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It's Never Just A Video Game

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Meng Yao hesitates before leaving the bedroom, then returns to Lan Xichen and leans in for a deep, lingering kiss. “I love you,” he says when he pulls back, reaching for Lan Xichen’s hands. “No matter what happens...remember that I’ve never wanted to hurt you. I don’t ever want to hurt you.”

“A-Yao,” Lan Xichen says, eyes crinkling at the corners, “it’s just a video game.”

“That’s...yes, of course,” Meng Yao says, instead of it’s never just a video game.

“What, no kiss for me?” Nie Mingjue asks, looking in at them on his way to the kitchen, laptop in hand.

Meng Yao gives him a sweet smile. “I love you, too. And if you drag me down like last time, I will hurt you.”

Nie Mingjue snorts, but doesn’t try to defend himself.

“You both make it sound so adversarial. Isn’t it meant to be a game about cooperation? It’s titled Among Us, surely it’s meant to be about teamwork?” Lan Xichen asks.

Nie Mingjue and Meng Yao exchange a look, silently arguing over who should have to deal with that statement.

Meng Yao loses, unfortunately, because it’s not possible to out-stubborn Nie Mingjue. “Are you sure you want to join us today?” Meng Yao prevaricates. Nie Mingjue coughs (it sounds like coward, which Meng Yao ignores). “You really don’t have to. We can find someone else for our tenth?”

“I’m sure,” says Lan Xichen, patting one of Meng Yao’s hands.

“Hey, everyone else is on Discord,” Nie Mingjue cuts in, mercifully, looking down at his laptop. “Stop waffling about this and get online.”

Meng Yao gives Lan Xichen’s hands another squeeze. “I’ve set everything up for you. Just...let me know if you have any questions. Any at all.”

“I will,” Lan Xichen laughs, “don’t worry so much.”

Meng Yao and Nie Mingjue exchange another significant look. “Alright,” says Meng Yao, eventually. “Good luck, Erge.” And then he leaves Lan Xichen in the bedroom and flees to his office.

When he finally gets on the Discord voice chat, the conversation is already in full swing.

“...Xingchen?” Xue Yang is saying. ”Nah, he didn’t play games as a kid and he barely understands them now. Though it is really funny to watch him walk off platforms in Smash—” He pauses, like someone is talking to him on the other side. “Babe, you only beat me because it was a 2 v 1 and Song Lan carried you the whole time. And items were on. I don’t think you should—”

“As much as I’d love to hear more about what constitutes foreplay in the Xue-Song-Xiao household—” Wei Wuxian cuts in.

“You would?” Jiang Cheng yells.

“...I think we’re all here now, can we get started? I have a lobby,” Jin Zixuan says, barely audible underneath Jiang Cheng and Wei Wuxian squabbling.

“Oh, what’s the rush?” Jiang Yanli laughs, “I want to catch up a little.”

“You can catch up with people when you’re dead.”

“Jiang Cheng!” Wei Wuxian shouts. “Take that back!”

“In the video game.

“Dage, look, my little dude has a fan!” Nie Huaisang says.

“Looks just like you.”

“He does. I got green, too.”

“We’ve got ten in the lobby now,” Jin Zixuan says.

“What settings are we using?” Meng Yao asks. “Are imposter confirms off?”

“You would want that,” Nie Mingjue says.

“Wait, what does that mean?” Nie Huaisang whines, “I’m so bad, don’t make it too hard.”

“It’s fine, Huaisang, don’t worry about it,” Jiang Cheng assures him.

“Yeah, it's more fun when you can't tell if you're yeeting a crewmate or an imposter into space until the very end,” Wei Wuxian agrees.

“It’s off,” Jin Zixuan says. “Any other requests? ...Okay, I’m hitting the button. Everyone mute.”

###

A handful of rounds as a crewmate, a couple of drinks, and the opportunity Meng Yao’s been waiting for finally arrives.

“Okay, A-Yao, what do you have to say for yourself?” Nie Mingjue asks, the moment everyone is off mute in the meeting.

“Me?” Meng Yao asks, going more for surprise than innocence.

“Yes, you. Don’t give me that, you killed Zixuan in front of everyone.”

“Oh, did he? I didn’t see anything,” Jiang Yanli says. “We were too bunched up to tell who was next to him.”

“Seriously? A-Yao was definitely the closest.”

“I didn’t see anything either...” Huaisang says.

“Yeah, I’m just skipping this round,” Jiang Cheng says. “There’s not enough information.”

“Wait, where was everyone not in the big group? Xue Yang, where are you?” Wei Wuxian asks.

