It started when Lan Wangji was ten. He felt a strange tingling on his arm, looking down to see black scrawl appearing on his skin. The handwriting was by no means neat, it was written hurriedly and messily, as if they had rushed through it to do something else.
He turned his arm around, checking to see if anywhere else had been covered by the ink. Luckily, it was only the inside of his arm, and slipping the sect robes on would cover it for the day.
“Wangji, has your soulmate started to write for you?” Lan Xichen greeted him with a smile that day.
“Soulmate?” Lan Wangji frowned. He’d heard of them before, from his mother and some of his peers. But since he liked to study in seclusion, he never looked deeper into the subject.
Lan Xichen pointed at his hand, which had a small doodle of a flower on it. Lan Wangji immediately tried to rub it off, his thumb pressing harshly against the back of his hand. His brother laughed. “Wangji, it won’t rub off. It will come off when your soulmate washes their hands.”
“Brother, what does this mean?”
“When your soulmate writes on their own skin, the marks will show up on yours as well. They stay there until your soulmate washes it off or it fades naturally. You can write to them too, the communication goes both ways.”
Lan Wangji read the writing that was on his arm. “Hey! I just learned soulmates are a thing, that’s so cool!! Is this reaching anyone?”
He blinked twice, before letting the sleeve fall over his arm again. He turned away, heading back to his room. He was sure Lan Xichen was grinning behind his back. When he lifted a book to read, his sleeve fell back again, revealing fresh ink. “ Hello??? ” it read. “Please respond!!! I want to at least know you’re out there!”
He heaved a sigh, dipping the brush that lay at the edge of the desk in the ink. He thought about what to write for a moment, before pressing the cool tip against his skin. “I’m here.”
From then on, Lan Wangji never knew of peace again. There was always writing on his arms when he woke up, and it never washed off until the next day. His soulmate never wrote anywhere else - only on his arms. Lan Wangji was thankful for that, as he’d rather not wake up to see drawings on his face.
Sometimes he would read the scribbled writing on his arms when they would slide off and disappear. He hadn’t written back since the first day. He was afraid of what his soulmate would think about it, but he was also afraid of writing back. And so, many of his days passed when he simply did not write back.
He had learned from Lan Xichen that his soulmate was not limited to being a person of the opposite gender - not that he really cared. He had never experienced any kind of attraction besides the feeling of respect towards anyone. Some of his peers had already found their soulmates within the Cloud Recesses, and it was obvious that they had a bond between them.
He never watched with envy, but regarded them with a curiousness that he hid behind his stoic glares. As he grew up and lived each day without finding a clue as to who his soulmate was, his heart grew impatient. Of course, he was to tame it and push it into a dark corner to never come out - it was just how his personality was.
But one day, he woke up with a message that sent surprise jolting down his back.
“I’m coming to the Cloud Recesses.”
Lan Wangji sat up from his bed, rubbing the ink against his arm. He knew it wouldn’t come off, it just - what. He thought it was a joke, a prank that was pulled by his peers? That couldn’t happen - as all his peers were afraid of him. Did his soulmate know who he was?
He shook his head as he got ready for the day, walking briskly towards the door. His brother opened the door at the same time, nearly bumping into him. “Ah- Wangji, why are you so hurried?” He asked.
“I…” Lan Wangji pushed his sleeve up, showing his brother the messy scrawl.
“Ah, a guest disciple, then? If you haven’t heard, a few guests are coming here to practice and learn about cultivation. Your soulmate might be among one of them.”
“Mn,” Lan Wangji nodded in agreement. He wondered about his soulmate - who would the heavens have chosen to be his partner - forever?
He watched the gates as the guest disciple started to filter into the Cloud Recesses. One of them - a Yunmeng Jiang disciple - stood out to him the most. It wasn’t because of his purple uniform and little silver bell, or his hair that was unruly and barely tied together in a ponytail, it was the aura that surrounded him. He gave off an aura of sunlight and happiness, a kindness that Lan Wangji would never dream to hope for in his lifetime. The sun gleamed behind him, its soft glow making him seem almost angelic. The boy caught his gaze from across the courtyard, before he grinned and followed after another one of the disciples.
Wei Wuxian, he would later learn, was his name.
And from then on, he would regret it. Wei Wuxian was unbearable, intolerable, loud, annoying, unruly, the list could go on forever. He was everything Lan Wangji was not, he could stand the aloof demeanor, he could -
He could shatter the very barrier that Lan Wangji set up over the past fifteen years within seconds. And Lan Wangji hated it.
The tugging within his heart betrayed the emotions he wanted to feel; he wanted to not care for this boy, for him to be able to forget him once he left the Cloud Recesses. The world, however, seemed to have other plans.
