untilted mdzs a/b/o fic
i do not have a title yet. i have everything else (including a full outline) but no title. help would be appreciated. this is just a little snippet. i have other stuff written, but it’s out of order.
“It wasn’t about love,” Wei Wuxian says, more bitter than he intends. “It was never about love. It was about subjugation.”
Wei Wuxian’s life changes with his presentation, just not in the way he thought it would.
Or: As an omega, Wei Wuxian would have had a place in his adoptive family. Maybe not one he liked, but a place all the same. Instead, he presents as an alpha, and everything comes crashing down.
The first thing Wei Wuxian becomes aware of is the sharp, herbal scent flooding his nose and mouth. There’s an acidic note to the scent, something medicinal and sour, and it immediately makes him think of Wen Qing, whose soft, floral scent is often drowned out by the stench of her medicine bag.
The next is that there’s something on his face. It’s damp and heavy, and tied around his nose and mouth – and his mouth has been filled with what feels like an old rag.
Confused now, Wei Wuxian reaches for the cloth on his face blindly, trying to pull it away, but someone knocks his hand away.
He groans and reaches for it again, only to have his hand knocked away once more. “Leave it, Wei Wuxian.”
Wen Qing. It cuts through the haze of his sleep-addled brain. That’s definitely Wen Qing. Is he sick? He feels—odd. Like someone changed his skin when he wasn’t looking.
“Your impudence does you no credit, Wen-guniang.”
He feels Wen Qing’s hand move away from his face. “If we’re going to play at propriety, Yu-furen, my title is furen, or daifu.”
“If you cannot control yourself in the presence of my patient, I will ask you to leave.”
Oh, yikes. Madam Yu is not going to take that well.
“I will not leave an unattached omega alone with—”
Wei Wuxian groans loudly. As the voices drop off, he makes a show of slowly opening his eyes, blinking laconically at the room. The sight that greets him is—strange.
It’s his room, but it’s undergone a rapid transformation. He can’t see any of his maids, which is notable in and of itself; the last time he got sick, they’d hovered nervously by his bedside until he was well enough to walk unattended. Anything made of cloth has been stripped from the space – no blankets, no tapestries, no cushions – and replaced by cheaper, thinner equivalents. His bedsheets are rough against his skin.
And then, there are the incense burners. He can see five just in his limited frame of vision, all lit, all slowly burning.
He tries to sit up, but can barely find the strength in his arms. His right wrist twinges with pain, but before his muscles give out a pair of cool hands clutch his shoulders, steadying him.
“Take it easy, Wei Wuxian,” Wen Qing says. “Your body’s just been through quite the shock.”
Now propped up on a set of pillows, Wei Wuxian looks at her. She’s dressed as modestly as usual – the bare minimum of ornamentation in her hair, robes of a dark, muted colour, and a strip of white tied around her right wrist – but with the addition of a fabric mask tied around her lower face.
It’s another clue.
Behind her, against one of the far walls of the room, is Madam Yu. She’s watching them with a severe, disapproving look on her face – nothing new there. No mask for her, though, Wei Wuxian notes.
He looks to Wen Qing, flicking his eyes at Madam Yu pointedly. She shakes her head.
“Here,” Wen Qing says, handing a bowl of green leaves to Wei Wuxian. “You can take the rag out of your mouth if you chew these. Leave the mask.”
Wei Wuxian does as he’s told. As he bites down on one of the leaves, a burst of flavour floods his mouth. Mint. Huh.
For a few moments, they sit there in silence, Wei Wuxian slowly chewing on the mint leaves. Then, there’s a knock at the door. It pulls back to reveal Wen Ning, who looks—well, frankly terrible. He’s panting, sweat soaked through his outer robe, eyes wide and a little frenzied.
The corners of Wen Qing’s eyes curve upwards as she smiles placidly. “Thanking Yu-furen for her assistance until my chaperone could arrive,” she says, bowing lightly to Madam Yu.
Madam Yu gives her a poisonous look. “I will stay, regardless.”
Wen Qing’s features do not shift. “Surely Yu-furen is not implying that my own brother would allow my honour to be slighted.”
Wen Ning’s eyes are wide as he watches the back and forth. Wei Wuxian feels a pang of empathy for him.
Madam Yu looks from Wen Qing to Wei Wuxian, and then back to Wen Qing. She grits her teeth. “No,” she says eventually. “I would never imply anything of the sort.”
As she leaves, she brushes roughly past Wen Ning, who still looks a little bewildered. Once the door has shut behind her, Wen Qing exhales.
“I sent for you three hours ago,” she says. “Did you bring what I asked?”