“I’m over in Electrical with white and blue.”

“Lan Zhan and Xichen-ge?”

“Sure, whatever.”

Lan Xichen clears his throat gently. “Yes, he’s with us.”

“Is he doing anything…shifty?”

“He’s been doing his tasks, that’s all.”

“Look, if I could make the game give me imposter every round, I absolutely fucking would, but unfortunately it doesn’t work like that.”

“Hmm... Lan Zhan?”

“Mn.”

“Fine, if Lan Zhan says so.”

“Come on, we’re running out of time. Let’s just skip,” Jiang Cheng cuts in again.

Meng Yao considers for a moment. “Wait, we have a couple of seconds, I want to know why Dage is so insistent it’s me.”

“I always know when you’re up to something.”

Meng Yao grins at the screen. “You mean like the last two rounds?”

“Nah, that was just me giving you shit. This time you’re actually up to something."

“Dage,” says Lan Xichen with mild disapproval, “that’s not fair.”

“Just wait,” Nie Mingjue says, a little muffled through Meng Yao’s earphones like he’s turned away from the mic, and Meng Yao hears the echo of him from outside his office door as he yells towards their bedroom. “You’ll see.”

“Times up! Everyone mute!”

Voting Results:
JinLingsUncle (WhosYourDage)
Skipped Voting:
LotusFlower, yilingdaddy, JinLingsUncle, JinLingsBestUncle, Xichen, BunguangJun, jiangzai, OnlyFans

###

Ghost chat

JinLingsDad:
play games with your in-laws, a-li says. it’s fun for the whole family, a-li says
i’m sure it is, if they didn’t always MURDER ME IN THE FIRST ROUND

###

“Ok, I just walked into the Cafeteria and found A-jie’s body,” Wei Wuxian starts. “I was with Mingjue-ge, but then he turned into Med Bay and I didn’t see anyone else, so—”

“Has to be a self-report,” Jiang Cheng interrupts. “I just came out of Cafeteria and there weren’t any bodies.”

What? I would never kill A-jie!

“Yeah, but you’d definitely kill the peacock first. Anyway, can someone prove you didn’t? Was anyone else with you?” Jiang Cheng demands.

“Me, I was!” Nie Huaisang offers, and then he pauses. “Oh, no, wait… That was last game. Sorry.”

“Don’t worry about it, my dude. You’re not the one throwing around baseless accusations—”

“I’m voting Wei Wuxian,” Jiang Cheng says decisively.

“Sounds good to me,” Xue Yang says.

“Let’s hear from some other people first,” Meng Yao says, oozing magnanimity. “Erge, Wangji, did either of you—”

“I did not see Wei Ying kill anyone,” Lan Wangji says, firmly.

“Were you with him the entire time?” Xue Yang asks.

“...No.”

“We could vote for Wei Wuxian this turn, and Jiang Cheng the next,” Meng Yao says, trying to sound a little uncertain. “It has to be one of them, doesn’t it?”

“I’m down,” Xue Yang says.

“Xue Yang, you know, you’re really chill this round,” Nie Huaisang muses.

“I am extremely high.” There's a scuffle. "Hey—"

"It's true," comes Xiao Xingchen's voice, much too close to the mic. "Who's playing? Is that Wei Wuxian?"

"Xingchen-ge, they're trying to kill me!"

"That's horrible."

"Xingchen— Fucking—" The scuffling continues, then Xue Yang sounds distant, like he's taken off his headset. "Song Lan, you gotta keep..." He trails off.

Meng Yao does a quick count in his head—yes, the votes will still work out if Xue Yang is afk. "Well, regardless, this seems like a good plan. Any objections?”

No one objects.

“Fine,” says Wei Wuxian, and there’s a distant crash from his mic, as though he’s accidentally flung his arm into something. “Great news, everyone, Wei Wuxian is dead! Killed by his own brother—"

“Mute yourself and die already,” Jiang Cheng snaps back.

Voting Results:
yilingdaddy (JinLingsUncle, JinLingsBestUncle, Xichen, OnlyFans)
JinLingsUncle (WhosYourDage)
Skipped Voting:
BunguangJun

No Vote:
jiangzai

###

Ghost chat

LotusFlower:
Oh, A-Xian, hi! You’re dead!

yilingdaddy:
a-jieeeeee, don’t sound so happy about it (╥﹏╥)

LotusFlower:
Oh, sorry!
But anyway, now we get to catch up 。.:☆*:・'(*^―^*)))
How have you been? Have you been eating enough? How’s A-Yuan?

yilingdaddy:
good, yes, the BEST
jie, did you see who killed you?

