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Brother Issues

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He didn’t want to come out from behind his mother’s legs, his little hands were clinging to the back of her loosely fitting jeans and he pensively watched the other kids mess around in the play area, “Now, little Xing, you’ve got to let go and join the other kids.”

“No,” he whimpered, burying his head into her leg and clenching his grip on her tighter. “I want Ma.”

His mother unfurled his small fingers and took them into her own hands, the clamminess of Yixing’s nervous sweat transferring onto her perfectly primed skin, “Ma has to go to work now, we talked about this. You said you wanted to go to school.” 

Yixing hadn’t been sure what school was when his parents had explained it to him, they talked about how there would be others who were Yixing’s age and that he would be able to learn more things that he would be able to at home. Their telling of events, however, mentioned nothing about his mother not being there. Yixing had been held under the guise that his mother would stay with him all day every day, like she had always done since Yixing could remember. He had only agreed to the idea of school, the place where Yixing was supposed to find his way because he thought he wouldn’t be going in alone.

He didn’t know how to approach other children, how was he supposed to survive so many new things all at once if he didn’t know how to talk to his peers?

“No, Ma,” he cried, his eyes beginning to bulge with tears that would threaten to spill down his cheeks. “Here.”

His mother looked down at him, “I have to go to work, Yixing. You’ll love it here, I promise. And, you’ll make Mama so proud.”

Yixing tried to steel himself in an attempt to make his mother praise him, adoring words from her mouth were all he needed to feel better through his day. She had praised him from day one, complimenting his use of numbers and words but he feared that she would soon stop with her loving statements. If she wasn’t there to tell him that he was her smart little boy, then who would tell him?

Everything felt like the end of the world, especially when his mother pried herself away from him to make her way from him. The school door clicked shut before he could grab her again, the handle being far too high for Yixing’s little hands to reach and he stumbled on his way over to the window.

He was crying, tears fell unabashed from his eyes and he screamed out a constant string of, “Ma! Mama! Ma,” through the window as she made her way down the school path. His fists pounded against the glass, his yelling making her turn around and Yixing could see her eyes wetting as she took in the sight of her only son pleading for her to return.

The teachers left Yixing there after numerous attempts to move him from the window, his adamant telling them that his mother was going to return for him soon made everybody back away swiftly. He only came away from the window pane when he’d screamed his throat dry and raw, the need for a drink overwhelming him far too much.

Whenever Yixing was asked when he’d had his first heartbreak, he would always recall that day with the utmost clarity. It was the first painstakingly negative memory he could remember. The reason for that being was that it happened almost every day for a week. He felt a sense of loneliness almost every moment that he was apart from his parents, it was foreign and something he didn’t want to know. He didn’t like going to school, he hated it vehemently. All Yixing wanted to do was stay home with his Ma.

Yixing had heard his mother talking to his father about bringing him home again, which kindled a fire of hope in six-year-old Yixing’s stomach. His Ba had swiftly told her to give him a chance to settle, to become adjusted to the new surroundings and the new people. His Ba clearly explaining that stopping his months of homeschooling was the best option for his future. He sat shyly at the table as his parents discussed his education, he had really wanted to like school but he just couldn’t. It upset him to an impossible measure that he hadn’t connected with any of the other students in his class. He had been pinned as the crybaby of his group, nobody wanted to make friends with the boy who joined seven months late and screeched for his mother while beating against the window each day. It just made everything so much worse.

The little boy found relief when the weekend rolled around, the two days he could spend with his parents was enough to build him up again. He truly believed that he was going to start having his lessons at home like he used to. It stacked the faith that he’d be saved from the hellish school up within him, he wasn’t going to go back because his parents loved him. However, that hope was dashed when Yixing’s mother took him for a bath on Monday morning.

She had plucked him out of bed, washed him and dressed him for the day. There was a small glimmer of positive feeling within him when she took him out for breakfast, feeding him some cakes and giving him Apple juice, not the normal glass of water he was allowed. He should have noted that he was wearing his uniform but he didn’t recognise the route to school just yet, so when she drove and took him closer to the gates, he was still unaware.

He felt his crying begin when he saw the cursed sign of his school’s name, it made him feel small and insignificant. A clear contrast from how big he’d been built up by his parents. Yixing really did not want to go inside, the day always crawled by too slowly when he was contained in those rooms.

His mother said her goodbyes, urging him not to cry because it made her cry too. He tried to listen to her, to fully comprehend what she was asking of him, so he walked away quietly. Yixing dipped his head as the door was opened for him, he watched his mother go from the window once again. There were no tears or theatrics, just a slight withdrawal into himself. He felt abandoned by the person who loved him the most. The teacher was shocked when he took his seat, the boys that sat in front of him all whispered to each other but Yixing didn’t listen. He wanted the day to be over, to be able to retreat to his mother’s arms as she took him back to their car to take him home. He bowed his head into his hands, the sweaty warmth from his palms went into his eyes as he tried to plug his silent tears.

He didn’t pay attention to the lesson, despite the step-up in his attitude towards sitting in the classroom and not by the school entrance as he had done the previous week. Yixing knew he was different to the other students, they all had friends and chirped happily like they were birds together. A part of him wanted that. It was the exact vision that his parents had painted, just he was the only one that wasn’t involved in it.

He had barely managed to stop the tears when something pulled slightly on his hair. He ignored it but after the eighth tug, he looked around to what was touching his head and saw a completely unfamiliar boy. His eyes were sparkling, yet not with the watery wetness that Yixing’s were, and Yixing was dumbfounded.

“Hello, I am Wu Luhan and I’m six. I had the flu,” the boy grinned widely and Yixing paused from where he was sat. He had expected the black haired boy to poke fun at his tear stained face but he seemed to take the silence as a cue to continue with his chatter. “I have a gege, his name is Yifan and he’s ten. Would you like to sit with me?”

