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And these are all for you

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The first time it happens, it’s an accident.

Well, they’re all accidents, but this one is… extra accidental.

Wei Wuxian shows up at the gates of Cloud Recesses after a few months of wandering with Little Apple, thinking, I can’t wait to tell Lan Zhan about that haunted town, that tricky yaoguai, that river with the floating lanterns…

The gate guards ask his business.

Wei Wuxian announces, “I’m here to see Hanguang-jun!”

“Hanguang-jun is not accepting visitors at this time,” the older of the two guards says, politely, with an apologetic bow. “Please come back another time.”

Wei Wuxian blinks. He’s been back to Cloud Recesses a couple of times since Lan Zhan came to find him on that hilltop, but this is the first time he’s heard anything like that, and he doesn’t understand what it means. It would be one thing if they said Lan Zhan just wasn’t there – Lan Zhan is a busy man, that would be understandable. But not accepting visitors makes it sound like he’s there, and he could see visitors, he just doesn’t want to. That’s not like him.

Or… or maybe it’s worse than that. Maybe Lan Zhan is sick, or injured, and Lan Qiren or one of the other elders told the gate guards to say the thing about not accepting visitors, to cover it up.

It’s suspicious, is what it is. And although the gate guard who spoke to him seems typically, Lan-ly serene, her little buddy there looks decidedly shifty.

Wei Wuxian knows what he needs to do.

Gaily, he says, “Of course! I’ll be back in a few days.” He trots back down the hill, ties Little Apple to a tree, and sets off for the back hill of Cloud Recesses to break in through the wards, just like old times.

Just like old times, he succeeds. He heads for the Jingshi. It’s nighttime by now, and there’s a light on inside, so yes, Lan Zhan is here. Hmm. Even more suspicious.

Wei Wuxian steps onto the back porch of the Jingshi; inhales; freezes; and then hightails it back out through the wards and down into Caiyi Town.

Once he took a whiff, there was no mistaking it.

Lan Zhan is in heat. That’s why he’s not accepting visitors. Of course.

Wei Wuxian grinds the heel of his hand into the spot between his eyebrows and sighs. He truly feels like the dumbest alpha alive.

Well, at least Lan Zhan’s not injured or sick. That’s something to be grateful for.

The next morning, he takes the first case he finds that will get him out of Caiyi Town, so he’ll have a good excuse for why he chose to give Lan Zhan his space for a day – an excuse that isn’t I broke into your home and invaded your privacy and so I know something you didn’t want me to know, whoops.

And it’s all fine, perfectly fine. He resolves the case, heads back to Cloud Recesses, visits with Lan Zhan for ten days, and then heads back out on the road.

His rut hits three days later, which is early. But his cycles went haywire after he started using resentful energy, so that’s not weird, really.

He ignores the fact that his cycles had mostly settled down in this unexpected second life. Sometimes things settle down, and sometimes they unsettle themselves again. That’s normal.

*

The next time is also an accident, but it shouldn’t be, because Wei Wuxian can count.

Two months after his last visit, he traipses up to the Cloud Recesses gate and the guard only gets out, “Hanguang-jun is not accep—” before Wei Wuxian turns red, mortified, and babbles something about how he has to run back to Caiyi Town because he forgot his donkey, which is especially embarrassing since Little Apple is right there. He trips over her when he turns to flee. It is not his best performance.

Idiot. Idiot! He should have known. He should have known the peerless Hanguang-jun would have exquisitely regular cycles, and he should have been thinking, counting, when his feet started to turn him back toward Gusu.

At least this time, Wei Wuxian doesn’t have to go desperately searching for a night hunt. He doesn’t need to excuse his presence in Caiyi Town. He’s just doing what the gate guards told him to – hanging out so he can come back another time. It’s fine!

The next day, he gears up to head up the mountain again, but it turns out he doesn’t need to – Lan Zhan comes to him.

