Time once again for “Things I’ll We’ll Never Write!”
This one is actually a collaborative effort with @catholicjigglypuff, inspired by this art by @wifiwuxians.
After a curse/illness (maybe even a murder attempt?) Jin Guangyao wakes up to find he is
A) Not in any of the rooms in Koi Tower he would expect to be in, and
B) Not alone.
Carefully extricating himself from the arms of a sleeping Nie Huaisang, he manages to slip off the couch bed without winding up in a heap on the floor, but that hasn't done much to alleviate the confused panic hammering in his chest.
Wait... now he knows where they are... this is Huaisang's workroom.
But it's different. More full. There'd never been a bed of any kind before, and there are work tables and a desk he doesn't recognize, and a scrollcase next to the bookcase.
He briefly considers shaking Nie Huaisang awake for answers, but decides against it and heads for the door. He'll just go home and-
-he pauses when he catches a glimpse of himself in a mirror he passes.
He's not wearing his usual gold robes.
Instead, he's wearing the earthen colors he'd been forced to stick to during the war, but... these are much nicer than anything he'd had back then, as if they'd been made specifically for him.
Alright... maybe he should wake up Nie Huaisang.
Meanwhile, three timelines over, Meng Yao is barely holding himself back from getting himself in -deeper- trouble as he is dragged by the arm through the hallways of Koi Tower -Why is he even in Koi Tower? In Jin robes? He'd sworn he was never setting foot in this place again!- by a man he doesn't recognize while his father walks stone-faced ahead of them.
He is unceremoniously shoved through a mirror and finds himself in a room full of unfamiliar cultivation tools and other things that make him vaguely nauseous to look at. There is a teenager sitting hunched on the floor with a bunch of books scattered about, who eyes his father with clear fear.
"Now that you're awake," his father says with a cold sneer. "I expect the three of you to get back to work finding a way to eliminate the Nie problem."
...the... the what?
Long story short, Canon Jin Guangyao gets bodyswitched with a Meng Yao who never (completely, there was a short break) left Qinghe because he'd wound up marrying Nie Huaisang.
Jin Guangyao's biggest problem is that he just... can't fathom a timeline where he settled like this instead of striving to earn his father's acceptance (but the more he's around this Huaisang, who seems to have reached his full potential much sooner than the one he knows, he... can start to see the appeal).
Meanwhile Meng Yao is just having the worst time. What the fuck do you mean there's a timeline where he's participating in the slow murder of his brother-in-law and he's in it right now? What the fuck do you mean he just accepts that his father is a callous neglectful prick and he gets knocked around constantly by his father's hateful wife? Why the fuck is he participating in demonic cultivation? Where is his husband????
When the curse wears off, the two of them wind up crossing paths in the ether on their way back to their original bodies, and it's just like, "What the fuck is wrong with you?"
"You gave up on our mother's wish?"
"You're ruining your life for that asshole?"
Back in his own timeline, with the knowledge of What Could Have Been, Jin Guangyao can't help noticing a few things that are worth looking into.
Namely, the possibility that this Nie Huaisang might harbor the same feelings as his counterpart, which might be useful.
(And he does. But since the events that kept Meng Yao in Qinghe didn't happen and all The Bad Stuff between Jin Guangyao and Nie Mingjue did, he'd kept his mouth shut because he didn't want to accidentally make things worse between them.)
Jin Guangyao starts off with pure ambition in mind. He can see the potential in this Huaisang that the other one had, it just hasn't been brought out yet. And with a smitten Nie Huaisang being willing to smooth things over between him and Nie Mingjue, he can make things easier for himself without actually having to leave the Jin sect...
But then his affection-starved nature starts becoming addicted to things like the fact that Nie Huaisang is perfectly happy to drop everything and come put him back together after a terrible day putting up with the stress the Jin sect loads on him.
At some point, he almost has a breakdown at the thought of losing that affection if his plans go awry, and that's when it hits him that he might be in this too deep.
(Haha, too late, Jiggy. You're in love now!)
(For a fun bonus, a little look into the Butterfly Event that kicked off the Married Timeline:
Nie Mingjue took note of the fact that nobody else in Qinghe could get Nie Huaisang to mind half as often as Meng Yao could.
Unlike in the canon timeline, this Nie Mingjue makes the suggestion of (temporarily) shifting Meng Yao’s position from aide-de-camp to tutor/caretaker, at least until Huaisang passes lectures.
But Meng Yao reflexively balks at the idea. It’s not… It's not that he doesn’t like Huaisang, but being so publicly tethered to him would effectively bury any chance of joining his father’s sect in the future. He’s heard the things the Jin sect says about the Nie heir and, if anything, they’re even less complimentary than the things said about him.
He manages to convince Nie Mingjue to leave things the way they are without giving away his feelings, and that’s that…
Only… at the end of the week, he realizes he hasn’t seen hide nor hair of Nie Huaisang in over three days.
The other boy hasn’t popped into his office or rooms to bother him even once.
Which should be a good thing… shouldn’t it?
He eventually finds Huaisang in the main library, hunkered over a book and clearly struggling to pay attention to what he’s reading despite just as clearly being bored out of his skull by whatever it is.
Huaisang waves him off with an airy comment of "I just realized that if he was willing to give up his best assistant, Da-ge must be really desperate for me to learn something this year!"
And yet as the avoidance continues, Meng Yao starts to have a few revelations.
Revelation One: As much as Nie Huaisang was “bothering” him, he was also the only one to specifically seek him out just for company. While Nie Mingjue and Nie Zonghui clearly like and respect him, everything they talk about with him is related to work. And the healers and non-cultivator servants are the same way; friendly and polite, but clearly co-workers and no more than that.
And the less said about his interactions with some of the haughtier disciples, the better.
Nie Huaisang was the only one who was actively trying to be his friend, dragging him away from work for food, for rest, for other things to keep him from pushing himself too hard.
Revelation Two: While Nie Mingjue might have missed his panicked distaste in reaction to the suggestion of changing jobs, Nie Huaisang clearly did not.
He should just let it be. He should.
Nie Mingjue is clearly pleased by the change in his brother, given how proud he sounds whenever he mentions that Nie Huaisang might not just pass his classes this year, but do well.
Meng Yao himself has never been more productive without a certain bossy little interruption, though frequently he finds himself working hungry because without a certain bossy little interruption, he loses track of how long he’s been buried in paperwork and forgets to eat.
He should just let it be. Everything’s working the way it's supposed to be.
And yet he can’t help but miss-)
Do ya'll ever think about how every character in MDZS is living in a radically different genre of story?
Cause yeah, sure Wei Wuxian is living in a danmei fantasy novel with strong romantic comedy elements, but if you slide over a bit Lan Wangji is living a serious and heady drama about regret, loss, yearning, the passage of time, and ultimately atonement.
Scooch on over to Xichen and your in a straight up Greek tragedy, right down to the parable about hubris and trust. Jin Guangyao is living meanwhile in a political dark fantasy al'la Game of Thrones, Nie Huaisang is in a Gothic moody Monte Cristo-esque reflection on revenge and deception, and while Lan Sizhuhi and Jin Ling are living in two VERY different YA fantasy books ('magic boarding school/secret orphan of destiny' and 'Steven Universe style coming of age/discovering all your family are some flavor of evil and magic' respectively).
Everyone connected to Yi City is living inside a dark psychological thriller/horror flick, except for Xue Yang who is in a Found Family/Enemies to Lover fic right up until he isn't.
Jiang Cheng's entire life has been one long soap opera, and it is showing no signs of stopping anytime soon.