Lotus Garden | XiCheng | Mo Dao zu Shi | 16+ | 2020-12-13-2021/01/18-24
Since Jiang Cheng lost his golden core, he separated himself from the world of cultivation. He felt there wasn’t any meaning of his life anymore. He became powerless, he lost everyone and everything. Even the will to live. Wei WuXian and Wen Qing tried their best to give it back to him or get a new one, anything that could solve this - but they didn’t find anything. Then the war got nastier and nastier, Wei WuXian and Wen Qing had to fear for their lives and had to hide. Then was the point, when Jiang Cheng decided to leave. He - useless - didn’t want to be a burden, so he asked them to think about him as he had died. Tell the cultivation world he died and forget about him. Wei WuXian had to accept his will. Jiang Cheng left his previous life behind.
He settled down in a small town, far from the war and far from Yunmeng, near a river - named Whist - and with years of hard work he owned a teahouse. It was a quite big building with many windows and they made the rooms light and sunny; tired wanderers could take a rest here, have a refreshing tea or a light meal. Around the teahouse there were a lot of lotus, Jiang Cheng took a lot of effort to grow them. He couldn’t help himself, he was fond of those flowers. He named the teahouse Lotus Garden.
On that day the sun is shining brightly and all of the Spring flowers want to show their colourful beauty. The pale blue sky is ornamented with veil-like, thin clouds. The dawns are still chilly a little, but the Spring has already started easing the Winter.
Lan XiChen bypasses the area because of a night-hunt. It’s far from Gusu, but he followed the trail of the creature. The night before he managed to slaughter it and the world became a more peaceful place. He’s heading back to Gusu when he notices the lovely teahouse - Lotus Garden - in the small town. He decides to have a rest there and go in.
He sits to a table next to the window. He could see the lovely garden from there. There is a magnolia tree leaning above the other flowers and there are lotus near the building. He smiles wryly as the lotus reminds him of a great cultivator, someone who was special to him, someone he… He looks up at the person who serves his jasmine tea.
Ebony hair partly tied in a bun, the rest covering broad shoulders, almond shaped, grey eyes, slight frown between the thin eyebrows, pale violet and grey robes, flawless skin. “Jiang WanYin,” he whispers.
Jiang Cheng stills. He stares at the man. He’s tall, beautiful, his features are perfect, his skin is pale, like he would be carved from the most perfect jade, his silky hair dark. His robes look radiant, silver, his sword resting next to him, leaned to the table.
“ZeWu-Jun,” he says surprised, eyebrows raising. Lan XiChen is just staring at him, eyes wide. He’s searching for words.
“I thought…” He lowers his gaze. He mourned this man. Losing him opened a bleeding, aching wound on his heart. It was painful and during the war he did hideous things out of revenge. The years passed and he tried to live with the loss, he told himself he would have a chance in their next life. “Wei WuXian said you…” he tries again, but he still couldn’t say it out loud.
Jiang Cheng sighs. He puts the tea down on the table.
“I asked him to do that,” he says softly. Lan XiChen finds himself eager. Eager to know more, eager to be initiated. He wants to grab Jiang Cheng’s wrist to make him stay, but that would be desperate and impolite. His fingers curl into a fist around his outer robe instead to steady himself.
“Sit down, please,” he asks him and he moves away to make room for the other. Jiang Cheng looks around and since it is a slow day, he could afford himself to join Lan XiChen. Jiang Cheng sits down, places a cup in front of Lan XiChen then himself, and he’s pouring tea. XiChen is watching him, how peaceful he looks, how beautiful he is. He wants to show Jiang Cheng he still respects him, he still thinks of him as someone equal. Someone he cares for.
Lan XiChen is not able to tear his eyes away from Jiang Cheng. He’s afraid if he does so, the other will disappear and it turns out he’s not real just an imagination from his dreams. Slowly he reaches out and his fingertips gently touch the back of Jiang Cheng’s hand. His skin is warm. Alive. Worn. He feels Jiang Cheng’s eyes on himself and he looks up. He tilts his head, question in his almond shaped, grey, beautiful eyes. XiChen slowly moves his fingers, softly caressing Jiang Cheng’s skin.
