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“I should go.”

Xiao doesn’t respond, and she would have thought him still asleep if not for the way his arms tighten around her waist, dragging her just a tiny bit closer.

She smacks his arm, trying to squirm free. “Xiao! I’m going to be late for class!”

He groans, and she shivers as his breath ghosts against her shoulder, his hair tickling her neck. “Skip,” he says, in a voice husky with sleep, and for a second, she’s incredibly tempted.

Xiao is warm and his bed is cosy. Xiao doesn’t have any roommates to contend with. And if she stays, maybe later they will wander across the campus looking for lunch, and she can continue pretending that there’s something more between the two of them.

Something more than just…this, whatever this is.

But she thinks about her grades and the fact that she really, really wants to get that extra credit for perfect attendance, so she shoves his arm away and slides free, almost falling off the bed in the process. “I have to go.”

“Lumine.” Xiao yawns, extending an arm, and she feels his fingers graze her bare hip, a fleeting touch that has her sucking air between her teeth, her eyelids fluttering. “Stay with me. Please?”

He’s a welcome sight in the mornings. When sunlight streams through his window and touches his face and his amber eyes almost glow, reflecting the dawn – she glances at him and regrets that immediately, mesmerised by the little plea she sees in his smile.

Xiao so rarely, rarely smiles that every time he does, it feels like the whole world stops.

“I can’t.” She shakes her head, scrambling around the room as she tries to find her bra. It must be here somewhere. “I have class! And anyway, we can meet again later if you want.”

He pushes himself off the bed as she picks up her bra, dangling on the back of his chair, and puts it back on. “It’s not the same,” he complains, and when she looks at him, he’s pouting.

Xiao is always different in the mornings. More open, more vulnerable. She likes waking up with him because of that. “Does it matter?” she asks, finally managing to hook her bra together and turning to search for her shirt. He needs to stop throwing her clothes all over the place. “It’s not like we’re in a relationship or anything like that.”

He doesn’t answer straight away, but when he does, his voice is subdued, a stark enough change that she blinks up at him, in the process of buttoning her crumpled blouse. “Yeah, we’re not.”

She sighs, then shakes her head, darting over to him to plant a kiss on his cheek. “Don’t sound so disappointed. It’s like I kicked your cat or something.” She laughs, then twirls and grabs her bag, resting on his desk. “I’ll see you after my classes are over.”

He lifts his hand to wave goodbye, but before he can even say a word the door is swinging shut and she’s already gone.

Lumine sometimes wonders what Xiao wants out of this.

It’s strange to think about how they got together in the first place. Or maybe that’s not the best way to phrase it; getting together implies a level of commitment that neither of them is willing to acknowledge.

Friends with benefits, then.

The arrangement is one she’s comfortable with, even if she can’t quite wrap her head around it sometimes. After all, they live in separate dorms, have no overlapping classes and belong to completely different social circles. Under normal circumstances, she doubts she'd even know of Xiao’s existence, and vice-versa.

But then the social representative for her dormitory suddenly dropped out of school just before Ludi Harpastum, leaving their group floundering, and she was tasked with securing, by hook or by crook, some form of entertainment for the night-time afterparty.

It was a day before the festivities. They all knew they were hoping for a miracle.

She began asking around, hoping someone could play music or deejay or something, but to no avail – most of the hobbyist deejays were already booked for the night, and the remainder were charging exorbitant fees far out of her dorm’s budget.

Hours later, the despair was sinking in and she started wondering how she should go back and explain her failure to the others, but Aether – her amazing, capable, super smart brother Aether – popped up out of nowhere and asked her why she was moping about.

Fast forward a few minutes later, she was knocking on Xiao’s door, desperately hoping that she could convince the infamously reclusive music major to help her this one time – when the door swung open she tried to launch into her spiel, but then their gazes met and she faltered.

Aether never told her how beautiful Xiao was. He just mentioned he had an acquaintance; they weren’t super close but he majored in music and from what Aether recalled, he deejayed on the side. Xiao rarely appeared at school events, being mostly booked for clubs or private gigs, but since she was desperate, Aether told her there was no harm in giving him a try.

Xiao blinked at her, dark hair tousled, eyes half-lidded, and she wondered if he had just woken up. “Hi, sorry for suddenly knocking on your door, but I was wondering if you –”

“Is this about Ludi Harpastum?” he interrupted, eyes narrowing, and she shivered, an instinctive response. His voice was husky, and it felt almost tangible, brushing against her like a lover’s caress. “I’ve told everyone, I’m not interested in participating, so –”

“I know, I get it,” she said, waving her hands in front of her. He raised an eyebrow but didn’t try to stop her, so gratefully, she continued. “Aether mentioned that you’re busy and you don’t like to…well, waste time at such events. But the person in charge dropped out and at such short notice, we don’t have other alternatives, so I was hoping…”

He leant against the doorframe, watching as she rocked back and forth on her feet, twisting her fingers together. “Are you Aether’s sister?”

