In retrospect, Jiang Cheng should have known that accepting anyone with the surname Lan into his class would backfire spectacularly.
But Jiang Cheng had thought that he was too far away from his hometown for Lan Jingyi to be one of those Lans, and then he had reasoned that if Lan Jingyi really was one of those Lans, he would not be signed up for his class.
Jiang Cheng wasn’t teaching a competitive class after all. He was just there to let the kids have some supervised fun and surely, with the history the Lans had, they wouldn’t even consider a class like this for one of their kids.
It is all biting him in the ass now and Jiang Cheng can’t even be mad with how Lan Jingyi’s big eyes stare up at him.
“Are you the dancer, mister?” Lan Jingyi asks him, clutching to his leg and Jiang Cheng smiles down at him.
“I should think so, since I am teaching your class,” Jiang Cheng gives back and hopes to all the gods he knows that this is what Lan Jingyi means.
But of course no one is listening to him.
“No, no, you’re the one with the pretty costumes and the short hair,” Lan Jingyi says petulantly and pouts at him. “The one my daddy says danced like you weren’t from earth.”
Jiang Cheng snorts at that, because he had been good, back in the day, but certainly not that good, world champion or not.
“I’m absolutely not that one,” Jiang Cheng says, but privately he wonders who of the Lans managed to get an inquisitive kid like this.
It seems unlikely that Lan Wangji would produce offspring like this, but Jiang Cheng doesn’t even dare to think that this could be Lan Xichen’s kid. The thought of Lan Xichen being with someone else still stings, even after all these years.
“But you look exactly like him,” Lan Jingyi insists. “I should know because my daddy keeps watching your videos.”
Okay, the kid definitely has the wrong person, because no Lan would ever re-watch his competitions.
“But I think your name was different,” Lan Jingyi muses and Jiang Cheng freezes at that.
He did compete as Jiang Wanyin, back in the day, whereas he is now teaching as Jiang Cheng.
“Listen, kid, I’m really not that person,” Jiang Cheng still tries, but Lan Jingyi shakes his head.
“You are, and my dad will know,” he gives back and then pats Jiang Cheng’s leg. “Thank you for today, mister,” he then politely adds and dashes off, leaving a stunned Jiang Cheng behind.
Jiang Cheng moved away from home for a reason, the same reason as to why he keeps his location a secret and never talks to his parents, and he refuses to believe that a random kid in one of his classes would recognize him.
Jiang Cheng has half a mind to call Jiang Yanli to inquire about the whereabouts of the Lans, but he stops himself.
It would only raise questions he is not ready to answer, and if Jiang Yanli knows that one of the Lans moved away and has a kid then she will know where that Lan moved to as well and then she’ll be able to find Jiang Cheng.
And for all that he loves his sister, he does not want to be found.
Besides. It’s probably nothing, Jiang Cheng rationalizes and tries to put the whole thing out of his mind.
Of course it’s not nothing. Of fucking course.
Lan Jingyi seems to be vibrating out of his skin the entire next lesson and Jiang Cheng stares at him suspiciously.
He barely finished the class when Lan Jingyi already runs up to him.
“Mister dancer, I brought my daddy today!” Lan Jingyi excitedly yells and Jiang Cheng goes cold at that.
“You what?” he presses out and immediately starts to look around, but he can’t find anyone.
“I told him about you and he said he wanted to see for himself, so he’s here today!”
“Oh,” Jiang Cheng breathes out and his tone must finally clue Lan Jingyi in on the fact that something is wrong.
“Are you okay, mister?” he asks and Jiang Cheng weakly nods his head even though he feels anything but.
“Fine,” he gets out and pats Lan Jingyi’s head but it doesn’t stop the frown on Lan Jingyi’s face.
“I’ll go get him, you stay right here!” Lan Jingyi declares and dashes off.
Jiang Cheng feels the distinct need to sit down—he managed to avoid something like this for three years and now one kid brought it all down on his head—but before he can simply sink to the floor, Lan Jingyi is back.
And he has Lan Xichen in tow.
“Oh, fuck,” Jiang Cheng mutters under his breath but there is no use in hiding and no use in pretending because Lan Xichen recognized him the moment he laid eyes on him, Jiang Cheng can see that.