LotusFlower:
Yes?

yilingdaddy:
who???
NO WAIT don’t tell me!
i’m going to go find out for myself!
i’ll avenge you, jie!!

LotusFlower:
That’s sweet of you, A-Xian, but you don’t have to?

JinLingsDad:
also, aren’t you dead? what can you do, anyway?

LotusFlower:
A-Xian...?

JinLingsDad:

cool

###

“Dage is dead!!” Nie Huaisang shouts over the mic. Meng Yao winces.

“Where’s the body?” Jiang Cheng asks.

“The…um…the plant room. I think I saw Meng Yao-ge going in just before...?”

“It can’t be me,” says Meng Yao. “I’ve been with Erge almost this entire game.”

“Yes,” says Lan Xichen, a little belatedly, “he has. Are you sure, Huaisang?”

“I don’t know,” Nie Huaisang says. “Ah, I really don’t know.”

“Well, it’s definitely not Huaisang,” Jiang Cheng says. “Since we all watched him learn how to do the ‘empty the garbage’ task. Which is a fucking first...”

Huaisang giggles. “Listen, sweetheart, my only job in our house is to be ornamental, and I'm very good at it.”

Xue Yang makes a whipcrack sound.

"Like you have any room to talk, Xue Yang," says Jiang Cheng, with surprising calm.

“The fuck does that mean?”

"Anyway, the imposter’s gotta be you. Since Xichen-ge’s vouching for Meng Yao and all.”

“What? That’s fucking bullshit,” Xue Yang says. "You're gonna believe Xichen-ge just like that?"

“Xichen-ge is a pretty bad liar,” Nie Huaisang says. “No offense, Xichen-ge.”

“Ah. None taken.”

“Yeah, well, what about you? What about Lan Wangji?”

“Oh, I can vouch for Jiang Cheng," says Nie Huaisang cheerfully, "and as for Wangji-ge..."

"Wangji," Lan Xichen asks, "are you the imposter?"

"No."

"There, he's not."

"...Yeah, okay, I'll accept that," says Jiang Cheng.

There’s a pause.

Then Xue Yang starts cackling. “Fuck it, yeah, I killed him. I decapitated him, and then I sawed each of his limbs off his body, and then—”

Yeah, ok,” says Jiang Cheng, raising his voice to talk over him, “we get it.”

“Wow, I didn’t know you could get imposter three times in a row,” Nie Huaisang says, as votes begin to fill in.

“Good luck finding the other one, nerds.”

Voting Results:
jiangzai (JinLingsUncle, JinLingsBestUncle, BunguangJun, Xichen, OnlyFans)
No Vote:
jiangzai

###

Ghost chat

WhosYourDage:
MOTHERFUCKER

jiangzai:
xD

WhosYourDage:
Ah, sorry, Yanli

LotusFlower:
It’s fine, you know I’ve heard worse (◡‿◡✿)

jiangzai:
didn’t even kill anyone this whole fucking game HAHAHA

JinLingsDad:
Then what have you been doing

jiangzai:
wouldn’t you like to know ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)

JinLingsDad:
...how do you kill someone a second time?

###

“Who called this meeting?” Jiang Cheng asks.

“Me!” Wei Wuxian says from Lan Wangji’s mic.

Wei Wuxian, you fucking died! Stop cheating!”

“Look, it’s not cheating if I didn’t learn anything useful from being dead,” Wei Wuxian says. “And you know I wasn’t an imposter because the game didn’t end when you voted Xue Yang off.”

“Wei Wuxian, you should be doing your tasks, not playing detective,” Meng Yao says gently.

“You can do tasks while you’re dead?” Nie Huaisang asks.

Meng Yao sighs. “Yes, Huaisang. That’s what you should have been doing the last few games, too.”

“Well, being dead is no fun,” Wei Wuxian complains. “Anyway, I think the other one is Meng Yao.”

Meng Yao narrows his eyes.

“A-Yao has been with me most of the game,” Lan Xichen interrupts, and Meng Yao lets himself smirk at his screen. “What makes you think it’s him?”

“I saw him fake the wires task.”

“Are you seriously just fucking coming back from the dead like it isn’t against the goddamn rules—" Jiang Cheng demands, volume inceasing with each word.

Meng Yao ignores the thrill of panic down his spine. “How could I fake the wires tasks?”

“You were standing there forever. That one’s super easy, there’s no way it should take that long.”

“That's a bit of a stretch,” Lan Xichen says.

