Jiang Cheng is just overseen the training of his junior disciples when Zhong Shanyuan comes up to him, a slight smile on his lips.
“What?” Jiang Cheng gruffly asks without taking his eyes from his disciples but it’s not as gruff as it used to be in the past and they both know it.
“Sect Leader Lan is here,” Zhong Shanyuan tells him and Jiang Cheng perks up at that before he gets himself back under control.
It’s still too late. Zhong Shanyuan already saw it, because his smile slides into the teasing territory.
“Do not even start,” Jiang Cheng threatens him, pointing a finger at him for good measure, too, and Zhong Shanyuan gentles his smile.
Jiang Cheng knows what to do with that even less, and so he turns towards his disciples again.
“It’s good to see Sect Leader Lan so often,” Zhong Shanyuan says, stepping into position next to Jiang Cheng, their shoulders brushing slightly. “It’s even better to see you happy,” he then adds and Jiang Cheng huffs, but Zhong Shanyuan’s words warm him.
“Where’s Jin Ling,” he asks, even though they both damn well know where he is but Zhong Shanyuan doesn’t call Jiang Cheng out on his poor diversion tactic.
“He’s with Jiang Mingli,” Zhong Shanyuan says. “I believe they are at the private piers.”
“Can you take over here?” Jiang Cheng asks, though he knows the answer and even if it was different, Jiang Cheng knows himself well enough to realize that he would have called training off, simply so he could go see Lan Xichen.
It’s most definitely a problem, but Jiang Cheng doesn’t care to think about it too hard. His disciples certainly wouldn’t mind, that Jiang Cheng is sure of.
“Of course,” Zhong Shanyuan says and immediately snaps out a new order, which the disciples follow beautifully.
Jiang Cheng stays a few moments longer, simply to roam his eyes over every last disciple, and then he turns and walks away.
It’s really impolite to leave another Sect Leader waiting after all.
Jiang Cheng doesn’t find Lan Xichen at the main entrance and he frowns for a brief second, before he figures that Lan Xichen possibly went to see Jin Ling.
Jiang Cheng did tell him that he was always welcome at Lotus Pier, that he didn’t need to wait for Jiang Cheng to lead him anywhere else, and Lan Xichen is certainly free to roam the private piers.
He spent a lot of time there already, after all, and most of it with Jiang Cheng asleep on him in one form or the other.
The thought still makes Jiang Cheng go hot in the face, so he shakes his head in an attempt to get rid of those thoughts and then he marches off to the private pier where he can already hear Jin Ling laugh from a distance.
The sound still warms Jiang Cheng’s heart, and it’s the only argument that makes him believe he’s not completely fucking Jin Ling’s life up, and he quickens his steps.
When the pier finally comes into view, Jiang Cheng comes to an abrupt stop at the sight in front of him.
Jiang Mingli is nowhere to be seen, so he must have handed Jin Ling over to Lan Xichen before he went his merry way and Lan Xichen is throwing Jin Ling high up in the air and always securely catching him again.
Jin Ling is shrieking with laughter, clearly not afraid at all, and whenever Lan Xichen isn’t quick enough to throw him again, he pats Lan Xichen’s face before he points up at the sky.
Lan Xichen always obliges him, throwing Jin Ling with a huge smile on his face, and if Jiang Cheng were still oblivious to his feelings for the other man, his complete and utter lack of fear at seeing Lan Xichen handle Jin Ling like that would clue him right in.
“Juu,” Jin Ling suddenly screams, twisting in the air as he catches sight of Jiang Cheng, and now Jiang Cheng’s heart does miss a beat, until Jin Ling is safely back in Lan Xichen’s arms, who seems a little more shocked as well.
Jin Lin kicks his little feet until Lan Xichen catches the hint and finally puts him down and then Jin Ling is off, sprinting towards Jiang Cheng as fast as his short legs carry him.
Jiang Cheng meets him halfway and swings Jin Ling up in his arms as soon as he can.
“Did you have fun with Xichen?” Jiang Cheng asks and Jin Ling nods enthusiastically before he settles into Jiang Cheng’s arms.
Jiang Cheng’s heart feels very full when Jin Ling snuggles into him like that and it only grows a size when Lan Xichen steps up to them with a soft smile on his face.
