It’s eerily silent in the bullpen of the police station. Jiang Cheng should be at home sandwiched between his blanket and mattress. Usually, there’s bustling of police officers and snoring of someone in the cells occupying the night shift. He would be forcing himself to tune them all out attempting to focus the documents he has in front of him.
He should be grateful for the quiet, appreciative of finally not having to put up with their bullshit. But it seems he’s grown comfortable with the laughter of lazy coworkers and footsteps of officers walking in and out. If anything the silence seems to be more distracting than someone weeping in one of the cells as they’re forced to stay the night.
Someone comes through, their footsteps echoing on the hard flooring, and Jiang Cheng watches in the corner of his eye as they search for something. They seem to also note the mostly deserted area. They grab a file from a desk and after a pause scurry out of the place like they’re about to be scolded for taking up too much time. His eyes follow and observe them until the elevator door closes.
His eyes slowly move back to the stack of papers in front of him; white paper with words inked in black swims around and he can read the words but that doesn’t mean any of them are connecting or registering in his brain.
There’s a picture of a dead body next to it. If he wanted to he could go visit the body again and scrutinize the victim’s body to see if his head will make any connections. If he’s being honest, though, getting any leads or ideas without any more evidence is impossible.
From the washed picture of a pale arm and blood, his eyes trail each detail until it lands on the phone next to him.
Is it that late? He has to be somewhere with his partner at nine tomorrow.
He looks back down at the photo before him. The man’s arm is still dead, still covered in blood, and giving him nothing.
He needs a break.
Rubbing his eyes he reaches for his phone. It’s subconscious, at this point, to pull up his contacts list and press the right buttons that lead him to messages only a couple of days old.
Lan Xichen’s number is not his most recent one but it wasn’t hard for him to find his name. While Jiang Cheng is a detective and makes a lot of phone calls throughout the day he still talks to Lan Xichen often. More often than he likes to admit despite their messages being brief.
He doesn’t dare to hope that Lan Xichen is up. It’s a simple message, a single ‘hey are you up?’
In the silence of the precinct, the sound of a message being sent from his phone is clear and loud. He tries not to cringe but before he could really think about it he’s already gotten a reply. The tone his phone cries out is worst.
Lan Xichen: Yes.
And like that Jiang Cheng’s getting up, forgetting his previous thoughts.
Jiang Cheng: your place?
Lan Xichen: Is it closer?
Jiang Cheng: i’m at work, yeah
Lan Xichen: I’ll be waiting
By the time he sees the last message he’s already done tidying up his desk. Picking up his jacket he gives a nod to the only other police officer that’s standing near the coffee machine and heads towards the elevator.
Lan Xichen’s place is quite closer to the precinct than Jiang Cheng’s by fifteen minutes. Only because he has to get on the highway and more often than not the road is packed with traffic even at this hour. That’s his excuse, anyway.
Lan Xichen’s place is on the upper levels of an apartment building located in an expensive real estate area in the city. The elevator is clean and he steps onto polished marble flooring with plants strategically placed to make the hallway welcoming. It is clearly lit with security cameras ensuring the safe passage for residences.
He is so familiar with it all. He doesn’t give any of it a second thought as the noise of his footsteps begin to fill the hallway. He knows which door belongs to Lan Xichen and which key on his key ring belongs to this door.
Even now, years upon receiving this key, he feels a twist in his stomach every time he uses it. The emotion has been identified ages ago yet it still shocks him every time the key clicks in place.
“Jiang Cheng?” A voice calls out from the kitchen area.
“Yeah” he replies.
He takes off his shoes and locks the door behind him. The apartment isn’t foreign to him, not after years of coming in and out of it. He finds Lan Xichen standing at the island, a cup of what he assumes is tea in his hands. While he doesn’t have his tie or blazer on he’s still dressed. Looking over to the living room space where the coffee table is he can see it scattered with paperwork surrounding a laptop.
Upon seeing Jiang Cheng a small smile appears on Lan Xichen’s face. He wordlessly offers him coffee that Jiang Cheng refuses.
“I’ve had too much at the station,” he explains. “Anymore and I’ll have heart palpitations.”
“A hard case?”
“A little high profile.” Jiang Cheng leaves at that, a signal that he can’t speak about it anymore. Understanding Lan Xichen doesn’t question it anymore.
Selfishly, though, Jiang Cheng begins to question about Lan Xichen’s work.
Jiang Cheng makes himself comfortable, waiting for Lan Xichen to finishes his coffee and telling him about his schedule for the week. While Jiang Cheng’s is predictable and his location only sticks to one area of the city, Lan Xichen’s is hectic.
Expensive clients result in needy demands.
Their small talk short, aware of the real reason both are here, but Jiang Cheng clings onto every detail anyway. Insignificant information thrown out like a new intern doesn’t need to be immortalized in his mind and is crumbs to his life but Jiang Cheng swallows it all up without hesitation.
He shouldn’t but it’s become second nature to him. Something else he can grasp onto. IF he can’t ask personal questions then he’ll settle for this.
Lan Xichen has moved closer to Jiang Cheng. A slow build to their final destination. The cup of tea is forgotten, now, and eyes wandering. Their bodies facing each other and following the rhythm.
“The kid’s good,” Lan Xichen says. “Sizhui’s a good kid. He calls himself Wen Sizhui to separate himself from me.”
“Why your firm? He could have gone anywhere else and wouldn’t have to deal with the label of nepotism over his head so much.”
“He isn’t serious about entering a firm. This is for experience and it’ll give me leeway to bring him around and have him get used to the courts. Of course, he wants to be a public interest lawyer, not a private one,” Lan Xichen rattles. He’s closer now, just beside Jiang Cheng. Mere inches away.
It’s a dance they’ve both done hundreds of times. Something to soften their actions, to build up to it. There’s an ulterior motive to having conversations before it, though.
“Are you done?” Jiang Cheng says. His voice is lowered and unnecessary in a quiet apartment. Lan Xichen hums, a gentle upward curve on his lips.
They meet in the middle. Their mouths doing quick work. They move barely separating from each other to the bedroom. Two pairs of hands moving over the layer of clothes, feeling and squeezing, before removing them. Whatever is scattered on the floor will be picked up in the morning.
Jiang Cheng tastes Lan Xichen’s skin when he’s gotten his shirt off. He’s memorized the sensitive spots and his hand grip Lan Xichen’s waist, savoring the moans and touches he receives in return.
He’s flushed red, blotches of it appearing on the landscape of pale skin.
It never tires him. Even though the tune is the same and its repetitive process should wear him down he still crawls back to it. Even Lan Xichen continues to dance with him. Their seldom ending game of tug of war.
Jiang Cheng lays his head on the pillow. His body is washed clean and he listens for the water in the bathroom to shut off.
He should be gone by now. Back to his apartment and sandwiched between the blanket and mattress. He has work in the morning. Some scheduled time with his partner. But the pillow his head rests on smells of fresh laundry and in moments Lan Xichen is also laying down next to him. His eyes are gentle, despite it being dark Jiang Cheng can see the color of soft brown swimming with warmth. They’re reflecting the little light the night has given them enhancing the scenario in front of him.
They shouldn’t be this welcoming.
Jiang Cheng closes his eyes, not returning the look, and gives in to the exhaustion of the day and their activity.
If he leaves quietly early in the morning, collecting his clothes and making sure it felt like his presence was never to begin with, then so be it. He won’t be able to deny an invitation of breakfast from Lan Xichen. A chance to stay a little longer, a tempting request of something.
He knows it’s out of courtesy and that Lan Xichen is just that kind but he is also aware of the ulterior motive. A small sliver of chance that could be escalated if he stays any longer.
To prevent it means never letting the scenario have any room to occur. He silently closes the door and leaves it behind until next time.
Jiang Cheng’s requested off two days for Jin Ling’s graduation. As his last closest relative he’s obligated to go.
Of course, Jiang Cheng would have gone anyway despite his eye rolls and scoffs of annoyance.
While Jin Ling’s out with friends, trying to gather as many memories with his peers before university snatches them all across the country and takes their time, Jiang Cheng’s wondering what kind of gift he’d get for him.
Would it be okay if he didn’t come with one?
Jiang Cheng isn’t sentimental. He’s aware Jin Ling’s pockets are stuffed from the family his surname belongs to but there’s still things money can’t buy, right? As someone who once changed his diapers he should know, shouldn’t he?
He’s watched the kid grow and sort of taken care of him.
But gifts were never a strong point. A skill he never got to practice. It includes emotions and those were a box Jiang Cheng preferred to leave untouched.
