Actions

Work Header

runaway to me

Work Text:

“So,” says Xie Lian, crossing his arms over his chest as he leans back into the couch, “how long will the two of you be gone for?”

“Just two weeks,” Feng Xin says. “We just have to take care of some business over in the Shanghai branch, but, well, you know how Mr. Boss-man can be sometimes.”

“A pain in the ass,” Mu Qing deadpans from next to him.

Feng Xin shoots him a look: a deadly, cold-as-ice glare. “Don’t be crude.”

Xie Lian honestly does not even want to think about how the two will be once they get to the company-booked hotel and are forced to room together. Sure, the three are housemates, but they all very clearly have their own space within the walls of their apartment. Xie Lian has woken up only one too many times to the sound of Feng Xin and Mu Qing arguing in the kitchen over breakfast.

He grimaces. “Are you...sure you’ll be okay?”

“Of course,” says Feng Xin. “Why wouldn’t we?”

“Yeah,” Mu Qing nods, “why wouldn’t we?”

Xie Lian stares at them.

“All right then,” he says with a short nod. “So you’ll be leaving tomorrow night? Would you like me to make you guys some food to-go?”

“No!” Feng Xin says quickly, and Xie Lian frowns. Then Feng Xin coughs once, twice, three times, before he shakes his head and plasters a forced smile upon his features. “Thank you for the offer, Xie Lian, but um. We can just buy some snacks at the airport.”

“Oh, are you sure?”

“Positive!” Mu Qing says, nodding rapidly. “One hundred-percent positive.”

“Never been more positive about anything in my life,” Feng Xin nods.

“Exactly.”

Xie Lian frowns. “Well, all right. But do let me know if you’d like me to whip something up, okay? It’s no trouble.”

Then he smiles, and the two smile back at him, sickly and sweet.  

✧✧✧ 

The last time Xie Lian lived alone, he was a fresh graduate out of high school. His parents bought him an apartment, a huge one with three bedrooms and two bathrooms, and it was...comfortable. Very comfortable. But it was also very lonely, and Xie Lian thinks that mattered more than anything else. 

So, when he overheard two of his classmates fighting over their dorm situation in one of his general education courses, he instantly went up to them and struck a conversation. Feng Xin and Mu Qing were wary at first, Mu Qing especially, but they quickly warmed up to him and Xie Lian ended the evening by offering up his two unoccupied rooms. 

They agreed after a few days of persuasion, and thus began their slightly-chaotic living situation. 

Of course, Xie Lian has spent nights alone in the apartment since then, but never for as long as two weeks straight. So, naturally, on the first night, he’s a bit bored. 

He fiddles around with his phone for a bit, reading through his streams of messages with Feng Xin and Mu Qing. Then he scourges the app store for a game to install and kill time on, but he remembers just as he’s about to press download that he uses Feng Xin’s account and currently has no way to contact him to ask for the password. 

“Well,” Xie Lian mutters to himself as he turns on his heels and makes a beeline for the kitchen. “I might as well make some dinner.” 

A few hours later, when there’s a pot of only slightly darkened noodles bubbling on the stove, he remembers that Mu Qing had used the last packet of seasoning in his lunch two days ago. He huffs, reaching back to untie his apron and tossing it aside. 

No matter. Nothing a quick grocery stop couldn’t fix. 

Xie Lian turns the gas off, pulls on his coat, and grabs an umbrella from the rack. One glance through the window is enough for him to know that it will very much be needed. 

And so begins his trek. 

He’s about a hundred steps away from his apartment building when he notices a flash of red within the darkness. 

Xie Lian raises his umbrella and squints through the smattering rain. 

Drops fall like crystals over and around the figure, a person hunched over in the darkness, their head in their hands as their long black hair falls like a curtain around their face. Xie Lian twists his lips, thoughtful, before walking up to them, careful not to step in a particularly large puddle lest his boots soak through. 

“Hello?” he calls when he’s just a few feet away. “Excuse me? Are you all right?”

The figure doesn’t move.

Xie Lian frowns, swapping his umbrella into his other hand and holding his arm out so that it covers both of their bodies. This makes the person start in surprise, and they slowly incline their chin till they’re looking directly up at Xie Lian’s face.

Xie Lian blinks.

It’s a boy. He’s definitely younger than Xie Lian by at least a few years, and his bright red jacket is unzipped and his hair is sticking like spiderwebs to his rosy cheeks. His skin is pale, and his lips are a pretty pink, but that’s not what catches Xie Lian by surprise. No—what catches him by surprise is the thin black eyepatch that’s strung tightly around the boy’s head, covering the entirety of the top right side of his face. 

“Hiya,” says the boy.

“Hello,” Xie Lian returns, “are you okay?”

“Me?” says the boy. He takes a moment to look around, and Xie Lian watches him carefully. “Ah, it’s raining.”

“It is,” Xie Lian agrees. “Are you tired? How about going home and getting some rest?”

“Can’t,” says the boy. He leans back in his seat on the tattered bench and frowns. Rain hits him more easily at the new angle, but he doesn’t seem phased at all. “I’ve got nowhere to go.”

Nowhere to go? 

Xie Lian frowns and looks down at the boy. His visible eye is brightly staring back at him, like the silence that suddenly stretches between their figures doesn’t affect him at all. He doesn’t look harmful. If anything, he looks...kind. 

“I’m going shopping,” Xie Lian says suddenly, “would you like to tag along?”

“Gege wants me to tag along with him?” the boy asks, blinking up at him.

This makes Xie Lian smile. “Of course. I could use another set of hands.”

Then the boy stands up to his feet, and Xie Lian just barely manages to suppress his squeak of surprise when he’s forced to lift his hand higher so that the umbrella remains over the both of them, shielding them from the rain that’s slowly picking up speed. The boy is taller than him—much taller than him, and it immediately takes Xie Lian by surprise. His gaze is dark but soft, and it burns into Xie Lian’s own eyes as his breath hitches at their sudden close proximity. 

Then the boy grins, east to west. “Then lead the way.”

✧✧✧ 

He introduces himself as Hua Cheng, but “gege can call me San Lang!”

“San Lang?” Xie Lian repeats. 

Hua Cheng nods. “I’m the third in my family.”

“Ah,” Xie Lian nods. “Well, my name is Xie Lian, but you’re welcome to continue calling me gege if you’d like. Am I much older than you?”

Hua Cheng cocks his head to the side and peers down at him. “Hm...yes, I think so. Maybe not. I’m eighteen.”

