Wei Wuxian dies on a sleepy Thursday afternoon in April.
It’s the four o’clock train. Perfectly punctual, as it always is in their neat, orderly suburban town. His sister used to caution him about this hill, the steepest one in their town. If you pick up enough speed, it might be difficult to stop at the crossing, Xianxian. The train’s horn blares, loud enough to shake his molars and ache in his ears. Wei Wuxian squeezes his brakes, but they simply wheeze a metallic whine in protest and do nothing.
His front bicycle tire makes impact with the wooden gate of the crossing signal.
Tossed from his bike, Wei Wuxian seems to hang in the air for an eternity. There is no moment of clarity, no split-second where he sees his life flash before his eyes. It’s just this: bright-lights-loud-noise-someone-screaming-metal-crunching.
Almost calmly, he thinks, I mean, Madame Yu would tell me that it’s a miracle I even made it to eighteen.
And then the train hits him and he dies.
Well. Sort of.
More precisely, he dies and then he undies. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that one second he is dead, and then the next he is not dead at all, and never was.
This is the first time Wei Wuxian time-leaps.
Even before the Train Incident, that Thursday is one of the more off days Wei Wuxian has had in awhile. Nothing at the level of dying and then waking up in his bed twelve hours earlier, of course. But still - the kind of day where even the smallest thing manages to go wrong.
He wakes up late. This isn’t a terribly rare occurrence, but today, Wei Wuxian is absolutely certain he’d set his alarm properly the night before. He’s supposed to meet Lan Wangji before classes start to get in some extra archery practice. That’s not going to happen now, though. He’ll be lucky if he makes it before the start of first period. When he texts Lan Wangji that he’s going to be late, Lan Wangji sends back only “:(” and Wei Wuxian bitterly regrets ever teaching him about emojis.
On his frantic way out of the house, his tie loose around his neck and one arm stuffed into his coat, Wei Wuxian opens the fridge to grab the last yogurt and Jiang Fengmian informs him kindly that Jiang Cheng already took it. This is, of course, a personal attack. Jiang Cheng doesn’t even like yogurt. Wei Wuxian swears vengeance silently and grabs his bike out of the garage, wincing at the way his brakes protest the first time he squeezes them. There’s no time to walk, though, so he takes off anyway.
To make matters worse, it starts to rain during his bike ride to school. Then there’s a pop quiz in his math class. And finally, he ends up on cleaning duty because he’d “shown up late” and “distracted the other students” and “ruined his uniform in the downpour.”
It’s not even nine o’clock.
“It’s so unfair,” Wei Wuxian bemoans to Lan Wangji, sitting at the desk directly in front of him.
Lan Wangji does not look up from his meticulously-written notes, though he does offer a sympathetic hum. The nape of his neck stretches up from the immaculate collar of his uniform, porcelain and lovely. Wei Wuxian wants to press his thumb against it.
“You’ll wait for me after class, right, Lan Zhan?” he continues. “I’ll be really fast. I don’t want to miss archery practice again.”
“I’ll wait,” Lan Wangji promises him. “Now stop distracting me.”
“You’re my favorite, Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian professes, and he allows himself a tiny, petty burst of joy when Lan Wangji’s ears light up red.
The rest of the school day passes in a messy blur. He somehow manages to set his papers on fire with a broken Bunsen burner during chemistry class. During lunchtime, he passes by a group of Wens in the courtyard and accidentally ends up in the middle of a… well. Wei Wuxian will call it a tussle. It’s not like it’s a full-blown fight. By the time the end of classes arrive, Wei Wuxian is almost looking forward to cleaning duty - even today can’t possibly make wiping down tables and stacking chairs worse than it already is.
When the final bell rings, Wei Wuxian shoos Lan Wangji out of the classroom before he can offer to help. He finishes cleaning the classroom fairly quickly and without incident, which just leaves delivering the day’s worksheets to the biology lab, tucked in one of the more remote corners on the school’s second floor. Still blessedly disaster-free, Wei Wuxian hums under his breath as he makes the trek - down the hallway, up the stairs, around two corners.
The school is perfectly quiet up here.
Wei Wuxian toes open the biology room door and lets it slide shut behind him. It’s almost peaceful, really. The room is perfectly quiet and still, completely absent of students (or faulty Bunsen burners). The windows are ajar, letting in a warm breeze from outside; light pours golden through them and spills, mercurial, across the floor. Through the windows, Wei Wuxian can see the soccer team warming up - Jiang Cheng and Nie Huiasang are jogging together, as always, but neither of them look up in Wei Wuxian’s direction, and he resigns himself to a momentary lack of attention.
And then, behind him, there is a sound. Something like a footstep, and then a small and sharp intake of breath.
