"Now ordinary people are born forwards in Time, if you understand what I mean, and nearly everything in the world goes forward too... But I unfortunately was born at the wrong end of time, and I have to live backwards from in front, while surrounded by a lot of people living forwards from behind."
From white, everything was here.
It would be difficult to say when or where this was, but this time was a time that he could never return to again.
Lan Wangji’s first sensation were lips pressed on his. Then his eyes flew open, and he found there was not alone.
Although the person in front of him was serious and unsmiling at the moment, there was something on his face that made him look handsome in a playful manner, a sparkling thoughtfulness to it. Lan Wangji, who had just come into being a few moments ago, could not think of anything more wonderful-looking than this person in front of him.
The man looked up at Lan Wangji, practically starstruck. “Is this how you felt?” He questioned. Despite his wonderment, he seemed sad.
Lan Wangji did not know what that meant.
For a moment a meaningful silence passed between them. Then, suddenly and without warning, the moment was lost. The conversation seemed to reset and he let go, stepped away, tilted his head slightly and grinned. The somber look on his face disappeared, and his expression became a bit lighter.
“Have I said who I am yet?”
Confused, Lan Wangji shook his head. The man smiled even more brightly at this, then laughed as he continued, “Then it’s time for my first introduction! I am Wei Wuxian. Please, call me Wei Ying.”
Although he was growing increasingly befuddled, Lan Wangji began instinctually, grasping for a name he already knew, “I am Lan—”
“Lan Wangji, Lan Zhan, I know. You don’t have to introduce yourself.”
“... How?” Lan Wangji could not understand how Wei Wuxian seemed so knowing and knowledgeable. He, who had just come into being, could barely comprehend what was happening, so why was Wei Wuxian different? Somewhere in the back of his mind, he knew that this was the beginning, and nothing existed before that. Wei Wuxian could not be an exception.
Yet Wei Wuxian replied, “I’ve been with you for a very long time, so naturally you wouldn’t need to say your name at this time. My memory may not be the best, but I definitely wouldn’t forget something as important as that!”
Then, the strange thing happened again. With absolute bewilderment, Lan Wangji felt something between them change, and something reset once more.
Wei Wuxian blinked.
“Have I said who I am yet?”
He laughed sheepishly, scratching his neck. “Sorry, Lan Zhan. This happens often; you’ll have to get used it, I suppose.”
Lan Wangji asked, “What are you?”
There were better ways of saying it, but he found he couldn’t quite seem to string together the right words. Despite the awkward phrasing, Wei Wuxian understood perfectly.
He said, “I’m the same as you.”
“Like this,” Wei Wuxian taught him, one unsteady foot in front of another, one step at a time. He held Lan Wangji’s hand, guiding him, and kept up a constant, confusing chatter.
What exactly was it that he was learning? Lan Wangji could not understand, yet he obediently followed the directions, walking forward into nowhere, from a place to another, until together they reached… something.
As he did this, the world that had been nothing but white and more white began to vary. It shifted slowly into red and orange and pink. It was filled with of all sorts of warm colors: dark and rosy, soft and light.
“Ah, it’s so pretty, isn’t it?” Wei Wuxian mused. “I haven’t seen a sight like this in a long time!”
Was it pretty? He could not tell. “... Mm.”
“Lan Zhan, you really don’t ever change,” Wei Wuxian said. “I always wondered if you were always like this, and it turns out that really was the case.” His smile turned thoughtful, and he looked up at the sky with great solemnity. “Yes, it really is nice.”
Eventually, they reached… something, and Wei Wuxian asked, “Er, Lan Zhan, remind me, have you seen the ocean yet?”
“... We just got here.”
“We did? Good to know. Alright then, this way!” As they walk, this time with a clear path ahead of them, and Wei Wuxian continues, “Although, I suppose there’s only the ocean to see, at this point. No matter where you go, you’ll end up there eventually.”
He did not know what the ocean was. “What is—”
“It’s right there!” Wei Wuxian ran forward, then looked back to make sure he was still following. “See? Isn’t it pretty?”
Lan Wangji looked out. What he was pointing at, the ocean, was somewhere between blue and gray, and had a quality to it unlike the ground beneath them. He did not know how to answer the question just from that.
