“Woah, there’s a lot of people,” Zhangjing exhales, staring at the crowded shopping mall.
Yanjun snorts. “Of course there are, what else do you expect when you waited until now to do Christmas shopping?” he teases. Zhangjing stops in his tracks, giving Yanjun an exaggerated, dramatic side-eye. Forgoing a response, Zhangjing marches off into the crowd indignantly, disappearing amongst the shoppers until Yanjun can just barely see his head bobbing up and down and weaving amongst the strangers.
“Hey, wait up,” Yanjun calls after him, hurrying in the direction where Zhangjing disappeared. “You Zhangjing!” he calls somewhat urgently when he can’t find the familiar brown curls. He sighs in exasperation, bringing a hand up to rub at his temple tiredly.
“Lin Yanjun!” Yanjun turns around when he hears his name being called, and spots Zhangjing squeezing his way through the crowd. “Lin Yanjun, stop running off,” Zhangjing scolds. “There’s too many people in here for you to be wandering off by yourself, god, this is like Disneyland all over again!”
Yanjun gapes in shock. “You’re the one who went off by yourself! Drama queen!” He splutters.
Zhangjing pauses. “Oh, I guess that’s true,” he says thoughtfully. “Well then, keep up!” He turns away, but before he can disappear again, Yanjun manages to catch hold of his wrist, his fingers sliding down to interlock with Zhangjing’s. The older boy looks at him questioningly.
“You’re so tiny, I’m afraid you’ll get lost again,” Yanjun explains, smirking so hard that his dimples appear as deep as craters, “so I’ll hold your hand, and I’ll never lose you again.”
“Wah,” Zhangjing turns away, trying to fight off an awed blush. “Lin Yanjun is so cool,” he praises enthusiastically, gripping his hand just a little tighter. Purposefully making his tone higher, he tries not to show how much the sight of Yanjun’s flirty grin flustered him. But Yanjun knows him all too well, and recognizes the sight of his bluffing. A ball of warmth explodes in Yanjun’s chest, filling his veins with unbidden hope that maybe, just maybe, his feelings are not unrequited.
“But I’m not tiny! C’mon, let’s go, you ridiculously tall person,” Zhangjing says, dragging Yanjun into a nearby store.
“I’m not even that tall, it’s just not hard to be taller than you!” Yanjun chuckles. From behind Zhangjing’s back, Yanjun smiles at their intertwined fingers, loving the way Zhangjing’s small hand fits into his.
“Look,” Yanjun says, spotting a headband with protruding bunny ears. He drops Zhangjing’s hand for a split second to pick up the accessory, slipping it into the brown curls atop the older boy’s head. “ Xiao ke-ai. ”
Zhangjing shoots Yanjun a bashful smile and giggle, provoking the younger boy to grin back at him, endeared, and reach back for Zhangjing’s hand.
“Momma, why are they holding hands?” a small child asks innocently as he walks by.
“Because they like each other,” his mother replies matter-of-factly.
“But they’re both boys, ” the child says, confused.
“Boys can like other boys,” the mother tells him, looking up to make eye contact with Zhangjing, who is getting redder by the second. “See, don’t these two geges look good together?”
“Oh, we’re—” Zhangjing begins, flustered.
“—very happy to hear that,” Yanjun butts in. “Thank you, ma’am.” He brings his hand up Zhangjing’s arm and over his shoulder, wrapping the shorter boy in a loose side hug.
“Come on dear, let’s not disturb these these nice geges from their shopping any longer. Say bye-bye!”
The child waves obediently at them, tottering away behind his mother. Yanjun lets his fingers trail up and down Zhangjing’s bicep, marveling at how perfectly the smaller boy’s shoulders tuck under his arm.
“Why’d you do that?” Zhangjing asks Yanjun, who still has not retracted his arm, even after the child has disappeared.
Yanjun shrugs. “Educating the kid? Anyway, are you getting that headband? It suits you,” he changes the subject smoothly.
Zhangjing hums disbelievingly, but decides to go with it as he clutches the headband in his hands.
