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“Absolutely not,” was the first thing Nie Huaisang’s brother said when Nie Huaisang first raised the idea of kidnapping Jiang Cheng for his own good. “Absolutely fucking not.”

“Nie sect principle three,” Nie Huaisang said.

“Well, shit,” his brother said.

This was because Nie Huaisang’s brother is the best.

“I’ve gotten other people involved in this,” Nie Huaisang added helpfully.

“You’d better have,” his brother said. “I am not dealing with the fallout from this on my own.”

Nie Huaisang nodded happily. That was about what he’d expected.

A few moments later, his brother asked, “Why are we kidnapping him, anyway?”

-

“This is temporary,” Nie Mingjue said gruffly.

Very temporary,” Jiang Cheng agreed, sounding stiff and awkward. “I don’t even know why I’m here.”

“You know exactly why you’re here,” Nie Huaisang objected. “I told you why!”

Jiang Cheng gave him a dirty look.

“Also I have no idea how da-ge got you here, but you’re staying,” Nie Huaisang said firmly. “For as long as it takes for your parents to show that they deserve you returning to them. You’re not getting a choice.”

Jiang Cheng’s face was turning red.

“That’s not the deal, Huaisang,” Nie Mingjue interjected. “Jiang Wanyin can return home at any time he wishes.”

Nie Huaisang glared, but his brother ignored him.

“He can also stay as long as he wishes,” he said, and this time it was Jiang Cheng’s turn to stare. “If you want others to respect him, you must first pay him the respect he deserves yourself. Now, I have to go, but Jiang Wanyin – know that our home is always open to you.”

He put a hand on his shoulder and squeezed it, then ruffled Nie Huaisang’s hair, and left.

Jiang Cheng looked dazed.

Nie Huaisang smirked.

“…you said something about him giving out hugs?”

Oh yeah,” Nie Huaisang said. “Great hugs.”

-

“I can’t believe you would betray me like this,” Nie Huaisang whined. “And after all I’ve done for you!”

“A little training’s not going to kill you,” Jiang Cheng said. “Come on already.”

“My brother put you up to this, didn’t he? You sold me out for a hug.”

“I sold you out for the opportunity to go on a proper night-hunt,” Jiang Cheng said. “Also, he said he was proud of the progress I’ve been making on my cultivation and sword training since I got here. And gave me a hug.”

Nie Huaisang grumbled but conceded that his brother was especially difficult to resist when he was in full big brother mode. If he wasn’t, Nie Huaisang wouldn’t have been nearly so willing to give up the neat new sword he’d found in the Xuanwu’s cave and store it down in their saber halls until his brother and Baxia could figure out how to suppress it - he hadn’t even realized it was full of resentful energy at first, and he still thought it was especially aesthetic.

“Besides, if you don’t practice something soon, he’ll come after you himself,” Jiang Cheng said. “Wouldn’t you rather train with me?”

No. You’re just as crazy as he is.”

Jiang Cheng looked disturbingly complimented.

“I’ll come look at your birds later,” he offered.

“You’d do that anyway,” Nie Huaisang said. “You love my birds.”

Jiang Cheng did, too. Nearly as much as he loved all the feral cats that roamed the walls of the Unclean Realm, every single one of which seemed to have immediately pegged him as a soft touch and come nosing around for treats – Nie Huaisang had never seen Jiang Cheng look so calm and peaceful as when he had a cat under his palm.

It really put into perspective how stressed he looked the rest of the time.

“Oh, all right,” he groaned, and Jiang Cheng beamed. “Just know that I hate you.”

“Same to you, Nie-gongzi,” Jiang Cheng said, completely insincere. “Same to you.”

-

“You know, I’m surprised my parents haven’t shown up to demand me back yet,” Jiang Cheng said over lunch one day. “It’s not – it’s not a problem. It’s only – I thought – Mother at least –”

“Oh, they’re demanding all right,” Nie Huaisang sniggered.

“…Nie Huaisang, what have you done,” Jiang Cheng said.

“Conspired, that’s what,” Nie Mingjue said. “I don’t know if I should thank you for discovering my brother’s sole talent, namely for scheming and conspiracies, or to blame you for it, Wanyin – but you do have very loyal friends.”

Jiang Cheng blinked.

“Well, first your parents went to Lanling,” Nie Huaisang explained. “On account of Jin Zixuan and Mianmian very obviously sneaking food around and buying all sorts of things that you would like before smuggling them – very poorly and obviously, mind you – into Jinlin Tower, and of course they were also overheard talking about something that sounded an awful lot like ‘Wanyin’; everyone assumed they were hiding you. Turns out they weren’t, of course; it was just a stray dog they’d named something with similar tones. Not their fault everyone got the wrong idea!”

