Jiang Cheng hears a whine from across the house, asking him to hurry like he’s been gone for ages when it hasn’t even been two minutes. He rolls his eyes, but the look on his face is fond. This kid… so dramatic. If he takes longer than necessary to make a cup of tea just to hear the adorable petulance continue then that is between him and the tea pot. He would never leave his whiney sick child in his bedroom on purpose, no, never. And definitely not because it reminded him of his husband. Honestly, the brat was an exact clone of Jingyi and he wasn’t even their biological child! Ridiculous…. Jiang Cheng has no idea why he finds their overly dramatic ‘I’m going to die’ reaction when sick so adorable. Gods help him if he ever has to take care of them both at once.
Jiang Cheng grimaces at the thought.
He’s almost to the bedroom door with the cup of warm tea when hears another ringing whine. He snorts quietly, definitely the most pathetic one yet. Someone who didn’t know better really could think the kid was dying of some horrible illness instead of having come down with just a cold. He fixes his best scowl on his face and enters the bedroom.
“I’m here you brat, stop screaming already. The doctor said it’s only a mild cold and you’ll be fine in a few days. You’re being ridiculous.” A pouty up-turned face and crossed arms was his only reply. Jiang Cheng coughed to cover his laugh. Really, this kid. Sometimes Jiang Cheng could swear that he really was theirs and that they hadn’t only adopted him when he was five.
“Here,” he says gruffly while holding out the tea, “drink this and go to sleep.” That got a swift turn of the head and a look of shock.
“Awwwwww, I don’t wanna sleep! You said you’d tell me a story!”
Jiang Cheng pretends to think about it for a second. “Did I?” he asks. “I don’t remember that. Maybe if you drank your tea and laid down.....” There was a flurry of limbs and blankets before two small hands reached out for the tea. Jiang Cheng pretends to give him a suspicious look. “I suppoooose so if you promise to drink your tea and sleep after.”
“I promise, I promise! Pleaaaaaaaaaseeeee?” Large eyes look up expectantly at him and he caves. Of course he was planning on telling a bedtime story the whole time anyway, but he never could resist the eyes . Damn Jingyi, teaching their child emergency tactics.
“Fine,” he says while pulling up a chair. “What do you want to hear? Monsters, princesses, magic?” He expects to be asked for the kid’s favorite story for the umpteenth time. He has no idea how the same goblin story 1 never gets old, but if the amount of times it’s been the chosen bedtime story is anything to go by then it probably won’t be anytime soon.
Instead, Jiang Cheng is surprised when a quiet voice asks, “Can you tell me how you and a-die met?"
“That’s what you want me to tell you? Are you sure?”
“Pleaaaaaasseeeee?” Ugh, those eyes again.
“Fine, fine, jeeze… enough already.” Jiang Cheng gives his son a look. “But don’t blame me if it’s boring.” Furious nods meet his gaze in agreement. “How we met, huh?” he asks, giving himself time to think and dwell on the past, the faintest of smiles on his lips. “Well, you know how a-die has a daemon right?”
“Sauce!” his son exclaims loudly with accompanying nods. Jiang Cheng really does snort this time. Really now, Sauce? Who names the physical manifestation of their SOUL... Sauce?
Right, Jingyi did. Of course he would name his fucking soul
And people said Jiang Cheng had bad naming sense. At least Princess was a regular dog and not his
Jiang Cheng would name his soul something more fitting. Something like… well he wasn’t sure, but that was neither here nor there because Jiang Cheng didn’t have a daemon. But if he did!
Jiang Cheng snorts again. “Yes, Sauce. And you know that daemons are really rare now?”
“Yeah, we learned about it in school! Teacher said people with daemons are special!”
“A-Die is special alright,” Jiang Cheng says in a flat tone and rolls his eyes. “The minute he walked into the store and I saw that chicken of his, I knew he was special.”
Lan Jingyi was the best employee at only the most popular cultivator clothing store around, Wuxia Wear. Which was why he was being sent temporarily to the Yunmeng store. Wuxia Wear had been around long enough to grow wildly in popularity among cultivators, but it’s stores were based solely in the Gusu area. The higher ups, wanting to expand their customer base outside of the local cultivators and thinking that it was doing well enough now to try opening more stores, made a test run in Yunmeng.