And, Yanjun muses, if the real reason was because Yanjun secretly felt a rush of warmth through his veins at being mistaken as Zhangjing’s boyfriend, well, nobody needed to know.
“Zhangjing, aren’t you gonna be late for your exam?” Chaoze nags, looking pointedly at the clock. “And you know you’re going to want a coffee before you take it, you should go before the line at the cafe gets too long.”
Zhangjing groans, rolling over in his bed. With great effort, he sits up, grabbing a sweater that was draped over the foot of the bed frame. Pulling it over his head, he pouts at his roommate. “See, I’m done! I’ll just go take the exam in my pajamas, I don’t even care anymore...Besides, Lin Yanjun is bringing me coffee.”
Chaoze scoffs, turning his head away dramatically. “Well aren’t you lucky, not all of us have boyfriends who wake up early just to buy coffee for us.”
Zhangjing hurls a pillow at his supposed “best friend,” flushing immediately. “He’s not my boyfriend! He just does that because he lives closer to the cafe.”
Chaoze clicks his tongue. “Yeah, but you know what he would do if me or Lu Dinghao asked him to get coffee for us?” He clears his throats, speaking in a bad imitation of Yanjun’s voice. “ You have legs, don’t you?” Chaoze huffs angrily at the memory.
Zhangjing cackles. “That’s just you two. Yanjun has no problem buying coffee for Nongnong.”
The other boy gives him a look. “Nongnong is an exception. Nongnong has everyone wrapped around his finger. You, on the other hand, only get free coffee delivered to you because Yanjun has a big fat crush on you. End of story.” He stands up, stretching, before wandering into the adjoining room to their shared kitchen.
“No, he doesn’t,” Zhangjing calls after his retreating back stubbornly. Don’t get your hopes up, Zhangjing scolds himself. Chaoze is just delusional. He sighs anyway, allowing himself to fall into a daydream where he and Yanjun were actually dating, where that dimpled smile was his alone, where Yanjun’s slender fingers fit so perfectly between his own.
Three rapidly successive knocks on the door break him out of his reverie.
Zhangjing pulls the door and is greeted with the very smile that he was thinking about. Yanjun grins at him, eyes alight. Zhangjing notes the other boy’s artfully combed hair and carefully put together outfit with some insecurity about his own oversized hoodie and mismatched pajama pants, but it quickly dissipates as Zhangjing finds himself against Yanjun’s chest in a brief hug.
“Wah, have I stepped into a parallel universe?” Yanjun teases, in lieu of a greeting. “You Zhangjing is actually awake already? Maybe you should get your own coffee then,” he says, holding the cup over the trash can.
“No!” Zhangjing whines, latching onto Yanjun’s arm desperately. He makes grabby hands at the cup held above his head, not seeing Yanjun’s smile turn from teasing to fond.
“Oh, my god,” Chaoze makes a dramatic reappearance, retching loudly. “Please stop flirting, it’s too early in the morning for this.”
Zhangjing protests. “We’re not flirting!”
“Of course we’re not,” Yanjun agrees, but he wraps an arm around Zhangjing’s shoulder and pulls him into his chest. Zhangjing lets out a little squeak as he suddenly finds himself pressed against Yanjun’s body, and an inadvertent inhale results in Zhangjing catching a whiff of the younger boy’s cologne. Yanjun shoots a wide, smug grin at Chaoze, who is rubbing his temples melodramatically.
“Oh my god, I can’t continue with this conversation anymore,” Chaoze declares, marching into the room and flopping onto his bed. “Get out of my sight, I’m gonna puke.” He mimes gagging dramatically.
Yanjun throws his head back in laughter, and Zhangjing finds himself admiring the sharp line of his jaw and the glow of the lights on his bronze cheeks.
“We should actually head to the exam now,” Yanjun says, eyes twinkling. “C’mon!” Naturally, he hands Zhangjing the cup and reaches for his free hand, tugging lightly to encourage him along.
Zhangjing allows himself to be pulled forward, staring at their interlocked fingers with a fond quirk of his lips.
“Lin Yanjun, I want to go to the food festival tomorrow night.” Zhangjing bites his lip, looking up at his best friend with pleading eyes.
