Lan Xichen thought of himself as a better than average friend. If anyone was ever in need of his help, then he liked to think that he helped them to the fullest of his abilities. Sometimes, some of his friends were stubborn enough to not ask for his help, even when he could clearly see that they were in desperate need of it.
So, he took it upon himself to help them, sometimes without consulting with them, especially if he thought that they would reject the offer immediately.
He also liked to think of himself as a good uncle. He had been like a substitute uncle-dad to Sizhui until Wangji had finished his punishment and stay in isolation. Even now, he loved to take care of Lan Sizhui and to look after him whenever he could. But it wasn’t just him, Lan Xichen thought of himself as a good uncle in general, to all kids who were around his nephew’s age.
One such kid went by the name of Jin Ling, and the stubborn friend Lan Xichen was referring to would be Jiang Wanyin. Usually Lan Xichen minded his own business and was content with not interfering in other people’s personal lives, even if said person was his friend and a Sect Leader with a famously short temper. Especially if that was the case.
But it came to his attention that perhaps there were somethings he needed to help with, as a good friend and an even better uncle. He realised this during one sunny afternoon he was spending at Koi Tower with Jin Guangyao.
Jin Ling had just been dropped off by one of the Jiang disciples, not Jiang Wanyin, Lan Xichen had noticed. Jin Guangyao had gone inside to inform all of the maids and servants of Jin Ling’s arrival. So, it was just Lan Xichen and Jin Ling sitting in the large throne room.
Now, Lan Xichen did not like to brag but he had a way of talking to children that could make them instantly feel a connection with him. It was that skill that he was sure would come in handy while talking to Jin Ling.
“Jin Ling,” Lan Xichen spoke up, making the tiny child look up and blink at him. “How was your visit to Lotus Pier?” Apparently that had been the wrong thing to say to him, because Jin Ling frowned and turned his back to Lan Xichen, muttering something under his breath grumpily. He folded his arms and legs.
Something was clearly bothering the child. Lan Xichen had to find out what it was, and he had to find out fast. “Is it Jiang Wanyin? Did he do something wrong?”
“Don’t talk about my jiujiu!” Jin Ling exclaimed, and Lan Xichen was taken aback by the unexpected burst of anger from the previously silent boy. Clearly something had gone wrong between Jin Ling and Jiang Wanyin. Perhaps they had gotten into an argument? But what would Jiang Wanyin possibly argue about with a boy so young?
Whatever it was, Jin Ling did not wish to speak about it, just like he did not wish to speak about his uncle. So, Lan Xichen let it go.
The next time he met Jin Ling was when he was in Yunmeng for a meeting with Sect Leader Jiang. His boat had been tied at one of the private docks in Lotus Pier and he had entered the vast fields where the training grounds were situated. He had been informed by the Jiang disciples that this was where Sect Leader Jiang was currently training Jin Ling.
Lan Xichen had heard various rumours and gossips that told of the strict training regime of the Jiang disciples. Jiang Wanyin was slowly gaining his reputation as the Sandu Shengshou, a terrifying and cold-hearted opponent that anybody would be unlucky to face. Hopefully, he was more caring and understanding with Jin Ling. A lot more caring and understanding.
After all, Jin Ling was just a child, and he had no parents. Jiang Wanyin should be able to tread carefully around him. Just as that thought passed through Lan Xichen’s head, he spotted the training grounds in the distance, and running closer and closer to him was a very upset Jin Ling.
As he neared Lan Xichen, Lan Xichen reached out to him, wanting to softly ask him what was wrong. But Jin Ling ran past him, crying and not sparing him a single glance. Lan Xichen was left watching Jin Ling’s back as it disappeared around the corner.
“Zewu-Jun,” Jiang Wanyin’s voice made Lan Xichen turn back to face him. “I apologise for making you wait. I was just finishing off Jin Ling’s training.”
“Sect Leader Jiang,” Lan Xichen greeted him formally, bowing to him before continuing to speak. “I have no problem waiting for you. If I may be so forward as to ask, what was it that had Jin Ling so upset that he ran crying from the grounds.”
Lan Xichen watched as a frown appeared on Jiang Wanyin’s face and his brows furrowed. “That boy,” Jiang Wanyin sighed, “I don’t know what to do with him, really.”
