When Jiang Cheng is being allowed into the Cloud Recesses without even a little wait, he knows it’s serious. Sure, Lan Xichen asked him to be here, but usually someone announces his arrival.
But today Jiang Cheng is being led directly towards the Hanshi and Jiang Cheng can feel the worry grow in his gut.
It hasn’t been long since Lan Xichen left seclusion—just a few months now—but he always made a point to meet Jiang Cheng in a more official setting. Jiang Cheng has never stepped foot into the Hanshi and he was content with keeping it that way.
Jiang Cheng grumbles under his breath but he dutifully follows the disciple who leads him up the stairs and then gracefully bows out, right before Jiang Cheng knocks. It’s not long before Lan Xichen opens the door for him, and to Jiang Cheng’s relief he seems alright.
So it’s probably not a matter of life or death, then. Small mercies.
“You’re here,” Lan Xichen breathes out and he seems to relax at seeing Jiang Cheng.
Jiang Cheng narrows his eyes at him.
“What is wrong?” he immediately asks, because Lan Xichen didn’t send him an urgent invitation for nothing, and he certainly didn’t welcome him into the privacy of his own home because everything is alright.
“It’s Wei Wuxian,” Lan Xichen says and that alone is enough to make Jiang Cheng’s stomach drop out.
He just got his brother back, he cannot be losing him again already.
“What did he do now?” he bites out and Lan Xichen shakes his head.
He still looks pale and haunted, but Jiang Cheng is glad to see that he lost his sunken eyes and the panicked look in his eyes. Small steps, Jiang Cheng very well remembers that.
“He locked himself into the Jingshi. I think he’s experimenting with something, but no one can enter,” Lan Xichen explains and he seems genuinely worried about Wei Wuxian.
Jiang Cheng is just glad that Wei Wuxian doesn’t seem to be actively dying. Everything else, Jiang Cheng can deal with.
“Isn’t that something Lan Wangji should deal with?” Jiang Cheng still asks, because he does not want to walk in on the married couple.
Once was enough.
“Wangji is out on a night hunt with the juniors. I don’t know how long until he comes back, but I suspect that Wei Wuxian specifically waited until he was gone before he started with his experiment.”
“I’m not a marriage counsellor,” Jiang Cheng reminds Lan Xichen, who huffs out a laugh at that.
“No one is when it comes to those two,” he gives back and then turns a pleading look at Jiang Cheng. “Won’t you go and look what he’s doing?” Lan Xichen then asks and Jiang Cheng rolls his eyes.
“No need to act like that,” he snaps out and feels slightly bad when Lan Xichen flinches under his harsh words. “Of course I’ll go and see what my idiot brother is up to now,” Jiang Cheng is quick to reassure him and the smile that overtakes Lan Xichen’s face catches him off guard.
“Thank you,” he breathes out and Jiang Cheng wonders just how bad that experiment is going for Lan Xichen to be this worried about it.
The answer is very bad, Jiang Cheng realizes when Lan Xichen guides him to the Jingshi. There has been a barrier erected around it, keeping the swirling resentful energy inside, and no matter how much Jiang Cheng strains his ears, he can’t hear Wei Wuxian.
“Will you let me in?” Jiang Cheng lightly asks and taps the barrier, jolting Lan Xichen into action.
“Of course,” he immediately replies and lifts the barrier just enough that Jiang Cheng can step into it.
Dread settles in Jiang Cheng’s gut when it closes back down behind him.
“You’re going to let me out again, right?” Jiang Cheng asks, only half joking, but Lan Xichen nods. “Fine,” Jiang Cheng sighs and turns his back to Lan Xichen.
He walks up to the Jingshi, but the door won’t budge when he tries to slide it open.
“Wei Wuxian,” Jiang Cheng hollers, banging his fist against the door, and it’s not long before he hears Wei Wuxian from the inside.
“Jiang Cheng, is that you?” he asks, just before the door opens and Jiang Cheng’s first thought is that he was fine with never seeing a walking corpse again.
“You look like shit,” is the first thing out of Jiang Cheng’s mouth as Wei Wuxian stares with sunken, bloodshot eyes at him.
“That’s because it won’t work,” Wei Wuxian whines after a beat and walks back into the Jingshi.
Jiang Cheng follows him, careful not to step onto any of the wayward papers on the ground, but he gives that up after about two steps. The floor is littered with discarded attempts of talismans, and Jiang Cheng is not about to dance through the Jingshi to protect Wei Wuxian’s work.
“What the fuck are you even working on?” Jiang Cheng wants to know and when Wei Wuxian turns around to him with a manic glint in his eyes, he knows he doesn’t really want to know the answer.
“Time travel,” Wei Wuxian excitedly tells Jiang Cheng, who simply stares at him.
“Time travel,” Jiang Cheng tonelessly repeats and Wei Wuxian’s hair flies when he nods.
“I thought, with everything that went wrong, why not go back and fix a few things? But I can’t seem to make it work, I don’t know where it’s wrong, my calculations should be right, but nothing is happening, why is nothing happening, Jiang Cheng?” Wei Wuxian whines and Jiang Cheng can only let the ramble wash over him.
“Maybe because it’s better that nothing is happening?” he snaps out when Wei Wuxian finally falls silent. “You really want to fuck up another time-line?” he demands to know and Wei Wuxian’s gaze turns pained.
“I don’t want to fuck it up,” Wei Wuxian complaints. “I want to make it right!”
