They end up having to set up a committee to deal with what the cultivation world is calling the Jiang weddings. Jiang Cheng thinks it’s all too much fuss, but no one is listening to him. Apparently having the sect leader, sect heir, and second heir all getting married within a year, especially when the latter two are getting married to the Lan clan heir and Jin clan leader respectively, gets people talking.
They want A-jie to have a grand wedding. But he and Wei Wuxian are seriously considering just grabbing their fiances and eloping. Except he can’t elope, because then people will think he’s ashamed of marrying a Wen, and anyone who so much as hints that he should be is going to become intimately acquainted with Zidian.
“Lan Zhan and I can bow to each other anywhere,” Wei Wuxian tries. “As long as you and Shijie are there, what does the rest matter?”
If only it were that easy. “No way. If I have to deal with all this, then so do you.”
Wei Wuxian’s wedding is first. Jiang Cheng had thought holding the wedding at Cloud Recesses would end up meaning that it was plain, but apparently he’d let the Lan’s three thousand rules distract him from their hundreds of layers of silk robes and stupidly elaborate hair pieces.
It’s ornate enough to have been done by the Jin, if not nearly as ostentatious. Cloud Recesses is transformed, light blue and purple lanterns and decor and flowers covering nearly every inch of it. Wei Wuxian wears red for the first time since Jiang Cheng’s ascension ceremony. Lan Xichen had offered to make Wei Wuxian his own elaborate Lan headpiece in gold for the ceremony, but he’d insisted on wearing his lotus hair ornament, even though the amethyst clashed with the red. Jiang Cheng pretends it doesn’t matter at all even though it clearly he does. He also pretends he doesn’t cry during the wedding because why would he, it’s just his stupid older brother’s dumb wedding, and A-Qing must really love him because she waits until after the ceremony to make fun of him for it.
His brother and Lan Wangji move into Wei Wuxian’s rooms and Jiang Cheng does everything he can to ignore them for the first month, then he makes Wei Wuxian help him with A-jie’s wedding planning. He’d wondered, vaguely, how Lan Wangji would fit in at Lotus Pier, but the answer ends up being extremely well. He takes over teaching the history courses from A-jie and assists in the advanced sword fighting so Wei Wuxian is only teaching the beginners and those advanced enough to learn his own sword patterns. Pretty much everyone is calling it the Wei style which mortifies his brother enough that Jiang Cheng does everything he can to encourage it.
They both sob through A-jie’s wedding. A-Qing and Lan Wangji look equally unimpressed with both of them. It’s a strange thought that the two of them actually get along rather well.
Sometime between his brother’s wedding and now, Jin Guangyao must have gotten bored at being the center of Lan Xichen and Nie Mingjue’s jealousy, because the two of them are back to having their easy rapport and Jin Guangyao wears a blue ribbon intertwined amongst his Nie braids. He thinks it means something, that Nie Mingjue had loved Jin Guangyao so well that he’d known the instant he was corrupted by a darkness not his own and Lan Xichen had loved Jin Guangyao so much that he’d loved him despite that darkness. Lan Xichen is more like his brother than he’d like to think.
Sometime between A-jie’s wedding and his own, Lan Xichen and Nie Mingjue have move on from their easy rapport to being as disgusting with each other as they are with Jin Guangyao. He complains about it to A-Qing until she bows her head over her book to hide the fact she’s smiling.
“Aren’t you friends with them?” Wen Ning asks, mystified. “You go out drinking together every time you’re all in the same place, saying it’s a sworn brothers thing.”
Wen Ning is a fellow little brother, who will soon be his little brother, so he says, “There has to be drinking otherwise I can’t stand to be around them, and it’s mostly so Jin Guangyao and I can get back at Wei Wuxian and Jin Zixuan for taking them to have older brother only meetings. I know all they do is bitch about us the entire time.”
He thinks a younger brothers only meeting in retaliation would be pretty funny, but it means hanging out with Jin Guangyao, Lan Wangji, and Nie Huaisang all at once, which sounds like the absolute worse combination of people he could think to put together.
Lotus Pier is filled with the entire cultivation world, which surely must be getting tired of all these high profile weddings, except that they’re not because cultivators are secretly all hedonists.
A-jie and Wei Wuxian are watching him, proud and tearful and here alive, as he bows three times to A-Qing and is bowed to three times in return. She always looks good in red, but he thinks this is favorite, the shade of red she wears on their wedding day.
The celebrations last a week, marking the end of the Jiang weddings and the marriage of Wen Qing to Jiang Cheng.