But Jin Ling’s all he has left and now he’s 18, ready to head to college. Jiang Cheng watched him grow to be an adult. He did for the parents who couldn’t. For the family members that don’t get to.
From the pain and anguish of losing his siblings he was left with a small bundle in his arms. He was never a parent, never someone who thought he’d have children. Instead of that he familiarized himself with an environment that never welcomed children. By the time smells like cheap coffee that’s been brewed quickly and badly, sharp and metallic tang of blood, burnt gunpowder, antiseptics used in a morgue, and freshly printed paper had ingrained itself into his life he found himself with Jin Ling.
There is no room for this screaming soft flesh whose bones could snap with no resistance in his routine. He has seen what the world could do to them before their lives could even start and what the world had to offer as an apology.
He needed family, though. Something Jiang Cheng, at one point, could have had the skills to be. Marry someone good that’d pick up where his faults started and help raise a kid together.
He was once the youngest out of three siblings and a child of loving parents. Not ideal but loving, nonetheless.
Maybe if Jin Ling had come earlier he’d have accommodated more for a kid. To build a steadier schedule. If he was more prepared for the reality of Jiang Yanli not being there.
His phone buzzes and snaps him out of his miserable reverie.
Lan Xichen: Are you busy?
Yes. No. Yes?
Jiang Cheng: No. Come over.
He should be picking out a gift for Jin Ling for his graduation tomorrow. He shouldn’t be inviting Lan Xichen over to his place, like a lover, and having him fuck Jiang Cheng until his hips give out.
Not that Jiang Cheng didn’t want to be fucked until he needed hip surgery.
It takes an hour for Lan Xichen to arrive. By then Jiang Cheng’s whittled down presents to nothing and feels like ripping his hair out.
Lan Xichen looks worst, though. Walking through the door Jiang Cheng immediately notes his messy and mismatched clothes. Even his hair, usually gelled down and neat, were loose and looked like he’s been running his hand through them constantly. Seeing his face Jiang Cheng’s eyebrows raise.
Through the years Jiang Cheng’s seen Lan Xichen he’s always been refined and kept together. A pristine composure. The great Lan Xichen who had graduated with top marks from school, awards given to him for his skills and dedication, getting into a good university, and once graduating immediately being hired to work at a well known law firm. His name sits next to famous clients. His face is easily recognized by any lawyer in the country.
He’d be a good husband. Someone who could have that nuclear family image.
He walks in with fatigue and there’s a desperation to it that Jiang Cheng is familiar with. Usually it’s hidden behind a facade of calm and it’d take minutes for Jiang Cheng to decipher but today it was his whole demeanor.
He’s only seen him like this a handful of times. The first was after Nie Mingjue and a couple times after Jin Guangyao.
Jiang Cheng takes the initiative. His long strides come forward to kiss him right when the door closes. It’s rough and harsh, their teeth almost clashing. The smell of cologne fills his nostrils and hands, shaky and almost unsure, touch him.
His body reacts to the familiarity of it all. He’s in control, the one making the shots. He begins unbuttoning Lan Xichen’s shirt and leaves a trail of kisses down his neck. No room for thoughts, all the energy released onto him.
Smooth hands grip his waist and dig their nails into his skin. He retaliates with a hard bite to the shoulder. There will be marks left behind but they’re just unfortunate results of being desperate and rough. They will fade, just like the memories of their activity.
The way to the bedroom is quick. Their lips never leaving each other and movements filled with strength that seemed almost unnecessary. He pushes Lan Xichen onto the bed and rips his shirt off. His eyes barely catches a glimpse of the man on his bed. Bare except for his boxers and leaning on his shoulders to intensely watch him. He’s already hard but the sight of it rushes even more blood south.
He doesn’t waste a second to strip even more and climb on top of him. He’s gripping broad shoulders and grinding on the cock trapped underneath a layer of cloth. They have to do it fast and with little consideration for the other.
He won’t ask why Lan Xichen came here today. They’re not lovers. It’s superficial, no attachments. He doesn’t get to know the reason why he’s here today. Why Lan Xichen hands hold onto him so desperately and his gasps seem to cover up unwanted emotions.
Whatever it is he doesn’t want to hear it, anyway. Those conversations will only tear his heart open.
“Harder,” Jiang Cheng grumbles.
Lan Xichen complies. His hair that was a mess before is completely ruined by Jiang Cheng’s pillow. He doesn’t care. His thoughts are all focused on the body on top of him, following the pace they have set. While Lan Xichen thrusts up Jiang Cheng’s hips come down to meet him. They’ve created a fast rhythm, one with no sign of stopping anytime soon.
It’s their third go and he knows Jiang Cheng’s thighs must be burning from the work. He doesn’t know how much time has passed since he arrived but the golden light filtering in from the window gives Jiang Cheng’s skin a beautiful glow. A layer of sweat covers his body and a flush covers his face and reaches down to his shoulders.
It’s a sight Lan Xichen could never get over.
His nails dig into the soft flesh and begin to lift Jiang Cheng up and slamming him down onto his cock. A strangled cry escapes Jiang Cheng’s lips but Lan Xichen doesn’t let it finish before he’s repeating it.
“Again,” Jiang Cheng commands. He gasps, arching his back when Lan Xichen rams into him once more.
His hair is wet and sticks to the sides of his face. Jiang Cheng’s hands are holding his waist, bracing himself for each thrust.
“Touch yourself,” Lan Xichen says. “I want to see you cum.”
“Yes,” Jiang Cheng hisses.
It doesn’t take long for Jiang Cheng to orgasm. In spite of the fact that they’ve had previous orgasms a couple hours before he comes with a silent cry. Mouth open, back hunched over, and eyes tightly shut. His body shakes with it and Lan Xichen can’t help but groan from the tightening muscles on his dick.
Lan Xichen swallows the sight up. Takes in Jiang Cheng’s swollen lips, his face flushed red, tears prickling in the corners of his eyes, the adam apple on his throat bobbing, and body shivering. He doesn’t stop fucking him, wanting Jiang Cheng to beg from overstimulation. He sits up to kiss Jiang Cheng’s lips, inhaling each whimper and whine while fucking him thoroughly.
Is it selfish to want him to remember this feeling? To take and take and want this scene to be imprinted in this room?
The nails digging into the skin on his back bring him back, tipping him over the edge. He comes with a groan and feels his limbs almost go numb from the sensation. It’s addictive, quenching the desire so smoothly and leaving him blitzed out more than any high could ever do for him.
They both fall on the bed, neither letting go quite yet. Their breathing still heavy but in the silence of the room they come to an agreement that this was it for the time being.
Lan Xichen knows the routine. He knows this dance like an old song. Burned it into his memories like there’s going to be a court case on it.
He tries to hold out a little longer, just a tiny bit. Any reason to continue laying in this bed, fooling himself to think that this bed isn’t for a single bachelor. That Jiang Cheng will come closer when the sweat on their bodies makes them shiver in the cooling air and let Lan Xichen tuck himself in his arms.
But Lan Xichen couldn’t ask that out of him.
To shoulder his thoughts and risk himself from repeating the same factors.
“Tomorrow’s Jin Ling’s graduation, right?” Lan Xichen asks later after fixing his hair.
“Yeah,” Jiang Cheng replies. A flash of emotions appears on his face but disappears quickly. “I don’t know what to get him.”
“What do you mean?”
Once upon ago Lan Xichen could have been possibly invited to this event. He used to be a regular in the kid’s life. Jin Guangyao had talked about him often like he was his own kid.
“Jin Ling enjoys the dog,” Meng Yao says. “Thanks for giving me the idea. He hasn’t cried in awhile.”
“He looks like his dad,” Meng Yao mentions. “Acts like him, too. Named the thing Fairy.”
“Jin Ling’s a good kid,” Meng Yao hums. “His temper is always worse after coming back from his uncle’s, though.”
Lan Xichen could never find an excuse to see him again. At this point there is no reason to and it’d only bring back bad memories.
“He just...doesn’t need anything I could give him.”
“That’s not true. He can’t be bought but you have a lot of things that he’ll cherish. You are his uncle, after all.”
Jiang Cheng just frowns deeper.
“His parents would be proud of him.”
“Of course. You raised him well.”
“Not really. He was more raised by….” Jiang Cheng stops himself. He looks at Lan Xichen, both understanding where the sentence would lead to.
He was, wasn’t he? He was more capable of having a family than both of them combined.