“I...,” he tries. He feels so lost. He wants to say a lot of things, he wants to ask a lot of things, he wants to know… yet he cannot form the words. Jiang Cheng doesn’t pull his hand away.
“I’m sorry, ZeWu-Jun,” he says softly, eyes dropped. No, please, look at me. Look only at me . It’s nearly a whisper full of guilt. Guilt, but not regret. Finally he lifts his eyes and XiChen can breathe again. He didn't notice he was holding his breath. “I asked Wei WuXian to tell everyone I died. I felt so useless, I hoped I could find the will to live again, but not for my sect. Without a golden core I’m not a cultivator anymore, I’m not part of the sect anymore. I was a nobody and I didn’t want to be a bother for m-- the sect. I had to go away. It was hard. Bad and worse days followed each other. Then somehow I managed. Day by day, with small steps. And now I have this teahouse and I like it.” He offered a soft, reassuring smile.
“Ten years, WanYin,” XiChen whispers. “There was not a single day during ten years when I haven’t mourned you.”
He did things… awful, unspeakable things, he was covered in blood and ashes, tears drew warm lines into the dirt on his face as he was screaming and fighting like a beast. He didn’t know he could feel such grief and pain, he didn’t know WanYin meant this much to him. Then he got tired. Years passed and he started to go on night-hunts again to be useful for his sect. He doesn’t blame Jiang Cheng for the things he had done. He doesn’t want to tell him any of these. He wasn’t that pure anymore, he got dirty - and he is afraid Jiang Cheng wouldn’t like what he became, he couldn’t forgive him. First in his life he felt shame.
Jiang Cheng’s fingers - under XiChen’s hand - curl into a fist as he is fighting with emotions.
“I’m sorry,” he repeats. He can’t look into XiChen’s eyes. His lowered eyes notice something familiar on the sect leader’s belt. A clarity bell. He looks up, curious eyes scanning Lan XiChen’s features.
“The bell,” he says. Asks.
“Sect Leader Jiang gave it to me. She said it was yours.” It helped him to stay sane. Literally and figuratively.
Jiang Cheng feels more and more guilty. The feeling pushes his shoulders down, slight regret is pushing up on his throat. If only he had known.
“I’m--” XiChen’s fingers curl around Jiang Cheng’s.
“Don’t say it again. It’s no use living in the past. If you’re looking at the past, you’re showing your back to the future. I’m blessed I met you here.”
Jiang Cheng offers a soft, thankful smile.
“Tell me about your everydays as we drink the tea,” Lan XiChen asks. He’s eager to hear everything. He wants to drink in the other’s presence.
And Jiang Cheng tells him how much time it took to repair the building before he could open the teahouse, how he enjoyed the work with his bare hands, how it felt he built something, how he took care of the lotuses and the flowers, how he got the teapots and cups, how he picked the sitting pillows; and Lan XiChen listens. Listens to him like there wouldn’t be more interesting stories in the world - and that time there really aren’t. He falls in love again. He was relieved Jiang Cheng had found peace. He seems happy and content and there’s nothing more XiChen could wish for.
Then the bitter realisation comes. It creeps up on his throat, making the tea sour. There is one thing he wants more: sharing all this with Jiang Cheng. Being part of his life.
They make tea 3 times, talk on a low tone. Then a young woman appears, a tray in her hands with snacks.
“Gongzi, I thought you and your… company must be hungry. Please accept these meals,” she says on a soft tone, places the dishes then leaves. XiChen noties the fond smile in the corner of Jiang Cheng’s lips.
“She’s your wife?” he asks. His voice is not betraying him. But Jiang Cheng laughs. Softly, but real laugh.
“Mei Ling, I told you not to bother WanYin!” They hear a scolding voice from another young lady.
“But I was curious, A-Qing! They were talking all day! They must be good friends, but didi has never told us about his past!”
“He has his own reasons.”
“But!” A soft thump added.
“Not another word, MeiMei. Be a good girl and stop stalking.”
“She has a wife,” Jiang Cheng finishes. “Sorry, they are very noisy, but really kind. They help me a lot. I’m grateful for having them in my life.” So Jiang Cheng found sisters.
“What about your… old family?”