In the end, he’s surprised it takes as long as it does.
Wei Wuxian gets hurt during a night hunt. It’s not fatal, not while they’re at Lotus Pier and A-Qing is here to yank her brother in law from the edge of death. Jiang Cheng picks up his brother’s wrist to feed spiritual energy into him, so the bleeding slows and the wounds stubbornly begin to heal. Lan Wangji has that look of pale faced terror that he only gets when his husband or children are in danger and he reaches for Wei Wuxian’s wrist to do the same. “No,” Jiang Cheng says and Lan Wangji jerks back. He holds out his other hand to Lan Wangji. “If you want it to do him any good, you’ll have to give it to me first.”
A-Qing stills. She’s surprised but not shocked. “He said he didn’t tell you.”
“Tell you what?” Lan Wangji demands.
“You can ask him later,” he says. “If you try and give him spiritual energy yourself, it won’t work. You have to give it to me first then I’ll give it to him.”
Lan Wangji shakes his head in confusion but A-Qing quietly says, “He’s right,” and he doesn’t argue, instead grabbing Jiang Cheng’s wrist to feed his spiritual energy into him instead.
Wei Wuxian’s body recognized the spiritual energy generated by his own golden core but not any foreign energy. Cultivators can borrow spiritual energy from others because it passes through the recipient’s golden core automatically, changed by this process until it resembles the spiritual energy their golden cores produce on their own, making it something the recipient can use. Wei Wuxian doesn’t have his golden core anymore. The only spiritual energy that can help him is from Jiang Cheng, and even that affect is limited without a golden core of his own.
Lan Wangji is as much of genius as Wei Wuxian. He doesn’t know how, but it doesn’t take him long to figure out why, his hand trembling on Jiang Cheng’s skin.
“I didn’t ask it of him,” he says quietly, looking at his brother rather than whatever horrible expression is on Lan Wangji’s face right now. “I didn’t even know he’d done it until a while after it happened. He tricked me.”
“We tricked you,” A-Qing says softly.
He shrugs. Maybe he should be mad at her, but it was so long ago and, well. In another life, he let her burn. They can be even.
“I know,” Lan Wangji says and Jiang Cheng is too surprised to keep himself from looking at him. “You would do anything for Wei Ying. I didn’t think you’d let him do this willingly.”
He’s never had Lan Wangji’s good opinion before. He’s not sure what to do with it.
It’s late enough to be early. A-Qing has gone to bed and Lan Wangji is asleep half slumped over Wei Wuxian’s bed, refusing to go get some proper rest in their room and instead holding vigil in the infirmary. Jiang Cheng can’t even make fun of him for it because, well, he’s here too after all. Wen Ning had distracted A-Yuan, saying his fathers were on a night hunt, which won’t work two days in a row, but it won’t have to.
Wei Wuxian lets out a little huff of breath that’s not enough to be groan. His eyes open slowly and he smiles when he sees Jiang Cheng. “Hi. Uh. Oops?”
“Oops,” he says dryly. Lan Wangji is either still asleep or doing a very good job at pretending, so he says, “Lan Wangji knows about your golden core.”
He stills, eyes wide and afraid, before he licks his lips and says, “Did – how do you – was it Wen Qing?”
He shakes his head and says gently, “I’ve known for a while now.” He reaches out to smooth the line of worry from his brother’s brow. “It’s okay. I wish you hadn’t done it. I’d give it back if I didn’t think going through that again would kill us both.”
Wei Wuxian’s fear has softened into wariness. “You really must have known for a while. You’re being very calm about this.”
“I wasn’t at first,” he says dryly. “I was pissed. I can yell at you later if you like.”
“But you’re not pissed now?” he clarifies, still vulnerable, about this one last thing that he thought Jiang Cheng might hate him over. Because he’s always known this wasn’t something his brother would have wanted and he’d done it anyway.
Jiang Cheng had been very angry, rightfully so, for a very long time. But he doesn’t have any room for that here now, in this life he’s built with the people he loves, when Wei Wuxian has just nearly died in front of him again. So he just says, “No more than usual. Just promise me you won’t do anything that stupid again. I know you can’t help throwing yourself headfirst into danger,” he pointedly looks to the wound across his chest, “but don’t be careless with your own life. Too many people are relying on you to stick around.”
In the old timeline, Wei Wuxian would have looked to Lan Wangji then. But in this one he smiles and keeps his eyes on Jiang Cheng and says, “I know.”
