“No,” Xue Yang said desperately. “You can’t make me.”
“Please,” Xingchen said, which was just mean. “Don’t make me suffer alone.”
“You don’t have to go,” Xue Yang said. “No one is making you. Say you’re sick. Say you’re dying.”
“I can’t. I promised Wei Wuxian I’d be there for moral support.”
“And now you want me to be the moral support for your moral support? Fuck that, Xingchen. I don’t do moral support. I just don’t.”
“Xue Yang, please,” Xingchen said. He put his hands on Xue Yang’s shoulders, his eyes wide. “There’ll be free food. Fancy desserts. And we don’t have to stay for very long.” He paused, and then brought out his fucking trump card. “It would mean a lot to me.”
“Oh, fuck you,” Xue Yang said bitterly. Xingchen gave him a small, hopeful smile. “You owe me,” he added.
“Of course, Xue Yang,” Xingchen said meekly, the way he did when he knew he’d won.
As far as Xue Yang could track it, the chain of causality that led to him being shoehorned into his one and only button down and the nicest pair of pants he owned went something like this:
Wei Wuxian - yes, that Wei Wuxian - was Xingchen’s...something, Xue Yang wasn’t totally clear on that. Family but not really. Wei Wuxian’s boyfriend was Lan Wangji - yes, those Lans. Which was how Wei Wuxian got press-ganged into attending this party, and dragged Xingchen in after him, and Xingchen dragged Xue Yang, and Xue Yang was pretty sure he was either going to choke on the money smell or strangle someone else before the night was up.
The food was good, and the desserts even better (he’d already sampled all of them once), but that wasn’t making up for the rest of it. And it’d just gotten worse, too, thanks to the person he’d just spotted across the room.
He grabbed Xingchen by the arm and hissed, “you didn’t tell me Zichen would be here.”
Xingchen’s eyes widened. “What?” he said. “He is?” and immediately started scanning the room.
“That’s it,” Xue Yang said. “That’s it, I’m out. There’s no way I’m going to-”
“Don’t leave me,” Xingchen said, grabbing onto him. “I didn’t know. Where-”
This was the issue with having a boyfriend who was both hot and tall. He stuck out. Easily visible from a distance by lousy exes who hated your guts. Xue Yang’s only comfort was that Song Lan looked as unhappy to be here as he was.
Good. He deserved it.
His gaze moved from Xingchen to Xue Yang and immediately went sour. Xue Yang flashed him a nasty grin and sidled unsubtly closer to Xingchen.
“Hey, Zichen,” he said. “Looking good.”
Song Lan pointedly turned back to Xingchen, who looked profoundly uncomfortable, and nervous, but still went for a smile. “Zichen,” he said. “I didn’t know you’d be here.”
“Neither did I, until yesterday,” Song Lan said. “And you...this isn’t the sort of event where I’d expect to see you, either.”
“I’m here for Wei Wuxian,” Xingchen said, almost apologetically, like he needed an excuse. He glanced in Xue Yang’s direction and added, “Xue Yang agreed to come with me.”
Xue Yang shrugged. “Free food,” he said. The skin around Song Lan’s eyes pinched.
“Have you...been well?” he said to Xingchen. Painfully awkward. It was pathetic, honestly.
“Yes, I’ve - yes,” Xingchen said. He glanced at Xue Yang again. “I’ll graduate this spring.”
“Doctor Xiao,” Xue Yang said.
“It’s not a doctorate,” Xingchen said.
“Congratulations,” Song Lan said. “That’s...good.”
“It’ll be nice,” Xingchen said. “Though I don’t really know what I’m going to do next.” He laughed uncomfortably. Xue Yang had the urge to just grab him and get out of here, but Xingchen would just be pissed at him even if he never actually left these little conversations with Song Lan happier.
“That’s all right,” Song Lan said. “You’ll figure it out.” His eyes moved, finally, to Xue Yang, and chilled. Xue Yang cocked his head.
“You going to ask me if I’ve been well, Zichen?”
“I wasn’t intending to, no.”
