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Jiang Cheng is softly cursing under his breath because he’s already late to meet Nie Huaisang. Nie Huaisang will have his head for it, Jiang Cheng just knows it, because he has never met a more punctual guy than Nie Huaisang, and so Jiang Cheng just curses harder when his foot gets stuck in the shoe.

And that is before Nie Mingjue comes up behind him and pulls him into his chest.

“What are you doing?” Nie Mingjue asks him, nosing at his cheek and Jiang Cheng sighs, before he relaxes slightly in Nie Mingjue’s arms.

He is already late, and Nie Huaisang can’t kill him twice. What’s a minute more, Jiang Cheng thinks and turns around in Nie Mingjue’s arms.

“I’m going to meet your brother,” he tells Nie Mingjue but he leans into the kiss Nie Mingjue bestows on him and Jiang Cheng sighs softly.

He does want to see Nie Huaisang, no questions asked, but he would also like to spend the rest of his day with Nie Mingjue like this.

“Ah, then you better not let him wait,” Nie Mingjue says and presses a chaste kiss to Jiang Cheng’s cheek. “I love you. Have a good time,” Nie Mingjue tells him and Jiang Cheng just freezes up completely.

It’s unfair to do this now, especially since he just told Nie Mingjue that he was about to go meet his brother and Jiang Cheng wants to scream and yell at Nie Mingjue for putting him in this tight spot, but in the end Jiang Cheng doesn’t say anything at all.

There’s a small smile on Nie Mingjue’s face so clearly he knows what he did anyway, and Jiang Cheng gives a slight nod before he marches off towards Nie Mingjue’s bedroom.

This is the first time Nie Mingjue did that; he said those words to Jiang Cheng before of course, but always in situations that were already leading up to them having sex anyway. Nie Mingjue never did it like this.

“Wanyin?” Nie Mingjue asks from behind him, clearly following Jiang Cheng, and Jiang Cheng is in absolutely no mood to have sex right now, his mind too occupied by the thought that Nie Huaisang will be so goddamn mad, but he still starts to toe off his shoes.

He knows what’s expected of him, after all.

“What are you doing?” Nie Mingjue asks him, just as Jiang Cheng gets started on the buttons of his shirt.

Nie Huaisang had asked him to dress a little bit more formal, and Jiang Cheng can just imagine how he’s going to fume when he realizes that Jiang Cheng stood him up on some probably very expensive lunch reservations.

“What are you doing?” Nie Mingjue asks him again, but this time he stepped close and put his hands over Jiang Cheng’s, stopping his motions. “Aren’t you late for your meeting with Huaisang?”

“I am,” Jiang Cheng tightly gives back, anger simmering right under his skin because Nie Mingjue damn well knows that he’s late and still he said this, but Jiang Cheng tries not to let Nie Mingjue notice it.

Anger never served him well.

“Then why are you in here, undressing?” Nie Mingjue wants to know as if he didn’t just order Jiang Cheng back into the bedroom and Jiang Cheng is so angry and so helpless that he can’t even meet his eyes.

“Don’t you want sex?” he demands to know and he’s aiming for a biting tone, but it comes out more uncertain than Jiang Cheng would have liked.

The frown on Nie Mingjue’s face doesn’t do anything to settle him, either.

“In general, I do,” Nie Mingjue agrees, but he still doesn’t release Jiang Cheng’s hands, despite his words. “But right now I don’t. And you were about to meet my brother. What is going on?”

“What is going on,” Jiang Cheng hisses out, because he can deal with being ordered around but he cannot deal with this act of innocence, of Nie Mingjue acting like he is stupid. “You said you loved me, so here we are. What else did you expect to happen?”

“I’m not sure,” Nie Mingjue says, but he finally releases Jiang Cheng’s hands and steps back. “What is going to happen?” Nie Mingjue asks him, clearly struggling to keep calm in face of Jiang Cheng’s biting tone.

Jiang Cheng brusquely turns away from Nie Mingjue, and gets started on the buttons of his shirt again.

