happy Xichen Week 2020! as always, I'm doing things out of order, so I'm here with my never-ending "angst with a happy ending" experiences OwO this was written for day 2, following the prompt Soulmate~~~

A little explanation: In this AU, everyone knows the first or last words their soulmate will say to them, but not which one it is. So sometimes you don't really "know" until you lose them/they die/leave your life/etc.


"Who are you?" gasped out by a man near death- but does it matter? Meng Yao has heard this question countless times before, with scorn, anger, confusion, and everything in between. It's a rude way of greeting someone, but fitting for someone like him, a nobody with no station beyond an unlucky birth.

"Meng Yao—"

Another gasp from the stranger cuts him off - he's badly burned and bleeding - and he can't help it; everything in his nature wants to take care of those who can't.

・x・x・x・x・x・

"Stay and die with me," Jin Guangyao gasps out, clinging to him, one bloody hand on his cheek and the other—

This isn't how it should go, this isn't the way they should end, and it's so easy for Lan Xichen to give up and give in, and he barely has a chance to take in the silent thank you on Jin Guangyao's lips before he's shoved away.

Jin Guangyao dies alone and dooms Lan Xichen to live on, alone and bereft of closure.

・x・x・x・x・x・

Do you want to try again?

Years and years and loneliness and resignation and finality later—

Please!

・x・x・x・x・x・

"Do I know you?" asks a friendly faced young man, leaning out from a stall to catch Lan Xichen's attention. There's a brightness in his eyes that Lan Xichen wishes he could recognize, but he shakes his head.

"I'm sorry, I don't think so. I'm Lan Xichen," he says, bowing politely.

That same smile, but even kinder, answers him. "It's nice to meet you. I'm Jin Guangyao."

・x・x・x・x・x・

"Please don't leave," Lan Xichen pleads softly, gripping at nothing, because—

Jin Guangyao can't reach him, not in time, not soon enough for it to matter. How can such simple words carry so much? There's fire and blood and the horrifying unbidden thought that this time, he has to keep going alone. He doesn't— he wants anything but, and yet the gap between them stretches and spreads as darkness drowns everything.

・x・x・x・x・x・

Do you want to try again?

Years and years and frustration and desperation and acceptance—

Yes.

・x・x・x・x・x・

Jin Guangyao doesn't trust strangers, but he wants to help them nonetheless, and he never wants to meet his soul mate.

Lan Xichen wants to support his family and friends above all else, and the idea of meeting a soul mate is far from his mind.

But—

Sometimes you do it without realizing it.

・x・x・x・x・x・

The curse spreads like fire, inky black against the pale cream of his skin, the cold hand of fate crueler than its symptoms- but only so much. Control is slipping, but by inch of marked skin, and—

"Kill me, please, I'm begging you," he manages, as firm as he can despite the situation they're in.

Lan Xichen's face breaks into countless endings and feelings as he realizes their fate. "No, no, I can't do this to you- don't ask me to do it again—"

He's begging, and Jin Guangyao is losing, losing himself too quickly, and wraps his hand around Lan Xichen's to force it deeper, plunging Lan Xichen's sword through his chest in a way that shouldn't feel like deja vu.

・x・x・x・x・x・

Do you want to try again?

Is this game rigged?

Do you want to try again?

Does it matter?

Do you want to try again?

Yes.

・x・x・x・x・x・

"Can I help you?" a serene and welcoming man asks, offering Meng Yao a hand up in the crowded market they've found themselves in. There's something clawing at him, begging him to remember something more, and instead he can only accept the help.

"Thank you," he says graciously, and a soft, kind laugh sends his heart flying. Meng Yao doesn't believe in soul mates and he's heard these words before- they're nothing unique. He's heard them many times, but never like this.

"It's no trouble. It's a pleasure to meet you," he says, Jin Guangyao's hand still grasped in his, warmth flowing through them. "I'm Lan Huan."

"Meng Yao," he says, and- should he go? Should he stop? Should he let go and let himself see where it goes?