“Wanyin,” Lan Xichen breathes out and Lan Jingyi beams.
“See, daddy, I told you it was him!”
“And I should have believed you,” Lan Xichen says as he puts a hand to Lan Jingyi’s head, but he doesn’t take his eyes off Jiang Cheng.
“Xichen,” Jiang Cheng greets in return and he wishes himself far, far away from here.
He hadn’t known that Lan Xichen has a son, and going by his age Lan Jingyi was around long before Lan Xichen left, since he’s definitely older than four. His stomach twists unpleasantly at that thought.
“It’s nice to see you again,” Lan Xichen says and Jiang Cheng can’t help the snort he lets out.
“Oh, really?” he asks, voice much more bitter than he would like, and Lan Xichen’s face twists when he hears it.
“Really,” he still says, and Jiang Cheng wants to believe him—gods, does he ever—but it’s been four years since he last saw Lan Xichen, so he probably shouldn’t.
“Daddy?” Lan Jingyi asks, clearly picking up on the somewhat strained atmosphere and Lan Xichen jumps slightly.
“Why don’t you get changed, kiddo?” he suggests and while it seems that leaving the situation is the last thing Lan Jingyi wants to do, he eventually shuffles off.
“You have a kid,” is the first thing Jiang Cheng says, even though he doesn’t want to talk about this at all, but it just slips out.
“Wanyin,” Lan Xichen starts, but Jiang Cheng shakes his head.
“It doesn’t matter,” he mutters and turns away from Lan Xichen.
“It does. But I don’t want to explain it here,” Lan Xichen says and reaches for Jiang Cheng’s hand. “Let’s go out for coffee.”
“I have another lesson,” Jiang Cheng tells him, but when he looks back Lan Xichen shakes his head.
“And I have Jingyi now. I was thinking another day?”
Jiang Cheng wants to tell him no, wants to brush him off and forget that this ever happened, but he finds himself nodding.
“My last class on Thursday ends at two in the afternoon, if that works for you?” he asks and Lan Xichen nods.
“It does. I’ll pick you up here then?”
Jiang Cheng doesn’t want that, but now Lan Xichen already knows where he works, so what the hell. It’s better than him coming to his home, after all.
“Sure,” Jiang Cheng bites out and then lets out a relieved breath when the students of his next class come in.
“I have to—” Jiang Cheng says apologetically and points to the students and Lan Xichen gives him a small smile.
“Of course,” he agrees. “See you on Thursday, then.”
Jiang Cheng doesn’t wait for Lan Xichen to leave; he simply turns away from him and walks towards the front of the class.
He hopes Thursday never comes around.
Thursday comes around quicker than Jiang Cheng would have liked. Jiang Cheng is just done with his Zumba class, when he spots Lan Xichen at the entrance of the gym.
Great, Jiang Cheng thinks, and he almost feels sick when he imagines how disappointed Lan Xichen must be now that he has seen him like this.
There is a reason Jiang Cheng has left his family, cut all ties with them, and disappointment is ranking pretty high.
Jiang Cheng feels himself tense up but when Lan Xichen enters the gym, he smiles at him.
“What?” he snaps out at Lan Xichen, who doesn’t seem to take offense at his tone.
“You still dance as beautifully as ever,” Lan Xichen gives back and Jiang Cheng scoffs.
“Yeah, right,” he says, because he knows that he doesn’t.
Too much has changed by now.
“Your form might not be as impeccable as it used to be, but dancing gives you joy, that much is obvious. It wasn’t towards the end of your career, but now I see that you still love it.”
“And what does it matter, if I waste my talents like this?” Jiang Cheng bites out, and the words grate more on him than he’d like to admit.
He thought he left this mindset from his mother behind long ago.
“If it gives you joy, then it’s not wasted. You love that you do, how could that be bad?” Lan Xichen shoots back, but Jiang Cheng doesn’t want to hear this.
He knows he is nothing more than a disappointment.
“I have to get changed, I’ll be back in a bit,” Jiang Cheng tells Lan Xichen instead of continuing this talk and he’s glad to get away, if even for a bit.
He would love to do nothing more than to take his time changing, but he knows that Lan Xichen will wait for him, so he hurries up and after a quick shower and a change of clothes, he’s back with Lan Xichen.