Yixing blinked eleven, twelve, thirteen times before the boy took the initiative to sit by his side. Luhan seemed to not mind that Yixing didn’t speak, or even properly introduce himself, and still spoke at a million miles an hour about books and his gege. He wasn’t sure why Luhan was being so open and forward with him when everybody else wasn’t fussed by his presence. Although, Yixing didn’t mind too much when time moved faster as Luhan prattled on. It was at the end of the day, when the black haired boy told Yixing goodbye and he managed to mutter a quiet, “I am Zhang Yixing.”

“I know,” Luhan chirruped, his smile melting the unease in Yixing’s stomach until it had gone completely.

Luhan waved avidly until Yixing was ushered out to meet his mother, the younger student smiled gently and found himself looking forward to seeing Luhan again the next day.

 

 

Yixing had swiftly felt a groove flowing in his days, the hours filled themselves with his new friend, Luhan, and he was enthralled by everything the black haired boy seemed to natter on about. His mother had noted a difference within him almost instantly as he shone while he talked solely about Luhan for the duration of the journey home. Yixing had been encircled by his friend's cute attitude; the way in which everything was the greatest thing in existence rubbed off on him far quicker than he could have imagined. It was a strange revelation to shift so quickly, though Yixing felt as though he would be friends with the other boy for a very long time. They sat beside each other during classes, they had the same tastes in food which would meant that their lunch was always split between the two of them.

The younger would give Luhan the best parts of his food, sometimes even feeding the other boy if he felt confident enough and the action was reciprocated almost every time. Their closeness spoke volumes when Yixing had a bad night's sleep and managed to start crying as his mother left him; he was exhausted and just wanted to snuggle up beneath his blankets for the whole day. He had suddenly become the butt of almost every joke his classmates made, the crybaby tag sticking and making him feel even worse about staying in school that day. That was until Luhan arrived - he always seemed to turn up later than everybody else because he had wanted to spend time with his gege - and had been somewhat furious over the fact Yixing was being bullied for crying.

The older of the two little boys seemed to know how to make all of the snide comments stop with a dark glare in his normally bright eyes and a snarl of defense that almost all of the other students cried within the first month of school. It was enough to make Yixing feel comfort because Luhan had openly admitted that he wailed over the idea of not being at home to wait for his gege in front of the rest of his class. Yixing hadn't wanted to be the brunt of any bullying, he hadn't even known what it meant to be picked on until he went to school but Luhan had swiftly pointed out that Yixing hadn't known what it meant to have a friend either.

Yixing thought Luhan was the smartest boy he had ever met, though he always said that it was because his gege had imparted much of his wisdom to him when they would play games together in the living room of their home. The way Luhan spoke made Yixing wish to have an older brother. He wanted to have that bond with somebody and to have someone to teach him new things every day. Jealousy was a feeling Yixing had never encountered before meeting Luhan and it confused him - he didn't want to think badly of his best friend but he could not help himself. He wanted a gege too if they were that great.

That sluggish feeling of envy stayed with the six-year-old for a few days until Luhan said that his brother would be coming to their class to drop off his lunch. Apparently, Luhan had left his lunchbox on the table at home and his gege had offered to share his food with his didi because he couldn't let him go hungry through the day. The excitement that shone on his best friend's face was enough to have him growing overjoyed at the idea of meeting Yifan, the infamous gege Luhan looked up so intently to. When lunch swung around, there was a strong and confident knock at the door before an older boy walked in.

Yixing hadn't ever met a ten-year-old before but Yixing felt his face flare up in a blush whilst the bigger boy made his way over to where Yixing had given some of his lunch to Luhan already.

"Yifan-ge," Lu Han squealed, both boys beaming widely at each other as the smaller clasped around his brother's wrist to drag him over to their table. "My best friend, Xing-ah."

Yixing bowed his head slightly towards the older boy, his face grew hotter as Luhan's gege smiled wide enough to show gums down at him.

"Han, my teacher said I could eat with you today," the elder said, making the younger of the two brothers shout happily and pull the small chair beside Yixing out for him to sit on. "Is it okay with Xing?"

"Yes, yes," Luhan assured, not even glancing at Yixing to get his permission and the boy began to push his elder brother to the seat. "We can share."

"That's right," Yifan nodded, tousling Luhan's hair at his cute hope. Yifan sat on the small chair to Yixing's right, the seat was far closer to the floor than the ones Yixing had seen in the bigger classes during the tour of the school he'd had with his parents. He watched as Yifan shifted around to get comfortable on the red plastic, it made Yixing giggle as the older boy banged his knee on the edge of the desk.

Yixing remained too shy to speak for a long time, he tried to be polite by giving some of his food over to Yifan and the older boy seemed delighted that Yixing was willing to share with him. Luhan started speaking in that same fashion he always did, loud and boisterously about anything that came to mind. His big brother nodded and hummed at the right times, sometimes making silly comments about how cute Luhan was with what he was saying. Yixing didn't know whether or not he should agree because he didn't know anything about what Luhan said.

"Xing-ah," Luhan's brother whispered, making him look up at him through his lashes with his apple-red cheeks, "Luhan said you liked chocolate milk, do you want mine?"

Yixing desperately wanted to say yes but he saw that it was the only one the older boy had, "It's yours."

Yifan took his straw and pushed it through the foiled covered hole at the top of the cartoon and took a gulp of the chocolate milk, he turned the white straw towards the younger boy with an expectant gaze. "We can share it."

