When Jin Ling turns 13, his uncle tries to kill him.
If Jin Ling ever expected a family member to try to murder him, he would’ve thought it would be Jin Chan, that bully, or at least another Jin. He did not expect to be accosted in Lotus Pier, of all places, by his beloved jiujiu.
He definitely did not expect his death to involve a comb.
“When you give a girl a comb,” Jiang Cheng says, teeth gritted as if someone else were forcing him to speak, “You’re telling her that you’d like to spend your whole life with her, even when her hair turns white. You are promising to take care of her throughout your life. Including in bed. Do you understand?”
He looks sharply at Jin Ling who scowls back right back.
“What’s not to understand? A comb is a serious courting gift,” he says, trying to suppress the blush rising to his cheeks. “I know that, jiujiu.”
“But do you know what to do in bed?” Jiang Cheng asks and Jin Ling gives up all hope of hiding his blush.
“Jiujiu!” He squawks, cheeks burning. “I — know enough!”
“No!” He isn’t just going to say things like that to his uncle! Especially when he doesn’t actually know that much.
“You’re getting to the age where your body will change and you will start to want things. You can’t do any of those things before marriage—”
“So you can tell me about them then!” Jin Ling interrupts desperately, jerking to his feet. “I don’t need to know anything now!”
If his uncle kept talking, he was going to die. He was going to die before he even kissed anyone, let alone got married!
“You brat, don’t interrupt me!” Jiang Cheng scowls at Jin Ling, his face a mirror of his nephew’s. “What are you going to do if someone starts something and you don’t even realize what they’re doing?”
“...” That, Jin Ling has to admit grudgingly to himself, is a good point. If he doesn’t know what happens after marriage, how is he supposed to know if someone were trying to start it? He should have learnt about this from other boys, his peers, but they didn’t want to be his friends and he is too proud to ask.
“Fine,” he says haughtily, tilting his nose up into the air in his most imperious manner. “What should I stop people from doing?”
Now it is Jiang Cheng’s turn to have his face become bright red. Begrudgingly, he waves a hand in Jin Ling’s general direction, Zidian throwing off small violet sparks, seeming to think his gesture covered everything his words don’t.
Jin Ling arches an eyebrow at Jiang Cheng. He dragged Jin Ling into his conversation and now, when Jin Ling actually wants to know something, he wasn’t going to answer?
“...Don’t let anyone touch you between your knees and your shoulders,” Jiang Cheng says at last with a huff. “If they try, tell them your uncle is Sandu Shengshou. Then tell me, immediately.”
“What if they’re a servant helping me get dressed?” Jin Ling asks.
Another huff from Jiang Cheng, “Obviously that’s fine.”
“It’s not obvious! What if they’re a healer or a doctor?”
“Also fine! Are you just making trouble, brat?”
“No!” Jin Ling assumes one of his best scowls to cover up the mischief bubbling inside him. Keeping his voice sharp, letting a hint of sulk flavor his words, he continues, “You said ‘anyone’. Does that include tailors who measure me for clothes?”
“I meant anyone who doesn’t have a good reason to be touching you! Tailors are fine.”
“So trainers adjusting my posture are okay too?”
“And attendants washing me in the baths?”
“And my cousins fighting me?”
“Yes— no! Why are they fighting you?” Jiang Cheng’s glower darkens, exasperation growing into something more real.
Jin Ling stays silent for a beat, then says with a roll of his eyes, “Because my jiujiu thinks I’m such a child that he needs to tell me about these things.”
“Ungrateful brat, I’ll break both your legs. Your cousins would be lucky to have someone care enough to tell them these things!” Jiang Cheng threatens and neither of them mention this is the sort of talk a father should have with his son, not an uncle with his nephew.
“I’m concerned about Jin Ling,” Jin Guangyao says, eyelashes lowered just enough to be demure, lips pressing together as if he’s sealing worse words behind them. “He’s growing to that age where young maidens become interesting, and without his father here, I don’t know who should educate him on such matters.”
Not him, certainly. The slight pressure of his hands around the teacup, the becoming flush of color on his cheeks, all speak of what none of them would say: he was the son of a whore and as such, could not be associated even vaguely with carnality. Someone else will have to do it.
Lan Xichen, always so reliable, is the first to respond, “The Lan Sect has very specific teachings about marriage and its rules. Should you require assistance, we will be happy to lend one of the teaching texts to the Jin Sect for your nephew’s edification.”
“Hah,” Nie Mingjue snorts, thumping his cup gracelessly onto the table. “We’ve seen your Wall of Discipline. Dry stuff. A young man needs a more direct approach. I’ll have a talk with him. Already did it with Huaisang and he’s turned out fine.”
