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wouldn't it be nice if we were older? (then we wouldn't have to wait so long)

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The boat draws closer to the harbour, but even mid-way across the lake, he smells a familiar ripe stench before he sees a familiar idiot floating face-down in the water.

Behind him, a few disciples start murmuring, but Jiang Cheng raises his hand, “Hand me the oar.” Once he has the oar, he prods the idiot on the ass with it, stabbing viciously on his tailbone. Impressive. He stays floating, limbs loose like a real corpse. A junior disciple wails, reaching down to fish him out, but Jiang Cheng gives him a look that causes him to startle backwards. He thrusts the oar into that junior’s hands, gesturing primly, “Carry on.”

Immediately, the ‘idiot corpse’ comes to life. “Carry on?” Wei Wuxian sputters, shaking his head like a dog. Like a dog. The irony. “How can you say ‘carry on’, Jiang Cheng? I was drowning!”

“If you were a corpse, how can you drown? God, you really smell like a corpse. Fuck.” Jiang Cheng is about to say something else, but then he sees hurtling towards them. The crowd clustered around the docks fall apart as a bright blur shoots past, and he only gets a glimpse of what’s coming before it strikes— 

The Mistress of Lotus Pier doesn’t wait for them to dock. 

She snatches Jiang Cheng off the boat, lifting her son up into the air and… and hugging him? Hugging? This is hugging, isn’t it? Jiang Cheng kicks his legs, twisting around to shoot Wei Wuxian an aggrieved look, but he’s busy ‘drowning’ again. “What… what’s she doing? Did something happen? A-Niang? A-Niang!”

Nobody expects the infamously cold and imperious Yu Ziyuan to behave like this in front of everyone, but the first words to fly out of her mouth are: “Thank FUCK!”

Jiang Cheng is completely baffled, and more than a little bit frightened. Her strength is making his ribs creak. “What…?”

“My GOOD BOY!” she exclaims, “Well done! Very well done! A-Niang is so, so proud of you, oh!” she sets him down, cupping his face in both hands. “Oh you, I knew it! You get your good taste from me! My beautiful boy, taking things into your own hands! That’s how it’s done! That’s how it’s fucking done!”

Ah, so that’s what this is about.

Jiang Cheng’s face heats up under her hands. Suddenly he’s aware of everyone’s eyes on him and it makes it worse. It’s overwhelming. He’s never felt so elated yet dismayed at this much attention. He’s also never seen his mother like this before. It’s really scary. “A-Niang,” he says, patting her arms awkwardly. “It wasn’t, I didn’t plan for it to happen. We just… I thought Zewu-Jun was really nice, and he—”

“I don’t CARE! This is good, this is so good!” Yu Ziyuan babbles, pulling his face up to kiss his forehead and both cheeks. Gosh. Jiang Cheng is even more stunned with bright lipstick sticking to his skin. “Oh, I’m so relieved, A-Cheng! I’m really happy for you.”

From the water, Wei Wuxian had ducked his head down as soon as he saw Madam Yu, but he lifts his head out again, “What the hell, Jiang Cheng? I’m drowning here, don’t you care at all?!”

He scoffs, “Drown, then!”

A shudder passes through him when he feels the hands holding his face twitch. Jiang Cheng has a sudden realisation. Ah, so that’s what she means about being ‘relieved’! She’s talking about Wei Wuxian! Indeed, she fixes her sights on Wei Wuxian, and she says one word only: “You.”

Shit. 

His face goes pale, but much to their surprise, Yu Ziyuan doesn’t pull out Zidian. Her ring doesn’t spark at all. Actually, she stares at Wei Wuxian for a tense few seconds and then purses her lips. “Don’t you dare interfere with this engagement. If you do, I promise you’ll regret it.”

Wei Wuxian blinks, gulping. “Of course.”

“Good,” she says. “You are no longer my concern. Keep it that way.”

It’s something he was always aware of, but now it hits a bit deeper. 

Jiang Cheng knows his father has been hoping for a long time now that either he or A-Jie would end up paired with Wei Wuxian, but after A-Jie presented as an alpha and was promised to Jin Zixuan, he looked to Jiang Cheng instead, pondering what he would present as. Since Wei Wuxian was clearly (or at least, in his eyes, he was ‘clearly’) an alpha, he hoped Jiang Cheng therefore… wouldn’t be the same gender. He probably expected he was a beta like him. In fact, Jiang Cheng knew he’d been expecting that.

This was mostly on the basis of what most people thought they should be, with omegas being coded as small and delicate (like A-Jie), alphas being big and strapping (admittedly, like Wei Wuxian), betas being… mediocre? Geez, how kind of you, A-Die! How flattering, to be thought of as bland and mediocre! Speak for yourself, and keep your insecurities your own, whilst you’re at it! None of those words describes Lan Qiren, and even Nie Huaisang is interesting (in his own way)!

It wasn’t obvious what he would be from the look of him until he presented. Jiang Cheng’s face was considered quite beautiful (not that he agreed with that), with sharp features that could even be called delicate, but his gangly limbs suggested he would grow broad shoulders and gain a considerable height and muscle mass. All of this was leaning one way or another towards various stereotypes, none of which guaranteed any type of gender, but altogether his appearance (if you were to try and guess) was quite ambiguous.

Although he could understand that he and Wei Wuxian could be a good match, and he could see objectively that Wei Wuxian was attractive, etc etc, he didn’t like him like that. They weren’t quite brothers, just… joint at the hip, but not in that way. As well as that, Wei Wuxian’s Horrid Stench threw any possibility of them mating out of the window. So very far out of it. The type of distance Jiang Cheng could only hope to throw that boy whenever his rut came, or when he was standing downwind from him.

Now that he thinks about it, it’s been impossible to ignore this pressure coming from his father as yet another expectation on him. His only interest in Jiang Cheng seemed to be ‘when can we marry him to A-Ying?’, whereas his mother has never liked the idea of them becoming mates. It’s no wonder she’s relieved! He’s relieved too! However, Jiang Cheng realises he needs to calm her down, otherwise she’ll claw his face off by accident…

“A-Niang, what ‘concern’ were you feeling? You must know, there’s no way I’d marry anyone less than Zewu-Jun,” he soothes, a flick of his hand signalling Wei Wuxian to scram, I’m distracting her. “I certainly wouldn’t marry that idiot over there, because… just look at him! And smell him! He stinks!”

Instead of beating a hasty retreat, Wei Wuxian stupidly chooses Death. 

“Stop telling everyone I stink!! I don’t stink!!!”

“Yeah? Get your nose checked! Full of snot!!”

In fact, once Jiang Cheng got used to the assault on his senses known as ‘alphas’, he found Wei Wuxian marginally more tolerable. Not in the sense that his scent was pleasant. Fuck, no. It must simply be that his initial overabundance of hormones finally calmed the fuck down. It remained strong (no doubt), but just prickly. A bit like black pepper, but spicier and a bit cloying like smoke from a campfire. (Lapsang souchong, he discovered later. That’s what he smelt like, mostly. On a good day.)

Yu Ziyuan’s eyebrow twitches. “Why are you such children? Your squabbling is annoying.” (Both of them freeze in shock. That’s when Jiang Cheng remembers he’s still dangling from her hands like a kitten by the scruff. Even swinging his legs and waving his arms can’t free himself from her clutches. How humiliating!) “Anyway,” she says, finally sounding calmer. “You need to invite Zewu-Jun over. I want to meet him.”

Of course, Jiang Cheng agrees enthusiastically, nodding until his brain feels stirred up.

In all honesty, he can’t imagine Lan Xichen coming to Lotus Pier and meeting his family. He can’t picture it. What will he think of Jiang Cheng’s home? His parents (and their baggage)? Will it be enough to scare him off? …ehhh, hopefully not! He sends a quick prayer out to the universe, making a mental note to beg A-Jie to cook up some soup. All the world’s problems could be fixed with that soup. Jiang Cheng catches sight of a rather terrifying glint in his mother’s eyes, somehow both challenging and triumphant at the same time.

…make that a lot of soup! Enough soup to drown a fish, and yet another prayer to the universe! Best of luck, Huan-gege! You’re going to need it!

 





At dinner, his appetite dwindles with each passing second and any good thoughts are put on hold as his father smiles blandly at him in welcome.

Jiang Cheng keeps sneaking him wary glances. Not even A-Jie’s fussing can soothe him.

It’s not that Jiang Fengmian has said anything, but it’s obvious that he knows and disapproves of Jiang Cheng’s betrothal to Lan Xichen. He has a point (it happened spontaneously, without any input from their guardians, and yeah, that’s not ideal) but it’s not as if they did it on purpose! (Sometimes, people suit each other. Their scent profiles are compatible. Their personalities complement each other. Sometimes people just like each other, A-Die! Seriously! Believe it or not, it happens!)

He winces at the clink of Jiang Fengmian’s teacup on the table. Geez. He’s not happy at all. Beside him, Wei Wuxian is munching away without a care in the world, so stupidly oblivious to Jiang Fengmian’s rain cloud pouring judgement on Jiang Cheng. What type of useless shixiong are you, ah? Open your eyes and—and shut your mouth when you chew! Disgusting!

Jiang Fengmian cannot deny that Lan Xichen is a catch, and that’s possibly the only thing holding his tongue. What would have come out anyway would’ve been mild remarks, and that might have actually been worse. 

His disapproval makes no sense though. Does he really think Wei Wuxian needs to be made into part of the family? As if he doesn’t already have a high ranking place in the sect! He’s their head disciple! He’s sitting at their table, he’s sharing their food, isn’t he? He doesn’t live in the servants’ quarters, he’s had an equal education to Jiang Cheng. What more does he need? Jiang Cheng thinks it over, and right as he’s about to take a bite, he realises the implications of his father’s disapproval.

