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Xie Lian knows three things about He Xuan’s new life in America. 

1: His university is huge. Obnoxiously huge. The people talk weirdly, and the Chinese food in the cafeteria tastes like cardboard. “There’s no flavor,” He Xuan says seriously during their frequent phone calls. “Absolutely none, Xie Lian. You could probably make better fried rice.”

“Thank you!” says Xie Lian. “I’ll make some for you the next time you come home.”

“Never mind,” says He Xuan immediately. “Forget we had this conversation.”

2: There’s...someone. Someone in one of He Xuan’s general education classes. Someone with long brown hair and sparkling eyes and the kind of smile that could knock the wind out of you. Their name is Shi Qingxuan, and no matter how much He Xuan denies it, Xie Lian has never seen his best friend pay so much attention to another person before. It’s quite adorable, really.

3: His roommate is a pain in the behind.

“In the ass,” He Xuan articulates, his phone clearly perched against some kind of ledge. He’s standing in what looks to be a kitchen, and Xie Lian is sure that the grainy screen of his smartphone absolutely does not do justice to the aesthetic of the apartment. “It’s okay, Xie Lian. It’s just me. You can say ass.”

Xie Lian smiles. “Tell me more about this roommate of yours.”

“Literally why.”

“Would you rather I ask you about Shi Qingxuan?”

“Hua Cheng has a pet hamster,” says He Xuan, picking up what looks to be a knife and running it across the surface of a nearby cutting board. “The hamster is ugly and its name is E-Ming.”

“That’s quite the interesting choice of pet.”

“You have a snake.”

“Ruoye is my best friend.”

“No.” At this, He Xuan looks over at his screen and cracks a crooked smile. “That’s me.”

Xie Lian hums. “Your name is Ruoye?”

“Okay, fuck you. I’m never being sappy to you again.”

“Ah, well,” says Xie Lian. “I suppose I should be cherishing these moments of kindness from you.” They do come, like, once in a blue moon, after all. But Xie Lian and He Xuan have the kind of friendship where they don’t really need to reaffirm their love for each other every time they talk. They’ve been friends for years—practically their entire lives, honestly—so they’ve long since moved on from that cheesy phase. 

(Not that there ever really was a cheesy phase. This is He Xuan, after all.)

“You should,” He Xuan nods in agreement. “But, anyways, enough about my ass roommate. I was going to tell you about my stupid professor and his stupid assignments and his stupid way of teaching.”

“Yeah?” says Xie Lian, settling in. “Go on, then. Tell me about this stupid professor of yours.”

“Gladly,” says He Xuan, and then he puts down the cutting knife and wipes his hands on a nearby towel. “Well, firstly he’s stupid…”

 

✧✧✧

 

Being thousands of miles away from He Xuan had, of course, been a bit weird to get used to in the beginning. It still hasn’t been too long since the big move, but some things take Xie Lian a little getting used to. 

For one, He Xuan is no longer living across the street, and there’s no feasible way for him to come over whenever Xie Lian wants him to. He used to stop by almost every day, grudgingly taste-testing some of Xie Lian’s new recipes or sitting with him on his bed in with a book while Xie Lian laid a few feet away doing homework on his laptop. 

But, well, life does manage to snipe you right when you start getting comfortable with the way things are, and the universe has never been the biggest fan of Xie Lian’s, so.

It isn’t like Xie Lian doesn’t have any other friends, of course. He has Feng Xin and Mu Qing—but they also moved to different cities for university. The three of them have a groupchat, though, and it’s pretty frequently active, so that’s nice. 

He Xuan had never really been the biggest fan of texting, but at least they live in the era of phones. If Xie Lian can’t see He Xuan in person every day, the two still manage to video call each other every once in a while. 

“Today,” He Xuan begins one day, as soon as their video call connects, “was the absolute worst day of my life. I pity myself, Xie Lian, I pity myself. Please be sad for me.”

“I am sad for you,” says Xie Lian, settling in with a cup of his morning tea. He sits at his desk, his legs crossed beneath him on his chair and a shawl draped over his shoulders. It’s getting colder by the day, and he’s always been one to bundle up. “What happened? Is everything okay?”

“No,” says He Xuan. He heaves a sigh. It’s a very dramatic sigh. “First, I woke up this morning and found that my alarms hadn’t gone off.”

“Oh dear,” says Xie Lian.

“I walked outside and saw Hua Cheng sitting on the couch, laughing his ass off.”

“That isn’t very nice of him.”

“Right?” says He Xuan, shaking his head. It’s dark where he is, and Xie Lian is once again reminded that the two are now twelve hours apart. It’s past ten o’clock in the evening over there, Xie Lian realizes. He Xuan is probably going to get ready for bed after the two disconnect their call. “I agree. It was an asshole move. He could have at least woken me up, you know? But he didn’t. He’s a dick.”

“You seem to have a lot of negative opinions about your roommate,” says Xie Lian, his fingers curling around the warmth of his mug. He takes a sip and says lightly, “Have you considered moving out, He Xuan? Or, ah, kicking him out?”

He Xuan pauses. “I hadn’t,” he says slowly, “but now I am.”

“Hm,” says Xie Lian. 

He Xuan groans, “But I can’t.”

“Why not?”

“Because I’m broke.” He Xuan pulls a face, his nose scrunching. “And Hua Cheng is, like, stinking rich. Stinking rich. It’s so fucking annoying. He never stops flaunting his money, always making a big deal about me offering to split our dinner bills and shit.”

This makes Xie Lian raise an eyebrow. “Dinner bills? You go out to dinner with him?”

“Not because I want to,” says He Xuan immediately. Xie Lian purses his lips. “No. Stop looking at me like that. We aren’t friends. We’re not, and we never will be. I only eat out with him because, like I said, he’s rich. Using him for his wallet is funny and he deserves it.”

“If you say so, He Xuan,” says Xie Lian, shaking his head fondly.

“I do say so,” He Xuan nods. “I also really need to go to the bathroom, so I’ll be right back.”

Xie Lian makes a movement with his hands to signal to his friend that it’s fine, knowing that He Xuan usually takes a pretty generous amount of time in the restroom. 

So he resigns to humming quietly to himself as he waits, twiddling his thumbs as he glances out the window. 

Then, he hears a noise coming through his laptop.

At first, it sounds like a crash. But then Xie Lian hears someone's voice, and his eyes flit back up to the screen and his lips part in surprise. The voice is low and quiet, like he wasn't supposed to hear it but he did anyway. It's not even really a voice—not a voice that forms real words, at least. Whoever it is has let out a cry of displeasure, like they've just faceplanted into a wall. 

And then:

“I'm gonna kill him.”

It's muttered underneath the person's breath, and Xie Lian tries desperately to make out the shape of the figure amidst the darkness. Really, he's never been more ungrateful for the fact that He Xuan prefers darkness to light. Xie Lian has never really understood that.

Is he supposed to say something? Do people usually say things when they're in these kinds of situations? What would he even say? Hello?

Hello sounds good. “Hello?”

There's movement within the grainy screen of Xie Lian's laptop, and it doesn't take him long to realize that the person—whoever it is—is currently groaning in pain in the middle of He Xuan's living room. 

“Oh,” says the person eloquently. 

“Um,” says Xie Lian. “Hi! Sorry. I didn't mean to, ah, bother you.” He makes a vague hand gesture and wonders briefly if the person can even see him—He Xuan usually makes video calls on his laptop, but if, by chance, he had been using his phone today, it isn't very likely. He Xuan has one of the oldest models known to the modern day world, and no matter how much Xie Lian chides him for it, he never listens. 

“It's okay,” says the voice, a little softer now. It's also much less quiet this time, and Xie Lian hears some rustling in the background. “Let me just—ugh—let me just get the lights. Hold on.”

And then, seconds later, the room on the other end of the call is bathed in a pleasant yellow glow. Xie Lian blinks, his complexion lighting up with the sudden brightness of the screen. There's more audible movement, before someone's chest takes over the entire display. 

Someone's bare chest. 

It's a man. With a chest. A really nice chest, like, defined abs and everything. When he backs away, Xie Lian makes out the sharp curve of a chin and lips that look soft and warm, like honey. Xie Lian barely manages to hold back his squirm of surprise as more of the man's body comes into view, and he's silently grateful when he sees sweatpants loosely swung around his waist. 

“Ah, sorry,” says the man, like he has anything at all to be sorry about, like Xie Lian isn't currently on the verge of hyperventilating on an account of being way too overwhelmed for eleven in the morning. Xie Lian doesn't even know if he's strong enough to catch sight of this man's face, because if the rest of him looks like this, how would his face—

The air (or, well, what's left of it,) promptly leaves Xie Lian's lungs as the man finally comes fully into view.

Oh.

God.

He's beautiful.

He is probably the single most attractive person Xie Lian has ever seen in his life. Which, he thinks, is saying something. After all, he's close friends with two people who are training to be professional models, who have to be the cream of the crop if they want to keep their dreams of having a career.

But this man—oh, this man—his gaze is pleasantly dark, and a tuft of inky black hair is sliding over his face and completely covering his right eye. It should be a little intimidating, but Xie Lian can't find himself caring all too much. The man is blinking down at the screen in surprise, the tips of his ears flushed with something probably akin to embarrassment. Xie Lian can understand that. He's probably gaping with his mouth half-open right now.

“Hello,” he says, then promptly feels like smacking himself. Hello? Is that really the best he's got? Hello? He has just seen the most gorgeous person in the history of people, and the only thing that falls out of his mouth is hello?

But then the man says “Hi,” and Xie Lian wonders if a simple greeting should sound that breathy.

This must be Hua Cheng.

The thing is, Xie Lian wasn't expecting Hua Cheng to look like...this. It sounds horrible now that he thinks about it, but from everything He Xuan has told him, he supposes he had developed some kind of imaginary visual bias. Or something. He wasn't expecting Hua Cheng to have pretty collarbones, a sharply cut jawline, and a gaze so dark that Xie Lian could lose himself in it for hours on end.

But the universe must absolutely love throwing surprises at him, and it isn’t like his luck is anything special. On the contrary, he's had his share of pretty horrid luck over the years. But this? Maybe the divine beings are finally showing him some mercy.

Now comes the hard part: Talking To The Beautiful Man.

“Are you…” He trails off, gnawing at the flesh of his inner lip. “Um…”

“San Lang,” says the man. “You can call me San Lang.”

Oh, so perhaps Xie Lian was mistaken, and this isn't Hua Cheng?

“San Lang,” Xie Lian repeats slowly back to him. He watches as the man's eye brightens at the sound of his name, and he can't help the smile that pulls at the corners of his mouth. “Okay. My name is Xie Lian. Are you a friend of He Xuan's?”

“No.”

Xie Lian frowns. But you're undressed in his apartment? he thinks, like it matters in the slightest. In any case, it isn't really like Xie Lian is complaining. But still.

Unless—

No way. There’s no way He Xuan would video chat with Xie Lian right after hooking up with someone. 

Right?

Then again, what other explanation would there be for this? If this person isn’t Hua Cheng, and he’s in He Xuan’s apartment, and he’s not wearing any clothes, and he’s—

Then the man continues, “I'm his roommate.”

Oh.

Okay. Never mind, then. So this is Hua Cheng. Xie Lian doesn't really know why he told him to call him San Lang—a nickname, perhaps? He'll have to ask He Xuan about it later. 

“All right,” he says. “Sorry, um. I'm He Xuan's friend from China.”

“He's mentioned you before,” says Hua Cheng, a pepper of something else lacing into his voice. Familiarity. Xie Lian wonders briefly about what He Xuan could have possibly told him. “You're the best friend, right?”

“Yes,” says Xie Lian, smiling wider now. “Yes, I am. The best friend.” He’s honestly shocked that He Xuan even referred to him as such, but he supposes he has to give him more credit. 

“Then, gege,” says Hua Cheng, and Xie Lian's heart jumps out of its cage, “it's nice to meet you.”

“It's nice to meet you too,” says Xie Lian, inhaling and pressing his lips together.

And then, of course, the moment is ruined. 

“HUA CHENG WHERE THE FUCK DID YOU PUT THE SOAP—”

Hua Cheng’s expression immediately sets, his lips stretching out into a thin line. Xie Lian blinks at the sudden change, but before he can say anything, Hua Cheng is smiling again. His smile this time, however, is curved in a cynical way, though Xie Lian is pretty sure it isn’t directed at him.

He swallows any words that were on the tip of his tongue and waits. 

“Sorry, gege,” says Hua Cheng. “This place has a bit of a pest problem.”

Just then, He Xuan’s face pops into the screen, and Xie Lian squints when he sees him suddenly appear above Hua Cheng’s (still extremely bare) shoulder. He Xuan is glaring, his eyes narrowed upon his face and a scowl etched into the lines of his mouth. 

“What the fuck are you doing,” he starts. Then, a pause. “Wait, are you talking to my Xie Lian—”

“Gege and I were having a pleasant conversation,” Hua Cheng cuts in coolly, and Xie Lian feels the hairs on his arms bristle at the sudden change in his tone. He swallows, pressing his lips together to stop himself from releasing an...embarrassing sound.

“Gege?” He Xuan repeats. “Who the fuck is gege?” 

“He Xuan,” Xie Lian cuts in, because this seems to be a good enough time, “San Lang and I were just introducing ourselves to each other.”

“San Lang?!” He Xuan screeches. “No, never mind. I don’t give a shit. Hua Cheng, who said you could talk to Xie Lian?”

“Oh?” says Hua Cheng coolly, and then he leans against the table that He Xuan’s device is placed upon. Xie Lian can’t see him perfectly because of the angle, but he does see the way Hua Cheng crosses his arms over his chest and rolls his eye, His tongue rolling to the inside of his cheek as he says, “And what makes you think you have any control over what I can and cannot do?”

Xie Lian gulps.

Wow.

“I will not let you taint Xie Lian,” He Xuan hisses, and then he marches up closer to the screen and forcefully pushes Hua Cheng away. Hua Cheng leaves the screen for a moment, and Xie Lian tries very hard to not show his displeasure in his expression. 

“Ah…” Xie Lian starts, biting his bottom lip. Hua Cheng’s face moves back onto the screen, and Xie Lian’s eyes immediately flicker over to his face. Hua Cheng is staring back at him, mouth pressed closed as he observes him steadily. “He Xuan,” Xie Lian starts again, not looking away from Hua Cheng, “it’s, um, really all right.”

