Let it be known that Nie Mingjue wasn’t stupid nor was he dumb, okay?- no matter how many times his actions convinced people otherwise-
It’s just that he wasn’t always completely aware of everything.
He was rather…
“Oblivious.” Lan Xichen sighed, taking a sip of green tea. “One reincarnation and 6 months later, and you’re still the most oblivious person I’ve ever met, dage. No offense, of course!”
Nie Mingjue choked on his cup of tea, giving his best friend a sideways glare, to which Lan Xichen returned with an innocent smile.
“It’s true.” Wei Wuxian agreed, tapping his nose, and Nie Mingjue turned his head to the other side to glare at him. Since when had their harmless conversation about the best places to visit in Caiyi, veered towards Nie Mingjue’s flaws-? “You really are. And that’s coming from me. ”
“I didn’t come here to be bullied.” Nie Mingjue growled, taking a spiteful sip of tea. Wei Wuxian threw his head back and laughed, while Lan Xichen patted his shoulder sympathetically.
They were currently in front of the Hanshi in Lan Xichen’s garden, which was filled to the brim with beautiful flowers, and drinking twice their weight in green tea. Despite the bullying, it was actually quite relaxing-
All of a sudden, Nie Huaisang came sprinting down the path, gray Sect Leader robes flowing with the wind. He was carrying two fans in each of his hands, and his expression looked equal parts terrified and exhilarated.
And then Jiang Cheng appeared on the path as well, sprinting after Nie Huaisang with Zidian sparking wildly across his knuckles.
Meanwhile, Wei Wuxian was trying to discreetly steal a sip of tea from Nie Mingjue’s cup and Lan Xichen was trying to find the best angle for the sun to shine on his body, both completely unphased by the chaos that was unfolding.
Jiang Cheng was shouting at Nie Huaisang, looking slightly deranged, and this only amplified when Nie Huaisang turned around and whipped one of his fans at the other’s face.
“Huaisang!” Jiang Cheng screeched.
And finally, Lan Wangji appeared upon the path. His expression was calm and serene, yet Bichen was unsheathed and the hilt was clenched tightly in between his fist.
“Behind you! ” Nie Huaisang yelled, pointing at Lan Wangji, and then used the distraction as a prime opportunity to escape.
Jiang Cheng whipped his head around, noting the slightly manic look appearing in Lan Wangji’s eyes.
“Jiang Wanyin.” And to the untrained ear, this might’ve sounded like a pleasant, unsubstantial greeting, but Jiang Cheng, along with the rest of the audience, could easily hear the underlying murderous intent.
“Fuck.” Jiang Cheng whispered, staring at the sword in fear, and then quickly turned around to sprint away.
Lan Wangji gave a quick wave to his brother, husband, and Nie Mingjue, before the manic expression was back and he was chasing after Jiang Cheng and Nie Huaisang, crushing one of the fallen fans beneath his shoes in his wake.
“Are they trying to kill each other?” Nie Mingjue scratched his forehead, perplexed and slightly worried.
Lan Xichen poured himself another cup of tea, shrugging. “Most likely.”
“None of them will succeed.” Wei Wuxian threw his cup of tea back and downed it like a shot of liquor. “...Probably…”
Nie Mingjue sighed.
The three of them clinked teacups, and Nie Mingjue was about to respond when someone else appeared upon the path as well.
“Wen Ning!” Wei Wuxian waved as the fierce corpse approached them on the grass.
He wore a soft smile, and though his eyes were glassy and lifeless, they still somehow managed to remain as warm and inviting as they had been when he was alive.
“Wen Qionglin” Lan Xichen greeted as well, with a smile of his own.
“Master Wei, Zewu-jun, it’s good to see you.” Wen Ning greeted back in kind, ever-so politely. “...Hello Chifeng-zun….” He gave a tiny glance towards Nie Mingjue’s way, one that the ex-Sect Leader could only interpret as nervous or uncomfortable, so Nie Mingjue did his best to mind his own business.
“How was the hunt with the juniors?” Wei Wuxian inquired, inviting him to sit, but Wen Ning politely declined.
“It went very well. Jin Ling’s archery skills rival my own. And A-Yuan is getting even better at dodging and evading...” Wen Ning’s voice sounded fond as he recounted the earlier hunt.
