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when no one's watching you

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Jin Zixuan's hair smells nice.

There is a flowery note to it, different from A-Jie's lotus-scented oils but just as sweet. Jiang Cheng can't help but think it's posh — so fancy it gets kind of girly — and he also can't help but breathe in deep and lean in a bit closer. All in all, it's nice. Contrasts starkly with the freshness of the air at the Cloud Recesses, strong enough to make Jiang Cheng forget they're in the cold forests of a mountain instead of a wide, warm field of peonies.

They are sitting amidst the trees, with their backs to a large trunk, in what Jiang Cheng hopes is the middle of nowhere — Cloud Recesses is already in the middle of nowhere in his opinion, but he tried to find the middle of nowhere in the middle of nowhere so he could get close enough to catch a whiff of that scent.

Thankfully, every time Jin Zixuan shifts by his side, he is hit with a pleasant surge of the smell. And Jin Zixuan shifts a lot, like he's having a hard time sitting still. But Jiang Cheng doesn't know if that's good or bad yet.

What he knows is that he really wants Jin Zixuan to…


Actually, he doesn't know what he wants Jin Zixuan to do either.

Are they supposed to be talking right now? Should Jiang Cheng say something? It feels as if they have exhausted their topics on the way here, and now the atmosphere is as stiff as Jiang Cheng's shoulders. He refuses to squirm, and his fingers are twitching with the nerves, and—

Jin Zixuan's hands are closed in tight fists on his lap. His knuckles are going white with the strength he is putting into it. Jiang Cheng doesn't have much time to think before the urge hits and overwhelms him and—

He. Touches. When his mind catches up with his body, he has a hand on top of Jin Zixuan's and it's too late to back down.

Jin Zixuan startles but doesn't move away. Jiang Cheng ignores the heat creeping up his cheeks and bravely rubs his thumb in what he assumes are soothing circles. A-Jie has done it to him before; he thinks it feels nice and maybe Jin Zixuan will think that too.

Thinking of A-Jie while he's next to Jin Zixuan leaves a bitter taste in his mouth — he does his best to shove the memories out of his mind.

Right now, he must be focusing on how Jin Zixuan visibly relaxes. Under Jiang Cheng's palm, his hand unfurls. The smallest sigh escapes his lips and Jiang Cheng feels him shift again, inching close enough for their shoulders to bump. It sends a pleasant rush down his spine, a spark of satisfaction — see, Jiang Cheng is not exactly known for being a calming companion. So it's nice. Like this, the flowery smell is even stronger.

Too focused on the caress, he takes a while to notice Jin Zixuan staring at him with his eyes wide and cheeks reddened. The moment Jiang Cheng turns to him, he turns away, scowling as if getting caught was some kind of insult.


It comes off a bit ruder than he wanted, but it gets the job done: Jin Zixuan looks back at him — a side-eyed glance as if he is doing him a favor. Jiang Cheng is a bit offended.

"What's that face for," he mumbles, "It's not like I started all this…"

Flushing all the way up to his ears, Jin Zixuan huffs, "That's— That's beside the point."

He doesn't move away though, which Jiang Cheng is counting as a victory. Maybe he isn't going to screw this up yet, maybe it's not that bad for a first… whatever it is that they are doing. Emboldened, Jiang Cheng is about to ask what is the goddamn point when he notices Jin Zixuan's gaze lowering to some point below his eyes. Then back up. Then back down.

Even though Jiang Cheng thought that blushing more was physically impossible, Jin Zixuan manages to prove him wrong — his cheeks are so red he might as well be feverish. All the while his eyes keep making the same route over Jiang Cheng's face and it's as annoying as it is—

Jiang Cheng freezes.


Could it be that Jin Zixuan is looking at—

He licks his lips and then Jin Zixuan mimics the act and Jiang Cheng has to take a deep breath to not squirm. He's never done this before. For all that he has read about, all that him, Wei Wuxian, and Nie Huaisang whispered and joked, Jiang Cheng has never even gotten close to this. And with the peacock, out of all people. Not that Jin Zixuan is not good-looking; he is, and perhaps he is too good-looking for his own (and everyone else's) good. But that doesn't change the fact that until a few days ago, this kind of situation would be so absurd it wouldn't even cross his mind.

