Wei Wuxian had never known a day of want.
He had lived a life of luxury and essential freedom. Swathed in fine silks and jewels, a full stomach every day. He wanted for nothing and he knew that he would always be blessed this way as long as he did as he was told. He could learn the sword if he wanted, (which he did) as long as he learned finer arts.
How to brew and serve tea, read and understand politics, and dance.
He was allowed to practice martial arts and get rough and dirty, shoot a bow and arrow, and hunt.
As long as he could sing, play instruments, paint, do mathematics, and ride horses.
He was free to roam streets in disguise and drink to his heart's content. He just needed to assure he never went anywhere without an attendant or his little bag of medicines. That he returned before the sun began to dip below the horizon.
Everything he did came with a price.
One he would pay for as long as he was able.
Yet he knew time was quickly running out, faster than he could comprehend.
He flinched and inhaled deeply before turning around, “Aun-“ a sharp glare had him quickly swallowing the endearment, “Empress Yu.” He gave a graceful bow in greeting using the more feminine gesture instead of a masculine one. He knew his place when faced with his aunt.
The woman scoffed softly, “ Where were you planning to go?” she snapped arms crossed. “You have practice today do you not?”
He chuckled softly, “A yes, later but I was thinking of going to the mar-“
“No, I’ve indulged your whims for long enough, and regardless of what your mother and father think is best I won’t have you gallivanting about the kingdom so freely.” Empress Yu had a distinct tilt to her chin, a thin and beautiful face that did not betray her years. Her face was as youthful as the day she had married into the palace. She was not demure by any means, bold and strong. A very drastic contrast to the soft-hearted and gentle spoken Emperor. She walked with a straight back her shoulders squared and her head held high even with the heavy hair ornaments decorating her. She moved with purpose and grace and wore her title with pride.
He would expect nothing less from such an alpha.
“You’re eighteen already Wei Wuxian and your first heat has already passed.” She stated a firm tone filling her words. No matter how harsh she was he knew that underneath the thick skin there was some affection for him. Even if she would never admit it aloud. “ Your mother may think it’s acceptable to slack off, but you are of marrying age and if you don’t start practicing for your presentation how do you ever expect to attract a strong alpha.” She scolded for the hundredth thousandth time.
He sighed, “Why must I? I don’t need an alpha, besides no one would let me marry below my status anyways!” he scratched lightly at his nose, “ I either need to attract another prince or an emperor and that’s near impossible without me marrying outside of Yummeng.”
Empress Yu raised a very think immaculately groomed eyebrow, “And?”
Wei Wuxian choked eyes widening a fraction, “I don’t want to marry outside of Yummeng!” his eyes were wide, and he felt his breath catch. “I like Yummeng, it's my home! Why would I ever want to leave! Jiang Che-“
“Jiang Cheng doesn’t get a say in your future and where you end up.” Her eyes narrow at the omega boy, “A-Li is marrying the Prince of Lanlingjin and A-Cheng will be crowned Emperor one day, you are the only one who has no purpose going forward, you cannot spend every day lazing about.” She huffed.
Wei Wuxian, “But I-“
Empress Yu, “You can’t possibly think I would let you marry your cous-“
“Absolutely not! No way ugh! Yuck Jiang Cheng why would I even consider that! I mean cousins marry every day, but I wouldn’t want to even consider marrying him!” Wei Wuxian gaged at the thought, Jiang Cheng was more a brother to him than a cousin anyways!
To be specific, Wei Wuxian was the son of Wei Changze, the second prince of Yummengjiang. Half brother to Jiang Fengmian. Their father had Jiang Fengmian first with the previous Empress and Wei Changze with a Royal consort. The two brothers had grown up close despite having different mothers, Jiang Fengmian of course was groomed and raised to be the future Emperor. Wei Changze even graciously told his father that he had no desire for the throne, he just was not cut out to be a leader. His ambitions were to focus on the day to day matters of the people that Fengmian could not focus on all the time. He desired to do the jobs his brother would not be able to do.
In the process, Wei Changze had met his mother, a young woman of noble birth from a secluded clan in the mountains, born and bred to be a healer. Protected from the crowded cities. They’d fallen for each other almost at first sight. Wei Wuxian’s father had been drawn in by her grace and knowledge, her wild personality that was like a breath of fresh air in the suffocating atmosphere of the palace. The only downside to that was that Jiang Fengmian also fell for her.
