Nie Huaisang's studio door is always open. He likes it that way - he's in his private space but he's never alone. He can always hear Jiang Cheng moving around the house. It's comfortable, safe. The only times Huaisang ever really closes it is whenever Jin Ling is around and his current piece is not fit for a kid's eyes. Although on those times he just ends up taking a break, deciding to continue his work the next day instead, and join in on the babysitting.
Today his studio door is open and he's sitting on the floor as he works on his piece when he hears the pitter patter of little feet from behind him. He looks back to see Jin Ling standing just a step short from the mess of fabric, ribbons, beads and other materials scattered around him.
He’s always an energetic kid, but he listens to Jiang Cheng and Jiang Cheng always says “Do not disturb Huaisang-gege when he’s working.” and Jin Ling takes that to heart, looking down to make sure he’s not stepping on anything.
“Hello, A-Ling.” Huaisang greets gently, smiling.
“Gege,” the child says, then looks up at Huaisang’s work. “What are you making?”
“Well… it’s a dress.” Huaisang says, leaning back to look at the piece that is looking less of a dress and more of a sculpture. He’s put a lot of work in it, all giant ruffles and geometric shapes from afar, and then captivating little details if you look closer. He’s doing the embroidery and the intricate beading by hand. He’s almost at the hem now.
Jin Ling’s nose scrunches, which reminds Huaisang of the boy’s uncle so much he had to keep himself from giggling. “You can wear that?”
He chuckles, looking down to finish the stitch he had stopped making midway to address his young guest. “Well, it’s not my dress, actually. A friend asked me to make it for her. You know that’s my job, right? I make clothes?”
The boy shakes his head, frowning. “Jiujiu said you make paintings. But when you go out it’s because you’re getting your pictures taken and put in the magazines and it makes people who read the magazines want to buy stuff because you look nice.” Jin Ling recites.
Huh. Somehow Nie Huaisang never thought that it was Jiang Cheng who told Jin Ling what he does, but that makes sense. Also, it was a very good explanation. His housemate really is gonna win that Best Uncle award effortlessly.
He reaches out to set aside the little trays of beads and ribbons to make a path for the child, then gestures for him to come closer. Jin Ling goes, plopping himself down on the man’s lap. Huaisang just continues his work, child in his lap and all.
“You know how people ask me to make paintings because they want to have that one special painting that’s just for them?”
“Yeah.” Jin Ling says, watching the man’s hands work, beading and embroidering an intricate design.
“Well, sometimes someone needs one special dress that’s just for them. And I happen to know how to make dresses-”
“Yup. I studied it in school.”
“So it’s one of my jobs too. To make special dresses.”
“You have many jobs.”
That makes him laugh for real. “I like to do many things!” Then he draws the cloth away a bit so he can look at it properly. “What do you think? Pretty?”
Jin Ling squints at the design. “Yeah.” he says as he reaches out to poke at some of the beads. “It’s shiny.” Then he looks up again. “How big is your friend? Is she strong? She can really wear this? It’s so big. Mama’s dresses are not big.”
Huaisang giggles. “Oh no, she’s only a little taller than me.”
“She’s not big, then.”
“No, not very big. But this dress is not as heavy as it looks, you know. Like cotton candy! Right? Cotton candy’s big but it’s not heavy.”
Jin Ling nods, solemn. “Yeah…”
“And she won’t wear it everyday. Only in a really fancy party.”
“Like for Halloween?”
“Yeah. Like for Halloween.”
Jin Ling nods again, patting the big, fluffy skirt carefully. “Can you sit? How do you sit?”
Huaisang smiles. “Carefully. In a big chair.”
“Big chair. Cool.”
They get interrupted with a short knock on the open door, and both turn to look at Jiang Cheng, frowning sternly. “Jin Ling, what did I say about not disturbing people when they’re working?”
Huaisang waves him off with an easy smile. “Ah! A-Cheng, it’s fine! I needed a break. A-Ling didn’t disturb me at all.”
Jin Ling, reassured by that, perks up and says, “Jiujiu, look, this dress is so big and shiny!”
Jiang Cheng walks inside, also careful not to step on any of Huaisang’s big and shiny dressmaking supplies. “It is big and shiny.” he concedes. To his housemate, he says, “It looks great.”
Huaisang beams. “Thank you! I can’t feel my fingers.”
Jiang Cheng only shakes his head. “C’mon, A-Ling. Your dad will be here soon. You gotta clean up your toys.”
