Jiang Cheng doesn’t know what‘s happening when Su She and Jin Zixun storm into his office and proceed to drag him out of it. He tries to tell them to stop, tries to break free, but they both have a very tight grip on him, and so all his struggles get Jiang Cheng nowhere.
There’s fear already settling into his gut and he doesn’t even want to think about what these two are going to do.
“You think you’re so high and mighty, sitting in your office all day, and never coming to presentations,” Su She sneers and Jin Zixun nods.
“Yeah, but guess what, pretty boy,” he says and then he laughs at his own joke.
Jiang Cheng thinks nothing about this is worth laughing about.
“Since you are always the one to make the presentations, you also get to hold it today! Isn’t that fun?” he wants to know and now Jiang Cheng struggles again.
He can’t hold a presentation. There’s a reason he’s in the most tucked away office, only working on preparing presentations and overseeing the paperwork and it’s because Jiang Cheng cannot speak to people.
Or in front of them.
“No—let go—,” he tries, but of course neither Su She nor Jin Zixun are listening to him.
It seems like his attempts to stop them only make them laugh more.
They are dragging him towards the conference room and Jiang Cheng goes ice cold with his panic.
He can’t be in front of these people. They will look at him and they will expect him to speak and when he doesn’t they will start to whisper and try to talk to him and Jiang Cheng cannot do this.
“Don’t,” he whispers, struggling in their grasp again, but the conference room is coming closer and closer, and Jiang Cheng’s heart is beating way too fast to be healthy.
“Have fun, pretty boy,” Jin Zixun tells him as he pushes the hood of Jiang Cheng’s pullover off his head and then they push him into the room.
Jiang Cheng stumbles over his feet but he eventually comes to a stop, right at the front of the table, and Jiang Cheng maybe should have simply let himself faceplant into the floor.
It would probably have been less humiliating than this.
There is another man at the front, who hands Jiang Cheng a microphone and Jiang Cheng accepts it out of reflex more than anything. His eyes are fixed on Su Shen and Jin Zixun who sat down in the sea of people by now and it’s only then that it hits Jiang Cheng how huge the room is.
And just how many people are staring at him.
He thinks he makes a surprised—or panicked—noise but he can’t actually hear anything over the blood rushing in his ears and for a split second Jiang Cheng thinks he’ll simply faint.
He doesn’t, sadly, and the people keep staring at him.
Someone started the presentation behind him, Jiang Cheng is dimly aware of that, and he thinks he’s supposed to speak, supposed to explain what the graphs and numbers mean, but Jiang Cheng can only stare at the mass of people in front of him.
“You should start,” the person who handed him the microphone says, and Jiang Cheng startles so badly he almost drops it.
“I—” he starts, but he can’t form words, can’t bring his tongue to do what he wants and even the thoughts in his head are all jumbled up.
“Give the presentation!” Su She yells and Jiang Cheng hones in on him, because at least he’s a familiar face in the sea of unknown people.
It doesn’t help much with calming down, because Su She is the reason he’s in this position in the first place and the other people are starting to mutter now, so Jiang Cheng drags his eyes away from him.
He’s shaking all over, his hand tightly clutched around the microphone and it feels like he’s dangling over a cliff, seconds away from falling, and at the moment the microphone is the only thing that stops him from falling.
“I—the com—I’m—” Jiang Cheng tries, but he can’t even finish half of his words, and he knows they wouldn’t come out in the right order either and now people are openly talking about him.
Someone is even pointing a finger at him and Jiang Cheng’s whole vision goes black for a moment. He can barely breathe, his breath coming in short and rapid gasps and he knows this is only going to accelerate the panic attack, but he can’t stop himself, can’t stop himself from shaking or stuttering, either, and he hears his father’s voice in his mind, telling him how stupid he is, how useless if he can’t even speak properly, and Jiang Cheng feels hot mortification slice through him when a tear rolls down his cheek.
He wants to run away, wants to get out of this room, but he’s rooted to the spot and he doesn’t know which way safety lies at all.
The voices in the room get louder and louder and Jiang Cheng thinks the moderator is saying something—probably urging Jiang Cheng to speak—but Jiang Cheng’s eyes dart through the room and he sees all eyes on him, knows that everyone is looking and talking and that it’s all about him because he’s the centre of attention and it’s all too much.
