Actions

Work Header

Those Snow-White Collarbones

Chapter Text

Chapter One: Careful Little One

 

+

Truth be told, the monsters that terrify us all

are the ones hidden deep within ourselves.

Lurking.

+

 

Pretty.

 

That’s the first thought that goes through Jiangcheng’s mind when he bumps into an omega from the Gusu Lan Sect. Dark hair, black as ebony, is tied into a ponytail, with long strands and baby hairs framing eyes the colour of gold, amber hues spun from honey and the silken threads of spring in Lotus pier. They’re accompanied by lips as pink as the inner petals of his favourite flowers in bloom, and cheekbones so beautiful they looked like they were shaped from marble. The omega is petite, short in stature which is rare for members of that pack, and Jiangcheng has to force himself to tear his gaze away from the bottom half of the omega’s body. It would be rude to stare, but Jiangcheng already knows those hips are wide, perfect for bearing pups, and is more than likely accompanied by a slim waist.

 

“S-Sect Leader Jiang!”

 

So, the omega knows him. Jiangcheng is prepared to walk away from that omega, as pretty as they may be, but something gives him momentary pause. It’s the scent the omega carries, the scent of crisp snow that has just fallen over mountains and forests when the seasons have begun to change. But it also contains the sweet scent of magnolias, lotuses, flowers of every degree that would bloom when spring chases away the coldness of the year. It seeps into his lungs, tickling the roof of his mouth temptingly, like a little jest that has Zidian sparking on his hand for all the right reasons.

 

Delicious.

 

“What is your name?” Jiangcheng finds himself asking, and there’s no mistaking the shocked gasps that echo around them even as the omega continues to look on the ground, shoulder hunched.

 

He knows what it means to ask an omega for their name just days before the hunt begins. It’s an indication of interest, of one’s intention to mark, breed and mate the other. In all his years Jiangcheng has never bothered with the archaic participation of the hunt. While it is true that alphas were required to submit their intended’s name to the enforcers in order to prevent any omegean casualties, Jiangcheng never enjoyed the brutal practice. Something about chasing down and omega and ravishing them for nights on end in the wild never quite suited his tastes, though it seemed to suit his brother Weiying just fine.

 

Which was why Jiangcheng found himself surprised at his own actions, at the hunger that wracked through his body as the omega refused to look up.

 

What am I doing?

 

“Are you not going to answer me?” Jiangcheng scoffs lightly, only to jerk in surprise as the omega straightens his back to glare at him, amber eyes shining brightly even in the forest.

 

The intimidating glare is ruined by the youth’s red cheeks though.

 

“My name, as Sect Leader Jiang so kindly asked, is Lan Jingyi.” The omega replies calmly, but there’s no mistaking the bite in his words as he says them, the tips of his ears a light pink that makes Jiangcheng want to bite them.

 

Take back your intention you idiot!

 

You barely know this omega and you made such a social faux pass?!

 

“… I see.” Jiangcheng paused, his mind flickering through the names and members of the pack at top speed before he frowned, “Are you not a friend of Sizhui?”

 

At his words the omega, Jingyi pauses, eyes widening a fraction before his shoulders relax, his expression lighting up even in the middle of the dark night.

 

“Are you looking for him sir?”

 

“I’m looking for my brother actually. It seems I have lost him to your pack’s second in command. Not that it isn’t a recurring event.” Jiangcheng replies drily, and around him there’s a noticeable sigh of relief that has Jiangcheng’s fingers itching to whip out Zidian.

 

He knows it’s a dangerous thing for an omega to be asked for their name from a prominent alpha. As the leader of Yunmeng Jiang he knows that if he makes his intentions to an omega clear, the other pack would have no choice but to accommodate to his wishes. Which is precisely the reason why Jiangcheng has remained single all the years whereby the hunt had taken place. He wasn’t some beast about to infringe on some poor youth’s body! He was far more level headed and competent than those alphas who lusted after omegas like they were the only antidote to their ruts. Not to mention his mate couldn’t be picked lightly as they would have to inevitably move in with him as his status would be higher than theirs.

 

But that didn’t mean that Jiangcheng didn’t feel anything when everyone felt relieved he wasn’t seeking for an omega’s hand.

 

I’m nothing like them!

 

“If you’re looking for Senior Wei I think he’s practising archery.” Jingyi exclaims, jolting Jiangcheng out of his thoughts with a soft smile that has the other’s stomach in knots.

 

Pretty.

 

“Thank you.” Jiangcheng nods curtly before side stepping the omega, eyes looking ahead and back straight as he moves away.

 

He hates the judgement. He hates the fear. But most of all he hates that every month when his rut arrives he has no warm body or gentle touch to soothe the pain. At the most he will only get a tear-stained face and politics that forced such lithe bodies to cave into his touch.

 

It’s better to stay alone than to enact suffering on someone else.

 

+

 

This scent-!! Jingyi almost gasps aloud as Sect Leader Jiang brushes past him, his body quivering as the heady scent of the alpha washes over him. Jingyi knows, he’s not stupid, he knows that he’s susceptible to the dominance of alphas. Their voice, their scent, their body, everything about them renders him immobile at the worst possible timings. But Jingyi has always survived, using his quick wit to sweep matters away and retain the effortless pristine image of the Gusu Lan Sect. But this is the first time he has ever felt such an overpowering scent, that makes his insides physically hurt.

 

Or is wet the better word?

 

“Jingyi? Are you okay?”

 

“Sizhui, I,” Jingyi gulped as he looked at Sizhui who was now holding onto his shoulder, expression concerned, “Did you smell that?”

 

Sizhui cocked his head, “Smell what?”

 

That scent. That strong delicious scent that was so heady and full of undertones, layered upon layers of flowers mixed with the scent of cedar wood and sharp pine. Filled with the crispness of morning dew and the freshness of a spring river that flooded its banks, whirling with the tanginess of fruits and the bitterness of a wind storm.

 

Instead, Jingyi let out a soft whimper.

 

“Sizhui, his scent-”

 

“It smelled good?” Sizhui whispered softly, eyes widening as he studied Jingyi’s eyes, following their gaze to see them tracking Sect Leader Jiang, pupils dilated.

 

“I thought I was going to die when he stood so close to me.” Jingyi breathed, his fingers clutching onto Sizhui’s wrist in a vice like grip, “I felt the air leave my lungs when he asked for my name.”

 

“He asked for your name?” Sizhui hissed, shaking Jingyi lightly to bring the omega back into focus, his voice alarmed.

 

“He was looking for Senior Wei and remembered I was always with you.” For some reason Jingyi’s voice is petulant, and he flushes with shame as Sizhui shoots him a knowing look, lips curved up into a smirk.

 

“Why don’t you seduce him since you obviously like him?”

 

“What?!” Jingyi gaped, shaking Sizhui’s hand off himself so he could whirl around and face the beta, “Seduce him? The Sandu Shengshou? With what? My pathetic excuse of a bod-”

 

“Jingyi.” Sizhui interrupted flatly, shooting him a side way glance, “He was looking wasn’t he?”

 

Jingyi swallowed.

 

“I-I have n-no idea what-”

 

“Your hips. He glanced, didn’t he?” Sizhui replied knowingly, fixing Jingyi with a stern look, “He was being polite that’s why he didn’t look for long, but we both know he looked.”

 

“That doesn’t mean anything…” Jingyi trailed off weakly only to stop as Sizhui raises an eyebrow at him.

 

“Looking at your hips indicates sexual interest. Asking your name indicates intention. The only reason why he didn’t say anything more was because he knows better than to forcefully demand an arrangement with you in public.” Sizhui continued as they walked past the bonfire, heading towards their tent that was placed in the Gusu Lan encampment site.

 

“He just thanked me and left.” Jingyi mumbled, scowling as he rushes to keep up with Sizhui, “He didn’t even glance backwards!”

 

“Did you snap at him?”

 

“I- That has nothing to do with it!”

 

“Jingyi, did you or did you not show displeasure when he asked for your name?” Sizhui snapped, and Jingyi finally wilted under the stare, imaginary dog ears flopping down dejectedly.

 

“Only a little! I was surprised, and his scent was bombarding me and he was mean-”

 

“You like them mean.” Sizhui dead panned, “Besides that, snapping at an alpha just shows him you don’t want his attention. Personally, I don’t see one reason why what he did was out of line.”

 

“It was out of line, because he didn’t give me time to respond! And everyone was staring! I panicked okay!” Jingyi snapped as he ducked under the flap of his shared tent with Sizhui, his eyebrow twitching as he headed over to his futon, scowling darkly.

 

“Look, I’m not saying what you did is wrong.” Sizhui explained patiently, settling down on his own futon as he looked at Jingyi who huffingly shoved around their pillows, “But this isn’t an irreversible impossibility. You can have him, on your own terms this time. Doesn’t that sound good?”

 

“But that means I have to put myself out there! What if I embarrass myself or do something stupid?” Jingyi whispered, expression vulnerable as he glanced up at Sizhui, “I don’t even know how to start getting his attention.”

 

“Either way, you know how Gusu Lan works. We only mate once and for the rest of our life.” Sizhui paused, hand reaching out to pat Jingyi on the knee, “If you don’t at least try to get his attention when his scent appeals to you so much, you’re losing out on a plausible mate.”

 

“B-But how? How do I-”

 

“Look,” Sizhui sighed, crossing his arms, “Remember when Senior Wei went a little… enthusiastic when Hanguang Jun started courting him?”

 

Images of Senior Wei cuddling up to Hanguang Jun flooded Jingyi’s mind, the other omega forever draping himself over the alpha. When they were still in their courting phase Senior Wei had gone insane with touching Hanguang Jun, his hands forever brushing a part of the alpha while the omega constantly acted innocent. It drove Hanguang Jun up the wall, and their coupling took place before the mating ceremony’s date was even placed on the calendar.

 

“I am not acting like that! There’s no way I could possibly,” Jingyi turned red, “do that to Sect Leader Jiang-”

 

“I’m not telling you to start molesting the man Jingyi.” Sizhui groaned, rubbing his forehead before sighing, his tone losing its irritated edge, “But Senior Wei did plenty of things besides…that. He utilised touch and his use of beauty as a weapon against Hanguang Jun. All you need to do is be pretty and land a casual touch here and there. Not enough to arouse suspicion but enough for Sect Leader Jiang to notice your interest.”

 

“… I’ll do it if you do my make up.”

 

“Yes-”

 

And,” Jingyi raised his voice sharply, fixing Sizhui with a serious look, “You’re not allowed to say anything to anybody. Not even Jinling!”

 

“Wha-!!” At his words Sizhui turned pink, “What does Jinling have to do with this?”

 

“Looking at your hips indicates sexual interest.” Jinyi found himself throwing back Sizhui’s own words to the latter, laughter bubbling in his throat as Sizhui squirmed, “You can’t tell me that alpha wasn’t staring.”

 

“Oh, shut up.” Sizhui hissed, cheeks flushed as he looked down, “I’m just a beta. He was probably looking at something else.”

 

“Nope, I’m pretty sure he wants to sleep with you!”

 

“Lan Jingyi!”

 

Jingyi cackled, ducking as Sizhui half-heartedly lobbed a pillow at his head.

 

“Okay okay! I’ll stop teasing you already! So please help me?” Jingyi found himself asking, awkwardly scratching his neck as Sizhui finally ran out of ammunition.

 

There’s a split-second pause.

 

“You should wear purple.” Sizhui nodded decisively as he crawled towards Jingyi’s trunk of clothes, “That’s the Yunmeng Jiang colours and we all know how much alphas love their things on other people. Doesn’t matter if it’s their scent, mark, item,” Sizhui stopped, grinning as he picked up the perfect robe, “or colour.”

 

It’s a beautiful robe, and a scandalous one to boot. Jingyi is pretty sure that if Elder Lan was here in their tent he would have had a total fit before ripping those robes to shreds. They were translucent, made from purple cotton and interwoven to remain thin to absorb sweat. Sweat ha! The robes bore silver embroidery of lotus flowers, crawling up the hems of the long sleeves and dancing at the ends of the robes. It came with a matching set of inner robes, one made of silk that dipped dangerously at the front into a sharp ‘V’ with a sensual slit at the side that ended mid-thigh. Those robes had been a gift from Senior Wei and Hanguang Jun when he turned eighteen, which explained why the designs and colours were made in honour of both Gusu Lan and Yunmeng Jiang.

 

And it also explained why he even had such a robe in the first place.

 

“I can’t wear that!” Jingyi hissed in mortification, cheeks burning as he stared at the outfit, “It shows too much skin and-”

 

“Jingyi, trust me on this. Just wear it. This is an omega’s battle armour you hear me!” Sizhui shook the robe in Jingyi’s face, expression fierce as he practically encroached into the other’s personal space, “Senior Wei is an excellent example when it comes to using beauty to seduce alphas. All you need to do is wear this, put a little of makeup and two thirds of the battle is already won!”

 

“… Why does it feel like you’re exploiting the chance to dress me up?” Jingyi found himself asking flatly as Sizhui thrusted the pile of clothes into his arms, the other waddling on his knees to his own personal trunk.

 

“Honestly, I’m just exhausted of all the rumours other sects keep spreading about us. We’re not prude,” Sizhui paused, frowning as he silently counted the number of jars, nodding his head when he finally reached the correct number, “just because we restrain ourselves from actions considered rude doesn’t make us stuffy.”

 

“And I’m the representative for your endeavour?” Jingyi scrunched up his nose, squinting through narrowed vision as Sizhui smacked his face with a puff, “Oh god what is this?”

 

“Face powder. We’ll do your eyebrows next, add a little blush and then we’ll do your lips.” Sizhui answered distractedly as he began to powder Jingyi’s face as he explained, “This will give your skin a luminescent quality in the moonlight and even out your skin tone.”

 

“Why and how do you even know all this?” Jingyi asked, finally opening his eyes as Sizhui placed down the puff to swap it for an angular brush, “Did Senior Wei teach you this?”

 

“I’m a beta so if I want a mate I’ve got to make myself stand out somehow.” Sizhui replied, clucking loudly as Jingyi turned his head, “Hey don’t move! I’m trying to darken your eyebrows!”

 

“You don’t need makeup Sizhui. You’re already pretty enough,” Jingyi mumbled, stilling as Sizhui picked up another jar, scooping up something red and dabbing it onto his cheeks, “If Jinling can’t see that he’s stupid.”

 

“He’s an alpha Jingyi. The beta population is the largest and most common of all three sexes,” Sizhui frowned, picking up his leather skinned bottle to wet his fingers before he swiped them over Jingyi’s lips, “Even if he does look my way it’ll be a miracle if he decides to choose me.”

 

“I’m pretty sure he already chose you th-”

 

“Your lips are wet now so put the paper between your lips and press down.” Sizhui interrupted, miming the biting motion before smacking his lips together. Acquiescing to Sizhui’s orders, Jingyi pressed his moistened lips to the red paper, keeping them together until his friend reached out to tug at the paper.

 

“Here.” Szhui handed him a mirror, and Jingyi almost laughed at his eagerness, but was distracted by the face in the mirror.

 

It was his reflection. He was pretty sure of it, but he looked completely different. And yet exactly the same too. His eyebrows had been darkened and elongated with charcoal powder, giving him a more feminine look that matched his now rosy cheeks. His skin now had a soft glow to it, like he had bathed in moonlight and came out shining. But most of all were his lips, pouty and red, like a courtesan seeking for a night of pleasure.

 

Close enough to reality at least.

 

“Do you want me to do your hair too? I was thinking maybe you should let down your hair and we can braid it.” Sizhui interrupted his train of thoughts, reaching up to pull off Jingyi’s hair ribbon.

 

“I can’t believe I look so… delicate.” Jingyi whispered, wincing as Sizhui tugged at his hair a little too harshly.

 

“Sorry.” Sizhui replied automatically before leaning forward, grinning brightly, “By the end of tonight let’s make sure we look our best and get our respective man’s attention okay?”

 

Staring at that excited face, Jingyi could only agree, even as he stared in trepidation at the robes laid out on his futon.

 

+

 

“Sect Leader Jiang!”

 

“Sect Leader Lan. Sect Leader Nie.” Jiangcheng bowed, clasping his hands together in greeting as he ran into Xichen and Huaisang, the formality disappearing a split second later as the latter engulfed him in a hug.

 

“Jiang xiong! It’s been so long!” Huaisang cheered, rubbing his cheek against Jiangcheng affectionately that has the alpha rolling his eyes. While Huaisang was clingy and adored the arts which were traditionally more favoured by omegas, the petite man before him was anything but one. Instead the other was an alpha, and one of the smartest ones Jiangcheng has ever had the honour of meeting. It’s this fact that prompts him to sigh and reluctantly reply, rubbing his cheek against Huaisang in friendly greeting.

 

“This alpha greeting is already out of practice. Why on earth do you still do it?” Jiangcheng groused out, lips pursed grouchily as Huaisang hooked an arm around his, eyes shining.

 

“Aww, don’t be like that! It’s been several moons since we met, and I haven’t been to Lotus Pier in so long. Just indulge me okay!” Huaisang continued, tapping his fan against his chin, “A-Huan, do you think the sects have settled in?

 

A-Huan?

 

Jiangcheng momentarily pauses mid-stride, tilting his head to stare at Xichen. The omega sect leader is pink, eyes falling to the ground in a meek gesture so unlike him that Jiangcheng almost curses aloud. Whipping his head back to look at Huaisang, Jiangcheng tries his best to school his expression in the most are you fucking kidding me way he can possibly conceive. It must work because Huaisang tuts and flips open his fan, hiding a smile so sharp that it sends chills down Jiangcheng’s spine.

 

“Something wrong Jiang xiong?”

 

“I wasn’t aware there have been,” Jiangcheng paused, glancing at Xichen once more who’s resolutely staring at his feet, “progress in your search for a mate.”

 

“Oh, there has been progress!” Huaisang giggles sweetly before he snaps his fan shut, eyes darkening and voice becoming deeper, “Isn’t that right Xichen?”

 

Huaisang’s fan taps the omega’s arm, and Xichen practically flinches, hands clutched together so tightly his knuckles are white from the strain. Huaisang’s words have the omega’s spine stiffening, the older man trembling as a flush crawls up his neck. If it wasn’t for the fact that Jiangcheng was seeing this live, he would not believe it himself if someone told him that Lan Xichen, composed and brilliant, was flustered and at the mercy of ‘I don’t know’ Nie Huaisang.

 

I cannot believe this shit.

 

One of the twin jades?

 

The most wanted omega in the land?

 

Nie Huaisang you sly mother fucker.

 

“I-I should check if the preparations are ready. Pardon my leave.” Xichen finally replies, voice steady even as his cheeks are red. Before he can take a step forward though, Huaisang is hauling him closer, eyes narrowed as he lets out a low growl. The action has Xichen squeaking, his hands flying up to cover his mouth as the sound escapes him without warning. That reaction has Huaisang smirking like a cat that got the cream, his hand running up from Xichen’s wrist to his elbow, applying just enough pressure that has the omega quaking deliciously.

 

I did not ask for a front row seat to my friend’s foreplay with his mate!

 

“I’ll see you later?” Huaisang purrs, and Jiangcheng can only watch in disbelief as Xichen nods mutedly, almost shy as he murmurs his acquiesce.

 

“Perfect.” Huaisang sighs, reaching up to tuck a loose strand of hair behind Xichen’s ear, the action laughably demure, “Go see if everything is ready. If it is I’ll address them and we can get an early turn in.”

 

“Okay.” Xichen whispers, clearing his throat as he repeats it again, voice stronger, “Okay. I shall take my leave now. Sect Leader Jiang…” He pauses, throat working as Huaisang tilts his head patiently, lips in a wicked curl that has Jiangcheng shuddering, “A-A-sang.”

 

“Bye! See you later!” Huaisang sings, fanning himself as Xichen bows again before turning away, heading towards the circle of Sect leaders that seemed to be discussing encampment sites.

 

Silence.

 

“What the fuck!” Jiangcheng hisses, yanking Huaisang as he pulled the other alpha aside, “You didn’t mention this in any of your letters! How the hell did that even transpire? Did you not invite me to your mating ceremony or something?!”

 

Huaisang raised an eyebrow pointedly, and Jiangcheng felt his jaw drop.

 

“Huaisang, you did not.”

 

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Huaisang sang, only to let out a yelp as Jiangcheng whacked him across the head.

 

“You can’t just fuck him! He’s the Sect Leader of Gusu Lan!” Jiangcheng hissed, face paling as Huaisang didn’t refute his statement.

 

“But I already did…” Huaisang pouted, and Jiangcheng felt as though he was going to have an aneurysm.

 

“If Lan Qiren finds out about this there’s going to be an all-out revolt you hear me? You better be prepared to mate him.” Jiangcheng gritted out, his jaw jumping from how hard he was clenching.

 

“Tch, where’s the fun in that?”

 

“Nie Huaisang!”

 

“Okay, I get it!” Huaisang snarled, smacking his fan against Jiangcheng’s chest, “I didn’t mean to jump straight to fucking him. He visited when it was my rut and I just, lost control.”

 

You lost control?” Jiangcheng scoffed, glowering at Huaisang, “If I wasn’t your close friend maybe I’d buy that!”

 

“Jiangcheng,” Huaisang’s voice is low and vulnerable, his eyes sweeping across Jiangcheng’s face with a look so serious that Jiangcheng forgets to breathe for a while, “He went into heat the minute he smelt me.”

 

“You can’t be serious.” Jiangcheng whispered hoarsely, his mind whirling, “That’s like one in a million! The chances of your bodies being so compatible that it-”

 

“I couldn’t stop giving into him for the entire week!” Huaisang hissed, the look on his face thunderous, “It was like my body was possessed! I almost tore off the head of my guards when they tried to separate us because he wouldn’t stop crying. I thought I was going to lose my fucking mind!”

 

“Okay but is he not pregnant?!” Jiangcheng exploded, choking at his friend’s words.

 

“I don’t know, but either way it’s too late. I can’t even sleep with someone else now. Even thinking about it makes me sick, and there’s not a lot that can do that.” Huaisang answered drily, tucking a lock of hair behind his ear.

 

“So, you’re continuing to fuck him even though you’re not mated?” Jiangcheng gaped, staring at Huaisang in disbelief, “That’s like courting death!”

 

“It’s not like I’m not going to mate him!” Huaisang snarls in return, nostrils flaring as he glares at the ground, “Even though the circumstances were less than ideal there is no denying my attraction,” at Jiangcheng’s raised eyebrow Huaisang sighs, “my fondness, okay I admit it, my fondness for him.”

 

“So, you genuinely like him?” Jiangcheng pries inquisitively, nudging Huaisang who groans.

 

“He’s Zewu-jun! I’ve known him forever, of course I like him!”

 

“Enough to be mated to him?! You know what it means to be an omega’s mate. The responsibility that comes with it is immense!” Jiangcheng hissed, expression bewildered, “As the alpha in the relationship you have to provide everything! We’re talking money, food, safety, medicine, shelter – your den and even your nest material,” Jiangcheng choked as he mentally counted out the list, “there isn’t even a dowry that they’re going to give you because it’s considered a gift to mate an omega-”

 

“I know!” Huaisang snapped, eyes flashing before his shoulders drooped as he ran a hand across his face tiredly, “But when I see him, when he’s in my arms, Jiang-xiong it’s not that I don’t try to refuse him.” Huaisang swallowed, voice rough, “It’s that I can’t. I can’t because he cries, and he gets upset and every time, every single fucking time he’s distressed my mind goes insane.”

 

“You hate that.” Jiangcheng mutters quietly, side eyeing Huaisang pointedly which sends the other man huffing, “You’ve always hated that whole second biology instincts over rationality thing that comes from it.”

 

“Yes, I hate losing my rationality to my biology and I hate people using biology against me. But it’s a game I can’t win Jiang-xiong. It isn’t even about trying.” Huaisang paused, sighing, “I’m just lucky that this is Zewu-jun we’re talking about here.”

 

“That’s very true.” Jiangcheng murmured, folding his arms as he stared at the ground, eyebrows furrowed as he chewed his bottom lip.

 

Biologically omegas were vulnerable, but alphas were always the ones who ended up cracking under pressure. The natural instincts that made alphas assertive and aggressive also meant that they constantly sought something, someone to protect. It meant a possessiveness and loyalty so strong that it could warp their mind, body, and soul. It made letting an omega, a foreign one at that, into one’s estate, one’s pack, a dangerous thing to do. For once, Jiangcheng finds a part of him queasy at the thought of such a sick power dynamic, at the realisation that his strength is as much a weakness as it is a saviour.

 

Life would really be a lot easier without their secondary biology.

 

“Jiang xiong,” Huaisang pursed his lips, finally breaking the silence, “people might say that alphas are lucky. That we’re strong, dominant, and we can assert our presence over the other two sexes.” He paused mid-tap, sighing as his fan finally fell uselessly to his side, “But the truth? Omegas are the scary ones.”

 

Jiangcheng has nothing to say to that comment.

 

+

 

(“Please, please, please, A-sang don’t tease! D-Don’t,” Xichen whimpered, crying out into the pillow, fingers curling tightly into the blankets as he writhed, eyes filled with tears, “I can’t a-anymore!”

 

“I know your heat broke.” Huaisang grits out, shuddering as he twists his fingers, watching as Xichen screams, legs shaking as he thrashes, head thrown back in pleasure. The omega’s scent is muted, the flare of apricots and winter disappearing into a soft layer of honey and milk, the sharpness of his heat fading along with their coupling. Huaisang’s own rut had stopped days ago, but he had stayed at the omega’s demand, Xichen clinging onto him and breaking down into tears if he so much as tried to move away from the omega. This would have been their sixth day together, and Huaisang knows by the intensity of his scent that Xichen is done, has long since broken through his final heat wave.

 

“I know your heat broke so tell me,” Huaisang snarled into Xichen’s ears, stilling his fingers as the omega sobbed, “Why, are you still begging me to fuck you?” His words have the omega gasping on his stomach, shoulders trembling as he turns his head around to look at Huaisang, eyes filled with tears.

 

“Y-You don’t want me?” Xichen breathes out, amber eyes misty with tears as he begins to whine, a soft thrill that has Huaisang snarling, his left hand digging into the omega’s thigh as he fought the desire to rumble, to give in.

 

“Sect. Leader. Lan.” Huaisang enunciates, voice dark and seething, “Your heat-”

 

“No!” Xichen snapped, lashes dotted with tears as he choked out a soft sob, pressing his ass insistently against Huaisang, “Not stopping. Don’t want to!”

 

“Ha…” Huaisang closed his eyes, trying to block out his instincts that were beating the crap out of him for ignoring his, the, omega’s demands, “What are you doing Sect-”

 

He stopped short as Xichen gave out a loud wail, hands pounding the pillow beneath him in frustration before they dug into the blanket, twisting it roughly and tearing it. The ripping sound is loud, echoing in the room along with their laboured breathing, a heavy reminder to Huaisang of Xichen’s impatience. Sure enough, what follows is a small hiccup that grows into a sob and then it tears into a full cry that has Huaisang flinching. Tears are rolling down Xichen’s porcelain face, his long hair covering him as he bites the pillow to muffle the whimpers that only sound worse hidden.

 

Fuck.

 

“Zewu Jun-”

 

An even louder cry.

 

“Xichen?” Huaisang tries to keep himself calm, but he can’t help the panic that seeps into his voice, “Xichen is that what you want me to call you?”

 

A sharp shake of the head and then another blood curdling scream.

 

“Lan Huan?” Huaisang tries again, heart pounding as the omega quietens, shoulders relaxing a fraction, “You want me to call you Lan Huan? A-huan?”

 

At the sound of ‘A-huan’, Xichen moans sweetly, arching his back as he shifts, turning to face Huaisang. Now he’s face to face with the omega, and Huaisang swears his rational mind is telling him to run, to run from that sweet dishevelled face of the omega before him. Amber eyes are blown, pupils dilated while a healthy pink flush spreads across his cheeks, lips swollen from all the kissing they’ve done. Xichen’s beautiful black hair, usually combed neatly is mussed up, fanning out over his shoulders as the omega tilts his chin to bare his throat. When there’s no response from Huaisang, Xichen lets out a soft huff, shrinking in on himself before he scoots closer, his scent cloyingly sweet around Huaisang. Sniffling quietly, Xichen dislodges Huaisang’s fingers, white lily legs hooking around Huaisang’s waist and pulling, guiding him closer.

 

“A-huan-”

 

“Please?” Xichen whispers, looking up at Huaisang through his lashes as he tilts his neck, the neck that’s littered with bites and bruises, “Want it now. Want it.”

 

“A-huan, your heat-”

 

“I asked,” and Huaisang stiffens as Xichen’s eyes flash, lips turning pouty, “Why isn’t alpha delivering?”

 

Fuck fuck fuck.

 

“One more time.” Huaisang chokes out, voice rough as he spreads the omega’s legs,
“Only one more time and then we need to talk.”

 

“Mm.” Xichen replies, eyes hooded as he shifts himself, head falling back in bliss as the tip of Huaisang’s cock nudges against his entrance. Xichen is soaking, the hole wet and fluttering needily around the front of Huaisang’s cock, and it’s driving him insane. There’s nothing more that he wants than to fuck into Xichen, to enter that tight hole and move, to enjoy the walls that eagerly wrapped his cock, a perfect little cock sleeve. Panting, Huaisang almost slaps himself to regain his bearings, ignoring just how much he wants to sit the omega in his lap and breed him silly.

 

“A-huan did you hear me?” Huaisang groused out, biting his lip as he finally sinks into the warm wet inviting heat, the squelching sound echoing throughout their chambers, his omega keening loudly, legs trembling deliciously.

 

“A-A-sang” Xichen pants, letting out another moan as the alpha slides into him, his hands reaching out to grab onto Huaisang’s shoulders, “H-Harder! M-More, n-need-”

 

“More?” Huaisang laughed breathlessly, shuddering as he yanked Xichen’s head back, exposing the column of his throat, “Do you deserve more?”

 

“Hng! S-So m-mean a-ah!” Xichen mewled, eyes squeezing shut as lips trailed over his neck before latching on, sucking hard and teeth scraping the surface, “D-Deeper! G-Good alpha! P-Please, pl-hng!”

 

“Who would have thought,” Huaisang broke away with a low gasp as he gave a harsh thrust, pummelling into Xichen who lets out a broken sob, fingers scrabbling against Huaisang’s back, “that the great Sect Leader Lan,” Huaisang shuddered, “would be begging for my cock!”

 

“A-sang p-please,” Xichen whined, thighs trembling from the strain as he looked up at Huaisang through blurred teary eyes, “n-need it, n-need to f-feel a-ah-” Xichen broke off, back arching as Huaisang gave a torturous grind to his prostate, causing the omega to jolt, “hya-!!”

 

“What do you need to feel hmm?” Huaisang practically sang, purring into Xichen’s ear as he ground his hips against the other, feeling how the omega’s entrance greedily opened and closed around the base of his cock, “Tell me what you need to feel A-huan.”

 

“I-hng,” Xichen whimpered, eyes unfocused as he panted, thighs spread open lewdly around Huaisang as the alpha on top of him nailed his prostate, sending shockwaves up his spine, “p-ple-ah! F-Feel so g-good-hya!”