It had been a matter of tension for a long time in the palace. Cangse Saren had not batted an eyelash at his uncle in any way other than friendship. She had married Wei Changze shortly after their marriage had been approved by Wei Wuxian’s grandfather. Wei Wuxian and Jiang Cheng had been raised alongside each other like brothers. Learning the same things and treated equally. Wei Wuxian succeeded where Jiang Cheng could not and where Wei Wuxian failed Jiang Cheng excelled.
Then their circumstances had changed when they had presented.
Wei Wuxian was an omega, rare and coveted.
Jiang Cheng was an alpha, strong and meant to lead.
Things did not differ much from how Wei Wuxian had operated within the palace. He had new expectations set upon him, ones meant to mold him in a desirable omega. Where he was rough and sharp like a blade, Empress Yu had taken it upon herself to soften his edges and make him into the perfect image of delicate and fierce.
He wished though he could pretend that his being an omega didn’t exist. Especially when he had to go to dance practice. It wasn’t like he had to do it forever, but for his presentation, as an omega during the discussion conference coming he had to be perfect. If he so much as faltered he knew he would be subjected to the discipline paddle.
The very thought made his backache from the memory of the last time he had been beaten for misbehaving.
Empress Yu clicked her tongue looking away slightly, “I’ve informed everyone you are not allowed to leave today, so don’t even attempt it. Go back to your rooms and change for practice.” She stated firmly, “I will be attending today to see how you are doing.” She expected him to attract the attention of a noble Alpha, one worthy of a prince of Yummeng. She was firm and strict, but she would not see anyone below Wei Wuxian’s station attempt to court him. Wei Wuxian was very important now, as it was rare for a kingdom to have two royals who could be married off to form alliances. With her daughter Jiang Yanli the first princess marrying into Lanlingjin, that meant they had an opportunity to marry Wei Wuxian to another kingdom to become even more solidified.
Wen Qishan, Nie Qinghe, as well as Gusu Lan were all prominent candidates.
Then again it wasn’t like she would willingly hand her nephew over to the likes of Wen Rouhan who was a greedy warmonger. He already had a harem overflowing with omega’s both men and women and she’d already had the displeasure of meeting his two sons.
No, she wouldn’t dare entertain the idea.
Thankfully this year’s discussion conference was being held in Gusu Lan which meant she didn’t have to be overly polite to the Wen’s.
Wei Wuxian sighed giving another bow, “Yes Empress Yu.” He reluctantly obeyed and moved past her to instead go back to his rooms, his personal attendant scurrying after him.
Every year the omega’s who had come of age were presented at the banquets; they would perform in order to attract mates of prominent birth. The dances designed to show off the skill of omega’s, to show their attractiveness.
Wei Wuxian would describe it almost like a silent auction.
If an alpha or an alpha’s family thought the omega would be good enough they would send silent requests in the form of gifts or dowries to the corresponding clan members. Wei Wuxian had seen far too many young omegas mated off too greedy old men to find the presentation even slightly appealing. Someone who had been his senior by two years had found himself in a similar situation and now had two little children, one just a year old and the other just barely a couple of months. The difference between Wei Wuxian and his senior though was that his senior had believed it his duty to bear children for his ‘husband’ and accepted his inevitable duty. Whether his ‘mate’ was old or not did matter, he believed himself lucky to have been wanted.
Wei Wuxian believed he didn’t need to be wanted by someone else as long as his family wanted him, that was most important. He also didn’t want to deal with alpha’s pining. He wanted to find love on his own and on his own time, but…
He was still a prince of Yummengjiang no matter how he looked at it. There were certain things expected of him. He wanted to stay and help Jiang Cheng though when he became emperor, much like his father did.
Then again everyone else would surely look at him like he was out of his mind. Omegas didn’t need to bother with being involved in politics. Omegas belonged at their alpha’s side, silent, demure, and prepared to bear children at any given moment.
Wei Wuxian was anything but that.
As he reached his rooms he didn’t bother with waiting for help to shed off the heavy layers of his robes, he started to pull and drop articles of clothing unceremoniously on the floor.
“Your Highness!” squeaked his attendant, “You shouldn’t do that! What if someone saw you!” the attendant pulled the doors to his room closed swiftly and began to pick up the clothing while trying to avoid looking directly at Wei Wuxian’s body clad only in his undergarments now.
