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Much Ado About Food

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Jiang Cheng watches Wei Wuxian break Lan Wangji’s heart for the fifth time that week, and feels enough rage inside him that he wonders if the arctic ice hasn’t been melting these past few years by the sheer heat of his own rage.

He mentions this to Huaisang in passing.

“Your anger isn’t causing global warming,” says Huaisang soothingly. “I don’t know what is, I’ll grant that much, but I’m absolutely positively certain that it’s not you or your rage.”

“I feel like you’re missing my point,” grumbles Jiang Cheng, but Huaisang’s deliberate missing of the point has calmed him down and they both know it.

“It’s not your fault if Wei-xiong has no idea how to be courted,” says Huaisang.

“But it’s not just him,” says Jiang Cheng, his whistles pitched low enough that only Huaisang can hear him. “They both are idiots.”

“I agree with you,” says Huaisang, rubbing himself comfortingly along Jiang Cheng’s side in a way that compels him to nuzzle the smaller dolphin’s head when it’s in reach. Huaisang nuzzles back, and Jiang Cheng feels some of the righteous fury slip away.

“I saw you eating rocks the other day,” says Wei Wuxian, loud enough that Jiang Cheng and Huaisang’s attention is drawn back to the conversation that really by all rights out to be taking place too far away to eavesdrop. But then again, Wei Wuxian has always been loud, even for a beluga.

They can’t make out Lan Wangji’s reply, but it seems patently obvious that he will be pointing out that he doesn’t eat rocks on purpose. It’s just a thing that happens sometimes when one feeds near the ocean floor.

“It’s like he’s forgotten that we’ve both seen him eat rocks when he tries to eat off the sea floor, too,” mutters Jiang Cheng.

“A-Cheng, you know Wei-xiong isn’t that self-aware,” says Huaisang, and Jiang Cheng can only give an irritated whistle of agreement.

“Come with us, we’re going to go find some nice rose fish to eat,” says Wei Wuixan, far too loudly, with far too much enthusiasm.

“When he says us, is he including the two of us?” asks Jiang Cheng.

“It’s that or you and your sister,” says Huaisang cheerfully.

“So I’m included either way? Why does he think he can just invite Lan Wangji along? Why don’t we get a say? I don’t like Lan Wangji, and I’m almost positive he doesn’t like me.”

“Hm,” Huaisang whistles quietly, with an air of knowing amusement.

“What?” glares Jiang Cheng.

“You know that even if Wei-xiong ends up with a narwhal, he’ll still always love you? Families don’t just break apart because one person found a life partner.”

“Some do,” Jiang Cheng argues, to hide how uncomfortably perceived he feels.

“Hm,” says Huaisang. “True enough. But I can’t see you and Wei-xiong going that route.”

Jiang Cheng bites back a retort as Wei Wuxian turns away from the narwhal, who is as unreadable as ever, and yet his dejectedness is somehow perceivable in the set of his body—in the way that he almost tries to make after Wei Wuxian before pulling back. It’s subtle, but Jiang Cheng and Huaisang have been watching them for months.

“He won’t come and eat with us,” whistles Wei Wuxian with fake cheer. “So let’s go have a rose fish feast!”

“I’m not in the mood for rose fish,” grumbles Jiang Cheng, glaring at Wei Wuxian with all his might.

“Okay, then whatever you are in the mood for. Just as long as it’s not shrimp or squid or cuttlefish or rocks.”

“How about we just go for a nice swim and see what looks good?” suggests Huaisang, and his cheer is also fake, but it only makes Jiang Cheng want to cuddle up to his side rather than bodyslam him the way Wei Wuxian’s fake cheer makes him want to do.

Jiang Cheng settles for cuddling up to Huaisang and glaring at Wei Wuxian.

“I like how you think,” says Wei Wuxian, eyeing Jaing Cheng warily. “But can you explain to me why Jiang Cheng looks like he wants to murder me?”

“Hm,” says Huaisang, and takes so long to respond that Jiang Cheng begins to feel mildly alarmed. “I think he’s got this thing where it bothers him to sit back and watch while somebody else makes decisions that go against their best interest.”

“Oh, that does sound frustrating,” says Wei Wuxian. “But Huaisang, he’s glaring at me.”

“Yes,” says Huaisang placably. “He is.”

“What am I doing that goes against my best interest?” Wei Wuxian’s whistles have pitched so loud that in the distance behind him, Jiang Cheng can hear more than see Lan Wangji turn around and head back towards them, as if drawn by the sound of Wei Wuxian’s distress.

“Who said anything about it being you?” asks Huaisang.

“You implied it. Very heavy-handedly.” Wei Wuxian’s tone brooks no arguments. Jiang Cheng can hear Lan Wangji drawing closer.

“Maybe we should just go eat,” he tries suggesting.

“Why are you trying to change the subject?” asks Wei Wuxian, and now his wide, concerned eyes are on Jiang Cheng instead. “A-Cheng, you always used to bodyslam me and try to drown me when you were mad at me, and now you just go sullen and silent? I don’t like it.”

“I’m not mad at you,” snaps Jiang Cheng. “Also you’re so much bigger than me now. Bodyslamming you would hurt me more than you.”

“Huh,” says Wei Wuxian, and looks him up and down. “Okay, fair enough. But I call lies that you’re not mad, you are definitely mad. At me.”

“Why are you mad at Wei Ying?” asks Lan Wangji, who has apparently reached conversation distance of them. There is an undercurrent of danger in his voice.

Jiang Cheng eyes the sharp, pointed horn and tries not to let his terror show. If Lan Wangji decided to skewer him, he wouldn’t stand a chance.

“No reason,” lies Jiang Cheng.

“We’re all about to go eat something,” says Huaisang. “Why don’t you come with us?”