“Not for the past five years.” It comes out almost as a whisper. Has it been five years? In two weeks, it should be. Isn’t that why he’s here?
Should he have been here to witness his nephew’s graduation?
The silence engulfs them like a wet blanket draped over the room.
The grief Lan Xichen feels isn’t as strong as it once was. Sadness, yes, but the shame is stronger. He had come to Jiang Cheng’s today for a reason, completely aware that tomorrow was Jin Ling’s birthday. That he would have come to this event if it wasn’t for….
Lan Xichen looks back at Jiang Cheng. The man’s eyebrows are scrunched up, his thoughts always ruining his own mood. Don’t they seem like a couple here? If Lan Xichen overlooks some details he can let himself fantasize about it.
It makes him forget, just for a moment, that the people he loves disappear eventually. And like that his slowly rising good mood falls after a stumble.
“I think you’ll figure it out. Whatever you give him he’ll cherish,” Lan Xichen offers. He feels a panic build in his chest, his throat constricting.
He doesn’t deserve to monopolize Jiang Cheng’s time like this. This time wasn’t meant for Lan Xichen. He’s not for Lan Xichen to have.
Once the door is shut he ducks his head leaving just as fast as he came. The night would be long and filled with regrets.
Lan Xichen remembers a lot. Being in one’s thirties means having so many memories. He doesn’t remember the first time he saw Wangji but he does remember when Wangji first called him brother. He remembers the ways the small child had held his hand and looked at him when he realized their Mother had died.
He had once thought he’d protect him from any pain from that day on. But Lan Wangji grew up lonely, had lost a Father, lost the love of his life for years. Lan Xichen was helpless to it all.
He was a fool to think he could stop things from hurting his brother when he couldn’t even prevent Nie Mingjue from crashing his car. Or all the years Meng Yao had a hand in tragic events.
Being a fool is just a constant to Lan Xichen. His naivety, his blind trust, and his goodwill all a product of his stupidity. How can he ask for someone to love him when he can’t even protect and keep the ones he had in the past?
It had started shortly after Wei Wuxian had disappeared. It built up quickly and ended abruptly and Jiang Cheng was left with no other family than a small child in his arms. Already introduced to each other before when Lan Xichen was first visiting Wangji and he was there, also visiting his brother.
Jiang Cheng crashing into his bed was out of desperation and grief. Wei Wuxian had disappeared and with it everyone Jiang Cheng had loved. His anger and misery evident in every part of his being and Lan Xichen had been angry himself.
Vexed at the same person who had caused so much pain in the people they loved. In the one brother he had.
It only meant to be one night. Both decided not to mention it again and they separated in mutual agreement. They never mentioned it during that period or even looked at each other for more than a few seconds when fate had brought them together.
The month when Nie Mingjue died was bearable. A man he had been friends with for years gone in seconds yet he wasn’t alone. He wasn’t aware of the selfish mastermind behind it.
Shouldn’t Lan Xichen be used to death, then? AFter all these years shouldn’t he be numb to it all?
He had met Jiang Cheng on accident. He recently became a detective and Lan Xichen’s client was brought in for questioning. As his representative Lan Xichen arrived to the precinct to see him walk through the door and sit across the table.
“Oh, it’s you,” Jiang Cheng said. His tone was blunt and so monotone that if Lan Xichen was anyone else he’d have been insulted.
“It is me,” Lan Xichen replied. The same gentle tone he had adopted the moment he could speak. Silence followed, both staring at each other in surprise, until Jiang Cheng had brought himself back and began talking.
It was later that night, after bad coffee and a small conversation in the hallway of the police station, did they crash through his door and find themselves tangled in the sheets. Their bodies mingled together, Jiang Cheng on top of him and looking at him with eyes that understood the sadness Lan Xichen had knitted together and wore as his aura.
Their lips met with wordless acknowledgement.
Their deal officially sealed when Jiang Cheng had left his police badge at Lan Xichen’s place. After returning it to him at the precinct they exchanged numbers. Lan Xichen remembers his hand meeting Jiang Cheng’s, a soft brush of their fingers when he passed his phone over to Lan Xichen.
He was aware that if he looked up from the phone he’d have been met with Jiang Cheng’s gaze. A moment’s decision, wondering if he should go through with this. Did he want to know what could become of this other than shared kisses full of desperation and lust?
Could he look over to Jiang Cheng, barely inches away from him, and ask him to stay the night? Meet with him outside of work, their hands naturally coming together, and kiss him so softly without expecting to be fucked later?
He could. He could take this man into his arms and have the privilege of coming into his workplace with the idea of bringing him out to lunch. See him blush and try to act like this wasn’t a romantic gesture in front of his coworkers.
Yet Lan Xichen didn’t look up. He never looked up, never turned to the body laying next to him in bed, never reached out to grasp that hand in hopes of their night turning tender, never dared speak the words he knew sat on the tips of his tongue.
A coward’s move. A fool and a coward.
When did he desire to be more than just a bed partner?
Was it after Meng Yao? When he had to go on vacation from work and spend weeks crying over the feeling of betrayal, of regret, and of losing everything he believed in, did he fall then? When he Jiang Cheng passed through the threshold of his home and their nails digging into each other’s skin, teeth sinking with the intention to draw blood, and movements fast with no sign of mercy in sight?
Lan Xichen feels it whenever those hands touch him. Calloused and dry from the years working hard in a city filled with crime and corruption. Some days he can smell the gunpowder on him and other days just burnt coffee. He wants to take it all in, to ask for details and hear what tragedy the city hides.
Wants to hold those hands close to his chest, have them cradle his heart and bleed onto it. To share the burden of events that makes a man aware of the harsh world and remind him that it’s still beautiful.
These thoughts that run through his head run in circles as Lan Xichen lays in his bed. It’s a queen size, big enough for him but also for two if he so desired. The sheets are freshly washed and he finds his eyes drawn to the window where the lights of the city below peak through.
He wonders, in these quiet nights when exhaustion won’t catch up to him, if he deserves to find comfort in a place he calls home. Does he dare fantasize about being selfish enough and scrambling to find something comparable to the semblance of happiness he once had?
Is he capable of risking it, fully aware that he could lose it all in a blink of an eye?
Jiang Cheng doesn’t see him at first. Wei Wuxian has always had a way to attract attention without even trying. There’s only been moments where he actively watches his steps and actions carefully not to create that kind of energy in hopes of being discreet. He blends into the crowd better now, aware of the curse his hubris had brought in the past.
Wei Wuxian has never visited Jiang Cheng at his workplace. They’ve had an unspoken agreement about their relationship. Even during Jin Ling’s graduation where both had attended they never spoke to each other past a couple words. Tolerating but never interacting.
Jiang Cheng is okay with it. He is. The dull ache and yearning isn’t something he’d make a note of at this point.
Wei Wuxian, though, has been a face that will always stick out in the crowd to him. That’s just who he is to him. No matter how much Jiang Cheng can scrub his memories clean his body will instinctively recognize him. So when he catches sight of that familiar hairstyle and stops to stare he double takes on the man, standing still and staring at the buildings around him.
His aura is contained, his body held back respectfully. Jiang Cheng becomes suspicious.
Should he just ignore him and leave? No, it has to be important for him to come like this. And despite it all, Jiang Cheng still wants to talk to the man he once considered his brother.
“Wei Wuxian,” Jiang Cheng says. The tone a second away from him spitting that name out of his mouth. “Why are you here?”
It comes out harsher than he wants but Jiang Cheng was never one to take his words back.
Wei Wuxian almost winces. Turning his head looks at Jiang Cheng, a thought passing through his mind within that half second. He coughs and puts a smile on his face, coming closer to him.
“Am I not allowed to visit?”
“Unless you have something to report don’t waste my time.”
“You’re off work though, aren’t you?”
Jiang Cheng stays silent at that. He only continues to stare at the man, his gaze slowly turning to a glare. His shoulders are squared and even though there’s not that burning anger torching inside his chest the habit of wanting to kill the man before him still lingers.
Wei Wuxian clears his throat and lifts his hand. There’s an envelope in it, white but trimmed with black, and Jiang Cheng’s name fancily written on it. He hates it.
“I...I’m getting married to Lan Zhan! We decided on a date and got a venue just two days ago. I wanted to tell you and ask if you’d like to be my best man.”
Jiang Cheng feels his body tense. Like his body is deciding whether to fight or flight the situation away while his brain runs miles processing those words.
His best man?
“Me? As your best man?” Jiang Cheng asks. His throat’s constricting from the weight of those words.