He Xuan turns to Hua Cheng. “Please get the fuck out. You are not wanted here.”

“Just because you don’t want me here,” says Hua Cheng, “doesn’t mean gege doesn’t want me here.”

“Stop fucking calling him that—”

“Or what?”

“Sorry, Xie Lian,” says He Xuan, turning back to the call. Xie Lian swallows roughly as Hua Cheng audibly scoffs. “I’ll call you tomorrow, okay?”

“Okay,” says Xie Lian. He lifts his hand and waves. “Bye bye, A-Xuan. Good night.”

“Good night.”

When the call disconnects with a faint click, Xie Lian gets up from his desk, walks over to his bed, and throws himself onto the mattress. He curls in on himself, reaching up to press his hands over his face.

He finds that his cheeks are burning with heat. 

 

✧✧✧ 

 

group message: xian le trio

Xie Lian
Hi!
I have a question

Feng Xin
oh god

Mu Qing
what did u do now

Xie Lian
Nothing!!!! I promise T_T
I just wanted to…
Get my thoughts out?
Does that make sense >.<

Feng Xin
yeah it does
what’s up, xie lian?

Mu Qing
i repeat
what did u do

Xie Lian
Um ok so like
So He Xuan and I were facetiming last night

Mu Qing
of course this has something to do with he xuan

Feng Xin
will you Shut the fuck up??
xie lian is trying to talk to us about something

Mu Qing
ok and?
what am i supposed to do abt that 

Xie Lian
Guys TT

Feng Xin
sorry about him, xie lian

Mu Qing
say that again.
i fucking dare you

Xie Lian
Guuyyysssssss
This’ll only take a second
You two can go back to fighting right after I promise

Feng Xin
ok!!! please continue!!!!

Mu Qing
whatever

Xie Lian
Ok so I was facetiming He Xuan
And he had to use the restroom for a moment, so I was alone on the call waiting for him to come back
Wait
This needs a bit of backstory first

Mu Qing
here we go

Xie Lian
Ok so the backstory is that He Xuan has this roommate
His name is Hua Cheng
And from what I’ve heard about him from He Xuan, Hua Cheng isn’t...a very good person?
I’m not really sure how to describe it TBH
(That means ‘to be honest’ by the way. He Xuan taught me that acronym last week!)

Mu Qing
we’re not idiots we know what tbh means

Feng Xin
when will you shut up
and remedy that statement rn i’m not an idiot but you clearly are
anw xie lian pls continue ignore him

Mu Qing
excuse me?

Xie Lian
He Xuan doesn’t really ever have nice things to say about Hua Cheng, basically
And it isn’t, like, friendly bickering or something
(I think?)
They hate each other, I’m pretty sure
Maybe
But then again, He Xuan did tell me that they sometimes go out for dinner together? So TBH I’m not really sure of the exact details of their relationship

Mu Qing
we don’t give a shit

Feng Xin
YES WE DO
what happened, xie lian?

Xie Lian
Right
So yesterday, while I was facetiming He Xuan, he had to go and use the restroom
And while he was gone, I kind of...met Hua Cheng?

Mu Qing
WHAT THE FUCK DID HE DO TO YOU

Feng Xin
WE’LL KILL HIM
I’LL KILL HIM
GIVE ME HE XUAN’S ADDRESS

Xie Lian
Guyssss
Even if you wanted to go and visit He Xuan, you wouldn’t be able to! He lives all the way in America!

Feng Xin
i’ll book a fucking flight for tonight then idgaf

Xie Lian
What is ‘idgaf’?

Feng Xin
never mind

Mu Qing
answer the question xie lian
what did that hua cheng do to you

Xie Lian
Nothing!!!!!!!
Nothing!!! He did nothing to me!!! I promise!!!!!
Actually, he was really...nice?
And shirtless

Feng Xin
HFDKJSHFKSDHFKJHSK
WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK

Mu Qing
ARE YOU FUCKING SERIOUS?

Feng Xin
I HAVE MY AIRLINE WEBSITE OPEN IN ANOTHER TAB RIGHT NOW
XIE LIAN
GIVE ME THE ADDRESS

Mu Qing
WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU MEAN HE WAS SHIRTLESS
GIVE ME THE ADDRESS TOO 

Xie Lian
Haha…
Not in a bad way! Or in a creepy way!!!
He was just at home, that’s why he didn’t have a shirt on

Feng Xin
I AM AT HOME RIGHT NOW AND I AM FULLY CLOTHED???

Mu Qing
i hate to say this but like
feng xin kind of has a point 

Feng Xin
i’m always right

Mu Qing
that’s really funny

Xie Lian
He introduced himself as San Lang!

Mu Qing
what the hell
i thought u said his name is hua cheng

Xie Lian
Ah...yes...I’m pretty sure San Lang is a nickname of his!

Mu Qing
why the hell would he tell YOU to call him by a nickname but his ROOMMATE calls him his real name

Xie Lian
Well...He Xuan and San Lang don’t really seem to be friends?

Mu Qing
but u literally just met hua cheng?????????

Xie Lian
Hm…
You do have a point...
But he was really sweet! He only was rude to He Xuan!
He was actually...really very nice

Feng Xin
oh my fucking god

Mu Qing
we’ve lost him

Feng Xin
i’m going to stalk this hua cheng character on every social media of his i can find

Mu Qing
i’ll join u

Feng Xin
fine

Xie Lian
Okay…?
Have fun!

Feng Xin
thanks

Mu Qing
thanks

 

✧✧✧ 

 

“Well,” says He Xuan the next time he and Xie Lian are video chatting, “now you know why I fucking despise Hua Cheng to the ends of the world.”

Now, usually when the topic of Hua Cheng comes up during his talks with He Xuan, Xie Lian agrees with everything his friend says. Is Hua Cheng an asshole? Of course he is. Is Hua Cheng the most annoying person to ever walk the planet? Absolutely, one hundred percent yes. 

But, well. This time, Xie Lian feels a little more complicated. 

“Xie Lian?” comes He Xuan’s voice on the speaker.

Xie Lian starts. “What?”

He Xuan frowns, squinting at him through the screen. “You were zoning out.” A pause. “Everything...okay?”

“Oh!” Xie Lian exclaims. “Yes, of course! Sorry, He Xuan, I was just thinking about something.”

“What were you thinking about?”

Your roommate and his beautiful face. “Um. Politics.”

He Xuan immediately scrunches his nose. “I didn’t know you were into politics.”

Xie Lian is really not into politics, but telling He Xuan the truth would be incredibly embarrassing, and he really isn’t in the mood for that. 

However, he can still ask. 

“Hey,” he says, “um, are you really sure San—Hua Cheng is that bad?”

“Ugh,” He Xuan groans, “even hearing the sound of his name makes me want to throw up.”

Well, Xie Lian hadn’t been expecting anything less, but it still didn’t hurt to try. 

“What about to people that aren’t you?”

“The fuck does that mean,” says He Xuan. He’s laying on his stomach with his feet up in the air, swinging them back and forth as his eyes narrow on his face. “To people that aren’t me?”

“Yes,” Xie Lian nods. “Of course I know that you two don’t get along, but what about with other people? Does he get along with others?”

“Fuck if I know,” He Xuan snorts. “I don’t really care, either. Besides, with his personality, I doubt he has any friends.”

Which isn’t very helpful, but all right.

“What if I try?” Xie Lian asks.

He Xuan’s legs pause between swings. “What do you mean?”

“To be his friend,” says Xie Lian. “He seems nice. He was nice to me.”

He Xuan stares at him for a long couple of seconds, blinking slowly before saying, “Did he hypnotize you while I was in the bathroom or some shit?”

Xie Lian huffs. “He Xuan! I’m serious.”

“Me too?” says He Xuan. He moves so that he’s sitting upright on his bed. “Obviously you can do whatever the fuck you want, but Hua Cheng is stupid. And he’s annoying. There’s a reason I can’t stand him. And plus, you’re way too good for him. You’re better off staying as far away as possible.”

He Xuan trying to gatekeep him from Hua Cheng isn’t really what Xie Lian had been expecting out of all of this, but life has always thrown weird surprises in his way. This is just another one of them. If anything, Xie Lian is touched that He Xuan cares for him this much.

That, or he just hates Hua Cheng.

Xie Lian thinks that it’s probably a healthy balance of both. 

“The next time we video chat, you should call Hua Cheng in,” he says. “I think I’d like to get to know him.”

“Absolutely not,” says He Xuan immediately. “You can get to know him with your own efforts. I refuse to encourage this. I will not be held responsible for anything that happens to you.” 

“Anything that happens to me?” Xie Lian blinks. Then he shakes his head. “You’re starting to sound a bit like Feng Xin and Mu Qing.”

“Pah. Never say those words to me again.”

“Have you even talked to them recently?”

“No,” says He Xuan. “They’re idiots. I only ever tolerated them because of you.”

“You love me so much,” Xie Lian coos. 

“Tch.” He Xuan rolls his eyes. “Sure. Whatever helps you sleep at night.”

 

✧✧✧ 

 

group message: xian le trio

Feng Xin
ok
firstly, i managed to find hua cheng’s instagram account

Xie Lian
What?
How?

Feng Xin
he and he xuan follow each other
it rly wasn’t that difficult

Xie Lian
Oh…
Why didn’t I think of that?

Mu Qing
can you hurry up and send his @ 

Feng Xin
fuck off i’m getting there
ok it’s
@crimsonrain

Mu Qing
what the fuck
like blood rain?
that’s so fucking sus

Feng Xin
idk
maybe
what the fuck is his icon
THAT’S WHAT HE LOOKS LIKE?????

Mu Qing
oh my fucking god his hair
he looks like a serial killer

Xie Lian
I think he looks quite good!

Feng Xin
no he just looks emo
and annoying
why is his ratio so skinny
3827 followers and 2 following?
2 posts?!?!?!?!?!?!
AND WHY THE FUCK IS HIS ACCOUNT PRIVATE

Mu Qing
xie lian send him a follow request right now

Xie Lian
Whaaat?
No…

Mu Qing
WHY THE HELL NOT?

Feng Xin
don’t fucking pressure him you fucking brute
xie lian, you don’t have to do anything you’re not comfortable with ok?
i know i sure as hell would be scared out of mind to have a single interaction with this dude, online or not

Xie Lian
Don’t you think he’ll be a little weirded out if I randomly request to follow him…

Feng Xin
THAT’S YOUR BIGGEST CONCERN?
NOT THE FACT THAT YOUR FRIEND, HE XUAN, MIGHT BE LIVING WITH A MURDERER?
LIKE
WHY THE FUCK DOES HE HAVE ONE OF HIS EYES COVERED WITH HIS HAIR IS THAT NOT A RED FLAG TO YOU

Xie Lian
Red is a really nice color!

Mu Qing
you both need help
xie lian send him a follow request so we can stalk him further
he probably won’t follow u back but that doesn’t rly matter rn

Xie Lian
Yeah um…the 2 following is a bit scary
But San Lang is nice!!!!!
Ok, I’ll request to follow him

Mu Qing
excellent
and now we wait

Xie Lian
Oh!
He accepted my request! :D

Feng Xin
ALREADY??????

Mu Qing
damn that was quick

Xie Lian
Oh! He requested to follow me too!

Feng Xin
WHAT??????????

Mu Qing
this guy is creepy as hell

Feng Xin
DON’T ACCEPT IT

Xie Lian
Oh…I already did, was I not supposed to?
Oops

Mu Qing
[facepalm.gif]

Feng Xin
that’s an ugly ass gif

Mu Qing
you’re uglier 

Feng Xin
yes you are uglier i agree

Mu Qing
that doesn’t even make any fucking sense

Xie Lian
Guys, San Lang is so…

Feng Xin
shady

Mu Qing
weird

Feng Xin
questionable

Mu Qing
suspicious

Xie Lian
No!
I was going to say he’s so handsome!

Feng Xin
that’s it
i’m following him too

Mu Qing
uh huh

Feng Xin
ok he accepted
WHAT THE FUCK?
WHY THE HELL DID I NOT GET A FOLLOW BACK?

Mu Qing
lol

Xie Lian
Ah...maybe because he doesn’t know you?

Feng Xin
mu qing follow him too
i can’t be rejected alone like this

Mu Qing
lol no thanks

Feng Xin
fuck you
and xie lian, this guy isn’t even that good looking
i’m like 10 thousand times more handsome

Mu Qing
ok narcissist 

Feng Xin
was i talking to you?
was i?
quickly.

Xie Lian
San Lang just sent me a DM!
(DM means direct message, BTW)
((And BTW means by the way!))

Feng Xin
WHAT THE FUCK
DO NOT ANSWER IT
DO NOT OPEN IT
XIE LIAN
XIE LIAN WHERE DID YOU GO
XIE LIAN ANSWER MY FUCKING TEXTS RIGHT NOW

Mu Qing
you are an embarrassment to humanity

 

✧✧✧ 

 

Direct Message: hua cheng @crimsonrain

hua cheng: hi gege~

Xie Lian: Hello San Lang!!! It’s so nice to finally talk to you properly!!!

hua cheng: likewise, gege. 

hua cheng: i had asked he xuan for your number but he refused to give it to me

Xie Lian: Oh, I see. :(

Xie Lian: Would you like my number?

hua cheng: if gege is willing to give it to me

Xie Lian: Of course I am!!! You’re He Xuan’s roommate! 

Xie Lian: Here’s my contact! It has my number and everything on it! [file]

hua cheng: all right, i’ll text you

Xie Lian: Ok! Take your time!

 

✧✧✧ 

 

Hua Cheng actually takes no time at all, and approximately three seconds later, Xie Lian’s phone buzzes with a new message. 

And this—this is fine. This is absolutely fine. Xie Lian gets texts every day. Xie Lian gets lots of texts every day. He texts Feng Xin and Mu Qing about the most mundane things that happen in his life in their group chat.

Xie Lian can absolutely do a silly text conversation with Hua Cheng. No big deal at all.


Unknown Number
hi gege, this is san lang
save my number in your phone! 


Xie Lian’s eyes scan over the two bubbles, drinking the words in slowly. Okay. This is just a casual conversation between two acquaintances. It is going to be fine. 


you saved XXX-XXXX in your contacts

Xie Lian
Hi San Lang!!
This is Xie Lian!


Stupid. Of course Hua Cheng knows who he’s texting. Xie Lian literally gave him his contact information. Why on earth would he reintroduce himself? It’s pointless. It’s—

He’s snapped out of his thoughts when he hears his phone buzz again, and he reaches out for the device with slightly shaky hands. 


