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The Irrawaddy Dolphin's Family

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Huaisang has always operated under the philosophy of live and let live. He considers himself relatively open-minded. Certainly he is more open-minded than da-ge, or any of the other Irrawaddy dolphins back home. But he realizes that that’s not saying much, after all—after all, they were all against Huaisang’s relationship with a dugong, and they’re both marine mammals.

(Okay, fine, the fact that Huaisang needs to visit freshwater territory now and then and Jiang Cheng feels wrong in freshwater has been a…challenge. But it’s been a challenge they’ve been able to overcome together.)

Huaisang tries not to stare at the odd couple, but it’s disturbingly hard not to.

“What do you make of that, A-Cheng?” he asks.

“Mm?” A-Cheng doesn’t even have to look. “That’s Xichen-ge. My stupid brother’s stupid husband’s brother.”

Huaisang knows both Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji, and neither of them are stupid, so he assumes that the absence of the adjective on this Xichen-ge’s name is a ringing endorsement of his character. Which makes sense.

“I mean,” Huaisang starts, then hesitates. “I mean…that situation.”

Jiang Cheng blinks his eyes open and stares at Huaisang.

“Are you judging them?” he asks.

“Of course not,” sniffs Huaisang. “I don’t judge people.”

“You are,” says Jiang Cheng, with a strange note of glee in his voice. “You’re judging Xichen-ge for being with a land-mammal!”

“Why are you so excited?” huffs Huaisang, and bites back a comment about it feeling like opposite day.

“I’m sorry,” says Jiang Cheng, and brushes his body alongside Huaisang in a full-body nuzzle. “It’s just, you seem to have everything figured out sometimes. It’s nice to see that you struggle too, sometimes.”

Huaisang looks at Jiang Cheng helplessly.

“Why aren’t you struggling?” demands Huaisang. “It’s a land mammal. In the ocean.”

“You’re a freshwater dolphin in the ocean,” says Jiang Cheng calmly. He sounds amused.

“I was never fully freshwater, and I still visit freshwater when I need to,” huffs Huaisang.

“And I assume Meng Yao visits land when he needs to as well,” says Jiang Cheng. “I don’t know if there’s anything he can eat hereabouts.”

“But what if he falls into the water?” demands Huaisang. “Can he even swim?”

“Why don’t you come with me next time I go visit my brother,” says Jiang Cheng. “Then you can meet him yourself.”

Huaisang freezes. “You’re inviting me to visit Wei Wuxian with you?”

Jiang Cheng averts his eyes, looking suddenly…ashamed? But why? “Sorry. It just came out, I know you don’t—”

“No, wait,” Huaisang says hastily. “You…you’d be okay with me visiting Wei Wuxian with you?”

“Of course,” blinks Jiang Cheng. “Huaisang, you’re my life partner. If you want to be with me, I want you with me everywhere I go.”

“A-Cheng,” gasps Huaisang, diving headfirst into the space between Jiang Cheng and the ocean floor, pressing into Jiang Cheng. “I thought…you never invited me, and I thought…”

“I didn’t know you wanted to be invited,” says Jiang Cheng, pressing back. “I’d have invited you from the very start, if I’d known. I thought…because we can’t visit your family…”

“You complete nimrod,” says Huaisang. “I want to be with you everywhere you go, too.”

“Except when you need to go into the freshwater,” cautions Jiang Cheng. “That’s non-negotiable. I don’t want you to get sick. Ever.”

“Boo,” says Huaisang, but he’s too full of joy to feel it.


The very next day, Huaisang returns from his compulsory de-salting trip upriver to join Jiang Cheng’s family get-together for the very first time.

“It’s so lovely to finally meet you,” says the dugong that Huaisang now knows to be Xichen-ge. “We’ve heard so much about you.”

“Only good things, I hope,” says Huaisang. The creature beside Xichen-ge is glaring at him, so he knows it’s too late to hide the staring. He stares back unabashedly instead.

“It’s like you’ve never seen a chevrotain before,” says the land-mammal in the banana leaf boat.

“I honestly hadn’t,” says Huaisang bluntly. “Is that what you’re called?”

“I prefer mouse-deer,” says the creature.

“Can you swim?” asks Huaisang.

“No, if you must know,” sniffs the creature.

“But it’s perfectly safe,” says Xichen-ge. “A-Yao is very good at managing his boat, and I’m always there to catch him if he ever capsizes.”

“How did you meet?” asks Huaisang.

“How did you?” counters the mouse-deer known as A-Yao. “You’re a freshwater species, aren’t you?”

“Only part-time,” says Huaisang. “But my whole family was against the match. I chose A-Cheng anyway. He’s the best thing.”

“Xichen-ge is the best thing,” says A-Yao haughtily. “But I excuse your ignorance. Xichen-ge isn’t on the market, after all.”

“But seriously, how did you meet?”

“I surfaced one day when A-Yao was on the coast. We took one look at each other, and we knew.”

“Love at first sight,” sighs Huaisang wistfully, and when Jiang Cheng gives a skeptical snort beside him, he nudges him with his tail. “So what did you do? Jump straight into the water?”

“Is this antagonism?” asks Wei Wuxian, looking nervously back and forth between A-Yao and Huaisang. “Are you teasing each other in a friendly way or an antagonistic way? I honestly can’t tell if you’re making friends or becoming enemies.”

“Yes,” say A-Yao and Huaisang as one, and then they look back at each other and blink.

There is a kinship formed then, deep and immediate.

“Seriously, though, how did you make the boat?” asks Huaisang. “I’ve seen banana trees, and the leaves don’t look like that.”

“I have a friend who’s a silvery lutung,” says A-Yao. “She has opposable thumbs.”

“She has what?” gasps Huaisang. “Can I be her friend too?”

“She’s very choosy in the company she keeps,” says A-Yao. “And she won’t come out on a boat.”

“I’ll go to the coast to meet her, if she wants!” says Huaisang. “Can she make necklaces? I’ve always wanted to try a necklace.”

“You don’t have anywhere for the necklace to stop,” says A-Yao. “It would just be a hoop that would fall right off of you the moment you tried to move at all.”

“You don’t know that,” says Huaisang. “You don’t have opposable thumbs.”

“But I have a brain capable of basic reasoning skills.”

“And I have an imagination,” counters Huaisang.

“A-Sang, should we…leave, maybe?” asks Jiang Cheng.

“No!” snap Huaisang and A-Yao.

“I think they’re friends,” says Wei Wuxian in a far-too-loud stage whisper.

“I’m so glad to see A-Yao having fun,” sighs Xichen-ge.

“I just wanted a peaceful, quiet life,” laments Jiang Cheng.

“Mn,” agrees Lan Wangji.

Huaisang is aware of all of this, but he’s having too much fun waging verbal war with A-Yao to care.

Family is the best.