People often ask Lan Huan about his married life. Perhaps hoping to be the depositaries of some painful or scandalous confidence or perhaps with the skepticism of those who don't believe in marriage between men. In any case, the answer is always the same: everything is going well. Of course, marriage has its ups and downs, but Lan Huan can proudly affirm that both he and Jiang Cheng have managed to circumvent them, being now a little more than three years since they presided over the ceremony that joined their lives before both their family members.
At first it was difficult to accommodate to married life and the routines it comes with. They had been dating for over a year and a half before getting married and due to their busy schedules they barely had time to spend together aside from the sporadic visits or quick encounters late at night when they suddenly found themselves living under the same roof and thus sharing all related tasks.
Lan Huan had never done chores in his entire life. The benefits of belonging to the Lan family, with its immense fortune, included cleaning services, so he never had to worry about anything other than providing the best results for the Lan company. But with the arrival of Jiang Cheng, who values his privacy as if it were a precious jewel, that changed. There was no cleaning service, not when both have hands, in Jiang Cheng's own words, allowing them to take care of themselves. This meant that for a while there were many broken dishes by Lan Huan's inexperienced hands and dust spots in places where there shouldn't be, but even this became an activity for their enjoyment.
Jiang Cheng enjoys teaching him. He enjoys stopping by his husband's side to supervise his washing of the dishes and half joking, make the appropriate corrections. He enjoys wrapping his arms around him, pinning Lan Huan against the kitchen sink and has no complaints about the broken dishes that always result from subsequent activities. And there are a thousand more examples: washing, ironing, cooking, activities that Jiang Cheng has done all his life are mysteries to Lan Huan, who likes to learn them just because his husband teaches him.
This is the practical side of marriage, which Jiang Cheng rules over with an iron hand, just like his mother used to do. And perhaps that's another reason why Lan Huan is often asked about his married life: because they believe their marriage is predisposed to fail like that of the Jiang. And there are those who even compare them with both parties, saying Jiang Cheng is like Yu Ziyuan and Lan Huan is like Jiang Fengmian, but although they have similar temperaments there ends any resemblance. If Jiang Cheng takes over the practical side of marriage, Lan Huan reins over everything that has to do with the expression of their feelings, so that neither of them forget that above all things, what joined them was love.
Moreover, no one knows Jiang Cheng. Not really. They dare to judge him based on his face, almost always contracted in a grimace and they dare guess his character by one or two words yelled in a fit of anger. But Jiang Cheng is much more than his anger; Lan Huan does not deny it, though. Like himself, Jiang Cheng has inherited a great responsibility in his father's company and that pressure would make anyone stressed. It's just that the stress plus a precarious family situation and Jiang Cheng's own doubts about his worth, create the perfect recipe for an explosive temperament. But Jiang Cheng is more, much more than that.
Lan Huan treasures all the moments Jiang Cheng lets him see under his mask. One night, Lan Huan arrives late from work, with the moon already high in the sky and the sounds of the city fading in the dark, only to find his husband lying face down on the bed they share, still fully dressed and looking exhausted. His eyes close immediatly when he tries to open them to look at him and he has deep purple circles under his eyes that accentuate the grayish color of his pupils, but the smile with which he welcomes him, small and shy despite all the time they've been together, warms Lan Huan's heart.
"Good evening," Lan Huan says, always so polite. He left his briefcase in the living room and his shoes at the entrance, so it doesn't take him long before he drops besides his husband.
"Hello," Jiang Cheng says, when he finds him lying on his stomach besides him. The ridiculous situation makes him laugh, despite himself. It reminds him of his first days as a couple, after so much pining, when after feeling relieved for being reciprocated, he was given the task of really knowing the man he had fallen in love with. And only to realize that he was a little silly, just like at that moment. "How was your day?"
"It was a productive day," Lan Huan replies, still lying next to him with his face turned towards him. "We were able to sign several important contracts. And then everyone wanted to go eat dinner to celebrate, so I ended up in a restaurant with them. Sorry I was late, were you waiting for me?"
