Hua Cheng meets Xie Lian at nine o’clock on a dingy Friday night.
He comes in like a flurry, socked toes padding against the floor of the apartment Hua Cheng is sitting in. Whose apartment is it? He has no idea. He Xuan dragged him out of bed at five p.m. saying something about a party.
“What the hell are you doing? Get up,” he had said in that ever-so-annoying voice of his.
“No,” said Hua Cheng, his upper body hanging off of the bed, arms flailing around over him. “Can’t you see I’m wallowing in the depths of my self pity right now? Go away.”
He Xuan did not go away. Instead, Hua Cheng found himself standing in front of the apartment complex down the street two hours later, skinny black jeans and a sparkly red t-shirt decorating his body. He cast a withering glance down at He Xuan, who mildly stuck his middle finger up in return, and the two trudged inside to the very top floor with sagging shoulders and heavy steps.
Hua Cheng straightens up in front of the door, blows a strand of his hair away from his face, and plasters on his signature lazy smirk.
“You look stupid,” He Xuan informs him.
“You are stupid,” Hua Cheng returns.
They ring the doorbell.
A very disgruntled looking man opens the door, his hair combed back in a small ponytail and his eyebrows set into what looks like a permanent scowl. Hua Cheng can appreciate that. Maybe.
The guy’s eyes narrow on He Xuan’s figure. “God, you actually came. Thank the fucking lord.”
Hua Cheng raises an eyebrow, turning to glance quizzically over at He Xuan.
He Xuan sighs and says, “Qingxuan is already here?”
The new guy nods, then looks over to Hua Cheng. “Who are you?”
“Your worst nightmare,” says Hua Cheng. “Can we go inside?”
The guy looks like he wants to say something, but He Xuan grunts and steps forward, blocking his view of Hua Cheng. Hua Cheng smirks, ducking till he’s by He Xuan’s side and strolling into the apartment right through the front door.
It all seems pretty cozy, actually. It’s nothing like the house parties he’s used to, the ones with blaring lights and thumping music that rides up and through your skin. Instead, there is a circle of people in the middle of a dimly lit living room, and He Xuan leads them up to an open spot right by the corner.
All eyes are on them. Hua Cheng isn’t surprised; he doesn’t know a single person here, after all. He settles down and crosses his legs beneath him, leaning his cheek into the palm of his hand and blinking out at the crowd. He smirks.
He Xuan sighs deeply from somewhere next to him. “Good to see you all,” he mutters, before he’s practically throttled by the person sitting to his other side.
“He-xiong!” the person says, jumping forward and latching onto He Xuan’s arm. “It’s been so long! Why haven’t you returned any of my texts? I thought we were best friends!”
Hua Cheng raises a delicate eyebrow, and He Xuan’s responding glare is enough to pique his curiosity to the very brim. Oh, yes. Yes, he’ll definitely be having some fun with this later tonight.
The person glances over to Hua Cheng and frowns. “He-xiong, you have friends?”
Oh, Hua Cheng already likes whoever this is.
“Nope,” he says, popping the ‘p’ and grinning from ear to ear. “I’m his roommate.”
“You’re a nuisance,” says He Xuan, and well, Hua Cheng can’t really argue with that. “That’s Hua Cheng. Hua Cheng, this is Shi Qingxuan. They’re also a nuisance.”
“Aww, He-xiong,” says Shi Qingxuan, apparently, but before they can say anything more, another person’s voice fills the space. Hua Cheng turns, eyebrow lifting expectantly, and his gaze lands on the guy who had opened the door earlier.
The guy is looking at the person sitting next to him and scowling. “What the fuck do you mean, you let Xie Lian cook dinner?”
“I didn’t!” the other guy retorts. “Why the hell would I ask him to cook dinner? Are you out of your mind?”
“Am I out of my mind? Are you out of your mind?”
“Hello!” a new voice sing-songs from the opposite side of the room. It’s loud enough for everyone’s attention to be thoroughly moved, and Hua Cheng too glances over to see who it is. The voice continues, “Dinner is ready, everyone!”
Hua Cheng’s eyes land on the figure of the person, and—
Holy fucking shit.
Soft is the first word that comes to Hua Cheng’s mind when he sees the man. He’s tall, but he’s definitely shorter than Hua Cheng. He has bright eyes that curve into tiny little crescents and cheeks that flush like rouge kisses. He’s walking up to one of the guests in the room, bending down to be able to talk to them better, and oh. His long hair falls over his shoulders like a curtain, and when he pushes the strands away from his face, the smile that stretches his mouth is almost blinding.
Hua Cheng dies and ascends in that very moment.
“He Xuan!” says the man, holding his hand up and waving to the spot next to Hua Cheng.
He Xuan perks up, and Hua Cheng has never been more grateful about being acquainted with him in his life. “Xie Lian.”
The man—Xie Lian—nods, saying his goodbyes to whoever he was talking to and scurrying on over to where He Xuan and Hua Cheng are sitting. He first says hello to Shi Qingxuan, who pounces on his shoulders and ruffles his hair.
“A-Lian!” says Shi Qingxuan. “I was wondering where you were!”
“I thought I’d make dinner,” says Xie Lian, rubbing the back of his neck sheepishly. “It took...ah...longer than I thought it would. The food kept turning black, so I had to remake it a few times.”
“Oh god,” He Xuan mutters.
Xie Lian’s gaze flickers over to him. “He Xuan, I haven’t seen you in a while. How have you been?”
Hua Cheng turns to face his pitiful excuse of a roommate and glares at him. Betrayal. Absolute fucking betrayal. He can’t believe He Xuan was friends with the most beautiful person on the planet right under Hua Cheng’s nose, and he didn’t even bother to tell him.
“Been good,” He Xuan mutters, but he smiles, and it’s the ugliest thing Hua Cheng has ever seen in his life. “How are you?”
“I’m good, too,” says Xie Lian.
Hua Cheng watches with a bated breath as his eyes scan over, right across He Xuan’s figure and onto—
“Oh!” says Xie Lian, perking up. “Hello! I’ve never seen you before. Are you He Xuan’s friend?”
“No,” says He Xuan at the same time as Hua Cheng says, “yes.”
Xie Lian’s eyebrows furrow.
“We’re roommates,” says Hua Cheng quickly. “It’s nice to meet you, gege.”
Oh fuck. Was that too soon? It was definitely too soon. God, so much for making a good fucking first impression. Hua Cheng would like to die. He would like this to be the end for him, holy shit. Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck. Fuck.
But...Xie Lian doesn’t look put off? Which is the worst thing ever, because how? Right. Because he’s perfect. In looks and personality. Hua Cheng is going to die.
“It’s nice to meet you too, ah…” says Xie Lian, trailing off expectantly.
“San Lang,” Hua Cheng blurts out.
“San Lang,” Xie Lian repeats.
“San Lang?” He Xuan hisses.
“San Lang!” Shi Qingxuan exclaims, and when three pairs of eyes turn to face them, they cower back. “What? Everyone else was saying it.” And then: “Hey, Hua Cheng, why’d you say your name is San Lang?”
One of these days, Hua Cheng really is going to kill someone. It really is going to happen. Any day now, actually. He will do it, and that will be the end. Chapter closed.
“Hua Cheng?” Xie Lian asks, cocking an eyebrow and tilting his head in the most adorable manner Hua Cheng has ever seen. Hearing his name from Xie Lian’s mouth also does some questionable things to the state of his stomach, but that aside.
“Gege can call me San Lang,” says Hua Cheng.
This is so stupid. Hua Cheng doesn’t even know where the fuck San Lang came from, either. It was a nickname he went by a lot during his childhood, mostly from his parents and siblings. But apparently, Hua Cheng’s brain had equated pretty boy with make him call you by a name you haven’t heard in years.
“Oh,” Xie Lian says after a short moment. Then he’s smiling again. “All right, San Lang.”
Hua Cheng’s heart fucking flutters, which is absolutely the most embarrassing thing ever. Thank god the others can't magically see through his flesh and blood.
Then, there’s a new voice that sounds throughout the room—someone is calling Xie Lian’s name. Xie Lian frowns, looking back over his shoulder and sighing with exasperation that’s borderline fond. “Ah, I think Feng Xin dropped something. I should go. Help yourselves to some dinner if you’d like!”
And then he’s gone, Shi Qingxuan smiling after him and moving to follow.
It takes Hua Cheng all of four seconds to recover, and then he’s turning back and poking He Xuan’s shoulder. Hard.
“Ow!” He Xuan shrieks. “What the fuck?”
“Who was that?”
He Xuan groans and rubs his arm. “What?”
“Who was that?”