The mention of his brother makes it impossible to refuse without giving offense; Jin Guangyao smiles, just enough to bring his dimples into action, and bows his head gracefully.
“Thank you, da-ge , er-ge . With your guidance, surely young Jin Ling will be enlightened.”
“Jin Ling,” Nie Mingjue practically bellows, “I want to talk to you.”
Jin Ling freezes, panickedly trying to draw himself up to his full height like Jiang Cheng showed him. What could the Nie Sect Leader want with him? Jin Guangyao led the Sect! Jin Ling didn’t even interact with the Nie disciples who had come to Carp Tower, so it wasn’t as if he could’ve offended someone accidentally.
“Me?” He asks, as if there is any other Jin Ling in the hallway. There’s a stifled snicker from somewhere behind him and his ears burn, even as he redoubles his efforts to stand up straight and imposing.
“Yes, you.” Is Nie Mingjue’s voice testy? Jin Ling can’t tell! Jiujiu often sounds angry to other people but Jin Ling can read him easily. Nie Mingjue is another matter entirely, as different as ocean waves and river currents.
“Come with me,” Nie Mingjue orders; at least Jing Ling is familiar with obeying orders from grouchy adult men who got their authority way too young. He does his best to keep up with Nie Mingjue without seeming to scurry, lengthening his steps to try to walk beside him instead of following in his wake like a child being taken for punishment. Fairy bounds along them happily, tail wagging at full force.
Nie Mingjue takes him to the guest suite allocated for his use and shuts the door behind him. Jin Ling’s eyes flicker across the room; there’s nobody there except Nie Huaisang whom he greets with a hurried but respectful bow. Nie Huaisang returns the bow and flicks a fan open to hide the lower half of his face, dark eyes dancing with amusement as he looks between Nie Mingjue and Jin Ling. So. Whatever’s happening here, Nie Huaisang knows of it and thinks it will be funny.
That’s not as reassuring as Jin Ling would like. Fine. Fine, he can do this, maybe he should try to imitate his little uncle instead of jiujiu, they are in Carp Tower after all...
“Sect Leader Nie,” Jin Ling begins, “If the accommodations are not to your taste—”
Nie Mingjue cuts him off with a pointed question: “What do you know about women?”
“What?!” Jin Ling splutters for a moment, eyes wide as the full moon. He’s heard the rumors about the entertainment Carp Tower used to send to visiting dignitaries and Sect Leaders, of course, about how the prostitutes from Lanling all knew to clear their schedules when the Jin Sect was throwing a banquet, but surely Nie Mingjue wasn’t asking for that ?! Shouldn’t he be asking his sworn brother if he wanted— no, he couldn’t, Jin Ling’s little uncle was the son of a whore, maybe that meant Nie Mingjue was embarrassed to ask him, but still, to ask Jin Ling? Jin Ling?! He doesn’t even know where the brothels were, let alone how to hire someone from them to come to Carp Tower!
“I don’t know anything!” He says, unsure if he should bow in apology or not. His etiquette training didn’t cover this! “I—”
“As I expected. Your uncle expressed some concerns and as his sworn brother, and therefore your uncle, I agreed to talk to you,” Nie Mingjue says gruffly. “Now. First of all, women enjoy being kissed and caressed before being fucked.”
Jin Ling’s train of thought screeches to an abrupt halt.
“Women,” Nie Mingjue repeats with the impatient air of an instructor who doesn’t understand why Jin Ling didn’t get it the first time, “Enjoy being touched and kissed before you insert your yang stalk into their heavenly palace.”
Jin Ling is going to die. He’s going to die right here, in the guest chambers. His soul is going to ascend out of his body from sheer embarrassment at having the Sect Leader of the Nie Clan say such things to him.
Seeming to take Jin Ling’s silence for comprehension, Nie Mingjue continues, “If she’s not sufficiently wet, it’ll hurt her. Make sure she’s wet. Use your tongue and fingers both.”
It sounds a little counterproductive to use a tongue to check if someone is ‘wet’ - aren’t tongues wet on their own, how can they determine the dampness of another object? - but Jin Ling is not going to interrupt Nie Mingjue. Not even for the post of Chief Cultivator, all the gold in Lanling and a promise of immortality would Jin Ling say anything.
“Do you have any questions?” Nie Mingjue asks and Jin Ling is sure his skin is going to burn right off his face. This is the hero of the Sunshot Campaign, the youngest Sect Leader ever, Chifeng-zun, asking if he has any questions about that!
