There’s no word that exists in any language to describe the feeling of knowing We Wuxian had died, Lan Wangji thinks.
There was a moment, like the split second before lighting strikes, where he had seen the world crashing down, the sky peeling itself off layer by layer. There was a moment where he had heard the violent thump of his own heart - the memory of a boy with a smile like the sun, and the feeling of his shoulders underneath Lan Wangji’s palms, and the taste of the first kiss that burned with shame and lust, and youth under his lips - he had been ready to give him the world, back then.
He would still be willing, though there is no longer anybody to give it to.
It’s a savage kind of longing, knowing he would never again see him. He had not let himself cry but he had scrubbed his heart raw from the inside, not letting anybody see the broken, mangled thing he had become.
So this is what saves him in the end -
The Burial Mounds had become a desert, dust rising from the ground, and standing atop of its ruins, he had decided: “I will die here with you.”
Instead, he finds the child.
He hears him before he sees him and it startles Lan Wangji out of the daze he is in. When he turns he doesn’t recognize him immediately and his eyes take a few seconds to focus and adjust.
Wen Yuan is a dirty, tired thing, and his face is covered in dust and bruises, but his eyes are dark with anger and with grief, and loss, and love. Lan Wangji knows his eyes are the same kind of lonely, the same kind of burning, and he feels something grow inside of him for this young boy that is the last part of Wei Wuxian he’ll ever have. He gathers Wen Yuan in his arms and the boy does not struggle - he lets himself be pressed up to Lan Wangji, ear right over his heartbeat, mouth twisted, and he closes his eyes.
“Come with me.” Lan Wangji says, and it sounds like an order. It is a desperate plea. He’s not sure he’d live being denied the same request again.
Maybe it’s kinship - maybe it’s the fact that there is nobody else in the entire world that would understand this feeling, except for each other - but the boy curls up in Lan Wangji’s arms as if trying to comfort himself. As if trying to comfort Lan Wangji.
Though he knows that there is nothing that ever would.
He places his right hand over the boy’s unruly hair and pats him. He’s awkward and inexperienced with affection, but the boy seems to understand nevertheless - his forehead is burning and his gaze is glossy with the fever, sweat beading on his forehead, but his eyes are big when he looks at Lan Wangji and maybe, after all, this is a sort of hopeless redemption, a sort of hopeless apology that came too late to make a difference anyway.
Lan Wangji thinks, maybe if I had understood you sooner, it wouldn’t have ended like this.
Lan Wangji brings Wen Yuan to the Cloud Recesses and calls him Lan . There are very few people that know otherwise and he doesn’t let them whisper a word of it, not that they would either way. He doesn’t know if it’s from shame or scorn, or hate, or disappointment. He knows he sees it in Lan Qiren’s eyes - the cold disapproval that had never before been directed at him. Lan Wangji knows it is simply because Lan Qiren had expected much more than this. Yet, there’s nothing to apologise for, so he doesn’t. He loved and all he loved he lost - he feels regretful for his relationship with his uncle, of course, but Wei Wuxian is the only thing he will never feel sorry about. The only thing he will never apologise for.
“What exactly are you doing?” His brother asks him once. It is not full of hate, though it is no longer the gentle understanding Wangji had always been accustomed to. He thinks, maybe the reason is that his brother understands him no longer.
Lan Wangji isn’t sure he can say. He isn’t a good guardian, he knows, and Lan Yuan lacks more than he owns these days. Wangji isn’t sure there’s anything that he can give this child, so young and fragile, to soothe him. He’s a quiet child and he doesn’t like talking at all, even when he is asked to do so. Most children try to force him into saying something - pulling at his hands, his arms, trying to make him angry. It’s a fun game for them, in the way everything is a fun game for children - not realizing they might hurt somebody in the process. Lan Wangji always comes in and asks him: “Do you want to come with me?”
He doesn’t ask Lan Yuan to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’. And he doesn’t have to - Lan Yuan nods, always, as if relieved, and grabs onto Lan Wangji, reliant on the only person that is a familiar and welcome presence.
The truth is, Wangji cannot stop thinking of the day, where he met Wei Wuxian in Yiling, and how sweetly he had smiled at the little child that was sticking to his leg. Lan Wangji cannot stop thinking, “I would do anything to see you smile like that again.”
So, of course, Lan Wangji is a terrible guardian - he dares not call himself a parent, for this is a role reserved for somebody else entirely. He is aloof, and cold, and a man of very few words, and yet, Lan Yuan develops a kind of desperate affection for him. Lan Wangji assumes that it is only borne out of necessity, though he doesn’t mind at all.
Despite everything, Wangji tries to be for Lan Yuan what his own parents could not be for him. He learns that Lan Yuan gets sick easily, and cries even more easily. He learns that he hates eating red peppers and loves sweet things, as most children do.
He learns that, most of all, Lan Yuan likes it when Lan Wangji cooks for him.