Throughout the entire conversation, Nie Mingjue could feel Wen Ning’s gaze constantly darting towards him over and over again.
After his reincarnation, with his little brother’s help, of course, Nie Mingjue had been able to slowly let go of most of the hate he’d harbored towards the Wens. He eventually accepted that not every single Wen had been evil, and furthermore, they were gone now, so it’s not like his hatred and anger was going to help him win any wars against them.
So, no, he didn’t hate Wen Ning, but from the few interactions he’d had with the Ghost General, he wasn’t sure if the feeling was mutual.
Well, perhaps hate was too strong a word.
It’s just that, he always sensed the fierce corpse was on edge around him and that put Nie Mingjue on edge as well. Wen Ning seemed keen on avoiding talking to Nie Mingjue as much as possible, but whenever they did speak it would be brief and-
So horrendously awkward.
Nie Mingjue wondered if Wen Ning feared that he still hated him?
But he hadn’t done anything since his reincarnation to make the other think so.
Perhaps then, Wen Ning just didn’t like Nie Mingjue. That was perfectly valid. Nie Mingjue wasn’t an easy person to get along with by any means, and he assumed he’d also be quite wary of befriending a man who’d wished death upon him and his entire Sect a few years ago...
But, as juvenile as it was, the thought of Wen Ning disliking him, made something twist painfully inside, and he couldn’t pinpoint what nor why .
And just as Nie Mingjue was about to try and quietly slink away and possibly take a nap or terrorize the kitchen staff with his formidable appetite, he heard Wei Wuxian was say:
“Ah, as much as I’d love to stay and chat, Xichen-ge and I have important Sect stuff to do. You know, because I’m a teacher and he’s a Sect Leader? Right Xichen-ge?” Wei Wuxian’s smile was far too bright to be considered trustworthy.
“We do?” Lan Xichen frowned. Wei Wuxian rapidly blinked at him, and then, “Oh yes! Oh, we do. It’s very important work. I’m afraid we’ll have to be going now. Have a good day dage! You too Wen Qionglin!”
“Bye Wen Ning! Bye Chifeng-zun!”
And Nie Mingjue, busy staring at his tea leaves in confusion, missed the way Wen Ning’s eyes seemed to widen, filled with an emotion akin to betrayal, as the pair of in-laws all but skipped away.
And then there were two.
The silence was practically deafening.
Nie Mingjue chanced a glance at the Ghost General, only to find the other staring back at him, and then rapidly shifting his gaze, seemingly....embarrassed... at being caught.
Was it embarrassment, though? Nie Mingjue couldn’t really tell, as the other’s face couldn’t express as much emotion as a living human could.
“Well...” Nie Mingjue made to stand up and leave. “Goodby-”
“I like your robes!” Wen Ning blurted, and then stared at Nie Mingjue with wide eyes, covering his own mouth in shock, as if he couldn’t believe those words had come out of his mouth either. If fierce corpses could blush, surely Wen Ning would’ve been as crimson as a tomato.
“Huh…?” Nie Mingjue asked dumbly, looking down at his simple gray robes. They weren’t anything special, and they weren’t nearly as extravagant as his old Sect Leader robes.
When Wen Ning finally dared to look back towards Nie Mingjue and the first thing that came to the other’s mind was Wow, he’s pale.
“Oh! Um, it’s because my skin can’t absorb sunlight anymore.” Wen Ning explained kindly, though his hands were wringing together behind his back.
Nie Mingue’s eyes widened this time, as he realized that he’d accidentally voiced his thought out loud. He hoped that if he concentrated hard enough, then the ground would open up and swallow him whole.
He blamed his new dramatic nature on spending so much time with Wei Wuxian-
“I’m sorry-” Nie Mingjue coughed.
“It’s alright, really!” Wen Ning assured him, and then he seemed to take a sudden interest in a random pebble along the path and averted his gaze. “T-the juniors...um..they wanted me to ask you if you could maybe possibly accompany us... them. Accompany them on a hunt? But...they would completely understand if you couldn’t-”
“Sure.” Nie Mingjue cleared his throat. Did he have a cold? A sore throat perhaps? “Sure, I don’t mind.”
“Really?” Wen Ning’s voice sounded bright. “That’s...that’s great!... Oh um, thank you Chifeng-zun.” Wen Ning bowed, remembering himself at the last moment.
