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Events that Precede a Disaster

Chapter Text

0 Hours to Disaster

 

Lan QiRen was finished. Done for.

Lan Huan was holding his prone form on the ground, a worried expression marring his handsome features.

“Ngggh,” said Lan QiRen.

“What? What is it, uncle?” Lan Zhan’s deep, slightly slurred voice said from somewhere on his other side.

“I said,” Lan QiRen wheezed painfully, “This is all your fault.”

He raised a feeble finger in the air and pointed past his nephews, where Wei WuXian was standing guiltily holding a plate of his radioactive noodle concoction.

Then his finger wobbled and directed its accusation to MengYao, who had been trying to edge away and probably disappear to who-knows-where amidst the chaos. He had, unfortunately, been standing too close to Wei WuXian when shit went down to make a clean getaway.

“Me, too?” He said, turning wide, puppy eyes that pleaded his innocence at Lan QiRen.

“Yes,” the older man croaked.

He was not fooled.

They were criminal hooligans, the lot of them. It was a mistake to let any of them in his house.

Before he could say anything else, the doors to the dining room burst open to reveal Lan JingYi awkwardly crab-walking his way to the gathered crowd while carrying an overflowing bucket.

“HOLD ON! I GOT THIS!” He declared. He’d read about this online.

He could totally fix this!

Then, he tripped and spilled the bucket’s contents straight into Lan QiRen’s face.

“bLRAGH,” Lan QiRen screamed in frustration as warm liquid went up his nose.

 


 

The image prompt:

This is the prompt photo. Everyone should be posing like this at the end of the fic. The challenge is getting there, and getting LQR to almost qi deviate as many times as I can haha

 

How many times did LQR qi deviate before everyone got their shit together to take this photo? Read this fic to find out.

Chapter Text

11 Hours to Disaster

Lan Qiren noticed the anomaly at around 0900 hours while he and his nephews were breaking their fast.

The weather was pleasant, Su She had cooked his tofu according to his exacting standards, and he had the entire weekend off to spend time with his family for the Spring Festival.

It had been a picturesque scene. His ideal start to the day, in fact.

There had been an incident in the night where several loud bangs and screams had disturbed his sleep, but he had chalked that up to people lighting up some fireworks and charitably turned over in bed to continue sleeping. It was no skin off his nose, given the festive season.

But he didn’t make it this far in life, surviving his convict-marrying shut-in of a brother and raising said brother’s sons as more-or-less functioning adults in good standing with the community, without developing and honing a sort of uncle sixth-sense for trouble.

He squinted eyes full of suspicion at the two men silently eating their meals on either side of him.

Something was afoot.

He could practically smell it.

On his right, Lan Zhan had clammed up and was obviously deep in thought. He was stone-faced and going through the motions of feeding himself like he was a Terminator on a mission.

Bring chopsticks close to the food. Open chopsticks. Pick up the food. Angle arm towards the face area. Lever the elbow to bring food-laden chopsticks to the mouth. Deposit sustenance inside the mouth. Close mouth. Chew 40 times. Repeat process.

Goodness. He hadn’t seen the boy this rattled since he received a B+ on his finals back when he attended highschool.

Meanwhile, the left side wasn’t looking so hot either.

Lan Huan, who had come back from a Sabbatical abroad just last night and was probably still jet lagged because his eyes were red and he obviously didn’t get enough sleep, was visibly sweating despite the cool breeze that blew through the well-ventilated breakfast area of the Lan ancestral home.

He had been nervously clearing his throat the entire meal, as if psyching himself to say something but thinking better of it at the last second and shoving food into his mouth instead.

His eyes shifted back and forth as if looking for a place to unload whatever guilt was weighing on his mind and causing him to panic.

Lan QiRen set his bowl down firmly, drawing his nephews’ attention.

Lan Zhan rotated his neck in his general direction in an admirable imitation of a human being. Lan Huan startled and turned to his uncle, alarmed that he was making noise during a meal--a rule he had put into practice and reinforced for as long as he could remember.

Setting his chopsticks down at a precise angle on the rest, Lan QiRen picked up his napkin and dabbed it on his lips.

They had a big day up ahead; best to sort these things out early.

“Well boys,” he said to his adult nephews, settling into full lecture mode. “What is it? We shouldn’t let something eat at us when we could try to resolve it at once. Let’s hear it.”

Lan Huan and Lan Zhan seemed surprised that he had so very easily seen right through them, but what could he say? He had raised these boys; he knew all their tells.

And, whatever was troubling their minds, Lan Qiren was confident that he could offer some sage advice that would put them at ease and that they could use to guide them in resolving the matter.

Simple. A quick fix to the little wrinkle in their schedule, and then they could go back to the task at hand: enjoy the day and celebrate tonight in the beautiful custom red suits he had commissioned at his favorite tailor shop.

All according to plan.

“Well you see--”

“Uncle, I--”

The brothers turned to each other, flustered. They evidently hadn’t discussed the issue with each other beforehand. It made Lan QiRen’s heart swell that they came to him first for help.

His eldest nephew was pushing 40, yet here they were, leaning on him for support.

It warmed the cockles of this uncle’s heart, truly.

“Elder brother, you go first,” said Lan Zhan, dutifully deferring to his older sibling.

Lan Huan rubbed the back of his neck. “Ahaha, you go first, A-Zhan. I-- Mine’s really not that important.” As he finished his sentence, his voice progressively got smaller, and he still wouldn’t make eye contact.

“Mn,” Lan Zhan acknowledged, economical with his words as usual.

Now that the topic had been broached, he didn’t seem to have a problem sharing his news. Without any hesitation or fanfare, he continued.

“Uncle, Older brother,” He said, now even more formal. “Tonight, I will be introducing my very serious boyfriend of several years. Please, treat him well.”

Lan Zhan bowed low, so he didn’t see the matching gaping expressions Lan QiRen and Lan Huan were sporting.

This was...a little surprising.

Lan QiRen tried to avoid thinking about his nephews’ love life, much less the particulars of their sex life, but he had never had much of a problem on this end with the younger boy.

Except for that blip with Cangse SanRen’s hellspawn, Wei WuXian, and that time when he had been in college and some gremlin styling himself as “Yiling Laozu” tried to recruit his sheltered nephew into some groupie cult for a death-metal band (what were they called? Something about a gravesite hill?[0]), Lan Zhan never seemed to show any particular interest in another human being in that way.

“You have a boyfriend”

Lan Zhan nodded.

“This has caught us a bit wrong-footed, A-Zhan. You’ve never mentioned anyone?” Said Lan Huan.

“Of many years,” Lan Zhan reiterated, as if that clarified things.

Then his eyes glazed over. He was obviously somewhere else mentally.

“Mn. Tonight. No more waiting.” Then, the ends of his lips crooked up minutely. The motion was easy to miss if it wasn’t Lan Huan and Lan QiRen witnessing it. His eyes crinkled just a little bit. “I love him so much.”

He took another bite of his rice with the same unreadable expression on his face, oblivious to his surroundings.

You could hear a pin drop, it was that silent.

The only sound to break the silence was the clacking of Lan Huan’s chopsticks. His numb fingers had forgotten that he was holding them in his shock.

“Well! That won’t do!” Lan QiRen exclaimed.

Lan Zhan knit his brows, about to ask why, when the older man continued.

“I only ordered three suits! I’ll need to get another one if we were to make your young man feel welcomed!” This was cutting it close, but, truth be told, he was sort of glad he had not heard anything of the man beforehand.

It meant that they were discreet—unlike that boy, Wei WuXian. Goodness, he didn’t think his poor heart could take it if WangJi brought him home. Or that awful Yiling Laozu man! Ugh!

He stood up immediately and called for Su She, his manservant.

“Su She! Get the car ready, we need to visit the Jin’s tailoring shop. Be quick about it!”

Turning to the seated men, he said, “I’ll be back soon, nephews.” Then he swept out of the room, mind already planning out the errand.

It was a big night tonight, after all. No time to waste!

Back in the dining room, Lan Zhan was snapped out of his daydream by his brother getting up from the table and picking up his half-eaten breakfast in a hurry.

“Done already, brother?” He asked. Uncle had vanished and he seemed to have missed the tail end of the conversation.

Lan Huan froze, a deer caught in the headlights.

“Uuuh, yes?” He said, uncertain, but then with more conviction: “Yes! Little brother. I will be…in my room. Um. Don’t bother me please.”

Then, he too dashed off. To his room, Lan Zhan guessed.

“And keep uncle out of my room, please!” He called over his shoulder.

“Al…right?” Lan Zhan said. He was definitely missing something.

Oh, did he tell uncle about inviting A-Yuan, too? He looked towards the head of their dining table, spotting the sleek chrome of his uncle’s cellular phone sitting right beside his spectacles. Uncle had forgotten to bring them with him again.

Oh, well.

He’d find out tonight.

Lan Zhan turned back to his food and thought about Wei Ying.

Chapter Text

10.5 Hours to Disaster

Su She drove Lan QiRan, making it to the city center at a respectable time.

He was no Lan Zhan, who was a savant who could handle and master any vehicle in existence, probably, but not everyone could be Lan Qiren’s talented nephew.

“Drop me off here, Su She. I’ll call you when I’m done running this little errand.”

Walking up to the entrance of the Jin’s exclusive tailor shop, Lan QiRen was relieved to see them still open on the day before the New Year. Then again, this was Jin GuangShan they were talking about. He was the type to make his employees keep his shop open even on a national holiday.

Oh, well. It was serving him well at the moment. Who was he to complain?

The finely appointed boutique was deserted, except for a lone clerk who stood in front of one of the inner racks. He was stacking things seemingly without respect to order or logic. Upon hearing the door open, he turned a cheery smile at Lan QiRen and brightly chirped the standard employee greeting. He stopped midway when he got a good look at who he was talking to, though.

“Oh! Hello, Uncle QiRen!” he exclaimed, opening his arms wide as if inviting Lan QiRen for an overly familiar embrace. “What can I do you for?”

Lan QiRen was taken aback. This young man surely had some face to spare--and what a face it was, Lan QiRen could swear that he’d seen it somewhere but couldn’t really place it--by addressing him so casually.

Shameless!

Then again, he knew that he was a fairly well-known and respected member of their small community. The man must have known who he was based on his appearance and sought to treat him with the proper respect; he was probably just raised by people with terrible notions of what constituted as “good manners.” Not everyone could be paragons of virtue like his nephews, after all.

It was the Spring Festival, however, so Lan QiRen decided to let the faux pas go (for now. He would have a word with Jin GuangShan about his hiring and training process later). He went straight to the crux of the matter.

“I had some custom pieces made here a while back. I wanted to see if we could squeeze an order in? Payment, of course, will not be a problem. I’m willing to pay the penalty to expedite the order.”

The young man sucked in a breath through his teeth. He shook his head. “Sorry, uncle. We’d be glad to take on the job for you, but our main tailor is...indisposed right now. Personal, family business that needs attending to, you know?”

Lan QiRen sighed. He had been banking on this being a quick errand. The lack of a decent tailor--he wouldn’t entrust his family’s Spring Festival clothing to just anyone of course! They were going to get their photo taken while wearing it. It wouldn’t do to have one member wear something subpar--But the news certainly put a wrench into his plans.

The clerk, who had been watching his face and probably guessed at his thought processes based on the facial expressions he was making, suddenly clapped his hands and told him: “Ah! But don’t worry, Uncle QiRen! We still might be able to salvage this!”

Walking quickly to the back of the shop, the clerk ducked behind the counter and rummaged through some cabinets, muttering to himself. When he came back up he waved a nondescript paper bag triumphantly. “Here we go!”

Lan QiRen couldn’t make heads or tails of what the clerk intended to do with the paper bag, but he approached the counter over some sense of morbid curiosity.

The clerk fished around the bag and pulled out... what looked to be two red suits that, though rather wrinkled, looked similar enough to the ones he had made at the shop beforehand. Lan QiRen was amazed!

“Ta-daaah!” The clerk said, waving his free hand in a showman’s flourish. Lan QiRen had a sense of deja vu at the action, but chalked it up to his surprise at the clerk somehow providing him with an answer to his predicament with little to no prompting whatsoever.

This was some quality customer service.

He revised his earlier assessment of the young man. He was still miles below his nephews, but a solid grade above rabble like, say, Su She.

“This is perfect!” Lan QiRen said. He’d pay for the thing and get back home with lots of time to spare! It must be an auspicious day for him, a good start to the new year. But before he could celebrate further, he suddenly remembered that he didn’t know what his nephew’s young man looked like, much less know his size.

Silly him.

Patting his pockets produced no cellular phone, which meant he couldn’t call Lan Zhan to ask.

“But I can’t be sure if it’s the right size!” Lan QiRen said out loud in his frustration.

The clerk looked at him in bemusement. Then, slowly he took one of the shirts, opened it, and laid it over his chest. The breadth of the buttondown landed perfectly on the edges of his shoulders, better than the ill-fitting shopkeeper apron he currently had on.

“Um, I dunno. I think it should be just fine.” He commented.

“But how would you know?” Lan QiRen said.

The clerk gave a cheeky smile. “I’ve been known to be a good boyfriend size, if I may say so myself. Here, let me ring this up for you. You know what, take this other suit, too. It’s yours. Happy Spring Festival!”

Deft fingers quickly went through the motions of ringing up the order, taking the payment from Lan QiRen’s bamboozled fingers, and then folding and packaging each of the items in smart-looking boxes.

“There. All done, have a nice day!” The clerk said, handing the packages over to Lan QiRen.

“Oh, but the second one was unnecessary--”

“Think nothing of it!” The clerk cackled and, once again, Lan QiRen was hit with a sense of foreboding familiarity. “Who knows? It might come in handy, yeah?[1]”

Well. If it was free, then it wouldn’t really matter, did it? This man was a good worker, if a little too chatty; he knew how to take care of customers. Lan QiRen was compelled to thank the young man for his help.

“I thank you for the assistance...” Lan QiRen squinted to read the man’s name tag. “Mo...XuanYu.”

“Mo Xuan-Who?” The clerk said. Then he looked down and something seemed to click in his brain. He leaned against the counter like he was sharing a joke with Lan QiRen. “Oh. Ooooh. Yes. This is definitely Mo XuanYu. I am definitely he. Me, Mo XuanYu, who’s definitely not out looking for his missing brother because he didn’t come home last night and asked me to cover his demon boss’ holiday shift. Yep. Mo XuanYu. I.”

“Pardon?” Lan QiRen, who had been busy picking up his purchases and thinking about how to get in touch with Su She when he didn’t have his cellular phone with him, had missed the babble.

“I said, ‘have a good day, Uncle!’” Mo XuanYu said. Then, he pointed both index fingers at Lan QiRen so that they looked like guns firing at the older man and gave a saucy wink. “See you when we do!”

Lan QiRen left the store before the clerk could act even weirder.

Chapter Text

09.75 Hours to Disaster

 

Lan QiRen came back from his excursion pleased as punch. It had been very fortunate that Mo XuanYu had those spares just sitting right behind the counter. Come to think of it, it was very serendipitous. He hadn’t even mentioned anything about the article of clothing that he needed or that it was for his nephew’s boyfriend.

Huh. Such great service!

It even balanced out the fact that he had to drive himself and Su She home after the latter had a panic attack when Lan QiRen didn’t call him (and a second panic attack when he found out that Lan QiRen had been stranded on the sidewalk for all of five minutes because Su She wasn’t there). He made the poor man go have a lie down to recover his nerves while he went to the laundry room to give the shirts a tumble in the wash and maybe see about pressing the suits into a more respectable state.

As he turned the corner, he was surprised to see Lan Huan hovering by the door to the laundry.

“Nephew,” Lan QiRen called out, “I’m surprised to see you anywhere near the laundry.”

And he really was. Since his youth, Lan Huan had been infamous for ruining laundry, and he only worsened with the passing of time. It was still a mystery to Lan QiRen how Lan Huan managed to destroy all those clothes, but he supposed his nephew couldn’t excel at everything.

Good thing the thing he chose to be bad at was something easily foisted off to the help.

Upon hearing his uncle’s voice, Lan Huan jumped a foot into the air, jerked, and kicked something back into the room so that there was a loud crash before slamming the door closed.

He threw his entire body across the door, as if warding off anyone from entering.

“Uncle!” He said. “What are you doing here? You’re early. Very, very early, in fact.”

“Ah, yes. Some luck at the shop. They had exactly what I needed so I was able to return quickly.”

Lan Huan looked physically pained by the news. “That’s...good.”

“Yes. It is.” Lan QiRen said. He was getting a little impatient with his nephew now. He made some shoo-ing motions. “Run along. I have to wash this before your brother’s boyfriend gets here.”

“Uncle.” Lan Huan started. “I-- Let me do it. Let me wash the clothes.”

Lan QiRen was shocked. Lan Huan never offered to do the laundry. And, yes, maybe it was also everybody else’s fault for finding even the smallest reasons to let Lan Huan NOT do the laundry in the past so he could get over his childhood failure trauma, but he couldn’t leave his inexperienced nephew with such a critical job!

“Nephew, you don’t even know how to turn on the machine.” Lan QiRen sniffed. “Now move.”

Lan Huan put in a good effort trying to meld with the doorframe. “I can learn. I can Google the instructions. I could even ask Me--”

He stopped short, seeming to choke on his own words. Lan QiRen took advantage of his distraction and peeled the boy[2] away from the entrance of the laundry room and entered.

The lights were off, but a flick of the switch on his side easily bathed the room in yellow light.

It also had the curious effect of putting a spotlight on a strange, small man on all fours on the ground.

Who was in his underwear.

“Hello?” The man said, cringing.

Adrenaline pumped into Lan QiRen’s blood.

“LAN HUAN! THERE’S AN INTRUDER IN OUR HOUSE!” He screamed. On full alert, he raised the boxes he was holding like they were dual-wield weaponry.

He threw one package and managed to nail the man in the head. The intruder dropped on the ground crying, “Wait! Stop! This is all a misunderstanding! A-Huan help me!”

Lan QiRen was having none of it. He didn’t take too kindly to home invaders, and that this man did so in a state of undress was highly offensive to his sensibilities. He brought up his remaining box, ready to beat the man on the head once more.

“AND HE’S A STREAKER! LAN HUAN, GET THE POLICE! GET YOUR BROTHER! WE’LL TEACH THI--”

Lan QiRen’s tirade was abruptly cut off. With a booming warcry of “NOOOO!,” Lan Huan had launched himself at his uncle. It was a beautifully executed tackle, but it was also done in a small, rather cramped space.

The older man felt the breath get knocked out of him right as he also registered that his head was about to take a hard knock on the washing machine.

At the connection, Lan QiRen knew no more.

Chapter Text

09.50 Hours to Disaster

Su She had been feeling a bit better from his sit down and had gotten up thinking to help Lan QiRen with the laundry. He had walked into the area right in time to hear screams about an “intruder” and witness the older Lan nephew violently bring down his uncle.

It was not good for his frayed nerves.

Lan Huan had had to guide him to the be seated once more because Su She wouldn’t let the strange half-naked man also present at the scene help him.

That had left Lan QiRen’s unconscious body to the tender mercies of the small intruder. He was surprisingly strong as he had been able to lift the tall man without much trouble, but he wasn’t very coordinated; on the way to the living room, he had knocked the elder Lan into various walls and knick knacks, a vindictive glint in his eyes.

“MengYao,” Lan Huan had said, but Su She couldn’t make out the meaning behind his tone. The older Lan nephew distractedly passed Su She a bag of ice to hold to an unconscious Lan QiRen’s temple.

“A-Huan,” the intruder had replied, setting the older man on the couch. He batted his long lashes and gave the man a sweet smile that showed off his dimples.

Lan Huan’s face did the facial equivalent of “awww,” and he let it go. “You must probably have had a hard time handling uncle’s body. He is rather tall. But let’s try to be more careful next time, okay?”

“Of course, A-Huan! I’m only sorry I couldn’t be better this time.”

Lan Huan was putty in this “MengYao’s” hands. “That’s all I can ask,” said Lan Huan sitting himself on the settee beside the other man, offering his overshirt for him to wear. He practically radiated contentment and happiness and good will to the world when the other slipped the shirt on.

Su She was impressed.

That power. So strong. He wanted it.

He leaned in closer to get a good look at his new idol. He looked familiar. Where had he--?

Movement on his side alerted him to Lan QiRen’s return to the conscious world.

Chapter Text

09.25 Hours to Disaster

 

“What happened?” Lan QiRen groaned.

“Uncle!” Lan Huan said, suddenly remembering that he had an uncle who might or might not have a concussion. “I’m so sorry for tackling you! How are you? Does your head hurt? I’m really sorry!”

Lan QiRen grouchily batted his hands away. “Of course my head hurts! You knocked me into a machine!”

Lan Huan flinched, looking thoroughly admonished, so Lan QiRen reigned in his temper for his nephew. He sighed, “That being said, I did notice that you tried to help this man out. Do you know him?”

Lan Huan squirmed before finally owning up to it. “Yes, uncle. This is...MengYao,” he said, though it seemed like he was about to say something else beside that name.

There was a pregnant pause before he continued, “He’s a...friend.”

Su She didn’t miss how “MengYao” turned sharply at Lan Huan when he called him “friend.”

Su She’s gossip senses were a-tingling.

Ooooh, spicy.

“Well, why didn’t you say so!” Lan QiRen said. “We could all have skipped all this unpleasantness had we all been clear with each other from the start!”

“Yes, Lan Huan, my friend,” MengYao said, voice dripping with saccharine sweetness. “We should have been clear from the start.”

Lan Huan wrung his hands helplessly. “I’m really sorry! I just-- MengYao, you said-- and Uncle is--”

“You know I would welcome your friends!” Lan QiRen said, cutting Lan Huan off.

“Oh.” Lan Huan said, “You would?”

“Oh course,” Lan QiRen replied, rolling his eyes and wincing as the side of it throbbed a little. He swatted Su She’s hand away and readjusted the ice pack. “Any friend of my nephew is a friend of mine as well. See here, your brother is bringing his boyfriend tonight. Why not invite this one, too? Let’s think of it as a sort of re-do for the racket earlier. What do you say, young man? Why not spend the eve of the Spring Festival with us? If you don’t have prior plans, that is.”

MengYao looked torn. On one hand, he apparently was only a “friend.” It seemed weird to be joining a party in the same position as Lan Zhan’s boyfriend. But on the other hand, he really didn’t have a better offer lined up other than a sad bastard pity party with Mo XuanYu tonight. Spending time with Lan Huan did seem lovely…

“Erm, I don’t want to impose, sir...” MengYao hedged.

“No imposition at all! We always have a surplus for dinner, you’ll be doing us a favor by helping us eat it all.” Then, Lan QiRen remembered his encounter with the clerk at the tailor’s. It had seemed strange that he was offered an entire suit for free back then, but the pieces were falling into place beautifully. Auspicious indeed. “You can even wear that extra suit I have for the family photo. It must have been fate that you’re here. Now that one won’t have to go to waste.”

MengYao was awestruck. That was very giving of Lan Huan’s uncle. He really hadn’t expected such generosity. “You mean… wear a suit like what the everyone else in the family is wearing?” He could feel his lower lip tremble from all the emotions he was trying to contain.

Lan Huan put a steadying hand and beamed at him. His smile said, “Join me! Say yes!”

Across them, Lan QiRen said, “Well, of course! Can’t have one person looking out of place in the photo! It would look so disorganized. I absolutely won’t have it.”

This heart-warming scene of unconditional acceptance and love for a nephew and his friend was what Lan Zhan walked in on.

Had Lan Zhan known what his decision to enter the room would lead to, he… would probably still come in because Lan Zhan wasn’t a coward.

But he would seriously think about turning tail and running.

Chapter Text

09.05 Hours to Disaster

This heart-warming scene of unconditional acceptance and love for a nephew and his friend was what Lan Zhan walked in on.

Had Lan Zhan known what his decision to enter the room would lead to, he… would probably still come in because Lan Zhan wasn’t a coward.

But he would seriously think about turning tail and running.

Lan Zhan had been diligently loitering outside of his brother’s room upstairs, ready to distract his uncle from intruding on Lan Huan’s privacy and interrupting whatever it was that older brother was doing inside as per his request. But the room had been quiet (was brother even inside?) the entire time he had been standing sentry, and there really wasn’t much to do so Lan Zhan’s mind started to wander.

He had been thinking so intensely of that one cute mole tucked just beneath Wei Ying’s lower lip and what he would do with it tonight after he formally introduced him and A-Yuan to the family that he had completely missed the commotion downstairs.

Lan Zhan had been ramping up the initially innocent fantasy and crossing over into decidedly raunchy territory when he remembered himself.

Mn. Tonight. He thought.

Checking his phone, he opened his messages from Wei Ying (he was checking it 10 minutes late. Oh, no!). It was a long, convoluted story about how he had met uncle at the Jins’ tailoring shop, made even more convoluted because Wei Ying only seemed to know how to text in short bursts of incomplete thoughts and kept backtracking to previous statements without any rhyme or reason.

Mostly, Lan Zhan’s takeaway was that uncle should be home by now.

Replying to Wei Ying with an emoji of a happy bunny that he thought was cute, Lan Zhan put his phone back in his pocket and descended the stairs to check up on the rest of his family.

Lan Zhan didn’t have to search too hard; uncle and older brother were both conveniently gathered in the living room (was this what A-Yuan's friend meant by “Just Vibin’”?) with the addition of some extra people [3].

The short man sitting beside his brother--where were his pants?--looked familiar, but Lan Zhan couldn’t say if it was because he’d seen the face somewhere else, or if he was just remembering late last night when he had passed them in the hallway on the way to fetch a drink.

The man and brother had been so preoccupied growling at each other and trying to eat each other’s faces and tearing clothes off that they hadn’t noticed Lan Zhan walking right by them and had continued to be oblivious of his presence when he passed them by again with his glass of almond milk.

Good for you, older brother. He had thought, and left it at that.

He had been on a call with Wei Ying last night and had fallen asleep early. When he had awoken hours later, it was to the absolutely beautiful vision of Wei Ying passed out in front of his laptop, snoring like a dying train engine. Lan Zhan’s heart skipped a beat. What could compare to majesty such as this? He had gotten up from bed to get a drink so he could stay up and watch over the sleeping man a while longer.

But that was neither here nor now. Lan Zhan had to focus so tonight would go off without a hitch.

Making a bee line for his uncle, Lan Zhan handed him his spectacles and cellphone.

“Uncle, please don’t leave these behind.” Lan QiRen’s eyesight wasn’t what it was before, and Lan Zhan worried if he didn’t have a way to reach his uncle if ever there was an emergency. He strove to avoid anything that would cause distress, but it was better to be in touch and prepared, in his opinion.

“Thank you, nephew,” Lan QiRen said in between listening to MengYao tell him about his difficult family situation; apparently his father didn’t like him all that much and he was never invited to official family gatherings. Having him over for a family dinner with the Lans would be absolutely lovely and probably heal years of hurt and resolve his abandonment issues. Lan QiRen’s heart went out to him.

Then he put on his glasses.

Wait.

He knew that face.

“You’re not MengYao.” Lan QiRen said. Horror dawned on him. He stood up abruptly and pointed. “You’re Jin GuangYao! Good gods, you’re an actual criminal!”

Lan Huan immediately tried to put himself in between the two men; MengYao--now known to be Jin GuangYao--had, at the first sign of trouble, executed some acrobatic trick to launch himself behind the couch where he took cover. “Now, now, uncle. Think of your blood pressure. This stress isn’t good for you.”

“You--!” Lan QiRen bellowed. “That’s the man who stabbed Mayor Wen RouHan a couple of years ago! You’re harboring a violent felon! Don’t you blood pressure me!”

MengYao/Jin GuangYao had peeked over the settee and turned tearful eyes at Lan QiRen. He said, “I prefer the term ‘political activist.’ And that was self-defense! Ruohan was nuts! Also, I’ve been acquitted!”

Lan QiRen sputtered. The nerve of this man! “You burned down a temple!”

“Please, sir! The case was built on circumstantial evidence!” Meng-Guang-Yao-something-or-another pleaded. “It was dismissed! They couldn’t prove anything!”

MengYao’s defense fell on deaf ears. All Lan QiRen could hear in his head was a loud, buzzing sound. In an impressive display of athleticism given his age, Lan QiRen tried to launch himself over the coffee table right in Jin-Guang-Meng-Yao-whatever’s direction.

“Arrggh!” He screamed when his trajectory was interrupted by his younger nephew grabbing him by the waist.

“Uncle. Uncle!” You could tell Lan Zhan was legitimately worried because he had raised his voice.

But Lan QiRen was beyond reasoning. He tried to claw his way to the settee where people who lied to him and abused his hospitality were hiding.

“Uncle, please stop!” Lan Huan begged.

