Life as an omega sect leader wasn’t easy. Jiang Cheng wasn’t the first, but he was one of the few. The last omega to lead a sect was over a century ago.
He didn’t present until one awkward night searching for Wei Wuxian with Lan Wangji. The young alpha nearly dropped his sword when the heavy scent of rain and osmanthus started to emanate from his traveling companion. He quickly took Jiang Cheng to the town’s healer and requested the strongest suppressants on hand.
The healer also provided them with a powder that would put the newly presented omega into a safe sleep. It was too late for the suppressant to completely halt the heat, but Jiang Cheng could sleep off most of the effects.
Lan Wangji paid for a room and glared at anyone who gave Jiang Cheng even the slightest bit of attention. He warded the room and placed scent suppressing talismans.
“If you require anything, knock on the door. I will only enter to bring you food and water,” he explained calmly. In the Lan custom, he kept his scent low and controlled.
Jiang Cheng nodded and after closing the door he immediately measured out some of the powder into the cup of warm water to drink, and curled on the bed. As he fell asleep he held back tears. He never thought he would be an omega. Wei Wuxian had presented as an alpha when they were sixteen, and after a year of nothing he assumed that he was a beta like his mother.
He had been a little disappointed, but consoled himself with the fact that hormones didn’t control his life. He couldn’t think about how his parents would have reacted to him being an omega. It was a good thing that he presented well after he was dragged back to the Lotus Pier. The thoughts of what Wen Chao would have done to him were nauseating.
Lan Wangji sat guard in front of the room, only getting up to receive a tray of food for the both of them or to relieve himself. He even slept propped up against the door.
When the suppressants successfully did their job, Jiang Cheng knocked on the door. Lan Wangji opened it slightly and subtly winced at the smell.
“Apologies, could you buy me new clothes? I’ll pay you back.” Jiang Cheng couldn’t bear to look at Lan Wangji.
“Mn,” was his only reply. He returned with a full set of clothes for the young Jiang sect leader. As he handed the clothes to Jiang Cheng, the newly presented omega finally looked up and thanked him. Lan Wangji could tell that the thank you was for more than just a new set of robes.
When the door opened, Jiang Cheng was clean and ready to continue their journey. He visited the healer one more time and bought a lot more suppressants.
He caught Lan Wangji’s frown and matched it with a scowl. “I don’t have time to worry about this kind of thing. We have to find Wei Wuxian and win a war. I’ll deal with everything later.”
To his surprise, Lan Wangji looked thoughtful and then nodded in agreement. They didn’t discuss the matter further and continued their search for Wei Wuxian.
Even at the height of their enmity, Jiang Cheng still respected how Hanguang-Jun treated all of the sub-genders equally. He would also never admit it, but he could not have picked a better alpha to have his first heat around.
When they finally found Wei Wuxian and he pulled his shixiong into a tight hug, he could sense the confusion before Wei Wuxian carefully sniffed at his neck. His shixiong pushed him back and exclaimed, “You’re an omega?! Since when?”
Wei Wuxian gave Lan Wangji a distrustful look as Jiang Cheng gave him an abridged version of what happened. But when he asked Wei Wuxian where he had been and what happened to him, his shixiong became cagey.
Jiang Cheng had been so happy to reunite with Wei Wuxian, but as the war progressed his shixiong became increasingly moody. On a few occasions, Jiang Yanli had to mediate their arguments.
It was a huge relief when Jin Guangyao killed Wen Ruohan, and the Sunshot Campaign ended. Jiang Cheng was ready to go home and rebuild the sect.
Any joy was short-lived when Jin Guangshan very loudly and publicly commented on his subgender at the celebration banquet. The man seemed to have a sixth sense for omegas, and had swooped in far too close for personal comfort to confirm his suspicions.
The banquet hall broke out into excited whispers and Jiang Cheng could feel the weight of their eyes on him. Suppressants delayed heats and dulled the omega scent, but could not completely mask both. No one had gotten physically close enough to him during the Sunshot Campaign to tell.
Jiang Cheng wanted to rip the oily smile off of Jin Guangshan’s face as the man spoke. “The Jin Sect would be honored to provide you with possible marriage candidates.”
It took every bit of his will to keep his anger out of his speech. “I thank you for the opportunity, but at this time I must focus on rebuilding the Lotus Pier and the Jiang sect.”
“A lone omega such as yourself cannot rebuild on your own. A Jin sect husband would support you and the Jiang sect fully,” Jin Guangshan’s gaze was hungry. Whether he lusted over Jiang Cheng himself or his sect was unclear.
The implication was clear. If he agreed to marry someone from the Jin sect he could expect financial support, but no doubt his leadership would be taken away from him.
