So, based on this, but make it #sangcheng: https://twitter.com/PurpleNies/status/1626791584091230208
It had backfired spectacularly.
A month ago, Jiang Cheng had been in a room with his mother, her sister and several other older women who were maybe relatives and maybe professional matchmakers. They had been harrying him to pick someone from among the list of potential matches so overtures could be made to the potential bride's family.
His mother had started talking about finding a match for him almost as soon as he came back from the Cloud Recesses, but it had ramped up recently and culminated that after afternoon, with a long list of the cultivation world's eligible young women, complete with a plethora of portraits that made them all look the same, and Jiang Cheng feeling increasingly claustrophobic by their demands.
The thing was, he wasn't actually a cutsleeve. He'd only said that to get them to leave him alone in the moment. When he'd tried to speak to her, she'd cut him off with a raised hand.
"There's no need to explain, A-Cheng," she'd said, her voice uncharacteristically calm, considering what he'd done. "I'm glad things are out in the open now."
"A-niang, but I'm not--"
"We will not be seeking any more lists of girls as potential candidates to be your consort."
And Jiang Cheng had blinked, and closed his mouth. Maybe having his mother think he preferred men wasn't such a bad thing after all.
So despite the nagging of his conscience, he'd kept quiet. He figured he could always explain later, when he was older and actually interested in being married. His mother would no doubt be angry to find out either way, so he could enjoy a temporary reprieve from the topic.
He did not foresee that one month later, his mother would send Yinzhu to summon him, and that he would once again find himself in a room with her, his aunt Yu, and the same small crowd of aunties and matchmakers as 4 weeks prior.
"What's happening?" he asked, slowly.
"The matchmakers are back, with an entirely new list of candidates for your consort," his aunt Yu replied.
Jiang Cheng turned to stare at his mother, confused and betrayed. "A-Niang... you said..."
"I said we would not be seeking further lists of female candidates to be your consort. The pool of male cultivators that might be amenable to the position was smaller, but I'm satisfied we will find someone suitable among the proposals."
Jiang Cheng could only stare. His mouth had gone dry, and his mind blank, except for the words 'male cultivators that might be amenable'.
"It was not trivial, putting this new list together after Jiang-gongzi's revelation," one of the matchmakers added. "Who might fill the requirement is not always common knowledge, and we were careful when sifting through rumors."
SMALL ASIDE: I have changed the scenario. It's no longer after JC returned from the Cloud Recesses. It's after the Sunshot Campaign. YZY lived, JFM died, JC is now heir and therefore there is soem urgency in getting him married to the clan's advantage.
One glance at his mother's face tells Jiang Cheng that another outburst like last month's will not be tolerated. This mess will not untangled by yelling and storming out. He realizes that, for the moment, he has no option but to stay and as the matchmakers go through the list extolling the virtues of eligible young masters his own age.
Worst of all is when he knows them, and he knows more than a few... from the war, or in quite a few cases, from before, from his year in the Cloud Recesses. The ones that used to be interested in Nie Huaisang's cut-sleeve spring books are not particularly surprising, but he can't keep the grimace from his face when one of the matchmakers starts talking about Su She, of all people.
"No," he mutters through gritted teeth.
There is a pause, as several of the matchmakers share inscrutable glances. He hates it.
"It is our humble opinion that Jiang-gongzi should not dismiss Su Minshan out of hand," says one.
"True, he is not himself a Lan," another one pipes up giving him a frank look, as if this is why he is objecting. "However, the fact that he is not makes it less likely he and his parents will reject the idea of him marrying into the Jiang out of hand."
"This is why there are no Lan young masters on the list, Jiang-gongzi," adds the one that first brought up Su She. "It is our opinion that most of them would not consider it. The most suitable in age, Lan Wangji, certainly would not. Even if he were inclined towards men, given his position."
Something inside Jiang Cheng wants to curl up and die at the very idea of Lan Wangji as a possible... no! He will not think about it.
"Su Minsan is a more than capable cultivator, very handsome to look at all, as are all the disciples of the--" someone is saying.
"I said no! Not Su Minshan!"
There is silence.
Eventually, the eldest of the matchmakers steps forward, to take the place of the one that was proposing Su She.
"We had hoped this would be easier once we learned of Jiang-gongzi's preference," she says, somewhat waspily. She's old enough to get away with speaking like that to anyone. "But it seems that Jiang-gongzi is as picky about men as about women."
She pushes all the papers with names, portraits and the candidates' qualities away, except for one at the bottom, which she slides towards Jiang Cheng.
He stares at the familiar face staring up from a graceful ink sketch, the characters of his name running along the side.
"Nie Huaisang?" Surprised he looks up to see the old matchmaker nod in what appears to be satisfaction at his reaction.
He licks his lips. At least, Nie Huaisang is his friend. Someone he likes. (And he'd be lying if he said he didn't think Huaisang is prettier than most girls he knows).
"Ah... you think that Huaisang would... ?"
Not that he's surprised to see him listed among the young masters potentially interested in men. After all, back at the Cloud Recesses he had all sorts of spring books, "I like the aesthetics of love" he would always say with a wink, but the ones about cut-sleeves always seemed to be his favorites. There have always been rumors, not that he bothered listening to rumors about his best friend aside from Wei Wuxian.
He doesn't understand why seeing his name on the list surprised him, or why it would make his pulse race a little.
"Most of us do not," the matchmaker that had proposed Su She says, looking distinctly annoyed. "In our opinion, his clan is as unlikely to accept marrying him into another clan as a consort as the Lan would be about Lan Wangji. Until his older brother marries and produces a son, Nie Huaisang is his heir. I still think--"
The eldest matchmaker raises her hand to silence her.
Jiang Cheng looks back down at Nie Huaisang's portrait.
"Why suggest his name then?" He asks, intrigued despite his better judgement.
"Because I insisted," the eldest matchmaker says. "I have been doing this the longest, and I believe he is the best possible match for Jiang-gongzi."
Jiang Cheng feels his mouth go dry, and can't think of a single thing to say to that.
"He is Jiang-gongzi's friend, is he not? It is always an unexpected blessing if there is genuine affection to build from."
...And I just realized I kept calling JC "-gongzi" even though I should have switched to "-zongzhu" after I switched to post-Sunshot Campaign.
"I don't like any of them! I don't want this! I don't like women!" he'd burst out, desperate and at the end of his rope. He hadn't planned on saying that, if he'd been calmer he might have qualified it as any of THESE women, but in the silence that followed his outburst, he hadn't stopped to be embarrassed. He'd turned around and stalked out of the room.
In less time than it took an incense stick to burn, the older aunties and matchmakers had filed out, walking hurriedly and talking in low murmurs as they left Lotus Pier. His mother and aunt had remained closeted away the rest of the day. They even took supper by themselves. They didn't summon Jiang Cheng to berate him for his behavior.
The next morning, his aunt had left, and his mother behaved as if nothing at all had happened.