From his seat on the sofa, Su She witnessed the entire emotional roller coaster, from bad to good to bad again, and was feeling even more overwhelmed. He started bawling, calling for his mother to come take him home.

Mn. Should have stayed upstairs, Lan Zhan thought.

Chapter Text

8 Hours to Disaster

“Uncle is mad at me.” Lan Huan said.

Lan Zhan tried to think of a good way to console his brother without also actively lying.

He gave up.

“Mn. Yes.”

Words were never his strong suit anyway.

He set down a glass of water on the table beside his older brother, encouraging Lan Huan to drink.

Brother was busy being mournful, however.

“How are they?” He asked. In the messy aftermath of the confrontation, MengYao/Jin GuangYao and Uncle had refused to speak to Lan Huan and each other.

They were currently in two different rooms of the house, locked in a bitter battle of wills. Su She was acting as their very voluntary go-between, subserviently passing on passive-aggressive messages between his employer and his new man-crush.

From what Lan Zhan gathered, they had already managed to cover barbs about MengYao/Jin GuangYao’s criminal past and gotten down to petty hurts they’d managed to inflict upon each other in the past hour or so they’d actively been interacting with each other.

MengYao/Jin GuangYao had claimed that he was being caged and likened his confinement to prison.

Uncle sniffed something about him knowing what prison looked like and responded to his attack on his hospitality by aggressively offering the other man the second best room in the house.

Oh! No, no. The younger man said that he would be leaving as soon as he got his still soiled clothes from where they had been left unattended in the laundry; he knew when we wasn’t wanted, subtly hinting at his troubled childhood. He wouldn’t want to be a burden on the host and his resources.

Uncle was thoroughly affronted and responded like a finely tuned instrument. He would not let Jin-Meng-Guang-Yao leave, Su She, mangling the younger man's name on purpose. He would be staying for dinner. Lan QiRen even offered his opponent a seat of honor beside him on the dinner table so he could experience what it was like to have dignity at least once in his life.

Lan Zhan cringed at that last one; that was mean. Still, he couldn't deny that it seemed like MengYao got what he wanted in the end. He was a master manipulator. Su She was walking around with stars in his eyes.

“No one is dead yet,” was the best that Lan Zhan could offer to his brother.

Lan Huan put his head into his hands and groaned. “This is all my fault! I should have just come clean with uncle from the start.”

Lan Zhan was of the same opinion, but he also thought that agreeing with his already distraught brother would be counter-productive, so he chose to keep his peace. After all, he knew a thing or two about dating wild childs.

He was mature enough to admit that Wei Ying, the love of his life, had been a nightmare of a teenager. And his years in college weren’t any better; between the band and being publicly disowned, he had been an absolute mess. It didn’t make Lan Zhan love the man, and the man he had become since, any less, though.

Lan Zhan wanted the same for his brother.

If this MengYao and/or Jin GuangYao character was Lan Huan’s Wei Ying, then, no matter how shady he seemed to Lan Zhan, older brother would have his support.

“A distraction,” Lan Zhan offered. “Uncle will put this past him if something takes his mind off the matter.”

Lan Huan looked up, hope shining in his earnest eyes. “You think so?”

“Mn.” He replied. Now they just needed to think of something that would top older brother bringing home a man with a criminal record on the eve of the Spring Festival.

“But what could possibly distract him from this fiasco?” Lan Huan took the words right out of Lan Zhan’s brain.

True. This was… a tall order.

Lan Zhan was about to offer Wei Ying as a sacrifice in the name of familial peace--He had gone through the previous texts and surmised that uncle had softened a little on his long-time boyfriend. He didn’t walk out when Wei Ying threw out that awful “What can I do you for?” line, after all. And he had even jokingly called him Mo XuanYu! Even though he was obviously Wei WuXian! Wei Ying said uncle might be finally growing a sense of humor--when Lan Huan’s eyes lit up.

“I know just the thing, brother!” He said.

“?” Lan Zhan aimed a questioning look at his older brother. What did he have in mind?

“You know how uncle gets in these moods?” Lan Huan said. At Lan Zhan’s nod, he continued, “Well, when that happens, who always manages to pull him out of his funk?”

Lan Zhan thought about it. It wasn’t either of them, he was sure. They were more of the “let them be until they resolve whatever issues they have on their own” school of showing their love as a family.

Well, no, there was one Lan that he could think of that didn't fit the bill.

Alarm bells started blaring in Lan Zhan’s head.

No.

“We should ask cousin Lan JingYi to come over!” Lan Huan said.

Calling cousin Lan JingYi’s effect on uncle “pulling him out of his funk” was...one way to describe their interactions. Sure, the boy’s antics always drew a reaction from their strict uncle, but it wasn’t what Lan Zhan classified as “healthy” or “positive.” Or something that uncle would appreciate being sprung on him so suddenly and in the wake of all these revelations about Lan Huan.

Hmm, that's perfect, actually.

While Lan Zhan could think of several reasons why having their cousin over for dinner was a recipe for disaster and that maybe he should warn his brother away from the idea, he remembered that the boy was good friends with A-Yuan. It would be nice to have a cousin and family friend come witness his plans for the eve of the Spring Festival.

Maybe inviting him wasn’t so bad?

Besides, the boy’s “chaotic energy” (a term he had heard A-Yuan and his friends throw around sometimes) rather reminded him of Wei Wing in his younger years. He wasn’t going to lie, it made him rather fond and protective of their blacksheep Lan cousin.

Also, he knew that Lan JingYi’s mother was traveling abroad right now. He didn’t have much in the way of close family to celebrate the New Year with.

Perhaps older brother’s suggestion had merit.

Not that his opinion was going to factor in apparently. Bolstered by his brainchild, Lan Huan had stood up, patted Lan Zhan on the shoulder good-naturedly for giving him the idea, and gone outside to make the phone call.

Lan Zhan stared at his brother’s turned back. His shoulders were no longer hunched, and he was talking animatedly to his favorite younger cousin.

Mn. It probably wouldn’t be too bad to have Lan JingYi here.

Chapter Text

7 Hours to Disaster

Lan QiRen was grumpily walking around the house, trying to pretend that the east wing, which was currently hosting a certain criminal[4], didn’t exist. For such a small man, Jin GuangYao certainly made the spacious Lan ancestral home feel crowded.

To keep the man where he was, he had sent Su She over to let Jin GuangYao sample some of their sticky rice cakes. They were using an old Lan family recipe to make them; if Jin GuangYao had any problem with the taste, then it was only another black mark on his record for Lan QiRen--another reason why he was an unsuitable friend for his precious nephew, Lan Huan.

Only uncultured swine would call Lan QiRen inhospitable on the eve of the Spring Festival and then proceed to criticize the rice cakes so generously offered to him, after all!

Lan QiRen was so worked up that he almost didn’t hear the doorbell. When he did, he thought he was hearing things.

Lan Zhan had said that his boyfriend would be arriving late in the afternoon. It was barely lunch. The family wasn’t expecting anyone.

Who could it be?

He was about to call Su She to make him answer the front door when he remembered where he had sent his manservant.

So, Lan QiRen decided to do it himself. He had to walk quite a bit to reach the front door, and by the time he got close, the bell had rung manically thrice. On the fourth ring--which was getting on Lan QiRen's last nerve--the person behind the door seemed to get so bored that they rang the doorbell to the notes of a jaunty tune[5].

Puzzling over the eccentricity of their visitor, Lan QiRen forgot to check the peephole and simply opened the door.

There was no one.

There was a sound below him so he looked down.

He regretted it.

He closed his eyes and counted to ten, hoping that when he opened his eyes he would find nothing in front of him.

Lan QiRen opened his eyes.

Lan JingYi was still standing in front of him, smiling like he was the sun come out to bring light and joy to the world. He was dressed in a mess of layers of clothing in colors and patterns that gave Lan QiRen a toothache just contemplating. In his arms, he carried what looked to be a giant bouquet, but, instead of flowers, there seemed to be a bunch of fried spring rolls artfully arranged the way flowers normally would be.

“Cousin-Uncle[6]! Thanks for inviting me!” He said.

Lan QiRen had most definitely not.

He then tried to press the fried spring roll bouquet into Lan QiRen’s unwilling arms. Lan QiRen was unmoved, but Lan JingYi was a Lan cut from the same cloth as him. He would not be deterred, and he kept trying to give him the bouquet. “It’s a little short notice, but anything for family, eh? Here, these are for--!”

Lan QiRen slammed the door in the boy’s face. He didn’t want to know who the spring roll bouquet was for.

Turning around, he brought his fingers to his temple. Massaging them didn’t rid him of the migraine that was already spreading.

“SU SHE!!!!” Lan QiRen called out.

Chapter Text

6.5 Hours to Disaster

“Ok, a bit rude, but eh.” Lan JingYi said from where he was perched on one of the kitchen barstools. His mouth was also full of one of his fried spring rolls, so his comment was incomprehensible for the most part. It came out as, “OHUR BIFFROOFF BUFTH UH.”

Fortunately, Lan Zhan, who knew and had been dating Wei Ying on and off for almost half his life now, had no trouble deciphering Lan JingYi-speak “Mn. I apologize for leaving you out there for so long.”

“Think nothing of it, Cousin!” Lan JingYi said magnanimously. He had finished the fried spring roll he had been eating and was trying to clean up the mess he had made on the counter by inefficiently moving the crumbs from side to side.

He mostly succeeded in spreading the area of crumbs spatter.

Lan Zhan eventually took pity on the boy and used a dishrag to clean up the mess.

Lan JingYi smiled sheepishly. “So…are you going to tell me why older cousin called me over? Lan Huan told me that Cousin-uncle wanted me to come but ah, you can see why that doesn’t seem too plausible?”

Lan Zhan nodded. His cousin wasn’t dumb, and he wouldn’t insult his intelligence by trying to cover up Lan QiRen’s irritation with him. He supposed that uncle loved all his family members in his own way, but he didn’t know how to show it toward the livelier ones.

A shame because Lan JingYi was a good kid. He just needed a chance.

Lan Zhan reached out and ruffled the boy’s hair fondly.

“Mn. Older brother thought you could put uncle in a better mood. He meant no harm; he truly thinks that you and uncle get along.”

Lan Huan’s gambit had paid off, though. Thoroughly incensed by Lan JingYi’s sudden appearance, Lan QiRen had called for Su She to deal with the boy and then come to his nephews—Lan Huan, in particular, because older brother was always willing to lend a sympathetic ear—and started complaining.

Sensing his opportunity, Lan Zhan had corralled the men to the east wing where MengYao (and a startled Su She, looking so betrayed that Lan Zhan had led his employer to where he was back lounging around with MengYao eating sticky rice cakes and drinking what looked to be like a bottle of champagne) had set up headquarters. Then, he’d politely told them to resolve their issues before dinner because his boyfriend was coming over.

He didn’t think he was resolute enough with his admonishment, however. The adults were doing the exact opposite of what he’d told them to do.

Slightly frustrated at the pig-headedness of his family...and older brother’s naivete, he returned to the kitchen to supervise Lan JingYi, as well as wait for Wei Ying to arrive. It was early, still, though so he set upon preparing the ingredients for tonight’s dinner.

“Don’t feel unwelcomed.” Lan Zhan said as he brought out some vegetables and began giving them a cursory wash. “I would have invited you either way. Tonight will be a more special occasion than just the Spring Festival...I’ve invited Wei Ying and A-Yuan to celebrate with us.”

The news piqued Lan JingYi’s interest. He and Wei Yuan were classmates, and close friends besides. He knew that his cousin and the other boy’s adoptive father had been dating since the dawn of time. They might as well be married with how long things had been dragging.

Speaking of marriage…

Lan JingYi grabbed the edges of the kitchen counter. He needed to brace himself if what he thought was happening was what was happening.

“Cousin? Lan Zhan?! Is this it? Is it happening?! Ohohoho!” He clapped his hands and then tried to keep his voice down by covering his mouth, but it didn’t quite stop the excited giggles from bubbling out. Wei WuXian was a regular disaster on a good day (took one to know one) and Lan Zhan sometimes gave the impression of being more of a glacier than a human being.

But, when they were together, even someone as unobservant as Lan JingYi could see how Wei WuXian’s manic energy calmed and the remoteness in his cousin’s demeanour softened.

He thought they were good for each other and he was kind-of, sort-of very invested in their relationship.

Lan JingYi may have done internet research on destination weddings. And caterer options. Wrote tandem online fiction about his favorite real-life couple with his other classmate, Ouyang ZiZhen... He was just really into their romance, ok?

Lan Zhan didn’t explicitly confirm what was going to happen, but Lan JingYi only needed to note the redness on the tips of his cousin’s ears to be satisfied that his guess was right.

He sat back on his stool with a shit-eating grin.

This was going to be a great New Year’s eve!

“Wow, is A-Yuan going to be the best man or the ring bearer?” He said. Then, he pointed at his spring roll bouquet. “I guess I’m calling flower girl, huh?”

Lan Zhan smiled softly. “We haven’t decided yet, but Wei Ying wants something simple and traditional. I...do, too.” He had gotten a ring, though. Had had it for the past few months agonizing about the perfect moment to propose and how to go about it. He wanted it to be special.

He’d finally settled on tonight, when the family—his important people—was gathered, and he’d even prepared a song to present after dinner declaring his feelings for Wei Ying. Putting himself out there was always nerve-wracking for Lan Zhan, and he would avoid doing so if he could, but he’d do it for the man he loved.

He took a spring roll—oh god, why was it so oily? What did Lan JingYi do to it?—and fed it to his cousin to stop his snickering. He might have spaced out a bit, fantasizing about his perfectly planned night, but it didn’t mean he’d let his cousin tease him.

“Mn. Quiet now. Of course you’ll be part of the entourage, cousin.” They two share a secret smile, and Lan Zhan’s heart swelled just a little. That’s one family member he’d won over. Now for the blessings of the other two.

A loud thump from somewhere on the second floor rattled the old wooden ceilings of the house, making Lan Zhan and Lan JingYi jump.

“You think that’s a celebratory thump of joy?” Lan JingYi asked around his mouthful of spring roll.

Lan Zhan could only sigh. “Unlikely.”

Setting down the knife he had been holding, Lan Zhan mentally prepared himself to go back to the lion’s den to check up on the overgrown babies.

“Cousin, please let Wei Ying and A-Yuan in if they get here before I come back down.”

Lan JingYi gave a lazy salute, already moving on from his spring roll toward the pantry in search of more food.

Chapter Text

6 Hours to Disaster

Lan JingYi had already demolished a giant plate of fancy-looking noodles, some sticky rice cakes, a treasure trove of pork skewers that Su She had cleverly hidden at the back of the fridge right behind cousin-Zhan’s health food Tupperwares, a pack of contraband Oreos (he suspected it was cousin-uncle’s) and other odds and ends before he heard the front door ring.

Glancing up to see if any responsible adults were going to come down to answer it and welcome the guests (all he could make out were some thumps and some muffled screams), Lan JingYi shrugged and trotted off to the front door. It was probably just Wei Yuan and his dad, anyway; he could surprise them at the door or something!

Lan JingYi only turned out to be half right. When he opened the door, he saw A-Yuan standing under the stoop struggling to hold onto a ridiculously big crockpot of food that immediately drew his eye.

“Well, if it isn’t Wei Yuan[7]! Welcome to our humble, secluded top-of-the-hill ancestral abode! Was it hard finding the place? I told you you only need to look for the one house. It’s the one that isn’t trees. Ha-ha! Come in, come in! Lan casa es su casa.”

He isn’t so distracted that he failed to notice that the expected guests are down one man, though.

“Also, dude, where’s your dad?”

Wei Yuan is a little surprised to see his friend here, but gracefully adapts to the situation. JingYi is a Lan, after all. Why wouldn’t he be at this family dinner?

Smiling shily, he offered the tub of food to Lan JingYi, who had been making grabby hands at it the moment he registered its potential for food contents. “Dad told me to go ahead. He said something about seeing a man about a dog before running off to the side of the house?”

Wei Yuan was a little worried about what his father was up to. Dad didn’t have the best track record decision making-wise when he was nervous--and, boy, was he nervous.

Wei Yuan had a couple of ideas about what might be happening tonight, and he knew his dad also had ideas about what might happen tonight. Wei WuXian was coping with the stress in his own special way: by lowkey panicking and high-key being a hot mess.

He had stayed up all night last night talking to Lan Zhan online, making up every excuse under the sun and the moon to keep the other man on the call, just so he could see him still, in case things didn’t go the way he thought it would at the eve of the Spring Festival dinner.

Wei Yuan had to sigh at this. Dad and Lan Zhan were so in love and such irrepressible saps, he didn’t know what had happened to them in the past that they had to be so insecure about meeting family and accepting a proposal.

Wei WuXian had even come back really late from his visit to Mo XuanYu’s this morning (he had to cover his shift, A-Yuan! I couldn’t refuse A-Yu when he looked so desperate!) without their New Year’s clothing that Lan Zhan had had made for tonight (I...er...sort of sold it to Lan Zhan’s uncle? As a prank? Oops? Please-remind-me-to-give-him-his-money-back-ohmygod).

Then dad had proceeded to try to cook noodles while also dressing himself for tonight, agonizing over which tie to wear (The cool crow-themed ones? How about the red one? Or will it clash with the red suit? A-Yuan! Does red-on-red clash?! I CAN’T THINK?!). He then proceeded to dump the contents of all their special, heavy-duty demonic sriracha sauce[8] into the pot in frustration.

Wei Yuan eventually had to take over the noodle preparation, though, by the time Wei WuXian let him, it was too late to salvage the sauce or even make a new batch. These noodles would have to do, he guessed.

Honestly, Dad running off to the side of the house without any real explanation was just one thing in a long list of bad coping behaviors Wei WuXian tended to exhibit when he was anxious.

For his and Lan Zhan’s sake, whatever dad was doing, he hoped it wasn’t anything too crazy that would lead them to being permanently disinvited to the Lans’ place.

Wei Yuan turned his attention back just in time to see Lan JingYi try to pry the crockpot open with one hand. He slapped a hand on the lid in a panic.

“Whu--?” His friend said.

“I need to warn you: Dad made that.”

“Ah.”

Wei Yuan needn’t say more; Lan JingYi got the message loud and clear. He’d eaten some of Wei WuXian’s food in the times that he had come over to their small apartment with A-Yuan.

Lan JingYi was a growing boy and an adventurous eater, so while he wasn’t completely put off by A-Yuan’s dad’s cooking per se, he wouldn’t also put it at the top of his list of must-eats.

Wei WuXian-food was food you reserved for when your teenaged stomach was eating itself out and all other sources of sustenance had been thoroughly exhausted--no other scenario was acceptable.

Lan JingYi carefully replaced the lid. Only cousin-Zhan seemed to be able to tolerate Wei WuXian’s food, and, though Lan JingYi was loathe to agree with Jin Ling, he also kind of believed that his cousin could only get through an entire meal made by Wei WuXian because he’d long ago killed his taste buds on his boyfriend’s cooking.

“We should put that down somewhere,” said Wei Yuan. He was already stepping inside and looking for the proper surface to place the pot, always the responsible one.

Upstairs, he could still hear muffled bangs and thumps. The ceiling occasionally rattled.

Yikes.

Everyone said that Lan JingYi had an awful sense of self-preservation, but he was showing everyone what powerful restraint he had right now. He was burning to find out what had caused the falling out between his Uncle-cousin and the elder Lan nephew, but he was a good little boy who stayed downstairs and minded his own business.

Why did the feats of maturity he accomplished always happen when there was basically no one to notice?

Lan JingYi contemplated the tragedy of his life as he took a bite of another oreo cookie. A-Yuan took stock of the state of the kitchen and noted the empty plates that, not too long ago, had given up their contents to satisfy Lan JingYi’s hunger.

“Should you really be eating that? These look like plates for food that’s supposed to be served tonight.” Wei Yuan said, like a very reasonable person who considered the mid- to long-term consequences of his actions.

Lan JingYi took a page out of cousin-Zhan’s book and pushed an oreo into A-Yuan’s mouth.

“Shhh. No think-y, only eat-y.”

Chapter Text

6.5 Hours to Disaster (Upstairs)

Lan QiRen couldn’t tell if the throbbing inside his head was caused by the knock it took this morning or if it was Jin GuangYao exerting some form of mind-based attack on him because never in his life had he experienced such a headache as this.

He, Jin GuangYao, Su She, and Lan Huan were currently gathered in the second biggest bedroom of the Lan ancestral house. But they did not stand together. Lines had been drawn on their small battlefield.

On the corner closest to the wide bay windows, Jin GuangYao was sitting on a large wingback chair that had belonged to one of Lan QiRen’s ancestors, marking his de facto territory.

The afternoon sun filtered through the glass, casting half of him in light and the other in ominous darkness.

Posed that way, he would have made a foreboding picture, a proper villian, Lan QiRen thought, except he was still pants-less.

What Jin GuangYao did have, was a recently emptied champagne flute. He held it out to his side wordlessly, and Su She, who had been doing a rather convincing imitation of a dog, immediately topped it up with liquid.

With champagne that he was sure came from the Lans’ personal stores.

Lan QiRen’s eyes narrowed.

Su She had never been that attentive with him.

Lan QiRen realized now that it was a tactical error to send Su She to keep an eye on Jin GuangYao. He had a weak mind; the criminal must have seduced him to his side already.

Sensing eyes on him, Su She looked up and aimed a mutinous look at Lan QiRen.

The audacity!

Lan QiRen glared daggers at his erstwhile manservant. Su She’s new-found backbone was no match. He immediately crumbled under the force of his probably-soon-to-be-his-former-employer’s stare.

He looked back down, tail tucked in between his legs, whining at his new master for help.

None was forthcoming, because Jin GuangYao seemed to be locked in his own battle with Lan Huan, his “friend.”

“A-Yao, slow down. I don’t think you should be drinking again so soon. You were already so drunk last night--” Lan Huan said, wringing his hands from where he stood beside Lan QiRen by the door where Lan Zhan had pointedly left them not too long ago.

An alcoholic! Lan Qiren thought. He didn’t deserve to be friends with his rule-abiding nephew at all!

“Why do you care?!” Jin GuangYao hissed, low and dangerous, flushed from the anger and the alcohol. He was still coherent, but he wasn’t bothering to modulate his voice to its previous nice, even tones either, Lan QiRen couldn’t help but notice.

He had probably been putting on a show of being a nice young man when they had first met to lure Lan QiRen into a false sense of security. In his mind, he put down “liar and manipulator” under his list of reasons Jin GuangYao was no good.

Fortunately, it seemed that Jin GuangYao didn’t have psychic powers after all, because he completely missed Lan QiRen disparaging his character in the privacy of his mind.

All he did, instead, was take another quaff of his champagne. He said, “You don’t get to tell me what to do, Lan XiChen! You don’t care about me. Well, I’ve got news for you: you’re nothing to me! Not even just a ‘friend.’”

He tried to curl his fingers in air quotes, but the champagne’s effect made him less coordinated than he would have preferred. Jin GuanYao almost dropped his flute several times in the process.

While Jin GuangYao was distracted, Su She nodded in agreement from his position by the chair. “The rich are exploitative bastards! They take advantage of us working-class folks! We should eat them!” He declared—but not too loudly because he was afraid of Lan QiRen’s wrath.

Jin GuangYao turned a little to squint at Su She.

In the time that they had spent together (a paltry handful of hours), MengYao had told him of his work as a political activist, touching upon some socio-political concepts. While it was thrilling to finally have someone listen to him so intently, giving him a power trip as he observed how the man hung on to his every word, it seemed that Su She didn’t fully absorb and understand the nuances of his work.

Inwardly, he cringed at the blanket statements that the other man was making; he hated it when circumstances were reduced to anecdotes and quippy statements. Also, his quarrel had nothing to do with his little political science lectures this morning. He wished that Su She would stay on topic.

But MengYao was also shrewd enough to know that he had little options by way of allies in this house. Even A-Huan had abandoned him; he was standing right beside his uncle, indirectly announcing to MengYao that he was siding with that wishy-washy righteous fuck, Lan QiRen.

He would need to suck it up and take what support he could get.

So, MengYao decided not to correct Su She. He rewarded him with a gentle smile that he hoped communicated “encouragement” rather than a grimace at his ignorance.

Who knows? Maybe when this stupid evening was over, he could go teach Su She about the nuances of systematic oppression and how radical change was necessary to free themselves of the societal instruments in place to serve only a select few of the population.

Lan Huan looked terribly distraught. “A-Yao! That’s not true! I care about you!” He said.

“Liar!” MengYao shrieked, temper igniting once more. He stood up and stalked toward Lan Huan to confront him directly, but the bed was in the way. He almost toppled over when his knees hit it.

Undeterred, he crawled on top, and, seeing as he now had the height advantage over Lan Huan, stayed there. He pointed at Lan Huan and let tears gather in his eyes for further effect. He knew Lan Huan never could resist his tear-filled eyes.

“You left me! GuanYin Temple burned, and you suddenly disappeared! Fuck your seven-year sabbatical! You didn’t even try to call.”

“I’m sorry!” Lan Huan pleaded once more. “Nie MingJue said it was for the best that we cut all contact--”

MengYao cut him off by throwing his champagne flute at Lan Huan. The other man ducked and the flute shattered against the wall behind, spraying the remnants of the champagne everywhere.

Su She was so impressed by the dramatic interruption that he too threw the champagne bottle he had been holding onto the wooden floor as a protest...to support whatever MengYao’s point was. He wasn’t able to follow the quick back and forth, honestly. But he was going to do it anyway to show solidarity!

The old, wooden flooring shuddered as the bottom of the bottle made contact. But the angle of Su She’s throw was off, and foam spattered right back into his face. He flailed helplessly, despairing. He knew that he would have to clean up this mess afterward, even if he was actually only the Lans’ cook.

Meanwhile, Lan QiRen’s senses were overloading. There was so much going on, from the revelation of Su She’s radical political leanings to what appeared to be a lover’s spat between his nephew and the criminal set; he didn’t know where to look.

“Nie MingJue had a hand in this? He abandoned me, too! Father was right. I’m just like my mother. All I’m good for is a quick f--”

“Stop.” Lan Huan said. His voice was cold. “Don’t try to sell me that sob story again. I don’t want to hear about your asshole father. Stop talking.”

Well, Lan QiRen thought, I guess I know where to aim my attention now.

In fact, everyone had paused to look at Lan Huan. Even Jin GuangYao forgot to keep up his pitiful spurned lover act (Lan QiRen could tell, now that he knew where to look! Hah!) to gawk. In Lan QiRen’s entire life raising the boy, Lan Huan hadn’t so much as said a mean word against a single soul. To be calling Jin GuangShan such, an in that tone, moreover, was extremely out of character for him.

“I found out, you know? You were using each other to sabotage Wen Ruohan’s campaign. But he was going to frame you, too. GuanYin was a set-up.”

MengYao’s confusion was palpable, but he rallied quickly. His brain worked overtime trying to anticipate the conversation’s trajectory in the hopes that he could spin things back in his favor. “Don’t try to change the subject! You come back after years and take me to bed, and all that we are is ‘just friends’?!”

“I care!” Lan Huan said. To make his point, he climbed up the bed as well to tower over MengYao. “I cared so much I burned down a damn Temple for you!”

MengYao’s jaw dropped. Lan Huan what? It seemed impossible. From the moment he’d met the man, he’d pegged him as someone who could do no harm to anyone or anything.

“You couldn--” MengYao started, trying to find where his supposed silver tongue had gone in the wake of this disastrous clash.

“Yes, I could.” Lan Huan said dangerously. He took a step closer on the lumpy mattress. “Jin GuangShan left damning evidence that you were at fault in the temple. I couldn’t let anyone see it. I started the fire.”

MengYao might have said something in response to that. To argue a point. Any point. This wasn’t what he had in mind when he forced the confrontation. But all arguments fled his whirling mind when Lan Huan roughly grabbed him by the waist and promptly shoved his tongue in his mouth.

Oh gods. He had waited so long for this. And though his memory of last night was mostly hazy from all the alcohol he had “borrowed” from Mo XuanYu’s personal stash when he’d learned of Lan Huan’s return after his long absence, he could remember with clarity how he’d drunkenly accosted the other man at the foot of his home’s hill.

No plan, no goal. So sloppy of him.

MengYao could remember how things had gotten so heated he didn’t know if he was confessing his love at Lan Huan or telling him to go fuck himself for leaving him without a word. All he knew was that the passion that the taller man had responded with had consumed him so thoroughly that he couldn’t do anything else but allow himself to burn.

Then, he’d woken up sometime mid-morning the next day in a large bed, sore and aching after what was arguably the best sex in his life, to Lan Huan’s panicky face, telling him to get dressed, A-Yao--no wait you threw up last night, we need to wash your clothes first….

Telling him to leave.

Kicking him into the dark laundry room.

Letting his uncle beat him on the head.

