It had been easy to uphold her duty until now – she had some years of experience behind her, it wasn't hard to scare away eager disciples, whining intendants and gossiping maids. But as she watched the newcomer strode the terrace in longs strides, Yaya took a fortifying breath – this one would be another challenge.
"This one" was Yu Zhanyan, the captain of the guard here in Lotus Pier. A tall, brooding man who was the most serious contender to their Sect Leader’s spot at the top of the "scariest looking men in Yunmeng" list. Under normal circumstances, Yaya would never dream of getting in his way – but those were not normal circumstances.
And thus when the man reached the end of the terrace and made to walk by the young maid without as much as a glance, she gathered all her courage and stepped in front of him.
He raised a surprised eyebrow, but probably thought it a misstep, and tried to move around her.
She blocked him again.
"I'm very sorry, Captain, but Sect Leader Jiang cannot be disturbed at the moment."
She held his gaze just long enough to talk before looking back at her feet, scared by his stormy expression.
"I need to speak to him now, it is of the utmost importance."
She didn't move.
"What is he doing then? What were his instructions? Surely he didn't ask you to stand guard against everyone in Lotus Pier."
"That's not… well, he didn't…"
She trailed off, but he caught the gist of it, his annoyance upping to anger.
"What is it then, if not his orders? Do you enjoy wasting my time?"
"No, no, of course not, but…"
"Then let me pass."
"He's… he's with Young Master Jin."
"Well even then, I'm sure…"
She slapped a hand on her mouth, cursing herself for letting it slip. She had been standing there for the better part of an hour just so that no one would stumble upon what their master was sure to deem a tragic show of weakness and lack of common sense. If words got around, there would never ever be a chance of it happening again, and she couldn't have that.
She was ready to beg the man, or even fight him if she had to, but when she glanced up to assess his intentions, she found him gaping, dumbstruck.
"Both of them?"
"Sect Leader Jiang too?"
It was exasperating, but she could understand his bewilderment. Hadn't she felt exactly the same earlier when she had brought tea to the master and his nephew, only to find the boy fast asleep on his uncle's chest and, more astonishing yet, the man dozing off too? She had managed to put the tray down without waking them and ran away as quickly as possible. She could have left it at that, but she knew there was always someone to bother the Sect Leader at any time of the day, and today would surely be no exception.
She had to do something about it.
"I need to…" Yu Zhanyan said, starting to walk again. Before she could think about how stupid she was acting today, she grabbed his arm.
"You can't wake them!"
"I'm not going to wake them."
He sounded horrified, as if she had uttered a great offense.
"I just want to… make sure."
She reluctantly let him go, but she followed him along the open corridor, to the secluded pond that was the center of the Sect Leader's quarters. They walked along the pond instead of turning in – they could see just fine from there.
They hadn't moved, still sprawled on the chair, the young dog that followed the little master everywhere lately lodged against them. The master's sword was on the floor, still within reach but not clutched in his hand at least, next to the mock wooden one the little master used to practice his sword fighting. Funnily enough, they were both frowning, even in their sleep. The effect was slightly jarring on the little master's young face. Like this, tightly wound-up despite being asleep and sharing the same troubled expression, their resemblance was uncanny. It upset Yaya that Sect Leader Jiang couldn't truly relax, even like this, asleep in his own home.
But at least he was sleeping.
"Did you… hum, did you check if they were…"
She had never seen Yu Zhanyan looking so utterly awkward and out of his depth before. He was far less scary like this. She rolled her eyes.
"They're not dead."
She did check.
"Good. That's good."
They backed off slowly, as if too quick a motion would break the spell and wake the trio. Once at a safe distance they exhaled slowly like they had just barely escaped a great danger.
"Don't let anyone in," Yu Zhanyan said, his strict demeanor back in place but whatever he had come here to tell their master completely forgotten. "Tell them it's on my orders. Even better, I'll send someone to stand guard. Zinzhu should be free."
Yaya nodded, grateful that the man took this as seriously as she had, that he too recognized the importance of protecting this tiny little moment in their busy lives. She smiled at him warmly – he blushed and almost tripped on his feet on his way back.
He had lost like, a dozen spots on the list.
Then again, Sect Leader Jiang had too, sleeping like this in the open with an adorable child and his equally adorable puppy. How she wished they had some way of immortalizing that moment forever.
Zinzhu arrived minutes later looking quite puzzled, but she was devoted enough to the Captain that she followed his orders without question. Yaya had to share this with someone though, someone she could actually talk to, so she gestured at the young woman to take a peek. She returned with her eyebrow reaching her hairlines.
"Okay. I get it."
For the next few hours they fended off everyone trying to get an audience with Sect Leader Jiang, with such aplomb that no one insisted for long. As the sun was setting on the calm waters of Lotus Pier, they heard the little master's voice carry across the pond. Zhinzu disappeared with a wink just as Sect Leader Jiang joined Yaya at the entrance of his quarters.
"Do you need anything, Sect Leader Jiang?" she asked with her most polite, pleasing smile. He looked a little disoriented, searching for his words like he rarely did.
"No, no. Did anyone ask after me?"
"No, no one came," she lied to the best of her ability, meeting his eyes and willing him to run with it, even if there had not been a day since she had started working in Lotus Pier where Sect Leader Jiang wasn't requested to deal with one crisis or another. He narrowed his eyes, suspicious, but he didn't have time to press the issue – the little master called their attention to him, as he was prone to do if ignored more than a few minutes.
"Uncle, I'm hungry!"
"I'll take him to have dinner, if it's alright with you, Sect Leader Jiang," Yaya said, as it looked like the man needed a few more minutes to come back to himself.
"Right. Yes. I'll be in my office. Thank you, Yaya."
She bowed and pulled the little master to the dinner hall, the boy still groggy enough that he didn't make too much of a fuss. It would be a pain to get him to sleep later, and the master would surely stay up all night yet again. But he had slept the afternoon away, undisturbed – that was victory enough.