“I didn’t know he talked yet,” Lan Xichen says and gently shakes Jin Ling’s foot in his hand making Jin Ling squirm and laugh and Jiang Cheng shakes his head.
“It’s just that for now,” he admits, aware that it can barely be classified as talking, but he still remembers the first time Jin Ling has said it.
He might have taken a moment or five to shed a tear, before he could face Jin Ling again.
“I see,” Lan Xichen hums. “Only his most favourite person gets a name.”
“So far,” Jiang Cheng says. “I’m guessing he’ll be a blabber mouth once he really starts to speak.”
“As if you would mind,” Lan Xichen says and then points his head towards the pavilion at the end of the pier. “Sit with me?” he asks, and Jiang Cheng would be affronted if it was anyone else, because this is his home and no one should take these liberties, but he finds that it’s okay if it’s Lan Xichen.
“Sure,” he says and carries Jin Ling over, who seems to doze off in his arms, clearly exhausted from all his playing with Lan Xichen and no doubt before that with Jiang Mingli.
“Have you heard from Nie Mingjue?” Jiang Cheng asks him once they are settled down and someone brought them some tea and Lan Xichen hums.
“He’s reluctant to meet with you,” Lan Xichen says but he goes on before Jiang Cheng can go on the defence or feel offended. “He says if you drop by it’s hard to explain to Nie Huaisang what you’re doing there, and he doesn’t want to give him hope since we don’t know if it will work.”
Jiang Cheng thinks that over for a while; it seems impractical to wait for Nie Huaisang to leave the Unclean Realm, because Jiang Cheng isn’t sure if he ever really does leave.
“Can’t he come to Lotus Pier? Or Gusu, if that’s easier to explain?” Jiang Cheng asks and Lan Xichen nods.
“I proposed the same, since I figured you wouldn’t exactly mind if he comes by, but he says he needs time to think. I think his last qi deviation really shook him.”
Jiang Cheng can understand that, seeing how long it lasted and maybe it’s not only Nie Huaisang who doesn’t want to be given some false hope.
“I can send him an invitation, if you think it will help,” Jiang Cheng offers, seeing just how worried Lan Xichen still is for his friend, and he shrugs.
“It might. It won’t hurt, though,” he admits and Jiang Cheng nods.
“Consider it done, then.”
“Wanyin, thank you,” Lan Xichen seriously says and turns towards Jiang Cheng. “Really, thank you. I appreciate it so much that you’re willing to try.”
“Of course,” Jiang Cheng courtly says and busies himself with Jin Ling in his arms, simply so he doesn’t have to see the gratitude on Lan Xichen’s face.
It’s not in Jiang Cheng’s nature to deal well with these kind of feelings and Lan Xichen seems to realize that, because he brushes their shoulders together and then looks back out over the lake.
“Why are you here today?” Jiang Cheng asks before he winces and rushes to correct himself. “I mean, you don’t need a reason, I told you before, it’s okay if you just drop by.”
Jiang Cheng only stops his rambling when Lan Xichen puts a hand to his arm.
“I know,” he easily says, clearly not offended at all. “There is a reason actually,” he then admits and Jiang Cheng sits up straighter, even with Jin Ling in his arms, ready to move if Lan Xichen has a problem Jiang Cheng can fix.
“What can I do?” he asks and is not at all prepared for the look that passes Lan Xichen’s face.
Jiang Cheng doesn’t know how to deal with those feelings any more than he knows how to deal with all the others.
“Nothing,” Lan Xichen shakes his head and then scoots back a bit. “Well, you could lay down and put your head right here,” Lan Xichen says and pats his thigh with a hopeful smile.
“What for?” Jiang Cheng wants to know, because he is sleeping well these days and Jin Ling is already fast asleep in Jiang Cheng’s arms.
“It’s a surprise, Wanyin,” Lan Xichen tells him and Jiang Cheng’s heart might stumble a bit at that.
Lan Xichen’s eyes are dragged to the bell on Jiang Cheng’s belt and Jiang Cheng flushes when he remembers that Lan Xichen can hear it and also knows what it means.
