HAPPY NEW YEAR! :D I bring angst!

Written for a twitter request, from the a softer world inspired prompt "I don't know how to make things right. So I'll just keep pretending that nothing's wrong. (you know that I'm no good)" | XiYao


Jin Guangyao is running out of time.

He knows this, as much as he knows the feeling of breath in his lungs and the scent of fresh peony blossoms heralding spring's arrival, and he knows its inevitability. Time is an irreplaceable resource, always slipping further from his grasp until it's too long gone to recover. This time- there's so little left that he can't twist it apart it spread it out; there's too little to work with.

It whispers in the emptiness between thoughts and hides in gilded halls, a constant reminder that no matter how high he rises, he is doomed to fall. He is nothing—

Nothing is wrong.

With every lie that unravels, he desperately tries to spin a new one together with frayed threads, pulling at everyone's heartstrings, but especially, Lan Xichen's. Jin Guangyao knows he can't make things right, deep in the grimmest chambers of his heart, but it doesn't stop him from trying.

Moments slip away, out of his control- they're lost to the forward march of time. Each revelation snaps the bonds that hold him steady, until there's nothing left to cling to. Nothing, except—

Lan Xichen is calm and serene and another gulp of air, greedily stolen into Jin Guangyao's tainted lungs. He's a token for extra time, or at least a few precious seconds free of the anxieties that haunt him endlessly.

Jin Guangyao pretends he's alright - he can still pretend in a believable way - and breathes in deeply, for those few seconds of sweet and unburdened life.

・x・x・x・x・x・

Jin Guangyao is running out of time.

He tries to escape this inevitability, clawing at scraps of hope with the desperation of a man drowning. He is drowning, sinking under the weight of his mistakes and lies and crimes, without a lifeline in sight. He knows this. He feels the minutes running by too quickly to catch, and he tries anyway.

If he can't make things right, he'll just keep pretending that nothing is wrong. He takes a foundation built from years and years and countless breathes and laughter and joy and pulls on every shred of sympathy for his last chance at hope.

Even as time gets cut shorter and shorter, he can't allow himself to break down all his walls. He can't see disgust in Lan Xichen's eyes. He knows he'll never be worthy of the sparkling opinion that Lan Xichen has of him; he knows it's founded on the very same lies he's drowning in. He knows he can't keep the truth from finding Lan Xichen, not with how it's been spread on wings of destruction and betrayal.

But.

Nothing is wrong.

Hopes and prayers and justifications tumble from his lips while inevitability haunts him. The whispers never leave and Jin Guangyao's words never fail, and both of these can't be true.

Betrayal is inescapable and he can't tell the truth while keeping himself in Lan Xichen's good graces. He doesn't know any other way to be; he just wants another precious drink of acceptance and loyalty and love before he runs out of air.

・x・x・x・x・x・

Jin Guangyao is running out of time.

He knows this isn't quite right, because he has run out of time. He can't turn things around. He has lost all of his supporters. He has seen one of his greatest fears and failed to salvage anything after- his pride or heart or hope or life.

Lan Xichen looks at him with disappointed, pained, confused betrayal. Jin Guangyao has seen a lie, or perhaps, countless half-truths, spring from Lan Xichen's lips over the years, but now, in this finality, there is nothing but raw honesty in his eyes.

There are no whispers haunting him and nothing is right.

Everything fell around him and his final pillar of support collapsed from the foundation; nothing is strong enough to withstand the pressure of being faced with Jin Guangyao's broken open honesty.

Every last gasp of wretched air is a countdown to the end. Every final plea is a useless attempt at stalling the hands of fate. Every drop of blood is a brilliantly bright ornamentation to herald in his doom.

The gilded threads unravel to reveal the dirt of poverty-fueled desperation, always clawing upwards to escape a life that didn't have to run to catch him.

There is nothing and everything; time slows for no one but the last few seconds of a life destined to be remembered for only the worst parts.

Jin Guangyao is out of time.

He can't make things right and he can't pretend anymore, but he can still spend his last breath cursing his fate.

・x・x・x・x・x・

Jin Guangyao ran out of time.

He doesn't know this. Fate saw fit to give him more in the form of another life; he has a second chance to spend the months and days and years and seconds as he chooses, without the weight of his inevitable doom hanging over him.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry!" Lan Xichen apologizes, holding up the torn sleeve of his own robes. "You know that I'm no good at this."

Jin Guangyao tries and fails to hide his laughter behind his sleeve. "I know- though somehow I had fooled myself into believing you'd improve over time," he teases, taking the ripped robes to be mended later. There's a strange sense of déja vu in the motions, but perhaps it's because he's been acquainted with Lan Xichen's questionable laundry skills for awhile now.

"Apologies, A-Yao," he says sheepishly, pulling soapy hands from the water and giving him an embarrassed smile.

In this moment, they are but two wandering cultivators, far away from the mess of politics and lies and harsh betrayals, and Jin Guangyao smiles back at him.

He has a thought, or really, the hint of a feeling, in the deepest chambers of his heart, telling him to savor this moment and this life. It's far sweeter than he could possibly know, without going through the same suffering over again. But—

Jin Guangyao ran out of time once, and now he can live freely.