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"What are you trying to say sect leader Jin?" Jiang Cheng asked through gritted teeth
"Sect leader Jiang, believe me when I say I wish it were another way. But after losing both our son and daughter-in-law at the same time, Madam Jin's health hasn't been the same. Surely you understand?" Jin Guangshan sat upon his throne like seat in Carp tower and regarded Jiang Cheng with a smile that was probably supposed to be sympathetic, but was just plain greasy.

"I understand Madam Jin's condition, but what I don't understand is why it has anything to do with me taking Jin Ling with me." Jiang cheng asked with a surprising amount of patience and self control. Also, he didn't buy this bullshit about Madam Jin's health. Since when did this whoring bastard care about his wife?

"You see sect leader Jiang, my lady and I are already greatly aggrieved at our children's death. I worry that my lady's concern for her grandson will put her health at greater risk." 

"Concern? Are you saying that my nephew will not be safe with me?" Jiang Cheng asked, his self control being held by a thread at this point

"No no, you misunderstand me. Our concern is not Jin Lings safety, everyone knows you would protect that boy with your life. But with an entire sect to run on your own, we're afraid you won't have time to actually be a parent to Jin Ling. And with YunmengJiang sect still recovering from the damages of the war, you'll be very busy indeed." Jin Guangshan explained in a tone that suggested he was speaking to a petulant child and not a fellow sect leader. 

"With all due respect Sect leader Jin, your concerns are baseless. We agreed that Jin Ling will spend half a year in Lanling and the other half at Lotus Pier. Are you honestly going back on your word now?" Jiang Cheng asked, unable to keep the anger from his voice. Zidian cackled on his finger, barely restrained by his control

"And of course, there's your temper." Jin Guangshan continued with a tsk, completely ignoring what Jiang Cheng just said "A temper like yours is hardly what a greiving orphan needs." 

Jiang Cheng was momentarily stunned by the callous way this man spoke of his own grandson's loss. Was this man even affected by his own sons death or was he incapable of feeling anything other than his own need for power? 

"You can't take my nephew away from me." Jiang Cheng growled 

"Of course not Sect leader Jiang, you are welcome to visit Jin Ling whenever you want at Carp tower. But he isn't just my grandson, he's also the future heir of the LanlingJin sect and we cannot compromise on his well-being now can we?" 

Jiang Cheng gritted his teeth, holding back from saying something that would only give the old man more reason to keep him away from Jin Ling. 

"I'm sure I can convince you to change your mind" Jiang Cheng said in a mildly threatening tone, knowing full well he was walking into a potential trap. Jin Guangshan's conceited smile was only confirmation 

----

Later as Jiang Cheng flew home, Jin Guangshan's words were ringing in his ears

"Sect leader Jiang, I do admire the hard work you've put into your sect. The war had dealt you a heavy hand, and despite all your advisors and allies being dead, you managed to rebuild Lotus pier from the ashes. The other three great sects had help after all." 

Translation: Lotus pier is just barely beginning to regain its strength and with Wei Wuxians defection and subsequent death, YunmengJiang sect lost its greatest ally. The other three sects have an unbreakable allegiance due to the sworn brotherhood of the venerated triad while the Jiang sect was essentially isolated and alone. 

Jiang Cheng had always hated the flowery language that hid the treacherous intent of these megalomaniacs. 

Unfortunately, what Jin Guangshan said was not untrue. The Jin sect had suffered the least damage from the war and the Jiang sect, the most. It didn't help that as the youngest sect leader, other sects were still questioning his abilities despite all that he's proven so far and have been hesitant to do any kind of business with him, trade or otherwise. 

Not for the first time, Jiang cheng found himself thinking about his father and what he would've done to handle the situation. Would he be able to meet Jin Guangshan's thinly veiled threats head on? Would anyone have dared tell him that he was incapable of running a sect and raising a child at once? Not that he ever did raise his children in the first place

His thoughts carried on to his dead shixiong like they always do when Jiang Cheng had reason to doubt himself. What would Wei Wuxian do? Charm people with his magnetic personality and make them feel stupid for ever questioning his abilities? Or he'd recklessly barge in and do what he believed was right with no care about the consequences. 

That had been what caused his downfall in the first place. Jiang Cheng tightened his grip on his scabbard as thoughts of Wei Wuxian threatened to overwhelm him with anger.

It had been nearly six months since the seige at the burial mounds. Since he watched his brother, the last of his family, be killed by his own hubris. And Jiang Cheng had been the one to lead the attack on him. Anger, guilt, resentment and grief swirled around his heart and it took all his concentration to make sure his sword didn't crash into a tree. 

Landing in front of the gates of lotus pier, he decided he had more pressing matters to deal with than the complicated emotions he felt about his shixiongs death.
Compartmentalizing his feelings was something he was quite good at after all.

"Despite our lack of allies, Lotus pier is by no means vulnerable. My duties as sect leader would not come in the way of my duty as an uncle." Jiang Cheng had said to Jin Guangshan 

"Aaah but are you sure about that? Here at carp tower Jin Ling will have his grandparents, his uncles and aunts and his cousins. But at lotus Pier there's only you. Perhaps if you were married, it would've been different. You would have allies to make your work easier and someone to help you look after your nephew." 

And that, of course, had been the whole point for this drama. 

"Marriage? You want me to get married?" Jiang Cheng asked bluntly, trying very very hard to keep his voice even

"It is up to you of course, Sect leader Jiang. It is merely a suggestion. While we're on the topic, you have met my neice haven't you?" Jin Guangshan said and gestured to a girl Jiang Cheng hadn't noticed standing behind a screen on one side of the room with other women

The girl, about the same age as Jiang Cheng, walked up to him and bowed. She was pretty, he supposed, as everyone from the Jin sect seemed to be. But her bow held an arrogance that grated at his nerves. He was a sect leader for God's sake! Shouldn't she show more respect?

"This is my niece, Jin Hua. She has been taking care of my grandson these past few weeks and Jin Ling seems quite fond of her as well." Jin Guangshan said

That bastard!! He planned this! He'd planned this entire thing. Back Jiang Cheng into a corner using Jin Ling and force him into an alliance with the Jin sect. An alliance which would be formed on their terms, not his. Plus, a potential Jin spy right inside Lotus pier in case Jiang Cheng's loyalties were divided. 

Jin Hua smiled at him sweetly, although nothing about her seemed sweet. She regarded him the way a predator looks at its unsuspecting prey. 

In his head, Jiang Cheng had strangled Jin Guangshan in seven different ways using Zidian. Honestly, the cultivation world would thank him for getting rid of that lecherous prick. But he decided that maybe starting an intersect war was not in his best interests. Maybe.

"Many thanks to lady Jin for taking care of my nephew. I hope a-Ling hasn't been bothering you with his favorite lullaby, after all he can't go to sleep if you don't sing the northeastern cradle song." *

Jin Hau looked confused for a second before saying 
"Oh yes, his lullaby. I sing it to him everyday. That poor doll, such a sweet child. He's not a bother at all." 

Jiang Cheng resisted the urge to snort
"Glad to hear that." He said, although the sarcasm was lost on the two people in the room

"See, didn't I tell you she adores Jin Ling?" Jin Guangshan piped in "a-Hua, why don't you take Sect leader Jiang to the pond? Show him A-Lings favorite place to play." 

Jiang Cheng gritted his teeth in annoyance. The lotus pond had been a gift from Jin Zixuan to Jiang Yanli after their marriage, so that she wouldn't miss her home too much. To think Jin Guangshan wanted to use that place to sic his niece on him was beyond infuriating 

"Apologies Sect Leader Jin, but I only came here expecting a short stay before taking A-ling with me. Since that's not happening, I'll be taking my leave." Jiang Cheng said with a bow "One more thing. You'll send Jin Ling with me if I consider a marriage alliance?" 

"Now now Jiang Wanyin, just any marriage won't help alleviate your burden will it? You need the support of a strong sect as well." Jin Guangshan said with a smile that resembled a sneer

Translation: good luck finding a match better than my niece. 

Jiang Cheng narrowed his eyes at that implication and looked at Jin Hua, who was trying to look bashful and coquettish under his gaze 

"For the record, Jin Ling doesn't like the northeastern lullaby. But maiden Jin doesn't need to bother with the sweet child, you wouldn't know his favorite lullaby anyway." Jiang Cheng told her and without sparing another glance, he walked away from Carp tower 

In his office, Jiang Cheng took out the records his newly made council had given him after the war. They had been pestering him about marriage for a while, stating the same reasons as Jin Guangshan: he needed someone to share his burdens with and to gain allies

Jiang Cheng had been putting off marriage for a while now with various excuses and no one had been brave enough to question him directly. But now that his guardianship over Jin Ling was at stake, he couldn't put it off any longer. He couldn't fail his sister a second time

But from what Jin Guangshan implied, they wouldn't give Jin Ling to him unless he married someone highborn. Unless he married the daughter of a sect leader of a powerful sect, no marriage prospect could be more advantageous than Jin Hua. 

Jin Guangshan really had him backed into a corner

He wondered why Jin Guangshan wanted to control him so badly. Was it about gaining power over Yunmeng sect or was there some other reason as well? 

Either way, he needed to think of something fast because there was no way he was marrying Jin Hua, especially since she clearly didn't even care about Jin Ling. 

Honestly, the thought of marriage made him squeamish. His own parents weren't exactly the greatest example of a good marriage. Watching them fight, yell and generally make each other miserable didn't give him any confidence in the idea of marriage. If anything, it terrified him.

There was also his personal feelings regarding the idea. He'd always seen marriage as a duty he'd have to fulfill for the sect, and not something he desired for himself. Even his list of requirements for a wife was made based on what he thought would be best for the sect and not what he wanted

The only person he'd ever had feelings for, however briefly, was Wen Qing.

She was brave, intelligent and tenacious and the exact opposite of the docile, submissive wife he thought he wanted. And while they were doomed from the start, he couldn't help the pang of grief he felt when he thought about her

While she wasn't his one great love, he did feel something for her once upon a time. 

He remembered the day of the lantern festival in the cloud recesses. Watching Wen Qing make her wish, Jiang Cheng imagined her in bright red wedding robes and felt nervous and exited at the same time

When he bought that comb for her in Caiyi town, he imagined her in robes of Yunmeng purple and blue and felt his heart warm up

When Wei Wuxian and Nie Huisang shoved porn books in his hands and talked about all the pretty girls they flirted with, Jiang Cheng tried to imagine Wen Qing without her clothes and he felt...wrong. It all felt wrong and not just because he respected her too much to think of her that way. 

Regardless, he brushed it aside and believed those feelings would change when he grew older, they were only 16 after all. 

But then the Wens attacked Lotus pier and his feelings for Wen Qing were overshadowed by his hatred for Wens and he could never go back to admiring her the way he once did. 

And now Wen Qing was dead and Jiang Cheng was older but his feelings regarding matters of the flesh remain the same.

Aside from morbid curiosity making him go through Nie Huisang's porn collection, Jiang Cheng simply was not interested in sex 

Now where would he find a spouse who's station is higher than Jin Guangshan's niece, would be good to Jin Ling and would also not expect any physical affection from Jiang Cheng?

He lifted the book with various sect records and threw it across the room. 

Chapter Text

Pain. Numb
That was all he could feel anymore. The pain in his back where the flesh had been torn off because he dared to rebel for love, and the numbness in his chest where there was an empty space left behind by a man who died and took his soul with him

Lan Wangji was living through life rather mechanically. Wake up, meditate, eat, bathe and sleep, then repeat. The three years in seclusion was as much for healing as it was for reflecting on his actions.

The elders wanted him to face his regrets, only his regrets were vastly different from what they wanted them to be.

And numbness and pain, numbness and pain again

The only bright part of Lan Wangji's day were the few hours his brother would come to visit, bringing with him the only light left in his life

A-Yuan, his son. Wei Ying's son.

Ever since his fever broke and he lost his memories, the toddler had easily accepted Gusu as his home and the Lan sect as his family.

Everyday after breakfast, Lan Xichen would escort A-Yuan to the Jingshi where he'd run to the injured man lying on the bed.
Unafraid of the bloody bandages on his back, he'd carefully take the larger hand in his own two smaller one's and call him "baba" in his sweet voice. That was the only time Lan Wangji felt anything at all, the sudden warmth and love he felt for that boy threatening to overwhelm him.

A-Yuan would talk to him about his day, telling him of all the mundane things he'd done and the food he ate and childish squabbles he had with his friends. Lan Wangji would desperately fight off fatigue and pain in order to not miss even a glimpse of the limited time he had with his child.

And everyday before lunch, Lan Xichen would put his hand on A-Yuan's shoulder to tell him they had to go back. Each time, Lan Wangji felt his heart breaking at the disappointment on his sons face at having to leave his father again.

He'd promised himself the moment he adopted A-Yuan that he would be nothing like his own father. Perhaps he was failing at that before he could even try.

'Wei Ying? Do you think our son will ever be happy with me?'

The answering silence in his lonely room seemed to be mocking him

Six months after Wei Ying's death, the elders decided they weren't done torturing Lan Wangji

Lan Wangji stared blankly at his brother as he continued explaining the elders new vote
"Wangji? Are you listening to me? They want to take away A-Yuan."
"He is my son." Lan Wangji said in a dry tone

"I know you believe that. But the elders want to know where he came from, and if you can't prove he is yours biologically then they would be well within their rights to take him away." Lan Xichen said "They suspect where you might've brought him from. If they prove that you're protecting a Wen you'll both be in danger from the entire cultivation world."

"He is my son." Lan Wangji repeated. His face might be blank but inside his mind were a war of emotions

The only thing he knew for sure, they could not take away his son.

"Wangji please." Lan Xichen said, his voice cracking with emotion "You need to understand what I'm saying. The elders are questioning your loyalty towards the sect."

Lan Wangji blinked at that
"Weren't the 33 lashes on my back enough?" He would take a hundred more if it meant protecting A-Yuan

"This isn't about punishment. They don't think you have the sects best interests in mind, and in your current state they believe you're unfit to raise a child. Unless you do something to prove your loyalty..."

"I'm in seclusion. What can I possible do now?"

Lan Xichens hesitation confirmed his doubts that he will definitely not like what the elders want from him

"They suggested marriage, to put you in the right path again."

"No"

"Wangji listen-"

"No"

"I know you still love him but-"

"No!" This time, Lan Wangji couldn't stop himself from shooting out loud, rules be dammed "I would much sooner die than let some strange woman into my life."

"It doesn't have to be a woman." Lan Xichen said calmly

Lan Wangji opened his mouth to say something, then shut it again when he heard that

"What?" He asked

"I told the elders about your preferences when they first suggested marriage. I believed it would discourage them from these ideas, but instead they told me a marriage alliance with another man would be perfectly fine. I think at this point they will do anything to make you forget about your affections for young master Wei."

"I'm sorry Xiong-zhang, but the elders are fools for believing that." Lan Wangji said. No one but his brother could hear the anger in his expressionless voice

Lan Xichen sighed "Wangji, I know you can never fall in love with someone else. But if you don't agree, you will loose A-Yuan. I don't want this for you didi, you must know that. But for the boys safety, it's imperative that no one finds out who he really is. We can't afford to antagonize the elders now."

"Is that my only choice?" Lan Wangji asked

"The other option would be to give A-Yuan to someone else, keep him away from the sect. He could be raised by a family of non cultivators away from Gusu."

Lan Wangji sucked in a breath, the idea of giving his son away was too painful to even consider
"He's already lost so much, I won't be another person that abandons him." Lan Wangji said fiercely

Lan Xichen knew this of course. He knew there was no way his little brother would be parted from that boy. Sometimes he wondered if A-Yuan was the only thing even keeping Wangji alive

"A-Zhan," Lan Xichen said, using the name he hadn't used in years "I promise I won't force you into anything you don't want, but I can't change the elders mind about this."

"Who...who would I need to..?" Lan Wangji couldn't bear to complete that sentence

"We will send out announcements if you agree. I'm really sorry about this Wangji."

That had been three days ago and the elders refused to let A-Yuan meet him until he confirmed an alliance. Lan Wangji was stuck in the jingshi, slowly going crazy with worry over his son

'Wei Ying, I'm sorry.'
------
Lan Xichen arrived at carp tower, hoping to meet Jin GuangYao. Maybe his sworn brother would have some advice for him about Wangji

He walked up the long line of steps distracted by his thoughts, and bumped into someone leaving the tower

"Oh! My apologies, are you oka- Jiang Wanyin?" Lan Xichen exclaimed when he saw who he bumped into

"Zewu Jun!" Jiang Cheng greeted, bowing to him

"Are you here to see Jin Ling?" Lan Xichen asked

"Yes." Jiang Cheng said with faint scowl. It had been a week since Jin Guangshan's proposal and Jin Hua had been pestering him the entire time he was there. He barely got to spend time alone with his nephew

"Pardon my intrusion but I thought this time of the year young master Jin would be living with you at Lotus Pier?" Lan Xichen said with his ever-present kind smile

"He should've, but there were some....complications." Jiang Cheng said evasively. He noticed Zewu Jun looked unusually distracted that day. Whatever his feelings for his younger brother, Jiang Cheng regarded the first jade of Lan with a great amount of respect and admiration. In return, Lan Xichen was the only one who never seemed to doubt his authority or ability during sect meetings

"Zewu Jun, you seem to be bothered by something." He asked

Lan Xichen hesitated a moment before smiling wearily at him
"We were going to make announcements soon but since you asked, I suppose I could just tell you now. The Lan sect is looking to arrange a marriage for Wangji."

Jiang Cheng blinked, expecting Lan Xichen to laugh and say it was all a joke. Lan Wangji? Marriage?

He always assumed that the only person even less interested in a relationship than him would be the icy second jade of Lan. The man was famous for his asceticism after all, unfazed by even the most alluring beauties

"Thats...unexpected." Jiang Cheng said rather frankly, earning a huff from Lan Xichen "Do you have any maiden in mind?" A nasty part of him wanted to suggest Jin Hua. He'd like to see her try flirting with Huanguang Jun and be on the receiving end of his ruthlessly cold rejection

"Aah...It is not a maiden we are in search for." Lan Xichen said "Wangjis preferences lean towards men."

Oh! O-o-h! That...made sense. That's why Lan Wangji was never seen with any women. He was a cutsleeve!

Suddenly, something else became painfully clear to Jiang Cheng

In the three months that Wei Wuxian had disappeared after Jiang Cheng came down from the mountain, he and Lan Wangji spent a considerable amount of time together searching for his missing brother. At that time, Lan Wangji's concern had always confused him but now that he thought about it..

Lan Wangji had been in love with Wei Wuxian

That also explained his barely hidden distaste of Jiang Cheng ever since the staged duel between him and Wei Wuxian after he defected

And now he was preparing to get married barely six months after Wei Wuxian's death

"I don't mean to overstep Zewu Jun but something tells me this marriage isn't Lan Wangji's idea."

Lan Xichen looked surprised for a moment before he let out a resigned sigh

"There were certain...complications." he replied, using Jiang Cheng's words from earlier "Anyway, I will not keep you from your work any longer than I have. If you'll excuse me Jiang Wanyin." Lan Xichen bowed gracefully and turned to enter the tower

In a fit impulsiveness, Jiang Cheng grabbed onto Lan Xichen's sleeve

"Zewu Jun wait! I have a proposal for you." Realizing that he was still holding onto the other man's sleeve and that it was probably a tad bit inappropriate, he hastily let go and bowed his head in apology

"What is it Jiang Wanyin?" Lan Xichen asked, looking confused

"Not here, if you'll please come with me somewhere private," Jiang Cheng gestured at Lan Xichen to leave with him

Still looking dumbfounded, Lan Xichen followed Jiang Cheng down the stairs and towards a nearby inn outside Carp tower. Once they were seated at a table away from prying eyes, Jiang Cheng ordered tea for the both of them and told the waiter not to disturb them further

"Is this about the reason why Jin Ling isn't staying with you?" Lan Xichen, as perceptive as always, asked

"Sect leader Jin is concerned that I am unfit to look after Jin Ling. He worries that I won't be able to take care of him and my sect at the same time." God he hated maintaining diplomacy

Lan Xichen's expression turned grim
"Wangji faces a similar problem. Recently he has adopted a child, an orphan of war, but the elders refuse to let him formally adopt unless he is married first."

Jiang Cheng could tell Lan Xichen was avoiding a lie by saying as less as possible. Lan Wangji could hardly be convinced to something as big as marriage for propriety right?

"Then we have the solution to both our problems Zewu Jun. I would like your permission to ask for your brothers hand in marriage." Jiang Cheng said

If Lan Xichen looked confused before, then he looked outright shocked now. Although he was less aloof than his brother, it was still rare to see the pristine first jade of Lan so openly expressive and Jiang Cheng felt a little proud for being responsible for that expression

"Jiang Wanyin, do you know what you're suggesting?" He asked finally

Jiang Cheng sighed, knowing this won't be easy

"Zewu Jun, I know this is a surprise, but I'm just as desperate as you are. Make no mistake, I have no affections for your brother as I'm sure he has none for me. And I think we both know who he really loves." Jiang Cheng said with a pointed look

Lan Xichen looked even more shocked at that
"How did you..? Did young master Wei..?"

"I don't know, he never told me anything like that. Although his obsession with provoking Lan Wangji makes sense now, I don't think even he realised it." Jiang Cheng carefully avoided saying Wei Wuxian's name out loud

"My point is Zewu Jun, we are both not interested in marriage and are only considering it for the sake of our children. With me he wouldn't have to pretend this marriage is anything other than a means to an end."

"Wangji doesn't exactly have a kind opinion of you Jiang Wanyin." Lan Xichen said bluntly, but he was considering it. Jiang Cheng could tell he was considering it

"I expected that. I won't pretend not to hate him, nor do I regret leading the attack on him. I also will not judge Lan Wangji for loving him. This won't be easy for either of us, I'm aware of that. But it is definitely much better than pretending to be in love with some stranger." Jiang Cheng said. He wondered if he would come to regret his impulsive decision, but it was too late to back out now

"I didn't realize you had a preference for men as well." Lan Xichen

"I..." did he? Honestly, he wasn't sure. Romantic affections in general had always confused him. Even his admiration of Wen Qing was limited to appreciating the idea of her rather than actively pursuing those feelings

But even he couldn't deny that he was entirely unaffected. How many times had he been swayed by the ethereal beauty of both the twin jades of Lan during their stay at the cloud recesses?

"I'd say my affections are not limited by gender." He finally replied, borrowing a line he heard Nie Huisang use once "But I'm not really expecting an actual relationship from this marriage. Zewu Jun, I'll be blunt with you. Jin Guangshan is doing all of this to secure an alliance with my sect. He expects me to marry his niece and unless I can find someone with a higher station than hers, he'll not let me have Jin Ling."

"He wants to test where your loyalties lie." Lan Xichen said softly "Is there something you have that he wants?"

"What? No I..." Jiang Cheng paused "Do you think he assumes I have the amulet?" That was a dangerous thought. If it was real than it would become even more important for him to form a strong ally. It would also mean the Jin sect really was aiming for more power

Lan Xichen didn't say anything but Jiang Cheng knew he was thinking the same thing

"Whatever it may be," Lan Xichen said, straying the topic from turning dangerous "I can see why an alliance between our sects might be beneficial. Aside from the Jiang sect , our sect suffered considerable losses since the war and we could help each other."

"So you agree to my proposal?"

"I can see why it's beneficial. But it is ultimately up to the two of you. You need to remember this marriage won't just affect you two but also the children in your care. Will you two be able to put your differences aside and be the parents that your nephew and wangji's son need?"

