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the subtle art of falling

Chapter Text

It started slowly.

Xingchen wasn’t sure he could pinpoint the exact moment he realized Xue Yang had changed. When Xue Yang started using his fists as conversation and his words as poison. He wondered that perhaps if he'd paid more attention, however, he would've noticed. 

Xingchen had learned a few things in his nearly 21 years of existence. Namely, people are cruel, especially to those who were different. He didn't think Xue Yang was like that. He'd hoped Xue Yang wasn't like that. Xingchen had spent his entire life being different. From having to learn braille, to navigating life with a white cane, to considering a seeing-eye dog only to realize he couldn't afford health insurance, let alone a dog that would cost him thousands of dollars. But he'd faced it all with a smile, with a burning hope that humanity was worth saving, because what was the whole point of everything if it wasn't?

It seemed Xue Yang saw that positivity, that smile some compared to the sun, and made it his goal to crush it. To destroy any semblance of that happiness and wipe it clean from Xingchen's features.

In Xingchen’s opinion, things hadn’t started out so bad. Sure, maybe not everything was perfect, but for the most part their relationship was normal.

Until suddenly, it wasn’t.

The first time Xue Yang hit him, it was so unexpected Xingchen had thought it was an accident. Xue Yang spent the next hour profusely apologizing until Xingchen forgave him. Xingchen was forgiving in nature. Some people claimed he was naive, or too nice. Maybe they were right.

It happened again. A push, a shove, or Xue Yang uttering hurtful words under his breath.

Xingchen felt it all, and still, he didn’t leave. He felt Xue Yang's words settle into his bones, until he carried them all like a weight. Slowly, his bright smile dimmed, his eyes lost their spark, and all the hope he had began to slip through his fingers.

He should’ve left.

And now, as Xue Yang’s threats hung in the air, stopping Xingchen from breathing a word about any of this to anyone, he realized he was trapped. Falling in a vicious cycle of pain and tears and there was nothing he could do about it. No one he could tell.

He could see the way the people around him were beginning to worry. Especially his best friend of almost ten years, Song Lan, who knew him better than he knew himself. Xue Yang had started controlling Xingchen’s contact with his friends, to the point he rarely even talked to Song Lan anymore. It hurt. He wanted his best friend back.

It was almost eight months ago when Xingchen realized his relationship with Xue Yang wasn’t okay. But he was Xue Yang’s prisoner, and no matter what he tried to do, he was trapped. Trapped living in an apartment with Xue Yang because he had nowhere else to go. Trapped working the same shitty retail job only for all of his paychecks to transfer straight into Xue Yang’s bank account.

He didn’t know how much longer he could survive this.

The day started out almost peaceful. Xingchen woke up at 8 in the morning to a quiet apartment. He rolled out of bed, brushed his teeth and still there was no sign of Xue Yang. He knew the apartment like the back of his hand, and didn’t usually need a cane to get around.

Xingchen’s heart stuttered as he opened the door to the kitchen, wondering if Xue Yang was directly in front of him and just staying silent as a hawk waiting to attack. Swallowing nervously, Xingchen opened the fridge to try to find something to eat and praying to any god that would listen that Xue Yang wasn’t around.

Evidently, God didn’t want to answer.

The front door opened with an obnoxious creak, footsteps echoing through the living room. Xingchen put down the carton of milk he’d just gotten out of the fridge onto the counter and briefly closed his eyes.

“Xingchen?” a sickly sweet voice called, “where are you?”

Xingchen didn’t want to answer.

He had to answer.

“In here,” he responded, “where were you?”

In response, Xue Yang dropped a bag of groceries on the counter. Xingchen jumped. Xue Yang was behind him, shuffling through what sounded like a plastic bag. He was surprised. Usually, grocery shopping was his job.

“You slept in,” Xue Yang remarked.

Xingchen wasn’t sure how to respond in a way that wouldn’t further upset the man before him, so he just shrugged.

“Usually you’re up by six.”

“I was tired.”

Xue Yang smiled, head tilting to the side as if lost in thought. “You were tired.”

Xingchen clamped his mouth closed and nodded, feeling as if anything he tried to say would be a trap.

“Xingchen,” Xue Yang said, his voice almost threatening. “Come here.”

Xingchen, after a few moment’s hesitation, forced his legs to move toward his boyfriend. Casting his eyes downward, Xingchen stood about a foot in front of Xue Yang. Xue Yang didn’t make a sound. All Xingchen could hear was the pounding of his heartbeat in his ears, his usually straight posture slightly slouched over.

“You know I don’t like yelling at you,” Xue Yang said, shaking his head as if disappointed, “but sometimes, sweetheart, you really need it. I love you. You know I love you. Don’t you love me?”

Xingchen’s vocal cords weren’t working properly. He quietly choked out a ‘yes’.

“What was that?”

“Yes,” Xingchen repeated, louder this time.

“Good.”

Xingchen and Xue Yang stood there a little longer, Xingchen’s head down while Xue Yang watched him like a predator stalking its prey.

“I have to get ready for work,” Xingchen finally said, and without a word, disappeared into the bedroom. Hands shaking, he changed into a sweater and a pair of jeans. He grabbed his white cane, which he’d left leaning against his nightstand, and frowned.

He didn’t have work.

But at this point, he had no other way of getting out of the house without arousing suspicion, and Xingchen missed Song Lan so much it hurt. He needed to see him.

They were meeting at a small diner about ten minutes away. Xingchen wasn’t all that hungry anymore, but he wanted to see his friend.

He wished he could tell Song Lan what was going on. He wished he wasn’t such a coward.

He grabbed the key to the house and his wallet and made toward the door, biting his lip nervously.

“Wait,” Xue Yang said, walking towards Xingchen from the kitchen door. It took everything inside Xingchen not to back away as he heard Xue Yang’s footsteps approach. Slowly, Xue Yang kissed Xingchen, his hands placed firmly on his waist. Xingchen stiffened up, clutching his keys a little bit tighter as he tentatively returned the kiss to avoid Xue Yang’s wrath.

“Have a good day at work,” Xue Yang said, sickly sweet once again.

“Thank you,” Xingchen whispered. Xue Yang let go of Xingchen’s waist. He took the opportunity to quickly slip out the door, heart once again pounding in his chest.

He was nervous, as he usually was everytime he broke Xue Yang’s rules. Rules saying he had to tell Xue Yang where he was going each time he left the house, rules saying he had to tell Xue Yang who he was with, when he’d be back.

Xingchen had made the walk several times now. This was his and Song Lan’s meeting place, and he figured he could make it without help. The walk went by in a blur, the only sound the buzzing of cars driving by and the slight tapping of his cane against the concrete in front of him.

The bell above the door chimed as Xingchen arrived at the diner, and explained to the wait staff he was meeting someone. After a brief description of Song Lan’s appearance, a waiter led Xingchen to where his friend was.

Song Lan was sitting at a table in the corner, next to a window. He was nursing a cup of coffee.

Xingchen sat down across from Song Lan, wondering why his heart was pounding. It wasn’t out of fear this time. It was happiness. Relief. “Hey, sorry I’m late. How long have you been here?”

Song Lan smiled at Xingchen’s arrival. “Only a few minutes. Don’t worry about it.”

Xingchen smiled brightly and nodded. “I told you I could get here without your help.”

He heard a soft chuckle from the other side of the table. “I’m proud of you.” He almost sounded sad when he spoke. Xingchen’s smile faded.

“Everything okay?”

“Yes,” Song Lan replied, “just thinking.”

“About?” Xingchen asked.

“I don’t know,” Song Lan said, “I don’t see you all that often anymore. I’m… worried about you.” Song Lan began to study his coffee mug as he said it. Xingchen stilled as the older man picked it up, took a sip, then continued to speak. “How are things with him?”

Song Lan and Xue Yang didn’t like each other. This was obvious to anyone who spent more than ten seconds in a room with the two of them. In the beginning, Xingchen had tried to get them to get along. He’d invite Song Lan over for dinner in nights that would just end in his best friend slamming the door on his way out and Xue Yang drinking himself into a slumber. Xingchen gave up after the fifth time this happened, when Xue Yang resorted to taking his anger at Song Lan out on his boyfriend.

Xingchen pondered his response. “Things are fine,” he said, unsure if he could stand to say anything else.

“Just fine?” Song Lan asked, quirking a brow.

“Fine,” Xingchen repeated, as if trying to reassure himself.

Mercifully, a young woman with a bright smile and an apron arrived at their table. “Anything I can get you, sir?” she asked, eyes cast down at Xingchen.

Xingchen ordered coffee, because his appetite hadn’t fully recovered from his interaction with Xue Yang that morning.

Song Lan frowned, but didn’t comment. The girl nodded and walked away, leaving the two alone, once again, in silence.

“Still,” Song Lan finally said, as if their conversation had never been interrupted, “I’m worried.”

Xingchen frowned, willing away the tears that threatened to gather behind his eyes. “Everything’s fine, Zichen.”

“If you say so,” Song Lan replied, then smiled warmly. “It’s been nearly a month since I’ve been able to sit and talk to you. How’re things?”

Xingchen couldn’t help but smile. “Things are okay.”

“Just okay? How’s work?” Song Lan asked. Xingchen’s heart warmed at the interest in Song Lan’s voice, like he actually cared what Xingchen had to say. They’d been best friends for years. Xingchen wondered how Song Lan wasn’t sick of him by now.

“It’s fine. I’m a manager now, which is nice. Retail isn’t… ideal though.” Xingchen shrugged, “I still get people questioning whether I should be able to work there because…” he trailed off, sighing,

Song Lan rolled his eyes and audibly huffed. Xingchen’s smile returned. “People are assholes. You’ve got more qualifications than all of them put together," Song Lan said. Xingchen felt Song Lan's foot nudge his own under the table. 

Xingchen laughed softly. “If you say so, Zichen.”

His coffee arrived and after thanking the waitress, he held the mug close and took slow sips. Song Lan leaned back in his seat and studied Xingchen, a crease forming between his eyebrows. “What’s that?”

“What?” Xingchen asked, head tilted slightly. Song Lan didn’t respond immediately.

“That bruise above your wrist.”

Xingchen’s face fell slightly as he put down his coffee and covered his wrist with his sleeve. “It’s nothing,” he said.

“Xingchen, there’s a bruise on your wrist that looks like someone grabbed you,” Song Lan said, voice turning stern.

Xingchen shrugged. “It’s nothing,” he repeated.

It wasn’t nothing. Just last night, Xue Yang had Xingchen pinned against the wall as he muttered insults under his breath and laughed as Xingchen panicked and cried, itching to cover his ears so he couldn’t hear Xue Yang’s words anymore. Evidently, Xue Yang had been holding him tight. Tight enough to leave marks.

Song Lan sighed, shoulders dropping and mouth quirking into a frown. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

“Yes, Zichen, I promise,” Xingchen replied, forcing a smile. “Everything’s fine.”

Xingchen wished that were true.

The rest of their meeting went by almost awkwardly. Song Lan didn’t bring up the bruise again, but he still sounded worried, his voice so hard to read it left Xingchen itching to be able to know what he was thinking without asking him. Song Lan offered to pay, much to Xingchen’s relief. Xingchen didn’t have very much money left. His heart did something funny when Song Lan reached his hand across the table and intertwined his fingers with Xingchen’s so gently, so soft, and said, “you know you can always talk to me, right? About anything.”

Xingchen swallowed and nodded. “I know.”

Song Lan smiled once again and stood, followed by Xingchen. Xingchen hugged Song Lan, his head tucked just underneath Song Lan’s chin.

He never wanted to leave his embrace.

Song Lan squeezed a little tighter, then finally pulled away. “Text me later, okay? We need to do this again.” He offered Xingchen his arm, then slowly led him out of the diner and back into the parking lot. Song Lan paid Xingchen one last worried glance. "I'll see you later," he said.

"Bye, Zichen." Xingchen gave Song Lan one last smile as his friend departed, leaving Xingchen trying and failing to figure out why his heart was doing flips and his stomach was filled with butterflies in a way it had never been before around Song Lan.

This time, he spent the walk home trying not to think about how he wished Song Lan never released him from that hug, and how badly he wanted to make a home in Song Lan’s arms.

It hadn’t even been two hours since he’d left, but he was hoping he could figure out a reason work would be so short if Xue Yang ended up confronting him. Perhaps he could say he just got called in to help with something really fast, and he wasn’t technically scheduled for a shift. He could say he was allowed to go home early because the store was overstaffed.

Excuses ran through his mind as he walked up the steps to the small apartment. The door was locked, and thankful he’d taken his keys, Xingchen unlocked it and opened the door.

He walked into the apartment.

He froze.

Xue Yang, foot tapping against the hardwood floor with one fist clutching his phone and the other curled into a fist, was sneering at Xingchen, several feet in front of where he stood.

“Work, huh?”

Chapter Text

Xiao Xingchen sometimes pondered a time when he was happy.

Or, at least, happier.

When he'd laugh himself to tears with Song Lan on nights they'd stay up too late video chatting each other with school the next morning, when he met Wei Wuxian who introduced himself with a corny joke that left Xingchen reeling, when he wasn't plagued with nightmares, with anxiety, with fear that every wrong move he made would be judged. Before he was sentenced to a prison he didn't deserve. He wished he could go back to those times now, back before he flinched every time someone raised their voice.

He wished he wasn't so painfully, horrifyingly alone right now.

Xingchen tightened his fist around his cane and his other around his keys as the door closed behind him.

It was moments like this when he felt the most vulnerable, Xue Yang watching him like a hawk while Xingchen anxiously awaited whatever it was Xue Yang decided to do. "I was-"

"I don't want to hear it," Xue Yang interrupted. Xingchen could hear the smirk in his voice. "Did you really have to lie to me?" Xingchen listened as Xue Yang's footsteps advanced. Xingchen backed away on instinct, jumping as his back hit the door. For a moment, he pondered opening it and running, then realized he’d have to run down a flight of stairs with his boyfriend chasing him. He’d definitely fall.

"Xue Yang-"

"You were with him, weren't you?" Xue Yang asked. Xingchen shook his head, but before he could speak, maybe force some of the excuses he'd thought up on his walk home out of his mouth, he heard Xue Yang begin to pace back and forth. "Xingchen," Xue Yang sighed, his voice taking on an exasperated tone, "I'm not an idiot."

Xingchen stood as still as a statue, back still pressed against the door. "I never said you were," he whispered bravely.

Xue Yang laughed, a high-pitched, sarcastic sound that brought Xingchen to clamp his mouth shut and wish he'd never spoken in the first place. "Sweetheart," he started. His footsteps had stopped. He was seemingly once again only a few feet away from Xingchen. "You can't lie to me about where you're going."

"I didn't-"

"Xingchen," Xue Yang warned, "you were never at work. It's a wonder you even made it to Lotus Diner on your own, what with your..." Xue Yang trailed off, lips curled into a sneer, "capabilities. Or lack thereof."

Xingchen opened his mouth to argue, to say he was perfectly capable of walking to a diner by himself, when Xue Yang cut him off once again. The constant interrupting, the refusing to let Xingchen speak, was slowly bringing him to his breaking point. "After you left, I took a quick glance at your work schedule." Xue Yang laughed softly. "You made the mistake of leaving it open on your laptop. You weren't scheduled today. Now, I wanted to give you the benefit of the doubt. Maybe you just had a few things to do, or you were covering for someone, then you'd be home." Xue Yang audibly sighed. "I didn't realize I was living with such a dirty, naughty little liar."

"I didn't lie-"

"Bullshit!" Xue Yang suddenly shouted. Xingchen jumped, caught off guard by the sudden outburst that left his ears ringing. He dropped his keys to the ground, hands shaking. "Xingchen," Xue Yang said, voice sickly sweet once again, "why are you still trying to lie to me?"

This time, Xingchen didn't dare open his mouth. He felt like he was trapped in a horror movie he couldn't escape from.

"Answer me!" Xue Yang shouted.

Xingchen jumped again. "I-I‘m not, I... I-I don’t know," he stammered.

Xue Yang sighed once again. "I don't like that I can't trust you, love," he said, "it hurts to know that everything you say could be a lie now. Isn't that sad?" Xingchen stayed solid in place, refusing to move. Tears were starting to fill his eyes and he hastily blinked them away, keeping his head down to ensure Xue Yang didn't notice. He bit his lip, a nervous habit he'd developed in the last year or so that sometimes left with him a bloodied lip. "Now, I've had my suspicions for a while now. I figured, hey, better safe than sorry, huh?" Xue Yang said, a delighted kick to his voice that unsettled Xingchen to his core, "so I did my research. Ever heard of Life360?"

Xingchen's heart stopped working, his insides running cold. 

"I know it's an app that overly strict parents use on their kids, but I figured, why not try it out? So I downloaded it on both our phones when you were asleep a few months ago." Xingchen heard the grin behind Xue Yang's voice. "So no, baby, you weren't at work. You were probably with your little friend, huh?"

"You were tracking me?" Xingchen breathed.

"What was that, Xingchen? Speak up."

"You-you were tracking me?" Xingchen repeated, "how... in what universe do you think that's okay?" His voice shook as he spoke, anger coursing through his veins. How long had this really been going on? Did Xue Yang know about the other times Xingchen had lied to go be with his friends? To have some semblance of freedom?

Xue Yang laughed bitterly. "I did what I had to."

"That's... how could you do that?" Xingchen asked, voice rising. He meant to sound confident, but it only ended up sounding like a high-pitched, anger-filled cry. Frustrated tears brimmed his eyes. 

"Aww, are you upset?" Xue Yang pouted, "gonna cry?"

"You fucking asshole!" Xingchen shouted.

Seemingly, this little outburst had caught both of them off guard. A stunned silence followed, broken only by the sound of Xingchen's own heavy breathing.

Xingchen never swore. He couldn't remember the last time he'd said a curse word in his life, and it was obvious Xue Yang felt the same. 

"What did you just say to me?" Xue Yang whispered.

"I..." Xingchen's anger deflated, replaced by a deep, cold fear as the realization settled in of the trouble he was in. 

"No, sweetheart, don't hesitate, what did you just say to me?" 

"I-I'm sorry..." Xingchen's voice had gone quiet, shaky.

Terrified.

Xue Yang scoffed, "you better be sorry, you ungrateful little bitch." 

It all happened so fast. 

Crack.

Xue Yang’s fist connected with Xingchen’s stomach. Xingchen doubled over, gasping as the wind was knocked out of him. He clasped his hand to the area, over a bruise that was mostly faded by now which would surely be back.

Slap.