The moment he saw Wei Wuxian fall from his sword in Caiyi Town, Lan Wangji felt his heart drop. He raced against the wind to follow him, splashing through the resentful water as he hastily grabbed Wei Wuxian’s collar and hoisted him back up. The moment Wei Wuxian opened his eyes and complained about the way Lan Wangji handled him, his eyes softened just the slightest bit and he let out a breath he didn’t know he was holding.
“Wangji,” Lan Xichen was smiling when he returned to the boat. “I didn’t think you were so close with Young Master Wei.”
“I’m not,” Lan Wangji retorted, looking away. Lan Xichen laughed behind him.
That day, no ink was etched onto his arms.
Lan Wangji had no doubt that his soulmate was Wei Wuxian - no one else could have such messy handwriting and persist throughout the icy front that he put up. Sometimes he would catch Wei Wuxian doodling on his hand, the ink appearing on his own skin a few moments later. Lan Wangji never told him - there was never the right atmosphere.
But it seemed, there would never be the right atmosphere. After Wei Wuxian had left the Cloud Recesses, he diverged his path from everyone else. Writing never appeared on his arm again.
His feelings, repressed after so many years, spilled like water overflowing from a bowl the night after the news had travelled to him. In his drunken state, he grabbed one of his brushes, scribbling frantically over his arms. He cried that night, for the loss of innocence, his light, and his life.
The next morning he woke up with the words on his arm, regret in his heart, and a sadness that draped over him like a thick blanket of snow. Lan Xichen had approached him warily, and he offered him a pained smile. A few words were exchanged, and Lan Wangji returned to his room, pulling out his guqin.
He ran his fingers lightly along the strings, plucking the familiar tune of Inquiry - letting out a baited breath of disappointments when the spirits did not answer. He swiftly picked up a brush, and wrote a simple message. He would repeat this cycle for thirteen years.
And then, it happened.
That night, at Dafan Mountain, Lan Wangji had grabbed Mo Xuanyu’s wrist to stop him from controlling the corpses with his makeshift flute. His sleeve had dropped to his elbow, revealing his arm. On it, three words were written neatly in ink. “Where are you?”
Their eyes met, and Lan Wangji felt something change within him. Wei Ying, he thought, letting Mo Xuanyu - no, Wei Wuxian’s arm drop. You’ve returned.
“How did you know it was me?” Wei Wuxian asked him as Lan Wangji carried him.
It was obvious, he thought to himself. “Think,” was what he said instead.
“I don’t know! That’s why I’m asking you!”
“Then, think harder.”
“Lan Zhan!” Wei Wuxian pouted, grabbing the front of Lan Wangji’s robes. He kept his face impassive, walking down the street as he carried his soulmate in his arms.
“You know,” Wei Wuxian had said one day. “I wonder if soulmates transcend lifetimes.”
Lan Wangji turned to look at him, signalling his attention.
“I had a soulmate in my last life,” he sighed, leaning against the table in the Jingshi. “They only responded once, though. I honestly wished I wrote more, they might have written back one day, you know?” He laughed bitterly. “But after I became the Yiling Patriarch… Lan Zhan, if your soulmate was someone like me, what would you think? I wonder what my old soulmate would’ve thought of me, since, you know, I was the Yiling Patriarch. If they knew, would the have killed themselves?”
“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji cut him off. Wei Wuxian blinked twice.
“What is it?”
“Give me your hand,” Lan Wangji turned his palm upright, and Wei Wuxian rested his own on it.
Lan Wangji reached for a brush, dipping it quickly in the ink. He brought the tip to the back of Wei Wuxian’s hand, neatly inking thirteen strokes onto the skin. “Lan Zhan, what does this mean?” Wei Wuxian asked, removing his hand as Lan Wangji put the brush back onto the table. “Is this supposed to help me find my soulmate?”
“No need,” Lan Wangji responded as he pulled the edge of his sleeve up, revealing the back of his hand.
“You- Lan Zhan!” Wei Wuxian’s face morphed into a grin. “You could have told me! I didn’t have to spend so much of my life wondering if my soulmate died or something! You only responded once!”
Lan Wangji let a small smile slip through his usually expressionless face. “I’m sorry.”
Wei Wuxian tackled him in a hug, causing him to fall backwards. His back hit against the wooden floor, a pressure from above causing him to look down. Wei Wuxian let go quickly and pushed himself upright, their eyes meeting. “Lan Zhan, you don’t have to ask anymore,” he smiled again, and Lan Wangji believed that he could fall in love with this man all over again. “I’m here.”