This is about inheritance.

If he’d adopted Wei Wuxian, it might put him at odds with inheritance against Jiang Cheng or even A-Jie for the claim of anything, but marriage? Bonding him to the family that way would make him Jiang Cheng’s alpha, boosting him up, making him more viable to be chosen over Jiang Cheng as the next sect leader.

Oh, not this fuckery again!

His father has always wanted Yunmeng Jiang Sect to be led by someone who understands the family motto! Who cares if Jiang Cheng has been working his ass off all of these years? Throw all of that into the trash heap because being unrestrained matters more than being hardworking, right? It doesn’t matter what he wants in life, presenting as an omega only proves he’s ill-suited for leadership because omegas are just baby makers, right?!

Yeah, well… well, he can fuck off with this idea!

It’s not as if Wei Wuxian has any desire to become sect leader anyway. He doesn’t care about rules or decorum. All he wants to do is hunt, play, eat nice food, mess around, go on adventures and nerd out over cultivation techniques. He hasn’t got the temperament for dealing with politics. He’s got no brains for leadership, and if he wanted to grow some, he would have done already! If his interest isn’t there, he won’t apply himself. That’s just how he operates.

All of this aside, the longer Jiang Cheng sits there with something like anger churning in his stomach, the more that dormant and resentful side of him grows as he comes to a startling conclusion. He’s never really rebelled against his father before, always seeking his approval, longing to be praised for his efforts, but… maybe he should just give up? 

If Lan Xichen isn’t enough to impress him, doesn’t that mean his expectations will never be met?

Jiang Cheng can’t do better than him, and frankly, he doesn’t want to do better than him either!

He’s never been this happy before, looking forward to a life with someone he really likes (and who likes him too!).

For the first time ever, Jiang Cheng thinks (rather loudly) to himself, ‘Fuck you, A-Die! Go be disappointed then, let me live my life!’ He has to shove a mouthful of rice in to stop himself saying this, but the sentiment is very much there. He’ll defend Lan Xichen against Jiang Fengmian if he has to, not that it’ll be necessary with A-Niang around. She’s not saying much either, but she’s practically glowing with pride, smug to the extent that her alpha scent is filling the room, causing her husband to sigh deeply. 

Wei Wuxian pauses in between stuffing his face to fill Jiang Cheng in on what he missed whilst he was away, then asking about Nie Huaisang and Lan Wangji, and then addressing the elephant in the room: “Did you and Zewu-Jun spend much time together?”

Jiang Cheng tightens his grip on his chopsticks, keeping his answer short: “Yes, we did.”

Lan Qiren must have written a report about his heat and what happened (or didn’t happen, thank god). There’s no way he’s going to talk about that, even if there’s nothing to say. Even if (at the rate he’s going) Wei Wuxian elbows a hole in his ribs, there are some things he would keep for himself.  Fuck off, he thinks, wrinkling his nose up at the other boy, causing him to go from smirking to sniffing his armpits. Ridiculous.

“Zewu-Jun is a good man,” Jiang Fengmian says, shocking Jiang Cheng with this one and only statement. It’s small praise. Just as he thought. The world’s smallest stamp of approval. It’s like saying water is wet. That must have taken him monumental effort. Does he want applause for it?

For once, he’s not bothered that nothing more is said, even if Lan Xichen deserves all the praise in the world. Jiang Cheng tries to ignore the voice in his head saying, ‘Don’t you get it? He’s pointing this out to say that you’re not good enough’. What nonsense. Even if that’s true, Jiang Cheng has discovered his armour against low self esteem: his memories with Lan Xichen! 

He remembers during his heat, and how Lan Xichen held his hand throughout it, ever so patiently feeding him and making him drink water, kneeling by the bed and talking to him whenever he got bored or fussy.

He remembers how they parted at the gate when the time came for him to leave. They didn’t waste too much time on goodbyes, but he remembers that when he stepped onto his sword, he didn’t need Lan Xichen’s assistance, yet he insisted on helping him up anyway. They held hands until the last moment. As he turned to look over his shoulder, he saw Lan Xichen smile, and as he walked away… he flexed his hand. 

Why did he do that? For some reason, the sight made his heart flutter, his own hand clenched into a fist as his skin felt hot, and—

“A-Cheng, make sure to write to Zewu-Jun. Don’t leave it too late or you’ll forget.”

Jiang Cheng jerks upright, broken from his thoughts. (Oh, dinner is over!) “Yes, A-Niang!” 

Later, when the time comes for him to write the invitation letter, that’s when his doubts start to catch up with him. In the quiet of the night, the ink brush feels unnaturally heavy. He sets it down and looks at his hand. That hand. His touch seems imprinted on his mind, causing his heart to race. Lan Xichen’s hands are as elegant as the rest of him, large and strong, well-maintained yet calloused, and… wonderfully warm… but why the hell is he thinking about such things?! 

His doubts! Think about his doubts! Yes, it sure puts yet another dampener on the mood to let his mind spin in that direction. He trades thoughts of sweet smiles and lingering touches to face the blinding truth—what the hell is he thinking, keeping Lan Xichen to himself?

How can he ever compare to the high-fliers in his life? Wei Wuxian, who’s always had A-Die’s affection; Lan Xichen whose name already won him A-Niang’s favour without any effort. If he hadn’t come back from the Cloud Recesses with a betrothal in his hand, there wouldn’t be all of this fuss. He knows he would have returned to Lotus Pier without any fanfare, his presence quickly forgotten as if indistinguishable from his absence all summer.

With these dismal thoughts extinguishing his good mood, he feels a lot more like himself. Good. Enough mooning about Lan Xichen. There’s no point feeling so proud of himself. Dropping his head on his arms, he pats himself on the back for bursting that bubble of euphoria, and decides to give up for the night. This summer has been such a dream. He might as well sleep and wake up to reality.

That’s when the door flies open, causing him to squawk, “A-Ma!”

“What’s this?” His mother sweeps in, slapping his hunched back until he straightens up. “No amount of cultivation will save your spine if you sit like that. Were you asleep? There’s a reason we bought you a bed, you know.”

Jiang Cheng cringes. His elbow landed on the wet ink stone. “I knooow…”

Of course, she sees this and starts scolding, “Why are you working so late anyway? Are you writing the letter? I said ‘don’t leave it too late or you’ll forget’, but your memory can’t be that bad. Finish it tomorrow. Come here.”

Jiang Cheng lets her peel off his ruined shirt and dress into clean night clothes. Then, she begins to fiddle with his hair, tugging it out… oh. They no longer do the usual bedtime ritual like they used to. Jiang Cheng tilts his head back, eyes falling shut as she combs his hair out.

“A-Ma,” he murmurs, inhaling deeply. Everyone’s scents have grown stronger to him. More pronounced. His mother’s alpha scent is even brighter now, sharp and clean, like citrus. “Are you really happy I chose Zewu-Jun as a mate, or are you just relieved that I can’t be married to Wei Wuxian?”

He wouldn’t usually dare to ask this, but she’s been rather gentle with him. Her movements slow down a fraction, she then scoffs, “Does it matter if I’m happy or not? Zewu-Jun is a good choice. Wei Wuxian… who cares about him? He’s no longer my concern.”

“But he was your concern.”

“A-Cheng,” she intones, turning him to face the mirror so they can talk to each other, “Listen… when I say I wouldn’t have let you marry that boy, I mean that for your own good. Unless you really, really wanted him, I would have fought your father at every turn. You know what he expects from you, now that you’ve presented. Even before then, it was a matter of protecting your future.”

Jiang Cheng gulps, nodding. “Yes, I understand.”

She smooths his hair back. “I do care that Zewu-Jun is good, and that he is nice to you. I was prepared to start finding you matches, but you’ve done the work for me, and you did better than I ever could.”

He cracks a half-smile. “Sorry.”

“Don’t be. These things happen. I’ve heard of scent-matches before. They indicate compatibility, but my son, if you do not care for each other, compatibility counts for nothing.” Her voice is soft, if solemn. Their eyes meet in the mirror. “Does Wei Wuxian really stink?”

Jiang Cheng blinks in shock, but then sniffs, nodding, “Yeah, he stinks so bad.”

She hardly ever laughs, but this time she snorts and wraps an arm around him, kissing his temple. “Write the letter tomorrow,” she says, and then scoops him up. Jiang Cheng flails, but she’s as strong as ever, effortlessly carrying him to his bed. “Sleep.”

“Goodnight, A-Niang.”

This is an abnormal amount of affection in such a short time, but Jiang Cheng is exhausted, and there’s nothing like your own bed and your mother tucking you in to send you straight to sleep. Her scent cloaks the room, like a safety blanket—

“Oh, oops.”

His eyes fly open. Shit.

Wei Wuxian is stood at the door with a pillow tucked under his arm and A-Niang scowling at him. “You’re too old for sleepovers. I don’t allow it.”

“You said we’re still children,” Wei Wuxian argues, pouting. “Madam Yu, don’t tell me you’re worried about Jiang Cheng. He’s fully capable of kicking me out himself. I have something to say. I just want to have a chat—”

“Night time is for sleeping, not chatting,” she hisses. She yanks Wei Wuxian’s pillow away. “Why did you bring this? You aren’t sleeping in this room with him. Say what you want quickly and begone.” Then she strides away without another word. She might not care for him at all, but the fact Wei Wuxian can get away with speaking like this says a lot about where she draws the line.

Jiang Cheng sneers, “I will absolutely kick you out if you keep me awake all night.”

Wei Wuxian grins, “I heard what you and your mom were talking about and… what I want to say is, you really don’t have to worry about me ruining whatever you and Zewu-Jun have going on. I don’t want to be your alpha.”

