When he was younger, being the unfavored, lowly son a concubine meant there was hardly any expectation about his future or place as a noble man. No-one could care less about his education or the amount of effort he put on it.
His brothers would go out of their way just to bother him, and servants tended not to respect someone whose only talent was stirring up trouble. Although it wasn't the life he wished, he knew in his heart it was still better than being completely forsaken by his family, or being shipped off to some shady relatives.
So he told himself to deal. To suck it up and keep going. He learnt to be invisible, learnt to lower his head and endure every injustice that came his way. Because he knew he should be grateful, he knew the First Wife could do worst then degrade and look down on him.
He never in a million years would've thought that the same reason that made him the lowliest son of that household would end up being the reason he was still alive while his brothers were gone.
Even in his darkest moments, Fei Hong never even considered taking down his brothers and becoming the Jaing Family heir. He had only ever wanted a calm, happy life. One he could share with the single, most important person for him. His small ray of sunshine.
So, when the messenger had reached him on the Military Camp with news of what had happened to Ying Yue, Fei Hong understood for the first time what was to feel an anger so strong, a fear so overwhelming, that he felt he could burn the entire city down with him.
But now she was there. She was finally awake and in front of him again. For the first time in days, Fei Hong felt things would be okay once more.
"Ah Ying, your brother is sorry" he whispered furiously, the words barely discernible "Fei Hong was wrong! I'll not leave you behind again! I Promise."
Sam was completely still, her eyes widening in disbelief as his arms surrounded her, tightening around her until the sweet smell of morning dew and grass was enveloping her like a warm blanket. For some unknown reason, she felt herself sighing, part of the tension leaving her shoulders and being replaced by trust and relief.
She felt safe.
For the first time, Sam felt she had found home on that weird place.
Even if she couldn't rationally explain why, it was like that body remembered him. Like it trusted and loved him back.
Before she had time to make anything of her jumbled thoughts, Sam felt her arms hugging him just as tightly as he was doing, silent tears slowly rolling through her face and into his neat clothes as her hands held tightly to the fabric over his shoulders.
"Ah Ying" he whispered, caressing her plaited hair "Ah Ying, Ah Ying, don't scare your brother like this again".
Sam tried to answer, to move away, anything, but her body seemed to be completely out of control. Not the knot on her throat, nor the tears that were still falling.
And then it happened. The imagens inundated her mind like a lighting bolt striking her head, in a confusion of voices, colors and sensations.
"Why didn't you hit him?" she hopped from a stone to another her attention fixated on the young boy sat on the low, wooden bridge, his shoulders slumped and head bent down.
Fei Hong looked up just in time to see a small, dark-eyed girl wobbling her way across the darkened garden, his bare feet brushing just minimally on the calm surface of the lake.
He frowned. Wasn't that the youngest child of his father's second wife? What was she doing there? And at such a late hour? Where were her maids? He really didn't need any more trouble coming his way!
"You should not be here" he said in a lifeless voice, trying to look as stern and unimpressed as any nine years old could be.
To his chagrim, the girl simply sat by his side, her laugh twinkling like wind bells on the silent night.
"He told a lie, it wasn't you that ruined papa's letters. I saw it" she she argued in a thoughtful way "Nanny always said that lying is bad, so I suppose it would be okay to hit him this once".
"Hitting people is also bad" he retorted with a frown, seemingly annoyed "Just as listening on other people's business. It's not polite".
"I'm just a child" she looked at him with a mischievous glint her eyes, like someone that did not have a care in the world "And Nanny will never tell on me, she is too scared of that woman"her eyes widened a bit, referring to the first wife "She is really scary".
"She is a proper lady. Something that you should <i> try </i> to emulate" he retorted begrudgingly.
"But I don't want to be a lady! That is too boring!"she protested, crossing her arms over her chest "How could I beat First Brother for you if I was a proper lady?".
Fei Hong felt almost like spitting blood.
"You are not beating anyone!" he cried out, maybe a bit too loudly "Didn't anyone teach you anything? Where are your maids? You should be in bed by now, and not here looking for trouble!"