“Oh,” says He Xuan. He reaches over for a bag of chips and noisily tears the packaging open. “That was Xie Lian. He’s Feng Xin and Mu Qing’s roommate.”
Hua Cheng really has no idea who Feng Xin and Mu Qing are, but okay.
As if reading his thoughts, He Xuan rolls his eyes and says, “Feng Xin and Mu Qing are the owners of the floor you’re currently sitting on. Feng Xin’s the guy who opened the door for us.”
“Fuck,” says Hua Cheng elegantly. “I—” He shakes his head. “Whatever. How do you know him?”
“The guy. The guy who was just here.”
“Oh, Xie Lian,” says He Xuan. “Why the hell do you care?”
Hua Cheng grits his teeth and says nothing.
He Xuan grunts. “He’s friends with Qingxuan.”
As is everyone, it seems. Everyone except Hua Cheng. For some reason. Fuck.
“Excellent,” says Hua Cheng then. “How do I become friends with him? Oh. I should talk more with Shi Qingxuan. They seem like a great person, you know? I think we could be the best of friends.”
“Please shut up.”
“No,” says Hua Cheng, humming thoughtfully. “No. Wait. No. Who did you say were Xie Lian’s roommates? Fang Xing and Mo Qin?”
“Feng Xin and Mu Qing.”
“Yeah. Them. Do you know them?”
“Great! Introduce me.”
“I literally just said I don’t know them.”
“It’s okay,” says Hua Cheng. “You’re acquainted with them. I saw you. That’s good enough.” He reaches over and grabs He Xuan’s arm, the latter flinching with a flattering amount of strength. “You need new friends, anyways. This could be good for you.”
He Xuan mutters something under his breath, then raises his cup of whatever the hell he’s drinking and downs it in one go. He shakes his head out before turning and narrowing his gaze on Hua Cheng.
Hua Cheng blinks innocently. “What?”
“I’m not introducing shit to you,” says He Xuan, his fingers visibly tightening around the plastic cup. “Why the hell do you wanna be friends with Xie Lian so badly? Because he’s pretty?”
“Yeah,” says Hua Cheng. “Exactly. And don’t call him pretty.”
He Xuan pulls a face, and, like he can’t be bothered enough to care, shrugs. “By the way,” he starts, and Hua Cheng already knows what this is going to be about. “Who’s San Lang?”
Hua Cheng’s expression sets into something entirely neutral, and he says, “Who’s Shi Qingxuan?”
He Xuan freezes. “San Lang is my best friend.”
“San Lang hates your guts,” Hua Cheng huffs, reaching for a cup of fruit punch and downing it in one go.
“Nope,” says Hua Cheng. “Absolutely not. I’m sick of you. I’m never going to another party with you ever again.”
“That’s really funny,” says He Xuan, “because if I remember correctly, Feng Xin’s party ended with you finding someone to crush on.”
Hua Cheng’s teeth grind together as he crosses his arms over his chest and leans his weight onto his right foot. “Yeah,” he says, “that’s exactly my point. Now that I’ve found someone to crush on, there’s no need for me to be wasting my time on stupid college parties. That one wasn’t even an actual party.”
“You are the most shameless person I’ve ever met in my entire life.”
“And you’re coming with me.”
“I think it’s hilarious how you think you have any say over what I do or do not do with my life.”
And then He Xuan smirks. “And if Xie Lian is going to be there too?”
Oh, fuck him. Fuck him to the moon and back. “Then,” says Hua Cheng, “I would be inclined to ask you for more details.”
He Xuan snorts. “You’re unbelievable.”
Which is how Hua Cheng ends up being ditched by his horrible excuse of a roommate in the middle of a room full of sweaty people, blinding lights flashing obnoxiously overhead. He looks around, lips pinched together in a straight line, before his eyes travel over the sitting area and—
There he is. The love of Hua Cheng’s life. The most beautiful man he has ever seen in his nineteen short years of living. Xie Lian. Xie Lian, with his long brown hair, his sparkling eyes, his honey-red cheeks, his pretty pink lips, and a laugh that makes something in Hua Cheng’s chest lurch at the speed of light.
Xie Lian is sitting atop a dingy couch, his phone in his hands, fingers flying across the keyboard. He’s probably texting someone, Hua Cheng thinks, someone cool, someone his age, some friend from one of his classes, maybe.
But Hua Cheng has always been incredibly stupid, so he walks right up to the edge of the couch and says, “Hi.”
Xie Lian startles and looks up. Hua Cheng watches his expression carefully shift from pleasant surprise to something more...soft? No, he always looks soft. That can’t be it. Besides, does Xie Lian even recognize him?
“Oh!” he says quietly, barely over a single breath. “San Lang?”
Hua Cheng breathes out through his nose. “Gege,” he says, because he is an idiot. “You remember me.”
Xie Lian smiles and scooches over on the couch, patting the seat next to him. “Of course I do! How have you been? You’re, ah, He Xuan’s roommate, right?”
“Unfortunately,” says Hua Cheng, running his tongue over his bottom lip as he slides into the offered seat. The cushion dips with his weight, but his mind is too occupied with Xie Lian’s face to notice the cramped space between them. “I’ve been well. How have you been? You’re roommates with Fang Xing and Mo Qin, right?”
“Feng Xin and Mu Qing,” Xie Lian gently corrects, but there’s amusement laced in that beautiful voice of his.
Hua Cheng waves a hand out in front of his face. “You understood well enough.”
“I did,” Xie Lian agrees, smiling. “There’s never a dull moment with those two at home.”
Hua Cheng can’t help the grin that pulls at the corners of his lips. His eyes dart down to the phone Xie Lian is still clutching in his grasp. His heart falls. “Ah,” he mutters. “Sorry, gege, I saw you were texting someone. I didn’t mean to interrupt.”
Xie Lian pulls a face, then holds up the phone in the space separating them. Their knees clack together, a shiver coursing through Hua Cheng’s entire body as the contact fizzles and pops like fire. “I wasn’t, um, actually texting anyone,” says Xie Lian then, and Hua Cheng blinks in surprise.
“Yeah,” says Xie Lian. “I was just pretending to. It works wonders when you don’t really know what you’re supposed to be doing in social situations.”
It’s said so abruptly that Hua Cheng chokes on the responding laugh that spills through his lips. He chuckles, reaching up to tuck a strand of his inky black hair behind his ears. “That’s incredible,” he says, voice way too fucking breathy, what the fuck. “Gege, that’s so smart.”
“Thank you,” says Xie Lian earnestly. “It’s a practice I have perfected over the past few years.”
“Is that so?”
“Qingxuan drags me to a lot of parties,” Xie Lian admits, his lips pinching together in a half sigh. “I love them. I do. And they love parties. They also really like He Xuan, and I think I saw them with him an hour ago by the drinks.”
“Excellent,” says Hua Cheng, already thinking up all the possible ways in which he can make He Xuan’s life a living hell after all of this is over. “Thank you for this very valuable information, gege. Allow me to take you to dinner in thanks.”
It’s said as a joke, mostly just as a slip of the tongue. But as soon as the words leave Hua Cheng’s mouth, his heart aches with sticky hope. His teeth sink into the flesh of his gums, biting down whatever rebuttal he was forming in his mind. He stays silent, and he waits, and suddenly it’s not a joke anymore. Suddenly he’s looking over at Xie Lian with a quietly determined expression, eyebrows set over his forehead and eyes bearing into Xie Lian’s own.
Xie Lian stares back, his eyes wide with surprise. “Dinner?” he repeats.
“Yes,” says Hua Cheng, because he’s stupid and so far gone already. “Right now.”
This makes Xie Lian’s gaze slack even further. “Right now?”
“Yes,” says Hua Cheng. “Do you know whose apartment this is, by the way?”
“Um,” says Xie Lian. He turns his head, looking around the dimly lit, sweaty room. “I...I think I remember Qingxuan saying something about a Pei Ming…”
“Oh,” says Hua Cheng. “I’ve heard of him. He’s pretty stingy with dinner at his house parties.”
Hua Cheng doesn’t actually know shit about whoever this Pei Ming character is, but Xie Lian doesn’t exactly have to know that. All Xie Lian needs to know is that Hua Cheng is here, and that Hua Cheng is offering his wallet for a free, delicious dinner away from this whole scene.
Xie Lian’s fingers graze the back of his neck, scratching his skin as he seems to think it over. Then, he smiles, and it looks awkward and just a little out of place. But his eyes are sparkling, and Hua Cheng feels warm all over.
“Okay,” Xie Lian agrees, tilting his head toward the front door. “Let’s go.”
So that’s how, twenty minutes later, Hua Cheng finds himself sitting opposite to the love of his life at a booth in a rundown noodle shop three blocks away from Pei Ming’s apartment complex.