“Yes, I know that, and thank god.”

“I don’t want you to be scared of me doing anything untoward.”

Jiang Cheng sighs, sitting up to listen. So much for sleeping. “How can I be scared of you? It’s like being scared of a sentient fart… maybe semi-sentient. If you tried doing anything untoward, I would simply chop it off.”

“When your mom said about sowing wild oats, I think that actually, I’m the one who wants to… to be sown.”

(This is the moment when Jiang Cheng realises he’s about to hear something he really doesn’t want to know. But it’s too late. Wei Wuxian’s sense of self is in jeopardy, meaning that everyone has to get involved, and fuck it, his dreams are spilling out in the most horrifically descriptive way.)

“When you imagine doing that stuff, isn’t it like that? I want to be pushed down, you know. Held down. I want to be filled up. In my mind, it’s so… it’s so—”

Jiang Cheng was speechless in horror, but he throws his pillow at him. “What are you saying?! Get out of my room!! Shut up, shut up!!”

Wei Wuxian walks backwards out of the room under a barrage of pillows, still spewing out his fantasies, “…someone else to do the work, you know? And it’s so convenient with your type of body, with the ability to produce slick, I’d imagine—”

“Argh!! GET OUT, GET OUT!! A-NIANG!!!”

A hard kick sends him hurtling out into the corridor, straight into Yu Ziyuan’s arms.

She snatches Wei Wuxian up, wearing some unreadable expression as she watches all the blood drain out of his face. “You were talking so loud, you clearly wanted to be heard by me,” she muses, looking him up and down. “I really don’t know what to think about that. I don’t know anyone else who would say what you just said out loud. I suppose you’re being honest about what you want, but was saying that meant to prove something?”

Wei Wuxian shivers under the older alpha’s piercing glare. “Uh, maybe?”

“Maybe? Maybe you think it’s a relief to know you have different tastes, but none of that changes the fact that you barged into my son’s room, saying such obscenities without caring how he might feel on the matter. He didn’t ask to hear about it. Maybe you got something off your chest, but look how uncomfortable you’ve made him. All your good intentions mean nothing when you put others in a place of accepting what you’ve said and taking your word for it.”

“Madam Yu—”

“What did you hope to achieve here? Did you think this was acceptable behaviour? I’ve been lenient with you so far, but clearly you took that to mean you were allowed to misbehave. Get out.”

Wei Wuxian shoots him a glance, “Jiang Cheng…”

Jiang Cheng doesn’t believe Wei Wuxian wants an omega life. He might enjoy the idea of it and whatever ‘conveniences’ he thinks he’ll get, but he’s too attached to the privileges of being an alpha. What he has is a fetish, and what Jiang Cheng now has is a headache.The scolding might be harsh, but for once his mother is right. This wasn’t what he wanted to hear. He probably reeks of discomfort. “It’s too late for this,” he whines. 

She flinches, glancing at him. “Yes, it is. You must be tired. Go to sleep, A-Cheng.” Dragging Wei Wuxian away, she continues, “You, on the other hand. Follow with me…”

Good luck, Wei Wuxian. Good riddance. His head hits the pillow and he’s out.

When he wakes up, it’s quite late, and he sits up slowly, smacking his lips and sniffing the air.

The remnants of A-Niang’s perfume and scent hold him in a haze of comfort, almost convincing him to stay in bed a bit longer, but it’s too bad. The morning habits from Gusu Lan have stuck. Already, he feels like he should go do handstands for this tardiness. Jiang Cheng drags himself downstairs, greeting whoever he comes across and receives at least a dozen “welcome back!”s on his way to breakfast, only to find out that breakfast is, in fact, lunch. It’s a lazy day, a slow resting day.

For a while, he goes to sit by the lake, dipping his feet in the water and enjoying being back home. Thinking over the previous night, he wonders if his mother eviscerated Wei Wuxian. All of the stuff he’d said. The wording was quite vivid. Difficult to forget. Pushed down. Held down. Filled up. The convenience of s… slick. He covers his burning face. Fuck.

A disciple nearby calls out, “Hey, does anyone smell watermelon?”

Jiang Cheng stands up, sucks in a deep breath and dives into the lake.

By the time he actually goes to write the invitation letter, he is told that the messenger has already left. He grabs the shimei who told him, shaking her shoulders, “Already left?! It’s not even afternoon!”

Jiang Cheng is appropriately horrified when he hears that Wei Wuxian sent a letter off before him (“Well, you were taking so long, Madam Yu asked, and I have things to say to Zewu-Jun too, you know, as your shixio—ACK!”), and is only slightly relieved to learn that it was a joint letter written by him and A-Jie. When did he get the time to write after last night? Maybe he didn’t get punished? Maybe the punishment was to write a letter? Surely not?! Any relief he got vanishes when both of them refuse to tell him what they wrote. Why won’t they tell him? What did they write?! 

Even A-Niang wrote a letter to send with theirs, meaning that his letter is really the last one to be sent! Why is he the last one? He’s late! He’s so late! Fuck! Fuuuck!! What does he even write to Lan Xichen? Is there any point if A-Niang has already invited him? Should he warn him about his family? My dad is going to test you, my mom is also going to test you (but she’ll probably be thanking you at the same time). Don’t pay attention to Wei Wuxian. Ignore him. Let A-Jie pamper you, or else she’ll be offended.

In the end, there’s no way to prepare anybody for a first meeting with his family.

Lan Xichen is just going to have to be brave.

All he ends up writing is that he hopes he’s well, please travel safely, he looks forward to seeing him… he almost writes ‘do you miss me?’, but that says far too much about himself. He scrubs it out, but then that’s too obvious, so he goes and rewrites the whole letter again. It’s full of bland, boring platitudes, but hey, it’s better than embarrassing himself! Jiang Cheng hesitates, but then rubs his wrist across the page, giving it a tentative sniff.

(He’s heard some mates do that. It’s too late to back out, he’s not rewriting this again.)

What did they say he smelt like? Watermelon?

 


 

Yu Ziyuan… is so, so happy.

More precisely, she’s over the fucking moon. She might just ascend from the sheer amount of energy this has given her—and this isn’t even about her. This is about her baby, her precious son who has scored the top cultivator of his generation! Of course, he did! If she wants to justify herself, this really is a win for the whole family, even for her miserable husband (although he doesn’t want to admit it). There are so many advantages to this match that she can’t start listing them or she’ll never stop.

When she got the news from Lan Qiren, she wrote three pages back in response. That was her holding back. She had three more, but she didn’t want to overwhelm him. In her letter to Lan Xichen, she asked him to bring his uncle along too, wanting to speak with Lan Qiren in person. It’s been a while, and gosh, she wants to squeeze all the information she can out of him!

Lan Xichen is not someone she knows very well, but she’s seen him at formal functions, and he lived up to all expectations. More importantly, what she was looking for when she picked Jiang Cheng up at the docks was his reaction to him—and what did he do? He turned as red as a tomato. Last night, he mentioned that he was the one who chose Lan Xichen.

Jiang Cheng likes him. 

Like, he really likes him.

That doesn’t guarantee Lan Xichen will be good to him (so she’ll be looking out for that) but if her baby likes him, she’s got to trust he’s worth his attention. She’s never seen him react like that before. If possible, she wants to see what he’s like with Lan Xichen. Will he explode with happiness? Are his feelings returned? Well… they damn well should be! Her son is also a catch!

As soon as they receive Lan Xichen’s confirmation, she flies into action, preparing rooms and dishes and sending servants running around to make everything look good. You only ever get one chance to make a first impression, and with this being an invitation to another alpha into her territory, she’s got to go all out. Since Jiang Fengmian decided to leave everything to her (as usual), she marches around Lotus Pier bellowing orders and cracking the metaphorical whip. 

It’s as if the place is under attack, but by the Mistress, which is even more frightening. 

Yu Ziyuan huffs, rolling up her sleeves as she heads to her son’s room. She’s been looking for him everywhere. Wei Wuxian is missing too which only sends her blood pressure soaring. He’s still a little shit, always dragging Jiang Cheng into messes! Even thinking of that boy, her brain and heart tangle in confusion and sympathy. Under the pretence of needing to know why he thought his ‘little chat’ with Jiang Cheng was appropriate (or necessary), she learnt more about his preferences. Much more than she ever needed to know. 

Who the fuck cares what he’s into? His specific interests are his own business. They awkwardly went over those ‘interests’ to clarify Wei Wuxian’s understanding on the matter of omegas, pregnancy and… childbirth. Women alphas could carry children. That’s how she had Jiang Cheng. After her husband gave birth to their daughter, when Fengmian was left weakened by her birth, Yu Ziyuan decided to carry their next child, and if she does say so herself, she did a much better job of it!

It took three years of trying, which is possibly how all and any romance between them died. Then, of course, Jiang Cheng was born strong and healthy, but as an omega. The fucks she had to give by that point, fresh out of labour, were phenomenally low—so what, she asked? If he’s an omega, so fucking what?

Jiang Fengmian had certain ideas about what each gender’s roles were, that’s what.

Back to Wei Wuxian—so he went from being one headache to another, but ultimately, at least he wasn’t vying to steal Jiang Cheng away. She could work with that. Enough of being Jiang Fengmian’s shield against his insecurities, or being the living embodiment of all his hopes and dreams. Wei Wuxian, I don’t care what you want. Just keep it to yourself. (For once, when she said that, it wasn’t said to be cruel.) And stop saying such vulgar things to my son. He vigorously agreed to this.

“Madam Yu,” a senior disciple stammers, interrupting her thoughts. “Zewu-Jun has arrived.”

What? He’s arrived?! 

