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doing the wrong thing wholeheartedly

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Wei Wuxian swung his feet up on his desk, tilting his chair back to the verge of toppling over as he twirled a pen between his fingers. He was the picture of casual nonchalance. But though he didn’t look it, he was one wrong word away from leaping across the aisle between cubicles and strangling his least favorite co-worker. Cultivators weren’t supposed to have to worry about things like blood pressure, but Lan Wangji had been put on this earth to test him.

“I know you hate me, but can you really not see how many people this would help?” He asked in a lazy drawl guaranteed to make Lan Wangji give him an excuse to annoy him into apoplexy.

Spiritual Rights, the non-profit cultivation corporation they worked at, had recently come into a large donation that could change everything. Since Xiao Xingchen and Song Lan founded Spiritual Rights five years ago — only to hand over management as soon as someone (Wen Qing) who understood how to do things like “taxes” and “making a budget” came along — Spiritual Rights had focused exclusively on providing exorcism services to low-income citizens.

Exorcisms from companies like Golden Unicorn Cultivation were expensive, prohibitive for all but the wealthy. And since the government’s official position was that supernatural threats were uniformly the fault of the haunted, and therefore not subject to government services, a whole lot of people were left out in the cold. That was essentially his entire motivation for leaving his position in R&D at Lotus Talisman Creations. Providing basic cultivation services to people who’d purchased haunted houses because it was all they could afford suited him.

But now Wei Wuxian wanted to do more, to give people the ability to protect themselves, at least from minor threats. For that, he needed equipment — a talisman printing press, and a laboratory space proofed against, well, anything he might do wrong.

He’d been waiting for the chance to present his idea for years. This was the first time Spiritual Rights had funds for anything beyond basic services and employee salaries since its founding. And in one sentence, Lan Wangji ruined everything.

“Wei Wuxian’s plan is undeveloped, ill-advised, and a waste of money we all know could be put to better use.” Lan Wangji had said as soon as Wei Wuxian flipped to the questions slide. And that was that. All his preparation gone to waste.

“It is better to ensure existing services continue to be provided than to risk limited funds on a gamble,” Lan Wangji said primly, his back perfectly straight, not pausing in typing to reply.

“My proposal doesn’t risk ‘existing services’ and you know it.” Wei Wuxian said. “You just don’t like it because I came up with it.” He wasn’t the pettier of the two, he’d given Lan Wangji plenty of chances to make up for their unfortunate first meeting. But for every olive branch he tried to offer, Lan Wangji only doubled down.

Until Wei Wuxian accepted they were nemeses for life.

Lan Wangji turned his nose up and hmphed — but added, “Your proposal, if successful, would require future allocation of resources. It depends on the possibility of additional donations. Expanding services provides a measurable benefit, and can be scaled back in the event of short funds without impacting our current range.”

That Lan Wangji could never resist responding to Wei Wuxian was proof he annoyed him the most, in his opinion. Lan Wangji didn’t bother to respond to Su She from Golden Unicorn Cultivation when he said, well, anything at all. Wei Wuxian was thoroughly under his skin — and he liked it that way.

Besides, he had a plan for that. Simply put, the main expense of talisman production was the upfront cost of a talisman-compatible printing press. Making more was just a matter of ink and paper. Research —expanding their offerings without stepping on Lotus Creations’ patents — was a bigger cost, but if funds ran dry, they could continue to offer existing talismans and cut new development instead.

He… could maybe have a better plan for that.

“Providing low-cost talismans that don’t require spiritual energy to activate is a good idea and you know it. It could help far more people than Spiritual Rights is currently capable of,” he said anyway. Because it was true.

Lan Wangji sniffed haughtily. “It could. If you did not burn down our offices in making them.”

“I accidentally put a scrap of aluminum foil in the microwave one time and the microwave didn’t even catch fire,” Wei Wuxian protested. A tiny scrap stuck to his left over bao when he unwrapped them.

“Because I noticed.”

Lan Wangji had vaulted across the room before Wei Wuxian even had the chance to hit the stop button. It was like Lan Wangji was obsessed with him or something, constantly looking over his shoulder to catch every little mistake and point it out, even the slightest typo. “Sure, it’s because I’m a hazard to all life on Earth and not because you like winning against me.”

“You said it, not me,” Mianmian said, leaning against Lan Zhan’s desk. “Boss wants to see you.”

Even though they’d been dating for almost three years, Mianmian insisted on calling Wen Qing ‘Boss’ at work. Wei Wuxian thought he was better off not knowing if that was a thing for them.

“Me or him?” Wei Wuxian asked.

“Both of you,” Mianmian said, which had to be a mistake.

Wei Wuxian had thought they were through with co-workers complaining about their arguments since Lan Wangji bought them all noise-canceling headphones.

If they didn’t want them to argue, they should just have Lan Wangji work from home, like he clearly wanted to, and also never let them sit in on the same meetings.

(Wei Wuxian would never suggest such a thing, of course. Much as he would never admit it, arguing with Lan Wangji was the highlight of his day.)

He trailed Lan Wangji to Wen Qing’s office, the only private one on their floor of the building, and collapsed into a hard-backed chair. In contrast to the low-walled cubicles in the main space, her office was decorated with all the traditional trappings expected of a cultivator, with an ornate desk (picked up from an antique shop) and calligraphy on the walls. Wen Ning’s sword was also mounted on the wall behind her since he had little use for it.

Wen Qing herself was in perpetual business casual, wearing one of her many combinations of red slacks and bell-sleeved blouses. All of it designed for their donors to take her seriously from the first introduction, though she was an oddity in a field otherwise run by men like her uncle, Jin Guangshan, and that lesser of evils, Jiang Fengmian.

“We’ve just received an urgent request for assistance.” Wen Qing informed them once Lan Wangji had arranged himself in the second chair to his own satisfaction. “Congratulations, you’ll be headed to the beach to hunt down a sea monster. Our client, the town mayor, wanted to contact us weeks ago, but Yao Corp, an energy corporation building a new oil well off the town’s coast, convinced them everything was under control. Only now the town’s desperate.”

Same old story.

Except.

“Sorry, I thought I heard you say we’d be working together,” Wei Wuxian said.

Which couldn’t be right. That would be insane. He would inevitably irritate Lan Wangji into a killing rage before the day was through.

“You heard correctly,” The alien who’d clearly replaced Wen Qing said flatly. It was the only possible explanation for even suggesting the idea. Either the alien hadn’t replaced her for long enough to realize pairing them together was a disaster waiting to happen, or their new alien overlords were after the destruction of the human race.

… It was possible Wei Wuxian had watched a horror movie last night. But his point stood: something was very, very wrong with Wen Qing.

Aghast, he protested, “Surely you haven’t forgotten what happened last time.”

“How you overturned a truck full of custard on the highway?” After getting in a high-speed chase with a demon impersonating a town mayor – who’d made his escape by stealing said truck – because they were to busy staring each other down to notice the demon sneaking away. They’d had to clean the wreck and resultant spillage up themselves in one night to avoid a fine Spiritual Rights couldn’t afford. “No, I haven’t. But I trust you’ve learned from your mistakes.”

Wei Wuxian didn’t.

Lan Wangji just sat their primly, his expression not so much as twitching. But an air of doubt emanated from him.

“Isn’t there literally anyone else he could go with?” Wei Wuxian asked. Usually, Lan Wangji worked with Mianmian, and Wei Wuxian worked with whoever was available, since he got along with everyone not named Lan. “I have to revamp my proposal now, since he shut it down.”

Wen Qing was unswayed.

“Xiao Xingchen and Song Lan already have an assignment. And it’s Mianmian’s anniversary this weekend. With me.” They had plans to order takeout and stay in for the night, which was also what Wei Wuxian would like to be doing that weekend, albeit with more binging dramas and less sex, considering his tragically single state. “Everyone else has their own assignments or kids expecting to see them home tonight. Unless you’re suggesting I should send A-Ning out in the field with Lan Wangji?”

Wen Ning worked as their receptionist, never in the field. Unlike his sister, he wasn’t a powerful cultivator, growing up more interested in computers and archery than Daoist theory and swords. He could more than hold his own from a distance, but no one could guarantee the monster could be kept there. Or if it would even be corporeal.

“Now that’s a low blow.”

“Then you’ll go, and you’ll deal with it,” she pronounced his fate.

“Wen Qiiiingggggg,” he whined. How could his old friend do this to him? Sure, she’d hired Lan Wangji in the first place, but she was supposed to be on his side.

She raised a single brow.

Wei Wuxian stood, and yelped as his forehead banged into Lan Wangji’s. Neither of them moved back immediately, too surprised to react. He was close enough to see the subtle difference in shade of Lan Wangji’s irises, to see his tongue behind parted lips and notice it was stained red with the sickly-sweet strawberry candy he thought no one knew he hid a stash of in his desk, hidden between the folders of a meticulously filed drawer.

It was the proof that Lan Wangji wasn’t perfect that mesmerized him. Nothing else.

“If you’re going to have hate sex please do so on the way to your assignment. You’ll find the details in you email.” Wen Qing said.

He gaped at her, his traitorous mind imagining what it might be like to tear Lan Wangji out of his pretty, hanfu-inspired clothes. Despite his best efforts, Wei Wuxian’s bi ass was not immune to unparalleled beauty. He only belatedly managed the appropriate horror. “Ewww, what?”

To his surprise, Lan Wangji did not reply with a reminder of work-appropriate language, and merely spun on his heel.

A minute later he stood at his desk, staring down into the desk drawer at his emergency qiankun bags, shellshocked.

At least Lan Wangji also looked like he was being sent to the guillotine. He glanced at the time on his phone. “We must leave now if we are to catch the train. The bus to the station will arrive in two minutes.”

Lan Wangji wore shirts with lose sleeves for the express purpose of storing qiankun bags, so he made for the door without checking whether Wei Wuxian was behind him.

Wei Wuxian had to scramble to tie his qiankun bags to his belt and sprint out the door after him. Lan Wangji frowned ever so slightly as Wei Wuxian jumped onto the bus, slipping in just before the doors closed. He grinned widely, and Lan Zhan couldn’t even move away, the bus was so packed.

Downside to that — they were packed so close together they had no choice but to breath each other’s air, and Wei Wuxian was not pleased to discover Lan Wangji had excellent taste in perfume.

Sandalwood, but not overpowering.

The train was largely empty and was likely to stay that way. It was too early in the season for a tourist rush — kids still in school, water too cold for swimming, wind too cold for comfortable tanning — so Wei Wuxian was free to sprawl across a pair of seats all for himself.

He expected Lan Wangji to take the seats across the aisle, sitting stiff and proper while he reviewed the case file and snapped at Wei Wuxian for not taking things seriously. He started prepping a list of ways to tell Lan Wangji to remove the stick from his ass, only for Lan Wangji to sweep past him without a glance, taking a row at the front of the car. He didn’t even look around when Wei Wuxian called his name.

Rude.

Pouting, Wei Wuxian scooted down in his seat, throwing his legs over the armrest so Lan Wangji would assume he was slacking off if he glanced back. Leaving Lan Wangji’s assumptions intact while he did, in fact, do his job and review the file.

 

The day Lan Wangji joined Spiritual Rights, Wei Wuxian made the mistake of trying to save his life.

It wasn’t every day that the ghost of someone fucked over by capitalism possessed a cash register and started using coins as projectiles against the CEO responsible for their death, but it also wasn’t the first time Wei Wuxian had witnessed it. Honestly, he would have let the ghost have its revenge if it’d had any remaining awareness of bystanders.

But he — having the misfortune to be standing behind said CEO in line for his morning coffee, naive to any evildoing beyond his crocodile leather dress shoes — narrowly dodged a one-yuan coin that proceeded to punch a hole through the window.

“Everyone down!” He shouted, and with varying levels of confusion, everyone did, asshole CEO included. This was not the first time his actions had come back to literally haunt him, it turned out. Everyone except the gorgeous person with a long braid picking up their drink from the counter.