Calling him a friend.

MengYao had carefully labeled and tucked the compounding hurts away in a small, black box that lived in the darkest recesses of his prodigious memory, to be examined at a later date, to ascertain if there was a way he could exact his pound of flesh on those who had wronged him.

But once again, Lan Huan was messing with his carefully organized mind with his soft heart and troublesome earnestness.

Making MengYao want to forgive.

This Lan Huan was now throwing him completely opposite signals from this morning.

This was the Lan Huan of last night.

This was Lan Huan the arsonist.

Large hands roamed his body possessively as they moved together in the same hot rhythm that had brought them together the night before. MengYao groaned as Lan Huan tried to pull him in even closer, his bare thighs rubbing against the worn cloth of Lan Huan’s jeans, reminding him that he still didn’t have any pants on--

“WHAT ARE YOU TWO DOING?!” Lan QiRen screamed. “DID YOU FORGET THAT WE’RE ALL STILL HERE?”

Lan QiRen didn’t know what he was supposed to have a stroke over first. The fact that he had to revise Jin GuangYao and his nephew’s relationship status to “for-sure more than just friends,” the fact that his nice, sweet-tempered Lan Huan was apparently some sort of exhibitionist sex-fiend that burned down temples as an act of “caring.” Or that his older nephew was most definitely, despite Lan QiRen’s efforts to raise him otherwise, very much still his father’s son.

“Older brother burned down what?” Lan Zhan said from where he had been standing at the doorway for some time. He had, once again, managed to time his arrival so that he had to walk in on his older brother about to get freaky with MengYao.

Was Lan Huan going to make a habit of that? He hoped not.

The first time he was happy for his eternally single older brother, but the second time was rather gauche; it didn’t really hold his interest. So, he was focusing on what he thought were the more pertinent questions in all these revelations.

No answers were forthcoming, as the two men on the bed were so involved with each other that everything else faded into the background.

Even when Lan Huan’s lanky body misstepped and the two men tumbled off the bed with a resounding “thump,” they didn’t stop writhing against each other.

Everyone else not involved in the fun floor activities was quiet, trying to process what exactly was happening and trying to figure out the appropriate reaction to what was essentially a live show between your nephew/older brother/employer’s boy-next-door-vibes nephew and his lover.

Su She, surprisingly, recovered from his shock first.

“Oh my god,” He said in horror. “You’re sleeping with the oppressor!”

Chapter Text

6.05 Hours to Disaster (Outside)

Wei Ying took a deep breath.

In through the nose.

Exhale through the mouth.

He did it again, just the way older sister had showed him when he was small and Jiang Cheng’s dogs had come a little too close for comfort.

He opened his eyes. Kept breathing.

Trees. A lot of them. The faraway wooden fencing that delineated the Lans’ property. A squirrel making its way up some branches. A pair of knives, glinting dulling in the afternoon sun. A well-maintained car parked in a spacious garage. An older model, one that Wei Ying couldn’t place. It was clean. Of course it was. Beaten up phone lying face down near him by the grass, video still playing as dulled, background noise.

Breath in. Out.

He sank to the ground. Wei Ying felt the grass tickling his palms, probably ruining the seat of his suit. His suit. Rarely used, so the fabric felt weird.

Oh god, his suit. He’d given the suits he and A-Yuan were supposed to wear to the Spring Festival dinner--the dinner to meet Lan Zhan’s family oh god--to his prospective uncle-in-law because he’d maybe-sort-of-panicked.

He and Lan QiRen were never on good terms, why would he do that? And then he told Lan Zhan about the encounter in a joking manner (why would he do that?). He was trying to make a good impression, but there he was taking Lan QiRen’s money for something his nephew had already paid for. HE WASN'T EVEN THE ACTUAL CLERK. Maturity who what when where??? He was such a trainwreck. Why would the Lans even want him to be part of their family? He had a horrible track record of keeping families. A-Yuan was the only one who stayed--so far--but maybe that was because he was still a kid. (A kid! Who the hell let Wei Ying raise a kid? Terrible choice. Terrible. The only good thing he’d done today was get away from the kid before the anxiety hit so bad his body locked up and he couldn’t breath properly). The kid didn’t know any better. That there were better choices than Wei Ying. It should have been Lan Zhan raising him. Lan Zhan who was all that was good and beautiful in this world…

Why the hell would he want a fuck-up like Wei Ying.

Wei Ying forced himself to take another painful, shuddery breath.

Chapter Text

5.97 Hours to Disaster (Outside)

Wei Ying was back. He had this under control.

Was his heart trying to beat itself out of his chest?

Definitely.

Were his hands needlessly trembling?

For sure-sure.

But he knew how to deal with this. Even when he couldn’t see older sister back then, he had had Lan Zhan.

Lan Zhan, so young and fresh out of the academy, had held him and told him to breathe.

Wei Ying sucked in a breath. Mn. Like that, Lan Zhan had said.

Inhale through his nose. Exhale through the mouth.

Repeat.

Now, where was he?

Butt on hard ground. Prickly grass on his palms. Annoying fabric of his cheap (best) suit.

The familiar feel of his crappy phone in his hands.

Breathing. Breathing.

Sounds. Sounds were next. Chirping birds. Weird thumping sounds coming from the house (he hadn’t expected that. He’d thought Lan Zhan’s house would be more zen and relaxed. Well, good. That meant Lan Zhan’s relatives were people, too. People who made noises. Good. Good).

The third sound came from his phone. It was Lan JingYi’s voice.

A video update from around an hour before.

He was making spring rolls. But he didn’t have the ingredients for actual spring rolls. He had chicken nuggets in the fridge, though. He’d fried it and put it in the spring roll wrapper and then proceeded to fry it again.

Wei Ying breathed in through his nose. Let out a chuckle through his mouth.

That was terrible.

Lan JingYi should have added some hot sauce.

Breathe in. Then breath out.

General forest-smelling smells. Wei Ying wasn’t an expert, but it definitely smelled like fresh air.

Good. Fresh air was good for his lungs.

What else could he smell?

Him. He definitely remembered to shower. Thank god. Thank A-Yuan. A-Yuan had reminded him to shower. It would have been terrible if he showed up to the eve of the Spring Festival dinner without having showered.

That would have made a really bad impression.

Wait. No. No thinking about the bad stuff.

He’d showered.

That was good.

Breath. In. Out.

What was the last one?

Emotion. He needed an emotion. What was he feeling?

He stared at his phone for help.

Lan JingYi’s culinary adventure update had ended and switched to a story about one of Jiang Cheng’s dogs.

Nope.

Wei Ying flipped the app closed before he could spiral again.

Opened his messages.

Lan Zhan.

He’d sent a cute bunny gif a while back. It wrinkled its little bunny nose.

Wei Ying smiled.

Love.

That was it.

He leaned back and breathed in. Still not easy, but getting there. Tried to counteract the negative emotions with his positive ones.

Tonight was going to be the night.

Things weren’t always perfect, but Lan Zhan and he knew where they stood.

They both wanted this.

They were already a family. Him, Lan Zhan, A-Yuan.

This was just a formality.

Whatever happened, he knew that he could trust his small family to have his back.

Wei Ying closed his eyes.

Breath in.

Breath out.

They had this.

Chapter Text

5.64 Hours to Disaster (Outside)

Wei Ying was about to do something ill-advised. He knew because the disapproving voice inside his head that sounded suspiciously like Jiang Cheng said so.

Also, he knew because it wasn’t as if he was unaware of his bad coping habits.

He knew okay??

He knew best because it was him. Duh. He was Wei WuXian, Wei WuXian was him; of course he was going to know him best.

So, he ignored the Jiang Cheng-sounding voice in his head (what did he know anyway? He had wanted to bring Jiang Cheng to this family meet-and-greet thing with A-Yuan as badly needed emotional support, but he was currently laid up in his flat recovering from an injury. An injury he got because he had caught a chronic case of stupid, so he had no high ground to berate his brother now, even if this was just a figment of Wei Ying’s imagination). Wei Ying reached up to test the strength of the wall-mounted trellis.

As expected from something constructed for the Lans, the addition seemed to be made of high-grade materials and sturdily assembled.

It could probably hold the weight of a grown man.

Grown man meaning Wei Ying.

He grabbed the wooden slats just above his head and gingerly hauled himself up. The wall-mounts groaned in protest, but it seemed to hold just fine.

He grabbed another slat, and then another, slowly making his way up.

So far so good.

There was a point where he had to pause and sweat it out a little because he was sure something had cracked, but, after a few very terse seconds where he didn’t fall two floors down (he’d had enough of jumping into mosh pits during his band days, thanks), he felt comfortable enough to proceed.

Still, he couldn’t deny that he was pretty relieved to reach the second floor window he had been aiming for.

He pried the window open--surprisingly unsecured. That was funny. He’d be sure to tease his boyfriend about it later--and tumbled in.

It was Lan Zhan’s room, of course. Wei Ying remembered it from his boyfriend’s descriptions. Also, the view outside the window matched the background he always saw when they video called each other at night. Mostly it was the latter. Lan Zhan, cute as he was, really wasn’t much of a talker.

But, anyway, the point here was that he knew this was Lan Zhan’s room.

He wasn’t being creepy and intruding in some strange person’s room. He’d made sure and shit.

It would be super embarrassing and stuff if he accidentally broke into the wrong room and the real owner found him snooping around.

Fortunately, this was real life. Not some comedy of errors where the universe dictated he, because of some misunderstanding that could have been easily avoided with better use of the ability to communicate, sneak in someone else’s room, get caught, have some shenanigans ensue, etc.

Heh. That would be problematic. Especially with what he had planned.

Wei Ying quickly got rid of the annoying suit he was wearing and burrowed under the heavy blue covers. It smelled like Lan Zhan, and it did wonders for his stress levels.

He stretched out, luxuriating in the spacious bed. This was the life.

All that was missing was his boyfriend.

And Wei Ying knew just the thing to get the man running to his room.

Arranging himself in the most provocative pose he could think of (and then he tried to do the lip thing where it was sort of open, but not, and not also like he was trying to do the duck face. It was hard. He gave up. Nevermind. Lan Zhan loved him for his beautiful soul, which could smize effortlessly.), he angled his phone camera to take a picture of the goods.

Then, just when he was about to take the shot…

Yeah, he grabbed a pillow and blocked his crotch.

Heh. He wasn’t going to give it all up to Lan Zhan at once of course!

He wasn’t that easy.

Wei Ying was a classy dude.

Chapter Text

5.5 Hours to Disaster (Upstairs)

Lan QiRen had exactly one (1) nephew.

That nephew’s name was Lan Zhan, formal name Lan WangJi.

He was a model citizen—a young man with a very promising career, in fact—and he was a dutiful, familial boy who kept a level head and didn’t start drama; he only ended it.

He was Lan QiRen’s pride and joy.

There was another man who lived with him and his perfect nephew. But Lan Huan was just Lan QiRen’s brother’s son, and he wanted nothing to do with him.

In fact, he had to reinforce this thought by voicing it out. “And we’re to have nothing to do with Lan Huan from now on!” Lan QiRen declared as he and Lan Zhan (his one and only perfect nephew) walked down the second floor hallway.

When it became clear that Lan Huan and Jin GuangYao didn’t give a damn about other people being present when they were having a more...er intimate moment, the three men had worked together to pull the couple away from each other.

(And by “worked together” Lan QiRen meant that Su She and Lan Zhan—with varying degrees of competence—worked to pry Lan Huan off of Jin GuangYao while he stood to the side and directed their movements by hollering confusing, and sometimes conflicting, instructions.

Su She suffered most from this.)

Su She, who had suddenly latched onto Lan Huan, as per one of Lan QiRen’s orders, received a sharp elbow to his face from the startled Lan for his troubles. His eye was now in the slow, agonizing process of swelling itself shut.

Tsk, Lan QiRen thought. The casualties of this day just kept mounting.

The good news was that Su She’s injury seemed to have snapped him out of his worship of Jin GuangYao and talk of revolution (for the moment) in favor of blubbering like a baby.

Lan QiRen had sent him downstairs to retrieve another bag of ice and maybe pop some Ibuprofen to relieve the pain.

Lan Zhan, meanwhile, was smart and athletic enough to dodge any desperate flails from an inebriated Jin GuangYao.

From where he was in the thick of things, Lan Zhan didn’t have time to ponder a strategy to deal with MengYao’s crazy, half-drunk fighting style. Sparing a split second to be disgruntled about how the plan to bring in Lan JingYi to divert uncle’s attention had worked perfectly only for older brother to make a mess of things again, Lan Zhan let his body respond according to his training. He rolled on the floor to avoid the angry man.

Doing so removed him from the range of MengYao’s (fortunately) short arms, but he also accidentally landed on the spilled champagne.

Gross.

Time to end this quickly, he thought, jackknifing upright. Lan Zhan threw a leg out, tripping MengYao so he was sent back down on the floor, groaning. Without even pausing for breath, Lan Zhan grabbed the other man’s arms and pinned them to his back, applying firm pressure to keep the smaller man down.

“Ugh, you can’t prove anything,” MengYao groaned. He quieted soon after that, knowing that he had lost this round (and, ok, also, maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t his best moment when he decided to throw caution to the wind and attempt the horizontal tango with Lan Huan in front of his family).

“Mn, no need,” Lan Zhan said calmly. “Was right here.”

MengYao only thunked his head onto the wood paneling in response.

After that, it was only a matter of exiling Lan Huan to his room for a time out and throwing Jin GuangYao under the cold spray of the shower to clear his head (but not in the shower of the bathroom connected to Lan QiRen’s prodigal nephew’s bathroom, of course.)

So, Lan QiRen and Lan Zhan (the best nephew Lan QiRen could ask for) were now on their way to the latter’s room. His nephew needed to change his shirt, and Jin GuangYao needed pants, which Lan Zhan had so generously offered to provide.

In hindsight, pants should have been the first order of business, but the issue had fallen by the wayside when other more pressing news popped up.

Lan QiRen wasn’t going to let past mistakes keep him from pushing through with his plans for the day, though. True, they were a little behind schedule, but he was confident that he could pressure everyone into pitching in and getting the celebration on the way.

Spurred by the gameplan he had formulated in his mind, Lan QiRen was eager to move to the execution phase. He walked faster to their destination, even pulling ahead of Lan Zhan all the while talking his nephew’s ear off and bemoaning how the scuffle had ruined Lan Zhan’s shirt.

Lan QiRen had encouraged him to get changed quickly before his young man came by. Goodness, what would he think if he saw Lan Zhan so unprepared to receive guests? It would make an awful impression!

Well, not on his watch!

They already couldn’t get rid of Jin GuangYao, whose face had been a prominent fixture on all the major news stations a while back when he stabbed the Mayor and became the prime suspect for the fire at GuanYin temple, because Lan QiRen’s pride wouldn’t allow him to rescind his offer. But he could at least make sure that Lan Zhan was presentable.

“Lan Zhan, double time now, boy.” Lan QiRen said when he reached the bedroom door, only to find that his (only) nephew had lagged behind.

He seemed to have gotten an urgent message because he was staring very intently at his phone. The knuckles of the hand holding it had turned white from his tightened grip.

“Lan Zhan,” Lan QiRen called out again. “Finish your business with the person on the phone quickly so we can get you changed.

His nephew was looking rather flushed around the ears, but, except for a twitch by his eye, he was still largely unresponsive.

Lan QiRen sighed at the holdup, but was willing to give the boy a little leeway in light of him being Lan QiRen’s best nephew.

He shook his head and decided, “I’ll do it then,” before grasping the doorknob.

Lan Zhan heard the crack of the knob and snapped out of his daze. He called out, “Uncle, wait. Don’t—“

But he had taken too long to respond.

Lan QiRen had already opened the door by around an arm's length. Wide enough for him to see into the room.

Lan Zhan, who had still been a couple of steps away from the entrance and coming to the door at a bad angle, couldn’t see what Lan QiRen was seeing.

But it didn't matter.

He was pretty sure he had a good idea of what was inside—what uncle was seeing right now. It was splayed out for him on his phone, after all.

Lan Zhan shifted his posture into the loose-looking parade rest he preferred when he was expecting a fight to break out but didn't yet want to reveal his cards.

Still, he didn’t manage to stop the bobbing of his Adam’s apple as he nervously swallowed.

Lan QiRen was silent.

Too quiet.

Lan Zhan’s fight/flight reflexes were screaming for him to move, to do something.

Anything. Anything to relieve the tension permeating the air.

In the end, it was his uncle who dictated the terms of engagement.

Lan QiRen gave a parting glare at the naked man lying frozen on his favorite nephew’s bed, before he slowly, oh so slowly and calmly, pulled the door shut.

At the click of the gears catching the door mechanism, he leaned on it casually, acting nonchalant.

“WangJi,” Lan QiRen began. He pulled off his glasses and began cleaning them even though he had just recently wiped the lenses and there were no dust specks at all.

He just wanted the time to drag. One of his favorite interrogation tactics that he was ironically using on Lan Zhan now. “You know, I noticed how you never told me your boyfriend’s name. Only that you had been together a while now.”

Lan Zhan said nothing. In fact, he was as still as a statue. His mind was racing, remembering all the times when he thought he had talked about or referred to Wei Ying. But then he realized with a sinking realization that those memories were only of his internal monologues.

None of the actual stories and funny anecdotes he had about his boyfriend and his son...were things he actually said out loud.

Oops?

“Opting to remain silent, huh?” Lan QiRen said in the same low but still threatening manner. “A good tactic. Perhaps I could provide the answers for you, though?”

Lan QiRen put his glasses back on and stroked his beard thoughtfully.

Lan Zhan had never been more alarmed in his life.

“It’s Wei WuXian, isn’t it? Wei WuXian is your long-time boyfriend?”

Lan Zhan pursed his lips. He let out a hesitant, “Mn.”

“Wei WuXian is also Yiling Laozu, too, yes?”

Lan Zhan stared dead straight at his uncle.

Lan QiRen looked his second disappointment nephew in the eye for a beat. Then he said, “WangJi.”

“Uncle.” Lan Zhan replied. His stone-face gave nothing away, but his terse tone and the subtle way he spread his feet apart to lower his center of gravity betrayed how he was ready for a physical altercation. His heart was beating a steady rhythm that contrasted with the frantic, uncoordinated noises emanating from his room.

Lan Zhan miscalculated the nature of the fight, though.

“Lan WangJi, get my gun.” Lan QiRen said, for all the world still the picture of calm.

Lan Zhan gritted his teeth and said, “No.”

“Do it,” Lan QiRen returned. His eyes narrowed. “Lan Zhan, get. my. gu—“

Lan QiRen was cut off abruptly as the door suddenly opened and he lost his balance, falling forward.

On the other side of the door, Wei Ying, who was a little preoccupied trying to get his clothes back on and in order and praying to all the gods that he knew about to just swallow him up in the ground this instant, noticed this new blunder and immediately slammed the door shut again.

Unfortunately, like Lan Zhan, he reacted too late. It would have probably been better to have kept the door open.

With Lan QiRen falling forward and the door rapidly closing the distance, Lan Zhan could see in his mind’s eye where his uncle’s head was about to connect with the door knob.

Then he saw it again when it actually happened .0003 seconds later.

Lan QiRen let out a pained noise at contact, but Lan Zhan barely flinched. He watched as his uncle slowly drooped bonelessly to the floor, once again knocked out. He was about to hit the floor, but Lan Zhan caught him at the very last second.

Lan Zhan was a filial man, after all. He wouldn’t let his uncle fall to the ground when he was right there to stop it.

But only just.

He wouldn’t stand having the love of his life threatened, after all.

The door to his room jerked open once more to reveal Wei Ying's panicked face.

“Lan Zhan!” He cried. “Oh my god, I felt the door hit something soli—OH MY GOD DID I KILL UNCLE LAN QIREN?!”

Lan Zhan looked down at his uncle and observed the twin lumps [9] growing out the side of his head, one for each nephew, and checked his breathing and pulse.

They were less than optimal, but within acceptable parameters.

He peeled one eyelid open and surmised, as best as he could without the proper tools, that his uncle probably didn’t have a concussion.

His first aid instructor would probably cry if he saw Lan Zhan being so careless now.

He taught about his answer to Wei Ying.

“En. Not yet,” Lan Zhan answered truthfully. Maybe they would, later, tonight, if Lan Zhan ever got to propose.

The door in the middle of the long landing burst open as well. Lan Huan stepped out of his room, brow furrowed with worry. “I HEARD THE WORD ‘KILL’! PLEASE DON’T KILL MENGYAO. IT REALLY WASN’T HIS FAULT!”

Then he thought better and amended: “In this instance!”

Even further down the hall, yet another door burst open. It was MengYao, looking decidedly unhappy about being forcibly sobered from his impromptu shower. He was wet and clad only in a small, fluffy bath towel [10] that he had found in one of the annoyingly ostentatious cupboard/cabinet things en suite the second largest bedroom in the Lan ancestral home.

He was also holding the neck of a broken champagne bottle in one hand and brandishing it threateningly, but Lan Huan’s brain was still stuck on the part where he looked like the most delicious drowned rat that Lan Huan had ever come across in his life.

The other details were minor.

“You’ll never get me!” MengYao screamed. He waved the broken bottle a little more, but eventually had to put his arm down when he realized that Lan QiRen was (once again) unconscious and no one else (Lan Zhan, that beast, specifically. He’d heard Lan Huan still defending him, what a sweet idiot) seemed to actively be trying to kill him.

Everyone on the second floor landing quieted, standing around hoping somebody would say something to clear things up.

From where he was propping his uncle up on the floor, Lan Zhan was in the best position to explain everything.

Except he didn’t particularly feel like explaining.

So, he just... didn’t.

He picked up Lan QiRen, telling Wei Ying that he was going to lay his uncle down on his bed to rest, and moved to the next room over, leaving the confused contingency to sort themselves out in the meantime.

“Uhm,” Wei Ying began, waving at Lan Huan. “Hi, Lan XiChen?”

From where he was still standing distractedly ogling MengYao, Lan Huan flapped his hand in acknowledgement. It’d been years since he’d last seen Wei WuXian, honestly, and the last time was in some rave aftermath where he had to pick Lan Zhan up from lockup and everyone was a mess, so he really wasn’t sure who this new guy was. Probably Lan Zhan’s boyfriend. Whatever.

MengYao, who lived an exciting life that necessitated more observational skills than usual unless one wanted to find a shank swimming somewhere inside with their guts, picked out Wei Ying’s familiar insufferable face quickly. “What are you doing here?”

“Uh, I got invited??” Wei Ying said, mildly offended that Jin GuangYao of all people seemed to be doubting the legitimacy of his presence here. In fact, he couldn’t figure out why Mo XuanYu’s odious half-brother would be hanging around the place. “I should be asking you the same thing. A-Yu’s been looking for you since last night. He’s worried sick!”

Completely ignoring how he’d completely forgotten to call his brother back after last night’s drinking binge, MengYao said: “Invited? Lan WangJi is actually going to introduce you—Wei WuXian—to Lan QiRen? That man must be dumber than Lan Huan!”

“Hey,” Lan Huan protested. “Wait, did you say ‘Wei WuXian’?”

Lan Huan finally turned his attention to the strange man with them and looked. Really looked.

He was a little older, wearing significantly less makeup and sporting a healthy color compared to the waifish pallor he had been rocking back in college, but Lan Huan couldn’t deny that this was definitely the bane of his uncle’s existence: Wei Ying, Wei WuXian.

Several things clicked in his brain as he realized that this was the man younger brother was going to introduce to the family.

“Oh, thank the gods,” Lan Huan breathed out in wonder and relief. “I haven’t brought the worst person to dinner.”

Chapter Text

5.4 Hours to Disaster (downstairs)

Su She trudged dejectedly down the stairs.

More or less.

To be more accurate, he was half-trudging, half-endangering himself down the stairs. Su She kept miscalculating the distance of the steps because, with one eye swollen shut, his depth perception was shot to hell.

So, accidentally bashing his brain against the steps of the Lans’ ancestral house’s unnecessarily long and winding grand staircase was a very real possibility the entire descent.

He only made it to the ground floor landing through prayers and luck.

“Oof,” he said as he clipped yet another corner—getting down the stairs was only the beginning of his trials, of course. Nothing was ever handed over to Su She. Why would he expect otherwise in this instance?

Moreover, why was the kitchen so far away? Why did this house have so many inconvenient walls and corners that were definitely placed there to make Su She’s life harder than it already was?

And most important of all: why did Lan WangJi have to show him up like that upstairs? Whhhhy?

It was extremely unfair.

Not everyone could be an amazingly talented robocop like Lan WangJi. Why did he have to go around casually showcasing how fit he was when Su She could barely hold himself up for a single pushup?

Gods, he was probably super ripped under his dumb polo shirts and ugly cop uniform.

Su She looked down to self-consciously poke at his soft, jiggly belly, narrowly avoiding a collision with one of the decorative shelves that lined the hallway he was in.

Lan WangJi probably had washboard abs. And he was probably lording it over all the unfit people in his silent, broody, cool-guy way.

What an asshole.

In fact, Lan WangJi was probably laughing at him right now. He was probably thinking, that Su She dude is so lame. He can’t even do a flip-roll and flow seamlessly into a leg kick. Which I can totally do. It’s so easy for me to do. Like, you know, the way I find everything else easy to do.

Ugh. Su She hated that guy’s high-and-mighty attitude most out of all among his bourgeoisie oppressors.

Who did he think he was?

Mr. MengYao had been such an inspiration to him, too. He had said “No!” to Mayor Wen’s tyranny with the business end of his letter opener[11], and bamboozled the notoriously pig-headed Lan QiRen into giving in to his demands. Except for the fact that he was sometimes literally in bed with the enemy, Su She wanted to be just like him.

But Lan WangJi had to ruin everything by being his perfect self.

He’d easily subdued his idol, and Mr. MengYao had even gone along with his orders without much fuss.

Su She had thrown his lot with those who were in the right, but what did he have to show for his efforts?

Nothing.

Nothing but an eye injury and a sorely bruised ego. Lan QiRen had ultimately dismissed him and sent him back to the kitchen.

Which, ok, technically, the kitchen was his domain, being the Lan family cook and all, and he did need to ice down his eye—but it still didn’t make him feel less like Cinderella being barred from joining the party with Mr. MengYao by…

Well, by his evil step mother and his step sisters!

Wow, the more Su She thought about it, the more convinced he became that the parallels of his life and his favorite Disney princess movie meant something.

Did it mean that his Fairy godmother [12] was about to come along and take him away from his unfortunate circumstances?

Or even better: Would he finally get Lan WangJi abs??

Noise from the general direction of the kitchen drew his attention.

Oh my gods!

This was his moment, he was sure (he did spare a thought that it might actually a murderous home invader who was about to do him in as the first casualty of a serial killing spree, but, considering who lived here and the crazy security measures Lan QiRen and Lan WangJi had installed around the house, the only criminal elements who would be capable of entering were the criminals the homeowners themselves decided to invite. So, Su She thought he was in the clear), and he hurried towards the area as fast as his poorly coordinated movements would allow.

But instead of a benevolent entity who was going to carry him away princess-style from his sad existence as the Lans’ cook and Lan QiRen’s all around errand boy, he found another aspect of the Disney story invading his kitchen:

“RATS,” he wailed.

Lan JingYi, whose insatiable teenage appetite was the scourge of kitchens, pantries, and supermarket kiosks with free-taste promos everywhere, looked up from where he was currently leaning by the kitchen island and polishing off a plate of something. Su She couldn’t tell what it was, because there was nothing left to determine which kitchen stock was the latest casualty in the battle to fill Lan JingYi’s bottomless pit of a stomach.

“Su She! My mans!” Lan JingYi greeted genially. Despite Su She’s blatant loathing for the boy, Lan JingYi really liked Su She, because Su She had the food, and he always gave him food (mostly because it either shut him up or got him to leave Su She alone). The point was, Lan JingYi legitimately thought Su She was great. “How you doin’, we haven’t seen each other in a while—”

(Because Su She tried really hard to avoid him)

“—Su She, the Su She Chef[13]!” Lan JingYi finished, chuckling. He was absolutely delighted by his wittiness.

Su She had found it cute exactly one (1) time: the first time Lan JingYi had made the joke when he was seven and everything that came out of his smart mouth was adorable and funny.

Now Su She was just withered and tired and wanted Lan JingYi to get over himself and stop this harassment.

“Oh, bee-tee-double-you, I ate some of these peanut ball things. They were great. Really snatched my edges, you know? I absolutely stanned.” He gushed.

Su She wanted to cry. Why didn’t the boy know how to talk normally?

“Oh, hello there!” Said another voice from somewhere on Su She’s blind side.

When he turned to check who it was, he broke into a cold sweat.

Oh, no.

It was another teenager, albeit a better dressed one compared to Lan JingYi’s fashion disaster aesthetic.

