Jiang Cheng loved Lan Huan.
If he could pick something to describe him, he would say that Lan Huan was like a field of freshly bloomed flowers. He’d fallen in love with his dopey smile, his clumsiness at romance, and perhaps it was his sweetness towards everything in general that made him fall hard.
Lan Huan was so kind. Especially to him, the way he couldn’t be to himself.
Jiang Cheng loved many things about Lan Huan, but if he were to name one, his lips were unusually soft. They felt like butterflies dancing on his lips , the same way those in his stomach would flutter. Lan Huan tasted sweet, and when they kissed it was like cotton candy pressing against his tongue.
“Kiss,” Jiang Cheng would whine, pulling him closer. “Lan Huan, wanna kiss.”
His boyfriend always obliged. Those kisses never failed to brighten his day, and every time they kissed, his heart would swell with affection.
His Lan Huan was so lovely.
Sometimes, Lan Huan would whisper into his ear--about how beautiful he was, and that he resembled the most beautiful of lotuses that he so very liked. Those words never failed to make him blush like a scandalized maiden, and it was always then that Jiang Cheng would think,
‘I want to spend my life with him.’
Perhaps Lan Huan was psychic. Maybe he could read minds, because every time he thought that, the man would smile knowingly and in between kisses, mumble a promise of forever. That he loved him so, and wanted to wake up in the morning with Jiang Cheng being the first thing he saw.
Jiang Cheng loved Lan Huan, so very much. He wanted a forever with him as well.
So he tells him just that, "I love you, Lan Huan."
I love you so much.
Jiang Cheng wakes up.
On a day where Spring had been molding into Summer, Jiang Cheng left Lan Huan.
Lan Huan was the epitome of perfection. If someone were to ask him why he’d leave such a handsome and devoted lover, Jiang Cheng wouldn’t be able to answer. Instead, he graduates from University, runs away from home and starts a flower shop named Lotus Pier on a quiet street and decides to work there alone. Business didn’t exactly bloom, but neither did it wither. Customers would stop by occasionally to buy a rose or two for their beloved, and it was enough to keep him fed and full.
A flower shop. Lotus Pier, full of flowers, like Lan Huan. Named after the ones Lan Huan said he'd resembled.
Two years later, Jiang Cheng finds that his days have become a blur. Maybe because his brother had forgotten about him in his obsession with another man, or perhaps because his sister had just gotten married.
Either way, Jiang Cheng was alone. With no Lan Huan with him, by his side, and only when the flowers in Spring bloomed that he had something to keep him company, at the very least.
Life was quiet.
But if anything were to rouse his week, Jiang Cheng wouldn’t have expected it to be this.
The doorbell chimes and someone steps into his shop, footsteps freezing in place.
"...Wanyin?" The person whispered, and his eyes flew wide open. A tiny gasp escapes him, and when Jiang Cheng whips around to look, his eyes widen a fraction because he sees—
There was a loud thud. The watering can in his hands tumbles to his feet, spilling its contents wide across the floor.
Jiang Cheng could hear his voice shake, but the man before him paid it no mind. Instead, a friendly smile graced his lips and Lan Xichen was smiling.
Panics, because that's the only thing he can do. Panics because he is almost absolutely positive that Lan H—Lan Xichen hated his fucking guts for breaking his heart years back, and Jiang Cheng wouldn't be surprised if he was back for vengeance.
His ex was here in the flesh, he thinks.
A bright yellow elephant rolls pathetically across the floor with a hollow sound, and Lan Xichen kindly fishes it from the pool of water by his feet.
"Here," He hands it over to him. "You dropped it."
Jiang Cheng stiffly takes it from him. Perhaps any second now, his expression would twist into one opposite a smile and Lan Xichen would clobber him to death with the cheap plastic elephant in his hands.
His heart pounds crazily in his chest, fuzzy static clouding his mind. Except this wasn’t because the man he loved was in an arm’s distance away from him, but rather because he was nervous, or maybe even terrified. How was one supposed to handle a situation like this? Everytime he glances up at Lan Xichen, Jiang Cheng can still see that heartbroken expression linger across his features.
‘Don’t go, A-Cheng. Please.’
Lan Huan was here, with no tear stained cheeks and it takes him a while to let that sink in.