“Where do you want to go?” he wants to know, not able to meet Lan Xichen’s eyes and he points down the road.
“The coffee shop there is supposed to be good,” Lan Xichen tells him and gently takes Jiang Cheng’s elbow in his hand. “But you don’t have to if you really don’t want to.”
Jiang Cheng works his jaw; he forgot how well Lan Xichen could read him. He really doesn’t want to do this, doesn’t want to talk about their past, but Jiang Cheng figures if they do this now then they can go back to being two strangers in a city, pretending like they never even met at all.
“No, it’s fine,” Jiang Cheng mutters and starts to walk towards the coffee shop.
The walk there is silent, for which Jiang Cheng is grateful. He wouldn’t know what to say anyway.
They order their drinks and when Lan Xichen insists on paying, Jiang Cheng is too tired to protest.
He should probably reserve his energy for the talk anyway.
“How have you been?” Lan Xichen asks as soon as they sit down and Jiang Cheng presses his lips together.
“How about we skip the niceties and you tell me what you want,” he snaps at Lan Xichen, though his heart gives a painful thud when he sees how Lan Xichen’s mouth twists at that.
“I didn’t know you lived in this city,” Lan Xichen starts and Jiang Cheng shrugs.
“No one knows I’m living here, so you’re not special.”
“Wanyin,” Lan Xichen whispers and Jiang Cheng wants to get up and leave or lean over the table to hug Lan Xichen.
He forces himself to stay put.
“Lan Xichen,” Jiang Cheng shoots back instead and the satisfaction at seeing Lan Xichen flinch at that is a very hollow feeling.
“I’m sorry for leaving like that,” Lan Xichen says, staring into his drink rather than at Jiang Cheng and Jiang Cheng clicks his tongue.
“Well, it doesn’t matter, right? Clearly whatever was between us was not important.”
It cuts Jiang Cheng to say it like that, because it was the most important thing to him back then, but when Lan Xichen simply left without a word or a forwarding address, Jiang Cheng had to face the truth that Lan Xichen didn’t feel the same.
“It was important,” Lan Xichen whispers and Jiang Cheng flinches. “It still is.”
“Don’t say that,” Jiang Cheng snaps. “If you really think that then you leaving is even worse. How about we just pretend that you never cared for me and we can both go on with our lives.”
“No,” Lan Xichen says and Jiang Cheng is taken aback at how decisive it sounds. “I loved you, and I still love you. I’m not going to pretend otherwise.”
Jiang Cheng’s heart beats faster at hearting that, but Jiang Cheng doesn’t dare to trust it.
“We were barely even together,” he gives back, because they never really did cross the border from flirting and clear interest into something more.
One kiss doesn’t count for anything after all.
“That doesn’t mean my feelings aren’t true,” Lan Xichen whispers and he gives Jiang Cheng a weak smile. “I always regretted that I didn’t tell you when I still had the chance.”
Jiang Cheng wants to believe him—gods, he wants to believe him so badly—but there is still another matter.
“You have a child,” Jiang Cheng says, and that hurts more than anything.
Lan Jingyi must have already been around when they started whatever they had, and Lan Xichen never thought Jiang Cheng important enough to mention that to him.
“He’s my cousin,” Lan Xichen says and effectively stuns Jiang Cheng.
“He’s what?” he croaks out and Lan Xichen reaches out to gently take his hand in his.
“I would never keep something like that from you,” Lan Xichen promises and Jiang Cheng has to look away.
But he’s not strong enough to take his hand back.
“You didn’t bother to say goodbye or tell me that you were leaving at all, so—” he trails off with a shrug.
“His parents were killed,” Lan Xichen tells him. “They were promising dancers, on their way to the next competition when they had a mysterious accident. The FBI got involved and they thought that Jingyi was the next target, despite his age. We had to keep him safe.”
“So you adopted him?”
“And then they put me into a witness protection program. I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone where I was going. I only started speaking to Wangji again a few weeks back.”
“Oh,” Jiang Cheng breathes out.
He might have left his family and dancing behind, but he still keeps track of the most important news. So of course he knows that the FBI arrested almost all of the Wens a few weeks back.
“The Wens killed his parents?”