A-Yuan becomes a Lan and gains the courtesy name Sizhui. It’s not a surprise because that’s what’s in Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji’s marriage treaty. The Jiang have no name uniformity in their clan, while the Lan do. It makes sense for their children to be named Lan so there will be no need for them to change it regardless of what clan they end up choosing.
A-jie announces she’s pregnant. The timing is right. It’s fine. This is fine.
These are things he expected. What he hoped for.
It somehow escaped his notice that some changes beget others.
“You’re,” he starts, then stops, can only stare with his hands outstretched, not quite touching her. She’s never been breakable for a moment, not even too thin and furious in grief when she’d stepped into the Jin banquet hall, but now he’s suddenly scared to touch her.
“Yes,” she says, taking his unstretched hand and placing it against her stomach. “You won’t be able to feel anything for a few more months.”
He’s been a father before. It’s foolish to think he’d been anything less to Jin Ling the first time around, but this time Jin Zixuan is alive, A-jie is alive, and he’ll love their children just as fiercely as before, but their relationship will be different. It’s a good thing. Their kids will have all the family that Jin Ling should have had, his parents and Wei Wuxian, Wen Ning and Wen Qing, even Lan Wangji and a not crazy version of Jin Guangyao. But Jiang Cheng had thought that he’d miss miss being a father.
He spreads his hand against her stomach and leans down to kiss her as gently as she’ll let him.
A-jie places his nephew in his arms and Jiang Cheng looks down at that little squalling scrunched up face and knows. This is Jin Ling.
He has his nephew back.
“Are you crying?” Wei Wuxian demands, peering over his shoulder and making grabby hands at him. “Let me hold my nephew! It’s my turn, Jiang Cheng!”
A-jie is still in bed, leaning against Jin Zixuan who’s got the soppiest expression on his face that Jiang Cheng has ever seen on anyone, and he lives with Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji half the year. “A-Xian, be patient. A-Ling isn’t going anywhere.”
He rolls his eyes and gently places Jin Ling in his brother’s arms, something he’d never gotten to do the first time around, and has to stop himself from crying all over again.
Wei Wuxian coos down at him, supporting his head properly and everything. Jiang Cheng has no idea when Wei Wuxian got the chance to learn how to hold a baby, but he looks good like that. He’s pretty sure Lan Wangji agrees, if the stupidly soft look on his face is any indication. Jiang Cheng figures right then that Jin Ling is going to be getting another Lan cousin.
“Wei Wuxian,” A-Qing says, a look on her face making it clear that his brother better hand over that baby right now. She’s five months along and much bigger than A-jie had been, although of course Jiang Cheng hasn’t told her that, and her pregnancy hasn’t done a thing to make her less intimidating.
“Sorry, Wen Qing,” Wei Wuxian says, “but maternal uncles, then fraternal, then spouses. It’s the law.”
“It is not,” she huffs, but doesn’t put up any fight while Wei Wuxian transfers Jin Ling to Jin Guangyao’s arms.
Jin Ling makes some discontent sounds, obviously not thrilled at being passed around so many people when he’s barely a day old, but Jin Guangyao settles him easily, something confident and practiced in his easy motions. He must register their surprise because he flushes and says, “Plenty of prostitutes have children. Someone needed to mind them while their mothers were working.”
Jin Guangyao speaks of his origins without flinching these days. He’d grown up in the brothel with his mother until he was thirteen, until he was too beautiful to stay. Jin Guangshan hadn’t been the first person Meng Yanmei had killed in defense of her son.
“You’re good at it,” Wei Wuxian says. “Are you going to have any of your own?”
His face twitches. “No. At the rate you all are going, I imagine I’ll have more than enough nieces and nephews to occupy my time.”
That seems like a political answer to a political problem. That he’s involved with both the Lan and Nie sect leaders is less a secret than something no one ever talks about, because what is there to say, really. Raising children with either or both would be nearly impossible.
“Mm,” Wei Wuxian hums, sounding for a moment so much like his husband that Jiang Cheng twitches. “Lan Zhan and I will work really hard to give you more nieces and nephews, won’t we, Lan Zhan?”
Lan Wangji’s ears turn red and that sets off a wave of laughter.
Wei Wuxian returns to Lotus Pier and leaves Lan Wangji behind, the two of them apart for more than a quick trip for the first time since their wedding.
“You don’t need to do this,” he tries, but he knows it doesn’t come off very convincing when he’s wearing yesterday’s robes and there’s damp spot on his elbow and he’s not sure if it’s ink from falling asleep at his desk or something worse.