Wei Wuxian tackled the person he would soon learn was Lan Wangji, only to find a guqin suddenly between them when he reached the ground.

Lan Wangji shoved him off and quickly calmed the ghost with a hauntingly beautiful tune, persuading it into a box for eventual liberation. It seemed impossible Wei Wuxian could have thought him anything but a cultivator, with the look of absolute focus on his face, the power he unleashed blowing back his long hanfu-inspired pale blue shirt to expose white slacks.

For a few brief minutes, Wei Wuxian was in love.

Then he actually met him.

Wei Wuxian bounded over to lean against the counter as soon as the ghost was gone. “That was some impressive musical cultivation. You know, I —”

“You were lucky today, but trying to be a hero gets people killed.” Lan Wangji held his arms clasped stiffly behind his back, his head tilted so it seemed like he was looking down his nose at him. “You exhibited behavior that a ten-year-old obsessed with tales of honor would be ashamed of today.”

Wei Wuxian made an aborted attempt to explain. “You don’t —”

Lan Wangji – Wei Wuxian mentally rebranded him as Gorgeous Asshole — cut him off. Again. “You were lucky. I recommend you go home and watch the Lan Qiren series of supernatural safety videos.”

As if everyone wasn’t made to watch those snoozefests at some point during school, on an assembly day packed into the hard, uncomfortable bleachers for hours. “I’d rather get a root canal than listen to Old Man Lan drone on for days again.” In Wei Wuxian’s defense, he hadn’t known Lan Wangji’s name, much less that Lan Qiren was his uncle. “Passed that class once, thank you, with flying colors. Because — and I know you’ll find this hard to believe --”

“I find it difficult to believe you have passed anything with flying colors in your life.” Lan Wangji delivered this devastating blow without a single change of pitch, or so Wei Wuxian had thought at the time. “Stay here, and do not move until the authorities arrive.”

Lan Wangji went to check on the other customers, turning to glare at Wei Wuxian any time he so much as breathed toward one of the other customers.

Well fine then.

Everyone was clearly fine, just a little rattled. He wasn’t needed here.

He didn’t feel like clarifying matters anymore, and didn’t intend to stick around for the authorities to show up. Like he was going to stick around and talk to the cops and whichever Golden Unicorn cultivator showed up when he wasn’t even the one who’d dealt with the ghost. After his morning?

Yeah, no thanks.

He started toward the door, and when Lan Wangji grabbed his wrist, Wei Wuxian looked him in the eye as he broke his grip. Lan Wangji’s eyes widened, realizing the truth too late, and then Wei Wuxian was out the door without another look back.

He picked up a coffee in a mediocre shop closer to work, and an hour later he showed up. Walking onto Wei Wuxian’s home territory through the front door with his stupid, beautiful, expressionless face like he had any right to be there.

“Did you get lost on the way to Golden Unicorn Tower?” He sniped, unthinking, before he knew they would have to work together for the foreseeable future.

Lan Wangji’s gaze snapped to meet his, burning into the core of him with an unquenchable fire. Wei Wuxian knew then that he’d insulted him deeply. He did not yet know he was already addicted to the feeling of drawing Lan Wangji out from behind his walls where he couldn’t hide that brilliant fire.

He did not yet know how much he would savor being the only one who could bring out that side of him.

Wen Qing banged a binder against his desk, making him jump. Lan Wangji, damn him, didn’t. “Wei Wuxian, good you’re here on time for once. I thought you’d like to meet our newest hire. This is Lan Wangji, he…” She frowned, looking between them. “…do you two know each other?”

If by know each other she meant know enough of each other to desire violence, then yes.

“You could say that.” Wei Wuxian sent his pen spinning up into the air and caught it on the way back down, already turning it through his fingers again.

Lan Wangji followed the movements of his fingers with his eyes for a long moment before contradicting him. “We do not. I would never work for Jin Guangshan.”

She raised a brow in confusion. “I wouldn’t have hired you if I thought you would?”

Wen Qing would get the full story out of him later, of course, and better understand his reaction. But in that moment, she was in the dark. “I hope you won’t let Wei Wuxian color your opinion of us too poorly. We’re looking forward to having you join us.”

“It is good to know that some of my co-workers understand the concept of professionalism.” Lan Wangji managed to sneer at him without noticeably moving his mouth when Wen Qing wasn’t looking.

Wei Wuxian was, despite all appearances, a professional. He apologized. He was polite to Lan Wangji in meetings and at first, ignored him outside them. He did his job, and did it well.

But no matter how well Wei Wuxian’s methods worked, Lan Wangji’s opinion of him never improved. After a while, he just decided to lean into it. If the hottest person he’d ever seen was going to hate him, Wei Wuxian might as well get some entertainment out of it.

 

A short, nervous woman greeted them at the station. Despite the sign she was holding, Lan Wangji nearly walked right past her in an effort to leave Wei Wuxian in his dust. This was the mayor of the town, who seemed an unlikely choice for the position at first.

Their destination was a quaint seaside town that still survived off of the fishing trade, and had a small, seasonal tourist industry, favored by those who genuinely wanted peace, quiet, and relaxation. The town was a charming maze of centuries old courtyard houses to wind through on the way toward the beach.

At least, it was supposed to be peaceful. Wei Wuxian wouldn’t have guessed it the case file hadn’t said so.

There was exactly one shopping street, with little modern cafes and traditional restaurants. And he could scarcely see the storefronts for the people. The street overflowed with people, dining at outdoor terrasses and filling the stores to bursting.

The mayor sighed, wiping a handkerchief across her forehead.

“Not happy about the business?” Wei Wuxian asked.

“Under ordinary circumstances, this many tourists would be cause for celebration.” The mayor said. “But currently… It’s impossible to sustain this level of visitors without local seafood. No one has a contract with an outside seafood supplier, prices aren’t calculated for that level of expense. The stores don’t have their full range of merchandise available either, because the stock for the summer hasn’t yet arrived.”

“It sounds like this sea monster is harming more than just the fishermen.”

“I just wish I could make that Yao Corp understand you can’t sue a sea monster.” The mayor grimaced. “They kept trying to convince us that everything is under control, but the more of their boats and drones it destroys, trying to keep the construction of their platform going despite the risk, the more publicity the sea monster gets.”

 

The beach would have been lovely if he could actually see it.

A crowd of tourists jostled for a view of the water, cameras at the ready, but not taking pictures of anything.

Something peaked its head out of the water, but when it turned out to be a dolphin, they slumped and lowered their cameras.

“Are they… looking for the sea monster?”

“That’s what they’re in town for. We never see this many people even at the height of summer.” The mayor shook her head mournfully. “They’ll drive our town to ruin and wreck our beaches in the process.”

As she spoke, one of the monster chasers, in a horribly ugly visor, tossed a half-full open plastic bottle of hard iced tea onto the rocks. Lan Wangji split off to pick it up, and emerged from the rocks with a few other bottles in a plastic bag, and the plastic yokes of a six pack of beers.

“Remind me how many turtles and seals get caught in those things every year?” Wei Wuxian said loudly.

Lan Wangji spouted the statistics off the top of his head.

“Always cut your six pack rings and stick them in a closed recycling can!” Wei Wuxian yelled after the monster chasers, earning only a few annoyed looks. There was even a sign nearby to remind them, with a big red X through a set of yokes and a cartoon turtle giving a thumbs up. “Is the beach here a nesting ground?”

“Yes, for Hawksbill turtles.” The mayor said.

“Well, these tourists should stop trying to get the perfect shot of a monster and appreciate the turtles more.” They were endangered — like all the species except the flatback turtles in the South Pacific – and adorable. Wei Wuxian grumbled under his breath. “I can’t imagine the new oil well off the coast will be good for their population.”

“Ah, no.” The mayor wiped at her forehead again. “We’ve had several protests from environmental groups, for more reasons than just the Hawksbills, though they were the face of it.”

Cute animals always were.

The platform of the well was visible just a kilometer off the coast, past a steep drop off into the deep waters of the bay.

Wei Wuxian knew a hundred different ways to sink it before the well was drilled.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t why they were there.

 

The problem started with the fishing, the mayor explained as they walked off the beach and onto a tree-covered path along the shore. Fishermen came back from a day’s work with little to nothing to show for their efforts. And for a town whose livelihood depended on its wild-caught fishing industry, that quickly became a problem.

Then the boats started being destroyed.

None of the fishermen had been killed, carried back on the waves to the shore. But the same couldn’t be said for the construction workers on the oil rig.

A scaled, serpentine body had been spotted by one of the fishermen — and in came all the monster chasers.

Wei Wuxian knew most of this from the file, of course, but he welcomed the opportunity to pretend this was his first time hearing it. For the sake of Lan Wangji’s poor opinion of him, of course.

Golden Unicorn had been called in by the oil company, Yao Corp, but they had a few days leeway.

Wei Wuxian didn’t give a shit about the oil company’s losses, of course, but the workers were innocent of wrongdoing beyond taking what opportunities they could to feed their families, the fishermen needed to be able to do their jobs. If the opportunity came about to stop the drilling before it commenced, great.

He gazed contemplatively out at sea. The mayor’s voice was drowned out by the crashing of waves and the squawking of seagulls.

“Do not sink the oil platform,” Lan Wangji’s voice startled him back to the present. He was windswept, strands of hair flying free from his braid. The setting sun shrouded him in a halo of light, catching on those loose strands, making him glow. Because of course it did.

“Huh?” Wei Wuxian shook his head until his thoughts came unstuck from wherever they’d wandered off to while his eyes were being held hostage by his least favorite co-worker. “I didn’t say anything about sinking the oil platform!”

But you thought about it, Lan Wangji’s eyes said. And that was true.

“What and you haven’t?” He said, half certain it was true even before Lan Wangji looked away, guilty.

“Thank you for the tour.” Lan Wangji told the mayor. “I believe we should check in to our hotel before investigating more thoroughly.”

The mayor was quick to take her opportunity to retreat. Most people were, when they met Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji together. “Please let my office know if there is anything we can do to make your investigation easier. Our primary goal at the moment is to restore our town’s way of life.”

Wei Wuxian promised they would, and they were left unsupervised.

 

Things only got worse when they arrived at the hotel.

When they arrived, one of the monster chasers was well into a tirade about the hotel’s apparent lack of hospitality for not including free dinner with a night’s stay when they arrived, and would have continued for a long while longer were it not for the withering power of Lan Wangji’s glare.

“What do you mean only the honeymoon suite is left?” Wei Wuxian was outraged. He didn’t yell at the poor receptionist, of course. But he was internally shaking his fist at the heavens.

“I’m really sorry about this, but it was all we could do to reserve it for you.” The receptionist sounded genuinely apologetic, which he put down to gratefulness for Lan Wangji’s glaring. Which was now directed back at its usual and proper target, Wei Wuxian, the only known person who could weather it without breaking. “Everything else in town is completely booked. The honeymoon suite is the most expensive, and the monster chasers wanted more affordable lodgings. The owner is comping it for you for your services to the town, don’t worry!”

That was not his worry. But he was being ridiculous.

Surely a suite would at least have two beds. Preferably in different rooms.

But no.

“Only one bed,” he said aloud, and grimaced at the same time as Lan Wangji. He’d caught Lan Wangji immersed in AO3 on his lunch break more than once. Though he’d never bothered him then – coming between a man and his smut would be like interrupting a sacred ritual.

That wasn’t the worst part.

The suite was located in a cabin on a cliff, with large glass windows looking out over the water. Convenient for night hunting. But there the benefits ended.

The sheets on the bed were a deep scarlet, with white petals scattered over them. The decor, too, was heart themed, like a Valentine’s display had exploded everywhere. Heart shaped mirrors on the walls, in the bathroom, on the ceiling over the bed. Plastic red ones popping out from the wall in multiple places. And the crowning feature: a hot tub in the middle of the room shaped like — you guessed it — a heart.

“Who in their right mind would think this is romantic?” Wei Wuxian asked, a rhetorical question as Lan Wangji was absorbed in checking the love seat with its, yes, heart shaped cushions, for a pull-out bed. Frowning, Lan Wangji picked up the in-room phone and dialed reception like some kind of grandpa.