Xingchen audibly cried out as the back of Xue Yang’s hand hit his cheek hard enough to cause him to fall, the pain making his eyes water. He tried to use his white cane to catch himself, but ended up dropping it and crashing to the ground beside it. “Please-”

His voice cut off. Xue Yang’s foot connected with Xingchen’s stomach. Xingchen cried out again, sobbing now. Xue Yang grabbed a fistful of Xingchen’s hair and forced him to his knees. Xue Yang kneeled down, his face close enough to Xingchen's that he could feel Xue Yang's hot breath on his mouth. At a glance, it almost looked like Xue Yang was leaning in for a kiss.

"I'm a 'fucking asshole', huh? Well, sweetheart, you've got no idea how big of a fucking asshole I can be." Xue Yang threw Xingchen down to the ground as hard as he could, then stood up. Xingchen cried out, using his hands to catch his fall. He reached his hand forward, trying to blindly figure out where his cane had fallen. He wrapped his hand around it and swung it in the general direction of where Xue Yang stood. It connected with what he thought was Xue Yang's leg. Xue Yang gasped, alarmed, then grabbed the cane and tore it from Xingchen's hands. He tossed it away from the two of them with an angry grunt.

It landed on the other side of the room with a loud crash, knocking over what Xingchen assumed was either a picture frame or a vase of flowers he'd brought home the other day because he liked the way they smelled.

Xingchen shakily rose to his feet. He took one step, trying to run.

He didn’t get far.

Xue Yang’s arms wrapped around his waist, stopping him from any further movement. Xingchen squirmed, trying to pry Xue Yang's fingers off of his waist.

He let out a sob, gasping in pain as Xue Yang  threw him back onto the ground.

Another hit.

Another kick.

It was a never ending cycle of pain, of tears, of wishing Xue Yang would just kill him so it would all be over.

Xue Yang was yelling at him, but Xingchen couldn’t hear what he was saying over his own sobs and the pain that tore through his body. At some point, it stopped. Xingchen, curled up in a fetal position with his nose and lips caked in blood and what he suspected was either a cracked rib or a badly bruised one. It hurt to breathe. Surely that wasn't a good sign.

"I'm disappointed in you, Xingchen," Xue Yang sighed. His voice was coming from behind Xingchen now.

Xingchen didn't respond. He wasn't sure he could talk, even if he tried.

"All this just to catch a couple hours with him?" Xue Yang scoffed, "do you really think he cares about you?"

Xingchen squeezed his eyes shut. "S-Stop it..."

"He probably just pities you. I'm sure that's how a lot of people feel, y'know. They just see a pathetic, blind little brat. Don't you think so?"

Xingchen shook his head, curling in on himself tighter as he went to cover his ears with his hands. Xue Yang smirked, erupting into manic laughter. "You'll figure it out soon enough, Xingchen. They don't care about you. No one does. They all just feel sorry for you. That's all you'll ever be to them. A blind charity case."

"Shut up..."

Xue Yang chuckled. Xingchen expected another blow, physical or verbal, but instead, Xue Yang stepped back. "Clean up the glass that broke."

"I..."

"Clean it up, Xingchen," Xue Yang growled, and without another word, stormed off. The bedroom door slammed loud enough to shake the apartment. Xingchen jumped.

Shaking, Xingchen forced himself to his feet. Everything hurt. He took a few steps then stumbled forward, catching himself against a wall.

Finally, he found his way to the glass. 

Upon careful inspection that included risking slicing open his hands in order to figure out where the glass was, Xingchen realized it was in fact the vase of flowers that had shattered. He wasn't sure why that fact devastated him so much, but a choked sob rose from his throat. It was just another thing he'd loved that Xue Yang had destroyed. He stood up and limped over to where the cupboard was, pulling out a broom. Shakily, he began to clean up the mess as best as he could.

After he was certain he got most of the glass, he piled it onto a dust pan and threw it away. There was probably still more, but he didn't want to lug the heavy vacuum out and try to figure out how to plug it in right now with his battered body. He found his cane on the ground as well, next to the fallen flowers. He picked it up. 

He sat down on the sofa. Wrapped his arms around himself, trembling. 

You need to leave, a little voice in his head urged.

Run, before it's too late.

I don’t have anywhere else to go.

Yes you do. 

Xingchen looked up.

Song Lan.

Xingchen was scared. He was scared because Xue Yang had control of everything about him. And at least with Xue Yang he had shelter, food, a place to sleep. Xingchen squeezed his eyes closed. He'll kill you if you leave. He'll never stop looking for you.

He'll also kill you if you stay.

You'll be safe with Song Lan.

So Xingchen made up his mind.

As night fell, Xingchen listened for the sound of Xue Yang's snores drifting from their bedroom. When he finally heard them, he acted. He was still hurt. Each movement felt like a curse as he stood from his spot on the sofa and after hesitating, dropped his phone down onto the couch where he'd been sitting. 

Xue Yang had no chance of tracking him without it.

He slipped on a jacket, audibly whimpering in pain as he bent his arms to get them through the sleeves. 

And he left.

It was a cold night. Around 10 PM, from what Xingchen assumed. He held the jacket tighter around himself with one hand and pushed himself to move forward, even when all he wanted to do was stop and collapse into the grass. 

He couldn't stop the thoughts that crept into his head.

What if Xue Yang noticed he was gone and followed him?

What if Song Lan turned him away?

What if he really didn't have anywhere else to go?

No, he scolded himself. Song Lan would never turn him away like this.

He hoped.

When he finally arrived at the apartment complex, Xingchen opened the door to the lobby and found his way to the elevator. He'd been there enough times in the past to know where everything was. The conversations coming from the front desk stopped. Xingchen was sure he probably looked horrible, but he didn't care. He ignored them all.

He rode the elevator to the third floor, the movement causing his empty stomach to lurch uncomfortably. He grimaced, the doors sliding open. 

Finding his way to Song Lan's door proved to be slightly more difficult. Xingchen was becoming more disoriented and exhausted by the second, and as his fingers graced the braille written next to the numbers indicating what apartment each door led to, he started to wonder if maybe this wasn't the correct floor after all.

Finally, he found Song Lan's door. It wasn't until after he knocked that he heard voices on the other end. Did Song Lan have company over?

The door opened. "Xingchen, hey, what's-" Song Lan's voice cut off before he could finish his sentence, when he spoke again, more panicked this time. "Xingchen, what on earth happened to you?"

Xingchen blinked back tears. "Can I stay here for the night?"

"Of course. Of course you can. Come on." Song Lan extended his arm and once Xingchen had a hold of it, he led Xingchen inside the apartment. "Are you okay?"

Xingchen shook his head. "No." It was the truth. It was relieving, to be able to tell the truth. 

As Xingchen and Song Lan stepped into the living room, Xingchen realized the voices had come from two of his other friends. Wei Wuxian was in the middle of talking to what Xingchen assumed was Lan Wangji, his fiance, when his voice suddenly cut off. Xingchen felt his face heat up when he realized all the attention was on him now.

"Xingchen," Lan Wangji breathed.

"Are you okay?" Wei Wuxian asked.

Listening to all of his friends concerned voices was what finally set Xingchen over the edge. Tears gathered in his eyes and he shook his head, breaking down into sobs. He hated it. He hated that he was crying in front of so many people. He hated how small, how vulnerable he looked. He wanted to hide. He wanted to run. But instead, all he did was drop his white cane and sink to the floor. He felt Song Lan’s arms around him, slowly guiding him down. He buried his face in Song Lan’s chest and cried for all that had happened to him. For all the pain, the heartbreak, the suffering of the last eight months. 

He cried because maybe Xue Yang was right, and he was worthless. He cried because he felt alone. He cried because no matter what he did, there would always be something wrong with him.

He felt Song Lan’s hand running through his hair, the other holding him in a firm yet gentle embrace. He heard shuffling from the other side of the room as both Lan Wangji and Wei Wuxian rose from their seats and approached the two of them on the ground. 

He cried because he had such good friends, and he’d never be enough for them. He didn't deserve them. He didn't think he deserved anything.

“Xingchen,” Song Lan said, voice low, “what did that son of a bitch do to you?”

Chapter Text

Xiao Xingchen wondered how he'd survived this long.

He was exhausted. Spending nearly a year in constant fight-or-flight mode would do that to anyone. It was a soul crushing exhaustion that settled deep into his very bones, threatened to take over his entire body and put him to sleep for an eternity. Which he was sure he could do right here, if given the opportunity.

Xingchen shivered in Song Lan's arms, his cries finally settling down after who knew how long. It was as if his body had run out of tears to cry, and he was left feeling hollow, emptied out. Outside, the wind howled as rain slammed against Song Lan's window. Xingchen was grateful he'd made it here before the storm had hit.

Xingchen felt Song Lan rest his chin atop his head and release a deep sigh, his arms tightening around him. Nobody had spoken for several minutes, not since Song Lan had asked him the impossible to answer question.

What had Xue Yang done to him?

Perhaps the easiest way Xingchen could answer was to simply say he'd hit him. Several times. They'd gotten into a fight that had turned violent, and Xingchen needed to get out.

The more complicated answer had been circulating around Xingchen's head for a while now.

Xue Yang had crushed him, killed a vital part of his soul. No longer was Xingchen the boy who laughed at stupid jokes with a smile brighter than the sun. He was scared now. Of everything, it seemed. Xue Yang had made sure of it.

He made sure Xingchen was scared to say no, to argue. He made sure Xingchen was convinced he was worthless, that nobody cared about his opinion, that nobody would ever truly love him the way he deserved. The bruises Xue Yang had left were nothing compared to the scars his mind would carry for the rest of his life.

Xingchen flinched, a movement subtle enough that nobody noticed, as Song Lan gently wiped away the remaining tears on his face with his thumb. "What happened, Xingchen?" he asked gently.

Xingchen sighed. "We got into a fight," he said. His voice was still wobbly, small. 

Scared.

"And he hurt you?"

Xingchen bit his lip, nodded. "H-He got... really angry, to say the least."

"Jesus. That's no excuse to..." Song Lan trailed off.

"I'm going to kill him," Wei Wuxian decided. 

"Seconded," Lan Wangji agreed. 

"Please don't," Xingchen mumbled.

"That asshole deserves it," Wuxian said.

"Nobody's killing anybody right now," Song Lan said, "can one of you go grab the first aid kit?"

Xingchen heard shuffling as somebody stood up to leave. He couldn't tell who it was. He didn't want to move. The comfort and security of Song Lan's arms wasn't something he was willing to sacrifice just yet, but that also wasn't something he was willing to admit out loud. So when the first aid kit was brought out and Song Lan took it, Xingchen begrudgingly pulled away from Song Lan. 

"Let's move onto the couch," Song Lan said. He stood up, gently grabbing Xingchen's arm to help him to his feet. He directed Xingchen to the sofa, where he sat down. 

It started to rain harder outside, followed by a distant clap of thunder. Xingchen wondered if the thunder would wake up Xue Yang. He wondered how long it would be before Xue Yang noticed he was gone, or if he'd already noticed. If he was already looking.

Slowly, Song Lan began to clean the dried blood off Xingchen's face with a wash cloth. Song Lan's face was close enough that Xingchen could feel his breath, and his face heated up for a reason he couldn't quite explain.

"Xingchen," Song Lan muttered under his breath, "you had a black eye, didn't you? You can kind of still see it if you look closely." 

Xingchen bit his lip. Didn't respond.

The mood in the room seemed to shift as Song Lan, Lan Wangji, and Wei Wuxian seemed to come to the same realization at once. This wasn't the first time Xue Yang had done this. The only question was, for how long had this been going on? How long had their friend been living like this?

Finally, Song Lan finished tending to Xingchen's face. "Can..." he paused, as if contemplating the question, "can you take off your shirt for me?"

Xingchen visibly froze up, face paling several shades if that was even possible. "I... um..."

"Xingchen," Song Lan said, voice softer, "I just want to make sure you're not hurt."

"I'm not," Xingchen said, almost too quickly, "I don't think... there's nothing. I promise." 

He sounded like he was lying. Like he was in a TV show where the actor was trying to ensure the audience knew they weren't telling the truth. 

"Are you sure?" Song Lan asked, unconvinced.

Xingchen nodded. The pain in his rib had died down, which he took as a good sign. Other than that, the bruises and scars were numerous but not super painful. 

He wasn't ready, however, for everybody in the room to see them.

"How long has this been going on?" Wei Wuxian asked.

Xingchen bit his lip, unable to speak for a moment. Finally, he shrugged, "this has never happened before."

Everybody knew it was a lie.

Song Lan released a deep sigh, seemingly unaware of his actions as he reached up his hand and tucked a strand of hair behind Xingchen's ear. "Well," he began, frowning, "you can stay here as long as you need to."

"Thank you," Xingchen whispered. It was as if a weight he'd carried for so long started to leave his shoulders. At least he had a place to stay. A place where hopefully, Xue Yang wouldn't be able to find him. He closed his eyes, leaned back against the couch. 

"I'll go put that away," Wei Wuxian said. Xingchen heard him retreat down the hall, carrying what he assumed was the first aid kit. 

"Have you eaten anything today?" Song Lan asked.

"No. I'm not really hungry though."

"Xingchen," Song Lan said, unimpressed, "I'm going to make you something, okay? I'll be right back."

Xingchen didn't have the energy to argue as Song Lan walked away. Instead, he heaved a sigh. 

Lan Wangji broke the silence. "You're hurt."

"I'm fine. It doesn't hurt that bad."

"No," Wangji said, "not that."

It took Xingchen a moment to realize what Wangji had meant. That his pain went beyond his physical body. He sighed.

"I'm sorry," Xingchen said.

"For what?"

"For... for not being there."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean... we've been friends for years, and I-I wasn't even there when you got engaged. I wasn't out celebrating with you and everyone else. I should've been there and I'm... I'm sorry." Xingchen let out a shaky breath.

"It's okay," Wangji said, "not your fault."

"What's not your fault?" Wei Wuxian asked, strolling back into the room. He collapsed heavily on the sofa next to Wangji and dropped his head on Wangji's shoulder.

"Nothing, Wei Ying," Wangji sighed.

"We should probably go," Wei Wuxian said, "you need to rest. I'll text you tomorrow and so help me god, Xingchen, if you don't answer, I'm coming over here and I'm gonna-"

"Gonna what?" Xingchen asked. His mouth quirked into a small smile. It felt truly wonderful to smile.

"I haven't figured that out yet, but when I do, you better be scared."

"I'm terrified. Let me know when you figure it out," Xingchen mused.

"I will. I'm serious."

"Guess I better text you back then."

"Exactly." Wei Wuxian laughed brightly. Xingchen couldn't help but return it with a small giggle. "We'll see you later," Wuxian added.

"Bye guys," Xingchen replied. He listened as both Wangji and Wuxian stood from their seats and walked away. He heard voices sound from the kitchen as they said goodbye to Song Lan. As the door closed, Xingchen pulled his knees to his chest and sighed.

"Hey," Song Lan said as Xingchen felt a weight next to him on the couch. Song Lan's hand came to rest on his shoulder. "I made you soup. Eat up."

"Thank you," Xingchen mumbled. He held out his hands and allowed Song Lan to hand him the bowl, before he slowly started to eat. 

"Are you sure you're okay?" Song Lan asked. 

Xingchen simply shrugged. 

"God, he's such a fucking asshole."

"Language."

"I'm going to fucking murder him-"

"Song Lan," Xingchen interrupted, "please stop."

Song Lan softened. "I'm sorry."

Xingchen ate, listening as the wind howled outside and a distant car engine roared to life. He wondered if Xue Yang was looking for him.

He wondered how much trouble he'd be in if he was found.

"Why were they here?"

"We were just hanging out. Wei Wuxian texted me earlier and said he was bored, so I invited them over for a little bit."

Xingchen nodded. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt or anything-"

"If the word 'sorry' comes out of your mouth one more time, I swear to god."

"Sorry."

Song Lan chuckled. "You're the worst."

"Rude."

"It's the truth."

Xingchen smiled softly.

He decided he was very glad he ran away.

"I'm glad you came to me," Song Lan said, voice returning soft. Comforting.

"I... didn't know where else to go."

"You know you can always come here. No matter what."

Xingchen bit his lip, nodding. "Thank you."

"Of course." 

Xingchen had lost his appetite. He hadn't really had one to begin with, after all the stress and fear. He'd stopped touching the bowl of soup after he ate about half of it. 

"Are you done?" Song Lan asked. Xingchen nodded, about to apologize again for wasting food, before Song Lan took the bowl from his hands and placed it on the table in front of them. "You can take my bed for the night. You need it more than I do."

"No, it's fine, I can take the sofa."

"You're hurt, Xingchen."

Xingchen frowned. "I don't want to take your bed from you."

"I really don't mind." Song Lan paused briefly. "I mean. It's big enough, we can share if you want to."

Xingchen blushed again, wondering if Song Lan noticed the color that rose in his cheeks. "I... um..."

"We don't have to," Song Lan quickly said, "only if you want. I mean- I shouldn't have even suggested it-"

"It's fine," Xingchen said, "I'm okay with it if you are."

"I'm only okay with it if you're comfortable with it," Song Lan said.

Xingchen smiled. "I am, Zichen, I promise."

"Okay," Song Lan chuckled, "I have some clothes you can borrow. They might be a little big, but we can make them work." 

Xingchen nodded his head. Song Lan extended his arm and took Xingchen's hand in his, slowly leading him down the hallway into the bedroom. There was a breeze in the room and Xingchen shivered as the wind crept in from the open window above Song Lan's bed. Song Lan let go of Xingchen's hand and Xingchen listened as the other rummaged through his dresser in search of clothes. Song Lan returned to him and pressed a pair of sweats and a t-shirt in his hands. "I'll leave the room while you change." 

Xingchen nodded, thankful he didn't have to ask. Song Lan just knew.

The door closed behind Song Lan as he left. Xingchen put the clothes down on the bed and began the painstaking process of removing the sweater he'd been wearing. After several long minutes of agony and trying not to cry out in pain and alert Song Lan, Xingchen removed the sweater and changed into the shirt he'd been given. It was a lot looser on him, and didn't aggravate his aching body nearly as much. He then changed into the sweats, which were also slightly loose, but they were worlds more comfortable than jeans. He breathed a soft sigh of relief.

"Are you done?" Song Lan asked from the other side of the door. 

"Yes," Xingchen replied.

Song Lan entered the room again. He laughed. "You look so small."

"Hey, I'm not-"

"That shirt makes you look like a ten year old."

"Rude." Xingchen sat down on the bed as Song Lan changed into his own pajamas, feeling the bed dip on the other side as Song Lan joined him. He heard Song Lan climb into bed and after a brief moment of hesitation, he followed suit. 

