Mhireen liked being allowed to come into Aleyn's laboratory sometimes. It was because he was the oldest, and Aleyn trusted him not to run around or break anything, but just sit quietly and watch him work. It made him feel special, being allowed to do something the others weren't and having time to himself - well, to himself with Aleyn. Sometimes the sorcerer would show him something interesting with the chemicals and potions he was working with, but other times he would just let Mhireen be nearby while he was doing other things, and that was all right too.
"This is dangerous stuff," Aleyn might say to him. "Look but don't touch - and don't breathe it either." Holding his breath, Mhireen would stare at what seemed like some harmless green liquid in a vial and nod seriously. If Aleyn said it was dangerous, then it must be really bad, because Aleyn was an adventurer and adventurers had to be very brave, because everything they did was dangerous.
Sometimes thinking about that made him worry about what might happen to Aleyn, with all the dangerous things he did. Going to Nachtur, for instance, even though it was sort of exciting, was dangerous too, he knew - all the grown-ups had explained very seriously about never wandering off on your own while they were staying there, because there were still demons around in some places. But sometimes Aleyn and Vedran would go off on their own, and what if there were demons that were too strong even for them? It was just a little worry at first, but it grew bigger and bigger until he couldn't stop thinking about it anymore.
One night when they were in the big house (Mhireen still couldn't quite think of it as 'home', even though they had been living there for more than a year now), he couldn't trance because every time he tried, he would get thoughts in his head about Aleyn, and about what had happened to his parents. Amylia was busy across the hall, getting Macen settled down, so she didn't even notice when Mhireen got up and tiptoed out of his bedroom. He just needed to see Aleyn, he told himself, and then it would be okay.
He found Aleyn in the library, reading, and made sure to make a little bit of noise as he came closer so he wouldn't startle him. Aleyn looked up, and smiled. "Aren't you supposed to be in bed?" he asked, but he wasn't cross about it. He almost never was, really - it was one of the things Mhireen liked about him, that he didn't yell or get angry very easily. It made him safe to talk to about things.
"What would happen to me if you died?" he asked quietly.
Aleyn looked surprised. "That's not..." He stopped, considering. Mhireen thought maybe he had been going to say that it wasn't going to happen, but he knew that Aleyn couldn't promise that. Bad things happened sometimes, whether people thought they would or not. "You don't have to worry about that," Aleyn said at last. "I'm planning to be here to take care of you for as long as you need me, and even longer than that."
Mhireen's fears weren't that easily assuaged, though. "But what if you weren't?" he insisted. "Where would I go, back to the orphanage?"
"Oh." Aleyn beckoned for him to come closer, drawing him up to sit on his lap. "Mhireen, this is your home. Even if, gods forbid, anything happened to me, Vedran and Ardith would still be here to look after you. We have it all worked out, with papers and everything, to explain what would happen to you and Saiya and Macen if... if anything bad did happen. There would always be someone to take care of you, I promise. You'll never have to go back to the orphanage, all right?"
"I want to see the papers," Mhireen said, sticking his chin out stubbornly.
Aleyn looked like he wasn't too sure about that, but he nodded. "Ardith keeps them all in her office, but I'm sure she won't mind if you want to look at them." Giving Mhireen a quick hug, he set him down and took his hand, walking across the hall to Ardith's study.
The door was ajar, but Aleyn still knocked at it before sticking his head in. "Ardith, are you busy? We have a... a bit of a legal question."
Ardith was sitting at her desk, but she looked up when they came in. "Mhireen, what are you doing up?" she asked, exchanging a look with Aleyn.
"Mhireen would like to see the paperwork about his adoption, and about our wills. Would it be a bother for you to get that out?"
Ardith looked puzzled. "Aleyn, are you sure...?"
"Just for a quick look," Aleyn said calmly. "And then we'll get him back to bed."
Ardith nodded, standing up. Her robes were tighter across her belly now, because of the new baby that was coming soon, Mhireen knew. He didn't think Saiya and Macen really understood about the new baby - well maybe Saiya did, a little, but not like he did. Ardith went over to one of the wooden cabinets and opened a drawer, taking out a thick bundle of papers. "This is everything," she said, bringing it over to the desk. "It's okay for you to look," she reassured Mhireen, who crept closer with Aleyn right beside him.
The paper was covered with writing, most of which he couldn't understand. Aleyn pointed to one spot on the page. "See, there's your name," he told him, and once he had pointed it out, Mhireen could see the letters that spelled M-H-I-R-E-E-N several places on the page. "This is the part about your adoption," Aleyn told him. "When you became officially part of our family."
