“I’m getting my wisdom teeth out,” Xue Yang announced between bites of the sugar cereal he was shoveling into his mouth. Xiao Xingchen looked up from his reading.
Xue Yang sucked his spoon clean. “Yeah,” he said. “Apparently they’re coming in wrong and that’s what hurts. Did you know that they remove chunks of bone from your jaw when they take those fuckers out? Then they break the teeth into little pieces. And I was hoping I’d get to take them home with me.”
Xiao Xingchen winced. “No,” he said, “I didn’t know that.”
“Learn something new every day.” Xue Yang took another bite of cereal. “Also, they’re called oral surgeons, which-”
“Oral is just a formal way of referring to someone’s mouth,” Xiao Xingchen said.
“Hey,” Xue Yang said. “You went there too. Anyway, apparently they’re going to put me under and I’m supposed to have someone to get me home after so I don’t, I don’t know, wander into traffic.”
Xiao Xingchen set down his pen. “Xue Yang,” he said, “of course I’m going to come with you to get surgery.”
Xue Yang’s grin was a little too bright. “Aw, Xingchen,” he said. “And I didn’t even have to ask.”
You could’ve, Xiao Xingchen thought. You could’ve just asked, but he knew better than to say it.
“You don’t have to actually come with me,” Xue Yang said, but Xiao Xingchen thought he might be a little pleased. He was antsy, restless, and loud in the way he got when he was anxious about something (not that he’d ever, ever use the word ‘anxious’ or ‘nervous’ or anything in that vicinity).
He had also, clearly, done a great deal of reading on the procedure itself, and seemed to be enjoying telling Xiao Xingchen everything in exquisitely gory detail. Xiao Xingchen did not enjoy the listening, and told Xue Yang so.
“But aren’t you curious,” Xue Yang said with a too-wide grin. Xiao Xingchen gave him a tired, long-suffering look that made Xue Yang laugh and then wince, one hand going up to palpate his jaw.
When the nurse called him he bounced to his feet a little too quickly. “If I die under anesthesia make sure they do something cool with my dead body,” he said.
Xiao Xingchen’s stomach twisted and he tried, very hard, to keep his sudden and thoroughly irrational anxiety off his face. “That’s not funny,” he said, but calmly. He was calm. He was reasonable. He wasn’t - neurotic, he’d gotten that one once.
“Just a little?”
“Not at all.” He reached up, tugged Xue Yang down by the front of his shirt, and gave him a brief but firm kiss.
“I’m thinking taxidermy,” Xue Yang said, when Xiao Xingchen let go. “Think about it.” And he skipped off. Xiao Xingchen looked unhappily after him.
It’d be funnier if you weren’t sometimes the poster child for high-risk behavior, he thought, but that was one of those things that he just wasn’t going to bring up, at least not in so many words.
He didn’t die, and there was, thankfully, no need to consider taxidermy.
Getting a drugged, out-of-it, and semi-coordinated Xue Yang up two flights of stairs was a bit of an adventure. He managed it without anyone falling on their face, but it certainly took effort.
“This is fun,” Xue Yang said breathlessly. “I’m into it.”
Xiao Xingchen gave him a suspicious look. “That’s a little worrying to hear you say,” he said.
“Mm. Don’t worry. You worry too much. About too much. Me. The rights of the downtrodden. The state of the world. Surprised you haven’t developed an ulcer.”
Xiao Xingchen shifted his hold on Xue Yang’s waist so he could fish out his keys and unlock his door. “This sounds like you worrying about me.”
“Ha,” Xue Yang said after a moment. “Guess it does. How about that.”
He wrangled the door open and steered Xue Yang through it and over to the couch, easing him down onto it.
“Xiao Xingchen,” Xue Yang said, grabbing onto his arm. “How come you’re so pretty? How’d you do that-”
“I eat my vegetables,” Xiao Xingchen said after a moment. Xue Yang squinted at him and then huffed and let go.
“Mm,” Xiao Xingchen said. He brushed some of Xue Yang’s hair back from his face with his free hand. “If you let me go there might be something sweet in it for you.”
Xue Yang’s nose scrunched. “Is this a bribe?”
Xue Yang’s expression brightened suddenly. “Hey,” he said. “Hey, Xingchen, I know they said no hard foods but do you think that includes-”
Xiao Xingchen bit his lip so he didn’t laugh and said, “no.”
