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“Come on Xiao Guo, just one drink,” Zhu Hong wheedled, her words slurring together. She sat balanced precariously on the arm of the sofa, leaning so far into Changcheng's space she was in danger of topping over on top of him as she tried to press a small cup of wine into his reluctant hands.

“No thank you, Hong-jie, I don't think should,” Changcheng tried to politely refuse, eyeing the little cup as if it might suddenly grow teeth and bite him. He knew, of course, that the snake wine wouldn't affect him, and this was a weaker batch so Zhu Hong could drink it without passing out, but he still remembered the sharp, bitter taste and how it has lingered in his mouth. It was not an experience he was in a hurry to repeat.

“But I bought this especially for us all to share,” she whined, pouting now, and Changcheng's fingers automatically twitched towards the cup. He didn't want to drink it, but if Hong-jie had bought it for them all to share it really would be rude to refuse.

And besides, this party was for her, to celebrate her becoming the Yashou leader, as much as it was a party for everyone else. It had been several weeks, now, since they'd stopped Ye Zun and returned order to Dixing and Haixing, and this was the first opportunity they all had to simply pause and sit down together to celebrate the fact they were all alive. That they'd won. Evidently, saving the world required far more clean up and paperwork than any of them had anticipated.

'Heroes shouldn't have to do paperwork!' Yunlan had complained, though he'd suffered through it with the rest of them, support by Shen Wei's ever gentle presence.

“Well, I suppose one...” Changcheng trailed off, still eyeing the cup dubiously even as his hand drifted towards it. But, before his fingers could wrap around it, another hand snatched it from Zhu Hong's.

“Stop making such a fuss,” Chu Shuzhi said gruffly, before gulping the wine down in one.

“Woohoo! Lao Chu!” Zhu Hong cheered, punching the air in delight and swaying dangerously on her perch. She caught herself though, and hopped back up onto her feet and made her way back around the table to her seat, where she poured another cup of wine which she gulped back herself, apparently forgetting she had been so insistent a moment ago on getting Changcheng to drink some.

Changcheng smiled sheepishly up at Chu Shuzhi, who to anyone else, looked as thunderous as ever, but Changcheng saw the tilt to the corner of his mouth and the warmth in his eyes. Chu-ge wasn't mad, nor did he think any less of him for not wanting to drink the bitter wine. They shared a long-suffering look of camaraderie that could only be shared by those who were sober, surrounded by drunk people.

“The wine's not that bad, Xiao Guo,” Da Qing purred as he stretched, pressing himself harder against Changcheng's side and squashing him further into the corner of the sofa they both occupied. Da Qing had drunk a fair amount of the wine himself, and although the effect wasn't as strong as it was on Zhu Hong, it had made the cat quickly tipsy and now he was at the stage of immobile drunk, so having made himself comfortable he refused to move.

“Pass me some dried fish?” he demanded, indicating to the dishes laid out on the table before them with a flick of his hand.

“He's not your servant, stupid cat, get it yourself,” Chu Shuzhi retorted even as Changcheng reached for the dish and grabbed what looked like the nicest morsel to pass to Da Qing.

“No but Changcheng is my friend,” Da Qing gloated, taking the fish with a shit-eating grin before he snuggled up against Changcheng's side again, just to piss the other man off. “You're just angry I stole your seat.”

Chu Shuzhi rolled his eyes, dropping back into his seat at the end of the table, to Changcheng's left.

“It's ok Chu-ge, I don't mind,” Changcheng said, though he sounded almost apologetic. The sofa had been his and Chu-ge's spot when the party started, but when Chu Shuzhi had gotten up to grab some dumplings from the other end of the table (dumplings that Changcheng had mentioned in passing he wanted to try), Da Qing had pounced. And buzzing from the snake wine, not even Chu Shuzhi's coldest glare could make him move.

“Whatever,” Chu Shuzhi grumbled, rolling his eyes before grabbing a chicken skewer and biting into it with more aggression than was needed.

