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Jiang Cheng is fading, and he’s fading fast.

He knows the solution to his problem—and it would be so easy, too—but he can’t bring himself to do it.

His parents have always been very adamant that he is to keep his nature a secret, that no one outside their family can ever know that Jiang Cheng isn’t entirely human, and while it had been fine when he still had family to feed upon, now it’s entirely different.

His family is dead—or missing, in Wei Wuxian’s case—and Jiang Cheng has no one left to feed on.

He tried to feed on himself, and his core is strong, so it even worked for almost a year, but it seems like there’s a limit to how long he can cheat his nature and it seems like he reached it.

Jiang Cheng has always been pale but it’s getting more pronounced lately, the shadows under his eyes slowly but surely sliding into bruises and he feels cold all the time now.

And that’s not even mentioning the constantly shaking hands and the gnawing hunger in his stomach, or his short fuse and memory problems.

Jiang Cheng doesn’t have long now, it seems, and yet he can’t bring himself to simply feed on someone else.

It would be easy, too, he knows it; there are people out there who get off on this kind of thing, he and Wei Wuxian used to make fun of it, but the thought to drink from one of these people now makes his stomach turn.

Jiang Cheng never fed on anyone who wasn’t family, who didn’t love him, and he doesn’t think he’s about to start now.

He’d rather fade.

“You have your brooding face on,” Nie Huaisang says suddenly, slapping Jiang Cheng’s arm with his fan and it hurts, much more than it should, but it’s just one more sign of Jiang Cheng’s weakness.

“I’m not brooding,” Jiang Cheng shoots back, a moment too slow, even he notices it, and Nie Huaisang narrows his eyes at him.

“You’re always brooding, but today it’s worse,” Nie Huaisang says and his eyes are twinkling. “What’s going on?” he asks and Jiang Cheng debates for a moment if he should share his secret with Nie Huaisang.

Nie Huaisang has known him for so long already, it’s unlikely that he’ll simply turn away from Jiang Cheng when he learns that he is actually a vampire, but then Jiang Cheng hears his mother’s voice inside of his head, telling him to always guard his secret no matter what.

In the end, he can’t bring himself to do it.

“Nothing is going on,” Jiang Cheng tells him, and he balls his hands into fists to hide how they are shaking. “I’m fine.”

“The bruises under your eyes tell a very different story,” Nie Huaisang says, and he’s not quick enough to snap open his fan to hide the calculating look on his face. “But if you say you’re alright, then I’ll believe you.”

“Good,” Jiang Cheng mutters. “Because I am.”

He is not, but he guesses that will be something he takes with him to his grave.

~*~*~

Jiang Cheng has no real reason to not attend dinner with Nie Huaisang and Nie Mingjue so he finds himself at a table with them not even a few days later.

The food looks delicious, but the smell makes Jiang Cheng’s stomach turn and he knows that it will only get worse when he takes a bite.

It seems like his vampire nature is overruling the human part in him, because lately Jiang Cheng has find it impossible to keep normal food down.

He is so desperate for some blood that he almost fed on a stray cat the other day and Jiang Cheng shudders just thinking about it. He came to his senses seconds before he sank his teeth into the poor thing and since then Jiang Cheng opted to stay at home.

At least there he doesn’t get tempted; at least there it won’t show how weak he is.

Jiang Cheng had wanted to cancel dinner with the Nie’s but he knows them well enough to know that if he doesn’t attend dinner with them, they will bring dinner to him.

And having them in his own home is a temptation Jiang Cheng really doesn’t need right now, especially with his fraying control.

“You are brooding,” Nie Huaisang accuses him over dinner and Nie Mingjue sends him a thoughtful look.

“Am not,” Jiang Cheng gives back and takes a bite, simply to seem normal.

It tastes like ash on his tongue and he knows it won’t sustain him at all.

He’s always hungry these days.

“Something is wrong,” Nie Huaisang mutters and Nie Mingjue doesn’t take his eyes off Jiang Cheng, making him squirm in his seat.

“You do look sick,” he says and Jiang Cheng shrugs.

“Just some kind of bug,” he tries to lie but Nie Mingjue narrows his eyes at him and Jiang Cheng knows he doesn’t believe him one word.

Jiang Cheng can feel his fangs start to itch, because Nie Mingjue is right there, and while Nie Huaisang always smelt a little bit off to Jiang Cheng, the opposite is the case with Nie Mingjue.