Apparently, the popular Gusu wear hadn’t been cutting it in Yunmeng. Something about sleeves…
Sales were at a record low and after a year's worth of marketing, funds, and products being dumped into the site, the store was set to close in another six months. Lan Jingyi was being sent over interim for extra manpower in order to help cover the lack of employees and increased workload needed to properly shut the store down. It’s normal for people to jump ship when a store is closing, but this one was higher than average. Supposedly the manager was heinously scary, or so Lan Jingyi had been told.
No one had told him, however, that the man was also ridiculously hot.
“Heeeey…” his son interrupts and Jiang Cheng sighs. Here we go. Just once he’d like to get through a story without constant interruptions. “There isn’t... kissing in this story is there?” The dreaded K-word is said with barely a whisper, as if the mere mention of it will suddenly cause people kissing to pop up all over.
Jiang Cheng rolls his eyes. Always with the kissing. Wei Wuxian told him once that kissing gives you cooties and now it’s cursed forever. “Yes, there is kissing , but there is also Sauce and a-die acting silly. Do you want to hear about it or not?”
He waits patiently while his son decides, like he’s going to choose not to hear the rest. This kid loved stories about Jingyi when he was younger and did ridiculous things. Especially when it involved that chicken. Pair of bad influences is what those two were…
“Okay,” he said tentatively, “but no kissing! A-Die will get cooties.”
“Fine, no kissing,” he agrees. “Where was I? Oh right,” he cleared his throat before starting in a dramatic voice, ‘Through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered I have fought my way here to the castle bey-”
“Noooooooo!” His son whines, “That’s not the right story! We’re at the part where a-die meets you, not the Goblin King!” Jiang Cheng raised his eyebrow.
“But you said no kissing and this one doesn’t have kissing.”
A loud sigh comes out of his tiny body before he looks Jiang Cheng in the eye, all serious business. “Baba, you have to tell it right. The Goblin King isn’t here, that doesn’t make any sense!”
“But what about a-die? He might get cooties if I keep telling the story.” He laughs when the only response he receives is angry hands on hips and a tiny glare. So imposing, surrounded by fluffy blankets and tons of stuffed animals. “Alright fine, but no complaining later at the kissing,” he relents before continuing the story. “Did you learn about how a person's daemon reflects how they are feeling inside? People used to be able to talk with their daemons but that was lost along with whatever caused them to be rare. They still seem to be able to understand you, but they can’t speak anymore. Instead they’re like a reflection of your soul, showing all of your feelings. Back then a-die couldn’t control it at all. Every time he got upset in any way Sauce would run around acting crazy, like a chicken with its…,” Jiang Cheng coughed. “Well, he just acted crazy. A-Die couldn’t hide anything and his face was always red because he was embarrassed about it.”
Lan Jingyi wound his way through the racks of clothes on his way to the registers in the back, Sauce poking lazily along behind him as he took stock of everything on his way. The store seemed to be well taken care of. Maybe the clothes just weren’t to the people’s tastes here? Well, -
“Yo, what do you need?” Lan Jingyi jerked to stop abruptly and looked over towards the rude voice. Sauce smacked into the back of his feet and squawked indignantly, his beak poked Lan Jingyi in the calf.
“Ow! Damnit, Sauce.”
“...Sauce?” The person asks in a judging tone.
Lan Jingyi eyed him hard. “Yeah, Sauce. My daemon. You wanna fight about it?”
“Uh, no. Thanks. So what do you need?” That tone again. So rude!
“I need your manager.” The man’s eyes widened just slightly.
“Fuck man, I didn’t even do anything!”
He sighs and decides to take pity on the guy. “No, I’m the transfer from Gusu and I’m supposed to report the store manager here.” He doesn’t find any amusement in the way the other guy’s shoulders relax in relief. Nope, not at all.
“Oh. In that case, he’s in the back.” The guy hooks a thumb over his shoulder and gestures towards an employee only door. “Names Xue Yang, by the way. You?”
“Lan Jingyi,” he says and offers Xue Yang his hand. “Nice to meet you. Looks like we’ll be working together for a few good months.”
“Thank god, dude. It’s been just the two of us for weeks now and I’m dying. Shit’s still gonna suck but at least now I get a day off every once in a while. Anyway, you better go see the boss man and let him know you’re here.” Xue Yang pointed to the door again and then went back to what he had been doing.