“Yes. The FBI contacted me shortly after they made the arrests. They said I can go back in a few months. And I would have come to find you,” Lan Xichen tells him and despite everything Jiang Cheng knows now, he finds that hard to believe and he doesn’t dare to hope.
“It doesn’t matter,” Jiang Cheng dismissively says. “I’m not going back, so I guess that’s it, then.”
Lan Xichen looks like he wants to say something, but Jiang Cheng cuts him off when he stands up.
“Thanks for the coffee,” he courtly says and then walks out on Lan Xichen without a look back.
It doesn’t matter if what Lan Xichen said is true. He’s going back to the world Jiang Cheng left behind, so there is no place for him by Lan Xichen’s side.
It hurts just as much as the first time.
“What do you want?” Jiang Cheng gruffly asks, when Lan Xichen shows up at his work place again.
“To invite you to dinner,” Lan Xichen easily gives back and Jiang Cheng snorts.
“Coffee wasn’t disastrous enough for you?”
“No. It never is, with you,” Lan Xichen says and Jiang Cheng hates himself a little bit for how easily he’s swayed.
“What about Jingyi?”
“He’s staying with a friend,” Lan Xichen tells him but the small smile on his face shows that he knows he already won.
Jiang Cheng always had problems saying no to him.
“It won’t change anything,” Jiang Cheng informs him, but Lan Xichen only shrugs.
“We’ll see about that. But if you really believe that, then there’s no reason for you to say no.”
“There’s no reason for me to say yes either,” Jiang Cheng shoots back, but he is weak for Lan Xichen, always has been, so of course he’s going to say yes.
He can mend his broken heart again later.
“Fine,” he finally snaps out when Lan Xichen simply waits him out. “When?”
“Tonight. I’m here to pick you up, actually.”
“You were awfully sure of yourself, huh?”
“Full of hope, more like,” Lan Xichen gives back and Jiang Cheng rolls his eyes.
“Whatever. Wait here,” he instructs him and then quickly walks away to get changed and take a few deep breaths.
This won’t change anything.
Lan Xichen will go back to his family and his previous life and Jiang Cheng won’t. He should probably accept that they were never meant to be.
“Whatever you prepared, I hope you do remember that I’m allergic to nuts,” Jiang Cheng says when he lets Lan Xichen guide him to his car and he refuses to notice the butterflies in his stomach when Lan Xichen smiles at him.
“Of course I do,” he easily says. “The last time I accidentally fed you nuts was very memorable after all.”
Jiang Cheng has to laugh at that, even though that dinner had ended with him in the hospital. It had still been a very nice evening.
“Good,” is still all Jiang Cheng says to that because there is no use to dwell on the past now.
The drive to Lan Xichen’s place is quick and silent and when they enter the apartment Jiang Cheng almost has a sense of déjà vu.
The interior design is almost the same as it was in Lan Xichen’s old place, except now there are toys and children’s clothes all around.
Lan Xichen has put up a lot of pictures and Jiang Cheng can’t help but to go over to them.
“I wanted Jingyi to know his family,” Lan Xichen explains, having followed Jiang Cheng, and Jiang Cheng almost laughs at the picture of Lan Qiren, but then his eyes fall on a picture of himself.
“I wanted him to know the most important people in my life,” Lan Xichen lowly says when he follows his gaze and Jiang Cheng works his jaw.
“You shouldn’t have bothered,” he presses out, and abruptly turns away from the photo.
Lan Xichen doesn’t comment on it and instead leads Jiang Cheng into the kitchen. He must have been really sure that Jiang Cheng will say yes, because most of the dishes are already prepared and are quickly ready.
Jiang Cheng has questions, but he’s not sure he wants to know the answers. Lan Xichen will be going back to his old life soon enough. Jiang Cheng really shouldn’t get too attached again.
At least this time he knows it’s coming, which means it’s a big step up from the last time.
“I’m sorry for how I left,” Lan Xichen suddenly says between bites and Jiang Cheng listlessly moves his food around in his bowl.
“You had no choice,” he gives back, because at least that he understands now, but it still hurts.
They had kissed for the first time just two days before Lan Xichen vanished and Jiang Cheng had already imagined their life together. It had been a very hard awakening when Lan Wangji had told him that Lan Xichen was gone, and wouldn’t be coming back.