“But he’s too early! A-CHENG!” she bellows, sending that disciple toppling over, and a few others scattering. “Fuck. Where is that boy? Stop running away, you fools! Somebody find him!” She sucks in another lungful of air, cupping her mouth, “A-CHENG!”

“A-Niang?”

Wrong child, but she heads straight towards her daughter, “A-Li, where’s your brother? Don’t tell me he’s with Wei Wuxian. Zewu-Jun has arrived early. He should be here to greet him!”

Her wonderful, ever-so-patient daughter sighs, smiling apologetically, “I think he went out to train with the younger disciples.”

Yu Ziyuan hisses, clutching her forehead. “Out with the younger disciples…” (That’s code for ‘they went out to shoot kites’.) “That means he’ll be all dirty. Fuck. Why would he leave me to receive his guest? I’m going to break his goddamn legs…”

“Don’t worry, A-Niang,” Yanli says, quickly rushing away. “I’ll be right back!”

“Let him know if he doesn’t come back in time, I’ll be sending Zewu-Jun to HIM!” Yu Ziyuan roars, shaking her fist in warning. “And if Wei Wuxian is there, tell him he’s in trouble too—!!”

 


 

Jiang Cheng is stressed, alright? 

He’s nervous in a way he’s never been. It’ll be anytime now, Lan Xichen will arrive in Lotus Pier to meet his parents, and everything will start becoming even more real. How is it that thinking about Lan Xichen both calms and scares him in equal measure? He has no idea how to behave around him when his family is there too!!

After his doubts started coming, they didn’t stop coming. He’s been sulking on-and-off about being so unremarkable compared to him and Wei Wuxian. The alphas. The winners of society, always loved and praised for… for existing, basically. It’s difficult not to feel some resentment, even towards his future mate. Something he’ll have to accept is that his place as Lan Xichen’s future omega—

Pshew! Pshew!! Pshew!! He turns the other way, shooting three more. Pshew! Pshew!! Ehhh, tricky… pshew!! 

—is to make his alpha look good by being good for him.

Five out of six.

Jiang Cheng scowls, shoving his bow at the next person in line and going over to kick a boulder. It isn’t just nerves getting the better of him. Five out of six isn’t good enough. Wei Wuxian got six out of six in quick succession. The wind had been drifting before, but it’s stabilised since. Jiang Cheng has no excuse for that miss. He’s just… he’s not good enough. There’s no amount of training that will correct this flaw. He’s unremarkable, untalented, and unlucky enough to have a bad temper.

Kick, kick, kick, kick, kick.

“Hey, I brought you out here to work through your stress, not add to it,” Wei Wuxian scolds, tugging him away from the boulder. It has a large crack in it now. “Oh… oh, no.”

When he hears his father’s footsteps, he hunches his shoulders. Then he smells a familiar clean scent, and he is right on the edge. He’s so close to bursting into angry tears, it’s hard to choke them down. Fuck. Don’t cry. Breathe. Don’t you dare cry. Breathe… he breathes in and feels the tiniest bit better. Lan Xichen steps forwards and smiles, his amber eyes sparkling as he extends a hand towards him. “Jiang-gongzi, you’re looking well. How have you been?” 

I’ve been missing you. No, no, Jiang Cheng clamps his lips together. It’s been what, a week since he last saw him? Stop being pathetic! I’ve been freaking out on the daily imagining you meeting these cretins. Do you want to survive, A-Cheng? Honesty is not the way! You smell amazing, I want to hug you forever. Oh god. There’s no hope. None. 

“Aren’t you going to greet Zewu-Jun?”

With the others watching them, Jiang Cheng nods a few times at his father’s prompting, only managing to stutter out a weak, “H… hello.”

Lan Xichen’s expression falters, lowering his hand smoothly. “Hello.”

He isn’t as immaculate as he usually appears, his robes slightly rumpled and hair windswept. There’s the metallic smell of blood, fresh from a hunt. Even then, he looks better than everyone around him. Jiang Cheng bites his lip, realising that he’s also… less-than-presentable. Their eyes meet again, a flicker of amusement passing between them—

“A-Cheng! Where is that boy? A-CHEN—oh.” His mother’s thunderous voice cuts in half, her fierce glower switching to neutral. Clearing her throat, “Zewu-Jun, welcome to Lotus Pier. Did you arrive just now?”

“Yes, I did.” He salutes her, bowing his head. “It’s an honour to be here. Apologies for my lateness and for my appearance. I was travelling when I received your invitation…s.”

“No matter. We’ll have a bath prepared for you. Was your uncle not able to come?” Yu Ziyuan asks, frowning. “It’s not like him to refuse an invitation.”

“He should be arriving soon, possibly tomorrow,” Lan Xichen explains. “I sent your invitation onwards as soon as I received it.” Everyone stands there in awkward silence. Then he turns to Jiang Cheng, “There were other letters which… thank you, I enjoyed reading them a lot.”

“Did you get my letter?” Wei Wuxian interrupts, smirking jokingly as a mock(?) challenge. 

There are too many alphas in this small space. Jiang Cheng scowls, covering his nose and shuffling closer to Lan Xichen’s side. He does this without meaning to, but everyone notices. Well, at least nobody says anything. He might have to punch them if they did, and none of his options right now are safe bets. The boulder is broken too. Poor thing.

“Yes, thank you, Wei-gongzi,” Lan Xichen smiles widely, but in a way that isn’t strictly ‘friendly’. He’s waiting expectantly for Jiang Cheng to say something. God, everyone is looking at him! At them! What a nightmare! “Wanyin…”

“Yes, thank you—I mean, you’re welcome! It’s no problem,” he mumbles, withering under the weight of all this attention. His parents, in particular, have his stomach churning rather badly. Forcing himself to step even closer, he hopes he sounds sincere, “I’m glad you arrived safely.”

If there was any tension around Lan Xichen’s eyes, it eases at this, curving upwards in genuine happiness. “Well, since you asked me to, I had to make sure I would.”

Jiang Cheng almost bites through his lip.

That’s when he slips, on mud or some misfortune—he slips!

Lan Xichen swerves around, scooping him out of the air before he falls down.

Jiang Cheng scrabbles for purchase on something—anything!—and his fingers hook on the edge of the alpha’s robes, ripping them open. At first, he doesn’t realise what’s happened. Lan Xichen holding his waist is enough to knock his brain out of commission. Then he looks down and… chest. There’s a chest. Lan Xichen’s chest. The dip of his throat and clavicles, the curve of defined muscles. His finger is touching his nipple. What the fuck.

Jiang Cheng has lost all brain function. It must have melted out of his ears. There’s a chest in his face and it’s… he’s… 

That’s when he remembers their audience, and hears someone say, “Welcome, Teacher Lan!”

No.

No, no, no!

Jiang Cheng’s soul is next to leave his body. He can’t look away from Lan Xichen. His chest. (He wants to bite it.) Lan Xichen’s ears are red and adorable, and though the blush on his face is more of a delicate pink, he’s well on his way to becoming a tomato. A quick glance to the side shows Lan Qiren caught looking between them, his face slack as he stares at his nephew—

An attendant hovering at the periphery whispers something into Yu Ziyuan’s ear, and claps her hands and yells, “DINNER!”

 


 

 

It’s another dinner of awkwardness and suffering.

Jiang Cheng has no appetite. None at all. He might actually throw up. Part of him is worried it’s another heat, but no, it’s just nerves. After his first heat, everytime he feels sick he’s worried it’s happening again. Oh, the woes of puberty. 

Whenever he picks up a piece of food, he hears his father munching quietly and not saying anything, and the pressure builds. Lan Xichen isn’t expecting conversation since they don’t talk during meals in Gusu Lan. This isn’t the Cloud Recesses though, and he’s been answering questions when asked to. A-Niang keeps giving him looks prompting him to say something to him, but Jiang Cheng doesn’t like the feeling in the room. The Lans should be left in peace!

As soon as he’s practiced a few lines in his head, feeling confident enough to speak, he practically senses Wei Wuxian’s patience snap as he bursts out, “Zewu-Jun! You said you were travelling, didn’t you? Ah, why don’t you tell us…”

That absolute fuck! 

How dare he steal the words from Jiang Cheng’s mouth?! Wei Wuxian asks Lan Xichen about the Cloud Recesses, his travels and where they took him, how he’s doing with his cultivation, and how his brother is… he asks all of the things Jiang Cheng was about to ask, filling in for him as he usually would! What the fuuuck!! Jiang Cheng shrinks in his seat, feeling like absolute scum. He should be grateful to Wei Wuxian for covering for him, but he was… he was getting there. Ugh.

Lan Qiren remains indecipherable. Ever since he was unfortunate enough to witness his nephew being publicly disrobed, he’s been unable to look at either of them.

Despite Lan Xichen answering these questions, he can hear him pausing every now and again, hanging there expectantly for his input. Everything he had planned in his head is mangled up now. Don’t wait for me, Huan-ge. My head is empty. I’m gonna try and eat now—

“Shouldn’t you also try and speak with Zewu-Jun?” 

Oh, fuck.

A-Die, he wants to say, why must you always point these things out at the worst of times? Can’t you time your complaints a bit better? This is what he rants in his head because he literally put a big mouthful of food in his mouth right as his father asked this. Jiang Cheng tries to swallow it down, but when he does this, he starts choking—

“Ah, be careful.” Lan Xichen slaps his back, smacking a few times until he clears his airway. Pouring him some water, “Here, drink this.”

Jiang Fengmian continues to point out, “Shouldn’t you be trying to impress Zewu-Jun, or at the very least, try talking to him?”

