Jin Ling hadn’t thought to keep track of Wei Wuxian.
He hadn’t thought about it at all, really, but even if he had it wouldn’t have changed anything. Jiang Cheng does such a good job of sticking his nose into his business that Jin Ling assumed he’d do the same to his brother. Even if he hadn’t, by the look of things, Hanguang Jun seemed as if he were planning to keep a very close eye one him. Which, gross, but he hadn’t exactly had time to worry about it considering he’d been thrust into the role of clan leader after Jin Guangyao had been exposed as a traitor and killed by Clan Leader Lan, so who precisely was keeping an eye on Wei Wuxian hasn’t exactly been on the forefront of his mind.
Clearly that was a mistake.
He’s half listening to the daily reports during breakfast, Fairy’s head in his lap because it’s the only way he can manage to sit still. It’s more of the same, peasants angry because of their land tax and more silk being imported and carried along the main road, and Jin Ling doesn’t even need Jiang Cheng here to tell them what the obvious problem with that is, but he can’t change it. Well, he could, technically, because he’s clan head, but he can’t, because he’s pretty sure the only reason no one’s tried to kill him yet is because he hasn’t touched the treasury or started messing with people’s money.
It’s always bothered him and it bothers him more now that he’s supposed to be able to do something about it. There are no starving children on the streets of Yunmeng. Jin Ling wouldn’t describe Jiang Cheng as a philanthropist or anything, but he’s always been so aggressive about that, that there shouldn’t be any hungry children lining his streets.
There are hungry children in Lanling. Jin Ling sees them everywhere and he hates it and the one good thing about being seventeen and a sect leader should be finally being able to implement the changes that Jiang Cheng has been running the Jiang sect with for over a decade, and he’s still irritated that he can’t, even if he knows why.
It’s why he does his best to tune out the morning report, because it’s filled with thing that piss him off and he can’t change, but it means by the time he registers the mention of the Yiling Patriarch, his advisor has already moved on.
“Wait,” he says, startling the man. Jin Ling doesn’t usually interrupt. “What was that about Wei Wuxian?”
Jin Xiu nearly rolls his eyes. Jin Ling hates him slightly less than the other advisors, which is why he’s the one giving him his least favorite report. Jin Ling is considering altering that estimation. But he is one of the few advisors who will discusses things of actual value rather than pointless bullshit, which upsettingly hard to find. “A report came in from one of the lower villages. The Yiling Patriarch was found dealing with some sort of cursed spirit or something. He’s still recovering in the village, supposedly. No cultivator of any worth would take this long to recover from such a simple wound, but he’s still there. It’s making people nervous, but it’s just a lower village. I wouldn’t recommend bothering to send anyone.”
There’s so much wrong with what he’s just said. Wei Wuxian shouldn’t have been dealing with problems in areas under the control of the Jin, that’s their job, and a lower village is deserving of their aid, whether it’s to save them from a spirit or the Yiling Patriarch.
But that’s not what he’s focusing on.
“A simple wound,” he repeats, ice flooding his stomach. Simple wounds are dangerous to Wei Wuxian. Simple wounds can kill him. That’s what happens when someone gets their golden core carved out of their chest.
There’s practically no injury that Jiang Cheng can’t recover from within a day. Once, Wei Wuxian was able to do that, but he gave it up, he gave it away, and now he’s in some random little Jin village, too injured to leave even though they obviously hate having him there if they’re scared enough to send missives to Koi Tower.
Wei Wuxian hates staying in places with people who hate him. Jin Ling sympathizes. He hates being in Koi Tower. That means that if Wei Wuxian could leave, he would.
He stands and Fairy lets out an irritated snort at the abrupt motion. “Get the palanquin and a dozen disciples. Bring Jin Chao.” His irritating first disciple should make himself useful for once.
“What?” Jin Xiu is staring at him.
Jin Ling might be able to appreciate being able to surprise him for once if he wasn’t so furious. “Do you need me to repeat myself?” he asks, as snide as he always wants to be and rarely allows himself. “I’ll fly ahead. If you don’t meet me in half a day, leave your belt at the door.”
Jin Xiu pales, hand going to rest on the golden belt around his robes, and he’ll listen to that at least. Jin Ling can’t change any laws and he doesn’t want to kill anyone, but throwing people from the clan in a fit of temper matches what everyone thinks of him and doesn’t hurt anyone’s purses, so they’re unlikely to try and kill him for it.
