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the cold read

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When Wanyin was four-years old, Wuxian once broke all 120 of his crayons by sitting down too hard on the box. The sound was so loud that it shocked four-year old Wuxian enough to fall out of his seat, bumping his head on the table in the process and scaring him into tears. When their parents came to check on them, Wanyin wasn’t able to explain the situation coherently enough and ended up getting scolded by his father for bullying his new brother.

From that moment on, he was convinced that Wuxian was his archnemesis and rival in life.

That isn’t to say that he doesn’t love his brother. Of course he does. He trusts Wuxian more than anyone else in the world. Wanyin would be willing to forge signatures for him. To go out at 2AM for mozzarella sticks just because he won’t stop talking about them and is too drunk to go himself. But after being shown up by Wuxian during spelling bees and geography bees and Chinese school and PSATs and the FitnessGram™ Pacer Test and essay competitions and swim times and—really just everything under the sun that wasn’t dance—Wanyin’s about fucking done with his brother.

He wants Wuxian to be happy. Definitely. But he’d also love it if Wuxian could be happy at a reasonable distance away (at least a good two states in the continental U.S.) and with a completely different circle of friends.

Not across from him in their university library when he’s trying to study for his philosophy midterm, babbling on and on and on about his new hot boyfriend.

 

.

 

Wanyin relays this entire conversation to Huaisang later in that same library, two floors down and three hours later.

“I don’t know why he thinks I care. I don’t want to know about how they made out in the basement of a frat house. It’s gross. And humid. And this one isn’t going to last for more than a week, anyway.”

“That’s cold,” Huaisang admonishes. He is bent over a set of papers, glancing down at one sheet before scribbling obediently down on another. Wanyin watches him and wonders why it is that Huaisang only ever looks so focused about schoolwork when he’s copying homework.

“It’s the truth,” Wanyin grunts. He feels a little bad anyway.

“Wuxian is just really excited. Honeymoon phase or whatever.” Huaisang frowns at something on Wanyin’s homework before lifting up the page. “I can’t tell—is this an a or an e?”

Wanyin glances at it. “A e. His name is Skinner, not Skinnar. Our midterm is next week. You really need to get it together.”

Huaisang waves in his general direction. He had been sweeter about it back in middle school when he first started copying Wanyin’s homework—back then he’d tried to look bashful and nervous and had actually asked for help in understanding the questions. But he’s grown jaded over the years. Now, Wanyin’s nagging falls on deaf ears. Wanyin would find it insulting if he had any energy left to care.

“Just let it pass. People are always like this in the beginning of relationships. Or Wuxian is, at least.”

It’s true. Wuxian always starts out in his relationships with enough energy to talk about his new mystery partner for three months straight. A few weeks later their name is hardly mentioned. A few more, and he drops casually in passing that they’d already broken up a while back. Just because Wanyin knows this doesn’t mean that it changes anything.

“I just wish he was more realistic about it.”

“About what?”

“I don’t know. Talking about relationships. Being in relationships. Like the ones that he knows won’t last.” Huaisang snorts. Wanyin is immediately incensed. “What?”

“I think you have to have dating experience before you can pass judgement on other people.”

Wanyin immediately reaches out and tugs at his homework. Huaisang squeaks and slaps down his hand on the page, looking up at Wanyin with wide and pitiable eyes.

“Give it back. I only let friends copy my homework.”

“We are friends!” Huaisang pleads. Wanyin tugs again and he swears that he sees Huaisang’s eyes tearing up. Damn him and his ability to cry on command. “I’m sorry, I know, I know I was wrong! Have mercy—”

Wanyin lets go, reluctantly, and watches Huaisang brighten and bend over the homework again. “It’s not like you have any dating experience either,” Wanyin grumbles.

Huaisang shrugs. He’s writing much quicker now, as if ready for Wanyin to change his mind and snatch his homework back at any moment. “It’s true. You see how we’re not qualified to have this conversation.”

“I just don’t get it. How can relationships change someone so much?”

“Don’t know. Go get in one and find out.”

‘You think I’d still be single if I had a say in it?’ Wanyin wants to say, but that sounds too pitiful. “No, you,” he says instead, which isn’t much better. But it does make him pause. “Why haven’t you dated anyone before?”

Huaisang’s pencil slips and he has to grab an eraser to erase a rogue mark on his paper. “I don’t know, I haven’t ever really thought about it,” he says, glancing up at Wanyin, a small crease between his brows. “Why this all of a sudden?”

“Nothing much, I just realized I’ve never heard you talking about liking anyone.”

Huaisang shrugs. “Not everyone’s that desperate for love.”

Wanyin wants to correct him—it’s not even that he’s desperate for love, it’s that he can’t stop thinking about it when it’s literally all Wuxian ever talks about these days. It’s only because Huaisang isn’t around Wuxian as often, what with Wuxian and Wanyin on the music conservatory campus and Huaisang in the arts and sciences college, that he doesn’t realize how taxing it is to have someone constantly remind you that you’re single.

And of course, there’s the competitive streak, too. He’s not sure that Wuxian sees it this way, but the feeling of being lost in the conversation as Wuxian indirectly brags about all of his conquests makes Wanyin want to scream. It takes him back to the many other times in their lives that Wuxian had casually one-upped him.

“I can let you know what it’ll feel like soon, though,” Huaisang continues, flipping his page over and starting on the back. “I’m casted as a love interest in one of the spring showcase plays this semester. I mean, it’s not the same, but it might be a little.”

Wanyin sighs. “It’s not the same at all,” he says. Plus, that would mean that he’s losing to Huaisang too, of all people. That might be too big of a hit for his ego.

Huaisang shrugs. “Suit yourself.” He continues writing in silence, Wanyin watching him morosely, until Huaisang finally stops and looks up, wide-eyed. He presses so hard on his pencil that the led snaps off. “Wait. Unless—”

The tone of his voice instantly brings Wanyin back to fourth grade, when Huaisang managed to come up with a simple and brilliant plan to make money. It had involved them folding together little paper pouches and airplanes and cutting up little green pieces of paper to mimic dollar bills. They started a trading scheme between the three of them, and the rest of the class quickly wanted in as well. Soon, the entire class was folding pouches and trading them to each other for fake money. A few real dollar bills were thrown into the mix too—and they took those as well. By the end of the month, they had enough for three celebratory ice creams from the lunch room before the teacher caught on and shut down their scheme. They had to pay the kids back—the ones they took actual money from—and apologize.

“Unless what?” Wanyin asks, noting that the glint in his eye is the same as the day he proposed the money scheme.

Huaisang leans forward, his cheeks just slightly red. “Unless…you want to help me practice for my role?” he asks, his voice so quiet that Wanyin has to lean in to hear him.

“What?”

“I mean.” He fidgets a little in his seat. “I mean, do you want to practice being in a relationship with me?”

Wanyin’s first reaction is that it’s a ridiculously stupid idea. What does that even mean, practice being in a relationship? Huaisang’s clearly been watching too many romcoms. Wanyin even has proof for this, because both of them mooch off of Yanli’s Netflix account and he can see Huaisang’s watch history. But the idea does sink in a little after a few moments.

It’s actually pretty clever. He could rub it in Wuxian’s face a little. A bit of revenge dating, for lack of a better phrase. He could subject Wuxian to uncomfortable amounts of PDA. He would know what some of the physical stuff feels like—nevermind the fact that he made it all the way to his junior year of college without kissing anyone. He could tally off some of the relationship benchmarks and use it as experience for when he’s in a real relationship. He feels comfortable enough with Huaisang. They’ve been together for years. Out of all of his options for fake dating, this wasn’t a bad choice—not that there’s anybody else offering.

Plus, he’d be helping a friend. And Wanyin is a generous soul, if nothing else.

“Okay,” he says.

Huaisang exhales, the pink on his cheeks getting just a shade darker.

