Lan Wangji does not have a soul mate.
Which is not uncommon or even particularly surprising. His parents were not soulmates, his older brother is not paired, and Lan Wangji is already seven and has yet to receive an unexplained bruise or injury of any kind. Despite what his uncle tells him, he thinks that this must be a good thing, that no one is able to hurt him from afar and in turn he will never hurt another by accident. It never quite made sense to Lan Wangji that in order for people to belong to each other, all their pain must be shared. Some insisted it was romantic. Lan Wangji thinks it's unnecessary.
Thankfully, It is no real concern of his.
Lan Wangji is free to play his guqin until his fingers are raw, free to train until his muscles are sore, free to read by muted candle light into the early hours of the morning until his eyes ache without any second thoughts. Free to receive the sting of a reed on his back when he is found out by uncle.
The lack of a soulmate makes no real impact in his life, if anything it allows Lan Wangji to be exactly who he must be, never tied to another, able to dedicate himself to cultivation.
Wei Wuxian does not have a soul mate.
Or at least, he certainly doesn’t act like it.
Wei Wuxian who flirts with anyone he feels like, who is reckless and risky with no real regard to his own person. Wei Wuxian who has never displayed any unexplained bruise or injury of any kind.
Lan Wangji knows this for he has been paying very close attention, he can’t really help it. Lan Wangji is, unfortunately, self-aware enough to know that he is in love.
Love, he finds, is nothing like he has read in poetry. Or perhaps it is that the object of his affection is the least poetic person imaginable. Wei Wuxian is equal parts infuriating and charming, obnoxious and beautiful, intrusive yet wanted. Wind and sun bend themselves around Wei Wuxian to color his cheeks when he laughs and sweep his hair in a wild tangle as he inevitably breaks the rules. He is all impulse and smiles and extraordinary idiocy.
Lan Wangji’s heart is a traitor that decided to latch onto the most ridiculous boy it could find and then not give an inch. Yet for some reason, he finds the ridiculousness endearing, charming, absolutely maddening.
It’s more frustrating still how Lan Wangji does not know how to tame this love of his, how to keep himself from being wound up and teased and practically led around like a show horse. Wei Wuxian plays him easily, riles him up in a heartbeat, then flits off with laughter and not a second thought. Lan Wangji is nothing if not completely in control of himself, and yet Wei Wuxian is able to disrupt his stability with a single glance. He hates it, he loves it, he has never felt like this before.
And he knows, or rather he learns, that Wei Wuxian is not being intentionally unkind to him. No, Wei Wuxian is kind to a fault, a good person with a careless heart. He is not teasing Lan Wangji out of malice or superiority, though, Lan Wangji still is not quite sure why Wei Wuxian has decided to make him the object of his attention. Neither is anyone else judging by the reaction of Jiang Cheng.
Though, there are things that make up for all of Lan Wangi’s frustrations. The first time he sees Wei Wuxian’s soft smile, one that is not meant for anyone or anything or any real reason at all, just a small quirk of his wine stained mouth with his head tilted up toward the crescent moon turns Lan Wangji’s insides into bubbling liquid gold. The way he softly compliments Lan Wangi’s calligraphy, the small smear of ink along the apple of his cheek, how he rests his chin on his hand and leans in across the small table. Wei Wuxian looks radiant, like everything Lan Wangji has ever wanted as well as everything he could never hope to have.
Lan Wangji does not have a soulmate. He finds himself wishing he did.
Lan Wangji’s life from thereafter is told in a series of heartbreaks.
His home destroyed in a whirlwind of ember and ash. The fire takes and takes and sometimes he can still smell the smoke on his clothes. His brother is gone, his father certainly will be soon, and Lan Wangji couldn’t do a single thing to stop it.
His love is injured, sick, ready to die in a cave they are both stranded in, his skin forever branded due to his own overwhelming kindness. A song reverberates against the cavernous walls, an unspoken confession told through strings and hands. It goes unanswered.
