“What do you want?” Xiao Xingchen's voice reaches his ear as he steps inside. Xue Yang is confused for a moment until he realises what he's talking about is dinner. It's funny, all of this. Each time Xiao Xingchen talks to him as if he's just a regular nobody, as if he's a friend, Xue Yang wants to laugh.
He shrugs, knowing Xiao Xingchen can't see him, and sits at the table.
Xiao Xingchen can't cook, is the thing Xue Yang learner very quickly. He enjoys the way A-Qing looks as she tries her best to eat his cooking and gag. Xue Yang himself doesn't mind the awful taste. He's had worse. He never had the privilege to be a picky eater.
That doesn't mean he can't get tired of the many ways Xiao Xingchen knows how to ruin a meal. So he takes the situation in his own hands.
“I didn't know you could cook,” is what he gets from Xiao Xingchen the morning he finds him dicing vegetables in the kitchen. He hasn't made food in a while but he's sure he still remembers how to make a pretty good soup. “Were you submitting us to my horrid cooking on purpose, all this time?”
Xue Yang laughs, and he can't help but notice a little self-satisfied quirk of Xiao Xingchen's lips. He grins at him. “Maybe. Or maybe I'm just lazy. Didn't feel like it.”
Xiao Xingchen nods. It feels sort of conspiratory, the way he does it. Though it could be just that Xue Yang is getting paranoid. What could Xiao Xingchen possibly do here? Arrest him on charges of lying about his cooking skills? Xiao Xingchen is a naive fool, he wouldn't recognise a clue even if one rubbed his nose into it. This just makes Xue Yang's life easier though.
Later, as they're sitting and eating in relative silence, spoons clanking against porcelain, Xue Yang decides he's never cooking for these jerks again.
“This is good,” A-Qing says, bewildered. She keeps squinting at her bowl as if Xue Yang having the ability to do things well is such a weird thing. “You didn't make this.”
Xiao Xingchen can't quite look at him in disapproval, but he manages to do so in his own way. It melts away quickly though, and Xue Yang wishes it didn't, because that at least he knows how to deal with. “I saw him make it. It's very good, right?”
“It sucks,” A-Qing mutters, looking vaguely disappointed. Xue Yang sticks his tongue out. She kicks him under the table, and before he can retaliate Xiao Xingchen has put a hand on top of his, and Xue Yang feels his heart jump up in his throat.
“Are all your secrets as delicious as your cooking?” he asks with a slight smile.
Xue Yang very nearly chokes on his soup. It's not his best moment. “Wouldn't you like to know.”
If this is some kind of weird way of flirting Xiao Xingchen has going on, it sucks. If it's his way of letting Xue Yang know he's onto him... well that also sucks.
“I would,” Xiao Xingchen says, and Xue Yang desperately wants to laugh in his face. Spill the rest of that soup down his white robes and, preferably, smear some blood over it too. He wants—
“I hope you can cook for us more,” he says, oblivious to the crisis Xue Yang is going through in his head. “You do a very good job at it.”
Xue Yang can't think of the last time he's cooked food, and he especially can't think of the last time he's cooked it for someone. He doesn't think he ever did. He doesn't know what to do with any of this. He stays hunched over his now cold lunch, and mutters. “Better than you, at least.”
A-Qing sends him a glare. Xiao Xingchen's laugh rings throughout the room, and later that night he finds that he can't quite get it out of his head, still.
On a morning when Xue Yang wakes up to find A-Qing stealing from his mostly melted candy supply, Xiao Xingchen is nowhere to be found. The sneaky brat notes this too as he shoos her away. It's weird, since Xiao Xingchen is usually the first one up, and now it's almost noon. Xue Yang may have overslept, but that's not as unusual for him. It's not like they have anywhere to be.
A-Qing says something about not disturbing him, and Xue Yang ignores her and goes to the room Xiao Xingchen had decided to sleep in all those months ago. A year ago, nearly. Time sure passes.
Xue Yang doesn't knock. He opens the door and walks in, unintentionally startling Xiao Xingchen in the process.
“Oh,” a surprised sigh escapes him. He turns around, vaguely in the direction where he must assume Xue Yang is. He's sitting on the edge of his coffin-bed, hands half buried in his own hair. It's sort of— he's awkward, in that moment, not as faultless and pristine as he always seems, as he is talked about. His hair, usually so neatly kept, falls all over his face and shoulders, and with the blindfold as dirty red as it is... he almost looks approachable. “What do you want?”