Yanjun quirks an eyebrow at him. “You mean the weekly food festival that is sure to sell extra greasy, extra sweet, and extra unhealthy food?”
Zhangjing pouts. “It’s holiday themed this week! Just this once, please? I promise to lose weight afterwards.” He bites his lip, looking up at Yanjun pitifully.
Yanjun’s heart melts at the sight, and his smile softens as he ruffles Zhangjing’s hair. “You Zhangjing, I’ve told you before that you’re not fat,” he says, tone gruffly caring. “Don’t worry so much, you’re going to get wrinkles and gray hairs before you turn 30!”
Zhangjing beams up at the younger boy. “Will you come with me to the festival then?”
Yanjun scoffs. “You think I’m going to let you eat gingerbread cookies and drink peppermint hot chocolate without me? As if.”
And so the next day, Zhangjing gets dressed with an eager heart. Chaoze looks up, bewildered. “Where are you going so late at night?”
“Lin Yanjun and I are going to the food festival,” Zhangjing replies, tugging a sweater over his head.
“Ah, so it’s date night,” Chaoze says in understanding.
Zhangjing flushes. “It’s not a date!” He turns, pulling his sweater up to cover his warm face, though he’s not quite sure himself why he’s blushing.
Chaoze flattens his lips into a thin line. “So why have you been choosing your clothes for ten minutes now?” He gestures to the pile of discarded clothing on the bed with a raised eyebrow.
Zhangjing freezes in the middle of pulling a new sweater over his head. “Uh...”
The other boy sighs loudly, digging through the pile of clothing to pull out an oversized white hoodie and shoving it into Zhangjing’s chest. “Wear this, it makes you look adorable.”
“I think this is actually Yanjun’s hoodie,” Zhangjing says, looking at the fabric in his hands. “It’s too big for me.”
“Even better then!” Chaoze claps. He’s interrupted by a familiar series of knocks on the door. “Quick, put it on, Lin Yanjun is already here!”
Obediently, Zhangjing slips the hoodie over his head and opens the door. Lin Yanjun stands there, dimples on display. When Zhangjing comes into view, he rakes his eyes over the older boy’s outfit, but other than a curt “Are you warm enough in that?” he makes no comment.
Zhangjing is oddly disappointed.
“I think so,” Zhangjing replies. “Let’s go eat!”
When the door to Zhangjing’s dorm flies open, Yanjun parts his lips subtly in shock. Zhangjing, clad in Yanjun’s favorite hoodie, looks up at him with wide, innocent eyes. He itches to pull the shorter boy into his arms and bury his face in his hair, but resists the urge. “Are you warm enough in that?” he asks, trying to distract himself.
Zhangjing seems unconcerned as he rushes Yanjun towards the festival.
“It’s so pretty!” Zhanjing breathes in awe, staring the bustling stalls and twinkling lights. Yanjun looks at him as he gestures excitedly, the sweater hanging off him loosely. From where he’s standing, Yanjun can see the faint lines of the words Lin Yanjun embroidered into the sleeve.
“Yeah, it is,” Yanjun agrees softly.
Unconsciously, Yanjun reaches out to caress the small of Zhangjing’s back gently.
“Hmm?” Zhangjing turns around questioningly.
“Oh, it’s nothing,” Yanjun clears his throat and turns away, feeling his ears warm inadvertently. “There was just a piece of lint on your back.”
Zhangjing wipes at his back carelessly, before bounding off into the crowd.
“Hey, wait up,” Yanjun calls after him, quickening his pace until he can reach and latch on to Zhangjing’s wrist. “You’re going to get lost again,” he teases, resting his arm on Zhangjing’s head. The shorter boy scowls at him, shaking him off, and Yanjun chuckles at the faux-fierce expression on his face.
“C’mon, Zhangjing, I think I see a chocolate stand over there,” Yanjun says, looking over the crowd.
“Where?” Zhangjing stands on his toes, trying to follow the younger boy’s gaze.
“Heh, shortie,” Yanjun smirks. When Zhangjing raises his hand to smack him, Yanjun catches his hand and threads his fingers through his. “Just follow my lead,” Yanjun smiles, pulling him through the crowd. Zhangjing follows happily behind, and Yanjun can’t help but smile softly at the older boy’s implicit trust in him to lead them to where they’re going.