"At least that takes care of the dinner problem," Jiang Cheng says, ignoring his question. His eyes close again, allowing Lan Huan to admire the way in which his eyelashes rest on his cheeks and the muscles of his face relax, creating an image so beautiful that his brushes have never been able to do it justice.
"How was it with you?" Lan Huan asks, feeling how Jiang Cheng slips out of his reach to retreat to the world of dreams. His hand looks for his so he can caress his knuckles and fingers, although that only increases the relaxing effect. In response, Jiang Cheng shrugs and makes a vague gesture with his free hand to indicate that it's the same as always and Lan Huan doesn't inquiry anymore.
Jiang Cheng's company is in the process of merging with a smaller one, which entails twice the work for the employees and as far as Jiang Cheng is concerned, thrice the paperwork to keep everything in order. That's why, although Lan Huan also feels tired, he gathers all the strength he has left to untie the ribbon that holds Jiang Cheng's hair in place. Lan Huan works carefully, undoing the braids at the side of Jiang Cheng's head and untangling his hair, reveling in its silkiness. His husband's hair smells like shampoo, trapped during the day in his high bun — the smell makes Lan Huan bend over to kiss Jiang Cheng's neck.
Jiang Cheng emits a cat-like purring sound at the contact, but he's so tired that does nothing else. Lan Huan doesn't care, he keeps combing his hair until he's satisfied and then devotes himself to massage Jiang Cheng's scalp, enjoying the involuntary sounds that escape from his husband's mouth and that become an exclamation of surprise when Lan Huan moves his hands from his head to his tired shoulders and upper back.
"Shh," he says, anticipating Jiang Cheng's protests. "You don't need to do anything, not today, A-Cheng," Lan Huan says in a reassuring voice, bending down to speak in his ear before standing up. There, at the end of the bed they share, Lan Huan drinks in the image: his husband's broad back covered by his long black hair, which looks like a stroke of ink on his immaculate white shirt; the black pants, the soft silk-like fabric, that define his legs and hips toned by exercising, his feet wrapped in black socks, so funny and helpless before him. Jiang Cheng is very prone to tickling.
Under other circumstances, Lan Huan would not spare any effort to worship every inch of that body, but Jiang Cheng is tired and what he needs right now is to go to bed and sleep until late. So Lan Huan is content to straddle his back, ignoring the shape of his body under his and start giving him a massage. In their free time, both spend several hours exercising and Lan Huan can enjoy the shape of Jiang Cheng's muscles under his hands and over his clothes. He has well-defined arms and a back hard like a rock, but the tension begins to abandon him as soon as Lan Huan does his magic.
"I will fall asleep without changing clothes," Jiang Cheng complains, surrendered to his husband's ability and accumulated fatigue. "I haven't brushed my teeth either."
"I can do it for you," Lan Huan offers, still sitting on his lower back, but being careful not to exert too much force. One of his hands strays along his shoulders and ends up stroking his sides, until it reaches his buttocks and legs.
"I thought it wasn't that kind of night," Jiang Cheng complains, opening one eye to look at him. But there's mischief in his eyes, which shine with that special brilliance that Lan Huan has learned to associate with a good night together.
"It isn't, unless you want it," Lan Huan says, resuming his work. Almost all the knots in his husband's back and shoulders have vanished, but those extra touches are a reward for him. "I'm just admiring the landscape."
Jiang Cheng hides his smile in his arms and allows Lan Huan to continue working. After a while, in which all the lights in the apartments in the opposite building have gone out, leaving them alone with the only light of the lamp on their bedside table, Lan Huan realizes that his husband has fallen asleep. That's when he carefully withdraws himself, getting out of bed without making any noise to take Jiang Cheng in his arms and help him put on his satin pajamas.
