Lan Zhan’s mother is very careful about her soulmarks. Not aloof with them, like the rest of the Lan sect are, like Lan Zhan is learning to be, but careful, undoing her wrist binding just enough for two names to peak out. She shows Lan Zhan his name every time he comes to visit — a cool sky blue that might just be his favorite color — and says, “I love you so much, my A-Zhan. You know that, right?”
Once he nods, she deliberately re-wraps her arm, making sure he can’t see the other names on her arm, besides “A-Zhan” and “A-Huan.”
She slips, only once, and Lan Zhan thinks he sees a flash of brown.
He’s sure he’s mistaken, though. That’s where his father’s name should be.
There is red on Jiang Fengmian’s arm. It does not spell his wife’s name.
No, Yu Ziyuan is spelled prettily in admiration-gold, not a hint of darker red or even orange to suggest he might be coming to care for her more than that. She isn’t pleased, but she bears it. It’s not like she has his name in anything more than a pale, respectful yellow herself.
And then, the red on his arms seeps to black.
He immediately leaves Lotus Pier, searching for the son of the ones he loved.
He returns with a scrappy young boy, and a new, bright blue name on his arm.
His wife shakes, when she sees it, furious. It took weeks for his mark to form, when his own children were born. He’s only known Wei Ying for a few days.
The next time he sees his name on her arm, it’s brown, through and through.
The color is unmistakably red.
Not a dark friendship-orange. Not the understandable, proper, admiration-yellow. There are strands of both contrasted against the red, but no matter how he looks, Lan Wangji can’t convince himself that the script is primarily either of those shades.
No, the main script inking Wei Ying onto his arm is cherry-apple-blood red.
Lan Wangji glares, willing the color to change. It doesn’t. It stays stubbornly, shamelessly, red.
Wangji should meditate on this, he knows. Should try and figure out how he could fall in love, especially with someone so, so- Wei Ying. A ridiculous, rule breaking, powerful, funny, beautiful- trouble maker. He should at least try to figure out when this happened — he looks so rarely, it could have been any time; the water ghouls, the rabbits, the smile as he climbed over the walls… — so as to better understand himself.
Instead, he carefully re-wraps his arm guard, shoves his sleeves back down, and decides not to look at it for five or six months; surely by then the problem will have solved itself.
Wei Ying gets thrown out of class, again. He’s loud, and annoying, as he protests his rightful punishment. He calls Wangji beautiful in the rush of excuses he makes as he leaves.
(The name is still red, when Lan Zhan looks that night, alone under the full moon.)
Jin Zixuan hates to admit that he’s bad at something, but even his pride can’t protect him from knowing that he is truly, utterly, bad with people. He’s bad with his feelings, with expressing them, with making people understand what he means. It’s embarrassing, but typically, he can skirt by on Jin arrogance without giving too much affront.
That tactic is decidedly unsuited for declaring you’re in love.
So, he had tried something else. If he couldn’t use his words, he would use his actions. He would build A-Li the most beautiful Lotus Pond outside of her home, and show her how he felt.
That was the plan, anyways. It’s ruined when she stumbles across his work far too early. She finds him muddy, and unkempt, completely improper, kneeling to work on the lotus pond. Not that you could tell that that’s what it is yet. Mostly it just seems like an ugly pool of mud, ruining the rest of the opulent courtyard. His efforts practically look like an insult, in this state.
“You’re not supposed to be here!” he cries, in his panic.
“Ah. I see.” She says shortly. Even Zixuan can tell she’s hurt. “My apologies. I’ll be going, then.”
“No, wait!” He catches the hem of her robes in his disgusting hand as she turns. It succeeds in stopping her from leaving. It also succeeds in leaving a muddy smear on her pretty purple silks.
“Yes, Young Master Jin?” she asks, when he spends a little too long staring in horror at the stain.
“I, uh. This is-”
Going badly, his brain unhelpfully finishes.
“Here!” he finally says, in desperation, yanking up his sleeves and shoving his arm up for her to see.
