He is the soft swing of a door closing shut at the end of the road; the sharp snip of a life thread being cut short.
Cloaked in darkness, in robes of dark grey and a black deeper than the night, he is the one the Underworld calls to. Wei Wuxian, their voices ring, shouting roaring screaming pleading crying praying howling shrieking - always desperate, always clamouring for his attention. Ghostly hands claw and reach out for him, so much so that if he is just the slightest bit careless, they turn real, bone reaching out through soil to clutch at him.
But he closes his ears and hardens his heart, even if he can feel it crack just a little more with every life he reaps, because this is his duty, his geas, and one that he has to carry alone. He is the chosen god of the Underworld, and this is his fate. So he smiles and laughs, and lets no one see.
It doesn’t mean he’ll just roll over and behave, though.
(The reactions of the other gods when he wears white for a day are absolutely priceless. Death dressing in black? It’s so cliche that he could laugh - has laughed, in fact - but it is tradition, and he must adhere. He is a god, and gods are built on tradition.)
Wuxian bounces from place to place, blinding everyone with his smile, taking pride in unsettling those stuffy old gods, because who says death can’t be cheerful? Following his siblings when they roam around is his favourite past time, and it something only he can do, because he is death and death is everywhere.
He spends his days in summer teasing Jiang Cheng, riling up the prickly god of war and watching the aftermath. It’s usually trees that suffer the divine lightning of Zidian, but sometimes Jiang Cheng takes to the field himself, and his anger is awe-inspiring.
(He prays that no one will stifle his brother, because he knows, he knows that underneath that anger and competitiveness is a spirit of love. For his family, Jiang Cheng is capable of doing anything, and Wuxian prays that he will never be pushed that far.)
They are war and death, always together, brothers till the very end. He follows in the shadow of his younger, crabbier brother - Jiang Cheng rages and razes and burns with a righteous fury, Zidian flaring purple and clearing the field in moments, and as always, Wuxian has to clean up the mess left behind. But that’s fine. For him, seeing his brother in his element is reward enough.
(Because like Jiang Cheng, he too is a god capable of doing anything for his loved ones, even if it means giving up even himself.)
Winter is when he’s most busy, but he still makes time to drop in on Jiang Yanli. His precious older sister, the goddess of home and hearth. She is the warmth he misses when he goes out, the comfort he seeks every time his load gets too heavy to bear. She isn’t his the way she is Jin Zixuan’s (that damn god of archery, she’s too good for him!), for they are betrothed, but she is family. Their domains don’t match up, but there is the occasional case of an elderly mortal dying in peace by the fireside, either alone or surrounded by loved ones, and he might meet her there.
She welcomes him during the cold months of his domain, with a warm hug, gentle kindness, and a bowl of her famous lotus root soup. From her, he hears tales of the other gods and goddesses of the various realms. Most of them feature their family, or the trifecta of knowledge, vengeance and cunning - Lan Xichen, and his sworn brothers, Nie Mingjue and Jin Guangyao. Oddly enough, Lan Xichen is also one of the Twin Jades, half of the most beloved pair of gods. The other Jade is his younger brother, Lan Wangji. The young god is light, life and creation, his polar opposite, the yang to his yin, and Wuxian isn’t sure how he feels about that.
The ever-virtuous Han Guang-Jun, as Lan Wangji is worshipped, is said to be like finest jade - without flaws, without imperfection, with an unmoving expression carved from what could be the finest marble. Why was a god of life so still? Wuxian sighs, but listens to Yanli’s stories with a smile all the same. Maybe he didn’t understand, being unable to touch life without it withering away around him, but it seemed to him that life was something to be celebrated.
Occasionally, Nie Huaisang drops in with some gossip of his own, always with an elaborately painted fan as befits his status as god of the arts. “I heard that the Wen tribe worshiping the sun is going crazy,” he whispers by way of greeting, hiding the lower half of his face behind his fan as is his habit. “Not sure how true it is, though.” The other god is much appreciated, bringing news from around in order to bring him up to speed on celestial affairs.
(After all, gossip too was an art form, albeit a lesser known one.)
Wei Wuxian knows he could just fish for the information himself, but he is death, and death is not particularly welcome anywhere. Just as few mortals pray to him for a similar reason, his aura darkens the corners of whatever domain he ventures into, and so he prefers to stay away.
It’s easier, and few people question his behaviour in any case.
