Since Lan Wangji was young, he was sure he’d never find a soulmate. If he lived his whole life not knowing who his soulmate was, it wouldn’t bother him. After he’d seen how others reacted to their world going black and white, he wouldn’t dare to even look for his soulmate. While his brother tried to convince him that there was worth in looking for and expecting your soulmate, Lan Wangji saw no reason to. After all, if the most important part of his life was someone else, wasn’t he doing it wrong?
But then he’d met Wei Ying. He’d swept into Lan Wangji’s life like a tornado intending to destroy his perfect reputation and his perfect heart, unaffected by love. But despite all efforts, Lan Zhan was captivated by that boy from Lotus Pier from the first day on. Of course on the outside Wei Wuxian appeared as a nuisance to him.
That first day, when he met Wei Wuxian on the roof, he could’ve sworn the glint of their swords were more vivid, the lucent white of their clothes as bright as the moon hung high in the sky. But it wasn’t paramount to Lan Wangji, too busy dealing with the gleaming boy holding two jugs of liquor in his hand.
They were polar opposites, but Lan Wangji couldn’t stop thinking about him. At the sight of Wei Ying, his stomach tightened, something maybe akin to butterflies inside him. It wasn’t a pleasant sensation. He always assured himself that it was just a fleeting crush and it would go away soon. So he dealt with Wei Ying’s antics, the mischief he caused and the chaos that ensued. After all, it was his job to ensure that he would not ruin the reputation of the Lan Clan. He assured himself, soon enough he’d go away. Soon enough he’d never have to see Wei Wuxian again, and he’d go back to Yunmeng and stop tormenting him.
Despite all efforts, Wei Ying persisted. Even after their punishment, he met Lan Zhan in the cold spring with a smile on his face like nothing had ever happened. Like he hadn’t been the cause of Lan Wangji’s discipline, this pain he was feeling.
Unlike Wangji, he was able to feel free in his every move. It drove Lan Wangji crazy, unable to pin Wei Ying down and keep him in check, always vulnerable to his teasing and flirting. In those small moments that Wei Wuxian finally allowed Lan Zhan a moment, he was able to see him for the man he really was -- honorable, devoted, kind. Even although Wei Ying teased, Lan Wangji knew that when he hand to stand and face the music, he wouldn’t back down. It was admirable.
But Wei Wuxian, his soulmate? The concept wasn’t even fathomable. The flirtatious boy only wanted to get a rise out of Lan Wangji. Even Wangji allowed Wei Ying to touch his headband, laced their wrists together -- if only to protect him, the shades of blue bloomed brighter and brighter around them. When he toppled onto Wei Wuxian, the lustrous colours around him almost stung. Wei Ying seemed to find it funny, how Lan Wangji became flustered in those moments. Like it didn’t affect him? Maybe it didn’t, and it was all inside Wangji’s head.
However, the facts were present, and the night that they released their lanterns into the sky, Wangji could’ve sworn that hearing Wei Ying make his promise that the hue of the world became painfully right. When he looked at Wei Wuxian his eyes stung, as if he had stared at the sun for too long. But Wangji couldn’t look away from that radiant smile, captivated by everything he did. No one had ever made him feel this way, and the tension in his gut only increased whenever Wei Ying was near.
It probably wasn’t anything. Lan Wangji wasn’t meant for a soulmate, just like the many great cultivators of his family’s history. Even if he had a soulmate, he didn’t need to acknowledge it. You didn’t need a soulmate to live or to cultivate, and even in the one in a million chance that Wei Wuxian of all people was his soulmate, he was strong enough to fight back against it, right?
There was no proof to say that you could fight your destiny, that you could get a new soulmate or replace them. No one in history had ever fought to not fall in love, to stay away from their soulmate. Maybe Lan Wangji would be the first ever to fight the path supposedly drawn out for him-- he intended to forge his own.
After a painful year of Wei Ying, the boy at last left. Cloud Recesses would be peaceful now, and Lan Wangji could return full-time to his studies and to his work. Without any distractions, he told himself. But apparently fate had other ideas: The Wen clan burned down Cloud Recesses, leaving many dead and the others scattered. He didn’t know where his brother was, if he was safe. Wangji had lost everything, and the Wen clan asked disciples to travel to Qishan. Like he would’ve been expected to,
Lan Wangji agreed. Despite the rage bubbling in his heart, he went anyway. And fate had it that Wei Ying seemed to be expecting him, unknowing of the situation that he had come from. Unlike Wangji, Wei Wuxian had no reason to be polite.
Bubbly laugh and gleaming smile, Wei Ying welcomed him. He seemed pleased to see Lan Wangji again, already seeking trouble. Even in this place Wei Ying stood out. Even if millions of people were standing in a crowd, Lan Zhan would’ve still picked out Wei Ying, crimson red against a background of unimportant. Everything else paled to his beauty.