He didn’t know anything.
Wei Wuxian began to walk toward the ocean, and as he did a there was something that began to rise up from the horizon… something bright. They watched it in silence together, and a ball of light lifted itself upward. How strange.
The conversation began anew, and Wei Wuxian asked him, “Do you like daytime or nighttime better, Lan Zhan? Has your answer changed yet?”
Lan Wangji did not what that was, and he did not know why his answer would change.
Uncaring of his silence, he continued, “It must still be day. Lan Zhan, you’re really so predictable. Even after all this time, after all this time… you’re still the same.”
He had just said this. Why had he said it again? How could he possibly be the same as before, if before did not exist?
He did not know. He just didn’t know.
“Lan Zhan?” Wei Wuxian looked at him oddly. “Are you alright?”
“I…” Lan Wangji bit his lip.
“I—” More and more flustered Lan Wangji became, until he was out of the few sparse words he could have voiced.
It was not frustration, it was not really confusion either, yet either of those things could have fit the situation perfectly. It was the sort of helplessness that could not be explained, and only came out of something being too much, and too little processed. Wei Wuxian could only gaze at him curiously.
Wei Wuxian, the world, the beginning, the end, the ocean, daytime and nighttime and so on and so forth until he had no idea what any of these things were, yet Wei Wuxian obviously expected him to. He never explained, and Lan Wangji knew so little that he could not find a way to ask anything. He looked at him like Lan Wangji was something to be admired, but he… didn’t understand.
I don’t. I… I don’t. I don’t. In the end, that was all he could say. Lan Wangji’s eyes lowered, and pulled away so he didn’t have to look at anything. There was nothing here but more and more don’ts.
“Hey, hey,” Wei Wuxian said, and walked forward to grab his hands again. “Lan Zhan, I’m sorry. I’m not very good at this, am I? Tell me, how long has it been since you woke up?”
“… Don’t know.”
“You don’t know how to tell time yet, do you?” Lan Wangji refused to look at him so he couldn’t tell what Wei Wuxian looked like at the moment, but his voice sounded apologetic. “I really am terrible, I took you here but I didn’t even explain any of the basic things.
“Ok, listen to me. The big ball of light in the sky, it’s called the sun. It travels across the sky and dips below the horizon, then comes back up again. One cycle of the sun moving through the sky is called one day. Tell me, how many days has it been since you woke up?”
As the sun had just appeared, Lan Wangji obediently answered without looking up, “Less than one.”
There was a strange silence as Wei Wuxian failed to respond to that. Lan Wangji grew curious enough that he was just about to raise his head when Wei Wuxian quickly grabbed him by the waist and put his arms around him, forcing them to collide.
“Next lesson,” Wei Wuxian said, his voice by Lan Wangji’s ear. The proximity made him flinch automatically. “Oh! Sorry, sorry, you’re not used to that yet.” He moved his head so that they made eye contact. “This is called a hug. You do it to make someone feel better.”
“…” Lan Wangji had nothing to say to that. After the initial shock, he supposed it was alright.
“Lan Zhan, I really am sorry,” Wei Wuxian repeated earnestly. “The type of person you are, when you can’t say everything you want to say aloud, and I keep forgetting that you don’t know me… I’ll keep making mistakes like this.” The last statement was stated a fact, not a prediction. “Please understand. I don’t like it when I make you feel stupid. It’s just that I don’t recall what you wouldn’t know at this moment.”
Lan Wangji turned away, his head spinning. It wasn’t as if he disliked Wei Wuxian. He was rather lovely, and his incessant chatter was charming in its own right. But he didn’t know what to do when Wei Wuxian spoke to him like this, like he knew him so well, full of an emotion he couldn’t grasp. Why did he do that? Why didn’t Lan Wangji know anything?
“Here, let me try again.” Wei Wuxian took a deep breath and grumbled softly, “Stupid… Alright, alright.
“Lan Zhan, you should already know what ‘time’ is. Nod if you do.”
Lan Wangji nodded.
“This is the beginning of the world, and as you move away from it, you move forwards in time. Forwards is called the future, backwards is called the past, and right now is the present.”
