He’s born into a world of colours, green, blue, yellow, a rainbow of faces and smiles as he grew. He’s always seen everyone in colours, he told uncle once but that didn’t go down too well, his uncle became worried and took him to the healers but there was nothing wrong with him. Lan Xichen never saw it as a bad thing, his uncle was silver, his brother a pale green, his mother light orange, flicking in and out of focus.
Whenever uncle asked, he’d pretend, say it was a child's imagination, nothing more. Uncle believed because he wanted to. Wangji, his brother knew, and he trusted him, didn’t mind listening to Xichen talk about the colours of people they meet, how shades differ. Sometimes he’d even ask about the colours, if they ever changed, if they ever changed shade or even went from green to blue or orange to purple. Not really, the colours were always the same, sometimes more vibrant, though even then they were still the same shade, just more visible.
Everyone was always a light shade of something, sometimes even two colours, though even those were light, pale, muted. The books didn’t say anything, even as he grew and visited other clans and was allowed in the main library he didn’t find anything. And it was okay, something magical about his world, something special about him.
And then came Young Master Wei, stumbling through his home like he belonged there and he was so red, red like blood, red like the ribbon in his hair, shades changing slightly but never less vivid. He was beautiful, like the world had finally settled and the sun peeked through the clouds, the flowers blooming at his side. He was so red, the colour of his cheeks, the ribbon in his hair and the trinkets he bought for himself. He was red in the way he talked, red in the way he leaned back when he laughed and vivid like the clearest lakes in the summer, it's bottom see-through, the fish swimming with no care.
He was a whiff of fresh air after years shut in a closed room without windows, he was like a dream come to life, unknown, mysterious, wonderful and bright like he was the only star in the sky.
His brother had asked, of course, what colour was Wei Wuxian? Lan Xichen had wanted to explain in so many words, but none felt right, none felt enough and none felt like something that his brother would want to hear.
“He is red.”
If there’d been more people as vivid as him, his brother would have asked of the shade, of the brightness. He hadn’t and for some reason unknown, he was glad.
Everything reminded him of Wei Wuxian, fighting, the red flowers at the bottom of the mountain, the flushed cheeks of maidens in towns he visited. Yet nothing was bright enough, nothing was good enough.
His eyes were silver, brighter than his uncles colour, brighter than a night full of stars, brighter than the sun. He let distance come through.
It hadn’t been hard to figure out, the stammering, the red ears and awkward silences, the difference, in a good way, in his brother's personality. Traits that he didn’t have before, interests that he wouldn’t have picked up alone. It was his own fault for letting himself get so close, at first, he pretended that it wasn’t a crush, his brother just gained a friend, and yet. It was a fatal decision to push them together, to be the decision-maker when Wangji couldn’t say anything.
“Wangji would love for you to join us,” what he meant was I want you to join me.
“I’m sure Wangji doesn’t mind, right Wangji?” I will never mind, you’re always welcome.
“There is a place where your wounds would heal quicker.” Please, don’t go.
Ah, but that had always crossed his mind after everything else, his brother is happy, even if he doesn’t show it to others, he stands more relaxed, his grip on his sword isn’t so tight, he’d do everything to bring back the brother he knew before their mother passed. And if Wei Wuxian is the person to do it, then who is Lan Xichen, a mere mortal, to stand between them?
Had he gotten a grip on his thoughts earlier, maybe all the pain and hurt could be avoided. Maybe then he wouldn’t have to chase dark green to mend himself. Maybe then he wouldn’t have to wash in muted green, eyes so innocent, smiles always hiding something. Maybe, things wouldn’t go the way they did, he wouldn’t have hidden a part of himself, given away his heart to someone who didn’t deserve it so he could look at his brother with happy thoughts only.
But all the maybe and what-ifs can’t change the past, can’t change the way things went wrong, the way things will always continue to go wrong in his life, no matter what he does.
He’d never call him a mistake, he wasn’t. Calling him a mistake would be like cursing the Lan blood, it’s not Wei Wuxian’s fault that Lans only fall once.
It never passed his mind to try and pry them apart, as much as it hurt to see, his brother was happy, was smiling and Wei Wuxian was not hurting him. At least in the beginning he wasn’t.
It seems selfish even to himself, but he prides himself in trusting Wei Wuxian longer than his brother had. Prides himself on not losing belief into the man who stumbled in and brought dreams with him, daydreams, night terrors, wonderful days and the coldest nights. Had he been wrong to? Perhaps, quite probably, he had always seen the good in people to the very end, it’s why he made dark green a bed and laid in it.