Nervously, Xingchen tried to stay on his side of the bed as much as possible. 

He couldn't shake the feeling that Song Lan would kick him out, make him sleep on the couch. Or just make him leave if he moved to much, or got too close.

The rational side of his brain knew Song Lan would never do that to him. But the side of his brain that had been ruined, that was conditioned to obey anything anyone said because he was convinced he didn't matter enough, told him it was only a matter of time before Song Lan hated him too.

"Xingchen," Song Lan whispered, "what's on your mind? You have your thinking face on."

"What does my thinking face look like?" Xingchen asked, turning around to face Song Lan.

"You bite your lip and your nose gets all scrunched up," Song Lan said.

"I didn't even know that."

"Well now you do," Song Lan said, a smile behind his voice. "So what are you thinking about?"

Xingchen shrugged, then winced in pain at the movement, "I don't know... I'm wondering if he's noticed I'm gone yet."

"He can't find you here. You're safe."

"I know," Xingchen said.

"And if he does, I'll murder him."

"Zichen-"

"It's the truth."

A silence passed between them as Xingchen let out a deep sigh, letting his eyes fall closed. 

"You could've called me. I would've been right there."

Xingchen frowned, a crease forming between his brows. "I was worried he'd listen."

Song Lan audibly sighed. "You could've texted. You didn't have to walk all the way here while you're hurt."

"I was just freaking out. I didn't want him to read my texts because I left my phone there."

Xingchen felt Song Lan's hand grace his cheek. He blushed, then mentally cursed himself for blushing. For the way his heart sped up and the way he wished Song Lan would never stop.

"I'm sorry," Xingchen said, because he didn't know what else to say.

"What did I say about apologizing?" Song Lan asked. Xingchen heard the smile behind his voice.

"To stop."

"Exactly," Song Lan said.

"Sorry," Xingchen said again.

Song Lan sighed, an over dramatic sound that made Xingchen giggle. "Stop apologizing for existing." Song Lan paused as Xingchen's smile softened. "Get some sleep, Xingchen. We'll figure all this out in the morning," he added.

Xingchen nodded once. "Thank you, Zichen."

"Anytime," Song Lan whispered. "Goodnight."

"Goodnight."

Slowly, Xingchen started to drift off into sleep as the rain outside pounded against the window. Lightning flashed, illuminating the room, shortly followed by a loud clap of thunder. Xingchen slept through it all, exhausted. Distantly, a car drove down the street as Lan Wangji and Wei Wuxian left, wondering what was going on, if Xingchen was okay. Why anybody would do this to another person, especially someone they were supposed to love and care about.

Lan Wangji rested his hand over the center console, allowing his soon-to-be husband to hold it. He kept his other hand on the steering wheel, icy eyes glued to the street in front of them.

"I love you," Wei Wuxian said.

"I love you too," Lan Wangji whispered. Because it was the truth. They really loved each other, and they'd never stop. Wei Wuxian's lips quirked into a smile as he squeezed Lan Wangji's hand.

A short distance away, Xue Yang woke with a start.

 

 

Chapter Text

When Song Lan woke up, he was made aware of two things.

The first was that he was still angry, extremely angry, at Xue Yang.

The second was that there was a weight on his chest.

Xingchen was curled up next to him, having seemingly moved in the middle of the night. His head was pillowed directly above Song Lan's heart, still deep in sleep. Song Lan's hand was draped over his waist, holding him. He looked so comfortable that Song Lan didn't have the heart to move.

His lips quirked into a smile. He stayed as still as possible, ensuring Xingchen wouldn't wake up.

He'd grown up with Xingchen. He knew him better than he knew anyone, really. He was there when Xingchen came out to his parents, his extremely conservative parents, and was promptly told that it was a phase, and if he didn't take it back he'd be kicked out of the house. He was there when Xingchen was enrolled in schools for kids with special needs, because the public schools Song Lan went to didn't have accommodations for people who were blind. He'd seen Xingchen at his most vulnerable, but he was also there when Xingchen finally moved out, graduated high school. He was there to see Xingchen's highs and lows. And he didn't plan on stopping anytime soon.

Perhaps he was a little bit protective. But seeing Xingchen the way he was last night, crying, broken, terrified, it killed Song Lan. 

He couldn't help but wonder how long this had all been going on. How many times had Xingchen felt like this, but Song Lan wasn't around? 

All the dots started to connect in his head. Why Xingchen didn't text him back as often anymore, why they didn't hangout as much as they used to. Xingchen mentioned Xue Yang reading his texts the night before, and it made Song Lan's blood boil.

His eyes caught the bruise on Xingchen's wrist, the one that had catapulted him into worrying about him in the first place. If only he'd stopped Xingchen from going home. If only he'd pressed harder for answers. 

Xingchen shifted in his arms and Song Lan smiled softly as he woke up. He blinked his unseeing eyes, his mind working to process where he was. Song Lan couldn't help but chuckle as Xingchen's face turned a bright red color before he promptly pulled away. 

"Morning, sunshine."

"Um, was I asleep on you? I'm sorry-"

"It's fine," Song Lan said. He sat up. "Don't worry about it. How'd you sleep?"

Xingchen seemed to be trying to piece together coherent phrases in his head. Song Lan couldn't help but grin as he watched his flustered friend try to speak. "I slept fine," Xingchen finally said. He sighed and leaned back against the headboard of the bed. "Obviously, or I would've moved. I'm sorry if I made you uncomfortable..."

"Xingchen," Song Lan cut him off, "you don't need to keep apologizing." Song Lan scooted closer and sat next to him, their shoulders touching. 

Xingchen laughed, raising his hands to cover his burning face. "That's so awkward."

Song Lan nudged him with his elbow. "I'm glad my chest is comfortable."

"Shut up."

"You can use me as a pillow anytime you like."

Xingchen laughed again, shaking his head. "Thanks?"

"Anytime." Song Lan returned the laugh, his smile softening as Xingchen suddenly let his head rest on his shoulder. 

"What time is it?" Xingchen asked.

"Almost nine." 

Xingchen hummed in response. 

Song Lan's smile faded as he studied Xingchen. He wished he knew what Xingchen was thinking. 

He couldn't hold it in any longer.

"How long has it been going on, Xingchen?" 

Song Lan felt Xingchen tense up. He moved his head off Song Lan's shoulder, and turned away slightly. Song Lan frowned. 

"Xingchen."

"Nothing, I mean... it's not-it hasn't... I don't know." Song Lan's heart broke as Xingchen frantically tried to scramble together words, excuses. 

"Hey," Song Lan said, "it's okay. You know you can tell me anything, right?"

Xingchen nodded.

"Will you please tell me?"

Xingchen bit his lip, then shrugged. "It's never happened before."

"Xingchen, please..." Song Lan heard the shake in his voice. He wanted to grab Xingchen by the shoulders and plead for answers, for an explanation as to what was happening, but he wouldn't do that. "You guys have been together for a little over a year," Song Lan said, "so when did it start?"

"He never-"

"Xingchen, he hurt you. He's a fucking asshole. You don't need to give me any details, you don't have to tell me anything. I just need to know. I want to be here for you but I can't if you won't let me."

Xingchen pulled his knees to his chest and sighed shakily. He didn't respond for several minutes. Song Lan thought he'd just decided not to answer the question, and was about to speak again, when Xingchen finally choked out a few words.

"Eight months."

Song Lan's breath hitched. Tears brimmed his eyes and for once he was thankful Xingchen couldn't see his face, because he didn't want Xingchen to see how devastated that fact made him. Eight months. His best friend had been living in fear for eight months, and he had no idea. While he sat at home, angry because Xingchen wouldn't text him back, annoyed because he thought Xingchen was ignoring him, Xingchen was suffering. Too scared to tell anyone. Song Lan swallowed the lump in his throat, desperate to hold himself together. "Xingchen..."

"E-Eight months, Zichen," Xingchen choked out through a sob.

"Come here," Song Lan said. He opened his arms for his best friend, capturing him in a tight, secure hug. He allowed Xingchen to breakdown, to cry, to let out all his anger, sadness, fear, anything he wanted. A few tears slipped from Song Lan's eyes as well but he didn't move to wipe them away, just kept his arms firmly around Xingchen.

"I-I should've told you, I'm sorry-"

"It's not your fault. Don't you dare blame yourself, Xingchen," Song Lan said.

"Thank you, for e-everything."

"Of course."

Song Lan wasn't sure how long they sat together, wasn't sure how long they continued to sit there after Xingchen calmed down. It could've been hours or days later, it wouldn't have made a difference. Song Lan was so, so angry. Xingchen eventually moved, and together they tried to go about their day the best they could. 

Xingchen's movements were still shaky and tentative as he poured himself a bowl of cereal. Song Lan took the box from his hands and helped him. He then went to go grab Xingchen his cane, so he could get around easier. Xingchen gripped it firmly in his hands and thanked Song Lan.

He laughed as Xingchen borrowed one of Song Lan's hoodies that proved to be entirely too large on him. And as the day progressed, they didn't leave Song Lan's apartment, but elected on watching cheesy movies on Netflix and making up recipes with ingredients in Song Lan's kitchen. Xingchen's smile returned, if hesitant and small. Song Lan's heart flipped each time he saw it. 

They continued to share Song Lan's bed, and made countless jokes about being an old married couple because of it. Xingchen woke up crying, shaking some nights, but never did Song Lan wake up, and he didn't have the heart to wake Song Lan up, so he tried to go back to sleep. 

He could never go back to sleep, however, his mind caught up on the nightmare. 

The hours turned into days, the days turned into a week.

And still no sign of Xue Yang.

Xingchen had allowed himself to relax. He'd allowed himself to think that maybe he was free of the torment. This week with Song Lan had been one of the best of his life. It had been freeing, while also terrifying, the not knowing if and when Xue Yang would find him. He tried not to dwell on it too much. Sometimes he'd zone out, just blankly stare ahead for sometimes upwards of twenty minutes, until Song Lan would worryingly snap him out of his trance.

It was exactly a week later, and Xingchen woke up feeling weird.

He wasn't sure why, perhaps it was the first time in several days that he had to go to work, and he really didn't want to. He begrudgingly rolled out of bed and got dressed in clothes he'd found in Song Lan's closet that actually fit him (which were way too small on Song Lan, a fact Song Lan liked to bring up quite often). 

And still, the feeling didn't leave.

He couldn't quite explain what it felt like. It was as if there was a pit in his stomach, though he couldn't recall anything at work he was nervous or excited about. It was supposed to just be another day.

Song Lan got out of bed and joined Xingchen in the kitchen as he ate breakfast. "Do you need a ride to work?" Song Lan asked.

Xingchen shook his head. "I usually walk. I kind of like the walk."

Song Lan chuckled. "You sure? It's kinda cold outside."

"I'm sure," Xingchen said, smiling, "thank you though."

Xingchen finished his breakfast and after getting ready, bid one last goodbye to Song Lan. "I'll see you later," he said.

"Have a good day at work," Song Lan said. Xingchen nodded, tightened his fist around his cane, and left.

And still, the strange feeling remained.

Work was no more eventful than it usually was. He was in the back room for most of it, doing mindless activities like cleaning and organizing stock. A few times, he was called to the front to help some of the newer employees, but it was a boring day. 

He still hadn't sorted out his feelings regarding Song Lan. He wasn't even sure what he felt, to be honest. What he thought was a small crush had developed into something deeper than that, and now every time they went to sleep in the same bed, every time Song Lan touched him or spoke to him, it was as if Xingchen was swept off his feet. He'd known Song Lan for so long, he didn't want to ruin their friendship. But the way his heart fluttered every time Song Lan talked in that comforting, soft way of his, or when Song Lan indulged in his late night conversations about anything and everything, he realized he was indefinitely head over heels.

Which is why it hurt so much, knowing Song Lan was straight.

He tried to distract himself as much as possible. He didn't want to let his mind dwell on the knowledge that Song Lan wasn't interested. He told himself he shouldn't be sad. It was stupid to be sad. 

He clocked out of work at three o'clock in the afternoon. He said goodbye to his coworkers and left. 

The walk back to Song Lan's apartment was quiet, as his walks usually were. It was chilly outside, and Xingchen could feel a slight drizzle as the rain hit his head, his hands. 

Song Lan had given him the spare key to his apartment, knowing Song Lan also worked that day and not knowing if he'd be home before Xingchen. He pulled the key from the pocket of his jeans as he turned the corner to the street where Song Lan's complex was, before he tripped over a slight crack in the pavement. He stumbled forward a little, but managed to catch himself. The key, however, had fallen.

Sighing, Xingchen leaned down to pick it up. He felt around the ground for a moment before his fingers curled around the small piece of metal.

For reasons he couldn't quite explain, the hairs on the back of his neck stood up. He had the distinct impression somebody was watching him. He gripped tighter to his white cane, trying his best to ignore the way his heart sped up.

He stood up again, rolled his shoulders.

Calm down, he told himself, you're just being paranoid.

He kept walking. He heard footsteps behind him, so he walked faster.

"Xiao Xingchen."

Xingchen froze, the key once again slipping from his fingers in shock. He heard it hit the ground, the metallic clang making him flinch.

No.

He should run. He needed to run. 

He couldn't move.

"What's wrong, sweetheart?" Xue Yang asked sweetly, voice closer this time. Directly behind Xingchen. "Aren't you happy to see me?"

Chapter Text

It was as if the world had come to a complete standstill. The rain was coming down harder, enough to make Xingchen shiver. All he could hear was his heart pounding in his ears. His rib cage was closing in on his lungs and he couldn't breathe. He felt like he was dying. He wanted to cry, scream for help, but his voice wasn't working. 

All he could do was stand there, shaking, as Xue Yang's eyes carved a hole in his skull.

"I've missed you," Xue Yang said, "I was so worried when I woke up and you were gone."

Xingchen gripped onto his white cane so tight, his knuckles turned white. He listened as Xue Yang began to walk again, until his footsteps were directly in front of Xingchen.

"Where have you been, Xingchen?" Xue Yang asked, "I saw you left your phone at home, so I had no way of finding you."

Xingchen didn't respond. He didn't think he could even if he tried.

"Have you been with him?" Xue Yang asked, "that was my first guess. I knew he lived around here, so I just figured I'd wait it out, see if you made an appearance." Xue Yang laughed. "And here you are. Let's go home, sweetheart."

"I-I'm not going anywhere with you," Xingchen choked out, finally getting his voice to work.

"What was that, baby? Of course you are. We need to go home."

"No." Xingchen shook his head.

Xue Yang reached forward, his hand brushing against Xingchen's arm. Xingchen flinched, backed away. "Don't touch me."

"I'm just trying to help you," Xue Yang said. He sounded hurt, but Xingchen knew it was all an act. "Sweetheart, this world is filled with people who would take advantage of you because of..." Xue Yang trailed off, then chuckled, "well, you know-"

"What?" Xingchen asked, voice cracking slightly, "tell me what it is, Xue Yang."

"You know why," Xue Yang snapped, "and you're far too trusting of certain people."

Xingchen glared. "Maybe that's why I trusted you," he said.

"What did you just say to me?"

"M-Maybe I shouldn't have trusted you. Maybe you're right."

"You've got a lot of nerve-"

"I-I can't do this anymore!" Xingchen shouted, surprised at his own bravery. 

"Can't do what, sweetheart?"

"D-don't call me that-"

"I'll call you whatever the fuck I want." Xue Yang giggled brightly as Xingchen flinched. "Someone's feeling brave today."

"I hate you..."

"Aww, I'm hurt," Xue Yang mocked, "but really, Xingchen, you should be thanking me. If I ever hurt you, it's only because I was trying to do what I thought was right. Sometimes you're just so... hard to handle." Xue Yang sighed. 

Xingchen bit back a sob. He wasn't sure if it was out of fear, anger, or a mixture of the both. He hated Xue Yang. He'd never realized he was capable of hating someone this much, or at all. When he was younger, he sometimes thought he hated his parents. Or some of the people at school who tried bullying him. He realized now that was nothing compared to this. His hatred was burrowed deep inside his soul, mixed with fear and the self-loathing Xue Yang had brought upon him.

"You're coming with me," Xue Yang said. Xingchen couldn't help but feel as if Xue Yang was a prison warden, and Xingchen was an inmate who had to submit.

He wasn't going to submit anymore.

"No I'm not."

"Xingchen," Xue Yang warned, "we're going home." 

It all happened so fast.

Xue Yang grabbed Xingchen's arm. Xingchen, alarmed, yanked it away and stumbled back. Xue Yang muttered a few choice curse words under his breath. Xingchen listened as Xue Yang came closer, his adrenaline kicking in as he swung his white cane in the general direction of Xue Yang's footsteps.

Xue Yang grabbed it before it could hit him. He tried to yank it out of Xingchen's grip, but Xingchen didn't let go. He desperately tried to hold on, before Xue Yang pulled it from Xingchen's hands and used the force he'd gathered to push Xingchen to the ground. Xingchen quickly scrambled to his feet and ran. He wasn't thinking, he just knew he needed to go.

Running, however, proved to be very difficult without his white cane guiding him. He listened to the sound of the rain hitting the pavement, and he used the knowledge that the sidewalk was straight ahead for a while in order to keep going. He heard Xue Yang's footsteps behind him, quickly gaining on him. 

Xingchen thought he had a chance, until he didn't.

He tripped and fell, landing hard on the soaking wet ground with an alarmed yelp. 

For some reason, the first thought that came to his head was not the knowledge that Xue Yang was now caught up to him, that he was screwed. It was the fact he'd dropped Song Lan's key down the road, and it was definitely lost. Despite everything, Xingchen felt guilty. 

"Wow, sweetheart, you're fast," Xue Yang laughed, breathing heavily, "maybe a little too fast for your own good, wouldn't you say?"

Xingchen hissed in pain, mentally taking note of his now scraped hands as he moved to sit up. 

Xue Yang kicked him back down, hard. Xingchen cried out in pain.

"Fucking pathetic," Xue Yang muttered under his breath, "I've given everything up for you, and this is how you thank me? By running away?" Xue Yang sounded angry now. Xingchen could hear the bite behind his voice, the way his voice was rising in level. 

"Let me go-"

"No!" Xue Yang shouted. Xingchen flinched, wishing he'd never spoken a word. "You listen to me, Xingchen, you useless little shit. You have no right to be acting the way that you are. So let's. Go. Home."

Xingchen felt arms wrap around his waist as Xue Yang pulled him to his feet. He started to struggle as Xue Yang's grip tightened enough for him to not be able to escape.

He was trapped. Again.