He greets Wei Wuxian warmly, pays to stable Little Apple, and takes Wei Wuxian up to Cloud Recesses on Bichen, which is really uncalled-for – Wei Wuxian will get so spoiled.

Wei Wuxian visits for seven days – until his temperature starts to rise and—well, other things start to tend to rise more easily, too. His stupid rut, arriving even earlier this cycle, ruining his delightful visit with Lan Zhan. He only got to play with the bunnies three times! That’s not enough!

He makes his excuses as quickly as he can, trying not to notice the way Lan Zhan’s mouth turns down in the tiniest frown, and he gets only one town away from Caiyi Town before he has to rent a rut-cabin.

It’s a strong one – very strong. He’s exhausted when it’s over, and kind of… empty. Unfulfilled. Whatever. He has places to go. People to save.

*

The next time it happens, Wei Wuxian has to face some hard facts. Once is chance. Twice is coincidence. But three times is his stupid body sabotaging him and his relationship with Lan Zhan by refusing to accept the basic fact that he can’t be Lan Zhan’s mate.

He can’t deny anymore that his hormones are playing tricks on his brain, sending him back to Cloud Recesses every time Lan Zhan’s heat is due, without him being consciously aware of it. And he can’t deny anymore that his cycle is trying to synchronize with Lan Zhan’s.

His body has always been stupid. But this is a message it should have gotten twenty years ago. When he gave up his core, he knew he was giving this up, too: the chance at being Lan Zhan’s mate. A chance that had seemed so real, so graspable; he’d been winning Lan Zhan over, they were a true match, equals

And then it was gone, and he knew it was gone, but his dumb hormones hadn’t understood that. His dumb hormones had looked at his wreck of a body, the ruined void where his golden core used to be, the dangerous resentful energy constantly coursing through him, the bouts of inedia edging toward real starvation, and thought: Yes, this is absolutely a worthy thing to offer the mighty and virtuous Second Jade of Lan. This disaster who can barely keep himself alive can be trusted to provide for the illustrious Hanguang-jun, pearl of the cultivation world.

Fortunately, Wei Wuxian’s mind had known better than that, and had never faltered in that knowledge. He hadn’t let his instincts win then, and he’s not going to let them win now.

He realizes what he’s done even before he reaches the gate guards; turns around and marches back into Caiyi Town, and resolves to stay there until his body has worked its shit out. He assumes this is a winning strategy – after all, no gate guards means no reason for Lan Zhan to know that he’s here, right?

Wrong.

Apparently, Lan Zhan has spies, which is very attractive of him, and also very inconvenient. He shows up at Wei Wuxian’s inn the next day and takes him out to Biling Lake, where they paddle around and reminisce. This visit, too, is cut short by the impending arrival of Wei Wuxian’s rut – he starts feeling the signs after only four days this time, and Lan Zhan doesn’t look convinced by his excuses for leaving so soon.

He wants to pass his rut in Caiyi Town, but knowing, now, that Lan Zhan has spies there, he forces himself to return to the next town over. He’s shaking and hot all over by the time he gets there, but the lady who rents the rut-cabins has seen worse, he’s sure.

Even his brain is in on the betrayal, it seems – it keeps feeding him fantasies of Lan Zhan, of cooling Lan Zhan’s heat, of sharing their cycles. Things that Lan Zhan would never do, because Lan Zhan is a good Gusu Lan omega and would never share his heat with someone other than his mate. Wei Wuxian shuts those fantasies down, until the rut grips him so thoroughly that he can’t shut anything down. Can’t do anything but thrust, and stroke, and squeeze his eyes shut, and beg for someone who isn’t there.

*

Coming up on two months later, Wei Wuxian’s feet again turn toward Cloud Recesses. He tries to turn them away. Somehow, there’s always a reason to walk Gusu-ward – a case, a need for shelter, Little Apple being stubborn.

He tries to hold the line, determined to stay away until Lan Zhan’s heat is over and his own stupid rut is over and he can have a normal visit with his zhiji. He travels a whole day’s journey away from Cloud Recesses.