He learns his love is dead, only to learn soon after that Wei Wuxian is still alive. He watches the handsome boyish features twist into devilish malice as the dead rise from the ground and tear apart the living. Lan Wangji begs, pleads for the boy he knows is still there to return with him, to live with him, to be with him. He is rejected flat out.
From there they see each other in brief flashes, only growing more distant in their absences as Wei Wuxian barrels down a path that he will never be able to follow. They are cordial at times, friendly at others, though they are overwhelmingly just acquaintances.
And then Wei Wuxian dies with a finality that leaves very little room for what-ifs.
Lan Wangji feels something in himself die as well.
Thirteen years after Wei Wuxian’s death, Lan Wangji finds himself hovering. He promised he wouldn’t, he agreed with A-Yuan that he would let them do this on their own, but he can’t help it. It’s the first time the two boys have been allowed to handle a request by themselves, just a simple task in a nearby town, but Lan Wangji worries.
They’re both trustworthy boys, they can very well handle themselves, but there’s something uneasy that sits deep in his gut. An omen or premonition or maybe just trepidation that pushes him to follow. So here he ends up, sitting at an inn in town tuning his guqin, trying to redirect his restless energy into something useful, when suddenly he reels back.
Thirteen years after his one love’s death, Lan Wangji feels a phantom blow to the gut. It is swiftly followed by more blows peppering his body, hard enough to hurt, but not to cause permanent injury. To the stomach, to the chest, to the head, again and again with barely a bruising force. They stop eventually, leaving Lan Wangji in a state of utter bewilderment. Almost immediately, a dull yet deep pain manifests on the inside of both his arms followed by the gradual flow of sticky warm wetness trickling down his skin. He looks down at where his arms hover over the guqin in his lap and notices the slow seep of blood through the white of his robes, staining it into a light pink. Slowly, deliberately, he lifts the guqin and rolls up the sleeves of his robe to find two cuts visible on the inside of each arm. They are deep, clean, and sluggishly bleeding as if they did not just form.
He stares at the injuries uncomprehendingly for several long moments, allowing the blood slowly drip down his arm and onto the pure white fabric covering his lap. Red forms into spider webs on the fabric seeping further outward with every droplet.
With a quick motion, he pushes his sleeves back down and hastily continues tuning his guqin. It does not matter, he reasons. His true love is long dead and Lan Wangji would not know how to give himself to another. It does not matter, he mentally repeats. It does not matter, it does not matter.
The bleeding slows and eventually comes to a stop, though Lan Wangji does not notice. His guqin is in tune, has been for sometime now, but he continues to fiddle, perfecting and reperfecting, keeping his hands busy to prevent his mind from turmoil.
It does not matter, Lan Wangji mentally chants as a mantra. It does not matter. It does not matter that he now has a soul mate after all this time. It does not matter because his heart died thirteen years ago, flayed to pieces and left to rot. Its hopefully does not matter that this person is now hurting, is now beaten and bleeding and Lan Wangji can do absolutely nothing to help them. This will not change his path, his actions. There is nothing to change as there is nothing of consequence occurring. For it does not matter.
He realizes abruptly that he has bled onto the guqin which mercifully gives his hands something new to do, something different to focus on as he cleans and polishes the wood back into spotlessness. He changes his robes too after the attempts to blot out the blood have failed, and now he is almost back where he started, though the heavy sick feeling in his gut has intensified.
It’s no longer just an omen, it’s more than just a feeling that sits with him now, almost as if something physical is pressing down onto his shoulders. Yet, there is absolutely nothing he can do. He has bound himself here to wait, to ensure that he is well within visual range of the manor in case his disciples must send off a flare.
So Lan Wangji continues to wait.
It’s just about twilight when he sees the flare in the distance.
With practiced motions, Lan Wagji wraps his guqin, lashes it to his back, and sets of as fast as his sword can carry him.
Once he gets there, he processes the scene as he reacts to it. The whole family is dead. Sizhui and Jingyi would have been next had he not gotten there any quicker. He works to subdue more than contain, protecting his son and his disciple first and foremost, so by the time they are able to tell him about the left arm, it is already gone.