Lan Wangji freezes. “I…only eat very particular things.”

“Yes,” nods Huaisang, leaving Jiang Cheng’s side to swim a little closer to him. Jiang Cheng feels the cold water fill the space where Huaisang ought to be, and has to hold himself back from following at once. “Like squid and cuttlefish and shrimp. I’ve heard.”

“Yes,” says Lan Wangji, hanging his head.

“But how about cod and halibut?” suggests Huaisang.

“He doesn’t eat normal fish, Huaisang,” says Wei Wuxian at the same time as Lan Wangji says, “Yes, I eat those.”

“Wait,” Wei Wuxian wheels around to stare at Lan Wangji. “You do?

“Yes,” says Lan Wangji, turning his head carefully to avoid knocking anyone with his horn.

“Then do you also eat rose fish? Salmon? Sole?”

“Those…not really,” confesses Lan Wangji solemnly, and there is a terrible sort of grief in his eyes that makes Jiang Cheng want to hit something with his tail.

“Lan-xiong,” says Huaisang, and now there is a note in his voice that Jiang Cheng finds vaguely terrifying, “I think you should tell Wei-xiong why you want him to come home with you.”

“But…I have,” says Lan Wangji. He sounds so earnest. It makes Jiang Cheng’s teeth ache.

“Wei-xiong,” says Huaisang instead of answering, “why do you think Lan-xiong keeps asking you to come home with him?”

“Because he disapproves of my food choices, obviously,” grumbles Wei Wuxian, flipping upside down as if to work off his irritation with a quick upside-down swim around them. “He thinks that he can put me back on the straight and narrow by dragging me back to his boring narwhal world, or whatever.”

“Wei Ying,” says Lan Wangji, and he sounds devastated now, in a way that even Jiang Cheng can read.

Huaisang swims backwards, away from the beluga and the narwhal, until he’s pressed back into Jiang Cheng’s side in a supportive, comforting gesture.

He can’t talk without the pair hearing, but he nuzzles Jiang Cheng in a way that says, It’ll be okay. Just let this play out, now.

So Jiang Cheng watches as Lan Wangji gathers the words, slowly and carefully.

“I want your company,” says Lan Wangji. “I want…to keep you safe, if and when you would allow me to. I do not…I have never wanted to restrict your freedom.”

Wei Wuxian is gaping at him.

“But you…you won’t eat any of the food I bring you! Not even that flounder that one time!”

“It does not agree with my stomach,” says Lan Wangji. “But if it would make you happy—”

“Nononono,” interrupts Wei Wuxian, swimming at Lan Wangji with such force that both Huaisang and Jiang Cheng flinch as he nearly impales himself on Lan Wangji’s horn, which the narwhal moves out of the way with a head tilt just in time. “I thought—I thought you were rejecting me!

“I would never reject Wei Ying,” says Lan Wangji, like a vow. Which it probably is, to him. “Had I known you took that as a rejection, I would have eaten the flounder.”

“No!” cries Wei Wuxian. “No, I don’t want to make you sick. I just thought—no, never mind what I thought. Do you really want me around? Even if I don’t like your food, and I only eat things that you can’t eat?”

“I really want you around,” says Lan Wangji. “Even if anything.”

Wei Wuxian flips upside down to press himself against Lan Wangi in a way that is obscene.

Wei Wuxian,” snaps Jiang Cheng. “We are still here!

“Ah,” says Wei Wuxian, and blinks at Jiang Cheng for a moment, as if trying to puzzle out what the problem might be. “Oh,” he says at last, but doesn’t flip back around. “We’re not doing anything. It’s just like you and Huaisang are cuddling right now.”

“It patently is not,” says Jiang Cheng.

“Yeah, I’ve got to agree with A-Cheng here,” says Huaisang.

Lan Wangji is either too mortified or too something-else-Jiang-Cheng-doesn’t-even-want-to-think-about-ew to say anything at all. Or possibly he is simply love-struck, given the way he is staring at Wei Wuxian, like he is the ocean itself.

“Anyway,” says Wei Wuxian, “Maybe we can go for food together another time? I think Lan Zhan and I need to talk. And stuff.”

“Yep, I think that sounds like a good idea,” says Huiasang, and presses into Jiang Cheng’s side to steer him away from the pair.

Jiang Cheng lets himself be steered, and follows Huaisang’s lead until they are a safe distance away.

“What happened to non-interference?” he asks Huaisang at last. “That was your rule.”

“Hm,” says Huaisang, cuddling closer into Jiang Cheng’s side. “I guess my policy is non-interference until it hurts somebody I care about.”

“I wasn’t hurting,” says Jiang Cheng.

And to his credit, Huaisang doesn’t argue. He simply raises his head for another nuzzle.

“A-Cheng,” he says, gently, after another long, silent nuzzling. “Changes aren’t endings.”

“Sometimes they are.”

“True. But I’ll be here with you, for what it’s worth.”

And Jiang Cheng can only nuzzle back into Huaisang at that, feeling safe, and loved, and cared for.

“Shall we go see your sister and A-Ling?” suggests Huaisang.

“Yes, please,” says Jiang Cheng.

And so they go, side-by-side, to visit Jiejie and her stupid orca husband who have given Jiang Cheng the cutest orca nephew—to the people who have proven to Jiang Cheng that changes can enhance rather than diminish the family.

There’s never any telling where they are—they travel extensively—but Huaisang seems to have a gift for figuring out the right general direction, and contacting them. If Jiang Cheng didn’t know better, he would guess that Huaisang must have a network of fish contacts to keep him abreast of anything and everything he wants to know.

“A-Sang,” he says as they swim together.

“Hm?”

“Thank you.”

He doesn’t say what for. But the delight on Huaisang’s face, the affection there, tells him he doesn’t have to.