Ying Yue just just ignored him, her eyes lost in the water that moved slowly, dislodging some noisy dragonflies and shiny fireflies. Theirs reflexes fluttered on the dark surface of the lake, a full, silver moon hung low on the sky. A frog croaked somewhere, his low tones being answered with lighter ones. It was peaceful. One of those moments when someone could forget all its problems, if only for a few seconds.
Finally, the young girl looked at him again, her face calm and friendly.
"What are you doing here? Are you hiding from papa?"
"None of your business" Fei Hong muttered, kicking the water with his feet and dissolving their images still reflected by the moonlight and breaking the moment's enchantment.
Ying Yue's gasped, finally noticing his bare feet on the water.
"Hey! I want to try it too!"
He didn't answer.
"Do you think I could reach the water?"
"You are funny" Ying Yue said brightly, resting her head on his shoulder as if it was nothing special "Fei Hong GeGe, I really like you"
And even though she was only an annoying six year old girl with prospects almost as bad as his own, Fei Hong couldn't help the small smile that warmed his eyes. Suddenly, the night didn't feel so cold anymore.
Sam gasped, backing away from her brother with trembling hands and wide eyes.
"You... You were on that bridge" she whispered, completely out of it "You were hiding from father... They said you had destroyed the letters" she mumbled "but... But it wasn't you. You didn't even pass the threshold".
She herd the sound of chinaware breaking, just as Qing Shan gasped, before rising from her place and walking till she was side by side with Few Hong.
"Yue'er... Did you finally remember?" she asked, help shining in her face.
Sam frowned, feeling like there was a stone crusher trying to cut through her brain all the way to China. The pain just wasn't as big as her confusion. What had happened exactly? What were those images...?
Was it a memory from the real Ying Yue? But if it was, how could she access it now? Was it possible that the girl was still inside that body, hid somewhere so deep she couldn't reach to the surface?
"Yes... No... I don't know what happened" she answered honestly, to affected to try and plan her words "I think I need to sit...".
Her words had barely left her mouth when a wave of nausea and dizziness took her. Sam would probably had ended up on a hip on the stone ground if it wasn't for Fei Hong quick reaction.
With the swiftness of someone very comfortable on his own skin, he took hold of her arm, supporting her back with the other and then guided the shaking, cold-sweating girl to a chair.
"Ah Ying, don't overthink this too much" he said eventually, when some color had come back to her face.
"Yue'er, It is all right to be scared" Qing Shan said in a reassuring tone, extending her hand to hold Sam's in a tight squeeze "Doctor Li explained that this could happen... He said your memories could be triggered by different paces or circumstances." Qing Shan added, hope lighting her beautiful dark eyes "Was this the first time it happened?".
"Hum... Y-yes" she stuttered, looking from one to another, till finally resting her eyes on Fei Hong, a slightly wary "So... Was it really you, then? The boy on the bridge?". The one that looked so sad and lost?
Fei Hong smiled kindly, looking a bit disconcerted himself.
"Yes, it was me..." he agreed with a wistful look, his gaze moving automatically to the direction where the lake stood, on the other side of the house."It was a beautiful night... We were very close after that.", he looked back at her, eyes lit with affection and care built through years of trust and friendship.
Sam sighed, massaging her temples in a vain effort to stop the mayhem on her head.
"I'm sorry" she mumbled "I really don't remember anything else". The last thing she wanted right now was to deal with Fei Hong's devotion for his sister. It didn't feel right to simply drop on their lives and take their sister's place like some usurper.
Whatever they felt, it wasn't for her. She was just an imposer on the real Ying Yue's body.
Even thought she knew, on her head, that it was true, the thought still left a stab of pain on its wake. Seeing how they looked and cared for her just reminded Sam of her old life, her lifeless apartment, her empty nights... The sadness that sat deep on her bones for years...
At that one moment, Sam really felt like she could envy Jiang Ying Yue's life. Even with the lack of plumped water.
After that, the three of them settled in a light, uncommitted conversation. Sam asked about their lives and how things worked on the household, being gifted with some very amusing stories of their younger years.
The awkwardness resisted for some good thirty minutes, till Sam decided to try a small, translucent, yellowish cake. She picked it up looking a bit mistrustful, looking the dessert up and down and giving it a quick sniff. From the corner of her eyes, she could she Qing Shan seemingly trying to hold on a laugh, just as Fei Hong looked slightly amused.