“Hello, ma’am,” Yanjun greets the old woman running the stand politely. He turns to his companion. “You Zhangjing, what do you want?”
Zhangjing looks up at the handwritten sign, contemplating. “Maybe the dark chocolate raspberry set?”
“One dark chocolate raspberry and white chocolate peppermint, please,” Yanjun tells the woman, handing her the change before Zhangjing can even reach for his wallet.
“Ahh, I’m excited,” Zhangjing bounces up and down, partly to express his anticipation and partly to warm himself up as the cold sets in. Yanjun watches, amused, as he tries to hide a shudder, and chuckles. Zhangjing grins sheepishly, knowing he’s been caught, and presses closer to Yanjun’s warmth, resting his cheek on Yanjun’s broad shoulder.
Yanjun turns his head to peer down at the brown curls atop Zhangjing’s head, carefully keeping his shoulder motionless. “Are you cold? I knew that hoodie wouldn’t be enough,” he sighs. He turns around, pulling Zhangjing into his chest. Unwinding his scarf from his own neck, he gently wraps the soft fabric around Zhangjing’s neck and face.
“What a nice boyfriend,” the old woman coos at them, looking up from where she’s carefully popping the truffles out of the mold. “For the cute couple, I’ll throw in this extra marzipan truffle.”
Yanjun shoots her a charming grin. “Thank you, ma’am.”
Zhangjing manages a weak smile and thank you. Yanjun watches fondly as the smaller boy ducks his face into the scarf, smiling secretively and flushing pink. Yanjun can’t help but hope that Zhangjing’s reaction is due to the fact that it’s Yanjun’s scarf — but before he can let that train of thought run free, he shakes his head to rid himself of the delusions and tells himself firmly that Zhangjing is merely embracing the warmth.
Yanjun receives the packaged chocolate with a slight bow, and opens up the box of raspberry truffles. “Say ahh,” he says, holding the chocolate in front of Zhangjing’s pretty lips. He parts his lips, allowing Yanjun to slip the sweet into his mouth, and hums happily as the flavor explodes in his mouth.
“Tastes good!” Zhangjing says, reaching for the box. “Here, you try one too,” he says, plucking a white chocolate truffle from its wrapper and nudging it against Yanjun’s lips. Yanjun opens his mouth, and brings his head closer, gazing at the older boy intently.
“Why are you staring at me like that?” Zhangjing asks, visibly flustered.
Because when I like someone, I will just keep looking at them.
“If I stare at you, then I like you,” Yanjun says, not really joking, but Zhangjing laughs at him anyway.
Yanjun continues to watch him fondly, even as chocolate ends up all over the older boy’s lips, wishing he could kiss it off.
Three knocks sound on Zhangjing’s door long after the sun has set as he’s getting ready for bed. Chaoze looks up in surprise.
“Who’s knocking so late?” He asks, swinging his legs over the edge of his bed.
“Lin Yanjun, of course,” Zhangjing replies, reaching for the door before Chaoze can stand up. “That’s how he knocks.”
Chaoze stares at him in disbelief. “You remember how he knocks?”
The door swings open to reveal, unsurprisingly, Lin Yanjun himself. He’s dressed simply in a black hoodie and jeans, bags under his eyes.
When he sees Zhangjing, the corner of his eyes crinkle into a smile. “Hi,” he says, sounding exhausted. “Wanna go to the convenience store with me?”
Zhangjing acquiesces without a second thought. “Hold on, let me grab a jacket.”
“Have fun on your date,” Chaoze calls after them, chuckling as he sees Zhangjing latch onto the crook of Yanjun’s elbow.
“Not a date,” Zhangjing mutters a soulless denial, but Chaoze has already slammed the door shut. Yanjun looks at him, and wraps an arm around the shorter boy’s shoulders.
“Not a date,” Yanjun repeats, somewhat wistfully. He slowly lets out a breath of air, watching it puff up before disappearing into the dark night.