“Wow,” Xue Yang said. “Rude.”
Xingchen shifted. “Zichen-”
Song Lan actually looked, for just a moment, apologetic. Xue Yang laughed. “Don’t worry, Xingchen, it’s not that easy to hurt my feelings.” He cocked his head and batted his eyelashes. “You could try harder, if you wanted.”
Xingchen looked pained. Which almost made Xue Yang want to back off except it was so easy and so satisfying and something about Song Lan’s fucking face made his whole body itch. You just got off on the wrong foot, Xingchen said. If both of you would put in some effort-
Xue Yang was pretty sure he and Song Lan were just destined to hate each other forever.
Song Lan turned back to Xingchen. “Can I talk to you?”
“Thought you were,” Xue Yang said, and Xingchen gave him a look, a quick frown that made him feel stupid and sort of childish and that just made him mad. Like it was his fault Song Lan was a bitch who did his best to ignore his existence most of the time, like Xue Yang was a bug scuttling around by his feet.
Better when he’d tried to break Xue Yang’s face. Even if Xingchen probably wouldn’t agree.
“Alone,” Song Lan said.
Xingchen looked at Xue Yang and Xue Yang could see it on his face like reading a neon sign that said I want to talk to my ex who I still kind of have a thing for even though he’s a fuckup who dumped me, but I don’t want to hurt your feelings, Xue Yang, so I need you to tell me it’s okay. It scraped on his nerves. If Xingchen wasn’t Xingchen he’d think they were going to go fuck in a closet or something, but he wouldn’t. Not Xingchen.
Song Lan probably wouldn’t either, to be fair. He might make another go at convincing Xingchen to break up with his problem boyfriend, but he wouldn’t make him cheat.
Hot, bitter anger like heartburn rose up in his throat and he thought fuck you both. “Yeah,” he said. “Sure, whatever. I’m checking out the desserts. Again.”
“Xue Yang,” Xiao Xingchen said, audibly pained. He reached out to touch his shoulder and Xue Yang avoided his hand.
“See you later,” he said, and slipped quickly away, ducking through the middle of a conversation so Xingchen wouldn’t try to follow him.
Of course five minutes later he felt like an idiot, but at least there was still the dessert table. Nothing he could put in his pockets, alas, but he took one of the tiny plates and loaded it with as much as would fit of the little cakes and mousse cups and mini tarts.
“That,” said someone next to him, “is an impressive use of space.”
“It’s like Tetris,” Xue Yang said. “I don’t know why they make these plates so fucking small, anyway. Absolutely fucking criminal. Like everyone is going to not stuff their fucking faces just because the plates are tiny, yeah, sure.”
He realized belatedly that he had no idea who he was talking to and it might be someone who’d actually care that he’d used the word ‘fucking’ three times in as many sentences. He looked up from his careful arranging, but at least the guy didn’t look scandalized or anything. Laughed, actually, so that was good.
“I think they figure most people will just go back for more,” he said.
“Fair,” Xue Yang said with a shrug. “But I’m just planning on taking this plate and running, actually, so.”
He laughed again. The guy had a good smile. Good face, too. Good everything. Xue Yang didn’t recognize him, but that wasn’t surprising. “Really?”
“Unfortunately, no,” Xue Yang said. “I’m stuck here until my boyfriend decides we’re done, which gives me - oh, maybe another half-hour.” He grinned. “Then I get to go home and let him make it up to me.”
His eyebrows twitched a little, but he still didn't look like Xue Yang had shocked him. That took him up a notch in Xue Yang’s estimation. “I have to say this is the most interesting conversation I’ve had so far tonight,” he said.
“Well, yeah,” Xue Yang said. “I’m a scintillating conversationalist.”
That got a laugh, and also that little momentary flicker of surprise that showed up sometimes when people learned he had a vocabulary outside of the word fuck. Which took him back down a notch. “Lucky me,” he said, though. “I don’t think I’ve seen you at one of these things before.”