“Mingjue.” Nie Mingjue corrected out of nowhere. “It’s Mingjue.”
Wen Ning shot him a surprised look, and Nie Mingjue couldn’t blame him. This was probably the longest conversation they’d ever had with another, and yet he inexplicably wanted the other to call him by his name.
Nie Mingjue couldn’t understand it either.
“ Oh. ” Wen Ning let out a small breath of air, one he didn’t need.
And then Nie Mingjue abruptly turned around and began speed-walking down the hill, trying not to let his embarrassment overtake him, “But you don’t have to of course. See you around-”
At the sound, Nie Mingjue’s brain seemed to malfunction, and his left foot accidentally skidded off in a different direction. Before he knew it, he, the mighty Chifeng-zun , venerable war hero and one of the most powerful cultivators to have lived, twice , was falling forward, tripping over his own feet, all because someone said his name?
It was mortifying.
Nie Mingjue hoped that when he fell, he’d just stay there, and wouldn’t get up.
However, he never fell.
He felt an insanely strong pair of arms catch him and pull him upright just before he landed face-first on the ground. Nie Mingjue suddenly found himself suspended in Wen Ning’s hold and they were staring at each other face to face.
They were excruciatingly close.
So close that if Wen Ning had had a heartbeat, then Nie Mingjue would’ve been able to hear it.
There was an intense look in Wen Ning’s eyes, filled with an emotion that Nie Mingjue couldn’t exactly decipher.
And after standing in such a compromising position for so long, Nie Mingjue finally gathered his wits, and grunted a low, “...You’re strong.” with a forced cough.
“T-thank you.” Wen Ning stuttered. He seemed to do that a lot around Nie Mingjue, for some reason. He let the other go with a gentleness that Nie Mingjue had never truly experienced before.
Nie Mingjue blinked at him, wondering why his heart was pounding so quickly. Am I having a heart attack?
Wen Ning’s face clouded over with confusion, “A heart attack? Are you okay?”
Oh no. He’d voiced his thoughts aloud...again.
“I-I’m fine. See you around...” Nie Mingjue trailed off, all but sprinting away and resisting the urge to repeatedly slap himself over the forehead.
This time Wen Ning waited until Nie Mingjue was completely off the hill to respond with a soft, “Goodbye Mingjue.” which had him stumbling over himself again, even on flatter ground.
Pull yourself together Mingjue and he continued to walk briskly away.
“I know, right?”
“When you said it was bad...I didn’t know it was this bad…”
“ I know right?”
“Well do we do anything?”
“Xichen-ge, as much as I’d love to meddle, I don’t think we should.”
“Don’t tell me you’ve suddenly developed morals, Wei Ying.”
“But I suppose we’ll just have to let them figure it out for themselves.”
“It’s for the best!”
Jin Ling had been the first of their group to notice.
And he hadn’t been subtle about trying to pry more information from Wen Ning either.
“So do you like Chifeng-zun or what?”
Lan Jingyi had punched him in the shoulder, Ouyang Zizhen had looked shocked and Lan Sizhui had seemed almost as embarrassed as his Uncle. Meanwhile, Wen Ning had looked just about ready to throw himself into the nearest river and let the current do the rest.
He had ignored the question, of course, with a bout of awkward mumbles and abrupt subject changes, but Jin Ling hadn’t forgotten. So he’d formulated a plan, and shared it with his friends.
“Are you sure this is a good idea, A-Ling?” Lan Sizhui had asked, skeptical of Jin Ling’s theory.
“Yeah, since when are you the expert on pining, Young Mistress? You pined after Zizhen for what, a week? And the two of you are practically married now-Ow! You little-” Lan Jingyi had also been skeptical.
“Well, I don’t know if you’re right, A-Ling, but I say we do whatever we can. In the name of romance!” Ouyang Zizhen had supported him, and Jin Ling had been banking on the fact that his boyfriend was a diehard romantic.
“Trust me, guys.” Jin Ling had assured them, sneaking a glance at Wen Ning who’d been making friends with a stray bird. “It’ll work .”
And Jin Ling’s plan to invite Chifeng-zun on their next hunt had worked.
In fact, it’d worked a little too well.
