As the Young Masters waited for the Inn staff to speedily set up the bath at the far corner of the room, the grip on Young Master Wei’s wrist was firm. Lan Wangji wouldn’t let go, no matter how Wei Wuxian tried to pull away. It was as though the man who held him hostage fears he’ll run away. But if they were to keep count, it was more often Lan Zhan who left him each time.
What possessed HanGuang Jun to ignore his wishes was unprecedented. Since the event of Dafan Mountain, never once in Wei Wuxian’s recollection had 2nd Young Master Lan refused him anything. Even going as far as breaking countless Gusu Lan Sect rules to accommodate his lifestyle. Wei Wuxian was accustomed to doing as he wishes, while Lan Zhan was both his anchor and shield.
Protecting him is one thing. However, this time their reunion was different. Lan Wangji had returned to their school days' habits. Quiet, stubborn and stern. No different than the time when he had dragged him to the Gusu Sect private Library to receive his punishments. Had this man forgotten they are nowhere near Gusu Lan province?
“Lan Zhan, HanGuang Jun...Lan Wangji…I-I...You…”
His words flowed, rippled...unevenly rushed until they ceased.
Common, title, courtesy...do they matter? The man who was more celestial than mortal was all the same. Anxious...nervous Wei Ying’s heartbeat at a rapid pace. Emerged, these unfamiliar emotions rose, but were they really foreign? Or buried far too long to be recognized? Would he dare to ponder?
One step closer, one step back. When Lan Zhan approached, Wei Ying instinctively retreated. The reverse dance which started when they reunited after Yiling Laozu took his revenge continued even now.
The time apart did not stifle the fire, thought to be under control, but if Wei Ying allows it to spread, the forest will be burned down. Once that happened, where would he be?
No barrier, no wall…nothing left but one’s own skin.
After the Inn staff left, Lan Zhan finally released his hold. True to his character, Lan Zhan’s expression remained unchanged as he spoke, “Bathe.”
HanGuang Jun silently made his way to the sitting table and settled himself, with Bichen placed in front of him. Tactically faced away from the steaming warm bath on the far end of the large room. The Lady of the Inn didn’t exaggerate when she promised them the more exclusive room for the night. It was impressive enough for a sitting section, a private bath screen, and a very large bed opposite the windows.
How was it possible this room was available when all the other rooms were booked? Wei Ying wondered in the back of his mind.
Without even realizing, Wei Wuxian touched the wrist that was held moments before. The heat that was once there had turned cold. Not daring to ponder further, he slowly undressed and placed his clothes over the screen divider, stealing a glance or two at the quiet figure on the other side.
He couldn’t help but chuckle internally at how ridiculously he had reacted. He’s no fair maiden. In the past, he had no qualms about bathing in front of others. The shameless man that once was, should be the same as the present time, but something had changed. Since his resurrection, or more precisely, his calamity that was traded by another, Wei Wuxian was more aware of the person who had chosen to stay by his side.
Coldness he could handle, indifference he much preferred. Affection, that familiar feeling had always brought disaster to those he cared for. As foreseen by Zewu Jun, who had warned him in the past not to drag his brother along his chosen path. Despite his efforts to push Lan Wangji away, the prediction came true.
Resigned to such a fate, the Wei Wuxian as of now would rather stay away. The further the better. Yet, he couldn’t help but be drawn to Lan Zhan’s tenderness, often disguised so well behind his aloof attitude.
A part of Wei Wuxian yearned for the reunion, but another part did not. For every banquet will come to an end. He would drink himself to oblivion, but the result would never change. He didn’t dare to ask for more time, because the answer would probably be the same.
When not too long ago, it was Lan Wangji who decided to end their journey on the lush green mountain range. Whichever direction Wei Wuxian chose, the other would have chosen the opposite.
The line was drawn and Lan Zhan was gone. Wei Wuxian should be relieved, should he not? When one was free of guilt, they could move on. Or so he thought.
Lost in his repetitive contemplation, it took Wei Wuxian several minutes to finally climb into the tub. He almost moaned aloud from the feel of the hot liquid, part burning, part easing as it enveloped his tensed muscles. After venturing on the mountainside for many days, this was a paradise of his own. The warmth reminded him of the freshness of Lotus Pier. Though cool the water may be, the fragrance was amiss. Incomparable to the memories stored away, yet, he couldn’t bring himself to return.
