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Mo Guanshan inhales. He holds the breath for a beat, then two, then —

“No.” He says it carefully. He doesn’t drag the syllable out, does not let it sound like a question.

He watches He Tian, and he waits.

He Tian tightens like a coiled snake about to strike. Guanshan holds onto the pillow between them like a shield. Or, maybe, less like a shield and more like a comfort.

It’s still strange, vaguely alien, that He Tian listens to him at all. He Tian is... a calamity, powerful, forceful, and unyielding to anything and everything in its way. Guanshan isn’t poetic, he doesn’t do well with words that mean two or three things at a time, but he knows this.

It hasn’t been so long since He Tian saw him as a toy he hasn’t yet stamped his fingerprints all over. Guanshan remembers the resentment; he tries to reach for it, now. He can’t. It slips through his fingers like fog, like the tasteful fragrance the humidifier churns around them.

He doesn’t want to stay in this room, that smells like the cleaner in the expensive hotels he busses for sometimes and looks like something out of home magazines plastered on convenience store windows. He doesn’t want to sleep on this bed, that has pressed sheets pulled into sharp corners and massive pillows so fluffed as though they’ve never had a head find rest on them. He doesn’t want to sleep with this He Tian, whose eyes are a little wild and a little lost, whose lips stretch thinly over a pyrite smile, whose posture is too posed to be real.

Guanshan does not want any part or any place in this dollhouse. He holds his pillow to himself, tries not to reel from the aroma of luxurious fabric softener (the pillows in He Tian’s apartment smell more like those owned by a kid who forgets to do his own cleaning, like expensive detergent and not enough washes). He clenches a fist in the silk sheet and frowns at He Tian.

“I’m going to find somewhere else to sleep.”

“You won’t be able to,” He Tian says, meanly. Guanshan doesn’t let it hurt. The jagged edges composing He Tian have been poking through the longer they stayed in his brother’s place. He seemed like he was having fun, though, during the dinner, and on the trip here. Guanshan wonders if the situation wore him down like sandpaper. Jian Yi said something about Guanshan making it better for him, but he doubts it.

He Tian looks like he’s falling apart.

And Guanshan knows he’s enough of an asshole to be the clumsy fingers that hold him together.

So he shakes his head and tells He Tian to get ready for bed. And when the bathroom door shuts behind him, he turns away.

Zhan Zhengxi owes him one anyway.

The sofa isn’t the best thing Guanshan’s ever slept on (his childhood bed was shaped like a rocket, his parents’ mattress had a dip in the centre just for him, He Tian’s bed feels like —), but it’s far from the worst (old clothes pushed together, cardboard, linoleum floors). The fabric is soft under his fingertips and it doesn’t hurt that he took one of those robotically fluffed pillows before he ran from He Tian.

Running is a concept Guanshan dislikes. He always feels like he’s running, towards something, away from someone.

He doesn’t like running from He Tian. Guanshan’s a coward, he knows, but He Tian sometimes — sometimes...

He shuts his eyes. If he tries hard enough, he can tune out the sounds of Jian Yi badly talking his way into making Zhan Zhengxi play his little spoon for the evening. They’re so fucking gross, Guanshan thinks. He sometimes wishes Zhan Zhengxi would just. Kiss Jian Yi, or something. Get him to shut up.

Sometimes he thinks about doing the same to He Tian. But He Tian’s insufferable, most of the time. Give him an inch, and he’ll take a mile.

(Guanshan doesn’t know if he can give him the mile. Miles, he’ll want miles. He’ll want everything.)

The next morning, Guanshan wakes up cold. His toes feel like icicles, the way he’s gotten used to when the blankets don’t reach his feet, and he’s moved from his side onto his back.

He looks to his side. There’s no one there. A few metres away is the king-sized bed, spilling from which are some of Jian Yi’s limbs, the ones not hooked around Zhan Zhengxi, and what seems to be half their pillows.

