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 4
stop desire

Chapter Notes:

so i had the wonderful idea to go “why dont i make the next chapter my wrimo thing this year?” and boy howdy why did i do that haha
so here. the first 20k words of my november writing month!!!
the last chapter!! (there’s an epilogue)



“I didn’t wanna be so invested,
I played it cool and then I overdressed it
You were there, I was tired of this
nonsense when you pretend you don’t…

Get me, feel me, want me
Like me, love me, need me”



004. stop desire



Three days. That’s all the time it takes Jiang Cheng to go to the nearest trading hub to get Zidian assessed by a decent mechanic and have the routine maintenance jobs done. He’s thrifty and practical about it, so there’s plenty left from his last job. Enough for some useful upgrades and a well-needed restocking of supplies.

He doesn’t go back to the Nightless City in Qishan. Not yet.

He’s taking a break. He’s getting some time to himself. Trying to clear his head. Trying not to think of Nie Huaisang.

The break lasts one more day, and then he’s contacting his handler again for job options.

There’s never a shortage of bounty jobs. There’s always someone out there who owes someone else some important thing (sometimes a bunch of important things) who isn’t ready to give the things back, or not willing to pay the interest. There’s always someone who did something (or a bunch of things) who isn’t ready to face the law, or something worse than the law.

Jiang Cheng picks one of the easier ones – he can afford to ease himself back into his normal pace for now. And then he picks another job, and then another, and another.

It’s easy then, when he’s chasing down a rogue employee with confidential data, a smuggler, an illegal broker – to clear his head of anything but the job.

It’s easy, when he’s back to trying to get the job done and earn his keep and survive, to not think of Nie Huaisang.

And anyway, Nie Huaisang doesn’t seem to be thinking of him either. Really. No messages, from him or the Nest. A five-star rating, his handler said, shortly after Qinghe – and that’s all. In the spare moments he has to think of his… friend… he idly wonders if Nie Huaisang knows what exactly the ring Jiang Cheng left with him is.

Jiang Cheng knows Nie Huaisang likes pretty things, and is used to getting presents from admirers and the Nest’s patrons. He probably thinks it’s just a shiny ring.

It’s better that way , Jiang Cheng decides.

Well. Even if he knew, it’s not like he would need to use it.


Ah. He’s distracted now. This is why he prefers to keep busy.

Maybe it’s just because, after almost a month, Jiang Cheng is landing in Qishan again.





There was no going around it. The drop off was in Nightless City. Not even in prison – nope, it’s a private job. Some stupid kid who ran off with a bunch of his rich dad’s money.

Jiang Cheng’s done this before – not too often, but plenty enough times to know it’s normal for families like these.

You don’t get to be a rich family in Qishan without being into some shady business. And you don’t get to be a son of a rich family in Qishan without being a tiny bit stupid.

Jiang Cheng is glad to be rid of the spoiled teenager, really. God, that kid was annoying.

After that, he finds himself wandering the streets of Qishan’s Nightless City. Then, barely an hour in, he’s stepping inside The Canary’s Nest before he could really think about it.

Fuck. Habits.

It’s still early in the evening – earlier than when he usually drops by – but as usual, time blurs when one steps into the gold-and-neon-draped darkness of the Nest.

The Canary isn’t in his cage.

Then again, it’s too early for a performance. Or maybe he has yet to fly back to the Nest. Jiang Cheng wouldn’t know.

He recognizes some patrons here and there, some having a meal, most not too deep into their liquor yet. Some of them, fellow freelancers, nod and tilt their head at him in acknowledgement.

“Hey.” one of them tips his mug at him as he passes by. “Haven’t seen you around in a bit, kid.”

Jiang Cheng shrugs, ignoring the ‘kid’ part. The man is probably older than his father. “My last jobs were all off-system.”

The man grunts, accepting his answer easily. “Eh. Thought you took off with the little bird. Maybe it’s true what the boss said, he just went home.”

Ah. So Nie Huaisang hasn’t gone back, after all. Now he knows.

Jiang Cheng lets out a casual, non-committal grunt. “Yeah, heard it was family stuff.”

His fellow hunter simply grunts back, and goes back to his drinks.

Jiang Cheng surveys the rest of the establishment as he makes his way to the bar.

There are some of the Nies’ “tenants” in the quieter spots of the place, probably having a bit of reprieve, a moment of peace before more people – potential customers – stream in, and they’d have to get to work.

Some look towards him and send him a friendly smile and wave when they recognize him. He nods at them, cordial. A year or so ago, he would have frowned and huffed, just to keep them away by giving the impression that he’s not interested at all, even though he knew they were only trying to earn their keep, like he was. But they know better than to flirt with him by now. They’ve failed all too many times.

And anyway, they all knew who won that particular bet.

Nie Zonghui is bustling around the bar, obviously preparing for the incoming evening rush. As Jiang Cheng takes a seat in one of the bar stools, the man picks up a glass and a couple of bottles and then lays them behind the counter across his new customer.

“I was worried I’d lost a regular.” he says with his usual easy smile. He doesn’t wait for Jiang Cheng to answer as he offers, “The usual, then?”

“Yeah. Thanks.” Jiang Cheng says, awkward.

For a second there, he did think of what to say. For a moment, he searched his head for a reason why he hasn’t been dropping by – then the urge is gone. He doesn’t really owe this bar anything, does he?

As he watches Nie Zonghui carefully concoct his “usual”, he asks, “Do you… actually like… having to do this?”

Nie Zonghui raises an eyebrow, but he seems more confused than offended. “I’m sorry?”

“No, I just mean. This isn’t your job, right? Like, the job you applied for? You’re having to make drinks and talk to a bunch of assholes on a shitty planet.” Jiang Cheng points out, pure curiosity.

He’d never thought of it before, but it’s all he could think about now, when he’s meeting the man again, with new crucial information in mind. Context, as always, changes things.

“Just seems like a downgrade from… you know.” he waves his hand in a vague gesture, not sure how much he’s at liberty to discuss here in the open bar. “What you do back at home.”

Nie Zonghui hums in consideration, nodding along to his words. “It is true, it’s not an easy job. And it’s not even a normal job, it’s more like a job within a job, right?” he chuckles. “But I do enjoy making drinks. It’s fun to learn new ones, and it makes me feel cooler than I really am.”

Jiang Cheng squints at him, not sure if he should agree with that or tell him he already seems like a pretty cool guy without the bartender thing – “What about the talking to assholes bit?”

“Some of those assholes are useful sources of information.” Zonghui shrugs, then smiles as he sets down a glass of Jiang Cheng’s order between them and slides it forward across the bar top. “Specially when you learn to make their favorite drinks.”

Jiang Cheng rolls his eyes, but he does take the drink and takes a sip.

Yep. This place is the only good drinking hole on this planet.

It’s almost good enough that Jiang Cheng almost lets what the man just said slide-

“Wait,” he stops right before taking another swig of his drink. “Have I ever given you intel without me knowing?”

Nie Zonghui rests his hands on the bar top, shaking his head easily and chuckling. “Oh, no. Not you.”

Jiang Cheng narrows his eyes.

The bartender hums, thinks about it, and then seems to recall something. “Okay, actually… maybe once? Two times? Just minor stuff, though.”

Jiang Cheng, surprising himself, is not surprised.

He just says, “That’s fucked up.”

“It’s fun.” Nie Zonghui says. “Keeps your mind active.” He reaches out to a nearby tray and takes another glass – empty this time – and with his other hand, he grabs his dishrag, then returns to his ever familiar routine of wiping the glasses dry.

“Your family is insane.” Jiang Cheng says, then finally takes a swig.

He means it.

He is quiet after that, and Nie Zonghui is, too – he always knows when a conversation is done. That’s what makes him good at his job – this one and the other one.

Someone else calls his attention and he goes to make their drink.

Another person hops on the seat next to Jiang Cheng’s then – and he takes a short glance before setting his eyes back on his drink.

It’s a girl, pretty eyes peering at him, painted lips in a charming smile, and a tiny, tiny dress.

He’s seen her around – she’s from upstairs, a tenant, and one of Nie Huaisang’s friends.

“So, Sir Bounty Hunter…” she starts, voice cheerful and mischievous-

He stops her there. “Is this business-related?”

“No.” she answers, and then when he moves to walk off, she grabs his arm, quickly stopping him. “Wait, wait – I just have a quick lil question! Just curious!”

She clings. Jiang Cheng sighs, but doesn’t shrug her off. Just because he knows this is just how they are in general. “What?”

She leans closer, whispering, “Is it true Canary ran away with you?”

“Not really. He hitched a ride home on my ship, that’s all.” – then, because it’s what he’s been saying – “Dropped him off at his home. Family stuff.”

“Oh! We were thinking you’d eloped.” she says, laughing. “But… family stuff? Is it like, bad?”

He wants to say ‘Yeah, we almost died.’

Just to see what happens.

But he’s not that terrible, so he answers, “Nah, it’s fine. He just came to check on his grandma. That’s what he told me.”

She hums, cheek on his arm, pouting. “When’s he coming back, though? The regulars are asking, y’know. None of the new singers are as good – or well, they’re good at singing, but they don’t really go around buttering up the customers for us after his show…”

Huh. Jiang Cheng never really thought about that as part of Nie Huaisang’s job. Maybe it’s just because he usually missed the performances.

“…and Zonghui just smiles at us when we ask. We can’t ask the Boss, he’s always busy… and, uh… scary.” she continues. Then she draws back to peer up at him again. “So? Do you know?”

“Uh.” comes his very eloquent answer. “I haven’t really-… We, um-…”

She gasps. “What? No! Did you break up?

“No.” he answers, too quick for his liking. “I mean- W-What? No? We’re not really-”

“Oh, is it like that ?” she asks, making sure Jiang Cheng hears the emphasis on her last word.

Jiang Cheng blinks, truly confused. “Like what-”

“You’re not messaging him, aren’t you? Just because he’s not messaging you? Do you think you’re not his boyfriend? ‘Cause you’re totally his boyfriend. Are you aware of this?”

Jiang Cheng wants to ask who she is. Jiang Cheng wants to know who she is, that she knows all this.

Because she’s right.

She’s right, Jiang Cheng knows, but it doesn’t mean she should say it. It’s just very rude, in Jiang Cheng’s opinion. He came here to have a good time and he’s feeling very attacked right now.

“You poor thing.” she says, patting his shoulder.

She doesn’t have to do this. Why is she doing this to him? Fuck, Jiang Cheng misses his sister.

“I’m-” he starts, then blanks out. What does he say to all that? “I’m not a poor thing.”

She coos. “Oh, baby…” She rubs his back.

Not cool. She is so comforting. Now he wants to cry.

Then there’s a booming, drunken call of “Fairy! Where’s my Sweet Fairy?!?! Daddy’s here!”

“Oh!” Jiang Cheng’s companion perks up then. “That’s me. You get your shit together now, sweetheart, and call your boyfriend, okay? Tell him Miss Fairy and the others say hi.”

Jiang Cheng watches her fluff up her hair, slide one strap of her dress off her shoulder and push her breasts up so her brightly-colored bra is much more visible before she hops off the barstool and runs towards the screaming customer.

Her voice is sugar sweet and very fake as she falls in the man’s eager arms. “Daddy~! I’ve been such a good girl today, won’t you give me reward?” – a squeal, then a giggle – “Oh! Daddy, not here~”

Jiang Cheng has to shake his head to recover from that mood whiplash. When he turns back to his drink, he almost jumps when he realizes Nie Zonghui is back in front of him.

“Fuck.” he curses.

“Bless you.” Nie Zonghui says.

“I think I’ve been assaulted.” Jiang Cheng says, sullen. “Like, spiritually. But it was also kinda healing?”

“Mm.” Nie Zonghui nods solemnly. “They do that.”

He tries to filter out the sound of the girl giggling and sweet-talking her customer. “Is her real name Fairy?”

Nie Zonghui looks at him as if he’s disappointed.

Great, Jiang Cheng thinks. He doesn’t even know the name of his new therapist.

He takes a big swig of his drink.

“Anyways, as you might have deduced, A-Sang is still at home.” Zonghui says. He’s back to wiping glasses. “There’s no trouble, there’s just business-side things that he wants to be there for, but he’ll be back soon enough.”

Jiang Cheng focuses on his drink.

What is with this establishment tonight? Why is everyone out for his blood, huh?

“I didn’t ask.” he says.

Zonghui shrugs. “I decided to save you the awkwardness of having to.”

That’s very nice of him, Jiang Cheng thinks. He still feels attacked, though.

“He does ask about you, by the way.” the bartender continues. “Nothing specific, just asks if you’ve dropped by, and if you have, if you look okay, or how you’re doing. He said not to tell you that he’s asking, because he doesn’t want to seem clingy, or make you think he’s worried.”

“You just told me.”

“You already know that he’s clingy. And that he worries over you.”

And he’s right. Jiang Cheng also hates that. How dare every person in this place be right.

“But it’s totally fine, he says. Things are okay.”

Jiang Cheng nods. “Yeah. Things are okay.”

“That’s very good then, isn’t it?”

“Yeah.” Jiang Cheng nods again.

He doesn’t know what else to say then.

He’s done with his drink.

Nie Zonghui notices, of course. “Dinner?”

Jiang Cheng hates this place. How much it knows him.

He nods.



He waits, not for very long.

When Zonghui places a freshly-cooked meal in front of him, Jiang Cheng looks up at the bartender and asks-

“What will you tell him?”

The man blinks at him, then smiles a small amused smile. “What do you want me to tell him?”

Jiang Cheng looks back down on his food.

“Miss Fairy and the others say hi.”

Nie Zonghui laughs, then nods. “Duly noted.”





There’s already several new jobs waiting for him to pick up by the time he gets back to Zidian.

But he finds himself scrolling right past all of them and then stopping when he sees his last message from Nie Huaisang.

It was from before Qinghe.

He considers Miss Fairy’s advice and sees past it – he should message Nie Huaisang, if he misses him . Because she’s right about that – the Nest did feel empty without the Canary.