Jiang Cheng goes silent. He doesn’t answer immediately, he’s thinking how to form his words.
“Wei WuXian is still looking for a solution to give my core back.”
“Are you still in touch?”
Jiang Cheng is silent for a short again. “I asked him not to come here anymore.” He looks up, raising his chin. “He reminds me of what I have lost, what I had once. It’s painful. I finally found peace here and accepted my situation. I’m not a cultivator anymore, I have no business with their world. He stopped visiting as I requested, but for time to time he leaves… donations he thinks we’re in need of. He doesn’t show up, but I know it was him. We have everything, thank you.”
Jiang Cheng still has his pride. That makes XiChen smile. He lifts his cup to his lips and takes a sip. Then he glances at the other.
“Do you not want me to come again?”
Jiang Cheng knows he should say no. He doesn’t need to open an old, aching wound that just started to heal. But XiChen doesn’t try to remind him of the past. He tries to reassure him. It feels nice.
“Do as it pleases you, ZeWu-Jun,” he answers finally. XiChen just nods. Soon he leaves since the night slowly creeped on them and covered the town into her soft, dark robe. Lanterns’ glowing light shows the way.
“You can stay,” Jiang Cheng says a little shyly. XiChen raises his eyebrows. The Lotus Garden doesn’t have rooms to rent. “It’s dark and in the middle of the night,” he explains himself. XiChen could just fly to Gusu on his sword. “So you can stay.”
“Thank you, WanYin.”
He says farewell in the morning, Jiang Cheng smiles at him and waves. His smile is bittersweet and it makes XiChen’s heart ache.
As he turns he sees in the corner of his eyes the two lady sneaks closer to the Jiang Cheng, who is still standing in the door, arms crossed, leaning to the frame, simple, beautiful, soft gaze following XiChen. He stops in the shelter of a shadow nearby to listen to them. He knows it’s not right. But he’s too curious.
“Do you think, didi, he would visit again?” One of the young ladies asks.
“I don’t think so.” Jiang Cheng’s tone is soft, full of hope he’s not right. XiChen’s heart breaks - again.
And then he thinks he should leave this all behind. He should not bother Jiang WanYin. He should be grateful for the fate he could meet him, he could spend time with him, he could see he is doing good, he’s healthy and content, but… It doesn’t matter if he has a golden core or not. XiChen still loves him and he longs.
He’s not strong enough. He’s a weak man in love. So he visits. Firstly Wei WuXian and asks him about the research of the golden core. He offers his help and sources. He’s willing to do everything that is needed. Not because he thinks Jiang Cheng is less without it, but because that would make him happy. And he wants Jiang Cheng to be happy. But they couldn’t find anything.
He visits Jiang Cheng too. Not too often at first. Once in every two weeks. Then once a week. Then every other day. He’s afraid of himself. He wants more and more, he can’t be satisfied with the crumbs.
They talk, have tea, XiChen helps Jiang Cheng carry the goods he buys at the market, he paints, and sometimes plays music. Jiang Cheng is on his side, and it feels matching, perfect.
One day they are at the market looking for teas and brushes.
“Come here, gongzi,” an old merchant calls XiChen, he even waves. “Take a look at my goods, please, gongzi. Buy something for your fiance.” And he glances at Jiang Cheng. Jiang Cheng looks away and his cheeks warm up. XiChen thinks he’s cute.
XiChen smiles at the merchant softly. He opens his mouth to refuse the offer when he feels a pull as Jiang Cheng steps to him and grabs his arm. He presses his chest to his arm.
“Buy me plum, please,” he asks.
“Buy him plum, gongzi,” the old man repeats. XiChen rolls his eyes, he sighs, but he smiles.
“You really want plums?” he turns to Jiang Cheng. The young man tries to tame his smile and nods. XiChen buys him a basket of plums. He’d rather buy him silk, paper, tea, ink or brushes. But if Jiang Cheng wants plums, he gets plums.
They are in the garden, among the flowers Jiang Cheng grew, under the magnolia tree’s shelter. Tea on the small table they are sitting by, next to it XiChen’s easel - abandoned at the moment -, the basket on the ground. Jiang Cheng reaches to pick a fruit from it.