It must be a foul thing, a wretched unholy abomination as it leaves a trail of resentment so distinct that even Jingyi can follow it for miles with his eyes closed. Lan Wangji only wishes that his balance was as good as his senses and that Sizhui would just let him fall off his sword once so he would learn his lesson. Though, Lan Wangji remains unsurprised that his son is kinder than he is. Sizhui certainly didn’t pick that trait up from him.
They make it halfway to Dafan Mountain before Sizhui tells him of a man, a lunatic back at the residence. He tells him how Mo Xuanyu saved both of them, albeit in the most roundabout and ridiculous way possible, about how he seemingly disappeared as suddenly as Lan Wangji arrived.
Lan Wangji makes a metal note to thank him if he ever sees him, though he has no concept of when that may be. He puts it out of his mind quickly, refocusing on the murky trail left in the arm’s wake.
Mo Xuanyu is, surprisingly, at Dafan Mountain and is watching the whole spectacle unfold with some strange combination of amusement and resignation. He keeps to the side though, knowing better than to butt into a conversation between sects, and after a short bow of gratitude, Lan Wangji turns and pays him no more mind.
Instead, he walks the mountain, trying to find peace as his disciples are in search of a great evil. Overbearing on them this early in their first outing by themselves will only set them back, but still. Lan Wangji is unsettled tonight. There is an uneasy feeling in the air, one that makes him hover, again, as he turns back to find a hidden vantage point to watch his disciples.
He’s glad he does. The left arm has attached itself to a statue and is making fine work of the cultivators on the mountain. Sizhui and Jingyi are not so foolish as to approach that thing head-on, but he’s surprised to see that Mo Xuanyu is still trailing behind them. It takes Lan Wangji a moment to realize that Mo Xuanyu’s movements are purposeful, he’s doing something, or trying to do something, without garnering attention.
Nothing is working it seems, as Lan Wanji watches him huff in frustration before darting further into the woods. And then he breaks off a bamboo shoot, feverishly carves holes into it, and blows.
It’s shrill and dissonant, not a song but a release, a command. One that Lan Wangji recognizes. How could he not.
From the ground rises Wen Ning.
It’s too much of a coincidence, or maybe not quite enough of one, that this second rate cultivator who has never shown any sign of talent is now performing Demonic Cultivation in an almost perfect copy of Wei Wuxian. It may have been perfect if he had an actual flute, if Wen Ning had not turned into some feral shadow of his former self, if he had any sort of control over the situation.
Almost perfect, like an echo. Lan Wangji begins to wonder where he learned such forbidden practices, who could have possibly taught him until-
Until the shrill notes turn into a melody.
An almost melody. Some of the notes are wrong, others fumbled through on such a crudely improvised instrument, but it’s enough. It’s more than enough.
Lan Wangji feels his heart stutter back to life for the first time in thirteen years.
‘He’s here.’ It beats, all staccato and fluttery in his throat. ‘He’s here, he’s back, how is he back?’ It doesn’t matter how, it really, really doesn’t because he’s here. He’s playing the song, their song, in the middle of these corpse infested woods and he’s here.
Lan Wangji can’t afford to let Wei Wuxian go. Not again.
He moves without thinking, immediately breaking his cover to jump down to the forest floor, watching as Wei Wuxian leads Wen Ning away from the cultivators, backing up slowly, closer and closer to him.
Before this second, Lan Wangji never even vaguely considered Mo Xuanyu attractive, but now there is no one more beautiful. The body is different from Wei Wuxian’s previous one, a bit shorter, slimmer wrists, more freckles, but it’s not his body Lan Wangji fell in love with.
Wei Wuxian isn’t paying attention to his surroundings and keeps stepping back, back, back until he is pressed against Lan Wangji, his slim wrist held tightly. He barely even spares Lan Wangji a glace before continuing to play, his tune turned frantic as he sends Wen Ning bounding into the woods.
Lan Wangji watches Wei Wuxian drop the flute, slumping forward with exhaustion, and god. All he wants to do is hold him, never let him go.
