up on melancholy hill

06 May 2021

At any other time, Nie Mingjue would have teased his brother relentlessly and given Jiang Wanyin the worst terrifying talking-to of his life. But they’re in hiding and on the run, being hunted by both their own people and the rest of the world – and this is such a painfully normal teenage thing to experience in the midst of all the bullshit they’re dealing with.

Nie Mingjue figures that he can let his brother have this much, at least.

(Snapshots of some quiet moments during a war)

Chapters: 10
Words: 21,652

up on melancholy hill

Chapter 4
late night


It’s 2 AM. Nie Huaisang takes a lazy walk around the safehouse.

Chapter Notes:

look. this whole chapter is the reason i wrote the entire au in the first place. you’ll see why.




Nie Huaisang wakes up from a restless sleep, his dreams that night only half a nightmare.

It’s a patchwork of things he has seen while using his powers – the good, the bad, the normal. One minute, he’s finding the Jiangs through Xiaoyu’s eyes, another and he’s watching their old safehouse burn, then there’s just flying and flying and finding nothing in the forests of Qinghe. This happens sometimes, like a strange side-effect, and if he were to be honest, there’s a part of him that preferred the nightmares to it. At least the nightmares woke him up alert and ready, his mind clear


These vague afterthought dreams? They only left him troubled, thoughts muddled.

He reaches out beside him and realizes he’s alone. He picks up the note left on the bedside table and reads the familiar handwriting in the moonlight. Jiang Cheng has left for patrol. He’ll be back before dawn.

It’s colder, all of a sudden, and he pulls the blankets around him as he curls in on himself, taking deep steadying breaths. He looks around. It’s been months and he still hasn’t gotten used to this new room. It’s smaller – everything in the new safehouse is – but at least his brother made sure he got a room with a window.

“Xiaoyu?” he calls. There’s no response. No bird flying to his windowsill. The perch is empty, too. “Where are you?” he whispers, then closes his eyes and concentrates, sees if he can find his fickle, flighty (hah!) pet.

Huaisang can reach out far enough and detect the presence of other people or creatures that he can link with. It’s always easier to do this the closer he is to his target, hence why with Xiaoyu he prefers to link with her while they’re together. Searching for someone far away and out of sight takes a lot more time and concentration.


He finds her after a while, and two familiar others.


Well, then.

“Talk about loyalty, going out there and leaving me all alone here.” Huaisang shakes his head, amused. He draws back, cuts the link. He’ll leave her be for now. She’s in safe hands, anyway.

He’s still restless, so he stands up and pulls his shoes and cardigan on, then exits his room.

It’s 2 AM, but many people are still awake. Restless, perhaps, just like Huaisang is. The new safehouse has been a lot quieter without the children, but it’s abuzz with a different energy lately. There were people who Huaisang knew had no training but had decided to opt out of the safety of Meishan and stay. He’d seen them training with their more experienced fighters lately. If people weren’t training, they were doing chores, or helping some of the injured in their recovery, or going in and out to gather supplies.

It’s like they know there will be a fight, and that they will no longer be able to run from that one.

They’re not wrong. Huaisang just wishes they could put up an actual fight when that happens.



The lights are still on in the new meeting room, which really is just a room meant to be an “office”, which is practically his brother’s own room, with how he never left the place, and spends most of his nights on the couch in the corner. If he even decides to get a wink of sleep.

The door is left ajar. Nie Huaisang knocks on the open door first, so as not to startle the man inside.

Nie Mingjue is sitting by a wide office table littered with maps, notes, documents and a worn-down laptop. There are other computers in another corner of the room, but it looks like whoever was assigned to those had turned in for the night.

“Huaisang.” he says, looking at him in concern. “It’s late. Are you okay? Is something wrong?”

“No. I’m okay. Just… woke up.” Huaisang says, walking inside and crossing the room.


“Kinda. One of those creepy side-effect dreams.” he answers. “You? You need to sleep too, da-ge.”