Past his surprise, Lan Xichen ends up inviting him for tea to “catch up,” and Jiang Cheng wildly speculates that he’s just silently plotting his murder. The tea was something he would’ve declined if not for the hopeful shine in the man’s eyes, but even if he’d wanted to he had a shop to tend to.
“We could have it here,” Lan Xichen suggests, and his face seems to grow more delighted by the second until Jiang Cheng deadpans,
“This is a flower shop. We do not serve tea.” He makes a vague gesture at the plants surrounding them.
A familiar light chuckle escapes the other’s lips. “Of course. There is a cafe right across the street however, so perhaps I could fetch some for both of us?”
Curse that bloody cafe. Curse it, for its stupidly convenient location.
Lan Xichen’s face falls slightly at his hesitation.
“Unless you’d rather not..?”
Yes. He’d really rather not. Jiang Cheng has a bucket list of things to do before he dies, and having tea with an ex is not one of them.
“I...Maybe another time.” He says instead, and something flashes in the man’s eyes that Jiang Cheng doesn’t catch.
“Another time then,” Xichen repeats, with another one of his smiles but with a kind of oddness that Jiang Cheng can’t put his thumb on.
Nodding his head, Lan Xichen makes his way to the door, and just before he leaves he says,
“I’ll be back.”
The doorbell jingles as it shuts. Lan Xichen doesn’t break eye contact with him as he passes the windows, and when he finally disappears around the corner the usual silence fills his shop.
‘I’ll be back.’
Jiang Cheng blanches, because what is that supposed to mean?
He is going to die.
The next day when Lan Xichen steps into the shop, Jiang Cheng’s first (dumb) instinct is to drop his knees onto the floor and dive behind the counter. Of course, his ex had already seen him the moment he came in so it only lasted a few seconds before there was a voice speaking over his head.
Jiang Cheng decides not to reply. Maybe then his existence would be forgotten, or what Lan Xichen had seen of him before that would be taken as a hallucination.
“Wanyin, what’s wrong?” A shadow drapes over him, and Jiang Cheng doesn’t need to look up to know that the man was peering over the edge of the counter.
He really came back. He came back, just like he said he would.
‘I’ll be back.’
The line would’ve sounded romantic, if not for the underlying threat to his life.
“...Please disregard me,” he croaks, a loud smacking sound echoing across the room as his palm met his face. “Do not acknowledge my existence.”
The shadow does not move.
“I can’t do that. I could never ignore Wanyin.” Lan Xichen says, and although Jiang Cheng could hear the smile in his voice, it sounds almost intimidating.
In a split second, the millions of possible escape routes filter through his mind. Then they all narrow down to one because there weren’t more than four openings in the flower shop, which was the front door and several vents in the ceiling, the former which he’d have to pass his ex to get to.
In conclusion, he was fucked. The realisation that he was trapped comes crashing into him like a fucking car accident and Jiang Cheng whispers his goodbyes.
“...Do it quick.”
“Do it quickly, please.” He braces himself.
“I don’t understand.”
There was an inhale, then, “What?”
Silence hangs in the air. Maybe this was the part where Lan Xichen has his knife raised over his head, prepared to stab the life out of Jiang Cheng.
“Why would I kill you?” he asks suddenly, and Jiang Cheng angles his head upwards to face him.
“Because you hate me,” he says it like it’s the most obvious thing in the world, then averts his eyes when Lan Xichen’s gaze burnt.
“I don’t hate you.”
There was no way he didn’t hate him. Jiang Cheng still remembers the day from two springs ago, when he’d stepped foot out of their shared apartment and never looked back. That time, Lan Xichen’s expression had been so distraught and heart-wrenching that he couldn’t shake it from his mind on the coldest of nights.
“The Lans do not lie,” is all he replies, with another sweet smile.
When Jiang Cheng squints skeptically, he pulls out the cup of Caramel Macchiato he’d intended to pass to the man the moment he’d stepped in, and offers the beverage to him. Still under the counter, Jiang Cheng blinks and comes face to face with a styrofoam cup and Caiyi Town on its cup sleeve, that had looked as if it descended from heaven.
“Have a drink?” The cup tilts in his direction, a bit awkwardly given how Lan Xichen was still hanging over the counter top.