That he couldn’t be contacted.
It had been a devastating blow to Jiang Cheng’s already dwindling confidence and self-worth and it had only cemented his need to get away. And even then it had still taken him a year to finally leave.
“But it still must have hurt you, especially after our date before,” Lan Xichen insists and Jiang Cheng can feel a spark of anger grow inside of him.
“What do you want to hear, huh? Yes, it hurt, it fucking hurt and it was the shitty icing on my shitty life. Is that what you want? It doesn’t change anything,” he snaps out and gets up to pace the kitchen.
He never did well with standing still.
“I’m sorry,” Lan Xichen whispers and the worst thing is, Jiang Cheng even believes him. “But,” and now Lan Xichen sounds hesitant, “it’s not the reason you left, right?”
“Oh, please, Xichen, don’t think yourself to be this important. We barely had anything at all.”
“That’s not true. We had been dancing around it too long, that might be true, but it was something. And don’t pretend it was just me,” Lan Xichen says and he pushes his plate away. “I know it was mutual.”
Jiang Cheng scrubs a hand over his face, feeling incredibly tired all of a sudden.
“It doesn’t matter,” he whispers. “What do you want now? For us to dance around this thing again for a few months before you leave and go back to your old life?” he asks, and a small part of himself wishes Lan Xichen would just let this rest and quietly go back to his old life. At least this way they could pretend they never saw each other.
“I’m not leaving,” Lan Xichen says and Jiang Cheng jerks.
“You said you could go back,” he shoots back but Lan Xichen shrugs.
“I said I could. Not that I would. Jingyi will start school soon. He has his friends here, his life, and I too made this my home. I have a job I like, and friends. I would like to see Wangji, Uncle and Mingjue again, to have them back in my life, but I will not go back.”
“I see,” Jiang Cheng mumbles and he wishes it would change something—anything—but it truly doesn’t.
Lan Xichen wants to get back with his family. Jiang Cheng doesn’t want to get back with his. And there is simply no way that word of his whereabouts wouldn’t reach Madam Yu or his father.
Gods, Lan Wangji will probably tell Wei Wuxian where Jiang Cheng is the moment he learns about this, and Wei Wuxian could never keep his mouth shut.
Jiang Cheng doesn’t want to move again.
“That changes nothing,” he tells Lan Xichen, who is waiting expectantly for a reply. “I left my life behind, and I don’t want them to know where I am.”
“I wouldn’t tell them,” Lan Xichen says, truly affronted and Jiang Cheng snorts.
“Please. Our brothers are going to get married in a few months. Of course Lan Wangji would tell Wei Wuxian where I am.”
“They are getting married?” Lan Xichen asks, his voice faint and slightly trembling.
“Oh, shit,” Jiang Cheng whispers, because of course Lan Xichen wouldn’t know.
“I always thought Wangji was rather smitten with Wei Wuxian,” Lan Xichen says with a tremulous smile.
“Just like Wei Wuxian was, even though he didn’t realize it back then,” Jiang Cheng agrees. “They have been engaged for almost two years now. No one understood why Lan Wangji insisted on waiting with the wedding—least of all Wei Wuxian—but it makes sense now.”
“I guess he waited for you to come back,” Jiang Cheng tells him and is completely at a loss when he sees tears form in Lan Xichen’s eyes.
“He shouldn’t have done that,” Lan Xichen says, voice breaking halfway through. “He didn’t know if I would ever be able to come back. He shouldn’t have put his whole life on hold like that.”
“Please, they put nothing on hold,” Jiang Cheng scoffs. “They might not have had a ceremony yet, but they were practically married from the first second they got together.”
“How do you know about their wedding?” Lan Xichen suddenly asks and Jiang Cheng can’t say he’s too happy that the focus is suddenly back on him.
“I talk to Yanli sometimes,” he admits. “I have a burner phone just for that,” Jiang Cheng explains and he feels ridiculous just saying it.
“Why did you leave?” Lan Xichen lowly asks and Jiang Cheng scoffs.
“The question is why didn’t I leave sooner,” he shoots back, but when Lan Xichen simply looks at him expectantly, Jiang Cheng sighs.