Nie Mingjue sighs and shakes his head stubbornly, but he doesn’t resist being pulled close when Huaisang wraps his arms around his neck. Huaisang’s hands always run cold for some reason, but the rest of him is sleep-warm. The soft wool of his too-big cardigan and the cotton of his shirt is a welcome change to the roughness of Mingjue’s jackets, worn gloves and bandages. He could almost doze off, right there, being held by his younger brother.

“See? You’re tired.” Huaisang points out.

“I’m always tired.” Nie Mingjue says. He reaches a hand up and rests it on his brother’s arm, rubbing it in reassurance. “I can handle it.


, on the other hand-”

“I told you. Creepy dream.” Huaisang says, cuddling closer, burying his nose in the older’s hair. “A-Cheng is out on patrol. And Xiaoyu the traitor went with him. The bed is cold.”

“Wait. That boy sleeps in your bed?”

Huaisang pauses. “Uhhh… Well… ”

Then Mingjue snorts and chuckles, patting his arm. “I’m kidding. I know who you’re bunking with.”

Huaisang sighs in relief.

“And I won’t go all preachy, because I know how much you hate that. So just remember to stay safe and use-”

“Da-ge!” Huaisang shrieks, drawing back from his brother so he can slap his shoulder. He doesn’t feel bad about it. He knows even his strongest punch would probably just leave Nie Mingjue feeling tickled. “No!”

“What?” Mingjue laughs. For once his eyes are amused, and he grabs Huaisang’s arms before he could go further away. “Don’t be embarrassed now.”

“I’m not-! Just-… No, da-ge! Ew!”

“Ew?” Mingjue raises an eyebrow, and now Huaisang knows he’s doing this on purpose to mess with him. “Huaisang, it’s a perfectly natural part of growing up, of life-”

“I know! I know that! But


talking about it is


, so please stop.” Huaisang rolls his eyes. “And we’re not having-… We’re just… sleeping… Literally!”

“Okay. I believe you. Come back here.” Nie Mingjue says, tugging at the younger until Huaisang poutily comes forward again, this time sitting down on his lap, much like he used to do when he was a little kid. Mingjue secures his arms around the other – Huaisang is not a kid anymore, but he’s still so… tiny. And soft. He’s always so soft. Or does Nie Mingjue really need sleep that badly that anything can be a pillow?

He yawns. “So is that Jiang kid your boyfriend now?”

“I don’t know.” Huaisang sighs. “We just… share the bed. ‘Cause it’s warm.”

“Seriously?” Mingjue raises a brow. “Next, you’re gonna say you hold hands ‘cause… what, his hands are soft or something?”

“It just feels nice!” Huaisang pouts. “It’s… comforting, I guess? To know there’s one less person in the world who wants me dead.”

“There’s lots of people in the world who don’t want us dead, Huaisang.”

“I know. Just… you know what I mean, da-ge.” he looks down. “And… And we haven’t kissed, just so you know.”

“What? I saw you just the other day-”

“A cheek kiss! That’s different.”

“Is it?”


“But you like him.”

“Y-Yeah…?” Huaisang looks down, his cheeks pink. “He’s nice. I know he seems grumpy but really he’s very sweet. And reliable! Xiaoyu likes him too-”

Nie Mingjue listens to him, thoughtful. His brother had never shut up about how much he liked spending time with those Jiang boys at Gusu, and Mingjue knew that Huaisang kept in touch with them afterwards. After the attack on Lotus Pier, Huaisang had basically fussed over them both, though more with Jiang Cheng because Wei Wuxian seemed to want to distance himself from everyone but Lan Wangji while he’s trying to make sense of his creepy weird late-manifesting gift. Mingjue didn’t mind – it’s good that Huaisang had something else going for him instead of “flying” on patrol all day, and the Jiang kid was nice and polite enough. Besides, he had many other responsibilities so as long as Huaisang is not in trouble, Mingjue lets him be.