He doesn’t wait for the answer before leaving the main hall. Fairy trots by his heels, but unfortunately he can’t bring her with him. Partly because he always feels a little ridiculous flying with her on a pouch on his back, but mostly because if he shows up with her, it’ll send Wei Wuxian into an early grave, or at least a panic attack.
Jin Ling had thought he’d calmed down during the several hours of flying, but then he sees the shitty excuse for an inn where his uncle is supposedly staying and feels it all flooding back.
He’s the brother of the Jiang sect leader, the uncle of the Jin sect leader, the… whatever he is to the chief cultivator. Sect Leader Nie certainly owes him a few favors after everything. He must have money. Surely enough to stay some place better than this.
The woman at the front stutters out directions and Jin Ling is ready to draw his sword by the time he’s at Wei Wuxian’s room, pounding on the door and shouting, “Wei Wuxian! Open up, it’s Jin Ling! Are you dead in there?”
There’s no response.
He nearly breaks down the door, but then it slowly creaks open. He stares. “Fuck, you are dead.” Wei Wuxian leans against the door frame, sweat soaked and pale, his robes clinging to him. They’re crusted with blood, but Jin Ling is pretty sure it’s someone else’s and not Wei Wuxian’s. He’s not dead, obviously, but he’s not far off. “What are you doing? Idiot! Go lay back down!”
“You called for me,” he says, possibly going for irritated but just landing on confused. “What are you doing here? Are you okay? Do you need-”
He never finds out what Wei Wuxian thinks he could possibly need from him because he slides across the door frame and falls forward. Jin Ling shifts just in time to catch him, letting Wei Wuxian slump over him so he doesn’t crash to the floor. Wei Wuxian shouldn’t be this light, should he? He’s a lot taller than Jin Ling. It should be a lot harder to hold him up. Right? “If you die on me, I’ll kill you.”
There’s a huff of laughter that he feels against his neck. “You’re so Jiang Cheng’s kid.”
Warmth flushes its way up his cheeks. Jiang Cheng raised him. But he’s the Jiang sect leader, and Jin Ling’s the Jin sect leader, and he’s not supposed to let that mean anything. They’ve always been careful not to let it mean anything, because the political ramifications if it did were too great, and it’s some mix of wonderful and horrible to hear Wei Wuxian say it like it’s obvious and easy and not horrendously complicated.
When Rusong had been born, Jin Ling had thought that maybe it could be less complicated, that he wouldn’t have to be so careful now that he wasn’t the Jin clan heir, but, well, that’s not how that turned out.
“Shut up,” he snaps, shifting them so Wei Wuxian’s arm is across his shoulder and he’s supporting most of his weight. He half carries him back to bed, although it’s so filthy that he doesn’t really want to have him lay down on it again. It’s better than putting him on the floor. Barely. “What happened? What are you doing here? Why aren’t you at the healer’s?”
Wei Wuxian blinks up at him, and that was possibly too many questions when he’s this out of it.
“Just don’t move and don’t die for two minutes,” he orders. He doesn’t wait for a response before running downstairs and barking commands at the innkeeper and several of the other employees. Even if they don’t recognize him, they know he’s a Jin cultivator, so they scurry to do as they’re told, their eyes lowered. That makes his stomach roll a little bit, about how that would never happen in Yunmeng, but he doesn’t have the time to worry about that right now.
Wei Wuxian has passed out again by the time he gets upstairs with a bucket of warm water and several rags. Jin Ling doesn’t really know what he’s doing, but he has been sick before, and surely not being covered in sweat and blood is better than being covered in it?
He’s wiped down Wei Wuxian’s face and neck and has gone through both rags trying to get the dried blood and dirt out of his hair. He works the knots out with his fingers because he didn’t exactly stop to grab a comb before getting on his sword. He’s just finished putting Wei Wuxian’s hair in an acceptable approximation of a Jin top knot, which will at least keep it out of his face, when there’s a knock on the door.
The healer is an old woman whose sharp eyes look at him out from under several layers of wrinkles. “Young Master Jin.”
It’s not technically the correct form of address, but he really doesn’t care. “Please,” he says, gesturing to Wei Wuxian, because it’s obvious why he asked her here.
She eyes him warily, and if she refuses to treat him just because he’s the Yiling Patriarch then he absolutely will use the fact that he’s a sect leader to make her regret that, but whatever the cause for her hesitation doesn’t last and she crosses the room, briskly reaching to undo Wei Wuxian’s robe.