San Lang
gege, i was so surprised when i saw your request to follow me!


Xie Lian grimaces. He’d been right. Of course Hua Cheng would be put off by that. What had Xie Lian been thinking?


Xie Lian
Ah, was it weird…?

San Lang
not at all, i had been thinking of sending you a follow request too, but i didn’t know when would be the right timing


Xie Lian stares down at the message. So Hua Cheng had already found his Instagram account, but hadn’t pressed the request button yet?

It makes him feel just a little bit better about this entire situation. 


Xie Lian
Ah, well, I guess I beat you to it, then!

San Lang
you did :)
i’m glad you did, i don’t know when i would have found the courage to request you otherwise


Xie Lian scrunches his nose. What?

Xie Lian
My friends made me request to follow you >_<

San Lang
oh
you didn’t want to follow me?

Xie Lian
No!!!!!!!!! That’s not what I meant!!!
Of course I wanted to!! Sorry that came out wrong
I was talking about you
To them
That’s why

San Lang
gege was talking about me to his friends?

Xie Lian
Yes, I was
Only good things, of course!!!

San Lang
i’m honored


It’s going well, Xie Lian thinks as he types out his response. He barely hesitates over the send button this time before tapping his finger against it and watching as the blue bubble floats up to the bottom of the chat window. 


Xie Lian
Actually, I was wondering about something

San Lang
yes?
what were you wondering about?
i’ll give you an answer to the best of my abilities

Xie Lian
Why did you say your name is San Lang?

San Lang
ah
no reason, i just prefer the name san lang :)

Xie Lian
I see
Well, both of your names are very pretty, San Lang

San Lang
thank you, gege
i think you
r
name is pretty too


Xie Lian pauses over the sudden weird format of Hua Cheng’s texts, but decides that he had probably dropped his phone or something. Xie Lian understands; he has dropped his phone plenty of times before, and his screen has cracked half that count as well. 


Xie Lian
Thank you! :) my parents gave it to me

San Lang
haha
my mother called me san lang because i’m the third born in my family

Xie Lian
That’s so cute!
I’m an only child, unfortunately. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to grow up with even one sibling, let alone two

San Lang
i’m not in contact with my family anymore, so i guess that tells enough about how it was for me?

Xie Lian
Oh no!!!!!!!
Well, then we’re the same!

San Lang
oh
yeah
i guess we are

Xie Lian
You sound surprised? Did I say something wrong, San Lang?

San Lang
no it’s just
i was expecting you to ask what happened, that’s the response i usually get when i tell people i don’t talk to my parents or my siblings anymore

Xie Lian
Oh I see
I didn’t think to ask because I realized you would probably tell me if you wanted to
If you felt comfortable enough to tell me so soon in our friendship

San Lang
wow gege
thank you
this is honestly really refreshing
i remember that prick he xuan also didn’t ask, but not for a nice reason like yours. he didn’t ask because he didn’t care

Xie Lian
Hahaha that sounds like He Xuan >w<
Is that why you tolerate him?

San Lang
omg gege i love that word
tolerate
it’s the perfect word to describe my relationship with he xuan. we tolerate each other
mutual feelings of forbearance 

Xie Lian
I’m glad to be of service :)


They talk until Xie Lian’s fingers ache, till he looks at the clock on his wall and belatedly realizes something very important—something he definitely should have been paying more attention to hours ago.


Xie Lian
Oh my gosh!!! I completely forgot about our time difference!
It’s almost 4AM there?

San Lang
oh it is, wow
i didn’t even notice, i was so engaged in our conversation about how watermelon is the best fruit

Xie Lian
-_- San Lang, how many times do I have to tell you? The best fruit is clearly mango!

San Lang
i suppose we will just have to agree to disagree, gege

Xie Lian
No, I will make you see the light, just you wait

San Lang
ok gege
i believe you

Xie Lian
OMG, San Lang, stop distracting me!
It’s so late for you, you should go to sleep now

San Lang
but gege :(
i’m not tired :(
i wanna talk more with you :(

Xie Lian
We can talk more tomorrow! After you wake up!

San Lang
:(

Xie Lian
I promise

San Lang
:) ok then!
we will definitely talk tomorrow
remember your promise!

Xie Lian
I will!! We will!
I never break my promises

San Lang
good
good night then, gege

Xie Lian
Good night, San Lang
Sweet dreams \_(^v^)_/

 

✧✧✧ 

 

Although he had an actual conversation with Hua Cheng over text, Xie Lian still kind of doesn’t believe he’s real. After all, texting is different from video chatting, and video chatting is different from seeing someone in real life. 

(Un?)fortunately, Xie Lian is still at the texting stage, and there’s no way to see Hua Cheng’s face while they’re exchanging typed messages with each other. 

So yes. Xie Lian wakes up the following morning and decides that everything was just a very elaborate fever dream. 


group message: xian le trio

Feng Xin
xie lian!! you disappeared yesterday after saying you got a dm from hua cheng
what happened???
are you dead????
are you okay???
DID HE DO ANYTHING TO YOU?????
why aren’t you answering any of my messages
DID HE GET YOU???
I’M GOING TO FUCKING KILL HIM

Mu Qing
will you SHUT UP
it is SIX in the morning
SHUT THE FUCK UP

Feng Xin
FUCK OFF IF YOU DON’T CARE ABOUT XIE LIAN
I’M TRYING TO SAVE HIS LIFE HERE AND ALL YOU CARE ABOUT IS SLEEP
FUCK YOU
YOU DON’T DESERVE XIE LIAN

Mu Qing
DIE

Xie Lian
Good morning! ^w^
Oh…did I come at the wrong time?

Feng Xin
never
good morning, xie lian!
what happened with hua cheng

Xie Lian
Oh
Um… I don’t remember

Feng Xin
HOW DID YOU FORGET????
HE DID SOMETHING TO YOU??
HE DRUGGED YOU??

Mu Qing
don’t be fucking stupid

Feng Xin
GO BACK TO SLEEP YOU FUCKING AIRHEAD


Xie Lian blinks down at the texts, then shakes his head. His phone is still buzzing every two seconds, the group chat blowing up with Feng Xin and Mu Qing’s first argument of the day, but Xie Lian clicks out of it and into his list of messages. 

The bolded letters of the name San Lang stare back at him.

Xie Lian promptly drops his phone. 

“Oh my god,” he says into the empty air of his bedroom. “That actually happened.”

He immediately calls He Xuan and presses his phone to his ear. 

“He Xuan,” he says as soon as the line connects. 

“Good morning to you too, Xie Lian,” comes He Xuan’s muffled voice. Xie Lian hears a faint sound of sizzling in the background. “I’m making dinner. Stir fry.”

“Ooh,” says Xie Lian, temporarily distracted. “That sounds delicious.”

“My cooking always is,” says He Xuan. “Why the sudden call?” A pause. “It’s, like, six in the morning there. Didn’t you just wake up—shut the fuck up, Hua Cheng, no I am not giving you the phone.”

Xie Lian presses his lips together to stop his smile from erupting throughout his face. Which, really, is quite unfair in his opinion. How does Hua Cheng manage to already have this kind of effect on him?

It’s crazy. 

“San Lang is there?” he asks, voice quieter than intended. 

“Unfortunately,” says He Xuan. “Don’t worry, Xie Lian. He won’t interrupt aga—will you leave me the fuck alone?”

Xie Lian’s grip on his phone tightens. “Can I FaceTime?”

“Uh, yeah, sure,” says He Xuan, and that’s all Xie Lian needs before he is quickly tapping his screen to life and pressing the button with the camera symbol on it. 

Immediately, his screen is filled with the sight of fog, and a few seconds later, He Xuan’s face emerges. He’s clearly in the kitchen, his hair tied up into one of his signature ponytails and an apron swung around his waist. 

He Xuan blinks at the camera for a few seconds as the view focuses. 

“You look like shit,” is the first thing that comes out of his mouth. 

Xie Lian’s eyes widen. “Oh no, do I really?” He should have quickly done his hair or something before calling He Xuan. 

“I mean,” says He Xuan, shrugging, “I guess you don’t look too bad. Whatever. Wanna look at Hua Cheng being a dumbass?”

Xie Lian inhales quickly. “Wait—” he starts, his hands flying up to his head where he can feel the knots, “wait, He Xuan, no I need to—I don’t—”

But of course the world hates Xie Lian, and the next thing he knows, Hua Cheng is in the frame. He’s sitting on the floor of the living room, by the looks of it, and he’s wearing a bright red t-shirt and black sweatpants. The clothes are tightly fitted on his body, and even though no skin is showing, Xie Lian still feels exactly the same as when he had seen him completely shirtless. 

Which is to say: he freaks out. 

Internally. 

“Gege!” comes Hua Cheng’s voice, and then his visible eye is crinkling and he’s smiling as he waves. “Good morning!”

“San Lang,” Xie Lian breathes. “Um. Good evening.”

“Gross,” says He Xuan from somewhere to the side, “stop smiling. You look creepy as hell.”

Hua Cheng’s expression instantly darkens, and he turns his head slightly to the right so that he’s no longer looking at Xie Lian. “I think you’re mistaking me for your mirror.”

“Fuck you. You look stupid as hell.”

“You are stupid as hell.”

“Stop talking about yourself.”

Xie Lian feels a headache incoming. Oh dear. This is like Feng Xin and Mu Qing all over again—but different. Very different. Feng Xin and Mu Qing definitely don’t make him feel self conscious about his bedhead. Feng Xin and Mu Qing don’t make his palms sweaty. Feng Xin and Mu Qing don’t make something in his stomach do somersaults every time he sees their faces. 

Yes. Hua Cheng is different. 

And Xie Lian absolutely refuses to think about that any longer. 

Moving on. 

“Did gege have a nice sleep?” Hua Cheng asks, scooching closer to the camera and tilting his head. 

Xie Lian laughs lowly. “I should be the one asking you that.”

“But it’s early for you. You’re the one who just woke up,” says Hua Cheng, and well, he does have a point. 

“Mm, you’re right,” says Xie Lian. “I slept well, San Lang, thank you for asking.”

“That’s good,” Hua Cheng hums, his voice crackling through the speaker of Xie Lian’s cell phone. “That’s good, yes. I slept well too, in case gege I was wondering.” A pause. “Even though I did sleep a little...ah, late.”

Xie Lian feels his cheeks burn, the tips of his ears coloring with pink. 

“Both of you are disgusting,” says He Xuan, and then the camera flips around to show his face again. Xie Lian loves He Xuan, he really does, he really does, but he can’t help but feel a little...disappointed. 

He shakes his head. He Xuan is his best friend. He should be happy to talk to him. Besides, Hua Cheng is still there, somewhere in the background of the call. 

“Do you have any plans for the day?” He Xuan asks him as he sets his phone down somewhere behind the stove, and Xie Lian is once again subjected to the sight of him cooking dinner. “If you don’t, we could watch something later tonight.” A pause. “Later this morning for you, I guess.”

“I’d like that,” says Xie Lian, nodding. 

“Can I join?” Hua Cheng pipes up, his head popping into the frame. 

Xie Lian opens his mouth, ready to respond, but before he can get the yes, of course you can, San Lang out from the tip of his tongue, He Xuan is already lunging at him and pushing him away. 

“Absolutely not,” he hisses. “Movie nights are for me and Xie Lian only. Fuck off.”

Hua Cheng glares at him. “I wasn’t asking you,” he says. Then he turns to Xie Lian and smiles widely. “Gege, can I join?”

“Um,” says Xie Lian. 

“That’s Xie Lian for no, absolutely not, you dumb prick,” says He Xuan. 

“It’s not!” says Xie Lian quickly. The last thing he needs is some kind of misunderstanding occurring between him and Hua Cheng. “But, um. Yes. San Lang, of course you can join if you want to. It’s just that…”

It’s just that there’s no way He Xuan would allow that. 

“Are you serious?” He Xuan gasps, twisting his entire body and looking at Xie Lian in shock. “A-Lian!”

“A-Xuan!” Xie Lian says back to him. His heart pounds wildly in his chest. 

“I think,” Hua Cheng says, his lips twisting thoughtfully, “that that was a yes, San Lang, I would love it if you were to join us. Please do.” He sticks his tongue out at He Xuan. “And I, for one, don’t blame him.” Pouting, he looks back to Xie Lian and heaves a dramatic sigh. “Gege, I don’t know how you’ve managed to put up with him like this for so much of your life. I am truly sorry for everything you have gone through.”

Xie Lian giggles. “He Xuan isn’t that bad,” he says. 

Hua Cheng fakes a gasp. “So he’s brainwashed you? How cruel, He Xuan.”

“Shut the fuck up,” He Xuan hisses. “Why the hell are you suddenly acting all...innocent and shit. I hate it. Go back to being normal. Fuck you.”

“You can keep cursing me out during movie night.”

“You are not joining me and Xie Lian’s movie night.”

“Yes I am.”

“No you’re not. Xie Lian, back me up here.”

Xie Lian doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry. “Um…”

“Exactly,” says Hua Cheng, crossing his arms over his chest and nodding resolutely. “So! What movie are we watching?”

“Well,” says Xie Lian before He Xuan can get another word in, “He Xuan and I have a penchant for watching movies set under the sea, so we were deciding between The Little Mermaid and Finding Nemo.”

“Interesting,” Hua Cheng drawls. Xie Lian’s eyebrows furrow when he sees He Xuan’s slowly darkening expression. “I never knew you were into such movies, He Xuan. What happened to being a horror fanatic?”

“Horror?” Xie Lian repeats. “A-Xuan, I thought you hated horror movies? The last time we watched one was in middle school when we were having one of our monthly sleepovers, and you got so scared I had to keep the lights on when we went to sleep.”

“Did you now,” says Hua Cheng, eye glinting. “That’s so strange, gege. He Xuan always chooses horror movies when we watch something together.”

Xie Lian really is beginning to think that these two are secret friends or something. What pair of sworn enemies would willingly sit together on a couch and watch a horror movie? Especially Hua Cheng and He Xuan? 

“Hah,” He Xuan huffs. “Jokes on you. I fell asleep during those.”

“Wow,” Xie Lian says. “How could you fall asleep while watching that? A horror movie?”

“It’s because,” He Xuan continues over Hua Cheng, who is currently laughing his head off somewhere in the back, “the beginning was too fucking scary. Stop fucking laughing. You look ugly as hell.”