Before he could reply, Wei Wuxian interrupted the conversation. “Sect Leader Jiang is not alone.” His voice was low and commanding, and his eyes were sharp and intimidating. Without another word he pulled Jiang Cheng away from the Jin Sect Leader. He did not leave his side for the rest of the banquet and glared at anyone who tried to approach them.
The two fought the minute they were alone. Jiang Cheng was sick of Wei Wuxian acting like he was his alpha.
On his return to the Lotus Pier, Jiang Cheng announced to his disciples that he was an omega, and if any of them cared then they were free to leave. He was pleasantly surprised to find only a couple of them left. The remaining disciples knew how fiercely their sect leader fought with them against the Wens, and were loyal.
The Jiang Sect also received an influx of omega disciples and disciples that were unhappy with the way their sects treated the subgenders unequally. Jiang Cheng welcomed them and then put them to work.
His relationship with Wei Wuxian continued to deteriorate. Then Wei Wuxian left. The other sect leaders continued to pressure Jiang Cheng and vilify Wei Wuxian.
It all ended in tragedy. And Jiang Cheng was all alone.
At the first discussion conference after Wei Wuxian’s death, Jin Guangshan once again brought up the prospect of marriage. This time a few other sect leaders offered their alpha offspring as well.
When Jiang Cheng replied he made sure everyone could hear him. “The Jin sect and any other sect are welcome to send their candidates to the Lotus Pier, however they must be able to defeat me in a fair fight before they can court me.”
Jin Guangshan’s expression froze. The sect leaders’ whispers filled the room like steam trapped in a pot.
Sect Leader Yao was the first person to speak to Jiang Cheng. “It would not be proper for a courtship to begin with an act of violence.”
Jiang Cheng held back an eyeroll. Unfortunately a number of “courtships” with omegas started with intimidation, coercion, or violence, especially amongst the lower classes. Sect Leader Yao seemed to forget this obvious reality.
“It is well within my right as a sect leader and as an omega to desire a strong mate. I don’t want to waste my time with anyone weaker than me.”
He was surprised to see that Nie Mingjue was openly grinning at his announcement, but he supposed that the Nie Sect Leader always valued strength. Lan Xichen had his usually polite smile on his face, but he seemed amused.
When no one else said anything directly to him he announced that any interested candidates could formally write to the Lotus Pier for an invitation. He returned to his cup of wine and tried to ignore the unpleasant smell of alphas who felt challenged.
Over the years his plan worked perfectly. His bold declaration dissuaded any alphas or betas who wanted a passive mate. For those who wanted to put him in his place or rise up politically, Sandu and Zidian quickly taught them a lesson they would never forget. He knew that only a few cultivators were capable of matching his strength, and they had no interest in marrying him.
The first couple of years saw a good number of challengers, and the members of the Lotus Pier were delighted to watch him defeat all of them. Servants and disciples would pause their duties, and any of the townspeople who could spare some time gathered to watch the matches. He gave up on scolding the Jiang sect members after the first six matches. His disciples bragged about their leader to anyone who dared speak ill of him.
After the fifth year no one dared challenge him. The cultivation world had declared him too violent and cold to pursue.
In the years after the incident at Guanyin Temple, many things had changed, but the Jiang sect itself remained steady.
Jiang Cheng stomped out of the infirmary. The sect healer had informed him that the fluctuations in his hormones could not be stopped safely by any medicine. Jin Ling was no longer a child, and his body was putting in a last minute attempt for companionship and offspring.
The worst part was that deep down Jiang Cheng wished for those things too. He was no longer a struggling leader of a struggling sect, and for the first time in decades he felt comfortable in life.
He just wished that his body hadn’t chosen to betray him just before a discussion conference. His heat wouldn’t come for another few weeks, but he knew he smelled distinctly sweet. Even use of his spiritual energy wasn’t enough to curb it.
With a curse, he decided that the other sect leaders would just have to deal with it. He would gladly remind them of why they called him Sandu Shengshou with a hint of fear and reverence in their voices.
As he and a handful of his disciples departed to the Cloud Recesses, the disciples shared worried looks. His scowl made them freeze, but they all agreed to keep an eye on their sect leader.
When they reached the Cloud Recesses they were greeted by Lan Xichen and a few Lan disciples. Lan Xichen had ended his seclusion a few months before, but this was his first public appearance.
He was untouched by time. The only change was his gaze. His smile was still gentle, but his eyes had a weariness to them. Jiang Cheng wanted to scold it out of him, but perhaps the man could stand to be a little more cautious.
As Jiang Cheng got closer, the unmistakable smell of osmanthus and rain grew. It took all of Lan Xichen’s will to not visibly react to the scent. He wanted to bury his face into the other sect leader’s neck and pull him close. He hastily pulled back those thoughts and knew he would need to meditate once alone.