Jiang Cheng is very tempted by the wafting smell of caramel, but resists in the end. He forces his hands down so that they won’t greedily grab the beverage.
They’d gotten together over a cup of coffee, after all, in Caiyi Town. Jiang Cheng didn’t want a second time.
He knows the excuse is getting old, but he uses it anyway. “No thanks. Maybe another time.”
Jiang Cheng could just imagine the annoyed expression on Lan Xichen’s face, irritation at how stubborn he was, for wasting his money. But he shoves it to the back of his mind.
Looking up for the first time since Lan Xichen had appeared, Jiang Cheng watches a sheepish smile form on his face.
“Well, I guess that’s okay. I’ll give this cup to Wangji, or something…”
Then an extremely well timed ringtone cuts through the growing tension. Lan Xichen shoots a glance at the caller ID and gives Jiang Cheng an apologetic smile.
“Well, it’s not early either. My lunch break is almost over.”
Thank god, holy fuck. A hum of acknowledgement escapes him, and still shielded by the counter Jiang Cheng listens to the footsteps growing further.
The doorbell jingles, and with a subtle lilt to his voice he waves, “Bye bye, Wanyin.”
Ignoring his childish way of saying goodbye, Jiang Cheng mumbles one back, loud enough for the other man to hear because he wasn’t rude.
And before the door shuts, Lan Xichen smiles.
“I’ll be back.”
Jiang Cheng almost screams.
The fact that Lan Xichen hasn’t yet confronted him about the past was a miracle itself.
Jiang Cheng had been half-expecting Lan Xichen to come back with the sole purpose of maiming him, but the incident quite nearly erases itself from his mind as he went about his life, until the next day arrived and just as he flipped the shop sign to open—
Jiang Cheng’s soul nearly jumps out of his skin.
“Good morning to you too,” Lan Xichen lets out a soft chuckle. He was dressed in a white button-up with their sleeves rolled up, two styrofoam cups in his hands.
“Caramel Macchiato?” The man offers, holding out one of them to him. “Unless your tastes have changed.”
Jiang Cheng was surprised he even remembers, but the refusal was out of his mouth before he could register anything. He shouldn’t be allowed to speak in the morning; his brain-to-mouth filter was nearly non-existent.
“Uh, no thanks—”
It’s not anger that passes his face. Rather, it’s a genuine curiosity that Lan Xichen has as he holds out the drink to him.
“Uh.” Jiang Cheng dumbly mutters. How was he supposed to tell him that...what even was his reason again?
Lan Xichen parroted him, “Uh?”
“I...I don’t know.”
Humans have always gotten to know each other over a couple of drinks. Perhaps Jiang Cheng didn’t want to get too close to the fire, only to get burnt.
“Do you dislike it?”
He shakes his head, because it was in fact the far opposite.
“I like it.”
“Then do you dislike me?”
Startled by his sudden outburst, Jiang Cheng clamps his hand over his mouth. Heat creeps up his neck when he spots the gleeful look on the other’s face.
“Shut up,” his eyes sharpened into a glare at the amusement all over the other man’s face.
“But I haven’t said anything.”
“I will, if you take your drink.”
The styrofoam cup enters his view, tilted towards him enticingly. Well, it was free, and the thought of having to waste something so delicious over and over again made Jiang Cheng cave in.
His fingers wrap around the cup sleeve, but he cannot help the caution on his face as he picks it from Lan Xichen’s grasp.
“It’s not poisoned, if you’re worried about that.”
He’d nearly forgotten about Lan Xichen’s uncanny ability to read him like a book, so it takes him aback momentarily.
Honestly, who comes to find their ex at eight in the morning just to corner them into having a drink?
“You are persistent,” he grumbles, hovering the cup under his nose and taking in the creamy scent. Lan Xichen is smart, so he figures there’s no need to lie to him about the reason why he declined his offer yesterday.
Using his shoulder to push the door to the flower shop open, Jiang Cheng uncaps the lid, and his favourite drink was indeed in there. Puffs of steam hit his face and Jiang Cheng dips his head down to sip some of the Caramel Macchiato away.
“You like it?” Lan Xichen smiled as the creamy and sugary taste fills his mouth.
Jiang Cheng drinks a little more from the cup and looks up to see sparkles displayed all over the other’s face.