 

Seeing Xichen recoil from each grind of his pelvis, watching the bigger man squirm in his lap, hips jerking backwards and forwards, wantonly fucking himself onto his cock was driving Huaisang insane. With shaking hands, Huaisang found his grip on Xichen’s hips tightening, his fingers digging into the soft fleshy hips of the omega and yanking him still as the alpha rutted against him. It felt heavenly, the warmth of Xichen’s hole wrapping tight around his cock, the omega letting out weak keens and babbling praises into Huaisang’s ear with each delicious upward thrust. It was no use, Huaisang thought to himself as he drove himself into the omega with blind desperation, there was nowhere else, no one else, that he had ever wanted more.

 

“K-Knot?” Xichen whispered, voice hoarse as he looked up at Huaisang with imploring eyes, one hand covering his mouth shyly even as his hips stuttered, “A-Alpha knot, p-please, please please please-”

 

“Shut up.” Huaisang snarled, shuddering as he watched Xichen writhe below him, hole pink and raw from their fucking and yet still wet, leaking slick across the sheets, “You’ll get your fucking knot. So, shut the fuck up or I’m never fucking you again.”

 

“N-No! N-No please, ah-a-hah!” Xichen cried out desperately, fingers tangling into Huaisang’s hair as the alpha moved faster, the base of his cock beginning to expand, hitting the rim of the omega with each frantic movement, “Want it, want it so badly hng, please don’t, please-”

 

“Like you’ll die without my knot?” Huaisang laughed drily, nostrils flaring as he glared down at Xichen, locking eyes with the omega who stared up at him through dark tear stained lashes, “Or is that it hm? Do you want a pup that badly A-huan?”

 

Xichen flinches, head hitting the pillow before the omega tilts his head away, squeezing his eyes shut as a pained whimper escapes his lips. Oh? Oh my, my, my. Huaisang hisses out a laugh, his right hand reaching out to grab the omega’s chin, yanking Xichen’s face such that he was forced once more to face his alpha as Huaisang leaned forward, lips split into a blood thirsty grin. It’s that smile, bright and sinister that has Xichen recoiling, sinking lower into the sheets and baring his throat as he practically flattens himself against the bed. Huaisang is snarling at him, Xichen realises dazedly as the alpha’s hips jerk, the knot beginning to catch at his rim, hinting of what was to come. Huaisang is going to breed him, properly this time, and a part of Xichen inwardly shivers with anticipation.

 

“I see.” Huaisang croons, and Xichen whimpers as the alpha stops his movements, hips pressed flush against his entrance, knot half formed against his hole, “Is that what you want Xichen? To be bred full? You want my knot, so I can put a pup in your empty womb?”

 

Those words have Xichen flushing red, the tip of ears turning pink as his temperature sky-rockets. The omega shakes his head furiously, but he’s lying, Huaisang knows, and he smiles sweetly at Xichen, watches as the older man shrinks back, shoulders trembling and eyes lowering submissively.

 

You dare think you can fool me?

 

“You think you can lie to me?” Huaisang chuckles darkly, letting out a soft hum as his left hand reaches between their legs to rub against where they’re connected, to test the give of Xichen’s hole that has only grown wetter at his words, “You think I can’t tell how much you want me to fill you and breed you and how much you practically ache from emptiness?”

 

“S-Stop,” Xichen sobs, eyes squeezing shut as his abdominal muscles flex desperately, his hole flaring invitingly for the cock buried in him to move, to go deeper, gushing more slick with each flippant brush of Huaisang’s fingers, “S-Stop s-saying mean things-”

 

“Mean? You think I’m mean?” Huaisang lets out a mocking snarl at those words, and Xichen yelps as the alpha gives a harsh tug of his legs, forcing the knot to slide in a little, rim stretched agonisingly over half of it as the alpha grinds upwards, “You barge into my den, refuse to leave, beg for my knot and now you want my pups? Who’s the greedy one here hm?” Huaisang leaned over, hands gripping tight to the omega as he allowed his lips to brush the over-heated curve of Xichen’s ear.

 

Who’s the one selfish enough to tie someone down with his second biology?

 

A sharp gasp escapes from Xichen at those words, the omega’s eyes flying open wide as his mouth parts in disbelief, in shock as Huaisang thrusts forward viciously, yanking the omega by the waist and forcing his knot in, inside that tight taut body. Xichen chokes, his voice gurgling in the back of his throat as his legs spasm, his head flying back as he bares his throat obediently, his mind filled with static noise as Huaisang bites at his neck, teeth sinking into moonlight skin as the cock breaches, reaches into Xichen deeper than ever before. Voice caught, lips trembling silently, Huaisang can only watch with satisfaction as Xichen sits prettily, quietly, on top of him, the omega’s own cock pressed between both their bodies as the alpha grinds relentlessly against his prostate.

 

“Nothing to say?” Huaisang’s voice is gentle, soft as he studies Xichen’s face, watches the other for any signs of discomfort or panic only to see satisfaction, pure bliss as Xichen heaves, chest inflating and deflating rapidly as he gulps in air.

 

“I,” Xichen shudders, a soft moan escaping him as he feels his body begin to respond at last, the satisfaction, the fullness, now giving way to need, to desperation for more, for something thick, something to fill the emptiness because he’s so, so empty-

 

“Shh…” Huaisang whispers, his eyes turning into crescents as he smiles kindly at Xichen, “I wouldn’t be a good alpha if I refused my true mate’s wishes, would I?”

 

Angry, alpha is angry.

 

“I-I’m sorry,” Xichen whimpers, eyes squeezed shut even as his hips move, even as he eagerly grinds back against Huaisang, panting with exertion as he takes his pleasure from the knot lodged in him, forces it against his prostate, “I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m so sorry-!!”

 

“There’s no point apologising when you’ve goaded and cried and threatened me with your status.” Huaisang responds calmly, expression just as sweet even as his words are sharp, even as his movements turn vicious, as the grind becomes even more accurate and unforgiving, sending Xichen into absolute heaven.

 

“I-I’ll be b-better!” Xichen babbles, nails scrabbling against Huaisang as he looks up at the other in panic, bottom lip trembling as his legs begin to give out, “P-Please, a-alpha, a-alpha p-please-”

 

Please look at me, please.

 

“You’ll be better?” Huaisang breathes out, closing his eyes as he stops moving, feels how Xichen finally stills, exhausted and shaking on top of him, “Better at what? Controlling your impulses? What are we going to tell your elders hm? That you were the one who wanted this?”

 

“I,” Xichen gasped, blinking rapidly as his voice broke, “I…”

 

“It’ll be my fault that I didn’t stop this. It’ll be my fault for touching you, for knotting you, even though you’re the one who practically screamed and threw a complete temper tantrum when I wanted to leave.” Huaisang murmured, his eyes narrowed as he stared at the omega sitting in his lap, his lips curling viciously as he hissed at the other.

 

“Please, please don’t…” Xichen shook, shoulders trembling as he practically deflates under Huaisang’s look of disapproval, at the alpha’s look of anger, “I want it, I want it s-so-”

 

“And so you must have it?” Huaisang asks roughly, arms hooking around the omega as he shifts, watching as Xichen whimpers from oversensitivity, “Selfish.”

 

“I’m sorry!” Xichen sobs out, bowing his head and letting his hair fall over his face as he begins to cry, “I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m-”

 

“I can’t even be angry at you.” Huaisang says quietly, defeatedly as he studies Xichen, studies him and shudders at how his instincts recoil in absolute shock at a crying omega, at the bitter scent of dissatisfaction and sorrow that wafts from the other, “I can’t say no to you, and I can’t be angry at you, and they think an alpha is powerful?”

 

“P-Please, please don’t be mad anymore A-sang…” Xichen cries, tears trickling down his cheeks as his hands paw at Huaisang’s chest desperately, “I n-need you, I’ll be good, I’ll be real good I promise, so please, p-please-”

 

“I can’t win against you, can I?” Huaisang breathes out, sighing as he presses his forehead against Xichen’s own bowed one, grinning wryly as the omega stops, blinking up at him through watery gold eyes, “That’s what pisses me off most.”

 

“W-What?” Xichen whispers, voice cracking as he stares at the alpha before him, watches as Huaisang pulls off his ribbon, (My ribbon!!) and flicks it onto the bedroom floor, “A-A-sang-”

 

“You want me?” Huaisang asks, voice molten heat as he runs a hand down Xichen’s back, tracing his spine that has goose bumps breaking out over Xichen’s skin.

 

“Yes.” Xichen whimpers, eyes flickering between his white ribbon on the floor and back to Huaisang’s face that’s passive, gentle, lips lilting upwards sweetly still.

 

Angry. Alpha is still angry.

 

“Why? Why are you still angry? What did I do wrong? What did A-huan do wrong?” Xichen whispers brokenly, his eyes filling with more tears as he sits, obediently, nothing but a cock sleeve for his alpha’s cock that refuses to move, refuses to claim him and have him.

 

“A-huan-”

 

“I’m your true mate.” Xichen finds himself saying slowly, but the words sound false to his ears, pathetic as he digs his fingers into Huaisang’s shoulders, “W-Why, why aren’t you happy? Am I n-not good enough?”

 

The first of the twin jades, Sect leader of Gusu Lan, a scholar, artist and musician not good enough for ‘I don’t know’ Nie Huaisang? Huaisang almost laughs out loud, and he would have except he feels himself melt, feels the burning rage that runs through the veins of all direct members of the Nie line begin to fade as he stares at a trembling anxious Xichen. It’s not Xichen’s fault that the second biology which thrives in all of them is naturally manipulative. It’s not Xichen’s fault that Huaisang feels the inexplicable pull to lose his mind and devote everything for the other. It’s not Xichen’s fault and he doesn’t know better, can’t know better when he’s an omega, the pull they have on alphas. It’s not Xichen fault, none at all, that Huaisang is inevitably wound around his pinkie and that the other has no clue about it.

 

“I’m, I thought,” Xichen’s words are coming out in fragments, and Huaisang doesn’t know what to say, what to do as the omega tenses on top of him, eyes wild and frightened, “Is this wrong? Am I, did I, I thought-”

 

“Stop thinking.” Huaisang finally interrupts, voice soft as he tucks a lock of hair behind Xichen’s ear, “You’re still the Sect Leader of Gusu Lan and panicking doesn’t look good on you.”

 

“I thought I was A-sang’s true mate.” Xichen says quietly, voice trembling slightly even as he stares back at Huaisang unabashedly, “In here, I am not a Sect Leader. In here I am A-sang’s true mate. In here I am A-sang’s omega! I’m not,” Xichen broke off, voice catching as his hands curl into fists, as his voice falters, “I…”

 

His words have Huaisang frowning, the alpha stirring as he entangles his fingers in Xichen hair, as he stares at the omega with narrowed eyes.

 

He can’t be saying what I think he’s saying.

 

“Are you saying, that you’ll let me own you A-huan? Just like that?” Huaisang growls, his eyes darkening as he shifts, jolting the omega in his arms and sending him careening into his chest, Xichen letting out a soft yelp that soon fades into a broken moan as the knot tugs on his hole.

 

“O-Own-hya!” Xichen cries out, clutching onto Huaisang’s arms as his alpha grinds upwards, tip brushing against his sensitive spots. Pressing a fist to his mouth, Xichen is wide eyed as he feels Huaisang’s hips move, grinding insistently against him, against the most intimate parts of him. It makes him speechless, makes him drool and his toes curl as he’s held in place as the alpha fucks into his body.

 

Alpha, alpha is angry…?

 

“That you have no plans to coerce me? Bewitch me?” Huaisang croons the words now, his eyes lighting up as he realises what Xichen is doing. Ah he had forgotten that the other was from Gusu Lan, had forgotten the purity and innocence that ran through the clan. Of course, Xichen wasn’t going to use his biology to manipulate him. He was nothing like Jin Guangyao, nothing like the dirty manipulative monsters that used power and strength to destroy others, nothing like Huaisang. The omega had felt the pull, realised Huaisang was his true mate and had immediately decided that he would give his all and make off into the sunset with his happily ever after.

 

For once, Nie Huaisang is, genuinely, being an idiot.

 

“N-No! I would never-ah!” Xichen gasped, shuddering as Huaisang pressed his nose against the swelling scent gland below Xichen’s right ear, the alpha’s tongue flicking out over the swollen area.

 

“I’ve been a bad alpha.” Huaisang purrs, and there’s no mistaking the loud squeal of delight from Xichen as Huaisang grazes his teeth over the gland, no mistaking the disappearance of sour lemon grass from Xichen as Huaisang laves at it, stimulating the omega’s scent.

 

“A-Alpha!” Xichen stammers, cheeks pink as Huaisang switches to his left side, nosing and licking at his gland, “I-If you d-do that I-” With a soft mewl that stops short his sentence Xichen bares his neck, eyes fluttering shut as he makes space for Huaisang, gives him further access to his sensitive gland, the inner workings of his omegan body.

 

“Didn’t you say you wanted pups?” Huaisang lets go of the gland with a soft ‘pop’, his grin saccharine sweet as he stares at the dark red and swollen gland, Xichen’s original scent of honey and milk taking on a fruity tinge, apricot and winter frost beginning to bleed in, “That’s why you wanted to keep going even after your heat ended.”

 

“I…”

 

“You were upset your alpha didn’t knot you, upset that your heat wasn’t enough to make me breed you.” Huaisang growls, and Xichen whimpers around his fist, drooling slightly as Huaisang’s hand lends on his lower spine, fingers warm and gentle.

 

“A-A-sang-”

 

“If at your most fertile, when your scent is at its strongest,” Huaisang rumbles throatily, a soft laugh escaping his lips, “and your true mate who is most compatible with your body refuses to knot you,” Huaisang purred, lowering his head such that his lips pressed against Xichen’s ear, “suggests at every possible coupling to separate,” he felt Xichen shake, “no wonder you were throwing a temper tantrum; you couldn’t take that rejection could you?”

 

A soft whine escapes as Xichen buries his head into Huaisang’s hair, lips trembling slightly as he hesitatingly ventured closer and closer towards his alpha’s neck.

 

“You must have been upset, weren’t you?” Huaisang hummed languidly as he smiled down at Xichen who’s staring at him, pupils blown and sucking his bottom lip so hard it’ll probably bruise, “And your true mate didn’t even try to scent you, to stimulate your scent glands and tell your body he was interested in raising pups, in mating you.”

 

Xichen is waiting, and Huaisang almost wants to laugh at how the other is absolutely vibrating with desire, eyes wandering back and forth from Huaisang’s face to his neck.

 

“Didn’t even let you get close to his scent glands, what a bad alpha.” Huaisang teases, and watches as Xichen blushes, the pink painting across ivory cheeks, “It must have been so frustrating for this omega. His alpha constantly fucking him but not knotting him. Not touching his scent glands, not letting him close enough to suck his alpha’s scent glands…”

 

“A-sang!” Xichen whines, tone sharp and petulant even as he tries to keep his composure, eyes sparkling with a kind of joy only mated couples had whenever they flirted.

 

“Come here.” Huaisang laughs, and this time he tilts his neck slowly, and watches as Xichen’s eyes darkens and the omega tightens around his cock deliciously. Without another word Xichen buries his face into Huaisang’s scent gland, mouth immediately finding the swollen area and latching on, sucking vigorously.

 

“Ah, rough.” Huaisang gritted out, shuddering as Xichen enthusiastically licks and nibbles his gland, sending shockwaves down the alpha’s back.

 

“So good.” Xichen whispers, voice broken as he presses his nose to the gland, taking a deep whiff before he latches on once more, tongue kneading the gland with an unparalleled viciousness, “Alpha wants, alpha wants to, to… Jasmine and trees, no ginger. No ginger!”

 

Alpha isn’t angry!

 

“I can’t let you have all the fun.” Huaisang murmurs as he pulls away, much to the chagrin of Xichen who lets out a weak huff of annoyance.

 

“Don’t sulk.” Huaisang croons, his breath blowing into the omega’s ear that has the other’s back straightening, the curve of his spine becoming rigid, “I’m going to make it up to you.”

 

And he pushes his hand that has been lying on Xichen’s lower back.

 

With a loud garbled moan, Xichen’s fingers curl into Huaisang’s hair as the alpha’s hand forces him to sit, holds him in position as the cock grinds insistently against his prostate and the entrance of his womb. He can’t move like this, Xichen realises as he lies on top of Huaisang, legs hanging uselessly over the alpha’s sides as the other fucks into him. He can’t move, he can’t squirm away, and a glance at Huaisang’s delighted face, eyes bright and lips curved into a victorious possessive smirk has Xichen burying his face into the other’s chest, his heart pounding in his rib cage. He’s a sleeve, a toy, and Xichen has to bite down on his own fist to stop a wanton moan that makes it out of his lungs as he feels the knot in him grow bigger, pushing against his delicate walls. Shaking with every thrust of Huaisang’s hips as the alpha shallowly fucks into him, torturing his prostate for his own benefit and pleasure, Xichen can only watch with his mouth hanging open at Huaisang’s erotic expression, watch those hooded eyes with their pupils blown, hips snapping with brunt force to take and use and-

 

“A-Ah, ah, ah, hng, s-so good, hah, ah-” Xichen turned away, burying his face into Huaisang’s chest as he feels the cock in him burn, carving out a place for itself in him. It felt so good, so right, and the feeling is driving him crazy, the way the tip of the cock brushes against his prostate before forcefully entering his womb, and sliding back out, the way Huaisang snarls low and dark in his ear each time he tightened around the other-!!

 

Alpha!

 

“Did I tell you just how tight you feel?” Huaisang growls out and Xichen whimpers, fingers twisting in his alpha’s hair as he clings on for dear life, tries to pretend it’s not getting to him, that being put in place in his alpha’s lap and bred like a bitch isn’t arousing and amazing and, “I would have you at my desk warming my cock like this every day once we’re mated.”

 

It’s those words, those exact words that has Xichen crying out, sobbing into Huaisang’s chest as his orgasm rips through him, his cock that had been rubbing against Huaisang’s abdomen seizing. It singes him, fire racing up his spine and sending him spiralling as pleasure erupts in his body, his thighs spasming as his cock splatters white droplets between him and his alpha. There’s no mistaking his delighted scream, and Xichen can only flop, drooling slightly as Huaisang’s free hand reaches out to pinch his nipples.

 

“N-No, a-alpha I c-can’t-” Xichen broke off, wailing as Huaisang’s grip on him tightened, his alpha’s thrusts becoming more erratic even as they are no less accurate, fingers pinching and groping his chest, rolling those sensitive nubs while whispering the dirtiest things into his ears. Like how wet Xichen is for him, how eager he is to be bred, how he’s going to be so full of pups and his chest sore and heavy with milk once he’s through with him.

 

It doesn’t take long for Huaisang’s hips to stutter, the knot beginning to swell bigger and bigger, stretching the rim and making Xichen whine in pain, the omega jerking up and staring at Huaisang with desperate eyes. It makes the alpha snarl, and Xichen obediently bares his neck, staying absolutely still even as the knot expands and makes tears prick at the corner of his eyes. Sniffling, he whimpers against Huaisang’s scent gland, breathing in the scent of jasmine as he feels Huaisang grunt, hips rutting desperately against him before the alpha finally groans, and Xichen feels the thick spurt of cum into his womb.

 

“A-sang,” Xichen breathes, voice soft as he wriggles, pressing his ass against the knot and sighing as the cock responds, more cum spilling out into his womb, “I-”

 

He doesn’t get to say anything though, as Huaisang kisses him, lips moulding across his own and taking his thoughts elsewhere immediately. It’s wet and dirty, Huaisang letting his lust through with each flick of his tongue against Xichen’s, twisting and forcing the omega to give in, to submit to his assault. Xichen willingly allows it because how can he not when he’s seated exactly where his alpha wants him, knotted and bred the way he always wanted by his true mate. When they finally part for air, Xichen blinks in surprise as Huaisang presses a chaste kiss to his forehead, the alpha wrapping his arms tightly around the other. Letting out a confused noise, Xichen wrinkled his nose, cocking his head as he looked up at Huaisang confusedly.

 

It’s endearing, Huaisang realises, and he can’t help the sigh that escapes him.

 

“It really pisses me off how I’m not pissed off anymore.” Huaisang grumbles, and Xichen stares at him in surprise.

 

Then, a breath-taking smile breaks across Xichen’s face as the omega laughs bashfully, hiding behind his black hair while looking up at Huaisang through long butterfly lashes, pink swollen lips curving into a shy grin.

 

I’m so fucked.

 

“You don’t mean that A-sang.” Xichen blushes, but his tone is confident, level, “I know you don’t.”

 

With a pout on his lips, Xichen wriggled, shifting so that he could face Huaisang properly, his chin propped up on Huaisang’s chest as he tilts his head and smiles.

 

I’m so fucked.

 

“And how do you know that?” Huaisang teases as he runs a hand down Xichen’s spine, humming softly.

 

“Um,” Xichen paused before he gave Huaisang a pointed look, “Because you’re in me?”

 

There’s a momentary pause before Huaisang bursts out laughing, cackling loudly as Xichen hides his pleased grin, biting his lip to stop the growing smile spreading across his face as he stares at his alpha.

 

I’m so fucked.

 

“Let’s go to sleep. We have a lot to discuss tomorrow.” Huaisang murmured, pressing a kiss to Xichen’s forehead before he closed his eyes, a ghost of a smile tugging at his lips.

 

I’m so fucked and I don’t even mind. )

 

+

 

“I can do this! It’s no big deal. How difficult can it be right? I just have to sit beside Sect Leader Jiang and discretely flirt with him. How difficult can it be?” Jingyi took in a deep breath, stared at the campfire where the sect leaders were sitting, and promptly turned to Sizhui, “I can’t! I can’t do this! It’s too difficult! I’m going to get whipped by Zidian and Senior Wei and Hanguang-jun are going to know and I’m never going to live that down because I only have Cloud Recesses to go back to and while I can avoid Yunmeng Jiang I can’t avoid my own Sect-”

 

“Jingyi!” Sizhui barked, grabbing his best friend by his shoulders and shaking him roughly, “He’s not going to whip you when you look like that.”

 

“Are you saying I look so hideous he wouldn’t even whip me with Zidian because he’ll be devastated his weapon has to come into contact with my body?!” Jingyi whispers, mortified, and Sizhui could only stare at him in complete disbelief.

 

How is his best friend so stupid?

 

“Jingyi,” Sizhui sighed, brushing Jingyi’s shoulder gently and picking away bits of dust and ash from various campfires that they had walked past, “Sect Leader Jiang won’t whip you because right now you look like you’ve just descended from the heavens. You look breath-takingly beautiful, and before you argue,” Sizhui frowns as Jingyi opens his mouth only to snap it shut once more, “My evidence for that is the current horde of alphas and betas staring at your ass.”

 

“What!” Jingyi squeaked, whipping his head around only to flush as he realises half the campfires have people staring at him, their eyes dark and hooded, heavy interest lining their body language.

 

Oh, okay.

 

That was unexpected.

 

“It’s probably because of you too…” Jingyi mumbled, nudging Sizhui and watching as his best friend shrugs off his beauty as if being this good looking was effortless!?

 

“None of this means anything if he doesn’t look my way.” Sizhui replies quietly, fiddling with the hibiscus flower tucked into his braid, his eyes downcast as he tugs at the red robes that hug his body, “I’m not an omega so-”

 

“Nope. Not hearing it. Nuh-uh!” Jingyi barked, clapping his hands sharply as he glared at Sizhui, his turn to shake his best friend by the shoulders, “Jinling is going to fucking love what you’re wearing. He’s an audacious peacock and little mistress so dressing this sensually and boldly is definitely going to capture his attention!”

 

“Really?” Sizhui asks, but his lips are curling into a small grin, and Jingyi nods furiously, his voice becoming more and more confident.

 

“We all know Jinling has a temper so he’s going to lose his mind when he sees that a lot of people are interested in you! He’s going to stick to you like glue and he’ll be pissed off for the rest of the evening for sure!” Jingyi shook his fist enthusiastically, earning a snort from Sizhui.

 

“I’m not quite sure if that’s what I should be hoping for considering this is still a diplomatic event and having the Lanling Jin Sect leader angry seems like a very bad idea.” Sizhui paused, before he gave Jingyi a secretive smile, “But thank you, for cheering me up.”

 

“Now let’s go get our men before I lose my courage!” Jingyi cheered, tightening his belt before turning to straighten Sizhui’s hair pin, “We are disciples of Gusu Lan! We don’t give up! We will win this fight!”

 

“Ready for our grand entrance?” Sizhui asked in reply, his eyes sparkling mischievously as he linked arms with Jingyi, a small smirk on his face, “If they don’t fall for us tonight it means our taste in men is terrible.”

 

“Have you looked at our targets? I would say our taste is already bad!” Jingyi snorted, and immediately Sizhui burst into laughter, giggling brightly as they finally stepped out of the shadows into the light of the campfire.

 

There’s immediate silence, the talking ceasing, and Jingyi feels how Sizhui’s grip tightens around his arm. Blinking at the flames for a split second, Jingyi tilts his head to look at his best friend, studying how Sizhui looked. Sizhui was dressed in Senior Wei colours this time, a bold maroon with a gold foil emblem on his forehead. His lips were painted red too, and Sizhui looked like he was made to be eaten, made to be pretty on a strong alpha’s arm.

 

It doesn’t help that Sizhui has always been quiet and gentle, forever dressed in white and further emphasising his image as the perfect Gusu Lan disciple. Looking at him now though, Jingyi can’t help the proud grin that crosses his face as he takes in the sensual slit of Sizhui’s robes or the teasing lift of his eyebrow. Sizhui was going to drive them wild with his personality and looks, Jingyi knew that for sure. And judging by the spluttering of a particular Sect Leader who was staring open mouthed at Sizhui, Jingyi couldn’t help but snicker.

 

Tonight, was going to be good.

 

“Ah! Senior Wei!” Jingyi called out brightly to the elder before he began to walk over, Sizhui in tow, “I wore the clothes you gave me for my eighteenth birthday! How does it look?” And before Senior Wei could reply, Jingyi twirls, letting the robes swish out elegantly, the slit revealing one milky white thigh before it’s covered when he spins to a halt.

 

“It looks good on him doesn’t it? We decided to dress up a little tonight.” Sizhui whispers, loudly, and there’s no mistaking the raised eyebrow Senior Wei gives them.

 

“Is that so?” Senior Wei snorted, running a hand through his ponytail as he studied Jingyi pointedly. There’s a momentary pause, not a long one, almost unnoticeable, but Jingyi notices how Sizhui looks at him and then pointedly looks to the lotus charm hanging on Senior Wei’s belt.

 

Senior Wei chokes.

 

“Weiying-!!”

 

“I’M FINE!” Senior Wei coughed, thumping his chest with a fist before he repeated his words once more, his voice slightly hoarse, “I’m fine Lanzhan. Just slightly,” Senior Wei cleared his throat, “surprised at the new information I’ve just gleaned.”

 

“Mm. I’ll go get you a drink.” Hanguang-jun murmured before he stood up from the log where they were seated, moving towards their shared tent for the night. Moving aside to make way for Hanguang-jun, Jingyi darted in front of Senior Wei, pursing his lips as he once more tried to get the other to help him for crying out loud!

 

“I don’t look nice?” Jingyi pouted, even as his eyes shot daggers at Senior Wei who only choked some more, spluttering loudly before raising his voice.

 

“It’s not that I don’t want to compliment you Jingyi! But I bought you these robes! You can’t ask me if they look nice on you. That would be unfair judgement!” His words boom across the clearing, and Jingyi shares a confused look with Sizhui before Senior Wei interrupts it with a loud clap.

 

What the-

 

“I know! Jiangcheng, Jiangcheng! Do you think Jingyi looks nice with these robes? Apparently, he’s dressing up for a lucky someone tonight!”

 

Jingyi knows Gusu Lan Sect disciples aren’t supposed to curse.

 

It’s a violation of rules two hundred and forty-seven all the way to four hundred and sixty-five.

 

But he also knows that he can copy all those rules within three days.

 

So, fuck you Senior Wei!!!

 

Sizhui’s eyes are just as wide as his, and Jingyi is glad to know that at least someone is on his side for the blatant attack Senior Wei has just done to him. It’s an opportunity, but it also lacks subtlety, and Jingyi knows that if the lighting was any better, his red cheeks could probably be seen from half a mile away. Again, it’s a good opportunity to get closer to Sect Leader Jiang, and on any other occasion Jingyi might have been impressed with Senior Wei’s matchmaking skills. After all the man himself was never subtle, quite the opposite truly, considering the other was dubbed the ‘evil Yiling Patriarch’. Unfortunately, by revealing that Jingyi was dressing up for a ‘lucky someone tonight’ and asking for Jiangcheng’s opinion, Senior Wei might as well have given Jiangcheng a giant spirit flag and told him it doesn’t attract spirits. In other words, Senior Wei might as well have told the entire cultivation world that Lan Jingyi was interested in Sect Leader Jiang!

 

So, fuck you Senior Wei!!!

 

That’s six days’ worth of copying now.

 

But he shouldn’t panic. Two decades worth of lessons, copying of Sect rules and fighting away potential aggressive mates had left Jingyi with a better functioning brain than other humans such as a certain patriarch with a flair for the dramatics. Sucking in a deep breath, Jingyi plastered a soft smile on his face even as Sizhui’s grip on him tightened, falling back on his teachings while his mind raced ahead. It’s comforting and anchoring, feeling Sizhui’s support beside him, and Jingyi can’t help the way a corner of his lips pulls into a playful smirk as he realises what he has to do, what he can do, to throw Sect Leader Jiang off his guard.

 

He might have to take back his curse to Senior Wei now.

 

(“I’m not telling you to start molesting the man Jingyi.” Sizhui groaned, rubbing his forehead before sighing, his tone losing its irritated edge, “But Senior Wei did plenty of things besides…that. He utilised touch and his use of beauty as a weapon against Hanguang Jun. All you need to do is be pretty and land a casual touch here and there. Not enough to arouse suspicion but enough for Sect Leader Jiang to notice your interest.”)

 

“You have a point Senior Wei.” Jingyi responds sweetly, and this time there’s no mistaking the look of complete bewilderment and terror on Sizhui’s face. There’s only been exactly two times that Jingyi’s tone has turned sickly saccharine, and both times had landed them heavily in the medical unit and barred from training for half a year. So, it was safe to say that Sizhui was undoubtedly slightly afraid, upon noticing Jingyi’s beatific smile. At least, until he saw his father’s satisfied face.

 

Don’t tell me…

 

What would surprise Sect Leader Jiang? Was it not obvious? Jingyi thought smugly to himself as he gently removed Sizhui’s hand, sliding it downwards as he gave his best friend a comforting smile. What on earth could shock the great Sect Leader Jiang when an obvious matchmaking procedure has just happened to him? If it was intended, the candidate would undoubtedly try to flatter Sect Leader Jiang and put on airs, sucking up to him like that was the only aspect of their personality. If it was unintended, the candidate in question would panic and run away, stumbling over excuses and such.

 

So, if he wanted to shock Sect Leader Jiang…

 

Wouldn’t he just have to flirt with the man like how you would in a normal courtship?