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah, sure. Why not?”

Wanyin is feeling a little embarrassed, too, and both of them glance around conspiratorially to see if anyone caught their conversation. They lean in a little closer and lower their voices even more.

“What should we do, then?”

“I don’t really know…I didn’t think this far,” Huaisang says, picking at a corner of his notebook paper. “This is completely new to me.”

“What do you need to do for your role?”

“Um…just basic stuff, I think. H-Holding hands and kissing…” Huaisang buries his face in his hands, too embarrassed to continue.

“If we’re going to do this,” Wanyin says, trying and failing to sound severe, “You need to get used to talking about this kind of stuff.” Nevermind the fact that he’s also breaking out into a sweat under his collar. Huaisang takes a deep breath. When he opens his eyes, he looks a little more controlled. Wanyin is thankful for it because he feels like a nervous wreck inside.

“Okay. You’re right—”

The homework is pushed aside. Huaisang pulls out another sheet of paper and draws a few quick lines on it. “How about this?” he asks, as he starts labeling small boxes along the side. Wanyin cranes his head to look and sees ‘Day 1,’ ‘Day 2,’ ‘Day 3,’ and so on.

“Oh, I see,” he says. “Like a schedule. This way it’s paced so that it seems natural to other people.” Read: Wuxian. Huaisang nods.

“And so we can make sure we hit all of our goals. So you still get experience and I can still practice for my role.”

“That’s actually smart,” Wanyin says.

Huaisang beams. “Why, thank you.”

They decide to draw out the first two weeks. It starts slow. Huaisang mentions how they don’t have to start dating immediately, but rather can act out that pre-dating flirting phase. Week one reserved for spending time together—nothing too drastic, just talking and laughing and looking like they’re having a good time. Huaisang will come onto the music campus most days to have lunch with Wanyin, and they’ll spend their free time at Wanyin and Wuxian’s apartment. The whole point is that they need to emphasize they’re crushing.

“So we have to look at each other,” Huaisang says, waving his hands between them. “Like, when we think the other person’s not noticing.”

“You want me to stare?”

“Not in a creepy way. Just in like a—like an ‘aww, he’s so cute’ kind of way.”

This is not a look that Wanyin is accustomed to making. Huaisang has to give him a few demonstrations, staring off sweetly at the back of some other person’s head a few tables down, before Wanyin is even slightly convinced he can pull it off.

He tries it out.

“Okay, wait—stop, don’t look at people like that,” Huaisang says quickly as the person that Wanyin is staring at turns suddenly, catches his eye, and visibly shudders.

Wanyin is mortified. “I just did what you told me to do!”

“I didn’t say to do it in a Voldemort kind of way. You know what, just—smile once for me?” Wanyin is starting to reconsider this whole idea, but does it anyway. “Don’t look so constipated—think about holding this over Wuxian’s head when he finds out—okay. That works. Just do that instead.”

Week two is when they start implying that they’re exclusive. That means hand holding. One public kiss per day—preferably when Wuxian is watching—always slightly bashful, always something more innocent like hand or cheek or forehead peck.

“The honeymoon phase,” Huaisang elaborates. His hand was visibly shaking when he wrote the word ‘kiss,’ and Wanyin would tease him for it if he also wasn’t feeling increasingly embarrassed with every moment he looked down at the paper. They needed to guard it with their lives. He would never be able to live it down if Wuxian found this.

“When should we start this then?” He needs time to get mentally prepared.

“I don’t know...tomorrow?”

“What time tomorrow?”

They pull up their schedules to compare. Wanyin has Ballet III and Choreography I and is free after 3PM, but Huaisang has Acting and Directing II and Introduction to Fiction and Poetry II until 4:30. Plus he’s meeting with his improv group at night.

“Maybe tomorrow then?” Wanyin asks, scrolling through Huaisang’s calendar app while Huaisang flips through his planner. “Oh, we have philosophy on Friday.”

“Perfect, we can start there.” Huaisang beams and pushes Wanyin’s planner back to him. “But we should still just get dinner tomorrow. We can consider tomorrow as a...test run.”

Wanyin feels nervous just thinking about it. “Where do you feel like going?”

They go back and forth with places before giving up and deciding that they’ll just go wherever they feel tomorrow. He almost wants to comment that Huaisang only ever really craves the same three foods on repeat, but holds back. He isn’t that surprised, then, when he wakes up the next morning to see that Huaisang texted him, at 2AM, ‘CHICKEN FINGERS??’

 

.

 

Wanyin is surprised by how easy the first week goes. He doesn’t feel overly awkward about keeping an eye on Huaisang when they’re together, mostly because Huaisang is almost always doing something stupid or amusing enough to warrant a smile. If anything it’s almost a liberating feeling, this whole fake-dating thing. He’s not sure why, but it’s nowhere near as uncomfortable as he had thought it would be when Huaisang first proposed it.

It’s kind of nice, too, having Huaisang around more. They had only really seen each other two or so days of the week before (the days before homework was due for their philosophy class), but now they’re constantly either together or texting each other. He’s easy company during lunch, aside from the fact that he constantly picks at Wanyin’s food as if it’s his own. Wanyin only has to look away from his plate for a second to laugh at Wuxian tripping over someone’s backpack strap on the ground for all of the pickles in his sandwich to disappear.

“Excuse me?” he asks, raising an eyebrow at Huaisang.

Huaisang, despite his steady chewing, feigns shame and offers up one of his fries.

“Not a fair trade.”

Huaisang’s expression clears into one of indifference. “Not my problem, then,” he shrugs. Wanyin waits until he’s about to eat the fry before leaning forward and biting it out of his hand. “Hey.

“Aww, aren’t you two cute,” Wuxian teases, his voice garbled and incoherent as he speaks around the apple that’s in his mouth. He drops into the seat across from them and finishes his bite. “Did you finish the philosophy homework, by the way? Can I see it?”

Wanyin tries to act as natural as possible, fighting the urge to see how Huaisang’s reacting to Wuxian’s comment. He bites down on his sandwich and accidentally bites his own thumb. Huaisang doesn’t seem to notice or care, he’s too busy giving Wuxian the answers that he copied from Wanyin a few days ago.

Wanyin makes a note to never take a class with these two again. If they’re just going to plagiarize all his answers, he at least needs some appreciation.

 

.

 

He’s not sure how much attention Wuxian is paying to them. His first instinct is that he’s kind of offended. Beyond Wuxian throwing them glances in philosophy, watching as their heads lean a little closer together than normal and as Huaisang doodles on the margins of Wanyin’s notes, he doesn’t do much.

“Do you guys wanna go get lunch?” Wuxian asks as their professors dismiss them and students start filing out. He’s already packed—has already been packed for the last ten minutes—and stands up, watching as Wanyin and Huaisang shove their laptops and notebooks back into their bags.

“You guys can go ahead, I have to meet with someone about a project,” Huaisang says.

“Will you have time to eat?” Wanyin asks, frowning. Huaisang has another class in an hour after this, and that one goes on for over two hours. “Do you want me to bring you something?”

“No, it’s okay. I’ll just grab a sandwich or something from 7/11.”

“Are you sure? It’s really no problem at all. I can come find you.”

Huaisang looks up and smiles. “Positive. Thank you, though.”

“Okay,” Wanyin says, even though he’s pretty sure that he’ll be getting a sad text from Huaisang in about an hour talking about how their meeting ran late and he wasn’t able to grab something to eat. He leans forward to give Huaisang a quick peck on the cheek—unfortunately Huaisang decides to turn at that exact moment, and their lips meet.

Wanyin jerks back violently, nearly bowling over Wuxian who had been texting someone on his phone. “Hey, careful!” Wuxian says, surprised. “What are you doing? Aren’t you supposed to have a good sense of balance, being a dancer and all?”

“Sorry,” Wanyin mumbles, more to Huaisang than to Wuxian. Huaisang’s neck is slightly pink, but he laughs it off.