He knew he couldn't refuse the look the ten-year-old was giving him and took the straw into his lips and began to sip at the chocolate milk happily. Yixing wasn't allowed chocolate milk often, his parents had labelled it as unhealthy, despite Yixing not knowing exactly what that word had meant. Luhan's favourite kind of milk was vanilla - the only flavour Yixing disliked, so he never shared that with him but he was overjoyed when Yifan had given him some of his chocolate milk.

They shared the drink until Yixing had sucked it until the straw made a crackling noise, it made Yixing smile shyly as Yifan ruffled his hair as affectionately as he did his little brother's. He hadn't had anything to gift back to Yifan, he didn't even have a drawing he could give the bigger boy and he sucked on his lip as Yifan began to pack up his half of the lunch items the three of them shared together. Yixing tried to think of the ways Luhan had taught him to show his care for something and Yixing didn't even think twice about kissing Yifan on the cheek. It was a quick and innocent peck but it made Yifan look at him with wide eyes.

Yixing had blazed with heat at the reaction. He wanted to hide under the because he had grown so nervous about having done such an action. He wasn't even sure if he had got the action right in the first place. Yet, Yifan just smiled again.

"Goodbye, Xing-ah, have a good day," Yifan cheerfully waved and Yixing was awestruck by how big the older boy looked.

"Bye bye, Yifan-ge," he lifted his hand up to wave the boy off and Luhan screamed for his brother to have fun in his big boy classes.  

  

 

Yifan didn't eat with them after that day but Luhan always had a chocolate milk in his lunchbox to give to Yixing. The younger of the brothers had said his gege wanted Yixing to be able to drink it too, as he didn't like Luhan's vanilla. It was enough to have Yixing count up how many kisses on the cheek he owed Yifan for sharing his milk and he had quickly run out of fingers and toes to use in doing so.

Yixing didn't see Yifan at all until Luhan came in brandishing a note in his hand, apparently, he had asked his mother if Yixing could have dinner at their house a few days later and Yixing was to give the letter to one of his parents to get permission. It was an exciting prospect for the young boy, as it would have been the first time he would be invited to another child's house. He had nervously handed the slip of paper to his mother and she had called up Luhan's mother almost immediately to agree to times. Apparently, his parents were happy that he had managed to make at least one friend out of all the children in his class and they praised him for finding one with such polite parents.

If anything, Yixing was nervous about going home with Luhan without his parents being there, as he had never spent so much time apart from them in a single day before. It made him feel apprehensive over to whether or not he should ask to go home earlier than the given time. But, Luhan had told him that his gege was going to be there too. The older boys lived in a house within walking distance from the school and their father was the one who turned up to walk them the short route nearly every day. Luhan had said that when Yifan got a little older then he would be the one to supervise picking Luhan up and chaperoning him home - that served to make Yixing wish harder for an older brother. He wanted somebody he would spend most of his time with and bond over silly things like Luhan and Yifan did. It made the youngest upset that he didn't have that with his family, even though he loved his Mama and Baba.

The walk from their school was a little longer than Yixing had expected and it had managed to wear him out enough that Luhan's Baba carried him the rest of the way to their three storey townhouse. Yixing had liked being carried by the man, he was strong and confident like his own father, which was enough to trust that the man wouldn't drop him on the floor. Luhan had soccer practice that day, the young boy loving the game and Yixing was invited along too. He declined; his mother didn't let him play any games like that because he had thin blood. Luhan's father had nodded in understanding, telling Yixing that his Mama had explained everything about his condition to him and that he should stay at home with Yifan while his wife took Luhan to his club.

Yixing was granted privilege to Yifan's room, the older boy doing his homework and not paying him much attention. The six year old could see what he recognised to be basketballs around the room and posters from Animes Yixing had seen advertised in stores. He had always wondered what a big boy's bedroom would look like; lots of colours everywhere and a little mess in the corners of the space were exactly what he'd anticipated. They were exactly what he got when he had walked into the spacious room, much to his delight. He was relieved to see numerous plushies on the bed that Yifan said he could sit on, as it looked a little like his smaller bed at home. Yixing picked up the soft fluff of a dragon and held it close to his chest as he watched Yifan scribble in characters all over his worksheets. It made him sleepy watching the elder's pencil and he felt himself settling on the bed with his eyes closing with the scratching sounds as his lullaby.

He hadn't meant to fall asleep but he had, it was so balmy and comfortable that he didn't want to wake up when he heard Luhan yelling downstairs. Yixing had felt confusion rush through him when he realised that Yifan was beside him reading a book and not working at his desk anymore. The older boy was comfortable to sleep next to and that surprised Yixing, as he had never slept in a bed other than his own or his parents'.

"Here you are," Luhan shouted as he bounded in Yifan's room. "Bath and then play?"

Yixing nodded enthusiastically whilst his friend rushed into the bathroom across the hall, he sat up yet Yifan didn't move from where he had been reading.

"Thank you, Yifan-ge," Yixing leant over while he whispered to kiss the older boy's cheek and he could feel the warm spreading on his own face again.

"Call me Fan-ge," Yifan smiled, his fingers finding their way into Yixing's hair to mess it up and the younger boy nodded. "Lu won't be long in the bath, he has some toys in his room that you can play with."

"Will you play too," Yixing felt himself pouting, "Fan-ge?"

The older boy flicked a few pages in his book before looking back at Yixing, "When I finish this chapter, I will find you."

Yixing nodded avidly before running out of the large room to where he had been shown was Luhan's bedroom by Yifan as they had come upstairs. Everything felt exciting to him and he was delighted when his best friend appeared in fresh clothes to play zoo with all the stuffed animals. The eldest of the trio joined in some time later, Luhan commanding that he be the elephant whilst Yixing remained the leopard and Luhan was the lion. It made Yifan grumpy to be the only 'harmless' one of the three but his brother had pulled a dramatic tantrum over the matter, which made Yifan give into playing the tusked creature.