“Makes sense,” Xue Yang said. “This is my first one. Surprised they let me in the door.” He gave the guy a sharp grin. That got another laugh, though this one was sort of nervous.
Cut it out, he could almost hear in Xingchen’s voice. You don’t need to antagonize people just because you’re uncomfortable.
Shut up, Xingchen-in-my-head.
“Hey,” Xue Yang said. “This’s been fine, but I’m going to go see if Xingchen’s done talking to his ex, so…”
“Xingchen? Xiao Xingchen?”
There it was. The quick looking over. The furrowing eyebrows and slight frown.
“That’s the one,” Xue Yang said brightly.
“So you’re...Xue Yang,” he said slowly. Xue Yang cocked his head a little to the side and widened his eyes.
“Expecting something else?” he said sweetly.
He paused. “You’re very...different,” he said, delicately, like someone stepping around a mess on the floor. “Xiao Xingchen, he’s so…”
Xue Yang felt his smile widen and tighten and did not help. Go ahead, he thought. Finish that sentence. Let’s hear it.
But that was about when he saw Song Lan again, heading toward the food. Xue Yang saw the moment when Song Lan noticed him by the way his stride checked, and he thought he might just turn and walk away but he just averted his eyes and kept going. Xingchen wasn’t with him.
Xue Yang abruptly wanted to laugh. “Will you look at that. It’s Zichen. You know Zichen? My boyfriend’s ex, I bet you met him at another one of these, right?”
The other guy looked a little uncertain. “We’ve...met.”
“Oh, good. Not friends, though,” he said, feeling a little giddy. “Right?”
“I wouldn’t say…”
“Great,” Xue Yang said, without letting him finish. He recognized the twitchy feeling for the dangerous thing it was but was having a hard time pulling back from it. You have coping mechanisms for this! said Xingchen-in-his-head, but not very loud. “Cause I’m about to ruin his night.”
He strolled over to the table, sidled up to Song Lan’s elbow, and said, “good talk with my boyfriend?”
Song Lan ignored him and continued serving himself.
“It’s sort of funny,” Xue Yang said conversationally, “that you think you can get back in his pants now. I mean. You should’ve seen how much he cried when he told me what you said to him.”
Song Lan’s shoulders tensed but he simply moved down the table. Xue Yang followed him.
“I’d call it pathetic but I’m sort of impressed,” Xue Yang said. “You know. The determination. The drive. That’s going to get you far in life.”
Song Lan closed his eyes for a split second. “Xingchen is getting some wine,” he said, voice entirely flat. “Go bother him.” And turned away. Conversation closed.
“Wow,” Xue Yang said. “What’d you say that’s driving him to drink, Zichen?”
Song Lan’s jaw tightened. Victory, Xue Yang thought. He wasn’t going to disappear just because Song Lan wanted him to. The frustration of being ignored, treated like he wasn’t here when he fucking was was tight in his throat like he’d tried to swallow a grape whole.
“I’ve noticed that about talking to you,” Xue Yang said. His voice sounded kind of funny in his own ears. “He always seems to leave it feeling like shit. What’s that about?”
Song Lan turned toward him, finally. His eyes were flat. “I’m not interested in arguing with you,” he said. “I don’t want to embarrass Xingchen by making a scene.”
Unlike you, Xue Yang thought he could hear. You’re an embarrassment just standing next to him.
He took a step closer to Song Lan even if it meant that he had to look way up at him. “Why not?” he said. “Could be fun.” He felt almost giddy, light-headed, his heart racing.
“Back off,” Song Lan said. Xue Yang grinned at him.
“You gonna make me?” The feeling of something lodged in his throat was just getting worse. Swallowing hurt. “Because the way I see it you’re the one who should back off, you walked away-”
He choked on his own words. Song Lan’s expression flickered, eyebrows pulling together.
“Xue Yang,” he said.
Shut the fuck up and don’t talk to me, was what Xue Yang was going to say, but what came out was a thin, wheezing sort of noise.