“Lan Zhan has responsibilities in Gusu, he needed to stay,” his brother says, hands on his hips. “I have responsibilities here and I need to be here. Lan Zhan and I are okay. A-Yuan is okay. Now, I’m begging you, leave me with my nieces and go take a bath. For everyone’s sake.”
One baby had been exhausting. Two ends up being something far past exhausting that he doesn’t have the words for. Nuying and Ninghong are perfect and beautiful and make him long for the nights he spent walking up and down Lotus Pier with a colicky Jin Ling.
The problem is that he and A-Qing are far too busy and needed to ignore all their responsibilities to focus on being parents, but balancing their daughter’s needs with being Madam Jiang and Sect Leader Jiang is driving him mad and A-Qing to a level of irritation he’s never seen from her nor does he ever want to see from her again.
Having his brother here makes everything instantly more bearable. Wen Ning has taken on almost all the medical administrative tasks from A-Qing, even writing patients reports that she dictates to him while holding one child and keeping sharp eyes on the other, but there’s no one in Lotus Pier who can really do the same for him.
Wei Wuxian can and does. He smoothly slides into the role of sect leader, sitting on the lotus throne and dealing with the brunt of Jiang Cheng’s duties while he focuses on his daughters, and then switches back, taking care of the twins when Jiang Cheng needs to work. Winter comes and he’s still here, then spring, then summer. Lan Wangji comes and goes when he can and they keep Lan Sizhui mostly to their normal schedule, even if it means he spends time in Gusu with Lan Wangji alone. Neither his brother’s husband nor his son like spending time apart from him if they can help it and Lan Wangji gets a lot of practice flying his sword while holding his son.
Jiang Cheng feels worse about this than possibly anything else, but still Wei Wuxian doesn’t budge, insisting that it’s only for a couple months and then Lan Sizhui and Lan Wangji will be back at Lotus Pier full time. Lan Wangji doesn’t seem upset about it like Jiang Cheng thought he would be.
For the first year of the twin’s lives, Wei Wuxian is there, working with Wen Ning to make sure he and A-Qing come out the other side of it in one piece.
It’s halfway through autumn when Wei Wuxian deems their shit to be sufficiently together and gets ready to fly back to Gusu. He’s giving Nuying and Ninghong loud exaggerated kisses on their cheeks and then does the same thing to Wen Ning and A-Qing. He’s probably just used up the year of goodwill he built with A-Qing all at once. He tries to do the same thing with Jiang Cheng but he puts his hand over his brother’s face and shoves him away.
Wei Wuxian pouts, but it’s clear that he’s laughing at him. Jiang Cheng walks him to the edge of Lotus Pier and then thinks of the past year, of Wei Wuxian not leaving even though it meant time away from his own family and his duties in Cloud Recesses, how not only hadn’t he needed to ask for this but his brother hadn’t even left when he’d told him to. “A-Xian,” he says, “thank you.”
Wei Wuxian’s surprise is soft and warm rather than painful, because his brother doesn’t need a nickname to know that he loves him. “You’re welcome, A-Cheng.”
But it doesn’t hurt.
He’s drinking with Lan Xichen, Nie Mingjue, and Jin Guangyao. They’re in Lotus Pier and their annual event is a night hunt this year. It doesn’t start until tomorrow night which means there’s nothing to stop them from drinking now.
“I’ve been thinking,” Jin Guangyao says, looking up from under his eyelashes. Jiang Cheng resists the urge to run away. “I think you should get married.”
Lan Xichen and Nie Mingjue freeze and Jiang Cheng starts drinking faster.
“Not to me, of course, I’m far too busy helping my brother,” he continues blithely.
Jiang Cheng snorts. “That’s a funny way to say running the Jin sect. Well, half running it. Three quarters? However much my sister isn’t doing these days.”
Jin Guangyao goes very wide eyed and faintly offended. He knows it’s fake and he still feels kind of bad. “Sect Leader Jiang!”
“Seriously,” he goes on, “we all know it. He knows it and it’s not like he’s complaining. Does he do anything useful?”
“Well,” Jin Guangyao says, “sometimes elders or clansmen won’t listen, and he’ll say things like ‘Do as my wife says’ and ‘Follow A-Yao’s recommendation’ and then they do and I find that very useful.”
Jin Zixuan does a great job of training his disciples. Jin Guangyao and A-jie do a great job of handling everything else.
“Anyway,” he says, waving his hand in a way that reminds him of Nie Huaisang. “You’re both sect leaders and it’s time you have wives and children. Look at Jiang Cheng, married to a very scary woman with two horrifying children.”
