Mingjue doesn’t know where he is when he wakes up.
It’s a strange room, bright and airy, the breeze moving gently through the open doors. He’s pretty sure he’s never been here before, because it doesn’t look anything like home, but… he knows this place.
His head hurts.
Mingjue sits up and groans, and tears gather in his eyes and drip down his cheeks, but he wipes them away in annoyance. Father always says he has to work through the pain and so he does, and Mingjue swings his legs over the bed as he tries to stand.
But his legs give way beneath him, and movement from the other side of the room catches his eye even as strong arms wrap around him before he falls.
“Mingjue!” The voice is like music but it sounds worried, and Mingjue cranes his head up to see who had caught him. Brilliant golden eyes stare down at him, concern and fear clashing for dominance on a face that could have been carved from pure jade, and Mingjue blinks.
“Are you a prince?” he asks in awe before he can stop himself, because how could this man not be— even through the worry he shines like the sun on a summer day.
The man’s lips part slightly in surprise, and the arms around him tighten for a moment before he is lifted back onto the bed.
“No, Mingjue,” the man replies softly, a smile curving his lips. “I am just your friend.”
Mingjue frowns. “Are you sure?” he asks, letting himself be propped up against the pillows and fussed over. “I don’t remember you.”
The man settles next to him on the bed, and as Mingjue watches he summons a yellow butterfly and whispers into it. The man turns back towards him as the butterfly flits off, and golden eyes study him carefully.
“How old are you, Mingjue?” the man asks instead of answering him, and Mingjue grins.
“I’ll be eight soon!” he says proudly, because he’s that much closer to getting his own saber now. He can’t wait to grow up. The man’s smile returns at his answer, and Mingjue blinks at the sight of it.
“Congratulations,” the man replies, and Mingjue wants to bury his head under the covers at the sight. “My name is Lan Xichen, but you can call me Lan Huan.”
Lan Huan, Mingjue mouths to himself, staring at the man even though he knows he’s being rude.
But noise from outside startles him and Mingjue jerks his gaze towards the door. A familiar looking man comes over, worry also clear on his face— Mingjue thinks for a moment that this new man looks like Father, a little bit— but Lan Huan raises a hand and the new person comes to a halt immediately.
“A-Sang,” Lan Huan greets, and Mingjue turns to look at him. Lan Huan smiles reassuringly, then inclines his head towards the newcomer. “This is Mingjue.”
A-Sang hesitates, then inhales sharply before smiling at Mingjue. It’s a nice smile, and something in Mingjue tells him, you’re safe here, with them, and he smiles back.
“It is a pleasure to meet you,” Mingjue says seriously, because Mother would be upset with him if he wasn’t polite. “My little brother is called A-Sang too.”
A-Sang darts a wide-eyed glance towards Lan Huan before he bows.
“It’s a pleasure to share a name with your brother,” A-Sang says, and his voice sounds funny, like he’s trying not to cry. Mingjue frowns, because this man looks nice, and he doesn’t want him to be sad. “How are you feeling, A-Jue? Is it okay if I call you that?”
Mingjue nods slowly, because A-Sang reminds him of Father, and Father calls him A-Jue all the time.
“Where am I?” he asks abruptly, and A-Sang comes to stand next to where Lan Huan is sitting. “Does Father know I’m here?”
Once again the two men share a look, and Lan Huan reaches out to pat Mingjue’s hand gently. “Yes,” he says softly. “Your father knows you’re here, Mingjue—”
“You can call me A-Jue too,” Mingjue interrupts, then blushes immediately. A-Sang coughs a laugh, then hides his face behind a fan, and Lan Huan gives him a smile that makes Mingjue’s heart thump wildly.
“Alright, A-Jue,” Lan Huan says, his golden eyes fond. “You’re in my home, in Cloud Recesses.”
“Okay,” Mingjue says slowly, fiddling with the sheets as he looks around the room. It’s nice here, even if it is so much brighter than home is, with everything white and blue. “Why?”
A-Sang’s face turns serious and he snaps his fan shut. “Because you were ill,” he says softly, “and Cloud Recesses is a place of healing.”
Mingjue frowns. He doesn’t remember being ill— he doesn’t remember much, actually, as he tries to think back to before he’d woken up. But the memories fight him, and Mingjue scowls at his lap.
“Is that why I can't remember anything?” he asks, not looking up at them. A-Sang moves to stand next to him and puts his hand lightly on Mingjue’s shoulder.
“A-Jue,” the man says softly. “You’ll remember, in time.”
“Are you sure or are you just saying that to make me feel better?” Mingjue demands, and Lan Huan leans down to catch his eye. Mingjue lets him, and Lan Huan’s smile returns, twice as bright.
“My Clan has many skilled healers, A-Jue,” Lan Huan assures. Something about his voice makes Mingjue want to believe him— he thinks he should trust Lan Huan, even though they’ve just met— Mingjue nods his head slightly, and Lan Huan reaches out to rest a hand on his knee. “It is an unusual illness, but we will do our best.”