They played with their toys until the soft call for dinner was heard from two floors below, Yixing followed the Wu brothers down the stairs and they all sat obediently at the table as everything was placed into dishes. Yixing was shocked when all four family members started to give him different pieces of food, Luhan bypassing his dish to shove pieces directly into Yixing's mouth and that only seemed to make the two adults laugh at their son's forward nature. Yifan was a little more discreet, he would watch what Yixing looked at the most and served him those little bits of food. Yixing tried to return the favour but there were always another set of chopsticks in his way to deal out food. Yifan seemed to notice and pushed his bowl towards Yixing and the younger boy placed pork into it with a happy smile. The older boy returned his grin affectionately and made sure to show Yixing how much he was enjoying the food served to him, it made Yixing's face flare again with a deep maroon colour dappling his cheeks.

Yixing hadn't wanted to go home when the doorbell rang an hour or so after they had finished eating, he heard the disappointed sigh come clearly from Luhan beside him as Yixing's name was called. The youngest picked up his school bag and made his way out to meet his father at the door, it was a relief to see his Baba but Yixing hadn't wanted his evening with the Wu family to end just yet. Luhan had said something about Yixing sleeping over one day, that he should stay for a night one weekend and his father has been more than willing to agree to that idea. Yixing couldn't say that he wasn't happy to hear those words from his Baba, as he had worried that he wouldn't want Yixing out of the house for so long.

The young boy bowed his goodbyes, the way his mother had taught him to do so when he wanted to be at his most polite in behaviour. Luhan's parents said he was welcome back anytime and Yixing was smiling as he made his way to the car with his father.

  

 

Yixing had spent numerous days with the Wu family form that day onwards but had not yet slept the night. He didn't think he wanted to just yet, as he found himself missing his mother more and more as the days passed. However, his parents had told him that his Mama may have to spend more time at work because she had become the boss of her group. It made Yixing proud that his mother was getting praise but he didn't understand why that meant less time with him, it had saddened him more than anything at the idea of not spending each moment at home with her.

It was because of that, that Luhan's father had said he would look after Yixing when his parents became too busy and he noticed himself enjoying the company his best friend and his older brother gave on the lonely days. Yixing had quickly spotted that the two older boys wanted to do nothing but look after him, especially when Yixing arrived at school with a cold and Luhan had demanded that Yifan be allowed to visit him during school hours to make sure he was okay - as Yifan had been taught how to make sure that Yixing remained okay with his blood condition on one of the days Yixing's mother had picked him up. Yixing had blushed whenever Yifan touched his head to make sure that his temperature hadn't changed at all.

Yixing's cold passed but the attentive nature of the brothers didn't stop at all, it made Yixing smile as the three of them became closer and closer as time passed by.

He watched Luhan’s feet moving in front of his, trying to match up their strides perfectly to avoid stepping on the back of his best friend’s shoes. Yixing was concentrating, not once letting his eyes waver from the black soles. He barely recognised how the ground below his own feet changed from plain tarmac to asphalt striped with white. In retrospect, he should have been paying more attention to what was happening around him. The streets were busy with cars, as they always were, but the rain kept pedestrians from venturing out into the fray. It was a bleak day, Yixing had taken note of that much, but he had liked how all the lights reflected from the puddles on the floor. If he didn’t watch Lu Han’s feet so blindly, he would have seen the bike that wasn’t stopping - even though the stoplight was probably red.

Yixing had been in his own little world so much that he hadn’t recognised the recently familiar presence of Yifan walking by his side. The older boy was the one that grabbed Yixing’s hand to pull him out of the way, the bicycle wheels skidded in front of him and Yixing almost threw himself into Yifan to recoil from the water spray. His slightly grubby hands clenched at the older boy’s wet coat.

“Yixing,” the older boy shrieked. “You have to look where you’re going! You could have been hit.”

“I wasn’t looking,” he admitted, his arms retracting from the older boy to allow himself to walk the rest of the way. However, Yifan’s left hand wrapped around his right to guide him safely across the road. “Sorry, Fan-ge.”

“Stop looking at Han all the time and pay attention to your surroundings,” the taller boy scolded, making Yixing pout at reprimanding tone but Yifan pulled him closer as they got to the pathway. “I can’t have my favourite didi getting hurt.”

Yixing’s face twisted as they caught up a little more to Luhan and his father, “I'm your favourite?”

“You can’t choose your family, Xing-ah,” Yifan whispered, capturing Yixing’s gaze for so long that he could feel his cheeks beginning to turn pink. “But I’ve picked you and you’re definitely my favourite. So, please don’t let go of my hand, especially when we are crossing roads, okay? I don’t want you to get hurt.”

Yixing froze for a few seconds, his cheeks turning so hot with blood that he could only let himself be pulled along with Yifan like a doll. He smiled, the spread wide enough that the heat from his blush could be felt under his eyes. Yifan turned back to him with a proud gummy grin, to which Yixing reflected back with a dimple and he let himself get yanked as Yifan started to run towards his father. They were giggling quietly, their hands still enveloped as Luhan whined to them both about keeping up yet Yixing was no longer paying attention to his best friend but his older brother.

    

♤ 

 

Yixing had been invited over to sleep a few days after that.  He had noted that his uneasiness subsided when Yifan had been stood beside Luhan during his giddy announcement that Yixing's parents had approved to his staying over. It was easy to forget that he had been reluctant to leave his parents for long periods of time when Yifan had looked equally as excited to have the younger stay over for a night. The six-year-old children departed to their lessons with talk of the games they could play all night, some involving the elder and others ones for only them to play.