Wen Ning jolts, a little, then crosses the room to hand a wooden case to Wen Qing. “Sorry, a-jie,” he says. “I didn’t get the message until an hour ago, and then there was an issue entering the estate. Jiang-guniang had to vouch for me before I was let in.”
Wen Qing sighs. “I can’t say it’s completely unexpected, all things considered.”
Wei Wuxian pushes the mint leaf into the corner of his mouth so he can speak. “How long was Yu-furen here?”
Wen Qing turns back to him. “Since the moment I arrived to treat you,” she says. “As soon as she caught a whiff of your scent, she locked down your courtyard and banished your servants. It’s been a very fraught three hours. Yu-furen has been very liberal with her application of Alpha Compulsion.” Wen Qing’s expression takes on a distinctly unimpressed slant. “Were you anyone else, I’d have walked out, Wei Wuxian.”
Wei Wuxian winces. “What did she make you do?”
“She didn’t succeed,” Wen Qing says. “I’ve been told I’m remarkably intractable in these matters, and I’m a widow – my body still thinks it’s mated to my late husband, which provides a degree of natural resistance to this kind of thing. She was after my silence, first and foremost, and then attempted to extract the details of your condition from me.”
“My condition,” Wei Wuxian echoes.
Wen Qing’s eyes curve as she smiles without amusement. “Congratulations are in order, Wei Wuxian. You’ve just presented. You’re an alpha.”
Wei Wuxian’s hand freezes, hovering over the bowl of mint. You’re an alpha. It’s not possible. It can’t be possible. But—
Madam Yu was in the room with him and his doctor, which would have been all kinds of inappropriate were he an omega, as they had thought before. And his maids were gone – all of them unmated, unpresented omegas, as was appropriate for someone of his standing. And the fabrics, which hold scents longer, all stripped; the incense burners; the rag on his face, in his mouth; and—
Wei Wuxian looks down at his right wrist, which once bore a strip of violet fabric soaked in Jiang Cheng’s scent – a favour from his alpha-to-be – and is now wrapped tightly in bandages.
Wen Qing notices his attention. “You scratched your skin open trying to get rid of the scent before I got here,” she says.
“Because Jiang Cheng is an alpha,” Wei Wuxian says dumbly. “And I’m an alpha now, too.” His brain catches up enough to tell him he should be panicking right now. “Wen Qing, how is that possible? I’m eighteen. Even I know that’s—”
Improbable. Impossible. Ridiculous.
“Late for an alpha presentation?” Wen Qing finishes for him. She sighs. “Eat your mint, Wei Wuxian. You’re still sensitive to scents. I don’t want you reacting badly to either me or Wen Ning.”
Wei Wuxian obediently puts another leaf in his mouth. “Jiang Cheng presented at sixteen,” he points out, mid-chew.
Wen Qing’s lip curls. “Ah, yes,” she says. “Jiang Wanyin. Determinedly average even in his health.”
“Wen Qing, that’s—” he pauses, not sure how to finish the sentence. “Unworthy of you,” he says, eventually.
Her expression is not kind. “Is it?”
Wei Wuxian holds his tongue. A few years ago, Wen Qing’s cool disdain of Jiang Cheng had matured into an active dislike, seemingly overnight. He’d guessed at the time that something had happened between them, but Wen Qing had refused to disclose the details, and Jiang Cheng had been equal parts angry and defensive when Wei Wuxian probed him for information. Part of it, at least, must have been due to his status; Wen Qing has never made an effort to hide her contempt for alphas as a whole.
It occurs to Wei Wuxian, somewhat belatedly, that he is now a member of that same group.
It doesn’t feel real.
“Wei Wuxian,” Wen Qing says into the silence, “you know that I have never pulled my punches. Not for you. Not for anyone.”
“I know,” Wei Wuxian says.
“I will only ask this once,” she says, quiet, and deadly serious. “Do you want me to lie for you?”
“You must have realised, even now, what this means for you, Wei Wuxian,” Wen Qing goes on. “You cannot marry Jiang Wanyin, anymore.”
Wei Wuxian looks at the bowl in his hands, and at the bandages around his wrist. Even before he’d presented, he’d disliked wearing Jiang Cheng’s favour, even if that in and of itself had been a compromise. Jiang Cheng wanted people to know who he belonged to, and Wei Wuxian had decided that a strip of scented fabric around his wrist was better than dressing fully in Jiang colours, which was the alternative. Why don’t you just piss on me instead? he remembers asking once, deeply irritated.
Madam Yu had made him kneel in the ancestor hall for three days straight for that question.
He looks up. “I know,” he says, tired right down to his bones. “Qing-jie, I know.”
Because she’s not really talking about marriage. Madam Yu will find someone else to marry Jiang Cheng – Wei Wuxian had just been the most convenient option, once upon a time.