 

“Well then, Sect Leader Jiang, do you think I look nice in my robes?” Jingyi paused, bending slightly to meet Sect Leader Jiang who’s seated on the next log beside Senior Wei, his previous entourage dispersing at Jingyi’s presence. Tucking a lock of hair behind his ear, letting the rest of his hair fall in waves down his side, Jingyi gave a flirty grin, expression teasing, “Senior Wei did recommend you to be my judge for tonight after all.”

 

There’s no mistaking the stunned look on Sect Leader Jiang’s face now, the man absolutely frozen in shock as he looks at Jingyi, blinking once, and then twice. As if dispelling any hallucinations, he might have been having, which for the record, is really an adorable look on a man that terrifies a good three quarters of the cultivation world. Hands covering his face, Weiying could only hide his grin as he looked away, patting the seat beside him for Sizhui to settle down and enjoy the performance that was about to be conducted before them.

 

After all, it’s been a while since he has seen that look in Jiangcheng’s eyes.

 

Like the sun has just broken through grey clouds.

 

+

 

What the fuck is going on?! Is the first thought that runs through Jiangcheng’s mind when he’s greeted with the same gorgeous omega from earlier this evening. If he had thought the omega was beautiful before, it was nothing compared to how he looked now. Purple sheer robes revealed soft luminous skin, and the light lilac belt was tied tighter than the baby blue one earlier this afternoon, emphasising his tiny cinched waist and the round curves of his lower half. It revealed wide hips that tapered down delicately into white long legs, the slit of his robes, purple robes, Jiangcheng’s mind notes greedily, revealing soft bare skin that looked as if they could bruise with a single bite.

 

Bruises are purple.

 

He had not expected this, Jiangcheng realises as surprise runs through his system, coating every single part of him as he takes in the lotus embroidery on the robes that send a thrill through his soul. His gaze takes in the elegant curves of the omega before him, studies the flat stomach that makes way to a bosom that’s slightly rounded, still flat, but there’s a swelling to the area, a sign of a very much male omega. He lets his eyes take in the slender neck, long and lithe like a lily stem, before moving onto his face, Lan Jingyi’s face.

 

And oh what a face he has, Jiangcheng thinks numbly as he takes in the omega who’s looking at him playfully, lips curved into an impish smirk that sends an animalistic part of him pacing. Jiangcheng has met numerous omegas, seen the prettiest of faces, and yet nothing quite compares to this omega’s face. Amber gold eyes seem to shine in the dark, reflecting the moonlight and creating murky depths in those golden hues. Flecks of reddish brown, like the leaves of his favourite trees in autumn dotted his gaze and were framed by long luscious lashes that fluttered against his cheek with every blink. His nose and cheeks looked like they were sculpted by hand from the best marble workers in the world, his jaw line sharp enough to cut glass, and his lips small and sweet, a pinkish red that felt like the inner petals of a forbidden flower. How much he wanted to drink its nectar.

 

In short, Jiangcheng was very much attracted to this omega.

 

And he was also old enough to know when he’s being flirted with.

 

“Is that so?” Jiangcheng replies, his lips curving into a smirk as he angled his head to look at the omega, letting his gaze travel from top to bottom, making sure his eyes lingered on specific areas before he drawls out his reply, “Well I have to say that you definitely look…” he paused, letting his gaze lock with Jingyi’s before he looked away respectfully, “beautiful in purple.”

 

Oh.

 

Okay that.

 

He was not.

 

He was not expecting that.

 

WHO THE FUCK WOULD EXPECT THAT?!

 

Nine days of copying sect rules but was anyone even keeping count at this point!?

 

Apparently, he’s not the only one in shock, judging by the way Senior Wei’s back is rigid in surprise and Sizhui is pointedly looking away from him. Hanguang-jun doesn’t seem to have notice anything though, probably because he just returned, but his calmness is a very good anchor, Jingyi realises as he fights to keep his emotions under control.

 

Sect Leader Jiang just said he was beautiful in purple.

 

Cool.

 

He flirted back.

 

Cool. Cool. Cool.

 

Super cool.

 

What the fuck was he supposed to do?!

 

No, no, keep calm Lan Jingyi! You are a Lan! You are a disciple of Gusu Lan and you will not be returning home empty handed! Not after you’ve put make up, dressed up in gorgeous clothes and managed to get an opening conversation with a potential mate! Internally slapping himself, Jingyi took a deep breath as he rocked back onto the heels of his feet, removing himself from Sect Leader Jiang’s personal space. There’s a momentary flash of annoyance in the other’s gaze, and the panic in Jingyi fades as he realises what’s going on.

 

Aha, so you think you can throw me off?

 

Not. A. Chance.

 

“Only in purple?” Jingyi teases, his voice lilting slightly as he hums, tapping his lips with one finger and smirking as he catches Sect Leader Jiang’s gaze following his movement, “Then I guess I’m lucky purple is Yunmeng Jiang’s official colours no?”

 

Lan Jingyi! Weiying choked on his water as he heard the next few sentences fall from Jingyi’s lips, coughing loudly as those scandalous words floated through the air. Beside him Sizhui is beet red, lips pressed in a thin line as he tries his best not to let a look of incredulity and awe cross over his face. It’s a big thing to dress in your alpha’s colours, Weiying would know considering he was actually mated and married to one! It meant ownership and appealed heavily to the alpha’s sense of security and possessiveness. For Jingyi to blatantly flaunt that into Jiangcheng’s face, it was a billion times worse than what he had done at the beginning to get the two talking! For starters, it was only implied that Jingyi might have been dressing up for Jiangcheng, but now Jingyi was as good as telling Jiangcheng that he had his eyes on him from the very start. It was similar to him collaring himself up and giving the leash to Jiangcheng on a silver platter!

 

Sure enough, Jiangcheng’s eyes widened in shock before they darkened, his pupils expanding for a brief moment before they returned to normal. It happened in less than five seconds, but Weiying had noticed the dilation, the look of intense scrutiny and hunger that had crossed Jiangcheng’s face before the other had hauled it all back. How the fuck his brother had done it he had no idea, especially considering just how strong an alpha’s sense of protectiveness and need to covet was. Either way, Jingyi was playing with fire, and Weiying was certain his junior disciple had just unleashed a beast. Swallowing back another mouthful of water, Weiying found himself praying for Jingyi and his good health as he waited for Jiangcheng’s response.

 

This little-!! Jiangcheng felt his mouth go dry at Jingyi’s words, his heart pounding loudly, static noise resounding in his head as he stared at the omega before him who tapped his finger against his mouth before sweeping a hand across his robes. As if that wasn’t any more revealing or evident after what he had just said! Wearing purple, stating that it was Yunmeng Jiang colours, Jiangcheng could feel his inner beast shudder, the alpha in him snarling at the omega’s statement. There was nothing he wanted to do more than to sweep Jingyi off his feet and throw him into his personal tent, the tent in which he would spend his time memorising every nook and curve of Jingyi’s body, ripping that purple cotton off him and painting his body purple with his lips and teeth as the omega begged for mercy.

 

Lan Jingyi…

 

“Depends on what your definition of luck is.” Jiangcheng drawls, his tone coming off as bored for most, but when he sees Weiying flinch, and Jingyi’s eyes narrow, Jiangcheng can’t help the way a corner of his mouth tugs upwards into a smug smirk, “After all, pure colours like white suit you.”

 

Jiangcheng paused, idly sipping on his drink and revelling in the pin drop silence that fills the clearing. Revels in how Weiying is frozen still on the next bench and Jingyi’s eyes are calculating what he would say and how he should respond.

 

Can you respond to my next comment though?

 

“Unless,” Jiangcheng finally continued, his lips quirking into a challenging smirk, “you’re looking for a change in that department then?”

 

What the fuck Jiang Wanyin! Weiying shrieked internally in his head, his own cheeks burning red as he lets those words run through his mind. Beside him Sizhui is positively the colour of his hibiscus flower, his eyes squeezed shut in embarrassment as Jiangcheng’s comment echoes through the clearing. If Jingyi’s previous comment was scandalous, this was downright perverted! By commenting Jingyi suited the colour white, Jiangcheng was alluding to Jingyi’s sect that he belonged to. That he was a member of Gusu Lan who, like all Gusu Lan members, remained pure until they found their life long mate. After which they would trade their robes for the partner’s or give an extra one to their love, something couples that were married and mated did! Asking if Jingyi wanted to change the colour of his robes was as good as asking if Jingyi wanted to be mated, if he wanted to lose his virginity! Sneaking a glance towards Lanzhan, Weiying could only blush in mortification at his husband’s pink ears, his guess undoubtedly spot on. God, he hoped Jingyi had worked this out!

 

Oh my god.

 

Did he….

 

Did Sect Leader Jiang just!?!?!

 

Eyes wide, Jingyi can’t help it this time as the blush rushes across his face at lightning speed, his lips trembling in embarrassment at Sect Leader Jiang’s words. It’s delicately put, as expected of Sect Leader Jiang, but it’s no use hiding the truth behind sentence structure and formalities. Sect Leader Jiang had just bluntly asked him if he wished to lose his virginity and be mated, and for that question, Jingyi realises as he swallows hard, everyone is listening for his answer. Sure enough, there are a few alphas loitering around, and he can feel the hungry gaze on his body, eager to devour his reply. Whatever he said next, he had to be careful. He couldn’t shame Gusu Lan, and neither could he completely ignore Sect Leader Jiang’s expression of interest.

 

Fuck my life!!!

 

“I adore white.” Jingyi replies softly, his eyes darting upwards to meet Hanguang-jun who nods his head, sending a new wave of calm and confidence into his body, “But I can’t say that’s the only colour I want to wear for the rest of my life.”

 

At his words Sizhui smiles, and Jingyi can’t help the way his hand itches to grab onto his best friend for support. But he has to do this alone, he can do it alone! Taking a deep breath, Jingyi smoothed down a portion of his robes, his eyes softening as he touched the fabric.

 

“I believe every colour is unique, but the next one I choose to wear will be special because it is my choice and mine alone.” Jingyi continues quietly, and from the corner of his eye he can see Senior Wei beaming. It’s a solid reply, a diplomatic one that both Gusu Lan and the other Sects would have no arguments against. He was not being overtly risqué, nor was he shutting out potential mates. But Sect Leader Jiang’s face is impassive, stone cold, and Jingyi feels a shiver run through him as he remembers the glint he had spotted in Sect Leader Jiang’s eyes, the light of a dead man seeing the sun for the first time in a long time.

 

Which is why he does what he does next instead of ending it perfectly like he would have if he was a perfect Gusu Lan disciple.

 

“But,” Jingyi pauses, pursing his lips and tilting his head, “I have to admit,” Jingyi whispered breathlessly, his voice coy and sensual as he leans forward, boldly running a finger along Sect Leader Jiang’s shoulder, finger pads grazing over the purple material while allowing himself to whisper into Sect Leader Jiang’s ear, “that purple is my favourite.”

 

Purple is my favourite.

 

Those words resound in Jiangcheng’s head, his mind replaying the soft breathy tone, the words curling around an exquisite tongue, rolling around each curve and stroke of every letter. It’s the implication and the purr of Jingyi’s voice, the resplendent colour of his Sect wrapping around the omega like he was a present gifted from the gods. It’s the deliberate touch on Jiangcheng’s shoulder, the sensual drag of fingertips with just enough pressure, tugging at his own purple robes, pretty pink lips almost brushing his ear that has him shaking, eyes blowing out instantaneously. His inner alpha snarls, possessive and greedy, pacing back and forth behind iron bars of willpower which Jiangcheng barely keeps in check because how can he when this omega is testing just how far he can push?

 

Jiangcheng can’t stop the way his hands are quivering, the way his breath hitches and how his lungs burn with the crispness of winter, the perfume of flowers cloyingly flirting at the roof of his tongue, Jingyi’s scent flaring through his body. He should stop it, control himself, but the alpha in him hisses and claws behind the cage, wild-eyed and frenzied because oh how he wants. How he wants the petite omega below him writhing and crying for mercy, how he wants the other warming his bedding night and day, how he wants to see the other swathed in myriads of purples with a lotus bloom tucked behind his ear. He wants like he has never wanted before because no one has ever dared to come this close, to touch him and tease him and every bat of those ink black lashes has something crackling in Jiangcheng. With a low growl, tension building in his shoulders and the tendon of his neck jumping, he tries to calm himself, to let the furious rage of pure desire go.

 

To let it go.

 

Purple is my favourite.

 

The words tease him, replaying and darting playfully between his ears on a never-ending loop, and Jiangcheng can’t help it, can’t stop it as his knuckles turn white and he crushes the cup in his hand, pupils blown and his lips pulled back in a snarl as he stares at Jingyi with unbridled lust.

 

Purple is my favourite.

 

There’s a sound of something cracking, and pulling back in surprise, Jingyi can’t help the way his cheeks burn as he spots the clay cup Sect Leader Jiang is using. Or at least what’s left of it from where Sect Leader Jiang has crushed it to pieces in his fist. Shards of it have fallen onto the grass, and Jingyi positively trembles as Sect Leader Jiang opens his palm and lets the remaining shards fall, his gaze burning holes into Jingyi’s figure. There’s an intensity to those obsidian eyes as Sect Leader Jiang whips out a handkerchief and bandages up his hand, movements quick and sure even as his gaze never leaves Jingyi’s person.

 

“S-Sect Leader Jiang-”

 

“And now you stutter.” Sect Leader Jiang scoffs, and Jingyi can’t help the affronted ‘I beg your pardon’ that escapes his lips which has Senior Wei snorting at him.

 

Is this the game you choose to play? Jiangcheng finds himself hysterically thinking as he stands, blood dripping from the palm of his right hand that’s wrapped in a white handkerchief. He moves closer, his steps measured and heavy as he looms over Jingyi, eyes fixated on the man before him. The omega before him doesn’t shirk, startled eyes still fixed on Jiangcheng, those golden orbs blinking innocently back at him like a new born fawn. Do you not know what you’ve just done? Jiangcheng wonders darkly, the alpha within him grinning wolfishly, a truce reached and the other half of him heeled at Jiangcheng’s side. Because there has not been an omega whose scent has stirred his interest in a long time. There has not been an omega brave enough to bark at him and seek his attentions without an underlying sour scent of fear overlaying them, and this, this is something Jiangcheng cannot look away from.

 

He does not wish to.

 

Sect Leader Jiang isn’t laughing, and Jingyi feels his heart skip a beat as the alpha stands and oh okay he’s taller than Jingyi. And bigger, Jingyi thinks faintly as the alpha not only towers over him but dwarfs him in size. Sect Leader Jiang is broad, Jingyi realises hysterically as the alpha moves to stand in front of him chest to chest, his eyes an unfathomable abyss as he stares at Jingyi’s face, mouth set in a stern line. Everything about Sect Leader Jiang screams ‘power’, from his muscular arms to his thick thighs and ripped calves, so much so that Jingyi finds himself averting his gaze without thinking, the blush on his cheeks growing in pronunciation.

 

Good, Jiangcheng snarls inwardly, his alpha crooning and pleased in his centre, delighted at the view as Jingyi turns a delicious pink, eyes skittering away shyly in his presence.

 

Know that you have rattled the cage where the beast resides, know that you have tried my patience and know that I will hunt you for what you have done!

 

“Tell me,” Sect Leader Jiang bites out the words slowly, enunciating each one with visible effort as he looks down at Jingyi, his nose almost brushing the petite omega’s, “are you participating in the hunt?”

 

At his words the entire clearing bursts into murmurs, and Jingyi’s heart is racing like a jack rabbit as he realises what Sect Leader Jiang means. You can’t be serious… Beside him Senior Wei lets out a low wolf whistle, eyebrows raised in surprise at the progression, and that’s all the confirmation Jingyi needs for his heart to start screaming like it was in cardiac arrest. Sect Leader Jiang means to chase me, hunt me, Jingyi realises shakily as he quivers under the dark gaze of the other, he’s stating his intention right here right now, and I-

 

Jingyi paused.

 

I can’t lose.

 

Not. A. Chance.

 

“No. I haven’t decided.” Jingyi replies calmly, and there’s no mistaking the squawk of surprise from Senior Wei or the loud gasps around the clearing. By not saying yes, he had just indirectly rejected Sect Leader Jiang after all! And sure enough, Zidian crackles, and Sect Leader Jiang’s eyes flash, and Jingyi is pretty sure he’s angry.

 

How dare-!! The anger that rears up in Jiangcheng’s chest is immediate, scorching, and the alpha within him roars with viciousness at the mockery the omega has just given him. He dares flirt, dare lead him on with pretty words and gentle touches, beg for his colour, his protection, his time, only to throw it in his face?! Preposterous, disrespectful, Jiangcheng can feel the beginnings of a snarl pulling the corner of his lips as he glares at the omega, Zidian sparking on his finger, purple electricity running down his arm as he towers over the smaller man who trembles before him.

 

I mean if I did reject him that meant I was leading him on from the start. Jingyi finds himself thinking nervously as he cowers under Sect Leader Jiang’s furious expression, wary of the heat emanating from the man, Zidian beginning to uncoil from his finger.

 

Well-deserved if that’s the case in my opinion.

 

But that’s not my intention at all ha!

 

“But,” Jingyi hesitated, letting his hair curl around one index finger as he bit his bottom lip, glancing down at the ground before shyly peeking up through his lashes to meet the towering alpha, “I might be persuaded to join the hunt for a certain person.”

 

A certain person.

 

Singular.

 

This minx, this clever, clever, clever minx! Jiangcheng stilled, Zidian ceasing from its crackle and expanding length, shrinking and winding itself once more around Jiangcheng’s index finger as he devours Jingyi’s nervous expression, watches as the omega looks up at him and bats those pretty pretty eyes-

 

Oh?” Sect Leader Jiang smirks, and there’s a hunger in his voice that has Jingyi looking down once more, submissively sliding his gaze in the opposite direction, “I wasn’t aware that there were conditions to be met.”

 

“And I wasn’t aware that a little challenge would scare away potential alphas.” Jingyi answers, covering his mouth with one hand as he feigns nonchalance, “Or is this too intimidating for Sect Leader Jiang?”

 

“You doubt my capabilities?” Sect Leader Jiang grinds out, his eyes darkening with flickers of rage as he stares down Jingyi, nostrils flaring and his scent wrapping around the younger and smaller sized omega. It smells heavenly, Jingyi realises as his knees turn weak, the scent heavy with flowers and the clean scent of the forest. It’s tinged with the smell of burnt wood and the crackle of lightning, of dizzying storms and crashing waves along with the bubble and pop of oranges, pears, fruits of every possible season. A scent so delicious, Jingyi wants to bathe in it for the rest of his life.

 

“N-No…” Jingyi breathes out, his cheeks flaming as he stares at Sect Leader Jiang. The alpha pauses, iridescent eyes narrowing as he takes in the stutter before he leans forward, taking a deep whiff of Jingyi’s scent. Why does he have to be observant now? Jingyi whined internally, his fingers clutching onto the sleeves of his robes anxiously as Sect Leader Jiang lets out an amused huff. He noticed, Jingyi realises numbly as the temperature of his cheeks seem to increase, mortification seeping into his soul as Jiangcheng gives a low hum of appreciation.

 

“Is that so?” Jiangcheng asks softly, his voice quiet and dangerous as he smirks at the omega who flinches at his words. There’s still no smell of fear though, no sour biting scent that screams at him to go away. Instead it’s sweet, desperate, and Jiangcheng almost laughs as he sees the panic envelop Jingyi’s face, the omega squirming under his gaze. He knows the omega is worried, knows that Jingyi is nervous and scared the same way he knows those porcelain thighs are currently rubbing against each other as he speaks. Knows the hitch in Jingyi’s breath comes from the steady drip of desire that rolls down needy thighs and an overly eager body. Knows that every strained intake of air causes tremors up pretty legs and strokes gently over the omega’s spine.

 

Oh, he knows.

 

He knows, for sure, that Jingyi is utterly wet for him.

 

“Y-You’ve mistaken.” Jingyi stutters out before he reigns in his mind, chasing away the fog of desire as he focuses on the important thing, the important thing, “I just like a good chase, Sect Leader Jiang.”

 

“You will lose this race.” Jiangcheng growls out, pupils dark and heavy as he stares down the omega, greedily feeding off the scent, the body language, the indescribable millions of ways Lan Jingyi was telling him that he was ready to be mated, mounted, taken, bred-

 

“I never said I wanted to win.” Jingyi whispers, pressing his thumb to his lips and letting his tongue dart out coyly. It swipes over his thumb, wraps around it before leaving a shiny trail in its place, and Jingyi feels a shiver of satisfaction as Sect Leader Jiang lets out a low rumble, vocal chords vibrating heavily at his very action. At that, Jingyi sends a sweet smile and with a bat of his eyelashes pulls away, and there’s no making the taste of victory on his tongue as he feels the burning gaze of Sect Leader Jiang following him.

Chapter Text

Chapter Two: Infinite Worth

 

+

There's something undeniably sexy,

about a man who knows exactly how much he's worth.

And most importantly, how much you deserve.

+

 

"Is he still watching?" Jingyi hisses as his right hand encircles Sizhui's wrist, falling in step with his best friend who has risen to greet him. His heart is still pounding, racing in stuttered beats and heavy staccatos because did I just taunt Sect Leader Jiang into proving his worth as an alpha to me what have I done?! But the adrenaline is still rushing in his veins, goose bumps tracing over his skin as he rides the high, the power he has over an alpha as enigmatic as Sect Leader Jiang. Those dark eyes, pupils blown, had whispered filthy promises of putting him in his place. Perhaps slowly and tenderly, perhaps rough and animalistic, but either way it hinted to a future Jingyi’s desperately hoping will come true.

 

Please let him be hopelessly enamoured!

 

Please, please, please!

 

A casual gaze thrown backwards with a resulting wide-eyed expression from Sizhui is enough for Jingyi to know, a bright smile lighting up his face as he linked arms with the other. He’s careful to keep his joy hidden though, even as bone deep satisfaction wracks his frame, his eyes sparkling with barely concealed mirth. It worked! It worked, it worked, it worked! Jingyi internally squealed, his fingers digging into Sizhui’s arm even as he subtly faces Senior Wei, vibrating with excitement.

 

"Well done." Senior Wei praised, lazily clapping his hands as he appraises Jingyi. "You've successfully driven my brother to the brink of madness. You do me proud young La- Ouch!"

 

"Do not encourage him." Hanguang-jun interrupted, brows furrowing as his lips turned downwards. That faint disapproval is enough for Jingyi to squeak, flashing Sizhui a trembling look that has the other boy sighing.

 

"Hanguang-jun-"

 

A warning look from Senior Wei (or father number two), is all it takes for Sizhui to bite back his words, ears turning red.

 

"I-I mean, father-"

 

“Oh, come on! He did it! Don’t be a spoil sport Lanzhan.” Senior Wei whines, cutting off Sizhui with a well-timed pout at his mate. It’s cute enough that Lanzhan’s ears turn pink, lashes fluttering against his cheekbones in acquiescence at Weiying’s request, duly rewarded by the other who leans into his alpha’s space, thighs pressed against Lanzhan’s in a subtle coax. With his alpha docile, more accepting of the blatant flaunt of sexuality usually disapproved by his Sect, Weiying turned to his son, lips drifting into a smirk as he nudges Sizhui’s ankle with his feet.

 

“Now I do believe it’s your turn to see a certain nephew of mine no?”

 

Sizhui jerked, his head bobbing in surprise at his dad’s sudden words.

 

“I-I-”

 

“I mean, Jinling has been staring at you this entire time. I hope you know that.” Jingyi whispers softly, his gaze meaningful as the other spluttered.

 

You were paying attention to Jinling?!”

 

“I’m surprised too. Thought you were a little too invested in my brother for a moment.” Senior Wei drawled, causing Jingyi to scowl and glower at him in response.

 

“It’s not that difficult when he has various omegas and betas at his side and yet his gaze has been fixed in this direction the entire time.” Jingyi stated primly, wrinkling his nose as he frowned at Sizhui, “Don’t tell me you didn’t notice!”

 

“I was a little too busy having a heart attack watching you proposition Sect Leader Jiang.” Sizhui answered drily, earning a loud smack from Jingyi who flushes to the tip of his ears. It wasn’t his fault that things, well, spun out of hand! Sect Leader Jiang was incredibly imposing, a cutting figure that placed all the other alphas to shame. His scent, the crispness and the depth of each note and those hands, those rough huge hands that could grasp Jingyi’s ankle, yank him close and divest him of all his clothes, lips rough and teeth biting-

 

“Jiangcheng’s heading towards Sect Leader Lan now. Must be putting in a formal request for your courtship.” Weiying notes, tilting his head as he watched Jiangcheng cross the camping grounds, back rim rod straight and aura bleeding into the surroundings. He makes a terrifying picture as he stalks towards Lanhuan, the only reprieve being Huaisang who’s staring in bemusement at Weiying’s brother, fan fluttering over his face as he leans towards Sect Leader Lan, whispering conspiringly. If it was any other alpha, perhaps Weiying would have been affected by the greedy, almost domineering scent being let out by Jiangcheng. But this was his brother for crying out loud, and the scent of lightning merely reminds him of fonder times, a light hum of happiness in comparison to the way Jingyi is affected, flushed pink and blush blooming across his cheeks.

 

+

 

This omega! This cunning, sneaky, cheeky temptress! Jiangcheng snarled, his right-hand throbbing dully as he watches Jingyi turn away, ignoring his presence as if Jiangcheng was just any other lowly alpha, salivating and unhinged for any willing body they could discover. Him! The Sandu Shengshou, one of the strongest cultivators in the world, and yet he is nothing, a mere throw-away toy to Lan Jingyi. It’s disrespectful, rude, and if it was any other person, regardless of their dynamic mind you, Jiangcheng would have whipped out Zidian and given them a good solid thrashing. Looking down on him, as if he wasn’t worth noticing? Oh, how it made Jiangcheng’s blood boil and inner wolf pace, itching to get their hands on that petite body to litter it with marks. What a sight it would be if Jiangcheng could bind the feisty omega and bend him over his knee, palm hot against the omega’s plush behind with every hit, smacking the disobedience, the disrespect out of Jingyi’s body until he was a whimpering desperate mess, slick dripping over the floor of his tent.

 

But Jingyi is testing him, reeling Jiangcheng in with his deliberate lack of attention. It’s a cheap ploy, but Jiangcheng can’t stop himself from falling for it, can’t stop the way his inner alpha bristles at the knowledge that someone else could snatch Jingyi’s attention, that the omega would participate in the hunt, the run for someone else, for another alpha, for someone he deemed stronger, better-!! Just that thought alone is enough to have Jiangcheng foaming at the mouth, purple lightning crackling over his knuckles as he watches Jingyi link his arms with Sizhui, head tilted just right for Jiangcheng to see his scent gland, the pretty pink undertone stark against Jingyi’s moonbeam skin.

 

If it’s a chase the omega wanted, Jiangcheng clenched his jaw, nostrils flaring as he whirled around, searching for Sect Leader Lan, it’s a chase he will get! Emotions barely contained, Jiangcheng’s excitement, anger and confidence make for an awe-inspiring aura, his pheromones rich and dominating the entire campfire in seconds. He knows Jingyi is affected when he hears that sharp intake of breath, and he can’t help himself from snarling, mouth falling open to air his elongated canines, thirsty and eager to break skin. The people part around him without needing him to speak, and soon he’s storming across the campfire towards Huaisang, his body coiled so tightly with desire that it feels like he’ll snap at a moment’s notice.

 

Something which Huaisang immediately takes note of.

 

That one Jiang xiong?” Huaisang sings, snickering as he waves his fan, a smirk crawling across his face. “I’m not sure if A-huan is going to let him go considering he’s so much younger than you.”

 

“If you had heard the things he said,” Jiangcheng barked out a laugh, eyes glinting as he bares his fangs at Huaisang, “you’d say my reaction was justified.”

 

“Ah well, Jingyi is…” Xichen winced, coughing lightly into his hand, “a bit of a troublemaker. So, I’m not surprised if he was, ah, slightly overzealous in your meeting.”

 

“Overzealous is putting it lightly!” Huaisang snorted, closing his fan with a decisive snap. “I could practically see the sparks flying, and I’m nowhere near the both of you!”

 

“Indeed, Jingyi and you seem to have good chemistry Sect Leader Jiang.” Xichen stated warmly, his eyes crinkling as he smiled at Jiangcheng. “I am sure there is nothing to worry about if I place him in your hands.”

 

“Then I would like to submit a formal courtship request to Sect Leader Lan,” Jiangcheng groused out, nodding his head curtly and raising both hands in a bow, “asking for permission to court Lan Jingyi until the proceedings of the hunt takes place.”

 

“Permission granted.” Xichen replied benignly, his voice gentle and kind.

 

“Now all that’s left is to court him Jiang xiong!” Huaisang teased, his eyes sparkling with buried mirth. “And I’m very excited to see your progress!”

 

“As I am to begin.” Jiangcheng responds coolly, eyes flashing in the dark before he spins on his heel and walks away.

 

“Tch, so cold!” Huaisang whined, shaking his head at his friend. “How would he get a mate at this rate hm?”

 

“If all else fails he could just take a page out of your book.” Xichen answered mildly, a ghost of a smile flickering across his face. It takes a second for Huaisang to realise what he’s referring to, but soon the alpha is all sly smiles and deep chuckles, lips pulled upwards in a sharp feral grin.

 

“My, my, my… What an unexpected statement from Sect Leader Lan.” Huaisang purred, his hand sliding across Lanhuan’s thigh and digging into the supple flesh. “It’s almost as if you’re hinting towards something,” he paused, dipping into Lanhuan’s personal space as he drags his canine over the shell of Lanhuan’s ear, “omega.”

 

The stuttered gasp is soft, almost unnoticeable, but Huaisang hears it clear as day.

 

It seems tonight, he notes with a wicked smile, is going to be an enjoyable evening.

 

And oh, he couldn’t wait!

 

+

 

“A c-courtship?” Jingyi squeaks out, and Weiying finds himself snapping out of his reverie to look at the youth, soon to be brother-in-law if he’s being honest, who’s fidgeting uncomfortably beside Sizhui. Weiying blinked, frowning as he took in Jingyi’s stance and Sizhui whose shoulders have tensed at the mere mention of that.

 

“Courtship? Obviously Jiangcheng is going to have to triple his efforts considering he only has a week before the run officially starts.” Weiying stated, his voice mild even as his gaze darts between the two men before him, measuring their reactions to his words. “It’s a traditional concept of wooing an omega, one that I’m sure your peers have abandoned.”

 

“And, um, what does it entail, exactly?” Jingyi stammers, locking eyes with Sizhui before returning his full attention to Senior Wei who blinks at him in surprise.

 

“What does it en- Lan Jingyi!” Weiying screeched, almost jumping out of his seat in shock at the youth’s words, hands flailing about in shock. “Are you telling me you accidentally taunted your prospective mate without realising what it means?!”

 

“I-I was taunting him!” Jingyi protested, cheeks burning as he hushed Senior Wei. “I wasn't just, going with the flow of things?” His question earned him an incredulous look from the latter, and he groaned. “It just felt right!”

