Space bounty hunter Jiang Cheng is kinda-sorta dating that cute singer at his favorite bar, forgets to ask important questions, and gets roped into space politics shenanigans, as you do. It’ll be fine. Probably.

Or: The (Syfy) Killjoys-inspired AU.

Teen (13+)
Chapters: 5
Words: 56,265

my sweetheart sings out like a devil

Chapter 2

Chapter Notes:

I’M ALIVE!!! this chapter is sangcheng on a road trip thingy. will they get to qinghe? will jiang cheng learn to ask more questions? will we get answers? find out!

a little note that there will be original characters in this fic because canon very kindly gave us zero (0) extra Nies to play with, which is both tedious bc we gotta do the work but also cool bc it’s free real estate! if you read my other fics, you’ll recognize two baby Nies from a previous fic of mine, because I am too lazy to look up for new names. i won’t spoil now but they’ll be on the notes after the fic.

also, a lot of the sci-fi / space stuff is very hand-wavy. i love my space stuff but i am also tired. so just go with it. :’D


“Here comes the heat before we meet,
A little bit closer.
Here comes the spark before the dark,
Come a little closer.”



002. closer



Jiang Cheng has never had a co-pilot on Zidian.

Even when he first flew the ship for himself – Wei Wuxian and Jiang Yanli had sat on the passenger seats behind him. But then at the time they were busy holding on to each other, as the three of them went on the run from possible pursuers, on their way to a sanctuary.

Jiang Cheng shakes the memory off his thoughts – no, he’s not dwelling on that today. It’s just that he’s not used to having a co-pilot – and it isn’t like he needed one. Zidian is a small, solo-class starship. Jiang Cheng could only best describe her as a flying one-bedroom apartment with a cargo bay and some weapons. The cockpit has two pilot seats and two other passenger seats, and that’s it. She is fully operable by a lone pilot though, and the ship’s AI is also a reliable navigator on auto-pilot.

Jiang Cheng is used to flying alone, the co-pilot’s seat always empty.

Until now, as Nie Huaisang sat comfortably on it, poking and prodding at the controls and the screens before him. Thankfully he hasn’t really interfered with the actual piloting just yet. It’s a miracle, really.

He keeps asking what things are for.

“And this switch? What does it do?” Nie Huaisang asks, pointing at a particularly red switch, which makes Jiang Cheng narrow his eyes, refusing to answer.

Zidian does it for him – a gentle but business-like female digital voice, always dutiful in attending to what her passengers need – “That one activates the weapons system-”

Jiang Cheng sees Huaisang’s eyes sparkle and thinks ‘nope’ – “Zidian, can you do a status check on our supplies?” he interrupts before the AI could orient their guest on the details of the ship’s many weapons. “We have to plan our stopovers for this trip.”

“Certainly, Master.”

Jiang Cheng really should add tighter security and communication protocols for her.

Sitting absolutely comfortable, useless and unhelpful on the co-pilot’s seat, Nie Huaisang pouts. “Don’t worry, A-Cheng, I’m not planning on shooting anyone down with your ship.”

Jiang Cheng appears unimpressed. He does his best to be professional because this is still a job, but it is proving difficult when his ‘client’ is being annoyingly mysterious. “You know, I would worry less if you stopped saying ‘Don’t worry’ every five minutes.”

“I wouldn’t be saying it every five minutes if you weren’t worrying every five minutes.” Nie Huaisang says, grinning cheekily.

Jiang Cheng glares. “Well, I’ll stop worrying every five minutes if you stop giving me stuff to worry about.”

Nie Huaisang sighs, giving up. “No, really, this job’s as simple as they come! You go to Qinghe, you drop me off, you’re done! You can stay for dinner if you’re hungry, or don’t, but I’ll go see you off with your payment. Then when our… family thing… is done, I’ll go make my own way back to Nightless City through the usual transport ships.”

“Good. And then I’ll never step foot inside your bar again, because this is what I get for-… for… This is what I get. A job I don’t like.”

“Well, then, I guess I will miss you and your positive disposition.” Nie Huaisang shrugs.

An awkward silence settles in the cockpit.

Nie Huaisang opens his mouth to speak, but Zidian’s feminine voiceover suddenly chimes in

“Inventory complete. We have supplies adequate for at least seven day cycles. With Master Nie on board, three to four day cycles.”

“Thanks for the consideration, Zidian. But I won’t be staying long, to your master’s relief.” Nie Huaisang says, voice cheerful but laced with something else-

“You are welcome, Master Nie. Although I am detecting… sarcasm.”

That makes Nie Huaisang blink, and then he grins, turning to Jiang Cheng with wide eyes. “Oh, wow, she’s very smart.”

“Thank you, Master Nie.”

“My friends call me Huaisang.”

“That is noted.”

“You’re one of those friends now.”

“I am honored. However, I am an artificial intelligence created as an interface for this ship, and being a ‘friend’ to a human is not included in my functions.”

“Nonsense. Compared to the alternative, you’re being amazing company on this trip so far.”

“Stop flirting with my ship.” Jiang Cheng finally snaps, but Huaisang could tell it’s more out of exasperation than real anger.

Nie Huaisang pouts. “I’m not! You really think I flirt with anything that moves, do you? I’m making a friend. Do you know about making friends, Jiang-xiong ?”

Ah. He got “Jiang-xiong“ -ed. That’s usually a sign of annoyance. But Jiang Cheng is a youngest child. He can very well fight annoyance with annoyance.

“Shut up. Just- Stop filling Zidian with unnecessary protocols.”

Nie Huaisang raises an eyebrow. “Zidian, how much space does our friendship take up, and will it by any chance reduce any aspect of your performance?”

“The answer is no. Interaction protocols take up very little space in my data storage and should not affect my other functions.”

Nie Huaisang huffs. “I see. Do you suppose it’s the same for your master?”

Jiang Cheng just glares at his companion while Zidian replies, “I am afraid I cannot provide an answer. My features do not include Identification and assessment of human relationships, as they cannot be quantified nor confirmed solely by datasets. That is a function only sentient species may have.”

“Ah. That makes sense.”

Finally, Jiang Cheng rolls his eyes and says, “Zidian, privacy mode.”

“Yes, Master. Switching to privacy mode.”

There’s a tell-tale chime, and then silence.

“Hey, I was talking to her!” Nie Huaisang whines.

Jiang Cheng looks at him, unimpressed. “No, you’re trying to annoy me.”

“Well, I’m bored, and you weren’t talking to me so I found myself a buddy.”

“My ship is not your buddy.”

“My, how possessive. It’s not like I’m stealing her from you or anything…” Nie Huaisang snorts. “Are you jealous that I get along with your ship’s AI more than you?”

“There’s no getting along- she’s an AI!”

“Exactly, and she’s being much nicer to me than you are right now.”

Jiang Cheng musters up a retort, but stops himself.

Seeing him holding back must have stopped Nie Huaisang too, because he also visibly wavers in whatever stance he’s trying to take in their argument.

Jiang Cheng looks away. ‘Argument. Is that what this is, really?’

After a moment, Nie Huaisang speaks again, voice smaller, more careful. “Sorry, I just-… I’m just trying to get you to loosen up a bit… Obviously, it’s not very effective.” He chuckles. “Just when I thought I was getting good at it. I just made you angrier.”

“I’m not angry.”

“You are, too. Like, I know this isn’t your usual job, and… and this is basically where you live, so I might be intruding…”

Nie Huaisang hugs his knees to his chest, reminding Jiang Cheng of when they first spent a night together, him looking small and almost guilty.

“It’s a simple job, a couple hours at most! I made sure it’ll be safe and even considering other options, you were kind of our best choice at such short notice… so I thought, worst case scenario, you’d get annoyed, okay? I… didn’t think you’d hate it so much…”

Nie Huaisang is good at reading him, Jiang Cheng knows – but he is quick to recoil whenever he thinks he’s overstepping. Jiang Cheng doesn’t know if that’s because he’s truly sorry, or if he’s simply disappointed at himself for having misread his target.

Jiang Cheng can see it being either way.

But for his own sanity, he chooses to think that it is really because Nie Huaisang feels sorry.

Jiang Cheng sighs. “I don’t hate it.”

Nie Huaisang chuckles, burrowing his face on his knees. “Liar.”

“Okay, I hate it.” Jiang Cheng shrugs, easily giving up. “But it’s not about… you being here. You’re not-… You’re not intruding.”

“You never liked it when I suggested we stay at your place.”

“Because I have no place! This is a ship- not even a fancy one, what kind of asshole takes someone to hook up on his ship and then- After that, then what?”

He pauses for breath, and doesn’t notice that Nie Huaisang had raised his head to look at him in confusion.

“I’m not bringing you here and then making you go back home alone, by yourself , in the dead of night or in the morning, you know what it’s like on those streets-”

Nie Huaisang stops him there – “Wait, so you always refused to bring me here because you were… worried about me?”

Jiang Cheng looks at him, then away, out into the vast darkness of space and the passing stars.

“N-No. I was worried about me , I mean, if anything happened to you, your brother would kill me, so-”

Nie Huaisang couldn’t see his face very well due to the lack of light in the cockpit, but he swears he could see a faint blush on the man’s cheeks.

“Okay.” he just nods, also looking away, but only to hide the small smile on his lips. “So… it’s okay that I’m here, then.”

“I guess.”

“But you still hate this.”

“I hate that I don’t know you right now. I hate that you’re being… suspicious. I mean, it’s not like I knew everything about you before, but it never felt… important.”

“Hm.” Nie Huaisang hums, voice softer. “And now it does? Feel important?”

“Well, your brother just paid me a fortune to deliver you swiftly and safely to a sanctuary planet on very short notice, you have a bag full of weapons and a knife in your boot – shut up, I saw you put it there – and on top of that, you guys basically insured my fucking ship in case of damages.” Jiang Cheng turns to look at his companion. “I think I should at least know why.”

“Da-ge told you it’s a family thing, right?” Nie Huaisang sighs. “Well, that part is true. We have a cousin. She’s hurt. I have to see her and make sure she’s alright and getting the care she needs.”

Jiang Cheng takes it in and nods. He’s calmer as he says, “She’s hurt. Not sick?”

Nie Huaisang quietly shakes his head.

“How did she get hurt?”

