Finally, finally, more plant guro in my writing! I've missed writing it OwO I used the prompts Sunrise & Sunset from Xichen Week 2020 day three for this...somewhat weird fic.
...apologies to poor LXC, because the AO3 event collection is "Lan Huan Protection Squad" and yet no one can save him from all the angst I write XD
Lan Xichen is capable of many things, skilled at many others, and he has his fair share of weaknesses - though few would guess any of them. The Twin Jades of Gusu are nearly perfect, esteemed cultivators, and Lan Xichen has an unblemished reputation.
That was then. That was before…
Lan Xichen goes soul-searching. When he faces his failures head on, he has no choice but to admit that he is a poor judge of character and terrible at deciding to make changes, especially significant ones. He's always been content to live and let live, and because of that foolish, peaceful privilege, he has let life happen around him without ever taking a stand to change it. If not for life taking him and rubbing his nose in it, would he ever have noticed Jin Guangyao's crimes and the carnage he let blindly happen around him? Lan Xichen has seen a great many things, been party to so many deeds, but almost always by following someone else's lead.
Lan Xichen cannot force himself to grapple with the reality of living with all these facts laid out in front of him. Fixing his faults feels like it's too little, too late, and he doesn't know how to change overnight.
Meaningful change is a long, unpredictable path, and sitting in the quiet calm of his secluded cottage is a safety that change could never promise. Even pain is dulled, if he tries, and the quiet doesn't ask for anything in return. Isolation promises no harsh consequences, only peace.
No— Solitude isn't peace. Solitude is settling for loneliness. But solitude is all he wants.
The Lan Sect flourishes in its steadfast adherence to rules and tradition, but no one is immune to change. If you stay in one place for too long, you'll put down roots, they say. And Lan Xichen pulls away from outside influence and digs in, ignoring the heavy weight of self-reflection for the comfort of habit and routine. There's no danger and no risk and no terrible sinking guilt.
There still is, of course, even if he's trying desperately to ignore it—
And he spends every day the same, without thinking about what it could lead to.
Seasons changing are one of the few indicators of the passage of time in his life, far more than the length of his hair or the poorly disguised worry in his brother's eyes. Leaves die and fall and are carried away on the harsh winds of winter, only for lush greenery to return and flourish—
Quickly? Slowly? Time is so tricky now.
And Lan Xichen doesn't find it strange to all but forget a season sometimes. He's not sure how many snowfalls have passed around. Ice melts into spring or perhaps fall, and a burning sunset of leaves blanket the found outside his home. He could watch them. He could move them. Or…
Lan Xichen sits inside, thoughts a mess from being ignored for countless years. Outside, there is change, and inside, new life is taking hold.
It's not new life, not quite.
Lan Xichen keeps his living space clean and orderly, but his daily cleaning regimen doesn't catch the first few tendrils that creep in. Between untouched books and empty jars - once full of teas and sweets, now a stark reminder that he is missing someone that will never return - tiny swirls of greenery snake their way through the cracks. He is still for too long. He doesn't move.
He is just…stagnant.
Lan Xichen doesn't put down roots; roots find him and take hold.
There are strands of sinewy vines in his robes, crawling up the sleeves and twining around his ankles. They hid themselves, not particularly well, but enough for someone who isn't looking for them.
Day in, day out. Every day he follows the same unchanging routine and every day it gets slightly harder to move. If he was paying attention, he would notice.
But he isn't.
One morning, Lan Xichen tries to pull himself out of bed and has to force his legs out. After a moment of tugging, trailing roots are dragged out along with him. They aren't curled around him; they're attached to him. The skin around his ankles is raw and red, sore to the touch from greedy, hungry plant life.
He's been still for long enough that he's become a viable source of nutrients, and they're only here to take advantage of that. Lan Xichen takes a deep breath and pulls, drawing the last of the tender green from his skin. There's no pain and minimal blood.