From there the mood went back to normal for a time. Zhao Yunlan and Shen Wei remained in their own little bubble, chairs pressed close and shoulders even closer. Yunlan was pretending to be drunker than he was, leaning into Shen Wei and pleading with him to take care of him. Shen Wei affected an air of annoyance at the whole thing, though the effect was rather ruined by how gently he cared for the other man.

Zhu Hong and Lin Jing sat on the other side of the table, across from Changcheng and Da Qing, jumping from topic to topic in the erratic way only the drunk could follow. One moment they seemed to be in a heated debate about something, and the next they would be jeering and laughing at nothing.

Wang Zheng and Sang Zan were equally in their own little world, though they would occasionally turn to Zhu Hong and Lin Jing and chime in with their conversation.

Chu Shuzhi remained largely quiet, though this wasn't unusual. The stoic man had never been much for small talk, and not even saving the world was about to loosen his tongue. But he was comfortable enough to be there, Changcheng noted. Chu Shuzhi wasn't one to suffer gatherings like this if he didn't want to be there, and even his posture was a little more relaxed than usual, though he was still alert and attentive as he picked at the food in front of him.

Yes. For once, everyone was relaxed and carefree with no imminent threat or disaster looming over them. Changcheng sank back on the sofa with a soft sigh, letting the voices and laughter of his friends and co-workers wash over him like a balm. Their happiness was his happiness, and this was all he needed.

Or well, if he was to be selfish, and this was a thought that Changcheng only admitted in the confines of his own mind, he would rather have Chu-ge sitting next to him. At the very least, it would be nice if Da Qing would just move up a little bit, and then Chu-ge could sit at Changcheng's other side and the three of them could share the sofa.

He glanced to his left, looking at Chu-ge from the corner of his eye. The other man was still mostly keeping to himself, watchful eyes scanning the table as he chewed sullenly on his food, but now there seemed to be a certain tension to the set of his shoulders, and his eyes would darken every time they landed on Da Qing.

Changcheng frowned. Chu-ge's mood certainly seemed to be getting darker, though he couldn't place what was souring the other man's mood. Nothing had really changed, there was still plenty of food and drink left, and the others were no rowdier than they had been a few minutes ago. He shifted anxiously, drawing a complaint from Da Qing who insisted he sit still. He wanted to ask Chu-ge what was wrong, to fix it if it was within his power, but he knew asking the other man something like that might only make his mood worse.

He continued to stare at Chu-ge, as if might be able to transmit his worry telepathically. He caught Chu-ge's eyes for a moment, something complicated passing over the other man's face before he looked away, and it was almost too much, Changcheng felt like he had to say something.

But then a commotion from across the table distracted him, Zhu Hong and Lin Jing were having a full-on argument now, with Zhao Yunlan chiming in to fan the flames. Shen Wei watched in interest, though being the only other sober person present, he wisely remained quiet.

The whole party seemed to be on the brink of disaster, and Changcheng could already feel tears of frustration prick at the corner of his eyes. He should do or say something to diffuse the situation, but what?

A loud clatter cut across the commotion suddenly, and everyone fell quiet turning towards the source of the noise.

“That's my seat,” Chu Shuzhi growled, no standing, the char he'd been sitting on toppled over behind him. He pointed an accusing finger at Da Qing, his glare even colder than it had been earlier. He looked positively murderous.

Still too drunk to sense the impending danger, DA Qing lazily opened one eye and waved a dismissive hand at Chu Shuzhi. “Don't be so stingy Lao Chu, you can share Xiao Guo once in a while.”

Chu Shuzhi's glare only grew harder, and he stalked around the table to loom over the back of the sofa, glaring down at Da Qing. He didn't give the cat a second chance. Grabbing the other man by his shirt, his other arm hooking under Da Qing's knees Chu Shuzhi hoisted him over the back of the sofa and away from Changcheng.

