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Bilateral

bahy-lat-er-uhl / baɪˈlæt ər əl

  1. Pertaining to, or involving, or affecting two or both sides
  2. Located on opposite sides of an axis; two-sided, especially when of equal size, value, etc

________________

Jiang Cheng would say he's not entirely sure how it starts, but that would be a lie.

The memory is vivid, imprinted on his mind forever. A cool autumn afternoon, discussing strategies with Nie Mingjue. Somehow this led to sparring together, vicious and satisfying, even if it ended with Jiang Cheng pinned in the dirt, yielding reluctantly. Nie Mingjue's gruffly impressed expression had been more than enough to soothe his aching pride and backside.

Then that had seemed to progress naturally to taking their evening meal together, Jiang Cheng finding himself laughing more than he had in months, sharing tales of their misadventures at Cloud Recesses with an unsurprised, if amusingly exasperated Nie Mingjue.

When Nie Mingjue had placed one of his big hands on Jiang Cheng's thigh, looked at him with those dark, fiery eyes and asked if Jiang Cheng wanted to join him in his tent, Jiang Cheng had said yes easily, both eager for the distraction and undeniably deeply attracted to the Nie Sect Leader.

Which had led to where he is now, on his back on Nie Mingjue's bedroll, hard cock pressing against Nie Mingjue's stomach, one leg thrown over his hip, both of them completely bare.

Jiang Cheng is strangely surprised at how much Nie Mingjue likes kissing, which is mostly what they've spent the last quarter of a shi doing, Nie Mingjue taking his mouth like a conquest, like he does everything.

Jiang Cheng isn't a retiring maiden, however, and he is determined to give as he gets, even as all of the new sensations threaten to overwhelm him. He bites lightly at Nie Mingjue's bottom lip, pointedly raising his hips to grind against the other man.

Nie Mingjue chuckles, a deep, rumbling sound that makes something in Jiang Cheng shiver. He pulls away slightly, nipping at Jiang Cheng's mouth. "Impatient are the youth of today," he says, amused.

Jiang Cheng, significantly less so, winds a hand into Mingjue's incredible, thick mane of hair and tugs. "Tired out already, old man?" He returns, both ignoring the fact that there are barely five years between them.

Huffing in amusement, Nie Mingjue starts to slide down Jiang Cheng's body, incredibly agile and sinuous for a man of his size. He stops when he reaches Jiang Cheng's crotch, breathing teasingly over his painfully hard cock.

"Since I'm feeling so generous, and you're so very pretty," Nie Mingjue says, "I'll help you take the edge off."

With that, he leans down and engulfs Jiang Cheng in his hot, wet mouth.

Jiang Cheng hisses, "fuck," hips twitching up to chase the sensation, but Nie Mingjue's big, strong hands hold him down, sword calloused fingers pressing into his hips.

He has no choice but to lie there and take it, gasping as he recognises the sensation of Nie Mingjue's tongue curling around the underside of his prick.

Jiang Cheng's breath starts coming fast, wound up by the glorious wet heat around his cock, the strong hands holding him down. Realising that his hands are free, he winds one into Nie Mingjue's hair, dark and surprisingly soft under his fingers.

Those dark, scorching eyes flicker up to look at him, and Nie Mingjue keeps them fixed on Jiang Cheng as he presses down, his mouth sliding until his nose is almost pressed to Jiang Cheng's groin.

A long, low groan spills from Jiang Cheng's throat, and it's only Nie Mingjue's strong grip that stops Jiang Cheng fucking up into his throat. Instead he holds onto Nie Mingjue’s hair with a desperate grip as he bobs up and down on Jiang Cheng's cock.

On the upstroke, he pulls all the way off and licks at the head teasingly, pressing a grin to the tip as Jiang Cheng hisses, "fuck."

Nie Mingjue sinks back down, and Jiang Cheng is so distracted by the bliss of being back in that hot suction that he doesn't notice the hand spreading him apart until an oiled finger presses into him.

 

"O-oh," Jiang Cheng gasps, clenching tight around the intrusion. Nie Mingjue swallows around him, and Jiang Cheng goes slack again, enough for Nie Mingjue to thrust the finger in and out of Jiang Cheng.

It feels… Jiang Cheng's not sure, but it's not bad, and he keeps himself carefully relaxed as a second finger presses against his still tight opening.

Nie Mingjue's fingers are thick, he realises with a jolt, as Jiang Cheng's hole slowly takes the calloused fingers inside. Nie Mingjue hums approvingly around Jiang Cheng, making his hips twitch up. With only one hand on Jiang Cheng, Nie Mingjue doesn't stop the thrust and makes a wet noise as Jiang Cheng's cock slides deeper into his throat.

"Fuck, sorry," Jiang Cheng blurts out, but Nie Mingjue just sinks down again, pressing two fingers in deep. Jiang Cheng gasps at the dual sensations, not knowing which to lean into.

The sheath of Nie Mingjue around his cock goes tight and wet, saliva leaking out messily from his mouth as he moves fast back and forth on Jiang Cheng's shaft. His sword calloused fingers jab mercilessly deeper, pressing against something soft and sensitive which has Jiang Cheng wailing and coming down Nie Mingjue's throat.

His whole body snaps taut and he dimly recognises the sensation of Nie Mingjue swallowing around him repeatedly, thumb soothing over his hip, fingers still snug him as he spasms around them.

Dazedly, as he comes back to reality, he realises that it would have been polite to warn Nie Mingjue, and he goes to apologise but is caught short.

Nie Mingjue's pulling slowly off his cock, mouth swollen and wet, eyes dark and hungry.

Jiang Cheng raises a hand almost dreamily and presses a thumb against Nie Mingjue's lower lip. His tongue flicks out at Jiang Cheng's thumb, mouth curved in satisfaction.

Jiang Cheng recognises the sensation of Nie Mingjue's fingers moving to pull out of him, and he snaps his thighs closed around Nie Mingjue's hand.

Nie Mingjue blinks down at him.

Jiang Cheng licks his own dry lips. "I'm gonna need more than that if you're going to fuck me."

There's a soft sound of amusement. Nie Mingjue keeps his fingers in Jiang Cheng, though he nudges Jiang Cheng's thighs back apart and settles between them.

"You want your first time being fucked to be me? You are ambitious." His tone implies too ambitious, and Jiang Cheng scowls.

"You think awfully highly of yourself," Jiang Cheng can't help sniping, even as he eyes Nie Mingjue's admittedly huge cock, thick and red, dripping pre-come against his abdomen.

Nie Mingjue snorts. "I'm just realistic," he says.

"So am I," Jiang Cheng retorts, twisting his hips back, getting Nie Mingjue's fingers pressed in deeper. He moans in satisfaction, circling his hips to get the pressure back on that spot that had sent pleasure up his spine like a crack of Zidian.

Nie Mingjue exhales hard, hand curving around Jiang Cheng’s thigh. "You've never had a man before," he says, not a question but a confirmation. Jiang Cheng’s face flushes even darker.

"No," he retorts harshly out of embarrassment, deliberately not looking Nie Mingjue in the eye out of fear that he'll hear the unspoken I've never done this with anyone before. "But I'm not a fool, I know what..."

Nie Mingjue hums and lowers his mouth to bite at the skin of Jiang Cheng’s thigh. Jiang Cheng inhales sharply, hips twitching up into the ache.

There's a clinking sound, and Nie Mingjue's fingers pull out. Before Jiang Cheng can draw breath to protest, three fingers are pressing back inside, his rim clinging to the knuckles as they sink in.

Jiang Cheng hisses, but consciously focuses on the pooled heat in his belly, distracting himself from the discomfort. Slowly, he relaxes, and Nie Mingjue murmurs, "good boy," as he scissors them inside Jiang Cheng, rubbing them up against his sensitive spot.

It feels like an age of Nie Mingjue all too patiently working him open until he gives in to Jiang Cheng's annoyed insistences that he's ready. When he does, he grips his cock and presses the fat, leaking head against Jiang Cheng's stretched rim, circling and spreading the pre-come and oil around in a mess until the rim relaxes even more.

When Nie Mingjue finally pushes inside, Jiang Cheng feels like he's been impaled.

He lets out breathy huffs as the thick shaft slides slowly inside, surely going on forever until he's practically in Jiang Cheng's throat.

Nie Mingjue comes to a halt when he's halfway in, muscles in his arms bunched where they cage Jiang Cheng in. "Alright?" He asks, in a satisfyingly brittle voice.

Feeling impulsive, Jiang Cheng reaches down and tentatively presses his fingers to his hole, fingertips ghosting over his sensitive rim and Nie Mingjue's blood-hot shaft where it's speared inside him.

"Oh, fuck," Jiang Cheng pants, shifting up towards a squeak as he feels how wide he's spread around Nie Mingjue.

Nie Mingjue groans appreciatively, hips rocking into the touch, shifting slightly out and then back deeper into Jiang Cheng. He sinks in until his balls press weighty and hot against Jiang Cheng’s ass. Jiang Cheng's hands flail up to grab at Nie Mingjue's shoulders.

"There we go, baobei," Nie Mingjue breathes. "You took all of me."

He did, Jiang Cheng thinks deliriously. He took all of Nie Mingjue's ridiculously huge cock inside of him, and now it's rubbing against his most sensitive places, leaking pre-come inside him.

He rocks his hips up and back, trying to get that strange, addictive feeling burning brighter.

"Eager," Nie Mingjue laughs. "Should let you fuck yourself on me like that until you come. Might take you a while."

Jiang Cheng swears at Nie Mingjue and he laughs again, leaning down with a hand next to Jiang Cheng’s head, to kiss Jiang Cheng, dirty and wet. Jiang Cheng licks into Nie Mingjue’s mouth in return, tugging at Nie Mingjue’s lower lip with his teeth.

Nie Mingjue separates from his mouth and remarks, "vicious little kitten," dragging out and fucking his cock back in before Jiang Cheng can respond indignantly.

Nie Mingjue pulls out almost all the way and thrusts back in, building to a slow but deep rhythm. Jiang Cheng hears himself letting out pathetic little noises, panting and bitten off gasps as Nie Mingjue’s thick cock lights him up from the inside.

Jiang Cheng clenches his legs around Nie Mingjue’s waist, but the slow pace continues. Huffing in frustration, he digs his fingernails into Nie Mingjue’s shoulders, pushing his own hips back for it.

Nie Mingjue laughs breathily. "Something you want, Jiang Wanyin?"

Scowling up at his stupid, handsome face Jiang Cheng hisses, "yes, for you to fuck me properly before I die of old age."

Nie Mingjue thrusts in again and stays there this time, grinding up into Jiang Cheng, hips twisting. Jiang Cheng makes a low, surprised noise at the pleasure shooting through him, thighs twitching where they're clamped around Nie Mingjue’s waist.

"Alright, baobei, I'll give you what you need." Nie Mingjue pulls out and slams back in, making Jiang Cheng shout, arms tightening around Nie Mingjue.

Nie Mingjue fucks him at a relentless pace, Jiang Cheng barely able to catch his breath for a moan, balls smacking against Jiang Cheng’s thighs with an obscene noise.

Jiang Cheng drags his nails down Nie Mingjue's back, panting curses and pleas. Nie Mingjue groans and dips his head down, hair swaying over Jiang Cheng. He smells like sandalwood, sweat and sword oil.

Nie Mingjue fucks with a single-minded focus, seemingly to drive Jiang Cheng out of his mind as far as possible. He dips low to thrust deep and nip at Jiang Cheng's chest, then moves back upright to hammer into Jiang Cheng, the slap of skin on skin loud as it bounces off the thin walls of the tent.

"You take it so well," Nie Mingjue grunts, a hand coming down to press over Jiang Cheng's belly. "Bet you never knew you needed this, to be filled up." He grinds in on the next thrust, pressing the full weight of his shaft inside Jiang Cheng, the fat head moving in tiny jabs against the spot that makes Jiang Cheng want to shout, to claw at his own face. It's too much, and he feels his balls tighten.

"Ah, fuck," Jiang Cheng wails, coming in thick pulses across his own abdomen. His muscles tense, and he can feel the thick shaft in him so much more clearly as he squeezes around it; ass, thighs and stomach clenching tightly.

He's still spasming weakly when his cock stops spurting, and Nie Mingjue’s rhythm is becoming brutal, mixed curses and praise falling from his mouth.

Nie Mingjue makes a guttural noise, thrusts going jagged and shallow. Jiang Cheng bites at the thick muscle of the top of his shoulder and his hips snap, and he hisses out curses, muttering "fuck, let go, kitten."

Jiang Cheng drops his arms reflexively, and Nie Mingjue draws back quickly, pulling out. He fumbles a hand around himself, jerks once, and comes all over Jiang Cheng’s thighs.

Shivering slightly at the lewd feeling of another man's come lingering between his legs, Jiang Cheng rallies and kicks Nie Mingjue in the shoulder. "Don't call me kitten," he says, narrowing his eyes.

"My apologies, Sect Leader Jiang, I meant no offense," Nie Mingjue says, with such an air of gravitas and solemnity that their gazes both meet, and they immediately burst into laughter.

Jiang Cheng's laughter fades and he shifts, grimacing at the wet feeling between his thighs and arching an eyebrow up at Nie Mingjue. "I feel like I shouldn't need to explain to you that you can't get me pregnant," he says dryly.

Nie Mingjue huffs and rolls his eyes. "You'll me thanking me when you're not trying to scoop come out of your ass in the middle of a forest near enemy territory," he retorts, expression amused.

Jiang Cheng winces at the thought, tipping his head in acknowledgement of the point.

"Should I bother to clean up, or can you get it up for round two?" Jiang Cheng asks haughtily, eyeing the restless energy still visible in Nie Mingjue’s frame.

Nie Mingjue’s eyes light up, and his mouth curves in a wicked grin.

"I knew I liked you for a reason, Jiang Wanyin."

They go for three rounds in the end, that night.

 

---

 

After that, they fuck, infrequently but nearly every time they're together, across the course of the campaign.

When Wen Ruohan is dead, and Nie Mingjue has sworn brotherhood with Lan Xichen and Meng Yao, Jiang Cheng doesn't expect their unspoken arrangement to continue, the two of them no longer brought together in such frequent and high-stakes circumstances.

And yet, whenever Jiang Cheng sees him, Nie Mingjue always has a charming grin and an open ear for him, and nearly always they find themselves tumbling into bed together, or up against a wall, or over a desk.

Jiang Cheng grows comfortable in his strange friendship with Nie Mingjue, begins to rely on his steadfast nature perhaps too much, amidst the shifting tides that comprises the rest of Jiang Cheng's life.

The feeling solidifies itself permanently when they're at yet another ridiculous event hosted by the Jin, and there are pointed whispers abound about Wei Wuxian. Jiang Cheng fixes an ambivalent, cool expression on his face but seethes the whole time, trying as well as he can to avoid his shixiong as a topic of conversation.

Nie Mingjue bluntly interrupts a very painful 'discussion' Jiang Cheng is having with Sect Leader Yao, clasps a comforting hand on Jiang Cheng's shoulder and makes up some nonsense that they have to discuss urgently, apologies to Sect Leader Yao. It's so plainly bullshit that Jiang Cheng would be surprised if even Sect Leader Yao fell for it.

Nie Mingjue steers Jiang Cheng out to the corridor and he collapses against the wall, muttering his fervent thanks.

They stay there for a while, just chatting, catching up on what's happened since they've last seen each-other, Huaisang's most recent misadventures and the latest disaster at Lotus Pier.

Jiang Cheng doesn't talk about Wei Wuxian, and Nie Mingjue doesn't ask. For that alone, Jiang Cheng could kiss him, even putting aside how handsome he looks in his bronze-accented brocade robes, that highlight the broad lines of his shoulders.

Tamping down the desire that's inappropriate for the middle of Koi Tower, Jiang Cheng remembers one of the things that was supposed to be happening at this farce today: Jin Guangshan smugly honouring 'The Venerated Triad' as they're being called now, suddenly interested in reclaiming his son also, Jiang Cheng notices cynically.

"Aren't you supposed to be in there for the ceremony, or the toasts?" Jiang Cheng asks, barely cutting off a childish sounding 'or whatever', not wanting to be quite so obvious about his pointless feelings of inadequacy.

Nie Mingjue shrugs where he leans against the wall beside Jiang Cheng. "They'll survive without me," he says, smiling crookedly.

Jiang Cheng's stupid, soft heart squeezes in his chest, and he ruthlessly pushes the feelings down. He has a good relationship with Nie Mingjue, this comfortable friendship where Nie Mingjue seems to respect him and value his opinion despite his much fewer years of experience. Jiang Cheng isn't going to ruin it with his unnecessary feelings because they occasionally have (incredible) sex, and Jiang Cheng's gotten too attached.

 

---

 

Then Nie Mingjue starts turning up at Lotus Pier.

"You're bored," Jiang Cheng declares, smug that he's figured it out.

Nie Mingjue rolls his eyes. "I'm here to help, ungrateful brat."

"You are," Jiang Cheng agrees. "You're also bored to tears. Have you taken up weiqi yet?"

Nie Mingjue sighs. "Alright, I'm leaving."

Jiang Cheng smirks at his aggravated expression. "No you're not, because then you'd still be bored." Nie Mingjue narrows his eyes warningly and Jiang Cheng holds up his hands in surrender.

"Alright, I'm done, I'm done. You can come with me and help lay the structure for the laundry rooms. I won't subject the other poor workers to you just yet."

The day is fairly mild, but they both still end up sweaty and stripping to their zhongyi and trousers, hot and achy from heaving around heavy lumbar all day.

Jiang Cheng enjoys the day's work much more than normal, both for the company and the view. Nie Mingjue is also, unsurprisingly, a hard worker and strong man, both very valuable traits for construction work.

Nie Mingjue ends up staying for four days, rising early and retiring late. After the first day Jiang Cheng has to attend to other duties and hands over Nie Mingjue wrangling to his construction overseer. Still, he tries to get out there and help when he can, vastly preferring the straightforward work of manual labour to dealing with land taxes and squabbling merchants.

The addition of Nie Mingjue only makes the draw of construction work more appealing, obviously.

In the evenings they take their meals together on Jiang Cheng’s private pier, sat in a much less formal arrangement than their stations require. It feels peaceful, settles something warm in Jiang Cheng to sit and eat with Nie Mingjue like this is something they do every day.

Nie Mingjue only sleeps one of the evenings in the guest rooms allocated to him, instead spending most of his hours in Jiang Cheng’s bed. Their pace is less frantic and brutal than usual when they're both tired from a hard day's labour, but Nie Mingjue is often more exhausted than he is -- although still eager and hard.

Jiang Cheng spends one very enjoyable evening riding Nie Mingjue at a slow, tortuous pace, ending up with deep purple finger marks on his hips that match his robes. He spends another fucking Nie Mingjue into the bed; Nie Mingjue on his stomach, head resting on his forearms, Jiang Cheng pushing him through three orgasms and watching him pass out straight afterwards.

When he leaves, they have to part formally as Sect Leaders, the docks being in such a public area. Something about it sits in dissatisfaction in Jiang Cheng, wanting... something else from their goodbye, he supposes.

Still, they bow and smile at each-other, and Jiang Cheng tells himself that it's enough.

 

---

 

"You seem distracted, Jiang Wanyin."

Jiang Cheng startles back to reality and glances over at Nie Mingjue, who is staring at him with a look of low-grade concern.

He shouldn't trust someone from another sect with this, not really, even if they are allies and have been personally involved. Just because Jiang Cheng trusts Nie Mingjue to keep fucking him secret, doesn't mean the same will apply to sect matters.

But Jiang Cheng is so tired, and Nie Mingjue has always given him good guidance.

"I'm not sure what to do about Wei Wuxian," Jiang Cheng confesses. He sees Mingjue's frown deepen, but it's all tumbling out in sheer unburdened frustration. "He's keeping himself deliberately distant from me, and he won't tell me why he's not using his sword anymore, and I'm--"

Jiang Cheng frowns. "I'm worried he's going to do something soon that I can't fix, that means I can't protect him."

Mingjue watches him with a thoughtful expression. "That's probably why he's keeping himself so distant from you," he points out. "In order to keep Yunmeng Jiang from being tainted by his crimes." Jiang Cheng winces, well aware of Nie Mingjue's strong sense of justice and the much greyer areas his shixiong lives in.

"I can't just leave him to the wolves," he says, chest clenching at the thought. "Could you just abandon Huaisang?"

"No," Mingjue says ruefully. "No matter what he'd done."

Sighing with bone deep weariness, Jiang Cheng buries his face in his hands, enjoying the brief respite from the rest of the world.

There's the sound of heavy footsteps, and a big hand curls around the nape of his neck, the touch grounding, soothing. When Nie Mingjue speaks his voice is low and rumbling, focusing Jiang Cheng’s attention.

"Honestly, it sounds like he's keeping secrets from you, potentially some dangerous ones. You know what you need to do - you need to drag him back here and shake him until he tells you the truth."

Jiang Cheng snorts. "Is that what you'd do with Huaisang?"

"Huaisang would never be enough of an idiot to keep secrets from someone who loves and supports him, but I'm adapting to your circumstances," Mingjue says dryly.

Jiang Cheng huffs a half-laugh, stifles it before it becomes a sob. He presses his fingers into the corners of his eyes until he sees black spots.

"Maybe threaten him with that sister of yours," Mingjue says thoughtfully. "She seems like she'd be pretty capable of turning very terrifying very quickly."

Jiang Cheng keeps his rueful smile hidden in his hands. He makes a mental note to introduce Nie Mingjue to his sister, oddly certain that they'll get on like a house on fire.

"Nie Mingjue," he says into his palms. "Thank you." He means it wholeheartedly - even having someone experienced and trustworthy to talk these things through eases the anxious coils in his chest. He can't imagine being completely alone, adrift at the Pier without his shixiong and his sister, with no-one he can turn to.

Having someone who maybe knows him a little too well give him the same advice? Well, it's not always comfortable but it’s what he needs.

"Come on," Nie Mingjue says, squeezing his nape before letting go. Jiang Cheng peels his hands away from his face, and the other sect leader is stood in front of him, holding a hand out, watching him with eyes softened at the edges by understanding. "You were going to show me the new armoury."

Jiang Cheng takes the hand, lets Nie Mingjue pull him to his feet effortlessly.

"This is starting to feel less like you're restless, and more like inter-sect espionage," Jiang Cheng says wryly, aiming a faux-suspicious look at Nie Mingjue, who shoots him a grin in return, clearly pleased with himself.

"You don't want to show me your weapon, Jiang Wanyin?" The tone makes the barely double entendre clear, and Jiang Cheng groans loudly.

"No--" he tries to protest, but Nie Mingjue barrages him with obnoxious weapon/cock puns until they re-enter the public walkways, at which point he becomes the dignified sect leader once again. If only people knew.

He keeps shooting Jiang Cheng little smirks though, and so as soon as they enter the quiet, private walkway to the armoury, Jiang Cheng hisses "You'll be oiling your sword alone tonight if you don't shut the fuck up."