“Welcome to the Cloud Recesses, Sect Leader Jiang.”
“Thank you for hosting us, Zewu-Jun.”
“Of course, Lan Jingyi will escort you and your disciples to your rooms.”
Jiang Cheng nodded and the Jiang sect members followed the familiar Lan sect disciple. Lan Xichen had never reacted so strongly to anyone’s scent. The Jiang Sect Leader had always been on suppressants or used his spiritual energy to minimize the smell. Lan Xichen wondered why the omega had finally stopped.
Sect Leader Jiang was undeniably beautiful, with high cheekbones and expressive eyes, but he had never seemed interested in finding a partner. Lan Xichen decided he would follow his instincts and try to get to know the other sect leader a little better.
Jiang Cheng only had enough time to take a quick bath and brush his hair before Jin Ling knocked on his door. The young Jin sect leader had arrived that morning in order to spend some time with his friends before the conference officially began. The first event would be that evening’s welcome dinner, which no one was looking forward to.
“Come in,” he called out as he braided his hair and pulled it all back into his customary bun.
“Jiujiu, why is your scent so strong today?” Jin Ling accused. He was now a little taller than his uncle, but his upset expression still reminded Jiang Cheng of a pouting toddler.
“Is that how you speak to your uncle?”
“Hello jiujiu, it’s nice to see you. Now tell me why you’re not taking your suppressants. You’ve already attracted some unwanted attention.”
Jiang Cheng scowled. “You mean other than yours?” Jin Ling let out an offended squawk before Jiang Cheng told him what the healer said.
The young sect leader paced around the room like a caged tiger. The smell of protective alpha was both endearing and annoying. “I’ll make sure that no one even looks at you funny,” he assured his uncle.
The eyeroll he received was massive. “I can take care of myself, as I have for twenty years. My requirement for my partner hasn’t changed, and I still have an undesirable personality.”
“Don’t worry about a thing jiujiu, I’ll take care of it!” Jin Ling promised him before rushing out of the room.
Jiang Cheng rubbed the bridge of his nose and muttered, “Who said I was worried, you brat.”
Jin Ling made his way to the Jiang disciples’ quarters and discussed how they would all make sure everyone would stay away from Sect Leader Jiang. Then Jin Ling roped in Ouyang Zizhen, Lan Sizhui, and Lan Jingyi. The young men were a little skeptical that Sect Leader Jiang required any help, but figured humoring Jin Ling’s protective instincts wouldn't hurt.
By the middle of the next day, they were redirecting attention and stopping a large number of other sect leaders and disciples from bothering Sect Leader Jiang. Lan Jingyi could smell the other alphas’ interests, while Lan Sizhui and Ouyang Zizhen relied on their eyes. It seemed that Jiang Cheng’s sweet smell mixed with his beauty and untouchable attitude piqued the interest of many.
There was a break after lunch and Jiang Cheng used that time to ditch everyone. He couldn’t stand their attention, good and bad.
He walked past the buildings and into the scenic surroundings. He found himself in a hidden clearing tucked behind part of the mountain. After Wei Wuxian was kicked out of the Cloud Recesses, he had spent time on his own there.
He let out an angry yell and whipped the rock a few times with Zidian before cursing indiscriminately.
When a deep and calming voice interrupted him, he whirled around in surprise. “Are you well, Sect Leader Jiang?” Lan Xichen sat on the part of the mountain above the clearing, looking genuinely concerned.
“What are you doing here?” Jiang Cheng blurted out and then instantly regretted.
Lan Xichen just smiled. “I must confess that my return to the cultivation world has attracted quite a bit of attention. I need a small respite from the other sect leaders.”
“Hah, that is a sentiment I understand. I do not think I’m the respite you’re looking for, but either way you should move before they spot you up there.” Jiang Cheng crossed his arms and looked away as if he didn’t care what decision Lan Xichen made.
It might have been a bad idea to invite the alpha down, but Jiang Cheng had never felt belittled or threatened by the other sect leader. Like his brother, he treated everyone with respect. There was a little part of him that would have been happy if Lan Xichen had challenged him to a fight for a courtship, but he knew the other man never would.
For all that muscle, Lan Xichen jumped down as graceful as a feather. He sat down on the grass and invited Jiang Cheng to do the same. With a show of reluctance the Jiang sect leader sat down.
“I have a feeling that your reason for being here is similar to mine,” Lan Xichen broke the silence.
“Are your disciples also trying to protect you from anyone who even looks your way?” Jiang Cheng asked incredulously.
The resulting chuckle brought out a glare from the omega. “Your nephew’s and disciples’ fervor is admirable, if a little overzealous. One of my disciples did extract me from one of Sect Leader Wang’s long winded stories today with the excuse that I was needed. He led me outside and then asked for the punishment for lying. Don’t tell anyone, but I was so grateful I told him to just never do it again if possible.”