It becomes a new part of his routine, prying roots and vines from his limbs. Every morning, he has to tug just a little harder to free fresh life, hungry to feed on nutrients he didn't know they could use.
One morning, Lan Xichen tries to pull a particularly stubborn one free and he can't, not without pain. It has latched onto and into him firmly, without a care for his comfort, and he has to make a choice.
This time, he chooses a small knife, carefully slicing into his skin until he finds the end and removes it. Blood drips down his arm, staining white robes and white sheets, and he knows he should try to contain it. He should try to prevent the stains. But Lan Xichen has failed to predict tragedies countless times before, and so where is the harm in doing it again?
One night, he dreams of a reality that hurts more than he knows how to handle. He sits on the small porch outside his home, watching the gentle breeze blow through.
"What are you doing, Er-ge?" a voice behind him asks, so familiar his heart hurts, but he can't turn around.
"Why are you wasting away out here?" it asks, pressing further. Everything hangs fuzzy and muted around, a soft dream with an edge to it.
"Why are you here?"
He doesn't know. He doesn't know anything anymore.
Lan Xichen becomes an expert at carefully measured incisions, just enough to remove the increasingly stubborn sprouts without causing too much damage. Every day he finds them burrowed further in, trying desperately to take hold and stay.
Every morning he cleanses blood from delicate flesh and disposes of the remains. Every morning he wonders how much longer it will go on for. He feels an itching in his veins and under his skin, even after he's sure he's removed all of them.
"Why are you fighting it?" the ghost of Jin Guangyao asks in his dreams, forever just out of his reach. "Er-ge…I thought you wanted to stay in seclusion," he points out in the silence that hangs between them.
Lan Xichen opens his mouth to respond and he coughs up leaves instead. Some of the smallest leaves blow away on the gentle breeze, but most of them settle at his feet. He can't stop; he can't move.
"Why are you here?"
He wants to answer. He doesn't have any answers, and leaves bluster past him.
In the morning, he can't remove the vines. Lan Xichen cuts into his leg, more and more, until the rich red makes him sick, and there's no end in sight. It has dug its roots in and decided to stay, and there's nothing he can do without injuring himself further.
He bandages himself and continues with his days. If there's nothing to be done, he has to work around it. Forgoing his daily routine won't make it go away.
Ignoring it won't make it go away either, but he can't think about that.
Every morning, he ignores the throbbing in his legs, where more and more plants have latched on, and goes about his day. If he thinks about it too much, he can feel them crawling over and under his skin, taking over their unwilling yet complacent host.
Sometimes, there's a voice in the back of his head, quiet and distant, and sometimes, Lan Xichen reaches for it. He tries to figure out if it's another facet of himself, come to tell him that he's failed again, or something else. It's too far away for him to tell, but maybe someday—
"What are you going to do, Er-ge?" Jin Guangyao asks, still out of sight but never far. In his dreams, Lan Xichen can almost feel his presence, and his dream helpfully supplies the light breath against his ear. "Ignoring it won't make it go away."
Lan Xichen chokes on his words as plants curl around him, encircling his throat, and Jin Guangyao continues as though it's nothing out of the ordinary.
"Why are you allowing this to happen? You don't want them to burrow in you, but you don't want to leave, either."
He can't argue. He knows it's true but he doesn't quite know why- or even how to defend himself.
"Why are you here?"
Lan Xichen wakes to find the aching weight of dead branches over him, sprouted from a shoulder and rotting already. It's heavy. It's alive. It's dead. It's not a part of him, but—
"Looks like you're not as good of a source of nutrients as they thought," Jin Guangyao tells him, a presence that could be in him or around him, speaking into his heart rather than anything more tangible. Despite knowing he won't see anything, Lan Xichen turns around to see—
Always, always, emptiness, except for the dead leaves littering his floor. He absently wonders how long they've been there.
Long enough to die.