Jiang Cheng sleeps, far away from the world and far away from him. Lan Huan slips between the blankets until he reaches his side and caresses his face, although Jiang Cheng cannot feel it. Then he brings his hands to his lips, thanking him for another day together. Maybe if he rushes to close his eyes, he can join him on the other side.
Jiang Cheng doesn't say "I love you". Lan Huan can count with his fingers the occasions in which these words have left his husband's lips, but in his opinion, its rarity makes them more valuable. Instead, Jiang Cheng has a thousand and one different ways to show his affection, of which kisses are Lan Huan's favorites. Of course, in this aspect his husband is much more experienced than him, having had previous partners, but despite that, Jiang Cheng's kisses have some shyness that only make Lan Huan fall more in love with him when he realises that that affection, that desire he sees in Jiang Cheng's eyes whenever he wants to kiss him belongs to him.
Sometimes they still kiss like in their first days as a couple. Sitting in the comfort of their sofa, with the November rain hitting the windows, Lan Huan and Jiang Cheng share long glances, ignoring the television and the world around them. Then one of them bows down (usually Lan Huan) to brush the other's lips, forcing the other to get back at him in a game that never ends. The kisses are always the same: fast, too fast and wet, so that the sensation remains but is not enough to calm the cravings it awakes. Jiang Cheng is an expert in giving them, while still looking him in the eye and with a smile so tiny that it's barely there, so that at the end of day it's Lan Huan who is breathless.
His expertise comes from his shyness, which holds him back from showing affection in public, so Lan Huan has to content himself with a quick touch of his lips whenever they're away from home. But it doesn't bother him, because those quick kisses are always the preamble of those who seem to extend for minutes and hours, stealing his breath and reason in the process.
"Do you remember our first kiss?" Lan Huan asks one night and laughs as Jiang Cheng rolls his eyes, although the effect is lost when his cheeks turn pink, a gesture that Lan Huan will always love. It doesn't matter how many years they've spend together and how many experiences they've shared, his husband's cheeks will always brighten at the slightest mention of something he considers embarrassing.
"You're always so cheesy, Huan-gege," Jiang Cheng complains, crossing his arms and avoiding his gaze. For a moment, he seems interested in the television show they tuned in at random, but the next minute Lan Huan feels him resting his head on his lap.
It was more or less like this, Lan Huan thinks, but he's content caressing his husband's hair and letting him get lost on the TV show. He, on the other hand, can't help himself but remember the exact time and date it happened, despite it being many years ago. They were in Jiang Cheng's house studying for his finals (he was kind of his tutor back then, being older than Jiang Cheng) and had turned on the television to fill the awkward silence between them. But none could concentrate, he kept looking at Jiang Cheng, who was unable to solve a practice exercise and was so nervous that he could barely read the instructions in his book.
"Maybe we should take a break," Lan Huan said without second intentions, setting aside his pencil and closing his book. It was his first time at the Jiang's house and he could sense the presence of the rest of its inhabitants inside their respective rooms, although Jiang Yanli, Jiang Cheng's older sister, had promised him that no one would disturb them. "Let's sit for a while. It's useless to study when you're distracted, it'd only frustrate you and that's not the right mood to tackle such an important test," despite not being in his home, Lan Huan dared to take a seat on the nearest sofa (before, they were studying on a small table in the center of the room, kneeling in the traditional way) and gesturing Jiang Cheng to take a seat next to him.
But although Jiang Cheng obeyed, there was at least half a meter between them.
"A-Cheng," Lan Huan called him, startling him, after several minutes of looking to opposite sides and saying nothing. "Do I make you nervous?"
"Oh, shut up," Jiang Cheng said, flushing to the base of his neck. "Of course you do. Do you think it's easy being alone with the person you've liked for a long time? And especially when we are already...? And when he also calls you...?" With each word, Jiang Cheng was leaning more and more towards him, displaying the Jiang's temper, but his anger had closed the distance between them.