Jiang Cheng couldn’t help but smile at the story. It was small, but somehow managed to soften his countenance. It occurred to Lan Xichen that he had not seen the man smile since he was a guest disciple. The urge to pull him close surfaced again. The Lan practice of controlling scents saved him from angering the omega near him.
“I’ve spent twenty years leading my sect and fighting off unpleasant suitors, I don’t need them to meddle.”
The stories of Sandu Shengshou tearing down every arrogant and duplicitous alpha and beta that challenged him reached even Lan Xichen’s ears. Nie Mingjue especially enjoyed hearing them and laughing heartily. Lan Xichen suspected that the stories reminded his sworn brother of the stories told about his own spirited omega mother.
“That is true, but it’s nice to know you’re surrounded by so many people who care about you,” Lan Xichen said with a warm smile.
Jiang Cheng huffed. “You wouldn’t get it, you’re an alpha. People care about you, but they don’t assume you need their help all the time.”
“Maybe things would have been better if they did,” Lan Xichen quietly uttered.
If Jiang Cheng was a cat, his ears would have perked up. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Lan Xichen avoided his gaze and didn’t reply.
“You can’t be serious. Look, I’m only going to say all this shit once, so you better listen up. What Jin Guangyao did was not your fault. That man managed to fool all of us on multiple occasions. I’m glad you’ve left seclusion. Taking time to heal is fine, but hiding yourself away for too long would have been a waste.”
Lan Xichen’s eyes were impossibly wide as he listened to Jiang Cheng’s aggressively kind words. He opened his mouth to protest, but the omega interrupted him.
“No, shut up, I don’t want to hear it. I’m correct and will not stand for any criticism,” Jiang Cheng said haughtily. Lan Xichen wondered if this was another expression Jin Ling had picked up from his uncle, or if it was the other way around.
Jiang Cheng curiously peaked at Lan Xichen, and was internally pleased to see a humorous smile on the alpha’s face. He met Jiang Cheng’s gaze and the two stared at one another until the sound of a distant bell announced the end of the break.
“We should return,” Lan Xichen stood up and brushed away the creases in his robes. Jiang Cheng followed suit and they reluctantly returned to the conference.
Jiang Cheng’s dream of a quiet and solitary dinner was dashed when Jin Ling knocked on his door. He didn’t bother hiding his annoyance when he told his nephew to enter.
He took one look at the young man’s face and knew that he was about to suggest something unpleasant.
“What,” it was too flat to properly be a question.
Jin Ling crossed his arms and gave his uncle a look . “Hanguang-Jun and Wei Wuxian have returned from their case and invited us to share dinner.”
The relationship between Jiang Cheng and Wei Wuxian was complicated. They had their separate lives that only occasionally overlapped. As in most things, if it were not for Jin Ling Jiang Cheng would have avoided the rest of the cultivation world, diplomacy be damned. But Jin Ling had become quite close to the Lan disciples, which threw him into Wei Wuxian’s orbit.
Jiang Cheng almost enjoyed being the only person Wei Wuxian was awkward around, but mostly he missed having someone who understood him implicitly.
He raised an eyebrow and gave his nephew a look that translated to, and I care, why ? The brat had the gall to roll his eyes.
“Zewu-Jun was invited as well,” Jin Ling said coolly.
“And why would I care about that?”
It was Jin Ling’s turn to raise an eyebrow. “You seemed awfully close when you snuck away and returned together.”
“We did not sneak away together. We both happened to be avoiding the attention we have unwillingly received during this discussion conference and ran into one another,” it was a slight lie, but the point he was trying to make was more important.
This did not remove Jin Ling suspicions, and Jiang Cheng lamented that Jin Ling not only learned his own temperament and stubbornness, but also his paranoia.
“Well I’m sure Zewu-Jun will be happy to spend more time with you.”
“Bite your tongue. I will attend this dinner if you cease your incessant delusions.”
Jiang Cheng interrupted, “No, no more A-Ling. I already have a headache.”
“Fine. We should head to the Jingshi.”
The two said nothing as they walked to Lan Wangji’s residence. Jiang Cheng didn’t notice the effect he had on the Lan disciples they passed. Members of the Lan sect rarely interacted with unsuppressed omegas, and Jiang Cheng’s unabashed scent tested their restraint. Jin Ling sent glare after glare. He held in his protective alpha scent as to not alert his uncle.
When they arrived at the Jingshi, he breathed a temporary sigh of relief. Wei Wuxian’s smile greeted them as he opened the door. It quickly left his face and he stared at Jiang Cheng with a complicated look.
“Wei Ying?” Lan Wangji could sense the change of mood in his husband as he sat next to his brother.