On the other hand though, he remembers Nie Zonghui’s words and takes it for what it really means – Nie Huaisang doesn’t want him to force himself before he’s ready .

Is Jiang Cheng ready?

Jiang Cheng knows that all this – this weeks of silence – is all because he’s processing.

And that’s okay.

But he’s starting to wonder how long he should process, exactly.

How long does it take until ‘not ready’ just turns and becomes ‘scared’ ?





He finds himself back in the Nest a few days later.

It’s late. The bar is busy, filled with customers well into their drinks and staff rushing around doing their work.

There’s a performer on the stage singing some slow jazzy love song.

It’s not Nie Huaisang.

Jiang Cheng heads to the bar to get a drink.

Nie Zonghui smiles as he starts making the usual.

“I sent your message.” he tells Jiang Cheng.

Jiang Cheng tries not to look too interested. “Y… Yeah?”

Nie Zonghui looks like he’s trying not to laugh at Jiang Cheng’s face. “He screamed a bit. Actually, no, it was quite a lot. He screamed at me a lot. Then he just said tell Miss Fairy and the others he says hello.”

“Oh.” is all Jiang Cheng says, accepting the drink that the bartender hands him. “That’s… nice. I guess.”

Something heavy lands right beside him, and Jiang Cheng blinks up and almost jumps off his seat when he sees Nie Mingjue.

“That’s the last of that batch.” the man tells Zonghui, after putting down a heavy crate of beer bottles on the bar top.

Then he notices Jiang Cheng looking at him. He raises an eyebrow. “Huh. You comin’ here again? Got tired of avoiding the place, then?”

Jiang Cheng realizes he… doesn’t quite know how to address The Owner, still. “Sir.” he says, out of habit. “I… wasn’t avoiding the place.”

Nie Mingjue squints at him, then at Zonghui. He waves his hand in some vague, confused gesture. “Are they still doing the-?”

Nie Zonghui’s answer is a nod.

“Really?” Nie Mingjue scoffs, eyes landing back on Jiang Cheng. He doesn’t look angry, thankfully – but he does look like he’s confused – and he’s annoyed about it. “You’re still doing the not-talking-to-each-other-but-not-fighting thing?”

“We’re not doing a thing.” Jiang Cheng says.

“Yeah, that’s what I said.”

Jiang Cheng walked right into that one, didn’t he?

“Y’know it’s stupid, right? I don’t get it. Huaisang said you’re taking your time because I might not approve. The hell? Don’t involve me in this-… whatever this weird anti honeymoon phase you guys are doing.”

Jiang Cheng doesn’t know how to take that. But he also knew that he should defend himself, just a bit – “We really aren’t… doing anything.”

He regrets the instant he says it. But there really is no other way to describe it, right?

“We know. You keep saying.” Nie Mingjue rolls his eyes. “I don’t know why. You are weird .”

By now, Nie Zonghui has emptied the crate, and Nie Mingjue takes it back, swinging it over his shoulder.

Someone behind him yelps, narrowly avoiding a head injury.

He doesn’t seem to notice.

“And for the record – I never said you guys couldn’t be together, I just said don’t do it in the bar ‘cause that’s what we have upstairs rooms for.”

“Yeah.” Jiang Cheng says. “I know.”

He does know that.

I mean, he’s still scared shitless of Nie Mingjue, especially at the moment because he’s just swinging quite a big metal crate around, but he does know that Nie Mingjue doesn’t actually hate him. Or him being with Nie Huaisang.

“Good.” Nie Mingjue says then. “Still weird. You gave him a ring and then decided to mope about it.”

Okay, Jiang Cheng didn’t know that detail was on the table too.

Of course Nie Huaisang probably screamed at his da-ge about that. Of course.

“I’m not moping.” he says to his drink, which… makes it look like he’s moping.

Dammit. This is a no-win situation.

Jiang Cheng isn’t cool enough to be a badass in front of The Owner, even after all this time. He just isn’t.

“Sure you aren’t.” Nie Mingjue huffs.

“I’ve been working!” Jiang Cheng insists. “I’m not rich like you guys.”

Nie Mingjue seems to consider this.

He respects work. Right? Jiang Cheng has that impression. That’s why he’s so annoyed at Nie Huaisang for being ‘lazy’, right?

Then Nie Mingjue says, “That’s lame.”

Jiang Cheng is about to give up. “Look. Is Huaisang upset? Just tell me if he’s upset, I’ll call him. And I’ll apologize for not calling him sooner, and we’ll talk it out.”

The cousins look at each other then. Nie Zonghui hums, and Nie Mingjue seems to think about it.

Then they both shake their heads.

“Nah.” Nie Mingjue answers. “He’s actually… not.”

“He’s working too.” Nie Zonghui adds. “Which is rare, but not unheard of.”

Jiang Cheng sighs in relief. “See? We’re both just busy.”

Nie Mingjue clicks his tongue then. “Tsk. You guys are boring now.”

And then he walks off. Maybe off to terrorize another poor soul.

Jiang Cheng turns to Nie Zonghui. He doesn’t speak, but he does give him a look that says ‘What the fuck was that?’

Nie Zonghui laughs. “I think… he misses bullying you two?”

“That’s weird.”

“You said it before.” Nie Zonghui grins. “Our family’s insane.”



The bar fills up some more, but Jiang Cheng doesn’t feel like leaving yet. He’s been stuck inside Zidian for the past few days on that last job he took, so he’s appreciating the change of scenery.

After ordering a refill from Zonghui, he decides to find another spot, just to free up the bar for other customers.

He narrowly beats a drunk, stumbling couple pawing at each other to a newly-emptied corner table. While they grumbled and glared, they were too distracted with each other and just very loudly agreed to continue their ‘business’ elsewhere.

Good. Jiang Cheng settles his drink, gear and weapons on the table, takes a seat, and leans back.

As he usually does, he takes out his tablet and goes through his alerts and messages – new jobs, bounty listings, bills, check-ins from his sister and of course, ever-present advertisements.

He ignores them all in favor of looking through news headlines for anything important he might have missed. A new port opening, change of policies and regulations in space travel, trouble along common routes… Just stuff that would be useful to know-

“This seat taken?”

It’s still jarring to hear that voice, even though he now knows that the person it’s from is alive and well, and that there’s a decent possibility of him running across Jiang Cheng, especially in this place.

He looks up at Wei Wuxian, who is holding his own drink and wearing one of his stupid easy smiles like he hasn’t been a stranger to Jiang Cheng for the past year- no, even longer.

“Yes, it is. Find another table.” Jiang Cheng says, looking back at his reading.

“Ah… I see.” Wei Wuxian says. He laughs lightly, but that awkwardly trails off when Jiang Cheng looks resolutely away from him. “Well, um, that’s okay. But do you have a minute? Before your… company… gets back?”

Jiang Cheng doesn’t answer for a moment. He really doesn’t want to deal with this, not right now.

But, he also thinks – when will he be ready to deal with it anyway?

Will he just keep on ignoring Wei Wuxian?

Because he can do that. Really, he could, if he tried.

And the thing is, he doesn’t want to. He wants to deal with this eventually. He knows this – has admitted it, despite himself – and yet he’s just been putting it off, over and over again. Even though he’s known where to look (or start looking for) Wei Wuxian, for months now.

Fuck. Might as well.

He looks up, smoothing out his expression as best as he can. He doesn’t know if it works – all he knows is that he doesn’t want to look angry right now. Angry is easy. But angry also means there’s more reason for Wei Wuxian to tiptoe around things for fear of setting him off further. And Jiang Cheng is tired of that.

“What do you want?” he asks, keeping his voice level.

Wei Wuxian attempts a smile again. Jiang Cheng hates how he could just catch the sudden glimmer of hope in his face.

“Oh! I just-… It’s just good to see you.” Wei Wuxian says. His voice is soft, earnest. Like he means it.

Jiang Cheng hates that he believes it. He doesn’t answer.

“You look well!” Wei Wuxian continues. “That’s… that’s good, ‘cause last time you were at the doctor’s, right? I was worried for a second there.”

“I’m feeling better, yeah.” Jiang Cheng says, flatly. “Is that all?”

Wei Wuxian blinks. “Uh- yeah, I just… How are you doing?”

Jiang Cheng raises an eyebrow then, and he puts his tablet down and crosses his arms across his chest. “I said I’m fine. What are you trying to get at?”

“No, it’s just. I heard. What you do?” Wei Wuxian does a quick look around, then, discarding pretenses, finally sits down on the empty chair across Jiang Cheng. “The, uh, freelancing thing-”

Jiang Cheng cuts him off, suspicious. “You heard ?”

“No, no, I- I asked .” he scratches his head. “Um, I asked Qing-jie- Doctor Wen. She didn’t answer!” he amends quickly, as soon as Jiang Cheng narrows his eyes. “She didn’t tell me anything, haha… Doctor-patient confidentiality and all. But, uh, the… girls.”

Jiang Cheng rolls his eyes. Of course. The girls. The neighbor girls, the tenants, who know everything and everyone in the Nest…

“Please don’t be mad at them, I really really annoyed them into telling me stuff! They don’t know that much, anyway, they said. Just that you’re a bounty h- I mean, freelancer.”

“Bounty hunter. You can say it.” Jiang Cheng says. “But yeah, I do other jobs too.”

“Yeah, that. And that you and Nie-xiong are, uhh…”


“You’re… together…?” It sounds like a question, like he’s trying out a word that he’s saying for the first time out loud. “Which is, uh, surprising-”

Okay, Jiang Cheng hates where this is going- “Fuck you.”

“No!” Wei Wuxian shakes his head fervently. “No, I mean, I’m happy for you! Just surprised, ‘cause, I’ve talked to Nie-xiong before, he’s always so nice to everyone and I chat with him a bit whenever I deliver stuff, ‘ya know? So like, what a surprise to know he’s dating my brother, ahaha…”

Jiang Cheng frowns. “Yeah, you wouldn’t be so surprised to see me here if you didn’t disappear on me and jiejie and left us hanging without a word.”

There’s a bit of satisfaction in seeing Wei Wuxian visibly flinch from that.

He feels bad about what he did? Good.

“I… A-Cheng…” Wei Wuxian sighs, his hands curling around his glass and gripping tight. He looks down at his drink. “When the Jins accepted jiejie for marriage, when she said she’ll be happy because she loves that peacock… When I heard that the wedding pushed through… I really thought-… I really thought you’d be okay, too. With jiejie, in Lanling.”

“You thought I would have just stayed with my sister and her new in-laws?” Jiang Cheng scoffed. “With the fucking Jin?”

“It would have worked!” Wei Wuxian says, voice cracking a bit. “They wouldn’t have minded, not if jiejie and that Jin Zixuan wanted you there. What’s another person in their mansion? You would’ve been safe and comfortable and you could’ve started over there-”

“Well I didn’t.” Jiang Cheng says. “I didn’t want to stay and ‘start over’ there. And jiejie didn’t make me stay. And guess what, I still turned out fine.”

“Fine? You’re running into danger every other day-”

“What about you then? Where are you running off to?” Jiang Cheng glares. “You can’t even answer that. See? You don’t get to tell me how to live my life when you don’t even have the guts to tell me how you’re living yours.”

Wei Wuxian closes his eyes and nods. He breathes out, and he starts to say something, but then there’s a familiar beep of a communicator. Wei Wuxian takes the items out from his pocket, checks the alert, and frowns. “Err-… I hate this, but I gotta go…”

“Go, then.” Jiang Cheng says, deciding for him, going back to his tablet. “Nothing ever stopped you.”


“Just fucking go, Wei Wuxian.”

He hears his brother take a deep breath, and then in his peripheral vision, he sees Wei Wuxian stand up.

“I’m sorry for being pushy. I just… hope you’re taking care out there?”

Jiang Cheng merely grunts in answer.

“Okay, then.” Wei Wuxian says, and then he’s walking away.

Okay, then.

Okay, then, Jiang Cheng thinks. He’s leaving again, to Gods know where-

“Wei Wuxian.” he calls, before he can stop himself.

His brother turns back around, and there it is again – the hope in his face, the uncertain smile-

What did Jiang Cheng want to say, anyway?

It takes him a second.

“Don’t be stupid out there.” he says, determinedly looking down. “Jiejie will be very upset if you die.”

He’s not looking, so he doesn’t see Wei Wuxian smile, and sniff a little, and nod.

But he knows.



He pays his drinks, hands a tip to a busy Nie Zonghui, then goes back to Zidian.

He makes it back to the ship in one piece, composure intact, slightly buzzed from the alcohol but very much in control of all his facilities.

Then he sits in the pilot’s chair, and he breaks.




Nie Huaisang stirs awake to his personal communicator vibrating and ringing on his bedside table.

Who calls at a time like this?

He groans, reaching out for the device. Still mostly asleep, he doesn’t bother checking who it is, just hooks the device to his ear and taps it to answer.

His foggy brain tries to think of an appropriate greeting, but before he could speak, he hears a familiar voice-

[ “Hey.” ]

Despite the fog of sleep, he smiles. His voice cracks slightly as he replies, “Ah… A-Cheng? Hey… what’s up?”

He tries not to yawn. He fails.

There’s a pause.

[ “Fuck. I forgot to- I didn’t check. Sorry, is it late there? Were you sleeping already?” ]

“Mm, yeah, it’s like-… Uh.” Nie Huaisang opens his eyes, just barely, squinting just enough to read the time. “Wow. 2 AM. But s’okay, y’know I like hearing your handsome, handsome voice…”

There’s a scoff, like Jiang Cheng isn’t impressed. Of course he isn’t. That was terrible.

[ “Sure.” ]

Nie Huaisang can practically hear him rolling his eyes. For a second there, he thinks it might be an emergency. But he figures if it was, Jiang Cheng would probably have already shouted at him. So he laughs, light, drifting. “Mm. Hiii~”

[ “Hi.” ]

“Zonghui said you’ve been coming to the Nest again.” Huaisang says.

[ “Yeah. A couple times.” ]


[ “Although if your da-ge keeps on being weird as hell, I might just try another place. Zonghui too. Weird.” ]

That makes Nie Huaisang giggle against his pillow. “Oh, Gods, what did they do to you?”