She’s barely touched him when his eyes jerk open and he shoves her back. It’s not very strong and she moves with it rather than trying to resist him. “Wei Wuxian!” he snaps.
He freezes. “A-Ling?” he mutters, sounding even more out of it than he had before. He turns to him then bizarrely twists his body and leans out of the bed, and it takes Jin Ling a moment to realize that his sick, injured, idiotic uncle is trying to put himself between Jin Ling and the little old lady glaring at him.
“Stop that,” he says, ignoring the lump in his throat to grab Wei Wuxian’s shoulders and push him back down. Wei Wuxian lets him, his glassy eyes finally focusing on him. “She’s here to help. Calm down.” He tries to push himself upright again and Jin Ling places a hand on the top of his head, rubbing his thumb against Wei Wuxian’s forehead like Jiang Cheng has always done for him when he’s sick.
Wei Wuxian nudges his head into his hand even as he relaxes, his eyes falling shut as he breathes, “I’m okay, Shijie.”
Jin Ling is not having any emotions, now or ever, because emotions are dumb and pointless and lead to things like him crying in front of people he doesn’t want to cry in front of, which is pretty much everyone who isn’t Jiang Cheng, and definitely includes the healer edging her way back towards him.
“Perhaps you should undress him,” she says, “since he doesn’t see you as a threat.”
Jin Ling nods and does not laugh because he once shoved his sword through Wei Wuxian’s stomach and then does not cry for the same reason, and today really sucks, actually.
Jin Ling has Wei Wuxian put into his room and ends up sleeping in his sitting room. This is partly because it’s the only way he can be sure someone won’t try and assassinate Wei Wuxian while he’s healing and partly because anytime someone comes near him while Jin Ling isn’t around, he freaks the fuck out. They’re treating the infection, but he’s still caught in the grasp of fever, and he seems to be completely unconscious until someone who isn’t Jin Ling touches him or sometimes just gets too close. Then he jerks awake, immediately defensive. Jin Ling can calm him quickly and he falls back asleep within minutes, but two healers had gotten injured before they’d figured that out.
The only exception to that had been the one time he’d woken up and Fairy had been in the room. He’d cowered, still so out of it that he didn’t know where he was, which had been sad enough, but then he’d noticed Jin Ling and tried to crawl in front of him even as he started shaking, and Jin Ling had ordered Fairy out and pulled Wei Wuxian back to bed, yelling at him so he wouldn’t cry.
The Yiling Patriarch, grand defender of nephews against little old ladies and fluffy dogs. It should be funny.
Should be. Isn’t.
He doesn’t make that mistake again. Fairy’s missed sleeping outside and still comes with him to all his meetings so he doesn’t feel too guilty about barring her from his room completely.
It’s been several days since then when Jin Ling sighs and mutters, “You’re a lot of trouble, you know that?” The healers have left and Wei Wuxian’s bandages have been changed and his body wiped down from sweat. He pulls his uncle’s hair into a top knot, the movements almost familiar at this point. The servant could have done it, but – Wei Wuxian obviously doesn’t like other people touching him, and doesn’t mind when Jin Ling does it, and it’s a little bit that it seems cruel to let strangers touch him more than necessary and mostly that he likes feeling special. The shameful embarrassment of it makes his cheeks burn, but he likes that Wei Wuxian trusts him over others, even if maybe he shouldn’t.
Wei Wuxian shifts, his face creasing in pain. His eyes open slowly, gaze still unfocused, and he remains syrup slow unlike how he wakes up when they’re not alone. “A-Ling,” he slurs, raising a hand and possibly aiming for his face but he ends up just patting his shoulder. “Hurt.”
“Yeah, of course you do, moron,” he snaps. “You were half dead when I found you.”
He presses his hands against the bed like he’s going to try and push himself up, but without adrenaline fueled panic he doesn’t make it very far. His face edges into a scowl and he seems a little bit more aware of his surroundings when he looks back at him. “You’re hurt?”
He’s going to scream or maybe cry again. Why is he like this? “No, I’m not hurt. You’re hurt.”
His face clears and he relaxes back into the bed, his eyes drooping. “Oh.”
“What were you thinking?” Jin Ling asks, hesitating a moment before rubbing his thumb against his forehead again. Wei Wuxian leans into it and relaxes even more, as he always does. “You shouldn’t have been in that inn when you were like this.”
Wei Wuxian breathes out, a sound that might be a laugh in other circumstances. “Don’t belong anywhere. Where would I go?”