I’m trying not to choke to death right now, A-Die, priorities! Jiang Cheng wipes his eyes, his mouth, covers his face and tries to compose himself. Lan Xichen continues patting his back, rubbing it comfortingly. Can his father please, for once in his life, give Jiang Cheng a break? Was this his version of teasing Jiang Cheng? It sucks! Don’t bother, A-Die! “It’s… talking during meals isn’t permitted in Gusu…”

Jiang Fengmian flicks Lan Qiren a glance, “You’re quite right, A-Cheng. My apologies. Let’s talk later.”

“Pardon me, Sect Leader Jiang, but your son doesn’t need to impress me,” Lan Xichen smiles. “I am already impressed. Also, we talked a lot this summer. There’s no need to repeat what’s already been said.”

“Thank you, Zewu-Jun,” Yu Ziyuan says, clearing her throat. “Anyway, Jiang Cheng, it might have been a windy day but you usually score better than that. What happened?” To Lan Xichen, she explains apologetically, “It’s not like him to miss a shot.”

Noooooo! Jiang Cheng’s face catches fire. Goddamn it, no! She’s lying. She’s fucking lying through her teeth as she smiles at Lan Xichen. He appreciates the sentiment, glad to have his mother supporting him, but also he feels sick. Stop helping me, everyone! You’re not helping!

“I… I don’t know what happened.” He gives Lan Qiren an apologetic look. “Didn’t we say we’d talk later?”

“You should train harder, otherwise you’ll rely on Wei Ying too much for support,” Jiang Fengmian says. 

Jiang Cheng ducks his head, “Yes, A-Die.”

“Pardon me, but why would he need to rely on Wei-gongzi?” Lan Xichen asks. “I wouldn’t say he has anything to worry about if five out of six hits is considered ‘bad’.”

Jiang Fengmian pauses, setting his teacup down with a pleasant smile. “May I ask what Zewu-Jun considers a good score to be?”

Lan Xichen hums, taking a second to think. “Well, from what I’ve seen on my travels so far, in my opinion, scores don’t really matter at all. You can hit every round on the mark during practice without wasting arrows and feel incredibly accomplished, but when the time comes to a real fight, who cares about being precise?”

This has everyone stopping to listen.

Even Lan Qiren is (reluctantly) paying attention.

What he’s described of his travels include some truly vicious battles with monsters. It’s normal for young cultivators to go travelling around the world, broadening their horizons and gaining experience from solo work. Lan Xichen didn’t need to build a name for himself, but he has, and yet… it’s clear he doesn’t consider his achievements to be above the norm.

“As we all know, when in a battle you shoot every arrow you’ve got until the enemy is down.” There’s a dark edge underlying this statement. “Practise may reduce wastage, but you don’t consider such a thing when the danger is so immediate. What matters is that the skills you’ve trained are put to use effectively. Jiang Cheng has those skills. I wouldn’t worry at all.”

Around the table, Yu Ziyuan looks impressed and Jiang Fengmian also looks interested. Jiang Cheng knows he’s gaping unattractively, and Wei Wuxian is buzzing next to him in excitement. “Zewu-Jun, will you tell us more about those battles? What enemies? How many? Tell us, tell us!” Beside him, Jiang Yanli grabs his wrist and laughs lightly, reminding him to calm down.

“Hmm, I’ve told you already.” Lan Xichen glances around at his audience. “It was nothing too exciting. All the hunts worth talking about have already been told. There’s only one I’ve not heard about yet, which is,” he catches Jiang Cheng’s eye, “The night of the rut—”

Jiang Cheng spits out his tea.

… 

Did he say rut? Did the word ‘rut’ come out of his mouth? Right in front of his parents?! It can’t be! Did he spit blood right now from hearing him say that??! Jiang Cheng wipes his mouth to check for blood. Fucking hell. 

“Rut?” his mother exclaims, sounding alarmed. “There was a rut? What rut?” 

Lan Qiren is stubbornly eating his dinner, pretending not to see or hear anything. Jiang Cheng wishes he could do the same! Did he not write to her about it though? Nothing bad happened, A-Niang! Please stop asking! Aiyo, he’s too horrified. He can’t bear to look at his father. What must he be thinking? Have a heart, someone, Jiang Cheng might qi deviate at this rate!

As if hearing his pleas, Lan Qiren mercifully clears his throat. “Nie Huaisang, Wei Wuxian, your son and my nephews were out on a hunt.”

Jiang Fengmian says sternly, “It’s quite improper for an omega to go out with so many alphas.”

Lan Xichen raises his brows. “Why is it improper? It’s not as if any of us would hurt Jiang Cheng. It’s not as if any of us could.”

What the hell?! Jiang Cheng’s mind is emptier than empty. It makes a drum seem full. Since when was Lan Xichen so outspoken?! Huan-ge, please just leave it! I don’t know what you’re doing, but please shut up! Jiang Cheng rubs his poor throat. Inhaling tea hurts like a bitch. God.

“Ha, nonsense!” Yu Ziyuan points at her mate. “You never said such things when Wei Changze went out on hunts with us, did you? With Cangse Sanren around, you never uttered the word ‘inappropriate’. Are you serious? Explain your double standards, Fengmian.”

Jiang Fengmian grudgingly replies, “That’s true, but if you remember, I was there. Also, Lan Qiren was there to keep an eye on us… although his involvement that time nearly cost us our lives—”

“Don’t blame him for that! He was dealing with all of us having rut at the same time, and it’s fine. Didn’t someone take revenge on him for everyone?” She pauses, then gives Lan Qiren’s chin a commiserating look. “Oh right, that happened… sorry I didn’t stop her. Your poor beard.”

What’s with all this bickering? Are they being nostalgic or having an argument? Jiang Cheng nudges Wei Wuxian but he’s too busy panic-eating to pay him any mind. He nearly jumps out of his skin when Lan Xichen places a hand on his arm. “My uncle was also there to keep an eye on us that night,” he says. 

Inwardly, Jiang Cheng thinks: ‘Poor Teacher! It seems he’s always coming to help out with others!’

Yu Ziyuan smirks, but then asks, “Why did you go on a hunt so soon after dealing with that ‘other investigation’? Surely it would have been better to return home instead of keeping on going.”

“That’s true.” Lan Xichen smiles bashfully. “Unfortunately, it was an ill-made choice. My fault. I didn’t realise my judgement was impaired by an oncoming rut until later. Still, we went ahead, and so we were all caught in it.”

At this point, Wei Wuxian has abandoned panic-eating, wide-eyed and unable to look at Yu Ziyuan, who is watching him very closely. She says, “I’ve not heard about this…” 

“Ah, I’m sorry,” he rambles, “I’m really sorry I didn’t say anything. I swear, I couldn’t remember most of what happened that night—”

“It wasn’t Wei-gongzi’s fault if he couldn’t remember much,” Lan Xichen interrupts smoothly. “He was busy brawling with Wangji, so he couldn’t have been paying much attention at the time. It would have been impossible for them to notice how the rest of the hunt went.”

“I didn’t hear about this from you either,” Yu Ziyuan says, redirecting her attention to Lan Qiren.

Lan Qiren sighs. “It wasn’t worth mentioning. You would have written ten pages in response.”

“Explain.”

“Your son took command of the situation,” he explains. “He finished the night hunt, dealing with the beast all by himself. By the time I arrived, he was defending the three rutting alphas and Nie Huaisang. There was nothing I really needed to supervise. He had it all under control.”

Yu Ziyuan makes a strange noise, perking up and turning to look at her son. It’s really unnerving when she starts grinning like that. Jiang Cheng has covered his face again, unable to handle all of this talk. Who cares if he’s not acting properly? This is excruciating. Why can’t they change the conversation?

“Well, what else could I do?” he finally bursts out. “There was no one else around and Huaisang is useless in a fight! Everyone else was too out of it.” He’s panting and red-faced. “It’s not a big deal! Not a rare beast. Not… not anything special.”

“Even a common beast can be dangerous if not dealt with properly,” Lan Xichen argues. “And protecting four other people at the same time? How is that not impressive?”

By now, several of the disciples from the other tables are looking in their direction, obviously interested when they hear the words ‘beast’ and ‘hunt’ (and probably ‘rut’). One by one, they start asking ‘What type of beast?’ ‘How long was the fight?’ ‘Did you really kill it by yourself, Jiang-xiong—?”

Another scoffs, “Of course he did! Why are you even asking?”

The one from before says, “Usually it’s da-shixiong who is fighting the beast.”

Again, they reply, “Yeah, because Jiang-shixiong is busy keeping an eye on us during hunts! Do you want to return home alive? In that case, you need someone watching your back! Who else makes sure we’re not leaving ourselves open for attacks?”

“Da-shixiong,” one disciple calls out, “Why didn’t you tell us about this hunt?”

Wei Wuxian raises his hands apologetically, “Listen, I’m sorry everyone, I honestly can only remember fighting with Lan Zhan that night! Nothing else!” He frowns. “Wait, also… trees?”

“Not ‘Lan Zhan’ again,” someone mutters, causing giggles to ripple across the room. ‘Lan Zhan’ is someone they’ve heard a lot about over the summer, but referring to him like that in front of the Lans—? “Tell us more about the trees!”

Jiang Cheng quickly confers, “I can confirm this. The only thing this idiot did was butt heads with Lan Wangji all night. If he told you nothing, that’s because what he might have remembered was knocked out of his skull.”

“By the trees?” that disciple asks.

“Yes, by the trees.”

“Alright, enough talking,” Yu Ziyuan orders. “Let’s finish the meal properly. Zewu-Jun, later I would like to hear more about what my son has been doing whilst he was away from home.”

Perhaps wanting to make up for his rut-related amnesia, Wei Wuxian opens his mouth, “Madam Yu, there was a really fun time when we—”

She sneers, “I said no more talking! Also, I asked Zewu-Jun, not you! Go back to eating!”