“Have fun at lunch,” he says.

 

.

 

“Okay, week three. We need to step it up—one kiss per person, per day. How does that sound to you?”

Wanyin is running his fingers along the back of Huaisang’s neck as Huaisang draws up the next week’s schedules on a notebook. They’re leaning against each other on Wanyin’s couch, which is daring because Wuxian is supposed to be coming back at any moment. Their cover story is that he’s helping Huaisang draft lines for a play that he’s writing. Which, in a very twisted way, is true.

He plays with the hair that curls around Huaisang’s ear. It’s interesting that he hasn’t seen Huaisang in his natural hair color for years now—he’d started dying it during high school, Wanyin realizes. It’s honey brown now, permed just enough for a constantly bedridden look; before this it had been a reddish-bronze, and before that a platinum blonde. It was around the time he started doing some light commercial work. Wanyin wonders if he could still dig up some old photographs of back when Huaisang’s hair was as dark as his. Though it had never quite been—even then, his was always slightly browner, especially in the sun.

“Hey,” Huaisang says. It’s the only warning that Wanyin gets before he feels a light tap from Huaisang’s pen on his nose. It makes him blink. “Dozing off?”

“What? Oh, no. Did you say something?”

“I asked if it was fine,” Huaisang continues, “If we bump it up to two kisses for next week.”

“Two kisses? Per person?”

“Well, I was thinking just one from each of us, but we can do per person too. If that doesn’t feel too much for you,” he adds quickly at the end.

“That’s fine. I’m already used to it.”

“Okay,” Huaisang says. He scribbles ‘4 kisses per day’ into boxes. Wanyin’s attention is back to his hair—he curls a strand around his finger and squints at it. Of course he doesn’t have split ends. Really, how does he do it?

He must have accidentally pulled too hard, because Huaisang raises a hand to swat at him.

“I don’t remember what you look like with black hair anymore,” Wanyin says in explanation. That makes Huaisang frown. His eyes drift up to the ceiling in thought.

“Huh. True. How long has it been since I started coloring it?”

“Since high school. I think since that cereal commercial.”

Huaisang shudders at the memory, which Wanyin thinks is a little strange. He had been good in it. Really convincing. Wanyin had personally gone out to buy two boxes after seeing it.

“Let’s not talk about my knock-off cereal days,” Huaisang mutters.

“Do you think I should dye my hair?”

“Hmm.” Huaisang places the notebook onto the coffee table and turns, throwing his legs over Wanyin’s to scoot closer. He reaches up and Wanyin lowers his head, letting Huaisang examine his hair. “Why the sudden interest?”

“Don’t know, was just wondering what you thought.”

Huaisang rubs a few strands against his thumbs before running his fingers back. It feels surprisingly nice. Wanyin sighs and leans into his touch. He should ask Huaisang to do this more frequently. It’s very calming.

“I like your hair as it is.” Huaisang pulls his hair back from his brow with a palm, and Wanyin looks up to see him smiling. “It’s really bouncy today.”

“That’s just Wuxian’s mousse.”

“Still, it’s nice.” Huaisang ruffles his hair quickly, laughing when it falls out of place and into Wanyin’s eyes. “I like the length, too. You always used to keep it shorter when we were little.”

Wanyin tries not to think about his buzzcut phase with Wuxian from middle school. The only thing worse than the buzzcut phase was the shoulder-length phase that happened immediately after. He’s pretty sure that’s why both of them keep their hair at manageable lengths now.

“I’ll leave it then,” Wanyin says, catching Huaisang’s hands before he has the chance to mess up his hair again.

They keep getting distracted during the list. By the end of the night, however, they manage to have their week three plan ready. Four kisses and hand holding, every day, for the next seven days. They’ll plan for week four next Sunday.

 

.

 

The most ironic thing about this whole fake dating thing is how Wanyin doesn’t mind the decreasing sense of personal space between them. Wuxian had always made fun of his extreme need for personal space before, saying that it made no sense considering how close he needed to hold his dance partners throughout the years. Wanyin doesn’t really know why that’s the case either—he doesn’t mind lifting partners, but dance isn’t exactly the same as Wuxian shoving his feet into Wanyin’s face.

Maybe it’s because Huaisang is never obnoxious with his touches. Hugs are quite comfortable given their height difference, and Wanyin’s grown to appreciate his little sighs when he settles against Wanyin’s collarbone. He’s never felt that Huaisang was too close or clinging too frequently (even though he does, quite literally, cling off of him at times). Oftentimes, Wanyin doesn’t even realize they’re holding hands until he feels his thumb working against the back of Huaisang’s hand. And even then, it feels very easy and natural for Huaisang to play with his hands as he talked or thought or procrastinated, as he does one day near the end of their third week.

Huaisang’s lips are pulled into a frown that Wanyin finds quite funny. “What do you mean Wuxian hasn’t said much about us?”

“I don’t know. He just hasn’t really brought it up except to ask me about it once. Maybe he doesn’t really believe we’re dating.” Wanyin reaches for his tea latte with his free hand and takes a sip. It’s already slightly lukewarm. They would probably be leaving soon, considering Huaisang had already finished his tea a while back.

“Huh.” Huaisang’s fingers trace down the lines in Wanyin’s other palm. It tickles a fair amount, but Wanyin fights the urge to pull away. “I’m kind of insulted. I mean, even though we technically aren’t dating.”

“Yeah.”

“Does he not even care enough to tease us? We’re literally his best friends. You think he’d have an opinion.”

Wanyin shrugs. “Maybe he’s busy.” Both of them know that’s bullshit. They’ve never seen Wuxian busy enough to not find time to give someone shit.

“I guess it’s fine even if he doesn’t get jealous. We still benefit.”

“True. He would have been really annoying about it, too.” Wanyin finishes his latte and reconsiders. “More annoying than usual.”

Huaisang grins. He closes and opens Wanyin’s fingers individually before lacing their fingers together. “At least you got to hold someone’s hand out of this.”

“I’ve held hands with someone before you,” Wanyin says.

“Your mom doesn’t count.”

“I’ve held hands with Wuxian.”

“Holding hands just to slap the hell out of each other doesn’t count.”

Ah, those old days of playing hand tennis with Wuxian back in middle school. They were always both too proud and obnoxious to tap out, so games would stretch on for ages. They always ended with a huge crowd gathered around and both of them screaming at each other to give in. Wanyin can still remember the deep shade of red their hands were in at the end of each round. What fond memories.

Wanyin spreads out Huaisang’s fingers to take a closer look. His nails are kept neat, palms un-calloused and smooth. His fingers are shorter than Wanyin’s, but they still fit together surprisingly well.

“Your hands are pretty average,” he says.

“What?!”

“They’re always too cold.”

It’s true. Even now, after sitting inside a cafe for an hour and watching the snow outside, Huaisang’s fingers are still frigid. Wanyin takes Huaisang’s hands and tucks them against his own neck. It’s like an ice clamp.

He notices Huaisang’s thumbs creeping towards his mouth. “Hey,” he says, in warning.

Huaisang ignores him—he yanks, hard, at his cheeks.

 

.

 

“Your skin is so smooth,” Wanyin comments one day, after he plants a quick peck on Huaisang’s cheek. He runs a finger along Huaisang’s jawline, surprised by how he’s never noticed how flawless he looked up close. Huaisang beams at him.

“I have to keep it like this for filming. Want to see how?”

That’s how Wanyin finds himself in Huaisang’s apartment that night, standing in front of the bathroom mirror with him while Huaisang shoves various bottles into his hands and rambles on about their multiple purposes and uses. It’s all very complicated. There are too many rules. Before Wanyin knows it, he’s agreed to sit in on Huaisang’s nightly skincare routine—which involves more forms of cleansing and moisturizing than he knew existed.

