Wei Wuxian was the kind of boy that Lan Wangji should dislike—Does dislike.
He was incredibly chatty, a shameless flirt, and a unrepentant prankster who broke the rules with a strange sort of elegant cleverness that would make any teacher proud, if only he applied it in the proper ways.
A rule-breaking rascal, his uncle calls him. Like it was the worst thing one could be.
A chaotic mess with a terrible memory, other people call him. A talented one to be sure, but a mess nonetheless.
Yet, there is a certain charisma to Wei Wuxian that draws people to him despite all these flaws; that drew the eye even without him making a huge spectacle of himself, whether it be a prank or sneaking into Cloud Recesses with jars of Emperor’s Smile. The kind of charisma and boyish charm that brought people into following along with his antics or look at him with fond, exasperated amusement rather than annoyance.
Even Lan Wangji is drawn in at times—he will very, very, very reluctantly admit—but he knows this is only a temporary thing. A momentary lapse of judgement and slight curiosity that only comes from encountering someone so utterly different from himself. Someone who was the very model of unrestraint that went against everything his clan had taught him.
This feeling will fade away, Lan Wangji knows this as surely as the sun sets and rises everyday.
(He sees him from far away, from behind the magnolia tree. That troublemaker is laughing with his friends again, a carefree smile on his youthful face like always.
Wei Wuxian looks like a mirage or a spirit like this, from one of the half-remembered stories his mother used to tell him so long ago before she died, the kind that lure travellers to their doom—eyes like silver glittering with mirth from some joke told, his skin glowing as the late afternoon sunlight traces the curves and edges of his lively handsome face like the most attentive lover, while his long hair flows behind him with every step like a river of the finest black ink.
Something stirs, slowly and rising up from within. A molten feeling that curls tightly around his heart of pure white jade, that seems to scorch him from the inside out the longer he looks at the boy who seems to shine with a light that was all his own.
He—He feels—He wan—
Lan Wangji turns away.
The feeling does not fade.)
His uncle had once said that the Lan sect disciples were like unbending stone pillars that reached towards the lofty heavens; to be above the earth from where they sprouted in the name of the path all cultivators wished to walk. That they were like swords of the finest and purest steel, like the unwavering excellence and the code of honour that so defined their clan.
His uncle forgot to mention that these proud stone pillars were at the complete mercy of the rain and winds. That they could be broken down without a thought or care, and be pushed back towards the earth to be reclaimed by it.
His uncle did not mention that the finest swords can break with enough force inflicted upon it and could rust over time. While even the hardest steel can melt in the face of fire, and be remoulded again and again as one pleased.
Lan Wangji wouldn’t have thought of these things either, would accept these sayings as they are without thinking twice, until the day he met a boy as uncontrollable as a storm and as wild as a raging fire.
“You could have fallen in love with the idea of him, Wangji.” His brother says in the eighth year after Wei Wuxian’s death at the Siege of Luanzang Mound. It’s surprisingly blunt of him, but Lan Wangji knows his brother would not have said this unless he believed that it needed to be said.
Lan Xichen wasn’t wrong in telling this to him anyway. After all, it was something Lan Wangji had thought about himself at times. Especially during the darker moments, after his attempts to seek that person once again end in failure, and weigh more heavily than usual. Where the only response to his inquiries is once again the roaring sound of silence that fill his ears when the last notes of the song fade away.
He is no fool. He knows what his brother wants him to say. Is trying to make him say.
But he can’t help but think of the boy—of the man he had become in all that time spent apart; the man who calls his name—his birth name—so fearlessly and easily, with a mischievous flair, even if he was met with disapproving stares at his forwardness. Whose every smile and the melodic sounds of his laughter were so bright that they dance vividly at the edges of Lan Wangji’s thoughts and dreams even after all this time.
He thinks about the boy who walked, who talked, and burned his kindness into Lan Wangji’s heart like a precious summer dream. Of his compassion, even at the cost of his own well-being and personal reputation, to protect those he saw as innocents or what he cherished ever so deeply. Of a song, echoing in a dark cave to an audience of one, half-delirious on pain and exhaustion, that will never be sung again. Of a faraway town near a mountain and a young child clinging to both their legs, while the rapid beating of his heart says what if what if what if what if?
Of another mountain, and another cave, where the words ‘Get out’ are said in response to every unspoken and spoken ‘I love you.’
No, Lan Wangji cannot bring himself to let him go; that outrageous man who always followed his heart, whose very kindness and sense of justice led to his own death. Not of those memories. Not of the possibilities that could have been.
Even after that man had been cast aside by the world out of fear and disdain.
Even after that man had lost everything without anyone to mourn him in the aftermath; the boy that he was, the man he had become, the man he could have been.
(Lan Wangji is not a fool but he is a Lan, and everyone knows that all Lans are fools for love; drawn into its forceful pull without exception.
Even if their love only drags them down into inescapable tragedy.)
He meets that person again, years later, like a star that had fallen to earth and ends up shattering the ground upon impact.
He should have known that this was how things would go with anything related to Wei Wuxian; the man couldn’t even be reborn into the mortal plane without causing some kind of ruckus.
(After all, isn’t that why Lan Wangji always appeared where the chaos was during these past thirteen years?)