Nie Mingjue's bark of laughter echoes, vibrant and lovely, through Jiang Cheng’s home.

 

---

 

The Wei Wuxian situation is resolved in several frustratingly simple (in retrospect) steps.

Jiang Cheng marches into the Burial Grounds with determined purpose, tells his shixiong he's going to tell Jiang Cheng the truth about everything now, or Jiang Cheng is going to drag him back to Lotus Pier and Zidian him.

(He figures he'll start there and work his way up to A-Jie.)

The part Jiang Cheng had been most quietly dreading had been the potential fight. Not because they've never fought before - they definitely have - but because of the quiet anxiety of his always so much stronger, so much better shixiong beating him and leaving him still with unanswered questions and fears, but with injured pride and lost respect in addition.

What is incredibly clear nearly immediately is that Jiang Cheng can drag Wei Wuxian back to Lotus Pier and there will be no real fight at all. Wei Wuxian struggles, kicks and curses him, but the strikes are all weak, powerless, and a sinking familiarity comes over Jiang Cheng.

Several things start clicking into place, and a cold horror settles over his skin. He drops Wei Wuxian back into the dirt, who immediately starts shouting at him with cutting insults and a disbelieving expression, but Jiang Cheng doesn't listen.

Really, really wanting to be wrong, for this not to work, Jiang Cheng holds out a hand and summons.

Suibian comes flying towards him, nearly taking their heads off.

Jiang Cheng stands there, mouth open, Wei Wuxian's sword in his hand.

Wei Wuxian stares up at him, at Suibian, and visibly swallows.

"A-Cheng," he whispers, voice barely audible. He falters. "I…"

Jiang Cheng grits his teeth. "Are you going to tell me the truth, or do I have to go and find Wen Qing?"

Wei Wuxian closes his eyes in defeat.

 

---

 

"So when I said to drag him back to Lotus Pier, I didn't mean with a half clan of Wens in tow.”

Jiang Cheng sighs wearily. "They're reparations," he says for the hundredth time this week. "As the sect most damaged by the Wen—"

Nie Mingjue interrupts, looking unimpressed. "Yes, I heard your speech two days ago, it was very well rehearsed." Jiang Cheng winces at the back-handed compliment.

"The Jin would have killed them all, worked them to death or done much worse," Jiang Cheng says bluntly. "I might not agree with how Wei Wuxian did things, but I'm committed to this path now." More importantly, he's committed his sect to it, so he has to pull them out the other side to safety and prosperity or die trying.

Nie Mingjue eyes him carefully, an inscrutable look on his face. "I can respect and understand that," he says, and Jiang Cheng sags in relief. "But I'm thinking that Wei Wuxian definitely had some very big secrets to tell you, judging from how you constantly look like you want to throw yourself off the parapet."

Jiang Cheng exhales slowly. He wants so badly to talk to someone about it, but he selfishly doesn't want Nie Mingjue to think any less of him, to lose the respect he values so much.

He makes the mistake of catching Mingjue's gaze, seeing his concern.

It all comes pouring out, and he talks for so long it feels like he'll go hoarse, from Lotus Pier burning down through to last week, stood in a cave with Wei Wuxian, Suibian unsheathed in his hand.

"Well, fuck," Mingjue says, in the silent aftermath, sounding so bewildered that Jiang Cheng just starts laughing, helpless and free.

The only problem is then he can't stop, and then he's got his hands on his knees, torso bent forwards, body shaking so much he feels like his teeth are chattering.

"Jiang Wanyin. Jiang Cheng," Nie Mingjue's voice calls through the haze, and he sounds worried, but Jiang Cheng can't speak, can barely get a breath through the hysterics, and then he's hardly laughing, just breathing shallow and quick.

Strong, familiar arms wrap around him from behind, a body settling down behind him. The arms pull him into a loose embrace, back held against a thick, wide torso. A deep voice rumbles soothingly through him, but the words are a jumble and his mind skips over them too quickly for any of the meaning to stick.

Eventually he comes back to himself, skin feeling hot and tight with embarrassment as he realises that he just had a complete breakdown in Nie Mingjue's arms.

"You're alright," Nie Mingjue's voice is saying. "You're safe."

Jiang Cheng disentangles himself immediately, muttering apologies, brushing his hair back into place.

He forces himself to turn, to look at Nie Mingjue. "Thanks," he says awkwardly, clearing his throat. "I'm sorry, that—"

"Don't apologise," Nie Mingjue says, narrowing his eyes. "You've shared a bed with me, I know you're familiar with my scars."

One of the first times Jiang Cheng had stayed in Nie Mingjue's tent with him, he'd woken abruptly in the middle of the night to the sounds of someone in pain. It had been Nie Mingjue, face creased in tight fear, anguish spread in thick lines into his face, and he made a low keening noise like he was dying. Unsure of the best way to proceed, but his chest aching in sympathy, he'd shaken Nie Mingjue awake gently and nearly been the recipient of a fist through the throat.

"It's not…that," Jiang Cheng made a wide gesture, referring broadly to the war and everything it brought with it. "I feel… I feel wrong. Sick, like a fraud. Everything I've done I've done with his golden core, because of his sacrifice, and I know I should be grateful but I feel… violated."

He shudders, at the thought of Wei Wuxian being cracked open next to him, his golden core forced into Jiang Cheng even as he'd been unconscious, unaware. Unable to stop it. He hasn't been able to look Wen Qing in the eye for very long.

Nie Mingjue's expression is a mixture of anger and sympathy. "It was a violation," he says quietly. "But he was trying to save you, to protect you."

Yes, Jiang Cheng's not surprised that one hits close to home for Nie Mingjue, what with his relationship with Huaisang.

"I didn't need his protection," he says fiercely. "I would have survived; I would have carried on and done what I could." Not gone and hidden up in a mass grave with a rag-tag gaggle of farmers and cultivators, trying to give corpses sentience.

"Yes," Nie Mingjue agrees, something unreadable in his eyes. "You would have." He reaches out, gripping Jiang Cheng’s hand in his. "What do you need?" He asks, voice achingly gentle.

"I need you to distract me," Jiang Cheng says. "You think you can manage that?"

Nie Mingjue smirks, and it feels like a threat and a promise. "I'll do my level best, Jiang Wanyin."

True to his word, he does. Nie Mingjue blows Jiang Cheng fast and wet, then puts him on his knees and fucks his face until he's dazed and teary eyed, mouth red and swollen.

Nie Mingjue pins Jiang Cheng down with a hand and rims him until he's sobbing and cursing, thighs shaking from overstimulation. He fingerfucks Jiang Cheng through another orgasm, and when he finally slides his cock in Jiang Cheng is easy and pliant. He fucks Jiang Cheng on his back, then on his front, then sat up against the headboard with Jiang Cheng in his lap, dragging Jiang Cheng up and down on his cock like a ragdoll.

By the time Nie Mingjue finishes, grinding up into Jiang Cheng’s ass, Jiang Cheng is ready to pass out, mind blissfully empty of anything except Nie Mingjue’s touch.

"T'nk you," Jiang Cheng slurs, letting his face fall into a pillow.

Nie Mingjue laughs softly. "Nothing that I need thanks for, baobei," he says. Jiang Cheng watches at him through one cracked open eye, and he looks hesitant.

"I feel like I shouldn't leave you alone right now," Nie Mingjue says.

Jiang Cheng instinctively goes to insist that he doesn't need to be coddled, that he's fine on his own, but... he doesn't exactly want Nie Mingjue to leave.

"So stay," he says instead, jerking his head at the wide expanse of the bed behind him.

He starts drifting off before Nie Mingjue makes a decision, but in the morning the other man is fighting his hair into braids in Jiang Cheng’s washroom. The sight makes something twist in Jiang Cheng’s chest, and begins to worry that his firm decision to ignore those feelings isn't going to go as well as he'd first thought.

 

---

 

Jiang Cheng is surprised, if pleased, when Nie Huaisang appears at Lotus Pier the next time Mingjue visits.

He hasn't seen his old friend in ages, kept occupied by the war Huaisang had no part in, and then frantically working to keep his sect afloat and figure out what his idiot shixiong was up to.

"Jiang-xiong!" Huaisang greets him, waving at Jiang Cheng. A familiar fond exasperation dawns in him. Mingjue elbows Huaisang, and he hastily says, "Uh, Sect Leader Jiang."

Fighting to repress a smile, Jiang Cheng bows at the Nies, indicating to them to follow him to a meeting room.

"So what brings you to Lotus Pier, Huaisang?" Jiang Cheng asks when they're seated.

Huaisang waves his hand airily. "Can't I come visit an old school friend?"

Jiang Cheng narrows his eyes. "I don't know, can you?"

Huaisang looks abashed. "Ah, I know, I know. But when I realised the place da-ge was always disappearing off to was Lotus Pier I thought I should tag along!"

Jiang Cheng relaxes slightly, although 'always disappearing off to' sticks in his mind and takes root.

He still feels slightly off-balance with Huaisang here, like two worlds of his have collided and he's desperately trying to keep both in balance.

Jiang Cheng and Nie Mingjue discuss the status of various construction projects, and Jiang Cheng actually has a fairly open day so he could work on them also--

Then he remembers Huaisang, who he'll have to entertain as he's /surely/ not here to help with the construction work.

Nie Mingjue snorts, obviously realising what's just occurred to Jiang Cheng. "Huaisang can entertain himself," he says, and his brother nods in agreement.

"Don't worry, Jiang-xiong, just act like I'm not here! I can find something to do," he says cheerfully.

Jiang Cheng reflexively goes to protest, to insist, but Nie Mingjue's his sect leader, if he says it's fine, then it's fine.

So Jiang Cheng ends up working with Mingjue and the other workers on the new block of storerooms. He sees nothing of Huaisang all day, despite being about the complex in various places to check on various things. This continues over the next few days, even on the days when he spends most of his time in his office or elsewhere in the main drag of the Pier.

The younger Nie always reappears in the afternoons to meet them for meals, chattering about something he's managed to get up to, completely without Jiang Cheng's notice, which he should probably be more concerned about. Huaisang' stories are mostly harmless, though, and Jiang Cheng wouldn't be surprised if he hasn't already charmed most of Lotus Pier's staff.

Jiang Cheng gives the Nie brothers adjoining rooms and is uncertain if the other part of Nie Mingjue’s visits will continue, with the scrutiny of his brother so close by.

Nie Mingjue, it appears, is unbothered, as Jiang Cheng opens his door on the first night to Nie Mingjue standing there, dark eyes trailing over Jiang Cheng's half-dressed form.

Jiang Cheng's room is lined with noise cancelling talismans, both because he values his privacy and didn't want to haunt the rest of the complex's inhabitants with his night terrors, as frequent and blood curdling as they were when he first returned to the wreckage.

So he figures they're at little to no risk of being discovered, no matter how loud Nie Mingjue makes him scream when he fucks Jiang Cheng into overstimulation.

On the last day of their visit, Huaisang comes to see him in his office, sits down with him and says, "so how long have you been sleeping with my brother, Jiang-xiong?"

Stunned into silence, Jiang Cheng says nothing.

"A few weeks? A few months?" Huaisang ventures when it becomes clear Jiang Cheng is not going to offer an answer.

"How is it any of your business, Nie Huaisang?" Jiang Cheng asks, fully aware that he sounds too defensive.

Huaisang taps his mouth with a folded up fan. "Well, I'm da-ge's only remaining family, you see, so think of this as dealing with his guardians."

Jiang Cheng is flabbergasted, but he manages to prise his jaw off the floor. "Huaisang, we're fucking, not courting," he says flatly, disbelieving that he's having this conversation with Nie Huaisang, the sweet, ditzy classmate Jiang Cheng had harboured a tiny crush for when they were teenagers.

"Hm," Huaisang says, and it's a sound that fills Jiang Cheng with trepidation for some reason. "Really? It is quite an effort to regularly travel across to Yunmeng for a bit of fucking."

"He's helping out with the re-building," Jiang Cheng argues. "Some friends visit, Huaisang," he adds pointedly.

Nie Huaisang just shakes his head, looking disappointed. "Look, I'm basically just here to tell you that I will be watching, and that it's in your best interests not to hurt my brother." If you'd told Jiang Cheng he would feel intimidated by Nie Huaisang threatening him, he would have laughed in your face - until now.

He looks blankly at Huaisang. "Why would I hurt Nie Mingjue? Huaisang, I think you've misunderstood the situation."

Nie Huaisang's expression wavers slightly, something else bleeding in at the edges. He sighs. "I like you, Jiang-xiong, so just... be good to him, alright?"

Jiang Cheng frowns at him, frustration twisting his mouth. Before he can answer Huaisang, the younger Nie scours his face with his gaze one last time and leaves.

Jiang Cheng sits for a long time just staring blankly at the door.

At evening meal, Huaisang acts normal, chattering away and bickering with Nie Mingjue, gently teasing at Jiang Cheng.

That night, he almost doesn't open his door when Mingjue knocks, mind whirling with possibilities, mentally still picking apart the bizarre conversation with Huaisang, the way the other man had been borderline invisible all week but seems to think he knows so much about Nie Mingjue and Jiang Cheng’s relationship.

In the end he does, of course. He lets Nie Mingjue in, lets the bigger man kiss him and undress him, put him on his back and fuck his thighs. It devolves from there, and all thoughts of the interrogation blur from Jiang Cheng’s mind.

When they're catching their breath, Nie Mingjue a muscled line of heat at his back, the complicated mixture of feelings comes back.

"You alright?" Mingjue asks, obviously perturbed by his uncharacteristic still silence.

"Mm," Jiang Cheng hums. "Fine." He hesitates, and turns over, manning up. He looks Nie Mingjue squarely in the eye.

"Your brother knows we're…" he makes a nebulous gesture. "Fucking."

"Ah," Nie Mingjue says, realisation coming over his face. "Some things are suddenly making sense."

"Yeah," Jiang Cheng says dryly, even a relief spreads quietly through him. Nie Mingjue seems unbothered by his brother knowing, and it doesn't seem like it’s going to stop him visiting, or climbing into Jiang Cheng’s bed.

Nie Mingjue rolls his eyes. "I'll talk to him," he says, and that's the last they speak of it.

 

---

 

It's a warm, if overcast day nearly two months later when Nie Mingjue tells Jiang Cheng that he thinks they should court.

Jiang Cheng stares at Nie Mingjue, heart in his throat. "You can't be serious."

Nie Mingjue crosses his arms over his chest. "Yes, I'm well known for my humour, Jiang Wanyin." That's just because people don't know you, Jiang Cheng thinks, but stays on topic.

Frowning, Jiang Cheng says, "Why would you want to—surely there's someone else?" He'd not been under the impression that their informal arrangement was exclusive, although he'd never been with anyone else himself, nor did he have any desire to. But Nie Mingjue was surely exercising his options elsewhere, after all Jiang Cheng was not the most convenient person in the world, and a man like Nie Mingjue had a lot of options.

Mingjue frowns. "Why would I want someone else?" he says. "You're beautiful, strong, hardworking and good to Huaisang."

Jiang Cheng blinks, furiously ignoring the way he flushes unwillingly. "I—we're both Sect Leaders, both men, do you want me to continue?"

Mingjue raises his eyebrows. "If you can," he says dryly, and then smirks at Jiang Cheng's floundering silence.

Eventually, Mingjue's expression softens. "Look," he says, "if you don't want this, say so and I'll fuck off, or we can stay friends, keep fucking, whatever you want." Those dark, fiery eyes pierce Jiang Cheng's. "But I think you're just scared, and I've never thought of you as a coward, Jiang Wanyin."

Jiang Cheng is so annoyed because Nie Mingjue knows him too well, but he can't help rising to the bait regardless. "I'm not scared," he says, which he and Mingjue both know is a lie.

"Prove it," Nie Mingjue smirks, that cocky expression with soft edges that makes Jiang Cheng do stupid, stupid things.

It seems today is no exception, because he says, seething, "Fine. Meet me at the main pier tonight at six."

It's probably the most spitefully arranged date in the history of the world, but frustratingly true to form Nie Mingjue is charming and attentive, if gruff and blunt about it. Jiang Cheng gives in around the first shi, entwining his fingers with Mingjue's.

"Shut up," he says pre-emptively, and Mingjue just smiles like a secret.

"As you wish, Jiang Cheng," he says, and Jiang Cheng already knows that he's done for.

 

---

 

'Courting' is a lot like what they'd already been doing, Jiang Cheng realises in chagrin, only with the addition of occasional dates, when they can fit them in, and kissing without the excuse of sex.

They both keenly understand the responsibilities of the other, so there's no hurt complaining when one of them has to spend long hours working during a visit or is called away suddenly.

When Mingjue is visiting Lotus Pier and Jiang Cheng isn't around, he occupies himself with helping out the workers and watching over the training disciples, and once Jiang Cheng even finds him drinking with a bemused looking Wei Wuxian.

When Jiang Cheng visits the Unclean Realm, there's always Huaisang's bright presence to keep him company. He gives Jiang Cheng tours and they venture out into Qinghe together, Huaisang dragging Jiang Cheng around markets as his exasperated shopping mule, and Jiang Cheng making wood-work patterns and structures for Huaisang's art pieces.

And where they can be together, they are as much as possible.

Jiang Cheng takes Nie Mingjue out in a boat late one evening when Lotus Pier is barely humming, quiet. They drift across the lake in the dark, illuminated only by the distant lanterns and the moonlight.

Under the cover of the clouds, Jiang Cheng kisses Mingjue, hands balancing his weight on Mingjue's thighs. Mingjue deepens the kiss, and pulls him down to the base of the boat, settling between his thighs.

They move together in careful, slow motions, the boat rocking gently in the water, sending out the slightest ripples. Jiang Cheng feels soothed by the comfortingly familiar sounds of the lake, and Mingjue's hands are so gentle on him that it feels like he really couldn't describe what they're doing as fucking.

 

They come, pressed together, making a mess of their robes. Mingjue takes his mouth in a soft, slick kiss that makes warmth curl in Jiang Cheng's chest. His eyelashes brush against Jiang Cheng's cheek.

For the first time in a long time, Jiang Cheng feels content, even happy. The endless stream of anxieties haven't stemmed, but they're drowned out by the reassurance and warmth of Mingjue here, in the home he helped Jiang Cheng rebuild with their own hands.

Eventually, Jiang Cheng has to get up and paddle them back to the docks, but the feeling stays, even as they sneak back to Jiang Cheng's rooms through the quiet complex with muffled snickering despite their awkwardly tacky trousers.

It stays over the many months that follow, and one day Wen Qing watches him with narrowed eyes and says pointedly, "you seem to be in a good mood recently, Sect Leader Jiang."

Jiang Cheng raises an eyebrow in return. "Well that's obviously because I can delegate these annoying tasks to you now," he says cheerfully, and Wen Qing snorts.

"Mm-hm," she hums in clear disbelief, but doesn't push the subject. "What about the 'merchants' that keep turning up at the village and refusing to leave? Can we take care of that, or do we have to bring it to you?"

And the matter is pushed aside, Jiang Cheng able to keep this one thing precious and private for himself for a little while longer.

 

---

 

Lying like this is Jiang Cheng's favourite position, his head pillowed by Nie Mingjue's chest, Mingjue's arm thrown around his back. Mingjue's thumb makes small stroking motions on Jiang Cheng's side and he hums lowly, eyelashes brushing against Mingjue's skin.

"So," Mingjue says, in a way which is not subtle or casual at all. "Have you spoken to Huaisang recently?"

Jiang Cheng narrows his eyes. "Yes," he says. "We talked about whatever thing it is you're trying to ever so subtly to bring up."

Mingjue huffs, pinching Jiang Cheng’s side, and he squirms, biting Mingjue's nipple in revenge. This quickly devolves into a fight slash groping, which Mingjue ends with a breathy, laughing 'alright, alright!'

Jiang Cheng settles back into his embrace, waiting not so patiently. The silence is pointed, and Mingjue obviously feels it.

"Okay," he sighs. "I just—don’t freak out if Huaisang propositions you."

Jiang Cheng blinks. And blinks again.

He shoots upright, balancing himself with a hand on Mingjue's muscled stomach. "I'm sorry, what?"

Mingjue groans, covering his face with an arm. Jiang Cheng grapples the heavy limb away so he can stare incredulously into Mingjue's eyes.

"Why would Huaisang proposition me?" Jiang Cheng asks, voice escalating in pitch, his grip on Mingjue's arm tightening, knuckles going white.

"Because I've told him it's okay," Mingjue says bluntly, blinking at Jiang Cheng.

Jiang Cheng opens his mouth and closes it again. He's so genuinely thrown and insulted he doesn't know what to say. Mingjue looks up at him, an open but awkward expression on his face. Shame, loss and embarrassment all mingle, churning sickly in Jiang Cheng’s stomach and crystallising into hurt, spearing sharply into all his soft places.

Rage finally, blissfully takes over.

"Well," Jiang Cheng snaps, dropping Mingjue's arm onto his face spitefully. "It seems I've misinterpreted what's going on here." He climbs out of bed and starts stalking to the door, pausing to search for his clothes. "Just hire a whore for your brother next time," he hisses, determined not to cry, clinging onto his anger with his fingernails instead.

Mingjue's previously sleepy, awkward demeanour vanishes and he blurs, moving towards Jiang Cheng and caging him in his strong arms. Jiang Cheng hisses, curses, and fights against the restraint, but Mingjue's got him in a bear hug, pinning his arms to his side. He knows Jiang Cheng's fighting style too well and prepares for any kicking by dragging him over to the bed and pinning him facedown, not nearly as sexy as when they're normally in this position.

Breathing heavily, Mingjue huffs against his neck. "Are you done?" He asks.

Jiang Cheng scowls, although it's wasted on the bed covers. "Let me go," he spits.

"What, so you can run off in self-pity instead of hearing me out?" Nie Mingjue's voice is sharp and annoyed, as if Jiang Cheng hasn't got a perfectly fucking good reason for running off.

Jiang Cheng closes his eyes. "Fine," he says shortly. "Talk."

Mingjue sighs, half relief and half exasperation. "Look," he says bluntly, "this isn't me discarding you, or whoring you out or whatever you think this is." His voice turns soft, like when he's got Jiang Cheng on his knees. "I'd have you in my bed and my life for as long as you'll have me."

His tone is gentle but void of any manipulation. Jiang Cheng's breath hitches, pulse skipping in stupid hope.

"Can we have this conversation upright?" Mingjue asks, exasperation bleeding back into his voice.

Jiang Cheng goes limp, and mutters, "fine."

Mingjue rolls off him, sitting upright on the bed, foot curled into his thigh. Jiang Cheng follows suit, sitting cross legged next to him.

Mingjue exhales, deep and slow. Jiang Cheng's worry starts creeping back up again.

"So, I noticed that A-Sang might have feelings for you," Mingjue says bluntly, like that's not a world-shattering statement in many ways. He sighs, aggravated, and stares at his own hands in his lap. "I was just - trying to say, that if you two also want to be together, I don't mind."