“Wei Wuxian!” Jiang Cheng shouts and Zidian sparks on his finger, picking up on his mood. “Why would you even think that meddling with this would be a good idea?”
“It could all be better!” Wei Wuxian shouts right back, his resentful energy swirling around him, and when it comes into contact with Zidian, the papers on the floor start to glow.
“Oh fuck,” Wei Wuxian whispers and every last hair on the back of Jiang Cheng’s neck stands up.
“It’s working,” Wei Wuxian breathes out and then laughs. “It’s working! Oh, of course it needs two energy sources, I’m so stupid!”
While Wei Wuxian is turning around the Jingshi with glee, clearly delighted with the fact that his invention works, a whirlwind has started to appear around Jiang Cheng, and Jiang Cheng is not liking this at all.
“Wei Wuxian, make it stop,” he orders, effectively bringing Wei Wuxian to turn around to him and Jiang Cheng knows he’s fucked when Wei Wuxian’s eyes go wide.
“Oh no,” is the last thing Jiang Cheng hears, before everything goes dark.
When Jiang Cheng opens his eyes, he’s still in the Jingshi. But everything is orderly, no talismans laying around anywhere, and Wei Wuxian is nowhere to be seen.
This cannot be good, Jiang Cheng thinks and carefully sits up. It’s only when he’s about to push himself off the ground that he realizes the familiar weight of Zidian is missing from his finger and panic rushes through Jiang Cheng.
He scrambles to get off the floor, ready to search the whole Cloud Recesses until he gets Zidian back, but something tangles in his hand and when he tries to stand up, his head gets yanked back.
“What the fuck,” Jiang Cheng mutters under his breath and he freezes when he looks down only to find the trailing ends of a forehead ribbon tangled around his hand.
He knows about the forehead ribbon and their significance. Wei Wuxian has told him often enough about that.
“Holy shit,” Jiang Cheng says, because if he just accidentally married anyone he’s going to lose it.
Upon closer inspection he realizes that the forehead ribbon is tied around his own head and Jiang Cheng has to blink a few times at that revelation.
When he finally does manage to get off the ground, he immediately goes in search of a mirror, only to freeze again when he lays eyes on his reflection.
“What. The actual. Fuck,” Jiang Cheng says loudly because the person in the mirror cannot possibly be him.
He looks young, possibly around sixteen, and he’s wearing the white robes of Gusu Lan, forehead ribbon and jade pendant and all.
Jiang Cheng realizes that he’s shaking, and a very small part of his brain is aware that he’s panicking, but the most prominent thoughts in his head are that he looks deadly pale in white and that the forehead ribbon looks incredibly strange on his head.
Jiang Cheng is still trying to make sense of this all, when a voice suddenly calls out for him.
“No,” Jiang Cheng reflexively says, but then stops to frown at the door, because how dare someone use his name in a familiar manner like that.
“I’m coming in,” the voice says and now that Jiang Cheng thinks about it, it sounds familiar.
“Lan Wangji,” Jiang Cheng breathes out when the door slides open, because he will hopefully have an explanation for this.
“Wanyin, you missed the first class,” Lan Wangji says, and there’s real worry audible in his voice and Jiang Cheng frowns at him.
“What the hell is going on here?” he demands to know and if he wasn’t so high strung he would probably laugh at the shocked expression on Lan Wangji’s face.
“Wanyin?” Lan Wangji asks and Jiang Cheng shakes his head.
“Stop with that, how dare you even call me that?”
“You’re my younger brother, of course I can call you that,” Lan Wangji gives back, clearly stunned and his words effectively freeze Jiang Cheng on the spot.
“Your what?” he breathes out and then simply sits down where he stands, because this cannot be real.
“Fucking time-travel, my ass,” Jiang Cheng grumbles under his breath and presses his hands to his eyes.
“Brother, are you not feeling well?” Lan Wangji wants to know and Jiang Cheng lets out a sharp laugh.
“No, I am not feeling well, brother,” he bites out and then scolds himself, because there is no reason to be rude to Lan Wangji when they both don’t know what exactly is happening.
“Wanyin,” Lan Wangji starts again, and Jiang Cheng lifts his head so fast, he fears he might have sprained something.
“My name is Jiang Cheng,” he tells him and he sees the confusion on Lan Wangji’s face.
“You’re Lan Wanyin,” Lan Wangji carefully corrects him and Jiang Cheng takes a deep breath.
“Fuck,” he mutters and then motions for Lan Wangji to sit down.
Lan Wangji does, but hesitantly. Jiang Cheng suspects he would rather run for one of the healers.
“I’m not your—your brother,” Jiang Cheng starts with, and even just the thought that Lan Wangji is his big brother in this world, or time-line, is enough to make Jiang Cheng doubt his very own existence.
But in the end he powers through it and manages to explain to Lan Wangji as best as he can what happened. He sticks to the most basic story-line but even then Lan Wangji goes progressively paler as Jiang Cheng talks.
Jiang Cheng still thinks he gets his point across quite beautifully—he’s a thirty-something year old Jiang Sect Leader and not Lan Wangji’s younger brother.
“Where’s Wanyin?” Lan Wangji asks when Jiang Cheng falls silent, his voice carefully controlled and Jiang Cheng shrugs.
“My best guess is that he’s in my body right now, so probably safe and sound. Wei Wuxian and Lan Xichen won’t let anything happen to him.”
“Mn,” Lan Wangji agrees, but Jiang Cheng sees how he worries the hem of his robe and wonders if anyone has ever seen Lan Wangji this nervous.
