Jiang Cheng knows that after the temple, everything was bound to be different, but it’s really dragging on him by now. It’s not only that one of their most respected was revealed to be the actual worst—because that leaves the whole cultivational world floundering—but it’s all the interpersonal relationships that are broken as well.
Jiang Cheng is pretty sure that Lan Wangji and Wei Wuxian eloped together, and with how Wei Wuxian allowed it to be at the end, Jiang Cheng is almost glad for it. Wei Wuxian didn’t seem like he wanted to make up at all, and Jiang Cheng knows himself.
He would have tried his hardest—in his own way—to mend the relationship with his brother, without realizing or acknowledging that Wei Wuxian doesn’t even want that.
So it really is better that he simply left, because that means less temptation for Jiang Cheng to fuck up that relationship even more.
Jiang Cheng isn’t quite sure how Jin Ling is feeling with everything that’s been revealed, because he’s been sequestered in Jinlintai and Jiang Cheng wasn’t yet allowed to visit. The moment his nephew asks for help though, the moment word reaches Jiang Cheng that Jin Ling needs him he’ll be there, no questions asked.
Jiang Cheng really wonders who of them sinned that much that Jin Ling got a shitty family like them.
Jiang Cheng isn’t actually sure what Nie Huaisang is up to these days, but he thinks he’s sitting in the Unclean Realm and enjoying his plot-free life for once.
He wonders if Nie Huaisang will come by, now that his almost decade long revenge plan is completed, and he finds that he would actually like that.
Jiang Cheng never understood why Nie Huaisang kept his distance after Nie Mingjue died—especially since Jiang Cheng could have helped with the suddenly thrust into power thing—but now it makes sense.
The less people suspected Nie Huaisang the better.
Still, Jiang Cheng would actually like to see him again, one of these days, no matter if his scheming almost cost them all everything.
Jin Guangyao certainly got what he deserved after everything he did.
Jiang Cheng’s mind drifts over to Lan Xichen at that and he tries to push the thought away. Lan Xichen is certainly never going to look at Nie Huaisang again, not after what he made him do, and given that he’s in seclusion now, he doesn’t even have to.
Jiang Cheng feels bitterness rise in him as he stares out over the water, because they have been on the cusp of something for quite a while now, even though Jiang Cheng always suspected that Lan Xichen harboured some feelings for Jin Guangyao, but after what happened at the temple, Jiang Cheng doubts that anything will ever come of the tentative thing he had with Lan Xichen.
Lan Xichen looked almost broken by the end, and Jiang Cheng can’t even blame him.
Jiang Cheng sighs as he pushes himself up—he really should get to bed on time, one of these days—but he is stopped when a disciples starts running towards him.
“What?” Jiang Cheng snaps, but there’s an underlying fear to his voice, because what if something else went wrong?
What if Jin Ling needs him?
“It’s Zewu-Jun,” the disciple pants and barely bothers to bow, too busy catching his breath.
Ice-cold fear grips Jiang Cheng’s heart, because with how Lan Xichen had looked at the end, the worst possible scenario comes to mind.
“What’s wrong?” Jiang Cheng asks, gripping the disciple’s arm, though he doesn’t quite shake him. “Tell me right now,” he demands, even though it wouldn’t make a difference.
If Lan Xichen decided to take his own life, it would already be over before word even made it to Lotus Pier.
“Nothing is wrong,” the disciple says, and Jiang Cheng finds that hard to believe. “He is here, that is all,” he then goes on and Jiang Cheng narrows his eyes at him.
“And that’s reason for you to make such a ruckus?” he asks, though tension seeps out of him.
If he’s here, then it can’t be that bad, Jiang Cheng reasons.
“I thought you would want to know as soon as possible. Seeing as you’re all—” the disciple cuts himself off before he can say mopey but Jiang Cheng hears it loud and clear anyway.
“Out of my sight,” he orders and the disciple has the audacity to smile briefly at him, before he dashes off.
Clearly, Jiang Cheng is too lenient with them. He should really increase the drills, if they have time to behave like this.
Jiang Cheng shakes his head, trying to get rid of those thoughts for now, but he starts to make his way to the entrance of Lotus Pier where Lan Xichen should be waiting for him.
As he walks there, dread settles in Jiang Cheng’s stomach, because the only reason he can imagine that would bring Lan Xichen here personally, instead of being in seclusion like his Sect announced, is that he is here to officially call it off with Jiang Cheng.
Not that they ever really announced anything official, but Lan Xichen seems the type to let Jiang Cheng know where he’s at, even though Jiang Cheng would prefer if he wouldn’t.
Jiang Cheng was perfectly fine just living his days like this, and this thing with Lan Xichen slowly dwindling out, until nothing but a memory remains.
It would have hurt, but Jiang Cheng could have dealt with that in peace; instead, now he has to face Lan Xichen when he tells him that all of this was a mistake, and Jiang Cheng doesn’t have a good enough poker-face to keep the hurt out of his expression, he knows that.
But Jiang Cheng is no coward, so he squares his shoulders and marches off, even though it feels a lot like he’s marching to his doom.
Jiang Cheng scoffs at his own thoughts, because it’s a tad bit dramatic, even he can admit to that, and then Lan Xichen is already there.
He’s wandering off, stepping closer to the edge of the piers and looking out over the water and Jiang Cheng has to fight the urge to rush forward and yank him back.
Lan Xichen is a grown man and he knows how to swim. If he really wanted to kill himself, he could have accidentally dropped from his sword on the flight here, Jiang Cheng reminds himself and then steps up to Lan Xichen.