While Lan Wangji dealt with their situation, Wei Wuxian inspected the hot tub. It was deep in the center, so the water line would come up to about his chest if he knelt there, with a bench around the edges. At the point, a slope inclined up from the bench for a comfortable recline. Ingenious, if one’s purpose was bathtub sex.

Which the universe seemed to think his should be.

There was even a note:

The Tub of Romance has been thoroughly disinfected for your pleasure. The complimentary lube and condoms are waterproof. Please do not hesitate to make use of them! If you need advice on having successful bathtub sex, please see the manual in the bedside drawer. To Happy Endings! 😘

There were indeed condoms and a bottle of travel-sized lube in a bowl, atop a bed of rose petals. A hysterical laugh caught in Wei Wuxian’s throat.

“There are no cots available.” Lan Wangji announced, hanging up in disgust.

The loveseat wasn’t long enough for either of them, much less to be comfortable. And Wei Wuxian wasn’t about to sleep on the floor for Lan Wangji’s comfort.

He jumped onto the bed and made himself at home, reclining against the pillows with his hands behind his head.

“You do not expect me to sleep on the floor.” Lan Wangji protested.

He grinned, unabashed. “Guess we’ll have to share.”

Lan Wangji tapped his foot against the ground, like he’d just barely stopped himself from stamping it. But sleep in the same bed they did. After Lan Wangji removed every petal from the sheets, one by one, and threw them in the bin.

 

Wei Wuxian woke, disoriented, to the bed dipping beneath him. It had been a long time since he last dated someone seriously enough to wake up next to them. The movement startled him awake.

He peeled his eyes open for long enough to see Lan Wangji hurrying into the bathroom. Seconds later, the water turned on, followed too quickly by a gasp. Like he hadn’t waited for the water to warm up before jumping in.

Huh.

The clock read 5 am.

Nope.

Wei Wuxian drifted back to sleep for a blissful three more hours, any cold showers that might or might not have been taken by rivals forgotten.

 

Lan Wangji brought him breakfast, returning as Wei Wuxian tied the laces of his boots, though he’d assumed Lan Wangji had gone out to investigate without him.

Wei Wuxian looked down at the reusable thermos and paper pastry bag Lan Wangji offered him, and back up at Lan Wangji’s sculpture-like scowl. “Is this poisoned?”

“Don’t ask stupid questions,” Lan Wangji was as testily monotonous as ever.

Which did not make it less suspicious.

“So yes.” Wei Wuxian opened the bag to find a pair of large bao, still warm, and wasted no time biting into one.

Red bean, Lan Wangji’s favorite. So he’d just gotten extra then, to spare him the wait after Wei Wuxian finally woke up at a normal human hour. That made more sense. He’d probably gotten him tea, so he could pretend that was an acceptable substitute and act huffy when Wei Wuxian made a two-minute detour for basic filter coffee.

He took a sip from the thermos and looked up in surprise — iced black coffee. No sugar, no milk, as bitter as his marriage prospects. Just the way he liked it. Lan Wangji didn’t drink coffee. It would take him ages to get the residue out for his tea.

If he squinted, Lan Wangji might be smirking. “It is my least favorite spare thermos. Their cups were made from non-recycled plastic.”

Oh, of course. He hadn’t thought for even a second that this might be a sign Lan Wangji was thawing toward him. There was no reason for the sound of his heartbeat to echo in his ears at the brief resurrection of the hope he’d staked through the heart so many times over. “Ah, Lan Wangji finds sharing a thermos with his nemesis preferable to pollution? If we didn’t hate each others’ guts, we’d be such great friends.”

“Let’s not waste more time.” Lan Wangji pulled his signature move: turning like a model on a runway, and striding away.

Wei Wuxian chased after him with the laces of his left boot still hanging loose. If he tripped, he would make sure to fall on Lan Wangji so the coffee — no longer scalding, but fully capable of staining pastels — spilled on him. “Yeah, sure. Early bird gets the worm and all that.”

“It is nearly nine am.” Lan Wangji pointed out, like he wasn’t the only person who made it into the office that early. Most hauntings happened at night. Maintaining a 9 to 5 work schedule was useless for a cultivator.

“Right. Early. Shall we talk to the fishermen first?”

 

Only a few of the fishermen were at the docks, located just off to the side of a small pier with a Ferris wheel and shuttered stalls advertising fresh caught seafood that hadn’t had the supplies to open for weeks. They approached two weathered men sitting in one of the tethered boats, optimistically hanging fishing lines off the edge, though the bucket sitting at their side was empty, and the younger of the two had a broken arm. Fishing nets lay abandoned in the belly of the boat.

The men were happy for the chance to complain to fresh ears, inviting them to take a seat in the boat to discuss. Wei Wuxian joined them, sprawling out along the wooden bench opposite them. Lan Wangji remained standing on the dock, his hands behind his back, staring off into the sky. Typical.

“We can’t get more than fifty meters out before we’re pushed back to shore with a hole in the bottom of the boat, if it’s not destroyed outright,” the elder told him, as he offered a half-empty box of pocky to Wei Wuxian. He took one, and gave his thanks.

“Most of us have just given up,” the younger one stared at the empty nets, the lines that weren’t so much as twitching, a hand on his cast-encased leg. It was covered in notes from friends, as children liked to do, but these well wishes came in the form of dirty jokes and stick-figure mermaids. “Some are talking about trying to find work in other towns, or maybe on long-haul boats.”

The older one snorted. “I can’t imagine leaving. My wife’s run the bakery for over twenty years. She can’t just pack up and move. But without my income, our kid’s tuition… I might have to go alone.”

“Lan Wangji, did you get our breakfast at the bakery?” He called, and when he nodded, Wei Wuxian continued, “Your wife is very talented. I hope it won’t come to a hard decision, that’s exactly the sort of thing we’re here to prevent.”

The elder fisherman perked up. “She is, isn’t she?” He said, and proceeded to wax poetic about her pineapple buns and pork floss buns. Wei Wuxian let him for a few minutes. A man who was always happy to praise his wife’s accomplishments was usually a good one.

 Eventually, though, Wei Wuxian brought the conversation back to the topic at hand. “Have you seen anything yourselves?”

“I got off easy, relatively. Just a hole pierced right through the bottom of my boat, and a net washed overboard. I’ve had worse. We patched it up okay, and I’d be good to go if the waters were clear.” The elder fisherman gazed out at the waves, glistening under a clear blue sky. “I didn’t see it, but Xiao Gao here got a good look at it.”

“I saw the thing all right.” Xiao Gao shivered at the memory. “They’ve been telling those fish-bait on the beach the thing’s what, twenty meters long? Thirty? It’s thrice that long at least, far longer than a blue whale, if half as wide.”

Wei Wuxian frowned. That couldn’t be right.

“Did you see its head? If it had flippers or no flippers? It would really help us to know what species of sea monster we’re dealing with.” Witnesses were rarely correct about size, supernatural creatures becoming more grandiose in their heads than reality, but other details could help narrow it down. If it was a sea serpent, they’d need meat, a lot of it, and a small plane from which it could be dangled on a very long rope as they drew it out to sea. If it did have flippers, it might be tempted away by a trail of krill into the deep sea.

 Or they might have to challenge the monster’s reign over the bay and defeat it in combat to make it leave, which Lan Wangji would enjoy.

There were options.

Options that would vanish the moment Golden Unicorn swept in, determined to kill the monster no matter what. Nevermind that a sea serpent’s corpse would make the bay uninhabitable for fish for a decade. Yao Corp would be free to drill as it liked.

But Xiao Gao shook his head. “No, sorry, I just saw patches of scales breach the water before it slammed into my boat, destroying it and sending me back to shore. I couldn’t even tell you what color it was. Maybe one of the monster chasers has something more, but I doubt it. That thing moves fast.”

If a monster as large as he described slammed directly into a fishing boat, anyone in it wouldn’t survive. Another point in the exaggeration category. The only thing that would make the fisherman’s testimony possible was, well, a dragon, which — it would be more likely for the fisherman to capture a leprechaun to get three wishes here in China. Leprechauns took vacations, these days, as did the many other humanoid supernatural creatures around the world. A very popular Chinese-Canadian singer was a huli jing, for instance. But no one had seen a dragon for five hundred years.

If they couldn’t identify the monster, perhaps the fishermen knew something else. “It sounds like Yao Corp pushed against calling in any cultivators. Have you heard anything about why?”

The elder fisherman shrugged. “Word is they made promises they won’t be able to keep, and wanted to try to deal with it themselves before investors started backing out.”

“With all these monster chasers here, I’d say they ran out of time a while ago. For what it’s worth, we’re really sorry you’re dealing with this.” He looked up at Lan Wangji, still standing sentinel on the docks. “So is he, he just, you know. Doesn’t talk to strangers.”

“He looks like he can tangle with the biggest, baddest monsters around with only his glare.” Xiao Gao said.

“Oh, he can, they fear his name. And no one’s his equal with a sword. Except maybe me.” Wei Wuxian winked at Lan Wangji — only he looked away instead of bristled. Strange, that should have been guaranteed to get under his skin. Maybe he’d really offended him this time, but he couldn’t check until they were away from the fishermen. “We’ll get the monster clear of the bay for you,” he promised.

As they took their leave, Lan Wangji still wouldn’t look at him.

Wei Wuxian didn’t like it. Lan Wangji should always be looking at him.

So for the first time in a while, “Before you say anything, Lan Wangji, I know you can talk to strangers. But I like talking a lot more than you do. So unless you want to, you can stand there and look intimidating. Or whatever.”

Lan Wangji glanced at him out of the corner of his eyes, telling Wei Wuxian he was an embarrassment or something. Not exactly the reaction he’d been going for. He was supposed to tell Wei Wuxian all his flaws while looking him right in the eyes.

He sighed. “Well, I say it’s time to do some window shopping. See what everyone else has seen.”

Across the dozen or so stores and restaurants on the main drag, they found twenty-odd people who claimed to have seen the monster. All of the reports approximately matched the fisherman’s, save one that tried to claim it was as long as the Shanghai Tower was tall. That one was obviously fake.

“I bet you’re doubting my witness questioning skills now.” Wei Wuxian shook the cheesy snow globe he’d purchased at a kitschy tourist store. Jiang Cheng would hate it but feel obliged to display it alongside Wei Wuxian’s other gifts of a similar nature, which was exactly why he’d purchased it. Well, that, and so the salespeople in the kitschy tourist trap wouldn’t kick him out for interrogating their customers.

“I am aware of the difficulty of estimating size,” Lan Wangji said to his surprise.

“Especially of something you can’t see all of, moving, at a distance. Honestly, I’m more surprised we only got one person faking a witness — quoting Godzilla, really. And we did get a time-stamped video, even if it’s shaky.” And short, a hump emerging from the water, followed closely by a second, before the camera dipped, and the witness hadn’t managed to find it again. It looked like a very large sea serpent. Maybe. It had been recorded zoomed in, with the shore out of frame, so Wei Wuxian couldn’t use the distance to determine its size. “What should we do now, take a romantic stroll along the shore?”

Lan Wangji didn’t take the bait. Again. What the hell.

“I would prefer an overhead view first.”

“Easier said than done if we don’t want thousand-dollar fines. I,” Wei Wuxian declared. “Despise the sword flight ban. Planes should just learn not to hit us.”

“It is frequently inconvenient,” Lan Wangji agreed with him.

Agreed.

With him.

Wei Wuxian gaped, long enough for Lan Wangji to grow smug.

“However, may I offer an alternative?” Lan Wangji nodded toward the Ferris wheel they’d passed by earlier, by the pier.

“Why, Lan Wangji! Are you trying to get me alone and unchaperoned?” He batted his eyelashes dramatically.

“No,” Lan Wangji said shortly, and, sniffing loudly, did not meet his eyes.

The Ferris wheel was one of the old-fashioned types, aging but well cared for, where each carriage consisted of a bench just wide enough for two people their size.

