Sometimes age regression isn’t all pacifiers or cute stuffed animals, or those warm safe places that people somehow manage to create. It's not all cozy naps and hugs and being taken care of. Frankly, Wei Wuxian thinks, shivering and shaking on his couch, he’s not even sure those things are real at all. The only things that are real are deadlines and busy work. The kind of work that makes Wei Wuxian want to tear all of his hair out and scream and kick and all the things he could to show his extreme displeasure. But lately... He hasn’t even had the energy for a mild disapproving talk.
He works all day at his office and comes home to work on whatever he couldn’t get done during office hours. The piles of paperwork only seem to grow no matter how hard he works; the seemingly endless goal of finishing them is always out of reach. He still tries though, when he can.
Today… He can’t.
Wrapped suffocatingly tight on the couch in the only blanket in the house that's long enough for him, Wei Wuxian wants to cry. He refuses to. If he starts, he’ll never stop, and there's still work to be done. His laptop is right there on the table. An email half composed lies in wait from where he had just stopped to keel over and curl into a small ball.
Wei Wuxian thinks about finishing it. The tears return and itch at his eyes. Pens lie scattered on the floor, the table, papers spilling from his overstuffed work bag in messy piles. He doesn't know how he's supposed to tidy it up and keep working. Even the idea of sitting up is an impossible task. He takes a rattling breath in. It wheezes out of him. A gargled noise leaves his throat, as if his body is protesting where his mind is insistent. Work. He's got to work. He has to. He heaves a growling whine as he closes his eyes and covers his face with his blanket.
Its dark and damp with his breath. It’s simple to take in. He can't see anything beyond a hazy pattern of light through the fabric. It's easy, soothing, like a warm coat on a cold day it settles him. His tense chest relaxes, if only slightly, and he takes another shuddering breath. Five minutes. Then he'll work. That sounds reasonable, right? Maybe he should set an alarm on his phone so he doesn't pass the time limit. He peeks out of the blanket, blinking away tears, and that's about all he can do before he gives up and hides again. The sight of his messy work table is positively nauseating.
Just before he can slip into a fit or stressful sleep, the front door of his apartment rattles with a loud bang. "Oy, Wei Wuxian! You better be sick as a dog in there for standing me up today!" Jiang Cheng bellows, pounding again.
Wei Wuxian fights against a roll of guilt washing up his throat, then he loses the battle against his tears and they begin to silently slip down his face. He’s hiding. Not coming out no matter how loud his shidi yells. "Wei Wuxian! I'm coming in!" Jiang Cheng slips his key into the lock and the door swings open, followed by the sound of his pretentious dress shoes on the entryway tile. "Wei Wuxian!" He shouts. The door slams behind him. Wei Wuxian is still hiding. Maybe if he doesn’t move, Jiang Cheng won’t yell at him. Clearly, he’s not home.
"I can see you. Are you sleeping? We were supposed to have lunch today, did you forget?" Jiang cheng changes into house slippers and enters the house. Wei Wuxian tries not to cry audibly, still extremely scared and unsettled, sure if he saw his table again he'd truly freak out. "Aiya, its a mess in here! We didn't raise you to be a slob like this!" The sound of shuffling papers echoes distantly in Wei Wuxian's ears. Louder than that is his own shaking breath. "Wei Wuxian. Are you dead?"
Suddenly the blanket is ripped from him, but he can't see the table, only his little brother's face curled in thinly veiled concern, brows drawn together. "Oh shit. Are you- are you okay?"
"Jiang Cheng..." Wei Wuxian says miserably. "Fine. I'm fine. I was just-" he swallows hard. Makes an attempt at a smile. "I was taking a break. I'll get back to work now." His attempt at sitting up is thwarted by Jiang Cheng pushing him back by the shoulder.
"Like fuck you are. You look like shit. When was your last day off?"
"Ah, don't worry, Jiang Cheng, I-"
"Don't even think of lying to me. One lie and I leave."
Panic flashes through Wei Wuxian like wildfire. "No!" His hand is tight around Jiang Cheng's wrist before he knows it. The panic rises as a sour bile in his throat.
"Well, clearly I won't," Jiang Cheng bites, clearly unhappy. "What the hell is wrong with you? You're supposed to be the capable adult here. You’re the one who knows what he’s doing- you brag about it all the time."
Wei Wuxian grits his teeth. "Not adult. Xian Xian is only three."
Jiang Cheng holds still for a long moment. "Well." He says decisively. He gently pulls Wei Wuxian’s hand off of his wrist and shushes him when he protests. "If Xian Xian is three, clearly he can’t do adult paperwork."
"What! You can't take off one day? You forgot we had lunch plans together today and I called you last night to remind you. You need a break,'' Jiang Cheng says. "Its okay. I'll take care of it."
Something large and insistent rises in Wei Wuxian- an urge to give in and let go and be simple and useless for a while. He can’t. He can’t. "You don’t need to do that."
"And why not?"
"I can do it. It's fine. You’re the younger one, what do you need to worry about me for? I’ve got it."
"You don't have to." Jiang Cheng hisses. "You won't. I'll take care of it. I can’t stand seeing you so tired."
Wei Wuxian wobbles inside- a dangerous misstep- and finds himself a step closer to giving in. His voice wobbles as he asks, "You promise?"
"I swear. Xian Xian doesn't need to worry."
"Xian Xian is only three."
"That’s right." Jiang Cheng even sounds proud, a little bit. Wei Wuxian let’s go and slumps back against the couch, feeling overwhelmingly fuzzy. It’s like the blanket had been draped over him again but he can still see Jiang Cheng’s concerned face. "Good. Now. Lay here for a bit. Gege is going to tidy up."