“You know my parents,” he says with a shrug. “My father was always too busy to watch Wei Wuxian to notice that I am still around and no matter what I did, I could never make my mother proud,” Jiang Cheng tells him with a self-deprecating smile. “I never really enjoyed competing; I love to dance, but the pressure behind it all, it was all too much.”
“You have been competing since you were a kid,” Lan Xichen throws in with a frown and Jiang Cheng chuckles bitterly.
“And I hated every second of it,” he admits. “But still I tried, because I kept thinking if I win the next competition, surely my father would look at me for once and surely my mother would tell me how proud I made her.”
“And it never happened?” Lan Xichen guesses and Jiang Cheng nods.
“And it never happened. I won the world championship for that, you know. Out of spite, one could say, because it was the last push I needed to prove to myself that no matter what I do, my parents wouldn’t care.”
“And they didn’t,” Lan Xichen whispers and Jiang Cheng laughs.
“Of course they didn’t. Wei Wuxian came in second and my father kept telling him how next year, he would surely rank first and my mother started criticizing my form the moment I stepped off the podium.”
“No one ranked higher than you did that year,” Lan Xichen tells him and Jiang Cheng freezes.
“I kept track of the competitions, even after you stopped dancing. Wangji is not doing too badly for himself and Wei Wuxian did win the world championship last year, but he didn’t even get close to your ranking. No one did, so far.”
Jiang Cheng lets out a bitter laugh at that. Of course his ‘fuck you’-performance would be unbeatable.
He should be happy about it, really, but his father won’t care as long as it isn’t Wei Wuxian’s name on the top and his mother will only care the moment someone is better than him.
“I’m glad I left it all behind,” Jiang Cheng mutters and finally sits back down again.
“Did you tell no one?” Lan Xichen wants to know and Jiang Cheng shakes his head.
“I left the very same evening. I threw some clothes into a bag, took most of my money with me and simply left. My mother didn’t notice since she was too busy going over the recording of my performance, my father was on his best way to getting drunk, celebrating with Wei Wuxian and Yanli was flitting around them like it was her personal duty to make sure they don’t make any stupid decisions in their inebriated states. I kept my phone for a while,” Jiang Cheng admits. “I wanted to see how long it takes them to notice that I’m gone. Yanli wrote me the next morning, assuming that I was out with Huaisang. My mother noticed when I didn’t show up to practice the day after that and after the sixth seething voicemail I got rid of my card.”
“But you still talk to your sister,” Lan Xichen says, and Jiang Cheng shrugs.
“I have her number memorized. I try to call her once a month, but I’m not good at it, so sometimes it’s longer than that. I call her anonymously and that phone is off otherwise. I haven’t spoken to my parents or Wei Wuxian since I left. It’s been a little over three years now. I’m sure Yanli told them that I’m still alive and kicking, but I make sure that there is nothing else she can tell them.”
“But they are your family,” Lan Xichen chokes out and Jiang Cheng frowns when he hears the desperation in his voice.
“Yes,” he still agrees. “And they now know about me as much as they did when I was still living there. The less said about my parents the better, Wei Wuxian was too busy basking in my father’s attention and even Yanli was more concerned with Wei Wuxian than with me. Which I don’t begrudge him, but it still stings, especially when it all comes together.”
“How could you just leave them,” Lan Xichen whispers and it’s only then that it clicks for Jiang Cheng.
Lan Xichen didn’t have a choice when he left his family behind, and it’s clear as day that he wants to do nothing more than to get back into contact with them.
And it couldn’t be any more different for Jiang Cheng.
“I left because I wanted to,” he softly tells him. “You left because you were forced to. It’s a big difference, Xichen, so don’t compare our situations.”
“Yeah. Yeah, you’re right,” Lan Xichen mutters and scrubs a hand over his face before he takes a deep breath. “And you don’t want to go back at all?” he then lowly asks and Jiang Cheng thinks about that for a moment.
Thinks about his father’s disinterest, Wei Wuxian as the rising star, his mother’s constant expectations and—should he fail to meet those—the never-ending fights. Really, if Jiang Cheng is honest, his sister would be the only reason he would ever even consider going back, and it’s simply not enough.
