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Jealousy Is Not So Bad Of A Look On You

Chapter Text

ONE

Yu Xi Gu never cooked.

It’s not that he doesn’t know how, just that with all the studying that he needs to do in preparation for college, he doesn’t have the time nor enough money to do so. For him to actually spare a moment in the morning before school to prepare a special home-cooked meal to share with his boyfriend is something that’s way out of the ordinary.

There really isn’t anything special about today. Yu Xi Gu simply wants to surprise Xiang Hao Ting, and to let him know that two can play at this ‘caring for their lover’ game. Ever since they have started dating, it’s always been Hao Ting who makes an effort to make him feel special. Now it’s high time that he returns the favor.

Just this once, he can’t wait for their History class to be over so that he can rush over to his boyfriend, and show him his own version of the beef stew with carrots. He hopes Hao Ting remembers the significance of this as it was the first meal that they shared at the school rooftop, back when Xi Gu was still wary of his intentions. He cannot help letting out a soft chuckle and a smile at the memory.

“Xi Gu, are you okay?” Xia De whispers to him in concern. Thankfully, Xi Gu still has some level of awareness of where he is so his laughter hasn’t been too loud enough for the professor to notice. “You seem a little bit… distracted.”

“I’m fine, Xia De.” Xi Gu reassures his friend, and thereby putting off any thoughts about lunch, choosing to focus on the lecture slides being flashed on the board instead. “Just remembered something funny.”

Xia De smiles fondly at him. Judging from the way the soft upturned lips of Xi Gu hasn’t vanished at all, he can only guess that this memory involves a certain friend of theirs called Xiang Hao Ting. It’s true, Xia De may have been too late to act up on his feelings for the other boy, but he’s glad that Xi Gu has someone now to care for him and make him happy like this. And he couldn’t have found a much more worthy person of that role than Hao Ting. Right now, he’s more than happy taking a backseat and be a supportive friend to both of them instead.

Just then, the buzzing of his phone snaps Xia De away from his own daydreaming. He sneakily glances at his phone to see what it is, and finds out that Hao Ting has sent him a LINE message. He looks up to the boy opposite him, immersed again with the History lecture, before opening the text from Hao Ting.

“Please take Xi Gu to the gang during break. Have lunch with him. Make sure he eats! I’ll be out on an errand today :( Thanks!”

Xia De blinks twice before trying to reread the message. Did he read that right? Seeing as the second reading of the text hasn’t actually changed anything, he types in a reply.

“Okay.”

The couple has been inseparable since they have started going out, whether it’s official or unofficial by Hao Ting’s parents’ standards doesn’t really matter. And this is the first time that Hao Ting will be missing out on lunch with Xi Gu, save for the time that he has been sick and unable to go to school. What errand could be so important that he won’t be able to do it with Xi Gu?

“Great! Thanks! I’ll owe you guys some meat skewers for this.”

He doesn’t have time to take in this last response from Hao Ting because as soon as he receives it, the bell rings, and the person sitting opposite him shoots up like a mushroom out of nowhere.

“I’ll go ahead and meet Hao Ting.” Xi Gu tells him excitedly. “I’ll see you in class after lunch.”

“Err… Xi Gu?” Xia De holds the other boy back. “He’s running an errand during break. Didn’t he tell you?”

He sees the way Xi Gu’s excited expression morph into that of confusion and dare he interpret it, hurt.

“No, he didn’t. In fact, I haven’t received a LINE message from him this morning.” Xi Gu takes out his phone to check his messages. Xiang Hao Ting has never been this unresponsive… except for that one time when… “Is he sick again? I have to go.”

“N-no. He’s in school.” Xia De can’t bear seeing the worried look on Xi Gu’s face. Xiang Hao Ting should owe him more than just meat skewers for this. “Just that he’s busy with something…”

“But what could he be busy about? He didn’t even tell me…” Xi Gu looks so dejected.

“I’m sure he’ll explain everything to you.” Xia De tries to reassure the other, tapping him on the shoulder. That’s when he belatedly notices the lunchbox Xi Gu is carrying with his hands. “Did you prepare that lunchbox for him today?”

Xi Gu nods his head. He is obviously unhappy, judging by the pout of his lips.

“Can you ask Xia En to give this to him?” Xi Gu places the lunchbox to Xia De’s hands. “I don’t think I’m in the mood to eat today.”

“Oh… are you sure you don’t want to join us?” Xia De offers, recalling the favor that Hao Ting has asked him via LINE. “I think he knew you’d be lonely, so he asked us to take you in for lunch.”

“Thank you. But it’s okay.” Xi Gu smiles at him, appreciative of the effort to appease his upset emotions. “It’s not that I don’t want to eat with you guys, but you know, I was just really looking forward to surprise Hao Ting with this meal. Him not being there… I think I won’t be able to eat anyway.”

“Where will you be going, then?” Xia De asks. He does have to tell Hao Ting what’s going on.

“I’ll maybe catch up on some sleep at the clinic.” Xi Gu wonders. “I did wake up pretty early to prepare the lunchbox…”

“O-okay…” Xia De accepts the lunchbox finally. “See you back in class.”

“See you…” Xi Gu waves at him before he steps out of the room.

o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o

Yu Xi Gu does try to sleep it off at the clinic. He truly does.

But his mind is so actively thinking about Xiang Hao Ting at that moment that he just couldn’t relax and let sleep take over him.

Ever since he’s accepted that Xiang Hao Ting is chasing after him, the man has been a constant presence in his life. Even in the least expected of moments, he pops out like an unrepentant stalker. Every morning when Xi Gu sets out to leave his apartment, Hao Ting is already there waiting for him. He stands by outside Xi Gu’s last class before lunch so that they could eat together. He even stays behind after school to study with Xi Gu until the guard asks them to go home by 9PM. And even after he gets off work at the bar way past midnight, Xiang Hao Ting will still be there, eagerly waiting for him to come home.

That is why… the absence of Xiang Hao Ting today is just a little bit too jarring for Yu Xi Gu. It unsettles him, and he can’t sleep with an overly hyperactive thought process.

He abandons all attempts at catching some snooze, and instead, decides to do some advance studies at the library.

When he gets there, he immediately heads to the Physics section, with it being the course he wishes to take upon entering university. He is looking through the rows of various physics books, trying to see if there is one that he hasn’t read yet, when he hears a boisterous laugh coming from one of the nearby tables.

That laugh…

It’s familiar. It sounds like his… Xiang Hao Ting?

He decides to peek through a gap between the books in a shelf, and there, in all his high school glory, is Xiang Hao Ting. He seems to be engaged in conversation with someone sitting opposite him, but since he’s unspeakably tall, Xi Gu has no visibility of the other person and he couldn’t quite figure out who it is.

“Wow! That’s brilliant! You’re amazing Li Si Yu!” He hears Hao Ting speak excitedly. He moves and leans a little bit forward, granting the snooping Xi Gu a tiny view of the girl.

“We’ve been together for quite some time, and this is the only time I’m hearing this?” Si Yu laughs softly.

“Impossible! I’m pretty sure I’d have called you amazing before.” Hao Ting reaches out for her hand. “You’re amazing, Li Si Yu!”

Something unpleasant settles in the pit of Xi Gu’s stomach at the sight, and he couldn’t quite pinpoint what it is. All he knows is that if he stays here a little more, he’s going to be sick. He turns around and quietly rushes out of the library, silent tears already flowing out of his eyes.

Before he realizes it, his feet have apparently brought him to the observatory, where they also sometimes hang out whenever they want to be alone. He sits down by the stairs and rubs at his face rather harshly to dry off the wetness that have trickled down his cheeks.

He’s acting irrationally, he decides. He only found them talking to each other, nothing extreme like kissing or worse, something similar to what he has witnessed at the clinic all those months ago. But they did hold hands, and Hao Ting called her amazing…

Yu Xi Gu shakes his head in attempt to drive away those thoughts.

He can’t just assume things. He’ll simply have to clarify with Hao Ting later after class.

But what if there’s really something more going on between Hao Ting and Si Yu? What would he do? Si Yu is pretty, confident, and much more well-off than Xi Gu will ever be. If Hao Ting were to decide between them, surely, he’d choose the one who’d be far less trouble for him. Xi Gu doesn’t even know how he deserves to be loved by someone like Hao Ting in the first place. It all seems surreal for someone as grief-stricken and unfortunate as him.

He heaves a deep sigh.

No use thinking about it for now. He’ll hear Hao Ting’s explanations later on.

When classes have resumed after class, Xi Gu received a LINE message from Hao Ting, his first for the day.

“Got the lunchbox you prepared. My Xi Gu is so sweet! And your cooking is amazing! <3 Sorry I couldn’t spend lunchbreak with you. :’( “

Yu Xi Gu doesn’t know how to take that in. On one side, he feels a fluttery feeling in his chest for being called sweet. But on the other hand, getting described as amazing makes him queasy, recalling how Hao Ting profusely used the word to describe Li Si Yu earlier on.

“That’s okay. Heard you were busy.” He replies, not really intending to fish out the truth of why Hao Ting was unavailable earlier.

“Yeah… I was in a meeting with few friends. :( I’ll prepare lunch for you next time! :D” Hao Ting’s response is immediate.

Friends? But there was clearly only Li Si Yu at the library with him.

“Okay…” He doesn’t want to overthink it anymore. Hao Ting will explain everything later, for sure.

“Just okay? Baby are you still mad? :O“

“Yu Xi Gu? Baby? Why are you not answering?”

“Okay. Maybe your lecture has started. But please answer me as soon as you’re able.”

“Baby, are you mad? :O “

“Xi Gu, baby! Please don’t be mad at me. I’m sorry T_T”

These, among many other subsequent messages have been left unread until the end of the period as Yu Xi Gu determinedly decides to focus on the lecture instead.

Chapter Text

TWO

As it turns out, there has been no use for Yu Xi Gu to listen to the lecture. His mind is way too preoccupied with thoughts of Hao Ting that none of the information that his professors are explaining to the class are sinking in.

This day is totally not going the way he is expecting it to be.

When the bell gratefully rings for the last time that day, he glances outside the room anxiously to see if Hao Ting would be there to meet him.

He’s not, and Yu Xi Gu tries to tamp down the disappointment he feels about his boyfriend’s highly unusual and worrisome absence. It’s not like he has the sole ownership of Hao Ting’s time. Besides, he’s afraid that if he demands for it, he’ll come off as controlling and Xiang Hao Ting might feel suffocated. Just because they are together doesn’t mean that he can demand what his lover does with his own time.

“He hasn’t come over yet, has he?” Xi Gu turns around to see Xia De already standing right beside his desk.

“N-no…” Xi Gu replies, and he hates the fact that his voice breaks with such a simple answer.

“Haven’t seen him all day either.” Xia De adds, and then perhaps realizing that Xi Gu doesn’t really want to hear more about Hao Ting’s dubious absence, he continues, “Sorry.”

“Doesn’t matter.” Xi Gu replies, putting on the effort to give his friend a weak smile. He then begins to pack up his books and notes. It’s a Friday night after all, and he has work to do at the bar tonight.