“You don’t even know what I was going to say.”
“Yes, I do,” Xiao Xingchen said. “You’re very predictable.”
Xue Yang made a face at him that was made a little bit funny by the puffy state of his face and his foggy, unfocused expression.
“Besides,” Xiao Xingchen said solemnly, “you’re in a compromised mental state. I’d be taking advantage.”
“Fuck you,” Xue Yang said.
“Not until you’re better,” Xiao Xingchen said, and kissed his forehead before going into the kitchen to make a smoothie.
A drugged Xue Yang, Xiao Xingchen quickly decided, was adorable.
He was more relaxed than Xiao Xingchen had ever seen him, all his edges softened and fuzzy. Currently he was sprawled on the couch, head in Xiao Xingchen’s lap and practically purring as he played with his hair. He’d put on a random episode of The Great British Bake-Off but neither of them was paying much attention.
“That’s nice,” Xue Yang said, a little vaguely. “You’re so nice, Xingchen. Nice and hot. How’re you real, anyway?”
Xiao Xingchen felt his face getting a little warm. “Maybe I’m not,” he said. “Maybe I’m a figment of your imagination.”
“Huh,” Xue Yang said. He seemed to think about that for a moment. “Okay. That makes sense.”
Xiao Xingchen raised his eyebrows a little. “It does?”
“Uh huh,” Xue Yang said. “You’re my nice, sexy, imaginary boyfriend.”
Xiao Xingchen frowned at him a little, hand pausing. Xue Yang’s half closed eyes opened and he batted his eyelashes. “Maybe my imaginary boyfriend can get me some ice cream.”
Xiao Xingchen had to laugh. “In a little while,” he said. “You’re not supposed to eat anything yet.”
“Rude,” Xue Yang said, but he settled back, tipping his head into Xiao Xingchen’s hand like a cat. “You can go back to what you were doing now.”
“Thanks for the permission,” Xiao Xingchen said, but he did slide his fingers into Xue Yang’s hair and scratch his scalp. He went limp with a happy little sigh that made Xiao Xingchen’s heart seize up.
“Xingchen,” Xue Yang said abruptly.
“Xingchen,” he said again.
“What?” Xiao Xingchen said, trying not to laugh. Xue Yang hummed, and tried to smile at him, which looked pretty ridiculous with his face as swollen as it was.
“When you kick me out,” he said, “can you, like. Give me two week’s notice, or something?”
Xiao Xingchen’s brain came screeching to a halt. “What?”
“Need some time to make my stalking plans,” he said. Then, apparently absorbing the horrified look on Xiao Xingchen’s face, “kidding! I’m kidding. Though you might have to get that buff friend of yours to drag me out, I’m not gonna make it easy.”
“Zichen?” Xiao Xingchen said blankly, because that felt like the only part of this conversation, very suddenly, that he could process.
“Yeah, right,” Xue Yang said. “That one.”
When, Xiao Xingchen thought. When. He felt a little like he’d just been sucker-punched.
“Just,” Xue Yang said, “for future reference. Can I have some ice cream now?”
“No,” Xiao Xingchen said. And then, “what the fuck are you talking about?”
When his boyfriend was drugged half out of his mind, a sensible part of Xiao Xingchen reminded him, it was probably not the best time to have an argument with him.
“Uh oh,” Xue Yang said. “Are you mad at me?”
“Why would you say something like that?”
Xue Yang blinked foggily at him. “Like what?”
“When I kick you out?” Xiao Xingchen prompted. Xue Yang’s eyebrows furrowed for a second and then relaxed. He made a bit of a face.
“I mean,” he said. “I kind of figured. C’mon. We both know I’m not actually long-term boyfriend material.”
Xiao Xingchen pressed his lips together. Stared at Xue Yang’s blurry eyes and swollen cheeks and thought, with uncommon vehemence and slight discomfort even in his own head, fuck.
“No,” he said. “I don’t. Know that.”
Xue Yang squinted at him.
“As far as I am concerned,” Xiao Xingchen said, enunciating clearly, “you are long-term boyfriend material. Which I would hope was evident. Based on the fact that I’ve made you my long-term boyfriend.”
Xue Yang looked vaguely perplexed, or maybe just like he wasn’t following what Xiao Xingchen was saying. He was pretty high, Xiao Xingchen supposed. Still...he sighed.
“I’m not going to dump you,” he said.