“It’s not like it’s a secret, I’m a man.” Wei Wuxian rolled his eyes as he searched for his dancing clothes, they were lighter and easier to move in.
“You’re an omega, it’s improper.” His attend murmured face flush.
“Being an omega means nothing, it’s not like I’m a woman,” Wei Wuxian was flustered as he began to redress. “Just because I have heats and can reproduce doesn’t mean I can’t dress like and act like a man!”
“But your highness, even Empress Yu says that garishly masculine omegas won’t attract a mate.” The attendant came over to help fasten the ties of Wei Wuxian’s clothes tight making sure it fit just right. Not one wrinkle or piece out of place.
The practice outfit was a similar style to the outfit that had been prepare for him when the discussion conference around. He didn’t have to wear any of the jewels or have his hair done up for practices which he was thankful for. He understood his aunt meant well, but perhaps meaning well was just a little too much. He felt bad for his poor mother who had little say before Empress Yu, even if she wanted to oppose the violet spider, it was like twisting the arm of a titan.
His mother wanted what was best for him too, she wanted him to be free from the restraints of his secondary gender, yet she couldn’t dismiss the facts that for an omega out in the real world it was dangerous. Wei Wuxian knew it was dangerous.
He was safe here behind the high guarded walls of the palace.
He had been spoiled from a young age. People who stood at his back and front like a literal shield. Not only because he was a prince but because he was a literal rarity. Every time he ventured out past the walls he risked capture, whether he was at fault or not, if he was claimed by a random alpha, then it was his fault for seducing them. Prince or not.
He sighed and pulled his hair up into a high ponytail, tying it with a bright red ribbon.
“Beautiful as always your Highness.” The attend smiled.
Wei Wuxian rolled his eyes, “Sure.” And left the room as quickly as he had come.
If he had to practice he may as well make sure he didn’t make one mistake.
After all Empress Yu would be watching today.
“Where is that fool.” Yu Ziyuan huffed as she peeked out of the carriage window for the hundredth time.
“I am sure he’s hurrying no need to worry.” Jiang Fengmian tried to placate his wife as he sat next to her. He gently placed a hand upon the empress’s thigh to offer reassurance and only received a sharp glare.
“Ying’er has been rather nervous the last few days, today is, after all, a big day, we’ll be going to Gusu and then his presentations at the banquet tomorrow as well.” Cangse Saren tried, she knew not to joke when her sister-in-law was worked up, otherwise, she would be in for a literal ear full about propriety and she didn’t care for that.
“He has to be on his best behavior, it would be good to get the attention of Qinghe Nie or Gusu Lan a marriage to any of their nobles would be a benefit to Yummeng.” Yu Ziyuan shifted.
“But he doesn’t have to find a partner right away does he?” Wei Changze questioned, “After all he’s only just turned eighteen, surely there’s no rush to marry him off.” He loved his son dearly and the idea of Wei Wuxian potentially thinking they were trying to rid themselves of him was a heartbreaking one.
“There won’t be many opportunities after the discussion conference for him to attract an alpha outside of general gatherings.” Yu Ziyuan huffed, “He’ll only be desirable for so long, and marrying him to someone below his title is absolutely out of the question. Though preferably I don’t want Qishan to try courting him.” She felt they were absolute slimeballs.
“If Ying’er married just for love I wouldn’t be displeased.”Cagnse Saren stated.
“Love comes after marriage, not before in arranged unions.” She knew that very well, Jiang Fengmian and her never always saw eye to eye, but they had learned to love one another enough to have children. Her husband may be fickle, but she knew he had their best interests at heart. He had also proven his loyalty in love to her by abolishing the harem in their kingdom. One spouse was enough he had declared and that had made her happy.
“….” Cangse Saren turned her gaze away from her sister-in-law. She wanted to argue the point, but she had to share a carriage with her for the duration of the trip to Gusu and she’d rather not do it with eyes staring holes through her.
“Prince Wei Wuxian has arrived!” announced the guard and after a few moments of loud shuffling from said prince in the other carriage they began to move.
“Give me room you idiot!” scoffed Jiang Cheng elbowing Wei Wuxian in the side and earning a pained whine.