 

“It felt right to accuse Jiangcheng of being incapable of providing for an omega in his own household?!” Weiying’s tone pitches on hysterical, his voice cracking at the last word as he gaps at Jingyi in disbelief. His reaction has the youth squeaking in terror, spine stiffening because what the fuck did I just do that was not what I had in mind oh my god-

 

“Dad, I’m afraid I don’t understand what you mean.” Sizhui finally speaks up, frowning delicately as he sits down beside Senior Wei, nudging the other such that there would be enough space for Jingyi too. It takes Hanguang-jun scooting over to fit them on the same log, but Jingyi is too dazed to notice, mind blank with devastation as he stares at Senior Wei with mounting panic.

 

What, what did I do?!

 

“Honestly! What are they even teaching the youths nowadays? And they say I’m unorthodox!” Senior Wei huffed, crossing his arms distastefully at Sizhui’s question. It takes a nuzzle from Hanguang-jun, nose dipping into Senior Wei’s collar and brushing his mating mark before the other relaxes, annoyance fading from his face. “Fine! What do you guys know about the mating process?”

 

“Well, there are multiple steps in a mating process.” Sizhui began slowly, pursing his lips as he thought back to his lessons. “They’re typically split into three segments, with the first being scenting.”

 

“That’s right!” Jingyi nodded vigorously, expression fierce as he came back to life. “Each person’s scent is unique, only ever produced at the neck in the areas right below your ears. On top of that, these are sensitive to touch and saliva, easily inflamed by stimulation.”

 

“All three dynamics produce pheromones, but alphas are the only ones capable of controlling it, producing what we call an ‘aura’. Omega pheromones are usually reactionary in nature, peaking during heat or in response to the other dynamics. Betas on the other hand,” Sizhui paused, clearing his throat as he ducked his head, almost sheepishly, “don’t have any um-”

 

“That’s because betas are the most stable of all three dynamics!” Jingyi snapped, scowling as he poked Sizhui in the shoulder. “If you want to be kind I guess you’d say they ‘don’t have any’. But if you want to be mean, alphas are just basically too temperamental and omegas too sensitive, leaving betas to calm everyone down.”

 

“Jingyi…” Sizhui admonished even as his lips twitched, pulling at the corner into a tiny grin.

 

“Anyway,” Jingyi waved his hand, “the point, is that scenting is limited to only a selective group of people. Usually it’s your family, if not your pack mates or your future partner. After all, rubbing your scent on another implies that you belong together, and if done directly onto the gland signals interest.”

 

“After scenting, you have the light bite which mimics that of the mating bite.” Sizhui continued, voice smooth in his explanation even with Jingyi plastered at his side like sticky candy. “Having a light bite indicates that you have chosen your partner and are betrothed. It’s what you would call an engagement, and it may last for as long as possible before the couple decides to properly bite each other.” Finished with the explanation, both youths turned their expectant gaze to Senior Wei who only fidgeted uncomfortably in response.

 

“Well,” Senior Wei shifted awkwardly, scratching his chin as he pondered over the juniors’ words, “you’re not wrong… But you’re not exactly right either.”

 

“What?” Jingyi choked, jerking upright and jolting Sizhui in the process. “What do you mean ‘not exactly right’?”

 

“You don’t just go around scenting anyone that catches your eye, do you?” Senior Wei replied flatly, smacking Jingyi’s head lightly with his palm. “Before the sects signed the annual peace treaty, most people never met anyone outside of their packs. That’s why matchmaking was such a lucrative business during that time.”

 

“Mm.” Hanguang-jun nodded, hands folded in his lap as he stared pensively at his son and disciple.

 

“This is before the Sunshot campaign yes?” Sizhui asked, cocking his head curiously at his father.

 

“That’s right! Because of the on-going feuds between packs, you couldn’t just run into your future mate and scamper off into the sunset.” Senior Wei paused, chuckling lightly before continuing. “Due to that the courtship rituals were borne, making it the true first segment of the mating process.”

 

“Oh.” Jingyi mumbled weakly, staring dumbly at Senior Wei in shock.

 

Courtship ritual?!

 

“Courtship rituals change between dynamics, each one with differing responsibilities and expectations.” Hanguang-jun explained, voice calm as he further elaborated. “Alphas were expected to showcase their worth to achieve their omega or beta’s acknowledgement. Family background, education, estate, artistry, cultivation, wealth so on so forth were all taken into consideration. Their job was to provide,” the older man stressed, his hand squeezing Senior Wei’s knee gently, “fulfilling the main three conditions an alpha should.”

 

“Which would be food, shelter and clothing!” Senior Wei continued cheerfully, raising his hand to point at the blue ribbon tied around his wrist. It’s Hanguang-jun’s forehead ribbon, and there’s no stopping the juniors from turning red, faces burning as their eyes slide away from the overt display. Beside him however, Hanguang-jun shows no shame, eyes crinkling at the corners as he brushes Senior Wei’s ribbon, his ribbon, with a gentle finger.

 

“Still don’t know what this has to do with what I did.” Jingyi mutters, hiding behind Sizhui petulantly as he sulked.

 

“Seriously?” Senior Wei snorted, rolling his eyes. “You still don’t get it? You, an omega, just told Jiangcheng, Sect Leader Jiang, the head alpha, the boss, of one of the largest cultivation sects in the world that he has to persuade you to maybe, maybe enter the run.” At Jingyi’s blank look Weiying groaned, yanking his hair and letting out a mournful cry. This kid is going to be the death of me! Grabbing Jingyi by the shoulders, Weiying shook him, eyes slightly crazed as he hissed at the other.

 

“Allow me to translate your words into courtship talk.” Clearing his throat, Senior Wei adjusted his voice, his words airy and breathless as he mimicked Jingyi. “I don’t want to consider you, because you haven’t proven you’re worthy. Can you provide for me? Satisfy me? If you can’t why would I even bother to participate in the run? Do you think I’ll let you catch me so easily? That I would build a nest for you, roll over-”

 

“Okay I get it!” Jingyi shrieked, hands slapping over Senior Wei’s mouth in trepidation as he glared at the other. “I implied that he had to court me! Big deal!”

 

“Big-” Senior Wei choked, spluttering as his mouth opened and closed, his vocal chords refusing to cooperate. “It is a big deal! You’re basically telling him that you’re open to other alphas’ advances! You’re telling him-”

 

“W-Wait.” Sizhui spoke up suddenly, eyes widening as he turned to his father, voice cracking slightly. “If I, if I refuse an alpha’s good will under those circumstances, is it considered,” Sizhui swallowed, adam’s apple bobbing, “is it considered a rejection of his advances?”

 

There’s momentary silence, save for the crackling of the campfire, before the three, two if Sizhui is being honest, men are crowding into his personal space, eyes practically glinting with dangerous intent.

 

“Sizhui… Did you refuse Jinling’s help?” Senior Wei growled, his hand clamping down harshly on Sizhui’s wrist, the other openly squirming under the joint glare of his dad and best friend.

 

“W-Well,” Sizhui stammered, tucking a loose lock of hair behind his ear nervously, “I wasn’t exactly sure what he was referring to, and because I’m a beta I’m not really aware of what a courtship with an alpha would be like or how I should react or-”

 

“Sizhui, what did you do?” Jingyi squeaked, voice devastated as he stared at his best friend with mounting horror. He can’t reject Jinling, he can’t have! That little mistress had as much pride as a gilded golden peacock, and a single dent in said pride would be enough to send the alpha whining and retreating into the darkest corner of the universe!

 

“I-It was just last week!” Sizhui stammered, his gaze darting from Jingyi’s face to his dad’s face repeatedly. “Jinling came over to Cloud Recesses asking when we would arrive at the camp site since he was debating if he should arrive early.”

 

“Yes, I remember that since I was there! Sizhui you know that’s not what I’m talking about!” Senior Wei hissed, nails digging into Sizhui’s wrist as he glowered at his son. Beside him Jingyi is deathly pale, eyes staring daggers into his pack mate’s meek frame.

 

“W-Well, he asked if I needed help setting up my tent, and I said no!” Sizhui retorted weakly, his thumb rubbing the edge of his sleeve as he avoided the twin stares from his dad and best friend. “He asked me if I would be comfortable, and that he’d be happy to let me sleep in his tent if mine wasn’t furnished well enough. I said that our tent was perfectly fine, and that his couldn’t possibly fit both me and Jingyi after all. Besides, why would I need his scented pillows and quilts? It’s not like-”

 

“You did not!” Senior Wei hissed, voice dropping to a hushed whisper as he glowered at his stupid, stupid, stupid son. “Sizhui!”

 

“You didn’t tell Jinling that did you?” Jingyi squeaked, his face ashen as he tightened his grip on Sizhui’s hands. “You didn’t say, word for word, to his face, why you-”

 

“Um.” Sizhui swallowed, ducking his head sheepishly as he peeped out from underneath his eyelashes at the two glowering omegas. “I-I did?”

 

“You idiot!” Jingyi groaned, smacking Sizhui across the head with lightning fast reflexes, ignoring the stern look Hanguang-jun gave him. “No wonder Jinling’s face looks like he just ate some bitter gourd! You rejected his offering of nest materials! It’s like telling him his scent disgusts you!”

 

“But I’m not an omega!” Sizhui snapped, voice raised with a tinge of anger rippling through his words. It’s enough to make Jingyi fall silent and Senior Wei’s face to twist into something almost similar to pity, that has Sizhui’s gut roiling and tears pricking at his eyes. Sizhui’s hands are balled into fists, his head bowed as he begins to speak, voice tight and words rapid, rushing out of him as if a dam had finally broken. It’s rejuvenating, a breath of fresh air to finally let out all his insecurities and fears, like riding a sword for the first time, the wind rushing past him and the ground tipping precariously below his feet.

 

“I’m not an omega, and I never will be. It doesn’t matter how much I wish, or how similar I am to an omega in terms of personality, looks or even scent. I can’t give him children, and that itself makes me the worst candidate for him to have as a future mate. He’s the last of his bloodline, and the situation in his sect only means he needs an heir even more! I can’t give him that! I don’t know how to nest because I don’t need it, I won’t ever have pups, pups that I need to keep swathed in soft wool and silk and cotton, pups I need to feed and hide behind pillows and I can’t ever,” Sizhui’s voice cracks, the words coming out broken as he sniffles, eyes beginning to tear up as he latches onto Jingyi’s hands, fingers interlacing with him, “I can’t ever be enough.”

 

“You’re not exactly giving Jinling a chance to make that choice though.” Jingyi whispered, rubbing circles into Sizhui’s wrists, his scent a soothing balm against Sizhui’s panicked and depressed one.

 

“Jingyi’s right you know.” Senior Wei murmurs, one hand running through Sizhui’s hair comfortingly, a soft coo beginning to emerge from his chest as he nuzzled his son, rubbing his nose against Sizhui’s chin in a fond familial gesture.

 

“Do not jump to conclusions.” Hanguang-jun notes, voice cool even as his hand reaches out to pat the top of Sizhui’s head, gesture gentle and grounding. Sizhui chokes out a weak laugh, sniffling quietly even as he dabs his eyes with Jingyi’s offered handkerchief, careful not to smudge his makeup.

 

“I can’t believe,” Sizhui choked, sobbing softly into the handkerchief, “I can’t believe I’m crying. Decades worth of teachings and I just… Dabbing away his tears, Sizhui cleared his throat, patting his cheeks gently as he gave his parents and Jingyi a smile, his bottom lip wobbling shakily. It earns him a snort from his dad who thumbs his tears with a gentle smile, fingers soothing and kind.

 

“Oh A-yuan you silly boy.” Weiying whispered as he pulled his son close, carding a hand through his hair and smoothing out the tangled strands. “My silly, silly boy…”

 

Maybe this is enough. Sizhui thought numbly to himself, sniffling in the warmth of his dad’s embrace.

 

Maybe I can pretend I’m enough.

 

“You really should stop crying though.” Jingyi murmurs once the trembling in Sizhui’s hands are barely noticeable anymore. “Jinling looks like he’s seconds away from storming over here. His aura is…” Jingyi trailed off, wincing slightly. “Nothing to laugh at.”

 

Scrunching his nose up in confusion, Sizhui wiggles his way out from his father’s chest, peeping out from behind his fringe as he looks across the campfire, searching for a familiar gold robe that’s bound to glitter in light of the flickering orange flames. It doesn’t take long for him to place the other, and Sizhui can’t stop the way his breath catches in his throat, his lungs seizing as his gaze meets a glowing honey brown. Those irises are as pretty as the cedar trees in summer, brown sugar sweetness tinted with traces of threaded sunlight, autumn gold reflecting in those almond shaped eyes. The intoxicating assault of a furious alpha, energy wild and flickering across the clearing makes him want to curl up, into or away he can’t tell. There’s a fire ablaze in these woods, and it’s as if the world has narrowed down to this very point, the roaring of people fading into static as Sizhui focuses on those eyes, those lips pressed into a thin line, the ruby red vermilion dot accompanying the high swept ponytail of gorgeous ebony locks. That smouldering look, flames flickering in Jinling’s pupils has Sizhui’s heart skipping beats and marking rhythm to a song he can’t quite fight, place or keep up with.

 

He’s so beautiful…

 

“Sizhui?” Jingyi’s voice sounds far away, and it only makes Sizhui cringe as his best friend’s face enters his line of vision, Jingyi’s smirk knowing. “You should talk to him before he annihilates our diplomatic gathering.”

 

“I, I can’t do that!” Sizhui mumbled, burying his face back into his father’s chest as he furiously shakes his head. There’s no way he can go up to, to that entrancing alpha that is Jinling and offer himself, him, a pathetic beta-

 

“Hey! Snap out of it!” Jingyi barked, squishing his cheeks sternly. “We made a promise! We’re dressed to the nines, and we’re going to get our men tonight! Omega or beta, Jinling has never judged you or befriended you for your secondary biology.”

 

“But look at them…” Sizhui whispered, snuggling further into his father’s embrace, his voice coming out muffled. “I can’t compete with all those pretty omegas… I’m nothing like them.” Nothing like those posh pretty things that were always so delicate and gentle, their scent never faltering in sweetness and always an aphrodisiac for the alphas. Nothing like those people Jinling keep near him, their satin hands crawling over Jinling’s body, his, his alpha even though Sizhui scarcely has a claim on someone that wonderful. Oh, it makes him boil as much as it makes him grieve, cursing his secondary biology with a viciousness Elder Lan would disapprove of! For how could he ever compare to them, those myriads of gold silk and shiny jewellery, those soft curves and ever fertile body?

 

I can’t.

 

“It’s impossible.” Sizhui mumbled, burying his face into his father’s chest, shaking his head weakly.

 

And really, how the fuck is Jingyi’s best friend so stupid?

 

Jingyi could cry from his obliviousness.

 

“You listen to me Lan Sizhui!” Jingyi snarled fiercely, his hands pressing Sizhui’s cheeks together in admonishment. “You, are going to walk over there and seduce your alpha you hear me?!”

 

“But-”

 

“You are Hanguang-jun and the Yiling Patriarch’s son! Beautiful, intelligent, beloved, strong, brave, kind and a total catch you hear me?” Jingyi hissed, determination laced in his voice. “You told me that dressing like this is two thirds of the battle won. You’ve got one third left Sizhui, and Lan disciples aren’t quitters!”

 

“… How though?” Sizhui muttered miserably, voice almost whiny as he snuffled into his father’s shirt. “I probably look like a mess right now, and I’m the exact opposite of a calm candidate worthy of Jinling.”

 

Jingyi paused, exchanging an exasperated look with Senior Wei.

 

He can’t be serious.

 

Senior Wei pursed his lips, shrugging his shoulders.

 

Seriously?

 

“Sizhui, trust me on this.” Jingyi groaned, rubbing his face tiredly. “If you run over to Jinling right now and throw yourself into his lap, he will gladly let you sit there.”

 

“I can’t do that!” Sizhui barked, shooting upright to shoot Jingyi an affronted look, his voice reproachful. It’s the first time since he cried that Jingyi has seen his face, and looking at those mussed up locks? Those eyes glittering with unshed tears? Those full trembling lips?

 

You have no idea just how delectable you look do you?

 

Jingyi sighed.

 

“Okay, this is what you’re going to do.” Jingyi sucked in a deep breath, shooting Senior Wei his best for goodness sake help me look he could muster. “You’re going to walk over to Jinling and apologise for rejecting him. You want to apologise right?”

 

A shaky nod is enough for Jingyi to work with, and he can’t help a sharp victorious smile from flashing across his face, even as Senior Wei shoots him a look of confusion.

 

“Now, when you apologise to him, I want you to say these exact words.” Jingyi stopped, waiting for Sizhui to tilt his head curiously before continuing. “I want you to say: Jinling, are you angry with me? I’m sorry, for saying no before, but I don’t know how to build a nest. I’m sorry for not knowing how to build a nest-”

 

“What?!” Senior Wei barked. “That’s not-”

 

And,” Jingyi slapped his palm over Senior Wei’s mouth, his eyes glinting, “I don’t want you to be angry anymore. It makes me sad knowing I’ve disappointed you. Can you do that Sizhui? It’s how you feel about this whole situation yes?” Stilling at Jingyi’s words, Senior Wei shot Jingyi a look of respect, his eyes glinting with newfound mirth as he finally registered Jingyi’s intention and purpose.

 

This sneaky little…

 

“Y-Yes…” Sizhui sniffled, finally pulling away from his father. “Do you think it’ll be okay after I-”

 

“Oh definitely.” Senior Wei crooned, deft fingers fixing Sizhui’s fringe and tucking the hibiscus flower back into place. “Definitely my dearest child.”

 

“Um, s-so-”

 

“Go on then!” Jingyi nudged his best friend, barely able to hold in his laughter as Sizhui slowly unfolded himself from where he was hunched over. “The faster you apologise the better you can fix your chances with Jinling after all.”

 

“Okay!” Sizhui breathed out, closing his eyes to gain his bearings before he began to make his way over to the alpha sitting opposite them.

 

There’s a momentary pause, one that’s soon broken by Senior Wei’s laugh.

 

“Are you trying to kill my nephew?” Senior Wei snorted, tone bemused as he side-eyed Jingyi, one eyebrow raised in question at his antics.

 

“It’s not my fault he chose someone who’s a natural flirt.” Jingyi scoffed, a snicker escaping him as he watched Sizhui weave his way through the crowd, heading straight for the golden boy of Lanling Jin. “He’ll be putty in Sizhui’s hands in a matter of seconds.”

 

“Aren’t they always?” Senior Wei chuckled, leaning his head on Hanguang-jun’s shoulder.

 

“Ha! Aren’t they always.” Jingyi echoed, smirking as he settled down on the log to watch the show.

 

It’s his bestie’s turn after all.

 

+

 

I can do this! I’m the son of the Yiling Patriarch and Hanguang-jun! Inner disciple of Gusu Lan! Sizhui chanted determinedly in his mind as he took a step forward. He hadn’t lost control in a long time, not since he was a child and still sleeping in his father’s room. And while he knew his parents would nonetheless welcome him if he needed the comfort, Sizhui had always pushed himself away, drawing a line through their relationship. It wasn’t that he didn’t love them, oh no he loved them more than he could ever express, but it was a different kind of comfort that he wanted. It wasn’t the scent of winter matched with the earthiness of lotuses that he craved but the airiness of peonies, the tanginess of metal, and the crackling of fire. He wanted hazel eyes that would narrow into pin points at his face, wanted barely concealed ire if he moved away. He wanted soothing croons and indulgent smiles if he threw a temper, wanted firm grips on his hips and a low chuckle huffed against his neck.

 

And all of it, boiled down to the fact that he wanted the young Sect Leader of Lanling Jin to crave him in ways that he could never receive from his parents. It wasn’t enough being in their presence, being with Jingyi. He needed, wanted more, and greed was never a good trait. They were only allowed to have three bowls of rice a day after all, as excess was always deemed sinful. These were rules that Sizhui had grown up with, copied with a steady hand on parchment and rice paper and submitted with perfect calligraphy. Yet he can’t stop himself, can’t help the hitch in his breath whenever Jinling is near, whenever the heir, now Sect leader brushed shoulders with him and he caught a whiff of that delectable scent.

 

Swallowing hard, Sizhui began to move forward, finding the rhythm in his movement as he held his head high. The tear tracks are barely visible on his face, but Sizhui feels the shame curling in his gut at the glances from nearby alphas and omegas, disdain on their faces written as clear as day. All because I’m not an omega, Sizhui thinks bitterly, biting his bottom lip in an attempt to conceal his feelings, disgust rolling inside his gut. He knew that a beta’s scent was the calmest of the three dynamics, making them excellent negotiators and mediators. But that also meant that they were the least reactionary to emotions. His scent would never shudder under the appraisal of alphas, would never flare up in coy attempts at pulling them in, would never reek of salt when he cries. And all that made him a poor copy of who he needed to be in order to stand by Jinling’s side.

 

(“What the hell’s wrong with your scent?” Jinling snapped, wrinkling his nose as he turned to Sizhui, arms akimbo. “He’s going into rut right before you and you’re not even reacting? Even fucking Jingyi of all people left!”

 

Sizhui blinked, his inner wolf flinching back at the harsh words from the gold-cladded alpha before him. He doesn’t mean it in that way, Sizhui numbly reminds himself even as he stands in shocked silence, arms trembling from where he had been reaching for his medicinal pouch. There’s no way Jinling knows his insecurity revolves around his secondary biology, that his scent was too sweet for a beta but too calm for an omega. That his face was soft and pretty but he didn’t grow wet and slick every month when he was expected to. The young heir couldn’t possibly fathom, let alone guess that beneath his excellent upbringing, fantastic lineage and strong cultivation was a trembling liminal figure, barely an omega and nothing like a beta.

 

“I’m a beta.” Sizhui manages out after a brief pause, the words thick on his tongue and catching heavily at his throat. He doesn’t want to witness this, doesn’t want to witness the disappointment and bewilderedness on Jinling’s face at his words. But he has a front row seat to Jinling’s reaction, and his wolf whines, sinking to its paws which wrap pitifully around his muzzle as the alpha rears back, wolf incensed.

 

“Y-You? You’re a beta?!” Jinling chokes out, eyes widening as he stares at Sizhui in shock, blinking rapidly as he gaped at the other. “But your scent is so fucking sweet! How the fuck are you a beta?”

 

I don’t know, Sizhui thinks hysterically as he watches the alpha straighten, brows furrowing in disgruntlement.

 

I don’t know why I’m a freak of nature .

 

“Whatever!” Jinling finally snarled, nose turning upwards in mockery, his cheeks red from anger. “If you’re a beta then fucking fix him! I can’t stay anymore with him stinking up the place like this.”

 

“Of co-”

 

“When you’re done get the hell out of here.” Jinling interrupted, rubbing his nose with a free hand as he ducks out of the tent. He pauses half way out of the flap, and Sizhui finds himself jerking as the alpha fixes him on the spot with his gaze, eyes rimmed gold. “Don’t fucking stay there when you smell like that you got it?! If he loses control he’s going to fuck you thinking you’re an omega!” Without waiting for a response, the alpha leaves, and Sizhui can’t help the slow whine that reverberates in his throat.

 

Before him the alpha shudders, pawing at his robes, and Sizhui can’t help the way his hands shake even as he administers the medicine.

 

What the hell is wrong with your scent?

 

I don’t know, Sizhui thinks, blinking back tears.

 

I don’t know . )

 

Stopping in front of Jinling, Sizhui feels sick, his hands shaking from where he has them clasped behind his back. It’s nerve-wrecking being surrounded by Jinling’s entourage of omegas, betas and alphas. They’re all clingy, sticking close to the golden alpha in a way that sends a flash of jealousy running through Sizhui, his wolf foaming in the mouth at the disrespect before him. He’s mine! Sizhui’s wolf howls hysterically, eyes wild and claws scratching at the ground. Stay away from him, away from my alpha! Mine mine mine! It’s only Jinling whose eyes are now fixed on Sizhui, head tilted in arrogant acknowledgement that snaps him out of his rage. And Zizhen, Ouyang Zizhen is there, and Jinling feels grateful when the other beta dips his head in greeting, offering a soft smile that has his anxiety receding, his panic fading away.

 

I can do this, Sizhui thinks numbly, fingers digging into his palms as Jinling stares at him, face blank.

 

He asked if I needed help, and everyone thinks he’s courting me. I can’t possibly be imagining this, be content waiting for something to happen, for him to understand I’m not an omega! I can’t keep hiding away from the inevitable!

 

And so with an air of anticipated rejection, Sizhui raises his head, the small bloom of hope still being nursed in his chest as greets the alpha.

 

“Good evening Jinling.”

 

+

 

“Good evening Jinling.”

 

I’m going to kill him. Jinling realises numbly as he stares at the red figure before him, hair pinned back in an elaborate braid that reveals a smooth pale neck. I’m going to kill him, and then I’m going to kill myself, Jinling thinks faintly as he takes in what Sizhui is wearing, scarlet silk barely covering lithe limbs and the gold sash only drawing attention to his tiny waist. He shouldn’t be dressed like this, Jinling thinks hysterically as his eyes sweep across painted lips and dark pretty lashes, the translucent cloth slipping around bare shoulders and creamy white skin. It makes Sizhui look like a fairy, those round cheeks flushed pink and eyes glittering with wet tears as he chews on his bottom lip, teeth making indents in the swell of his mouth. The slit at the side of his legs reveal slim calves swathed in vermilion red and if Jinling thought it was bad enough seeing Sizhui draped in white pristine robes, pastel blue belt wound around his waist in a modest fashion, it’s nothing like now when he’s dressed to the nines.

 

Sucking in a deep breath, Jinling willed himself to calm down, to breathe, because this isn’t anything this is just Sizhui greeting him as a friend this is nothing nothing nothing-

 

“Hello Sizhui! It’s been a while.” Zizhen greeted, a strained smile plastered over his face as he nudged the young Sect Leader seated beside him.

 

Nothing nothing nothing nothing nothi-

 

“Ow!” Jinling yelped, scowling as he shot Zizhen his best glower, rubbing at his waist with a free hand. “What the hell Zizhen?!”

 

“Sizhui just greeted you.” His friend cleared his throat, jerking his head meaningfully in the beta’s direction even as his fingers curled into the side of Jinling’s thighs, reminding him do not fuck it up Jin Rulan or I swear to god I will not help you with your courting anymore because this is Lan Sizhui we’re talking about I will have your head if you hurt him-

 

“Why were you crying?!” Jinling blurts out without thinking and wants to die as he watches Sizhui jerk back in surprise. Beside him Zizhen hangs his head in despair, thumb and index finger pinching the bridge of his nose even as he faces the other way to give them privacy, or as much privacy as a diplomatic gathering at a campfire could give, face scrunched up in pain. The words you’re as tactless as a bull in a china shop resounds in the back of Jinling’s mind, suspiciously sounding like Zizhen as the beta beside him purses his lips. Before him Sizhui’s gaping like a gold fish, lips forming no words as he blinks in shock at Jinling. Fuck, I need to fix this! God why is courting so difficult?! Jinling fumed, clearing his throat as he crossed his arms.

 

“You don’t-”

 

You don’t have to say anything. I know you’re not interested in me, but as your friend I still want to help you. If anyone makes you cry I still want to beat them up. It’s also entirely unfair how you dressed up for someone who isn’t me, and if I’m currently throwing a complete fit over it I hope you still forgive me because I want you so badly you have no idea what my blood pressure has been like for the past three months. The words are on the tip of his tongue, but they never quite make it out as Sizhui bows, hands pressed to his chest as he interrupts the other.

 

“I’m sorry!” Sizhui suddenly cries out, wringing his hands, eyes beginning to fill with tears once more.

 

Why are you apologising? You’ve done nothing wrong, who hurt you, who made you cry, who-

 

“I didn’t mean to say no before, and, and I know you’re probably angry with me…” Sizhui trailed off, ducking his head. And Jinling can’t help the way fascination blooms in his chest as the other trembles before his gaze. So pretty, so obedient. But it’s pulling his mind away from the actual point, and it’s only with Zizhen’s pointed elbow at his side that has him focusing on the conversation once more.

 

He’s really too perfect for his own good. Jinling muses to himself before he clears his throat, fingers gripping at his forearms. “Angry with you? Why would I be angry with you?” As if I could be angry with him, Jinling snorted internally, almost shaking his head at that thought. Perhaps he had been a little upset for a few days after being rejected, but he wasn’t that low of an alpha to hold a grudge against his friend of all things for not feeling the same way. Maybe his scent just wasn’t as appealing to the beta as he had hoped it would be. Maybe Sizhui was already spoken for and Jinling had spent too much time hounding every single elder to shut the fuck up and let me mate who I want or so god help me I will set my uncle on you, which while amusing, had taken far longer than he’d liked.

 

Or maybe, a snide voice hisses in his ear, maybe he just hates the idea of mating an alpha!

 

And that thought has Jinling’s fingers curling into fists, mouth flattening into a thin line.

 

(“What the hell’s wrong with your scent?” Jinling growled, sniffing the air in trepidation as he faced Sizhui, arms on his hips in an attempt to make himself look bigger, to block the other from the rut-induced alpha’s view. “He’s going into rut right before you and you’re not even reacting? Even fucking Jingyi of all people left!”

 

Whipping his head around to stare at the alpha before him, Jinling snarled, the pungent scent invading his nostrils and making him nauseous. The pheromones are heavy, warning him to stay out of the tent, but he can’t do that, can’t leave Sizhui alone to help this random alpha cultivator. An omega can’t be alone with an alpha in rut, and the thought of Sizhui’s sweet honey like scent tinged with Jasmine being layered with this other alpha’s pheromones is enough to make Jinling’s imaginary hackles rise. Sizhui needs to administer the medication as soon as possible before his inner omega gives into his surroundings, into rolling over and presenting for the other alpha and god damn it why wasn’t he moving faster? Was he already affected by the other alpha? Fucking-

 

“I’m a beta.” Sizhui finally says, grey eyes wide as he stares at Jinling.

 

It takes a second for Jinling to register his words. And when he does, his wolf immediately backs away, a warning rumble that he barely manages to keep out bleeding into his lungs.

 

“Y-You? You’re a beta?!” Jinling grouses out, feeling like he has just been sucker-punched. “But your scent is so fucking sweet! How the fuck are you a beta?”

 

How long have I been disrespecting him like this? Jinling thinks to himself in panic, his alpha wolf growling and rubbing at his muzzle in shame. He had always assumed Sizhui was an omega, the other pretty to a fault, always gentle and always patient. He was the vision of a perfect omega, forever supportive and kind, but to know he was actually a beta? All that coddling, Jinling realises with sickening clarity, all those moments when he had shielded the other from attacks, carried his things for him, they would have been a sign of ultimate disrespect to a beta. Because they weren’t weak, weren’t easily affected by others. And the thought that Sizhui has been looking at him with disgust, disdain, makes Jinling’s wolf rage with self-directed fury.

 

“Whatever!” Jinling finally snapped, nose in the air as he tried to stop himself from breathing in the rival alpha’s pheromones. Now wasn’t the time for him to think about his courting, about what Sizhui thought of him. Staying here would just hinder the other, and he was only going to make matters worse if he fell into rut too. “If you’re a beta then fucking fix him! I can’t stay anymore with him stinking up the place like this.”

