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There are many things Wei Wuxian prides himself on. His ability to scheme, for example. His intimate knowledge of just how much he can talk back to Lan Qiren before he gets punished. His ability to ignore the very fluttery feeling he gets in his chest whenever he thinks about Lan Zhan, which is currently being tested.

He’s walking back from a trip to Caiyi Town with Nie Huaisang, and they’re taking a longer and slightly more secluded path through the trees to get to Cloud Recesses. He’s not even sure how it gets brought up, but every cell in his body snaps to attention when Nie Huaisang idly says, “Wow, Hanguang-jun is very handsome, huh?”

“What,” Wei Wuxian says. “No, I mean, yes obviously, no, what, haha?”

Huaisang snaps open the fan he’s idly playing with. “They say he’s only the second most handsome, but I think he’s better-looking than his brother. Not that Xichen isn’t handsome. He’s very handsome.”

There are a lot of thoughts spinning in Wei Wuxian’s head. Not sure what to say that won’t expose him, he goes for humor: “Aah... Lan Zhan is so handsome, I’m surprised there’s not a rule against it.” Huaisang laughs at this, and because Wei Wuxian’s brain is a traitor, he keeps speaking. “He’d have way more girls after him if he talked more, though!”

Nie Huaisang seems to consider this, and shyly, words muffled behind his fan, says, “I wonder if he’s that quiet in bed…”

Before now, Wei Wuxian had done everything in his power to keep the concepts of “Lan Zhan” and “sex” very, very far apart. If his fantasies feature silken-straight long hair and strong hands, those were definitely girl hands. And girl hair. And not Lan Zhan in the slightest. 

But Huaisang has, with a mere sentence, branded the image of Lan Zhan in bed into the very front of his brain. Lan Zhan in bed. Without clothes on. Lan Zhan in his bed. It was almost too nonsensical to get to him, but his awful teenage mind did not care that the honorable Hanguang-jun would never do something like that, let alone with him. His brain sinks its claws into the idea and all coherent thought leaves Wei Wuxian’s head. He’s sure Huaisang is staring at him, and rapidly tries to rescue the situation: “With girls? Right?”

Huaisang innocently raises a single meticulously groomed eyebrow and nods behind his fan. “Yeah. Or maybe not girls, if he’s a cut-sleeve, but I don’t know.”

It takes nearly all of Wei Wuxian’s willpower to keep him from halting in his path, laying down on the grassy ground, screaming for a few minutes, and letting the earth swallow him entirely, but luckily willpower has always been a strength of his. If he had a single scrap of sense left in him, it was certainly gone now. He can feel his face contort into a very telling expression, and hopes that it passes for disgust or shock instead of the arousal that it is.

Upon Wei Wuxian’s reaction to his words. Huaisang ducks even further behind his fan, until just his eyes are visible, shoulders curled into the I-have-no-idea-what-I-did-don’t-ask-me pose that Wei Wuxian is very familiar with. “Not that he is!” Huaisang says, his voice rising with the pitch of panic, “I don’t know anything, haha, Hanguang-jun isn’t a cutsleeve, I mean, if he is, that’d be nice, I mean, I have no clue, don’t listen to me!” His unmarred and pale hands go even whiter where he’s clutching his fan.

Wei Wuxian still can’t think about anything besides naked Lan Zhan in his bed, doing naked things with him, but he can see an oddly familiar note of apprehension in Huaisang’s eyes—something besides the usual Nie Huaisang brand of fear, something a little bit more asking. Something Wei Wuxian knows intimately. He’s given that same look to A-Cheng and Yanli at times, and because Huaisang is probably his best and only friend (siblings don’t count), he manages to wrestle his brain out of naked Lan Zhan’s enticing clutches. “Um,” he starts, ”if he is, that’s okay, though, haha.” More than okay. Very okay. Extremely preferable, actually.

While Huaisang still has feigned cluelessness written into his body and the small portion of his face that Wei Wuxian can see, he seems to relax at the words. He lowers his fan and dips his head in flustered agreement. Very pointedly not making eye contact, Huaisang says, “Yes. And if anyone I knew was a cutsleeve, that would also be okay.”

“Me too. If anyone I knew was, you know. Also. That’d be okay.” A palpable awkwardness still lingers but it’s lesser than before, and as they arrive at the main entrance to Cloud Recesses, Wei Wuxian feels closer with Huaisang than he did when they left.

-

As they’re exiting classes one day, Huaisang leans close to Wei Wuxian and whispers, “I have wine, in my rooms, if you want to drink tonight. Don’t tell Jiang Cheng.”