Hua Cheng ignores him, doubling over. 

Xie Lian quite likes the sight of him laughing, the way his lips curve into a wide smile and his eye crinkles with mirth. It makes him smile too, and the next thing he knows, he and Hua Cheng are openly laughing at a very disgruntled looking He Xuan. 

“Fuck you both,” says He Xuan. “I hate you both. I should have made sure you two never met.”

Something tells Xie Lian that his meeting with Hua Cheng was inevitable, though. There’s no way he wouldn’t have caught a glimpse of him at some point or the other, especially since he’s He Xuan’s roommate, and Xie Lian and He Xuan video chat almost every day.

“San Lang,” says Xie Lian now, once they’ve come down from the high, “why don’t you pick? The Little Mermaid or Finding Nemo?”

“Hmm,” says Hua Cheng. “I haven’t watched either. Which does gege recommend?”

“You haven’t watched either? Really?” says Xie Lian incredulously. “But they’re classics! I can’t believe you’ve never watched them. He Xuan, which do you think we should show San Lang first?”

“I don’t remember agreeing to Hua Cheng joining us,” says He Xuan. 

“Deal with it,” says Hua Cheng. 

“Fuck you,” says He Xuan. Then he lets out a long, punctured groan. “Fuck. Fine. Let’s watch The Little fucking Mermaid.”

Hua Cheng smirks. “I think you got the title a bit wrong there.”

“Shut the fuck up, Hua Cheng.”

Xie Lian ignores them and nods. “An excellent choice.”

So they watch The Little Mermaid. They watch The Little Mermaid and Xie Lian spends the entire night laughing at He Xuan and Hua Cheng’s antics, pausing the movie when it gets to be too much. They video call through it, which means the two roommates are forced to sit side by side on the same couch so Xie Lian is able to look at both of their faces. 

(And if Hua Cheng catches him staring at his phone’s screen a few times during the movie, he doesn’t bring it up.)

 

✧✧✧ 

 

And so, Xie Lian develops a bit of a…problem.

It’s not exactly a problem problem; after all, Xie Lian knows there are people with much more pressing concerns in the world. It’s just that Hua Cheng is really nice and Xie Lian is too much of a coward to contact him on his own.

Even though he has his number.

Even though Hua Cheng has expressed multiple times in their sporadic text conversations that he quite enjoys talking to him.

Even though Xie Lian would much rather spend his day talking to Hua Cheng than doing literally anything else.

But, you know. It’s whatever. It’s fine, because Xie Lian still has a way of contacting Hua Cheng anyways. He has a medium. 

And it comes in the form of his very best friend in the world.

“You’ve been video calling me a lot more than usual lately,” He Xuan mutters, only half paying attention to the call as he types away at an assignment due later in the week. “Hmm. A-Lian, have you finally realized the blessing that is my friendship? The luck my presence brings to the beings around me?” He smirks. “I got that one from Hua Cheng. He’s always saying that shit to me.”

The reason this arrangement works so well for Xie Lian is because, well, He Xuan just makes it so easy. The man cannot go one minute without bringing up Hua Cheng in some way, shape, or form. 

It’s perfect, because it gives Xia Lian a beautifully natural segue into talking about him.

“Speaking of San Lang,” Xie Lian starts slowly. “Is he…there? With you?”

He Xuan shrugs. “He’s probably somewhere in the apartment, why?”

“Ah…” This is where it gets a little tricky. “No reason, haha, I was just wondering.”

Most of the time, he’s forced to leave it at that. After all, the last thing he wants is He Xuan getting suspicious. Xie Lian shudders simply at the thought. 

Other times, Xie Lian is miraculously gifted with a pinch of luck. 

“Is that gege on the phone?” a new voice comes through the line, muffled with the distance. Xie Lian’s breath hitches as he recognizes it with ease, and He Xuan’s expression instantly flatlines.

“No,” he says darkly. “The fuck are you doing in my room? Get out.”

“I heard gege’s voice,” says Hua Cheng, his own voice much louder now. “You can’t lie to me, Black Water, give me your phone.”

“I said to not fucking call me that in front of Xie—”

“Black Water?” Xie Lian repeats, because now he has to. “He Xuan, why is your name Black Water?”

Then there’s rustling on screen, and Xie Lian hears the sound of He Xuan yelping. He also vaguely makes out a what the fuck are you doing get off me right now shut your fucking mouth if you even think about saying a single fucking word before the camera refocuses and Hua Cheng’s face becomes the only thing in the frame.

“Gege, don’t you know?” he starts, ignoring He Xuan’s frantic yells in the background, “He Xuan still plays Love Live! He’s had his account since middle school and his screen time is like five hours a day.”

Xie Lian’s lips part in surprise. “Oh,” he says, then pauses. Thinks about it. “Really?”

Hua Cheng nods quickly, mischievously, his smile wide but calculating at the same time. Xie Lian is actually, like, really really into it, but he tries his hardest not to focus on how much he’s into it right now. 

“That was my exact reaction!” Hua Cheng exclaims. “His username is Black Water because he’s still a pathetic edgy teenager and it’s hilarious. I can’t believe you didn’t know.”

“I can’t believe I didn’t know either,” says Xie Lian. “I’ve known He Xuan since we were in fifth grade.”

“Can both of you please shut the fuck up?” He Xuan snaps, and then all of a sudden Xie Lian’s phone screen is filled with his face once more. It takes all of Xie Lian’s mental strength to not physically show his (extremely slight) disappointment. 

“What?” Hua Cheng drawls, “You’re scared now that your best friend knows your deepest darkest secret?”

“It’s not my deepest darkest secret, shut the fuck up, asshole.” He Xuan turns back to look at Xie Lian. “Besides, Xie Lian isn’t someone who makes fun of people. He understands. Don’t you, Xie Lian?”

Xie Lian promptly bursts into laughter. 

“Xie Lian! You too?”

“I’m sorry—” Xie Lian starts, tries, through his giggles. “It’s just…ah…He Xuan, you did hide this from me for a reason, you know.”

He Xuan mutters something inaudible under his breath, and Xie Lian almost feels a little bad for him. 

“Well, Hua Cheng has no reason to talk,” He Xuan says with a scoff, “after all, he still—”

The camera shakes then, and all of a sudden, He Xuan completely disappears from the frame. Xie Lian’s lips part in surprise for the moment that it takes Hua Cheng to appear. 

“Sorry, gege,” Hua Cheng says, his smile cheesy and wide on his face. Xie Lian’s breath snags as he drinks in the sight of it. “He Xuan had a bit of a, ah...complication. He had to go! So I suppose it’s just you and me for a bit.”

Xie Lian does quite like the sound of that, not that he’d ever tell He Xuan or anything. “I suppose it is,” he says. “How have you been?”

“I’ve been well,” says Hua Cheng. He settles in on what looks to be a bed, and Xie Lian thinks back to what He Xuan had said before—he’s in He Xuan’s bedroom, by the looks of it. “We haven’t really spoken since movie night.”

“Ah...I’m sorry about that,” says Xie Lian. “It isn’t that I don’t want to talk to you.”

“It’s partly my own fault,” Hua Cheng cuts in quickly. “I should have reached out.”

“No, no I should have reached out.”

“Gege, no, I can’t expect you to do everything. You’re probably busy enough as it is. I should have been the one to reach out first.”

At this, Xie Lian shakes his head. “I’m not busy at all, don’t worry. It would have been fine for me to reach out, it’s just…”

It might just be the way the light is hitting Xie Lian’s screen, or it might just be his own twisted fantasies, but Xie Lian swears he sees Hua Cheng’s eye twinkle. “It’s just?”

It’s just that you make me incredibly nervous and I’ve thought about sending you a text every morning and I’ve drafted out multiple messages but I’m too much of a coward to press send. 

“Nothing,” Xie Lian says, instead of any of that. The last thing he wants is to scare Hua Cheng away. “I’ll text you tonight, San Lang.”

“All right, gege,” says Hua Cheng, and then he smiles, and then Xie Lian smiles, and for now, it’s enough.

 

✧✧✧ 

 

Xie Lian
Good evening, San Lang!

San Lang
good morning, gege! ^^

Xie Lian
Oh!! I completely forgot about our time zones

San Lang
it is pretty easy to forget, haha

Xie Lian
Sorry ^_^;;
Do you forget sometimes too?

San Lang
mmm yup
what are you doing right now?

Xie Lian
I’m cooking dinner!

San Lang
oooh what is gege cooking?

Xie Lian
Some noodles!
All of my other recipes don’t seem to work, so I searched the internet for a new one earlier today
I hope I have just a bit more luck with this one! :D

San Lang
aah gege, don’t blame yourself for the other recipes going wrong
it’s not your fault
it’s clearly your kitchen’s fault

Xie Lian
My kitchen, San Lang?

San Lang
yes
i’ll burn it down for you if you want

Xie Lian
Ah…
I don’t think that will be necessary, but thank you for the offer.
I think
Besides, I don’t really think that’s possible anyways, with you living on the other side of the world and everything
Even a flight would take a while to get here! More than half a day of travelling!

San Lang
ah...yeah
yeah, you’re right, gege
like always :)

Xie Lian
You’re a flatterer...

San Lang
only for you~

Xie Lian
I’ve been meaning to ask you
Did you enjoy The Little Mermaid?

San Lang
i did!
though i think he xuan enjoyed it a little more

Xie Lian
He Xuan is a bit funny, TBH
(That means to be honest)
((I’m not sure if I already told you that or not.))
He’s watched The Little Mermaid with me a million times before and he still gets so invested in it!

San Lang
(dw, you didn’t)
((dw means ‘don’t worry’))
i really have to hand it to you, gege
i’m learning so much about my roommate lately because of you
we really should have met sooner

Xie Lian
Ahhh I think so too!
Though I think He Xuan was pretty adamant about keeping us apart for as long as possible

San Lang
it’s all right
he can’t mess with fate

Xie Lian
You think
It was fate that we met?

San Lang
of course it was
even if he xuan wasn’t my roommate, i’m sure we would have met somehow eventually

Xie Lian
Jshkajshfkdshfkdsjhajkshdjadka

San Lang
hahahaha gege??

Xie Lian
Sorry!!!!!
My phone
Fell
It’s fine though!!!!
Haha
No cracks at all
Perfect it’s just like brand new

San Lang
okay ^^ if you say so
would you like to facetime?
gege?
are you still there?

Xie Lian
FACetime
I mean
Yes, yes I’d like to Facetime
Right now?????

San Lang
if you’re free right now, then yes

Xie Lian
I
Okay
Yes
I’m free right now
Just give me a moment, please

San Lang
take all the time you need~

Xie Lian
Okaayyy

San Lang
are you ready?

Xie Lian
Yes
Yes, I am
You can call me whenever you’re set, San Lang!

Incoming video call: San Lang


Xie Lian’s fingers are shaking as he stares back at Hua Cheng’s contact picture—which, by the way, is a blurry screenshot Xie Lian had managed to take while he had been video chatting with He Xuan and Hua Cheng had suddenly appeared in the background—on his phone screen. He takes a deep breath before pressing the accept button, and snags at his gum with his front teeth as he waits for the call to connect. 

It’s silly, in hindsight, how nervous he is right now. After all, he’s video called all of his friends before; he does it with He Xuan practically every day at this point. Even Feng Xin and Mu Qing join group video calls with him every once in a while, (though Xie Lian refrains from doing that too often. The two are already bad enough with just a keyboard.) 

But, well, this is Hua Cheng. 

And so. 

“San Lang,” Xie Lian whispers, almost in disbelief, as his phone screen is filled with Hua Cheng’s face.

“Gege!” Hua Cheng exclaims, and it’s stupid, because Xie Lian has of course seen Hua Cheng like this before, through a screen, but they’ve never been completely alone. Not like this. He Xuan has always been there to help. 

(Not that He Xuan knows he’s helping. But Xie Lian thinks some things are better left unsaid.)

“San Lang,” says Xie Lian again, because wow.

Hua Cheng is, by the looks of it, laying on his bed, hoisting his head up with his elbow and cradling his cheek in the palm of his hand. It would be a severely unflattering angle for literally anybody else, but Hua Cheng is Hua Cheng. Hua Cheng doesn’t have bad angles. Hua Cheng probably doesn’t even know what the term ‘bad angle’ means. 

He’s also wearing a shirt. Unfortunately.

Xie Lian subconsciously adjusts himself so that he’s sitting up a little straighter on his desk chair. 

Hua Cheng clearly notices this and laughs softly, “Gege looks comfy.”

“I am!” Xie Lian says quickly, then promptly snaps his mouth shut. He makes a face and prays it somewhat resembles a smile.

Whatever it looks like, it does make Hua Cheng laugh again, so Xie Lian will take it as a win. 

“I’ve actually been wanting to video call you for a while now,” says Hua Cheng then. “Have you noticed we only talk like this when He Xuan is there too? Quite insulting, if I do say so myself. Not that it’s your fault, gege. It’s mine.”

“It’s not your fault,” says Xie Lian immediately.

“You’re right,” says Hua Cheng, “it’s He Xuan’s.”

Xie Lian giggles. “Sure, okay. We can go with that.”

It’s different, like this, knowing that it’s just him and Hua Cheng in the call, knowing that He Xuan isn’t there to jab at Hua Cheng for simply existing. The banter between the two roommates is hilarious, Xie Lian thinks, and it’s always a pleasant backdrop to his conversations with He Xuan. But he supposes that’s the point—they’ve always been conversations with He Xuan. Not Hua Cheng. 

“Hmm,” Hua Cheng hums, “actually, I don’t want to talk about He Xuan.” He makes a face. “It’ll sour my mood. Let’s talk about you!”

“Me?” Xie Lian blinks.

“Yes,” Hua Cheng says, nodding. “Everything I know about you is stuff I’ve gathered from He Xuan. I think you should tell me a bit about yourself, gege.”

“Okay,” Xie Lian agrees. “What would you like to know?”

“Everything,” says Hua Cheng.

And well. 

Isn’t that just something.

“Trust me,” Xie Lian starts, “there really isn’t much.” Hua Cheng leans closer to the camera, and Xie Lian presses his lips together and inhales. “Ah, okay. Well. My name is Xie Lian.”

Hua Cheng laughs. “And mine is Hua Cheng.”

“But you call me gege.”

“And you call me San Lang.”