“Here—do this with me—”

Wanyin looks at the little packet that Huaisang handed him. He’s known about facemasks, of course—Yanli and Wuxian both talked about them, but he never really thought about putting one on himself. It always seemed like too much effort in the past, but Huaisang looks so excited now that he doesn’t have the heart to say no.

Wanyin glances at Huaisang, who’s already torn open his pack and looks to be extracting the mask from the inside. He follows suit, but cringes the moment his fingers touch slime.

“Huaisang, it’s—” He sniffs the air, confused, before bringing the mask to his nose and inhaling deeply. The smell is bizarre. “This smells like alcohol. The packet—” He turns it around to look at it. There’s a picture of honey on the front. He smells it again, more suspiciously this time. The picture is lying. “I think it’s gone bad.”

“Stop complaining,” Huaisang laughs. “Let me smell—no, it’s fine. Just take it out.” He’s in the middle of unfolding his mask now. It looks like some round face torn off of a marshmallow person, eyelids and all.

Wanyin obeys, albeit reluctantly. It takes him ages to unfold his own skinned marshmallow face. “And then I just—?”

He turns to look at Huaisang, in the middle of his question, and snorts out loud when he sees Huaisang turn with what could only be described as a very wrinkled and very off-putting second layer of skin plastered onto his face.

“What?” Huaisang asks. He barely moves his mouth when he speaks from fear of jostling the mask, wide eyes rimmed by alien slime, and it’s unexpectedly one of the funniest and stupidest things Wanyin’s seen in quite some time.

He tries to calm down, but with Huaisang’s lips twitching up into a smile now it’s more difficult. “Do I just put it directly on?”

“Yeah,” Huaisang says, again his mouth moving in weird, pinched, bird-like movements. Wanyin snickers until Huaisang shoves him on the arm. “Get it together.”

Wanyin tries. But when he haphazardly sticks his mask onto his own face and sees Huaisang double over laughing—he checks the mirror and actually loses it.

Why did you put it on upside down?”

“I didn’t realize it—”

“You’re so hopeless—”

It takes them a few minutes before they calm down enough for Huaisang to help him peel it off of his face and realign it so that he could actually see out of the two eyeholes instead of the one mouth opening.

“Look at that, one thing I’m actually better at,” Huaisang says, pressing his fingertips to the edge of Wanyin’s mask to make sure it all sticks flat to his jawline. He looks endearingly focused.

“There are a few things you’re better at,” Wanyin says. His face is very cold and stings a little from the slime, but the mask doesn’t feel so weird now. He’s even getting used to the smell. “Copying homework.” Huaisang pouts and sits down on the bathmat, against the bathtub. Wanyin sits next to him. “Crying on command.”

“It’s true,” Huaisang says.

“Making weird dating schedule things.”

Huaisang laughs and then brightens. “Before I forget—today’s fourth kiss—” He makes a small kissing noise in the air in Wanyin’s general direction and looks very pleased with himself. Wanyin’s heart hurts.

“That doesn’t count,” he says, nervous enough to not find the situation funny anymore.

Huaisang glances at him. Wanyin can’t read his expression, holding his breath until Huaisang says, “Well, go on then.”

 

.

 

Wuxian looks about ready to prostrate himself on the floor.

“Please,” he says, “If you’ve ever felt any love for me in this world.”

Wanyin isn’t fazed, especially not after putting up with twenty years of this bullshit. “Absolutely not.”

“I’ll clean up everything!”

“That’s what you said last time, too!”

Huaisang watches them curiously from where he’s typing on his computer, glancing from one to the other. Wanyin locks eyes with him and shakes his head. Wuxian grabs at Wanyin’s arms and is shaken off heartlessly.

“This time I’m serious. I’ll vacuum. I’ll even wipe down the floors. I’ll pay for any damages.”

“Your friends are the worst drunk people I’ve ever met in my entire life,” Wanyin says, doing his best to channel their mom’s energy. She was the only one that Wuxian was ever afraid of. “You will not be throwing another rager in our apartment.”

“Another?” Huaisang finally pipes up. He was always shit at holding silences. “Hold on, another? Was I not invited to the last one?”

“It was the night of your premiere, remember? That one weird museum short you were in for that one dude who only ever wore that orange hoodie?”

Huaisang crosses his arms. “That premiere ended at ten. There’s no way your party ended then.”

“It’s fine, he didn’t even let me go to that one,” Wanyin says, throwing another glare at his stupid brother. Wuxian winces.

“Is that the problem? That I didn’t invite you? I’ll invite you this time.”

“I better fucking hope so, I live here,” Wanyin says.

“Is it because we’re not cool enough for him?” Huaisang asks aloud.

“Clearly not. It’s because we can’t tell the difference between progressive and tropical house.”

“That’s cold, Wuxian.”

“That’s not why!”

“Do the past two decades mean nothing to him?”

“Apparently not.”

“Stop it!” Wuxian yells, his finger alternating between Huaisang’s innocent face and Wanyin’s indifferent one. “You two don’t get the right to gang up on me just because you’re fucking each other!”

Wanyin blanches as Huaisang chokes on his spit, both of them effectively taken out with one sentence. In the end neither of them recover in time to stop Wuxian, and before they know it, they’re plastered against the wall of the living room on Saturday night, wondering at how the hell Wuxian managed to pack in all of these drunk college students in one place.

“He’s always been good at this,” Wanyin grumbles, watching colored lights dance across the ceiling. They had spent the afternoon pushing furniture out of the way to create space to dance in the middle of the room and running down to the liquor store with their fake IDs for this stupid party. The apartment was practically unrecognizable now—all of the lights were off except for the strobe, and the bass was boosted so loud that Wanyin could literally feel it shaking his bones. The potted tree that their dad had given them over winter break is now in the bathtub, along with all of their gaming systems and their TV. Wanyin didn’t even want to think about what would happen if a drunk idiot suddenly decided they wanted to take a shower.

A stranger comes up and puts a hand on his shoulder. “Dude, is this your place? I think someone just threw up in your sink.”

“Great,” Wanyin grimaces. Wuxian will love that tomorrow.

He feels a weight on his shoulder and turns. Huaisang is leaning against him, two bottles dangling from his right hand. The casted lights make him look absolutely ethereal.

“Open up,” he says, distributing the bottles between his hands and raising one to Wanyin’s lips.

“What is it?” he asks.

“Tanqueray.”

He tilts his head back, letting Huaisang waterfall gin into his mouth until he taps his wrist for him to stop. Huaisang follows suit—he only lasts a second before stopping to cough and grimace.

“I seriously don’t understand how you can drink this. It’s poison. Only evil people like gin.”

“Thank you,” Wanyin says. He notes that both of the bottles are near full and laughs. It’s definitely a mild form of revenge from Huaisang—taking whole, unopened bottles from the drinks table because Wuxian said that he’d pay for all the alcohol. Huaisang grins.

They try to make their way to Wanyin’s room, but the apartment is so packed that they have to shove people out of the way to clear a path. Huaisang takes the lead, pulling Wanyin though tiny gaps between bodies. They see Wuxian, who is laughing with a few of his friends, and even Wanyin is forced to admit that his brother cleans up well. Wuxian winks at him as he walks by.

They have to practically shove a kissing couple off of Wanyin’s door before they make it into his room. Thankfully, all of Wuxian’s friends seemed to have enough manners to not barge into the bedrooms. Once the door closes, the music quiets enough for Wanyin to realize that his ears are ringing.

“I thought I would suffocate out there,” Wanyin mutters, locking the door so that no one would make their way in.

Huaisang laughs and jumps into Wanyin’s bed, scooting until he’s back against the wall and taking a swig from the other bottle of peach Ciroc. The streetlamp posted right outside Wanyin’s bedroom window casts white and gray over Huaisang’s face, catching on his sweat and highlighting the strands of hair stuck to his brow, the bob of his Adam’s apple as he leans his head back and sighs. Wanyin swallows and scoots up next to him, not sure if it’s the buzz that’s just getting to him.