Despite the few times, Jin Ling had hinted Wei Wuxian would be welcome back to Lotus Pier, he hadn’t taken up the offer. Grown accustomed to being alone, his presence only remind others of what they had lost. If Wei Wuxian were to return, Jiang Cheng would feel guilty with his presence.
An Ominous Star such as he, could only bring disaster wherever he flees. Of his own choosing, Wei Wuxian resigned himself to a life of solitude. As a wandering Cultivator, like his mother, a path he could not elude.
His destiny, his fate. Repentance for others' sake.
Downstairs, not too far away, a trio of mischievous boys hovered, two in white while the other in yellow. It was a good thing they had booked the whole inn save one room, because passersby would have noticed how terribly they were hiding. None of the boys were trained in spying on others, given their status. Gusu Lan Sect would never resort to such means to gather information from others. LanLing Jin Sect on the other hand, does have such a department given their excessive wealth. However, the youth in yellow was never taught such skills. For good reason, because his patience was already running thin.
“Let’s head up there.”
“We shouldn’t!” the Lan disciples in white cautioned in unison.
“We’re already here. Why not?” Jin Ling asked in annoyance.
“First, no one can hide from HanGuang Jun,” Lan Jingyi stressed. “Second, if we get too close, we’ll be caught as they’ll know it’s us.”
Jin Ling had to roll his eyes before he sneered, “They already figured out it's us who deceived them. How would we know how things progress if we don’t observe? If our plans don't work, we’ll definitely be punished. It wouldn’t change either way, so why not clue into what they’re doing right now.”
However, before Young Master Jin could approach the stairs, Lan SiZhui hastily blocked his path.
“What is it this time?”
“Young Master Jin, it would be highly inappropriate to observe our seniors at this time,” Lan SiZhui attempted to clarify, vague as it was.
Jin Ling folded his arms with the sword in hand, followed by a frown. “We already forced them to share a room so they could talk things out. Why would spying on our Seniors be any more inappropriate?”
For whatever reason, Lan SiZhui’s eyes were averted, before he began to explain in broken sentences, “The thing is...earlier....I-I heard HanGuang Jun...our Senior, I mean Chief Cultivator…”
“Lan SiZhui just spill it!”
“He had the Inn Lady send up a bath for Young Master Wei!” Lan SiZhui squealed.
“A-A bath?” Lan Jingyi stammered, who knows what’s cooking in his head by now.
“You’re serious?” Jin Ling's eyes widened in shock. Obviously, this development was far faster than he had previously thought.
“Yes,” Lan SiZhui’s voice was barely a whisper. A blush blossomed, pink in color but turning scarlet when the other two had the same reaction. “So you see, if we do decide to spy on our Seniors, we should at least wait until Master Wei has finished bathing before...”
“No!” the boys shouted.
“What? Why?” Lan SiZhui was more shocked by the fact that Lan Jingyi and Jin Ling were both in agreement. “It shouldn’t take that long for him to finish his bath. We can check on them...”
However, neither Juniors were listening to Lan SiZhui.
“I've got a plan,” Jin Ling smiled.
“So do I,” Lan Jingyi grinned back.
“Young Master Jin....Lan Jingyi…” Lan SiZhui already dreaded what may come.
“Mistress Jin, can I borrow something from you,” Lan Jingyi jibed.
Eyes narrowed, Jin Ling cocked his head slightly toward his opponent. “If you stop calling me Mistress Jin for a year, she’s all yours,” Jin Ling offered.
“A whole year is a bit long, don't you think?” Lan Jingyi argued. “Besides, you're already thinking the same plan as I.”
“Six months, and you can’t call me Mistress Jin, even behind my back.”
“Three months, and I will not tell others your nicknames,” Lan Jingyi smirked.
“Nine months, including all those conditions,” Jin Ling shot back.
“Do you even know how to negotiate? We’re supposed to meet halfway.”
“I do, I gave you the best offer, but since you’re not taking it, you’ll only get the worst offer the longer we continue.” the young leader of Lanling Jin Sect cocked his head proudly, “By the time we finish arguing, Fairy will be of no use to you.”
“Okay, okay okay,” Lan Jingyi surrendered, “Six months then.”
“No, my only offer now is nine months, since you already rejected six…”
“UUUUURGGGHH,” Lan Jingyi groaned in frustration, “Fine! I’ll take it!”
“Deal!” Jin Ling smiled triumphantly.