That night, his witless wonder of a body sleepwalks toward Cloud Recesses. For hours.

Wei Wuxian gets the message. He makes a bargain with his body. They can get close, but they are not going to Cloud Recesses, and they are not going to Caiyi Town. He will let his stupid body get closer to Lan Zhan, but only as close as the town where he spent his last two ruts.

He arrives there, two months to the day since Lan Zhan’s last heat.

Lan Jingyi is waiting there for him.

He doesn’t look happy about it.

Wei Wuxian laughs nervously. “Ah, Jingyi—”

“You can leave Little Apple with the innkeeper,” says Lan Jingyi, in defiance of the rule against interrupting others. “I’m supposed to take you to Cloud Recesses by the sword.”

“Oh, I—there’s no reason for me to do that, I know Lan Zhan is, aha, busy today—”

Lan Jingyi rolls his eyes. Very slowly, he says, “Hanguang-jun specifically instructed me to pick up Senior Wei and bring him to Cloud Recesses as soon as possible.”

Damn. With no better ideas, Wei Wuxian attempts, “Well, I mean, how soon is possible, really, in the philosophical sense—”

“Senior Wei,” Lan Jingyi says wearily, at the end of his rope. “The longer you make me argue with you about this, the longer I have to think about it. Please don’t do that to me.”

Well. Wei Wuxian’s not heartless.

He spends the whole ride pestering Lan Jingyi to know why Lan Zhan had sent for him, to which Lan Jingyi responds, variously:

“Wow, I really don’t know, what a mystery,” “Remember how I begged you not to make me think about this?” and “You can’t possibly be this dumb.”

He seems relieved to deposit Wei Wuxian on the steps of the Jingshi, and immediately afterward, he flees.

As soon as Lan Jingyi is gone, Lan Zhan opens the door.

He’s dressed down, by Lan Zhan standards – simple sleeping robes in undyed cloth, and his hair is down, trailing beside his face.

He is the most beautiful man Wei Wuxian has ever seen, just like always. Beautiful in a very particular way, now – flushed pink, beaded with sweat, eyes so dark. And with that flush, that sweat, comes an enticing wave of Lan Zhan’s heat-scent, enough to get Wei Wuxian hard without a single touch.

People like to compare heat-scent to flowers or fruit or aromatic woods – it’s bullshit. Lan Zhan smells like sex. Like every fantasy that’s ever made Wei Wuxian bury his face in the blankets and shove his hand into his robes.

But it’s worse than that. All heats smell like sex. Lan Zhan’s heat-scent smells like more than that: like home and family and safety.

Wei Wuxian’s stupid hormones are screaming at him to fuck Lan Zhan, but more than that, they’re screaming feed him, shelter him, satisfy him, keep him safe, give him everything, everything he desires and more.

But Wei Wuxian can’t do any of that. Lan Zhan is the one who feeds him, shelters him, protects him. And that’s why he really, really can’t be here right now.

He turns on his heel.

“Wei Ying.”

Lan Zhan’s voice stops him in his tracks.

“Come inside.”

Wei Wuxian can no more resist those words than he could resist the pull that set him sleepwalking to Gusu.

When he’s in the entrance of the Jingshi, breathing rich lungfuls of that wonderful, terrible heat-scent, he whispers, “Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan – why am I here? Why did you send Jingyi to get me? I would have come tomorrow—”

“Wei Ying.”

Wei Wuxian has heard Lan Zhan say his name so many times. He knows what they all mean. This one is Wei Ying, think for yourself.

But Wei Wuxian is trying to think, he just can’t make sense of it—

Lan Zhan must see that on his face; the line of his mouth softens, and a strange gentleness enters his eyes. Very clearly and directly, he says: “I wish to share my heat with Wei Ying.”

Wei Wuxian makes a hideous “hmrrrph” noise. Oh, his cock is so hard. He doesn’t think it’s ever been harder in his life. But one of them has to be responsible and think with something other than what’s between his legs.