It’s kind of stupid how fast Jiang Cheng dropped his defenses around the man, not that he realises. Ironically, he takes a while to drop the notion of Lan Xichen coming to strangle him, but if his dumb jokes and kind smiles did anything, they convinced him otherwise.
Following that day, Lan Xichen starts to frequent his flower shop, always with a cup of Caramel Macchiato in hand. Jiang Cheng hadn’t realised when he’d started to let the other in without complaint and sat with him for hours on end to chat.
The jingle of the doorbell steals his attention from the flowers. Lan Xichen steps into the shop, looking around in awe.
“You have a nice place,” He reaches out to touch one of the more fragile flowers on the shelves, only for his hand to get swatted away.
“Don’t touch,” Jiang Cheng hisses, waving the elephant watering can in his hand. “I will fucking water your expensive shirt.”
Through their recent interactions, he’d found out that Lan Xichen had taken over the family company as CEO, so dry cleaning, or even buying a new shirt, would be peanuts to him, especially since Lan Xichen was completely incapable of washing his own clothes.
His words send a wave of chuckles through the man, who somehow finds delight in the florist’s threats.
“Gosh, stop laughing.” Lan Xichen finds the plastic snout of the watering can pointed at him.
Jiang Cheng heads behind the counter where he follows, slipping the coat slung over his arm onto the table top. The yellow elephant smacks beside his hand almost intimidatingly, causing Lan Xichen’s lips to twitch into a smile.
“It’s cute,” he teases, expecting a negative reaction, but Jiang Cheng always surprises him.
“I know. It’s adorable.” A hand comes to hug it closer, “It’s my baby.”
This time, Lan Xichen really cannot hold his laughter back.
He gets his sleeve drenched in water. Turns out the man wasn’t kidding at all, but Lan Xichen doesn’t mind it one bit.
“That’s kind of mean, don’t you think?” Clutching the wet part, Lan Xichen gives the florist something close to a pout. Jiang Cheng crushes the mineral water bottle in his hand as water gushes into his elephant.
“I warned you.”
Once the elephant has been filled, the water bottle gets chucked into the small bin by his feet. Jiang Cheng looks up, only to spot the man’s fingers wandering to a potted plant on his counter.
He holds his weapon by it’s handle.
“You have itchy hands, don’t you?”
Lan Xichen jerks his hand back, though on his face was an unrepentant smile. “Do I?”
Jiang Cheng barely fights the urge to roll his eyes. “Why else would you be touching all my flowers like that?”
“Well, I simply had an idea.”
A hum from the younger prompts him to elaborate.
“Do you know a lot about flowers, Wanyin?”
His ears perked up at that. “I do. I probably know a lot more than the average florist. Why?”
“What flowers symbolise forgiveness?”
Getting up, Jiang Cheng makes his way over to the side of the shop where pots and fridges of flowers were on display. He reaches into one of the smaller lilac pots and picks out one of the purple blooms.
When he turns around, Lan Xichen is right behind him, gazing at the flower weirdly.
“They represent forgiveness and sorrow,” Jiang Cheng hands the stalk over to him, “To tell someone that you are sorrowful over an event and wish for them to forgive you, give them a bouquet of purple hyacinths.”
Lan Xichen gently touches the violet petals.
“Can you make a bouquet for me?”
Picking out a few stalks that are close to bloom, Jiang Cheng walks into the back room to retrieve some patterned paper and a vase. Outside, Lan Xichen waits for him by the counter.
He starts to arrange them. The flowers poke into the vase and Jiang Cheng crosses their stems, adding a few other smaller flowers like baby’s breath and plants. Usually, he liked to focus when doing this, but the silence surrounding them was too loud for them to ignore.
“Did you do something wrong?” He tries to make small talk, seeing as the other man probably wasn’t going to say anything soon.
Lan Xichen watches him intently.
Him? Making a mistake? Lan Xichen, making a mistake?
“I make more mistakes than you think I do, Wanyin.”
“...Can you read my mind?” Jiang Cheng asks suspiciously, but it only elicits another chuckle from the man.
“Maybe you’re just easy to read, Wanyin.”
“Is your poker-faced brother supposed to be easy, then?”
