“Oh? Who’s this?” mother asks, voice teasing, when she finds them sneaking lotus cakes from the kitchen. Jiang Fengmian is confused by the question.
“That’s Changze, mother,” he says, and shares a glance with his daemon. Maybe seeing him in Fengmian’s robes and the hairstyle he’d fixed his hair into had left him unrecognizable?
He’ll remember the expression on her face forever. The way her cat daemon steps back, hissing, hair raised. The way Changze turns back into his sneaky-weasel form and throws himself into Jiang Fengmian’s arms in fright, the robes he was wearing collapsing discarded on the ground.
They’re marched to father’s office by mother’s firm hand on Jiang Fengmian’s shoulder, Changze still shivering against his chest. Jiang Fengmian will never forget that for just one moment her hand hovered before settling, like she’s too afraid, too disgusted to touch.
“Why is it wrong?” Changze asks Father’s daemon.
“It’s not wrong,” she says. But she sounds tired. Unconvinced. “It’s never been done before. We didn’t know it could be done.”
“Isn’t that a good thing?” whispers Jiang Fengmian. He doesn’t understand.
She doesn’t answer him.
By the time Changze settles into his final shape at age fifteen, ‘Wei Changze’ has already been given an identity, a position as Jiang Fengmian’s personal servant. An excuse to be at his side, night and day.
Mother has long since given up on her deviant son, but father is kinder. He teaches them both how to run a sect, and lets Wei Changze practice his calligraphy while Jiang Fengmian goes through the expenditure accounts.
There are rumours about Jiang Fengmian, none of them particularly kind. The rumours reached the Cloud Recesses before they did.
Jiang-gongzi is a pampered prince, gets to bring a servant with him.
Jiang-gongzi doesn’t even have a daemon.
Jiang-gongzi’s a weakling, his daemon is a spider he hides in his sleeve.
Jiang-gongzi cuts his sleeve for that kid they call his servant.
It doesn’t bother Wei Changze, that people think he is Jiang Fengmian’s pleasure servant. “Fengmian-gege, I am your soul. Don’t be ridiculous. And I’ve spent many days in your bed.” He says the last seductively, lowering his head and batting his eyes, and Jiang Fengmian cuffs him on the ear. Wei Changze just laughs, then drops down to sprawl on Jiang Fengmian’s bed in the shared room. “I know Fengmian-gege likes women, I’ve seen how much you paid that Nie disciple for the erotic artwork of the-”
Rumours be damned, Jiang Fengmian climbs onto his bed to wrestle his daemon into a headlock, and tries to shut him up.