Ooooookay then. This seemed promising. Not.
Lan Jingyi sighed and headed towards the door. Here goes nothing, best get meeting the tyrant over with. Lan Jingyi had really hoped the man wasn’t as bad as the rumors made him sound, but if Xue Yang’s reaction to him asking for the manager and the bags under his eyes were anything to go by…. Well, it probably wasn’t going to be pretty.
He swung the door open and ho-ly shit. It definitely wasn’t pretty. God no, more like it was steaming hot. Why hadn’t anyone warned him how hot this man was!? Dear lord, a guy needs to mentally prepare for things like this! How was this even legal? He-
Fuck, was that his heart pounding? Could the other man hear it?
“Are you going to get that or what?” The godly man asked him in a voice that sounded like it came from his filthiest dreams. What, what?
“Uh, get what?”
The man pointed to the door Lan Jingyi had just come through. When he turned around to look he saw the entire door vibrate with each loud knock.
SLAM! SLAM! SLAM!
And that was when his ears registered the frantic squawking. “Oh shit, Sauce!” Lan Jingyi opened the door in a rush, smacking his face into the edge. “Fffffffffff!” He held his head in his hand and rode out the pain for a few seconds. Sauce squeezed through the closing door. The feathers on his head were rumpled from repeated run-ins with the door. He pecked Lan Jingyi’s foot hard. “Ow!” He pulled his foot back too quickly and lost his balance, stumbling sideways and scattering a bucket of security tags all over the floor. The sound echoed around for far longer than it had any right to.
“So,” the man said casually, “you must be Lan Jingyi.”
Loud peals of laughter ring through the room as Jiang Cheng takes a break in the story. “Is that why Sauce’s hair is always stickin up?”
Jiang Cheng nods. “Mhm, he was always walking into stuff before a-die could control himself better.” More laughter. “Alright, that’s enough for now. You need to get some sleep so you feel better.”
“Awwwwwww! But you didn’t even get to the kissing part yet! I mean…”
“Uh huh,” Jiang Cheng takes the tea cup and tucks the blankets tighter around him. “And if you want to ‘get to the kissing part’ then you’re going to have to behave and go to sleep so you feel better. If you drink your tea again tomorrow then I’ll tell you more.”
“No. Go to sleep. Or I won’t finish telling you and I’ll make sure a-die doesn’t tell you either.” In a spooky voice he adds, “and then you’ll never know what happens.” A small gasp of horror transforms into a large yawn and cuts off any protests before they can begin. “Alright, to bed with you.” Jiang Cheng adjusts the stuffed animals to make more room for him to sleep comfortably. He has no idea how the kid manages to sleep with so many, it looks suffocating, but somehow he does.
Brat even wakes up if you try to take any of them away from him.
Jiang Cheng chuckles a bit at that as he brushes some bangs from the boy’s face. He’s already fast asleep, more exhausted from the cold than he tried to let on. Jiang Cheng knew that if he had continued the story then the brat would have fallen asleep long before it was finished, and complained the whole next day about missing the ending.
He lightly presses a hand to his son’s forehead, checking the temperature. It feels much better than it had been, though he still feels a little warm to the touch. At least Jingyi can’t give him shit for doing a bad job. Of course his also bratty husband will still probably laugh at his expense for having to tell bedtime stories. Jiang Cheng has never been good at stories. The pair of them like to gang up on him and complain.
~~ “First of all, do you want to tell the story? No? Then stop complaining. And second of all, what are you, five? Go read your own story and stop hijacking our son’s unless you want to be the one to tell it.” Jiang Cheng leveled a look at the two of them, sitting snug in bed together and surrounded by stuffed animals, until they looked suitably contrite enough for his standards. ~~
With one last brush of his fingers through soft hair, Jiang Cheng kisses him goodnight and shuts the light off. They can finish the story tomorrow.
It’s still a little early, and Jingyi isn’t due home for another few hours yet, so he decides to settle down on the couch with a book. He gets through the first few pages before setting the book down again. His mind is too focused on memories for him to be able to concentrate on the words in front of him. Has it already been ten years since then? It feels like just last year they were looking at different adoption agencies and only a little before that when they were sharing their first kiss. In actuality it’s been five years since they found their son, and ten since the Yunmeng branch store had closed.