“Yes, jiujiu.” Jin Ling says, getting up. “Bye, Huaisang-gege.”
“Bye, A-Ling.” Huaisang says. “Say hi to your Mama for me.”
“Okay.” The boy only nods and lets his uncle pick him up. Jiang Cheng turns to Huaisang as he props the kid up in his arms. “And you - take a break. Rest your hands.”
Huaisang grins up at him. “Yes, jiujiu.” Jing Ling giggles.
“No.” is all Jiang Cheng says as he leaves the room.
Nie Huaisang laughs as he re-organizes his working area, but as instructed, he doesn’t go back to work right away, resting his hands as he studies his work in progress. “Big and shiny." he mumbles, a smile tugging on his lips. "That's the kind of critique we all want.”
The next time Jin Ling visits, he beelines towards Huaisang's studio. Nie Huaisang looks up from sketching on his tablet to see the boy looking around.
"It's not here anymore."
Huaisang puts his pen down. "You mean the big shiny dress?" The boy nods. "I finished it a while back, it's with my friend now."
Huaisang takes in the child's slightly disappointed look and smiles. "I have pictures of her. You wanna see?"
Jin Ling eagerly pads towards him, backpack and all, and stands on his tiptoes as Huaisang takes his phone out and then shows him the photos. The child blinks. “She looks like a fairy.”
“She does, does she?” Huaisang says, swiping to another picture. The same model and dress from another angle. “You like it?”
“Yeah, it’s cool.” Jin Ling nods, grinning. Then he jumps when he hears his uncle’s voice.
“Jin Ling! Where should we put our shoes after taking them off? You’re not supposed to just go running off-” Jiang Cheng stops short by the doorway, looking at his nephew who had rushed to hide behind Huaisang’s arm. He sighs.
“I’m sorry, jiujiu.” Jin Ling says, visibly guilty.
Huaisang smiles, patting the boy’s head. “It’s fine, A-Cheng. I was just sketching.”
“Still.” Jiang Cheng frowns. “If you don’t mind your manners and keep disturbing Huaisang while he’s working, you will not be allowed in the studio anymore. Do you want that?”
“No, jiujiu! I just wanted to ask Huaisang-gege to help with my homework!”
Jiang Cheng raises an eyebrow, unimpressed. “Your homework.”
At that, Jin Ling slips off his backpack, unzips it and rummages through his things, then takes out what looks like a little plastic toolbox, practically shoving it on Nie Huaisang’s lap.
“Oh!” Huaisang blinks, picking up the box and then beaming at his housemate. “Look, A-Cheng! A-Ling has beads!”
Jiang Cheng steps inside, brows furrowed now, but more curious than anything. “Beads?”
“Teacher said we should make something.” Jin Ling says. “Like a bracelet or stuff. Huaisang-gege knows how. Right? You have lots of beads.”
“I do have lots of beads.” Huaisang says, conveniently not saying that he has seed and bugle beads for embroidery, and not these big round plastic ones for… kid activities. “You wanna make bracelets?”
The boy nods. “Can we?”
“Hm… I don’t know…” Huaisang hums, looking thoughtful. “It’s up to your jiujiu.”
Jin Ling whirls around to look up at his uncle with big pleading eyes. “Jiujiu, can we?”
“Yeah, jiujiu, it’s for school.” Huaisang quips, also with big eyes, and Jiang Cheng knows it's on purpose.
He looks at them both, and finds it hard to keep his frown in place. This combination should be illegal. He just sighs again, shaking his head. “Fine. But first - Jin Ling, you left your shoes on the doorway. Where are they supposed to go?”
Jin Ling looks down. “The shoe rack.”
Jiang Cheng nods. “Well?”
And the boy seems to get it, as he nods and rushes out of the room. “Okay, jiujiu!”
“Very strict, jiujiu.” Huaisang teases as he stands up, still holding the box of assorted, colorful beads. It looks brand new. It probably is, knowing Jin Zixuan.
“Hey, I’m letting him play and do whatever he wants here, but he needs to learn proper manners when he’s in someone else’s house. That means not leaving his stuff all over the place for someone to trip over them.” Jiang Cheng says, picking up his nephew’s discarded backpack from the floor. He eyes the box of beads in his housemate’s hand. “You’re gonna make bracelets, then? I know you have work.”
“It’s just bracelets.” Huaisang says, taking his housemate’s arm and pulling him towards the door. “Should be fun. You should join us!”
“I don’t really do beads.” Jiang Cheng shrugs. “I think I’ll just watch.”