Too stunned by the sudden turn of events, Da Qing went stiff and still in Chu Shuzhi's hold, which was all the opportunity the other man needed to turn around and unceremoniously toss him on the floor before hopping over the back of the sofa and reclaiming his place next to Changcheng.

He pressed up close to Changcheng, hip to hip, thigh to thigh, his arm coiling around the other man's shoulder's to pull him firmly towards his chest, his chin coming to rest atop the younger man's head as he caged him in his one-armed embrace.

“Chu-ge?” Changcheng squeaked, tensing up for a moment in the other man's hold, his head spinning. Chu-ge was wrapped all around him, his arm, his body, his smell. It was too much.

Zhu Hong was the one to break the stunned silence, laughing so hard she snorted and almost fell off her chair. The others joined shortly after, and even Shen Wei hid a chuckle behind his hand. The only one not laughing (apart from the two everyone was laughing at) was Da Qing, who scrambled up on all fours and crawled across the floor towards Zhao Yunlan.

“Chief,

Lao Chu's bullying me!” he whined miserably.

“Now now Lao Chu, it's not nice to throw your friends on the floor,” Yunlan chided through his laughter.

Chu Shuzhi huffed, and only tugged Changcheng closer if that were possible. Any closer and Changcheng would be in his lap. “That stupid cat can't protect Changcheng,” he said firmly as if that answered everything.

“Hey I can fight if I need to, I just choose not to!” Da Qing objected. He was ignored.

Changcheng felt very much like a rabbit surrounded by a pack of hungry foxes. Everyone's eyes were boring into him, and Chu-ge's hold was so strong there was no hope of escape. No one seemed prepared to help, too busy enjoying the show. Was Chu-ge angry at him? He seemed cross, but Changcheng couldn't tell at what. And he was so close, his body so warm, and he smelled so good the temptation to just lean into the embrace was almost too much. He needed to put some space between them before he said or did something embarrassing.

“Chu-ge,” he stuttered, trying to lift his head to look at the other man, “Can you let me up? Please?” he asked, trying again to move away.

Chu Shuzhi looked down at him, his eyes hard for a moment before they softened. “Why? Do you think I can't protect you?” and now Chu-ge looked sad which was the last thing he wanted.

“No no,” he said quickly, “I just, um, this position is a bit uncomfortable that's all. I'd like to sit up.”

Chu Shuzhi continued to stare at him for a moment, searching, but then he loosened his grip, allowing Changcheng to move into a more comfortable position. But he didn't let him move too far away, his arm coming to wrap around Changcheng's waist instead.

“Lao Chu has no shame,” Lin Jing said with a sombre shake of his head, which drew another peal of laughter from everyone watching. Chu Shuzhi didn't appear in the least bit phased.

Changcheng was pretty sure his heart was about to jump out of his chest, pounding so hard the whole room could hear it. Sitting up hadn't really made things any better. He was still so close.

“Chu-ge?” he called, his voice wavering slightly, “Is everything ok? We..we're safe here you know. There's no danger.” A lot had happened in the past few weeks, sure, it was a lot to process, but Changcheng couldn't think what might have upset the other man. The conversation around the table had been largely neutral, everyone focusing on what lay ahead rather than looking back at the past.

“I know there's no danger now, but there could be,” Chu Shuzhi answered, deadly serious. “There's always something,” he added darkly, his eyes flicking about the room as if he expected some danger to leap from the shadows.

And the air felt a little heavier then. Even though Chu Shuzhi was acting out of sorts his words held a ring of truth that hit a little too close to home.

“Zhu Hong, does that wine of yours happen to affect Dixigren too?” Shen Wei's calming voice cut through the tension, and everyone's attention turned to Zhu Hong waiting for her answer.

“Hmmm,” Zhu Hong seemed to think about the question for a long moment, but then she shrugged. “Don't know. Snake wine is a speciality, we don't usually share,” she mumbled, her words surprisingly coherent for how drunk she was.