Lan Jingyi groaned and rubbed his eyes. It was way too early. Okay, it was only 10:00am but as far as he was concerned anything before noon was a confirmed sin. The matching bags under Xue Yang’s eyes and noncommittal good morning grunt thrown Lan Jingyi’s way seemed to agree. He slid Xue Yang a coffee, grunted back, and went to clock in. Today was going to be shit.
Bwok! See? Even Sauce agrees.
They had already been in the swing of things for a good few months now, but today marked the top of a steep climb made of grueling work, and it was all downhill from here. And not even the good kind of downhill, the nice easy glide after a job well done. Nope, it was the nasty slippery descent into hell.
Everything must go, 75% off storewide.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, the discounts were going to keep on climbing until either their last day marked on the calendar or it was all gone.
And boy oh boy did huge discounts just bring people out of the woodwork. All sorts of crazies appear. Lan Jingyi was pretty sure people spend more money on gas driving to these big discount sales than they save on the purchases. Not to mention just how utterly nasty some of them were.
Just last week he had found, piece by piece, an entire outfit’s worth of stolen clothing. How did he know it was stolen, besides the ripped tags? Why of course he knew because the person in question had kindly left their worn and dirty clothes in place of the new stolen ones! Right down to the stained underwear. He had been cleaning up the fitting room and his fingers went right into the stain when he was picking the clothing up. At first he had thought they were just a pair fallen out of a ripped open pack. Nope. That would have been lucky.
Even better luck was the fact that he had a knee-jerk reaction thrown them away from himself, accidentally hitting the mirror and smearing said stain in the process. He had then proceeded to trip on a hanger in his backpedaling and fall face first into what had to be the world’s smelliest pair of jeans. And the mother of all indignities was that Sauce had somehow gotten another pair of underwear stuck on his head and was running around screaming inside the small fitting room.
So that was fun.
There was also that used diaper Xue Yang had found stuffed behind the perfume bottles. Lan Jingyi had said they should leave them behind the glass counter instead of condensing them to the shelves, but noooo. Of course, he had also said that because of people potentially stealing the more expensive ones...not because he thought they were going to be leaving gifts instead.
Then there was the time he and Xue Yang were positive two people were fucking in the fitting room. They don’t get paid enough to deal with that. Whatever.
Last but not least, the perfectly spiraled poop. Also in the fitting room. It looked exactly like the emoji. Just… why? It’s not like the bathrooms weren’t RIGHT THERE.
90% off was going to be a bitch.
Maybe they should just get rid of the fitting rooms? Oh wait, they were getting rid of the whole store.
He sighed and turned to share his long suffering look with Xue Yang and together they approached their doom among the rising tides outside the locked front doors.
Jiang Cheng materialized out of nowhere and smacked them across the back of their heads. “Stop standing there looking like you’re about to die and go open the damn doors, you idiots.” Sauce gave a loud bwok but even he had the decency to look repentant in the face of The Manager’s Eyes of Doom. Jiang Cheng stared Sauce down while pointing at the doors. “Go.” Sauce bwoked once in protest but marched forward anyway, and so Lan Jingyi and Xue Yang followed like they had all their ducks in a row and weren’t walking towards their own execution.
Xue Yang and Lan Jingyi were sprawled out in the break room. Xue Yang was spread eagle, draped over his chair with it tipped back and his head hanging over the top. His eyes stared into dead space up at the ceiling. Lan Jingy was slumped forward and doing his best to merge his face with the table. Sauce stood cross-eyed in the corner, pecking at air.
“God I am so tired.”
“I think my feet are going to fall off.”
“You still HAVE feet?”
They both laughed.
“Lan Jingyi!” Jiang Cheng shouted from the door. “Come get these boxes and put them back with the damaged merchandise.” Lan Jingyi muffled a groan against the table. “Now.”
“Yes Manager Jiang.”
It took a few minutes but Lan Jingyi managed to drag his face away from it’s make out session with the table, only to flop backwards into his chair. He was way too tired to move just yet.
