Jiang Wanyin hates the Yiling Patriarch.
That is most certainly the truth.
After all, who doesn’t know of Jiang Wanyin’s treatment towards the ones who follow in Yiling Patriarch’s footsteps and cultivate the demonic path? As long as you tread along the rivers of Yunmen, you’ll hear stories of exactly what Jiang Wanyin did this time to the poor cultivator.
“He didn’t use zidian this time it seems.”
“I heard that he took in a huge wild dog this time to scare him!”
“Ai, Jiang Sect Leader should just forget it. The Yiling Patriarch is already dead!”
“But thinking about it from another perspective, Jiang Sect Leader is protecting us from Yiling Patriarch’s reign, in case he actually comes back. Oh, how scary!”
“But don’t you think it’s a pity? He’s so handsome, but with that scary face, my daughter doesn’t even dare to marry him! If he forgets about Wei Wuxian, maybe my daughter will finally listen to me…”
Towards these gossips and the like, Jiang Cheng doesn’t care at all.
His cup slams onto the table, nearly breaking into bits.
The servant at the side doesn’t move at all, but Jiang Cheng is fully aware of the slight exasperation underneath the impassivity: they have to buy a new tea set again.
Jin Ling is at the corner, voice quiet as he hugs Fairy, “Uncle, maybe we should stop…”
The person he had just been torturing has been sent away, injuries treated by the growing physicians in the Yunmeng Jiang Sect. How many people has it been now? Jiang Cheng didn’t count, neither does he care.
All he cares is that he couldn’t find any hint of the man in any of those terrified eyes.
Where… are these feelings supposed to go then?
A new rebuilt Lotus Pier, with none of the people that he grew up with. Dajie, for only a few years before she married to Jin Zixuan and then she— And Wei Wuxian who was barely there for long either, a Wei Wuxian who he thought would be forever be on his side, laughing in that boisterous annoying way, and causing trouble, breaking rules left and right. But yet he left, asked to cut off from the Jiang Sect as he went off himself to protect those fucking Wens.
He could handle that, or so he told himself.
Until he had nothing left. Not his sister. Not Wei Wuxian himself, under the stab of his own sword.
Only just a Jin Ling.
So he could only turn those burning chaotic mess of anger, pain boiling inside towards those horrendous cultivators who accepted the demonic path despite the ending that Wei Wuxian received in the end. If he couldn’t vent it on Wei Wuxian personally, then he’ll take it out on the very idea of demonic cultivation itself.
And then there’s Jin Ling, making sure that he’ll become a good cultivator, raising him. Because... what else could he do?
He’d had been against the idea of a Jin Guangyao’s gift of a spiritual dog to Jin Ling at first. His heart a subconscious yell against having a presence of a dog inside Yunmeng Jiang Sect so often.
“Is there a reason you’re so against it, Jiang Sect Leader?” Jin Guangyao asked with a smile.
Wei Wuxian can’t deal with dogs— The words were in his throat before he realised and he had to shove it down, shaking his head, and snorting. “If I won’t help Jin Ling if he doesn’t know how to take care of his own pet.”
Jin Ling yelled from the side quietly, “Fairy is a friend, not a pet!”
Jiang Cheng simply snorted again, but his heart was buzzing in an unrest from the words he nearly said.
Wei Wuxian can’t deal with dogs.
Wei Wuxian can’t deal with dogs?!
For… Wei Wuxian?
He, Sandu Shengshou, was… still trying to protect him from dogs? What a fucking joke.
He personally stabbed and killed him with his own sword, so wasn’t it laughable that he was still trying to hold onto that stupid fucking promise?
“Gusu Lan Sect has their Twin Jades but us, our Yunmeng Jiang Sect also has its Twin Heroes!”
Those words repeated over and over in his head. Words that he thought he shoved down long ago. Words from over thirteen years ago were yet crisp, clear as if those words had been said literally seconds ago, as if they weren't muddied by the years. They were loud. Each word boomed in his mind. That overly bright but yet annoying voice in this mind cutting into him with each syllable.
Jiang Cheng wasn’t sure how he could even move, how his vision wasn’t overcome and blurred by the red, the blood rushing through his veins, and it was all he could take to not hiss right there.
The broken ceramic shards lay on the ground. He didn’t get scalded by the hot tea this time; he hadn’t even noticed that he didn’t even pour the tea in the first place. But who the fuck cares about tea when Wei Wuxian was right there?!
In front of him.
In a completely foreign appearance. In a completely unfamiliar voice. But all his mannerisms, the way the body reacted, leaped up, jumped, his mouth opening widely in absolute horror at a dog. They were all behaviours that reek of Wei Wuxian.