Wei Wuxian turns around, stack of papers held in his arms. The door behind him is still shut, though. The room is completely empty.
“Hello?” Wei Wuxian says, slowly. “Is someone there?”
There is no reply.
“If this is a prank, you got me,” Wei Wuxian says. “I’ve got plans, though, so I’m gonna put this stuff down now and go-”
And then he takes a step forward, and immediately wipes out, because of-fucking-course he does.
He goes down hard, knocking his head on the tiled floor. The fall knocks the wind out of him and sends his stack of papers scattering like confetti across the floor. His backside is going to hurt for a week, probably.
“What the hell,” Wei Wuxian begins, a desperate supplication to an unhearing and unmerciful god. And then he notices the walnut beside his foot.
Baffled, Wei Wuxian leans forward to inspect the Thing. Upon closer inspection, he determines that it isn’t a walnut, actually. The Thing is an opaque silver, like stainless steel, with a tiny red light flashing in its center. It’s shaped like a walnut, though, ridged and grooved, and it is approximately walnut-sized.
It’s probably what he tripped on.
“Stupid Thing,” Wei Wuxian mutters, and he pokes it with his index finger.
One second there, the next crumbling into dust against his hand. Less than dust, really.
Wei Wuxian swears loudly and eloquently before snapping to his feet. If the Thing was an expensive piece of scientific equipment (albeit of a kind he has certainly never seen before), there is absolutely no way he’s paying the school to replace it. Wei Wuxian doesn’t even have enough money to replace the brakes on his shitty bike.
As if things hadn’t been bad enough before. Now he’s going to be late for archery practice again, which makes twice in one day, and Lan Wangji is going to be desperately annoyed with him and probably never ever speak to him ever again. And he’s going to owe the school a million yuan for some newfangled tech that breaks when you touch it.
Wei Wuxian, muttering furiously under his breath, gathers the papers into a messy stack, sets them unceremoniously down on the desk at the front of the lab, and books it.
As promised, Lan Wangji is waiting outside, leaning against the brick facade of the building, his hands in his pockets and his face tipped upward toward the sun. He looks luminous, glowing from the inside. Wei Wuxian allows himself a half-second of heart-fluttering before he shoves the feeling down into the pit of his stomach and yells, “Lan Zhan!”
Lan Wangji looks up slowly and fixes Wei Wuxian with his startling, amber-gold eyes. “You took a long time.”
“Yeah, I got lost,” Wei Wuxian says, which is an incredibly stupid lie, given that Wei Wuxian has to go to the biology lab at least three times a week and has been attending this school for several years now. He’s actually not sure why he needs to lie to Lan Wangji about this anyway. He just feels like he does - an odd and insistent itch at the back of his mind. “On the way back from the lab. Big school, you know. Anyway, archery?”
Because Lan Wangji is a godsend of a human being, he only narrows his eyes at Wei Wuxian for about half a second before saying, “Mn.”
Anyway. You know the rest.
Wei Wuxian goes to archery practice. He loses by a modest, respectable amount to Lan Wangji who is, as always, a graceful victor. He also beats the underclassmen in the club soundly, and is most certainly not a graceful victor. He says a cheerful goodbye to Lan Wangji, his mood already elevated, and allows himself to sling an arm around Lan Wangji’s shoulder for a little longer than could be considered strictly friendly by an objective observer. He gets on his bike. He hurries home.
He forgets about his faulty brakes until he’s coasting down the hill and picking up speed and the train is coming and he can’t stop, he can’t stop, even when he drags his feet on the pavement to try to slow the descent, a shoe flying off his foot in the process.
He hits the train. Or, well. The train hits him.
He wakes up.
For a second, Wei Wuxian does nothing except stare up at his bedroom ceiling, his heart pounding staccato in his throat. His sheets are tangled around his bare legs, sweat clammy on his brow, and he reaches up slowly to press an open palm against his chest.
Is this… the afterlife?
Wei Wuxian turns over and grabs his phone from the nightstand. It is currently, it informs him, six o’clock in the morning. April.
Wei Wuxian freezes. Aloud, he mutters, “Is this a Groundhog Day thing, then?” His phone screen blinks at him innocently. His weather app forecasts rain.
Wei Wuxian rolls out of bed and stands in front of his mirror. He looks the same - the same unruly hair, the same wide gray eyes, the same cluster of moles on his collarbone - so this probably isn’t a Kimi no na wa. situation either. There is, however, a weird black mark on his inner bicep. He twists his arm around, craning his neck, and realizes it’s a number. 01? 10? The characters are underlined in a thick, dark line, so he thinks it’s probably a 10.
So, okay, that’s a little weird.