It takes a moment for her to see what he means, but when she does, she doesn’t draw back in horror or fury, like he half-feared. Instead, impossibly, her features soften.
“Oh, A-Xuan,” she sighs. She pulls back her own sleeve, letting him see the red mark that lies just below her brothers’ green names. “Me too.”
It hurts, when the news reaches him.
Wei Wuxian shouldn’t be surprised. The fight, the very public falling out, was his idea after all. And to protect himself, and the entire Jiang Sect, of course Jiang Cheng would have to make it look real. That means very publicly flaunting the brown Wei Wuxian marked onto his skin, so there could be no doubts that they still harbor or approve of the Yiling Patriarch. It’s the smart thing to do. There’s much more safety in hatred-brown than in the mocking, YunmengJiang purple that is Wei Wuxian’s wistful Jiang Cheng.
It might not even be real, might just be another, clever layer Jiang Cheng was forced to add, after he left. That doesn’t mean Wei Wuxian likes to hear about it. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t worry that it’s real.
By the time he dies, their sister’s blood on his hands, he doesn’t have to wonder if it’s real or not.
It’s not that Lan Xichen doubted the strength of his brother’s feelings for Wei Wuxian. Wangji had been driven to madness by them, afterall; opposing his own sect for him, adopting the man’s son, bending rules just for the memory of him. It’s just that he had hoped that, with the man removed from his little brother’s life, those wounds would begin to heal. It’s been ten years, after all, more than twice as long as Wei Wuxian had been in his life.
The stubborn red streak on his brother’s arm, refusing to be completely subsumed by death-black, belied those hopes.
“Oh Wangji, still? After all this time?”
His brother stares stubbornly at the far wall as Xichen finishes replacing the bandages, not daring to look back until his arm — until his marks — are hidden again.
Mo Xuanyu’s arm is a mess of black and brown in those first moments when Wei Wuxian wakes up. No wonder the poor kid was willing to sacrifice himself.
Wei Wuxian quickly copies down the brown names — three Mo’s and a Jin, interesting — to try and make his ‘revenge’ obligation a bit easier, before they fade; his own soulmarks replacing them as he settles firmly into this body. There’s… still a lot of black there, actually. Wei Wuxian hastily covers his arm back up. There’s nothing useful to be gained by looking at all that. By being reminded of how many he’s lost. He doesn't want to see Wen Qing, or Shijie, or A-Yuan’s names, especially. His fault.
It’s not until later, when the bodies of the Mo family are laid out, sleeves torn and soulmarks revealed, that Wei Wuxian understands how cruel they really were, and why none of them realized the man they abused was long dead. Not one of them has Mo Xuanyu among their soulmarks, not even in brown.
They were Mo Xuanyu’s whole, shitty, life. They were worth destroying himself to take revenge on. And to them, he was just an afterthought.
There are times, even long after he’s earned the title ‘husband,’ that Lan Wangji doubts his own happiness. There are too many years of loss, and pain. A distinct memory of this home, and a flash of a brown mark. Wei Ying deserves so very much, and he doesn’t know if he can give it to him.
Wei Ying, thankfully, has always been better at this than him. He notices his husband’s hesitation, knows his traumas, and is quick to try and fix it.
“You know I love you, right?” Wei Ying asks, sinking into Wangji’s lap.
For emphasis, he unwraps his arm, an eerie echo of Wangji’s mother. That’s where the similarities end, though. Wei Ying is free with his marks, happy to show them off, even when so many are black and painful. And even with so many loved ones lost, his arm is a rainbow of color; a blue Lan Yuan, of course, but also green and orange and yellow. And, amidst it all, a bright, flirtatious, love-red. Lan Zhan.
There’s not a trace of brown, of resentment, no hint that Wei Ying feels trapped by Wangji’s love, by the Lan’s rules.
Wangji squeezes him tight, and offers his own arm for Wei Ying to unwrap. To see his red in return.
“I love you too.”