“Do you not like yours?” Xie Lian asks through a mouthful of his dish. He sets his chopsticks down and swallows, the bulge in his cheeks diminishing to nothing. God, that’s so fucking cute. That’s the cutest thing Hua Cheng has ever seen in his life. He’s going to hell.
After a moment, Xie Lian’s question sinks in.
Hua Cheng blinks. “What?”
Xie Lian nudges his chin in the direction of his bowl. “San Lang, you haven’t even touched your food. Do you not like it? You should order something else if you don’t. I’m sure they’ll let you switch it free of charge.”
No, Hua Cheng thinks, I can’t eat because you keep making those adorable slurping noises and your face is so distracting and I can’t stop staring at you because you’re so pretty and I don’t even know why you agreed to eating out with me and I can’t—
Hua Cheng immediately snaps back to reality, an easy smile making its way onto his features. “Sorry, gege,” he says quickly. “I seem to have zoned out for a moment there. What were you saying?”
Hua Cheng knows exactly what Xie Lian was saying, but time. He needs time to. Gather his thoughts. Calm down. The whole shebang. Yeah.
Xie Lian doesn’t seem to be put off by it, in any case. Instead, he picks up his chopsticks again and uses them to point down at Hua Cheng’s full bowl of noodles. “I asked if you didn’t like it, ah...would you like me to order something else for you?”
“Hm,” says Hua Cheng, dipping his utensils into the soupy texture of his dish. “No no, this one is all right, gege, but thank you for your kind offer.”
“Oh, good,” says Xie Lian, a relieved smile pinching the upper portions of his rosy cheeks. Hua Cheng stares. He stares at the smile like it’s his last moment on the earth and Xie Lian’s face is the last thing he’ll ever see. “I don’t want to know the disaster that would surface from me trying to figure out what you like to eat only a few days after meeting you for the first time.”
“Mm,” Hua Cheng hums, thoughtful. “Would you consider yourself to be a bad judge of character?”
“Ah,” says Xie Lian. He twists his lips, eyebrows cocking upon his forehead. “That’s a good question. I’m not too sure.”
“I don’t think you are,” says Hua Cheng.
Xie Lian’s eyebrows furrow with obvious curiosity. “Why do you say that?”
Hua Cheng says, “You seem to have a good handle on your relationships,” and waves his hands nebulously out in front of him. “I don’t think you would stay friends with someone who you know isn’t good for you.” Then he abruptly stops, his lips parting. “Sorry, gege. Was that too much?”
Xie Lian shakes his head. “San Lang is very insightful,” he says. “It wasn’t too much at all. Your voice is very pleasing to the ear.”
And isn’t that exactly what Hua Cheng needs. Fucking. Your voice is very pleasing to the ear. What the fuck. What the fuck. What The Fuck. WHAT THE FUCK.
“Excuse me for a moment, gege,” he says, before plastering on a smile he hopes doesn’t look too fake, pulling his phone out from his front pocket, and bending down over it.
you >>> dumb fish
“You know how I just said that you wouldn’t stay friends with someone who you know isn’t good for you,” says Hua Cheng, clicking his screen off and crossing his hands on the table. “I would like to remedy my words. Gege is friends with He Xuan, who is most definitely not good for anyone.”
“I see,” says Xie Lian, voice serious. “I suppose I’ll have to take care of that.”
“Please do,” Hua Cheng nods.
The night goes on.
Xie Lian’s voice is warm-white liquid. The kind Hua Cheng can get drunk on, the kind that seeps into him like hot, sticky honey on his skin. His insides shrivel, twist, and burst. Xie Lian’s eyes sparkle beneath the dim lighting, and the words that fall through his lips get stuck in the shell of Hua Cheng’s ears.
He catches onto them and swallows them down.
“Gege,” he says later, once a waiter has come and gone with their scraped up, watery plates. “Can I have your number?”
“Oh!” says Xie Lian, like it’s absolutely nothing. Like Hua Cheng didn’t just spend the last five minutes psyching himself up for this one very moment. “Yes, yes, of course you can, San Lang! Give me your phone, I’ll add myself as a contact.”
“Okay,” says Hua Cheng, and that’s exactly what he does.
Later, when one of his hands is in his pocket, and he’s walking back in the direction of his own apartment, his eyes trail on the string of little blue numbers nestled safely in his phone. He smiles at the contact name that Xie Lian had set for himself, ‘Xie Lian (Pei Ming’s party)’ and laughs when he goes to change it: gege, his phone says, and only then is it perfect.
Hua Cheng and Xie Lian are...friends, now. Friends.
“Friends,” Hua Cheng says, testing the word on his tongue. “Fr-iends. Friends. Friends.”
“Will you shut up,” comes He Xuan’s pitiful groan of a voice from somewhere on the other side of the room. He’s doing homework or something, whatever. Hua Cheng doesn’t really give a shit.
“Friends,” he continues, pursing his lips. “Friends friends friends. Friends.”
“Where the hell are my noise cancellation headphones,” He Xuan mutters, letting his laptop slide off of his lap and feeling around for a bit.
“I borrowed those,” Hua Cheng informs him, and He Xuan freezes. “Spilled some water on them. Pity.”
“What the fuck,” He Xuan growls.
“Like hell you’re sorry. You probably did it on purpose.”
Hua Cheng shrugs. “Yeah, you’re right, it was on purpose.”
“Maybe if you helped me in my time of need,” Hua Cheng drawls, kicking his feet back and leaning against the back cushion of the couch. He plants a lazy smirk on his lips. “Don’t think I’ll forget that. Do you think that maybe we should start keeping tabs on these things? You probably have a pretty hefty debt on your plate by now.”
“No,” says He Xuan. “And even if I did, it’s funny that you think I would make any effort in paying it back to you.”
“How unfortunate,” says Hua Cheng. “You know, gege gave me Shi Qingxuan’s number. Do you think they’d believe anything I say? Since you and I are roommates.”
He Xuan pauses. Then, “I’ll buy a notebook.”
Hua Cheng raises an eyebrow. “For what?”
“So you can start keeping tabs on my debt.”
“You are really something else.”
“Thanks,” says He Xuan, before perking up and holding up two little white earbuds. “Not noise cancellation, but good enough.” As he pops them into his ears and picks up his computer once more, he casts a long glance over to Hua Cheng and says, “Also, just for the record, it’s really funny how you think I’m going to help you with anything.”
“Buy that notebook quickly, hm?” says Hua Cheng.
“Fuck you,” says He Xuan. “What the hell was that text about, anyways?”
“Oh no,” says Hua Cheng, tutting quietly and shaking his index finger out in front of his face. “That’s unlocked at level three. You’re still on level zero.”
“Of Hua Cheng friendship,” says Hua Cheng matter-of-factly. “You have to work extremely hard to level up.”
“What if I don’t care.”
“I’ll increase your debt.”
He Xuan’s eyes narrow. “You’re having way too much fun with this.”
“Correct,” Hua Cheng nods. “I am. At least you know.”
He Xuan pulls a face. “So?”
“You know.” He waves his hands around. It’s looks incredibly stupid. “Are you gonna see him again or something?”
“Perhaps,” says Hua Cheng, and He Xuan evidently decides that he’s had enough of him, so the two dissolve into silence and carry on with their respective evenings.
Hua Cheng finds that his eyes travel over to his phone more often than not. He thinks. Considers.
gege >>> you
It was fun hanging out with you the other day
It’s been a while since I’ve made a new friend :)
So thank you for that! For taking me out for dinner and eating with me!
of course, gege! the pleasure was all mine
i had a lot of fun too
are you still there?
Yes I’m here
Do you maybe want to do that again?
We don’t have to!!!!!!!
of course i want to
i’m surprised you do, gege :O
Why wouldn’t I?
Are you okay?
san lang is dead
when do you want to hang out?
When are you free?
all the time
Hahaha even at 3am?
do you wanna meet at 3am?
That’s a little late don’t you think
i told you i’m free whenever!
always for you, gege <3
San Lang!!! >///<
3am is a bit late...how about after dinner instead?
If you’re not free, then we can do another day instead!
no today is perfect
i’ll pick you up
Ah...you don’t have to, San Lang
i want to
Alright, I’ll see you then!
Which is how Hua Cheng ends up standing in front of his closet, sifting through piles upon piles of clothes in the depths of the mess that is his pathetic organization skills.
“It’s not a date,” he says, “it’s definitely not a date.”
“It’s not,” He Xuan agrees from somewhere behind him.
“It could be!” says another voice—Shi Qingxuan’s, probably—also from somewhere behind him.
Hua Cheng frowns and whips around, two shirts in either of his hands. “Which one do you think looks better on me?”