Wei Wuxian probably, but Jiang Cheng pushes that thought away.
“We have to reverse this,” Jiang Cheng says and Lan Wangji nods immediately, clearly as desperate to get his brother back as Jiang Cheng is to return to his own world.
It’s only then that Jiang Cheng realizes how fucked up this isn’t just for him, but Lan Wangji as well. He just lost his brother to another person, has no clue if his brother is even fine or still alive, and yet his body is still running around like it used to.
Jiang Cheng wouldn’t be surprised if this whole experience leaves Lan Wangji a little fucked up and a lot over-protective.
“I will look into it,” Lan Wangji promises and Jiang Cheng realizes that if he’s the younger brother, then Lan Wangji must be the heir.
What a strange thought.
“Do we tell people?” Jiang Cheng carefully asks, even though he doesn’t think it would go over well if they announced that Lan Wanyin—and isn’t that a strange combination of names—is gone.
“We shouldn’t,” Lan Wangji says and Jiang Cheng nods. “But you have to behave differently,” he then tacks on, and Jiang Cheng sees the frown on his face when Lan Wangji looks at him.
“What, I’m not acting like your brother enough?” he bites out and Lan Wangji flinches before he shakes his head.
“You’re not. Brother is shy and mild-mannered,” he then says and Jiang Cheng groans as he puts his face in his hands.
Of fucking course Lan Wanyin would be the complete opposite of Jiang Cheng.
“He smiles a lot,” Lan Wangji tacks on and Jiang Cheng shoots him a glare.
“Fine,” he grumbles and forces a smile on his face. “Better?” he wants to know and Lan Wangji opens his mouth as if to protest but then falls silent.
The pain on his face is so clear that Jiang Cheng loses his bite and he gentles the smile into something he only barely remembers from when he was younger.
“I’m sorry,” Jiang Cheng sighs and lowers his gaze. “But I’m sure your brother is fine, Wei Wuxian will make sure of that, as will the others,” he tries to reassure Lan Wangji, but he’s not sure how successful he really is.
“I’m going to tell uncle that you’re sick,” Lan Wangji decides and Jiang Cheng raises an eyebrow at him.
“Breaking your rules?” he wants to know but Lan Wangji shakes his head.
“You’re not yourself. It’s not a complete lie,” he says and Jiang Cheng can’t help the smirk.
Who knew Lan Wangji had it in him.
“Fine,” he agrees. “We’ll spend the day or two it will give us practicing. You’ll have to tell me exactly how Lan Wanyin behaves.”
Lan Wangji nods at that and when Jiang Cheng frowns, he’s yet again reminded of the forehead ribbon.
“I doubt there’s a way I could get away with not wearing the ribbon?” Jiang Cheng asks, though he doesn’t have much hope about that.
“No,” Lan Wangji says, sounding as affronted as Jiang Cheng has ever heard him and Jiang Cheng sighs.
“I thought so,” he mutters and then allows Lan Wangji to explain just how his younger brother normally behaves.
It is not a fun day, for neither of them.
Lan Wangji manages to get Jiang Cheng two days without anyone barging in on him. Lan Wangji all but moved into the Jingshi, doing nothing but talking about Lan Wanyin and telling Jiang Cheng how he is supposed to act.
Jiang Cheng wants to tear his hair out before the second day is over, but he dutifully listens and tries his best to behave like Lan Wangji describes.
He might hate this, but he doesn’t want to fuck Lan Wanyin’s life up more than he already has. He shouldn’t have to deal with some fallout when he comes back just because Jiang Cheng isn’t able to properly play his part.
On the third day, Lan Wangji decides that it’s time Jiang Cheng gets out there.
Jiang Cheng isn’t so sure this is the right course of action, but there isn’t much he can say so in the end he attends class like Lan Wanyin would have.
It’s the single most strange experience Jiang Cheng has ever made and given his life, that means a lot.
Everyone is nice to him; he other students clearly like Lan Wanyin a lot and Jiang Cheng finds himself being swept up in his act.
It’s easy to pretend to be someone different if everyone acts like they truly like him. Jiang Cheng decides not to think too much about that.
The first real test comes when Jiang Cheng runs across Lan Qiren. Jiang Cheng fears his act is up before he even opens his mouth but then Lan Qiren smiles slightly at him and something in Jiang Cheng goes all warm and pleased.
“Wanyin,” Lan Qiren greets him.
“Shufu,” Jiang Cheng gives back, the word strange and foreign from his mouth, and he falls into the appropriate bow to hide it.
“How are you feeling? Wangji sounded concerned when he said you were ill.”
“I’m feeling better now, shufu, thank you for your worry,” Jiang Cheng gives back, selling his words with a small smile and it seems to be enough to appease Lan Qiren.
“That is good to hear,” Lan Qiren says and he briefly puts his hand on Jiang Cheng’s shoulder.
Jiang Cheng didn’t know that Lan Qiren could be this soft but he guesses it’s only reserved for family. It would make sense.
“I’m sorry for worrying you, shufu,” Jiang Cheng says, bowing his head and when Lan Qiren lets out a relieved breath, he knows he made the right move.
“As long as you’re feeling better now,” Lan Qiren says, and then tugs on his beard once, clearly falling back into his usual, stern role. “Now off you go, don’t miss any more classes.”
“Yes, shufu,” Jiang Cheng mutters, and quickly bows again, before he swiftly walks away.
