope and cleans them both and changes the top sheet. He gives Wei Ying water and bites of lotus seeds and detangles all the knots that had formed during their proceedings. And just when they are both tucked in, curled up in one another’s arms, just when Lan Wangji feels his eyelids droop, the baby reawakens with a plaintive cry.

Wei Ying is the first to rise, quickly rushing to the bassinet to pick up the child and cradle her. Lan Wangji remains where he is, watching his husband hold her so gently in his strong arms. Hearing him make gentle cooing sounds as he soothes and assesses her needs. He was so afraid to hold her when she was born, but he has learned so quickly. Everything he does, he does with great care—as though he was always meant to do it.

“I think she might be hungry,” he says, as he carries her back to the bed. “It’s been a while, hasn’t it?”

“Mn.”

Time passes differently when he’s with Wei Ying, but it seems about the right time for her to demand more. As his husband passes their child to him, he feels more acutely aware of the pressure in his breasts.

“There we go,” Wei Ying announces as Lan Wangji settles her in his arms, “off to Baba.”

Snug in her wrappings, all their baby can do is open her mouth and wait. Wei Ying laughs to himself as Lan Wangji adjusts so she can latch on.

“Look at her,” he murmurs, settling beside Lan Wangji on the bed. “Doesn’t she look like you?”

It’s difficult to tell, at this precise moment, with her face pressed up against Lan Wangji’s breast. It’s difficult to answer when he is quickly descending to the calm he often feels when feeding their child. There is only static in his mind, only warmth radiating from his heart. He watches her eyes move about beneath her closed eyelids. Listens to the soft sounds of her content snuffles and sighs. What is she thinking about now? What sorts of dreams does she have?

“What name do you think your uncle picked for her?”

Lan Wangji shakes his head. 

“Probably something pretty,” Wei Ying theorizes.

He is unsure what his uncle will have chosen, though he is certain he has consulted all resources at his disposal since the moment he learned of the baby’s delivery. He has certainly had time enough to find a good name. Within their limited correspondence, Lan Qiren had not given so much as a hint of what was to come—he had wanted to tell him in person. Whatever he has chosen, Lan Wangji is certain it will be good. He chose well once before, after all.

“Lan Zhan…” Wei Ying says, “do you ever wonder… what if she’s like you?”

It is certainly a possibility. Certainly something he has wondered himself. For the time being, she is their daughter, but he is aware that could someday change. And he is not keen on raising her within tradition. There is no need for it here, alone as they are.

“Shufu will want to pick a new name.”

“Did he do that for you?”

“Mn.”

He had known young enough that he never went without a courtesy name. That when he grew old enough to have one, he was called it right away. His uncle had given him everything he needed. Everything to ensure he could live. Lan Wangji will never forget that. No matter their differences, no matter their past, Lan Qiren was the first person to call him nephew. The first to call him Wangji.

“Your uncle is a good man.”

He certainly did his best, given what he had. Lan Wangji cannot fault him for that.

“I just hope…” Wei Ying says, “he’ll want you to be happy. With me….”

“He will,” Lan Wangji assures him, tearing his eyes away from their child to look into his husband’s. “Wei Ying… do not worry.”

It isn’t the most reassuring of words, but he doesn’t know what else to say at this moment. He has to trust his uncle’s intentions are good. If he does not, what is left for them? What would that mean for his family? 

Wei Ying leans his head against Lan Wangji’s shoulder, and says nothing. He does not let that bother him.


In the morning, Lan Wangji wakes to A-Yuan shaking him. The sun has barely risen, its cool yellow filtering through the slats in their windows.

“Baba,” he whispers, “it’s today!”

He blinks away the remaining fatigue from the night before, and slowly rises. Of course, A-Yuan is excited to see his uncles. He has been looking forward to it all week. Lan Wangji wishes he could share the same enthusiasm without Wei Ying’s lingering worry floating above them.

A-Yuan is an eager helper, and together they complete many of the preparations before Wei Ying has risen. Then, as a family, they burn offerings and offer prayers to their ancestors. As Lan Wangji watches the smoke rise above them, he thinks of his mother. He thinks of Wei Ying’s parents. He swallows the lump in his throat and holds A-Yuan closer. 

After, Wei Ying prepares the bath for Lan Wangji and the baby. Her first one. The emotion bubbles in his throat again as Wei Ying takes her from the water to dry her off. They have been so insulated here, alone. She has never left the confines of their home. And today, she will finally emerge into the world. There will be proof that she has survived.