“Hey,” he says, but without much heat. His daughters are kind of awful. He doesn’t know where they got it from. Wei Wuxian, probably. He also understands why Jin Guangyao is having this conversation here and now rather than literally any other time. He wants Jiang Cheng here as a prop.
Lan Xichen looks like something approaching heartbroken, which is a terrible sight and the closest he’s seen Lan Xichen look to when he killed Jin Guangyao, but Nie Mingjue is just deeply amused. “I assume that since you’re bringing it up, you’ve already picked our brides?”
“You know me so well, A-Ming,” he says. “A-Huan, I think Qin Su would make a lovely Madame Lan. She won’t chafe under the rules and is a wonderful entertainer. She’s not a strong cultivator, but she’s clever and the Lan are not usually overly volatile. She’ll be able to hold your seat so that both you and Lan Wangji can be away from Gusu for longer periods of time.”
Lan Xichen’s face clears. “A-Yao are you – I mean-”
“Mianmian for you,” Jin Guangyao says to Nie Mingjue. “You could probably just hand the whole sect over to her if you’d like. Actually, I’d keep an eye on her, because I think possibly she just agreed because she thought it would be a challenge.”
“Hey, hold on,” Jiang Cheng protests hotly. “If Mianmian is leaving the Jin, I want her in the Jiang. And she’s A-jie’s best friend and the Jin’s first disciple, are she and Jin Zixuan really okay with this?”
“Mianmian is the first disciple, the dear friend of the clan head and his wife, and she’s bored,” Jin Guangyao says. “She finds the Jin Clan stifling, even now, but she loves the people, so she doesn’t leave. It’s not like she’s going to become less skilled and strong and intelligent over time, so she’ll only become more bored. If she’s Madame Nie, she won’t be bored.”
Lan Xichen nods seriously, but his eyes are sparkling. “And if Nie Mingjue and I have wives who can run our clans for us then we can spend more time together with you.”
“I suppose so,” he says, “if that’s how you wanted to spend your time.”
It’s not subtle but he’s not trying to be, not with them. Nie Mingjue and Lan Xichen are looking at Jin Guangyao in a way that makes his skin crawl, as if him arranging their marriage to women they barely know is just the most adorable thing and not further proof that Yin Iron or no Yin Iron, he’s crazy. Lan Xichen puts his hand on Jin Guangyao’s thigh and Nie Mingjue touches the blue ribbon in his braids.
“No, nope, no way,” Jiang Cheng says, pushing himself to his feet and only swaying a little. “Stop being disgusting. I’m going to find A-Qing, she’d never do this to me.”
Nie Mingjue snorts. “You don’t want to deal with affection so you’re going to go find your wife?”
“You have met her, right?” he asks and snatches another bottle of the wine Lan Xichen had brought before leaving them to do whatever it is they do together. These meetings suck because they can never keep their hands off each other for long and then he has to run away in self defense.
A-Qing is still awake, the candles burning in her office. He makes too much noise coming in, but she only sighs when he clumsily sits on the ground next to his chair. “Are your sworn brothers being mean to you again?”
She’s mocking him but he doesn’t care. “Next time I’m making them sit in separate corners like the girls in time out.”
“A reasonable course of action,” she says, in that particular tone of voice that means she thinks he’s an idiot. But she does scoot her chair back a couple of inches so he can press his forehead against her knees, so he’s pretty sure it evens out.
A-jie is pregnant again. She asks them if they’re thinking of having more children and A-Qing says, “No,” before Jiang Cheng can fully process the way cold horror had swept through him. The twins are barely toddlers and he imagines it’s only going to get worse from here. Ninghong had spent a whole afternoon collecting frogs and released them in the middle of counsel meeting. Nuying had somehow gotten into the weapons room last week and now they have to keep it sealed with talismans. He’s not going to survive the children he has, why would he want more?
It seems like Jin Wen has just been born when A-jie announces that she’s pregnant again, and then Jin Ling is the oldest brother to one brother and one little girl, Jin Xia.
Jiang Cheng isn’t all that surprised to hear soon after that Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji have adopted a baby girl of their own. Lan Wangji had probably agreed in sheer self defense of Wei Wuxian leaving to look after his nieces and nephews again. Lan Suyin is as quiet and easy as Lan Sizhui had been and clearly there is no justice in this world that his disaster of a brother has ended up with two perfectly well behaved children. He can’t even blame the Lan influence, since their eldest came that way.
“Mianmian moved her boyfriend into the main hall last week,” Nie Huaisang tells him at the cultivation conference held at the Unclean Realms.