“They’re both ugly as hell,” says He Xuan.
“Hmm,” says Shi Qingxuan. They lean forward from their spot on He Xuan’s bed, the bowl of popcorn in their lap tipping over slightly as they do. “Maybe you should try them both on? It would probably give us a better idea.”
“No,” says He Xuan, nudging their arm and dipping down to steal the popcorn bowl. He takes an obnoxious bite and says through a full mouth, “Don’t give him ideas.”
“You are absolutely correct,” says Hua Cheng, reaching down for the hem of his t-shirt and stripping his top half bare right there and then.
“Ow,” He Xuan deadpans, “my poor eyes.”
Hua Cheng ignores him.
“How’s this one,” he says after pulling the first shirt over his head. He strikes a pose, and He Xuan pretends to gag.
“Hmm,” says Shi Qingxuan. “Red. Classy.”
“Everything he wears is fucking red,” He Xuan grumbles.
“I like it!” says Shi Qingxuan.
“What about this one?” says Hua Cheng after changing into the next choice.
“Also red. Also very classy. I like this one too!”
“What about this?”
“Ooh, very red. Extremely classy. I like this one very much.”
“What about this?”
“Oh, that’s so red, and so very cla—”
“Shut up,” He Xuan cuts in, and Shi Qingxuan’s voice is muffled by his palm. “Just shut up.” Then, to Hua Cheng: “That is the most disgusting outfit you have ever worn in your life. It is the most disgusting outfit I have ever seen in my life, period. Can you go to the grocery store down the street on your way back from your not-date and pick up some bleach for my eyes. Thanks.”
“Of course I will,” says Hua Cheng, turning around to rummage through for a pair of pants. “I’ve been waiting for the day when you ask me to.”
“Yeah? Well I guess today’s your lucky day.”
“It sure is. Anyways, I’m wearing this one. If you don’t like it, then it has to look good.”
An hour later, Hua Cheng is standing in front of Xie Lian’s door. He takes exactly four seconds to collect himself, shake his head out, and plaster on a smile when he sees the way his bangs fall into his eyes. His gaze flickers to the wooden slab in front of him.
The door opens immediately, but instead of Xie Lian, Hua Cheng sees—
“Oh,” a voice says, “it’s you.”
There are two people standing in the doorway, their arms crossed over their chests and eyes burning into Hua Cheng’s face. Hua Cheng has a few inches on them, though, and it’s not like he’s particularly frightened of random strangers.
Right. Well. Xie Lian’s roommates. These two must be Fang Xing and Mo Qin.
“So,” says the second (Fang Xing?) guy, leaning against the doorframe and giving Hua Cheng a onceover. Hua Cheng doesn’t so much as flinch. “Who the hell are you, and why the fuck are you in our apartment?”
Hua Cheng raises an eyebrow. “I dunno if you’ve noticed,” he says coolly, “but I’m very clearly standing outside of your apartment.” For extra effect, he lets his hands snake out of his jacket pockets and gestures down to the floor. “Fang Xing, right? Maybe you should invest in some glasses.”
“It’s Feng Xin,” says Fang Xing.
“Uh huh. And the pretty boy besides you? Mo Qin, right? Pleasure to properly make your acquaintance.”
“You piece of shit! His name is Mu Qing! You—”
Mo Qin straightens up, his eyebrows curving on his frame. “Cut the act,” he says, glancing sidelong over to Fang Xing and shooting him a look. It doesn’t look very friendly, and Hua Cheng cackles inwardly. Then Mo Qin turns back to look at him and says, “You.”
Hua Cheng blinks innocently. “Me?”
“This is an interrogation.”
“Excellent,” says Hua Cheng. “Can I go inside first? It’s a bit stuffy out here.”
“Like hell you can come inside,” says Fang Xing. “Stay right there, ladybug wannabe—”
“I actually prefer stripes to spots.”
“Fuck you,” says Fang Xing, sounding much less threatening than he probably thinks he does. Mo Qin’s eyes visibly harden, and hoo boy, Hua Cheng sure is interested to see how the rest of his conversation is about to play out.
“San Lang? Feng Xin, Mu Qing, is that San Lang? Is San Lang here?”
“No,” says Mo Qin immediately. “No, it’s not San Lang. Who the fuck is San Lang. Stay inside, Xie Lian. We’ll take care of this.”
Xie Lian’s head peeks up from behind Mo Qin’s shoulder, and holy fucking shit that’s so fucking cute. Oh. God. It’s barely been five minutes and Xie Lian is already making Hua Cheng’s heart stomp like some kind of rhinoceros. He literally just appeared.
But Hua Cheng is a natural at this kind of stuff.
(No he’s not.)
“Gege,” he greets with a tip of his head.
“Gege?” Fang Xing and Mo Qin say simultaneously, their faces housing equally disgusted expressions.
“San Lang!” says Xie Lian. “It’s so nice to see you again!”
“Again?” say Fang Xing and Mo Qin.
Fang Xing rounds on Xie Lian, whose eyes are wide, like he’s just said something wrong. “You told us the only time you met Hua Cheng was at that get-together last week.”
Xie Lian laughs awkwardly. “Haha. Um…”
Hua Cheng pipes up, “Gege and I got dinner together the other day!”
“No one fucking asked you—wait, what? Xie Lian?”
“We did,” Xie Lian concedes, his shoulders slumping. “It was fun! Don’t be mad. I should have gotten leftovers for the two of you, I know. I felt awful about it for days.”
“What?” Mo Qin blinks. “What—no, that’s not. That’s not why we—”
“Gege,” Hua Cheng cuts in. He’s never really considered himself to be the most patient person, but god. These two are really something else entirely. “Would you like to get going?”
“Oh!” says Xie Lian, and then he nods and squeezes past Fang Xing and Mo Qin to meet Hua Cheng in the middle. “Yes! Let’s go, San Lang!”
They pointedly ignore the yelling that erupts from behind them as they walk away.
“Did you already eat?” Xie Lian asks as they exit the building, side by side. “Or, um, are you still hungry?”
“Are you?” Hua Cheng counters.
Xie Lian hums, seeming to think this over. “Not really. Do you just wanna walk around and talk a bit?”
“I’d love that,” says Hua Cheng, and so they go.
It’s nothing fancy. On the contrary, it’s little more than a simple turn onto the sidewalk trail, Xie Lian walking beside him and shooting tentative little smiles up at Hua Cheng. Hua Cheng returns every single one, his chest pounding as he feels the stretch of his lips bend and flow.
“I’m sorry about Feng Xin and Mu Qing,” says Xie Lian after a moment of peaceful silence. “They’ve always been a bit...ah...much.”
Hua Cheng desperately wants to agree out loud, but decides that that may not be the best idea. “It’s all right, gege,” he says instead. “They seem to care for you a lot.”
“They do,” says Xie Lian. “I met them back in my first year here. We hit it off, I think.”
Hua Cheng laughs. “You think?”
“Well! We do live together now,” Xie Lian says with a grin. “That probably accounts for something.”
They reach the walkway to the park in the middle of the city, the lamplights dimly illuminating the greyed-out path beneath their feet. Hua Cheng glances over to Xie Lian, who tilts his head in the direction of the entrance.
Hua Cheng nods, tilting his head in the exact same way. “We shall.”
The walk is pleasant. Xie Lian sticks close to Hua Cheng’s side and cracks jokes that make the corners of Hua Cheng’s mouth curl upward. Hua Cheng leans over a few times to blink devilishly down at him, and Xie Lian laughs and teasingly pushes him away. It’s a gentle back and forth; it’s something Hua Cheng has never experienced before in his life.
After what feels like hours, a flash of thunder sounds over their heads, and Xie Lian’s eyes widen, flickering upward in surprise.
“Oh,” he whispers, just loud enough for Hua Cheng to hear. “Oh dear, it’ll be raining any minute now.”
Oh god that sounds romantic. Standing around in the rain late at night with Xie Lian? Their small hands trying to cover as much of their heads as possible? The two laughing together when they end up getting wet anyway?
Hua Cheng mentally slaps himself for the ridiculous thought.
He holds his hand out, flipping his palm up to face the sky. “It’ll probably start soon,” he agrees. “We should head back.”
“San Lang,” says Xie Lian, “where do you live?”
Hua Cheng hums and points off in a random direction. “Somewhere over there, I think. But don’t worry about me, gege. I’ll find my way back to my place.”
Xie Lian eyes him skeptically, gaze narrowing up at Hua Cheng’s face. “Why don’t you come back with me? You can wait till the rain stops and then head back to your apartment.”
“Ah…” A siren rings in Hua Cheng’s brain, screaming no, absolutely not, this is a terrible idea, abort, abort abort. “Would gege mind?”