He smells particularly mouth-watering to Jiang Cheng, who has a hard time tearing his eyes away from Nie Mingjue’s neck.

It’s rude to stare, Jiang Cheng knows that, and he tries his best not to do it too much.

It doesn’t help at all that Nie Mingjue is one of the most gorgeous people Jiang Cheng has ever laid eyes upon and that Jiang Cheng has a bit of a crush on him.

Or is in love with him, he thinks, and then pushes that thought away.

It doesn’t matter. Jiang Cheng doesn’t think he’s going to make it to the end of the month.

“That’s it,” Nie Huaisang suddenly decides and pushes his food away.

Jiang Cheng realizes with a start that he has been listlessly moving the same piece of vegetable around his bowl for the last five minutes or so.

“You’re not going home tonight,” Nie Huaisang tells Jiang Cheng, pointing an accusing finger at him.

“What? Of course I’m going home tonight,” he protests but even Nie Mingjue is shaking his head at him.

“You look like you’re going to fall over any minute now, and you’re alone at home. We’re not taking that chance,” Nie Mingjue easily says and gets up.

“Follow me, I’ll show you to the guest room, you look like you’re falling asleep where you’re sitting.”

That’s always the case lately, but Jiang Cheng can’t really tell them that, so he does as Nie Mingjue orders.

Jiang Cheng sways on his feet when he gets up and it’s only Nie Mingjue’s steadying hand at his elbow that prevents Jiang Cheng from faceplanting into the ground.

“You’re ice cold,” Nie Mingjue says, and pulls Jiang Cheng closer, apparently to share some of his body warmth, but all it does is make Jiang Cheng more hungry.

Nie Mingjue is so warm and so close and he smells so good and Jiang Cheng leans forward without conscious thought.

“Wanyin?” Nie Mingjue asks warily when Jiang Cheng’s face is almost at his neck and Jiang Cheng moves back with a start.

“Fuck, sorry, I don’t know what’s wrong,” he tries to explain. “Everything is kind of fuzzy,” he adds, much more honest and Nie Mingjue’s gaze only speaks of worry.

“I see,” Nie Huaisang says behind them, a strange quality to his voice and Nie Mingjue tenses at his side.

“Come on, Wanyin, let’s get you into a bed,” Nie Mingjue says and starts to lead him away from the dining table and Jiang Cheng has enough brain power left to not make an inappropriate joke about that.

When they reach the room and Nie Mingjue carefully sits him down on the bed, Jiang Cheng falls over almost immediately and then he doesn’t move again.

He is fine staying right here, until he dies, he decides and closes his eyes.

Nie Mingjue fusses over him a few more seconds, pulling a blanket over him as well as wrangling a pillow under Jiang Cheng’s head and then there’s only the soft click of the door telling Jiang Cheng that he left.

When Nie Mingjue’s warmth and smell leave the room as well, Jiang Cheng starts to shiver uncontrollably and he can’t make it stop.

His stomach twists itself painfully and Jiang Cheng figures that he might have been optimistic when he thought he could make it to the end of the month.

He’s probably lucky if he can reach the end of the week.

Jiang Cheng debates for a second if he should try to feed on himself again, but the last few times he tried, he threw up afterwards and the bites took days to heal, only adding to his general poor state of being and Jiang Cheng thinks it’s not worth it.

If he doesn’t feed at all, he might fade sooner rather than later and at this point that’s preferable to prolonging it.

Jiang Cheng just managed to curl up into a miserable ball under the blanket when the door opens again.

Jiang Cheng doesn’t have to stick his head out from under the blanket or drag his eyes back open to know that it’s Nie Mingjue who came back.

“Huaisang says you need to feed,” Nie Mingjue says without warning and Jiang Cheng goes very, very still under the blanket.

“I just ate,” he croaks out, hoping that this is not at all leading to what Jiang Cheng fears it’s leading to, but when Nie Mingjue huffs out a laugh he knows he’s wrong.

“That can barely be qualified as eating,” Nie Mingjue chides him and sits down on the bed. “I think Huaisang has fae blood in him,” he then says and Jiang Cheng frowns.

There are not many fae’s around anymore.

“I’m not sure, because his mother vanished after his birth, but when Huaisang sees something I learned that it’s better that I listen to him,” Nie Mingjue explains and puts a hand on Jiang Cheng’s form under the blanket.