Xie Lian’s inhales, a quiet thing. “I’m twenty-five.”

“You don’t look a day over twenty.”

“I—thank you,” says Xie Lian. “I think.” Hua Cheng nods, and he doesn’t seem to be put off at all by the fact that he’s currently standing in the middle of a grocery store with a stranger seven years older than him, so Xie Lian decides that he won’t put too much thought into it either. 

“Though, gege, I must ask,” Hua Cheng starts as they stroll into one of the dimly-lit aisles, “it’s not common that someone goes shopping for groceries at nine o’clock at night.”

“Isn’t it?” Xie Lian asks, peering down closely at a pile of tangerines. After all, if he’s here, he might as well take care of the week’s groceries while he’s at it. “I’m not sure. I usually come here with my roommates at around this time when we’re running out of stock in our kitchen. Oh, and San Lang, if you see something you like, make sure to tell me, and I’ll buy it for you.”

“You’ll buy it for me?”

“Yes, whatever you’d like.”

“Then can I have an onion?”

Xie Lian pauses in his step. He glances back to see Hua Cheng standing a few feet away, looking completely serious. “An onion? You want an onion?”

“Yeah,” says Hua Cheng.

Xie Lian stares at him. “Um...then yes, if that’s really what you want, I’ll buy you an onion.”

Then Hua Cheng is smiling, bright and vivid and colorful amidst the dullness of the plasticky store. “I’m just kidding, gege,” he says, laughing through his nose. “I don’t actually want an onion. But if you do then you should totally get one.”

“Onions are on my list, actually,” says Xie Lian. “So we’ll be buying them anyways. Do let me know if you change your mind, they’re not very expensive.”

“Will do, gege.”

Hua Cheng does not end up, in fact, changing his mind, and Xie Lian isn’t sure whether he should be happy or just slightly concerned because of that. But the two exit the store with two bags of groceries in both of their hands, and Xie Lian nudges his shoulder in the direction of the sidewalk as they enter the rainy night. 

Xie Lian transfers his bags into one hand and opens his umbrella up above his head. “Walk with me?” he says to Hua Cheng, offering a smile and tilting the umbrella over him. 

Hua Cheng returns the gesture with ease. “Sure.”

And so they walk. 

There’s a comfortable silence surrounding them at first, and Xie Lian hums lightly to himself as he skips past pooling circles of water by his feet. Hua Cheng notices his clumsy stuttering and laughs, low and breathy and just barely audible over the sound of the steadily pounding rain. Xie Lian smiles sheepishly in return, and before they know it, they’re engaged in conversation once more. 

“You said you don’t have anywhere to go?”

“Mm,” Hua Cheng nods. He’s much taller than Xie Lian, even with his young age, and their shoulders just barely brush together as they make their way through the empty street. “Ah, don’t worry too much about me, gege. I’ll be fine.”

Sensing that he wasn’t too interested in actually talking about what was wrong, Xie Lian nods. “Still, I don’t want to just leave you out on the streets like this, especially after you helped me today.”

“Did I help you?”

“Of course you did,” Xie Lian says immediately. “You’re carrying my bags for me right now.”

“Oh,” says Hua Cheng. He glances down at the thin plastic bags hanging off of his fingers and frowns. “This? This isn’t that big of a deal.”

“I’m still grateful for your help,” says Xie Lian. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” says Hua Cheng. 

“And I want to repay you,” says Xie Lian. He grips the handle of the umbrella tighter when he begins to feel the upper portion of his arm beginning to cramp, and as if he can read his thoughts, Hua Cheng chuckles to himself and snatches the umbrella away. Xie Lian’s eyes widen. “What are you—”

“I should have been holding it from the beginning,” says Hua Cheng. “I’m much taller than gege, after all.”

Xie Lian takes his words in for a short moment, and then he smiles and shakes his head. “Not too much taller.”

“Mhm. Whatever gege wants to believe.”

“You’re quite cheeky, aren’t you?”

“I have no idea what you are talking about,” says Hua Cheng, and this time he turns his head and bats his eyelashes over his one eye with picture-perfect innocence. “But back to what you were saying—you don’t have to repay me. If anything, your company tonight is repaying more than enough.”

“My company?” Xie Lian repeats. “San Lang, how long have you not had a home for?”

“Just a few days,” says Hua Cheng. “I, ah, ran away.”

Ran away? 

“You ran away?”

Hua Cheng smiles then, and it’s nothing more than a small curve at the corners of his lips. It’s a smile Xie Lian hasn’t seen from him before. Hua Cheng’s brow settles atop his forehead as uses the hand that’s currently housing bags of groceries to point up to the right side of his face. “Some people aren’t happy with what’s under this.”

The black eyepatch shines even in the gloomy white fluorescence, and Xie Lian feels his breath hitch when he catches Hua Cheng’s gaze. “I see,” he says quietly. 

Hua Cheng’s smile widens then. “Aw, is gege worrying for me?”

At this, Xie Lian turns around again, facing ahead of himself once more. “Wouldn’t you if you were in my shoes?”

“I don’t think I would ever find myself in that situation. Gege’s shoes don’t look very comfortable.”

Xie Lian glances down to their feet, gaze flickering. “We are practically wearing the same shoes, San Lang. Yours are just black.”

“They jingle when I walk, kind of. Can you hear them?”

“A little, yes.” And then, before he can stop himself, “Have you eaten yet?”

Hua Cheng looks startled for a split second, enough for Xie Lian to almost regret asking. Is this overstepping? The two had just met just barely over an hour ago, so did it really make sense for Xie Lian to suddenly invite him to eat with him?

But then: “No.”

Xie Lian presses his lips together, hope bubbling in the confines of his chest. “I know this might come off as a little...hasty...but would you like to come over for a meal, San Lang?”

He looks up and over to catch Hua Cheng’s shift in expression just in time: one that melts from surprise to excitement. “Can I?”

“Yes!” Xie Lian nods. “I’d love to cook for you.”

“Then I’ll take you up on it,” says Hua Cheng. “I’d love to come over for a meal, gege. Thank you.”

“Great!” says Xie Lian. He reaches up and tugs Hua Cheng’s hand, the fingers that are wrapped tightly around the handle of the crimson umbrella. “Then follow me!”

✧✧✧

“Make yourself at home,” says Xie Lian as he pads his boots off and slips his fuzzy slippers on. He glances back over his shoulder to see Hua Cheng setting the umbrella to dry out in the corridor and hums, quickly sprinting over to the nearby cabinet and taking out another pair of slippers. When Hua Cheng finds his way inside, Xie Lian shoves them against his chest. “Wear these, the floors can get cold.”