He flipped through a few more pages, looking for his name and finding it all over the place. It was all very complicated and confusing, but the grown-ups seemed to understand what it meant, and that was reassuring. Eventually Ardith turned to another section. "This is the part that explains what would happen to you if any of us..." She hesitated, exchanging still more worried looks with Aleyn.
"Die," Mhireen said in a quiet voice.
"Right," Aleyn told him, putting his hand on his shoulder and giving it a little squeeze. "So you see, it's all planned out, just in case. There's a whole waiting list of people who love you, who would take care of you."
Ardith nodded in agreement. "We made sure of that. Because... we love you too, and we want to be certain that no matter what happens, you will always be safe."
A question occurred to Mhireen. "When the new baby comes, do you need to write the papers for it too?"
"Some of them we'll have to get changed," Ardith explained, resting her hand on her tummy. "We don't need to make an adoption record for it, because it's being born to us, but for other things, yes, we'll have to write up more papers for it. Once we know the baby's name, we can make sure it's properly added into everything, so it'll be safe and looked after, just like you and Saiya and Macen."
Mhireen had a lot of questions about what would happen after the baby came, but the one that came out was, "Is the baby going to be dragonborn or something else?"
Ardith smiled. "We don't know for sure yet, and we won't know until it gets here. It could be dragonborn like me, or it could be human."
"Like Aleyn," Mhireen noted.
"Um... yes, like Aleyn," Ardith agreed, smiling. Some sort of look passed between them that Mhireen didn't know how to interpret. "Also like part of Vedran's family," she added, turning her attention back to the young drow. "Like Vinalia is human, for instance. And that is why the baby could be human, or could be dragonborn. It'll be a surprise."
"Okay, it's probably time to get you back into bed," Aleyn told him, taking his hand. "Say goodnight to Ardith, and I'll take you to get tucked in again."
After Ardith had gotten her second kiss goodnight from Mhireen for that evening, Aleyn walked him back to his room. Amylia was just coming out of Saiya's room, and she looked surprised to see them there. "Oh, what are you doing up?" she began, but Aleyn shook his head and told her it was all right.
"He just needed to talk about a few things. You can run along, I'll put him back to bed."
Aleyn helped Mhireen get settled snugly under his blankets, and sat down on the bed beside him. "Are you feeling a little better now?" he asked carefully.
Mhireen nodded. "A little." He was still afraid of Aleyn or Ardith or Vedran dying, but knowing that there were plans in case they did, and he wouldn't have to go back to the orphanage, helped a bit.
"I know it's a lot of changes happening with the new baby on the way, people coming and going, moving around from place to place," Aleyn said. "But I want you to know that... that I'll be here for you, no matter what." He wrapped his hand around Mhireen's, holding it tight. "I love you."
"But you're going to love the new baby too," Mhireen said quietly.
"Of course," Aleyn told him. "Like I love Saiya and Macen as well as you. Love doesn't run out just because you share it with more people - there's going to be more than enough to go around."
"Even though it's a born baby and not a 'dopted one?"
Aleyn's brow crinkled. "I... Oh." He seemed like he didn't know what to say, but instead he gathered Mhireen up in his arms for a big hug. Mhireen rested his head against Aleyn's shoulder, clinging to him. "Just because you and Saiya are adopted doesn't mean that we love you any less than the babies who are born to us, okay? Families can be made in all sorts of ways, and you're an important part of this family, same as the new baby will be." He held Mhireen a moment longer before he set him back down again, keeping his hand on his shoulder. "Does that make sense?"
"I guess," Mhireen said. He liked the way it sounded, anyway.
"And you're going to have some important responsibilities when the baby comes," Aleyn continued, smiling encouragingly. "Among other things, you'll have to show Macen how to be a big brother - he's never had to do it before, but you're quite an expert."
"I can help." It made him feel a little better to know he'd have an important job to do, and helped to take his mind off some of his other worries.
"Good," Aleyn said, helping to get him settled down again for trance. "Do you want me to sing to you?"
Mhireen nodded. Aleyn wasn't as good a singer as Vedran, he still didn't know as many songs, but his voice made Mhireen feel safe and relaxed. It was easy this time to slip into his trance without his mind being crowded with frightening thoughts. He was still aware when Aleyn stood up to leave, but he wasn't scared - he knew he wouldn't be far away.