He shoves the dead branch off his porch and his legs twinge, a strange warning and an urge to head back inside. There's nothing for him outside of seclusion, only guilt and further reminders of his failures.
In his dreams, Lan Xichen is unfettered by roots, but he cannot speak, cannot breathe, can only listen to Jin Guangyao's questions helplessly.
"Do you want to break free?" Jin Guangyao asks, lingering behind him, soft breath warm against his ear as Lan Xichen desperately wishes he could answer. He doesn't know what he can say; he just wants to talk to him again.
"What do you think is going to happen to you?" he asks, leaning forward. Lan Xichen tries to gasp, without even meaning to, because there is a solid weight on his shoulder, but he can't. Vines crawl up his throat and thrust out, spewing crackling dead leaves in place of breath.
He wants to turn around. He wants to see someone- no, not someone, A-Yao. Dreams are his only hope for that and they refuse to deliver, giving him only unsatisfying glimpses and an inability to do anything but watch.
"Why are you here, Er-ge?"
Lan Xichen claws at his skin and it peels away, cracking like dead bark in places as tendrils desperately reach for light and sustenance. The more he scratches, the more falls away, bits and pieces collecting around him, leaving fresh, raw skin behind.
He hesitates, Jin Guangyao's voice ringing in his head.
Do you really want to do this?
He's not sure. He's not sure he doesn't want to do it either.
If you keep this up, what will happen to you?
Lan Xichen looks at the leaves and branches slowly decaying into the floor, remnants of himself and the plants that insist on taking root within him, and forces himself to stop picking away at himself.
"Do you really want this?" Jin Guangyao asks him, gently pressed against Lan Xichen's back, just out of sight.
He's not sure. He doesn't know what "this" is- seclusion? the plants that won't leave? to see Jin Guangyao again?
It doesn't matter. He can't answer.
Flowers bloom and die just off the edge of the porch, withering at his feet. The breeze continues, calm and peaceful, gently rustling the dead leaves that have become Lan Xichen's constant companions.
"What did you expect to come of this?" he asks, another question that Lan Xichen has no answers for.
Loneliness breeds desperation, and he tries to reach back, if nothing else works, if nothing lets him have what he wants, if he can't see Jin Guangyao, then maybe he can at least touch him. His fingers brush something, maybe Jin Guangyao, maybe not, and there's soft laughter in his ear.
"Not quite yet, Er-ge," he chuckles. "Why are you here?"
Seasons change around him, sending cascades of leaves from the trees as falls winds down, and they join him in solitude. Thick roots push up through the floorboards, seeking him out, and delicate new growth springs from flesh unbidden. Green vines twist around his legs and it's all Lan Xichen can do just to move some days. He knows he should keep moving. If he doesn't even walk around his cottage, what more will happen?
You'll never leave again.
Jin Guangyao's voice is in his head and around him, much more than usual. For a moment, Lan Xichen wonders if he's dreaming, but the stagnant air of his home is nothing like the peaceful breeze in his dreams. Not all dreams are the same, of course- just the ones with Jin Guangyao.
"I'm not leaving as it is," Lan Xichen says softly, and that's how he truly knows he's awake. He's never able to answer Jin Guangyao in his dreams.
You still could.
Could he? Lan Xichen isn't so sure. Seclusion is a safety net, away from the rest of his sect and the cultivation world; it keeps him distanced from his failures. Even without the roots holding him down, he's not in any hurry to return to his previous responsibilities. He's—
Content? No, that implies some amount of happiness. He's complacently resigned to this life.
Are you? Jin Guangyao's whispers barely grace his ears before they are swept away on the wind.
"Do you want to leave?" Jin Guangyao asks in a dream, his familiar weight against Lan Xichen's back. Despite knowing it never works, he still tries to answer. Dried up flower petals try to choke him and he coughs them up, small twigs scratching his throat on their way up and out. They join the dead leaves littering the ground and Jin Guangyao chuckles softly.