Jiang Cheng stares at Nie Mingjue, for long enough that the other man looks up, frowning slightly. He raises his eyebrows in question at Jiang Cheng, but Jiang Cheng can only blink, dazed and confused.

What? What?

Mingjue continues, ploughing on through Jiang Cheng's blatant bewilderment.

"I love Huaisang, and I want him to be happy. I trust him with you, which is why I told him I'd be okay with it. And I trust you with him, as well."

Jiang Cheng still feels overwhelmed and confused, but he knows what a level of trust and respect it must be for Nie Mingjue to entrust him with the safety and wellbeing of his precious didi.

But Jiang Cheng mostly has one thought running around his head like a dog chasing its tail, the most significant reason he could think of that Mingjue and Huaisang would want to share someone between them. "You and Huaisang—?" is all he can manage to voice of it, but Mingjue seems to either have understood or anticipated the question.

"No," Mingjue says adamantly but easily. Something in Jiang Cheng both relaxes and tenses in a different way.

He still doesn't understand. It would almost be easier if Mingjue and Huaisang were involved, or at least attracted to each-other. This, this makes no sense.

"What about people other than Huaisang?" Jiang Cheng asks.

Mingjue instantly frowns. "Is there someone else?" His voice is carefully even, but Jiang Cheng can see the tension in his jaw, the flash of something worried and hurt in his eyes. Jiang Cheng's probably a terrible person that he finds it reassuring, even as he feels a pang of guilt.

"No," Jiang Cheng admits. "I just…”

Mingjue runs a hand through his hair, leaving it ruffled and unkempt around his face. "It's hard to explain, to people who aren't the same, I guess." His expression is so focused and quietly worried that Jiang Cheng has to resist the instinctive urge to touch him. Jiang Cheng is the upset one, dammit!

"Me and Huaisang have always shared pretty much everything," Mingjue says. "There's nothing that I wouldn't give him to make him happy, if it's within my power." Jiang Cheng is about to contest hotly that he's not an object to be passed around, when Mingjue gently takes his unresisting hand.

"This isn't me asking for an open relationship," he says. "I don't—I’d rather not do that." He hesitates, brow furrowed in thought. "This is just me giving you the okay with Huaisang, if you wanted to. Only Huaisang."

He continues hurriedly. "Obviously, it's your decision. Huaisang might not even approach you, but I just wanted your potential decision not to be influenced by what you thought I might say."

Jiang Cheng feels dizzy, and he brings his other hand up to his brow, focusing on the secure warmth of Nie Mingjue's big hand enveloping his own as an anchor.

"I still don't think I understand," Jiang Cheng admits.

"Alright," Mingjue says softly. "That's okay." He frowns. "Just don't run off again, I will hunt you down."

Jiang Cheng huffs a laugh. Obviously, no-one's explained to Mingjue that that's the deepest, darkest secret Jiang Cheng has. He wants someone to follow him no matter where he runs, to be the one who someone is willing to chase after, rather than the one constantly doing all the chasing.

Sometimes, with Nie Mingjue, Jiang Cheng almost thinks he could stop running entirely.

In a silent gesture of surrender, Jiang Cheng collapses back into Mingjue's chest. Broad arms wrap around him, tucking him into Mingjue's strong embrace.

The arms squeeze slightly, as Mingjue leans down to press soft kisses to Jiang Cheng’s forehead. "Sorry I sprung that on you," he says gruffly. "Could've been better planned." He pauses. "Or planned at all."

Jiang Cheng laughs silently. "Sorry I tried to run off and sulk," he admits, the truth tasting bitter. It's easier to lean in to his upset than face the difficult conversations with people he loves, so having Mingjue literally hold him down and make him engage is… better.

What exactly is your plan to talk to women? Wei Wuxian had asked him when they were younger, exasperated by what he saw as Jiang Cheng's repressed attitude towards feelings.

I'll keep all my feelings right here, Jiang Cheng had said flatly, only half playing into it, and then one day I'll die.

A big, calloused hand cups Jiang Cheng's face, tilting it up to look at Mingjue. Dark, concerned eyes look down at him. "You know I want you to stay," he says, half a question, half a confirmation.

"I know," Jiang Cheng says. "I want to stay, too," he gives in return, and stilted and awkward though it is, it makes Mingjue smile crookedly down at him.

They exchange sweet, gentle kisses until they doze off again, the small, vicious voice in Jiang Cheng's head drowned out by the feeling of warm contentment surrounding him.

He can have this, and even his own idiocy and insecurity can't take it from him.

 

---

 

Jiang Cheng doesn't forget about the conversation - he is a busy man, but his lover accosting him with ‘oh by the way, you can sleep with my brother if you feel so inclined’ isn't exactly forgettable.

But other things do appear, and prioritise themselves. Jiang Cheng finds himself spending most of his hours working with Wen Qing, trying to settle the many, many problems that come with taking in an almost decimated branch of a generally reviled clan, even months on. So, the next few times Jiang Cheng sees Huaisang, he's honestly too distracted slash exhausted to make things weird.

He does think about it, usually after Huaisang's gone and the memory jolts back to Jiang Cheng - we share everything.

Even putting aside the complications of the whole Nie brothers situation, Jiang Cheng still feels quietly baffled at the thought that Nie Huaisang might be interested in him. Jiang Cheng had felt some stirring infatuation himself when they'd studied together at Cloud Recesses, but Huaisang had never indicated any return of that regard, Jiang Cheng surely too rigid and straightforward for someone like him, so carefree and creative.

But they're friends, close friends now, even without Wei Wuxian between them, and Jiang Cheng doesn't want to ruin that with the muddied waters of attraction.

Still, now Nie Mingjue has put the thought in his head—Jiang Cheng is freely and eagerly blaming him—he can't step mulling it over at the most inopportune times.

Huaisang's obviously very pretty, so sharply distinct from his big brother that one wouldn't assume they're related at first glance. He hides his strength, but is as naturally strong as any Nie, Jiang Cheng knows, has since they got drunk and injured as teenagers and Huaisang had carried both him and Wei Wuxian back to their rooms.

He's charming and unfairly hilarious, but also quietly clever; willing to put more effort into avoiding work than the actual work requires – out of spite, principle, or other nebulous reasons. Strangely, now having been with Nie Mingjue, Jiang Cheng almost understands Huaisang better – has seen and heard some of the things about their family and sect that put a lot of Huaisang's refusal to take up the saber in context.

The thought that Huaisang might have feelings for him… well, it's not disgust or indifference that Jiang Cheng feels, that's for sure. Some part of him doesn't trust it, even as he recognises that Mingjue is the person who knows Huaisang best in all the world, and who wouldn't have brought it up surely, if he wasn't certain.

Jiang Cheng had tried to get more information out of Nie Mingjue, but he'd clammed up tight and said I'm not getting any more involved, it's for you and Huaisang to discuss. No amount of bribery or sulking had swayed him.

So here he was, unsure about what he would do if Huaisang /did/ approach him, but mind now focused like a beam on Huaisang's elegant hands, his sweet smile, his endless affection for those stupid birds. His sing-song voice calling "Jiang-xiong!" and the warm, quiet moments they'd shared at Cloud Recesses after Wei Wuxian got kicked out, the wide, ditzy eyes flicking quickly across a weiqi board as he lost two games to Jiang Cheng and then decimated him in the next three.

Those teenage half-fantasies kept coming back to him, but stronger and slightly different: what would Huaisang's clever hands do to him? How would his soft skin feel under Jiang Cheng's own hands? What would he sound like, warm and gasping in Jiang Cheng's lap?

Jiang Cheng's stomach twists. It seems that crush hadn't gone away as much as he'd thought.

 

---

 

Jiang Cheng is visiting the Unclean Realm when it all comes to a head.

He's been feeling keyed up on a constant repressed stream of wanting to punch Jin Guangshan, so he'd headed straight to Qinghe from Lanling, sending Wei Wuxian a letter that he'd be home in a couple extra days. For safety, he'd sent Wen Ning one as well that told him what to do if Wei Wuxian did anything stupid in his absence.

When he'd arrived at the Unclean Realm, he'd headed straight for Mingjue's quarters, stripping down as soon as he entered the bedroom. His skin itched at the wait, but he contented himself with the familiar feel and scent of Mingjue's bed, and by the time Mingjue had turned up Jiang Cheng had been writhing in his sheets, halfway to orgasm.

That night Mingjue had made him come again and again until he felt wrung out, let him take out his frustration in clawing hands and harsh thrusts, distracted him with biting kisses and firm hands on him.

The next day, Mingjue had needed to depart early for sect business just outside of the Unclean Realm, and Jiang Cheng had seen no point in lounging around in bed by himself, so he'd risen and intended on sneaking to the guest rooms where they usually kept up the appearance of him staying in search of a fresh set of robes.

He'd shrugged back on his robes from the day prior, so he'd look appropriately dressed were he to come across anyone in the interim. The problem was that Mingjue had been very thorough - at a glance at his reflection before he'd left, he noticed that the collar and deep plunge of the robes didn't cover the bite marks and bruises pressed into Jiang Cheng's skin in jewel tones matching his robes.

He'd have to wear his highest necked robes, and probably his hair partially down, to hide the more obvious marks. Still, not a problem, even if he was stopped by someone.

Which of course, was the thought that had made fate stick him with his current situation – a familiar voice calling, "Jiang-xiong?" He stops in his tracks, turning.

"Nie-xiong," he says in return. For all of his previous confidence, he feels flayed under Huaisang's gaze, open and obvious in his every thought.

"I was coming to look for da-ge," Huaisang says, "I don't suppose you'd happen to know where he is?" Jiang Cheng isn't sure if Mingjue's made him paranoid or if Huaisang genuinely is giving him a once over. His skin prickles at the thought.

"He's gone out with Nie Zonghui and some others," Jiang Cheng answers. "Something about a skirmish out at the border town?" He stretches out his sore shoulders, scratches absently at the back of his neck.

Huaisang sighs, mutters, "of course," mouth opening again to continue, perhaps, but he stops in his tracks, staring wordlessly at Jiang Cheng.

"What?" Jiang Cheng snaps, feeling half paranoid but knowing he's not imagining the lingering stare.

Then he realises what Huaisang's looking at. The purple-blue-red marks scattered across his collarbones and neck. He feels his face flush hotly, and he's thinking of some excuse to flee when Huaisang steps towards him.

"It looks like da-ge's been marking you up, Jiang-xiong," Huaisang says in a soft, lilting voice. He's within arm’s reach, not quite close enough to be improper, but Jiang Cheng feels something thickening in the air.

Huaisang brings a finger up just bare inches from Jiang Cheng’s skin to trace the patterns of the love bites into the air. "Almost like constellations," he murmurs. "I didn't know da-ge was so secretly artistic." His gaze flickers over Jiang Cheng again, who hadn't been imagining the once-over earlier. "Perhaps he's got good inspiration."

Jiang Cheng's heart is beating wildly out of his chest. He doesn't know what to say, or do, to keep whatever this is going, the weight of Huaisang's regard heavy and paralysing.

Luckily, Huaisang seems to be half in his own world, or at least dedicated to a certain path, and he moves ever so slightly closer. Jiang Cheng can smell the jasmine and sandalwood every time his hair moves.

Huaisang moves, and a sudden fear grips Jiang Cheng that he's leaving, but he just circles around Jiang Cheng like he's examining a potential purchase from all angles. Jiang Cheng feels the heat of him, hears the rustling of his robes, bare inches from Jiang Cheng’s back.

"What's this one from?" Huaisang asks, finger brushing lightly like a feather over the nape of Jiang Cheng’s neck. Something flutters in Jiang Cheng’s stomach at the ghosting touch.

The mark Huaisang is looking at is a pale blue-green curved line at the back of his neck, that likely dips down below the neckline of Jiang Cheng’s robes. He feels suddenly bare and vulnerable with his hair in his customary high bun, and barely represses a shiver.

"It's easier to tell if you can see all of it," Jiang Cheng says like an idiot. He's not sure if he imagines how much suddenly more still the air feels and is immeasurably glad that he can't see Huaisang's face.

"Alright, show me," Huaisang says, voice even and unaffected. Jiang Cheng hates him so much.

With carefully steady hands, Jiang Cheng pulls the layers of his robes aside at the neck, so they sit at the edge of his shoulder, almost falling down his arm.

For some reason Jiang Cheng doesn't turn around to show Huaisang his front. He's not sure if he's lost his courage, or if he just can't bear to look at Huaisang's too sharp eyes when he's baring himself this much. But it doesn't matter, because Huaisang leans closer to follow the bruise with his gaze, how it curves around the side of his neck and across his shoulders and down towards his collarbone.

The bruise pattern is a pale blue-green at the join of his neck and right shoulder, getting darker and narrower suddenly closer towards his collarbone, spreading off into thinner purple marks. He's seen it briefly in the mirror, long enough to know it looks enough like the imprint of fingers if you know what you're looking at.

"Oh," Huaisang says, and Jiang Cheng feels the exhale past his ear. Jiang Cheng’s mouth is dry. He can feel the warmth of Huaisang so close, almost pressed against his back, although Huaisang must be on his tip toes to see over his shoulder. He doesn't move, remains suspended uselessly in the moment with his robes gathered in his hand, body ramrod still for Huaisang's inspection.

"You'll have to tell me, Jiang-xiong. I don't think I can figure it out." It's Huaisang's deliberately ditzy voice, the one he pulls out when he wants to get out of training or sect duties, but it's a few degrees shy of convincing. Jiang Cheng could just pull his robes back together, just walk out of here and pretend this never happened.

I wouldn't mind, Mingjue's voice echoes in his mind. If you wanted to be - with him, also. We share everything.

The thought if being something to be shared by the Nie brothers is no longer so humiliating, so devastating. Instead it's started to make heat crawl illicit and dirty through his belly, the idea of being so wanted that both brothers have to have him. The thought of Huaisang touching him is now all he can think about, skin itching for it.

Jiang Cheng licks his too dry lips, and starts, haltingly. "Mingjue's – hand, over my shoulder. From. Behind." He can feel his face flushing crimson with a mixture of shame and desire, as he remembers. Nie Mingjue fucking him on his hands and knees from behind, one hand curled around his hip, dragging him back into his thrusts; the other palm cupping his shoulder, thumb pressing into the nape of his neck and other fingers curled around the meat of his shoulder. Mingjue's uncompromising grip had forced his spine into a deep curve and felt grounding, an anchor in the overwhelming waves of sensation.

Huaisang stays quiet, the only sound their breathing.

"I, I was on my hands and knees and. He was behind me." Jiang Cheng can't say anymore, can barely stand to gasp out filthy words in the heat of the moment, let alone when still fully clothed with Nie goddamn Huaisang. But he feels reckless, giddy with his already bold behaviour.

He lets the robes fall, draping down past his shoulder and over his arm, and he reaches back awkwardly. His fingers graze Huaisang's in his blind searching, and he adjusts his aim, grabbing Huaisang's wrist.

Jiang Cheng hears Huaisang inhale sharply, and victory pools hot and relieving. Jiang Cheng pulls Huaisang arm up, and the other man moves closer to his back, his robes brushing Jiang Cheng’s calves. He has Huaisang's hand hovering over his shoulder when Huaisang takes back control of his wayward limb, hand flexing. Jiang Cheng loosens his grip on Huaisang's wrist, fingers now just circling the expanse loosely.

Huaisang slowly lowers his hand onto Jiang Cheng’s shoulder - Jiang Cheng can feel the careful, calculated press of his palm onto the bare skin. Without prompting, Huaisang shifts his palm, curls his fingers so that he's mimicking the grip Nie Mingjue hand on Jiang Cheng's shoulder and neck.

Huaisang's clever, elegant hands feel so different to Mingjue's thick, broad ones. Jiang Cheng forgets too often that Huaisang is still a Nie, and is stronger than his public image, but he remembers sharply when Huaisang's grip tightens, delicate fingers pressing hard into Jiang Cheng’s bruised skin, making him shiver and bite back a groan. The pain and the pleasurable association with the grip flares hot in his abdomen, and he pushes back into the hold, making Huaisang hold him firmer to keep him in place. 

"Ah, I understand now," Huaisang says in a deep, mellow voice that immediately fills Jiang Cheng with trepidation. His grip changes, pushes down, and Jiang Cheng takes the cue. He drops to his knees, barely feeling the impact of thinly covered joints on stone.

He feels the absence of Huaisang’s grip on his shoulder, and the brush of air moving as Huaisang circles around him, stopping once directly in front of him. He dimly remembers that his shoulder is still bare, his robes in disarray, and he reaches to fix them, only to have his hand slapped back by Huaisang.

"I don't think so, Jiang Cheng," Huaisang says, a definite edge to his sweet voice now that has something curling, hot but confused, in Jiang Cheng’s abdomen. "Take them off," he continues, clearly eyeing Jiang Cheng’s robes. Jiang Cheng goes to unbuckle his belt, but Huaisang tuts, and slaps at his hands again. Indignation rises, and he scowls at Huaisang, even as his skin tingles with anticipation and an echo of the slap.

"Ah, Jiang Cheng, don't make that face at me, I'm sorry. It's my fault for not giving specific enough instructions." Something settles in Jiang Cheng, an unease he hadn't known was roiling away inside. Huaisang' eyes are sharp and hungry, and his hands are quick as he pulls out a fan. He taps the closed fan on Jiang Cheng’s other shoulder. "Both sleeves off, I want to see those shoulders." Slightly bemused at the request, Jiang Cheng awkwardly shimmies the robes off both shoulders so that they fall in folds around his elbows. With his bracers still on, it must make an odd picture, but Huaisang watches with a satisfied expression.

"Good," Huaisang says, and Jiang Cheng is self-aware enough by now to accept the way this relaxes his tensed muscles, sparks contentedly in his chest. "Your neck and shoulders are so elegant, Jiang Cheng, I could paint you like this and sell it for a fortune."

Jiang Cheng isn't sure what to do with that compliment - he thinks it's a compliment? Nie Mingjue’s are a lot more straightforward and understandable: telling him how distracting he is when they spar, how his attention is drawn to Jiang Cheng’s strong, capable arms wielding Zidian and Sandu, how his gaze is caught by Jiang Cheng’s thick, muscled thighs and long calves.

Huaisang as always, is a little more confusing, so Jiang Cheng just lowers his eyes, trying not to focus too hard on the fact that he's kneeling in front of his lover's brother, his old friend. Nie Huaisang.

Huaisang flicks the fan open and places it under Jiang Cheng's chin. He presses the edge against Jiang Cheng's throat, tipping his head up.

"That's better," Huaisang says. His eyes are dark and sparkling, and it fills Jiang Cheng with a hot anticipation. The fan lingers against his throat for a moment, before it's flicked closed with a single, elegant twist of the wrist.

"You're going to be good for me, aren't you, Jiang Cheng?" Huaisang murmurs, and Jiang Cheng nods instinctively. Huaisang smiles, a sweet and sharp curve of lips.

"Take my cock out, and use your mouth on me," Huaisang instructs, widening his stance.

Desire pools hot in Jiang Cheng's belly, and he lifts his hands to the ties of Huaisang's robes, half-wary he'll get slapped again for doing it wrong, and half hoping he will.

He gets through the layers with ease, Huaisang's robes more intricately patterned and carefully selected than Mingjue's, but essentially the same style.

When the robes hang open at Huaisang's sides, Jiang Cheng stares.

Huaisang's cock is fully hard, curved thick and pretty against his stomach. He's not as gargantuan as his brother, but he's big enough, definitely more than proportionate to his height.

Jiang Cheng wants to touch, wants to feel him weighty and hot with blood in the palm of his hands, but they don't have any oil, and well—

Huaisang said to use his mouth, didn't he?

Leaning forward, pulse skipping, he licks at the tip. He licks away the pre-come beaded there, swirling around the underside of the head.

Jiang Cheng doesn't have the patience for a tease, and so he holds Huaisang at the base and lets him slide the rest of the way into his mouth. He swallows around the intrusion, breathing through his nose, but he won't be able to get all of it in his mouth without using his throat.

Instead he jerks the part of the shaft he can't get in his mouth, licking and sucking at the cock in his mouth, letting saliva pool deliberately in his mouth for an easier glide.

"I only said to use your mouth, didn't I, Jiang Cheng?" Huaisang's voice is hardly affected, and Jiang Cheng quickly takes his hand off Huaisang's cock, resting one on Huaisang's thigh and the other on his hip as leverage.

"Better," Huaisang says, and Jiang Cheng starts bobbing on his cock, focusing on suction and movement, his own cock throbbing in his trousers.

Huaisang lets out a moan and it sounds like victory. Emboldened, Jiang Cheng works wetter and messier on Huaisang's prick, pulling off to focus on the head every so often. Huaisang's breathing is ragged and interspersed with bitten off groans, barely audible over the wet slide of flesh.

A hand curls into Jiang Cheng’s hair, followed by another. Jiang Cheng moves back to fucking his face on Huaisang, the rhythm working faster and deeper as the shaft hits the back of his throat and presses in slightly. Jiang Cheng slows and presses on through the discomfort, swallowing and moving down the shaft slowly but surely until Huaisang's balls are pressed against his chin. He makes a triumphant hum, eyes slightly wet but feeling victorious all the same.

"Ah," Huaisang groans, grip on Jiang Cheng’s hair tightening. Jiang Cheng stays still, feeling simultaneously floaty and keyed up with Huaisang's pretty, thick cock in his throat. He swallows around the intrusion again, feeling the weight of it as his throat flexes.

"Oh fuck," Huaisang mutters. He's watching Jiang Cheng with big, awed eyes, but that sharp undercurrent is still there, lurking. Those quick eyes dart between Jiang Cheng’s mouth, surely red and swollen around Huaisang’s length, and Jiang Cheng’s tear-damp eyes, likely dark with desire.

Huaisang’s thighs shake slightly under Jiang Cheng’s palms, and he says, breathy, "hands behind your back."

Jiang Cheng groans, muffled, but does as he's told. He grabs his right wrist with his left hand, focusing on the slightly odd hold with his non dominant hand, so he doesn't end up with his hands back on Huaisang's soft skin.

"Good boy," Huaisang praises, and Jiang Cheng hums, the vibration making Huaisang's hips jerk, pushing his cock deep into Jiang Cheng’s throat with a wet noise. He hastily pulls back out to a less intrusive depth, but he stops and watches Jiang Cheng with those too-clever eyes again. Something dark settles in them and Jiang Cheng waits, stomach fluttering, mouth open and pliant around Huaisang’s length.

"If you want me to stop, tap my hip three times," Huaisang says, before he grips Jiang Cheng’s head with his other hand. Jiang Cheng hums in acknowledgement, anticipation burning hot, and Huaisang starts just - fucking his face.

The pace is slow and steady at first, but Huaisang’s grip is sure as he uses it to thrust his cock in and out of Jiang Cheng’s mouth, teasing his throat with deeper pushes. Jiang Cheng keeps his muscles relaxed and breathes heavily through his nose, gripping his wrist hard behind his back and just letting Huaisang use his mouth.