[ “They’re bullying me, I guess. A bit? I think they think we’re fighting.” ]

“That is weird, yeah. We’re not fighting.” Nie Huaisang says, amused. “So what did you tell them?”

[ “The truth.” ] Nie Huaisang can practically see him shrugging. [ “We’re working?” ]

“Yes, we are! I have tons of work to do, Jiang-xiong… Ah, I hate it, but I gotta do it…”

[ “Me too.” ] Nie Huaisang notices it when the voice turns just a tiny bit quieter. [ “Lots of jobs lately.” ]

“Your job’s more exciting than mine though.”

[ “It really isn’t. Stop telling people it is.” ]


[ “What.” ]

“Did the space help? You, I mean. Did it clear your head a bit?”

Jiang Cheng is quiet on the other side, and Nie Huaisang waits. He can’t help but play with the ring on his finger – the one Jiang Cheng had left with him, weeks ago now.

[ “Yeah.” ] he hears, finally. Jiang Cheng’s voice is soft, private. [ “It helped.” ]

“I’m glad.” Nie Huaisang replies, smiling lightly. When he continues, he’s teasing – “So what made you call? Did you finally miss me?”

There’s a scoff. [ “Nice try. I already missed you. I miss you everyday, it’s stupid and annoying. Inconvenient, really,” ]

Nie Huaisang giggles. “Ah… Jiang-xiong, you’re making me blush!”

[ “Good. At least one of us is having a good time.” ]

“Oh?” Nie Huaisang stops. He frowns, wondering if he heard that right. “Oh, no… You called because you are upset. Are you okay? Did something happen?”

He hears Jiang Cheng take a deep breath.

Then he just listens.




The call didn’t last too long. Jiang Cheng didn’t want to keep Nie Huaisang up any longer, but he did promise to call again whenever he felt like he needed someone to talk to.

It came down to that, really.

The past weeks came down to this realization – Jiang Cheng is fine. Like, doing actual damn fine . Like, living his life well enough by his means. And that’s more than most can say, right?

It’s been rough, at the start, leaving his sister’s new family’s promise of security, going against his instinct to look for his brother and instead moving on and deciding he can make it on his own.

Deep down, in his darkest thoughts, he’d always thought that was a stupid decision. He shouldn’t have done that, he shouldn’t have let his pride lead him into this reckless, dangerous life. He’s on a downward spiral and he’ll crash and burn and it’ll hurt his sister but oh, she has a new family now, she’ll eventually move on and simply fondly remember her cautionary tale of a little brother.

But that isn’t what happened. It’s not how things are gonna go, he knows that now. No matter how rough it got – and it got rough, he did sink several times further in that spiral – he always just slightly managed to stay afloat and recover from it. Slowly, but determinedly.

His sister will be fine – she has her life to live and her family to start. Wei Wuxian is out there, doing… something… but Jiang Cheng decided, on his own, not to chase after a ghost, and instead work on something tangible, something in front of him, that he can hold – that he can fix, or make new.

Jiang Cheng, by himself, has patched himself up and built something new for himself. The result is a life that is messy, and dangerous, and it’s not the easiest life to navigate – but it’s his .

He doesn’t have to lie when he says he’s doing fine.

He hasn’t been lying for a while now.

And when he is not doing fine – because no person is only ever fine and nothing less – he knows himself enough to go someplace where he can fix himself up again.

The Nest with its glare of gold and neon, its warmth of life and humanity – a stark contrast to his days and nights of flying through the endless empty and cold expanse of stars and space. A nice drink and a decent meal, from a bartender who doesn’t push. A lover, who enjoys being his lover but knows that sometimes being his friend is really what works better.

Jiang Cheng has been telling himself he’s just surviving , not living – which is a fucked up way to exist after all he’d gone through. But slowly he finds himself glad that he held on and stood his ground anyway because sometimes you have to survive just long enough to teach yourself how to live again.

Finally spending time by himself after months of monotony only interrupted by an insane life-changing night – he realizes why he wanted this sudden still peace in the first place.

It’s this: falling in love with Nie Huaisang suddenly had Jiang Cheng facing the possibility that no, maybe he didn’t do it alone, after all – he had a crutch – and that defeats the point of this all. The point of fighting and moving on and overcoming all of this by himself .

Tonight, breaking down, and calling Huaisang like it’s the most natural course of action… Hearing him laugh and then ask what happened and just… listen. Jiang Cheng finally thinks: no, that isn’t it at all.

He didn’t have a crutch. Nie Huaisang is not a crutch, carrying half his weight and making shit easier to deal with. No.

He’s an anchor. He’s in Jiang Cheng’s head, all the time, just quiet and still – but always there and ready, his own weight countering his, keeping him tethered wherever he chose to go and not letting him drift too far away.

But everything else? It’s all Jiang Cheng. He’s doing this. He’s alone. He can choose not to be.

And that’s enough, Jiang Cheng thinks.

Jiang Cheng can live with that.





A few hours later, standing on top of a building overlooking a sleepless city where he had been scouting his mark for his new job, he gets a message from Nie Huaisang.

Actually, a bunch of messages. It alarms him a tiny bit, getting so much in succession.

The worry dies down fast when he opens them and finds that they’re a bunch of photos and one video – all of them of one subject.

A very round, very adorable, tiny colorful bird holding a little bird toy and hopping around in what Jiang Cheng vaguely recognizes as the Nie mansion’s balcony railings.

The video has the sound of Nie Huaisang laughing, and footage of Dai Lei whining as he tries and fails miserably to catch the little bird.

There’s nothing else, no message or voicemail or anything from Nie Huaisang. Just the photos.

Jiang Cheng smiles – only a heartless person wouldn’t smile after that. After some consideration, he takes a photo of the cityscape – capturing in one frame the tall buildings, the colorful city lights and the planet’s unique purple-tinted sky with its three moons – and he sends it in reply.

‘Ahhhh so pretty!’

‘Go away. I’m working.’

‘Hmp! Meanie.’

‘Send more birds later.’

‘Okay! 💕’







Jiang Cheng is at the Nest after another finished job, early enough to be able to enjoy a quiet meal before the influx of other customers, when he gets a new, direct job referral.

Again, the offer price stupid high, and the name is familiar: Nie Mingjue.


He hasn’t read through the rest of the listing yet when the man himself appears before him, standing tall across him at the staff side of the bar.

“Uh.” he starts. And just starts. He doesn’t know what to say after that.

“You’re up.” Nie Mingjue tells him, in the same kind of tone he uses for ordering his employees around.

Okay, Jiang Cheng accepted one job from the man one time. That doesn’t mean that he works here now!

Jiang Cheng does a quick once over of the job listing. He frowns. He doesn’t do security… just out of preference, but then the pay for this one makes him think it won’t be a bad deal. So he holds his judgment as he goes over at the details- Huh.

He looks up, eyebrow raised. ”This is in Qinghe.“

Nie Mingjue gestures vaguely. “My annoying brother kept being annoying saying he needs an extra bodyguard for this event thing.”

“There are lots of freelancers who specialize in security-”

“He was extra annoying about who he wants to hire, too.”


Of course.

And. Okay. Nie Huaisang is kind of a VIP – and sure, he’s already been a target of an assassination attempt twice, but Jiang Cheng has a feeling there’s more to this than that…

Jiang Cheng re-reads the listing, fishing for more information. To his annoyance, the listing ends up on a note: ‘Full details to be provided on a need-to-know basis.’

But hey – he knows better now.

He can and will ask questions this time.

“What kind of event is this, again?”

“Just a celebration for a good harvest season. Drinks, tiny food, rich snobs. Mostly awful company. Not all, we have good friends in there, but you know these things.”

‘I really don’t.’ Jiang Cheng wants to say. He holds back.

“Anyways, it’s nothing too big, but it is a bit fancy with lots of VIPs, so – security.”

“Don’t you have your own security detail in there?“

“I told him that, too. He said you’d want to take this one. ‘There’s an opportunity for him’ , he said, and yeah, I didn’t know I had a fortune cookie for a brother either.” Nie Mingjue rolls his eyes. “Whatever. The food will be good. Granny’s in charge of it. And you can get all the fruit you want, too.”

Jiang Cheng squints. “You guys like bribing people with fruit.”

“We’re farmers, what else do you want us to bribe you with?”

Damn. Can’t argue with that, Jiang Cheng thinks.

“You’re going there, either way.” Nie Mingjue points out. “Job or no.”

Jiang Cheng really should stop going to this place. They know him too well.





It’s amazing how fast he gets clearance to land in Qinghe this time around, with an actual temporary worker pass. He was even directed to a different, more exclusive landing bay, and Zidian was parked in a nicer hangar than last time. The charges were all covered by the Nie Estate. Makes sense that all hired staff, suppliers and guests get free parking.

Job perks. No wonder freelancers like working for the Families so much.

He hops on his hoverbike, and even though there’s no reason to rush, he doesn’t take a totally scenic route either.

The guards recognize him from last time and tell him where to park in the estate. Even from here, he could tell how busy things are.

He’s instantly reminded of when his family would throw out a party or gala, back in Yunmeng. Lotus Pier would be filled with staff rushing everywhere trying to get things done, the smells of food being prepared, and his mother bustling around making sure everything would be perfect down to the smallest details.

The Nie Estate has that exact energy, except this is probably like, five times that scale.

An attendant leads him inside the house and into a room he hadn’t seen before. It looks like an office, ornate and decorated like the rest of the house but obviously a hub of activity. It’s a busy mix of physical and digital, papers and notes and screens and oh- There’s Nie Huaisang, surrounded by two of his staff as they all stand over a large table displaying a hologram of what Jiang Cheng assumes is the venue, judging from the tiny depictions of tables and seats that he and his secretaries are moving around.

“Alright, this one’s fine.” Nie Huaisang is saying, waving his fan dismissively over one spot. Then he points, still with his fan, at another little table hologram. “We can’t seat these two together, though. Madam Yao hates the Su. She’ll be snobby to them all night, but we don’t need her doing that to their faces. Maybe transfer one of those families?” When the secretary starts moving things around, he says, “Oh, but don’t seat them with Master Zizhen. Madam Yao… likes him a little too much. We don’t need that either.”

This is new, Jiang Cheng thinks. Nie Huaisang with his brows furrowed, expression focused and serious and very careful.

The ring in his finger glints against the digital light of the holograms.

Jiang Cheng could just watch this for a little longer.

But of course, Jiang Cheng’s attendant has a job to do, and that is announcing his presence to the room. “Young Master Nie.” he says, “Master Jiang has arrived.”

Nie Huaisang looks up from his work, and his expression shifts from focus to delight. “Ah, Jiang-xiong! You’re here!”

Jiang Cheng shrugs lightly, but he does let out a small smile. “Don’t let me interrupt your work.”

Nie Huaisang laughs. “Yeah, sorry, I’ll be with you in a minute. Just take a seat wherever, if you like.” To the attendant, he smiles and nods. “Thank you for bringing him here, Zeng-xiong.”

“Of course, Young Master.” the attendant, Zeng, bows and takes his leave.

Jiang Cheng crosses his arms across his chest as he leans casually against the doorframe, watching as Nie Huaisang gives his secretaries a bunch of instructions and things to do before dismissing them.

They take down notes. They smile and nod politely at Jiang Cheng as they leave. Jiang Cheng nods back in acknowledgement.

And then there’s just the two of them.

Nie Huaisang is looking down at his fancy hologram thing.

He pouts as he shifts stuff around, then puts them back again. “Ah… this is always the most frustrating part…”

“So, this is the business thing you’re so busy with.” Jiang Cheng says, finally stepping inside and crossing the room. “Party planning?”

“Yep. This is my job. Not as fun as yours, I’m afraid.” Nie Huaisang sighs, eyes still on his workspace.

Jiang Cheng walks around the table to stand beside Nie Huaisang. He carefully snakes an arm around his waist, just gentle enough to let him know he’s here, but not attempting to pry him away from his work.

Nie Huaisang leans into him, and Jiang Cheng takes that as permission to press a kiss to the top of his head.

He catches Nie Huaisang smiling before looking up at him. He has a light blush to his cheeks and his voice is soft and sheepish as he greets, “Hi.”

“Hi.” Jiang Cheng replies, grinning – it’s not often that Nie Huaisang is shy. He doesn’t hold back his amusement as he asks, “What?”

Nie Huaisang finally fully turns away from the seating plans to face him. His hands tug lightly at Jiang Cheng’s jacket and then press against his chest, patting lightly as if making sure he’s really there. “You came.”

Jiang Cheng settles his arms around him.

“You hired me.” he says, leaning closer – “Again.” – and closer, their noses touching – “At some point, you gotta learn to just ask if you want me to come over.” – and then he kisses Nie Huaisang on the lips.

Nie Huaisang melts into him, reaching up and wrapping his arms around Jiang Cheng’s neck, pulling him closer.

When they part, Nie Huaisang chuckles awkwardly. “You might say no…” he says, biting his lip. “I had to make sure.”

“Okay, but this just makes it look like I’m for rent.” Jiang Cheng points out. “Which, sure, money’s good, but I don’t think I wanna be in that line of work.”

Nie Huaisang laughs. “Yeah, you’ll do terribly.”

“Wow.” Jiang Cheng deadpans. “That’s almost rude.”

“Sorry.” Nie Huaisang laughs again. He sways them playfully, still clinging on to Jiang Cheng by the neck as if they’re in a slow dance, trying to get him to loosen up. “I just had to make it worth your time…”

“Sure.” Jiang Cheng rolls his eyes, letting himself be swayed and led into this little muted dance.

They enjoy a few more short and playful kisses until Nie Huaisang bumps into a table, at which point he simply lets Jiang Cheng prop him up on top of it.

“I guess I’m just… not sure…” Nie Huaisang says, shifting slightly on his seat on the tabletop. “We haven’t talked about how- um… what, or how much, you want everyone else to know…? About us? Or, y’know, we should just talk, in general. When we’re not so busy anymore.”