Jiang Cheng purses his lips at Lan Xichen’s playful smile. He fishes the flowers out from the vase and finishes up the bouquet by tying them together, wrapping them in lilac and white papers and binding the stems with a rattan string, then a curly pink ribbon.
Lan Xichen takes the flowers, turning it around and admiring it.
“It’s so pretty,” he breathes, “You do it wonderfully.”
Somehow, those words make the butterflies in his stomach flutter.
“Thank you,” he said with a tiny quirk of the lips.
After that, Lan Xichen still comes in as usual, but occasionally he’d ask for another bouquet of flowers.
“What flowers symbolise starting over?” he’d ask, catching Jiang Cheng’s attention.
“For the person you gave the purple hyacinths to?” He asks, pushing away the sour feeling in his chest, “Still haven’t forgiven you, huh? You must’ve messed up badly.”
Lan Xichen stills, and nods.
“Well, I hope they forgive you soon,” Jiang Cheng tells him as he passes him a bouquet of white daffodils, and just before Lan Xichen leaves he replies,
“I hope so too.”
Jiang Cheng didn’t want to seem nosy, so he’d never asked. But does Lan Xichen have a lover? Who else would he give these flowers to? Who else would be so important that he’d have to pacify them with a romantic gesture, and what else other than pretty flowers?
Eventually he does come to a conclusion: Lan Xichen was either wooing someone, or he already had a beloved.
Lan Xichen had already moved on.
That was good. His mother had always taught him as a child that dwelling on the past doesn’t do anyone good, after all. Why cling on to heartbreak when you could find someone else that makes you whole again?
Jiang Cheng was happy for him.
So why did his chest hurt so much?
One day, Lan Xichen comes in with a grim look.
A sigh escapes the older man’s lips. Lan Xichen sits on the opposite end of the counter and frowns.
Reaching over the table, Jiang Cheng flicks his forehead like he’d usually do while teasing him, but even with the loud sound and impact, Xichen doesn't react. It almost made him feel bad for causing him pain. Almost.
Under the concerned look Jiang Cheng was giving him, Lan Xichen opens his mouth, “Ow.”
It sounded so robotic.
“Your reaction was way too delayed,” he scoffs.
Jiang Cheng takes the usual drink from his hand and opens the cap.
“You even got my order wrong.”
“Why are you so down? What happened?”
Lan Xichen bites on his lower lip, fidgeting with his fingers. He shifted his weight on his seat, glancing up at him then looking away, repeating that cycle many times until Jiang Cheng snaps, “What?”
“Uncle wants me to marry,” he blurts out, and at that, Jiang Cheng’s heart sinks.
Lan Xichen’s eyes widens. “No!”
Staring in surprise, the younger didn’t know what to say.
Lan Xichen clears his throat and starts over. “Uncle wants to push for an arranged marriage, but I have no energy nor interest in meeting anyone. So he said he’d give me a chance—a dinner on Friday, where I bring someone to meet him.”
Jiang Cheng’s apron crushes underneath his grip.
“That’s great, isn’t it? You can bring yours to meet him.”
He can’t believe the way he’s lying through his teeth—Jiang Cheng has never been a good liar, but he likes to think he manages, and hopefully Lan Xichen doesn’t see the envy in his eyes.
“I don’t understand,” Eyebrows furrowed, Lan Xichen says, “I don’t have a lover.”
Then who would you buy those flowers for?
“Whatever.” Jiang Cheng mutters instead. Perhaps it was better not knowing.
"Go with me."
He blinks, but the words aren't processing properly.
"Be my date," The man's voice was firm, yet it had an uncertainty to it. "Please."
Jiang Cheng's breath hitches, and he has to suppress the glimmer of hope in his chest.
"You don't know what you're saying,” he tells him, because the other must’ve been out of his mind. “Lan Qiren would think I’m dating you—”
“I don’t mind.”
Frustration swirls in his gut, Jiang Cheng narrows his eyes, “But your lover would.”
Lan Xichen still didn’t get it. “I don’t have a lover, as I said before.”
“Fine. Even if you didn’t, there must be a hundred other people throwing themselves at you.”
“What’re you saying, Wanyin?” The older frowned.
“I’m saying that there are people better than me!”
The counter top rattles when his palms meet the surface, but even then Lan Xichen only gives him a sincere gaze and Jiang Cheng wants to scream.