“Ah, I’m fine Lan Zhan. Come on in, I’m glad you’re joining us.” The smile was plastered back on, but Jiang Cheng could tell that something was still bothering him.
Jiang Cheng assumed that Wei Wuxian would take the other seat next to Lan Wangji, so he chose the furthest seat from him that still allowed the younger cultivators to easily converse. Unfortunately this put him across from Lan Xichen, who gave him a warm smile. Jin Ling managed to aggressively plop down next to his uncle and sent a dark look their way.
Lan Wangji frowned at the sign of aggression toward his brother, but Wei Wuxian distracted him by sitting down and pressing his arm against his.
The tension was broken further by the entrance of Ouyang Zizhen, Lan Sizhui, and Lan Jingyi helping a young Lan disciple carry trays of food and drink.
Wei Wuxian gladly recounted the case he and Lan Wangji solved. Jiang Cheng would never admit it, but he listened with rapt attention. The discussion moved on to Lan Jingyi colorfully describing a night hunt he led with the junior Lan disciples when Jiang Cheng noticed that Wei Wuxian kept stealing glances at him. He ignored him and instead turned his attention to Lan Xichen.
The other sect leader spent a good deal of the dinner ensuring that Jiang Cheng’s cup of tea never went empty and placing the foods he enjoyed the most in his bowl. Jiang Cheng wasn’t sure why the man was doing it, but he wasn’t going to complain about the extra food. It was a testament to the man’s high cultivation that his movements went largely unnoticed by everyone else.
Lan Xichen engaged him in a light conversation about the goings on of the Lotus Pier, and the differences between it and Caiyi Town. Jiang Cheng could still feel Wei Wuxian’s gaze on him, which he continued to ignore until the man’s demeanor grew increasingly melancholy.
Anger flushed through his veins, if his presence upset Wei Wuxian that much, then the beta shouldn’t have invited him in the first place.
“What’s wrong with you?” He directed the question to Wei Wuxian. His former shixiong flinched and then put the fake smile back on his face.
“Nothing’s wrong,” Wei Wuxian lied. Jiang Cheng’s anger increased.
“How did you get so much worse at lying? If my presence makes you so uncomfortable then I will gladly leave.” The rest of their group were frozen, unsure how to break the tension.
“No, I don’t want you to leave,” Wei Wuxian assured him, but his eyes still looked so damn sad.
Lan Wangji’s scent spiked at the sight of his mate’s distress. His eyes warily watched Jiang Cheng.
Jiang Cheng wordlessly rose and made to leave. He had no interest in bringing down the friendly atmosphere, contrary to popular belief.
“Wait,” Wei Wuxian pleaded. The unusual request stopped Jiang Cheng, and he turned around hesitantly.
A complex array of emotions flitted through Wei Wuxian’s face before he put together his confession. “Your scent. It’s been a long time since I’ve smelled it, and it brings back a lot of memories. It also reminds me of shijie’s scent.”
It felt as if all of the air had been sucked out of the room and Jin Ling’s small gasp was the only sound.
He remembered when Jiang Yanli would drag them down into a cuddle pile to soothe away their anger and frustration and melancholy. The three of them had one scent in common, that of water. While Jiang Cheng smelled of fresh rain, Jiang Yanli smelled like a babbling brook, as clear and free flowing as her laughter. The scent of osmanthus and jasmine flowers also surrounded her.
As omega siblings, it was not surprising that they smelled similar to one another. It was hard to remember that outside of this discussion conference, there was someone who was familiar with his natural scent.
Jiang Cheng didn’t say anything, but he didn’t leave.
“My mother smelled like jiujiu?” Jin Ling broke the heavy silence. The expression on his nephew’s face brought him back to his side.
Wei Wuxian’s thankfully answered for the both of them. When he finished describing Jiang Yanli’s scent, Jin Ling leaned closer to uncle and breathed him in with his eyes closed. Jiang Cheng indulged him.
Jin Ling opened his eyes and straightened himself back up. “What did my father smell like?”
“Green tea and pearls,” Jiang Cheng and Wei Wuxian said at the same time. Wei Wuxian was just as surprised as Jiang Cheng at this, and quickly started to laugh. The mood was already starting to lighten.
“Jiang Cheng, why is your scent so strong?” Wei Wuxian curiously asked.
The others tensed up at the direct question, but Jiang Cheng didn’t care. “None of your business,” he said without pause.
Lan Wangji looked displeased, but Wei Wuxian just perked up more. He would pester him about the subject at a later time, but Jiang Cheng seemed up to more teasing.
“I miss my old scent,” Wei Wuxian lamented. “Do you, Jiang Cheng?”
“Why would I miss the smell of stagnant pond water and plants?” Jiang Cheng quipped.