“I’ll be walking up to their classroom to pick up my twin.” Xia De shares. “You want to come with? Maybe he’s still there?”

Xi Gu thinks it unlikely that Hao Ting would stay back in the classroom with his friends. He hasn’t done that ever since they started getting together. Unless… he really is with his friends because he’s grown tired and bored of being with Xi Gu all the time.

The thought sends yet another unpleasant ache to his chest. Maybe if only he could have given Hao Ting more attention than studying all the time...

Before he even gets to decide whether he’d go or not, Xia De has gently grasped his wrist and pulls him along with him.

“Come on.” Xia De urges, and Xi Gu has no choice but to tag along.

They are almost near the gang’s classroom when they hear the unquestionable voice of Sun Bo Xiang reverberate even across the hall.

“Yu Xi Gu surely wouldn’t appreciate being kept in the dark about this.” Sun Bo Xiang’s tone is disapproving.

Upon hearing his name, Xi Gu instinctively tugs back the hand Xia De hasn’t let go off ever since they started their walk. Surely, once he makes an appearance, they’re going to stop talking about whatever it is they are discussing, and Xi Gu wouldn’t find out what this is all about.

Xia De seems to understand his intention and decides to stay back with him to eavesdrop instead.

“I know. I feel bad for him too.” Gao Chun’s words soon follow Bo Xiang’s. “But Hao Ting is our brother first and foremost. We have to respect his wishes and support him no matter what.”

“That’s right!” At the sound of his twin’s voice, Xia De noticeably tenses. They don’t disagree much on anything, but when it comes to Yu Xi Gu and his well-being, they often find themselves having opposing opinions. “We have to help cover up for his secret after-class rendezvous with Li Si Yu from Xi Gu.”

It is Xi Gu’s turn to tense up at the mention of Li Si Yu. So, his boyfriend has already left? With Li Si Yu? Without letting him know about it?

The last LINE message he has received is “I’ll make it up to you, I promise. Love you! ^_^” accompanied with a whole lot of adorable bunny and heart stickers.

“Should we tell A’De?” Gao Chun asks.

“Definitely not.” Xia En is quick to turn down the idea. “If he finds out, he’ll most definitely have no hesitation spilling the beans to Xi Gu.”

“And everything Hao Ting’s been trying to do will be busted!” Bo Xiang adds. “I’m with Xia En. We can’t tell De about this.”

“Okay.” Gao Chun airs his agreement. “But we have to get our stories straight. What do we tell them when they ask about Hao Ting?”

He’s only heard a little but Xi Gu can’t take it anymore. He shouldn’t have let his curiosity lead him here. He shouldn’t have listened in on their conversation. That way, he wouldn’t have to know that his supposed new-found friends are planning to lie to his face.

“Xia De…” He whispers to his only remaining trustworthy companion. “I’ll take my leave first. I don’t want to hear any more of this.”

“Xi Gu…” Xia De calls out to him, something akin to pity is shining in his eyes. Of all things, Xi Gu hates being pitied on. “There has to be a good explanation about this…”

“They’re lying to you too…” Xi Gu reasons. “How could you still remain calm about this?”

“Because I know them…” Xia De readily answers. “They may do and say the most stupid of things, but they know when something is right or wrong. For them to go along with whatever it is Hao Ting is doing means that it couldn’t be that bad…”

Well… the fact is, unlike Xia De, Xi Gu doesn’t know them that well. He’s only been friends with them recently through Hao Ting. Before them, he hasn’t had anyone that he could truly claim as his friends, just one of the many things that life isn’t able to afford to give him in all of his eighteen years. There is Brother Zhi Gang, he supposes, but he’s different, more mature like an older brother than anything else.

“Don’t let this get to you, okay?” Xia De continues to encourage him, but it’s really just falling on deaf ears.

“I’ll be heading home now.” Xi Gu ignores Xia De’s attempts at cheering him up. “I’ll see you on Monday.”

Xia De sighs. He’s tried all he could but Xi Gu is simply inconsolable at the moment. This, Xia De thinks, is one of the many reasons why he has never been able to advance his relationship with Xi Gu further. No matter how much he tries, he really just can’t seem to figure him out. Completely unlike the way Hao Ting just knows.

But really, what is Hao Ting up to now? Why is he subjecting Xi Gu to all of this? If he sees him, Xia De’s going to have a serious word with him.

He attempts to follow Xi Gu, intent on making sure he gets home safely, but the other boy just stops him right away.

“I’ll be fine, A’De.” Xi Gu reassures him. “Your friends are waiting for you, and I have some important stuff to do at home. But… thanks.”

Xia De couldn’t do anything but to let him be.

That night, Xi Gu goes to work alone. By the time he has left his apartment, he’s no longer expecting for Hao Ting to pop up and take him to the bar.

All he gets, and only when he has already put on his work clothes, is a LINE message from Hao Ting. It does nothing to comfort him.

“I missed you today, Xi Gu. :( I’m really sorry.”

He wants to confront him, really. Ask him what he’s been busy doing with Li Si Yu. But he’s afraid he will not like the answer. Just when he has finally dared to desire something for himself, the world is going to brutally take it away from him again. It just isn’t fair.

“It’s okay. I didn’t know you had plans after school…” He replies instead. There. He supposes that he has given enough leeway for Xiang Hao Ting to start explaining his side without him sounding too demanding about it.

“Yeah, I’m sorry. I thought I sent a LINE but my phone apparently ran out of battery before it could send. I’m so stupid. T_T” Hao Ting’s reply is immediate, but it’s not the answer Xi Gu is looking for.

He has continued the conversation on a different tangent and it seems like he doesn’t want to let Xi Gu know who he’s been with and what he’s been up to. Xi Gu doesn’t know if it comforts him or not. On one end, there’s no confirmation on Hao Ting’s part that he is in fact seeing Si Yu again. But on the other hand, it makes Xi Gu feel as if Hao Ting’s keeping a huge secret from him.

Ah! It’s all too confusing. He hates it.

“If only my baby would let me borrow half of his brain, I wouldn’t be this stupid. ^_^”

Xi Gu blinks at that. Okay, that is a bit funny. But if Hao Ting thinks that everything will be fine with Xi Gu just by sweet-talking him, then he is wrong.

“What’s with the long face?” The voice of Xi Gu’s manager catches him by surprise, his phone almost slipping off of his palm.

“Oh, it’s n-nothing.” He replies, a blush creeping up on his cheeks for being so emotionally transparent at the work place. He stuffs his phone in the back pocket of his pants.

“It’s not nothing if you’ve not smiled from the moment you’ve entered the bar.” The manager presses on. “I promised Zhi Gang I’ll look out for you. You can talk to me if something’s bothering you.”

Xi Gu clearly hesitates. Sure, he’s not too close with his manager. But then again, hearing an opinion from a grown-up’s point of view might be just what he needs to get this unpleasant feeling out of his system.

“I-I’m not sure if uncle would be interested in listening to the love problems of a teenager.” Xi Gu responds shyly.

“Oh? If it’s about love, then I’m all ears.” His manager sits down beside him. “I wouldn’t have a love bar as my business if I’m not a huge sucker for romance and all the drama that comes with it.”

Xi Gu chuckles a little bit uncomfortably at that. Does he really want to do this?

“Well… I think my boyfriend’s been seeing his ex-girlfriend recently.” Xi Gu lets it out straightforwardly, surprising even himself. He feels that just by saying it out loud, a little bit of weight is lifted off from his chest.

“You think?”

“I mean, I know.” Xi Gu clarifies. “I’ve seen them together in the library this afternoon, when he said he was out doing errands.”

“Were they… doing anything out of the ordinary in the library?” The manager questions. “Anything they have no business doing anymore since they’ve split up?”

“Not really…” Xi Gu tries to recall what he has seen. “But they were rather close and he was being particularly appreciative of her, calling her amazing and all that.”

“Oh? That does seem suspicious.” The manager nods his head. “Did you know what their conversation was about?”

“No…” Xi Gu responds truthfully. “I couldn’t take it. I didn’t want to stay and listen in on them any further.”

“Then you’ll have to ask him what that was all about.” His manager states rather bluntly. “There’s no use in just speculating, Xiao Gu. It’ll just let these unwanted feelings of jealousy fester in your heart.”

“J-jealousy?!” The word takes Xi Gu by surprise, causing him to choke on nothing but air.

Has he really been jealous? He’s never been in a relationship before Hao Ting, nor has he ever been in love before him. The concept of jealousy is completely alien to him. So, for his manager to describe him as being such has thrown him off completely.

“Yeah, jealous.” His manager softly laughs at him, messing with his hair while tapping him mildly at the back to get some proper air into him. “You’re feeling resentment at seeing him with someone other than yourself. What else could it be?”

“I-I’ve never been jealous before…” Xi Gu notes after he’s gotten over the surprise, and then blushes at probably revealing too much information about his love experience by saying that out loud.

“And now you have.” The older man gratefully doesn’t tease about it.

“I-I don’t like it…” Xi Gu says honestly. “I-it’s heavy, and exhausting to carry.”

“Right. That’s why you have to resolve this with your boyfriend as soon as possible.”

“But… how? He’s been quite elusive the entire day.” Xi Gu raises his worries. “What if he doesn’t want to talk to me about it? What if he’s been avoiding it?”

“Then seek him out.” The manager states it as if it’s the easiest thing to do in the world. “There’s nothing that a good old-fashioned heart-to-heart conversation wouldn’t fix.”

The manager stands up after that, stretching a little bit. “Now, I believe we have some customers waiting to be served. Let’s go.”

A heart-to-heart conversation. Xi Gu mulls over those thoughts for a moment before he decides that yes, he just needs to get an honest answer out of Hao Ting.

Tomorrow, he’ll visit him at the Xiang residence. He has to get rid of this jealous feeling, once and for all.

Chapter Text

THREE

As it turns out, Yu Xi Gu has a rather difficult time sleeping that night which is highly unusual granted that his shift at the bar ends by the time that it’s almost dawn, and the exhaustion of a long day studying and working is more often than not enough to make him fall asleep the instant he lies on his mattress.

But his overthinking mind has made him restless. Part of him is still trying to come into terms to the fact that he is indeed jealous over Xiang Hao Ting. So, with no success at all in seeking slumber, he simply decides to study some advanced physics lessons before he’s ready to face the day.

He just hopes that despite the lack of sleep, he’d still be able to work efficiently at Brother Zhi Gang’s store. With all the recent demands of school work and his other, admittedly, higher paying part-time job, he has cut down on his hours with the shop. The most he can give back to Brother Zhi Gang is to be at his best all the time. He’s much too grateful for the older man for giving him opportunities. Disappointing him is not an option.

More importantly, he also hopes he won’t look too worn out and pale when he visits the Xiang residence after work. Surely, Hao Ting would be so alarmed with his state that he would overreact again and start pampering him. If that happens, Xi Gu would most certainly go all soft on him again and forget all about the jealousy issue that he’s wanted to resolve in the first place.

He heaves a deep sigh. Hao Ting has completely turned his world upside down.