“Why can’t you understand?” He groaned.
“There is nothing to understand. Wanyin is fine as he is.”
“I’m a runaway, Xichen,” Lowering his voice, “A flower shop owner. A disgrace, a—”
Lan Xichen cracks a smile, leaning forward into his seat until their faces are just inches apart. “What does it matter?”
“It matters too much. You have a reputation to keep, unlike an ordinary guy like me.” Jiang Cheng points out, every word tasting bitter.
“But I want you, A-Cheng.”
Lan Xichen is definitely crazy, he thinks, just as his heart rate surges, a faint blush painting his cheeks at the familiar address.
He wants me, Jiang Cheng echos in his head, he wants me. He wants—
“It’s just for one dinner. We could fake it and go back to how we were before.”
And his gut sinks. The words take a second to process and when it does, it pulls him down like he’s drowning. The spark in his chest dies out and—it’s betrayal, that’s all he can feel.
“Wanyin?” A hand reaches out to lightly touch his forehead, “Are you feeling ill?”
Did Lan Xichen come to make friends with him, only to urge him to agree to this arrangement? Had he been lying, all this time? Don’t tell him that this stupid fucking dinner was all they were worth?
All he was worth?
“Wanyin?” Xichen calls out to him in his daze.
Swallowing the lump in his throat, Jiang Cheng wanted to scream and punch the man in front of him. Wanted to confront him, pull him by the collar to hit (kiss) him.
But those hateful words spinning in his mind never came out. They remained lodged in his throat till the end.
“Me…?” He weakly managed, hoping that the other would change his mind at the last second.
Only at his earnest gaze, Jiang Cheng’s resolve wavered.
It would be quick. Go in and come out quickly, just one dinner. Then afterwards Lan Xichen wouldn’t bug him anymore, and he wouldn’t be forced to keep up the facade. Afterwards, he’d go back to hating him and JIang Cheng would just forget it all, hopefully.
(Hope was such a fickle thing.)
If Lan Xichen saw the hurt in his eyes, then he didn’t say anything. Instead, he beams at him and Jiang Cheng almost cries.
“Thank you for agreeing to this.”
On Friday, he dresses up nicely. This way, he wouldn’t embarrass Lan Huan.
His date picked him up from his apartment, his hair slicked back and handsomely standing in a black suit that made Jiang Cheng’s heart thump, but even then he couldn’t look at him. Slumped in his seat and dazedly looking out the window, perhaps Lan Xichen wanted to give him space, but the entire ride to the Lans' was silent.
Then they’d walked in. The manor looked the exact same as it had two years before, pristine white and clouds carved into the walls. Upon meeting the man with a beard, Jiang Cheng lowered himself in a respectful bow. Lan Qiren gave him a look, and proceeded to not acknowledge him for the rest of the dinner.
But it was fine. Jiang Cheng could handle the scorn. Even when the uncle and his nephew ignored him, too deep into their conversation to notice. Even when every spoonful of the fancy steak served tasted like ash, and even when a lump had formed in his throat, eyes burning with unshed tears—
Jiang Cheng was fine. But he didn’t want to be here a second longer.
“Are you courting him, Xichen?” Lan Qiren’s voice cut through the silence.
Lan Xichen smoothly replies without missing a beat, “Yes.”
Another look is shot his way, scanning him from top to bottom almost judgingly. Jiang Cheng fights the urge to curl up and make himself seem smaller, if it meant the old man would stop assessing him.
“Do you like him?”
Jiang Cheng doesn’t want to hear it.
“Yes,” Lan Xichen replied, only after a pause, and suddenly, Jiang Cheng was reminded of how fake this all was.
Lan Xichen needed a date, a fake date, and he just so happened to be that person.
And on a fake date, you lie.
His stomach churns. Jiang Cheng never knew something could hurt this much.
When he’s finally released from under the old man’s scrutiny, from their date—he takes a deep breath, to ease the lump in his throat. Lan Xichen offers to send him home, and although he declines at first, the man insists because it’s dark out.
Jiang Cheng doesn’t spend a second longer in his car. The moment it pulls up at the entrance of his apartment, he slams the door and brisk walks in the direction of his home. Tears were burning at his eyes and he was struggling to keep them in, so he picked up his pace until he’s jogging.