Nie Huaisang is quiet for a moment, then he stands up and crosses the short distance between their seats. Jiang Cheng doesn’t move. He just eyes Huaisang as the man kneels in front of him, rests his hands on Jiang Cheng’s knees and looks right into his eyes.

“I said this will be a simple job and that you’ll be safe. I meant that.”

Jiang Cheng doesn’t give in, not just yet. “You didn’t answer my question.”

“It’s part of keeping you safe.” Nie Huaisang says. “Can you trust me at least this much?”

Jiang Cheng frowns, and finally moves to tug lightly at his arms. “You’re being ridiculous, get up from there.”

Nie Huaisang smiles a small, relieved smile as he lets Jiang Cheng pull him to settle down on his lap, a familiar, comforting gesture. “So?”

“So, what?” he snipes, though it’s obvious that his temper has begun to cool down.

“You’re not angry.”

“I’m not angry.”

“You hate this, though.”

“I do.”

“But you’ll be safe, I promise.”

“Sure. Whatever. How about you ?”

Nie Huaisang takes a second to think about it.

He feels Jiang Cheng’s apprehension as the hand on his waist squeezes lightly. “Huaisang.”

“Get me to Qinghe, A-Cheng.” is all Nie Huaisang says. “And then you won’t have to worry about me anymore.”

“And I’m supposed to just take your word for it?”

“You’re kinda contractually obligated to.”

“Yeah, that’s bullshit.”

“I know.” Nie Huaisang says, kissing his cheek and then snuggling close.

Jiang Cheng says nothing and just holds him.

Then they were quiet again – this time a dull comfortable silence instead of a tense or awkward one.

Nie Huaisang sighs. “Are we there yet?”

“No.” Jiang Cheng says, throwing his head back against his headrest and closing his eyes. He can still see the passing stars. “And if you ask me that one more time, I am turning this ship around and dumping you on the nearest trash planet.”

Nie Huaisang whines. “Ugh, can you at least tell me how long we have left?”

“A couple hours- three or four at most.”

“Alright.” – another sigh – “So three to four more hours of cuddling.”

Ah. Jiang Cheng can work with that. Although-

“Less. This seat is not comfortable.”

“We can move somewhere else…” Nie Huaisang says in that tone of voice he uses whenever he wants Jiang Cheng to take him “upstairs”. “Zidian can autopilot, right?”

“No. I mean, yes, she can autopilot.” Jiang Cheng looks at him, unimpressed. “But I’m not fooling around on a job, no matter how much you think it’s safe.”

“Killjoy. As if I’m not already seated in your lap.”

“You should be grateful I’m not pushing you off.”

Nie Huaisang lets out a disappointed huff. “At least put some music on, then?”

Now that should be harmless, Jiang Cheng thinks.

He puts the music on, and watches Nie Huaisang smile in delight before starting to sing along.

He enjoys it.

He savors it.

When they get to Qinghe, he knows things will change. He has a feeling that Nie Huaisang is someone important – or at least, he is not who Jiang Cheng had thought he was.

He isn’t sure if he’ll find out exactly why, but he is certain that he will not be able to unlearn whatever it is he discovers.

So for now, he holds Nie Huaisang close and listens to him hum and sing.

He tries to brand this in his memory, because when they get to Qinghe, there may be no going back to this.



Jiang Cheng keeps himself alert for the rest of the trip.

Despite Nie Huaisang’s oddly relaxing humming and the promise that they’re safe, he doesn’t forget that this is still a job. Not to mention, Nie Mingjue did tell him to anticipate trouble. Joking or not, there must be a reason Jiang Cheng is being paid a lot.

But there was nothing. No attack, no suspicious ships in the vicinity, no alerts. Just Nie Huaisang taking a nap snuggled against him.

He nudges his passenger awake just as they were approaching the planet.

“Strap in, we’re here.” he says, and Nie Huaisang goes back to his seat.

The Zidian breaches the planet’s atmosphere without any complications, and Nie Huaisang smiles as he says “Ah, home sweet home!”

Nie Huaisang’s home looks beautiful.

Qinghe is what they call a “green” planet – it has a healthy atmosphere, plenty of water sources, and a surface with abundant nature and wildlife. It is a small planet on the outskirts of its quadrant so even after several generations, most of the planet’s surface remained uninhabited by humans. The cities were far and few in between, though according to Nie Huaisang, they kept up to date with the latest technologies.

Jiang Cheng had heard the planet mentioned in the same vein as Gusu or Yunmeng, by fellow mercenaries and richer clients. It’s a place they’d want to go to for a vacation, or to buy land to develop or build a house on  – though unlike the other two, he had heard that it was far more difficult and expensive to buy land there. He didn’t know exactly why, and had simply assumed that the ruling family must have a stronghold on the planet’s resources – those types always did. Or maybe it’s the difficulty or expenses of travel to and from the planet.

If he recalled correctly, the planet is one of the rare few that remained unoccupied by the Wens. He figured it’s probably because it’s harmless – a small planet with a small population, too far from any of the major space ports and trading hubs… and it’s mainly inhabited by farmers.

That’s another thing he knows – they export meat and crops. Qinghe-sourced food and other farm products were expensive because they boasted about being organic, naturally grown, from a green planet, those kinda stuff. They have a thriving agricultural industry or something.

When he asked Nie Huaisang about his family, the man told him they were farmers. They have a bit of land, Nie Huaisang said, it’s been with their family for generations and they take pride in taking care of it and exporting their harvests.

‘Cool.’ Jiang Cheng had said. Then he couldn’t help but ask yet again – ‘Why the hell are you in Nightless City, really? People would kill to settle on a green planet. Literally. I’ve seen it happen.’

He had turned down jobs from people who were after that very thing.

Nie Huaisang’s answer, as always, had been, ‘Da-ge wanted to start a business.’

Jiang Cheng would never understand.

Nevermind that. For now, following his job specifications, he navigates Zidian towards one of the only two spaceports on the planet.

As they approach the landing bay, the port authority hails the ship.

“Qinghe Space Port 1 to unregistered Solo-class starship, please provide your identification.”

It’s protocol for landing in any official space port. Jiang Cheng goes through the routine just like he would any other job.

“Identification sent. This is the Zidian, requesting permission to land.”

“Verifying your credentials, Zidian. Your purpose?”

Nie Huaisang chimes in, “Tell them it’s a delivery.”

“I’m on a delivery job. Just standard stuff.”

“Can you specify a destination, or is it classified?”

He looks over at Huaisang, who says, “The Nie Estate.”

Estate. Jiang Cheng frowns. That sounds… fancy. Not very farmer-like.

But he has no time to question that now. He simply relays as much to the official.

“Please hold.” – there’s a moment’s pause, then – “You’re clear, Zidian. You may head over to Landing Bay 4. Sending you the port schematics and protocols.”

Jiang Cheng pauses.

He’s not an expert on delivery jobs, but he’d gone on a supply run or two in his time, so he’s pretty sure it’s part of protocol to ask what the cargo is, too. There are strict stations and ports where one really needed clearance to bring anything in, while other places allow one to say it’s classified specially for private businesses… and then there are places where they ask no questions at all.

Qinghe seems to fall into that third category.

Or is it just the Nie Estate?

Man, he should have checked earlier. Maybe delivery jobs are just not for him.

“A-Cheng?” Nie Huaisang calls from his seat, his too-big duffel bag ready to go by his feet.

“Ah. Yeah.” Jiang Cheng shakes the stray thoughts off as he looks at the schematics pulled up on the screen across him. He replies through the comms – “Thanks. Landing Bay 4, got that.”

“Welcome to Qinghe, Mr. Jiang.”

They land uneventfully. The Qinghe Space Port wouldn’t belong as one of the shiny and new state-of-the-art facilities in the quadrant – it is obviously worn and well-used, but the landing bay and the facilities around it look clean and well-maintained.

He transfers his temporary clearance to his personal communicator, then looks over at his passenger. “So?”

“So?” Nie Huaisang blinks, then pouts. “At least walk me out your ship, you meanie.”

Jiang Cheng rolls his eyes. “I’m not that unprofessional.” he says, standing up and stuffing his communicator in his pocket.

He beats Nie Huaisang to his bag, then grunts in surprise as he lifts it up. “What the fuck do you have here? It’s like, heavier than you.”

“My clothes, a few fans, some knives?” Nie Huaisang grins. “I can carry it if it’s too much.”

“Yeah, shut up.” Jiang Cheng huffs, hauls the bag over his shoulder to prove a point, and then walks out the cockpit.

He keeps the grumpy face when Nie Huaisang clings to him as they make their way out.

“Is someone picking you up?” he asks.

Nie Huaisang shrugs. “Nah, I’ll make my own way.”

That doesn’t sit right with Jiang Cheng. “Is… that okay?”

“Hm? Yeah, we’re not that far off, I can get a ride, no problem. Don’t worry, I won’t run off without paying you…” he smiles, already taking his own communicator out from his pocket.

Jiang Cheng frowns, watching his passenger start tapping on the screen.

“Gonna tell da-ge that we arrived first…”

Is it really that easy?

Is it done?


Jiang Cheng is definitely not complaining, but it’s like… he didn’t earn that money. Or something. It just feels… wrong.

“I can drop you off.” he offers. “With the hoverbike.”

Nie Huaisang stops and looks at him. “Is that a serious offer?”

Is it? Jiang Cheng considers. “Y-Yeah?” – he says, and he’s not sure. But fuck it, what else was he supposed to do? “Not too far out, I-… Uh. I’m not like, going to your house. Unless your house is nearby. I mean- Fuck.”

Nie Huaisang smothers his laugh behind his fan – when did he get that out? – and he peers close to Jiang Cheng’s face. “You’re gonna drop me off at home ?”

Jiang Cheng looks right back at him. “That’s the job, right?”

“No, the job is to drop me off at Qinghe. Really, you could have left me at some random field and still have fulfilled the contract.” Nie Huaisang says, squinting at him curiously. “But if you’re offering…”

He looks away. “I just-… I don’t often go to a green planet. I could use the fresh air.” – There’s a giggle. He ignores that and powers through – “Also, earlier, you mentioned dinner and now I’m hungry.”

“Ah, yes, I did say that! So you want to have dinner, then?”

“No, not if it’ll keep you- That’s kind of the point of hiring me, right? You’re in a hurry. I just meant I’ll find somewhere to eat after I drop you off.”