Wei Wuxian squished in next to Lan Wangji, and the operator lowered the bar to trap them within. As the operator walked away, Wei Wuxian already had regrets. Lan Wangji was so close the heat of his thigh seeped through, and Wei Wuxian wouldn’t be able to move away for the next ten minutes. The seats before them were occupied by monster chasers, their cameras on straps around their necks and pointed off toward the water.

Which reminded him that they didn’t have anything of the sort.

“How will we even tell what it is we’re seeing if we spot something? I’m not waving my phone around at this height.” He would drop it when the wheel turned to its next position if he tried.

Ever excessively equipped, Lan Wangji pulled a pair of binoculars from his sleeve, and wrapped the long loop attached to it around his wrist several times.

“You know, it’s a little strange no one’s been eaten yet. I’ve never known a sea monster not to jump at the chance, and it’s certainly had plenty.” Even the Yao Corp employees who’d been killed washed up on shore entirely un-nibbled.

Lan Wangji sniffed.

“Oh sure, you wouldn’t agree the sky is blue if I said it.” Wei Wuxian dismissed the fact that there was

Lan Wangji sneezed, and sounding a bit clogged, said. “I was not disagreeing, the wind is disrupting my sinuses.”

That took the wind out of his sails. “Oh.”

“However, the sky appearing blue is merely a function of the scattering of light.” Lan Wangji corrected him, and the tightness in his chest loosened.

“So is the blue of your shirt, or the shades of brown if I look reeeeeaaallllyyy closely at your eyes.” Wei Wuxian had spent far longer than he cared to admit picking out those shades.

Lan Wangji closed his eyes for a long moment — clearly to prevent himself from rolling them — and said, “This is true. But focus.”

He raised his binoculars, definitively putting an end to Wei Wuxian’s slacking off.

“Of course, you wouldn’t want to be stuck with me for another go round.” Wei Wuxian finally looked out at the water, as the wheel turned up another notch to place them on its peak. “Oh. You can see the uh, the oil platform from here. No monsters in sight though.”

But Lan Wangji sat forward suddenly, pointing toward the beach. “Look. There!”

Wei Wuxian looked, but whatever it was, was too small to be obvious. “At what?”

Lan Wangji did not simply hand him the binoculars. He tried to position them for him without letting him touch, which resulted in Wei Wuxian having to grab his wrist to hold the binoculars in place. “I see… rocks. Yeah, rocks.” Lan Wangji shifted the binoculars.

“Now I see water,” another shift and, “Is that the wreckage of a Yao Corp motorboat?”

Lan Wangji pulled his binoculars away as the Ferris wheel began to move them downwards.

“You could have just, you know. Told me. I would have believed you. You’re good at this job.” Wei Wuxian was not at all aware of how close Lan Wangji’s face was.

“Ah.” Lan Wangji’s lips parted slightly, that small change opening his expression to a vibrant sort of beauty, rather than one made of ice. And he looked away, the tips of his ears tinted red.

Wei Wuxian’s stomach swooped as their carriage dropped down to the exit.

“Find everything you need?” The operator asked.

Wei Wuxian stared after Lan Wangji, a strange warmth couldn’t quite blame on the sun filling his chest. “Yeah, I think we did.”

 

The wreckage of the Yao Corp boat looked like it had been put through the compactors used to crush cars, only at five times the scale. It wasn’t clear which boat this was, the name obscured somewhere within, but its crew definitely hadn’t survived. They had to chase a few monster chasers away to inspect it.

“The ordinary classes of sea monster couldn’t cause this,” Wei Wuxian mused aloud. “They’d just smash them to smithereens, and eat whatever had flesh and blood in it. This looks intentional. Whatever did this had to wrap around the boat, squeeze, and keep squeezing until it crumpled and compressed into a cylinder. Sea serpents certainly aren’t that smart, and how is it even telling the different between fishermen and the company’s boats? Most of the fishing boats we passed had motors too, and they’re larger — you’d think they’d make better targets.”

Lan Wangji was staring at him. Very intensely.

Wei Wuxian felt simultaneous confusing urges to squirm and preen, so he went with anxiety instead. “Oh, uh. Sorry for monopolizing the conversation.”

“You are more adept than I at technological matters, I appreciate the insight,” Lan Wangji said.

Wei Wuxian’s mind went suddenly, entirely blank. “You do.”

“You know you are talented.” Lan Wangji chose then to look at him, and Wei Wuxian found himself unable to hold his gaze.

“I didn’t think you thought so.”

“I was not under the belief that your ego needed stroking.”

There, finally, was something that made sense. So why was his heart still hammering?

“It’s not my ego, I just want to — what’s that?” Wei Wuxian bent to look at something long and thin dangling from a compacted part of the boat. But no, it was merely a shoelace.

He turned to inform Lan Wangji of this, to suggest finding a way to dismantle the crushed boat for evidence, only for Lan Wangji to outright tackle him.

Wei Wuxian found himself flat on his back, staring up at Lan Wangji’s panicked face as he hovered over him, straddling his hips. They could have lain there for an eternity, eyes locked together, and Wei Wuxian would never have known. But Lan Wangji shifted slightly in his seat, and Wei Wuxian was abruptly very aware that said seat was his lap.

Wei Wuxian propped himself up on his elbows, the pebbles digging into his elbows. “This seems familiar. Should I yell at you for being reckless and stopping me from doing my job now?”

“I could have sworn I saw…” Belatedly, he registered what Wei Wuxian had said, and scrambled off of him. “It is inappropriate to joke about such things.”

“It’s inappropriate to joke about… what? The way we met?” He hadn’t even made a sexual joke, despite his thoughts trending distinctly and uncomfortably in that direction.

Lan Wangji huffed and speed walked away, abandoning him on the shore. From him, that was practically running.

Grumbling to himself, Wei Wuxian got to his feet and shoved his hands in his pockets. He kicked at some pebbles, sending a small cascade down toward the water.

He’d really thought this was going well. But like every other time he’d thought that it all came crashing down.

A wave crashed over the displaced pebbles, carrying something that glimmered a pearlescent white away with its retreat.

Wei Wuxian dove in after it, summers spent in lakes allowing him to catch it despite the water’s efforts to sweep it away as his hands closed in. Even so, he nearly let it go, hissing as the sharp edges bit into his hands. He had to hold his breath against a second wave, bigger than the last, before he could rise to his feet and stumble back to shore.

Adjusting his grip so he held the flat sides of the object, Wei Wuxian peered down at it.

He would have felt real stupid if it had just been another piece of shattered glass.

But no, at the very least, this was proof that the creature that lived in the bay was the stuff of legend.

It was a scale the size of his head. He’d only seen one anything like it in museums. The witnesses had been right about the size of the creature. Though it wasn’t a monster, but something far more interesting. Something with more than enough intelligence to tell the difference between evil corporation and innocent fisherman.

Understanding its motivations was a different matter entirely.

 

Lan Wangji was already asleep by the time he returned to the hotel room or pretending to be. Either way, it was probably better to give him time to cool off before laying out his theory — better chance of Lan Wangji not rejecting it out of hand. Wei Wuxian stored the remainder of his takeaway noodles in the suite’s fridge, and puttered around getting ready for bed without Lan Wangji ever stirring. Even when he stubbed his toe on a chair in the dark and swore, Lan Wangji didn’t lecture him on his language. So he probably really was asleep.

He slipped in beneath the covers, and the scent of Lan Wangji’s sandalwood-scented moisturizer wafted over him. Even Wei Wuxian’s own pillow smelled like him. Of course Lan Wangji carried his skincare in his go-bags.

He looked so peaceful in his sleep, not at all like the kind of man who destroyed Wei Wuxian’s dreams out of hand with only a single expertly targeted sentence. His features softened, the roundness of his cheeks enhanced without the stern expression, drawing attention to the length of his eyelashes, and the plushness of his lips.

Lan Wangji would be horrified to know Wei Wuxian was looking at him like this. That thought was what finally made Wei Wuxian roll onto his back to look up at the ceiling. Before Lan Wangji tackled him, and he’d made that stupid joke — because what else was he supposed to do when the hottest person he’d ever met was straddling him? Think coherent thoughts? — he’d thought they were almost getting along.

In the dark of the romance themed hotel room, as he drifted off to sleep next to the man he’d pretended to hate for the last three years, Wei Wuxian could admit that was something he wanted.

 

Wei Wuxian woke all at once, but memory was slow to return. Bare limbs entangled with his and soft skin under his hands had felt so real. For a moment, he lay there, lost in the feeling of a firm ass grinding back on his cock before he realized this was real. Before he remembered why this could never, ever happen.

At least Lan Wangji was wearing sweatpants and a t-shirt, though Wei Wuxian came to regret keeping nothing but boxers for sleepwear in his go-bag. It had never been a problem before.

It wasn’t so easy to extricate himself without waking Lan Wangji. His thigh was thrown over Lan Wangji’s hips, his hand grasping so he could pull Wei Wuxian flush against him.

Biting his lip to keep himself silent and grounded, he peeled Lan Wangji’s fingers off his thigh one by one and eased himself out of bed. He very nearly face planted into the hot tub, and only the dim glow of his phone’s screen, grabbed from the bedside table, saved him. Landing in the hospital would have been one way of getting out of this situation, but he made it to the bathroom mostly unscathed.

His boxers, however, had a noticeable wet spot on the front, and Lan Wangji had left a hand-shaped red mark on his right thigh. Not to mention that his cock was actively threatening to explode if he didn’t do something about it. Now.

With an irritated sigh, he lost the boxers and switched on the water in the shower, stepping in once it was comfortably hot. He wasted no time in leaning against the wall and taking himself in hand, any noises he made muffled by the sound of running water, splashing against clouded glass and tile.

Wei Wuxian was not a believer in cold showers. Why torture himself when he could just take a few minutes to jack off and wash away the evidence?

Stroking his hand along his length felt less satisfying than usual, like the subconscious part of him would rather have come in his pants while humping his nemesis in his sleep. Against his will, his mind turned back to the feeling of Lan Wangji’s ass grinding against him.

He was long past his teenage years, when this would have been the most exciting thing to ever happen to him — had been, the first time he danced with a girl in a club at eighteen — but the sad thing was that it worked. His head fell back against tile as pleasure finally began to build under the rhythm of his hand.

This Lan Wangji wasn’t sleeping, but an active participant. He turned to look over his shoulder, his mouth open and panting. Wei Wuxian imagined looking down his body, finding a wet spot on gray sweatpants, Lan Wangji’s hand disappearing beneath his waistband. Wei Wuxian would grab his hand away, roll him onto his back to lie beneath him.

Take them both in hand, stroking roughly. As he did now, to himself. He’d draw helpless noises from Lan Wangji’s throat, all the walls of self-control he’d built up around himself crumbling to dust. And when they both neared the peak, he would kiss him, tender and sweet.

Wei Wuxian came hard, before he expected it. He stared down in shock at the cum coating his hand as the water washed it away. Lan Wangji was hot, sure, but what the hell was that?

The nameless, faceless figure of his fantasies had taken on an identity. And Wei Wuxian could already tell that he, this mental apparition of his long-time nemesis, the man who hated him, would never let him return to peaceful ignorance.

He sank to his knees under the spray, trying to think of anything else, anything that wouldn’t challenge the lies he told himself about why he spent so much time coming up with ways to get on Lan Wangji’s nerves, why he never felt so satisfied as when Lan Wangji was looking at him.

The last thing he needed was to be aware of how he felt, and aware that Lan Wangji would never feel the same.

The scale. That was a safe enough topic, guaranteed to make his mind spin down useful lines of inquiry, and away from sexy, uptight coworkers and their toned glutes. Wei Wuxian had always done his best thinking in the shower, and there was absolutely no reason this time should be different.

Sure enough, by the time he got out things were starting to come together. As he started to towel himself off, Wei Wuxian checked his phone.

A message had come in from Wen Qing:

Golden Unicorn arriving early – 10 am tomorrow. Wrap it up fast, if you can.