The moment he stepped over his doormat, there was a wetness spilling down his cheeks already. Jiang Cheng could only hope that there was no one there to see him like that, then he finally curls up in the ball by the foot of the door and cries.
Sobs wracked his body, and a yell of hurt nearly ripped itself from his throat. The neighbours were still awake, but it hurt. Hurt so bad.
Jiang Cheng loved Lan Huan. Jiang Cheng loves Lan Huan, because he hadn’t stopped loving him all these years, but Lan Huan doesn’t love him back and it hurts.
Jiang Cheng knows he deserves it when he’d left his boyfriend so cruelly two springs ago.
“I hate you,” he gasped, “I hate you, Lan Huan.”
How could he play with his heart like this?
Fitting punishment, yet so cruel. Jiang Cheng rather he shouted at him, hit him.
Outside the door, Lan Xichen’s hand falters before he could knock. A string of hiccups and whimpering come from the other side of the door, and his chest tightens at the pitiful sound.
Wanyin was crying, he thinks. Crying because he’d probably done something to upset him, again. Lan Xichen had been stupid enough to hurt him, again.
He made A-Cheng cry, and his heart aches terribly at the sound.
A moment later, Jiang Cheng realises he’d probably been crying too loud, because someone knocks on his door and it’s probably his neighbour who has come to tell him to turn it down. Patting his tears away with his sleeve, Jiang Cheng tries to make it seem less obvious that he had been bawling his eyes out because of a broken heart.
“I’m sorry, I was—” he prepares to apologize, only for fingers to grasp his wrist, and a surprised gasp leaves his lips. A hand firmly yanks on his arm, causing Jiang Cheng to yelp as he tumbles forward, scrambling to cushion his fall only to collide into a firm chest.
It was Lan Xichen, he immediately realises, expression twisted in something close to sorrow.
He immediately pushes his arms out to get away, only for his hands to get caught, and no matter how hard he struggled Lan Xichen was still stronger than him by a mile.
“Let go of me,” he growled, blinking the tears in his vision away. “Let go, Lan Xichen!”
Like a rabid dog he thrashes around even harder. Jiang Cheng lets out a whine in frustration, then two arms snake around his waist and pull him closer. The man’s embrace was warm, but it burned.
“What are you doing? Let go, let go let go let go!”
“Wanyin,” Lan Xichen stroked his hair, trapping the younger in his embrace. Jiang Cheng squirmed in his arms, pounding on his chest but he only continued to hug him tight.
He spends five minutes screaming like a child throwing a tantrum. Eventually his energy seeps out of him, and Jiang Cheng is left hiccuping and pressed against the older.
No answer. Only more sniffling, and a grunt.
Pulling away, Lan Xichen gently cups the younger’s cheeks in his hands and softly gazes at him. “Wanyin, what’s wrong? You seemed distant today.”
Jiang Cheng immediately averted his red and puffy eyes, which made the other frown.
“Have I done something to upset you?” Xichen asks, tilting his head into Jiang Cheng’s field of vision, only for him to angle his head away. “You won’t even look at me.”
Jiang Cheng hopes that he’d get upset and storm away, so he looks anywhere other than him and keeps his mouth zipped shut, though it only fuels Lan Xichen to get him to respond.
Fingers brush the underside of his eyes, causing him to shiver at the sensitivity of having just cried. He squeezes his eyes shut—
“Your eyes are all swollen, Wanyin. Please don’t cry.”
—and when he opens them, Lan Xichen’s lips are so close to his. Amber eyes worriedly stared at him, and Jiang Cheng felt faint.
He hates how he’s like this. He hates how his legs were turning to jelly, how he was so comfortable in his arms, how Lan Xichen had his eyes on him out of everyone else in the world. Jiang Cheng almost gives in and he damn near throws his arms around the other, but he no longer has the right to do that, after two years ago.
‘I can’t, Lan Huan. I can’t.’
‘Don’t go, A-Cheng. Please.’
‘Was it me? Was it something I did? I’ll do anything, I’ll change for you, A-Cheng. Please don’t leave me, please.’
‘It’s not you, A-Huan. It’s me.’