At first, the way he says it used to make Xue Yang think he's demanding something of him. An answer, an explanation, maybe he's not happy about being interrupted by Xue Yang's presence, but as time went and he heard more of Xiao Xingchen, he found that there is never any demand in that question, only a genuine wonder. Xiao Xingchen is surprisingly clumsy in his speech, unused to and a bit uncaring to how people expect him to speak.
“Qingqing got worried you died in your sleep,” Xue Yang says when he remembers how to talk. “All good, daozhang?”
Xiao Xingchen gives him one of his quick laughs. A bit stiff, awkward, this morning. “I'm alright. I overslept, I think. And I, well—”
He cuts himself off, looking a bit lost. Xue Yang wants to ask, and he berates himself for wanting. He doesn't care. He wants him to have a shitty fucking morning. It's disturbing, and simply annoying, to watch him walk around wide awake while Xue Yang is still rubbing the sleep out of his eyes, every fucking day. Serves him well.
“Need any help?” he asks, like a fool.
Xiao Xingchen smiles in his direction. Xue Yang feels weirdly disturbed by that, too. “It’s okay. Just having a hard time untangling this mess, that's all.”
He pulls lightly at his hair. Xue Yang, who has apparently left his brain and smart thinking somewhere in that coffin he sleeps in, steps closer and closes the door behind himself. “Let me.”
For a second, Xiao Xingchen seems confused. For the entire duration of this scene, Xue Yang is confused.
Xiao Xingchen's hair is silky and soft between his fingers; it feels like one of those things he should not be allowed to touch. He grips a strand of it and pulls just a bit as he combs through it. Xiao Xingchen doesn't show any reaction to it, though it must hurt. Xue Yang hopes it did.
“Sorry,” Xiao Xingchen says. What for, Xue Yang thinks, but doesn't get to ask because he just continues on. “I— it's been a weird night. And morning.”
“Whatever. I don't need an explanation.”
“I decided I want to give you one.”
That, Xue Yang isn't sure what he's supposed to do with. So he does nothing, keeps quiet and continues the slow, almost soothing brushing of Xiao Xingchen's hair. As he does so, and the knots lessen and let loose, he stares at the hairpin Xiao Xingchen always wears and decides against it. He parts his hair slowly and twists it into a single braid instead.
As he turns, Xue Yang notices his blindfold is cleaner now, neatly tied, pristine white. He gives him a smile, quick and small, and it's—
“Thank you. For the help.”
Xue Yang nods and leaves the room, and avoids Xiao Xingchen until the feeling crawling up his throat stops being so hard to ignore.
One of the absolutely ridiculous things Xue Yang has found out work well to kill his brain for a short period of time: sweeping.
Yi City is a gross, abandoned, perpetually grimy place, and there's always dust, leaves and other shit all over their street, in front of the house, everywhere. It's impossible to get rid of, so it's kind of useless to bother sweeping at all, but there's something in that repetitive, rhythmic motion that makes his thoughts settle for a bit. And well, no one else is willing to do it.
It doesn't help this time. He spends the entire morning trying to busy himself with whatever he can get his hands on, and it ends with him standing in the backyard of the shitty, barely held together building they've been sleeping in for nearly a year now, with a broom in his hand that does almost none of the job it's meant to do.
He can't get Xiao Xingchen out of his head. He can't get his calm, gentle voice telling him all those sickly sweet things out of his head, and he can't stop thinking of the sight he makes with his hair disheveled and robes bloodied after a fight. He may have skipped on one or two night hunts in the past month because— he doesn't need that mess in his life, he decides. He has plans to see through, people to swindle, and porches to sweep. No time for Xiao Xingchen and his stupid, stupid laugh at Xue Yang's really not that good jokes that makes him want to put his head in a bucket of cold water and keep it there for the time being.
So he told him he'll pass on this one, when Xiao Xingchen said he'd heard of some disturbances down in the city and that he's about to head there. Xue Yang offered some badly made up lie about not feeling well and watched as Xiao Xingchen raised an eyebrow at him but said nothing, and left.
He's come back since. Xue Yang avoided him for the whole morning but it becomes increasingly hard to do so, since they do live together, sort of, and he shouldn't be too obvious about it because it would raise questions and he doesn't want to have to explain himself to anyone, especially not Xiao Xingchen.