Nie Mingjue was in the middle of recounting a fantastic tale about one of the many battles he’d fought in his first life with waving hand gestures, a booming voice, and everything. It was impossible not to hang off every word he said. Zizhen was taking notes, Lan Jingyi was letting out involuntary “ooos” and “awes” every time Nie Mingjue’s story increased in intensity, and even Lan Sizhui had stumbled over a few errant twigs because he’d been so enraptured with the tale.
But Wen Ning?
The poor fierce corpse was a mess.
It was just as Jin Ling had expected, if not, even worse.
His eyes were practically locked onto Chifeng-zun, tracking every move the other made, and honestly-since Wen Ning didn’t even have to blink- it was a little bit disturbing.
For someone who was ten times more perceptive and coordinated than the average human being, the number of times Wen Ning walked straight into a tree because Nie Mingjue had laughed at something Lan Jingyi had said, was rather absurd.
So what was Jin Ling to do? Leave Wen Ning hopelessly pining after the ex Sect Leader, or meddle and hopefully make things better...and pray not to make them worse?
“Chifeng-zun!” Jin Ling called out to him as they stopped to take a break and refill their water jugs by the lake.
Nie Mingjue was leaning against a tree, arms crossed behind his head as the wind blew through his hair. He nodded his head towards Jin Ling in recognition.
“We need your advice.” Zizhen shot Jin Ling a look, but Jin Ling willed his boyfriend to trust him.
Wen Ning, who was sitting by the lake, turned around, observing curiously.
“Oh?” Nie Mingjue sounded curious. “I’m not very good at archery so maybe-”
Jin Ling shook his head, he could feel himself stifling a wicked grin and suddenly had an epiphany at how much a certain uncle was rubbing off on him. “No, not archery.” Jin Ling glanced meaningfully at Zizhen, who was immediately on the same wavelength as the young Sect Leader.
“Then what?” Nie Migjue looked perplexed.
“We have a friend…” Ouyang Zizhen stepped in with a grin. “He could use some advice…”
Lan Sizhui and Lan Jingyi eventually caught on as well once they realized Jin Ling’s plan was underway.
“And we didn’t know who else to ask, so we were hoping you could help us help our friend, Chifeng-zun.” Lan Sizhui’s voice was pitched perfectly, polite, and unassuming. It was hard to believe the Lan was lying straight through his teeth-another instance of Wei Wuxian’s influence.
“What sort of advice?” Nie Mingjue scratched his forehead, unaware of the way Wen Ning’s eyes followed the movement and softened at the nervous tick.
“Relationship advice.” Lan Jingyi stated with a grin that could only be described as devious.
If Wen Ning had to breathe, then at that moment he would’ve choked on his own breath. He sent a startled look towards the juniors who met his shock with various expressions of feigned innocence.
“...What?” Nie Mingjue asked, blankly.
“Our friend has a crush on someone.” Ouyang Zizhen started, a wistful look in his eyes. He was such a romantic, and yet Jin Ling only pretended to be annoyed by it-
“But we can’t tell you who!” Lan Jingyi pressed an index finger over his lips, and if Nie Mingjue had been paying more attention, he would’ve been able to see the obvious wink Lan Jingyi sent the Ghost General’s way, which had Wen Ning fidgeting in his seat, panic rising in his chest. “It’s a secret.”
Nie Mingjue rolled his eyes, hoping their shenanigans would be over soon so they could get back to hunting for the creatures. But it was still light out, which meant the monsters they were after wouldn’t be appearing in the forest for a while , which meant that, sadly, Nie Mingjue was trapped.
“You want me to give you relationship advice?” Nie Mingjue crossed his arms over his chest. “ Me ?”
“Not us.” Lan Sizhui corrected, kindly, “Our friend.”
“I’ve never been in a relationship before.” Nie Mingjue glanced over as Wen Ning fell off the rock he was sitting on.
Perhaps there was a strong breeze...
The juniors looked shocked.
“Wait really?” Jin Ling asked, genuinely surprised. “Are you sure?”
Nie Mingjue squinted at him, “What do you think?”
“But...but…” Ouyang Zizhen looked like his entire world was falling apart. Even Lan Sizhui couldn’t contain the quiet gasp of surprise at Nie Mingjue’s confession.
“Is it that shocking?” Nie Mingjue asked, hilariously oblivious.
They nodded in unison.
“Because you’re hot !”
Nie Mingjue choked.