"I'm sorry," Lan Huan said that time and a smile lightens up his face as he remembers. If Jiang Cheng was nervous, he was even more nervous and yet he doubts his husband even suspects it. Just like now, with Jiang Cheng's head on his lap, the closeness between the two allowed him to admire his eyelashes and the watery blue tone hidden inside his eyes. At that moment, as now, the vision alone was enough to steal his breath, but it wasn't he who made the first move. His family teachings (and his uncle in particular), had shaped him to be a gentleman, to be patient and wait for the right moment (whatever that meant), so the young Lan Huan could do no more than avert his eyes.
What he didn't know and that Jiang Cheng told him as a wedding gift is that, just as Lan Huan watched him, so did Jiang Cheng. At that time, Lan Huan used to have long, shoulder-length hair tied with a ribbon in the back so it wouldn't block his sight and his forehead was clear. His dark golden eyes became more evident as well, as did the shape of his face and, of course, that of his lips. Jiang Cheng was mesmerized by them and by the time Lan Huan turned his gaze back to him, Jiang Cheng had caught him, stoling a kiss so fast that for a moment he doubted it was real.
"Wait," Lan Huan told him, when Jiang Cheng turned around to avoid looking at him. His movement was so abrupt that for a moment Lan Huan feared he had hurt his neck.
"What?" Jiang Cheng asked, but he still didn't turn around.
"Did you just kiss me?" Lan Huan asked and although his voice sounded calm he felt his ears burning. It was his first kiss ever (as ridiculous as it sounded) and he couldn't believe it was so short. "A-Cheng. Look at me please."
"Yes, I just kissed you, do you have a problem with it?" Jiang Cheng said, turning around to face him, because while angry he was a thousand times braver. However, he stopped when he realized that Lan Huan was awaiting for him, hoping he would turn around so he could take his face in his hands and keep him still under his golden gaze. For a moment, neither spoke. They looked at each other in the stillness of the living room of the Jiang's house, until Lan Huan could wait no more and closed the distance between them, but his kiss was an imitation of the one he received. Too fast and also inexperienced.
It was not enough for Jiang Cheng, who charged with a second kiss, making it last just a moment longer than the one they just shared. For Lan Huan, the feeling of his lips, so soft against his and the mastery he had to find the best angle, as well as his ability to leave him breathless with extra little touches (his hand at the base of his nape, a thumb caressing his bare skin, the sudden weight of his body on his) were all new sensations that he tried to respond to as best as he could.
Immersed in perfecting their technique they only noticed the arrival of another person when they laughed not far from them. It was then that Lan Huan realized Jiang Cheng was sitting on his lap and their hair looked like a mess. And let's not talk about his lips, the current Lan Huan thinks, letting a smile spread across his face. They were as red as currants and somewhat sore from the intensity of their encounter, but still he could only be grateful that it was Wei Ying, Jiang Cheng's brother, who found them and in his own house, to withstand the fury of his family if this had happened in the Lan residence.
"I'm sorry, I just wanted some water," Wei Ying apologized, but he kept chuckling as he made his way across the room. Jiang Cheng jumped away from Lan Huan's lap as if he had the plague and Lan Huan didn't complain, for he was the same or even more ashamed than Jiang Cheng. "Please, go on. Don't mind to me."
"Wei Ying!" Jiang Cheng called, chasing him all the way to the kitchen. "If you tell mom about this you will be a dead man and not even Lan Zhan would be able save you."
The rest of the scene fades into Lan Huan's memories and by the time he returns to reality, he finds that his husband is looking at him with a calm adoration within his eyes. Jiang Cheng doesn't say "I love you" out loud, but Lan Huan doesn't need to hear it to feel it. He feels it in his husband's eyes whenever he finds him lost in his memories or in the way he makes him breakfast in the morning, getting up so early that it can't be the coincidence he claims it to be. He feels it on his lips when he leans down to kiss him and in the complicit smile they share, just like the one that day when Wei Ying interrupted them. But although Jiang Cheng doesn't usually say it, for Lan Huan the words are as easy to pronounce as it is to breathe.