“And he says you need to feed or you’ll be dead by the end of the week.”

Ah, so he won’t make the whole month, then.

“I’m guessing he doesn’t mean human food,” Nie Mingjue goes on and he doesn’t sound upset or mad at all. “Tell me what you need.”

Jiang Cheng screws his eyes shut, hopes that he can just fade right now, because he never before had to tell someone what he was and he’s not sure he can start with it now.

“Nothing,” Jiang Cheng mumbles but of course Nie Mingjue doesn’t believe him.

“Wanyin, what do you need?” he asks again, softer this time, and he gently pulls the blanket from Jiang Cheng’s head. “How can I help?”

Jiang Cheng doesn’t dare to look at him, too afraid that his eyes are already transformed, because his fangs are mostly out already and Jiang Cheng buries his face in his hands.

“Go away,” he says, and the words come out strange because Jiang Cheng is not at all used to talking with his fangs.

“No,” Nie Mingjue insists. “I will not go until you tell me what you need.”

He doesn’t go so far to pry Jiang Cheng’s hands away from his face, but Jiang Cheng knows it’s only a matter of time because Nie Huaisang certainly didn’t get his stubbornness from his mother.

Well, Jiang Cheng is going to die soon enough, so it doesn’t really matter all that much if he drives his only remaining friends away and so he simply takes his hands away and opens his eyes. He even bares his teeth for good measure, too, but Nie Mingjue only meets his gaze evenly.

“You’re a vampire,” he says, and he doesn’t seem as shocked as he should be. “There’s some shifter blood on my father’s side, though it skipped my generation,” Nie Mingjue explains with a shrug and Jiang Cheng can only stare at him.

He never before met anyone who wasn’t entirely human or who knew that other creatures were out there and he doesn’t know how to react to this at all.

“Why are you not feeding?” Nie Mingjue asks and he reaches out to cup Jiang Cheng’s cheek in his hand. “You’re fading because you’re not, right?”

“Yes,” Jiang Cheng admits and he can’t look at Nie Mingjue, too tempted by him this close. “My parents made it very clear that I can never reveal my true nature to anyone. I only ever fed on my family, on those who love me. I can’t—not with someone else,” Jiang Cheng chokes out and buries his face in the pillow.

“You’re going to die if you don’t feed,” Nie Mingjue says, and he sounds worried.

“It doesn’t matter,” Jiang Cheng mutters. “There’s no family left.”

There’s a long pause, and if it wasn’t for the hand still on his face then Jiang Cheng would think Nie Mingjue isn’t with him in the room at all.

“What about those who love you?” Nie Mingjue asks and Jiang Cheng scoffs.

“All dead as well,” he spits out, because even though Wei Wuxian is technically missing, Jiang Cheng is sure that if he loved Jiang Cheng, he would be here.

Or he would have come back to get Jiang Cheng.

No, there’s no one left in the world who loves Jiang Cheng. No one left who he can feed from without feeling like he’s taking something by force.

“I feel very alive,” Nie Mingjue says and it’s so far away from everything Jiang Cheng expected that he sits up.

“What?” he demands to know, because if he already slipped into the hallucination part of his end, then this could be really bad.

“I love you,” Nie Mingjue says with a shrug, not quite meeting his eyes. “I didn’t say anything because I thought it would only put more pressure on you, especially in the last year, but I do.”

Jiang Cheng’s stomach twists for entirely different reasons now and Jiang Cheng knows that if he was even a little bit healthier he would be blushing like crazy right now.

“Don’t just say that because your brother thinks I’m dying,” he still spits out because he’s not going to take some pity confession from Nie Mingjue but he’s not at all prepared for the hard look Nie Mingjue gives him at that.

“If I knew you felt the same, if I could have been certain it wouldn’t put you in a tight spot I would have confessed years ago,” Nie Mingjue tells him and Jiang Cheng might have to believe him.

He sounds sincere enough.

“I do,” Jiang Cheng says, although he’s already lipping his lips in anticipation. “I do feel the same.”

“Then won’t you feed on me?” Nie Mingjue asks and tilts his head, just the slightest bit, just enough to draw Jiang Cheng’s eyes to his neck.

“No,” Jiang Cheng gets out, voice strangled because he does want that, but he can’t.