The closer proximity he was to Wei Ying, the brighter everything was. Despite the annoyance Wei Ying caused him at times, Lan Zhan found himself more fond of him. He trusted him. And when Wei Ying stupidly put himself in danger, Wangji realized the lengths that he would go to protect him.
Wei Wuxian continued to put himself in danger. In the Slaughter Xuanwu cave, Lan Wangji was helpless as Wei Ying hurt himself again, throwing himself into the fight to protect a girl he hardly knew. It hurt him, knowing that Wei Ying would carry that mark for the rest of his life, that he would forever have to look at himself and remember such a moment. And he stayed with Wei Ying, essentially trapping himself. In just a moment he damned himself to death, leaving only a sliver of an opportunity for escape. But it was for Wei Ying, stupid, stupid Wei Ying, who stripped himself of his clothes, scaring Wangji to death. And then the fool asked him if he liked MianMian of all people. He held back an urge to scold Wei Wuxian for being so stupid when the facts were right in front of him, so blatantly obvious. Hadn’t he felt the same things? Was he playing dumb?
But Wei Ying was… something beyond Lan Zhan’s ability to express. The wildly reckless man didn’t hesitate to sacrifice himself for anyone and everyone. Then Wei Ying nearly died, and Wangji had never felt more afraid in his life. Wei Ying asked him to sing, and he sang because it was all he could do for days, scared that this boy would die, this boy he cared for so unbelievably much. He held Wei Ying close, doing what we could. If he’d been paying attention to anything else, he would’ve noticed the ever brightening scarlet of Wei Ying’s under robes.
When they were finally found he had to force himself to leave, taking one last glance at Wei Wuxian sleeping before he left. There was too much he wanted to say, but he left anyway, the hues only fading as he went further and further away.
Soon Lan Zhan learned that the Jiang Clan had been massacred and had been taken over by the Wens. It was going to be some time until there was anything anyone could do to fight back against the violent acts of the Wen Clan.
The next he heard of Wei Ying was that he had gone missing. Jiang Cheng told him everything that had happened, of his lost then returned core, of Wei Wuxian disappearing. He listened intently -- if Wangji could’ve, he would’ve told Jiang Cheng that he was sure that Wei Wuxian was not dead. He wanted to calm the anxieties of Jiang Cheng. But Jiang Cheng did not need to know that Wei Ying was his soulmate. But everytime he woke, it was a relief that everything had not gone black and white. Wei Ying was still alive, somewhere, and he still had time.
For three months, Lan Wangji found himself grateful to be sure that Wei Ying was even alive. On one day, his sights brightened. Wei Ying was back but… the things he’d done were genuinely horrible. This was not the Wei Wuxian that he had met long ago, and when Lan Zhan finally met him again, he warned him of where the path he was following would lead him. But Wei Ying didn’t listen, struck by revenge and his newfound power. What could Lan Wangji do? It wasn’t his right to stop Wei Ying from avenging the dead, even if he didn’t agree with how he was doing it. It was his path to follow.
In many months, the force was strong enough for the Wen Clan to fall. It was not all solved, but Lan Wangji hoped that this would be enough for Wei Ying to stop. Now he could set down his flute and put away his pride. But Wei Ying had no intention of doing so. He was sure of his own ability to control it, and how was Lan Wangji to know?
He still didn’t trust Wei Ying’s ability to do so, and promised himself that he would do everything in his control to prevent Wei Ying from becoming a person he didn’t want to be. Wangji devoted himself to it, to protecting his -- his soulmate. Lan Wangji trusted in Wei Ying, in his strength.
And what Wei Wuxian chose was not bad, it wasn’t evil or unrighteous but it was risky. He put everything on the line for people that were not his to care for. However, Wei Ying still cared, and Wangji cared for him, for his ideals. He could see the good in him as he always had. So he let Wei Ying go that night in the rain, knowing that Wei Ying was sacrificing everything. And Lan Wangji watched as everyone villainized him, for choosing to protect the ones who had done nothing wrong. But it didn’t matter that what Wei Wuxian was doing was of good nature and morals, it only mattered that he was as good as a villain now; as good as a Wen himself. And as Wei Ying rode away, Wangji’s world darkened with every heartbeat. Every breath. He’d finally had Wei Ying back, and he’d let him go again. Some part of Lan Wangji wished he’d been selfish, but he was not that man. He’d never been.
And he didn’t fight the things that they said. No one would listen to him, and he knew that. They wanted someone to hate, and Wei Ying had put himself out there to be seen, to be hated. Even if Lan Wangji knew that what he was doing was good, it didn’t matter. So he resigned himself to rebuilding his home, to going back to how things once were. The world was not the same without Wei Ying, but if he tried, he could pretend. So he did.