Not a bad thing, per se. Just completely unexpected. And even with the disadvantage of surprise, Jiang Cheng still hopes to not screw this up. It takes him a lot of self-control to not stand up and run. Instead, he tightens his grip on Jin Zixuan's hand for half a second, swallows down his pride, and asks timidly, "May I kiss you?"

As soon as the words leave his mouth, he feels so stupid he has to avert his eyes to glare a hole on a tree trunk ahead of them.

Jin Zixuan stays quiet for an awful lot of time. Jiang Cheng can sense his tension under his palm, to his side from his shoulder down to his thigh. Perhaps he shouldn't have been that direct — he didn't want to overstep his boundaries, much less offend Jin Zixuan, but the silence is so heavy and constricting and Jiang Cheng is starting to think that he failed miserably.

Jin Zixuan whispers something he can't understand and Jiang Cheng looks at him with a puzzled frown.

To his surprise, Jin Zixuan doesn't seem inclined to punch him. Nonetheless, the distress is clear: his pretty eyes flick between the ground and Jiang Cheng, there is a soft crease between his brows, and he is sitting so straight that Lan Qiren would be able to use him as an example of adequate posture. Although Jiang Cheng is burning with embarrassment and anxiety, he feels the mild tremble of the hand he holds and his heart hammers in his chest like it never did before.

"Yes," Jin Zixuan repeats, "I said yes."

He manages to bite back the treacherous are you sure, but he waits for Jin Zixuan to turn his head fully towards him as his second confirmation. The determined tilt of chin Jin Zixuan gives him shoves his doubts out of the way and Jiang Cheng leans in and—

—Jin Zixuan meets him half-way.

It's nothing more than a press of lips. Jiang Cheng knows there is more to it but before he can do anything, Jin Zixuan jumps back as if he's been burned and rests... no, hits his forehead on Jiang Cheng's shoulder. And stays there.

He groans something unintelligible but Jiang Cheng is too startled to ask him to repeat.

There couldn't have been enough time for Jiang Cheng to ruin this, right? Can Jin Zixuan tell if he's a bad kisser just from that? How much experience does the peacock has, anyway?

"Hey," he tries, refusing to acknowledge how weak his voice sounds.

Jin Zixuan doesn't move, which only prompts him to worry more. In this position, Jiang Cheng can't see much beyond the crown of his head and his red-tinted ears. The idea of asking if he's done something wrong is embarrassing and the possible answers are mortifying, so he doesn't say anything and adjusts his hold on Jin Zixuan's hand to lace their fingers together. If their palms are a bit sweaty, neither of them deems it appropriate to mention.

They sit like that for some time. Perhaps for a few seconds. Perhaps for a whole hour. It doesn't matter, Jiang Cheng would feel just as terrible either way.

When Jin Zixuan raises his head though, he seems a bit more composed. The blush on his cheeks has subsided to a level Jiang Cheng assumes to be healthier, and his fingers aren't shaking as much. It's still difficult to get him to make eye contact, but maybe it's for the best.

"...Again," he says, and Jiang Cheng would have complained about the demanding tone if it weren't for the whirl of complicated emotions washing through him.

He licks his lips again and swallows dry. They are closer now, they won't have to move as much, and now Jiang Cheng has the first-hand experience of how devastatingly handsome Jin Zixuan is like this, so near with his long lashes fluttering as he closes his eyes. This time, he uses his free hand to cup Jin Zixuan's face — as reassurance for himself, as an excuse to touch a bit more of skin.

At their second kiss, Jiang Cheng has so much pent-up energy inside him, he could probably run a hundred laps up and down the mountain. He waits for Jin Zixuan to pull back again and when he doesn't, Jiang Cheng moves his lips experimentally, marveling at how soft it feels when Jin Zixuan does the same.

Kissing, however, is still too foreign for him to calm down. He doesn't find himself surrendering to the heat or whatever Nie Huaisang's stupid novels say. Instead, he is so painfully aware of his lack of knowledge that every second brings a new litany of reasons to quit. But he finds himself unable to; at the same time he feels as tense as string about to snap, there is also this lukewarm sensation. It's a pull, not strong enough to burn, but rather to guide him like a gentle hand.