He rushed out of the bathroom in only a towel, without bothering to dry himself off more completely, to shake Lan Wangji awake. All thoughts of sex and feelings were wiped away as his epiphany overwhelmed him.

Until Lan Wangji blinked awake, the corners of his lips turned up for just a moment. Just long enough for the image to imprint itself permanently on Wei Wuxian’s mind. Before he realized who was leaning over him, wet hair unbound and dripping onto his pillow. A haziness remained a few seconds longer. Again, just long enough to ruin Wei Wuxian forever.

Lan Wangji extracted his hands from beneath the covers, and Wei Wuxian thought he meant to slap him. Instead, Lan Wangji’s palms came to rest flat against his chest. He gasped, a punched-out sound that was more wheeze than erotic. And Lan Wangji pulled back just as quickly, suddenly wide awake.

“You are getting water on the bed.” Lan Wangji complained.

The fantasy so fresh in his mind, it took Wei Wuxian a moment to remember why he was there in the first place.

“Lan Wangji, Lan Wangji, let’s not bicker for once. This is important. After you left, I found something. And I just figured out how we can end this,” he said. “You’re not going to like my plan, but I think even you’ll like my solution. I’ll explain on the way.”

Rather than ask if he was out of his mind, Lan Wangji only sat up and grabbed his qiankun go-bag, staring at Wei Wuxian’s chest with what he could only assume was judgment all the while. For his lack of readiness, or because he was subjecting Lan Wangji to the sight of his still-damp bare chest. Probably both.

Wei Wuxian threw on a T-shirt, a fresh pair of boxers, and tennis shoes and called it good. He didn’t bother to check the clock, but Lan Wangji could have told him it was just after four in the morning.

 

Lan Wangji insisted on renting a two-seater kayak from the hotel reception, though it was more than likely that the boat would be destroyed by morning. They pushed off the hotel’s dock, Wei Wuxian in the rear seat with an excellent view of the back of Lan Wangji’s head, and began to paddle. Just as it should be. If they were actually getting anywhere, rather than listing back toward the dock.

Wei Wuxian stopped, tilting his head back to complain to the sky. “God, this feels like we’ve been stuck in a get-along shirt together and we can’t even cooperate enough to take it off. Embarrassing for both of us, really. We have to paddle together, or we’re just going to keep turning in circles.”

Lan Wangji stilled, setting the kayak paddle down in his lap. “Will you count to start us off in rhythm?”

For once, Wei Wuxian didn’t argue, and soon enough they were making progress out into the bay, heading slowly toward the of the oil platform.

“You are certain we will find the monster?” Lan Wangji asked, a few minutes later.

“I’m not so certain it is a monster. What else has scales, lives in the ocean, and might have opinions about humans polluting its home?” He asked. “A scale like that one?”

Lan Wangji was well aware of the answer, had been from the moment Wei Wuxian showed him the scale. He wouldn’t be following Wei Wuxian out to sea if he didn’t believe him. But he didn’t want to believe him. “No one’s seen a dragon in five hundred years.”

“But we know they’re not gone.” He continued. “They live for thousands of years beneath the waves, and rarely emerged even back then. But in the last century or so, what’s changed?”

“Pollution.” Lan Wangji replied immediately, and continued along the same path Wei Wuxian’s own thoughts had taken. “It may have taken time to notice, in the ocean’s depths. And if its knowledge is five hundred years out of date…”

“Local fishermen might be as much at fault as men with strange boats. Their boats leak fuel into the water, too, these days. They stopped renting out kayaks to tourists as soon as they realized what was happening, so I don’t know for certain they wouldn’t have been attacked, but —” Wei Wuxian cut off his rambling to get to the point, not wanting to annoy Lan Wangji too much now, when he needed to persuade him. “I’d bet the dragon doesn’t even know what the oil rig is for, not yet. But they will. Because we’re going to tell them.”

“We’re further out now than the attacks have happened,” Lan Wangji pointed out.

Wei Wuxian looked back toward shore, trying to gauge the distance. “So we are. You believe me, Lan Wangji?”

“I cannot discount the possibility.” High praise, from Lan Wangji.

“Wow. Um. I never thought I’d see the day. Lan Wangji not dismissing my ideas out of hand.” Wei Wuxian’s head was spinning, trying to process it.

Lan Wangji was silent for a long moment, and then, “I have never dismissed your ideas.”

Well that was just a blatant lie. “Admit it, you’ve thought I was incompetent since the day we met.”

Lan Wangji startled, his paddle skimming too high in the water, so he splashed Wei Wuxian instead of pushing them onward. “No.”

Wei Wuxian accidentally paddled again, changing their heading, then dropped his paddle. It bounced and stared to slide into the water as he scrambled to recover it.

“No?” He squeaked, once the paddle was safely in hand.

Lan Wangji sighed, and counted down a restart for their paddling, which was good, because Wei Wuxian was too shocked to count down from three. He watched Lan Wangji’s muscles strain against the water’s resistance dumbly, forgetting he had asked a question until Lan Wangji replied. “I am not adept at social interaction,”

Despite his best efforts, Wei Wuxian snorted.

“I do not believe you are incompetent.” Lan Wangji protested, somehow confused how Wei Wuxian could have come to that conclusion.

“Could have fooled me.”

“When we first met, I thought you were trying to be a hero,” Lan Wangji began.

“Yeah, figured that out. Those guys are annoying as fuck, thinking they can handle ghosts and monsters all on their own without a speck of cultivation, I get it. But you just assumed, didn’t let me explain. And then I, well, I didn’t want to. I thought I’d never see you again.” But fate was determined to fuck with him.

“You were rude to me when I arrived at the office, and you insulted my uncle.” Lan Wangji sounded like he was frowning.

“I apologized for that.” Wei Wuxian did not whine. He hadn’t really meant the apology about Lan Qiren, anyway. Those videos were boring. “And you still looked at me like I didn’t know which end of the sword does the stabbing.”

Okay, maybe he whined a little.

Lan Wangji’s braid, slightly mussed from sleep, swung as he shook his head. “That was not my intention. I—”

The kayak bumped up against the steel scaffolding of the oil platform, and he stopped. Neither of them had realized how close they’d gotten.

Wei Wuxian was dying to know what other explanation there could possibly be. But he tied the kayak to a steel beam, and climbed up onto a metal walkway along the scaffolding, with the bulk of the platform far above. If the dragon did show, and he hadn’t just brought Lan Wangji out to watch the sun, just beginning to peak out above the horizon, rise, it seemed better to be on something more solid than a kayak. Or so his instincts claimed, though logic said it wouldn’t make a difference. Also, he’d be able to see Lan Wangji’s face when he answered. “Enlighten me.”

Rather than answer immediately, Lan Wangji climbed up after him. Standing at a few meters distance, he faced the rising sun. “You are reckless, stubborn. Certain of your own brilliance.”

“Well, okay, let it all out I guess.” Wei Wuxian had literally asked for it this time, he supposed.

“And you are correct,” Lan Wangji added.

…He was?

“But too infuriating by half.”

And there it was.

It was Wei Wuxian’s turn to sigh and stare off into the golden light over the horizon. It wasn’t so rare that he saw it after staying up all night, but there was something special about watching the colors expand across the sky and play across the water with Lan Wangji beside him. He couldn’t say that allowed, but Lan Wangji’s admission did call for one of his own. “I rile you up on purpose, you know. I’m not actually like — well, I am an obnoxious asshole, but I’m not actually this… exaggerated.”

Lan Wangji glanced at him, and away again, swallowing heavily. “I am aware. I have seen you with others. It was… painful to realize I was the only one not permitted a chance to be your friend.”

Wei Wuxian’s jaw dropped. “You wanted that?”

“I did not know how to express it, so I became angry instead,” Lan Wangji admitted.

“I just wanted you to acknowledge I’m right.” He joked, and when Lan Wangji drooped, added. “And yeah, okay, you’re the only person I’ve ever met who can keep up with me without trying.”

Communication issues, indeed.

Failing to get along with the person he instinctively knew could be his match hurt too much if he acknowledged it, so he hadn’t. Four twenty-five in the morning was a great time for self-reflection, apparently.

It was just so strange to realize that they’d been feeling the exact same thing in parallel — minus the attraction on Lan Wangji’s part — and never once noticed a sign.

Lan Wangji very slightly raised a brow. “I try quite hard to keep up with you, in fact.”

“If you mean the banter, sure, you’re a quiet person. It doesn’t come naturally. But you do still win half the time, may I point out.” Lan Wangji used his words sparingly, but damn if they weren’t effective. “Though I meant in understanding what I’m talking about — you get it immediately, before I’ve broken it down into digestible pieces, and on the rare occasion they’ve let us spar,” — too ‘destructive’ according to Wen Qing, who’d added ‘and I will not pay your medical bills’ — “it feels like we’re choreographing a dance. I act on a conclusion, and you know why. Of course, you’re always there to stop me.”

“Not to stop you. To convince you to wait a moment and think.”

“You interrupted my presentation just the other day.”

“I did not just object to your proposal to frustrate you.” His ears flushed dark enough to be noticeable under the pink-orange light of the sunrise. So clearly, he’d done it at least a little to frustrate him. “I wish for you to flesh it out, to consider the contingencies.”

“You could have said that up front, you know. ‘I’d like more details’ would have been a lot less devastating than, let me quote, ‘an ill-advised waste of money.’”

“I am sorry. Truly,” Lan Wangji met his eyes, and what Wei Wuxian saw there stole his breath away, even as it was indefinable. “As previously stated, I am not adept at social interaction.”

Those words stopped him from drowning in Lan Wangji’s eyes, and he gave a sharp bark of laughter.

“For the purposes of turning over a new leaf, I’ll accept that apology,” Wei Wuxian said. “And I have been thinking abut what you said, after the meeting. The talismans could be sold on a pay-what-you-can basis instead of given away to everyone. Plenty of people who know our work and can afford a fraction of what Lotus Creations and their competitors charge would pay, and the materials really aren’t that expensive. They just hike the prices like crazy.”

Wei Wuxian would know. It was why he’d left Lotus Creations in the first place, when he realized Jiang-shushu was never going to take his proposals for equitable distribution of their products seriously. Jiang Cheng had been pissed at first, but eventually his childhood best friend came around, when he saw how much happier Wei Wuxian was, out doing good in the world.

“Oh.” Lan Wangji said, his lips parting. His lower lip had twin marks, from worrying it with his teeth. Wei Wuxian shoved down the sudden urge to make the imprints his own.

“It’s just a starting thought I’ve been rolling around in my head. Not my idea of that fleshed out proposal you’re looking for,” he hurried to clarify.

“No, that’s — it’s an excellent idea.” Lan Wangji was earnest, a little shy.

Wei Wuxian was surprised that he wasn’t surprised by how much he liked this side of Lan Wangji. Forget the sunrise, he could stare at that expression for hours without getting tired of it. “You really think so?”

Lan Wangji licked his lips, starting to reply, so of course that was when a regal head emerged from the water. The dragon had finally decided to show. The light glittered off the dragon’s scales, lending an opalescent glow. And while the dragon was not the size of a skyscraper, the other witnesses hadn’t been far off.

There were proper ways to greet a dragon, if one was lucky or unlucky enough to meet one. In that moment, Wei Wuxian forgot all of them.

“Hi,” he said, and gulped.

“I had forgotten how very small you humans are.” The dragon’s voice was deep and reverberating, somehow simultaneously terror inspiring and strangely affable. “Unless you have gotten smaller?”

“Um, no,” Wei Wuxian found his voice. “Actually —”

Lan Wangji grabbed his hand and squeezed so hard the bones ground against each other.

Right. No educating the ancient dragon on modern height science until they’d bowed, at the very least.

“I see you remember your manners, unlike the others around here. I let you get this far because you came in that curious little paddle boat.” A massive foreclaw emerged from the water, a cascade of seawater falling from it, sprinkling them in the process. The dragon proceeded to prod at the kayak dubiously, only for a claw to pierce through the plastic. They — Wei Wuxian had no idea how to determine the gender of a dragon, or if dragons had a concept of gender at all, and it didn’t seem like the ideal time to ask — had probably never seen plastic before. Unless it was in the form of plastic bags floating in the water.