Meanwhile, Lan SiZhui’s head began to throb from the rejoice looks they wore. It was already bad enough these two were constantly arguing, but Lan SiZhui realized it’s even worse when they’re in agreement. “You two, please don’t do anything you might regret. We’re already in a lot of trouble as it is…Lan Jingyi...Young Master Jin, are you two listening to me?”
But all of his reasoning fell on deaf ears because his two friends had already placed Fairy outside below the second story guest room. Lan JingYi, who never got along with Fairy despite the years they spent together, knew exactly how to get her agitated. With a few of his not so pleasant facial expressions, Fairy began to bark at him aggressively, while Jin Ling, her Master, held the leash.
It did not surprise anyone when, above them, a high pitched familiar sound broke through the quiet night. Which sounded more like a maiden calling out for help than the fearless Yiling Laou of Legend. The phobia which only a few knew of but kept the knowledge to themselves out of respect for their dear Senior. Who would have thought this was not one of the nights they do. It was a low tactic, which was why Lan SiZhui did not want to participate.
Knowing HanGuang Jun, his father, brother, guardian since he was a babe; the same man who never took lightly anyone who dared threaten Senior Wei. The anxious thought of HanGuang Jun bursting out from above was an imminent nightmare!
However, even though Lan SiZhui was sure that HanGuang Jun would have burst out the window that instant, the moment never arrived. As it turns out, there was no way HanGuang Jun could.
“Lan Zhan, save me!....It’s a dog! Don’t go! Stay with me….I’m scared, Lan Zhan. Lan Zhan!”
The crash of falling furniture could be heard. Wei Wuxian’s cries would have awakened the walking corpses if they were around. HanGuang Jun probably couldn’t bear to leave Wei Wuxian in such a state. Still, their luck will run out if they stay too long.
“We should go,” Lan SiZhui began to drag Lan JingYi away.
“Hey! We still haven’t seen anything yet. Why are you in such a hurry?” Lan JingYi tried to resist, but Lan SiZhui was stronger when it comes to brute strength. Thus why, despite his more timid nature, Lan JingYi and Jin Ling couldn’t go overboard with their antics once Lan SiZhui lost his patience. With his free hand, he also grabbed Jin Ling, who still had Fairy on his leash, and dragged him away from the courtyard, but the stubborn Young Master Jin fought back more than Lan JingYi.
“Jin Ling!” Lan SiZhui scowled, “If you don’t want anything to happen to Fairy, we have to leave now!!”
“What do you mean?” Lan JingYi asked, despite the fact that the question was never addressed to himself.
“What will he do to Fairy?” Jin Ling paused from his struggle, his eyes widen in fear.
Lan SiZhui stopped in his tracks. He gazed upon the two wayward princes in his hands with a serious look, “What does HanGuang Jun do to those who threaten Master Wei?”
“Chop off their arms?” they both answered without a second thought.
“Right. Do either of you want to test my theory?” Lan SiZhui asked the partners in crime.
As expected, both had gone mute from the threat. Instead of arguing further, the three boys made their escape.
“Lan Zhan! Don’t leave me! Lan Zhan...Lan Zhan...”
On the second floor of the far room on the right, it took some time for the screaming, crying, and tears to cease. Wei Wuxian barely even noticed that the barking had stopped for some time, as he laid on top of Lan Wangji, clinging for dear life. Earlier, it was obviously Fairy who started barking outside their window. Of course, when it comes to the childhood phobia, Wei Wuxian nerves scattered as he jumped out of the wooden tub, knock over the privacy screen, and tackle the unsuspecting man to the ground.
Lan Wangji could neither react nor could he move. Dared not, or disaster may come. In the form he could not contend. Swallowing hard, his calm voice spoke against Wei Ying’s moist ear. “It’s gone.”
But his observation fell on deaf ears when the person above was not listening. Wei Ying continued to cry his name repeatedly, like a prayer. For his savior, his Knight. The one and only who could never deny him thus.
Lan Wangji’s chest was warmed by the knowledge, but the situation was getting out of hand. Their bodies were molded and pressed together throughout the whole ordeal. Although this was not the first time Wei Ying had clutched him for dear life, never once had the other person been stark NAKED!
From the cool air of the night and the reflecting candle-light, Lan Wangji could see the steam rise from Wei Wuxian’s body. Glistening, damp, begging to be covered. But what should he use?
Cloth, silk? Or himself?
Would he dare?
His eyes shut, Lan Wangji’s body had grown solid. Even the unspeakable part of his being had reacted, rose to the occasion. Luckily, his thick robes could hide the evidence, but for how much longer? Once Wei Wuxian comes to his senses, how will he react?