"Why do you keep trying, despite the difficulties?" he presses, warm breath lingering on his neck. "You've given up on everything else."
He has an answer for this one. He misses Jin Guangyao, misses what they had, and misses the lost opportunities after his death. Even if it's just a dream, it feels like the only chance he'll get to tell him.
"Oh, Er-ge," Jin Guangyao murmurs into his ear, delicately intimate. "I'm waiting for you. Why are you here?"
Lan Xichen wakes up in a tangle of vines and leaves, all clamoring for a piece of him. The ones that took root…days, weeks, months ago? He's not sure. But no matter how longer it's been, they're still here, and strong and thick amongst the fresh growth. He tries to pull himself free, but every bit he clears away only reveals more. His nails crack and his skin breaks open, but—
But there's no blood, only rotting plants, roots desperate for nutrients and leaves curled along them. It smells like the end of summer and the beginning of spring, green and rotting and growing. There's death and life all together, and he's trapped in the center of it.
I thought you didn't want to leave.
"I don't want to be devoured by plants," Lan Xichen says, as if this should be obvious. He yanks away more and more, trying to at least get free enough to move his legs. The weight of them hold him down, but he persists - he can't end like this.
We rarely get to choose our endings.
"I know," he gasps out, sweat and dessicated plants a disgusting slurry trampled underfoot and dripping in his eyes. He can feel the desperation and hunger of the plants around him as he tries to remove them, fighting against all his efforts. "A-Yao, I know—"
Lan Xichen picks tendrils of vines out of his skin and coughs up thick, vibrant leaves, unfurling before they hit the floor. Time is a swirling mess that he cannot track, not from where he is, because even the shadows don't make sense.
Moments or hours later, he drags himself away from the vines and presses forward to the front entrance. He doesn't want to go far, but he needs to get out.
Why not go further?
Lan Xichen takes a deep breath. The air still stagnant, heavy with verdant decay, and the outside at least promises fresh air and sun. He can have that.
Go the whole way or don't. I know you're better than this.
"Oh, I hope so," Jin Guangyao murmurs against his ear, soft and tempting, and Lan Xichen stumbles onto his porch.
A gentle breeze blows through, shifting the colorful flower blossoms and bright green leaves of the plants around him. It feels like spring, hopeful and new, but he thinks it's still winter. Maybe he's wrong. Maybe he's lost more time than he thought. Maybe it's an early spring.
"Do you want to keep trying?" Jin Guangyao asks, and—
He can't answer. He tries, he opens his mouth, ready, and instead finds himself coughing up leaves and petals.
"Er-ge," Jin Guangyao says gently, a comforting hand on his shoulder. "I believe in you. But do you?"
Not anymore. He's failed at so much; of course he can't do this, either. He wants it—
"Why are you here?" Jin Guangyao asks, but Lan Xichen doesn't wake up. He slumps forward, still choking on invasive plants, and Jin Guangyao steadies him with an arm around his waist.
The edges of his vision blur with blue and gray, like a cracking bit of paint that has dried up. The soft sounds of nature barely register, there is only his blood pounding in his ears and the sweet knowledge of how easy it would be to fall back—
"Try to wake up, Er-ge," Jin Guangyao orders him, his voice a whisper. There's a pause, waiting for him to comply, but Lan Xichen can't—
Jin Guangyao pushes him forward, and his world goes dark.
Nothing is wrong. Lan Xichen lives a quiet, peaceful life in a secluded cottage, his days a comforting monotony. He isn't anyone important - why would that even be a possibility? - and he is content to live in solitude. The warm sun shines on him every day, rejuvenating him. He reads. He eats. He tends to his small garden. He sleeps.
He wakes up and it repeats.
Every day is the same, but isn't that just how life is? Isn't that how it's always been?
Daytime is light. Nighttime is dark. There's nothing once the sun sets, only the blissful nothingness of rest.