But even with the efforts he made to push Wei Ying out of his head, fate was cruel to him. So Lan Wangji was asked to go to Yiling and bring Wei Ying back. Lan Wangji obeyed his orders, pulling himself together despite the parts of him that begged him not to do it. As he made the journey, the closer he came to Wei Ying, the brighter the colours became.
When he made it to Yiling, he walked through the noisy streets until a child grabbed his leg, anchoring himself to Lan Zhan, keeping him in place. Around him people scolded him with the most unkind words, but Wangji did not fight them, locked in place and ashamed with his inability to argue with the accusations made against him.
But then there he was. Right in front of him like in his dreams, a smile spread across his face like he was pleased with Lan Wangji’s shame. But Wangji couldn’t be angry at Wei Ying’s gleaming smile. He freed him from the onlookers, claiming that the child called A-Yuan was his son. Despite the obvious fault in Wei Ying’s story, Lan Zhan listened, just happy to see him well. Wei Ying offered him a meal, and Lan Wangji obliged him, pushing the thought out his mind. Later, he told himself. A little time with Wei Ying wouldn’t hurt.
But of course, Lan Zhan had a tendency for weakness when it came to Wei Ying. So he bought A-Yuan the toys he wanted, and he let himself go a little more. He seemed happy, and Lan Zhan always felt happier when he was closer to Wei Wuxian, his smile making Wangji’s heart beat faster every time. But his moment was interrupted when Wei Ying saw his talisman had caught flame. Wei Ying had offered to pay but he was already gone with the child in his arms, and Lan Zhan paid before running off after him.
Once everything was settled and everyone was safe, it was his time to go. Lan Zhan had seen all he needed to see. He’d already known that the people Wei Wuxian was protecting were were the young and the elderly, too weak to fight. Everyone had convinced themselves of some other narrative, but Lan Wangji couldn’t stay any longer. If he stayed any longer, he might not be able to leave-- he wanted to, he really wanted to stay with Wei Ying and tell him everything but he couldn’t. Despite the love he knew that staying would only be endangering them more, that everyone would claim that the evil Yiling Patriarch had kidnapped one of the Jade Twins of Gusu, and then he’d be putting everyone in harm’s way. And he wasn’t strong enough to take Wei Ying away from these people who loved him, who needed to be protected. He knew that he wouldn’t be able to forgive himself if he did what he was told.
And when he returned to Cloud Recesses, he took the punishment he was given without a word. No one needed to know what he had seen, and he wouldn’t tell. It was his duty to protect those people, to protect his soulmate, and he’d do it with his life.
The coming events Lan Wangji saw in flashes. Jin Zixuan dying at the hands of the Ghost General, the fault put on Wei Ying. Lan Zhan wasn’t there but from the way it looked... it looked like he’d killed him. Wangji had some forlorn hope that there was no way that Wei Ying would kill the husband of his sister, but the proof sat there and reared its’ ugly and horrible head, the worst beast of all. That Wei Ying, his Wei Ying, was a murderer. That he had done that. Such a horrible thing. Could Wei Wuxian really have done that? He didn’t want to believe it. That Jiang Yanli was widowed by her own brother. Because the Wei Ying he’d met in Cloud Recesses so many years ago wouldn’t do such a thing. He was sure that something had gone wrong, that what he warned Wei Wuxian of had finally come to pass, and he’d lost control of the power he’d promised his ability to regulate.
And then an already horrible moment got horribly worse, the last few of the Wen Clan offering their lives up for Wei Ying’s, obliterated by the hands of the vengeful Jin Clan, eager to take back what they’d lost in blood and in death. Lan Wangji thought of the child, gone so young. He’d hadn’t done anything to deserve such a thing, too young to know that his death was repercussions for things he couldn’t even imagine. It was sickening, beyond awful.
Despite the length of time in between everything that happened, Lan Wangji could’ve sworn that it was only minutes. The clans were gathered to scatter the last ashes of their foes, the final sign that they had won at last. But Wangji knew that Wei Ying would never let go and never forgive. And he didn’t.
When the time came, he took Wei Ying’s side and fought for him, for them, for the people that had died because Lan Wangji wasn’t strong enough to take Wei Ying back with him, because he… he loved him . Lan Wangji was a fool who’d fallen to love just like so many others. But he couldn’t let this moment slip away without taking action. Wei Ying was his soulmate, the only one meant for him and he wasn’t going to let him go away again, he was going to fight for his ideals and he was going to carve his path out because he wasn’t going to lose Wei Ying again, not to anything. But Wei Ying was a broken man, calculated but teetering on the edge of losing control.