Shen Wei nodded sagely though as if her vague reply had given him the answer he needed. Without a word he left the table for a moment, only to return with a glass of water.

“That wine may be having a bit of an effect on you, Chu Shuzhi. You should drink some water,” he suggested with a kind smile, offering the glass to the other man.

Chu Shuzhi stared at the glass with disinterest before looking up at the professor. “I'm not thirsty,” he said, completely dismissing Shen Wei, in what was probably the biggest surprise of the evening.

Zhao Yunlan burst out laughing, slapping his thigh. “Wow, Lao Chu's even ignoring an order from Brother Black.”

Shen Wei, clearly not expecting that response, blinked in confusion a few times before his gaze focused on Changcheng. He held the glass out to him instead with an awkward yet encouraging smile. Changcheng eyed the glass with more trepidation than he had the snake wine earlier. If the professor couldn't get Chu-ge to drink the water, then surely he had no hope, but he couldn't refuse. The professor was at least trying to help, so he would try.

“Chu-ge, the Professor's right. You should drink some water, it's important to stay hydrated!” he said brightly.

At first, Changcheng was sure Chu-ge would refuse. The other man stared at the glass of water, practically glaring at it before his gaze moved to Changcheng, and softened. “Ok.” And he took the glass without any further complaint and began to drink.

Changcheng let out a breath he hadn't realised he'd been holding, his shoulder's sagging.

“I think he needs to go home now,” Shen Wei said close to his ear, almost making Changcheng jump. He looked up at the professor, eyes wide, imploring for help, but Shen Wei simply gave him another encouraging smile and a pat on the shoulder before he turned away and went back to Zhao Yunlan's side.

Changcheng was on his own. He gulped, turning to look at Chu-ge again, wondering how he was supposed to get the man to leave.

“Chu-ge? Are...are you tired?” he asked.

“No,” Chu Shuzhi answered, his tone final.

Well, that was that idea shot down. He looked around the table imploringly, hoping that someone would help, but the only response he got was from Lin Jing, who gave him a thumbs up.

Resisting the urge to groan Changcheng frantically racked his brains for some other way to encourage Chu-ge to leave. “But you know I think the party is almost over now anyway, so we may as well go home,” he pushed.

Chu Shuzhi's gaze snapped to him, his expression suddenly so open and vulnerable that it made Changcheng's breath catch in his throat. “Home,” Chu Shuzhi repeated softly. “Will Changcheng come home with me?” he asked, his voice barely above a whisper. He seemed afraid Changcheng would say no.

“Of course!” Changcheng agreed without any hesitation.

“Mmm.” Satisfied, Chu Shuzhi nodded and was instantly on his feet. He grabbed Changcheng's hand and hoisted him up from the sofa, dragging him towards the door giving the other man only enough time to grab his bag and no time to say goodbye to the others.

“What just happened?” Lin Jing asked, staring after them his head tilted to one side.

“There's going to be another insufferable couple around here very soon,” Zhu Hong groaned, her head falling to the table in defeat




There was a taxi waiting for them outside, probably the professors doing, Changcheng reasoned. But thankfully, Chu Shuzhi didn't question it, and he bundled them both into the back seat, not letting go of Changcheng's hand once. He shot a quick, sharp glare at the taxi driver through the rearview mirror, ensuring that the poor man would try to bother them with inane small talk before turning his attention fully to Changcheng with a smile as if nothing had happened.

Changcheng glanced to the front, hoping to catch the taxi driver's eye and give him an apologetic look, but the man was already cowed and didn't look at them again as they set off.

In the enclosed space of the back seat, Changcheng was even more hyper-aware of how close they were. Now that it was just the two of them, Chu-ge's hand holding his tight, his thumb stroking the back of Changcheng's hand, the line of his body pressed flushed against Changcheng's side, not even an inch of space between them.