An hour later, and the sun has fully risen, its soft beams peeking through the gaps in his window curtains. It’s time for Xi Gu to get ready for work. He opens his bag to take out the breakfast meal he’s purchased from the convenience store near the bar and wolfs it down rather quickly. Hao Ting has put his foot down, telling Xi Gu that he should never ever take a simple meal of only bread and water for breakfast. In the few months that they’ve been together, this is the only wish that Hao Ting has ever asked of him, and that is why Xi Gu has made it a point to grant him this one request, regardless if he’s here to see him eat or not. His current mood with Hao Ting, however, makes him feel slightly tempted to just skip breakfast altogether. If only he hadn’t bought the meal on the way home, then he would most definitely skip. Now he just doesn’t want to waste the food.

He takes a quick shower shortly thereafter and puts on his best weekend clothes – the pristine white button up shirt, his slightly faded jeans, his Converse kicks, and of course, his favorite cream-colored scarf. If he’s going to meet Hao Ting’s parents later on, then he definitely has to look as good as he can, sleep deprivation notwithstanding. They already don’t like him that much. He’s not going to give them any reason to dislike him even more.

When he is about to step out of his small apartment, his phone vibrates loudly from his pocket, indicating a LINE message from none other than Hao Ting himself.

“Good morning, Xiao Gu. :) Do your best at work today. Jiayou!“

He feels a little silly smiling at that simple message. Hao Ting sends him these messages every time he goes to work, only for him to be waiting right outside the apartment to take him to the said work place.

Xi Gu feels that today is going to be a little bit different though. He has a certain anxiety roiling in his gut that tells him that Hao Ting isn’t there to meet him this morning.

True enough, he receives a second text immediately after the first.

“I can’t take you to the store today, though. There’s nothing else I’d rather do, but there’s a test in Chinese class that I need to prepare for.”

He supposes he can let it pass this time. If he’s working hard to study, then it’s for the best.

“That’s okay. It’s hard but think of it as a way to prove your parents wrong.” He replies.

“My drive to keep pushing is the thought of me doing this for you. For us. <3 For our future.” Xi Gu won’t admit it aloud but this is the kind of thing that Hao Ting says that makes him fall in love with him even more.

And that makes him even more guilty for feeling so jealous.

There has to be a perfectly reasonable purpose why Hao Ting and Si Yu have been seeing each other lately. He’s tempted to ask Hao Ting, right there and then, but he deletes the message before pressing send. Instead he sends out a more pragmatic reply.

“That’s good. I’m heading out now. Good luck with your Chinese lessons, too. Let me know if you need help with anything. Jiayou! <3”

He may be a little bit upset with Hao Ting but he’s not totally averse to sending him heart emojis.

“My baby sending me hearts is all the motivation that I need. <3 <3 <3”

He takes one last look at his phone, smiles stupidly, and put in his pocket before he steps out of the apartment to head to work.

He arrives at the shop half an hour before it has to be opened, and is greeted by the sight of Brother Zhi Gang and Sun Bo Xiang putting up some red décor by the entrance. Sun Bo is standing on a stool trying to stick the end of what seems to be a string of heart-shaped cut outs to the ceiling, while Zhi Gang is focused on steadying the stool where his boyfriend is currently tiptoeing precariously on.

“Good morning Zhi Gang-ge, Sun Bo.” Xi Gu greets them as he arrives. “What are we doing? Do you need any help?”

“Oh Xiao Gu!” Zhi Gang turns to him, his hands not abandoning their grip on the stool. “We’re setting up some décor this year for a change. To bring in some more customers.”

“They look cute!” Xi Gu exclaims as he pulls one heart cut-out closer to him to study it. “I’m sure this will attract more customers to the store. This idea is brilliant, Zhi Gang-ge!”

“It’s my cousin’s idea.” Sun Bo Xiang declares as he jumps off the stool, already done with the last of his strings. “He says the store is in dire need of a revamp to get new customers other than those who are already regulars.”

“You have to thank him for me.” Zhi Gang tells Sun Bo, pinching at the younger boy’s nose in the process. “Come, we have to cut out one more set of hearts.”

“Alright.” Sun Bo Xiang grins widely at him, and to some extent Yu Xi Gu can see Hao Ting’s goofy boyfriend attitude from him as well. No wonder that they are the best of friends. Then, as if Sun Bo has sensed him looking at him, he calls out, “Xi Gu, we’ll need your help.”

“S-sure.” Yu Xi Gu replies, before they all enter the store to work on some more paper cutouts.

“Better change to your work clothes first, Xiao Gu.” Zhi Gang reminds him. “You seem dressed up today. It’s a shame if you’re going to mess it up very early in the morning.”

“Why are you dressed like that?” Sun Bo Xiang adds, intrigued. He grins at Xi Gu mischievously. “Are you going out with Hao Ting somewhere?”

“Oh no… we’re not.” Xi Gu flushes scarlet at the teasing and it’s a good thing he’s now moved to the back room to switch clothes so his friends won’t see him blushing. But it’s true. It’s not like he and Hao Ting are going out on a date or anything. He’s just going to visit him at their house. “Don’t you guys have a test on Monday? He’s at home studying hard.”

“You have a test?” He hears Zhi Gang ask Sun Bo Xiang sternly. And immediately he feels bad that he may have caused a bit of trouble with his friend. “You told me there wasn’t anything important happening at school. I would not have asked you to help out with the décor!”

“I swear Zhi Gang-ge! It’s just a mock exam! It won’t really count and affect our standing.” Sun Bo Xiang promises. “Hao Ting’s just exaggerating with the studying!”

“Studying for the mock exams is still preparation for the actual exams, Sun Bo.” Xi Gu advises as he steps out of the back room with the uniform on, but his words have fallen onto deaf ears as the two other persons in the store have apparently put their heads close together and are currently speaking closely to each other in whispered tones.

“He’s doing what?” They maybe talking under their breaths but Xi Gu’s proximity still allows him to hear bits and pieces of what they are saying.

“…only a secret, okay?” Sun Bo can apparently lower his voice down to the point of near inaudibility. “Promise not to tell him.”

He wouldn’t have concerned himself with their conversation since it seems to be a discussion reserved only for the couple, but the furtive looks that Zhi Gang keeps throwing him makes him feel that he’s the one they’re talking about.

Still, not wanting to intrude despite the curiosity, he just busies himself with cutting out the red paper hearts, a niggling feeling in his heart that there’s a bigger picture that he’s missing.

“Right, it’s almost time to open the shop!” Sun Bo exclaims a few moments later, breaking Xi Gu’s concentration from his task. “Let’s continue setting up the other décor some other time.”

They pack up the arts and crafts that’s littered all over the storefront before they reopened the doors and the customers start trickling in for the day.

The work day goes by in a breeze and before Xi Gu knows it, his shift has ended. He takes a quick look at his phone to see if there are any new messages, only to be disappointed that none has come.

Perhaps he’s really engrossed with the studying. Should he still pursue with his visit then? Will he just be a distraction?

But then, the words of his bar manager ring loudly at the back of his mind. “Seek him out. There’s nothing that a good old-fashioned heart-to-heart conversation wouldn’t fix.”

The reminder that there’s something that needs to be resolved between them urges him on. As soon as he changes back to his own clothes, he bids Zhi Gang and Sun Bo goodbye before going on his way.

A candy shop right at the corner of the street where the Xiang’s live catches Xi Gu’s attention. He remembers the first time he bought that reward lollipop from here, and he thinks Hao Ting would appreciate it if he gets another today. After all, he can’t just barge in to their homes without bringing in a little something, right?

As it turns out, there are a lot of heart-shaped lollipops on display. He figures that Hao Ting would like that, judging by his reaction from their earlier exchange in LINE, so he buys one along with a few more chocolate bars for Hao Ting’s parents and his sister.

Satisfied with his purchase, he resumes his journey to their home, getting slightly more nervous the closer he gets. How would he open up the topic? Would Hao Ting be hurt that Xi Gu has these doubts in his mind? Should he really push through with this?

Several thoughts along those lines are running through his head, until he abruptly stops into place when he sees the familiar feminine figure of Li Si Yu standing just outside his boyfriend’s home.

Dread settles in the pits of his stomach once more. He hides behind a tree quickly, not bothering if he looks creepy as hell to anyone who happens to pass by, just so that he can observe what business she is up to at the Xiang residence.

From his vantage point, he realizes that she’s not alone. Xiang Hao Ting himself is by the gates talking to her in his usual hyperactive and jovial manner.

Why is he outside? Didn’t he say he’s focusing on his studies?

His recent luck at eavesdropping hasn’t done him well, and Xi Gu knows that this one won’t be any better. But his paranoia is kicking in and he really just wants to know what the hell is going on so he stays put.

“You’re amazing, Li Si Yu!” Hao Ting exclaims happily. Again, with that word. “I wouldn’t know what to do without you.”

“It’s no problem, Hao Ting.” Li Si Yu responds respectfully, and then with a frown, she continues, “I know that it’s not enough, but please do consider this as my apology to you for the photo incident.”

“Li Si Yu… you told me everything.” Hao Ting grips her by the shoulders. Their proximity is making Xi Gu’s head spin. The fatigue of the past two days along with what he’s seeing right in front of him are starting to take a toll on him. “It’s not your fault remember? And like I said before, I’m not holding a grudge with anyone for that incident.”

“But…”

“No buts.” Hao Ting interrupts her. “Thank you for coming to help me out today.”

Xi Gu can’t believe it. Has Hao Ting just asked Si Yu to help him with his Chinese lessons? Isn’t studying supposed to be their thing? Why is he asking someone else now?

“Are you kidding?” He hears Li Si Yu laugh. “With your parents and your sister out, you would have burned the house down, if you’re left alone!”

“Hey! I’m not that bad!” Hao Ting complains.

“Heh. If you say so.” Si Yu returns, unimpressed. “Anyway, I’ll be going ahead. I hope everything works out fine. I’ll see you in school.”

“See you!”

Xi Gu waits for Si Yu to turn around a corner and for Hao Ting to return home before he steps out from the shadows of the tree.

His phone buzzes shortly after.

“Hi baby, just finished working on something! How was work today? :)”

Xi Gu does not reply. He does not enter Xiang residence either. Instead he goes to a nearby park where he promptly hands out the sweets he has just bought to some of the children enjoying their weekend there.

He goes home, feeling completely physically and emotionally exhausted.

Chapter Text

FOUR

Xiang Hao Ting’s meant to be a changed man already. In the past few weeks, he’s been a study god that could rival even the greatest scientists in the history of men. No matter what antics Sun Bo, Xia En, and Gao Chun pull off beside him, his focus remains solely on his studies.

But today, he’s regressed to that inattentive, lousy student he has once been. No, he isn’t causing any trouble just like his brothers are doing. Instead, he’s been staring distractedly at his phone all day, subtly typing in a few texts beneath his desk every now and then – right in the middle of taking their Chinese class’s mock exam.