Jiang Cheng takes that in, quiet as he plays with stray strands of Nie Huaisang’s long hair by his shoulder. He nods. “Yeah. That’s fair.”

“No rush, though.” Nie Huaisang says, brushing away some dust from Jiang Cheng’s jacket’s collar. “I’m just happy you’re here. Did you really miss me?”

“Didn’t we cover that already?” Jiang Cheng rolls his eyes, and he tips Nie Huaisang’s chin up and pulls him into another kiss.

Yeah. He did miss this.

Their kisses turn from slow and sweet to quicker and more urgent. Nie Huaisang tangles his fingers through Jiang Cheng’s hair, just as Jiang Cheng’s lips leave his and instead trail kisses along his cheek, his jaw, his neck.

Nie Huaisang giggles, but lets him do as he likes, kiss and touch where he pleases. “A-Cheng, my office, really?”

Jiang Cheng presses a kiss to his neck. “Tell me when to stop.”

“Oh, no, I like this a lot, actually.”

And of course that’s when Huaisang’s communicator starts ringing. Jiang Cheng just groans and presses closer. Nie Huaisang, too, clings to him.

The ringing does not stop.

Nie Huaisang sighs. “O-okay. I have to get that.”

Jiang Cheng also sighs, but he does step back and lets Nie Huaisang grab his communicator and answer the call.

It’s a different kind of amusement, Jiang Cheng decides, watching Nie Huaisang brush his hair back into order as he answers the call and immediately frown at what he hears.

“What do you- So she’s not coming?!” Nie Huaisang exclaims – almost shouts it, really. “Sorry, sorry. Ugh! We adjusted like, five menu items and seven different table seating arrangements to accommodate her, Gods, okay – so is someone coming in her stead?”

Jiang Cheng backs away, letting Nie Huaisang hop off the table and move back towards his fancy seating chart holograms.

“-the son? Which one? … Oh, the insufferable one. Okay, let’s see, at least he has fewer enemies than his mother…”

He hums as he looks down at the holograms, analyzing the intricate politics of seating arrangements.

“Okay, you know what, I think I got something. Yeah. I’ll take care of this part. For now, you two go ahead and take care of the other items in our list, okay?”

He hangs up, and Jiang Cheng watches him squint at the tables for a solid minute before starting to move things around again.

As he does, he mumbles, “Stupid rich boys.”

Jiang Cheng chuckles as he walks towards Nie Huaisang again, this time standing behind him and wrapping his arms around his waist while he works. “Said the stupid rich boy.”

Nie Huaisang pouts, but doesn’t draw away from him, and just keeps working. “Wow. You’re fired.”

“Sure.” Jiang Cheng says into his hair. “You’ll just hire me again.”

“Aha. Maybe I am a stupid rich boy.” Nie Huaisang muses. “At least I’m a pleasure to be around.”

Jiang Cheng holds steady when Nie Huaisang leans back into him, still working, but this time relaxed in Jiang Cheng’s arms.

Jiang Cheng eyes the many tables and chairs that Nie Huaisang is moving around. All the names and titles on the labels go over his head, and it’s kind of amazing how Nie Huaisang is still keeping track of all of them.

“No offense, it looks impressive and all,” Jiang Cheng remarks. “But this is boring as hell.”

Nie Huaisang reaches up behind him to give his hair a light, affectionate tug. “No arguments there.” he says. “But I’m good at it. It’s one of the things da-ge can rely on me for. So I do it.”

Jiang Cheng hums. Yeah, he gets that.

Also – “I thought this was a small gathering.”

“Yeah, this is small.” Nie Huaisang nods. He reaches over and swaps the position of two whole tables. “Rich people small, I guess.”

“Ah, you’re right. I’ve been to my sister’s wedding. It was twice-… thrice this size?” he huffs. “And they called it an ‘intimate event’ .”

“I see.” Nie Huaisang laughs. “That Madame Jin never misses the chance to show off.” As his laughter trails off and he keeps working, he says, “Sorry, you must think this is all so silly.”

“Nah.” He shakes his head. “Mother always said, sometimes the secret to a successful party is to have a good seat plan. Just make sure your guests don’t murder each other.”

“Oh?” Nie Huaisang looks at him, eyebrow raised, grinning. “She must have been a pleasure to work with.”

“If you mean we tried to avoid her as much as possible whenever she was on task, then yeah, she was.”

It surprises Jiang Cheng then, just right after he said it, that he could say it at all, and that the memories didn’t come to him like a stab in the gut, but more like a dull ache.


He lets go of Nie Huaisang to let him navigate easier, opting to lean against the table beside him instead.

“In speaking of work,” Jiang Cheng starts. “What am I supposed to do at this party of yours? Follow you around, like your kid cousin does? Where is he, anyway?”

“Zhenzhen is taking him to get fitted for new formal robes.” Nie Huaisang answers absently. “Teenagers, really, it’s like they grow an inch every month…”

Jiang Cheng doesn’t doubt that. The kid’s tall. He’ll probably be as tall as Nie Mingjue by the time he’s done growing.

“Anyway, don’t you worry about that, your robes are all prepared for you, I’m pretty sure they’ll fit you snugly, though it can’t hurt to try them on first, just in case. That’s next on the agenda, just let me finish this one-”

“Wait, wait.” Jiang Cheng interrupts him. “I have to dress up? What’s wrong with what I’m wearing?”

“Nothing. You’re so hot.” Nie Huaisang says, not even looking at him. “I miss the rips in your pants, but this look is working for me, too.”

Jiang Cheng scowls. “Shut up.”

He is wearing the pants with no rips and his best, least-studded jacket just for the sake of formality.

“But it’s a party, Jiang-xiong.” Nie Huaisang continues explaining. “Dressing up is a thing.”

“I’m just security.”

Nie Huaisang shakes his fan at him. “No, no. You’re my guest.”

“You hired me to be security.”

“No, I hired you so you would come here. So I can invite you!” Nie Huaisang grins. “Jiang-xiong, would you come to the party with me?”


Nie Huaisang blinks, and keeps grinning. “Would you come to the party with me?”

Jiang Cheng just looks at him.

Nie Huaisang blinks some more, trying to charm him. It is working, but that’s not important right now.

“I was right.” Jiang Cheng says. “You are insane.“

“But you love me~” Nie Huaisang sings, and tip toes towards him and gives him a kiss on the cheek. “Please come to the party with me, I promise it won’t be as terrible as I make it sound like-”

It’s only then that Jiang Cheng notices that the holograms are gone, the table switched off.

“-and you’re gonna be sooooo handsome in the robes I got for you!” Nie Huaisang says, patting his shoulders, looking very much delighted at Jiang Cheng’s general confusion and dread. “They’re your colors, I made sure of it!”

Jiang Cheng gapes at him. “Wait. Did you call me here to be your arm candy for your fancy party? Is that the real job?”

“No~” Nie Huaisang pouts. “Yes? It doesn’t matter!” He reaches up and cups Jiang Cheng’s face. “I would still love you even if you were ugly.”

Nie Huaisang kisses his nose, and Jiang Cheng scrunches his face up, scowling at him. “I don’t believe that, you’re only saying that because I’m not ugly.”

Nie Huaisang nods. “I love your confidence so much.” Then he seemingly changes tactics, opting for big watery eyes and quivering lips instead. “But please, please, it’ll be nice to be accompanied by a strong and handsome man during this very potentially stressful event, after the month I’ve had? Have I told you I almost got killed twice ?”

“Yeah. I was there for one of them.” Jiang Cheng says, not impressed. “Now I’m thinking maybe I shouldn’t have tried to save your life.”

Nie Huaisang gasps. It is a very fake gasp. “That hurts, Jiang-xiong!”

Jiang Cheng scoffs. “I don’t believe anything you say. Also, fire me. Now. I’m begging.”

Nie Huaisang shakes his head. “Nope.”

Jiang Cheng sighs. “Is this what I have to do to make you allow me to kill Wen Zhuliu?”

Nie Huaisang tilts his head, blinking. “What?”

Jiang Cheng rolls his eyes. “That’s what you called me here for, right? He’s probably going for a third attempt? If I dress up in your stupid fancy robes, am I allowed to kill the bastard this time when he shows up?”

“Um.” Nie Huaisang blinks again. He laughs awkwardly. “Why would you think that he’s gonna be there?”

Jiang Cheng raises an eyebrow. “He isn’t?” Did he misunderstand this whole situation? “I thought that’s why- You said I should come because there will be an opportunity.”

“No, I was asking you to come because I have a surprise for you.” Nie Huaisang smiles. “I do, serious.”

Jiang Cheng looks at him, expression turning grim. He grips Nie Huaisang by his arms. “Oh Gods, what is it?”

“It won’t be a surprise if I told you. C’mon now, A-Cheng.”

“So… No assassination attempts?”

“Well, you never know!” Nie Huaisang shrugs. “But as far as our intel knows, no. Not tomorrow night, anyway. The Wens aren’t even invited. That’s not my surprise.”

“Okay, but. Your da-ge said. The word he used was ‘opportunity’ .”

“Oh. Well. A surprise opportunity!”


Jiang Cheng leans forward, buries his face on Nie Huaisang’s shoulder, and lets out a long, despairing groan.

“Aha. Don’t be like that, A-Cheng.” Nie Huaisang says, wrapping his arms around him then patting his head. “This is my love language.”

“Deception? Schemes?”


Jiang Cheng cannot believe. That the first time Nie Huaisang is saying that he loves him. Is when he’s trying to pull him into another one of his schemes.

Jiang Cheng shifts slightly so he can take Nie Huaisang’s hand in his.

His thumb traces the black and purple ring on Nie Huaisang’s finger.

Jiang Cheng says, “I want this back.”

Nie Huaisang laughs, amused by his suffering as always. “No, you don’t.”

Love is a scam, Jiang Cheng decides. It’s a scam, is what it is. He regrets everything.

(No, he doesn’t.)

(Not yet, at least.)

(You never know what will happen.)




Okay, so the robes weren’t that bad.

They weren’t terrible at all.

Despite himself, Jiang Cheng… quite likes them.

It almost makes it worse, how much Jiang Cheng appreciates the work and craftsmanship that obviously went into these clothes that he didn’t even want to look at, at first.

He recognizes the feel of lotus silk against his skin. It’s a strange kind of nostalgia, having the motions come back to him so easily as he puts them on, layer by layer. First, the traditional white, followed by the black silk lined with purple, and then lavender outer robes with silver accents.

He had seen Dai Lei and Nie Zhenzhen in their matching formal guard robes – draped in Nie colors – gray, olive, deep green and gold. The only Nie family colors in Jiang Cheng’s robes was the deep green sash with a subtle gold print. Everything else is exactly as Nie Huaisang had promised him – his colors.

He had been told that the Qinghe winter is coming and the evenings are getting cooler, so they had added an inner lining to his coat for extra warmth. It’s almost a shame to hide the beautiful lotus patterned fabric in the lining, but for Jiang Cheng, it felt just right.

No one can see it, not really. But he’s wearing it still.

It’s almost too good of a fit. He almost feels too comfortable. He’s almost, ironically, lost, despite being surrounded by things he had always known, had grown up in.

And then there’s a knock on the door, pulling him back to reality.

“Come in.” he calls, tugging at his robes restlessly. It is a snug fit, and he knows he wears it well, but he can’t help but feel self-conscious, now that he’ll be seen by another person.

The door opens and Nie Huaisang takes a peek first. He smiles when he sees Jiang Cheng. “Ah, I told you it would look great on you!” he exclaims, delighted, as he steps inside and closes the door behind him. “What do you think?”

“It’s…” He thinks about it. There are so many words going through his head right now. It’s great? Pretty? Expensive? Too reminiscent of who he used to be and it’s fucking with his head as a result? In both a bad way and a good way?


“Fancy.” is what he ends up on.

He looks at Nie Huaisang.

Of course he looks perfect.

His robes look more ornate than usual, but still with a practicality to it – after all, he’ll be hosting the event and entertaining guests. He’s decked in the Nie family’s strong earth shades, although Jiang Cheng notes that compared to Dai Lei and Nie Zhenzhen, he has more pastel accents to his robes.

It’s a nice touch, Jiang Cheng thinks. It makes him look… softer. Compared to the typical Nie vibe, at least.

If there’s one thing Jiang Cheng has learned in the short time he’s been around them, it’s that the Nie brothers have perfected the art of balancing each other out in the eyes of any outsider. Nie Mingjue could inspire fear in the hearts of his business partners at the same moment Nie Huaisang convinces them to party and revel with him.

Jiang Cheng hates politics, but he respects the hustle.

“Fancy suits you.” Nie Huaisang tells him, striding forward and brushing Jiang Cheng’s hands away to stop him from ruffling his already perfectly-draped robes. “You can stop fussing.”

“Can’t help it.” Jiang Cheng says, squirming just a bit. “It’s just… It’s been too long.”

“It’s just a party. Not even a big one.” Nie Huaisang says, taking his hands in his and squeezing them. “We’re celebrating the harvest.”

Jiang Cheng frowns. “I don’t do very well in these things. Never did.”

“Nonsense. You will be yourself – meaning you will scowl and be grumpy at these people. And they’ll take it.” Nie Huaisang grins. “Because da-ge has probably done worse to them. Don’t you worry about it!”

Jiang Cheng stares at the bangles in Nie Huaisang’s wrists, and then the earrings hanging from his ears. They’re gold, studded with purple amethysts.

They match his ring.

They match Jiang Cheng.

“Okay. So…” Nie Huaisang takes his silence in stride, lifting one hand up and running his fingers through Jiang Cheng’s hair, which is still let down from his usual bun. “They’ll be looking for me pretty soon, but we have a bit of time. What do you want to do with your hair?”

Jiang Cheng takes a deep breath. “Will you braid it for me?”

Nie Huaisang smiles. “Of course.”





The gathering has just started to come into full swing when he escorts Nie Huaisang to the venue, the pair of them followed by Nie Zhenzhen and Dai Lei as Nie Huaisang’s security entourage.

He tries his best to remember all the etiquette lessons that his mother had drilled into him growing up, for whenever they hosted banquets and parties in Yunmeng.