“Lin Yanjun, what did you want to go to the convenience store for? Are we buying food?” Zhangjing asks brightly, salivating at the thought of the unhealthy yet inexplicably satisfying skewers sold at the little corner store.
Yanjun doesn’t respond, seemingly lost in his own thoughts. Zhangjing takes a good look at the younger boy, noting with worry the deep furrow in his brow and the bags under his eyes. He stops in his tracks.
“Lin Yanjun,” he calls quietly. The taller boy stops and turns to face him, but looks down, avoiding Zhangjing’s eyes. “Lin Yanjun, what’s wrong with you?” Zhangjing asks, concerned.
Zhangjing reaches up, smoothing his thumb over the furrows in the younger boy’s forehead. Yanjun stubbornly draws his eyebrows even closer together.
“You Zhangjing, have you ever met someone so stupid that they ignore all the most obvious signs?” Yanjun asks, sounding sad and exasperated and hopeless all at once.
Zhangjing wrinkles his brow in confusion, matching Yanjun’s expression. “What do you mean?”
Zhangjing can see the hesitation, the lips that open to form words — words that just don’t fall out. Yanjun swallows hard, swallowing his fears and worries and burdens as he always does. Zhangjing lets his hand fall until he’s cupping Yanjun’s cheek. He feels the other boy lean into his touch, despite his usual aversion to physical contact, and Zhangjing’s entire body aches to erase the pain that is causing the bags under his eyes and the exhaustion to set into his handsome face.
“No, it’s nothing.”
Zhangjing has never felt more helpless. He bites his lip in worry.
“Lin Yanjun, you know I’ll be here if you need to talk to me, don’t you?”
Yanjun lifts his head, peeking through at Zhangjing through his bangs, and looks at him for the first time that night. His face smooths out and the corners of his lips curl into a small, melancholy smile.
“Yeah, I know.”
Yanjun reaches up to hold Zhangjing’s hand against his face for a little longer before curling his fingers around his hand and bringing their intertwined hands to rest at their sides. Zhangjing feels a rush of warmth run through his fingertips to his cheeks, and he grips onto Yanjun’s hand just a little tighter.
“Your hands are freezing,” Yanjun says casually, sounding like his usual self. “Let me warm them up for you.” He swings their intertwined hands back and forth, childlike and innocent, and Zhangjing’s heart melts.
“It’s your fault for dragging me out into the cold! Now you have to buy me hotpot to make up for it!”
Yes, Lin Yanjun may still be troubled by his unspoken worries, but Zhangjing has faith that if and when the younger boy decides to air his troubles, Zhangjing will be the first person he turns to.
Yanjun’s phone buzzes. Flicking at the screen, his messages open to reveal a message sent from Xiao Ke-ai.
Don’t wait for me! Zhengzheng is driving me to the party after class.
But who am I going to practice my pickup lines on in the car before the party? :(
Hearing you say that makes me ten times as glad to be going with Zhengting instead.
You hurt my heart, bro
Yanjun receives no reply other than a string of kissy emojis. Glaring at his phone, he flattens his lips into a pout. He tosses it carelessly onto his bed with a huff, already missing Zhangjing’s presence.
Taking a quick peek in his side mirror, Yanjun runs his hand through his newly dyed silver hair.
“ Lin Yanjun is so handsome!” He hears Zhangjing’s voice in his head, but when Yanjun looks over at the empty passenger seat beside him, only an empty seat greets him. He can’t help but frown, glaring at the seat. And despite blasting the radio at full volume, probably irritating the drivers next to him on the road, he can’t shake the feeling of loneliness.
As soon as Yanjun steps into Ziyi’s house — no, his mansion — he’s met with a horrifying sight. Zhangjing is tucked securely underneath Ziyi’s arm, who is guiding him to the kitchen. The real terrifying part of that scene, however, is Justin’s devilish smirk as he prepares to hang up a very familiar holiday plant above the entryway into the kitchen.
Yanjun has never run so fast in his life.
“Hey, bro!” He calls loudly, catching Ziyi’s attention. To Yanjun’s utter relief, the other man’s grip around Zhangjing loosens as Ziyi reaches out to wrap Yanjun in a greeting hug.