He makes sure not to run, breaking a rule would mess up his whole act—and he didn’t not spend every free minute of the past two days reading over the rules only to break one immediately—but he only relaxes when he turns a corner and he can be sure that Lan Qiren’s eyes are no longer on him.
Jiang Cheng wonders how he will ever look at Lan Qiren again, knowing that his face can go this soft, but he pushes that thought away for now. He can worry about that once Wei Wuxian manages to undo whatever it is he did in the first place and gets Jiang Cheng back into his own body.
Jiang Cheng manages to sit through classes and not fuck up Lan Wanyin’s grades—much to the clear astonishment of Lan Wangji—but he can’t say that he enjoys his days.
He fears he’s always one step away from being called out on his bullshit and Jiang Cheng cannot for the life of him get used to the feeling of the forehead ribbon around his head. It’s the first thing he always takes off when he goes back to the Jingshi and Lan Wangji stumbled over his bare forehead more than once already.
Jiang Cheng couldn’t care less.
On the fourth day of Jiang Cheng’s new, temporary life, Lan Qiren doesn’t open the class with his usual lecture but an announcement instead.
“Listen up,” he calls out, even though everyone is already silent and listening.
Jiang Cheng suspects he does it for the dramatics.
“Summer is upon us, and so the classes for the other young masters will start soon. They will arrive soon, and I expect all of you to be on your best behaviour. Every Sect will send a few students and you are going to act as a model example to all of them!”
There’s an excited murmur in the classroom that Lan Qiren allows for a few moments, while Jiang Cheng’s stomach drops with dread. He doesn’t know if he’s ready to see Wei Wuxian, to find out how life at Lotus Pier is without him present, but he guesses he doesn’t have a choice.
Jiang Cheng just hopes that Wei Wuxian manages to find a way back for Jiang Cheng before the other students arrive at the Cloud Recesses.
Wei Wuxian does not manage to get Jiang Cheng back to his own world before the other students arrive and Jiang Cheng has to take an hour in the cold springs to meditate on that before he feels ready to come into contact with any of them.
It has been a week since the announcement Lan Qiren made in class and with every passing day that Wei Wuxian didn’t manage to get him back and that Jiang Cheng had to continue playing his act he got more and more stressed out.
By now Jiang Cheng is nothing more than a nervous wreck and he truly doesn’t know if he can come into contact with any of the students from different Sect without losing it.
Jiang Cheng is half afraid he’ll break down crying if he comes to face with Wei Wuxian, and he cannot do that.
The young masters arrived today, but thankfully Lan Wangji managed to find a reason keep Jiang Cheng far away from then for now. Jiang Cheng knows it can’t hold forever, but he’s thankful for the respite he got from this. If he only has to see them in class and not greet them personally, maybe Jiang Cheng will even make it through this whole mess.
Jiang Cheng takes one last deep breath, submerging himself in the ice-cold water of the springs, before he finally steps out of them. It’s almost dark by now, and Jiang Cheng is aware that their curfew is coming up rather quickly, but he still takes his time to dry himself and make himself presentable.
If he hurries back to the Jingshi shortly before curfew, he’s bound to run into fewer people, after all.
Jiang Cheng makes his way back up the hill swiftly and with his head lowered so that no one will talk to him, and he’s already cheering inwardly when he runs into another person.
Quite literally, since that person simply dropped from the sky and Jiang Cheng ran straight into their chest.
“What the hell,” Jiang Cheng grumbles, careful to keep his voice low, but when he raises his gaze—how can Lan Wanyin be this goddamn short—he can’t help the curse that leave his lips.
“Fuck,” he says with feeling and then immediately turns red when the other person smiles at him.
“And here I thought the Lan’s were not allowed to curse,” he says, his voice as smooth as a river and it takes Jiang Cheng a moment to place it.
“Lan Xichen,” Jiang Cheng says and realizes his mistake as soon as the frown appears on Lan Xichen’s face.
“You’re the Lan here,” Lan Xichen gives back and Jiang Cheng knows what’s coming before Lan Xichen even says it.
The purple robes are a dead give-away after all.
“My name is Jiang Xichen.”
“Of course it is,” Jiang Cheng bitterly mutters and Lan Xichen—no, Jiang Xichen—continues to frown at him.
“Are you feeling alright?” he asks, reaching out as if to stabilize Jiang Cheng, and Jiang Cheng slaps his hand away without thinking.
He regrets his action when Jiang Xichen smirks at him, but he holds his head high.
Jiang Cheng takes a moment to look Jiang Xichen over and he’s surprised to find how young he looks. It must have something to do with how empty his face looks without the forehead ribbon that normally adorns it, Jiang Cheng muses, and he can’t say that he likes it.
Jiang Cheng’s eyes then catch on the typical Jiang braids in Jiang Xichen’s hair and Jiang Cheng can’t help but think that this style really suits him. It certainly looks better than the open style of the Lan Sect, Jiang Cheng thinks and then shakes his head at his own foolish thoughts.
“Cat got your tongue?” Jiang Xichen asks, that infuriating smirk still on his lips, and Jiang Cheng didn’t know Jiang Xichen’s face could even move like that.
“There’s a curfew,” Jiang Cheng snaps at him and now Jiang Xichen’s smirk slides into a real grin.
“That is still a few minutes away,” he smoothly gives back. “And anyway, shouldn’t you be getting ready for bed? I heard the Lan’s all like to stick to a strict sleeping schedule.”
“My schedule is none of your business,” Jiang Cheng haughtily tells him but that only seems to amuse Jiang Xichen further.