Ever since that Saturday afternoon, his boyfriend Yu Xi Gu, has not responded to any of the messages and calls that he has sent his way. It’s now Monday, and there’s not been a single acknowledgement of his communication efforts from Xi Gu. They’ve been dating for quite a while now that Hao Ting is well aware of the other’s tendency to not reply for a few hours at a time. But two full days? This has never happened before, and it’s driving him crazy!

He has waited for him at the apartment entrance this morning, but it turns out that Yu Xi Gu has gone to school earlier than usual and Hao Ting has totally missed him by a few minutes. Being unaware of this fact, he has waited outside until there’s only thirty minutes before class starts. He goes up the apartment and knocks incessantly on Yu Xi Gu’s door, much to the other tenants’ irritation, but there’s been no response.

It’s taken him ten minutes, and a few harsh words from the old man living next door for him to finally give up and go to school alone. Naturally, he ends up getting late, and he can already hear his dad reprimanding him for this tardiness when he gets home, but that’s the least of his worries now.

How can he think of what his dad is going to do with him, when he doesn’t understand why Yu Xi Gu’s been avoiding him all of a sudden?

Admittedly, he hasn’t been the perfect boyfriend in recent days, but that’s because he’s hard at work doing something special for him! Then again, he supposes that it shouldn’t be enough reason for him to neglect his duties to Xi Gu. He should have thought his plan through so that his normal schedule with Yu Xi Gu wouldn’t have been affected.

He heaves a deep sigh. He can’t believe he’s fucked this up. This is a mistake that he should rectify at the soonest possible time. This lunch break, he swears he’s going to set things rights.

He’s going to seek out Yu Xi Gu for lunch, explain to him the reason for his absence without revealing the special project, and beg for his forgiveness. And then, they’re going to eat the best carrot dish that the cafeteria can offer. Yes. That has to be it. That’s what he is going to do.

He sneaks a glance at his professor – it doesn’t seem like he’s noticed his lack of concentration just yet – before sending out another text message to his beloved.

I’ll see you at lunch? I’ll buy us your favorite carrots! (>^_^)>

He puts his phone away and just waits for the bell to ring. He spares a glance to the blank test paper in front of him, and then writes down his favorite pattern.

AACCB. BBCAA.

As it turns out, the clock has only struck twelve and the bell hasn’t even rung yet but Hao Ting’s already out of his seat to pass his paper, dashing to the cafeteria and not at all minding their Chinese class teacher shouting after him for the blatant show of disrespect.

He gets the desired dish – beef stew with carrots – and then proceeds to run his way to Yu Xi Gu’s classroom. However, in his rush, he collides with someone, sturdy and muscular, that gets him thrown back to the ground instead of the other.

Said sturdy and muscular being extends his hand to pick him up.

“A-Hao? Why are you running?” It’s Xia De, looking for all the world as if their collision hasn’t bothered him a single bit.

“De. Should have known it was you.” Hao Ting replies with a soft, disbelieving chuckle, rubbing at his winded chest as he accepts the hand that pulls him up. “I was on my way to my Xiao Gu so we could spend lunch together.”

“You’re having lunch with Xi Gu today?” Xia De repeats, just to make sure he’s heard it right. As far as he knows, Yu Xi Gu doesn’t seem to have any plans to eat during lunch today.

“Yeah. I wasn’t able to have lunch with him last Friday so I want to make it up to him today.” He raises the bag containing their meals.

“Err… you’re going to want to have that replaced.” Xia De notes, pointing at the plastic bag rather disgustedly.

Hao Ting tilts his head in confusion, before looking at the packed meal himself. “Oh.” The stew is out of the box and is now messily scattered all over the plastic bag. “Right, then I should probably head back to the cafeteria. See you, Xia De!”

Without waiting for a reply, he sprints back to the cafeteria, not realizing that the other guy has followed after him.

“You know he hasn’t been in a particularly good mood today.” Xia De shares as a way to reintroduce his presence to Hao Ting when they reach the line at the cafeteria. “He’s always been the quiet type in class, but today he wouldn’t even smile at anyone. Also, he has dark circles under his eyes and he even failed to answer the professor’s question. That only ever happens when his mind’s preoccupied with something else, usually in relation to you.”

Hao Ting turns to his friend and lets out a loud sigh. He knows he’s the one to blame for this uncharacteristic Yu Xi Gu. “This is all my fault…”

“What is it that you’re trying to do, A-Hao?” Xia De asks when Hao Ting does not expound on his statement. “Maybe if you tell me, I could help.”

Hao Ting looks at his friend, his expression serious, no doubt weighing whether he should tell him the entire truth or not. Eventually, he shakes his head.

“No, I can’t tell you.” He says with finality. “You’re too close to Xi Gu. No doubt if he asks you, you’d be unable to hide the truth from him.”

Xia De tries to hide it, but he’s sure his cheeks are aflame at the moment. Is he truly that transparent? Do they know that he has this secret crush on Yu Xi Gu? Hao Ting doesn’t seem to be mad about it. What does that mean?

He shakes his head to drive those thoughts away. This is not about him. This is about his friend, Yu Xi Gu.

“It’s not like he’s willing to talk with anyone at the moment.” He throws back at Hao Ting instead. “You know him much more than I do. Your absence last Friday unsettled him. He’s overthinking this, questioning himself and what he’s done wrong to make you keep your distance with him.”

“But I haven’t been distancing myself from him on purpose!” Hao Ting nearly shouts in response. Then recalling where they are, he continues in a lower tone, “I’ve really just been busy working on something…”

“Right.” He doesn’t do it, Xia De’s not the type, but Hao Ting can feel his friend internally rolling his eyes at him. “The something that can’t be shared.”

“Fine…” Hao Ting finally relents after giving yet another critical once over of Xia De. “I suppose I should really tell you about this…”

They continue to talk to each other, Hao Ting sharing his plans with Xia De, and the latter putting in a few thoughts here and there until eventually, they reach the front of the line. Hao Ting buys his and Xi Gu’s meal, and an additional set of fried chicken and rice for Xia De.

“Here, please consider this as my apology for keeping this a secret from you. And as a thank you for understanding.” He explains as he hands over the meal.

“You know I never turn down a free meal from you.” Xia De gifts Hao Ting with his tiny smile. “Good luck with your plans. They’re good plans, Hao Ting, but just be sure to execute it properly so no one gets hurt.”

“Thanks, brother.” He grins at him, before sprinting off yet again to find his boyfriend.

He’s not in the classroom when he gets there. He asks a few of Xi Gu’s classmates about him but none of them know where he is, says Xi Gu has looked pretty upset all morning and that he wouldn’t even talk to anyone.

Right, if that’s the case, then there are only two other places that he could be – the infirmary or the library.

He first checks the infirmary only to find empty sheets. So quickly, he runs again to the library, fearing that all this time spent going around will make the meal in his hands lose its heat.

He goes straight away to their table by the physics section of the library, feeling rather confident that this is the only table where Yu Xi Gu would sit.

He isn’t there either.

Hao Ting swipes his hair back in frustration and anxiety. Where could Yu Xi Gu possibly be?

He walks around, trying to scan every nook and cranny for the slightest hint of the presence of his most beloved boy.

And true enough, there he is, in the far-off corner of the library, immersed in reading what is no doubt a physics book.

Hao Ting’s grin is automatic. Just the sight of him fills him with so much happiness that he is unable to stop himself from grinning like a total idiot.

Damn. Even from afar, his Yu Xi Gu is the most breathtaking.

The sunlight coming from the window right beside him even adds an ethereal glow to his studying figure, head tilted slightly and eyebrows creased in concentration, mouth slightly open to silently recite new concepts being learned.

Hao Ting’s heart does a somersault. He can’t believe he’s gone through three days without seeing him. He’s lost three days of drinking in this beautiful sight.

Slowly, he walks toward the other boy who has yet to look up from the book that he is reading.

“Yu Xi Gu…” Hao Ting recites his name like a prayer, breathless, due partly to the exhaustion from the run, but mostly because his breath has been taken away by the vision sitting right in front of him.

Yu Xi Gu tenses, however, and it’s so reminiscent of when Hao Ting has first tried courting him, that the high of seeing him again immediately goes down the drain, and is replaced by an inexplicable worry.

“Xiang Hao Ting…” Xi Gu looks up at him in surprise. “W-what are you doing here?”

“I-I’ve been looking for you.” Hao Ting answers, sitting at the side opposite of Xi Gu. “Why aren’t you at our usual Physics table?”

“Oh… I don’t think I like that table very much anymore…” Xi Gu states plainly, although Hao Ting can tell there’s something more to it than that. “I much prefer it here… with the sun.”

“Yeah, it’s a nice idea. You look beautiful with the sun kissing your skin like that.” Hao Ting agrees, putting up a smile to see how the other would react. “And it’s in the corner too. We could study much better here, in private. Or you know… do something.”

Yu Xi Gu sends him a glare before turning back to the book on his desk. “Keep quiet. I’m trying to study.”

Hao Ting looks at him in disbelief, and then shakes his head. “But I need to talk to you.”

“We can’t. We’re in the library.” Xi Gu replies without lifting his head.

“Aren’t you even going to ask me about my Chinese class mock exam?” Hao Ting asks, face moving closer to that of the other.

Yu Xi Gu looks up at that, just as Hao Ting desires. “How did you do?”

Hao Ting just grins triumphantly at him. Trust Yu Xi Gu to be highly invested with his exam results. “See, now we have to talk. I’ll tell you all about the exam but you have to listen to me first.”

Xi Gu rolls his eyes. “Just tell me about the exam, Xiang Hao Ting.”

“Yu Xi Gu!” Xiang Hao Ting calls his name aloud all of a sudden, surprising Xi Gu, and causing a few students from faraway tables to look their way curiously.

“Xiang Hao Ting, keep it down!” Yu Xi Gu whispers.

“I don’t want to, until you consider talking to me!” Hao Ting keeps his voice loud, much to Xi Gu’s embarrassment.

The sound of heels clicking and clacking on the floor alerts them to the presence of the librarian rushing toward them.

“If the two of you are going to make a scene, do it outside!” The librarian scolds at them sternly. “You’re disturbing the other students!”

Xi Gu sends Hao Ting a glare as he neatly arranges the books he has borrowed and puts away the notepad and pen he’s been using to take notes in his pocket, causing the other boy to grin more widely. “So annoying…”

“Sorry, but I really need to explain some things to you,” Hao Ting’s tone turns somber and apologetic, as they make their way out of the library. “Besides, you haven’t had lunch yet so I bought you a box from the cafeteria. It’s your favorite.”

Hao Ting leads the way, intending to take Xi Gu to the rooftop so they can talk more freely with each other alone.

“Here should be okay.” Xi Gu suggests from right beside him.

Hao Ting stops in his tracks and looks around. They’re at the school courtyard and there are definitely a lot of people going around at this hour.

“Here?” He asks as he notices Yu Xi Gu already squatting down on the ground.

“Yeah, if we go all the way to the rooftop, we won’t make it back in time for class.”

Hao Ting casts another glance around him. There are way too many people, but he supposes this will have to do. He sits beside his boyfriend and starts unpacking the lunchboxes that he has bought.