“What’s up, bro?” Yanjun grins weakly at Ziyi, squeezing himself in between the space between Zhangjing and Ziyi and dropping a firm hand on Ziyi’s shoulder. “Ziyi, bro, I think Kunkun was looking for you,” he bluffs, nudging the taller man away from Zhangjing, who is giggling softly behind him.
“Oh, okay, let me just show Zhangjing where the snacks are—”
“No, it’s okay! We’ll figure it out,” Yanjun says hastily. “Don’t leave Kunkun waiting!”
Ziyi nods slowly, trotting away obediently, but not without giving Yanjun a strange look.
Yanjun looks down to meet Zhangjing’s bright eyes and wide smile.
“Wow, Lin Yanjun, do you like me that much?” Zhangjing teases, latching onto the crook of Yanjun’s elbow.
If only you knew.
Yanjun coughs awkwardly, looking away and making accidental eye contact with Justin, who has finished hanging up the mistletoe and is about to scamper away, cackling.
“C’mon Zhangjing, let’s go find some eggnog,” he says, draping his arm over Zhangjing’s shoulders and tugging him towards the kitchen.
“Lin Yanjun! You Zhangjing!” Yanjun hears Justin screech as soon as they step over the threshold of the kitchen. “You have to kiss!”
Yanjun and Zhangjing look up, and while Zhangjing splutters at seeing the festive plant, Yanjun can’t control his grin.
“Oh, look,” Yanjun drawls, “mistletoe.” He tries to school his expression into an appropriately shocked expression, but his dimples betray him, denting his cheek.
Zhangjing slaps him on the chest. “You knew it was there, didn’t you?”
“Whaaat, of course not!” Yanjun grins. “But now that we’re here...” He trails off, bringing his face close to Zhangjing’s.
Zhangjing gulps, blood rushing to his cheeks.
Yanjun hovers above him, lips a centimeter apart, a question in his eyes.
All or nothing, Lin Yanjun.
What is he doing? Zhangjing stares wide-eyed at Yanjun.
“Haha, you’re funny,” Zhangjing chuckles weakly, nudging at Yanjun’s chest. He expects the other boy to lean back, to throw his head back in laughter at successfully flustering Zhangjing, but Yanjun doesn’t budge. “Lin Yanjun, stop playing around.”
“I’m not joking,” Yanjun murmurs, sound rumbling from his chest. His gaze is steady, locked onto Zhangjing’s, but Zhangjing knows him well enough to see the uncertainty in his eyes. Zhangjing stares back, admiring the way the light glints off his fresh silver hair and the cut of his cheekbones.
“Kiss me, You Zhangjing.”
Zhangjing’s gaze drops to the younger boy’s lips, and he bites his own, hesitant.
“Zhangjing, do you trust me?” Yanjun all but whispers, lips barely moving.
I trust you.
Zhangjing takes a tiny step forward, crowding into Yanjun’s space, and leans up, eyes fluttering closed. Familiar arms wind around his waist, caressing his lower back and holding him in a protective embrace, enclosing Zhangjing in warmth even before lip meets lip.
Yanjun holds him, kisses him as if it were the last day of his life, as if afraid to break him but desperate for his touch, as if he never wanted to let Zhangjing go.
The desire blooms like a flower in Zhangjing’s chest, filling his bloodstream with liquid courage. He presses himself against Yanjun’s body, locking his fingers together behind Yanjun’s neck as their lips move against each other, and Zhangjing’s mind blurs as he loses himself in the kiss.
Well, as he tries to lose himself into the kiss.
Justin’s screeching rudely breaks into Zhangjing’s reverie, and his eyes fly open. Remembering their audience, Zhangjing tries to pull back, flushing bright red. A low whine escapes Yanjun’s throat, and his arms tighten around Zhangjing’s waist as he tries to chase after Zhangjing’s lips blindly, eyes still closed.
Zhangjing giggles, and Yanjun’s eyes flutter open, lips forming into a pout.
Zhangjing wants to kiss him again.
“Lin Yanjun, we’re surrounded by people,” Zhangjing whispers, giggling bashfully.
