Jiang Cheng hated dealing with a lot of things.
Sect Leader Yao was undoubtedly the first on the list, but hearing Wei Wuxian whine was a close second. And it was worse if Jin Zixuan was arguing with him like children. Especially when the only child present was sitting on the floor, calm and collected, munching various snacks while he watched the two supposed adults going back and forth in front of him.
"-you can't teach a child he will grow bigger if you bury him! What if he does that with animals?!" Jin Zixuan growled, waving his hand towards A-Yuan.
Wei Wuxian scoffed and crossed his arms under his chest, refusing to look anywhere but Jin Zixuan, his disease for the other clear on his face. "Why not? And A-Yuan is clever! He won't actually do that!"
"Tell that to the poor chicken who almost got buried alive!"
Jiang Cheng was already tired.
Zidian cracked on his finger, effectively shutting up the stupid argument that seemed endless and two pairs of eyes fell on him.
"Sect Leader Jiang." Jin Zixuan had the decency to bow to him and look slightly embarrassed at being caught having such a childish argument. Wei Wuxian, being shameless like always, simply grinned and waved his hand, behaving like nothing was wrong.
Jiang Cheng raised an eyebrow unimpressed. He knew better than asking questions about what he had heard. He didn't want them to fight again. He sighed loudly and looked around, noticing some people missing. "Where are Sect Leader Lan and Hanguang-jun?"
"Lan Zhan said they had to talk about some Lan sect matters, but I wasn't really listening so I’m not totally sure. Then the peacock arrived and got on my nerves so…" Wei Wuxian struggled.
Jiang Cheng closed his eyes refusing to listen to the tempting voice that was urging him to strangle his brother. "You should listen when someone speaks to you, idiot."
"Hey!" Wei Wuxian puffed his hollowed cheeks. Jiang Cheng briefly registered in his mind how both him and Wei Wuxian looked like they hadn't slept for a week and eaten for longer than that. He will need to speak with Jiang Yanli about this too. She was the only one who could order Wei Wuxian around and force him to eat and sleep.
"Oh! Hi, pretty-gege!" A-Yuan's loud voice suddenly interrupted his trail of thoughts. Jiang Cheng refused to acknowledge how Wei Wuxian flinched, his brother's eyes filling with a dark cloud of worry.
Jiang Cheng turned towards A-Yuan. The child - his son - looked much healthier than the previous day. He was bathed and had new, purple robes that highlighted his pale complexion. Jiang Cheng's inner omega purred when he noticed how those chubby cheeks had a pink flush on them. He was being fed properly. Jiang Cheng was immensely pleased about it.
"A-Yuan." Jiang Cheng addressed him with a gentle voice and took a step forward.
But he couldn’t take another since he was shocked when Wei Wuxian was suddenly in front of him, his teeth bared and a hissing sound escaping his lips. His brother's pheromones were acrid, like they were sensing danger and were telling him to get lost. Jiang Cheng had smelled that particular scent on parents protecting their children.
It made his heart hurt a little. And it also made him angry. How dare Wei Wuxian think he was going to hurt his own son?!
"Wei Wuxian." Jiang Cheng said sternly, his nails digging into his palms. "Move. I'm not going to hurt him. Stop hissing."
Wei Wuxian seemed to realise what he had been doing and bashful stepped away mumbling an apology under his breath. But he still lingered closed, his eyes staring at Jiang Cheng like a hawk, ready to intervene if something went wrong.
Jin Zixuan, bless his soul for once, was standing silent, looking at the exchange with worried eyes. But Jiang Cheng was no fool. Jin Zixuan would spill the bean with their sister the moment he walked out the room. Jiang Cheng wasn't looking forward to another one of those conversations. One had been enough for him for an entire year.
Jiang Cheng kneeled in front of A-Yuan. The child was watching him with curious eyes, his fingers playing with the lotus seeds in his lap. Jiang Cheng felt really smug about it for some reason.
"A-Yuan, do you know who I am?" He asked, trying to smoother the usual frown he had on his face.