Quietly, Wei Wuxian dresses in his school uniform. He brushes his hair until it looks halfway presentable, ties and then re-ties his necktie, buttons his shirt carefully and precisely. It’s still only six-thirty by the time he emerges from his bedroom. At their kitchen table, Jiang Fengmian is reading the newspaper and nursing a cup of coffee. Yu Ziyuan looks up from her ever-present work laptop with an expression of incredulous horror.
“Wei Wuxian?” she says. “It’s not even seven.”
“I’m turning over a new leaf,” Wei Wuxian says. He opens the refrigerator. There is one single yogurt left.
If this is the afterlife, Wei Wuxian muses, a spoonful of yogurt in his mouth, it really isn’t so bad.
By the time Jiang Cheng is awake and presentable, Wei Wuxian has done this week’s math homework and is halfway through the next’s.
“There’s nothing to eat,” Jiang Cheng bemoans, rummaging through the fridge.
Wei Wuxian aims his empty yogurt cup at the trash can and sinks it in a single toss. “I would offer you my yogurt, but-”
“Whatever. I don’t like yogurt, anyway. I’ll just eat at school. Should we take our bikes?”
“Let’s walk,” Wei Wuxian says, too quickly. “We have the time.”
“Yeah, true. I think I said I’d walk home with Nie Huaisang today, too, so that works for me.”
As they leave the house, Jiang Cheng muttering something bitter about the weather, Wei Wuxian’s phone buzzes in his pocket. He pulls it out and immediately schools his expression into calm tranquility - not fast enough, though, apparently.
Jiang Cheng makes a loud retching noise. “God, you two are so gross.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Wei Wuxian replies primly. On his screen, a Good morning, Wei Ying text from Lan Wangji beams up at him like the morning sun.
I’ll be at school extra early today, Lan Zhan!!! Wei Wuxian texts back.
Lan Wangji replies: :)
Wei Wuxian takes back every negative word he’s ever said about Lan Wangji and emojis.
As expected, Lan Wangji is waiting at the school gates by the time Jiang Cheng and Wei Wuxian arrive. Wei Wuxian waves energetically with his entire arm when he catches sight of Lan Wangji, a spot of pristine white against the redbrick walls of their school building. Lan Wangji’s mouth curves into the shadow of a smile, and he falls into step with Wei Wuxian easily as they enter the building.
“You are very early today,” Lan Wangji observes. “Did you sleep poorly?”
“Well,” Wei Wuxian begins, and then he stops. Opens his mouth once, then twice. “I had a weird dream,” he finally settles on.
Lan Wangji’s eyebrows furrow. This particular configuration expresses sympathy. Being a scholar of Lan Wangji Expressions is a difficult job, truly - Sympathy Eyebrow Furrow is less than a centimeter away from Angry Eyebrow Furrow. Wei Wuxian is up to the job, though.
“I hope it was not too frightening,” Lan Wangji tells him quietly.
“It’s all fine, now!” Wei Wuxian chirps, entwining his arm with Lan Wangji’s, even though he’s really not all too sure that it is. “Let’s go shoot some arrows and harass our lovely juniors, Lan Zhan!”
Lan Wangji huffs a heavy breath - Wei Wuxian recognizes it as a tiny laugh - and says, “We can shoot arrows, yes.”
Archery practice goes without incident. So does the math quiz. In chemistry, he stays particularly alert and manages to swap out the faulty Bunsen burner with another student’s. He even manages to grab the fire extinguisher first and put out the ensuing singed notebook pages before disaster can fully strike. During lunch, he steps neatly to the side when a Wen family member trips in the courtyard and avoids both a collision and a confrontation. Because he wasn’t late in the morning, he doesn’t get assigned cleanup duty, so he avoids the weird scene in the biology lab and he isn’t late to meet up with Lan Wangji.
“You look pleased,” Lan Wangji tells him, when they meet up outside the school’s main entrance and begin their walk to the archery field. “Did something good happen?”
Wei Wuxian simply grins at him.
At the end of the day, instead of heading home, Wei Wuxian starts walking in the direction of their town’s university campus. He’s got extra time, since his math homework is done, anyway, and it’s only a short walk away from the high school. Whistling and swinging his schoolbag in one hand, Wei Wuxian winds his way through campus toward the art department, a squat but stately little building made from stone, its facade crawling with ivy. He stops only once, to pop into the university’s tiny coffee shop, where they know him by name.
It’s still early by the time he arrives, so there’s absolutely no way Jiang Yanli has left for her dorm yet. Wei Wuxian lets himself into the art building and up the steps, waving to a few familiar students as he passes. The door to Yanli’s studio is half-open, so he lets himself in there, too. The room is a mess, as usual - mismatched furniture, draped sheets spattered with paint, textbooks piled haphazardly on a corner of the desk. Inside, Jiang Yanli is standing in front of an easel, a broad stroke of black paint smudged on one cheek and a paintbrush tucked behind her ear.