“Lan Zhan,” he says, firmly, trying to project authority, “you can’t do that.” Of course, it’s a little trickier to project authority when you’re tenting the front of your robes, but Wei Wuxian was raised to attempt the impossible.

He’d thought a little reminder would be enough to set things back on the right track, but Lan Zhan’s eyes narrow, and he asks, “Why?”

Wei Wuxian can’t believe he has to explain this.

“This—” He gestures awkwardly at Lan Zhan, at the unmade bed, at the jars of cool water lined up against the wall. “—is for your mate. Not—I know some people share their heats with whoever, but… not Lan Zhan. I remember at least ten rules against that!” he concludes, with spirit. Wei Wuxian, defender of the Gusu Lan rules! Against Lan Zhan, no less. He’s kind of proud of himself, really.

But Lan Zhan doesn’t say Wei Wuxian is right, or thank him, or ask him to leave.

Instead, he holds Wei Wuxian’s gaze and—warm, so warm—says, “Yes. For my mate.”

Wei Wuxian is not as stupid as everyone thinks.

“I’m not your mate,” he says. It doesn’t hurt at all.

Lan Zhan doesn’t so much as blink. “I would like you to be.”

Wei Wuxian… can’t breathe. He can’t move, can’t think—then something kicks his brain back on track, and he says automatically, “That’s the heat talking.” He can barely hear his own voice over the buzzing in his ears.

Lan Zhan shakes his head. He looks very serious. Even by Lan Zhan standards. “Wei Ying. I have had sixteen years to think about this. More than sixteen years. I know my own mind.”

Wei Wuxian still can’t breathe. For a different reason, now.

Lan Zhan never does this: never waves the flag of his own grief. For him to do it now – it’s pretty compelling evidence that—that maybe this is something he really wants.

But then again, sixteen years is a long time. Maybe Lan Zhan forgot, in that time, the reasons this isn’t a good idea. Forgot that Wei Wuxian spent his money and ate his food and always, always, let down the people who counted on him, in the end. Maybe he forgot just enough that Wei Wuxian started to smell like the good idea he absolutely isn’t.

Lan Zhan takes a step closer, bringing the terrible, wonderful, meltingly good smell of his heat with him, and Wei Wuxian has to take a step back before he totally loses his head.

Desperately, he says, “Can we talk about this—after?” His eyes cast around the Jingshi, looking for anything to land on that isn’t Lan Zhan and whatever expression is on that beautiful face. “Otherwise I’ll have to wonder if you were just so distracted by my, you know, stunning good looks and delectable scent that you…”

He trails off, hoping he won’t have to say more. He dares a glance at Lan Zhan’s face and finds him studying Wei Wuxian’s own face very intently, eyes hot and dark. Wei Wuxian quickly looks away.

After another moment of silence, Lan Zhan says calmly, “I will wait.” Then, before Wei Wuxian can decide how to feel about that—relieved, obviously he’s relieved, what else would he feel?—Lan Zhan adds, in a very low voice, “Promise you will not leave.”

The urge to flee is there. The urge to flee has been there for this whole conversation. Wei Wuxian won’t pretend he wasn’t tempted by it. Isn’t tempted by it. That’s how he usually handles an excess of troublesome feelings.

But if he promises to stay, he’ll do it. That’s not a promise he intends to ever break again.

“I promise,” says Wei Wuxian.

“Will you stay nearby?”

There’s something vulnerable about the question, about the way Lan Zhan asks it – his posture remains perfect, his face smooth, but Wei Wuxian can feel it like a bruise blooming between his ribs.

“I’ll sit right outside the door if you want me to,” he swears, and he means it, too, even though he knows Lan Zhan didn’t mean that nearby.

Or maybe he did, because Lan Zhan nods. “Mn.” He gestures at a spot on the porch, in the shade, and deposits a pitcher of water beside it.

Wei Wuxian stares. “You’re serious.”