“Thanks, gege,” says Hua Cheng, grinning. He takes the slippers from Xie Lian’s hands and puts them on before making his way to the kitchen area and setting the bags down onto the dining table. “Would you like some help unloading the groceries?”

“No, it’s okay,” says Xie Lian. “We can put them away after I make dinner.” He points over to a doorless opening. “Just there is the living room. Go and make yourself comfortable, mm? I’ll be right out.”

“Would you like some help with dinner?” Hua Cheng asks, frowning. “I know how to cook a little.”

“It’s actually already done,” says Xie Lian. He hurries into the kitchen, his feet dragging against the tiles, and knocks his knuckle against the side of the now-cold pot of noodles. “I prepared these before I went out. I’ll just add the finishing touches and heat it up.”

Hua Cheng seems to accept this, so he nods and makes his way over to the living room. Once he’s disappeared beyond the threshold, Xie Lian relaxes his shoulders and gets to work, picking out the appropriate seasonings and mixing them into the pot as the noodles steadily heat up. He spoons two bowlfuls and nods in satisfaction.

Perfect.

“Here you go,” he says once he joins Hua Cheng in the living room, handing over one of the bowls and a set of wooden chopsticks. Hua Cheng excitedly takes them into his hands, immediately lifting a heapful to his lips. 

Xie Lian watches him carefully, holding back his wince when he sees the dark color of the noodles.

“Smells good, gege!” Hua Cheng says before putting them into his mouth and chewing. A  long silence permeates throughout the room, and then Hua Cheng is swallowing and smiling back to Xie Lian again. “Tastes good too! Maybe a little less salt next time.”

Xie Lian breathes a sigh of relief and nods. “Thank you for your constructive criticism, San Lang. My roommates aren’t really a fan of my cooking...so it’s been a while since I’ve made something myself.”

“They’re missing out,” says Hua Cheng through another mouthful. “Maybe leave it on the gas for fifteen fewer minutes next time too.”

Xie Lian nods. “I’ll be sure to do that.” His eyes flicker over to the television, finding a colorful screen with a giant pause symbol settled in the center. “Were you watching something?”

“Oh,” says Hua Cheng, setting his bowl down onto his lap and nodding. “I just turned the TV on and this was playing. It’s a love story between a gay scrap god and his demon ghost husband. Someone I know watches it a lot, so you know, I picked up bits and pieces of the plot through him.”

“Like osmosis.”

Hua Cheng raises his eyebrows. “Yeah, like osmosis.”

Xie Lian grins. “What’s it about? A god and a ghost, right?”

“Mhm,” says Hua Cheng. He picks up the remote from where it’s laying next to him on the couch and presses a button to resume the show. “The one in red is called Crimson Rain Sought Flower, the ghost king, and the one in white is the crown prince, a martial god in the heavens.”

“It sounds interesting.”

“It is,” Hua Cheg nods. “The crown prince saved the ghost king’s life when they were children, and then ascended to godhood. The ghost king waited eight hundred years for him.”

Xie Lian breathes in, then out, and watches the white and red figures on the screen sit atop a cart and share a piece of bread. “Eight hundred years is a very long time.”

“It was for someone he loved,” says Hua Cheng, lifting the edge of his bowl to his lips and drinking up the soupy remains of his dinner. When finished, he leans forward and sets the bowl onto the table in front of the couch. “I think I would have done the same, if I were him.”

Xie Lian follows suit as he finishes his food too, and the two settle in beside each other. “That’s very romantic, San Lang,” he says, fiddling with his fingers in his lap. “Whoever ends up as your future significant other will be very lucky.”

Hua Cheng grins, glancing sidelong at him. “Do you think so, gege?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Hm,” says Hua Cheng, and then he crosses his arms and legs and leans back on the fluffy cushion. “What about you, gege?”

“Me?”

“You’re very pretty,” says Hua Cheng like it’s the easiest thing in the world, and Xie Lian feels his face rapidly beginning to flush. A warmth settles, pools in the depths of his stomach and simmers there. “I’m sure you’ve had dozens of people ask to be with you.”

Xie Lian sucks his gums past his teeth and releases a breath in an effort to calm himself. Then he looks down at his lap and shakes his head. “I wouldn’t say dozens…”

“Gege is so humble.”

Xie Lian huffs through his nose. “And what about San Lang?”

A pause. “What about me?”

“You’re incredibly charming,” says Xie Lian, because if he’s going down, he might as well take his unlikely companion with him. “And you’re beautiful. Many people must have asked you to be their boyfriend while you were in high school.”

“Incorrect,” says Hua Cheng. He winks, but it doesn’t seem very fruitful considering he literally only has one eye to show. “Middle school too.”

Xie Lian throws a pillow at him. 

The night goes on like that, an easy back and forth between the two. Conversation never lulls, and Xie Lian finds himself hanging onto each and every word that escapes through Hua Cheng’s lips, being carried through story after story that the younger deems fit for his ears.  

“Just sleep over tonight,” Xie Lian says hours later, right after he catches Hua Cheng desperately attempting to mask his yawn behind the palm of his hand. 

Hua Cheng’s expression immediately drops. “I can’t do that. I don’t want to intrude, gege.”

“You’re not intruding,” says Xie Lian calmly. Of course, he was expecting a bit of resistance at first. “I’d love for you to stay. I really enjoy talking to you, San Lang. Plus you know that my roommates are away for a few weeks. It’s been a while since I’ve had the apartment to myself.”

“And you’re going to pass up on the rare opportunity of freedom to house a random high schooler you just met?”

“You’re not a random high schooler,” says Xie Lian. “You’re San Lang. It doesn’t matter how long I’ve known someone, anyways. After all, people you’ve known for decades can become strangers within seconds. So why can’t people you’ve known for seconds become people you will know for decades?”

“That’s…” Hua Cheng trails off, his lips parting, then closing again. “I guess that’s fair enough.” He leans closer, the gap between the two diminishing with every passing millisecond. “All right then,” he says. “If gege doesn’t mind, I’ll sleep out here on the couch tonight.”

This makes Xie Lian frown. “Are you sure? I don’t want you to be uncomfortable. You can sleep in one of my roommates’ beds.”

“If your roommates are anything like what you told me,” Hua Cheng starts, “then maybe the couch is a better idea.”

Well, he does make a fair point. Xie Lian doesn’t even want to imagine the looks on Feng Xin and Mu Qing’s faces if he tells them he let someone they don’t know randomly crash in their rooms for the night. He doesn’t want to imagine the looks on their faces once he tells them about Hua Cheng, period .