The tears are flowing more freely now, only adding to Jiang Cheng’s panic but he can’t seem to stop, can’t even seem to raise his hand to wipe them off, and it’s only when he tries that he realizes he was still holding on to the microphone, because it falls to the floor with a loud, discordant noise.
It only adds to the chaos and panic in Jiang Cheng and he thinks he might just throw up, here in front of everyone, when someone suddenly blocks his view.
Blocks Jiang Cheng from everyone else’s view, really, because the man is towering over him and he’s wide enough to act as a cover as well.
“Breathe,” a voice tells him and Jiang Cheng sucks in a breath purely because the man told him to but it doesn’t seem like he’s satisfied because he instructs him to breathe again and again, his voice calm and measured, the time between his orders always the same.
It takes embarrassingly long before Jiang Cheng can manage to breathe on his own, but as soon as he does, the man ushers him out of the room, without another word to the assembled people. Jiang Cheng catches one last look at Su She and Jin Zixun before he leaves the room and their smug expressions makes him want to throw up on them but even the thought of stepping back into the room has Jiang Cheng hyperventilating again.
“Breathe,” the man reminds him again, one large hand on his back and Jiang Cheng sucks in a breath through his teeth.
“Good,” the man praises him and then leads him into another huge room, though this one is blissfully empty.
Jiang Cheng sees a couch inside the office and his feet carry him towards it without his conscious thought but when he reaches it he crouches down in front of it instead of sitting down on it, and he presses his forehead to the cushions.
His heart is still racing, and there are still tears in his eyes, the panic tightly gripping his heart and stomach and mind, and Jiang Cheng wants to do nothing more than go home and curl up under his blanket.
“What do you need?” the man suddenly asks him, startling Jiang Cheng badly, because he had honestly forgotten that he wasn’t alone, and any resemblance of calm leaves him in an instant.
“Shhh, it’s okay, I didn’t mean to startle you,” the man immediately says, clearly picking up on the fact that Jiang Cheng is spiralling again and he takes a few steps back.
But then he seems to come to a conclusion because instead of backing further away, he suddenly marches up at Jiang Cheng and before Jiang Cheng can scramble to get out of the way—he doubts he could have made it, with how his legs feel—the man hauls Jiang Cheng up.
Jiang Cheng barely has time to think before the man pulls him close, pressing Jiang Cheng’s face into his shoulder and resting a grounding hand at the back of Jiang Cheng’s neck.
“It’s okay, just breathe,” the man says again, and by now Jiang Cheng realizes that he should recognize that voice, but his mind is still too foggy to continue that thought.
Jiang Cheng hates being in the presence of people he doesn’t know well, hates being the centre of attention, and even though he clearly is both of these things right now, their position allows him to pretend that he’s not.
It’s a very comfortable position to be in; he can’t actually see anything and the hand at his nape is the perfect weight to keep him in the present.
Jiang Cheng wonders if he can book this man to follow him around to do this every time Jiang Cheng has a meltdown.
He stays where he is for longer than is maybe necessary, but Jiang Cheng knows that as soon as the man lets go of him there will be questions he has to answer, and Jiang Cheng doesn’t know if he can.
He’s not just a mess in front of multiple people; usually just one is enough to tie his tongue and make him skirt the edge of a breakdown.
“Will you be alright if I let go of you?” the man suddenly asks and Jiang Cheng jerks, but his reaction is not as bad as it was before.
“No,” he says after a moment of deliberation and the man squeezes his neck in acknowledgement and then simply let’s Jiang Cheng compose himself in peace.
It takes long—longer than it has in quite some time—before Jiang Cheng feels ready to move away from the man.
When he finally does he really wishes he wouldn’t have, because that’s Nie Mingjue.
That’s the CEO of the company Jiang Cheng works for, and he’s pretty sure with the display he just put on, he’s going to be out of a job soon enough.
Especially if Nie Mingjue was in the conference room to see his complete meltdown.
“I’m Nie Mingjue,” the man introduces himself, startling a laugh out of Jiang Cheng who slaps a hand over his mouth.
“You know that,” Nie Mingjue says with a small smile and Jiang Cheng nods.