Jiang Cheng hadn’t seen any boyfriend when she’d walked in on Nie Mingjue’s arm but it’s not like he’d been looking for one. Also the roundness of her stomach had been pretty distracting. “Is the kid his or Nie Mingjue’s?”
“Who knows? Who cares?” Nie Huaisang snaps his fan out to hide his face. “It’ll be the Nie heir either way. You know my brother sleeps in sometimes now? Even A-Yao can’t get him to do that. Mianmian can have as many boyfriends as she wants, she’s doing wonders for my brother’s blood pressure.”
Mianmian, surprising no one, had taken to running a sect like she’d been born to do it and fits it in with the brusque, militant Nie with surprising ease. He thinks that she and Nie Mingjue might actually be – well, the thing is that baby is very possibly Nie Mingjue’s, is the point. Qin Su has done a wonderful job as Madame Lan, easing the burden from both the Twin Jades of Lan and Lan Qiren, but she also sleeps in the house next to Lan Xichen’s rather than sharing his and is by all accounts perfectly happy to do so. They’d adopted a child instead of having one together, Lan Jingyi, who’s quickly taken the place of Lan Sizhui’s best friend. He remembers Lan Jingyi from before but not well, and certainly not well enough to remember if he’d had living parents the last time around. It doesn’t do him any good to think on it either way, so he doesn’t.
“Do you think it’s a good or bad thing that we’re having all our kids so close together?” he asks.
“What we?” Nie Huaisang asks. “Leave me out of it. Just because you and your siblings refused to let a spring pass without announcing a new family member doesn’t mean the rest of us are having the same problem.”
He flushes but protests, “We didn’t plan it, really! It’s just, well,” he hesitates.
“You all want a big family,” Nie Huaisang says kindly, “so that’s what you’ve made. I’m very happy for you. I’ll be over in the Unclean Realms with my fans and my one niece or nephew who may or may not be my brother’s kid.”
He rolls his eyes because Nie Huaisang has whole heartedly embraced his role of strange uncle, dropping in whenever he feels like it to rile up the kids, give them ridiculous gifts, then leaving the parents to deal with the aftermath.
His daughters look identical, down to the one freckle they have on their left shoulders, but their appearance is where their similarities end. Ninghong is sweet and quiet until she’s angry, which fits the profile for half their family. Nuying is too much like him, too much like his mother. She burns too hot and fury takes all the sense from her head. It’s familiar. He recognizes it easily. She’ll wield Zidian well one day if he doesn’t drop her in the lake first.
As much of a headache her arrogance and her rage are, he can’t help but be a little bit grateful for it, in a strange way he doesn’t want to examine too closely. Nuying loves all her family, of course, no matter how she grumbles, but Wei Wuxian is the one she never grumbles about. When she hates everything around her, including herself, she doesn’t hate Wei Wuxian.
Which means his brother can cheerfully slice through talismans blocking her room and duck inside without getting his head bitten off for his efforts. His daughters as teenagers almost makes him miss them as babies.
There is something about this that warms him regardless of his beloved daughter turning traitor. Nuying is the most like Madame Yu in terms of temperament, but instead of hating Wei Wuxian she loves him, he’s her favorite, and he doesn’t know if means anything to Wei Wuxian, but it means something to him.
Lan Sizhui is the eldest of the cousins while Lan Suyin is the youngest. They both have a complex about it, which Jiang Cheng thinks is only fair. If Wei Wuxian’s kids stay entirely perfect forever Jiang Cheng is going to go grey at the unfairness of it all.
Truly the kids are all close enough in age that it’s no wonder that people think they really did plan it that way. Unfortunately, they’re all sect heirs, and one day in the future the Nie are going to be only ones who can get away with pretending to have any dignity. Not that they will have any, because Mianmian’s daughter is clever and strong and loves causing mischief, but she can pull an innocent face so convincing that she must have learned it from her Uncle Yao. Or her Aunt Meng, or her Uncle Nie, and really, no one should be surprised at how this kid is turning out. Not technically being part of The Cousins, as they are rather notoriously known through the sects, doesn’t mean Nie Mianmian isn’t close and beloved and included in their ridiculous group. It does mean that she has plausible deniability.
Jiang Cheng thinks those may have even been her first words. He also sometimes wonders if he should start calling Mianmian her actual name, since now her daughter and hers are the same. But Wei Wuxian still calls her Mianmian, even during official events where he should really call her Madame Nie, which is all it takes for the rest of them to do the same.
“Should we do something about that?” Wei Wuxian asks, leaning against Lan Wangji’s side and gesturing to the squabbling children. They’re far too old for it to be cute. They’re nearly adults.