Wake up. Live. Sleep. Repeat.
Lan Xichen lives a fulfilling life. He doesn't need anything else. He doesn't want anything else.
One day, one just like any other, he finds a wilted flower among the lively ones. It's brown and unsalvageable; it's the circle of life. But— His head hurts, and he drops what he's holding—
There's a voice in his head that isn't his own. It's familiar, somehow, but it shouldn't be there. No one else is here. No one else has ever been here.
Lan Xichen lives alone. He's always been alone.
He wakes up. There was something different about the day before, he thinks, but that can't be right. Every day is simply the same, and nothing will change that.
He breathes in fresh air and rot crawls into his nose. Something is different. Everything looks the same, but something is different.
Dead grass crunches under his foot. Most of it is still brilliant green, but a browned patch sticks out. It shouldn't—
Er-ge, you aren't—
His head hurts again. Lan Xichen clutches at it, trying to fight the headache, or perhaps the invasion of the strange voice.
Don't ignore me, please—
Sickly sweet blossoms overwhelm his senses and everything goes dark.
He wakes up.
Gone is the bright, welcoming light of day. Thin, murky light casts long shadows across the floor, and Lan Xichen moves toward the outside in hopes of finding brighter days.
Barely a whisper. Barely a thought. Dead leaves blow by, trying to lead him outside.
Why is he here? Lan Xichen can't remember. He's always been here, so why does it matter now? He can't think of anywhere he'd go if he wasn't here.
No, you haven't—
There's something calling to him, pulling at him, urging him to continue his day like nothing is wrong.
It's always been wrong.
The single word reverberates in his head, shaking him, hands on his shoulders, begging him—
Please, Er-ge, please don't just waste away—
Jin Guangyao is begging him to wake up.
Lan Xichen opens his eyes. It's dark, the air is thick with an overwhelming smell of earth, and there's a weight on him, pressing into him and holding him down. He tries to move and can't, not with the network of plants entwined around him, in him, through him—
Everything is so dark. He considers closing his eyes but they're too heavy to move, and he's trapped by his unchangeable state.
"Keep breathing," someone says, voice muffled by the growth around him. He should know this voice. He wants to know this voice, but Lan Xichen's entire existence is murky, blurred, and out of touch.
"Keep pushing," the voice says. Is it outside the cocoon of vines or in the depths of his own head? He can't tell.
"Does it really matter?" the voice asks. It's not judgmental. It's not curious. It's just there, pushing him to move forward.
"I guess it doesn't," Lan Xichen answers, voice raspy from disuse. His throat burns but it forces him to breathe deeper, draw more oxygen in, and breathe out. He coughs up - leaves, probably - and breathes again. Every breath hurts, rattles in his lungs, and brings up more plant debris, but he keeps trying.
"Just like that," the voice tells him, comforting and firm. "Keep going."
Lan Xichen coughs up a particularly large hunk and something cracks. A tiny sliver of light shines through a small slit between broken branches; there it is. His efforts must be working. His hope renewed, Lan Xichen breathes and pushes against the thick, gnarled branches. Nothing wants to budge—
"You have to do this on your own, Er-ge," the voice says, and this time, he knows who it is. How did he miss it before? Jin Guangyao's voice guides him further. "Keep pushing. You'll find your way out."
Lan Xichen doesn't waste energy on words, much as he wants to. Every breath still hurts, but fresh air begins to fill his lungs as he breaks the small crack open. Decades of cultivation and proper techniques mean nothing here; he only has brute force and determination to rely on.
"You're so close," Jin Guangyao says, so close and so far away. Lan Xichen makes a final push, ripping apart stubborn branches entwined with thick vines, and the whole mess finally crumbles to pieces.
