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To take care of you—

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Xie Lian was 17 when he started his life as a college student. He was naive and arrogant and thought to know better than anyone. Any choice he made, it was to be the best choice. And it was a choice his father agreed on, too! So, really, what could possibly go wrong?

This 20 year old Xie Lian can answer that: everything. Really, what did that brat have in mind to think that taking a degree in business was a good idea?

Sure, their company, Xianle, could definitely do with a heir who had some minimal knowledge on what he was doing. He can get that. He also has to be honest, there are fun parts. Xie Lian absolutely thrived in his marketing classes and had his fair share of fun with HR. His classmates weren’t all assholes like back in high school, and he wouldn’t change the few friends he made for the world.

And, of course, there’s Hua Cheng, who he’d never have met without taking this course.

But nothing could possibly prepare him for the hell called finances.

Xie Lian always thought he was decent with numbers. His grades on statistics and logistics weren’t horrible. He also had a good notion on how accountability worked.

But all his confidence left his body as he stared at the countless sheets spread in front of him. Okay, maybe not countless (there are eleven of them, to be precise, but the sentiment remains). He’s supposed to simulate a fake enterprise’s yearly budget. But the more he stares, the more distress he feels.

The results don’t add up. And, even worse, he suspects he got something wrong on the first couple of tables—which means there’s a 90% chance that he’ll have to redo almost everything.

His hair is already a mess as it is. The bun has mostly come undone under Xie Lian’s stress-driven pulls. He can’t focus on the numbers anymore. His eyes burn, yet he can’t bring himself to blink away. Tears fill them, and Xie Lian wants to scream.

Really, what wouldn’t he give to beat his past self to a pulp?

Xie Lian could spend his time doing anything else now. He could be pursuing a path he actually enjoyed. Maybe he’d become a vet. He loves animals, especially cats like Ruoye and E’Ming. Or maybe he’d become a kindergarten teacher. He loves kids too, and for some reason they always stick close to him.

Or maybe he could be studying nothing at all, and just watch Hua Cheng painting and cuddling their cats on the divan all day long.

Yeah, that’d be nice. He loves being with his boyfriend. Hua Cheng always makes thing better.

He lets out a long, shuddering sigh. Xie Lian wants to finish this. He needs to, if only so he can have a good night of rest without worrying about the numbers any longer. He wipes his eyes and focuses back on the papers...

Where are the papers?

Xie Lian’s mouth falls open. The table is clear of any white sheet and black pens. Only the tiny scraps of eraser lets him know his nightmare was real and not just a fever dream.

He glances at his side. There his papers are, put together into a neat pile by a pair of slender, callused hands. Xie Lian can’t stop a rush of jealousy from filling him. He’s been struggling since morning because of these stupid papers yet it’s them who receive Hua Cheng’s careful strokes.

It’s stupid. It’s madness. Xie Lian can’t believe how low he’s become.

His eyes meet Hua Cheng’s face then. While his hands are careful, his face is full of disdain. He’s glaring at the papers the same way he glares at Mu Qing and Feng Xin (and anyone who bothers his dianxia). Had Hua Cheng been a powerful, mighty demon king, the papers fore sure would’ve been burnt by now.

Now, all Xie Lian feels is an unreasonable rush of pride and satisfaction, one that only increases when Hua Cheng looks back at him and smiles.

He can see the tip of Hua Cheng’s unnaturally sharp canines and shudders when he remembers just how good they made him feel the previous night.

Despite everything, Xie Lian smiles. “San Lang.”

Hua Cheng lets go of the papers. His beautiful face is dotted with paint—red, yellow, brown, white—and maybe it sounds narcissistic, but Xie Lian is sure his lover was paining another picture of him.

“Gege,” he whispers back. Xie Lian can’t help but think Hua Cheng sounds incredibly whiny. “Don’t you know foxes die if they’re lonely? San Lang will die if you don’t kiss him!”

“I thought those were bunnies,” Xie Lian retorts and, oh, has his voice always sounded this hoarse?