“Well, he is still a child. I would remember that while training him,” Lan Xichen advised. Jiang Wanyin blinked in response and nodded at him, as if he hadn’t been expecting Lan Xichen to tell him that. But someone had to tell him, and surely Lan Xichen could not expect Sect Leader Jiang’s disciples to point it out to him.
The meeting went by smoothly and just as Lan Xichen was about to take his leave, a knock on the door startled them both.
“Come in!” Jiang Wanyin ordered. The door opened slowly and behind the door stood Jin Ling. He hesitantly looked up at his uncle, whose demeanour did not change, nor did his expressions. Then he shifted his gaze to Lan Xichen, who smiled and waved to Jin Ling in a friendly manner.
Jin Ling hastily looked away, meeting Jiang Wanyin’s gaze again. The boy wasn’t crying anymore, and he did not seem as upset as he had earlier. Instead he seemed nervous, scared even, of something…or someone.
“Jiujiu,” he said, staring down at his knuckles which had whitened slightly due to his grip on his robes. He looked up at Jiang Wanyin. “I’m sorry,” he mumbled quietly.
Jiang Wanyin sighed and leaned forward a little to pinch the bridge of his nose with two fingers. “I’m going to accompany Zewu-Jun to his boat. I will talk to you when I get back.” Jiang Wanyin spoke neutrally, without a hint of emotion in his voice.
Lan Xichen wondered whether he should talk to his friend about it but decided against it. Maybe he would do it some other time, when they were both not overly stressed out from their meeting.
“There is no need to see me off, Sect Leader Jiang. I shall be accompanied by my disciples and a few of yours. You should stay here and speak to Jin Ling.”
Jiang Wanyin seemed surprised at the suggestion, but he did not protest. He simply nodded in agreement.
The third time Lan Xichen noticed the need for his interference was during a discussion conference at Koi Tower. Lan Xichen and his disciples from the Gusu Lan sect were sitting opposite Sect Leader Jiang and the Yunmeng Jiang sect disciples.
During one of the many breaks in between their discussion conference, Lan Xichen spotted Jin Ling making his way to Jiang Wanyin. Jin Ling was a mess, his hair was spread everywhere like a bird’s nest, his robes were splattered with mud and his face was covered in dirt. Lan Xichen saw anger spark in Jiang Wanyin’s eyes as soon as his gaze settled on Jin Ling.
He did not know what it was that Jin Ling said to Jiang Wanyin, but rage filled the Sect Leader’s expressions. Lan Xichen watched as Jiang Wanyin stood up abruptly and grabbed Jin Ling’s arm, a bit too roughly in Lan Xichen’s opinion, just to march out of the conference dragging poor Jin Ling along with him.
Lan Xichen would not lie, he had been incredibly tempted to follow them and see how Jiang Wanyin would react to the mess Jin Ling had made, no doubt, while playing with Little Fairy. The dog had probably become just as dirty as Jin Ling had, and Lan Xichen was sure they were both going to be receiving quite the lecture and punishment for it.
He had been tempted to interfere then, but he had not known how to do it.
He may think of Jiang Wanyin as a friend, but he was not sure about whether Jiang Wanyin shared his sentiments. It had been a long time since they had spoken about their personal lives to each other, although they were both aware of the events that took place in each other’s personal lives. Still, they chose to not speak about it, so speaking about it would surely not go over well.
The fourth time Lan Xichen saw them together, however, he was forced to interfere.
Wangji was out on a hunt with a few of the newly recruited Lan disciples, and Lan Xichen had used that opportunity to take Sizhui on a trip to Lotus Pier. It would help the both of them bond with Jin Ling and open a gateway to speak to Jiang Wanyin about possible uncle-nephew problems he might be facing. Hopefully, arriving at Lotus Pier unannounced would not be too big of a problem.
Lan Xichen and Lan Sizhui arrived on their swords. Sizhui was finally old enough to ride one. As soon as they stepped foot into Lotus Pier, they were greeted with the sounds of familiar voices shouting at each other. They both walked inside to see what the fuss was about and were just in time to watch Jiang Wanyin running through a corridor with Zidian flaring up and ready to whip someone.
“Wait right there, you brat! I will break both your legs, so you won’t be able to run away from me any longer!” Jiang Wanyin yelled. It was then that Lan Xichen noticed who he had been chasing after.
Jin Ling ran a few feet ahead of him, probably fearful of the whip in case it hit him during Jiang Wanyin’s ongoing temper tantrum.
“Don’t yell at me, Jiujiu. It was your fault!” Jin Ling responded and was grabbed by his uncle not a moment later.
