Jiang Cheng clenches his jaw when Lan Xichen says those hated words again.
“Stop it,” he hisses, before Lan Xichen is even done speaking and yet again the most heart-breaking look passes Lan Xichen’s face.
“I don’t see why,” he still stubbornly says. “I love you. I should be allowed to say it and you most definitely need to hear it.”
Jiang Cheng grinds his teeth together even though a part of him wishes he could just accept what Lan Xichen tells him.
It would be easier; it would be so easy, actually, to fall into this and wholeheartedly believe Lan Xichen and let himself be happy for a while.
But Jiang Cheng knows himself, knows his own luck in the world, and he is painfully aware that he always turns all the good things into bad things. He’s going to poison Lan Xichen with his bad attitude, just like he poisoned Jin Ling, and then, when he thinks it can’t get worse, Lan Xichen will be snatched away from him.
Everyone who loves Jiang Cheng dies, after all—the only exception so far Jin Ling, but Jiang Cheng is losing him to Wei Wuxian, so really—and he’s not ready to see Lan Xichen bloodied and broken, his smile gone and his shining eyes dulled forever.
Jiang Cheng will not allow it.
And besides; those things are only going to happen if Lan Xichen keeps on insisting that he loves Jiang Cheng, and Lan Xichen is smart.
He’ll realize sooner or later what bad luck Jiang Cheng is, how incredibly cruel and angry he is, how it’s a chore to love him and then he’ll stop.
It’s best Jiang Cheng doesn’t let him spill these words now because he knows himself; despite everything, he will miss them dearly later on.
And Jiang Cheng isn’t sure he can suffer one more loss. It might just break him, this time.
“But you shouldn’t say it to me,” Jiang Cheng insists, because he doesn’t actually want to loose Lan Xichen or hurt him, however inadvertently it would be, but Lan Xichen is getting that stubborn frown on his face that Jiang Cheng learned to fear.
“I didn’t want to do this,” Lan Xichen starts and Jiang Cheng’s heart plummets straight into the ground, because he didn’t think it would be this easy to drive Lan Xichen away from him.
“But?” Jiang Cheng asks with a shaky voice, because if they are doing this, if they are breaking up right now, then Jiang Cheng would rather get it over with.
“There is this spell,” Lan Xichen says and it’s so unlike anything that Jiang Cheng expected that he shakes his head in confusion.
“I don’t understand,” he admits and Lan Xichen leans in to kiss the frown off his face.
Jiang Cheng is helpless against that and he’s ashamed to admit that he leans into it completely.
“It’s a spell that allows you a glimpse of another universe or dimension if I understood it correctly,” Lan Xichen explains and Jiang Cheng’s confusion only grows, because how the hell is that going to help here.
“And we’re going to use it to look at our counterparts in another universe and you’ll see that we’re meant to end up together,” Lan Xichen says as if that makes any sense at all, and Jiang Cheng can only blink at him.
“How would that prove anything?” he demands to know but Lan Xichen nods as if he’s already decided.
“It would show you that we can be happy together, that you deserve that and so much more, and maybe it would appease some of your fears,” Lan Xichen softly tells him and reaches out for his hand.
Jiang Cheng has never actually verbalized any of his fears—only ever insisted that Lan Xichen shouldn’t say he loves him, shouldn’t think of Jiang Cheng as his only option—but it seems like Lan Xichen knows about his fears nonetheless.
“What if we get a glimpse into a world where we are not together or where it ended badly?” Jiang Cheng challenges him, because that is so much more likely, he thinks, but Lan Xichen only smiles at him.
“That’s impossible,” he says, absolute certainty in his voice and Jiang Cheng cannot believe him. “Because I love you, you’re my heart, and where would I be without my heart?” Lan Xichen asks and Jiang Cheng crosses his arms in front of his chest.
“Better off, that’s for sure,” he mutters and now that sad look passes Lan Xichen’s face again.
“I would not be better off without you, Wanyin,” he lowly says, but Jiang Cheng can hear that he’s hurt by Jiang Cheng’s words. “I would never be better off without you, and you’re going to see. I trust what I feel, even though you don’t, and this feeling right here,” he says and pats his chest, right where his heart is, “tells me that we’re meant to be. It’s destiny, no matter if in this universe or another. You’ll see.”
“Fine, whatever, let’s do your stupid spell,” Jiang Cheng says, because he can’t deny that Lan Xichen’s words touched him.
He wishes he could believe it, too, wishes he could just trust that something good was for him and that he’d get to keep it, too.
But going by Jiang Cheng’s experience in life so far, it’s much more likely that it’s being snatched away from him, the moment he starts to let his guard down and Jiang Cheng won’t let that happen.
Lan Xichen deserves so much better.
The preparations for the spell take up more time than Jiang Cheng expected and so it’s only several weeks later that they get to sit down to actually do it.