 

“Of co-”

 

“When you’re done get the hell out of here.” Jinling growled, rubbing his nose with a free hand as he prepares to leave. It makes him uneasy, makes him feel small, worthless over the fact that he can’t help Sizhui, can’t protect him. But he’s a beta, his wolf remembers, rubbing its snout hesitantly, confused and dejected. Sizhui doesn’t need him, doesn’t need his protection. Biting his lip, Jinling swore under his breath.

 

“Don’t fucking stay there when you smell like that you got it?! If he loses control he’s going to fuck you thinking you’re an omega!” Jinling snarls, guilt crawling up his spine as he leaves the tent.

 

We left him behind, his wolf growls angrily, lips curled into a snarl.

 

But he’s a beta. He doesn’t need us, Jinling thinks numbly as he lets the flap of the tent close behind.

 

We’re just a hinderance, another angry alpha to appease.

 

And it makes him sick thinking that he’s just another troublesome alpha to Sizhui.)

 

But thinking that way isn’t going to help his situation, and so Jinling smashes that thought to smithereens, his mouth twisting into a grimace as he waits for Sizhui, for kind gentle Sizhui to apologise for hurting his feelings.

 

Except that moment never comes.

 

“Because, because I don’t know how to build a nest,” Sizhui bursts out, eyes squeezed shut as he clenches his hands to his chest, cheeks red. “I-I’m sorry for disappointing you!”

 

HUH?!

 

+

 

There, I’ve said it! Sizhui thinks victoriously, shivering as he closes his eyes shut. He doesn’t want to see Jinling’s reaction, see the alpha snort at his words, mock him for his thoughts. Why would I court someone like you? The alpha would sneer, rubbing his nose in disgust. Or maybe Jinling would splutter and tell him it was a joke, that betas and alphas don’t go well together. Around him the clearing is silent, and Sizhui is desperate to know how his friend is reacting to his statement. He was assuming, following what Jingyi and his dad has said, and now Sizhui’s anxiety was returning with full force. He wants to open his eyes, to peek at his two friends before him, but he doesn’t dare, can’t bring himself to crack open his eyelids to witness Jinling’s furrowed eyebrows and incredulous look of shock. His inner wolf whines mournfully, ears flattening against its skull as it waits for the cruel blow, for the laughter to blast his face.

 

But what he gets is instead heavy breathing and the sound of chirping crickets before all hell breaks loose.

 

Suddenly the air isn’t as clear, the lightness chased away by a perpetual heaviness that has Sizhui stuttering for breath in tiny gasps. The alpha’s scent has grown dark, like weights tinged with the madness of oil and burning flames, bitter tanginess of metal and open wounds present like a battlefield is happening right before him. It’s the scent of a furious alpha, all-encompassing and herculean in magnitude, dousing everyone in the area with feverish speed. He hears the crunch of leaves, of feet padding forward, a slither of steps that has Sizhui’s blood racing and apologies resting on the roof of his tongue.

 

Oh god he’s furious, he’s furious, he’sfuriousatme-

 

“What the fuck are you talking about?!” Jinling’s voice suddenly roars, inches closer that Sizhui has been expecting, and the beta’s eyes immediately fly open in shock. The sudden increase in volume makes sense however, as Sizhui stares up in a daze, mouth falling open in surprise as Jinling looms before him, nostrils flaring and jaw tense.

 

“I know you don’t know how to build a nest! You’re not a fucking omega right?” Jinling growls, eyes flashing in the light of the campfire, as he rounds on Sizhui. “I’m not going to fucking treat you like something you’re not! I’m not-!!” Breaking off with a low snarl, Jinling turned away, chest heaving as he sucked in a deep gulp of air, his shoulders trembling in the dim moonlight.

 

And oh, it suddenly makes sense.

 

After all, Jinling has never been judgemental. For all his pompous attitude and sharp tongue, the alpha has never been disrespectful or discourteous. There’s rude, and then there’s Jinling’s brand of rude. It’s the glowing warmth hidden beneath layers of glacial cold, presenting itself in harsh shoves of his favourite snacks and calligraphy brushes. It’s the sweetness of sighs whenever Sizhui tries to carry more for injured members of his team, only to blink as Jinling heaves the rest of their items wordlessly, tsking loudly at their lack of stamina. It’s the way Jinling defends him, snarling and vicious whenever people question his heritage, demands penance as this is a Wen dog how could you, and strips them bare of any argument they had against him. Because before he had started viewing Jinling as a prospective mate, as his alpha, the man had been his friend first.

 

Perhaps Jinling could be blunt, sometimes even downright dense towards certain social cues and expectations. His uncles weren’t exactly excelling in that area either, but he had never degraded Sizhui, never taken him to be someone else. When he thought Sizhui was an omega, he had still listened and accepted suggestions. Sure, there was a little snarl and scoffing every time he contradicted the alpha, but that was Jinling. He huffed at everything! And he never once stopped Sizhui from fighting even when he was perceived as an omega. He still went into battles, still fought by their side, by Jinling’s side. It wasn’t as if things changed all that much after the alpha found out he was a beta too, the alpha merely shrugging aside the information like water rolling off stone.

 

(“Hey! Snap out of it!” Jingyi barked, squishing his cheeks sternly. “We made a promise! We’re dressed to the nines, and we’re going to get our men tonight! Omega or beta, Jinling has never judged you or befriended you for your secondary biology.”)

 

It’s akin to being hit with a shot of adrenaline, the well of love inside Sizhui ballooning into something immense, indescribable as he stares at Jinling who’s pacing furiously, teeth grinding and hair whipping about. The emotion is light, like clouds of air that escape Sizhui’s lungs with a soundless sigh, dancing out of his lungs as if it could possibly ease the beating of his heart that’s reflecting against the moon. I love him so much, Sizhui thinks brokenly, eyes glistening with tears as that fact runs through him, blazes through his soul in surety. There will never be anyone else. Can’t be anyone else. This is his Jinling, brave and honest to the core, stubborn against people who tell him what he should or shouldn’t do. This was an alpha who would bend the stars and the night sky if Sizhui asked him to, who didn’t give a damn about whether or not he was an omega, beta or alpha. None of it mattered when they were friends and none of it mattered now. Not unless Sizhui allowed it.

 

But just for confirmation…

 

“You didn’t offer your tent, those scented pillows and quilts as nesting materials?” Sizhui squeaks out, cheeks burning as he waits in trepidation for Jinling to reply. At his words the alpha whips his head around, ponytail smacking Zizhen across the face in his haste to look at Sizhui, hazel eyes almost flint black in the glow of the campfire.

 

+

 

“Are you fucking-!!” Zizhen spluttered, batting away the ends of the ponytail incredulously as he watched his friend, best friend to be accurate, not that Jinling would ever admit it, stalk towards Sizhui. He’s pleased to know he’s not the only one who finds it ridiculous however, as loud laughter erupts from the other side of the campfire.

 

Turning his head, Zizhen snorts as he catches Jingyi’s gaze, the omega howling with laughter and acting out what just happened with Senior Wei who’s practically keeling over Hanguang-jun’s lap, smacking the alpha’s thigh with every loud snicker. His husband on the other hand is motionless, save for the slight twitch of his mouth, and Zizhen takes the opportunity to mime cleaning his tongue, pulling an annoyed face.

 

It earns him a vicious stomp on his foot from Jinling, but the responding screech of laughter from his friend is worth the pain.

+

 

“I offered,” Jinling gritted out through clenched teeth, fingers flexing around Suihua as he towered over Sizhui, “those as scenting material. Scenting for,” Jinling halted, cheeks flushing, “you know what for! And when you said no, I accepted-”

 

“He said no?” A harsh whisper broke across the clearing, and Jinling froze, fingers curling tightly around Suihua as they were reminded that they weren’t alone. Beside them Zizhen lets out a displeased rumble, his back straightening as he glowers at the speaker, unimpressed by their gossiping. But it’s like a tide that has breached a dam, and suddenly the comments are gushing, rushing about as if there isn’t a second more to lose.

 

“What right does he have to reject Sect Leader Jin?”

 

“He’s just a beta, and he dares to reject an alpha’s proposal?”

 

“Isn’t that too arrogant?”

 

“No, remember Jin Guangyao? The Sect is in complete disarray now!”

 

“Maybe he thinks Sect Leader Jin isn’t good enough of an alpha?”

 

Or maybe, you should leave us alone! Sizhui sniffed, his hands clenching into fists as he hears the clearing break out into murmurs. He wouldn’t care, can’t be bothered with such people when his sect has taught him to be above such gossip. To place their faith in kindness and in justice, to remain upright regardless of the people they face. But to see Jinling tremble with barely withheld rage, eyes lowered angrily and back defiant makes him quake with irritation. And hearing them step on Jinling’s worth, to view him as unworthy, weak, makes something far more vicious curl up in him.

 

Because this is mine, Sizhui think savagely, taking in the trim form of Jinling and admiring the alpha’s broad shoulders and narrow waist. The way Suihua glints gold and silver around his hip, the way his scent roars in mellow peony and sharp metal, twisting around Sizhui’s lungs and calling him closer. This is all his. His to own, his to claim, his to have. Had already been his from the beginning when Jinling had popped into Cloud Recesses and asked him if he wanted to share his tent.

 

(“I’ll be going now! Don’t mess up my room!” Jingyi called out from the doorway, sticking his tongue out at Jinling who growled, crossing his arms at the other.

 

“I won’t mess up your room! You get into enough mess on your own as it is!”

 

“I do not!”

 

“Do too!”

 

“Do n-”

 

“Jingyi!” Sizhui interrupted, a slight frown marring his usual benign expression as he chastised his best friend, expression gentle even as his words were not. “Stop teasing Jinling and go to the Jingshi! Hanguang-jun won’t be kept waiting.”

 

“It was just a chicken wing…” Jingyi pouted, sulking as he stepped out of their shared dormitory. “What’s wrong with taking just a little? They offered it… And a chicken wing isn’t part of the rule for three bowls a day…” Grumbling under his breath the omega was soon out of sight, leaving behind nothing but his crisp scent of magnolia flowers. Huffing under his breath, Jinling quickly closed the doors, shaking his head at his friend before turning to face Sizhui who was setting up his tea set.

 

“Tea?” Sizhui asked, voice soft as he smiled sweetly at Jinling, his heart pounding from being in such close proximity to the alpha. Jinling really was a perfect alpha, Sizhui thought dreamily to himself as he took in the look of surprise written over his friend’s face, enjoying the way sunlight from the window danced over well-formed thighs and thick chest. It didn’t help that Jinling looked absolutely regal in his Sect Leader clothes, the audacious jewels of Lanling Jin having been toned down for a more pragmatic use, gold silk wrapping around broad shoulders.

 

“Ah…” Jinling hesitated as he sat down, staring at the cup in trepidation only to jolt in surprise as Sizhui laid a hand over his own.

 

“It’s your favourite brew. I know the tea my sect drinks aren’t to your taste.” Sizhui murmured, eyes lowered demurely as he quickly withdrew his hand, reaching for the tea pot. Such touching would usually be deemed inappropriate, but Sizhui can’t help himself, can’t help the way Jinling’s breath hitches and the way the alpha stares at him, eyes wide. It feels good to know he has his attention.

 

“O-Oh. How did you…” Jinling trailed off, swallowing loudly as Sizhui tucked a strand of hair behind his ear, white sleeves brushing Jinling’s arm in the process. More, Sizhui thinks greedily as he pours the tea, the burning gaze of the alpha on him as he moves.

 

Look at me more.

 

“I pre-ordered it.” Sizhui flushed, not daring to look Jinling in the eyes as he answered the alpha. “I hope you don’t mind me taking such liberties with your servants at Koi Tower. If you don’t like it I-”

 

“Not at all!” Jinling blurted out, shaking his head as he accepted the cup of tea. “I hope they gave you the right combination though. They’re still fairly new to my pref-” Jinling paused, lifting the cup to sniff at the aroma, “this…is the right tea.” The alpha said in surprise, both eyebrows raised in a silent question as he turned to Sizhui.

 

“They sent several samples to me via mail.” Sizhui answers, carefully nudging the plate of sweets towards Jinling and almost preening at the way the other’s attention snaps towards his hands. “You’re not fond of bitter things, and I’m guessing flower teas were common in your childhood. Leaving just the chrysanthemum tea of the three samples.” Folding his hands back into his lap, Sizhui ducked his head, expression shy, “I hope it’s to your liking.”

 

“It is.” Jinling croaked out, swallowing hard before pressing his lips to his cup, taking a sip. Lifting his head, Sizhui felt his cheeks turn pink as the alpha stared at him, hazel eyes raking over his figure and voice low, “It really is.”

 

“I-I’m glad.” Sizhui stammered, eyes sliding away in embarrassment. He knows he’s just a beta, unaffected by alphas and their pheromones so much so that sometimes he couldn’t even tell if they were releasing them at all. But sitting here, feeling Jinling’s heated gaze undress him right before his eyes leaves him feeling meek and docile, his inner wolf flopping over on its back and purring happily. The silence is comfortable, and Sizhui almost drops his cup when Jinling clears his throat, puncturing through his room’s calm once more.

 

“I wanted to ask you if you will be heading to the campsite early.” Jinling stated, fingers picking up a piece of osmathus cake and popping it into his mouth. Chewing it slowly, Sizhui felt himself shiver as the alpha licked his fingers, eyebrows lifting once more as he savoured the dessert. “This is osmathus cake. I wasn’t aware that Cloud Recesses served it. In fact,” Jinling chuckled, shaking his head lightly, “I’m pretty sure it’s a Koi Tower specialty.”

 

“Ah, n-no.” Sizhui breathed out, shrinking back as Jinling’s eyes snapped to his face, those hazel eyes seeing right through him. “It’s not a specialty to your Sect now is it? Besides, travelling here just to visit requires me to give you the utmost hospitality.”

 

“And yet, I don’t think this was what happened before when I visited with my uncle.” Jinling mused, eyes glinting as he cocked his head, tongue sweeping over the sticky remains of the dessert. “Did your servant make it?”

 

Oh, he knows me too well! Sizhui thought faintly to himself as he squirmed, hiding his expression behind his cup of tea. Not that it would work for long, Sizhui realised as he was forced to put down the cup after finishing his drink. Jinling has a look of satisfaction written all over his face, lips twitching upwards in a barely concealed grin that has Sizhui fidgeting uncomfortably.

 

“I… Made it.” Sizhui finally mumbled, hoping his words were lost in the sound of him pouring tea.

 

“You made it?” Jinling snorted, eyes crinkling as he picked up another piece. “Did you get the recipe from my servants too?” The silence is all Jinling needs, and Sizhui can’t help the mortification that runs through him as the alpha begins to laugh, boyish and young once more, just like the first time they met. Deeming his reaction unworthy of a response, Sizhui continued refilling their cups, the tips of his ears burning as he ignored Jinling’s beaming smile.

 

“Well, if you’re heading to the campsite early I was going to offer to help set up your tent.” Jinling continued, lips twitching as Sizhui finally raised his head to make eye contact. “Lanling Jin’s definitely not going to be late this year after all.”

 

“Thank you but that won’t be necessary.” Sizhui answered, laughing slightly as he sets down the tea pot. “Our tents are small, and we’re more than used to putting them up.” Besides, Sizhui licked his lips as he picked up a piece of his osmathus cake, I’d much rather be in your tent than my own. Relishing in his dessert, it takes a split second for Sizhui to realise Jinling is replying him, and an even longer moment to actually grasp what the alpha is saying.

 

“If your tent is too small I’d be happy to let you stay in mine. Mine is well furnished, and there’ll be plenty of pillows and quilts for you.”

 

What?

 

“Um, o-our tent is perfectly fine. Yours can’t possibly fit me and Jingyi right?” Sizhui stuttered, his heart racing wildly in his chest as he makes eye contact with the alpha seated before him. He expects crinkled eyes and lips spread into a wide snarky smile. What he doesn’t expect is for Jinling to look at him with determined eyes and lips parted to reveal a single fang, pink tongue running over the sharp pointed tip.

 

It’s an obvious hint, and Sizhui feels his heart soar as his inner wolf practically yowls in delight, prancing happily about. Bite me, bite me, the wolf purrs, tail flicking the nose of Jinling’s alpha wolf, rubbing up against him desperately like a she-wolf in heat. The way Jinling is looking through half-hooded eyes, that one canine shining in the light of his room is enough to make Sizhui’s self-control sway. It makes him desperate, needy, wanting to push the alpha back onto his bed and grind into his lap, to whimper and beg, rub his scent gland all over the alpha’s body, drench him in his scent and-

 

“If you stay in my tent, I’m sure Jingyi would be more comfortable having the small area to himself.” Jinling murmurs, and oh, he’s leaning in, Sizhui realises, his robes beginning to feel a little too hot. This is bad, he thinks weakly as Jinling gives him a nervous smile, lips crooking up in a way that always gets under Sizhui’s skin. It makes him want to roll over, to raise his hips and let Jinling take, let the alpha devour him and pup-

 

Pup.

 

Sizhui’s blood runs cold as he immediately pulls away from the alpha, oxygen escaping his lungs in a loud whoosh as he practically jerks himself out of the alpha’s presence. At his reaction Jinling blinks, brows furrowing in confusion before his face clears, the alpha moving backwards to his side of the table, hands once more in his lap. As if he wasn’t just whispering into Sizhui’s ear, tempting him to roll over, to spread his legs, to accept him as his alpha because Jinling is more than capable of taking care of him, of quenching the fire that happens once a month that leaves him writhing in be-

 

There is no once a month! Sizhui hyperventilates, fingers shaking as his inner wolf rears back in surprise, whining in confusion as Sizhui pulls back his hands, cradling them to his chest. Before him Jinling’s eyes narrow and the alpha’s back straightens, a look of caution crossing his face that has Sizhui’s inner wolf yowling. Alpha, go back to alpha! His wolf whines, tail thumping against the ground in desperation even as Sizhui firmly refuses. We’re not an omega! We can’t nest, what good are scented, scented pillows and quilts? Sizhui snaps at his inner wolf and shudders as his wolf’s ears flatten, a confused whine escaping its muzzle. It hurts to admit it, hurts to repeat the truth that Sizhui has long since beaten into himself whenever people asked him about his dynamic and scent.

 

But this, being offered what he wanted most and having to decline it?

 

This is a million times worst.

 

Why would I need an alpha’s scented pillow and quilts?!

 

Sizhui is too deep in his own wallowing to notice anything’s wrong until Jinling’s scent flares, the scent of forest fire filling up the room that has the beta snapping out of his thoughts in a split second. Sure enough, the alpha’s clenching his jaw, grinding his teeth even as he refuses to meet Sizhui’s eyes, fingers digging into his knees. The pheromones grow, coiling across Sizhui’s skin with a venomous intent that has his inner wolf yelping, confused and fearful all at once.

 

“D-Did I say that out loud?” Sizhui whispers, and flinches as Jinling’s scent grows harsher, the scent of peonies completely gone as the bitter scent of smoke seems to fill his room. The alpha is still refusing to look at him, and Sizhui feels sick, feels as if he’s making mistakes he shouldn’t be making, that his secondary biology is making him stumble in ways he promised he’d never do, that he’d never give anything less than perfection to those he love, to Jinling, to his alpha-

 

A loud screech has him shaking, mouth opening and closing as the alpha pushes the chair back, nostrils flaring and shoulders tense.

 

“Jinling-”

 

“I think,” Jinling sucked in a deep breath, knuckles bone white from how hard he’s clenching his fists, expression closed off as he heads to the door, “I’ve overstayed my welcome.”

 

No! Sizhui’s inner wolf howls, shaking its head and snarling ferociously. Stay! Make him stay! Ours, he’s ours! Ours, ours, ours!

 

“I-If you’re looking for Elder Lan, take a right turn down the corridor.” Sizhui whispers, voice shaking as he stares at Jinling’s back, his spine rim rod straight.

 

“Thank you.” Is the stiff reply he gets before the alpha is leaving, pushing past his doors and stepping out.

 

No! Sizhui’s inner wolf screams, manic and deranged, sobbing and howling. Mine mine mine! Come back, come back alpha!

 

Yes . Sizhui thinks numbly instead, hugging himself tightly.

 

We’re not an omega. We cannot nest.

 

There is no use in us wanting scented pillows and blankets.

 

We do not need it.

 

But that knowledge doesn’t stop the way his heart sinks and the way tears prickle at the corner of his eyes, the unfinished osmathus cakes still sitting on the table.)

 

He might have had doubts, he might have thought he wasn’t worthy of Jinling, but watching the alpha stand before him accepting the accusations without hesitation, that perhaps it is Sizhui himself that thinks him unworthy, is something Sizhui cannot stand by. Refuses to stand by. He might not see why Jinling wants him, wants a defective beta as a mate, but for as long as the young Sect Leader of Lanling Jin wanted him…

 

Sizhui straightened, chin lifting as he squared up, pulling himself to his full height.

 

He would not allow them to hurt his alpha like this.

 

Not while he’s alive and breathing.

 

Never.

 

+

 

“Oho? It looks like my son has made a decision!” Senior Wei sang, cackling loudly as he clapped his hands in glee. “I know that look on his face! In fact, I’ve seen it a few times on someone’s face too.” Senior Wei smirked, eyes lowering sweetly at Hanguang-jun that has the alpha flushing, turning in the opposite direction.

 

“If you thought I was bad,” Jingyi snorted, sipping on his tea as he watched his best friend’s shoulders straighten, the beta pulling himself up to full height, “you have not seen Sizhui.”

 

+

 

“Ah I apologise!” Sizhui immediately begins, biting his bottom lip and bringing his hands up to cover his face, eyes lowering demurely. “I must have misunderstood your words Jinling. That’s why I said no, and oh, this is really…” Hiding behind his sleeve, Sizhui looked up at the young alpha through his lashes, eyes blinking slowly and watching as the other stilled, head lifting to meet his gaze.

 

“You misunderstood?” Jinling rumbled, tongue swiping across his upper lip in nervous anticipation as he stared at Sizhui, the clearing around them dead silent.

 

Waiting.

 

“I-I think I did.” Sizhui whispered, letting his hand trail over his bare skin in an anxious gesture, watching victoriously as Jinling immediately zeroed in on his body, pupils blowing up at the soft creamy flesh held against the backdrop of dark red. He isn’t the only one looking though, and Sizhui can’t help the sharp grin that crosses his face for a split second before he wipes it off, shifting his stance and letting his hip jut out seductively. Sure enough, Jinling’s grip on Suihua tightens, and Sizhui allows himself to shiver, caressing the loose folds of his robes and letting finger tips glide over his satin skin, putting on a show and drawing them in, drawing everyone who could possibly want him in. Then, he took a step forward.

 

“A-Ah, Jinling I feel cold…” Sizhui whimpered, entering the young alpha’s space with a bold step. It has Jinling jerking, brown eyes widening before they darken, irises rimmed gold and a low growl escaping the alpha. They aren’t touching, not quite, and Sizhui takes the opportunity to curl his fingers into Jinling’s cloak, tugging insistently as he brushes his lips over Jinling’s ear, voice soft and sweet.

 

“E-Everyone keeps staring… I don’t like it.” Sizhui breathes, and his inner wolf dances, practically rolling on the ground with glee as Jinling goes stock still before a loud snarl rips across the campsite.

 

“Get out of here!” His alpha roars, baring his fangs furiously as his arms sweeps Sizhui into his hold, embracing him tightly. The scent of fire mixed with the coldness of steel swirls around him, and Sizhui can’t help the way his head tilts back and he sends a victorious smirk straight at the other omegas who stiffen. I win, he thinks viciously as everyone within their vicinity immediately bows and leaves, all save Zizhen who remains exactly where he is, well aware that the order doesn’t include him. He wasn’t everyone, he was Sizhui’s friend! Letting out a delighted purr, Sizhui dragged his nose up Jinling’s neck, holding back his laughter as his alpha’s scent grew heavy, pulse skipping twice as fast from the beta’s close proximity.

 

“Jinling’s so brave.” Sizhui whined, nosing sweetly at Jinling’s neck and shuddering as the alpha’s fingers dug into his hips. Yes, show them, Sizhui thinks venomously, arching his back and pressing closer into Jinling’s body heat with determination. Show them I’m yours, show how great of an alpha you are, how lucky anyone would be to have you, how lucky I am to be yours. Twisting his hips, Sizhui allowed his mouth to rest against the shell of Jinling’s ear, ravelling in the heavy breathing of his alpha that heightened with every soft gasp and whine Sizhui gifted him.

 

(“You are Hanguang-jun and the Yiling Patriarch’s son! Beautiful, intelligent, beloved, strong, brave, kind and a total catch you hear me?” Jingyi hissed, determination laced in his voice. “You told me that dressing like this is two thirds of the battle won. You’ve got one third left Sizhui, and Lan disciples aren’t quitters!”)

 

I’m going to win this, Sizhui thinks determinedly, quivering in Jinling’s embrace as his eyes flash dangerously in the dark, his fangs bared at his rivals who immediately back away, hands held out placatingly.

 

One third more, and he’s mine.

 

“Thank you Jinling… I was so scared just now.” Sizhui whimpers, voice sweet as nectar as he invades Jinling’s space, the beta’s scantily clad body now in his clutches. Shuddering, Jinling gave a low grunt of assent, his hands falling to the beta’s tiny waist and encircling it. He’s so small, Jinling laughs hysterically, his shoulders tensing each time Sizhui gasped another ‘thank you’ into his ear, each syllable rolling in honey and sex, because there’s no other way to describe the way Sizhui is acting, innocent and lewd, the whiplash making Jinling see stars as he tries to come to terms with the sudden barrage of events.

 

“Thank you for protecting me.” Sizhui murmurs, and Jinling doesn’t know what to do with his hands, doesn’t know where to place them except the beta’s waist because the chorus of grab him, bend him over, fuck him, breed him, is testing his self-control, tensing like a chord pulled far too tight. It’s torture, having Sizhui up close, his jasmine scent rubbing all over Jinling, dousing him in his pheromones and sinking into his cloak. He’s going to smell like the other for days the more Sizhui stays in his arms, lips trailing over his temple and soft words tumbling off that serpentine tongue like a wet dream.

 

He’s killing me.

 

“It’s... Whatever.” Jinling breathed out, nostrils flaring as Sizhui tilts to look at him, nose brushing his jaw line. “What do you, I mean, you-”

 

“Do I look pretty?” Sizhui whispers, and Jinling feels himself freeze as the beta drags a palm down the front of his robes, hand print stamping heat down his chest to his abdomen. I’m going to die. There’s going to be a grave that says: Here lies Jin Rulan, dead by his mate to be. Fuck he’s so gorgeous, so beautiful, god fucking damn it!  He can’t think, can’t function when Sizhui is pressed prettily against him, wafting jasmine and berries into his lungs. He can almost taste it, taste the aroma of Sizhui in throes of desperation, that floral scent peaking into something else, something just as otherworldly. It’s testing his limits the longer Sizhui leans into him, and he really shouldn’t be doing this to the fucking son of Hanguang-jun but he’s here, here and-

 

“O-Oh!” Sizhui gasps, head flinging backwards as Jinling runs his fangs down the beta’s neck, burrowing his nose into the beta’s scent gland and letting out a low affirmative growl. It’s intoxicating, scenting that delicate scent of jasmine beneath wisps of osmathus, the tartness of oranges and oh he wants so badly. Wants to lift Sizhui by the waist and sit him pretty in his lap, rocking his hips into that tight heat and watching grey eyes grow misty with pleasure. Wants to bruise that bare neck and make pink lips babble from sensitivity. Wants to feel the harsh pants of a body pushed to its breaking point, ink stones and papers flying over his desk as he bends the pretty obedient thing over and-

 

“N-No…” Sizhui squirms, and Jinling groans as the beta yanks at his sleeve, voice breathless and damn it he wants more but, “t-they’re all watching. So please, n-not here.”

 

“You’re killing me. I hope you know that.” Jinling whispers brokenly even as he accepts the beta’s decision, his nose brushing the other’s scent gland once more before he removes himself from Sizhui’s neck. He gets a soft laugh in reply, and the petulant pout on Jinling’s face is fading, unable to match glowing eyes and the pleased grin curling over Sizhui’s face. His ire is completely gone when the beta sways in his arms, tip toeing, because Jinling has grown taller in the three years they’ve known each other and rubs his nose affectionately against his. The action is domestic, sweet, and Jinling almost melts into it.

 

Keyword being almost.

 

Because Sizhui is now facing him, and his hands that are gripping the alpha’s hips are also conveniently hidden by said alpha’s cloak. Which is why no one is able to see, able to tell what’s happening, save for Jinling himself when he feels those strong arms, damn Gusu Lan and their arm strength, yank him closer. Close enough that their hips are touching, and he can feel the soft outline of Sizhui’s cock pressed against his.

 

Fuck fuck fuck fuck-

 

The hitch in his breath must be obvious, because not a word goes out of his mouth before Sizhui is speaking, voice rushed and shaking. “A-ling, A-ling I don’t like it when other alphas stare at me you know? I only like it when it’s you. I was so confused because I’m just a beta and I can’t give you pups, and I don’t want to disappoint you, cause problems for you.” A whimper, and Jinling wants to scream as Sizhui begins to move, hips grinding lightly against his. “But I want you, want you so badly even though I can’t nest. Can’t give you pups. Will you still try? Is this enough?” A delicious moan, sweet and wet echoes in Jinling’s ear, and the alpha’s hands sink into the beta’s belt, knuckles white as his irises blow out, pupils expanding as he feels Sizhui speak the filthiest thing he has ever heard into his ears.

 

Fucking hell-

 

“I can’t grow wet for you. I want to, so badly A-ling! Every time I smell you, it makes me want to roll over for you. Is that bad?” Sizhui whispers, hips rolling sensuously and rubbing himself against the alpha. He can feel the tell-tale sign of Jinling getting aroused, the alpha’s cock beginning to harden and the building growls that echo against his neck with every light shift of his hips. Almost there, Sizhui thinks viciously, high on power and adrenaline, riding the satisfaction of having Jinling desperate for him. “I dressed so pretty for you. Wanted you to sit me on your lap.” Sizhui tries, taking a page out of Jingyi’s book and is rewarded with a harsh groan, the alpha resting his head against Sizhui’s shoulder in defeat even as the beta continues, crooning debauched fantasies into the young alpha’s mind.

 

This fucking-

 

“I was so scared people would judge you. That you’d be angry at me. Hated being a beta.” Sizhui sobs, voice cracking perfectly as the alpha stirs. It’s a performance that deserves applause as the beta gasps into Jinling’s ear with a well-coordinated sway of his hips. The menacing rumble is everything, and Sizhui doesn’t know if it’s possible for a beta to be drunk on alpha pheromones the way an omega could, but it sure feels like it is. Letting out another broken sob, Sizhui revels in how Jinling’s cock throbs against his, how the alpha’s cock is so much bigger and oh imagining that knot makes him swoon.

 

I’m going to lose it, Jinling thinks hysterically to himself as Sizhui practically frots against him, scenting him deeply in the most archaic way possible in front of everyone.