He shakes his head dumbly then sketches a sloppy bow (little uncle would be so disappointed) at Nie Mingjue. “This one is very grateful for Sect Leader Nie’s guidance and will reflect upon it!”
Oh no, now he actually sounds like his little uncle. No, worse, he sounds like he told Sect Leader Nie he’s going to go off and think about —
Jin Ling doesn’t even hear what Nie Mingjue says in response. He takes it for a dismissal and spins around to leave the room, followed by the sound of Nie Huaisang erupting into laughter.
“Ah, Jin Ling.” Lan Xichen’s voice is calm, as always, soothing as aloe vera over sunburnt skin and Jin Ling feels some of the tension seep out of his shoulders.
He’s hunched miserably over a small pool in the private family courtyard, stirring the water with one hand and petting Fairy with the other. He doesn’t know why Nie Mingjue decided to talk to him about such private matters but he does know he made a fool of himself. He shouldn’t have bolted like that. He should have thanked him properly and acquitted himself like a proper young master instead of some frightened young boy.
Lan Xichen’s presence is a welcome distraction from the thoughts swirling in his mind so Jin Ling scrambles to his feet and bows gladly. “Zewu-Jun! Are you looking for shushu?”
“Not this time,” Lan Xichen says with a bow of his own. He seats himself on the ground, sleeves spreading wide in a ripple of silk, and proffers a blue book to Jin Ling. “As a matter of fact, I am here on your shushu’s behalf, acting in my role as his sworn brother and therefore your uncle. He mentioned that you are of an age to be interested in maidens and as such, I am offering you this text from the Lan Sect’s library. It covers the most important tenets of marriage and love. At Cloud Recesses, it is given as a study aid, accompanied by lectures, but I am afraid those lectures are for Lan members only. I hope that this text, on its own, will provide you with some guidance.”
Jin Ling takes the book with numb fingers. Mentally, he is calculating how many uncles he has, and how many uncles-by-marriage, and how many of those have sworn brothers, and how many of those sworn brothers have other sworn brothers —
It is very likely, Jin Ling concludes, that he is going to be receiving versions of this talk for the next twenty years.
“Thank you, Zewu-Jun,” he manages to say, voice far away and awkward even to his own ears. “I will take good care of this and return to you when I’m done.”
Done. What did done mean? Should he make a copy of it? Was he expected to memorize it? Was it a spring book?!
“If you have any questions,” Lan Xichen says as lightly as a spring breeze, as innocently as if they’re just discussing tips for proper sword flight, “Please do not hesitate to ask.”
“I won’t.” I’d rather cut out my own tongue. That’s two of the heroes of the Sunshot campaign trying to talk to me about this now! He isn’t sure how to end the conversation, but he does want it to end, so bows again with the book still clumsily clutched in his hands. “Thank you.”
“It is the duty of elders to educate the young,” Lan Xichen says graciously with a bow of his own.
Jin Ling ignores the sudden urge to throw the book at his perfect face.
A shadow falls onto the open pages of the book and Jin Ling slams it shut, ready to yell at whoever dared to look over his shoulder — oh. It’s his little uncle.
“This is your fault!” He accuses, brandishing the book at him. “Chifeng-Zun told me to wet women, Nie Huaisang laughed at me and Zewu-Jun gave me this book that’s nothing but precepts about marital harmony! What did you tell them?!”
His uncle dimples at him, eyes crinkling a little at the corners.
“My apologies, Jin Ling. I thought that as they had younger brothers themselves, they might be better suited for such a discussion,” Jin Guangyao says, regret so clear in his tone that a wave of guilt abruptly washes through Jin Ling for having yelled at him. His uncle had only wanted what was best for him. It wasn’t as if their speeches had been worse than jiujiu’ s, anyway, at least Nie Mingjue’s speech had been informative.
Quelling that ruthlessly, he glowers at Jin Guangyao.
“You’re the one with a wife and a baby! Shouldn’t you be the one telling me such things?” He asks, cutting right to the heart of the matter. Of his four uncles, so far his little uncle is the only one Jin Ling knows has had intimate relations!
“Ah, I didn’t think it would be proper… ” Jin Guangyao trails off, eyelids lowering and the corners of his mouth turning down slightly. Another pang of guilt assails Jin Ling.
“You could have at least warned me,” Jin Ling grumbles, now more out of habit than out of any real annoyance. “I thought that Chifeng-Zun was asking me to procure company for him at first.”
Jin Guangyao’s smile stiffens, just slightly, and he places one small hand on Jin Ling’s shoulder.