'He's drunk,' Changcheng told himself firmly as he babbled on, filling the silence with whatever topic came to mind so that he wouldn't think too much about how nice it felt to hold Chu-ge's hand, to have him sit so close. They were friends, and Chu-ge was just drunk. It meant nothing.

It didn't stop Changcheng's heart from racing treacherously in his chest, nor did it stop his fingers from curling around Chu-ge's hand and squeezing back. They were friends, so he could allow himself to enjoy this much, Chu-ge would forgive him.

Chu Shuzhi's apartment was in a nondescript part of town, neither overly affluent nor run down. As soon as the taxi pulled up outside his building Chu Shuzhi was climbing out of the car dragging Changcheng after him again. He hurried them into the building, and up the stairs, only to pause outside his door, frowning.

“Chu-ge?” Changcheng questioned, slightly out of breath.

Chu Shuzhi turned the frown to Changcheng, his head bowed as if ashamed. “I don't think I tidied up before I left..” he admitted.

“Oh?” Changcheng chuckled and shook his head, shooting Chu-ge one of his biggest smiles. “That's ok, a little mess won't harm anyone.”

Changcheng's words instantly mollified Chu Shuzhi and he nodded, digging his keys out of his pocket to let them in. A task made more difficult than it needed to be due to his refusal to let go of Changcheng's hand, but he managed it.

The small, one-room apartment was pretty standard and very neat, it turned out when the light was turned on. It wasn't at all cluttered, but sparse decoration seemed to be beyond that of a minimalistic style. It felt like a home someone didn't expect to stay in for very long, and it made Changcheng's heartache a little.

“Everything looks fine. See, nothing to worry about,” Changcheng chirped with another smile.

Chu Shuzhi relaxed now that it turned out his apartment wasn't actually a mess, and a smile softened his own features. “Mmm, make yourself at home,” he said, letting go of Changcheng's hand finally so he could take his shoes and coat off. Changcheng did the same before stepping into the small living area. He glanced around curiously, smiling as he saw Chu Shuzhi's puppet perched on the edge of the sofa as if he had been anxiously awaiting the other man's return.

“Sorry to intrude,” Changcheng said with a polite nod of his head

towards the puppet. Behind him, he heard Chu Shuzhi chuckle fondly.

“Right, you should get ready for bed, Chu-ge” Changcheng turned to the other man with his best authoritative voice, his hands on his hips, knowing that he probably had about as much chance asking a mountain to move and getting it to listen to him.

Surprisingly though, Chu Shuzhi nodded and he disappeared into the bathroom without a word.

“Oh, ok.” Changcheng's hands dropped to his sides and he glanced around again, at a loss for a moment. So he sat down on the sofa, taking a moment to let out a long breath. This was crazier than anything that had happened to him since starting at the SID. What would Chu-ge think in the morning? Would he remember how clingy he'd been and how he'd held Changcheng's hand so tight? Shaking his head he shot an apologetic look towards the puppet, not entirely convinced that the doll couldn't read his mind.

Taking a moment to collect himself, Changcheng first dug his phone out of his bag to call his aunt and let her know that he wouldn't be home tonight. It was a little presumptuous of him to stay, he knew, but he wanted to make sure Chu-ge was ok in the morning. He hoped the other man wouldn't mind too much.

With that done he moved to the kitchen to fill a glass of water, which he placed on the bedside table ready for the morning. Next, he went on a hunt for some painkillers, which Chu-ge may need in the morning if he had a hangover, though he didn't dare search too thoroughly in case he found something private, so his search proved fruitless.

'Oh well,' he thought to himself. The bathroom was probably the most likely place to store any medicine, and if he still didn't find anything in there then he would just get up early and pop out to the nearest shop in the morning.

“Bathrooms free.” Chu Shuzhi appeared in nothing but his underwear and a tank top, a sight that made Changcheng's face instantly heat up.

“Thank you,” he squeaked before ducking into the bathroom before Chu-ge noticed anything.