Lan Jingyi quickly slapped a hand over his mouth, looking only a bit apologetic.
“Jingyi!” Jin Ling hissed while Ouyang Zizhen punched their friend in the arm for his shameless behavior.
Lan Sizhui’s ears were flushed and then he, along with the rest of the juniors were apologizing profusely.
“We’re so sorry-”
“He didn’t mean it…. Well, actually he did-”
“Jingyi has a fat mouth so-”
“Hey-! I mean, Sorry Chifeng-zun!”
Nie Mingjue glanced over to Wen Ning for help who looked both mortified and amused over the situation.
“I think you all should give Chifeng-zun a break.” The fierce corpse suggested, joining in on the conversation. The desperation that lingered in his words didn’t go unnoticed by Jin Ling who was going to carry out his plan, Lan Jingyi’s lack of restraint aside-
But it’s not like he could blame the Lan, I mean, they were all thinking it, but that was beside the point.
“Even if he’s never been in a relationship before, we think our friend could benefit from his advice.” Jin Ling said firmly.
Wen Ning looked like he wanted to wither away.
“...What do you want to know?” Nie Mingjue asked, albeit hesitantly, face still flushed from earlier.
“Our friend really wants to know the best way to start the relationship.” Jin Ling explained.
Ouyang Zizhen nodded, continuing, “You see our friend is extremely shy.”
“And a little socially awkward.” Wen Ning sent Lan Jingyi a sharp glance and the other scratched the back of his neck sheepishly. “Umm, but it’s not his fault. He’s...been through stuff.”
“Ah, so he has baggage.” Nie Mingjue commented.
“But he’s very sweet and caring.” Lan Sizhui amended, and Wen Ning’s eyes seemed to soften. The situation was still absolutely humiliating, but...he knew in their own way, the teens were just trying to be helpful.
But he’d wondered how they figured it out? Had everyone figured it out, except for Nie Mingjue? That would make sense because-
“The person he likes is pretty... oblivious .” Jin Ling tried to make eye contact with Nie Mingjue but so no recognition in those dark eyes, and had to stifle a sigh.
“Hmmm.” Nie Mingjue hummed to himself. “Well, my advice to your friend would be to try and make the first move. He should make an effort to talk to his crush, make an effort to invite her somewhere? Oh, and he should make sure she’s doing something she loves.” Nie Mingjue said while stretching his arms and preparing for the upcoming hunt. Oh, how he’d missed going on hunts- he’d have to thank Wen Ning later for inviting him along, he really loved the thrill of fighting creatures hidden in the unknown.
“And what if he has already?” Lan Sizhui’s voice sounded a bit pained.
“Hmm. Has he tried just talking to her?”
“Like I said: socially awkward.” Did Jingyi want to fight an undead corpse today or-
“Well, if he’s made the effort at least, I’m sure the girl would appreciate it-”
“Really?” Wen Ning blurted, and then immediately regretted it as Nie Mingjue’s gaze focused on him. “I mean-”
“What, are you invested in this kid’s love life now too?” Nie Mingjue teased, and that startled a breath of laughter from the other. That sound...Nie Mingjue wanted to hear it again, and again and again...for some reason.
“...I guess I am.” Wen Ning sounded bashful. “...Do you think...do you think it’s worth it? Him trying to pursue her, even if he’s 99% sure she’ll reject him...if she doesn’t throw him off a cliff first?” His voice was pitched higher at the end, in palpable fear.
Nie Mingjue snorted at that. “She must have some temper.”
“So I’ve been told…”
“Well, from what I’ve been told, he sounds like a good guy, if not a bit shy. I don't think she'll fault him for that. And you never know unless you try.”
“...He-he doesn’t know her that well...”
“He should get to know her.”
“Do you think she’ll want that?”
Neither had noticed, but the entire time, their voices had gotten softer and softer as they moved closer and closer to one another, almost as if drawn towards each other.
The juniors discreetly shuffled away, high-fiving each other as they moved to spy on the pair from behind a group of trees.
“Do you…” Wen Ning’s voice sounded even shakier this close. “Do you think she could ever feel for him what he feels for her?”
The logic in Nie Mingjue’s mind had slipped away. Questions such as Why does Wen Ning know so much about these two people? Were pushed far to the back of his mind, and he found himself answering the questions far too honestly.
“What does he feel for her?”