“Of course not!” says Xie Lian, quickly shaking his head. “In fact, I’d mind if you said no!”
The shower starts. Hua Cheng feels flecks of water splash down against his skin, but he beams beneath their crystalline haze. “Then lead the way, gege.”
Xie Lian grins and reaches down, clasping his fingers around Hua Cheng’s wrist and pulling him along as raindrops splatter around them. “Follow me!”
Hua Cheng’s wrist burns. Anywhere, he thinks, but what comes out is a squeaky noise of agreement.
When they’re back in the confines of Xie Lian’s apartment, Xie Lian slams the door shut and ruffles out his long hair, threading his fingers through his darkened locks. He looks up at Hua Cheng and giggles.
“San Lang’s hair is all over his face,” he points out, lifting his index finger to gesture over to the mess on Hua Cheng’s forehead. “Hold on, I’ll get us some towels so we can clean ourselves up.”
Xie Lian returns with two towels in his hands, and he laughs as he tosses one over. Hua Cheng catches it with the grace of a swan, running it over his temples to peel away the stray strands of hair decorating his face.
Xie Lian hums, his hands coming under the thin fabric in his grasp. His eyes flit over to the window, and he frowns.
“Feng Xin and Mu Qing are actually out tonight,” he says, and wow, Hua Cheng hadn’t even noticed their absence. “It looks like it’ll be raining for a while. Why don’t you stay over?”
Hua Cheng jerks. Kind of. Either way, it’s super embarrassing and Xie Lian probably thinks he’s said something wrong, because the next thing he does is widen his eyes in surprise and quickly shake his head.
“You don’t have to!” he goes on, and Hua Cheng can’t breathe. He cannot fucking breath, what the fuck. “I just—San Lang, of course you don’t have to if you don’t want to. I just...I thought it might be a bit cold outside. If you want to go home, which is perfectly fine, let me at least lend you my umbrella?”
“Your—” Hua Cheng stops, fumbles over his own words. “Your umbrella?”
“Yeah!” says Xie Lian, nodding profusely. “Actually, I recently bought a new one, haha. My old one broke a few weeks ago, and Mu Qing noticed that I wasn’t using one anymore, so...you know how he can be.”
Hua Cheng really doesn’t. “It’s okay,” he says.
“You don’t want the umbrella? Did you bring one of your own? I thought...I didn’t see one in your bag? Oh,” says Xie Lian, “is it one of those tiny ones? The portable ones? I think I saw one of those being sold at an airport once, hmm.”
“No, I mean.” Another pause. This one’s longer, maybe. Hua Cheng can’t really tell anymore. “You’re right. It is raining and it’s cold outside.”
Xie Lian nods slowly. “Oh, yes, it is.”
“So,” says Hua Cheng, “if gege is willing to let me sleep over for one night, I’d be more than willing to take up the offer.”
“Of course I’m willing!” Xie Lian exclaims immediately, jerking up and straightening his posture completely. “I wouldn’t want you to. Get wet.”
“That would be least ideal,” Hua Cheng agrees seamlessly. He feels for his phone and slips it out, offering Xie Lian a cheeky little smile. “Excuse me for a moment, gege. I’ll just text He Xuan and tell him not to wait up for me.”
Like He Xuan would give a single shit. But, you know. This is an opportunity if Hua Cheng has ever seen one.
you >>> dumb fish
i’m not guessing shit
and yet you’re still here, replying to my texts, because your life is miserable
can you please get to the point
i won’t be coming home tonight ;)
you finally stopped being chicken and asked xie lian out?
literally what the fuck
how did you know this was about him
i didn’t ask him out
we’re just friends
and he asked me to stay over for the night
i don’t really care but ok
the sentiment isn’t mutual
“Well that was easy,” says Hua Cheng, pocketing his phone and directing his attention back up to the love of his life. Xie Lian is still standing there, eyeing him curiously. “I told you,” says Hua Cheng. “He Xuan is a pain in every body part imaginable.”
“I…” Xie Lian trails off, but he’s smiling that beautiful smile of his again. “Mm. Are you sleepy?”
“No,” says Hua Cheng. He winces. “Unless you are, gege? I don’t mind calling it a night.”
“I’m not,” says Xie Lian. He runs his tongue in a line across his bottom lip, and Hua Cheng tries very hard not to pay too much attention to the wet trail that surfaces. “Do you wanna watch a movie?”
Does he want to watch a movie? Fuck. Hua Cheng will watch every single movie ever known to mankind if it means he gets to watch them with Xie Lian. He can barely contain the “Of course I want to watch a movie, gege!” that immediately spills out of his mouth.
Xie Lian smiles, then beckons him over to the hallway where a few doors are stationed. “Okay! Let’s watch it in my room.”
Hua Cheng glances over to the television set in the living room and frowns.
Xie Lian seems to understand, and he hides his cough behind the palm of his hand. “Um. That TV is mostly just there for show. It hasn’t worked in...a while.”
“Ah,” says Hua Cheng, understanding.
“We can watch something on my laptop!” Xie Lian remedies. “Mu Qing paid for a subscription to watch The Great British Bake Off, but there are other things, too. Like, uh, my favorite movie, for example.”
Hua Cheng perks up at this. “Your favorite movie, gege?” he asks as Xie Lian leads the two in through the second door to the left. Inside is a modest bedroom, its aesthetic bright and colorful and full of greenery. Xie Lian gently pats the pots of his succulents as he passes them, and Hua Cheng tries very hard not to visibly swoon at the sight.
“Finding Nemo,” says Xie Lian. “Have you watched it, San Lang?”
“Just keep swimming,” he whispers, because is so fucking gone. He is so fucking gone. Finding Nemo? That’s the cutest thing he has ever heard in his life. Xie Lian’s favorite movie is Finding Nemo. Finding Nemo.
“Yeah!” says Xie Lian, his eyes curving and shining like crescent moons. “So you have watched it!”
Deep breaths, Hua Cheng. Deep breaths. “He Xuan likes it too,” he says slowly. “Because it has fish in it.”
“He’s actually the one who recommended it to me,” Xie Lian admits. “I asked the group for some movie recommendations, and he talked about it for almost five minutes straight. I thought it sounded interesting, so I gave it a shot a couple months ago. It’s very cute, don’t you think?”
Hua Cheng desperately tries to recall every single Finding Nemo fact he remembers and draws a blank. But whatever. “Very,” he says, watching as Xie Lian leans over his bed and smooths out his blankets. He reaches for his laptop, a tattered old model that looks like it’s three minutes away from fizzling out and exploding into a thousand little pieces, and holds it up with the widest grin Hua Cheng has ever seen on a person.
“Sit, sit!” he says, gesturing over to the bed.
So Hua Cheng sits. He sits with his back pressed up against the wall and holds his breath as Xie Lian climbs in after him, nestling in by his side and prying the laptop open. Hua Cheng holds back his wince when he sees the saturated color of the screen and the way it takes Xie Lian five seconds longer than it should to click around, instead deciding to focus on Xie Lian’s side profile.
A bad idea.
Because Xie Lian is perfect, and Hua Cheng is slowly realizing that he’s going to have to force himself to face his doom: Death By Pretty Boy. Absolutely sickening.
“What do you want to watch, San Lang?” asks Xie Lian, turning around to look up expectantly at him, and oh fuck. They’re so close. Their shoulders are practically grazing each other, and Hua Cheng feels his heart fall into his throat, push down, and lodge in his chest like a sore thumb.
“Finding Nemo,” he says.
Xie Lian blinks. “Oh. Do you actually?”
“Of course I do,” says Hua Cheng. “It’s gege’s favorite.”
“It is,” Xie Lian nods. “I just didn’t think...ah, nevermind.”
But Hua Cheng leans closer, ignoring the flashing red lights going off in his head. Shut up, his brain is saying, it’s already enough that he’s indulging you in all of this. You’re being weird as hell. Why are you leaning closer to him. What are you doing. Stop. Stop. Stop. “You didn’t think what?” he says, because he has no brain to mouth filter and also he would really like to know. “That I would want to watch it?”
“Gege, you’re silly,” says Hua Cheng, and then he reaches up with a bout of confidence he wasn’t sure he had in him, flicking the side of Xie Lian’s forehead. “Put the movie on! Do you have any extra blankets? It’s chilly.”
“Oh, yes,” says Xie Lian, bending over the bed to rummage through something by the wall. “Yes, yes, of course I do. Here.” He throws a comforter to Hua Cheng, who catches it with ease and rolls it out. “Ah...I’m afraid that’s the only extra one I have.”
“No matter,” Hua Cheng chirps. “We can share.”
“Okay,” says Xie Lian. “Let’s share.”
So they share.