And most importantly, that Lan Xichen isn’t shying away from Jiang Cheng, even though he knows what the bell means now.
Quite the opposite really, as he leans in and brushes a kiss over Jiang Cheng’s cheek.
“Please, Wanyin?” he whispers against his skin and a shudder runs down Jiang Cheng’s back.
How could he ever say no to that.
“Fine,” Jiang Cheng grumbles, mostly for show, and he shifts until he can lay down, Jin Ling cradled on his chest and his head in Lan Xichen’s lap.
It’s a familiar place by now and Jiang Cheng blushes when he realizes that.
“Close your eyes,” Lan Xichen whispers, putting a hand to Jiang Cheng’s head and he only starts to softly card his fingers through Jiang Cheng’s hair when Jiang Cheng complies with his wishes.
“There you go,” Lan Xichen whispers and Jiang Cheng sighs before he relaxes fully.
It is a very comfortable place to be in, after all.
There’s a brief silence, and to Jiang Cheng it feels distinctly like Lan Xichen is bracing himself for something, or maybe preparing himself for something and it’s almost enough to get Jiang Cheng to open his eyes again because Lan Xichen shouldn’t feel like that.
But before Jiang Cheng can move even a single muscle, Lan Xichen starts to hum under his breath, before he gradually picks up volume.
Jiang Cheng can’t quite understand the words, isn’t even sure there are any words to this song, but it feels like he’s been hit with a buck load of feelings anyway. It’s enough to bring tears to his eyes but he intently listens on, because it’s the most beautiful song Jiang Cheng has ever heard and he doesn’t want to miss a second.
The feelings that are conveyed with the song make him go hot all over and after a while he has to turn his head so that he can hide his face in Lan Xichen’s stomach.
The movement doesn’t disturb Lan Xichen at all it seems, because he continues to sing and it feels simultaneously like an eternity and like a blink before he falls silent again.
“That’s not a lullaby,” Jiang Cheng finally croaks out and Lan Xichen huffs out a laugh.
“No, it’s not,” he easily admits and Jiang Cheng presses into the hand still on his head. “You gave me the sound of your bell, I figured it’s only fair that I give you something in return. That I give voice to my feelings as well.”
Jiang Cheng suspected that that was what the song was about but to hear it stated so clearly by Lan Xichen still makes Jiang Cheng squirm enough that he sits up.
“You wrote me a love song,” he says, once he can look Lan Xichen in the face and it’s incredibly reassuring to see a faint blush on his cheeks as well.
“Yes,” Lan Xichen still confesses and cups Jiang Cheng’s cheek in his hand. “I hope I didn’t overstep.”
“Xichen, you can hear my bell,” Jiang Cheng says with a sigh. “There is no overstepping for you,” he then whispers and is not prepared for the blinding smile that breaks out on Lan Xichen’s face.
“I hoped so,” he gives back and then he guides Jiang Cheng closer, still mindful of the peacefully slumbering Jin Ling in Jiang Cheng’s arms.
“I’m in love with you,” Lan Xichen whispers, and Jiang Cheng almost feels the words against his lips, most definitely feels them down to his bones, and when he can’t find his words he simply leans in and brings their lips together.
He knows it’s not nearly sufficient as an answer, but it has to do until he can compose himself better.
The kiss is soft but by no means fleeting and when they part Jiang Cheng feels like he could burst with happiness when he sees the same dazed look on Lan Xichen’s face he suspects is on his own as well.
“I’m in love with you, too,” Jiang Cheng says, finally finding his voice and Lan Xichen strokes a finger over the bell.
“I can hear it,” he says with a smile and he looks so content that Jiang Cheng simply has to lean in again.
“Sing it for me again?” Jiang Cheng then asks eagerly, because how unfair that Lan Xichen can always hear his bell, while Jiang Cheng has to wait for Lan Xichen to sing for him.
“Always,” Lan Xichen gives back and this time, Jiang Cheng moves so that he fits against Lan Xichen’s side, whose arm readily comes up around him.
Lan Xichen presses a kiss to Jiang Cheng’s forehead and then strokes a finger down Jin Ling’s soft cheek before he starts to sing the song again.
This is a place Jiang Cheng can definitely get accustomed to being in.