“What did you just say to me?” Jiang Wanyin asked as though daring Jin Ling to repeat what he had said. Jin Ling pulled his hand away and huffed, holding his chin up high. He used his hands to dramatically push his robes to the side.
Lan Xichen noticed the way all of the Jiang disciples had gathered around them, probably discussing the punishment that would be doled out to Jin Ling and wishing they could do something. Well, luckily for them, Lan Xichen could do something about it.
“Sect Leader Jiang,” Lan Xichen called out. Jiang Wanyin seemed shocked to see him, and Lan Xichen realised again that he had arrived at Lotus Pier unannounced, which was highly irregular behaviour for a Lan.
“Zewu-Jun, I was not expecting you—.” Jiang Wanyin let go of Jin Ling and tried to scramble for a response as he bowed to Lan Xichen. Jin Ling mimicked the gesture and the greeting.
“It is alright, Jiang Wanyin. Sizhui and I were free today and I thought it would be great to introduce him to Jin Ling. Forgive me for not informing you in advance.” Lan Xichen replied with a smile.
Jiang Wanyin nodded his head, slightly taken aback due to the use of his rarely spoken courtesy name, especially by Lan Xichen, but he covered it up quickly. “Lan Xichen, it would be our pleasure to welcome you here as our guests.”
Lan Xichen’s smile widened as Jiang Wanyin led him to a large empty room where food lay served on two tables. No doubt it was for the four of them to eat since it was almost lunch time. The Jiang disciples were well-taught, Lan Xichen observed.
As they all sat down, Lan Xichen realised that it was the perfect moment to speak to Jiang Wanyin since Jin Ling was present as well. But how should he begin. He looked down at the food.
“In the beginning, Wangji used to have a lot of problems with Sizhui. He was not a baby when we found him, he was a young child, but still, he was a child. He had an intense fever when we found him and if Wangji had not asked for help, Sizhui may have never recovered.” Jiang Wanyin seemed to be listening to him, so Lan Xichen continued to speak.
“It might be difficult to take care of a baby and to pay attention to the growth of your sect. You might feel helpless and unbelievably angry. You may feel like ripping your hair out and pulling out Zidian or screaming and yelling, but the children deserve better than that. Jiang Wanyin, I want you to know that if you ever feel like that again, you can ask for my help.”
Jiang Wanyin nodded his head seriously. “I understand.” He met Lan Xichen’s eyes.
Lan Xichen stopped smiling for a moment to search Jiang Wanyin’s eyes. “Do you?” He questioned.
“Of course, I do,” Jiang Wanyin said, acting surprisingly calm. Lan Xichen had expected for him to burst out in screaming rage sometime during the talk but nothing of that sort had happened.
To his disbelief, it was Jin Ling who slammed his hand on the table and stood up. He glared at Lan Xichen with such palpable rage that Lan Xichen had to immediately look away.
“No, he doesn’t.” Jin Ling stated.
“A-Ling,” Jiang Wanyin said, but Jin Ling only spared him a single glance.
“You don’t understand what he’s trying to say, Jiujiu, but I do.” Jin Ling met Lan Xichen’s eyes again. “You’re wrong,” he said directly to him.
“Jin Ling, it’s alright. Lan Xichen is just telling me to take care of you and to look after you,” Jiang Wanyin said, trying to make Jin Ling sit down.
Their exchange made Lan Xichen grow confused. Wasn’t it supposed to be the other way around? Why were Jiang Wanyin’s and Jin Ling’s roles reversed? Why was Jin Ling so angry at Lan Xichen when he was only trying to help the boy?
“No, he isn’t! He’s trying to tell you that you’re not taking care of me or managing to look after me!” Jin Ling exclaimed, his voice growing immeasurably loud. He turned to Lan Xichen again. “Didn’t I tell you to never speak about my jiujiu in that way? Why does everyone keep bothering him? Just leave him alone. He hasn’t done anything wrong!”
Jin Ling looked as if he were about to stomp away but instead he cast a glance at his uncle and sat down, crossing his arms tightly.
Lan Xichen was stunned speechless and could not speak as Jiang Wanyin looked to him for clarification.
“Is that true?” Jiang Wanyin asked, and Lan Xichen swallowed the bile rising up his throat to finally answer.
“It just seemed to me as though the two of you did not have the best relationship,” Lan Xichen said.