“Yes. You...You’re the only one I’d want that in position,” he says.
Jiang Cheng looks up at his face, searching for a hint of anything. It is wide open to him, serious and full of emotions he doesn’t want to identify.
Both are standing there awkwardly trying to put up with the vulnerability set out before them.
It’s been years since they’ve said more than a few sentences to each other. The next couple minutes will be the longest they’ve ever each other like this. Wei Wuxian has always had a way in making Jiang Cheng feel like he was ten again, trying to hold in tears and not letting the aching pain get to him.
Jiang Yanli would always find a way to make him feel okay with it and Wei Wuxian would get him to embrace the fact that he survived it.
Why was it always Wei Wuxian who could rip him open like this?
Jiang Cheng clenches his fists, feeling his fingernails dig into his palms and his teeth grind painfully. How dare he come here, in front of the one place Jiang Cheng had built comfort in and just tear open a wound in fragile skin that never got to scab over?
But just as soon as the anger washed over him did it dissipate upon seeing a sliver of hope in those grey eyes. Seeing a plea and desperation that he was oh so weak for.
He looks down at the invitation again and lets his hands relax. He’s shaking when he reaches for it. He doesn’t want to bend the perfect envelope with his fingers or let himself be emotional.
“Okay,” he says softly. His throat is scratchy like he’ll start crying.
“Okay?” Wei Wuxian repeats. There's a surprise in it that reflects Jiang Cheng’s emotions.
“Yeah. I’ll...I’ll be there. As your best man,” he says. “I don’t know how to be one, though.”
“It’s okay!” Wei Wuxian says quickly. “I don’t want a bachelor party and everything else I’ll plan out. I only want you to be there, next to me.”
Silence follows. Jiang Cheng takes the initiative, though, and turns to leave for his car. Lan Wangji’s probably waiting for him on the side. There’s nothing else to say.
He leaves the envelope in the cup holder for two days. If his partner asks him about it he doesn’t give a fully reply.
“Just an invitation,” he says. “I forgot about it until now.”
He wonders if Lan Xichen also knows about the wedding.
The wedding is held during the warmer end of spring. It’s a simple wedding, one held with close friends to celebrate the love between two people.
Of course all of them had flown in to this island that was booked out just for this wedding. Where did the money come from? Jiang Cheng doesn’t want to know.
He isn’t fond of weddings. The last one he had gone to was Jiang Yanli’s and there he glared at Jin Zixuan until he had a headache. That one was more extravagant, though. Definitely because of a Mother-In-Law’s influence.
Yet hers was also still as simple as it could be. She had a way to make sure things came out the way she wanted it without impeding on other’s.
This time, though, there was no one to glare at.
He is aware of what he’s supposed to do. He’ll help them with one of the rings that he has on him currently and stand there and watch them do their vows and kiss. The afterparty will be held and he’ll do his best man speech, which he said he’ll do because he feels it’ll be weird otherwise, and they’ll have the cutting the cake and first dance.
Weddings sound tedious and Jiang Cheng wishes he was, instead, sitting outside of some warehouse with his fourth cup of coffee than be here in a stuffy suit. But he accepted the invitation, the role as best man, and he’s already here.
So he’ll stand here and witness this.
Wei Wuxian stands next to him, a jittery excitement fills his body and the smile on his face could split his head in half. Jiang Cheng can’t help but feel exhausted just seeing him.
“I’m not sweating, right?” He asks.
“Is my hair-”
“It’s fine. Shut up.” Jiang Cheng says. “If I have to hear one more word from you I swear I’ll deck you.”
There’s a second of him pouting but Jiang Cheng quickly tunes him out. Lan Wangji’s groomsmen start walking down the aisle. He doesn’t look at them at first, his eyes looking out the windows until deciding to pay attention to the procession.
His lungs stop breathing.
He is aware that Lan Xichen would be invited but he hadn’t seen him the whole trip. He could have if Jiang Cheng had attended the rehearsal dinner but Jiang Cheng’s role as Wei Wuxian’s best man is simple enough and, well. Wei Wuxian said it was optional and he didn’t care for it much other than semantics.
He was looking forward to drinking at the hotel bar and taking advantage of the fact that Lan Wangji had decided to pay for all the expenses on this god forsaken island.
If he’s going to get free drinks then who is Jiang Cheng to turn that offer down?
He feels something build in his throat upon seeing Lan Xichen, though. There’s music playing in the background, a traditional flute and guqin, while Lan Xichen is walking down the aisle.
He’s dressed formally, nothing different from his normal attire, but there’s a flower pinned to his chest and the environment they’re in brings it to a different light. His hair is styled the same and his suit is immaculate yet seeing him walk down the aisle constricts the muscles in Jiang Cheng’s chest.
Their eyes meet and his eyes widen a little from shock. Jiang Cheng lets his eyes slide down from his face and down to the suit he wears just briefly and uses every ounce of his will to tear his eyes away.
He won’t blush, not in front of so many people like this. He will not look like a love struck fool.
Lan Wangji walks in last, Lan Qiren at his arm and this aura of happiness filling the room. If someone told Jiang Cheng a decade ago that Lan Qiren would be walking Lan Wangji down a wedding aisle and handing him over to Wei Wuxian he’d have laughed until he died from the lack of oxygen.
The officiant begins when everyone in their position.
He stands still, trying his best to not grimace at his surroundings as the speech is given. His eyes move from the side to Wei Wuxian’s side profile and smiling face then to Lan Wangji’s. Even Jiang Cheng can tell he’s filled with happiness.
He lets his eyes wander from the scene over to Lan Xichen and realizes he’s been starring at him this whole time. It makes him want to squirm.
He stares across to him, tuning out the words Wen Qing’s speaking.
It is a simple wedding, the colors and flowers are beautiful but not extravagant. They are of quality, of course, but chosen with the mindset of not showing off and instead only enhancing the love that the couple are celebrating.
Yet it looks nice on Lan Xichen. Jiang Cheng wants, he wants so badly that his emotions want to burst out of his chest and spill all over the venue’s floor. Spilling out every word, action, and desire he had held inside himself. Exposing not only the positives but the negatives to the man across from him.
But how could he do that? At a wedding that’s not theirs and selfishly want something so similar that he doesn’t get to have, too.
The vows are said and both Jiang Cheng and Lan Xichen come up to give them the rings.
They’re simple bands with words engraved on the inside of the band. Smooth, simple, and beautiful.
He wonders, just for a second, how it feels to slide the jewelry onto Lan Xichen’s instead. To hold his hand with gentleness and care while pushing the ring onto his finger. What would his face look like? What would their rings look like?
He hands it to Wei Wuxian who beams at him. He rolls his eyes but stops. There are tears in his eyes and Jiang Cheng can’t bring himself to be himself at this moment in time. Respectfully, he steps back and watches them put the ring on each other.
He doesn’t look at Lan Xichen when they kiss. Not when they lead everyone out or again for the rest of the event. He couldn’t bear seeing him look like that.
Wei Wuxian is a bubbling energy that has always enjoyed himself at every moment he can get his grubby hands on.
The reception is filled with laughter and noises of chatter. Jiang Cheng doesn’t talk much and waits for his nerves to settle and for the words to form in his mind. He looks over at Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji, both full of laughter.
Their family would have loved to be here. To see him grow and fall in love. They’d have sat in the front row and give their biggest congratulations.
He gets up, clearing his throat really loudly and grabbing everyone’s attention. It does not take long for eyes to be on him and silence take over everyone’s merry making. He feels anxiety build up in his stomach, yet it’s too late for him to back out of it now.
He looks back at Wei Wuxian and knows this is it, that he can at least say things their family would have wanted to say.
Lan Xichen can feel the clothing on his skin. The noise buzzes in his ears and he is aware he’s not really processing things people around him are saying. His uncle, who sits next to him, has been quiet but there is an air of happiness to him. Especially upon seeing Jiang Cheng give his speech.
It is eloquent, filled with words and laughter fills the tables when Wei Wuxian makes a noise of complaint and Jiang Cheng replies with irritation and a simple “Shut up you brat!”
There’s tears and Jiang Cheng doesn’t meet anyone’s eyes when he’s done. Lan Xichen knows how much strength it must have taken for him to say those words and feels his heart soften.
He wishes he could go over there and squeeze his hand, telling him he did wonderful.
Wei Wuxian stays silent for a few seconds after the speech. Chatter returns to the place after a round of applause but he takes note of how the groom takes a minute before returning back to the energy he had before.