"I agree that my relationship with Hanguang Jun is rather precarious, and that we don't have the best opinions of each other. But my feelings about him aside I trust his honor and integrity and know that he would treat his duties towards lotus pier with sincerity and regard Jin Ling with kindness. And I promise that I too will maintain loyalty towards GusuLan sect and wholeheartedly accept responsibility for Lan Wangji's son."

Something flickered in Lan Xichens expression when he said the last part.

"Well that remains to be seen. I will talk to my brother about this Jiang Wanyin, but until then there are certain issues I cannot fully disclose unless I'm sure this alliance will come to fruition."

"I look forward to your response. I hope you can give me one soon though." Jiang Cheng added "I don't mean to rush you but I'm afraid of what new plan Jin Guangshan will come up with to keep my nephew away from me." At this point, he didn't even bother hiding his disdain for the Jin sect leader

"I understand. But I must warn you Jiang Wanyin, even if you two are wed and Wangji and A-Yuan live at lotus pier with you, my brother must spend the next two years in seclusion." Lan Xichen said

Seclusion? That explains why no one has seen hide nor hair of the second jade of Lan since.....since 'his' death

Did something happen to Lan Wangji?

"I believe you'll tell me more once this alliance is finalized? " Jiang Cheng asked

"I will leave for the Cloud Recesses immediately and give you his answer as soon as I get it." Lan Xichen promised

Jiang Cheng and Lan Xichen stood up and bowed to each other before leaving the inn

Two days later, Jiang Cheng arrived at lotus pier with a contract in hand

"Sect leader Jin, you promised that if I gained a strong ally through marriage, you'll let me have Jin Ling for half of every year." He stated as a way of greeting

"Of course sect leader Jiang. I see you have reached a decision." Jin Guangshan said smugly

"I agreed to your condition, but I also need proof that you won't go back on your word after my engagement."

"Aiya sect leader Jiang, surely you trust my word?"

"Either way, it would satisfy my heart to know our arrangement can't be undone." Jiang Cheng said

Jin Guangshan looked at him suspiciously for a moment but decided it was nothing. After all, there were no other unwed maidens of age that hail from a sect of equal status as the Jin sect. Jiang Wanyin would have no choice but to marry his niece

"The contract gives me partial guardianship over Jin Ling until he is of age and states that he must stay with me at Lotus pier for six months every year. It also states that my spouse will be a legal guardian in my absence and has equal rights over Jin Ling regarding his upbringing and education." Jiang Cheng read out

Jin Guangshan saw no problem with it. If Jin Hua could gain legal guardianship over Jin Ling it would only make things easier in the future in case Jiang Wanyin decided to be difficult

"Alright then. I accept the terms of the contract." Jin Guangshan said with a beam

Jiang Cheng felt his nerves settle once the Jin sect seal was placed on the contract and the copy was carefully folded inside his qiankun pouch

"I will send you an announcement of my engagement shortly." Jiang Cheng said and left the tower after saying goodbye to his nephew

"Jiujiu? You said i could go with you." Jin Ling asked imploringly before he could leave. Barely two years old and already quite talkative

"I know A-Ling. Soon, I promise."

"Aunty Jin told me you're getting married?" Jin Ling said with a pout "Are you gonna leave me behind if you do?"

Jiang Cheng felt his apparently cold, dead heart breaking when he heard that

"Of course not brat, who told you that. I can't get married if you're not there now can I?" Jiang Cheng said, bopping Jin Lings nose and making him giggle

"So will I get a Jiu mu?" He asked with an adorably exited voice (maternal uncles wife)

Jiang Cheng faught back a laugh when he imagined the stoic Lan Wangji's face if he heard that

"You know what, yes, you're getting a Jiu mu. And then you can come live in lotus pier with me."

"With the lakes? " Jin Ling squealed excitedly

"Yes."

"And the- the hot buns?"

"Yes"

"And the water ghosts?"

"Yes with the- wait what? Who told you that?"

"I want to see a water ghost! Pleeease jiujiu!" Jin Ling pouted

"......sure."
Leaving his nephew behind was hard, but he told himself it was just for a few more days. And then no one could take Jin Ling away from him

As he climbed down the stairs of carp tower, Jiang Cheng felt for the two pieces of paper in his pouch.
One was the contract that Jin Guangshan just signed, the other was a letter he received that morning from Gusu

A letter accepting his proposal

Chapter Text

"Brother are you making fun of me?" Lan Wangji asked when Lan Xichen finished

"Do you really believe I would joke about something like this?" Lan Xichen said with a frown "I know, I was surprised as well. But his offer is genuine, that I'm sure of."

"And he doesn't have any other motives?"

"Wangji, I know you think ill of him because of what happened with young master Wei. But aside from that, Jiang Wanyin has proved himself to be a worthy sect leader and an honorable man."

"What he did isn't a minor transgression. He killed his own brother." Lan Wangji seethed

"You judge him too harshly. Did you ever try to see things from his perspective? He could not afford to support Wei Wuxian against the other sects. And after his brother-in-law and sisters death, you can hardly blame his reaction."

"If you understand him so much you can marry him." Lan Wangji said pettily, but he felt his anger melt a little. It was true he never tried to look at anything from Jiang Wanyins point of view

"He doesn't expect anything from you Wangji. If you say yes this marriage would be purely for the sake of your kids. We both know you could never pretend to love another person." Lan Xichen continued

Lan Wangi sighed, considering the options. He was desperate, especially since it had been days since he was allowed to see A-Yuan

"If I say yes now will you bring A-Yuan to me?" Wangji asked

Lan Xichen blinked in surprise
"No one has been bringing him while I was gone?"

"No. I was told he wouldn't be allowed to see me till I was engaged."

"I didn't know about this, I'm sorry Wangji." Lan Xichen said looking angry "I will bring him around for dinner, we can eat together."

"Does Jiang Wanyin know why I'm in seclusion?" Lan Wangji asked

"No. But he knows your feelings for Wei Wuxian."

"And he still proposed?"

"He promised not to judge you for it as long as you did not judge his hatred." Lan Xichen admitted. Lan Wangji couldn't help but scoff at that

He wanted to say no. Whatever his reasons may be, that man was still partially responsible for Wei Ying's death. The seige he led at the burial mounds is the reason A-Yuan was an orphan

But he couldn't take any risks, not with A-Yuan at stake. And Lan Xichen was right, he couldn't spend the rest of his life pretending to care for a stranger. At least Jiang Wanyin would know better than to expect anything but hatred from him

"He's a sect leader. If I marry him A-Yuan and I would have to live in Lotus pier with him." Lan Wangji said

Lan Xichen sighed, like the idea caused him pain.
"I know, I don't want to see you go either. But after what the elders did to you a part of me is glad you'll be away from them."

"They only followed the rules." Lan Wangji said "I have no complaints about my punishment."

"But I do." Lan Xichen said fiercely "I'll admit Wangji, lately I've been having doubts about the effectiveness of our rules."

Lan Wangji was not entirely surprised. Of the two of them, Lan Xichen had always been more lax when it came to the rules. After all, it had been his brother who told him that right and wrong, good and bad are not as black and white as their rules made them to be

"Whatever its faults, this is still my home." Lan Wangji said

"And it always will be, you're welcome to come here whenever you want. And when A-Yuan is of age, he can come study here as well as at Lotus pier." Lan Xichen said

"He'll miss Jingyi." That boy had been the first friend A-Yuan made in Gusu and the two of them were now inseparable

"I'll bring him over to visit as often as I can." Jingyi was a distant cousin and currently Xichens ward and possible heir

He was running out of excuses to decline. Lan Wangji took a deep, calming breath before making up his mind
"Please tell sect leader Jiang that I accept his proposal."
-------------------------

Jiang Cheng arrived at Gusu a week after Lan Xichen sent his letter. Said man was waiting for him at the entrance of the cloud recesses

"Sect leader Jiang, I hope your travel was well?" He greeted as Jiang Cheng bowed to him

"It was thank you. And you might be happy to know that Jin Guangshan signed a contract giving me partial guardianship of my nephew after my engagement." Jiang Cheng said

Lan Xichen smiled "I heard about that, A-Yao wrote to me. And you're right, I am glad to hear it. The Lan elders too were happy with this engagement and let Wangji formally adopt A-Yuan."

"Zewu Jun, can I ask you something? This A-Yuan, he came from the burial mounds right?" Jiang cheng asked. The slightly unsteady step in Lan Xichens gait was all the confirmation he needed. The timing was a bit too much of a coincidence and he remembered they didn't find the body of a child with the Wen remnants

"Don't worry Zewu Jun, I would never punish a child for the mistakes of his clan. I'm glad the boy survived and besides, he's Lan Wangji's son now and not a Wen."

"That was the only thing I had been worried about, but now that's been cleared, I feel better about this arrangement. Jiang Wanyin, over these months I have grown quite fond of my nephew and wouldn't want to see him hurt." Lan Xichen said, his voice hard despite his gentle smile

"I understand."

"Good. Now before we meet Wangji, I should tell you the whole truth about his seclusion. Please, follow me so we may talk." Lan Xichen said and lead him towards the Hanshi

Once seated inside, Lan Xichen told Jiang Cheng about the massacre of the nightless city and how Wei Wuxian escaped that day

"Wangji attacked and injured 33 of our sect elders to protect young master Wei. As punishment for that he was whipped 33 times with the discipline whip."

Jiang Cheng sucked in a sharp breath. 33 times? Had they been trying to kill him? He'd been whipped four or five times and it took weeks for the pain to fully subside. Now he understood what Lan Xichen meant by two more years of compulsory seclusion. There was no way Lan Wangji could go out for long and hide his punishment

It also explains why the Lan elders seemed so eager to get rid of their most precious student

"I promise you while Lan Wangji is at lotus pier, I will protect him with everything that I have until he strong enough to do it himself, and even after that." Jiang Cheng said solemnly

"I have no doubt in your honor Jiang Wanyin."

"But he does." Jiang Cheng couldn't quite keep the bitter tone out of his voice. Over the years, many people spoke behind his back about his ruthless nature and fiery temperament. He was his mothers son through and through and no one even tried to see him otherwise

Normally, he could pretend he didn't care. But now he was about to marry a man who held more hatred for him than anyone else

"Jiang Wanyin, Wangji is grieving. Right now he isn't thinking straight, but I'm sure the two of you can solve your differences in the future. I would never agree to this if I thought you would hate each other for the rest of your lives." Lan Xichen said with a calm smile

"I doubt that he'll want to spend enough time with me for that to happen. I know I don't."

"You two are actually quite similar you know?" Lan Xichen said

"Huh?"

Lan Xichen only smiled furtively. On anyone else, this expression would be extremely annoying but it was hard to find anything Lan Xichen did as anything less than genuine

"Its time we met the elders. After that I'll take you to Wangji."

Jiang Cheng nodded and followed Lan Xichen to the Yashi where Lan Qiren and the rest of the sect elders were assembled. He felt nervous surrounded by the judging eye of so many important cultivators, but kept his demeanor calm and composed

Once the greetings were made, Jiang Cheng started presenting the betrothal gifts he'd brought with him

An intricately carved insence burner for Lan Qiren

Sword tassels made with the finest jade for Lan Xichen

A music box powered with spiritual energy for A-Yuan

Tea sets with Yunmeng teas for all the elders as well as Lan Qiren and Lan Xichen

And a long list of gifts for his betrothed including Yunmeng purple robes, specially commissioned to suit Lan Wangji's style, a silver and gold headpiece shaped like a blooming lotus, the silver bell that all Jiang sect disciples wore, and a collection of rare musical scores from all over the cultivation world

Lan Xichen examined the lotus shaped headpiece before putting it back in the carved mahogany box
"Sect leader Jiang, you really are stealing my brother from us."

Although he knew Lan Xichen meant it as a joke, Jiang Cheng frowned
"Zewu Jun, your brother is aware that I don't expect him to forsake his duties to the Lan Sect right? He is free to come and go as he pleases."

"Of course Jiang Wanyin, as unconventional as this marriage is, we know he isn't your prisoner." There was a deeper meaning behind those words but Jiang Cheng didn't think he should ask

"Besides," Lan Xichen continued "We agreed that A-Yuan would divide his education between the Lan and Jiang sects."
Jin Ling would most likely do the same so Jiang Cheng wasn't worried about that. He'd have to bring his nephew over soon to meet his new cousin, maybe he'd make some friends that way.

"Lets go meet Wangji." Xichen said and lead Jiang Cheng towards the Jingshi

Lan Wangji had been sitting at his table, waiting for them. When his brother and Jiang Cheng entered, he moved to stand and greet them before two voices stopped him

"Wangji! you'll reopen the wounds"
"Don't get up!" Jiang Cheng flushed when he realised how informal he sounded "I mean, thats fine Hangaung Jun, I understand. You don't need to greet me."

Lan Wangji blinked at both of them for a few seconds before sitting back down again, his posture straight and perfect as ever

Dressed in a single layer of robes and his forehead ribbon the only thing holding his hair back, this was the most dressed down Jiang Cheng had ever seen the usually impeccable Hangaung Jun. His face had an unhealthy pallor to it, and his checks were sunken. Though his face showed no emotion and he sat calm and composed, there was a stiffness to his shoulders like he was in pain

Jiang Cheng never thought he'd associate the words "lost" and "pitiful" to the mighty and imposing Lan Wangji but looking at him like this, Jiang Cheng was struck with how young and lonely he looked

He only recognized this lonliness on that impassive face because it was the same thing he saw every time he looked in the mirror

"Wangji, Jiang Wanyin, I'll leave you two alone to talk." Lan Xichen said and turned to leave, but paused at the door "Try not to kill each other. Please." He added before closing the door behind him

For a moment, Jiang Cheng and Lan Wangji stared at each other, neither not knowing what to say

Finally, Lan Wangji nodded towards the seat in front of him and Jiang Cheng sat down

Before Jiang Cheng could lose his mind over how to break the awkward silence, Lan Wangji, in a move that was very uncharacteristic for him, broke the silence first

"You know the truth, yet you still proposed?" It was a question, yet he managed to make it sound like an accusation despite his matter of fact tone

Which truth? That Lan Wangji hated him? That A-Yuan was a Wen? That Lan Wangji tried to help his sisters murderer escape or the fact that he was madly in love with said murderer?

All of this, he supposed. Jiang Cheng himself wondered sometimes if he had gone crazy, asking Lan Wangji to marry him

"The same reason as you I believe, to protect the one thing left behind by the people we lost."

Lan Wangji's expression faltered when he said that

"The boy? He is his son isn't he? " Jiang Cheng really couldn't bring himself to say his name out loud

"He is Wei Ying's son." Lan Wangji confirmed "But that's not why I...He's my son and-" Lan Wangji frowned, frustrated at not being able to express what he felt. He had always been bad with words and emotions

But Jiang Cheng understood. God, He understood

He had long since stopped looking for Jiang Yanli in Jin Ling. Yes Jin Ling was her son, but he was also his nephew. And Jiang Cheng would give his life for Jin Ling because he cared, and not because he owed it to his sister

"I know. I get it." Jiang Cheng said softly and Lan Wangji was surprised to see that he did get it

Maybe Lan Xichen was right, they really were not that different, him and Lan Wangji

"I was desperate, but you still had a chance at love. Why marry someone that hates you?" Whatever opinion Jiang Cheng had of him, he admired Lan Wangji's blunt straightforwardness and brutal honesty, unlike the hidden meanings and subtle threats he had to deal with on a daily basis with other sect leaders

"If I were to fall in love, I'm afraid I wouldn't be able to give that person my all."

Lan Wangji blinked at him in confusion. Jiang Cheng hesitated, he was never comfortable discussing this with other people for fear that they would think he was strange. The only person he ever told this to was... well..

Looking at Lan Wangji, he decided he didn't actually care what the man thought of him and that made it easier to talk

"I have never been and never will be interested in sex. Like you said, you hate me so you won't expect anything like that from me and I won't have to feel guilty of depriving you of my affection." Jiang Cheng finished and crossed his arms, daring Lan Wangji to judge him

"Mn." Lan Wangji said and that was it. He didn't find him strange, or he simply didn't care, Jiang Cheng didn't know. But he was oddly relieved that Lan Wangji wasn't questioning him about it and just accepted what he said

Before either of them could say more, the doors to the Jingshi opened and a toddler rushed in

"Baba!" He exclaimed and ran towards the table, pausing abruptly when he saw Jiang Cheng

The last time Jiang Cheng had seen him, A-Yuan was only a year old, dressed in dirty rags and had clung to his leg and wouldn't let go. And then he came and it was so obvious how much he cared for the boy

This was his son

Now he stood before him, almost 4 years old and dressed in clean white Lan robes, obviously shy in the presence of a stranger

"A-Yuan, where is Bofu?" Lan Wangji asked. Lan Xichen was supposed to watch over him and keep him from disturbing them

"Bofu was busy and A-Yuan wanted to see baba." A-Yuan replied with a pout

"You shouldn't run away like that, Bofu will be worried."

Sure enough, Lan Xichen arrived a moment later, calling out for his nephew

"Is he here? Oh good, I turned around for a second and he was gone." Lan Xichen said, sounding relieved when he saw the toddler

"Sorry for worrying you Bofu, A-Yuan won't do it again." A-Yuan exclaimed, hugging his uncle

"I'm sure you won't. Now that you're here anyway, Wangji? Won't you introduce him to Jiang Wanyin?" Lan Xichen steered the boy towards the table and sat down with him. Lan Wangji nodded at his brother and turned to A-Yuan

"Do you remember what I told you last night?" He asked

A-Yuan nodded enthusiastically
"If Jingyi and I break a rule, we should do it where granduncle Lan won't catch us."

Jiang Cheng almost spat the tea he'd been drinking when he heard that. Lan Wangji was teaching his son his to break the rules without getting caught? Who was he and what had he done to the stoic boy that would rather receive punishment himself than let anyone else get away with breaking the rules?

Lan Xichen didn't look remotely surprised and simply shook his head at his brother who didn't even try to deny what his son said

"Yes, but I meant the other thing" Lan Wangji said

"About baba getting married?"

"Mn. I would like you to meet the man I'm marrying." Lan Wangji said nodding towards Jiang Cheng "That is sect leader Jiang of Yunmeng."

A-Yuan stood up and bowed cutely to Jiang Cheng
"Nice to meet you Sect leader Jiang."

Despite the rebellion that his father seemed to encourage, the boy looked like he was extremely well mannered like any perfect Lan disciple

"Its nice to meet you too Lan Yuan." Jiang Cheng wondered if the child remembered him. Probably not since he only met him once and that was a long time ago. Almost as if he read his mind, Lan Wangji shook his head at him
"He doesn't remember anything from before." He said softly

So he'd forgotten all about the burial mounds? That was actually for the best since it kept A-Yuan safe from accidentally saying something that would expose his secret

A-Yuan sat back down beside his father, staring shyly at Jiang Cheng
"Are you marrying my baba?" He asked

"Yes A-Yuan, is that okay with you?" Jiang Cheng asked, making his voice sound as kind as possible

"If my baba is okay then I'm okay with it. Do I have to call you A-die?" He asked

"You can call me whatever you're comfortable with." Jiang Cheng said, trying not to panic at the idea of being a father. Sure he'd promised to take responsibility for the boy but it hadn't occurred to him that he'd actually have to be a father to him

"I don't think I can call you A-die." A-Yuan mumbled, almost to himself. Neither Jiang Cheng nor Lan Xichen understood the confused look on the toddlers face but Lan Wangji did

A-Yuan was remembering Wei Ying, his real A-die. That's why he couldn't call anyone else that. Lan Wangji's hands trembled where they were hidden under his sleeves

"How about Jifu?" Lan Xichen suggested (step father). A-Yuan and Jiang Cheng both seemed satisfied by that, the former nodding excitedly while the latter, visibly relaxing

For a while the three men sat and listened while A-Yuan asked Jiang Cheng a bunch of questions

"Jifu? Can we really run without getting punished at lotus pier?" He asked Jiang Cheng in a loud whisper as though his father and uncle couldn't hear him. None of them could help but smile at that, even Lan Wangji's lips curved slightly upwards

"What do you think? Isn't lotus pier more fun than the cloud recesses?" Jiang Cheng asked

A-Yuan thought for a moment before answering
"Lotus pier sounds fun and I can't wait to go, but cloud recesses are where the rabbits and Jingyi and Bofu are and I don't want to leave them alone."

Jiang Cheng huffed out a laugh
"You'll make a good diplomat when your older." He said

Although he tried staying awake for a long as he could, it was already time for A-Yuan's evening nap and he fell asleep on Lan Wangji's lap

"Wangji, if you're feeling up to it why don't you and Jiang Cheng go for a walk in woods? The air will be good for you" Lan Xichen suggested

"A-Yuan is asleep." Lan Wangji said

"I know, if you're here you'll disturb him. You two go out, I'll stay with him" Lan Xichen picked up the sleeping boy and carried him towards his bed

Jiang Cheng shrugged at Lan Wangji and they both stood up, Lan Wangji a little slower then usual, and went outside

So far their talk had been peaceful, but Jiang Cheng couldn't help but feel nervous about going outside, like everything till now had only been the calm before the storm

Of course their peace did not last long

Chapter Text

The cloud recesses was where the three of them met for the first time all those years ago. It was one of the last few days of peace and innocence before the war took it all away

And no matter where the went, the ghost of Wei Ying was everywhere around them 

"A-Yuan seems like a good kid." Jiang Cheng said as they walked through the woods behind the Jingshi 

"Mn." Lan Wangji said. For some reason, the mention of his son rubbed him the wrong way "I found him hiding in a tree stump, unconscious with a fever." He didn't know why he said that but he suddenly wanted Jiang Cheng to feel guilty 

Jiang Cheng stiffened beside him but said nothing. That only made Lan Wangji's temper flare 

"How can you bear to look at him knowing you massacred his family?" Lan Wangji asked in an incensed tone

Jiang Cheng's expression darkened
"I never wanted to kill the Wen's, that was mostly the Jin sect. I only wanted to get revenge for my sister." He said in controlled fury 

Lan Wangji actually scoffed at that
"Whether you wanted to kill them or not, it was still A-Yuan that paid the price for your revenge." 'And me' he thought the last part in his mind

"And Jin Ling? Did that child not pay the price for his actions? Will you be able to face Jin Ling knowing you defended and loved the man that killed his parents?" Jiang Cheng snapped 

"Wei Ying loved your sister." Lan Wangji growled "You know he wasn't in control when that happened." 

"Wasn't in control? You're right he wasn't. Jin Zixuan and my A-jie paid the price for his arrogance."

"Now you have a problem with demonic cultivation? Right from the beginning I told you it was bad for him, but you ignored the signs for the sake of power." Lan Wangji's fury was making him talk more then usual

"Power? What power? You think I didn't want him to stop as soon as the war was over? You think the sects turned against him because of crafty tricks? Oh how naive you are Lan Wangji. The sects turned against him because they realised a man like him could never be controlled, it was never about demonic cultivation." 

Lan Wangji had suspected as much of course, but to hear it like this boiled his blood. His Wei Ying suffered so much, all because of petty politics 

"And you? You were the one that was disgusted by his tricks weren't you? You wanted to drag him to Gusu to lock him up, why didn't you do more to save him instead?" Jiang Cheng retaliated 

"Lock him up? I only wantedto help-" Lan Wangji said with a frown, but Jiang Cheng wasn't listening 

"You say you love him but what did you ever do? You didn't stop him when he took this Wens and defected, when he was seeking his doom."