After splashing copious amounts of cold water on his face, Changcheng felt recovered enough to continue. He did a quick sweep of the bathroom and still found no painkillers. He frowned as he realised he wouldn't be able to brush his teeth, so had to settle with rinsing with plenty of water and some mouth wash (which he hoped Chu-ge wouldn't mind him using).

All done Changcheng splashed his face a few more times before drying off and heading back into the main room. Chu Shuzhi was already lying on the bed, the blankets folded over and the space next to him left free as if he were waiting for someone to join him.

Changcheng quickly shook that thought off and went to turn off the light, leaving the room illuminated by the glow of the bedside light. “Good night Chu-ge. I left a glass of water on the table for you if you need it,” he said, stepping a little closer to the bed but not daring to get too close.

Chu Shuzhi turned his head towards him with a small smile of thanks, extending his hands towards Changcheng.

Despite himself, Changcheng reached for it. Chu-ge's fingers curled around his wrist, holding gently. “Stay?”

“Sure, Chu-ge,” Changcheng smiled, and he tried to step away but Chu Shuzhi kept hold of his wrist, frowning now.

“Where are you going?”

“Just, to lie down on the sofa,” Changcheng said hesitantly, shrinking back as Chu-ge's frown darkened. “Or I can just sleep on the floor,” he added quickly, remembering that the puppet was still sat on the sofa and Chu-ge didn't like anyone else touching him. If that's where the doll sat at night, then that's where he would stay.

Huffing irritably Chu Shuzhi yanked on Changcheng's wrist and pulled him down onto the bed beside him. Changcheng went with a yelp, falling in an ungainly tangle of limbs. He froze, sure even his heart had stopped for a moment. He could do nothing as Chu Shuzhi drew him closer, adjusting their positions until they were both lying comfortably. With that done he pulled the blankets over them and caught Changcheng's hand in his gain, cradling it between their chest.

“Good night, Changcheng,” he whispered.

It would be so easy to stay here, like this. Warm and comfortable and safe in Chu-ge's arms. It was like a dream, a dream Changcheng had had plenty of times before. And the reality was so much more, filling him with want. But he couldn't take this, not like this. Chu-ge didn't know what he was doing.

“Chu-ge,” Changcheng swallowed thickly, “I can't stay here. I don't think you'll be too happy in the morning if I do.” He tried to pull his hand free, to pull away, but Chu Shuzhi only held tighter.

“No, this is the best solution. This way I can keep an eye on you. You said you'd stay,” Chu Shuzhi said, almost petulantly.

“I will stay, just, I don't think I should stay in the same bed. The floor is perfectly fine.”

Chu Shuzhi huffed again, his frown deepening. “Why do you want to sleep on the floor? The bed is much comfier. And the closer you are the easier it is for me to protect you.” He hesitated for a moment, a shadow crossing over his face.

“I can't lose you again,” he finished in a whisper.

And Changcheng felt his heart plummet, that whisper sounding so broken. “You won't lose me,” he said, his own voice wavering, “I'm not going anywhere.”

“But you might get hurt, or be in danger!” Chu Shuzhi spat, his face scrunched up in a scowl. “I've already failed you once. I won't fail again.”

“Failed me?” Changcheng blinked. There was no occasion where Chu-ge had ever let him down. If anything it was Changcheng that was the failure. “Chu-ge, you've never failed me.”

“I have! I failed to protect you the first time you went to Dixing. You almost died!” Chu Shuizhi's whole body shook at the words, his eyes no longer meeting Changcheng's now.

“Oh, Chu-ge.” And Changcheng didn't care how angry Chu Shuzhi might be with him in the morning, he wrapped an arm around the other man's shoulders and hugged him as tight as he could. “That wasn't your fault. You tried to protect me by driving me away but I didn't listen. I was the one who followed you and put myself in danger. You've always protected me, Chu-ge. I always feel safe when I'm with you.”