Finally, ignoring the curious looks of the maids serving the tea and changing some plates, she bit it.
"OH MY GOD!" Sam exclaimed, still chewing "WHAT EXACTLY IS THIS THING?!".
"Water Chestnut Cake" Qing Shan answered easily, her brows furrowed in a concerned expression "Why? You don't like it?".
"LIKE IT?!" Sam repeated, putting the rest of the cake on her mouth and picking another piece in each hand "I Love it!! Gosh, it is too good!" she kept saying, didn't even bother to finish chewing while stuffing her mouth.
"I knew you'd like it" her... Well, sister, said with a bright smile "It used to be your favorite dish when we were young".
"Oh?!" Sam grumbled thought the cake, looking surprised at the girl.
"Aya!" Fei Hong sighed, knocking her lightly on the forehead with two fingers "Look how she eats! Just like a little kid!".
"Hey!" Sam looked with narrowed eyes at him, trying to control her impulse to just slap him on the head "That was not nice! And who are you calling kid, hein?! I'm older than I look!".
Qing Shan laughed at her younger siblings bickering with affection. It was good to finally be together with them once more. Even before the accident, Fei Hong had been away for months already.
"Oh, right, right... I forgot! Our old Ying Yue is already fifteen! Almost an ancient dame!" Fei Hong teased, sipping his tea with a humorous look.
Sam choked, spiting pieces of cake and tea all around her as one of the maids rushed to help petting her back.
"Yue'er!" Qing Shan cried "Are you alright?!".
The girl simply kept coughing, holding a hand up in sign that she'd need a minute.
"What... What did you say?" she finally yelped in a rough voice, her eyes watering a bit "I'm... I'm FIFTEEN?!".
Sam looked herself over, trying to make sense of what she was hearing. Of course, she knew Ying Yue could not be too old, but she had always thought it'd be an age closer to her own, maybe nineteen, twenty.
But... Fifteen, really?! It was like going back to those awkward years of her youth she was soooo glad to leave behind!
Qing Shan nodded slowly with her head, watching Sam closely for her reaction.
"We just celebrated your birthday."
"The day of the Summer Solstice".
Sam breathed deeply, feeling her throat burn because of the cough fit and taking her time to drink a bit of tea. 'Summer Solstice... When was it exactly?!".
Before she could say anything, a young guy with dark, washed clothes and half of his hair tied in a bum, walked towards them with a sober expression.
"San Xiaojie, Wu Xiaojie, Master" he he bowed respectfully.
"Ye Qi" Fei Hong asked, a worried look crossing his eyes "Is something wrong?".
The eidee bowed slightly once again, glancing warily at Sam and Qing Shan before answering.
"Master, the General is here".
Fei Hong's expression clouded instantly, his eyes hardening as he exchanged a meaningful look with Qing Shan before getting up.
"I'm afraid I have to go" he said apologetically "You girls just finish your breakfast.".
"Hum... What?!" Sam asked, unable to control her curiosity "Is something wrong".
Her brother's eyes averted just briefly on the direction of the servants before he forced a carefree smile.
"Nothing, it is probably just the monthly report... General mus also want to discuss my return to the barracks"
Sam frowned. She was about to insist when she cough Qing Shan's minimal nod in the contrary, in warning. Whatever it was, there would be another place and time to dig it up. 'Better drop it for now' she decided.
"Ok" she answered "I guess I'll see you, then".
"Of course!" and this time, the smile was genuine "I'm not living you alone again, kiddo".
Sam slapped his hand away when he tried to mess up her hair, which left her with a laughing Qing Shan and a frustrated smile.
When they had finally calmed down, Qing Shan asked for the tea to be replaced, looking completely calm and collected once again.
"You all may step down" she told the two other girls that were still serving them.
Sam accompanied them with her eyes, waiting until they were nowhere to be seen before turning once again to Qing Shan, her expression sober.
"What happened?" she asked, looking directly at her sister's eyes.
Instead of answering, she looked down at her cup, mixing the tea slowly with a thoughtful expression.
"Yue'er" she asked eventually, her dark eyes as sharp as a blade when she looked up "Do you remember anything about the Mu Tribes?".