“That’s right,” Xie Lian nods. “Um. I don’t have many other friends besides you and He Xuan. Just two. Their names are Feng Xin and Mu Qing.”

“Feng Xin?” Hua Cheng repeats, cocking an eyebrow. “I remember someone with that name requesting to follow me on Instagram the same day you did.”

“Oh!” Xie Lian brightens up quickly. “Yes, that was him! He and Mu Qing were my best friends through high school.”

“Ah,” says Hua Cheng. “So gege is also in university?”

“Ah, I was,” says Xie Lian. 

“You graduated?” Hua Cheng asks. 

“Dropped out,” says Xie Lian, and then he smiles when he sees the way Hua Cheng’s eye widens with curiosity. “I might go back at a later point, maybe. My parents passed away in an accident during my second year and it was just…”

“A lot?”

“Yes,” Xie Lian sighs, “it was a lot.”

Hua Cheng says softly, “I’m sorry for your loss, gege.”

“Thank you, San Lang,” says Xie Lian. “I’m okay now, don’t worry. I moved to another town after He Xuan left for America and rented a small apartment for myself.”

“You’re amazing,” says Hua Cheng.

Xie Lian blinks down at his screen. “What?”

“You’re amazing,” Hua Cheng repeats, and his expression is the most serious Xie Lian has ever seen him. “That’s amazing, gege. Really. I could never do that, not in a million years.”

It’s not like he tells his life story to anyone—He Xuan, Feng Xin, and Mu Qing are really the only ones who know, because they were there for it all in person. Xie Lian doesn’t know what to say.

So he says the first thing that comes to mind in that moment:

“Would you like to meet my snake?”

Hua Cheng makes an audible sound of surprise. It falls somewhere between a guffaw and a choke, but then he’s clearing his throat and blinking his visible eye rapidly. “Your snake, gege? You have a snake?”

“Yes!” Xie Lian says, grinning. He pushes his chair back and winces at the sound of the legs screeching against the floor. “Her name is Ruoye. She’s very friendly.”

“Ruoye,” Hua Cheng repeats, as if testing the name on his tongue. “Yes, I would love to meet Ruoye. Take me to her!”

So Xie Lian takes him to the terrarium in his living room. It’s twenty gallons and He Xuan had gifted it to him for his eighteenth birthday. (“Ruoye needs an actual home, Xie Lian. Like my fish! You don’t see me letting them just flop around my house, do you?”)

“This,” Xie Lian says, holding his phone up against the glass at just the right angle, “is my Ruoye. Isn’t she beautiful?”

Ruoye is fast asleep in her little cave, Xie Lian can tell. Normally, she would come up to greet him, but she doesn’t move from her place, and Xie Lian doesn’t have the heart to wake her up.

“She is,” comes Hua Cheng’s voice, quiet through the speaker. “Gege, I didn’t know you had a snake.”

“He Xuan usually ignores her existence, so I’m not surprised he didn’t tell you,” says Xie Lian, repositioning his phone so that he’s facing the camera again. “He used to have an aquarium of fish in high school.”

“Oh, yes, he mentioned it once,” says Hua Cheng. “He’s generally obsessed with fish, I think. It’s creepy as hell.”

“Personally,” says Xie Lian, humming thoughtfully, “I just think he holds a bit of a grudge on Ruoye because she outlived his fish.”

“As she should.”

Xie Lian laughs, muffling it with the palm of his free hand. “You have a hamster, right?”

Hua Cheng’s expression instantly darkens. “E-Ming. Yes.”

Xie Lian frowns. “Is something wrong with E-Ming?”

“Nothing is wrong with him,” says Hua Cheng, “unfortunately.”

Unfortunately? “Do you…not like him?”

“Enough about that stupid thing, gege,” Hua Cheng says, brighter this time in a cheerful attempt to change the subject. “He’ll be dying in a few weeks, anyways. Thankfully, hamsters have short lifespans.”

Xie Lian decides resolutely at that moment that he does not want to know. 

And then he yawns. 

“Gege, you should sleep,” comes Hua Cheng’s voice, softer this time. “It’s late over there.”

“Ah, is it?” Xie Lian checks the clock on his wall. “Mm, you’re right. We’ve been talking for a while.”

“I’m glad we have,” says Hua Cheng. 

“Me too. We should do this again.”

“Yes, we should,” Hua Cheng agrees. “Whenever you want. And if you don’t want to video chat, we can text. We can just call, too. We can do anything.”

“Except, of course, meet up with each other.”

The line goes silent for a moment. Hua Cheng freezes on the screen.

“San Lang?”

“I’m here,” he says.

Xie Lian quirks an eyebrow at him. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine, gege,” says Hua Cheng. He smiles, and Xie Lian carefully examines it. It looks natural enough, so he relaxes. “I should hang up. You…it’s late over there.”

Xie Lian absolutely does not want to hang up. “I…just five more minutes.”

It sounds childish even to him, and he cringes the moment the words leave his mouth. Hua Cheng seems amused, with the way his smile suddenly shifts into something a little more playful. 

“Just five more minutes, hm?”

“Yes,” says Xie Lian, because he might as well take this to the end now that he’s already come this far. 

“Okay,” Hua Cheng whispers. “Just five, okay?”

“Okay. Just five.”

Xie Lian ends up falling asleep on the call, and when he wakes up the next morning, he finds that Hua Cheng had never hung up.

 

✧✧✧ 

 

The video calls become a frequent thing between them. 

In fact, they become so frequent that Xie Lian sometimes forgets that he still has a best friend who likes to call him at least a few times a week.

“Is it just me, or are you becoming busier lately?” He Xuan said one day. “Hua Cheng too. He’s always locked in his room nowadays. Not that I’m complaining or anything. He can die in his room for all I care.”

But, He Xuan’s dislike of Hua Cheng aside, Xie Lian is having…fun. 

Hua Cheng is nice. He’s really nice. He makes Xie Lian’s insides feel like piles of goo every time they so much as make (virtual) eye contact. When they’re not video calling, they’re texting, and when they’re not texting, they’re either asleep or—in Hua Cheng’s case—class. Xie Lian still talk to He Xuan, of course, but now whenever he catches Hua Cheng in the background, the two share a secretive little smile that makes Xie Lian’s heart burst. 

“I lied,” Hua Cheng says quietly one afternoon, voice brittle through the line of the call. Xie Lian’s internet is acting especially wonky today, for some reason, because every few minutes, Hua Cheng’s face is reduced to a hazy blur. “I never forget.”

Xie Lian pauses through a mouthful of his lunch. “Forget what?”

“Our time zones.”

It’s a bit of a random thing to bring up. Just a few minutes earlier, the two had been talking about Hua Cheng’s assignments for school and how his professors refused to give him an extension on one of his projects. But Hua Cheng looks serious now, the lines of his face set in place as he stares back at Xie Lian through the screen.

“What do you mean?” Xie Lian asks, setting his chopsticks down. 

“I never forget that we’re twelve hours apart,” says Hua Cheng. His gaze flickers away. “It reminds me of how far away we are from each other, how I can’t see you in person whenever I want to.”

It sounds a bit like a confession, the way Hua Cheng says it. The way he refuses to look at him while speaking in that soft voice of his. Xie Lian wonders if it is—a confession—as his heart thuds against the walls of his chest and he feels his cheeks dust over with color, pink as a kiss. 

“San Lang,” he starts, then stops. Considers. He fixes his gaze onto the screen and watches as Hua Cheng slowly moves to look at him again. “Do you want to see me?”

Hua Cheng smiles. “I’m seeing you right now.”

“You are,” Xie Lian agrees with a nod, “but I meant more in the physical way.”

Hua Cheng stares at him then, and Xie Lian, for once, meets his gaze head-on. It’s a little silly, because Hua Cheng appears to be looking a little downward since he’s not focusing directly at the camera, but Xie Lian knows that he must look the same for him, too. 

“Then yes,” says Hua Cheng, so quietly that Xie Lian can barely hear him at first, “yes, of course I want to see you, gege. In the physical way.”

“You will,” says Xie Lian. “One day. You will. I will.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

“You want to?”

“Are you asking me if I want to meet you in person?”

Hua Cheng nods. 

Xie Lian huffs out a laugh, lips curling into what he thinks is a pout. “How can you ask me that? Don’t you already know?”

At this, Hua Cheng shakes his head. “I’m not very good at these kinds of things.” A pause. “It’s best if gege is just direct with me about everything, because otherwise I’ll just...think of the worst case scenario.”

Xie Lian frowns, “That’s not...don’t think that way. I don’t want you to think that way with me.”

“That’s a pretty big request,” says Hua Cheng. 

Which is confusing. Actually, everything Hua Cheng says is confusing, Xie Lian thinks. He’s always playing around and twisting words, and almost everything that comes out of his mouth can be taken in a second way. Usually, Xie Lian ignores it, always opting for the easier option, always responding to the meaning that’s easier to think about, to talk about...to accept. 

But there’s a different kind of undertone to the conversation they’re having right now, one that’s glowing with the possibility of something Xie Lian has never found the courage to properly consider. 

So, for once, he goes for the second meaning. 

“I really enjoy talking to you, San Lang,” he says first, because this part is easy. This part Xie Lian can do forever. “You are a really important person in my life.”

Hua Cheng’s expression doesn’t move. If anything, it freezes in place. “Is that so,” he says.

Xie Lian nods. “You mean a lot to me. The conversations we have mean a lot to me. Actually, sometimes I find myself rereading our texts just to...feel something?” He laughs. “It’s a bit morbid, I know, but I can’t really think of a better way to phrase it.”

Hua Cheng smiles and says nothing. Xie Lian takes it in stride. 

“I’m sorry for just assuming that you would just know how I feel,” he says. 

“I do know how you feel,” says Hua Cheng suddenly. “At least, I think I do. It’s just…”

Xie Lian understands what he’s trying to say: Hua Cheng overthinks. He overthinks till he’s not sure if he knows anymore, no matter how positive he had been before. 

“Of course I would like to meet you in person,” Xie Lian says. “It’s really the only thing I want to do, to be honest.”

“Yeah?” says Hua Cheng with a slight smile.

“Yeah,” says Xie Lian, smiling back at him. “Unfortunately, that’s not really possible right now.”

“Pity.”

“Yes,” Xie Lian nods. “It’s a real pity. But one day we will meet each other.”

“So I just have to trudge through these boring, gege-less days till then?” says Hua Cheng, the corners of his mouth quirking upward. 

“I’m basically inside your phone,” says Xie Lian. “You can text me or call me or FaceTime me whenever you want. Just like we’re doing right now.”

“All right, gege,” says Hua Cheng.

“All right, San Lang,” says Xie Lian. 

They move onto a different topic after that, but Xie Lian’s insides feel warm, touched with a spark: the promise of a future with something more.

 

✧✧✧

 

group message: xian le trio

Xie Lian
Hi guys!
Don’t freak out, but I think I like San Lang!

Feng Xin
WHAT THE FUCK

Mu Qing
WHAT THE FUCK

 

✧✧✧ 

 

“Hypothetically speaking,” says Xie Lian, “what would you do if someone—not me, of course—told you that they have feelings for San La—your roommate? Even though they live halfway across the world and it will probably never happen and—”

“This is an incredibly specific hypothetical situation,” says He Xuan through a mouthful of his dinner. 

Xie Lian spoons at his breakfast—a bowl of only slightly darkened porridge he made for himself—and frowns. 

“Yes,” he says as he takes a bite. Hm. Not too shabby for his eleventh try at this particular recipe. “Hypothetical situations are usually pretty specific, A-Xuan.”

“Wait,” says He Xuan. Xie Lian watches as he sets his chopsticks down, the sound of the utensils clattering onto the table roaring out through the small speakers of his phone. “So...hypothetically, someone who’s not you has feelings for—my roommate? Hua Cheng?” 

A pause. Xie Lian audibly gulps as He Xuan’s face goes through a variety of different expressions. 

“No,” He Xuan says a few seconds later, “no fucking way.”

Xie Lian groans and pushes his seat back, the wooden legs of the chair screeching against the hardwood floor of his apartment. He hangs his head and buries his face in his hands. 

“You like Hua Cheng?”

“Not so loud!” Xie Lian hisses through the cracks of his fingers. “You live with him!”

“He’s out at class right now,” He Xuan says dismissively, waving his arm out in front of him. “What the fuck do you mean, you like Hua Cheng? You guys don’t even know each other. You guys don’t even talk to each other?”

Silence. 

“Um,” says Xie Lian eloquently. 

More silence.

“What the fuck? Since when do you and Hua Cheng talk to each other?!”

“Since recently!” Xie Lian exclaims, raising his arms out in front of him. “It’s, um. Yes. A recent thing. I just didn’t exactly tell you the details because, well.”

“Because I can’t stand his fucking guts.”

Xie Lian is at a bit of a loss. “Well. Yes.”

He Xuan gapes at him. Xie Lian thinks he looks a bit like a fish from the angle his camera is positioned at. “Then why didn’t he tell me anything—wait. Don’t answer that.”

“Okay,” says Xie Lian.

There’s a long pause that settles between them then, and it has Xie Lian fidgeting with the ends of his sleeve, his toes curling underneath his faded dining table. 

“He Xuan,” he says after a moment, “you still haven’t really answered my question.”

“Will you please be quiet?”

“Yes. Okay. Being quiet starting now, take your time.”

“Thank you.”

Which leaves them to simmer in silence for a while. Xie Lian hums to himself as he waits for He Xuan to finish his…well, he doesn’t exactly know what it is He Xuan is doing right now, but it seems to be something akin to brooding. It isn’t exactly an...unfamiliar...sight to see. But Xie Lian knows to keep his thoughts to himself. 

“You know what I just realized,” says He Xuan, his voice like a knife cutting through the silence that Xie Lian had just been starting to get comfortable in, “I actually don’t care.”

Xie Lian blinks. “What?”

“I don’t care,” He Xuan says again. “I do not give a shit! If you want to ruin your life and date Hua Cheng, be my guest! Just know I absolutely refuse to be within even a ten foot radius of you two if you end up getting together. You’re already sickening enough as it is.”

Xie Lian stares at his best friend, stares at how He Xuan leans back in his chair and crosses his arms over his chest. “I see,” he says, and then he smiles. “Well, thank you, He Xuan.”

“For what?”

“For being okay with it.”