Nevertheless, Yixing knew that Luhan had his football club that night. That only meant one thing, he could spend some of his quality time with Yifan and be able to pester him into helping him with his homework. He had managed on the days, when Luhan was gone for almost two hours, to get Yifan to aid him in the school work he had been struggling with. Yixing had learned that the transition from studying at home to going to school somewhat difficult; the teacher couldn't give him her full attention and Yixing often struggled to keep up while Luhan was whistling ahead. There was something familiar and safe about Yifan going through his workbooks with him, the elder knowing everything and explaining it all with the simplicity Yixing was used to.

Then there was the newer thrill of Yifan offering his hand to the younger boy whenever they left the confines of the school grounds, Yixing always clung to the elder intently as they weaved through streets to get to the familiar house. Yifan never seemed to mind the sweaty heat that passed between their fingers, if anything he held a little tighter. It made Yixing feel safe and almost invincible with no reasoning against that in his thoughts.

Yifan led Yixing up through the house, his longer legs taking two steps at a time while Yixing had to run behind to keep up, into his bedroom and they closed the door with a soft thud. It had become routine for the older to sit in his desk chair and for Yixing to clamber up onto his lap - the reasoning being that there was no second chair and the smaller had a knack of either falling asleep when they studied on the bed or running around with boundless amounts of energy. It made Yixing feel peaceful to have Yifan wrapped around his shoulders as the older boy explained what seemed to be a simple set of problems.

Yixing climbed up to the ten-year-old's lap, settling on the fleshy part of his thighs and lifting his bag up to pluck the first book out of it. There was a soft laugh from behind him when he saw Yifan take in the sight of the cover, which had both Yixing's and Luhan's drawings scribbled all over it.

"You spend all your time drawing instead of paying attention in classes, Xing-ah," Yifan chided but there was nothing serious in his tone. "Which page?"

"Seven," Yixing mumbled, his hands rubbing his eyes.

Yifan's thumbed through the pages and stopped on the page that was half filled in. It made Yixing upset that he couldn't keep up with the other students in his class and finish when they did. "The answers here are right, Xing-ah, well done."

The young boy was suddenly beaming, the praise had been what he needed to boost his confidence to push onwards and he felt that same warm feeling in his tummy that came about when his mother had done the same thing. There were a few more seconds of quiet before Yifan started speaking up again, teaching Yixing how to know which numbers were greater or less than each other. It confused the young boy, at first, as he struggled to pick the correct numbers when Yifan gave him two to compare, although that wasn't where it ended. They spent half an hour running it over, right until Yixing got every one correct and Yifan could praise him with endless talking of how hard working Yixing had been; it was motivating for the young boy and he slowly started to show off his abilities more.

Yifan never made Yixing feel as though he was behind where he should have been for his age, he had managed to make the young boy feel as though he was smart enough to work in his own right and never failed to praise that. Yixing could feel himself grow more tired as he looked at the numbers on his page, all of them hazing while his eyes began to droop and fall. His head turned to the side and settled into Yifan's neck, the older boy smelt like soap and the soft shampoo the three children used. There was a prevalent sense of security and belonging that was paired with the glow passing through his uniform and scent rushing up through his nose. It was far too difficult to escape the bounds of sleep and stay awake to do the next page of his workbook. He let the pulls of slumber encase him as his hand rose to steady himself on Yifan's chest.

The occurrence of Yixing falling asleep on the ten-year-old was in no sense rare nor regular, it just happened every so often. He never struggled to sleep when he was curled up around Yifan, no matter if they were touching or a metre apart in the room. There was a soft brume of repose about the elder's person that made Yixing want to snuggle deep into the depths of dormancy and remain there.

Waking up with Yifan reading or napping beside him in the bed was something that happened with equal recurrence. If Yixing fell asleep, then he would wake up with Yifan beside him in the bed, it was a given by the time it happened that day. It would have made Yixing panic and fret if the older boy had not been there, Yixing wasn't ready yet to sleep alone in a bed that wasn't his own. That idea was far too daunting. There could have been monsters, like the ones Luhan talked about when it was raining, or Yixing could have fallen into a black-hole; he knew Yifan would protect him from those things. That was something he knew for certain.

Waking up when Luhan arrived home was normal for Yixing, his best friend pulling him to play with their toys and leave Yifan to do his big boy homework. The two six-year-olds had limitless amounts of energy, one of them fresh from a short but deep slumber and the other riding the high of playing his favourite sport. They were non-stop for hours on end, annoying Luhan's parents with questions of whether they could play with the toys in the living room and not in the smaller space of the younger son's bedroom. The adults, of course, relented when Yixing began to pout.

The night passed in a blur, the hours ticking by and Yixing grew more wary of the fact that Yifan hadn't yet come out of his bedroom since they had both woken up. That was something strange and even as a six-year-old, Yixing knew it. He waited for Luhan to need a bathroom break ahead of him clambering up two flights of stairs on his hands and feet, he opened Yifan's bedroom door with two hands and his eyes searched for the older boy.

"Fan-ge?" He called, his fingers unwrapping from the metallic handle.

"Yes, Xing-ah?" The older boy was nowhere to be seen and that worried Yixing.

"Why are you not playing?" Yixing felt his voice grow timid.

"I'm busy," Yifan dismissed, making Yixing pout enough that tears began to form in and fall from his eyes.

"Fan-ge always plays," Yixing argued back and he felt a hand on the top of his head, he turned around quickly to see Yifan in a night robe, his hair glistening wet.

"I'll come play soon," the elder promised, his thumbs dabbing at the fast dripping tears that clung to the smaller boy's eyelashes. "Do you want me to play?"