“So…,” Xue Yang dragged out in a tone Lan Jingyi had come to know meant nothing good for him was coming out of that mouth. “Did you enjoy getting bossed around again today?” Xue Yang waggled his eyebrows as if Lan Jingyi hadn’t gotten his meaning, as if Xue Yang hadn’t been teasing him about this since day one. “ Ooooooh, Manager Jiang! Yes, Manager Jiang!” Xue Yang fake moaned while rubbing all over his own chest and staring Lan Jingyi dead in the eye from his upside down sprawled lounge.
Lan Jingyi slammed his hands down on the table and stood up. He made sure to kick the back feet out from under Xue Yang’s tipped chair, easily toppling him to the ground. He pretended not to hear Xue Yang’s cackling from down the hallway.
Dick. He’s right, which is why it’s so annoying, but he’s still a dick.
Lan Jingyi sighed and went to work moving the stupidly large boxes. There weren’t too many of them but they were so big that his arms couldn’t reach all the way around and he had to angle his neck oddly to see where he was walking. After a few trips, when he was on his last box, Lan Jingyi heard footsteps running towards him and Xue Yang goofily hollering his name.
And then suddenly another set of arms are wrapped around the box he is holding, there’s a ton of shaking, and Xue Yang is fake moaning very loud while making grotesque faces. As fast as it started it’s over. Xue Yang is darting away, hideous laughter echoing in his wake accompanying his shout of, “night loser, see you tomorrow!”
“Sauce, did Xue Yang just… pretend fuck the box I am holding?” Lan Jingyi asked his daemon. Sauce blinked dully up at him and bwoked once. “Yeah. That’s what I thought.”
Lan Jingyi stood there blinking for a few seconds, trying to process what had just happened to him. Finally he decided on whatever and went about finishing his task and closing the store up for the night.
Lan Jingyi sighs as he gets out of the car and holds the door open behind him for Sauce to flop out. “Come on, Sauce. We’ve had a long day. Let’s go in and rest, yeah?” Sauce stares up blearily and Lan Jingyi’s own exhaustion is reflected in the small eyes blinking slowly at him. Sauce looks like he has no idea what is being said to him, and he probably doesn’t. Lan Jingyi feels dead on his feet so it’s a wonder that Sauce is standing at all. “We are really tired tonight, huh?” He smiles softly at his daemon as he reaches down to gather Sauce up in his arms. “Come on then, let’s go.”
By the time he is opening the door to the house, Sauce is already fast asleep in his arms and purring quietly. “I’m home!” he calls, toeing off his shoes and dropping his keys on the side table.
“In the Kitchen!” Lan Jingyi moves slowly down the hall towards Jiang Cheng’s voice and the delicious smell of whatever it is he is cooking.
“Mmmm, smells good,” he hums, sliding up behind Jiang Cheng and peeking over his shoulder. A quick kiss lands on his cheek before he pulls back again.
“Welcome home. How was your day?”
“Long. I am really tired,” he takes another long whiff, “and hungry.” Jiang Cheng chuckles. “How’d sick duty go? I trust the two of you didn’t have a meltdown like last time?” Jiang Cheng huffs and rolls his eyes.
“It was one time , and it wasn’t a meltdown.” Jiang Cheng reaches for a few spices before continuing, “For your information, no, we did not have a “meltdown”. He asked me for a bedtime story and now he’s sleeping. Conked out, poor kid was exhausted after being sick all day.” Jiang Cheng’s hope of skipping over the bedtime story is dashed when he hears Jingyi laughing quietly.
“Bedtime stories huh? How’d that go, mister bard? If I recall, it’s been a while since you had story time duty because the last time you told him one he cried.”
“Ugh, you just won’t let that go will you? It was an accident!”
“Uh huh, and it never crossed your name that the princess dying wasn’t a good idea?” Jingyi’s laughter jostles Sauce, who grumbles in his sleep.
“Whatever,” Jiang Cheng grumbles as well. “It went fine. He asked me about how we first met.”
“Oh? Even though it has kissing?”
“Even though it has kissing. Not that he made it that far, fell asleep before I even got to that crazy lady.”
Lan Jingyi groans. “Don’t even remind me. That lady was nuts. Who tries to return shorts with a giant hole in the ass and claims they bought it like that. You mean you didn’t notice that when you bought it? Lady, please.” A large grin spreads across Jingyi’s face. “Though it was hilarious to see her face when you came over to deal with it. I have never seen someone leave so fast.”