 

“A-ling, you’re so b-big.” Sizhui babbles, and this is so close to Jinling’s deepest, darkest fantasies that he doesn’t know how to react with the other all pliant and desperate in his arms. But what he does know is that he doesn’t like the self-depreciative way Sizhui is speaking. Doesn’t like how with each gorgeous moan that leaks out with a rub against his cock has the other spewing out nonsense like, “w-will you let me? I want it, want you. I can’t nest, can’t give pups, but I’ll be good. I’ll be so good you won’t even know I’m not an ome-”

 

Fuck is this about him being an omega?!

 

Jinling feels it when he snaps, the way the stress uncoils when his alpha wolf decides that this shit has gone on for far too long! His alpha wolf is restless, hackles raised in anger because he doesn’t give a shit about what other people think of their arrangement. The wolf is angry, raking claws across the floor with growing ire as Sizhui’s words flow into his mind. This was his mate, and if he wanted to coddle, wanted to groom, wanted to breed him, no one was going to stop him save for his mate himself, dynamics be damned! I am the alpha, Jinling’s wolf snarled, jaw unhinged and dripping drool with dominance, I decide who ranks in my pack and who has the right to carry my seed, not a couple of random whelps!

 

 

Letting out a low menacing growl, his hands reach out to cup the back of Sizhui’s neck, grip tight enough that the beta immediately shuts up, eyes dilating at the firm hold the alpha has on him. It’s an action no beta would be comfortable with, their inner wolf immediately barking and raking claws at the position because hold up this isn’t right, but Sizhui is pliant, head tilting back submissively as the alpha squeezes his neck in warning. Perfect, Jinling’s alpha wolf croons, nosing the beta wolf fondly and rubbing himself against his mate in satisfaction. So obedient, calm, the perfect mate to lead and protect the pack! It’s a sentiment that the beta doesn’t seem to share, and Jinling shudders as Sizhui refuses to meet his eyes, as if he’s ranked lower, beneath him.

 

No, his wolf growls, tail flickering in irritation.

 

This will not do!

 

“You think that I would accept an omega if they rolled over for me?” Jinling seethed, voice hoarse with disbelief and arousal, his pupils stretched across the expanse of white, nostrils flaring. A hesitant shake of the head from the beta should please him, but this isn’t just any beta. It’s his mate. His chosen, and so Jinling’s grip tightens in reproach. The pressure makes Sizhui gasp, eyelids fluttering in surprise that has Jinling whispering into his ear once more. “Just because they’re an omega doesn’t mean they deserve me. Doesn’t mean they deserve my cock in their fucking womb pupping them every month because they need it so badly they beg me for it.”

 

“A-A-ling, I’m sor-”

 

“Did you do anything wrong?” Jinling snarled, and watched as Sizhui whimpered, shaking his head wildly, head still cowed in submission. A submission that makes every part of the alpha itch to rattle the other, to shake him from his head to his toes. “I decide who gets my knot. I decide who I want spread beneath me crying for my cock. I decide who gets to wear my bite on their neck and who gets to bounce on my cock like a fucking bunny.” Dragging an open-mouthed kiss over the beta’s scent gland, Jinling croons as he feels the beta keen, flinging his head back in pleasure while his hands twist into Jinling’s cloak.

 

“You going to be good? You going to bounce bunny?” Jinling hissed, scraping his fangs over the gland that’s beginning to swell, the sweetness of jasmine filling the roof of his mouth as Sizhui bucked in his grip, fingers scrabbling at his alpha’s shoulders. “Tell me,” Jinling purred, voice dropping into a low guttural growl as he flicked his tongue out to taste that gland, applying pressure that has Sizhui babbling nonsense once more, “who else would be as precious as you? Who’d be my bunny hm?”

 

He punctuates his question with a strong roll of his hips, this time initiating the grind, and watches as Sizhui’s pupils dilate, soft lips trembling as little sobs made themselves known with his own twitching hips. It’s a power trip seeing someone give up control so easily, makes the alpha wolf in Jinling howl depravedly, eager to get the beta on all fours, ass pushed up and begging prettily for his knot. He’s almost fully hard now, and he forces Sizhui to follow his rhythm, speed slowing as he drags his clothed cock against the beta’s own, letting him feel just how big Jinling is, how much he wants the pretty obedient thing to be good, to be the only one to-

 

“M-Me!” Sizhui squeals, eyes locking with the alpha’s at last as his mouth drops open, shiny wet and pink with frustration, red flush crawling up his cheeks as he whines into Jinling’s hold. “Me, it’s me, only me!” he cries out, the hibiscus flower falling out from where it’s tucked behind his ear, a full-body shudder passing through him as pleasure sparks from between his legs.

 

“That’s right,” Jinling rumbled, hips halting and breath coming out in loud pants as he gazed into silver eyes that held his own, “only you can be mine!” And with a loud snarl he shoved the beta away, gasping as he held Sizhui at a distance, his alpha wolf yowling in demand. Give him to me! His wolf shrieked, howling savagely. Let me pup him, let him sit on our fat knot and beg for more! He’d be so good, his wolf whined, tail flickering eagerly behind him, he’d be such a good little cock warmer, so entertaining while we’re doing boring paper work-

 

“J-Jinling?” Sizhui whispered, eyes wide as he stared at the shaking alpha before him, those hands tightly gripping onto his waist. A quick glare from the other, hazel eyes burning golden and fangs protruding from his lips is enough for Sizhui to know what’s going on. Maybe I overdid it, Sizhui mused, a sick sense of delight rushing through his veins. It makes him heady with adrenaline at how much he has affected the alpha, inner wolf sitting on its haunches and smirking satisfactorily at the look of wild abandon that has consumed Jinling.

 

Good, Sizhui’s inner wolf snarls, tail wagging happily. Make him chase, his wolf purred, let him know no one else is as enticing, that he has to fight, take what’s his. Sizhui shivered, lips pulling into a gleeful snarl, because oh no one else will make you feel like this alpha, only me, only me!

 

“I almost,” Jinling shuddered, swearing internally as he tried to rein in his alpha, to ignore the need pulsing between his legs, “I almost-”

 

“Save it.” Sizhui shushes him, and Jinling closes his mouth with a loud click as the beta leans in close and rubs, rubs his face all over Jinling’s scent gland. It evokes a primal need in Jinling, the need to bite and sink his fangs into unmarred creamy skin, to bleed it and to sink into tight warm heat, to rut into that desperate hole and listen to the resounding screams for him to go faster, harder-

 

“The run Jinling.” Sizhui whispered, nuzzling into his neck and marking him in turn, sucking gently on the swollen flesh and raking his own fangs across the swell that has the alpha hissing before pulling back. He’s dishevelled, braid undone and locks of hair falling all over his cheekbones. It’s a sight to see, and Jinling groans as the beta pulls away, sweeping his hair backwards only to reveal bare shoulders and pale collarbones.

 

“You-!!”

 

“Seven days A-ling.” Sizhui breathes, and Jinling can only watch, alpha wolf pacing as the beta begins to back away, eyes shining. “I’ll be yours in seven days.” There’s a pause, the beta cocking his head before a mischievous smile makes its way onto his face, transforming the innocent smile into one much darker. It makes Jinling’s stomach churn and his lungs burn, wariness building in soul as his wolf tilts its head curiously. What is he doing, his wolf whimpered, tail drooping, why is he backing away, why is he looking like that, why-

 

“That is…” Sizhui trailed off, pressing a hand to his lips as he tilted his neck, showing off his swollen scent gland, twin red lines dragged over the puffy skin. I did that Jinling thought in a daze, hunger roiling in his gut. I did that to him, I scented him, I gave him a light bite! It makes a wolfish smirk cross his face, and he doesn’t mistake the sharp intake of breath from Sizhui as he growls, lips curving into a victorious snarl.

 

“That is?” Jinling rumbled, chest puffing out as he straightened his back, eyes burning holes into his beta that’s standing his ground, away from him. Sneaky little disobedient thing, his wolf growls, tail flicking playfully at the display of defiance.

 

“T-That is,” Sizhui cleared his throat, cheeks pink as a peach, “if you catch me.”

 

“You think I won’t catch you? You think-” Jinling stopped short, letting out a sharp bark of laughter, throwing his head back as he snickers, running a hand through his hair in disbelief. “You think I won’t catch you? You think I’ll let you out-run me?” Jinling announces incredulously, his voice booming across the campsite as he gave another loud hysterical laugh, his right-hand twitching from where it has settled on Suihua.

 

“I-I-” Sizhui squeaks at that, not quite expecting his alpha to laugh of all things.

 

“Oh, you better run beta.” Jinling chuckled, nose in the air and eyes shining arrogantly as he stared at Sizhui, tongue swiping across his upper lip as he tensed. “Because when I catch you, you’re not leaving this place without a bite.” At Sizhui’s loud squawk of surprise, Jinling snorted again, shaking his head. “If I catch you? If? Ha! You, tell me where’s Sect Leader Lan! I have a mating proposal to submit.” The young alpha snapped, hauling up a passing beta who quickly stammered out instructions.

 

With one last smirk directed at Sizhui, Jinling turned, stalking away towards Sect Leader Lan with his head held high. Behind him Zizhen follows, shooting Sizhui a wink before he’s scampering after the alpha, bumping shoulders good naturedly. It takes a moment for it to sink in, but when Sizhui finally realises what he’s done, in public of all things, he can’t help the way he squeaks, hands flying to his cheeks in mortification. And sure enough, the loud hoots and cat calls from the opposite side of the campfire has him turning red, Jingyi and his dad’s voice obnoxiously loud.

 

I did it…

 

But at what cost?!

Chapter Text

Chapter Three: Memory Box

 

+

The past has a means of shaping the future.

But I think I see you there no matter what happens.

+

 

“I cannot believe,” Jingyi wheezed, thumping his chest as peals of laughter rang out in the clearing, his eyes watering with tears of mirth, “you did that to Jinling!” Beside him Senior Wei has exploded into another cacophony of cackles, rolling on the log as he slapped his thigh, howling with laughter. Of all things Jingyi had expected, he had never thought he’d live to see his best friend publicly scenting Jinling, and in the most perverse and archaic of ways at that! It’s not proper Gusu Lan behavior, not by a long shot, and Jingyi can’t help the snickers that escape him when he looks up at the supposed ‘pristine perfect disciple’ of his Sect who’s flushed red.

 

I almost feel bad for Jinling, Jingyi thought smugly to himself, if it weren’t for the fact I was the one who set Sizhui on him!

 

“What on earth possessed you to do such a thing my sweet summer child?” Senior Wei gasped, wiping tears from his eyes as he grinned up at his blushing son. “Was my nephew really deserving of such treatment?”

 

“That’s right!” Jingyi chimed in, holding up a sleeve to muffle his chuckles. “Were you trying to kill the man Sizhui? What has the poor, poor, poor alpha ever done to you?”

 

“I-I-” The mortification in Sizhui’s stutter is enough to set him off once more, Senior Wei screeching in barely concealed delight, yanking on Hanguang-jun’s sleeve with glee. The movement however, is harsh enough that Hanguang-jun’s turning to face Sizhui, expression blank and ears tinged pink. The nerve wrecking lack of response is enough to have Jingyi’s mouth snapping shut, Senior Wei pulling himself upright and coughing into his fist as his husband faced his, their, son.

 

Oh no, Jingyi winced, chewing on his bottom lip in trepidation as he finally registered the grave atmosphere.

 

I forgot about Hanguang-jun!

 

“F-Father…” Sizhui greeted meekly, head bowed in shame and tugging at his robes awkwardly. Hanguang-jun may have raised him, but the man in question was still undoubtedly one of the twin jades of Gusu Lan. And the head of discipline too! Jingyi did not envy his best friend, not, one, bit, as his eyes darted back and forth between the father-son pair. The clearing is quiet, Hanguang-jun unmoving in the moonlight as he stared at his son, lips pulled into a stern line before a soft, almost inaudible sigh escaped.

 

“He should not have been able to walk away.” Hanguang-jun murmured at last, shaking his head lightly. “Do not pull your punches when fighting the enemy.”

 

You’ve got to be kidding me, Jingyi thought to himself, mouth dropping open in surprise at the unexpected response. He wanted Sizhui to do more?!

 

“Lanzhan!” Senior Wei shrieked, clinging onto his husband’s shoulders with obvious delight. “I know right? If he was going to seduce Jinling he should have just gone all out!”

 

“Fight.” Hanguang-jun corrects gently, removing his husband’s hands to loop them around his arm. “Not seduce.”

 

“Fine! I’m sure they’re one in the same any way. Why, I remember back in our day-”

 

“Dad!” Sizhui hissed, eyes horrified as Senior Wei began to ramble, ducking his head in embarrassment at his parents’ response. How could they be so calm?! He had just thrown away his dignity, the pride of his sect and decades worth of teachings! He should be kneeling in shame at the things he had done, grinding and posturing himself up to an alpha in the middle of the clearing. In plain view of everyone!

 

“If Elder Lan was here he would have my head.” Sizhui whispered, rubbing his forehead in terror as he tuned out his dad’s babbling, his father now utterly useless in the face of his other parent’s charm. “This is terrible Jingyi. Terrible!”

 

“Well,” Jingyi paused, offering an awkward smile to his best friend’s growing discomfort, “at least they approve of their future son in law?”

 

“LAN JINGYI!”

 

+

 

As if I wouldn’t catch him! As if I would let him run away! Jinling mused to himself, giddy with excitement as he stalked off, body trembling with barely contained passion. Sizhui had always been his end goal, the one he desperately wanted, and now he was his. He could feel the urge to provide overtaking his mind, his wolf’s tail wagging rapidly as he pranced around Jinling with glee. While the mating ritual and procedures have no doubt evolved as the years passed, there was no hiding how some key aspects of it remained deeply ingrained in the secondary biology shared by everyone. An alpha’s job has always been to provide and defend, protecting the pack and everything within their territory. Omegas on the other hand have always been receivers, gate keepers of moralities and spirits. The only problem here was that Sizhui was a beta, and Jinling would of course never resent his beautiful mate to be for that fact, but it did nonetheless complicate matters.

 

Brows furrowed in concentration, Jinling wrecked his mind, sifting through information as he pondered his course of action. He had not been lying when he said he was going to submit a mating proposal. After all he was technically engaged to Sizhui if the throbbing sensation of Sizhui’s mark against his scent gland was anything to go by. But the issue laid in their unusual dynamics and most of all, in the way Jinling had been raised. Because Uncle Jiang was the only alpha in Jinling’s limited circle of surviving family members, the other had been given the mantle of bringing him up. Which naturally lead to Jinling being the best he could be no matter the circumstances. If he was outside night hunting he had to bag the strongest corpse. If he was sparring other disciples, he had to knock all of them down and be the last one standing. And if he was being educated in Cloud Recesses, he had to finish first in class or withstand the wrath of one furious purple clad alpha.

 

In other words, Uncle Jiang was traditional.

 

An alpha’s job was to protect and defend what he laid claim to, and Uncle Jiang had hammered that into Jinling with furious ferocity. It didn’t mean he couldn’t mate out of his dynamic or to someone who wasn’t an omega, no his uncle wouldn’t give a damn so long as Jinling was happy, but did it mean that the man had expectations on how certain things had to be done?

 

(“Again!” Uncle Jiang barked, Sandu sliding back into its sheathe as he towered over Jinling, grey eyes glinting dangerously in the night. He paints a terrifying picture, back rim rod straight and hair wild from their latest spar. Panting from where he had collapsed on the ground at the feet of his uncle, Jinling felt himself begin to sniffle, eyes welling up with tears as he gripped tightly onto Suihua, his fingers trembling and red with blisters. It hurt, it was painful, and Jinling can’t help the way he strikes the ground with his sword, plunging the sheathe into the floor and letting it stick out.

 

“No! I don’t want to! It hurts! Why do I have to keep training? I don’t want to!” Jinling snapped, brown eyes watering as he folded his arms, hiding his head in his lap. He knows he’s throwing a tantrum, he’s ten now, and he should know better than to complain about training. He wanted to be a cultivator, had practically begged Uncle Jiang to personally train him. And yet here he was wailing and fussing about like a baby. I’m the worst, he thinks petulantly and waits for the tell-tale crackle of Zidian, the bellow of rage, but all that greets him is silence before he hears a heavy sigh. Then, a warm hand settles on his head, and Jinling freezes as his head is gently knocked against a firm thigh.

 

“Uncle…”

 

“I know it hurts. But Jinling, you have to be strong. Koi tower is your home, yours, but it won’t always be if you’re not strong enough to defend it.” There’s the sound of leaves rustling, and Jinling can’t help the hiccup that escapes him when Uncle Jiang cards a rough hand through his hair. “Those blisters will become callouses, and the pain will lessen the more you train. And when the time comes that you’re attacked, when the people you love most are in danger, you will be able to save them.” There’s a heaviness to those words, a deep regret that has Jinling stirring, some part of him knowing he’s getting a glimpse of something he wouldn’t normally see.

 

“But it’s scary.” Jinling mumbled, raising his hand and pressing his face into the purple robes. “I’m scared... What if I can’t protect Koi tower? What if Lanling Jin falls apart? What if it’s my fault, and father, father’s-”

 

“Then I will help you.” The murmur is soft, and Jinling has to strain to hear it, huffing against the offered thigh as Uncle Jiang strokes his head, voice gentle. “Lotus Pier will always be your home as long as I am standing, and you will never be alone. If you struggle, I will be there.” Sniffing into the thigh, Jinling slowly unfurls from his curled-up state, arms wrapping around one thigh and burying his face further into his uncle.

 

“Always?” Jinling whispers, tears beginning to stain the purple robes a dark indigo, a soft sob escaping his chest. There’s no answer, not for a while, before he’s being yanked up, strong arms wrapping him tightly in an embrace that has his face buried in the crook of his uncle’s neck. There’s no holding back the wails now as he wraps his injured hands around Uncle Jiang’s neck, his palms blistering red against white skin. He feels the slow rumble of a protective alpha reverberate through his body, and the scent of lightning and fruits is comforting, gentle. It’s no surprise that Jinling can’t help the cries that grow louder with every movement of Uncle Jiang’s hand in his hair.

 

“You will always be my pup Jinling-ah.” Uncle Jiang murmurs, pulling the ten year-old close. “Even when you’re thirty you will still be my pup. My most precious first alpha pup.”

 

“E-Even if I get lost? And I’m a b-bad alpha?” Jinling cries, voice cracking an octave as he babbles into his uncle’s shoulder. “I don’t want to be bad, o-or to fail.”

 

“Then you will just have to push yourself to be the best, and I will help you every step of the way.” Uncle Jiang says, and Jinling nods, tightening his hold on the alpha hugging him. It’s quiet once more, exhaustion finally seeping into Jinling’s bones that make him slump against his uncle, pup instincts crooning at him to nuzzle against his uncle’s scent gland. His actions earn him a snort before a soft kiss is pressed to his forehead, his uncle’s scent electric and sweet.

 

“You will be okay Jinling-ah. You will be okay, and I will always be on your side.”

 

And if Jinling’s training for the day is cut short, well, no one has to know.)

 

Yes, yes it did.

 

Uncle Jiang had whipped him into shape, memorizing every single etiquette and protocol available as both Sect Leader and Head alpha. In fact, on most occasions Jinling’s traditional and reserved upbringing had served him well in all his daily affairs.

 

Save one.

 

And that, had been about Sizhui. Uncle Jiang had just about died from Qi deviation when Jinling had revealed his lack of intention to court the beta, the older man only appeased when Jinling had explained about the Sizhui’s secondary biology. Even then however, his uncle had been adamant for Jinling to stick to the expectations and old exchanges of gifts and ‘asking of permissions’. While the courtship ritual itself has since long been abandoned by his peers, Jinling can’t help the itch to respond, to do something every time he catches his uncle glowering at him, eyebrows furrowed in a deep v and mouth pressed into a thin disapproving line. Uncle Jiang has always been his father figure after all, and seeing the man’s blatant look of disappointment was enough to send Jinling’s alpha wolf whining, ears drooping sadly as if he was a pup rejected by its sire.

 

It wasn’t as if Sizhui was against being courted, a fact that Uncle Jiang had flatly pointed out one evening when Jinling had visited him at Lotus Pier to escape the nagging court of Lanling Jin. The mature alpha had given him an earful for wanting to follow his friends, the key words being I raised you better than this Jin Rulan for the rest of the night. It was hilarious that his uncle had drilled into his mind what he had to provide if he wished to land a mate, even though the other alpha had driven away every single eligible maiden in the world. With the amount of thought and planning Uncle Jiang had berated him to take into consideration when finding a mate, it was laughable that the other was still single.

 

(“You… Wish to court Lan Sizhui.” Uncle Jiang states flatly, brows furrowed into a deep V and eyes narrowed as he sits cross-legged across from Jinling. “That is to say, Hanguang-jun’s son.”

 

“Well, not exactly.” Jinling cleared his throat, awkwardly scratching the back of his neck. Being the leader of Lanling Jin wasn’t just difficult, something Jinling had learnt barely three months after his coronation as Sect Leader. It was downright aggravating! Lanling Jin was in absolute shambles, the court in complete disarray after the death of his other, less beloved, uncle, and the three years of waiting had done little to help them. By the time Jinling was seated in a position of power, he had found their Sect’s reputation barely hanging on by a thread, the only consolation being their still-full coffers. Corruption and the tittering of elders were almost correlated at this point, and Jinling longed for nothing but the easy peace and efficiency of Lotus Pier.

 

At least his uncle was always on his side.

 

Though judging by his current expression not for much longer.

 

“Not exactly.” Uncle Jiang responds, his index finger twitching from where it’s curved around his tea cup. “Pray tell then, what exactly do you mean by ‘I really want Lan Sizhui to look at me’.”

 

“Uncle!” Jinlign hisses in mortification, head snapping up as he gestures for his uncle to lower his voice. This was karma for his childishness, there was no doubt about it. And his uncle was quick to state that fact, lips pressed into a stern line.

 

“If you’re going to come here acting like a child, you will be treated like one.” Uncle Jiang snapped, expression miffed as he sipped from his cup of tea. “You would think that at the age of eighteen you would have learnt to better articulate yourself.” He comments snidely, and Jinling has to fight the urge to rear back, words just as sharp and condescending. He knows his uncle doesn’t mean it, can’t mean it when the entire pavilion practically reeks with his uncle’s protective alpha scent. That smooth ebb and flow of a pleased sire synonymous with a warm blanket on a cold winter’s night is heartwarming, making Jinling almost giddy with glee.

 

Uncle Jiang might not say it, but Jinling is well aware of just how much his sire enjoys his visits.

 

And just how willing he is to take Jinling’s bouts of childishness.

 

“I can’t help it!” Jinling whined, once he was sure that there were no servants or disciples close enough to see his pout. “He’s just so kind and gentle to everyone. He always knows what to say or do when people are panicking, and he’s super thrifty too! Do you know he cooks and he also knows how to sew clothes because Jingyi is always tripping over the hem of his robes? And he’s the one who solved the strange baheng case near Zizhen’s hometown. Oh oh and did you know, I heard from my other friend Yizhe that he donates part of his allowance to the orphanage in Caiyi? Also-”

 

“I get it!” Uncle Jiang snapped, pinching the bridge of his nose as he gave out a weary sigh. “I get it. You’re head over heels in love with the boy because he’s absolutely perfect in your eyes and you wish for him to be your mate. Am I right?”

 

“… Yes.” Jinling muttered under his breath, letting out a small huff as he scowled back at his uncle, watching as the older man shot him a bemused look. It was small, but Jinling could see it in the curve of his mouth and the slight raise of his eyebrow that Uncle Jiang was finding this situation hilarious.

 

“Then what are you waiting for? Do you expect him to just fall into your lap or are you too fat and lazy to chase after him?” Uncle Jiang teased, mouth still set in a flat line even as his fingers twitched, a clear sign that he was trying to hold back his laughter. Narrowing his eyes in betrayal, Jinling sniffed, tossing his hair back as he glared at his uncle.

 

“Not funny Uncle Jiang! Sizhui doesn’t even see me as a potential mate. More like some rambunctious little pup that he has to coddle and fend for.” Jinling hissed, smacking his hands against the table angrily for emphasis. “Every time I go night hunting with him, he’s always offering to carry my bags! My bags! We’re almost the same height now and he still acts as if I’m some-”

 

“Tiny fragile child that frequently throws tantrums which get him into unnecessary fights?” Uncle Jiang finished, almost snickering out loud into his cup as he watched Jinling, grey eyes twinkling merrily in the face of his annoyed pup. His uncle’s scent is warm, like a clear day in summer where the ponds of Lotus Pier are covered in blooms of every shade. It’s nostalgic, comforting, and Jinling finds his ire fading quickly even as his embarrassment remains.

 

“Uncle! You’re supposed to be on my side!” Jinling chokes, horrified as the older man only snorted some more. “You’re supposed to tell me what to do! I can’t keep going on like this!”

 

“And I’ve already taught you this a long time ago.” Uncle Jiang sighed, placing the cup down as he reached over with a free hand to pinch Jinling’s nose, squeezing the sensitive organ between his index finger and thumb. “When you meet someone you potentially want to be with, court them properly.”

 

“But it’s so old fashioned.” Jinling whined, hands reaching up to unsuccessfully bat away his uncle’s hands.

 

“And yet nothing you’ve done thus far has worked.” Uncle Jiang replies, voice clipped as he pinches Jinling’s nose even harder. “Your rebelliousness has gone on long enough A-ling.”

 

“But people will make fun of me. No one my age does it anymore.” Jinling grumbled, voice coming out an octave higher as he squinted at the hand before him, tugging at his uncle’s wrist before decidedly giving up. He has never been able to best his uncle in strength or combat after all this while, so it was pointless to keep trying anyway.

 

“I did not raise you to be so weak willed and foolish!” Uncle Jiang snapped, eyebrows beginning to furrow into a deep V as his face turned dark and ominous like a storm cloud. Oh no, Jinling thought to himself in alarm as his uncle glared at him. “I was not aware that your responsibilities could be easily brushed over merely because your peers disagreed with you! What idiocy!” With a final pinch to Jinling’s nose, Uncle Jiang finally withdrew, shoulders tensed as he stared down at his pup.

 

I should stop now , Jinling’s mind warned him.

 

But he has always been Uncle Jiang’s favourite, his first pup.

 

The only one who is pampered beyond imagination and spoilt beyond belief by him.

 

“Well I don’t want to!” Jinling finished childishly, crossing his arms stubbornly as he huffed, pushing out his bottom lip angrily. It makes for a funny picture, seeing an eighteen-year-old man, a Sect Leader of all things, sulking in the face of another Sect Leader, back straight and eyes cold as ice. Or it would be if Uncle Jiang hadn’t snarled, back straightening and hand immediately coming down hard on Jinling’s head.

 

“Lan Sizhui is from Gusu Lan, a sect with over centuries worth of teachings and is the son of Hanguang-jun and the Yiling Patriarch! He is the first adoptee to be given the title of inherited disciple in over a hundred years, excels in cultivation and sword skills for someone at such a young age and remains the first among his peers for liberal arts and literary academics. And now you are telling me, that you refuse to court him?!” Uncle Jiang roared, hand reaching down to whack Jinling once more, the younger alpha squawking in pain and disbelief as heat curled over his skull, the pain lacing through him.

 

“I could scarcely give a damn if that boy is a beta or the son of Wei Wuxian if he makes you happy, but if you think, that I would let you act like an indecent pathetic alpha, I have evidently not disciplined you well enough! I will not have your stubbornness be the source of shame for Yunmeng Jiang and Lanling Jin, as if you do not have the resources to properly wine and dine the boy! He might not be an omega, but he is a damn gift by the standards of today’s age and society! So, god help me, you better provide the finest and most beautiful gifts, or I will break both your legs you hear me?!” His uncle finished with a loud shout, slamming the table angrily as he stared down at Jinling, nostrils flaring in irritation at his disobedient pup.

 

“… Yes Uncle Jiang.” Jinling mumbles weakly, rubbing his head with one hand as he pouted at his uncle. His actions earn him a loud sigh, and then warm hands are pressing against his forehead, sending qi circulating through him as if that was the source of his discomfort. But the action is appreciated, though redundant, and in the safety of Lotus Pier hidden in a pavilion, Jinling lets himself purr, eyes closed as he makes his way to his uncle’s pulse point.

 

“Stubborn brat.” Uncle Jiang mutters under his breath, rolling his eyes in irritation at Jinling’s behavior. But he makes no move to stop the youth from scenting him, and that in itself is telling. They’re a pack after all, have been together the longest as family, and Jinling wanted, no, needs the older alpha’s scent on him. Needs to lift his wrist to his mouth and taste the brief fragrance of lotus and electricity even while away, needs to feel safe even when lying alone in a giant gilded bed far too empty and far too dangerous to be home.

 

Your stubborn brat.” Jinling corrects his uncle, breathing in deeply and committing the older alpha’s scent to memory as he presses open-mouthed kisses to Uncle Jiang’s scent gland, nosing the corner of his neck eagerly like a pup returning to its mother after a long day.

 

It’s safety. It’s home. It’s protection.

 

And its testament to Uncle Jiang’s love for him when the older man merely huffs and tilts his neck to give Jinling better access.)

 

Naturally, that meant he had to begin proving his worth as an alpha. The constant attempt to coddle Sizhui had been thrown out of the window, that being the only advice his uncle had given him before telling him to use your head you brat did I not raise you to be smarter than this, which while helpful, still sent Jinling right back to square one. Confused and faced with the lack of information, Jinling had turned to his um, acquaintance, Ouyang Zizhen and reluctantly enlisted the fellow beta’s help. The other man had been delighted, his romantic nature beginning to shine through as he suggested the various ways Jinling could woo his future mate.

 

Omega centric items were soon replaced with practical ones, though if one looked closely they were definitely tinged with romantic intentions, and Jinling had begun gifting them to the beta last autumn. The first gift had been a bottle of instrument oil that Sizhui could use to tune his guzhen, the item arriving in an inconspicuous velvet box where the porcelain oil was stored. It was meant to look tasteful and refined, something that would suit the light beauty of Sizhui and his instrument, Zizhen had argued, and Jinling had grudgingly assented to the other’s suggestion, minutely impressed. After all, the oil itself was what made it truly special, distilled from the centuries old peony flowers of Koi Tower that had been kept alive from its constant absorption of Qi. They held soothing properties, and the oil itself had been made to be the only one of its kind, flaunting Jinling’s wealth and capabilities without disrespecting the beta.

 

In return, Jinling had earned a hand-written letter from Sizhui, calligraphy swooping in pretty arcs as he thanked the alpha for his thoughtfulness, sending a gorgeous hand-woven pouch as a returning gift. Jinling had damn near cried when he received it, and Zizhen had watched him bemusedly as Jinling drank himself stupid, wailing into his shoulder that Sizhui is just so damn beautiful and smart what do I do Zizhen he made me a pouch oh god he made me something what do I do what do I say, before passing out on his table in typical drunk fashion. When he woke up the next morning it was to the face of a sniggering Zizhen who quickly handed him a calligraphy brush and some parchment, Jinling’s next gift already neatly bound and prepared weeks in advance.