Though Jiang Cheng has other plans it seems. Lan Wangi buffers a strike from Zidian meant for Wei Wuxian, because of course Jiang Cheng recognized his flute playing, crude as it may be. If Wei Wuxian is truly trying to masquerade as Mo Xuanyu, he’s doing a god awful job at it. Though no one has ever accused Wei Wuxian of being subtle.
Lan Wangji hears footsteps dash through the underbrush behind him, as if Wei Wuxian thinks he will really be able to escape from his brother in this new body. As if standing behind Lan Wangji isn’t the safest place on this whole mountain.
Jiang Cheng’s eyes track movement to his left and he jumps down from his perch, readying his whip again with nothing between him and his target.
He watches frozen as Zidian uncoils like a viper from Jiang Cheng’s hands, extending to land with a loud crack on Wei Wuxian’s back. He’s moving, his own hand half outstretched over his guqin as he feels the searing hot sting along the center of his back in tandem with the sound that rings out across the mountain.
His hand freezes in midair.
His mind freezes for a moment as well, then begins to race wildly.
Wei Wuxian is- but he isn’t, he can’t be. Lan Wangji knows this, they have never been soulmates, for all the times Wei Wuxian would carelessly injure himself, for all the times he took blows for others, Lan Wangji never received a mirrored injury.
Until now at least.
All Lan Wangji wants is to be still. He needs stillness of body and mind to work through... whatever is happening here, but there is no time. Wei Wuxian stands up and shakes off the injury with glib words and a knowing grin as Jiang Cheng readies the whip again. It’s Sizhui who advises him to stay his blow, bringing up the integrity of Zidian if he were to strike again which is incredibly rude for him to say to a sect leader. Lan Wangji can only find it in himself to be grateful.
They’re all at a standstill now, no one knowing what to do next. They talk of Mo Xuanyu’s reputation, of Wei Wuxian’s, trying to suss out who this person is. Reckless for sure, shameless as well, but two similar attributes doesn’t mean anything really.
Then Wei Wuxian smiles at his brother.
Recognition flashes fast as lightning in Jiang Cheng’s eyes and just as quickly he turns away. He orders his subordinates to seize Wei Wuxian, or Mo Xuanyu, and somehow, miracle of all miracles, Wei Wuxian runs to the side and hides behind Lan Wangji for safety.
He’s remained frozen this whole time, able to see but not feel, not yet, not on this mountain, not after thirteen years. They all round on him now, their target still trying to talk his way out while in half cover behind a powerful cultivator. Wei Wuxian is currently doing what he does best, irritating his brother to the point of anger, and if Lan Wangji wasn’t sure of his identity 10 seconds ago, he certainly is now.
Zidian flares again as Wei Wuxian declares before himself, his subordinates, Jiang Cheng, the mountain, and all cultivators on it, that Lan Wangji is exactly his type.
If that’s what it takes, then so be it.
These people can think whatever they like, if it means Wei Wuxian will finally (finally!) come back with him to the Cloud Recesses, he will deal with the consequences later.
Wei Wuxian whines and grouses and insists on taking his donkey, playing up being difficult the whole way down the mountain. Lan Wangji lets the words wash over him. He feels like he can breathe for the first time in thirteen years, longer than that if he's being honest. He would concede a lot more than just a donkey if it meant Wei Wuxian would be with him, just to exist closer to him.
He knew he was still in love for these thirteen years, he just never expected anything from it. And now he has Wei Wuxian, his soulmate apparently, at his side. His soulmate, Wei Wuxian is his soulmate. Lan Wangji feels floaty and disconnected, happy to the point of bliss.
His soulmate who is now annoying Sizhui on purpose, his arm slung over the boy's shoulders, his face pressed into Sizhui's arm as he sheds crocodile tears about his unfortunate situation.
Lan Wangji feels affection overcome him like a tidal wave with enough force to knock him flat if he lets it. Maybe someday he will, preferably with Wei Wuxian wrapped in his arms, but for now he carefully treks down the mountain leading his small family back home.