The new kid was a little taller than Lan JingYi, but not by much, and he wore a neat sweater vest over a light blue button up. His hair was combed back and parted immaculately. It reminded him of one of Lan WangJi’s outfits, which irritated Su She’s already frayed nerves.

Did Su She have to feed him, too?

“Ah, sorry for the trouble. It’s already past lunch but we haven’t seen the others, so we helped ourselves to some of the food here. I hope you don’t mind.” He said, offering a plate of some steamed food that Su She had prepared this morning. “Would you like some shumai?”

The kid was polite and had a nice, reassuring cadre to his voice. Su She would have been mollified if his entire demeanor didn’t remind him of Lan WangJi and his absolute perfection.

Su She could only spare a petulant scowl at the unnamed boy.

Reading his disdain, the kid wisely moved back toward Lan JingYi, who was oblivious to the tension between Su She and the Lan WangJi mini clone.

The youngest Lan even provided introductions while chewing, “Su She, this is A-Yuan. A-Yuan, Su She,” although he characteristically failed to provide context to the people he was introducing.

The boy Lan JingYi so brazenly called “A-Yuan” took it upon himself to complete the introductions. He smiled at Su She and offered a hand to shake, once again trying to seemingly befriend Su She.

“Hello! My name is Wei Yuan, Lan JingYi’s friend. Are you one of his relatives?”

Su She scoffed. As if the high and mighty Lans would ever see him as one of them. As if Su She wanted to be a Lan? No way. Not at all.

Su She was a proud working-class man. He could never bear to have everything he had in life—wealth, looks, abs—handed to him on a silver platter like the Lans.

So, he said, “Absolutely not! I’m just Su She, the Lans’ live-in cook.”

“Oh!” Wei Yuan exclaimed. “You made this food, then? Lan JingYi’s family is so lucky to have you around! The food has been so delicious. Thank you for your hard work.”

Su She squinted. Those were some really nice words when he expected the boy to look down on his station in life.

This kid must be playing tricks on him!

Su She let out a displeased noise. “You’ve only given me more work to do by eating the food I cooked earlier!”

Wei Yuan was unflappable. With an apologetic look, he said, “I was concerned about that too, sir.”

Su She was about to project his hatred of Lan WangJi onto the boy and berate him for his thoughtlessness, when the boy stepped aside to reveal the other side of the island counter.

“That’s why I took the liberty of continuing to chop these vegetables that I found on the counter. And I’ve prepared the fish for steaming, too. It should be ready by dinner—together with some spring rolls I made to replace the ones Lan JingYi ate from his bouquet.”

Su She boggled. From where he was standing, he could see that Wei Yuan had cleaned the fish well, and he even cut the produce up in perfectly even slices!

He wouldn’t let this Lan WangJi stand-in win. Su She frantically looked around for something to be displeased about. His eyes landed on the plate of dumplings.

Aha.

“But look, you’ve eaten all the dumplings. It’s going to take me so long to make more!”

Wei Yuan kept smiling, “Don’t worry, sir! I felt bad about eating so much shumai so I made more.” He pointed to some platters on the kitchen counter that had perfectly formed dumplings, waiting to be cooked.

Was this kid for real? Su She was having a really hard time hating him.

“And since there were still some ingredients left over, I went ahead and made some hot buns for a snack.”

Su She turned to the other kitchen counter, where there indeed was something cooking in the steamer.

What the hell. This kid couldn’t have been here more than two hours, at most. He shouldn’t have been able to do all that[14].

It was physically impossible to—

“The dishes!” Su She exclaimed. With all the prepping and cooking he was doing, Wei Yuan probably didn’t have time to wash the dishes. “Did you do the dishes?”

Wei Yuan hung his head in regret, “Ah, by then I was busy making the buns—”

Su She was about to gloat at his win when the boy’s good humor returned.

“—So I asked Lan JingYi to do it!”

“And I totally did!” Lan JingYi chimed in. The boy stuck a skinny arm out and tried to flex his muscles. The two boys then high-fived each other for their excellent teamwork.

Su She was at his limit.

He had painstakingly prepared all the Spring Festival food ingredients from scratch and according to the 3000 rigid requirements in the Lan recipes he was ordered to use to suit the family's ridiculously picky refined palate. It took forever and a sacrifice of his blood, sweat, and tears to get everything done properly. This kid was spitting all over his hard work by making food prep and cleanup look easy!

Everyone was lording how better they were over him!

“Well, if you’re so good at this,” Su She bellowed, “Why don’t you just do it all then?!”

The two boys were visibly taken aback by Su She’s outburst. He would’ve felt bad about it except he was busy feeling bad about himself.

He felt so disrespected.

Su She finally made a stance.

“You can steam the dumplings, cook the fish, prepare more sweet rice balls, even recreate Lan QiRen’s favorite noodle dish yourselves for all I care!” If he wasn’t going to be appreciated by these people, then they didn’t deserve him! Pulling himself up to his not-that-impressive average height, he declared: “I’m leaving!”

And with that, he turned and swept away to make a really cool getaway.

Or at least he tried to. He was still trying to compensate for the eye that was swollen shut, and he overdid his turn. Su She stumbled a little before he was able to regain his balance, but even then it was dubiously won.

Trying really hard not to look over his shoulder to the teenagers who were probably judging him, Su She kept walking away. He was going to hijack the Lan car and go on a cleansing drive around the town center. See if he cared about how the dinner went tonight!

Meanwhile, the two teens were left alone and unsupervised once more in the kitchen.

Wei Yuan turned to Lan JingYi, a worried expression on his face. “I think we might have upset him?”

Lan JingYi waved the other boy’s concerns away. “Nah, it’s nothing. Su She likes to do that. It’s like a game between him and me. I come visit, and then he hides. That’s our bonding thing.”

Wei Yuan was a little skeptical about how his friend was describing his interactions with the family cook. He rather thought that Su She’s reaction was borne from a deep-seated form of self-hate that had somehow boiled over in this exact moment.

He was also a little worried about how he could hear a car start and drive off. Wei Yuan didn’t think Su She was fit to drive, what with his eye injury and obvious depth perception issues.

But Wei Yuan was a trusting boy at heart. He didn’t know Su She all that much, and if Lan JingYi said it was alright, then it probably was.

“Oh, ok,” He said. Then he remembered something that Su She said. “JingYi, I know we tried to replace the food we were eating, but I don’t remember anything about noodles. There weren’t any when I got here.”

Lan JingYi took awhile to sift through the long list of things he had eaten so far in the house, but he eventually remembered that he had eaten that entire dish of special noodles. How could he have forgotten? There were extra toppings and the sauce was super delicious. Lan JingYi had to hold himself back from literally licking the plate clean.

“Oh, Uncle-cousin just has this favorite type of noodle that he always has served on special occasions. All the ingredients are made from scratch and really, really finicky to prepare. Like, you need literal days to do it properly...” Lan JingYi trailed off. The repercussions of what his stomach had made him do was just now hitting him.

He looked up at Wei Yuan, eyes wide, “...And I just ate it all.”

“We also don’t have any ingredients left to make even regular noodles,” Wei Yuan said.

Lan JingYi was ready to tear his hair out. “Oh noooo, what are we gonna do? Uncle’s gonna kill me!”

“Maybe we can explain how it was an accident?” Wei Yuan said reasonably.

Lan JingYi shook his head. “You haven’t seen uncle when his plans get derailed. Or when he doesn’t get what he expects to get. Dude, he has guns! Plural!”

Wei Yuan also highly doubted that Lan JingYi’s uncle would shoot anyone, especially on the eve of the Spring Festival. “Um, it probably won’t be as bad as you think. And, I mean, if we really need to have noodles for the dinner...”

As one, the two boys turned to look over their shoulders where Wei Yuan had put the crockpot filled with Wei WuXian’s Homemade Noodles with Extra Demonic Sauce. The bright red concoction was plain to see through the clear lid. It was practically radiating a sinister miasma that sent our signals of hot sauce death to anyone who beheld it.

Lan JingYi and Wei Yuan turned to each other, considering.

“Your dad’s cooking isn’t that bad...”

“If needs must, I guess...”

They said at the same time. Both boys, long-time friends, had been eating Wei WuXian’s food for as long as they had known each other. And they had survived to tell the tale. It should be fine to serve the food, right? They just needed a noodle [15] dish to substitute the one Lan JingYi had mistakenly eaten.

What could go wrong?

Chapter Text

5 Hours to Disaster

Lan QiRen cracked open bleary eyes and very quickly came to the conclusion that he was dead.

As a career military man[16], he had long ago come to terms with mortality and the fickleness of life—his and other peoples’—so he was theoretically ready to accept his inevitable demise.

What he hadn’t considered was that he would end up languishing in the lowest bowels of hell with the worst people he had the misfortune to meet.

From right above him, the worried and politely inquisitive faces of the banes of his existence, Wei WuXian and Jin GuanYao (respectively) peered down at him.

Wei WuXian was, thankfully, clothed this time. It was obvious he had put his suit back on in haste because the buttons of his shirt didn’t line up and his suit collar was tucked in. Sloppy.

Unfortunately, the effort didn't matter. Another lifetime spent far away from any traces of the man wouldn’t be enough to cleanse the image of Wei WuXian completely naked on his younger nephew’s childhood bed from his memory.

(Yet another reason to believe he was in hell).

Speaking of clothing, Jin GuangYao was now also covered up. Lan QiRen didn’t know what happened to his actual clothes that he couldn’t wear them, but the alternative seemed to be Lan Zhan’s old Gusu Police Academy sweats.

It was… not a good fit. For one thing, Jin GuangYao was a known law-breaker. Donning the proud blue-and-white cloud symbol of the police academy was an affront to everyone who graduated from it. Second, it literally didn’t fit. The sweater was trying its very best to consume the petite man until he got lost in its folds.

A quick glance down confirmed that Jin GuangYao had also finally overcome his pants-less state, although that could very easily change: if the sweater was several sizes too big for him, then Lan Zhan’s sweats were even more ill-fitting on the Jin bastard.

It was too long in the leg, so he had to fold it at the hem several times before he could walk around without being a trip hazard.

But then, the extra weight at his ankles created a not-insignificant weight that threatened to drag the pants down his slim hips. As it was, it was already sitting dangerously low—a fact that not only Lan QiRen noticed.

Lan QiRen’s foolhardy older nephew, he noticed, had also noticed. He was currently hovering nearby, staring goopily at the general area of Jin GuangYao’s ass. His hands were half raised as if he was getting ready to catch the pants in case it gave up its battle holding onto Jin GuangYao’s hip bones.

Or maybe he was posed like that because he wanted to pull it down.

After that shameful display at the second-largest bedroom of the Lan ancestral house, Lan QiRen wasn’t going to make any charitable assumptions about his nephew’s virtue.

Or lack thereof.

Anyway. That wasn’t his main concern with the would-be criminal. Even fully clothed, he gave off the air of having something up his sleeve. Or up his shirt. Or down his pants legs.

The thing was, there were strange bulges underneath his clothes and Lan QiRen couldn’t make heads or tails what they were. But, as with Lan Huan, he was willing to bet the house that it was nothing that would make him feel reassured at having the man around.

His attempts to develop x-ray vision to determine what Jin GuangYao was hiding were interrupted when Wei WuXian, proof that gremlins did exist, stuck two fingers dangerously close to his face.

“UNCLE!” Wei WuXian screamed even when he was literally standing right by Lan QiRen’s side. He was also making sure to enunciate his words slowly. “ARE YOU ALRIGHT? HOW MANY FINGERS AM I HOLDING UP?!”

Lan QiRen had a second of insanity where he truly considered snapping at the man’s hand, just biting off a little to teach the idiot that it wasn't prudent to be sticking out vulnerable appendages in front of people who vehemently disliked you, but just as quickly recovered himself.

He irritably pushed the offending hand away, saying at the same volume that Wei WuXian was projecting his annoying voice, “I won’t be able to tell if you poke my eyes out!”

Wei WuXian, ever the optimist, chose to fixate on the only positive thing he could find in the reply, “So, calling you "uncle" is okay?”

Lan QiRen sputtered. No, it wasn’t okay. It would never be OKAY. But instead of voicing his thoughts, he opted to reach under his pillow and fish out the trusty revolver he kept there...only to grasp at thin air. Flipping the pillow over revealed that his Smith and Wesson had indeed gone missing.

Scrambling to get to the drawer on the side of his bed, he found the same thing: nothing.

No gun.

Tentatively reaching down to where his third backup gun had been tucked away produced the same results.

A click in the corner of the room drew his attention to the nephew who was previously unaccounted for.

Lan Zhan was sitting by the ornate tea table that was put in his room to be more of a decorative piece than to serve any function; Lan QiRen didn’t have much use for it beyond as an occasional convenient surface to put odds and ends on. When he wanted tea, he took it in the living room or veranda. When he needed to do paperwork or anything that involved a desk, he did it in his home office on the third floor, just above his bedroom.

Lan QiRen’s tiny, useless table was now getting a new purpose in life.

Lan Zhan had commandeered it and was in the process of disassembling Lan QiRen’s main gun, his backup gun, his backup backup gun, and his shotgun—which wasn’t anywhere near easy reach of his bed in case someone managed to get through the Lan home security. It was too unwieldy. He didn’t want that bogging him down if he had to fight off a night-attacker—but his nephew was thorough like that.

He rued the day that he trained Lan Zhan so well with firearms and about tactically disarming said firearms to lower the potential for aggressive retaliation.

Lan QiRen’s younger nephew looked him dead in the eye and said, “No.”

To emphasize his point, he dropped the magazine of the pistol he was disassembling into his free hand, purposefully laid it down on the table alongside the other perfectly arranged parts of Lan QiRen’s gutted gun collection.

Smoothly pulling the slide back to check the gun was no longer loaded, Lan Zhan proceeded to take the piece apart, all without taking his eyes away from his uncle.

Lan QiRen wouldn’t be intimidated. Lan Zhan may have found three of his bedroom intruder guns, but, by his count, his nephew hadn’t located his even more secret backup of the backup of the backup gun.

Slapping his palm on a trick panel on his headboard, Lan QiRen reached into the compartment to retrieve his Glock and threaten people just a little.

Then he groped some more into the space.

He looked down in disbelief.

There was no Glock inside.

“Looking for this?” Lan Zhan said, pulling out Lan QiRen’s fourth> gun from the waistband of his pants. He removed the safety and cocked the gun. “Please stop threatening Wei Ying.”

Hah! Over his dead(-er) body. “No,” Lan QiRen said empathically.

Lan Zhan only narrowed his eyes further. A dark, foreboding aura emitted from him, threatening to suffocate the occupants.

“OKAAAY,” Wei WuXian butted in. He smiled nervously and held his hands out in a placating gesture in both Lans’ directions, “Thank you, Lan Zhan, for that very sexy display of protecting me. We will discuss this at a later time because the bad cop act is definitely giving me ideas—”

“TMI.” Jin GuangYao muttered from where he stood. He had taken stock of the situation once Lan Zhan started to pull out guns earlier, and gravitated towards the bed where he was pretty sure there were no longer any firearms as a self-defensive measure. But he was rethinking his decision now as it put in right in the general direction of Lan Zhan’s trigger finger.

And within earshot of Wei WuXian’s lust fantasies. Ugh.

“—but let’s focus on the moment.” Wei WuXian bravely continued. “Uncle—”

“Don’t call me that,” Lan QiRen snapped.

“—UNCLE Lan QiRen’s awake now. I’m really worried about the lumps on your head. Speaking from experience taking a couple of bad knocks in life [17], I really think you should get someone to look at that.”

“Mn, I know first aid. Should be fine.” Lan Zhan said very unconvincingly.

From where he was standing uselessly by Jin GuangYao’s side, Lan Huan cleared his throat. He was the only one in the family who wasn’t trained on how to properly use a gun, but growing up with the other two, Lan Huan knew that the presence of loaded firearms was never a good idea in such a volatile situation. “Uh, I, uh, agree with Wei WuXian. Brother, lower the weapon please.”

Lan Zhan looked like he was going to refuse, but Wei WuXian echoed Lan Huan’s request. Lan Zhan immediately dropped his arm to his side, compliant when it was his boyfriend who was doing the asking.

Lan Huan breathed a sigh of relief.

That was one problem somewhat addressed at least. He took another deep breath, “Listen, we can all talk about this like reasonable adults...”

“Mn. Uncle needs to treat my boyfriend with respect.” Lan Zhan said, hand spazzing distressingly by his side.

“That means no gun threats, or else,” He threatened.

Lan QiRen curled his lip. “Not a chance. That boy was bad for you in the past [18], and he still is. Look at you, acting so unlike yourself for him. Shameless!”

Wei WuXian said nothing. This was exactly what he was afraid of happening. He turned away from the others to hide and hung his head. But Lan Zhan could still see the devastation on the other man’s face from where he was standing. He tightened his grip on the pistol.

“Uncle,” Lan Huan started. “That was uncalled fo—”

“Be quiet, Lan XiChen!” Lan QiRen commanded. The older Lan nephew immediately shut his mouth, so used to a lifetime of following his uncle’s instructions that he didn’t know how to go against them now.

Fortunately, MengYao was under no compunction to behave that way.

He too had come to the same conclusion as Lan Huan, more or less. Once he realized that the two members of the Lan clan were probably packing more heat than all the pimps and gang members in his neighborhood combined (and he lived in the horrible part of town. There were a lot of rough people hanging about), he wished he’d minded his business last night and stayed over at his half-brother’s place nursing his broken heart nth bottle of beer. It would have made him miss getting laid, but the ensuing headache didn’t seem worth last night’s dicking.

Still, he was here now, and MengYao was used to eking out as much as he could of the bad hands he kept being dealt in life.

He put on his most subservient smile, the smile that his mother taught him to make, the one that made her customers treat her less roughly, and tried to placate Lan QiRen.

“Now, now, there’s no need to react violently,” he said, even if it made him a hypocrite. He didn’t particularly care. He’d already stabbed a man once. This was a trifle. “Wei WuXian could just see himself out the door now, and we’ll be right as rain.”

He gestured at the mentioned man, cocking his head, a clear message to get himself out of the room soon. Personally, he thought that this was what was best for everyone--Wei WuXian included. MengYao was sparing the poor man from more grief, he justified to himself.

Wei WuXian, who had been spiraling while the entire conversation was happening moved to do just that, but Lan Zhan’s hand shot out just as he passed him and kept Wei WuXian in place. He drew the man close and tried to move him behind him, as if trying to hide his boyfriend from his uncle’s sight.

Lan QiRen had yet to notice that though. He had looked at Jin GuangYao when the smaller man spoke, disdain plain for everyone to see on his face.

“Who are you to talk?” He said waspishly as he got out of bed. He wobbled a little as blood rushed to his head, but recovered quickly. Making sure to clip Jin GuangYao on the shoulder—the shorter man clinked suspiciously, what was that—he marched towards the door. “You’ve worn out your welcome, as well, criminal. See yourself out with the other one.”

MengYao didn’t have a handy platitude to hand back to Lan QiRen. In his mind, this moment was being played on top of his previous experiences with his father’s dismissals of him.

He was utterly humiliated.

Lan Huan tried to reach for his hand, similar to Lan Zhan and his man, but MengYao only shrugged him off and moved out of his range.

“A-Yao...” Lan Huan said.

“Lan XiChen, Lan WangJi,” Lan QiRen’s commanding tone broke through the tension. He was facing the door, not the people he was addressing. Nothing about it should have been menacing, but the aura he gave off belied the innocuous pose, “I will be checking up on Su She’s progress with dinner. I expect to see you two—and only you two—down at the dining room within the hour in your suits. We shall proceed with dinner as originally planned.”

The elder Lan quietly slipped out of the room but marked his exit by slamming the door with a teeth-chattering finality.

Those left inside flinched.

Chapter Text

4.5 Hours to Disaster

Lan QiRen walked through the silent hallways of the Lans’ ancestral house with the air of someone with purpose. In truth, he was lost, deep in thought. He loved his nephews, that was true. But he now saw that he had been too soft on them and they had, consequently, become undisciplined.

As their uncle, he needed to guide them firmly back onto the right path. The loss of their current targets of affection would probably sting for a while, but Lan QiRen was sure they would eventually see the merit of cutting ties with such unsavory characters from their lives.

He had seen what had happened with his once stalwart brother, and how that woman had wrecked his life. Lan QiRen would not allow the same fate to befall his nephews.

So, why did he feel a sense of foreboding?

What he was doing was right, right?

Lan QiRen pushed his doubts away. He was probably getting such a feeling of unease because the house was vaguely disorganized. Nothing overt, but there were small changes that wouldn’t have been so noticable if Lan QiRen wasn’t so used to having the decor in his home set in a specific position, down to the very last millimeter.

He was going to have to give Su She a stern talking to about this, he thought, as he fixed a frame that was slightly slanted.

Then he spotted the knick-knack shelf; the fine porcelain figures were slightly askew. Sighing once again that he seemed to be doing all the work to maintain the semblance of order in this house, he carefully moved the pieces back the quarter inch they seemed to have migrated.

Lan QiRen didn’t know how this had happened [19], but his mind couldn’t help but draw parallels between the chaos upstairs with the small, scattered disturbances downstairs.

The entire way to the kitchen, usually a quick walk to and fro, took longer because Lan QiRen couldn’t help but stop and try to put everything back in its proper place. But his preoccupation didn’t mean he wasn’t paying attention when he did reach the doorway that led into the kitchen.

More than conscious thought, however, his gut feeling stopped him from walking through the threshold. Today’s events had put his mind in battle mode. And he was sensing a pattern. Most of his previous accidents occured when he crossed a doorway, so he was understandably wary of crossing yet another one.

His nephews were accounted for upstairs, so if anyone was going to cause trouble here, it would be Su She.

Images of the Lans’ cook setting the kitchen on fire in some silly display of a revolt or something crossed Lan QiRen’s mind, but he didn’t really think the man had the balls to do that.

So, Lan QiRen bravely, but not without some trepidation, bit the bullet and walked through the doorway.

Oh my gods, he thought to himself as he entered. I forgot about Lan JingYi.

Lan QiRen wanted to slap his forehead. Maybe crawl back into bed and pretend this day never existed. With all the excitement upstairs, he had forgotten that he still had one other disappointing relative currently inside his house.

Upon hearing someone come in, Lan JingYi quickly turned from where he had been bent over the kitchen counter, fumbling his phone before shoving it in his back pocket.

“Su She?” He said.

Seeing his uncle, however, Lan JingYi’s expression changed from one of guilt to one of panicking guilt.

Lan QiRen made a note of that. He was definitely concerned about that. Lan JingYi was usually an open book and you could reliably gauge his feelings—and the level of disaster he was about to bring upon unsuspecting people—by his expressions.

But more pressing concerns first.

He pointed at the boy beside his youngest relative and demanded, “Who is this?!”

Lan JingYi jumped. He seemed surprised at the question. Did he expect him to know? The boy was an overshare on those new fangled “social networking sites,” constantly posting inane news about his pimples and ranting about something called “wangxian fic” (wait, nevermind, in light of today’s discoveries, he could figure that one out on his own. Did even Lan JingYi know about the relationship before him? Lan QiRen wanted to throw his hands up in surrender), but surely he didn’t expect his uncle to keep tabs on all his little friends!

He barely logged onto the site that Lan Huan had installed in his cell phone before he left, to think that he’d remember this specific relative’s life events was too much to ask for.

“Wait, didn’t cousin-Zhan say…?” Lan JingYi started, before trailing off, at a loss on how to proceed. Was cousin going to keep the proposal a surprise? Was he keeping his practically-adopted-son a surprise, too? Could he tell uncle-cousin about the plan? Oh my gosh, Lan JingYi wanted the WangXian night to be perfect, but he was only now realizing how ill-prepared he was to be a good wing-cousin!

From the corner of his eye, he could see A-Yuan opening his mouth to answer, probably because it was the polite thing to do.

“Hello, sir. My name is We—”

Lan JingYi cut him off. He wasn’t going to take any chances.

“This is A-Yuan!” He burst out. “He’s a classmate.

“From. Uh, school,” he said lamely. “Uncle, A-Yuan. A-Yuan, my uncle who’s also a cousin a couple of times removed, Lan QiRen.”

Wei Yuan turned a puzzled look at him. A-Yi did have a tendency to blurt out weird and seemingly random things, he was used to that. But he was also usually in on the joke. Not so much now. Were they keeping something from the man who just came in?

The only answer Wei Yuan got was a hastily mouthed “tell you later.” So, he supposed he had to content himself until then.

On the other end of the kitchen, Lan QiRen was even less impressed by the cloak and dagger moves.

My god, everyone in his family was such terrible liars. Who brought “just a classmate” to your family’s ancestral house on the eve of the Spring Festival? No one, that’s who.

He resisted the urge to roll his eyes. Really, this kid was ridiculous. “It’s fine, JingYi. You can tell me that this is your boyfriend.”

Turning to face the newcomer, he said, “Hello A-Yuan. It’s nice to meet you. I’m this shameful one’s uncle. This is my house.”

“Oh, um, thank you for your hospitality?” The boy said. He was good-mannered. What a pleasant break from the first two boyfriends he’d met today.

Meanwhile, Lan JingYi was sputtering. Still hung up on his uncle-cousin mistaking his best friend for his boyfriend. Because they totally weren’t?? Where did Lan QiRen get that idea???

“Uncle! We’re not—

That is—

Uh—

I mean, what I mean is…

Lan QiRen watched Lan JingYi, recently demoted to third bane of his existence, as he struggled to form a coherent sentence.

It wasn’t going well. Instead, Lan JingYi’s voice was demonstrating its range by cracking on five different octaves on different occasions. He kept looking at the A-Yuan boy, as if asking for guidance or maybe an intervention or death.

The other boy just looked back at him with a fondly bemused expression that made Lan QiRen want to snort.

Unsubtle.

It looked like this uncle still had it. He congratulated himself in catching that, opting to take a piece of fried spring roll arranged prettily on a plate on the counter and taking a victory bite out of it. He immediately regretted it as it tasted nothing like a spring roll should.

In fact, looking into the contents of the roll, Lan QiRen was wary about calling it a Spring anything. There were no greens at all. There was just… were those chicken nuggets?

Disgusting. Lan QiRen tried to surreptitiously put the offensive thing back on the plate while the two boys were distracted.

“...and we’re only sixteen?? We’re practically babies! We shouldn’t… shouldn’t be thinking about that yet.” Lan JingYi said, looking absolutely scandalized.

“Why not?” Lan QiRen said. “Age won’t make you better at choosing relationships. Your cousins are more than twice your age, and they haven’t seemed to have developed any good judgement in the ’choosing a suitable boyfriend’ department.”

In fact, Lan JingYi’s boyfriend looked like a person he imagined his relatives should be dating. For one thing, he was very definitely wearing pants in public. This was already a big thing in Lan QiRen’s rapidly deteriorating standards for suitable Lan suitors.

He was polite, too, from what Lan QiRen could tell. He’d tried to introduce himself to him properly before Lan JingYi cut him off and thanked him for his hospitality. The boy actually reminded him of his Lan Zhan before Wei WuXian corrupted him.

Taking the reigns of Lan JingYi’s flailing conversation, A-Yuan said, “Ah… I’m sorry, but you have it wrong. We’re really just best friends,” without the saccharine duplicity that seeped into Jin GuangYao’s words when he interacted with Lan QiRen.

Gods, where had Lan JingYi picked up this boy? Could he replace all three younger Lan’s with this superior specimen?

A strangled noise brought his attention back to Lan JingYi.

“Ngghghhgh,” came out of his mouth. Then, eyes as wide as dish platters, he grabbed A-Yuan by the waist and declared, “Best friends? More like best friends who are also best boyfriends! Ha-ha! You were right all along, Uncle QiRen!”

The other two stared at him. Wei Yuan in confusion, to which Lan JingYi whispered a quick “play along,” and Lan QiRen with mild irritation. How did Lan JingYi expect to keep his boy this way? The one good boyfriend in this house and JingYi was bungling it by being his spastic unimpressive self.

As for Lan JingYi, he was sweating bullets. He was also screaming internally. If he was reading the situation correctly, based on what Uncle-cousin said, the discussion about Wei WuXian being cousin-Zhan’s boyfriend [20] (and uh, cousin-Huan’s too, probably, did uncle just mention relationships as in the plural form? He didn’t know where that fit in. Last he knew his absent cousin was hopelessly single because he was pining for an unnamed lover [21]) had not gone well.

Well, shit.

That put a damper on his and cousin-Zhan’s plans.

But he’d sort of seen this coming. As the chief WangXian shipper of their town, he’d done his research: Lan QiRen’s standards and past quarrels with Wei WuXian were always going to be a hurdle in their relationship. But! But there was still time to patch things up, Lan JingYi was sure. The adults could adult and discuss things like rational adults did and everything would be alright!