"Xue Yang, please-"

"Shut up," Xue Yang hissed. Xingchen was panicking. Tears started to stream down his cheeks as his breaths came out in short gasps. He couldn't breathe, and it wasn't only just because Xue Yang was holding him so tightly it was almost enough to cut off his air supply. 

"L-Let go of me!" Xingchen shrieked. 

"Shut up," Xue Yang mumbled angrily. He kicked the back of Xingchen's leg threateningly. 

Xingchen let out a sob. "Stop..."

"You fucking stop," Xue Yang said through clenched teeth. He grabbed a fistful of Xingchen's hair and yanked his head back, opening his mouth to whisper something in Xingchen's ear when he was stopped.

"Let him go."

Xingchen froze.

Xue Yang paused. Xingchen wondered if maybe he'd imagined that voice, until Xue Yang spoke again. "Look who it is," Xue Yang said. He pulled Xingchen close, ignoring the whimper of pain that came from Xingchen's mouth. He reluctantly loosened his grip on Xingchen's hair, and wrapped his arm back around Xingchen's waist. "Long time no see."

"Let go of him," Song Lan hissed. Xingchen had never heard Song Lan sound so angry. His usual gentle, kind voice was replaced by a deep, burning anger that Xingchen had never even fathomed was possible from Song Lan. He struggled in Xue Yang's arms, but promptly stopped when Xue Yang threateningly dug his nails into Xingchen's side.

"Why should I? He's my boyfriend." Xue Yang said. 

"That doesn't mean he belongs to you," Song Lan said.

"Z-Zichen," Xingchen choked out.

"Xue Yang, I will call the goddamn police if you don't let him go right now," Song Lan said.

That seemed to give Xue Yang pause. "You really wanna involve the police? What are they gonna do?"

"He's panicking," Song Lan said, "he can't breathe. And you're not helping."

"He's coming with me."

"You're a fucking psychopath," Song Lan said, "can't you just let him go? He doesn't want to go with you."

"I really don't care," Xue Yang said, laughing maniacally. He dug his nails harder into Xingchen's side, his other hand digging into his arm. Xingchen whimpered.

"Hey, it's okay," Song Lan tried to reassure Xingchen, however Xingchen didn't really seem to be listening. "Xingchen. I'm right here."

"I-I lost your key," Xingchen said, "I'm sorry..."

Song Lan's eyes softened, even if Xingchen couldn't see it. He sighed. "It's okay. You're okay. It's okay."

"Cute," Xue Yang said, chuckling to himself. 

"Xue Yang," Song Lan said, voice turning once again cold, angry, "do you really want to get the police involved?"

Xue Yang seemed to consider this for a moment, eyes narrowing on the man in front of him. "Fuck off."

Xingchen would never have expected what happened next.

He heard Song Lan's footsteps approaching them, felt Xue Yang tense up against him. 

He heard Xue Yang cry out in surprise and pain as Song Lan delivered a punch to his jaw. Xue Yang loosened his grip and Xingchen quickly made his escape, promptly falling to the ground as he wrapped his arms around himself and tried to calm his racing heart, his out of control breathing.

Song Lan, meanwhile, was very, very happy to let all his pent up anger out on Xue Yang. 

"You piece of shit," Song Lan said, delivering another punch to Xue Yang's stomach, "you fucking- how could you do this to him?"

Xue Yang laughed, even though he was clearly in pain. "Somebody's mad."

Blinded by sheer outrage, Song Lan shoved Xue Yang against the nearest wall by the collar of his shirt and punched him in the gut. "Leave him the hell alone."

"Make me."

Song Lan punched Xue Yang's face once, then again. 

"Zichen."

Song Lan froze, fist hovering over Xue Yang's bloodied face. 

"Zichen, s-stop it..." 

Song Lan didn't want to stop. He could probably go on for hours. In fact, he wouldn't be entirely too disappointed if Xue Yang ended up dead by the end of it. But Xingchen's broken voice was what prompted him to lower his fist, to let go of Xue Yang. 

Xue Yang straightened his shirt, glared at Song Lan. "This isn't over."

"Yes," Song Lan said, "it is. Come back and I will call the cops."

"I'm so scared-"

"I mean it," Song Lan said, voice low, "if you so much as look at him, I will make sure you fucking pay." Song Lan narrowed his eyes. "Don't ever touch him again."

Perhaps Song Lan's little speech got to him, or it was the tone of voice with which Song Lan had used, because Xue Yang didn't argue again. He just rolled his eyes and turned on his heel, walking away. He passed Xingchen once more. "You're worthless anyway," he hissed.

As soon as Xue Yang was out of eyesight, Song Lan turned to Xingchen and quickly made his way toward him. He kneeled down next to him, resting a hand on his shoulder. Xingchen flinched, shrugging it off.

"It's just me," Song Lan said, "it's okay."

Xingchen wiped his eyes with the palm of his hand. It shattered Song Lan's heart to see him so shaky and scared. He pulled Xingchen into his arms and held him as the rain fell.

Xingchen buried his face in Song Lan's chest, wrapping his arms around Song Lan's waist. "I really did l-lose your key," he said.

"It's okay," Song Lan said, burying his face in Xingchen's hair. "It's not your fault."

"Z-Zichen?"

"Hm?"

"Thank you..."

Song Lan sighed. "You don't need to thank me for anything," he whispered.

Song Lan held Xingchen until his shaking subsiding, until his breathing was back to its normal pace. He didn't speak the entire time.

Eventually, the two of them stood up. Song Lan wrapped an arm around Xingchen's shoulder as he led him back to his apartment. Immediately after entering, he sat Xingchen down and wrapped him in a blanket.

The two of them sat together, Xingchen's head on Song Lan's shoulder, until the former fell asleep. 

Song Lan held him close, and didn't let go.

* * * 

Song Lan never considered himself a romantic.

He'd had meaningless relationships throughout his teenage years, most of them ending in the girls breaking up with him. He'd never really been in love. 

Which is why it was startling to realize one morning, a week after the altercation with Xue Yang, that he was indefinitely and painfully in love with his best friend.

Perhaps he knew it already, and he just didn't want to admit it to himself. Maybe he'd known for a while. He studied Xingchen as he sat down on a bar stool at the counter, studied him as Xingchen slowly ate his breakfast while absentmindedly tapping his foot against the floor.

Xingchen was healing. He knew that. He knew it'd be a slow, painful process. Not just physically, but mentally. The panic attacks, the nightmares, the mood swings, the zoning out... it was something Song Lan knew he'd have to get used to if Xingchen lived with him. But he didn't mind. He'd gladly walk through hell if it meant Xingchen was okay, and safe. He smiled softly to himself, sipped some coffee, and went to get ready for work.

Song Lan wondered if the feelings would fade, if perhaps he only felt this way because he was worried, or he just felt protective.

The feelings did not go away.

Not after a month. Not after nearly two months.

In fact, they only seemed to get stronger. 

It was raining again, as it often did during the springtime. Xingchen was curled up on the couch, eyes closed as a movie played on the tv in the background. Song Lan thought he was asleep, at first. He sat down at the other end of the couch and was surprised to feel the soft touch of Xingchen's foot nudging him. Song Lan looked at him. Smiled.

"I thought you were sleeping."

"You thought wrong."

Song Lan chuckled. He didn't speak for a while, just watched Xingchen. Xingchen had his head resting on a pillow, his knees drawn to his chest. Song Lan's heart twisted painfully for a reason he couldn't quite explain.

"What are you thinking about?" Xingchen asked.

"Hm?"

"You're just being very quiet. What's on your mind?"

"Nothing," Song Lan lied, "it's raining really hard outside."

"I can tell," Xingchen said. He smiled softly. "But that's not what you were thinking about."

"Oh yeah? How can you tell?"

"I have had the privilege of knowing you since I was twelve, so I can usually tell."

"Best friend mind reading?" Song Lan asked.

"Exactly," Xingchen replied. 

Song Lan laughed softly. He stood up again, playfully nudging Xingchen's shoulder on his way back to his bedroom. His smile faded as he grabbed his phone from its charger and turned it on, hoping to take his mind off the knowledge he wasn't with Xingchen like that. He probably never would be.

He turned around to leave again, only to be stopped by Xingchen's presence in the doorway. He paused, about a foot of distance between them. Xingchen tilted his head slightly. "You never told me what you were thinking about."

Song Lan shrugged. "It's nothing."

Xingchen huffed. "Remember when you said I could tell you anything? It kinda goes both ways."

Song Lan smiled. "It's nothing," he said again, wishing that were true.

Xingchen pouted. "Fine." He sighed. "I'm going to go take a shower."

"Okay." Song Lan swallowed the lump in his throat. "I'll be in the living room again."

"So, I'm just..." Xingchen stepped forward, his hand brushing against Song Lan. He paused, as if pondering the touch for a moment. 

Song Lan's heart pounded. "Xingchen?"

"Zichen," Xingchen responded.

The rest was all in slow motion.

Song Lan closed the distance between the two of them, arms wrapping around Xingchen's waist. Xingchen wrapped his arms around Song Lan's neck and pulled him close. Song Lan's eyes fell closed. He couldn't get enough. It was a drug he needed to survive, and he wasn't sure how he'd gone this long without it.

Xingchen was hesitant at first. Song Lan understood why, of course. He smiled through the kiss as Xingchen deepened it, pulling him closer.

Pulling away to breathe was a curse.

Both of their cheeks were tinged red. Xingchen's now shaking hands rested on Song Lan's chest, feeling his heart pound.

"Wow," Song Lan said.

"Yeah..." Xingchen said, his lips quirking into a soft smile.

"Okay?"

"Okay," Xingchen whispered.

"I've been wanting to do that for a while."

"You-" Xingchen tilted his head again. "You have?"

Song Lan laughed. "I think I have for years, I just didn't want to admit it."

"But I thought you were-"

"No, Xingchen, I am definitely not straight," Song Lan said, seemingly reading Xingchen's mind.

Xingchen shook his head. "I don't... understand."

"Me neither."

Xingchen took a tentative step closer, lowering his hands to find their way to Song Lan's. He laced their fingers together.

"You were okay with that, right?" Song Lan asked.

Xingchen nodded.

He'd never been more okay with anything in his life.

"Can we do it again?" he asked.

So they did.

 

Chapter Text

Xiao Xingchen's mind was only on one thing. And that thing was Song Lan.

The way his body felt pressed up against Xingchen's, the way his lips tasted, how their hearts beat together as one. Xingchen, frankly, couldn't believe any of this was happening. He couldn't believe Song Lan felt the same about him, couldn't believe what he thought was a boyish crush was turning out to be something real, something that would come to life.

Two months. He'd been free for two months, and every day he still felt like he was imprisoned. Xue Yang still had a hand around his throat, still tightened it. Xingchen, at least for now, couldn't feel Xue Yang's hand anymore, couldn't hear him whisper in his ear everything that was wrong with him. He was a distant memory.

Song Lan's arms snaked even tighter around his waist, pulling him even closer if that was even possible. Xingchen tangled his hands in Song Lan's hair.

He felt Song Lan pick him up, then drop him onto the bed. He laughed softly, tugging Song Lan closer by the collar of his shirt and kissing him again. Song Lan hovered over him, cupping Xingchen's face as he deepened the kiss even farther. He started to trail down Xingchen's neck, leaving kisses along his collarbone and throat. Xingchen gasped, his eyes screwed shut.

Song Lan moved his hands and intertwined them with Xingchen's, holding them above Xingchen's head. 

Xingchen froze.

He was held down, sobbing, while Xue Yang hovered over him. He begged, pleaded for Xue Yang to stop. But Xue Yang didn't listen. Xue Yang never listened. He tried fighting, tried screaming. It never worked. He was trapped, and he couldn't get out. 

"S-stop," Xingchen choked out. He half-expected Song Lan to ignore him, to just keep going. But Song Lan wasn't like that. Song Lan instantly pulled away, moving to the opposite end of the bed to give Xingchen room to breathe. 

Shakily, Xingchen sat up. The guilt came in immediately. Of course Song Lan would never hurt him like that. He knew that. 

"I'm sorr-"

"Xingchen," Song Lan whispered, "are you okay? I'm sorry if I took it too far."

That was the moment Xingchen broke.

His words dissolved into sobs and he pulled his knees to his chest, trying to make himself as small as possible. He wanted to disappear, wished he could just crawl under the bed and never come out again. He hated himself more so than ever.

He felt the bed shift as Song Lan came closer. He tensed up at first. The last thing he wanted was physical contact. 

"Xingchen..."

"I-I'm sorry..."

"You don't have anything to be sorry for." Song Lan brought a hand up to Xingchen's shoulder.

Xingchen didn't know what had gotten into him, didn't know why he was suddenly so scared. He shrugged off Song Lan's hand and quickly scrambled off the bed, nearly tripping over his own discarded shoes he'd left on the floor earlier in the process. He was still crying, still shaking, and that only made him more afraid. He tugged at his hair, backed himself up against the wall. He sank to the ground, covered his ears with his hands.

"D-don't touch me-"

"I'm not touching you-"

"S-stop it!"

His scream was loud enough to wake up the neighbors. It was terrified, high-pitched. He quickly broke down into more frantic sobs. All Song Lan could do was sit there and stare, frozen in place.

He'd witnessed Xingchen's panic attacks, his flashbacks, but never to this degree.

Slowly, he raised himself from the bed and came over to kneel down in front of Xingchen. Song Lan would do anything to know what was going on inside Xingchen's head, what demons he was probably battling right now. Xingchen's eyes were wide, focused straight ahead as if he was seeing something.

"Xingchen," Song Lan said quietly, "hey... it's just me. It's-it's Zichen, yeah? It's okay. You're safe. You're not... you're not there anymore."

That approach did not work.

Xingchen curled in on himself, hiding his face behind his arms. He was shaking horribly, his breathing scarily out of control. Song Lan was terrified. He'd never had to deal with anything like this, never known anybody who was traumatized to the point of flashbacks until now. He felt horrible. He'd triggered Xingchen into a flashback, albeit on accident. But he still felt terrible.

Tears gathered behind Song Lan's eyes as he watched. Xingchen started muttering under his breath, the words 'stop' and 'please' and a few desperate cries of 'no'. 

"Xingchen," Song Lan whispered, "he's not here anymore. He's never going to touch you again."

Xingchen wasn't listening. He couldn't even hear Song Lan. All he could hear, feel, see, was from months ago, in a different world. In an apartment settled in the middle of a somewhat busy street, with a guy who didn't want to take no for an answer.

It was all happening again. He couldn't stop it.

"Stop crying, Xingchen," Xue Yang hissed, "you're fine."

"Xue Yang, please, stop it-"

A slap in the face. He started to cry harder.

He wasn't sure he was ever going to stop crying.

His hair was grabbed as Xue Yang forcefully threw him onto the bed. He curled up against the headboard.

"Xingchen."

Xue Yang's hands were on him now, but Xingchen started to struggle. He kicked and screamed. Perhaps the neighbors would hear. They'd call the police. They'd never called the police before, never even bothered to check up on the two of them, but maybe they would now. Xue Yang covered Xingchen's mouth with his hand, muffling his desperate cries. 

"Xingchen, love."

Xue Yang's face started to fade, as if he was in a movie and the screen was fading to black. Xue Yang's voice was more muffled now, less close up and intense. 

Xingchen felt the floor underneath him, the wall behind him. Then he heard somebody's voice again.

"Xingchen?"

His breathing was out of control. He wondered if he was dying.

"He's not here, Xingchen, you're okay..."

"Z-Zichen?" he choked out.

He heard Song Lan breathe out a sigh of relief. "Yes. I'm right here. I'm not going anywhere."

"W-what... I don't..."

"You just had a flashback. You're okay."

"I'm s-sorry..." Xingchen sniffled.

"It's okay," Song Lan said, "do you need a hug?"

Xingchen hesitated, then nodded. He felt Song Lan's arms around him and he quickly burrowed himself in, made himself a home against Song Lan. He wiped his eyes with his sleeves, tried to get his shaking to calm down. He felt nauseous, and his head was pounding. He tried to copy Song Lan's breathing, tried to focus on what he could feel. Song Lan's arms, Song Lan whispering sweet nothings into his ear while he tried to calm down. 

"I'm so sorry, Xingchen," Song Lan said, "God, that was all my fault. I shouldn't- I took it too far. I'm so sorry. I promise I'll never do that again-"

"I-it's okay," Xingchen whimpered. His voice was so small.

Song Lan ran his fingers through Xingchen's hair. "Are you okay?"

Xingchen shrugged. "N-Never better..."

Xingchen was exhausted now. It took everything inside him to stay awake, to not fall asleep in Song Lan's arms. He didn't want to sleep, though. Because if he did, he'd just be back there again. It'd be one of his many sleepless nights, he knew. He'd probably drink way more coffee than what was healthy to stay awake, to keep the dreams at bay. 

"Just relax," Song Lan said, "I'm right here."

Xingchen nodded. He wasn't sure how long they sat together like that, on the floor next to Song Lan's closet door. He wasn't sure what time it was when Song Lan moved both of them to the bed. He sat there while exhaustion overtook Song Lan, who fell asleep despite wanting to stay up with Xingchen to make sure he was okay. Xingchen didn't sleep.

He barely even moved, just sat in the bed. Every sound he heard, the wind howling, distant thunder, the heating system in the apartment, sounded like a threat. A few times he got up to pace around the apartment, nearly collapsing from exhaustion but refusing to give into it. 

It was a very, very long night.

 

The next time they kissed was a few days later. Xingchen was embarassed, frankly, to have had undergone such an intense episode with Song Lan watching him. He'd kept his distance a little, even though he wanted nothing more than to kiss Song Lan, to hold him close. He felt his face burn up every time Song Lan entered the room, wishing he could hide away in shame for the rest of his life.

His embarrassment, however, didn't stop his need for food. So he took a journey to the kitchen to find something to eat, and ran into Song Lan on the way.

"Sorry," Xingchen muttered, face burning. 

"You're good," Song Lan said.

"I was just gonna go get something to eat."

"I made some stuff, if you want," Song Lan said. And God, Xingchen silently cursed his very inconvenient feelings for the way they wanted Song Lan very, very badly.

Xingchen nodded, scratching the back of his head. His heart raced in his chest. Before he could hesitate, he decided he'd go for it. "I wanted to..."

"Wanted to what?" Song Lan asked.

Xingchen smiled shyly. "Try again?"

It might've taken Song Lan a moment to understand, but when he did, he laughed a little. "Really?"

Xingchen nodded. Before he could say anything, change his mind and go back to hiding, he felt Song Lan's arms wrap around his waist.

"Are you sure?" Song Lan asked.

"Positive," Xingchen whispered.