Jin Ling freezes, a hundred terrible things clogging his throat. Wei Wuxian falls back asleep before Jin Ling is able to say any of them, which is probably for the best.
What the fuck is that supposed to mean?
He tries not to let it bother him, tries not to think about it, but after he’s read the same report four times and hasn’t absorbed any of it, he gives up.
Doesn’t belong anywhere. That’s – that’s bullshit. People should belong. He belongs in Lotus Pier and Koi Tower. He’s Jin and Jiang and he has both, and if sometimes he wishes he was only Jiang, well, that’s still a problem of too much belonging instead of not enough.
There are so many things he can’t do anything about. But there are some things he can.
It’s strange of him to go to the library in the middle of the night, but he thinks maybe if he doesn’t do this now, he’ll second guess himself too much. He’s sure of himself now, and that’s what’s important.
His advisors would throw a fit if they knew what he was doing, but it’s not like he’s planning on telling them.
He’s Sect Leader. He doesn’t need their permission for this and he’s not going to ask for it.
Days roll by and Jin Ling almost tells Jiang Cheng everything in one of his messages, or writes to Hanguang Jun, because Wei Wuxian is probably going to be fine, but he’s not fine now. Plus he keeps saying their names in his sleep, sounding kind of small and sad, and Jin Ling thinks all this stress is possibly giving him a heart condition, because his chest hurts a lot when that happens. He doesn’t just say their names, but also his mother’s, and some Wens, and even Sizhui. At least when he calls out for Jin Ling, he can wake him up and be there, and heavy relief in Wei Wuxian’s face when that happens gives Jin Ling the impression that whatever’s he’s dreaming of isn’t anything good.
So he almost writes to them, but.
Wei Wuxian was sick and alone and almost dying in a crappy inn and had barely any money on him. That shouldn’t have happened. Jiang Cheng and Hanguang Jun should have made sure it hadn’t happened. But they hadn’t. If Jin Ling wrote them, would they even come?
How could Jin Ling look at Wei Wuxian and tell him that the people he twisted himself up over hadn’t even came when he was sick?
He doesn’t want to do that. So he won’t tell them, and he can tell himself they would have came if he told them, and if he’s wrong, he’ll never have to find out.
Two weeks after bringing Wei Wuxian to Koi Tower, Jin Ling is sitting at his desk and looking over aid requests and trying not to just light them all on fire, since only about a quarter of them are legitimate concerns that he wants to actually answer, and the rest is petty bullshit that he’s pretty sure it’s not his job to deal with, but it’s not like there’s anyone he can ask.
There’s a groan behind him, and when he looks behind him, Wei Wuxian is sitting upright in bed, both more confused and more aware than he’s seemed before. “Jin Ling?” he asks, and he’s neither too pale or too flushed, for once.
The relief coursing through him is embarrassing and he really intends to hide it better, to say something so Wei Wuxian doesn’t guess how much he cares, but he’s starting to get the impression that overestimating how much people care for him isn’t really Wei Wuxian’s problem.
He pushes back from his desk and hurries over, pressing the back of his hand to Wei Wuxian’s forehead. “Your fever’s broke! Finally.” He considers backing down, or possibly attempting to have an actual conversation about this, but both those options are terrible, so he elects to do neither. “You were making the healers nervous, Uncle Ying.”
Wei Wuxian jerks, staring at him with huge eyes. Jin Ling refuses to acknowledge that he’s said anything strange or out of the ordinary. “I – sorry?” He looks around, his eyebrows pressed together. “Am I, I mean, are we in your room? Why am I here?”
“Well, I didn’t really trust anyone not to assassinate you,” he says, because it’s not like the machinations that go on in Koi Tower are a secret. “So I just put you in here with me. I have guards on the door anyway.” He’s almost certain they’re loyal to him over the council, and the fact that he has to bet his life on that makes him nervous enough that realistically he’s less certain of it than he’d like to be, but it’s not like Lanling is overflowing with a lot of options. How is he even supposed to decide if someone is trustworthy? His uncle ended up being the biggest traitor of them all.
Fairy has been sleeping in his room, before he brough Wei Wuxian here. She hadn’t used to, preferring the freedom to run around outside and sleep by the kitchens and always managing to trot into the banquet hall for breakfast, but. After Jiang Cheng had to return to Lotus Pier, he started keeping her in his room instead. If someone came into his room in the middle of the night, she’d wake him. He might stand a chance if he was awake.