“Mn.”

The spot that Lan Zhan is clearly intending for him is right next to the wall – Wei Wuxian will be able to hear everything. Weakly, he jokes, “Is my scent really that delectable?”

Lan Zhan’s lips quirk up the slightest bit. “Mn.”

Face flaming, Wei Wuxian marches out to the porch, muttering, “So shameless.”

“Mn,” says Lan Zhan. He sounds utterly unrepentant.

*

Over the next three shi, until sundown, Wei Wuxian comes to a number of conclusions. First, Lan Zhan is evil. Asking Wei Wuxian to sit on the other side of the wall from an omega in heat, listening to said omega pleasuring himself very vigorously and loudly, while he isn’t allowed to touch himself—he’s in public, after all, even if there’s no one around!—is a torture no decent person would inflict on an unsuspecting and feeble alpha. Second, Lan Zhan at least seems to be sincere about his desire for Wei Wuxian: Wei Wuxian can tell because Lan Zhan spends a disturbing fraction of those three shi shamelessly moaning Wei Wuxian’s name while he touches himself, even though—or maybe because—it makes Wei Wuxian whimper and clench his fists every time.

Third and finally, even if Lan Zhan really wants Wei Wuxian in his bed—which Wei Wuxian would be hard-pressed to deny, at this point—he doesn’t actually want Wei Wuxian to be his mate. He keeps giving things to Wei Wuxian during breaks between the peaks—sliding the door of the Jingshi open and depositing water, or food, or a blanket, on the porch at Wei Wuxian’s feet—instead of asking Wei Wuxian to bring things to him. That is not the behavior of an omega who believes Wei Wuxian is capable of providing for him.

Some part of Lan Zhan, then, realizes what a shit alpha Wei Wuxian is. Wei Wuxian just has to wait for the drugging effect of the heat to wear off, and then appeal to that rational, sensible part of Lan Zhan’s brain. He knows he can make Lan Zhan see reason.

*

When the sun is low in the sky, spilling light across the horizon, Lan Zhan opens the door of the Jingshi and steps through. Only the pale echoes of spent heat-scent come with him; it’s over, then.

He folds down to sit beside Wei Wuxian, and meets his gaze.

“Wei Ying. My mind is clear.”

Wei Wuxian swallows. “Yeah.”

“I want you to be my mate.”

Wei Wuxian sighs. He’s had a lot of time to think about the best approach.

“Lan Zhan,” he says, “as your friend, I can’t let you do that.”

Lan Zhan’s eyes narrow infinitesimally. “Let?”

Wei Wuxian laughs nervously, brushing his finger over his nose. “You know what I mean, Lan Zhan. If some other scrub of an alpha who had nothing to offer you was courting you, I would run them off! You deserve better. Lan Zhan deserves the best,” he says – his voice comes out softer than he means it to.

“Wei Ying—”

Wei Wuxian can’t let himself get distracted. He cuts Lan Zhan off and doesn’t let himself look away. “An alpha needs to be able to provide for his mate. And the thought of me providing for you…” He laughs – an ugly, sharp-edged sound that makes Lan Zhan flinch. “It’s a joke. I have no money, no land, no power. No golden core. Compared to you, my physical strength is pitiful. Anyone else in the world, I might at least be able to provide protection with my cultivation, but you… you don’t need my protection. You’re Hanguang-jun.”

Wei Wuxian presses his lips together. His eyes are stinging, but he’s proud of himself. He didn’t hold anything back – didn’t try to protect himself, when protecting Lan Zhan from doing something stupid is so much more important. Lan Zhan will see it now. He’ll understand. There’s no way he won’t understand it now.

Lan Zhan inhales slowly, as if he’s holding something back; like a dam beginning to buckle under the rising weight of water. Then he says, with great deliberation: “Wei Ying provides for me.”

Wei Wuxian is too tired to laugh. Instead, he spreads his empty hands and asks, “What, Lan Zhan? What do I provide?”