Huaisang is murmuring out a stream of praise over the wet soundtrack, and the words in combination with the sensation of Huaisang’s capable hands using him has Jiang Cheng’s cock aching, and he tries to adjust how he's knelt so he can at least ride his heel along the sensitive underside of his groin.

Huaisang’s watchful gaze catches the movement nearly immediately and he croons at Jiang Cheng. "Jiang Cheng, you're so hard just from having me in your mouth? You can touch yourself, darling."

Groaning in relief, Jiang Cheng practically rips open his robes to get at his trousers, shoving a hand down them and jerking himself with desperate motions. Huaisang’s pace grows faster, and Jiang Cheng’s mouth and face are an absolute mess of precum and saliva. He fucks Jiang Cheng’s face relentlessly, and Jiang Cheng jerks his own cock all the faster, matching the breakneck pace.

Every so often Huaisang stops and pushes all the way in, down Jiang Cheng’s throat and pressed so tight that Huaisang’s balls nearly hit his chin. Jiang Cheng swallows around the intrusion, barely avoiding choking on it. "You just take it," Huaisang marvels, and Jiang Cheng would be panting and wailing if his mouth wasn't otherwise occupied. Huaisang grinds in, and Jiang Cheng hopes he's going to finish soon, or he'll have to stop, at least with the hardcore face-fucking. Jiang Cheng is starting to get involuntarily teary, and once he starts properly crying, he'll get all snotty and won't be able to breathe through his nose. He and Mingjue had learned that lesson the hard way.

He doesn't really want it to end though, so Jiang Cheng tries his best to blink back the tears that form from Huaisang using him so hard. He keeps his throat open and pliant as he furiously jerks his own cock to Huaisang’s rhythm.

Huaisang is swearing like Jiang Cheng’s never heard him before, and there's something viscerally satisfying about breaking down the composure of someone normally so put together. But then, of course, Huaisang seems to find new reserves of... himself, and starts talking again, rhythm easing back from the breakneck pace.

"Oh, Jiang Cheng, I think your mouth was made for this," Huaisang sighs, fucking languidly into Jiang Cheng’s throat. One of his hands that’s on Jiang Cheng’s head makes a smoothing motion over his hair, and it's strangely soothing. "I'm not sure if I should come on your pretty face, or let your sweet, cock-sucking throat have it."

Jiang Cheng groans around Huaisang’s cock, eyes fluttering closed. He fucks into his own fist, jerking quicker as the honeyed words push him closer to the edge. He comes, moaning, over his fist, working his hand over the tip as he shudders through the aftershocks. He pulls himself quickly out of his haze to make sure he doesn't accidentally get Huaisang with his teeth in his distraction.

"Well done, sweetheart. Uh, your throat squeezed me like a pussy." Huaisang is fucking his face brutally again, and Jiang Cheng’s face feels too warm and wet and messy. His eyes start watering again, and he whines, feeling overwhelmed.

"That's it, fuck, I'm coming, keep milking me like that." Huaisang hisses, rutting against Jiang Cheng’s face, then pushing in deep and grinding in. Jiang Cheng just concentrates on swallowing as Huaisang pulses down his throat. Huaisang pets his hair and strokes fingers over the lines of his face, like he's memorising Jiang Cheng’s bone structure. Jiang Cheng narrows his eyes and glares up at Huaisang, hoping his gaze conveys what the consequences will be if Huaisang paints him like this. Huaisang smiles sweetly down at him, but a softer, more genuine sweetness than the too saccharine expression he's seen directed at people Huaisang makes nice with and then proceeds to bitch about in private.

Huaisang eventually pulls out of Jiang Cheng’s mouth and drops to his knees in front of Jiang Cheng. His robes are in disarray, but his hair is immaculate. Jiang Cheng doesn't even want to contemplate what he looks like right now.

"Holy shit, Jiang Cheng," Huaisang murmurs, smoothing Jiang Cheng’s hair down, hopefully into something resembling neatness. Delicate fingers brush over his neck. "How are you real?" He breathes, tone tinged with disbelief and... awe? Jiang Cheng feels his face flush more than when he'd been being face-fucked, and he awkwardly averts his gaze.

"Come on," Huaisang says, tugging at Jiang Cheng. "We're already on the floor."

Jiang Cheng lets himself be pulled down so that he's curled up on his side opposite to Huaisang doing the same, face in Huaisang's chest. A clever, soft hand strokes through his hair and it's calming, not having to deal with the rest of the world and his own shrieking worries.

"So we should probably talk about this," Huaisang says softly. Jiang Cheng groans, shaking his head against Huaisang.

"Come on," Huaisang chides. "I'm sure you've got questions."

Jiang Cheng perks up slightly. He has so many questions but feels too awkward to ask them. He opens his mouth, and closes it again, frustrated with his own inability.

"Alright," Huaisang says kindly. "How about I start you off? Da-ge and I have never been involved romantically with the same person, but we have slept with the same person before."

Jiang Cheng says, "oh," mind working over the new information. It soothes one of his many worries, the knowledge that the Nie brothers don't do this regularly – that he's not just a bit of entertainment between them.

"It's not that unusual in Qinghe," Huaisang says, "taking more than one partner, or siblings having the same spouse." Jiang Cheng watches his face curiously. "You know da-ge and I have different mothers - they were actually sisters themselves."

 Jiang Cheng blinks in surprise, and Huaisang smiles. "Mingjue's mother, Lan Yuehai, met our father first. When she fell in love, and moved here, she brought her sister with her. He fell in love with the younger sister also, Lan Qiuyue."

Jiang Cheng can put two and two together with sufficient prompting. "Your mother."

Huaisang nods. "I know some people, especially outside of Qinghe, find it strange, siblings being that close that they can share a partner, but…"

Jiang Cheng shrugs as best as he can. "Look, I've slept with you both, I've got no right to judge whatever relationship you have."

Huaisang huffs out a laugh. "A reasonable perspective." He brushes Jiang Cheng’s hair out of his face. "We can figure out feelings and other stuff as we go, Jiang Cheng, but we do have to talk about sex."

Jiang Cheng groans loudly, and Huaisang pinches his side.

"I'm not letting you up until we talk about this," Huaisang says. "We should have agreed signals and safewords before we started, but," he clears his throat, looking uncharacteristically sheepish. "I got a bit carried away." Jiang Cheng tries not to smile smugly, but obviously doesn't succeed as Huaisang pokes him between the brows.

 

"Have you got any hard limits?" Huaisang asks. At Jiang Cheng's blank look, he elaborates. "Things you definitely ever don't want to do, or want me to do to you."

Jiang Cheng's instinct is to say no, but Huaisang's serious look has him thinking it over, prodding at his own jagged edges and seeing what makes him flinch.

"No talking about or touching my scars," Jiang Cheng says slowly, tapping his chest. Huaisang nods, expression attentive. Jiang Cheng continues tentatively, "I don't mind, um, you saying mean things during sex but nothing... personal."

Huaisang appears to work that over. "So you don't mind me calling you a slut, but you don't want me to call you stupid?" He clarifies, and Jiang Cheng nods, face reddening. "Alright, thank you." Warmth pools in Jiang Cheng's chest at the praise, like the useless sap he is.

"Oh," he says, something occurring to him, remembering Huaisang's old yellow books that they'd peered over. "No blindfolds." The thought of being blindfolded now makes him feel nauseous, even now he and Wei Wuxian have slowly, painfully talked through some of their grievances. Being so completely blind, vulnerable, and having to trust whatever the other person says – no. He can't.

"Okay, no blindfolds," Huaisang says, clearly seeing the dark expression on his face and quickly moving on. "What about pain?" Huaisang ventures, quick gaze flicking across his face, taking in his reactions.

Jiang Cheng clears his throat, complicated feelings twisting in his abdomen. "I'm not, uh, a fan of most of it, like nothing hardcore." The scars on his chest ache with a phantom pain. "But like, rough fucking is fine. Good." The backs of his hands tingle, and his face goes hot as something else occurs to him.

"Is there something else?" Huaisang prods, sensing blood in the water like a damn shark.

Heaving in an awkward breath, Jiang Cheng buries his face back in Huaisang's chest. "I think, uh… the... when you hit me, earlier, when I did it wrong. I think that…" his face feels like it's burning he's blushing so hard but he pushes onwards. "Might be a thing. For me. Maybe."

Huaisang hums. "Me slapping you?" He says, and Jiang Cheng grinds out an affirmative. "Interesting. Just your hands, or your face? Elsewhere?"

"I don't know," Jiang Cheng says helplessly, his stomach clenching in a mixture of desire and anxiety.

"Okay, that's fine. Thank you, Jiang Cheng." His hand strokes over Jiang Cheng's hair. "For me, hard 'no's are: anything bodily function related--"

Jiang Cheng makes a noise of startled disgust. "That's a thing?"

"Aw, you sweet naive baby," Huaisang coos and Jiang Cheng’s scowls at him, but settles back in, listening attentively.

"Anything painful beyond rough sex," Huaisang continues, "asphyxiation, and da-ge and I won't touch each-other."

Jiang Cheng waits, but he seems to have finished. "I mean, I wasn't going to ask for that last one, but… can I ask? About that?"

 

Huaisang replies playfully, "you can /ask/."

Jiang Cheng moves back so he can look at Huaisang's face, and let him see Jiang Cheng's own sincerity. "I'm not," he says haltingly. "I won't judge, really. Are you two…?"

"Interested in each-other sexually?" Huaisang finishes for him bluntly.

Quietly dying of embarrassment, Jiang Cheng nods.

Huaisang sighs. "No, not really. We're just not bothered by that stuff, I guess. We've always been very close and he worries about me, and I'm nosey, o we've always talked pretty openly about sex."

Jiang Cheng makes a face. "If Wei Wuxian told me about his sex life I would throw myself off a cliff," he says very seriously.

Huaisang laughs. "Yes, but you're a bit repressed, A-Cheng."

Frowning, Jiang Cheng goes to argue.

"You don't even want to talk about sex with the people you're having sex with," Huaisang says before Jiang Cheng can retort.

Something in that jars in Jiang Cheng. "Wait," he says sharply. "Has Mingjue been telling you about our sex life?" That's not like the dirty, warm feeling Jiang Cheng gets thinking about being shared by the Nie brothers, that feels more like a violation of trust, even with it being Huaisang.

"No," Huaisang answers. "If he hasn't asked you if it's okay with you, he wouldn't."

Of course he wouldn't, it's Nie Mingjue. The queasy knot in Jiang Cheng's stomach eases. "Okay, good.

Huaisang's gaze searches his. "Are you alright with us talking about you? Like, non necessary stuff. Like about sex."

Jiang Cheng frowned, trying to untangle the complicated knot of his feelings about that. "Can… I get back to you on that one?'

"Sure, A-Cheng. Sealed lips," Huaisang promises earnestly. Jiang Cheng smiles slightly, and then feels it waver.

"But the sharing stuff," Jiang Cheng says. "Am I…" he flushes. "Is it weird that I…"

"Find it hot?" Huaisang guesses, and Jiang Cheng nods awkwardly. "No, sweetheart. It's more like trust, isn't it? And the idea is sexy to me, because you like it, not because da-ge's involved. Obviously we know we can trust each-other with you, so there's security in that, we don't have to worry."

"Oh," Jiang Cheng says, his chest clenching at the thought of being something worthy of that level of consideration and care, like the brothers thought of him as something precious.

He leans forward and presses a soft kiss to Huaisang's mouth. It's as soft and plush as he'd thought. He moves to pull back, but Huaisang wraps a hand around the back of his neck, dragging him into a deeper kiss.

They lie like that for several long moments, kissing sweet but messy on the floor, Huaisang licking his way into Jiang Cheng's mouth and making hungry, startled noises when Jiang Cheng bites his lower lip in return.

"You know," Huaisang says, once they finally pull apart for breath. "I was going to court you and everything, slowly and gently ease your repressed self into it, but then you were wandering about like that and it all went out the window."

Jiang Cheng snorts, even as he's secretly relieved at the confirmation this is more serious than a bit of fucking. "You mean you were going to come up with some overly elaborate scheme rather than just asking me if I wanted to be with you. Guess we know how your brother got there first."

Huaisang makes an indignant, frowny face at Jiang Cheng that is far too cute for someone who just face-fucked Jiang Cheng into oblivion.

Jiang Cheng relents. "I guess it's a good thing I like you and your dumb schemes," he admits, smiling crookedly. Huaisang beams, and it makes Jiang Cheng's heart beat faster.

When they finally get up they're both sore from being on the floor for so long, but Jiang Cheng doesn't think either of them are sorry at all.

 

---

 

Jiang Cheng isn't really sure how to approach the subject, so he just blurts it out.

"I had sex with Huaisang."

Mingjue blinks, cut off from his explanation of the long-standing feud he'd gone out to deal with this morning. "Alright."

Jiang Cheng stares at him. "That's it?"

Looking bewildered, Mingjue shrugs awkwardly. "Congratulations? I mean I'm pleased for Huaisang, maybe he'll stop whining so much now. I was starting to worry he was going to arrange you your own fireworks show or something."

Hazel eyes search Jiang Cheng's face. "Do you want me to be jealous?"

"No!" Jiang Cheng says. "I'm just… still adjusting to this, I guess." It hadn't felt like cheating, touching Huaisang, and he'd had Mingjue's easy blessing in his mind the whole time, but it still felt… odd.

Mingjue hums, pulling Jiang Cheng into his arms. "As long as you and A-Sang are good, it's all fine with me, baobei."

Jiang Cheng presses a kiss up onto Mingjue's chin. "Sorry, go on with what you were saying. Something about stealing chickens?"

"If only it were just the chickens. This time, it was the damn grass in the allotment too…"

 

---

 

That evening they eat together, and it's far more normal than Jiang Cheng's expecting.

 

He half anticipated awkward silences and accusatory glances, but Mingjue and Huaisang discuss the recent developments out at the border with the same light-hearted bickering as usual.

Jiang Cheng starts relaxing, until Huaisang starts reporting on his own day.

"And then I saw Jiang Cheng wandering around in his dishevelled robes, and well…"

Jiang Cheng flushes hotly. "They weren't dishevelled," he hisses, "you're just a pervert."

He belatedly freezes, heart hammering in his chest. Approving of it in theory is very different to hearing your brother and lover argue over the very real, dirty sex they'd had in your home whilst you were gone.

Mingjue just snorts, eyes crinkling in amusement. "Wow, in the corridor, didi. You're lucky there was no-one around."

Huaisang grins impishly and says, "well, it was really Jiang Cheng being so shameless--"

"Huaisang, I'm going to break your legs, you liar!"

They quickly devolve into bickering over who was the instigator of the (admittedly reckless, in retrospect) hallway face-fucking.

It should be embarrassing and awkward, Jiang Cheng thinks, but it's not. A big part of that is the Nie brothers' incredibly close and open bond, but it feels like Jiang Cheng slots in naturally. In between, but not in the way.

As the evening winds down, Mingjue waves them off together, still grinning and shaking his head. Jiang Cheng pauses in slight uncertainty, but Mingjue just smirks and says, "I think you two need to get a little more stress out, do a bit more… catching up." He kisses Jiang Cheng softly and ruffles Huaisang's hair to the tune of an indignant squawk.

So, Jiang Cheng ends up on his back in Huaisang's bed, after the most whirlwind tour he thinks Huaisang has ever conducted, being groped the whole time.

"Come on, Huaisang," Jiang Cheng taunts breathlessly. "Is that all you've got?"

Huaisang continues fucking into Jiang Cheng, slow and sweet. He laughs melodically, twisting and grinding into Jiang Cheng, pressing in to the hilt and pulling out teasingly slow.

"We've got a long time until sunrise, A-Cheng," Huaisang murmurs, and laughs again when Jiang Cheng's eyes widen.

The slow, tortuous pace continues, so Jiang Cheng takes evasive action. He brings Huaisang's nouth back down, licking in dirty and wet, scratches his fingers over Huaisang's nipples, twists his hips back in a counterpart to Huaisang's rhythm.

All he manages to do is work himself up, heat simmering in his belly, cock leaking copiously.

In the end, it turns out all he needs to do is ask nicely. "A-Sang," Jiang Cheng pants. "Please."

Huaisang smiles sweetly and folds Jiang Cheng's legs over his shoulders, crowding back into his space, the sinuous movement of his spine mesmerising Jiang Cheng. He feels exposed, flayed raw for Huaisang's hungry gaze.

He opens his mouth in a wordless demand and Huaisang drops two quick kisses to his mouth before pulling away, smirking.

Huaisang starts thrusting again, a blessedly faster and more rhythmic pace than before, fucking Jiang Cheng in deep strokes.

"I knew you'd look good like this," Huaisang says, satisfaction sweet and thick like honey. His gaze flicks over Jiang Cheng's folded up position, lingering on his bunching muscles. "You're so flexible, I used to watch you stretch, uh, when training and think--"

He hammers in, balls slapping against Jiang Cheng's red-raw ass. "'I bet he'd look good folded up for my cock. Bet he could get his knees up to his shoulders and, fuck, show me that pretty cock and hole.’"

Jiang Cheng pants, the filthy words burning in his belly, thinking of the dirty thoughts he'd had himself about Huaisang's slim calves and curved ass, his soft mouth. He'd had no idea.

He brings up a hand to push Huaisang back slightly, who slows, panting and staring at him in concern. Jiang Cheng stretches up slightly, rolling his hips upwards, and pushes his ankles over his shoulders and into the bed. The stretch burns but is worth it for the clench in his belly and Huaisang's wide eyed expression.

Huaisang's hands replace his on his ankles, gripping tight and holding them down. He slams into Jiang Cheng, fucking him down into the bed, held firmly in place and caged in by his own limbs.

"Fuck, A-Cheng, you're impossible," Huaisang pants raggedly, fucking deep and relentless, and Jiang Cheng can only hold on for the ride, hands outstretched at his sides, clutching at the sheets.

Huaisang shifts up slightly, and thrusts at a new angle that makes the head of his cock glance off Jiang Cheng's spot. He sees Jiang Cheng's eyes roll back and huffs triumphantly, thrusting at the same angle with learned precision until Jiang Cheng can only let out little 'uh, uh, uh' sounds.

"A-Sang, coming," Jiang Cheng gasps out, groaning raggedly as his whole body locks up, tensing as he comes hard.

Huaisang fucks him through it, his hole clutching at Huaisang's cock through the aftershocks until his balls are empty of come, gone slack and easy around Huaisang.

Jiang Cheng hisses as Huaisang keeps fucking through his oversensitive spasms, abdomen twitching. He doesn't tell Huaisang to stop, though, only lets himself lie pliant and limp, the fight finally fucked out of him.

Huaisang's thrusts soon become quick rutting into Jiang Cheng, barely pulling out to shove quickly back in. He comes, pressed balls deep in Jiang Cheng, hips twitching forward as if trying to fuck deeper, but there's nowhere to go, Jiang Cheng trapped between Huaisang and the bed.

"Fuck," he says, panting. His eyes are wide and shocked. "I think I just came my mind out. It's liquid now."

Jiang Cheng snickers. Too easy.

"Shut up," Huaisang swats at Jiang Cheng and collapses over him. Jiang Cheng spits Huaisang's hair out of his mouth, sighing, but curls his arm around the smaller man's waist.

They spend a long time sleepily bickering over who should go and get them washcloths – Huaisang's argument being that he did all the work, Jiang Cheng's being that he probably can't walk right now.

In the end Huaisang gives in, because Jiang Cheng is tired and unfussy enough to fall asleep covered in come and sweat (even if he'll regret it in the morning), whereas the thought makes Huaisang twitch.

Jiang Cheng sleepily files this useful information away for later use, passing out as soon as Huaisang blows out the lanterns on his way back to the bed.

 

---

 

Jiang Cheng knocks a document off the desk he's working at in Nie Mingjue's study, and swears. Too lazy to round the other side of the desk, he leans over the top, going up onto his tiptoes to be able to snatch the paper off the floor.

Jiang Cheng hisses a curse at the stretch, sore thighs protesting at the too-quick, too-far movement. He settles back to stand over the desk, wincing and rubbing his thigh.

Nie Mingjue’s warmth appears behind him, arms curling around his waist. "Did you go too hard training?" He presses a kiss to Jiang Cheng’s bare nape, a shiver running through Jiang Cheng and settling soft and warm in his belly.

Jiang Cheng frowns. "No, your brother made me ride him forever this morning and now my thighs are killing me. He's so fucking lazy!"

Nie Mingjue rumbles a laugh against his neck. "You should try harder to bully him into training," he says.

Jiang Cheng scoffs, hitting Nie Mingjue absently on the arm. "You're one to talk, softy."

Nie Mingjue hums against Jiang Cheng’s skin. "Are you still wet?" he asks, words murmured close to Jiang Cheng’s neck. Jiang Cheng shivers, but doesn’t answer, pretending to focus on the papers in front of him.

Nie Mingjue’s hand moves up his thigh, pushing apart the robes in his way. "Can you barely stand a few hours without one of us inside you, A-Cheng?" The dark words against his skin make Jiang Cheng’s fingers curl into fists on the desk to keep from touching one of them. Instead, he plays passive, heart pounding, as Nie Mingjue’s hand delves under the waistband of his trousers and skims over his groin, barely touching his half-hard cock. Instead Nie Mingjue’s wrist curls, and his fingers press behind Jiang Cheng’s balls, drifting up to find the slippery mess between his cheeks.

Mingjue laughs, breathy and low, against Jiang Cheng’s ear. "Slut," he murmurs fondly. Humiliation and desire burns heavy and thick through Jiang Cheng, flushing his cheeks and cock red with blood.

Mingjue's fingers press against his used hole teasingly, too awkward of an angle to get much further in than his rim, even with Mingjue's arm pressed flush against Jiang Cheng. Jiang Cheng takes the opportunity to ride his hard prick against Mingjue's forearm, barely getting in a few grinds before Mingjue removes his hand from Jiang Cheng’s trousers, tsking at him.

 

Jiang Cheng whines, and feels the air go out of him like a deflated lantern when Mingjue pushes him down onto the desk with a hand on his back, bent over at the hips.

Feeling already too warm in his layered robes, Jiang Cheng squirms. Mingjue's big hand presses him down firmly, and he rumbles, "be good, kitten" sternly. Going pliant and still - at least for now - Jiang Cheng turns his face so that his left cheek lies against the cool wood of the desk.

Mingjue bunches up the hem of Jiang Cheng’s robes to his waist and drags down Jiang Cheng’s trousers with two fingers under the waistband. Jiang Cheng raises his feet to help remove them, only to receive a smack to the ass that has him gasping and dropping his feet back flat on the floor. "What?" He hisses indignantly at Mingjue, skin stinging.

"You're keeping your clothes on," Mingjue says in his quietly confident manner. This will happen because I will see it done, and so on. "I'm going to ride you hard and put you away wet again, and you're going to walk back to your rooms with our come soaking your trousers."

Jiang Cheng closes his eyes, face burning, cock throbbing. He feels dishevelled already, with his trousers bunched around his ankles, restricting his movement, robes in disarray around his waist.