“No,” Jiang Cheng shortly says. “There is nothing for me back there.”
“I see,” Lan Xichen whispers and smiles sadly into his dinner.
Jiang Cheng is just about to say something, when he realizes that he doomed them again.
Even if Lan Xichen doesn’t move back to their hometown, he will still talk to his family, which means Jiang Cheng’s family will know where he is sooner or later as well. And Jiang Cheng doesn’t even want them to know that much about him.
“I’ll see myself out, then,” Jiang Cheng says, because he knows there is nothing else to be said between them.
They are clearly not meant to be together.
Lan Xichen doesn’t call after him, doesn’t do anything to stop him, and Jiang Cheng didn’t expect him to, either. There is nothing Lan Xichen can say to save this, to make Jiang Cheng stay, and he seems to realize that, too.
Jiang Cheng’s eyes burn when he realizes that he’ll have to move again, because if Lan Xichen doesn’t tell his family about him then Lan Jingyi will, seeing how excited he was about meeting Jiang Cheng, and then Lan Wangji will tell Wei Wuxian and Jiang Cheng knows his brother well enough to know that he’ll come knocking down his door as soon as he learns where he is.
And Jiang Cheng is not ready to see him again.
But he knows what that means for him; he’ll have to move again.
Jiang Cheng likes it here, likes his job and the people he met here, but he wants to avoid his family more than anything, so it’s not even a question for him. So on his way home, he drops by a department store, to buy some boxes.
He might as well get started with that as soon as possible.
Jiang Cheng works until well into the night, because over the years he accumulated more things than he ever imagined and his heart is heavy when he thinks about leaving everything behind.
He likes it here—likes his job, the people, his apartment—and he’s almost angry at Lan Xichen for taking it all away from him again.
But does he really have to, a small voice in Jiang Cheng’s head asks and Jiang Cheng scoffs at his own ridiculous thoughts. Of course he has to.
His family is noisy enough to barge in here seconds after they learned where he is and he can’t take it. He knows his father won’t come, which will be a hit all on itself, and his mother will demand he pick up training again, or at least do something useful because teaching classes for fun is surely not acceptable in her worldview, and Wei Wuxian will be clingy for the first few weeks, maybe even months, and Jiang Cheng is annoyed just thinking about it.
He doesn’t want this.
And yet he still keeps thinking about how he could make this work, how he could maybe keep Lan Xichen and his own peace and before Jiang Cheng knows what happened he sat on the same packed up box for at least half an hour already.
He doesn’t want to leave Lan Xichen behind again, not after finally learning the truth about why he left in the first place, and especially not after he found him again, after Lan Xichen said that this is still something he wants as well, but Jiang Cheng wonders if it’s enough for him.
Lan Xichen in exchange for letting his family know where he is.
Jiang Cheng isn’t sure what his answer to that will be, but before he can make up his mind someone bangs on his door.
It’s the middle of the night, which makes this rather rude in Jiang Cheng’s opinion, but he gets up from the box and walks over to the door nonetheless.
When he opens it, he’s only mildly surprised to see Lan Xichen on the other side.
Mostly, Jiang Cheng is very tired.
“What?” he asks and watches as Lan Xichen looks past him, as his eyes go wide when he sees the packed boxes.
“I called your workplace and lied to them, to get them to give me your address,” Lan Xichen starts with and Jiang Cheng really curses the fact that there’s a fitness studio attached to the place he teaches at, because it means they are open 24/7.
“Great,” Jiang Cheng sarcastically says. “What do you want, Xichen?” he then asks, because he thought it was more than clear that this is not going to work out.
“I don’t have to see my family,” Lan Xichen says, and he seems frantic in a way Jiang Cheng has never seen him before.
“I don’t have to tell them where I am. I can tell them I don’t want them to know and they will accept. I can go visit them, I can even take Jingyi with me, and simply never tell them where I am. It doesn’t have to ruin your life here, I just—please, Wanyin. I don’t want to lose you again.”
Jiang Cheng works his jaw at his words, because he’s strangely touched by them, but then he shakes his head.
“You think Jingyi can keep your location a secret?” he asks, and Lan Xichen deflates.
“Maybe,” he says but he sounds unsure.
