When Lan Wangji meets Wei Wuxian, he cannot help but loathe him down to his damned bones.
The Lan sect is toeing the line of diplomacy, while the world as he knows it teeters on the edge of war. This sect lectures is more crucial than any have been in a long time. So now as he he begins his patrol, he hopes for an easy evening. It rarely is, this time of year, but he can hope.
In an instant, he notices something wrong with the wards, an almost-gap of sorts, and finds a boy on the roof. In his hands in contraband. Typical. The cheekiness is almost tolerable. His uncle can deal with it.
But then the boy breaks the spirit of the rules and insults him. Wangji finds that he has had enough. It is certainly one thing to do something out of ignorance for the way things work in the Cloud Recesses. It is another when one disregards the Lan sect knowingly.
“There are more rules than ants,” the boy laughs. Like the rules that have acted as pillars in his life are some sort of joke, some petty pathetic thing instead of the founding grounds of discipline.
He does something impulsive. He breaks the jars. And that angers the rude boy, who huffs arrogantly. And they fight.
Irritatingly enough, they are almost evenly matched.
That upsets him. The first person to match him in swordplay since his brother, and it is someone like this. Some rude glutton who cannot seem to go a short period of time without wine and insults everything that Wangji holds dear.
The disciple is Wei Wuxian. Somehow head disciple of the Yunmeng Jiang, son of the famed Cangse Sanren. His uncle goes apoplectic at a suggestion of using resentful energy and Wangji himself almost feels the same. Resentful energy, is he insane?!
He is not merely rude, he is arrogant and foolish. Does he think himself a man who defies reality?!
With Lan Wangji’s opinion of him dropping rapidly, it continues to fall as Wei Wuxian talks about girls and feels himself a little sick. And as if he cannot fall any further in Wangji’s regard, Wei Wuxian is a playboy too.
And Wangji will likely have to deal with him for the rest of the year. Somehow, this year’s lectures just became so much worse.
It is his discipline and training in managing his own emotions that keep him from groaning, but it is a nearer thing than he has felt in a long time, which infuriates him. What right does this boy have to waltz in and have any effect on Wangji? None.
Not that he seems to care. Because not only is he arrogant, foolish, and rude— he is cruel. His constant faux-attempts at engaging in friendship begin to grate on Wangji rather quickly. Is Lan Wangji having friends amusing to him? So impossible for him to conceptualize that he is making fake overtures of friendship for laughs?
It is only his stalwart dedication to his duties as disciplinarian that leads him to try enduring Wei Wuxian’s presence in the library while the boy slacks off more than actually copies the lines.
Pity, Lan Wangji thinks a little viciously, maybe it would actually do him good.
Scratch that. Lan Wangji hates him. He hates him he hates him he hates him!
Mocking Lan Wangji daily, mocking everything he stands for, arrogant and rude and absolutely terrible.
The little demon chose to draw a picture of him. Wangji could admit it was not terribly done. Except for the flower on his head. What was this joke?! What was this little thing Wei Wuxian discovered and decided was funny or puny or worthless in his eyes?
But it only got worse when he attempted to return to his reading to discover it had been… replaced.
Replaced by homoerotic pornography, no less! He seethes, he boils and bubbles and eventually his composure snaps.
“Wei Ying!” He roars. Take the insult, he practically demands. But the boy laughs like be laughs at everything. Like it is all a big joke.
“Here! I’m here!” Wei Wuxian cackles.
Wangji is enraged. He cannot even find the words within his vocabulary to describe the sheer depth of his loathing.
Which is probably why his brother invites the Jiang heir and his entourage to Biling Lake to help. Somehow this brat has his brother charmed. Or worse. His brother is doing it knowing how Wangji feels.
It is typical of his brother to try to get him accustomed to things he does not like, but this is the opposite of constructive. An arrogant playboy will absolutely try to show off. Innocent people will be in danger. He hides a seethe at the sight of the boy bringing alcohol. Would it kill Wei Wuxian to take anything seriously?
“Look at me!” He chirps and leaps around like this is some sort of game. But then his brother looks impressed. Under the boat are water ghouls. How had he-
“The displacement is different,” Wei Wuxian explains, his face never losing its cheer. Wangji finds himself almost stunned. He had never even considered that. Wei Wuxian had certainly been the first to match him in swordplay.
They continue beating off the ghouls and investigating when Wangji realizes something is wrong. And so does Wei Wuxian.