“I see,” he says and scratches his chin. “What a pity,” he then adds with a very pointed look up and down Jiang Cheng’s body, and Jiang Cheng cannot believe that he actually flushes at that.
At least, until his gaze falls onto the ring on Jiang Xichen’s finger.
It’s Zidian, clear and unmistakably, and Jiang Cheng’s head spins with that revelation. In his world, Madam Yu only parted with it when it was clear she wouldn’t make it, and Jiang Cheng was not prepared to see it on Jiang Xichen’s finger.
“How dare you,” he hisses without thinking, instinct taking over because Zidian is his, but Jiang Xichen only stares in confusion at him.
“What,” he starts to ask but Jiang Cheng grabs for his hand and pulls it closer to himself, trying to slide the ring off in the process.
“Zidian is not yours,” Jiang Cheng tells him and now a spark of anger appears in Jiang Xichen’s eyes.
“It is!” he tells Jiang Cheng. “Mother gave it to me, it belongs to the Jiang-Yu-bloodline!”
“How did you even get this?” Jiang Cheng asks the blood rushing in his veins and Jiang Xichen wrenches his hand out of Jiang Cheng’s grip, Zidian sparking in the familiar purple light.
“Mother gave it to me as a reward when I beat Wei Wuxian in a competition,” Jiang Xichen tells him and all the fight leaves Jiang Cheng.
Of course. Of fucking course. Of course Jiang Xichen would be better than Wei Wuxian; of course his mother would be proud enough of him to give him Zidian early. Of course Lan Xichen still excels in everything he does, no matter what Sect he belongs to and who his brother is.
“Are you alright?” Jiang Xichen asks again when Jiang Cheng stays silent for too long. “I still don’t know your name.”
“It’s Ji—Lan Wanyin,” Jiang Cheng presses out, unable to meet Jiang Xichen’s eyes for now but a shudder runs down Jiang Cheng’s back when Jiang Xichen acknowledges him with a hum.
“Ah, the second young master,” Jiang Xichen says and falls into a bow.
Jiang Cheng works his jaw when he notices the sloppy form and the lax execution and anger sparks within him again.
“Mind your form,” he snaps out and is yet again confused when Jiang Xichen looks at him because the sight is just too strange without his forehead ribbon.
Just on cue a gust of wind picks up, making the ends of Jiang Cheng’s forehead ribbon flutter in the wind, and Jiang Cheng is yet again reminded of the restricting, itching feeling the ribbon always causes him.
Jiang Xichen is still smirking at him, Zidian still on his finger, and something in Jiang Cheng’s brain simply short-circuits.
He reaches up to undo the knot at the back of his head, before he throws the forehead ribbon at Jiang Xichen who catches it seemingly on reflex.
“Why would you give me this?” Jiang Xichen asks, his face a few shades paler than before and Jiang Cheng is so angry he feels like he’s going to explode.
“Because it belongs to you!” he yells right into his face and he has half a mind to forcefully fasten the ribbon around Jiang Xichen’s forehead.
Jiang Cheng cannot stand how strange he looks without it.
“This belongs to you and Zidian is mine,” Jiang Cheng goes on and he almost misses the calculating look in Jiang Xichen’s eyes.
“Is that so?” he asks, a sweet smile playing around his mouth and Jiang Cheng simply loses it.
“How dare you? How dare you be better than me, how dare you still smile like that even with Madam Yu as your mother and how dare you wear what is mine! And don’t be so damn suggestive about things!”
Jiang Cheng realizes that he’s being more than unreasonable, but he can’t help himself. Just the thought that life at Lotus Pier is harmonious and good simply because Jiang Cheng isn’t there opens up wounds in his soul he long thought healed over, insecurities he long thought dealt with rearing its head again, and Jiang Cheng has to bite back tears when he imagines how peaceful it must be without the constant fights between his parents.
Jiang Xichen probably got picked up more than five times by Jiang Fengmian, Jiang Cheng bitterly thinks and then forces his thoughts into another direction.
It’s not fair to blame Jiang Xichen for Jiang Cheng’s own shortcomings, after all, and he wills himself to calm down a bit.
At least until Jiang Xichen opens his mouth again.
“Which of these two do you mean now?” Jiang Xichen asks, raising his hand with Zidian but also the other one that is still holding Jiang Cheng’s forehead ribbon. “Because I might not be inclined to give either to you, now,” he says, a clearly suggestive tone to his voice and Jiang Cheng flushes bright red.
He reaches out to snatch his forehead ribbon from Jiang Xichen’s hand, but then he can’t seem to find his words when Jiang Xichen simply stares at him.
“Do not touch it,” Jiang Cheng eventually forces out and Jiang Xichen laughs, bright and happy and Jiang Cheng thinks that he could get lost in that sound.
He jerks his head, trying to get rid of that ridiculous thought, and by the time Jiang Cheng gets himself back under control Jiang Xichen has calmed down.
“You gave it to me,” he whispers to Jiang Cheng, and as he leans forward there’s a slight tingling sound, like two bowls clinking together.
Jiang Cheng frowns when he hears it.
“Did you bring alcohol into the Cloud Recesses?” he demands to know, and Jiang Xichen proudly lifts the two bottles.
“Of course I did!” Jiang Xichen says with a huge smile and Jiang Cheng distantly wonders if this is how Lan Wangji had felt when Wei Wuxian barged into the Cloud Recesses with alcohol in his own time-line.