He doesn’t trust himself; it’s been too long to think he would have any control left and he’s not going to hurt Nie Mingjue.

“Yes,” Nie Mingjue decidedly says and then one of his large hands is at the back of Jiang Cheng’s head, guiding him closer to his neck.

“Mingjue,” Jiang Cheng weakly tries, but he’s too drained to put up much of a fight, too powerless to simply pull away, and when his lips touch Nie Mingjue’s skin he knows that he has lost.

“Please, Wanyin,” Nie Mingjue whispers and it tears right through Jiang Cheng’s self-control, because the next thing he knows he has his fangs in Nie Mingjue’s neck and his warm, hot blood is filling his mouth.

Jiang Cheng is biting down hard, before he remembers himself and gentles the bite, but the blood is still flowing and Jiang Cheng can barely swallow it all down, it comes so fast.

He feels it healing himself, feels it filling him up and Jiang Cheng forgot how good this felt, how good it tastes even, and he groans.

Nie Mingjue groans in answer as well and Jiang Cheng remembers with a start that he can’t take too much, that he needs to be careful. He allows himself five more seconds and then he pulls away, licking over the wound he made to seal it.

“You’re not done,” Nie Mingjue says, keeping his hand right where it is, and despite how much better Jiang Cheng feels now, he’s still not strong enough to pull away.

“I’m not,” Jiang Cheng admits and it’s only then that Nie Mingjue gentles his hold on him. “But I haven’t fed in a long while, I’m not sure I can stomach more,” Jiang Cheng admits and Nie Mingjue finally allows him to pull away.

He doesn’t seem freaked out or completely drained, and Jiang Cheng relaxes when Nie Mingjue smiles at him.

“Okay,” he agrees and puts his hand back to Jiang Cheng’s neck. “Come here,” he then whispers and slightly pulls Jiang Cheng closer.

It takes Jiang Cheng a moment to realize what his intention is—he was ready to struggle if Nie Mingjue should lead him back to his neck—but when Nie Mingjue touches their lips together, Jiang Cheng jerks away, too.

“Don’t,” he says, because he can still taste Nie Mingjue’s blood on his tongue and he doesn’t want him to freak out after all.

“I don’t mind,” Nie Mingjue honestly tells him and doesn’t wait for a response, just brings their lips more firmly together.

And this time, Jiang Cheng doesn’t have a reason to deny him this. All thoughts of worry flee his head the moment Nie Mingjue coaxes his lips open and Jiang Cheng loses himself in the kiss.

At least right until Nie Huaisang barges in.

“Ew,” he immediately says, but doesn’t actually leave. “I see the more important needs have been sated,” he then says with a meaningful look to Nie Mingjue’s neck and Jiang Cheng goes red in the face.

He kind of revels in the fact that he can blush again.

“Now get out here to eat some human food, you need that, too,” Nie Huaisang then orders him and Nie Mingjue hides his chuckles in Jiang Cheng’s hair.

“Fine, go away,” Jiang Cheng groans and Nie Huaisang winks at him before he rushes out of the room again.

He does not close the door behind him.

“He’s right,” Nie Mingjue says into Jiang Cheng’s temple. “You need to eat human food, too.”

As if on cue, Jiang Cheng’s stomach grumbles and Jiang Cheng groans.

“I know,” he admits but he’s reluctant to pull away from Nie Mingjue.

“I’ll still be here,” Nie Mingjue reassures him, clearly noticing where Jiang Cheng’s thoughts went to and Jiang Cheng leans in for another soft kiss.

“Okay,” Jiang Cheng agrees and then pulls Nie Mingjue after him out of the room.

He’ll get some human food in him, and then he’ll take a very long nap and if he gets really lucky Nie Mingjue will be there when he wakes up and might even let Jiang Cheng feed on him again.

“Whatever you need,” Nie Mingjue says, and Jiang Cheng narrows his eyes at him because if Nie Mingjue can read his thoughts they are going to have some words. “I can’t,” Nie Mingjue tells him, making Jiang Cheng even more suspicious but Nie Mingjue only laughs.

“Come on, I want to take a nap, too,” he tells Jiang Cheng and now it’s him dragging Jiang Cheng along.

If this is how Jiang Cheng’s life is going to be from now on—with an annoying best friend who has the worst timing and a boyfriend who may or may not be able to read his thoughts—then Jiang Cheng is more than fine with that.