“Aaw, I do, you’re the best, you know that?” Wei Wuxian says, because there’s no way he wouldn’t take Huaisang up on his offer. It includes three things he very much enjoys: alcohol, gossiping with Huaisang, and excluding Jiang Cheng.

Huaisang flits away from him and waves a hand in lieu of answering, no doubt off to the more secluded parts of Cloud Recesses for bird-catching and ignoring saber practice. Wei Wuxian makes a turn to the library pavilion. He’s going there with the flimsy excuse of studying, but he (and likely the entire Gusu student population, besides Lan Zhan) knows that it’s just that, an excuse. Bothering Lan Zhan provides much more intellectual stimulation than books do, even if all Lan Zhan does is give him disapproving glances and the occasional “hn”. 

There had been a brief few days where Wei Wuxian was forced to actively avoid him: after his… enlightening conversation with Huaisang on the way back from Caiyi Town, any thought or mention of Lan Zhan plastered his brain with naked Lan Zhan. Naked Lan Zhan doing extremely un-Lan Zhan things, like kissing him, or running a guqin-callused hand through his hair, or putting that same hand in… other locations. Needless to say, actually seeing the object of his fantasies quickly rendered Wei Wuxian utterly useless and in desperate need of privacy—though after a few days of this very mortifying hell and enough masturbation to shock even Huaisang, he had built up a tolerance. Now, Lan Zhan’s presence is as electrifying as it’s always been, but at least Wei Wuxian can keep it together until he’s alone.

When Wei Wuxian enters the library pavilion, Lan Zhan is there, as usual. Lan Zhan looks up and glares at him, which shouldn’t be hot, but Wei Wuxian is well past the point of questioning what turns him on. He grins, and slides into a seat next to him.

-

For a sect so very focused on rules, it’s laughably easy to sneak around Cloud Recesses, especially after dark. A few trusted disciples dot the courtyards and pathways, and occasionally groups returning from night hunts will wander past, but nothing that would deter someone as experienced with sneaking as Wei Wuxian. As soon as he knows it’s clear he slips through the door of his rooms, takes a left after a series of needlessly complicated arches, counts two doors, and tests the entrance to Nie Huaisang’s rooms, finding it unlocked. Sliding it shut behind him, he turns to face Huaisang, who is sitting expectantly on the edge of his bed. 

One benefit of being such a long-time student at Cloud Recesses is that Huaisang’s had the time to decorate. Wei Wuxian’s room isn’t bare, but certainly not lived in like his friend’s is: the walls are adorned with inked paintings and spread fans depicting scenery and birds and the occasional formless figure. It’s no doubt Huaisang’s own work. Between and around the paintings, silk in various shades of Qinghe greens and grays hangs and drips like trickles of water over rocks, reflecting candlelight like the walls of a cave, and a thick fur is splayed on the floor at the left of his bed. It’s a little bit dark for Wei Wuxian’s taste, but it’s undeniably beautiful, and undeniably Huaisang. He’d bet the fur was a gift from Nie Mingjue, though.

Huaisang may not be as studious as Lan Zhan, as inventive as Wei Wuxian, or as fierce as Jiang Cheng, but he’s certainly not stupid enough to be held back for the year and a half he’s been here. Lan Qiren and Nie Huaisang himself pretend not to know that the only reason he’s stayed for as long as he has is that Mingjue asks him to. Huaisang had confessed it to him on a night not unlike this one, and while slightly drunk and confused, Wei Wuxian had understood. Mingjue wasn’t blind. He knew that Huaisang wasn’t a typical Nie, and while the rules were numerous and the food bland, Cloud Recesses was undeniably safer than the Unclean Realm.

Clearly, though, Huaisang doesn’t mind the arrangement, and Wei Wuxian knows he’s certainly taking advantage of it. Case in point, Huaisang smiles and reaches under his bed to produce two sizable jars of wine. He pats the empty space at his side. “Wei-xiong, it’s not Emperor’s Smile, but it’s not bad.”

“Eh, as long as it does the job.” Wei Wuxian may have strong preferences, but he’s certainly not picky. It’s alcohol. Approaching the bed, he takes in Nie Huaisang’s slightly more casual dress. He’s only in his pale green-gray underrobes and his hair is unpinned to fall tousled at his shoulders; without the extra layers, the slight broadness of his shoulders is more visible, and while his hands are dainty, there’s clear strength there, built from gripping brushes and mixing paints. Feeling overdressed, Wei Wuxian takes off his outer layers before he sits on the bed next to Huaisang. “Thanks.”