In the meantime, he needed to keep Wei Yuan from getting prematurely booted from the party because of his familial association.

So, he guessed “boyfriend” was a good enough excuse to make him stay, even if it was as Lan JingYi’s boyfriend.

Good.

So far so good.

Yeah.

OH, NO, HE FORGOT UNCLE DIDN’T LIKE HIM EITHER [22]. He and A-Yuan were going to be banished from the dinner and then they both wouldn’t be able to help cousin and Wei WuXian prove that true love conquered all.

Lan JingYi trembled with nerves. He wanted to throw up.

By his side, Wei Yuan had absolutely no idea what was going on. But he sensed that his best friend was in distress, and he was unwilling to let that continue, even if he was going in blind.

Tentatively, he reached his arm back to rest on the shorter boy’s shoulders. Wei Yuan gave it a reassuring squeeze, and gave him an encouraging nod.

Lan JingYi saw it and responded with a watery smile.

This was weird, but Wei Yuan would be there to support A-Yi.

After all, what were best friends for?

All this happened quickly and silently, but Lan QiRen had observed it all.

He was soft for it.

They were...cute.

They weren’t trying to do the horizontal tango in front of everyone. They weren’t desecrating childhood beds by posing nude on them.

It was beautiful.

Lan QiRen could weep.

Maybe his sanity could still be salvaged, after all.

When A-Yuan shyly put his arm around his relative, Lan QiRen decided then and there that JingYi’s boyfriend was a top-notch boyfriend (even if he had weird taste for wanting Lan JingYi as a boyfriend in the first place, but Lan QiRen wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth). The Lan family was keeping this one.

Finally some news to celebrate today.

Then, because all the good had to be accompanied by the bad, a shrill, inhuman scream came from the direction of the upper floors, followed by several distressing bangs.

Alarmed, Lan QiRen faced the door, careful to put his body between the entryway and the two boys. Frantically, he tried to think how anyone could get through his home security and thought about where his nearest gun stash in this area of the house was. It was in the hallway, drats. He’d have to make a dash for it once he secured the boys.

“What was that?” Lan JingYi yelped.

“Quiet!” Lan QiRen ordered harshly, prompting the boy to shut his mouth immediately.

It was quiet for a while. Too quiet.

Suddenly, movement.

Several pairs of feet thundered down the hallway as another shrieking laugh echoed around the home, making Lan QiRen tense further. He held onto a chair, programming his mind to throw it at the approaching assailant.

It was coming closer now…

With a booming crack, a red blur burst into the kitchen screaming bloody murder before seeming to trip on nothing and come to a crashing stop onto the floor.

Lan JingYi screamed and jumped onto a surprised A-Yuan’s arms. The two boys overbalanced and fell to the floor, useless to Lan QiRen now.

Fine, he’d defend them on his own. He wasn’t so old that he couldn’t do it, anyway. Lan QiRen raised the chair over his head, ready to beat the ever-loving shit out of the intruder when he felt something catch on the chair’s legs.

“Wait!” Jin GuangYao’s distinct voice said from somewhere behind him as he struggled to keep the chair from moving. “Urgh, I said wait, you stupid war-freak!”

Chapter Text

4.2 Hours to Disaster (Upstairs)

Afterward, Wei WuXian and Jin GuangYao would turn to each other, and, for the first time in their long history of existing passive-aggressively on the fringes of each other’s social circles, solemnly agree:

They’d gone ‘messed up.

They really messed the fuck up.

But that was later.

Right now, several grown men were brooding on how they were failing so spectacularly at life.

Lan WangJi had taken vigil by the window seat, stone-facedly staring out onto the manicured yard. MengYao, who prided himself on his ability to read people, couldn’t begin to fathom what was going on in his mind.

If he had to guess, it was probably something that had to do with one of the many rules and regulations Officer Lan was known to quote when breaking up an altercation or issuing a warning in town. But he wasn’t going to bet all his money on it (not that he had a lot of it to begin with).

After all, before today, he would have thought that Lan WangJi was a stuffy rule-abiding person whose only motivation for keeping the notorious former-Yiling Laozu around him all the time was to keep him in line.

The subtle gun threat at his esteemed uncle was… unexpected to say the least.

Out of character.

(Kinda hot?)

But, apparently, he only knew Officer Lan; he didn’t know Wei-Ying-on-the-Brain-Lan-WangJi. If he knew that Lan WangJi had this hidden side to him, MengYao wouldn’t have wasted his time lobbying for political reform.

He would have snapped that man up, found a way to discredit and overthrow that asshole Wen Rouhan from his office as Mayor instead of straight up stabbing him in his guts, and, once he, Jin GuangYao was in power with Lan WangJi firmly in his pocket, he would be unstoppable.

Or maybe not.

MengYao was a very intelligent man, it was one of his defining traits. Unfortunately, it also seemed to be a trait that ran opposite to Lan WangJi’s type.

Not without a little bit of disdain, MengYao observed the second adult disaster in the room: Wei WuXian was not taking Lan QiRen’s dismissal of him and his and Lan WangJi’s relationship well.

In fact, he was taking it so badly that he had zoomed right past the grief and sadness phases and simply crash landed in the gray area of the emotional spectrum where you’re so sad that you turn to highly inappropriate humor to cover up said emotional turmoil.

“You think Lan QiRen would still want his money back for the suits he bought but you already paid for, eh, Lan Zhan?” Wei WuXian said, with just a hint of hysteria in his voice to signal that he was a hair’s breadth away from devolving into a major freak out.

He followed his query with an equally inappropriate laugh that went “Hue-hue-hue...” but eventually trailed off as the crushing weight of what had happened settled on him once more.

Lan WangJi said nothing, opting to draw his boyfriend even closer to him (he still hadn’t let go of Wei WuXian since he’d grabbed him a while ago; MengYao wanted to gag at how irritatingly romantic it all was).

Wei WuXian came willingly, settling on the other man’s lap to cuddle and share their misery. It should have been an odd fit as they were almost of a height and as broad around each other’s shoulders, but they slotted together with practiced ease, betraying just how long they had been a couple.

Disgusting.

“What are you both so miserable for?” MengYao said. “This isn’t some after-school drama. You’re both grown men. You don’t need your uncle’s permission to date, hells, you can even marry each other right now. There’s really nothing keeping you from doing whatever you want.”

That snapped Wei WuXian from where he was languishing under the unhappy little storm cloud he and Lan WangJi had going on.

“Like the way you just stab at people and burn down temples [23] and go throwing me under the bus, huh, MengYao?” He sniped. “Of course a gutter rat like you would know all about grabbing opportunities without thinking about how it would affect others!”

Hah that was absolutely rich coming from the former Yiling Laozu. Wei WuXian had done as he pleased back in the day, so full of confidence in his charisma and potential, and had behaved so outrageously that his family had to publicly disown him lest he damaged their name further.

And then he’d insisted that he take that orphan boy with him when he was an unemployed college dropout without any prospects!

MengYao only moved to advance his interests.

True, sometimes some people become unfortunate, usually unintended, collateral damage on his way to greatness. But he’d never deliberately endangered people because he’d overestimated his ability to sway a crowd[24]. MengYao had never demanded he needed to be a child’s guardian because of some misplaced guilt over the fate of his best friend[25].

In the greater scheme of things, who was actually the most selfish?

Lan WangJi saved both of them from devolving into a brawl.

He tightened his grip on his lover, physically holding back and said, “This isn’t just about the two of us anymore.”

At MengYao’s inquiring expression, he continued, “Wei Ying and I...We know where we stand.” Lan Zhan turned to Wei WuXian and the two shared a look that MengYao thought was frankly inappropriate in the presence of polite company[26].

“We’re in a good place,” said Lan Zhan, prompting Wei WuXian to smile at him. “And we want our family to share in that.”

Trying to ignore the two as they began to sadly cuddle into each other again, MengYao tried to distract himself by thinking that this was the most he had heard Officer Lan WangJi talk, even when he added all the other times he’d encountered the cop (and when you lived MengYao’s neighborhood, police patrols weren’t uncommon).

Guess he really wanted MengYao to understand.

Which was the crux of the problem. Because MengYao did understand--perhaps a little too well, in fact. He understood how it felt to chase after someone’s approval only for your overtures to be refuted time and again.

Before he’d hardened his heart and decided to work only for himself to protect himself from the pain of never being recognized by a father and a father-figure[27] who’d only thrown scraps of their uncaring attention his way when they deigned to.

He curled his lip at the idealistic naivete the couple was displaying.

He wanted to rage. Tell them to be more careful--the path they had chosen only led to heartache.

But MengYao also knew what it was like to hope against all hope for a miracle.

So, in an uncharacteristic show of solidarity with the local cop, gods, what a day this has been, MengYao reached into the sweater he was wearing.

Wei WuXian tagged his movement and jokingly called out, “Hey, now, we wanted to share the happiness with the family but we’re exclusive as a couple. None of that. You’ve already gotten in Lan Zhan’s sweatpants. I won’t let you near the actual goods.”

Just barely stopping himself from cutting a bitch, MengYao just muttered a, “shut up, idiot,” and pulled out the bottle of fine cognac he’d smuggled into the diaphanous space of Lan WangJi’s police academy sweater. Su She had brought the offering to him when he’d tried to befriend the shorter man, but MengYao had opted not to drink this bottle.

He was planning to give it to his poor, hysterical half-brother in exchange for his forgiveness for basically cleaning out his alcohol stash the night before.

And for losing his kitchen knives.

MengYao’s memory was all fogged up, but he was pretty sure he had pilfered his brother’s knifeware last night because he had decided to shiv Lan Huan for being a ghosting asshole. Unfortunately, he couldn’t seem to remember where he’d dropped them.

The whole whirlwind necking-and-petting session had spanned the gated entrance of the Lan ancestral house at the foot of the hill, with some notable detours along the way, all the way to Lan Huan’s bed in the house at the top of the hill.

So, if MengYao ever planned on retrieving A-Yu’s knives...he’d have a lot of ground to reluctantly cover.

Hopefully, he’d lost them somewhere discreet. He really didn’t need evidence with his fingerprints all over just lying around for anyone to find[28].

He really should give up drinking.

“More alcohol, really?” Wei WuXian sniffed, irritatingly echoing MengYao’s private thoughts. “Don’t you think there’s a better way to handle this than to offer us hooch?”

Hand still extended, MengYao looked Wei WuXian straight in the eye, “I am this close to committing my next felony, don’t test me. Anyway, this isn’t for you. This is for the other guy who understands what it’s like to want validation from family and have it ripped from you so callously.”

“Hey! I’ve had disappointing family experiences, too!”

“No! You’re the disappointing family experience!”

“You--” Wei WuXian never got to finish his thought. Just as the argument was ramping up, Lan Zhan, who had been in a fugue state for most of the time and in no shape to mediate the fight, took the bottle of brandy from MengYao’s distracted hands, cracked the seal, and took a long pull from it.

And then he drank some more.

He just kept drinking.

Chapter Text

4.2 Hours to Disaster (Inside Lan Zhan's brain)

The alcohol burned down his throat.

It was surprisingly good.

Heavy and sweet tones paired with a woodsy aftertaste. Lan Zhan had only ever drunk the swill beer they had in college and even then he had drunk sparingly--if you could call tiny sips before blacking out til the next day “drinking”--and this drink was unlike anything he’d had previously.

It made it easier for him to pass the liquid down his throat.

Made it easier to swallow what was happening right now.

All he’d wanted was approval from his uncle and older brother. And he’d so looked forward to this day. But where were they now? Uncle had all but physically thrown Wei Ying out, and brother had once again left to do exactly as Uncle had bid.

He'd always known uncle would be a tough sell, but he was banking on his newly returned older brother to have his back.

He’d tried to be patient and understanding of older brother’s choices all those years ago when he’d packed up and left the country without so much as an explanation to a younger brother who needed him, but, like with his mother and father before him, Lan Zhan found himself once again on his own with his Wei Ying and the curious company of a felon and a bottle of brandy.

“Lan Zhan, gege, I don’t think you should be drinking that,” Lan Zhan heard Wei Ying say. But his voice was reedy and distant like he was speaking from a great distance.

“Let him drink. Gods know that that man needs to loosen up.” MengYao’s voice was coming from the end of a long, long tunnel, as well.

Huh, that MengYao was smart. He gave good advice.

Lan Zhan kept drinking.

“You don’t… what...like...drunk.” A voice above him said. Lan Zhan thought it was Wei Ying, but he couldn't properly tell. His head was swimming in fog and cotton, and he could only make out bits and pieces of what was being said. What was it? Who was drunk? Were they being disorderly? As an officer of the-- the law of the office, LanWangZhanJi had a doody to up high. To protect the. Wei Yings.

“How bad...be?” said another voice. It wasn't as good as the other one. But not as good as Wei Ying's voice.

Or was that last voice Wei Ying's voice?

Lan Zhan forgot.

What was he saying in his brain?

Wei Ying was so beautiful.

Yeah, that was it.

The importantest bit.

Lan Zhan slumped into a firm chest.

Chapter Text

4.2 Hours to Disaster

“--bad could it be?” Lan Huan heard the tail end of MengYao’s question as he returned to his uncle’s room with his brother’s suit.

He’d already taken the time to get dressed in his own suit in the other room, trying to avoid MengYao’s poisonous glare, but that might have been a mistake.

He’d noticed the short man’s mood immediately as his eye, as usual, was drawn immediately to MengYao. Lan Huan’s lover was still wearing his brother’s baggy sweats and it took all of Lan Huan’s self-restraint not to want to rip it off.

A-Yao had looked so much better in his clothes.

But that all meant nothing, because MengYao’s irritation with him only seemed to have amplified the few minutes he’d been gone.

Once MengYao noticed his presence in the room, he’d immediately moved himself to the farther corner of where Lan Huan was standing.

That stung, but MengYao was like that sometimes. Lan Huan tried to be patient.

So, he’d turned his attention to the other things happening in the room.

Because there were definitely things happening in the room.

Just because he was primarily preoccupied with what MengYao was and wasn’t wearing, it didn’t mean that his eyes didn’t make a cursory sweep of the room before landing on their destination.

It was his bread and butter to observe things, after all. He’d have made a piss poor reporter [29] if he didn’t practice it.

It’s just that, sometimes--okay, every time MengYao so much as breathed within a mile radius of Lan Huan--he got distracted.

Like now.

Lan Huan had to do a double-take because his catching-up brain informed him that he most definitely saw Lan Zhan chugging down a bottle of what looked like father’s prized cognac bottle.

It must have taken some time for his brain to register the irregularity, however, because he’d initially seen Lan Zhan tipping back a bottle with some of its contents left.

When he’d turned back, the bottle was empty.

Wei WuXian was staring with his mouth hanging unflatteringly open, both in trepidation and awe.

MengYao’s expression, meanwhile, was located somewhere in between horrified and grudgingly impressed.

“Guys, did you just let Lan Zhan drink an entire bottle of cognac?” Lan Zhan fretted.

“I saw it with my own two eyes, and I’m not sure it actually happened,” said Wei WuXian. He gently cupped Lan Zhan’s face in his hands and whispered, “Lan Zhan, Zhan-ge, you still with me?”

Younger brother didn’t respond, already in that sleep-drunk state he entered whenever alcohol so much as existed in his presence.

Oh, no.

MengYao clicked his tongue, already on edge. “Are you going to say that he shouldn’t have alcohol, too? Let him live a little, Lan XiChen. Maybe next time he’ll know how to deal with disappointments in other ways other than getting drunk.”

Lan Huan felt like MengYao was taking a stab at him there, but he couldn’t really place it. It wasn’t him that had been day drinking and offering unwitting younger brothers thousand-dollar cognacs most likely swiped from father’s personal stash.

Why was he the bad person here?

“A-Yao...” Lan Huan said. He wanted to explain that when uncle got into a temper like this, it was best to let him cool off a bit before broaching the subject of reconciliation. He and A-Yao could try another day.

But MengYao just pointedly turned away from him, throwing a sneer back. “Shut it, Lan XiChen. You’re doing your uncle’s bidding again--it’s obvious where your allegiances lie.”

“A-Yao, just let me explain--”

“Wow!” Wei WuXian commented from where he was cradling Lan Zhan’s unresponsive form on the chair. “There is so much sexual tension going on. Has anyone told you guys that? I really wouldn’t have expected da-ge to fall for a snake like you, MengYao, but here we are. And, can I just say, I am here for it.”

“What??” Lan Huan said, belatedly remembering that Wei WuXian had come to the party late, and wasn’t privy to the drama that had unfolded about their odd relationship.

MengYao rolled his eyes.

“There’s no sexual tension,” he clarified. “There’s apparently nothing. Just some drunken encounters that a relationship does not make!”

Wei WuXian’s eyes bugged out like a gossip hungry for more details of a sordid love affair--which this wasn’t. He and A-Yao just needed to set a couple of things straight! It really wasn’t like that.

“OOOOHHH,” Wei WuXian said. He didn’t mean anything by it, he was just trolling MengYao. Getting his little revenges for that time that MengYao definitely threw him under the bus.

Ass.

Wei WuXian was a distraction, Lan Huan decided. One that didn’t merit his time of day.

He turned his attention back to MengYao and tried to reach for his arm.

MengYao pulled back, lips pursed.

“A-Yao--”

“Don’t you ‘A-Yao’ me Lan XiChen! Don’t think I didn’t notice how you only make a move when I’m all sauced up! I’m not having it!”

“But I’ve only seen you in the last 24 hours! And you didn’t let up on the alcohol since then!” Lan Huan pleaded. He was trying to be reasonable, but MengYao refused to see his side.

“And whose fault is that?” MengYao demanded.

ALSO, Wei WuXian was making annoying heckling sounds behind his back.

“KISS!” Their unwanted audience also demanded.

“SHUT UP!” Lan Huan screamed back, but his voice was oddly echo-ey. He turned to where MengYao had a shocked expression on his flushed face. They’d berated Wei WuXian at the same time. Ah.

Lan Huan offered MengYao a shy smile. Perhaps…?

But MengYao stubbornly turned from him with a final “hmmph!” once again.

What did Lan Huan have to say to convince him that he was just trying to make the most of this disaster?

What would he have to do?

As if reading his mind--and MengYao always did seem to have a knack at finagling Lan Huan’s innermost thoughts from where he’d thought he kept them safe under lock and key--MengYao said, “I know how this game goes. I won’t be your fool any longer. There’s nothing you can say to change my mind!”

Lan Huan had had enough. No one was listening, least of all the only person he wanted to explain things to.

With one powerful stride he closed the distance between them and urgently tugged at MengYao’s clothes.

“Hey!” The shorter man yelped.

“Uh. Hahaha, this is kinda awkward,” said Wei WuXian. “Should Lan Zhan and I leave?”

He wouldn’t leave though. MengYao, for all his scrappy viciousness, was so much smaller than Lan Huan. He could very easily get stomped by the older Lan nephew. Wei WuXian didn’t think that anyone deserved that.

And MengYao’s ghost would probably hate it most.

Local man killed by angry fluff piece reporter. The headlines would say of Jin GuangYao, criminal celebrity. He’d haunt Wei WuXian for life for letting him get killed in such a stupid way.

Lan Huan ignored the two protesting men, continuing to grab at MengYao’s clothes. He’d seen his father’s bottle of cognac a couple of times before he’d locked it in his liquor cabinet.

He knew it had a twin.

He was also sure that A-Yao wouldn’t just stop at pilfering just the one.

Finally, after groping around MengYao’s body,DON’T GET DISTRACTED DON’T GET DISTRACTED Lan Huan’s fingers brushed across smooth glass, he was right, and pulled the second bottle of cognac out of MengYao’s hiding spot.

“Really, more alcohol?” Wei WuXian commented. “I’m sensing a pattern here, and it’s not really responsible. In fact, it seems like I’m being the most reasonable person here. And as THE reasonable person, can I just say that’s a terrifying prospect? Do you know how low you have to go to make me the responsible one?”

Lan Huan had already opened the bottle and had it halfway to his lips, but, before he threw himself into an alcohol-induced mishap, he was determined to leave Wei WuXian with a parting shot.

“Wei WuXian, you’re really dumb and the most annoying man I’ve ever met. Yeah, I know about the chickens![30] Not seeing you for the past 7 years has not made me change my opinion. I don’t know what Lan Zhan sees in you!”

Then he took a swig of the alcohol. And then another.

Then he stopped, coughing.

He really wasn’t used to drinking alcohol. Already he could feel the telltale signs of a Lan alcohol haze coming up.

But, hah, at least he didn’t have to be bothered about the need to explain now.

Lan Huan out.

Lan Huan dropped to his knees, letting go of the bottle so that its contents spilled all over the floor, and giggled.

MengYao stared down at Lan Huan and commented, “Not going to lie. That was the sexiest thing I’ve ever heard come out of this man’s mouth. I just might take him here.”

Lan Huan giggled some more and leaned on MengYao’s legs.

“Gross!” Wei WuXian said, wrinkling his nose.

Lan Huan had always struck him as a nice guy. MengYao’s odious personality must be rubbing off of him.

From where he was slowly picking up random bits of the conversation happening around him, Lan Zhan squinted his eyes in thought. His drunk mind couldn’t put it’s brain-finger on it, but he was pretty sure his Wei Ying had just been insulted.

He adjusted his hold and clung tighter onto Wei Ying.

“Hurhhh,” Wei Ying said. What a beautiful noise, Lan Zhan thought. “A little too tight Lan Zhan.”

“Mn,” was all Lan Zhan said in reply. “Love Wei Ying.”

“Aww, baby,” Wei Ying cooed.

“Now that’s gross,” MengYao sneered.

“‘Scuse you,” Wei WuXian said snottily. He tried to think of a good burn to throw back at MengYao, but all he could think of right now was a lame, “Nuh-uh! You’re gross!” so Wei WuXian decided to pursue a different line of inquiry.

“Hey!” He said, trying to stop the grin that was threatening to burst out on his face. “Have you ever seen a drunk Lan?”

MengYao knotted his brows. Come to think of it… “No? I haven’t? Why do you ask?” He asked suspiciously.

The smile that suddenly made an appearance on Wei WuXian’s face was activating all of MengYao’s finely honed fight-or-flight senses. He tried to step away and get to the door, but his leg was held in place by a clinging Lan Huan.

“Then dibs on babysitting this drunk Lan,” Wei WuXian cackled, hugging a docile Lan Zhan to him.

“WHAT,” MengYao said but not before a shadow was cast over him.

Lan Huan had risen from his place on the floor and was bearing down on MengYao with the most cheerfully sinister look on his face.

“A-Yao,” He stage-whispered.

“Do you want to see me play my flute?”

MengYao swallowed.

Chapter Text

3.75 Hours to Disaster

MengYao was in pain.

Not the physical, beat-down pain you felt when you didn’t run fast enough to escape your bullies.

It wasn’t even the mental pain you felt after a tiring day running around doing thankless errands for your asshole of an employer[31].

No, this was the sort of pain that was painful precisely because MengYao knew he could very easily walk away from it--hells, he was supposed to be out of this gods-forsaken house a long time ago, he really should be going.

Except that he wasn’t going to walk away from it.

Not when Lan Huan was playing his flute so earnestly beside him.

Really close beside him, his poor ear reminded him, as Lan Huan’s uncoordinated fingers missed a note and the flute let out a shrill, prolonged wail. Right into his ear.

MengYao winced on the inside but kept his encouraging smile in place.

Because Lan Huan was playing My Heart Will Go On.

MengYao loved that song.

He barely even remembered telling Lan Huan years ago about how he cried at the second half of Titanic every time, but it seemed like the other man had kept it in mind.

MengYao felt his traitorous innards do that hideous flippy thing where he was either about to have explosive diarrhea or about to do something really stupid with this one particular man.

And since the memories of last night were still fresh in his mind, albeit a little patchy, he could say with confidence that he wasn’t about to have a bout of gut-related illness anytime soon.

Fucking fuck Lan Huan.

In tune with MengYao’s thoughts, if not in practice, Lan Huan unknowingly put emphasis on MengYao’s meandering thoughts by hitting two incorrect notes consecutively.

MengYao’s ears were probably going to be ringing a long time after this, but screw it.

This man.

MengYao couldn’t deal.

And so did Wei WuXian.

“Aiiyyaaaa!” He complained. “Make him stop! My ears are going to die!”

Wei WuXian wasn’t complaining too hard, though. Nor was he trying to shield his ears from the “music.”

Instead, he had drawn Lan WangJi’s unresponsive face close to lean on his chest so his one ear was covered and then slapped his hand on the other ear to block the aural assault.

Wei WuXian’s free hand, meanwhile, was awkwardly holding his phone up and taking multiple photos of MengYao being a painfully love-struck schmuck.

When MengYao noticed what Wei WuXian was doing, he turned from Lan Huan and sneered his sneeriest sneer at Wei WuXian.

Wei WuXian was undaunted; he kept taking more photos shamelessly.

Then, not without a little difficulty, he managed to post the photos on SNS, tagging it with “wtffff???” and several more emojis that a man his age should probably not be aware of enough to use.

Surprisingly, the first comment to come up came from Jiang Cheng, who thought that social networking sites were beneath him. But, as he was currently laid up on his couch [32] at home, Wei WuXian guessed he really had nothing better to do.

Anyway, it was just a lot of nonsense ranting in all-caps because Jiang Cheng didn’t know how to work his ancient phone’s keyboard.

A quick skim through the texted tirade told Wei WuXian that his brother was demanding that he explain what he was doing with a known violent radical and the reclusive older Lan brother.

And he wanted to know where Lan Zhan was. He should arrest Jin GuangYao blah blah blah.

It was the usual A-Cheng rants.

Wei WuXian would make sure to bring him something next time he visited so he didn’t have to be so crotchety. Heh. Crotchety. The last gift he had given Jiang Cheng were knitting needles and an entire laundry basket filled with Wei WuXian’s favorite color (next to whatever color Lan Zhan’s eyes were of course!): fire engine red yarn. He’d told Jiang Cheng to crochet because he was such a crotchety old man.

Jiang Cheng hadn’t known which to be offended about first: That Wei WuXian just insulted his age when Wei WuXian was older or that he thought that crochet and knitting were the same.

He decided to go with the “Punch the idiot in the face” option.

Jiang Cheng managed to clip his brother in the face, but at the cost of his balance. The fall he took after that earned him a sprained wrist, an earful of “POLICE BRUTALITY”[33] from a wailing, but unhurt, Wei WuXian, and then he and Wei WuXian had to suffer the wrath of their pregnant older sister.

Heh. Jiang Cheng was so silly.

Before Wei WuXian could formulate a response to Jiang Cheng’s angry word vomit, he was notified of another reply.

It was from Lan JingYi, and the video he sent really had nothing to do with MengYao and Lan Huan, but Lan JingYi wouldn’t be Lan JingYi if he didn’t derail entire conversations with numerous and disparate tangents.

Attention totally diverted, Wei WuXian clicked on the video.

He was delighted to see that Lan JingYi was plating his (in)famous demonic noodles of doom on a lovely platter. By the gorgeous cloud-on-sky motif, he guessed it was one of the fancy Lan family-exclusive dinnerware. Wei WuXian felt really respectable now that his food offering was going to be featured as a point of pride at dinner.

Maybe things weren’t going to turn out so bad after all!

“Haha! Hey look at this, they’re plating my noodles. Maybe I’m not disinvited after all! Can’t say the same about you, MengYao!” Wei WuXian taunted.

MengYao, who had thought--and ardently wished--that the long pause Wei WuXian took to check his phone would last forever more, was at his wits’ end. Angrily shucking off the sweater he was wearing, he balled it up and threw it at Wei WuXian’s face.

“No one asked your opinion!” He hissed.

It was a perfect hit. The Gusu academy sweater landed squarely on the other man’s face and unraveled to tangle around his head and long hair.

“Argh!” Said Wei WuXian, dropping his phone.

MengYao smirked, feeling very accomplished.

Meanwhile, Lan Huan was very happy that his man was no longer wearing his brother’s ugly sweater. Like the gentleman that he was, he obligingly took off his red Spring Festival coat and draped it over MengYao’s narrow shoulders, beaming the entire time.

He was rewarded by A-Yao finally facing him and giving him a bright smile. The ones that brought out his dimples.

Ah, the simple joys.

Mostly, MengYao was facing Lan Huan because he wanted to turn away his ear from the direct path of Lan Huan’s mouth. Because putting down his flute to offer MengYao his suit jacket only served to end the unholy shrilling playing.

Lan Huan was still babbling very loudly to replace the “music.”

“Excuse me.” A deep, somber voice said.

It was Lan Zhan. He was unsteadily getting to his feet, looking as cross as a drunk-off-his-ass person could be.

And he really was cross.

His drunk brain fog had lifted just enough when Jin GuangYao threw, no, assaulted his beloved Wei Ying--with his old Gusu Lan Police Academy sweater, no less!