Lan Wangji could be considered the happiest man in the room. His eyes almost never leaving his husband. His eyes soften more and more with each and every hour. Especially after that speech.
Unfairly, though, Lan Xichen wants this wedding to end. To send the two off on their honeymoon and look forward to heading back to his apartment where he’ll bury himself under his blanket and forget the day.
Jiang Cheng had looked so good standing up there at the end of the aisle. His eyes were glued on him and for a second Lan Xichen could have hoped. Could have wanted so badly if he took the initiative and spoke the words he’s afraid to say.
A foolish man would only hope like that.
As Lan Wangji’s best man he would dance with Wei Wuxian after they had their first dance. The party, at this point, has introduced enough alcohol that the guests are mingling around and by the time Lan Xichen’s sitting back down with Lan Wangji he feels like he’s fraying at the ends.
“Congratulations, Wangji,” he says. He hasn’t been able to say it all day.
“Thank you, brother,” Wangji replies. Lan Xichen had once proud himself of being so close to his brother. While everyone may not understand him as long as Lan Xichen did it would be okay, right?
They sit in silence for awhile, both enjoying each other’s presence while the party around them continue to escalate.
“Xichen,” Lan Wangji breaks the silence first. “Are you happy?”
Lan Wangji just stares at him. Those eyes drilling into him like they know every single hiding spot his mind could ever have. Just as much as Lan Xichen can read Lan Wangji his younger brother understands him, too.
“I am okay,” he finally says. “I’ll be okay.”
“It has been years now.” Lan Wangji looks away to watch his husband pull Wen Ning onto the dance floor. “There is nothing left to regret.”
“How can I not?” Lan Xichen says. “I was the fool.”
Lan Wangji gives him a side glance.
Sure you were but are you still a fool, now? Are you happy, tricking yourself?
“Thank you, Wangji,” Lan Xichen says. “I’ll think about it.”
Lan Wangji nods and gets up to go find his husband. There isn’t anything Lan Wangji can tell him that he doesn’t already know.
It isn’t hard to find Jiang Cheng when the couple leave to head to their honeymoon. He’s standing outside, tie loose and cigarette in his hand. People are still enjoying themselves but they’re starting to disperse back to their hotel rooms.
“I wasn’t expecting you at the wedding,” Lan Xichen says.
“I wasn't either,” Jiang Cheng admits. “But Wei Wuxian always knew how to drag me into things whether I wanted it or not.”
“He seemed happy,” Lan Xichen says.
Jiang Cheng snorts. He taps some of the ashes off of his cigarette before inhaling another lungful.
Lan Xichen comes closer and feels his nerves begin. He wants to touch Jiang Cheng. Hold his hand and kiss him not just under the darkness of the night but in the sunlight and in front of people he holds dear. To dance with him in the moonlight and hold him close, whispering to him why his heart beats.
“We could also enjoy the night,” he says. “The party is almost over.”
“Are you offering, Lan Xichen?” The corner of Jiang Cheng’s lips lift. “I wouldn’t be opposed to leaving now.”
“Your hotel room. I’m next door to my uncle’s.”
“How scandalous that’d be,” Jiang Cheng teases.
He’s allowed this. Lan Xichen will allow himself just this. He’ll be satisfied with this. Just this until he’s now allowed to anymore. He may be a fool but he’s okay with it.
The wedding had cursed him. That ever since that day, that night, he couldn’t sleep properly. He hasn’t talked to Lan Xichen since that night and his current cases seem to mock him.
A missing wedding ring at a murder scene, a shooting at a wedding, a couple who were going to propose only for the other to be stabbed by a jealous ex, a burglary at a jewelry store, and more murder that included marriage in some way or another.
He wants to rip his hair out.
He’s not even dating Lan Xichen why would he think of marriage? Isn’t he already married to his work?
Jiang Cheng hadn’t had been interested in a relationship in years. The idea of it was something everyone expected to follow through with eventually.
Would his parents have expected to be married at this point in his life? Would Jiang Yanli want him to settle down?
Is he someone that others would desire to settle down with? What qualifications does he have that makes him a good bachelor to have a family with?
There’s obligations to a relationship. Vulnerability and attachment that he hasn’t been used to for years now. He wouldn’t want to burden anyone with that.
It requires energy and time that Jiang Cheng has never wanted to put his work aside for. He had barely done it for Jin Ling, his own nephew.
It was easier that way, to forget he’s supposed to be part of this society other than just a detective. One that once wanted to climb through the ranks but stalled himself for reasons he doesn’t want to face.
Jiang Cheng doesn’t want to acknowledge the text message. It buzzes on his desk, disturbing his wandering thoughts on what kind of food he’ll order tonight. The precinct is busy at the time, people’s voices can be heard all around.
It takes his thoughts away, though. He’s never purposely ignored Lan Xichen’s messages before. Their meetings never frequent or routine enough for him to say no upon the chance of getting to meet up with him.
Before didn’t he use their meetings as a way to escape? They were a no strings attached bed partner. Emotions aren’t supposed to be there yet why did Jiang Cheng want it to be so bad?
Lan Xichen: are you free?
He technically is.
Jiang Cheng: yeah. your place?
Lan Xichen: I’ll be waiting
They lay in silence, bodies spent and sweat drying. Jiang Cheng can feel it, the moment he wants his heart to bleed for the person lying next to him. He had hoped he was wrong, that he was just overthinking it.
Who was he to want to spill his emotions out for the man before him? To confess and want something in return?
He breathes in, his heart beating faster and faster.
It’s better this way, right?
“Is something wrong?” Lan Xichen asks. He’s shifting his body to face Jiang Cheng. There are considerably less marks on his body than Jiang Cheng usually leaves.
He tears his eyes away from his body and up at the ceiling.
“I think we should stop,” he says.
His words seem to suck the air out of the room.
“It’s starting to get personal,” he continues.
His stomach drops at the simple reply. His heart isn’t beating so loudly it almost creates a hole in his chest. His stomach churns while his throat burns with each and every passing second.
He fights his demons, though, and gets up. He brings himself to look at Lan Xichen, to observe his blank face, an unreadable look in his eyes when he’s looking at Jiang Cheng.
Jiang Cheng could never drag this man down with him. To think he had a chance to was stupid of him. He needed to go and he needed to go ages ago.
“Goodbye, Lan Xichen.”
He is ignorant to the blood rushing in Lan Xichen’s head. To the panic and breaking of the man frozen in his bed. Was it getting personal? Did he do something wrong?
Jiang Cheng will not hear the sound of Lan Xichen’s heartbreaking behind him. He will not notice the pieces of it trailing behind him as he leaves for what he assumes is for good.
Lan Xichen wishes Jiang Cheng would come back. He is begging for him to smash his heart and light the bleeding parts with flames. He wants it to be brutal, to be just as wretches as the moment his heart was destroyed during the night Jin Guangyao had confessed his sins to him. His blood will be the fuel for the fire and its pieces the foundation.
Yet he can’t even bring himself to cry. He does not deserve the pain he had already experienced before. He is warrant new pain, a different sharpness to a knife twisting itself in an area that has never been harmed before.
Lan Xichen was not made to experience the same pain. He is not fated for a semblance of happiness like that. A coward and a buffoon to think he could trick himself into having something for himself.
This is the natural order of things. Jiang Cheng will move on, will find someone else who can accommodate what he wants. That is by design.
He is nothing but a fool, isn’t he?
Jiang Cheng does not question the quality of his life. He had once wanted to climb the ranks of the police force, maybe one day think he could have a chance to be commissioner. It would have been a grand title, a sign of pride and ambition he once held.
Jiang Cheng is too tired for that, now. His heart numb and lackluster from crimes and tragedy. Afters the days pass on and hundreds of unslept hours occur is his pretense of peace disturbed. It is by a boy with a dog.
Jin Ling is sitting on a seat near his desk. He looks...lost. His face turned into a scowl and Jiang Cheng can’t help but feel like it’s a mirror to himself.
“What are you doing here?” He asks. He takes in everything Jin Ling has on him at the moment. A duffel bag most likely full of clothes and hygiene products, a backpack with anything else that didn’t fit in the duffel bag, a hoodie from the college he’s attending, and Fairy who sits patiently by him.
Once the dog sees him she jumps up and greets him like an old friend. He feels himself soften just enough that he bends down and pets her. She is just as soft and a little fat from being spoiled rotten as when he first met her.
“I don’t want to go back,” Jin Ling says. Jiang Cheng frowns in return.
“What? Go back? To what? School?”
“No. To the manor.”