"You never defended him in discussion conferences. You let his reputation turn bad." Lan Wangji accused 

"What the hell do you know what those conferences were like? You barely ever attended yourself, the great Hanguang Jun, too good for politics. I had a sect to look after, you think the other sects wouldn't have just as easily turned on me if I supported him? And then what? Lotus pier would be burned a second time, all because of him. Just like the first time." 

Lan Wangji's eyes widened in shock
"You blame him for the Wens attacking Lotus Pier?" 

"Not just him Lan Wangji, I blame you too. If you hadn't angered Wen Chao and he didn't decide to play hero to save you in the cave of slaughter, my parents wouldn't be dead." Jiang Cheng said through gritted teeth

Lan Wangji didn't care if Jiang Cheng blamed him. But to think he blamed Wei Ying for it all, and worse Wei Ying probably believed him

"You blame him for deaths that aren't his fault, just so you can ignore the blood on your own hands Jiang Wanyin." Lan Wangji said in a soft, dangerous voice 

Jiang Cheng laughed, a mean, crazy kind of laugh
"You look at me with disgust because I have blood on my hands, but what about him? You're beloved Wei Wuxian lost control and massacred thousands using the amulet at the nightless city." That was the first time Jiang Cheng used his name and the amount of vitriol in his voice surprised even him. Lan Wangji flinched at what he said and he couldn't help but continue 
"If I have blood on my hands, then he was drowning in it." 

Without another word, Lan Wangji turned around and walked back to the Jingshi
-----------------

"He's going to change him mind isn't he?" Jiang Cheng said as he nervously paced the length of the Hanshi. Lan Xichen gave him an amused smile from where he was sitting by his table, signing letters 

"I really did try to be polite, but he started it." Jiang Cheng exclaimed, and then scowled at himself for sounding like a petulant child

"He won't change his mind. Honestly, you both needed to let out your anger. I'm just glad you did it somewhere no one could hear you." 

"How can anyone love someone so blindly?" Jiang Cheng exclaimed in frustration. Lan Xichen sighed and stood up, walking over to where Jiang Cheng was standing 

"Come with me Sect leader Jiang, I'd like to show you something." 

Lan Xichen lead a confused Jiang Cheng down a winding path to a part of the cloud recesses he had never been to before. The two of them came to a stop in front of a house surrounded by gentians 

"This was my mother's house." Lan Xichen said softly. Considering his own parents slept in separate rooms, it took a moment for Jiang Cheng to realise that the sect leader and his wife living in different houses was probably strange 

He listened to Lan Xichen tell the story of a young and hopeful sect leader, a woman with a wild, free spirit and their tumultuous marriage 

He told him about two boys that were separated from their parents since birth, who were told they had to earn the time spent visiting their mother with their own good behavior

He told him about a little Lan Wangji kneeling in front of the house in the snow, waiting for someone to a open that would never open 

"Our uncle raised us with strict principles in fear that we would take the same path as our father. Wangji grew up with a fierce belief in the rules, but Wei Wuxian made him question everything he ever believed in. After the discipline whip, I visited him when he was kneeling in front of the wall. I asked him if it was worth it, if he believed Young Master Wei was right." Lan Xichen turned away from the house to look at him "He told me that he didn't know if Wei Wuxian was right or wrong, he just knew that he was his Zhiji, his love, and he had to stand by his side no matter what." 

Jiang Cheng let out a shuddering breathe when he heard that. Everything Lan Xichen told him made him see Lan Wangji in a different light

He wasn't the stoic, rule following Fuddy duddy they all thought he was when they were younger, but a child who desperately seeked approval from the only family he had left so he wouldn't be separated from them 

Then there was Wei Wuxian. Lan Wangji never made a big deal out of everything he did and sacrificed for his love in fear that Wei Wuxian would only stay with him out of gratitude

He didn't want to trap a free spirit like Wei Wuxian the same way his own mother was trapped by their father, even if it was to save him

"Wei Ying, come back to Gusu with me." 
That idiot. All those times he thought Lan Wangji wanted to lock him up, when all he wanted to do was help him

"He's going to hate me for the rest of our lives isn't he?" Jiang Cheng asked softly "Maybe this was a mistake, we can't get married like this." 

Their fight that day reminded him too much of his parents. They always fought about Cangse Sanren and now Lan Wangji and him would always fight about Wei Wuxian

Maybe Jin Hua would be the better choice after all

"Before you make a decision, why don't you go talk to him. It's been a while, he should've calmed down by now." Lan Xichen suggested 

Jiang Cheng wasn't all too pleased by the idea, but he nodded nonetheless. With one last look at the house surrounded by gentians, he started walking towards the Jingshi

'What would you think of this marriage madam Lan? What would you think of your son marrying out of desperation instead of love?
-------------

Jiang Cheng knocked on the door of the Jingshi 
"Lan Wangji? Its me, I'm coming in." He announced 
A few seconds later he heard an affirmative "Mn" and so he pushed pen the door to enter

Lan Wangji was sitting on his bed with his eyes closed. At first glance, he looked calm like he was meditating. But on a closer look, Jiang Cheng could see the tension in his shoulders and the tear tracks on his face
The last part didn't surprise him as much as it should. Jiang Cheng would be lying if he said he didn't cry a little himself after their fight, considering all the memories it brought up

A-Yuan must've finished his nap because he wasn't in the house

Jiang Cheng hesitated a moment before sitting beside Lan Wangji on the bed. If the other man had any problem with it, he didn't say anything

"For as long as I remember, my parents were always fighting. Almost all of their fights were about one women who my dad apparently loved and my mom hated. That woman was Cangse Sanren, Wei Wuxians mother." Jiang Cheng hated talking about his parents marriage, but this conversation was important 

Lan Wangji opened his eyes and looked at him
"That's why your mother hated Wei Ying."he said

Jiang Cheng nodded before continuing 
"I used to blame Wei Wuxians mother for my parents fights, but the truth is they had no one to blame but themselves. They couldn't communicate with each other and my sister and I,...and Wei Wuxian suffered because of them." 

"My parents marriage was not ideal either." Lan Wangji confessed. It must've been hard for him to share even that much and Jiang Cheng felt slightly bad for saying he already knew 

"Your brother just told me about them." 

"Mn" Lan Wangji said impassively but Jiang Cheng thought he saw a flicker of annoyance on his face

He suddenly realised that behind his expressionless face, Lan Wangji felt a myriad of emotions. If anything the man felt more deeply than others, but didn't know how to show it

Both Jiang Cheng and Lan Wangji are repressed idiots that hid behind a mask of anger and indifference instead of showing what they really felt. The realization made Jiang Cheng laugh in surprise. Lan Wangji shot him a questioning look but he simply shook his head 

"I was just thinking that your brother is right, we really are quite similar." 

Lan Wangji frowned, but didn't get angry at the comparison

"I don't...I don't actually hate you." Lan Wangji said after a few moments of silence. Jiang Cheng was beginning to realize that silence with Lan Wangji wasn't really awkward, but rather peaceful 

"Oh?"

"I wanted to hate you for not doing enough for him, so I could ignore the guilt of failing him." Lan Wangji admitted 

"I hated him for abandoning the sect, for abandoning me when I needed him the most. I hated him for putting everyone's needs above his own family. I hated him for being responsible for my sisters death and I- i hate him for dying, and leaving me all alone." Jiang Cheng's voice cracked at the last part 

Lan Wangji said nothing and pretended not to see while Jiang Cheng surreptitiously wiped a tear

"My parents love and hate for the same person cased them to make each other miserable. You're parents married out of desperation and they became each other's prison. The people who suffered the most because of their complicated marriages were their children. Lan Wangji, are we doing the right thing?" Jiang Cheng asked, almost fearing his answer 

"Whatever our parents had, we are different. We don't have the same expectations from each other, we already know we can never love each other like that." Lan Wangji said decisively "Neither A-Yuan nor Jin Ling will suffer, because we won't knowingly condemn them to a childhood like ours."

"You're other choices must be really terrible if you're that desperate to marry me." Jiang Cheng joked, but Lan Wangji frowned at his self depricating tone

"You hate Wei Ying. I think you hate him so much because you once loved him as much as I do, and maybe one day you can love him again. Please, let me finish" Lan Wangji said when Jiang Cheng opened his mouth to protest. The "please", more than anything, made him shut up
"I know it sounds...strange, but there's nobody who could understand how I feel right now aside from you." 

He didn't say more but Jiang Cheng heard it anyway. Even surrounded by people, he was alone in a world that could never fully understand the man he loved, or why he loved him. Jiang Cheng might hate Wei Wuxian, but he was also the only one who could never judge Lan Wangji for loving him. Because he was the only other peron alive who knew what loving Wei Wuxian felt like

And Jiang Cheng won't admit it out loud just yet, but the fight he'd had with Lan Wangji was the first time in months that he'd truly felt alive. And maybe life with this man would make him feel a little less lonely

"If we do this we must be honest with each other. I can't promise that we won't fight again, or that things won't be difficult, but I'm willing to make an effort if you are." Jiang Cheng said

Lan Wangji simply nodded, but his eyes were so earnest, it was hard not to believe him

"I'd like to meet Jin Ling." Lan Wangji said 

"I'll bring him with me the next time I visit. By then we'll have to announce our engagement." Jiang Cheng said

"Mn. Sect leader Jin won't be pleased."

"I know, I can't wait to see his face when he finds out." Jiang Cheng said with a nasty grin. Lan Wangji couldn't help but feel amused at that expression 

"Do tell me his reaction." Lan Wangji answered, earning a huff of laughter from Jiang Cheng 

Maybe it wouldn't be so bad. They could not be lovers, of course not

But maybe they could be something else

Maybe together they won't be so lonely anymore 

Maybe the could learn to be happy again

Chapter Text

Whatever inhibitions he had a about the marriage were totally cleared because the look on Jin Guangshan's face was completely worth it!

Jin Hua's affronted outrage was an added bonus

"You - you" Jin Guangshan sputtered angrily "but you're both men!"

"Sect leader Jin, are you judging me and Hanguang Jun for being cutsleeves?" Jiang Cheng asked with a raised eyebrow. They were currently in a discussion conference with the other sect leaders when Jiang Cheng, along with Lan Xichen, decided to make the announcement

Jin Guangshan glared at Jiang Cheng, but he couldn't say anything. Insulting Jiang Cheng would be one thing, but insulting Lan Wangji for being cutsleeve? Especially when Lan Xichen was staring at him with an expression that dared him to insult his little brother

Lan Wangji alone could singlehandedly wipe out the best cultivators in the Jin sect. And everyone knew that the alliance between the Jin and Lan sect only lasted because Lan Xichen was fond of Jin GuangYao

As of the contract for Jin Lings custody, Jin Guangshan couldn't see how he can oppose it now. Whichever way you looked at it, Lan Wangji was better than Jin Hua. Be it position, ability or beauty, Jin Hua lost by a long margin

Maybe if they were alone, Jin Guangshan could find a way to manipulate Jiang Cheng. But in the presence of all other sect leaders, especially Lan Xichen and his sworn brother Nie Mingjue who would both support Jiang Cheng, he really had no choice but to concede defeat. Perhaps that's why Jiang Cheng chose to make the announcement at a discussion conference

"You misunderstand me sect leader Jiang, I was just surprised. I offer my congratulations to the newly betrothed and hope this marriage brings you prosperity and success." Jin Guangshan said in falsely cheerfully voice. Jin Hua stomped out of the room in anger

"Sect leader Jin, the matter of Jin Lings custody?" Lan Xichen asked with a gentle smiled and a voice that was anything but gentle. Lan Xichen could be truly terrifying when he wanted to be

"Yes yes of course, Sect leader Jiang may take my grandson home for the next six months. I must say I hoped Jin Ling would have a chance at a mothers love," Jin Guangshan said in a last ditch effort to sway the crowd in his favor

Sure enough, the crowd murmured among themselves, agreeing with Jin Guangshan

"Poor child" they muttered
"An Aunt could've provided what his uncle could not"
"Children need a woman's guidance just as much as a mans"
"Men can't hope to take on the role of women, especially in raising a child"

Jiang Cheng shot Lan Xichen a slightly helpless look, who shook his head at him, subtly telling him to stay calm. Jiang Cheng tried to think of something to say that would sway the crowd in his favor again

Nie Huisang, who had been sitting behind his brother mindlessly gossiping with other envoys, suddenly exclaimed in excitement
"Oh! You must be speaking of San Ge? Has his marriage been approved?"

Jin Guangyao himself was not present at this particular conference, still in Laoling trying to persuade sect leader Qin, (who was also not present), to let him marry his daughter. Had he been there, he would've found a way to wheedle the situation in his father's favor and thats exactly why Jiang Cheng made the announcement in the man's absence

Whether he did it in purpose or not, Nie Huisang's comment gave way to fresh murmuring amongst the crowd. So far, Jin Guangshan had done nothing to aid his son in his courting process. But now that he admitted to meddling in Jiang Cheng's personal life over concern for his grandson, it would make him look like the hypocrite that he is if he didn't help Jin Guangyao get married and bring a "mother figure" in Jin Lings life

Sure enough, the gossiping fool sect leader Yao loudly gave his opinion
"Maiden Qin is a kind and patient young lady, no doubt she would be a considerate aunt for young master Jin."

Murmers of agreement went through the crowd

"Will we be hearing announcements for another engagement Sect leader Jin?" An envoy of a subsidiary sect asked. Many minor sect leaders had been hoping for a marriage alliance with the Jin sect, no longer caring that Jin Guangyao was the son of a prostitute considering the strong ties the man had with two other great sects

This was not what Jin Guangshan wanted when he brought up a mother figure for his grandson. So far he avoided acknowledging Jin Guangyao as his son when he didn't need to, but aiding him in courting maiden Qin would be tantamount to declaring him his legitimate heir. Laughing with false cheerfulness, he addressed the crowd

"Yes yes, of course. Sect leader Qin is a dear friend of mine and I could hardly pass up the opportunity of extending our friendship to family. I will be going to Laoling my self after this conference is over."

Jiang Cheng refrained from laughing right then but it was a hard feat. By the time the conference was over, Jin Guangshan had shot him no less than 12 subtle glares full of increasing killing intent

Finally, the conference was over and Jiang Cheng could take his nephew back home. He was elated, there was no other word for it. His nerves were frayed from weeks of uncertainty, wondering if he would loose the last person on earth he had left to call family

For the first few weeks, Jiang Cheng let Jin Ling get used to the change in living. Jin Ling for his part didn't seem to mind the sudden change and was just happy to have his jiu jiu with him at all times

As elated as Jiang Cheng was, he was also paranoid. Jin Ling had become the most precious thing to him in this world and he couldn't bear to let him out of his sight for even a few minutes. As a result, he was singlehandedly running the sect and looking after a toddler all by himself

By the second week, he had run himself ragged doing everything on his own and while he refused to show weakness, his temper was affected for the worse

"I say it with a great amount of respect but you look awful Sect leader Jiang." Lan Xichen said when he came to visit lotus pier. The Lan sect leader was transferring a few of Lan Wangji's belongings ahead of the wedding which had been decided to take place the following month

"How do you manage to sound earnest even when you're insulting me?" Jiang Cheng asked with a scowl, although there was no heat behind it

Lan Xichen laughed goodnaturdely and beckoned Jin Ling to where he was sitting across from Jiang Cheng at the table overlooking one of the lakes

Jin Ling looked at his uncle who nodded at him and then shyly walked towards Lan Xichen and stood beside him

"Hello young Master Jin, do you remember me?" Lan Xichen asked

Jin Ling nodded
"You're Shushu's brother, the prettier one." He said, earning a surprised huff of laughter from said prettier man

"That's right, I'm your Shushu's sworn brother. I'm also going to be your jiu jiu's brother-in-law." Lan Xichen explained

Jin Ling's eyes widened. Ever since Jiang Cheng told him about the wedding, he'd been asking about his new Jiu mu every chance he got

"So you're my Jiu mu's brother?" He asked excitedly "When can I meet him? Is he pretty like you? Does he like puppies? I like puppies and Shushu promised to get me one when I'm bigger!"

Lan Xichen laughed at the onslaught of questions
"I'm sure you can meet him soon, he'll come live here after the wedding. And I believe he is quite beautiful, I'm afraid he'd take my spot on the list if people saw him smile." Lan Xichen said the last part to Jiang Cheng with a mischievous glint in his eyes. Jiang Cheng felt his face heat up when he heard that. He suddenly realized he'd never actually seen Lan Wangji smile

He wanted to see him smile

Lan Xichen continued as if nothing happened
"Wangji likes all kind of animals, but he likes rabbits the best. You'll also have a new cousin, he's a couple of years older than you but I think you'll be the best of friends." He told Jin Ling

"I'll get a gege? Jiu jiu! I have a gege now!" The little boy ran up to Jiang Cheng, jumping up and down excitedly while clutching his uncles hand. Lan Xichen watched them with a fond smile on his face

"Why don't you bring Jin Ling and come visit the cloud recesses? Wangji wants to meet his future nephew and you look like you could use a break anyway." Lan Xichen said

Jiang Cheng pondered this. He did promise Lan Wangji he'd introduce him to Jin Ling and a change of scenery might actually be good for him

He'd spent the past fortnight agonizing over different silks and their textures and which flower arrangements would be least unlucky and which sect leader should be seated where to avoid a brawl breaking out and god knows what else! If he heard one more person discuss wedding arrangements with him he might just murder someone!!

While he was thinking it over, Jin Ling felt neglected and tugged at Jiang Cheng's sleeve to get his attention

"Jiu jiu are we going somewhere?" He asked

"If you want to, we might go to Gusu to meet Jiu-" he never got the chance to finish his sentence before Jin Ling was jumping up again

"Lets go let's go let's gooooo!"

The next evening, Jiang Cheng and Lan Xichen left for the Cloud Recesses, Jin Ling clutched firmly in Jiang Cheng's arms as they flew

When they reached Gusu, Jin Ling's eyes widened and he whooped in delight when he saw the snow capped mountains and the mist that surrounded the area

"I almost forgot, I wanted to give this to you." Lan Xichen said once they reached the entrance. He rummaged through his sleeve and presented a jade token to Jiang Cheng, similar to the one all Lan disciples carried in order to enter and exit cloud recesses at will

Jiang Cheng knew he would soon be family but he was still oddly touched by the gesture

"Thank you, sect leader Lan." He said, accepting the token

"We are brothers now, Jiang Wanyin. This token is your right, and I'd appreciated if you weren't so formal with me anymore. None of this sect leader nonsense, at least not when it's just us." Lan Xichen said as he lead them inside

Jiang Cheng careful tucked the jade token in his qiankon pouch
"What would you have me call you then?" He asked

Before Lan Xichen could answer, Jin Ling piped up
"Jiu jiu you're so stupid. He is Jiu Mu's gege so he's your gege too."

"You talk too much for a two year old." Jiang Cheng grumbled good-naturedly

Lan Xichen smiled and shot him a look that said "why not?"

"All right then Xichen ge" Jiang Cheng said with a rare, real smile. He had always admired Lan Xichen who treated him with respect. Now it felt good to be on the receiving end of his affection as well

"Good, let's go find Wangji" Lan Xichen said with a smile. But before they could go any further, a disciple came rushing over with an urgent letter for Lan Xichen

"Is everything all right?" Jiang Cheng asked when he saw the momentary distress on Lan Xichen's face

"Its nothing to worry about, just a little spat between my sworn brothers." Lan Xichen said with a reassuring smile. Jiang Cheng had been to Carp Tower enough times in the past few months to know that the tension between Jin Guangyao and Nie Mingjue was decidedly not a 'small spat', but he didn't comment

"Now you two must excuse me, I need to report to my uncle" Lan Xichen continued "Wangji and A-Yuan should be at the back mountains at this moment, just follow the trail behind the Jingshi, you'll find them."

Jiang Cheng nodded and with Jin Ling in his arms, he walked in the path Lan Xichen told him to. Sure enough, at a little distance from the Jingshi he heard A-Yuan's laughter and a deep voice cautioning him to be gentle

Jiang Cheng reached the clearing and saw father and son sitting on the ground surrounded by fluffy white rabbits. A-yuan was sitting in the middle of a rabbit mound while his father piled more rabbits on him, practically burying him in fluffy white balls

"Baba it tickles." A-yuan giggled. Lan Wangji didn't quite smile but be looked a lot more relaxed than Jiang Cheng had ever seen him

"Rabbits!!!!" Jin Ling squealed as soon as he saw them and squirmed in Jiang Cheng's arms till he was put down. Jin Lings squeal made Lan Wangji and A-Yuan look up and the boy rushed to Jiang Cheng to clutch his leg, the way he had done all those months ago in the burial mounds

"Jifu you're back! I missed you." He said

"Good to see you too kid." Jiang Cheng said gruffly with a gentle hand brushing his head

Lan Wangji observed the scene curiously
"He only hugs the legs of those he likes." He said softly. Though he was looking at Jiang Cheng, his mind seemed to be elsewhere when he said that

"Jiu jiu? Is this him?" Jin Ling loudly whispered while tugging at his uncles sleeve. A-Yuan let go of his jifu's leg and stared curiously at the little boy

"Yes Jin Ling, that's Lan Wangji." Jiang Cheng introduced "You're brother told us your were here." He told Lan Wangji

Lan Wangji nodded and shifted his attention to the toddler gazing at him in wonder. After the first time he met A-Yuan, he'd learned to shift his expression to something less severe and more welcoming when meeting little children

"Its a pleasure to meet you Jin Ling." He greeted with a slight incline of his head, as though Jin Ling were a fellow cultivator and not a two year old with limited speech

"Jiu mu!" Jin Ling yelled excitedly and crashed into Lan Wangji's arms. Lan Wangji's instinctual reprimand for loud noises was stuck in his throat when he heard what Jin Ling called him

"Jiu mu?" He asked Jiang Cheng with a glare (a/n jiu mu = maternal uncles wife)

"Well he's not wrong." Jiang Cheng said with a straight face

"I could be his Yifu." Lan Wangji shot back with a raised eyebrow
(A/n yifu = maternal aunts husband, another pronunciation for yifu means foster father so don't get confused)

Jin Ling already got bored of the adults conversation and walked towards A-Yuan

"You're Yuan gege?" He asked sweetly. A-Yuan nodded and took Jin Lings hand to lead him towards the rabbits

"Hi A-Ling didi. Do you want to hold a rabbit? Here, this one's name is dumpling."

The two toddlers sat on the ground, playing with the bunnies, quickly becoming friends

Meanwhile, the two adults were still at an impasse

"Between the two of us if anyone is a bride, it's you." Jiang Cheng said

"I may be marrying into your sect but that doesn't make me your bride." Lan Wangji said with narrowed eyes

"I'm older than you."

"By two months"

"I'm taller."

"We're the same height."