“Xianxian!” she beams when she sees him, setting the brush down and crossing the room to squeeze him into a hug. “What a nice surprise! It’s so good to see you. I was beginning to think you wouldn’t visit this week.”
“Jiejie,” Wei Wuxian says. “What are you working on? I brought hot chocolate.”
“You are the best,” Jiang Yanli enthuses, collapsing into her desk chair. “It’s a painting I’ve been restoring for my fellowship. Want to take a look at it?”
“Sure,” Wei Wuxian says, and Jiang Yanli spins the canvas for him to look at, with a gesture like, tah-dah.
It’s a lovely piece, mostly yellows and blues, spilling like sunshine across the canvas. There are several spots that look faded and damaged, the colors washed-out and the canvas a sickly shade of yellow-brown. The rest, though, is startling and beautiful. It feels like looking up at the sky on a summer day.
Wei Wuxian announces, “It’s perfect and you are a genius for the ages.”
Jiang Yanli laughs. “It better be! I’ve been working on it nonstop since eight o’clock this morning. Gosh, Xianxian, you have no idea how glad I am to see you. It’s been such a long day.”
“You’re telling me,” Wei Wuxian mutters, popping the lid off his hot chocolate so he can lick the whipped cream off the top.
“Do you want to talk about it?” Jiang Yanli asks, and Wei Wuxian was going to say no. Really, he was. But his sister is looking at him so steadily, her dark eyes serious and focused, and suddenly, Wei Wuxian finds himself saying, “Something insane happened to me yesterday. Um. Today.”
Jiang Yanli listens to his story in silence. Her expression only alters once: when he mentions being hit by the train. Otherwise, her face stays gentle and calm, and it isn’t until he finishes speaking entirely that she says, “Xianxian. I think you time-leapt.”
Wei Wuxian blinks. “Time… leapt?”
Jiang Yanli nods, getting to her feet and turning to the bookshelf to rummage through the shelves. “You jumped - well. Sort of. You went into the air in one time and came back down in another time entirely. That’s a time-leap.”
“Jiejie,” Wei Wuxian says. “Are you being serious with me right now?”
“Of course I am,” Jiang Yanli says, looking a little hurt. “Ah here it is! I knew I’d read about it somewhere. Just a second, I think it was… here. Of course.”
She hands Wei Wuxian the book, open to a page entitled TIME-LEAPING. There’s very little written below the title.
“We don’t know what causes it,” Jiang Yanli says. “But it’s happened before and it’ll happen again. Xianxian, do you happen to have something on your body that wasn’t there before yesterday? A number or something?”
Wei Wuxian stares, the book clutched almost painfully tightly in his hands. The number on his bicep feels like it’s burning.
“I mean. Yes. Yeah. I do.”
Jiang Yanli nods firmly. “You time-leapt, then,” she says. “And you might be able to do it again.”
Wei Wuxian finishes the rest of the visit in a blur. He stays until the sun is beginning to sink low in the sky, staining the clouds a brilliant bloody gold. And then he walks out of the art department, and off the university’s campus, and finds the nearest hill, where he promptly flings himself airborne.
He bounces down the hill fairly violently, which sucks, coming to a rather painful and abrupt halt at the bottom. And then the world warps around him, and suddenly he is back at the top of the hill, staring down, his clothing unstained, his hair unruffled.
“Holy shit,” Wei Wuxian says. And then, “Oh man, I’m going to enjoy the hell out of this.”
Wei Wuxian time-leaps again a couple days later, when he forgets his archery equipment at home and the club’s coach expresses the intention of not letting him shoot in their next couple matches. And then he leaps again later that same evening, when he accidentally rips a hole in his favorite sweater.
The thing is… time-leaping is pretty easy, once he gets the hang of it. Jumping off his bed will do it. So will rolling down a hill again, or leaping from a river bank into the water. It seems like all it takes is a little air and a bigger impact to send him careening back through time.
He notices after the first few intentional time-leaps that the number etched on his bicep has changed. It says 07 now, black and bold, which - well. At least he knows what it means, now. It must be some kind of counter.
This means his leaps are numbered, then. Which means that he has to make them count.
A week after his first leap - at least, for everyone else moving through linear time, it’s been a week - Wei Wuxian sees his first Unmissable Opportunity. He’s standing next to the soccer field, waiting for Jiang Cheng and Nie Huaisang to finish up for the evening, when he overhears someone say his brother’s name in a whisper.
The whisper in question belongs to an underclassman. She’s grouped with two of her friends a little to Wei Wuxian’s left, their heads bent together conspiratorially. She’s blushing rather furiously, twisting a strand of her long, straight hair between her fingers. Wei Wuxian leans in to eavesdrop immediately.