“Why the fuck not?”
Jin Ling doesn’t meet his eyes. He only shrinks onto himself and pouts.
What is he supposed to do with this kid?
“Also school’s over!” Jin Ling begins. He cringes once he realizes how loud that sentence was. “It ended a week ago. I’m on break now.”
“How were your grades?”
“Good. Don’t think I’ll give you mercy by housing your sad ass if you’re failing classes,” Jiang Cheng reminds. Jin Ling snorts, a smile tugging on his lips.
Jiang Cheng will never understand this kid.
He looks over at his partner who’s chatting up one of the new officers. He tells him he’s going to head out for the night, family things, and he’ll see him tomorrow. Jin Ling follows him quietly to his car.
He doesn’t start driving immediately. It is hot out and the car is nothing but an oven at this point. The air conditioner, though, cools it down quickly.
“Give me one reason why I shouldn’t break your legs and drag your broken body back to your house?”
“The lawyers are there.”
“Pick a place to eat, brat.”
Jin Ling sits up straight and immediately spits out the answer.
Jiang Cheng puts his car into drive.
The day Jin Ling starts to stay with him dates the fourth month since he’s last seen Lan Xichen. He is counting and despite his protests he doesn’t stop. The first month he had waited for his phone to go off. Each and every phone call and message he received had brought his hopes up and then crushed it, leaving a bitter flavor in his mouth.
The longest they have ever gone without seeing each other was one month. Lan Xichen had always come back. For whatever reason he had always texted Jiang Cheng to come over.
He shouldn’t be so hung up on him like this. Nursing his heart like he had broken up with someone he never even dated.
Jin Ling is both a curse and a blessing. Something to occupy his apartment to make it less empty than it currently was yet Jiang Cheng can’t stand the scrutiny. He doesn’t say anything, of course. It is the looks, the concerned tones, the slight gestures where he’ll leave a glass of water near his bed after a night of heavy drinking.
He’s a little concerned about his bad habits. Just a little. Not enough to stop, of course.
It’s nice to hear Jin Ling move about in the apartment. Jiang Cheng never realized how it had once seemed so large and empty that it could concave on him until quite recently. Jin Ling fills up some of that space, makes it more bearable.
He keeps his fridge stocked and house warm. There’s someone there, now, waiting for him to get home during long nights. Even if it’s just his nephew and not someone he feels himself aching for during stretches of inactivity.
He doesn’t realize how ingrained Lan Xichen was, in his life. There was a toothbrush, a couple of socks, a tie, cologne, and even a mug. Is that normal? Do friends with benefits do that?
Thankfully, they were being overshadowed by Jin Ling’s presence. A breath of relief when he realizes that the shampoos belong to Jin Ling and Fairy, that the socks underneath the couch are his and Fairy had stolen them, and that Jin Ling’s taken a liking to the mug Jiang Cheng refuses to touch.
Jin Ling’s waiting for him in the kitchen. He’s staring at something on the counter and it’s Jiang Cheng who has to come closer for him to realize what it is.
It was his graduation gift, a spur of the moment idea after Lan Xichen had left that night. Jiang Cheng wasn’t sentimental but he had things he cherished. Stuff that Jin Ling would also hold dear to his heart.
The picture had once belonged to a frame. Jiang Cheng had thrown it in a box in the back of his closet when he moved to this apartment. Unable to look at it but also unable to throw it away.
Jiang Yanli stands in the middle, a smile bright on her face. Jin Zixuan stands next to her, his arm wrapped around her waist and holding her close. They are a happy couple with Jin Ling between the both of them.
There was one picture of Jiang Yanli in the Jin Manor. It’s large and had been taken when she married into the family. That was a posed picture, though. Jiang Cheng was never fond of posed pictures like that.
Jin Ling had never seen his parents in any other light than the pictures hanging on those walls. They probably haunt him, reminding him of people who hang over his life yet he’s never truly met.
“I don’t think I deserve this,” Jin Ling whispers. He sounds so empty, like Jiang Cheng was going to agree and take it back. Like he was a disappointment.
“Be quiet,” Jiang Cheng snaps. Jin Ling flinches and he feels a pang of guilt. If only Jiang Cheng knew how to be tact. “It belongs to you.”
“They wouldn’t be proud of me.”
“I didn’t take over the company like Dad did. I never signed the papers for the company, I didn’t do what they would have wanted.”
Jiang Cheng can only stare at this kid like he had grown a turnip on his head. Didn’t do what they would have wanted?
“How are you so stupid?” Jiang Cheng says. He’s trying to restrain himself from strangling his poor nephew. “Who fucking cares about the company? It’s a piece of shit company anyway.”
Jin Ling’s head snaps up to him. He opens his mouth, ready to refute those words but Jiang Cheng continues.
“They would be proud of you because you grew into a good kid not because you were on shitting track to take over a company. Yeah, you’re a spoiled brat who doesn’t listen to a thing I say but you came out just fine!”
“Dont fucking interrupt me.”
“You hear me? Jiang Yanli would have been happy if you took over the company or if you became a celebrity. If it was something you wanted to do she would have fought tooth and nail to make sure you could do it. Your father would have had your back no matter the decision!” Jiang Cheng yells. He, surprisingly, doesn’t slam his fist on the counter. “What goes on in that thick skull of yours? Do I need to beat it out of you?”
“No!” Jin Ling covers his head. “It hurts!”
“Then keep the picture! If you don’t come home with good grades and attendance I won’t hesitate to drag you bruised ass to their graves!”
“Okay, okay! I will!” Jin Ling cries.
Jiang Cheng breathes out a puff of air and crosses his arms. He glowers while Jin Ling pouts, his face red and shoulders hunched up.
“No drugs or alcohol. If I catch you doing shit in my home-”
“I know! I know! You don’t have to tell me,” Jin Ling mumbles. He copies Jiang Cheng and crosses his arms also.
Something about it makes Jiang Cheng want to beat him up even more.
Jin Ling picks up the picture and looks at it for a second. He bites his lip before leaving to go put it away. When he comes back, though, he heads straight towards the door then stands in front of it.
“You’re not allowed to drink anymore either!” He says.
“You’ll be a bad influence on me!” Jin Ling shouts. “And...and you need to quit smoking! You better stop working so much that your eyes look black! Or forgetting to eat! You’re not getting any younger and you have to find somebody to marry soon!”
“You little shit. Is that how you speak to your elders?”
“You should find someone soon! I won’t always be home and if you keep this up no one will want to marry you. Hurry up already. Wei Wuxian got married and you should catch up! If what you said is right then...then my mom would fight tooth and nail for you too. She would also want you to be happy.”
His words hang in the air only for a beat. Jiang Cheng’s mouth hangs open, the words slowly processing in his brain. Taking advantage of the stunned behavior Jin Ling quickly opens the door in hopes of escaping. When Jiang Cheng takes a step forward, anger slowly building his face in a similar fashion that Jin Ling is much too familiar with, he is already bolting out the door. Fairy, already aware of the situation, darts out in pursuit of her owner.
“Don’t you dare come back! If I see you tonight I’ll break your legs!” Jiang Cheng yells.
“Bye!” Jin Ling calls out before shutting the door tightly. Jiang Cheng hears the click of the lock and he’s soon left alone in the apartment.
How dare that brat say those things to him!
Jiang Cheng fumes in his apartment. It does not take long for him to pent out all that energy by deep cleaning everything he can get his hands on. There is no room to stop and think about the words Jin Ling had thrown at him.
He leaves a bowl of sliced oranges on the counter. If Jin Ling comes home to find them then so be it. If not when Jiang Cheng comes home from the precinct he’ll eat it. He won’t admit anything.
He also ponders on the contents of his phone. The texts are still there, the number still favored by the device and for him to call whenever he’d like. He knows this and wonders if he should leave it behind.
It wouldn’t hurt to go one shift without his phone. He doesn’t really need it while on the job other than to make calls and if he were to go into any dangerous situation he wouldn’t have anything to contact anyone with.
He should delete the number as soon as possible. The second it happened. The messages need to be cleared and number out of his mind. Yet. He hesitates to do it every time his finger lingers over the red button.
If Lan Xichen wanted him back, though, he would have contacted him already wouldn’t he? Jiang Cheng doesn’t expect him to run after him in the rain like a melodramatic romance movie but it’s been a while. Months. Jiang Cheng needs to understand that Lan Xichen isn’t broken up about him. He realized he could do better and needed to find someone who will fulfill all the things he needs in his life that isn’t Jiang Cheng. He tells himself that like a mantra. A cursed prayer.