“Yes, yes, but I have standards.” Huaisang has already uncorked his jar before he hands its pair to Wei Wuxian, and he tips his head back to take a sip. He holds it in his mouth for a moment before making a pleased expression and swallowing. 

Huaisang is right: it’s not Emperor’s Smile, but it’s high-quality wine, and Wei Wuxian can feel the burn of the alcohol as it flows down his throat. He sprawls back on the bed and leans his weight on an elbow. It leaves him facing the back of Huaisang’s neck, which much like the rest of him, is very pale and smooth. “Of course you do, haha. You’ve very picky,” Wei Wuxian says, taking another sip.

The bed dips as Huaisang leans back so he’s equal with Wei Wuxian. His face does a little twist like he can’t tell whether that was a compliment, but before Wei Wuxian can clarify that it was, he says, “I am. It annoys Da-ge, but I just like nice things, you know?”

Nie Mingjue’s annoyed face is very similar to his murderous face. Wei Wuxian doesn’t know how Huaisang can tell the difference. “Nothing wrong with it! You’re not as bad as that Jin peacock, anyways.” To drain the sour taste any thought of Jin Zixuan leaves in his mouth, Wei Wuxian takes an especially long drink. “What else is Nie-xiong picky about?”

“Oh, I wouldn’t know,” Huaisang says innocently, but his grin betrays his inflection. Sloshing echoes as he makes a gesture with his jar of wine. “Everything, I’ve heard. Clothes. Food. Music. People. But I’m not sure.”

This is something they’ve played before. There are a lot of rumors that circulate Cloud Recesses, some harmless and some unsavory, about Nie Huaisang and Wei Wuxian both. It’s not something they discuss, but it’s fun and sort of gratifying to step back and look at themselves as what they’re whispered to be—useless, disappointment, fragile, stupid, bastard, hated, malicious, dangerous, cutsleeve—when they both know only some of it’s true. It’s a game, and Wei Wuxian has always loved a game. He wiggles his eyebrows and turns his tone dramatic. “Ah, what, does he only go after a specific type of girl?”

For some reason, this is extremely funny to Huaisang, and he has to try hard not to choke on his mouthful of wine. His throat is pretty, Wei Wuxian thinks. Not pretty like Lan Zhan, but pretty. Why hasn’t he noticed this? Before he can think about it too much, Huaisang gathers himself enough to respond. “Word is,” he starts, and leans in until Wei Wuxian can feel wine-warm breath on the shell of his ear, “that Nie Huaisang doesn’t like girls at all.”

Wei Wuxian had known, since that stroll through the forest, that both he and Nie Huaisang weren’t… conventional, in terms of their preferences, but he still takes a sharp involuntary inhale. It’s different, to hear it said, and it makes sense why Huaisang would say it like this, in third person. It’s not a surprise. He knew. The tangible words still feel new, though, a stronger sort of knowing, and even though the wine is starting to get to him, he knows how much strength it took for Huaisang to say it. It’s funny, that he’d be called weak, but it’s harder to see the strength he possesses: Huaisang had always bared his soul instead of a blade. 

“Yes,” Wei Wuxian responds, steeling his voice and slipping his mask of a grin back on, “neither does Wei Wuxian. Well, he likes girls. But not just girls.” Huaisang hasn’t moved from his very close lean, so Wei Wuxian can feel his exhale of relief bloom warm on his skin.

Huaisang lingers for a moment more then retreats to his own space. “Ah, I see. And is there anyone that Wei-xiong likes in particular?”

Lan Zhan. Wei-xiong likes Lan Zhan very much, thank you, Nie-xiong. Obviously realizing the meaning in the glare Wei Wuxian gives him, Huaisang laughs knowingly. His very pale throat is back on display. Wei Wuxian looks away and says, very unconvincingly, “Nope. No one.”

“Mhm.” Huaisang takes a drink and nods, playing along at his pathetic attempt to lie to himself. His robe is slipping down his shoulder where he’s braced on his elbow. “Certainly not the honorable Hanguang-jun? Not that I would know.”

“Aah, now Nie-xiong is just being mean,” Wei Wuxian protests. The jar of wine in his hand is almost empty, and he can feel the beginnings of slightly drunk haziness settling in, pleasantly warm but nowhere near incoherence. “There were... others.”

It’s an outright lie: Huaisang knows it, and clearly he doesn’t pity Wei Wuxian enough to grant him this falsehood. He raises an eyebrow mockingly.

“Okay, fine,” Wei Wuxian concedes. “No one before. I’ve just been busy with… studies.”