He flashed a handsome smile, nothing but winsome affection in his expression and continued carefully, “I’m Wei Wuxian. I’m just like you, but in reverse. You live forwards, I live backwards. This is your beginning, and this is my end, and we always meet in the present. I’ve lived my entire life with you, but you haven’t started your life at all.
“That’s the way the world is.”
The words meant practically nothing to Lan Wangji, but he nodded and accepted it nevertheless.
“When I was born at the end,” Wei Wuxian continued, “You were there. You taught me everything. You were always with me. Whatever I didn’t understand, you could explain it patiently. Whenever I felt sad or stupid and angry, you comforted me. I just want to do the same for you, but I’m not nearly as good as it as you were.
“To be fair, you had a bit of an advantage. It’s not easy going backwards against the world, you know. But even so, you were still better.”
Wei Wuxian began to pat his back. “Right now, forgive me if I’ve made you scared or feeling silly. Please ask me if you don’t understand anything. I just want to make you happy. I love you.”
Lan Wangji let the statement parse, silent in Wei Wuxian’s arms. For a moment, all that could be heard was water hitting rocks.
He opened his mouth to ask about the last sentence.
And then, the change happened. The world moved on.
Seeing Lan Wangji with his mouth open, Wei Wuxian blinked owlishly. “Were you asking me something?” He said. “Go ahead and ask.”
But the sentiment of the moment was lost He shook his head.
Wei Wuxian smiled agreeably, looking as if the conversation prior had never occurred. For him, it hadn’t. “Lan Zhan, there’s nothing here yet but water and sand, but one day there’s going to be these shells on the beach that you can collect, made from… ah, I forgot what they’re made out of? Calcium carbonate, I think. But they’re from living things, like us! They aren’t here yet, but it’s just a matter of time. It’s really amazing, you’ll love it.”
The word again. Lan Wangji let himself be dragged along.
The world moved on like this, slowly, from one present to another. It took the form of short conversations, lost with the moment. He learned what water was. He learned what sand was. He learned.
Wei Wuxian forgot every conversation he had with Lan Wangji prior, so he was the only one to keep these lessons in his memory.
There was a day he finally worked up the courage to ask, “… What are we?”
“I don’t know,” Wei Wuxian answered honestly. “I asked that a lot, too, before I realized that no one had a good answer. The humans…” His gaze grew fond and sentimental, “Well, they’re not here yet, so maybe it wouldn’t mean much to you. But they called us gods.”
Lan Wangji did not know what that was.
“I don’t know how to properly explain it.” Wei Wuxian scratched his head, and tried his best. “You see this world, right? You see the ocean, and the rocks and the sand. But who made it? Why is it here? Why are we here?”
That had been something Lan Wangji had wondered since he had woken up.
Seeing his understanding, Wei Wuxian said a bit sympathetically, “There’s many different answers to those questions, but I don’t know which one is right. Maybe none of them are. Everyone had different explanations, and one of them was that someone, something made it. They were called gods.”
But they, him and Wei Wuxian, “… We are not that.”
“We aren’t,” Wei Wuxian agreed. “So after I realized that no one really knew, I stopped worrying about it. Now, I just want to live my life to the fullest, every moment of it. How long has it been since you woke up?”
Lan Wangji answered diligently, “Five hundred and three days.”
Wei Wuxian chewed on that, then said, “There are three hundred and sixty-five days in a year. Ten years in a decade, a hundred years in a century, and a thousand years in a millennium. Use those once the days become too many to count easily. Do you have that down?”
“Lan Zhan really learns things quickly,” Wei Wuxian clapped. “Anyways, what I was saying was: each of us knows exactly what the other doesn’t. All the times I’ve been with you, those years and centuries and so on, you haven’t experienced. All the times you’ve been with me, I haven’t experienced. The only time we share together is now, right at the present.”
He meant it quite literally. They shared the current moment, and as soon as that moment ended, they would never meet the same version of a person again.
He held a hand to his chest and said with great fondness. “Every moment in the present, I want to spend with you. Do you feel the same?”
Lan Wangji thought on it. It was nighttime, and they could barely see each other. Earlier in the evening, Wei Wuxian had been lamenting on it, as well the lack of trees to make a fire out of. Lan Wangji did not know what that meant, but it would be nice to see the details of his features right now.