“You have guards on the door?” Wei Wuxian snaps, appalled.
Jin Ling rolls his eyes. “This isn’t Lotus Pier, Uncle Ying.”
The form of address barely makes a blip this time, his hands twisting in the blanket. “Is Jiang Cheng here? He can’t be okay with this. If he thought you needed guards, he’d be the one doing the guarding.”
“Uncle can’t come here,” he says. “It’s bad enough that he stuck around to help weed out everyone who’d been working with Jin Guangyao. I’m a new clan head, he’s an established clan head of another sect. He can’t be seen hovering around me. I really will be assassinated if people decide the Jin are secretly being run by the Jiang through me.” Jiang Cheng does send him near daily correspondence and Jiang disciples find excuses to be in Lanling far more frequently than they had in the past, but there’s a limit to how much Jiang Cheng can do before he risks both putting him in danger and threatening the legitimacy of his claim.
If all his cousins didn’t suck so much, Jin Ling would be perfectly happy to give the job to someone else and run away to Lotus Pier, where he’s never needed guards at his door. The Jiang council actually works with Jiang Cheng on stuff. It’s amazing. Unfortunately if it takes being as scary as Jiang Cheng to get people to work with him, he’s screwed. He doesn’t think he’s ever going to be as scary as Jiang Cheng.
His uncle probably considers that a good thing. He wasn’t supposed to need to be that way. But now he’s in Koi Tower as Sect Leader Jin and being a little bit scarier would be really useful right now.
“Jin Ling, this isn’t okay,” Wei Wuxian says urgently, like he doesn’t know that.
“You can guard me then,” he says, rolling his eyes. “You’re very intimidating.”
He’d been pretty scary when he’d flipped out on the healers or servants all those times, but it’s hard to think of that now, when his robes are rumpled and his hair’s greasy and he’s scowling in a way that makes him look approximately three years old. “Fine,” he snaps. “I will.”
Jin Ling stares. “You will what?”
“I’ll guard you,” he says, and it should sound silly, but all of the rest of it falls away compared to the intense, determined look on his uncle’s face. “I don’t belong to any sect and if they think I won’t repeat Nightless City if someone gets the bright idea to harm my nephew, they’re wrong.”
“Oh.” It shouldn’t be comforting. Nightless City had been a nightmare, for so many people, for so many reasons. His mother had died there. But Nightless City had happened because they’d killed the Wens. Wei Wuxian is putting him in the same category as them, as the people he’d turned his back on the cultivation world for, as the people he’d been willing to fight and die for. It’s probably really messed up that it makes him feel warm, but what isn’t really messed up about his family these days. “Okay.”
Wei Wuxian opens his mouth, like he’s going to keep arguing, but then his mind seems to catch up and his mouth just hangs open for a moment before he remembers to close it. “Okay?”
He nods. He’d been wondering how he could trick Wei Wuxian into staying, how to keep him from running out the door into more terrible situations with no one to look out for him, and if he wants to make the whole thing his idea instead, all the better. “I guess you can stay, if you want, Uncle Ying.”
Wei Wuxian looks away, his mouth barely moving to trace the words Uncle Ying and then pulling up in the corners into a reluctant smile.
Jin Ling’s eyes burn and he clears his throat. “I should let them know you’re awake. Don’t go anywhere.”
He doesn’t wait for his response before leaving the room, but he does lean against the wall of his sitting room and press the heels of his hands into his eyes, using pressure and pain to keep all the feelings he doesn’t understand at bay.
Wei Wuxian is almost but not quite fully healed. His wounds heal much more quickly now that infection is gone, and Wei Wuxian whines and complains about being poked and prodded, as if basic medical attention is some combination of both completely foreign and hideously torturous.
He has a lot more sympathy for Jiang Cheng now. He’s always a huge brat when he’s sick and Jiang Cheng never does more than roll his eyes, while Jin Ling would stab Wei Wuxian again just to get him to lay still if that wouldn’t be hilariously counterproductive.
Jin Ling has found that the only way he can make sure Wei Wuxian stays put to finish healing and doesn’t scale the building or go make friends in the kitchen or take a nap with the farm animals is to keep him in his sight.
No matter who he puts on Wei Wuxian watching duty, he always manages to get into something he shouldn’t with still healing wounds across his stomach. He’s not sure if that’s because everyone’s too intimidated by him to try and stop him or if Wei Wuxian is just that sneaky. He suspects it’s a little of both. However, if Jin Ling is in the room with him, he stays put. Based on everything he knows about Wei Wuxian, Jin Ling doesn’t expect this behavior to last, so he’s going milk it for all it’s worth while he can.
