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a dream of lotus-colored clouds

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Nie Huaisang arrives at Yunmeng today and Jiang Cheng can’t stop fidgeting.

“Are you constipated or something? Your face looks worse than usual,” Wei Wuxian says.

Jiang Cheng’s eyebrows twitch.

“What do you mean worse than usual?” He snaps.

“I mean you look like there are ants crawling around in your pants.”

Jiang Cheng glances down. Is it really that bad? He feels sweat underneath his collar, his shirt sticking to his back, and wonders if he could bear going shirtless in front of their Qinghe guests. Dipping his feet into the water, he idly kicks some towards Wei Wuxian.

“Jiang Cheng, I was only joking. Stop scowling so much. Nie-xiong is coming over to play, it’ll be so much more fun than it was at Gusu. Ah, too bad Lan Zhan isn’t coming too…”

Jiang Cheng shoves him sideways on the riverbank.

“Lan Wangji hates the sight of you, why on earth would he come here?”

“What? He clearly can’t get enough of me. We’re already so close we’re practically stuck together!”

“You’re the one shamelessly sticking to him like mud. He looks at you like you’re a stain on his robes.”

“But think how fun it would be if he rolled around with us in the mountains!”

Jiang Cheng snorts. “You wish. There’s no way in hell the prestigious Lan er-gongzi would ever do that, especially not with you. Stop wasting your time thinking about him when we should be thinking about how to protect A-jie right now.”

Wei Wuxian falls silent for a moment as he stares at the frowning reflections tumbling around their ankles.

“There’s no way to keep Shijie from visiting us on the training grounds. Maybe if we throw him into the lake we’ll find out how fast gold sinks.”

Jiang Cheng shoves him again, harder, a smile hidden in his shoulder.

“A-niang would throw us in with him.”

“We know how to swim.”

“But can you swim with 30 lashes on your back?.”

Wei Wuxian stops laughing. “Jiang Cheng, don’t even joke about that. I think my soul would fly right out of me.”

That’s the only warning Jiang Cheng gets before he’s pushed face-first into a mouthful of lotus pads.

 

“How are we supposed to greet the Nie sect guests like this?” groans Jiang Cheng.

“It’s hot in Yunmeng, if they ask just tell them it’s normal to sweat this much here.”

Wei Wuxian is diligently wringing what he can out of his hair. He turns to offer his services to Jiang Cheng.

“Come on, we still have a bit of time before they arrive. I bet I can squeeze some more water out of you. And if it really is that bad when they arrive I’ll make up some story about you diving in to save some beautiful, drowning maiden.”

Wei Wuxian pauses in the middle of beating Jiang Cheng’s robes against a rock.

“But I don’t know how believable that would be, given your chivalrous character. I bet she would rather drown than be treated so indelicately by you.”

“Shut your mouth and dry my clothes faster, Wei Wuxian. They’re about to arrive.”

The words are barely out of his mouth when they spot beast-headed flags snarling against a cut of sky. Both of them scramble to get dressed again, hoping the wind from their run will return them to an acceptably drenched state.

Jiang Cheng’s steps feel buoyant. Their frantic race to the docks ends in time for them to watch the boat get pulled in from the water.

Qinghe Nie arrives seasick, rolling around in the boat like green vegetables in a basket.

Jiang Cheng spots Nie Huaisang without even trying, looking every bit like a lettuce leaf boiled limp by the heat.

“Jiang-xiong, Wei-xiong…” Nie Huaisang greets weakly behind his fan as he lurches forward unsteadily for something to hold on to.

“Nie-xiong, long time no see!” Wei Wuxian laughs, pulling him onto stable ground.

“I bring greetings from Qinghe Nie sect leader Nie Mingjue, who regrets being unable to thank your hospitality in person,” Nie Huaisang recites quickly, nodding at Jiang Cheng before his eyes close with a grimace.

“Yunmeng Jiang sect greatly welcomes its Qinghe Nie sect guests and hopes their journey was peaceful and swift,” Jiang Cheng recites back.

“‘Peaceful and swift’, ha! There were too many times I thought would be my last on earth. I’ve never felt so capable of ascension,” Nie Huaisang mutters, still holding onto Wei Wuxian.

“Nie-xiong, are you sure you were close to ascending? Because it seems to me you might have fallen instead,” Wei Wuxian says, pointing at the puddle forming beneath Nie Huaisang’s feet.

The three of them drip silently.

Jiang Cheng sighs.

“Forget it, we can find some dry clothes for you once we get back,” he says, waving forward some Jiang sect helpers to assist the other Nie sect disciples.

“Why are you two wet? Did you catch fish before we got here?” Nie Huaisang whispers excitedly.

“Nie-xiong, we have so much time to do all the things I promised you. Just focus on staying upright for now. Jiang Cheng, let him lean on you, what kind of host lets his guest die right after they arrive?” Wei Wuxian grabs Jiang Cheng and pushes him towards Nie Huaisang.

“Hey! Why am I—” Jiang Cheng starts reflexively before he bites his mouth shut. He watches as Nie Huaisang fans himself delicately, dark hair still clinging to his face in intricate patterns. There is still a slight dampness in Nie Huaisang’s eyelashes, he must have fallen off the boat just before arrival.

“...if we don’t walk faster we’ll all catch colds,” Jiang Cheng says.

His hands itch suddenly, unsure of how he’s allowed to hold Nie Huaisang. Even though the water sticks coolly to their robes, Jiang Cheng’s palms feel heated as he hovers them over Nie Huaisang’s back and waist.

Luckily, Wei Wuxian intercepts his hands and places them firmly on Nie Huaisang’s arm and shoulder.

“Jiang Cheng, hold Nie-xiong firmly! He’s trembling like an old man, be filial.”

How can Jiang Cheng hold Nie Huaisang firmly when his heart is about to give out!