Jiang Yanli would fight for Jiang Cheng to be happy but he doesn’t know what would make him happy. After all these years he’s still stuck in the same place he had started out with. Maybe he’s asking for too much and this is the best it gets. Maybe he needs to settle with what he has.
Jiang Cheng shakes his head, his heart settling in the pit it had dug out for itself. He needs to go. Away from this apartment, away from it all and to a world that had never hurt him like everything outside has.
Lan Xichen is...afraid. So afraid that the fear leaves his life empty.
Wasn’t it like this before? When Jin Guangyao had died and left behind a chest of terrible knowledge that Lan Xichen once protected and kept shut in ignorance? He had holed himself up in his work and found himself secluding everyone outside. Eventually it was still too much and he had asked for quite some time off.
The firm he works with had been accommodating but he knows by the time he had returned to his regular schedule he knew they were on the edge of their patience. The work, though, had been relieving to return to.
Lan Xichen’s life, he realizes, has not changed in those years since. When was the last time he went out with friends? Did he still have any alive to go out with? He bombards himself with questions until his lungs are drowned with them.
The longer he doesn’t react the more anxious he feels. The dread building up until the tension breaks and spills over. Could he fix this mess? Clean it up and move on with his life like he did last time.
Did he even properly clean up the last mess, though? He’s sure if he went to a therapist they’d tell him that he’s doing the equivalent of shoving his broken toys and problems under the bed pretending that he had done a good job.
Lan Xichen knows what he should do. It has been months, though. Months longer than he should have left it.
Lan Xichen doesn’t deserve what Jiang Cheng would give to him yet he wants it anyway. He selfishly desires for it despite nothing he could offer. Cursed to lose everything he loves he should and needs to resign to this simple fact of fate. Yet. Yet. Yet!
It is the sight of Jin Ling outside that surprises him. He is visiting Lan Sizhui. How did they become friends? Lan Xichen doesn’t know but it is not his life to pry into.
Jin Ling sees him, his eyes widening and eyebrows lifting in shock. Lan Xichen can see the gears in his mind click, though, understanding that Lan Sizhui was interning at this firm for a reason.
Lan Xichen smiles softly, the same smile that is so natural to his face that he almost feels like a fraud using it on someone he could have been close to once.
“Jin Ling,” he greets. “Are you here for Lan Sizhui?”
Fairy, his dog, is sitting obediently behind his legs. She wags her tail upon seeing Lan Xichen and gets up to go sniff at his shoes. In seconds she recognizes him and he can see energy fill her.
“Fairy missed you,” Jin Ling comments. “You don’t visit anymore.”
He feels himself freeze.
“I...I didn’t think I would be welcomed.”
Jin Ling doesn’t reply. He continues to stare at Fairy, though. He is contemplating something, emotions swirling through his eyes.
He’s grown up over the years. Before Jin Ling had the temper of Jiang Cheng but his mind ran miles like Jin Guangyao’s. There is ambition and the need for love that both uncles possessed.
He is aware Jin Zixuan would be proud of who his kid had grown up to be. It makes something in his stomach twist but his chest feels lighter.
“You’re allowed to go up and visit Lan Sizhui’s cubicle,” Lan Xichen comments. “We don’t bar visitors.”
“He doesn’t know I’m here, yet.”
Lan Xichen frowns.
“I just had a fight with my uncle,” Jin Ling explains. “Well, not a fight really. Hard to swallow pills.”
Hard to swallow pills?
“It’s a...uh...new saying.”
“I just need some time to think before I go talk to Sizhui.”
“Do...do you want to talk about it?” Lan Xichen offers. He finds himself wanting to help him. Wanting to get to know Jin Ling a little better now that he has the chance.
“I don’t know how to explain it,” Jin Ling admits. “But I feel better than I have been in awhile! I think I know what I need to do from here on out and it feels good to know I can do it without disappointing anyone I care about. I...I just want my uncle to be happy too! He speaks about how my Mom would have wanted the best for everyone but he….”
Jin Ling stops and clams up. Lan Xichen feels the unending hunger to know everything about Jiang Cheng unlock itself from his heart. He sits down next to Jin Ling.
“I won’t tell anyone or judge,” he reassures.
“He’s been drinking heavily recently. He acts like I don’t know but the cabinet filled with liquor isn’t really hidden and I’m not a kid anymore who doesn’t know how to search for things in the apartment. And...I don’t want to leave the apartment whenever he’s home. He seems so much more lonely than he was before. I was too busy thinking about myself to address it but I-I tried to today but I know he’ll only curse me out for getting into his business. I just want to help him like my Mom would.”
Lan Xichen’s stomach drops.
“I’ve never been good at gauging people’s behaviors or truly understanding them,” Lan Xichen says. “But your uncle may be going through something and I believe he won’t confide in you about it. But he does need to know you’re there and that you want him to have better habits. He did spend a good portion of his life around you. Your words matter to him.”
“How do you know that?”
“I...can tell. We were also friends, once.”
“Why did you guys stop?”
“I think you know the answer to that.”
A white lie.
Jin Ling looks down at his hands. He doesn’t speak for a few seconds and Lan Xichen lets him think.
“Okay. Thank you for listening to me,” Jin Ling says.
“I’m happy to see you again. I...I wasn’t there before but I hope to be there in the future.”
Jin Ling leaves to go find Lan Sizhui. Lan Xichen watches him go, his body filled with energy.
He...he needs to go find Jiang Cheng.
There are quite a few places to find Jiang Cheng. Lan Xichen knows his routine and Jiang Cheng changing it anytime soon is unlikely. He’s relied on the police force to shelter him and outside of it he keeps himself shut off.
Lan Xichen knows their meetings were a relief for him just as much as it was a relief for Lan Xichen.
Lan Xichen, though, has never been to Jiang Cheng’s workplace just as much as Jiang Cheng has been to his. It was a personnel threshold neither dared to cross.
The precinct is bustling. Police officers come in and out and people are sitting or walking about.
“Do you know which floor I can find detective Jiang Cheng?”
“Fourth floor,” the officer replies.
There are millions of ways Lan Xichen imagined the office space. From noire movie stereotypes to modern day crime shows and it disappoints just a little. There’s no smoke, no dark lighting, there’s a clean floor smell that has an undertone of coffee and paper.
He stands at the end of the bullpen to access where he is. Someone comes up to him, noticing his confusion.
“I’m looking for detective Jiang Cheng?”
“He’s out right now but you can wait for him at his desk,” a woman says. She instructs him to a desk in the middle of the place and there’s a chair on the side that he takes a seat on.
He awkwardly waits for five minutes, staring at his surroundings. He takes it all in, the desk in front of him and it’s environment.
He realizes that he has his work suitcase on him. Deciding that Jiang Cheng most likely won’t be back for a few minutes he’ll work on some pro bono work Sizhui had pushed onto him.
Lan Xichen wouldn’t call himself impatient but in moments like this, he can’t help but feel like his emotions are playing tug-a-war. Part of him wants Jiang Cheng to be here right now and for him to yell out his feelings as quickly as possible to get it over with. Another wishes time would finally stop and he could sit here forever hoping the inevitable would never happen.
He is anxious to all degrees and it takes much more effort than it should to read one single piece of paper. Every time the elevator opens his eyes flicker to them, hoping to see a man with dark hair and a resting scowl on his face. He doesn’t know if his brain processes any of it. They are only a placeholder, something to make him look less nervous and fidgety.
This lasts for two long hours. Someone offers him coffee and at one point he thinks he sees the captain of the precinct walk by but Jiang Cheng is nowhere to be found.
“What are you fucking doing here?”
Lan Xichen’s head snaps to look up at the source of the voice. Lan Xichen was never a man to enjoy crass words yet when it came from his mouth he never seemed to mind. If anything, Lan Xichen sort of misses it now.
“I...wanted to see you.”
Jiang Cheng frowns. There are words he would usually say during this time but Lan Xichen knows he is holding back. He wants to throw up.
They stay there, staring at each other. Lan Xichen doesn’t know where to start and Jiang Cheng is unsure of what he should do.
Lan Xichen has never come to his workplace before. This was a forbidden line and now...now Lan Xichen is in a place he considered a sanctuary. It feels...off….
“Do you want to go outside? It’d be best to uh...take a walk while we talk,” Lan Xichen offers. As much as he would like to blurt his feelings out and throw them up all over the freshly cleaned floor he knows this isn’t the place.
Jiang Cheng works here. Lan Xichen would achieve nothing but anger here.