“Okay, then. You’re missing out, though.” Huaisang grins, and then Jin Ling is tugging at his hand. He lets himself be dragged away by the child, both of them chattering excitedly.
Jiang Cheng doesn’t really do beads for accessories. He’s more the silver, leather and chains kind of guy. He watches idly from the couch as Nie Huaisang guides Jin Ling through cutting the right length of elastic string and then picking nice beads for it.
He never really thought they’d get along so well. Then again, he never had reason to think about it, it’s not like he really planned to have Nie Huaisang so prevalent in his life.
He’d always known that he’d be babysitting Jin Ling, of course - there’s no universe that exists where he’s not involved in helping his sister with her child, especially now that the band is on break. He and his brother spent the last couple of years doing gigs and concerts, but now he can make up for lost time.
But this thing with Huaisang just happened, and he’s grateful that his friend didn’t mind the fact that there would regularly be a kid around their house. In fact he actually seemed excited about it, and is now just as giddy whenever Jin Ling comes over.
And it’s not so bad, Jiang Cheng thinks. There’s stuff he’s not very good at, that he’s still getting the hang of, that Nie Huaisang always seems to be equipped for. Like coloring with big crayons... and cartoons and now… beads.
For a while, Jiang Cheng just settles on the couch with his tablet, scrolling through a music news blog, listening to his companions’ voices now and then. They’re talking about shapes and colors, and he grins to himself a bit when he hears Jin Ling passionately declare that it must be blue and green when Nie Huaisang gave him something yellow - which they both knew was the kid’s favorite color. Huh. Maybe he changed his favorite color. Kids.
And then Jin Ling says something that catches his attention.
“Bracelets are okay, right? It’s not… bad?”
“Okay? Um. Yeah, they’re okay. They’re not bad.”
“It’s okay for me to make them, right?”
“Of course it is! Why would you think it’s not okay, A-Ling?”
“Wen Chan said it’s for girls. I’m not a girl.”
Jiang Cheng frowns. Wen Chan? Whose kid was that, again? Wen Xu’s? He doesn’t remember but he knows it’s one of Wen Ning’s terrible cousins. He exchanges a look with Huaisang, who is about to say something, but is interrupted when Jing Ling starts talking again-
“But teacher-... Teacher said we can make anything we like!” the boy continues, frowning, visibly upset. “Then Zizhen said his sisters make bracelets to give to their friends so he’ll make a bracelet for me because I’m his best friend. So I said I’ll make for him too because he’s my best friend. But Wen Chan said only girls make bracelets. Or wear them.”
“A-Ling,” Nie Huaisang starts in his gentle voice. He pauses and waits for the boy to look at him before he continues. “I don’t know where your… friend… heard that, but-”
Jin Ling scowls. “Wen Chan is not my friend! He’s mean! He made Zizhen cry that one time-”
Huaisang’s eyes widen, and he hurries to raise his hands, appeasing. “Okay. Okay, I’m sorry. I didn’t know. I-...”
“A-Ling.” Jiang Cheng says, rising up from the couch and sitting on the floor with them, beside Nie Huaisang so they’re both facing the boy. “You don’t shout at your Huaisang-gege.” he says, stern but not scolding.
Jin Ling looks down, fiddling with the half-finished bracelet on his lap. “I’m sorry. I just- I don’t like him.”
“We know that now.” Jiang Cheng says, reaching over to pat his nephew’s head. “And anyway,” he pokes the boy’s nose, making him look up. “You shouldn’t listen to what he says. Because he’s mean, and he’s also wrong.”
“Yeah, boys make and wear bracelets too.” Nie Huaisang says. He looks at Jiang Cheng, who nods at him. “A-Ling, have you seen some of my pictures in the magazines?”
“...Yeah. Mama reads them and shows them to me sometimes.”
“So you’ve seen me wear dresses in some of them, then?”
“Mn.” Jin Ling nods. “Mama says you look nice.”
“I think I look nice, too. I like dresses. You’ve seen me making one, right? I wear them too sometimes. And I’m a boy. The same goes for bracelets. If you like them, it’s okay to make them and wear them.”
“So it’s okay that me and Zizhen are gonna make bracelets?”
“Of course.” Jiang Cheng answers. “You know, your Mama made scrunchies for me when we were younger. Your Huaisang-gege gives me jewelry all the time. Earrings. Bracelets. All sorts.”
“Really? ‘Cause he’s your best friend?”