“Stagnant pond water and plants?!” Wei Wuxian appeared to be genuinely offended. He whipped his head to stare at Lan Wangji. “I didn’t smell like that, did I?”
Lan Wangji took his hand and softened his gaze. “Wei Ying has always smelled perfect.”
Wei Wuxian preened until Jiang Cheng pointed out, “Notice he didn’t actually deny that you smelled like stagnant pond water and plants.”
This brought out a laugh from Lan Xichen and surprisingly Lan Sizhui. The young man instantly looked guilty as Wei Wuxian gave him a look of betrayal.
“I did not smell like stagnant pond water and plants. According to shijie I smelled like lakewater and fresh cut bamboo. Your nose is just too sensitive.” This argument of theirs had not changed in over a decade.
Jiang Cheng crossed his arms and huffed. “It’s not my fault that most alphas smell bad.”
“Do I smell unpleasant to you?” Lan Xichen asked. This got the attention of the whole room. Lan Wangji in particular stared at his brother intensely.
“You Lans are so good as controlling your scents, how would I know?”
“If you come a little closer I can relinquish a little of my control,” Lan Xichen said with a sweet smile on his face. Lan Sizhui and Lan Jingyi shared a look of shock, while Wei Wuxian nearly spit out a mouthful of wine. Ouyang Zizhen tried not to look so eager at the possible romance blooming in front of him. For once, Jin Ling and Lan Wangji had matching expressions. They were of horror at the shameless words.
Jiang Cheng was completely unaffected. “Whatever, just don’t complain if you end up smelling like rotting wood or mold to me.” As he started to lean closer Jin Ling pulled him away as Lan Wangji held out his arm as if to block Jiang Cheng. Lan Xichen shared a look with his brother, and after some silent communication Lan Wangji lowered his arm.
“Jiujiu!” Jin Ling exclaimed, completely scandalized.
“What are you doing?” Jiang Cheng asked with a glare.
“How can you both act so shamelessly?”
Zidian sparked on his hand, but Jin Ling was undeterred. “What are you talking about? Zewu-Jun was just asking a question.”
Jin Ling struggled to answer, to which Jiang Cheng sighed. “This dinner has sure been, something, but I think it’s time for me to return to my rooms.” This time no one protested when he stood up and left. He missed Jin Ling and Wei Wuxian interrogating Lan Xichen, which was honestly better for his blood pressure.
The rest of the discussion conference went smoothly. Jin Ling watched him like a hawk, but he managed to escape a few times. On some of those occasions he ran into Lan Xichen.
He apologized for his nephew’s behavior and his abrupt exit, but the Lan sect leader quickly assured him that he was not offended.
When the alpha presented him with a small painting of a floating pavilion surrounded by lotuses, he tried to decline the gift.
The look on Lan Xichen’s face reversed that decision. Jiang Cheng had never seen a man look so heartbroken over a gift. He figured the alpha must not be used to someone as blunt and rude as Jiang Cheng. It was a wonder that Lan Xichen hadn’t decided to stay in seclusion forever if the act of an ally refusing his gift affected him so.
When he finally accepted the gift, the smile he witnessed stole his breath away. He sucked air into his lungs and smelled a slight hint of citrus and warmed cloth. But before he could take a deeper breath the scent faded.
“Thank you for your gift Sect Leader Lan. I fear I have little artistic talent, but I promise to reciprocate your kind diplomatic gesture,” Jiang Cheng said with a slight bow. He missed Lan Xichen’s confused expression.
“Diplomatic gest-” Lan Xichen tried to ask, but was interrupted by the arrival of Jin Ling and Lan Sizhui.
“What’s that, jiujiu?” Jin Ling instantly zeroed in on the painting in his hand.
“Sect Leader Lan has presented the Jiang Sect with a gracious gift,” Jiang Cheng explained as he tilted the painting for the two young men to see.
Jin Ling raised an eyebrow, while Lan Sizhui sighed and actually covered his face with his hands.
Jiang Cheng was proud to say that he shared a couple more meals with Wei Wuxian, and they did not end in bloodshed or tears. His friendship with Lan Xichen grew, and a few days after he returned to the Lotus Pier a letter arrived from the Lan Sect Leader. They exchanged weekly letters and small gifts over the next month.
Ashamedly, Jiang Cheng thought of Lan Xichen and what he suspected was the alpha’s scent during his heat. Without the suppressants his heat was almost unbearably intense. He hoped that his hormones would settle before his next heat, which was months away.
On a quiet spring day a panting disciple stumbled into his personal office. “Apologies, Sect Leader Jiang, but Sect Leader Lan has arrived with a small entourage.”