“Never do that,” he advises, voice soft but heavy with intent. “A woman who takes a man to bed to avoid starving is no different than a woman who lies with a man because there is a knife to her throat.”
It’s not something that Jin Ling’s ever heard before but he thinks, after a second, that he can understand it. Hunger can kill someone just as surely as the sharp blade of a knife.
(His uncle is the son of a whore. Does that mean that when his mother lay with the former Chief Cultivator, she had been forced?)
Subdued, he nods. Jin Guangyao studies his face for a little longer, eyes inscrutable and his smile missing for once, then draws Jin Ling into a delicate hug.
“You don’t need such warnings, do you?” He murmurs and Jin Ling nods, a little unsteadily, soaking in the affection like a drought-struck plant absorbing rain.
“Wait for your wedding,” Jin Guangyao says and squeezes Jin Ling a little more tightly. “It’ll be better if you learn with your spouse.”
He catches Mo Xuanyu slipping out of his room; Fairy barks and runs to him, jumping to put her front paws against his chest and slobber kisses onto his face.
“What were you doing in my room?” Jin Ling demands, ignoring the way that Mo Xuanyu staggers and sits down to hug Fairy around the neck. Mo Xuanyu’s never been strong but lately, he’s been looking even more slight than usual, thin as a lotus stem and with shadowed circles under his eyes. If hugging Fairy makes him feel better, he can hug Fairy. Unlike so many others with Jin blood in them, Mo Xuanyu’s never been anything but nice to Jin Ling.
“Leaving some literature for you?” Mo Xuanyu inflects it like a question, his shoulders curling in and his tone sheepish.
“What? What literature?” Since when did Mo Xuanyu concern himself with Jin Ling’s reading material?
“Your uncle mentioned he asked his sworn brothers to talk to you.” Mo Xuanyu’s gaze flickers up nervously, then away again. “About what occurs in the marriage bed. I thought that if, perhaps, you might want also to know what happens between men—”
Jin Ling gapes for a moment, then strides forward and grabs Fairy by the collar, hauling her off Mo Xuanyu.
“Whatever you left in my room, I don’t want it! Take it back!” His voice is rising, fraying dangerously close to hysteria, and he stomps a foot just like when he was five and angry he couldn’t stay full time at Lotus Pier anymore. “I’m not a cutsleeve!”
“Some people like both—” Mo Xuanyu starts to say, pushing himself to his feet quickly and backing away from Jin Ling.
“Take it and get out! I’ve had enough of everyone trying to educate me!” Jin Ling’s roar cracks at its peak, lacking the depth and ferocity of Jiang Cheng’s, but it’s enough to convince Mo Xuanyu to stop arguing and retrieve his ‘literature’.
Jin Ling’s having a hard enough time as it is. He doesn’t need to add people thinking he’s a cutsleeve to the list of things he has to deal with.
“Please thank Zewu-Jun again,” Jin Ling says hurriedly, pushing the book into Lan Zhan’s waiting hands. Interacting with Hanguang-Jun is terrifying at the best of the times and the best of times most definitely do not involve Lan marital textbooks.
“Brother will want to know if the book was helpful.” The statement is so neutral it takes Jin Ling a moment to realize it was a question.
“Ah — yes, yes, it was very useful!” He’s not babbling. He’s not over-awed by Hanguang-Jun. Just because this is yet another hero of the Sunshot Campaign (indirectly) inquiring about his personal business does not mean that Jin Ling is starting to wish he’d been born to a less famed Sect.
“Brother wished me to impart advice.” A pause, then, as Hanguang-Jun apparently searches the depths of his soul. Against his own better judgment, Jin Ling is agog. Everyone talks about Hanguang-Jun as if he’s made of jade, absolutely free of human desires and lusts. What could he know about marriage beds?
“Do not,” Hanguang-Jun says finally with great determination, “kiss people when they are blindfolded.”
Jin Ling stares. That’s it? That’s his useful advice? That’s what the great Hanguang-Jun thinks growing boys should learn? Not to kiss blindfolded people? Why would Jin Ling even be running into people wearing blindfolds?!
Realizing suddenly he had been staring for an inappropriately long time, he snapped to attention and offered Hanguang-Jun a deep bow. “Thank you. I’ll remember your words.”
There’s no way Jin Ling was ever going to forget that!
Apparently satisfied, Hanguang-Jun nodded, bowed and left.
It’s been the worst week of Jin Ling’s life but at least it’s nearly over. Every single day, he’s had an uncle try to tell him things he is fairly sure will scar him for life (except Lan Zhan’s, that’s just going to confuse him) but he’s run out of immediate uncles unless someone finds the Yiling Patriarch’s corpse and uses it as a puppet.