The first half of the year is when Wei Wuxian rests. Spring marks the beginning of new life, and summer the peak of vitality - neither of which have anything to do with him. The fact that the dominions of death and life aren’t meant to cross has been well and truly beaten into his head, and so he makes his hasty retreat when he feels winter giving way, the last vestiges of cold buckling under the freshness of spring. During those six months, he stays mostly in the Underworld, travels the world every now and then to sightsee (and drop in on Jiang Cheng during the season of war), fulfilling his duties to ease the passing of a soul as and when he is called.
The heat of summer dies down slowly, and as the leaves turn orange, he makes his return. The dead never stop whispering to him, but their voices quieten down a little during the months when life reigns - their hold a little less stifling, their touch a little less chilly. Chenqing never leaves his side, a quick tune easing the restless spirits that linger. Carved out of a single piece of obsidian, it is the product of centuries of work, and his greatest masterpiece. As the ruler of the Underworld, Wuxian’s job can never truly be done; every moment, there is another dead soul awaiting collection and judgement. And when winter falls, another duty is added to his ever growing list: to erase most of life’s work in the mortal world, resetting it to a blank canvas, ready for spring’s arrival. The cold is bitter, harshly biting and consuming, but it is his duty and it must be completed.
Often, he wonders if the god of life hates or resents him. If it were him, it would hurt to see his creations withering away under the touch of another.
Spring comes, with a flurry of flowers and greenery and sunlight. It’s much too bright to go around in dark colours, and Wuxian attempts to hide under a tree for some much needed shade and a nap. It’s well deserved, he thinks, after six months of ceaseless work and slogging, ignoring the browning of the grass and the groaning of the tree as its leaves yellow. Those are normal occurrences anyway. While he normally drops in on Jiang Cheng during these months, the god of war is currently busy, preparing and training his new warhounds for the upcoming fights.
(Dogs are a breed he will never, ever love, even if he could reduce them to dust and bones with a flare of power. Jiang Cheng can prattle on and on about his dogs, but it didn’t change the fact that they are terrifying little beasts. One cerberus in the Underworld is more than traumatizing enough, thank you very much!)
He’s about to fall asleep when a faint cry reaches his ears, and while he could ignore it, it’s so soft and in pain - longing? Yearning? - that he has to go. Wuxian can already tell it’s not from a human, but that changes his opinion none. Every being deserved someone there at their passing, human or otherwise. And who better than the god of death himself?
With a flare of power, he tracks the location from where the call came, and he teleports himself there. Bending time and space is a power he uses often, and one that comes in handy considering that he is needed everywhere. It takes him less than a moment to arrive.
Immediately, he can see what the call was about. A rabbit limping, struggling to cling to the last vestiges of life, and a nest nearby with young ones. Blood coats matted fur, and while he wishes he could give this mother more time with her children, it’s not within his power to grant.
All he can do is to ease her passing, and so he does.
Wuxian reaches out to the rabbit, slender fingers, stroking the soft pelt, uncaring of the blood. “Ah...” This was the only time he could touch something living - after all, they were practically an inch away from death. From him. This tiny bit of warmth was something he would always treasure, but the fact that it was derived from another’s passing was a point that stung. “This is always the worst kind.”
Separating a mother from her children was something that hurt deeply. The young ones often didn’t survive for long, and he would have to reap them soon after. A story that ended in tragedy - how many times had he watched such a thing? It was a repeating tale that occurred every time.
(Not every death was gentle, and not every death was peaceful. Ironically, just as life was both kind and cruel, so too was death. They truly were but two sides of the same coin, weren’t they?)
The rabbit shudders at his gentle touch. Even now, it instinctively attempted to cling on for just a little longer, but the thread had long since been cut. I’m sorry, Wuxian wants to say, but cannot. The words refuse to leave his mouth, and he can only sigh. A small tug has the soul materialising as a glowing orb, extracting itself from the cooling body. Catching it in both hands, he offers up a quiet prayer, before sending it to his domain, where it could rest until the cycle of rebirth came to claim it once more. That much was fine, right?
It’s then that he realises - there had been a solemn gaze watching him. Turning around, Wuxian blinks in surprise at the other divine presence in the clearing. When had the arrival been?
The god standing there could be no older than he. Dressed in robes of white and pale blue, the other is the very picture of serenity and grace, a wrapped parcel strapped behind his back. Dark hair the colour of a raven’s wing was pushed back neatly, leaving two long locks to frame the cloud patterned headband across his forehead.