He will begrudge that it was thanks to Wei Wuxian’s quick actions that they all got out. But what truly baffles him is that he fell into the water attempting to save a Lan disciple who had lost his sword.
He remains in good cheer, despite the mass of resentful energy that should have touched his temperament, and Wangji feels the strength of his golden core. No doubt, a core like this could have only been trained and worked for. Perhaps not as lazy or idiotic as Wangji’s first impressions. And he has a shred more decency than Wangji had expected, risking his own life to save an outsider in mortal danger.
Despite finding Wei Wuxian responsible for drinking, Wangji knows who was with him. He just cannot bring two heirs in without evidence. It surprises him how easily Wei Wuxian jumps in to cover for his friends. He is loyal too, it seems. And he… is not terrible. He takes his punishment with token and obviously theatrical complaint. Wangji is pretty sure it is Wei Wuxian’s own brand of humor or something. He thinks he is starting to learn enough about the intricacies of Wei Wuxian, who is more carefree than arrogant, and surprisingly not completely bad. Despite knowing of the existence of rules, he regards them as chains from what appears experiences Wangji cannot know and can only respect from speculation. It is not disregard for them, just dislike of constructs.
Wangji only wishes that Wei Wuxian would not chose him as a target for jokes. They do not seem to be cruel as his original understanding, but more pride that he is the only one who manages to get such reactions out of Lan Wangji. It is almost, he decides wryly, friendly. Even if it is incredibly irritating and unsolicited. It is annoying for him to come and interrupt Wangji’s cultivation in the cold springs, but it would be if anyone had.
Wangji finds that for the first time, he cannot seem to find Wei Wuxian’s presence unwelcome. In fact, he finds Wei Ying’s chatter musical, breaking through the silence that follows him everywhere to show him something beautiful.
Wangji thinks of Wei Wuxian in the years that follow. He hears news of him from time to time. A genius who loves to invent and discover new things, a teacher to his shidi and shimei, brilliant with the sword and talisman. It is a kinder version of all that Wangji could see in their short time together.
Creative, brilliant, and kind. Wangji had known that, somewhere. But it was odd to see that it was all people knew of him. Not his eccentricities, his odd sense of humor or fear of dogs. Not his loyalty, where he risked any retribution to punish the person who insulted his sister. Not his cheek, which for all it had made Wangji loathe him in the beginning, was actually kind of funny when it was not directed at him or his people.
He does not write, but he thinks they could be friends when they see each other next.
Wangji’s mind drifts to Wei Ying sometimes when he works on composing.
He just wishes he knew why the melody is starting to sound like longing.
Wangji sees Wei Ying again at an archery competition. Wei Ying is the same, bright and teasing and perhaps a bit overbearing, but Wangji is overwhelmed by how beautiful he looks. His eyes curl into his smiles, earnest and glittering in the sun. His lips twitch playfully and his skin is the same healthy sunkissed color. He has grown taller and more muscular.
Wangji cannot help but grow flustered to the point of rage when Wei Ying comes close.
An immortal walking the earth, glowing with youth and playful joy. A ray of the sun glittering in a human form, so intangibly beautiful that a mere man could do no more than fall to his knees.
There is no way for him to describe the helplessness he feels with Wei Ying’s hands on his ribbon. But underneath that is a dumbstruck feeling of awe, of how right it feels to see the ribbon floating in between Wei Ying’s long, dexterous fingers like silvery wisps of cloud. Proclaiming that this beauty was his. Lan Wangji’s and Lan Wangji’s alone. Like a claim on each other. There is indignation for Wei Ying handling it without understanding of it and therefore his heart, too. How can he not feel frustrated, when the ribbon that means all of this to Wangji is a mere scrap of fabric to Wei Ying?
His bow shatters in his grip and Wangji leaves the grounds.
He barely pays attention to the score rankings, still as shaken as he would have been had Wei Ying just undressed him and walked away.
Then his home burns and his world tilts into the hell Wangji had known was coming. Leg broken, sword taken in some play of power, Wen Chao attempts to force them to learn about the Wens.
And Wei Ying comes in like a glittering North Star, assuring him and promising him an end for all of this chaos. Wei Ying stands and with mischief in his eyes, he recites the rules of Lan. Rules Wangji had been sure never stuck. But Wei Ying recites them with a barely-suppressed laugh as he mocks the Wen Indoctrination, calls it a weak approximation of the Lan Sect Lectures.
Wangji does not mind being punished, because he has been strengthened.
When the Lans had been at their lowest, Wei Ying had reminded them of their dignity. They could stand with self-respect, knowing that while the Wen’s treatment of them may be wrong, they remain righteous.