“You said you loved me, so we’re going to have sex of course,” he bites out once he manages to undo the last button and Jiang Cheng can hear Nie Mingjue suck in a surprised breath.

“You don’t seem to be in the mood for sex, though?” Nie Mingjue carefully asks and Jiang Cheng lets out a bitter laugh.

“Does it matter what I’m in the mood for?” he demands to know because he damn well knows what’s expected of him.

Wen Xu made sure he learned that early on.

“It does, Wanyin, of course it does,” Nie Mingjue says immediately and when Jiang Cheng turns around to him he sees the pained look on Nie Mingjue’s face. “What is going on?”

“Are we not—you said you loved me,” Jiang Cheng whispers, suddenly unsure about all of this, especially in the face of Nie Mingjue’s clear confusion.

“What does one have to do with the other?” Nie Mingjue wants to know and Jiang Cheng doesn’t know what’s happening anymore.

“It’s just how this goes,” he whispers. “You tell me you love me to let me know that we’re going to have sex now,” he lowly says and he flinches when Nie Mingjue takes a deep breath.

“Is that—did that happen in your previous relationship?” Nie Mingjue suddenly asks and Jiang Cheng weakly nods, because that was always how it went with Wen Xu.

Jiang Cheng could say I love you all he wants, because it didn’t really matter what he wanted, but the moment Wen Xu said it, Jiang Cheng knew what to expect. What was demanded of him.

Jiang Cheng watches as Nie Mingjue works his jaw a few times, his shoulders high with tension before he abruptly turns around.

“I’m going to need a moment alone in the kitchen,” Nie Mingjue then presses out and Jiang Cheng’s heart drops. “I’m not angry at you, but I need a moment. Let Huaisang know that you’re not coming today,” Nie Mingjue says before he walks out on Jiang Cheng.

Jiang Cheng tries to not let it get to him, but it always stings when Nie Mingjue walks out like this, though he is grateful that Nie Mingjue specified that he’s not angry at Jiang Cheng.

They found out fairly early on that Nie Mingjue sometimes just needs to deal with his emotions alone, but whenever that happened Jiang Cheng would think he did something wrong.

Nie Mingjue taking the time to tell him it’s not his fault does a lot to help with the situation, even though Jiang Cheng would really rather have Nie Mingjue with him right now, because he doesn’t know what’s happening anymore.

But instead of following after Nie Mingjue, he gets out his phone and dials Nie Huaisang’s number.

“Do not tell me you’re going to be late,” is what he’s greeted with.

“I’m not coming,” Jiang Cheng says in reply and he thinks his voice sounds horribly hollow.

Nie Huaisang must notice it, too, because he goes quiet on the other end before he carefully says “Is everything alright?”

“I don’t know,” Jiang Cheng says in a rush. “Mingjue said he loves me, but he doesn’t want to sleep with me and I don’t know what’s happening anymore.”

“How is one related to the other?” Nie Huaisang asks, clearly confused by Jiang Cheng’s explanation and Jiang Cheng feels like screaming.

How are these two not related?

“It’s how it is,” Jiang Cheng weakly says. “Wen Xu says he loves me and he expects sex in return. That’s how it’s supposed to be, right?”

“Oh,” Nie Huaisang breathes out. “That’s not—Jiang Cheng, that’s not how it is,” Nie Huaisang tries, but Jiang Cheng shakes his head.

“I have to go. Your brother will come back sooner or later. Sorry about the reservation,” Jiang Cheng rushes out and then hangs up on Nie Huaisang before he can say something else.

Nie Huaisang’s words ring in his head, but surely he must be wrong. What would Nie Huaisang know about this anyway, it’s not like he ever manages to stay in a relationship, so clearly he doesn’t know how this works.

“Wanyin,” Nie Mingjue suddenly says from the door and Jiang Cheng flinches. “Can we talk?”

“You can’t break up with me,” Jiang Cheng whispers, because this is just monumentally unfair. “I did what’s expected of me, it’s not my fault you’re not in the mood, I would have—” he says, but he runs out of breath halfway through and then he’s too busy taking one gulping breath after another, even though it doesn’t feel like enough.

