Jin Guangyao’s hands are fighting hard to twitch in barely-restrained frustration.
It’s been a long week leading up to tonight, and tonight has been unending . He makes a tired mental note to start the next banquet at least two hours earlier than this one in an attempt to ensure it won’t end the following morning, but he already knows all that will accomplish is a banquet that’s two hours longer.
He straightens out of the bow he’d just offered to the last Sect Leader departing the hall to return to the guest quarters and turns away from the temptation of the path that leads to the private residences to instead return inside. The servants who had stayed awake through the night to tend to the guests have already been dismissed, but those who will clean the hall first thing this morning haven’t yet arrived to receive their assignments, so he sits down to wait in the silence.
It echoes in the too-large space, his breathing and the occasional rustle of fabric the only sounds that break it. He knows he should feel satisfied, accomplished. The banquet had, for once, gone without a hitch. Even Jin Guangshan hadn’t found anything to complain about once he was deeply enough in his cups, which was a victory in and of itself. No one had embarrassed themselves or their family too badly, and certainly not in ways that couldn’t be explained away with the expensive alcohol that Jin Guangyao had liberally plied them all with.
The only feeling he can muster, though, is ‘tired’. He’s tired . All he can think of is his bed with a sort of longing he usually reserves for Lan Xichen when he allows himself to indulge in wishing for him. He can practically feel the soft caress of it, the covers silky smooth against his skin and his pillow soft under his head. It would be so easy to sink into it and close his eyes, embrace unconsciousness for a precious pair of hours before he’ll have to be up and tending to whatever will be needed from him next.
He’s roused from his half-asleep daydreaming about his bed by the arrival of the morning’s servants and he stands, brushing himself off and painting his smile back onto his aching lips as he gives them their tasks as politely as he can, with ‘please’s and ‘thank you’s falling from his lips far more often than they should. But none of the gentry are around to hear him, and the servants appreciate his understanding of their job, so he just lets it happen. And then, mercifully, he can leave the hall. He leaves at a sedate pace because it’s the only pace he’s capable of maintaining. He holds his posture correctly because he will never feel relaxed enough in Jinlintai not to.
Approaching the door to his chambers at long last, he finds that for the first time in his life he’s dismayed to see Lan Xichen.
“Er-ge,” he greets, fatigue feathering the edges of the call. “Are you alright?”
“A-Yao.” Lan Xichen is already smiling as he turns to face him but it fades quickly into concern as they go through their usual dance - he starts a bow, Lan Xichen puts his hand under his arms to stop him and offers him that smile that Jin Guangyao would move mountains for. “Have you slept yet?” he asks as they drop their hands, lingering as long in the embrace as possible before they part, as is their wont.
“Was there something I could help you with, er-ge?” Jin Guangyao replies smoothly, pointedly not answering the question. Even as exhausted as he is if there’s one person in the world he would set it aside for without question, it’s Lan Xichen.
“Nothing urgent, I merely wanted to see you before the day truly begins. I feel I rarely get a chance to speak with you properly and this seemed the best opportunity.”
Jin Guangyao smiles softly, the smile that’s only for Lan Xichen, as he reaches out to open the door to his chambers and gesture for Lan Xichen to enter. “It is true that I will be busy for the remainder of the day after breakfast has been delivered to everyone. I will be ensuring that those guests who wish to leave may do so easily and that those who wish to stay will have everything they need to be comfortable. This is the best time to discuss anything you would like to with me.”
He follows Lan Xichen into the room and thinks longingly of combining his two greatest desires - truly the only thing better than falling into his bed would be falling into his bed which already also contains Lan Xichen - but he remains outwardly calm and poised as he settles in to begin preparing tea for the both of them. His hands tremble ever so slightly on the teapot but it doesn’t affect his pouring so he lets it slide.
It takes much more effort to keep his attention on the conversation than he’s used to expending when talking with Lan Xichen. Normally, of course, he has no trouble whatsoever devoting himself entirely to his companion when they’re in the same space and it’s everyone else that must work extra hard to earn the pleasure of his attention, which he still only gives them when it becomes absolutely necessary no matter how hard they try.
Today, however, the familiar cadences of Lan Xichen’s soothing tones are threatening to put him straight to sleep and he struggles to think of anything meaningful to add to their conversation. It is, thankfully, a relatively light one, nothing but small talk and some gentle flirtations. They’ve done this too many times to count by now, which is what saves him. The back-and-forth of it is familiar enough that he can manage to fumble his way through it gracefully enough to pass muster, to avoid alerting Lan Xichen to his condition.
They’re just discussing what the pair of them may do together during his next visit to Cloud Recesses when there’s a knock at the door and Jin Guangyao’s stomach sinks. He offers Lan Xichen an apologetic smile as he rises and crosses to the door, opening it to find a servant waiting, her head already bowed too low to see her face.
“Lianfang-Zun,” she greets softly, “this one is here to remind Lianfang-Zun at his request that it is time to prepare to bid farewell to those guests who are taking their leave.”