“Do you want to join me for a drink?” Jiang Xichen cheekily asks and Jiang Cheng sees red.
“Alcohol is forbidden in the Cloud Recesses,” he hisses at Jiang Xichen and snatches the bottles from his hand, before smashing them into the ground. “And there is a goddamn curfew in place!” he then adds for good measure and promptly storms off.
Jiang Cheng cannot believe that his mood got the better of him, and he clenches his hand that is still holding on to the forehead ribbon.
Jiang Cheng still remembers how Lan Wangji reiterated again and again in calm serious tones just what the forehead ribbon means to their Sect and Jiang Cheng flushes bright red at the memory.
He can just hope that Jiang Xichen doesn’t know what it means, or else Jiang Cheng truly fucked Lan Wanyin over right now.
Jiang Cheng doesn’t know if Lan Wanyin’s face is just more expressive or if Lan Wangji simply knows how to read him better, but he knew that something was wrong the moment he came to collect Jiang Cheng for the first class with the other young masters.
Jiang Cheng couldn’t bring himself to explain in detail what happened during the night, but Lan Wangji seemed to understand that he was distressed anyway. Jiang Cheng doesn’t know how he did it, but when Lan Wangji comes to collect him halfway through the class, telling him that he is supposed to make a copy of a book in the library, Jiang Cheng lets out a long breath.
He quickly gets up, firmly ignoring Jiang Xichen’s eyes on him and follows Lan Wangji to safety.
Distantly, Jiang Cheng wonders if Wei Wuxian—who has been strangely quiet so far—will manage to get thrown out of the class as well, meaning Jiang Cheng would get to oversee his punishment, but all of those thoughts leave his head when Jiang Xichen steps into the library.
“What are you doing here?” Jiang Cheng asks, desperately trying to keep his voice calm and even but he knows there’s no chance of that when Jiang Xichen smiles at him.
“I got thrown out of class,” he says with a shrug and settles down opposite of Jiang Cheng. “I’m supposed to come here for punishment. Copying the rules.”
“Then get to copying,” Jiang Cheng shortly tells him, intent on ignoring him, but when Jiang Xichen reaches out to play with the edge of Jiang Cheng’s scroll Jiang Cheng knows it won’t be that easy.
“But I want to spend more time with you,” Jiang Xichen pouts at Jiang Cheng, who tries his best not to blush.
“There’s no reason for that,” Jiang Cheng snaps at him but Jiang Xichen only gives him a blinding smile.
“But we’re engaged now, are we not?” Jiang Xichen innocently asks and blinks at Jiang Cheng. “We should take time to get to know each other.”
Jiang Cheng’s breath leaves him in a rush and he fights the urge to slam his head onto the table. So Jiang Xichen knows what the ribbons means.
Jiang Cheng can just hope that Lan Wanyin will forgive him for this.
“You’re mistaken,” Jiang Cheng tells him, but he can tell immediately that Jiang Xichen doesn’t believe him.
“But you gave me your ribbon,” he gives back, just as he reaches out to catch the ends of Jiang Cheng’s forehead ribbon. “That’s a marriage proposal, right?”
“It’s not,” Jiang Cheng lies straight through his teeth, but Jiang Xichen only seems to be delighted by that.
“But I got so used to calling you my fiancé in my head already,” he whines and Jiang Cheng can feel the flush creep up his face.
“It’s been a night,” Jiang Cheng hisses, “how used to it can you be?”
“Very,” Jiang Xichen immediately gives back. “Wei Wuxian will be planning our wedding. Did you know he’s really good at that? I wouldn’t have guessed but then he planned one for my father’s right hand and it was glorious,” Jiang Xichen muses and Jiang Cheng can barely believe his ears.
Wei Wuxian has never been good at planning anything, and he certainly won’t get to plan Jiang Cheng’s wedding.
“If anyone plans our wedding it will be Jiang Yanli,” Jiang Cheng informs Jiang Xichen, who instantly smiles at him.
“That is acceptable, too,” he agrees, and Jiang Cheng regrets his words almost immediately.
“But we’re not getting married!” Jiang Cheng rushes out, hopes to derail Jiang Xichen, but he doesn’t have much hope anymore.
“Not yet,” Jiang Xichen agrees. “We should wait until after the classes. You should definitely come to Lotus Pier first, too, meet my parents.”
“Absolutely not,” Jiang Cheng chokes out and gets up, scroll forgotten on the table. “Get out!” he then snaps at Jiang Xichen, who gets up as well but takes too long for Jiang Cheng’s liking until he starts to move.
“Until later then,” he calls over his shoulder, still a small smile on his face and he blows Jiang Cheng a kiss, before he vanishes from the library.
“Fuck,” Jiang Cheng whispers as he sinks back down.
He really fucked this one up, didn’t he.
No matter how much Jiang Cheng tries, he cannot escape Jiang Xichen. It doesn’t seem to matter where Jiang Cheng hides, Jiang Xichen always, always finds him and Jiang Cheng truly wonders how he manages that.
He doesn’t dare to ask though, tries to keep their interactions to the absolute minimum and despite knowing that Lan Wanyin will walk into a true mess when he comes back, Jiang Cheng cannot help the relieved sigh when his view suddenly goes all black during dinner.
Jiang Cheng quickly puts his bowl down, and takes the time to lay down for good measure too, because he doesn’t want Lan Wanyin to wake up with some kind of injury as well, and when he blinks his eyes back open, Wei Wuxian is staring down at him.
“Jiang Cheng?” Wei Wuxian asks carefully and Jiang Cheng bares his teeth at him.