Knowing that his brother saw Wei Wuxian before the latter was damned by the world even more, as if how it was at that point wasn’t enough, didn’t hurt as much as he thought it would. He thinks it’s because seeing Wei Wuxian the way he was at that point would kill him on the inside, and his brother would notice. He’s had some almost there accidents where he almost asked his brother about the latter in a worried for Wei Wuxian voice, not worried for his brother’s health voice.
It’s a curse and a blessing, to only love one for the rest of your life, one in all of your life. For his brother, it had been both, for Lan Xichen it had been more of a curse but he took it proudly, who wouldn’t love a man as bright and beautiful as Wei Wuxian? Who wouldn’t want to devote themselves to follow Wei Wuxian’s words like it was the rules of life?
He’d laugh at himself sometimes, laugh to hide the hair width cracks running over his heart. It’s okay, he’d tell himself, you’ll survive. And he did, he was alive and well, his brother was alive, happy, married, Wei Wuxian as well. What more could he want?
A lot more, he wants everything, he wants to wake in the morning to a still sleeping Wei Wuxian, his hair all over the place as he clings to Lan Xichen. He wants to make breakfast for him, cater to his every need. He wants to be the one that Wei Wuxian needs in the night, the one that Wei Wuxian runs to when something is wrong. He wants to be Wei Wuxian’s everything as well, to rely on him, to call upon him in the middle of the day, to feel his hands sneak behind him and around his waist, to get held when the terrors are too strong for him to handle. He knows it’s wrong, madness in itself.
Sometimes he daydreams, memories of Wei Wuxian running into Cloud Recesses, the air bright and rich with the fragrance of spring around him; memories of night hunts and young, before the downfall things they did. Had he been their age back then, would it have been different?
The funniest thing, or the saddest, depending on which time of the day he thinks of it, is that he didn’t even know it was love. For a good amount of time, he believed it to be the vivid red, bloody and dark and bright at the same time, that fascinated him so. Believed it to be an oasis in the desert, a friend, someone that indicated more people like him exist out there.
He’d searched and searched and never had he found another with their colour as wonderfully bright as Wei Wuxians. Then again, had he ever even looked properly? Even if he wasn’t their age, he was only two years older and love was still so new, so beautiful, so unknown, thought to be fascination, at moments shameful obsession. The world didn’t stop during his search, didn’t stop when he became wrapping himself in dark green silk, the colour bringing out the worst of his features. The world continued as it didn’t need him, did it? He was just one of many who lived in it and he truly wasn’t as important. That was perfectly alright, it allowed for times like now, where he could sit in seclusion, pretend he is grieving dark, muted green and not bright, vivid red.
How easy it is to act and tell lies. Had the world known – he was built on lies, he had doomed himself at the very moment he decided not to mention that Wei Wuxian was the most unforgettable shade of red he had ever seen, will ever see.
His brother had asked him once, how had he known it was Wei Wuxian? How could he ever forget the strikingly rich red that his heart fixated onto? He’d said he noticed Wangji’s movements and remembered them from before Wei Wuxian passed. He simply guessed. With how his brother had idolized him in his youth, he didn’t even question him.
He wasn’t worthy of holding that title, not after everything he’d done, just to see the hauntingly glowing red again.
But life goes on, the outside paints itself in muted colours, flowers blooming, trying to surpass Wei Wuxian and unknowingly failing every year, every day. Inside, in his cocoon of washed-out blues and sometimes pale green and light brown almost beige and on the off chance, the rarest of days, a red that keeps bringing back memories that shatter more and more of himself so delicately and slowly yet faster than he could blink, Lan Xichen lives, will live until it eats him alive and he is ready to face his lies and leave. Inside he will live until he makes a mistake, finally paints a painting so red that his brother realizes, bleeds so warmly and tenderly until he runs out of lies, until the last words on his tongue are Wei Ying and not Wei Wuxian. Distance had never given him peace anyway, might as well bleed in the bed he made and clean after himself.
And if, on an off chance, he sees another colour so wonderfully clear, he’ll turn his head and go the other way. He’s loved once, is still loving and how could he taint the memory of a smile so warm, his own cheeks flushed red. There was a beginning but there will be no end and Lan Xichen doesn’t find a problem with that.
The Lans truly are a weird piece of a work in progress, Lan Xichen muses as he gets ready for another night of no sleep, tomorrow, he’ll waste more paper, write more adjectives, write until his fingers bleed, write until he can finally describe the feeling that Wei Wuxian gives him. And if it takes a lifetime so be it, a lifetime of loving Wei Wuxian is a lifetime of good and bad, of privilege of hearing the energetic and loud laugh, a lifetime of unclear happiness but happiness regardless. Even if it’s not his own.