"G… gege?" Wei Wuxian asks, merely wondering if he really could use the nickname. Wei Wuxian is supposed to be the older brother here, but he supposes… just for a little…
Wei wuxian has no words, watching his younger brother tidy and stack up his papers. He doesn't feel emotional now as he looks at them. It's not his problem right now. It’s the problem of someone bigger and more capable than him. The pens are swept into his bag, and papers tucked away with precision. Jiang Cheng’s ring glints in the sunlight. "Is Xian Xian hungry?" Jiang Cheng says, clearing the laptop away too. Wei Wuxian isn't gone enough to be truthful- So he doesn't answer. "A-Xian. Just tell me yes or no. Have you eaten recently?"
Somehow it's easier with direct orders. "No, gege. A-Xian hasn't eaten in a long time."
Jiang Cheng turns then, and with a clumsy hand, pushes Wei Wuxian’s hair out of his face. All he says is: "I'll make us some lunch."
Wei Wuxian’s insides tremble to the tune of Jiang Cheng's words. It’s been ages since someone cared for him in this way, even longer since he didn’t have shitty cup noodles in between shifts or poorly cooked meat he was too rushed to cook properly. He feels agitated again. "Gege," he whines. It's a mixed feeling of resisting his own feelings and a pure delight at the chance to whine when he wants to. "Gege, Xian Xian doesn't feel well."
"Xian Xian is tired. Xian Xian is sad." He’s shaking. Jiang Cheng sits on the couch beside him. It's so much Like jie jie used to that he really does start crying again. "Um. It's okay. To be sad. Gege has many things he feels sad for too. Little boys can be sad."
"I'm little?" Wei Wuxian asks. What a shocking development! "Really?"
"Yes. You see, you're only three. Things feel very large for three year olds, so your emotions can get the best of you. I would know. I’ve raised a kid before." Something warm and delightful bubbles it's way into Wei Wuxians face, making him rosy cheeked with pleasure despite his tears.
"Gege takes care of me!" Wei Wuxian cheers loudly.
Jiang Cheng smiles a little strangely. "It's weird. I havent seen Xian Xian for a while. Where have you been?" The tears come flooding back and Wei Wuxian begins openly sobbing. Jiang Cheng tsks and pulls him closer.
There's something awful and cathartic about sobbing your eyes out. Wei Wuxian’s chest heaves from the strength of his sobs. He cries so hard he almost can't breathe, until Jiang Cheng shushes him and helps him get his breath back. The whole time, Jiang Cheng holds him.
"I'm sorry ge," Wei Wuxian gasps between sobs. "I didn't mean to go away. There's been so much work. I feel so stuck. No matter what I do it's always the same and I don't know how much longer I can take it. I can't think anymore. It’s all too much for me. I cant eat or sleep or do anything but work. I just want to be stupid and useless and simple and I just can't be, ever." Wei Wuxian trembles violently, barely held together by Jiang Cheng. "I lie awake at night dreading the morning. I didn't mean to forget lunch, please, I’m sorry, I- I didn't mean to."
"Wei Wuxian," Jiang Cheng grits out. His hands grip Wei Wuxian’s shoulders tightly. "Why didn't you call me! How was I supposed to know these things? I can help you get a new job. Don't tell me it's never occured to you."
"They need me."
"You need you. This isn't a way to live. Never taking a break and working yourself up so much you cant even tidy your table when it becomes too cluttered, what are you supposed to do?" Wei Wuxian sniffs loudly, blinking hard. "This isn't sustainable. Xian Xian is taking care of you, telling you answers, don't you see? You've locked him away for what- to work? Because you didn't think you deserve rest, or food? Or a god damn break to lie on the couch and do nothing? Wei Wuxian." He says insistently. "A-Xian. You can't do this to yourself."
Wei Wuxian groans and coughs weakly. "I'm sorry, Jiang Cheng."
"You better be. Scaring me like this. What's wrong with you?” Jiang Cheng cuffs him gently. “If you want to play there's nothing wrong with that. It just... Shouldn't be like this." Jiang Cheng clears his throat, looking close to tears himself. "We'll find you a new place to work. Where you don't have to feel like you're being used or overworked."
"You are." Jiang Cheng snaps. "Aren't you smarter than this. Normal jobs shouldn't reduce you to tears." Wei Wuxian flinches, expecting the worst to be said- reduce you to a child- but instead it misses. He’s surprised.
"I'm okay," Wei Wuxian stubbornly insists.
"You are not. You have to address that. Xian Xian isn't a liar, is he."
Wei Wuxian pouts, suddenly feeling childish again. "No!"
"Didn't think so. I trust Xian Xian more then Wei Wuxian."
"Its all me," he says.
"Well yeah, duh, but only part of you likes to be truthful. Lying isn't allowed. You hear me? When I ask you a question, I want an honest answer." Jiang Cheng says.
"That's asking a lot of a three year old."
"Perhaps. I have faith in him."
“Oh,” Wei Wuxian says. The emotions begin to fade as he gets too tired to sustain them. “Faith in me?”
“Of course. What idiot could be more stubborn than you?”
“Hey!” Wei Wuxian protests, feeling a little genuinely hurt.
Jiang Cheng blinks. “I’m sorry. You’re a good boy.”
Wei Wuxian ducks his head, smiling. He wiggles happily. “Good!”
“Good.” Jiang Cheng smiles proudly at him. Wei Wuxian, finally, finally, feels like everything might be okay.