Yanjun’s dimple pops out as he smirks. “Thank you for stating the obvious.”
Zhangjing shoves at his arm and turns to walk away, ears heating up. “I’m getting eggnog.”
“No,” Yanjun whines. He latches onto Zhangjing, dragging him backwards into his embrace and placing a kiss atop Zhangjing’s head. “I wanna make out with you.”
“Why are you so clingy all of a sudden?” Zhangjing scoffs. “This isn’t the Lin Yanjun I know.”
“After getting a taste of the sweetness of your lips, I’m addicted. I’m having Zhangjing withdrawals.”
“I’m not gonna make out with you in front of everyone here!”
“Hmm, so you’ll make out with me in private? Okay, noted. Zhangjing, let’s go outside!”
Eventually, at some point in the night, Zhangjing finds himself outside, his hand in Yanjun’s — a now familiar feeling.
Zhangjing bites his lip, suddenly unsure — Yanjun seems to have reverted to his attitude before the kiss, and Zhangjing doesn’t dare to hope. Despite their interlocked fingers, Yanjun is walking a noticeable distance away, not making eye contact with Zhangjing. They stroll slowly in silence, Yanjun continuing to look up into the sky as if searching for something, and Zhangjing can’t help but remember the last time they were walking outside at night, hand-in-hand. But this time, Yanjun looks serene, at peace, and Zhangjing wonders what changed.
Zhangjing can’t help himself.
“Yanjun?” Zhangjing whispers, afraid to break the mood.
“Hmm?” Yanjun looks down, the reply a mere rumble deep in his chest.
“Why do you always hold my hand?”
“Would you believe me if I told you it’s because I don’t want you to get lost?”
Zhangjing bites his lip. “But there’s no one here.”
“Well, then,” Yanjun says softly, bringing their intertwined hands up to his lips so that he can press a gentle kiss on the back of Zhangjing’s hand, “it’s because I like to hold your hand.”
Zhangjing sags in disappointment. “That’s it?”
Yanjun chuckles quietly, stopping abruptly. Zhangjing, still latched onto Yanjun’s hand, wobbles as he’s jerked backwards, and Yanjun steps up to slide his hands up Zhangjing’s arms to stabilize him. Zhangjing suddenly finds himself mere inches away from Yanjun, whose little breaths tickle Zhangjing’s face and rustle his hair.
“Idiot. Do I really have to spell it out for you?”
Zhangjing looks up with wide eyes. Yanjun takes a deep breath.
“I like to hold your hand so that I’m with you wherever you go. I like to hold your hand because I like how we fit together like we were meant to be together. I like to hold your hand because then, I can pretend that we’re just like any other couple in love and proud of it. I am so, so in love with you, You Zhangjing. Do you understand now?”
Unbidden, the hot tears well up and run down Zhangjing’s cheeks, and he flings himself into Yanjun’s arms, who breathes out a laugh in surprise.
“I never thought you could feel the same,” Zhangjing blubbers into Yanjun’s neck. “I thought I was the only one who fell in love with his best friend.”
Yanjun’s hand comes up to rub at Zhangjing’s back soothingly. “How could anyone not fall in love with you, You Zhangjing?”
Zhangjing looks at him with teary but bright eyes, and Yanjun feels his heart clench. He bends down, pressing little kisses all over Zhangjing’s face to kiss the tears off his cheeks. Zhangjing giggles happily, nuzzling into Yanjun’s neck.
Yanjun feels on top of the world.
Yanjun leans down, searching for Zhangjing’s lips, but Zhangjing pulls back abruptly. Yanjun blinks at him, feeling his lips begin to flatten into a pout.
“Say it again,” Zhangjing demands, bringing his palm up to block Yanjun’s lips.
“Yeesh, you scared me,” Yanjun mutters. “So bossy.”
Zhangjing sends him an adorable glare, but Yanjun quickly grabs his hand, interlacing their fingers together. Yanjun pulls him into a kiss, and Zhangjing quickly gives in, reciprocating enthusiastically.
“You Zhangjing, I love you,” Yanjun whispers against his lips, sealing the words with another firm kiss.