“Nonsense! You’re eating at ours.” Nie Huaisang sounds amused. “You really expect to just give me a ride home and leave? Nuh-uh, that’s not how we do it here. You are eating Granny’s food, Jiang-xiong.”

Jiang Cheng’s first instinct is to be huffy and grumpy and turn that down fast.

He has no business going to Nie Huaisang’s house and eating dinner there! He was just hired for an escort job, he is done with that job and he really should leave as soon as he’s sure Nie Huaisang made it home safely-

But Granny’s food sounds great. After that warm meal this morning, he suddenly has a craving for anything home-cooked. And grandmothers always cooked good food.

They exit the ship, and Jiang Cheng looks around and up – the landing bay is an open area, the winds are cool against his cheeks and hair, and the skies… are so blue.

He sighs. “Fine.”

“Yay!” Nie Huaisang cheers, squeezing his arm before disentangling from him so he could go back to his communicator. “I’m telling them I’m bringing a friend over and we’re on our way!”

A friend. Jiang Cheng chuckles, watching Nie Huaisang happily tapping away.

Sure. They’re friends, he supposes. He can have one of those, right?

“And I’m sending you the payment now…”

Jiang Cheng blinks. He never really liked receiving full payments before the job’s done, however rarely that happened – “Uh, you don’t have to-”


Jiang Cheng’s communicator beeps, and he takes it out and stares at the notification with wide eyes.

That’s a lot of money for being a glorified driver, and there’s free food?


Maybe Jiang Cheng is dead. Yes. Maybe they got attacked during the trip in space for whatever shitty reason and it was so fast they didn’t even feel it and now he’s in some made-up limbo where things are nice and jobs are easy and he has a friend he actually likes who offers him to stay for dinner in his family’s house in some nice peaceful green planet.

That’s a good explanation. Normal to want. Possible to achieve. Very easy to believe!

“A-Cheng, don’t look like a kicked puppy.” Nie Huaisang says, tugging at his arm, cutting through his overthinking. “I know the rest of your jobs usually pay you dirt cheap, even the bounties. But we never underpay anyone we hire.”

Jiang Cheng sighs, looking at the figures again. “It’s still too much.”

“We also try to tip generously when we can. It’s basic decency.”


Nie Huaisang laughs a little awkward laugh, tilting his head in that way Jiang Cheng knows he does when he’s trying to be charming. “Since you think we’re paying too much, can you do me a favor, then?”

Brows furrowing, Jiang Cheng asks, “What?”

“Well… if you’re coming with me, you may notice that I’m, uh, kind of a different person. Here.”

Jiang Cheng considers that. He would be lying if he claims to not have anticipated something like that. But Nie Huaisang bringing it up was a surprise. “You mean you’re different out of the Nest.”

“Yeah.” Nie Huaisang nods, slow and cautious. He fiddles with his fan, looking down. “I hope you don’t totally hate me. If you do, can you… be a bit nicer about it?”

Jiang Cheng looks at him. “Why do you have to ask that?”

“Because I know I like to be all mysterious and secretive and shit, but I genuinely, really do like you. Like, as a person.”

Nie Huaisang looks up – and this time he doesn’t have that mischievous twinkle in his eyes that Jiang Cheng hates a bit because it makes him harder to read. He just… looks at him.

“I don’t want you to leave Qinghe with us on terrible terms.”

That’s fair.

Jiang Cheng should know better. Jiang Cheng should ask more questions, but instead he just says, “Okay. Whatever.”

Nie Huaisang smiles, relieved, almost sheepish. That one smile Jiang Cheng always believes.

That one smile Jiang Cheng never really learned how to deal with.

He just turns to go back inside Zidian. “I’m… gonna grab my jacket, and Sandu.”

“Oh, we don’t have to!” Nie Huaisang hurries to tell him. “The hoverbike? You don’t want to get that kind of attention around here, trust me.”

“Then how are we getting there?”

“We can hitch a ride – there’s always trucks on the road – they won’t mind dropping us off at the estate. I can have someone from home give you a ride back here after.”

Jiang Cheng stares at him. That is the stupidest thing-

“What? Don’t worry-”

“Are you serious ? That’s your plan to get home? Hitchhike on a random stranger’s truck and hope for the best? You could get murdered -”

“Hey, hey, it’s actually pretty safe, I’ve done it plenty of times!” Nie Huaisang reassures him. “The estate is usually along their routes, it’s not gonna be a bother. I know these people. Trust me, okay?”

Jiang Cheng had thought he was suspicious before.

Now he just thinks he’s crazy.

“C’mon, it’ll be fun. We get to see the sights and also get there quickly.” Nie Huaisang adds. “Don’t look at me like that. Hey! You get free dinner! And I’m pretty sure my cousins will, like, give you free stuff. Don’t you want fresh fruit?”

Fuck. Jiang Cheng does want fresh fruit.

It’s so stupid.

“Fine.” he concedes. “But I’m bringing a gun.”

“Aw…” Nie Huaisang coos, but doesn’t stop Jiang Cheng when he heads back inside his ship. “Okay, but just a small one? And put it in your pack!”

Jiang Cheng groans. “That food better be good, Nie Huaisang!”



Jiang Cheng didn’t know what he expected, but Nie Huaisang had been, surprisingly, correct.

Right out of the space port’s main building, Nie Huaisang spots a farm truck and doesn’t hesitate to approach the pair of men who had just finished unloading several sealed crates into a cart.

“Uncle Sheng, hello!”

Jiang Cheng jogs after him, watching the strangers greet Nie Huaisang right back, both surprised but pleased to see him.

“Ah, it’s Young Master Nie! Good afternoon.” the older of the two men – ‘Uncle Sheng’ – replies. “It’s very good to see you.”

Jiang Cheng estimates the man to be in his early fifties, while his younger companion seems to be aged closer to Jiang Cheng and Nie Huaisang.

“It’s so good to see you too!” Nie Huaisang beams. “How’s your day? Deliveries going smoothly, I hope?”

“Ah, they’re fine. Just the usual. This is actually our last stop. Hong here’s just about to bring them in and sign them off.”

Hong nods, and politely excuses himself before he wheels the cart towards the direction of the back entrance of the space port.

“Oh, that’s good that you’re done so early.” Nie Huaisang says happily. “Does that mean you’re heading home now?”

Jiang Cheng watches the exchange in fascination – Nie Huaisang kindly, almost too-casually tells the man that he’s also headed home, and basically asks if it’ll be okay to hitch a ride on the farm truck. Then the man laughs, says of course while calling him ‘kid’ like he’s some local scrappy teenager, and says Nie Huaisang and his friend can go hop on the back.

That was… easy.

Next thing Jiang Cheng knew, he’s sitting with Nie Huaisang on the cargo bed of the farm truck, listening to Uncle Sheng tell them about the last harvest season. Hong comes back and doesn’t bat an eye that they have passengers now. He just tips his hat at them as he takes his seat across from them.

Next thing Jiang Cheng knew, they’re driving off on a country road, listening to Uncle Sheng’s old music from the truck’s speakers. Nie Huaisang is now talking to Hong about other people whose names escape Jiang Cheng. He doesn’t mind. He’s too busy appreciating the view as they pass – trees, mountains and fields as far as the eyes can see. Warm sunlight, open air, the wind in his hair and cheeks.

It reminds him of his own home planet.

“Hey.” He takes his eyes off the scenery to see Nie Huaisang scooting slightly closer to him. He takes a quick glance and sees that Hong had taken out a tablet and started reading something in it.

Nie Huaisang smiles amusedly. Fondly? Or maybe that was just the light, making his eyes shine like that .

It’s too bright – everywhere, even though by his estimate this time of day must be closer to sunset than noon.

Jiang Cheng realizes that he has never seen Nie Huaisang in the light – actual, real light – in the open air.

He’s always been bathed in the neon gold of the Nest, or the dimmed lights of his bedroom. In early mornings before Jiang Cheng sneaks out, Nie Huaisang is always lying under the shade of the curtains, against what little light could peek from the rising artificial sun of Qishan.

“Hey.” he replies after a moment, shifting so Nie Huaisang can sit closer, more comfortably. “Are we making good time?”

“Stop worrying about that.” Nie Huaisang tells him with a small laugh. “We’re fine.”

“You weren’t kidding about hitchhiking.” Jiang Cheng says. “And you really know who these people are.”

“Let’s just say it’s not the first time I’ve hopped on the back of Uncle Sheng’s truck.” Nie Huaisang says.

“Is that a thing you do around here?”

“I guess. With lots of large farm areas in this part of the country, there’s a lot of small villages but they’re far out from each other. There’s just this unspoken agreement to offer anyone a ride as far as you can go, if you’re able.”

Jiang Cheng glances at Hong again, and at Uncle Sheng singing along as he drives.

“So… they live near yours?”

“They’re neighbors! Well… if you’re in a farming family, if you don’t live in a village, your neighbors are pretty much the next farm over, so they’re not exactly just next door… but yeah, they live nearby. Our stop’s on their way, so we’re not bothering them too much.”

Jiang Cheng nods, looking out at the scenery again. “That’s convenient.”

“Not everywhere’s a war zone, A-Cheng.” Nie Huaisang says. He turns and leans back against Jiang Cheng’s chest, humming along with the song playing on the radio.

Despite himself, Jiang Cheng relaxes and rests his chin on top of his companion’s head.

Nie Huaisang’s hair tickles his cheeks, but he can’t find it in himself to care.



Since the start of this job, Jiang Cheng has been telling himself that he should ask more questions.

Now, after getting dropped off by nice Uncle Sheng, and watching Nie Huaisang gesture to their destination with a flourish, saying “Here we are!” , Jiang Cheng realizes…

He really should have asked more questions.

“You live here.” he says, tone careful, looking at the giant gold and green banner that said “Nie” with an old, traditional looking emblem of some type of beast, and then the tall gates that it frames.

“Yes, home sweet home.” Nie Huaisang says, taking his arm and leading him forward.

Beyond the already tall gates, Jiang Cheng can see an even taller structure.

It may or may not be a house. A rather enormous house-

A guard by the gates stands to attention when he sees them. “Welcome back, Young Master Nie!”

“Good afternoon, Yang-xiong!” Nie Huaisang greets back in the opposite manner, all casual and carefree. He gestures to Jiang Cheng. “No need for a security check for this one, he’s with me. He’s staying for dinner.”

