An arranged marriage? Jiang Cheng should have seen this coming. Ever since Hanguang-Jun had made that bold declaration of love and proposal to Wei Ying, his mother had made herself busy with setting him up with marriage interviews. So what if Wei Ying scored the most eligible young master and had a wedding that surpassed even Shijie ’s and a love with his now-husband that was envied by all.... To hell with all of it! If it wasn’t for the fact that his brother was so blissfully happy in the arms of Lan Wangji, he would have given him a solid punch to the stomach for the unfair luck he was blessed with. He either must have done a great act for the sake of humanity - which Jiang Cheng couldn’t even joke about, just the thought of it was ridiculously implausible - or been cursed in his past life to even out his luck.
The Yiling Patriarch sneezes somewhere in an alternate universe.
It didn’t matter in the end. His brother was married to a respectable cultivator, who would take care of him and treat him well. That thought didn’t sit so well with his mother since that respectable cultivator was the second Jade of the Gusu Lan Sect. You can’t have a servant of the Yunmeng Jiang Sect marrying higher than the master, that was what Jiang Cheng assumed her thoughts to be heading towards. Jiang Cheng has never been against arranged marriage. It was only a matter of time with his track record of
successful unsucessful marriage interviews. His mother already had a list of suitable partners no doubt but to his surprise, this wasn’t an arrangement made by his mother but his father. It was rare for Jiang Fengmian to involve himself in his son’s affairs, business or personal. This had piqued Jiang Cheng’s curiosity when he heard of the news the first time.
Having Nie Huaisang seated across from as his potential cultivation partner was just not the result he expected.
Jiang Cheng sat in silence as his parents with Nie Mingjue discussed various things going on and off topic about their engagement. So far, he understood that it was Nie Mingjue and his father who had worked out the engagement between the two. Nothing had been set in stone yet and there was still room to dissolve the entire thing and pretend like it never happened. Madam Yu was hoping for the latter, no doubt. Jiang Cheng had already overheard his mother’s disapproval on the arrangement during one of his parents' several arguments. The rumours of Nie Huaisang’s reputation has even managed to spread to the Lotus Pier, his mother wouldn’t take this lightly.
Nie Huaisang was seated next to his brother acting obedient and frail. He kept his head tucked down, a good countermeasure to avoid any glares he may get from his brother or Madam Yu. Jiang Cheng would manage to catch Nie Huaisang’s eyes every now and again but the contact would be broken after a second by Nie Huaisang. After the fourth or fifth time, Jiang Cheng’s patience was beginning to thin.
“Nie Huaisang,” Jiang Cheng tried to keep his tone even between clenched teeth. Nie Huaisang went still in his spot and the other guardians around them stopped their discussions at the young master’s interruption. “Would you like to show me around the garden?”
Nie Huaisang answered with a tight smile unable to avoid him anymore, “I never knew you had an interest in nature, Sandu Shengshou.”
“He doesn’t” Madam Yu answered for her son.
Jiang Fengmian gentle face didn’t waiver even under the rising tension. It was a risky move bringing three of the most prominent cultivators with the shortest tempers in the cultivation world together. He didn’t need to give Nie Mingjue any reason to feel guarded against them. “A tour around the garden is a great way to get to know each other.”
“B-Brother?” Nie Huaisang looked to his elder brother for rescue. He wouldn’t let his young, pure brother out of sight in this critical moment.
“You always loved to run away to the gardens; I’m sure you know the best spots to show Jiang Wanyin,” Nie Mingjue only spared a glance towards his younger brother. Jiang Cheng witnessed the price of Nie Huaisang’s days of escaping practice finally paid back to him in full.
Jiang Cheng strolled along the garden path with Nie Huaisang beside him following his pace. They were finally out of the watchful eye of his parents and Nie Mingjue; lifting off any restraints they were previously shackled under. Now that they were able to speak to speak without reservation they stayed in bitter silence. Jiang Cheng wished he had thought this through before he got them in this situation.