"We most certainly aren't." Jiang Cheng was beginning to enjoy the increasing frustration in Lan Wangji's eyes

"You're the wife." Lan Wangji said, somehow managing not to sound like a petulant child

"But why? You're clearly the prettier one." Lan Wangji's ears turned a bright red and his eyes widened in affront when Jiang Cheng said that

"Shameless." He spat and this time, Jiang Cheng couldn't hold back his laughter. He finally understood why Wei Wuxian tried so hard to provoke a reaction from Lan Wangji, it was so much fun watching him flush red at being teased

This was the first time in months that he'd laughed so freely. It was also the first time since his death that he was too distracted to be angry at the thought of Wei Wuxian

Chapter Text

Lan Xichen decided that if Lan Wangji was feeling up to it, he could break seclusion for a day and take Jiang Cheng and the kids to Caiyi town 

"The air would be good for you. Once you go to Yunmeng you might not have a chance to visit the town again for a while." Lan Xichen reasoned 

Lan Wangji wondered if his brother was trying to set up a courting session for him and Jiang Cheng. The thought amused and irritated him in equal parts

Nevertheless the four of them found themselves traversing the busy markets of Caiyi town that afternoon. It was a week since Jin Ling met his Jiu mu and cousin and he was excited to meet them again 

"He doesn't have any other friends his age to play with." Jiang Cheng told Lan Wangji when Jin Ling enthusiastically hugged A-Yuan. Jiang Cheng felt a pang in his heart when he remembered how after the initial hostility, he too would stick to his shixiong like this when they were kids

As they walked through town, Jin Ling demanded that he wanted to hold Lan Wangji's hand like A-Yuan gege. Lan Wangji complied and held the hands of both toddlers in either of his hands as he lead them through the market. Lan Wangji walked slowly to accommodate the tiny pairs of feet beside him as well as to not exert pressure on his own injured back

Watching Lan Wangji interact with the two kids, Jiang Cheng found himself thinking about his list 

Should be a natural beauty - Literal songs have been written about Lan Wangji's beauty since the man was 14

Comes from a good family - Can't think of a family more respectable than the Lans. That's why even Jin Lings courtesy name is Rulan (and not because his idiot brother was oblivious about his love for Lan Wangji, of course not) 

Who mustn't be too loud or talkative - He comes from a sect where noise is quite literally prohibited, and Lan Wangji makes it his priority to use as less words as possible while speaking 

Who must be good to Jin Ling - watching him now, Jiang Cheng wondered if he'd be an even better guardian to Jin Ling than he ever could be

Of course, he decidedly did not meet the other requirements 

Cultivation level not too high - 'high' didn't even begin to cover Lan Wangji's cultivation. His was one of the strongest cores of their generation, second only to the likes of Nie Mingjue and Lan Xichen in terms of skill

Personality not too strong- Ha! This man was even more stubborn than Jiang Cheng and had a strong moral compass that was hard to argue with 

Demure and obedient- Jiang Cheng almost laughed out loud when he imagined Lan Wangji being ordered to do something he didn't want to do. He remembered the Wen indoctrination and how stubbornly silent Lan Wangji remained when everyone was forced to recite Wen sect rules

Must be thrifty - Lan Wangji didn't exactly seem to care about extravagances for himself, but either A-Yuan or Jin Ling only had to look at something a second too long before he was already buying them half the stall

Strangely enough, Jiang Cheng was glad Lan Wangji didn't meet all his requirements 

They stopped for dinner at one of the finest inns in Caiyi town. Jin Ling and A-Yuan sat together and examined the various new toys they had while Lan Wangji ordered food for all of them

When the food arrived, Jiang Cheng was glad to see that half of the dishes were spicy. Jin Ling and A-Yuan got sweet soup while Lan Wangji himself ordered a few dishes of milder palates 

"Baba? Did we go to Caiyi town before?" A-Yuan asked, frowning at the soup 

Lan Wangji stiffened in his seat and turned to his son
"No. Why do you ask?"

"This feels familiar..." the boy continued to frown before Jin Ling caught his attention and he forgot about it 

Jiang Cheng observed the faraway look in Lan Wangji's eyes as he looked at A-Yuan. Whatever memory the boy remembered, Jiang Cheng would bet his sword that it had to do with Wei Wuxian

He couldn't suppress the irritation he felt at the thought. Lan Wangji was here with Jiang Cheng but he still had to think about him, completely ignoring the man sitting right in front of him

Jiang Cheng remained silent the entire time they ate and while they walked back to the cloud recesses. Lan Wangji shot him curious looks but didn't say anything until the reached the mountain 

"Jin Ling is asleep, will you stay the night and leave tomorrow?" Lan Wangji asked 

"Its fine, I can still ride a sword." Jiang Cheng said in a blank voice. Lan Wangji blinked in confusion 

"Go home and wait for me" He told the exhausted A-Yuan who was too tired to protest. He gave Jiang Cheng a small hug goodbye which momentarily made him forget his bad mood

The bad mood returned in full force when he saw Lan Wangji's face again 

"I will be leaving, give Zewu Jun and Grandmaster Lan my regards." He said shortly and turned to leave

"Jiang Wanyin wait." Lan Wangji gripped Jiang Cheng's sleeve, careful not to jostle the sleeping child 

"Yes?"

"I...I'm sorry."

Jiang Cheng was taken aback. He didn't expect Lan Wangji to pick up on his mood, much less apologize for it 

"I know you still don't like speaking of him, and I can't stop seeing him in everything I do." Lan Wangji admitted. Under the moonlight, Lan Wangji's eyes seemed to shine like liquid pools of gold. Jiang Cheng could also see the misery and pain clearly reflected in them

Jiang Cheng sighed, feeling the exhaustion of the past year all at once
"I knew what I was signing up for, so it's not really your fault. I just can't wrap my head around the fact that even after his death, I need to compete with him. Even when I know there isn't a competition at all." 

Lan Wangji looked genuinely confused a that
"Why do you have to compete at all?"

Jiang Cheng let out a derisive snort at his naive question. Any other time, he would tell the other person to mind their own business and change the topic. But he was tired of hiding and he wanted to talk to someone. Besides, he and Lan Wangji did promise to be more honest to each other, might as well start right then

"You didn't know my parents. All my life I was raised by a father who looked at me like he was wishing Wei Wuxian was his son instead and a mother who jealously compared everything I did to his achievements. We were nothing like the twin jades of Lan, equals in ability and beauty." 

Lan Wangji blinked at him, unsure what to say
"I rank second, my brother and I are not equal in beauty." he deadpanned

Jiang Cheng barked out a laugh, but quieted down when Jin Ling shifted in his arms
"You know how to joke!" 

"Jiang Wanyin," Lan Wangji said "Our wedding is in a fortnight. However unconventional our relationship may be, your place in my life is fixed. You don't have to compete with anyone." 

Jiang Cheng's eyes widened at the proclamation 
"Are all Lans this earnest?" He asked, trying to make the atmosphere lighter. Lan Wangji shot him a look that said he knew exactly what he doing and patiently waited for a proper response 

"You're marrying me, but you wish it was him."

"I do" Lan Wangji admitted, as honest as always "But in the past month, I have understood you better. I'm glad I'm marrying you Jiang Wanyin, and not just because he's gone. I can't have love again, but I'd be happy if I can call you my friend." 

"You don't hate me anymore?" Jiang Cheng asked softly. He was almost afraid of the answer 

Lan Wangji hesitated a moment before answering 
"Since our betrothal I've been trying to see things from your side. A part of me is still angry, but I don't hate you. I never actually hated you." 

His answer made Jiang Cheng feel lighter somehow 
"And I don't blame you for loving him." 

"In my mind your aren't taking his rightful position, neither do I search for him in you. I'm clear about who I'm marrying Jiang Wanyin." 

And just like that, Lan Wangji had guessed Jiang Cheng's biggest fear regarding this marriage and assured him he was wrong

As he flew back to lotus pier, Jiang Cheng's thought were scattered 

'Wei Wuxian, how could you misunderstand this man so much?' 

'How could you take him for granted?'

'Brother... how could you be so blind to his love?"

Chapter Text

Wei Wuxian watched the Lan disciples set up the spirit attracting flags. He regarded the familiar white robes and couldn't help but think "mourning clothes!"

Even as he thought that, he smiled without even realizing it when he remembered the first time he'd seen Lan Zhan

Snow white robes glowing under the moonlight that paled in comparison to the ethereal beauty of the boy glaring up at him from beneath the wall

Wei Wuxian's smile grew larger the more he thought of his Zhiji

The leader of the group, however, caught his attention. The boy, Lan Sizhui, was wearing the signature white robes and forehead ribbon like everyone else, but he also had additional accessories to his uniform. A dark blue robe peeked out from under his white outer robe, and some kind of silver accessory glinted on a tassel hanging to his waist

Perhaps the Lan sect made some uniform changes in the past 13 years. Deciding not to dwell on that, Wei Wuxian went back to Mo Xaunyu's room and waited for the action to start

Two days later, Wei Wuxian ended up on Dafan mountain coming face to face with the annoying brat that turned out to be his nephew, and his shidi. He surreptitiously adjusted the mask on his face, hoping Jiang Cheng wouldn't recognize him

"Demonic cultivation! Do you have any idea what evil you are inviting?" Jiang Cheng asked angrily. So his anger towards Wei Wuxian extended towards anyone that practiced his cultivation as well

Wei Wuxian tried to escape but Jin Ling attacked him and he ended at someone's feet
Lan Wangji!!

"Hanguang jun, you really do arrive wherever the chaos is." Jiang Cheng said sarcastically. Had Wei Wuxian been paying attention, he would've heard the grudging fondness in his brothers voice

The two Lan disciples from Mo manor were also with Lan Wangji
"A-Ling" the one called Lan Sizhui called out "Weren't we supposed to go on this hunt together? Why did you go off on your own?"

Huh? Since when were Lan and Jin sect disciples this familiar with each other?

"Why are you asking me? Why don't you ask that brat next to you" Jin Ling protested angrily, pointing to the boy next to Lan Sizhui

"Who are you calling a brat? Young mistress, you are the one that wanted to cheat, using so many immortal binding nets." Lan Jingyi shouted in a manner that was not Lan like at all

"Call me young mistress one more time-"

"If you behave like that, that's what I'll call you."

Suddenly, both boys found themselves unable to say another word. Wei Wuxian looked at Lan Wangji who had clearly cast the silencing spell on them

Wei Wuxian thought Jiang Cheng would get angry at Lan Wangji for disciplining his nephew, but to his shock, his brother simply rolled his eyes

"Must you do this now?" He asked Lan Wangji in an exasperated tone and then sighed when the other man only raised an eyebrow in response "He's right," he told Jin Ling "You deserve it for all your whining."

Wei Wuxian blinked, wondering what happened to his fiery little brother and how he was this patient with Lan Zhan

Just then, a Jiang disciple ran forward and told Jiang Cheng that Lan Wangji destroyed all the immortal binding nets in the forest

Surely Jiang Cheng would get angry now right?

Jiang Cheng only let out a disgruntled groan
"Of course he destroyed them." He muttered lowly "They cost a fortune you know" he said loudly

"And I told you not to use them in this hunt." Lan Wangji spoke for the first time since arriving "I also told you not to buy so many nets."

Huh? What. Was. Happening? Wei Wuxian was utterly confused at this strange behavior between his brother and friend

Jiang Cheng shook his head like this was something he dealt with everyday. He grabbed Jin Lings arm and brought the boy towards Lan Wangji and the Lan sect disciples

"A-Ling, go with Sizhui and Jingyi. And remember, if you can't find anything to catch then don't come back to me" Jiang Cheng said. Lan Wangji shot Jiang Cheng an unimpressed look

"What? I'm being perfectly reasonable." Jiang Cheng said. Lan Wangji shook his head and turned to the the boys

"Don't listen to him, do what you can. Dont force anything."

"Yeah yeah fine, be careful." Jiang Cheng grumbled and turned to walk away

Jin Ling sneered at Wei Wuxian, still unable to talk, before stalking away as well. Lan Jingyi rolled his eyes and followed after Jin ling

Lan Sizhui, the kind child, helped Wei Wuxian stand up. To his surprise, he noticed the silver thing he'd noticed that day was the bell that Jiang disciples wore

Why would a Lan sect disciple wear a Jiang sect bell? He realized with a start that even the blue robe Sizhui wore under his white one was a part of the Jiang sect uniform

After Lan Sizhui left, Lan Wangji nodded his thanks to Wei Wuxian before going after Jiang Cheng

Wei Wuxian stood there a moment, watching Lan Wangji catch up with Jiang Cheng. He couldn't hear what they were saying but the way they moved around each other seemed like they were intimately familiar with one another

What had changed in the past 13 years? He didn't think it was possible for these two to become friends

Either way, he was glad Jiang Cheng wasn't alone all these years. But he couldn't explain the uneasy feeling in his gut as he watched Lan Wangji and Jiang Cheng walk further away

-----

As he tried to solve the mystery of the goddess temple, Wei Wuxian observed the strange camaraderie between the three juniors

The way Jin Ling and Lan Jingyi fought like cats and dogs, but still looked out for each other when the goddess attacked reminded him of Jiang Cheng and himself when they were younger

And the way Sizhui tried to keep the peace between the younger boys and protected them in the face of an attack reminded him of his shijie

The three boys behaved like they'd been raised together. Though they looked nothing alike, anyone could see them and immediately mistake them for brothers

He didn't have time to dwell on that any further as they were chased down the mountain by a bloodthirsty goddess statue

"A-Ling! Where's A-Ling?" Sizhui exclaimed in concern

"That damn brat! Out playing hero again." Jingyi swore under his breath but his concern was also clear

Wei Wuxian finished explaining his theories to the kids and was about to go searching for Jin Ling when the goddess found them first

"A-Ling, get back here." Sizhui shouted when he saw Jin Ling trying to attack the goddess statue

"You heard what Hanguang jun said. Stop being reckless A-ling." Jingyi shouted

At the mention of Lan Wangji, Jin Ling grumbled and reached Sizhui and Jingyi's side

Really? All he had to do was mention Lan Zhan and the little brat will listen? Wei Wuxian was so so confused

He played the flute to subdue the goddess, ignoring Jingyi and Jin Ling insulting his flute skills, those brats

He thought Wen Ning being alive would be the biggest shock of that day. Boy how wrong he was

"A-Ling no! Calm down." Sizhui said holding Jin Ling back

"But gege, that's the ghost general." Jin Ling sounded torn between anger and amazement

Gege? Honestly, that didn't even surprise Wei Wuxian anymore

He continued playing

A calm tune

He needed a calm tune

He played a beautiful song that was stored somewhere in the deepest parts of his memory

A firm hand held his arm, stopping him from playing

Lan Zhan!!

"So you're back?" Jiang Cheng asked, Zidian crackling in his hand

"Leave us, go search for the ghost general" Jiang Cheng ordered the rest of his disciples. The sight of Zidian was enough to send the rest of the commoners away from there until only Lan Wangji, Jiang Cheng and the three juniors were present in the clearing with Wei Wuxian

Before Wei Wuxian could react, zidian lashed out and curled around his arm. He was surprised it didn't hurt

Both Jiang Cheng and Lan Wangji looked surprised when Zidian did nothing to his soul

"Jiu jiu, what's happening?" Jin Ling asked his uncle "This man isn't Wei Wuxian, he's Mo Xaunyu..." Jin Ling continued to tell everyone what a crazy cutsleeve he was and Wei Wuxian figured out how he was going to escape

Jiang Cheng and Lan Wangji completely ignored Jin Lings ranting and seemed to be having some kind of silent conversation

Wei Wuxian felt unnerved as he watched. In his previous life, Lan Xichen was the only one who could read the meaning behind Lan Wangji's expressionless face. When did Jiang Cheng learn to do the same?

Finally, Jiang Cheng nodded at Lan Wangji and retracted Zidian
"You're coming with us." Jiang Cheng said

Wei Wuxian hid behind Lan Wangji

"I feel uncomfortable when you bother me like that sect leader Jiang. I might like men but I won't go with any man you know. Someone like you for example is not my type."

Instead of getting angry like he was sure he would, Jiang Cheng looked thoroughly amused

"Is that right? Then may I ask what your type might be?" Jiang Cheng asked. He wasn't looking at Wei Wuxian however, and was staring at Lan Wangji instead

"A man like Hanguang jun is more my type." Surely this should disgust Lan Wangji

He did get a reaction....just not what he was expecting

"How dare you? Hanguang jun is married." Jingyi yelled the same time that Jin Ling growled
"You crazy man, don't you dare harass another one of my uncles."

.....what?
Lan Zhan was married? And he was Jin Lings uncle?

But how...?

Just then, Jiang Cheng stepped forward with a curious expression on his face
"Oh? So you want to steal my husband?"

What the fuck happened in the 13 years since he died?

Chapter Text

The day of the wedding arrived sooner than expected. The day before the wedding, everyone in lotus pier were working since dawn to complete all the preparations for the big day

This was the first big event the Jiang sect was hosting since Jiang Cheng became sect leader and he needed everything to be perfect 

The constant working also distracted him from the fact that he was the only one left from his family and he would have no one attending the wedding from his side

The Lan entourage arrived in boats the afternoon before the wedding. They couldn't ride swords because Lan Wangji still hadn't healed enough to fly

The rest of the Lan elders including Lan Qiren would arrive the next day

Jiang Cheng stood at the gate to greet his fiancee and brother in law. To his surprise, Lan Wangji was carrying A-Yuan in his arms as they walked towards them

Because of his concern, Jiang Cheng forgot to greet them properly and instead frowned at Lan Wangji 
"Should you be carrying him like that? Won't you reopen your wounds?" Lan Xichen shot Lan Wangji a look that said "see? I told you so." Lan Wangji ignored him

"Hello Jiang Wanyin." Lan Wangji said instead of answering him

Lan Xichen sighed and answered 
"We didn't know before but traveling by water didn't agree with little A-Yuan. Wangji refused to let him go while he was feeling sick." 

Jiang Cheng looked at Lan Wangji who raised his chin at him as if daring him to call him out

"My sister used to get sea sick too, I think I still have the recipe for the tea she used to cure it." He says instead "I'll show you your rooms, let A-Yuan rest there, I'll send someone to bring the tea." 

"Wangji, you should rest too." Lan Xichen said

Lan Wangji frowned and shook his head, just like Jiang Cheng knew he would

"I need to help with the preparations." 

Lan Xichen looked about two seconds away from qi deviating over worry for his stubborn little brother

"No one's asking you to rest for you, but this is a new place. A-Yuan needs to sleep to really get over the sea sickness and he won't be able to rest in a new place without you there." Jiang Cheng said 

Lan Wangji considered this and decided he was right. He nodded and gestured for Jiang Cheng to lead the way

"One second, A-lian, come here a moment." Jiang Cheng called for one of his senior disciples, a young girl of about 19 ran up to him

"Sect leader, the flower arrangements have been taken care of. We just need to finalize the seating arra-" 

"That's fine A-lian. Please show Hanguang jun and his son to their quarters." Jiang Cheng instructed 

Jiang Lian flushed when she realized the twin jades of Lan were in front of her and hastily bowed to them before leading Lan Wangji away

"You managed to get him to listen to you. I'm impressed." Lan Xichen said 

"He's unreasonable when it comes to his son isn't he? " Jiang Cheng asked 

"I know he loves A-Yuan but he acts crazy when it comes to his son. Just like when it came to-" Lan Xichen abruptly stopped, but Jiang Cheng understood what he was about to say

"Wei Wuxian." Jiang Cheng finished 

"I'm sorry Wanyin, I didn't mean to mention him. Especially not before your wedding." Lan Xichen apologized

"Its fine Xichen ge, Lan Wangji and I have an understanding about this. Our marriage isn't like that anyway." Jiang Cheng said

"You don't think you two might have a chance at love in the future?" Lan Xichen asked with a frown

Jiang Cheng let out a startled laugh
"Together? No. But if Wei Wuxian finds a way to come back, then Lan Wangji might have a chance. I'm simply not interested." 

Lan Xichen blinked for a moment but then smiled, seemingly accepting his explanation 

"As long as you're both happy. There are more than one ways to love a person after all." Lan Xichen said and with a pat on his shoulder, he walked away to help with the left over preparations 

Jiang Cheng was stunned by what Lan Xichen said

He knew he could never fall in love with his to be husband, but could they find a different kind of love between them? 

Jiang Cheng shook his head and headed to the kitchens to personally brew the tea for A-Yuan 
--------------------
"Is he asleep?" Jiang Cheng asked softly when he entered Lan Wangji's room with the tea tray 

Lan Wangji was sitting on the bed next to A-Yuan 
"Mn."

"I brought the tea, there's a talisman on the pot so it should stay warm by the time he wakes up. You don't have to come out for lunch, I'll send a tray for you when it's time." Jiang Cheng said putting the pot on a table by the bed

He walked to the other side of the bed to check if A-Yuan had a fever. He didn't really know how to care for sick children but he'd seen his sister do something like this 

"Will you join us?" Lan Wangji asked

"Hm?"

"For lunch."

"Oh I don't think so. Too much work to do." Jiang Cheng answered nonchalantly 

"You will skip lunch?" Lan Wangji asked with slightly narrowed eyes 

Jiang Cheng waved away his concern 
"Like I said, too much work. The wedding is tomorrow remember?"

"The groom shouldn't have to work so much." 

"Yes well, not like I have anyone else alive to help." Jiang Cheng and Lan Wangji both stiffened 

"Jiang Wanyin..."

Jiang Cheng didn't want to meet Lan Wangji's eyes. He moved away from the bed and towards the door 
"Make sure he drinks that when he wakes up." 

"Jiang Wayin wait." Lan Wangji said firmly, forcing Jiang Cheng to stop in his tracks

People always said Lan Wangji was expressionless, that he was cold and aloof, incapable of feeling. Those people only said that because they didn't know where to look

Lan Wangji's eyes bore all the emotions he could never say out loud. Jiang Cheng never met anyone with more expressive eyes than his

In that moment, Jiang Cheng turned around to face Lan Wangji, not knowing what expression would see. He wasn't quite prepared for the burning intensity in his eyes 

"You are not alone Jiang Wanyin. Never again." Lan Wangji said 

Jiang Cheng was taken aback and didn't know how to respond to the sincerity and protectiveness in his voice 

"Join us for lunch. You deserve a break." 

Later Jiang Cheng did join them for lunch, along with Jin Ling and Lan Xichen

The toddlers chattered about everything and anything under the sun while the adults talked about anything but the wedding preparations, lest Jiang Cheng go crazy. Lan Wangji didn't even reprimand anyone for speaking during the meal

Sitting around the little table in Lan Wangji's room, Jiang Cheng realised this was the first time he'd ever had a peaceful lunch with so many people around. His own family always had a knack at breaking into fights whenever they were together and after the war, what was left of his family rarely did anything together

Maybe Lan Wangji was right, he was not alone. Not anymore.
------------

That night after everyone went to sleep, Jiang Cheng was in his study signing the last of the reports that had been neglected due to wedding planning when someone knocked on his door 

"Come in." He said, surprised to find Lan Wangji entering "Its past 9, why aren't you asleep yet." 

"Couldn't sleep. Will you join me for a walk?" Lan Wangji asked 

Jiang Cheng was surprised by the request but conceded

"This is your first time at Lotus pier isn't it? Come on, I'll show you my favorite place here." Jiang said, leading the way towards one of the docks 

Jiang Cheng loved this particular lake behind the building. There was nothing remarkable about this place, the water this side was too shallow for boating and lotuses didn't grow here

Perhaps that's why he loved it. There was nothing to see so no one bothered to come here. This was where Jiang Cheng came when he wanted to be alone 

He wasn't sure why he was showing Lan Wangji this place. Must be the sleep deprivation and exhaustion making him more impulsive than usual 

"He always talked about bringing you to lotus pier. For months it was all he could talk about." Jiang Cheng said 

They were sitting on one of the stone benches overlooking the lake. Lan Wangji let out soft sigh and closed his eyes for a moment

"I did come here once before." He said 

Jiang Cheng blinked, and then remembered 
"Oh yes, he told me. He threw flowers on you or something right?" 

"I came too late. Should've accepted his invitation before." Before everything went to hell and Wei Wuxian was too far gone to see Lan Wangji's sincerity and concern as anything but hatred and judgement 

Jiang didn't know what to say to that

"Jiang Wanyin, we promised to be honest with each other. Before this I wasn't sure how to tell you, I had my own doubts as well. But now I'm not longer doubtful and you deserve to know." 