Sunlight streams in, bright enough to hurt his eyes after - months? - of darkness. His home is a dusty, stagnant relic. His fingers are cracked and bleeding, and his skin feels raw and wrong. As he moves away from his former prison, more plant debris falls away from him. Each step further frees him from the reach of desperate roots, clinging to the worn fabric of his robes.
The outside calls to him, but he hesitates. Every urge he has is suspect now.
"You're not dreaming," Jin Guangyao says, still muffled and distant. Why? He pulled himself out of that cocoon. Shouldn't he be able to hear better?
"I'm not here," Jin Guangyao clarifies, sadness tinging his words.
"Please, Er-ge," he pleads softly. He doesn't specify what he wants. He never does; he expects Lan Xichen to know.
Lan Xichen steps into his yard and frost dusts the ground, winter's grasp still firm. There's no breeze, only still, cool air and gray skies. It's not friendly.
Lan Xichen breathes in the fresh air and the cold restores something in him. Winter is harsh, especially in the mountains of Gusu. This is his reality, still marred by countless months and years of complacency, but flawed enough to be more than a wistful dream.
But…could he feel Jin Guangyao in his dreams? Or were his waking hours just a muddled mix?
Where is he now?
He shouldn't chase dreams. Sitting in place trapped him, and the dried blood from his wounds warns him of what will happen if he returns to that illusion.
The wind picks up around him, harsh with winter's unforgiving cold, and Lan Xichen considers his options. Even if he were still in peak condition, he wouldn't be able to go without sleep forever. His current state is battered and worn and so very tired. It would be so easy to crawl back inside and sleep forever.
"I shouldn't do that," he says softly, hoping for a response while expecting nothing.
The cold of winter and loneliness surrounds him.
"I miss you."
Lan Xichen clears the overgrowth from his cottage and carefully burns it. His skin prickles and aches, his heart yearns for it, and his cheeks are streaked with uncontrollable tears by the time it's gone. He doesn't know if any tendrils still linger within, hidden deep inside of him, waiting for a chance to claw their way to the surface again. He can't rip his body to pieces to satisfy his paranoia, much as he'd like to.
Lan Xichen sleeps.
Lan Xichen clears his home of anything unnecessary. Most of his personal items are still in the Hanshi, back with the rest of the sect and his old life. He doesn't need them; he only needs the bare necessities. Isn't that one his sect's original rules?
Lan Xichen sleeps.
Lan Xichen finds the last of a tea that Jin Guangyao gifted him for a birthday. It's tucked in the back of his food storage, forgotten until just now. He smells the dried leaves and almost cries from their scent; he can remember countless afternoons spent together and apart, the subtle flavor a reminder of a fond friend.
His nights are empty. Dreams escape him. Loneliness settles in as his only companion and friendship only exists in the mementos of a man long dead. Jin Guangyao left him with a hole in his heart and life, and a fear of facing his misplaced trust.
He still misses him.
Lan Xichen sleeps.
Lan Xichen brews a small cup of tea and burns the rests. Dried leaves crumple and curl in the remains of parasitic plant growth, and this time, the tears are his own.
There's nothing left to question. There's only himself, alone, secluded from everyone he knows and unwilling to face them again. There is an entire expansive world out there and while he isn't content here, he doesn't want to be anywhere else.
Lan Xichen sleeps.
"Why are you here?" Jin Guangyao asks, back to Lan Xichen. He's looking out across the blossoming fields of the outer edges of the Cloud Recesses, a beautiful scene tucked between jagged mountains. A gentle breeze blows, barely enough to ruffle his hair.
Lan Xichen steps forward and roots burst forth from the earth, encircling his ankles. They tug at him, trying desperately to pull him back in. He opens his mouth—
"I miss you," Lan Xichen answers, despite the vines trying to choke him and the scratch of leaves in his throat. "A-Yao—"
"Why?" Jin Guangyao asks, hurt and desperate confusion in his voice, and he turns around.