“Just ask him out,” one of the girl’s friends hisses. “Go on! Are you going to keep pining after him for another year?”
“I… no, I don’t…. I don’t know-” the girl wavers. She hesitates too long. Just long enough that Jiang Cheng and Nie Huaiseng have time to jog off the field, grab their bags, join Wei Wuxian, and head straight for the school’s exit.
“Wait,” Wei Wuxian, begins, but the girl has already disappeared, running off with her friends in tow and her face buried in her hands.
This is, of course, an unacceptable outcome.
“Would you just give me one moment?” Wei Wuxian says delicately.
“What are you-” Jiang Cheng begins.
Wei Wuxian takes off sprinting and launches himself into the nearest ditch.
When he pops up, he’s sitting on his butt outside the school building as the final bell rings. He gets to his feet and dusts himself off as the students file out and the soccer team heads to the pitch. He waits until the group of three underclassmen arrive at the edge of the field. And then he shoves his hands in his pockets and saunters over, whistling loudly.
“Hello,” Wei Wuxian greets the girls, once they look up from their huddle and notice him. The girl with a crush on Jiang Cheng has extremely wide eyes. Wei Wuxian hopes for his brother’s sake that she doesn’t scare easily. “Now, I hope I’m not being too forward…”
By the time soccer practice is over, Wei Wuxian has three new best friends and Jiang Cheng’s potential girlfriend is brimming with newfound confidence. Jiang Cheng and Nie Huiasang exit the field together, just as they had before, only this time, Potential Girlfriend rushes forward, dips into a polite bow, and shouts, “ I’ve always had a crush on you! Please go out with me!”
Jiang Cheng and Nie Huiasang blink slowly in unison, identical expressions of shock on their faces.
“Excuse me,” Nie Huiasang says, “but, um. Which one of us…?”
“Oh!” the girl exclaims. She’s now just about as red as Wei Wuxian’s favorite sweatshirt. He pumps his fist once and mouths, You got this!
“J… Jiang Wanyin,” she manages to finish, before her voice stutters to a stop.
Jiang Cheng points at himself with an expression of abject incredulity.
She nods and then stares furiously at her feet.
“Please go out with me,” she repeats in a whisper.
“I. Um,” Jiang Cheng begins.
“Of course he will,” Wei Wuxian intervenes smoothly. If Jiang Cheng is going to shoot himself in the foot on this one, Wei Wuxian isn’t going to stand by and let it happen. “Why not go on one date and see how it goes? You two can get to know each other. Hm? Jiang Cheng likes this one restaurant, here, let me give you the address-”
By the time the day is over, Nie Huiasang can’t stop asking, “What just happened?”, both Jiang Cheng and his Potential Girlfriend look shell-shocked, and Wei Wuxian’s forever-single brother has a date planned for Saturday.
Not bad work. If he does say so himself.
Things… get a little bit weird, after that.
Not leaping through time weird, but still. Little things. Lots of things. Jiang Cheng goes on the date, and then schedules another one. Nie Huaisang is acting odd - withdrawn, quiet, prone to long bouts of silence. Someone in class asks him for help with math tutoring when he sees the score Wei Wuxian received on their pop quiz. Lan Wangji starts expecting him at early hours, and gets that wounded-puppy look on his face when Wei Wuxian shows up late.
It’s not bad, really. It’s just. Wei Wuxian feels like he’s always being caught wrong-footed.
He and Lan Wangji stay late at archery practice one afternoon. It’s a brilliantly beautiful evening, one of the first days of the year that truly feels like summer. The smell of cut grass hangs in the air, the whir of cicadas audible in the distance. They shoot arrows until their fingers ache, and then Wei Wuxian collapses into the grass with his arms spread out wide, staring up at the blueblueblue sky. It’s perfectly clear, like flawless glass. A single white cloud floats by, looking as soft as silk.
“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji says. “We’re not supposed to be on the grass.”
“Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian replies, mimicking Lan Wangji’s tone. He does an excellent Lan Wangji impression - it comes from being a certified and experienced Lan Wangji Expert. “Nobody’s here to stop us.”
He reaches up and tugs Lan Wangji down to lay next to him. Lan Wangji settles gracefully, his shoulders aligned with Wei Wuxian’s.
“This summer,” Wei Wuxian says abruptly. “Let’s go to the beach.”
Lan Wangji hums.
“Is that a yes? I haven’t been to the beach in forever.”
“Oh, okay. Good. Nice. Hey, Lan Zhan, let’s go to a concert, too. One of those outdoors ones that they do in the park. And let’s get ice cream. And when it gets too hot we can go to the movies. Does that sound good?”
“And… do you like sports? We can go see a baseball game or something. Although, baseball doesn’t really suit you, Lan Zhan - maybe something like figure skating-”
“I will go to a baseball game,” Lan Wangji says. “If you’re there.”