For a moment, Jiang Cheng assumed the worst 
"Are you having second thoughts about the wedding?"

Lan Wangji frowned slightly 
"No, of course not. Although I do wish to tell you this before we get married. It wouldn't be right to withhold such information before that." 

"About what? What is so important you look shaken just thinking about it?" Because Lan Wangji did indeed look shaken. Jiang Cheng was being better at reading the man and he could see the slight tremble in his shoulders and the way he flexed his hands 

"Its about Wei Ying's death, and all the events that caused it." Lan Wangji said finally. Jiang stiffened, waiting with bated breath for him to continue

"I believe someone deliberately framed Wei Ying." 

Chapter Text

"I believe someone deliberately framed Wei Ying."

"What are you saying?" Jiang Cheng asked

"After the Wen siblings surrendered themselves I visited Wen Ning in prison. I wanted to know what exactly happened before Jin Zixuans death."

Jiang Cheng watched Lan Wangji with wide eyes, almost fearing his answer

"Wen Ning told me he heard flute music even after Wei Ying stopped playing."

Lan Wangji was silent, letting Jiang Cheng process what he had just said

"You mean, you're telling me someone else wanted to kill Jin Zixuan? And they framed Wei Wuxian for it?" Jiang Cheng asked shakily

Lan Wangji nodded
"At first, I wasn't sure I heard Wen Ning right. Jin Guangshan and Jin Guangyao interrupted me before I could ask further. Later when Wen Ning lost control at Carp tower, I thought I heard someone playing the flute."

"Wei Wuxian couldn't have controlled the fierce corpse all the way from Yilling." Jiang Cheng muttered, still in a daze

Lan Wangji nodded
"During the massacre at the Nightless city, I was right next to Wei Ying. Everyone thought he lost control of the corpses, but he and I both heard another flute."

Jiang Cheng looked at him with wide eyes, fear and anger momentarily robbing him of speech

Finally, he managed to choke out
"My sister... the corpse that attacked her? Someone else was controlling it?"

Lan Wangji nodded solemnly
"I don't know for sure, but it is what I suspect. Before I could investigate the matter further I was bedridden due to my punishment and then..." then Wei Wuxian died

Jiang Cheng was shaking in his seat. Grief and anger warring for dominance in his heart. In the end anger won and he let out a bitter laugh

"So all this time I blamed him for my sister and brother in laws deaths, and turns out it wasn't even his fault?"

"Jiang Wanyin, I'm sorry I didn't tell you sooner."

"Sooner? Why should you trust me at all?" Jiang Cheng shouted, tears streaming down his face "I killed him. It wasn't his fault but I killed him."

Lan Wangji sighed, grief stabbing at his heart
"You didn't know." Jiang Cheng looked shocked when he said that, not expecting Lan Wangji to defend him at all "Even I thought he was at fault for a long time. If it weren't for what my brother told me, I wouldn't realize this either."

"What did Xichen ge say?" Jiang Cheng asked, momentarily distracted from his grief

"He told me you both thought Jin Guangshan was still searching for the amulet."

Jiang Cheng nodded to himself
"The amulet, even before Wei Wuxian died Jin Guangshan was always after that damn thing."

"It can't be him though. Jin Guangshan wouldn't kill his own son to frame Wei Ying." Lan Wangji said

"So there's someone else? You think its someone who had a grudge against Wei Wuxian? Or Jin Zixuan?" Jiang Cheng needed answers. He needed action. Otherwise he would drown in his guilt and heartbreak

"Or both." Lan Wangji said "Neither of them were lacking in enemies."

That was true. Jin Zixuan was the future sect leader of the most powerful sect and he was arrogant to boot, intentionally or unintentionally he made a lot of enemies

And Wei Wuxian.... even without the demonic cultivation he was talented at pissing off people he shouldn't mess with

"Jin Zixun... he died from the hundred holes curse right? Do you think someone cast it on him knowing he would accuse Wei Wuxian?" Jiang Cheng asked

"The hundred holes curse has rebound effect. The caster will also be cursed." Lan Wangji said

"Its not like we can ask every suspect to strip." Jiang Cheng said with a derisive snort "Do you suspect anyone?"

"Cannot say until we have more information." Lan Wangji said

"There isn't a single person in the entire Jin sect I don't suspect." Jiang Cheng said viciously

"We must be careful. I fear for Jin Ling's safety." Lan Wangji said,  his eyes glittering with concern

Jiang Cheng cursed out loud
"I should've fought for full custody, atleast until he's old enough to defend himself. Whoever killed Jin Zixuan could target his son as well. I can't send him back, what do we do? " he asked Lan Wangji desperately

Lan Wangji shook his head
"Anything you do now will only look more suspicious. So far, no one tried to harm Jin Ling."

"But we can't guarantee they won't in the future." Jiang Cheng was outright panicking now

"Whoever is behind this, they will not risk harming Jin Ling within Lanling."

"Jin Guangshan may be a power hungry bastard, but he won't let anything happen to his heir right?"

"Wei Ying destroyed the amulet before he died didn't he?" Lan Wangji asked

Jiang Cheng grimaced as he recalled the siege that day
"I think he wanted to destroy it before the other sects could get their hands on it. But the backlash from the resentful energy was too strong for him. I- I'm not sure if he destroyed the whole thing."

This had bothered him for a long time. He didn't know if the amulet was competed destroyed

"If someone had a piece of the amulet, could they repair it?" Jiang Cheng asked Lan Wangji

"I don't know." Lan Wangji answered helplessly. When it came to demonic cultivation he was just as clueless as anyone else

"If Jin Guangshan had the power of the amulet the Jins could just as easily became as powerful as the Wen sect." Jiang Cheng said with a scowl

"They already are."

Jiang Cheng understood what he meant. After the war the entire cultivation world had become indebted to the Jin sect in one way or another. Hundreds of minor sects pledged their allegiance to the Jin's and Jin Guangshan became the chief cultivator without any opposition 

For a while they were both quiet, lost in their own thoughts

"I wanted to help him you know." Jiang Cheng said suddenly. Lan Wangji looked at him, waiting for him to continue "After he rescued the Wen remnants, I wanted to help him, follow after him in his reckless plans the way I did when we were kids. But as sect leader, I couldn't afford to act reckless like he could."

"I didn't know how to choose between following the rules and following my heart." Lan Wangji said "You are not the only one who left him alone."

"I used to yell at him about playing the hero, always putting everyone above himself. Truth is I was terrified he would abandon me someday, and when he finally did I couldn't stop myself from hating him." Jiang Cheng said softly

Lan Wangji looked at the man sitting beside him. He didn't resemble the strong and capable sect leader he had come to know and admire, but rather he looked broken and exhausted

Jiang Cheng let out a hollow, bitter laugh
"But of course he makes it difficult for me to hate him. Even when he's wrong, he's right. Wei Wuxian! You bastard."

Lan Wangji said nothing, letting the other man let out his anger

"But he was wrong too right? Who asked him to against people more powerful than him? Who asked him to play hero all the time? He brought it on himself." Jiang Cheng lashed out viciously. It was painfully obvious that his anger was only a cover for the insurmountable grief he felt in that moment

"He said he could handle it." He said softly, sounding exhausted after his outburst "He always talked like he could take care of anything, make everything right and I always believed him. Even in the end, I didn't think he'd actually die. He was supposed to be stronger than that, he wasn't supposed to die."

Lan Wangji had started to see Jiang Cheng in a new light for a while now. He knew what it felt like to believe family's love had to be earned rather than given unconditionally. His brother was perhaps the only person who understood and loved him regardless of who he was

He assumed the same must've been true for Jiang Cheng, who could only seek comfort in his sister and shixiong. And now he lost both of them. Lan Wangji tried to imagine a world without Xichen and had to suppress a shudder

But unlike Lan Wangji and Lan Xichen, Jiang Cheng and Wei Wuxian were constantly pitted against each other and its no wonder Jiang Cheng was quick to belive Wei Ying abandoned him

But even in hatred, Jiang Cheng had an unwavering faith in Wei Ying, the kind of faith that only siblings can have in each other

And Lan Wangji himself was a younger brother who knew what it was like to think his big brother was infallible, as irrational as it is. Even at this age when he has a son of his own, he still looked to his big brother for guidance and comfort. In his brothers presence, he could still feel safe in a way no one else could make him feel

He now understood why Jiang Cheng so easily ignored the signs of Wei Wuxian's deteriorating control. In his eyes, Wei Wuxian could handle anyone and survive anything. Paired with all the impossible feats Wei Wuxian pulled off before, his faith was not unjustified

He also understood his anger at being left behind. If Lan Xichen ever decided to defect and leave the sect duties to him, Lan Wangji didn't know what he'd think. Jiang Cheng was left to rebuild his sect alone while the big brother he thought he could rely on left him behind


"We'll find out who did this." Lan Wangji said finally. Jiang Cheng looked at him with teary eyes. After a moment, he wiped his eyes and answered in a hard voice

"This person is responsible for the death of both my siblings, I'm not gonna let them go easily."

"I know. But there is nothing we can do at this moment."

"Whoever it was is clearly keeping to themselves right now. He has no other scapegoat to toss his crimes on." Jiang Cheng said angrily

"We also need to stabilize our sect. We can't go against the Jin's like this." Lan Wangji was staring ahead and missed the look of surprise on Jiang Cheng's face when he said 'our sect'. Jiang Cheng couldn't help the small smile when he realized Lan Wangji already regarded himself a part of the Jiang sect

Unaware of Jiang Cheng's surprise, Lan Wangji continued
"I'm also weak at the moment, until my wounds are completely healed I won't be able to leave the sect. I cannot protect you as I am."

"Hold on, who said i need your protection?" Jiang Cheng asked with a frown

Lan Wangji blinked at him
"You are impulsive when you are angry. And you are always angry."

"Wha- ? Who told you that?" Jiang Cheng asked loudly

"No one, I have eyes." Lan Wangji deadpanned

"Hanguang Jun, whoever said you're a gentleman was a liar!"

"I once heard Nie Huisang call you an angry grape, he wasn't lying."

"Do you want to die?"

"If you kill me my groom will be sad tomorrow."

"You-!" Jiang Cheng sputtered, not knowing what to say. Who knew the fuddy duddy was actually such a gremlin!

Lan Wangji let out a huff of laughter at Jiang Cheng's expression. When he heard that, Jiang Cheng stared at him with wide eyes
"Did you just laugh? Oh my God you laughed!" He exclaimed

Lan Wangji blinked, not understanding the strong reaction Jiang Cheng just had

"Your brother was right, you really would be number 1 on the list if more people saw you smile." Jiang Cheng said

This time, it was Lan Wangji's turn to sputter
"Shameless." He spat, his ears turning a bright red. Jiang Cheng laughed louder at his reaction

"Well, we better go and get some sleep. Can't have my pretty bride looking tired tomorrow." Jiang Cheng said with a wicked smile, dancing out of reach when Lan Wangji attempted to hit him with a sheathed Bichen

"Jiang Wanyin, do you want to die?"

"Hey that's my line."

Lan Wangji huffed in exasperation before following Jiang Cheng back inside

Watching the man laugh at him as they walked, Lan Wangji couldn't help the fondness he felt. Barely two months ago, this marriage was a burden he was accepting to save his son

But now, it was a beacon of hope. Wei Ying's death left him believing he had a lifetime of solitude ahead of him, but instead he found something he could cherish

Jiang Wanyin could never take Wei Ying's place in his heart, but the truth was he didn't have to

This man who was used to being cast aside, who believed he was unlovable and that no one would ever choose him. This man who feared that everyone he loved would eventually abandon him, who would've thought he'd manage to carve a place for himself in Lan Wangji's heart?

After his brother, his love and his son, Jiang Wanyin was the only other person who had become this important to Lan Wangji

"Jiang Wanyin?" Lan Wangji called before he could enter his room, "I am honored I'm marrying you."

Chapter Text

"I can't believe they're both cutsleeves."

"What's more surprising is they're marrying each other, didn't they used to fight all the time before?"

"I heard sect leader Jiang rejected Sect leader Jin's niece to marry Hanguang Jun."

"Is that little boy really Hanguang Jun's son?" "Oh yes, look they have the same nose." "....."

"The Jiang and Lan sect will both gain a lot of power now." "Maybe that's why they're getting married"

The chatter in the hall died down when the grooms stepped in. Dressed in resplendent red and gold robes, the two men looked like immortals descending from heaven, radiating power and beauty

Jiang Cheng walked with his head held high, looking every bit the sect leader he was always meant to be. The people watching could see the echoes of his father in his confident gait and his mother in his proud expression

Lan Wangji, who was already regarded as the pinnacle of good looks, somehow managed to look even more beautiful in red.

"Lan Zhan, look at this." A drawing of a younger Lan Wangji with a flower in his hair floated through his memory Now he was about to get married, a hair crown shaped like a blooming lotus flower nestled atop his hair

"Wei Ying, what would you say if you could see me like this? "

Lan Wangji could almost hear Wei Wuxian's answer "Aiyah Lan Zhan, an icy face like yours, I was sure you'd be single for life. But look you're getting married before me, ha ha."

Jiang Cheng and Lan Wangji reached the alter together

"Ready?" Jiang Cheng whispered "Mn."

They knelt side by side to make their bows

Once to the heavens

Once to their parents and ancestors

Once to each other

Jiang Cheng deliberately made the bows slow, knowing the stubborn fool beside him wouldn't complain even if all the scars in his back opened up again

Once the bows were done, they served tea to Lan Qiren and Lan Xichen. Jiang Cheng didn't have anyone on his side to serve, so the newly wedded couple knelt before his parents and sisters tombs in the Jiang ancestry hall

"Finally." Jiang Cheng breathed when they were seated at the head of the table as the feast began

"Mn. Its done." Lan Wangji said, shooting him a small smile

"Now we just need to endure hosting these meddlesome cultivators for the rest of the evening."

"Not very political of you sect leader."

Jiang Cheng snorted "I think you and I have every right to be annoyed at cultivation politics. Aiyah, where are A-Ling and A-Yuan?"

"With brother and Jin Guangyao" Lan Wangji nodded towards said men who had both toddlers and Jingyi sitting beside them, playing around as they ate

A while later all the guests started to leave. Lan Xichen called the newly wedded couple to a side before he too could leave with the rest of the Lan envoy

"Although you are sect leader to another sect, you're also a part of the Lan sect now. We don't expect you to wear it but you should have it." Lan Xichen said and presented a thin box with a white ribbon inside, embroidered with cloud patterns

The Lan sect forehead ribbon

Jiang Cheng reached out and lightly stroked the ribbon in the box. Beside him, Lan Wangji was looking at the ribbon with an unreadable expression

"Xichen ge? What exactly is this ribbon for?" Jiang Cheng asked

"The forehead ribbons are sacred Wanyin, they represent our self restraint. Only parents, spouse and children are allowed to touch it." Xichen explained

Jiang Cheng's eyes widened and he turned towards Lan Wangji "That day at the discussion conference, he pulled your ribbon. That's why you were so distressed you had to leave early."

"I don't think he understood how important our ribbons are."

"Of course not, if he did he wouldn't insist on teasing you about it all the time.'' Jiang Cheng muttered almost to himself

"Well, I'll leave you both to it. This is something that must happen between you only." Lan Xichen said with a smile and gave the box to Lan Wangji

"You don't have to tie it to me if you don't want to."

"Is it okay if I tie this?"

They both spoke at the same time and looked awkwardly at each other

"Why wouldn't I want to tie it for you?" Lan Wangji asked

"I didn't think- this is important and I thought you might-"

"Jiang Wanyin, you deserve this respect. I don't wish to deny you of it." Jiang Cheng blinked in surprise

"Alright then, I can wear it on my wrist."

Lan Wangji nodded, then hesitated "Our forehead ribbons are sacred, they represent absolute trust between spouses. Before I tie this, I must tell you something."

"Go on."

"Wei Ying once tied this ribbon for me." Lan Wangji told him what happened in the cave

"So you both were technically engaged since you were 16?" Jiang Cheng asked Lan Wangji frowned and shook his head

"He didn't know what it meant, its not the same thing." And yet, Jiang Cheng knew that Lan Wangji's forehead ribbon still belonged to Wei Wuxian, regardless of whether he understood its significance or not. He didn't think he'd be allowed to touch it just yet, if ever

"It doesn't bother me if that's what you're asking." Jiang Cheng said nonchalantly Lan Wangji looked like he wanted to say something else, but then decided again it. Instead he sighed and carefully took the ribbon from the box, setting the box aside

"Give me your hand." Jiang Cheng extended his right hand and watched as Lan Wangji pushed back his sleeve and wrapped the ribbon around his wrist

"Thank you." Jiang Cheng said when it was done

"No, thank you for respecting my sects customs." They stared at each other for a moment, both lost in thought. Jiang Cheng recovered first and remembered something

"I almost forgot, let's go back to your room. We need to get that robe off you." Jiang Cheng muttered a little absent-mindedly as he pulled Lan Wangji along with him

"What?" Lan Wangji asked, stupefied

"What do you mean what?" Jiang Cheng asked with a scowl "Isn't it obvious?"

Lan Wangji stopped walking and forced Jiang Cheng to stop as well. His ears were a bright red and he stared at Jiang Cheng incredulously. Jiang Cheng was confused for a moment before he understood

"Not that, idiot!" He exclaimed, his own face flushing red "I meant your back, all the activities today must've reopened your wounds." Lan Wangji visibly relaxed

"Its fine, I can take care of it."

"Yeah sure you can, except Xichen ge left me explicit instructions before he left and I trust his word more than I trust yours." Jiang Cheng didn't give Lan Wangji time to answer before he started dragging him towards his room again "A-Yuan must be sleeping in A-Ling's room." Jiang Cheng said, pushing open the door for the empty room

He made Lan Wangji sit on the bed and gathered the herbs and medicinal salve that Lan Xichen gave him

"No one outside of our sect knows about his punishment so only you can help him with this." Lan Xichen had told him

"Take off the robe." Jiang Cheng instructed and watched as Lan Wangji slowly shrugged the robe off with stilted movements. He grimaced briefly as he tried to take it off and it was a mark of how much pain he was in if Jiang Cheng could see it on his face

He knew it would be bad. 33 lashes from the discipline whip was no small matter. But nothing could prepare him for just how bad it was

Lan Wangji's back was a mess of criss- crossing scars. The skin was raised in places and the larger scars were oozing blood, just like he thought

"You idiot! Why didn't you say you were bleeding?" Jiang Cheng scolded and began to apply the salve to the scars Lan Wangji stayed silent, not even flinching at the sting of the herbs. Jiang Cheng finished as quickly as he could and wrapped the bandages, bringing a light robe over to Lan Wangji

"He would be pissed if he ever found out." Jiang Cheng didn't know why he said it but he did. He knew he was right though, if Wei Wuxian had been there when Lan Wangji was being punished then the elders would've been reminded exactly who the Yilling patriarch was

Lan Wangji sighed and closed his eyes "Was he in pain?" He asked "When he died, was he in pain?" His voice cracked slightly at the end

Honestly? Yes, he was probably in pain. Jiang Cheng watched with his own eyes as his brother was ripped apart by the resentful energy. But Lan Wangji didn't need to hear that right now

"It happened so fast, I don't think he really felt it." Lan Wangji let out another sigh, turning around to look at Jiang Cheng. He knew he was probably lying, but he was grateful nonetheless. He nodded lightly in Jiang Cheng's direction

"Anyway, everyone's gone so no need to put up any appearances. I'll be going back to my room." Jiang Cheng said with a smile and turned around to leave

"Good night Jiang Wanyin, and thank you." Lan Wangji said Jiang Cheng simply nodded at him and left

 

For the next few weeks, Lan Wangji spent most of his time in seclusion inside his room, his reopened wounds preventing him from moving around too much

Every morning, Jiang Cheng personally came over to help him redress his wounds before having someone bring over breakfast, which Lan Wangji insisted they have together

In the evening, A-Yuan and Jin Ling would visit his room and spend some time with him. Lan Wangji found himself adoring Jin Ling as much as he loves his own son. Although he could never quite convince the toddler to call him anything other than "jiu mu", he decided he didn't really mind anymore

The first few months of married life was odlly....plain. Lan Wangji was in seclusion, Jiang Cheng was still sect leader, the children grew more comfortable with their new family situation

But the peace could only last for so long

Chapter Text

Lan Wangji stormed towards Jiang Cheng's office with a letter clutched in his hand

"What is the meaning of this?" He seethed, slamming the letter on Jiang Cheng's table. Jiang Cheng had been writing a report and Lan Wangji's sudden entry caused him to spill ink all over the paper

"What do you want?" He scowled up at Lan Wangji

"You do such things in our own house and never thought to tell me?"

"What the hell are you even talking about?"

"You are capturing demonic cultivators and torturing them because you think Wei Ying is back." Lan Wangji glared at his husband, hurt and betrayal hidden underneath his anger

Jiang Cheng sighed and put his brush aside

"Sit down, I'll explain."

Lan Wangji almost refused, but decided he needed to give him at least a chance

"Do you remember our doubts about the Jin sect? They might be looking for demonic cultivators who can repair the amulet. I needed to make sure their isn't anyone who can actually do that. So every time I hear of someone practicing the crafty tricks, I bring them hear to interrogate them, not torture. Besides," Jiang Cheng continued
"I can't let anyone else suffer the way our family has because of one bad decision. Demonic cultivation brings nothing but trouble."

Lan Wangji wanted to say something to defend Wei Ying's choices but decided against it

"You didn't believe I'd actually do this for revenge right?"

"No. I'm upset you didn't tell me."

"I know you're not comfortable with something like this. I just didn't want you to see this ugly side of me." Jiang Cheng admitted in an oddly calm voice

Lan Wangji knew that sometimes, difficult choices had to be made for the sake of protecting everyone. He was raised to have to a rigid sense of righteousness and these morally grey decisions made him uneasy

"Mn, they do. But you should never have make these choices alone, I'm here." Lan Wangji said

Jiang Cheng smiled, he was used to Lan Wangji's earnestness by this point. It never failed to astound him though

"Alright, I'm sorry I didn't tell you before. This won't happen again."

Lan Wangji nodded once, then frowned
"People are saying unflattering things about you. They don't know your reasons."

"That's fine, I stopped caring what people think about me a long time ago. Its impossible to please everyone."

Lan Wangji admired this about Jiang Cheng, his ability to do what needed to be done regardless of what it meant for him. He always put his duties as a sect leader above his own well being. Sometimes though, this quality made him worry about Jiang Cheng as well

Unfortunately, rogue demonic cultivators were the least of their problems

About a year after their wedding, Lan Wangji found out about the massacre of the Chang clan of Yueyang. Although he wanted to go help, he was still stuck in seclusion while Jiang Cheng was stuck helping with repairs after a flood destroyed several streets in Yunmeng

"This Xiao Xingchen, he would be Wei Wuxian's shishu huh?" Jiang Cheng told Lan Wangji one day

"Mn. He's trying to get Xue Yang executed for his crimes."

"I'm worried Jin Guangshan won't agree. I heard rumors that the little delinquent could repair the stygian tiger amulet." Jiang Cheng said with a nasty scowl

"Dage has been pressuring them as well."

"Nie Mingjue thinks Jin Guangyao could do something. What can the bastard son of a man who never cared about his children do?"