“What made you think that?” Jiang Wanyin asked. Lan Xichen could hear the gnashing of Jin Ling’s teeth.
“Well, the first time I saw Jin Ling was when I was visiting Jin Guangyao and he refused to speak about his visit to Lotus Pier or to speak about you.” Lan Xichen said. “He seemed angry and grumpy about you and this place.”
“That was because I had wanted to stay in Lotus Pier for longer. I had begged Jiujiu to ask xiao-shushu if I could stay but he had refused to let me!” Jin Ling cried out. “I asked you not to speak about my jiujiu because I knew you wouldn’t have anything good to say about him, and I hate it when people talk behind my jiujiu’s back.”
“A-Ling.” Jiang Wanyin’s voice cracked. He seemed flustered, but Lan Xichen wasn’t deterred in the slightest. He would do what he came here to do, which was to confront Jiang Wanyin about his behaviour with Jin Ling.
“What about the time Jin Ling ran away from the training grounds upset and crying?” Lan Xichen questioned, still addressing Jiang Wanyin.
“I was upset because I sucked at training and everything hurt. Jiujiu tried to reassure me, but I thought that I was the worst and that I would never get better at cultivation, that I could never fight monsters like my parents had. I tried to shoot arrows even though Jiujiu had warned me not to and I almost hit him in the head. Jiujiu could have been seriously hurt because of me. That’s why I came to apologise afterwards.”
Oh. “Then what about that time you entered the discussion conference at Koi Tower looking like a mess, and your uncle was absolutely furious at you?” Lan Xichen spoke to Jin Ling now. Jiang Wanyin was completely quiet, choosing not to utter a word.
Jin Ling snorted in response. “Jiujiu wasn’t furious at me, he was furious at the disciples I had fought with because they had been talking about my parents behind my back! Jiujiu put medicine on all of my wounds himself and then he took care of me and Little Fairy, too.”
“What about today, then?” Lan Xichen finally asked.
“What about today?” Jin Ling threw back.
“Your uncle ran behind you with Zidian, promising to break your legs,” Lan Xichen reminded him.
“So? I deserved it. I pushed him into the lake while he had been teaching his disciples. I disrupted his lesson. Besides, Jiujiu didn’t mean any of it. He wasn’t serious. We were just having fun. Even if we hadn’t been having fun though, how was it any of your business?”
“A-Ling.” Jiang Wanyin spoke up again.
But Jin Ling didn’t listen to him. “I don’t care about the fact that I have to respect my elders, Jiujiu, I think Zewu-Jun should leave.”
“Jiang Wanyin, I—”
“You heard my nephew, Lan Xichen. I think you should leave.” Lan Xichen was taken aback by the bluntness of both the uncle and the nephew, and the blankness of Jiang Wanyin’s expressions.
Lan Xichen cleared his throat and said, “I think I have overstayed my welcome here, and I apologise for having overstepped my boundaries. I was merely concerned—”
“You don’t need to be concerned for me. I already have a jiujiu who shows more concern for me than he needs to, a shushu who could show concern if he needed to, and I can take care of myself too.” Jin Ling interrupted.
“Do you?” Jin Ling asked this time.
“A-Ling!” Jiang Wanyin exclaimed. Jin Ling looked away and clamped his mouth shut.
“Zewu-Jun, you should really leave. I insist.” Jiang Wanyin said pressing his lips together.
Lan Xichen stood up walking away with Sizhui trailing behind him. He did not understand the weird relationship Jiang Wanyin had with Jin Ling.
Jin Ling called him his ‘jiujiu’ despite Jiang Wanyin having looked after him and raised him when no one else had wanted to take that responsibility. He was practically Jin Ling’s parent. Even Lan Sizhui called Wangji his dad.
Perhaps Lan Xichen was not meant to understand their relationship. It was theirs to understand and keep, and maybe it was better for Lan Xichen to not interfere in matters that were not his own. He should really just mind his own business.
As Lan Xichen passed the disciples that had gathered around to watch Jiang Wanyin chase Jin Ling. He heard them talking to each other.
“Do you think we should ask the physician to take a look at Sect Leader Jiang? I think he might have hit his head on something.”
“If not a concussion, then he’ll surely have caught a cold from wearing all of that wet clothing.”
Lan Xichen truly had been wrong about everything concerning Jiang Wanyin and his nephew. Maybe he wasn’t as great a friend or an uncle-dad as he thought he was.