Weeks, Lan Xichen spent telling Jiang Cheng that he loves him, that he will not leave him; weeks, Jiang Cheng spent avoiding Lan Xichen as best as he could, simply to spare himself the heartache that would surely come from seeing their counterparts, who are most likely not in a relationship.
Jiang Cheng doesn’t understand how Lan Xichen can be this optimistic about it, but he knows better than to hope.
“You’ll see,” Lan Xichen tries to reassure him but Jiang Cheng only nods once.
He wants to get this over with.
Lan Xichen activates the array that let’s them catch glimpses of their counterparts in other dimensions and it takes less time for a clear picture to form than Jiang Cheng would have expected.
What he sees is unmistakably them, but Lan Xichen is not wearing his forehead ribbon and his robes are in Yunmeng Jiang colours. It makes Jiang Cheng’s stomach fill with want.
“See,” Lan Xichen whispers as he reaches for his hand, his eyes glued to the picture in front of them.
They can’t make out the words that are being said, but Lan Xichen is smiling at Jiang Cheng—the impossible soft one, that always makes Jiang Cheng melt, despite all of his fears—and Jiang Cheng smiles back at him, before he suddenly whirls around.
Jiang Cheng’s heart clenches in his chest, because what if something bad is happening to them as they are watching, but then a tiny boy is throwing himself at the Jiang Cheng in the picture who catches him with practiced ease.
Lan Xichen is laughing, as is the boy, and even Jiang Cheng seems more amused than anything, and when the boy makes grabby hands at Lan Xichen, Jiang Cheng hands him over without much fuss.
“A family,” Lan Xichen mutters and raises Jiang Cheng’s hand to press a kiss to the back of it. “Because that’s what you deserve.”
“We don’t know if I deserve anything in that universe,” Jiang Cheng snaps but then his eyes get dragged back to the picture where Lan Xichen says something that makes the boy laugh and Jiang Cheng drops his head to Lan Xichen’s shoulder.
“Oh,” Jiang Cheng says, because it’s clear they are comfortable with each other, and the look on Lan Xichen’s face actually steals his breath away.
He’s half mad that the Jiang Cheng in the picture can’t see it.
Before they can catch more glimpses of this, the picture gets blurry before it forms once again.
This time, the environment is entirely strange, nothing Jiang Cheng has ever seen before, and they are not even wearing their robes, but strange other clothes.
“I wonder what that is,” Lan Xichen mutters and Jiang Cheng nods, because everything looks so alien.
Except for Lan Xichen, Jiang Cheng and the boy again, though this time he’s at least a teenager.
They are having dinner together, laughing and talking—no sight of the no talking during meals rule—and Jiang Cheng throws his head back at something Lan Xichen must have said, or maybe even the kid.
“That’s Jingyi,” Lan Xichen says with wonder, and now that Lan Xichen mentioned it, Jiang Cheng can see the resemblance to Jin Ling’s friend.
“He looks happy,” Jiang Cheng whispers, and Lan Xichen leans over to press a kiss to his cheek.
“As he should with you as his father,” he says and Jiang Cheng shakes his head.
“With us,” he says, though he barely dares to say it out loud, but when Lan Xichen smiles at him, he thinks it might be worth it.
The dinner table gets blurry again, and when they see the next clear picture they see that’s inside of the hanshi.
Jiang Cheng is sitting with Lan Xichen’s head in his lap, Jin Ling curled up against Lan Xichen’s chest and it looks like Jiang Cheng is singing.
“You sing?” Lan Xichen asks, clearly surprised, but Jiang Cheng shakes his head.
“No, I absolutely do not,” he says, even though he had to sing Jin Ling to sleep more than once when he was still little.
But Jiang Cheng isn’t much of a singer and he’s pretty sure he did irreparable damage to Jin Ling’s ears. It would explain a lot, actually.
“Maybe you should sing for me, one of these days,” Lan Xichen says as they watch Jiang Cheng softly card his fingers through Lan Xichen’s hair, a look full of love directed at the still sleeping man in his lap.
“Maybe,” Jiang Cheng says, completely touched by the soft atmosphere in the picture and he’s actually mad when it gets blurry again.
When it focuses again, it’s to a Jiang Cheng hugging something that looks like it came straight out of one of the ghost stories Lan Jingyi fears so much and Jiang Cheng actually jerks back a bit. Those are way too many eyes for Jiang Cheng to be comfortable with.
“What the hell is that?” he asks, though of course Lan Xichen doesn’t know the answer to that.
But they are given the answer when not even a second later the black form changes and suddenly it’s Lan Xichen standing there, being hugged by Jiang Cheng.
“What the fuck,” Jiang Cheng whispers and even Lan Xichen seems mildly panicked.
“Is that really me?” he asks and he leans close to take a better look at the picture, but it’s unmistakable Lan Xichen, forehead ribbon and all.
“Please tell me that you’re human,” Jiang Cheng rushes out and Lan Xichen nods his head immediately.
“I swear, I am just a simple man.”