The kayak began to fill with water as soon as the dragon extracted its claw, so until they broke the sword flight laws, they were stranded there. With an enormous dragon. Great.

“We are grateful for your forbearance.” Lan Wangji said.

“Why has no one yet come to apologize for angering me and rectified the problem?” The dragon rumbled.

“It has been five hundred years since a dragon was last seen anywhere,” Wei Wuxian explained. “That may be the blink of an eye for one of your longevity, but for us humans, dynasties have risen and fallen, and we have built machines that fly around the world in less than two days, and that can speed through water far faster than any sail. Unfortunately, much of that progress has been built on exploiting the world around us.”

“So you are aware of the cause of this ink that spreads like disease and sticks to my scales? Why the water near the surface is so warm though it is not yet the height of summer? And you speak for those who have permitted it to continue?” Each question increased in volume, until the rig shook under their feet.

“I wouldn’t say that.” Wei Wuxian’s tongue replied before his brain could remind it why it was a terrible idea to contradict a dragon. “The people of the town by the bay? None of them started this, and they have no sway with those who do. You’re familiar with kings, right? Human and otherwise?”

“Of course. You blame all this on the emperor?” The dragon didn’t seem happy with his answer, but they also didn’t send Wei Wuxian flying off the walkway for his audacity. So he counted that as a win.

And an invitation to keep pushing.

“We don’t have an emperor anymore. Not for over a hundred years now,” Wei Wuxian did his best to translate centuries of change into language an ancient being could understand. “But a handful of people around the world turned money into a new divine right of kings. Most people who understand what pollution is doing to the world want to stop it, there are huge organizations dedicated just that. But no matter how much we care, we have little choice but to live within the society they’ve created.

Polluting boats included, if the fishermen are going to make enough money to live on. Which they currently aren’t, by the way, with you preventing them.”

Lan Wangji caught his wrist, shaking his head in warning.

“I told you my plan.”

“You did not tell me you were going to antagonize the dragon!” There was a flush high in Lan Wangji’s cheeks, his lips drawn back in a near snarl. This was the most emotion Wei Wuxian had ever seen from Lan Wangji.

He didn’t understand why he suddenly cared. “It’s me. What did you expect?”

“Is a little forethought too much to ask?!” Lan Wangji squeezed his wrist like it was a buoy keeping him afloat.

Wei Wuxian couldn’t bear to pull free, even as he snapped, “I want to know why a dragon would emerge now, when this has been happening for decades!”

“Wei Ying!”

Shock made the fight go out of him.

“Please do not anger the dragon, I…” Lan Wangji trailed off, but his expression was pleading. He looked as he had a hundred times before, but now Wei Wuxian not only noticed the slight shift in his features, but recognized it. He hadn’t realized Lan Wangji even knew he had a birth name, never mind what it was.

The dragon cleared their throat, and it sounded like an avalanche.

“I see I was incorrect about having proper manners, I see. I cannot believe any reasonable authority would have set two cultivators such as yourselves, who would rather argue with each other and sling accusations than hold a clear conversation.” “Nothing I have witnessed since surfacing indicates there is anything left of humanity worth saving. All respect for nature has been lost, and humanity has decayed into creatures ruled by greed. The capacity for love I once so admired is gone. I see no reason why I should not protect what territory I can while something still remains to save.”

“We’d like to help you protect this bay. The world, if we can.” Wei Wuxian said. “We just don’t want anyone to be hurt who doesn’t deserve it, right Lan Wangji?”

“That is correct,” Lan Wangji nodded.

The dragon snorted, the resulting gust of hot wind — thankfully suitably perfumed for a divine being, rather than smelling of fish — pushed them back against the opposite railing. Lan Wangji let go of his hand as he caught himself, and Wei Wuxian immediately missed its presence. “Only now you agree, when your goals are at risk of being denied.”

Wei Wuxian winced, but to his surprise, Lan Wangji spoke up. “I always agreed with my… partner. I was merely concerned by his approach.”

He turned to stare at Lan Wangji, awed, across the distance between them.

“Concerned? For a partner you cannot scarcely stand to look at? Who it took long enough for me to swim across the bay and back to cooperate with in paddling that contraption?” The dragon shook their head in disbelief. “This is my bay. The townspeople will have to learn to live with it, or leave.”

The dragon began to sink back beneath the surface, taking their chance of resolving this to anyone’s satisfaction with them. Wei Wuxian had to stop them.

“Wait! It’s not what you think. With my uh, with my partner.” He stumbled over the foreign word. Partner. It felt very wrong, and very right in his mouth. “Our arguing, its not what you think.”

The dragon paused, it’s jaw half-submerged. “What is it then?”

Wei Wuxian panicked. He didn’t have an answer. Because of course their arguing was exactly what the dragon had assumed. Or at least, so he’d thought until today.

Love. The dragon admired love.

“It’s foreplay!” He blurted out. “Arguing is foreplay for us. We uh, we take opposite points of view to work out solutions and then. Uh.”

The dragon reared back, then their enormous head bending down to stare Wei Wuxian in the eye from up close. He gulped. “You are in a relationship, you say.”

They sounded intrigued. Very intrigued. Like a child who had just been gifted new dolls, who wanted to smash their faces together to see how they fit.

“Yep, yes. Definitely yes.” He stepped into Lan Wangji’s personal space and took his hand, shocked when he didn’t immediately pull away.

“Is this true?” The dragon shifted their attention to Lan Wangji.

Fuck, Lan Wangji would never go along with this. What had he been thinking?

“Yes.” Lan Wangji spoke calmly, confidently, like he wasn’t lying through his teeth. His fingers, until then slack between Wei Wuxian’s, tightened. “Wei Ying and I are together.”

“I am not convinced.” The dragon said. “You have passion, certainly, but I have seen nothing to indicate it is anything but hatred.”

They stayed around at least, as if waiting for proof.

He glanced at Lan Zhan and recognized the intent in his eyes, for it matched his own. The kiss started with a bite. Lan Wangji’s, hard enough on his lower lip that he tasted copper. Wei Wuxian gripped his shoulders, shoving Lan Wangji back against the railing. Lan Wangji immediately switched their positions, and tangled his hands in Wei Wuxian’s hair. Pulling tight, then tugging him closer, like he was trying to meld them into one being.

It was so very easy to drown in him, lost as surely to the mysteries of Lan Wangji’s mouth as any shipwreck resting far below the waves. He gave himself up willingly, his tongue sliding within before he gave it permission, and Lan Wangji answered with a hunger that threatened to consume him.

His hands wandered until they reached Lan Wangji’s waist. Just enough presence of mind remained to him to stop there, gripping hard. Lan Wangji moaned into his mouth, and —

Oh.

Oh.

Wei Wuxian was more fucked up than he’d realized, his heart most of all.

He pulled back, and Lan Wangji stared back with eyes half-lidded. Confused, like he’d forgotten why they’d started in the first place. But that was just wishful thinking, Wei Wuxian reading meaning into words spoken in a language in which he was not yet fluent.

“Oh, love does still exist in the human realms. How wonderful.” The dragon’s voice pitched higher in their delight. “Are there many new stories of the lengths you humans will go to for love?”

Uh.

Wei Wuxian wasn’t sure what that had to do with anything, but he rolled with it. “In the last five hundred years? Thousands, if not millions. One thing about the modern world is that you can watch them now, replayed in exactly the same way as many times as you want. The town could probably set a projector up for you on the shore, so you can watch some of the stories in action.”

If modern media was irresistible to modern mortals, how amazing must it be to an immortal who’d never experienced anything like it?

The dragon tapped its claws against the platform near them, resulting in a sound like the clashing of bells deafeningly close to his ears. “Perhaps there is still worth to humanity, after all. However, my waters are not to be violated.”

“Do you have a way of communicating that other than destruction?” Wei Wuxian asked. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for destroying this thing. It’ll hammer in the point rather well. But they’ll need to believe the wrath of an unkillable divine being is actively impacting their profit margin or they’ll just try again.”

“What is a profit margin?” The dragon asked.

“Lan Wangji, do you want to explain business concepts to a dragon?” Because Wei Wuxian really didn’t.

Lan Wangji very obviously wanted nothing of the sort either, but he gave a clear definition in much fewer words than Wei Wuxian could have managed. He was so much better at anything involving brevity. “Representatives of the company will be arriving late in the morning. We can assist you in negotiations.”

“Very well. In a few hours, then. And in the meantime, I will dismantle this platform and pile the remains on the shore.” The dragon announced. “Ah, I destroyed your boat, it is only fair I assist you on your way back.”

“Wait, no we can fly!” Wei Wuxian shouted, but it was too late, the dragon’s tail already sweeping water toward them.

He scrambled to grab hold of Lan Wangji’s hand, as the water washed over them. The wave pushed them fast and hard to shore, bobbing at the water’s surface

Wei Wuxian had grown up on lakes and rivers, survived capsizing on white water rapids. He curled a position to protect his head and neck as best he could without letting go, and breathed as infrequently as possible. But Lan Wangji wouldn’t know how to shift himself to stay afloat, and so his feet went first, limiting any damage.

Wei Wuxian barely had time to worry before they hit the beach. Lan Wangji’s hand finally slipped out of his as he hit sideways and rolled, coming to a stop as he knocked into the rocks.

Wei Wuxian was deposited among the pebbles, sliding against something sharp before he came to a stop. A few more waves followed before he managed to scramble to his feet, checking himself over for injury even as he looked around to see what had become of Lan Wangji. His hand came away from his right arm bloody, and he craned his neck to see a gash running up his forearm. Nothing a wash and a bit of spiritual energy couldn’t cure.

But Lan Wangji was face-down on the gravel, lying there, unmoving. Wei Wuxian ignored the protest of his muscles, and ran to him.

He couldn’t lose him, not when he’d just realized --

Wei Wuxian fell to his knees, uncaring whether the pebbles cut into them, and rolled Lan Wangji over onto his back. He grabbed his wrist, but his own heart was pounding to quickly to tell whether there was a pulse. A hand over the mouth got better results — his hand was slapped away, and Lan Wangji stirred, pushing himself up on his elbows.

Alive. No thanks to the dragon they were trying to help.

“Let me help you up. There’s no shame in accepting a little help, you know,” he teased, though he sounded shaken to his own ears.

Lan Wangji’s glare called Wei Wuxian a hypocrite many times over, but he accepted Wei Wuxian’s hand. Pulling Lan Wangji up as he stood brought them face to face, as they had been for very different reasons not so long ago.

“You’re shivering,” he said, and shivered himself.

His breath caught as Lan Wangji slung an arm around him, pressing their sides together. After a shock of cold from the wet fabric, a strip of warmth bled through to his side. They staggered along the beach back toward their hotel like that, awkward though the position was, neither of them saying a word.

“Keys?” He asked.

Lan Wangji shook his head. “Lost to the ocean.”

Wei Wuxian hesitated. “Do you promise not to tell on me this one time? You can shower first.”

“This once,” Lan Wangji agreed, with some reluctance.

Wei Wuxian scrawled a glowing gold talisman in the air, and it melded with the lock. With an audible click, the door swung open.

They stumbled through the door, and as Wei Wuxian kicked off his shoes, he realized Lan Wangji had lost one of his along the way. Blood marked the floorboards where he stepped, uncomplaining.

Still shivering, he pulled off his shirt.

Lan Wangji blinked. It was nothing he hadn’t seen earlier, but now he was awake enough to be horrified by the revelation that Wei Wuxian had pecs. Or… something. Because Lan Wangji kept staring.

 Wei Wuxian definitely didn’t clench his muscles to put his abs on display. “See something you like?” his mouth asked, like Lan Wangji was a potential hookup at a bar, and Wei Wuxian was not his least favorite person in the world.

(There were almost certainly politicians Lan Wangji liked less. But he didn’t have to talk to them five plus days a week.)