"I love you," he tells his husband, bending down to kiss him just like that day on that other couch.
Jiang Cheng loves puppies. Despite his cold appearance, Lan Huan has seen him melt at the bark of a puppy and before his little furry faces. However, due to his brother's phobia, he was denied the company of a puppy since he was little and Jiang Cheng never adopted one out of respect for Wei Ying, despite them following different paths. Wei Ying is married to Lan Zhan and from time to time they visit them, which is why Jiang Cheng has argued it would be stupid to adopt a pet.
"I would hate locking her up whenever Wei Ying comes. She's not to blame for that fool's fear of dogs. What could she really do? Bark a little? Wag her tail?" Jiang Cheng says one afternoon, when Lan Huan brings it up. He has seen Jiang Cheng smile after watching a dog food commercial and the issue has come to his mind. Jiang Cheng is loyal, although he masks it with mockery or promises that no longer makes sense to keep, being Wei Ying married and living far away. He's loyal, even if that means losing something he wants.
Lan Huan doesn't forget this conversation, nor does he forget the softness of his husband's features every time they see a puppy in the streets. No matter how big the dog or how intimidating, Jiang Cheng will always find them adorable and would ask permission to scratch their ears, never breaking his serious face, even if he's dying of love. And since Lan Huan has an excellent memory, he makes use of it on special occasions. For example, their wedding anniversary.
They spend the night in a restaurant (Jiang Cheng's favorite), chatting and drinking (although he not so much, because he's not used to alcohol), occasionally dancing, protected by the screen that separates his side of the restaurant (reserved) from the rest of the world, until it's time to go home. On the way home, Jiang Cheng doesn't detect anything weird about his husband and caresses him, taking care not to alert their Uber driver. Jiang Cheng is sure that the night will bring other things, so he's eager to return home, but any intention of going directly to bed vanishes as soon as he opens the door of their home and hears the barking of a dog welcoming him.
"Happy anniversary," Lan Huan says, when he sees Jiang Cheng kneel down to meet the cocker spaniel he adopted from a nearby center. The dog also seems happy to meet her new owner and jumps to lick his face wagging her tail. Jiang Cheng softens at her sight, at the unconditional love she shows him and lifts her in his arms so he can look at her better. When he turns to look at him, Lan Huan is surprised to see the glimmer of tears in his eyes.
"Thank you," he says, voice broken. "Thanks, Lan Huan."
The rest of the night goes by trying to decide a name for the dog, trying to decide where she will sleep and what she needs to be an official family member. But Lan Huan doesn't care, his plans haven't been frustrated at all: he can make love to his husband whenever he wants, but the image of little Belle, asleep on his side of the bed and hugging his Jiang Cheng, is a perfect wedding anniversary gift.
People forget marriage vows are more than pretty words. It's easy to honor them when it comes to good things but they're easily forgotten when it comes to darker times. Lan Huan, however, always keeps them in mind. To love someone like Jiang Cheng, who wears his emotions on his sleeve due his terrible parents, is to remember that love is not simple. Of course there are fights, arguments from time to time and issues they'll never agree on, storms they have to surmount to keep their marriage afloat, but there are also things as unpleasant as simple, such as catching a stomach virus or catching a nasty cold.
Lan Huan has an iron health. He rarely gets sick, as his uncle proudly remembers, because his family's diet and lifestyle prevent it, but once a year, like a rod that breaks under its own weight, Lan Huan catches a cold so nasty that he can barely get out of bed. That's when Jiang Cheng honors his wedding vows in sickness and in health without saying a complaint.
It even seems that, over time, Jiang Cheng has begun to understand the signs that foretell Lan Huan's sickness. It seems he can hear it in the cadence of his voice and in his breathing while he sleeps, so that when Lan Huan wakes up with a sore throat, Jiang Cheng's already in the kitchen, cooking the pork and lotus rib soup that's his sister's secret recipe.