Yixing nodded, making Yifan smile the kind of smile that showed almost all his gums.

"Then, of course, I will come play."

When Yifan did make his way downstairs, the two smaller boys began to slow in their movements as the hyperactive energy faded away to nothing but exhaustion. Yixing's eyes were bleary and blinking slowly as Yifan entered, the taller boy sat between the smaller pair. They both immediately retreated towards Yifan, their fleshy cheeks pressing against the ten-year-old's shoulder as he plucked their toys from their lax hands. "What are we playing?"

"We are fighting," Luhan grumbled picking up a plastic dinosaur figurine to stroll across the floor towards his big brother and Yixing watched as Yifan brought his tiger toy down to fight with the Tyrannosaurus Rex. 

Yixing liked watching them play, the noises Yifan made had him giggling sleepily and Luhan was whining every time the older boy struck his toy. They seemed to know the way the other played well; when Yifan dove in with his tiger, Luhan would be sure to try and dodge it. They continued to wrestle with their figures for half an hour longer until Yixing was almost completely slumped against Yifan's body.

"Baby needs to go to bed," Luhan sighed, making Yixing try to open his eyes a little further but he failed miserably.

"Is he staying in your room, Han?" Yixing heard Yifan ask, his voice vibrating beneath his ear.

"Yes," the other boy responded, the sound of plastic touching plastic thudding slightly.

"No," Yixing whined, "Fan-ge."

"Yes?" Yifan hummed.

"Sleep with Fan-ge," he whimpered, his nose burying further into the hoody Yifan had hung over his shoulders.

"But you're supposed to stay in with me, Xing," Luhan quipped, the rustles of his best friend getting to his feet filling the air around the trio.

"No," he groaned, making Yifan sigh and stand up as he supported Yixing's full weight.

"You can both sleep in my bed with me," Yifan acquiesced, clearly wanting to soothe the two younger boys into not crying or throwing tantrums over the room arrangements. "Then we can all be together, Xing-ah can have his Lu-ge and Fan-ge."

The youngest felt his centre of balance shift, Yifan lifting him up from the floor and his legs circled around the taller boy's waist instinctively. They all made their way upstairs, Yixing close to falling completely asleep against the wider chest and Luhan was singing a catchy song they'd heard on the radio during their lunch break. It was comfortable, warm and dulcifying. The three of them were piled into Yifan's bed, Yixing was by the wall and, after many arguments, Yifan slid into the middle of the mattress and Luhan behind him. Apparently, Luhan did not only love soccer while he was awake, it was also the theme of many of his dreams and Yifan claimed that he should sleep in the centre as a defence for Yixing against the other boy's kicking legs.

The youngest of the three edged his way towards Yifan, his small hands clinging to the elder boy's night shirt, Yifan seemed to freeze in his place before settling under the delicate grip that Yixing had on him. The three slept soundly, making Yixing snuggle deeper into the heat that was being shared betwixt all of them. In addition to that, Yifan's legs had come up to surround him and keep him firmly lulled in his place.

From that night onwards, whenever Yixing stayed over, the three boys always slept huddled together under Yifan's blankets. They were inseparable with the way they were together, Yifan taking on the older brother stance while the other two played around with each other. Months passed and soon Yixing had been coaxed well out of his shell by Luhan; the two were an unstoppable force of mischief that had become a source of happiness for Yixing. He didn't slip behind in the class, there was no way he could with Yifan tutoring him almost everyday after his lessons and it had made his parents delighted to see him so happy. It wasn't unusual for Yixing to stay with the Wu family most evenings and four of the seven nights in the week, as his parents both became busy during the work day. It was a struggle for Yixing to become accustomed to spending less time with his parents but the joyful playing of Yifan and Luhan never failed to excite him into forgetting all about his slight abandonment. Plus, it wasn't as is his parents forgot about him completely, they both showered and saturated him with love when they spent time together. Yixing soaked up every ounce of love like a dried sponge.

 

 

Two years passed like that, Yixing grew into a confident eight-year-old who had acquired two brothers in Luhan and Yifan. The Wu parents claimed Yixing as their unofficial third child who displayed all the traits of both their son's entwined; Yixing loved basketball and History - much like Yifan. He resembled Luhan in his sense of humour and general actions across the board. The two younger boys had taken Yifan leaving Primary school and upgrading to Junior Middle school badly. There had been tears when Yifan had put on a new uniform and went to the building that was on the other side of the sports field that connected the two schools. It was an awkward transition for the parents too. They had to split off in two directions to drop and pick all three boys up, that was until Yifan had said he could just cut across the field and go to his school that way; the only helpful but muddy solution.

Yifan was to walk the two younger boys to school and collect them too since he was deemed old enough, while also having the ability to see his responsibility over the two younger boys. It became a steady routine that Yixing loved. He had a secret yearning for the days where Luhan would have his soccer practice, as it meant that Yixing could monopolise all of Yifan's time. He loved being able to chatter noisily to the older boy as they chased each other through the streets and held hands as they crossed roads, even the ones that had no cars. It was a habitual activity to clasp their fingers together as soon as they were close enough, Yifan not seeming to care when people his own age asked him why he would hold hands with an eight year old. The unflappable and simple response they always got was, "He's my little brother."

Those four words were enough to fill Yixing with liquid gold. He loved being Yifan's brother, it made him feel special that he was chosen to be such a thing. It made Yixing dimple and Yifan display his proud gums in return.

"Fan-ge," the boy sang, making the taller look over to him questioningly, "I'm tired."