He blinks, and when he glances beside him, at Nie Huaisang, the other man is looking at him with a little smile.
“Yeah.” Jiang Cheng concedes, looking at the kid again. “He’s my best friend.” Before Nie Huaisang can let out an annoyingly sweet and teasing ‘aww’ , he continues, “And really, it’s his job as the band’s stylist-”
At that, Jin Ling turns to Nie Huaisang with wide eyes. “Another job?”
Huaisang laughs. “I told you, I like to do many things! Bracelets and beads included!” He smiles softly when the boy only nods in amazement. “Tell you what, A-Ling, how about I give you one of my special beads so you could put it in this bracelet you’re making for your best friend?”
“Is it green? Or blue?” Jing Lings asks. “Zizhen likes them the most.”
“It’s green and blue, how do you like that?”
The boy’s eyes practically sparkle as he nods vigorously.
“Okay, let me get it.” Nie Huaisang says with a wink, and he stands up, using Jiang Cheng’s shoulder for leverage.
He doesn’t need to, but Jiang Cheng reaches up and places his hand on top of Huaisang’s on his shoulder. Just to steady him, Jiang Cheng tells himself, but he feels Huaisang’s hand turn over to squeeze his for a moment before the other lets go and jogs towards his studio.
“Jiujiu,” Jin Ling says, catching his attention. “What if Wen Chan makes fun of me? He always does it to everyone. He made fun of Zizhen’s paper flowers. They’re pretty and really cool! Only Zizhen can do them, ‘cause his sisters taught him!”
“What? That little-” Jiang Cheng stops himself just in time. He takes a deep breath. Wen Chan is a kid, he’s a product of his environment, and his environment is probably Wen Xu or Wen Chao or whoever terrible Wen cousin his parents are. The blame should be placed on the people raising him. He just shakes his head. “You shouldn’t believe any of the mean things he says, alright? And if he won’t stop being horrible, you should tell your teacher. Or your parents, or me and Huaisang-gege. Okay?”
“He’s probably just jealous he can’t make pretty flowers.” he scoffs as he grabs the roll of elastic string and starts measuring it against his own wrist. “Or there’s no one to make a nice bracelet for him.”
Jin Ling laughs, then blinks when he sees his uncle cut a length of string and then grab a bead. “Jiujiu, you’re gonna make a bracelet too?” he asks, eyes wide in excitement.
Jiang Cheng shrugs, nonchalant, but he spares the boy a little grin. “You think it’s okay?”
“Yeah.” The kid nods, and watches in wonder as his uncle assesses the beads in the tray and picks another one. He is smiling, and he looks relieved. “It’s okay. I have lots of beads. Mama says to always share.”
“Good. Always listen to your Mama.” Jiang Cheng smiles lightly. If he’d known how much it would mean for the boy to see him doing this, he would’ve done it sooner.
“Ah, A-Cheng, I thought you don’t do beads?” Nie Huaisang chimes in as he rejoins them.
“I don’t know where you heard that from.” Jiang Cheng says, narrowing his eyes in challenge at his housemate, who just laughs as he sits beside him.
“Of course, of course, I must have misheard.” Huaisang says, patting his arm. Then he finally turns to Jin Ling. “Okay, A-Ling, hold your hand out.”
Jin Ling obeys eagerly, and he gasps when a small item is placed on his palm. It’s see-through like glass, with flecks of shiny green and blue on the inside. He beams. “It’s so cool! Thank you, Huaisang-gege! Zizhen will like it!”
“You’re welcome.” Huaisang says, smiling back as Jin Ling adds the bead to his work in progress. He picks up his own abandoned work and reaches for a bead to add to his own.
Jiang Cheng leans sideways to whisper to him. “Please don’t tell me you gave him something expensive.”
Huaisang bumps shoulders with his housemate, whispering back. “Don’t worry, jiujiu, it’s just resin.”
Jiang Cheng sighs in relief, and goes back to picking beads. Nie Huaisang and Jin Ling are very serious about which ones they were going for, so he decides to be serious about that too.
He sees flower-shaped ones - they’re not lotuses, but close enough. No black, of course, so he picks purple. His signature color. There’s a shiny pink one that reminds him of his sister, so he picks that as well. He adds black and white beads, they’d look good with any color after all. And it doesn’t blend quite well, but he adds a single red one too.
Jin Ling’s work is all green and blue and white. They’re all different shapes and sizes, and some are a weird fit, but Jiang Cheng has met Ouyang Zizhen and he’s sure that kid will practically burst into tears when he gets that bracelet. He’s a very… expressive one.