“W-when he first met her-”
“He was scared of her.”
Why did that make Nie Mingjue’s heart sink? This wasn’t about him…
“But...that was a lifetime ago. Now…” Wen Ning’s eyes hadn’t drifted from his. “Now everything’s changed. He’s changed. You-I...I mean she, she’s changed.”
Nie Mingjue nodded dumbly, wondering why his throat was beginning to clog. “She could.”
Wen Ning’s head tilted adorably to the side.
“I...mean she could definitely feel what he feels for her.” Why was his voice shaking? What the fuck was going on?
“Oh.” Wen Ning’s smile was brilliant. “That’s good to know.”
Nie Mingjue felt a bright smile of his own grace his features. “Yeah.”
And then all of a sudden there was a low growl coming from deep within the forest. Their moment had crumbled and the two jolted away from each other as if they’d been struck by lightning.
Lan Sizhui had to slap a hand over Jin Ling’s mouth to keep his cousin from cursing out loud due to disappointment. They’d been so close-
The juniors all rushed out of their hiding spot, and there was a blanket of tension in the air between Chifeng-zun and Wen Ning, but none of them dared comment on it-not even Lan Jingyi.
“We’ll split up.” Nie Mingue said, brandishing his saber and craning his head towards the creatures’ growls. Qiutian de Youling , or the “Ghosts of Autumn.” They were rather formidable creatures, strong and powerful, but nothing their group couldn’t handle. “You two, come with me.” He commanded, pointing at Jin Ling and Lan Sizhui.
“And you two.” He pointed to Lan Jingyi and Ouyang Zizhen, “Stay with him.” Nie Mingjue barely glanced at Wen Ning’s face, still far too confused and, frankly embarrassed, over what had just happened.
“Chifeng-zun,” Wen Ning tried, in a surprisingly steady voice.
But Nie Mingjue was briskly walking away dragging a sympathetic Jin Ling and Lan Sizhui by their collars as they went in off in one direction to face the creatures.
“Focus.” Nie Mingjue instructed as the dark creatures began to make themselves known, their auras seeping out of the tree bark. “Their only weakness is-”
“In the chest.” Lan Sizhui nodded, brandishing his own sword. “The heart.”
Nie Mingjue nodded and whipped out Baxia. He began slashing against the creatures, his movements precise and powerful-so unLanlike. He definitely wouldn’t have been mistaken for anything other than a Nie.
Lan Sizhui began attacking the ghosts as well in a graceful manner that suited his personality.
And Jin Ling-
He would’ve begun attacking the creatures as well, he had his bow poised and everything, it’s just that…
He’d been so sure his plan would work; Wen Ning would confess his feelings and Chifeng-zun would finally realize that this was all an extended metaphor, there was no girl, or rather, he was the girl and Wen Ning had fallen head over heels for him but that hadn’t happened.
And just as he was about to suck it up and decide that plotting and scheming was better left to Wei Wuxian, one of the ghosts was coming straight for him, aiming for his legs in order to temporarily paralyze him and eat his soul as a result, but Nie Mingjue was pushing him out of the way and bearing the attack himself.
Jin Ling screamed as he watched Chifeng-zun struggle to stay upright as he battled both the monsters and the curse.
“Chifeng-zun! A-Ling!” Lan Sizhui ran towards them, taking out a large group of the ghosts in one fell swoop.
“I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry-” Jin Ling was chanting, ears ringing as he slapped himself over the head, cursing his stupidity. This is what he got for meddling.
And though he was frozen in place, Nie Mingjue had taken out a majority of the ghosts that dared to try to attack him again. “Shit happens.” He grunted and then cocked his head to the side. “On your right.” And then Jin Ling pulled himself together and they were back in action, Lan Sizhui coming to assist by his side.
In a short while, they had the entire area of the forest cleared.
“Will the poison run out soon?” Lan Sizhui asked, worry clouding over his features.
Nie Mingjue sighed. “It will. I’ll be fine.” and then, “Stop crying, Jin Ling.”
Jin Ling froze, he hadn’t realized he’d been crying. He furiously wiped away at his tears. “But it’s all my fault. If I hadn’t-”
“I saw you, in the last part of the fight. Your archery skills have been improving.” Nie Mingjue praised. And then he turned to Lan Sizhui. “And you, you’re quick and light on your feet. You could give Wangji a run for his money.”