"Just rest," Jiang Cheng says. When Lan Huan tries to leave the bed his feet bump into each other and he is about to fall on his face when Jiang Cheng catches him, holding him before helping him return inside the warmth blankets. "I already called your work and they'll give you the day off due to illness. So sleep, Lan Huan. I'll wake you up when the soup is ready."
Jiang Cheng is a practical person and doesn't stay to watch over him, disappearing again in the kitchen's direction, but Lan Huan is satisfied with the concern he sees in his features, in his frown, in his hair loosely tied, in the spoon in one hand and the apron poorly arranged, giving priority to the task rather than what is appropriate. Jiang Cheng is like breath of fresh air. Lan Huan was taught to dress properly, to do things methodically and therefore, to achieve perfection. However, when Jiang Cheng returns to the room, after an indeterminate amount of time, in which Lan Huan has come in and out of the land of dreams, the soup is made more with intuition than with technique and Lan Huan is sure that's still perfect.
"How do you feel?" Jiang Cheng asks, placing the tray on his knees and taking a seat on a stool beside him. Lan Huan can't focus his face at all, but he basks in the coldness of his hands when Jiang Cheng reaches out to him. Jiang Cheng touches his forehead and frowns. "You have a fever. Maybe we should go to the doctor."
"I'll be fine," Lan Huan says, shaking his head and when Jiang Cheng makes a move to withdraw his hand, he rushes to hold it between his own before placing it on his cheek. "Just stay like this and I will feel better soon."
"Always saying things like that," Jiang Cheng complains and although over the years he has become somewhat immune to his flirting, Lan Huan treasures the barely perceptible touch of pink on his cheeks whenever he feels ashamed. "Stop playing and eat, it will do you good. Then you can sleep some more and depending on how you feel we will go to the doctor. I will drive."
"Thank you, A-Cheng."
Still dizzy, Lan Huan tries to hold the spoon but a coughing fit prevents him from doing so. Jiang Cheng rushes to take the tray away from him and place it on his own lap so by the time Lan Huan stops coughing, his body shaking with violence, Jiang Cheng has handkerchiefs ready to clean his nose and mouth. It's not a pretty sight, Lan Huan knows it. His eyes and nose must be red, like the reindeer on that Christmas song, and that, coupled with a runny nose, would make anybody in his right mind get away from him. And yet, Jiang Cheng remains.
"We'll go to the doctor later," he says and his frown deepens.
"Now eat," Jiang Cheng says, but the effect is lost when he presents the spoon directly to his lips. Lan Huan is so surprised that for a moment he can only stare, unable to believe the scene is not part of his dreams. "It's not hot anymore. I blew on it already,” Jiang Cheng says, avoiding his gaze and to Lan Huan he seems a little hurt. "It doesn't taste like my sister's, but it will help you recover."
Lan Huan knows that he has hurt him but instead of apologizing he rushes to eat the soup.
"It's delicious," he says. It warms his body, comforting him, chasing away the chills that make him shiver from time to time. His words are so simple and yet they make Jiang Cheng so happy even though he tries to hide it, that Lan Huan feels more than rewarded in this life. "More, A-Cheng," he says, opening his mouth.
"What are you, a baby?" Jiang Cheng says but he's smiling. "The last time I asked, my husband was thirty-two years old and not three," he says and frowns as if remembering something, before hurrying to blow on the next tablespoon of soup.
Lan Huan smiles and lets himself be fed. He would like to take his husband's face in his hands and kiss him until he runs out of the little breath he still has, but he can't risk getting Jiang Cheng sick. So he eats his soup like a good boy and then sleeps for a while at Jiang Cheng's request, while he washes the dishes and eats his own breakfast. By the time he wakes up, his husband is fully dressed and ready to go, but not before wrapping Lan Huan in every coat and scarf they own.
"I can't move, A-Cheng," Lan Huan says, trying to peek through the layers of clothing. Luckily he is standing, but he doesn't know how much more he can hold on before collapsing like a toy soldier knocked down by the hand of a mischievous child.