They used to be friends back on their days at Cloud Recesses. After Wei Wuxian left, they had time to grow closer. It was rare for them to be separated from Nie Huaisang that year. Jiang Cheng remembers enjoying his company but the big why evaded him. After they returned to their respective homes and lost contact, their friendship fizzled out. They would see each other at important functions, they were both from prominent sects it was inevitable but nothing more was said to each other than a simple greeting or small conversation. Jiang Cheng was always more concerned about learning his duties as the future Sect Leader. He was uninterested in idle conversations and preferred to shadow to father. He now regretted not attempting to take up a few conversations with Nie Huaisang when they crossed paths. He wouldn’t have to be busting his brain on what they spoke so vividly about those years ago. Jiang Cheng’s eyes drifted down towards Nie Huaisang. “So, what have you been up to lately?” Nie Huaisang stopped playing with the fan in his hand and looked up in query at Jiang Cheng. “What?” Jiang Cheng felt guarded with Nie Huaisang’s unreadable expression concentrated on him.
“You’ve never been one for small talk,” Nie Huaisang turned his attention back to his fan.
“We haven’t had a good talk in years, isn’t it natural to try and catch up?”
“Because we’re engaged?” Nie Huaisang stopping in his tracks. The Nie Huaisang he was acquainted will those years ago was shy and undeniably a coward. He flinched from a shout and squealed at the sight of a monster or corpse. Meeting those hazel eyes, he felt uneasy for the first time around Nie Huaisang. The other cultivator sighed and continued walking without him.
Jiang Cheng stood there in a daze. It was hard to shake the feeling of discomfort when he struggled to decipher the look in Nie Huaisang’s eyes. When he began to follow Nie Huaisang he travelled a small distance behind opting to let Nie Huaisang lead the way so he could watch his movements from behind.
Soon they came upon a lake and Nie Huaisang stopped at the shore. Jiang Cheng places himself beside the cultivator and waited. Waited for whatever the cultivator needed to say.
“I come out here to get away,” Nie Huaisang started. “It’s peaceful.” Nie Huaisang had yet to look at him even with Jiang Cheng’s full attention. Jiang Cheng had wondered why his father chose Nie Huaisang before. Taking his time to take in the present cultivator in front of him maybe he had underestimated his father. Nie Huaisang had a gentle and pure aura surrounding him. It was odd for someone from the Qinghe Nie sect, whose methods were known for their violence but not bad. If he hadn’t been born into the head family of a cultivation clan he would have been praised just for his looks and grace. Nie Huaisang beauty surpassed most of the young masters and mistresses of the cultivation world. If his cultivation was higher then, he would have a far better reputation. He remembers the days when people used to look down on his Shijie, calling her mediocre. Jiang Cheng wasn’t one to fuss too much about one’s cultivation’s level. Nie Huaisang’s physical features and cultivation level were exactly Jiang Cheng’s type. Was it coincidence or did his father have a better understanding of his preferences than he thought?
“I apologize for my behaviour.” Nie Huaisang sighed. Jiang Cheng snapped up and furrowed his eyebrows at the man. “My brother didn’t inform me that he was arranging my engagement to you. I honestly, wasn’t expecting anything of the sort since my brother still has his own love life to be concerned about.”
The cultivator released another heavy breath. Does Jiang Cheng comfort him at this moment? How would he even do that? “The news was sudden for me too.” That was the best he could have done with his the years he’s experienced with his Shijie.
Nie Huaisang did a dark chuckle under his breath, “Must have been to be engaged to the famous headshaker.” So he knew of the whispers about him. The three ‘I don’t know’s, the good-for-nothing. Considering how widespread the gossip was, it had to pass by Nie Huaisang’s ears once or twice. If the words bothered Nie Huaisang, he was a master at concealing it. Jiang Cheng could find no trace of anger or hurt lingering on his face. “Your mother doesn’t seem pleased with me either. Would even dare to say she’s against the whole arrangement.” He wasn’t wrong, but this was Madam Yu. Jiang Cheng contemplated explaining how very few occasions he’s seen his mother look pleased. Nie Huaisang released his third heavy sigh since they reached the lake. The question weighing on his mind grew stronger and stronger until it forcefully stumbled out of his mouth.
“Are you unhappy with this engagement?” Nie Huaisang snapped his head towards him with his eyes wide. Jiang Cheng hesitated only for a moment before continuing. “If you are then I will talk to my father to cancel it.” Jiang Cheng doesn’t care whether his future partner is arranged or chosen by him. He just doesn’t want to be a part of a tragic relationship, one where they could grow to hate each other. He can’t end up like his parents. Couldn’t stand to put himself through that torture.
Nie Huaisang lips curved up into an unknown smile, “Tell me Sandu Sengshou, have you ever thought to marry for love?”