As Xie Lian moves to press play on the movie, Hua Cheng tries desperately to ignore how their ankles are dangerously close to sliding together. Skin on skin. Xie Lian’s warmth to Hua Cheng’s pale ice. Fuck. Fuck. He can’t let that happen. He can’t—
He feels something graze his leg.
“Ah!” says Xie Lian, and Hua Cheng’s eyes widen as a bright orange fish appears onscreen. “Sorry about my feet, San Lang. I can be a bit fidgety.”
“It’s all right,” says Hua Cheng immediately. “I—I don’t mind.”
Xie Lian sends him another apologetic look, before he yawns and turns back to face the screen. Their arms brush together as he brings the blanket up to their chins, and then again when he reaches over to tuck the end beneath Hua Cheng’s jawline as well. Xie Lian pats Hua Cheng’s chest to finish his work, and only when he moves away does Hua Cheng remember how to breathe.
“San Lang looks cozier now,” Xie Lian whispers, and then he laughs—no, he giggles.
Hua Cheng sucks in a sharp breath.
Xie Lian’s eyebrows furrow. “San Lang? Are you okay?”
“‘M fine,” Hua Cheng murmurs. “Look. It’s Charlie.”
Xie Lian blinks, his gaze flickering over to the screen. “Charlie? Who’s Charlie?”
Hua Cheng frowns, letting his arm snake out from underneath the blanket and pointing at the fish on the screen. “That. Isn’t his name Charlie?”
Something akin to realization dawns on Xie Lian’s features, and Hua Cheng pinches his lips together expectantly. Then, Xie Lian’s expression shifts, and he says, “Uh, San Lang, I think you might be remembering his name incorrectly.”
“Am I?” Hua Cheng pulls a face. “What is it, then? Fred? Bill?”
“I—no.” Now Xie Lian’s cheeks are puffing out, a choked sound rattling in the back of his throat. “No—I—help. Try again.”
Hua Cheng says nothing, looking back to the screen with a deadpan expression. Xie Lian is huffing silently next to him. “George? It’s George, right?”
Xie Lian makes another sound, a small little hah that has Hua Cheng curving his eyes toward.
“You’re laughing at me.”
“I’m not!” Xie Lian exclaims, but the pull of his cheeks says very differently.
“Uh huh,” says Hua Cheng. “I believe you, gege, I really do.” He jogs his memory back to the last time He Xuan had blasted this movie in the living room of their apartment, the lines of his forehead creasing in thought. A memory sparks, then explodes. “Oh!” he says. “I remember. Merlin, right?”
This seems to finally do it for Xie Lian. He doubles over, and when the blanket falls away from his frontside, Hua Cheng sees that his hands are clutching his stomach.
“Gege,” he says over Xie Lian’s peels of laughter, “while I’m glad you’re happy, is it really that funny?”
“Merlin,” Xie Lian wheezes, and well, Hua Cheng supposes that answers his question. “The wizard? Merlin? Oh, San Lang, Nemo’s dad’s name is Marlin.”
Oh. “Right,” he says, blowing air through his cheeks. He glances over to Xie Lian, who’s still laughing, and finds his cheeks pulling in return. “Mm, I suppose it is a bit funny.”
“Sorry, San Lang,” Xie Lian says, shaking his head. He reaches up to his face, swiping the red heat of his cheeks. “Ah. That was a good laugh.”
“You’re okay now?”
“Yes,” Xie Lian nods. “I’m okay now. Very okay. Extremely okay. Let’s keep watching the movie.”
The movie. Yes. Hua Cheng can do that. Hua Cheng can most definitely do that.
And so, they watch the movie. Xie Lian ends up pressing closer and closer to Hua Cheng as the minutes tick by, and at some point, Hua Cheng wonders if he’s even breathing anymore. Probably not, honestly. There’s no way his lungs would choose to be on his side during a time like this. His fingers feel hot, and his mind is abuzz. Xie Lian’s eyes widen, then narrow, then crinkle as the scenes shift on the screen.
“Just keep swimming,” he whispers as a purple fish twirls around in the depths of the ocean. His hand tightens around Hua Cheng’s forearm. “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming.”
“Just keep swimming,” Hua Cheng says back, soft smile decorating his skin.
Xie Lian blinks and looks up at him, surprised. “Yes,” he says. “Yes, just keep swimming.” Then he hums, and lets his head fall onto Hua Cheng’s shoulder.
Hua Cheng falls still.
“It’s such a nice message,” Xie Lian continues like absolutely nothing is amiss, like Hua Cheng’s heart doesn’t feel like it’s about to burst from its confines, “you know? No matter what life throws at you, you should just keep swimming along and see what happens next. You never know if it might be good or bad.”
“I get it,” says Hua Cheng quietly. Xie Lian’s cheek digs further into his shoulder blade. “Is gege sleepy?”
“No,” says Xie Lian, but the yawn that escapes through his lips says otherwise.
“Okay,” Hua Cheng agrees. “But just in case, you should sleep if you feel like it.”
“I’ll take the couch outside,” Xie Lian murmurs. He makes no move to get up and walk away, though. “You should sleep here on my bed.”
Hua Cheng laughs, using his left hand to pull the blanket over Xie Lian’s body. “All right,” he says, not meaning it in the slightest. “You can go outside after the movie’s over, okay?”
“Okay, San Lang,” says Xie Lian, his voice dripping with sleep.
And, just as Hua Cheng predicted, Xie Lian is out like a light within the next fifteen minutes, slumped directly against Hua Cheng’s side. Hua Cheng can’t help his smile when he notices. He presses pause on the movie and gently closes the laptop shut, tossing it aside before shifting so he’s more comfortably resting against Xie Lian. He tightens the blanket around them and crosses his arms and legs, wondering if it would be too much to wrap his arm around Xie Lian’s back and pull him just a bit closer.
It would. It definitely would.
So Hua Cheng does the next best thing: he lets his head fall against Xie Lian’s, closes his eyes, and falls asleep.
When Hua Cheng gets back to his apartment the following morning, the first thing he hears is the sound of someone singing at the top of their lungs in the shower.
“SHA LA LA LA LA LA MY OH MY LOOK LIKE THE BOY TOO SHY HE AIN’T GONNA KISS THE GIRL—”
“Oh my fucking god,” Hua Cheng says in a voice that’s barely above a whisper. “Oh my fucking god.”
“SHA LA LA LA LA LA AIN’T THAT SAD AIN’T IT A SHAME TOO BAD HE GONNA MISS THE GIRL—”
Without another word, Hua Cheng whips out his phone, opens his empty messaging history with Shi Qingxuan, and presses record.
“SHA LA LA LA LA LA MY OH MY LOOK LIKE THE BOY TOO SHY HE AIN’T GONNA KISS THE—”
“He’s talking about you,” says Hua Cheng into the microphone, and then he presses send, puts his phone on silent, and slides it back into his pocket.
All in a day’s work.
Ten minutes later, He Xuan is singing a rendition of Under the Sea as he makes his way out of the bathroom, a navy blue towel slung loosely around his waist. Hua Cheng leans against the wall right outside, picking his nails nonchalantly as He Xuan notices him and immediately freezes.
“When the fuck did you get back.”
“Hmm,” says Hua Cheng, pretending to check the nonexistent watch on his wrist. “I’d say...somewhere between Kiss the Girl and Part of Your World.”
He Xuan stares at him, and man, if looks could kill.
“We,” he says, “will never speak of this again.”
Then he turns on his heel and stalks off to his bedroom door.
“You know,” says Hua Cheng, right as He Xuan is about to turn the doorknob. He Xuan pauses. “I really think you should look into auditioning for one of the acapella groups on campus. I’m sure they’d be interested in your talent, even if it is being wasted on pathetic Disney movies like—”
“Fuck you,” He Xuan cuts in. “The Little Mermaid is a cinematic masterpiece.”
“I’m sure it is,” says Hua Cheng, plastering a sickeningly sweet smile upon his features. “Now. Go put on some clothes. You are not the supermodel you think you are.”
“Excuse me?” says He Xuan, turning around completely to face him. He points to his chest, flexing his right arm whilst doing so. “Do you see these abs?”
“Then get better eyes.”
“I have perfect vision, actually.”
“Well obviously not.”
A phone rings.
It’s He Xuan’s, of course. The ringer is some heavy metal rock tune that makes him scrunch his nose.
Hua Cheng lifts an eyebrow. “Do you keep that as your ringer to hide how you secretly jam out to Disney princess songs when you think no one else is there?”
“Never talk to me again,” says He Xuan, before stomping inside his room and slamming the door shut behind him.
Hua Cheng waits.
And then, just as expected, He Xuan comes hurtling back out, his glare deadly and his fingers curled around his phone. He’s wearing some clothes this time, at least.