Jiang Cheng isn’t perfect – he isn’t suited to this at all, but perhaps it’s a testament to the tenacity of Yu Ziyuan’s teachings that he finds it easy to slip back into the discipline the moment they step in view of the guests.

Fancy and filled with VIP attendees as it is, the info provided to him was true. It is mostly an unstructured gathering, no programme of any sort – just mostly business owners celebrating a good harvest season with their partners and suppliers – talking, mingling, networking.

He feels eyes on him – probably wondering who he is. He holds his ground. He knows he looks okay. He knows he’s standing straight, he’s dressed just as finely as everyone else. There is no reason to act shy, or shifty, or embarrassed.

And anyway, most of the attention is on his partner. That’s a lot of help.

Young Master Nie. The evening’s host.

‘The one they have to suck up to.’ Jiang Cheng thinks, as they are instantly approached by a handful of guests who greet Nie Huaisang and shower him with compliments and congratulations.

After a solid few minutes of mingling with “the most important ones“, as Nie Huaisang had briefed him about earlier, Nie Huaisang steps away from him and into the front of the room to give a short address.

Jiang Cheng stands back to join Nie Zhenzhen and Dai Lei. He accepts the tall glass of champagne someone hands him. Of course. A toast.

Nie Huaisang slips easily into the role of a diplomat and social butterfly as he addresses the crowd. The speech is short and simple. Even though Jiang Cheng had just watched Nie Huaisang pacing for a solid five minutes while nervously muttering and practicing the very same speech right before they stepped in, Nie Huaisang made it seem all-natural and not at all something he wrote down and memorized beforehand.

Of course it endears him to the crowd, and he has them hooked by the time he raises his glass for a toast.

Nie Huaisang goes back to Jiang Cheng and his entourage afterwards, with a perfect smile still in place.

He’s reaching out even before he gets to them, and it’s on instinct that Jiang Cheng steps forward and takes his hand.

When he does, he feels the slight tremble of Nie Huaisang’s hand, and it’s then that he realizes just how much that perfect smile can cover up.

“How did I do?” Nie Huaisang squeaks, to him and Dai Lei and Nie Zhenzhen. When he clings to Jiang Cheng’s arm again, Jiang Cheng knows it’s out of necessity – he had been nervous, after all.

“You did great, gege.” Dai Lei says. “Like always!”

“Yes, that was perfect.” Nie Zhenzhen says, handing him his fan back.

Nie Huaisang sighs in relief, smiling at them – this time true, in appreciation. “Thanks, you guys.” He squeezes Jiang Cheng’s arm. “How are you holding up?”

“I’m good.” Jiang Cheng shrugs. Then, after a moment’s consideration, he asks, “How are you holding up?”

“I’m holding up.” is all Nie Huaisang says, and he nods at his two guards in assurance too. He swings his fan open and hides behind it. “Okay, let’s walk.”

Jiang Cheng inhales, exhales. The real challenge starts.




It’s the part of these things that Jiang Cheng dreads the most. Mingling.

Jiang Cheng doesn’t really like mingling.

Thankfully, what Nie Huaisang told him proves to be true – he is indeed allowed to be quiet and grumpy, and no one says anything about it.

Some people are brave enough to ask about him, though. Nie Huaisang just smiles and introduces him as “my good friend, Jiang Wanyin” who is “generous enough to be my escort for the night” .

Jiang Cheng did give him permission, before they stepped out, to introduce him by his courtesy name.

He didn’t realize how it would make him feel, though – hearing Nie Huaisang say it.

But that’s for later. He’ll unpack that later.

Anyways, no one asks where he’s from, or who his family is, simply because that would be rude. They just nod and smile and say it’s nice to meet him.

So he remains steady by Nie Huaisang’s side, an arm for him to hold on to as they walk around, or a solid presence for him to lean against, or a hand on the small of his back keeping him secure from some of the… handsy… guests.

Of course there were handsy guests.

Jiang Cheng makes sure to glower at them the appropriate amount.

Hey, he was hired to be security . It’s his job to make sure that Nie Huaisang is unharmed tonight.

Besides, it’s probably what Nie Mingjue would do. Huh. Actually? Nie Mingjue probably would have punched them. They were probably lucky to get Jiang Cheng, who is not at liberty to punch VIPs in someone else’s house.

He only really leaves Nie Huaisang’s side when one of the guests hinted at wanting some privacy. From what Jiang Cheng could gather, she’s a daughter of one of the Nies’ neighboring estates, about the same age as Nie Zhenzhen, and seems to have a friendly relationship with the Nie cousins.

“I’ll get us a refill.” Jiang Cheng volunteers smoothly, and Nie Huaisang thanks him and hands over his glass before turning back to the girl. Jiang Cheng drags Dai Lei with him as he walks off.

Jiang Cheng stays a considerable distance away, just right out of earshot, keeping an eye on Nie Huaisang and the two girls discuss whatever it was they have to discuss.

Dai Lei, who had chosen to trail after him during this little break, is munching on some of the finger food. He looks around, as if checking if anyone is listening, before he scoots closer to Jiang Cheng and whispers, “That’s Miss Lu. I heard her dad’s been wanting to marry her to either Huaisang-ge or Master.”

Jiang Cheng looks at the teenager, then to Nie Huaisang’s little huddle. They do seem to get along quite well. Miss Lu has her hand on Nie Huaisang’s arm as she nods to whatever he’s saying. More notable though, is that her free hand is holding Nie Zhenzhen’s.

Oh. Well, now.

Jiang Cheng can’t help but chuckle a bit. He’d seen this before, all too many times. He’s not sure if Dai Lei is as observant, though. “I guess he’s finding it difficult to get his way, then? Her dad?”

Dai Lei shrugs. He swallows his food first before answering, “Probably? Master isn’t entertaining the idea of marriage at all, like, ever. And Huaisang-ge… well. You know.”

Yep. The kid definitely didn’t notice.

“I’m wondering,” Jiang Cheng starts. For a moment, he wonders if he’s directing his question to the right person – and then he thinks, ‘Fuck it. Who else is there?’ and asks anyway, “Does Huaisang always have an escort to these events?”

Dai Lei thinks about it. “Um, no. It’s usually him and Master, then me and Zonghui-ge and Zhen-jiejie as their backup, err- entourage.”

“Huh.” Jiang Cheng nods. “Do you think it will be… kind of a big deal? Me escorting him to this thing? These folks hone in on that kinda news, right?”

Dai Lei blinks. “News?”

Jiang Cheng is getting the feeling that he is indeed better off bringing this up to another person. Maybe Zhenzhen, later, when she’s free.

Still, he can’t leave the kid hanging. Might as well try. “Y’know, who’s going out with who? Who gets to marry the young masters, how rich they are- or how poor, how they might affect the family and business… That sorta thing.”

The voice that answers him is not Dai Lei’s – but a deeper, older voice. “Oh, the young master has a bit more freedom than his brother. He’s a second son, a half-brother even. All eyes are more intent on Nie Mingjue.”

Jiang Cheng whirls around to see a well-dressed middle-aged gentleman smiling at him with a friendly smile. He tips his wine glass at him in greeting. Jiang doesn’t recognize him, not right away, although his voice… his face… Jiang Cheng has seen this man before.

Dai Lei, to his side, quickly straightens up, and then bows. “Master Sheng! A good evening to you, sir.”

The man waves dismissively. “No need to be so formal- um, Dai Lei, was it? Old Dai’s grandson?”

Dai Lei beams. “Yes, sir!”

The man called Master Sheng laughs at the boy’s enthusiasm, and then he turns towards Jiang Cheng again. “It’s nice to see you again, Master Jiang. You clean up quite nicely.”

“T-Thank you, uhh…” Jiang Cheng blinks. Wait. Wait- Nice to see him again?

And then Jiang Cheng remembers.

The last time he saw the man, he was dressed in a farmer’s overalls, driving a pick-up truck and singing to some old song.

‘Uncle Sheng!’ he thinks – looking at the older man now. He is far from the friendly old neighborhood uncle who let him and Nie Huaisang hitchhike on his truck roughly over a month ago. Right now the man looks like a rich business owner.

Of course Nie Huaisang just calls a man like this ‘uncle’ .

“M-Master Sheng.” Jiang Cheng manages, following Dai Lei’s example and bows. “Yes, sir, it is nice to see you too.”

“You young ones are so formal. No need for all of that.” the man laughs, reaching out and patting him on the shoulder.

When Jiang Cheng straightens up, the older’s eyes are on him, seemingly assessing him. Jiang Cheng makes sure not to slouch.

“It’s nice to see Young Master Nie with someone, finally.” Uncle-slash-Master Sheng says with a nod. “You two make a handsome pair.”

“I, uh- We’re not-”

Master Sheng laughs at his sorry attempt. “Boy, you can’t fool these eyes.”

Jiang Cheng gives up right there. They have been quite touchy at the back of the man’s truck, after all.

“Don’t worry so much. The Nies aren’t known for being a traditional family, anyway. Young Master Nie’s mother is a commoner, and it wasn’t a big deal. At least, to the family. The rest of these people might talk, but that’s all they can do.”

“Oh.” Jiang Cheng doesn’t exactly know what to say to that. “I see… T-Thank you?”

The old man looks amused. Then he must have notice something else in the distance, as he proceeds to wave at someone past Jiang Cheng. “Ah, my Madame is calling. You boys enjoy now.”

Jiang Cheng and Dai Lei bow, and watch the man walk off.

When Jiang Cheng looks at Dai Lei, the boy is grinning smugly at him.

Jiang Cheng feels a feeling of annoyance, not unlike how he used to feel whenever Wei Wuxian teased him. He glares. “What.”

“A handsome pair , huh-”

“Shut up.”

“Master Sheng said it, not me!”

Jiang Cheng decides that he hates this boy. His favorite Nie is now Nie Zhenzhen. She’s a nice girl. Doesn’t revel in his suffering.

As if on cue – “Zhenzhen’s been stolen.” Nie Huaisang says, joining them, automatically taking Jiang Cheng’s arm like it’s the most normal thing in the world. “Which is fine. She deserves to enjoy this evening too.”

Jiang Cheng looks around to find Nie Zhenzhen walking off with Miss Lu.

“Xiao Lei, how about you?” Nie Huaisang asks. He reaches out and wipes a crumb of… some food thing from Dai Lei’s cheek, like he’s a little kid. The teen blushes bright pink. It’s now Jiang Cheng’s turn to be smug. “You can go too, you know. Hang out with your friends.”

Dai Lei blinks. He takes a glance around the room. Jiang Cheng thinks his look lingers on a crowd of other teenagers. He turns back to Nie Huaisang. “Can I, really?”

“Go, go.” Nie Huaisang shoos him with his fan. “Jiang-xiong here will keep me safe.”

“Yeah, he paid a lot for that.” Jiang Cheng adds. Nie Huaisang shushes him, poking his arm with his fan.

“Okay, then.” Dai Lei smiles. “Call me when you need me, gege!”

And then he’s off too.

Nie Huaisang looks up at Jiang Cheng. “You good?”

“Yeah.” Jiang Cheng replies. “You?”

“Quite good too, actually.” Nie Huaisang smiles, a private little smile that Jiang Cheng would ask about later. He nudges him and they start walking again, falling into step together, easy now that they’ve been doing it all night. “I’m almost done talking to everyone I have to talk to. No one has tried to murder anyone. Everything’s going well! Was that Uncle Sheng I saw you guys having a chat with?”

Jiang Cheng gives him a look. “You didn’t tell me he was a big-shot. I thought he was just a nice man who did deliveries.”

Nie Huaisang laughs, and pats his arm in consolation. “Well, both can be true. Uncle Sheng likes doing work. He’s very hands-on.”

“Is he like, rich-rich?”

“He owns a really big dairy business on the next farm over.”

“Oh.” Jiang Cheng nods, taking mental notes. “He was… pleasant.”

“Right? He’s very sweet!” Nie Huaisang sounds earnest as he says it. He must be genuinely fond of the older man. “In speaking of sweet, let’s go get some of those tiny cakes before they run out. I’ve been seeing literally everyone getting them and I am craving now.”

To the cakes it is.

Jiang Cheng lets Nie Huaisang pull him towards the big table of desserts.

There were lots of kids feasting on the candies and treats. Jiang Cheng didn’t even know there would be kids at this party.

Some of the kids do greet Young Master Nie, smudged chocolate in their little faces and all.

Nie Huaisang simply laughs and greets them back by name and title and even takes the time to flatter some of them.

“G’evenin’ Y’ung Mishter Nie!”

“Good evening to you too, Young Master Fang!”

“The choc’lit issho good!”

“Really? Oh, I wouldn’t put that bar in your sleeve, if I were you. It would melt and make everything all sticky – we wouldn’t want Madame Fang seeing that, would we?”

“Are you networking with the kids too?” Jiang Cheng asks, as they watch several already-sticky kids unload a bunch of candies from pockets and sleeves.

Nie Huaisang pouts at him. “No, just regulating the amount of sugar going into these little hellions. They’re cute now, but they’ll be destroying the place in a few minutes if no one stops them.”

Okay. So he’s good with kids too.

Jiang Cheng tries not to be too endeared with the sight of Nie Huaisang crouching and eating some candy that the most adorable chubby-cheeked little child attempts to feed him. Nie Huaisang beams and nods when the kid asks him if he likes it.

Jiang Cheng offers him his hand and pulls him back up. They navigate the small army of kids to get to the tiny cakes.

The tiny cakes are delicious.

The tiny cakes are super fucking delicious.

Nie Huaisang giggles behind his fan. “A-Cheng, you look offended.”

“I am offended-” Jiang Cheng says, glaring at the tiny cake in his hand. “-that these are all so small.”

“Okay, then we’re definitely sneaking into the kitchens later.” Nie Huaisang says in a fake whisper. “And we’ll look for the ones they haven’t cut up yet.”

“That’s genius.” Jiang Cheng nods. “I’m in.”

And then he pops another tiny cake into his mouth.



At some point, they had to step back from the desserts.

There is such a thing as too much sugar, after all.