The illusion of peace shatters. Rotting branches with half-dead blooms burst forth from his chest, dangling from the wound Lan Xichen will always regret inflicting. Vines curl up his right arm, completely covering his hand - Lan Xichen can't tell if there even is one underneath it all. Dried blood and cracked dirt mar his robes and skin, running down his face like tears and blossoming from his injuries. He is a mess of angry, tangled plant growth and rot, and he looks at Lan Xichen, waiting for an answer.
Lan Xichen forces himself forward, fighting plants that want to feed on him again. For the first time in a long, long while, he has somewhere to be. He coughs up flower petals that turn to ash before they hit the ground, all while Jin Guangyao stares at his attempts.
"I'm not ready to give up on you," Lan Xichen manages between gasping for breath, nearly tripping from the tight vines coiling around him. He's still going to try. He can't face the world, but he can face Jin Guangyao. He always has.
The air between them smells of overripe fruit and burning tea leaves, charred and unforgettable, and rot engulfs the bright green grass at their feet. There is so much death; it haunts him. There is so much to be taken in by, but—
Lan Xichen reaches out, legs aching, punctured by sharp thorns and weighed down by the vines clinging to him. His fingers grasp air, close but never close enough.
"I don't deserve this," Jin Guangyao says.
"Maybe I'm too foolish to stop following you," he counters, and tries to reach out again.
"I don't deserve this," he repeats, the brown and red of blood crackling from branches as a sob bubbles up. "Don't—"
Lan Xichen finds long-forgotten strength in Jin Guangyao's voice, and he yanks his legs free, taking the last stumbling steps that separate him from Jin Guangyao. "I know," he assures Jin Guangyao, and finally takes his hand.
Lan Xichen sleeps on, collapsed in the cold of winter, desperately clutching—
Everything hurts. Everything aches. Everything burns bright and stronger than before.
Everything is ending.
Something is beginning.
Lan Xichen wakes up.
"Don't be so sure of that," Jin Guangyao says, looking far more whole and real than he has since the last time they took tea in Koi Tower together, a stark improvement over plant rot and growth. Lan Xichen sits up to try to greet him and everything spins, a terrifying tease of someone far gone being taken away again—
Jin Guangyao's hand finds his, firm and confident as he pulls Lan Xichen up.
"Thank you, A-Yao," he manages. He doesn't recognize where they are; everything is gray and out of focus- except for Jin Guangyao. It's nothing like the dreams he's had, where fake spring trapped him and kept him silent, but he thinks he's right to question whether or not he's truly awake.
"Er-ge," he says softly, still holding Lan Xichen's hand tightly.
There's so much he should say, in whatever precious few moments they have together. Nothing is guaranteed - time together, happiness, failure, success - and every second now is one less they'll have later. Lan Xichen takes Jin Guangyao's other hand in his and squeezes them reassuringly.
"Er-ge—" Jin Guangyao tries, but the kiss cuts him off before he can finish. Lan Xichen means for it to be quick and chaste, but like many things, Jin Guangyao has his own plans. He kisses back fiercely, possessively, holding him in place as he digs his nails into Lan Xichen's palms. It's almost but not quite sharp enough to draw blood, and he only releases one to fist a hand in Lan Xichen's hair. There's an unspoken 'more, more, more' in their desperation; neither of them are foolish enough to think this can last.
"Idiot," Jin Guangyao chides between kisses.
"I missed you," Lan Xichen explains.
He sighs fondly and kisses Lan Xichen again. "You shouldn't, but I'm selfish enough to appreciate it."
Lan Xichen laughs. "You're welcome."
"I'll miss you," Jin Guangyao says.
He sucks in a breath. "A-Yao—"
"If you keep wasting away in seclusion, you'll never find me," Jin Guangyao tells him, smiling. "Don't stagnate, Er-ge."
The world goes dark.
Lan Xichen wakes up.
The chill of winter clings to him and dry grass crackles as he pushes himself up. He's sore. He's alone.