“What the fuck did you say to Qingxuan?”
Hua Cheng really can’t help his responding smirk. “Wouldn’t you like to know.”
He Xuan presses something on his screen, and all of a sudden, the room is full of Shi Qingxuan’s yelling.
“HE-XIONG, IF YOU WANTED TO KISS ME SO BADLY, YOU SHOULD HAVE JUST SAID SO! OF COURSE I’LL KISS YOU! I WOULD LOVE TO KISS YOU, HE-XIONG! I—”
“SHUT THE FUCK UP,” says He Xuan, clicking his phone off and hurtling it across the hallway. It lands with a thud somewhere in the living room.
“Do you think it broke?” Hua Cheng asks, peering down at it.
“I fucking hope so,” He Xuan grunts, and then his shoulders slump down and he leans against the wall. “I was born with glass bones and paper skin. Every morning I break my legs, and every afternoon I break my arms. At night, I lie awake in agony until my heart attacks put me to sleep.”
“Why are you quoting Spongebob.”
“Because I too want to live in a pineapple under the sea.”
“Excellent,” says Hua Cheng, eyes sparkling. “Does that mean you’re moving out?”
“It means I’m three seconds away from throttling you.”
“You can barely even reach my shoulders.”
“I am one centimeter shorter than you.”
“Yeah,” says Hua Cheng. “Exactly. I practically tower over you.”
He Xuan snorts and rolls his eyes, then stalks off to the kitchen and slips inside, rummaging through the pantries. “What do you want? I think we have bread or some shit. I’m not cooking for you.”
Hua Cheng grins, leaning over the counter and batting his eyelashes right as He Xuan turns around to face him.
He Xuan’s eyes darken. “No,” he says immediately. “Absolutely not. I don’t want to hear about your not-date. Do not tell me anything. Stop. Stop opening your mouth, no, close it right now you fucking—”
“I,” Hua Cheng cuts in, his voice louder than He Xuan’s to drown it out, “already had breakfast at gege’s this morning.”
“I said don’t tell me anything.”
“And last night, we went for a walk in the park,” Hua Cheng continues, ignoring his roommate completely. “But then it started raining, so we went back to his apartment and Fang Xing and Mo Qin weren’t there, so he asked me to stay the night.”
“Who the hell are Fang Xing and Mo Qin.”
“And then we cuddled on his bed and watched Finding Nemo.”
“Oh,” says He Xuan, nodding. “I recommended that movie to him. A classic.”
“I’m starting to think you just like any movie with fish in it.”
“It’s called a preference.”
“So you’re fishsexual.”
“What the actual fuck does that mean.”
“Hmm,” Hua Cheng hums, stroking his index finger across his chin. “Don’t worry, I understand. I’ll let Shi Qingxuan know to dress up as a mermaid next Halloween.”
“You know what,” says He Xuan, slamming a plastic cup down by the sink. “Get out. Get out of my apartment.”
“You mean our apartment.”
“I mean get the fuck out of here before I throw a plate at you. And don’t come back till you, I don’t fucking know, confess your stupid as shit feelings to Xie Lian.”
Hua Cheng pauses. “You think I should confess?”
“Oh fuck no, we are not ten year-old school girls. We are absolutely not having this conversation.”
Hua Cheng sighs dramatically and waddles on over to the living room couch, plopping himself down onto the cushions and maneuvering his body till he’s lying on his back.
“I,” he starts, “am in love.”
“And I,” says He Xuan from the kitchen, “do not give a shit.”
“He’s perfect,” Hua Cheng continues, because nothing He Xuan says ever actually matters. “He’s everything. He’s so good. I can’t believe he’s real.”
“And I can’t believe I haven’t murdered you in your sleep yet.”
“Why haven’t you?”
“It’s a work in progress.”
Hua Cheng rolls over so that he’s resting on his stomach, craning his neck up to see the top of He Xuan’s head, half bent over the sink as he does...something. Possibly the dishes.
“The thing is,” he starts, ignoring He Xuan’s groan of displeasure, “we’re friends now. I told you that we’re friends, right? Well, we’re friends, and I don’t want us to stop being friends.”
“Then just don’t confess,” He Xuan supplies helpfully, throwing an apple into the air and catching it with one hand. He takes a huge bite and tilts his head in Hua Cheng’s direction. “Just mope around for the rest of your life and be miserable thinking about what could have been.”
Rejection. Hua Cheng tests the word in his mind. Rejection.
How would it even go?
“I’m sorry, San Lang, but I’m in love with someone else.”
“San Lang, you’ve always been just a friend to me. Nothing more.”
“Sorry, San Lang, it’s not me, it’s you.”
Hua Cheng barely manages to suppress his shudder.
“You know what,” he says, suddenly sitting up and giving He Xuan a blank look. “You’re useless. I’m going to talk to someone else about this.”
With that, he whips out his phone and opens up his chat history with Shi Qingxuan. There are about fifty unread messages from after the voice recording, but Hua Cheng ignores every single one and instead presses the call button.
The line rings twice before Shi Qingxuan picks up.
“Hua Cheng!” they exclaim. “Oh, good, it’s you! Did something happen to He-xiong’s phone? I keep trying to get through to him but my calls won’t—”
“His phone is broken,” says Hua Cheng. “Listen, I’m in love with your friend.”
There’s a moment’s pause. “Which friend?” Shi Qingxuan asks curiously.
“Ohhhhh,” says Shi Qingxuan. “Wait, what?”
“I’m in love with Xie Lian,” Hua Cheng repeats, this time a little slower because he is a great fucking person. “You need to tell me exactly what kind of big romantic confession he’d like.”
“Does he like flowers? Does he have a favorite type of flower? What’s his favorite type of flower? What about food? Does he like food? What’s his favorite dish? Does he have a favorite dish? How long does it take to prepare said favorite dish? Is he even interested in a relationship? Does he like me? Would he want to be with someone like me?”
“Err,” says Shi Qingxuan. “Um. Hua Cheng, I met A-Lian barely three weeks ago.”
“Do not speak a word of this to anyone you know,” Hua Cheng says in a dull voice before pressing the phone away from his ear and ending the call with a click. He immediately turns to look at He Xuan, who’s housing the smuggest fucking face he’s ever seen. “You told me you know Xie Lian through Shi Qingxuan.”
“Actually, I didn’t,” says He Xuan lightly. “You just assumed I did. What I told you was that Qingxuan is friends with Xie Lian. I never said how they became friends with him.”
“So they became friends with him through you.”
“Okay,” Hua Cheng nods. Really, this is better. This way, Hua Cheng can get information about Xie Lian while also torturing He Xuan. Two birds with one stone! “That’s fine. That’s great. So, He Xuan, does he like flowers? Does he have a favorite type of flower? What’s his favorite type of—”
“Sorry,” He Xuan says primly. “That’s unlocked at level three of He Xuan friendship.”
“I will increase your debt.”
“Xie Lian doesn’t care about flowers,” says He Xuan immediately. “Or food. His ideal confession is something simple without any flair. You are exactly his type. He likes you too.”
Hua Cheng blinks, digests all of this. “He Xuan,” he starts, voice low, “how long have you known him for?”
Oh, Hua Cheng is going to kill him.
Three weeks later, Hua Cheng finds himself sitting in the corner of the top floor of the library, curled in on himself and wallowing in a pool of his own misery.
Great. This is great. He’s fine. He’s so fine.
It’s been a month since he first met Xie Lian. Which—awesome! Congratulations! Happy anniversary to him!
It’s just that throughout the month, Hua Cheng’s feelings haven’t simmered. They haven’t dulled out, drained, ran dry, whatever. They haven’t gone. No, no they’ve stayed. If anything, they’ve bloomed like a pretty red little rose. God, he’s gonna die.
Xie Lian really is perfect, and if Hua Cheng hadn’t believed it before, (he had,) he definitely does now. Xie Lian drops by his and He Xuan’s place a few times a week with cups of steaming coffee or hot cocoa. Xie Lian holds Hua Cheng’s hand in the chilly cold weather and walks with him through campus to their respective classes. Xie Lian invites Hua Cheng to his apartment and makes him watch Disney movies with him on his bed. Xie Lian tugs him to sit across from him in dimly lit noodle shops in the middle of the night.
“Wait, you’re not dating?” is the reaction he usually gets from people he runs into nowadays. It’s stupid, because if Hua Cheng could have his way, he’d have made Xie Lian his boyfriend weeks ago.
But Hua Cheng is a coward, so there’s that.