“My—I’m—Jiang Cheng,” Jiang Cheng finally just presses out when his words continue to fail him and Nie Mingjue nods at him.
“I know that, actually,” he tells Jiang Cheng who goes white at that.
If Nie Mingjue knows who he is it can only be because someone had a complaint about him or because the work he does is so bad that Jiang Cheng is about to be fired.
“It’s not what you think,” Nie Mingjue reassures him. “The work you do is excellent. That’s why I know who you are.”
Jiang Cheng’s mind is spinning like crazy because none of this makes any sense, least of all Nie Mingjue praising him for his work, and he doesn’t know how to react to it either.
“Are you feeling better? Is there anything I can do?” Nie Mingjue asks, and Jiang Cheng forces himself to get it together.
It’s already shameful enough that he can’t keep it together in front of people; making his boss realize just what a mess he is, is not going to help him any.
“I’m alright,” Jiang Cheng says, glad when his voice holds out and his thoughts don’t come out all mangled up and Nie Mingjue gives him a very doubtful look.
“My little brother used to react like that in face of other people as well. I know you’re not okay,” Nie Mingjue says and Jiang Cheng flinches.
Used to. Which means Nie Mingjue’s brother eventually grew out of it, very much unlike Jiang Cheng.
“I see,” he whispers, shame curling in his gut again, because he never managed to overcome his fear like Nie Mingjue’s brother did.
“Stop it,” Nie Mingjue chastises him and when Jiang Cheng flinches he puts his hand on his neck again.
Jiang Cheng instantly relaxes.
“My brother has years of therapy behind him and he had a very good support system, that made sure he didn’t get into situations like this unsupervised. I’m guessing you had neither, especially given the fact that you’re working for me, instead of your father.”
Jiang Cheng’s eyes burn again, because no. His father never thought it would be worth it to send Jiang Cheng to therapy, seeing as he somehow still managed to function in every-day life and even got a degree, and while Jiang Yanli and Wei Wuxian were always sympathetic, they had their own life and struggles, so they couldn’t support Jiang Cheng as much as he needed.
“He said I can’t lead the company, if I’m being like that,” Jiang Cheng whispers. “And he claimed he didn’t have another job for me either.”
“So you had Lan Xichen put in a word with me,” Nie Mingjue nods and Jiang Cheng shrugs awkwardly.
“I know I wouldn’t have made it through a job interview. Xichen promised that I would be judged based on my work once I got in.”
“And you are,” Nie Mingjue says. “The work you do is excellent.”
Jiang Cheng doubts that, because he’s only working behind the scenes, doing the paperwork no one else wants to do, he knows that, but it’s still nice to hear it.
“The work you do is important,” Nie Mingjue says as if he can read Jiang Cheng’s mind, and by now Jiang Cheng is inclined to believe that, however fantastical it sounds because no one has been able to read Jiang Cheng like this in a long time.
“It’s unloved work, yes, but mostly because everyone I had in that position before found it too difficult. I didn’t hear that complaint from you, yet.”
“Because it’s not,” Jiang Cheng whispers.
Sure, it’s a lot of work, but it’s not that difficult once you understand the workings of the company, and Jiang Cheng finds himself with hours to spare more often than not.
“Don’t sell yourself short,” Nie Mingjue says and takes his hand back, much to Jiang Cheng’s dismay.
“I’m sorry I butchered the presentation today,” Jiang Cheng says, because he’s uncomfortable with the praise he’s getting.
Mostly because he’s not used to that, but Jiang Cheng pushes that thought away.
“It wasn’t your presentation to give,” Nie Mingjue says and he seems angry now. “Weren’t Jin Zixun and Su She supposed to give it?”
“Yes,” Jiang Cheng nods. “But they thought since I prepared it, it would only be fair if I gave it too. They are tired of doing my work for me, apparently,” Jiang Cheng whispers and waits for Nie Mingjue’s judgement on that.
“And I am tired of them acting like that,” Nie Mingjue says and rubs a hand over his face. “That’s harassment of a colleague and it’s more than enough reason to finally fire them.”
“Finally?” Jiang Cheng dares to ask.