Some conversations are simply better left unhad. 

So, hours later, when Xie Lian is safely tucked underneath his covers and staring up at the ceiling, he drifts. He thinks back on the events of the day: Feng Xin and Mu Qing departing at the airport, Xie Lian going shopping for ingredients to make dinner, running into Hua Cheng, shopping with Hua Cheng, eating with Hua Cheng, watching a donghua with Hua Cheng, asking Hua Cheng to sleep over for a night. 

Xie Lian screws his eyes shut and groans. 

Hua Cheng must think him terribly strange, after all. They’re still essentially strangers, but just strangers that know a little more about each other than regular strangers would. Strangers that have impromptu sleepovers. 

It’s just that Xie Lian feels weirdly comfortable around this particular stranger. The ebbs and flows of their conversations are effortlessly simple, ones that Xie Lian feels he can sink into for hours and resurface completely unscathed. Which doesn’t really make much sense, in theory, because again, Hua Cheng is a stranger. And Hua Cheng doesn’t know anything about Xie Lian. And Xie Lian doesn’t know anything about Hua Cheng.

But. Well. 

A friendship seems plausible, perhaps.

✧✧✧

The next morning, Xie Lian awakes to the smell of freshly steamed buns and crispy fried eggs. 

“What’s all of this?” he asks, rubbing away the sleep in his eyes as he trudges into the kitchen. There’s a mug of green tea waiting for him on the counter, and Xie Lian eyes it curiously for a moment before picking it up and taking a cautious sip. 

A figure peeps his head out from a corner, and Xie Lian almost starts in surprise when he sees the cheeky grin housing Hua Cheng’s face. He’s wearing Mu Qing’s favorite apron, the one with a giant cat face patterned on the frontside, and the entire look is complemented by the frying pan balancing in his hands. 

“Morning, gege! Breakfast?”

“You made breakfast, San Lang?” Xie Lian asks, blinking. He glances over to the stove. “Oh, you didn’t have to.”

“Take it as repayment for letting me stay last night,” says Hua Cheng, putting the pan down and waving him over. “And I told you—I like to cook. Pray gege tell me if he likes it?”

Then he’s holding up a plate with two pieces of mantou. His visible eye blinks innocently, and Xie Lian’s lips part in surprise. Hua Cheng nudges the food closer to his face, and with a sigh, Xie Lian accepts with a nod. He raises his hand to pick up a bun, but then Hua Cheng is jerking back and picking it up himself. Xie Lian inhales sharply when Hua Cheng smiles and holds the bread right up, poking at Xie Lian’s lips in a silent request. 

Xie Lian opens his mouth wordlessly and takes a bite.

“Well?” Hua Cheng asks. “What do you think?”

A moment later, Xie Lian is beaming through his swallow. “Yummy!”

“I’m glad,” Hua Cheng nods, and this time he really does hand over the entire plate to Xie Lian. “Gege can have as many as he’d like. I made a lot.”

Warmth bubbles in Xie Lian’s throat. “Thank you, San Lang.”

Morning sounds with the clinkering of utensils and plates and satisfied groans when good food meets tongue. When they’re wrapping up their first meal of the day, Hua Cheng looks over his shoulder at Xie Lian doing the dishes. 

“What’s your plan for the day, gege?”

“Hm, me?” Xie Lian asks. He rubs a towel over a freshly washed bowl and sets it aside. “I have to go to work today, but I’m free after that.”

“Where do you work?”

“Ah,” says Xie Lian, “it’s nothing fancy. I’m a barista at a local café with two friends.”

“That sounds fun.”

“Mm, it is. Would you like to come with me today?”

There’s a slight pause, the only sound accompanying it of a ragged cloth wiping away the water on the circumference of a plate. “Can I?”

“I’d love for you to join me,” Xie Lian replies easily, glancing over to shoot Hua Cheng a small smile. “Unless there’s something else you’d rather do with your time today.”

“No!” says Hua Cheng quickly. “There’s nothing. I’ll go with you.”

And so they go. 

“I’m here!” Xie Lian calls as they enter through the back door of the café. A bell jingles up above, and he shoots Hua Cheng an encouraging smile. “You’d think it’s weird that we have a welcoming bell in the back, but not one in the front.”

Hua Cheng sticks his hands into the pockets of his trousers and raises a delicate eyebrow. Xie Lian catches onto the sight, mentally making a note to buy his new friend some fresh clothes later. “There’s no bell on the front door?”

Xie Lian shakes his head. “Nope, but the manager said he’s...working on it. I think. Oh! Qingxuan!”

A new face is peeking out from behind a corner, and Xie Lian quickly waves hello. Shi Qingxuan eyes him for a moment longer before their gaze flickers over to Hua Cheng. 

They gasp. “Hua Cheng?!”

“You!” Hua Cheng exclaims, pointing his finger at them. “You’re…? Then that means...” His face changes; his entire expression drops and his lips curl back. “Ugh.”

Xie Lian blinks. “What? Do you two know each other?”

“No,” says Hua Cheng immediately.

Shi Qingxuan frowns. “Hey! Of course we know each other!”

“Gege,” says Hua Cheng, reaching out to loop his hands around Xie Lian’s arm. He leans his weight against his side and slumps forward. “Gege, this one is tired. I’m going back to your place, okay? Bye bye!”

Then he spins around on his heel and saunters away.

“Wait,” says Xie Lian slowly, “wait, slow down, San Lang—”

“Who’s San Lang?” says a new, deeper voice. Xie Lian glances back to see a figure fully decked out in black emerge into view, the only source of color on his person the bright yellow bumblebee-patterned apron that’s slung around his frontside. “Oh, Xie Lian, you’re here.”

“He Xuan!” Xie Lian says. His eyes travel down to the giant cake he’s holding. “Oh, let me get that for you.”

“Thanks,” says He Xuan as he hands it over and wipes his palms on the cartoon bee’s giant smiling face. “Who’s San Lang? Did you come in with someone? A customer?”

“Um…”

“He-xiong,” says Shi Qingxuan, their brows furrowed, “I think he’s talking about Hua Cheng.”

There’s a long pause. Then, “Hua Cheng?!”

Xie Lian, too busy depositing the cake over to the counter, doesn’t notice the looming presence over his shoulder. But when he turns around and sees Hua Cheng hovering behind him, his arms crossed over his chest and a deadly look plastered across his face, Xie Lian almost jumps in surprise. 