“Oh, no,” says He Xuan immediately. “If you think I am okay with any of this, then you are severely incorrect. You want my honest opinion? I think you’re way too fucking good for Hua Cheng and he doesn’t deserve you even in the slightest.” He Xuan huffs, rolling his eyes. “Why you even like him is beyond me. He’s an annoying, messy slob who doesn’t know the first thing about financial management. Always throwing his money left and right—and then he has the audacity to say I’m indebted to him. Like he fucking needs more money.”

“You’re indebted to him?”

“Don’t ask.”

Xie Lian does not ask, because he knows that He Xuan will elaborate more anyways any second now—

“Seriously. You ask for one fucking favor and suddenly everyone’s on your fucking tail about getting paid back for shit.”

And there it is.

“It must have been a pretty big favor,” Xie Lian hums. 

He Xuan makes a face. “Whatever.” And then, “So are you gonna ask Hua Cheng out or what?”

Xie Lian feels the tips of his ears warm. “I—no.”

He Xuan grunts and goes to take another bite of his food. 

Xie Lian presses his lips together and says, “Aren’t you going to urge me to make a move on him?”

“Hah.” He Xuan visibly shudders. “Like I want any part in your relationship. Good luck getting with him with that passive attitude.”

“You know, you really are beginning to sound like Mu Qing.”

“You know, you really should think about shutting the fuck up.”

Xie Lian smiles. “I love you,” he says with a grin.

He Xuan pretends to throw up. Xie Lian knows it’s his way of saying it back.

 

✧✧✧

 

Having a crush on someone who lives thousands of miles away is…a commitment. Except it isn’t really, for Xie Lian, because it’s not like his life is centered around anything but his small circle of friends, and it isn’t like Hua Cheng isn’t in said circle. 

The weeks pass by in a blur. 

“Fucking finals week,” He Xuan grumbles one night through a yawn, adjusting a textbook on his lap. “I’m going to kill myself, Xie Lian.”

“Please don’t,” says Xie Lian, focused on his knitting. He’s been trying to construct a scarf lately, and he’s determined to make it look good. He’ll ship it to Hua Cheng if his final product is satisfactory.

He Xuan heaves a dramatic sigh. “I booked my tickets last night.”

“Tickets for what?”

“What do you mean for what? The plane tickets. For China.”

Xie Lian freezes.

He Xuan raises an eyebrow. “Winter break is a thing, you know?”

“Oh, right, fine, yeah,” says Xie Lian, even though it absolutely is not fine. How could he forget that He Xuan is coming back to China for his winter break? He just finished his first semester of college in the states—he’s probably dying to come back home. 

“That’s wonderful, A-Xuan,” says Xie Lian, breaking out into a grin, because despite everything, this means he gets his best friend back for a bit. “How long are you staying for? Will you be staying with your parents?”

“Probably, yeah,” He Xuan nods. “And it’s three weeks. I’ll be in China for three weeks, but then I have to fly back in the beginning of January.”

“And when are you coming?”

“Right after finals are over,” says He Xuan. “So in two weeks.”

“That’s awesome,” says Xie Lian. “I’m excited.”

“Me too,” says He Xuan.

They settle back into silence, Xie Lian knowing that He Xuan probably needs it to properly study for his exams. His fingers itch as he knits faster, looping the yarn haphazardly as his mind races, already halfway through planning the entirety of his and He Xuan’s three weeks together.

Wait.

“Wait,” Xie Lian says, cracking through the silence and wincing when he hears He Xuan hiss in surprise. “Sorry. I probably broke your concentration.”

“You did,” says He Xuan, and then he rolls his eyes. “It’s fine. What is it?”

“It’s just,” starts Xie Lian, and then he stops. “You said tickets? Plural?”

“Oh,” He Xuan says, waving a noncommittal hand in front of his face. “Yeah. Going and returning. One to China, one to America.”

Ah. 

Xie Lian shouldn’t be disappointed. He knows he shouldn’t be disappointed. After all, he’s going to be seeing his best friend for the first time in months. He loves He Xuan, he’s missed He Xuan, he wants to spend time with He Xuan in person. He wants to talk to He Xuan about his new life in America. He wants to ask him about school in the context of something other than a video call.

So it’s dumb to feel disappointed, Xie Lian thinks. He knows it’s not plausible to meet Hua Cheng so soon. Hua Cheng would have told him by now if he was coming to China, anyways, so there’s really no reason for Xie Lian to be surprised by He Xuan’s sudden revelation. 

So he plasters on a smile and says, “Right. Of course.”

He Xuan gives him a weird look before going back to his textbook, and Xie Lian is left to simmer in his thoughts, alone. 

 

✧✧✧ 

 

group message: xian le trio

Xie Lian
help

Feng Xin
WHAT HAPPENED

Mu Qing
WHAT HAPPENED

Feng Xin
ARE YOU OKAY

Mu Qing
ARE YOU HURT

Xie Lian
I
Am I a bad friend for being sad that San Lang isn’t coming with He Xuan to China for winter break

Feng Xin
oh

Mu Qing
ugh i thought this was something serious

Feng Xin
me too
xie lian doesn’t usually do the
no caps thing

Mu Qing
yeah 🙄

Xie Lian
Guys!!!!!!
OMG
I just really want to meet him, you know?
But He Xuan is my best friend! And of course I’m happy that I’m going to be seeing him soon
It’s just…

Mu Qing
yeah yeah

Xie Lian
Their winter break is right after their finals
Which are also very soon, BTW
And He Xuan will be coming back home for three weeks
Of course, San Lang never mentioned coming here for break, so it is a little childish of me to hope he would

Mu Qing
disgusting

Feng Xin
yes you are
ignore him, xie lian!!
continue!

Xie Lian
I know I’ll meet him eventually of course
Probably next summer, since I’m planning on flying there to visit He Xuan anyways
He’s been wanting me to come for a while!!!
And I guess since San Lang is also there, I have another excuse ^_^
OMG what should I do when I do finally meet him??????
Help!!!!

Feng Xin
just like
idk
be yourself or some shit

Mu Qing
wow
very helpful
you’d think, being the only one of us to ever have a gf or bf or whatever, you’d know a thing or two
but nah
you go and spout the ‘be yourself’ shit

Feng Xin
shut the fuck up
let’s hear your splendid advice then

Mu Qing
just conveniently get hit by a bus before you see him
[shrug.gif]

Xie Lian
Um………
I don’t think I’ll be doing that
Feng Xin’s advice sounds good!
Mu Qing, you sound a bit like He Xuan

Mu Qing
please never say those words to me ever again

Xie Lian
He Xuan said something similar when I told him the same thing!

Mu Qing
so he has a brain
congrats to him

 

✧✧✧ 

 

Xie Lian has honestly been perfectly fine with how things are right now: daily video chats, almost constant texts back and forth, pining so deep and throat-wrenching that he was forced to even admit to himself that it was becoming a lot.

Sometimes, though, Hua Cheng will say things. He always says things, but sometimes he’ll say things. 

Things like:

I wish I could see you right now, gege. 

I want to see you, gege.

I wish I could come over, gege, and talk to you in person.

Things that drive Xie Lian absolutely insane. 

Because yes, he’s fine with how things are, but he also sometimes allows himself to think of things beyond what little a video call can do. He thinks of touching Hua Cheng’s arms and holding his hands and face. He thinks of sitting down in the same room as him and having a conversation without needing to squint at his phone screen. 

And he knows that one day the time for all of that will come. He knows they’ll meet in person eventually. 

But the wait is long, Xie Lian thinks. It’s long and winding and just a tad bit cruel. It’s cruel how fate put them on opposite ends of the world. 

But, well, Xie Lian can do nothing about it. So it’s fine, really. He’ll be patient. 

And in the end, it will be worth it. 

That much he knows for sure. 

 

✧✧✧ 

 

Xie Lian
San Lang!
I heard your winter break is coming up!

San Lang
hi gege!!!~~
yes, it is
right after finals, which i’m actually currently studying for
did he xuan tell you?

Xie Lian
Oh! If you need to study, I’ll leave you alone and we can talk another time!

San Lang
nonsense, i was going to take a break right now anyways
gege has perfect timing~

Xie Lian
Mmm all right then!
And yes, He Xuan did tell me
He said he booked his tickets to come back here too!

San Lang
oh yes he told me about that
you must be excited to finally see your friend irl after so long
(irl means in real life)

Xie Lian
(Oooh thank you!)
I am pretty excited, yes 😊
Do you have any plans for winter break?

San Lang
mm nothing much!
i’ll have some peace and quiet around here i guess since he xuan is going to be gone for 3 weeks

Xie Lian
Oh…you won’t be visiting family or anything?

San Lang
i don’t have any family, gege

Xie Lian
I see
Well then, next year you should come to China for your break!
I’ll let you stay with me so you don’t have to be alone

San Lang
that’s…
really nice of you, gege
:)
thank you

Xie Lian
Of course!!!!
<3

San Lang
<3 

 

✧✧✧ 

 

Xie Lian drives his small two-seater to the airport. 

He’s never really needed a bigger car. Even when he hangs out with Feng Xin and Mu Qing, the three usually take Mu Qing’s car, since it’s big and it actually has a back seat. 

Xie Lian’s car is cute. It’s small. It’s cozy. It’s always worked since the only person he really drives around is He Xuan. 

The airport is, well, how the airport usually is. 

Xie Lian makes it to the arrival port and stares at the gate He Xuan will be walking through in about a half hour. The rest of the airport is bustling with life, people going to and fro from place to place, some walking at a leisurely pace and others running out of fear of missing their flight. Xie Lian hasn’t been to an airport in what feels like years, the last time being when he came to drop He Xuan off before his flight to America.

He spends the time he has walking around, going over to the coffee shop and buying a cup of black coffee for himself. He lingers there for a moment longer before purchasing three scones, a bagel, and a smoothie for He Xuan too. 

He thanks the barista after paying for the items and goes to sit at one of the chairs. Settling in, he takes out his phone and goes to his group chat with Feng Xin and Mu Qing. 


group message: xian le trio

Xie Lian
I’m at the airport!! Waiting for He Xuan :)
And I’m bored

Mu Qing
don’t look at me
there is absolutely nothing interesting happening in my life right now

Feng Xin
that’s nothing new
fucking loser

Mu Qing
shut the hell up
like your life is soooo exciting

Feng Xin
actually, it is
i make everything i do entertaining

Mu Qing
that’s really funny

Feng Xin
you should learn a thing or two from me about being funny, mu qing

Mu Qing
and that’s even funnier


Xie Lian smiles and shakes his head, fondly smiling down at the flurry of incoming texts that slowly begin to turn into fully capitalized yelling. He can always, ah, count on his friends to make his life a little more interesting. 

And, after about twenty minutes of this, he gets another text. 


He Xuan
just landed

Xie Lian
Awesome!!!!
I’m waiting outside :D

He Xuan
k
just gotta pick up the bags
will be there shortly

Xie Lian
Take your time, DW!!
(That means don’t worry!)


Shortly ends up being all of thirty minutes, and then suddenly Xie Lian is standing in front of the arrivals gate on his tiptoes, squinting at the masses of people arriving and looking for the telltale black that He Xuan is always wearing. (Not very helpful, of course. You’d be surprised at the number of people who wear black at an airport. Or, maybe not.)

But then, when Xie Lian does spot him, he breaks out into a wide grin, east to west on the lower half of his face. He Xuan is rolling a huge suitcase behind him, his eyes calm as he searches through the crowd for Xie Lian’s face. 

Xie Lian jumps up and waves wildly at him, “A-Xuan! Over here!”

He Xuan finds him with ease, a smile curling onto the corners of his lips. He walks up to him, and Xie Lian’s insides bubble with excitement as he too speedwalks over to his best friend. 

“A-Lian,” says He Xuan in greeting. 

Xie Lian yelps before jumping up and into his arms, tightening his hold around He Xuan’s shoulders and burying his face into his neck. He feels He Xuan huff quietly against him before he too loops his arms around his waist. 

“Oh, I’ve missed you,” says Xie Lian once they separate, and it gives him whiplash when he has to actually look up to see He Xuan’s face.

He Xuan quirks an eyebrow at him. “We talk literally every day.”

“Well, yes,” says Xie Lian, “but it’s different like this! We haven’t seen each other in person for months!”

“I suppose you’re right,” says He Xuan. “Hm. How have you been?”

Xie Lian laughs and says, “I’ve been well, I’ve been well. Though you probably already know that.”

“You’re right,” says He Xuan, “I do. Which is why all of this is stupid.”

“Maybe,” Xie Lian agrees. Then he points somewhere behind him with his thumb. “Do you want to get going, then? I brought my car. I’ll drive you to your parents’ place, unless you’d like to spend the night at mine instead?”

He Xuan’s expression shifts, then, and Xie Lian blinks as he takes a step back from him. 

“About that,” He Xuan starts. “Well…”

Xie Lian stares at him, twisting his lips into a frown. “He Xuan? Is there something wrong?”

He Xuan says nothing. He just looks back at Xie Lian in silence for a few seconds, his gaze blank, devoid of all emotion. 

“He Xuan? What—”

“Surprise.”

The new voice comes from right by his ear, and Xie Lian jumps when he feels the person’s breath tickling the bare skin of his neck. 

He whips around, but it proves to be fruitless, because the first thing Xie Lian sees is a chest clothed in red—a startlingly familiar chest—before he’s barreling straight into it and sending them both toppling a few steps back.

So. There’s Xie Lian, bent at an awkward ninety-degree angle, with the top of his head pressed against a stranger’s middle. All Xie Lian can see is the floor, and he silently sends a prayer up because holy moly I recognize that voice I would recognize that voice anywhere oh my god and these boots they’re so familiar and this red t-shirt it’s all so—

It’s all so Hua Cheng.

“Woah,” Hua Cheng says, his voice deep and smooth and so much better in person. He reaches out, his large hands coming to steady Xie Lian against him, and then he laughs as his grip on his shoulders tightens. “Gege, be careful.”

“San Lang,” Xie Lian breathes, looking up. 

He meets Hua Cheng’s eye, and—oh. Wow.

Hua Cheng is tall. Really tall. Xie Lian should have expected this, really, considering how he knows that Hua Cheng stands a little taller than He Xuan. But it’s one thing to see him roaming by He Xuan’s side on his tiny phone screen and another entirely to stand before him in the flesh. 

He’s also beautiful. Insanely beautiful. More beautiful than Xie Lian ever thought he would be, which is saying something, because Xie Lian already thought of him as the most beautiful man on the planet. His facial features are angled perfectly and his hair flows delicately over the sides of his face. His jawline is sharp, almost cuttingly so, but there’s a subtle softness in his cheeks that makes Xie Lian want to touch, move closer, ghost his fingers across. 