“You know… I was hoping that we’d have shared the meal that I’ve prepared for you last week.” Xi Gu says as he takes the lunchbox Hao Ting is offering him. “But I guess you’d much prefer the one from the cafeteria.”

“Xiao Gu, no!” Hao Ting is quick to deny the accusation. “I loved your cooking. Definitely delicious! The best!”

Xi Gu just stares at him, unimpressed.

“I’m sorry.” Hao Ting eventually says with a pout.

“It’s okay.” Xi Gu replies, although Hao Ting can sense that it’s anything but okay. “You were busy.”

Hao Ting feels the guilt settling in the pits of his stomach. He’s the one who has insisted on this talk and yet he’s the one who is out of words.

“So… about your Chinese exam. Do you think you did well?” Xi Gu shifts the topic of their conversation. “I kept my phone off the entire weekend to let you concentrate. I didn’t want to seem like I’m taking up too much of your time.”

Now, more than guilt, Hao Ting feels a whole lot of shame. He has fucked up that Chinese exam.

“I-I… didn’t do so well.” Hao Ting admits, face appearing entirely contrite.

“But you studied hard the entire weekend.” Xi Gu turns to him with a disbelieving look, eyebrow raised as if there’s something that he knows. “Was it that hard?”

“No…” Hao Ting turns down his head in shame. “I didn’t take it seriously because it was a mock exam.”

He closes his eyes, anticipating the scolding that he’ll be getting from his boyfriend. He’s been told far too many times before that he should take all of his exams, as if every point count, regardless if it’s an actual test or a mock exam. But here he is, messing it all up.

“Do you really still want to be with me?” It’s barely a whisper, almost inaudible if Hao Ting hasn’t been paying attention. But he hears it, just the same.

He could have gotten whiplash with the way he raises his head instantaneously after hear those words. “Of course! I messed up this time, again. But I promise I’m working hard to change myself. This will never happen again. Yu Xi Gu, I want to be with you, always.”

“Always?” Xi Gu asks, and Hao Ting nods. “And yet, we haven’t even seen each other lately.”

“T-that’s because…” Hao Ting doesn’t want to lie. Xi Gu will see right through him. But he doesn’t want to spoil his plans either.

Thank heavens Xi Gu’s tongue is on a roll. He doesn’t seem to be waiting for a proper answer because he continues, “On my birthday, you promised me that you’ll never leave me.”

“I’ll never!”

“Am I here?” Xi Gu points at Hao Ting’s chest. Hao Ting can see Xi Gu’s struggle at asking him these things. ”O-or has another person taken its place?”

What?!

“Of course, you’re in my heart! You complete me!” Hao Ting is most definitely not expecting to hear those words from Yu Xi Gu. “Xiao Gu, baby. What is this about?”

Xi Gu turns away, afraid to look at Hao Ting straight on. There’s a glint of wetness in his eyes that are threatening to fall down any moment.

“You’ve been spending less and less time with me. I know it’s not my right to claim all the hours of your day, but all these changes just seem so sudden.” Xi Gu takes in a breath. “One day you’re always there to keep me company with everything that I do, and then the next, it’s like you’ve completely vanished. Invisible. The only way I got to talk to you was through LINE, and I just really missed you.”

Hao Ting himself wants to cry. He’s caused all these. He’s such an asshole. How can he hurt the only person that mattered to him the most?

“There’s this… project that I’m working on.” Hao Ting explains, trying to make the other boy understand while still being ambiguous about the nature of what he’s exactly doing. “It’s due this Friday.”

“What project? Which class? Can’t I be the one to help you with it?” Xi Gu asks in rapid succession. “I can ask Brother Zhi Gang for a few days off if that’s what it takes. Let me help.”

“N-no… you can’t.” As soon as he says it, he sees the other pout and crease his forehead. Gods! How can he do this without hurting his feelings?

“Why not?” Xi Gu insists.

With that imploring look in Xi Gu’s eyes, Hao Ting has no more control with himself. He’s going to say it, confess everything. His plan has been messed up from the beginning anyway, so it’s better to end it now.

He’s about to do just that when the figure of a very familiar girl comes running up to them.

“Xiang Hao Ting, there you are!” Li Si Yu shouts after him, a little out of breath. “We have an emergency with the red balloons! The supplier says they won’t be able to print and deliver everything by Va – oh… Yu Xi Gu…”

She cuts herself short when she notices the other boy staring at her, tears streaming down his cheeks. In her worry about their plan, she hasn’t even realized that he’s been here all along.

“Are you working on this project with Xiang Hao Ting?” Xi Gu asks her.

Li Si Yu, uncertain as to what to respond, turns to Hao Ting for confirmation, for which the other just subtly nods his head.

“Y-yes.” She answers.

Awkward silence envelopes them after that response, with Xi Gu just staring at her as she fidgets uncomfortably in place. Hao Ting stands helplessly right beside them.

Then after what seems like an eternity, Xi Gu turns to Hao Ting, tiptoeing and pulling the other’s head down, catching the bigger man by surprise. Then he seals their lips together in a hot passionate kiss.

Hao Ting’s completely taken aback, but he welcomes the idea of their lips reuniting this way. Three days without this… he’s definitely crazy.

He can sense it though, the anger and the possessiveness radiating from his Yu Xi Gu.

Xi Gu breaks the kiss apart eventually, and then turns back to Li Si Yu, eyes sharp like daggers. “You may be working as partners in this project, but just remember that he is already mine.

Then, as if a spell is broken, Xi Gu’s stern expression turns to shock, his cheeks rapidly tinted red. Did he really just do that? Here at the school courtyard?

He looks around and notices that everyone has actually stopped whatever it is they are doing to watch them make a scene.

He has said that aloud? Blushing, and completely out of his element with all the people gawking at his outburst, he turns around and starts walking hurriedly away.

What has he done now? Hao Ting is most definitely going to hate him for being such a possessive freak! He’s done so well giving him his time over the weekend, and now, just the slightest sight of Li Si Yu’s had his jealousy skyrocketing to the heavens.

“D-did you see that?” Hao Ting asks in disbelief.

“He kissed you.” Li Si Yu responds. “In front of just about everyone.”

“Yeah, he did.” Hao Ting knows there are still a lot of things that he hasn’t ironed out with Xi Gu, but boy he’d be crazy not to think that what Xi Gu has just done isn’t turning him on right now. “That’s so hot.”

“Ugh! Xiang Hao Ting!” Li Si Yu scolds him, acting mock-disgusted.

“What? But it’s true!” Hao Ting defends himself. And then, without waiting for a reply, he tries to catch up with Yu Xi Gu.

Except that the bell has already rung again, and he doesn’t think being late for both the beginning of day and after lunch would be good for his record. Neither Xi Gu nor his parents would appreciate that. Perhaps, after class then.

Chapter Text

FIVE

It’s not like they’ve been dating in private. As a matter of fact, it is common knowledge in Zen Ren High that Xiang Hao Ting and Yu Xi Gu are seeing each other. It’s hard not to be, considering that Hao Ting has so openly and brazenly courted him all those months ago. Not to mention that they have been inseparable ever since, spending practically every free moment in school together. Sometimes they hang out with Hao Ting’s group of friends, but most of the time, it’s just the two of them studying hard to create the future that they want to share.

Their public interactions have been an image of chasteness and perfection, thanks mostly to Xi Gu’s powerful self-control that effectively keeps Hao Ting’s constant horniness at bay. True, they do get lost in their own world most of the time, just like that incident when Hao Ting’s friends and the waitress at their favorite hangout spot have been stunned at how they’ve seemingly been forgotten by the pair. But the two of them have never reached that point of making out in front of people – until yesterday.

“What am I thinking?” Xi Gu whispers to himself, flustered, as he tries to recall the events of the previous day. He’s been too consumed with jealousy that even his strong resolve has not been enough to stop him from… explicitly claiming his man. By kissing him. Right in front of everyone.

He feels his cheeks grow hot, no doubt turning red too, at the mere thought of his uncharacteristic outburst yesterday. He surreptitiously glances around just to check if anyone’s catching the blush forming on his cheeks and ears. He notices Xia De staring at him from behind, head tilted. His eyebrows are furrowed, whether in curiosity or concern, Xi Gu can’t exactly tell.

Xia De mouths a few words toward him, and he’s pretty sure his friend is asking him if he’s okay. He nods his head furiously, before turning away from the other boy. His face is definitely turning an even deeper shade of red for getting caught.

The bell rings indicating that it’s time for lunch, and Xi Gu sends a silent apologetic prayer to the gods for having yet again lost focus during his lectures before dropping his head to his desk in frustration. He’s been spacing out a lot like this lately, and it’s all because this jealousy thing going on is getting out of hand.

A shadow looms over him, and he feels it more than he actually sees it. He looks up and is surprised to see Xiang Hao Ting right there in front of him.

“Xiang Hao Ting!” Xi Gu calls out. “What are you doing here?”

“I haven’t had the chance to respond to what you said yesterday.” Hao Ting tells him, throwing an annoyingly pleased smile at Xi Gu. He doesn’t seem to be the least bit concerned about the many eyes watching their interaction like hungry hawks. “But, yes Xiao Gu, I’m yours.

That validation – that Hao Ting is still his and no one else’s – is exactly what Xi Gu has needed to hear, but at that moment, he’s so embarrassed at being the subject of everyone’s attention yet again, that his knee-jerk response is to retreat somewhere no one would even bother to look at him – like the infirmary, perhaps.

“Y-you better be.” Xi Gu stutters before standing up and catching Hao Ting’s arm in attempt to pull him out of the classroom with him. “L-let’s go. Everyone’s looking at us.”

Hao Ting, however stays rooted at his spot.

“Xiang Hao Ting?” Xi Gu tilts his head, confused.

The other guy turns to him and cups his face with both of his hands. They are incredibly and comfortingly warm hands.

“The thing that you did yesterday – that possessive kiss.” Hao Ting whispers, looking at him straight in the eyes with the intensity he’s once seen when they are making out in the Xiang residence living room. “You have no idea how happy it made me. I swear that I’ll do everything in my power to keep you mine, too.”

Hao Ting’s words make Yu Xi Gu weak in the knees but he manages to stay upright, thanks mainly to the desk behind him serving as support.

“H-Hao Ting…” Xi Gu mentally curses himself. Is he really going to stutter his way through this conversation?

“I promise that Li Si Yu and I are just good friends.” Hao Ting continues to say, which is just as well since Yu Xi Gu apparently has forgotten the mechanics of speech at this point. “Trust me, there’s nothing going on between us. And we’re both clear on that.”

Xi Gu can only stare back at Hao Ting’s unblinking eyes. He believes him – he really does, but he also wants to get some answers. What have they been doing together in the library? Why has she visited Hao Ting’s home that weekend? What is this project that they’re working on and why is it taking too much of Xiang Hao Ting’s personal time?

He manages to tamp down the urge to ask. Instead, he settles for a meek, “Okay.”