This coaxes a snort out of Huaisang, because Wei Wuxian is many things, but an avid and serious student is not one of them. Instead of responding right away, though, he sets his now-empty jar on the floor and stretches his very delicate artist hands over his head. The arch of his back shows even more of his birdlike collarbones, which Wei Wuxian pointedly looks away from. After a moment Huaisang relaxes and leans back on his elbows, turning to face him directly.  “So,” he says, with a look in his eye that Wei Wuxian can’t place but fears anyways, “Wei-xiong hasn’t… done anything?”

“Uhm. No.” Wei Wuxian drains the last of his wine and sets the bottle down as well, and as he sees a smugness start to setting on Huaisang’s face he quickly adds, “Not that Nie-xiong has either!”

Nie Huaisang shrugs in defeat. “Da-ge would kill anyone who tried.”

He’s not even exaggerating, and once again, Wei Wuxian is slightly scared. “You have your porn books, though,” he blurts. 

“Ah, yes. They’re for artistic purposes,” Huaisang says, blushing, but it could just be the alcohol. He pauses. “But.. you’re right. I’ve been limited to imagination and books.”

Imagination is something Wei Wuxian is intimately familiar with. Actually, thanks to Huaisang, he has been doing a lot more imagining recently. He decides to tell him this. “I can’t stop thinking of Lan Zhan naked.”

“Wow,” Huaisang says, after a few moments of Wei Wuxian trying not to curl up in shame. “Okay, who doesn’t, but. Uh. What about him naked?”

Wei Wuxian takes a breath. Is he doing this? Is he? On one hand, he wants to pretend to pass out from drunkenness and forget he’s said anything, but on the other, Nie Huaisang has a very comprehensive porn collection and is literally the only person he can ever talk to about this. Plus, he’s never been one to let shame stop him. “A lot of things.”

Huaisang says nothing, but doesn’t break eye contact.

“Kissing?” Wei Wuxian says, the rising pitch of his voice making it seem like a question. He clears his throat. “Kissing. Hahaha, a lot of kissing. Him. Pulling my hair.”

“Ah.” Huaisang looks as though this is the standard. He motions for Wei Wuxian to keep talking, and that’s definitely a blush, now. 

“He has really nice hands,” continues Wei Wuxian, because apparently he’s doing this. “Very. Big hands. I think he could fit one around my neck. I want him to try. Is that weird? I really want him to try that, actually, wow. Haha. I like it when he yells at me? It’s a problem. Is it?”

“He does have nice hands,” Huaisang says, nodding wisely, as though being choked by Hanguang-jun while naked is a very normal thing to think about.

Wei Wuxian closes his eyes and completely flops back on the bed with his arms spread out. He groans dramatically. “It’s not like he’d ever think about me like that! I’m going to die , Nie-xiong. I’m going to die without ever being kissed, let alone by Lan Zhan.” There’s a few moments of motionless silence for him to wallow sadly in, before the bed dips next to his head and he cracks open an eye. 

Nie Huaisang has placed one of his pretty and weirdly soft-looking palms just a few inches from Wei Wuxian’s face. His eyes are unreadable but not threatening, and his hair is silky where it drips down around his face. There’s a note of shakiness in his voice as he says, “Well. You don’t have to.”

“What,” Wei Wuxian says eloquently, because there is a lot of very pale skin on display where Huaisang’s robe hangs open, and it makes thinking kind of hard. 

“Die without being kissed. Unless, um, you don’t want to, we can just forget abou—”

Wei Wuxian swallows. “Oh.” Huaisang hasn’t moved an inch. Wei Wuxian isn’t drunk, and he doesn’t think Huaisang is, either. He would be lying if he said he didn’t want his first kiss to be Lan Zhan, but that’s nothing but a fantasy, and, well—Nie Huaisang is very, very pretty. He’s not big like Lan Zhan is, and he’s soft in ways the other isn’t, but that doesn’t mean he’s not good-looking. A part of Wei Wuxian is relieved, almost, that he gets to be awkward with someone that’s not as romantically important to him as Lan Zhan is. He doesn’t mean that Huaisang isn’t important. He is. He’s probably his best friend, but that’s what he is, his best friend, and his heart doesn’t do very weird things whenever he sees him, doesn’t spike with jealousy whenever he talks to someone else. Why not, Wei Wuxian thinks, and says, “Okay.”

“Okay,” Huaisang repeats, then leans closer, until his hair is tickling at Wei Wuxian’s neck. “Are we—”

“Can I—”

“Yeah.” Then he’s there, the slope of his nose resting on Wei Wuxian’s cheek, skin just as soft as it looks, and his mouth is on Wei Wuxian’s.