“S-San Lang?”

“Gege,” Hua Cheng nods. He then gestures over to Shi Qingxuan and He Xuan, who are slowly looking back at them to see what all the commotion is about. “So they’re the friends you work here with?”

“Ah,” Xie Lian nods. “Yes they are. Do you know them?”

“Unfortunately,” says Hua Cheng. He rolls his eyes. “Hey,” he calls.

Shi Qingxuan—and a much more begrudged looking He Xuan—are right by their sides within seconds. Shi Qingxuan blinks up at Hua Cheng, as if scrutinizing his very existence. In a Shi Qingxuan way. Meaning it’s not very effective.

“Xie Lian, I didn’t know you knew Hua Cheng,” they say. 

“Oh, I don’t,” says Xie Lian.

Hua Cheng whips around to look at him.

“Wait,” Xie Lian quickly amends, “I mean—I do know him, of course. But I met him just yesterday.”

“Yesterday?” He Xuan repeats.

Xie Lian glances over to Hua Cheng for help, and the younger nods reassuringly in his direction before crossing his arms once again and looking back at He Xuan. His eyes narrow on the other boy’s figure, and Xie Lian takes brief note of how he’s just barely taller than him. 

“So,” Hua Cheng drawls, “this is where you’ve been going instead of studying with me?”

Xie Lian freezes. 

He Xuan scoffs, “I don’t have to tell you anything.”

“You don’t,” Hua Cheng agrees. “But I feel like I’ve just caught my lover cheating on me.”

“You’re disgusting,” says He Xuan.

“He-xiong is mine,” says Shi Qingxuan.

Hua Cheng shrugs. He gestures over to He Xuan’s figure and smiles to Xie Lian again. “Gege, this is the person I was telling you about.”

“Ah?” Xie Lian says. He quickly racks his brain for people Hua Cheng has told him about, and well, there really aren’t many options to choose from. “Oh, you mean the friend who watches Heaven Official’s Blessing?”

Across from them, He Xuan’s jaw drops. “Friend? Who said we’re friends? This guy?”

Hua Cheng ignores him. “Yeah, him,” he says, inspecting a nail. “He Xuan, this is gege.”

“Why the hell are you introducing me to someone I already know?” He Xuan snaps. 

Hua Cheng smirks. “You never know with that brain of yours.”

“You—”

“And I’m Shi Qingxuan!” Shi Qingxuan exclaims, making jass hands in front of their chest.

He Xuan groans and reaches out to flick the side of their forehead. “We all know that, idiot,” he says, and then he shoots them all a deadly look and slumps back to the counter. “We aren’t closed today, you know!” he calls over his shoulder. “Hua Cheng, if you’re just going to stand there, why don’t you at least help out?”

“No thank you,” says Hua Cheng smoothly, and Xie Lian has to turn to hide his snicker. “I think I’m good here, standing around. Watching you suffer by the hands of customer service. Have you been practicing your fake smile? I’d like to see it.”

He Xuan doesn’t deem him with a response, but Hua Cheng doesn’t look put off by it at all. 

The rest of Xie Lian’s shift goes by smoothly, the clanking of mugs and the whirring of the coffee machine a melodious backdrop to the hustle and bustle of the mid-morning crowd. Hua Cheng does not, in fact, become a part-timer for the day, but that doesn’t mean Xie Lian doesn’t tug him over to the array of machines and show him what each one does as he makes drinks for the customers. Hua Cheng listens along with rapt attention, nodding and humming in affirmation at just the right moments. Xie Lian beams as he asks questions and asks to give it a try too. 

And later, when Xie Lian is manning the counter, he notices He Xuan and Hua Cheng standing huddled together by the flavor syrups. 

“If you needed a place to stay,” He Xuan is saying, voice low, “then you should have just asked me, dimwit. Why bother Xie Lian?”

“I know, I know,” Hua Cheng mutters, “it’s not my fault. I was going to call you, for your information. The thing with gege just kind of...happened.”

“Uh huh. Well, you know I’m moving out for university. The apartment I’m renting has two bedrooms anyways. Just move in with me.” A pause. “Not because I want you to or anything. You’re like a free wallet.”

“Right.”

“Or just get your own place. It isn’t like you don’t have the money. I don’t care.”

Xie Lian frowns and expertly tunes out. It clearly isn’t a conversation he’s supposed to be hearing anyway, after all. Hua Cheng will tell him if there’s anything he should know later, so Xie Lian isn’t worried. He bumps Shi Qingxuan’s shoulder and shoots them a smile, quickly resuming his work without a second thought. 

A few hours later, when his shift finally comes to an end, Xie Lian tugs on Hua Cheng’s sleeve and gestures toward the back door. “San Lang, should we go? Or do you want to stay here and hang out with your friends some more instead?”

“They’re not my friends,” says Hua Cheng immediately. Then he smiles and snakes his arm around Xie Lian’s waist, pressing close to his warm side. “Shall we, gege?”

The contact thuds inside Xie Lian’s chest, and he feels his fingers twitch. “Mm, we shall.”

Outside, their paces match each other, but one glance down is enough for Xie Lian to know that Hua Cheng is deliberately taking smaller steps to accommodate him. The thought makes his cheeks flower with the faintest rosy red. 

“Well?” Hua Cheng says suddenly, breaking their comfortable silence.

Xie Lian looks up at him. “What?”

“Aren’t you curious?” Hua Cheng glances down but keeps his chin pointed up. “About how I know those two.”

“Ah, Qingxuan and He Xuan?”

“Yeah, them.”

“Would San Lang be willing to tell me?” Xie Lian asks.

“Of course,” says Hua Cheng. “They go to school with me. Well—they went to school with me. We graduated last month.”

“Ah,” Xie Lian nods. “Yes, Qingxuan told me that this summer was the last one they’d work here for. I take it the three of you are going to university?”

At this, Hua Cheng shrugs. “Yeah, maybe. We’ll see.”

Xie Lian hums and doesn’t pry, sticking his hands into the pockets of his thin jacket and looking down at his feet. “Are you hungry?”

“Are you?”

“Yes,” says Xie Lian, already knowing how this is going to go. “So you should eat with me, San Lang.”

Hua Cheng’s smile is easy. “All right.”

“And,” Xie Lian continues, then pauses. Bites his lip. He thinks back to the conversation he overheard between Hua Cheng and He Xuan, remembers He Xuan’s offer like it’s a crick in the back of his neck. “I was wondering, would you like to stay over for another night?”