He’s halfway through one of his ancestor’s extremely boring explanations of their tax law, which physically pains him to read but it’s not like anyone is going to explain it to him in a way that doesn’t benefit their personal agenda, when he hears Wei Wuxian laugh.
It’s not loud and obnoxious like it usually is, instead coming out more as a soft huff of air. Jin Ling probably wouldn’t have heard it if the room wasn’t so silent.
He looks up at him, eyebrow raised.
Wei Wuxian’s own book is in his lap, some complicated talisman treatise that had come out of after his death, but he’s clearly not reading it. “Sorry,” he says, something warm around his eyes that makes him think of Jiang Cheng. “You just look so much like Shijie sometimes. She used to glare at her cultivation texts like that when she thought we couldn’t see her.”
“I do?” He doesn’t realize how eager and desperate he sounds until it’s already left his mouth and there’s nothing he can do about it.
Wei Wuxian frowns, eyes sharpening in concern. Jin Ling wants to look away, but can’t. “Yeah. Hasn’t Jiang Cheng said?”
“Uncle doesn’t like to talk about her,” he says. Jiang Cheng doesn’t like to talk about a lot of things and Jin Ling doesn’t push because it never gets him anywhere. Jiang Cheng never gives in he just gets sad and then furious so he has a reason to stop feeling sad and then Jin Ling feels guilty and miserable.
“Of course he doesn’t,” Wei Wuxian sighs. “I – look, give me a couple minutes. Go back to your book.”
He gets up out of bed. Jin Ling glares, getting ready to scold him, but he just settles on the ground next to his desk and pulls some paper and ink off the top. Jin Ling watches him suspiciously for a moment, but when he doesn’t move to get up again, he goes back to his book.
He doesn’t get very far. It’s difficult to follow even when he’s not distracted, which he very much is. He ends up having to read everything three times to understand half of it, and it’s a relief when Wei Wuxian says, “Okay, here,” and slides something in front of his face.
It’s a painting of a couple, the details precise and realistic, and Wei Wuxian could probably make a career out of this if the whole cultivator thing doesn’t work out.
Then he looks closer and he sees the lotus ornament in the woman’s hair and the Jin zhushazhi on the man’s forehead, and he freezes.
Wei Wuxian settles an arm around his shoulders, warm and heavy and the only thing keeping Jin Ling from flying apart into a hundred pieces. “You have your father’s bone structure. But this,” he reaches out with his other hand, skimming over Jin Ling’s eyebrows, down his nose, then tapping his lips, “is all Shijie.”
He can see that, almost, in the picture. They’re smiling, his mother’s grin wide and bright while his father’s is smaller, more reserved but still there. He has an arm around her waist and she’s leaning into him, and they look happy.
He’s never seen a picture of his parents before. One hadn’t been painted before they died. He didn’t know that he looked like them.
Jin Ling turns away from it and Wei Wuxian starts to move away, but Jin Ling leans forward, pressing his head into his uncle’s shoulder to hide the tears he can’t stop from coming. There are too many things caught in his chest and he can’t let any of them out, he doesn’t know what shape they’ll take. So instead he clings to Wei Wuxian until strong, steady arms wrap around him and hold him tight.
Wei Wuxian and Jiang Cheng hug him the same way, like he’s precious and important and he could leave them at any second.
He wonders who taught who to hold people like this. He wonders if this is something they learned apart rather than together.
Jin Ling hadn’t really expected Wei Wuxian following him around and glowering at everyone once he was healed enough to do so would change much. Well, he’d expected his advisors to throw a huge fit about it, but he’d already decided to ignore that, so it didn’t count.
He hadn’t expected them all to start giving him less shit about stuff.
After another meeting where he still doesn’t get anything done that matters, but significantly less nonsense is brought up, and it’s one that Wei Wuxian doesn’t even attend, he takes Jin Xiu aside and asks, “What’s going on?”
“I don’t know what you mean, Sect Leader Jin,” he says politely.
Jin Ling really should have taken Wei Wuxian’s advice and punched him in the face when he had the chance. Fairy snorts at his side as if echoing the sentiment. “Are you actually that scared of him? Yesterday he took a nap on the roof of the barn and fell off.”