Lan Wangji is not sure himself if it is because he likes the food or because he likes watching Wangji cook. The child sticks to him, raising himself on his tiptoes, trying to poke his small nose into the pot, while clutching Lan Wangji’s robes for support in his little fists, grabbing at whatever he can. There’s something incredibly endearing in this, Lan Wangji thinks, and for a second he wishes Wei Wuxian could see it.
He looks down at the child, the wooden spoon still clutched in his hands, and asks: “Do you want to see?”
The child shifts his head slowly but his eyes remain in the same position, still glued to the pot as if he doesn’t want to separate his gaze from it, before he eventually turns them to Lan Wangji. The child takes a second to process the question, before he bashfully nods. His cheeks puff out and Lan Wangji’s heart warms up all over at how cute the child looks. The emotion is so startling he needs a few seconds to ground himself.
When he brings a wooden crate for the child to step on and make himself taller, the child licks its lips and breathes in. His eyes still stray to the pot of soup that’s gently simmering over the fire, before he focuses his full attention to Wangji, still trying to be polite, when he looks him in the eyes.
“Thank you.” He mutters and his voice is crystal clear, unbroken. “Father .”
It’s been a few quiet years of longing for Lan Wangji, but when the child calls him father he feels his heart grow heavy and painful, and overjoyed. He had never called himself a parent, yet the child does it with such ease.
If he could, he would name this emotion, but for now, he only smiles, hesitant and crooked, and awkward, and says: “You’re welcome, Lan Yuan.”
He places his free hand on Lan Yuan’s head and messes up his hair. Lan Yuan puffs out his cheeks again, pouting, bringing his small, chubby hands to smooth it over, patting it gently, but somehow managing to make it even worse.
He turns to the food again and thinks, if only you were here.
The thought is only a bit more painful than usual.
It’s the winter, a year after, when Lan Yuan finally cries.
The night is cold and quiet, and Lan Wangji cannot fall asleep. He doesn’t know why that is, only that there is something strangely off about the feeling in his heart - cold and frantic, and wrong. He almost jumps out of his skin when he hears a quiet knock on his door, then he breathes out. If Wei Wuxian were here he would have laughed his ass off - the great Hanguang-jun, being scared of the dark . Lan Wangji can almost imagine him saying it.
Instead he gets up, his bare feet making almost no sound against the wooden floorboards, and he opens the door.
He startles, not expecting Lan Yuan at all. He’s shivering and his nose is red, and he’s wrapped his arms around himself. Lan Wangji has the sudden urge to scold him but he can’t bring himself to do so - Lan Yuan looks so terribly small and fragile, and his eyes are glossy, like there’s something wrong. There probably is.
“Hurry up inside.” He says and closes the door after Lan Yuan has padded inside, so very quiet. There’s something different about his quietness as well.
When he turns, he finds Lan Yuan waiting for him. Lan Wangji crouches to his eye level, his hair fluttering off his shoulder and framing his face. He brushes it behind his ear and looks at Lan Yuan.
“Are you alright?” He asks and Lan Yuan’s eyes fill with tears.
There’s nothing to explain the panic that Lan Wangji feels when he sees this. For a second, his mind helpfully supplies him with a memory of the day where he first met Lan Yuan - making him cry, back then, as well, a crowd of spectators calling him an incompetent father. He hadn’t known at that time how right they were. He was so young back then - his jaw softer, skin smoother, a bit shorter than he is now, just a few years short of being a man.
His heart becomes frantic seeing Lan Yuan so close to tears, thinking, I said something wrong again, like I always do .
But then Lan Yuan steps towards him and crashes in against his chest, his short arms trying to envelop Lan Wangji’s broad torso, though he does not quite manage. He’s so small against Lan Wangji’s frame that if only Wangji wraps his arms around him, he would be able to break him. Instead, he hugs him, so gently he’s barely touching him, and rests his chin on Lan Yuan’s head. He’s unused to being so gentle - to himself and to others both.
Lan Yuan cries, then. He cries loudly, sobbing against Lan Wangji’s chest, tears hot and soaking through Lan Wangji’s robes. Wangji only closes his eyes and rubs Lan Yuan’s back, comforting him in the best way he can.
“Why are you crying, Lan Yuan?” He asks, softly, letting the words turn into a whisper on his tongue.
“I-” He hiccups. “I don’t know.”
He cries for a long time, before his breathing starts to even out.
“Dad.” He murmurs, lifting his face up from Lan Wangji’s chest, eyes puffy and red. His nose is running and Lan Wangji would smile, if only he were not this worried. “I want to sleep here.”
And Wangji presses him to his chest again, picking him up. He’s grown up so much and soon Wangji will not be able to cradle him in his arms like this and this thought brings him a strange kind of sadness and happiness, altogether. He wishes he had more time. He wishes, for a second, that Wei Wuxian could have seen Lan Yuan growing up - he will never get the chance now.