The kiss was more gentle this time, a lot less of a desperate cry for love between the two of them. Xingchen let his eyes fall closed, smiling through the kiss as he felt Song Lan's arms bring him closer. 

The two of them pulled away eventually. Xingchen felt Song Lan brush a strand of hair away from his face. He blushed, smiling. 

"We can do that as much as you want," Song Lan said, then laughed softly, "it's not like any of us are going to work anytime soon."

Xingchen laughed. "We have all the time in the world."

Song Lan nodded. Xingchen smiled softly as he felt a soft kiss to his forehead. His traitorous heart continued to beat rapidly, butterflies building themselves a permanent home in his stomach.

Neither of them were really sure when they started to consider themselves dating. It happened so naturally. The kisses became a regular thing. Not a night went by that they weren't holding each other as they fell asleep. It became normal. Morning kisses, flirting, the desire to constantly be around and touch each other.

Xingchen couldn't believe he was lucky enough to consider Song Lan his boyfriend. That this was all real, and it wasn't a dream.

Song Lan had thousands of questions. He knew that what Xue Yang and Xingchen had was bad. He knew it was physical, and most definitely verbal and emotional, but he didn't know the details. He'd never asked. Even if Xingchen never told him, he'd understand. He knew how hard it was to think about, let alone try to talk about, so he never brought it up. He wanted to know, but he never pried. Especially on Xingchen's bad days, when a fog seemed to cloud his mind and the only smiles he gave were forced. When he stayed in bed practically all day and rarely ate a thing. All Song Lan could do was be there, desperately trying to make sure Xingchen didn't tip over the edge and shatter like glass.

The weeks passed quickly, and their relationship seemed to progress more and more each passing day. Both Xingchen and Song Lan were on temporary paid leave from work, which quickly turned into a month long process. Song Lan was glad, frankly, because they both needed time off to relax. Xingchen was curled up against Song Lan on the sofa, his head pillowed on Song Lan's chest. Song Lan was scrolling through his phone while Xingchen had his eyes closed, listening to the sound of Song Lan's heartbeat.

"Zichen?"

"Hm?"

"I've been thinking."

"Oh no," Song Lan said, "please don't break up with me. That would make for a very awkward living situation."

Xingchen laughed. "You read my mind. We're through."

Song Lan sighed dramatically. "It was a good month."

"It was actually horrible," Xingchen commented, "I hated every second of it."

"Rude!"

"Truth hurts, Zichen," Xingchen said, nudging Song Lan's side.

"I hate you."

"No you don't. You love me," Xingchen said.

"Debatable."

"Fight me."

Song Lan laughed, playfully poking Xingchen's side. "What were you thinking about?"

Xingchen's smile slowly faded and he sighed. "I wanted... to tell you."

"Tell me what?"

"Everything."

Song Lan's breath hitched. Xingchen reached for Song Lan's hand and held it tightly. 

"I'm listening," Song Lan whispered.

Xingchen didn't speak immediately. Song Lan's arm tightened around him, providing him a sense of security. Xingchen let out a shaky breath, forcing his mind to recount those days, that dark chapter of his life.

"So... he was fine at first. Um... it started out almost normal, I guess? I don't know, maybe there were signs that I just missed." Xingchen sighed. "I think the first time I realized that something was... off was when he started looking through my phone. I didn't even know he was doing it at first until I caught him doing it."

Song Lan shook his head. "Jesus."

"Um... he started making little comments, too." Xingchen bit his lip. "About... me. He always said he was joking and I guess I wanted to believe it even though it still hurt, a lot. Then..." Xingchen trailed off, tears brimming his eyes. "He... started hitting me."

"Xingchen..."

"H-He slapped me... I don't even remember why. I don't really think he needed a reason. He kept apologizing and I should've just left, but I didn't, so it kept happening and it kept getting worse. It started happening more often and I didn't know what to do. He started making me cut contact with you and everyone else, which is why I stopped... texting you."

Song Lan frowned. "I figured."

"Yeah... um." Xingchen squeezed Song Lan's hand a little tighter. "S-So he did it a lot more often, and then... um..." 

"Take your time, it's okay..."

"H-He... um..." Xingchen quickly wiped his eyes with his sleeve using his free hand, the other still clinging onto Song Lan's. "I guess... the yelling just kept getting worse, and..." Xingchen shivered. "Sorry, one second..." Xingchen closed his eyes, taking a few deep breaths. He needed a monent, which Song Lan immediately granted him. Song Lan held him close and kissed the top of his head.

"It's okay, love."

"H-He started... getting scarier, I guess? I don't... know how to explain it. Just... it was almost c-constant and then one night he d-decided he wanted to-" Xingchen clamped his mouth shut, biting his lip.

"You don't have to tell me."

"I want to..."

"Okay," Song Lan said, "take as long as you need."

Xingchen took a deep breath, fiddling with his a loose string on his sweater sleeve as he pondered what he was going to say.

He wanted Song Lan to know. He trusted Song Lan more than he'd ever trusted anyone. He knew Song Lan had questions that he was too nice to voice, could see his mind trying to workout what happened that could drive Xingchen to be so afraid. Why he flinched so often, why he didn't want to go further than kissing.

He felt Song Lan kiss the top of his head again. He shivered.

He needed to say it. He needed to get it out. Perhaps it would help, telling someone. Especially someone like Song Lan.

"He..." Xingchen hesitated. His hands were shaking again as he anxiously pulled on his sweater sleeve. Song Lan grabbed them, squeezed. "forced... you know."

Song Lan tensed up against Xingchen. "Like...?"

Xingchen nodded. "Yeah."

"O-Oh my god, Xingchen..."

"I-I told him no, and h-he never listened, and I tried fighting but he always won and-"

"What do you mean, he 'always won'? Did this happen more than once."

Xingchen nodded, tears slipping from his eyes.

"I'm going to kill him."

"Zichen-"

"No," Song Lan said, cutting him off. Song Lan pulled away from Xingchen quickly and stood up from the couch. "That's... holy shit, he deserves to rot in prison, Xingchen."

"I know, but-"

"You need to tell someone, Xingchen! And not just me, the police or something."

"Zichen, I-"

"I'm going to murder him, he-"

"Would you please just listen to me?" Xingchen said, voice raising. He stood up, facing Song Lan. "I-I hate him too, okay? A lot. But-but I'm scared, because he... it's like he's still here sometimes, and no matter what I do, he's watching. The police probably won't care and a-and he'd literally kill me if the police found out. It's like, every single day I wake up and for a while I think I'm still there, and this was all a dream. I just want to..." Xingchen trailed off, deflating, "just... be with you. You've made all of this so much easier."

He felt Song Lan's eyes on him. He wished he could see Song Lan's face, perhaps then it would be easier to read what he was thinking.

Song Lan stepped forward. Xingchen's flinched on instinct, but relaxed as soon as Song Lan took both of his hands in his own and pulled him into a tight hug.

"I'm sorry," Song Lan whispered.

"It's okay," Xingchen said, voice muffled as he rested his head directly under Song Lan's chin.

"I'm so sorry that happened to you, love."

Xingchen sniffled. Song Lan wiped away some of his tears with the pad of his thumb, pecking his lips softly. "It's not your fault," Xingchen whispered.

"I love you," Song Lan said.

Xingchen couldn't remember the last time anybody said that to him, especially in a way that wasn't demeaning and manipulative. There was no way for Song Lan to know how much those words meant to him, how much he desperately needed to hear them. His eyes once again filled with tears. "I love you too," he said.

"And I'm so, so proud of you."

"Zichen, stop," Xingchen said, going to wipe away his tears, "you're going to make me cry again. I am so sick of crying."

Song Lan chuckled softly and kissed Xingchen's nose. "I'm never going to stop telling you how amazing you are." He kissed Xingchen's cheek. "You're beautiful." He punctuated the phrase with a kiss to Xingchen's nose, "and smart." Another kiss. "And brave." Another. "And the strongest person I have ever known."

"Shut up."

"Never."

Xingchen huffed, face bright red. "Annoying."

"Hey! I am not."

"You've been annoying since we were kids."

"Um, excuse me, if anything that was you. I was the big kid trying to separate myself from you trailing behind me everywhere-"

"You are only older than me by like a year-"

"18 months, to be precise."

Xingchen laughed. "Okay, whatever you say."

"Thank you," Song Lan said with a curt nod.

"Of course. I'll give you your extra few months," Xingchen said slyly, smirking at Song Lan. 

Song Lan tightened his grip around Xingchen's waist and poked his side. Xingchen giggled. 

"Thank you for telling me," Song Lan finally said, after the two of them had finished laughing. 

Xingchen's smile softened and he nodded. "I wanted you to know."

"Do you need anything?"

Xingchen shook his head. "Just you."

"Always."

Xingchen tugged Song Lan back over to the sofa, where the two of them promptly collapsed. Xingchen cuddled back up into Song Lan's arms, who immediately welcomed him with a kiss. It was a weight that had been lifted off his shoulders, now that Song Lan knew. They'd get through it together, like they always did.

Xingchen closed his eyes, the two of them silent for a brief moment before Xingchen spoke. "I love you," he said, testing the words on his lips again.

"I love you too," Song Lan responded.

"I love you more, though."

"Impossible," Song Lan said, "one hundred percent impossible."

"Incorrect."

"Correct."

"Fight me, Zichen."

Song Lan squeezed Xingchen tighter, the two of them breaking down into giggles. 

"Xingchen?" Song Lan asked.

"Yeah?"

"I have something I want to show you."

Chapter Text

Xiao Xingchen wasn't sure why, but the tone of voice with which Song Lan had used brought him pause. He tilted his head, a habit Song Lan had long since deemed as his "cute confused dog look". "What's up?" he asked.

Song Lan pulled away from Xingchen, lightly kissed him on the head. Xingchen felt Song Lan's weight leave the couch. "I'll be right back," Song Lan said.

"Where are you going?"

"Just one sec," Song Lan responded. Xingchen frowned as he listened to Song Lan's footsteps exit the room. He strained his ears, trying to hear what Song Lan was doing from the other room to no avail.

What he had with Xue Yang had, understandably, conditioned him to really not like surprises. He bit his lip and began playing with the frayed string on his sweater sleeve again, his fingers twirling idly around it while he waited.

Song Lan entered the room again and Xingchen listened as his footsteps stopped in front of the sofa where he sat. "Hold out your hands," Song Lan instructed.

Xingchen complied, and was promptly met with a small stack of papers. He raised an eyebrow. "What is this?"

"I didn't want to go any farther until I asked you first," Song Lan said, "because you definitely deserve an opinion on this."

"Zichen, you are driving me insane, tell me what I'm holding right now."

He heard Song Lan laugh. "Okay, okay," Song Lan said, "I may or may not have been looking at apartments."

"You..." Xingchen's brows furrowed, "you have?"

"This place was fine when it was just me living here, but with your stuff it's a little cramped. I found one with two bedrooms, so that'll be extra space for a lot of our useless shit. The rent isn't that much more than this place and with both our jobs we can definitely split it," Song Lan explained.

Xingchen wished he could read the papers. It drove him slightly mad that he couldn't. "Where is it?"

"That's another thing," Song Lan said, "it's on the other side of the city. It's far away from..." he trailed off. Xingchen understood.

"What about our jobs?"

"Okay, it's not that far. I can drive you to work and it'd take like twenty extra minutes. I just figured..." Song Lan hesitated, "...I love you, and I want to spend as long as humanly possible with you, and to do that I think we need an apartment that's not the size of a shoe box."

Xingchen stood up, handing the papers back to Song Lan, his heart fluttering boyishly in his chest. Song Lan loved him enough to move apartments with him, in order for him to be more comfortable. He reached up to lightly peck Song Lan's lips. "I think..." Xingchen smiled softly, "I think we should do it."

"Really?"

"Yeah," Xingchen nodded.

He didn't voice the real reason he so desperately wanted to move. He hated that Xue Yang knew where he lived. Perhaps not the exact apartment, but the area. Every time he stepped outside, he was brought back to that day Xue Yang caught him after work. He needed a fresh start. A way to escape Xue Yang.

He was so sick of feeling unsafe. So sick of being scared. And while he knew moving wouldn't solve everything, perhaps he'd feel at least a little bit better.

He felt Song Lan's arms wrap around him, his lips pressing against Xingchen's temple. "You really wanna do this?"

Xingchen nodded as he leaned into Song Lan's touch, breathing in the scent of Song Lan's aftershave and cologne. "I really do."

"They allow pets," Song Lan said, "just saying."

"Oh, we are one hundred percent getting a cat."

"I'm so glad we're on the same page," Song Lan laughed.

Xingchen smiled and kissed Song Lan's jaw, wondering what he could've possibly done to deserve this. What he could've done to end up with who he thought was the absolute greatest person in the world.

He was positive he'd never been happier.

He wasn't sure why Xue Yang was so angry, wasn't sure what he could've possibly done to enact this type of wrath. All he knew, however, was the sound of his own sobbing, and the pounding of the bathroom door from the monster demanding to get in.

It had been an unremarkable evening, for the most part. He fell asleep early to the sound of soft music through his headphones, waiting for Xue Yang to get home from God knows what he'd been doing. He was calm, relaxed, because he was alone in the apartment and nobody was there to hurt him.

Which was why, as he was shaken awake by a pissed off Xue Yang, he'd been instantly afraid.

Harsh insults, slaps, and screaming had led him to hide in the bathroom, where he shakily locked the door and backed away into the far corner. He hid himself in the bathtub and shielded himself with the shower curtain, as if it would do any good when Xue Yang inevitably broke the door down.

But Xingchen wasn't thinking about a lost security deposit in that moment, and evidently Xue Yang wasn't either. He had his legs drawn to his chest, his face hidden. Another bang on the door brought Xingchen to let out a sob.

"Get out here right now, Xingchen!" Xue Yang shouted.

Xingchen didn't have his phone on him, didn't have a way to call for help. He was trapped.

"Open the door!" came another shout, followed by a string of cursing.

A larger bang erupted from the other side of the door. Xingchen could only assume that Xue Yang had thrown himself against it. It wouldn't take him long to get in, if he kept doing that. Xingchen let out an inhuman whimper, nails digging into his arms as he held them tightly around himself.

When the door finally burst open, followed by the sound of heavy breathing and even more creative curse words, Xingchen pressed himself against the wall.

He couldn't even beg for mercy before Xue Yang grabbed his hair, half dragging him out of the bathtub and immediately throwing him down on the floor. Xingchen gasped in pain.

"I tried being nice," Xue Yang said, "I tried being patient with you, but you-you're so stupid, and worthless, and I can't do it anymore."

"Xue Yang, please-"

"It's no wonder your parents didn't love you," Xue Yang spat.

Xingchen's soul shattered into thousands of pieces.

He recalled a time when his mother sang him to sleep, when his father took him out for ice cream on weekends and drove him to school. They weren't necessarily the closest family, but they loved each other. At least, that was what Xingchen thought. None of that mattered after he came out. They never saw him as the same, never again told him they loved him. He simply became their responsibility, something they had to deal with until he was old enough to leave. Xue Yang knew that.

Xue Yang knew that fact killed him, stabbed him through the heart every time he thought about it.

And he used it.

"They saw you as you are," Xue Yang continued, "a pathetic-" he paused just long enough to kick Xingchen in the stomach, knocking the wind out of him, "waste of space." Another kick. "Useless." Another. "Little bitch." 

Xingchen was hoping the pain would bring him to pass out, to end his suffering once and for all. He wasn't that lucky. Xue Yang's hands once again carded through his hair threateningly. Xingchen didn't have the strength to get up. 

"Xue Yang, I-I'm sorry," Xingchen pleaded, his hands frantically raising to try to get Xue Yang to let go.

"No you're not," Xue Yang hissed, "you're a terrible liar."

Xue Yang yanked him forward, once again dragging him out of the bathroom and down the hallway while Xingchen sobbed in pain and tried desperately to get away. He heard the sound of a door opening, and was promptly thrown into another room.

He had no idea where he was.

The door slammed shut before he could ask. He heard the sound of a lock click, followed by footsteps retreating down the hall.

He wasn't super alarmed, at first, until he lifted his hand and was immediately met with a wall. Two walls, on either side of him, close enough together that he couldn't extend his arms to their full length.

Upon further inspection, he found a few jackets, and realized to his horror that he was locked inside a closet.

"Xue Yang?" he said, and was shocked at how terrified he sounded, how small.

Xue Yang didn't respond. He got to his feet, tried to open the door, but it wouldn't budge. Panic clawing its way up his throat, he started to pound on it, started to desperately try to get out. 

Xue Yang still didn't respond.

"Please-" he sobbed, "Xue Yang, please... I'm sorry, I'm sorry..." it became a mantra, a song he repeated over and over to a deaf audience. 

He sank to the floor again and pulled his knees to his chest. 

He lost track of the hours. He wasn't sure what time it was, if it was morning or still late at night when he finally chased away the demons long enough to fall asleep, only to be shaken awake by horrible nightmares.

He never did find out what he'd done wrong.

Xingchen woke with a start. 

He was curled up in a ball. Song Lan was behind him, arm around his waist. He was still asleep, from what Xingchen could tell. 

There were tears on his face, and he was shaking. Frowning, Xingchen carefully tried to pull away from Song Lan without the other waking up. Usually, he was successful. When he had nightmares, he'd handle them on his own and avoid waking Song Lan up at all.

He wasn't successful this time. He wasn't even out of bed yet when Song Lan woke up to find Xingchen sitting up, shivering, and... crying?

"Xingchen?" Song Lan asked tiredly from where he was lying. 

Xingchen paused. "Yeah?" he asked. His voice was wobbly when he spoke. He cleared his throat, hoping Song Lan hadn't noticed.

But of course he noticed, because he noticed every time Xingchen was upset. "What's wrong?" Song Lan asked.

"Nothing," Xingchen whispered, "I just... wanted water," he lied, unconvincingly.

Song Lan sat up, his arms snaking around Xingchen's waist. "Xingchen..."

Xingchen leaned back against Song Lan, letting out a shaky breath. "It's nothing, Zichen."

"You're a terrible liar."

Xingchen froze. He hadn't realized it, but that night with Xue Yang was what he'd been thinking about. What had inspired his dream, which he truthfully couldn't really remember vividly anymore.

But he remembered that night like it was yesterday, as he did with every other night he spent with Xue Yang.

"You're a terrible liar," Xue Yang had said.

"I..."

"Xingchen?" Song Lan asked. Xingchen had to remind himself who was speaking, that it wasn't Xue Yang holding him. He wasn't there anymore.

"I-I'm not... lying," Xingchen said.