The fuck, Xue Yang thought. His heart hammered against his ribs and he was starting to think maybe something was actually wrong. People had turned toward them, staring, and Xue Yang wanted to snarl at them to stop but he was starting to feel like he couldn’t get enough air.
He couldn’t get enough air. The plate he was still holding slipped out of his hand and he reached up toward his throat. It felt like someone was choking him only not in the fun way and not exactly. He was trying to breathe through a straw.
Xue Yang’s knees buckled. He kept trying to breathe and he couldn’t breathe and someone had their hands by his neck and he twisted, trying to push them away, panic battering him like his heart was battering his chest.
“Xue Yang,” said Song Lan’s voice. Song Lan, very close, his hands next to Xue Yang’s neck though he wasn’t the one trying to strangle him. It seemed like he was taking off Xue Yang’s shirt. No, not quite. “Are you allergic to anything?”
What? Xue Yang stared at him blankly. His head was spinning and he could hear a horrible whistling sound he was pretty sure was supposed to be his own breathing.
“What’s going on?”
Shit. Xingchen. Embarrassing. He heard a sharp, alarmed sound, and then “Xue Yang,” distressed, but it was starting to get a little hard to parse things when he just wanted to breathe. Xingchen swam into his field of vision, looking terrified.
“Does anyone have epinephrine on them,” someone else said, and Xue Yang thought I’m not allergic, someone poisoned me, which was stupid, only it didn’t sound stupid right now, because his entire world was diminishing to the need for air.
Things started to go fuzzy. Sound got very loud and entirely unintelligible. Other than air please I need to breathe I need air the last thought that drifted through Xue Yang’s mind was you’re suffocating on the floor at a fancy party you didn’t want to attend. What a stupid way to die.
He came around in a hospital bed and his first thought was fuck, I hate hospitals.
His second thought was that he could breathe again, though his throat hurt like a bitch. Shit, couldn’t they have given him some nice painkillers or something?
He turned his head to the side and found Song Lan sitting there. He’d expected Xingchen. Or no one.
The fuck are you doing here, Xue Yang meant to say, but it started as a rasp and turned into a cough. Song Lan watched him with a very slight frown until he stopped and then said, “Xingchen just went to get tea.” That didn’t explain why Song Lan was here. Apparently he realized that, because he added, “he was worried about you waking up alone.”
Xue Yang made a sort of “pff” noise, even if he was kind of touched. So sue him. It was cute, in a hovery kind of way. After a long moment, Song Lan picked up a cup full of ice and held it out. Xue Yang stared at it.
“It’s supposed to be good for your throat,” he said. Xue Yang moved from staring at the cup to staring at Song Lan, who shifted, his frown intensifying. “What?”
“You’re being weird,” Xue Yang rasped. But he took the cup.
Song Lan glanced over his shoulder like he couldn’t wait for Xingchen to get back. Cool; Xue Yang couldn’t wait either. “I,” he said, “am acting like a normal person. Just because you’re not familiar with the concept-” He stopped, breathing out through his nose, and then said, “when someone almost dies on the floor in front of you, I think it makes sense to confirm their survival. And Xingchen needed the support.”
Yeah, Xue Yang thought. I bet he did, did you let him cry on your shoulder, wouldn’t you just love to be the man who comforts Xingchen after his boyfriend dies tragically, but that was too many words to say and anyway Xingchen had arrived looking exhausted and unhappy.
“Hey, sexy,” Xue Yang said. Xingchen’s head came up and the relief that swept over his face hurt and also wiped away all his annoyance and confusion. He went for a smile.
“You’re awake,” he said. “How do you feel? I should call the doctor - a nurse - somebody. How long-”
“Five minutes,” Song Lan said. “If that. He certainly seems his usual self.”
Xingchen shot him a look, to Xue Yang’s slight pleasure. “I feel fine,” he said, which was sort of a lie. “When do I get to leave?”
The way Xingchen’s expression turned apologetic was a warning. “They want to keep you a few more hours for observation and some testing,” he said. “Since they don’t know what triggered it, and apparently anaphylactic shock can recur-”
“Want to,” Xue Yang said. “Are they making me?”