Which is why when he sees him come into the backyard and join him, he doesn't turn tail and run. And maybe because Xiao Xingchen's presence makes him tense up, and he stands so, so close to him, with seemingly no care for physical boundaries. Not that Xue Yang has many, but—
“How has it been? While I was gone,” he asks. It's windy outside, and Xiao Xingchen always speaks a bit too softly, so it's barely heard above the wind. Xue Yang could pretend he hasn't heard him if he wasn't so close.
“Fine,” he mutters. Grips the broom tighter and swipes at some dirt too roughly. The wind messes it up immediately, and Xue Yang resist the urge to throw the broom across the yard. “I can take care of this dump for a night, don't you worry.”
Xiao Xingchen huffs a laugh. Xue Yang bites the inside of his cheek and wills himself to ignore whatever he says next. “I know you can.”
For a moment, Xue Yang lets himself sneak a glace at him. At the way the wind blows his hair in front, at the way the edges of his lips curl up just a little, at the pale, almost gone scratch mark on his jaw he got from one of the puppets few weeks back. He gets a strong urge to lick it.
Xiao Xingchen must have sensed him staring, as he stills and tilts his head just a bit to his direction. Xue Yang feels weirdly seen.
As he turns to him, Xue Yang can almost hear his voice, asking, What do you want? Except he thinks Xiao Xingchen knows exactly what he wants, despite Xue Yang himself being unclear on it.
“You should come with me next time,” he says, and Xue Yang forgets in that moment the reason why he refused to come along in the first place.
Why is he asking? He doesn't care. But when Xiao Xingchen raises a hand to his face to gently brush a strand of hair from his face, he doesn't flinch or slap his hand away. The touch leaves his skin burning.
“It’s too quiet without your company,” he says, and Xue Yang thinks of mentioning all those people screaming, unable to ask for his help as he cuts them down. Xiao Xingchen tucks that strand of hair behind his ear and Xue Yang bites back the comment.
He gulps. “I'll join you next time.”
Xiao Xingchen smiles, one of those smiles that Xue Yang expects would make his eyes crinkle, if he would get rid of the blindfold. “Good,” he says, and leans in.
Xiao Xingchen's lips are, much like his hair, soft and gentle and do not feel like something he could afford himself to touch. But he isn't asked. Xiao Xingchen presses his lips against his before Xue Yang can utter a complaint or a question, and then it's all gone from his brain as if swept by a breeze.
Xiao Xingchen kisses slowly, deeply, but firmly. He kisses as if he's memorising each bit of Xue Yang's mouth, as if he wants to savour it. His hands cup his jaw and hold him there and Xue Yang is utterly lost in it all.
When Xiao Xingchen pulls away, he chases after him, unaware. He would feel stupid about it if he had any self awareness left in the moment. Xiao Xingchen smiles at him, resting one hand against Xue Yang cheek, so gentle it borders on painful.
“I would be happy to have you, any time,” he says and Xue Yang can't quite remember what it was they were talking about a moment ago.
“Sure,” he blurts out. Xiao Xingchen pats his cheek, and goes back inside, leaving him alone with his jumbled up thoughts in the wind once again.
Xiao Xingchen might be a bit mean, more than one would expect of him, at least. Xue Yang thought him to be frustratingly nice at first, until he learned to see through that and found, well, a mean weirdo who came down from a mountain to pester him personally, it seems.
He might be a bit mean all around, but he is downright cruel in bed. It's another one of those things Xue Yang had to add to the list of unexpected occurrences he found out while doing whatever he's been doing here. He's kind of lost track. Xiao Xingchen has single handedly destroyed the track.
He's mad about it on the regular. He's mad about it when he gets roped into helping out another useless family with a ghost that's probably not really even a ghost, for free, because Xiao Xingchen thinks morals can buy them food. He's mad about it when winter rolls around and he has to fix the roof again, and his hand hurts so badly he wants to scream and Xiao Xingchen has the gall to notice. He's mad about it the most when Xiao Xingchen makes him forget all about whatever the hell he was planning with simple words or even his presence alone.
He's a bit less mad about it when Xiao Xingchen has him sprawled across one of the beds, and holds him down until he forgets how to move and his brain stops working.