“Yes, thank you. You may return to your duties,” he replies with a smile. Always with a smile. The young woman bows and backs away, and Jin Guangyao must stand staring at the spot where she had been for a moment too long because Lan Xichen comes to stand behind him, radiating concern.
“A-Yao? Are you alright?”
“Of course,” he smiles. Keep smiling. “My apologies, er-ge, but I must return to my duties for the day.”
“Of course,” Lan Xichen parrots, still looking at him with that searching gaze. “May I return this evening?”
“I will be returning after supper, you are always welcome to join me er-ge.”
“Alright,” Lan Xichen agrees quietly, and there’s still a note of suspicion in his voice but he departs without further questioning or any fanfare. Jin Guangyao allows himself the space of three deep, slow breaths to close his eyes and pretend like that’s enough rest before he rallies to change his clothes and leave his rooms again to begin another long day of duties.
By the time he returns to his rooms in the evening - after leaving the evening meal the moment it was socially acceptable to do so but long before it was truly over - he feels hardly more alive than a fierce corpse. The stress of the preceding week and the lack of rest drag heavily at every possible part of him as he walks slowly. He hopes he simply looks sedate, composed, and/or relaxed rather than the truth, which is that he fears if he moves too quickly he’ll just pass out right there in the walkway. He rounds the corner at long last to come to the front of his own pavilion and squints a bit at the figure waiting by his door, forcing his blurry eyes to focus.
“Er-ge,” he greets, abruptly remembering that he had told Lan Xichen he could return. He’d forgotten amongst trying to accomplish everything else on his list while also trying to keep his exhaustion from negatively affecting his performance. “Would you like to come in for tea?”
“A-Yao,” Lan Xichen replies and he sounds disapproving - why does he sound disapproving? Jin Guangyao frantically rifles through his mental to-do lists for the day, trying to remember if there was something he was supposed to do for the other but hadn’t done, or if any of the things he had done could be blamed for the censure in his voice.
“You haven’t slept.”
“That is correct,” he sighs, because lying to Lan Xichen is something he will only do under absolute dire duress, he’s made that promise to himself many a time already and he’s not about to let a bit of sleep deprivation make him break his word. “Would you like to come in for tea?”
“Would I - A- Yao ,” Lan Xichen returns, now sounding thoroughly scandalized. “You haven’t slept in two days and yet you still wish to ask me inside for tea ?”
“I do not wish to be a poor host,” he replies rather matter-of-factly, punctuating the assertion with a sudden buckling of his knees that would have turned him into a boneless heap on the ground if not for Lan Xichen’s arms around him.
Jin Guangyao wakes slowly to a thoroughly unfamiliar sensation. He wants to wake up faster, to figure out just what the hell is going on, but his mind is uncomfortably sluggish, dipping in and out of uncomfortable dreams and a half-wakefulness that is somehow more disorienting than the eerie kaleidoscope of his dreams. He refuses to let the confusion of his own mind drag him back under, though, because the confusion of what’s happening physically is much more pressing.
There’s a gentle touch on his temple for a brief moment before it’s gone again, and then it returns in precisely the same spot. The touch is slow, rhythmic, and too firm to be the brush of an errant lock of hair against his skin, or a breath. It must be another person, though, because he’s not moving, and whatever is touching him must be being manipulated by someone or something else to move so fluidly. He’s at a loss to figure out what it is and he quickly grows frustrated with trying when his eyes won’t cooperate and just open so he can see what’s happening.
“Shh, you’re alright,” a voice murmurs at his side and that, at least, he recognizes. Lan Xichen.
They don’t often speak of those weeks they’d been on the run from the Wen, but Jin Guangyao will never in this life forget the way it made him feel to wake from nightmares only to hear Lan Xichen soothing him like this. He turns his head a bit towards that familiar voice and he just knows that Lan Xichen is smiling, can tell simply by the rustle of his robes, by the way the bed dips ever so slightly under the readjusted weight of his arm on the mattress. The touch on his temple leaves only for a fingertip to brush against his eyelids next, gentle sweeps across the thin skin of first one and then the other, and ah, there they are. Now that he knows where his eyes are and what they feel like to be touched he can force them open. It takes a monumental effort, but at least they’re open.
Once he’s pretty sure his eyes are going to stay open it takes another long moment for them to focus, but when they do he finds Lan Xichen sitting on the ground next to his bed facing him, his nearer arm resting on top of the covers at his side so he can resume gently stroking his temple with the back of his index finger. Mystery solved.
“A-Yao,” Lan Xichen sighs softly, soft reproach and tenderness suffusing his voice in equal measure. “What am I to do with you, hm?”
“Does Lan-gege not wish to hold his A-Yao?” he teases, his voice crackling and raspy with exhaustion in his throat. It might ruin the flirtatious effect a bit but he refuses to acknowledge it.
“I do, as frequently as A-Yao will allow. But these circumstances are a bit less than ideal, don’t you think?”
“If one does not wish to play the hero and catch fainting lovers every once in a while one should specify such preferences before it becomes necessary.”