Jiang Cheng snorts and the waves absentmindedly behind him. “This is almost done over here, if you want to hand me that sauce over there and then go sit down and wait.” He turns around when Jingyi doesn’t say anything right away. Only to come face to face with Jingyi’s outstretched hands holding a sleep addled Sauce, little chicken feet dangling in the air as he looks at Jiang Cheng expectantly. They both look so tired that Jiang Cheng isn’t sure there is a single brain cell left between the two of them. “Just go sit down you idiot”
Jingyi spins on his heels and marches out of the kitchen, Sauce still suspended midair. Jiang Cheng sighs. Those two are certainly a pair, Dumb and Dumber. With that thought he sticks his head out the doorway to call down to Jingyi, “and don’t sit on Sauce this time!” A squawk tells him that it was probably too late. Poor brain addled daemon.
When they’re done eating Jiang Cheng sends Jingyi and Sauce up to shower while he cleans away the dishes. After he is finished he checks in on his sick, stuffed animal swarmed bratling one last time for the night. By the time he is done showering Jingyi is already passed out in bed with Sauce purring softly in the small bed next to theirs. Jiang Cheng passes the daemon on the way to his side of the bed and stops to scratch his head. “Night, Sauce.” A soft coo follows after Jiang Cheng and then Sauce buries his face down into his feathers for the night.
Jiang Cheng doesn’t fall asleep right away. Instead he watches Jingyi sleeping soundly beside him and listens to Sauce’s soft coos. They might be the most ridiculous duo ever, but they were all his.
All three of them, because that kid is almost a clone of Jingyi.
Jiang Cheng smiles to himself. He wouldn’t have them any other way.
Jiang Cheng and Lan Jingyi lock the store doors behind them for the last time. He’ll be back tomorrow of course, to watch over the crew coming in to dismantle hardware, but Xue Yang and Lan Jingyi were done. He had already sent Xue Yang home a few hours early while he and Lan Jingyi finished up the last few things. Starting tomorrow, Lan Jingyi was going back to his store and Xue Yang and Jiang Cheng were going to their new jobs. They were all going their separate ways.
They stood out in the cold, waiting for the bus. Sauce wobbled back and forth behind them. Jiang Cheng had tried to offer a ride but Lan Jingyi insisted he was fine, Jiang Cheng decided to at least accompany him until the bus came. It was going to be another twenty minutes, assuming it wasn’t late, and for some reason Jiang Cheng didn’t want to say goodbye yet. It was too final. Like Lan Jingyi getting on that bus meant they would never cross paths again. Jiang Cheng knew it was ridiculous, he knew exactly where Lan Jingyi worked. It wasn’t like he couldn’t just go find him there.
He wasn’t ready to let Lan Jingyi leave. There was something there, unsaid and lingering between them, something fragile he was afraid would be lost the second that bus arrived.
Jiang Cheng was surprised at how well they got along. How well Lan Jingyi seemed to understand him, all of his quirks. It was no small help that his gruffness didn’t scare Lan Jingyi off either. Jiang Cheng liked that, liked the sass and confidence Lan Jingyi presented. In between bouts of ridiculousness, clumsy accidents, and Sauce just generally acting up while Lan Jingyi stood there trying his damndest to look innocent.
He liked all of it. It was endearing. Lan Jingyi was endearing.
He liked Lan Jingyi. Hell, he even liked that chicken. And he didn’t want to let that go.
“Oh! I can see the bus coming, yes! Thank god, it’s so cold.” Lan Jingyi shuffled a little and breathed into his hands. He turned to look at Jiang Cheng. “Thanks for keeping me company. It was, uh, nice working with you. I’ll see you around I guess?”
The bus pulled over to the stop and Lan Jingyi looked up at him with these eyes that Jiang Cheng just… He lost eye contact when Lan Jingyi turned to get onto the bus and before he could even link about it Jiang Cheng had reached out and grabbed his wrist.
“Lan Jingyi,” Jiang Cheng called to him, tugging him closer. He looked back down into Lan Jingyi’s wide eyes, grabbed his face and kissed him. It was quick, but hard, and pressed all of Jiang Cheng’s feelings into Lan Jingyi. As sudden as Jiang Cheng had grabbed him, he was let go. Jiang Cheng stepped back and gave Lan Jingyi a smoldering look. “Yes, you will.”