Lan Wangji turned on his heel, trailing blood.

“Wait—” Wei Wuxian called after him.

Lan Wangji turned back, frowning. “You said I could shower—”

“Your foot. Let me help,” he blurted out.

“Your arm first.” Lan Wangji pulled his qiankun bag from his sleeve. Miraculously, only the mouth of the bag appeared waterlogged. From it, he pulled a bottle of rubbing alcohol, and Wei Wuxian immediately regretted drawing Lan Wangji’s attention to his injury.

Soap and water worked just as well, if not better.

Lan Wangji pulled Wei Wuxian’s elbow toward him, and poured alcohol over it.

“Fuck,” he swore, followed by a series of tell well annunciated noises partway between curses and grunts, shaking his arm all the while. Hurt like an absolute bitch, but when it faded, Lan Wangji sent a big of spiritual energy into him, and it spread through his meridians like hot chocolate after a day outside in the snow. “Your turn. Sit here.”

He guided Lan Wangji to sit on a nearby coffee table, and to his shock, Lan Wangji did so without protest, crossing his injured foot over his lap.

“Ah, Lan Wangji, you were planning to take care of this by yourself?” He said, dismayed. Pebbles were embedded in the flesh, speckled across the ball of his foot and heel. And he’d walked all the way here like that without so much as a complaint. “Do you have tweezers in that bag of yours?”

Lan Wangji did.

Wei Wuxian worked the pebbles out as gently as he could, but Lan Wangji likely assumed the opposite, from the frequency with which he hissed. When they were all out, Wei Wuxian funneled spiritual energy back into Lan Wangji. The small wounds glittered as they sealed under his touch. Lan Wangji shivered.

“You’re still cold, you should take off that shirt before you catch a chill.” And all right, it wasn’t likely for a cultivator to get sick, ever. Wei Wuxian wanted to find out what he was hiding under there.

As the shirt came off, Lan Wangji’s leg came down, narrowly avoiding kicking Wei Wuxian in the dick with an impressive feat of flexibility, so he was framed between his thighs.

“You… Thank you.” Lan Wangji reached out, his palm grazing Wei Wuxian’s cheek.

He surged upward, meeting him halfway.

It was nothing like the way they’d kissed for the dragon, that shuttered passion unleashed to wreck its vengeance on them both. It was soft and sweet, unexpected, leaving him the leisure to explore, to savor the slide of their tongues together.

Shocking to learn that Lan Wangji could be so gentle.

His hands squeezed Lan Wangji’s thighs reflexively —

— and Lan Wangji pushed him back, sending him tumbling onto his ass, before running into the bathroom.

Wei Wuxian sprawled where he had fallen, staring blankly up at the ceiling. He was, he mused, such a goddamn idiot. Mistaking a simple thank you for a come-on like some sort of creep. Still, Wei Wuxian wasn’t about to be the cultivator who caught a chill out of stupidity when there was a perfectly good — and supposedly clean — hot tub right there.

While the tub was filling, he changed his pants for swim trunks, and sank down into warmth. It wasn’t long before the heat spread through his bones, doing its best to chase away the memory of Lan Wangji’s spiritual energy within him, the salty taste of him, the way he’d kissed back like he couldn’t stop himself. It failed miserably, but it still felt good. He turned the bubbles on high, and let his head fall back with a sigh.

Lan Zhan — Lan Wangji, he couldn’t let himself forget, couldn’t allow himself the privilege of familiarity even inside his head — might want him. But he didn’t want to want him. The pain of the heartbreak he’d been subconsciously attempting to avoid for years hadn’t yet set in. He stared up at the ceiling and sighed mournfully.

“Wei Ying.”

Startled, he lifted his head and was confronted with a vision of beauty. Lan Wangji stood before him with only a towel around his waist, his wet hair coiled into a makeshift bun on his head. The bicep and pec-focused exercises of his training had paid off, big time. The sight made his thoughts condense into the word BOOBS in all caps. He wanted to put his mouth on them.

“Gah,” he said, intelligently. Then, clearing his throat, “I thought there was no reason to keep freezing when this was right here. The bubbles are nice.”

The bubbles timed out, just then, making the silence between them more palatable.

Wei Wuxian cleared his throat. “Did you forget your clothes?”

Lan Wangji nodded, but didn’t move.

“Listen, I’m sorry. I pushed you way too far tonight. With the dragon, and then I kissed you again and — It was just an act on your part, I get it.” It hadn’t been, for him. But Wei Wuxian was clearly an expert at deluding himself, he’d make himself believe it had been eventually. “I overstepped by kissing you, by reading into it. Don’t worry, it won’t happen again.”

“I do not think anyone could say that was an act.” Lan Wangji said flatly. “And I believe I kissed you the second time.”

“What?” That wasn’t how Wei Wuxian remembered it.

“I kissed you.” Lan Wangji repeated.

“Are you…?” Serious, he meant to say.

Only Lan Wangji dropped the towel, and it came out a mumble.

Wei Wuxian swallowed heavily, his mouth watering at the sight of a cock, Lan Wangji’s cock, already half-hard and begging for his attention.

He waded across the tub, reaching out his hand. Lan Zhan took it, and as he must have known he would, Wei Wuxian pulled him in. Lan Zhan’s momentum sent him crashing back into his seat, Lan Zhan perched on his lap, only the fabric of his swim trunks separating them. His body was quick to take interest while his mind continued to play radio static.

“Hi,” he said, breathless.

“Hmm,” Lan Zhan replied. He shifted, slightly, and stopped. Daring him to escalate this as he did everything between them, to guess what he wanted before either of them could be sated.

Wei Wuxian never backed down from a challenge from Lan Zhan. And fortunately, he’d given himself away in more ways than he knew.  “I think I know what you want.”

Beyond the obvious? Lan Zhan said without speaking.

“I think you want me to fuck you.” Wei Wuxian said, nowhere near as casually challenging as Lan Zhan. But the knew something Lan Zhan didn’t. “You were certainly eager enough a few hours ago, pushing against me in your sleep.”

Lan Zhan’s ears flushed a lurid shade of pink, but he didn’t stand up to leave, didn’t even look away in embarrassment. He was entirely collected when he said, “And if I do?”

“I thought you were going to make me drag that out of you.” Now, under Lan Zhan’s piercing gaze, Wei Wuxian thought he might be the one who needed to hide. Otherwise, Lan Zhan would uncover all his remaining secrets.

“I am not ashamed of my desires.” Lan Zhan insisted — and with a moment’s hesitation, added, “… anymore.”

Wei Wuxian was deeply grateful for Lan Zhan’s inability to tell an outright lie. It let him recover enough to remember he wasn’t the only one winging this. Lan Zhan had literally run from this. And here they were, taking this leap together.

“You were before?”

“Yesterday I awoke in a situation like the one you described. I took a cold shower.”

Wei Wuxian laughed, because oh, they were both idiots. But

He smirked. “I didn’t.”

Lan Zhan’s jaw finally dropped, and it was oh, so very satisfying. His smirk transformed into a wide, helpless grin, and Lan Zhan softened, staring at him in hope and disbelief. Like a smile was all Lan Zhan had ever really wanted from him. Wei Wuxian swayed in, a magnet drawn to his opposite pole, only for Lan Zhan to kiss him first. It wasn’t the heat that made his head spin, but Lan Zhan doing his best to suck his soul out through his mouth.

If he’d found it difficult to believe this was happening before, now he was thoroughly convinced. Giddy, he giggled against Lan Zhan’s lips. Lan Zhan started to draw away, but Wei Wuxian locked his arms around his waist.

“You don’t think it’s ridiculous that we’re here, and you’re sitting naked in my lap in a hot tub shaped by a heart?”

“I do, but I am not ashamed. Now that I know my desires are shared.” Something about Lan Zhan’s expression seemed mischievous, but he couldn’t quite pinpoint what.

“I didn’t say I was going to fuck you, just that you wanted me to. Maybe you should persuade me.” The idea crossed his mind only as he spoke it, but Wei Wuxian was instantly attached to it. Lan Zhan probably wouldn’t beg, given their history, but he might whine and that was just as enticing.

“If I said no, that I want you to fuck me now, no playing around…” Lan Zhan trailed off, biting his lip.

“I’d do it, in a heartbeat. Is that what you want?” He reached up, his arm dripping water, to push back a lock of hair that had come loose. Lan Zhan’s loose, unpinned bun was gradually losing its fight with gravity.

“No,” Lan Zhan reached around him for the lube.

He didn’t waste time, standing up just long enough to insert the lube where it belonged and knelt back down over Wei Wuxian’s lap, using his shoulder for leverage while his other hand disappeared between his legs. Wei Wuxian sat back to watch him, memorizing the way his brow furrowed and his lips parted in concentration. The water sloshed with his movements, sending a shock through Wei Wuxian when it splashed against his chest the first time, hardening his nipples into peaks.

The motion of the water obscured the most important view, though, so Wei Wuxian reached down to feel what Lan Zhan was doing to himself. He traced a hand up the back of Lan Zhan’s thigh until he cupped it, just beneath his ass. With his other hand, he found Lan Zhan’s cock. Lan Zhan inhaled sharply as Wei Wuxian stroked along his length, light and teasing, exploring the ridges and finding the most sensitive spots. Until Lan Zhan began trembling under his touch, and Wei Wuxian removed his hand.

Lan Zhan sat down hard on his lap in surprise, his fingers slipping out of himself. “You stopped,” he said, like anyone else their age might have said rude.  He loved the way Lan Zhan said it, surprised and indignant, on the edge of demanding.

“You said I could tease you, but you looked like you were going to come.” Wei Wuxian stuck out his lower lip in the exaggerated pout Lan Zhan hated, only for him to bite it. “Ow!”

“I have a very short refractory period.” Lan Zhan did not brag, he simply stated the truth.

And now that knowledge would never leave his fantasies, but it didn’t change his plans. “Well, I’m convinced you’re good with your fingers, but I want to see how much you want me.” He pulled on Lan Zhan’s thigh, getting him to rise far enough for Wei Wuxian to reach between his legs, testing how open he was before sinking three fingers inside, coated in fresh lube.

Lan Zhan sighed, eyelids fluttering closed as Wei Wuxian found his prostate, brushing over it with each thrust of his fingers. Letting Wei Wuxian do all the work. They couldn’t have that.

Squeezing Lan Zhan’s thigh, he whispered in a voice that sounded deep to his own ears, “Fuck yourself on my hand, darling. Let me hear it.”

“And how will you prove you want me?” Lan Zhan began to move before Wei Wuxian replied, which only delayed his ability to do so.

“I’ll tell you how gorgeous you look, riding me like nothing in the world could hold you back. How I’ve always wanted you disheveled and flushed, and in my bed, even when I couldn’t admit it to myself.” Especially when he couldn’t admit it to himself.

 Lan Zhan threw his head back and moaned, riding his fingers hard enough to hurt, his chest pushed forward into his face. And Wei Wuxian didn’t care, because the sight of Lan Zhan, uninhibited, was worth any price.

 “How good you feel with your walls clenching around my fingers, how much I can’t wait to feel you around my cock. If you feel like this now, I’m not sure I’ll survive the experience. And —” He leaned forward, finally planting his mouth on Lan Zhan’s left boob, and though his technique was artless mouthing with Lan Zhan moving, he earned a strangled groan. Lan Zhan’s noises quickly grew more desperate, his movements less purposeful. Wei Wuxian changed the angle of his fingers within to deny him stimulation, and Lan Zhan made a frustrated, angry sound.

Wei Wuxian had lived in hope of provoking a response like that. Who would have thought it would take sex? “One more time, and maybe if you’re good I’ll let you come on my cock.”

Lan Zhan heard ‘be good’ and purposefully tried to be the exact opposite, like the fact that it was Wei Wuxian telling him to be good gave him permission not to be. Like he trusted him to only ruin him in ways he wanted to be ruined.