Xue Yang seemed to take several moments to consider that, then said, “oh. That’s good.”
Xiao Xingchen bent forward to press his forehead briefly against Xue Yang’s, and then said, “I’m glad you think so.”
“Yeah,” Xue Yang said affably. “Sure do.”
No, Xiao Xingchen thought. Definitely not the time for a serious conversation about the state of their relationship. Of course, it probably wouldn’t be the time when Xue Yang was fully conscious and sober, either.
It probably wasn’t a great sign that Xiao Xingchen felt like he could live with that.
After a couple hours Xue Yang got to remove the spit-and-blood soaked wads of gauze, which he stared at in rapt fascination.
“I still think I should’ve got to keep my teeth,” he said.
“What would you do with them?” Xiao Xingchen asked.
Xue Yang considered that. He was less loopy now, though still pretty out of it, foggy-headed and vague. “Grind them into a powder and snort it,” he said. Xiao Xingchen felt his face spasm and Xue Yang started laughing. “Kidding,” he said. “I’m kidding. That’d be nasty. Also probably hurt, snorting bone, fuck.”
Xiao Xingchen shook his head. “Speaking of pain,” he said. “How is it now?”
“Fine,” Xue Yang said. “Good. I’m good. You’re good. You’re the best.”
“I see the drugs are still in effect,” Xiao Xingchen said dryly.
“Well, yeah. But it’s still true.”
“You’re a little biased.”
“Nah,” Xue Yang said. “I am a - a completely objective judge of character. And I don’t like anyone. Or hardly anyone. Could count ‘em on one hand. On my left hand.” He held that one up and waved it, like Xiao Xingchen might have forgotten that he was down a finger.
Xiao Xingchen still didn’t know why. He’d asked, once, and Xue Yang had told him that he’d lost it in a bet. He hadn’t asked again.
“All right,” he said. “I’m the best. Drink some water.”
Xue Yang pouted at him. “Water’s boring.”
“Too bad,” Xiao Xingchen said mercilessly. “Drink it anyway.”
Xue Yang pouted harder, but he drank the water. “What do I get,” he said, when he finished it. A smile tugged at Xiao Xingchen’s mouth and he kissed Xue Yang’s forehead.
“You get to be well hydrated.”
Xue Yang’s expression turned baleful. Xiao Xingchen turned his face away to hide his smile.
Of course, then he thought when you kick me out and we both know I’m not long-term boyfriend material and the smile melted off fast.
Had he done something? Said something that might suggest…
He went into the kitchen and put two scoops of ice cream in a bowl. “Here,” he said, holding it out. Xue Yang’s face lit up and he took it.
“Aw,” he said, voice lilting the way it did when he was teasing. “For me? Thanks, Xingchen.”
“Eat it slowly,” he said. “And small bites. They said the anesthetic might make you nauseated.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Xue Yang said. Fortunately it looked like he couldn’t get his mouth open wide enough to take the size of spoonfuls he probably wanted to. Xiao Xingchen hovered awkwardly for a few moments before sitting down, this time with Xue Yang’s feet in his lap.
“A-Yang,” he said. Xue Yang stopped with the spoon halfway to his mouth.
“Uh oh,” he said.
“You know that I’m...serious, right?”
“Yeah,” Xue Yang said. “You’re very serious. You’ve also got the stupidest sense of humor known to man, but-”
“No,” Xiao Xingchen said. “I mean serious about this.” He paused, and then said, “you.”
It was hard to tell, sometimes, when emotional honesty would get a flippant, teasing comment, when it’d get him a melted boyfriend, and when it’d bring out the teeth and claws Xue Yang kept mostly sheathed around him. At least right now he was pretty sure he could rule out the last one.
There was a joke he could make about Xue Yang having fewer teeth to use, now, but he didn’t think it was the time.
“Me,” Xue Yang said blankly.
He’s too high for this, Xiao Xingchen thought sensibly.
“Our relationship,” Xiao Xingchen said. “I don’t think of it as a...as a fling.”
(In his last argument with Zichen, that was what he’d called it. A fling with a dangerous boy you think you can fix. Xingchen, he could hurt you. He’s going to hurt you. They hadn’t spoken for two weeks.)
“I know,” Xue Yang said. “You said. Casual sex isn’t really my thing. You said. I had to wait forever before you let me get in your pants.”
“So…” This shouldn’t be hard. “I’m not going to just kick you out.”