Wei Wuxian’s mouth snaps shut, but then he pries it open to shove a piece of meat in. Yu Ziyuan clicks her tongue, dumping a pile of vegetables into Jiang Cheng’s bowl. Meanwhile, Lan Xichen taps his wrist, pulling Jiang Cheng out of his sulking. When he looks, Lan Xichen is gazing at him fondly. Despite detesting all this attention he’s been given, wishing everyone would shut up and his stupid blush would fade away… 

Jiang Cheng returns to his meal with a smile.

 


 

Once dinner is over, it’s much too late to be discussing betrothals. The insistence of chaperones seems overly cautious. They never needed any in the Cloud Recesses, but perhaps the threat of 3000+ rules was oppressive enough to stamp out any bad behaviour. Here, he has both of his mother’s maids trailing behind them. 

Somehow, he misses the Cloud Recesses.

Jiang Cheng is still feeling a bit dizzy and nauseous from the whole interrogation. He tries to keep what he hopes is an appropriate distance between them as he escorts Lan Xichen to the guest quarters. Without prompting, Lan Xichen says quietly, “Wanyin, I’m very sorry if I made you uncomfortable earlier.”

‘Eh? It’s not your fault!’ is what a good, sweet omega would have said, but Jiang Cheng was not that, so instead he said, “A bit? A bit?! You know, they say omegas are impulsive and emotional, but I think we had better keep more of an eye on you!”

It’s quite bizarre, but Lan Xichen likes when he complains about things, so he just laughs at this. Technically, he was only making conversation, but Jiang Cheng would’ve preferred if the ‘Night of the Rut’ hadn’t come up as a topic! “I guess I don’t need to introduce my family to you now, do I? Or to explain what they’re like?”

Lan Xichen agrees, “Yes, I think I get the picture. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten so much in one night. Your sister fed us well.” Very straightforwardly, he adds, “Your mother is nice. Your father was a bit quiet.”

Jiang Cheng laughs in confusion. “That’s pretty much it. And Wei Wuxian is himself.” Finally feeling a sense of relief, he adds, “A-Niang really likes you. We have the best supporter for this courtship with her in our corner.”

“Mm, but your father… I think I’ll have to work harder to win his favour.”

“There’s no doing that. You’ll be fighting against unconquerable odds.”

They walk in silence for a while until Lan Xichen asks, “Is Wei-gongzi my rival?” Pausing slightly, “He isn’t interested in you, is he?”

“Oh, hell no. As far as I know, he’s not interested in anyone,” Jiang Cheng replies. When all Lan Xichen does is hum thoughtfully, he insists, “His interests are very… particular. I can’t tell you about them, but we don’t think of each other that way. If Wei Wuxian were to challenge you, it would be for some dumb alpha posturing, but even he isn’t that eager to lose in a fight.”

Lan Xichen presses his lips, holding back a laugh. “Your confidence in me is far more than I deserve.”

Jiang Cheng notices then that they’re walking abnormally slow. The guest quarters aren’t that far away, but maybe Lan Xichen is weary from his travels. “Anyway, don’t bother with my dad. When I say ‘unconquerable odds’, I mean the effort isn’t worth it. Don’t waste your time seeking his approval.”

“Well, I suppose I’ll endure being disliked then.” Lan Xichen doesn’t sound too upset by that. “If that’s the price of being with you, it’s worth it.”

Ignoring the way his heart flutters, Jiang Cheng coughs lightly. “Have you ever been disliked before? I don’t believe it.”

He grins, “Of course I have!”

Unlikely! Jiang Cheng is about to call him out on his bullshit, but then… they’ve arrived at the rooms. It’s one of the nicer rooms with a good view out onto the lake. The moon is quite lovely reflected on the water. He closes his eyes when a balmy breeze drifts past. It would be nice to sit on the deck and talk, but Lan Xichen is probably tired.

“Dinner was nice.”

Jiang Cheng opens his eyes, raising his brows. “If you say so.”

With a fluttering sigh, Lan Xichen takes his hand and squeezes. “It was a good start.” He leans in closer and whispers, “I’ve been wanting to hold your hand all day, but I thought you might be too embarrassed if I did.”

You held my waist before! I ripped your clothes off! Jiang Cheng swallows, watching as he laces their fingers together. It’s just like he remembered. His hands are so warm. And so big. His heart beats almost painfully, but he cautions, “We’re still being watched, Huan-ge…”

From further down the corridor, Jinzhu clears her throat to draw their attention. Lan Xichen waves at her, his next words startling her into a laugh: “Please can I give him a hug?”

She covers her mouth, nodding, and holds up five fingers before turning around. Beside her, Yinzhu has to be urged to do the same. Squinting, Jiang Cheng asks, “Is that five seconds or five minutes…?” but then, Lan Xichen pulls him into a hug. 

Surrounded in his scent, his arms and warmth, his thoughts are completely derailed. Now, this? This is what he’s been wanting for ages. Lan Xichen’s chest and shoulders shake as he says, with laughter in his voice, “Hurry, hurry!”

Jiang Cheng shoves his face under his chin and throws his arms around him. In this moment, he realises that it could be months, or weeks, or days apart, and he’ll still miss being together like this. The weight of his stress disappears as he inhales deeply, nuzzling a bit and clinging to Lan Xichen. This reminds him of the first time he did this in the library. His relief and embarrassment have combined into one person. It’s amazing how little he cares about the latter.

“Dinner was nice,” Lan Xichen repeats softly into his hair. “They don’t often care for talk about love during courtship matches, so I would rather talk about you instead. In that way, I can speak about what matters.”

Jiang Cheng starts purring when his hair is brushed back and tucked behind his ear. “Thanks for coming, Huan-ge,” he mumbles into his neck. “I’m sorry this interrupted your travels.”

The world is changing, their lives are getting busier now, and they can all sense they’re on the brink of something. Lan Xichen kisses his forehead, rubbing his jaw over his cheek, scenting him! “Someday I would really love to go night hunting with you properly.”

“How can we go hunting together? Didn’t you say you’d take care of our babies?”

Of course, it’s a joke between them (even if it’s also a plan), so Lan Xichen chuckles, but Jinzhu comes marching over, “Did I hear someone say ‘babies’? That’s quite enough! Your five minutes are over!”

Surely that wasn’t five minutes!

Still, he tugs himself out of Lan Xichen’s arms, scrubbing his face and scowling to hide his blush. They’re both bright red this time. They must have gotten carried away. Before retiring to his room, Lan Xichen grabs his hand to kiss his knuckles. Jiang Cheng has to duck his head to avoid both maids trying to catch his eye. Yinzhu gives him a grin, wiggling her eyebrows. Tsk!

When he gets to his bedroom, he sees that Lan Xichen slipped something into his hand. It’s a jade token, similar to the ones they were given during their studies in Gusu. Jiang Cheng can’t understand this gift, because… does this give him passage to the Cloud Recesses and… and blanket permission to visit him whenever? Stroking his thumb over the worn edges, this must be an old token. It must have belonged to Lan Xichen for a long time. The tassel carries some of his scent.

Oh, this is going into his nest!

 


 

The next morning, it’s time to get the show on the road.

After a quick breakfast, the relevant parents, guardians and children take to a meeting hall.

In the morning, the air is still refreshing coming through the windows. Jiang Cheng kneels next to Lan Xichen, and it’s just… awkward all around. Their match is truly a strange arrangement, not planned by their elders yet working out perfectly within everyone’s interests. There’s honestly not much left to say. Any wedding arrangements will require several meetings, following usual procedure. This is more of a… a what? Meet the parents? This isn’t even a formality.

Jiang Cheng would like to think he’s mostly recovered from yesterday. He certainly feels a lot more level-headed. Maybe it was the token that helped. Without anyone around to judge him, he slept with his prized gift tucked in his hand. What a good night’s sleep! Perhaps he shouldn’t be so energised. It’s not helping him focus at all. Jiang Cheng has to hold himself back from leaning in closer, tipping sideways to lean against Lan Xichen. It’s not good to be too sticky, but damn it, but he wants another hug! 

Supposedly, omegas have a tendency to naturally follow the lead of alphas, but that’s not what he’s feeling. That’s not what Lan Xichen is doing. Whilst they may not have bonded yet, they’ve definitely imprinted on each other, meaning that he would say… at most, he feels attuned to Lan Xichen, in such a way that he can tell that he’s nervous.

It boggles his mind.

Lan Xichen? Nervous??

“Firstly, I would like to thank both sect leaders for their invitation,” the First Jade says, his voice perfectly calm as he starts the conversation. (He’s fucking nervous! What the hell?!) “Secondly, since my courtship seems to have already been—for the most part—accepted, I would simply like to ask whether there’s anything you wish to add.”

Jiang Fengmian replies, “I have nothing to add.” And then, “Except congratulations.” He meets Jiang Cheng’s dubious expression. “I hope your union brings much joy.”

Yu Ziyuan holds onto silence for a beat longer, waiting for Lan Xichen to meet her steady gaze. Then her painted lips curve in a rare smile. “You have our permission. The field is cleared for you, Zewu-Jun, but only for now— remember that you young ones move fast, and Jiang Cheng has only recently presented. There may be competition. You’ll have to defend your position by yourself.”

Lan Xichen bares his teeth in a smile, “So I shall.”

“Best of luck to you,”  she smirks. “I’ll allow this match because—if what I’ve been told is correct—he chose you?” 

Why would she say that? Jiang Cheng twitches in embarrassment. This movement drags his arm, which tugs at Lan Xichen’s sleeve… because he must have grabbed onto it at some point. (Was he lending him comfort or giving it?) Lan Xichen chuckles, flipping his hand to align their palms. “That’s right, he did.”

She grins, “Hm.”