The answer was already on his tongue but Jiang Cheng dared to reconsider. Maybe the expression on Nie Huaisang’s face made him want to meet the cultivator’s expectations but he couldn’t lie in the end and answered with a cold, “No, never.”
Nie Huaisang ducked his head and chuckled, “Neither, have I.”
Jiang Cheng took a sharp breath in, “Never?”
“Having a love like Hanguang-Jun and Wei Wuxian’s, the thought is indeed beautiful.” Jiang Cheng agreed. His brother was an idiot who acted like a disgusting fool, always wanting his husband to dote on him like a spoilt child. Despite how their affection made Jiang Cheng sick there was no denying that they loved each other completely. It was a love most envied and sought out for themselves. But for him, “But that kind of thing just isn’t for me.” Nie Huaisang shoulders sank. For a split second, Jiang Cheng pitied him. Pitied that a person like Nie Huaisang already shared the same thoughts as him. Had given up on finding their ‘true love’ before even trying. Lost hope that there was any such happiness waiting for him.
“You are a very beautiful man, Nie Huaisang,” Jiang Cheng tried to save the cultivator some face. “I’m sure quite a few have already fallen for you. Surely one can be satisfied with being loved.”
“You talk as if you don’t have a few cultivators chasing you.”
“I know you aren’t one to turn your ear away from prime gossip,” Jiang Cheng clenched his teeth.
“Sandu Shengshou is well-known for his skills,” Nie Huaisang smirked up at him, “and temper.” There was a strange feeling rising up in Jiang Cheng when he heard the soft sound of laughter from Nie Huaisang. It wasn’t similar to the annoyance he felt when he needed to hit Wei Wuxian, it tugged
“Rather than being loved, I’ll be satisfied with being content,” Nie Huaisang chewed his lips and flickered his eyes to meet Jiang Cheng’s. “I believe it possible with you.” The words almost missed Jiang Cheng’s ears under the soft voice.
“So, Sandu Shengshou I’ll ask you, how do you feel about this engagement. Can you be content with me?”
“My name,” Jiang Cheng started after a period of silence. “You should call me by my given name from now on.”
Nie Huaisang flicked his fan open and hid his smile, “How bold of you, A-Cheng.” He said the words slowly savouring the taste on his tongue.
A light pink colour dusted Jiang Cheng’s cheeks. “There’s nothing bold from what’s naturally expected,” he paused, “Sang.”
“That is so,” Nie Huaisang closed his fan and tipped his head, a small teasing smile playing on his lips. The insides of Jiang Cheng twisted and gnawed at the graceful gesture. Such a simple movement shouldn’t look so beautiful. Nie Huaisang inched closer and wrapped his arm around Jiang Cheng’s so their bodies were squeezed together, “Please treat me well, A-Cheng, I’ll be bothering you from now on.”
So, this was the start of their loveless engagement.
“Was this your plan?” Nie Mingjue asked Sect Leader of the Jiang Yunmeng Sect.
Jiang Fengmian shook his head and replied “I had no intention of forcing them if it was against their wishes. Jiang Cheng is acting completely on his own wishes.” Nie Mingjue shoulders relaxed and he looked back out into the garden. Unbeknownst to the two young cultivators below, their guardians have moved to a private room which overlooked the garden where they could observe them without being a hindrance. Nie Mingjue watched in curiosity as the famous short-tempered young master of the Jiang Sect allowed his younger brother to wrap his arms around him and listen patiently to whatever Nie Huaisang was running his mouth about.
“Are you sure he’s not doing this to impress you?” Madam Yu snapped at her husband. Nie Mingjue ignored the tension between them, it was no secret about the strain in the relationship between the two. He’ll rather not to get involved in whatever disagreement they were in the middle of.
“That is a possibility,” Jiang Fengmian kept his famous smile, “But my lady doesn’t A-Cheng like he’s enjoying himself?” Madam Yu pressed her lips into a thin line as her face darkened. It wasn’t obvious at a glance to those who were not familiar with Jiang Cheng but with enough observation, you could see that Jiang Cheng was indulging in the company of Nie Huaisang, he hung off each word the said and gave his own responses to entertain the other quite contradictory to his one or two sentences said at social gatherings.
“They do look good with each other,” Nie Mingjue mumbled to himself. He watched his little brother speak with a glint of life in his eyes that warmed his elder brother’s heart. “So when do you want to announce the engagement.”