He's strangely good at it for someone usually so gentle and soft-spoken. Xue Yang thought he was bluffing and was about to laugh in his face the first time Xiao Xingchen tried to boss him around during sex. He's learned his lesson since, more or less.
Now, Xiao Xingchen is still next to him, legs folded underneath him, with a rather pleased look on his face. He's done a pretty good job with the rope around his wrists, Xue Yang figures, as his arms slowly start to cramp from the position they're in. Xiao Xingchen runs a finger along the length of his left arm and sighs as he feels his shiver under the touch. “So good.”
Xue Yang wants to swear at him, because he's many things but he's not good, but his tongue is too heavy in his mouth.
Xiao Xingchen chuckles, the fucking jerk, and runs a hand through his hair, then just keeps it there, gripping him by it. Xue Yang tries to turn his head and a brief bout of sharp pain shoots through his scalp and bites back a moan.
“What do you want, A-Mei?” he asks. He's the worst, Xue Yang decides.
He bares his teeth at him, in a futile attempt at seeming less... weak. It doesn't work, if Xiao Xingchen's expression is anything to go by. “You know exactly what I want.”
“I would like to hear it,” he taps a finger against his cheek. With a sudden movement he shifts so he's straddling him, and Xue Yang thinks he wants him dead, surely. His robes are still on, in a stark contrast to Xue Yang's nakedness that he can't even see to appreciate. It's way too many layers between them. “You have such lovely voice.”
In these moments, Xiao Xingchen seems to drag it on forever. Xue Yang has never been a patient person, and it might just be his fucked up perception of the passage of time, but it feels like hours before Xiao Xingchen finally starts to get out of his robes. Too slowly, still.
He's still straddling him but it's different from being touched purposely and Xue Yang needs him to touch him now, immediately, has needed it hours ago. He's wet enough that he's almost embarrassed by it.
He grinds down against him and it's— not enough, not by a long shot, and Xue Yang opens his mouth to let him know. Xiao Xingchen, the bastard, shushes him.
“It's okay,” he says, and Xue Yang wonders why he would feel the need to say such a stupid thing, until he hears the pathetic, whiny noises he's been making. Shame is not an emotion Xue Yang is used to feeling, ever, but it burns through all of him so easily now. He's sure his face is red and is suddenly very glad Xiao Xingchen can't see it.
“Fuck you,” he says in between two desperate whines he chooses to ignore.
Xiao Xingchen laughs at him, mean and cruel. “Oh, baobei. That's not what you want.”
Xue Yang shuts his eyes tightly. Above him, he can feel Xiao Xingchen lean in, his breath warm against his lips before he kisses him. It's easy, too easy to forget himself in it.
At this stage, Xue Yang is sure Xiao Xingchen has cursed him, somehow, and he stupidly let it happen.
It happened slowly, and not slowly at all. It happened all at once, and yet he didn't notice where it began or where it ended. There was no notable turn, or a switch, nothing, except for Xiao Xingchen's fleeting smiles and quick brushes of lips against his. The back of his hand touching Xue Yang's in passing, a palm placed atop his thigh as they sit in front of the fire. It's intoxicating, every single bit of it.
Xingchen touches him and Xue Yang thinks that perhaps he has not known what wanting felt like before in his life. And he wants, he wants so deeply. It's horrifying, and it's satisfying. It makes him crave for more.
Xiao Xingchen knows, he sees right through him. He lets him have what he wants, most of the time, seems to enjoy it as much as Xue Yang despises it. That only makes it worse by so much more.
He doesn't think he can let go of it yet. And he has never denied himself what he wanted, ever before, and he's not about to start.
Xiao Xingchen is a naive fool who has been staring at death's face for the past year. He is laughable, his ideals sound like they were picked from bad paragraphs from a kid's bedtime story. He is also the most cruel, merciless being Xue Yang has ever crossed paths with. And Xue Yang has never been in love— never thought of it, the word feels too big and sour in his mouth, as he is not made for it— but he thinks maybe this deep desperation might be what it feels like.
There is a sort of rhythm that came with time, that he foolishly got used to and let himself nourish. The day to day life has never been less predicable, it's never had so little challenges. There's something scary and comforting in it.
He will fall asleep and wake up in the morning, and Xiao Xingchen will touch his face with a smile and he will, for a moment, for a day and maybe a bit longer, let himself pretend this is something he could have.