With just that three seconds of him fleeing away from Fairy was all it took for those fucking shitty memories from coming back, flooding his mind.
The way he held his belly and laughed. His slight whininess as he laughed and beamed at his sister. His shitty heroic persona. His boldness in breaking the rules. The way he danced around the rules, finding ways to get the others the things they wanted. Without a care in the world. Almost like a bird flying freely.
People thought that he couldn’t put Wei Wuxian down and forget him? A part of him, detached from the boiling rage going out of control, could somehow be calm enough to snort mentally, If only you could see how my head is right now!
But even that little rationality left in his head was completely eradicated the moment his ears registered what the hell Wei Wuxian was screaming.
He felt his mind blank.
Goosebumps raising on his skin, disgust welling right up.
And he could only break out in guffaws of bitter laughter.
It was always Lan Wangji, wasn’t it?
The way you fucking call his birth name. The way you bother him again, and again, so insistently, as if you were going out of your way to fuck with him. The whiny tone you used to annoy and sounded almost-- god forbid, flirtatious.
The second son of Gusu Lan Sect, the younger Jade of the Twin Jade.
Firstly the tortoise incident, and now—to run away from me?
Since when did you start leaving behind the idea of Twin Heroes and go for the Lans, huh?!
The next few times he saw him, his rage has more or less simmered down.
It’s hard for it not to, when it starts becoming increasingly clearer that he doesn’t truly hate Wei Wuxian. 13 years. After a whole 13 years. It started after his outburst at the temple. Words and feelings that he hadn’t known existed inside him falling, spitting out of his mouth, and the hot liquid that streamed down his face. Ugly, utterly shameful!
Still though, it was after that that he started realising. His dislike of Lan Wangji was an irrational jealousy or envy. Wei Wuxian’s name couldn’t get out of his head not because he was overwhelmed with hatred, but because of an inability to accept that he was gone. His obsessiveness in tracking the Yiling Patriarch down was not to ensure that the world will be safe from him, but a mindless need for him to be back. And his anger at Wei Wuxian for being the cause of his family’s death… remained an anger at him for being the cause.
Yet, he finds himself glad that he’s back. In a whole other body, a man who used to be a part of the Lanling Jin Sect. Oddly fitting, whether as Wei Wuxian or Mo Xuanyu, he remains a relative towards Jin Ling.
Still, that doesn’t mean that his face should show up in front of his face once every fucking week! Going from never seeing him once for thirteen years to this amount of frequency! But Jin Ling is stubbornly insistent on it, and Jiang Cheng could only really break out into a nag before he lets him do whatever he wants.
Except, for some reason, right now, he’s left with a Lan Wangji in a restaurant while the other two ran off to do god knows what.
Lan Wangji is quietly sipping at his tea, his eyes staring at the river where the two figures are at. Jiang Cheng pours the fifth cup of tea he drank within an hour, jittery for no apparent reason.
He doesn’t know why Lan Wangji is here. Jiang Cheng has never spoken to him alone; There has never been a chance or reason why he should, but now he’s seated alone while the other two idiots are over at the lotus pods, and for a moment a thought suggests to him that maybe he should have joined the two instead.
“You’re not joining them?”
He doesn’t know if he’s shocked or grateful that it is the cold, almost doormat-like Lan Wangji who breaks the silence first. But either way, he looks up from the tea that’s filling up his bladder at a ridiculous speed, with most likely the most idiotic look he ever had on his face.
While Lan Wangji carries on with the same grace he always has, a small sipping of the tea, his eyes continue gazing at that specific direction. Probably on his cultivation partner. Jiang Cheng doesn’t know, and he sure still doesn’t want to confirm it and risk the trail of disgust from raising up at his throat. Lan Wangji speaks, softly in that calm Lan Wangji-esque way, “Picking lotus pods. You’re not joining?”
Jiang Cheng makes a face, putting down the cup and throwing some melon seeds into his mouth. “No, they can go have whatever fun they want. None of my business.”
Another long pregnant pause on the other side, only interrupted by Jiang Cheng’s own chewing of the seeds, before the flowy white sleeves lower and the other’s cup is placed down too. The other takes up some melon seeds too, and Jiang Cheng has to try his best not to stare at the bizarre image of the perfect Lan Wangji, one of the Twin Jades, doing something as… un-eloquent as eating melon seeds.
To be fair, the wealthy loves melon seeds too, but for some reason, it feels unfitting, or unsightly for who he perceives as Lan Wangji. And it’s during this staring that he notices the gentleness in his eyes, still fixated in that specific direction, softening the hard cold jade he always saw in the past thirteen years whenever they met. And even earlier, ever since the first time he met him.