Lan Sizhui flushed under the praise. “Thank you, Chifeng-zun.”
“Yeah, thank you.”
The other group appeared, looking as worn out, but much more jovial from their battle.
“And Wen Ning was all like-” Lan Jingyi gestured to them wildly with his hands, facial expressions shifting by the microsecond. “And Zizhen and I were all like-”
“Oh my god, you should’ve seen it! It was so cool!” Ouyang Zizhen exclaimed, moving to hold hands with Jin Ling.
“You all can head back to Gusu, now.” Nie Mingjue stated. “I should be back by nightfall.”
Lan Jingyi and Ouyang Zizhen looked perplexed.
“One of the creatures got to you.” Wen Ning commented, in realization. There was a frown pulling at the corners of his mouth.
Nie Mingjue nodded, still unable to make eye contact with other. “It’ll take a few hours until I’m able to move again so-”
“No way we’re leaving you here!” Jin Ling snapped.
“We mean no disrespect, Chifeng-zun, but I’m with A-Ling.” Lan Sizhui agreed.
Nie Mingjue stared at them in disbelief. “I’m not a damsel in distress. I’ll be fine out here alone-”
“We know, but you don’t have to be alone!” Ouyang Zizhen added, emphatically.
“We’ll keep you company!” Lan Jingyi promised, and that was equal parts endearing as it was terrifying. “Did I ever tell you about the time when Wen Ning-”
“I can carry you!”
Nie Mingjue’s eyes practically bulged out of his head as he turned to look at Wen Ning in astonishment.
Absolutely not . Nie Mingjue wanted to say.
So then, why couldn’t he say it? Now he was just standing there, literally frozen in place, gaping at the other like an idiot, while all the junior’s seemed to brighten at the suggestion.
“That’s a great idea!”
“Wen Ning’s very strong Chifeng-zun-”
“He won’t drop you...well not on purpose…”
“It beats staying out here all night.”
And for some reason, Wen Ning’s eyes looked hopeful and for some reason that made Nie Mingjue choke out an “Okay”, much to everyone else’s surprise.
“We’ll walk ahead.” Lan Sizhui whispered, giving Nie Mingjue an almost sly yet innocent look that resembled Lan Xichen far too much. He dragged his three other friends up ahead, and they were off, whispering excitedly to one another.
“Umm.” And then suddenly Nie Mingjue was in Wen Ning’s arms, body completely limp as he carried him bridal style and Nie Mingjue did not let out a quiet yell when the other picked him up without any preamble.
He really didn’t…
“...You’re strong…” Nie Mingjue muttered, unprompted, feeling a strong sense of deja-vu.
“So I’ve been told.” Wen Ning teased, softly.
“Hm.” Nie Mingjue grunted, and then crossed his arms against his chest, staring resolutely at the forest floor.
“I’m sorry you got hurt-”
“Shit happens.” Nie Mingjue responded impulsively before Wen Ning could even close his mouth.
He smiled. “Still.”
Nie Mingjue shrugged, and then, “This is kind of mortifying.” he mumbled, but Wen Ning heard him of course, with his freaky, but sort of cool , abilities.
Wen Ning looked down at him with an even wider smile once they locked eyes. “Is it?”
“I think...sometimes even the strongest people need someone they can lean on.”
Nie Mingjue felt his heart constrict at those words.
“I know we don’t know each other that well.” Wen Ning began, looking back upon the path. “And that’s my fault...It’s difficult to approach you. You’re intimidating.”
“So I’ve been told.” Nie Mingjue repeated the other’s words from earlier.
Wen Ning looked amused for a moment, before turning more serious. “But despite that, I just want you to know that you can lean on me. I...I don’t mind.” Wen Ning’s arms seemed to be shaking slightly, and it wasn’t because of Nie Mingjue’s weight upon them.
And then all of a sudden it finally clicked.
Wen Ning liked him. Somehow, someway, Wen Ning had fallen for him.
And it just so happens that at that same moment, Nie Mingjue’s legs had regained feeling-far quicker than he’d predicted- and due to his shock, he accidentally jolted out of Wen Ning’s arms and the two came tumbling down, Wen Ning’s back hitting the ground with a soft thud, and Nie Mingjue was plastered on top of him.