In the imperial court, omegas cannot inherit. But alphas can.
And with Madam Yu, what else could it be but the matter of succession?
“I’m serious, Wei Wuxian,” Wen Qing says. “If you ask me to, I will lie.”
He sighs. “What could you even say?” he asks. “Pretty much the entire household must know by now. It’s only a matter of time before it gets out to the wider population.”
Wen Qing shares a look with Wen Ning, who shifts awkwardly. “Occasionally,” he says, “a late presentation is indicative of—uh—”
“Infertility,” Wen Qing says flatly. “It would disqualify you so far as the line of succession is concerned, but you would still inherit your parents’ estate. By the time Jiang Wanyin was established as Emperor and had his own heir, it would be safe enough for my misdiagnosis to be revealed, and you to marry and have your own children.”
“Safe enough,” Wei Wuxian echoes hollowly. Now there’s a euphemism. Madam Yu would never let any children of his live without interference, not when even one alpha child could usurp Jiang Cheng’s own heirs.
He swallows thickly. “Is there any chance it’s true?”
“If you’re asking if it’s plausible, then yes,” Wen Qing says. “There was an emperor, once, who presented late, and died without heirs. The story is very well-known – I don’t think anyone would question it, if I implied the same to be true for you.
“But if you’re asking specifically regarding your own circumstances…” She shakes her head. “I would consider it unlikely. There are some conditions that cause both infertility and late presentations, but they’re rare. Speaking as a physician, there are better explanations for your late presentation.”
“Will I regret asking?” Wei Wuxian asks.
Wen Qing smiles without kindness. “The most common cause of a late presentation is stress,” she says. “If your body doesn’t think it’s safe to reproduce, it delays the biological processes around presenting.”
“Oh,” Wei Wuxian says.
“I’m sure,” Wen Qing says, deceptively light, “that you don’t wish for me to speculate aloud about the potential causes of said stress.”
She shakes her head. “You’re going to have to stop calling me that, you know,” she says. “As an omega and an unmated alpha, it’s—”
“Inappropriate,” Wei Wuxian finishes. “I know. Wen-taiyi?”
Wen Qing makes a face. “You can be more familiar than that,” she says. “It’s not like I’m an untainted maiden fresh from her first heat.” She tugs absent-mindedly at the strip of white around her wrist. “Just call me Wen Qing. People know we’re friends. It’s just…”
As an unpresented omega, Wei Wuxian’s liberties with formality were—if not completely proper, then accepted. It made him seem daring, and lively, and brazen. It was endearing, but only because it meant nothing.
For better or for worse, nothing Wei Wuxian says will mean nothing ever again.
“I get it,” he says. “Wen Qing.”
Wen Qing does not smile. “Wei Wuxian,” she says, “can you promise me something?”
His answer is immediate. “Anything.”
“Ove the next few days, it will be—” She cuts herself off. “You and I both know the upbringing of an omega cannot be considered adequate preparation for the life of an alpha, and I doubt Yu-furen will be particularly driven to help you bridge the gap.”
Wei Wuxian makes a face around another mouthful of mint. That much goes without saying.
“It will be chaos, I have no doubt,” Wen Qing says, with a hint of wry amusement. “But when you have a moment—pick something you’ve always wanted to do, and you’ve always had barred from you, and then—make it happen. For me. But mostly for you.”
Wei Wuxian looks at her. His chest feels tight.
Most of the nobility can’t decide whether or not they’re scared shitless of Wen Qing. There are rumours, of course, about what happened to her husband, who died tragically just six months after they mated and married, but they’re only part of Wen Qing’s notoriety. In truth, it all comes down to her status. No-one knows how to feel about the fact that she’s an unattached omega with an independent source of income, the respect of the Emperor, and every excuse to never marry again.
She’s gamed the system, and people know it, none more than Wen Qing herself, who always gets this wry tilt to her mouth whenever she talks about her practice of widow chastity.
But she should never have had to.
“Wen Ning,” Wei Wuxian says, “close your eyes.”
Wen Ning startles. “Uh—Wei-xiong, I—uh—”
Ah. Fuck it. Wen Ning knows how to keep a secret, anyway. Wei Wuxian reaches out, and wraps his arms around Wen Qing. He can’t smell her, not through the mint, and the incense, but she’s warm. A moment later, her arms wrap back around her.
“Thank you,” he says, quietly. For a thousand little things she never mentioned. For a thousand others she did. For everything. “But you don’t have to lie for me.”
When he releases her, her eyes are sad. “You’ll fight for it.”
It’s not a question.
Wei Wuxian inhales. Looks at his hands. The bandage. The mint. He smiles. “I don’t think I really have a choice,” he says.
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