“Tsk, details, details.”

Hua Cheng is already leaning closer to him, their lips brushing lightly. Xie Lian smiles and kisses him.

Bunny or fox or just San Lang, Xie Lian wants him to live a very long life, thank you very much!

He lets out a startled gasp when Hua Cheng lifts him from his chair. Xie Lian’s heart speeds up at the reminder of how strong those artist’s hands truly are. Hua Cheng chuckles, clearly satisfied with himself. He buries his nose in Xie Lian’s hair and Xie Lian is suddenly very aware that it’s been days since he last washed it.

“I missed you very much today,” Hua Cheng whispers. “Will gege let me take care of him?”

Xie Lian knows from experience that Hua Cheng’s take care includes a bath, massage, cooking together, watching movies and, if there’s any energy left by the end, a very passionate make out session before sleep.

He wants all that, a lot, more than he’s wanted anything in his life, but he can’t erase the dread that comes with remembering he has a very long, very tiring, very nightmarish budget to finish.

Hua Cheng, as always, seems to know exactly what he’s thinking. “If gege wants this one can help after dinner? I’m not as good as gege with numbers but maybe it’ll be good to have an extra brain at work?”

Xie Lian wants to point out Hua Cheng’s blatant lie. He saw how easily his boyfriend deals with money before, during the many times he negotiated his painting and bought art supplies for cheaper prices. Instead, he just smiles, hiding his face on the curve of Hua Cheng’s neck.

“I’d love that. Thank you.”

There’s a smile in Hua Cheng’s voice. “Anything for you, dianxia.”

Hua Cheng pampers him for the rest of the afternoon. He showers Xie Lian’s body with kisses, massages all tension away from his shoulders, washes and combs his hair with diligent care. He must’ve hidden Xie Lian’s hoodies somewhere earlier. Xie Lian doesn’t mind, though. Hua Cheng’s shirts have always been his favorite, after all.

The kitchen is perfectly clean when they come. By the time they’re done, even E’Ming’s black fur is whither than Ruoye’s. Maybe, just maybe, making steamed buns at 7p.m wasn’t Xie Lian’s best idea.

They need a new shower. But Xie Lian really doesn’t care. He’ll take any moment more he can spend with his boyfriend as the blessing it is. He’s afraid their cats aren’t happy, though. Hua Cheng’s cries of “Useless trash!” echo clear on their little apartment.

Xie Lian is guilty of laughing at that.

The food is only lukewarm by the time they get to actually eating. Hua Cheng insists on feeding him. Xie Lian only agrees when Hua Cheng lets himself be fed as well. He didn’t realize how much he was starving until now. He’s glad Hua Cheng knows him better.

They clean the mess they made of their kitchen and spare some minutes to pet E’Ming and Ruoye. The cats aren’t mad anymore, but they’re still very wary of the sinks. While Hua Cheng cleans the litters, Xie Lian refills the water and food. He hopes it’s enough for them.

It’s almost 10 by the time they return to Xie Lian’s study room. Hua Cheng lets him sit on his lap and they set into work with ease. Xie Lian finds his own mistakes fairly easily and corrects things far faster than he did then in the first place. He wonders if his inability to do so before came from his own anxiety, if the exhaustion that comes with the end of the semester played a role in his self-doubt.

He never doubts that, whatever the answer is, Hua Cheng knew from the beginning and did his utmost to help him from the moment he entered the room.

Xie Lian kisses him, and again, and again, until he can’t focus on anything but Hua Cheng, his lips, his scent, his smile. He holds that beloved face between his fingers, brushes his thumb under one crimson eye. How lucky could he be to have Hua Cheng in his life?

“I love you.”

Hua Cheng’s eyes soften. He holds Xie Lian closer, gentler, like his a treasure to be protected, something precious and worthy of love. “I love you too.”

They don’t watch movies that night. They just lie together in bed, cuddling and kissing until they fall into sleep. And, for them, that’s more than enough.