"Mh…" A-Yuan tilted his head to a side, squeezing his eyes to think at an answer. "You're the pretty-gege who saved Xian-gege, Popo and everyone else!"
Wei Wuxian sucked a breath behind them, but Jiang Cheng refused to turn around.
"There is a reason why I did that." Jiang Cheng said slowly, his fingers grabbing one of the lotus seeds to open it and giving it to A-Yuan who happily began to munch it. "It's because of you."
"Me?" A-Yuan swallowed the seed and blinked his curious eyes. "Why?"
"Because…" Jiang Cheng looked behind his shoulders. Wei Wuxian was remaining silent but he looked stiff. He was clenching his jaw hard, knowing fully well where this conversation was going to lead. But at least he wasn't stopping it. Jiang Cheng counted that as a win. Jin Zixuan, on the other hand, had taken some steps back to give them some privacy and was pretending to find the floor particularly interesting. Jiang Cheng gave him some points in his mind.
"Because you're part of my family." Jiang Cheng told A-Yuan, trying to curl his mouth into a smile, even if his heart hurt at every beat. It was now or never. He would never have this kind of courage again, so he had to say it now . "I'm… your a-niang ."
A-Yuan blinked surprised. His eyes ran on Jiang Cheng's body before they returned to his face. "A-niang? But…" A-Yuan looked behind Jiang Cheng's shoulder with something akind to despair. "Xian-gege said A-Yuan was born from the s-soil! He was p-planted and w-watered and then he became big!"
Jin Zixuan coughed in the background, trying to hide his laughter. Jiang Cheng immediately turned to glare at Wei Wuxian who had the decency to look slightly embarrassed. Jiang Cheng was tempted once again to whip him with Zidian.
"Well…" Jiang Cheng returned his eyes to A-Yuan but was shocked when he saw the child looking upset. His lower lip was trembling and his big eyes were starting to fill with tears. Jiang Cheng was at loss. What the fuck was he supposed to do if A-Yuan was going to cry?! And what prompted such a reaction?!
"Oh, A-Yuan!" Wei Wuxian sprang in action before Jiang Cheng could blink. His brother moved quickly, his arms immediately wrapped around the child and he pulled him up, letting A-Yuan's head rest on his chest. "What your a-niang meant is that he is the one who planted you of course! Then Popo and the others took you out!"
Jiang Cheng thought that the explanation made zero sense, but he was shocked when A-Yuan raised his hopeful eyes to look at him, his tears forgotten.
"A-niang planted A-Yuan?" His son was looking at him with such amazement that Jiang Cheng felt dizzy. It was a strange sensation, but it wasn't unpleasant. Especially being called a-niang pleased him more than he was willing to admit. It seemed that kids picked up names easily since they were not bound by rules like adults.
Wei Wuxian stared at Jiang Cheng expectantly and he even had the courage to wink at him. Jiang Cheng was going to strangle him.
He cleared his throat then he nodded. He ignored the flush that coloured his cheeks and wondered why the universe seemed to hate him so much. "Y-Yeah that's what it means…"
A-Yuan clapped his hands happily. "Then a-niang and Xian-gege will need to plant A-Yuan again! So I can get even bigger!"
Before Jiang Cheng could say how unhygienic that sounded, Wei Wuxian had already placed a wet kiss on A-Yuan's cheek and spoke with excitement. He looked at the kid like he had had the idea of the century. "Of course, little radish! We are going to make you big and strong!"
A-Yuan giggled happily and gave a kiss back to Wei Wuxian, blabbering about how happy he was to be planted by his gege and a-niang.
At that sight, Jiang Cheng's heart clenched painfully.
After ten minutes of excited shouts, A-Yuan fell asleep on Wei Wuxian's chest. The kid looked peaceful there, his little hands grasping his robes while he was rocked gently as Wei Wuxian hummed a low melody in his ear.
Jiang Cheng stood to the side, watching them, feeling like an outsider.