“Breathe, my heart,” Nie Mingjue says, suddenly close and guiding Jiang Cheng’s hands to his chest. “Breathe,” he calmly repeats, taking deep breaths himself, but it still takes Jiang Cheng a long while before he can follow along with them.

“I’m not going to break up with you,” is the first thing Nie Mingjue says when Jiang Cheng doesn’t feel like the world is crushing him anymore and Jiang Cheng flinches.

“But you want to talk,” he gets out and his heart falls when Nie Mingjue nods.

“But not about breaking up with you,” he promises him and then leads Jiang Cheng out of the bedroom. “Sit down, Wanyin, okay? I’m gonna get you a glass of water,” Nie Mingjue says and presses a kiss to Jiang Cheng’s head as he sits him down on the couch.

Jiang Cheng nods, and stays where Nie Mingjue put him, but he watches him as Nie Mingjue goes to get his glass of water. When he presses it into Jiang Cheng’s hands, he drains it in one go and he has to admit that he does feel a little bit better afterwards.

Nie Mingjue sits on the edge of the table in front of Jiang Cheng, but when he simply continues to look at Jiang Cheng, he quickly grows impatient.

“Talk then,” he snaps, aware that he’s just digging his own hole here, but he can’t help himself.

He never could.

“I love you,” Nie Mingjue says and Jiang Cheng freezes because he doesn’t know what to do with this.

His body strains to go to the bedroom and get ready, but his mind is telling him to stay put because Nie Mingjue clearly doesn’t want him to move. Jiang Cheng starts to shake with the indecision.

“What does that mean to you, when I say it?” Nie Mingjue carefully asks and Jiang Cheng works his jaw before he looks to the side.

“You want to sleep with me,” he presses out.

“I always low-key want to sleep with you, because you’re my boyfriend and I love you, but what does it mean in that moment?”

“You’re letting me know that you want to sleep with me that instant,” Jiang Cheng says after a moment of deliberation and he’s not prepared for the way Nie Mingjue suddenly pulls him in for a hug.

“What—” Jiang Cheng starts but Nie Mingjue practically smashes him against his chest and it makes speaking a little bit too difficult to be worth the effort.

“I don’t expect anything when I say that to you,” Nie Mingjue whispers into his hair and now Jiang Cheng is glad for their positions because he wouldn’t know what to say to that anyway.

“My heart,” Nie Mingjue says as he pushes Jiang Cheng away from him. “Was this something Wen Xu expected of you?” he carefully asks and Jiang Cheng snorts.

“Expected,” he mockingly says. “Demanded, more like,” he then admits and he tries to push all those times far away, out of his mind.

He’s not looking directly at Nie Mingjue, but he can see how his face darkens with anger, and Jiang Cheng tenses.

“You’re angry,” he whispers and his stomach flips nervously when Nie Mingjue nods.

“With Wen Xu,” Nie Mingjue immediately clarifies, though it does little to reassure Jiang Cheng. “It’s not a transaction, my heart,” Nie Mingjue then tries. “I don’t expect anything from you when I tell you I love you. Did you expect this when you said it to me?”

“Of course not,” Jiang Cheng scoffs, because he knows better than to expect anything. “It doesn’t work like that. It’s not—it doesn’t matter if I say it. It only matters when you say it.”

“Fuck,” Nie Mingjue whispers and then pulls Jiang Cheng in to rest their foreheads together. “I never expect anything of you when I say that,” he lowly says and Jiang Cheng shakes his head.

“But the last few times—” he starts and watches as Nie Mingjue goes pale.

“I said it right before we had sex,” Nie Mingjue finishes Jiang Cheng’s sentence for him. “I’m so sorry, my heart. It was never meant like that. It just seemed easier to say it in those moments, because you were so horribly guarded most of the time,” Nie Mingjue tries to explain and Jiang Cheng frowns.

It makes sense, in a way; whenever he thought that Nie Mingjue might say the words, he found something else to do, something to keep busy, something to keep Nie Mingjue from saying it so that he didn’t need to sleep with him when he wasn’t in the mood. Jiang Cheng is honestly surprised that Nie Mingjue picked up on that and never said anything before.