“Y-Yes, I’ve been informed. Good afternoon to you too.” The man bows- or more like, he starts to bow, and then stops himself.

Then he goes to his tablet, taps several times and the gates open.

Jiang Cheng lets Nie Huaisang drag him inside and-

Okay, yeah. So it’s a house.

He looks around and sees what almost constitutes a small village’s worth of smaller houses, buildings and lodgings… but the most notable is the big, very big house towering over them.

He looks at Nie Huaisang, who is already looking at him.

“This is the part where you tell me which of these very nice, very normal-sized houses surrounding the stupid big castle is yours.”

Nie Huaisang smiles sheepishly. “I’m so sorry to disappoint you.”

“What the fuck.”


“Okay, I’ll take it. Now tell me you live in the stupid big castle because you work there.”

Nie Huaisang laughs awkwardly. “I mean, technically I do? There’s… a home office?”


Nie Huaisang just tugs at his hand. “C’mon, give it a chance?”

Jiang Cheng sighs as he lets Nie Huaisang continue to drag him.

“Hey, sorry we have to go through the back door. Trust me, you’ll hate the front one. Too much noise.”

“That was the back door?!”


“Okay. Fine. What the fuck. Sure. Yeah.” Jiang Cheng mutters as they keep walking. “More questions. I should have asked more questions.”

Nie Huaisang didn’t lie – they did go through the back door. Jiang Cheng can see it now. As soon as they enter what looked to be the service entrance, heads come up and everyone working greeted Nie Huaisang as they walk by.

‘Young Master Nie’ happily greets them back but tells them to please don’t let him bother them – except one guy who he asks to please take his bag, which Jiang Cheng is all too happy to relinquish. After a quick curious look at Jiang Cheng, most of them just go back to their tasks, while a good amount of them instead proceed to whisper to each other.

They pass by the kitchens, and Nie Huaisang pokes his head inside. “Granny, do I smell-”

“Child! You are back already- No! No, do not come here!”

“Aw, why are you mad at me this time?”

Curious, Jiang Cheng also peeks inside. An elderly woman and several other people obviously busy with dinner preparations turn towards him, then back at Nie Huaisang-

The old woman practically screeches. “Is that the boy you’ve brought with you? No, both of you get out of my kitchen! The dinner is supposed to be a surprise!”

“Okay, okay! Just calm down-”

“You don’t tell your grandmother what to do, Nie Huaisang!”

“Please stop screaming, it’s bad for your heart! Alright, we’re going now!” Nie Huaisang answers, pulling Jiang Cheng away with him. He sighs. “Gods.”

“So that’s Granny.” Jiang Cheng says, trying not to grin too hard.

“Yeah, that’s Granny.” Nie Huaisang chuckles. “She’s always like that. Don’t mind her, she gets… emotional… about family meals.”

“I know.”


“My grandmother was like that too.” Jiang Cheng shrugs. “And now I know that dinner’s gonna be amazing. The angrier they are about it, the better it tastes.”

Nie Huaisang laughs, and only nods in agreement.

Then, since it’s as good a time as any, Jiang Cheng says, “So. Young Master Nie. ” – the words sound foreign in his mouth, but they make a lot of sense. “That’s you, huh.”

Nie Huaisang pauses for only a second, before humming in acknowledgement. “Mm-hm. Yep.”

“I guess this makes your brother Master Nie .”

“You guess right.”

“So what are you guys, uh- wait, is Qinghe a monarchy or something? I didn’t look it up-”

Nie Huaisang chuckles. “No, A-Cheng, we are not a monarchy. We don’t, like, rule over the whole capital or whatever. We just… own this land, the estate, and we run the business and provide people with employment… and housing if they need that too…”

“Bullshit. I’ve seen the other estates on our way here. Your house is a castle.”

“Okay, I can say that the Nie family does have the biggest estate in Qinghe, but we’re not the government.”

“I bet you’re friends with the government, though.” Jiang Cheng huffs. “Your sorts always are. Next thing you’ll tell me is you’re one of the Families.”

Nie Huaisang looks at him and smiles sheepishly.

Jiang Cheng groans, sees the clean, expensive ceiling, and just says, “Oh, fuck me.”

‘The Families. Of course they’re one of the Families.’ Jiang Cheng thinks.

That makes sense, with how fancy and large their estate is, and in one of the most independent and secluded planets, too.

They don’t name themselves, not really – but there is an unofficial “alliance” of sorts between the richest families in the system. Jiang Cheng is sure someone who pays more attention to that side of things knows exactly how many and who they were. He knows this for certain, though: normal folks, including lowly bounty hunters like him – either love them and want to be in their circle because it means money , or hate them because they want nothing to do with all the dirty business that comes with that amount of wealth.

Jiang Cheng, mostly, belongs to the latter. There’s just too much history with them that he doesn’t want to unpack at the moment. Maybe ever. It’s complicated enough that the Jins are one of the Families – and now his sister is one of them.

Really, she’s the only reason he’ll ever associate with them.

Until now.

“Okay, I can tell you’re starting to hate me.” Nie Huaisang says, with an awkward little laugh. “But at least eat dinner first, okay? You need it for the trip home. Then you can hate me after.”

“I don’t-” Jiang Cheng starts, but cuts himself off. He doesn’t what? Hate Nie Huaisang? He’s pissed, for sure. He should feel like he’s being tricked – maybe he is – but instead, Jiang Cheng can just tell that there’s more at play here.

The head of one of the Families and his brother are running a seemingly harmless little tavern in the slums of one of the worst places in the galaxy.

He doesn’t want to get involved with all this. But fuck if that one bit doesn’t make him curious enough to stay.

Who knows? Maybe they’re doing it for shits and giggles, and Jiang Cheng really just got hired to be a glorified cab driver for their spoiled young master to get home safely, and he can take off right after, well-fed and, for once, well-paid.

Before he can assure Nie Huaisang that no, he doesn’t hate him – not yet at least – he notices that they’ve reached the living quarters of the Nie family mansion. As expected, the interior of the house is huge, with workers milling about, surrounded by expensive and ornate decor.

It’s not as fancy as the Jin’s, but Jiang Cheng doubts anywhere could be as fancy as that place. They may only be the second richest, but they are no doubt the flashiest .

Nie Huaisang’s home is more… understated. It still looks expensive, but the greens and browns of the walls and hallways are cool, muted. The earthy decorations indeed looked like expensive art pieces, but they are well-placed and less in-your-face compared to those giant shiny gold sculptures Jiang Cheng had seen in the Jin mansion.

Jiang Cheng is still taking in his new surroundings when the entourage arrives.

Because of course there will be one.

Well, it’s less an entourage and more a one-person whirlwind. The young man, despite being quite tall and well-built, looks like he’s barely out of his teen years, and is jogging down the hallways so he could welcome Nie Huaisang.

“Huaisang-gege! You’re back!”

Nie Huaisang laughs softly as he gets hugged – tight . Very tight, his face smushed against the boy’s chest.

“Ah, Xiao Lei, thank you for this warm welcome… but you might want to let your gege breathe.”

The boy lets go of him to look him up and down. “Sorry! I’m- I mean-… We were worried! We’re glad you made it back safely! Are you okay?”

If Jiang Cheng was to imagine what The Owner- err, Nie Mingjue, must be like as a younger man, this ‘Xiao Lei’ would come to mind – personality aside, of course. Jiang Cheng couldn’t quite imagine that man to be this… open.

“I’m fine, Xiao Lei.” Nie Huaisang reassures him, patting his arm. “Of course, it’s thanks to my friend here. This is Jiang Cheng. He escorted me here from Nightless City.”

The boy looks at Jiang Cheng, who just looks right back at him. “Oh. The pilot, Master mentioned hiring one-”

Our guest. ” Nie Huaisang corrects firmly, making the younger look at him and blink, catching himself. “He’s staying for dinner, before heading off to his next adventure.”

“Ah! I’m sorry, Master Jiang! Please forgive my manners!”

Jiang Cheng just shrugs. What can he do? The kid is right, he is the hired ‘pilot’.

“A-Cheng, this is Dai Lei. He’s my personal guard while here in Qinghe.”

‘Your guard? A kid?’ Jiang Cheng wants to ask, but holds his tongue. He just nods. “Good to meet you.”

“A pleasure to welcome an honored guest!” Dai Lei says with another bow. “Thank you for getting ge- Young Master home safely!”

Jiang Cheng leans sideways towards Nie Huaisang, mumbling, “Tell him to stop bowing.”

Nie Huaisang just shakes his head before reaching out to his guard and patting the teen’s arm. “Come now, Xiao Lei, you know why I’m home outside of my schedule. How is she doing?”

“Ah…” Dai Lei straightens up, thinking about his answer. “She’s okay. More than okay, really. We had to call Old Lady Nie to get her to rest and not go back to work as soon as she woke up. A couple minor injuries, but…” Dai Lei glances tentatively at Jiang Cheng, then lowers his voice a bit. “Uh, you should see the other guy.”

That catches Jiang Cheng’s attention.

Nie Huaisang shoots the boy a look.

“A-Ah! Sorry, I didn’t mean to say so much!”

Jiang Cheng notes the change in his demeanor immediately. When Nie Huaisang walks forward, Dai Lei automatically steps behind him, falling into a familiar rhythm, letting the older lead.

Ah. So this is what he must have meant when he said he was different, outside the Nest. He holds himself so differently from the wispy creature just trailing behind his brother all the time.

Jiang Cheng keeps up with them, staying a quiet observer.

They reach a salon that led to a wide open balcony.

Beyond the expensive curtains, Jiang Cheng sees a person sitting outside, their back turned to them. They had long brown hair falling down their back, wore an emerald robe, and was petting a bird perched on their arm.

If he wasn’t walking right beside the man himself, Jiang Cheng would have thought that he was looking at Nie Huaisang.

“Give us a moment.” Nie Huaisang tells them. Dai Lei takes a step back. Nie Huaisang looks at Jiang Cheng with a small smile. “I won’t take too long.”

Jiang Cheng only nods, and watches him go.

The person in the balcony is a young woman – she looks older than Dai Lei but younger than Nie Huaisang, though she stands just as tall.

There’s also a family resemblance there. If she is the relative that Nie Huaisang came home for, then she would be a cousin, but looking at them from afar, Jiang Cheng can even believe that they are siblings.