Jin roofs were apparently much more angled than Jiang or Lan or Nie roofs. Jin Ling is pretty sure that’s crap, but he hadn’t said that because if he had Wei Wuxian would have latched onto it and waxed poetic of about architecture for at least an hour and Jin Ling refused to be exposed to that.
Jin Xiu snorts, folding his hands beneath his sleeves. “The Yiling Patriarch is not the only dangerous individual in Jin Tower.” Depressingly true. He hesitates a moment, then looks up, as if not looking Jin Ling in the face will make it better. “You have surely noticed how discussions have a tendency to trend towards some topics that are less relevant than others.”
“Yes,” he says shortly. Jin Xiu’s one redeeming quality was the fact that he actually brought up topics that mattered and could sometimes even get everyone else to discuss them too.
“The Yiling Patriarch was once the first disciple of Lotus Pier,” he’s still not looking at Jin Ling.
The fact that no one says anything they actually mean around here is going to drive him to an early grave if the assassins don’t get to him first. He is grateful, always and forever, that he grew up mostly in Lotus Pier, but it means that he’s less prepared to be a Jin than he might have been if he’d grown up here more than a third of the year.
That had probably been Jin Guangyao’s intention. Thinking about that always ends up making him cry no matter how angry he also gets, so he does his best not to think about it.
“And?” he prods when nothing further is forthcoming.
Jin Xiu sighs. “First disciples often attend council meetings.”
“Jin Chao doesn’t attend ours,” he points out, although he’s right about Lotus Pier. Li Shuchun is constantly by Jiang Cheng’s side at Lotus Pier and the one who usually runs it in his absence.
His lip curls back. “It was decided his skills could be utilized elsewhere.”
There was one thing he and all his advisors could agree on, and it was that Jin Chao sucked. Unfortunately for all of them, getting rid of everyone who’d been complicit in Jin Guangyao’s crimes hadn’t left them a lot of options.
It’s really annoying that there wasn’t more overlap between the evil and terrible people of his sect. It would have made things a lot easier.
“So everyone is behaving because Uncle Ying used to attend council meetings at Lotus Pier?” he asks. Jin Xiu still flinches whenever he refers to Wei Wuxian that way. It’s great. Once his amusement fades from that, he takes a second and actually thinks about what he’s just said and his shoulders slump. “Let me guess. Their level of bullshit is actually far past standard and it was one thing when it was me, who doesn’t know any better, but Uncle Ying would know immediately and call them on it and possibly announce it to everyone in Lanling, because he’s subtle like that.”
Jin Xiu’s smirk almost looks like a smile for a moment. “Sect Leader Jin is very wise.”
“Shut up,” he says tiredly, then adds, “Thanks.”
Jin Xiu bows at him before walking away and it almost doesn’t feel mocking.
He goes back to his rooms instead of going over budgets and grain distribution like he usually does, because it’s possible there’s a conversation he should have had at some point. He pushes open the door and for a moment thinks someone has robbed him, but after the initial shock fades he sees that the only thing out of place is paper. It covers his sitting area, surrounding Wei Wuxian who’s sitting at the table next to his bed, ink running up to his elbows.
Wei Wuxian sleeps in his sitting room now, so any would be assassins would have to get through him first. Jin Ling hasn’t been able to admit to him how much better he sleeps now than he had before, because saying he feels safe now would mean admitting that he’d felt unsafe before.
He carefully picks up the nearest paper and finds a list of Jin sword forms in his uncle’s chicken scratch hand. He blinks, as if that will make it more sense, and he realizes that they’re out of order. Then he reads it again, resisting the urge to move his feet into the corresponding pattern as he does, and it’s different, wrong in that it’s not how it’s taught, but it’s smoother. He can see the influence of the Jiang style, which is like a wave lapping at the shore coming and going with equal strength, because some of these are modifications he’d made himself, much to his teacher’s horror. But it had been easier and made sense.
Wei Wuxian apparently thinks so too.
He still used the modifications, it’s just that no one can yell at him for it now that he’s clan leader.
He picks up another paper, expecting more of the same, but instead it’s the current library organization system on one side, and one that he recognizes from his limited visits to the Lan library on the other, and notes written between them on how to pick the best of each. He’s not surprised there’s no mention of the Jiang library system here, because as far as he can tell, it’s if you have to ask, you don’t know. When he’d gotten older he’d been grateful for the amount of time he’d spent playing in the library as a kid, since it made it halfway possible to find what he was looking for.
Jiang Cheng claimed there was system to it, but he’d also never explained to Jin Ling what it was, so. He’s not buying it.