Huh, he really likes Wei Wuxian.
( But of course, he does. Like Jiang Cheng would leave Wei Wuxian in his hands if he doesn’t. )
Jiang Cheng thought the conversation was over, but the other only makes a light ‘mhm’ sound, and with a slight knit of his eyebrows, he says, “Are you still mad at Wei Ying?”
He could hear the worry in his voice.
Thirteen years, and aside from that time Wei Wuxian killed Wen Chao and what he said about Wei Wuxian during his outburst at the temple, this is the first time Jiang Cheng could pick up any emotion in his voice. He has only ever heard emotion in his voice when it is about Wei Wuxian. And here, he’s concerned over him too?
Jiang Cheng somehow gets the idea that he isn’t convinced and he snorts, “Who’s got the time to waste thinking about that idiot?”
Says the one who spent thirteen years doing that.
But of course, Lan Wangji doesn’t say that.
“It’s good that he’s back.”
It’s all that he could manage before he has to get up, rubbing the back of his neck. And he mumbles something about going to check on their progress on collecting lotus pods before he goes, leaving the other alone in the restaurant.
It’s a fact that he knows now, under the complex veins of bitterness, anger, jealousy all intersecting each other. But it’s not something that Jiang Cheng could completely accept yet. Not so quickly. He still has to slowly dissolve these feelings. Though that’s only possible if he meets Wei Wuxian more often.
Probably why Jin Ling, that stupid nephew of his, has been inviting Wei Wuxian over so frequently.
“Hahahahahaha! Jiang Cheng! Did you forget how to pick lotus pods?”
How infuriating Wei Wuxian always has been doesn’t change though.
A vein pops. Jiang Cheng turns around sharply, the water of shallow pond at his feet splashing. And with the stray lotus that he just picked, he whacks Wei Wuxian on his back. Hard.
It’s a weirdly familiar sensation in feeling the body fall forward and that sheepish way he rubs his back. Even though the height, figure, face are all different.
“You’re as ruthless as always, Jiang Cheng! Take it easy on me, I’m an old man here!”
“Then go take a break with your husband, old man!” He shoots back, retort slipping easily out of his mouth, as if the years of resentment didn’t happen. With his hands numbing with a weird sensation, Jiang Cheng throws the admittedly badly picked lotus towards Jin Ling who catches it in his hands easily despite his arms being full of them.
“Huh, don’t I disgust you when I’m with Lan Zhan?”
Wei Wuxian is trying to poke his face in, but Jiang Cheng simply turns to the side, carefully examining all the lotuses now. He’s going to pick the best lotus pod now and shove it in Wei Wuxian’s face. He just……has to remember what the exact colour is the optimal time for picking. That one just now is just a shade too light to be picked. Probably. It has been too long.
He clearly knows it himself that he couldn’t remember the best colour it should be. That’s why he didn’t want to pick lotuses at all, but it isn’t like he could stay in that place with Lan Wangji. And risk the embarrassment if the other continues asking him weird things.
But now Jin Ling has to see Wei Wuxian correcting him on how he should pick lotus pods when he’s the Yunmeng Jiang Sect Leader! He’s the one who’s Jin Ling’s uncle, for god’s sake.
“Just don’t let me see it. Is there anyone who’d carry another person and kiss each other in broad daylight, in front of everyone?!”
“It’s just two people in love!”
He reaches for the one with probably the correct shade of green when Wei Wuxian has already snatched it. He ‘tsk’s while the other shoots him a grin, waving it in front of his face before he too, tosses it at Jin Ling.
There’s a yelp and a splash not too far away. Jin Ling slipped and fell down again. He doesn’t even look back, simply picking the next best one from the batch.
“It’s because you’re like this that no woman wants you!”
“Shut up! Isn’t it all because of you—”
Jiang Cheng swallows it back down, but it was already too late. An accidental slip. Jiang Cheng has been trying to reconcile in his own way too, putting it all behind him. But his mouth has always worked faster than his brain when it comes to Wei Wuxian. So despite his best efforts, in each time, he always retorted with something too much. And then his childhood friend will still for a while, before grinning and scrambling for an excuse to leave naturally, and Jiang Cheng doesn’t know what to do. The way he does it isn't awkward at all, because Wei Wuxian always comes and goes like a whirlwind, leaving chaos behind in his trail. But Jiang Cheng who has known him practically throughout his life knows the truth. And Wei Wuxian probably knows he does too. But that doesn’t stop him from attempting to leave as naturally as possible.