“I’ve been looking for a reason to fire them for a while now,” Nie Mingjue says with a shrug. “But while they are shit at their job, they are excellent at covering their tracks, so I didn’t have sufficient reason yet. This finally gives it to me.”
“Ah, I see,” Jiang Cheng says with a wince, because it hasn’t been them who covered their tracks.
That was all Jiang Cheng. And maybe it’s time he admits to that.
“I—it’s not them,” he says and when Nie Mingjue’s eyes fall on him the so familiar panic starts to build in his chest again.
“Breathe,” Nie Mingjue says instantly and Jiang Cheng does.
“I have been covering their tracks for them,” he admits once his breath regulates again and Nie Mingjue fixes him with a glare.
“They said they would make me talk to people,” Jiang Cheng says and shrinks in on himself again. “They did this today, because I refused to fix their mistake last time,” he then whispers and Nie Mingjue slams a hand down on the table.
“Shit, I’m sorry,” he says immediately afterwards, clearly having noticed Jiang Cheng’s flinch. “What absolute shit-stains,” he mutters and reaches for his phone, before he hesitates. “If I call my brother here, will you be alright?” he wants to know and Jiang Cheng hesitates, but in the end he nods.
It’s not quite as bad with fewer people around and if it’s the brother who suffered the same, then he at least will understand.
“Huaisang is so going to love raining hell on them,” Nie Mingjue says and makes the call.
Nie Huaisang, it turns out, loves nothing more than to rain hell on them.
Jiang Cheng tries to make himself very small on the couch where he finally took a seat, but of course Nie Huaisang notices him the second he comes in, but he doesn’t pay him much attention, seemingly too excited to get rid of Su She and Jin Zixun.
It’s only when they have finalized their plans—with no input from Jiang Cheng at all—that Nie Huaisang turns towards him.
“And who might you be?” Nie Huaisang asks him and Nie Mingjue puts a hand to his shoulder.
“He exposed them today,” Nie Mingjue tells him. “Be gentle, he has social anxiety just like you.”
“Oh, I see,” Nie Huaisang says, suddenly a lot more relaxed than before, but Jiang Cheng stiffens when he bounds over. “What therapist do you go to?”
“None,” Jiang Cheng forces himself to say and he wants the couch to swallow him when Nie Huaisang simply blinks at him.
“Da-ge,” he then says and Nie Mingjue sighs.
“I know, Huaisang.”
“Okay,” Nie Huaisang nods, and plops down next to Jiang Cheng, who has no idea what just happened. “We’re going to recommend you to my therapist,” Nie Huaisang says and Jiang Cheng stares at him.
“If you’re just like me then it’s a really bad case, right? You can’t go on like this. We’re going to get you the help you deserve,” Nie Huaisang decides and then smiles sheepishly when Nie Mingjue pointedly clears his throat.
“I mean, if you want to. We’re going to help you if you want to.”
Jiang Cheng’s eyes dart over to Nie Mingjue who nods encouragingly at him and it never before occurred to Jiang Cheng that this is something that requires professional help.
His father always made it sound like if he can’t deal with it by himself, then that’s just because he’s too weak to overcome this.
Jiang Cheng doesn’t know at all what to do with the support he’s being given right now.
“Whoever you’re thinking about, I’m going to kill them for you,” Nie Huaisang cheerfully says, because clearly everyone in this room can read him now. “Well, I’m going to have da-ge kill them for you, but, semantics.”
“Huaisang,” Nie Mingjue chides him but it startles a laugh out of Jiang Cheng.
He hasn’t laughed in front of others for way too long, he knows that, and he’s surprised by his own reaction.
But something about being around the Nie brothers makes it feel easy.
“Okay,” he agrees, and he leaves it entirely open to what he agrees.
Going by the wide smile on Nie Huaisang’s face, he picked up on that almost immediately.
“We’re going to keep him,” Nie Huaisang decides and Jiang Cheng would object to ‘being kept’ but no one bothered to even like him in a long time—his condition not making it easy, Jiang Cheng knows that, but still—and so he can’t find it in him to complain about that.
“Of course,” Nie Mingjue says, as if there has never been any doubt about that, and it settles something in Jiang Cheng.
Maybe here it doesn’t matter that he can’t string two coherent sentences together. Maybe here, he will be accepted for who he is.