"No-hey." Song Lan kissed the side of Xingchen's head. "Hey, no, it's okay. I know you're not. C'mere." Song Lan pulled Xingchen close, held his shaking form securely. "It's okay..."

Xingchen tucked his head against Song Lan's shoulder, shivers running down his spine as Song Lan pressed a kiss to the top of his head and traced his fingers along Xingchen's arm.

"Bad dream?" Song Lan whispered.

Xingchen nodded.

"Do you wanna talk about it?"

Xingchen shook his head. "What time is it?" he asked quietly.

"It's two in the morning," Song Lan said, after quickly glancing at the clock he kept on the bedside table.

"You should sleep," Xingchen said, "I'll be fine."

"No," Song Lan said.

"I'm probably not going back to sleep," Xingchen mumbled.

"Then I'm not either," Song Lan said, "you know you can always wake me up when this happens, right?"

Xingchen shrugged.

"I'm serious, love, you don't have to do this alone."

"I don't want to wake you up. It's not fair to you," Xingchen argued.

"It isn't fair to you, either," Song Lan said, "it's not fair that you have to go through this because of him."

"You shouldn't have to deal with it," Xingchen said.

"Xingchen," Song Lan said, "I will 'deal with this', as you say, for the rest of my life if it means you feel safe. If it means waking up at ungodly hours of the night to make sure you're okay, then so be it."

A tear slipped from Xingchen's eyes. "But-"

"Nope," Song Lan said, promptly wiping away the tear, "don't try to argue with me. You'll lose."

Xingchen smiled. It was small, barely there, but he smiled nonetheless. "You're the worst."

"I think I'm the best, actually, but thanks," Song Lan said.

"I don't want to keep you up all night."

"Oh, come on," Song Lan said, "we'd keep each other up all night when we were younger, remember? Our little sleepovers where we wouldn't sleep at all, or we'd stay up until five in the morning. This is just like that, except... now I get to do this." Song Lan pecked Xingchen's lips. Xingchen giggled softly. 

"I love you," Xingchen mumbled tiredly.

"I love you too," Song Lan said.

Perhaps it was because Song Lan's arms were around him, holding him close, and he felt safe again, but Xingchen eventually did fall back asleep. Song Lan smiled as Xingchen's breaths evened out, completely relaxing against him. He slowly laid back down, allowing Xingchen to use his chest as a pillow. He kissed the top of Xingchen's head.

"I love you," he whispered, and drifted off into a dreamless sleep.

Xingchen was surprised when he woke up. It was the first night in a long time he'd gotten a healthy amount of sleep, and didn't have to drink an ungodly amount of caffeinated substances to stay functioning. His head was still on Song Lan's chest, Song Lan's arm resting on his waist.

"Morning, sunshine," Song Lan said.

"Hi," Xingchen responded, voice groggy. He yawned, rolling away from Song Lan so he could stretch out his still tired body. 

"Someone slept good. It's almost noon."

"It's almost what?"

"Noon," Song Lan said, "eleven forty five, to be exact."

Evidently, Xingchen must've looked entirely dumbfounded. He glared at the sound of Song Lan's low giggling, grabbed his pillow, and hit Song Lan with it.

Song Lan laughed, catching it with his hands. "I didn't know you were capable of sleeping in this late."

"I didn't either."

"You were so cute when you were sleeping, I just couldn't bare to wake you up," Song Lan said.

"Shut your stupid face up."

"And you were snoring a little bit too, but not loud. You sounded like a cat."

"Zichen-"

"About an hour ago you started talking in your sleep. I didn't hear much, but I think you were singing a song. You have a really good voice, by the way-"

"I hate you."

"Awww, rude," Song Lan laughed. Xingchen turned away from Song Lan with another huff, however his back was only to his boyfriend for a few seconds before he felt Song Lan's arm snake around his waist and pull him close. 

"You're the worst person," Xingchen mumbled lovingly.

"But you love me anyways," Song Lan said.

"I question why everyday."

Xingchen finally relented, turning back around and cuddling back up against Song Lan. He was cold, and Song Lan was warm. Song Lan pecked his lips. "Cute."

"Shut up."

"Wei Wuxian texted me earlier," Song Lan said, abruptly changing the subject, "he wants to hangout."

"He literally has a fiance he can hangout with," Xingchen said.

"Someone's feeling feisty today."

Xingchen giggled. "Is that out of character?"

"It is the most out of character thing for you, yes, but anyways, he asked if we wanted to meet him at a diner down the street. I told him I'd let him know if you ever decided to wake up, which you have, so do you want to go?"

"Yes," Xingchen said, almost immediately, "I need out of this apartment."

"Cool. I'll text him."

Which was how Xingchen ended up sitting in a booth next to Song Lan, with Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji across from them, his white cane leaning against the table.

"Anything new with you too?" Wuxian asked through a mouthful of food. "Do you want to kill each other yet?"

"Every day," Xingchen said, smirking. Song Lan playfully nudged his side.

"We actually did want to tell you guys something though," Song Lan said.

"Oh?" Wuxian asked, "do tell."

"We're dating," Song Lan said. Xingchen blushed, looking down with a soft smile at his lips as Song Lan wrapped an arm around his shoulders. 

"That's amazing!" Wei Wuxian exclaimed, probably alerting the other patrons in the diner, "you guys make an adorable couple."

"Thank you," Song Lan said.

"How long have you two been together?" Wuxian asked.

"Around four months, now," Song Lan responded.

"Four months? And you didn't even tell us. How rude. Lan Zhan, I think we should leave." Wei Wuxian laughed. Xingchen could hear Song Lan's chuckles beside him.

"And we're moving," said Song Lan, after another bite of food, "to an apartment that's not tiny."

"That's great," Wuxian said, "I was wondering how long the two of you would last in that shithole."

"Language," Xingchen muttered under his breath.

"There he is, the Xingchen we all know and love," laughed Wei Wuxian. He heard Song Lan laugh beside him.

However, for some reason, the only laugh he could muster was forced. He wasn't sure why he was suddenly no longer in the mood to socialize, to be out. His stomach was in knots, however, and he really didn't have an appetite. He pursed his lips and leaned back in his seat with a soft sigh.

"So Xue Yang's out, then?" Wuxian asked. Xingchen tensed.

"Uh... yeah," he said, "I haven't seen him in a while."

"Good," Wuxian said, "he really doesn't deserve you."

"Speaking of that..." Song Lan said, followed by a few minutes of silence in which Xingchen desperately wished he could see the seemingly telepathic communication between Song Lan and one or both of the people across the table.

"Xingchen," came a soft voice from across the table. Lan Wangji had been so quiet this whole time, Xingchen almost forgot he was there.

"Yeah?"

"We have something..." Lan Wangji seemed to hesitate, which was odd. He never hesitated. "...we want to talk to you about."

Xingchen's stomach twisted even further for a reason he couldn't quite explain. "What is it?"

"We were talking," Song Lan said, "about... what happened with Xue Yang."

Oh. Oh no.

"And I know you said you didn't want to mess with him any further, but he deserves to suffer."

Xingchen couldn't respond. He was practically frozen in place.

"Lan Zhan is graduating law school soon," Wei Wuxian went on, "we can help you."

"Only if you want to," Lan Wangji interjected.

Xingchen wasn't really listening anymore. He could hear that the three of them were still talking to him, trying to convince him to press charges or whatnot, but all he seemed to hear was white noise. How much had Song Lan talked about to Lan Wangji?

It took a lot for Xingchen to trust, even before he met Xue Yang. However, Song Lan was somebody he'd been able to trust for years. 

But was that really the case?

"We can get him in trouble, Xingchen," he heard Song Lan say. "Or we can get you a restraining order."

"Xingchen?" Wuxian asked, seemingly noticing the way Xingchen was frozen. "Are you okay?"

Xingchen grabbed his cane, gripped it tightly. He forced a smile. "Yeah, I'm good."

"So what do you think?" Song Lan said, "do you want to do this?"

"I can be your lawyer," Lan Wangji said quietly, "if you want."

Xiao Xingchen forced himself to nod. "Can I think about it?"

"Of course you can," Wei Wuxian said.

He could hardly focus on the conversation after that, even when it shifted from Xue Yang to something else. He stopped eating completely, despite having been starving before they'd arrived at the diner and only eating a little bit of his food.

He was used to going hungry anyway. He'd survive.

He was angry. He was angry that Song Lan had gone behind his back, made plans with Lan Wangji to press charges against Xue Yang without asking him first. Which also meant Lan Wangji probably knew things. Knew things Xingchen had been terrified to admit out loud for months, and had trusted Song Lan enough to express. 

Never again, he decided, would he trust someone like that.

Despite the three people surrounding him, he realized no matter what, or who he was with, he really was alone.

And Xue Yang had been right all along. 

 

 

Chapter Text

"Something is bothering you," Song Lan said, after they arrived home from the diner.

How observant, Xingchen thought bitterly, shoving his hands in the pockets of the hoodie he'd borrowed (stolen) from Song Lan's closet after setting down his cane. He sat down on the couch with a shrug. "It's nothing."

"It's not nothing," Song Lan said, "what's up?"

"Nothing," he said again, sounding audibly annoyed this time. 

Xingchen hadn't spoken a word the entire drive home from the diner. Even while they were still there, he barely engaged in conversation. He was sure they noticed, but he couldn't even bring himself to feel bad for his own rudeness. He was upset, and he knew he had every right to be. For a while, he was forced to repress his emotions. His anger, his sadness. He couldn't do that anymore.

He'd never gotten into a real fight with Song Lan before. They'd had their disagreements and petty little arguments, but those usually only lasted at most an hour. This was different, Xingchen knew that. It was a breach of trust. He knew Song Lan was worried about him, and he knew Song Lan wanted to see Xue Yang suffer, but Xingchen was scared. He was terrified to push Xue Yang further, to mess with the beehive he'd just escaped from.

He was tired. And while he hated Xue Yang more than anyone, he couldn't bring himself to do anything about it.

He'd given up, he realized. He wasn't willing to fight anymore. He was done.

"Xingchen," Song Lan said, "what's wrong?" Xingchen could hear that Song Lan was stood at the other side of the room to his left, probably a few feet away.

And he couldn't hold it back any longer. "Why'd you talk to them about this without telling me?"

"What?"

"You know what," Xingchen snapped. He sounded unlike himself, he knew that. He was quite possibly the least confrontational person in the world, especially after Xue Yang. Anytime he was at work and had to deal with an unhappy customer, he immediately tried to find an escape from the conversation and someone else to deal with it. "You know what I'm talking about," he muttered.

"That I talked to them about what happened with Xue Yang?" Song Lan asked.

"Yes," Xingchen said, and stood up from the couch, "why didn't you tell me?"

"Because I knew you'd say no, and I'm worried about you-"

"Of course I would've said no!" Xingchen said, voice rising in both volume and pitch, "I told you I didn't want to."

"I know you did, okay?" Song Lan said. Xingchen could tell he was trying not to yell, trying to keep his voice relaxed, but that fact somehow only angered him further.

"I'm not just this fragile little thing you need to protect, Zichen-"

"I know that, Xingchen."

"Why did you do it, then?" Xingchen asked, hating the way he felt tears building up behind his eyes, "why did you talk to them about it?"

"Because I want to make sure you're safe! I want to make sure he can't ever hurt you again, Xingchen. And they both agree."

"I don't care what they think," Xingchen said, "you should've told me."

"I'm sorry. Is that what you want me to say?"

"Well I'd like you to be a little bit more genuine about it, but yes, that's the whole point."

"Jesus Christ, I'm not doing this right now," Song Lan muttered. Xingchen heard his footsteps retreating.

"Zichen, stop-"

"I'm not going to argue with you, Xingchen."

"So that's it then? You're just gonna walk away? You're not even a little bit sorry?" Xingchen's voice was starting to shake, angry tears threatening to spill. 

"I'm sorry I'm worried about you."

"Can you please just listen to me?"

"Fine." Song Lan stopped walking. "I'm listening," he said.

"You-You shouldn't have talked to them about this without my permission! You could've asked-"

"You would have said no-"

"Because I don't want to do this!"

"He deserves to be punished for what he did, Xingchen," Song Lan said. Xingchen could hear the frustration behind it, the carefully controlled anger. He'd heard it before, and he'd usually stop pushing by now and just give in. However, he also knew that the man before him wasn't Xue Yang, and while he was starting to get a little bit anxious, he reminded himself he was fine. Everything would be okay.

"I know that, okay? But all this will do is piss him off," Xingchen urged.

"Jesus Christ, I'm sorry," Song Lan said sarcastically.

"Oh wow, you sound really sorry now, Zichen," Xingchen shot back.

"What is your deal today? You've been off since this morning."

"Oh, am I not allowed to be a little angry?" Xingchen asked. 

"This is ridiculous," Song Lan murmured.

"Oh, I'm being ridiculous?"

"Would you fucking stop?" Song Lan suddenly erupted, "God, this is fucking- I'm done. I'm going for a walk."

Xingchen was frozen, the fight in him deteriorating only to be replaced by fear. "Zichen-"

"No! I'm done arguing with you. This is ridiculous!" Song Lan shouted. Xingchen had never heard Song Lan shout. He'd never even heard him raise his voice. 

"I-"

"I'll fucking see you later," Song Lan hissed. He brushed past Xingchen, their shoulders just touching enough to make Xingchen flinch. 

The front door slammed loud enough to make the entire apartment shake.

Then the panic set in.

"Z-Zichen?" Xingchen choked out.

No. No no no. Why did he do that? He shouldn't have argued so much, shouldn't have made Song Lan so angry. He was gone now, off who knows where.

He's leaving you, Xingchen's mind supplied unhelpfully, he hates you now. He's not coming back.

He couldn't breathe. His lungs were seemingly refusing to take in air. He was shaking. When did he start shaking so bad? Fortunately for him, he was still standing next to the sofa as his legs decided they no longer wanted to support him and he fell onto a thankfully cushioned surface. The tears came rapidly, harsh sobs wracking his body and tearing him apart. Song Lan would make him leave, would break up with him and force him to move out. 

He could always go back to Xue Yang.

He couldn't go back there. He'd rather starve on the streets than go back there.

He curled up on the sofa and cried, his mind supplying him millions of scenarios in which Song Lan hated him. 

Xue Yang was right, another unhelpful voice in his head commented, you're nothing. It was only a matter of time before Zichen saw that.

That's not true, he tried to argue back.

Worthless.

Stupid.

"No," he sobbed, "no no no no..." He covered his ears, as if it would drown out his thoughts. He couldn't stop shaking, not to mention he felt dangerously lightheaded from the amount of air he wasn't taking in. Perhaps he'd die. Maybe then this would all stop, and he'd feel okay again. He just wanted to feel okay.

He wasn't sure how long he sat there, fingernails digging into his head and his eyes screwed shut. His mind raced, his heart pounded, and he kept muttering apologies under his breath as if it would make it all better.

"Xingchen, love."

Xingchen paused, as even his thoughts seemed to freeze in his head. Had he just imagined Song Lan's voice?

"Oh, God, hey, it's okay..." No. It was definitely real. "Xingchen, I'm right here, it's okay..."

He felt Song Lan sit down on the couch. He flinched and pressed himself further up against the armrest, trying to make himself as small as possible. He couldn't speak. He wasn't even entirely sure he'd be able to stand without passing out, even as his breathing slowly started to even itself out.

"I'm so sorry," Song Lan said. Was he...crying? He sounded like he was crying. "God, I-I didn't mean... you were right. I'm so sorry, angel, I'm so fucking sorry." He was definitely crying.

"Z-Zichen?" Xingchen finally managed to ask.

"Yeah?"

"You're not... leaving?" He was surprised by it. Surprised that despite everything, Song Lan was going to stay.

"Of course I'm not leaving. I'm not going anywhere," Song Lan said.

Xingchen felt Song Lan shift positions. He flinched again.

"I'm sorry," Song Lan said again, "y-you were right. I'm not... I'm not going to touch you, okay? You're okay."

"Y-You told him."

"What?"

"W-why did you t-tell him?" Xingchen whispered shakily, "why did you talk to Lan Wangji about it? W-why did you tell him?" His voice was wobbly, his breathing still at an unhealthy pace. 

There were a few moments of silence. Xingchen almost repeated his question, when Song Lan spoke. "I didn't... tell him anything."

"I..." Xingchen's brows furrowed. "What?"

Song Lan took a deep breath. "I didn't tell him anything you told me. I'd never do that to you, love. Not without your permission. No, he... they only know about... the night you came to my apartment. After he..."

It all clicked so fast, it was almost comical in Xingchen's mind that he'd ever thought otherwise. They were there the night Xingchen had ran to Song Lan's apartment. They'd seen him, they knew Xue Yang had hurt him that night.

They didn't know about anything else.

He was such an idiot.

"I'm... I thought..."

He heard a gentle, half-hearted laugh from the other side of the sofa. "It's okay... I know. Regardless, I should've asked you first. I'm sorry."

"I-I'm sorry," Xingchen whispered, "I shouldn't... I'm s-sorry."

"You don't have anything to be sorry for. I'm sorry I yelled at you like that and stormed out. That was... really shitty..." Song Lan trailed off for a moment. "...I just... I love you so much, it hurts. And seeing you... scared because of the stuff he did, it kills me. I just... I know getting him in trouble won't magically make any of this better, but he... I hate him so much. I just want you to be happy. You deserve it more than anyone. You don't deserve to be scared to go back to sleep. You don't deserve any of this. You deserve the fucking world."

Xingchen was crying again, trying to keep his tears at bay with his hoodie sleeve to no avail.

"I was an asshole to you, and I'm sorry. I am worried about you, but you're also so much stronger than I will ever be. I'm so sorry, love..."

Xingchen slowly uncurled his still shaking body, slowly scooting over to where Song Lan sat. Song Lan didn't move, allowing Xingchen to make all the decisions and movements. Xingchen let his head rest on Song Lan's shoulder, melting into his embrace as Song Lan's arms reluctantly wrapped around him. 

"I-I'm just scared," Xingchen whispered.

"I know you are, but I'm here. I'm not gonna let him lay another finger on you."

"When I was... with him, I..." Xingchen let out a shaky breath, "sometimes I just... wanted to die. I don't know... I thought about... how much easier it would all be if..."

Song Lan's arms seemed to tighten a little. 

"O-Obviously I didn't... but I thought about it a lot."

"I'm so sorry."

"If... I were to, um, press charges... I'm just worried this would all get ugly again, and he'd... I don't know."

"If we were to press charges, he wouldn't come near you. I'd make sure of it, so would Lan Wangji and Wei Wuxian. We could at least try to file for a restraining order."

"Can I think about it...?" 

"Of course. This is all completely up to you," Song Lan said, "we won't do anything unless you're one hundred percent okay with it."