“Oh!” Meng Yao laughs. “I've finished my tasks, I’ve just been keeping Erge company. Maybe I accidentally stood in that spot?”

“Ah,” Lan Xichen says, fondness audible in his voice. “Yes, that’s right.”

“Man, I don’t know, that was really sus. Plus, Mingjue-ge did warn us.”

“—have you been talking to the fucking ghosts, you fucking cheater—” Jiang Cheng continues, ignored by everyone.

“Wangji, did you see it?” Lan Xichen asks.

“...no,” Lan Wangji says. “But I believe Wei Ying.”

“—are we just gonna ignore Wei Wuxian playing on Lan Wangji's account like some fucking ghostly possession—” Jiang Cheng continues, undeterred.

“I don’t believe that’s enough evidence to vote A-Yao out,” Lan Xichen says.

“In that case, I vote for Jiang Cheng,” says Lan Wangji, and does.

“Yes, I agree,” says Lan Xichen, and does so too. Meng Yao adds his vote to theirs silently.

“What the fuck!” Jiang Cheng shouts, so loudly it echoes out of Nie Huaisang’s mic. “Based on what!”

“That was the plan,” says Lan Wangji.

“Like ten turns ago! Have I done anything sus this whole time? I fucking have not!"

“Neither did Wei Ying, when you voted for him.”

“Ooh, Lan er-gege, love it when you have my back,” says Wei Wuxian, crystal clear from Lan Wangji’s mic. “Get it? Cause you can have my—"

“Yeah, just let me die now—” says Jiang Cheng.

“Okay!” says Nie Huaisang, and votes.

“—since you guys want to lose so fucking bad.”

Voting Results:
JinLingsBestUncle (JinLingsUncle, Xichen, OnlyFans, BunguangJun)
BunguangJun (JinLingsBestUncle)

###

Ghost Chat

JinLingsBestUncle:
Fucking bullshit
Can’t believe they actually voted me out
Based on absolutely NOTHING
Fucking Wei Wuxian I’m gonna kick your ass after this

LotusFlower:
Oh, A-Xian isn’t here
But now we can chat ☆*:.。.o(≧▽≦)o.。.:*☆
How’ve you been!
How’s living with Huaisang?

JinLingsBestUncle:
What? What do you mean he isn’t here?
Good, it’s been good
He’s really shit at chores though

WhosYourDage:
Yeah, he really is
Huh, now that you mention it, Wei Wuxian hasn’t been chatting at all
Usually you can’t get him to stop
Ah, sorry, Yanli

LotusFlower:
It’s fine, I know my little brother. (◡‿◡✿)
But don’t do it again (。◕‿◕)¤=[]:::::>
Anyway, A-Xian’s not using his account, I think?
He’s been playing with Wangji, together?

JinLingsBestUncle:
So he’s not even cheating properly
Fucking idiot
Why can’t he just stay dead then

###

“Oh my god, oh my god, I’m so glad everyone is alive,” Nie Huaisang says.

Meng Yao grits his teeth. Xue Yang had turned the lights off, and he was seconds away from a perfect kill on Lan Wangji that he could have “discovered” with Lan Xichen a moment later.

“What did you see?” Meng Yao asks calmly, remembering to be Nie Huaisang’s reassuring brother-in-law instead. “What happened?”

“Nothing, nothing! I was just so scared I called an emergency meeting so I didn’t have to play anymore. Anyway, I thought if we all talked, we’d figure out who the imposter is?”

Lan Xichen sighs.

“We’re quite close on tasks,” Meng Yao suggests. “Let’s just skip the vote and—”

“There is no harm in using the time to discuss,” Lan Wangji says, so sensible it makes Meng Yao want to throw his mouse through the screen at him.

“Alright, yes, Wangji is right,” Meng Yao says. “Huaisang, I think you should start then. Who do you think it is?”

“I don’t know, I don’t know!” Nie Huaisang makes a frustrated noise into the mic. “Okay, okay, so I don’t think it’s Meng Yao-ge because when we went through Storage, he stopped by the can to do the can thing.”

Meng Yao blinks. He did no such thing...but if Nie Huaisang wants to give him an alibi, he’s not going to say no. “Sure,” he agrees.

“And I don’t think it’s Wangji, because I was alone with him when—”

“Did Meng Yao-ge not say he was done with his tasks?” asks Lan Wangji.

There’s a long silence.

“Yes, A-Yao,” says Lan Xichen, tentatively, “you did say that.”

Shit. Shit, shit shit. “Oh, well, I did it a while ago. Isn’t that what you’re talking about, Huaisang?”