She nodded, startled by the unexpected question, and he sighed. “I do owe him a favour, so I’ll help you out this once. But I expect something in return for my work.”

“Oh! Uh, how much do you want?” she asked, relief surfacing in her chest, her lips curving into a giddy smile. If he was willing to help, then maybe their afterparty wouldn’t flop after all.

“I don’t need money.” His gaze sharpened, piercing straight through her, and another shiver ran down her back, sudden and distracting. “I want your time.”

She blinked, startled. “My…time?”

He nodded, eyes unblinking, arms now folded across his chest. The initial drowsiness she had seen in his expression was gone, replaced by a keen, almost predatory interest. “People like to think that music is easy, but it’s not. Sometimes I forget to eat, sometimes I forget to sleep. But my dad has been grumbling about my lifestyle, so I was hoping to fix it this semester. I thought it might be easier if I had someone to mind my schedule, so that’s where you come in.”

She blinked again, still not quite getting it. “Mind your schedule?”

“Yeah. Be my errand girl and timekeeper.” He grinned, revealing a tiny hint of fang. “It’s not that hard, is it? You just need to wake me up and make me sleep at the right hours, that’s all.”

“Oh.” She wrinkled her nose. It was a strange request, but it wouldn’t take anything out of their budget and it didn’t seem like it’d eat up too much time, so she nodded and extended a hand. “I’m fine with those terms. This means we can expect to see you tomorrow, right?”

He nodded as well, and when they shook she couldn’t help but notice his long, slender fingers, wrapping around hers and swallowing her hand completely. “I look forward to working with you,” he said, and she’d never looked back since.

In the beginning, it was just her waking him up. Xiao was annoyingly difficult to pull out of bed – he slept like a log, and she had to resort to all sorts of creative measures to get a response.

One way that usually worked without fail was trying to stick something up his ass. That tended to wake him up pretty fast. Xiao was also ticklish, so if she was feeling patient enough she’d sit beside him and poke his ribs until he started turning away from her, laughing in his sleep.

But if she thought waking him up was a chore, getting him to sleep was a million times worse.

Before she can continue down this winding trail of memory though, a hand suddenly sticks out in front of her, waving, and she blinks.

“Stop spacing out,” Aether scolds, letting his hand drop back to his side. She smiles, sheepish. “And look at you, you’re a mess,” he adds, eyeing her crumpled blouse. “What were you doing before this? Did you wear this shirt to sleep?

“Kind of.” She shrugs, leaving it at that, and Aether shakes his head before turning back to the podium, where their professor is droning about market forces and the economy or something along those lines. She isn’t paying attention.

Instead, all she sees is amber eyes, blinking slow and languid at her, the slight curve of his lips as he props his cheek on the back of his hand, waiting.

She shakes her head, drawing a strange look from Aether, but she ignores her brother for now, tapping her fingers against her desk. Xiao has been popping up in her head a lot lately, and it’s starting to affect her ability to concentrate in lectures.

Maybe they need some time apart. But the mere idea sends ice crawling through her belly, and she frowns, picking up a pen and scribbling a few words from the slides in her notebook.

She’ll figure something out.

“Xiao,” she gasps as she arches her back, trying to press closer, her legs wrapping around his waist. “Xiao, I can’t –”

“Shh,” he murmurs, lips pressed to her neck, sending tiny shivers through her body every time he speaks. “Shh. Be good. Listen to me.”

Her hands are trapped against the mattress, Xiao gripping her wrists tight as he slides into her, slow and easy, her core still fluttering from the echoes of orgasm. She’s already crying, warmth trickling down her cheeks as she twists in his hold, trying half-heartedly to break free. “I’m –”

Before she can continue – she isn’t entirely sure what she wanted to say, anyway – he leans in and seals her mouth shut, his lips soft and questioning as he pushes inside her again, so deep that her toes instinctively curl, overwhelmed by all this sensation.

Xiao is a tender lover. One wouldn’t think that looking at him – he’s distant and aloof, reluctant to speak. While he’s talented, he tends to stay away from the rest of the student body, keeping to himself and only interacting with his classmates when it’s absolutely necessary.