“But there’s so little room and I don’t want to sit next to A-Li, I’ll crowd her.” The omega whined.
“You’re crowding me!” Jiang Cheng gave a good shove knocking the omega onto the floor of the carriage and grinned in triumph.
“A-Cheng!” he pouted puffing out his cheeks.
“Oh you two, come here A-Xian if you want to sit next to me I don’t mind, I am much smaller than A-Cheng so you can have lots of room.” Jiang Yanli was a very beautiful alpha female, she had delicate features, a demure personality, and she was talented. Everything anyone should desire, at least according to Wei Wuxian and Jiang Cheng. Anyone who tried to dispute it was usually met with angry threats of a good throttling from both omega and alpha. She also smelt good.
Wei Wuxian loved her scent, freshly bloomed lotus and vanilla.
He always felt comforted in her presence and enjoyed her attention the most.
“A-Li!” he crawled up onto the seat next to her and nuzzled against her shoulder earning a pat upon the head.
“Oh scenting me again?” she asked and giggled behind her sleeve when Wei Wuxian stilled refusing to look up.
“I don’t want that peacock bastard near you.” He pouted.
“Oh, A-Xian.” She smiled gently, “It was one time, he’s apologized since.”
“He still said it and he deserved what he got.” The omega sat back looking at her innocently.
“Yeah? Just like you deserved fifty hits of the discipline paddle for punching him in the face once?” Jiang Cheng questioned. He hated Jin Zixuan just as much as Wei Wuxian but even he wasn’t stupid enough to punch the Jin Clan’s prince.
“Was worth it.” Wei Wuxian huffed.
“You almost started a diplomatic war and almost caused A-jie’s betrothal to be called off.” The alpha shook his head in exasperation, “If not for A-Jie smoothing things over with father and mother you would have been handed over as compensation.” Sometimes he questioned Wei Wuxian’s mental capabilities.
“It all turned out in the end, but he still deserved the punch, saying A-jie wasn’t pretty or commendable.” He rolled his eyes, “He’s blind if he doesn’t see how wonderful A-jie is.” He nuzzled the alpha female again earning a pat on his head. The sensation of having his hair stroked visibly soothed him and a loud purr escape his chest as he closed his eyes.
Jiang Cheng shook his head at the omega, though secretly he would have liked to be pet too, “You spoil him too much A-jie.”
“Don’t I spoil you just as much though A-Cheng.” She tilted her head with that dazzling smile of her, so soft and sweet.
Jiang Cheng flushed, “….ugh.” he moved to kneel on the ground placing his head in his sister’s lap like a spoilt child. He smiled when he felt her hand come down to gently stroke his hair.
Wei Wuxian chuckled, “whose spoiled now.”
Their carriage filled with laughter seconds later.
The journey was long.
Longer than what Wei Wuxian was used to on any given day. He had not been to Gusu before, as the last time the discussion conference been held there he had a fever unable to travel, and then last year he had presented with his first heat and had been kept home for safety’s sake.
He had heard rumors though, that Gusu was very different compared to the other kingdoms. Soft-spoken people roamed the streets, the weather was always cool rarely hot, though sometimes in the peak of summer they would be plagued with a dreaded bout of humidity. Canals flowed through the city and through the mountainous kingdom. The clouds often descended from the mountain tops and down into the valleys. Green forests as far as the eye could see. They were mostly a harbor kingdom; many fine things could be found here as there were imports from foreign merchants. Selling spices, fabrics, jewels and more.
Yummeng actually often got their silks and satins from Gusu, the rich purple of the clan a staple in their clothing. Such fabric and colors could not be found anywhere else. Even the textiles of Yummeng paled in comparison to the imported items.
Wei Wuxian looked out the window, peering through the mesh screen that hid them from people who wanted to peer in. He could see out though and he smiled.
He had also heard that the sun was very rare here, hidden always behind the clouds and mist.
He settled back and smirked beginning to strip off his outer robe. He dropped the heavy satin fabric onto the floor of the carriage and kicked the red black and silver robe to the side and let his hair down to tie at the base of his neck instead.
Underneath he wore a commoner’s robe.
“No! you’re not! You’re not sneaking out!” Jiang Cheng snapped reaching to grab Wei Wuxian by the upper arm, “Not today! You have to be at the palace!”