(Though he wishes his brother would train how to fight sometimes. But Nie Mingjue understands that Huaisang is doing his best with what he has right now.)

Nie Mingjue had thought that Huaisang was just being his usual self

– cuddly, sweet –

with his friend, who really could use some emotional support after what he’s gone through. But then Yanli had to leave

– there goes Mingjue’s own emotional support

– and Wei Wuxian too. Suddenly Mingjue is aware and taking notice of just how close his brother and Jiang Cheng were. Always together, holding hands, whispering to each other, then after moving to the new (smaller) safehouse, they started sharing a room-

“Alright. So… you’re waiting for him, is what I’m getting here.”

“Kinda?” Huaisang answers, wringing his hands. “I don’t wanna rush him. It’s not the best situation. I mean, we’re… here.”

Nie Mingjue gets that. Everyday they’re worrying about how long their safety could hold. There are bigger things to worry about.

“And he’s… grieving, you know?”

“I know. But he better not be leading you on just because he’s sad and you’re nice.” Nie Mingjue frowns. “Wait, is that what’s happening? Do I need to talk to this kid? Because I will have choice words with him. I won’t allow him to


my little brother just because he looks good moping and brooding around



“Da-ge!” Huaisang whines, but this time it’s clear he’s trying hard not to laugh. “Why are you like this?”

At any other time, Nie Mingjue would have teased relentlessly and given Jiang Wanyin the worst terrifying talking-to of his life. But they’re in hiding and on the run, being hunted by both their own people and the rest of the world – and this is such a

painfully normal

teenage thing to experience in the midst of all the bullshit they’re dealing with.

Nie Mingjue figures that he can let his brother have this much, at least. And the Jiang kid too, after all that he’s gone through.

“Why am I like


? I haven’t spoiled you in a while. Let me do it now.” Nie Mingjue says, leaning forward and holding his brother close.

“You’re not spoiling me. You’re embarrassing me.” Nie Huaisang mumbles against his hair, but he melts into the hug anyway.

It’s rare that they get a moment alone like this. Huaisang’s brother is leading a refugee camp. He has many people who rely on him for protection. Huaisang has gotten used to sharing him with them.

“I don’t know what else to do.” Nie Mingjue mumbles against his younger brother’s soft and rumpled sleeping clothes. Nie Huaisang is not sure if he’s still talking about them, or about something else.

Or about everything else.

“You’re doing great.” is all Nie Huaisang says.

“I have to.”

“I’m proud of you.” He snuggles closer, drinking in the warm, solid presence of his big brother. His rock.



proud of his brother for taking this on. It hurts to think that they’re all so


fighting this one-sided war, only because the ones who came before them, their own parents and elders, had already lost their lives to give their generation a chance. To buy them time.

Huaisang pats his big brother’s head as he looks around. His eyes catch on to something in the desk and he smiles. “Da-ge?”


“Whose coffee is that?”


“And the other one?”

“Also mine.”


“It’s Zonghui’s.”

“Zonghui is not even here.” Nie Huaisang laughs. “He’s out on patrol with A-Cheng. And even if he isn’t, he doesn’t drink coffee.”

Nie Mingjue looks at his brother and rolls his eyes. He’s too sharp, sometimes. “Fine. Wen Qing went to check in on one of her patients for a bit.”

“Oh. Wen Qing, huh.” Huaisang blinks, then slowly nods. “I see. That’s nice. I like her.”


The younger grins, eyes glinting with mischief. “I won’t go all preachy, because I know how much you hate that-”

Mingjue’s eyes widen, recognizing those words. “Don’t you dare-”

“So just remember to stay safe and- Mmph-!” Huaisang squirms, and weakly bats at his brother’s chest and at the hand now covering his mouth. But it’s useless. His brother is not renowned for his superhuman strength and agility for nothing.