Jiang Cheng dropped the brush he held and stood up immediately. As he briskly walked to the main entrance, he smoothed down his robes and made sure his hair was still properly in place. The sight that greeted him was a smiling Lan Xichen, with Lan Wangji, Wei Wuxian, Jin Ling, Lan Sizhui, Lan Jingyi, and Ouyang Zizhen milling about behind him.
His nephew was scowling, but seemed resigned. Jiang Cheng had no idea why all of them were at his doorstep.
As much as he wanted to yell, what the fuck are you all doing here , it would be a highly improper greeting. That did not mean he needed to be happy about it.
“Hello Sect Leader Lan, I did not know to expect you. What brings you to the Lotus Pier?” The words were polite enough, but his tone hid none of his emotions.
Lan Xichen appeared chagrined, but still resolute. He noticed the watchful eyes of the Jiang sect disciples filling in behind their sect leader.
“Sect Leader Jiang, it is good to see you. Today I come not as Sect Leader Lan, but as Lan Xichen. I wish to fight for the right to court you.”
Gasps and whispers started to fill the courtyard around them. Wei Wuxian was buzzing with anticipation at Lan Wangji’s side. Everyone waited for Jiang Cheng’s response. He had never turned down a challenger before, and this extended silence was unusual.
Jiang Cheng was in shock. Had Lan Xichen really travelled from Gusu to ask for a courtship? He moved his gaze to Jin Ling, and his nephew gave him a pointed look and cleared his throat.
He mentally berated himself. He was Sandu Shengshou, he did not hesitate. If Lan Xichen was truly interested in him, then he had better prepare for a fight.
“I accept,” he said coolly. There was an explosion of action around them as the people of the Lotus Pier spread the word. “I will allow you some time to refresh yourself from your journey. My people will escort you to the main courtyard.”
“Of course, Sect Leader Jiang is most courteous,” Lan Xichen replied.
Jiang Cheng gave him one last defiant stare. “Don’t think I’ll go easy on you.” With that he turned around and went about preparing for the fight.
Word spread like a drop of blood in a basin. Soon the Lotus Pier’s main courtyard was filled with disciples, servants, farmers, merchants, and artisans. They reminisced over the past fights, and made predictions about how this one would go.
In the past everyone agreed that Sect Leader Jiang would win, but this challenger wasn’t just anyone. This was Zewu-Jun, leader of the Lan sect, and the number one bachelor of his generation.
Lan Jingyi got into an argument with a fishmonger over who would win. He managed to convince her daughter of Lan Xichen’s devotion and martial prowess, but the old woman just humphed and stated that Sect Leader Lan better fight like his life was on the line if he had any hope of winning.
Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji only joined the waiting crowd after they purchased all of Wei Wuxian’s favorite foods.
Jin Ling had an animated discussion with a few Jiang sect disciples. Lan Sizhui and Ouyang Zizhen were along for the ride, but internally they were just as excited as the rest of the crowd.
Lan Xichen arrived first, and his eyes were wide as he took in the huge number of spectators. They called out to him with excited words and sounds. He approached Lan Wangji with a slightly nervous smile. In a rare display of affection, Lan Wangji put his hand on Lan Xichen’s shoulder and gave a light squeeze.
The crowd got even louder as Jiang Cheng entered the courtyard. He wore slightly simpler robes and held his head up high.
Lan Xichen turned around and stood a respectful distance from the Jiang sect leader.
Jiang Cheng’s voice quieted the crowd surrounding them. “We will fight until one of us surrenders. You are permitted to use Shuoyue and Liebing, as I will use Sandu and Zidian. No aiming to maim or kill. Minor injuries are permitted, but not recommended. Do you agree?”
“Yes, that sounds acceptable.”
They respectfully saluted and the fight began. Jiang Cheng had stressed over whether to allow use of Liebing, but it felt unfair to forbid a Lan from using their instrument, especially when he used Zidian.
He struck out with Zidian in order to stop Lan Xichen from playing anything on his xiao. The alpha dodged the crackling whip and moved to close the distance between them. He refused to be kept at a distance.
Jiang Cheng sent strike after strike at him, which Lan Xichen avoided with light feet and graceful strength. The next flick of the whip was unavoidable, and so Lan Xichen pushed spiritual energy into his sword and deflected the attack. A small current of electricity flowed into his hand, but the sting was mild.
With a burst of speed he leapt behind Jiang Cheng. As the omega spun around to meet him he played a note on Liebing that made Jiang Cheng hesitate ever so slightly. Lan Xichen used the opportunity to swing Shuoyue down to freeze above Jiang Cheng’s neck.
Instead his sword met Sandu. This time Lan Xichen didn’t allow Jiang Cheng the time to strike out with Zidian.
The direct and firm Lan swordsmanship met the fluid but powerful Jiang swordsmanship. With all of his strength Lan Xichen knocked Sandu out of Jiang Cheng’s hand. The force left the omega’s hand shaking, and before he could use Zidian he found Shuoyue at his neck.