Xingchen nodded, letting his eyes fall closed. "I'm sorry."

"Xingchen," Song Lan said, "if you apologize one more time, I'll-"

"You'll what?" Xingchen asked, managing the weakest of smiles.

"I won't kiss you for a week."

"Like you could go an hour without kissing me."

"Watch me."

The two of them sat in silence for a little while. Xingchen was still trembling, exhaustion claiming him like a fog from the panic he'd just undergone. Even if he'd finally gotten a reasonable amount of sleep the night before, he still felt as if he could sleep here. He felt Song Lan press a kiss to the top of his head and release a deep sigh. 

"Xingchen?"

"Yeah?"

"Xue Yang still has a lot of your stuff, right?"

Xingchen frowned, nodded. "Unfortunately."

"He still has your phone."

Xingchen let out a shaky breath. "I've gotten used to not having a phone at this point."

"I know, but..."

"I'm not... going back there, Zichen."

"No, of course not. I know. can, though, if you want me to."

Xingchen frowned. He'd been forced to buy the necessary things since moving in with Song Lan, but the majority of his stuff was still with Xue Yang. A lot of stuff he cared about, and wanted back. He was worried Xue Yang had thrown it all out, destroyed it in a fit of rage. He was thankful he was able to get the majority of his paychecks to start transferring into his own bank account, but Xue Yang still took some of it. He still had some control over Xingchen's money, but he was too afraid to confront him and try to get him to stop.

"Are you sure?" he asked.

"Yeah," Song Lan said, "I can go by myself. You can stay here."

"I don't want him to hurt you."

"I'll be fine," Song Lan said, "I promise."

Hesitantly, Xingchen finally nodded his agreement. He buried his face in Song Lan's chest, sighing deeply. "Thank you."

"Of course, love."

Xingchen was still tense. Throughout the day, Song Lan studied Xingchen. He'd flinch every time Song Lan spoke and his voice was close. He'd retreat anytime he heard a noise even slightly loud. It killed Song Lan, knowing it was his fault. He wasn't sure why he even yelled. He'd never been quick to anger, never been one to raise his voice. Perhaps that was his problem. He'd internalized it all too much, he just... snapped.

He never meant to snap at the one person who meant the most to him in the world, though, and that night as they went to bed again, his heart broke when Xingchen didn't immediately cuddle up next to him and instead stuck to his own side of the bed.

The next morning was when he decided to go to Xue Yang's. He was almost hoping Xue Yang was there, just so he had an excuse to confront him. As he was getting ready to leave, Xingchen was eating breakfast at the table. Song Lan couldn't help but notice the dark, pronounced circles under his eyes and his tired posture, the way he looked as if he was going to pass out.

"Xingchen?" he asked from the other side of the table.

"Hm?"

"Did you... sleep last night?"

"Yeah," Xingchen said. It was clearly a lie.

Song Lan frowned. "Did you have another nightmare?"

Xingchen just shrugged.

"You should've woken me up," Song Lan urged.

"I'm fine."

Sighing, Song Lan walked to the other side of the table and captured his boyfriend in a hug from behind. He felt Xingchen lean back against him, his head resting underneath Song Lan's chin. "You're impossible."

"Not true."

"It's true," Song Lan said, kissing the top of Xingchen's head, "but I really love you, so it's okay."

Xingchen managed a tired smile. "I love you too."

"I'm gonna go. I'll be back soon, okay?"

"Be careful," Xingchen said, worry evident in his voice.

"Always."

Song Lan lightly pecked Xingchen's lips, then left.

The drive was short. There wasn't any traffic out, and it was only a few blocks away. He parked in front of the apartment, glaring at it as he took his keys out of the ignition.

He'd only been there a few times, back before he noticed anything was... wrong. With a twinge in his gut, he realized that perhaps after his visits that brought him and Xue Yang to be practically at each other's throats, Xingchen probably had to pay for it.

That thought only angered him further. He exited the car and approached the building. Xue Yang's apartment was on the first floor, and only took a few moments to find. He knocked on the door.

There was no answer.

Narrowing his eyes, Song Lan knocked again. 

Still nothing.

He tried the doorknob, which was open, to his surprise. He pushed open the door and glanced around. At first glance, he could see that the living room was mostly clean, save for a few dirty dishes that proved Xue Yang had recently been there. The kitchen was in a worse state, however. Food, dishes, and other items littered the counter and made the surface barely visible to see. Song Lan reluctantly stepped further into the apartment.

"Hello?" he called.

Nothing.

Xingchen had mentioned there was a small suitcase in one of the closets, which he set off to find. He found it in the bedroom. It wasn't hard to determine whose clothes were whose. Xue Yang wore almost exclusively black, where as pretty much everything white or slightly colorful he was positive belonged to Xingchen. He was surprised to find Xingchen's clothes still hanging up and neatly folded in the dresser. 

He was sort of expecting that Xue Yang had gotten rid of it all, if he was being honest.

He found more of Xingchen's stuff on the top shelf of his closet. Important things, like his graduation diploma were tucked up there. He packed his shoes, jackets he recognized as belonging to Xingchen, then decided it best to move on.

He didn't want to, but he knew he had to start searching through drawers. He opened up the drawer to the nightstand, which was a chaotic mess of a random assortment of items. Chargers, papers, and other things filled the drawer to the top. He packed what he assumed was Xingchen's, but it really was a guessing game. He closed the drawer and moved onto the next one, his breath catching. Not only was Xingchen's phone hidden inside the drawer, he also found a small photograph of Xingchen. It was probably a few years old. He was sitting outside, the brightest smile on his face. Xue Yang was in the background. This was probably from before they started dating, when they'd sometimes hangout. When they seemed to just be friends.

Song Lan couldn't help but notice how beautiful Xingchen was. He looked so carefree, so hopeful. Song Lan would do anything to see that bright smile again, the way his eyes were lit up despite being unable to see anything. 

"Oh, so we're breaking into people's homes now?" 

Song Lan immediately turned around, photograph still in one hand and Xingchen's phone in the other. He was speechless, at first. Xue Yang had been eerily silent coming in.

"What are you doing here?" Xue Yang asked with a smirk.

Song Lan glared. "I'm just grabbing Xingchen's things. It's not like you need any of it."

"Oh, I don't need any of it," Xue Yang said, an infuriating grin still plastered on his face. He folded his arms and leaned against the door frame. "A lot of his stuff is still in his closet."

Song Lan glanced at the closet door, then back at Xue Yang suspiciously. "You-"

"I know he'll never willingly come crawling back," Xue Yang said, shrugging, "I'm over it."

"Just like that?" Song Lan asked. He couldn't help but notice something behind Xue Yang's eyes, however, that he couldn't quite place. He wasn't telling the whole truth.

"Just like that," Xue Yang drawled.

Song Lan frowned, pocketing Xingchen's phone and the photo. He was about to keep looking for Xingchen's belongings, when Xue Yang spoke again.

"How is he?" he asked.

"What?"

"You heard me," Xue Yang said.

"He's doing amazing without you," Song Lan muttered.

"Oh, sure..." Xue Yang giggled brightly, "does he still have nightmares? God, he used to wake me up all the time in the middle of the night. It was so irritating. Isn't it irritating?"

Song Lan's anger was inflating at an almost alarming rate. "Shut up."

"I remember once," Xue Yang spoke again, "he didn't have his cane with him, and he was holding a glass plate. He tripped and dropped it. Glass got everywhere." Xue Yang sighed, rolled his eyes. "He never was the brightest."

Song Lan clenched his fists.

"Is he scared to say no to you? I bet every time you two kiss, or..." Xue Yang smirked, "...do other things, he never says no, yeah? You're welcome, by the way. It makes it a lot easier."

Song Lan couldn't imagine it. It killed him to know how much suffering went on in this room, how much fear and pain. He also felt a pang in his heart, wondering if each time he kissed Xingchen, Xingchen was secretly reliving those horrifying moments. He made a mental note to have clearer permission from Xingchen going forward. He never wanted to make him uncomfortable, or scared.

"He hates you," Song Lan spat, "you disgusting piece of shit."

Xue Yang grinned, as if this was all a game. "I'm so hurt by you saying that." There was a pause. "It's only a matter of time before you see what I saw, don't worry."

"And what exactly will I see?"

"You'll see how..." Xue Yang pondered his words for a moment, "...worthless he truly is. You only pity him, right? I think that's what it was for me at first, too. He was a blind kid with parents who didn't care about him, trying to figure out how to pay for a home and food and all that. It's definitely easy to feel bad for something like that."

Song Lan narrowed his eyes. He was about to refute, when he noticed something else. He frowned, narrowing his eyes. He brushed past Xue Yang, to find the bathroom door that stood next to the bedroom was hanging off its hinges. Not only that, there was a small bloodstain on the tile. It was as if the door had previously been broken down. He could only imagine where the blood came from, what had led to Xue Yang breaking through the door. There was another small bloodstain next to the bathtub.

And another on the wall.

He was beginning to see red in his vision, anger burning him alive. He turned around and shoved Xue Yang against the wall, breathing heavily. "How could you do this to him?"

"Do what? You gotta be more specific here."

"You- you-"

"What? Broke him?" Xue Yang laughed, "it happened faster than I thought it would. It was quite fun, though, I have to admit."

Song Lan's anger reached its peak as he slammed Xue Yang against the wall again, successfully causing his head to hit it hard. Xue Yang groaned and sank to the ground as Song Lan released him, fists once again clenched.

"You're going to pay for what you've done," Song Lan breathed, tears filling his eyes.

Xue Yang rolled his eyes from his place on the floor. "I'm so scared," he breathed.

He grabbed the bag he'd filled with Xingchen's things, took one last glance at Xue Yang as he painstakingly tried to sit up, and he left.

The drive home was silent, the only sound his own heavy breathing. As soon as he arrived, he wheeled the suitcase inside and left it by the door before he set off to find Xingchen. He was at least grateful Xingchen wouldn't be able to see his bloodied fists.

Xingchen was asleep. He had fallen asleep on the sofa, his arm tucked under his head. Song Lan's heart twisted as his anger evaporated, replaced by a deep sensation of love he never even thought was possible. He carefully walked over and knelt down next to Xingchen, brushing his hair off his forehead with a fond, soft smile. Asleep, he looked peaceful. He was relaxed, no longer tense as he listened for possible threats, or twitching with any of his nervous habits. 

He was so, so beautiful.

Xingchen stirred, eyes opening. Song Lan retreated his hand. "Hey. I didn't mean to wake you," he said softly.

"Was I asleep?" Xingchen asked tiredly.

"Yeah. You can go back to sleep. It's okay. I got some of your stuff, I don't know if I grabbed all of it."

"Thank you," Xingchen whispered, eyes already falling closed again.

Song Lan watched as Xingchen drifted off, too exhausted to even try to stay awake. Carefully, Song Lan slid one arm under Xingchen's shoulders and the other under his knees, lifting him up bridal style so he could carry him to the bed.

Xingchen barely even stirred, simply letting his head fall against Song Lan's chest as he was carried. Song Lan placed him in the bed and covered him with the blankets, pressing a kiss to his forehead. "I love you," he whispered.

And as Song Lan left the room to allow Xingchen to sleep, Xingchen's mind continued to supply him with an ongoing war.

 

Chapter Text

The move was long, and if Xingchen was honest, painful, but once they settled into their new apartment he finally felt as if he could breathe.

He couldn't believe it had been six months since that night he'd desperately escaped Xue Yang, only to end up with something he never thought possible. 

Their new apartment was much bigger, with two bedrooms and more than enough storage space for what they owned. Xingchen also took comfort in the fact that Xue Yang didn't know where he lived, and had no way of figuring it out. It was a weight off his shoulders, a small light at the end of such a dark tunnel.

He'd had a lot of time to reflect, lately. Mostly about everything that had transpired not only in the last six months, but before that. 

He thought about the conversation at the diner every day, wondering if it would be worth it to press charges, to try to get Xue Yang into trouble. 

Xue Yang had put him through hell and back, enough to give him crippling flashbacks and panic attacks. 

Despite the outcome, he decided it was worth a try. He wanted Xue Yang to know that despite it all, Xingchen was willing to fight back for those lost eight months of his life. He wasn't willing to just lay down and die anymore. He was tired of letting Xue Yang win.

The decision came a little bit over a month after they'd moved, actually. He wasn't even sure where it came from. He'd been sitting on a chair, curled up with a blanket thrown over his shoulders and the open window next to his head, when he made the decision.

Song Lan, as if on cue, walked into the room. He was humming a song Xingchen didn't recognize. "I have decided," Song Lan suddenly declared, "that I will no longer tolerate this."

"Tolerate what?" Xingchen asked, averting his head to where he heard Song Lan's voice.

"I will no longer tolerate you being so goddamn attractive, that every time I look at you I want to scream."

Xingchen smirked, his cheeks reddening. "I can wear a mask if you want."

He heard Song Lan's laughter. "Do it."

"I will."

Song Lan's footsteps moved closer. Xingchen smiled softly as Song Lan bent down to peck his lips. "I love you," Song Lan said.

"I love you too, idiot."

Song Lan laughed, then nudged Xingchen's leg so he'd scoot over. The chair wasn't big. It really only fit one person, but Song Lan squeezed himself in and pulled Xingchen close enough he was on Song Lan's lap.

"Hi," Xingchen said.

"Hello," Song Lan replied.

"Can I talk to you about something?"

"Anything at all. What's on your mind?" Song Lan's arms wrapped around Xingchen's waist from behind, his chin coming to rest on Xingchen's shoulder. Xingchen smiled weakly.

"I've been thinking a lot about..." he sighed, "that day at the diner."

Song Lan seemed to stiffen up. Neither liked to be reminded of the day they got into such a big fight, the day Song Lan practically drove Xingchen into an anxiety attack.

"Yeah?"

"I was thinking," Xingchen said, "that I want to do it."

"You... you do?"

Xingchen sighed. "Obviously it's scary, but I want him to know that I'm done letting him... walk all over me, I guess. And I don't want what happened to me to happen to anyone else. Nobody deserves to go through that."

Song Lan squeezed a little tighter. "And you're completely sure?"

"I'm sure," Xingchen whispered.

"Love, you're going to have to... tell people what he did. You're going to have to talk about it." Song Lan kissed the side of Xingchen's head. 

"I know..."

"I just want to make sure you're comfortable. Are you okay with telling Lan Wangji?"

Xingchen hesitated, then nodded. "I guess that's the price I'll have to pay for... him getting into at least a little bit of trouble."

"I'm so proud of you," Song Lan said.

Xingchen's eyes brimmed with tears, as they always did anytime Song Lan said something similar to that. He'd sat through Song Lan's monologues about how proud he was, about how much he loved him. It always ended in Xingchen breaking down into tears, wondering how he got this lucky, what he did to deserve this. He'd never get used to hearing those words. A year ago, he couldn't fathom sitting where he was. A year ago, he was convinced he'd be dead within a month.

Xingchen bit his lip. "I'm just... scared of losing."

"There's evidence against him," Song Lan said, "there's... blood in your old apartment."

Xingchen sighed. "I guess that's not surprising."

Song Lan nodded behind him, gently pulling him back so Xingchen could relax against him. He started playing with Xingchen's hair, which was something he'd started doing almost constantly. Xingchen definitely wasn't complaining.

He settled in against Song Lan, letting his head rest against his shoulder while the rain pounded against the window. 

"You're so fucking adorable," Song Lan whispered.

"Language."

"Seriously, though. You're just... how can somebody be that perfect. You're so goddamn-"

"Language," Xingchen said again, a soft smile on his face.

"You're also a jerk."

"Am I though?"

"Yes," Song Lan said, "the meanest person alive."

"Ouch," Xingchen said, "guess I'll just leave, then."

"Do it, coward."

"I'll go live with Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji," Xingchen said, "I'll sleep on their couch and interrupt anytime they're having a moment."

He heard Song Lan's laughter. "You'd be their third wheel. Or just a cockblock-"

Xingchen whacked Song Lan's chest. "Language." He paused. "Bitch."

"Oh my god, hearing that word come out of your mouth is insane. Please never do that again."

Xingchen giggled, face going red. "I don't plan to, but thanks."

"Swearing isn't supposed to be in your nature."

"I swore at Xue Yang once," he said, "that... ended well."

He wondered, in that moment, when he gained the ability to talk about Xue Yang without immediately zoning out, thinking about what had happened between them. The wounds were still there, but they were slowly starting to heal.

Even if they'd never heal completely, at least it was something.

"I would pay to see that," Song Lan said. "Do you have therapy tonight?"

Xingchen shook his head. After they moved, the two of them decided it best that Xiao Xingchen saw someone. He was hesitant at first, but eventually gave in the more Song Lan tried to reassure him that everything would be okay. It wasn't easy, at first, opening up to a complete stranger.

He'd been reluctant at first. Their first few meetings, he barely even talked. Lately though, it seemed as if she knew more than Song Lan did. He was comfortable around her, to the point he didn't actually completely dread going.

He was, however, diagnosed with PTSD, a fact that wasn't indeed surprising but was still daunting to hear out loud. He was given medications for anxiety, and sleep aids so he wouldn't constantly wake up in the middle of the night, screaming.

It felt as if he was slowly piecing his life back together, bit by bit.

"I should probably tell you now," Song Lan said, "but Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji are coming over in a little bit."

"Okay," Xingchen said, "I should probably get dressed then, at some point."

"You look absolutely stunning in a hoodie that's too big for you and sweatpants, though."

"Uh huh, sure."

"I'm telling the truth," Song Lan said.

"Oh, I totally believe you." Xingchen kissed Song Lan's cheek, then stood up. "But I'm not listening."

"Rude."

"I can't hear you," Xingchen said, his voice sing-song.

Song Lan laughed. "Go get dressed."

Xingchen giggled and disappeared down the hall. He changed his clothes, took a deep breath. 

There was a knock at the front door. He jumped, nerves suddenly stopping him from leaving the bedroom. He'd have to tell them what happened. He'd have to face Lan Wangji, someone he was admittedly, very close with but not close enough he was completely comfortable delving into something so personal.

He hesitated in the doorway, listening to the sound of greetings at the front door. He heard the door close.

"Xingchen's just getting dressed," Song Lan said from down the hall, "he'll be out in a minute."

Heart pounding, he left the bedroom and went to go find the source of the voices. He found them in the living room. He forced a smile on his face. "Hey, guys."

"Hey!" Wei Wuxian said, standing up, "how's it going?"

"Good," Xingchen said.

"I like the new place," Wei Wuxian declared, "it fits both of you a lot better."