Months later, they heard news of Xue Yang's attack on baixue temple and Xiao Xingchen's disappearance after giving Song Lan his eyes

Jiang Cheng spent an entire hour fuming about that with Lan Wangji before finally calming down and sitting next to him on his bed
"Xiao Xingchen took Song Lan to Baoshan SanRen didn't he?" He asked

"Mn."

"Strange, you'd think someone would see them passing Yilling."

Lan Wangji blinked in confusion
"Why would they pass Yilling?"

"That's where Baoshan SanRen's mountain is." Jiang Cheng said

Lan Wangji frowned, then asked
"How do you know?"

Jiang Cheng stiffened
"I forgot you didn't know this. After Wen Chao burned down lotus pier, I got caught by the Wens."

"How did you get caught?"

Jiang Cheng rubbed the back of his neck
"I never told him this but..." he hesitated before continuing "After we escaped, Wei Wuxian went out to get us some food. I went after him because he was taking too long when I saw Wen soldiers about to catch him. So I made some noise to make them come after me instead."

"You sacrificed yourself for him." Lan Wangji and with wide eyes

"Don't sound so surprised. Besides, I knew they wouldn't kill a sect heir. If he was caught, Wen Chao wouldn't hesitate to kill him."

Lan Wangji frowned at the way Jiang Cheng downplayed his own sacrifices, but didn't say anything

"Anyway, after I got caught, Wen Zhuilio melted my core. Wei Wuxian saved me and then took me to get my core repaired by Baoshan SanRen."

Lan Wangji stiffened, there were too many things wrong with that story

"Your core was destroyed?"

"Yes"

"And then you got it back?"

Jiang Cheng shifted uneasily in his seat
"You think I'm lying." He asked, getting defensive

"Many people tried searching for Baoshan SanRen's mountain, there is no record of it being in Yilling."

"Look, Wei Wuxian's mother was from that mountain. He told me he remembered his mother telling him about its location."

"Wei Ying once told me he barely remembered his parents."

Jiang Cheng scowled, getting angrier with every word Lan Wangji was saying. The truth was he had those doubts as well, but he was too scared to consider another alternative

"I don't know how he remembered, but my core was gone. Then I got it back, so he must've been right."

Lan Wangji hesitated for a moment before carefully saying
"I never heard of a lost core being rebuilt again."

"Well Baoshan SanRen is an immortal who can do things beyond mortal capabilities. Didn't she give Song Lan his sight back?"

"She couldn't bring back the eyes he lost, she could only transfer Xiao Xingchen's eyes to him."

They both froze when he said that,  a terrifying thought coming to mind

For a moment, neither of them said anything

"Can you tell me exactly what happened?" Lan Wangji asked hesitantly

Jiang Cheng wanted to refuse, but if there was a truth he didn't know, then he couldn't rest till he found out

"We were hiding from the Wens. Wei Wuxian rescued me with the help of Wen Ning who took us to Yilling so his sister could heal me. After that, Wei Wuxian took me to a mountain and told me I had to walk up blindfolded as outsiders weren't allowed to see it. He also told me not to use my real name and introduce myself as him." Jiang shifted in his seat before continuing "After that, I heard a woman's voice at the top of the mountain. Then everything went dark and I woke up alone with my core rebuilt."

Lan Wangji didn't say anything for a moment. He then remembered something he'd seen a few weeks ago, while Jiang Cheng was busy helping the flood victims

"There's a scar on your chest.."

"From the discipline whips? Yes I know." Jiang Cheng scowled, he hated looking at those scars

"I noticed another scar, it doesn't look like something from a whip." Lan Wangji said. He wanted to ask before, but he didn't think much about it then. But now...

Jiang Cheng opened his robes to reveal his chest. Lan Wangji pointed to a small scar right above his heart, where his core would be. It was definitely not from a whip, but rather looked surgical

"Wen Zhuilio's victims don't have scars." Lan Wangji said

"Maybe it's from Baoshan SanRen...." even Jiang Cheng could no longer convince himself

"If- if it really wasn't Baoshan SanRen's mountain, then how did I get my core back?" Jiang Cheng was beginning to sound a little frantic at this point

"Wei Ying wasn't so arrogant as to completely give up the sword." Lan Wangji said

Jiang Cheng breathed hard. He remembered the time he lightly shoved Wei Wuxian and he fell over, like some ordinary mortal with none of the added strength and balance of a cultivator

He remembered how his brother, who loved showing off his exemplary sword skills suddenly decided to never use Suibian again

How he continued using demonic cultivation even when he no longer needed it, when he knew it was taking a toll on him. Almost like....like he didn't have another choice

More starkly than anything, he remembered the woman's voice on the mountain sounded vaguely familiar

"Wen Qing." He said softly "The woman on the mountain was Wen Qing."

"She was one of the most gifted healer in all of the cultivation world. Its possible she knew something about core transfe-"

"No!" Jiang Cheng shouted, standing up in anger. He began pacing around the room "No, he didn't. He couldn't have- no! I swear if he did I'll resurrect him and kill him myself!"

Lan Wangji kept quiet, knowing Jiang Cheng needed to let out his anger before he could think rationally
"He had no right. He had no right to do something so big, to make a sacrifice like that." Jiang Cheng let out a bitter laugh "Of course, when did that idiot ever give up a chance to play hero? To him, the only life that isn't precious is his own."

Lan Wangji felt his heart clench when he heard the last part

"Why? Why would he do this? Why must he burden me with so many debts?"

"Why did you sacrifice your self to save him?" Lan Wangji asked

Jiang Cheng paused and scowled at him

"How are you so calm? We just found out my idiot brother possibly gave me his core, which basically lead to his death. The love of your fucking life died because he gave me his core."

Lan Wangji glared right back at Jiang Cheng
"He made bad decisions, and we both failed him. But he did not die because of saving your life."

"I didn't ask for it! I know I was distraught at losing my core, but I would never want one at the cost of him losing his!" Jiang Cheng yelled in anguish

"I would've done the same for my brother." Lan Wangji said calmly "You would too."

That day, Jiang Cheng stormed away in anger. Lan Wangji decided to leave him alone, hoping to give him time to clear his mind. But when he didn't return for two days, he grew worried

On the third day, Jiang Cheng came back to Lotus Pier before the sun rose. Lan Wangji was surprised to be woken up an hour before he was used to

"Where were you?" He asked, unable to keep the concern and irritation out of his voice

"I'm sorry I left without telling you, I needed some time to process all this." Jiang Cheng then showed Lan Wangji something in his hand

"Suibian." Lan Wangji said in surprise, stroking the wooden scabbard of the sword

"Try unsheathing it." Jiang Cheng said in a monotone voice

Lan Wangji frowned in confusion but complied, except the sword wouldn't budge. It had sealed itself

"No one but him can take out." Jiang Cheng said, before pulling the sword free from the scabbard

Lan Wangji was momentarily shocked before he understood. He looked at the resigned expression on his husband's face and gently laid a hand in his shoulder

"I didn't want to believe he'd actually do something like that. His sword was being kept in Carp tower, so I went there to confirm. Looks like we were right, I really do have his core." Jiang Cheng let out a bitter laugh "And here I thought I'd become oddly stronger during the war. Its just that I was lucky to be donated a stronger core than mine."

Lan Wangji frowned, feeling affronted on Jiang Cheng's behalf
"Why do you always do that?" He asked "Why do you think so less of yourself?"

"I'm not having that conversation with you right now." Jiang Cheng said and stood up to leave

"Then don't. Just remember that you are precious too."

Jiang Cheng didn't say anything but when he went back to his room, he felt slightly better knowing Lan Wangji didn't resent him

Even if he couldn't find the energy to care about himself, it was good to know there was someone who did

"Wei Wuxian, I really hate you." Jiang Cheng told the sword in his hand

'Brother...I miss you.'

Chapter Text

The very next day Jiang Cheng had another shrine added to the Jiang ancestry hall. It took a few days to complete but once the final plaque was carved, gossip spread among the disciples who were wondering if their sect leader finally lost it

Jiang Cheng ignored all the gossip and lit the first sticks of incense for Wei Wuxian's shrine. No matter how much his disciples gossip, he knew they wouldn't let this news reach other sects

Lan Wangji spent an entire week in the shrine after that

"Baba is sad." A-Yuan told Jiang Cheng one evening "Why is he sad Jifu?"

"He is sad because he misses my brother, who was also his....his closest friend. His zhiji." Jiang Cheng explained

"I have another uncle?" Jin Ling asked

"Yes you did. He was your da-jiu jiu. He gave you your courtesy name, Rulan." Jiang Cheng decided his nephew and adopted son will not grow up without knowing the man who loved them so much, even if they didn't remember him

"Where is he now?" Jin Ling asked

"He's...gone."

"Like A-die and A-niang?" Jin Ling's lip wobbled slightly

"Yes." Jiang Cheng hated that Jin Ling was so small and still had to understand death. A-Yuan may not remember the loss of his family, but the perceptive expression on his face made Jiang Cheng believe he understood something

Jiang Cheng beckoned both children towards the shrine and sat down beside Lan Wangji, who merely nodded at him

"The kids want to know why you're sad. I think it's time we tell them a story." Jiang Cheng said, surprising Lan Wangji

Together they told them about a boy with a bright smile, a genius mind, and above all, a kind heart

Jiang Cheng spoke of his mischievous big brother who annoyed him to no end, but was always the first to protect him

Lan Wangji spoke of the boy that stole his heart while sparring with him under the moonlight

It was oddly cathartic, speaking of Wei Wuxian when so far they mostly treaded the topic carefully, rarely talking so freely about their memories

They reminisced all the good and decided the children were too young for the bad

"Baba, did this man...did he use to play a flute?" A-Yuan asked carefully

"Yes, he did. He was your A-die before I was ever your baba." Lan Wangji said. A-Yuan stared solemnly at the shrine, unsure how to mourn a father he didn't remember

After the kids were put to sleep, Jiang Cheng and Lan Wangji sat outside on one of the docks

"I can't remember the last thing I ever told him. Or what he might've said to me." Jiang Cheng started "I try so hard to remember, but I don't think it was anything nice."

Lan Wangji said nothing, staring ahead with eyes that held more grief than anyone could perceive

"What about you, do you remember?"

Lan Wangji turned his head away at that question, unable to answer. Jiang Cheng's eyes softened in understanding and he changed the topic

"A-yuan will be starting his classes soon."

"Mn. Brother wants him to go to cloud recesses."

"It will be lonely if both A-Yuan and A-Ling leave at once."

"They'll be back. You can always go visit."

"Did you have a courtesy name in mind for A-Yuan?"

Lan Wangji was silent for a few moments and Jiang Cheng almost thought he wouldn't answer

"Sizhui." He said softly "Lan Sizhui."

Sizhui....to recollect and long for

That was quite a burden to place on a child, the memory of a lost love. But Jiang Cheng understood. To Lan Wangji, A-Yuan was the last thing he had left of Wei Wuxian's legacy, his love

"Lan Sizhui." Jiang Cheng tested out the name "He would've liked it."

"Mn"

They both sat there for a long time, lost in memories of the past and hope for the future

---

"Its Nie Mingjue, he had a qi deviation." Jiang Cheng burst into Lan Wangji's room with a letter in hand

Lan Wangji had been playing his guqin at the time and his eyes widened in shock

"My brother....I need to be with him." Lan Wangji said with a slight tremor in his voice. Xichen must be devastated, Lan Wangji couldn't bear the thought of his brother going through loss like this

"Xichen ge sent this letter for you, he thinks you should stay."

"No."

"Just listen,  he thinks its not a good idea for you to antagonise your elders by breaking seclusion. He promised to come meet you himself in a few days time. I'll he going to Lanling tonight anyway so I'll keep you posted regularly."

Lan Wangji pursed his lips and considered this for a while.  On one hand he wanted to be able to support his brother the way he supported him, but on the other hand his brother had enough on his plate aside from dealing with the fallout of Lan Wangji breaking seclusion

He sighed in defeat

"How did this happen?" He asked

"No one is sure. He seemed angry at Jin Guangyao about the whole Xue Yang debacle and lost control, he even attacked Huisang."

Lan Wangji frowned. Sure dage was always threatening to break Nie Huisang's legs but he knew the man loved his younger brother a lot

What could've caused him to lose control so terribly

"Huisang is a friend, I need to be there for him. I might not come back for a few days." Jiang Cheng said

"Stay as long as he needs you to, I will look after the affairs here." Lan Wangji assured

Jiang Cheng nodded his thanks and left as soon as he could

For days after Nie Mingjue's death, Jiang Cheng traveled back and forth to Qinghe. He and Lan Xichen were helping Nie Huisang adjust to his new position as sect leader

Before the cultivation world could recover from the shock of Nie Mingjue's death, Jin Guangshan also died

"Madam Jin's health is also failing. Apparently she couldn't bear the embarrassing nature of her husband's death." Jiang Cheng told Lan Wangji

"Jin Guangyao is now chief cultivator?"

"Yes. Already he is trying to make new changes. Did Xichen ge tell you about the watch towers?"

"Mn. I heard many sects are opposing it."

"Its not a terrible idea. It will create a network of communication that makes it easier for remote areas to be protected."

"It also puts Jin sect officers in other territories." Lan Wangji said

Jiang Cheng nodded in agreement
"That is one of the prime reasons for opposition. We think a mix of various sect disciples manning different towers would make sure one sect doesn't gain too much access over a territory, but the minor sects are adamant that they be the only ones that employ a tower in their areas."

"But Jin Guangyao believes the great sects have more skill and resources, which can be spread out to remote areas though these watch towers." Lan Wangji finished, reciting what his brother had written

Jiang Cheng sighed
"Sect meetings these days are a headache. Not that they ever aren't but even more so now."

Lan Wangji's lips twitched in amusement

"A-yuan sent any more letters? Xichen ge told me he was doing quite well in classes."
Sending A-Yuan to cloud recesses while he couldn't go himself had been one of the hardest things Lan Wangji had ever done. Jin Ling having to leave every six months was difficult as it is, not having both kids was harder

But A-Yuan seemed to love learning, especially since he could see Jingyi every day now

Lan Wangji rummaged around his desk and found A-Yuan, now Sizhui's, latest letter and passed it to Jiang Cheng

"His calligraphy is already quite good." Jiang Cheng commented as he read about the new classes and the fun things A-Yuan did with jingyi

"My seclusion ends in a few weeks. I will go to Gusu for a while." Lan Wangji said

"Alright. Just make sure you go with me to the discussion conference in Lanling."

"There is time for that, I won't stay that long."

Jiang Cheng didn't say it out loud but a part of him had been afraid Lan Wangji would want to leave one day and never return. For him to say that he wouldn't stay away for long was more reassuring than he would ever admit

"How is Nie Huisang?" Lan Wangji asked

"He's....he's a mess. Huisang never thought he would be sect leader and is woefully unprepared for it." Jiang Cheng said with a frown

Lan Wangji imagined waking up one day and being told he would have to take over his brothers duties and shuddered at the thought

"But I'm not too worried though," Jiang Cheng continued "Huisang may not be good at battle but he is quite intelligent."

Lan Wangji nodded. Secretly selling porn books in the cloud recesses without getting caught took a lot of cunning and brains. Nie Huisang may be a coward at times but he was resourceful enough to sustain his sect

"With Jin Guangshan dead, do you think anyone else might try to build the amulet?" Jiang Cheng asked

"He was not the only one who wanted the amulet." Lan Wangji replied

Jiang Cheng grimaced, though he already knew that

"These demonic cultivators are tarnishing my brothers already terrible reputation." He grumbled

Lan Wangji fought back a smile. Jiang Cheng was referring to Wei Wuxian as his brother more and more often

"Oh. What about what you did?" Lan Wangji's voice had a hint of playfulness so Jiang Cheng knew he wasn't being serious

"What did I do?" Jiang Cheng asked with a scowl

"Some of the disciples were laughing over portraits of the yilling patriarch."

"......oh."

"I hear you gave the artist inspiration." Lan Wangji said lightly

"....I'm still mad at him." Jiang Cheng grumbled "had to take it out somehow."

"Mn."

"It kinda looks like him y'know."

"He was ranked 4th most handsome."

"Hush Lan Wangji, you're blindly in love with him. You never saw the real him."

"Oh? What's the real Wei Ying?" Lan Wangji asked with a raised eyebrow

"Drunk out of his mind and falling into a lake. Picking his nose when he thinks no one is looking. Pretending to have a lot of experience with girls."

"Pretending?" Lan Wangji asked tentatively

"Well yeah. He always flirts around with them but never actually did anything." Jiang Cheng answered, unaware of Lan Wangji's inner turmoil

"That had been his first kiss?" Lan Wangji asked, more to himself than anything

"Yeah it was- wait! How do you know about his first kiss?" Jiang Cheng nearly yelled

Lan Wangji remained silent, only his red ears an indication of his embarrassment

"What the hell? You were the mysterious maiden that kissed him on Phoenix mountain?"

Jiang Cheng had never seen Lan Wangji look as flushed as he did right then

Jiang Cheng burst out laughing
"Lan Wangji you dog, you're not as innocent as you look. Oh wow, you knew he wouldn't stop talking about that kiss for ages."

"Its not..." Lan Wangji couldn't find words

Jiang Cheng decided to take pity on him
"Its fine. I mean I don't get it, but he seemed to like it so why not." He shrugged

Lan Wangji was quiet, but it wasn't his usual kind of quiet

"Are you alright?" Jiang Cheng asked

"Maybe if he knew it was me that kissed him, he would've known I never hated him." Lan Wangji said "Maybe he would've let me help him."

Jiang Cheng sighed
"He still wouldn't take your help, that's just who he was. Of all the people, you are the only one who literally did nothing to contribute to his downfall."

Lan Wangji didn't say anything, clearly not believing Jiang Cheng

"For what it's worth I think he knew you didn't hate him. And I'm sure he loved you, even if he didn't realise it."

"Wei Ying didn't love me."

"There was no one who could hold his attention for as long as you could. He was always trying to make you look at him, trying to impress you with his skills and give you gifts or whatever. In fact, there were several times I was jealous of you for stealing my brother."

Lan Wangji still looked skeptical, but didn't deny what Jiang Cheng said
"Thank you."

The day Lan Wangji's seclusion came to an end, he woke up before anyone else and took off on his sword, leaving a note behind to tell Jiang Cheng he'd be back in a couple of days

Jiang Cheng wasn't worried. Lan Wangji was a grown man and a powerful cultivator, perfectly capable of defending himself

Except that he was worried. He was very worried

As capable as Lan Wangji was, who was going to protect him from himself? This was the first time the man actually went out in three years and who knew where he went or what he'd do

Jiang Cheng patiently waited for exactly two days before he started panicking. The first letter went directly to Gusu in hopes that he would be there

The very next day received an answer from Lan Xichen, asking him to come to Gusu if he wished to see Lan Wangji

Something about Lan Xichen's wording made Jiang Cheng think Lan Wangji must not be in a good shape

"He's....he came to the cloud recesses drunk." Lan Xichen told him "From what he said, he went to the burial mounds first. His fingers were bloody and I think he tried contacting Wei Wuxian's soul by playing inquiry."

"But he didn't answer." Jiang Cheng guessed. A part of him was disappointed himself. He'd hoped that atleast Lan Wangji would have some luck summoning his brothers spirit

"He came here drunk and made a scene in the storage room. Kept asking for a flute but when I have him the best flute we had, he threw it away saying it was the wrong one."

"He was looking for Chenqing." Jiang Cheng said

"He didn't find the flute of course, but he did find the Wen branding irons from the war."

Jiang Cheng looked at him in alarm
"What did he do?"

"You better see for yourself" Jiang Cheng lead him to the jingshi and opened the door, revealing Lan Wangji lying on the bed

"Wangji, Wanyin is here to see you." Lan Xichen said. Lan Wangji was clearly awake but he didn't say anything

"I'll leave you two alone."

After Lan Xichen left, Jiang Cheng sat on the corner of Lan Wangji's bed. He saw the bandages on his chest and understood what he'd done

"You're an idiot you know that?" He said angrily, although his choked voice must betray the underlying fear and concern

"I apologize for worrying you." Lan Wangji said softly

"Who's worried about you? If anything happens to you Jin Ling and Sizhui will be sad, that's all I'm worried about."

They were silent for a moment

"Jiang Wanyin, do you remember what you asked me once?"

"What?"

"The last thing I ever said to him."

Jiang Cheng studied Lan Wangji's face. He wouldn't meet his eyes, staring resolutely up at the ceiling

"What did you say?"

"I love you"

Jiang Cheng was shocked. Lan Wangji confessed his feelings to Wei Wuxian?

"What- what did he say?"

"....get lost." Lan Wangji whispered in a broken voice

Jiang Cheng felt his breathe hitch. Get lost?

Suddenly he felt a flare of anger towards his brother. How could the idiot not realise how lucky he was?

Although the last time Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji met must've been around the same time as the massacre at the nightless city

The same time as his sisters death

Wei Wuxian was obviously not in the right space of mind at that time. He wasn't thinking clearly. Jiang Cheng would bet his sword that if his brother could hear Lan Wangji now he would slap himself for ever being cruel to him

And that's exactly what he told Lan Wangji

"He didn't mean that, I'm sure of it."

"Mn."

"Dont 'Mn' me. This was a very stupid thing you did today Lan Wangji." Jiang Cheng felt very angry towards him just then "I didn't know where you were. You flew all the way to gusu drunk? Are you insane? If anything happened to you then I-"

Jiang Cheng took a deep breathe, trying to calm himself

"I'm not strong enough." He said, sounding exhausted "I've mourned far too many people I love, I don't wish to add you to the list."

Lan Wangji finally looked at him, eyes wide with surprise and guilt

"I didn't think of it that way. I am sorry."

"Yeah, whatever." Jiang Cheng grumbled

"Jiang Wanyin? You are also one of the people I love. I don't wish to see you unhappy."

"You have a funny way of showing it." Jiang Cheng scoffed, but his chest felt warm at Lan Wangji's words. He was loved

"The thing is you're not alone, isn't that what you're always telling me. So whenever you feel...low, I'm here. You don't need to- I mean if you ever feel the need to....hurt yourself, promise me you'll find me first." Jiang Cheng stumbled around his words, but he met Lan Wangji's eyes head on

Lan Wangji blinked a few times before answering
"Okay. I promise."

"I know you'll never forget him. But it doesn't always have to hurt."

"I know. I didn't think I deserved to be happy. It means I'm forgetting him."

Jiang Cheng scowled at the idiot on the bed
"Where the hell did you get that from? Just because you're grieving his death doesn't mean you can't be happy about other things. You taught me that!"

"You must think me a hypocrite."

Jiang Cheng sighed
"No, I think you're human. Look, I know you feel like you're cheating him somehow by moving on, but you can't live like this forever. You can love him and still live your own life."

Lan Wangji looked away, his eyes downcast in a gloomy shadow

"I...will try." He said finally

"You will?"

"Mn."

"Good...that's good."