“...alright,” Jiang Cheng agrees. He lets his eyes dart around before taking the lead to go towards the elevator. Lan Xichen follows behind, chasing after him like it was all in his nature.
The elevator ride down is quiet and neither speak as they begin their slow walk away from the precinct. Jiang Cheng does not look at him and instead keeps his eyes everywhere but on him. Lan Xichen waits, he waits for his fears to settle even just a fraction.
A gust of wind blows past. Lan Xichen takes notes of dark clouds slowly blanketing themselves over the sky’s blue.
He understands, though, that every second he lets pass by is another for Jiang Cheng to become impatient. The terror inside him may grip his heart tightly but he is tired of feeling regret, isn’t he?
“How have you been?” He starts.
“That’s good. I’m glad to hear,” he says. The words die on his tongue and he finds himself at a standstill.
Where does one begin to confess their undying love to the person they love?
“I...I’ve missed you,” he admits. “Jiang Cheng.”
He watches as Jiang Cheng’s body becomes taut. His steps falter and shoulders square up. Lan Xichen wants to look at his face, to read the emotions behind his eyes and see his face frozen. But Lan Xichen is a man who succumbs to his unrest more than he’d like to admit.
“You don’t mean that.”
“I don’t want to hear it,” Jiang Cheng spits out. His fists are curled up and nails dig into his palms. There is a fiery anger in his body language but the feelings in him are far from it. “I...I don’t love you Lan Xichen! This is what I mean by it getting personal. There wasn’t supposed to be-”
“Yet there is!” Lan Xichen’s voice begins to rise. “I...I wish I didn’t want it as much as I did. Do. I-I love you. So much that I would have been fine being the man who you slept with once a week and nothing more for the rest of my life.”
“Only a dumbass would be okay with that!” Jiang Cheng is shouting now. His voice filled with malice and venom. “I’m not going to entertain these emotions a fool like you would have.”
Lan Xichen pauses. He wants to take a step back and run away before the tears in his eyes begin to spill over. His feet, though, stay rooted to the ground.
“Aren’t you tired of lying to yourself?” Lan Xichen voice is little more than a hoarse and broken volume level.
“Lying? Don’t you dare accuse me of lying!”
“Accuse? Jiang Cheng you can call me a fool and stupid but I’m not blind! You are just as much as a coward as I am a fool,” his voice cracks. “I know you Jiang Cheng. I know you so well and it scares you.”
“What you know is fake! A pretense for our arrangement. You’re blinded and-”
“Jiang Cheng!” Lan Xichen’s voice raises past Jiang Cheng’s. It is a booming loudness that leaves an echo of silence behind. There are tears streaming down his face and he can taste the saltiness of them.
Jiang Cheng is frozen, his jaws are clenched and he doesn’t want this to be happening. This isn’t what was supposed to happen. Lan Xichen shouldn’t be loving him. Not Lan Xichen.
“Please, be honest with me. I’m begging you. I’m tired of lies and tricks. I need you to be truthful with me.”
Jiang Cheng is at a loss for words. Lan Xichen looks...broken. There aren’t many times Lan Xichen looks truly tired. Jiang Cheng knows all the times he has seen him look so distraught.
He has so many more words to drive him away. Jiang Cheng doesn’t even need to speak them. If he turned away right here right now and left him standing in the street crying Lan Xichen would not follow.
His body won’t respond though. Isn’t this what he wanted? To hear those words coming from Lan Xichen’s mouth. Jiang Cheng...waited for those words.
“You...You’re better than this. Whatever you want, I would never be able to give to you,” Jiang Cheng admits. “I’m not the person you need or should want.”
Lan Xichen inhales.
“Is that what you think about yourself? Jiang Cheng do you hear yourself?”
“It’s the truth! This is what you want, isn’t it? Lan Xichen do you see yourself? Standing here, in the middle of this street crying over me. There are hundreds of people who would line up to marry you and you have the audacity to turn them all down. For what? Me? Ridiculous! I’ll save you the god damn time by telling you now that it’s a bad idea! That there was never a we and even if we tried you would realize later.”
Jiang Cheng is breathing heavily. He takes another breath, ready to spit out more of every reason why it’s wrong for Lan Xichen to be here.
“What’s going to stop you from leaving me?”
Those words catches him off guard. He wants to clam up, to stop the next words from falling out of his mouth.
“I’ve lost everything and I had no one else to help me rebuild it. Promises were broken and I...I don’t need you to do the same.”
“Then I won’t promise you. Jiang Cheng, please. Let me at least try.” Lan Xichen comes closer. He does not reach out, though, not yet. “Let me be there for you. I don’t need anyone perfect. I just want to be next to you. Call me a fool, stupid, an idiot but I...I’m afraid too. Please.”
Jiang Cheng feels his clothes flow with the strong wind. They are outside, storm clouds hanging over them, and the smell of rain filling their sense of smell. It does not take long for the first few drops to join in on their conversation and then drown it out.
It does not take long to soak past the layers of clothes and let the cold seep into his skin. It is as miserable as he feels.
Jiang Cheng opens his mouth, “I hate you.”
“Why do you have to be right?”
“I don’t know.”
“I would have been fine.”
“No, you wouldn’t have been.”
“You’re worth it. Let me...let me in your life. I want to occupy it. Every inch of it.”
“And if I don’t want to?”
“I...I don’t know.”
Jiang Cheng scoffs. Of course. Of course! He finds all the strength in his body to turn away from Lan Xichen. He knows he is crying. The rain is cold on his skin but his tears are warm and blur his eyesight. There is a burning and constricting movement in his throat as he tries to choke his sobs down.
He wants to be selfish, to throw himself into Lan Xichen’s arms and hold himself tightly in that embrace. It would only take two steps.
He thinks about a lot of things. From the people he’s loved being ripped away from him and then seeing them prosper without him. Wei Wuxian was not wrong about him having pride, though. That he was a man who would destroy himself in the process of keeping it.
He is tired.
“I don’t want to love you. Why couldn’t you have left me like the way I was?”
“Apologize to me again.”
Jiang Cheng turns around this time. He takes the steps closer to Lan Xichen and the initiative to grab the ruined shirt and pull him closer.
It is not the best kiss they’ve had. It would be far from perfect yet neither would consider it anything other than exactly what they wanted. Lan Xichen’s hand reaches up to cup Jiang Cheng’s face. A hand settles over his and holds it there.
It is a scene in and of itself. A movie scene that Jiang Cheng had mocked all of his life. A roll of the eyes and a look of contempt.
The rain, the city lights glowing softly behind them, the fear filling his body as he presses his forehead against Lan Xichen’s.
“I’m not perfect,” he whispers.
“That’s okay,” Lan Xichen replies just as softly. “I’m not either.”
“I’ll be patient with you just as much as you’ve been patient with me,” Jiang Cheng says.
He kisses him again. And again. Their lips never moving past pressing against each other. Never moving past the need to be close, to hold each other close and let themselves fall into the uncertainty of it all.
Jiang Cheng does not let go of Lan Xichen for the rest of the night. His hand tentatively intertwining it with Lan Xichen’s. He lets himself marvel at it. To squeeze the hand in his and memorize how it feels to want something and being able to have it.
The way up to Lan Xichen’s apartment is almost awkward. He is unsure of where to go once he was done showering and changing into dry clothes. The living room he was once familiar with foreign in the new light.
Lan Xichen, though, is looking at his slowly steaming kettle. His back to Jiang Cheng.
Before Jiang Cheng would easily say a few words and they knew exactly what would happen next. This was not the routine, though. A line crossed and a road unsure.
“Can I….?” Jiang Cheng feels the words die on his throat. He is unsure of himself and for the first time in a long while he becomes shy.
Lan Xichen turns to look at him. Jiang Cheng looks away, his cheeks burning.
“Are you tired?” Lan Xichen asks.
“Yeah. I...Is your bed okay?” Jiang Cheng’s face only darkens further. It is endearing. Lan Xichen’s lip twitches.
“Of course. Always.”
He doesn’t respond and leaves to head to the room quickly. Lan Xichen follows, his boiling water abandoned for a soft and warm bed soon to be occupied with another body.
As he covers the both of them up he feels a hand touch his. It is timid, almost hesitant to go forward. He takes the hand and wraps his around it. His heart beat faster with each and every second passing.
In the distant sound of raindrops outside and cars passing by they fall asleep to the sound of it. Their breathing evening out.
Even if tomorrow were to become a wasteland they would witness the end of the sun together.