“What the fuck took you so long?” he demands to know, because it’s been almost three weeks now, and Wei Wuxian starts to laugh.
“Oh, it’s you,” he gets out between his laughter and Jiang Cheng fights the urge to strangle him.
“Wei Wuxian!” Jiang Cheng bellows and scrambles to his feet, but Wei Wuxian doesn’t seem to care; he’s still rolling on the ground, holding his stomach as he laughs and laughs and laughs.
“I’m so glad to have you back,” Wei Wuxian eventually whispers, wiping some tears away, and Jiang Cheng can’t hold on to his anger any longer, because he, too, is glad to be back.
“I’m glad to be back,” Jiang Cheng gives back lowly and then helps Wei Wuxian up when he holds out a hand. “What happened?”
“I made a slight mistake,” Wei Wuxian admits and Jiang Cheng levels him with a look.
That might be the understatement of the year.
“Okay, a big mistake,” Wei Wuxian corrects with raised hands. “But it’s alright now. Lan Wanyin is back where he belongs and you’re back here, so it’s all good.”
“Did something happen while I was away?” Jiang Cheng wants to know and he’s unprepared for the soft smile that flits over Wei Wuxian’s face.
“No. Lan Wanyin is incredibly mild-mannered, it was a whole lot to take,” Wei Wuxian says and he sounds sadder than he probably means to, before he shakes his head and looks at Jiang Cheng. “Did something happen on your end?”
The memory of Jiang Cheng throwing his forehead ribbon at Jiang Xichen crosses Jiang Cheng’s mind, and he can feel himself go bright red in the face.
“No,” he still lies straight through his teeth and Wei Wuxian hones in on that immediately.
“Jiang Cheng,” Wei Wuxian says and Jiang Cheng turns his back towards him.
“Nothing happened,” he snaps and then marches right out of the Jingshi, only to run straight into Lan Xichen.
“Ah, Wanyin,” Lan Xichen says, but then he takes a good look at Jiang Cheng and Jiang Cheng is unprepared for the relieved smile that flits over Lan Xichen’s smile. “Jiang Cheng. You’re back.”
“I am,” Jiang Cheng awkwardly says and he can’t help that his eyes are glued to the forehead ribbon that is rightly back on Lan Xichen’s head.
It looks so much more right to see Lan Xichen’s face with the forehead ribbon that Jiang Cheng has a hard time tearing his eyes away from the sight. He only manages when Lan Xichen speaks again.
“Are you alright?” Lan Xichen wants to know and Jiang Cheng curses himself when he flushes.
He still remembers the baffled look on Jiang Xichen’s face when Jiang Cheng threw the forehead ribbon at him and it makes Jiang Cheng’s stomach swoop dangerously.
“I am,” he curtly declares, and finally—finally—drags his eyes away from the white band around Lan Xichen’s head, only to let them fall on Lan Xichen’s hair.
Jiang Cheng is immediately flooded with the thought that Jiang Xichen looked so much better with his braided hair and Jiang Cheng doesn’t know where all these thoughts are coming from.
“Are you truly?” Lan Xichen asks, reaching out to lightly grab Jiang Cheng’s elbow, and the concern is more than clear on his face. “You look pale.”
Jiang Cheng feels like his face is on fire, but he’s glad it doesn’t show.
“Changing bodies—or time-lines—is not a comfortable thing,” Jiang Cheng says instead of explaining the real reason and he’s glad when that seems to appease Lan Xichen.
“I can only imagine,” Lan Xichen says and Jiang Cheng finds that his thoughts have turned into very dangerous directions.
“You should come visit Lotus Pier one of these days,” Jiang Cheng finds himself thinking, hearing Jiang Xichen’s voice offering him the same back in the Cloud Recesses, and Jiang Cheng is unable to do anything but imagine Lan Xichen in purple.
It truly was a look on him.
“I should,” Lan Xichen says, clearly caught off guard but without hesitation and Jiang Cheng tries not to think too hard on the warm feeling that spreads out in his stomach.
“Good,” he bites out and then pushes past Lan Xichen before he can say something else.
“Aiyo, Jiang Cheng,” Wei Wuxian calls after him and Jiang Cheng reluctantly turns around, trying his best to avoid looking at Lan Xichen, who seems almost as flustered as Jiang Cheng feels.
“What?” Jiang Cheng snaps out when Wei Wuxian doesn’t say anything, and he’s entirely unprepared for when Wei Wuxian crashes into his side.
“Why don’t you ever invite me back to Lotus Pier?” he then wants to know and Jiang Cheng rolls his eyes.
“Because you do whatever the hell you want. Lan Xichen is way too polite to come uninvited, unlike you.”
There’s a slight chuckle and Jiang Cheng is startled to find that it comes from Lan Xichen himself.
Jiang Cheng remembers the clear sound that rang out when Jiang Xichen laughed, loud and unrestrained, and Jiang Cheng finds himself thinking that he wants to hear it again.
And maybe he has good chances, he mentally adds when Lan Xichen hides his smile behind his sleeve.
“Ugh, you’re playing favourites,” Wei Wuxian complaints, and Jiang Cheng shoves him off with a hand to his face.
“And you’re not one of them,” he curtly says—though everyone present knows it’s a damn lie—and then finally turns around to flee.