Perhaps it would give him a better indication on how to respond.
It was not as if he disliked him. Lan Wangji thought on him constantly, for there was no other thing to think on. He took care of Lan Wangji with good humor, saying things such as, “Let me hold your hand— yes, like that. Do you like it? … I knew you would,” and “I love you,” and “I love you,” and “I love you.”
He had never asked what that had meant, yet in the past year, perhaps he was beginning to understand. Not completely, not enough to even think about, but maybe he did.
He thought of Wei Wuxian as… good. He was good. But what Wei Wuxian thought of him, what made him want to stay with Lan Wangji, he did not comprehend enough to respond in an appropriate manner.
Hearing his silence, Wei Wuxian laughed softly. “Ah, Lan Zhan… your age really comes through.”
He did not sound very happy about it.
Lan Wangji asked, “Why would you say those things?” He could not bring himself to ask, Why do you love me?
Wei Wuxian understood nevertheless. He brightened, “There are many reasons! I love Lan Zhan because he’s a good person. You judge people fairly, and you treat me well. I love Lan Zhan because he smiles at me, because he cooks well, because he’s intelligent, because he’s polite, and he decided he wanted to be all those things of his own volition, and then also decided that he would direct those things at me.
“I like you because you like me,” and Lan Wangji’s chest grew tight. How saddening it must be for Wei Wuxian right now, when the person he liked could not even understand something like this.
“And together, we aren’t alone.”
Eventually, plants began to grow at the shore.
“They’re so small,” Wei Wuxian complained, “I miss when you could be surrounded by a forest of trees and sit in its shade. It’s been so long since I saw a flower.”
Lan Wangji, on the other hand, found it quite fascinating. He did not venture in the ocean, and rarely saw the things that dwelled inside, so something like this that grew where he could easily see was very interesting.
Once when he was examining upon what had been referred to as “Moss or lichen, I can’t tell the difference,” when Wei Wuxian asked, “So what do you like about it? You seem really interested.”
“They grow,” Lan Wangji replied, “Not like the rocks.”
“Well, of course not, they’re living things,” Wei Wuxian responded sensibly. “In order to be living, you have to be able to grow.”
“But we don’t.”
Wei Wuxian waved his hand carelessly, “I suppose… technically speaking, humans made certain requirements in order for something to be classified as a living. But when speaking casually, I think it’s alright. No one’s going to debate with you whether a virus is alive or not in small talk, so they won’t bother with this bit either. It’s not like we’re dead, after all, and nonliving objects can’t think and talk.”
He paused and corrected, “Except for robots.”
Lan Wangji blinked. “List the requirements.”
“Err, grows, requires nutrients, can reproduce…” Wei Wuxian frowned in concentration, “I don’t remember.”
Lan Wangji was not sure if he any of those. Wei Wuxian had described eating as “Really fun when the food is good, but I don’t really think you like it that much, so you don’t do it very often,” and reproduction as…
“… Can we reproduce?”
“I don’t know, neither of us ever tried.”
Lan Wangji did not know the manner in which to reproduce. Nevertheless, he said, “Then let us try together, right now.”
“…” After a moment, Wei Wuxian burst into laughter. He was wheezing as he choked out, “Lan Zhan! Oh my gosh, Lan Zhan, you’re going to be the death of me!”
Although he was being laughed at, Lan Wangji had known Wei Wuxian for long enough now to understand that he was not being made fun of, so he waited patiently for him to explain what exactly was so funny.
“Hahaha,” Wei Wuxian snickered for a while longer, then finally breathed deeply and said with great humor, “Then would you like me to show you how?”
There seemed to be a meaning to it Lan Wangji did not understand. Hadn’t he said they had never tried to reproduce? Still, he nodded.
“No, no, Lan Zhan like this is too naïve, I didn’t know you were ever like this,” Wei Wuxian laughed some more. “I feel bad, like I’m taking advantage of you.” He said this with such humor, yet Lan Wangji couldn’t help but feel that he seemed a bit wistful as well. It was, after all, the first time he had met Lan Wangji when he was still like this.
“If you’ve never done it…” Wei Wuxian thought for a moment, then said, “Why don’t I just kiss you?”