A-jie smiles serenely and says, “No.” Jin Zixuan snorts but doesn’t protest.
“It’s good for them to get their energy out now,” Wen Ning says.
“It’s good for us for them to get their energy out now,” A-Qing corrects.
Wen Ning nods, eyes wide. “Yes.”
There’s a particularly loud screech and they look over at the commotion.
“Just because you’re the first disciple in the Lan doesn’t mean I won’t push you into the lotus pond,” Jin Ling threatens loudly. “You’re my cousin, it really doesn’t matter. You could be the Lan Sect Leader and when you’re in Lotus Pier you’re still getting pushed into the pond.”
“Jingyi is going to be the Lan sect leader, not me,” Lan Sizhui retorts, staying just out of reach. “Whereas you are going to be the Jin sect leader one day, so maybe if anyone should be acting with a little more dignity, it should be you.”
“You!” He scowls and turns to Jin Wen and Jin Xia, demanding, “Are you going to let him talk to your older brother like this? You’re so unfilial!”
They glance at each other, shrug, and go running. Lan Sizhui tries to scramble out of the way, but they change direction at the last second, pushing Jin Ling over into the water. He howls, using cultivation trained instincts to grab the front of both their robes and drag them in with him.
A-jie sighs. Jin Zixuan tries to look like he doesn’t want to laugh.
Ninghong and Nuying are smiling as they come over. Lan Sizhui isn’t a fool and keeps his distance. No one seems to notice Lan Suyin slowly creeping closer. “As the future sect leader of the Jiang,” Ninghong announces, “no one is going to be pushing anyone into any ponds.”
Nuying’s eyes light up and Jiang Cheng isn’t even a little bit surprised when she twists and pushes her sister into the pond. Ninghong shouts, ensuring she gets a mouthful of pond water for her trouble. The Jin siblings swim a little bit back to get out of range although they of course stay in the pond. Getting back out after being pushed in goes against the spirit of the game.
Kind, gentle Lan Sizhui waits until Nuying is distracted by laughing at her sister’s outrage to dart towards her and shove her forward, quickly getting out of grabbing range as she stumbles and falls on top of her sister in the pond. Lan Wangji winces. Or the skin near his left eye tightens briefly, which is the same thing.
“Do not feel bad, my young cousins,” he says in a ridiculous, pompous voice that Jiang Cheng knows is just him imitating Lan Jingyi at his most obnoxious. Lan Jingyi, an official member of The Cousins even though neither of his parents is a Jiang sibling, is currently on a nighthunt with his father. Lan Sizhui has been doing his best to pretend like he’s not sulking that he hadn’t been able to go too, which is probably why he let himself get goaded into this to begin with. “I am older, and wiser, and one day you too will – AH!”
There’s a splash and delighted, mocking laughter from the rest of them as Lan Sizhui comes to the surface, sputtering as he pushes his hair from his face.
“Suyin wins,” Lan Suyin says smugly.
Her smugness only lasts until her cousins and brother pull themselves soaking wet onto the pier and give chase. The kids all disappear around the corner, Suyin’s delighted shrieks echoing around them, and then several thumps and someone’s very much not delighted groan. He thinks it might be Li Jun, but usually he’s quick enough to avoid the kids on a rampage.
“That would have all been very forbidden in Cloud Recesses,” Jin Zixuan says, lips twitching.
Lan Wangji sighs. “We are not in Cloud Recesses.”
Wei Wuxian snorts, then shifts so that really, it would just be less embarrassing for everyone if he just sat in Lan Wangji’s lap rather than draping and curling himself all over him like this. “Lan Qiren says he’s writing a new set of rules just for The Cousins. I can’t tell if he’s joking.”
“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji says gravely, “you know that Uncle does not joke.”
That wasn’t a joke either, but it still makes them all laugh.
Jiang Cheng doesn’t make note of the date. Even if he had, he wouldn’t have thought anything about it.
Which means he’s not expecting it when his brother bursts into his room in the middle of the night, especially since he’s supposed to be in Cloud Recesses. He’s shifted to place himself in front of A-Qing and Zidian is sparking to life before he realizes who it is and then he’s just confused, the adrenaline spike receding and leaving him exhausted. “Wei Wuxian, what the fuck is going on?”
A-Qing has pushed herself upright in bed besides him, calm as always, even with this.
Wei Wuxian is shaking, tears falling down his face, and Jiang Cheng goes cold. “What’s wrong? Who’s hurt?” Anything that can devastate his brother like this is going to be equally devastating to him.