He pointed his hand at the felon, fingers curved in the shape of a gun and slurred, “Pew, pew. I’ll arrest you dead!”

“Excuse me?” MengYao said while Wei WuXian snickered behind Lan Zhan.

Lan Huan, however, completely understood, or at least drunkenly thought he understood his brother’s intentions.

With an ear-shattering wail, he grabbed onto MengYao. “BROTHER, NO! I LOVE HIM! IF YOU KILL HIM DEAD, YOU’LL KILL ME TOO!”

“Ahhh!” MengYao screamed back his frustration. It was nice to know that Lan Huan did love him, but he would rather it happened when he was sober and not, once again, screaming into his ear.

Meanwhile, Lan Zhan was taken aback by his brother’s pronouncement. He didn’t want to kill kill anyone! Jin GuangYao just needed to stop treating his beloved so poorly. Why didn’t people treat Wei Ying better? He was great.

So great that Lan Zhan fully intended on proposing to him tonight.

Oh!

He had been so distracted by everything that was going on, and doing damage control, and trying to get his relatives’ approval for the match that he had completely forgotten what, who, this was all about.

“Brother,” Lan Zhan said with more gravity than usual, “I understand. I am in love too. ”

Woozily turning to face Wei Ying, all three of him, Lan Zhan thought of their long history together, from their rough start to the slow infatuation that Lan Zhan inevitably fell into once he got to get to know the man underneath all the jokes and the attitude. How he felt so privileged, so blessed, to learn that Wei Ying saw him the same way.

Holding back tears, Lan Zhan thought that he must have done something right in a past life to have Wei Ying in this life now.

So, fuck uncle’s approval. Fuck older brother’s mean fuck buddy.

He was going to husband the fuck out of Wei Ying.

Right now in fact.

“Wei Ying!” Lan Zhan said at all three of the Wei Yings he was seeing.

“Lan Zhan?” his three beloveds said in perfect unison.

“Wei Ying...” Lan Zhan repeated because he’d forgotten what he was going to say. He’d written out a speech and all, he remembered that, and practiced saying it too. But his alcohol addled brain had turned his memory to mush until all that remained were the Wei Yings standing in front of him.

Oh, well.

Reaching into his pocket, Lan Zhan dropped to one knee.

He almost just slid all the way down to the floor, but one of the Wei Ying’s held him by the shoulder.

“Hey, uh, maybe don’t do the sudden movement thing too much, eh Lan Zhan?” Wei Ying said.

“Mn,” Lan Zhan said. He was ready to agree to any of Wei Ying’s requests. He’d try his best to grant anything his man asked of him and more. Wei Ying never asked for too much, seemed always afraid to do so, so it was up to Lan Zhan to bridge the difference.

And he wanted to do it for the rest of his days.

He brought a velvet box out of his pocket and, staring straight into middle Wei Ying’s eyes, lovingly said:

“I do!”

Wei WuXian was silent for a beat before he nervously said, “Ha-ha! What?”

MengYao, who had more than two brain cells rubbing and working together to make connections and deduced Lan WangJi’s intentions the moment he had sloppily bent on one knee, slapped a hand onto his face.

Gods, everyone here was disaster levels of thick.

Lan Huan, who didn’t deduce his brother’s plans so much as correctly understand his stilted and incomplete speech patterns was filled with joy for his brother.

Shaking MengYao in his arms, he cried, “Oh my gods! Brother’s going to get married! What a great day!”

MengYao, who had, frankly, had enough of people screaming at him today--even when that people had been Lan Huan--pushed the taller man away.

Lan Huan staggered and flopped onto the floor, but he didn’t stay down for long.

Clumsily climbing to his feet, he exclaimed, “Oh no! Uncle and A-Yi don’t know yet! We have to tell them. I HAVE TO TELL THEM. I’M A REPORTER!”

Dashing as fast as his uncoordinated lanky limbs would allow, Lan Huan left the room and clumped down the hallway giggling without shame.

MengYao was just about to relax and breathe a sigh of relief at the silence when he spotted Wei WuXian and Lan WangJi sucking at each other’s faces.

Wei WuXian, who had eventually figured out what Lan Zhan meant by the heartfelt “I do,” and sappily answered with an equally nonsensical “I do marry you too, boo,” took his mouth away from Lan Zhan’s long enough to berate MengYao about his inattention with Lan Huan.

“Hey, what are you still doing here? I told you you need to babysit Lan XiChen! Lans are a hazard when they’re drunk! ‘Specially to themselves!”

MengYao was just about to ask what could go so wrong, Lan Huan was just off to gossip loudly at people, and far away from his poor ears too, when he heard thundering bangs on what sounded like the Lan ancestral house’s wooden grand staircase[34] followed by a mix of an unholy scream and maniacal laugh, loudly slurring a "GUYS GUESS WHAT."

Without sparing much more thought about it, MengYao was off like a shot. He had to make sure that Lan Huan hadn’t managed to kill himself right after he’d told MengYao that he loved him.

Left to their own devices, Wei Ying teased Lan Zhan, “You really want to marry me, Zhanzhan?”

“Mn.” Lan Zhan affirmed. Then, he gathered up Wei Ying’s body in a bridal carry, which made the other man laughed brightly. “Marry you now.”

“Hahaha! Ok!--Wait, what?”

Chapter Text

3.5 Hours to Disaster

This is what actually happened:

“AHHHHHHHH!” Lan JingYi screamed, causing A-Yuan to flinch from where he had been standing behind him.

Lan QiRen, who was playing the most infuriating game of tug-of-war with the surprisingly vigorous Jin GuangYao, felt his tension headache increase.

But only by a little.

After all, he was already at his limit. It couldn’t possibly get significantly worse.

Lan JingYi’s scream of bloody murder then trailed off (thank the gods, he was embarrassing himself in front of the one boyfriend present who Lan QiRen actually favored!), because he seemed to recognize the person on the floor.

“Oh! It’s just you, cousin!” He said. Promptly forgetting his extreme fright only moments ago, the boy fearlessly trotted up to Lan Huan to help him up.

Dusting his taller cousin off, he commended him on his fashion choices: “I dig the drip! Ha-ha! Red-on-red suit to match your red face!”

Then he seemed to think about his statement and looked at Lan Huan properly.

“Oh! You look drunk! Are you drunk??” Lan JingYi said.

“What!” Lan QiRen roared, tugging viciously at the chair that sent Jin GuangYao flying to the ground before tilting his head to the side. He saw that Lan Huan was, indeed, flushed and listing from side to side.

Lan QiRen had always been under the impression that Lan Huan was a teetotaller as he had never seen the boy partake in the drink, unlike his father, but this was exactly how he imagined (in his worst imaginings) Lan Huan would act if drunk.

It was, after all, exactly how Lan Huan’s father carried on when inebriated.

This boy was turning out too much like his father! Lan QiRen could not bear it!

“NO I’M NOT!” Lan Huan declared to everyone at a volume that the Lans’ closest neighbors at the bottom of their hill could also probably hear. “AND IF I WERE, I WOULD BE DRUNK ON HAPPINESS! BECAUSE MY BABY BROTHER IS--”

Lan Huan never got to finish his sentence, because there was a yet another commotion by the kitchen entrance that had Lan QiRen whipping his poor abused neck back.

He stared in horror at the vision that confronted him.

There by the threshold, was Wei WuXian. He was wearing a red-on-red three-piece suit -- the very suit that he, not some person named Mo XuanYu, had sold Lan QiRen that morning. It dawned on Lan QiRen’s beleaguered mind that the buttondown had fit him so well back at the shop because it was made to his measurements.

It explained the odd comments about him being boyfriend-sized!

Lan QiRen wanted to punch something, or maybe pull out his hair but the other details of the situation started pinging in his brain.

Lan Zhan was present as well. He was also wearing one of the tailor-made three-piece suits for the Lan family picture.

And he was holding Wei WuXian in an awkward princess carry.

Lan QiRen’s eyes bugged out.

It could be because he was carrying a grown man who was almost as tall and well-built as him, but Lan QiRen was pretty sure that the way he was struggling to hold Wei WuXian up properly had to do with him also being smashed.

Both his nephews, who he didn’t know even drank before today, were totally plastered!

Lan QiRen was about to grill which boyfriend was being a terrible influence on his nephews (although he suspected it might be both), when Wei WuXian held out his hand and flashed something on his finger.

Oh no.

“GUESS WHO’S GETTING MARRIED!” He screamed.

“WHAT,” Lan QiRen roared.

“HEY!” Lan Huan screamed back louder, overtaxing his normally calm and placating voice to beat everyone’s volume and be heard. “I WAS GOING TO SAY THAT!”

“YOU TOO?!” Lan QiRen demanded. His glare zoomed in on Jin GuangYao who was sitting miserably on the floor trying to shield his ears from the noise. Perhaps it was time to get his hallway shotgun out of its secret storage space.

“NO!” Lan Huan screamed, recovering quite well from the loop Lan QiRen’s question had thrown him in. “WELL, I’LL ASK A-YAO LATER. BUT I MEANT LAN ZHAN! I WAS GOING TO REPORT IT! BECAUSE I’M A REPORTER!”

Lan QiRen’s ears were ringing figuratively and literally from the news that Lan Huan was also about to ask, maybe, another criminal to join their family in a very binding sense.

“YEAH, WELL,” Wei WuXian screamed back. He wasn’t sure why everyone was screaming at each other but Wei Ying never really needed a solid reason to be a troublesome gremlin, “I’M THE ENGAGED PERSON! I GET PRIORITY WHEN MAKING ANNOUNCEMENTS!”

He drew in a large breath and raised his voice even more, “WE’RE GETTING MARRIED! LAN ZHAN AND I! I ONLY WAITED ALMOST 20 YEARS TO SCREAM THIS!”

Then for good measure, he added: “AHHHHHHH!”

“SHUT UP!” Lan QiRen begged. Why were his nephews like this? What had he done so wrong in a past life that they had to torture him so with their terrible choice of partners?

“Mn. No more waiting,” Lan Zhan’s deep voice broke through the screaming match.

“Um, what was that?” A-Yuan said. He wasn’t sure why everyone had to be screaming for this and seized upon the opportunity to maybe steer the conversation into a more reasonable volume.

“No more.” Lan Zhan did not clarify. “Too long. Marry Wei Ying. Now.”

Wei WuXian beamed at him. Gently patting the man on his cheek, he said: “Aww, of course we are!”

“No, you aren’t!” Lan QiRen sputtered. “It’s the eve of the Spring Festival -- nothing will be open! And I haven’t given anyone a blessing to marry! This is all very irregular!”

Wei WuXian waved away Lan QiRen’s concerns about having no place to marry, and also the fact that he probably wasn’t even going to allow the marriage to take place--uncle was probably just joking. Probably.

“Relax, uncle, I’ll just let Lan Zhan walk off the alcohol outside. The fresh air should clear his head.” With that, he urged Lan Zhan to head towards the door. Lan Zhan obliged, still holding Wei WuXian in his arms.

They had just begun to walk off, and Lan QiRen was contemplating having a long sit down to process things when Lan JingYi startled from where he had been frozen in place the moment he saw Wei WuXian flash his ring.

Then he began the screaming game again, “AHHHHHHH! OH-EM-GEE! OH-EM-GEE!”

“STOP BEING SO LOUD!” Lan Huan complained...loudly.

“WHAT IS IT WITH THIS CURSED FAMILY AND SCREAMING?!” Jin GuangYao cried out.

“OH MY GODS, GUYS,” Lan JingYi declared, throwing his arms out and with stars in his eyes.

“MY MOMENT HAS COME!”

Lan QiRen really did take a seat then.

This couldn’t be good.

Chapter Text

3.5 Hours to Disaster

This is what happened in Lan JingYi’s mind:

“AHHHHHHHH!” Lan JingYi screamed.

It was a red ghoul! Lan JingYi was already afraid of ghosts, but there was something especially sinister about a ghoul that was a particularly bloody hue.

Then he realized that it was just his cousin being a red-clothed disaster on the kitchen floor.

Well. That was alright, then!

Happily trotting up to the cousin he hadn’t seen except on social media photos in five-ever! Lan JingYi made special note of his cousin’s dishevelled state.

He should have looked dapper in his oddly all-red suit and his normal self-possessed carriage, but now his eyes were glassy and he looked three sheets to the wind.

Hahaha, almost as if cousin-Huan was drunk!

Oh, he probably was! Lan JingYi thought. Then, because he had no brain-to-mouth filter, he said as much out loud.

Uncle-cousin didn’t take the news too well; Lan QiRen’s screamed “WHAT?” and set Lan JingYi’s nerves off, in fact.

The poor, unknown guy in the over-sized red suit-jacket and trainers, who was wrestling with uncle-cousin for the kitchen chair, meanwhile, was carried forward by the momentum of Lan QiRen’s movements and painfully crash-landed onto the unforgiving kitchen tiles.

Ouch.

Maybe he shouldn’t have announced his cousin’s sauced up state?

Oops.

Cousin-Huan was quick to deny his inebriated state, even when it was plain for everyone to see that he was, in fact, smashed. Lan JingYi wanted to click his tongue at the bad acting.

But, anyway, that wasn’t important.

Lan JingYi, through prolonged exposure to Jin Ling’s moods, had learned to block out loud screaming noises and focus on more important matters. What he was hearing come out of his older cousin’s mouth was basically, “BLAH BLAH BLAH.”

His selective hearing life skill was coming in particularly useful right now, because while everyone was distracted by whatever Lan Huan had to say, Lan JingYi didn’t miss the entrance of his one-true-pairing. His OTP, WangXian, Lan WangJi and Lan Wei WuXian.

And, oh gosh! They certainly did not disappoint with their entrance.

Both men were dressed in resplendent suits the joyful color of red[35], which made them look like they had stepped out of one of Lan JingYi’s numerous imaginings of their wedding day!

Lan Zhan, ever the gentleman, was awkwardly holding a heavy Wei WuXian dramatically holding Wei Ying close to his heart in his strong, muscular arms--arms that would shield Wei Ying and his son from all the bad things in the world and cuddle Wei Ying close during the cold, cold nights![36]

Wei Ying, meanwhile, was leaning onto Lan Zhan’s strong, manly chest like it was his lifeline.

Looking up at his paramour, he batted his sooty eyelashes, which framed beautiful orbs that were sometimes the beautiful blue of the depths of the ocean, but sometimes also the stormy darkness of a thunderstorm at night, and was also occasionally a verdant green like a tea-time garden with flecks of gold if you looked close enough.

A soft sigh came out of his plush, pillow-soft, plump lips which looked like it had vaseline recently smeared on to it, it was that pretty, and said, “GUESS WHO’S GETTING MARRIED!Lan Zhan and I have come to an...agreement. Uwu.”

WHATGoodness gracious! Has my brooding nephew finally proposed? Finally! Happy day!,” Lan QiRen roared gushed.

HEY! Congratulations, you two!” Lan Huan...congratulated. “I WAS GOING TO SAY THAT!I know I haven’t been around for the past 7 years to see your eternal love bloom, but I have been keeping track of it nonetheless via Lan JingYi’s faithful and totally accurate SNS posts. I am very happy for you, brother and future-brother-in-law!”

YOU TOO?! When is the wedding?” Lan QiRen said, looking around as if he would find the answers there, or with Lan Huan, or perhaps by the mystery man on the floor.

NO! Soon, I hope! The entire town has waited so long!” Lan Huan said. “WELL, I’LL ASK A-YAO LATER. BUT I MEANT LAN ZHAN! I WAS GOING TO REPORT IT! BECAUSE I’M A REPORTER! In fact, this is exactly why I came home so suddenly! To announce to everyone that this very beautiful union was going to happen. I am the local journalist, after all. Even if I haven’t really done my job in the last couple of years. Oh, well!”

Lan JingYi could cry!

Everyone was coming together to celebrate possibly the best news he had ever had the good fortune to hear in his short life.

YEAH, WELL But, ALAS!,” Wei WuXian clung to Lan Zhan’s beefy chest. “I’M THE ENGAGED PERSON! I GET PRIORITY WHEN MAKING ANNOUNCEMENTS! As a poor, young man, who was orphaned early on and terribly mistreated by my evil stepmother who told me to quit my career as a singer in a band, I never really learned how to plan a proper wedding.”

He drew in a large breath with his whole chest and said, “WE’RE GETTING MARRIED! LAN ZHAN AND I! I ONLY WAITED ALMOST 20 YEARS TO SCREAM THIS! Woe. Is. Meeeee!”

Then he swooned into Lan Zhan’s waiting arms: “Aaaah!”

SHUT UP! Whatever do we do?!” Lan QiRen cried in distress.

“Mn. No more waiting,” Lan Zhan’s deep, sexy voice that brought sexy chills down the spines of everyone who heard it broke through.

“Um, what was that?” A-Yuan said.

He was pretty sure that Lan JingYi was writing wildly out-of-character fanfiction in his brain right now and wanted to steer the conversation away from anything that would cause his best friend to reveal anything and inadvertently convince his family that he needed to be institutionalized.

No more.I...Can no longer wait!” Lan Zhan said very sexily. “Too long. Marry Wei Ying. Now. For long years now, I have pined from afar, Wei Ying. The sun is nothing to me. The light that sustains me is your smile. Even if I could not see you wake up every morning, I found ways, even bribing Chief Nie MingJue to make me your brother’s partner so I could suavely say ‘Hi’ to you every day when I picked Jiang Cheng up in the cruiser for work and rescue you from his K-9 pet because I know you have a childhood trauma about dogs and please let me be your knight in shining armor forevermore. I would husband you so hard right this second if I could. Uwu.”

Wei WuXian beamed at him. Lovingly patting the man on his cheek, he said: “Aww, of course we are! Yes, of course. I love you, my love!”

No you aren’t! But how do we do that?” Lan QiRen despaired. “It’s the eve of the Spring Festival -- nothing will be open! And I haven’t given anyone a blessing to marry! This is all very irregular!Everyone is at home not ensuring you get the proper wedding you deserve!”

Wei WuXian waved away Lan QiRen’s concerns about having no place to marry. He was in love. Somehow it would help him conquer that very minor detail.

“Relax, uncle, I’ll just let Lan Zhan walk off the alcohol outside. The fresh air should clear his head. know that Lan JingYi has been preparing for this moment for a very long time. We can entrust him to get the preparations in order. Meanwhile, Lan Zhan and I will be staying by this corner staring into each other’s eyes and being fabulously in love!”

Lan JingYi puffed out his chest. His OTP was calling on him for help.

“AHHHHHHH! OH-EM-GEE! OH-EM-GEE!”

“STOP BEING SO LOUD!” Lan Huan complained...loudly.

“WHAT IS IT WITH THIS CURSED FAMILY AND SCREAMING?!” Jin GuangYao cried out.

“OH MY GODS, GUYS,” Lan JingYi passionately declared.

He would not fail the WangXian agenda!

“THIS IS MY MOMENT!”[37]

Pulling his sleeves up, he walked past a confused Lan Zhan and Wei WuXian in the hallway and thumped the secret door panel located there[38].

Uncle-cousin stored some of his guns in there, once upon a time, but Lan JingYi had disposed of the unnecessary firearms (there were already so many around the house, uncle-cousin really didn’t need more) some time ago on the off chance something like this came up.

In the very secure hiding spot, Lan JingYi had stored all the things he would need to quickly set up a house wedding for his cousin and Wei WuXian.[39]

Lan JingYi brushed a single tear that rolled down his cheek while also pumping a triumphant fist up in the air.

He always knew this day would come.

Chapter Text

2-ish Hours to Disaster

Jin GuangYao took a long drag from a cigarette he had mysteriously procured from somewhere.

Lan QiRen didn’t want to think about how or where he got it. There wasn’t supposed to be any cigarettes in the Lan ancestral house, but with the way things were going, Lan QiRen honestly didn’t know if he could trust what he thought he knew.

“It’s crack isn’t it?” Jin GuangYao said sagely. “Crack. Pretty sure.”

Leaning forward to observe the proceedings (but not so much that he jostled the man resting on his lap) and gestured at the surreal mess slowly unfolding right in front of him, two fingers holding his cigarette up with the air of someone speaking from weary experience.

“My neighborhood has a crack problem. So I know how it looks. That kid’s doing fine now; he’s riding the wave of a good high, but it won’t last. It’s the rat poison they mix with the pure shit to make more. Melts your brain.”

Sighing loudly, Lan QiRen plucked the cigarette from Jin GuangYao’s nimble fingers. He was about to toss it on the expensive wooden flooring of the kitchen and crush the butt on his heel when he had a better idea.

Curling his fingers around the half-finished light, just the way he learned back in the army, he took a couple of draws and let the feeling settle somewhere deep in his lungs before letting it out.

He had quit, so many years ago, after [REDACTED] had announced her pregnancy with Lan Huan. From going through two packs a day, Lan QiRen had gone cold turkey on the nicotine for the coming of his first nephew. And, despite the terrible withdrawal symptoms, he had thought that he didn’t miss his cancer sticks.

This day was swinging at him on all fronts, though.

He was due for a little something that could steady him.

“It’s probably not drugs,” Lan QiRen said while massaging the bridge of his nose. “Lan JingYi is...well, he’s like this normally.”

He watched as his youngest relative excitedly skittered around hanging banners proclaiming the traditional double-joy symbol (pre-made, gods, how much thought did Lan JingYi put into this?) and rearranging furniture according to some grand masterplan he had drawn up a long time ago but was only now being put into action.

Lan JingYi was also ordering the grooms to do his bidding, like tacking pre-wedding photos (which was a thoughtful, if really creepy, touch because Wei WuXian didn’t remember inviting Lan JingYi to any of these dates he had with Lan Zhan) onto a red pop-up backdrop. He was met with varying degrees of cooperation.

Lan Zhan was still drunk as all fuck and was as likely to staple gun his arm to the wall as he was to get the banner set straight. Meanwhile, Wei WuXian had his own, often conflicting, opinion about where to put a particular streamer or which tea tray they would be using for the ceremony.

Organizing a normal wedding was already stressful, trying to do it within an hour was insane.

Lan QiRen could already see that Lan JingYi was fraying around the edges.

But the boy had been so earnest and was trying so hard that Lan QiRen didn’t have the heart to tell him to stop trying to organize a sham marriage ceremony.

“That’s normal?” Jin GuangYao was skeptical. So skeptical, in fact, that it allowed the both of them to sit together in relative peace discussing what a disaster the Lan family was.

And, after the trainwreck Exhibit A and B had been, Exhibit C was certainly not letting itself be left behind.

It was making a very strong case for itself.

Lan QiRen forewent his usual dignified pose and drooped gracelessly against the dining room chair he had been sitting on. He stubbed the used up cigarette butt on the table, uncaring that he was ruining the finish.

For as long as he knew the boy existed[40], Lan QiRen had tried to enforce some form of routine or stabilizing presence for Lan JingYi.

Someone had to do it, after all.

Lan JingYi’s mother had walked into the same trap that most Lans seemed too susceptible to and promptly fallen hard for someone wholly inappropriate. In the end, all she had to show for her whirlwind romance was a still-ringless finger and a son she was woefully ill-equipped to care for.

Lan QiRen saw it as his familial duty to try and keep an eye on the boy, but there were limits to what he could do. He was often at a loss on how to handle a child who only sometimes visited and was so excitable all the time.

“I also don’t think A-Yi would do drugs?” A-Yuan, the sweet boy, piped up from where Lan QiRen had urged him to sit by his side when a frazzled Lan JingYi had screamed, “A-Yuan, what are you doing with that tablecloth. Do you want to ruin this for me?!”

Couldn’t have Lan JingYi ruining his chances with the other boy because he was stressed from organizing a joke wedding, of course.

A little time to cool off from one another was in order, Lan QiRen thought. And it seemed to be working because A-Yuan was still defending his boyfriend’s (dubious) honor.

Jin GuangYao turned to random kid #2 in the kitchen (no one had bothered to introduce anyone to each other again. Rude.) and raised his eyebrow, gesticulating at the scene before them as if to say are you kidding me?

Wei Yuan was affronted on behalf of his friend. “Lan JingYi is part of the Hugs Not Drugs committee at school! He wouldn’t do that!” He swore.

After dad had taken him to the side one day and told Lan JingYi of his youthful experiments with recreational drugs, sparing none of the explicit details and even embellishing some parts to be extra scary because Dad was a troll like that, Lan JingYi had become a staunch supporter of keeping clean.

In fact, if you didn’t count OuYang ZiZhen, a very reluctant Jin Ling, and him, then Lan JingYi was the only member of the anti-drug committee.

It was cause for the other kids to pick on and bully the small but very vocal boy. [40]

Wei Yuan worried for his friend, sometimes.

A lot of times.

Right now was no exception.

With Lan Zhan essentially out of the pool of reasonable adults able to keep Lan JingYi’s schemes in check and dad humoring the whims of his drunk boyfriend and his drunk boyfriend’s cousin, Wei Yuan was understandably wary of where this would all end.

In fact, he was already checking the place out for items he could use to clean up the inevitable fallout.

He mostly felt overwhelmed.

Wei Yuan’s back-up plan was to fill that bucket he saw by the kitchen counter with ice-cold water and forcibly sober up his almost-dad to get him to handle dad-prime, but he didn’t think the situation was that dire yet.

“What do you mean you won’t lock me up in a room with new shoes?[42]” Wei WuXian sniffed. “How can anybody believe that this is a real wedding if we don’t follow the proper traditions?”

(It wasn’t out of control yet, but only just, Wei Yuan thought.)

Putting his phone down from where he had been ‘capturing [Wei WuXian’s] good side’ (Wei WuXian’s words, not Lan JingYi’s) the boy dramatically sighed. “Oh my gods! It’s 2020! You don’t have to do the bride customs because you’re not a bride.” Lan JingYi heatedly countered.

“Who cares?! I’m the one getting married! What I want goes,” Wei WuXian, aspiring Bridezilla, said.

Then he remembered that his boyfriend was drunk out of his mind and that this really wasn’t a real wedding; everyone sober was just humoring the drunken/insane half of the population in this room and tried to get a hold of himself.[43]

“Oh gods, the crazy must be contagious or something. Alright, fine, we’re not doing the shoes or the locking me up in the room thing.”

At the same time, he spun around to where Lan Zhan was studiously lingering against one corner and holding up one end of a red and gold banner, generally being as helpful as a cardboard cutout.

Leaning close to his boyfriend, Wei Ying whispered: “But we're totally gonna do the bride collection thing when you actually marry me for realsies, ok?”

Lan Zhan solemnly obliged with a, “Mn,” though Wei Ying sincerely doubted he’d remember doing so when he was once again sober.

Oh, well. He’d remind him again eventually.

“What was that?” Lan JingYi called out from where he was trying to fish out a bolt of gauzy red cloth from his secret hallway stash one-handed. He hadn’t let go of his phone the entire time he had been preparing for the “wedding,” and he wasn’t about to let go of it now.

“Nothing!” Wei WuXian called back. He gave Lan Zhan a conspiratorial wink that probably completely went over his boyfriend’s head, but Lan Zhan smiled like a goober back at him, so it was ok.

Lan JingYi, still training his phone at the wedding prep, approached the couple. He made sure to get good shots of his cousin, even when he really wasn’t doing anything spectacular, and panned the phone camera to Wei WuXian, “Here,” he said, tossing the fabric over the older man’s head.

Wei WuXian was going to snark at Lan JingYi’s terrible aim, when he realized that the boy had thrown it that way on purpose. Because the gauzy fabric was a veil.

Somehow, Lan JingYi had anticipated a need for a veil and put it in his hiding spot.

Somewhat impressed by the foresight, but just mostly disturbed by the level of forethought the kid put into this pet project (the numerous date photos he had on hand once again coming to mind), Wei WuXian snorted.

“You were so adamant that I didn’t set myself up as the ‘bride’ in this but here you are giving me a veil, a -- may I remind you -- very bride thing to have.”

Color crept up high on Lan JingYi’s cheeks. “I was gonna give it to cousin-Zhan originally since he’s totally prettier than you, but you really wanted to do a bride thing and I didn’t have new shoes so I gave it to you! It’s called compromise. You’re gonna have to do that a lot once you’re married, so you better get used to it!”

Wei WuXian resisted the urge to pull a Jiang Cheng and roll his eyes at Lan JingYi’s lecturing. Honestly, the kid had some really rigid beliefs about how marriage was supposed to work![41.5] Backing down from the potential confrontation (he was pretty in his own way, too!), he adjusted the veil over his head and grabbed Lan Zhan.

“Alright. Is this it?” He asked. “Zhanzhan and I are ready. How are we gonna do this?”

Wei WuXian’s apparent willingness to cooperate was like a shot of pure energy to Lan JingYi, who looked like he was ready to vibrate right out of his socks. He swung his phone around and aimed it at the “guests.”