Then he looks at Nie Huaisang’s work. A green heart - his signature green heart. The other beads are all shades of green and gold, with some clear ones arranged in a simple, elegant pattern. Leave it to him to make a legit product from a kid’s toy set.
They finish soon enough, and he watches Huaisang help Jin Ling finish off his masterpiece - tying the ends of the elastic securely together and cutting off the excess thread. The entire time, Jin Ling talks about hoping his friend Zizhen will like the bracelet he made.
Then the boy looks at them expectantly.
Jiang Cheng and Nie Huaisang share a look, both at a loss. After a few moments, Jiang Cheng asks, “What is it, A-Ling?”
Jin Ling blinks at them.”You’re not giving the bracelets?"
Both men blink back. Giving?
Then they look at each other, and it clicks.
They are friends.
They are making friendship bracelets .
They were supposed to exchange -
“Ah! Of course!” Nie Huaisang laughs, and he reaches over to take Jiang Cheng’s hand. “I, Nie Huaisang, take thee, Jiang Cheng to be my lawfully-friended… friend, to have and to bake cupcakes for-”
“Please don’t.” Jiang Cheng rolls his eyes, but lets the other slip the green-and-yellow bead bracelet around his wrist.
“But you love my baking!” Huaisang just pouts cutely, which Jiang Cheng ignores in favor of putting his own handmade bracelet on the other’s wrist.
“Doesn’t mean it’s good.” he replies automatically. The bracelet is a bit loose on Huaisang’s tiny wrist - but they can fix that later.
Together they present their bracelets to Jin Ling. Huaisang beams. “Ta-da! What do you think, A-Ling? Good, right? We match!”
The boy beams back, nodding. “Yeah! It looks good!”
“So?” Huaisang says, leaning forward a bit, eyeing the bracelet that Jin Ling is holding close to his chest. “You’re gonna give that to your friend? Do you want to wrap it like a special little present?”
“Like with a ribbon?”
“Mm-hm, like with a ribbon.”
Jiang Cheng only shakes his head as he watches them, already busy rummaging through Jin Ling’s bag for paper and crayons. He checks the time. “Alright, you guys get wrapping, I have to go get started on dinner.”
“Yes, jiujiu.” both of them answer, already focused on their new mission.
Jiang Cheng doesn’t know what comes over him, but there’s a sudden warmth in his chest, a sudden surge of affection, and before he could stop to think about it, he pulls Nie Huaisang into a quick side hug, while with his free arm he reaches out to ruffle Jin Ling’s hair.
When he stands up, they’re both looking at him. It lasts for a second, and then they go back to what they were doing, as if nothing happened.
Jin Ling says something about making more bracelets.
“For Mama and Baba, and shushu, and Fairy- Gege, you can make more too!”
“Oh, um, my other friends are away right now, though… but maybe my da-ge would like one?”
Jiang Cheng makes his way to the kitchen, tugging lightly at the bracelet on his wrist. It’s a bit too tight, but he looks down at it and smiles. He’ll ask Huaisang to fix it later.
He opens the cupboard. He has a dinner to make.
They send Jin Ling off with a backpack filled with bracelets. They also had to watch as Jin Ling gave one of them to his dad and Jin Zixuan struggled not to break down in tears.
(Really, for how much shit he and Wei Wuxian used to give (and still gives) the guy, there are times Jiang Cheng actually wants to sincerely ask ‘Hey, man, are you okay?’)
Jiang Cheng and Nie Huaisang clean up. Then Huaisang says there’s a new movie out that he wants to watch, and Jiang Cheng has slacked off for most of the day - he might as well just slack off for the rest of it too, so he goes.
He ends up being Nie Huaisang’s pillow while he talks about the movie’s production design and period costumes. A lot of it goes over his head - he’s sleepier than he thought - and he yawns more than once.
He hears rather than sees Huaisang ask, “A-Cheng? Do you want to go to bed?”
“Mm. No. Just watch your movie.” he says, holding his companion closer, burying his nose in dark brown hair. “M’fine. Go on.”
“Okay.” Huaisang says with a light laugh. He rests a hand on Jiang Cheng’s knee, and he doesn’t make anything of it when Jiang Cheng sleepily starts playing with the beads on his bracelet. Then he starts on his movie commentary again.
Jiang Cheng listens - more to the sound of his voice than to his words. His fingers trace the shiny plastic beads wrapped around Nie Huaisang’s wrist. He falls asleep easily.