Upon the Qinghe Mountains
<>With Nie Mingjue's anger worsening, Nie Huaisang can't bring himself to believe his da-ge loves him anymore--and so he throws up a flower. And then some more.>
<>Or, in which I caved and wrote a platonic NHS & NMJ Hanahaki AU.>
Like all cultivators, Nie Huaisang had heard the warnings: Your golden core can do weird things when you love someone. Especially if you think they donât love you back. The unrequited love can sink into your body and try to rot there, and your core will respond by forcing your own love to the surface. Itâs a defensive mechanism, but if you let it reach the point of blooming, your core will be the death of you.
Being from the Nie Sect, Nie Huaisang wasnât exactly new to the concept of oneâs core being a death sentence. The difference this time was that there was a solution: Have a doctor remove the core. Hanahaki only appeared in cultivators, because only a golden core could let the flowers grow. Remove the core, and there were no flowers.
Staring at the bloody green and yellow petals cupped in his hands, though, Nie Huaisang knew that there would be no cure for himself. Removing the flowers also removed any memories of the loved one. If it had been anyone elseâŚ but he knew it was his da-ge.
Once, Nie Huaisang would have laughed in the face of anyone who tried to tell him his da-ge didnât love him. But that was then. This was now, when Nie Huaisang frequently found himself hiding from Da-geâs temperâand once, when Da-ge found him anyway, cradling both a bruised cheek and a broken fan. In the years since the Sunshot Campaign, something had changed in his da-ge.
Nie Huaisang would always love him, no matter what his da-ge did.
Nie Huaisang couldnât say the same for Da-ge.
That love was the problem, he thoughtâhis love, which made him hold on to every good memory of his da-ge that he had left with more desperation than he had ever turned towards the saber, and the fact the hard truth was that most of his memories involved Da-ge. Remove Da-ge, and Nie Huaisangâs mind would be riddled with holes to the point that he couldnât say how much of Nie Huaisang would remain.
Smiling bitterly, he dropped the petals into a waste bin, rinsed his hands of blood, and then dumped the dirty water out the window to the ground below. Nie Huaisang would be even more useless than heâd ever been, with no memories of saber practiceâalways conducted by Da-geâor lessons on politicsâsometimes sat in on by Da-geâor council meetingsâheld by Da-ge.
Perhaps that Nie Huaisang would be happier, with his ability to actually carry out his responsibilities taken away and the perfect excuse in his hands.
But this Nie Huaisang knew that some of the only times left that Da-ge actually smiled at him were when he did something like go to a council meeting without being dragged there, and this Nie Huaisang would hang on to those moments with all the life he had left in him.
Even if it killed him.
The next few weeks passed slowly, but the disease progressed quickly. It wasnât long before Nie Huaisang was having to hide at the mere sight of Da-ge, pressing fully-bloomed flowers into his qiankun pouch and wiping bloody hands on his inner robes. Any time they were forced to be together, Nie Huaisang found himself choking down flowers and hiding bloody teeth behind his fan.
And, as time kept moving on, Nie Huaisang felt the flowers growing. They began to come out with thorns, repeatedly tearing the inside of his throat. An average cultivator might have hoped to heal between each round.
Nie Huaisang was not an average cultivator. With a large portion of his core already unwillingly devoted to blooming flowers, what little he had left could only barely close the wounds.
And then, of course, the roots began to grow and thicken. They entered his lungs, and Nie Huaisang wished heâd never found out how hard it is to throw up when youâre already fighting for every breath.
Between the flowers, the breathing, and the bloody robes he left for the servants every night, Nie Huaisang wasnât surprised that some of the disciples began catching on. Their foreheads would furrow, staring at the pieces of evidence, before shock and horror made their faces relax just before worry made them tighten again. They would try to approach him, and he would shake his head no.
No, they could not come over. No, they could not tell anyone. No, he would not tell anyone himself. And no, his da-ge would not find out.
Nie Huaisang didnât know what Da-ge would do if he did.
He didnât particularly want to find out, either.
Would it be the sign of love he longed for, for Da-ge to demand he get the surgery? Or just another sign of hate and indifference?
Right now, Nie Huaisang could fight on, extending his life as much as possible, because a small part of him still believed that Da-ge loved him. Anything but the Hanahaki outright disappearing would just be confirmation that wasnât true.
In the end, it was Lan Xichenâs fault. The man came over to play Cleansing, which Nie Huaisang had known about, and Nie Mingjue insisted on Nie Huaisang listening, too, which Nie Huaisang hadnât expected.
âYou do look a little pale, A-Sang,â Lan Xichen noted. âCleansing might help your body get rid of what is making you ill.â
Nie Huaisang smiled, blood, flowers, and thorns trapped behind his lips and further hidden behind his fan since Da-ge had entered the room. He nodded, and sat as far away from his da-ge as could be feasibly believable.
Even so, Lan Xichenâs brow wrinkled, his eyes flicking once between the two Nie brothersâand then he sat, and Nie Huaisang relaxed as he began to play.