None of it feels entirely real. Still. He watches Wei Ying and A-Yuan make the remaining preparations in a daze.

Later, they dress the baby in red and wrap her in a blanket for added warmth. A-Yuan rushes outside to wait for his family to appear on the horizon. Lan Wangji clutches the baby to his chest as Wei Ying walks him out of their home to follow him. To take him back into the open world.

His heart seizes as they cross the threshold. These past hundred days, Lan Wangji has not left the walls of their home, either. He has become accustomed to the safety of their rather insular lives. Here, nothing bad could ever happen to them. Here, they were safe.

They will still be safe after today. It is not like Wei Ying and A-Yuan had not left their home from time to time to buy supplies in town. But it is different to leave and return. Different still to invite people in. To invite people who, in spite of Lan Wangji’s trust, could easily harm them.

Wei Ying smoothes his hand along Lan Wangji’s back. When he turns his face to look at his husband, his smile is brighter than the sun. It stills the wild beating of his heart. No matter what, they will be alright. Their life is miraculous enough to prove that. 

“Baba!” A-Yuan yells beyond the doors of their home. “Baba, they’re coming!”

Wei Ying strokes along his back with his thumb, his smile slackening but no less bright. “You hear that, Lan Zhan?” he says softly. “It’s time.”

He nods, his heartbeat accelerating all over again. A pressure builds beneath his eyes, so he blinks to try and dispel it.

The sun is bright, the wind gentle. The world is wide. He feels its vastness in every breath. Wei Ying places a comforting hand on his hip.

“Baba, look,” A-Yuan yells as they approach him, rushing over to Lan Wangji to cling to his robes. 

It is not difficult to spot the remnants of his family, in their light blue shades, making their way towards them. They are a bright spot against the otherwise barren late winter landscape. They practically shine in the sun’s glow. Did he used to look the same to other people? He has forgotten now.

“Can I…”

“You may.”

A-Yuan does not need any more encouragement to tear down the path towards them, yelling and waving his arms, his past Lan teachings now forgotten. Wei Ying gives his hip an encouraging squeeze, before he follows A-Yuan at a much slower pace. Lan Wangji matches his husband’s step with a heavy heart, anticipation and anxiety buzzing within him. He watches as A-Yuan grows smaller across the expanse of their land, until Lan Xichen advances at a faster pace to meet him. Lan Wangji’s heart calms ever slightly when his son’s laughter sweeps into them with the wind, even more so when his uncle lifts him into his arms and carries him the rest of the way.

Wei Ying squeezes his hip again. Everything will be fine. They will be fine.

When they meet in the middle, Lan Qiren’s expression is unreadable. His eyes, shuttered away from true emotion, rake over Lan Wangji’s changed form as they make their greetings. Assessing he is alright? Judging them? Lan Wangji is unsure how apprehensive he should be. How guardedly he should behave.

His brother, however, is much easier to understand. His smile is small, but pleasant. His eyes are bright. Today, he is not sect leader in any capacity. Not in his posture, not in his face. His clothes are much simpler, his hair unadorned. His expression unguarded.

“Wangji,” he says, “Young Master Wei, thank you for inviting us.”

He swallows down his anxieties and accepts his greetings with a nod. “Thank you for coming, xiongzhang. Shufu…”

He does not know what to say.

Lan Qiren lifts to his eyes to meet Lan Wangji’s, lips parting to speak. They have never been good at talking to one another. Not even when it mattered. Sometimes, Lan Wangji finds it a marvel he ever managed to tell his uncle his true self, when closeness has never come easily to them. But now, something softens upon Lan Qiren’s face as he meets his eyes. Something old and familiar and fond.

“Wangji,” he says, and wordlessly holds out his arms. Lan Wangji understands. 

His uncle is not an emotional man, but he gulps as the baby is passed into his arms. His mouth twitches as she stares up at him, silent and awe-struck. As she takes in this new face, like and unlike Lan Wangji’s—

And screams in protest.

Lan Xichen laughs softly as Lan Wangji quickly takes the baby back. Lan Qiren clears his throat as her cries quickly die, now that she is once again safe in Lan Wangji’s arms.

“Beautiful child,” he remarks gruffly, and motions for them to go back inside. It is enough for Lan Wangji to know his uncle is happy.