"Don't worry, I've got you," Jiang Cheng says and guides him through the rooms, taking care Lan Huan doesn't knock anything down in the process. Lan Huan follows him marveling at how careful he is, how tender his hand feels against his. No one but the most fortunate know that side of Jiang Cheng and he is one of them.
Thus, he sits in the passenger seat grateful for his good luck, despite the fact his body hurts and his nose leaks, unable to even move his hands to clean himself. And when Jiang Cheng sits next to him, wiping his nose and adjusting his scarf before starting the car, Lan Huan thinks getting sick it's not so bad when he has his husband to take care of him.
Of course, there are much more serious situations than a cold that could destroy marriage vows. One of them happens to them while they are in the cinema, enjoying their weekend. They chose a random action movie and are questioning the acrobatics of the main actor, who defies the laws of gravity, when Jiang Cheng's phone begins to vibrate. Jiang Cheng never pays attention to his phone outside of work, but the sight of his sister's name makes him answer immediatly. Luckily the room is almost empty.
His smile turns into a grimace. Lan Huan sees how his husband goes from a smiling man getting a call from his dearest sister to an scared one, the pain and fear distorting his features. Jiang Cheng turns pale, his eyes look watery and his hand hurts him when Lan Huan tries to take it for providing support. By the time the call ends they are out of the cinema and Lan Huan has heard enough to realize that something is wrong.
"My sister," says Jiang Cheng. His eyes wide, he takes long strides, forcing Lan Huan to run after him. "She was in a car accident. She's in the hospital, the one who spoke to me was my brother to let me know that he is on his way… " The words get stuck on his lips, but Lan Huan doesn't press him. He knows Jiang Cheng knows no reason when it comes to his loved ones so he doesn't even dare to comfort him.
"I'll drive," is the only thing he says and although Jiang Cheng doesn't seem entirely convinced, he hands him the keys, knowing that his temper will bring out the worst of him whenever Lan Huan drives slowly or gets stuck in traffic. Lan Huan doesn't care, Jiang Cheng is not responsible for what he does under such pressure, so he endures his impatience, his snorts and bad words directed towards people who drive slowly or dare to block their way, until they arrive at the hospital. Jiang Cheng leaves the vehicle while it's still moving.
Lan Huan finds him several minutes later, after parking and after asking about Jiang Yanli's condition. When he enters the room, he finds Jiang Cheng crying, head resting on his sister's lap, who strokes his head with tears in her eyes. The accident was not serious, not enough to be a matter of life or death and both Jiang Yanli and her husband Jin Zixuan will be fine but not before going through a painful recovery, since they have broken several bones, which will prevent them from moving normally for a few months.
"Don't cry, A-Cheng," Jiang Yanli pleads, raising her brother's face with her hand. He was the first to arrive, since Wei Ying lives on the other side of the city, but Lan Huan knows that Jiang Cheng would not mind if he saw his tears. "You have to be strong for A-Ling, since A-Xuan and I can't take care of him for a while. Do you think you can take care of him, A-Cheng?" The woman asks, but her gaze also goes to Lan Huan, who awaits a few meters away.
"Us?" Jiang Cheng asks, looking at his brother-in-law, who hasn't said a word to contradict his wife. All his relatives are on their way and there must be someone more qualified than him to take care of little A-Ling. "Wouldn't it be better if Madam Jin...?"
"I trust you, A-Cheng," Yanli says. She and her husband exchange a nod. "A-Ling loves you more than anyone else and I know he will be in good hands. A-Xuan and I will be at his parents' house trying to recover and they'll already have enough to handle with us to also take care of A-Ling. Only you can do it. Will you do it, A-Cheng?"
Jiang Cheng turns to his husband and after exchanging a glance, he nods.
"We will," he says and buries his head in his sister's lap, who strokes his hair with a smile on her lips. Now that Jiang Cheng isn't looking, Yanli seizes the opportunity to look at Lan Huan and exchange some silent words with him.