“...No. This just happened.”

“A-Yao…”

“It’s not me, Erge! I’ve been with you the whole time, you know that!”

“No, you haven’t. But I assumed all those times you… A-Yao, you used me.”

“I’m voting for Meng Yao-ge.” Lan Wangji announces. His status changes to “voted”.

“No, wait, Erge!” Meng Yao scrambles. “Don’t you see, it’s Huaisang, he’s trying to—”

“I’m sorry, A-Yao, I don’t think Huaisang is the imposter.”

“But he—” Meng Yao covers his mouth. He can’t say Nie Huaisang is lying without… Fuck. Nie Huaisang, that little shit, that alibi was a setup. This whole fucking time he’s just been pretending, too…no, no time for that now. How does he deflect without…?

“Um, I’m going to… I’m going to vote for Meng Yao-ge…” Nie Huaisang says.

Two votes. “Erge,” he begins, and then hesitates. If he can just get Lan Xichen to skip… Another meeting is going to go just as badly, he can sabotage the reactor and lock the doors and they can all die together. He takes a deep breath. “Erge, if I really were the imposter, wouldn’t I have killed you already? We’ve been alone together so often.”

“A-Yao...”

There’s another long pause, and it feels like the whole chat is holding their breath with him. Even the ghosts; he can practically feel their rapt attention on his skin. The timer ticks down. “Erge,” he adds, barely keeping the desperation out of his voice, “don’t you trust me?”

The moment those words leave his lips, he knows he’s laid it on too thick. Fuck.

Lan Xichen's status changes.

And then the timer runs out.

Voting Results:
JinLingsUncle (OnlyFans, BunguangJun, Xichen)
No Vote:
JinLingsUncle

Crewmate Victory

###
###
###

“A-Yao, I can’t believe you lied to me the whole time!” Lan Xichen is cooking his Uncle’s bland tofu soup for dinner, which is how Meng Yao knows that he’s actually upset.

“Not the whole time,” Meng Yao protests. “Only in the last game. And only because I had to.”

“Yes, but...”

“I helped you so much, when we were on the same team. And I kept you company all three games. Doesn’t that count for something?”

“Yes, but...”

“Weren’t you the one who kept saying it’s just a video game?” asks Nie Mingjue, who’s popping broad beans into his mouth like he’s watching one of his action movies.

Lan Xichen glances over at Nie Mingjue, eyebrows slightly lowered, the closest he ever gets to a dirty look. Nie Mingjue throws his hands up in surrender.

“Dage, why aren’t you upset?” Then Lan Xichen sighs. “I know it’s just a game, but...”

“It’s never just a game.” Meng Yao tentatively rests a hand on Lan Xichen’s lower back, and counts it as a win when Lan Xichen doesn’t tense up. “I’m sorry I upset you, Erge.”

“But you don’t regret it,” says Nie Mingjue, popping another handful of broad beans into his mouth. Meng Yao shoots him an actual dirty look, and Nie Mingjue throws his hands up in surrender again, and backs up a few steps reflexively. “Anyway, why should I be upset? It’s not like I don’t know how well he lies. Hell, it’s not like you don’t know how well he lies.”

“Yes, but... But it’s different. When...when he’s lying to me.” Lan Xichen glances over at Meng Yao, and Meng Yao can read the guilt and discomfort on his face. He leans up to press his lips to Lan Xichen’s shoulder, looking up at him fondly. It’s taken them years to get Lan Xichen comfortable enough to express any negative feelings at all; he’s not going to stop his campaign of positive reinforcement just for this.

Nie Mingjue shrugs. “You just have to play the game more. A-Yao’s a great player to have on your team. Especially when you’re both imposters. It’s just that you can’t be on the same team all the time. That's how the game works, you know that.”

“I do know that. I just...” Lan Xichen stares deeply into his soup, as though it holds all the answers he needs. Then he puts the pot aside to cool, and starts up a stir-fry. Meng Yao breathes a sigh of relief. “I need to know that you’ll tell me. If we’re ever not on the same side.”

Meng Yao blinks. “What, in the game?”

Lan Xichen smiles, a little sheepish. “No, I don’t think I need to play that again. I guess I mean...in real life?”

“Of course,” says Meng Yao readily.

Nie Mingjue snorts. “Shouldn’t be a problem. We’re always on the same side in real life.”

Lan Xichen laughs. “That’s true.”

“We are,” says Meng Yao firmly, and snags a handful of broad beans when Nie Mingjue leans over to peer at the stir-fry. “Isn’t that what being in a relationship is about?”