“You’re anything but simple,” Jiang Cheng grumbles, but he is strangely touched to think that there is a universe out there where Lan Xichen isn’t even human—is something objectively monstrous, even—but they still end up together.
Just when Jiang Cheng leans closer to see if he can catch another glimpse at Lan Xichen’s other form, he notices a small bundle in Lan Xichen’s arms.
“Is that a baby?” Jiang Cheng breathes out and Lan Xichen leans closer to the picture as well.
“It looks like it,” he gives back and then sucks in a surprised breath when a tentacle comes out of the bundle in Lan Xichen’s arms.
“Is that your baby?” Jiang Cheng asks and Lan Xichen immediately shakes his head, even before the Jiang Cheng in the picture leans in to tickle the bundle.
“It looks like it’s ours,” Lan Xichen says and leans over to press a kiss to Jiang Cheng’s temple. “Because that’s what you deserve.”
“It has eyes and jaws!” Jiang Cheng exclaims but he can’t be afraid of it, not when the Lan Xichen and Jiang Cheng in the picture look at it with so much love on their faces.
“It’s kind of adorable,” Lan Xichen mutters and Jiang Cheng silently has to agree.
It is rather adorable, especially given as it seems they are a rather happy family.
Jiang Cheng leans closer to the image, hoping to catch another glance, but then the picture changes again.
Jiang Cheng jerks when he sees himself, bloodied and broken in Lan Xichen’s lap, who is clearly screaming at him to not die.
“There we go,” Jiang Cheng whispers and Lan Xichen only squeezes his hand.
“Wait,” he says as if the gruesome sight in front of them could turn into anything good, but then a blinding light enters the picture and it seems to come directly from Jiang Cheng.
“What just happened?” Jiang Cheng asks when the light fades and the Jiang Cheng in the picture is standing again, healed and whole and clearly pissed as all hell.
“I believe you just turned into a god,” Lan Xichen muses and Jiang Cheng can only gape at the picture. “I’d guess I am one, too,” Lan Xichen goes on, and that Jiang Cheng believes without a second of hesitation.
Before they can see what Jiang Cheng is going to do to Wen Ruohan—really, does every universe need a bastard like him—the picture changes again.
This time it’s Lan Xichen who is in Jiang Cheng’s lap, bloodied and broken, but still smiling up at Jiang Cheng, his lips red.
Jiang Cheng seems devastated—as he should, Jiang Cheng thinks, because that is his every fear right in front of him—tears flowing down his face and then Lan Xichen goes slack.
“I knew it,” Jiang Cheng bitterly says and Lan Xichen seems too shocked to say anything.
It seems like even his endless optimism has its limits.
The picture suddenly starts to move faster than they can track, and when it next goes clear it’s in that strange world again, where everything seems so very different.
Lan Xichen comes into view, sitting behind a huge desk, and then suddenly Jiang Cheng is walking into the room.
If Jiang Cheng had to guess, he’d say he’s looking at reincarnations of themselves.
Jiang Cheng and Lan Xichen both freeze in the picture and then Jiang Cheng stalks across the room until he can fist his hands into the clothes Lan Xichen is wearing.
They seem to be having a bit of an argument, before Jiang Cheng’s face falls with grief and he hides his face in Lan Xichen’s chest, who presses a kiss to his head.
“I knew it,” Lan Xichen says with a small smile and the array suddenly breaks.
It seems like the spell ran its course.
“I told you,” Lan Xichen says immediately as he turns around to Jiang Cheng. “I love you, no matter what universe we’re in.”
Jiang Cheng has to admit that Lan Xichen seems to be right, but what really gets to Jiang Cheng is that he got a happy end with Lan Xichen every time.
“I never doubted that you love me now,” Jiang Cheng quietly admits and it’s the first time he’s giving voice to it. “I just always expect you to stop loving me. Or if that doesn’t happen then I fear that the world is going to take you from me.”
“But it won’t happen,” Lan Xichen says and cups Jiang Cheng’s cheek in his hand. “And even if it does, we’ll find our way back to each other.”
Jiang Cheng has to admit that the last life they saw in the spell seems to prove Lan Xichen right. The unthinkable happened; Jiang Cheng lost Lan Xichen, but then he found him again, even though it took him a while.
“Won’t you give us a true chance, my heart?” Lan Xichen wants to know and leans their foreheads together. “Won’t you stop holding part of yourself back?”
Jiang Cheng is not ashamed to admit that his next breath sounds like a sob and he hugs Lan Xichen close, moves so that he can hide his face in Lan Xichen’s neck.
“I love you,” he admits, for the very first time since they got together and he can practically feel how Lan Xichen glows with happiness.
“I love you, too,” he gives back and the words soothe over some hurt part inside of Jiang Cheng because he knows that the universe wants them to be together; that life won’t be so cruel as to take Lan Xichen permanently away from him as well.
It really does soothe Jiang Cheng’s mind to know that they are destined to be together.