Nie Huaisang tensed with each minute that passed. Jin Guangyao tended to play Cleansing once, sometimes twice, and then leaveâperhaps because he played it so often? Lan Xichen had surely played it three times already, did he need to play it a fourth? Was he trying to make up for how much time it had been since the last time he visited?
By the time Lan Xichen began a fifth round, Nie Huaisang was swallowing as many flowers as he could, but the force of them colliding with the ones coming up was making him shake, and he couldnâtâhe couldnât breathe.
Fisting his hands in his robes to try and steady himself, Nie Huaisang made eye contact with the disciple standing guard at the door. It was one of the ones who knew about his Hanahaki. Maybeâ?
No, the disciple shook his head and purposefully diverted his eyes.
Nie Huaisang had no hope of a distraction; he was stuck; heâhe couldnât breathe, the thorns had dug into his throat and the flowers had knotted themselves around them, he couldnât swallow anymore, he was bent over and seeing spots, he had to get out, Liebing had fallen silent with one last sharp note, he had to stand, he had toâ
Nie Huaisang vomited flowers and thorns and blood, and that was the last thing he knew.
Nie Huaisang opened his eyes to white and blue robes.
âEr-ge?â he slurred. âWhatâ?â
âA-Sang!â Lan Xichen cried, leaning forward and putting a hand on Nie Huaisangâs arm, as though to hold him down on the bed.
Nie Huaisang didnât know how to tell him he couldnât have moved if he tried; his entire body ached, though his throat was numb enough he thought someone might have applied an agent to it.
âWhat were you thinking?â Lan Xichen asked. âFrom how many flowers you threw up, youâve had Hanahaki for a while, and toâto just sit there while I played, IâA-Sang, why didnât you tell someone? Mingjue is furious.â
Nie Huaisang couldnât help it: He laughed. âDa-ge? Er-ge, heââ for a moment, he hesitated, but no; there was no point in keeping his secret any longer. It wasnât like Da-ge would be blind anymore to Nie Huaisang avoiding him, or throwing up flowers in his presence ââEr-ge, Da-geâs the reason I have Hanahaki. I know heâs acting this way because of his qi, but that doesnât change the fact he doesnât love me anymore.â
Lan Xichen looked shocked. âA-Sangââ
âIf he loved me, heâd be here!â Nie Huaisang added, glancing pointedly around the room. It was empty but for the two of them.
Lan Xichen didnât look away from him. âA-Sang,â he said gently. âI promise you, your da-ge loves you very much. Right now, heâs out interrogating disciples, trying to figure out if anyone else knows who hurt you. He never believed it possible it could be himself.â
Nie Huaisang frowned and opened his mouth, but for the first time heâd ever seen, Lan Xichen bowled someone elseâs words right over.
âIâm going to have a servant fetch him, and you two are going to have a long talk,â he said firmly. âI wonât let either of you out until you do.â
âThat wonât be necessary, Xichen,â Da-ge said, and Nie Huaisang and Lan Xichen both jumped and turned to him. He lookedâhe looked like he should be the one in the hospital bed, Nie Huaisang admitted to himself, even as he swallowed more flowers down. Da-geâs braids had become frayed, and sweat beaded on his face. Probably from running all over the place. From trying to help Nie Huaisang. From caring for Nie Huaisang.
âDa-geââ Nie Huaisang started, but then fell silent and looked away. He didnât know what to say. What even could he say?
âXichen, please leave us.â
There was the sound of footsteps, and when Nie Huaisang looked up again, Lan Xichenâs robes were disappearing out the door and Da-ge was settling into the bedside chair, hands folded awkwardly in his lap.
âHuaisang,â Da-ge said quietly, and then sighed. âDidi.â
Nie Huaisangâs heart pounded. He swallowed flowers. Da-ge watched the movement of his throat, and smiled sadly, and leaned forward and took his hand. He cupped it as though it was something precious. Something worth caring for. Something worth loving.
Nie Huaisang swallowed more flowers, and Da-ge said, âDidi, Iâll never forgive myself for thisâno, let me speak. Iâve been silent long enoughâI made you think I no longer loved you. I made you think you had to hide it, that you couldnât come to meâand I didnât see the signs that were there anyway. Iâll never forgive myself for that. But, Didiââ he squeezed Nie Huaisangâs hand ââif youâll let me, Iâll show you how much I love you. How much Iâll always love you.â
Nie Huaisang could only stare. He was so overwhelmed, his core didnât even try to grow more flowers. And in his silence, his da-ge kept stumbling on.
âIt might be selfish of me, but I donât want you to get the surgery, either. I donât want you to lose the memories you have of us. I want you to still know that no matter what, Iâll always be there to hold up the world for you. And I know that if we work together, we can make those flowers disappear.â
Nie Huaisang couldnât hold the tears back any longer, and Da-ge surged forward to clutch at his arms. The alarm was clear on his face, and Nie Huaisang couldnât help but cry harder, which made Da-ge reach out to hold him, which made him cry even harderâand as Nie Huaisang cried his way to hiccups in his da-geâs arms, there wasnât a petal to be seen.