That, at least, earns him a chuckle even as Lan Xichen tips his head back to close his eyes for a moment and sigh.
“Perhaps I am biased but I, personally, do not think a birthday banquet for your brother is worth working yourself to collapse,” Lan Xichen murmurs once he’s looking at him again, finger still moving hypnotically against his temple. “It was splendid, everything was accomplished to perfection, but I do not think it was worth your health like this.”
Jin Guangyao sighs at that and forces himself to stop staring at Lan Xichen to instead look up unseeingly towards the ceiling overhead. Lan Xichen leans in to press a kiss to his temple in place of the stroking of his finger before he straightens again. He’s waiting - Jin Guangyao can feel the expectation in his silence. He even knows what he’s waiting for , he just doesn’t know if he’s prepared to give it to him.
“I needed to meet my father’s expectations,” he finally supplies. A truth, but not the one he knows will properly answer Lan Xichen’s unasked question.
“His demands come with too high a price, then.” A long, weighty pause and then, because it’s Lan Xichen , he somehow knows precisely what to ask to get to the heart of the matter. “Will such expenses be spared for yours?”
“For my what?” Jin Guangyao replies numbly, playing dumb to earn himself a few more seconds.
“A-Yao is tired, Lan-gege must ask his questions some other time,” he replies stubbornly. “There is entirely too much talking and not enough kissing happening at the moment for my liking.”
“A-Yao must tell Lan-gege what this one can do to spoil him just as richly when the appropriate day arrives,” Lan Xichen hums into a kiss to his cheek. Jin Guangyao turns his head from it but Lan Xichen only dips down to press his lips to the jump of his pulse just under his ear, undeterred in his gentle affections by the sudden souring of Jin Guangyao’s mood.
“Nothing,” he replies, too short, but Lan Xichen is, as ever, entirely too patient for his own good.
“Nothing, hm? Is it because we don’t have enough time to prepare? I’m sure I can find something lavish to treat you to even on short notice. When is it, A-Yao? In a month? Two?”
Lan Xichen’s lips freeze on his neck and Jin Guangyao takes the opportunity to turn onto his opposite side, putting his back to Lan Xichen and his kindness that makes him ache in ways both good and bad.
“So I suppose you have plenty of time to prepare. Nearly a full year, you’re only short a day,” he adds without turning when Lan Xichen says nothing else.
“You...planned and executed a massive celebration for your brother on the birthday that you.. share ?”
“Per my father’s instructions, yes. I’m tired, er-ge, must we discuss this now?”
Lan Xichen, to his credit, says nothing. There’s really nothing to say, is the thing, and despite all the small talk the two of them often indulge in, Lan Xichen is not actually given to say unnecessary things. Anything casual they discuss is because they both delight in conversation and that gives the pleasantries their meaning. But here, now, with nothing to say that could help the situation and only things that could drive the thorn further into his pride, Lan Xichen is quiet even as he stands and slips onto the bed behind him.
This is familiar, at least. The sting of rejection that he hasn’t yet turned into fuel for his ambitions is burning in his chest but Lan Xichen is already laying himself behind him, holding him to his chest and stroking his hair as he nuzzles in close. Ever since he had first allowed Lan Xichen close to him like this that morning on the run this has apparently been Lan Xichen’s favorite way to hold him. He tangles their legs together and curls the arm pinned beneath them around Jin Guangyao’s chest, hand splayed over where his heart beats steadily in his chest as he uses the other hand to brush his hair back from his face with gentle passes of his palm. He pauses in his caressing only to lean forward and kiss his temple, his cheek, the curve of his ear, the back of his neck, resuming the slow passes of his hand as soon as he’s done for the moment.
“You should go back to sleep, A-Yao,” Lan Xichen whispers after the worst of the tension has bled out of Jin Guangyao’s muscles to be replaced with trembling exhaustion. “I will be here, I have already told the healer that I will tend to you until you wake feeling that you have recovered, whenever that will be. Rest.”
“I have things to do tomorrow,” Jin Guangyao sighs without an ounce of fight in him.
“If grown men cannot tend to themselves for a single day in a place as thoroughly staffed with servants as Jinlintai then they should not be trusted to run their Sects,” Lan Xichen replies implacably, his tone almost mild enough to hide the glint of steel beneath the surface. Almost. “I daresay they can request their own meals and entertainments for a day while you sleep.”
“Is in another drunken stupor,” Lan Xichen interrupts, a shocking amount of disdain (for him) laced through his voice now; he’s not even trying to hide it. Jin Guangyao sort of loves him for it. “When he is sober enough to hear it the healer will explain your condition should he attempt to send for you. Rest .”
Jin Guangyao knows he should protest, he should tell him that Jin Guangshan will only accuse him of being weak if he doesn’t fulfil his duties, no matter how tired he is. But Lan Xichen is like a furnace against his back, warm and soothing, the rhythm of his breathing and his heartbeat slow and easy and already lulling him to sleep. The hand in his hair is unnecessary but so comforting that Jin Guangyao nearly cries with it. He chooses to close his burning eyes instead, and he drops off to sleep almost immediately.