He felt Chu Shuzhi continue to shake in his arms, his body curling around Changcheng. There were no tears, but Changcheng could practically feel them with every tremor that went through the other man's body.

'How long has he been holding on to this?' Changcheng wondered, his mind wandering back to that time not too long ago where he'd woken on the bed in the lab, Chu-ge's broken expression hovering over him. It had hurt to see that expression on Chu-ge. He wanted nothing more than to wipe it away and ensure the other man never had to look like that again, but with everything that had happened there had barely been any time to think about it, let alone talk.

“I'm sorry, Chu-ge,” he whispered, guilty churning his stomach. He should have said something sooner, he should have made time. “And thank you, for always looking out for me. For saving me,” he added, stroking the back of the other man's head.

Chu Shuzhi sniffed, a few more tremors going through him before he finally stilled. “I don't mind if you want to marry that girl your uncle set you up with. Just please, let me stay by your side,” he lifted Changcheng's hand to his lips, kissing his fingers, “that would be enough.”

Changcheng felt his heart stutter in his chest. “Chu-ge, I have no interest in marrying that woman, or any other woman actually,” he laughed, feeling a little hysterical now.

“Really?” Chu Shuzhi pulled away slightly, smiling down at Changecheng with the softest, most beautiful smile Changcheng had ever seen. A smile that was all his, Chu-ge looking at him as if he were the most important person in the world. His hand moved to Chu Shuzhi's face, almost without him noticing, cupping the other man's cheek.

“Really,” he whispered, his arm wrapping around the other man's shoulders again, “but it's time to sleep now, ok.”

Chu Shuzhi hummed in agreement and closed his eyes. He was asleep within seconds.

Changcheng couldn't fall asleep as quickly, his thoughts racing. But he was sure now, and although Chu-ge would probably be embarrassed to learn just how much he had revealed, it would all work out. Changcheng smiled, watching the other man sleep for a while, his heart feeling lighter than it had in a long time. He was so excited for what tomorrow might bring that he thought he might never fall asleep, but soon enough the warmth of Chu-ge's body and the rhythm of his gentle breathing lulled him into a peaceful sleep.

 




Chu Shuzhi woke, feeling warm and sluggish and extremely comfortable. The kind of comfortable that made him want to go back to sleep.

It was precisely because he was so comfortable that Chu Shuzhi knew instantly that something was wrong. He snapped awake, quickly taking in his surroundings.

He was in his own bed, the early morning light filling the apartment. He could feel his puppet close by, sitting on the sofa where he left him. The bedside light was on, illuminating the bed some more. The bed he was currently sharing with someone else.

Their face was pressed against his chest, warm breath tickling his neck. An arm was wrapped around his shoulders, and an ankle hooked around one of his legs beneath the covers. Their hands were intertwined between their chest, and he was pretty sure they must have been holding hands the whole night. All he could see of this person was the top of their head, dark hair tickling his chin, but he didn't need to see the face to know it was Changcheng.

He moved back slowly, just enough to get a quick look at the other man in his bed. His shoulder's sagged in relief when he realised they were both still dressed. He remembered the party last night. Remembered drinking Zhu Hong's

strange snake wine to save Changcheng from drinking it, but after that his memories were fuzzy. For a moment he was afraid he'd done something unforgivable.

But that still didn't explain why Changcheng was in his bed, in his apartment. He reached out for his puppet, even though the doll couldn't give him any answers the connection was comforting. It grounded him, and he quickly took stock of the situation. He'd gotten drunk last night, Changcheng had come home with him, and now Changcheng was in his bed, and evidently, they'd been cuddling the whole night. Had Changcheng gotten drunk too?

It was not the worst way to wake up, but it was still something he was sure Changcheng wouldn't be grateful for. He should get up and get out of bed before Changcheng woke, avoiding any embarrassment on both sides. But Changcheng was sleeping so peacefully, his features relaxed and soft and his hair adorably mussed. He couldn't help but stare, committing the sight to memory sure that this would be the only chance he would ever see such a thing.