He’s also starting to think he’s been seriously underutilizing his uncle.
“Uncle Ying,” he says, and is treated to the absolutely hilarious sight of Wei Wuxian jumping and knocking the ink well over and then frantically trying to pull the spilled ink back onto the paper with his hands, staining them black.
They’re going to need a new table now.
He considers pretending to be angry about it, but he doesn’t actually care, and Wei Wuxian looks as if he’s genuinely upset about it. He waves the papers he’d picked up. “Something you wanted to tell me?”
“A-Ling!” The affectionate name only comes out whenever he’s startled or just waking up, no matter how many times he calls him Uncle Ying. Wei Wuxian always looks worried right after he says it, so, for once in his life, Jin Ling has decided not to take it personally. “I – sorry, I didn’t think you’d be back yet, and I mean,” he gestures to the ink stained table with his black hands, the skin of his eyes pinched in the corners.
“Whatever, the tower is full of tacky ornate tables, we’ll get another,” he says carelessly because he refuses to see Wei Wuxian, who’s stood against the entire cultivation world and laughed, get upset over some spilled ink. “Do you do this whenever I’m out?”
The roof of the barns provides an excellent vantage point for the training grounds. Napping, right. Sure he was.
“I just,” he gestures towards his face and Jin Ling grabs his wrist before he can get ink all over himself. He barely reacts, just using his other hand to point to his head instead. “I just have to get it all out sometimes. I wasn’t going to say anything.”
Jin Ling stares. “Why not? These are good.”
Wei Wuxian is a genius. He’d been the first disciple of Lotus Pier and the brother of a sect leader. When he’d gone out on his own, everyone’s first thought was that he was establishing his own sect, because that was something everyone knew he was capable of doing, that he would know how to do. If Jin Ling had taken thirty seconds to think about that, he would have started bugging him for advice as soon as he woke up. Competent people who aren’t trying to manipulate him for their own gains are in short supply. Wei Wuxian is probably the only one in Koi Tower who isn’t on the cleaning staff.
Sometimes he dreams of putting the stewardess on his council. Miss Fei has never been deferential to him a moment of his life and runs the staff with an efficiency that generals could learn something from. They’d get through twice the amount of topics in half the time if she were in charge of the agenda.
She’d also spit on Jin Guangyao’s pyre and once a week lays out fresh offerings for Qin Su and Rusong. He likes her a lot.
All of Wei Wuxian’s energy drains for a moment and he raises an eyebrow, looking enough like Jiang Cheng that Jin Ling is reminded all over again that his uncles are brothers, even if its not by blood. “If people thinking that Jiang Cheng was secretly influencing you would put you in danger, then what would happen if they thought the Yiling Patriarch was doing it?”
Nothing. Jin Ling had made sure of that weeks ago. This is a great opportunity to have an honest conversation, but the thought makes him want to shrivel up and die, so he elects to ignore it and says, “Well, there’s one way to find out, I guess.”
Wei Wuxian opens his mouth, and Jin Ling thinks he’s going to say something, but he just lets it hang there for an uncomfortably long moment. “Jin Ling-”
“You said you were going to protect me,” he interrupts. “Did you mean it? Because if you did, I don’t see what the problem is. If someone tries to hurt me, you’ll be here to stop them.”
Wei Wuxian swallows, and no, oh no, absolutely not. Jin Ling is the crier in this family. “You want me to stay?”
Jin Ling blinks, thinks over the past couple of weeks, then asks, “Did I do something to make you think I didn’t?”
Wei Wuxian doesn’t answer that, instead pointing to the ruined table and the mess of papers everywhere and then, concerningly, to himself.
Jin Ling considers telling Wei Wuxian that he’s not a mess that needs cleaning up, but saying that will surely kill him, so instead he says something true and painful but a little bit less likely to cause him to die on the spot. “I like having you here, Uncle Ying. I want you to stay.”
“Oh,” he says, and this time when he brings his ink stained hand to his face to cover his mouth, Jin Ling doesn’t stop him. It’s probably dried by now anyway. He swallows, eyes bright, and Jin Ling feels his own eyes stinging. He’s not going to cry. Neither of them should be crying, preferably, but it definitely can’t be both, because that way only leads to disaster. “Alright. I’ll stay then, A-Ling. If that’s what you want.”
“It is,” he says, then bends down to start picking up the papers, rubbing at his eyes where Wei Wuxian can’t see him.
It is what he wants. It’s nice to get have what he wants, for once.