“San Lang,” he says again, because what? “San Lang. San Lang?”

“Gege,” says Hua Cheng. He’s smiling, and it’s making Xie Lian want to cry a bit. “Gege? Gege. Gege gege gege.”

“San Lang.”

“Gege.”

“San Lang.”

“Gege.”

“San Lang.”

“Ge—”

“Will you two shut the fuck up?” He Xuan snaps, effectively cutting Xie Lian away from whatever trance he was in. 

“Sorry!” Xie Lian squeaks. His gaze rapidly flies between He Xuan and Hua Cheng, his hands coming up in front of his stomach, hovering there stupidly. “Um. I. He Xuan.”

He Xuan rolls his eyes. “What?”

“You…” Xie Lian fumbles for words, meeting Hua Cheng’s eye again and staring unabashedly. “You didn’t tell me? That San Lang. That he…”

“That he’s coming too?” He Xuan scoffs, a quiet thing through his teeth. “Yeah. Whatever. I’ve paid back, like, at least sixty-percent of my debt by keeping it a secret.”

Hua Cheng is smiling softly down at Xie Lian, and Xie Lian just prays that this isn’t just his mind playing some kind of sick joke on him, that this isn’t a dream, that he won’t wake up any second now and find out that none of this is real. 

“Okay, I can’t watch this anymore,” He Xuan mutters, snapping Xie Lian back to reality once again. “Can we please get going? I’m already sick of you two.”

“Oh!” Xie Lian exclaims, before nodding. “Yes, of course. Let’s get going. San Lang, let me help you with your bags.”

Hua Cheng shakes his head and curls the fingers of both of his hands around his two suitcases. “No need, gege. I’ve got this. You just lead the way.”

Xie Lian frowns. “Are you sure? They look a bit heavy.”

“I’m sure,” says Hua Cheng. 

“You can help me with mine though,” says He Xuan. Hua Cheng side-steps over to him and elbows him roughly in the side. “Ow! The fuck was that for?”

“You can roll your own suitcase,” says Hua Cheng coolly. “Or are you that much of a wimp?”

“Fuck off,” He Xuan hisses. 

Xie Lian looks back and forth between the two, then down to their luggage. He frowns. “Oh. Wait…”

Hua Cheng immediately turns away from He Xuan to face him. “Gege? Is there something wrong?”

“It’s just…” Xie Lian sighs. “My car can only fit one other person.”

There’s a long pause that settles over the three of them. 

“Oh, it’s fine,” says He Xuan. He looks…weird. Xie Lian doesn’t really know how to describe it. His lips are pressed together and he’s not really making eye contact. “I knew you were going to drive here in your car. Uh. Someone is picking me up, so you and Hua Cheng can go together.”

“It’s his boyfriend,” Hua Cheng deadpans from beside him. “His boyfriend is picking him up.”

“His boy…friend?” Xie Lian says, raising an eyebrow. He looks to his best friend, the latter looking pointedly away from him. “He Xuan, you have a boyfriend? And I didn’t know?”

“They’re not my—” He Xuan sighs and grumbles something under his breath. “They’re not my boyfriend. They’re not my anything. Shut the fuck up, Hua Cheng.”

Hua Cheng’s smile shifts into one that’s never been directed at Xie Lian before. Xie Lian has still seen it, of course: it’s the one that curls at his lips in almost a sinister way, one that’s almost always directed at He Xuan. 

“Really,” he drawls, “so they’re just picking you up from here and letting you stay with them for a few days because you’re, what, friends?”

“Yes, actually,” says He Xuan. “I guess you wouldn’t know anything about having friends, would you.”

Hua Cheng’s smile widens. “And just for that, you keeping my coming here a secret has been demoted to covering only forty-percent of your debt.”

“The—what the fuck? You—”

“What? Fish got your tongue?”

“Die,” says He Xuan, and then he spins around and walks away. 

Xie Lian stares after his slowly retreating figure, a frown playing at his lips. “You must have done a pretty big favor for him, San Lang,” he says, looking back at Hua Cheng. “This isn’t the first time he’s mentioned that he’s indebted to you.”

Hua Cheng shrugs nonchalantly. “You could say that.” Then he takes his suitcases into hand once again and says, “Shall we, gege?”

“We shall,” says Xie Lian, painting a grin on his features and beginning to walk. 

 

✧✧✧ 

 

group message: xian le trio

Mu Qing
so????
xie lian???
did he xuan come safely
not that i give a shit

Feng Xin
suuure you “don’t give a shit”

Xie Lian
Yes, he did!

Mu Qing
great

Feng Xin
is he with you rn?

Xie Lian
Ah….no
San Lang is with me right now

Mu Qing
WHAT

Feng Xin
WHAT THE FUCK

Mu Qing
WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU MEAN SAN LANG IS WITH YOU
SAN LANG IS IN AMERICA????
SAN LANG IS SUPPOSED TO BE IN AMERICA

Xie Lian
San Lang surprised me!!!
He came here to China with He Xuan :D

Feng Xin
WHAT THE FUCK
HE’S STALKING YOU

Mu Qing
HE’S STALKING YOU

Xie Lian
I really don’t think he’s stalking me T_T
But yes! San Lang is with me!
He’s just buying a coffee for himself
We’re going to my place straight from the airport!

Feng Xin
XIE LIAN ARE YOU DUMB

Mu Qing
WHY THE HELL ARE YOU TAKING HIM TO YOUR PLACE
HE IS LITERALLY A STRANGER

Xie Lian
Guys >_<
I’ve been talking regularly with him for months!
Also, I’m the one who offered to take us to my place
Otherwise he’s staying with He Xuan, but He Xuan is staying with his…

Mu Qing
his what

Feng Xin
HIS WHAT???

Xie Lian
Well, I’m not entirely sure what they are?
San Lang says they’re dating, but He Xuan says they aren’t

Mu Qing
i can’t believe i’m saying this, but i trust he xuan on this one

Xie Lian
Yes well
San Lang does like to tease He Xuan, so I’m sure it’s just that
Besides, He Xuan would tell me if he’s dating someone!
I think
He at least wouldn’t deny it or try to deliberately hide it from me

Mu Qing
yeah yeah whatever we get it ur best friends

Xie Lian
We are! ^w^
Anyways, He Xuan is staying with his ‘friend’ for a few nights before going to his parents’ place
Oh, San Lang is here!
I’ll talk to you guys later!

Mu Qing
BE SAFE

Feng Xin
DON’T DIE
YOU’RE TOO YOUNG TO DIE

Mu Qing
text us if you need ANYTHING

Feng Xin
literally anything at all

Xie Lian
I will, I will! DW!

 

✧✧✧ 

 

The car ride to Xie Lian’s home is silent. 

It’s not a particularly uncomfortable silence, no. It’s nice. Hua Cheng sits in the passenger seat of Xie Lian’s car and looks out the window, and when Xie Lian glances over to him, he sees a small smile ghosting at the corners of his lips. 

“Do you want to listen to music?” he asks, breaking the quiet. 

Hua Cheng moves to look at him. “I don’t mind.”

Xie Lian huffs. “That’s not very helpful.”

“Ah,” says Hua Cheng, and then he stops, looking thoughtful. “To be honest, gege, I didn’t even notice the absence of music.”

“The silence was loud for you too,” says Xie Lian. 

Hua Cheng nods. “Yes,” he says, quieter this time. “This kind of feels like a fever dream.”

“It feels like that for me too,” says Xie Lian. He turns the car into a particularly narrow street. “If it is, I don’t want to wake up.”

Hua Cheng doesn’t respond, and they drive in silence until they reach Xie Lian’s house. After parking, Xie Lian cuts off the engine, leaving the car idling quietly. Neither of them make a move to get out. 

They sit there for a while without talking, each lost deep in their own thoughts. Xie Lian looks down at his hands in his lap, flexing his fingers to relieve the stress in his muscles. They were clenching pretty tightly around the steering wheel, it seems; he thinks maybe that’s why he can’t seem to speak. The sound of birds chirping comes from outside, and Xie Lian can see a few leaves blowing through the air. 

There’s nothing else in the world except for his car and Hua Cheng sitting beside him. 

They sit in silence, but it feels somehow more intimate. It’s comforting. He doesn’t know why, exactly, but he doesn’t want to disturb this peaceful moment with whatever is going on inside his head. He just wants to exist here, in this moment. 

Hua Cheng is the first to speak, “Why did you invite me over?” His voice isn’t accusatory—it’s just curious, with only a hint of something else. Something deeper. He sounds almost afraid. 

(And perhaps he should be, because if Xie Lian is being honest with himself, a part of him really, truly wants this moment to never end.)

He looks up at Hua Cheng, taking a breath as he tries to think of an answer to give. When he speaks, his voice cracks, “I have no idea.”

Hua Cheng laughs at this. “Really, gege?”

“Well,” says Xie Lian, “I guess, I wanted to spend some time with you.” He pauses, looking at the way Hua Cheng’s smile softens. “This is my first time seeing you in person.”

He reaches for him, curling his fingers around his arm, just below his elbow. He doesn’t know what overtook him to be able to do something so bold, but Xie Lian guesses he can have a bit of leeway. After all, nothing running through his head right now is making sense. At least his actions seem to be somewhat coherent.

“And how do you like me?” Hua Cheng says, tone playful and light. He doesn’t push Xie Lian away. 

“Even more now,” says Xie Lian before he can stop himself. 

He freezes. 

Hua Cheng’s gaze shifts down to where Xie Lian’s hand is, and Xie Lian pulls his hand back, moving to stare straight ahead. He doesn’t dare say a word, mentally cursing himself out. Oh, dear, how could he be so stupid? That was—that was basically a confession. Basically. There’s no way Hua Cheng doesn’t know now. And what brilliant timing too, considering they’re completely alone and Hua Cheng has no physical way to leave without Xie Lian driving him elsewhere with his car. 

So Xie Lian turns. He turns to look at Hua Cheng. He can take it. There’s no going back now. 

Hua Cheng is staring at him in complete surprise, mouth hanging slightly open. His visible eye is wide on his face and Xie Lian doesn’t know what to say or what to do. 

After a moment, Hua Cheng clears his throat and says, “Gege.”

“San Lang,” says Xie Lian immediately, but it comes out more like a squeak than anything else.

“Gege,” says Hua Cheng again. 

“San Lang,” says Xie Lian. 

A pause. “We could do this forever,” Hua Cheng whispers. “He Xuan isn’t even here to interrupt us this time.”

Xie Lian nods, and he must be at least half out of his mind. “San Lang.”

“Gege.”

“San Lang.”

And then: “You like me even more now?”

Xie Lian desperately fights the urge to look away. Hua Cheng’s eye is gleaming, pulling him closer, but the words are stuck on his tongue. The air between them feels like it’s about to crackle, but neither of them move. “San Lang.”

“Gege.” 

And then, they both shift, darting forward till their heads are hovering above the console, and Xie Lian turns in the car seat so that he’s sitting on his side.

His chest aches as he watches Hua Cheng’s eyes follow every movement he makes; his gaze skitters down to Xie Lian’s lips before sliding back up. “Gege?” Hua Cheng asks again. His voice sounds soft and husky from lack of use. “Are you sure?”

Yes, Xie Lian thinks. 

“Yes,” he says, and then he leans forward, reaches his hands out to cup the sides of Hua Cheng’s face, and kisses him. 

It isn't anything special or deep or tender—it’s nothing more than a quick press of his lips to Hua Cheng's. They're apart in seconds, but Xie Lian can still feel the warmth of Hua Cheng’s skin where their bodies touched, a lingering sensation on his bottom lip. 

Hua Cheng looks shellshocked. His eye is wide on his face and his lips are slightly parted, as if he's forgotten how to close them, as if he’s only recently awoken from a trance. His eye is wide as a saucer as he stares back at Xie Lian. 

He’s beautiful like this, Xie Lian thinks, with his hair falling into the right side of his face and his cheeks flushing the color of a pretty pink rose. Xie Lian’s breath is caught somewhere in his throat, and his eyes are dark as he looks up at Hua Cheng through his lashes.

And then, they’re kissing again.

Soft and chaste turns to wild and hungry; their mouths fit together so perfectly it makes Xie Lian’s insides ache. He presses his whole body closer to Hua Cheng, unable to stop the hiss of displeasure that escapes through his lips when his sides press into the console that’s separating them.

“San—San Lang,” he breathes into Hua Cheng’s mouth, and Hua Cheng hums in return to show that he’s listening. “Inside. Let’s—let’s go inside.”

“Inside,” Hua Cheng repeats when they pull away. He lands another peck to Xie Lian’s lips and nods. “Okay.”

So Xie Lian scrambles with his keys, climbing out of the car and halfheartedly locking the doors closed. His mind is fogged with the memory of Hua Cheng’s lips, how he tasted of the sweet honey coffee he drank at the airport, how the softness of his skin was so warm beneath the touch of his hands.

It’s only been a minute, but he misses the feeling of Hua Cheng against him. 

Hua Cheng does too, apparently, because the next thing Xie Lian knows, he’s being pushed against the hood of his car and kissed within an inch of his life. His hooded eyes can make out shadows of Hua Cheng’s face, but when he feels strong hands circling his waist and hoisting him up, Xie Lian’s eyelids flutter fully closed. 

Hua Cheng, he thinks, is a very good kisser. Extremely good, actually—not that Xie Lian has much to go off of, but still. He reaches up and knots his fists into the front of his shirt, pulling him impossibly closer.

Hua Cheng groans, low and deep in his throat, and Xie Lian suddenly understands why people describe kissing as magical. His insides feel like mush and his hands are sticky, reaching and grasping for air, finding that his fingers naturally end up at the back of Hua Cheng’s neck. He curls his nails into his skin and smiles when he feels Hua Cheng hiss in response. 

And then, as if Xie Lian is being punished for it, Hua Cheng is pushing his chest, bending his back over till he’s laying flat on top of the car. Xie Lian yelps in surprise, peeking an eye open to see Hua Cheng hovering over him, his hair falling around his face like a curtain, secluding him away from the rest of the world. 

Xie Lian’s back arches when Hua Cheng meets him in the middle once again, and oh—this one’s better, this one has his toes curling inside his boots and his hands scurrying upward to dig into Hua Cheng’s hair. He feels him, all of him, and then he’s inhaling Hua Cheng’s shampoo, his body lotion, the makeup smudging the blush of his cheeks. 