The frost slowly thaws as they begin their proceedings. As he and Wei Ying present them with red eggs and pickled ginger. Lan Qiren even looks Wei Ying in the eye as he presents the tokens to him. And his family in turn produces gifts wrapped in red cloth. Gold bangles, a jade token, new robes for when she is older. A longevity lock attached to a silver chain. Lan Qiren gives her the name Huang, the character for phoenix, and Lan Wangji knows in his heart that it is the only name she could have.

“Wei Huang,” he whispers, holding her close. Wei Ying places a hand on her newly-shaven head and smiles. His tears shine, but do not fall. Across the table, Lan Xichen smiles at him. 

It is not a perfect scene, but Lan Wangji feels calm. Here, with his family, he dares to hope for the future.


“A-Huang,” Wei Ying whispers, later that night, pinching her little cheek with affection. “Wei Huang. Huang-er, aren’t you the most beautiful baby?”

“She is,” Lan Wangji agrees from across the room as he undresses.

It was a good day, overall. Oftentimes tense, but otherwise good. It will likely take time for his family to fully accept Wei Ying as his husband. Lan Wangji is willing to wait, if they at least try to understand him.

Wei Ying hums in agreement, and tickles her cheek some more. “Your uncle must not hate me,” he observes.

They did not have a chance to speak alone, but Lan Qiren’s silence is an acceptance in and of itself. If he were truly opposed to their marriage, he would not have even come. He would not have agreed to name their child.

“Wei Ying is too loveable.”

“Ha!” Wei Ying exclaims, settling Huang-er in her bassinet. “Of course, you say that. As my husband.”

“Lying is forbidden,” he reminds him as Wei Ying quickly joins him. His arms snake around his middle, pulling Lan Wangji until his back rests against his chest. His bared skin warming, and Wei Ying enveloping him—he recalls nights like this when he was still pregnant. Wei Ying’s hands against his growing belly, his head upon his shoulder. The way his hands would wander to cup his breasts. The way he would nibble at his earlobe, urge him to bed.

Now, Wei Ying merely holds him. His heart feels strangely empty to remember. With everything they have been given, it feels wrong to want more. To mourn it, even. But these past days have been difficult to navigate, have been unfamiliar in so many ways. He longs for old comforts. He longs to feel closer to his husband. He wants…

His hands encase Wei Ying’s. It seems he will always want something. He is incapable of stopping, now that he has started. His heart was never meant to take this.

Slowly, he takes hold of his husband’s hands, and guides them to his breasts. His husband makes a questioning noise in the back of his throat, but does nothing. Lets Lan Wangji place them.

His hands are warm, but that is all there is. No rush of excitement, no burning need for more. Just…

“Lan Zhan?”

He lets go, his heart sinking anew.

“Ah,” Wei Ying sighs, resting his hands on Lan Wangji’s stomach, “I can practically hear you thinking, er-gege. What is it?”

Wei Ying asks so easily. He does not tell with the same freedom. Lan Wangji can neither ask nor tell with much ease. Especially not now.

“Lan Zhan?”

He swallows down the soreness in his throat, and laces their fingers together. Callouses against callouses, worn in different ways. Marks of their shared life, of their labour to keep it. They are together, above all else—he cannot forget how precious that is. The hardest part is over.

“Do you miss it?” he asks, squeezing.

“What?”

He feels his ears heat. Wei Ying likely has such a pleasant view of that.

“Fucking me.”

Wei Ying lets in a sharp breath, and sighs.

“Of course not, Lan Zhan.”

“You did not like it, then?”

He knows that is not what Wei Ying means, but he cannot stop himself. This week has been difficult, and Wei Ying was not with him. Not in the way he needed. And it would have been better if—

“Gege,” Wei Ying whispers, stroking his stomach, “that’s not what I meant.”

He does not want to argue. He does not know what he wants. Only to be with Wei Ying. Only for things to be simpler.

“I know,” he concedes. “I apologize.”

“Don’t be sorry,” Wei Ying says gently. “I told you before, I love you. I want to be with you, however you want to be. If I never touch you like that again, I’ll be happy. Your body is still recovering from… well, you know. Pushing a baby out. Ha. It’s normal, Lan Zhan.”

He knows this. He was told, before giving birth, that it could happen. But knowing and experiencing are two very different things. He was not prepared to grieve it.

“I miss it,” he admits. The weight of the words wash over it. “I miss it. But…”

“You don’t want it,” Wei Ying supplies.

He nods. His husband hums sympathetically.

“It’s not forever.”

He knows, and yet…

“I just…” he whispers without thinking. Without carefully organizing his feelings. “I miss feeling… you have been distant, recently. And in the past, when you were, we…”

“Ah.”