“We lasted pretty long, actually. Two hours with Wuxian’s EDM friends? Not too bad,” Huaisang says, turning to grin at him again.

“Some guy literally just came to tell me that someone threw up in the sink.”

“Oh, Wuxian’s going to love that in the morning.”

Exactly. “Serves him right.”

Huaisang raises the bottle for him again and this time some of it dribbles down his chin. The gin has lost its burn and settles, warm, in his stomach. Huaisang places the bottle on the nightstand and laps up the streams of gin from his neck to his mouth, hovering over Wanyin’s lips for a breath before nuzzling their noses together.

“Don’t tease me.”

“I wouldn’t,” Huaisang says, pulling back enough for Wanyin to watch him run his tongue along his bottom lip before grinning.

Is it the alcohol that’s making them so bold? Maybe. The little voice at the back of Wanyin’s head, the one reminding him that they’re not actually dating so he should probably keep himself in check, isn’t quite loud enough. There’s another one that’s telling him that they should probably wait until they’re completely sober to do this, but he ignores that one too. Wanyin takes and sets aside the other bottle before pulling Huaisang onto his lap. He can tell that Huaisang’s flushed red, even in the half-light.

“You’ve already used up all of your kisses for today,” Huaisang warns. “Do you want a hug instead?”

Wanyin nuzzles into his neck and inhales deep. “Nope.”

Huaisang’s hands find their way into his hair. “Then I can’t help you,” he says. Wanyin ignores him and licks at his pulse, once, before kissing the same spot. Huaisang shudders.

“Those only apply to kissing you on the mouth,” Wanyin says. “I’m just returning the favor, really.”

He leans in to suck, hard, at Huaisang’s neck. Huaisang sighs and rolls his head back, hands gripping harder into Wanyin’s hair.

“Not fair.”

He switches targets, kisses his way up to the soft skin just behind Huaisang’s ear. When he bites down this time, Huaisang actually whines. The sound nearly stops Wanyin’s heart. He sucks, harder, relishing the way that Huaisang arches into him and lets go of his hair to cling to his shoulders.

“Wanyin—”

He leans back to see Huaisang’s gaze on his lips, mouth parted and eyes glazed over. Huaisang leans forward, but Wanyin nudges him to the side with his nose to press a series of kisses into the corner of his mouth. Huaisang groans in frustration and tries again, but Wanyin grabs his hair, pulling and exposing his neck enough for another light kiss at the underside of his chin. Yup, definitely the alcohol.

“I’ve already used up my kisses, remember?”

Huaisang glances at him, his pupils blown wide. “I don’t think you want to play this game with me,” he says.

“What game? Aren’t these just the terms we agreed to?”

“Are you sure?”

“No idea what you’re talking about.”

Huaisang smiles. “Suit yourself,” he says, leaning forward until their noses are pressed together. “Just remember that I don’t tend to play fair.”

It’s the only warning that Wanyin has before Huaisang grinds down into his lap and Wanyin’s head literally thuds against the wall. Barely a second passes before Huaisang grinds against him again, slower this time, his tongue licking at the inside of his bottom lip as he gasps, their mouths milimeters away.

“Wanyin,” he whispers, the sound sending goosebumps down his neck.

Okay, Wanyin reasons, maybe he is in over his head.

Huaisang continues grinding against him, so slow that he could cry, and it takes all of Wanyin’s remaining willpower not to give in and respond. His fingers are gripping down on Huaisang’s hips so hard that he’s pretty sure it’s causing him pain, but Huaisang doesn’t seem to even mind—his head had fallen onto Wanyin’s shoulder, and now with every movement Huaisang is moaning softly against his ear, the sensation of his breath against Wanyin’s neck pure torture. Wanyin is pretty sure that his brain is short-circuiting.

Suddenly, both of them jump at the sound of loud banging at the door.

“Hello? Is somebody in here?” they hear someone yell, drunkenly, from just outside.

They exchange glances. Huaisang raises a finger to his lips, as if anyone could possibly hear them with the booming music outside, and presses his hips down even harder. Wanyin groans. He gives in now, grinding upwards to meet Huaisang halfway, and Huaisang grabs onto his shoulders with a new fervor.

The knocking again, except even louder this time.

“Oh my god,” Huaisang sighs. He gets up, and Wanyin entertains the thought of murdering whoever’s outside the door—worse is when Huaisang opens it and they find out that Wuxian’s friend was just confused about which room was the bathroom.

He closes the door and turns around to lock eyes with Wanyin—it’s all he needs to give in.

He surges up from the bed to pin Huaisang against the door with his body, kissing him hard and messy and with all of the frustration that had been building when he was being teased. Huaisang finally gives in as well, practically clawing at Wanyin’s shoulders to bring him in closer, moaning into his mouth and around his tongue, rising to his toes. Before he realizes what he’s doing, Wanyin grabs his thighs and hoists him up, carrying him over to his desk. Huaisang blindly reaches behind him to swipe the papers and books off onto the floor with one hand, leaning forward again after Wanyin sets him down to loop his arms back around his neck.

It’s hard to breathe—he’d much rather spend any moment tasting Huaisang than taking in oxygen, and the ferocity that Huaisang kisses him back with is enough to make his mind go blissfully blank. But Huaisang pulls back all of a sudden—Wanyin realizes that he’s unconsciously slid his hand up under Huaisang’s shirt, and he quickly pulls it out.

Huaisang’s expression is muddled. He’s still breathing heavily, but there’s a crease between his brow and some distress in his eyes.

It takes a few beats for Wanyin to catch his breath, for him to realize where things were going. “I’m really sorry,” he says.

Huaisang massages his forehead. “No, it’s okay, I—” When he tilts his head back, Wanyin can see the beginnings of very obvious hickeys on his neck. “I liked it, I don’t know, I just don’t think we should be doing this when we’re tipsy.”

“Yeah, I agree.”

“You do?”

“Yeah,” Wanyin says. He looks around, wishing he had some water in his room. He can hear someone retching in the living room and prays that they aren’t near the carpet. “No, it’s not—we don’t have to be high school about it.”

“We don’t,” Huaisang agrees. He takes Wanyin’s hand—Wanyin shocked by how his hand is somehow still freezing, even when he’s tipsy—and hops off of the desk, looking a little embarrassed. “Are you…okay though?” he asks.

“I’ll be fine after a few minutes.”

They wait out the rest of the party in Wanyin’s room. Despite the direction earlier in the night and the stickiness in his underwear, it doesn’t feel very awkward. They cozy up under his covers and pull up horror movies on Netflix, and everything quickly feels normal again. Huaisang falls asleep on Wanyin’s shoulder within the first thirty minutes, leaving Wanyin to attempt and fail to stay still despite the many sudden jumpscares on the screen. They both end up falling asleep with the movie still going, the incredibly loud music in the living room giving a heartbeat to the walls.

 

.

 

Wanyin wakes up early one morning, a number of days later. He spends some time watching Huaisang sleep, noticing the slow rise and fall of his breath, his occasional little snores. He’s realized recently that the smell of Huaisang’s exhales are quite nice, which was something he didn’t even think was possible. He leans forward to press their noses together.

Wanyin wonders how Huaisang feels about this whole fake dating thing. He’s too nervous to bring it up now, he wouldn’t even know where to start. And it seems like Huaisang doesn’t feel the urge to discuss it either. They’ve long stopped keeping track of the weeks. How long has it been now? Almost two months? Maybe even more? The air is already starting to warm with spring. Maybe they should have kept track more carefully—somewhere along the line it’s lost its lightheartedness. Maybe they’re both hoping that whatever they have will just take care of itself.

He’s recently started wondering what Huaisang thinks about their arrangement. Wanyin doesn’t exactly want to call it off, but something about it feels strange these days.