“That’s enough.” Mingjue sighs.

Huaisang, miraculously, manages to free himself enough to cry out, “Help! Nie Mingjue is silencing me! This is oppression!”

That startles a laugh out of Nie Mingjue. “You brat! Stop being noisy, people are sleeping!” He moves to cover his brother’s mouth again, but Huaisang might be tiny but he’s not as tiny as he used to be and he manages to slip from his lap. Mingjue manages to grab on to one of his wrists, though. “Gotcha-”

Then Huaisang looks towards the door and beams. “Oh, hi, Wen Qing!”

Mingjue freezes for a moment and also looks to the door. “Wen-”

There’s no one there.

Huaisang uses this distraction to free his wrist. Giggling, he leans over and drops a kiss to his brother’s cheek before skipping away. “I’m gonna go now. Good night, da-ge! I love you!”

Mingjue sighs in resignation, sinking back in his chair as he grumbles, “I love you too.”



Nie Huaisang is still smiling when he actually runs into Wen Qing a few minutes later.

“You’re awfully cheerful for 2 in the morning.” she remarks, but before Huaisang could so much as greet her, there’s a hand on his forehead, unusually warm. Then that hand moves to grip his wrist, and when he looks up, he can see the light glow in Wen Qing’s eyes.

Ah. A check-up. At 2 AM. In the middle of the hallway. Okay.

She clicks her tongue. “Your blood pressure’s off. You should get some sleep or you’ll be useless during the day, powers or not. You know this.”

“Oh. Um. Thanks, doc. I was just-… Um… I woke up?”

“Then go back to sleep instead of wandering the halls like some ghost.” she rolls her eyes, pulling her shawl tighter around herself as she walks around him and goes on her way. “And you should eat more. You and your brother both. Stubborn.”

Huaisang just watches her go, and when she turns in the corner that he knows leads to his brother’s office, he just shakes his head and keeps walking.

He’s not that sleepy yet.

The safehouse isn’t as big as the one Huaisang grew up in. It is what it is – an emergency bunker. It doesn’t take him long to get to the entrance, where there’s always someone standing guard.

Tonight, it’s Song Lan, sitting on the steps right outside what they would call their front door. Huaisang knows the man values his space, so he minds the distance when he sits down beside him.

“Song Lan.” he says as a greeting.

“Nie Huaisang.” Song Lan greets back with a light nod, before looking off into the distance again.

Nie Huaisang starts counting, in his head. He’s up to 26 when Song Lan speaks up. “I didn’t think you’d be awake.”

Huaisang is tired of everyone telling him to go to bed, but he can’t blame them. He knows to himself that he should be asleep, too. With how crucial his abilities are for their safety, he understands that he should be in peak condition as often as he can. But he can spare a few minutes, he thinks. He just doesn’t want to sleep alone, not tonight.

“Well… I woke up because of creepy dreams. Gift side-effect, you know. And I couldn’t sleep afterwards.”

Song Lan accepts the answer easily. “I assume you’re waiting for Jiang Wanyin?”

“Yeah. He took my bird with him.”

“You might have to wait a while.”

“No, it’s okay.” Huaisang says, making himself as comfortable as he can in the granite steps. It’s cold, especially being near Song Lan who always seems to cause his surroundings to turn just a few degrees colder, though not by choice. But Huaisang is warm in his socks and cardigan, and he wouldn’t be waiting long, anyway. “They’ll be back soon.”

Song Lan doesn’t question him, and just goes back to staring out into the darkness.



When Jiang Cheng and Nie Zonghui circle back to the safehouse, they find not only Song Lan, but also Nie Huaisang waiting by the entrance.

Nie Huaisang is asleep, curled up on himself, a large black coat draped over him like a blanket.

Jiang Cheng frowns. “What the-?”

“He said you’ll be back soon.” Song Lan says. “I noticed he was already asleep around 10 minutes ago.”