The change in Hua Cheng’s expression is sudden, but Xie Lian was expecting it. His lips part and his eye widens as he looks down at Xie Lian’s face. “With...with you?”

Xie Lian nods. 

“Are you sure?” Hua Cheng asks. “I thought…”

“You thought what?”

“Ah,” says Hua Cheng, “it’s nothing. I just didn’t expect you to ask since we agreed on one night.”

“If I remember correctly,” Xie Lian starts, “we never technically agreed on anything. I just asked you to stay over last night, and you said okay.”

Hua Cheng stares at him, the angle awkward but comforting. “I guess you did.”

“Right,” says Xie Lian. “So?”

“Let me pay you,” says Hua Cheng. “I’d feel bad just leeching off of you, so let me pay you.”

“No,” says Xie Lian calmly. “I won’t accept your money.”

“I’m not broke,” says Hua Cheng quickly. “I promise. I know I told you I ran away, but I still...I still have money. So don’t worry about it.”

“I’m not accepting your money, San Lang,” says Xie Lian, and then he smiles. “But if you really want to pay me, then how about making us breakfast for every night you stay?”

A pause. “Okay,” says Hua Cheng. “Okay, I can do that. Fine.”

“Excellent,” says Xie Lian. “So will you stay?”

They stop walking to look at each other. Hua Cheng spreads his feet out so that he’s closer to eye-level, and Xie Lian sighs softly at the thoughtful gesture. “I’ll stay,” says Hua Cheng. He leans closer, their faces creeping closer. “I’ll stay another night, then.”

“As many as you need.”

“Gege.”

“I’m serious, San Lang.”

“Don’t be,” says Hua Cheng. “If you give me an offer like that, I’ll never leave your side.”

“Then don’t,” says Xie Lian, surprising even himself with the suddenness of his response. He swallows and goes back to looking straight ahead, not trusting himself to make eye contact with the other. “Don’t, um, leave. My...my side.”

There’s a long moment of silence, this one just barely edging the lines of unease. But Xie Lian waits patiently for a response, already resigned to getting none at all as well. But then there’s a pressure at his side and a hand is coming to thread between his own fingers. It squeezes his palm gently. No other words are spoken.

✧✧✧

A week later, there’s a knock on Xie Lian’s front door.

Hua Cheng and Xie Lian are lounging on the couch in the living room, Xie Lian with his laptop and Hua Cheng bent over a pair of knitting needles, balls of yarn rolling off and onto the floor. It’s a colorful sight, one that Xie Lian looks over to every few minutes and fondly smiles upon. 

Hua Cheng perks up at the sound of the knock and gently sets his work aside. “I’ll get it, gege. You keep doing your thing.”

“Thank you, San Lang,” says Xie Lian earnestly, before he settles back in his seat and turns his gaze back to the screen. He hears Hua Cheng’s footsteps padding light away, the click of the door, the turn of the handle, and then—

“Who the fuck are you?”

Xie Lian starts in surprise at the sound of the familiar voice, immediately looking over to see none other than Feng Xin and Mu Qing standing in the doorway, their suitcases trailing behind them. The two have frozen still, and they’re looking up at Hua Cheng with the most petrified-yet-confused expressions Xie Lian has ever seen on their faces. 

“Oh!” Xie Lian exclaims, letting his laptop slide off his thighs. He stands up and floats over, his smile widening at the sight of his best friends. “Feng Xin, Mu Qing! You’re back already? I thought your flight was next week.”

“Business finished early,” Mu Qing says slowly, his eyes not straying an inch away from Hua Cheng’s figure. “Wanted to surprise you. Who the hell is this.”

“Aha,” says Xie Lian. Well, clearly the surprise had worked. 

“Yeah,” Feng Xin says, eyes narrowing, “who the fuck are you?”

“Hello,” says Hua Cheng primly. Xie Lian looks up and over to see his eyebrows raised delicately on his forehead. “My name is Hua Cheng. A pleasure.”

“This is San Lang!” Xie Lian says, and then he subconsciously reaches to the side and wraps his arm around Hua Cheng’s forearm. “He’s my friend. Say hello, you two.”

“San Lang?” Mu Qing repeats. 

“Like fuck we’re saying hello,” Feng Xin says, and then he pushes past the both of them with his suitcase rolling behind him. Xie Lian blinks in surprise as Mu Qing follows suit, and then his friends are sitting cross-legged on the floor of the living room, glaring up at Hua Cheng’s face.

“Gege,” says Hua Cheng, pleasant as a flower as Xie Lian heaves a sigh and goes to close the front door, “I don’t think your roommates like me very much.”

“Gege?!” Feng Xin and Mu Qing exclaim simultaneously. 

Xie Lian shakes his head, walking up by Hua Cheng’s side and reaching up to pat his shoulder. “Don’t worry,” he murmurs, “they’re always like this. Come, let me introduce you guys properly.”

Two minutes later, the four are sitting in a circle, Hua Cheng leaning lazily against the couch legs and Xie Lian with his hands in his lap next to him. Feng Xin and Mu Qing are currently glaring holes into Hua Cheng’s face, and Hua Cheng is regarding them with a look of indifference. It’s the kind of interaction that reminds Xie Lian of what he’s like with He Xuan and Shi Qingxuan, but maybe...a little more polite. Just a bit. Probably because he doesn’t actually know Feng Xin and Mu Qing personally. 

“Xie Lian,” Feng Xin starts, voice low, “who is this?”

“I told you,” Xie Lian says after a pause, “this is San Lang.”

Feng Xin immediately rounds on Hua Cheng. “So, San Lang—”

“Hua Cheng,” says Hua Cheng. 

“So, Hua Cheng,” Feng Xin amends without so much as a blink, “how do you know Xie Lian?”

“Gege is my friend,” says Hua Cheng. “We met last week.”

Mu Qing’s brows furrow as he glances between them. “Did Xie Lian invite you over today? Is that why you’re here right now? For lunch?”

Ah. This is where things are bound to start getting a bit messy, Xie Lian thinks. 

“Actually,” he says, and then he swallows. Well, there’s really not much more avoiding he can do, he supposes. Feng Xin and Mu Qing are bound to find out eventually, and it isn’t like what Xie Lian is doing is some kind of crime. Whether Feng Xin and Mu Qing believe that, however, is completely up to them. “Actually, San Lang has been living here for the past few days.”

The silence that follows is painstakingly uncomfortable. Xie Lian, who has gotten used to the cozy moments of silence he shares with Hua Cheng, thinks it’s just a tad unsettling. 