He’s not an idiot. He’s known Huaisang all his life, so it’s a given that he also knows about the way that Huaisang watches rooms, his smile and the tilt of his head and even the slightest lean of his body to convey interest or hesitation. It’s a strange charisma that he has over other people, subtle enough in his actions that most others don’t even realize they’re being coerced. Wanyin is pretty sure that only he and Wuxian are on the lookout for these moments from Huaisang due to how long they’ve known him, and even then they don’t do much about it. Huaisang has already proven, time and time again, that he only really does it because he wants something and is just too lazy and spoiled to ask for it directly.

So he knows Huaisang isn’t malicious, but Wanyin still hesitates around him. He always has, even when they were younger. He’s better with people like Wuxian—who wears his heart on his sleeve and, just in case, would loudly and unsolicitedly announce his thoughts and feelings to anyone within a certain radius. The hesitation was never really a feeling that Wanyin had to pay much attention to before, but it’s harder to get out of his head now.

He reaches out and brushes Huaisang’s hair aside. Huaisang stirs.

“I don’t want to go to class today,” he mumbles. He tilts his head up for a kiss, and Wanyin obliges.

“It’s Sunday, you don’t have to.”

“Good.” He snuggles closer and Wanyin folds him into his arms. “Wake me up when the chicken fingers get here.”

“Okay.”

Wanyin strokes his hair and, while wondering if he should order chicken fingers for when Huaisang wakes up, falls asleep again.

 

.

 

“There’s one thing that I forgot to add onto the list that we still need to practice,” Huaisang says one night, when they’re huddled under a blanket on the couch, watching a random stupid action movie playing on FX. Wanyin is picking stems off of the bowl of grapes in his hands, eating some and feeding the majority to Huaisang. He’s barely paying attention to the movie, it’s so shit.

“What’s that?”

Huaisang shifts a little under their blanket and Wanyin turns to watch him. Huaisang is flushed a light shade of pink, his expression surprising.

“I love you,” he says, so quiet that Wanyin almost doesn’t catch it.

“I love you, too,” Wanyin responds, almost reflexively.

They stare at each other in silence for a few beats. Wanyin isn’t sure if it’s because the lights are off, the only light coming from the random bursts of gunfire and explosions on the TV, but something in Huaisang’s face looks off.

“Well, I suppose we’ve done it,” Huaisang finally says, sounding offhandish as he breaks his gaze and settles back against Wanyin’s side.

Wanyin offers him another grape, but Huaisang shakes his head.

“It didn’t feel as big of a deal as I thought it would. I guess they are just words, after all.”

“Yeah,” Huaisang whispers.

 

.

 

Wanyin looks closer at the poster. A numbness spreads from his chest into his limbs as he checks it twice, thrice.

The numbness flares into fury. He fucking knew it.

He rips the poster off the wall.

 

.

 

Huaisang and Wuxian are sitting at the usual table in the library, both of them splitting a set of earbuds and grinning at something on Wuxian’s laptop. Their expressions change at the same time—Wuxian snickers as Huaisang bursts into laughter. The sight makes Wanyin even angrier.

When he gets close, Huaisang’s head snaps up. The smile that was on his face quickly disappears. He stands up. “What happ—?” He sees the flyer in Wanyin’s hands and freezes, his face instantly going blank. Just that makes Wanyin angrier.

He throws down the flyer onto the table. “We’re fucking done.”

“What is this?” Wuxian asks, as he reaches out to read the flyer. His voice sounds so distant to Wanyin, even though he’s right there. “Cast lineups for the plays for the semester? Why are you so mad?”

He doesn’t pay any attention to Wuxian. His eyes are fixed on Huaisang, waiting for him to react. He wishes Huaisang would react—would drop the guarded expression because Wanyin knows he has things to say—explanations that Wanyin needs to hear. He deserves at least this much after being lied to and dragged along like a dumbass for these two months. But Huaisang doesn’t say anything, and Wanyin doesn’t know how to make him talk.

“Fuck you, honestly,” he spits. “You cowardly piece of shit.”

“Whoa, hold on.” Wuxian stands up and quickly maneuvers himself between them, eyes wide and confused. “Wanyin, what happened?”

The sight of him defending Huaisang just incenses him even more. “Get out of the way, this has nothing to do with you.”

“Um, okay—I will, if you just—”

“Get the fuck out of the way.”

Huaisang finally reacts—he closes his eyes and takes a forced breath. If Wanyin had been more calm, maybe he would have noticed the way that Huaisang’s fingertips were shaking against the tabletop.

“We’re in public,” he says.

“I don’t give a shit.”

“I’ll talk. But not here.”

“I don’t give a shit!” Wanyin repeats, seeing red. Just hearing Huaisang’s voice is making the anger in his heart shift into something heavier. He recognizes the feeling and absolutely doesn’t want to cry in the middle of this stupid library. Maybe Huaisang is right—but even that thought is enough to make him more upset.

Huaisang glances off to the side. Wanyin follows his gaze. It’s an unused study room.

Fine then. Wanyin stomps in and hears Huaisang asking Wuxian to look after his stuff. He crosses his arms and waits for Huaisang to step into the room and close the door behind him.

“Talk,” he demands. “Did you have fun laughing at me behind my back all these weeks?”

Now that they’re alone, Huaisang looks considerably more upset. The shaking in his hands is obvious enough that even Wanyin notices it now. “Why would I laugh?”

“What, you want me to believe that you just lied about wanting to date me for some stupid, fake play for shits and giggles?”

“I never said that.”

“Oh, so there is a reason? What the hell is it?” Huaisang doesn’t talk. A terrible thought crosses Wanyin’s mind. He grits his teeth. “Did Wuxian put you up to this?”

Huaisang laughs once, an ugly sound, and folds in on himself. He covers his face with his hands. “Oh my god.”

Wanyin can’t believe it. He drops into a chair.

“See? Everything makes sense now,” he says, bitterly.

Huaisang shudders and uncovers his face. His breathing is extremely ragged and Wanyin is shocked when he sees tears.

“No—you absolute idiot—Wuxian doesn’t know anything.”

“Bullshit—”

“This may come as a surprise to you, but the world doesn’t revolve around him.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means you’re a stupid, blind, self-centered asshole!”

He’s never seen Huaisang so out of control before. Wanyin isn’t even sure if it’s anger that he feels anymore—his head tells him to calm down because something about Huaisang looks so off, but his instincts tell him to react.

“You don’t have any right to call me that,” he hisses. “Why are you crying?”

Huaisang starts laughing again. He slumps against the wall. “This wasn’t going to work, I should have known.”

“Maybe if you stopped laughing at me for a second—”

“I’m not laughing at you!”

“Then stop fucking laughing!”

“Why? It’s so funny.” Huaisang calms down with another slow breath and looks to the side. He sniffs and rubs away his tears. “Fine. I don’t know what you want to hear from me anymore. Yes, I lied to you. I’m not casted in any plays this season. I don’t have to play a love interest, I had nothing to practice for. It was wrong of me to lie and I’m sorry. But Wuxian isn’t the one that told me to do it.”

“Then I don’t get it.”

“No, you don’t, do you?” Huaisang sighs. He slides down the wall to sit on the floor, hugging his knees to his chest. “What a waste of time,” he mutters to himself.

“Why did you do it?” The anger is seeping away, leaving his head in a mess and his chest feeling burnt and twisted into a lump. Wanyin can tell that he’s sounds like he’s begging, but he doesn’t know what else to do.

“I don’t know if you want to know.”

“That’s bullshit.”

“It’s really not.”

“Stop playing games.”

“Fine.” Huaisang turns his face to the side, pressing his cheek into his knees. “I did it because I wanted a chance.”

Wanyin is lost again. “What?”

“Talking to you is like talking to a wall sometimes.” Just as Wanyin is about to get indignant, Huaisang continues, “I wanted a chance to be with you.”