“Do you yield?” Lan Xichen’s eyes were wide and his face was slightly flushed. Jiang Cheng was sure he was a mess of sweat and flushed skin. Their scents mixed as they stared at one another.
Jiang Cheng hated losing, but deep down he knew that surrendering this battle would win him something greater.
“I yield,” he said. The crowd went wild, but Jiang Cheng only had eyes for the look of pure euphoria on Lan Xichen’s face.
The alpha lowered his sword and Jiang Cheng called Zidian back into a ring. Their friends and family joined them as the rest of the Lotus Pier cheered. There were declarations of alcohol at half price, and the townsfolk scattered to prepare for a celebration that would last well into the night.
“I’m so glad I was able to witness one of these fights. When I found out your condition for courtship I was so disappointed I missed watching you defeat all those idiots,” was the first thing Wei Wuxian said.
“Honestly they wouldn’t have been worth your time,” Jiang Cheng replied as called Sandu back to him.
“What about that one guy who ran away crying?” One of the Jiang sect disciples yelled from the sidelines.
“Or the one who went into a rut mid-match and you had to knock out with Sandu’s handle?” Another called out.
“My favorite was that alpha from the west who was forced by his father, and then his childhood friend barrelled into the middle of the fight, knocked the alpha out, and dragged him away for an elopement.” A third voice added.
Wei Wuxian gave Jiang Cheng a wicked grin and joined the Jiang disciples to learn more about what he missed. Jiang Cheng scowled until he felt a warm hand encasing his wrist. He met Lan Xichen’s eyes and he could see the future laid out for them. There would be tedious meetings deciding how two sect leaders would wed, and there would be pressure for Jiang Cheng to step down and start acting like a proper omega, but it would be worth it. He had never felt the happiness flowing through him in that moment.
Jiang Cheng smiled. It was the sunlight peeking through dissipating storm clouds. It was the first blossom after a frigid winter. Lan Xichen couldn’t help himself. He wrapped his arms around Jiang Cheng’s waist and spun him around with unbridled joy.
Jiang Cheng protested and told the alpha to put him down, but he was still smiling. Lan Wangji and Jin Ling shared a tired look, but they couldn’t begrudge their happiness. As the members of the Lotus Pier were aware, it was a time to celebrate.
The meetings were indeed tedious. The Jiang sect elders perished in the Lotus Pier massacre, and Jiang Cheng had appointed all the current advisors himself. They were relatively young and progressive, while the Lan sect elders were not.
He was surprised to find that Lan Qiren was mostly on their side. He supposed that compared to Lan Wangji and Wei Wuxian, he and Lan Xichen were a more typical couple. According to Lan Xichen, when he informed his uncle of his intentions in traveling to Yunmeng, the man just raised an eyebrow and wished him luck.
After a month, the two sects came to an agreement on everything from living arrangements, to heirs, to the wedding decorations. It was very unromantic, but Lan Xichen and Jiang Cheng were used to paperwork and treaties ruling their lives.
A song started to spread through the Jiang sect and the Lotus Pier. It was quite long, and it detailed all of Jiang Cheng’s challengers up until Lan Xichen’s victory. The melody was catchy and the lines were humorous, and Jiang Cheng instantly knew who wrote it.
(He sent Wei Wuxian jars of muddy lake water and plant detritus in return. This actually started a correspondence between the two).
The song traveled across the land, and could still be heard many decades later. It figured that Wei Wuxian’s legacy was the creation of demonic cultivation, and a ballad embarrassing Jiang Cheng.
Jiang Cheng actually slapped Liebing out of Lan Xichen’s hands when he heard him play the melody one night.
They had two weddings. One subdued one in the Cloud Recesses, and one elaborate one in the Lotus Pier. Jin Ling cried at both of them.
Jiang Cheng was apprehensive about the wedding night. He had never received proper lessons on omega manners and etiquette, but he had heard stories.
He had nothing to worry about. Lan Xichen was as gentle and warm that first night as he was in everything he did. From then on, there were nights for intensity, where Jiang Cheng wanted to lose himself and relinquish some of his hard won control, and there were nights for playfulness, where they laughed and had fun. Lan Xichen always gave him what he wanted.
They shared heats and ruts, and while their hormones and pheromones rushed, it didn’t change who they were as people. It stripped them bare, and they felt complete in one another’s embrace.
Children would come. They agreed on having more than one if possible. Lan Xichen cherished growing up with his little brother, and Jiang Cheng wanted the Lotus Pier to once again be filled with the sound of rambunctious children. They ended up with three.
Life as an omega sect leader was never easy, but Jiang Cheng no longer had complaints.