After a few moments, and with some great effort he pulled away from Changcheng, letting go of his hand as he slowly sat up, moving as carefully as he could so as not to wake him.

But fate, of course, hated him. Changcheng stirred, and before he could leap out of bed and dive onto the sofa and pretend he'd spent the whole night there, Changcheng's eyes fluttered open and landed on him with a soft smile that froze Chu Shuzhi in place.

“Good morning Chu-ge, how do you feel?” he asked, his voice croaky with sleep and inviting, drawing Chu Shuzhi to lie down next to him again.

“I'm fine...I...sorry Changcheng.”

Changcheng frowned at the apology as if confused.

“I don't remember what happened last night. How we got here. If I did anything to make you uncomfortable please tell me. I'll properly atone for whatever I've done.”

Changcheng chuckled, his eyes half-closed and smile lopsided and lazy. “You didn't do anything bad Chu-ge. You got hit pretty hard by Hong-jie's wine, I bought you home so you could recover. You asked me to stay, so I stayed.” His words were punctuated by a yawn, and he smiled again as if this were totally normal.

“And, you were ok with staying here?” Chu Shuzhi questioned, still not quite believing everything. Maybe this was another one of those dreams.

“Mmmhmm,” Changcheng hummed, his hand moving to Chu Shuzhi's face, his fingers ghosting along the line of the other man's jaw.

“Oh.” Chu Shuzhi swallowed heavily, his own hand moving to Changcheng's with the intention of moving it away, but instead, he found himself pressing his hand lightly over Changcheng's holding it against his cheek.

“You probably don't remember what you said last night either, do you?” Changcheng asked. He seemed more awake now, his eyes brighter and more alert, and he still didn't seem upset or bothered by the situation they were in, which was a good sign. Or so Chu Shuzhi hoped.

“No,” he answered swallowing thickly. There was a great deal of things he could have said last night, things he promised to keep to himself and never bother Changcheng with. What had he done?

“You said you want to stay by my side, to protect me, even if I decided to get married to that girl my uncle set me up with.”

Chu Shuzhi stared at him. It was not the worst thing he could have revealed, he supposed, but it was still incredibly embarrassing. Before he could say anything to save himself Changcheng continued.

“You probably don't remember what I said either, so I'll say it again. I don't want to marry that girl, or any girl, ever,” he said firmly, his eye fixed on Chu Shuzhi intent and meaningful.

It was too much to hope for, more than he deserved, and yet it was right in front of him. There for him to take if he just took the chance. He was sure of it.

“Would you consider marrying someone else?” he asked, dipping his toes in the water too afraid to take the plunge just yet.

Changcheng hummed softly, seeming to consider the question. “Hmm, there is one person that I could maybe see myself spending my life with, staying by his side for as long as he'll have me.”

“Me?” Chu Shuzhi dared asked.

“Yes, Chu-ge, you. Only you,” he smiled and laughed again, pressing closer, pulling Chu Shuzhi into a tight hug.

Chu Shuzhi lost himself in the embrace, holding Changcheng tight, resisting the urge to press him down on the bed and kiss him senseless. It wasn't that he didn't want to, nor did he think Changcheng would reject him, but it tasted like something had died in his mouth, and he didn't want that to be their first kiss.

“Chu-ge,” Changcheng call, wriggling in his arms in a poor effort to draw away, “you should probably drink some water now. I looked around for some medicine but I couldn't find any, do you want me to go get you some?”

Chu Shuzhi shook his head and pulled Changcheng close again. “You're all the medicine I need,” he grumbled into Changcheng's hair, drawing a delighted laugh from the other man.

Neither of them were in any hurry to leave the bed, comfortable and happy in each others arms. They would have to get up eventually and face the real world and their responsibilities, and there was still plenty they had to talk about. But for now, they had each other. And when they did eventually leave the bed, they'd face it all together, their bond deeper and stronger, and something so so beautiful.