Feng Xin’s jaw drops. Mu Qing inhales sharply and stutters, “B-but—but you just met him last week?”

“He’s living here?” Feng Xin continues. “On whose money?”

“On breakfast,” says Xie Lian. 

They stare at him. 

“What the fuck does that mean?” 

“As in,” says Xie Lian, twisting his lips as he tries to make sense of the situation. Next to him, Hua Cheng huffs a laugh through his nose. “I’m letting him stay here in exchange for breakfast.”

“That’s not even close to being an equivalent exchange!” Mu Qing exclaims, his eyes widening as he looks upon Xie Lian in disbelief. “Shelter in exchange for food?”

“You know how my cooking can be sometimes,” Xie Lian says pointedly. 

“Gege’s cooking is marvellous,” says Hua Cheng.

“Oh god,” says Mu Qing. He turns to Feng Xin, who’s already looking back at him. “He’s brainwashed. Xie Lian is being brainwashed.”

Feng Xin nods. “You’re right,” he says. “No one in their right mind would call Xie Lian’s cooking good. Not without an ulterior motive.”

“Correct,” says Mu Qing. He straightens up and clears his throat as Feng Xin springs up to his feet and stomps over to Xie Lian, yanking him up by the arm. Mu Qing quickly moves to follow, and ten more seconds have the two on either of Xie Lian’s side, forcibly dragging him across the room and over to the hallway where the bedroom doors are.

“Wait—guys, I—guys, let go—”

“No!” Feng Xin and Mu Qing say at the same time, and then they look over Xie Lian’s head at each other and glare. 

Xie Lian’s shoulder’s slump down in defeat. 

Well, it’s not like he was expecting anything less. 

He shoots an apologetic smile over his shoulder, catching Hua Cheng’s gaze. Hua Cheng shakes his head with a light smile of his own, like he’s nonverbally telling Xie Lian to take his time, that he’ll be right there waiting till they’re done. Xie Lian knows it to be true. 

So, when his two friends march into his room and slam the door shut behind them, Xie Lian barely winces as he’s pushed up against a wall and questions begin firing at him in rapid succession. 

Mu Qing starts, “Who is he? What does he do?”

And Feng Xin continues, “How old is he? How much money does he make?”

“How did you meet him?”

“Why doesn’t he have his own home? Why is he bothering you?”

“Is he bothering you?”

“Has he tried anything funny?”

“Do you want to file a restraining order?”

“Why is he living here?”

“Why is he living here with you?”

“Why did you agree to let him live here with you?”

“How do you know he’s not a serial killer?”

“Yeah, he wears red, he’s so obviously a serial killer.”

“Xie Lian, you are going to die.”

“We’re all going to die.”

“Who the hell is he?”

“Guys,” Xie Lian cuts in, squeezing his eyes shut. “You’re going to crush me.”

“Sorry,” the two mutter, taking a few steps back, but their expressions don’t relent. Xie Lian frowns. 

“Okay,” he says, “um. There’s a lot to digest in all of that. Uh. He’s a friend. I’m not sure how much money he makes, or even if he makes any at all. But I do know that he has money.”

“So why the fuck isn’t he paying rent?” Feng Xin snaps. 

“He offered to,” says Xie Lian. “I’m the one who said no. And he didn’t ask to stay with me, I offered.”

They deadpan him looks. “What?”

“He’s eighteen, and—”

“Eighteen?!”

“Yes, eighteen. He just graduated from high school and ran away from his...parent’s home, I think. He told me it’s because of what’s under his eyepatch, but—”

“Oh, fuck, right. The eyepatch. Xie Lian, he’s a fucking modern-day pirate.”

“I really don’t think that’s the case,” says Xie Lian. “He knows He Xuan and Shi Qingxuan, and I overheard He Xuan saying that San Lang is going to be moving in with him later. Or, at least he offered. And to my knowledge, San Lang accepted.”

“So he’s a creep!” Mu Qing exclaims. “If his friend offered him a place, why isn’t he staying there?”

“Because He Xuan still lives with his parents,” says Xie Lian. “San Lang will move in with him after he moves to his apartment. It shouldn’t be much longer now.”

“So, what,” says Mu Qing. He crosses his arms and narrows his gaze on Xie Lian’s smaller figure. “You’re saying he has to stay here till He Xuan gets his act together and moves out?”

“Who the fuck even is He Xuan?” Feng Xin interrupts. 

“Someone I work with at the coffee shop,” says Xie Lian. He frowns. “Feng Xin, I’ve told you about him and Qingxuan plenty of times before.”

“Qingxuan?”

“Ignore him,” says Mu Qing, shoving his shoulder into Feng Xin’s and sending him stumbling a few feet away. “Next question. Why do you call him San Lang if his name is Hua Cheng?”

“Oh,” says Xie Lian, startled. “Um...he told me to.”

Feng Xin, after recovering from Mu Qing’s push, squints at him. “Do you like him?”

“What? Of course I like him,” says Xie Lian. “He’s very sweet. He’s been nothing but nice to me since the time I met him.”

“No,” says Feng Xin. His facial expression changes then, looks of disgust and confusion and exasperation all passing by in a flash. “No, I mean...fucking hell, nevermind.”

Xie Lian blinks. “What? I—oh.”

Feng Xin stares at him. Mu Qing does too. It all seems like a bit much. Too many things happening all at once. So Xie Lian takes a moment and backtracks. 

“Enough about me!” he says, waving his hands in front of his chest to silence his friends before they can say anything more. “Tell me about your trip! How was it? Did you have fun?”

What happens next is...shocking, to say the least.

Feng Xin and Mu Qing look between themselves, both of them doing their signature tells: Feng Xin’s eyebrows twitch, and Mu Qing’s entire face blooms with color. Even in the dim lighting of the bedroom, Xie Lian sees it all with ease. He stares at them, unmoving. 

“Um…” he starts. “Did something...happen?”

“No,” says Mu Qing at the same time that Feng Xin says “yes.”

Xie Lian blinks. “What? So something did happen?”

“Well,” says Feng Xin. “Kind of.”

Mu Qing scoffs. “What do you mean, kind of? You literally asked me out.”

Xie Lian whips around to stare at them and gasps. 

“Um, no I didn’t,” Feng Xin retorts, the two of them slowly turning toward each other. “You’re the one who asked me out.”

“I did not,” says Mu Qing, taking a step forward.

“Yes you did! You literally kissed me first!”

“How is that the same as asking someone out?” Mu Qing snaps. “You’re the one who said the word boyfriend first.”