Before he could ask what that was, Wei Wuxian laughed and said, “I love you.” He leaned forward, brought a hand up to his cheek, and pressed their lips together. It was what he had done back during the beginning of time, as well.
At that time, Lan Wangji had little to no reaction. He did not know who Wei Wuxian was, beyond finding him lovely to look at, and lacking the context of what a kiss might mean, the action had garnered mostly confusion.
In the present, if he were anyone else, he would have gasped. As it was, he was frozen in almost-panic against a tender touch. Wei Wuxian lingered for a few more moments, but upon realizing that Lan Wangji was not reciprocating, he leaned back in confusion.
He did not know what he like, but whatever Wei Wuxian saw was enough to make his expression fall.
“I hadn’t realized you had never kissed before,” he said miserably. “Please, tell me if you’re not sure about something. Now you feel terrible and I feel terrible, and I don’t want you to feel that way. From now on, I’ll make sure not to kiss you.”
It wasn’t that he disliked it, Lan Wangji wanted to say. It wasn’t that he disliked it! He simply hadn’t realized what Wei Wuxian had meant by it, and the realization had made him freeze up. He didn’t want Wei Wuxian to feel bad, either.
Seeing him upset was unbearable, at this point.
“I’ll just make sure to keep our promise at the end,” Wei Wuxian was saying, “But I promise I won’t kiss you beyond that.”
But before he could explain, the present was gone. Wei Wuxian’s upset expression was wiped away, but Lan Wangji’s remained.
“Why the long face? Cheer up,” Wei Wuxian said, reaching out to pat his cheek. “After all, you’re with me, right?”
Lan Wangji pulled him into a hug. He yelped, then cheerfully reached out for Lan Wangji as soon as the surprise passed. Lan Wangji wished he could do that with such ease.
“Lan Zhan,” he breathed, heartfelt. “What would I do without you?”
Since they did not grow, they could not age, and they could not die. Therefore, Lan Wangji stopped counting how old he was after a little while. He did not see the point.
When explaining this to Wei Wuxian, his only comment was, “I’m surprised it took you this long; I lost track almost immediately.”
Yet even so, even though they did not change at all in this time, Wei Wuxian still seemed to become more and more handsome. Lan Wangji decided it was simply because it was he who had changed, not Wei Wuxian.
Wei Wuxian continued, oblivious to Lan Wangji’s inane musings, “Once you decide to stop counting, it becomes really different, though. If you live forever, what’s stopping you from deciding to waste away a decades, even centuries, in a blink of an eye? Sometimes you just lose track of time.”
A century was not very long.
“Humans were the ones who made these words. To them, a century was very long,” Wei Wuxian grinned. “If you think about it, I really don’t think we’re very far off from them. The only difference I could really see between us was how they lived— there was a never a moment to waste. They went so fast, because they could always see their end.”
Lan Wangji was silent as Wei Wuxian brushed through his hair, his fingers sliding deftly through the strands. Eventually, curiosity overcame him, and he turned, reaching for Wei Wuxian’s own unkempt hair.
While doing so, he asked, “What… is our end?”
Wei Wuxian was silent for a moment, then returned, “Would you like to know how you die?”
“You’re very smart, Lan Zhan. I’m sure you’ve figured it out already.”
Nevertheless, he asked haltingly, “Please… tell me.”
“Well, let me think on what to say for a moment.”
This was what Wei Wuxian thought: The first sign is always that he would fall out of love.
It was a slow process, something that began in a agonizing crawl and never increased in speed. For a while, the change would be imperceptible.
Then there was a day when he would look at you differently, say your name differently. And then even later, he would begin to not know things, ask you questions that he should have known, because the entire time you had spent with him, he had known it.
When Wei Wuxian began to fall out of love, Lan Wangji probably knew he was reaching the end.
There was a day Wei Wuxian looked to him in a friendly manner, but it was unlike how he usually did. There was less familiarity to it, and for a flash of a second, it was disheartening and inexplicable.
Something strange must have shown on his face, for Wei Wuxian stopped whatever he was in the middle of and said, “… Lan Zhan?”
“How old what?” Wei Wuxian returned, when he would have known what Lan Wangji meant not too long ago.
“How old are you?”
He frowned. “I lost track. Somewhere around two thousand, maybe. Why?”