He doesn’t even have to turn to know that Jin Ling is sporting that disappointed look on his face again. Jiang Cheng simply stares at Wei Wuxian, tongue knotted in his throat.
Surely enough, within a beat of a second, a smile immediately grows on Wei Wuxian’s face. “Hahahaha, you’re right! But Jiang Cheng, you’re already at the age of being married off! I even heard that you’re on the blacklist!”
His tongue is unknotted, and he shoots back with a retort again, but an awkwardness continues to hang in the air. As expected though, the bickering goes on for another three minutes before Wei Wuxian gets up, stretching and commenting that it’s time for him to go.
Jin Ling hurries up, “But Uncle Wei, didn’t you say that you’re free for the rest of the afternoon? There’s still another two hours before the sun sets!”
“True. But your Uncle Wei is an old man after all. My back hurts already. So this old man is going back to rest like what your Uncle Jiang said……” He purposely hits his back like he’s one of those hunched back grandpas as if to prove his point.
Jin Ling turns to him, “Uncle……”
“Who asked him to be so weak! This new body of his doesn’t match up to his original at all.” He picks another one, deliberately not looking at the hurt puppy look that Jin Ling is definitely giving him right now.
“See! So I’ll go back to Gusu with Lan Zhan—”
“You know,” Jiang Cheng cuts in sharply. His voice sounds curt, probably. But to himself, it just sounds hoarse, and he has to swallow again, hard, clearing his throat. His heart rate increasing. “When your body is tired, lotus pork rib soup is the best.”
“---Err, yeah?” It seems that the talkative Wei Wuxian is finally speechless.
But Jiang Cheng can’t even take that as point to his own scoreboard. “Didn’t you say that the Cloud Recesses is full of bland food?”
“Yeah, I’ll ask Lan Zhan to cook—”
“Come to the Jiang Sect.”
He interrupts again. Not even trying to pretend to be searching for any more lotuses. He could feel his ears reddening with heat.
It doesn’t help that it’s a complete dead silence from the either two of them too.
Finally, it is Jiang Cheng who gets up, straightening and furrowing his eyebrows at Wei Wuxian like he’s glaring at him.
“You picked so many lotus pods. Don’t you think you have the responsibility to help us finish them all?!”
The underlying meaning couldn’t be any clearer, and soon enough, Wei Wuxian is practically jumping on the spot, water splashing.
“Yeah, yeah, I’ll go I’ll go!”
“Who said anything asking whether you're coming?! Of course you are! You’re gonna be so stuffed you can’t even move!”
“Jiang Wanyin, where’s Wei Ying’s?”
Jiang Cheng is slowly putting out the dishes, not even asking help from the servants. ( Of course he’s not going to get them to help. He’s the one who cooked, so of course, he’ll be the one serving them. It’s what his sister have taught him. ) So that question just seems to be Lan Wangji being seemingly impatient. But once you look at the table, it does seem weird. The vegetables and plates of meat are all on the table. The lotus pork rib soup has already been poured out into bowls by Jiang Cheng himself, but yet, Wei Wuxian’s bowl remains empty. And unlike the dishes that’s been each placed near the others’ plates and bowls so that they can reach for them easily, there’s nothing in front of Wei Wuxian’s. If he has to take the food, he’ll have to get up and stretch his arms out.
Just from this scene, it’ll seem as though Jiang Cheng is purposely not giving him any.
And with the two’s history? It’s not surprising that Lan Wangji would seem so defensive. Even Jin Ling is watching him in alarm.
Jiang Cheng snorts, “I haven’t even taken out everything yet.”
With that, he leaves for the kitchen.
The scent hits their nostrils before Jiang Cheng even comes into sight, and Wei Wuxian visibly widens his eyes.
Jiang Cheng slams the pot of soup on the empty spot on the table. Jin Ling looks like he’s going to throw up.
Red. Completely red. The smell of mala basically assaults your nose. With just the smell, your nose flares and you’ll undoubtedly cry the moment you taste it on your tongue.
“Mala lotus pork rib soup. It’s a new recipe.”
“I’m going to drink the whole thing.”
“Obviously you are! Or what, Jin Ling? He won't even be able to take a mouthful.”
Jin Ling swallows, not even denying, “This won’t make you ill right? I’ve never seen you cook this before, Uncle.”
A snort. “What are you scared of. He has a stomach of steel.”
Though he said that, he still watches Wei Wuxian as he takes the first mouthful. Watch the way his eyes glimmer and his shoulders relax.
“Thanks, Jiang Cheng!”
Jiang Cheng lets out the first real smile, only snorting in response. "Whatever."
They still have ages to go, but at least, this is the first step, right?