And if Wei Wuxian ever came back, Jiang Cheng thought, he would not return to a man whose spirit was broken by loss, but rather someone who grew stronger for love

Until then, they would find a way to be happy

Together

Chapter Text

"You don't have to stay." Jiang Cheng whispered to Lan Wangji, who shook his head and remained seated beside him

The discussion conference started out as it always did, civil exchanges about various sects and their progress, trades, and night hunt reports

A few hours and several wine bottles later, the conversation inevitably turned to the Yilling Patriarch

Obviously no one had anything good to say about him

Jiang Cheng felt a vein throbbing at his forehead as he was forced to rein in his anger. Beside him Lan Wangji was the picture of perfection as always but only Jiang Cheng could see the fist tightly clenched around Bichen

From across the room Nie Huisang caught Jiang Cheng's eye and gave him a tired smile. In the months since Nie Mingjue's death other minor sects have been trying to take advantage of the Nie sects unstable situation and amateur leader

Thankfully Nie Huisang was a lot cleverer than he looked and so far managed not to loose any territory or fall prey to unfair deals. Plus Lan Xichen and Jin Guangyao were constantly helping him every time he hit a bump

"- crease in demonic cultivators. Even after his death the Yilling Patriarch continues to bring problems for us." Sect leader Yao was rambling

Jiang Cheng clutched his wine cup tightly, resisting the urge to crush it in his hands. These people are blaming Wei Wuxian for things he had no control over. Anyone who decides to copy the yilling patriarchs methods do so at their own behest, not because Wei Wuxian forced them to

Unfortunately bad mouthing Wei Wuxian had become a favorite pastime in these otherwise boring sect meetings

Jiang Cheng was glad Lan Wangji hadn't left when he said he could. The man's steady presence beside him was the only thing keeping him from losing his temper

Finally, Jin Guangyao called for the feast to be served and for the time being, the conversation shifted to other things

Unfortunately those other things turned to be Lan Wangji and Jiang Cheng. This was the first time since their marriage that the two of them had been seen together in public and it was causing quite a lot of whispers and stares to be thrown in their direction

"They are never seen together, I was sure Hanguang Jun had left sect leader Jiang." Someone muttered in the crowd

"Sect leader Jiang is too much like his mother, I wouldn't be surprised if they are together only to keep up appearances."

Lan Wangji shot a glare in the direction of the person who said that, the man flushing when he realised he was heard

"Let it go, its nothing." Jiang Cheng muttered

"It is inappropriate. They mustn't speak of you that way."

Jiang Cheng gave him a wry smile
"Get used to it."

Lan Wangji bristled at that. He could barely keep it together when people were insulting his Zhiji, he couldn't stand anyone insulting his husband when they were right there!

Lan Xichen, who was sitting beside Nie Huisang caught Lan Wangji's eye and nodded at him. His expression conveyed that he understood Lan Wangji's distress but advised him not to take it to heart

Unaware of Lan Wangji's growing irritation, someone else from the crowd chattered

"I've never seen a married couple act so formal with each other, they still use their courtesy names."

Jiang Cheng frowned at that. Did they? Oh yes, it didn't even occur to him to think about the way they addressed each other

After the feast was over, a few sect leaders approached Jiang Cheng to discuss sending guest disciples and Lan Wangji excused himself from the conversation

He went outside to find Jin Ling running around the courtyard with his little cousin, Jin Rusong

"Be careful." He instructed when Jin Ling saw him

"We're being careful." Jin Ling yelled, running and squealing with glee when he caught Rusong

"Hanguang Jun, I hope our hospitality is to your tastes." Lady Qin greeted, walking forward to stand next to him

Lan Wangji inclined his head respectfully in her direction

"A-Ling speaks a lot about you, I'm glad he has you and sect leader Jiang taking care of him." Qin Su said

"You are dear to him as well, I must thank you for all the love you've given A-Ling."

"How could I not? That poor child, losing so much at such a young age." Qin Su watched the two kids play for a moment, a bittersweet smile on her face

Lan Wangji genuinely felt grateful for Qin Su, as did Jiang Cheng. Qin Su was a kind woman and her presence in Jin Lings life granted him a chance at experiencing a mother's love, even if it could never be the same as having his own mother

They stood together in silence for a few moments before Qin Su turned towards him again
"Hanguang Jun, I only met your son once at your wedding. You must bring Lan Yuan to Lanling sometime, I would love for him to become friends with my A-song."

A-Yuan was still at cloud recesses continuing his classes. Lan Wangji started flying to Gusu every week just to spend some time with him

Qin Su's suggestion didn't seem like a bad idea so he nodded at her

A while later, Lan Wangji carried a tired Jin Ling back inside so he could put him to sleep in his room

"But I'm not tired yet Jiu mu." The boy protested like Lan Wangji knew he would. Jin Ling was always reluctant to go to sleep, fighting to stay awake as long as could and clinging to either him or Jiang Cheng the entire time

"He's scared." Jiang Cheng once told him "He's terrified of waking up and finding us gone, like his parents."

Lan Wangji had dealt with this with A-yuan as well. The fever erased his memories but the fear of being left behind never left. He still remembered those heartbreaking moments when A-yuan used to sneak into the jingshi at midnight before the elders allowed Lan Wangji to keep him with him

Those nights A-yuan would crawl into his bed with teary eyes, still remembering to be careful of Lan Wangji's wounds and would desperately cling to his robes and hands, like he was making sure Lan Wangji was still there

And on those nights Lan Wangji would fight off his own fatigue and pain in order to assure A-yuan he wouldn't leave, humming lullabies till he fell asleep in his arms

"Jiu Mu!" Jin Ling whined as Lan Wangji brushed his hair free of tangles and carried him to the bed "Don't wanna sleep." He pouted

Lan Wangji tucked Jin Ling under his blanket and sat down beside him

"Mn. So you will be too tired to go to the market with me tomorrow."

Jin Ling's eyes widened
"The market?"

"To buy your practice sword. But if you don't sleep now, you won't wake up early enough in the morning." Lan Wangji had been astonished when Wei Ying behaved like this with A-yuan but soon enough, he learned that a little manipulation was necessary in child raising

"No I want to go. I'll sleep now, but you gotta take me tomorrow." Jin Ling whined

"Mn." Lan Wangji smoothed down the blankets Jin Ling rucked up in his enthusiasm and put a hand on his head "Go to sleep. We will be here in the morning."

Though it was just a few words, that little reassurance meant a lot to Jin Ling who finally gave up on trying to fight his exhaustion

Lan Wangji stayed by his side until he was sure Jin Ling was deep in his slumber before quietly walking out and going into his own room

"Is he asleep?" Jiang Cheng asked when he entered the quarters given to them. Jiang Cheng was already dressed for bed, sitting at the table with a last minute report

Lan Wangji nodded and went behind the screen to change his own clothes

Although they had separate quarters in Lotus pier, Lan Wangji and Jiang Cheng were not strangers to sharing a room. They both stayed in the jingshi whenever Jiang Cheng spent the night in Gusu and they had even shared rooms during those three months of the sunshot campaign they spent searching for Wei Ying

So it wasn't really awkward. But what made it awkward was all the gossip they had to deal with that day

"Did something happen?" Lan Wangji asked, sitting next to Jiang Cheng at the table

"After you left a fight broke out. Some of the sects from the Guangling and Yingchuan areas were not happy with the watch towers." Jiang Cheng said with a sigh "Things got to the point where they started threatening Jin Guangyao's wife and son."

Lan Wangji's lips pursed in disgust. How anyone child be so deplorable as to threaten a woman and a child to get what they wanted, he could never understand

Lan Wangji was deep in thought and Jiang Cheng had to repeat himself twice to be heard

"Whats wrong?" He asked

Lan Wangji hesitated for a moment. This was the first time since the massacre at nightless city that he was seeing all these cultivators. Sure he'd seen them at his wedding but he was too preoccupied to pay attention to them. Now though, a thought was tormenting him all day

"Whoever played the second flute maybe here right now." Lan Wangji said and Jiang Cheng stiffened, the letter in his hand crumbling

"We have no way of knowing who it could be." Jiang Cheng said

Lan Wangji was thinking the same thing. It could be anyone from the hundreds of cultivators attending the discussion conference. Many of these people participated in the nightless city massacre

"....Jin Zixuns body is missing." Jiang Cheng said suddenly

Lan Wangji's eyes widened fractionally. After the chaos of Wei Wuxian's downfall, they were both too preoccupied with everything else to remember that Jin Zixun blaming Wei Wuxian for the hundred holes curse is what started the events leading up to his death

"If his body still bears the curse it means its caster is alive." Lan Wangji said

"Which would prove that someone was trying to frame Wei Wuxian from the beginning." Jiang Cheng continued

Neither of them knew what to do with this new revelation since they were still no closer to finding out the mastermind behind all this than they were before

All it did was make them angrier

"Whoever placed the curse on Jin Zixun could be an enemy of his." Jiang Cheng pointed out

"He was not lacking in people he angered."

"...of course. This is a bigger mess than I thought it was."

"We know its all related to the amulet."

"The amulet. Jin Guangshan had been trying to rebuild it before he died."

"We don't know who else was working with him." Lan Wangji added

"Wait, we did know someone who was helping him."

"Xue Yang!" They both said at once

"After Jin Guangshan's death the Jin sect promised he was killed." Jiang Cheng said

They both sat in silence for a moment, both thinking the same thing - they couldn't trust the word of the Jin's

"You think we can get Xichen ge to ask Jin Guangyao?" Jiang Cheng asked

Lan Wangji shifted uneasily in his seat. He knew his brother had an unwavering trust for Jin Guangyao, but Lan Wangji didn't hold the man in similar regard

His opinion towards Jin Guangyao was largely influenced by the man subtly slandering Wei Wuxian's name with lies during discussion conference's

"Let us keep this between ourselves for now." He said

Jiang Cheng sighed and nodded
"Jin Guangyao only just became chief cultivator, his position is still precarious. We wouldn't find much help from him anyway."

"We must find Xue Yang."

"If he's still alive." Jiang Cheng said with a derisive snort

"Its our only lead." Lan Wangji's level voice wavered with a hint of desperation. Three years ago Jiang Cheng wouldn't notice the difference but now he had gotten better at reading Lan Wangji

"Ok." He said "We'll find him. And then we will do everything we can to bring justice to Wei Wuxian."

The next morning Lan Wangji prepared to go to the market like he promised Jin Ling

"I would go with you but today we're negotiating a new trade dock at the yunmeng-Lanling River pass." Jiang Cheng said ruefully

"Would you like something from the market?" Lan Wangji asked

"No need. Just try not to let Jin Ling trick you into buying the whole market." Jiang Cheng said in a fondly exasperated voice. Lan Wangji did not make any promises

"We will be back before nightfall."

"Alright, have fun Lan Wangji." Jiang Cheng said absent-mindedly as he read through his proposal, double checking for any clauses Jin Guangyao might exploit. He always needs to plan ten steps ahead to stay on equal footing with the chief cultivator when it came to sect politics

He was engrossed in his report and did not see the frown on Lan Wangji's face

"Perhaps... you should call me something else." Lan Wangji said finally

"Hm?" Jiang Cheng asked, confused at first before remembering the gossip from the previous night "Oh, don't worry about those people, they're always gonna talk."

"Its not that." Lan Wangji actually blushed as he struggled to continue. Jiang Cheng put down his paper to shift his full focus on Lan Wangji

"What happened?"

"Last night after I left the conference room, a woman approached me." Lan Wangji's ears turned redder as he remembered how he was basically ambushed after Qin Su left

"Who was it?" Jiang Cheng asked in a neutral voice

"Jin Guangshan's niece."

Jin Hua. That woman had never quite forgiven Jiang Cheng for rejecting her

Jiang Cheng face darkened and an irrational anger spread through him. Still keeping his voice calm, he asked
"What did she want?"

"She-" Lan Wangji frowned, unable to find the words "She propositioned me."

Jiang Cheng was torn between laughing out loud and breaking the table with Zidian

"What did you say?"

"No, obviously." Lan Wangji said affronted "But she kept insisting. She said everyone believes our marriage to be a cover and we have no need to be faithful to each other."

Jiang Cheng huffed in irritation
"Let me guess, she also told you she could provide you heirs which would be otherwise impossible with your current spouse?"

Lan Wangji's uncomfortable stance was confirmation enough for Jiang Cheng

"If your are interested, you know you do not need my permission." Jiang Cheng said in a teasing voice, although his voice was a touch too cool for it to be entirely teasing

Lan Wangji narrowed his eyes at him until Jiang Cheng muttered an apology

"All right," Jiang Cheng sighed "We probably should try to behave more like a couple in public."

"It will discourage anyone from trying to approach either of us."

"Right, what kind of husband would I be if I can't protect your honor?"

Lan Wangji did not dignify that with a response. Instead he asked

"What should I call you?"

"I suppose Jiang Cheng would do, unless people think that is too formal as well." Jiang Cheng snorted

"How about...A-Cheng?"

Jiang Cheng stiffened. For a second he almost refused. The last person who used that name was his sister as she lay dying in his arms

He didn't think he could stand being called that again. But when he thought of refusing, he felt an unexplained feeling of loss in his heart

He realised that just then that when Lan Wangji used that name he had missed it. He missed someone calling him that and he didn't want to lose it again

He must've taken too long to reply because Lan Wangji frowned and said
"If you don't like it-"

"No! I mean its fine, you may call me that."

"...Alright, A-Cheng." Lan Wangji said with a small smile. Jiang Cheng smiled back because he was right, it did feel good to hear that name. It didn't bring pain like he thought he would, rather bringing back all the good memories of his family from a happier time

"What will you call me?" Lan Wangji asked

"Hmm...like qizi*?" Jiang Cheng asked seriously. Lan Wangji glared at him from where he was sitting on the bed (* wife)

"No? You're right too formal, laopo* then." (*informal version of wife)

This time Lan Wangji threw a pillow at Jiang Cheng's head, which he easily dodged while laughing

"Okay okay, what else?" Jiang Cheng said, pretending to think. Lan Wangji pursed his lips and walked to the door, preparing to wake up Jin Ling
"Wait! I'll come up with something good." Jiang Cheng laughed. Lan Wangji scowled at him but Jiang Cheng knew him enough to know he wasn't actually angry. In fact Lan Wangji secretly enjoyed these little banters of theirs from time to time

Lan Wangji and Jin Ling spent the day outside. He bought the toddler a small wooden practice sword as promised along with an equally small bow and set of arrows

They ate lunch at an inn, Jin Ling insisting in sitting on Lan Wangji's lap the entire time and after that, Lan Wangji let the boy drag him to watch a street performer with puppets

Lan Wangji loved spending time with Jin Ling, especially since Sizhui hasn't been home in a while and he missed his son terribly

Watching Jin Lings bright laughter as he watched the performer, Lan Wangji couldn't help the pang of regret in his heart. Jin Zixuan and Jiang Yanli should've been here to watch this

Lan Wangji laid a palm on Jin Ling's head and made a silent promise to the child he had come to love as his own. He promised to find whoever it was that was behind Wei Wuxian's downfall, the same person that lead to Jin Ling's parents deaths

Back at Carp tower, Jin Ling raced into Jiang Cheng's arms the minute he saw him in the courtyard and showed him all the new stuff Lan Wangji bought for him

"Jiu mu promised to teach me the bow!" He said excitedly "But I want jiu jiu to teach me sword fighting."

Jiang Cheng was oddly touched when Jin Ling said that. Lan Wangji subtly shrugged and said

"He is part Jiang, it is only fitting that he would learn your style."

From the corner of his vision, Jiang Cheng spotted Jin Hua walking in their direction. Some petty part of Jiang Cheng felt irrationally jealous at the way she was eyeing Lan Wangji. He may not be interested in Lan Wangji like that but he also couldn't stand the idea of this woman touching Lan Wangji either

"Baobei," he said in an overly sweet voice. Lan Wangji looked at him like he thought he was possessed "Its getting late, let's go back inside." At Jiang Cheng's gesture, Lan Wangji finally noticed Jin Hua who had a nasty expression on her face when she heard what Jiang Cheng just called Lan Wangji

"How was the meeting A-cheng?" Lan Wangji asked serenely. Jiang Cheng was amused to find a mischievous twinkle in Lan Wangji's eyes

"Ah it went well. Let's not speak of that now, I just want a quite evening with my husband and nephew before we leave tomorrow."

"Mn. Lead the way husband."

Jin Hua flushed a furious shade of red and stomped away in anger, much to Jiang Cheng's amusement

"Ha! That'll teach her to go after my husband." He said

"Ssh." Lan Wangji admonished "A-Ling fell asleep." Jiang Cheng checked to make sure the toddler in his arms didn't wake up and walked towards his room

Due to the increasing tension over the watch towers issue, Jin Guangyao agreed to let Jiang Cheng take Jin Ling back to Yunmeng a couple of months early

The debates over the watchtower intensified, while Jiang Cheng and Lan Wangji continued to search for leads that might point to where Xue Yang was

Three months after the discussion conference, Jiang Cheng finished that days training with the disciples and went through the inner courtyard on his way to his office

He paused when he saw what was happening

Lan Wangji had a blindfold haphazardly tied around his eyes while Jin Ling ran around the courtyard. Obviously Lan Wangji could easily catch Jin Ling even with his eyes closed but he pretended not to hear the giggling toddler hiding behind a pillar

A writing table was set up in one corner. Lately Lan Wangji had started teaching Jin Ling reading and writing. The boy was smart but he hated sitting still for too long. No doubt Jin Ling must've convinced Lan Wangji to let him take a break from his studies to play

For all that Lan Wangji was a strict and severe person, a single pout from either Jin Ling or Sizhui was enough to melt him. Between the two of them they had too much power, having one of the strongest cultivators in the world wrapped around their little fingers

At least Sizhui was a polite and responsible kid who didn't give them much trouble. Jin Ling, the little menace, learned be could get away with a lot of things as long as they weren't too serious, all he had to do was turn his teary eyes at Lan Wangji

Jiang Cheng watched as Lan Wangji finally 'caught' Jin Ling, lifting the squealing toddler up into his arms and shrugging off the blindfold

"You caught me." Jin Ling giggled

"Mn. I did. What is my reward?" Lan Wangji asked in a voice too formal for a child. Jin Ling always loved how Lan Wangji took everything he said seriously

Jin Ling thought for a moment before leaning forward and placing a big kiss on Lan Wangji's cheek. At this point Lan Wangji was used to such displays of affection from his nephew

"Its my turn now." Jin Ling said, tugging the blindfold from Lan Wangji's fingers. Lan Wangji complied and set the child on the ground, loosely tying the blindfold around his eyes

Jiang Cheng watched Jin Ling carefully walk around with his arms out in front of him, trying to find his jiu mu

Lan Wangji evaded his touch but was constantly nearby, a hand ready to catch him in case Jin Ling fell

After a couple of minutes of evading him, Lan Wangji allowed Jin Ling to catch him

"I won I won I won!" Jin Ling yelled, tugging off the blindfold and jumping up and down while holding onto Lan Wangji's sleeve "I caught Han- Hanguang Jun."

Lan Wangji's eyes shone with mirth at the adorable way Jin Ling pronounced his title. He kneeled in front of Jin Ling and said

"Mn. Well done."

"My reward!" Jin Ling exclaimed

Lan Wangji's expression didn't change but he pulled Jin Ling closer and peppered small kisses all over his face as the toddler giggled

"Time to study." Lan Wangji said, pulling back. Jin Ling groaned in protest but then brightened up when Lan Wangji promised to teach him how to write his own name

Such displays were becoming more and more common in Lotus Pier and Jiang Cheng couldn't remember the last time his home had been this tranquil

Still smiling, he went to his office and opened the newest stack of letters he received. When he read the first one the peaceful mood dissipated and his blood turned cold

Lan Wangji was still in the courtyard with Jin Ling seated in his lap, the writing desk brought out for him strewn with paper

Jiang Cheng approached them with a letter in hand and the anxious expression on his face sent a dire sense of foreboding in Lan Wangji

"What happened?" He asked in a neutral voice, not wanting to startle the child in his lap. Jiang Cheng wordlessly handed him the letter and sat down beside him

Lan Wangji finished reading the letter and closed his eyes as grief stabbed through his heart. Lady Qin's request to bring A-yuan over to play with her son replayed in his mind,  which he never got around to fulfilling

And now...

Jin Rusong had been killed

As cruel as it was, both Lan Wangji and Jiang Cheng were thinking the same thing- they were glad Jin Ling was not at Lanling when Rusong was attacked

Lan Wangji instinctively pulled Jin Ling close to himself and Jiang Cheng couldn't resist putting his own hand on the boys head

Jin Ling seemed to notice the tension in his uncle's faces and frowned, shifting around in Lan Wangji's lap to face them both

"Why do you look sad?" He asked

Jiang Cheng and Lan Wangji had a silent conversation and came to an agreement- they couldn't lie to Jin Ling

"A-Ling." Jiang started, making his voice as soothing as possible "Something happened. Something bad."

Jin Ling, as young as he was, was unfairly used to receiving bad news. His parents...his grandparents....

Jiang Cheng's expression filled him with unexplained fear and he clutched Lan Wangji's robes for comfort

"A-Ling, your cousin Rusong was hurt." Jiang Cheng said

"Will he be okay?"
 
Jiang Cheng shook his head and Jin Ling burts into to tears. Two pairs of arms wrapped around him and he sobbed while he was crushed in between the only two people he had left in this world

"He's- hic- he's gone forever?" Jin Ling asked

Lan Wangji wished he could find words to help, to somehow comfort Jin Ling. But all he could do was helplessly hold him while Jiang Cheng tried his best to explain

"I'm sorry A-Ling. He's with your mama and baba now."

It took a while for Jin Ling to stop crying and that night, he refused to let either Lan Wangji or Jiang Cheng from leaving his room

In fact, they had to write to Lan Xichen and ask him to bring Sizhui home early because Jin Ling was hit with a terrible fear of losing his big brother as well and wouldn't calm down until they told him Sizhui would be home in a couple of days

Lan Wangji and Jiang Cheng laid on either side of Jin Ling, both making silent promises to protect the two children that meant everything in the world to them

As they slept, Lan Wangji couldn't brush off the feeling that the secrets around them were a lot more terrible than he originally thought

And sooner or later they would all be caught up in them

'Wei Ying, I promise I will avenge you.'

Chapter Text

Months after his seclusion ended Lan Wangji had started to grow restless

Sure he had plenty of things to do within lotus pier. His duties as the sect leaders spouse and a guardian to two children were something he took very seriously

But lotus pier was stable and while the work load was still high, it was the kind of bureaucratic affairs that Jiang Cheng claimed would be doubly torturous for Lan Wangji and refused to let him help. Even the disciples didn't need help with training since Jiang Cheng's head disciple Jiang Lian was as capable as anyone could ask for in a head disciple

Jin Ling and Lan Sizhui were both spending more and more time away from lotus pier since their education became more serious and Lan Wangji would be lying if he said most of his restlessness didn't stem from missing his kids

And so he began going out more and more. Lan Wangji traveled the length and breadth of the country, searching for places where his help would be needed, going to remote areas to solve problems that would otherwise be ignored by larger sects

Soon people started speaking about him. Hanguang Jun goes where the chaos is, the rumors spread and Lan Wangji became the champion for the less fortunate

Jiang Cheng laughed the first time he heard that

"Oh if only everyone knew just how right they are. You fell in love with the human incarnation of chaos." He cackled while Lan Wangji only let out an irritated huff

That day was one of the days Lan Wangji was out chasing the chaos and so he missed Lan Sizhui coming home from the cloud recesses

The boy had been subdued since he came back, seemingly smiling only for Jin Ling's benefit before turning somber once his cousins attention was not on him

Jiang Cheng had been too busy the entire day to ask him about it but he couldn't help but be concerned. Sizhui was a happy child, Jiang Cheng could count on one hand the times he'd thrown a tantrum. But he was also prone to keeping his feelings to himself at times

Both Lan Wangji and Jiang Cheng tried their best to teach the children to be more open with their emotions, look where repressing their's had gotten them!

Finally after dinner time, Jiang Cheng found Lan Sizhui inside the ancestral hall sitting in front of Wei Wuxian's shrine

"Missing A-die?" Jiang Cheng asked, sitting down next to him

"I still don't remember him. Is it weird that I miss him?" Sizhui asked softly

"Of course not, you know he's your father even if you can't remember the time you spent together." Jiang Cheng said "Is this why you've been upset since you came back?"