They both knew that Yixing wasn't in anyway exhausted or sleepy, his eyes sparkled under the sunlight and Yifan squeezed his hand pleasantly; their walking halting for Yifan to stoop down and let the smaller clamber up onto his back. His short arms draped around Yifan's neck, his legs squeezing on his hips to keep himself upright and that was when Yixing began to rest his head on Yifan's ever widening shoulders. The younger wasn't a particularly lazy child, it was just that he accepted any opportunity to cling closer to the older boy; Yixing had heard of people being left behind by their older friends and Yixing hadn't wanted that with Yifan. He had become closer over the years and it was difficult to think of days without Yifan being there to guide him through everything. It wasn't like he was dependent, but he thought that if he was left behind by his big brother, then he could be left behind by everybody.

The time where Yifan said no to playing with the two younger boys still hadn't come and he still readily let Yixing cuddle into him to go to sleep almost every time he slept over, which was a pleasant affirmation for Yixing.

However, their time was cut down ever slightly with Yifan joining his school's basketball team, which seemed to train early in the mornings and for an hour after school. Though, the latter wasn't much of a problem as Yixing took up learning to play the piano around the same time. Their sixty minute long sessions were no match for Luhan's two hour ones, the other boy having taken his sport more seriously at a younger age. Not that Yixing minded them all taking their own route, they all loved showing off their skills to one another when they reconvened. Yifan particularly loved to show Yixing trick shots he had learned in basketball and would almost always make the younger squeal as he lifted him up to get the ball in through the net. There was something about the way that they could all slip easily back into their routine that made everybody think Yixing was the third Wu child, he was always with the two older boys and they both coddled him up in love at any opportunity. Despite of how much Yixing seemed to enjoy playing around with them when they least expected it.

"Did you know there's a sleepover with our schools?" Yifan suddenly asked, making Yixing peer around to look at his face. "My teacher told me today, my class and the older classes from your school are going to do a big sleepover."

"Why?" was the first question that popped into Yixing's mind, despite the ever growing excitement to show his Fan-ge off to the other students in his class.

"My class is going to help at your sports day, so they think it would be good to bond," Yifan explained, which seemed to make slight sense in Yixing's head and he began to smile.

"Will gege look after me?" He asked sweetly, prompting the elder to pretend to drop him - startling a screamed yelp from Yixing's mouth - but the smaller boy didn't touch the floor. He pursed his lips at the teasing, the same action he did when Luhan would hog all the blankets at night.

"Of course," Yifan laughed, which made Yixing's pout spread out into a smile.

Yifan carried him the rest of the way home, his arms shifting tiredly often but he never once told Yixing to walk on his own, which made the younger boy smile. It was a cooler day in the spring, the wind whipping them and Yixing was thankful for the contact while his coat was stuffed into his bag. He enjoyed playing around as Yifan plodded along the side of the road, his hands sometimes covering the walking boy's eyes and cheeping while Yifan tried to keep in a straight line. Yixing adored being around Yifan in those hours, the older boy taking care of him like a brother would. It made Yixing feel involved.

He was in Yifan's heart as a baby brother and Yixing knew that from the chocolate milk Yifan would sneak up to his bedroom for them to drink while Luhan kicked about in his dreams, when Yifan let him swaddle up in one of his coats or sweaters in the winter and how he would listen to a detailed recall of each of Yixing's dreams in the mornings. Yixing knew he had a best friend in Luhan, that boy had staked that claim on Yixing within their first day of meeting; most of him knowing he would never lose that. Nevertheless, he had something strong with Yifan too. He felt adored and cared for in the ways he had craved since he started school by the twelve-year-old, who hadn't once failed in being the main source of Yixing's succour.

Once they arrived back to the house, Yixing slowly got down from Yifan's lowered back and the smaller took the opportunity to push the taller boy's crouched form over with all the strength he had.

"I'm going to get you for that, Xing-ah," Yifan yelled playfully as he stood back up, the smaller boy skirting into the house to find his escape in Yifan's bedroom with a happy squeal leaving his lips. The elder boy chased him up the stairs and easily overcame Yixing's hard pushes to keep the door shut, he picked the younger up and took him to the bed to tickle him. Yixing's eyes blurred with tears as his giggles filled the room and Yifan's laughter layered over it.

    

♤ 

 

The school sleepover was fun for Yixing up until the words night walk were uttered by the teachers, which made him flail internally and he could see his best friend obviously having the same dilemma. He held his hand out for Luhan to grip onto and the black haired boy did so readily, his shaking fingers making Yixing quiver at the idea of going outside when there was no light around.

"Can we find ge?" Luhan asked, his voice trembling. "I want Yifan."

Yixing agreed, his eyes searching through the sea of students to find the older of the three, it made his head swim when he failed to seek out the elder Wu. "I can't see him."

"He is here," Luhan assured, his height increasing as he rose up onto the tips of his toes.

Yixing felt relief flood through him when Yifan walked in to followed by a shorter male. "There he is."

Yixing let no time pass before he began to yank his friend through the other students towards their saviour, it was harder to push the bigger children out of the way, but Yixing didn't care as long as he could make it to Yifan's side before everybody started to file out of the large hall.

"Fan-ge!" He called, making the taller boy look over in their direction and follow the sound of Yixing's voice him until they finally met somewhere in the middle of the sports hall.

"There's a walk outside," Luhan whined, his whole body shaking with fear of the dark and Yixing nodded, he was equally as scared but hoped he didn't show it as much.

"In the dark?" Yifan looked out of the window and frowned, his gaze slipping back to the smaller boys.

"Yes," Yifan's frown dipped even further down.

"Kyungsoo," he said, making the two younger boys cock their head around in confusion but the taller was facing the boy he had walked in with, "I'll need to stay with these two tonight, you can come with us, if you'd like?"

The newest arrival made Yixing spark with an irritated feeling and he could feel it threading into his hands as Yifan's expression softened as he spoke.