So, it never fails to surprise her when he whispers her name this way, as though he wants more of her, wants to keep her here with their fingers intertwined and his lips just barely grazing hers, a kiss that questions more than it promises.

It makes her wonder, sometimes. Whether he does want more from her. From them. But before she can get too carried away, she reminds herself what he told her all those months ago. Xiao’s not looking for a relationship, and to be fair, neither is she.

Which means it makes no sense to think about what-ifs and could-haves. Since they have agreed to this arrangement, then she shouldn’t try to change it, but rather make the best of what she’s been given. So she sets her feelings aside and wraps herself around him, drowning in his scent.

Xiao always smells like the wind. Like a fresh spring rain, delicate and pure; like sunlight cutting through the mist of morning. She buries her face against his shoulder, kissing down his neck as his scent weaves all around her, leaving her giddy.

He catches her chin, forces her to look up before he leans in and he’s kissing her, tender and reverent while he fucks her, making her gasp against his mouth. His other hand drops between them, fingers circling her clit, and she bucks up, trying to pull away, too sensitive.

But he doesn’t release her, forcing her to stay as he devours her, and when she falls it’s his name she whimpers, hands scrabbling at his shoulders as she trembles underneath him. His eyes almost glow in the dim light, and when he kisses her again she feels his lips move.

She has no idea what he’s saying though, too dazed from pleasure to pay attention; when he withdraws he’s smiling at her, dark hair tumbling around his face, a hungry gleam in his eyes.

“Stay the night,” he says, pulling out just to slide, slow and teasing, back in. She cries out, a plea in her voice as her fingers twist in his bed sheet. “Tell me you’ll stay.”

“I-I need to leave,” she pants, chest heaving as her core throbs, still trying to recover from the climax he had forced upon her. “M-My roommate, s-she’s wondering where…where I am.”

“Lumine.” There’s a quiet, unspoken command in his voice, and she pauses, staring up at him, her mind going blank with anticipation. “I want you. Please. Stay with me tonight.”

He thrusts into her again, and she moans, legs falling apart to better accommodate him. It’s hard to think when he’s watching her like this. She feels vulnerable, exposed, and it sends a thrill down her back, heat lancing through her veins.

“I’ll make you feel good, I swear,” he adds, reaching out to cup her cheek. She inhales, trying to find a reason to say no. She has to return to her room tonight, or else Paimon will complain. But Xiao is tempting and warm and when he shifts, his lips mere inches away from hers –

She shakes her head, mustering up her final dredges of resolve, pointedly turning away so she wouldn’t have to see his mouth, so tantalisingly close. “I have to go.”

He stills, and she can feel his breath fanning over her face, sweet and light. For a moment, the world is suspended, silent save for the sound of her heart roaring in her ears.

Then his thumb swipes over her bottom lip, and she gasps, eyelids fluttering as he rolls into her. “Look at me,” he says, voice low and husky, and she does exactly that, unable to resist.

All she sees is amber and black. He’s staring straight at her, eyes narrowed, and when his head drops, his lips hovering next to her ear, she thinks she might combust. “I’ll write you a song.”

The offer is so unexpected that all she can do is to rear back, blinking at him, trying to find the right words to respond. Her lips part, but nothing comes out, and he watches her, studying her expression – he’s still buried within her, and when his fingers glide over her clit, she shudders.

“A…a song?” she finally manages to say, trying her best to pull her mind away from the feel of his hand slipping between her thighs, teasing the delicate flesh. “You’ll write me a song?”

“Mmhm.” Xiao smiles, a flicker of fang that has her tensing around him, her hands reaching up to curl over his shoulders. “A song dedicated solely to you. I’ll even serenade you outside your window if you’d like.”

Heat spreads across her face, and this time it’s nothing to do with the way he presses against her, heavy and solid. “No! You don’t need to do that!”

“Why not?” he asks, his hand leaving her sex – she mourns the loss of his touch, if only for an instant – and reaching up to her face, twirling locks of her hair between his fingers. “I was told girls like this sort of thing. Being serenaded, I mean. But if you don’t like ballads –”

“No, no, it’s not that.” Her face must be blazing by now. She’s grateful for the dim light; at least he won’t be able to see just how red she is. Hopefully. “I mean. It’s a very sweet offer, and I appreciate it, but shouldn’t you only do that for…um, a girlfriend or something?”

Her heart is racing, She can feel it battering her ribs, a constant beat that aches, deafening. He blinks at her, catlike and languid, and she’s entranced by the soft, inky sweep of his eyelashes against his cheeks.