He watches them hug, and then talk. Nie Huaisang cups the girl’s face and says something that makes her shake her head and move as if to reassure him of something. They talk with their heads bowed together.

It’s a private conversation, so he turns away. Dai Lei notices this, and quickly follows his example.

As they stand in a strange, slightly awkward quiet, Jiang Cheng notes the boy failing to subtly sneak glances at him.

Jiang Cheng doesn’t like staring, or being stared at.

It takes a few more seconds for his young companion to speak up. “So… um. Mr. Jiang, you’re, uh, a… f-freelancer? Right? But only for, um… bounties… Master mentioned that.”

“I’m a bounty hunter. You can say it.”

“Oh! Oh. Okay, yeah. Cool. That’s cool.” Dai Lei nods, then looks at everywhere but Jiang Cheng. “You, err-… You do… other jobs, often?”

Jiang Cheng has to muster up some patience, but he manages to ask calmly, “Other jobs?”

“Like this job. The, um- the pilot thing.”

“No. It was a favor.”

“I see. For Master.”

“For Huaisang.” Jiang Cheng says. He notes the kid’s surprise, then the quick swerve to curiosity. Oh, great. He said that too casually. Hastily, he adds, “We’re friends.”

Dai Lei nods, accepting his answer easily. “That’s… that’s very generous of you.”

‘They paid me generously too.’ he wants to say, but he doesn’t.

He can practically hear the gears turning in the younger’s head, and before he can be assaulted with another question, he decides to throw in his own.

“You look pretty young for personal security.”

At that, Dai Lei straightens up, trying to be formal again. “A-ah, I’m new! Still in training, really… But I’ve been training since I was very young, and I’ve known Ge-… Young Master… since I was a kid! My family has worked with the Nies for generations.”

He is beaming very proudly.

But that’s not quite enough for Jiang Cheng. “You’re still in training? So who is the actual guard?”

“Well… Huaisang-ge doesn’t really like guards so he hadn’t had one ‘till recently… It used to be Zonghui-xiong, then Master took him with him to the Nest.”

Jiang Cheng nods. That makes sense.

“Now, technically, it’s… jiejie.” Dai Lei trails off, turning to look towards the balcony again.

Jiang Cheng follows his gaze and sees Nie Huaisang and the younger girl, still talking. He doesn’t let his stare linger.

That… doesn’t make sense. “Aren’t they family?”

“Yeah, they’re cousins.” Dai Lei nods. “But she got the job because she’s really good at it, and Huaisang-ge likes her a lot-”

“Huaisang told me she got hurt. So someone come after a guard?

“Oh, they weren’t after her, not really, they were after-” the boy cuts himself short, a hand flying to cover his mouth. “Aw, shit. I don’t… actually know… how much of all of this I’m allowed to… tell you.”

Jiang Cheng rolls his eyes. They land on a painting on the wall. Little birds perched on tree branches surrounded by green leaves and tiny berry fruits.

Of course. He finally asks questions, and the answers are confidential.

Nie Huaisang says goodbye to his cousin after a few minutes. When he goes back to them, he goes straight to taking Jiang Cheng’s arm.

“Ah, we lost track of time! Come, A-Cheng, we have to prepare for dinner now! Xiao Lei, you attend to Zhenzhen.”

Dai Lei blinks. “But gege-”

“She needs you more than I do.” Nie Huaisang tells the boy firmly. “And it’s just for now. You can hover over me all day tomorrow, okay?”

The kid pouts, but nods. “Okay. See you at dinner, Young Master, Mr. Jiang.” He bows, then goes to the girl at the balcony.

Jiang Cheng lets Nie Huaisang pull him to their next destination, but makes it very clear that he does not approve of being dragged. “Prepare for dinner? Why do we have to prepare for dinner- Wait, is it one of those stupid boring fancy dinners with the stupidly long table and candles and shit? Because no thanks-”

Nie Huaisang laughs. “You big grump. No, it’s just a normal dinner! I just meant that we spent like an hour on the back of a farm truck. The least I can do before putting you in front of my grandmother is to make you wash your face.”

“Oh. Yeah, I-… Of course.” Jiang Cheng nods, because that’s a good point. “I should do that.”

“You should . You can use my bathroom. I’ll even throw in a clean shirt in the package.”

Jiang Cheng scowls. “I’ve seen your shirts. They’re hardly even shirts, they’re just tiny pieces of lace you drape on yourself.”

“And what I wouldn’t do to see them on you! But no, don’t worry, I have boring shirts too.”




And that’s how Jiang Cheng ends up in Nie Huaisang’s childhood bedroom.

Well, of course it’s more like a whole suite rather than a single person’s normal bedroom.

It looks like an art exhibit. The whole room is full of carefully-placed art pieces. Yet somehow, it still felt… cozy. The room is clean, but not pristine . It looked lived in. Comfortable. Jiang Cheng doesn’t know how that makes sense, but it does. Maybe it’s the side of the room that looks like an artist’s workshop. Maybe it’s the notes and postcards by the dresser, or the obviously handmade blanket draped on the couch. Maybe it’s the stuffed animals on the bed… or even the empty, open bird cage by the window.

“Okay, you first!” Nie Huaisang says, shooing Jiang Cheng towards the open door which is obviously his personal bathroom. “There should be towels there already. If you take too long, I’ll join you!”

“Wow. A legitimate threat.” Jiang Cheng rolls his eyes, but simply does as he’s told.

He actually does want to wash up and be presentable, thank you very much. He hates the fancy shit, but he’s not a savage.

When he’s done, he drapes the too-soft too-fluffy towel over his shoulders and finds Nie Huaisang in the adjoining room.

Because of course his closet alone is a whole other room.

Nie Huaisang is pleased to see him. “Ah! So handsome! Here you go. Boring shirt, as promised.” he hands Jiang Cheng a thankfully normal plain white shirt. “If you want to change your pants too, I can go raid da-ge’s closet for that.”

“No thanks. I don’t want to wear the president’s clothes.”

“Da-ge is not the president.” Nie Huaisang simply states as he grabs his own bundle of clothes and heads out, probably to wash up himself. “They get along nicely, though.”

“I’m sure they do.” Jiang Cheng says, following him, but not before taking a short fleeting look at the wardrobe.

Yep. They do hurt his eyes.

He wouldn’t mind seeing Huaisang in some of them, though.

What? He appreciates pretty things!

Huaisang tells him to make himself at home before he disappears into his bathroom.

He feels like if he lies down on the bed, he’ll fall asleep. So instead he settles on the couch. He sees a stack of books – yet another luxury – on the low table across him, and picks one up.

He half-expects Nie Huaisang to take hours to get ready, coming out his bath in fancy robes with his face and hair made up.

Instead he gets Nie Huaisang wearing a plain shirt similar to the one he lent Jiang Cheng, a comfortable pair of pants, his face clean and his long hair done in a loose braid.

He looks close to how Jiang Cheng always sees him, just lounging in the living quarters of the Nest. Just more expensive. Jiang Cheng doesn’t miss how soft and silky the fabrics he’s wearing are.

“Hey, you’re reading! I like that one. You can borrow it if you want.” he says as he takes a patterned robe he left draped on the chair by his dresser and slides it on.

Jiang Cheng only shakes his head, putting the book back. “Not really into drama. Or steamy romances.”

“Aw, they’re really good though!”

“Sure.” is all Jiang Cheng says about it. “So who tried to kill you?”

He hears rather than sees Nie Huaisang pause – as the clattering of the baubles in the dresser stops abruptly for a moment, then continues.

“What was that?” Nie Huaisang asks – and Jiang Cheng has to hand it to him, he truly sounds like he simply missed it the first time.

“I’m going by guesswork here, and that makes sense the most. Or, if it wasn’t an assassination, maybe an attempt to kidnap you? Which is it?”

Nie Huaisang laughs lightly as he walks towards his companion.

“What are you talking about, A-Cheng? Who’d want to kidnap me?”

“Uh, now that I know who you are? I can’t name names, but off the top of my head… anyone who wants land on Qinghe, a business rival, like a dozen other people just for your family name- What are you doing ?”

“You hair.” Nie Huaisang answers as he nudges Jiang Cheng’s shoulders to make him sit back after he recoils from the hands that just undid his neatly tied-up hair bun. “Calm down, it’s just a bit of something to make it softer and smell nicer.”

Jiang Cheng frowns, but lets him put the… something… on his hair. Nie Huaisang’s hands are warm, but the cream is cool, and it smells like grass and flowers.

“So…” Nie Huaisang starts. “What made you think I’m being targeted or something?”

“Your little kid bodyguard told me everything.”

“Did he really?”

“No, not really. But he gave me enough. You did, too.”

“Enough. Like?”

“That girl. Your cousin. The kid said she’s your assigned bodyguard right now, but she isn’t really a bodyguard, is she? You and your brother have Zonghui, and whoever else you probably have planted in Nightless City already.

“So… the girl, she’s only a bit younger than you are, has your hair, wears the same clothes, could almost pass as you if she knew how to act well enough. She’s not a bodyguard. She’s a decoy. And she got hurt because someone tried to go after you .”

Nie Huaisang hums, running his fingers gently through the other’s hair. “So you think someone tried to kill or kidnap me, and got my cousin instead, because she was posing as me.”

“Yep. Explains the security, why you were sure that we’re not being tracked, why you wanted to lay low at the port and take the back door when we got here.” Jiang Cheng continues. He feels Nie Huaisang start to braid his hair. He lets him, for now. “Also, I saw your closet, and she’s dressed in clothes like the ones you have.”

“Hm… What if we just shop together? We’re cousins, after all. And we’re quite close.”

“Yeah? What if I call that bullshit?”

A laugh, and the hands on his hair withdraw. Jiang Cheng reaches up to touch it. It does feel softer now, but it is still tied up in the same hair bun he had earlier, except-

There’s a small braid running along the side of his head.

“Did I do it right?” Nie Huaisang asks, voice soft, tentative.

Jiang Cheng has to take a moment after that. He drops his hand and answers, “Y-Yes. How did you-?”

“Jiang Cheng,” Nie Huaisang says, resting his hands on the man’s shoulders. “Only son and supposed heir of the Jiang Clan of Yunmeng. I know what happened to your family. I know about what you’ve already lost. Are you sure you want to know the answers to these questions you’re asking me now?”