When Lan Yuan lays down in Lan Wangji’s bed he’s suddenly shy - he wiggles around, trying to snuggle up to Wangji, while simultaneously trying not to touch him at all. Lan Wangji almost laughs, though he feels the ache and joy foreign in his heart, and he tucks Lan Yuan in, placing his cool hand gently on Lan Yuan’s forehead. Lan Yuan closes his eyes and softly sighs, for all intents and purposes, looking as content as can be, after he had thoroughly cried himself out.
What Lan Wangji does not say is: “I miss him too.”
He’s quite sure that Lan Yuan remembers neither Wei Wuxian, nor the rest of the people his heart so dearly longs for.
Wei Wuxian comes back like a dream.
Lan Wangji had been playing Inquiry for thirteen years, almost sure that he would never get the answer of a soul that sought no questions - his bleeding fingers could never shape a person, after all. If Wei Wuxian did not want to come back, if he had simply wanted to be lain rest to, no plea of Wangji’s would ever bring him back.
That is the thing with souls: you only have your own.
Wei Wuxian comes into a body that is his anew, with a soul that was his to begin with, and Lan Wangji aches with relief and a strange sort of wholeness, as if the world has finally fallen on the right axis, after it had been tilted for so long. His presence is as all-encompassing as Lan Wangji remembers, from many years ago, and he can’t recall how he managed living without it. His soothed soul, as if it had been weighed down for thirteen years, finally finds home in Wei Wuxian, once again.
He’s so close now, so close Lan Wangji can almost feel this heart of his, and it is like a dream.
The devil’s in the details - in the way his mouth curves in a so familiar expression on an unfamiliar face, in the way he clings onto Lan Wangji and it feels reminiscent of something he felt before. The collar of his robe is loose, they way he used to wear it and the way he curls his fingers over a makeshift flute, the same way he had gingerly cradled Chenqing.
Wei Wuxian comes back exactly like a dream - not as an answer to a song that Lan Wangji has played for thirteen years, but as the sound of a song that he had only ever played once.
Except, when Wei Wuxian’s wrist falls into Lan Wangji’s grasp, his pulse is steady and so, so real . Lan Wangji places his fingers there, and underneath is something soft and secure, like a lifeline.
Wei Wuxian’s hands are smaller now.
Lan Wangji doesn’t make it obvious how much he notices it. It is only but a half-thought, ever present in the back of his mind, a thing to think about when Wei Wuxian slips his fingers inbetween Lan Wangji’s and it’s so soft, so warm a feeling. His fingers are slender, the skin snow-white and smooth. Lan Wangji peppers his wrists with kisses - far too thin for his liking - Wei Wuxian’s heart fluttering under his lips.
There is the thing he will never forget -
When Wei Wuxian lays a palm on top of Sizhui’s perfectly tied up hair and gently smiles at Sizhui, there is nothing else that Lan Wangji could ever want.
“You’re a good boy, Sizhui.” Wei Wuxian says and his hand rubs Sizhui’s head, messing up the combed hair, laughing all the while Sizhui squirms underneath his attention.
Wei Wuxian’s hand is so small, compared to Lan Wangji’s.
Lan Wangji observes them, quietly, making his presence naught - committing them to memory, and he knows, if he had to choose, this is the only memory he’d like to keep, even if he had to lose the rest. He realizes, now, that all the years he was raising Lan Yuan, this moment is all he wished for.
“Senior Wei, you and Hanguang-jun, really...” He mutters, bringing his own hands to his now unruly head, hairs sticking out everywhere.
You are really similar , is what he wants to say.
“We’re really the same, right?” Wei Wuxian supplies, a knowing smile flirting on his lips. “It seems we are. We both treasure you so much, how could we not be the same?”
Lan Yuan becomes red in the face, somewhat, underneath the composed facade, and murmurs: “Senior Wei...”
Lan Wangji’s is overcome with feeling, trembling with the desire to gather them both in his arms, keeping them close to where his heart is, the warm and safe embrace. It’s a feeling so overlarge that he does not know what to do with it and where to rest it - it is bigger than him, bigger than anything he felt before. Bigger than the grief, as well. That feeling is a wound that will leave a scar, but one that has healed all over - though it feels so distant now, he bears it in mind, still. He will not let himself repeat the same mistakes.
The forgiveness that he has been given is foreign and heavy, and he is glad for it, though undeserving. Wei Wuxian never blames him for what happened, though Lan Wangji knows that Wei Wuxian blames his own self he most.
When Wei Wuxian turns to him, as if finally noticing his presence, eyes folding into the smile, and yells, “Lan Zhan!”, Lan Wangji automatically reacts, magnetized by their presence. Lan Yuan raises his head and his eyes glint, with tears or with happiness, or both, Lan Wangji does not know.
For Lan Wangji the world begins and ends with Wei Wuxian.
It is only halfway true, now.