Wen Chao’s petty attempts at stirring trouble from his position of power fail to do anything. Even as Wangji’s leg smarts from interrupting an attack, he is bolstered by Wei Ying’s support.
Wei Ying disappears and Lan Wangji finds that he is worried. Wen Chao did not think too kindly of Wei Ying’s actions.
Especially if the rumors are true, and he has been locked up with his one true fear because he helped Wangji.
So of course he refuses Wei Ying’s help as the Wens force them to march.
Wei Ying does not stop trying though. He manages to get them time for Wangji to rest his leg.
It seems that now that they have landed in each other’s lives again, Wangji will keep finding himself grateful to Wei Ying.
The concept does not particularly bother him.
With a yell, Wei Ying leaps in between the glowing brand and the young woman’s face. She looks horrified as Wei Ying cries out, the brand burning his skin. The Wens leave them to die as Wei Ying soothes the girl as if he was not injured on her behalf.
Wangji cannot help but admire Wei Ying. He is unruly, as much a rogue as they come, but he is righteous. A true hero.
Then the Jiangs work together in brilliant tandem to save the others. But it is clear that Wei Ying is about to sacrifice himself.
Wangji would never let him.
He intercepts the beast’s blow, leaving them trapped together. Wangji is injured, leg bleeding, and Wei Ying’s chest is still freshly red with the brand’s burn.
Wangji is enraged. How dare that harlot touch him? Wei Ying, who is infinitely more precious than she? How dare she?!
And Wei Ying, oblivious to the way Wangji’s chest aches when he does it, laughs about how the young maiden would remember him forevermore— like a romance in the novels Wangji often overhears younger disciples chattering about.
It hurts more when Wei Ying snatches his ribbon, though. The action is rude and sudden, but he wraps it around Wangji’s leg with such a gentle care that it feels… almost tender. He cannot help the way he bristles, he is so flustered by the way Wei Ying looks with firelight dancing over his sharp features, the way his grin stays bright as a sun even here, the earnest look in his glittering eyes as he ties Wangji’s ribbon back around his leg. It feels more intimate than a handfasting from a Lan wedding, more sensual than it should.
He tries to put it out of his mind.
It is in no way easy, because Wangji’s mind cannot help but returning to that picture. Wei Ying looking up at him, face lit with flickering firelight and a teasing grin.
In the darkness and hopelessness of that cave, Wangji is overcome with the desire to grab him and kiss him until they are both dizzy.
Lan Wangji falls in love slowly but surely as the changing seasons, winter’s ice melting to spring. The ice has already thawed, and Wangji knows that the buds have grown when he looked away.
Surely enough, he cannot be anything other than in love with Wei Wuxian.
No help comes to them. Wangji had feared as much, for who could afford to come?
So they have to take their own action. It is better to die trying than to die waiting. As they plan together, Wangji cannot help but feel a thrill in the way they do not mirror or match each other, but compliment each other instead. Wei Ying understands him. He is clever and perceptive, and if they had been back in Cloud Recesses, merely students debating theory, he thinks he would have come to like Wei Ying far faster than he had now.
But journeys are journeys, and how they came from loathing to admiration was an idiosyncrasy of their own— special, because it is theirs.
Then they fight. They fight because right then they have nothing to lose but their lives, and they would do it on their terms. Wei Ying takes major risks to himself and Wangji’s own hands are bleeding when they finish. But none of it means anything because right now, Wei Ying is burning up with fever. After a token protest of his own, he allows Wei Ying to rest in his lap. Wangji stares at those long inky lashes, fluttering against Wei Ying’s now-pale skin.
He could die.
Terror knifes through Wangji. Wei Ying cannot die. Not here. Not now. Not when he has become so precious to him.
He uses his dwindling spiritual energy, almost desperate. No. No. This can not be happening.
Wei Ying lies in Wangji’s lap and something like despair claws through him. Wei Wuxian is indeed special to him. He is beautiful and powerful and so, so good and Wangji cannot bear to see him disappear.
Not him. Not Wei Ying, Wangji practically begs the heavens.
Please , he pleads, let Wei Ying stay with me.
“Sing to me?” Wei Ying rasps out. Wangji does, the song that edged with longing and determination and the fluttering warmth in his chest that Wangji recognizes as the one that comes with Wei Ying’s smile. Because it cannot be anything other than a love song, he realizes.
It is only when he says it out loud that he realizes what the name of that song is.