“Joy.” The last flare of sunset paints Lan Zhan golden. His gaze on Wei Wuxian’s face is as hot as a touch. “Challenge. Freedom. Laughter. Peace. Purpose. Companionship.”

Wei Wuxian can’t hear any birds, any leaves, any wind. There is nothing in the world but the two of them.

“These things sustain me as surely as food or shelter. Without them, I waste away. I know, Wei Ying.” Still, he won’t look away. No mercy. “I have.”

Wei Wuxian knows what it is to have something go through you, rearranging your insides as it goes. He knows that very, very well. Which is to say, he recognizes this feeling.

He was so sure. Any other argument, he could have countered.

But Lan Zhan saying don’t make me live like that again

His instincts and his better nature are aligned, on this. Lan Zhan should never want again. Never lack, never grieve, never miss, never hunger.

And the look in his eyes when he looks at Wei Wuxian is a hunger so deep that even all the vast blackness of the sky could not fill it.

Wei Wuxian’s own eyes are overflowing, burning. He manages only the word, “Yes,” but that’s enough for Lan Zhan to reach for him, drag him close, hold him tight, sprawled over Lan Zhan’s lap and barely in command of his faculties. Lan Zhan is here, and so warm, and his arms are so strong, and how can Wei Wuxian think like this?

“Stop hugging me,” he mumbles, pressing his face to Lan Zhan’s shoulder. “You smell too good.”

Lan Zhan, damn him, starts to actually pull back. Wei Wuxian holds on tighter and demands, “Don’t actually stop hugging me. You smell too good.”

He can feel the subtle curve of Lan Zhan’s lips against his temple. “Wei Ying continues to smell delectable,” he says gravely.

“Completely shameless,” Wei Wuxian mutters.

The calming influence of Lan Zhan’s embrace settles and quiets Wei Wuxian’s mind. But into the quiet comes the rustle of something moving, flickering, not ready to rest. A worry.

“Lan Zhan?” His voice is muffled by Lan Zhan’s robe.

“Mn.”

“What if… what if I can’t always be those things for you? Joyful, and—and creative, and funny, and peaceful…”

Lan Zhan sits back and shakes his head. “Wei Ying brings me joy even when he is not joyful. Wei Ying inspires me even when he does not feel inspired. To have Wei Ying by my side—to know that I am his…”

Lan Zhan looks down, and his fingers curl into his palms, as if collecting the stray flakes of his composure that have shaken loose. When he has gathered himself, he looks up again. There’s so much love on his face that Wei Wuxian can hardly bear to look.

“Wei Ying gives me what I need by being Wei Ying.”

Wei Wuxian swallows. "That's all?" he asks, feeling strangely light.

"That is more than anyone else in the world could give."

The sky is dusk-purple, and the summer air is beginning to cool. Lan Zhan is an endless source of warmth - another thing that Wei Wuxian is taking from him, he thinks at first, but... Lan Zhan would probably say, another thing that we may share.

"Hey," he says, resting his head on Lan Zhan's shoulder. "You must be hungry, after... everything. Can I bring you—us—some dinner from the kitchens? I... I know you don't need me to. But I'd like to."

Lan Zhan shakes his head, and for a moment, Wei Wuxian's stomach sinks. Then Lan Zhan says solemnly, "Wei Ying is not allowed to leave my arms."

Wei Wuxian laughs, relieved. "Until when?"

Lan Zhan gives the question due consideration. "Mn. Unclear. When I have let Wei Ying go before, he has not returned until my next heat. I do not wish to wait that long to see him again." There's a soft light of humor in his eyes, but Wei Wuxian knows when a joke isn't really a joke.

"I'm not going anywhere," Wei Wuxian assures him. "And if I did..." He smiles, and presses a kiss to the plane of Lan Zhan's cheek; to his temple; to the cool silk of his ribbon, at last rightfully Wei Wuxian's to touch. "I'd always end up back here in the end. Trust me on that."