 

This second gift had been a silk blanket, made from silk worms that had fed from mulberry leaves belonging to trees at least a century old, leaving them fat and their cocoons thick. The silk was then dyed yellow from the heartwood of jackfruit, bathed in salt to retain its colour before being sent to the loom. There, the seamstresses weaved it into a flattering gold cloth, embroidering it with shimmering blue threads left soaked in indigo leaves. Looping clouds entwined with a myriad of peony flowers, it was a symbolization of their two Sects coming together, of him and Sizhui. It was beautiful, and it only incited Jinling to visit visited various merchants looking for experts in aviculture.

 

However, his requests were difficult, almost impossible to fulfill, and left numerous bird keepers shaking their heads. After all, what keeper would be able to provide pristine feathers from swans or herons or terns without culling them first? The feathers had to be perfect, pristine, but not a drop of blood had to be spilt, for Jinling knew Sizhui would refuse the gift otherwise. But to give up would make him unworthy, and so it was with his deep pockets and the glimmering resolve of an alpha impressing his mate to be that Jinling collected each and every feather, stuffing and sewing the silk cloths to produce the unique blanket. It was perfect. And because it was, he sent it to Sizhui.

 

This time, the beta’s reply came in the form of a visit. The beautiful man had walked into Koi Tower, eyes wide and clutching the blanket with a light blush brushing his cheekbones, sending Jinling tumbling out of his chair in utter shock. They had tea by his mother’s pavilion, and Jinling felt his heart stutter when Sizhui laughed and tucked a lock of his hair behind his ear, shyly biting his lip and avoiding his stare. It became worse when the beta brought out his return gift, grey eyes flickering up nervously to gauge Jinling’s reaction as the alpha unwrapped the parcel. It had been a brand-new quiver, made from the skin of a Chinese alligator, and Jinling could feel his heart stop when Sizhui began to speak, voice soft and hands fidgeting in his lap.

 

(“I-I was out night-hunting with Jingyi somewhere in the North when we caught wind of one attacking several small children playing by the river.” Sizhui cleared his throat, fingers curled around his cup as he avoided Jinling’s gaze, the tip of his ears glowing pink as he spoke. But Jinling isn’t paying attention, is barely listening as he runs a finger down the magnificent work of art, finger tips following every ridge and curve of the alligator leather, the quiver durable and worth a damn fortune in material alone.

 

How did he even...?

 

“We had no choice but to kill the creature in order to protect the children, but I thought it would be such a pity if it went to waste. So I had um, I had it skinned then brought to a bowyer and arrowsmith to see if they could make anything out of it and well…” Sizhui trailed off, tensing slightly as he kept his head lowered, “I’m not sure if this was a good decision considering you probably have numerous quivers and this isn’t exactly elaborate or-”

 

“It’s made from a muddy dragon.” Jinling croaked out, running his hands over the quiver in shock, shoulders trembling. “It’s fucking incredible Sizhui. It must have cost so much! The skinning, the tanning, everything! How did you, how…”

 

“It’s nothing if it’s for you Jinling.” Sizhui replies, and Jinling feels his voice physically jam in his throat, adam’s apple bobbing mid-swallow as the beta turns bright eyes towards him, countenance practically glowing with happiness. “It is well worth the tales* spent if you like it.” The beta paused, suddenly turning shy as he ducked his head, “T-That is if you like it of course. I’m not presuming that-”

 

“I love it.” Jinling whispers, voice hushed as he curls a possessive hand around the quiver. This is something Sizhui had gotten for him, his mate to be, his possible fiancé, and the fact that it was a muddy dragon, dangerous, hide damn near impenetrable, left Jinling feeling proud and overwhelmed. When he finally looks up, feelings more collected, Sizhui is staring at him wide eyed, ebony hair cascading down his shoulders and making him look like a fairy in Jinling’s very own secret garden.

 

And suddenly, Jinling is overwhelmed for an entirely different reason.

 

“I love it.” Jinling reiterates, voice steady as he locks eyes with Sizhui, and watches in satisfaction as the beta turns red, hands scrabbling for the cup while his breath hitches. They both know he isn’t referring to the quiver anymore, and Sizhui’s fingers are trembling around his drink, Jinling feeling giddy on non-existent pheromones as his wolf croons lullabies at how the other shakes in his presence, eyes darting away.

 

The next time Jinling meets his friends, he’s sporting a new quiver.

 

And if Sizhui is as pink as a camellia in bloom, no one says a word.)

 

After that it was as if Jinling couldn’t stop, his fingers twitching every time he passed a market, his eyes narrowed in thoughtful stupor as he contemplated what he should get for the beta in question. It was an addiction, searching and rifling for the most luxurious gifts, the ones that would make Sizhui stutter and gasp out little ‘thank yous’ as if straight out of a wet dream. It was a challenge he couldn’t afford to lose, not when gentle touches and sweet words cooed at him to work harder, praised him for being just so wonderful Jinling oh you’re the best, and made him wonder just how Sizhui would show the alpha his appreciation. He had been so confident the beta was responding to his advances that he had unleashed his uncle onto his court, watching with sick glee as Uncle Jiang scared them into submission.

 

(The room is silent, the tension within the walls palpable as Jinling stared down at the scroll before him, nostrils flaring in obvious irritation. It’s a difficult task, and Jinling is sure the sound of him grinding his teeth is loud enough for his court to hear him all the way from where he’s seated on his dais. It was stupid, this whole farce was stupid, and Jinling could feel the hatred welling up in him as he glared harder at the scroll placed before him, the calligraphy blurring before his eyes as he mockingly prayed for it to burst into flames. But there was no way that was going to happen, and with a loud tsk that had his court jumping to attention, Jinling raised the scroll to his face, eyebrows bunching together as he read the details.

 

It was a marriage proposal to some god forsaken omega that belonged to Qinghe Nie’s subsidiary clan. And while Jinling was raised to be nothing but respectful to omegas, his mother having been one, there was a fury coiling under his skin as he stared blankly at the name before him. He didn’t care if the omega was dainty and beautiful with great skills in medicine. He didn’t care if the omega was fertile and would strengthen the ties he had to Qinghe Nie, as if Sect Leader Nie was even eager to have his head now that he had already gotten his revenge. They were cowards, his court filled with them, and Jinling hated the oppressiveness found within his halls. There was no pride to the beautiful peonies that grew in the gardens of Koi Tower, not with these bumbling fools that continued to make the same social faux-pas he thought they would have known better than to make by now.

 

Sucking in a deep breath, Jinling shifted, letting out another sigh as he re-rolled the parchment, expression sour. The only saving grace to this whole situation had to be Zizhen, Jinling thought wryly to himself as he raised a tired brow in the direction of the beta seated before him on his right. A slight twitch of the beta’s mouth is enough to alleviate his terrible mood however, and Jinling finally moves, putting his foot down on the floor as he straightened his back.

 

“I understand this meeting was called to discuss the worries some of you may have with regards to Lanling Jin’s relationship with the other Sects. I wasn’t aware that it was a briefing on possible marriage candidates.” Jinling announces curtly, voice flat and unimpressed as he puts the scroll back down onto the table. It makes an ominous ‘clink’ as it meets the shiny gold surface, the opulence offensive to Jinling even as he ignores it, eyes scanning the court full of elders and relatives before him.

 

“Well? Does anyone have anything to say?” Jinling snapped impatiently, unable to bare the awkward silence that trespassed his presence. What was the point of this meeting if no one even dared to speak up? If at least one of them had the guts to voice his insecurities, he’d finally be able to solve them, and they’d stop this strange dance regarding his singlehood! Uncle Jiang was still single after all, and it wasn’t as if Lanling Jin was in any position to start accepting possible brides, coffers full or not!

 

Although , his alpha wolf scoffed in his mind, if any of them openly voiced their distaste for Sizhui they probably wouldn’t live to see the night.

 

And wouldn’t that solve my problems with regards to all the bureaucratic red tape I have to deal with , Jinling snarled back, his alpha wolf nodding sagely in agreement. It’s frustrating, which is why Jinling wants to kiss the damn floor when an elder finally clears his throat, eyes shifting nervously as he speaks, no doubt wary of the already displeased alpha.

 

“Perhaps… Young master could give us his thoughts on this candidate from Qinghe Nie?”

 

So not a direct confrontation then? Jinling sighed again, lips pursed into a thin line as he studied the man, they’re always men why couldn’t he have a strong reliable woman in his court for once, seated before him. Judging by his robes paired with an evergreen jade charm at his belt, Jinling had an inkling this was one of the Elders that had no doubt been causing problems within Koi Tower. Someone clinging to the old ways of the Sect, and no doubt desperate to see it restored to its former glory.

 

Unfortunately for him, Jinling had a very different ideal with regards to ‘former glory’.

 

“I have no opinion whatsoever of this omega. I’ve scarcely even met him, let alone known of his existence. Am I supposed to make a judgement on who I should allow into Lanling Jin based of a measly piece of paper? Even if he did,” Jinling paused, picking up the scroll and double checking the seal before placing it on the table once more, “come with the seal of Sect Leader Nie, I doubt he would be pleased if I mate an omega I have no intention of building a life with.”

 

“Ah but… It would be very rude to reject Sect Leader Nie since we have been in a precarious relationship with them for the past few years.” Another elder spoke up, voice soft but just as inflaming, the court beginning to murmur among themselves.

 

And whose fault is that? Jinling thought snidely, his temples beginning to pulse as he glowered at the group of people before him. He’s at the limit of his patience, completely furious with the incompetency of his court when Zizhen stands, his beta scent soothing ruffled feathers almost immediately. Waving a hand languidly for him to speak, Jinling fell back into his throne, breathing in through his mouth to taste the calming scent of sea water and fireworks, his friend’s presence god sent.

 

“It is natural that everyone should be concerned with regards to this matter as it is the young master’s future fiancé we are talking about. Perhaps I would be able to shed better light on this situation if our lord could reveal this omega’s name? After all, my family’s business requires me to frequently visit Qinghe Nie.” Zizhen offers sweetly, countenance cajoling even as his jaw seems to tick, something Jinling files away for later to laugh at when he’s back in the confines of his room.

 

“Yes, that would be an excellent idea young master Zizhen!”

 

“We want nothing but the best for our young master after all.”

 

“Indeed, if there’s something wrong with the omega it wouldn’t make sense to go through with the ceremony.”

 

“Very well.” Jinling answered flatly, barely able to stop himself from rolling his eyes at Zizhen’s blatant attempt at stalling. Zizhen’s Sect was technically under Uncle Jiang’s protection, but one look at the near feral Lanling Jin court had Zizhen’s father sending his son over, no doubt eager to get into his uncle’s good books. But Zizhen didn’t care for politics, not so long as he was on Jinling’s side. And for that friendship Jinling was a thousand times grateful for. Though he’d sooner die than let the beta know. Clearing his throat, Jinling waited until silence befell the room once more before he picked up the scroll, scanning its contents briefly before looking up.

 

“It seems to be a branch family. No doubt far removed but having gained the favour of Sect Leader Nie somehow. I believe his name is Lu Yukai.” Jinling read out loud, brows smoothing over before he raised his head expectantly to look at his best friend.

 

He doesn’t expect Zizhen to freeze, eyes wide in shock.

 

“Well?” Jinling prompts, slightly unnerved by the wild look in his friend’s eyes. Does he know him personally? Jinling thought in alarm as his friend’s mouth opened only to close, the beta momentarily taken aback.

 

“Young master Zizhen, perhaps you do know this omega?”

 

“How is he like young master? Would he be an adequate fiancé for our young lord?”

 

“I…” Coughing into his hand, Zizhen seems to come back to life, lips pulling upwards into a strained smile. “I have met him before.” Zizhen comments, voice catching as he shoots Jinling a helpless look. Oh, crap he does know him? It has Jinling stiffening, eyes immediately narrowing in worry as the beta begins to speak, voice cautious.

 

“He’s a natural brunette, with eyes the colour of rainclouds in spring. Lips as pink as camellias and a voice as sweet as a nightingale.” Not good, Jinling thought darkly to himself as the beta gave him another panicked expression. Not good at all. “He is petite in form, delicate in personality and a learnt medic.” The tittering is starting once more, this time in a positive manner, and Jinling is this close to cursing because fuck this can’t be a perfect omega or he’d be forced-

 

“Ah but his cultivation level isn’t very high.” Zizhen comments loudly, fist smacking his open palm in an ‘aha’ moment that has the court freezing and Jinling jolting upright. “He’s weak in martial arts and has a fragile constitution, so he won’t be joining any night-hunts.”

 

“That’s not good.” Jinling shakes his head immediately, relaxing back into his seat. Of course Zizhen would pull through this scenario like a duck taking to water. Even if he knew the omega there were definitely bound to be some flaws that would paint him as a poor candidate. It’s this thought that has Jinling letting out a huff of relief, a soft smile beginning to cross his face at the easy political maneuver against his court.

 

Or so he thought.

 

“Well isn’t that perfect? He’d be kept safely away in Koi Tower!”

 

“He’d be able to tend to the sick without getting into any fights.”

 

“Not to mention he’ll be taking care of the pups anyway.”

 

Grinding his teeth angrily, Jinling bit back a snarl, head immediately whipping to glare at Zizhen to fix this wreck of a conversation. He was not marrying or mating anyone who wasn’t Sizhui, and the beta damn well knew that! Except Zizhen is still as a statue, fingers curled into his robes and trembling, eyes fixed on the ground. Confused, losing his position in court and with his only ally floundering for words, Jinling felt his heart sink, opening his mouth to find anything, anything at all to get them to understand that no he was not going to marry any damn omega-

 

“Hah?! What’s this about an omega?” A loud voice booms from across the throne room, sharp and packed with so much ferocity that Jinling jolts up in his seat, back straightening immediately. His court ripples like a pebble meeting still water, and Jinling wants to cry when he finally sees who’s standing in his door way, eyebrows furrowed, and face pinched with anger.

 

“Uncle Jiang!” He greets joyously, eyes lighting up in relief as he rises to meet his uncle who walks briskly towards the throne. Beside him, his servants are already pulling out a seat for his uncle, and Jinling practically wiggles with pride as his court cowers before the presence of his sire, mumbling low nervous greetings of ‘Sect Leader Jiang’ as he walked past. Sharply nodding at their greeting, Jinling can feel the way he’s vibrating with excitement as his uncle sits himself down, hand receiving the cup of wine and toasting him before Uncle Jiang is downing it in one go.

 

Silence.

 

“Well? I asked a question. What’s this about an omega?” Uncle Jiang reiterates, expression irritated as he looks at the Lanling Jin court, back straight and aura casting an imposing glare over the throne room. His scent swirls, displeased and heavy with annoyance around them all, and Jinling has to stop himself from hollering out loud with glee. Instead, he clears his throat and with the blankest expression he can manage surmises the issue to his uncle.

 

“It seems the court has found me a more suitable candidate as my mate from Qinghe Nie. Perhaps Uncle would like to state his opinion on the matter?”

 

There’s a pause as his uncle turns to face him, eyes narrowed into flints as he stares Jinling down. Not breaking the gaze, Jinling felt a bead of sweat roll down his temple, his stomach tied into knots as he willed his uncle to understand, to save me please Uncle Jiang I need you I can’t do this by myself please-

 

A sigh, almost inaudible, but loud enough only for Jinling to hear.

 

It reads as stubborn brat, and Jinling stifles a snicker.

 

“You think you have a right to decide who gets to be his future mate?” Uncle Jiang states coolly, clucking his tongue reproachfully at Jinling’s courtiers who shut up at his words, eyes darting all over the room as if looking for an escape route. “All you cowering spineless fools? Where was your back bone when Jin Guangyao was alive hm? Fucking rolled over like a damn dog even though evil deeds were happening right under your nose!” Uncle Jiang snarled, Zidian beginning to crackle purple as his nostrils flared, the man slamming his fist on the table so hard that his cup crashes onto the floor. It smashes into a thousand pieces, and perhaps Jinling should be angry he’ll have to replace the cup but seeing his uncle have a go at those dumb ass courtiers for his sake has him almost dancing for joy.

 

“You’re lucky to be alive, let alone going around deciding things when you couldn’t even protect your own Sect! What kind of alphas make up this court huh?” Uncle Jiang roared, purple lightning beginning to uncoil from his index finger, curling around the foot of the table. “You should be lucky I don’t break all your legs you spineless fucking blubbering imbeciles!” Uncle Jiang howled, almost red in the face from anger as he shoots upright, Zidian cleanly breaking the table into two as he makes himself clear to the court.

 

“If you don’t cease your stupid ridiculous behavior, I’ll personally make sure you regret it, or my name is not Jiang Wanyin!” Uncle Jiang hissed, face thunderous and Zidian crackling ominously over the splintered wood and broken porcelain. He’s furious, and the distinct scent of electricity paired with the vapor of an oncoming storm has Jinling almost purring, his inner alpha tickled pink that his sire was here to put a stop to this ridiculous charade. He wasn’t supposed to rely on Uncle Jiang, not when he was a Sect Leader himself now, but there was no denying the fact that Uncle Jiang was his father in all but birth.

 

“The only son-in-law I’ll recognize,” Uncle Jiang rumbled, voice low and hard as he glared daggers at the court, “is the one he chooses.” There’s a momentary halt to his words as he glances up at Jinling who doesn’t resist giving him a smile, a wide beaming one that has Uncle Jiang softening, eyes gentling.

 

“Is that clear?!” Uncle Jiang barked as his attention returned to the room, the court acquiescing with panicked murmurs as courtiers bowed subserviently in the face of the raging alphan sire. Satisfied with their reaction, Uncle Jiang cocked his head, one eyebrow raised in curiosity at his nephew.

 

It reads as a question.

 

Good enough?

 

The answering grin from Jinling says it all.

 

More than good enough Uncle Jiang.)

 

Good times, good times.

 

Even now, the memory of his uncle’s raging monologue never failed to perk him up.

 

But then he had visited Sizhui only for the beta to reject him, sending him into a spiral of self-doubt, rage and embarrassment. Not that he still retained it, Jinling thought smugly to himself as he coughed behind his hand, his mind replaying the way Sizhui had arched in his arms, whimpering and tugging at him. It made him delirious with want, his fangs aching to sink into that soft supple flesh, to have the other tilt his head and bare his neck in perfect submission, to sink to his knees and worship Jinling because oh how he would make it worthwhile for the beta. Head high up in the clouds, Jinling barely notices Zizhen as the other hurries to join him, too busy musing over the next step in his plan.

 

“That turned out well.” Zizhen comments, brown eyes glinting playfully in the moonlight as he matches his pace with Jinling’s own footsteps. His words earn him a grunt, and Zizhen can’t help the snicker that escapes his lips at the petulant frown marring the alpha’s usual baby face. “Oh, come on, Sizhui was wonderful and you know it. Why he-”

 

“If you dare wax poetry about my future mate, I will have your head.” Jinling interrupts flatly, his hand subtly unsheathing Suihua as he gives Zizhen his best warning look. It’s ineffective however, and Jinling is suddenly faced with great understanding on why his uncle refuses to keep friends around him. It’s because nothing you say ever gets through their fucking thick dumb skulls, Jinling scowls, lips pursed into an angry line as Zizhen completely disregards his statement to bump shoulders with him, snickering loudly in the process. It stops being irritating though, when Zizhen suddenly tucks his hands into the long sleeves of his robes and lowers his voice, words a soft murmur easily lost in the wind and perfectly created for Jinling’s ears only.

 

“If you’ve already reported your presence to Sect Leader Nie, you’re more than allowed to take a breather. Especially after what happened.” Zizhen whispers, his mouth crooking upwards into a helpful smile. “He did just rub himself all over you and well…” A subtle glance to Jinling’s crotch is enough for the alpha to get the point, his cheeks burning red as he shoved Zizhen angrily.

 

“Shut up.” Jinling hissed, snarling at the beta who only rolled his eyes. “It’s not like I can help, help, you know what I mean!”

 

“Your Sect has already settled for the night.” Zizhen continues, ignoring the flushing mess of an alpha beside him, expression serious as he begins his report to Jinling. “I had a brief chat with Sect Leader Nie while you were dealing with the campsite and it seems the banquet will only be held tomorrow. Too many of the cultivators are tired from travelling here, the mountain paths having made it an arduous climb and preventing us from getting here by swords.”

 

“Not like we could have done that in the first place.” Jinling replies, face clearing as he switches to work mode, his tone level as he answers Zizhen. “Having a mating run means that the participants have to bring along bedding and medication, while those participating in the hunt have their arms full lugging gifts and food.” Jinling paused, inclining his head towards Zizhen. “Have you heard from Sect Leader Nie how the annual mating ceremony will take place?”

 

“From what I’ve heard, the diplomatic banquet will only be held tomorrow night.” Zizhen answered quickly, lips pursed in thought. “After the banquet it’ll just be two to three days of courtship and mingling. The fourth and fifth day would be the time the runners begin looking for a stronghold, while the hunters will begin preparation for their mating, and after the final preparations are done, the seventh day is when the ceremony will officially begin.” Words coming to a halt, Zizhen shoots Jinling a knowing look, one that isn’t lost on the alpha as he lets out a weary sigh.

 

“So, we’ll be discussing politics for at least the next two days?” At Zizhen’s sharp nod Jinling groaned, pinching the bridge of his nose in exasperation. “You would think that these old folks would have learnt by know that there’s no point in squabbling over territory. All this is doing is putting a strain on the various packs that are supposed to be searching for their mates.”

 

“Well, even with your busy schedule I’m sure we’ll be able to squeeze in a couple of hours over the next two days for you to court Sizhui. He’s the son of Hanguang-jun after all, so he probably won’t be miffed over how busy you are.” Zizhen snorts, shaking his head at the alpha’s irritated behavior.

 

“Sizhui doesn’t know the meaning of impatience.” Jinling answers drily, rolling his eyes. “He’d probably be all helpful and eager for me to start on the paperwork. Pouring tea and waking me up at the crack of dawn to get started and all that.”

 

“Doesn’t sound like a problem to me.” Zizhen teases, and the alpha promptly shuts up, cheeks burning red as he elbows Zizhen.

 

“Enough about me. What about you?” Jinling mutters, clearing his throat as he redirected the conversation. “That omega, the one that has been following you. He is here isn’t he?” At his words Zizhen’s steps falter, and the beta visibly deflates, eyes immediately flickering away from where they were previously fixed on Jinling’s face. Well that’s not good, Jinling thinks in alarm, his own pace slowing as he rounds on the beta, eyebrows raised in surprise. “What happened?”

 

“Nothing happened.” Zizhen coughed, fidgeting uncomfortably from where Jinling has him pinned with his gaze. “We’re just, you know, friends.”

 

Hah?

 

“Just friends my ass!” Jinling hisses, clocking Zizhen across the head and reveling in the beta’s pained yelp. “You did something didn’t you? What did you do?!” At his words Zizhen sighed, letting out a puff of air as he looked away, shoulders hunching over. I’m going to kill him, Jinling thought dully, tempted to shake the other by his robes, if he fucked up I’m going to-

 

“Just, he said he was looking forward to the mating run. So, I asked if he needed help looking for potential alphas.” Zizhen muttered, and Jinling felt his blood run cold. Seriously? His fingers are itching to grab Zizhen by the collar and to rattle the other, but from the way he’s dejectedly sighing, he knows the beta is already regretting his decision. And so Jinling settles for a low growl of disappointment instead.

 

“You’re an idiot you know that? It’s pretty obvious he’s referring to you.”

 

“Doesn’t matter if he is or isn’t. His ranking is far above mine.” Zizhen mutters, and Jinling sighs.

 

“You’re practically my second hand at this point. Just how is his ranking above yours? Also, why is it that I know what his favourite colours are but not his name? Seriously, you keep writing poetry about him and-hey!” Jinling barked, frowning as the beta begins to slide away, concentration no longer fixed on the alpha. Eyebrows furrowed in annoyance, Jinling is just about to yank the other back when he catches sight of what the beta is staring at. Or better yet, who he’s heading towards to.

 

Huh, so that’s what he looks like…

 

“Just friends my ass!” Jinling snorts, shaking his head as he turned away, marching towards Sect Leader Lan with an eagerness he hasn’t felt since his days spent studying in Cloud Recesses which offered him a front row seat of his beloved mate to be.

 

If you two were just friends, you wouldn’t be running over at the sight of him like a pup.

 

Just friends my ass!

 

+

 

“Yukai!” Zizhen called out, voice echoing across the field as he quickened his steps, racing to catch up with the figure before him dressed in green. At his voice, the omega in question turns, pastel green robes fluttering in the breeze as Zizhen is met with wide hazel eyes and pink rose lips. Yukai is beautiful, no doubt the most beautiful creature Zizhen has ever seen, and the beta has to fight the smile threatening to envelop his whole face as he takes in his friend. Petite shoulders tapered down into a tiny waist wrapped in a yellow belt, the flowing green material only drawing attention to the hollow of Yukai’s throat and his pale moonbeam skin. His hair is down, and Zizhen feels the urge burning in him to run his fingers through silky brown locks, tempting him to wind it around his finger, to press his lips to it. His thoughts are broken however, as the omega begins to speak, drawing him back into the present.

 

“Z-Zizhen!” Yukai squeaks, hands flailing in surprise as he hurriedly smooths down his robes, getting rid of the creases as he walks forward to greet the beta. “W-What are you d-doing here?”

 

“Ah, I saw you and thought to come see you.” Zizhen answered, chuckling lightly as he steps closer, inhaling the scent of camellias and honey. Ah, he really is just as sweet as his personality. “How are you settling into the camp?”

 

“F-Fine!” Yukai stammers, fingers laced together as he rocks himself on his heels, eyes sweeping across Zizhen’s face with nervous anticipation. “D-Do you, I m-mean, have you, um-”

 

“Calm down.” Zizhen laughs, shaking his head in amusement as he moves closer, lets himself bathe in the warmth of Yukai’s presence. Just once, he would like to enjoy this moment, to not feel his heart sink with agony over what he can’t have. Shouldn’t want. “What is it Yukai?” He asks, and hears the sharp hitch in breath, the slight whimper that escapes the omega’s lips at his proximity and feels his beta wolf whine in rapture.

 

“T-Tea!” Yukai breathes out, eyes shining and fingers reaching out to tug shyly on Zizhen’s sleeve. “W-Would you, in my tent, um, c-come in for some t-tea?”

 

He should say no.

 

He should say no because to be invited into an unmated omega’s den, their nest, has a thousand and one implications he isn’t quite prepared to handle. Entering it would just create a million more.

 

But when Yukai edges in closer and wets his lips with his tiny pink tongue, Zizhen feels all rational thought fly out of his brain.

 

“Yes.” He whispers hoarsely, voice rough with desire. It’s testament to how much he wants Yukai, how much his fantasies have bled into his voice when the omega visibly shudders in response, mouth dropping open and letting out a soft gasp. The scent of camellias seems to intensify ten-fold, and Zizhen’s wolf is howling with barely restrained willpower as the omega tilts his head submissively, baring his scent gland. It’s a tease, a deliberate show of his obedience, and Zizhen is torn between crying over how much he wants to sink is fangs into Yukai’s neck and celebrating how much the omega trusts him.

 

“T-Then,” Yukai straightens, voice becoming more determined as his fingers curl into Zizhen’s robes, his eyes glinting with new-found confidence, “p-please follow me, Z-Zizhen. My tent is just t-this way.”

 

“Lead the way.” Zizhen chokes out, voice strangled, mind too hyper-focused on those fingers that have darted up his arm, wrapping around the crook of his elbow. “Is it far?”

 

“No.” Yukai murmurs, pressing close, and Zizhen can’t help the sharp inhale of air as he realizes just how much they’re touching. How Yukai’s hips bump against his and how the omega’s chest, soft and round is brushing against his arm and remind him that oh he’d take breeding so well, be so good and eager and oh what a great mother he would be if I just fucked into his-

 

I should say no, he thinks, dazed as Yukai begins guiding him towards his tent.

 

But I don’t want to.

 

And because Zizhen is a weak man, he lets it be.

 

+

 

Oh?” Huaisang murmurs, clicking his tongue in surprise as he spots a familiar yellow clad man walking towards him and Lanhuan. Quickly removing his hand from Lanhuan’s thigh, he bites back a croon as the omega stiffens, fingers twitching in his lap but refusing to chase after Huaisang’s ghost of a touch. Flipping open his fan, Huaisang has to hide his smirk as the young alpha in question raises both hands flawlessly to greet him, no doubt well taught by Jiangcheng. Waving the formalities away, Huaisang gave a small laugh as he pulled Jinling down to sit beside him, the younger Sect Leader stumbling in surprise at his action before righting himself once more.

 

“Jinling!” Huaisang greets warmly, eyes crinkling as he smiled down at the younger alpha, “I’m guessing you’re here to submit a mating request?”

 

“Ah, yes Sect Leader Nie.” Jinling answers, shoulders relaxing as he returns a tentative smile towards the older alpha. His words have Lanhuan perking up, and Huaisang almost sniggers out loud at how the omega quickly presses closer, eyes glowing with interest as he leans over to look at Jinling.

 

“I would like to submit a mating proposal for Lan Sizhui, Sect Leader Lan.” The young alpha states, chin raised confidently as he awkwardly peers around Huaisang to direct his words to Zewu-jun. Holding back another snicker, Huaisang schooled his face into the most serious expression he could manage as the omega practically vibrated with happiness at Jinling’s words, almost toppling over Huaisang’s lap in an attempt to speak to Jinling.

 

Precious.

 

“Ah, that’s wonderful! I was waiting for your request, although I do have a few questions.” Lanhuan replies brightly, lips pulling into a gentle smile at Jinling’s look of surprise and panic. “You do not need to know the answers to them of course, as I am just asking as a concerned Sect Leader.” Lanhuan reassures softly, Jinling nodding his head cautiously as he glanced up at Huaisang before looking at the omega once more.

 

“Well,” Lanhuan paused, amber eyes turning serious as he gazed at Jinling, “has my brother spoken to you about Sizhui’s condition?”

 

Oh?

 

“His… Condition?” Jinling sounds confused, and his worried expression shows it, the young alpha wetting his lips anxiously as he looks up at the Sect Leader of Gusu Lan.

 

“Ah there is no need to worry if he has not spoken to you about it. Lanzhan is not known for his words, and this issue is indeed rather delicate.” Lanhuan replies softly, laying a hand on top of Jinling’s own and stilling the younger alpha’s trembling hands. His phrasing has Huaisang’s attention re-focusing, the alpha now staring at the omega through narrowed eyes, suspicion written all over his face.

 

“What…condition are you referring to, Sect Leader Lan?” Jinling asks, voice low as he bites his lip, once more revealing his age to Huaisang. He’s so young, the alpha thinks to himself, his chest aching somewhat as he looks at the brunette with his clear brown eyes and a red vermillion dot. He looks just like Jin Zixuan, Huaisang muses, throat dry as he continues staring, with aspects of Jiang Yanli, and isn’t it funny how we’re all older now and oh not everyone is here anymore. A warm squeeze of his thigh has him breaking out of his thoughts, and Huaisang flushes as he realizes Lanhuan is looking at him worriedly, amber eyes fluttering over his face before they latch back on Jinling once more.

 

“I’m sure you have noticed by now that Sizhui’s scent is rather, well, unique for a beta.” Lanhuan begins softly, eyes wary as he takes in Jinling’s stiffening spine and ashen face.

 

His scent?