“Alright, hold on, we just need someone to officiate the marriage.” Lan JingYi said. He had originally intended for it to be Jiang Cheng and gotten all the paperwork ready, but Officer Jiang had to go and get injured and wasn’t around so he couldn’t do it. Luckily, Lan JingYi had a backup plan.

He had several backups, in fact. But he only needed this one for his plan to work.

Lan JingYi crossed the room again, making a beeline to where his cousin-Huan was lying face down on the strange small dude’s lap, for all accounts dead to the world.

Lan Huan had been one of the people enthusiastically (if also drunkenly) on board with Lan JingYi’s plan to set up the place for Lan Zhan and Wei WuXian’s house-wedding. He had been happily decorating the room with all the red-and-gold double-joy-stamped crap Lan JingYi had amassed using his allowance, but the two gulps of alcohol he had previously finally got to him.

To Lan JingYi’s horror, he had almost been sick on some of the wedding decorations.

He made it to the kitchen sink just in time, but by then Lan JingYi had banished him to “observer” status to ensure that none of his wedding decorations were ruined.

Swinging his phone to point at his cousin, he said, “Hey, hey! Cousin-Huan? Are you ok now? I need you to go officiate your brother’s wedding.”

From where his leg had slowly been starved of blood cradling the heavy lump that was the man he loved, Jin GuangYao drawled out as he smoked another cigarette, “Honestly, don’t bother. I think he’s dead. Hasn’t moved since he put his head down.”

Lan Huan, who hadn’t been dead, and had, in fact, already been feeling somewhat along the lines of ‘fine’ some time ago but was enjoying the opportunity to lay his head on A-Yao’s lap, rose to the occasion like a Phoenix from the flames, reborn and ready to...do whatever it was that Phoenixes did. Lan Huan couldn’t remember; his brain was still trying to get the cotton out of his skull.

“I’ll do it!” Lan Huan declared.

MengYao masked the sour face he initially made with a sweet smile. It only served to make him look more threatening around the eyes. “Have you been conscious this entire time, A-Huan? Your head is unnaturally heavy. I think you crushed my leg.”

Lan Huan, who couldn’t figure out how A-Yao knew he had only been pretending to be unconscious, cast around for something to distract him. “Uh… what do I have to do to officiate this marriage?”

“Anything goes, really. It’s up to you how you want to do it, just make sure they do some sort of thing that involves vows,” Lan JingYi said vaguely. He handed Lan Huan a sheaf of papers and a handful of index cards filled with what Lan Huan assumed was his cousin’s messy scrawl. “Here, I’ve listed some talking points you can springboard off.”

Behind him, Wei WuXian huffed. “Do we really need one for a play-wedding? And I also wanted to keep this traditional...”

He trailed off because Lan JingYi, lips pursed and eyes spitting metaphorical flames, told him to stay back and let Lan JingYi coach Lan Huan on how to marry him to his cousin.

Dramatically pointing the phone at Wei WuXian, Lan JingYi said, “And don’t call it a play-wedding! I really did the research! And since I’m still too young to get ordained, I made sure to certify as many people as I could as back up! After cousin-Huan marries you, and you sign these papers, you’ll really be recognized as man and husband!”

“Hmm… he can only legally officiate a wedding ceremony in the US, I think,[44]” Jin GuangYao said. He had grabbed the papers the crazy kid was holding while he was distracted and began to read through the legalese. Surprisingly, Lan Huan’s certificate and the local city council paperwork (which actually was binding in their country), looked legitimate and properly filled out to his trained eye.

Which was what made it worrying.

“You need some personal information to fill out these papers. Have you been giving out your personal information to some dumb teen?” Jing GuangYao hissed at Lan Huan, the idiot.

Lan Huan looked as blank and confused as he ever was and very unhelpfully said, “What?” as a defense to Jin GuangYao’s allegations.

Meanwhile, Wei WuXian had been uncharacteristically listening to the conversation quietly, but it was only because the little gremlin gears in his head were turning. He turned to his son and discreetly flashed him a thumbs up.

Wei Yuan, from where he was sitting just on the edge of the conversation, was stock still, eyes as wide as dinner plates.

Uh-oh.

He knew exactly where Lan JingYi had gotten Lan Huan’s private information. And the information of the six[45] other adults who were unknowingly certified to officiate marriages in the United States.

It hadn’t been that weird when, a couple of months ago, Lan JingYi had crawled out of his sleeping bag where it lay by Wei Yuan’s bed and proceeded to climb into Wei Yuan’s bed -- Lan JingYi liked to cuddle with him sometimes.

It was cool. Cool cool cool cool cool cool.

What had been weird was when Lan JingYi had put his lips close to a barely awake Wei Yuan’s ear and randomly whispered:

“Hey wouldn’t it be super funny if we, like, had the personal info of these people...and also maybe fabricated an address for them in the US and-or maybe Canada?”

Wei Yuan, who was tired from studying for a big math test for the next day, and half-asleep besides, turned to look his best friend in the eye even in the dark of the night. He was about to ask what the hell he was on but thought better of it.

He had stood up, hacked his dad’s laptop to access the city’s files on its citizens, did what Lan JingYi had asked of him in record time, noted how the records for the Lans were strangely encrypted, even for a family with military connections, went back to bed, and promptly fell back to sleep. [46]

Wei Yuan woke up the next morning next to Lan JingYi thinking it had all been a weird dream and had set the entire thing aside in his brain.

Until now.

Hmmm. Not a dream after all, he thought with a heavy, artificial calmness.

Then the weight of what he’d just done crashed into him and he panicked.

Oh shit oh shit oh shit! Wei Yuan felt doubly bad because he didn’t like to curse, not even in the privacy of his brain. But he’d sworn to dad that he’d stop breaking into heavily protected servers online (just don’t get caught, son! Dad had laughed) but now he’d broken his promise.

If the police found out what he’d done…

If Lan WangJi found out what he’d done.

He’d probably have to arrest dad, his boyfriend, on the grounds of being a negligent guardian (Though looking at dad right now, it didn’t seem like Wei WuXian was too hung up about it.[47])

Trying to find a way to look NOT guilty, Wei Yuan fished out his phone from his pocket and pretended to be preoccupied with playing a game.

It wasn’t too hard to get distracted.

Pretty soon he was scrolling through his SNS and checking out live feeds. One notification caught his eye and, not without a bit of exasperation, he clicked on it, chuckling softly every now and then.

Lan Huan, standing in front of the two grooms, felt woefully unprepared to be an ordained minister. But he was bravely pushing through with it because the alternative was to face A-Yao’s inquisitive wrath.

He was pretty sure he hadn’t given out any personal information to anyone, but Lan Huan wasn’t all that great at not trusting people with things like that[48].

Lan Huan quickly moved on from that topic and got into the swing of things, however, remembering how he used to write his nice, peppy articles and even added his own flair to the talking points he was reading off of Lan JingYi’s notes.

It was a little shaky at first, but by the end of it, brother was repeating his free-styled vows. Lan Huan felt that Wei WuXian was just going along with it for the heck of it, but his usually stoic brother had really seemed to have gotten in the spirit of things, so he was counting it as a win!

Even Lan JingYi’s incessant and loud wailing in the background as he pointed his phone at the proceedings to capture the moment wasn’t enough to distract Lan Huan.

Lan QiRen was very disturbed by Lan JingYi’s racket, though. And the way the boy kept getting into everyone’s faces to get their reactions on the sham wedding was distracting, to say the least.

The boy had better not be this overbearing when banana 1 and banana 2 decided to hold a real wedding for themselves!

The only consolation Lan QiRen could offer himself was that by giving them this, everyone in the family could exorcise themselves of their need to behave so terribly instead of letting it all out in public.

Yes, everything would be ok as long as no one outside of the family knew what disasters the Lan family actually was.

Pausing to remind himself that not everyone present was family, Lan QiRen looked suspiciously at the small man beside him. He tried to gauge whether he would have to think of a creative way to keep Jin GuangYao from spreading rumors.

Prison seemed like as good an option as any.

Sensing that he was being watched, Jing GuangYao turned to face the formidable Lan uncle. He wasn’t afraid, per se, but he also remembered how he’d banged the old man’s head onto various surfaces while he was unconscious a while back. He might have suspected what he’d done and was out for revenge.

MengYao couldn’t be too careful with these dangerous Lan men.

The quietly threatening stare-off was cut short by a vaguely familiar tinny sound.

Lan QiRen was still trying to figure out where he’d heard it before, when Jing GuangYao gritted his teeth and said, “It’s yours.”

“What’s mine?”

Jing GuangYao looked absolutely done with the world, which rather offended Lan QiRen because he’d asked an honest to goodness question. He expected a proper answer!

“Isn’t that your phone ringing? Don’t you think you should answer it?”

Tabling Jin GuangYao’s rude mannerisms (the little rat’s demeanor had turned around since this morning!) for the meantime because he remembered that it was indeed the sound his phone made when one of his nephews was calling, Lan QiRen pulled out his phone from where he had forgotten it in his pocket.

Leaning away from an unsubtly nosy Jin GuangYao, he then spent a few more seconds trying to figure out how to answer his cellular phone and also puzzle out why Lan JingYi’s mother had decided to call him out of the blue.

They hadn’t spoken to each other since that cursed family reunion breakfast where Lan QiRen found out she’d had Lan JingYi out of wedlock! What could she want now?

Tapping ineffectually a few times on the blasted screen (where were the button keys?), Lan QiRen felt really frustrated at having to delay the conversation. He wanted to get on the call and hold Lan Yi’s[49] son’s crazy antics over her head.

“Here, let me...” A-Yuan said, reaching over from his other side to slide a deft finger on his phone to (finally!) answer the incoming call. Lan QiRen offered the kid a smile, making a note that he was definitely getting adopted when this was over, and turned his attention to the caller.

Then he heard what Lan Yi had to say and his stomach dropped.

Because she was asking him why her teenage son was at his house trying to marry off her cousin Lan Zhan -- and why did the two brothers look drunk?

How did she know? Lan QiRen thought hysterically.

He doesn’t know what’s going on, but he can already tell it’s a Bad Thing(TM).

Trying to figure out how she knew exactly what was going on (and how she could continue describing what was happening in real-time), his eyes caught A-Yuan’s. The boy was busy watching something on his phone, but he seemed to have heard a part of the conversation and correctly identified why Lan QiRen was looking equal parts puzzled and distressed.

“Oh she probably knows because Lan JingYi is broadcasting this entire thing live,” A-Yuan said, gesturing at his phone helpfully. Smiling at Lan QiRen absently, he went back to watching the comments flit madly through the screen -- probably the entire town was watching at the moment.

“I think the whole town’s tuned in, actually.”

Lan QiRen felt his soul physically vacate his mortal body, numb fingers dropping the phone.

“Excuse me, but WHAT?!”

 

1 hour before, in a very crowded bachelor pad on the other side of town:

Jin Ling stared intently into his phone’s screen, jaw dropped.

“MOOOOM!!!”

Chapter Text

3-ish Hours to Disaster (Jiang Cheng’s apartment pt1/5)

Jiang Cheng angrily tossed his phone away from him into some dark corner beyond his coffee table and picked up his neglected knitting needles.

The assortment of children and preteens littering his apartment floor turned some curious looks his way, but were otherwise used to his flare-ups. They were soon back to amusing themselves, ignoring their uncle.

Jiang Cheng, in turn, kept his rage in check and strictly internal.

The nerve!

He had asked Wei WuXian a question some time ago -- a very important question because a known criminal and cop boyfriends who weren’t arresting said criminal were involved -- and he hadn’t answered!

And he couldn’t say that he didn’t have his phone with him after posting the photos. Wei WuXian had reacted to the random video of noodles that that short kid who was always hanging around A-Yuan and A-Ling posted, and he even had time to reply to some dumb thing Nie HuaiSang had said in the comments.

Jiang Cheng was so pressed he couldn’t even remember what the comment was about!

He could only come to one conclusion: his brother was digitally snubbing him.

Wei WuXian!

Jiang Cheng got so agitated thinking about his brother so easily dismissing him that his fingers missed one of the stitches somewhere along where he was knitting and his mind blanked on how to go back a couple of steps to repair it.

He had gotten so used to moving his fingers on auto-pilot lately after his accident (which was totally because he was mugged by 10 mean dudes who were all over 6 feet tall) confined him to his couch with nothing to do but knit dumb sweaters with the awful eye-sore red yarn Wei Ying had given him.

“Oh, for ff---uuuh’s sake!” Jiang Chang barked, almost remembering too late that he was surrounded by little children.

Nevertheless, he still hurled his knitting needles away, yarn and all (but still nowhere near the kids. A-Li would mow him down with her car if he did that, beloved baby brother or not).

While the kids more or less accepted that their uncle was trying to process his feelings, the violent and seemingly unprovoked reaction startled the retiring man sharing the loveseat with him.

Jiang Cheng looked up. Oh, yeah, another source of his irritation. There currently were so many people in his apartment.

Before he could chew out the man, Jin ZiXuan poked his head over the back of the couch. His brother-in-law’s bright and happy smile was a serious affront to Jiang Cheng’s sour mood and he wanted to punch the peacock in the face just a little bit.

How dare he be so nice and bright when Jiang Cheng was going crazy sitting on his couch day in and day out![A]

“Aww, younger brother, I know you’re having a hard time having to stay still all this time, but, you know, it isn’t good to take it out on your things.” Jin ZiXuan said. He brought out a tray of freshly baked cookies and, selecting one, held it to Jiang Cheng’s face. “Here’s something that’ll cheer you up for sure! Say aaaaah!”

Jiang Cheng had serious problems with the way Jin ZiXuan was treating him patronizingly like he was one of his younger children and he frowned to show his displeasure.

Still, he moodily took a bite out of the gooey offering. Jiang YanLi probably taught him the recipe and everything Jiang YanLi created in the kitchen was perfect so Jiang Cheng wasn’t going to let it go to waste.

As expected, the cookie tasted divine. The sugar and dark chocolate melted in his mouth and helped soften his black mood a little.

That was, until Jin ZiXuan merrily chirped: “Did you like it? It’s my own recipe!”

Jiang Cheng took it back! It tasted horrible. He wanted to spit the cookie out! (Except that it was kind of really good so he didn’t)

He hobbled to his feet, ready to throw hands with his brother-in-law for the trick he’d played on Jiang Cheng even if his left ankle was still tender and his right one was in a cast.

“And we’re so proud of you, honey!” Jiang YanLi, ever the supportive wife, said from where she was puttering about Jiang Cheng’s connected kitchen area.

Jin ZiXuan turned to her like a pathetic puppy who was so starved for praise (he wasn’t). Jiang Cheng also turned back to his traitorous sister, frown firmly back in place and disgusted at these two.

He was pretty sure Jiang YanLi had let him be misled by his own thoughts. The knowledge only added to his bad mood.

Jiang YanLi didn’t comment on her brother’s facial expression, instead opting to cover her mouth with one delicate hand. Moving around the kitchen, her other hand laid protectively on her round belly, she waddled where the eldest boys in her life were.

“A-Cheng,” Jiang YanLi said as she tried to reach around her very pregnant belly and pick the knitting needles from the floor, “A-Ying gave you these. Please handle them with more care.”

Jiang YanLi was too far along her pregnancy to actually reach anything so far down, so Jin ZiXuan hurried to her side to do it for her. She puffed out her cheeks because while she was used to doing things herself, by the time she hit the third trimester of her pregnancies[50], she was basically a walking globe who couldn’t manage anything without her husband’s help.

A surge of hormones shot through her, and Jiang YanLi felt that she might cry.

She hadn’t been able to do anything! And it was the eve of the Spring Festival and A-Ying wasn’t with her! And her baby brother was laid up on the couch, injured! What was she doing?! She was failing as a sister! As a mother! As a--

Correctly guessing that his wife was about to have a pregnancy meltdown[51], Jin ZiXuan moved and wrapped her in his embrace. “Hush, now, Àiren. It’ll be alright, I promise.”

“Huwaah-ahh!” Jiang YanLi sobbed. Even she wasn’t sure why she was crying, but she was just so thankful that she had her husband with her.

Utterly disgusted by the display, Jiang Cheng, he of the “single” status since birth, threw himself back down on the loveseat. The seat cushions dipped and jostled the seat’s other occupant; Mo XuanYu squeaked in distress.

Turning his ire to him, Jiang Cheng testily asked him, “And you? I know these two are here to throw their marital and parental bliss in my face. But what are you doing in my house?”

In place of a verbal reply, Mo XuanYu opted to wither and disappear from the world. It didn’t work as well as he wanted.

He had just wanted to find MengYao, honestly. His other older brother had been spitting mad and drunkenly waving around his kitchen knives last night, threatening to shiv some man named “A-Huan” and then he had disappeared without a trace. Mo XuanYu hadn’t seen or heard from MengYao for almost 24 hours now.

He was getting really, really worried.

Worried for that “A-Huan” guy, specifically. MengYao was small, but he was a nasty drunk; Mo XuanYu had no doubt that he could handle himself.

Desperate to find the man (and possibly dispose of damning evidence that came from Mo XuanYu’s own kitchen), he had come to his other older half-sibling and tearfully recounted his woes.

Jin ZiXuan, who also knew first-hand what a champ MengYao was at handling himself while sloshed, had dismissed Mo XuanYu’s concerns regarding their brother’s personal safety.

Which wasn’t the point. Because Mo XuanYu was worried about the people who came across A-Yao, Da-ge, please listen!

Unfortunately, even if Jin ZiXuan had been listening, he was too busy packing up his entire brood into his car after getting into another argument with his father. Also, he was distracted trying to keep his very independent wife from overexerting herself while she was in a family way.

Jin ZiXuan simply didn’t have enough space in his brain to register the repercussions of a missing younger brother whose last known activity was to declare the need to be compensated via blood-price, when that younger brother had already proven himself very capable of remodeling another person’s guts via the business end of a pointy object.

In fact, all he had done was pat Mo XuanYu on the head -- not unlike the way he did with his children who acted up sometimes -- and assured him that MengYao had learned his lesson after that one time. He probably wouldn’t try that again. You have to believe in our brother more, A-Yu!

Then, he’d also absent-mindedly packed Mo XuanYu in the family van together with his other kids to totally avoid seeing Jin GuangShan’s smarmy face tonight meet the convalescing uncle Jiang Cheng.

So that was how Mo XuanYu reluctantly found himself trying not to trod on any of his nieces and nephews on the eve of the Spring Festival in the cramped space of the notorious Officer Jiang’s apartment.

You know, the one place he didn’t want to be in case MengYao did end up stabbing someone.

Still, he was also trying to take his eldest brother’s advice to ease up on the worry. It wasn’t working. Nothing about his current circumstances reassured him.

Jiang Cheng’s confrontational demeanor being the foremost issue.

He was a hair’s breadth from breaking down and confessing everything. Maybe even advising Officer Jiang that maybe he needed to call his partner and try to find some guy named A-Huan who might be lying face down in a ditch right now[52], when the shrill voice of an adolescent broke through the general chaotic thrum within the apartment.

It made Mo XuanYu’s anxiety ratchet up so much further that he almost ejected himself from his seat.

“MOOOOOOOOOM!!!” Jin Ling burst out from around one of the apartment’s two rooms, jumping over Fairy, narrowly avoiding one of his adopted siblings, and vaulting over the twins[53] and other human- and dog-shaped obstacles in between him and his mother.

“What is it, sweetie?” Jiang YanLi asked, worry already lacing her tone. Jin Ling, from long and frequent experience, knew better than to be a burden to his mother when she was pregnant. So it was concerning that he would be acting this way.

“I thought Lan JingYi was just ship-baiting for clout,” Jin Ling explained, a little uselessly because the lingo flew right over the heads of all the adults present, “But it looks like it’s true! He’s going to marry Uncle Wei and Officer Lan right now!”

“What!” said Jiang Yanli, who was already starting to get irrationally upset that she wasn’t invited to her younger brother’s shotgun wedding.

“What?” Jin ZiXuan said. Unlike his wife, he wasn’t all that invested in the news. Good for elder brother-in-law and all that, but ok. His wife and their kids were awesomer topics of interest for him.

“What??” Mo XuanYu asked no one in particular. He didn’t really get what Jin Ling said so his question was of the general “what” type.

Jiang Cheng was the last to react, and his exclamation of “WHAT?” was the longest version, and the most colorful to boot.

The choice expletives and curses he let were such that, years from now, the Jin-Jiang children would remember him as the most daring and badass uncle in the world. Uncle Wei’s naughty pranks simply couldn’t hold a candle to Jiang Cheng’s impressively vulgar vocabulary.

Chapter Text

2.5-ish Hours to Disaster (Jiang Cheng’s apartment 2/5)

Jin ZiXuan sat on the cramped loveseat in his brother-in-law’s residence, Jiang Cheng and Mo XuanYu bookending him on both sides, and a gaggle of his children distributed haphazardly where space could be found.

He popped a cookie into his mouth. He and everyone else were wholly enraptured by the view on the screen.

Jin Ling had set up the live stream on the spare 75-inch flatscreen[54] he had insisted that they bring to his second Jiang uncle’s apartment. At that time, Jin ZiXuan was a little put off that he needed to make space for such a cumbersome object in their already full van.

But, evidently, Jin Ling’s obsessive need to bring his toys with him wherever he went -- damn the logistics and the fact that they were only staying the night -- was coming in useful.

He could see everything that was currently happening at the Lans’ house, right down to Wei WuXian’s very pores as Lan JingYi’s camera zoomed right in his “good side”...whatever that meant.

Then an obviously stressed out Lan JingYi went crazy(-ier) and blew up at Wei Yuan.

The riveted audience all went “Ohhhh!” This was better than reality TV.

“Haha! Trouble in paradise!” Jin Ling heckled. He threw a piece of popcorn he had brought from the kitchen at the screen.

Jiang Cheng’s eyes followed the popcorn kernel’s trajectory as it hit the screen and made its arc back. When it landed somewhere on the floor underneath his once pristine coffee table, his and his nephew’s eyes met.

Jin Ling gulped audibly as he realized that he’d done wrong right then and there.

Jin ZiXuan tried to ignore his son and brother-in-law bickering once more in favor of gently pushing away tiny hands that were reaching into his cookie bowl in search of a second cookie.

He loved his babies, but they were a handful when they got on a sugar high. Jin ZiXuan had learned this the hard way and didn’t want a repeat performance.

Also, A-Li was going to castrate him if he gave their children so much sugar just before dinner.

Jin ZiXuan liked his bits where they were thank-you-very-much, and he would prefer to keep things as is.

This left Mo XuanYu the only one watching the screen. He winced a little as some of the comments floating on the video got very involved and took a rather vulgar turn. Why was that kid friends with these people online?

“Daddy!” One of Jin ZiXuan’s daughters, adorable cheeks smeared with chocolate and little hair buns bouncing in excitement, said, “What’s a BITCH?”

Jin ZiXuan’s eye bugged out as he looked back at the screen in time to see the tail end of Nie HuaiSang’s heartfelt and very explicit congratulations to the “newly weds.”

He tried to use his two hands to cover the eyes of several children at the same time. Since he had more than two children whose eyes were in danger of exposure to Nie HuaiSang’s very expressive...literary creations, Jin ZiXuan didn’t do very well.

On his side, Jiang Cheng was also trying to shield his little nieces and nephews’ eyes, but as he had to reach over without also putting too much weight on his bum legs, all he succeeded in accomplishing was overbalancing.

He fell onto the carpeted floor in slow motion, letting out a disgruntled “oof” for his trouble.

Jiang Cheng did find the popcorn though.

He picked it up, considered things, then threw it at his eldest nephew who squawked.

Groaning because he knew he couldn’t depend on Jiang Cheng, he turned to Mo XuanYu.

His half-sibling was still engrossed in the show, mentally critiquing Lan JingYi’s wedding decoration choices and how he could have tailored better marriage ceremony suits.

The plain, stuffy design that the elder Lan had commissioned absolutely wouldn’t do!

Mo XuanYu mentally clocked out as he began designing more elaborate suit jackets in his head. Perhaps golden cloud embroidery? Mmm yes.

Finding no help on that side either, Jin ZiXuan looked over the back of the couch. A-Li was waddling back and forth the kitchen, hormonal tears running down her face as she tried to call her brother.

Wei WuXian was obviously distracted and probably wouldn’t get to his phone anytime soon, but Jiang Yanli was adamant that she get in touch with her brother and congratulate him. They’re finally tying the knot. I’m so happy for my baby.

Jin ZiXuan blew out a frustrated raspberry. He knew when he was outmanned. Giving up, he put the bowl of cookies on the coffee table where his children could have a field day.

“My darlings,” He said, “I’m really proud that your reading lessons are coming along very well. But please...”

“...never ask baba about what you see on the TV tonight.”

Not completely understanding what their father meant, except that their cooperation meant they got cookies, the little boys and girls scattered around the small living room cried out an excited “OKAY!” and rushed at the cookie bowl.

In seconds, the treats were gone, almost as if they were never there at all.

Jin ZiXuan tried not to let the feeling of foreboding at what he’d just done get to him.

Chapter Text

2-ish Hours to Disaster (Jiang Cheng’s apartment 3/5)

Jiang YanLi latched onto her husband’s back.

“He won’t pick up!” She sobbed. “It’s his most important day today and he won’t pick up so I can’t greet him!”

Mo XuanYu tsked from his side of the loveseat. “It’s not as if it’s a real marriage. The kid’s just play acting.”

Jin Ling had to agree with his second paternal uncle. When he’d clicked the notification to the live stream, he’d thought that Lan JingYi had finally conned Wei Yuan into cosplaying a really creepy rendition of a marriage between his cousin and his best friend’s dad.

He’d been super ready to laugh. Except the very hard video evidence showed Officer Lan and Uncle Wei not only standing around while being guerilla filmed, but actively participating in decorating what he assumed was the Lans’ home.

(Uncle Wei lived in a shoebox dump in a really bad neighborhood. No way did the nice wooden floors and bright, naturally lit kitchen fit into the gritty architectural vibe of the Luanzang Hills complex.)

Besides, while Wei Yuan was a savant around online security systems, his skills didn’t really translate well into video manipulation of this magnitude.

At least, that’s what Jin Ling assumed.

Right?

Wei Yuan would be too powerful if he could.

Jiang YanLi glared daggers at her brother-in-law, suddenly switching from sobbing lady to affronted pregnant lady. Mo XuanYu, a master of accurately reading a person’s moods in order to survive, immediately stood down.

He wasn’t about to cross that. Nope.

Seeing that the primary target of her pregnant rage had suddenly thrown in the towel, Jiang YanLi turned to her hapless husband, who only wanted to sit on the couch and enjoy the beautiful “ceremony” that was about to happen.

(It wasn’t as grand as his own wedding, but he could appreciate how sweet it was that they were finally making it official. Sort of...This was after all just a play-wedding...)

Then, as if Jin ZiXuan was part of the reality show he was watching, Lan JingYi suddenly declared: ”And don’t call it a play-wedding! I really did the research!”

“Oh my!” Jin ZiXuan said, sincerely invested in what was happening.

The outburst was enough to distract his wife who was also a bit rattled that Lan JingYi would be clever enough to actually procure the proper paperwork. He was wily, that Lan JingYi. Sometimes you just couldn’t tell with people.

“Oh my.” Jiang YanLi echoed her husband. She sat heavily on the already filled loveseat, her petite form still making everyone crowd against each other lest they smother the tiny but very volatile pregnant lady. “Wow, I didn’t know A-Yi had it in him.”

She reached over Jin ZiXuan and grabbed a handful of popcorn from where Jiang Cheng had taken it from his nephew. Jiang Cheng was sad that he had to share, but silently let his sister take what she wanted.

Jiang YanLi was about to put the popcorn into her mouth when the phone camera (which swung dizzyingly fast, first at someone with a face that Jiang YanLi thought looked familiar, to the prone form of Lan WangJi’s nice brother, and then to A-Ying and Lan WangJi) zoomed into the face of the rather familiar man.

She realized that it was her other brother-in-law.

She had a hard time recognizing him the first time he was on screen because his hair was mussed and he wasn’t his usual impeccably put-together self.

Now that the focus was on him, she could see that it was in fact MengYao, even if he was wearing horribly mismatched clothing and looked like he hadn’t slept in days.

Her husband and Mo XuanYu obviously came to the same conclusion right about the same time as she did because A-Xuan suddenly held her thigh, pointed at the screen, and said, “It’s Bro Yao!”

Meanwhile, Mo XuanYu grabbed her arm, jostling her and her hold on her popcorn (Jiang Cheng’s eyes flashed when he saw her let go and the popped corn fell on the floor) and shrilled: “Yao-er!”

He was ok! Mo XuanYu thanked the gods.

But then he mentally replayed the entire exchange on the screen because he was sure that there was something important he should be picking up from this.