“It’s good to see you,” Jiang Cheng says and notices how Lan Xichen startles at his words.
“Is it?” Lan Xichen gives back, his voice so low that it’s barely audible over the murmur of the water, and Jiang Cheng turns slightly towards him.
“It’s always good to see you,” he says honestly; too honestly, probably, given how wide Lan Xichen’s eyes get.
“I think you’re the only one who thinks that,” Lan Xichen says with a wry smile after a pause that’s just slightly too long and Jiang Cheng frowns.
“Why would you think that?” he wants to know, because Lan Xichen is well beloved and a welcome guest everywhere.
“After everything that happened? I doubt people are falling over themselves to see me.”
“You mean after everything that Jin Guangyao and Nie Huaisang did?” Jiang Cheng shoots back, because with how Lan Xichen phrased it, it seems like just a series of unfortunate events when it most definitely was not.
“And what I ignored,” Lan Xichen whispers and he hunches in with his words, almost brings his shoulders up to his ears. “I aided both of them.”
“And you didn’t know it,” Jiang Cheng immediately says, because he doesn’t believe for a second that Lan Xichen would have helped either of them if he had known what they were up to.
He would have tried to bring Jin Guangyao to justice if Nie Huaisang told him everything he did, but he wouldn’t have done it like this.
“I gave Jin Guangyao everything he needed to kill da-ge,” Lan Xichen whispers and Jiang Cheng shakes his head.
“No. You gave him what he needed to heal Nie Mingjue. He took the other song in secret, stole one of your Sect’s secrets, and then turned your gift into a weapon. That’s not your fault.”
Lan Xichen seems surprised to hear Jiang Cheng defend him, and the look he throws him is searching, but Jiang Cheng refuses to turn his gaze away.
“What?” he finally snaps when Lan Xichen continues to look at him but doesn’t say anything and Lan Xichen slightly shakes his head.
“I stepped down as Sect Leader,” Lan Xichen says, almost apropos of nothing and this catches Jiang Cheng by surprise.
“What? Why?” he wants to know and he wonders if Lan Qiren took over for now until Lan Jingyi is deemed responsible enough to step up.
“It doesn’t feel like a role I can fill anymore,” Lan Xichen admits, and he’s look at the water again, as if admitting it to Jiang Cheng directly is too hard. “I failed my Sect and so many others by simply trusting Jin Guangyao and at least Huaisang has no respect for me left. Cultivational conferences would have been awkward,” Lan Xichen says, and he even tries for a small smile, but it sits wrong in Jiang Cheng’s gut.
Lan Xichen is one of the few truly good ones—his own feelings for the other man not even counting here—and he should never have to feel like that.
“I think you’re wrong,” Jiang Cheng says because he does. “What are you going to do now? Didn’t you think about going into seclusion?”
“And I was there, for about a week, before I realized that simply stewing in my thoughts is not going to get me anywhere,” Lan Xichen tells him and Jiang Cheng has to agree with him.
It did seem like a rather bad idea, not that anyone asked him.
“So why are you here, then?” Jiang Cheng dares to ask, and he tries to brace himself for what Lan Xichen is going to say next, but he is not prepared for the pleading look he gets.
“You said it’s good to see me. You said that it wasn’t my fault,” Lan Xichen repeats Jiang Cheng’s words to him and Jiang Cheng nods, confused as to where this is going.
“It makes me hope that not all is lost between us,” Lan Xichen whispers and Jiang Cheng freezes in his surprise.
Lan Xichen must have noticed, because his face immediately falls.
“I’m sorry, I thought it was foolish to hope, but I had to try,” he sadly says and turns away from Jiang Cheng again before he speaks his next words. “I know that your feelings must have changed by now, after everything that was revealed. After what I did.”
“After what they did,” Jiang Cheng immediately corrects him and then dares to reach for Lan Xichen’s hand.
“And you’re wrong,” Jiang Cheng says as the threads their fingers together. “It’s never foolish to try. My feelings have not changed,” Jiang Cheng admits, even though he goes red at his own words.
They didn’t say it yet; didn’t even get past their first kiss, but they have been courting for a while and at least to Jiang Cheng it was always clear that it would lead to marriage. Admitting that he loves Lan Xichen should come easy compared to that.
“They haven’t?” Lan Xichen hopefully asks and Jiang Cheng smiles at him.
“How could they? If anything, they just got stronger.”
“I really didn’t dare to hope,” Lan Xichen mutters and then leans in to rest their forehead’s together. “But I couldn’t stay in seclusion, not knowing where we stood; I couldn’t stay in seclusion and not seeing you again, so I simply had to come here.”
“I’m glad you did,” Jiang Cheng says softly, and then he slightly tilts his head, until he can brush his lips against Lan Xichen’s.
“I still want this as much as before,” Jiang Cheng whispers into the space between them and Lan Xichen’s answer is clear enough when he presses forward and brings their lips together in a much more passionate way.
“I’m so glad I didn’t lose this, too,” Lan Xichen whispers against Jiang Cheng’s lips and Jiang Cheng brings his arms around Lan Xichen’s middle to hug him close.
“Never,” he promises him and he feels how Lan Xichen sags against him at that.
“I love you,” Lan Xichen says into Jiang Cheng’s shoulder and of course Lan Xichen would be the braver of them, despite everything.
“I love you, too,” Jiang Cheng replies, because he finds that it’s almost easy now that Lan Xichen is in his arms and clearly feels it as well, and after that no more words are spoken.
They had to listen to so many poisoned words lately, that Jiang Cheng almost prefers the simplicity of this touch.
And he’s not going to let Lan Xichen go.