Wanyin doesn’t want to admit to Huaisang that he doesn’t get it, especially after being compared to a wall—but he doesn’t get it.

The silence stretches.

“Can you just react, please?”

“I don’t know what you want me to say,” Wanyin says. It’s the truth. He’s not entirely sure what Huaisang is getting at, especially now that it’s clear Wuxian didn’t have a hand in this torture. And what an enigmatic response. What’s he supposed to do with ‘I wanted a chance to be with you’? Does that mean Huaisang just wanted to get dating experience too? Did he just want to spend more time together?

But there were so many other ways he could have conveyed that. Ways that didn’t involve the two of them going as far as pretending to be in a relationship for months.

Huaisang watches him carefully before sighing. “Fine then, I’m leaving,” he says, as he starts getting up. “Don’t worry, I’ll get rid of the schedules and everything so no one ever finds out. You can make up whatever story you want about how we broke up. I’ll go with it.”

His words bring a dash of fear into Wanyin’s heart. The way Huaisang says it makes him step forward. “Wait. You’re still upset.”

“What do you think?”

What does he think? He’s confused about how this conversation about him confronting Huaisang about lies (which he’s fairly sure is a justifiable thing) is somehow ending with him feeling like he’s done something very wrong.

“I just don’t...get what’s going on. There’s something you’re not telling me.” He remembers Huaisang’s other point. “And why are you talking like we’re never going to see each other again? We don’t have to stop. It’s not like anything’s changed. We’re still friends.”

Huaisang freezes. To Wanyin’s surprise, another tear streaks down his cheek. “Honestly,” Huaisang says, his voice cracking. “Fuck you.”

He turns and, before Wanyin can stop him, is out of the room.

 

.

 

Huaisang is impossible to contact for the next few days. Wanyin tries texting him a few times and gets nothing in response. He doesn’t go to either of their philosophy lectures that week and is nowhere to be seen on the music campus. Wanyin wants to go find him on the main campus, but he doesn’t want to be creepy about it. At the same time, he can’t just let it be.

Their last conversation went so poorly that he’s pretty sure it’s somehow his fault. Not to brag or anything, but Wanyin has historically been responsible for a fair number of ruined conversations.

Also, it’s just too quiet without Huaisang around. It feels like there’s a hole being burned into his heart. It makes him lose sleep.

He ends up telling Wuxian everything one night in their apartment, when Wuxian brings him home a pint of Halo Top because he was ‘looking like Kate Winslet from Titanic after DiCaprio drowns.’ Wuxian listens earnestly and empathetically in the beginning as Wanyin starts spilling the very long-winded story, but as the story goes on Wuxian starts to lean his forehead into his fingertips and stare at him incredulously. By the time Wanyin finishes recounting everything, Wuxian looks ready to start tearing out his hair.

“What the hell were you thinking?” is what Wuxian opens with.

“Look, if you had to live with you, listening to you talk about all the random people you’re sleeping with all the time—”

“No,” Wuxian cuts in. “I mean, what the hell are you doing with Huaisang? Did you even say sorry?”

Wanyin stares at him blankly, his spoon frozen over his ice cream. Wuxian groans.

“Oh my god. You take advantage of his feelings and use him for revenge against me—which, by the way, isn’t a real thing and didn’t even work, I just thought you two were fucking adorable—and you don’t even have the decency to apologize? And you finish off with—what was it—‘but don’t stop fucking me because I’m having fun’? I mean, yeah he shouldn’t have lied to you either, that’s dumb, but sheesh—”

“That’s not what I said,” Wanyin says, feeling his mouth go dry. “And what do you mean by ‘take advantage of his feelings’? What feelings?”

Wuxian presses his palms to his forehead. “Holy shit. Are you serious? Oh god, poor Huaisang.”

“He didn’t say that he was doing it for revenge. He said you weren’t involved.”

“Why is revenge the only feeling you can think of? That’s not even a real feeling. Can you seriously not think of any other reason why he would have done this? Beyond your saltiness towards me?”

There is one other reason he could think of. It’s the one that Wuxian is hinting towards—but there’s no way. It’s so impossible that Wanyin has to look to Wuxian for confirmation—Wuxian just groans again. He raises his hands.

“Look, this is a conversation that you have to have with him. Though I don’t blame him for not wanting to talk to you anymore, given the sheer dumbassery that you’ve subjected him to—look, I know I can be pretty bad with this stuff but even I’d never be this oblivious—”

This conversation with Wuxian is motivation for Wanyin to try even harder reconnecting with Huaisang. He sends out a barrage of texts with renewed urgency. He absolutely needs to confirm this hunch, if there’s anything worth confirming. Sunday morning, Wanyin checks his phone and practically vaults out of his bed, tripping in his haste to throw on jeans.

honeygrow at noon

 

.

 

When Wanyin steps into the restaurant, Huaisang is sitting in one of the back corners, chatting with two other men that are sitting across from him. Wanyin notes his own frustration—Wuxian had put up a feelings wheel on his wall and now doesn’t talk to him unless he uses feeling words—and steps up to order. He knows that Huaisang already noticed him entering from the quick flicker of his eyes and he wishes he was close enough to read his face.

He makes his way over to them after he gets his food, feeling a little awkward when he gets closer and realizes how ridiculously attractive the other two men are. The irritation turns into jealousy, but goes away when Huaisang gestures to the open seat next to him.

“This is Wanyin, he’s in the conservatory studying dance,” Huaisang says easily as Wanyin sits down. Wanyin wishes he would look at him, but Huaisang is too busy smiling at the other two. “This is Xichen and Wangji—Xichen knows my brother and Wangji is an international student who’s also at the conservatory. Do you two know each other?”

Huh. He does look a little familiar. Wanyin’s pretty sure he’s in the music program, he doesn’t run into those students very frequently. In the same way that he’s spending almost all of his time in the studio, all of the music students are constantly in the practice rooms. With the glaring exception of Wuxian, of course. “No, but it’s nice to meet you both.”

“It’s nice meeting you,” Xichen says, beaming. “I wish we could stay longer, but we’re actually just on our way out. I need to take Wangji grocery shopping today—” Wangji, looking as if the conversation barely concerns him, is scratching his fork around the edge of his bowl, clearly waiting for Xichen to finish with his pleasantries so they could leave. “We’ll be heading out first, then. Thanks for the help, Huaisang—I’ll tell your brother you’re studying hard.”

“Please do,” Huaisang says nervously, waving at them as they throw out their trash and leave the restaurant.

Random people turn to stare at the brothers as they leave. When they’re gone, Wanyin notices Huaisang lean just slightly away from him. “You should move over there,” he says, his voice losing the sweetness from when he was talking to Xichen.

Wanyin’s stubbornness kicks in. “I’m already comfortable here,” he says, digging his fork into his noodles.

He glances over out of the corner of his eye. Huaisang is in a loose turtleneck that accentuates his neck. The hickeys from before are gone—of course they would be, that was weeks ago. He looks quieter than the last time they parted, the shadows under his eyes a little darker. Wanyin spears one of his pickled radishes with his fork and drops it in Huaisang’s bowl. Huaisang sighs.

“What?” he asks.

“What? Don’t you like these?”

Huaisang looks down at it.

“Tell me why you’re here,” he says, sounding exhausted.

Wanyin had been thinking about what to say on the bus ride up. He tries grasping at his mental bullet points now. “I really wanted to say sorry.”

“For what?” Huaisang asks.

“For not apologizing about the fact that I pretended to date you just to make Wuxian jealous. Which didn’t work, by the way—he told me he didn’t actually feel jealous. Or anything.”

Huaisang spins his noodles around his fork. “That’s all?”

Wanyin squirms a little. He hasn’t eaten anything at all today, but the conversation is making him so nervous that his appetite is gone. Just the soy garlic gleam on his own noodles makes him feel nauseous.