Then, a hand reaches up to brush his hair behind his ear, almost in a comforting way as if Lan Huan knew what he was thinking. It is then that Jiang Cheng remembers that Lan Huan was psychic, and perhaps he could hear all of his thoughts as he turned to mush before him.
“Won’t you tell me what I’ve done wrong to make you this way?” Xichen whispers, and Jiang Cheng doesn’t get to know if he was referring to the past or the present. Either way, he breaks.
“You are a jerk!” he shrieks, punching the man in the chest, “Fucking jerk! I break up with you, then you appear in front of me two years later only to treat me so nicely like nothing ever went wrong with us, then you lead me on and make me feel so special only to get played by you!”
Xichen’s breath hitches in shock—and Jiang Cheng continues to scream.
“Is this a fucking joke? Is this all a joke to you, are my feelings a joke? Did you seek me out everyday to make fun of me, was everything all fake? Just so you could score a fake date?”
Now his throat was sore, but the words keep coming and his tears are threatening to fall again. Jiang Cheng had always been a cry baby.
“An eye for an eye after all. Was this revenge? If it was, I’d have rather you paralyze me with a crowbar,” he spat, rapidly blinking the sting in his eyes away.
A thumb brushes a stray tear away. Lan Xichen holds his face and with the most sincere look, tells him,
“Wanyin, I came to the flower shop every day because I like you.”
“Stop it, it’s not funny,” he hisses. Who knew Lan Xichen could be this horrible.
“I’m not joking, Wanyin.”
“I have something for you.” Upon the younger’s silence, he suddenly mentions, and Jiang Cheng hadn’t noticed, but Lan Xichen had been holding something in one hand this whole time. Something eye-catchingly beautiful, a vibrant purple.
Purple hyacinths. They mean sorrow; I’m sorry, please forgive me. And Lan Xichen was holding out a bouquet of them to him, out of all people, Jiang Cheng was the one he’d wanted forgiveness from.
The pink ribbon, the purple and white papers caught his eye, and it didn't take long for him to figure out that this was the one he’d arranged for the man, back in the flower shop. The bouquet that Jiang Cheng had spent days wondering about who it would become a gift to, was now a gift to him.
From Lan Xichen, sincerely.
“I’m sorry, A-Cheng.” he says with the most repentant expression on his face but Jiang Cheng doesn’t know what he has to be sorry for.
It’s like his heart had been wrenched from his chest.
“I’m sorry for hurting you. I'm sorry for making you misunderstand. I'm sorry for making you cry—" He takes a breath before he continues,
"I'm sorry that I’d upset you enough for you to leave me,” Xichen confesses, sending waves of guilt tumbling in his gut, “Because you mean the world to me. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”
But it wasn’t his fault. All Lan Xichen had done was love him, but Jiang Cheng didn’t love himself enough to stay.
“Why?” He whispers. “Why? Why would you—”
The world was too big for him. How could Lan Huan say such things so easily? How could Lan Huan still stand him?
The flowers stare mockingly at him.
“You should hate me,” Jiang Cheng’s words fall faster than his tears. “I left you.”
Lan Xichen hadn’t let go during this time. Pulling the younger closer, his grip on Jiang Cheng’s arms were firm and tightened at his words, then he tugs the man into his embrace.
“I will never hate you,” he breathes, "I love you. I thought you didn't want to be my date, so I tried brushing it off. I'm sorry."
I love you. I love you. I love you.
The words ring in his ear. Xichen eyes his lips softly, then dips down and presses their lips together.
So long later, his lips still feel like cotton candy. And though he finds himself slowly kissing back, there’s still doubt in his actions.
Jiang Cheng pulls back and shakes his head. “You lie.”
“The Lans do not lie.”
He doesn’t want to hope, for if he got too close to the flame he’d be burnt. But as Lan Huan plants another kiss on his eyelids, then his forehead, next his nose and lastly, his cheeks that were stained with streaks of tears, Jiang Cheng wanted to hold on to it.
Hold on to him.
This time, he is the one who leans in.
“I love you, A-Cheng,” Lan Xichen mumbles against his lips, “I missed you.”
‘I love you so much.’
Standing under the dark sky lit up by a thousand and one stars, Lan Xichen kisses his tears away and confesses, “I’ve always wanted to marry you.”
Jiang Cheng cries.