Wen Xu never had any problems letting Jiang Cheng know about his displeasure.

“It’s not a demand for anything,” Nie Mingjue tries again. “I’m just letting you know how I feel about you. I don’t expect anything in return.”

“You expect me to love you, too,” Jiang Cheng says with a frown and Nie Mingjue sighs.

“I hope for that,” he lowly says. “But I don’t expect it. I can’t demand you feel a certain way about me. But—you said it before. Do you love me?” Nie Mingjue wants to know and Jiang Cheng nods immediately.

“Of course I do,” he instantly agrees, because he does.

What he feels for Nie Mingjue is so much more than he ever felt for Wen Xu, and to think that he failed to let Nie Mingjue know about that makes Jiang Cheng feel like he messed up.

“And I love you, too,” Nie Mingjue says, and his hands tighten on Jiang Cheng’s arms, as if he wants to keep him right where he is.

It’s a good thing, because the expectation connected to those words is so ingrained in Jiang Cheng that he jerks with the need to move.

“But you don’t want to sleep with me this instant,” Jiang Cheng says, just to make it clear and Nie Mingjue nods.

“I can’t—I don’t think I understand,” Jiang Cheng finally admits and he’s surprised to see tears in Nie Mingjue’s eyes.

“I’m sorry I’m such a mess,” Jiang Cheng whispers but Nie Mingjue shakes his head.

“It’s not your fault. Wanyin, did—did he ever hit you? Or use force to sleep with you?” Nie Mingjue suddenly asks him and Jiang Cheng shakes his head.

“He didn’t, it wasn’t so bad,” Jiang Cheng says, but it doesn’t seem to reassure Nie Mingjue at all.

“It was,” Nie Mingjue says. “What he did was manipulation and emotional abuse. Did you ever see anyone after you broke up?”

“Like—you?”

“Like a therapist, my heart,” Nie Mingjue gently corrects him and Jiang Cheng shakes his head.

“I didn’t think I need one.”

“I think you might,” Nie Mingjue gives back and Jiang Cheng slowly nods, because if his reaction to Nie Mingjue’s words is that wrong, then maybe he does.

“I’ll look for one,” Jiang Cheng promises him and it seems to reassure Nie Mingjue.

“Okay, my heart,” Nie Mingjue says and then he leans in as if he wants to kiss him, but he stops before he makes contact. “Is this okay?” he wants to know and Jiang Cheng frowns.

“Always,” he gives back and firmly closes the gap between them.

He doesn’t quite understand why Nie Mingjue felt the need to ask when he never did before, but he’s not about to pass up kissing Nie Mingjue. It’s one of his favourite things to do after all.

By the time they stop again, Jiang Cheng is breathing heavily, but Nie Mingjue makes no move to press him further into the couch or move this towards the bedroom.

Jiang Cheng is honestly a little bit grateful for that, because today has been a whole confusion mess of emotions already.

“Can I cuddle you on the couch and still tell I love you, without you thinking you have to do anything?” Nie Mingjue asks and Jiang Cheng hesitates briefly before he nods.

“I’ll remember that it’s not a demand,” he then promises, and it doesn’t seem to reassure Nie Mingjue as much as he hoped it would.

“I love you,” Nie Mingjue whispers against his skin and then pulls Jiang Cheng down on the couch, and tucks him under his chin.

The urge to get ready, to do what’s expected of him is still there, but Jiang Cheng reminds himself that Nie Mingjue doesn’t want that from him right now, and so he forces himself to relax.

“I love you, too,” Jiang Cheng says finally and is rewarded with a kiss to the crown of his head.

Jiang Cheng isn’t quite sure what this means for them—what any of it means, really—and he no longer trusts himself to make the right decisions in this regard, not when his experience seems to be so skewered in light of what Nie Mingjue said, but he hopes that a therapist might bring some light into this.

Until then he has Nie Mingjue’s arms around him and that’s a perfect place to be for now and Jiang Cheng will work hard to keep it that way.