It makes her want to kiss him. “Really? And why is that?”

She can’t tell whether he’s teasing her or whether he’s being serious. It’s hard to tell with Xiao. “Because…because it’s, uh, I don’t know. Romantic?” she squeaks, averting her gaze. “That’s not, ah, that’s not something you should do for just anyone.”

He laughs, the sound deep and husky, and she feels it down to her fingers and toes, a shudder rippling through her entire body. “Do you think you’re just anyone?”

Before she can come up with an answer, his hips snap forward and she’s clinging to him, lights flickering behind her eyelids as her moans filter into the cool air; she’s so sensitive it borders on pain, a push and pull between sensations that leaves her breathless and wanting.

When she shatters, she almost doesn’t realise it, the pleasure cresting through her so quickly it feels more like an afterthought. Lumine twines her fingers in his hair, mind blank as she tries to recover; she swears she feels tiny sparks skittering down her spine, making her tremble as she ducks her head against his shoulder, her hair plastered to her skin.

Through it all, he’s still not finished, watching patiently as her lips part, her voice lodged in the back of her throat. She wants to beg – what for, she isn’t certain – but when she looks into his eyes something yawns open in the pit of her belly, and she forgets what she’s hoping to say.

“Sleep with me,” he tells her, catching her face between his hands as he pulls back, the tip of him gliding down her folds. She flinches, and he chuckles as he catches her chin, holding her head still. “I have a meeting early tomorrow and…well, you promised you’d help wake me up, right?”

She isn’t sure how to describe the emotion that surges through her. Relief? Disappointment? Either way, it’s sudden and overwhelming, and for a moment she’s dizzy, fingers tightening in his hair as she tugs – Xiao hisses, and that’s what brings her back to reality, makes her shake her head and blink as his words settle firmly in her mind.

“I don’t have to stay the night to wake you up tomorrow,” she points out, voice catching as his lips glide down her throat, warm and searching. His hair, soft and silky smooth, slips out of her grasp, and already her fingers itch to run through those dark locks again.

“It will make things easier, though.” He pauses, staring at her, and she feels something shift in the air, an intangible promise – then his hands fasten upon her waist and the whole world blurs. The next thing she knows, she’s straddling his hips, heart pounding as she stares down at him, her lips parted in surprise.

He’s laughing, and it sounds like sin, velvety and delightful and wickedly enticing. “I’ll make it up to you, I promise. Scout’s honour.” He’s still gripping her waist, holding her down, and she shivers when she feels him pressing against her back, hard and slick.

“You’re not even a scout,” she mumbles, and he hums, amusement dancing in his eyes. At this angle, he looks different – open and trusting and sweet, and something in her chest twists. She ignores it. “What will I get out of this, then?”

“A meal, cuddles and affection,” he says, pushing her as he speaks; she yelps as she’s moved back, sliding easily onto him, and she moans at the sensation of being forced open once more, scrabbling for his shoulders as her hands instinctively seek support.

“You have such a huge ego, thinking that’s enough,” she grumbles once she finally regains her bearings, her palms pressed flat on his chest as she props herself up. Xiao lets go of her waist, conceding control, though humour continues to glimmer in his gaze. “Give me more.”

“Greedy.” Xiao makes a show of thinking, though he moans when she wriggles her hips, letting him sink deeper inside her. “You’ll have me for the next Ludi Harpastum. Guaranteed.”

She opens her mouth, tempted to bargain further, but then she stops herself, pressing her lips together. Xiao for the next Ludi Harpastum. That’s already plenty, coming from him. He’s not a very sociable person; this is a considerable sacrifice that he’s making.

But still. She can’t explain the feelings churning away in her gut, can’t help but want more than what he’s offering. It simply feels insufficient, though she doesn’t know why.

Yet, it’s not reasonable to expect anything else, and her dorm will be more than pleased to have Xiao again, so she swallows her doubts and nods. “Fine.”

He tuts, shaking his head in mock disappointment. “What a transactional exchange. I thought we were above that by now.”

At least he’s entertained. She sighs, shifting forward so she can take him in again, and secretly she revels in the way he gasps, in how his eyelids flutter as he’s sheathed within her sex.

This isn’t a face anyone else ever gets to see, and a flicker of possessiveness curls through her, making her drop her forehead against his as she exhales his name. He grits his teeth, his hands slipping down her thighs, and for a second she wonders what things might be like if they were something, anything more.

But the moment passes, and as their lips meet, the familiar taste of him flooding her mouth, all she can think about is what excuse she’d need to make to get Paimon off her back this time.