“No—I mean, I get why you’re mad. I’m sorry about lashing out and saying all of those things. I don’t think I’ve been very considerate.”

“I’m not here to listen to you self-flagellate,” Huaisang says. Wanyin pretends like he knows what that means.

“I don’t want to assume so tell me if I’m wrong...but when you said that you wanted a chance to be with me...did you mean, like...in a romantic sense?”

Wanyin is pretty sure that his face is fire-hydrant red. Huaisang glances at him and snorts.

“I did,” he says, before taking a bite. Wanyin waits for him to finish chewing, but realizes that he doesn’t have anything more to say.

“Did? Past-tense?” Wanyin asks.

“What do you want me to do? Stay hung up over you indefinitely?”

A rush to his head. He swears the room gets brighter. His hands are gripping his bowl a little too hard. “So you still do? A little?”

Huaisang doesn’t seem to notice—he’s still pushing around a pea. “I’m trying to move on, don’t worry. I’ve done a good amount of thinking since our fight, and it was unfair to expect you to figure that out, considering—” He gestures in Wanyin’s general area. Wanyin would be angrier if he wasn’t completely right. “I think I just thought that your feelings might change if we kept pretending to date, but it’s okay that they didn’t.”

“Why didn’t you just tell me that you liked me?”

“I did.”

“No, I mean instead of lying. At the beginning. Or even before...if there was a before.”

Huaisang looks down at his fork, very pointedly avoiding Wanyin’s gaze now. “It wouldn’t have amounted to anything.”

“You don’t know that.”

“No, I know for a fact.”

“That’s impossible.”

“It’s not.”

“Prove it.”

“Are you sure?”

Wanyin nods. Huaisang’s lips twitch upwards in a mirthless smile.

“I’ve loved you for years and you’ve never so much as looked at me.”

The pain in his voice makes Wanyin break. He’s starting to feel dizzy. He remembers his bedroom and the way that Huaisang had looked at him after they kissed, the way that his arms shook from where they looped around his neck, their last night together on the couch—

Huaisang was right. They really did just waste away months.

“I just didn’t know...I didn’t think you were serious,” Wanyin says, his voice a little distorted.

“But I told you.”

“I didn’t know what you meant though!” Oh god, is he crying?

Huaisang finally turns to look at him. “Wanyin?”

Yup, he’s definitely crying. He reaches up to wipe off his tears, but they just come out faster. He curses to himself, turning in towards the back of the booth to hide his face from the rest of the restaurant.

“You should have told me you were serious!” he scolds.

“I did! You just didn’t understand—”

“Then you should have tried harder!”

“We kissed so many times—”

“How was I supposed to know you meant it? You’re a really good actor! I thought you were faking it!” he says, mortified by how he’s pretty much sobbing in this stir-fry establishment.

“Okay, okay, I should have said something, I realize now, I’m sorry—” Huaisang’s voice is shaking, his hands fluttering around Wanyin’s face to rub at his tears. His fingers are so damn cold. “Wanyin—”

“No, because I didn’t realize that you were doing it for real, if I’d known—” He grabs Huaisang’s hands reflexively and tuck them under his chin. Huaisang looks weak. “Just—just hold on, I’m thinking.”

For what feels like the first time in his goddamn life, Huaisang actually listens to him. His eyes are glassy in a way that Wanyin is positive isn’t feigned, his fingers trembling.

Wanyin attempts to get his bearings on his feelings—to wrap his mind around what was said and what it means. It feels like his brain is actually ground to a full stop.

Of course, the silence only lasts for a few beats.

“Does this mean you—”

Fuck it. He leans forward, pressing a kiss to Huaisang’s lips. Huaisang sighs and kisses him back immediately, his hands sliding around his shoulders to pull him closer. It’s so familiar and warm that Wanyin never wants to stop—when Huaisang pulls back to breathe, he chases him to press repeated, insistent kisses against the corners of his mouth and his cheeks, whatever is closest, as if making up for lost time.

“Hold on—hey, we’re in public—” Huaisang stutters, glancing around.

“You always say that.”

“Because you never seem to notice.”

Wanyin grabs his hand and pulls him up. “Then let’s go.”

“Where to?” Huaisang asks, his eyes wide.

“Are you busy after this?”

“Not...Not today.”

“Then can I bring you home?”

“Can you?” Huaisang breathes. Wanyin has never seen him so in shock before, but he doesn’t mind it.

“May I?”

Wanyin pulls him the first few steps, watching the smile slowly spread across Huaisang’s face as they navigate out of their corner. Another few beats and they’re running out of the restaurant together, leaving their food still on the table, the door closing behind Huaisang’s laughter.

 

.

 

“Are you ready?”

“What do you think he’ll do?”

“I don’t know if he’ll even notice, I’m sure he’s probably doing work right now,” Wanyin says.

“Be real. He’s never busy.”

“That’s also true.”

Huaisang taps the button, shoves his phone under his pillow, and rolls over until he’s back in Wanyin’s arms. They both wait.

It only takes about thirteen seconds.

“HOLY SHIT!” They hear Wuxian scream from his room, his voice muffled but still piercingly loud. There is what sounds like the thudding of furniture falling over before they hear frantic banging—surely from Wuxian pounding his fist hard against the single wall dividing them. “CONGRATS! I’M SO HAPPY FOR BOTH OF YOU!”

Huaisang glances up and smiles. “Faster than expected.”

“He must have been dicking around on Subtle Asian Traits again.”

“HUAISANG, YOU REALIZE THAT IF YOU GET MARRIED WE’LL BE BROTHERS TOO, RIGHT?”

Huaisang’s face goes blank. “That’s a horrifying thought.”

Wanyin feels his face burn up. “Shut up! We just started dating!”

“YOU’VE ALREADY BEEN DATING FOR LIKE THREE MONTHS NOW, I DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT.”

“He’s not wrong, technically.”

“I’m so sorry,” Wanyin says, for the umpteenth time. Huaisang just laughs and tilts his head up for a kiss. Wanyin kisses him twice, in quick succession, and stares at him after they part. It’s pretty much all he’s capable of doing, now. “I love you.”

Huaisang puts on a serious face. “You know, someone I know once told me that they’re just words, they don’t mean anything.”

Wanyin groans and buries his face in Huaisang’s neck. “Not this again. Just say it back.”

“Again, just words, meaningless otherwi—”

Wanyin blows a loud raspberry just above his pulse, the same spot weeks ago where he had once left a hickey. Huaisang laughs and flails, trying to knock him back. Wanyin pins his arms down and nuzzles his cheek.

“ARE YOU FUCKING NOW? I’LL LEAVE YOU GUYS ALONE THEN, HAVE FUN.”

Wanyin shoots up and is about to raise hell when Huaisang pulls him back down and kisses him deeply, effectively distracting him. He glances up, smirking.

“What, you want him to keep bothering us?”

Oh.

“Say it back, then,” Wanyin says.

Huaisang shakes his head and tries leaning up for another kiss, but Wanyin leans out of the way. Huaisang falls back onto the pillows, sighing. “I’m a terrible influence on you.”

“I’m waiting.”

“Or what?”

Wanyin pushes himself off the bed and backs up against the door. Huaisang sits up, watching him closely as he lays one hand on the doorknob and the other on the light switch. Huaisang pouts, his hair disheveled and face adorably annoyed, and Wanyin about gives up on his teasing right then and there. Unfortunately for Huaisang, he’s only gotten more stubborn over the months.

“You’re getting meaner,” Huaisang comments.

“It’s your call,” Wanyin says. “Want to have a fun conversation with Wuxian about joining the family?”

“No.”

“About his favorite positions?”

No.”

“Then say it.”

Huaisang watches him for a second more, his nose scrunched up, before he opens his arms and sticks out his tongue. “I love you, too.”

Wanyin grins. He turns out the light.