Jiang Cheng tries his best to not think about how long they stay like this. It must be a lot though; because they part and restart again and again and at this point, he has lost count. Jin Zixuan hasn't done much besides parting his lips and allowing, but Jiang Cheng is trying his best — he moves his hand, down from Jin Zixuan's cheek to his neck, and his thumb accidentally brushes an earlobe and Jin Zixuan shivers and that might not be a bad thing at all. He supposes he might be getting the hang of what to do with his tongue — but it's wet and Jiang Cheng has no idea if a kiss should be this wet or if he is just not used to it.

Jin Zixuan sighs softly and he realizes he could get used to it.

When they do pull away, definitely or at least for more than a second, Jiang Cheng opens his eyes to see Jin Zixuan staring at him… expectantly? He can't tell. Casting aside his usual proud air, Jin Zixuan seems almost open like this. Genuine. Within reach.

Suddenly, a wave of shyness washes over him. Hiding behind a tight smile, Jiang Cheng puts his hand down, then shifts to put some more distance between them.

He doesn't want to ask, but the words come out before he can think. "Was it good?"

Jin Zixuan blinks and Jiang Cheng sits there, waiting for a chance to hide in a hole in the ground and never see the light of day again.

The grip on his hands subtly tightens.

"I— I think it was…" Jin Zixuan stammers, "It was not bad."

Then he twists his head away so fast he almost whips Jiang Cheng's face with the end of his ponytail.

Despite his heavenly-smelling hair, Jin Zixuan is, and will always be, the kind of person that can make Jiang Cheng's mood shift in an instant. "Show me how it's done then, spoiled peacock."

It takes him a wide-eyed look from Jin Zixuan for him to understand what he just said.

The embarrassment grows but Jiang Cheng's competitive nature quickly overrides it. He shoots Jin Zixuan an unimpressed glare and arches a brow.

Living with Wei Wuxian doesn't give him that many chances to be anywhere but the receiving end of riling up, and he has to admit that Jin Zixuan's flustered expression is interesting. Cute. It preludes some kind of tantrum — one that never comes, since Jin Zixuan took this afternoon to throw him off balance.

He grabs a fistful of purple robes and tugs forcefully to smash their lips together.

This time— Jiang Cheng won't say it hurts, but it comes close to it. Their teeth clack together, which is something Jiang Cheng has never read about in any novel — probably because it is unpleasant and distracting for the wrong reasons and he needs Jin Zixuan to— Jiang Cheng puts a hand on the back of his head and another on his jaw and tilts Jin Zixuan's head himself. It feels better. Nothing like the kiss from before, but Jiang Cheng likes it too. Jin Zixuan seems to agree as he's back to his shifting and squirming, now intending to get closer to Jiang Cheng, it appears.

The thought that Jin Zixuan wants to be close — yes, there it is. This is flammable — all it took was one spark and Jiang Cheng is overflowing with the urge to be close too. He wants to pull Jin Zixuan to himself, maybe… maybe to his lap. Maybe he could hug him tight like that, Jin Zixuan has a nice waist, he's noticed. Maybe he could push him down instead, maybe he'd be able to reach more, touch more, maybe they could—

Maybe they should stop.

He pulls back a bit abruptly, but Jin Zixuan doesn't seem bothered by that. He is hiding his face on Jiang Cheng's shoulder again, letting his arms fall to circle his waist and sighing deeply. Jiang Cheng can see the tips of his ears turning bright red and for some reason that makes his insides fizzle with warmth. It's so sudden and overwhelming that Jiang Cheng can't hold back and he ends up kissing the top of his head, simultaneously breathing in the delicious scent of flowers in his hair. Jin Zixuan huffs, perhaps irritated but without a clear vision of the scowl, it doesn't have the same effect. Fighting back a smile, Jiang Cheng hugs him back.

He wants to say something, if only to fill the silence. It is not uncomfortable to be quiet but he doesn't know if Jin Zixuan feels the same, or if talking would, in fact, just ruin everything.

Before he can choose though, Jin Zixuan breaks him out of his musings, "Not bad."

Jiang Cheng snorts. "Yeah," he says, "Not bad."