But mostly it’s because Madame Nie must have caught them giggling with each other and sent them a particularly sharp glare that they felt even from across the venue hall.

The party is still going. The place is filled with lively conversations and laughter, but it’s reached the stage that guests have mostly settled into their own little groups that they had gravitated to during the course of the night.

That leaves them both free, for the meantime. Not tailed by bodyguards, they can just keep their heads down, not make a scene, and blend in with the people just hanging around and having a good time.

Jiang Cheng is almost reminded of their late nights in the Nest – he’ll be surrounded by people, and Nie Huaisang, having enjoyed all eyes on him, goes to distract Jiang Cheng.

And like this, his smile pretty and easy, his eyes teasing, it’s easy to ignore everything else.

So. Maybe he won’t regret allowing Nie Huaisang to drag him into this fancy party after all.

Jiang Cheng is brought back to the present when he feels Nie Huaisang’s hand on his arm, squeezing lightly. “A-Cheng?”

Jiang Cheng looks at him, expectant. “What?”

Nie Huaisang holds his stare. “So, I told you I had a surprise for you, didn’t I?”

Oh. That.

Jiang Cheng narrows his eyes in suspicion. “Yeah…” he tilts his head, trying to study Nie Huaisang’s carefully blank expression. “What kind of unhinged-and-or-annoying thing do you have for me now?”

“A-Cheng?” – comes a voice from behind him. Soft, uncertain. Familiar.

Jiang Cheng freezes. It can’t be-

He is still looking at Nie Huaisang. He frowns. “Huaisang.” he says, confused – almost scared.

Nie Huaisang’s smile is soft as he nods. “Just turn around.”

Jiang Cheng turns around.

Jiang Yanli is standing a few careful paces away from him, dressed in the expensive pastel yellows and golds of the Jin family. She is glowing, Jiang Cheng thinks. There’s a lovely color to her cheeks and brightness in her eyes that fills him with joy to see. She looks better, steadier, than when he saw her last.

Her uncertain expression lights up when she sees his face. “Oh, A-Cheng, it is you!” She looks to the man standing one step behind her. “See, A-Xuan, I told you it was him!”

Jiang Cheng didn’t even notice that Jin Zixuan was there too.

His sister doesn’t wait for her husband to react – she was already rushing forward.

Jiang Cheng moves to meet her before he could even think to do it. She throws her arms around him, and he’s like a child again, melting into her embrace.

“Jiejie.” he mumbles against her shoulder. He doesn’t know what else to say.

“Oh, it’s so good to see you! And such a surprise!” Jiang Yanli laughs, giving him the hug of his life.

Jiang Cheng is trying his best not to just… break down and cry. He barely manages, replying with a nod and a shaky, “Y-Yeah.”

She squeezes him again, then pats his back. “Okay, okay, let me look at you – ah, there we go…”

Her smile is wide with delight when he stands back straight. She looks him up and down and back up again.

Her hands squeeze his, and Jiang Cheng would bet that if not for the etiquette training drilled into them both as children, she would probably be jumping up and down.

“Oh, you look so handsome! See, I almost didn’t recognize you earlier, I had to see up close to make sure-”

The sheer joy and pride in her voice is enough to reduce even him to a blushing mess. Jiang Cheng looks away. “J-Jiejie!”

She takes it in stride, knowing him all too well. She only leans forward to peer at his face, ever-patient. “I mean it, A-Cheng. Look at this suit, it’s perfect. Oh, who could’ve thought we’d run into each other here?”

‘I have an idea.’ Jiang Cheng wants to say.

“What are you doing here? Are you working, is this a job, or…?”

Jiang Cheng runs the answers through his head. ‘Yes I’m working’ would be good. ‘I’m kinda the host’s plus one?’ would be better, but would raise questions. ‘I am kinda in love with Nie Huaisang and I am also going to strangle him for this’ is the most accurate, but he’s not saying that out loud.

That’s when Nie Huaisang, as if summoned, slides into his side as a bundle of charm and charisma.

“Young Madame Jin!” he exclaims, as if pleasantly surprised. Jiang Cheng could believe the pleasant, but not the surprise. “Jiang-xiong has told me so much about you.”

Jiang Yanli is rightfully distracted. Never forgetting her manners, she bows to their host. “Young Master Nie.”

Jin Zixuan also steps forward, bowing. “Good evening to you, Young Master Nie.”

“And to you, Young Master Jin.” Nie Huaisang smiles, returning their courtesy with a bow of his own. “I hope you two are enjoying the celebration?”

“It’s a wonderful event. Congratulations on the successful harvest season.” Jin Zixuan says. He looks awkward. He always does, Jiang Cheng notices, whenever one of his wife’s brothers is around.

Fair. He knows they don’t really like him that much.

But Jiang Cheng has no time to waste on the peacock. Not when his sister takes another bow, this time of apology.

“Forgive me if we’ve caused a scene, Young Master Nie. I was just so surprised to find my brother here.”

“No, please, no need to apologize.” Nie Huaisang reassures her. “I understand. You two don’t often see each other, right?”

Jiang Yanli blinks, looking surprised that a stranger is privy to such information, but she doesn’t lose composure.

Instead, she doubles down on it, nodding and looking pointedly at Jiang Cheng while she replies, “He really needs to visit me more. He keeps telling me he will, then he never does.”

She throws in a pout in there for good measure. Jiang Cheng shivers. She’s really coming for him, huh.

Nie Huaisang, of course, doesn’t miss this, and only serves to validate Jiang Yanli’s (never-ending) concern. “Ah, yes, Jiang-xiong is really quite the busy man.”

Jiang Cheng lets out an apologetic chuckle, sheepish. “I just couldn’t find the right timing, jiejie.”

“I know, I know. Doesn’t matter now, especially when I’m seeing you in such a wonderful event.” his sister says, fussing over his robes. “And you look so dashing! Oh, Mother would have approved!”

“Jiejie…” he groans again, and he hates that he sounds like a blushing bashful teenager, but there’s no other way to sound like, really, when you’re showered by such compliments from your favorite person in the world.

“A-Cheng,” Jiang Yanli calls to him, and Jiang Cheng recognizes the playfulness laced in there. Uh-oh. “I didn’t know you knew Young Master Nie…”

“I- Uh…” Jiang Cheng coughs. “W-We’re… friends.”

It wasn’t a lie. Not really. He just doesn’t mention… other things.

Jiang Yanli smiles. Proudly. A little too proudly. Jiang Cheng wonders what it says about him that his sister is almost in tears about something as simple as him having a friend.

Nie Huaisang is as smooth as ever as he backs him up. “We hired Jiang-xiong for some jobs a while back. He always delivers, so we ended up working together and hanging out quite a lot. He’s a real asset to have on call.”

Asset. Jiang Cheng wants to huff. Yeah, right – he’s done one job where he almost got killed , and is currently quite emotionally overwhelmed on his second outing for this family.

Asset. Wow.

Jiang Yanli nods. “I see, that’s lovely!” She looks at Jiang Cheng again. “I’m so happy you’re doing well, didi.”

Jiang Cheng looks down, sheepish. “You worry too much, jiejie.”

“I can’t help it.” she says, starting to sniff.

All three men around her go on alert.



“Young Madam Jin, are you alright?”

“O-oh, I’m sorry!” she laughs wetly, accepting the handkerchief her husband whips out of nowhere and offers to her. She waves off their concern as she dabs at her eyes. “It’s not that bad, I’ve just been-… With the baby and all, you know? The smallest things make me cry…”

Oh. Right. Jiang Cheng looks down, and while her robes are heavy and expensive, they are draped quite loosely around her figure. Even then, he can see the hints of her baby bump.

She catches him looking. Of course she does. She smiles at him, and takes his hand and presses it to her belly.

Jiang Cheng almost jumps back when he feels something move against his hand.

His sister laughs. “Ah! There he goes, he must be very excited to meet his jiujiu!”

Jiang Cheng is unable to hold back his own smile. “It’s a boy?”

“Mm-hm!” Jiang Yanli nods, placing her hands over his. “Our little Jin Ling.”

He’s so happy for her. Jiang Cheng leans down slightly, and says, in a whisper, “Hello, A-Ling.”

Then, he turns to Jin Zixuan, all warmth in his expression gone. He glares. “Congratulations. Don’t you dare fuck this up. I know where you live.”

Beside him, he could hear Nie Huaisang giggling behind his fan.

“A-Cheng!” Jiang Yanli scolds, but she is also trying not to laugh.

Meanwhile, Jin Zixuan is most definitely trying not to huff at him, if only to be civil. “Thanks. I won’t.”

“Alright, why don’t we all take a seat?” Nie Huaisang suggests, effectively cutting through the tension. His specialty, at this point.

He beckons to a member of the staff standing nearby. The young woman in Nie staff robes approaches them, listens as Nie Huaisang relays instructions, then quickly walks off.

Nie Huaisang turns back to his companions. “Somewhere more private? So the lady can rest away from the noise, yes?”



“Oh, there’s two of you now! I can still walk fine, really !”

Jiang Yanli is laughing as her brother and her husband fuss over her all the way to the sitting room that Nie Huaisang leads them into.

It’s not a long walk from the venue, just far enough to get away from the party’s noise. The room is already prepared for them, with comfy pillows on the couch and a member of the staff arriving right behind them with a tray of light snacks and tea.

Nie Huaisang dismisses the staff and stands by the doorway, watching as Jiang Cheng and Jin Zixuan help Jiang Yanli into the couch.

“Stop hovering, you two.” Jiang Yanli tries to wave them off. “I am perfectly fine. It’s just the hormones.” She sends a smile to Nie Huaisang. “I’m so sorry to trouble you, Young Master Nie.”

“Not at all.” Nie Huaisang shakes his head. “I’m here to make sure all our guests are comfortable.”

“You’re an excellent host.” Jiang Yanli says. “When my in-laws told us we should go in their stead, I have to admit I was unsure if I should come, but now I’m glad I did.”

Oh. Jiang Cheng takes that in. So they weren’t specifically invited, then. Nie Huaisang had expected Master and Madame Jin… Did he know his sister was going instead, then?

“I’m happy you think that.” Nie Huaisang bows. He glances at Jiang Cheng, and perhaps catches his thoughtful expression.

That’s when he makes a show of remembering something – “Ah, but my folks must be looking for me back in the party, I never told them where we were going! Young Master Jin, why don’t we go back together?“

Jin Zixuan stares blankly at him. “What? But-”

“You know how people say I’m clumsy? And they’re sooooo right?” Nie Huaisang continues, grabbing Jin Zixuan’s arm and pulling him towards the door, away from the Jiang siblings. “I might get lost , you know~”

“This is your house.” Jin Zixuan points out with a frown. He looks back towards his wife as he gets dragged away. “A-Li needs-”

“It’s okay, A-Xuan. I’m in safe hands.” Jiang Yanli says, letting out a little giggle. She must have caught on Nie Huaisang’s poorly-acted attempt to give her and her brother some privacy. “You escort Young Master Nie.”

“He’s really clumsy, don’t let him trip and break his neck.” Jiang Cheng calls after them.

Nie Huaisang waves happily at them and winks before he closes the door behind him and a protesting Jin Zixuan.

And so Jiang Cheng is alone, with his sister.

He doesn’t expect the first thing she says.

“He’s good.” Jiang Yanli remarks in the silence. “He’s very good, A-Cheng.”

Jiang Cheng scowls. “He’s a professional grifter, is what he is.”

She snorts, amused. He watches his sister reach out towards the tray of snacks and pour herself some tea.

“Okay, come here.” she says, patting the space next to her on the couch.

Jiang Cheng, tired and restless and terrified and overwhelmed and happy , sits next to her.

Jiang Yanli takes a sip of her tea, before leaning back against the couch with a grin. “I wanna hear everything.”

Jiang Cheng groans, rolls his eyes, and also leans tiredly back into the couch. There’s a pillow on the way, and he pulls it from behind him and just… awkwardly hugs it. “Jiejie… you really don’t .”

“Aw, but I really wanna!” she insists, reaching out and poking his arm. “Come on, A-Cheng… your sister just wants to know how you ended up in this very fancy party escorting a prince?”

“He’s not a prince.” Jiang Cheng says – more like sulks, really. “His brother’s not the president, either. I asked.” He shrugs. “And I’m just his bodyguard.”

“Hmm…” She hums. “Are you quite sure?”

“Well.” He takes a breath. “It’s my gig tonight, at least.”

She scoots closer, as if preparing to hear a secret. “And tomorrow?”

“I dunno.” he admits. He leans down to bury his face in the pillow in his arms and mumbles his next words which, of course, comes out as unintelligible muffled gibberish. “Mmfinkwrrnghhh…”

Jiang Yanli tilts her head. “What was that?”

He lifts his head from the pillow just enough to say, “I think we’re dating?”

And he returns to hiding in the pillow as she squeals excitedly, grabbing and shaking him. “Ahhh! I knew it, I knew it!

He mumbles “Jiejie, nooooo…” in the pillow as she does, and he doesn’t come up until she’s calmed down.

When they’ve settled back into silence, Jiang Cheng just sits there, while his sister absently strokes his hair. He catches her smile as her fingers trace over traditional braids that Nie Huaisang had carefully done for him.

“You really like him, then?” Jiang Yanli asks.

Surprisingly, that’s one thing Jiang Cheng never really asked himself.

He had always known, he realizes. There was no question, probably because no one was around to ask him, or make him ask himself. Not seriously, anyway.

It just… happened. One night he is meeting the Nest’s “Canary”, thinking he was flirty and flighty and shallow, and then as if it’s a natural progression, he’s kissing him, and coming back to him, coming home with him, again and again, and then-

“He’s…” he swallows, thinking about it. “He’s been good for me, I guess.”

“I’m so happy you’re happy.” is all his sister says. Then, as if he really needed him to understand that, she says, “You do look happy, you know.”

He… doesn’t know what to do with that. He deflects. “Ugh. I just combed my hair, took a shower and wore nice clothes, jiejie. That’s all.”

“Nope. I know you, didi.” she says, voice certain. “Also, it doesn’t take much to figure out what’s going on. He’s wearing Zidian’s spare key on his finger.”