Wei Wuxian—Wei Ying—is in a new body with a new face that is quite different from the one in his memories, but Lan Wangji knows it’s him once he hears that song playing on Danfan Mountain, the one he made just for him all those years ago. The song dedicated to a person who he knew would never return his feelings.
(It’s fine, even if that knowledge hurt him back then—that hurts him even now—at least Wei Ying was back, with all his alluring charisma and quicksilver tongue.)
They travel together later, in order to piece together remains of a man long dead and the mystery of his demise. Here, Lan Wangji learns how to fall in love with this man all over again—to relearn the path that he chose long ago and has walked on ever since. To reconcile the one from his memories with the face he sees in the present, the same shining soul in two different bodies.
In the way he holds himself with easy-going confidence, and the tiny subconscious gestures he makes.
In the way he laughs, even if the sound is different, and the curve of his smile that alternate between impishness and sweetness in equal measures.
In the way that he was still so noble and kind in all of the most dangerous ways, that makes Lan Wangji despair and relieved in equal measures. At least this time, he’ll be there to pull him back, even by force, before this shining sun of a man collapses upon himself and break from the weight of his own good intentions.
In the way that he was still as utterly compelling and magnetic to Lan Wangji as he was years ago, drawing him back into his orbit with utter ease. It helps that Lan Wangji wants to follow him anyway, to go where Wei Ying would move towards without hesitation.
This time Lan Wangji cannot—will not—let him go again. Death will have to claim him first.
“Why are you doing this?” Wei Ying asks in a rare moment of exhausted honesty, as Lan Wangji treats the injuries he obtained when they fled Jinlin Tower, with nearly every cultivator in the continent on their trail. “Just leave me and go back, Hanguang-jun, I’m sure they’ll forgive you if you do. I’ll be fine, don’t worry.”
Lan Wangji presses his lips together in a thin line, nearly tempted to bite him the way he did back in the Xuanwu’s cave.
Leave Wei Ying? To not worry about him? This man asks for the impossible as always, and this time it is the one request Lan Wangji would never agree to grant him. Even if he did leave him—and he would never because losing this person once was enough, why would he subject himself to that all over again?—did he not know that all of paths Lan Wangji would ever walk would inevitably lead back to him?
For someone so intelligent and perceptive that he could easily run circles around others, it’s baffling how he could be so oblivious to something like this.
Because I want to. Lan Wangji wants to say to this person who seems to believe himself replaceable. That leaving him was fine because he couldn’t possibly matter that much or be worth the lengths Lan Wangji was willing to go. Because I promised that I would protect you this time, the way I wasn’t able to back then.
Because I love you. Lan Wangji wants to tell him. To this beautifully radiant and audacious disaster of a man who allows himself to be martyred as easily as breathing, but for whom Lan Wangji would give up—has given up—everything for.
(The scars on his body seem to throb at that admission. A reminder of what he has already done.)
But instead he chooses not to respond, only continuing to tend to Wei Ying’s injuries with a single minded focus, and an expression that gives nothing away. Not of the angersadnesspainlove that meld together inside of him, threatening to overflow and drown them both if he dares to let out.
(In the end, Lan Wangji’s heart has always been the most honest part of him, with a tendency to scream out the words he wishes to say that his mouth cannot.)
Wei Ying has freckles on his body, a piece of knowledge only known to two people.
(And only by two people, if Lan Wangji would have his way.)
It was something people saw as flaws on one’s skin, where the wealthy would spend mountains upon mountains of gold to get rid of or prevent at all costs.
Lan Wangji didn’t care about that in the slightest; and why should he, when these flaws were just marks gained from a life of travel and work exposed to the sun. That he, the Yiling Patriarch, is subject to things all living creatures are, like nature or the weather, despite being known as the master over the realm of the dead.
(Marks that serve as a continuing reminder that Wei Ying was here. After all, how can something like this happen within an unchanging dream?)
He brushes the exposed skin of Wei Ying’s back with a gentle hand, idly counting the freckles that faintly dust the path between his shoulder blades. He can’t help but be fascinated with these motes of gold that dot his most precious person’s skin, that darken and fade with the seasons—with time.
He wants to taste them with his tongue, and transform them into bright red constellations that only he could see. To hold his lover down and press kisses on the ones that lie on the tantalising curve of his spine.
(He wonders if Wei Ying had freckles like this on his old body as well, where they blossomed like golden flowers over sun-kissed skin.)
Wei Ying shifts closer, making Lan Wangji pause in his movements and watches as he turns to face him, while a pair of eyes open slowly to peer up blearily. A sleepy smile begins to unfurl on Wei Ying’s face at seeing him, expression utterly content. Like there was no other place in this world he would rather choose be; happy to be in Lan Wangji’s arms. Happy to stay by Lan Wangji’s side.
(Lan Wangji feels like he’s swallowed a star, from all the love in him—from all the love with him, and all the love surrounding him.
It’s too much, but at the same time, it is not enough.)
“Lan Zhan?” Comes a sleep roughened voice that was full of unabashed fondness and warmth.
“I am here.” Lan Wangji replies, curling an arm tightly around Wei Ying’s waist, and lets himself burn.