And in between kisses in the winter night, Zhangjing’s reply comes and warms up Yanjun’s heart.
“I love you too, Lin Yanjun.”
“Lin Yanjun, You Zhangjing, I’ve been looking all over the house for you and it turns out you’re here, outside, on a date, ” Chaoze huffs, dragging Yanjun and Zhangjing back into the house. “We’re about to exchange presents, everyone has been waiting for you!”
“While we were here celebrating the holiday cheer, Mr. Lin Yanjun here was out canoodling with his boyfriend,” Chaoze announces pointedly to their group of friends. “Lin Yanjun, it’s your turn to give gifts.”
“I’ve got a couple of gifts,” Yanjun says, pulling out a bar of chocolate.
“Is that chocolate?” Dinghao says, reaching for the candy. “Aww, Yanjun, for me? You shouldn’t have!”
“Good thing I didn’t,” Yanjun retorts, smacking Dinghao’s fingers away. “I made it for my boyfriend.” He stresses the word proudly.
A beat of silence.
“ ACTUALLY?” Zhengting screeches. “You Zhangjing, I can’t believe I wasn’t the first to know!”
“You?” Chaoze shrieks. “I can’t believe I wasn’t the first to know! After all that I’ve done?”
“Congrats, bro,” Ziyi says serenely, patting Yanjun on the back.
“I got them together!” Justin announces proudly. “Isn’t Justin the smartest? Justin did such a good job!”
Yanjun hands Zhangjing the bar of chocolate. “Dark chocolate raspberry.”
Zhangjing accepts the chocolate, blushing prettily. “I’ve never received Lin Yanjun’s handmade chocolates before.”
“Are the other gifts for us?” Chaoze asks, trying to peer into the bag.
“No,” Yanjun scoffs, “they’re all for Zhangjing. Why would I waste my money on you ?”
Chaoze splutters. “You Zhangjing, do you hear this? I told you Lin Yanjun liked you, look at how he treats us! I can’t believe he came to a holiday party with only gifts for you.”
“Anyway,” Yanjun continues, ignoring Chaoze’s offended exclamations, “I also got you this.” Yanjun pulls out a pair of bunny ears with a flourish.
“Oh!” Zhangjing exclaims happily, recognizing it at once. “It’s from that mall we went to!”
Yanjun hums happily, satisfied. Zhangjing slips it on before beaming at Yanjun, and the smile that crosses Yanjun’s face is the widest grin possible.
Dinghao tuts. “As expected of our Dimple Guardian, I have never seen Leng Yanjun smile like that at me. ”
Reaching into his bag for the last gift, Yanjun unearths soft pink fabric.
“A hoodie?” Dinghao asks skeptically, unimpressed. “I thought you were supposed to be romantic, Lin Yanjun.”
Yanjun scowls at Dinghao.
“Wait!” Linong’s sharp eyes catch a detail on the sleeve. “That’s Yanjun’s own hoodie!” He reaches for the fabric, showing everyone the embroidered Lin Yanjun ‘95 with a giggle.
Yanjun presses a kiss on the top of Zhangjing’s head. “I like seeing you in my clothes,” Yanjun whispers into his ear.
“You didn’t say anything last time,” Zhangjing sulks cutely.
“Do you know hard it was for me to control myself? Put it on,” Yanjun orders. Obediently, Zhangjing slips his arms into the sweatshirt, giggling when the bunny ears get caught.
As soon as the hoodie is on, Yanjun pulls Zhangjing backwards into his chest, tucking his face into his hair. “I wanted to do this the entire night,” Yanjun confesses.
Dinghao and Chaoze begin retching in unison. “Okay, moving on!”
Zhangjing wriggles out of Yanjun’s embrace, who scowls in displeasure. “I made cookies for everyone!” Zhangjing hands out the treat bags one by one, ending with Yanjun, who takes it with a slight pout.
“I don’t get anything special?”
Zhangjing rolls his eyes. Instead of responding, he merely throws his arms around Yanjun’s neck, pulling him down into another kiss.
Against his lips, Yanjun dissolves into a smile.
“Merry Christmas, Lin Yanjun.”