They had the upper hand, but then Jiang Yanli was on the field in mourning clothes with no one to protect her, crying out for her brother the middle of swords clashing and she was in danger, and Jiang Cheng ran to try and protect her. Suddenly Lan Wangji was very aware that the control had slipped out of Wei Ying’s hands as a second flute began to play and he could tell that Wei Ying too, was utterly confused as the smoke began to possess more powerful puppets, Lan Clan and Jiang Clan, too, rising from the ground and beginning to attack. Wei Ying was frozen in his place, unable to control the smoke and now Lan Wangji was trying to protect Wei Ying and Jiang Yanli and the onslaught of incoming puppets. Jiang Cheng cried for his brother to stop the music, to stop the puppets, but it was too late, far out of Wei Ying’s control. She was still crying A-Xian, and Wei Ying called for her, fending off another attack. Lan Wangji was powerless.
But she was unarmed, and no one was close enough to protect her as a puppet crept up behind her, and Lan Wangji was too far away as he fended off attacks to himself, only able to watch as the puppet came closer and closer to her, Jiang Cheng begging for Wei Wuxian to stop, to save her. Wei Ying began to play again, desperate to control but the puppet was not his anymore, and at the final moment, it raised it’s sword, slicing her shoulder clean open, as she fell to the ground.
Lan Wangji, desperate, ran to stop Wei Ying, shouting for him to stop his puppets-- but Wei Ying had no control, and he froze, staring upon the scene of his shijie lying on the ground. He threw off Wangji, running to her. And Lan Wangji turned around to fight the puppets, gritting his teeth as his sword collided with those of the puppets’.
Wei Ying was surrounded by his enemies. Lan Wangji could see him only out of the corner of his eye as he fought for his life, as he lifted the flute to his lips and began to play again. Someone sliced Lan Wangji’s arm, stark red blood dripping down the pure white fabric. He winced at the pain, but everything else was more paramount to his pain. If he could’ve, Lan Zhan would’ve wrenched the flute from Wei Ying’s hand, but now he could only call for him to stop. But Wei Ying did not hear him, and kept playing, black smoke snaking around his form. Wangji saw as he blood spewed from his mouth, dripping down his chin as his enemies charged him. From where he stood, Lan Wangji watched as Wei Ying ascended to the pillar above him, throwing the amulet into the sky and crushing it into pieces.
Seconds compounded among themselves. The fight for the Stygian Tiger Amulet raged on and no one noticed as Wei Wuxian took flight to the nearest cliff. Wangji immediately knew what he was doing and followed him. Wei Ying was backing nearer and nearer to the edge with every step.
“Wei Ying. Come back.” He kept his voice calm but he was so scared, that Wei Ying was going to die and he was never going to be able to tell him or to do everything he wanted, and that hurt so badly, so badly. Lan Zhan was not going to let his soulmate die like this. Please. Please just step back, come here, come back to Gusu with me, this time will you listen? Please, Wei Ying.
But Wei Ying stepped off the edge, and Lan Wangji grabbed him before he could fall, his body landing hard on the rock surface. He was holding Wei Ying with all of his strength, the crimson of his blood dripping down onto Wei Ying’s hand, brighter with their touch, brighter, brighter. I am not going to let you go. Not again. Never again.
“Lan Zhan. Let me go.”
I’m not going to. With my whole life I will protect you. I am not going to let you go, Wei Ying. When he didn’t say anything, Wei Ying pleaded with him again.
“Lan Zhan. Let me go.” This time his voice was softer, more desperate.
The voice inside his head was screaming. I will not let you go! Wei Ying, I’m not going to so please let me pull you back up, please stay. Come back with me and we can fix this. His body was shaking now with the sheer force of weight he was holding. It wasn’t going to happen. He’d never let go.
Wei Ying was staring at him, eyes pooling with tears, watching the blood drip down the wound and into his hand. Then he was looking at Jiang Cheng, who Wangji had yet to notice was creeping up behind him until his blood soaked sword was right next to his face. If he wasn’t holding Wei Ying, he would’ve begged him not to do this. Please, do not do this.
“Jiang Cheng.” Wei Ying was smiling as he said it.
He gripped harder onto Wei Ying, his beloved’s wrist. “Jiang Wanyin, stop it!”
But he wasn’t listening. He was shaking with rage, with sadness. No one could’ve stopped him from what he was going to do. So with a final movement, Jiang Cheng dug his sword into the rock next to where they were connected, freeing it. “Wei Wuxian, go to hell!”
While Lan Wangji was distracted, Wei Ying wrenched himself from his grip. With the entire force of his body, he pulled himself free. And then he fell, a smile still on his face.
Lan Wangji could do nothing as he watched the love of his life, his soulmate, freefall. He screamed his name, but there was nothing he could do. He was gone now, and in seconds, the reds of the blood dripping down his hand, onto the rocks, the purple of Jiang Cheng’s clothing, the stark white of his own, every colour, faded to black and white. His soulmate was gone.