Jiang Cheng grabs the pillow again and covers his face with it.

Jiang Yanli’s laugh is beautiful. He loves to hear it. He also wants to die .

She continues, “So I assumed, it’s either you lost our Mother’s ship to some bet with this rich boy, or… you really really like this rich boy.”

Jiang Cheng takes the pillow away to look at her with furrowed brows. “I would never bet Zidian away, jiejie. Never.”

“Of course, of course.” she nods, sips her tea, and then grins. “But you would give someone a beacon to call her wherever she is.”

He looks at the ceiling. “I know. It’s stupid.”

“Aw, it isn’t.” Jiang Yanli says, patting his head. “It’s quite cute.”

“I don’t wanna be cute.”

“You’ll always be cute to me.”

“You’re having a baby.” he points out. “He’ll be the cute one then, not me.”

“Nonsense. I will just have two cuties, then.”

He can’t fully express the feeling of nostalgia he gets, of just sitting in the quiet like this with his sister, her nursing a cup of hot beverage and him fiddling with something restlessly as they talk about everything and anything there is to talk about.

She knows when to tease him and when to listen and take his words seriously. He knows when to be quiet and just sit with her when she’s too tired from the day she’s had but still doesn’t want to be alone.

They don’t talk about how they’re missing a third piece tonight. ‘Not right now’ , Jiang Cheng thinks. ‘Maybe later.’

“You look happy too, jiejie.” he says. He takes her hand, and appreciates how familiar it still feels.

“Thank you.” she replies, squeezing his hand. “I am.”

“And you’re okay?” he asks. “You’re doing fine, living with them? Jin Zixuan isn’t being an asshole? Madame Jin isn’t bullying you? And those other Jin cousins, they-”

“Ah, A-Cheng, A-Cheng…” she laughs as she pats his arm, calming him down. “It’s alright, I’m okay.”

“You’re sure?” he insists, not hiding his firm concern. “’Cause there’s always space in Zidian. It’s not a castle mansion, but it’s cozy. Or. Well. I can make it cozy.”

“I mean it. I am okay.” she assures him, her smile affectionate. “A-Xuan is a wonderful husband, and I know he’ll be a wonderful father. Madame Jin… well, there’s a trick to getting along with her. But I know she does care about me and A-Xuan, in her own way. She is Mother’s best friend, remember?”

“And Jin Guangshan? I know that guy’s a creep-”

“Well,” she cringes, as if barely holding back from nodding in agreement. “He could be difficult. We’re just lucky that his… focus… lies elsewhere. So he doesn’t really pay attention to the rest of us all that much.”

Jiang Cheng stares at her, absorbing what she just said. What does she mean by-

She gives him a look.

Oh. Ohhh… What the fuck.

Jiang Cheng cringes too. “Ew.”

“I guess…?” she chuckles awkwardly. “But I’ll take it, you know? Madame Jin is supportive. And A-Xuan… couldn’t be farther from his father.”

He listens to her, and after a moment he finally nods, accepting her answer, holding back any other comments for the time being.

Except for one: “He still sucks, though. Jin Zixuan.”

“Still?” Jiang Yanli despairs. “A-Cheng, won’t you give him a chance? I was very nice to Young Master Nie, and I met him today.”

“Yeah, but Huaisang is charming. I mean, he’s a scammer and I’m pretty sure he’s a spawn of evil, but he’s charming.” Jiang Cheng huffs. “Jin Zixuan is a boring prick.”

“I know by now that you’re only hating him out of habit…” she replies, an endless well of patience. “But at least promise me that when this baby is born, you won’t badmouth his father in front of him.”

Jiang Cheng lets out a groan, and he sounds more like he’s complaining than agreeing as he answers, “Fine… Yeah, I won’t.”

“Promise.” she prompts.

He sighs. “Promise.”

“Good.” she laughs quietly, patting him head again like a little kid. She leans over and he lets her kiss his forehead. “Now be a dear and pass me those cookies, they look really yummy.”




The door opens a half hour later, as Jiang Cheng and Jiang Yanli are busy nibbling on cookies while they talked (read: gossip) about some of the party guests they’ve encountered through the night.

Jin Zixuan walks inside first, and he looks… rattled. He is frowning deeply. His face is flushed. His robes, though still pristine, are slightly ruffled.

Jiang Yanli blinks. “A-Xuan? Are you okay?”

“A-Li, I know you miss your brother, but we are never coming back here again. He can just come to Lanling.” Jin Zixuan declares, indignant as he straightens his robes.

“Oh, no. What happened?“ Jiang Yanli asks, biting into another cookie. To Jiang Cheng’s delight, she sounds more curious than concerned.

Jin Zixuan huffs and glares at Jiang Cheng. “Your boyfriend left me out there to die.”

“Now, now, Jin-xiong.” Nie Huaisang says, plopping down on the couch on Jiang Cheng’s other side. “Let’s calm down! Tea?”

“What did you do?” Jiang Cheng asks him, and even before he gets the answer, he already sounds amused.

“I subjected him to the aunties.” Nie Huaisang smiles, plucking a cookie from their plate and nibbling on it. “Told them he’s a father-to-be, too.”

“I got interrogated, and poked and prodded, and told to eat, and they made sure that I knew everything there is to know about fatherhood… and marriage… and women… and fishing , for some reason.“ Jin Zixuan says, sulking. See, this is why Jiang Cheng thinks he’s a loser. ”I think that one was getting into her… advanced years.“

“Well, isn’t that very nice of them?” Jiang Yanli says, smiling.

Jin Zixuan looks betrayed. “Not you too, A-Li!”

“Have some tea, dear. It’s excellent.”

Despite his whining, he does accept the cup of tea that his wife hands him. He shakes his head at Nie Huaisang, though. “You could’ve just said you wanted to give them some privacy, I would have understood and waited at our table in peace.”

Nie Huaisang raises an eyebrow and blinks innocently at him. “But that’s no fun.”

Jiang Cheng is barely holding his laughter at his brother-in-law’s suffering, but beside him, Jiang Yanli chuckles. She leans over, looks shortly at Nie Huaisang eating cookies with no hints of remorse whatsoever, and then she looks at her brother.

She says, “I like this one, A-Cheng.”

Jiang Cheng almost spits out his tea.

Nie Huaisang, to his other side, hurries to swallow his own cookie and wipe off crumbs from his lips before he bows at the woman. “It’s truly an honor to meet you, Young Madame Jin!”

Jiang Yanli looks charmed. “Just call me jiejie , please, like A-Cheng does.”

“I’d love to! Yanli-jie!”

That, finally, makes Jiang Cheng choke on his drink. He coughs and wheezes, and the two on either side of him both exclaim their concern, hurrying to rub his back.

Through his sister’s and Nie Huaisang’s calls of concern, he hears Jin Zixuan chuckle.

Jiang Cheng, without looking, still wheezing, gives him the finger. “Go to hell, Jin Zixuan.”

Jin Zixuan puts his tea down, looking absolutely done. “Why me?”




Jiang Yanli makes her brother promise to visit again soon, hopefully before she gives birth.

Then she also makes Nie Huaisang promise to remind Jiang Cheng that he made a promise to her.

They leave earlier than the other guests, to avoid the rush and in lieu of Jiang Yanli’s delicate condition.

Jiang Cheng goes back to his assignment to stand beside Nie Huaisang for the rest of the night. He is there as he greets the rest of their guests goodbye.

This time, when he hears hushed whispers of speculation about who he is, some of them are finally closer to the mark.

‘He’s related to the Jin, I think. The Young Madame’s brother?’

‘Oh, of course!’

When all the guests have either left on their rides home or, in the case of extended family, gone to their guest quarters in the Estate, he stands back as Nie Huaisang addresses the staff.

Nie Huaisang thanks them for their excellent work, tells them to take a breather before doing only the clean-up essentials, and simply continue the rest tomorrow.

“You two, as well.” he tells Nie Zhenzhen and Dai Lei, who both bow and then greet him goodnight before leaving.

Then, the party’s over.





Jiang Cheng is reminded of just how heavy the formal robes really are when he takes them off. Without them, he’s moving easier, he feels lighter, his posture more relaxed.

He changes into his own clothes again – a simple shirt and lounge pants. He lets his hair down from the updo and the side braid, setting the long purple hair ribbon and the silver-and-amethyst headpiece down on the dresser of the guest room.

He washes his face, ties back his hair in a loose, low ponytail and takes a moment to look out the window. From there, he has a decent view of the courtyard where the party had just been held. The catering and serving staff are stacking chairs and setting aside tables, chatting casually among themselves. Some are sitting to the side and drinking beer. There are some staff from the kitchen and security in the mix, too, either helping or just hanging out, drinking and smoking after hours.

In just a regular shirt, Jiang Cheng shivers. The Qinghe air is turning cold indeed. He grabs the nearest thing he could, which turns out to be his formal wear’s outer coat. It’s a bit heavy, but it’s loose and comfortable enough, not to mention it kept him warm.

He keeps it on as he leaves his guest bedroom and goes to find Nie Huaisang.

He had walked Nie Huaisang to the man’s bedroom earlier, before going to his own to change. He walks back towards there now. To his surprise, as he passes by the office where he’d been led to the day before, he catches Nie Huaisang there, already dressed down in his sleeping clothes, but focused on his tablet with several screens floating around him.

The door is ajar, and Jiang Cheng knocks on the frame as he peers inside.

“Still working?” he asks.

Nie Huaisang looks like someone who’s been pulled back to reality from a daze when he looks back at Jiang Cheng. “O-oh. A-Cheng. Hi. Yeah, uh, just some post-event stuff…”

Jiang Cheng only nods. “Sorry, didn’t mean to disturb you.”

Nie Huaisang shakes his head, smiling. “It’s fine. I was dozing off in here anyway.” As if to prove his point, he yawns.

Jiang Cheng takes this as permission to step inside. “You know, since I got here, you’ve been on top of this whole thing. You should rest a bit.”

“Yes, Mother.” Nie Huaisang says, teasing. He starts clearing his workspace, swiping away windows on the screens and his tablet. “Look here, I’m closing everything. I am going to bed.”

Jiang Cheng settles half-sitting on the table beside where he’s sitting. “Hey.”

“Hey…” Nie Huaisang answers, too soft. He sounds very sleepy.

He crosses the short distance between them without getting up from his wheeled office chair, and wordlessly lays his head on Jiang Cheng’s lap.

He sighs, settling. “Hmm… Jiang-xiong is so warm.”

The screens are off, the tablet set aside. The only light entering the room is the light of the moon and the distant bright spotlight from outside, specially set up that night for the party.

In this light, Nie Huaisang’s hair is colored a warmer shade of brown draped in silver. Jiang Cheng runs his hands through them while Nie Huaisang sleepily curls up like a child with his head in his lap.

“I’m not carrying you to your room.” Jiang Cheng tells him.

Nie Huaisang lets out a disgruntled noise. “Give it five, ten minutes. I become more adorable the sleepier I get.”

Then Nie Huaisang clings to his robe for good measure, and pretends to sleep.

It doesn’t fool Jiang Cheng. He knows what Nie Huaisang is like when he’s asleep. He’s watched-… err, seen Nie Huaisang sleep.

“A-Sang.” he calls. He gets a barely audible hum in reply, so he continues. “Did you invite jiejie here just for me?”

“No.” Nie Huaisang says. “I invited you here just for you.”

Jiang Cheng frowns. “You’re already half-asleep and you’re still vague as fuck.”

“No, I just mean. Y’know, I don’t make the guest lists, right? Not even the shortlist, really. My secretaries do that, they’re the ones who go through every business partner, family friend, whoever we have to be congratulating and partying with this season. I just approve the final thing, add some people, lose some people… then go make the seat plan… It’s so boring .”

Jiang Cheng nods. “Then… you didn’t know? That they were gonna be here?”

“Oh, I did.” Nie Huaisang says, waving a hand vaguely. “I did say ‘ok’ for Master and Madame Jin. Then their RSVP came back saying that Jiang Yanli and Jin Zixuan were the ones going. That’s when I was like, oh, I have to get A-Cheng to come! So he can meet his sister!”

“That’s it?” he chuckles. “You know you could have just told me.”

“But I wanted to surprise yoooouuu…” Nie Huaisang whines. “I also wanted to make sure you came? So I had da-ge hire you, ‘cause you’ll definitely come if it’s for work!”

Jiang Cheng heaves a long sigh. “I still would have come if it’s not for work. You really could have just asked.”

“Whatever. Happy Birthday, A-Cheng.”

That makes him stop.

How did he-

Ah, fuck. Of course he would know, one way or another.

Jiang Cheng sighs. “Please don’t tell me you scheduled this event around that.”

“What? No, no…” Nie Huaisang laughs a bit. He sits up straight again. He lets out a yawn first before continuing. “The event is actually scheduled for tonight. But it’s almost your birthday, so I was like, I have to get something for A-Cheng! So, uh, when I saw your sister’s name on the list, I just knew I had to-”

Jiang Cheng stops his babbling with a kiss. Nie Huaisang whimpers, suddenly wide awake. He blinks, and leans forward to follow Jiang Cheng when he draws away.

Jiang Cheng cups his chin, steadying him. “Thanks.” he says, then he presses a second kiss to the other’s forehead.

Jiang Cheng realizes that he’s never really thanked Nie Huaisang, not out loud, not really. From the smallest gestures and things, to his big stupid schemes that somehow work out for Jiang Cheng.

So now is as good a time as any.

“It’s one hell of a birthday surprise.”

“I’m glad you liked it.” Nie Huaisang smiles. Soft, sleepy, fond . “Can I have another kiss, please.”

Jiang Cheng rolls his eyes, but he does grant the wish.

Nie Huaisang is grinning afterwards, very satisfied with himself.

He says, “Take me to bed, Jiang-xiong?” – and like this, sitting close in the dark, draped in moonlight, Jiang Cheng could almost see him back in the Nest again, asking him the same familiar question.

“Okay.” he says, standing. He takes Nie Huaisang’s hands and tugs. “Up.”