Who was this god again? Many celestial beings were identifiable by colours, but a lot of godly domains were associated with white. Knowledge, light, life, purity, mercy, and abstinence, among others… better ask then get it wrong, perhaps? He didn't particularly want the other to take offence.
(That would be too much of a pity, because they really were pretty and he did like pretty things.)
Still, judging by the silence, the other god seems disinclined to start a conversation. Instead, he offers up his most brilliant smile. "I haven't seen you before! I'm Wei Ying, courtesy name Wuxian, god of- well, you can probably guess, I'm the god of death and the Underworld!"
The other god inclines his head in greeting, and for a moment, Wuxian’s brain stops functioning. “Lan Zhan, courtesy name Wangji."
This was the god of life? Those golden eyes weren’t expressive by any means, but like the stories his beloved sister tells, this god was immaculate. Perfect. This god was truly beautiful, and despite the fact that there wasn’t a smile on that pale face, the way his aura flares and pulses with power (with life) draws him in. He can see the grass perk up at his feet, and the patch of flowers that have bloomed nearby.
He wants to touch, but he is death, and he cannot. He is forbidden, and the divine laws would never allow such a thing. The grass around him is withered and cold and dying; if he could hear their voices, they would probably be screaming and crying also, and he cannot do this to the god who nurtured all life. But he wants, and he yearns, so he acts.
(Even if it is silly, he wants to see how far he can push the other god. What kind of expression would he make if teased? What sort of reaction would he have? Was he able to enjoy life, treasure existence, appreciate death? He wanted to know, and that longing burnt.)
"Lan Wangji? As in, one of the Twin Jades? God of life? Han Guang-Jun? Ahh, I've heard so much about you, Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan, you really are as beautiful as they say! You're my opposite aren't you?” He’s not sure if the other god is overwhelmed by his words, but Lan Wangji’s face shows little change. It should be fine, right? Probably.
Then it hits him, and his smile widens, because he just had an idea and this was going to be good. Death and life were opposites, so if they met, then theoretically, they should cancel, right? Could he actually be able touch life?
“Oh, this is amazing, what will happen if your aura meets mine, do you think flowers will still bloom? Will the grass still wither? Lan Zhan, aren't you curious, come on, come nearer, we should find out-"
He didn’t wait for the other god to respond, bouncing close to test it out almost immediately. Oddly enough, Lan Wangji doesn’t react - is that permission? Is that a yes? - and Wuxian moves in even closer because now he really wants to find out what will happen. How close could he get? Would there be an explosion of light, of sound, of aura?
The difference between their heights is a mere inch. It’s close enough for him to be able to look Lan Wanji in the eye if he just tilts his head up a little, and so he does. Because he can, Wuxian decides to drape an arm around the second Jade’s shoulders also - it’s a familiar gesture, yes, but it’s one of camaraderie and friendship, and he does it so much with Jiang Cheng that it’s practically habit by now.
(But Lan Wangji is not Jiang Cheng. He remembers this too late, having already invaded the second Jade’s personal space. His expression unchanging, Wuxian feels his heart freeze over just a little. Had he pushed too far? Did the other god actually really harbour hate for him, and was waiting for a moment to retaliate?)
Instead of pushing him away roughly like he expects, Lan Wangji stumbles backwards, long fingers twitching beneath the long sleeves of his robe. “Shameless-!” The look on his face is one of shock, but lack of hate or anger in those liquid gold eyes makes Wuxian think that the god of life isn’t too unhappy.
Maybe just a little bit more?
Since Lan Wangji has backed away, it’s really up to him to close the distance again. Wuxian can feel himself smiling, he’s just so happy (and it is fun to tease the stoic god of life!) and he could almost touch the other god when-
There’s a flare of light and power, and Lan Wangji has fled.
Wuxian is nothing short of confused, but he cannot stop laughing all the same. The poor, poor Han Guang-Jun, so virtuous and upright, truly the best type of person to tease! Still, it was unlikely they’d ever meet again, for life and death were not meant to cross. Well, it was fun while it lasted.
Glancing down at the nest of newborn rabbits, he almost reaches out to pat them- but hurriedly stops himself. They were still young, and if a fully grown adult could not withstand his aura of death, there was no way they would be able to. For their survival, he had to stay away.
“I wish you good fortune,” is the soft hum, before he too turns on his heel and vanishes with a ripple of power.