“And I will be!” Wei Wuxian smiled, “I’ll sneak in later.” He tugged his arm free, “Come on scent me so no one knows I’m an omega.” He leaned close to Jiang Cheng. His own personal walking perfume. The alpha often came in handy for when Wei Wuxian wanted to run off into the town for a day.
“No Mother will kill me!” the alpha frowned leaning back from the omega, pressing his back firmly against the wall of the carriage.
“She won't! She wants to make a good impression to the new emperor of Gusu, she wouldn’t dare punish you for my sneaking out! If anything she’ll punish me, and I’ve had enough punishment to not worry.” He gave a toothy smile, “Also she’ll hold off on punishing me until after we return to Yummeng, since I have to perform for the presentation, she can’t risk me being hurt.”
Jiang Cheng’s jaw literally dropped as he stared at the omega with unbelieving eyes, “You evil bastard.”
“Oh you flatter me, I’m not evil I’m a kitten compared to Wen Rouhan.” Wei Wuxian bat his eyelashes innocently.
“You thought this whole thing through, that’s why you were late! You were planning to sneak out from the moment we arrived in Gusu.” Jiang Cheng huffed.
“Oh, A-Cheng it’s okay, let A-Xian go exploring, he’ll be so busy in the next few days he won’t be able to leave the palace to look around while we’re here.” Jiang Yanli smiled, “Just for a bit, you’ll return before nightfall right A-Xian?” she would wait up for him if she needed to ensure he got to the palace safely.
“Mm! I will I promise.” He held up three fingers with a smile.
“Ugh, I’m not taking the blame! You get into trouble it’ll serve you right!” Jiang Cheng hissed and grabbed Wei Wuxian by the collar and began to rub against the omega’s scent glands. He scented him very thickly with his own scent of Lotus and Rain. Ensuring that no one would be able to catch a whiff of Wei Wuxian’s natural scent.
Wei Wuxian’s scent was very strong on most days. A very strong smell of Lotus Flowers and spice mixed with warm honey. The scent was so intoxicating they had to barricade Wei Wuxian in a secluded part of the palace for the duration of his first heat. Anyone who had gone even slightly near had become dizzy with desire. Even betas had not been spared.
Once he was satisfied with how Wei Wuxian smelt now he sat back, “By nightfall no later! You better arrive by dinner time!”
“I promise, I’ll bring treats.” Wei Wuxian grinned and moved to the door and looked around. Making sure no guards were watching he slipped away.
He had an entire market to explore, and no one watching over his shoulder.
Maybe if he found something his aunt would like, she may just let him off the hook.
“Well, drinking might be a good place to start.” He mused to himself and ran first to the nearest stall.
Wei Wuxian felt very stupid.
So very, very stupid.
While he had enjoyed running around Gusu for three hours, he had forgotten one important thing.
He had not brought his token with him that identified him as one of the royal prince’s. He also did not have a jade token that would allow him entrance to the palace. He wore commoner robes and had neglected to remember the palace had over three thousand rules etched into the mountain wall where the palace rested. As he had stood being berated by the guards for trying to sneak in without permission, he had glanced over the rules briefly.
No drinking? Really are they seriously that type?
He had just purchased two jars of the famed Emperor’s smile that also couldn’t be found anywhere but in Gusu. The liquor had tasted so good when he was trying to at one of the restaurants he had happily purchased a couple extra for later in the night. He had also purchased some mooncakes for Jiang Yanli, some new sword care tools for Jiang Cheng, and some hairpins for his mother and aunt. He had also procured a couple of scrolls of Gusu Lan poetry and history for his father and uncle. A quite productive day if he asked himself.
It didn’t help though that he now carried all his gifts on his back in a sack and couldn’t enter the palace.
The sun was beginning to set, and he had promised to be back in time for dinner. Jiang Cheng’s scent was also starting to wear off as well, he didn’t want to be on the streets when the more unsavory alphas began to come out for late-night drinking. So he had been walking around the perimeter wall of the palace for a while looking for a way in, or more specifically a spot that wasn’t as guarded as the rest.
Eventually, though it seemed luck returned to his side. It looked like the guards had left a part of the wall unattended, perhaps to switch out for the evening, maybe even going for dinner themselves. Rotations happened often and frequent (He should know, he had escaping Lotus Pier down to a science) so that left him enough of an opening to jump the wall and sneak into his rooms where he could change.