Lan Qiren shifts in his seat, gaining everyone’s attention, “We can discuss how an engagement between our sects will work out in due course. It will take time, but I don’t see any problems. Not even with inheritance. It’s been done before. For now, may we agree that the matter is settled?”

“You seem in quite a rush to end this meeting,” Yu Ziyuan comments. “However, I invited you for tea. We aren’t done talking yet, my friend. The children may leave, but you must stay.” Waving her hand at the boys, “You’re dismissed.”

Jiang Fengmian stands up—

“Not you.”

—he sits back down.

Before leaving, Lan Qiren grabs his nephew’s arm and yanks him down, whispering something in his ear. Then Jiang Cheng leads him outside, stumbling a bit in his haste. Well, that went well. Better than expected, not that he expected any problems in the first place. He still feels a bit tumbled sideways from it all.

“This is really happening,” Lan Xichen says breathlessly, and Jiang Cheng tugs him along a bit faster.

They reach the kitchens, where Jiang Cheng sits him down in the corner and goes to prod the cooks for some tea and snacks. When he returns, Lan Xichen is gazing at him adoringly, smiling like a loon. “Stop that. You look silly.” 

As he takes him outside to wait in one of the many pavilions, Lan Xichen says, “My uncle asked me to come fetch him if their tea goes beyond two hours. I think we’ll probably be leaving after that. Wanyin, I want to give you my forehead ribbon last night—”

“That would have been too obvious.” 

Jiang Cheng cuts him a sideways glance. He’s no longer nervous, but still brimming with a jittery type of energy. It dawns on him then, he was soothing Lan Xichen before (or trying to). It’s what omegas do best, soothing alphas down when they get all tetchy. It works the other way around too. All of these instincts are things he’s heard about but not yet experienced.

“Jiang-xiong,” a voice says, and something is thrust into his line of sight.

“This isn’t what I asked for,” he grumbles, poking at the snacks and choosing one to nibble on. Offering him the box, “They’re still good though. Do you want some, Huan-ge?”

Lan Xichen is watching him and not smiling anymore, his tone deliberately casual, “Have you been accepting gifts from anyone else?”

Jiang Cheng finishes chewing and swallowing first. “Pardon?”

“Those weren’t the snacks you chose. They came in a box, not on a tray. They are a gift.” 

That’s a good point. Jiang Cheng looks down at the box and then looks over at what’s caught Lan Xichen’s attention. There’s one of his shidi watching them (watching him?). Jiang Cheng sniffs and wrinkles his nose. He’s an alpha. Under Lan Xichen’s chilling glare, that other boy blushes and turns to leave. “What’s that noise?” he asks, turning to listen. It’s a deep rumbling. The vibrations send a shiver up his spine. Jiang Cheng blinks, leaning over, “Are you… are you growling?”

Lan Xichen is lightning fast, dragging him into a hug. Jiang Cheng automatically snuggles closer (because why wouldn’t he?). This leaves no doubt in his mind. He can hear it and feel it there in Lan Xichen’s throat. Patting his chest, he wonders what set him off… oh. Oh, wait.

“Hey, you!” he calls, twisting around to face that shidi. Jiang Cheng tugs Lan Xichen’s arm over his shoulders, causing his whole sleeve to drape over his torso. Ah, it smells much better now. The other boy halts in his tracks, turning warily, and walking back. “Please can you collect our snacks from the kitchens? If you can, bring some extra fruit for me and Zewu-Jun. Thank you.”

“Yes, shixiong.” Grudgingly, the boy bows and leaves.

Jiang Cheng waits, and then slaps Lan Xichen’s chest. (It’s addictive, slapping his chest. It’s very… sturdy.) “Okay, enough growling! Enough!” But inwardly, he wonders if it’s enough. It never even occurred to him that he was (possibly) being wooed. He received a couple of gifts thinking they were ‘welcome home’ gifts, but… ah. Maybe not? “I’ve only been home for a week. I’ll be more careful from now on. Sorry about that.”

Lan Xichen shakes his head, his voice rough from the growling. “I should be apologising to you. If I know a person well enough, I can usually temper my instincts to not feel threatened by them. It seems your mother’s advice has stuck in my mind.”

The field is cleared for you, Zewu-Jun, but only for now. There may be competition. You’ll have to defend your position by yourself.

Huh.

“My brother brought you lotus pods once,” Lan Xichen continues, “And da-ge sent you some sweets too, along with Huaisang’s care package, back when you were studying at the Cloud Recesses. Neither of them have any intentions to court you, so… ah, it shouldn’t matter. Either way, it’s none of my business what gifts you accept. You should have all of them.”

Jiang Cheng pushes the box of snacks away from them. “Huan-ge, I only want your gifts. So long as you trust me, I promise I won’t give you a reason to worry.”

“I trust you,” Lan Xichen replies immediately. 

“Good.” Jiang Cheng picks up a pastry, hesitating before lifting it to the alpha’s mouth. “Try this then, you’ll like it…” 

 


 

As soon as he read the first half of the first paragraph of the first page of Yu Ziyuan’s letter, he knew it was only a matter of time before he was summoned.

When he read in full the three pages of enthusiastic double-sided word vomit Yu Ziyuan sent him, Lan Qiren thought to himself, she hasn’t changed at all. Underneath her cold, stern exterior, she has always been a spitfire. Once you’re someone she trusts, she’ll unleash her true feelings with interest. She only ever goes off like this when she’s totally beside herself with joy. Or indomitable fury. Or both.

The tea is good. There’s that.

Lan Qiren imagines that later on there will be more people invited to Lotus Pier for tea. It’s not like Yu Ziyuan is above bragging to the other Madams (or whoever she can get her hands on), and she has every right to be pleased. Xichen will be a wonderful in-law, Jiang Cheng is already a wonderful in-law, their marriage will be advantageous and their bonding is incredibly compatible. He hopes he’ll be far away when that happens though—

“Madam Jin and Madam Ouyang have arrived. Should we bring them in?”

… 

What? Madam Jin has arrived?! Madam Ouyang too?! Has it already begun?!! Lan Qiren hastily sets down his cup, “Well, this been lovely, but I really have to go—”

“Sit.”

At least he’s not alone in suffering. Jiang Fengmian looks equally as pained, sipping his tea and trying his best to remain unnoticed. The door opens and Madam Jin strides in, pausing to clasp hands with Yu Ziyuan on her way to the table. That’s when Jiang Fengmian sinks even lower in his seat. 

That’s right. They’re surrounded.

Madam Jin gives him an enigmatic look. What is she thinking? Impossible to tell. She’s just like Yu Ziyuan. Utterly terrifying. It’s like being locked in with two tigresses and an overly happy dog. There’s no escape. Both he and Jiang Fengmian are, in this one instance (well, aside from both being betas) united! 

Yu Ziyuan wastes no time about it.

“My son is engaged,” she gushes, sipping her tea to add a dramatic pause, “To Zewu-Jun.”

“No way!” Madam Ouyang gasps in delight, turning to Lan Qiren (who closes his eyes to it). “Is that true? Oh, how wonderful!”

Madam Jin sits back on her heels. “Congratulations to their union.”

Yu Ziyuan pins her best friend with a piercing glare. “Congratulations? Is that all?”

“Da-ijie, I am so pleased your son has made such an advantageous match. Lan-er-gongzi, I am also pleased for your nephew. Jiang Cheng will be just as wonderful an addition to the family as the esteemed Zewu-Jun—”

“I am no longer to be called ‘Lan-er-gongzi’,” Lan Qiren interrupts. “That’s my youngest nephew now.”

Madam Jin replies, “You’ll always be our ‘Lan-er-gongzi’.”

“Rong Qianhan,” Yu Ziyuan barks out, red-faced. “What’s with this attitude? All you have are these soft words? Give me some face here!”

“But I am sincerely very happy for you, da-jie,” she says calmly. “It’s just such a shame. I can’t be as happy as I would have been because my dear son is no longer betrothed.” Sighing, “We could have been celebrating together, but my heart simply isn’t in it right now…”

Jiang Fengmian shifts in unease. 

Fantastic.

Their current situation has gone from being awkward to potentially dangerous.

Lan Qiren knew from the moment Jiang Fengmian and Jin Guangshan agreed to cancelling their children’s engagement, disaster was on the horizon. Not in the form of heartbroken teens and all their petty drama, but from their wives planning their revenge. They should have consulted their wives first, but nooo, let’s not listen to Lan-er-gongzi’s advice. Let’s go ahead with our decisions because ‘we’re their fathers, we know what’s best for them’. Of course you do! Fine, fine! Who is he to impart advice where it’s not wanted? These are his seniors anyway. 

“I had hoped our families would be joined through our children,” Madam Jin laments, “But alas. We never intended to pursue the Lans through marriage though, so I am glad to see your families joined.” Mouth twisted, the points of her talon-like nails drumming the table, “I am very glad. For you.”

Jiang Fengmian chews his lip. “My apologies, Rong-jie—”

“Ah, don’t worry at all,” she says breezily. “If it’s meant to be, it will happen. We won’t interfere, right da-jie? There’s no point, except to prove their point.” Smirking at Jiang Fengmian (who is probably sweating by now), “Let’s wait and see if fate proves our point for us.”

Lan Qiren hears this, observes the situation for what it is, and takes this as his cue.

If he and Jiang Fengmian are here, suffering under the attention of these Madams with no way out, it’s a matter of ‘survival of the fittest’. Look out for yourself, bro. Nobody has any beef with him. In fact, they brought him here to milk him for information. He can give them that and bide his time until Xichen comes to rescue him. Lan Qiren looks at Jiang Fengmian and thinks, reap what you sow. You’re a sacrifice I’m willing to make.