Wei Wuxian says, “Oh.” And then he laughs, his throat a little tight and says again, “Oh. Okay. Promise?”
Lan Wangji nods gravely. “I promise,” he says, and then he sits up and holds out his hand.
Wei Wuxian blinks at it.
Lan Wangji sighs and says, “Wei Ying. I promise,” and extends a pinkie.
Wei Wuxian gasps in delight and wraps his pinkie around Lan Wangji’s. Lan Wangji’s hand is very warm and his fingers are very solid. He looks so cold and delicate, Wei Wuxian is almost surprised.
“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji begins, once their promise has been sealed. They’re sitting cross-legged, face to face in the grass.
Wei Wuxian beams at him.
Lan Wangji says, “I love you.”
Wei Wuxian’s heart plummets to his toes.
“Oh, no,” he says, out loud. Lan Wangji’s facial expression crumbles, hurt visible in his eyes and twisting the corner of his mouth, but Wei Wuxian is already on his feet. “Don’t worry,” he tells Lan Wangji. “Don’t worry, Lan Zhan, I’ll fix this - oh, God, oh, shit-”
He takes off running before Lan Wangji can get to his feet, sprinting full-tilt away from the archery field, his bag and his bow on the ground behind him. He feels sick, bile in his throat, his heart pounding like punches landing inside his chest.
He fucked up so bad. He changed time so much that Lan Wangji confessed to him.
How could he have done this? What did he do ? He clearly manipulated something - he clearly changed things around too much - was it showing up to school early? Could that have been enough?
It’s impossible, is the thing. Wei Wuxian has been half in love with Lan Wangji since they met at the beginning of their second year of high school. He’d convinced himself otherwise, for a long time, but facts are facts, and Wei Wuxian has been over his gay crisis for a long time now.
He’s been watching Lan Wangji for so long, he would know if Lan Wangji was in love with him. He would know. He would know.
Wei Wuxian leaps.
Start over. Do things again. Be more careful. Don’t manipulate him.
Only, Lan Wangji keeps confessing.
He confesses when they’re walking home together, sunset staining the sky a hundred shades of red and orange and purple and pink above their heads. He confesses in the morning at the entrance to school, the world still gray with pre-dawn light. He confesses over the phone at night, his voice a whisper, gentle and familiar and deep and God.
He must have broken something fundamental. Must have altered the universe in some profound sort of way. No matter how many times he goes back and re-does things, Lan Wangji keeps looking at him with his honey-golden eyes and saying things like, “Wei Ying, I love you.”
“I need you.”
“It has to be you.”
It’s getting to be bad for Wei Wuxian’s heart.
Also. The counter on Wei Wuxian’s arm is getting lower and lower.
He doesn’t know what to do. He calls Jiang Yanli, but chickens out before he can ask her for advice. Jiang Cheng is useless now that he has a girlfriend. Nie Huaisang is still acting weird, his shoulders tense and his jaw set into a firm, almost injured line whenever Jiang Cheng is mentioned.
Finally, one sunlit Saturday morning, Wei Wuxian meets Lan Wangji for brunch on the street corner outside his house. They are walking together, side-by-side, crossing a footbridge over a narrow creek when Lan Wangji turns and seizes Wei Wuxian’s hand and then kisses him, square on the lips.
Wei Wuxian doesn’t even give himself time to register the feeling. This isn’t a real kiss, after all. It’s a stolen one - one that he’s somehow tricked Lan Wangji into bestowing against his will. Without hesitating, Wei Wuxian turns around and launches himself off the bridge, hanging airborne for what feels an almost impossible amount of time. He feels his feet make contact, hears the calm surface of the water shattering around him, and then he’s sitting up in bed.
It’s a little after six o’clock in the morning.
His arm says O.
His phone informs him that it is a Thursday morning in April. Rain in the forecast. There is a Good morning, Wei Ying, text from Lan Wangji flashing on his screen.
“Holy shit,” Wei Wuxian says. “I went back the whole way.”
This is fine, though. It’s kind of a long way to go back, sure, but there’s absolutely no way he’s fucked things up with Lan Wangji yet in this timeline. And since he’s out of leaps, there’s no way he ever will. They can just go back to the way things were, Lan Wangji beautiful and good and kind and graceful and always, always out of Wei Wuxian’s reach.
Wei Wuxian takes a long time getting out of bed. He receives a :( text from Lan Wangji when he says that he’s probably going to be late. Jiang Cheng eats the last yogurt. It rains on his bike ride to school. He misses at least three questions on the math quiz. He narrowly avoids setting the building on fire with the Bunsen burner.
That afternoon, after cleanup duty, he’s heading over to the archery field when Jiang Cheng swings around a corner and runs up to him, waving an arm to flag him down.