He wasn't jealous, Wei Wuxian was amazing with his son, Jiang Cheng could see how much the child meant to his brother. It was a small light in the dark world Wei Wuxian had fallen lately. Jiang Cheng was silently glad to see some sparks in those dark eyes. He wasn't envious of the relationship between his brother and the child he had forgotten. No, he had just come to a painful realisation.
Jiang Cheng was not sure he could have the same relationship Wei Wuxian had with A-Yuan.
No matter the blood that tied them together, Jiang Cheng felt dizzy every time he looked at the child. Was it because of the circumstances of his conception? Or the fact that he hadn't had the chance to love him since he forced himself to give him away immediately after his birth? Whatever it was, it would be difficult for Jiang Cheng to give A-Yuan all the love he deserved and he understood very well the pain of not being enough for a parent. Jiang Cheng refused to let his child experience what he had to go through during his childhood.
"He'll have to take the Jiang surname." Jiang Cheng said suddenly, getting Wei Wuxian's attention. Wei Wuxian opened his mouth to disagree but Jiang Cheng beat him to it. "That's not negotiable. He is my heir. And he is my biological son."
Wei Wuxian snapped his mouth shut, but he was clearly unhappy. He returned to vigil on the sleeping A-Yuan, seemingly finding his calm while he did that.
Jiang Cheng briefly checked around the room and noticed that Jin Zixuan had run away when no one was looking. The poor man was probably too overwhelmed by Wei Wuxian antagonising him at every move he did. Jiang Cheng felt pity for him. Jin Zixuan had changed so much during the war, he wasn't the arrogant boy they had known during their Cloud Recesses days, yet Wei Wuxian refused to acknowledge that. Really, his brother was more stubborn than a mule.
"Jiang Cheng." Wei Wuxian spoke suddenly, shattering the silence. "Why haven't you told me about A-Yuan?"
Jiang Cheng felt a pang of anger in his chest, but he tried not to shout since the child was sleeping. "I'm not entitled to tell you everything."
Wei Wuxian had the insolence to look offended. "You always told me everything and this is so serious-"
"Like I'm the only one who keeps secrets!" Jiang Cheng snapped, his eyes burning. Wei Wuxian looked taken aback but Jiang Cheng had no intention of allowing him to speak. "Do you think I'm blind? I know you have been hiding something from me. I don't know what it is, but I'm pretty sure it is serious. Don't try to deny it, you're just going to embarrass yourself. For how long do you think I’ve known you?!"
Wei Wuxian clenched his jaw and refused to say more. Not that Jiang Cheng expected him to, but it still hurt knowing that his brother didn't trust him.
" Fine. " Jiang Cheng turned his back and marched towards the door. If he stayed another second with Wei Wuxian he was going to explode.
"Jiang Cheng, wait, we haven’t finished-"
"Sect Leader Jiang?" Jiang Cheng stopped when he almost ran in Lan Xichen. He briefly noticed him and Lan Wangji standing on the other side of the door, a look of surprise in their features.
Jiang Cheng's eyebrow twitched when he noticed how Lan Wangji's eyes darkened a little when he looked at Wei Wuxian, surely thinking that whatever happened in the room was Jiang Cheng's fault, so he turned towards Lan Xichen.
"Sect Leader Lan, have you finished with whatever you were doing?"
Lan Xichen nodded, confusion settling on his features. "Yes, I-"
"Good. Then I hope you won't mind joining me for some tea." Jiang Cheng knew he was being an asshole. But there was a limit of bullshit he could face in a day. And he needed to get out of here. Fast .
Lan Xichen looked first at him, then he roamed his eyes on Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji before he returned to Jiang Cheng. He nodded, his usual kind smile on his face. "Of course, if you don't mind the company. Wangji, I'll leave you with Young Master Wei, okay?"
Lan Wangji gave his silent approval with a flick of his chin and entered the room without sparing Jiang Cheng even a glance. Well, fuck him too.
"Let's go then." Jiang Cheng muttered, a wave of emotional exhaustion hitting him suddenly. "We can go to the gardens."
A smile graced Lan Xichen’s face. "Lead the way, Sect Leader Jiang."