・x・x・x・x・x・

Death is bleak and lonely, and there are no beautiful corpses, only lifeless husks, and Lan Huan doesn't want to leave Meng Yao with that. He's so much more than a friend and so much more than a lover, and there's so much more they should have shared, but fate never seems to smile on them. Meng Yao is warm and he is cold, so cold—

"Don't you fucking dare," Meng Yao hisses, fingers pressing into wounds and coming out stained with the ruby red of loss. "I'll drag you back if I have to break apart the world itself."

"A-Yao, please—"

Fingers slick with blood that Meng Yao eats like candy, desperate and angry at the world. He always looks best like this: determined and unafraid to get his hands dirty, a perverse sort of beauty in something so twisted, and yet—

He's never seen him like this, not in any lifetime.

"A-Huan, Er-ge, every time I know sooner and every—"

There's static fuzz as he tries to listen and slips further away, and Meng Yao's tears and determination are the last things he sees.

・x・x・x・x・x・

Do you want to try again?

Fuck you.

Do you want to try again?

・x・x・x・x・x・

Jin Guangyao groans, because…because there's something pulling at the back of his mind, digging its claws in and trying to force its way into his thoughts, but it can't quite make it.

"Oh, I'm sorry!" he hears, crashing into a stranger while lost in thoughts that won't make themselves clear. A familiar voice, a familiar face—

Not again! screams deep inside him, in his soul and heart and mind and everything is a cacophony of feelings and thoughts and remembering as it breaks free.

"Here, are you alright? I wasn't watching where I was going," Lan Xichen says apologetically, gently brushing Jin Guangyao's shirt off.

"You're fine. I'm fine," he answers.

He gets a friendly smile in return, and fuck, fuck, he knows how this ends. No matter how much joy they find, no matter how careful he is, it always falls apart and shatters into pieces of loneliness and loss and frustration.

"That's good to hear," he says, and it's unfair. He's always so kind, so open, and Jin Guangyao feels the weight of lifetimes of guilt, of built up regrets, because he knows he is the common factor that leads to Lan Xichen's doom, over and over. He should walk away, let it go, but he's still too selfish to give up.

"What words are you waiting to hear?" Jin Guangyao asks, because he's already heard his own, because it's always, always Lan Xichen.

There's a moment of confusion before realization crosses his face in brilliant, excited joy. "'Don't worry- I'll come back for you,'" he says softly. "I know it's probably tragic, but there's something a bit poetic about it."

There's no poetry in tragedy, not when it's a life lived and cut short countless times. Free from the pages of a fantastical novel or the somber lighting of a play, it's nothing special, and Jin Guangyao is so tired.

He could say it, say those words right now and shatter any hope or joy or perhaps tragedy, but—

"I hope it's something sweeter," he says instead, smiling back, because he can't knowingly break his heart or trust. "It's nice to meet you. I'm Jin Guangyao."

"Lan Xichen," he says, because he always, in every life, is ready to befriend him all over again.

・x・x・x・x・x・

"I'll never let this happen again," Jin Guangyao gets out, between teeth clenched in pain, clinging to Lan Xichen with bloodstained hands. There's a meaning he wants to grasp, a second layer to those words - or perhaps a first one, because he can't quite understand any of it. There's no next time to death, and he's not foolish enough to believe in miracles at this point.

But—

"A-Yao, please, just try to hold on a little longer," he begs and Jin Guangyao only laughs, wet and mirthless with far too much blood.

"I'm sorry- we've fucked up again. But—" Jin Guangyao chokes again and his frustration is a palpable, sour weight in the air, mixed with his blood and tears. "Don't worry- I'll come back for you," he insists, clutching Lan Xichen's hands tightly once more, before everything that makes Jin Guangyao himself fades. Lan Xichen is left alone - again? - and he was wrong, so very wrong.

This isn't poetry.

・x・x・x・x・x・

Do you want to try again?

Yes. I'm going to beat this game sometime.

・x・x・x・x・x・

Lan Xichen lives a quiet life, out in the wilds of nowhere, between fairy tales and truth, takes care of what's left of a long-forgotten family estate. At times, he feels like nothing more than a ghost, as lost as the crumbling courtyards and faded walls, up-keeping all of it for…

Himself? Family he's never known? Something else? There's no point dwelling on it, but…some days, he wishes there was more, a way out, and perhaps, a ways into the rest of the world that must be out there.