It’s the ottoman that’s different. It’s pushed by the sofa he’s commandeered, and added to it is the low coffee table. His blanket trails onto it, just barely, not out of place enough to have even disturbed him as he slept, probably. There’s another pillow a bit away from his head. It’s one of those nice ones from the room Qiu ge said was He Tian’s.

Guanshan closes his eyes. And he takes a deep breath.

(He smells —)

“Why do you keep calling me here?” The door clicks shut behind him, painfully soft.

The apartment is strangely quiet. He Tian is home, though, he can tell. The air is heavy with the stench of his cigarettes.

“You’re really gonna die early if you keep this up,” Guanshan huffs loudly as he enters the kitchen, tossing the keys onto the countertop. The bag of groceries is placed next to it less haphazardly. Absentmindedly, he adjusts the fruits inside so they don’t roll and end up on the floor as he looks for He Tian.

Guanshan wrinkles his nose and follows the trail of smoke.

“Hey,” he says, coming to a stop before the floor-to-ceiling windows. The view outside is amazing, and normally, Guanshan would stare at it in barely restrained awe. As it is, he turns his back to the skyline and frowns down at He Tian, who’s sprawled at the side of his bed. There are at least three other cigarette stubs on his little ashtray, and Guanshan knows that should he touch them, he will burn. “What the fuck are you doing?”

He Tian’s gaze lifts towards him, heavy and not present. “Little Mo?”

Guanshan stiffens. “Are you drunk?”

He Tian doesn’t answer him. Growling in the back of his throat, Guanshan crashes to his knees to catch a whiff of beer — or wine — something. All he inhales into his lungs is secondhand smoke.

“What the fuck?” he has to ask again. His knees hurt from the impact with the hardwood flooring, and he’s realised how close he’s brought himself to He Tian. He radiates warmth. “What’s wrong with you?”

A puff of nicotine-stained breath brushes his cheeks. Scowling, now, Guanshan pushes himself back up. Brushing his joggers off, he says, “I’m cooking dinner and I’m not taking requests.”

“Will you really not take a request?”

Guanshan knows better than to let He Tian do whatever he wants, knows better than to give in to his handsome smile and sly words. (You’re flirting! he’d spat defensively, feeling his cheeks warm and his chest contract. He Tian, though, only smiled and leant in and said, Yes. And Guanshan wanted to scream; he looked — he looked like he was going to cry and he said he was flirting? Who would believe that shit.) After a moment, he crosses his arm over his chest, stiff. “It depends.”

“Would you stay if I asked?”

He Tian’s eyes are dark. Sleet and steel.

Even so, they glow when they turn on Guanshan. (Do they always do that?)

Guanshan stays silent. Then he sighs and digs a socked toe into the meat of He Tian’s jean-clothed thigh. “Are you asking right now?”

“It depends,” He Tian replies smartly.

Scoffing, Guanshan makes to move away, but he stops himself short. He Tian isn’t looking at him anymore, the cigarette between his fingers spilling ashes on his lap. Exhaling deeply, he plucks the death stick from He Tian’s lax grip and drops into the ashtray. He flicks his wrist to rid his hand of ash and then slips it onto He Tian’s head. (Pet me, he’d demanded in the crowded backseat of Qiu ge’s car, like he didn’t disappear the entire morning. Like he didn’t show up with a mean, desperate edge to his eyes. Like no matter how much Jian Yi wheedled, Qiu ge wouldn’t tell them shit. Like he didn’t think they’d —) He Tian’s hair is inky as night and soft as sin. Guanshan doesn’t let his touch linger.

“I’m making beef stew,” he finally says, walking back to the kitchen. “I’ll call you when it’s ready. And when you finish washing the dishes, you can ask for real.”

Guanshan is in the process of methodically dumping diced potatoes into the boiling water when he hears He Tian’s feet padding about.

He Tian wears it like an expensive coat — danger, charm, smoke, and something that makes it difficult to breathe.

Guanshan doesn’t hate it.