Almost ready for the wedding...

Getting cousin-Huan to officiate...

The marriage license paperwork…

A-Yao using his magical clerk powers to understand the legalese…

Hissing at A-Huan, the minister, that he shouldn’t be giving away personal information…

That man’s name was A-Huan!!

Mo XuanYu jumped to his feet, startling his seatmates.

“THAT MAN IS IN DANGER!” He screamed while pointing at the ridiculously large flatscreen.

“Only of their stupidity, ” Jiang Cheng snarked.

Mo XuanYu continued to fret, “No! You don’t understand! Yao-er was really upset last night, and he drank all my alcohol!

“Well, he does do that,” Jiang YanLi, who was currently experiencing zen with her hormones, said. She tried to grab some more popcorn.

“Then he ran off with my kitchen knives, threatening some person named ‘A-Huan’. I’m pretty sure it’s this guy, please listen to me, Da-ge!” Mo XuanYu begged.

He tried to come closer to his older brother without stepping on his nieces and nephews, but that proved hazardous when the kids were a ticking time bomb about to vibrate into the next dimension from sugar consumption.

The sincere plea pulled at Jin ZiXuan’s heartstrings.

He tried to look out for and be patient with his sometimes histrionic youngest brother (that he knew of) but he didn’t think it was good for him to keep working himself up over something that probably wasn’t true.

He got up and stepped over his babies to approach Mo XuanYu.

“A-Yu, come one. A-Yao said he was sorry about the last time! He’s more careful about where he sticks his letter openers now.”

“I dunno,” Jin Ling sassed from where he was on the floor by his uncle’s legs. “The way he worded that left a lot of room for interpretation. I mean, poison isn’t a knife, right?”

Jiang Cheng nodded in agreement, patting his eldest nephew’s head at the brilliant deduction. He’d make a cop out of this Jin boy yet.

Jin ZiXuan’s wife, who had a mouth full of popcorn, “mhh-hmmed” noncommittally, but he could guess his wife’s opinion on the matter.

He pointed at the Jiang peanut gallery, waving his hand around at the three.

“None of you,” Jin ZiXuan said, “Are helping.”

Then he put his arm around his brother and indicated what was happening on the screen. “See A-Yu? Lan XiChen is doing just fine. Look, he’s even trying to rap his ceremony. Isn’t that fun? He rhymed "wedding" with "bedding." Alright. That’s really...hmm. Okay.”

Sparing a quick glance at his children, Jin ZiXuan hoped that most of Lan XiChen’s weird rhymes and awfully bawdy limericks went over their heads. It seemed like they did, but he didn’t like how they were beginning to get listless in place, his brain unhelpfully reminding him just how many cookies were in his bowl just a couple of minutes ago.

“The point here is,” Jin ZiXuan said, grasping Mo XuanYu by his shoulders and trying once more to gain control of the conversation, “That we can all agree that MengYao has better taste than that to attack people at a wedding ceremony.”

“Ehhh, I’m not so sure,” Jin Ling said.

“Debatable,” Jiang Cheng put in his two cents.

Jiang YanLi, who learned from her mother what not to do in a marriage, chose not to engage in this battle and stuffed more popcorn into her mouth. She smiled around it while rubbing her swollen belly.

“Uncle-Yao would sell anyone to Satan for one corn chip!” One of Jin ZiXuan’s children declared while the others cheered their sibling on.

Mo XuanYu whimpered.

Jin ZiXuan sighed. “Guys, please, work with me here. MengYa--”

“Excuse me, but WHAT?” Lan QiRen’s distinct voice came through on the high-end surround-sound speakers (which Jin Ling also insisted on carting along from their entertainment room).

The entire family turned as one as the screen showed Lan QiRen rushing at his young relative. He screamed, “You’re broadcasting this? Why would you do that?”

Lan JingYi shrieked and fumbled his phone a couple of times. There were a couple of close calls but he miraculously managed to keep a hold of it while trying to escape his uncle’s wrath.

In return for his nimbleness, his viewers were rewarded with close-up, albeit shaky, live feeds of Lan QiRen’s angry, red face.

“Ahhh! Don’t kill me!” Lan JingYi screamed, but he also had time to switch to the front camera so the viewers saw his panicked face, so the situation probably wasn’t that dire.

He tried to make his way to Wei Yuan, whose unofficial job as his best friend was to diffuse any provoked tempers when Lan JingYi was involved. Before he could make it however, Lan QiRen threw himself forward in an impressive tackle that brought the boy down.

The phone slipped from Lan JingYi’s hands, spinning madly until it came to a stop somewhere underneath MengYao’s chin.

Even when only the underside of his face was seen, MengYao’s exasperation was palpable on screen.

“Ughhhh,” he said, throwing his arms out and slouching defeated on his chair, “Not again.”

A hand reached out to pick the phone up, the screen going red for a second before revealing the grinning face of Wei WuXian. He switched to the back camera and pointed it at where the eldest and youngest Lan were tussling on the floor.

Wei WuXian messed with the filters until he found one that gave Lan QiRen and Lan JingYi cute flower crowns and spat out hearts every time they moved a certain way. He cackled and asked the viewers to “place yer’ bets!”

If there were already a lot of people engaging with the live stream, then Wei WuXian’s words only spurred them on. The screen exploded with comments, almost crowding out what was actually happening.

“Dad!” Wei Yuan said. Wei WuXian pointed the camera at his son. Wei Yuan’s serious expression was ruined when Wei WuXian chose another filter and gave the boy cute little bunny ears and a blushing nose. ”Dad! Don’t encourage them!”

Wei Yuan didn’t specify which dad he was pertaining to as it was pretty obvious which gremlin was egging the one-sided fight on, but Lan Zhan’s drunk brain didn’t make distinctions.

He considered himself a dad to Wei Yuan so he surmised that his son was talking to him.

Springing into drunken action, he walked up to his uncle and pulled him off from where Lan QiRen had Lan JingYi in a chokehold.

Freed of his uncle’s arms, Lan JingYi took huge lungfuls of air, generally preferring not to do anything on the floor but marvel that he was still ok.

Lan QiRen resisted in Lan Zhan’s grasp, but couldn’t break the detaining hold his nephew had on him.

Lan Zhan turned to face the camera, or maybe just turned to address Wei WuXian. He said, “Mn. Fighting. Bad.”

By the time the camera focused on Lan Zhan, Wei WuXian had his chosen filter ready. So, while Lan Zhan was parting his words of wisdom about the evils of fighting, his face was on the makeup filter.

“My hubby -- so cute,” Wei WuXian cooed into the camera mic. He took a couple of photos with Lan Zhan with heavy eyeliner, blush on, and lipstick on Lan JingYi’s phone (the brat better thank him!).

“Lan WangJi!” Lan QiRen said. His face was also caught on the makeup filter, but it didn’t suit him as well as it did his nephew. “Boy, let me go! I’m going to have to beat some sense into your cousin from broadcasting this for the entire community to gawk at!”

“I wasn’t doing anything wrong!” Lan JingYi protested off-screen where he was most likely hiding behind Wei Yuan.

Meanwhile, Lan Zhan was having an epiphany.

“The entire community?” He asked.

Lan QiRen stopped struggling and turned to his nephew, thinking he had found an ally. “Yes! As if your marriage is a sideshow attraction that anyone with a penny could pay to gawp at!”

Lan Zhan didn’t give a rat’s ass who witnessed his wedding to Wei Ying. He rather thought the more people the better, but that wasn’t what he was thinking now. Because…

“Everyone? Even him?”

Lan QiRen immediately quieted, because he knew exactly who Lan Zhan was talking about. Somewhere in the background, Lan Huan sucked in an uneasy breath.

Dead silence filled the room.

Wei WuXian ruined the strained moment by zooming the frame in and out maniacally.

“What’s this? Find out next time on...” He narrated before cutting the feed.

Back in Jiang Cheng’s apartment, the owner felt like throwing his crutch at the innocent TV.

“What the f---uuuhdge was that?!”

Chapter Text

Less than 2 Hours to Disaster (Jiang Cheng’s crowded bachelor pad 4/5)

The feed was back on almost as soon as it went out. 

The moment Jin Ling resumed the video, the Jiang-Jin family ceased the commotion that had started up when Wei WuXian had abruptly cut the stream.

Everyone, the adults, especially, were watching the screen like gossip-hungry vultures. 

The Lan family was known for being upstanding and righteous. Old-money people who were very rule-abiding and oftentimes gave off the impression that they were somehow apart from the rest of the populace.

That the eldest Lan nephew took on a basic job as a puff piece reporter was odd, but because he had a gentle, unassuming personality that made people trust and open up to him, the news was not met with much fuss.

The second Lan heir “lowering” himself to the position of a low-wage cop was more baffling, but most accepted it as another eccentricity of someone who didn’t need to worry about where to get their next meal.

For what was expected of the Lan family, the brothers had gone a little off-script, but they had done nothing essentially harmful to their family’s closely guarded reputation.

That is, until today.

The entire town, or at least the part of the town that was active online, was now getting confirmation that Officer Lan and the infamous Wei WuXian were, in fact, in a committed romantic relationship. One that they were willing to take as far as marriage. 

Lan WangJi even seemed to consider himself Wei Yuan’s father.

All across town, money changed hands as the betting pool over whether the two were involved or were just really, really, really close friends/enemies Officer Lan felt duty-bound to watch over was finally settled. [55]

And, as if that wasn’t scandalous enough, the known criminal and failed bastard son of the town’s most prominent businessman was seen hanging around the house in the video. Jin GuangYao looked right at home in what looked to be borrowed sleepwear — with a drunken Lan XiChen on his lap, no less!

The episode about the DIY marriage reeled the town in, and the fight between Lan QiRen and Lan JingYi kept the audience’s attention. But it was Officer Lan’s cryptic question and his now-husband’s foreshadowing sign-off that had everyone salivating for more.

“So, who’s ‘him’? Who are they talking about?” Wei Yuan whispered, just a sliver of the underside of his face visible on the screen as he voiced the question many of the viewers were asking in the stream’s comments section.

Lan JingYi, who had hurriedly retrieved his phone and started guerilla streaming after he could breathe normally again, shushed his best friend.

The Lans didn’t talk about that man often, and Lan JingYi could only remember meeting him once. 

Lan JingYi had been so much younger then, but he distinctly remembered how the quiet man in the suit had seemed kind but distant, burdened by some tragedy that the uncaring world had long moved on from. 

No one had ever explained to him how that man had ended up the way he was, and seemed reluctant to even broach the topic, so he didn’t want to miss anything if cousin-Zhan decided to break the silence and spill what he knew.

Lan Zhan picked up another cell phone, Lan QiRen’s, and handed it to his uncle. For someone who was still swaying drunkenly, his hands were surprisingly steady and coordinated.

“Call him,” he said tersely. 

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Lan QiRen said. He was on edge too. His eyes scanned the room, landing on Lan JingYi. The boy was able to move his phone out of sight in the nick of time while miraculously still keeping a good vantage point of the arguing Lans.

Lan Zhan slit his eyes, “I know you have his number.”

“This is a mistake, Lan WangJi.”

“It’s what’s right, uncle.”

“No.”

“Yes,” Lan Zhan said. He pushed the phone into his uncle’s hands and closed the man’s fingers around it with a finality that said he wasn’t about to take another no as an answer. “Call father .”

“OOOOOHHH!!!” The four eldest watchers in Jiang Cheng’s apartment said. The entire exchange was so tense, even when Lan Zhan kept his low, soft, if a little slurred, tone of voice. 

They were leaning so close to the tv that they were in very real danger of falling the burdened loveseat.

Jiang Cheng was about to lose his mind. 

“‘FATHER?’” He sputtered. “Lan WangJi has a dad?!”

Jiang YanLi spared a moment from the drama on the screen to give him a quizzical look. “Yes, didi, of course Officer Lan has a father. What did you expect?”

“Honestly?” Jiang Cheng said, looking like a man haunted by knowing too much but not knowing what to do with said information. “I was going to go with ‘secret, semi-legal military cloning experiment’. The way all the Lans look alike is uncanny.”

They’d been partners for almost a decade! Lan WangJi never even said anything about having a father. Much less one that was alive enough to call.

“Huh,” Jin ZiXuan said, “That would explain the robotic, socially awkward personality. Maybe he’s actually a cyborg.”

“Oh, hush,” Jiang YanLi said. She was intent on getting back to her reality show and seeing her brother finish his marriage ceremony. Lan QiRen even seemed to cave! He was dialing, if grudgingly!

“Yeah,” Jin Ling put in. “Your tinfoil hats are showing. You sound like that dude who spreads those crazy conspiracy theories in the morning paper and calls it ’current events’.[56]”

The eldest Jin child flapped his hand about in a dismissive gesture. “Anyway, word on the street is that Lan QiRen just picked them out of the orphanage to raise them as his heirs and bypass the need for a wife,” he gossiped hypocritically. “I mean, what did people do with the town orphans before we started adopting them wholesale, anyway?”

Jin Ling never got a sufficient answer because by the time he posed his question, someone picked up on the other end of the line. 

“PUT IT ON VIDEO!” Lan JingYi demanded. Wei Yuan gave his friend a stern look, so Lan JingYi amended his statement: “PLEASE!”

“Yes.” Lan Zhan agreed, surprising everyone, even the people who had actively been dealing with the shitstorm at the Lan house since that morning.

For a second, nobody moved. 

Then both Wei WuXian and Lan Huan stepped forward. Only Lan Huan made it to his uncle, though. Wei WuXian was stopped by Lan Zhan who held his arm and made him stay beside him.

Wholly aware of the volatile situation, Lan Huan pushed the video call button with a lot of trepidation.

“Hello? Hello? A-Ren? Are you there?” A tinny voice said. 

Lan JingYi pushed to the front and held his own phone to show the screen, unbothered by Lan QiRen’s protests in light of the new development and the chance to see his reclusive older uncle-cousin.

The man Lan JingYi captured on-screen looked remarkably like Lan Huan and Lan Zhan -- Lan QiRen, even -- except for the evidence of a life of hard drinking in the burst capillaries on his face.

“Hi!” Lan JingYi greeted the man.

“Hi?” the older Lan said, not without some uncertainty. The boy greeting him looked like he had Lan blood but he couldn’t actually remember if he had a relative that age. “I’m sorry, but is my brother there? Lan QiRen?”

Lan QiRen opened his mouth to reply, even if he really didn’t want to talk to his no-good, dead-beat-dad of a brother, but he didn’t get to choose.

Lan Zhan rudely pushed his uncle’s face away with one hand. It was quite impressive because Lan Zhan was trying to get into the frame when it was Lan QiRen holding the camera phone.

“Honored Father,” Lan Zhan greeted formally. And with as little emotion behind his tone as he could drunkenly manage. “Good evening.”

The Lan Patriarch sucked in a gasp. This face he knew. It was one of his sons -- the younger one , he thought. He hadn’t had much chance to communicate with them over the years since he had been so...busy[57], and Lan QiRen contacted him infrequently, if at all. 

That he would be seeing his youngest now was wholly unexpected, even if it was the eve of the Spring Festival.

“Lan WangJi? Is--is that you? Oh my, I haven’t--,” He stammered out, at a loss on how to talk to his son. 

Lan Zhan barely heard whatever his father was saying though. He was on a mission. Everything else was irrelephant. 

“WangJi would like to speak to mom,” Lan Zhan said, still as stiff as a board. He said it as a request, but it came out more like a demand.

The Lan patriarch hesitated. “Wait, Lan WangJi...”

“Bring out mom. Please,” Lan Zhan said, eyes narrowed dangerously.

The older man sighed but acquiesced, disappearing from the camera view. Without his body blocking the way the room he was in was revealed. It looked old and bare, if not comfortably rustic. 

The place was a far cry from the Lan ancestral house’s subtle shows of money and opulence.

There was something to be said about the contrasting venues, but it all flew over Jiang Cheng’s head. He didn’t give a fuck about interior design; as long as a place was clean and in order, Jiang Cheng would be alright.

He decided to comment on more pressing news to him.

“Lan WangJi has a mother as well?” Jiang Cheng said incredulously. 

“That’s usually how children are made,” was Jin Ling’s smart reply. He earned a swat on the back of his head from his uncle for his mouth. “Ow, jeez. Shouldn’t we be asking why Officer Lan has to go through his dad to get to his mom?”

Jiang YanLi had a sinking feeling when her son mentioned that. As the oldest person in the room[58], she was the only one who had vague memories of a time when Lan QiRen’s brother hadn’t yet completely retreated into himself. 

She never got to meet the Lan matriarch, but she had heard what had happened to her in the end, and how it drove her husband to abandon his sons and completely remove himself from society.

Some static and then Lan Zhan father returned. He was carrying a vase-like object almost reverently in his arms.

It was an urn. 

The urn’s rich pattern, elaborate engravings, and how well-cared-for it looked made it stand out from the spartan surroundings.

Once he took his seat again, the Lan patriarch gestured at it and said, “Well, here she is. Why did you need to talk to [REDACTED]?”

Lan WangJi didn’t waste time mincing words. “I got married --”

Lan Zhan’s father seemed shocked at the news (although, yes he had been away a while, he really wasn’t up-to-date on his son’s going-ons). His eyebrows shot up and he noticed the red-veiled figure standing beside his youngest. 

A little broad around the shoulders, and, from what he could see beneath the gauzy veil, a bride with a very masculine jaw. Oh. “Oh, well, congratulatio--”

Lan WangJi had not finished talking. “--today, mom.” He made it clear that he was only addressing his mother.

Falling to his knees and bringing his husband along with him (leaving Lan QiRen to scramble and tilt his phone to the ground), Lan Zhan introduced his other half to his mother. “Mom, this is Wei WuXian, the love of my life. Wei Ying, this is my honorable mother, [REDACTED].”

Lan Zhan prostrated himself and Wei WuXian thrice to pay his respects to his mother, “Bless our union,” he asked. 

For years he had waited for Wei Ying, always leaving him with a way out of what had been a shaky start to their relationship, because he had feared trapping the one man he loved in a union born out of obligation. 

Or worse, clipping his wings just so Lan Zhan could have happiness for himself.

He’d never imagined he would love anyone besides his close family -- his mother especially -- but Wei Ying had a knack for upending his life. Lan Zhan had sworn to do better for his then-boyfriend in honor of his mother’s memory.

And now Wei Ying had whole-heartedly agreed to marry him. 

To be with him.

“WangJi will do right by Wei Ying as long as Wei Ying wants me,” He declared, betraying more passion in his voice than he would normally do without the influence of alcohol. Squeezing Wei WuXian’s hand, he bowed again to the video of his mother’s ashes, eyes wet with unshed tears. 

He would have wanted his mother alive and healthy to witness this, but things were the way they were. Lan Zhan knew this was the next best thing.

Seeing his husband so overcome by emotion, Wei WuXian could only follow suit. He bowed respectfully and echoed Lan Zhan’s own vows, except he addressed both parents. The watchers who knew him were struck speechless with the tact and dignity he was demonstrating.

(He also shocked the Lan patriarch, who hadn’t expected the deep voice to come from his son’s bride.)

Somewhere in the background, Lan JingYi was desperately trying (and failing) to contain his tears. He’d always looked up to the two adults’ relationship, but this was too pure. Tears streamed down his face and he suddenly felt conscious that he was sharing such a private moment with any rando with access to his public stream.

Wiping snot from his face, he whispered, “Okay, I think that's enough now. We should let them have their privacy.”

This time, the live stream cut off for real.

Chapter Text

Less than 2 Hours to Disaster (Jiang Cheng’s crowded bachelor pad 5/5)

 

Jiang Cheng’s living room was silent as everyone processed what had just occurred. Even Jin ZiXuan and Jiang YanLi’s horde of children were quiet.

Jiang Cheng was the one who spoke first, unable to contain his thoughts. 

“Did he just say his mother was [REDACTED]?” He blurted out. “[REDACTED] as in the international terrorist ?”

Jin ZiXuan was likewise having a hell of a time processing. On one hand, that was a beautiful spouse introduction. Jin ZiXuan had wanted to do that at his own wedding, but his father was an ass who he didn’t want to honor. On the other hand… “Yes, it would seem so. The Lan matriarch is apparently…[REDACTED].”

“WHO CARES WHAT HER NAME WAS?! OR WHAT SHE’S WANTED FOR IN DIFFERENT COUNTRIES?” Jiang YanLi exclaimed. 

Her pregnancy hormones had decided once more to make their deadly appearance. It raged and combined with the already strong emotions she was feeling at seeing her brother be introduced to his husband’s forebears.

Large, fat tears ran down her distraught face. Her distress was such that everyone else worried.

“Darling, what’s wrong?” her husband whispered. “Didn’t you like how they did it? It was very sweet.”

Hiccuping, Jiang YanLi stood up as fast as her pregnant body would allow and spun around to reply to them, “You don’t understand!” She bawled. “Officer Lan had his mother there! Who does A-Ying have to guide and offer him support?”

The men in the room were all too flabbergasted to respond, so Jiang YanLi answered herself: “No one! That’s who! Because I’m not there!

Jiang YanLi’s mother, for all her many talents and achievements, had the maternal instinct of a gnat. It had mostly fallen on Jiang YanLi’s young shoulders to act as the steadying motherly presence her younger brothers sorely needed.

It was a role she accepted wholeheartedly and worked hard to fulfill right from the very beginning. So, she felt like she was failing her younger brother by not being present at his wedding to support him. 

There was still time, though.

She wasn’t going to let that mistake continue!

“Jiang WanYin!” She called out, making her couch-ridden brother snap to attention. “Where are your car keys?”

“Uh...Why?” Jiang Cheng stalled, “Are you thinking about driving? I don’t think that’s advisable given your condition...”

“Give me your keys, didi,” Jiang YanLi roared, clutching her belly, as if to draw righteous power from its roundness, “Or I swear to all the gods, I will give birth right now, here in your living room!

Not again! Jiang Cheng despaired. “Don’t! It’s in the fishbowl by the door!”

“Thank you!” Jiang YanLi said and waddled towards the door. 

Jin ZiXuan tried to regain control of the situation once more, but failed. He got out a, “Honey, where are you going?” to which his wife replied, “To the stupid Lans’ home! My brother needs me!” before she slammed the front door in their faces. 

Jiang YanLi’s muffled voice then hollered, “Watch the kids!”

“Hey, wait!” Mo XuanYu said. He had, until then, been a silent observer to the chaos. But once he made up his mind, he nimbly jumped to his feet (it made Jiang Cheng angry with jealousy. He would do that too if his leg wasn’t broken) and ran towards the door as well. 

He only paused to put his shoes on. “I’m coming with you! I need to stop Er-ge from committing more crimes!”

Doing some very quick mental math regarding the rapidly diminishing adult-to-child ratio in the room, Jiang Cheng threw himself on his oldest nephew’s back.

“Awwk!” Jin Ling squawked. “What are you doing, er-jiujiu?!”

“Follow them! Quick!” Jiang Cheng ordered.

Jin Ling didn’t want to do anything of that sort -- he had been looking forward to a nice night in without his grandparents harassing him about acting more like a Jin instead of a Jiang -- but, he was curious what the fuck his friends were getting up to on the Lan hill.

Also, his pregnant, emotionally compromised mother was about to drive off into the night.

Right.

Gritting his teeth, Jin Ling hoisted his uncle as best as he could on his back. Uncle was heavy, and his bum legs made things even more complicated, but he managed well enough to get both of them to the entrance. His various siblings let out little shrieks of support as he made his way. 

Jin Ling opened the door and was about to leave, when he remembered his father.

Turning back, he dutifully called out: “Be back soon dad!”

Whatever Jin ZiXuan’s answer to that was drowned out by Jiang Cheng’s loud bellows for his nephew to hurry up, boy! You’re not the one with broken legs, but you move like it!

Rolling his eyes, Jin Ling followed in his other uncle and mother’s wake.

With their departure, Jin ZiXuan was officially the only adult in an apartment full of children.

Children who had just recently eaten their weight in sugar.

A chill ran down his spine when the children, like some eldritch entity that shared a hive-mind, turned as one to regard him with a pregnant silence.

“Daddy, I’m bored.” One of them said, Jin ZiXuan couldn’t be sure who it was, he was too busy panicking.

He remembered one of the comments on the live stream.

It was from some user with an oddly spelled name.

Su Shi or something. 

Su Shi commented: DSKLJFALSKDJLKEIOFA

Jin ZiXuan thought that it perfectly summed up his situation at the moment.[59]

At the garage:

Despite the fact that she was heavily pregnant and her only current mode of getting anywhere was doddering around like a stuffed turkey, Jiang YanLi somehow managed to beat Mo XuanYu to Jiang Cheng’s personal car.

She had already unlocked the door and was in the process of packing her considerable girth into the beat-up sedan that Jiang Cheng stubbornly refused to upgrade when the others caught up.

Mo XuanYu was bypassed by Jin Ling who had Jiang Cheng awkwardly hanging on to his back like a newborn purple koala. Jin Ling was very motivated to get his demanding (and heavy, he must have been snacking a lot more than usual lately while he was confined to bed rest) uncle literally off his back.

Jin Ling stopped on the passenger’s side of the car. He opened the back door and unceremoniously shoved his uncle in at an angle until he was pressed up against the opposite window, which meant that Jiang Cheng had to lift his legs a little bit more to negotiate how he would fit the space behind the driver’s seat, cursing all the while as Jin Ling (wisely) took the shotgun position at the front.

That left Mo XuanYu with no other choice where to sit, so he resigned himself to his place and got in the back.

Then he closed the door and realized that, for a modestly sized car, he was really, really cramped.

“Uncle, why is your car giving me claustrophobia?!” Jin Ling complained.

“Oh, you too, sweetie?” Jiang YanLi asked, “I thought it was just the baby bump messing up my perception.”

Without warning, Jiang YanLi pulled the lever to adjust the car seat and edged it back...right into Jiang Cheng’s abused legs.

“Argh!” He screamed as pain lanced through very specific points in his leg where the fractures were still on the mend.

“Oh my gosh!” Jiang YanLi said, “I’m so sorry!”

Jiang Cheng’s older sister really looked sincerely apologetic, but then her eyes turned steely and cold with single-minded determination. 

“But you’ll have to suck it up a little more, ok? Your older sister has to set some things right.”

Once again finding himself unwittingly playing second-fiddle to Wei WuXian’s antics, Jiang Cheng angrily lifted his legs using his thighs and not an insignificant amount of anger-and-pain-induced adrenaline to swing his legs onto Mo XuanYu’s lap.

Mo XuanYu did not appreciate the development. All the jostling around had knocked something loose from behind him and sent a hideous number of boxes containing red yarn, shabbily knitted sweaters, and what-not tumbling onto him even before Jiang Cheng the barbarian decided to use him as his personal leg rest.

“Why is there so much junk in this car?” Mo XuanYu demanded to know. The car already looked dubiously road-worthy, he didn’t want to add reasons for him to get killed in a crash.

“Shut up!” Jiang Cheng screamed back in frustration. He was thoroughly offended even if it was true. “I had to put my stuff somewhere so everyone would fit!”

And Jiang Cheng had really tried. His apartment was also a good size, but it was next to impossible to fit the entire Jiang-Jin brood last-minute without taking some drastic measures.

Also, Jiang Cheng had been living like a slob lately. Picking up after himself was a challenge when he couldn’t pick himself up, after all. So, together with the damning evidence of Jiang Cheng’s new-found knitting hobby, his car now contained all the litter and garbage he had amassed in his apartment over the course of the past few weeks.

He was going to get rid of it eventually, honest! 

But Jin ZiXuan’s unexpected call to tell him that the family would be coming over to keep him company on the eve of Spring Festival left Jiang Cheng, who had little time and about 6% mobility, with little choice.

“Ugh, it smells,” Jiang YanLi said. Her tears and initial panic had dried up, but it was just to make way for her nausea. 

Still, she refused to waste more time on car clean up. Hastily cranking down the window, she buckled up and started the vehicle.

Jin Ling, who feared for everybody’s life said, “Uh, mom? Maybe I should drive?”

“Oh, sweetling,” Jiang YanLi said, presenting her son with a patronizing grin before stabbing him in the metaphorical heart: “Maybe when you actually pass your driver’s ed course I’ll think about it, hmm?”

Jiang Yanli adjusted the rearview mirror and ordered everyone else to buckle in. Then she fished out Jiang Cheng’s RayBans and put them on. To finish her pre-drive prep, she slapped the police siren Jiang Cheng kept in his dash on his roof.

The siren gave off a harsh wail, bathing the surroundings with red and blue flashes.

“JieJie!” Jiang Cheng said. “You can’t do that! That’s an abuse of power!”

Driving smoothly out of the garage in reverse, Jiang YanLi let out an amused huff. 

“What are they gonna do? Sue me?” She challenged. 

“My husband is the only lawyer in town.”