Jiang Cheng needs some time to sort through his thoughts—and some time to push all of his feelings away—and he won’t get that here, with Wei Wuxian sticking his nose where it doesn’t belong.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Lan Xichen’s voice suddenly rings out behind him, and Jiang Cheng has half a mind to remind him that yelling is forbidden in the Cloud Recesses, but he manages to swallow the words down.
Jiang Cheng doesn’t quite manage to bite back the smile, though.
“What has gotten into you lately?” Wei Wuxian wants to know when Jiang Xichen continues to smile down at Zidian.
“What do you mean?” Jiang Xichen gives back innocently but Wei Wuxian only rolls his eyes at him.
“Please, you’re behaving really strangely lately,” Wei Wuxian says and taps Zidian. “Is something wrong with it?” he asks but Jiang Xichen only smiles at him.
He can’t help but to fondly remember the way Lan Wanyin was yelling at him that first night and he goes a little bit hot all over when Jiang Xichen remembers just how magnificently Lan Wanyin had looked, all furious and flustered.
Jiang Xichen taps Zidian again and he can’t get out of his head how Lan Wanyin had said that Zidian was his, just like the forehead ribbon belonged to Jiang Xichen. Jiang Xichen finds himself imagining it more often than he would like to admit; Zidian, purple and dangerous on Lan Wanyin’s finger, while Lan Wanyin’s pristine white forehead ribbon was wrapped around Jiang Xichen’s armguard.
Jiang Xichen liked that image more than he probably should.
“No, but seriously, what the hell are you thinking about?” Wei Wuxian asks again, poking Jiang Xichen into the side and Jiang Xichen can’t help but tease Wei Wuxian a little bit.
“My fiancé,” he cheekily gives back and thoroughly enjoys the stunned look on Wei Wuxian’s face.
“Your what?” he squeaks out and Jiang Xichen laughs.
“Madam Yu is going to kill you,” Wei Wuxian prophesises when it becomes clear that Jiang Xichen won’t explain but Jiang Xichen shakes his head.
“She’s going to congratulate me,” he confidently gives back, certain that his mother will be very pleased with this match and then Jiang Xichen gets up. “I have to go now,” Jiang Xichen says, sure that by now Lan Wanyin must already be in the library again and Wei Wuxian turns puppy eyes on him.
“You’re always leaving me alone these days,” he complaints. “I’m bored.”
“Why don’t you find someone else to pester?” Jiang Xichen says, but his voice is not unkind.
Wei Wuxian thinks that over for a few moments and then his face lights up.
“Oh, I know,” he says and Jiang Xichen has a quick moment to pity whoever Wei Wuxian picked as his victim. “Lan Wangji seems like he would be fun to rile up.”
Jiang Xichen presses his lips together, briefly indulges himself in a scenario where he’s married to Lan Wanyin, while Wei Wuxian is married to Lan Wangji, and then he shakes his head.
“Just don’t get yourself killed,” he advises Wei Wuxian before he finally leaves, itching to get back to the library, to get back to his fiancé, and he leaves Wei Wuxian to his own devices.
Jiang Xichen can’t help the smile on his face when he finds Lan Wanyin in the library like he predicted and he’s quick to settle down opposite of him.
“What are you doing here?” Lan Wanyin asks, and Jiang Xichen frowns.
There’s a certain bite missing from his voice but Jiang Xichen shrugs it off.
“I’m here to see my wonderful fiancé,” Jiang Xichen easily gives back, delighting in the way that word feels on his lips and he stares in wonder as Lan Wanyin turns a bright red.
“Your what?” he squeaks out and Jiang Xichen tilts his head in consideration.
“My fiancé,” he repeats. “You,” he adds when Lan Wanyin stares in confusion at him.
“Me?” Lan Wanyin says, voice high with panic and then he grumbles under his breath, something that sounds suspiciously like “Why the hell did no one tell me about this?”
“I tell you all the time,” Jiang Xichen says and seems to startle Lan Wanyin, who meets his eyes for barely a second before he ducks his head.
“I don’t understand,” Lan Wanyin admits softly and Jiang Xichen finds that more endearing than he probably should.
“You gave me your forehead ribbon,” Jiang Xichen says and reaches out for the ends again.
His fingertips barely grazed them when Lan Wanyin snatches them up and presses them to his chest.
“What are you doing?” he asks, voice strangled and Jiang Xichen gives him his most winning smile.
“Touching what is mine,” Jiang Xichen gives back and watches as Lan Wanyin’s face goes slack.
There’s something off with him today—gone is the fiery, rude boy Jiang Xichen fell in love with—but Jiang Xichen can’t deny that Lan Wanyin still manages to make his heart beat quicker.
“Are you feeling alright?” Jiang Xichen can’t help but to ask and Lan Wanyin’s eyes focus on him again.
“Are you feeling alright?” he shoots back, only to get all flustered again when Jiang Xichen leans in close.
“I am more than fine, being in the presence of my wonderful fiancé,” Jiang Xichen whispers and then daringly brushes his lips over Lan Wanyin’s soft skin.
“Jiang Xichen,” Lan Wanyin says in outrage and Jiang Xichen smiles when he hears the bite to his voice.
“My dear fiancé,” Jiang Xichen gives back, and he can’t help but to reach out and trail his fingertips over the fetching flush on Lan Wanyin’s cheeks.
“You,” Lan Wanyin stammers, but he doesn’t move away and Jiang Xichen takes it as the victory it so clearly is.
He will enjoy getting Lan Wanyin used to all kinds of his touches, Jiang Xichen has no doubt about that.
And he’s looking forward to each and every single outraged yell of his name, as well.