It was like they continuously moved from one compromising position to the next-
“You!” Nie Mingjue jabbed a finger in Wen Ning’s face and the other’s eyes went adorably cross-eyed as he stared at the offending digit. “There was no ‘friend’ earlier, was there?” Nie Mingjue narrowed his eyes.
“N-no…” Wen Ning sounded ashamed.
Nie Mingjue winced, “I really am oblivious. Everyone else was right.”
Wen Ning didn’t disagree, but he offered Nie Mingjue a sympathetic smile. But then his expression dimmed. “I’m sorry if I’ve made you uncomfortable. I never meant too-”
And then all of a sudden Nie Mingjue snorted, causing Wen Ning to pause and stare up at him in amazement. And that only made Nie Mingjue laugh even harder, the low rumble echoing throughout the forest.
“I’m sorry.” Nie Mingjue breathed out mid-laughter. “It’s just, you really let that Lan brat call you “socially-awkward” twice …”
The worry was wiped from Wen Ning’s features, and embarrassment replaced it in its wake. “I...Jingyi is very outspoken.”
That made Nie Mingjue snort again, and Wen Ning secretly thought that the sound was probably one of the most beautiful things he’d ever heard.
While Nie Mingjue was laughing, a few locks of his hair came undone, so out of instinct, Wen Ning reached to push them behind Nie Mingjue’s ear, before remembering himself, and snatching his hand away.
A million questions were racing through Nie Mingjue’s mind. Am I a cut sleeve? Is it really wise to pursue an undead zombie? Can you even court fierce corpses? Do I even want to?
“Wen Ning.” Nie Mingjue said, softly, enjoying the way the name rolled off his tongue. So he said it again. “Wen Ning.” and again, “Wen Ning.” Enjoying how flustered it made the other.
Revenge was a dish best served hot .
“Don’t be sorry.” And then leaned down to capture the other’s lips within his own. He expected the kiss to be cold and was pleasantly surprised at how warm he was. When their lips touched, it wasn’t like lightning went off in the sky or sparks flew or anything as intense as that. And yet, despite the fact that Nie Mingjue could’ve never seen this coming, he was suddenly very very glad it had.
“You seem happy.” Jiang Cheng commented eyes narrowed at Nie Mingjue, as he handed him a rabbit from the field in the Jingshi.
“Mn.” Lan Wangji was also staring at him. “Suspiciously so.”
Nie Mingjue cradled the rabbit defensively against his chest. “Don’t you two have other love-lives to attend to? Stop prying into mine-”
“We didn’t say anything about love .” Jiang Cheng’s grin was almost manic.
“However, now that you mention it…Is there something you’d like to share, dage?” Since when had Wangji become so devious?
“Stop interrogating him.” Nie Huaisang rolled his eyes, flinging his fan at Lan Wangji who caught it, without turning around, and started using it himself. “He’ll tell us all about his fantastic night with Wen Ning, whenever he’s ready.”
Nie Mingjue loved his little brother. He really did. But it was moments like these where he truly contemplated the pros and cons of homicide.
“Wen Ning?!” Jiang Cheng gasped. “ You and Wen Ning?”
“Hmm.” Even Lan Wangji looked surprised.
It was only a little comforting that these two had been just as oblivious as him.
Only a little.
“Well can he, you know.” Jiang Cheng made a crude gesture with his hands and Nie Mingjue had to wonder how Lan Xichen was engaged to him at times. “Get it up?”
Lan Wangji was looking at Nie Mingjue expectantly for an answer, while Nie Huaisang was stifling his laughs in the palm of his hands.
Nie Mingjue took a deep breath, slowly retrieved Baxia, and then brandished her at his side, making sure to move his rabbit in the process.
He gave them one flat answer.
There was no movement for a few moments.
And then Nie Huaisang was bursting up from his seat and sprinting as if his life depended on it, with Jiang Cheng following closeby after. Lan Wangji was the only one that remained. He gently picked up one of his rabbits, met Nie Mingjue’s deadly gaze, and then he was off, running with the rest of them.
“I think they make a cute couple.”
“Huaisang, shut up. Your brother is literally trying to kill us right now-”
“I’m just saying…”
“I mean, I guess you do have a point...”
“...They’re unconventional, but it’s endearing.”
“Right? And- Oh shit, he’s gaining! Run faster! Go go go!”