“If I am correct… at the time, Jiang-xiong was so concerned about whether your children were keen on the arrangement, expressing worries that their marriage wouldn’t be a good one since they allegedly aren’t fond of each other—”

“Not fond of each other?” Yu Ziyuan scoffs. “They might not have imprinted, but I remember Jin Zixuan used to sleep on my daughter’s lap during naptime. I recall him being soothed by her scent, and her doting on him.”

Jiang Fengmian massages his temple.

Lan Qiren stays out of it, but only hastens to say: “Whatever the case, in this regard, I will say that Jiang-xiong definitely won’t find fault with Jiang Cheng and Xichen.” Warmly, he adds, “They’re quite taken with each other.”

This has Madam Ouyang’s interest caught immediately, “Oh?”

Madam Jin rests her chin on her hands, “Is that so?”

If you can’t beat them, you might as well join them. “Indeed,” he nods.

Yu Ziyuan pours him some more tea, and says, “Please, do explain,” as if she hasn’t been given the full account several times already. Swiftly, without taking her eyes off him, she reaches out to grab her husband’s arm, “Where do you think you’re going?”

“Ah, I thought… I thought you ladies might want to talk—”

“Don’t you want to hear about our son’s happiness?” 

Jiang Fengmian sits back down, deflating with yet another sigh. 

Lan Qiren accepts the tea, dipping his chin in thanks when Madam Ouyang serves him some more fruits. If he was horrified before at the prospect of being dragged into this discussion, now he figures he might as well enjoy what he can from it. The tea is good, the food is good, the view is good, the company is… relatively tolerable. Gossiping isn’t allowed in the Cloud Recesses. We don’t eat like this at home either, so I might as well!

“I heard Jiang Cheng was the one who pursued your nephew?” Madam Jin asks, offering a plate of cakes. (So she’s heard about it, has she?! They just want to hear it again!)

Lan Qiren carefully, he picks out one. And another. They’re very good. “Oh, yes, it was quite sudden…”

 


 

 

It’s fast approaching the time when he should go retrieve his uncle, yet Lan Xichen doesn’t want to cut his time with Jiang Cheng any shorter than it has to be.

After his beautiful omega hand-fed him sweets (that’s right, he didn’t stop at one, it was all of them!), he was unable to resist him anything.

This meant that when Jiang Cheng said he’d take him on a long meandering tour around Lotus Pier, he eagerly agreed. At this point, he would probably follow him to the ends of the earth. They almost decided to go swimming, but then Jiang Cheng said he didn’t have any clothes for Lan Xichen to borrow that would fit him, and that they couldn’t be away too long. Instead, they went into town to explore the places Jiang Cheng loved best.

When the skies opened up before, showering a light scattering of rain, although it didn’t bother either of them, Jiang Cheng shivered and gave him a pitiful look. He gave Lan Xichen’s robes an even more meaningful glance. That was all it took for him to offer it, and Jiang Cheng has been quite happy wearing it ever since, moving his hands to flap the sleeves around… he’s so cute, it makes Lan Xichen want to cry.

Whether he realises it or not, Jiang Cheng keeps putting out the sweetest scent of contentment, to the point that when Lan Xichen inhales deeply, he feels drunk and giddy from it— 

“We should probably be heading back now,” he says, absently swinging their hands together.

Lan Xichen’s chest keeps swelling with affection. It might just explode at this rate. 

Jiang Cheng has such a way about him, he’s unaware of how endearing he is with these little actions.

He had a habit of tugging at Lan Xichen’s arm to show him sights again and again until his hand eventually slid down to link their fingers together properly. Right now, he’s pouting, and it’s the cutest thing he’s ever seen. Ashamedly, Lan Xichen is gratified that he seems as unhappy about their impending separation. If absence makes the heart grow fonder, his is definitely going to explode on the way back to Gusu. Jiang Cheng drags himself a few more steps in the direction of the main house, and then stops abruptly.

“What’s wrong?”

Jiang Cheng shakes his head, tugging Lan Xichen a different way around a corner that doesn’t seem to lead anywhere. Then he whirls around, shoving him against the wall and grabbing Lan Xichen’s… face? He takes him between his hands and looks up at him beseechingly. What does he want? Lan Xichen’s mind has gone blank at the sensation of calloused palms and warm skin—

Oh.

Oh!

Lan Xichen’s heart hammers in his chest as he leans forwards, brushing his lips over Jiang Cheng’s brow, then down the sweet curve of his nose to his lips. That’s when he surges up, pulling Lan Xichen down for a very quick, firm kiss. He leans back then, eyeing Lan Xichen curiously. “Was that good?”

(Was that ‘good’???)

What else can he do but kiss him again?

…and again, and again. Lan Xichen loses track of time, any sense of urgency long gone with each passing kiss. Truthfully, it’s not so much a passionate embrace, but rather lots of bumping noses and fluttering eyelashes. Jiang Cheng is clumsy, pecking him and then cuddling him, kneading his shoulders and rubbing their cheeks together. Lan Xichen is mostly worried he’ll never wash his face again after this. How can he dare to when his mate has so lovingly scented him—

“Ahem.”

Jiang Cheng slams a hand over Lan Xichen’s mouth, pushing him away.

Fuck.

The word springs to mind and flies out of Jiang Cheng’s mouth, and then it’s the only word he can think of: fuck, fuck, fuck. Jiang Cheng literally jumps up into the air, and Lan Xichen catches him on his way down. Their guardians are standing there, watching them in varying degrees of dismay, shock and amusement.

“Xichen,” Lan Qiren says tightly. “If you’re quite finished, it’s time to go.”

Lan Xichen will not allow himself to be embarrassed, nor to blush… he won’t, he tells himself, holding his head up when Yu Ziyuan’s gaze sweeps over him. Fuck. She was surprisingly on the more amused side of the spectrum, but the scales could tip either way. Jiang Cheng squirms in his arms, reminding him he needs to put him down.

“We were just hugging…” he tries to say.

“You’re still hugging,” Lan Qiren grits out.

“This is why we said chaperones.” Yu Ziyuan clicks her tongue as she drags Jiang Cheng over to smooth down his hair and straighten his collar. “Well, does this satisfy you then, Fengmian? They clearly like each other! I’m not even a little bit worried. Jiang Cheng wasn’t the one being pinned against the wall—”

“A-Niang!”

Jiang Fengmian was the one looking shocked. “A-Cheng,” he croaks out. “Chaperones, please.”

It wasn’t even like they were doing anything! Even so, for some reason, seeing everyone react like this has Lan Xichen chuckling. Maybe it’s a nervous chuckle. Maybe he’s actually relieved. Wei Wuxian sticks his head out around Jiang Fengmian, blinking several times. “Did something happen?”

“Shufu, there are crumbs in your beard,” Lan Xichen tries pointing out.

That must be the breaking point. Lan Qiren sputters, “Crumbs in my beard? That’s all you can say?! Crumbs in my beard, Xichen?!” Smacking his beard clean, he snaps, “I’ve had quite enough of this nonsense! Let’s go home!”

Yu Ziyuan steps in to explain to him, “Your uncle has had quite a lot of sugar. And tea.”

Lan Xichen frowns, “But can’t we say our goodbyes first, shufu?”

“Isn’t that what you were doing?!”

“…”

Jiang Yanli walks over from the dock, smiling sweetly. She passes Lan Xichen a box, handing it to him rather roughly, smacking into his chest, “Some snacks for you.”

“Thank you, Jiang-guniang,” he coughs, smiling and patiently waiting to see what happens next. If he gets turfed out, it’s alright. Jiang Cheng has spoilt him so much. Nothing could ruin his day! Then Lan Xichen catches Wei Wuxian still staring, and revises that thought.

Whilst he might trust Jiang Cheng, it’s everyone else that’s the problem! How can anyone not fall in love with him at a glance? He’s pretty sure Wei Wuxian is interested in someone else (he sends apologies to Wangji, if he sneezed), but there’s no changing the fact that Jiang Cheng is gorgeous. He’s already got some shidi trying to give him gifts. Lan Xichen bites back a growl, not wanting to embarrass anyone. Yu Ziyuan wasn’t kidding when she said he’d have to defend his position!

The matriarch is being quite indulgent though, merely watching everyone fussing around her as she calmly enjoys the ambiance. This woman is really scary, but… ah, he might as well give her a show! 

Lan Xichen places both hands on Jiang Cheng’s shoulders, grinning at him in a bid to chase away his embarrassment as he adjusts the collars of his robe and strokes a bit of hair away from his face with his thumb. “I’ll see you later, then. Take care, Wanyin.” Nodding towards the others, “Goodbye everyone, thank you for your hospitality!”

“Wait, don’t you want your robe back—”

“Keep it.” 

Lan Xichen ignores his uncle’s squawk, lifting Jiang Cheng’s hands to kiss his knuckles and then stepping backwards onto Shuoyue. Without turning to face away, he lifts off the ground, higher and higher into the air. Jiang Cheng’s face is so red, his eyes wide in his face and the robe fluttering around him. Slowly, he lets go of his hands.

Finally, he turns to fly away with Lan Qiren right beside him.

Something drifts down, rippling in the air.

Jiang Cheng reaches up to snatch it out of the air and his breath catches. “…h-hey, HEY! YOU DROPPED THIS!!” It’s the forehead ribbon! No way!! Doesn’t this have some sort of meaning?! “LAN XICHEN!!”

“KEEP IT!”

With one hand raised in farewell, a peal of laughter floats behind the First Jade.

The sounds of his family drift through one ear and out the other. Jiang Cheng grips the ribbon, his ribs about to crack from how hard his heart is racing. In order to stop the ribbon flying off, he winds it around his wrist. Lan Xichen wore this on his forehead. He must wear it a lot, because it carries his scent very strongly.

This is going in his nest too!