… Actually, having a puppet uncle (who killed his parents!) tell him about marital intimacies is exactly the level of awful that his life has become. Jin Ling shouldn’t think about it in case he causes it to happen.
Putting that horrific thought aside, he buries his face in Fairy’s fur, wrapping his arms around her.
Someone chuckles lightly behind him but Jin Ling doesn’t move. Maybe if he ignores them, they’ll go away because he knows that chuckle, he knows that voice, and he is not going to talk to someone who last saw him running away from Nie Mingjue’s far-too-explicit talk.
“I apologize for my da-ge,” Nie Huaisang says, laughter still caught between the syllables, clear and guileless. “He meant well but he can be a little blunt, at times. His own talk to me wasn’t much of an improvement.”
Jin Ling grunts, face still tucked into Fairy’s fur. It could be affirmation, it could be a rejection of Nie Huaisang’s apology, it could be a question as to how exactly Nie Mingjue’s talk could’ve been worse - Nie Huaisang can take it how he will, Jin Ling isn’t going to lift his face enough to say anything else. He knows he must be blushing red as cinnabar.
“To make up for da-ge, I’ve gathered some of the most accurate spring books in my collection. I’ll leave them here for your perusal - no need to send them back, please do with them as you like. Read them or throw them into the fire, it’s your choice. Please do remember that not all spring books are reliable sources, however. These ones will guide you well but others may not. If you wish for more, write to me in Qinghe.”
This time, Jin Ling doesn’t say anything because he’s choking on his own outrage. The younger brother of his uncle’s sworn brother is giving him spring books now?! Does he really have to worry that all of Lanling will join in this conspiracy?
There’s only one way out of this situation. He’s going to have to take a vow of celibacy.
A gentle hand touches his shoulder; Jin Ling shrugs, sulkily, and it withdraws.
“You know, back when I was studying in Cloud Recesses, I ran quite a little market of spring books.” Nie Huaisang’s voice is so close that he must still be standing near Jin Ling, even though he’s no longer touching him. “Even your father and mother borrowed from my library.”
His desire to know more about his parents wars with his desire to never ever learn anything about their intimate preferences; Jin Ling pulls his face, flaming red, away from Fairy’s fur and looks up into Nie Huaisang’s fan-shielded face.
“Can you tell me about them?” He asks and quickly specifies, “Not about spring books. About my parents - what they were like.”
“Of course,” Nie Huaisang says and seats himself on the ground. Fairy bounds over and he hugs her, arms going around her neck, then starts to speak.
This time, Jin Ling listens.
“I can’t believe you’re getting married!” Wei Wuxian mock-sniffs dramatically, throwing his arms around Jin Ling in one of his over-enthusiastic hugs that Jin Ling will never admit to secretly liking. “My little nephew, all grown up!”
He pulls back suddenly, eyes narrowing and his expression serious. “Has anyone told you what to expect in the marriage bed?”
"YES !” Jin Ling shouts the word, memories of the worst week of his life suddenly swarming back to him. “Everyone has! Don’t you dare start, I’ll— I’ll break your legs and bury you in a swamp!”
“Your threats have gotten better!” Wei Wuxian grins at him, irrepressible and affectionate, and squeezes him again. “Everyone?”
“Chifeng-Zun, Sect Leader Nie,”
“That one makes sense but Chifeng-Zun?”
“Wait, my Lan Zhan—”
“Hah! What could he possibly tell you?”
Jin Ling stops there rather than add Jin Guangyao to the list. He’s there in the spaces between the others; the only reason for the Nies and Lans to get involved was because of their sworn brother.
He scowls at Wei Wuxian instead, shoving him away, “ Jiujiu gave me plenty of good advice!”
“Well! Then as your daiju, I must also give you good advice. I can’t let my shidi outdo me.” Wei Wuxian’s eyes glimmer and Jin Ling realizes, dread twisting in his stomach, that he has stepped into the middle of a competition that’s been going on since before he was born.
There’s going to be no escape from this but he tries anyway, “I’ve had 7 uncles tell me what to do! What are you going to tell me that they haven’t?!”
Wei Wuxian rubs his hands together and beams broadly, “Have you heard of everyday ?”
"SHUT UP RIGHT NOW OR I'LL CALL FAIRY!"
AFTER THE WEDDING:
Arching against the slim fingers trailing over his chest, breathless and painfully aroused, an unwanted thought pops into Jin Ling’s voice and provokes a giggle.
Making his voice as solemn as he can, Jin Ling states, “My uncle is Sandu Shengshou.”
A confused pause and then, “What?!”