"Want a tour?" Song Lan asked. Wei Wuxian must've nodded, although Xingchen couldn't tell. Both of them left the room, chatting about the apartment and life in general. 

Xingchen wondered where Lan Wangji was, if he was in the room or if he'd left with them. His question was almost immediately answered.

"Hi," Wangji said.

"Hey," Xingchen said. He moved further into the room and sat down on the sofa.

"You-"

"I want to do it," Xingchen said quickly, before he could stop himself, "I want to... um. Press charges."

Silence. Xingchen's face reddened.

"If it's not too late, I guess."

"It's not."

"Okay...um. I have, like, no idea how any of this works, but-"

"I'll help," Lan Wangji said. His voice was soft, almost barely audible. "But you have to tell me what happened."

Xingchen swallowed the lump in his throat, nodded.

And forced himself to start talking.

He told of a time when they became friends, him and Xue Yang. When just a few years ago, Xingchen met Xue Yang at a bakery and the two connected over their shared like for cupcakes and iced coffee. He told Wangji about how... happy, he felt, when it all started. Xue Yang made him laugh. He was there when the stress of the world became too much, when he'd carry too much weight on his shoulders for his own good and inevitably come crashing down.

It was harder to talk about the first time Xue Yang hit him, or the insults that were thrown around, the screaming. He could barely even speak when he got to the Bad Parts, the parts he'd tried desperately to erase from his memory despite his brain refusing to let them go. He wasn't sure how long he talked. Lan Wangji never interrupted. Xingchen sometimes wondered if he was even still there, or if he was talking to an empty space, however the soft sound of Lan Wangji's breathing was what reassured him that he wasn't alone.

He'd never be alone again.

It could've been days, years, decades later that he finished his story, he wouldn't know the difference. He could still be 21 years old or thousands of years old, it was all the same. His voice trailed off, and didn't pick back up again. He was hollowed out, empty.

"Jesus," he heard a voice. Wei Wuxian. "Jesus Christ." He had no idea how long he'd been standing there. How much he'd heard.

The tears, which had previously been held at bay, came before he had the chance to try to hold them back. He let his head fall in his hands, shoulders shaking from his sobs.

An arm wrapped around him. He wasn't sure who it was, his mind immediately jumping to the assumption that it was Song Lan. Another arm, however, soon followed. And another. 

As he cried for everything that had happened, his friends held him in a warm, gentle embrace that told him he wasn't alone. He didn't have to be afraid anymore, because they'd all catch him if he fell. They were doing it now.

"Lan Zhan," Wei Wuxian whispered, his voice next to Xingchen's ear, "you'd better make him pay."

Xingchen smiled weakly, head resting on what he assumed was Song Lan's shoulder but he honestly couldn't be sure. Someone's hands were running through his hair. That was definitely Song Lan.

It was also definitely Song Lan who kissed his temple.

"I will," Lan Wangji said, and it was enough.

All of the love Xiao Xingchen felt in that moment, for all three of the people around him, would always be more than enough.

 

 

Chapter Text

It started slowly.

Xiao Xingchen wasn't sure he could pinpoint the exact moment he fell in love with Song Lan. It could've been a lifetime ago, it seemed. Perhaps it was back in high school, or when they first met. It didn't matter so much anymore, though. It didn't make a difference. Either way, he was absolutely head over heels.

Perhaps Xue Yang was just a distraction, something to distract his aching heart from the belief he'd never actually be with his best friend that way. 

He'd never been happier to be wrong.

The last year had been an emotional roller coaster. He'd been forced to sit in a courtroom with Xue Yang, forced to recount the events of their relationship so many times he felt numb. 

It wasn't until the evenings when he'd breakdown, convinced they'd lose. Sometimes he'd lock himself in the bathroom for hours and just sit on the floor, wishing he hadn't gone through with it all. Sometimes he'd breakdown in the middle of a conversation, or a task like cleaning or eating dinner.

Which was why when Xue Yang was sentenced to three years in prison, he was shocked. It wasn't that much time, but it was something

Xingchen barely remembered the drive home that day. All he remembered was breaking down into tears in the middle of the living room, Song Lan capturing him in a hug because it was over.

It was all finally, mercifully over.

He still thought about that day almost constantly. He couldn't help but wonder what Xue Yang was doing, what he was thinking. It brought him comfort, knowing he couldn't hurt him or anyone else anymore.

It was almost seven months since that day. Seven months since he'd seen Xue Yang.

And while it was all still so hard, it was getting easier.

"Zichen?" Xingchen asked, walking down the hall in search of his boyfriend.

Song Lan exited the bathroom and nearly collided with Xingchen, who had long since stopped using his cane to navigate the apartment. (Which, he admitted, sometimes resulted in a lot of really stupid accidents).

Xingchen jumped, then smiled. "There you are."

"What's up?" Song Lan asked.

"Have you seen my phone?"

"It's on the bed," Song Lan said, "but I also have a question."

"Hm?"

"Do you want to go out to dinner?" 

"Like..." Xingchen grinned, "a date?"

"Exactly. We kinda skipped that stage, I feel like."

Xingchen smiled, nodded, and quickly reached up to peck Song Lan's lips. "I'd love to."

He disappeared down the hallway again, off to find his missing phone. He pulled on his shoes, grabbed his cane, and pocketed his phone before he went to find Song Lan again. He was already ready to go, so the two of them embarked on what Xingchen hoped would be a wonderful night.

The restaurant required a reservation.

Xingchen's heart sank deep into his stomach at the hostess' words, already considering alternatives when Song Lan spoke.

"I have a reservation," he said, a smile in his voice. After giving the hostess his name, the woman led Song Lan and a confused but once again excited Xingchen to a table.

"You made a reservation?"

"Yeah," Song Lan laughed, "weeks ago, actually."

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"I wanted it to be somewhat of a surprise," Song Lan said, "surprise."

Xingchen smiled softly, nudging Song Lan's foot under the table. "I really love you."

"I really love you too," Song Lan said.

The food was delicious. Xingchen couldn't help but wonder how expensive it all was, however, and Song Lan refused to tell him. His heart twisted in his chest, wondering how much money Song Lan was probably spending on him.

Once the two of them were nearly done with their meals, Song Lan spoke. "Xingchen?"

"Hm?"

"I really do love you, a lot."

"I love you too," Xingchen said.

"I've loved you for... a really long time. I think from the moment I meant you, even when we were both still awkward preteens, I loved you. You've always been my best friend. You're literally the most incredible person I've ever met and I wish I could be half as good as you."

"Zichen...?"

"I can't believe I'm lucky enough to wake up every morning with you next to me. Sometimes this all feels like a dream that I'm terrified to wake up from, because the thought of losing you is the scariest thing I can imagine." Song Lan's voice went quiet for a moment. "You're the bravest person I'll ever know. I don't know what I did to deserve this, or how I ended up with you, but I wouldn't trade it for anything. I've never loved anyone as much as I love you."

Xingchen's heart was pounding in his chest, as he listened to what he could only assume was Song Lan sliding out of the booth. He wished he could see him so, so bad in that moment.

"Xiao Xingchen," Song Lan said, voice lowered now. He was down on one knee. "Will you marry me?"

Xingchen burst into tears, unable to hold it back any longer. He nodded quickly, his smile so wide his face actually hurt. He felt Song Lan take his hand, felt him slip a ring onto his finger.

"Thank God it fits," Song Lan whispered. Xingchen could hear the tremor in his voice. They were both crying together.

Xingchen grabbed Song Lan's hand and pulled him close. He hugged him tightly, absolutely refusing to let go. They were in public, however, and he couldn't help but feel self-conscious about kissing him in front of other people. 

That is, until he heard clapping come from a table nearby them, and all of his previous fears of being judged or harassed dwindled. 

"Can I kiss you?" Song Lan asked, and Xingchen nodded almost immediately.

Song Lan's arms wrapped around his waist, pulling him close as he gently kissed him. It only lasted a few seconds, and as they pulled away Song Lan wiped away a few of Xingchen's tears with his thumb and pressed their foreheads together.

"I've been wanting to do that for a while," Song Lan said.

"I was waiting for you to do that," Xingchen replied shakily.

"That's good. I was a little worried you'd say no," Song Lan laughed breathlessly.

"I would've never said no," Xingchen said with a soft smile.

"I love you so, so much," Song Lan said.

"I love you so, so much too."

That night, when they arrived back home, the absolute last thing on Xingchen's mind was Xue Yang. He was a distant memory, something Xingchen wasn't worried about at all. He could hardly even recount Xue Yang's name. It seemed, in that moment, that he'd never have to worry about him again.

Only seconds after they closed the door behind them, Xingchen let go of his cane and grabbed Song Lan's shirt collar, pulling him close. They kissed again, less guarded this time without the threat of people watching them. Xingchen deepened the kiss further, and gasped as Song Lan picked him up and led him to the bedroom. He dropped him on the bed, trailing kisses down Xingchen's neck. They were both breathing rapidly, eyes closed as Xingchen wrapped his arms around Song Lan's neck and dug his fingers in his hair.

Clothes were very inconvenient, Xingchen decided, as he desperately pulled off Song Lan's shirt.

Xue Yang didn't cross his mind once.

He fell asleep in Song Lan's arms, head resting on his chest. It was the first night in ages he didn't have any nightmares, not even small ones he forgot about seconds after waking up. 

He woke up early the next morning. The first thing he noticed, however, was that he was absolutely freezing.

The window had remained open all night, and it had gotten quite cold. 

Xingchen pulled the blankets tighter around himself and clung to Song Lan's side for warmth, refusing to move. Song Lan woke up only a few minutes after Xingchen, arm instinctively tightening around him.

"Morning," Song Lan mumbled, voice gruff from just waking up. 

"Did you leave the window open last night?" Xingchen asked.

"Yes."

"I hate you."

"Thanks," Song Lan said, laughing softly. "Are you cold?"

"No," Xingchen said sarcastically, "I'm not cold at all."

Song Lan laughed. "Sorry, Xingchen."

"Uh huh, sure you are."

"I am sorry."

"Letting your boyfriend freeze to death-"

"Fiance," Song Lan corrected, "I'm letting my fiance freeze to death, actually."

That brought Xingchen pause. He smiled softly. "Fiance."

Song Lan pecked his lips. "Much better."

"What if we just stay here forever?" Xingchen asked, "we don't have to get up."

"I have work," Song Lan said.

"Don't go."

Song Lan chuckled. "I have to if you want me to keep funding your coffee addiction."

"I'd find a way to keep funding that even if we both went homeless."

"You'd spend our last dollar on coffee?"

"Yes," Xingchen said.

"Priorities."

"Exactly."

Song Lan laughed, wrapped his other arm around Xingchen, and rolled over so he was on top of him. Song Lan held himself up with his hands on either side of Xingchen's head. Xingchen grinned.

"Can I help you?" he asked.

"Last night was really fun."

"It was really fun," Xingchen agreed.

"You were really, really good-"

"Shut up-"

"Aww, you're blushing."

"Get off me, Zichen-"

"You're so cute-"

Xingchen pushed Song Lan away with an annoyed huff, chuckling to himself as Song Lan landed next to him again with a laugh. Xingchen sat up, rubbed his eyes.

"You're the most annoying person I could've ever decided to fall in love with," Xingchen decided.

"I'm also your favorite person, though."

"Debatable."

"Hey! Who else is there that you love as much as me?"

"Well the barista that always serves me when I get coffee-"

"Rude," Song Lan said.

"I only speak facts," Xingchen giggled.

"Go marry him, then."

"Awww, Zichen, I'm just kidding." Xingchen snuggled back up next to Song Lan. 

"You're rude."

"I am not."

"No more coffee money for you, Xingchen," Song Lan said.

"I'm sorry," Xingchen said.

"Nope."

"Zichen..." Xingchen kissed Song Lan's jaw, then his lips. "Don't you love me?"

Song Lan was quiet for a few moments, before he released a deep sigh, wrapped his arms around Xingchen's waist and pulled him close. "Oh, not at all."

"I can tell," Xingchen said, burying his face in Song Lan's shoulder. "I love you too."

"But seriously," Song Lan said, chin resting on Xingchen's head. "You were okay with that, right? I... I'm sorry if I made you uncomfortable."

"I was okay with it," Xingchen said, "I would've told you to stop if I wasn't."

"Are you sure?" Song Lan asked, sounding not entirely convinced. 

"Zichen," Xingchen said, grasping onto both of Song Lan's hands, "I promise it was okay."

"Good," Song Lan said, and pulled Xingchen into an even tighter, warmer embrace.

* * * 

Song Lan had grown accustomed to studying Xingchen.

He knew all of his little habits, the way he played with the hems of blankets or clothes when he was bored, or the way he bit his lip when he was nervous, or tilted his head when he was curious or confused. His eyes would squint sometimes when he was listening to something, and when he heard his favorite music he would tap his fingers against the nearest surface he could find.

Song Lan also could always tell when Xingchen was starting to panic. It was when Xingchen froze, eyes straight ahead and hands unmoving in the middle of whatever they had been doing. Sometimes he was able to talk, but most of the time it was as if he went mute.

Sometimes, it led him into an even deeper panic attack, one that resulted in flashbacks or him losing the ability to breathe. But other times, he'd remain frozen for hours, as if in a trance. Song Lan wished, in those moments, he knew what Xingchen was thinking. What he was going through.

His biggest wish was to take it all away, to take away all of his pain, his suffering, his insecurities.

Song Lan knew that wasn't realistic. But he was willing to be there, sit through Xingchen's nightmares, his anxiety attacks. He'd be there through it all, no matter what.

They'd had a conversation once, only a few weeks after he'd proposed. Song Lan thought about it almost daily, Xingchen's words haunting his mind for what he thought would probably be forever.

"Why me?" Xingchen had asked suddenly. The two of them were sitting in the living room, eating dinner with a Netflix docuseries on in the background. 

"What?" Song Lan asked. When he looked over at Xingchen, he noticed three things.

First: He hadn't touched his food at all, where as Song Lan was almost done.

Second: He was hardly moving, as if terrified of Song Lan's answer.

Third: He was biting his lip.

"Why me?" Xingchen asked again, quieter this time, "of all people."

Song Lan wasn't sure how to answer at first. All he could do was stare at Xingchen, and as the silence stretched out, Xingchen became more nervous, his hands moving to play with his shirt and his foot tapping anxiously against the floor.

"Xingchen?" Song Lan asked, brows furrowed. The question had caught him off guard.

"Nevermind, it's nothing-"

"Why do you ask that?"

Xingchen opened his mouth, as if to speak. He closed it again, shrugged, and let his head hang low.

Song Lan stood up from the chair he'd been sitting in, and went to join Xingchen on the sofa. He sat down next to him. "You haven't eaten at all."

Xingchen shrugged again. "I'm not hungry."

"What's wrong, love?"

"Nothing," he whispered, "I think everything's just kind of... getting to me right now."

Song Lan felt tears brim behind his eyes, but he quickly blinked them away. "Why did you ask me that?"

"I don't know..."

"I love you, Xingchen. I wouldn't want anybody else. You're... the most perfect person I've ever met in my life."

Xingchen frowned. "That's probably not true."

"But it is, actually."

Xingchen sighed, but didn't say anything again.

"Xingchen?"

"I'm just... I don't know," Xingchen said, "me."

"Exactly," Song Lan said, "and that's all that matters."

"You could do so much better."

Song Lan gently took the untouched bowl of food from Xingchen's hands and placed it on the table, then pulled him into his arms. "I don't want to, though."

Xingchen shivered. "I'm sorry."

"For what?"

"I don't know," Xingchen said.

Song Lan held him until he finally seemed to relax again, until the tension was eased from his shoulders. Song Lan's eyes trailed down to the ring on Xingchen's finger. He gently took Xingchen's hand and raised it to his lips, kissing the ring. Xingchen blushed, but his face remained stoic, blank.

"You're the best thing that's ever happened to me," Song Lan said.

From that point forward, he made it his mission to make sure Xingchen never doubted himself again. Never thought he wasn't worth it, because he was.

And as Xingchen slowly started to trace random patterns along Song Lan's arm, finally slipping free from whatever fog had overtaken his mind, Song Lan smiled.

"I love you, never forget that," he had said.

Hoping desperately Xingchen had heard.

* * * 

"Xingchen?" Song Lan called from the other room.

Xingchen, shirt still off and pants unzipped after his shower, quickly averted his attention from trying to figure out where his favorite shirt was to the door of the bedroom.

"Yeah?" he asked.

"I have a surprise for you."

"One sec!" he called back, throwing on the first shirt he could find, which turned out to be one of Song Lan's hoodies. 

He wasn't complaining. He zipped up his jeans quickly and left the room, trying to find the source of his boyfriend's voice. "Where are you?"

"In the kitchen," Song Lan said.

"Did you just get home from work?"

"Yes," Song Lan responded, "but I made a detour on the way home."

"Where did you go?" Xingchen asked.

Song Lan didn't respond immediately. Xingchen was about to ask him again, when he heard the distinct sound of Song Lan's footsteps moving closer. 

It was followed by a soft meow. 

Xingchen's eyes widened. "You didn't."

"Hold out your hands," Song Lan laughed.

Xingchen obliged, a grin slowly forming on his face as a soft, light ball of fur was placed strategically into his hands. He quickly held the kitten close to his chest, his smile softening as the small creature cuddled up against him.

"Surprise," Song Lan said softly.

Xingchen didn't respond, instead petting the cat's head as gently as he could while trying his hardest not to cry. 

"It's a girl, by the way. She's only 12 weeks old."

"Oh my god," Xingchen whispered, burying his face in the kitten's fur and holding it close. "I love her."

Song Lan smiled, his arms coming to wrap around both Xingchen and the kitten. He kissed Xingchen's forehead. "And I love you."

Song Lan's heart softened as he watched the two of them. He followed as Xingchen moved into the living room and placed the kitten on the couch, giggling softly as the kitten began to bite his sleeves and play with his fingers. He had an unguarded smile on his face, all of the defenses he'd been forced to build in his time with Xue Yang seemingly obliterated.

Song Lan could watch him for hours. 

Xingchen had fallen hard. He'd crash landed into hell, and it almost cost him his life trying to crawl out. But there was an art to it, too. There was an art to the way the light inside of him, which had been previously burnt out, started to rekindle again.

There was an art to the way he fell, but he managed to get back up and tell the world he was still willing to fight.

Song Lan smiled as he joined the two of them on the sofa, as Xingchen rested his head on Song Lan's shoulder and delicately played with his new best friend.

"I'm so proud of you," Song Lan said, almost absentmindedly.

A moment of silence. "Me too," Xingchen said, petting the kitten's head.

It was the truth.