Another thought crossed his mind.
He had absolutely no idea where his family was staying! Also considering the size of the perimeter wall and how long he had been walking, the palace (also named the Cloud Recesses) was enormous. He could figure that out when he got over though. If he was careful he could easily swing himself up onto the roof, but he had to be careful of his precious Emperor’s Smile. It would be such a waste if he broke a jar.
Putting the strings of the jars into his mouth he held it tightly between his teeth and backed up a few steps. Thankfully there were tree’s surrounding the palace so he could easily get up by using the branches. With a running start, he jumped an caught a thick branch that bowed lower to the ground than the rest and swung his body up, using his momentum to reach the top of the wall. He caught the tiles of the roof with a clank and sighed in relief when he managed to swing a leg up and over.
He removed the jars from his mouth and snickered softly, “No alcohol, what they don’t know won’t hurt them.” He grinned and turned his body ready to jump down into the garden below.
He froze instead when his eyes met not an empty garden but bright golden eyes instead.
A man stood in the yard and was dressed immaculately. He wore white robes as stark as the mood, little accents of pale blue covered the inner sleeves and collar of the man’s clothing, embroidery in a sparkling thread weaved through the fabric making it sparkle when the man shifted to face him properly. A silver crown rested upon his head covering his half topknot, the rest of his long black hair spilled down his back like ink. His skin was as clear and pale as jade, not a blemish to be found. The angle of his jaw was sharp yet soft and his expression blank as a slate.
Wei Wuxia felt as though he could be staring at a god.
He smiled, “Uh….mind not telling anyone I’m sneaking in? I forgot my token and the guards wouldn’t listen to-“
“Alcohol is forbidden.” The man spoke making Wei Wuxian blink before looking at the jars he held.
“Oh yeah, ah I haven’t read the rules.” Not all of them anyway, “ So I didn’t know.” He quickly pulled the cover off one with his teeth and spit the cloth out with a chuckle, “but if I drink on the wall I’m not technically in the palace right?” he titled the jar back letting the liquid burn down his throat in the most pleasant way. The sweet after taste only making it better. He cast a glance at the man in the garden, “Why don’t you join me?” he held out the jar in offering.
“Who are you? Why are you here?” the man questioned now, not budging from his spot.
Wei Wuxian blinked and chuckled, mischievousness in his nature, he wondered if this stranger would be gullible enough to believe his lies. “ Isn’t it rude to ask someone else’s name before giving yours?” he smirked, “Ah but I’ll forg-“
“You are the one climbing over my wall,” the man stated stilling Wei Wuxian’s words in his throat. Clearly this man was not one to joke with and he didn’t seem like he was going to give in to Wei Wuxian’s whims either. “Gua-“
“Wait no! no! don’t call the guards I swear I’m not trespassing for bad deeds.” Wei Wuxian panicked; he didn’t want to start a situation because he offended some noble by accident. “I am supposed to be here honest! I swear I just forgot my token.” He sensed this handsome man did not have a funny bone in his entire body.
“Prove it.” The man narrowed his eyes, cold as ice that sent shivers right up Wei Wuxian’s back. The scent of Sandalwood filled his nose and lungs and he bit his lower lip at the request, the man was alpha, he could tell immediately. His deep voice reverberated through the omega’s body and Wei Wuxian shifted closer to the edge of the roof.
“Call for Emperor Jiang Fe-“
“Emperor! Someone spotted someone wandering around outside the palace walls, you should head inside just to be sa-“ a guard came running into the yard and Wei Wuxian watched as the guard stilled eyes landing on him perched upon the wall.
“Emperor Hanguang-jun stay behind me!” the guard moved between the emperor and Wei Wuxian whose eyes had literally bugged out of his skull.
One thought ran through the omega’s mind and he felt it was the most appropriate thought given his situation.
Well, that’s just great….I snuck into the emperor’s personal garden. I’m an idiot.
He chuckled softly, a little embarrassedly, “Ah, so uh…Emperor Hanguang-jun? as in Second Prince Lan Wangji?” he smiled his most charming smile possible.
A solid nod was the response he received from the Emperor.
Wei Wuxian smiled, “I am Second Prince Wei Wuxian of Yummengjiang….”
Wei Wuxian had never felt more idiotic in his entire life.