He lunges for him, pressing his face into Jiang Cheng’s chest, and he’s so confused but he wraps his arms around his shoulders, letting his brother curl into him. He’s freezing. He must have flown here. “Nothing,” he hiccups, “no one’s hurt. Sorry. It’s fine. It’s,” he shakes his head and holds Jiang Cheng tighter and then laugh, but it sounds a touch hysterical. “It’s just a nightmare.”
A-Qing frowns and reaches out to rub Wei Wuxian’s back. He shudders but doesn’t flinch away from her touch and she says, “I’m going to go make some tea,” in a heavy sort of way that implies she’ll be busy making tea for far longer than she’ll need to be.
He nods his thanks and waits until she’s closed the door behind her. “A-Xian. What’s wrong?”
“You did it,” he says quietly, taking several deep breates to calm himself down. “I was so scared, but you really did it. I can’t believe it even worked. I was half mad when I wrote that spell. What were you thinking?”
Jiang Cheng can’t breathe. He loves his brother. He loves his brother in any and every timeline, but the idea that he’s lost the one he’s lived with for nearly twenty years is terrifying. Grief claws at his chest and his lips are numb when he asks, “Is he gone?”
How will he explain this to anyone? To their family, to Wei Wuxian’s husband, to the son he barely got the chance to raise the first time around and the daughter he’s never met?
Wei Wuxian is a genius. The question doesn’t really make sense, but he understands anyway, and then he’s pulling back enough to cup Jiang Cheng’s face, using his thumb to brush tears from his cheeks that he hadn’t even realized he’d been crying. “Oh, A-Cheng.” That’s enough. Relief makes his legs weak, until they shift so it’s Wei Wuxian keeping him upright. The Wei Wuxian of the old timeline would never call him A-Cheng even if he’d wanted to. “Fuck, sorry, I didn’t – no. I just, it’s just some bleed through from the spell, now that time has caught up with itself. You used my golden core for this and I was the focal point, of course there was blowback.” He laughs and this time it sounds closer to normal. “I thought it was a nightmare, but I was awake and it was all a little too vivid for that.”
“I’m sorry,” he says, and this is better, his brother isn’t gone, but it still hurts. Wei Wuxian still has to remember how everyone turned against him. How they killed the people he wanted to protect. How they’d killed him. How Jiang Cheng had killed him. “I wanted – I didn’t want you to have to – I wanted a better life. For all of us.”
“You gave us one,” Wei Wuxian says. “I don’t mind remembering. Hasn’t it been lonely for you? Being the only one who knew how things used to be?”
Yes. But compared to the loneliness of before, when he’d only had Jin Ling, it hadn’t mattered much. He has so much more now than he’s ever had. If he has nightmares he can’t explain to anyone, if things make him sad for no reason that the people around him understand, well, they did go through a war. “It doesn’t matter.”
“It matters to me,” Wei Wuxian says. “Did you ever tell anyone?”
He snorts and shakes his head. “Why would I? To tell them they used to be miserable or dead?”
“A-Cheng,” he sighs, scolding and fond.
“Are you going to tell Lan Wangji?” he challenges. “Are you going to tell him of how he mourned you every day for sixteen years and raised your son alone? That every day you’ve spent together this time is a day you spent apart before?”
Wei Wuxian’s breath hitches. “I’m – he’s going to need an explanation about why I flew through the night to get here, because I certainly didn’t give him one before I left. But I might be, ah, not so detailed, maybe. But you shouldn’t have had to deal with this alone.”
“I wasn’t,” he says, and he means it. He hadn’t been alone from second he’d returned, crouching next to Lan Wangji and watching his brother through a broken roof. He’d had Wei Wuxian, and A-jie, and so many others, and this time he’d gotten to keep them. “Besides, even if I was, you’re here now.”
Wei Wuxian smiles, soft and warm. “Yeah. I am.” He pulls him into another hug, this one not crushing, and Jiang Cheng huffs but it’s lost a bit in the way he hugs him back. “Jiang Cheng. You did a good job, a far better one than I could have.”
“Shut up,” he says, hating how it comes out choked.
Wei Wuxian laughs, looking at him like he did when they were kids getting in trouble at Cloud Recesses, and how he’d looked at him in that temple when Jiang Cheng had first yelled at him about his golden core, and how he looks at him every time their children get into another fight at dinner. So many things have changed, but how his brother loves him hasn’t, and if he’d had to change the world so it was a place where his brother’s love was something he got to keep, well.
Being a Jiang means attempting the impossible, after all.