With his eyes shut, Lan Wangji was still debating the best course of action when the quivering wet body above spoke against his shoulder. “Lan Zhan, is it really gone?” cried the Yiling Laozu, the haunting being used to threaten naughty children, who in fact, was easily defeated by the sound of a canine barking alone.
There were times when an inner part of HanGuang Jun was glad there existed a phobia that could render Yilong Laozu powerless. Even knowing why this fear was formed, his heart could not help but skip as the names which escaped Wei Ying’s lips were always his.
But all selfish desires have to pay the price for their greed, as his body burned from a craving still unquenched to this day.
Lan Wangji could barely maintain his breathing, but answered his frightened rabbit, “Yes, it’s gone.”
Still, there was no movement, or any indication that Wei Wuxian would rise. When Lan Wangji opened his eyes, the steam had subsided, only goosebumps from the smooth skin were present. They had laid on the floor for who knows how long, each lost in their thoughts, as they faced their own demons.
“Wei Ying, you have to rise,” Lan Wangji breathed, swallowed, steeling himself from losing control.
Why? Could he not read the situation?
The most appropriate answer is no. Wei Ying had never seen him as more than a friend. He could not read what was on his mind. If he were to know, acknowledge it, Wei Ying would probably run. So Lan Zhan had to maintain his composure if they were to remain as they were.
In the past, Lan Wangji was satisfied to be his White Knight, with which one’s blade struck down every obstacle that threatened this beloved’s sight. The faithful kindred spirit to the oblivious soul. For however long the other remained unaware.
But as a mortal man, he was no saint.
HanGuang Jun-Chief Cultivator, the Jade of Gusu Sect-who may soon taint another if he were to lose his last strand of sanity, ground out the most logical answer, “Because my clothes are wet.”
“...” Lan Wangji clenched his teeth.
“Lan Zhan, I’m sorry,” Wei Wuxian said sorrowfully, his spirit falling further as he spoke, “I didn’t mean to get you drenched.”
It pained Lan Wangji every time Wei Ying apologized. Rendered helpless when Wei Ying’s vulnerability was exposed. Against his better judgment, Wangji lifted his arm and shook Wei Ying’s shoulder lightly, realizing only now that the person above him was freezing from the breeze.
“Wei Ying, you’ll catch a cold if you don’t get up,” Lan Wangji said sternly, but he could not hide is anxious tone. No matter the changing seasons or the broken smiles. The desire, the need to shield, protect, and hide this person from others, had only grown stronger each day.
“You’re right, I am cold,” Wei Wuxian pouted in a slurred voice. His breath hot, searing. Unexpectedly, Wei Ying’s lips traced against the sensitive side of his neck, causing Wangji to clench his fists in physical agony, but it did not compare to the throbbing painful flesh under his robes that refused to subside.
Desperate, Lan Wangji tried to imagine other times in his life when he was in this much pain, but all thoughts were lost when neither countless battles nor torture could compare to these tormented feelings. Caused by none other than the one who bought him joy. The free spirit that continued to tease and probe, as he made light of all his words and actions, like they are meaningless.
“Wei Wuxian! Get up now!” Lan Wangji snapped, yet couldn’t bring himself to shake off the one above him.
Still, even with the threatening tone, the fearless, reckless Wei Wuxian remained where he was, clinging to Lan Zhan for a whole different reason. His head shook in refusal, “But Xianxian doesn’t want to get up yet…Lan Er Gege is so warm. Even though you’re a cold person, how come your body is hot? It feels good. Xianxian really loves it...Xianxian wants more. Lan Zhan...Lan Zhan...warm me…Lan Er Gege…hhhmmmm!!!”
Widened dove eyes bulged in what more accurately described was full panic. His alarmed rabbit was taken aback by his actions. Muffled words attempted to escape, but Wei Wuxian’s lips remain sealed against his own. Without sight or sound, the petrified man who held the other hostage never anticipated such an act would have taken place.
Lan Wangji didn’t want to hear words of rejection, nor explain his behavior because he was frightened himself. Shaken by how his dream had become a reality from his undoing. A deed no one from Lan Gusu would ever conduct, ashamed, Lan Wangji even closed his eyes in order to escape.
An instantaneous move that felt right at first, until reality crashed. Instinct told him to release his captive, but Wei Ying chose that exact moment to kiss him back.
Before either could rein in their senses, the white clad-body had rolled on top.
To be continue...
Prologue "Wei Ying"