It seems that unlike Jiang Cheng, Nie Huaisang has done his homework.

Right down to the family braid.

“What do I have to lose if I say yes?” he asks.

“I don’t know. Honest.” Nie Huaisang answers. “I just think that… you might not like to know, or to be involved in all of… this. Anymore.”

Jiang Cheng draws back, finally. He stands up and turns to face his companion. “Fuck that, Huaisang. I’m already in your house, we’ll be eating dinner made by your grandmother. I’ve slept in your bed. We’re-…” He stops himself, because he doesn’t want to go there , not now. “You still think I’m not involved?”

“You never want to talk about your family, or what happened to them. Your sister’s a Jin, and you avoid her. Your brother’s working with a Wen, and you won’t even have anything to do with it. Can you fault me for assuming that now that you know who I am, when you leave later, you’ll never look back?” Nie Huaisang looks down, fiddling with the small bottle of hair cream he’d been holding. “And I’ll understand, you know. You’ve done your job, and you’ve done it well. That’s all we both need.”

He’s right, Jiang Cheng knows.

He stares at Nie Huaisang, who looks down, smiling ruefully.

“Ah, da-ge was right. I never should have invited you here… I could have made my way home from the space port alone. I just thought-… It’s stupid.”

‘You’re stupid.’ Jiang Cheng thinks. Instead, he says, “You literally have someone trying to kill you. You think I won’t be concerned.”

It’s not a question. Nie Huaisang shrugs. “I can handle it.”

“You can’t.”

Nie Huaisang looks up at him and frowns. “I can.”

Jiang Cheng looks back, and then it’s his turn to shrug. “Okay. Sure, maybe you do. What do I know? You haven’t told me anything useful.”

“Because you probably won’t like it-”

“Nie Huaisang.” he interrupts with an impatient huff. “Just. Fucking. Tell me .”

Nie Huaisang looks at him for a moment, and then finally he sighs. He walks back to his dresser to put the bottle of cream back, then sits down.

“My cousin’s name is Nie Zhenzhen. She’s only a few years younger than me. We’re very close. She grew up here, had mostly the same education as I did, and was trained by Da-ge and Zonghui. When we went to set up the Nest in Nightless City, we all decided that she’ll stay here and pose as me… to entertain guests, to manage stuff, basically to do the same stuff as I do.”

“And your brother? No decoys for him?”

“Da-ge is off-planet doing business. Everyone in Qinghe knows that. He left me, his useless little brother, in charge of things. That leaves us vulnerable. It’s prime opportunity for those interested to destabilize the estate. You know, take out the heir while the head is away.”

“And that’s what happened.”

“That’s what happened. Someone went after me, but of course they didn’t know that I went away with da-ge, and only the decoy is here. From the reports I got, they were trying to kill me.”

“What happened to the assassin?”

“He’s dead.” Nie Huaisang shrugs. “Zhenzhen took care of herself, like she was trained to do.”

“You don’t look too happy about that.”

“I just… She shouldn’t have gone that far.” Nie Huaisang sighs.

“Well, if she was defending herself-”

“Actually, they told me she was protecting one of the maids who were with her at the time. I’m not saying she did anything wrong. I just know how efficient she is. She must have been very caught off guard, and it must have been a very close call if she had to go that far. And it’s a problem because we can’t exactly extract useful information from a dead assassin.”

Jiang Cheng nods, finally understanding. “Like who sent him ?”

“Exactly. We’re sure of one thing, though.” Nie Huaisang looks at him now, smiling wryly. “Whoever sent that man, and whoever let him in my home, answers to someone, who answers to someone, who answers to however many other someones above them, who answers to Wen Ruohan.”

And there it is.

No wonder Nie Huaisang didn’t want him to know, and expected him to walk away if he ever knew.

Wen Ruohan. The man who burned Lotus Pier and the reason why the only family Jiang Cheng has left is his sister.

Jiang Cheng steels his expression, looking straight at Nie Huaisang. “You’re sure about that. How?”

“A-Cheng, do you think we set up in Nightless City for the sights?” Nie Huaisang chuckles.


Jiang Cheng should have connected those dots earlier.

“Qinghe is one of the last planets unoccupied by the Wens. Whenever they take control, they always strike the biggest industry, or the most powerful family in it first. We’re both .” Nie Huaisang continues.

“So. Nightless City. The ideal hiding place right under the enemy’s nose. Is that it?”

“The last place they’d think to look for me and da-ge.” Nie Huaisang says. “We weren’t just there to hide, you know. We had to stay ahead of them, to find a way to get information on their movements sooner. Nightless City is where the Wens recruit people for their troops and outsource a lot of supply run and construction jobs. And you know how much people tend to share with a good bartender.”

Jiang Cheng shakes his head. He steps forward to ask another question, now that he actually is getting answers, but then there’s a knock on the door.

Dai Lei’s voice calls from outside the room. “Young Master? Mr. Jiang? Madam Nie told me to tell you to, um… her words: ‘stop fooling around and come down for dinner’… like, right now?”

Nie Huaisang is calm as he replies. “We’ll be there, thank you, Xiao Lei!” Then he looks at Jiang Cheng, expectantly. “So… how’s your apetite?”

Jiang Cheng rolls his eyes. That… was a lot to process.

But he’s already here.

“This is the part where you tell me you’ve poisoned my food because I know too much and I can’t be allowed to leave here alive.” Jiang Cheng says, deadpan. “And you’re telling me now because you care about me enough to not want me dead. So I should, like, escape through the window and take one of your many cars to leave and get out of your planet.”

Nie Huaisang laughs. “Ah, A-Cheng, I thought you don’t like drama? No, there is no poison. Granny won’t forgive me if I tamper with any of her cooking.”

“Right.” Jiang Cheng nods. “Then what the fuck are we waiting here for? I’m starving .”

Nie Huaisang smiles, relieved and open and- shit, Jiang Cheng is almost sure of it now – fond . Of him.

He doesn’t know what to do with that. To be fair, he doesn’t know what to do with a lot of things. Jiang Cheng tries not to smile back, but he doesn’t recoil when Nie Huaisang takes his hand and pulls him out the room.

He’ll deal with the feelings later. After dinner.



Jiang Cheng has been looking forward to dinner because Food. By Granny. But he has been dreading it too, because Rich People. They probably have a stupid long table and fifty different forks and tall candles that serve no purpose other than to point out that they can afford to throw money away on candles.

But Nie Huaisang brings him to a surprisingly simple room. It’s spacious, but not enough to be an exaggeratedly fancy dining hall. The table, filled with what could be a small banquet of food, is bigger than average but not too big, just enough for a small family to dine in comfortably. Beside the table, the sliding doors are open, letting the cool wind in and giving them a wonderful view of the estate gardens.

Madame Nie, Nie Zhenzhen and, surprisingly, Dai Lei, are already seated at the table. There were no servants hovering around. It looks like everything they need was already in the table.

Nie Huaisang introduces Jiang Cheng to his grandmother, telling the woman that he’s a friend he met at Nightless City, who did him the favor of giving him a ride home.

That is all true.

Madame Nie, despite her old age, sits straight and tall on her side of the table, sporting a familiar frown and shooting Jiang Cheng a piercing look with her sharp eyes.

She is definitely the grandmother of one Nie Mingjue, Jiang Cheng thinks, as he bows and thanks her for his hospitality, the courtesy lessons his mother had drilled into him growing up making itself useful for once.

Idly, he wonders what his mother would think about him so casually just sitting in on this dinner. She had spent her married life working to gather power and influence for the Jiang estate in Yunmeng. Her one ambition was to have the Jiangs belong to that society, with the Families, but that was cut short by… what happened.

“Thank you for getting my grandson home safe and sound.” Madame Nie tells him, her tone authoritative, but not disrespectful. “What do you do, again?”

“Jiang-xiong is a freelancer, Granny.” Nie Huaisang says.

“I’m sure he can speak.” The woman shoots her grandson a look. Nie Huaisang quickly shuts his mouth, and nudges Jiang Cheng beside him.

“H-Huaisang is right, ma’am. I do freelance jobs.” Jiang Cheng answers. After a second of consideration, he adds, “Mostly… bounty hunting.”

“I see.” she nods easily. “We hope you’ve been made to feel welcome in Qinghe.”

“Your people have been very good to me, ma’am.”

“As they should be. Do eat. And you too, A-Sang, you’re practically drooling.”

“Because Granny, you cooked my favorite food!” Nie Huaisang says, eyes sparkling as he proceeds to dig in.

Jiang Cheng, of course, can’t just do that. He bows again as he picks up his bowl and chopsticks. “Thank you, ma’am. These look wonderful.”

“It’s the least we can do.” she says, dismissing them and going back to her meal.

As they start eating, Nie Zhenzhen is the one to strike up a conversation, introducing herself to Jiang Cheng and asking him about what he thinks of Qinghe so far. Up close, she does look like she could be Nie Huaisang’s sister. She’s charming and perfectly polite, still dressed in fancy robes that Jiang Cheng could very well see Nie Huaisang wearing.

He answers her honestly – Qinghe is a beautiful place, and a good change of pace because he hasn’t been to a green planet in a while.

Then Dai Lei asks him about the coolest bounty he’s ever captured – because of course that’s what he’s interested in. Zhenzhen scolds him and tells him that it’s an inappropriate topic for dinner conversation.

Nie Huaisang laughs and tells the boy that it’s probably confidential information anyway.

Jiang Cheng shrugs. “It’s actually not,” he says. “But… I don’t know if I consider any of them ‘cool’. I’d have to think about it.”

“Right. Because you’ve caught so many!” Nie Huaisang agrees, to which Jiang Cheng huffs.

“No. It’s because they’re mostly small-time criminals who just have good fake documents and are really good at hiding.”

“Aw.” Dai Lei frowns, disappointed. “So… there’s no, like, big-time crime bosses? Assassins on the run? Scientist with a secret formula?”

“You watch too many movies.” Zhenzhen remarks.

Jiang Cheng chews his food – it’s good, really good – as he thinks about it. “Well… there was that one guy. He stole some documents, was gonna sell them or something. It’s really not that exciting.”

“Not exciting, Jiang-xiong?” Nie Huaisang blinks. “Whenever you arrive at the Nest, you’re all bruised and battered… What is that about?”

Jiang Cheng rolls his eyes. “Fine, sometimes there’s fighting. But that’s not exciting, that’s just dangerous.”