Wei Ying’s lips graze against his shoulder. He holds him closer.

“I am not good with words,” he concludes dully.

“I know, er-gege,” Wei Ying says.

“I needed you.”

Wei Ying hums softly. “I know.”

“Did you?”

It is easier to speak when they cannot see one another. Wei Ying breathes again. His hands still on Lan Wangji’s bare stomach.

“No, Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying admits. “You seemed very much the same. Aren’t we a pair?”

Lan Wangji hums in agreement as his husband laughs softly.

“I didn’t want to worry you,” Wei Ying says.

“I worried.”

“Perhaps we can both do better to voice our concerns.”

“Perhaps.”

Wei Ying laughs again. “Don’t sound so morose, Lan Zhan. There are worse fates.”

There are. They have already endured them.

“Let’s get in bed, hm?” Wei Ying suggests. “Tomorrow is a new day. We can talk about it more, alright? Let me hold you tonight.”

There is nothing he wants more.


“She looks like him,” Lan Qiren says.

He glances down at Huang-er in his lap, and considers it. She is still too young, in his opinion, to look like anyone.

“Is that a problem?”

Lan Qiren drinks his tea instead of answering. His stomach twists as he watches him. Lan Wangji has already made his choices, has already found peace with them—but there is still a strange ache within him. A strange need for approval from someone who once guided him. No matter how his uncle failed him, no matter how they differ in opinion—some days Lan Wangji is still a boy who desperately wants to be shown the way. Some days, he does not want to be alone as he has been.

“He is good to you.”

Lan Wangji nods, and takes a sip of his own tea.

“Wei Ying is very dedicated.”

His uncle nods. Sharp precise. His eyes narrow with thought. Lan Wangji watches him purse his lips, and take a few more sips, before daring to speak once again.

“I am merely worried,” he says.

Lan Wangji sets his jaw. Waits for the blow to land.

“What if he leaves you, Wangji? What if this is all a ruse to—”

“He will not leave me.”

It is rude to interrupt, but they are not in Cloud Recesses any longer. He is not who he used to be.

“Wangji—”

“Wei Ying and I are married. We are zhiji. He will not leave me.”

“Wangji,” Lan Qiren tries again with a sigh, “your faith is admirable, but remember who—”

I know Wei Ying,” he snaps, and quickly lowers his voice when Huang-er stirs in his lap. She is dozing so peacefully now.

His uncle clenches his jaw with a long, drawn exhale. He closes his eyes for a moment.

“I just,” he says, weary. “I do not wish to see you suffer.”

“I already have.”

He bites the inside of his cheek, but it is too late to take it back. His uncle lets out a long sigh, shoulders hunching ever slightly. Like this, he is suddenly much older. Suddenly frail. Lan Wangji’s heart twists. But lying is forbidden, and Lan Wangji has only ever tried to be honest. And nothing will ever compare to losing Wei Ying once. Not even the lashes upon his back.

“I would rather be with him,” Lan Wangji continues, “even if I am hurt for it.”

He would let Wei Ying deceive him, if it meant he had been given more time with him. Even if it was untrue, Lan Wangji would welcome it. And he knows in his heart that it isn’t, anyway. Wei Ying is as steadfast as the sunrise. Now that he has returned, he will never leave him.

Lan Qiren bows his head, defeated, and once again Lan Wangji’s heart aches to be trusted. To be told he made the right decision. Once again, he longs to know he is good.

“Shufu,” he whispers. He curls his hand into a fist to restrain himself from reaching for him. He has not touched him like that since he was very young. They are not the sort of family that touches. Wei Ying has truly changed him.

“I should have known this was happening,” Lan Qiren says, lifting his head. “When you left.”

“What would it have mattered?”

His uncle shakes his head. 

“I wish for your happiness.”

The tightness in his heart slowly lessens. It is not acceptance, but it is close to it. Perhaps it is all his uncle can give. They are both rather proud, after all. Lan Wangji learned that from him.

“I am getting older,” he says, with a sharp intake of breath. “I should travel south in the cold months. For my health.”

A small flicker of hope awakens. As he listens to what his uncle is not saying.

“Shufu needs to take care of himself,” he says carefully.

“Yes, quite. It is settled, then.”

“Yes.”

He is certain if his uncle were anyone else, he would wink. But that is not their way.

“I would also like to be notified when… you are expecting. Again.”

When. Not if.

He bows his head to hide his smile.

“This one will do his duty.”