After that, he sees the serious expression from Xiang Hao Ting’s face vanish, to be replaced by his goofy grin yet again. Xi Gu doesn’t understand it, but he’s just too in love with how expressive and transparent Hao Ting is when it comes to his feelings.

The taller boy then seemingly takes out a lunchbox out of nowhere and brandishes it right at Yu Xi Gu’s face.

“Here you go.” Hao Ting beams at him. “I realize you’re probably getting tired of the beef stew from the cafeteria so I decided to make a different carrot dish for you at home, and this is going to be the best dish you’ll ever taste in your life.”

“Oh… you didn’t have to.” Xi Gu answers shyly, but takes the offered lunchbox nevertheless.

“But I wanted to.” Hao Ting rebuts. “You made one for me last week, didn’t you? Allow me to return the favor.”

“Alright…” Xi Gu turns down his head, trying to suppress the pleased smile that’s threatening to appear on his face. “Let’s eat somewhere else? The rooftop?”

At this point, Hao Ting’s seemingly permanent smile falters a bit.

“I won’t be able to join you for lunch today until Thursday.” Hao Ting confesses. “The deadline to the project that Si Yu and I are working on is coming very soon. We would need all the time we can get to make it perfect.”

And Xi Gu can tell from the contrite look on his face that he’d really rather spend the time with him, but he just couldn’t get away from this important project.

“It’s alright.” Xi Gu tries to console him. “I like it that you’re working hard on this project. This just tells me how much effort you’re really putting in so that you could improve your grades and we can be officially together.”

“Er… yeah.” Hao Ting brushes away his side hair. Xi Gu really likes it too when he is able to make Xiang Hao Ting shy like this. “That’s true. I really want to excel at this project just for you.”

“If that’s the case, then you better start working on it.” Xi Gu scolds him lightly. “Don’t mind me, I can manage all on my own for the next few days. Jiayou!”

“Thank you, Xiao Gu.” Hao Ting pinches his cheeks. Xi Gu can tell that his boyfriend wants to go for a kiss, but a repeat performance of yesterday simply wouldn't do, so he's glad and relieved that Hao Ting decides against it. “You’re the best! I’ll see you after school?”

“Okay.” Xi Gu’s response is hopeful and immediate.

Hao Ting turns around, about to leave the room except that he notices practically everyone in the classroom has their phones up taking videos and photos of their interaction.

“That’s right, everyone!” Xiang Hao Ting declares, putting everyone’s attention on him. “You’re looking at Zen Ren High’s Best Couple!”

Cheeks flaring once again, Xi Gu can only shout after the retreating back of his boyfriend, “XIANG HAO TING!”

Knowing that it is futile to go after him, Xi Gu puts his attention on the meal in front of him instead, hoping against hope that no one would bother him after about what Hao Ting has just announced to the world.

He’s barely opened the lunchbox when a group of ladies from a lower year level has started to crowd him, taking him by surprise.

“We support you, no matter what, Senior Yu! We wish you and Senior Xiang all the best!” They have screamed at him before giving him a bow and running away as if saying those words to his face have drained away all of their gathered courage.

He blinks at them disbelievingly. What has just happened?

He also catches a few other girls still blatantly taking pictures of him, making him feel highly self-conscious about his appearance. They remind him of that time when Xiang Hao Ting has confessed that he has 132 candid photos of him that have come from Mei Fang.

He even overhears a few of them outside the room, gossiping loud enough that Xi Gu can’t help listening in on their conversations.

“Senior Xiang would usually rush his way here so that they can spend the break together.”

“He’d be carrying two lunchboxes. One for himself and the other for Senior Yu.”

“Aw, Senior Xiang really cares for him so much, doesn’t he? Do you think he’s the one… you know… in the relationship?”

Needless to say, Xi Gu promptly chokes on the piece of carrot that he’s about to swallow.

A bottle of water appears right in front of his face just when he needs it, so he immediately grabs it and drinks down its contents gratefully.

Relieved, he turns to thank the person who’s offered the bottle to him, but the words get stuck in his throat as the person he has least expected to see is right in front of him.

“You shouldn’t rely too much on Xiang Hao Ting’s love.” Zhang Ting An warns. “It might choke you in the end.”

After all this time, Xi Gu has already been made aware of Ting An’s role in that ruckus a few months ago that has led to Xiang Hao Ting taking a one-week suspension for Yu Xi Gu.

“What do you want?” Xi Gu asks rudely, a defense mechanism against anything that is remotely hostile to him.

Then, as if in a flash, Xia De is already standing imposingly between them. “What are you doing here, Ting An?”

“This is none of your business.” Ting An responds mockingly at Xia De. “I need to talk with Yu Xi Gu.”

“Xi Gu is my brother’s boyfriend and he is a friend of mine too.” Xia De straightens up even further that just by their body composition alone, Xi Gu knows that if push comes to shove, Ting An wouldn’t stand a chance. “Their business is my business.”

“Xia De…” Xi Gu calls to him, causing the other boy to face him. “It’s okay. I’ll hear him out.”

“Xi Gu…” Xia De wants to protest, but if Xi Gu’s certain about this, then who is he to deny him. “Okay. But I’ll stay. I won’t let you guys speak alone.”

“For god’s sake, I sweat I’m not going to do anything to him.” Ting An curses behind them.

“It’s alright, Xia De.” Xi Gu assures him once more. “I can do this on my own.”

“If you’re sure…” Xia De relents and moves back to his seat, eyes not leaving the two, no matter what Xi Gu has told him about being okay to do this by himself.

“So, what do you want?” Xi Gu asks again.

Ting An smirks and chuckles at him softly.

“He’s a very fickle-minded boy, your Xiang Hao Ting.” Ting An begins, taking out his phone as he says so. “He often charges into things he thinks he likes without really thinking, not that he does that very often either”

“I’m going to stop you there.” Xi Gu blurts out, rising anger making him as impulsive as his lover. How dare Ting An insult Xiang Hao Ting? “I’m not going to sit here and listen to you demean Xiang Hao Ting’s character.”

Ting An ignores him and continues to scroll through his phone before placing it on top of Xi Gu’s desk for his perusal.

“What is this?” Xi Gu asks, not bothering to look down at the screen.

“See for yourself.” This time, Ting An picks up the phone and shoves it right at the other boy’s face.

Xi Gu initially blinks at the proximity, so he backs away a bit to get a clear view of the screen where a photo is presently on display.

Xi immediately notices that without a doubt, one of the two people on the photo is his Xiang Hao Ting. The other is a little bit blurry, although the feminine figure still rather gives away who it is.

“Is that…” Xi Gu starts to say, although he lets his question trail away as the setting of the photo sinks in. They are in a flower shop, judging by the insane amount of the thing is in the background. Hao Ting is holding out a bouquet of red roses to Li Si Yu, while the latter is gleefully breathing in the scent of the proffered plants.

“Hao Ting and Si Yu, yes.” Ting An finishes his question and answers it for him. “They went to the flower shop after class yesterday.”

“They’re working on a project together.” Xi Gu blurts out in defense of Xiang Hao Ting. “They must be in need of some flowers for it.”

“What project could possibly involve two students from different classes?” Ting An rebuts. “You’re the top student of our year, Xi Gu. I didn’t think you’d be too naïve to realize that.”

“Hao Ting wouldn’t lie to me.” Yu Xi Gu readily answers. “Not about this. He has even said that their project is due this Friday. Why would he even make up something like that?”

“This Friday?” Ting An’s eyes are round like saucers.

“Yes.”

“Yu Xi Gu, do you not realize what the date on Friday is?” Ting An inquires.

“It’s the 14th of February.” Xi Gu responds, not quite so quickly catching on to what the other boy is trying to imply. “What about it?”

“That’s… Valentines Day.” Ting An reminds him, making Xi Gu freeze for a moment.

Valentines’ Day.

Unbidden, memories of last weekend’s arts and crafts session at Brother Zhi Gang’s store invades his thoughts. They have been cutting out heart-shaped décor for the shop’s interior design! How has he not realized that the holiday is coming?

“Valentines…” Truth be told, Xi Gu has never regarded the day as anything special, considering that all his life, he has never felt any need to commemorate it. He has always just been so focused on his goal to get the top grades in school so that he could eventually enroll in a prestigious university to make a good future for himself. Love life has never been in the equation, except this year, when it has quite simply barged into his life without warning.

Perhaps that is why it has not occurred to him either this year.

“Yeah, it’s Valentines season, Yu Xi Gu.” Ting An repeats. “And he’s spending away his time with Li Si Yu.”

Xi Gu glares at him. “What’s your point?”

“My point is that he’s going to leave you very soon to get back with Li Si Yu.” Ting An tells him, his expression, serious. “I’ve seen it all happen before, although at that time, your and Li Si Yu’s roles are reversed. Xiang Hao Ting will become distant, will pursue someone else without letting his current lover know, and then will break up with them immediately after without a hint of remorse. So, before that happens, you should be the one to cut ties with him.”

“I know you hate him and think of him as a player, but Xiang Hao Ting really isn’t like that.” Yu Xi Gu exclaims, confident. “And I trust him.”

“Huh.” Ting An huffs out loud. “Should have known that when it comes to love, not even the smartest of people can make the most rational decisions. Don’t come running to me when I’m proven right.”

He leaves without saying another word.

If he has come to tell Xi Gu about this the day before or over the weekend, Ting An would have achieved his desired effect. Xi Gu’s been feeling entirely pitiful the past few days that an incriminating evidence such as that photo could have possible brought him down to tears.

But today is a different day. He has been assured by Hao Ting himself that they are each other’s and nobody else’s. They love each other completely and all they really need to do is to never doubt the strength of their love.

And after a quick introspection, Yu Xi Gu finds that he really does. Deep down, he trusts Xiang Hao Ting with all his heart.

Now, the real problem is… what the hell is Yu Xi Gu going to give his boyfriend for Valentines’ Day? He only has three days left to plan and prepare!

Chapter Text

SIX

He has done it.

In a matter of days, Yu Xi Gu has been able to come up with his Valentines’ gift for Xiang Hao Ting. It hasn’t been easy, given his limited time and resources. But he takes pride with his craftiness, and he has used just that to come up with something that his boyfriend would hopefully appreciate.

He smiles and looks down at his handiwork.

It’s a simple heart-shaped keychain made out of wood that Yu Xi Gu has personally carved. He rubs his thumb on its unpolished surface softly, feeling the characters of their names meticulously engraved on each side.

Xiang Hao Ting & Yu Xi Gu.

He loves it, and he hopes Xiang Hao Ting does too.

And then, turning to his side he looks imploringly at Whitey.

“What do you think? Will he like it?” He laughs, feeling rather silly at seeking validation from his pet beetle.

He stifles a yawn, already feeling the fatigue after the hard work he has put into this gift for the past few days.

He quickly dusts off his desk free of the wood shavings before slumping straight into his mattress.

He takes a quick glance at his phone to check the time, and realizes that there are only a few minutes left until midnight. It’s almost Valentines’ Day.

He briefly wonders whether he should send his boyfriend a quick greeting via LINE, arriving to the conclusion that he probably should and that he might as well ask him how his project is coming along.