Jiang Cheng and Nie Zonghui exchange a look, before Jiang Cheng sighs. “Did he tell you why he was up waiting?”

“He had a… creepy dream.”

“Figures.” he mumbles, leaning down to nudge Huaisang lightly. “A-Sang, we’re back. Let’s get you to bed.”

Huaisang looks up slowly, groggily, yawning. “Oh… I fell asleep?”

“You did. Now give Song Lan his coat back.”

“Ah!” he sits up, quickly gathering the coat and handing it back to his companion. “Song Lan, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to fall asleep… and thank you! You must’ve been cold…”

“No need to worry. I’m always cold.” Song Lan says as he accepts the coat back. He does look perfectly fine for someone only wearing a simple shirt and pants in the cold night of the Qinghe mountains.

Jiang Cheng wonders if the whole time he’s known him, Song Lan has only been wearing jackets and coats so he would not stand out.

“C’mon, up.” he says, tugging Huaisang to his feet. Huaisang does stand up but clings to him right away, so he just turns to Nie Zonghui and Song Lan, shaking his head. “I’m gonna get this one to his bed.”

“Sure. Go ahead.” Zonghui chuckles, and only leans over to peer at his cousin. “Good night, A-Sang.”

“G’night, Zonghui… Tell da-ge to sleep too…” Huaisang answers weakly, and just sighs when Jiang Cheng scoops him up and carries him inside.

Xiaoyu is hopping impatiently on Huaisang’s bed when Jiang Cheng gets there. Huaisang is somehow awake enough to demand to be put down so he can take his shoes and cardigan off. By the time Jiang Cheng has changed into more comfortable clothes, Huaisang is under the blankets again, and Xiaoyu has settled in her perch.

Jiang Cheng slips under the blankets with him quietly. As he does so, Huaisang turns to face him, obviously already half-asleep and just seeking warmth. Jiang Cheng lets him snuggle close, and runs his fingers through his hair, feeling his own exhaustion catch up to him.

He’s well into dozing off when Huaisang mumbles something against his shirt. “A-Cheng…”


“Da-ge says… be safe… use protection.”

Jiang Cheng is too tired and sleepy to properly process that. But it doesn’t sound… wrong. So he says, “Okay.”

“Told him we’re just sleeping. ‘s all we do, sleep.”

“Yeah. Sleep. D’you wanna… not sleep?”

“No, m’okay. I like sleeping. I like that… we can sleep.”

“Me too.”

“But I… wanna not sleep too…”

Okay, that one sounded important, and Jiang Cheng tries to sober up. “Y-Yeah?”

“Like… go out… on dates and stuff.”

“Oh.” Of course. Jiang Cheng sighs, breathes easier. “Dates. And stuff. Yeah.”

“Like go to a park… and eat ice cream… and hold hands… and all the cute shit you hate but you’ll do it ‘cause you like me… maybe.”

Jiang Cheng smiles. “Mm. I do like you.”

He feels Huaisang cling to his shirt, somehow managing to burrow even closer. “Why haven’t you kissed me yet?”

Maybe it’s his tired brain, or maybe it’s the way Huaisang sounded so


asking, that Jiang Cheng found it quite easy to answer that question. “Because I like you. A lot. I don’t wanna mess up.”

“Oh.” Huaisang says, so soft and lazy Jiang Cheng is sure he’s already quite asleep.

“Do you want me to kiss you?”



Huaisang shakes his head. “…wanna remember.”

“Okay.” Jiang Cheng says, and buries his nose in the other’s hair. “Tomorrow then.”



In the morning, Nie Huaisang wakes up to his first kiss.

In that moment, he recalls the feeling he had two years ago in Gusu, when he slipped and fell hard off the side of a mountain, and everything hurt, and he wanted to cry.

But this time, he doesn’t have to scream for help, because he’s not lost, and he’s not alone.




Chapter Notes:

*whispers* i just want the best for them all huhu

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