Nie Huaisang decides then that it is never too late in the evening to be a menace, as he dramatically laments, “Ah, I am so tired… I think I need someone to carry me…”

Jiang Cheng lets out a resigned sigh.

Yeah, fuck it, he signed up for this.

“Fine. But if someone sees us on the way, I’m dropping you.”

Nie Huaisang pouts. “Mean. But I’ll take it.”

So he takes Nie Huaisang to bed.







Jiang Cheng wakes up the next morning to a sudden assault of light when someone was not only rude enough to leave his arms, they were also mean enough to draw the curtains to let the morning sunlight in.

“The hell?” is the first thing he says, shifting to turn his entire body away from the wall of brightness that is Nie Huaisang’s bedroom window.

He feels the too-soft bed dip behind him, and Nie Huaisang leaning over and kissing his cheek.

That’s nice.

Then Nie Huaisang says, “A-Cheng, wake up. We’re having breakfast with Granny.”

That’s not as nice.

“What? Why?” he asks, rousing himself enough so he can groggily watch Nie Huaisang shuffling around the room. Currently he is brushing his hair, pinning it up in a messy bun on top of his head. “Wait, okay, I know you have to go. Why me too?”

“You slept in her house.” Nie Huaisang points out. He is now considering which robe to throw on. “You are having breakfast with her. It’s policy.”

Jiang Cheng knows he has little choice here. It’s Granny. It’s policy. Maybe he can pretend that he’s dying. But that’s not a card he wants to pull just yet. So he has to go.

“Okay.” he says, sitting up, stretching his arms. Nie Huaisang picks up his clothes from the floor and throws them towards him. They land right in his lap. Jiang Cheng looks at him. “ What the fuck , how are you this awake so early?”

“Oh, this is my fight response. I am on survival mode. I am running on fear .” Nie Huaisang replies, going around the room doing who knows what else. “Fear of Granny’s disapproval.”

Jiang Cheng believes that. He says nothing more as he grabs the clothes and trudges towards Nie Huaisang’s bathroom.

Cold water to his face wakes him up just enough to manage to make himself presentable and, hopefully, Granny-appropriate.

When he comes out, he notices that Nie Huaisang has changed into an oversized turtleneck sweater. He is sitting in front of his dresser mirror, making disgruntled noises as he adjusts his high collar.

“What’s wrong?” Jiang Cheng asks.

Nie Huaisang looks at him and pouts, cheeks pink.

“My neck.” he says.

Neck? Jiang Cheng blinks. What’s wrong with- Oh. Oh… Yeah. He… might have enjoyed that part a bit too much last night. Haha… ha…

Jiang Cheng finds that he is not apologetic about that at all, though, not in the slightest.

“Oops?” he tries. Then after a beat, “Can I see-”

“Ah, no! You’ve done enough, Jiang Wanyin!” Nie Huaisang huffs, hands flying to his neck as if Jiang Cheng is going to start attacking him any minute.

“You told me to do it.” Jiang Cheng points out.

“You were being so sexy! It was so hot!” Nie Huaisang says, like he’s listing crimes.

Jiang Cheng remains unfazed. “I know. Thanks. I try my best.”

Nie Huaisang grumbles, going back to looking in the mirror and adjusting his collar. “You are making me have to cover up before going to dine with my grandmother. I hope you’re happy.”

“Again. You told me to do it.” Jiang Cheng repeats, this time shrugging. “I just do what you wanna do.”

“Why do you enable meeeee…” Nie Huaisang cries in fake despair, but he does get up and heads to the door, tugging Jiang Cheng with him on his way.

“I dunno, you’re annoying when I don’t.” Jiang Cheng shrugs again, letting himself be led. He wants to add ‘You’re cute when I do.’ but that might give him too much power, so instead he says, “It’ll be fine. It’s getting cold. Say you’re feeling under the weather.”

Nie Huaisang gasps, all dramatic. “Now you’re telling me to lie to Granny!” They stop just outside his bedroom, and he clicks his tongue at Jiang Cheng. “What a bad influence you are, Jiang-xiong.”

“Yeah, okay.” Jiang Cheng rolls his eyes. “Let’s just go. If she sees it, I’ll apologize to her – I am sorry, Madame Nie, this commoner has corrupted your pure innocent grandson.

Nie Huaisang laughs as they exit his room and start to make their way towards what Jiang Cheng recognizes as the private dining area where they had dinner the first time he came here.

“She won’t buy that.” Nie Huaisang muses. “She knows I am not pure and innocent. Only da-ge thinks that, really.”

“And he should know better.”

“He is biased.” Nie Huaisang grins. He looks proud. “And I will take advantage of that… forever.”

Jiang Cheng shakes his head. “You terrify me.”



Madame Nie and Nie Zhenzhen have already started their meals when they join in.

The estate gardens are beautiful at this early hour and while the sunrise drapes everything in warm gold, the wind remains chilly. Jiang Cheng is grateful he wore the warm robes, and Nie Huaisang does not look out of place with his cozy knitted turtleneck.

Jiang Cheng follows Nie Huaisang’s lead, greeting their companions good morning and then digging right in. It reminds him of that one morning he slept in and had breakfast with the Nies at the Nest. He can see now that it must be a family thing.

Nie Zhenzhen tells Nie Huaisang about the progress on the cleanup. It will probably be done by the end of the day, she says, and the rest of the items in their routine post-event to-do list are being taken care of.

Nie Huaisang thanks her for the report, and for being present and attentive during the event. Then he thanks Granny for her support and attendance. He had mentioned to Jiang Cheng that Madame Nie usually opts out of attending such events nowadays unless they’re super important, so it’s a big deal that she came out and mingled last night, if only for a bit.

Madame Nie simply nods at her grandson. “Of course. And I guess congratulations are in order, A-Sang. The party was a success. Your first one without your brother, yes?”

“Thank you, Granny.” Nie Huaisang smiles, earnest. “Anyway, da-ge really doesn’t like fussing, so I’ve been doing the party-planning side of things for a while even before he left. It’s nothing super different, really.”

Madame Nie hums in consideration. “You are a better diplomat than your brother, that’s true.” she acknowledges. “I suppose with this, he’ll be handing you the reins for the end-of-year celebration too.”

“Probably, if he’s still busy at the Nest by then.” Nie Huaisang replies. “I was thinking of using the courtyard again, and then opening up the garden hall…”

Jiang Cheng eats his (very delicious) meal in silence, only half-listening to Nie Huaisang and his grandmother casually brainstorming ideas for their next big event. Instead he looks out at the garden, appreciating the serene morning view.

It’s then that Dai Lei joins them, apparently fresh from his morning workout, newly showered with a towel draped on his shoulders and all. He beams at Jiang Cheng as he sits beside him.

Jiang Cheng nods at the kid in greeting. “You do this everyday, this early?”

“If I don’t train every day, I won’t be as good as Master.” Dai Lei answers simply. He starts eating, and boy does he eat a lot.

Jiang Cheng is not surprised. He is a growing boy, after all.

“Mr. Jiang,” Granny calls then, and Jiang Cheng automatically sits up straighter as he turns to the old woman. Thankfully, her face is relaxed and not reprimanding – she’s even smiling, a bit. “I had the pleasure of meeting your sister last night. What a lovely young woman, and they make quite a nice couple, her and that Young Master Jin.”

“Oh.” Jiang Cheng blinks. “I’m-… I’m sure she would appreciate that you think that, ma’am.”

“You mentioned that she lives in Lanling, you could have told me it’s the Jin Family. We’ve supplied their businesses for a while, you know.”

Jiang Cheng nods, listening intently. “I see..”

“She truly is pleasant company. She’d make a better Madame Jin than the current one, I can tell you that.”

Jiang Cheng… isn’t sure what to say to that. He agrees with her, no doubt, but he’s not sure he should be saying that out loud.

“Granny…” Nie Huaisang says, scolding half-heartedly. “Don’t make A-Cheng have to be rude to his in-laws.”

Madame Nie scoffs, in a way that very much reminds Jiang Cheng of an annoyed Nie Mingjue. She gives her grandson a look. “Are these so-called in-laws in the room right now, Nie Huaisang?”

Jiang Cheng has to keep himself from laughing out loud at that. Yep. She simply does not give a shit. Very Nie Mingjue.

It is also amusing that it makes Nie Huaisang sigh in exasperation.

Jiang Cheng finds it interesting, really, discovering which individual traits of Madame Nie both brothers appeared to take after. It’s like a perfectly even split, which makes the Nie brothers such a balanced act, and also serves to show how formidable the family matriarch is all by herself.

“Anyway,” she continues. “You two also did well last night. And you were quite a fetching item yourself, Mr. Jiang. I’ve had to field questions about you from my friends. ‘Where did you find that one?’ , they were asking me.” she rolls her eyes then sneers. “I told them to back off, he’s ours. Those nasty old women.”

“Granny!” Nie Huaisang exclaims, all apprehension gone as he’s just trying not to laugh now. “Oh my God…”

Jiang Cheng is so grateful that he wasn’t drinking, because he would have choked. Again.

Beside him, Dai Lei is just… staring wide-eyed while still shoveling food to his mouth.

Across the table, Nie Zhenzhen is nodding quite solemnly. “You tell ‘em, Granny.”

Granny completely ignores their reactions and goes on, “As I was saying, the Young Madame Jin and I got to talking quite a bit. And we both came to a mutual agreement. Spring would be nice.”

“Spring.” Nie Huaisang repeats, blinking. He looks like he’s trying to process his grandmother’s words. “Spring…?”

Jiang Cheng wonders what there is to process about that. It’s quite simple. Summer is his favorite season but that’s because he’s from Yunmeng. But spring is nice too.

He says as much – “Spring is nice.”

Nie Huaisang’s hand flies to his arm, tugging on his sleeve. His expression is serious as he squints at his grandmother. “No, no, don’t say anything. This is a trap-”

Jiang Cheng is too busy with his food to absorb what just happened. He blinks.

Across him, Madame Nie smiles, pleased. “Exactly, Mr. Jiang. Spring is nice.”

“Granny?” Nie Huaisang asks. Jiang Cheng thinks he might have seen the full range of Nie Huaisang’s ‘Granny’ tones this morning alone. This one is the What-Are-You-Saying-Here-Granny tone.

“Oh, it will lovely.” Madame Nie nods to herself, very pleased with how this went down.

“Grannyyyy…” Nie Huaisang whines. It’s the Oh-My-Gods-Seriously-Granny tone. “Nooooo…”

Jiang Cheng is starting to get scared. What is happening. What are they talking about. Seasons. It was seasons, right? Which seasons are nice-

“A spring wedding! Hopefully A-Jue will be done with his project in Qishan by then so he can make it. Oh, Zhenzhen, we’ll have so much fun with this one.”

Beside her, Nie Zhenzhen nods, delighted. She claps her hands. “Congratulations, Huaisang-gege, Young Master Jiang!”

Jiang Cheng stares at them, while Nie Huaisang on his side just buries his face in his hand and slumps on the table, groaning tiredly.

Dai Lei is too busy eating, but he does nod and pat Jiang Cheng’s back.



Oh, hells .

Jiang Cheng leans down to ask Nie Huaisang in a whisper. “Was that my fault?”

Nie Huaisang surfaces from his hands to send him a pointed look.

Across from them, Madame Nie says, “Nie Huaisang, you get up from there, that’s bad table manners, especially in front of your betrothed.”

Betrothed . That’s insane, Jiang Cheng thinks. It is also making Nie Huaisang blush and pout at his grandmother and call her a bully.

Oh, she is smiling so smugly. She knows exactly what to do with her grandson.

What a boss.

And. Look . Jiang Cheng knows he is half of this punchline. At any other time, he would be embarrassed. But he just hugged his sister last night, and saw Jin Zixuan get pranked, and fell asleep to Nie Huaisang’s sweet sighs and kisses, and he just ate the best breakfast he’d had in years. There’s a sun – an actual sun , not an artificial one, in the sky. The sky is blue. Like the one on his home planet.

He feels so light.

He feels like doing something fun.

Like, you know, betraying Nie Huaisang.

Hey, if you can’t beat them, join them, right?

“They’re right though, A-Sang.” he says with a completely serious face. “Think about it. You love flowers, and green. The birds will be out, too-”

Nie Huaisang’s expression turns from confusion, to realization, to betrayal. He straightens up and slaps Jiang Cheng’s arm, cheeks red.

“Not you too, A-Cheng, you traitor!”

Madame Nie is laughing, no- she is actually cackling.

“Stop trying to marry me off!” Nie Huaisang whines at them. “I’ll run away again!”

“Please don’t.” Nie Zhenzhen chimes in. She is drinking tea. “You actually like this one.”

“Not anymore!” Nie Huaisang just keeps on hitting Jiang Cheng’s arm.

Jiang Cheng hardly feels it as he turns to Madame Nie. “Spring does sound lovely, ma’am. Let’s get him fitted for wedding robes, then-”

He couldn’t help but laugh when Nie Huaisang switches to grabbing his sleeve shaking him back and forth. “Stop it!”


Jiang Cheng can live with this.




You know I’m ready for anything to happen.
Take this passion, turn it into action.
Get me, feel me, want me
Like me, love me, need me.




Chapter Notes:

oh shit it’s done
thank u to everyone who supported, cheered me on, shared, left comments & kudos while i crawled my way to getting this lil au done!!!
i really really really enjoyed just throwing sangcheng into this lil premise inspired by one of my all-time fave shows ever!!

the entire og outline i had for this au when i was starting out is done now! obviously there’s more interesting shit going on in this lil galaxy from far far away, and i would like to explore them, but i can’t commit to that scale of fic rn, so this is it for now. but!! BUT!!! there is an epilogue. it serves as a lil closer to this fic AND a kind of backdoor intro of what a sequel might look like (if it had a sequel lmao) (no promises) (but wow… sequel……..)

fic title is from “yellow” by tegan and sara. chapter title is “stop desire” by tegan and sara.
this whole fic is powered by tegan and sara. and maybe midnights by taylor swift halfway through ahahaha! BOTH ARE

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