His Xiang Hao Ting has put so much effort into that project of his that Yu Xi Gu can only hope that whatever it is, it will turn out amazingly.

“Happy Valentines’ Day.”

He sends the text before he can overthink about it. And yet all the same, he wonders if that might have been a little too generic. Maybe he should have added a smiley? Or a heart emoji?

He adds a bunny sticker with heart eyes instead.

Not a minute has passed and his phone vibrates with a reply from Hao Ting.

“Happy Valentines’ Day to you too, my Xi Gu! <3”

Xi Gu grins stupidly at his phone. He adores Xiang Hao Ting so much.

“How’s your project going? Is everything okay?” Xi Gu sends shortly after, making true with his earlier resolve to check on his boyfriend’s progress with his task.

“Almost done! Can’t wait to show you. I’m quite proud of it.”

Huh, so after all this time, Yu Xi Gu will finally get to see what this thing that has taken much of Hao Ting’s time the past week is really all about.

He’s feeling rather generous tonight, so he replies, “Whatever it is, I’m sure it’s going to be amazing. You’ve put in so much effort into it.”

“I sure hope so! <3” Hao Ting gets back to him immediately.

“Well then, good night!” He texts back, already feeling sleepy at this point.

“What, no kiss?” Xi Gu rolls his eyes fondly. Xiang Hao Ting is acting like a big baby, as usual.

He complies just the same, sending his boyfriend a kissing bunny sticker.

“Good night!” Xiang Hao Ting ends their conversation with a kissing emoji of his own.

With his heart full of happiness and love, Xi Gu closes his eyes and promptly falls asleep.

When he wakes up that morning, he does his pre-school ritual like clockwork, except that today, he finds himself humming a cheerful tune.

He picks up his bag and zips it open to make sure that he has placed his gift inside. Assured that it’s there, he makes his way to the door.

The moment he gets out, he notices it immediately. Because with its bright red color, it’s quite impossible to miss. Right there, tied with a string on his apartment’s door handle, is a gigantic heart-shaped balloon.

“That idiot Hao Ting!” Xi Gu mutters to himself. For who else could it be other than him? “Up all night working on a project and still had the time to go here to set this up?” He shakes his head, although a smile finds itself residing on his face.

How can he get upset with Hao Ting when he’s being sweet like this?

There’s a note tied together with the balloon so Xi Gu get to work unraveling the knot. He ties the balloon to his wrist, not quite ready to let go of this cute surprise, before reading the message scribbled in what is undoubtedly Hao Ting’s handwriting.

“My dearest Yu Xi Gu,

Happy Valentines’ Day!

I still clearly remember the first time I held the handle to your apartment door. It was the day of the midterm exams and the asshole that I was tried to stop you from taking the test. I was arrogant, and I was foolish. I was well aware of the consequences to myself of the trick that I pulled on you, but I never regarded what missing the exams could have meant to you. I’m terribly sorry for everything. If I could, I would turn back time so you would never have to suffer because of me.

I promise you, from this day forward, I will only love you, protect you, and care for you. No more pain. No more anger. No more sadness.

I love you so much.

Yours till eternity, Xiang Hao Ting.”

Unbidden, a tear falls down from Yu Xi Gu’s eyes. No, they’re not tears of pain, or anger, or even sadness. Right now, he’s just truly overwhelmed with happiness that these teardrops are coming as if they have a will to flow on their own.

He’s not aware that Hao Ting could express his emotions so beautifully in writing. It makes his heart swell with love.

“Oh, Hao Ting, I wouldn’t change a thing.” He whispers to himself. “Had it not been for those fateful misfortunes, we would not be the way we are now.”

Leave it to Hao Ting to make him overly emotional first thing in the morning.

He takes a moment to calm himself and dry his tears, but the smile that he’s worn ever since he has spotted the red balloon remains to be a fixture on his face.

He starts walking, although his head is miles away, reminiscing those early days of their relationship.

He gets jolted quickly back to reality however, when he’s reached a certain juncture by the main road.

“Xi Gu ge!” A soft, feminine voice calls after him. It sounds familiar, but he can’t quite put a finger on who it is.

He turns around, looking for the source of the voice, and spots her nearly instantaneously.

“Xiang Yong Qing?” Definitely not someone he is expecting to see. “What are you doing here?”

She’s standing a few feet away from him, clad in her own school uniform. What catches Xi Gu’s attention however, is the red heart-shaped balloon tied to her wrist.

“Ge ge asked me to take a walk with you this morning.” She grins at him, and then holds out her hand. “And to give you this.”

“A-another balloon?” Xi Gu laughs a little bit, cheeks turning a deep shade of red. Really, does Hao Ting need to involve his sister with this romantic shenanigan of his?

He unties the string from around her arm and secures it together with the first one already on his wrist.

“And another letter.” She declares cheerfully. “Isn’t ge ge the sweetest boyfriend? He’s worked really hard to make this work, you know?”

“How did he get the time to do all these?” Xi Gu asks aloud, taking the piece of paper from his boyfriend’s little sister. If Hao Ting’s slacking off his studies again, then Xi Gu will have no choice but to give him a stern reprimand. “Didn’t he have a special project to submit in school today?”

Yong Qing is quiet for a moment, as if debating in her head what to say next. “My brother has super powers, you know. If he wants to get things done, he’ll get them done. No matter how heavy the load is.”

“Your brother is very stubborn.” Xi Gu concedes.

“Well… what are you waiting for?” She urges. “Let’s read it now.”

“W-what?” Xi Gu clutches the note close to his chest. He’s not sure he wants to share Hao Ting’s message even to his sister. It just seems to be a little bit personal.

Yong Qing sighs, chuckling slightly. “I’m kidding. I could have read it earlier while waiting for you, but I didn’t. I’m paid to deliver, not to read.”

“He paid you for this?” Yu Xi Gu would never understand the dynamics of the Xiang siblings.

“Of course!” She replies, eyes turning big and round, and then she smiles. “No work is done for free!”

“R-right.” Yu Xi Gu can’t help snickering at her incredulity.

“Well then, Xi Gu ge.” Yong Qing prompts. “Go ahead and read it so I can take you to our next stop.”

“Next stop?” Xi Gu asks, a little perplexed.

“Just go along with it.” Yong Qing brushes off his question. “It’s nothing to worry about. I promise you’ll love it.”

He stares at her worriedly for a moment before he resignedly unfolds the piece of paper Yong Qing has just handed over to him.

“To my lovely Yu Xi Gu,

You don’t know how effortlessly breathtaking you look. Staring closely at your beautiful face would often make me speechless and my heart thump loudly in my chest.

Remember that day on this street? I got you out of the way of that speeding motorcycle and we kind of got really close and personal. You asked me what I was doing here and I stupidly answered that I was just passing by.

That was the lamest excuse I have ever given in my life, and I still beat myself up for spouting that lousy lie. And for panicking and running away after getting exposed.

I haven’t realized it then, but you really have that effect on me. Just staring at you already makes me feel things I’ve never felt before.

I love you for real.

Wholeheartedly yours, Xiang Hao Ting.”

After reading the note, relishing every single word, he looks up to Yong Qing with a blinding smile.

“Your brother really is something.” He admits, a stray tear yet again finding its course along his cheek.

Yong Qing steps closer to him and wipes it away with her thumb.

“He is, isn’t he?” She agrees.

“Thank you for this, Yong Qing.” Xi Gu wraps her in a tight hug. He sends a silent prayer to whoever is listening up there, thanking them for giving Hao Ting such a kind and loving sister.

“This is nothing, Xi Gu ge.” She utters, her voice muffled in their embrace.

She then breaks their hug apart and takes a glance at her watch. “We’ll have to move now, Xi Gu ge.”

Despite the urgency in her tone, they still walk through the streets in quite a comfortable pace. At first, Xi Gu’s clueless as to where their next destination is, but the path they’re taking is familiar enough for him that he quickly realizes that their next stop would be Brother Zhi Gang’s shop.

As they make the last turn to the store, Xi Gu can already make out the familiar sight of two heart-shaped balloons tied to the wrist of his Brother Zhi Gang and one Sun Bo Xiang.

They’re both waiting for him by the entrance to the shop.

“My part of the mission ends here.” Yong Qing declares as soon as they’ve reached the couple. “I’m going to school now. I hope you enjoy the rest of the surprise!”

“Oh, bye bye!” She’s already walking away so Xi Gu can only shout after her. “Take care!”

Once she has disappeared around the corner, he turns his attention to the pair that has been amusedly looking at him since he’s arrived.

“Brother Zhi Gang, Sun Bo Xiang, did Xiang Hao Ting put you up to this as well?” He jokes as a way of greeting.

“He did.” Zhi Gang admits. “I find it quite romantic and I think you’d love it so I agreed with his plan.”

“And since my brother’s asked so nicely, then who am I to say no?” Sun Bo Xiang confirms as well, raising his hands animatedly as he shrugs.

Xi Gu can only shake his head at that. Hao Ting has really gone all out for this surprise.

The couple in front of him both extend their arms to him, entreating him to untie the balloons from them.

“Do you think it’s a good plan to tie all these balloons to your own wrist?” Bo Xiang asks after Xi Gu has secured them to himself. “You’re not going to be carried away into the wind, right?”

“Silly!” Xi Gu chuckles softly, not really offended by the joke. He has been used to getting teased because his weight.

“Bo Xiang!” Zhi Gang chides his lover just the same.

“Alright, alright.” Bo Xiang raises his hands in mock surrender. “I was kidding.”

“Anyway, Xiao Gu.” Zhi Gang shifts the topic of their conversation. “Here’s the letter for this stop.”

He hands over the third note to Xi Gu who promptly takes it from him and unfolds it to read.

“To my hardworking Yu Xi Gu,

Remember when all those months ago, I barged into this shop not knowing that you worked here, and my privileged ass just started making a scene for my buddy Sun Bo Xiang?

Do you also recall the time that I stirred up some trouble at the bar where you worked as a server, just because I couldn’t grasp the idea of you working at such a place?

Looking back to all those moments, it’s easy to conclude that I have done nothing but to mess things up for you. I came in like a whirlwind, threatening to blow away all the efforts that you’ve poured into securing the future that you have always desired for yourself.

It all started as a big mess didn’t it?

But I’m glad and I feel extremely lucky that you’ve given me a second chance. Now I can make amends on all those mistakes that I’ve done against you. I can’t say that I will be perfect from here on out, but I swear by you that I’ll try my best to grow into a better man. For you, and for myself.

If you’d allow me, I’d like to be always by your side to help and support you in achieving the future that you’ve always wanted.

Your imperfect but sincerely trying boyfriend, Xiang Hao Ting.”

“I have no idea he is such a sap.” Xi Gu states after he finishes reading the note, shaking his head in disbelief.

“He wasn’t.” Sun Bo Xiang replies. “Not until you came into his life. He was never like this to anyone before.”

Xi Gu turns his head down shyly. After all, what can he respond to that?

“He cares for you more than he has ever cared for anyone else.” Sun Bo Xiang continues.