“I need your bike,” Jiang Cheng says. “Just for a half an hour. Nie Huaisang forgot his cleats at home and I’m going to go get them.”
“That’s generous of you,” Wei Wuxian says, suspicious, but he still tosses Jiang Cheng the keys to his bike lock.
“See you later,” Jiang Cheng says, and Wei Wuxian says, “Yeah, see you,” and he watches his brother jog across the parking lot. Watches him unlock the bike. Watches him take off in the direction of town.
The next part happens in slow motion.
Wei Wuxian realizes, with a gut-ripping jolt in his stomach. He realizes and realizes and realizes. He takes off sprinting, faster than he’s ever run before, passing a bemused-looking Lan Wangji, waiting for him at the entrance to the building. His feet pound the pavement hard enough to hurt as he passes through the school’s gates, tearing down the avenue, approaching the crest of the town’s largest hill.
He’s crying, probably. Screaming his brother’s name. He’s too far behind, though, no chance of catching up. It seems like the whole town is out on the streets, standing at crosswalks and outside buildings and ambling down the sidewalks like they’ve never had anywhere to be in their lives. Wei Wuxian stumbles and crashes to the ground as he runs, barely allowing himself a gasp before he peels himself off the pavement, skin torn from his palms, rips in the knees of his slacks. He can see Jiang Cheng in the distance, can see him swerving and trying to stop the bike.
He sees the crossing signal gate lower like a guillotine.
He sees Jiang Cheng make contact.
The world around him has simply stopped moving. Pedestrians, cars, the train. Birds in the sky, a barking dog across the street. They come to a halt as if someone has pressed pause. As if they were never even moving in the first place.
Wei Wuxian stumbles to a halt.
His hands are bleeding. They sting.
“Jiang Cheng,” he hears himself mumble, through tears. “Hey. Hey. Stop. The bike is broken.”
Behind him, a familiar voice says gently, “I see. It was you.”
Wei Wuxian turns.
Lan Wangji is standing behind him with his hands folded carefully behind his back. His face is very grave, his features still and beautiful as if they were carved from marble. He winds his way between the motionless pedestrians until he’s standing right next to Wei Wuxian, their shoulders aligned, staring down the hill at Jiang Cheng and the train and the bike.
“I knew someone was leaping,” Lan Wangji says, quietly. “I did put the pieces together eventually. I wasn’t absolutely certain until now, though.”
“H… how,” Wei Wuxian begins. His voice breaks in his throat, though, so he takes a deep breath before trying again. “How did you… Lan Zhan. Are you the one doing this?”
“Mn,” Lan Wangji says. “Time is difficult to manage. It does not like to be reversed. It also does not like to be stopped. I am good at it, though.”
“You.” Wei Wuxian cannot think. Cannot process this. “You can leap, too?”
“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji tells him. Grave. Handsome. As lovely as the dawn. “I am not from here.”
“This town? I know, you moved here before our second year.”
“No. Wei Ying, I am not from your time.”
Wei Wuxian stares.
Lan Wangji tips his head up to look at the sky. He is so familiar - his eyes, topaz and gleaming, his straight nose and his curving lips and the steady line of his eyebrows. Wei Wuxian has memorized his face a thousand times.
It suddenly feels ephemeral. Fleeting. Like if he were to touch him, Lan Wangji would disappear.
“It might sound frivolous to you, but I came here for a painting,” Lan Wangji explains. “It no longer exists in my time. It was lost in a fire. It was restored this year, though. I’m sorry, I mean, it will be restored this year. By a renowned restoration artist named Jiang Yanli.”
Wei Wuxian says, “Jiejie?”
Lan Wangji smiles. “I wanted to see it before it was lost. I applied and got permission to travel here, but I made a miscalculation on my first leap. I landed in a room with another person in it. And then I dropped my spare time device. It was intended to provide enough charges to allow me to return to my time and fix any mistakes I might make while here.”
Wei Wuxian whispers, “The biology lab.”
“Yes. You almost saw me. When I couldn’t recover the device, I made one final leap to two years ago and resolved to stay until I could see the painting finished. I was down to two leaps left on my counter, you see. And now…”
He pauses. Looks back down the hill. At Jiang Cheng, the train, the bike.
“You… you used… you used a leap to save Jiang Cheng?”
Lan Wangji nods and says, “You were crying.”
“Wait,” Wei Wuxian says; his brain is slowly beginning to catch up, beginning to put the pieces together. “Wait, Lan Zhan-”
“I have to go now, Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji says. His voice is very soft and very kind. Wei Wuxian feels like he is drowning. “I can’t risk never being able to return to my time. The consequences could be grave.”
“We were supposed to go to the beach together,” Wei Wuxian points out. “You promised. Lan Zhan, you promised.”