Lan Wangji looked away.
Wei Wuxian did not know back then, what that could mean. Now, he imagined something similar to sadness. After all, two thousand years was nothing. So little time.
But for now, Wei Wuxian would still say, “Lan Zhan look at me! Lan Zhan, kiss me. Lan Zhan, if you don’t pay attention to me, what am I going to do?
Wei Wuxian knew after that, when he did not know anything, you would have to teach him everything— from love to earth to water to things of the future, or things of the past.
He would not remember the kindnesses you presented to him. He could only base his impressions of people on a time you had no control over. Therefore, it was only correct that you continue to be kind, and only kind during every meeting in the present.
You would teach him everything he taught you, guide him through in reverse. Because you loved him, and you wanted to stay with him to the end.
The way he had been so kind to you, you would return it.
Lan Wangji was so, so good at this part. He had been nothing but tender, and he always had an answer. Wei Wuxian realized very early on, that for someone who did not talk very much, he always had so much to say on the things Wei Wuxian asked him.
“I remember what I was taught,” was Lan Wangji’s response. Recitation came easily to him.
Wei Wuxian clapped his hands. “Then whoever Lan Zhan’s teacher was must have been very talented.”
“Mm.” Lan Wangji kissed him on the nose. “Sleep.”
The last thing Wei Wuxian knew about the end— or the beginning?— was that what you experienced, he would see the exact opposite. This is what Lan Wangji wanted to know.
Wei Wuxian could easily tell him what he remembered what he remembered: he opened his eyes, and someone was smiling at him. He kissed Wei Wuxian, and then Wei Wuxian asked for his name.
“Lan Zhan,” he had said.
He had asked him where they were, and he responded, “The beginning.”
… But that wasn’t what Lan Wangji wanted to know.
Wei Wuxian kept thinking, and finally thought, perhaps it had went like this:
At the end of the world, Lan Wangji looked at Wei Wuxian. He glanced back with bright eyes, not a hint of recognition in his gaze. “Then… ‘Lan Zhan,’” he said. “Any idea of where we are?”
“This is a beginning.” Your beginning.
“Of what?” When Lan Wangji failed to respond, he huffed. “Why’d you do that, before? What was that?”
The sky became brighter. There was a silence. Lan Wangji walked closer. The conversation reset.
“What’s your name?” Wei Wuxian asked, his eyes wide.
“... Lan Zhan.”
Lan Wangji drew closer, and closer, and closer until Wei Wuxian was in his arms. It was just like then, the first time they had met— when Wei Wuxian kissed him, when this long, long life had begun for him— and Wei Wuxian was still the same.
This entire time, from beginning to the end of their existence, they had no reason for why they were, and what they were meant to be. They had only meandered through millions, billions of people’s lives, muddying it with hopes of gods and time and the sorts of things that were impossible for them.
Yet, he didn’t regret.
One last time, he kissed him with an ache that couldn’t be properly expressed. He didn’t regret anything. That day at the beginning, he was sure Wei Wuxian had not regretted anything either.
When he ended it, Wei Wuxian was staring up at him, the confusion obvious. He touched his own ravished lips in bemusement.
The sky was almost completely colorless now, so different from the vibrant hues of sunset it had been. But Lan Wangji could hardly care; he couldn’t stop looking at Wei Wuxian. His face was going to be the last thing he ever saw.
“Who are you?” Wei Wuxian asked, starstruck. “You’re beautiful.”
Lan Wangji smiled. His sight grew blurred.
Then the world turned white, and everything was gone.
At the end of the thought, Wei Wuxian laughed softly to himself. Lan Wangji stared at him, unblinking, a half-formed question.
“It’s alright,” Wei Wuxian smiled easily, not bothering to say any of it aloud. Lan Wangji would soon learn of it all himself. This Lan Wangji looked at him somewhere between love and infatuation, still a ways away from the man who Wei Wuxian had spent most of his life with. It really was like looking at him as a child.
He said, “I’m not sure I can put any of it into words, but it’s alright to not know. As they say, it’s the journey that matters, not the destination. I’ve always found the middle much more interesting than the end. You haven’t even met any of the humans yet!
“From now to then, you have all the time in the world.”
"Well… here we are— or were— again."