The hand on his knee squeezes reassuringly, and Mingjue feels some of the tension drain out of him.
“Okay, Lan Huan. I believe you.”
The sound of soft steps coming up the path makes Mingjue pull his gaze from Lan Huan and crane his neck to see who else was coming. But the sight of gold robes sends fear through his body in waves of heat and flashes of cold, and he reaches out and fists his hands in A-Sang’s robes.
“A-Jue?” A-Sang murmurs, turning to look down at him just as the man comes into the room. “Are you okay?”
Mingjue shakes his head slightly, the movement barely noticeable as he stares at the short man who wears a placid smile like armor. I don’t like him, make him leave, Mingjue thinks, and something of that must have been visible on his face, because A-Sang twists his body until Mingjue is hidden from view.
“How is he?” the new man asks, and Mingjue feels sweat drip down his neck at the sound of his voice.
The hand on his knee lifts off as Lan Huan begins to stand, but Mingjue’s hand darts away from A-Sang and grips him tightly. Lan Huan turns towards him curiously and Mingjue stares back, pale and shaky, and Lan Huan sits back down as a frown crosses his face.
“He just woke up,” A-Sang tells the other man as Lan Huan reaches out to brush hair behind Mingjue’s ears and pat away drips of sweat with the edge of his sleeve. “He was shy as a child.”
There’s something unforgiving about A-Sang’s voice— he sounds like Father, Mingjue’s mind tells him, and he tightens his grip on A-Sang’s robes. Lan Huan doesn’t seem to be paying attention to the other two, the entirety of his focus centered on Mingjue— his racing heart calms, and he leans his head against Lan Huan’s hand.
“A-Jue?” Lan Huan asks in a low voice. “How are you feeling?”
Scared, Mingjue wants to tell him, but he’s a big boy now, and he’s not supposed to be afraid of anything. But the newcomer leans around A-Sang to look at him, and Mingjue cringes against A-Sang’s back and drags Lan Huan between him and the scary man, and Lan Huan’s eyes narrow.
“A-Yao,” Lan Huan says without looking away from Mingjue, “Mingjue isn’t feeling well right now. Perhaps you should visit at a different time.”
The scary man— A-Yao, and Mingjue shivers even as he thinks the name, and for a moment there are multiple A-Yao’s, all laughing at him— steps away.
“Of course, Er-ge,” he says softly. “Please keep me updated on his progress.”
The sound of steps receding comes, and Mingjue finds he can breathe easier, and A-Sang turns as Mingjue drops his hand and leans forward into Lan Huan’s arms.
“A-Jue,” Lan Huan murmurs, running his hand softly over Mingjue’s hair as A-Sang sits next to them on the bed. “Why don’t you like A-Yao?”
Mingjue shivers, and A-Sang’s arm wraps around his waist. “I don’t know,” he answers honestly, then takes a quick breath and adds, “he scares me,” in a rush of air.
There’s a short intake of breath from Lan Huan that Mingjue feels more than hears, and A-Sang’s arm tightens around him.
“He scares you?” A-Sang confirms, and Mingjue’s neck burns from the shame of admitting to the fear, but he nods anyway. “Er-ge,” A-Sang says urgently, “he’s scared...”
There’s something Mingjue is missing here, but Lan Huan smells familiar, and A-Sang feels safe, and he’s just so tired...
“He laughed at me,” Mingjue mumbles, and Lan Huan goes still. Exhaustion rolls over Mingjue like a wave, but he wants them to understand. He yawns, then slumps completely against Lan Huan. “I remember him laughing at me, and everything hurt, and he wouldn’t help…”
A-Sang runs a hand over his hair and Mingjue leans into it, relaxing as sleep pulls him under. Lan Huan lowers him back to the pillows and Mingjue curls up as covers are tucked in around him, and wonders if he’ll remember more when he wakes up.
But A-Sang stands when Lan Huan does, and Mingjue reaches out and grabs a handful of robes.
“Hey,” he says with a frown that is broken by another yawn, and tugs A-Sang back to him. “Don’t leave me alone.” Mingjue watches as a fond smile crosses A-Sang’s lips, and the man settles back down next to him on the bed.
“If you want me to stay, I will,” A-Sang says, and Mingjue considers him for a moment, then leaves his hands in the man’s robes anyway, so he could tell if the other man moves. Lan Huan reaches out and smooths his fingers through Mingjue’s hair, smiling softly.
“One of us will always be here, A-Jue,” he promises, and Mingjue smiles sleepily. “Okay?”
“Okay,” Mingjue replies as he blinks blearily, watching both men, “you’ll protect me, right?”
A-Sang nods, then shifts to tuck Mingjue into his side. “He’ll have to go through me to get to you,” A-Sang says firmly, and Mingjue shuffles closer and buries his head in the man’s side.
“Thank you,” Mingjue murmurs, eyes closing. He tries to listen to the conversation Lan Huan and A-Sang have but sleep pulls at him relentlessly. Exhaustion claims him in moments and Mingjue lets it, too tired to fight.
A hand passes over his hair, and he smiles.