Mingjue makes an amused noise, using both hands to spread Jiang Cheng’s ass. Jiang Cheng feels the cool air on his exposed hole, and bites back a whimper.

"I could probably just slide in," Mingjue muses, taking a hand off Jiang Cheng’s ass to press against the loosened rim. Jiang Cheng moans at the thought - no prep, just Mingjue forcing his massive length into Jiang Cheng - and thinks he might actually be able to take it with minimal pain, given how freshly fucked and stretched he is.

He pointedly spreads his legs as far as he can, tilting his hips up. There's a series of wet, slick sounds and then he's being arranged at the edge of the desk, manhandled to best suit Nie Mingjue’s desires. Then there's the hot weight of a hard prick pressed against his thigh, smearing oil everywhere.

Jiang Cheng feels the fat, blunt head pressing up against his hole, and tries to open his legs wider, making a noise of frustration when the trousers around his ankles thwart his attempts. Nie Mingjue huffs a laugh, "so eager," and pushes in, knocking the breath out of Jiang Cheng.

Jiang Cheng had ridden Huaisang for nearly half a shi this morning, but he still feels the burn as Nie Mingjue’s huge cock slides into him in a slow, but determined movement. "Oh, fuck," Jiang Cheng moans into the desk, thighs trembling at the endless press inside, the thickness stretching his rim wide.

It feels like he lies sprawled there forever, panting softly as Nie Mingjue slides slowly into him, withdrawing slightly only to press back in further, stretching Jiang Cheng out with nothing more than his cock inching in at a glacial pace.

"I can feel how wet and used you are," Nie Mingjue says, voice low and deep. Suddenly, Jiang Cheng remembers that the Nie disciples often walk by this chamber on their way to the great Hall, and he drags his forearm in front of his face to bite down on, to muffle his noises.

Nie Mingjue presses all the way in, the heavy heat of his balls pressed against Jiang Cheng’s taint. "There we go," Nie Mingjue says soothingly, pressing a hand against Jiang Cheng’s back, holding his chest flush with the desk surface. The edge of the table presses against Jiang Cheng’s hipbones, a mildly distracting discomfort.

 

"Hn, A-Jue," Jiang Cheng pleads.

Mingjue begins to pull out slowly and Jiang Cheng feel his rim clinging at the shaft. When he’s half-way out, Mingjue fucks back in. Jiang Cheng groans, digging his nails into the desk.

Mingjue sets a rough pace immediately, hips slapping loudly into Jiang Cheng’s round ass, panting filling the room.

"Still so tight," Mingjue hisses. "Made for my dick."

Jiang Cheng moans into his arm, noise muffled but still loud. The thick shaft stretches him wide, fucking him open and swollen.

A flurry of thrusts hit the spot that makes him shriek, sinking his teeth into his flesh too late, abdomen spasming with the stimulation, thighs twitching.

"You think they don't know, hah, what we're doing in here, baobei?" Mingjue grunts out. "Even if you stay quiet -- they all know, ugh, know you're in here -- getting fucked -- like the pretty whore you are."

Jiang Cheng gasps, humiliation burning hot and sweet in his stomach.

"Shouldn't even bother with secrecy," Mingjue says. His hips slam into Jiang Cheng's ass, sending him knocking against the desk, vision going hazy at the edges. "Just fuck you, uh, in the Great Hall," he breaks off, thrusting in hard and fast for several moments. "Get you sat on my dick, keeping me warm."

Jiang Cheng lets out panting whines into the desk, digging his nails in hard. He's being used so well, already winding up to orgasm without a hand on his cock - only the friction of the desk and the relentless hammering of Nie Mingjue inside him, dragging against his most sensitive places.

"Keep you plugged up -- ready to just -- bend you over and slide in."

"Oh, fuck," Jiang Cheng groans into the desk, the imagery too much for him, Mingjue grabbing him during the day-to-day, pushing him over any convenient furniture and just using him.

He tips his hips back into a hard thrust, grinds forward into the desk, and comes, soaking his belly and the table.

Mingjue fucks him through the aftershocks, Jiang Cheng clenching tightly around his cock, insides feeling too soft and bruised.

Mingjue keeps going, thrusting into Jiang Cheng's pliant body until time goes liquid, awareness only coming back to him when Mingjue's biting off a blue streak and rutting into Jiang Cheng into quick, frantic thrusts.

Mingjue's panting raggedly above him, pressed in all the way to the hilt, and he leans down and presses kisses to the side of Jiang Cheng's neck. "You okay?" He checks.

Jiang Cheng murmurs a weak, "yeah," feeling soft and hazy and loose in every sense.

"You did so well," Mingjue praises, pressing kisses to Jiang Cheng's jaw. He wraps his arms around Jiang Cheng’s waist, hoisting him up and walking them to the sofa with his cock still in Jiang Cheng. He sits down, arranging Jiang Cheng in his lap, removing his trousers from his ankles. Jiang Cheng lets his body loll back against Mingjue's chest, head resting back against Mingjue's shoulder.

One of Mingjue's big hands presses over Jiang Cheng's belly, fingers fanning over the flat plane of skin. "I've got you, baobei, just rest."

Jiang Cheng does, falling into a doze with the comfortable weight of Mingjue inside him, surrounding him, the thumb on his belly stroking in hypnotising circles.

 

---

 

Jiang Cheng is going to die of blue balls, and he's going to name Nie Huaisang as his killer, with Nie Mingjue as his co-conspirator. Surely Wei Wuxian will at least avenge him, although he'd die laughing himself at Jiang Cheng's cause of death.

He and Mingjue had retired to Mingjue's rooms that evening, joined at the mouth and hip, and Jiang Cheng had been bewildered to find Huaisang sat facing the bed, amongst a veritable trove of art supplies, a blank canvas out in front of him.

"What the fuck?" Jiang Cheng had said, and then remembered. They'd agreed to let Huaisang paint them fucking at some nebulous point, Mingjue probably out of endless support for his brother's artistic endeavours, and Jiang Cheng because Huaisang had made a sad little face and muttered something about ‘when you're not here…’

Jiang Cheng knows he's a sucker, but that doesn't seem to stop him from falling for it.

The reality of what he'd agreed to was hitting him now though. He shot a look at Mingjue. "Are you really okay with this?" he asked bluntly, having learned straightforwardness about this sort of thing. To Jiang Cheng it was a bit of odd vulnerability, one of his lovers watching him with the other, but to Mingjue it was fucking in the same room as his brother.

"'S fine," Mingjue had said, shrugging. His expression was open and unbothered, looking more interested in getting Jiang Cheng naked than being concerned about his brother watching.

So Jiang Cheng had given in, things almost close to normal for a while, storming through foreplay with Mingjue, winding each-other up high and fast.

Soon enough, he was being railed against the wall by Mingjue, held up entirely by his lover's strength and the wall at his back.

Huaisang was actually painting, which somehow surprised Jiang Cheng, half sure it was a strange, voyeuristic endeavour in a thinly veiled excuse.

He should have known better.

Still, Jiang Cheng gasps, incredulous, "You're really going to paint us?" He breaks off into a moan as Nie Mingjue rocks up hard and he clenches hard around the thickness buried in him, legs tightening around Nie Mingjue’s waist.

Huaisang hums in agreement. His dark, but focused gaze lingers on Jiang Cheng’s face, and he adds a careful few strokes to the canvas. "I'm sure da-ge and I will both appreciate the finished product, when you're back at Lotus Pier. Maybe I'll make you a copy if you're good, A-Cheng."

Jiang Cheng curses at Huaisang's smug face, a retort on his lips. Nie Mingjue distracts him by biting at his neck, and Jiang Cheng’s head falls back against the wall, mouth falling open and slack. His skin feels too hot and tight like this, with Mingjue's body on his and Huaisang's sharp eyes on them.

Mingjue's big hands grip him harder and keep him spread and open for it, his thickly muscled arms not faltering as they keep him up against the wall. The slow pace, the gentle, teasing rocking into him is too much and not enough and Jiang Cheng feels simultaneously inches away from orgasm and achingly empty.

"Mingjue," Jiang Cheng grits out. "Come on." He tries to spread his legs wider for it, to silently beg for Nie Mingjue to fuck him harder, make them come. He's trapped though, caged in by Mingjue's huge, unyielding frame.

Mingjue licks the command out of his mouth, only pulling away when they're both panting into each others mouths. "Sorry, baobei, have to last for Huaisang's painting." He grinds in like a tease, pressing his full length in sweetly, achingly deep, before withdrawing to resume his gentle rocking.

Jiang Cheng makes a noise of despair, gaze flickering back over to A-Sang and seeing his look of smug triumph. This is at least half of Huaisang's enjoyment, he thinks, making them slow their usually breakneck pace for him, making everything move molasses slow and thick, gluttonous and sedentary like Huaisang likes. The other half is getting to dictate them like the little plotter he won't admit to being. There's probably another half that's just sheer enjoyment of the picture they make, and Jiang Cheng’s well aware that doesn't add up but he's too fucked out his mind to do mathematics.

"This is, a betrayal," Jiang Cheng gasps out accusingly at Mingjue, who presses faux-apologetic kisses along his face and neck. Jiang Cheng can feel Nie Mingjue’s grin against his skin. Traitor. Both Nies were little sadists, in their own ways.

They continue like that, pace slow and even, Mingjue never faltering even as the minutes drag on and his muscles must ache with the effort of holding Jiang Cheng up, no matter how light he insists Jiang Cheng is. Still Jiang Cheng knows Mingjue won't drop him, feels secure if frustrated in those powerful arms.

"Can't," Jiang Cheng murmurs eventually, hands raking uselessly over Mingjue's back. "A-Sang, please," he appeals to the cruel, beautiful man watching them. He's sure Mingjue will soldier on for as long as his brother asks him to, so if he has any hope for mercy he has to go straight to the source.

Huaisang hums, pondering the plea exaggeratedly, head tilting to the side. "Oh, I'm not sure," he whines, tapping his lip with the end of a paintbrush. "There's still a lot more detail I could do for your face, and I'm not that happy with da-ge's arms, they look a little disproportionate."

Mingjue huffs next to Jiang Cheng’s ear and tilts his head back slightly. "Huaisang, you have about five minutes to get what you want done." With that warning he starts hammering up into Jiang Cheng hard, balls slapping against the curve of his ass.

Jiang Cheng moans in satisfaction. "Yes, ah, come on, deeper!" He goads Mingjue on, gasping in his ear. Nie Mingjue’s cock is finally hitting him where it feels good, the sensations from the earlier tease nothing compared to a deep, hard railing.

"A-Cheng," Mingjue groans, and now he's looking Jiang Cheng can see the released tension that had been building whilst Mingjue had been ever so slowly teasing them both. His skin is damp with sweat at his hairline, his muscles bunched up with the effort as he keeps Jiang Cheng firmly against the wall and fucks him. His eyes are wild and dark, hair in disarray around his face.

"Mingjue," Jiang Cheng murmurs, sinking his teeth into Mingjue's neck, the resulting grinding thrusts making his eyes roll back slightly as they press against his sweet spot. "There, there - fuck!"

Five minutes had been way too generous for them both, Jiang Cheng thinks as pressure builds in his abdomen and his balls tighten, and he shoves a hand between their bodies just in time to grab his cock and jerk once, before he comes in long, hard pulses, come splattering up to his chest. The world blurs out a little, and Jiang Cheng is barely cognizant of Nie Mingjue fucking him through his orgasm and out the other side, body jostling but mind blank.

"A-Cheng, you nearly got yourself in the face!" Huaisang's voice calls out gleefully, and Jiang Cheng comes back to reality, blinking the rest of the haze away. Nie Mingjue is grunting, eyes narrowed and fucking in short, shallow thrusts that mean he's close. Jiang Cheng weaves a hand through Mingjue's mane, close to the nape, and tugs hard. The final thrust in has Nie Mingjue’s heavy balls hitting Jiang Cheng’s ass with a smacking sound, and then he's groaning into Jiang Cheng’s shoulder and grinding in tight circles, pressing Jiang Cheng flush against the wall.

They hang there, suspended for a moment, Mingjue's breathing ragged and hips twitching slightly as the last vestiges of orgasm pulse through him and into Jiang Cheng, who just clings on.

Nie Mingjue carries him over to the bed on staggering legs and they collapse in an awkward pile. Jiang Cheng feels wiped out, he doesn't know how Mingjue's still conscious. He'll forgive the earlier betrayal, on account of Mingjue not making him stand up and feel the unpleasant come-sliding-down-leg situation, and when he can open his eyes again he'll go find some oils and massage Nie Mingjue’s surely aching muscles.

He hears humming and shuffling and forces his eyes open. "Huaisang, you can jerk off on me or something, but if you make me move I will rip your dick off."

Mingjue snorts out a laugh from next to him.

He can see Huaisang fluttering around, collecting all his paints and whatever other arty products he's brought with him. "Thank you for the kind offer, A-Cheng, but I have to go and set this piece so none of the colours bleed! See you later!"

Huaisang continues to flit about for a bit, but Jiang Cheng is so suddenly wiped out that he barely manages to rearrange himself into a slightly more comfortable position before his eyes fall closed again, and so he just listens to the oddly comforting background noise of Huaisang's clean-up.

He must doze off at least for a short while, for he blinks his eyes open and Huaisang is gone, all his painting kit gone as if it were never there.

He can both hear and feel Mingjue snoring, body vibrating under his arm. Rolling over to the side, he notices a bowl of water on the side table, two cloths folded neatly over the lip. Next to it are small bottles of oil, the barely scented ones both Mingjue and Jiang Cheng prefer to use, along with a lit candle.

Jiang Cheng smiles, imagining Huaisang pottering about and preparing these things, whilst his brother and their lover are sacked out asleep on the bed. Probably muttering to himself about the inferiority of the unscented oils to the ones he prefers, even as he places them carefully on the table.

He knows better than to start a deep muscle massage on Mingjue whilst he's asleep, so he carefully, softly wipes both himself and Mingjue clean and then discards the now murky bowl of water, climbing back into bed. He flops down alongside Mingjue and covers his eyes with his forearm, knowing that when he wakes again, they'll likely be in a completely different position, curled around one another or Jiang Cheng sprawled across Nie Mingjue’s chest.

 

---

 

Huaisang eating Jiang Cheng out is probably his favourite 'vanilla' (as Huaisang calls it) thing that they do. Something about Huaisang's clever tongue fucking deep inside him until he's wet and open, pressing dirty kisses against the rim…

Well, there's a reason it's Huaisang's go-to activity when he wants to make Jiang Cheng cry in overstimulation.

He doesn't seem to be in one of those moods tonight, they've been fairly soft and relaxed, but he's eyeing Jiang Cheng's ass with a very familiar look.

Tugging Jiang Cheng's thighs up and apart, Huaisang moves down and settles back, head between Jiang Cheng’s thighs.

He presses biting kisses into the thickest parts of Jiang Cheng’s thighs, working his way up towards more sensitive skin. Jiang Cheng reaches down and holds his own thighs spread with hands under the knees, tilted towards his chest.

Huaisang pauses.

Jiang Cheng lets go of his legs and props himself up on his elbows, looking down. "What?" He asks.

"Da-ge came in you earlier, didn't he?"

"Yeah…?" Jiang Cheng trails off, confused.

Huaisang makes a face, and says, "nope. That's a hard no, sorry, baby."

Oh. The two brothers are so open and unflustered about these things, Jiang Cheng is always slightly surprised when stuff like this happens, but he supposes it's not surprising that Huaisang doesn't particularly want to lick his brother's come out of Jiang Cheng.

Quietly mourning that he won't get rimmed today, he murmurs, "it's fine, A-Sang, sorry. I forgot." Eyeing Huaisang's position, his plush mouth, Jiang Cheng offers hopefully, "suck me instead?"

Huaisang huffs a laugh, pressing a kiss to Jiang Cheng's thigh, breathing teasingly just over Jiang Cheng's hard cock.

"Hold onto something, A-Cheng," Huaisang says lowly, dark eyes meeting Jiang Cheng's. Then he descends.

Jiang Cheng doesn't quite scream, but it's a close thing.

At their morning meal the next day Mingjue offers Huaisang congratulations, exuding amused pride. Huaisang beams, thanking his big brother and modestly saying that he had the natural advantage of Jiang Cheng’s loud nature.

Jiang Cheng, used to this by now, just rolls his eyes at both of them and steals the last steamed bun.

 

---

 

"Do you ever feel... selfish?" Jiang Cheng asks Mingjue, needing to talk through the anxiety that's been building in his chest with someone. And of all people, surely Nie Mingjue will understand. "You and Huaisang are the only main branch Nies left, and you're not taking wives and furthering the bloodline, making heirs."

"Not really," Mingjue says, shrugging and swearing as he nearly upends his ink. "The cultivation world has changed, and our inheritance laws should be changing with it. Half of the Great Sects no longer have such expansive bloodlines, and some of the ones that do definitely shouldn't be having those brats inherit."

Jiang Cheng snorts, thinking of Jin Zixun. He'd never hoped for good things for Jin Zixuan before he'd known who the other option was.

"The leader of a sect shouldn't be decided by birth right, but merit," Mingjue continues. Jiang Cheng hums. He doesn't disagree but the practicalities of making sure the eventual heir has the right training, what happens if the Sect Leader dies suddenly, how to deal with multiple heirs…

Jiang Cheng has Wei Wuxian, but sometimes he does imagine being able to select an heir who actually wants to run a sect, and who would be undoubtedly good at it. He's still young, he has time to train another disciple for the role, and already has some potential candidates in mind. Wei Wuxian would love the freedom to run off with Lan Wangji more, going on hunts for mythical beasts and whatever other bizarre, romantic nonsense they get up to.

"Maybe something to raise at the next conference," Jiang Cheng says thoughtfully. "Zewu-Jun would support you, he doesn't look to be seeking marriage any time soon." Lan Wangji's situation goes loudly unspoken.

"Hm," Mingjue taps his lower lip with the end of the brush. "Jin Guangshan should approve also, as it means he wouldn't have to worry about as many bastards popping up to jockey for power."

Jiang Cheng blinks. "Wow, was that a very pointed remark about your sworn brother?" He knows that Mingjue and Jin Guangyao have their issues, had found it oddly hilarious upon first discovery that Lan Xichen was essentially holding the Venerated Triad together with his own clinging hands. Now, it's just strange and sad.

Mingjue sighs, rubbing his forehead. "I'm sure I nearly caught him being duplicitous about a matter he'd brought to our attention, but Xichen just excuses away all of his actions." The frustration in him is palpable, and Jiang Cheng hums.

"What about A-Sang?" Jiang Cheng asks. Mingjue raises an eyebrow in question. "I mean, what does he think of Jin Guangyao? He's generally a pretty good judge of character." From what he's heard he's pretty sure Huaisang thinks the sun shines out of his 'san-ge's ass, but Jiang Cheng doesn't say that.

Mingjue shakes his head. "He's too blind to it from Meng Yao's time in Qinghe. Huaisang hasn't seen the things he's done, nor would I want him to."

Jiang Cheng nods thoughtfully, musing on his own observations of Jin Guangyao, few though they are. He helped plan and arrange the behemoth that was A-Jie's wedding, which Jiang Cheng will always be grateful for, given his own expectations and sleepless nights.

Jin Zixuan only ever had good things to say about his half-brother, but Jiang Cheng is keenly aware of how kind-hearted and slightly oblivious his sister's husband is.

"You don't disbelieve me?" Mingjue asks, jaw set mulishly.

Jiang Cheng starts folding a pile of completed letters. "I generally trust in your judgement of people too," Jiang Cheng points out. It wasn't exclusive to Huaisang. "Even if you do have a tendency to hold grudges," Jiang Cheng adds.

Mingjue doesn't respond, and they work in silence for a while.

"I would be glad to be wrong," Mingjue says, breaking the quiet. "But I trusted him immensely once and I can't make that mistake blindly again, knowing what I know."

Jiang Cheng understands that all too well. Even though he understands Wei Wuxian's reasons, he has a hard time blindly trusting his shixiong anymore, always seeing self-sacrifice and lies in the slightest shadows.

"You're better off being careful," Jiang Cheng agrees.  "Trust the people you know you can trust."

Mingjue smiles crookedly across at him and Jiang Cheng ducks back to his work to hide his own too-soft smile.

 

---

 

Jiang Cheng is in his office, scowling at paperwork, when Huaisang bursts in, arms wide in greeting.

"Chengcheng!" Huaisang exclaims.

Jiang Cheng narrows his eyes. "Call me that again and die. Have you been speaking to Wuxian?"

Huaisang grins. "Maybe. Come on, you promised we'd go swimming together and it’s so hot today!" The summer weather is indeed almost unbearable, Jiang Cheng's wearing his lightest linen weave but can still feel the sweat pooling, even just frowning at paperwork.

"I have so much to do, A-Sang," Jiang Cheng huffs in almost apology. Mingjue understood without him even saying when he had sect business that took precedence, but Huaisang didn't have the same perspective, for all that he not so secretly helped his brother out with some quieter, sneakier sect business.

"Come on, just for like a shi?" Huaisang wheedles, digging his heels in like he does. He twirls a strand of hair around a finger. "All this fun paperwork will still be here later, but you'll be calmer from having a break that doesn't involve staring at land boundaries."

Jiang Cheng was so sure he'd kept the paperwork out of Huaisang’s eyeline, but of course it had been to no avail. Sighing, he caves, too tempted by the siren call of the call water and Huaisang's smile, as well as the fact that he isn't really getting much done other than admittedly frowning at land measurements. He unpins his hair and leaves the simple silver pin on his desk, retying his hair quickly in a simple high bun whilst walking over to the door that led out to his private pier.

"Yay!" Huaisang cheers, and he follows Jiang Cheng out to his private pier. Jiang Cheng begins to strip off his robes and raises an eyebrow over his shoulder at Huaisang stood, still clothed, behind him.

"Oh don't mind me, I'll join you eventually," Huaisang promises, fluttering his fan over his lower face coquettishly. "I'm just enjoying the view." He flips the fan closed and leers at Jiang Cheng, who by now has been mostly stripped of the urge to hide his scars, predominantly due to Huaisang's shamelessly obvious admiration of his body, and Mingjue's nonchalance about his own almost equally scarred skin.

Jiang Cheng rolls his eyes fondly, but makes sure to stretch out excessively as he strips off his under-robe, knowing how it makes the muscles of his back flex. He takes a running jump off the pier and almost groans aloud at the sensation of the cool water on his sweat sticky skin.

He stays below the surface for a while, enjoying the feeling of tranquillity and quiet, before he ascends. He pushes his wet fringe out of his face, blinking away water from his eyes. "Come on, it's much cooler in here," he cajoles Huaisang, who's watching Jiang Cheng but making no move to join him.

"Hmm," Huaisang says, affecting a sad tone. "I'm afraid I'm not a very strong swimmer, I might need your help, Sect Leader Jiang."

Jiang Cheng treads water back over towards Huaisang. "Is that so?" He says, amused.

Huaisang bats his eyelashes, obviously not going for subtlety today. He starts stripping with affected shyness, and Jiang Cheng finds himself sucked in, watching the tease of slowly revealed heat-flushed skin.