“I know,” Lan Wangji says. “I am sorry.” He is beginning to back away from Wei Wuxian, folding himself back into the mass of out-of-time pedestrians. Wei Wuxian tries to follow, but the crowd is dense, and he can’t spot Lan Wangji - can’t find him.
Can’t lose him.
“Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian continues. “We were going to go to a concert, too. And to see a movie. Remember? Please.”
From somewhere in the crowd, Lan Wangji’s voice echoes: “I know. I am sorry, Wei Ying.”
“And we have archery practice later, and you’ve never been late, so Coach will be mad, and you said - you told me - that you - that you, towards me-”
The feeling in Wei Wuxian’s chest is indescribable. He would not wish it on his worst enemy. It is panic, and it is heartbreak, and it is the horrible and sudden realization that you have lost something that you never even had.
“Lan Zhan, you can’t go.”
“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji’s voice says, “I’m sorry.”
And then time restarts.
Wei Wuxian walks home.
He passes Jiang Cheng, standing at the bottom of the hill. His bike is discarded on the pavement, wheels still spinning. The train has passed by safely. It retreats in the distance, its horn blasting once as it disappears. Wei Wuxian’s hands are perfectly smooth, the knees of his school slacks pristine.
It is a miracle.
It is a tragedy.
Wei Wuxian spends the rest of the evening in a daze. He eats his dinner mechanically without tasting any of it. Jiang Cheng passes him extra chicken off his own plate, which Wei Wuxian picks at blindly. Jiang Fengmian asks if his stomach is upset. Yu Ziyuan keeps glancing at him out of the corner of her eyes, like she’s trying to determine if he’s contagious.
After dinner, Wei Wuxian changes out of his school clothes and yanks on an old pair of running shorts and a pair of sneakers. He plugs in his headphones, turning his music as loud as it can go, and takes off running. He is going everywhere and nowhere at once. With the sun sinking above his head, he winds his way through the town’s sleepy streets, moving faster and faster until his feet are screaming in protest and it aches to breathe.
He ends up at the school. Following his feet, he heads straight to the archery field. Something like certainty makes a home for itself in his chest - Lan Wangji wouldn’t leave like that. He wouldn’t.
He can’t be gone.
The archery field is empty when Wei Wuxian arrives.
Wei Wuxian takes a deep, broken breath and collapses onto his back, his arms spread wide. Above him, rain clouds are gathering on the horizon. For now, though, the sunset is brilliant. The colors of a ripe peach, or a campfire.
Wei Wuxian is crying silently, an arm flung over his eyes, when there is movement above him.
“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji says.
Wei Wuxian is on his feet in less than half a second, furiously rubbing tears off his face. Lan Wangji is standing in front of him. He reaches out with careful hands and gently runs his thumbs along the lines of Wei Wuxian’s cheekbones.
“I will see you in the future,” Lan Wangji tells him. “I’ll find you. Wei Ying. I swear it.”
And then he leans in, cupping Wei Wuxian’s face between his hands, and kisses him, long and full. Their lips catch as he pulls away.
“You can’t undo it this time,” Lan Wangji says, and Wei Wuxian could almost say that he is laughing.
"I love you," Wei Wuxian says, but the archery field is empty.
Lan Wangji is gone from time.
Time passes. It has a way of doing that.
Wei Wuxian graduates high school. Then university. He gets a job. He gets an apartment, which he shares with a medical student and her nervous younger brother. He gets a spoiled cat, which he names Suibian, and a horrible, ugly little lizard, which he names Chenqing. The number on his arm fades over time, disappearing into his skin, until one day he wakes up and it is no longer there at all.
Wei Wuxian is twenty. He is twenty-five. He is thirty.
In the end, sixteen years pass like that. Neat and straightforward. Orderly. One after another after another. The way time is meant to do.
And then one day, Wei Wuxian steps up to a crosswalk and holds out a hand, turning his face to the sky as it begins to rain. One raindrop falls after another, steady, steady, until it turns into a downpour. As he stands, rain pouring over his face, the crossing light flashes red, then green.
An umbrella lowers over his head.
“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji says, a half-smile on his face. He looks older, too, though not by much. He’s wearing a pristine suit and a pea coat that looks like it costs more than Wei Wuxian’s entire apartment, Suibian included. “How long has it been for you?”
“Sixteen years,” Wei Wuxian says, his throat tight.
“Five for me,” Lan Wangji tells him. “One way or another. I’m sorry I made you wait.”
Wei Wuxian gasps out a laugh and seizes Lan Wangji by the lapels of his stupid, expensive coat. “I would have waited forever, you know.”
Lan Wangji presses his lips to Wei Wuxian’s and whispers, “I’m glad you didn’t have to.”