Sizhui shook his head, eyes downcast and his shoulders slumped in defeat

Jiang Cheng waited for Sizhui to answer, knowing he would talk when he was ready. Sure enough after a few minutes, Sizhui turned towards him and said

"Was he really evil?"

Jiang Cheng frowned
"We already told you, the circumstances at that time were complicated. Wei Wuxian made many frankly terrible choices but he didn't have a single evil bone in him."

"So a person's intention is how we describe them as good or bad, rather than their actions alone?" Lan Sizhui asked and Jiang Cheng suddenly wished Lan Wangji were here, he as better at conversations like this

"Yes....you could say that." Jiang Cheng conceded

"I did say that, in history class a few days ago." Lan Sizhui grumbled

Jiang Cheng stiffened. He knew this was coming but he wished they could put it off a little longer

"What were you learning about?" He asked carefully

"The sunshot campaign....and the yilling patriarch." Sizhui answered "Teacher Lan Fengli told me I was entertaining traitorous ideas by defending the yilling patriarch. But I was only saying that we can't call all of his decisions evil and forget the reasons he did what he did."

Jiang Cheng sighed and gathered Sizhui in his arms, who was in tears at this point and nuzzled closer to his step father

"Jifu, does everyone hate my A-die?"

Jiang Cheng sighed, rubbing Sizhui's back. There were times when he couldn't bear to look at this child knowing he was part of the reason A-Yuan could never meet his real family. The only reason the guilt doesn't consume him is his promise to make sure A-Yuan gets the life he deserves

"People feared him. They were on his side as long as they thought they could control him, but once they realised Wei Wuxian was not the kind of man they could tame, they feared him. Fear makes people do terrible things."

"Do not let fear cloud your judgement." Sizhui recited the Lan clan rule

"We shouldn't. But we don't always remember that."

"Did people hate baba for helping A-die?" Sizhui asked

Jiang Cheng frowned and pulled him back to better look at his face
"No..why do you ask?"

"Teacher Lan Fengli told me that if I didn't watch my words, I'll also be punished like baba was." Jiang Cheng was grateful he'd left zidian behind because the rage felt in that moment would've destroyed the entire hall

How dare they threaten his son with the discipline whip? How dare they try justify the torture they put Lan Wangji through?

"Grand uncle Qiren heard him and got angry. Teacher Fengli was punished." Sizhui added, picking up on Jiang Cheng's mood

"Jifu?" Sizhui asked when Jiang Cheng was still quite "Did baba and A-die love each other?"

Jiang Cheng huffed
"Yes they did, even if they were both idiots about it."

"Baba said he didn't know if A-die loved him back." A-Yuan looked troubled by that fact

Jiang Cheng sighed, wondering how he ended up having this conversation

"For all that my brother bagged about himself, pretending to be better than anyone else, he was more insecure than he looked like. Wei Wuxian never acknowledged his love for Lan Wangji because he didn't think he'd be worthy of it, and unfortunately your baba was bad with words so Wei Wuxian always misunderstood his love for hatred."

Unbeknownst to both of them, Lan Wangji had returned early from his night hunt and was standing outside the ancestral hall, listening to their conversation

It wasn't eavesdropping if they happened to be taking loudly where he could hear them was it?

A sleepy A-Yuan soon bid good night to his jifu and left for his room, not noticing his father standing outside

Jiang Cheng looked at Wei Wuxian's shrine again and scowled

"You better come back." He spat "I know you. You can't be gone forever and you're gonna come back. And when you do, get your head out of you arse and kiss that man you hear me? And don't you dare think I'll let you off easy for the shit you put us through, leaving us behind."

Jiang Cheng felt his eyes prick with tears and dragged a hand across his face. Sighing, he decided to go to bed early himself, too tired to do anything more

Lan Wangji stated hidden until Jiang Cheng was out of sight before entering the shrine himself

"Did you really think you were unworthy of my love?" He whispered to Wei Wuxian's plaque

If Wei Ying truly came back, Lan Wangji promised himself not to hold back ever again

He promised to show Wei Ying that he was worth everything

-----

"I've been pestering Er ge and San ge too much lately, decided I'd come pester you this time." Nie Huisang announced with a grin, plopping down unceremoniously on the stairs of the training Pavillion beside Jiang Cheng

Jiang Cheng simply rolled his eyes, used to Nie Huisang's unannounced visits over the years. Ever since Nie Mingjue's death when Jiang Cheng stuck by to support Nie Huisang, the two old friends had reconciled the close friendship from their cloud recesses days which had been lost after the war

Jiang Cheng finished supervising the training of the junior disciples before beckoning Nie Huisang towards the inner courtyards of lotus pier for privacy

Lan Wangji had just returned from another night hunt and was showing Jin Ling and Sizhui the gifts he brought for them

"Baba how was the night hunt?" Sizhui asked

"Good. The Yao was properly suppressed."

"Will you take us next time?" Jin Ling asked enthusiastically

Lan Wangji hummed thoughtfully
"When you can practice ten moves with your sword without dropping it." He answered, causing Jin Ling to groan. Swords were heavy and it took time for children to get used to them

"Hanguang Jun." Nie Huisang greeted, bowing deeply

Lan Wangji stood up from the steps to return the bow. Jin Ling and Sizhui immediately flanked Nie Huisang with gleeful shouts of "Nie gege!", asking the man if he brought anymore pretty birds with him

Meals at lotus pier were always a loud affair and Nie Huisang's added presence made it somehow louder. Lan Wangji had long since gotten used to the noise, even if he still did his best to comply with the "silence during meals" rule

"Did you cook this?" Jiang Cheng asked Lan Wangji after tasting a bamboo dish, humming appreciatively at the taste

"Mn. The village I went to gave me the recipe, thought I would try."

"How was the hunt anyway, you didn't get hurt did you?" Jiang Cheng asked

Lan Wangji shook his head
"I'm fine. Silence during meals A-Cheng."

In formal settings they always called each other sect leader Jiang and Hanguang Jun, but any other time Lan Wangji would use the more intimate 'A-Cheng' while Jiang Cheng alternated between calling him 'Wangji' or whatever ridiculous nickname he could come up with in that moment. (On one memorable occasion Jiang Cheng got drunk in a banquet at Qinghe and in front of many guests called Lan Wangji a cute little rabbit. Lan Wangji had looked ready to strangle him with his own zidian at that time.)

He never called him 'Lan Zhan' though. Only one person ever called him that and somehow managed to make it sound far more intimate than any cheesy nickname Jiang Cheng could come up with

Nie Huisang observed the way Jiang Cheng and Lan Wangji interacted with each other with a contemplative look hidden behind his fan. He was still a little intimidated by Lan Wangji to openly tell his musings so he waited until he and Jiang Cheng were alone in his office to say

"You know the two of you act nothing like spouses."

Jiang Cheng stiffened for a moment before relaxing when he remembered who he was talking to. As interested in gossip as Nie Huisang was he wouldn't try to hurt his friends on purpose with any information he might have

"I mean even we had more passion than that when we were kids." Nie Huisang said with a cheeky wink, causing Jiang Cheng to almost drop the incense burner he was holding

Not even Wei Wuxian knew this but during their stay at the cloud recesses Jiang Cheng spent a lot of time with Nie Huisang while Wei Wuxian was busy copying rules in the library

In that time both teenagers would find dumb stuff to do to pass off the time and one of those things was practicing how to kiss. Out of curiosity of course

And Jiang Cheng had to admit Nie Huisang was a fairly handsome man and a good kisser too so he enjoyed those trysts a little more than he let on

Jiang Cheng shot Nie Huisang a withering glare, getting laughter in return

"Its kinda obvious he's still in love with Wei-Xiong." Nie Huisang added and this time Jiang Cheng actually dropped the ink pellet he was holding

"Don't worry,"Nie Huisang assured hurriedly "I won't judge. If I thought it would've made a difference I would've been more open about my belief in Wei-Xiong. And I know your not angry at him anymore, I saw the shrine."

Nie Huisang's observations set Jiang Cheng on an edge. He'd always known the younger Nie brother was not as clueless as he looked, but it was astonishing just how much everyone underestimated him

After all, Qinghe might not be famous for organizing night hunts anymore but he knew they couldn't find a single person going hungry on the streets. trade was flourishing in Qinghe since Nie Huisang became sect leader and Jiang Cheng heard that he was encouraging his disciples to use the saber less or even give it up entirely, focusing on other weapons like archery, hand to hand combat and even fans

"Honestly though," Nie Huisang continued his earlier observation "the way you behave around Lan Wangji reminds me more of how you used to act around your siblings." 

Jiang Cheng was about to scoff and tell him he's wrong but then paused to think. It wasn't entirely...untrue

He did tease and argue with Lan Wangji the way he used to do with Wei Wuxian, even if there were times when his teasing bordered on flirting

And the way Lan Wangji sometimes fussed over him or cooked for him and called him by his nickname reminded him so much of Jiang Yanli that his heart ached with the memory

What had Lan Xichen said all those years ago on their wedding day? There's more than one way to love a person

Jiang Cheng already knew he loved Lan Wangji, a fact so plain and simple that he was perfectly comfortable admitting it to himself as well as out loud. He never gave it much thought just how he loved Lan Wangji, he just knew that he did

And he knew he had a place in the other man's heart as well. The realization that his place may be just as important as Wei Wuxian's was startling, but he was beginning to believe that as well

Although he did hope their less than romantic love was not too obvious to others as it was to Nie Huisang. But then again, he decided he didn't care what others thought

Just then Lan Wangji entered the office and paused questioningly when he saw Nie Huisang

Jiang Cheng was annoyed at the overwhelming fondness he felt at the sight of his husband. He resisted the urge to smile goofily and waved him inside. Realizing Lan Wangji was holding his guqin, Jiang Cheng said

"Its fine, it's just Huisang. You might as well play." This was as close to requesting Lan Wangji to play for him as Jiang Cheng would get so Lan Wangji complied and sat down at a corner table and began playing

"Is that clarity?" Nie Huisang asked, recognizing the tune he heard played for his brother all those years ago

Lan Wangji nodded mutely and continued playing. Lately Lan Wangji claimed that the stress of his job was making Jiang Cheng even more irritable and convinced him to let him play for him so he would feel better

At first Jiang Cheng was simply humoring his husband but as the months went by he had to admit, he'd seen a drastic change in his temper since Lan Wangji started playing

Everyone in the room remained silent, the notes of the guqin the only sound to be heard

Somewhere along the end of the sound, the relaxed expression on Nie Huisang's face was replaced with a confused frown

"Are there different versions of this song?" Nie Huisang asked

Lan Wangji looked surprised at Nie Huisang directly asking him questions, even if Jiang Cheng was the only one who actually noticed that suprise

Apparently whatever was bothering Nie Huisang was enough to make him forget his fear of Lan Wangji

"There are different scores for the song of clarity, this one is the most effective."

"Oh. It sounds similar to the one San ge used to play for da ge." Nie Huisang said, a wistful note to his voice

Lan Wangji blinked, a small frown on his face
"This is the one brother taught Jin Guangyao."

Nie Huisang frowned
"It is? So did you only play half today?"

Lan Wangji's frown grew deeper. His gut was telling him that something wasn't right
"I played the whole song."

Nie Huisang looked like he wanted to question that but then saw the slightly challenging look on Lan Wangji's face, daring him to question his abilities on his own sects music

And Nie Huisang wasn't stupid, no matter what anyone thought. He knew that Lan Wangji was known for being a peerless musician, Lan Xichen being the only one who could compete with him. So if he said this was the whole song, then it was

But Nie Huisang also knew what he heard. Sure he had difficulty learning cultivation manuals and sect histories and what not, but music and arts were something he was proficient in. He only needed to listen to a piece of music once to memorise it

Lan Wangji also knew this. Lan Xichen himself used to tell Nie Mingjue that if it weren't for the rules, Nie Huisang would thrive in the Lan clan because of his propensity for music

"Did Jin Guangyao play something else?" Lan Wangji asked, startling Nie Huisang out of his thoughts

"Just one stanza. It went like this-" Nie Huisang paused, searching in his memory before he started whistling a tune

Jiang Cheng shrugged
"It doesn't so different from what Wangji just played."

Both Lan Wangji and Nie Huisang however were looking at each other with an imperceptible expression, both of them thinking of a thousand different possibilities for this mistake

"That part is not from the song of clarity." Lan Wangji said "I have never heard anything like it."

Nie Huisang looked troubled for a moment before schooling his face into a neutral mask

"Maybe San ge just learnt it wrong." He said with a forced laugh. Nobody in the room pointed out that with Jin Guangyao's incredibly good memory, it was impossible for him to have learned it wrong

Nie Huisang left soon after that, claiming he'd left his sect without its leader long enough

Lan Wangji borrowed a piece of paper and ink from Jiang Cheng's desk and copied down the mysterious score Nie Huisang whistled

"I will ask brother when I go to Gusu. The forbidden section of the library may have answers." Lan Wangji explained to Jiang Cheng

Lan Wangji was going to go back to Gusu with Sizhui at the same time as Jin Ling was due to return to Lanling. They still had a while until then but the odd music nagged Lan Wangji until he couldn't stop thinking about it

The tune blended seamlessly with Clarity when played together but when he tried to play it alone, he could tell it had some kind of dark aura about it. Without knowing what kind of music it was he didn't dare play it with any spiritual power

Whatever this music was, Lan Wangji couldn't help but think it was far too deliberate for it to be a careless mistake

Before he could dwell too much on these thoughts, however, something else took the forefront of his mind

"Xue Yang." Jiang Cheng said, sounding breathless "We found a trail."

----

Seven years after Wei Wuxian's death and this was their first clue at coming close to whoever was behind his downfall

Jiang Cheng and Lan Wangji reached the decripit gates to yi city, a place that villages nearby claimed was cursed or had a plague because everyone who lived their had mysteriously short lives

"Xue Yang is definitely what you'd call a plague." Jiang Cheng scowled

Before they came here, Jiang Cheng tried asking some farmers outside for information

"We're looking for someone-" Jiang started before the farmer, noticing their swords and robes obviously indicating them to be cultivators, huffed

"A blind daoist?" He asked

Lan Wangji and Jiang Cheng exchanged startled looks

"What? Did someone else come here looking for a blind daoist?" Jiang Cheng asked, a hint of urgency in his voice. If these people were who he thought they were...

"Just now a tall man dressed in black robes came by. He was the silent type, like him," the farmer nodded in Lan Wangji's direction "Asked if anyone's seen a blind cultivator with a white sword. Told him about the kind daoist who lives in yi city along with a little blind girl and-" the farmers expression faltered

"And?" Jiang Cheng prompted

"Well, there's a boy that's always sticking around the blind pair. He acts nice around him I suppose but the vendors in the town would complain about what a menace he is." The farmer hesitated "Something about that boy never seemed right. I'm afraid he may be taking advantage of the cultivators blindness."

"Did you ever see him? Was he missing a finger?" Jiang Cheng asked urgently

The farmer blinked in surprise

"Now that I think of it, yes. He was missing a finger."

"When did this other cultivator come?" Lan Wangji asked

"Just- just now. He must be inside yi city."

They barely thanked the farmer before Jiang Cheng and Lan Wangji were flying towards Yi city

"Xue Yang, that despicable rat." Jiang Cheng growled "After everything he's done he had the gall to stick with Xiao Xingchen."

"The other cultivator who arrived must be Song Lan." Lan Wangji pointed

"We need to go fast, before Xue Yang has a chance to harm either of them again." Jiang Cheng said

 

They streets in Yi city were eerily empty, perhaps the only reason they heard the commotion so easily

Soon they reached a coffin house in front of which stood Xue Yang and Song Lan who were fighting with each other

And judging from the terrible words Xue Yang spoke, he was successful in distracting Song Lan enough to render his moves sloppy

Just before Xue Yang could slash at Song Lans face, Bichen streaked through the air and deflected Xue Yangs strike while in the next second, Zidian whipped out and wrapped around Xue Yang, firmly holding him in place

Xue Yang saw them and started laughing manically. Even if they never met before, Bichen and Zidian were famous enough in the cultivation world that Xue Yang recognized them immediately

"Sect leader Jiang, Hanguang Jun, so I've become famous enough to grab your attention even after all these years."

"Are you alright?" Jiang Cheng asked a dazed looking Song Lan, ignoring the crap that spewed out of Xue Yangs mouth

Unfortunately before anyone could notice, Xue Yang managed to wriggle around Zidians grip to reach for a butterfly messenger talisman which he immediately sent away, acting like his usual obnoxious self the moment Lan Wangji turned his sharp gaze on him

"Zichen? Zichen is that really you?" A voice called and Xiao Xingchen walked out of the coffin house, followed closely by a girl with white pupils

Xue Yangs face turned pale when he saw Xiao Xingchen, seemingly afraid of his reaction

"Xingchen" Song Lan breathed, like he couldn't tell if the man in front of him was real or not. Guilt and longing clouded his eyes and the expression was so achingly familiar Lan Wangji felt like he was staring in the mirror for a moment

"Zichen." Xiao Xingchen called and this time, he was crying, feeling the air around him to locate his friend

Song Lan couldn't take it anymore and the next thing he knew, Xiao Xingchen was in his arms, hands wrapped tightly around him

"I'm here." Song Lan whispered "I'm sorry left but I'm here now. I'm never leaving you again Xingchen. I'm sorry."

Xiao Xingchen was crying against Song Lans chest, not even caring that there were others watching him. Blood dripped painfully from his hollowed eyes, staining the blindfold red

The truth that A-Qing told him was too much for him to handle. To think he'd been fostering a murderer for three years, that he actually saved his life!

"You!" Xue Yang shouted suddenly "You aren't blind are you? You little bitch, this was your doing." He yelled at A-Qing

Lan Wangji had been ready to silence Xue Yang before the little girl suprised him

"You brat, of course I'm not blind. But how else could I make you let your guard down? I knew you shouldn't be trusted, how dare you take advantage of my Daozhang's kindness." She yelled, brandishing her cane in his face

Jiang Cheng was very impressed with this little spitfire

"The amulet. Where is it?" Lan Wangji asked Xue Yang

Xue Yang spat on the ground in answer, leering at Lan Wangji

"Amulet?" Song Lan asked sharply, still holding Xiao Xingchen in his arms

Jiang Cheng explained how they believed the Jin sect protected Xue Yang because he was the only one who knew how to rebuild the yilling patriarchs stygian tiger amulet

Xiao Xingchen let out a bitter laugh when he heard that

"Of course. This is why I never wanted to join any big sect. You all care more about your own power than you do about your duty as cultivators."

"You're not entirely wrong." Jiang Cheng said solemly, remembering his brother and the innocent Wens from the burial mounds

Song Lan inclined his head in Lan Wangji's direction
"I heard about Hanguang Jun and how he travels where the chaos is." He said "If you two hadn't been here today..."

Lan Wangji shook his head
"It was our duty."

Xue Yang laughed
"Xiao Xingchen, you act all noble now, judging me for my crimes when- mm mmmmph!"

 

Lan Wangji didn't even bother to look at Xue Yang as he cast the silencing spell on him. A-Qing started laughing at him

"To be honest we have been looking for Xue Yang for years now, that's why we came here." Jiang Cheng admitted "We suspected he might not have been executed as the Jin sect promised."

And now those doubts were confirmed. What did they mean? The Jin sect was hiding more secrets than they originally thought

"We need to search him for the amulet. If he really made one, he would keep it on his person at all times." Lan Wangji speculated

Before anyone could do anything, a transportation talisman was activated and a man emerged next to Xue Yang. The mysterious man had his face covered with a mask and Xue Yang smiled like he knew him

The man had enough time to draw something out of Xue Yangs robes and activate another portal talisman, but before he could try to grab Xue Yang with him Bichen stabbed through Xue Yangs arm

The mysterious man disappeared with what was no doubt the amulet while Xue Yang lay on the ground injured, zidian still wrapped around him

"Who was that?" Jiang Cheng yelled

Lan Wangji got as close to scowling as he ever did

"A-Qing! A-Qing where are you?" Xiao Xingchen called, one hand firmly clutching Song Lans arm while the other was held out in front of him

A-Qing surged forward to take Xiao Xingchen's hand
"Daozhang I'm here, I'm okay."

Once everyone calmed down, Lan Wangji and Jiang Cheng took a bound and injured Xue Yang inside the coffin house along with Song Lan, Xiao Xingchen and A-Qing

Song Lan and Xiao Xingchen took turns telling what they had been doing since they both disappeared from the cultivation world

Song Lan shot venomous glares at Xue Yang as he heard how he took advantage of his friend

"Thank you maiden A-Qing for looking out for my friend all these years." Song Lan bowed to A-Qing who looked flustered at the attention and tried to wave him off

"Daozhang is the only family I have." A-Qing said with a furious blush "I did what I could."

"We will take Xue Yang back with us and make sure he answers for his crime." Jiang Cheng promised

"You must forgive me sect leader but I can't believe that." Song Lan said

Fair enough. Jiang Cheng couldn't blame them for their mistrust after all that they suffered because of Xue Yang

"Xue Yang is working for someone. They must've been alerted by now." Lan Wangji said

Jiang Cheng exchanged glances with Lan Wangji

It was safe to say they both already suspected the mastermind behind all of the mess

"Alright. You may do with him as you wish." Jiang Cheng decided, ignoring the muffled protests from Xue Yang

"Where will you go now?" Lan Wangji asked Song Lan and Xiao Xingchen

Song Lan looked contemplatively at the man he still firmly held in his arms

"I made a mistake before by not fulfilling our dream. Xingchen, if you are willing, how about we start that sect of ours?"

Xiao Xingchen smiled for the first time since they arrived. A-Qing realised that she had never seen her Daozhang look as happy as he did in that moment

"I would like nothing more. A-Qing, would you do us the honor of being our first disciple?" Xiao Xingchen asked

A-Qing squealed and hugged them both in answer

Lan Wangji looked at he little family in front of him and smiled softly, a hint of bitterness to his smile. He could almost see a reflection of himself with Wei Ying and A-Yuan in the way they acted around each other, a glimpse of what could've been their future

Jiang Cheng placed a hand on Lan Wangji's arm, bringing him back from his thoughts

"Master Xiao Xingchen," Jiang Cheng said "Your Shijie's son Wei Wuxian was my shixiong. His family is my family therefore I would like to tell you that if you ever need any help in the future, the YunmengJiang sect will be honored to be of service."

"Wei Wuxian? I never met Cangze SanRen but my Shifu used to speak fondly of her." Xiao Xingchen said wistfully

"Is sect leader Jiang no longer a sworn enemy of the yilling patriarch?" Song Lan asked with a frown

Lan Wangji and Jiang Cheng exchanged a glance and came to a decision. If their was anyone they could trust to believe in Wei Wuxian's innocence, it was these people

So they told them everything- about the suspected plot to bring down Wei Wuxian, the second flute, the massacre at nightless city

Song Lan and Xiao Xingchen believed them. They even promised to be on the lookout for any signs of the amulet being used

Lan Wangji and Jiang Cheng left that night after witnessing Song Lan give what Xue Yang deserved

Before leaving, Lan Wangji saw Xiao Xingchen twine his hand together Song Lans while the latter gave him the softest smile he'd ever seen

Despite the twinge of jealousy, Lan Wangji couldn't help but be happy for them having found their way back to each other, where they belonged

As they prepared to fly back home, Jiang Cheng looked at him and said

"I think we know for sure who's behind all this."

"Jin Guangyao."