Xingchen frowned at him. “No,” he said. “But I’d appreciate it if you waited until a licensed medical professional says it’s safe.”
“Fine, fine,” Xue Yang huffed, and then said, “wait, are you telling me this was an allergic reaction?”
“Most likely,” said Song Lan. Xue Yang almost said didn’t ask you but settled for just glaring in his direction.
“I’m not allergic to anything. I hardly ate anything except for the desserts-”
Oh, fuck, no.
Xingchen pressed his lips together and said, “apparently you’re allergic to something.”
“This is such bullshit! This’s never happened before-”
“Sometimes allergies arise spontaneously,” Xingchen said. He sounded like he was repeating something he’d read. Probably in the last couple hours.
“No,” Xue Yang said. “I refuse. If I’m suddenly allergic to chocolate I don’t care, I can just fucking die-”
“Xue Yang,” Xingchen said, sounding distressed enough that he stopped talking. Okay, probably not the time for that joke. Even if it wasn’t completely a joke. Fuck a world that’d take that away from him too.
“Xingchen,” Song Lan said abruptly, and Xue Yang had almost managed to forget he was there. “I’m heading out.”
“Okay,” Xingchen said. “Zichen - thank you.” And he smiled. Just a little, but it was still a smile and a nice one and Xue Yang hoped Song Lan suffocated on a strawberry or whatever.
It better not be strawberries either.
Song Lan didn’t smile back at Xingchen but his eyes maybe got a little brighter. Xue Yang expected him to walk away without further acknowledging his existence, but he glanced in Xue Yang’s direction and said, “feel better.”
It sounded more like a flat command than anything else, but Xue Yang was still surprised. He eyed Song Lan, briefly considering the possibility that feel better translated to die in a ditch in Zichen-land, but gave up.
“Can’t get rid of me yet, Zichen,” he said.
That, Song Lan did ignore. Xingchen sat down when he’d gone, reaching for and taking Xue Yang’s hand. His hands were cold, as always.
“Guess I freaked you out,” Xue Yang said, when Xingchen didn’t immediately speak.
“Yes,” Xingchen said. “You did. But I guess it’s not completely your fault.” His voice wobbled a little, failing to fully land the joke.
“Does that mean I’m not grounded?” Xue Yang said, trying to keep his voice light, though the lingering rasp did make it harder. Xingchen smiled weakly and looked down, his fingers tightening on Xue Yang’s just a little.
“You should know,” he said after a moment, “that Zichen was very concerned about you.”
Xue Yang’s face closed off. “About you, more like.”
Xingchen sighed. “He doesn’t actually hate you, Xue Yang.”
“Could’ve fooled me. Whatever,” he said quickly. “It doesn’t matter. I’m not looking for more friends.”
“It’d make my life easier,” Xingchen murmured, but sort of under his breath. He leaned down and pressed his forehead against Xue Yang’s.
“Xingchen,” Xue Yang said after a few quiet seconds. “If I am allergic to chocolate I’m going to kill God.”
Xingchen made a sort of choking noise. “I thought you were an atheist.”
“Only a god could be so cruel to me, personally. The evidence would be clear. So then I’d have to kill him. Her. It, whatever.”
“All right,” Xingchen said soothingly. “Yes, Xue Yang. If you’re allergic to chocolate you’ll kill God.”
“No,” Xingchen said. “I will not.” When he sat up, there was more of a smile on his face, though, and he seemed to have relaxed.
The thought drifted into Xue Yang’s head to say so you really would miss me if I was gone, huh, but it sounded pathetic even in his thoughts and he didn’t think Xingchen would appreciate it, either. So he kept it to himself.
Just pushed himself up to sitting and said, “tell me you brought cards or something, Xingchen, you know what I’m probably actually allergic to, it’s boredom,” and relished Xingchen’s quiet, relieved sounding laugh.
Passionfruit. Fucking passionfruit, apparently. He’d almost been killed by a fruit that looked like a fleshy geode.
Well. At least it was something he could live without.