At first, Wei Wuxian can’t process much past the taste of alcohol, but it fades quickly. Huaisang’s lips are soft like the rest of him, and it’s all very pleasant, if he’s being honest, but sort of… underwhelming?

Distantly, Wei Wuxian remembers to shut his eyes. His hands are still splayed out on the bed, which makes the whole thing very weird. Huaisang is shaking above him with the effort of holding himself up with just his arms, which can’t be comfortable, so Wei Wuxian gently puts one of his hands on his upper back and the other loosely in the hair at the nape of his neck, and pulls him down.

Huaisang makes a little “oof” noise against Wei Wuxian’s mouth as he collapses on top of him. It’s somehow very, very different. Huaisang’s weight pressing him down heightens every point of contact, and his lips are moving now, and it feels more like what he expects kissing to be. He can feel the muscles in his back shift under his hand, which isn’t something he’d associate with kissing, but he stops thinking about it when Huaisang shyly licks at his mouth.

Wei Wuxian is fully committed to this now, and is actually quite enjoying it, so he parts his lips and makes a very embarrassing noise when Huaisang’s tongue touches his. It’s very wet. There’s spit everywhere but it’s sort of… hot? Oh. Oh no. He thinks about Lan Zhan spitting in his mouth and outright moans, which makes Huaisang squirm a little bit on top of him, which is also hot. Everything is kind of hot. Then, Huaisang shifts and slips against the silk sheets—his thigh lands between Wei Wuxian’s legs, and wow, okay, if he wasn’t turned on before, he certainly is now. 

Saliva is dripping down his chin, one of his hands is drifting towards Huaisang’s ass, he’s grinding up into his thigh, and overall, this was a very good idea. He would tell Huaisang this, but his tongue is sort of busy. Plus, he doesn’t want to interrupt the very pleasant noises he’s making.

Eventually Huaisang pulls back with a very wet gasp. His hair is tangled where Wei Wuxian has been pulling at it, and there’s a bruise on the right corner of his bottom lip. He’s still threateningly pretty. It’s kind of unfair. “Um,” he says.

“That,” Wei Wuxian manages to say, “was cool.”

Huaisang’s staring at his lips dazedly, and he blinks. “Do you want to—”

“Keep going?” Wei Wuxian asks, very hopefully, and when Huaisang nods he uses the hand he’s got at his hip to flip them over. Huaisang’s hair fans out under his head, and his robe has almost entirely slipped off of his shoulder, which, well. Wei Wuxian can’t not graze a finger over his exposed nipple. 

The very loud and surprised moan he elicits goes straight to his dick where it's hard against Huaisang’s thigh. They both look at each other in turned-on shock and he’s not sure who leans in first but they’re kissing again, even messier this time, as Wei Wuxian presses his thumb into Huaisang’s nipple and grinds down. Huaisang is very squirmy under him, and his hand has snaked into his hair. He lifts an eyebrow at Wei Wuxian to make sure it’s okay, and Wei Wuxian leans down and kisses him as an answer. He knows what’s coming, but he’s still not prepared for the wave of heat that hits him when Huaisang shoves his thigh up and yanks the hand in his hair downwards. 

Everything goes sort of fuzzy for a minute. Wei Wuxian collapses against Huaisang’s chest and takes a shuddery breath, his limbs feeling melty and useless. 

“Did you just…” Huaisang begins to ask.

Wei Wuxian doesn’t move from his boneless sprawl. “Come? Yeah.”

“Wow.”

“Mhm.” He then pushes himself up and looks at Huaisang questioningly. “Do you want me to, uh…”

Huaisang shakes his head and begins to sit up as well. “Uh? Not tonight, but um. Sometime. Maybe. If you want.”

Wei Wuxian wants very much. Peeling himself off of his friend and laying on his back, he says, “Yeah. This was... Thanks.”

The candlelight flickers in the room, and Huaisang yawns, looking very pleased but tired. He waves a hand at Wei Wuxian. “You can borrow one of my robes, if yours is gross.”

It is in fact pretty gross. He’s very sticky and wet, which as he’s beginning to discover is very fun in the moment, isn’t so much afterwards. “Thank you.” He peels his own off and Huaisang makes another vague motion and then an offended noise when Wei Wuxian lobs it at the wall. He laughs and shrugs a Qinghe gray underrobe on, which is a little bit short at the ankles, but fine for the quick walk back to his own rooms. 

“Night,” Huaisang calls from his bed when Wei Wuxian starts towards the door. He waves as he slides into the courtyard. He’s not sure if it’s just the alcohol or the post-orgasm haze, but he feels a calmness he hasn’t in a while as he sets out into the dark.