“San Lang!” comes a familiar voice now, and Hua Cheng looks up to see Xie Lian, the love of his life, the best person in his world, walking up to him with his book bag slung over his shoulder and a bright pink smile gracing his facial features. He looks cozy in his oversized white sweater, and Hua Cheng wants nothing more than to wrap him up in his arms and cuddle him close.
But, of course, he can’t do that.
So instead he says, “Gege!” and hopes his voice doesn’t betray the itch in his heart.
“I hope you weren’t waiting too long,” says Xie Lian, voice a bit quieter. After all, they are in a library, even though Hua Cheng doesn’t particularly care for the librarian’s dirty looks in their direction.
“Not at all, gege,” he says as Xie Lian slips into the seat next to him. “You arrived just in time. Do you have a lot of work to do?”
“Just a bit,” says Xie Lian, and then he leans into Hua Cheng’s place subconsciously and Hua Cheng momentarily forgets how to breathe. That’s been happening a lot over the past month—the lack of breathing, that is. Once, when Xie Lian was over, He Xuan had to punch Hua Cheng in the back to remind him to inhale every now and then.
“It’s like you’re a fucking ghost,” he had said, shaking his head pitifully.
“I am,” Hua Cheng retorted. “I’ve died, like, three times for gege. I would die a fourth too.”
Studying in the library with Xie Lian becomes a habit; the long table in the corner seemingly reserved for the two of them. They share Hua Cheng’s wireless earbuds, and Xie Lian introduces him to a plethora of new artists he’s been listening to.
“Feng Xin recommended this song to me,” he said once, clicking play on a YouTube video with less than a thousand views. “He’s really into obscure music. San Lang, tell me if you like it?”
“Mm, I like it,” Hua Cheng said, the beat smooth and heavy in his ear. “Even if Fang Xing is the one who told you to listen to it.”
Xie Lian laughed. “Will you ever learn their names properly?”
“I have,” said Hua Cheng pointedly. “They’re Fang Xing and Mo Qin.”
“If you say so, San Lang.”
See, the problem with all of this is that every single day Hua Cheng has a brand new memory with Xie Lian to mull over into the early hours of the morning. The feel of Xie Lian’s skin on his when he threads their fingers together over a restaurant table, the sound of his light sparks of laughter when Hua Cheng says something that really isn’t funny at all, the surprised look on his pretty face when Hua Cheng takes it just a little too far, their faces accidentally brushing or their hands staying encased together for just a few seconds too long.
Right now, Xie Lian’s eyes are trained on the screen of his computer, his fingers flying across his keyboard as he types up a particularly difficult paper for one of his classes. Hua Cheng finds himself leaning onto the table, hoisting himself up with his elbow and placing his palm beneath his jawline. He stares unabashedly, a soft smile gracing his mouth when he notices the pink bud of Xie Lian’s tongue surface from between his lips: a telltale sign that he’s concentrating deeply on his work.
Before he even knows he’s doing it, his hand is reaching out and pressing down on top of the back of Xie Lian’s right hand.
Xie Lian starts, looking up and over to where Hua Cheng is sitting. “San Lang?” he asks, surprised. “Is something wrong? Do you need help with your assignment?”
Hua Cheng needs help, period. He needs help because Xie Lian is right fucking here, right here right in front of him.
They stare at each other for what feels like hours, till Xie Lian breaks the moment by blinking a few times. “San Lang?”
“Gege,” Hua Cheng whispers. He inwardly flinches at his tone. Oh. God. He sounds way too gone already. He looks away, clearing his throat. “Ah, it’s nothing, gege, I just—”
But then, Hua Cheng feels pressure on his hand, and looks down with wide eyes to see that Xie Lian has turned their fingers over so that he’s gripping onto Hua Cheng instead. Hua Cheng inhales sharply.
“Gege,” he says again, but he doesn’t dare look up to see what kind of face Xie Lian is making right now. That would be too much. “Gege, I...I need to tell you something.”
Xie Lian makes a quiet noise of encouragement, but his hand doesn’t move away. Hua Cheng feels himself start to sweat, because oh fuck. Oh god, he’s really doing this right now, isn’t he? What else can he play this off as now? He knows he’ll hate himself later if he doesn’t follow through.
He swallows and feels saliva stick to his throat.
“Gege,” he starts, “you’re my favorite person.”
Then, all of a sudden, the words don’t seem to stop.
“The moment I saw you that first time, when I was with He Xuan at your house party, I didn’t...I didn’t really know what to do with myself. Because you were so beautiful and so kind and I didn’t think you would ever want anything to do with someone like me. I didn’t know what I was thinking when I went up to you that second time, remember at Pei Ming’s party? I only went because He Xuan told me that you were going to be there, and I foolishly wanted to be your friend. I just wanted to become closer to you, and I know that’s really selfish of me, because who am I?”
“No,” Hua Cheng cuts in, then promptly hates himself for it because how dare he interrupt Xie Lian. He looks up then, finally, and sees Xie Lian staring back at him with flushed cheeks and parted lips. His eyes are wide, and his entire body has frozen still. Not his hand, though—his hand is still wrapped tightly around Hua Cheng’s.
Hua Cheng gulps and hopes it isn’t too visible.
He continues, this time looking directly at Xie Lian: “I’ve wanted to tell you this for months. But, gege, I know you don’t feel that way about me. And I still, I still want to be friends with you, even though it might not be possible anymore. But I do. You’re my favorite person and I don’t want to lose you even though I—” He stutters, bites his tongue and winces at the corresponding pain. “I feel too much. About you.”
He holds his breath and looks away, wrenching his hand away from Xie Lian’s hold and curling in on himself. Xie Lian stays silent, and Hua Cheng’s heart feels like it’s about to open up and burst into thousands of little pieces. Like small, silvery butterflies.
“Oh,” says Xie Lian suddenly, and it sounds like an exhale. “Oh, San Lang, oh, are you confessing to me right now?”
Hua Cheng feels like he’s been punched. He looks down at his lap, shame burning his skin as he nods his head and says quietly, “Yes.”
“Oh,” says Xie Lian right after. “Okay. Good. I was hoping you were.”
That makes Hua Cheng look over at him again. He sucks in a breath and feels his chest stutter alive. He’s overwhelmed, feels like he’s going to break out into panic any moment now. That would be embarrassing. That would be really embarrassing. He doesn’t. He holds it in. He feels like he could cry. “Gege—?”
“San Lang,” says Xie Lian, and then he kisses him.
Hua Cheng makes a sound, muffled by the softness of Xie Lian’s lips. It’s barely more than a brush, tinged with uncertainty, and then Xie Lian is pulling back and looking up at him. He doesn’t move too far away, though, still close enough so that Hua Cheng can hear the tattered beat of his heart and feel his breath against his lips.
And then, Hua Cheng moves, surges forward to press their lips together again. Xie Lian counters with just as much force, and Hua Cheng’s hands fly out beside him, catching onto the back of his chair as Xie Lian shifts his entire body closer, his lips moving with a kind of sureness that tastes like a bolt of lightning.
“Gege,” Hua Cheng whispers the first time they break away for air.
Xie Lian hums, like he has absolutely no interest in talking, and well, Hua Cheng can definitely get behind that. So he says nothing more and reaches up to curl his fingers around the back of Xie Lian’s neck, tugging him impossibly close and peppering featherlight kisses to the corners of his mouth. He hears Xie Lian giggle from above him, and Hua Cheng grins so widely he feels his head pound.
He hears someone clear their throat, and Hua Cheng looks over to see the librarian from earlier looking upon them in absolute horror. Hua Cheng frowns, too busy with the feeling of Xie Lian’s lips on his neck, but when he realizes where they are, he gently pats Xie Lian’s waist and says, “While I’m happy that gege is so eager, would you like to go back to my apartment and continue there?”
“Yes,” Xie Lian says immediately, pulling away but staying in his position—half hanging off of his chair and half on Hua Cheng’s lap. “Yes—I—yes. San Lang, I’ve loved you since the first time you took me to eat noodles.”
Hua Cheng stares at him. “That long?” he asks softly.
Xie Lian nods. “I—I didn’t know if you..if you also…”
“Always,” Hua Cheng says, wrapping his hand around Xie Lian’s and interlocking their fingers over his stomach. “Always, gege, how could I not?” When he sees Xie Lian smile at this, Hua Cheng laughs and kisses him one final time. “Come. I’ve been looking for an excuse to kick He Xuan out for a few hours.”
“Oh,” says Xie Lian, furrowing his eyebrows as Hua Cheng pulls them up to their feet. “Will he mind?”
“Definitely,” Hua Cheng nods, thrusting Xie Lian’s bag into his hands. “And that’s exactly why it’s perfect.”
“Perfect?” Xie Lian asks, an amused smile painting his kiss-swollen lips.
Hua Cheng grins. “Perfect.”