“Do you like plums?” XiChen asks watching the other to tear the fruit in half.
“Actually yes,” Jiang Cheng answers and he throws a half into his mouth. XiChen is watching him eating it. He wants to taste the plum, but on Jiang Cheng’s sweet lips.
“Loquat?” He asks to distract himself.
Jiang Cheng remembers after they fought with the water ghosts and the waterborne abyss by Caiyi Town, Wei WuXian got a basket full of loquats and he shared it with him and Lan WangJi. Later he visited Lan XiChen and offered the half of his share. They spent a few hours together, eating loquat and talking. He felt special and he cherished the memory. He didn’t know XiChen felt the same way.
Jiang Cheng smiles. “I like that too.” He elbows on the table and drops his chin into his palm. His other hand is searching for another plum. His eyes on XiChen, he’s leaned close to him. “Do you want one?”
XiChen gulps. His eyes drop from Jiang Cheng’s eyes to his lips. He licks his own. He doesn’t answer.
He doesn’t dare to give any other gift beside that, the plums weren't real gifts anyway. And how he wants to flood Jiang WanYin in everything, he wants to give him everything he lays his eyes on or names, but Jiang WanYin made it clear he feels humiliated by them. Until one day. He reached his limits and couldn’t stop himself.
They are having jasmine tea, the sunshine is warm. Jiang Cheng closes his eyes and with a faint smile he dips his face into the warm breeze. It makes his hair dance. XiChen places a small package wrapped in violet silk on the table and slides it to him. Jiang Cheng frowns slightly, he glances up at XiChen curiously, then opens the gift. It’s a comb. It’s made of peach tree, the Gusu Lan symbol is carved into its spine. Not an expensive piece, but a pretty one. His frown deepens and he tilts his head. He knows what it means. What could it mean. His cheeks become rosy and warm. XiChen finds him adorable.
“I should have told you eleven years ago in Gusu.” Lan XiChen starts. “As I grew, I remembered less and less about my mother. The memories faded, but a few details remained clear and glowing, like she had a gentle voice and soft touch, she had flower fragrance and soft smile. When I first saw you, Jiang WanYin, my mother’s gentle voice was echoing in my mind: find what you’d die for . And I knew. I just knew. I knew you are the one who makes me complete, my other half, to whom I belong. And then live for it . Suddenly I understood the meaning. Yes, I will live to make you happy and do everything to make you safe and content. At that time I didn’t feel right to court you and it seemed WangJi needed my guide and I tried my best. Then the circumstances became worse and worse.” He goes silent. “I made mistakes, I have regrets, I feel guilty to not be there when you would have needed me. I was fortunate to find you again, and from now I will always be there for you, I belong, I support, no matter what.”
Jiang Cheng lowers his eyes, they are resting on the carved comb. He reaches out and he softly places his palm over the comb, then a fingertip gently outlines the cloud pattern on the spine. Then he curls his fingers around the comb and cages it into his hand. He looks up, straight into XiChen’s eyes.
“I accept.” He reaches out with his free hand and with that he gently cups XiChen’s face. He smiles at him. XiChen closes his eyes and he pushes into the palm. He lifts his own hand and he places it over Jiang Cheng’s. Then he hears clothes ruffle, then something soft and warm pressing to his lips. He quickly opens his eyes. Jiang Cheng is still only an inch far from him.
“I always wanted to do this,” he whispers, cheeks flaming, eyes shining. “But never dared.”
“Let me clear this for you, WanYin,” XiChen says, he doesn’t move. “You’re always free… no, You’re always welcome to kiss me.”
They move at the same time to taste each other with tender and sensual kisses. Curious, discovering. Then the kisses become more and more eager. Jiang Cheng growls softly into XiChen’s mouth before he gives up the fight with himself and he climbs on the table to get closer. His hand moves, touches XiChen’s forehead ribbon and his ear, then his fingers slide into his hair. XiChen reaches out and he pulls Jiang Cheng onto his lap.
“WanYin, would you be willing to come to Gusu with me?” XiChen asks a few days later, while they are in the garden. He’s painting a landscape with lotus while Jiang Cheng is gardening. He takes the view in. He never thought he would see Jiang WanYin like this. Relaxed and muddy. Jiang Cheng stops. He wipes his forehead with his arm - XiChen thinks it’s attractive. Jiang Cheng tries to hide the pain on his face.