When he's bare, Huaisang elegantly lowers himself to sit on the edge of the pier, legs hanging in the water, up to about mid-calf.

Jiang Cheng swims closer until he can press his mouth to Huaisang's knee. He glances up at Huaisang and the soft, lust-hazy look on his face makes Jiang Cheng's cock go from half to fully hard in a flash.

It's hard to say what happens next, some combination of Huaisang's impossible allure and the muggy heat that muddles his mind as to the details.

Regardless, he ends up lying on his back on the pier, cushioned by their robes, Huaisang riding him lazily and languidly.

When Jiang Cheng had tried to take control of the rhythm himself, thrusting up into Huaisang's soft heat, Huaisang had placed a warning hand on his throat and said, "be good."

So Jiang Cheng is being good, and letting Huaisang torture him with the impossibly slow pace, his cock already aching for more, for release.

"Oh, it's too much, I don't think I can," Huaisang sighs breathily, lifting himself up halfway and sliding back down again a bare handful of times. He settles in to rock slowly on Jiang Cheng's cock, sunk all the way to the base.

"Please, A-Sang," Jiang Cheng begs, aching to come with his whole body, thighs shaking from being held so close to the edge, but not allowed to tip over it.

Huaisang's sweet heat flexes around him, and Jiang Cheng hisses, fist clenching, nails digging into his palm with the effort of not thrusting up, chasing the sensation.

"It's too hot," Huaisang moans airily, and Jiang Cheng's cock twitches traitorously inside him. "I really don't think I can move, A-Cheng."

Jiang Cheng's going to die like this, skin damp with sweat, hair sticking to his forehead and neck, achingly hard prick balls deep inside his sadist of a lover.

"A-Sang," Jiang Cheng groans hoarsely. "Let me help, let me fuck you."

Huaisang's eyes glint as he looks down at Jiang Cheng's face, contorted in desperation. "Oh no," he sighs, "I couldn't possibly, this is my duty." He lets out another tremulous sound of effort, managing another few deep, skin slapping movements before he falls back into Jiang Cheng's lap, trembling with the effort.

"Can't you come like this, darling?" Huaisang asks, the soft, sweet veneer peeling off slightly to reveal the sharp-teethed hunger underneath. "I'm sure you can eventually."

He can't take it anymore, and the hungry part of him wants to see what Huaisang will do if he disobeys, the part that enjoys occasionally not being good, and being put in his place.

Jiang Cheng grips Huaisang's hips and fucks up, hard enough to be clearly deliberate, letting out a satisfied moan as he finally gets some new sensation to his cock.

Immediately, Huaisang's hand clasps around his throat firmly. "Oh, Jiang Cheng," he says in that soft, dangerous voice that tells Jiang Cheng he's in for it. "You were doing so well."

Huaisang's extremely still, but no longer in the lazy, loose limbed way. Now he looks intent, focused, and he presses down with his hand.

Jiang Cheng's air intake cuts off slightly, and he has to take deeper breaths to get enough air. Is Huaisang…? He'd thought strangulation was a no - it was one of the very few 'hard limits' on Huaisang's list, which Jiang Cheng had committed to memory instantly.

His confusion must show, because Huaisang laughs softly. "No asphyxiation for me, A-Cheng, but I'm sensing... not such an issue for you."

Jiang Cheng gasps, "not an issue." Really not an issue.

Huaisang smirks, and takes the pressure off, settling back onto Jiang Cheng's cock to the base. "Now," he says softly. "Are you still going to be an impatient brat?"

Absolutely. Jiang Cheng hammers up into Huaisang, enjoying the noisy slaps of sweat-slick skin and Huaisang's strangled gasp.

Huaisang's hand curls tightly around Jiang Cheng's neck again and he squeezes gently.

Jiang Cheng goes breathless and still, feels his chest tighten and his pulse skip. His skin feels hypersensitive, getting stronger the longer he's deprived of air. He can feel Huaisang snug and hot around him, his heavy, aching balls, the pressure on his neck.

 

When Jiang Cheng taps his wrist Huaisang removes the pressure, keeping his fingers curled lightly around his throat. Jiang Cheng pants and gasps, taking in deep lungfuls of air, mouth open and slack.

Huaisang groans. "I could feel you twitching inside me, A-Cheng. Is this what you need to make you come?"

"Yes," Jiang Cheng hisses desperately, suddenly wildly sure he can come just like that, with Huaisang sat unmoving on his cock, slowly and carefully choking him.

Huaisang laughs, soft and a little mean, and it shivers straight to Jiang Cheng's cock. "Slut," he says sharply. "What will your disciples say, seeing the proud Sandu Shengshou being choked until he passes out, because it's the only way he can get off?"

Jiang Cheng bares his teeth in a snarl, even as Huaisang's words stoke the flames coursing through him. He snaps his hips up, and they're forced sharply down by Huaisang's thighs. His breath rushes out of him with the impact, and then it doesn't come back as the hand around his throat squeezes.

Huaisang strangles him for several long moments, and then he lets up, just as Jiang Cheng was about to tap out. He only gives Jiang Cheng a bare few seconds to recover though, before he's tightening his grip again, elegant fingers squeezing Jiang Cheng's throat. Then he lets up again. Rinse, repeat.

The stop-start, stop-start makes Jiang Cheng's vision haze over, going disoriented, desperately trying to inhale enough in between squeezes to… do what, he doesn't know.

On one particularly brutal squeeze, Jiang Cheng comes, gasping wordlessly without air.

It feels like it's shocked out of him, body spasming with the force of it, hips reflexively grinding up, but Huaisang doesn't strangle him again, instead stroking his hands over Jiang Cheng's heaving chest and shoulders.

When Jiang Cheng blinks the fuzzy corners out of his vision, he sees Huaisang still sat astride him, although back on his thighs, his half-hard cock lying against his pelvis.

Huaisang's cock is still red-hot and hard, but he's watching Jiang Cheng avidly instead. "You okay, sweetheart?"

Feeling unable to manage words just yet, he nods, breathing still deep and faster than normal.

"That was so hot," Huaisang gushes. "You should be naughty more often, A-Cheng."

"Don't think… I'd survive it," Jiang Cheng rasps wearily. He eyes Huaisang's crotch, considering. "Give me…minute… eat you out."

Huaisang scrutinises his face for a moment, and then his eyes light up, and he says, "okay, A-Cheng." He rubs soothing hands over Jiang Cheng's sweaty skin whilst Jiang Cheng rests, breathing slowly evening out to normal.

When he can form full sentences again without wheezing, he pulls Huaisang up over his face and gets his legs either side of Jiang Cheng's head, facing away from him.

Jiang Cheng licks his come out of Huaisang in eager motions, working Huaisang even more open and sloppy and thrusting his tongue in hard like one of his fingers. His face becomes a wet, dripping mess but he ignores the drip of come and saliva down his chin and dedicates himself to rimming Huaisang until he screams.

When Huaisang starts riding back against his face, seeming to have vestiges of energy from somewhere, he curls his hand around Huaisang's steadily leaking cock and jerks him in tight, swift motions that have Huaisang wailing and coming in mere moments.

Huaisang manages to collapse off Jiang Cheng into a sprawl at his side. Jiang Cheng winces as he hears the sound of joints impacting on hard wood, and Huaisang lets out an inelegant 'oof.'

Jiang Cheng groans, stretching forward slightly. He just manages to tilt his head out off the end of the pier and splash some water on his face and neck, washing off the mess of saliva, sweat and come.

"You're a menace," Jiang Cheng says hoarsely, flopping back down onto his forearms. "I'm now more tired and even sweatier than I was earlier."

Huaisang's bell-like laugh rings out from behind him, and he hears the gentle swoosh of a fan. "Poor baby," he teases, "guess I'll have to make it up to you."

Smirking into his forearms, Jiang Cheng says, "don't worry, I've thought of a way."

Before Huaisang can detect the amusement in his tone, Jiang Cheng finds a burst of energy and jumps up, hoists Huaisang over his shoulder and jumps back into the water with a shout of triumph.

Huaisang shrieks, floundering in surprise as he surfaces, and they quickly devolve into a childish splash fight that Jiang Cheng, a born and raised Lotus Pier baby, is the clear victor of.

When Huaisang leaves the next day, and Jiang Cheng finally gets back to his paperwork, he finds the map and measurements annotated with Huaisang's sweeping hand, helpful little guides as to what the differences would actually mean practically.

He drew tiny little doodles of livestock as well, and they make Jiang Cheng smile helplessly every time he catches sight of them, the scraggly little chickens and the blocky cattle.

 

---

 

Jiang Cheng hasn't been able to come visit the Unclean Realm in months, and now things have finally settled down again, Jiang Cheng is eager to visit his lovers.

At the gate he's greeted warmly and directed to Mingjue's office. Mingjue greets him with a surprised, but wide smile.

When they embrace, they might both cling on for a little while longer than usual.

Mingjue talks with him as normal, both catching up on what the other has missed, but Jiang Cheng starts to notice the tightness of Mingjue's smile, the shadows under his eyes and the pinched skin between his brows.

Normally at this point in their visits, they have a spar, but right now Jiang Cheng kind of just wants to tuck Mingjue up into bed.

"A-Jue," Jiang Cheng says, frowning. "Has something happened?"

Mingjue meets his gaze and sighs. "You know how it is," he says wearily. "There's always some new shit on the horizon."

"Can I help?" Jiang Cheng asks, having been through similar weariness nearly constantly within the first six months of taking in the Wen remnants.

Mingjue shrugs, and they spend the next several hours peering over strategies and probable outcomes, several of the intelligence reports on the desk penned in Huaisang's sweeping, artistic hand.

By mid-afternoon, Jiang Cheng declares that they've done all they can for now, and drags a weakly protesting Mingjue to bed.

He undresses Mingjue with gentle hands, stripping them both slowly between lingering kisses.

When they're both bare, Mingjue lying back in the bed, he takes Mingjue tenderly into his mouth, bobbing slow and wet until Mingjue comes down his throat, hands clutching at his head and neck.

Jiang Cheng eases Mingjue's pliant thighs open and fingers him open, mouthing at his balls and pressing kisses to his still hard cock. He finds Mingjue’s sensitive spot and rubs at it until Mingjue’s gasping wordlessly, arching into his touch.

When Jiang Cheng finally presses in, Mingjue is oiled and open around him, soft heat clinging still to his cock. Mingjue wraps his strong arms and legs around Jiang Cheng in a silent plea, and what can Jiang Cheng do except provide?

He fucks Mingjue deep and slow, pressing kisses to Mingjue's throat and murmuring reassurances of how well Mingjue's doing, how beautiful he is.

Jiang Cheng's busy pulling soft cries out of Mingjue with a mouth on his nipple, when Huaisang barges in like a metallic whirlwind.

"Jiang Cheng! Why did nobody tell me you were here?"

Mingjue groans, aggrieved, underneath him. "I'm sorry, didi, I forgot." He starts blinking his glassy eyes clear, and Jiang Cheng turns slightly to address Huaisang.

"A-Sang, can whatever it is wait? We're kind of in the middle of something."

Huaisang blinks. "Whoops. Right."

He exits quickly, door slamming shut behind him.

Jiang Cheng turns back to Mingjue. "That was weird, right?"

Mingjue blinks dazedly at him, and Jiang Cheng smiles helplessly and drops to kiss him again, falling back into the languid rhythm, circling his hips.

He ends up fucking Mingjue through two more orgasms, and when he returns from the washroom with damp cloths, Mingjue is snoring softly, sacked out where Jiang Cheng left him.

Jiang Cheng cleans him up gently and pulls the covers halfway over him like he prefers, kissing his smooth forehead softly. When he leaves, he clicks the door shut behind him quietly.

He goes looking for Huaisang, and it takes a while. Eventually Jiang Cheng finds him in his mother's flower garden, staring at a blank sketch pad.

"Hey," Jiang Cheng greets. He smiles, trying to greet Huaisang as he would normally. "What's up with you?"

Stellar job, Jiang Cheng. Just fantastic.

Huaisang huffs. "Sorry, I didn't mean to crash your and da-ge's party."

Jiang Cheng frowns. "Are you mad I didn't come and find you straight away? Mingjue looked exhausted and I would've come to find you after anyway--"

"No, I know, I know." Huaisang flaps his hand. "Maybe we need to schedule your time or something," he muses in a light, joking tone.

Jiang Cheng peers at him. "Is that something we need to do?"

Huaisang shoots him an exasperated look, and sighs. "No, A-Cheng, I was joking. I just…" he looks pensive. "I worry we ask for too much of your attention and time. Especially me, I know I'm not exactly as low maintenance as da-ge."

"Hey," Jiang Cheng rebukes sharply. "I like your high maintenance ass just the way it is. And I'm the one courting two men, I think I win any awards for being the most difficult. You and A-Jue just get to share the burden."

Huaisang looks at him, mouth twitching in amusement, and visibly deflates. "Alright," he says. "Is da-ge okay?"

Jiang Cheng nods. "Yeah, he was just a little wiped out from everything, but he's sleeping now."

Smiling softly, Huaisang climbs into his lap, Jiang Cheng's hands coming up reflexively to support him. Huaisang cups Jiang Cheng's jaw and presses delicate kisses across his face.

"You take such good care of us," Huaisang says, achingly softly.

Jiang Cheng turns his head to press a kiss into Huaisang's palm. "Don't be ridiculous, you both take care of me."

Huaisang laughs. "We'll call it even," he murmurs, leaning down to press his full weight against Jiang Cheng and kiss him senseless.

They nearly fall off the bench twice, but it's worth it.

 

---

 

The day it all goes to shit, Jiang Cheng almost wasn't there.

He decided at the last minute to go and see Jin Guangyao, needing to discuss a finer point about the Dafan Wen agreement that had just arisen, using the thin excuse of being 'in the area' to go in person to be a) more intimidating for the inevitable negotiations, and b) to see his sister and nephew.

He'd come across an emergency during his travels, and arrived at Koi Tower later than expected, sky already darkening. When he'd asked one of the aides where he could find Lianfang-zun, they'd told him that Jin Guangyao had last been seen going to meet with Sect Leader Nie.

Extra pleased at the unexpected presence of one of his lovers, Jiang Cheng had gone in search of the sworn brothers, musing on how subtly he could sneak Mingjue into his rooms or vice versa without his too observant sister noticing.

Now, he strides through the quiet, empty walkways of the western part of Koi Tower, endlessly irritated at how unnecessarily fucking huge the place is. And why in the hells are the two meeting in a part of Koi Tower that's such a journey from the main drag of the complex?

Then Jiang Cheng sees Jin Guangyao, with Huaisang.

Jin Gunagyao has his arms around Huaisang tightly, holding a struggling Huaisang back as he wails for his brother.

"Da-ge!" The scream is heart-rending and Jiang Cheng’s own heart drops as he sees what they're looking at.

Nie Mingjue is stood at the top of the steps, dishevelled and moving manically, swinging Baxia at thin air.

Jiang Cheng breaks into a run.

"Sect Leader Jiang, don't! It's too dangerous!" Jin Guangyao shouts as Jiang Cheng bolts past him and Huaisang. Jiang Cheng ignores him, running faster, climbing the steps two at a time.

Jiang Cheng unsheathes Sandu, well aware from descriptions of his past qi deviations that there's a strong chance Mingjue won't recognise him and won't be calmed by displays of non-aggression. The only thing for it is to bring Mingjue down, try and knock him unconscious and just... keep him alive. Figure out the rest later.

When Jiang Cheng ascends the top step, he can see how far gone Mingjue really is. His eyes are bleeding thick, heavy trails down his neck. His hair is down and an absolute mess, his whole appearance wild and feral. He's growling and shouting nonsense about a snake, someone trying to kill him. Jiang Cheng’s hands shake, and Mingjue’s gaze catches on him.

He pulls up Sandu and the sheath just in time to stop Baxia cutting through him. Teeth vibrating from the impact, he drops the sheath and forces out a burst of qi. Mingjue staggers back, but not far, and Jiang Cheng has to duck under his arm and out of the way as he brings Baxia around again.

Both at the top of the tower now, they fight in the too enclosed, too high space, parrying and dodging but not making contact. Jiang Cheng needs to hit him with Zidian, it's more likely to knock him out and less likely to just encourage his blood rage like a sword wound would, but he can't get the space, Mingjue's relentless attacks forcing him to keep focused on not losing a limb.

Jiang Cheng knocks Mingjue back slightly, and makes a split-second mistake, thinking he has enough time to draw energy to Zidian. His reaction time is slowed, his attention divided, and he doesn't notice Mingjue’s arm moving until the saber is already almost upon him.

He throws himself backwards, trying to get out of the horizontal swinging arc of the blade, but the tip still slices through his side, making him fall back and shout in pain as it sharply lances through his flesh.

Jiang Cheng hears Huaisang scream his name.

 

Nie Mingjue stalks towards him, looking like death himself, a relentless, indifferent force of nature. Jiang Cheng pushes down the pain, directing some qi to the wound. He bunches his muscles, ready to dive out of the way and around to Mingjue's weaker side.

And then Mingjue hesitates.

It's subtle, and only momentary, but Jiang Cheng notices. Mingjue’s even stride falters slightly, pausing for a moment too long to be nothing. Something flickers through his eyes that isn't the murderous haze and Jiang Cheng’s chest clenches in hope.

Still, Mingjue starts moving again, and so Jiang Cheng executes his plan. He's been drawing power to Zidian, and when he lands from his dive on Mingjue's other side, he brings out his hand in a sharp snap, the whip cracking into Mingjue’s side with a hiss of energy.

Jiang Cheng has no idea the effect of a spiritual weapon on someone experiencing a qi deviation. Gods, he hopes it doesn't kill him.

Mingjue flies back with the force, smacking into the balustrade with a worrying crack and falling to the floor, Baxia unfortunately still clenched in his fist. Mingjue's still conscious, but he's dazed. Now's Jiang Cheng’s chance.

Adrenaline pumping, heart pounding, Jiang Cheng calls out desperately. "Mingjue! A-Jue it's me, please."

Mingjue starts to struggle upright, and Jiang Cheng’s heart hammers. "Mingjue, it's A-Cheng," he tries. "I'm here, you're safe. You need to calm down for me."

Something flickers in Mingjue's eyes again. "Please," Jiang Cheng begs, voice cracking. "We need you, me and Huaisang."

As though Jiang Cheng’s words have summoned him, Huaisang appears, ascending the steps, panting hard. "A-Cheng," he says, eyes wide and frantic. "Da-ge, please--"

"Stay there, A-Sang," Jiang Cheng snaps. Huaisang is unarmed and Jiang Cheng doesn't know how well he can protect them both whilst injured and avoiding lethal blows. "Don't come any closer."

Huaisang argues. "You're bleeding, we need to--"

"Will you listen to me for once?" Jiang Cheng shouts, nerves frayed at the edges, not knowing what to do and terrified that he's going to lose both of them.

"I'm not going anywhere--"

"Didi. A-Cheng."

They both whirl back to Mingjue.

He's standing again, Baxia in hand, limply at his side. His eyes are still dark but they’re clearer, staring at them with an exhausted, dazed expression.

Jiang Cheng sees Huaisang move out of his periphery and instinctively grabs him, holding him back, even as he wants to lunge for Mingjue himself. But he has to be cautious for both of them.

"Mingjue, drop the saber," Jiang Cheng says, voice rough. Huaisang doesn't fight against his grip, only says, "da-ge," in a pleading voice.

Baxia hits the ground with a clang.

Relief sweeps through Jiang Cheng like a wave. He releases his hold on Huaisang, who practically throws himself at his brother.

"Da-ge, da-ge," he sobs, clutching at Mingjue. Jiang Cheng feels like he might cry himself. Or possibly pass out. Or both.

He watches the brothers embrace, Mingjue's expression still looking half-dazed, although he wraps an arm around Huaisang comfortingly. They fall to the ground together on their knees, tangled together. Jiang Cheng feels oddly distant, apart from this picture. He doesn't belong here.

And then both brothers look to him, their eyes so different and yet the same.

Jiang Cheng crumbles, staggering over to them and sinking to his knees. He buries his face in Mingjue's shoulder, body shaking with the aftershocks of adrenaline, fear and relief. Mingjue's arm curls tightly around his shoulder, and Jiang Cheng can feel that he's shaking too. Jiang Cheng feels Huaisang's smaller hand clutch at his leg, fisting in the fabric with white knuckles. Jiang Cheng covers Huaisang's hand with his own.

"Da-ge! Oh thank the gods. They're alright, A-Yao."

Lan Xichen's worried voice cuts through the haze and makes Jiang Cheng curl slightly around, turning his head.

Jin Guangyao and Lan Xichen are standing at the top of the steps. Jin Guangyao is holding a guqin and his sword, Lan Xichen his xiao and sword too. Jin Guangyao has a bloody mark on his robes in the shoulder area.

"Huaisang, that was so dangerous, what were you thinking?" Jin Guangyao says, eyes dark with concern, although they flit over the three of them in a thoughtful way. Jiang Cheng's too drained to care about the fact that their relationships have probably been pretty obviously outed.

Huaisang turns towards the sworn brothers too and speaks softly. "I'm sorry, san-ge, but I couldn't leave them. Are you alright?"

Jin Guangyao looks wry. "I've survived much worse than a butterfly knife to the arm, but you could have gotten yourself killed."

Jiang Cheng’s mind is too far gone to connect the dots of whatever they're talking about right now. He just wants to rest, and for Mingjue to do the same.

"I don't suppose you've got healers in Lanling for qi deviations," Jiang Cheng mutters tiredly.

Huaisang's expression shifts sharply back to alarm, the hand on his leg tightening its grip. "Fuck, A-Cheng, we need to get you to the healer."

Jiang Cheng disengages from the brothers, wincing as he sees the crimson stained robes of both him and Mingjue where Jiang Cheng had been pressed against him. He hears Lan Xichen inhale sharply.

Huaisang stands and goes straight into crisis mode. "Xichen-ge, you help da-ge down the steps, I'll carry Jiang Cheng."

"Huaisang I will break your legs. It's not that deep, I can walk." Famous last words, as he wobbles to his feet, feeling light-headed from blood loss and going through the same emotions in half a shi as he usually does in a year. His vision is slightly fuzzy, and he stares with dread at the many, hard stone steps. Maybe he could roll gently down them?

Huaisang swoops in, curling an arm around Jiang Cheng’s waist. "Don't worry, A-Cheng, there's no-one around," he says quietly into Jiang Cheng’s ear. Rolling his eyes, he nods in acquiescence, too eager to get Mingjue seen to, to put up much of a fight.

Huaisang folds an arm under his knees and another around his back, pulling him up easily towards his chest. Jiang Cheng folds his arms over his own chest, scowling up at Huaisang, who manages to crack a slight smile at his grumpy expression.

Jiang Cheng notices, but doesn't comment on, how tightly Huaisang's hands clutch him, how his gaze keeps flitting to Jiang Cheng's injured side.

"I'm alright, A-Sang," Jiang Cheng murmurs as they move. "We're both alright."