“But cool .” Dai Lei marvels. “So cool! I can fight too. Maybe I should change jobs…”

Nie Huaisang turns to the boy and pouts. “No, not you too, my precious Xiao Lei! If you go off hunting criminals, who will protect me here?”

To no one’s surprise, Dai Lei blushes and laughs awkwardly. “Ah, I can never leave you after all, gege! This one will never break his promise, I will always protect you!”

“Say that again when you’re actually winning fights.” Zhenzhen chimes in.

Dai Lei mock-gasps, hand flying to his chest while Nie Huaisang pats his arm, proceeding to playfully coddle him. “Now, now, Zhenzhen, just because he has never won against you-”

“I came really close last time!”

Jiang Cheng watches Nie Huaisang joke around with their younger dinner companions. Jiang Cheng is so used to seeing him be the younger brother, but like this, he could see the genuine affection the man has for the other two. His teasing is good-natured, and he laughs at their antics but doesn’t let their arguments go too far.

Idly he remembers his own siblings. He’d get annoyed at something silly Wei Wuxian said or did, and his jiejie would calm them both down… and then they’d laugh about it afterwards, because it was funny, after all.

Looking at his dinner companions being so loud and lively, Jiang Cheng had almost forgotten about Madame Nie sitting right with them, at the same table. Is she displeased with their lack of decorum at meal time? Is she used to it?

When Jiang Cheng chances a glance across the table, he finds that the old woman was already looking at him. No – staring. Watching ? Was she just watching him while he watched at others?

What is Jiang Cheng supposed to do now?

Then, in a voice that would make anyone listen to her anytime, she asks “Mr. Jiang, your family?”

Ah. Well, shit.

Nie Huaisang is quick to intervene. “Ah, Granny, did you know-”

Jiang Cheng doesn’t let him start telling whatever lifesaving anecdote he has. He puts his hand over Huaisang’s on the table as he cuts him off, “No, it’s fine.”

Madame Nie’s expectant look doesn’t waver. “Well?”

“It’s just me and my sister right now, ma’am. Our parents have passed away.” he says. “She lives with her own family – a husband, and their first child on the way. They live in Lanling.”

“I see. Lanling is indeed a good place to start a family.”

“It is.” Jiang Cheng nods, barely stopping himself from adding ‘specially if they practically own the planet.’

Madame Nie looks satisfied with that answer, giving them a dismissive hum as she picks up her cup of tea.

And just when Jiang Cheng starts to drop his guard, she gestures vaguely at him. Him and Nie Huaisang.

“So what is the situation here, then? A-Sang, are you marrying this man?”

Dai Lei chokes on his food, and starts coughing violently.

It is a perfect reflection of Jiang Cheng’s brain at the moment.

Then he becomes acutely aware that he is still holding Nie Huaisang’s hand. On top of the table. For all to see.

He lets go at the exact same moment that Nie Huaisang cries, “Granny!”

His cheeks are pink. Despite that, he is still able to push a glass of water towards poor Dai Lei.

“What? I figured, he probably has A-Jue’s approval, seeing as how he survived this long…” Madame Nie shrugs.

“A-Cheng is our guest, and my friend.” Nie Huaisang says, patting his bodyguard-in-training’s back supportively.

JIang Cheng just… nods. He doesn’t know what else to say besides that.

“Well, I didn’t know what I should have thought otherwise.” Madame Nie says, still wholly unbothered by her younger companions’… struggles. “You take him home, you come to dinner smelling like one person and wearing the same clothes.”

Across them, Nie Zhenzhen is muffling her giggles with her borrowed robe’s fancy sleeves.

Nie Huaisang gapes at his grandmother, flailing helplessly as he answers. “He just borrowed my stuff! Did you want us coming to dinner with hay on our hair and smelling like a farm truck instead? Granny, if I was bringing someone home to marry, you’d know.”

Another shrug.

Madame Nie’s poker face is incredible . Jiang Cheng genuinely can’t tell if she’s curious or displeased, if she’s teasing them or if she actually doesn’t give a shit.“I suppose you’re not that foolish.” she says. “You’re already engaged to be married, after all.”

Dai Lei gasps.

Jiang Cheng really doesn’t share a lot with the kid, but once again, that is how his brain sounds like at the moment.

Across them, Nie Zhenzhen emerges from her sleeves to look at their youngest companion. “Why are you surprised? You knew that.”

Dai Lei just stares at her in confusion – then after a few seconds, he snaps out of it. “O-Oh. Oh, yeah. That . I knew that, yeah.”

“Granny…” Nie Huaisang sounds so tired , hiding his face in his hands. “No.”

Jiang Cheng is now surprised, confused, but also very impressed – Nie Huaisang is usually the one annoying and teasing other people into exhaustion. Now he knows where he got it from.

But also.

“You’re engaged?” he asks, turning to Nie Huaisang. Because. What the fuck?

“Yes.” Granny says.

“No!” Nie Huaisang cries, shaking his head. “I’m not, really! I never agreed to it, it’s not happening, ever . I don’t even like that guy. Granny, you know we called that off!”

Granny huffs, rolling her eyes. Now that is where Nie Mingjue got that from. Jiang Cheng is learning a lot of things today. “Well, you didn’t really give anyone a choice in the matter. You ran away.”

Dai Lei chuckles. “Haha, yeah, that’s why Huaisang-gege followed Master to Nightless City…”

“But was it really called off, like, officially?” Zhenzhen asks.

Nie Huaisang pouts at all of them. “Wow, and here I thought the plot to murder me was stopped last night.” He sighs. “It’s off, okay? Da-ge already said he’s not marrying me off to any snobby rich guy again, unless I want to. Didn’t you guys get a memo or something about that? It’s last year’s news.”

Madame Nie shakes her head, staring down at her cup of tea. “It’s just such a shame. He was a very good choice. Are you sure you don’t want to take it up again?”

“Granny, the man is a rock.” Nie Huaisang frowns. “I do not want to marry a rock.”

“A rock from a very good, well-established family.”

“Still a rock. And that’s that.” Nie Huaisang huffs. He grabs his chopsticks again and picks up a dumpling from their little buffet. He puts it on Jiang Cheng’s plate. “Don’t worry, A-Cheng, you’re the only one I-”

He pauses suddenly, for one terrible second that makes Jiang Cheng fear for his life.

What? What is he gonna say?

“I-… I was gonna say you’re, uh, I’ll never keep anything that important from you! Right! Yeah, don’t listen to them. They’re trying to embarrass me because I’ve never brought a friend home before!”

Jiang Cheng watches him pile three more dumplings on his plate, then grab one of the sauces.

“Here, try that with this sauce. You like spicy, right?”

All he can think of to say is “Yeah. Okay. Thanks.”

Madame Nie probably thinks she’s had enough terrorizing her grandson for the evening, as she then proceeds to ask Dai Lei about his father, and how he’s doing in retirement, running the family farm.

Safe. Jiang Cheng thinks. Hopefully, he is safe.

Dinner is… actually not the unpleasant affair that he had dreaded when he was preparing for it. It’s simply… eventful. It got awkward in moments, but hey, free food. Free delicious food. It’s great. He doesn’t regret it.

That’s when Nie Zhenzhen leans over and tells him, “By the way, Mr. Jiang, Granny had our other cousins prepare a basket for you to take home, as a token of our appreciation. It’s just some fruits and vegetables from our latest harvest. We hope you find them satisfactory.”

Jiang Cheng nods quickly. Yep. Whatever all that happened was. It’s worth it.



As they make their way to the car waiting to take Jiang Cheng back to the space port, Nie Huaisang tells Jiang Cheng that he can keep the shirt.

He doesn’t argue against that. He doubts that Nie Huaisang will even miss a “boring” shirt.

He’s thinking about other things.

And he’s tired of not asking questions anymore.

So he starts now, while he’s still here. “How long have you known?”

Nie Huaisang blinks up at him behind his fan. “Hm?”

“Who I am. I mean- My family. Did you always know about… what happened?”

“No.” Nie Huaisang says, keeping his voice light, almost casual. “But then you told me stuff. That first night, remember? It rang a few bells, so I started digging. Not everything, just enough. I know that it was the Wens. I know that it was… terrible.”

“And you just didn’t ask me about it.”

“Would you have answered, if I did?” he asks with a small, sheepish smile. “But besides that, I just… I know you don’t come to me to bring that stuff up. We’re there to get distracted, right?”

Distracted. Right. Jiang Cheng doesn’t disagree with that either. It was true. He probably would have closed up, maybe even decided to never come back, no matter how much he liked Nie Huaisang.

“I know it’s… schemy.” Nie Huaisang says, fiddling with the fan in his hand now. “But I had to be careful, or else da-ge would have just sent me back home, here. I just had to check, I swear! And I knew you wouldn’t want to talk about it anyway, so I just figured… you’d tell me when you want to tell me. Or never tell me, that’s fine too. I didn’t tell da-ge, by the way! I just told him you’re good.”

“Good.” Jiang Cheng repeats, looking over at him. “Gee, thanks. A shining endorsement. I’m honored that you think I’m good.”

Nie Huaisang pouts, and hits his shoulder playfully with his fan. “You know what I mean!” He sounds relieved, probably because Jiang Cheng is back to being his deadpan self.

“Ah, yes, I am good enough to be a side-piece for someone who is already engaged to be married.”

“No! I mean, yes- I mean- Stop that!” Nie Huaisang laughs. “I told you, they were teasing me, that engagement was a bust anyway.”

Jiang Cheng scoffs. “What, really? The guy was so bad you ran away from your comfy castle to live in a hellhole?”

Nie Huaisang groans. “It wasn’t all that. I followed da-ge to help him! Make myself useful so there’s no need to just hand me off on a political marriage.”

“That’s what you were doing there? I didn’t realize- Hey!” Jiang Cheng cries, narrowly avoiding another swat of that annoying fan.

Nie Huaisang just pokes him. “You’re mean again. Maybe I should go back and get engaged again after all.”

That makes him laugh a bit. “No, really, how horrible is the guy?”

“Well… he’s not really all horrible.” Nie Huaisang grins. “He’s very handsome, and tall, and smart, and dreamy, and quite rich-”

“Wow, all bad things.”