“You said that,” Xue Yang said.
“I know,” Xiao Xingchen said. “But you…” Were high. He was still high. This was a sober conversation. Or it should be. Who knew how much Xue Yang even meant anything he was saying? He sounded like he did, but…
His throat was dry and he made himself ask, because he needed to know and he was afraid that if he waited he’d chicken out.
“Are you serious?”
“Almost never,” Xue Yang said, and took a bite of ice cream. Xiao Xingchen pressed his fingers into his eyes.
“About me,” he said, and this was why he didn’t want to talk about this, because his voice had gone all funny, sort of high and - honestly, pathetic. He sounded needy and clingy and all those things his exes had accused him of being and he tried so hard not to be.
Xue Yang just blinked, slowly. Then stuck the spoon in his ice cream and said, “Xingchen, you’re so stupid sometimes,” with the utmost fondness. Xiao Xingchen flinched.
“What does that mean?”
“I’m not selfless,” Xue Yang said. “Why the fuck would I walk away from the best thing that’s ever happened to me?”
Xiao Xingchen stared. Opened his mouth, closed it. “Oh,” he said faintly. Xue Yang smiled the beaming smile of the very high. His face heated up slowly and then the warmth spread down into his chest.
“Idiot,” Xue Yang said, and picked his spoon up again.
“Who’s the idiot,” Xiao Xingchen said.
Xiao Xingchen just shook his head, then reached out and snatched the spoon to steal a bite of ice cream. Xue Yang sulked at him.
“That’s mine,” he said.
“Ice cream tax,” Xiao Xingchen said. There were things he could say, maybe. About what he felt, what he wanted, how easily Xue Yang had moved into his life and how comfortably he seemed to fit there, against all possible odds.
But he had a feeling the words wouldn’t land.
There were other things that’d do more.
The next day Xiao Xingchen assembled a two pound bag of Xue Yang’s favorite candies, waited until he was napping, and put it on the table with a note that said For when you’re cleared to suck on hard things again. :) Then he took up a place on the couch with a book and an expression of perfect innocence.
He kept stubbornly quiet when Xue Yang emerged, rumpled and grouchy looking. He went to the bathroom first and Xiao Xingchen heard the rattle of pills.
“Who invented wisdom teeth anyway,” Xue Yang muttered. “Fuck, my jaw feels half wired shut…”
He trailed off. Xiao Xingchen clamped his lips shut and listened to him cross the room over to the table, and a moment later the burst of laughter, followed by “fuck, ow.”
And a moment later a piece of candy hitting him in the head.
“Can’t believe you’d tease me like this, Xingchen,” Xue Yang said. “Unbelievable.”
Xiao Xingchen gave up on fighting the smile. “You’re welcome,” he said, because he knew a thank you when he heard one.
It wasn’t quite good enough, though. Not yet.
It took some time to make the arrangements.
He sat down across from Xue Yang as he ate his inaugural bowl of cereal since the surgery (‘fuck, I missed eating things that crunch’), and slid the papers across the table.
“I need you to sign these,” he said, trying very hard to neither look nor sound nervous. He was casual. Calm. Collected.
Xue Yang glanced at him. “Uh,” he said. “Sign what? An NDA? A confession?”
Xiao Xingchen just tapped the paper, then grabbed a pen and put it on the table. Xue Yang’s eyes narrowed, looking from it to him. He pulled the papers toward him and pushed his bowl out of the way to look them over.
“This is a lease,” Xue Yang said.
“Mm,” Xiao Xingchen said.
“You want me to put myself on the lease.”
Xiao Xingchen was briefly, intensely terrified that he might have made a humiliating mistake. He wondered if Xue Yang remembered anything about the conversation they’d had, or if this would just be coming out of nowhere, and if it mattered either way. He pushed the uncertainty down and said, as lightly as he could manage, “that was the idea. I want to scan it before the end of the day, if you don’t mind.”
Xue Yang was quiet for a few moments, then picked up the pen and signed, quickly, shoving the documents back across the table and taking a too large bite of his cereal. He looked a little skittish.
Xiao Xingchen took the lease and folded it up. “There,” he said. “That’s settled. I should’ve taken care of it a while ago.”
Xue Yang laughed, though it sounded a little funny. “Yeah,” he said. “You’re such a slacker, Xingchen.” But he gave him one of those smiles - a smile, not a grin.
Small and warm, like a candle in a dark room.