“Because you kissed me!”

“I—”

“Wait, you two are dating?” Xie Lian interrupts, his eyes wide on his face and his mouth wide open in shock. “For real? For real?”

Mu Qing winces. “Don’t sound so happy.”

“I’m sorry, I just—I didn’t expect it to happen so soon?” Xie Lian tries, still reeling. 

“What do you mean, so soon?” Mu Qing asks, his nose scrunching. It makes him look like a disgusted baby kitten. 

“I mean,” Xie Lian starts, “I did expect it, of course. But you two—you two never give each other a break. I didn’t expect it to happen so suddenly, but...I guess it does make sense, considering you guys shared a room on your trip. And I wasn’t there. So that’s a lot of time to yourselves in which you could do loads of things together.” A pause. Mu Qing’s blush is somehow deepening. “Oh...um…”

“Just shut up,” Mu Qing mutters, his hands balling into fists by his sides. 

Feng Xin coughs loudly. “Anyways!” he exclaims. 

Mu Qing quickly nods. “Yes. Anyways.”

“Anyways,” Xie Lian nods as well. The three of them stare at each other in utter silence, and a few seconds later, they’re hunching over themselves and laughing. 

✧✧✧ 

“I’m sorry about my friends,” Xie Lian says later that night as he’s putting his washed clothes into his cupboard. Behind him, Hua Cheng is sitting on his bed, playing with the ends of his hair and humming lightly to himself. Xie Lian picks up a t-shirt from the laundry basket and smooths it out with his fingers. “They can be a bit...much.”

“It’s nice,” says Hua Cheng, “how they’re so protective of you.”

“It’s a bit much, but yes,” says Xie Lian as he folds the shirt and puts it in the pile in front of him. “I love them for it, of course, but you know. Oh, they told me they’re dating now.”

“Hm,” says Hua Cheng. “Makes sense.”

“Does it? I think so too.”

“They were practically overflowing with sexual tension,” he deadpans, and Xie Lian almost chokes at the words. “Which is saying something, gege,” Hua Cheng continues seriously. “I only saw them for a few minutes before they took you away to ask you all those questions.”

Xie Lian cringes to himself. “You heard all of that, didn’t you.”

“Your friends aren’t very quiet,” says Hua Cheng, shrugging. Then he’s quiet for a few seconds. “Gege didn’t tell me he overheard the conversation I had with He Xuan.”

Oh dear. “I’m sorry!” Xie Lian says quickly. “I promise I didn’t mean to, San Lang. I was just...nearby. Sorry. I stopped listening once I realized.” He sighs. “Not that it makes a difference, I guess.”

Closing the cupboard doors, Xie Lian tosses the basket away and makes his way to the bed, slipping on top of the mattress and sitting right across from Hua Cheng with one leg folded up in front of him. Hua Cheng is smiling down at him, his deep eye glinting through the darkness. Xie Lian feels his breath hitch in the base of his throat as he takes in the sight. 

“It’s all right,” Hua Cheng says then. “I’m not mad at you.”

“Ah,” says Xie Lian, “good. That’s good.”

“I did take He Xuan’s offer,” Hua Cheng continues. “I didn’t know when to tell you, but I guess I’ll do it now.”

Xie Lian, through a bout of random courage, reaches out and takes Hua Cheng’s hands into his. Their fingers interlace, and Xie Lian squeezes them tightly together, nodding for him to continue. Hua Cheng’s eye widens as he stares down at their interlocked hands, gazing at them with something akin to awe. 

“Gege?”

“San Lang,” says Xie Lian, and then he smiles. “It’s been lovely having you here, however short or long it’s been. You’ve quickly become a very important person to me.”

“I have?” Hua Cheng blinks. 

“Of course you have.”

“I feel like I’ve been nothing but a burden to you.”

“Still on that?” Xie Lian asks, laughing softly. He tries to reach up to boop the younger’s nose fondly, but doesn’t quite want to let go of his hands. So, instead, he leans forward and bumps their noses together. Hua Cheng yelps in surprise, and Xie Lian grins up at him. “I’ve told you so many times that you’ve been anything but a burden. I enjoy your company a lot.”

“I enjoy gege’s company too,” says Hua Cheng. He tilts his head and doesn’t look away for a second. “I enjoy gege’s company a lot too. And I hope that we can still talk to each other after I move away to live with He Xuan.”

“What, like LDR?”

“El dee are?” Hua Cheng blinks. “What’s that?”

“Long distance relationship,” Xie Lian clarifies before he can think it through. He immediately freezes at the implication, fear bubbling in his chest as he doesn’t dare break eye contact. It would be too obvious that way. 

“But it’s not long distance, is it?” Hua Cheng says. “I’ll only be a city over.”

“That’s a very long distance,” says Xie Lian immediately. 

Hua Cheng stares at him. “You’re right. You are very right.”

“So you should call me every day,” Xie Lian continues, his brain-to-mouth filter disappearing into thin air. “Actually, you should video call me every day. I’ll miss seeing your face around the apartment.”

“I’ll visit,” Hua Cheng says firmly, and Xie Lian barely notices the way they’ve suddenly moved closer together. “Every month. Every week. Every day if I can.”

“Every day?” Xie Lian repeats. “Would you really visit me every day?”

“Of course,” says Hua Cheng. “I’ll visit whenever you want to see me.”

Xie Lian says softly, “But then you’ll be here all the time.”

They sink into silence once more, but their grip on each other tightens. Xie Lian feels strange, sitting in his room in the late evening with a boy on his bed, a boy that stole his heart like stars steal the darkness of night. 

“Gege,” says Hua Cheng, and it comes out sounding like a whine, “you’re making me not want to leave.”

“Then don’t,” says Xie Lian. “Don’t.”

“I don’t want to,” Hua Cheng whispers. 

“You did say you’d never leave my side.”

Hua Cheng’s gaze is burning, and Xie Lian feels warm all over. “Then let’s do it.”

“Let’s do what?”

“LDR.”

Xie Lian presses his lips together to reign in the smile that’s bursting at the corners of his mouth. “Okay.”

“But I’m not leaving for a few more weeks,” says Hua Cheng. He leans closer till he’s the only thing in Xie Lian’s peripheral. “So until then, can we take out the L and the D, and just keep the R?”

It’s the cheesiest thing Xie Lian has ever heard in his life. But he loves it. He loves it so much.

So he nods and says, “Mm, let’s do that,” and when Hua Cheng lands a flicker of a kiss to the corner of his lips, he smiles and pulls him impossibly closer.