“To put in this much effort for Valentines’ Day, I think he’s really madly in love.” Zhi Gang teases.

Sun Bo Xiang then turns to him, pouting. “Well, what about us for our Valentines’?”

“Oh, you know we have our plans for later already.” It is Zhi Gang’s turn to become shy all of a sudden, grabbing Sun Bo closer to him so he can fix his school uniform. “For now, you have to fulfill your favor to your friend. Take Xi Gu safely to his next destination, okay?”

Sun Bo takes a quick glance at an amused Yu Xi Gu before turning back to his Brother Zhi Gang. “Fine. But I promise, Zhi Gang ge, next year, I’ll outdo whatever Valentines’ Day surprise Hao Ting will be planning.”

“I don’t doubt it.” Zhi Gang smiles at his sulking boyfriend before kissing him on the forehead. “Now go.”

After a few more sickeningly sweet banters from the couple, Xi Gu and Bo Xiang eventually make their way to their next destination.

“Just how many locations are there?” Xi Gu asks curiously. He looks at the time and notices that there’s only about half an hour left before the first class of the day begins.

“Just this last one, and then we’re on our way to Zen Ren.” Sun Bo replies helpfully.

“Would you know how Xiang Hao Ting managed to prepare for all these despite the project he’s working on?” Xi Gu ventures to ask, mostly just to keep their conversation going.

“What project?” Sun Bo turns to him, confused.

Xi Gu looks back at him, equally confused. “You know… the one he’s working on with Li Si Yu? Did he not tell you?”

“Oh.” Sun Bo slaps his hand right into his mouth. “Oh! That project! Yes, I know about that. I don’t know how he did it but he was able to finish it on time.”

“I hope he didn’t let Li Si Yu do all the work so that he could focus on planning this instead.” Xi Gu declares. He doesn’t want this thoughtful surprise to be at the expense of other people.

“Oh no, trust me. He’s done most of the tasks in the project.” Sun Bo Xiang assures him.

“You seem to know a lot about it.” Xi Gu realizes. “But he hasn’t shared a single detail with me. Can you tell me what it is all about? What subject is it for? Will he be in trouble if the project doesn’t meet the standard grade?”

Xi Gu belatedly notices that Sun Bo Xiang is sweating rather profusely even if the weather is a little cool.

“Look, here we are!” His friend exclaims loudly and starts running down the side of the street. It’s clearly a diversion from the topic he is trying to bring up but it works regardless, as Xi Gu becomes distracted by the presence of the rest of Hao Ting’s band of brothers.

He can see yet again, a few more heart-shaped balloons tied to their respective wrists.

“Xia De, Xia En, Gao Chun.” He greets them one by one as he reaches their side.

“Xi Gu! You made it!” Xia De is the first to greet him. “So, do you know where we are?”

“Yeah, we want to know why he chose this place.” His twin brother seconds. “A-Hao’s been very secretive about this.”

Xi Gu studies where they are – a You Bike station at the foot of a small mountain.

He grins. Of course, Xiang Hao Ting would pick this location too.

“He’s smiling!” Gao Chun’s exclamation reminds him that he isn’t alone. “He knows something!”

He regards all four of them, Sun Bo Xiang included. They are seemingly expectant, waiting for him to reveal the significance of this place.

“If Xiang Hao Ting didn’t tell you about it, then I don’t think I’m in the place to share it with you either.” He declares.

“Aw come on!” Xia En moans. “Why must it be a top secret?”

“Guys, if he doesn’t want to share then let’s not force him.” Xia De argues, reverting to his role as Xi Gu’s spokesperson of sorts once again.

“This isn’t the exact location, actually.” Xi Gu admits. “The real one is on top of the mountain. The one with the viewing deck of the entire city.”

“Oh, so it’s somewhere private up there, eh?” Sun Bo Xiang grins at him maliciously, eyebrows suggestively moving up and down. “Don’t tell me…”

“Wha – no!” Xi Gu’s cheeks and ears turn red so quickly.

“Say no more! I don’t want to hear the details!” Xia En covers his ears in what could probably be secondhand embarrassment. “I shouldn’t have pushed you to share!”

“Really, it’s nothing like that.” Xi Gu tries to convince them, obviously flustered. “It was our first date, okay? We didn’t do anything more than just talk and watch the stars!”

“Are you sure?” Gao Chun asks, taking a step closer to him.

“I’m sure.” He takes a step back in turn.

“Come on guys, stop flustering Xi Gu.” Xia De thankfully intervenes at this point, extending his arm with the tied balloon toward Xi Gu. “Remember we’re on a mission here.”

The rest of the guys follow suit, dropping the subject altogether, much to Yu Xi Gu’s relief.

Once he’s added the three new balloons to his arm, Gao Chun hands over another piece of paper for him.

“You didn’t read through this did you?” Xi Gu asks them a little worriedly.

“No, we didn’t.” Gao Chun responds. “Not because we didn’t want to, but because Xia De made sure we weren’t able to do so.”

“See what I have to put up with for a twin brother?” Xia En laments, although it’s clear to see that he doesn’t really mean it. “Why does he have to be such a spoilsport?”

Xia De only shakes his head at his brother’s antics. Then he turns to Xi Gu. “Go ahead, and read it.”

Yu Xi Gu does as he is told.

“To my brightest star, my sun, my Yu Xi Gu,

This is the place where we spent our first Christmas together. Hearing you open up about your parents, your childhood, and your dreams have filled my heart with so much love for you. As I listened to you that evening, I simply couldn’t believe how lucky I am to have you by my side.

I was a petulant child who only cared about the present with no sense of what I want to become in the future. But ever since I met you, you’ve become my guiding star, my sun, the center of my universe. You became the reason why I wake up each morning and why I look forward to my tomorrows.

I suddenly have a vision of what I want to do – to study Physics together and explore the stars together. We’ll have a good life together and we’ll prove to everyone in the world that an unlikely pair could share a love that is true and unbreaking.

You and I. Yu Xi Gu and Xiang Hao Ting. We will continue to love each other for the rest of our time.

I love you.

Happy Valentines’ Day.

Dearly yours, Xiang Hao Ting.”

What in the world has Yu Xi Gu done in this world to deserve such a loving man? He has never felt so loved like this before. Hao Ting is not here in person and yet these written words resonate so deeply within him.

His heart is pounding so fast, threatening to break out of his chest and run all the way to Xiang Hao Ting for him to safekeep for eternity.

“I-it’s… beautiful.” He comments, surreptitiously wiping away yet another stray tear away from his cheeks. “I didn’t know that he has his way with words like this. This… it’s perfect.”

“It should be.” Sun Bo Xiang seconds. “He did spend countless hours in the library perfecting those letters.”

“Oh…” Xi Gu feels a little bit of guilt for not having prepared any elaborate message for Hao Ting. “I haven’t even thought of giving him one…”

“Doesn’t matter!” Sun Bo is quick to wave his worries off. “He’s over the moon enough as it is now that you guys are together. Your presence in his life is already more than enough to make him the happiest man in the planet, next to me and my Zhi Gang of course.”

A series of rambunctiousness ensues as the group teases Sun Bo Xiang with his sappiness and Yu Xi Gu can only laugh at their antics from the sidelines.

So, this is how it feels like to have a taste of freedom. It’s… refreshing, like being able to breathe air after being drowned for so long.

“Hey, enough.” Xia De, as usual, eventually becomes the voice of reason. “We only have a few minutes before class starts. We should already go.”

The guys, as usual, grumble at Xia De but they heed his words nevertheless.

They walk at an amiable pace, talking about anything here and there. Not once does Xi Gu feel like he’s isolated from the group. As a matter of fact, he’s quite surprised at how seemingly easy it has been for him to join into their fold.

The feeling is quite overwhelming and he’s really just trying to keeping it all in to avoid breaking down in a hot mess of happy tears in the middle of the road.

Then he sees him in the distance, waiting for him by the gates to Zen Ren High. Just like the others, he has a heart-shaped balloon tied to his arm, but it’s the largest that he has seen today. And looking like a traditional Casanova, he has a single bright red-colored rose held in between his teeth.

Xi Gu’s emotional dam breaks loose and the tears begin streaming down once more.

He runs, faster than he has ever run before. He runs until he reaches Xiang Hao Ting who has his arms wide open, ready to catch Xi Gu and keep him in his tight embrace forever.

Xi Gu burrows his head on Hao Ting’s chest, feeling the warmth emanating from the taller boy. He also feels the quiet rumble as his boyfriend begins to laugh.

“Happy Valentines Day, my Xi Gu.” Hao Ting tells him as he removes the flower from his bite. He raises Yu Xi Gu’s head by the chin, and then noticing his tears, swipes at them adoringly. “Did you like your surprise?”

“It’s… it’s amazing.” Xi Gu answers in between bouts of tiny sniffles. “I… I don’t know what else to say. It’s just… beautiful. Thank you.”

“You can say you love me, for starters.” Hao Ting grins at him, teasing, handing him the red rose.

It looks exactly just like any other rose that Yu Xi Gu has seen before but this specific one that’s now in his hands seem to already be the most beautiful of them all.

Xi Gu smacks Hao Ting lightly on the arm before placing his head once again on the other boy’s chest. “Silly, you already know how I feel about you.”

“But I want to hear it.” Hao Ting demands, pulling back a little to show his pleading pout to the shorter boy.

Xi Gu stares at him for a while, marveling at how Hao Ting can be both cute and handsome at the same time, before turning around to see who’s right there with them.

A few students are watching their interaction with bated breath, while another handful are taking videos and photos of them nonstop. Their friends are just behind them, quietly observing how things unfold.

Finally, Xi turn back to Hao Ting with a triumphant smirk, declaring, “Why don’t I show you instead?”

And with a quick tiny step forward, he pulls Hao Ting’s head down to let their expectant lips meet again.

Around them, their crowd goes wild. Screw their audience. Hao Ting deserves this kiss. Heck, Xi Gu himself deserves this kiss.

It seems like an eternity but it has truly only been seconds, but they soon break apart.

“My Xi Gu is getting bolder.” Hao Ting grins at him, elation clearly expressed in the glint of his eyes.

“Just this once.” Xi Gu warns him. “As a thank you for the wonderful Valentines gift.”

“Ah, does that mean I’ll get more kisses later on?” Hao Ting asks playfully.

Xi Gu tilts his head in confusion.

“The surprise isn’t over yet, Xiao Gu.” Hao Ting clarifies, taking his boyfriend by the hand. “The day has just begun.”

Yu Xi Gu gapes at him. “What do you mean?”

But instead of answering him, Hao Ting just shrugs and tugs at his hand, asking him for them to start walking together. They eventually reach Xi Gu’s classroom, just exactly when the school bell starts to ring.

“Don’t want you to get marked as tardy again because of me.” Hao Ting shares when Xi Gu’s already settled down on his seat, leaning down to leave a quick peck on his boyfriend’s forehead. “Do take care of the rose for me, okay? I’ll see you at lunch time!”

Without waiting for a response, and thankfully so because Xi Gu’s truly out of words, he skips away happily, humming a merry tune to himself and grinning like a loon.