“-but he doesn’t talk! He just stares and whenever I try to get a conversation going, he just, like, nods. I haven’t heard him say more than five words at a time. I don’t think he likes me, at all. Or people. Or anything. He likes white. Probably because he can afford all the laundry.”

Jiang Cheng raises an eyebrow. “Maybe he’s onto something. People are shit.”

“Da-ge only put me up to it because he’s good friends with the Lans. Says they’re nice people and it will benefit both of our families.” he continues, brows furrowing by every word, until he just says, “Well, you marry them, da-ge!”

“Did you tell him that?”

“Yes. Then I ran and avoided him for a week.”

“Well, shit.” Jiang Cheng chuckles. Then, after consideration, he says, “Respect.”

Nie Huaisang laughs. “Thank you!”

They get to their destination eventually. There’s an expensive car ready by the estate gates, a driver waiting patiently for them.

Jiang Cheng reaches out to tug at Nie Huaisang’s sleeve, and they both stop just outside of the driver’s earshot.

“So what now?” he asks, voice lowered.

“What… now?” Nuaisang asks back, blinking.

“Someone tried to kill you, missed the mark, so you come home, make yourself actually available for a second attempt?”

Nie Huaisang looks at him, and seems to consider his answer first before he says it out loud. “No, I came home to make myself available for my people here.”

Jiang Cheng rolls his eyes. “Bullshit.”

He just smiles, calm and collected.  “You’re right. Now that their first “messenger” failed, they’ll surely send another one to come check, or even finish the job. This time though, we’re more prepared. And the assassin didn’t break any security protocol the night of the attack. Someone here let him in. I’m gonna make sure that person doesn’t let anyone else in, after.”

“And you’re sure you can find who that is?”

“Oh, I already know who they are.” Nie Huaisang says, his smile turning sharper. “And I’ll take care of it shortly. Don’t you worry about it anymore, A-Cheng. This is my home, and my people. I know my way around them, believe it or not.”

“You’re sure you’re safe, then?”

“I have Xiao Lei and Zhenzhen-”

“They’re children .”

“-who were trained by da-ge and Zonghui themselves. It’s not just them, I promise. We have other guards – it’s fine, really. We have it handled.”

The glint in his eyes is something new, and Jiang Cheng knows that this is the part of him that he usually keeps restrained, a side of him he’d had to quietly maintain as a consequence of who he is – his status and circumstances.

It’s a side of Nie Huaisang that Jiang Cheng isn’t sure how to feel about yet. Like many other things.

“Right.” he says, nodding and stepping away. As he should. “Well. Okay, then.”

Nie Huaisang steps back, too. “Okay. Safe travels, Jiang-xiong.”

He walks away. And he’s just a few more steps away from the car when he turns back around.


Nie Huaisang hasn’t moved yet, just standing there, ready to watch him leave. “Yes?”

One last question.

“Why did you have me drop you off?”

Nie Huaisang smiles – real this time. “Why do I do anything, Jiang-xiong? To distract you. As always.”

Jiang Cheng just looks at him – because what kind of an answer is that?

But before he can ask any more, Nie Huaisang continues, “Now you really have to leave, or else I can’t keep my promise. I said you’ll be safe, right?”

He did. And really, Jiang Cheng doesn’t know what else he can do – what else he should do here, at this point. Technically, all this is way out of his pay grade. This is their business now. He’d done his job. He should have been on his way hours ago.

So he nods, turns around and gets in the car.




Going through empty roads and riding on an expensive car, Jiang Cheng gets back to the spaceport in record time. He takes his jacket and his basket, then thanks the driver, who had been quiet and cordial the whole ride. The spaceport itself is not too busy. Mostly travelers waiting for their transports, merchants signing off on their exports, mechanics that came to fix or maintain ships, and port workers going around with their sanitation robots doing clean-up and maintenance. At this time of night on a relatively small and secluded planet, everyone keeps to themselves.

He takes his communicator out, sifting through alerts and notifications to pay his bill for the port, only to find that it’s been taken care off.

Of course the Nies covered that too.

“At least make me pay for something. I’m not that broke.” he mumbles as he makes his way to the landing bay where he had temporarily left Zidian. He had been offered to leave her in a closed hangar for privacy, but he opted to leave her in the bay seeing as he’ll only be on the planet for a few hours.

When he’s close enough to connect to Zidian, he takes out a small device from his jacket pocket – a little remote of sorts that looks like an earpiece. He hooks it up behind his ear and presses a button.

There’s a familiar beep, and Zidian’s voice in his ear. “Hello, Master Jiang.”

“Zidian, start warm-up protocols. I’m heading your way.”

“As you wish. Starting warm-up protocols.”

“Thanks. Fuel status?”

“Checking fuel status. We are at 30%.”

Jiang Cheng nods. “Alright. I’ll place a refill order.” There won’t be a planet or station for a while when he leaves Qinghe, and he doesn’t want to get stuck in space.

“Very well, Master.”

After a quick check of the schematics in his communicator, he finds his new destination, and changes his course.

It’s a quick walk back down the halls he just took, but he reaches the supply order counter in no time. The transaction is quick and efficient. After Jiang Cheng sends his payment, the mechanic-on-duty assures him that they’ll start refueling his ship right away. He waves Jiang Cheng off just as he powers up some helper robots.

This time, as Jiang Cheng heads back to Zidian, he comes across several passengers who have just arrived, making their way from the other landing bays. They look like travelers from a transport ship – most of them carrying luggage and other travel paraphernalia.

That’s when Jiang Cheng sees him – a familiar face, walking among the crowd of passengers.

The man is tall and built, walking authoritatively, dressed like a regular traveller – no, a mercenary. Casual enough to not stand out but utilitarian enough to provide ease of movement in combat, and to hide weapons in. His duffel bag is inconspicuous enough to contain anything from clothes to weapons. He is flanked by at least a half dozen men dressed in a slightly varied but still similar fashion. Normal people would miss it, but not someone in Jiang Cheng’s line of work.

Jiang Cheng almost didn’t recognize him outside of his house’s colors of white and flame red – but he’ll never forget that face.

Jiang Cheng last saw him in Lotus Pier, in Yunmeng, lit by flames, standing over the dead bodies of Yu Ziyuan and Jiang Fengmian.

By instinct, Jiang Cheng lowers his head and pretends to be busy looking at his communicator. He tries to walk as steadily as he can, keeping up the act as they cross paths.

He only stops and looks back up after the crowd passes by and is a good distance behind him.

‘What the fuck is fucking Wen Zhuliu doing here?’

Thoughts run through his head a mile a minute.

‘He’s here. He’s fucking here.’ The Wens’ glorified hitman is in Qinghe. Jiang Cheng grapples with that fact, and he hates how much he got from just that.

Wen Zhuliu is not wearing his uniform. ‘He’s not here to negotiate. He’s here to do a job-’

His first thought, inevitably, is Nie Huaisang.

What did he say again?

“-they’ll surely send another one to come check, or even finish the job-”

Did he know? Did he know that Wen Zhuliu is the one coming? Did he know who this man is?

He probably knows. At the very least he should know that it’s the same man who had carried out the orders to destroy Jiang Cheng’s home and killed his family. ‘ So why didn’t he fucking tell me-’

“-you really have to leave, or else I can’t keep my promise. I said you’ll be safe, right?”

Right. Nie Huaisang promised that Jiang Cheng would be safe.

The last time Jiang Cheng came face to face with Wen Zhuliu, Jiang Cheng almost died.

“Ah! There you are, Mister!” someone calls. Jiang Cheng vaguely recognizes the mechanic-on-duty from earlier, a helper robot trailing behind him. “Fuel tank’s full up. You’re good to go!”

Good to go. Yes. Jiang Cheng should go.

He should just fly far away from here, because what if he gets recognized?

The last Jiang. Wen Zhuliu will be out to finish not one, but two jobs tonight.

Jiang Cheng is not giving him that satisfaction. Jiang Cheng is done with all this – with the Wens, the Families, they’ve taken too much from him. He doesn’t want anything to do with them.

“-okay? Got anything else you need done? Mister?”

Jiang Cheng snaps out of it, and he musters up enough presence of mind to shake his head. “N-No. Thanks. For the-… service. I should go.”

The mechanic beams, mock-saluting as Jiang Cheng starts walking away. “Right. Safe travels, sir!”

Nie Huaisang will be fine. He has those two bodyguards, a fortress of a house and an army of trained guards. He said it himself – they’re prepared. He’ll be safe, sound, okay .

He gets to the landing bay. He sees Zidian and hears the familiar, comforting hum of her engine.

A voice speaks through his earpiece. “Warm-up protocols are finished. Ready for take-off, Master. Any coordinates you’d like me to prepare?” 

He should leave. He’s done his job, got his payment, called it a day.

Jiang Cheng is quiet when he steps inside Zidian’s cargo bay. He puts the gift basket down on the counter. They look great – a fresh harvest. And he didn’t notice it earlier, but there’s a bottle of wine in it, too.

That’s when he notices the note – a little folded piece of paper tucked carefully among the fruits and vegetables.


A-Cheng –

I know you took your meds and ate well today, but please take it easy on your next job.
I meant it when I said I hired you so you can stop getting beat up for a day.
You just get into fights so often and I worry because you know your handsome face is why I bear with you despite your grumpiness!
Take a break! Read a book, go to a beach, or get a massage or something, ok?
Safe travels!

– Huaisang


Jiang Cheng stares at it.

It’s terrible. It’s annoying. The handwriting is squiggly and cute. There’s a heart in the i’s and everything. Jiang Cheng hates it.

No, Jiang Cheng is not gonna read a book or go to a beach or get a massage.


“Yes, Master?”

Jiang Cheng looks across the cargo bay and his eyes land on the sleek black-and-purple hoverbike parked carefully on the corner.

“Change of plans.” he says, then he looks at the note again and scoffs. “Yeah. No. You don’t tell me what to do.”




//end of pt. 2


Chapter Notes:

this actually isn’t the end of the original part 2, but it got too long so i had to cut it. so now we are getting 4 chapters instead of 3 i guess! more for everyone, yay! *cries*

Nie Zhenzhen and Dai Lei are from my other AU fic “favorites”. They are basically the same characters, just a few years older.

im so busy so no timeline for next chapter, it happens when it happens. but kudos/comment to give ENERGY <3

fic title is from “yellow” by tegan and sara. chapter title is “closer” by tegan and sara. this whole fic is powered by tegan and sara.

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