But Huaisang just presses his mouth together, his brows low, expression unfathomable in the shadows cast by the moonlight.

 

---

 

They're set up in a healer's pavilion, way in the back of the building in a small room.

Jiang Cheng's wound is seen to. As he thought it's not terribly deep, although the arc of the slice is wide, stretching around his side almost to his stomach. It had bled a lot, but hadn't nicked anything important.

Mingjue gives in easily to the healer knocking him unconscious, and now lies worryingly still on the bed next to Jiang Cheng's. He finds himself watching the rise and fall of Mingjue's chest with borderline mania, unsurprised to find Huaisang doing the same.

Lan Xichen stays the whole night in the room with them, playing on his guqin with hands that never seem to tire, his own expression carefully blank, but his eyes clouded with worry.

Eventually, when Huaisang and Jin Guangyao have left to take care of other matters, Jiang Cheng asks the question burning on his mind, no matter how impolite it might seem.

"Is this actually helping?" He asks bluntly, and Lan Xichen's gaze flickers to him. He sits on the edge of the bed, an arm curled around his stomach. "How long have you and Lianfang-zun been playing it for him now?'

Lan Xichen smiles, a sad expression. "I'd hoped so, by all of our counts da-ge hadn't had a qi deviation for several months now. But we can't say for sure, as we just don't have the information." He glances across at Mingjue. "It has been more of an exercise in hope," he admits, and he sounds as exhausted as Jiang Cheng feels.

They're both silent for a moment, the qin notes filling the empty spaces.

"We were lucky you were here," Lan Xichen breaks the quiet, looking at Jiang Cheng with a gratitude in his eyes.

Jiang Cheng huffs out a humourless laugh, looking back at Mingjue's sleeping form. "I almost wasn't. This trip was a last-minute decision." Icy fear grips his spine at the thought of what might have happened if the Wen issue hadn't come up, if he had decided to deal with it by correspondence instead.

"I am curious though. Forgive the intrusion, Jiang Wanyin, but how long have you and da-ge been involved?"

Jiang Cheng flicks his gaze back over to Lan Xichen reflexively, even though he'd been expecting this. Their shaky cuddle pile hadn't exactly been subtle.

"Since Sunshot, on and off, I guess," Jiang Cheng says, shrugging. "Seriously? A couple of years now."

Lan Xichen hums. "I'd thought something had changed, he seemed… happier. More content. I was hoping that meant…" he trails off, clearing his throat. "I'm sure Huaisang has already threatened you over da-ge's honour," he says, in possibly the least subtle conversational diversion Jiang Cheng's ever seen from the normally so smooth Zewu-Jun.

Jiang Cheng coughs, face flushing slightly. "Uh, yes, technically he has, but it's a bit counterproductive now." Lan Xichen looks at him in polite curiosity, and Jiang Cheng elaborates. "I'm with both of them," he says, pushing down the buzzing anxiety that he's told someone.

Surprise slackens Lan Xichen's perfect, composed face for only a moment, and then he nods, eyebrows rising slightly. "Ah," he says, "not that uncommon in Qinghe. I don't remember much of da-ge and Huaisang's parents, but I know they had strong bonds. Lan Yuehai and Lan Qiuyue were much happier in Qinghe than they could have been in Gusu, I think."

Jiang Cheng hums. "Neither of them were sect leaders though," he points out, his dual responsibilities to his lovers and his sect an ever-present weight on his mind.

"No," Lan Xichen allows, smiling kindly. "But I have faith that if you want to be together, you can work something out." Jiang Cheng's not sure if Lan Xichen's optimistic outlook is naive or brave.

Lan Xichen's smile edges into mischief. "Maybe make some use of that wayward Head Disciple of yours, he keeps dragging my brother into trouble." The twinkling in his eyes tells Jiang Cheng that it's not a genuine complaint about Wei Wuxian, although Lan Xichen would have the right.

Jiang Cheng huffs a laugh. "Thank you, Lan Xichen. I make no promises."

 

---

 

Jiang Cheng has only been awake for a few moments, stretching in the only space in the room not taken up by beds or medical paraphernalia, when he senses movement from his periphery. He turns.

Nie Mingjue is stirring and blinking awake.

He looks around, and his gaze immediately snaps to Jiang Cheng. Moving far more quickly than someone his size should be able to, he's by Jiang Cheng's side, cupping Jiang Cheng's face.

"A-Cheng, are you alright?" Mingjue asks, intense gaze scouring his face and down his body.

 

"I'm fine," Jiang Cheng says, leaning into the touch and placing his own hands on Mingjue's shoulders. He soothes his thumb over Mingjue's collarbone.

Mingjue frowns. "You…" it's a mixture of fascinating and horrifying, how Jiang Cheng can see the details of the night coming back to him in the slowly dawning fear spreading across his face.

His gaze drops to Jiang Cheng's side, and predicting a fuss, Jiang Cheng pulls apart his robes, showing Mingjue the bandaged side. "I'm fine," he says reassuringly. "It was pretty shallow."

Mingjue is looking at where the wound is with a devastated expression, hand hovering mere inches from his bandaged side.

"Hey," Jiang Cheng says softly. "It's okay, I'm okay."

Mingjue looks at him, eyes dark with guilt. "It is not okay," he says quietly, voice rough. "I hurt you."

"Mingjue—"

"I could have killed you," Mingjue says, voice thick with horror.

"It's a surface wound."

"If you had been a fraction slower--"

"But I wasn't," Jiang Cheng says abruptly. He takes Mingjue's hovering hand and places it over his chest, at his central dantian. "I'm still here."

Mingjue stays silent for a long time, his hand on Jiang Cheng's chest, feeling the thrum of Jiang Cheng’s heart under his hand, the pooling of qi keeping it beating steady and strong.

Then Mingjue looks at him, opens his mouth and hesitates, and a sinking dread fills Jiang Cheng's veins like lead.

"I shouldn't ask this of you," he starts, and Jiang Cheng shakes his head roughly.

"Then don't," he pleads, knowing what's coming and unable to hear it.

Mingjue's eyes are dark with guilt and sorrow. "You're stronger than anyone I know," he says, "and you love A-Sang as much as I do."

Tears burning suddenly sharp at hot at Jiang Cheng's eyes, he blinks furiously.

"I need you to protect Huaisang from me, because he can't protect himself - he won't." Mingjue's jaw is set, eyes fixed on Jiang Cheng’s. "You have to do whatever's necessary to stop me, A-Cheng. Even if it's killing me."

"I can't promise that," Jiang Cheng says, voice shaky. "We'll find another way."

Mingjue takes his wrist, curls his grip around to cover his hand. "Please," he says, self-loathing carved thickly into his expression, but jaw set in determination.

"I won't let you hurt Huaisang," Jiang Cheng says eventually. "That's all I can promise you."

Mingjue looks like he's going to protest, but instead he nods jerkily, pressing a kiss to Jiang Cheng's forehead. He murmurs, "I'm so sorry," into Jiang Cheng's skin.

Jiang Cheng just wraps his arms around Mingjue's waist, burying his face in Mingjue's chest. Mingjue closes the embrace, arms around Jiang Cheng's back, chin resting on top of Jiang Cheng's head.

They stay in their tight, wordless embrace for a long time.

 

---

 

Things are normal as they can be, until the discussion conference.

It's at Lanling, which means that Jiang Cheng spends most of his time that he isn't stuck scowling at his peers with Yanli and A-Ling, so he doesn't see Mingjue or Huaisang that much.

So he's not too surprised when he goes back to his rooms on the second day and finds Huaisang sat on his bed. Warmth bursting in his chest, he moves to embrace his lover, only to be caught short when he notices the sheer tension radiating off Huaisang.

"A-Cheng," Huaisang greets, standing. Jiang Cheng moves carefully closer and peers at his face.

Huaisang looks worried, mouth twisted down and eyes deep and dark. Instinctively, Jiang Cheng curls an arm around Huaisang's waist, squeezing him to Jiang Cheng's side.

"You okay?" He asks, his own worry building. "What's wrong?"

Huaisang frowns. "You know Xichen-ge and san-ge are playing the Song of Clarity for da-ge?"

Not liking where this is going, Jiang Cheng nods. "Yeah?"

"I think san-ge is playing it wrong," Huaisang says.

"Alright," Jiang Cheng says after a beat, seeing where Huaisang's worry is coming from, but unsure why he hasn't gone straight to the easy solution. "Have you told Lan Xichen? I'm sure he can help Lianfang-zun correct his playing, or take over entirely."

Huaisang shakes his head. "It's not," he looks frustrated, conflicted. "I don't think it's an accident," he whispers. "I think he's playing it wrong on purpose."

What? Dread creeps in, but Jiang Cheng needs to keep his head, for Huaisang. "Alright," he says evenly. "Why do you think it's on purpose?"

Huaisang breaks off into a techno-babble about musical cultivation and composition that goes mostly over Jiang Cheng's head. He holds up a hand. "A-Sang, you know I've got the musical ability of a rock. I don't know what any of that means."

Frustration tightens Huaisang's face again. "Do you trust me?" He asks, looking up into Jiang Cheng's eyes, his own swirling with panic and worry, but firm and determined underneath.

"Of course," Jiang Cheng says emphatically, and then committing himself: "How do we find out for sure?"

Some of the tension in Huaisang's frame eases slightly, and his eyes alight with that brilliance and calculation that both turns on and alarms Jiang Cheng.

"Okay, I think we need to get san—Jin Guangyao, to play for da-ge when Xichen-ge is around, and see if there's any difference."

Jiang Cheng doesn't like it, but he sees the purpose. "See if he plays any differently with an educated audience," he says.

Huaisang nods. "Exactly."

"But how are we going to find out? Aren't those techniques supposed to be a big secret for the Lan?"

Huaisang waves a hand dismissively. "Easy. Xichen-ge's a softie, if I hang about and look sad, talk about da-ge's last qi deviation, if only there was anything I could do—"

"You terrify me," Jiang Cheng says baldly. Huaisang smiles sweet and sharp, and Jiang Cheng's chest aches fondly. "So Lan Xichen offers to let you sit in and listen, so they can teach /you/ to play as well…"

Huaisang nods grimly. "And then we go from there. If I'm wrong, if it's an accident, and he plays the same in front of Xichen-ge, it's just making sure everyone's playing it properly." He's trying to hide it, but Jiang Cheng can hear how badly he wants it to be an accident, to be able to call Jin Guangyao san-ge again and entrust him with his woes.

Jiang Cheng looks down at Huaisang. "And if it's not an accident?"

Huaisang's eyes harden, like the stone of his family fortress. "Then we're going to have some conversations."

Jiang Cheng will have Zidian ready.

 

---

 

The next day, when Huaisang opens the door to his rooms, and Jiang Cheng catches sight of him, he knows instantly.

Seeing his expression, Jiang Cheng's heart sinks. "It wasn't an accident, was it?"

Huaisang shakes his head. His knuckles are tight around his fan. "He played perfectly," he hisses, face twisted in betrayed hurt.

"Alright," Jiang Cheng says, "so we go to Mingjue and Lan Xichen—"

"No," Huaisang says adamantly.

Jiang Cheng frowns. "A-Sang, we need to stop this now, if Mingjue has another qi deviation--"

"I'm worried there's more to it," Huaisang says. "Spiritual music affecting the mind is powerful, and obviously there's an agenda here, where he wants… da-ge dead." Huaisang swallows. "He's a very good liar, if we don't have enough proof, or if he has someone on his side—"

Jiang Cheng exhales. "I don't like this," he says. He trusts Huaisang's judgement in these things, his understanding and way with people and their relationships much better than Jiang Cheng's. The thought, however, of letting that snake play for Mingjue again, smiling falsely under the guise of helping, Mingjue guiltily giving into Lan Xichen's relentless insistence that Jin Guangyao was a good man, a trustworthy man…

 

Jiang Cheng sees Huaisang's point, but he wants to just walk up to Jin Guangyao and stick Sandu through his throat, no matter that they're in the middle of Koi Tower.

"So what do we do?" Jiang Cheng asks finally.

Huaisang frowns. "I think we're going to need access to the Cloud Recesses restricted library."

Jiang Cheng stares at him. "Oh yeah, let's just ask, they'll let us go waltzing on in." Huaisang looks unimpressed by his sarcasm, and Jiang Cheng thinks. "Could you not get Lan Xichen to let you take a look?"

Shaking his head, Huaisang says, "no, it's way too closely guarded for that, it seemed to be a close thing that Jin Guangyao was even allowed to look at their books, and he's Xichen-ge's sworn brother."

Feeling deeply uneasy at the thought of the sort of texts that Cloud Recesses would keep in a restricted library, that Jin Guangyao had access to, a thought struck Jiang Cheng that he would have ignored in the normal course of events.

"I've got an idea," he says, and Huaisang's eyes snap to his. He sighs. "It could make everything a thousand times worse," he confesses. "Especially if we get caught."

Huaisang's jaw sets. "We haven't got a choice, A-Cheng, we'll have to risk it."

Right. Which means Jiang Cheng has to go and have a very awkward, strange conversation with his Head Disciple.

Joy.

 

---

 

"Jiang Cheng, I think this is a bit unethical, even for me."

Jiang Cheng holds onto the last strand of his patience with a tight grip. "Really? Do you want me to go over your past crimes chronologically or by order of magnitude?"

Wei Wuxian doesn't even have the grace to look abashed. "If Lan Zhan finds out…" he says tentatively, expression unhappy.

Jiang Cheng is blissfully ignorant of his shixiong's love life, having demanded Wei Wuxian's room be lined with silencing talismans, but he's not a total asshole. Lan Wangji seems to be good for Wei Wuxian, and they're both, from what Jiang Cheng has been unable to avoid seeing, ridiculously in love.

Jiang Cheng doesn't want to jeopardise that, but he doesn't want Mingjue to die more.

"Please, A-Xian," he says, open with his desperation, hating to abuse this easy pressure point of his shixiong, but not knowing what else to do. "This is something I need you to do for me."

Wei Wuxian looks into his eyes, and crumbles. "Alright," he says softly. "I've got you, A-Cheng."

Jiang Cheng is suddenly, violently grateful for his shixiong who's willing to go and break into a sacred, forbidden library and face the wrath and upset of his lover, for Jiang Cheng. Sometimes he can't believe he fell for Wei Wuxian's deliberately hurtful words and trying to extract himself from Yunmeng Jiang.

"Thank you," he says, relief spreading cool through him.

"Don't thank me yet," Wei Wuxian warns. "If you don't see me again, Grandmaster Lan has finally got his greatest wish and has had me executed."

 

---

 

Huaisang meets him at Lotus Pier a week later.

"So the good news is that Wei Wuxian found the book we were looking for. The bad news is Lan Wangji caught him and is demanding they be told what's going on."

Huaisang sighs. "Of course he is. Well, come on, let's go talk to the illustrious couple."

There's a fair amount of sniping, arguing and almost insults to people's ancestry, but eventually everyone is on the same page, and staring at the same page.

"Songs of Discord," Lan Wangji murmurs, looking troubled. "Extremely dangerous, there is a reason they are in the restricted library."

Huaisang is frowning deeply, and Jiang Cheng feels impatient. "What do they do?" Jiang Cheng asks.

"Bring discord to one's mind," Lan Wangji says, "the same as the Song of Clarity should bring calm and clarity to one's mind."

Jiang Cheng's heart stops for a moment. "So," he rasps. "If someone were to be predisposed to qi deviations anyway—"

Lan Wangji nods. "Could induce one."

"Holy shit," Wei Wuxian says, eyes wide. "Jin Guangyao's, what? Trying to kill Sect Leader Nie? Why?"

Jiang Cheng shakes his head wordlessly. From what Mingjue's said, they've had a rocky relationship over the years, and Mingjue doesn't always make his distrust and disdain subtle – but to kill him? So horrifically and slowly? Using their other sworn brother's sacred family cultivation techniques?

"Sect Leader Jin hates da-ge," Huaisang says quietly. His expression is stone, but Jiang Cheng can see his mind working quickly, connecting dots the rest of them don't even know about. "And sa—Jin Guangyao desperately wants his father's support and approval."

Jiang Cheng can see, in his periphery, Lan Wangji and Wei Wuxian exchanging a look, but he only has eyes for Huaisang. "It's time to end this," he says firmly. "We go to Mingjue and Zewu-Jun, now."

They collect Huaisang's notes, the out of place musical notes he'd heard and Lan Wangji's annotations relating to composition and the Songs of Discord, and they leave.

Jiang Cheng feels like he's preparing for a battle, adrenaline pumping uselessly, and it's only Huaisang's presence at his side that soothes him, grounds him amidst his spiralling fear and rage.

He knows, however, that he won't be calm until that snake Jin Guangyao is contained, and Mingjue and Huaisang were both safe at Jiang Cheng's side.

 

---

 

"No," Lan Xichen says. "You must have misheard, Huaisang."

They're all gathered at Cloud Recesses in Lan Xichen's rooms, Wei Wuxian hovering close to Lan Wangji's side, Huaisang and Jiang Cheng staying close to Mingjue. They've already formed an almost barrier between them, Lan Xichen stood apart, vehement in his support of Jin Guangyao.

Mingjue had looked shocked, and horrified, like the rest of them had, but the overwhelming reaction seemed to be hurt. Jiang Cheng knew that despite his own wariness, Mingjue had still hoped he was wrong about Jin Guangyao, or that he could be steered back onto the right path before he went too far.

Jiang Cheng ached for his lovers and their betrayal at Jin Guangyao’s hands, but most of all he just wanted to keep them safe, and maybe take Jin Guangyao’s head off.

"Xichen-ge," Huaisang says, impatience creasing the skin between his brows, eyes tight at the corners. "I know what I heard, and he played perfectly when you were there, because you'd be able to tell, but da-ge wouldn't!"

Lan Xichen shakes his head again, expression sad and sympathetic. "I know you're scared, Huaisang, and I promise you we're trying our best to heal da-ge—"

"You think I'm, what? Paranoid and emotional and imagining things? Jumping at shadows?" Huaisang bites out, mouth a thin line.

Lan Xichen extends his soft look over to Jiang Cheng before returning his attention to Huaisang, and Jiang Cheng’s hackles instantly rise. "Last time was… far too close, and you were right there watching. Given that A-Yao was trying to keep you back to keep you safe, I can see how you might—"

"Xiongzhang," Lan Wangji interrupts. "I've confirmed Nie-xiong's notes, the qin notes he heard are a ratio from the Songs of Discord. He would have no way of knowing those before we showed him the book."

Lan Xichen's confidence falters slightly, staring with unreadable eyes at his brother. "No," he says again, rallying. "I'm sorry, but I know A-Yao. He would never do something like this. I don't know how Huaisang knew those notes, but you're wrong."

Jiang Cheng is feeling extremely close to shouting at the wilfully ignorant honourable Zewu-Jun, when Wei Wuxian pipes up.

"There's an easy way to resolve this," he says, not even blinking at all the eyes that snap to him. "We get Jin Guangyao to play for Sect Leader Nie, and Zewu-Jun to observe in secret."

"No," Jiang Cheng and Huaisang say in unison. Jiang Cheng scowls at Wei Wuxian, who looks pained but presses his point.

"We need to prove it somehow, Jiang Cheng."

"Huaisang is the proof," Jiang Cheng hisses, protective anger and the frustration of the past fortnight bubbling in his chest. Huaisang's expression has set back into neutrality, and he touches Jiang Cheng’s forearm, which makes him realise that Zidian is sparking.

Forcing himself to calm down, he grits his teeth and listens as the others argue back and forth - Huaisang for not endangering Mingjue's mental state further, and Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji for ending it, for proving the assassination attempt and moving straight away to question Jin Guangyao.

Jiang Cheng looks at Mingjue, and knows what the result will be. The other man has the same look of determination he does marching out to the battlefield, hurt and betrayal shuttered away behind the promise of action.

Sure enough, they end up going with Wei Wuxian's plan. Jiang Cheng grits his teeth and gets on as they make preparations for the trap.

It can't be here, at Cloud Recesses, as there's too many musical healers - a call for Jin Guangyao’s help wouldn't make any sense. They end up at the Unclean Realm, staging a scene to make it look like Nie Mingjue’s just recovered from a further qi deviation.

Lan Xichen pens the emergency missive to Jin Guangyao as per Wei Wuxian and Huaisang's input, looking drawn and unhappy the whole time.

Then all there is left to do is wait.

"Why did you keep this from me?" Mingjue asks, as they wait. Jiang Cheng drops his gaze guiltily.

"At first we didn't—well I didn't—think it was definitely intentional. And we couldn't prove it." Jiang Cheng grimaces. "I guess I didn't want to tell you until we had definite proof. I know you wanted to be wrong about him."

Mingjue shakes his head, gaze dark and resigned. "I shouldn't have been so selfishly hopeful. If this is true…" his eyes harden to obsidian. "He nearly got you and Huaisang killed too."

Jiang Cheng is suddenly not sure who might try to take Jin Guangyao's head first.

Probably still Huaisang.

As if summoned by Jiang Cheng's thoughts, he appears in the doorway.

"He's at the gate," Huaisang says, and they all move to their places, ready for the show to start.

 

---

 

They can't all fit in the secret passage off the healer's pavilion—which Jiang Cheng had a million questions about, namely why—so it's just Lan Xichen and Nie Huaisang in there. Jiang Cheng is waiting outside in a backroom with Lan Wangji and Wei Wuxian, practically vibrating out of his skin with anxiety.

 

He's not sure what exactly the signal is going to be that it's time to go in and arrest Jin Guangyao—Jiang Cheng would still prefer decapitate—but he's listening intently for any sign.

Wei Wuxian keeps glancing at him with a thoughtful look that would fill him with trepidation any other time, but at the moment Jiang Cheng just doesn't have the emotional or mental capacity.

There's a resounding crash and yelling, and Jiang Cheng bolts for the door, Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji on his heels.

"—can explain!" Jin Guangyao is exclaiming. He's sprawled on the floor, hands up in front of his face, looking terrified and remorseful.

Mingjue is towering over him, Baxia in hand, Lan Xichen gripping his sword arm with both hands, half between his two sworn brothers. Mingjue looks thunderous, the quiet betrayal almost hidden behind the fury, but Lan Xichen just looks devastated.

"Why shouldn't I take his head, Xichen?" Mingjue spits, knuckles white around his saber’s hilt. "I nearly killed Jiang Cheng, and I could have killed Huaisang too! This snake is responsible!"

Wei Wuxian grabs Jiang Cheng's arm and hisses, "what?" Ah, Jiang Cheng hadn't mentioned that, had he.

"Not now," he mutters, wrenching his arm out of Wei Wuxian's grip easily.

"A-Jue," Jiang Cheng says, moving across to Mingjue and standing at his side. "Are you alright?" He couldn't hear the guqin from the backroom, so he didn't know how long Jin Guangyao had played before Lan Xichen stopped him, but Jiang Cheng was incredibly conscious that Mingjue could be mere notes from another qi deviation.