Jiang Cheng’s eye twitched.

“And then, of course, they went to Gusu, on account of Lan Wangji telling everyone you were his sworn brother –”

“His what?!

“Well, close enough. On account of how you saved his life.”

“I did not!”

“I thought I heard something about how you carried him on your back as you fled from the Xuanwu’s cave and the Wen sect’s ambushes, when he was exhausted and could not walk,” Nie Mingjue said mildly, and Jiang Cheng spluttered. “Had I heard wrongly?”

“…well, no…but...”

“Of course, you weren’t at Gusu,” Nie Huaisang continued, ignoring them both. “Though there were some heavy implications for a little while that you’d gone off with Lan-gongzi –”

“Isn’t he missing?”

Nie Mingjue coughed and looked down at his plate.

“And none of you said anything?” Jiang Cheng asked, looking between them. “At any point? Did you just, what, not talk to them?”

“I have spoken with your parents several times since they have started looking for you,” Nie Mingjue said, and his voice was suddenly hot with roiling anger. “I have concluded that Huaisang had a point regarding the necessity of their learning how to ask for your return.”

Jiang Cheng blinked.

“Your parents are jerks,” Nie Huaisang volunteered. “And you deserve better.”

“Yes, thank you,” Jiang Cheng said, a little strangled. “I think I – got that.”

Good.”

-

“It’s just, my jiejie –”

“Supports you being here. She sent you a care package. It’s in your room.”

“…Wei Wuxian –”

“Sent a note along with the package. Says to keep up the good work.”

“How did you even get something like that?!”

“I have my ways.”

-

Nie Huaisang was staring blankly at the wall when Jiang Cheng walked in and did a double take.

“Okay,” he said to Nie Mingjue, sitting patiently nearby with a letter in his hands. “You broke him. How?”

“He just discovered that he inadvertently saved a great deal of lives,” Nie Mingjue said. “As did you, by agreeing to come here.”

“I only agreed to come here because you lied and told me it was necessary to help defend my sect,” Jiang Cheng grumbled, clearly not meaning it.

Nie Huaisang let out a high-pitched and somewhat hysterical giggle.

“It was,” Nie MIngjue said solemnly, offering him the letter. “It appears that Wen Chao was given permission to attack and crush the Jiang sect, but has been delaying in anticipation of your return on account of wanting to deal with all of you at once. The delay allowed our spies time to discover his plans, and to carry warnings to your parents. They were thus able to fortify the Lotus Pier’s defenses against invasion, and to hold it off until aid could arrive – which they wouldn’t have managed if he’d attacked at once, as he would have if you’d been there.”

Jiang Cheng stared.

“Would you like to sit down and stare at the wall?” Nie Mingjue offered kindly.

“…yes please.”

-

“How’d you convince him to let me come here, anyway?” Jiang Cheng asked Nie Huaisang as he packed up his things. He was finally heading back to the Lotus Pier, albeit only long enough to collect soldiers and come back to join what they’d started calling the Sunshot Campaign – his parents had finally figured out where he was and sent word that had, in the view of the Nie, just barely qualified as sufficient to get some leeway.

Lan Wangji was waiting in the hallway to escort him there, and he’d sworn to Nie Huaisang that he would not allow either of Jiang Cheng’s parents to say anything untoward while they were there. He’d looked very serious while he said it, too, which pleased Nie Huaisang to no end and made Jiang Cheng look more than a bit nervous.

“You’re only asking that now?” Nie Huaisang asked, amused.

Jiang Cheng shrugged. “You going to tell me or not?”

“It was easy,” he said. “I just invoked Nie sect principle three.”

“…what’s that?”

“‘A fire burns all the same’,” Nie Huaisang said. “Variously interpreted as: ‘Treat your neighbor’s harm as your own’, ‘Do not stand idly by as your neighbor bleeds’, or ‘Indifference to evil is equivalent to evil’.”

Jiang Cheng stared.

“How about ‘if you see someone who needs you, you have an obligation to act’?”

Jiang Cheng blinked. “Okay,” he said. “And?”

“And what?”

“And what else did you say? You convinced him to literally kidnap the heir of another Great Sect; I can’t believe that you accomplished that simply by saying ‘hey principle three applies here, let’s do this’.”

“Maybe I did,” Nie Huaisang sniffed.

Jiang Cheng rolled his eyes. “Fine, keep your secrets. I’ll get them out of you one day.”

“Maybe you will,” Nie Huaisang said.

-

“Da-ge,” Nie Huaisang said. “If I wanted to keep Jiang Cheng permanently, what principle would I have to invoke for that?”

“Nineteen.”

“Nineteen?” Nie Huaisang frowned. “But, da-ge, principle nineteen is the one about marriage – oooooooh.