Twining the fingers of one hand in Wei Wuxian’s hair, he pulled, a distraction as he wrapped his had around his own cock, trying to hurriedly bring himself to completion. Wei Wuxian’s moan turned into a shriek, and he grabbed for Lan Zhan’s hands. Lan Wangji did let go of his own cock and Wei Wuxian’s hair — after a few less intentional tugs as he untangled his fingers from the damp strands — so mission accomplished, technically.

But he didn’t give up so easily, wrestling, now for no reason at all. Frustrating and terrible and wonderful, that was Lan Zhan. Wei Wuxian had to twist and buck, finally dumping Lan Wangji into the water with a splash, to regain the upper hand.

Lan Zhan sputtered and glared through a curtain of wet hair, making him laugh in sheer delight.

He couldn’t remember ever having this much fun in his life. It was even better when Lan Zhan shook the hair out of his face, and his expression softened into something that might, generously, have been called a smile.

It was breathtaking.

Lan Zhan remained half-submerged as he moved to lie in the point of the heart-shaped tub, where he announced, “I have reached the limit of my patience.”

“Yes, your majesty. This one lives to serve,” he teased, and Lan Zhan rolled his eyes. But there was satisfaction in them when Wei Wuxian stood to prepare. Feeling a bit silly, he hopped as he removed his swim trunks. He dried off his cock before rolling on one of the waterproof condoms, and applied a generous coating of lube.

The slope of the bathtub was designed for sex, so Lan Zhan could recline without risk of his head slipping beneath the water. Wei Wuxian knelt between his legs, bent so his feet rested on the bench. All Wei Wuxian had to do was partake of the feast laid out for him. He couldn’t help tracing the lines of his calves, his thighs, his sides, running his hands over his chest, tweaking his nipples, one reddened and sensitive, the other untouched, along the way.

But Lan Zhan truly was out of patience.

“Hurry, hurry — yes.” His breath hissed out as Wei Wuxian finally entered him.

He had to pause, once inside, regaining the control he needed to make Lan Zhan a remember this for the rest of his life. To make him his, though there was little hope of it. “Fuck, Lan Zhan, you feel so —You feel so perfect.”

Lan Zhan wrapped his legs around Wei Wuxian’s back, sending trails of warm water down his back. “Move.”

He laughed, and strangely, that helped. He never would have expected sex with Lan Zhan to involve this much laughter, had somehow never noticed he was this funny. “Shut up and fuck you, is that it?”

Lan Zhan pulsed the muscles of his legs so Wei Wuxian jerked inside him. “No. You may keep talking if you fuck me.”

This time, he obeyed, fucking into him with the same urgency Lan Zhan had shown earlier, tired, suddenly of all the teasing and games, needing to show him, as Lan Zhan had asked, how very passionately he desired him. Lan Zhan’s nails dug into his shoulder blades, encouraging. He didn’t speak, couldn’t, because Lan Zhan looked up at him with his mouth hanging open, something new and ravenous in his eyes, and the next thing he knew he was kissing him.

He couldn’t stop once he’d started, swallowing down all the needy little noises, everything Lan Zhan would give him. He never wanted to stop.

 The tangle of their tongues slowed from ravenous, combative hunger to a slow, simmering heat. The pace of his hips slowed to match, their torsos pressed so close together he felt the drag of Lan Zhan’s cock against his belly with every thrust. Their kissing grew sloppier until they were practically breathing into each others’ mouths.

Wei Wuxian had to shift his hands to keep from slipping, and the moment their lips parted, Lan Zhan tried to say, “Wei Ying, I — I lo —”

He kissed the last two words off his lips, unable to let Lan Zhan speak them into reality.

“Me too,” Wei Wuxian said, the words ripping a hole in his chest.

Lan Zhan whimpered, and Wei Wuxian buried his face in his neck, trying to hold back just a moment longer.

“Come with me,” he breathed in Lan Zhan’s ear, and Lan Zhan did. Crying out, his head falling back against the tub’s edge, he contracted around Wei Wuxian, pushing him over the edge. His orgasm washed over him, powerful as the wave that had sent them crashing to shore.

He came down slowly from the peak, and then he had to pull out to rid them of the condom, though Lan Zhan’s own cum now dirtied the water. Worth it. Absolutely, 100% worth it.

At least for him.

He returned to Lan Zhan, and after a moment of hesitation, lay back down on top of him. Lan Zhan didn’t push him away. “Worth the wait?”

Lan Zhan hummed, his lips pressing against the skin just below Wei Wuxian’s ear and, very deliberately, he bit down.

Wei Wuxian squawked in surprise. “What was that for?”

“The teasing.” Lan Zhan sniffed. “You were acceptable. For round one.”

“Round one? What, do you expect us to have two decades to sort things out?” They certainly wouldn’t have the time Wei Wuxian wanted to spend learning every inch of his body before it was time to meet the dragon.

“That is up to us.” Lan Zhan looked away, like he was nervous. “You said — you implied — unless it was merely the heat of the moment.”

“No, it’s not that. Please don’t doubt my feelings for you.” He couldn’t say the words, because it would only break both of their hearts in the end. “It’s just, we argue constantly.”

“I enjoy it. Do you not?” Lan Zhan frowned, and Wei Wuxian had to stop himself from kissing the cute little furrow between his brows.

“I do, but that’s not exactly a foundation for a relationship.” Wei Wuxian pointed out. Jiang-shushu and his ex-wife had argued frequently, and look at how that turned out. “If we got along, if we were friends, or getting to know each other on dates, you’d have told me you love sweets but strictly limit how much you eat, or that you despise walking behind slow walkers. I wouldn’t have figured it out because I wanted to annoy you.”

Somehow, Lan Zhan didn’t seem to think of that as a negative thing, locking his arms around his waist holding him close. “No one has every paid half as much attention to me as you do.”

“I figured you out while looking for ways to antagonize you.”

Lan Zhan shook his head. “You tried to walk slowly to bother me, but it is your pet peeve as well. You planned to replace my strawberry candies with hot cinnamon ones, but decided that would be too mean, and instead you gave the entire bag to Wen Ning. You would have eaten them yourself, but one of your baby teeth came out when you were eating hard candy, and now you can’t stand it.”

He’d never heard Lan Zhan say that much at once before, and every word of it true. Like he’d saved every bit of information about Wei Wuxian he heard, just has Wei Wuxian had about him. “Huh. You do know me.”

Lan Zhan glanced at him, and away, and finally held his gaze. “There is much more to learn, if you are not held back by fear of failure.”

He wanted to learn it all. “Are you accusing me of giving up without trying?” Never let it be said that Lan Zhan didn’t know how to get under his skin. If he wanted, Wei Wuxian would be happy to let him make a home for himself there. “Challenge accepted, Lan Zhan. Prepare to be romanced.”

“I’m waiting,” Lan Zhan said, like Wei Wuxian could possibly have anything prepared for that person in their hotel room. Much as he might have wanted to.

But then, this was the honeymoon suite.

Wei Wuxian managed to extract himself from Lan Zhan’s arms to drain away the soiled water. “Can you grab the bath bomb in the basket?”

He fiddled with the temperature of the water faucets until it came out hot, but not scalding. As the tub filled, he turned on the jets, too.

 “This one’s the best, I think.” He drew Lan Zhan over to it, letting him position himself so his lower back was directly over the strong jet. With a groan that made Wei Wuxian’s cock stir valiantly, Lan Zhan let his head fall back against the side of the tub. He curled into Lan Zhan’s side, resting his head on his shoulder, and traced patterns on his thigh. Together, they dozed until it was time to help an ancient, near-mythical creature outwit a bunch of capitalist dicks.

The bath bomb was rose scented, of course. What could be more in line with the romance theme? But suddenly, Wei Wuxian didn’t mind at all.

 

Wei Wuxian’s presentation ended not with a derisive huff from his nemesis, but a proud nod from his…

Not boyfriend or partner, not yet. Though they were headed swiftly in that direction.

If the attraction really was just two beautiful people who liked to rile each other up, they wouldn’t have bothered to memorize so many details that were useless unless one wanted to, say, plan the perfect date down to the ideal bouquet.

Which was to say, Lan Zhan bought him a potted cactus on the way back to the train station, and Wei Wuxian spent the entire ride telling Lan Zhan how much he liked it between kisses. That Friday, he had plans to surprise Lan Zhan with a box of chocolate pralines — the really fancy kind with fruit syrup fillings — and a date at the vegetarian restaurant Lan Zhan had been meaning to try for ages.

Without that fundamental misunderstanding between them, it felt like the balance had shifted. They would, inevitably, argue. What couple didn’t? But Wei Wuxian liked to think they had thoroughly learned their lesson when it came to jumping to conclusions.

“This plan is much improved,” Wen Qing said. “What changed?”

“Trips to the seaside with handsome, intelligent men do wonders for problem solving, it turns out.” The dragon, with Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji helping them understand modern business terms and political statutes, had gotten what they asked for, by virtue of being a dragon. No oil well would be drilled in that bay, and they’d allow the fishermen to return to their work. It had been a pleasure to watch Jin Zixun, who’d been sent from Golden Unicorn, and the Yao Corp CEO, who came in person, get absolutely steamrolled.

If the dragon had muttered something about further plans, well, Wei Wuxian certainly knew nothing about that. But for the moment, the dragon rested with their head on the beach, binging romantic comedies projected onto a screen. The monster chasers were getting plenty of photos, so long as they bowed politely and asked.

“You’re very lucky that dragon showed his face to make his demands in person.” Wen Qing sounded annoyed, as always, but if she really didn’t like his methods, she’d relegate him to basic hauntings until he promised to follow the rules to the letter. She never had because she liked pissing off Golden Unicorn as much as he did. “Or all our funds would be tied up in a lawsuit. As it stands, I think we can buy you that printing press. Let’s talk the budget and timeline over more in my office.”

An hour or so later, he emerged from the office flush with success, and made a beeline for Lan Zhan.

He bent down to kiss Lan Zhan’s neck as he continued to type, and glanced up at the screen, reading:

We were able to arrange a meeting between the honorable dragon and Yao Corp, that reached a satisfactory conclusnignoangepongop ngoiewngpaneopnipn gnonwipneiopnoi

“How often have you been keysmashing and just pretending to continue working while we banter, darling?” Wei Wuxian asked, delighted. “This is critical information, I need to know just how distracting I am to you. For science.”

Lan Zhan turned up his nose, which only gave Wei Wuxian more access to his neck. “I’ll never tell.”

“Won’t you?” He whispered in his ear.

Lan Zhan tilted his head back and shut him up with a kiss. If he thought for a moment he’d won, well, Wei Wuxian would have to prove otherwise later. He was certain Lan Zhan could be persuaded, if he didn’t want to be left aching.

Though Lan Zhan was very good at persuading Wei Wuxian to give him whatever he wanted. They had always been addicted to each other. Now they’d simply learned a far healthier way of expressing it.

“I can’t decide whether this is better than the arguing or not,” Mianmian said, when her fiancée stopped by her desk.

“Let’s hope this is just the honeymoon phase,” Wen Qing grumbled. “Why did we think getting them together would make them less obsessed with each other? Maybe that honeymoon suite was a mistake, it gave them ideas.”

“Well, on the bright side. A little office PDA from us will go unnoticed now.”

“That is very true, my clever fiancée.” Wen Qing leaned in and kissed Mianmian briefly on the lips.

Wei Wuxian muffled a laugh in Lan Zhan’s shoulder, and knew from the way his neck tensed that Lan Zhan was smiling. His expressions weren’t so hard to tell apart now that Lan Zhan had stopped hiding half of them. “We should send them a fruit basket. Wen Qing will hate it.”

Lan Zhan kissed him, deceptively sweet until he sucked his lower lip between his. When Wei Wuxian had entirely forgotten what they were talking about, Lan Zhan murmured, “Mianmian likes the ones with chocolate covered pineapple.”

Wei Wuxian had to kiss him again. “On second thought, for the sake of our esteemed colleagues, we better take the rest of the day off.”

 How had he ever thought Lan Zhan was anything other than ridiculously perfect for him?