Day in, day out, the same tasks and routines, until—

In the middle of an unseasonable storm, a bedraggled man finds himself on Lan Xichen's doorstep.

"Excuse me- is there anyone here?"

Simple words for a simple question, but the voice pulls at something in his heart. Lan Xichen opens his door and almost - but not quite - doesn't have to ask for his name.

"Oh yes, yes, come in!" he says without question, welcoming the drenched and shivering man into his house. "You look like you got stuck in the rain."

He nods, following him graciously. "I think I got a bit lost as well. Thank you for allowing me in," says, removing his sopping shoes and attempting not to drip all over the entranceway.

"It's no trouble, really. You can call me Lan Xichen," he tells him. "Let me find you something dry to wear for now."

He shakes his head. "I'll be fine; I don't need to impose. I'm Jin Guangyao."

That name—

Lan Xichen doesn't know why it stops him in his tracks, why his heart aches for something he doesn't have the words for, why—

"Are you alright?" Jin Guangyao asks, a solid hand on his back and another gripping his hand. Even chilled from being stuck outside, he's warm, spreading that warmth through Lan Xichen, and he never wants to let go.

"Sorry," Lan Xichen manages. "There was something about your name," he tries, fails, and—

Jin Guangyao's eyes are bright with a cleverness few possess and he clenches Lan Xichen's hand tighter. "Is there, Er-ge?"

There is but there isn't, and countless lifetimes are sand slipping through his fingers and landing in a useless pool of tragically spilt blood. It's wrong; it's right. There aren't answers because he doesn't know the questions to ask, and even if he did, he doesn't know where to begin.

"I said I'd come back for you," he says, and Lan Xichen feels, not sees, the blood and death around them.

"I begged you to kill me," he says, evenly, measured, as though this isn't tearing his head and heart to pieces.

"I have never wanted to leave you," he promises, and Lan Xichen knows that if nothing else, that is true.

"I should have stayed the first time," Lan Xichen hears himself say, and even if he doesn't understand it, he knows it's important and true.

"Do you think that would have changed our fate?" Jin Guangyao asks, and Lan Xichen wishes either of them had an answer.

・x・x・x・x・x・

"Do you think anything ever changes?" Jin Guangyao asks, pained resignation in his voice and heart as he laces his fingers with Lan Xichen's. Why is there always so much blood? Is it too much to ask for a dignified, relatively peaceful death? There's always something that forces the hand of fate, drawing tragedy ever closer until it surrounds them.

"I hope so," he answers, and even with the unfairness of every lifetime, Lan Xichen finds kindness and patience to give to Jin Guangyao at the end. "If anyone were to find a way, it would be you."

Jin Guangyao mouths the last sentence along with him, trying not to interrupt in frustration. What a terrible fucking way to go. "I love you," he says instead, softly, into the harsh air, and holds on until long after Lan Xichen is gone.

・x・x・x・x・x・

Do you want to try again?

—sometimes he wonders what would happen if he said no, but he can't give up. Not yet.

Do you want to try again?

Yes.

・x・x・x・x・x・

Magic is a thing of fairy tales and make-believe, and there's no reason to listen for your soul mate's words. Those, too, have faded from public belief, a thing of the past, when people were simple and eager to believe in something fantastical instead of logical.

But Jin Guangyao remembers. He remembers every single time, every failure, every bit of knowledge, because he is stubborn above all else, and always pushing for more. He's unwilling to settle for doom; there's no pride in that. If he's going to live countless lives, he's going to find a way to make it count.

There's no such thing as magic, immortal cultivators? He knows that's wrong; he lives and breathes it, and even if he dies, he lives again- isn't that a form of immortality? Jin Guangyao knows every shortcut to success and where to find the tools he needs, and he'll be the last remaining cultivator if it will get him what he wants.

There's a sense of accomplishment in lifting others up, in furthering selfless causes, and yet the good he does always twists its way back to death.

Silence betrays nothing and he moves just as quietly, in and out of every questionable community as he steals knowledge. There has to be a way to beat the cycle and rip it apart, and—

"Stop!" someone yells, but it's never no one, never a stranger. It's Lan Xichen, with his hand perilously close to Jin Guangyao's blade, standing in his way.