Mingjue's attention holds on Jiang Cheng for long enough that he visibly calms. "I'm fine," he says. His anger is strong, but his eyes are clear, and Jiang Cheng relaxes slightly.

"Why, A-Yao?" Lan Xichen asks, and Jiang Cheng takes vicious satisfaction in how Jin Guangyao flinches at Lan Xichen's despair.

"I didn't have a choice," Jin Guangyao says. There's a familiar snort, and Jiang Cheng becomes very aware that he didn't see Huaisang upon entering.

He's stood by the main door to the room, arms folded into his sleeves, expression drawn in cold anger.

Huaisang doesn't elaborate on his outburst, fixing Jin Guangyao with sharp, disdainful eyes.

"Father… wants da-ge dead," Jin Guangyao says tremulously. "I didn't want to, I tried to convince him that you weren't a danger to him!"

He continues, but Jiang Cheng stops listening, uninterested in the spineless snake's justifications for trying to kill Jiang Cheng’s lover.

It only spirals from there. Lan Xichen, rather than being appeased by Jin Guangyao's excuses and convincing shows of remorse, becomes more and more enraged, angrier than Jiang Cheng has ever seen him. It's quite a good look on him, if rather terrifying.

In contrast, Mingjue's rage seems to leech from him to support Lan Xichen's, almost like water trickling through a stream from one pond to another. He just looks weary now, and resigned.

When it's finally over, everyone shouted out, they still have to decide what to do with Jin Guangyao. Jiang Cheng's still strongly in favour of killing him, but he understands the argument that they need him alive in order to do something about Jin Guangshan, the much more significant danger.

Surprisingly, when Lan Wangji outlines a fairly equitable deal, keeping Jin Guangyao alive and getting him to testify to Jin Guangshan’s actions and orders in front of the other sects, Jin Guangyao shakes his head. "No," he says. "I can't."

"You seem to be under the false impression that you're being given a choice," Jiang Cheng says flatly.

"He'll have me killed," Jin Guangyao says dully.

"What exactly do you think is happening here?" Jiang Cheng asks icily, feeling the comforting weight of Zidian around his finger, twisting it absently.

Jin Guangyao's jaw works, but he stays silent. Now, of all times.

"I don't understand," Wei Wuxian says, voice cutting through the tense silence. "You hate him."

Jiang Cheng feels several of the others turn their attention to Wei Wuxian, but doesn't take his own off Jin Guangyao.

Just in case.

"I've seen it, when I've been to Koi Tower. He talks down to you, treats you like a fool and takes all the credit for your work. Even if he's your father... why lower yourself to this for him?" Wei Wuxian sounds confused, and slightly pained.

Jin Guangyao's face--changes. His eyes sharpen, glinting in the lantern light. His mouth smiles, but it's cruel and flat.

"We're not all born into the same privileges in this life, Wei Wuxian," he says, voice insidious and creeping. "I would've thought that you understood that."

His eyes flick over to Lan Xichen, and something like sorrow flashes through them. "We all do what we have to, in order to survive."

"You still had a choice," Wei Wuxian says flatly. "Every time you could have turned away instead of killing, or said something rather than be complicit with inaction. That's a choice you're making, every time." His expression is dark and streaked through with something bleak. Jiang Cheng’s heart clenches, and he thinks of the village just outside Lotus Pier, filled with (mostly) innocent people who would all be dead if not for Wei Wuxian.

He decides to move this all along before someone does die, or Lan Wangji embraces Wei Wuxian in front of everyone.

"How do we do this?" Jiang Cheng asks, gesturing down to Jin Guangyao. "Someone's going to have to take responsibility for him."

"The Nie and Lan sects have too much personal involvement," Lan Wangji says stoically. "Jin Guangyao tried to assassinate the Nie Sect Leader using secret Gusu Lan techniques." He looks to Jiang Cheng. "It should be Yunmeng Jiang."

Usually, Jiang Cheng would agree. It's the most reasonable, balanced decision, but…

He thinks about Mingjue, feral and mindless, lost to his greatest fear, his horror and guilt at injuring Jiang Cheng, his readiness to sacrifice himself to keep Jiang Cheng and Huaisang safe. He thinks about Huaisang, the conflicting mixture of his resigned grief and his quiet rage, the way he'd screamed for his brother and Jiang Cheng and fought his way to them, Huaisang who hated picking up a blade even for practice stabbing his san-ge in the shoulder to get to them.

Zidian crackles loudly, purple light illuminating the scene.

"No," Jiang Cheng says through gritted teeth. "Not a good idea."

A soft, familiar hand curls around his left, and the sparks fade, bouncing harmlessly off Huaisang's skin.

"Gusu Lan, then," Mingjue says, "with Yunmeng Jiang oversight." His voice is heavy but even.

They all turn in unison to look at Lan Wangji and Wei Wuxian.

"What?" Wei Wuxian says, looking like he does when his mind has gone off on some other course he finds more interesting than the conversation in front of him. Luckily Lan Wangji seems just as aware of the habit, for he touches Wei Wuxian's arm and they turn their bodies to speak with some facade of privacy.

Jiang Cheng sighs, running his thumb over Huaisang's knuckles absently.

It's not nearly over, but as soon as they get that snake out of here, Jiang Cheng is dragging the Nie brothers off to a room and lying on top of them where they're unable to get into any trouble.

When the others finally leave, he does exactly that, ignoring Mingjue's protests that he still has work to do. He wrestles and bullies both brothers into bed, and lies between them, sprawled like the cat Mingjue always teasingly accuses him of being.

It doesn't take long for Mingjue to give in, curling an arm around Jiang Cheng’s waist and pressing his cheek against the top of Jiang Cheng’s head. Huaisang curls around Jiang Cheng’s front, where he can trace intricate patterns into Jiang Cheng’s skin and watch his brother with still scared eyes.

"I love you," Jiang Cheng says, into the soft quiet of the bedroom. The tension of the last few weeks has wound Jiang Cheng up even tighter than usual, and now with the release, everything seems to be flooding out with or without his consent.

Well, he's said it now, might as well fully commit. "Both of you," he adds, just in case it isn't painfully obvious. He twists his head to press a kiss to Mingjue's shoulder, and turns back to press another to Huaisang's jaw.

"Love you too, baobei," Mingjue says against his head. He presses a kiss against Jiang Cheng’s hairline.

"Love you, A-Cheng," Huaisang murmurs, the dark things in his gaze fading slightly, leaning forward and pressing a delicate kiss to Jiang Cheng’s nose. He scrunches it up and Huaisang laughs softly.

"Thank you both," Mingjue says gruffly. "For protecting me."

Jiang Cheng feels the brothers clasp hands around him, and feels the last bit of disquiet settle in his chest, weary but comforted.

"What would you do without us, da-ge?" Huaisang asks, eyes too bright. Jiang Cheng soothes a hand over his neck.

"Get a lot more rest, probably," Mingjue muses, and Jiang Cheng elbows him at the same time as Huaisang makes an indignant noise.

 

 

---

 

Several weeks later, when the worst of the public trial of Jin Guangshan is over, Wei Wuxian returns to Lotus Pier with Lan Wangji.

Jiang Cheng is working in one of the meeting rooms, papers spread out across multiple tables, when Wei Wuxian comes clattering through the door.

"Ugh, I am never doing that again, guard work is so dull and long, Jiang Cheng!" He throws himself down next to Jiang Cheng, flopping dramatically into his side.

Lan Wangji stands in the doorway and bows in greeting, because he's not a disrespectful little shithead like Wei Wuxian. Jiang Cheng allows him entry, and wonders for the thousandth time how it was that the two of them got together, so opposite in temperament.

"I couldn't exactly trust anyone else with it," Jiang Cheng sighs, and Wei Wuxian huffs, hiding his preening badly.

Lan Wangji settles down opposite, and Wei Wuxian abandons Jiang Cheng to flop down next to Lan Wangji, using him as a cushion.

"Oh! I didn't get the chance before everything happened; I've been meaning to ask." Jiang Cheng's hackles instantly rise as Wei Wuxian stares at him mischievously. "I can't figure it out, are you sleeping with Nie Mingjue or Nie Huaisang?"

Jiang Cheng is going to take the rare pleasure of shocking his shixiong – hopefully into silence, but he won't hold out too much hope. "Both," he says, deliberately nonchalant, raising his tea to his mouth. "And don't be so disrespectful, I've courted with both of them." For a given value of courting, anyway.

Wei Wuxian's eyes practically bug out of his head, jaw dropping. He actually splutters, and Lan Wangji looks at him in concern, even as Jiang Cheng can barely hide an amused smirk.

"Both!?" Wei Wuxian exclaims, finally.

"That's what I said."

"My precious shidi… with two Nies… brothers!"

"Ah," Lan Wangji says. "Like Lan Yuehai and Lan Qiuyue."

Jiang Cheng nods, even as he thinks why did literally everyone else know about them?

Wei Wuxian looks like the wheels are spinning too fast and some might have spun off into the ether. "Wait, this means I have to fight both Nie Huaisang and Nie Mingjue, fuck. At the same time?" He taps his chin. "I need to think about my approach."

Jiang Cheng can feel a headache building. "Why," he asks, already dreading the answer, "would you fight either of them?"

"Because they've seduced my shidi! Impugned on his honour!" The worst thing is, he looks entirely serious.  Jiang Cheng should have known that his overprotectiveness didn't extend only to A-Jie.

"Oh my gods," is all Jiang Cheng can muster. He looks desperately to Lan Wangji for help, but the other man is no fool and avoids his gaze, staying silent.

Wei Wuxian is still muttering about the tactical advantages of fighting from the air. Jiang Cheng needs to shut this down, as hilarious as both Nie brothers would likely find it.

"Wei Wuxian," Jiang Cheng says, in his best, sharpest imitation of his mother. "I am your Sect Leader and I forbid you to fight Nie Mingjue or Nie Huaisang."

It's pointless, as it seems Wei Wuxian has already moved on to another subject. "Are you going to marry one of them? Both of them?" His eyes are wide and manic and Lan Wangji's concern is starting to edge into deep territory. Jiang Cheng wants to be sympathetic, but the other man had seen Wei Wuxian, chaotic disaster, and went 'that's the man for me', so – limited sympathy.

"Are you going to have two weddings? You have to give me and shi-jie time to plan!"

Jiang Cheng stands. "I'm leaving now, bye. Good luck," he directs to Lan Wangji. "If you say anything to A-Jie before I get the chance, I'll break your legs," he scowls at Wei Wuxian.

As he leaves, he hears Wei Wuxian interrogating Lan Wangji about what he knows about brother husbands and Qinghe weddings.

"Who proposes? Does one of them propose on behalf of both of them? Does Jiang Cheng need to propose – because we could end up waiting forever in that case—"

 

---

 

Less than three months after Jin Guangshan's public trial, Wei Wuxian and Wen Qing trail after Jiang Cheng to Qinghe.

All the way there, Wei Wuxian explains the research they've done, the few commons threads they could find in the sparse records Nie Mingjue allowed them access to. He's riding with Jiang Cheng so they don't have to suffer the non-sword slow pace, but it means Jiang Cheng is facing the brunt of Wei Wuxian's wild gesturing as he lectures.

Most of the rambling and hypotheses go over Jiang Cheng's head, but it all sounds hopeful.

"—and so I made this!" Wei Wuxian triumphantly brandishes a long, thin box.

Wen Qing hisses, "don't drop it,” looking exasperated where she hovers on her own sword nearby.

 

Under both Jiang Cheng and Wen Qing's glares, Wei Wuxian returns the box to his robes, muttering about ingratitude and lack of faith and his cat-like reflexes.

"Just… tell me what it is," Jiang Cheng says through gritted teeth.

"Am I going to have to explain it for Sect Leader Nie?"

"Well he's not just going to accept some talisman or whatever that you hand over."

"Then I'll explain when we get there."

"Wei Wuxian—!"

 

Later, they're finally stood in the Great Hall, and Wei Wuxian is explaining, pulling the slim box out of his robes.

It's a clarity bell, Jiang Cheng realises, as the lid slides off, gaze immediately catching on the familiar gleam and shape.

"It's an extra strength clarity bell," Wei Wuxian explains.

"Like the one you made A-Ling?" Jiang Cheng asks.

"Well, inspired by. A-Ling's was useful to do a few useful experiments on."

Jiang Cheng narrows his eyes. "Wei Wuxian, you did not experiment on A-Jie's son."

Wei Wuxian whirls, holding his hands up hurriedly. "Hey, no! Not… really?"

"Not really?"

"Look, just let me—" he explains the theory behind the Yunmeng Jiang bell, some of which Jiang Cheng admittedly hadn't known.

"It'll work to keep your mind clear as far as possible, but it is meant more as a warning system than a cure," Wei Wuxian adds. "It won't be able to clear out really strong resentful energy completely, but it can help you avoid it and act as a bridge back to your conscious, should you need it.” He passes the bell and box to Nie Mingjue, who takes it warily.

"I'm working on a longer-term, more permanent solution, but this should keep you stable until I've figured it out." Wei Wuxian narrows his eyes at Mingjue. "No shidi of mine is going to be a widower. Or half-widower. I don't know how it works, exactly."

Jiang Cheng covers his face with his hand. "Gods, I told you we're not married."

Wei Wuxian smiles impishly. "Not yet."

Exasperation and irritation can't drown out the overwhelming gratitude, and Jiang Cheng wraps his arm around Wei Wuxian’s shoulders, pulling him into an embrace. "Thank you," Jiang Cheng says into his ear. Wei Wuxian’s arm wraps around his waist and squeezes.

They disentangle, and Wei Wuxian starts bouncing on his feet. "Wen-guniang will explain the medical-y bits that I don't understand," he says. "Apparently I'm not allowed to be here for that, so I'll be—" he jerks his thumb over his shoulder and strides out of the hall.

Wen Qing looks at Nie Mingjue with that expression that's not quite a frown, but is at least a reprimand. "You'll have to cut down on training with the saber," she says frankly. "That is, if you want to see fifty."

Mingjue arches an eyebrow, and Jiang Cheng prepares instinctively for the Most Nie men are lucky if they see the other side of fifty, but it doesn't come. Instead, Mingjue jerks a nods, jaw set. "How much?"

"Well, there aren't exactly any studies on this sort of thing, Sect Leader Nie," Wen Qing says dryly. "But I would estimate no more than forty percent of what you used to do. In addition to focused meditation, twice a week."

Jiang Cheng isn't sure if it's the gutted training regimen or the requirement to meditate that has Mingjue exhaling harshly through his nose like a bull. Jiang Cheng’s stomach tenses, sure that Nie Mingjue is going to refuse, to carry on stubbornly in his way.

But then his gaze flickers to Jiang Cheng, and his jaw squares.

"Alright," he says grudgingly.

"If you experience any further symptoms of a qi deviation, you tell me immediately," Wen Qing continues, unfazed. "Or you tell Jiang Wanyin, who will tell me." Jiang Cheng nods in agreement. He trusts Wen Qing, which was the only thing that had made Nie Mingjue grudgingly agree to let Wei Wuxian and Wen Qing do their research.

Mingjue nods again, says, "thank you, Wen-guniang," gruffly. Wen Qing looks slightly startled, but quickly composes herself back to placid neutrality, nods, bows and leaves.

Jiang Cheng moves immediately to cup Nie Mingjue’s face in his hands, pressing his forehead down to Nie Mingjue’s. "Thank you," he murmurs, knowing how much it costs Nie Mingjue to compromise this way, even a little, and that he does so for Jiang Cheng and Huaisang's sakes.

Hopeful joy blooms in Jiang Cheng’s chest. He can't wait for them to tell Huaisang, he'll be so happy. Jiang Cheng takes the bell from Mingjue's lap and ties it to his belt in a mirror of Jiang Cheng's. He runs his fingers over the intricate engravings, imagining the crisp, rippling chime of the bell.

"Well," Mingjue says, mouth quirking in a half smile. "I can't exactly leave Huaisang here alone to deal with you, you're far too high maintenance."

Jiang Cheng hisses at him, "high maintenance?" Mingjue smirks, and Jiang Cheng lets Zidian crackle slightly, eyes narrowing.

"Do you want to be in trouble?" Jiang Cheng asks, and sees the clear answer from Mingjue's widening pupils, the tongue that flicks out to wet his lower lip.

Well, this will be interesting. Jiang Cheng flicks out Zidian into full whip form, tip hitting the floor and scorching it slightly. Jiang Cheng raises his chin in his haughtiest posture.

"Why aren't you on your knees?" He snaps, and his mouth curls, pleased with the speed at which Nie Mingjue moves into position.

They'll have to tell Huaisang… later.

 

---

 

Jiang Cheng wakes in his rooms and Huaisang's not in bed.

Blinking the sleep out of his eyes, he looks around for the other man.

Huaisang's sat at the vanity, warm morning light streaming through the window slats and illuminating the edges of him, soft and glowing.

He's combing his hair and humming under his breath, and Jiang Cheng just props himself up on his elbow and watches.

Huaisang catches sight of his attention in the mirror, and their eyes lock. "Help me?" he asks sweetly, and Jiang Cheng climbs out of bed, of course.

Jiang Cheng stands behind Huaisang and drags the comb easily through his soft, fine hair. Caught on a whim that morphs into a deep desire, Jiang Cheng carefully separates strands of Huaisang's hair into small chunks.

He can see Huaisang watching him curiously in their reflection.

Twisting the strands over one another, Jiang Cheng works more slowly than he does for his own hair, smoothing fly-away strands with lingering touches. The he starts again with the other side of Huaisang's head, working through the symmetrical braid.

He twists the un-braided ends of both sections together, forming one thick braid at the center-back of Huaisang's head. When he reaches the wispy tips of Huaisang's hair, he ties the braid secure and runs his hands through the loose underside of Huaisang's hair.

"Oh," Huaisang breathes. He traces elegant fingers over the Yunmeng Jiang styled braids. "Are we going to match, A-Cheng?"

Jiang Cheng just smiles and presses a kiss to the crown of Huaisang's head.

When they go to take their morning meal, Mingjue's gaze lingers on Huaisang's hair.

"Your hair looks pretty, didi," Mingjue compliments as they sit down to eat.

"Thank you, da-ge, A-Cheng did it for me," Huaisang preens. His eyes light up. "Hey, A-Cheng, if you do da-ge's hair we can match!"

Mingjue laughs. "A-Sang—"

"After breakfast, A-Sang," Jiang Cheng says, hiding a smile in his tea at Mingjue's sharply curious look.

Nie Mingjue isn't easily defeated, however. "Didi, you could braid A-Cheng's hair as well."

Huaisang makes an excitable noise of agreement and Jiang Cheng shoots Mingjue a look of knowing exasperation over his cup, which Mingjue returns with an easy grin.

After breakfast they settle in a line on the floor.

Jiang Cheng sits behind Mingjue, his lover’s back pressed to his chest, his legs bent and spread out so Mingjue can rest between them. Huaisang, in turn, kneels at Jiang Cheng's back, sat on his heels so he can see the top of Jiang Cheng's head.

Time goes fuzzy and unreal as Jiang Cheng gently disentangles Mingjue's thick braids, combing the hair loose with his fingers.

Mingjue lets out a pleased hum as Jiang Cheng’s fingers drag over his scalp. He closes his eyes and tilts his head back, and Jiang Cheng gets momentarily distracted petting him like a cat. And he calls Jiang Cheng a kitten, honestly.

Huaisang's hands on him remind him that he's supposed to be actually braiding Mingjue's hair. Huaisang's elegant fingers card through Jiang Cheng’s hair, separating strands into chunks, winding them tight with deft, practiced movements.

Jiang Cheng drags his own attention back to Mingjue's hair, forever impressed that he always has it so neat in public when it's such a thick, unwieldy mane. Like a lion in every sense, Jiang Cheng thinks fondly, scraping more hair into the braid as he twists the strands around Mingjue's head.

He feels like Huaisang is still going to finish before him, even though the Yunmeng Jiang braiding style is so much simpler than the Qinghe Nie. In his defence, Nie Mingjue has so much hair, but it's very soft, and easy to get distracted with it sifting through his hands.

Jiang Cheng’s head feels slightly heavier than usual, can feel the dense braids being piled on top of it, pinned at the crown.

Huaisang pins the last braids into place with careful movements and smooths the rest of Jiang Cheng's hair down over his shoulders.

He moves around to Jiang Cheng's side and holds some of Mingjue's hair out of the way for him. Jiang Cheng huffs his thanks, and moves around to the other side, twisting a braid from the opposite side of his head.

Eventually, he finally manages to draw the looping braids together, entwining them at the back of Mingjue's head and letting them soften and fade into the rest of his hair.

"Done," Jiang Cheng says triumphantly. Mingjue shifts and turns to face them.

Huaisang makes an awed noise. "Aw, da-ge, you look so soft."

He does, his usual tightly pulled back braids gone, instead most of his hair hanging loosely down his back in soft waves, the small looping braids framing the handsome angles of his face. It's not a practical style for Nie Mingjue, his hair too thick and heavy to wear mostly down all the time, but Jiang Cheng was given free reign, and wanted to see this. A guilty pleasure, perhaps, to get to see Mingjue looking as soft and rumpled as he does when they're abed together, with the addition of Jiang Cheng's braids.

Mingjue's looking at Jiang Cheng, though. "It looks good on you," he says in a gravelled voice, eyes soft and dark.

Jiang Cheng runs his fingers carefully over Huaisang's work, feeling the thick, intricate braids coiled in a bun at the top of his head, follows the path back to his scalp where the braids gently start. His fringe hangs wispily still over the sides of his face, and the underside of his hair, like Mingjue's, falls loose over his shoulders.

"Hey, da-ge," Huaisang says, with that tone of voice that instantly puts Jiang Cheng on edge. "We should see if we can get A-Cheng into Nie robes."

That lights an ember of intrigue in Nie Mingjue's eyes, and Jiang Cheng quickly stands, ignoring the flicker of desire in his stomach. "I have work to do," Jiang Cheng insists, "meetings to go to, I'm not having you distract me with 'oh just try them on, Jiang Cheng', because I know where that'll go."

Somewhere very fun and sweaty, but Jiang Cheng needs to hold on to his good sense whilst he's not dickstracted.

"Aw, baobei," Mingjue says, affecting a sad expression, badly hiding his twitching grin.

"Killjoy," Huaisang whines.

Jiang Cheng rolls his eyes, and escapes out the door, calling back, "I'll see you later. Don't terrorise the arms master, A-Jue. A-Sang, stop trying to convince the juniors they can surf with their swords."

He's sure one or both of them will have concocted some scheme to get him into their robes by the evening, which is a thought that will motivate him through the rest of the day's monotony. He also feels visibly marked by the Nie braids in his hair, as telling as the tug of the smile on the fearsome Sect Leader Jiang’s face.

Happiness lives in him now like an old friend, no long an intruder into the bitter maelstrom of grief and hurt, but a comfortable certainty that he'll fight teeth and nail to keep.

He's not sure what he did in a past life for the fates to bless him with the love of both Nie brothers, but he'll pay it back in this life and any of his next, that much he does know.