Take care of him, she says and Lan Huan knows she's not talking about Jin Ling, who was saved from the accident just by being at his grandparents' house at the time. Always, Huan responds by moving his lips and this is how they seal the pact for a much deeper friendship.
The battle for Jin Ling was fierce. Madam Jin refused to give him up, despite Jin ZiXuan's pleas and Jiang Yanli's arguments and then Madam Yu and Jiang Fengmian joined the contest, seeing an opportunity to spend more time with his grandson. But although it was difficult, they managed to enforce Yanli's wishes and with the help of Wei Ying they took Jin Ling, a whole supply of diapers, his favorite toys and half his wardrobe, home.
Jin Ling is one year old and Jiang Cheng adores him, although he pretends otherwise. Once they arrive at home, Jiang Cheng goes out of his way to accommodate his things, looking for the perfect room and luckily, they have an extra room where they place his clothes and hundreds of diapers that everyone has assured them will not last them a week. Lan Huan lets him be, enjoying the show from afar. The smile Jiang Cheng saves for Jin Ling is unique and he treasures it along with all the other things that compose their marriage.
Like those rare thanks or I love you or sorry that Jiang Cheng gifts him with when he knows gestures are not enough to show how he feels. That day Jiang Cheng adds one more to Lan Huan's collection.
"I'm sorry," he says, approaching him after playing with his nephew for a while. Jin Ling tries to climb up his chest, but Jiang Cheng stops him without paying much attention, his stormy eyes fixed on Lan Huan and only God knows when will he stop making him weak on the knees just with the beauty of his eyes. "Sorry I lost control. I'm sorry I got angry. I was afraid."
"I know," Lan Huan says and runs his hand over Jiang Cheng's head until he reaches his nape, then draws him close, letting him rest on his chest. Jin Ling watches them not quite sure what's going on. "It's okay. Apology accepted. It's been a long day, I will prepare something for dinner while you play with A-Ling, it's that ok with you?"
Jiang Cheng moves just enough to look at him.
Lan Huan is not the best cook but his time with Jiang Cheng has helped him improve his seasoning and prepare simple things, like pasta or rice-based dishes. That night he decides on pasta and while preparing it, from time to time he checks out on his husband, who plays with Jin Ling and Belle on the floor of the living room, oblivious to Lan Huan's gaze, who regrets not having his cell phone at hand to immortalize the moment.
A-Ling's laugh, along with Belle's barking and Jiang Cheng's contained laughter fill the apartment, that's why it's so obvious when they stop making any sound. Lan Huan is in the kitchen, giving the last touches to the dish (and also preparing porridge for his nephew) when he realizes the house is silent. As quiet as if he were alone. Drying his hands on his apron and after leaving everything in order, Lan Huan heads towards the living room, only to find a vision worthy of a dream.
Jiang Cheng sleeps curled up on the floor, protecting Jin Ling from the cold cradling him in his chest. The baby drools, staining his uncle's clothes with saliva, but Jiang Cheng doesn't flinch and holds him with the care someone would have with a treasure of immeasurable value. At the feet of both and leaning against the knees of her master, Belle sleeps curled up, protecting both humans. It's a vision of such bliss that Lan Huan feels tempted to join the scene. He could embrace Jiang Cheng from behind after turning off the lights and let the night fall, but his common sense tells him that sleeping on the floor will them bring colds and backaches. Also, they haven't had dinner and Jin Ling hasn't eaten either, so the dream must end.
Lan Huan is not in a hurry. He gets a blanket from their room to cover his husband up and returns to the kitchen to momentarily store dinner. Afterwards, he prepares Jin Ling's bed, knowing that Jiang Cheng will not want him to sleep in the guest room, so far away from him. He will have to improvise something so that the three of them fit in bed (or the four of them, Belle included), but the thought, instead of causing him resentment or discomfort, makes him smile.
There is nothing he would not do for his family.