He pulls back and bows. "Apologies, Zewu-Jun," he says. Last time, he almost remembered before death ripped through them, almost, and maybe he's still foolish enough to believe in luck.

Lan Xichen's face crumples in on itself as he does a terrible job of hiding his feelings. "You're—" he tries, shaking his head.

"I'm Jin Guangyao," he finishes, smiling warmly. "Do my words mean something to you?"

"Yes," is the simple answer, one that he didn't quite expect, but got anyway.

"But not because I know what they mean," Lan Xichen elaborates, snuffing out Jin Guangyao's stupid, naïve light of hope. "I want to, though. I can- I can feel something in them and in you. It's important."

He shouldn't let this affect him. He shouldn't throw himself into certain doom again.

"Alright. Let me tell you about us, then," Jin Guangyao concedes, because he can't deny Lan Xichen anything, and he's too selfishly weak to walk away.

・x・x・x・x・x・

Lan Xichen thrusts his sword through Jin Guangyao's shoulder, too close to the heart for comfort, but the fresh scent of blood overpowers everything else in the room. It's a twisted bit of nostalgia that he'd rather forget, but it works. The weight of death still surrounds them, a curse for fighting against fate itself using techniques that should have been left in the past, and Lan Xichen watches in a perverse mix of horror and awe as Jin Guangyao sticks his fingers into the wound.

"Thank you, Er-ge," he says, voice husky with pain and want as he paints talismans down Lan Xichen's sword before moving to his own arm. It's ancient, even more so than their first time around together, something that shouldn't be knowable to anyone. But Jin Guangyao knows, because of course he does. He would know where to find even the most forbidden of secrets, and how to adapt them to make them his own.

And so—

Lan Xichen cuts through nothing and everything with Jin Guangyao at his side, and there is a war here, a race against time and fate, but every decision has led them here, together. There's no promise of success, or even an idea of what success would be here, but—

Jin Guangyao grabs his hand, pulls him back, pulls him forward, determined and unyielding and driven—

"Don't forget me," he hisses, yanking Lan Xichen down for a kiss as something unknowable runs through them.

・x・x・x・x・x・

Do you want to try again?

"I think I'm quite tired of this," Jin Guangyao says, and he's as real and solid as if he was still alive. There's a never-ending expanse around him, stars speckling darkness, and the source of the omnipresent voice is nowhere to be seen.

He's not bleeding out, not injured, just- himself, but better, stronger, lifetimes blending together to create the best version of himself. He's not sure he's alone. He's not sure he isn't alone.

Jin Guangyao takes a step forward into the nothingness and light shatters the ground, sparkling and illuminating more with each step he takes, until he's in the glittering throne room of Koi Tower, a memory from so long ago that he doesn't expect it to feel so fresh. One more step and it crumbles away, sending him tumbling down to dimly lit streets and darker alleys.

Would you still save him?

Lan Xichen lays at his feet, near death, burnt robes stained with his blood, and—

Jin Guangyao knows how this story ends. He knows their lives - this one and the many that follow - and all the heartbreak, anguish, betrayal, and death that color them. But he also knows the joy and love, the successes and quiet moments together, and he can't make himself walk away.

"Yes," he says firmly.

・x・x・x・x・x・

Jin Guangyao wakes up, which is nothing unusual, but it's unexpected. He remembers death and loss and renewal and—

"A-Yao, are you alright?" Lan Xichen asks, his worried face coming into view. He offers Jin Guangyao a hand up and there's no blood, only well kept nails blunted by years of musical training.

"Yes," he answers, taking his hand and holding on tightly, as he's pulled into Lan Xichen's arms.

He smiles warmly. "I thought we'd died," he says, an arm wrapping around Jin Guangyao's waist.

"Oh, I think we've done that enough times now," he shoots back, leaning into Lan Xichen's comforting warmth.

Lan Xichen laughs, shaking his head. "Everyone dies eventually."

"No, I don't think so," he says, leaning up for a kiss. "If I had to fight fate with my own damn hands for a chance at happiness, I don't plan on giving it up again."

He laughs again and kisses him again, and in the bright warmth of their future, Jin Guangyao finally allows himself to relax into it.

"Just stay and live with me, A-Yao," Lan Xichen tells him.

"I'm trying," he answers, but can't help his smile. "I'd like to."