 

“I am aware that his scent is frequently mistaken for an omega’s and that he is a beta. You do not have to worry as I have no intention of treating him like a dynamic he is not.” Jinling replies quickly, voice rough and sure. His words are reassuring, but the slight shake of Lanhuan’s head has the young Sect Leader freezing, and Huaisang is infinitely more confused because he’s a beta who smells like an omega wait what?

 

“Sizhui is not a Lan by blood, something that I believe you are well aware of. He is, in fact, the last descendant of Qishan Wen.” Lanhuan paused, watching for Jinling’s nod before continuing. “Unfortunately, before he was saved by Wei Gongzi there have been some ah, unrepairable damage made to his inner wolf’s psyche.” Lanhuan finishes slowly, eyes tracking Jinling as the alpha before him gaps, adam’s apple bobbing as he swallowed hard.

 

Unrepairable damages?

 

“When you say unrepairable damage…”

 

“It is not something my brother and I have revealed to everyone, nor have we spoken to Sizhui about it. The main reason for that is because we can’t actively confirm if it’s true, and well, he is ultimately still his own person is he not?” Lanhuan questions, head cocked to the side and smiling slightly as Jinling nods, eyebrows bunched thoughtfully.

 

“Either way, we suspect that while being held captive during the aftermath of the Sunshot campaign, Sizhui’s wolf might have been forcefully commanded to submit to whoever he came across.  Regardless, of their dynamic.” Lanhuan whispers, and Huaisang feels his blood run cold at those words, his face going bone-white as he stares at Lanhuan in absolute terror. A beta was neutral by nature, which meant that they were unreactive to an alpha’s or omega’s command. Forcing a reaction from a beta wolf was akin to torture, and for a child to face that-

 

“But,” Jinling’s voice is faint, shocked, “he must have been, three? Or four, years old?”

 

“Younger.” Lanhuan murmurs, chewing his bottom lip as he looks at Jinling tiredly. “We hid this fact, but when Sizhui was first brought back to Cloud Recesses his scent was that of an omega in distress.”

 

“But a beta….” Jinling choked out, the words bubbling in his throat and sending something sick roiling in Huaisang’s gut.

 

But a beta is neutral, the mediator.

 

“Indeed, a beta’s scent should always remain neutral regardless of their emotions.” Lanhuan answers, sighing quietly at he looked at Jinling’s shaking form. “I believe Sizhui’s beta wolf must have been forced to react in some way for survival, and that his inner wolf made the necessary changes during his captivity.”

 

“You mean…”

 

“Jinling, I believe Sizhui’s beta wolf is traumatized.” Lanhuan states firmly, eyes soft as he watches the alpha before him take in deep gulps of air, chest heaving frantically. “His inner wolf no longer recognizes his dynamic as a beta, and believes he is an omega. Naturally his secondary biology as a beta cannot be changed which leaves him unfertile.”

 

“That just means hell for his inner wolf!” Huaisang interrupts, voice pitched an octave higher as he looks at his lover in horror. “If he thinks he’s supposed to go into heat every month but doesn’t, if he smells like one but can’t act like one, he’s going to-” Cutting himself short, Huaisang looked away, his lungs burning in his throat as bile piles in the back of his tongue, disgust flooding his bloodstream because they killed so many, they killed them and they were innocent innocent innocent innocent-

 

“I don’t care.” Jinling snaps, voice firm as he straightens his back, eyes blazing. “I don’t care if he comes with difficulties or if he isn’t perfect or if he isn’t an omega or a beta or whatever he is. To me he’s Sizhui, and I want him come hell or high water.” Upon realizing his blatant rudeness, the young Sect Leader immediately blushes, hands flailing around in panic as he stuttered. “T-That is if Sect Leader Lan um, a-approves of course! I wouldn’t dare uh do uh anything without um your blessing and I uh-”

 

“A blessing duly given.” Lanhuan informs him gently, and Huaisang wants to laugh at how Jinling brightens up at those words, but he’s too busy feeling sick, feeling the stickiness of blood hanging heavy on his robes and watching lifeless eyes and burying friends much too young to be buried and god they just keep dying and I can’t do anything I can’t do anything at all-

 

“Thank you, thank you Sect Leader Lan!” Jinling cheers, jumping up in delight as he bows, his excitement palpable. “I’ll be heading off now but thank you, thank you so much!”

 

In a whirlwind of a second Jinling is gone, but Huaisang can only see the flash of a cocky smile and jut of a hip, the confidence of a familiar face showered in Lanling Jin gold and yellow peonies from all those years ago.

 

“A-sang?” Lanhuan murmurs, voice worried, and suddenly it’s too much for Huaisang to handle. The whole annual diplomatic meeting, the mating run or mating hunt, the peace, the war, the diplomacy. It comes rushing in like a tidal wave, the knowledge that the crown he’s wearing is all too heavy and the seat he’s uncomfortable. There’s water filling his lungs, leaving him drowning and choking on memories he promised to forget, to leave behind in order to move forward. Haughty airs from a golden peacock, the purchase of a fan hidden from his brother, the coarse hand on his head when he laid tired in bed after a long day of training, and the deaths on his hands, the spray of blood, the cries of dead souls, and pain and longing and grief and god what am I doing here, what am I doing when they’re still dead and I’m still here with nothing, nothing to show for nothing to give nothingnothingnothing-

 

“A-sang-”

 

“Don’t touch me!” Huaisang snarls, voice shaking as he rips himself away from Lanhuan. The omega stills, amber eyes blinking in surprise as Huaisang stands, clutching onto his arm like he has just been burnt. It takes a moment for it to sink in, but when it does, Lanhuan’s eyes widen in terror, golden irises darkening with fear as he reaches out with another hand to pull at Huaisang’s sleeve.

 

“A-sang-”

 

“I said,” Huaisang growled, low and threatening as he bared his fangs at the omega, “Do. Not. Touch. Me.” It has Lanhuan freezing, the omega petrified and leaning back slightly as Huaisang’s aura makes itself known, the bitter and sour tang of lemon grass flooding the other’s senses. His scent earns a whimper from Lanhuan who looks at him with unadulterated fear and confusion, his lower lip trembling while his golden eyes begin to shine, a film of tears covering that pretty gaze. Huaisang wants to dive into them, feel the warmth of sunshine and honey as it soothes his frayed nerves and chases away his nightmares.

 

But then he remembers the ledger. He remembers dead eyes and putrid flesh, remembers a tower set ablaze and the screams of an old friend turned enemy. He remembers the brandishing of a saber, the kiss on his brow when he couldn’t lift no more and the loud roaring laughter of a beloved older brother. He remembers haughty arrogance on a cold spring morning, the brawling with torn fists in cloud recesses and the straight back of a firm believer in justice. He remembers stuttering words with a shy gaze, the gentle touch of a healer and the determination found in tense shoulders. He remembers a wedding, red and decked with gold and the happiness which overflowed like all the goblets of wine they drank. He remembers the blood spilt on a joyous day, painting the soil scarlet and the sobs of agony that echoed within the halls. He remembers the funerals, remembers old friends and loved ones who he gave away to time, and those he gave away to war. Remembers how many he failed to save, how many he let die, how many he’ll one day forget and how I’m living while they’re gonegonegonegone-

 

“Don’t touch me.” Huaisang repeats, voice cracking as he turns away.

 

“A-sang-”

 

“Please.” He whispers as he stumbles away.

 

This time, Lanhuan makes no move to stop him.

 

I’m drowning, Huaisang thinks numbly as he sweeps past people and moves towards his tent.

 

I’m drowning in mistakes I can never be forgiven for.

 

+

 

He doesn’t mean it, Lanhuan chants to himself, inhaling deeply and slowly exhaling with a slow count of four. He’s probably feeling stressed from managing everything, and I’m not helping matters if I push him to respond to me, Lanhuan reminds himself as his fingers shake, light tremors running over his hands even when he curls them into his white robes. Huaisang’s bared fangs run through his mind’s eye and Lanhuan shivers, fighting the urge to rub his arms as he remembers how furious the alpha had been, eyes wild and canines gleaming like well-polished ivory under the moonlight.

 

His relationship with Huaisang has always been cursory, nothing more than a casual wave and gentle smile. Even after the Sunshot Campaign and when Huaisang became Sect Leader, he had always retained the image as the younger brother of Mingjue in Lanhuan’s mind. Someone sweet and gentle, meant to be protected and cared for with all his abilities and strength. But perhaps his inner omega had already known, Lanhuan thought to himself, blushing slightly as he excused himself from the campfire, shaking his head cordially to fend off new company. There was just something about Huaisang with his jasmine scent doused in white lilies that made Lanhuan’s skin crawl and break into goosebumps, the alpha in question looking up with wide innocent eyes every single time Lanhuan choked on his scent. It made him nervous, his inner omega’s tail flicking warily whenever Huaisang called for him in that same sugary sweet voice, hazel eyes batting shyly at him.

 

In the beginning he had thought he was losing his mind, shame coiling in his gut whenever Huaisang’s presence would leave him breathless and awkward. This was his sworn brother’s younger brother, innocent and oh so naïve! How could he take advantage of him like that? But it never escaped his notice when Huaisang’s voice would accidentally hitch mid-sentence, the alpha hanging onto his shoulder and whining for help with a dramatic pout. It replayed constantly in his mind, the firm touch on his wrist while he was practicing his calligraphy to the press of a strong chest against his back. It was that sharp glint in Huaisang’s eyes that Lanhuan sometimes thought he caught, the narrowed concentration in brown orbs before they relaxed into a ditzy gleam that made his heart pound and left him in a dilemma so catastrophic Lanhuan had cried during his heats.

 

(He needed something, anything, no, not anything. Lanhuan whimpered, eyes squeezed shut in concentration as he tried to regulate his breathing. Why was his heat so damn strong this time? It wasn’t as if he had done anything to warrant such a tremendous increase in his waves. Burying his nose into his sheets, Lanhuan tried to taste the soft scent of sugar and oranges, the sect’s soap which frequently covered his robes and reminded him of Cloud Recesses. But all he could smell was the same thing, the tingle of jasmine at the back of his throat, the curl of white lilies on the tip of his tongue, floral fragrance tickling the roof of his mouth and reminding just how wrong all this was.

 

As if responding to his guilt, Lanhuan bit back a sob as he felt his hole throb, the muscle contracting tightly before relaxing. A loud spurt broke the silence of the room, the sound blubbering and matching the gush of slick that painted Lanhuan’s legs, dribbling between his thighs and staining his bed. Shame rushed through Lanhuan’s veins, his cheeks turning pink as he whined pathetically, tugging the blanket over his face as if that could hide the fact that he was currently aroused and turned on by his sworn brother’s younger brother!

 

“If Mingjue was alive he’d kill me.” Lanhuan mumbled, tongue falling out of his mouth as the heat bubbled under his skin, rioting and painting beautiful pink flowers across his pale body. He could do this, could get through his heat thinking of Mingjue’s furious face, that angry V of his eyebrows and those raging brown eyes, brown hazel eyes, eyes just like Huaisang’s that are framed with long butterfly lashes, that leads down to pink lips that would pull back to reveal sharp fangs that could make red indents across Lanhuan’s skin and-

 

“Mingjue I’m so sorry.” Lanhuan whined, a garbled moan escaping his lips as he rutted against his bed, his thoughts turning down a terrible, terrible path. “I’m a horrible person.” Lanhuan whimpered, lips finding the corner of his blanket and biting into the cloth. Hips rolling into his sheets, his nest, Lanhuan choked, tongue wetting the fabric as he sucked on it, teeth sinking into the soiled corner. He needed friction, needed to feel pleasure racing up his spine and dousing the heat within him. Sinking his teeth into the blanket, Lanhuan held on as he snaked a hand down his front, hand wrapping around his cock and tugging gently, his index finger swiping the head of his cock and pulling back his silt.

 

But that’s not how Huaisang would do it, no, how an alpha would do it. Lanhuan mewled, shaking his head furiously as his gut coiled. An alpha would never touch his cock, no, they would touch his hole. Would finger him until he was mindlessly begging for their cock, twitching in their laps like the needy little thing he was. That’s right, all alphas would want that, not any particular alpha, just all alphas. It was his mantra, what he would use to get through his heat. And so Lanhuan chanted to himself, mind beginning to fog over with a delirious hunger for ecstasy, his hand already retreating and darting between his ass cheeks, following the trail of slick.

 

“A-Ah!” Lanhuan gasped, spine arching as he finally reached his hole, thumb pressing against his entrance and pushing languidly inside. He was wet, soaking, spurting like spring and he could picture his alpha’s face, expression hungry and eyes glowing. His alpha would be so proud, would taunt him over how desperate he was, asked if he had practiced with anyone else.

 

“N-No, n-never.” Lanhuan panted, eyes rolling backwards as his legs twitched. He was pure, would always be pure until his mate came to take him. And his alpha would croon praises over how wonderful his body was, how his womb would only ever have his seed and how they would have litters of pups because he was just so perfect and so good and so desperate for a breeding. Angling his hand, Lanhuan spat out the blanket, calves seizing momentarily as he inserted a finger, the squelching sound echoing in the room. But it sent bolts of lightning down his sides, his cock throbbing prettily in response and oh, oh Huaisang would be so proud wouldn’t he?

 

The younger alpha would sing praises into his ear, huffing at his behavior and asking him if such a reaction was becoming of a Sect Leader. Huaisang would know how to twist his fingers, the pads of his fingertips rubbing against Lanhuan’s spot that would make him see stars. And the alpha wouldn’t stop, Lanhuan thought blindly to himself as he pushed in a second finger, the fullness of the stretch taking him by surprise and making him yelp. Huaisang would chuckle and ask with faux concern if Lanhuan was okay, would play with his insides until Lanhuan would be crying for relief, sobbing his name into the sheets like a broken record.

 

“A-sang, A-sang please please please!” Lanhuan wailed, muffling his screams into the blanket as he crooked his fingers, feeling how slick gushed around his hand and how his hole easily expanded to fit him. Huaisang would laugh at his slick, mock how easily Lanhuan was reacting to his touch and the alpha would study his tight little hole, stretching and curling his fingers while he whispered absolute filth into his ears. Like how pretty he would look stretched out on his knot, how his womb would fill with seed and he’d become so round and pretty like a female bitch and how he should have known Lanhuan was such a slut for his cock and how he’d probably service him in court in front of everyone and what a good bitch he’d make for him and-

 

With a sharp twist of his fingers, Lanhuan came, voice sharp and screeching loudly as he orgasmed, hole clamping down tightly on his two fingers as his hips stuttered and lifted off the bed. His thighs spasmed, and Lanhuan cried, tears spilling over his eyes as his cock spurted weakly against his sheets, his hole fluttering angrily around his fingers like a reminder that he was still empty.

 

And all he could smell was the lingering taste of jasmine and white lilies on his tongue, the ghost touch of an alpha too young and too innocent to be Lanhuan’s fantasy.

 

“I’m horrible.” Lanhuan whimpered, his hips stuttering against the bed and recoiling from the aftershock of his orgasm. Guilt running rampant in his mind and heart heavy, Lanhuan felt himself burst into tears, sobbing into the mess of blankets and materials around him, a perfect pathetic excuse of a nest for someone as deplorable as him.)

 

Then things only became worse when Mengyao’s deeds were revealed to the world and Lanhuan had found out Huaisang was behind it all. The innocent naïve boy was now a vicious cruel man, and Lanhuan found himself shaking like a leaf for the next few months whenever he had his heats, eyes blown wide in terror as he ran through the times where Huaisang had sang to him in that sweet faux tone of his and laid a gentle unassuming touch on his body. He could have been killed, Huaisang had killed Mengyao, but Mengyao had killed Mingjue, and if Mingjue had been around what would he have done? But he was not Mingjue, he was A-huan, so how could he act like his older sworn brother, what was the right thing to do? Dry as the desert was how his heat had gone, the omega terrified beyond reason and body refusing to produce slick. He had remained huddled in some corner repeating mantras like a monk, praying for salvation and an end to this huge mess with only A-zhan and Weiying for company.

 

(“Da ge-”

 

“No.” Lanhuan whispered, voice cracking as he rocked back and forth on his heels, eyes red-rimmed from crying as he shook his head at his brother. “No, no it was my fault. I let him have it, I killed Mingjue, and I didn’t know, I should have helped, it was me, it was my fault-”

 

“Da ge…” Lanzhan’s face twitched, his eyes shining with grief as he reached out a hand to touch Lanhuan’s own only to stop, his hand dropping onto the bed. Beside him Wei Gongzi says nothing, hands clenched tightly into fists as he bowed his head, his scent bowled over by the sheer magnitude of Lanhuan’s grief, his sweetness turning sour, like curdled milk.

 

“I didn’t know, but I should have known.” Lanhuan choked out, tears running down his cheeks as they matted his hair, “I should have lead A-yao properly, and I could have saved Mingjue. It was me, it was my fault, my-”

 

“Lan Gongzi,” Wei Gongzi’s voice is soft, an omega’s cajolment, and Lanhuan sobs, burying his face into his arms as the other omega inches into his nest, “what can we do? What can we do for our pretty Lan Gongzi hm?”

 

Die.” Lanhuan whispers, voice breaking as he finally speaks, voice muffled in his robes as he curls into a ball, heart beating far too rapidly for his liking. “Let me die.”

 

No one says anything, and Lanhuan only cries harder when Wei Gongzi, Weiying crawls into his nest and lets him bury his nose into his scent gland. It smells like grief and fear, must have been from the agony on Jiangcheng’s face when he found out about his golden core, from the reliving of Jiang Yanli dying and the look on Jinling’s face when he realised. It’s potent, almost as strong as his but tampered down for his sake, and all Lanhuan can do is wail, hands clutching at Weiying’s back and digging in for life, spilling his emotions, heartache, regret and despair into the air. He gets a broken ‘I know’, and when Lanhuan smells the salt in the air he cries even louder, crying for the both of them to be heard as Weiying cards a hand through his hair, untangling his matted locks.

 

Lanzhan is quiet, but he doesn’t play the first few notes of clarity.

 

He has learnt that it’s better to leave his Guzhen behind, lest his brother destroys it.

 

It was the first thing Lanhuan did to his own after all, when he returned to Cloud Recesses.)

 

Except Huaisang never came for his head. The alpha never visited him while he was in seclusion, never wrote to him, and yet Lanhuan wondered about him. Worried about him. He read about Huaisang’s new plans, the sudden change in regime as the alpha bloomed into his own, revealing the capable and terrifying leader beneath the visage of clumsiness and confusion. He reformed Qinghe Nie, reinstating the harsh training Mingjue had left behind and demanded the best from his disciples all whilst bringing back the literary arts. Their sect demolished evil spirits and contributed to charity, ran an orphanage and opened a school, one good deed after another overflowing like a river. Qinghe Nie has been transformed, the whispers had murmured, in awe and shock at the true prowess of the man.

 

But Huaisang never came to greet him. And Lanhuan was left wondering if he’d been an invisible wall, a paper man all those years spent by the young alpha’s side. Not a brother, not a mentor, not a friend, but a mere pebble on the sidewalk. It made something worse than grief well up in his ribs, the feeling ugly and burning flames of poison so acrid it made him see red. And Lanhuan was usually too weak to burn with the righteous fury Mingjue had during the Sunshot campaign but this, this came pretty close. And so, he had decided right there and then that he would visit Huaisang in Qinghe Nie after three, no, four long years of silence. Eager to see the changes and how the sect had been revived, how Mingjue would finally be proud and happy. It wasn’t for anything else, he had argued when Weiying had sat him down with a worried look, eyes knowing even as Lanhuan vehemently disagreed. Lanzhan had said nothing, but his amber eyes were a warning all on its own, and Lanhuan found himself questioning his own desire to see Qinghe Nie, to see the new Sect Leader reclaim all of its former glory.

 

Just why was he so willing to leave seclusion for one Nie Huaisang?

 

Then he had met Huaisang while he was in rut and well the rest, as they say, is history.

 

But that’s the problem isn’t it? Lanhuan thought anxiously to himself, fingers fiddling with the long strands of his hair as he walked towards Huaisang’s tent. There was just too much history between them, and it was taking a toll on their relationship, or the lack of one in this case. They hadn’t actually had a talk after they had slept with each other, and just the thought of how Huaisang had man handled him was enough to leave Lanhuan blushing like a maiden regardless of where he was. The reason for their lack of a discussion was due to his missing presence, Gusu Lan up in red alert for their missing Sect Leader who was not in seclusion as he had so consistently been for the past few years. When Huaisang realised he had escaped from Cloud Recesses with the help of Weiying and his own uptight brother of all people to come visit him, the alpha had burst into laughter, pulling Lanhuan in for a gentle kiss that had the omega stuttering and blushing like a peach.

 

(“You did not.” Huaisang grinned, eyes crinkling as he stared in bemusement at Lanhuan. Watching with barely contained chuckles, the alpha snorted as the omega flushed red, mouth opening and closing like a koi fish as he fumbled for words.

 

“I-I-”

 

“Really? You escaped Cloud Recesses and came down here all the way to visit me?” Huaisang asks, his lips beginning to curl mischievously as he stares at the thinly clad omega, Lanhuan looking small and utterly delectable from where he’s snuggled up in bed.

 

“When you put it like that it makes me sound like a fool.” Lanhuan whispers, mortified as he hides behind his hands, a small sound escaping his throat. It’s embarrassing when he knows he’s technically supposed to be Huaisang’s senior. He was his older brother’s best friend for crying out loud! But it’s difficult to feel shame when he feels the bed sink, and warm hands are pulling his own away from his face.

 

“No, no, I want to see my beautiful omega’s expression.” Huaisang teases, voice soft as he takes hold of Lanhuan’s chin, fingers pressing into the curve of his cheeks. “I need to remember the face of the one who screamed my name after all.” The alpha smirks wolfishly, and Lanhuan feels his jaw drop in utter humiliation, cheeks rosy as the alpha thumbs at his mouth in a way that’s decidedly not innocent.

 

“A-A-sang…” Lanhuan hisses, eyes darting down to Huaisang’s hand and glancing up at the alpha reproachfully. It doesn’t work however, the alpha all too aware of the effect he has on Lanhuan. After all, how could he not be overwhelmed and head over heels in love with Huaisang when the alpha looked like this? Soft and sweet, ebony black hair cascading down pale skin littered with bruises and bite marks all wrapped in a translucent ever green robe, he took Lanhuan’s breath away with a mere bat of his eyes. He lit up the room, and when Huaisang growls, the sound husky and playful as his hands reach out to push Lanhuan back onto the covers, the omega follows easily, splaying backwards with said alpha bracketing his head.

 

“I wish I could have more time with you.” Huaisang hums, and Lanhuan squeaks as the alpha rakes his gaze down his body, eyes lingering on the soft curves and tiny bulge of his lower stomach. It’s evidence that Huaisang has bred him, and Lanhuan has to bite back a moan when Huaisang tilts his head and licks a stripe down his neck, tongue laving over his scent gland. It’s enough to have him feeling needy, his legs hooking around Huaisang’s hips as he wiggles closer, pouting when the alpha tries to break free from his hold.

 

“You need to get back to your Sect, Sect Leader Lan.” Huaisang emphasizes with a small snicker, reaching up to pinch Lanhuan’s nose. Yelping out loud, Lanhuan huffed, about to chastise Huaisang for being mean when he feels the alpha lean in, lips inches away from his and a low chuckle invading his personal space.

 

Eyes widening in shock at the sudden close proximity, Lanhuan gasped aloud, lashes fluttering as he blinked rapidly at Huaisang. Cedar wood eyes are fixated on him, the warmth in them making Lanhuan melt in delight, his hands curling around the edge of a blanket as he lets slip a gentle trill. His call gets Huaisang’s attention, the alpha’s eyes blowing dark and irises expanding as a responding rumble echoed from his chest. Licking his lips, Lanhuan trembled as Huaisang’s hands cupped his face with a gentleness so unprecedented that the omega feels flustered, cheeks blooming pink as he looks away. It’s demure and submissive, an action Lanhuan has never granted another to see, and he’s rewarded when soft lips press against his, coaxing his mouth open.

 

Whining weakly, Lanhuan lets his mouth fall, shuddering as a hot tongue invades his cavern, toying with his own. He doesn’t bother to refuse or to fight, his head lolling back against the sheets as he lets Huaisang lead him, follows how the alpha nips at his bottom lip and rakes a possessive swipe over his own fangs. There’s an after taste of wine, or perhaps he is drunk on Huaisang’s pheromones, but it tickles the roof of his mouth, clouding his taste buds with the freshness of jasmine and the sweetness of lilies. Belatedly through the haze of his thoughts Lanhuan feels a warm hand curve around his waist, fingers digging into his sides where there’ll be bruises later. But he holds that thought as he wraps his arms around Huaisang’s neck, purring softly in little chirps and breathless moans against a determined burning mouth.

 

“You’re doing this on purpose.” Huaisang murmurs mid-kiss, and Lanhuan has to hold back his own snicker as he kisses the alpha, shutting him up again. It continues, their mouths moving languidly against each other before Huaisang is breaking away to speak, leaning backwards in amusement as Lanhuan huffs, chasing his mouth voraciously.

 

“A-huan, that’s enough.” Huaisang whispers, voice rough only to stop short as Lanhuan kissed him again, lips pressing sweetly against the alpha’s. “Lan,” another kiss, soft and sweet against Huaisang’s mouth, “-huan,” a quiet moan into the alpha’s ear, “we need-” a mewl against his lips has the alpha sighing, his hold on Lanhuan’s waist tightening as he finally pulls away, expression stern.

 

Omega.” Huaisang growls in a warnful tone, voice hard.

 

“Ah, I’m, I’m sorry...” Lanhuan whispers, raising a sleeve to cover his face shyly as his gaze darted away before returning to the alpha apologetically. It’s a sheepish expression, one that no doubt would have had alphas stumbling and desperate to please the oh so delicate and perfect omega in their bed. But Huaisang knows him too well, and it doesn’t help that the corner of Lanhuan’s mouth is twitching even as he looks up at the alpha through his lashes, his leg carefully sliding down Huaisang’s back and trailing patterns over his thigh. It earns him a snort, and Lanhuan squeals as Huaisang grabs his ankle, stopping his foot that’s been inching towards the alpha’s crotch, the man rolling his eyes even as he smiles.

 

“You’re insatiable.” Huaisang comments, clucking his tongue playfully as he hooks a hand round Lanhuan’s nape. Shivering into the touch, Lanhuan nods agreeably, pouncing on the alpha and reversing their positions. His action has Huaisang grunting in surprise before the alpha relaxes back into the sheets, eyebrows raised in question as Lanhuan straddles him.

 

“I don’t want to go.” Lanhuan mumbles after a pause, his hand dragging down Huaisang’s front as he looks up at the alpha nervously. “I know I have to, but I don’t want to. You…”

 

Do you want me to go?

 

“You have to.” Huaisang replies calmly, his words enunciated carefully as his hands wrap around Lanhuan’s own wrists. The touch makes the omega jerk, and Lanhuan bites his lip as he clutches at Huaisang’s robes, his neck suddenly feeling all too bare and lacking the throb of a bite mark.

 

“But if it helps, I don’t want you to go.” Huaisang murmurs quietly as he lifts Lanhuan’s hand to his mouth, fangs running over the omega’s thrumming pulse point as he looked up at him through hooded eyes. “And I’m not letting you go. Not after this week.”

 

“Oh.” Lanhuan whispers, his heart fluttering like a bird in a cage, the beating of wings within his ribs loud enough he thinks Huaisang might be able to hear him.

 

“Oh.” Huaisang repeats mockingly, his tone teasing even as his fangs press into soft skin, digging into Lanhuan like a reminder that the omega was his. “The annual mating run will be coming in a month no? I’ll see you then.”

 

“A-And we’ll talk then?” Lanhuan asks, cringing slightly at how breathless he sounds, his inner omega prancing around with unrestrained glee. He wants to stop it, but the barrage of words seems to flow out of his mouth without his consent, like a broken dam against an unforgiving tide. “In the meantime, perhaps we could write letters? But I do understand if you’re very busy! Except I-”

 

“I will write Lanhuan.” His alpha promises, eyes glittering with laughter as he tucks a lock of hair behind Lanhuan’s ear. “But you need to go. Your Sect needs you.”

 

“Okay.” Lanhuan whispers back, eyes shining as he stares at Huaisang. “Okay alpha.”

 

There’s a pause.

 

Then a loud groan of despair as Huaisang buried his face into Lanhuan’s neck.

 

“You’re fucking killing me Zewu-jun. You’re doing this on purpose aren’t you? Aren’t you?!” Huaisang accuses, voice almost whining as he mutters little complaints into Lanhuan’s shoulder.

 

It makes Lanhuan’s lips curve into a smile, remembering all those time he had coached Huaisang in Cloud Recesses and the alpha had latched onto him. The hitch in breath, the brushing of his hand, the over eager greetings and bright shining eyes. Piled up proofs that even then he had been something more, something precious all those years ago to Huaisang. When they were nothing but passing stars orbiting their own galaxies. But with every laugh and every touch, they had burned a little closer, engraved themselves a little deeper, and now they were here, constellations in their own night sky.

 

And if Lanhuan returns to Cloud Recesses and removes himself from seclusion that very night?

 

Well, no one but his brother and Weiying has to know why.)

 

Stopping in front of Huaisang’s tent, Lanhuan hesitated, hands reaching up to touch the flap only to pause mid-way. He didn’t want me to touch him, but I want to comfort him. Would I be overstepping my boundaries if I entered? Lanhuan bit his lip, hand returning to his chest as he stared at the gilded green flap worriedly. It was probably said in the spur of the moment but what if he’s really angry? What do I do then? The dilemma burns, makes his heart hammer in his ribs and cleaves it open with a ferocity that surprises even Lanhuan. Displeasing an alpha, especially his alpha was a bad idea, but leaving him to dwell in his own thoughts, disastrous and feral is a million times worse. Pushing aside his anxiety, Lanhuan steeled himself to move, fingers grasping onto the fabric before lifting it.

 

“… Lanhuan is that you?”

 

His alpha’s voice is calm, and Lanhuan feels his inner omega light up, tail wagging happily at the alpha’s recognition. He needs me, Lanhuan reminds himself as he ducks his head and enters the tent, squeezing through the small gap. He needs me as much as I need him, so don’t be afraid, Lanhuan repeats softly in his mind as he breathes in the sour scent of lemongrass, white lilies and jasmine just barely ghosting his tongue.

 

You weren’t there for him once.

 

Don’t do that again.

 

“I’m here A-sang.” Lanhuan answers sweetly, voice catching in his throat as he lets the flap of the tent fall, his eyes adjusting to the slightly dimmer setting inside. I’m here for you, he thinks as he takes a cautious step forward, head peering around to find Huaisang. It doesn’t take long, the alpha sitting with his back rigid in a corner, calligraphy brush in hand as he writes, writes a new edict, Lanhuan realizes with a worried sigh. Overworking again and never ever addressing the problem, Lanhuan notes with a soft hum, walking over to the alpha who steadily ignores his presence.

 

Something that has to be fixed immediately, Lanhuan thinks drily as he slips his arms around Huaisang’s neck, nuzzling the alpha’s scent gland and trilling softly.

 

Immediately.