“I don’t want to go back to that world,” he answers softly. XiChen doesn’t reply, he just nods in agreement. He doesn't want to force it.
After that XiChen stops visiting. During the first week Jiang Cheng is full of waiting and hope. Then he gets back to his everydays, his smile fades. Mei Ling and her wife are worried, but eventually Mei Ling words it.
“That handsome rich bastard broke our didi's heart,” she pouts, then she shakes her fist. “I'm going to kill him!” A-Qing pats her shoulder.
“Everything will be fine, don't worry.”
“How could you say that? He’s suffering!”
“MeiMei, didn’t you see how that man looked at our didi? I’m pretty sure he wants to come, but can’t. He loves him!”
Mei Ling gasped. “He didn’t die, did he?!”
“Oh, Meimei.” A-Qing pets her wife’s head. “Everything will be fine.”
A month passes when Lan XiChen appears again. Jiang Cheng is polite with him, but he's not smiling. He’s upset and angry, but he doesn’t shout, he doesn’t ask. XiChen doesn't sit down. He looks serious.
“Can we talk alone?”
Jiang Cheng thinks for a short, then finally he nods. He leads XiChen to his study. It's not a big room, but there are a few cabinets, books, papers, inks, brushes and a table.
“What can I do for you, ZeWu-Jun?” he asks and he crosses his arms in front of his chest. Lan XiChen places his sword down, leaning it to the table. He won’t need it anymore anyway. He made his decision.
“I have to apologise for disappearing for a long time, but I had to settle and arrange some things. The ceremony is done, the Lan Sect is officially led by WangJi.”
“What?” Jiang Cheng is surprised.
“We discussed it. WangJi is a good leader. I decided to live on my loved one’s side. I want to be with you. My home is there where you are.”
Happy smile blooms on Jiang Cheng’s face. XiChen thinks he’s beautiful and it makes him smile too. Jiang Cheng takes a step closer. It’s obvious he wants to touch XiChen, maybe an embrace, maybe a kiss - or anything. XiChen swallows and holds back. Just a few more minutes. He needs to tell everything to Jiang Cheng before he allows himself to immerse into their life together.
He takes a small box out of his robes. He opens it, then places down on the table. He extends his hand, an amethyst ring on his palm.
“Zidian,” Jiang Cheng whispers. He’s looking at the ring and fights the urge to put it on. He misses Zidian, he misses… His chest tightens and he feels unshed tears are burning his eyes. He lifts his gaze at XiChen. He’s a little offended. “You know I--”
“She wants you. She didn’t accept Sect Leader Jiang as her master, so she gave her to Wei WuXian. She didn’t accept him either, so he contacted me and asked me to bring her to you. She still thinks you’re her master.”
Jiang Cheng takes Zidian. It’s nice to feel her weight in his hand again. Then he reaches out for a small wooden box and opens it. He gently places the ring on the soft padding.
“Thank you,” Jiang Cheng says eventually. Then XiChen unties the clarity bell from his belt and he gives that to Jiang Cheng too. The man takes it and places it beside the ring. Finally XiChen takes off his forehead ribbon and places it into Jiang Cheng’s hand then gently folds his fingers around it. Jiang Cheng squeezes it. He looks into XiChen’s eyes.
“Are you sure?”
“I have never been more sure in my life. Only you matter.”
Jiang Cheng’s cheeks turn rosy. He nods, then he folds the forehead ribbon and places it next to Zidian and the bell. He closes the box. XiChen gently takes his hands and he breathes a soft kiss on his fingers.
Jiang Cheng pulls away just to wrap his arms around XiChen’s neck and he presses closer. Lan XiChen wraps his arms around the man to complete the embrace. He lets himself close his eyes and inhale Jiang Cheng’s scent and his whole presence. Jiang Cheng rubs his cheek to his cheek. He’is warm. He moves, lips brushing skin.
“What do you want to do first in our new life?” he whispers the question, XiChen can hear he’s smiling happily. XiChen’s voice is husky when he answers.