Then Hua Cheng pulls away, and Xie Lian feels a whine in the back of his throat, begging to come up and pour out into the air. He closes his lips, snaps his tongue against the roof of his mouth, and opens his eyes in a haze.

“San Lang,” he murmurs as Hua Cheng slowly helps him back upright, “why’d you stop—San Lang, I—”

Hua Cheng loops his arm around Xie Lian and pulls him closer, kissing him silent. 

“Inside,” he says after a second, when they break away and press their foreheads together. Then he takes Xie Lian’s hand, interlacing their fingers and tugging him gently to the entrance of the apartment complex.

It takes all of five minutes to finally push the door to Xie Lian’s apartment open, and once it’s wide enough for the two of them to slip in, Hua Cheng grabs Xie Lian’s collar, pulls him inside, and promptly slams the door shut behind him. 

And then Xie Lian is being spinned around, he’s being spinned around and his back is hitting the front door and his leg is coming up to wrap around Hua Cheng’s thighs and he’s groping Hua Cheng’s face and pulling him in even closer and—

“WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK.”

—and, just like that, the moment is ruined. 

Xie Lian’s hands immediately come loose, pulling right out of Hua Cheng’s hair just as Hua Cheng takes a few staggering steps back. They’re breathing heavily; Xie Lian can see the burning red color on Hua Cheng’s cheeks, and that in itself is a bad sign. Were they really so caught up in what they were doing that they couldn’t bother to notice that the lights were on?

So, Xie Lian takes the plunge and looks in the direction of where the new voice had come from. 

He Xuan is sitting on the couch with someone Xie Lian doesn’t know, and both of their jaws are dropped open in what can only be described as pure shock. 

Ah. 

Of course. 

“How did you—” Xie Lian starts, then gasps when he realizes he’s completely out of breath. His chest is heaving as he pants, and he swallows in an effort to regain coherency. “How did you get inside?”

He Xuan is staring at him, open-mouthed and wide-eyed, and Xie Lian shrinks in on himself as his best friend’s gaze refuses to waver away from his face. “The key,” says He Xuan dumbly. “The one under the rug outside. You always. Keep one there.”

Xie Lian presses his lips together and nods. “I see. Um.”

Hua Cheng spins on his heel, right till he’s standing tall in front of them and staring down at He Xuan with what Xie Lian thinks is a particularly menacing glare. He looks incredibly endearing like this, with his puffy, kiss-swollen lips and his tangled black hair, but Xie Lian knows that He Xuan probably doesn’t see it as such. 

He Xuan’s eyes go impossibly wider. “No. Don’t you dare—this wasn’t even my fault, Hua Che—”

“And for this,” Hua Cheng cuts in, blissfully ignoring him, “you keeping my coming here a secret has been demoted to covering absolutely none of your debt.”

“Fuck off!” He Xuan exclaims. “Do you think I wanted to see you two sucking each other’s faces off?”

“He-xiong,” the stranger next to him says suddenly, and Xie Lian inhales in surprise at the sound of their voice, “your friends are a bit strange.”  

Xie Lian plasters on a smile, hoping it looks as natural as possible. He had nearly forgotten they had another guest. “Ah, He Xuan, this is…?”

He Xuan pulls a face at him. “Don’t talk to me when I can see the fucking hickeys on your neck.”

Xie Lian’s cheeks burn in embarrassment as he subconsciously tugs his shirt up a little by the collar.

“Ignore him!” says the stranger, jumping up and out of their seat. “I’m Shi Qingxuan. I’m He-xiong’s friend from school!”

“Oh, yes,” Xie Lian nods, walking over to them and sticking his hand out, “He Xuan has told me a lot about you. It’s nice to meet you, Qingxuan, I’m Xie Lian.”

“What do you mean, a lot?” He Xuan scoffs. “I’ve barely mentioned them to you.”

“Okay, A-Xuan,” Xie Lian chirps. “Whatever helps you sleep at night.”

“I had my last final a day earlier than He-xiong,” says Shi Qingxuan. “So I got here before him!”

“And why,” Hua Cheng pipes up, his voice getting louder to Xie Lian’s ear as he walks up to stand beside him, “did you come here, may I ask?” He shoots a withering look at He Xuan and then fixes it on Shi Qingxuan, too. “I was under the impression that you would be taking him straight home.”

“I haven’t seen Xie Lian’s new apartment yet!” says He Xuan before Shi Qingxuan can get a word in.

Hua Cheng clicks his tongue, clearly unimpressed. “And I should care because…?”

“Because I’m Xie Lian’s best fucking friend, Hua Cheng,” He Xuan snaps. “You’re just his lanky boyfriend who will always be second to me in his heart.”

It’s a bit of a bold statement, Xie Lian thinks. Not that he would ever say that out loud.

He waits for Hua Cheng’s rebuttal, rolling up and down on the balls of his feet. He has to hand it to them, to be honest. There’s never a dull moment when Hua Cheng and He Xuan are together. 

But Hua Cheng says nothing. 

After a few moments of silence, Xie Lian frowns and turns to look up at him, finding him staring blankly down at He Xuan. He seems to be…deep in thought? Xie Lian isn’t quite sure. He kind of just really wants to get back to kissing him as soon as possible, thank you very much. 

He mentally runs through what He Xuan had said and—oh. 

Oh.

“Wait,” says He Xuan, because of course he realized too. “Don’t tell me—you’re not his fucking boyfriend yet?”

He’s gaping at him—at both of them, really, judging by the way his eyes are flying between their faces. Xie Lian squints down at the ground, because he’s really not daring enough to look and see what kind of expression Hua Cheng is making right now. 

“So you guys were…” He Xuan makes a few vague hand gestures, waving them around his frontside and sputtering, “doing all of that.” Xie Lian winces. “Without even fucking being official?”

“That’s it,” Hua Cheng mutters, just quiet enough for Xie Lian to hear. Then, louder: “Get out.”

“No,” says He Xuan immediately.

“Get out.”

He Xuan levels him with a bored look. “Says who?”

“Um,” Xie Lian cuts in, already knowing how this will most definitely play out, “A-Xuan, you should probably go now. Ah, I’ll talk to you tomorrow for sure. We can meet up for coffee! Or brunch!”

“Xie Lian! You’re really taking your not-boyfriend’s side?”

Ouch. He Xuan definitely said that on purpose. Which is exactly why Xie Lian needs to get him away from Hua Cheng as quickly as possible. Or, preferably, now.

He looks at Shi Qingxuan and smiles, “It was lovely meeting you.”

Shi Qingxuan returns the smile with ease, “Likewise! We should do something together before I have to fly back with He-xiong.”

“I would love to,” says Xie Lian. He shoots He Xuan a look, raising an eyebrow in a way he knows will get his message across: we will be talking about this later.

He Xuan, of course, ignores him, but at least he listens to the earlier part and gets up. 

“Brunch,” he says. “Tomorrow. Promise?”

“I promise,” says Xie Lian. 

He Xuan leaves after that, Shi Qingxuan smiling brightly in tow. Xie Lian’s insides twist like a pretzel as he watches the door swing closed behind them, because although he usually loves being alone with Hua Cheng, this time he’s alone with him...physically. Right after they made out for about twenty minutes straight. 

They stand in the middle of the living room like that, in complete and utter silence, for a long few moments. Xie Lian’s fingers itch not knowing what to do. Is he supposed to say something? Is he supposed to do something?

No. Scratch that. If he moves now, he’ll just end up launching himself back at Hua Cheng’s face, and something tells him that maybe it’s not the right time for that. 

Yet. 

“Gege,” comes Hua Cheng’s voice, quiet against the nonexistent buzz of the apartment. Xie Lian turns to look at him, the two now standing directly in front of each other. 

More quiet. 

“I really can’t believe you’re real,” says Xie Lian, the words toppling right out of his mouth without a care in the world. 

At this, Hua Cheng quirks an eyebrow at him. “What? Did you think you were texting a robot these past few months? You were video chatting with a robot, gege?”

“Don’t tease me,” says Xie Lian, half-groaning. “I know it sounds stupid.”

“Nothing you say sounds stupid,” says Hua Cheng. 

Now see, this is the problem. The problem is that Hua Cheng is Hua Cheng. Hua Cheng is amazing with words and he always says these kinds of things to Xie Lian. He always has this effect on him, the one that makes his chest hurt and his hands quiver with nerves. Xie Lian can’t even blame him—it isn’t like Hua Cheng is doing any of this on purpose. This is just who he is. He’s insane. And sweet. And wonderful. 

And Xie Lian likes him so much. He likes him so much. 

All that’s left is for him to—

“Gege, I like you so much.”

—say it?

What?

“What?”

“I like you so much,” Hua Cheng says again, this time quieter. Softer. He confesses like the air is a palpable thing, like his words will break once they’re out in the open. “I’m sorry. I’m doing this all out of order.”

“I am too,” Xie Lian whispers. He can hear his heartbeat thudding against his chest. “It’s a joint effort, San Lang.”

“I suppose it is,” says Hua Cheng. 

Xie Lian looks at him, looks at the way Hua Cheng refuses to make eye contact with him, the way he’s staring off at one of Xie Lian’s shelves in the corner of the living room, the way his arms are hanging loosely by his sides and his feet are pointed just slightly away. Xie Lian looks at all of this, takes all of it in, and realizes that it’s his turn. 

Hua Cheng is waiting for him. 

Xie Lian takes the final step. 

“San Lang,” he says, and then it’s like a dam has broken, “San Lang, I like you too. I like you so much too. I just…” He trails off with a sigh. “I never stop thinking about you. When we’re not texting each other, I backread all of our conversations, and when you’re asleep, I count down the hours till you wake up.” He hears Hua Cheng’s breath hitch and trudges forward. “I love talking to you, and I love being with you.” He takes a deep breath, then, and exhales loudly before continuing. “Only after having met you did I discover that it’s such a simple thing to be happy.”

Xie Lian stops talking then, belatedly realizing that he’s probably rambling. He looks up to find Hua Cheng staring down at him, his mouth slightly agape. The look on his face is something that Xie Lian cannot describe—fear, awe, hope, disbelief, fear again. 

Finally, Hua Cheng speaks, the word spilling out slowly and haltingly. “Really?”

And well, that’s something. 

“Yes,” says Xie Lian. “Really.”

And Hua Cheng smiles, one that’s soft and sweet and unlike his other smiles. This one, Xie Lian knows, is only reserved for him.

“Gege, can I kiss you?” Hua Cheng says as he takes a step closer. He pauses right before him. “Again?”

Xie Lian feels like he could drown, right here and right now. He barely manages to nod his head once before Hua Cheng is gathering him into his arms, letting his hands travel down to the small of his back, pulling him closer till their noses are a hair's width away. Then, with one swift motion, Hua Cheng dips Xie Lian down till he’s hovering up above him, holding him by the waist and darting his head down to press a soft kiss on the corner of Xie Lian’s lips. 

Xie Lian’s heart pounds madly as he fumbles with the position of his hands, placing them awkwardly over Hua Cheng’s shoulders and muttering, “San Lang, let go of me.”

Hua Cheng laughs and kisses him again. “No can do, gege.”

“San Lang.”

“Gege.”

“San Lang.”

“Gege.”

“San Lang.”

“Gege.”

Xie Lian smiles this time as Hua Cheng leans down and nips the corner of his mouth. “No interruptions this time?”

“If there are, I’ll kill them,” says Hua Cheng, finally loosening his hold around Xie Lian and helping him up to his feet. “You know, gege,” he says seriously, “I’m still extremely jetlagged. I slept on the flight, and it’s morning in America right now. Do you know what that means?”

Xie Lian hums and shakes his head. “What does it mean?”

Hua Cheng leans closer, right till his mouth is by Xie Lian’s ear. “It means I’m not sleepy. I could probably stay up all night if I wanted to.”

Xie Lian inhales, turning to smack Hua Cheng’s shoulder gently. “San Lang!”

Hua Cheng laughs as he stutters back a few steps, away from Xie Lian’s reach. “What? It’s true!” he exclaims, taking off in the direction of the hallway. 

Xie Lian shakes his head, fondly exasperated, before he picks himself up and moves to follow him. 

 

✧✧✧ 

 

group message: xian le trio

Xie Lian
[attachment: 1 image]

Feng Xin
WHAT THE FUCK

Mu Qing
good morning to you guys too
what the hell is that
WHY DID YOU SEND US A PICTURE OF YOU AND THE DEVIL KISSING

Feng Xin
WHY THE FUCK ARE YOU AND HUA CHENG KISSING

Xie Lian
I’m sorry guys!!!!
That wasn’t me!!! San Lang took my phone and sent it!

Feng Xin
BUT WHY ARE YOU KISSING?????????????????

Xie Lian
Oh right! I didn’t tell you guys yet
San Lang and I are officially dating!

Mu Qing
what the fuck

Feng Xin
WHAT THE FUCK
SINCE WHEN?????

Xie Lian
Since last night! :D

Mu Qing
what do you mean since LAST NIGHT
wait
nevermind
forget i asked
i absolutely do not want to know

Feng Xin
oh my fucking god
i’m happy for you xie lian
i am
but
MY EYES??? MY POOR EYES???

Xie Lian
Ahhh I’ll talk to you guys later!
I have a date with San Lang RN!
(That means right now, BTW!)

Mu Qing
what the fuck

Feng Xin
WHAT THE FUCK

Feng Xin
oh my god
okay fine have fun be safe

Mu Qing
use protection

Xie Lian
Mu Qing!!!!!!

Feng Xin
MU QING

Mu Qing
what? -_-

Feng Xin
OF COURSE XIE LIAN WILL USE PROTECTION
WHAT DO YOU TAKE HIM AS?
HE’S NOT STUPID?

Mu Qing
i really don’t think you’re someone who should be talking about using protection

Feng Xin
AND WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT SUPPOSED TO MEAN

Xie Lian
You guys!!!!
Okay I’ll text you guys later
Bye bye!

Feng Xin
this is not fucking over mu qing

Mu Qing
uh huh okay

Feng Xin
bye xie lian!!! have fun!!!

Mu Qing
bye xie lian

Xie Lian
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Feng Xin
OH MY GOD WHAT THE FUCK
WHY CAN I SEE HUA CHENG’S FUCKING TONGUE
MY EYES
MY POOR EYES

Mu Qing has left the group