“I don’t want to be the reason that keeps you from your family,” Jiang Cheng says, his heart heavy, and Lan Xichen seems positively desperate at that.
“Is there no chance for us? Wanyin, I don’t want to lose you,” he reiterates. “It’s been four years and I still feel the same about you. I love you. This is our second chance, and I don’t want to waste it.”
“Maybe we’re just not meant to be,” Jiang Cheng replies, but there’s a thought forming in his head, one he only very tentatively dares to touch.
“I found you again,” Lan Xichen says. “I’m not going to leave you a second time.”
“I love you, too,” Jiang Cheng says, because he realizes that he hasn’t said it yet, and that feels unfair.
Lan Xichen should know that he feels the same.
Lan Xichen’s face falls with his words, because clearly Lan Xichen takes it for the goodbye Jiang Cheng would have meant it as even ten minutes before.
“But it’s not enough,” Lan Xichen mutters and Jiang Cheng reaches for his hand.
“Maybe it is,” he says, reluctant to voice his thought yet, because it’s still not entirely formed.
“How?” Lan Xichen wants to know, the naked hope on his face almost painful to watch and Jiang Cheng pulls him into the apartment.
“I don’t want my family here,” Jiang Cheng says again, because that is the most important thing to him. “But. If we tell them where I am, we can also tell them that if they should show up here unannounced, I’m gone again,” Jiang Cheng says and Lan Xichen tightens his grip on Jiang Cheng’s hand.
“You think they will listen?” he asks, breathless with hope and Jiang Cheng shrugs.
“They might not if it’s only me saying that. But if you tell them the same, if you tell them as well to please never come here on their own, maybe then it will work. Yanli will listen to me, and Wei Wuxian might if Lan Wangji tells him to behave.”
“And your parents?” Lan Xichen quietly asks and Jiang Cheng huffs out a bitter laugh.
“I’m not sure my father cares enough to make the trip and if we tell my mother from the start that I will not go back to competing, then she might think it’s not worth it anyway.”
“You’re worth everything,” Lan Xichen immediately says and leans forward to brush a kiss over Jiang Cheng’s cheek. “You’re worth everything to me,” he says and Jiang Cheng smiles slightly at him.
“And it might just be enough,” he agrees, because he does hope this might work.
“But my family can come visit?” Lan Xichen asks him then and he sounds excited.
Jiang Cheng smiles, because he knew that family is the most important thing for Lan Xichen and it warms his heart to know that he seriously considered not going back to them, simply so he could keep Jiang Cheng.
“If they don’t get on my case about coming back, yes,” Jiang Cheng says teasingly and Lan Xichen pulls him into his arms at that.
“I can’t believe that we’re together again,” he whispers into Jiang Cheng’s hair and Jiang Cheng slings his arms around Lan Xichen as well.
“My family will respect your wishes,” Lan Xichen says with conviction and Jiang Cheng is inclined to believe him.
“If not, I’m gone again,” Jiang Cheng still says, because he needs Lan Xichen to understand that.
“They will,” Lan Xichen promises him. “And if not, I will go with you.”
Jiang Cheng presses his face more firmly to Lan Xichen’s shoulder at that, feeling how his eyes start to burn at the easy promise and Jiang Cheng can’t believe that he should really get this lucky.
“Okay,” Jiang Cheng agrees, and he’s going to hold Lan Xichen to that.
He is not ready to let go of him again.
“Jingyi is going to love this,” Lan Xichen suddenly says and Jiang Cheng laughs.
“He did seem rather excited,” he gives back and pulls away from Lan Xichen. “I can’t believe you kept watching my videos.”
“You were always so beautiful when you danced,” Lan Xichen easily gives back, but there’s a faint flush on his face. “Even towards the end, when you clearly no longer liked it.”
“Sweet-talker,” Jiang Cheng says and Lan Xichen shrugs unapologetically.
“You were most beautiful in your class the other day, because it was clear you had fun. I’d like to see it more often.”
“Let Jingyi continue to come to the class and you might,” Jiang Cheng says and Lan Xichen beams at him.
“Done,” he promises and then he leans in for a kiss.
Jiang Cheng meets him readily, and even though it’s only their second kiss it feels like coming home.
And Jiang Cheng is so very glad he gets to experience this again.