"It's okay, I need to go find the others and then you can stay here with your little brothers," Kyungsoo said, making Yixing feel that angry emotion ebb out of his body and become one of pure happiness. The boy knew that Yifan was Yixing's gege and there was never a time that didn't make Yixing feel an overwhelming sense of love in his small chest.

Yifan waved his friend off, not taking more than a moment to give his full attention to the two eight-year-old boys and he did not miss a beat in separating their hands to hold in his own. The teachers called for all of the pupils to move out towards the doors and Yixing peered up to Yifan instantly in hopes that his fear would dissipate as soon as he took in the countenance of the tall boy. "Fan-ge, I'm scared."

Luhan let out a high pitched whine as they shuffled towards the exit everybody was leaving through, Yifan's arms shifting to lay one over Luhan's shoulder and the other around Yixing's waist to pull him in closer from where he had coasted away slightly.

"It's only a little dark," Yifan reassured, making Yixing huff out because he wasn't afraid of the dark, rather it was a fear of what was in the dark. Yet, it helped that Yixing was pressed so closely to Yifan's side that he could hear his heart thumping away in a steady pace. It showed Yixing that Yifan wasn't scared, even if there were vampires and werewolves lurking around every dark corner of the world. (At least in Yixing's mind, anyway.)

They all followed the horde of other students, none of the older and younger groups mixing but Yixing barely noticed as he waited for his eyes to adjust to leaving the building. He was handed a flashlight by a teacher and Luhan was too, Yifan only being praised for interacting with the younger students in such a caring way. The older woman evidently not knowing of the relationship the stern looking twelve-year-old shared with them both.

They made their way across the playing fields towards a small forest - one every student at both schools knew like the back of their hands but in the dark, it seemed forbidden and dangerous. Even with torches illuminating the way, there was poor visibility and Yixing jumped every time something as small as a leaf moved in its place. It had him plastered completely to Yifan's side, his chest pressed up against Yifan's ribs as they stepped over roots and other shrubbery.

Luhan's beam from his flashlight was quivering all over the place and Yifan had taken it from his hand to give them a little more stability in holding the device. Yixing's grip was a little more steady but his eyes weren't focussing on what was ahead, preferring looking up at Yifan to get that feeling of safety he always sought from the elder over anything else. It was what he felt to be a sweet gesture but it had made him more clumsy when walking, which had meant Yifan scolded him every time he stumbled.

It was difficult to enjoy the walk while the two boys were terrified out of their minds for the whole hour, their legs growing more tired as they circled back towards the school and made their way into the classrooms which had been moved around to accommodate their makeshift beds. Yifan dropped the two younger boys off at the door, promising to see them first thing in the morning and the two little boys had whined about wanting to stay with Yifan. Luhan ran with the fact that he was still in a state of shock from being out in the familiar turned unknown for so long. Yixing, on the other hand, struggled because he needed Yifan to be able to sleep. He didn't want to reveal that secret just yet and retreating over the fact that nobody would be there to comfort and coax him into the depths of slumber.

"Xing-ah," Luhan whispered as they waited for a sink to brush their teeth at in the bathroom, "Can we go and find gege?"

"The big kids are in other rooms," Yixing reminded him.

"But I want Fanfan," the boy grumbled, his hands fisting around the toothpaste tube they were sharing that night.

"Me too," Yixing admitted shakily, making Luhan lean on his shoulder.

"Will you keep me safe?" The older of the two mumbled, it was quiet enough that Yixing felt his heart plummet for his best friend.

"I can try," Yixing tried to sound as confident as Yifan was when he checked for monsters around the bedroom before they all went to sleep at night.

"Thank you," Luhan buried his head into Yixing's nape, their arms wrapping around each other as a silent vouch to make each other feel better in Yifan's absence.

That plan had been perfect in theory, Yixing caring for his Lu-ge - who was really afraid of the dark and not just what lurked in it - seemed like a great idea until Yixing felt something touch his foot in the night. That had triggered the waterworks from both boys, their screeches of fear and irrationality filling the room, causing the still awake teacher to take them out into an office which was placed at the end of a hallway. They were snotty messes of incoherency as the man tried to soothe them into calming down, his assurances that there were no monsters lingering in the room trying to take them away failed and only made them sob louder as they thought of being parted from one another.

It was in the hiccuped sigh in a snap moment of composure that Luhan had expressed a want for his older brother, that they would be fine if they had their Fan-ge. Howbeit, the male teacher seemed reluctant to wake the older boy up from where he seemed to be peacefully resting amongst his friends. Yixing cringed as Luhan's crying turned to something like anger. His whirlwind tantrum of demanding Yifan was enough to have the teacher deciding that waking up one boy was better than having a yelling eight-year-old wake up the rest of the cohort and begin a mass bawling session that nobody was equipped for.

It was seven minutes later of what felt to be an eternity that Yifan appeared, drowsy and incredibly cute looking, in the doorway. The two small boys did not seem to have any issue with stumbling towards the twelve year old and using him to help placate their fears instantly. They came down from their fear driven high quickly as Yifan brought them both into his chest and told them how monsters would not be able to get them while they were in the school, it was apparently a monster free zone.

After a quick talk with the teacher, Yifan had managed to persuade him to let them all stay in the office together after Yifan went to grab the blankets from his own sleeping area. The adult seemed sceptical until he witnessed how easily the two smaller boys went down with Yifan to sleep on the floor, the smaller bodies bracketing the larger one as they discovered a sense of home being near him. Yixing felt sleep slowly fall over him as he took in how familiar Yifan smelt and that he could feel the warm beaming from Yifan's body to his slightly colder one; he assumed for Luhan to be the same as they drifted into a safe slumber.